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"Now that Engel's gone... You haven't heard, have you?"

"Engel's gone?"

"He cleared out his locker and resigned. Personally I'm happy about it."

 

Cleared out his locker – and not only that. To see the empty apartment had been like taking a hit to the stomach, hard and solid and reverberating throughout his body to the core of his soul.

Kay was gone.

Gone from the unit, gone from the department; he had removed himself from Marc and the absence was like a raw wound that refused to heal.

There were, however, a number of advantages to being one of the boys in blue, and access to information was certainly one of them - even though he probably, strictly speaking, should not abuse it like this. All it took was some time and hardly any effort, and within minutes Marc had Kay's new address scribbled on a piece of paper. Easy as pie, but something he handled with as much care as if he had been entrusted with live explosives.

He could not stay away, not for ever, not even for long. Even had he wanted to, there were amends to make and things to set right, and he did not want to stay away at all. He owed Kay an explanation, and an answer.

It was a thirty minute drive and it had taken him over a month to follow through on it. Not even to himself could he blame Bettina and the baby, or even the work, but it was not until now that he had summoned up the willpower to actually take the steering wheel and begin what felt like the longest drive in Marc's entire life. As the suburban landscape changed beside the highway, thoughts and memories mingled in his mind and played themselves out, as if only a small part of him still sat in the car, switching lanes and at long last taking the right exit. The other, major part of him, was with Kay, in bed, watching as the early sun caressed the other man's pale skin, breathing the deep smell of musk and sweat and soap and remembering the small grimaces of equal amounts pain and ecstasy and utter surrender during the night. They were small things, such small things, and yet after having known them for less than a half year, they were achingly familiar and sorely lost.

The neighborhood consisted mostly of apartment buildings, grey and square and almost entirely indistinguishable from one another. It took some time before Marc found the right building, but only minutes to find a parking spot and walk into the building complex.

Kay's apartment was on the sixth floor, but Marc decided on the stairs rather than the elevator, wanting perhaps the possibility to turn around and walk away. He trod on however, step by step by step, hearing in memory Kay taunting him – Breathe evenly! Come on, keep up! Pussy! – until he reached the top floor and stepped onto the landing. There were four doors, three of them with labels that read Schneider, Kaufmann and Gruber. The fourth door sported the telltale edges of a label ripped away, announcing a recent shift in residency. Perhaps Kay did not want to be found.

Too bad Marc needed to find him.

He rang the doorbell without further thought, without giving himself time to question his actions once again. There would be no more turning back.

Apparently, there would be no answering of the door, either. Everything was silent from the other side of the door. Marc pressed the doorbell again. It was Saturday, well past noon. There was no reason for Kay to be anywhere else, and to Marc's knowledge few other places where he might be.

Muffled sounds of footsteps could be discerned from beyond the door and Marc's stomach knotted itself tight as the door was opened and Kay appeared.

Kay.

Hair still cropped short, a bristly stubble on his cheeks. He must have just gotten out of bed because there were still the soft imprints of bed-sheet creases on his skin and he looked annoyed – an expression which did not change overmuch as he saw Marc. He was clearly not very happy to see Marc standing there and while it was quite understandable, it was regrettable. It was also quite clear that Marc would not be invited to come inside.

Marc had always been aware of the power and symbolism of doorsteps. They were the difference between polite and intimate, public and private. Standing in the stairwell, he was on the wrong side of the border, and if he ever wanted to cross it again, he had better give the best explanation he could possibly articulate.

He had never received good grades in Rhetoric.

"What do you want Marc?"

Kay's voice was deep and raw from sleep, not angry or vicious thankfully, but tired, and that, Marc feared, not from sleep at all. He bit back on the automatic response, the "what do you think I'm doing here?", a response born from years of inquisition at family dinners or coming home later than agreed upon. That was not how this would play out.

"I wanted to see you" he said, feeling – not for the first time during their acquaintance – rather pathetic. He had always thought of himself as confident until he met Kay. "And apologize."

"I don't want to hear your excuses."

"But I need to say them."

Kay's eyes met his then, for the first time really met them, as he leaned there on the doorframe, using his body to block the small opening into the new life he had created without Marc. Was that a fading bruise on his cheek or just a trick of the light, a reimagined memory? He wanted to reach out his hand and find out.

"I'm sorry, Kay. For how I behaved, for what I said and what I did. All of it. I was confused and scared and I hurt a lot of people. And I think, mostly, I hurt you. I didn't want to do that."

These were not words meant to be spoken in a stairwell, but if he did not say them now, they would never be spoken at all.

"You turned my world upside down, Kay. And you put up with me, though I don't know how you did it."

"You should go back to her Marc."

"Wha-"

"To Bettina."

The pale blue eyes were calm.

"She's at home, waiting for you, isn't she? She and your kid. Go back to her." Kay took a step back and closed the door, but not fast enough. "Marc, take your foot away."

Anger in his voice now, or was it frustration? There was no way in hell Marc would let him close that door now.

"No. No, Kay, please listen to me. What I did to you and Bettina was wrong and I'm not asking you to take me back, but I need to tell you that I couldn't go back. It didn't work."

That attracted some attention at least, and the pull on the door stopped.

"What?"

"It didn't work, for her or me. We weren't happy. We split up."

Silence now, aside from the whirr of the elevator, working slowly upward through the building.

"You're shitting me."

"No."

Marc did not dare hope that what he saw in Kay's eyes then was hope or even sadness, but they were searching him all the same. It seemed like forever until Kay spoke again, his voice softer now but still hesitant.

"What are you saying then? What do you want?"

"First, I wanted to tell you how sorry I am. Then, I wanted to see you. See that you were okay. Third… If I could go back and do it all over again, I would never return your key. But I can't go back, I can only tell you about it. And now I have."

"Now you have."

The whirring of the elevator was closer now, probably headed for this floor. Time to back away and leave then – this was not a public spectacle after all.

"It was… good, seeing you again."

He took a step backwards as he spoke and turned to the stairs then. He had taken two steps down when he felt a hand on his shoulder and stopped, turned halfway back again. There was still not the slightest clue in Kay's face what he thought or felt, and his hand fell from Marc's shoulder almost immediately, but he said:

"I'm not taking you back. I'm giving you another chance. Come inside."

"You'll let me?"

He was surprised, but also tentative, but Kay had turned around and walked back to the apartment door.

"Yes. Now come on or stay there."

"Really?"

"Yes. Pussy."

Marc smiled, and followed Kay inside.