You startle to life. Before you can even move, still stuck in your dream, you know you’ve heard the tinny call of your apartment’s buzzer and you know who’s rung it—the only person who ever does. Like clockwork.
Stumbling, willing your legs to blink themselves awake, you float through your dark living room to open the door. “What do you want this time, shitkid?” A ludicrous nickname, its absurdity perfectly suited for its match.
You come face-to-face with a glazed-over, bloated expression, to which you return a glare of your own, outlined gravely by the darkness of a face which does not sleep. There are dimples etched between your brows belonging to a man in his fifties, not his early thirties. Gray streaks swim in your sea of black hair. There is a catalyst for your premature age, and he is standing right there on your welcome mat.
“Lost my apartment keys,” the man says, blurring the boundaries of each of his words with his drunken tongue.
“Fucking again, Harry?”
“I know,” he quickly responds, “I know, it’s fine.” His attempt to explain himself seems more rooted in lethargic movements than his words, though one hand clutches the door jamb like he’ll collapse if he doesn’t. Because he will. “I just gotta—get into the office—tomorrow…”
Much to your deep annoyance, you have a regrettably familiar rapport with the management office in Harry’s building. You know they’ll have a key for him already made once the sun comes up, hand-in-hand with the replacement fee that gets a little higher in sum after each of his benders. As always, the responsibility will fall on you to return his sorry ass home. As always.
But this is your home. He does not have a right to it just because he has already stolen your pity. You could close this door right now, deadbolt it and shout at him to sleep on a bench downstairs.
However, you don’t even get anywhere near the deadbolt before a heavy snakeskin boot stops you by wedging the door open, sending a thud through the reinforced wood and a bolt of lightning through your veins. Still, through your alarm you refuse to let the door open further. It’s locked on his foot.
“Find somewhere else to sleep, dickhead,” you hiss through your teeth, a feral animal backed into a corner. “I’m tired of being your fucking mother.”
His gaze, previously meandering, focuses on you again. There’s no way you can yet know what a dire mistake you’ve made, even as you digest his hazed-out rage. You should have let him in.
Harry—or whatever narcotic is puppetting his body—grabs you by your arms, pressing his thumbs hard enough into your skin to leave marks. He gets so close that the rotting fumes of alcohol from his throat overwhelm your nose, forcing your face into something mangled.
“Fucking idiot, there isn’t anywhere else!” he bites right into you, spitting. “I thought you were supposed to cover for me!”
This is not the first time he’s been here, but it is the first time that you’ve been scared of him. He’s breathing hot onto your face with every word. Awful, boozy spittle is landing somewhere near your mouth; the stinking air makes your mustache tremble. You try to concede. “Okay—”
But he’s not ready to accept your surrender. “Are you just gonna let me fucking freeze outside? You want me dead, Vic? You want me fucking dead?”
His fingers dig so hard into your muscle that it makes them scream. There’s something in the recesses of your mind, tucked in a dark wrinkle, which cries, too—something instinctual, something childlike, a holdover into adulthood. It’s crying in fear and in pain and in sorrow.
You didn’t think it would ever get this bad. He was already a heavy drinker the day you signed off on your partnership. It never concerned you terribly outside of the periodical explorations of Dora, the one who got away—or sometimes: Dora, that mean fucking cunt. Harry is a good detective, and he is a good person and a good friend.
Except, suddenly, it’s not present tense. Really, he was a good detective, he was a good person, he was a good friend, until he put his hands on you. Until he made himself at home in your home, made his hands at home on your body—and not in the way you dream of as you slip away at the office’s coffee maker, giving yourself only a moment to press your warm mug to your pock-marked cheek and pretend it’s his palm.
There’s no room to dream anymore.
You wake up again and he’s throttling you like a broken machine. “Huh?” he grunts to emphasize a question you didn’t hear. “You better fucking do it.”
“Let go of me, you ape,” you snap in response, a tremble in your voice that you couldn’t swallow. The hairs on the back of your head stand at attention knowing that you cannot let him see you’re scared.
His fingers only coil further into your skin, turning his knuckles a sickly white. “Bitch. You bitch.”
His eyes are set on you, but you can tell he’s not really speaking to you anymore. That inner child panics; if his hands can mutilate your arms this way, you must give up before they find your throat.
Through the pain you bellow. “Okay!” You manage to rip free of his shackling grip, veering directly into the shelf behind you and knocking books and statuettes on their sides. A whimper, mostly just breath, escapes your mouth as you rub at one of your arms; the muscle whines at you, too.
“Okay,” you say again, firmer this time, shoving aside anguish. He’s just... standing there. “Take— take the couch.”
Harry looks at you one last time, which threatens to break you into twice as many pieces as his fists. He’s looking at you—as if he’s just sobered up and figured out where he is.
He blinks a couple of times, disoriented, before his heeled shoes lead him haphazardly around your coffee table and onto the sofa. He becomes dead weight, reclining without bothering to move any pillows out of his way.
He’s asleep in an instant. It goes quiet.
You take the reprieve to scurry quickly behind the safety of your locked bedroom door. Your throat closes, your eyes sting with salt, and before you can reach the bed again you’re already muffling sobs into both hands, clasped around your mouth. The hardwood greets your knees, your teeth clamp around the flesh of your freckled wrist, your eyes shut tight like waterlocks. You curl into yourself on the floor like an apostle in a church and you choke back the desire to scream. It all comes tumbling out like emotional food poisoning.
You never thought he would get physical with you.
When tears are finished driving riverbends through the hollows of your cheeks and you’ve dug some old salve out of your medicine cabinet for the bruises, you pry your door open only a crack—only enough for a single eye to gain vantage of the couch. He is right where you left him, limbs sprawled, drool on his chin.
If you don’t roll him off his back, he could choke. Quickly, the rest of you reenters the living room to take the move pillow at his feet behind his back, which tips him to just enough of an angle for you to rest easy. Well, easy enough.
You go back to your bedroom and lock the door a second time. His silent body doesn’t thank you.
“Jean… I don’t know what to do.” From the backseat of your motor-carriage, they’re the first words he’s said to you in half an hour.
This asshole has been sober for a whole six days.
He sunk so deep into his quicksand mind that he basically told you to fuck off and out of Martinaise—‘cramping my style,’ your ass. He drove a vehicle worth nearly a decade’s salary into the goddamn sea. He lost his badge and his gun. It took him losing his entire identity to finally stop snorting coke long enough to think, and then he spent two days in an opiate coma after getting shot by fucking Wild Pines mercs; in that case, can you even call him sober?
But what pisses you off the most about it all is the fact that you, for some reason, sent Minot and Heidelstam home in Kitsuragi’s MC, and chose to transport Harry alone.
Why? Even you aren’t sure. It could have been some sadomasochistic attempt to punish him, putting him in time-out in the back like he’s a suspect getting driven to jail—as if your tendency of pretending to parent him does anything more than shaving off a little of your guilt. It could have also been some fruitless attempt to find normalcy between you. Like the two of you together, alone, would possibly jog his memory of you; like… maybe if you guided him to water, he would actually drink it.
Fat fucking chance.
You catch his eyes in the rear view and, for a minute, you wonder if his amnesia is someone’s sick version of a blessing in disguise. But it’s very hard to find a silver lining when all you see is red.
“First of all,” you finally begin, because the sound of your name out of the mouth of this miserable husk makes your eyelid twitch, “you don’t get to call me Jean. It’s Officer Vicquemare, or I’ll knock your teeth out.”
It’s as though the air in the chassis suddenly goes five degrees colder. In your peripheral, his head hangs. “Right,” you hear him mutter. God does it piss you off.
“Secondly, shitkid, you know exactly what you do now. You go into Pryce’s office and grovel until he lets you keep your job, and then you never so much as look in the direction of a liquor bottle ever again.” You glance back at him, a gray storm rolling in your eyes.
“Because this is your last chance. You have fucked everyone over so many times that it’ll be a goddamn miracle if he lets you stay, and if you fail again after that, you’ll be rattling a tin can outside the Frittte! in Central.”
As much as you despise yourself for it, you can’t stop dividing your attention between the road and his reflection. He doesn’t notice you looking at him—his gaze is turned out the window, graying brunet hair glowing orange in the sunset which still peeks at you between buildings and trees. You watch his eyes unfocus from the passing objects and instead lower somewhere into his lap, maybe down at his stupid disco shoes.
He’s sad in the most sober way you’ve seen in months. If you don’t stop glancing back there your heart might fracture right down the center.
“Harry.” Your voice is softer this time; still graveled, but not propelled from your chest by anger. It’s been mostly shaken out of you. “You’re killing yourself. You’re not just going to end up on the street if you keep doing this, you might…” …die. You can’t finish the thought. “As much shit as you’ve put the Precinct through this past year, we’d be much worse off if you were… gone.”
His eyes meet yours again in the mirror. They threaten tears, hanging off a broken and dulled face, only held up by the dark circles underneath them.
“I think killing myself was the point.” It’s so quiet you could almost miss it under the purr of the engine.
Your gloved fingers choke the steering mechanics; you glue your eyes to the road. Letting that sentence repeat in your head would surely drive you right into a ditch.
For the first time since you were a child, you pray. To a deity, an innocence, Delores fucking Dei—whoever it is who’d be bothered to listen. You stare at the asphalt caught in your headlights until it almost disappears, and you pray to whatever poor son of a bitch who’s hearing this that Harry doesn’t relapse. He won’t get bored with sobriety like the last five times, he won’t pretend Commodore Red is a remedy for loneliness, he won’t slip a bag of amphetamines into his coat as soon as a case gets difficult. Please.
You beg this entity that he won’t hurt you again—because if he falls back down, he’s taking you with him.
There’s silence until you reach Jamrock.
It’s a cool Monday in March, the fifty-second year of the current century. You’re caught somewhere inside the hypnotic rhythm of your pen scratching paper, drawing cursive letters as you climb through an avalanche of the stuff. The last case you conducted with Officer Minot did not necessarily end as well as it could have, and your atonement paperwork from Pryce has reminded you of that for a week straight. Even so, you’d rather it be you than Judit who takes the brunt of his disappointment. You don’t have kids to feed.
You swirl yet another signature onto yet another line, though they’re starting to look more like nonsense strings of letters than your name. With a lick to your thumb you hastily deposit it into the pile.
Your meditative state is broken by the familiar creak of a door, and when you peel your eyes away from your desk, you see him.
“Good morning,” says the ever-warm voice of Lt. Kitsuragi, who’s much closer to the entrance than you. You hear Harry echo the greeting with a peculiar amount of excitement. He’s an excitable man, of course, and you know this all too well, but there’s something about it today that makes it different.
You suppose the most obvious reason why it’s odd is that nobody but Trant is ever that happy on a Monday morning—but then he pulls something out of the pocket of his coat, and you immediately understand.
“I’ve got something to show you, Kim,” he says, beaming. Between his fingers is a bronze coin, and when he hands it to the detective to see up close, he shares the man’s joy.
“One year of sobriety,” reads Kim. His usual calm is intercepted by his smile that is audible in his tone. “That’s fantastic.”
Before you can react, McClaine bursts from his chair. “Did I just hear you say a year sober?” he exclaims, effectively weaseling his way into a conversation as always. Harry nods, looking so proud, and the entire office erupts in applause and hollers.
You sit at your desk, pen still balanced in your fingers, and you stare at him through the commotion. He came in with this haircut in May, rid of that horrible hair he could never quite make look clean, and by some miracle no horrible sideburns. It was new and surprising, just a clean trim and a mustache. Ten months belated, it knocks the wind out of you. He looks... good. Really good.
Fuck. No matter how much effort you put into ignoring it, stuffing it down like a trash can that needs emptying—you love him.
His eyes shimmer like precious jewels and they are looking directly into you. Wrinkles frame his mouth, but not in some grotesque ghost of a movie star’s expression anymore. He’s smiling at you; he directs all of his attention across the room to you, and he is absolutely resplendent in his recognition.
Your eyes crinkle as you return the smile, lips closed. Harry raises his chip to you like a toast. Not a single word comes from his mouth, but you can hear it without needing him to say it: Thank you, Jean. You regret ever making him call you Officer—the absence of his name in your mouth ached more than hearing it ever did.
The celebration does subside, as it eventually must, and the precinct’s busybodies rejoin the orchestra of typewriter keys that fills the room with noise. In the calm, you watch Harry approach you in your periphery.
“Don’t sit on my desk, please,” you say right as he’s about to sit his ass down on the corner.
“Sorry.” He laughs under his breath and opts to stand instead. When you can escape from the sea of white on your desk once more to glance up at him, he’s still looking at you with that grin. You’ll look back on this portrait of him one day and realize that his gaze is practically dripping with love—but today you’re not quite perceptive enough to piece that together. After all, as you know, it’s Monday.
You prop your chin on your writing hand. “What do you need?”
“I just thought you would want to see it, too,” he responds. His finger deposits the small bronze disk on your desk and slides it closer. You take it carefully into your fingers.
An ornate emblem is carved delicately into the surface; when you rub your thumb over it it satisfies your touch with a cool, smooth texture. There’s a number one embedded directly into the center, most likely referencing years in recovery. You take several very long moments to take in the delicate thing, rotating it in your hands.
“It’s beautiful,” you decide before depositing it back into his hand. He tucks it back into his pocket. “Your support group gave that to you?”
He nods and his smile grows marginally. “It’s customary. I know it’s small, but it means more than you’d think…”
“No, I understand. It’s important. You earned that, Harry.”
You sit together in several moments of quiet before you make one of the ballsiest plays you’ve made in ages. You’re terrified that everything might come spilling out of you, but suddenly, it’s almost like you don’t care if it does—if your guts splatter on the ground, you would truly trust him to pick them back up for you.
“I’m really proud of you.”
He looks at you like he’s been shot through the chest. It hurts a bit for that moment he looks so thoroughly stunned that you’d say that to him, but he quickly gathers himself, standing a little taller than before, and shining even brighter, like he’s the fucking sun.
“Thank you,” he replies, aloud this time. It hits your cheeks and lights them ablaze from the inside, most certainly staining them a visible peach.
But he lingers, like there’s more he’d like to say.
He adjusts his footing, nervously replacing his grin with something heavier. “Thank you,” he amends, “for never giving up on me.”
It’s your turn on the wrong side of the gun. You have to cover your mouth and playfully send him back to work—“Enough chit-chat, go do your job”—or you might just cry looking at his sweet face. He’s giving you far too much credit, you think, because you did give up on him. Or maybe you only almost did. He doesn’t completely remember, and after so long, it’s hard to say if you truly do, either.
He’s here, and he’s alive, and he’s cleaner than he’s been since even before the day you became partners, and he looks healthy and happy and quite frankly very handsome and you might just get closer than ever to falling head over heels for Harrier Du Bois.
Oh, don’t be silly, Jean. You fell for him so long ago; you’re just finally crawling out of your shelter of denial, because you’re realizing that you feel safe.
Paperwork doesn’t wait for you to argue with yourself about emotions and schoolyard crushes, though—the pen in your hand expects to write. You humor it with a deep sigh, accepting sinking back into ink-covered mesmerization.
It has been nearly a year and a half since your buzzer has woken you in the night, and when it finally does, it scares you half to death.
Cold toes eagerly take shelter in your slippers, but you don’t even know if you plan on getting up to answer the door. There’s something hidden in a chamber of your heart, whispering that it’s him, that it’s always him. Your heart cries. He was doing so well. What caused him to stumble?
Your hands grip the edge of the mattress until all the blood drains from your bony knuckles. It feels like all of your organs are fighting to emerge from your throat, and sitting there staring at the baseboards you’ve neglected to dust just makes you sick. There’s no way to go back to sleep after this; you have to get up. You have to open the door.
You keep the chain on. His back is facing you when the hinge creaks open, but he swivels around quickly once he’s felt your presence.
“Harry…?” you ask with deep hesitation, worry bleeding into your voice. “Are you alright?”
“No. Yes. I—” He catches himself and huffs in frustration with a hand on his head. “I’m okay.”
“...Are you drunk?” you add shakily.
He must’ve expected that question from you, logically, but he looks so upset when you actually say it aloud. “No,” he breathes. “I’m not. I didn’t take any pills, either. I just couldn’t sleep.”
Your brows knit together and form a tight crinkle where they meet as you look him over. He’s thrown those god awful snakeskin boots on—why does he still own those?—and the hemline of black lounge pants doesn’t quite reach where they should on his frighteningly long body. A light zip-up sweatshirt is the only thing that obscures what you think is a… Man from Hjelmdall t-shirt…?
If you weren’t so tired and so shaken, you would stop right here to scold him on basically every single choice he’s made about his appearance. But, despite being a complete mess, he definitely doesn’t look like he’s just gone clubbing. In fact, he looks like he scrambled out of bed no more than ten minutes ago.
“Okay,” you concede, closing the door only to unlock the chain before allowing him access. “Come in.”
As you fasten the lock behind him, you can already feel him beginning to pace along your floor, elbow in hand, hand on chin, just like he always does trying to get at something. Now that you know he hasn’t relapsed, it’s equal parts confusing and endearing. It might be more so the latter if not for the fact that it’s four in the morning on a work night—but Harry isn’t known for being convenient to be around.
“You look like shit,” you bark, but it’s full of affection, lifted by a smirk that twists the corners of your mouth just so. He turns back to look at you and smiles a little. “Let me make a pot of coffee.”
“That would be nice, thanks.”
Harry follows you into your little kitchen; you both squint after the overhead lightbulb flickers to life. He looms by you like the biggest puppy you’ve ever seen while you just scoop grounds into a filter and try to ignore how close he is. If you let yourself close your eyes while you press the switch to wake your coffee maker, you could drown in simply the possibility that he might come up behind you and grab you by your waist, even kiss your neck, sighing your name into the collar of your shirt. You can’t let yourself do this right now—so you come up for air by turning to face him.
“So you couldn’t sleep,” you repeat from earlier, crossing your arms as your hips meet the edge of the counter. “Have you been having nightmares again?”
A very small sigh leaks from his chest. “Sometimes. But… that wasn’t really the case tonight.”
You tilt your head. Harry looks anxious, like he’s under an interrogation light and can’t look you in the eye—but in his diverted eyes you see an expression that you’re quite accustomed to, the one that makes you feel like you can almost see the cogs in his head turning. “It scared the hell out of me to see you on my front step so late,” you decide to say. “I don’t think you’ve been here so late without you being on something.”
“I know. I’m sorry.”
He cowers even farther away from any possibility of looking directly at you. It’s pitiful… but it’s not familiar. It’s different than before. All of this, it’s so new.
You’re not scared at all anymore. You have no reason to be, because you’re realizing he’s not just looking for a place to crash after a bender—he’s looking for you. Your advice. Perhaps even comfort.
“Look at me, Harry.” Your tone is careful, like you’re trying to entice a stray cat into your arms. He obeys. “I’m here. What do you need from me?”
Harry blinks, biting the inside of his cheek, and you watch his gears grind and pick up speed. He’s thinking very hard about what his next words are going to be. “A few hours ago I was in bed, trying to sleep—er, obviously,” he starts, ruminating on each word. “But lying there, instead of sleeping, I couldn’t stop thinking… which isn’t unusual for me, but…”
As you listen you take two mugs from a cabinet and fill them up with hot black coffee. You’re just about to hand one to him when he finishes his nervous sentence.
“...I was thinking about... you.”
You freeze. Your heart instantly picks up its earlier tempo tenfold, now drumming a revolutionary march in your rib cage. He takes the outstretched cup from your hand and you try to play cool—and dumb. “About me?”
He tries his best to grimace his way to a smile, though all he really manages is a wormy cringe. You can tell whatever he’s trying to say is making his heart beat just as fast as yours, though you can’t say it really helps it at all.
“Why were you thinking about me, of all things?”
Both of his large hands cradle the mug he’s been given, absorbing the warmth as if he needs any more of it in July. To hide the nervous flush that attempts to flood your pale cheeks, you take the first sip of your coffee.
What a catastrophically bad idea.
A third of the way through your swallow, he drops an absolute fucking atomic bomb of a question. “Jean… do you love me?”
You go to breathe in on instinct like you’ve been thrown into an icy lake, which forces scorching hot liquid down the expressway right into your lungs. You consequently spill half your mug’s worth on the floor trying to get it safely to the countertop so you can hack and cough in peace, which sends your former partner into a mild panic.
“Oh god, are you okay?” Harry asks, hands awkwardly in front of him as his body tries to resync with his brain. After a second he decides to approach you and try to pat the coffee out of you—admittedly sweet, but not helpful.
Every time you think you’re done heaving you breathe in and the itch in your throat only screams at you again. There are tears involuntarily streaming down your face, he’s just standing there over your hunched form, there’s still coffee splashed on the ground. He tries to stammer his way out of what he just said, but you throw a single finger into his face to say shut the fuck up and hold on. He gets the memo. So he goes back to looking helpless instead.
Gripping the counter, you clear your throat, slowly to avoid the irritation. Your vocal cords feel like you’ve been screaming for an hour straight—but you still manage to find half of your voice as you reach for what’s left of your coffee, hoping more liquid will help wash it all away.
“Do I—” you sputter. “What do you mean, do I love you?”
What you’re afraid to add is of course I do.
“That’s what I’ve been trying to figure out,” he explains with pounds of apprehension weighing down his words. “I thought I could wait until you got into work, but I couldn’t. I needed to know as soon as possible.” He breathes in until his lungs are about to burst, then slowly lets it escape through his teeth. “Do you…?”
“...Yes.” You say it as if it was a given, as if he had just asked you is the sky blue? However, something in you screams that you’ve fucked up, and instantly you start trying to find a way to unravel your answer to sound less… less… frankly, homo-sexual.
But he moves closer to you again, and when you flinch, he just envelops you in his big, comfortable arms.
And, gently, you hear him crying.
No response. He only hugs you tighter, shaking in his effort to hold everything back. The only thing you can think to do is hold him in return. Once you start, you don’t stop. Your arms pull him as close into you as his body can possibly be, one of your hands on his back and the other caressing the back of his head.
It’s then that you realize: he wasn’t just asking if you love him. He wasn’t asking for support or forgiveness or advice.
He meant to ask, are you in love with me?
Because I’m in love with you.
“Harry,” you whisper into his ear; the levies have broken already and he’s currently weeping a stain into your shirt. “I do. Of course I do. How could I not?”
Before tonight, his hands were on you exactly once in this apartment. He left broken capillaries under your skin where his fingertips scooped you out. He was belligerent and terrible, and after he left in the morning you never saw him here again.
Today, at four-something in the morning, he holds you just as tight, but in a way that makes you feel like some precious artifact. Porcelain he’s too afraid to let go of lest you shatter at his feet. His strong arms drape over you in an embrace that feels a lifetime overdue, something you’ve wanted for years and never thought you could have. You never thought Elysium would be so kind as to grant you your wish.
“Harry,” you murmur again. This time, it’s a request. He follows it, sniffling as his hands let go and find a more natural resting place on the small of your back; it’s as close to heaven as you figure you’ll ever be, and quite honestly, you don’t care if you get any closer. You swipe away his tears with your thumbs and linger a moment, fingers on his jaw.
His eyes ask you permission.
Yours beg him, please.
You guide him by the chin into your lips and the entire world fades to nothing around you. It’s deep enough to make you wonder if there’s a world at all, or if you’ve only ever been living inside this moment, in this tiny space that is just you and him molding around each other, pulled together like magnets. His lips depart from yours only long enough to breathe before his arms wrap all the way around you again, body to body, shifting you in his grasp to get your as close to him as possible.
Your slipper soaks with lukewarm coffee. You part from his lips and pause for a second to stare at him before you nearly rip yourself apart with rasping laughter.
It’s nearing 05:00. Attempting to go back to sleep is pointless now, and would probably only serve to make you even more tired… but here lies Harry next to you in your bed. You couldn’t bear the thought of sending him home—at least not until your alarm goes off and he inevitably needs a shower and a change of clothes. For the next hour and a half, this drowsy, adoring man belongs only to you. He’s curled next to you with an arm under your pillow and another across your abdomen. You stroke his cheek and he smiles the brightest smile you’ve ever seen.
He is sober, healthy, and he loves you.
“I want to do my best for you, Heron,” he murmurs to you; oh, how it makes your heart sing. “I never want to hurt you again. I want to work until I can promise you that.”
The words you decide to say next carry more weight than you could ever articulate to him—but he knows. “I trust you. Please don’t make me regret it.”
“Never again,” he vows.
You close your eyes and lean in until your foreheads touch. And against your better judgement, you sleep just like that until your morning alarm.