Chapter 1: Prologue
Deadeye knows the look Innovator gets right before he’s about to run, he knows it very well, and though the scrawny criminal's face is covered in blood, Deadeye recognizes that look.
He's been ready to see Innovator run the instant he realized the lump under the comforter some ten feet from his doorstep wasn't one of the usual bums that decorated the neighborhood. The sooner Innovator was away from him, the sooner he would get back to his little schemes and his inevitable defeat and death at the detective's hand.
There’s no bringing a man as powerful and terrified as Innovator in. Deadeye knows he won't lose a lick of sleep after he finally puts the man out of his misery.
So it surprises him when he reaches out and grabs one of the corners of Innovator's blanket as he’s turning to run. Out of the corner of his eye, Deadeye catches a flash of red and his hand reacts before he realizes it was just a spot of dried blood against the grey comforter.
Just grabbing it as Innovator starts running is enough pull the rest of the comforter off of him.
And that is enough to make Innovator freeze up, then turn and grab one of the other corners. He tugs at with all the strength a weakling like him can muster. The comforter stretches out between them, revealing the stain that covers almost every part of the blanket. Deadeye knows there are, on average, ten pints of blood in the body of an adult. Innovator is a tall man, meaning that he should have more than that, but he’s very thin and very anemic.
Even now, on the comforter, going from bright red at the sides to pitch black in the center, his blood refused to clot. It slides and drips down through the fabric, weighing one side down and then dripping onto the pavement.
Innovator tugs again, using two shaky, slippery hands to try and yank his blanket and his blood out of Deadeye's grip.
He hangs his head, trying again, now leaning all of his weight back. Then he just hangs there, at the other end of the comforter, and sniffles.
"Detective, please ga-give it b-b-back,"
He sounds like a five-year-old, he looks like a dying man.
Deadeye squeezes his corner of the comforter, trying to calculate how thick it is, and how much blood it would have to soak up to get stains like that. It seeps out onto his fingertips, swelling up and staining his palm, before his hold loosens just enough for the blood to slide back down. Innovator whimpers and pulls again, his legs wobbling under him.
His voice cracks and new tears start to smear the blood on his face.
Innovator wouldn’t let himself be taken to the hospital if he already had his magic burning all around him. The chances that he’ll go now, weak but terrified and still, perhaps even more, dangerous, are nonexistent.
Deadeye takes a careful step forward, seeing Innovator’s eyes slide shut. He’ll rush him, get the blanket twisted around his hands and then it’ll be one quick knock to the head and
Innovator sways backward then falls forward, groaning as his head starts toward the pavement.
Deadeye rushes to catch him.
I am not cleaning brains off of the sidewalk, flashes behind his eyes as he pulls the blanket up to meet Innovator.
Chapter 2: Chapter the First
Everything is warm and soft, and it's all dark but that's fine because it all smells like Detective.
You know this is a dream, and that things are going to go bad soon because you can't have dreams that don't become nightmares, but for now you just plan to lie with your arms around whatever this big, warm, squishy thing is. Your wrist and ankle are stiff, but so is the rest of you, usually.
You ignore everything from aches and pains to the droning coming from somewhere not too far away, in favor of nuzzling up to this soft, squishy thing and smelling Deadeye's sweat and aftershave.
Your name is Pernicious Innovator and you can't think of a single moment when you’ve been this happy before.
The sound of a door closing near the weird droning noise signals the beginning of the rest of the dream, the bad parts.
Instead of looking you bury your face in the warm thing you’ve been clinging to. This is new, having something to hold onto. That doesn’t mean much, and the chances that it will go south like everything else are very high.
You really shouldn’t cling to it, because it will probably turn into some kind of eel or something, but for right now it just feels like a pillow you’ve been cuddled up with for hours on end.
There’s more noise near the door and the droning. It’s strange how consistent everything is. Usually things are swirling around, sounds shifting position and keeping you on your toes. Now, though, everything stays in one place.
You’ve got to look, if only so you can wake up that much sooner and be in reality again, if not safe.
Your face hurts as you pull your eyelids apart. They barely move and already light is pouring in and giving you a headache. All you see is white, your face still pressed into the thing in your arms. This is strange. It hasn’t morphed into an eel or a cockroach or anything. It’s still just soft, and warm, and it still smells like Detective.
You ease your eyes open further, pressing your cheek and forehead into the thing. It’s just a pillow.
A pillow that smells like Deadeye.
A number of things fly into your head at once, but the most prevalent of them are that this is Deadeye’s pillow, that you know this room because it’s Deadeye’s bedroom, that, if you’re in Deadeye’s bedroom, lying down, cuddled up to Deadeye’s pillow, you are likely in Deadeye’s bed, and that the droning is the sound of the evening news, in the other room. And that you just heard the click of the radio being turned off.
Your feet hit the floor and your left ankle throbs as you try to drag you body, which wants nothing more than to curl back up on the bed, over to the window. This time you’ve gone too far. You’ve broken in here before, of course you have, even done something as pathetic as curl up on Detective’s couch when you knew the other man wouldn’t be home for a good few hours. But this, letting yourself fall asleep in Deadeye’s bed, is a new low.
The window doesn’t open when you try it, and it suddenly gets a lot harder to breathe. You shove up on the frame, trying to unjam it, until you see that it's latched shut. There's a noise from the other room as you try to undo that latch. But your hand wouldn’t bend to grab it.
You stare up at your right hand. It’s in a brace, from the middle of your forearm up to your knuckles, wrist held tight and inflexible by strips of metal or plastic, wrapped in stretch-fabric. You don’t even think as you start burning it off, your left hand reaching and fumbling with the latch. Your attempts to teach yourself to be ambidextrous all failed. But you get the latch turned and start pulling the smoldering brace off, shoving the window open at last.
Your right hand throbs and your head swims for a moment as you start pulling yourself through the window onto the fire escape. Briefly, you see through the webs of metal that make up the floor of every fire escape going down four floors.
It’s a long way down, and you can’t focus your eyes
You’re halfway through the window, head, one arm and shoulder already out, with a knee perched on the sill. Taking a gamble, you turn as quick as you can and shoot purple flame out of your palm, a warning shot. But your legs twist as you turn, your arm and shoulder coming back into Deadeye’s room, and your warning shot travels a grand total of two inches before disappearing altogether. For a split second you’re seated on the sill, head still outside, before your balance falls apart like everything else about you, and you slide out of the window, onto the bedroom floor.
The landing hurts worse than it should have, which brings back memories. Scofflaw.
Deadeye closes the window. He has to reach up, leaving his whole torso open for just a moment. You jam two fingertips in between Deadeye’s ribs, pointing them up towards his heart. Just one good blast and it’ll all be over.
Detective just looks down, same old straight face.
“I’ll do it—let me go or I’ll do it.” It’s easier to talk to him when, for once, you have the advantage. You hold your breath, waiting for Deadeye’s reply.
Everything suddenly goes dim and you hear yourself gasping.
Then your head is leaned back against the wall, throbbing like crazy. Deadeye has both of your wrists in one hand, and he’s not hitting you yet. You gasp and think for a moment you’re going to choke on air alone. Detective is holding your head back, kneeling over you, looking from one of your eyes to the other.
As soon as you can breathe again, you're going to roast the flesh off of Detective’s palm. Just, just one second.
“Your concussion hasn’t worsened,” he says it like it's a miracle he doesn't believe in, lets go of your wrists and stands again. He’s going for his gun, he’s going for the cue stick, he’s just going to kick you now, while you’re down, and probably break your jaw, and then you’ll have to kill him because that’s all he wants to do anyway.
“I have to go,” You press your back to the wall and start to pull yourself up. Your ankle and wrist hurt worse now than before. “I have to go, I have to go,” You try to slide along the wall, away from Deadeye, but only make it one step before you push on the bad ankle and send yourself back down to the floor. “Don’t hit me, please don’t hit me,” and then you’ve got your arms over your head, right hand hanging painfully from a broken wrist. You can’t even work up the magic for another warning shot. You’re just tired and scared and lightheaded.
A concussion, he said.
It’s quiet for a moment, then something hits you in the leg. Thrown, not hard. You peek from under your arms. The burnt wrist brace. Burnt, it was barely singed. You couldn’t even get it to catch. What’s wrong with you?
“Put that back on, then get back in bed.”
You shake your head, first a little too fast. You learn, slowing down and breathing deep.
“I’ve—I’ve got to go, they’re going—going to l-look for mmme and I—I need to show up.”
“If they wanted to find you they would already be here. Scofflaw knows you’d come here.”
You shake your head some more, but it’s true. Scofflaw knows about your obsession, has commented on it, just to keep you in line. But this is different.
“I didn’t mean to, I just, I just, I got s-sc-scared and Scofflaw and, and you and I don’t remember but I-I swear I didn’t, I didn’t mean to—to do this."
But all that means nothing now because you’ve broken into Deadeye’s apartment and gotten caught and now you have to kill him, because he's going to try to kill you.
“Please, please, d-don’t hurt me,” you curl up as tight as you can. Times like this you usually just make yourself disappear, escape into the hot-cold darkness that comes with bending space around you. But the wildfire of your usual magic is now nothing more than a cigarette lighter that’s run out of gas. He'll be the one doing the killing.
There’s rustling from over by the bed, and then something falls over you. You look, it’s a blanket.
“As long as you have that,” Detective is kneeling in front of you again, pulling the blanket around your shoulders, “You’re safe.”
You know this trick. It’s the kind of thing people do to junkies, to try and ease a bad trip.
“I—I’m not, I’m not high, Detective.” But your left hand curls around the blanket.
He’s so close to you. And he put himself there, for once.
“Let me see your wrist.” He picks up the wrist brace and holds his other hand out.
“It’s fine,” having him so close, it’s not as nice as you thought it would be. You wish the wall would move so you could back up more.
Deadeye glares at you, then shoves a hand into the blanket and grabs your right forearm. You yelp, because his grip reminds you of a bear-trap and the way your hand flops around as he pulls it out of the blanket scares you.
Your whole arm stings as he starts putting the brace back on. It passes and he starts talking again.
“You’re staying here until your wrist heals.”
“What?” He can’t possibly be serious, it will take weeks for the bones to heal, and there is no way that Deadeye Detective would do something like this. It’s another weird too-real dream. If you’re lucky you’re still curled up in front of the apartment. Soon your whole brain will realize it’s a dream and snap you out of it. Then you can run.
You flinch as Detective tightens the straps on the brace. It doesn’t hurt as badly as letting your wrist go free, but you can feel your circulation being cut off. Good thing you won’t be wearing it in a few minutes.
“Don’t argue with me.”
You almost do argue, just to make the point that you can stand up for yourself, but so far making dream-people mad doesn’t mean you’ve won the fight. You only imagine them more angry and powerful, until your mind creates demons for you to contend with.
“Let’s get you back to bed.”
When you actually actually visit Deadeye's apartment, you keep out of the bedroom. Even on the odd night you sit outside the window, you’ve never thought about going in. His bedroom is sacred ground. You might break in and curl up on the couch, but you’re not completely without morals. There is value in certain things in your world, few though they are, and you respect that.
But now, in a dream, you can skip all that for once and let yourself be pulled up. You hang on his shoulder, his arm feeling big and anaconda-like where it wraps around your chest. He doesn’t make you carry your own weight, which is nice, even if it is just a kind dream-detail.
You’ve still got the blanket clutched around your shoulders as he helps you back onto the bed. Instead of just taking it from you to use as a cover rather than a shawl, he finds another blanket and throws it over you.
Your head is suddenly heavy, even as you lay there on your back. Your eyes close and refuse to move.
You don’t know when you fade back into dreamless sleep but you know it won’t matter when you wake up.
Chapter 3: Chapter 2
It's five thirty in the morning, still dark in the apartment because Deadeye hasn't turned on any lights. Outside the streets are empty but for the odd car or man that braves the silent morning air. The sky is gunmetal grey, perhaps by nine or ten it will be nearly white. A snow sky.
The only sound in the whole apartment is the gurgle of the coffee as it streams over the lip of the French Press. Deadeye is standing by the stove, pouring it into a mug that you can tell, just at a glance, is always used for the first cup of coffee of the day. It took eight spoonfuls of grounds and ten minutes of steeping to fill the whole Press.
You're crouched by the doorway to the kitchen, watching him from about a quarter of the height you're used to.
This isn't a dream.
You woke up right where he left you, singed wrist brace and all.
Clean of all that blood, and in his clothes, no less. You must have been wearing them when you woke up earlier. You don't want to think about it.
You crawled out into the rest of the apartment, managed to keep quiet despite your stinging ankle. Had Deadeye not been awake, you would be long gone by now. But he's put himself right between you and the front door.
You have got to get out of here, before he turns you in or Scofflaw comes looking for you or Detective decides simply keeping you here has gotten boring and he’d rather just beat the tar out of you.
You would go charging out the door now, but you could barely walk the few feet to the kitchen, and your magic still refuses to cooperate. Outrunning Detective is nothing when you can just make yourself vanish, even without magic you can usually escape him. But now you would have to manage four flights of stairs with a bad ankle and a hand that won't move.
Detective has poured a second cup of coffee and as he turns to the kitchen table he slides it across the countertop in your direction.
He sits at the table, drinking his coffee and waiting. Today's newspaper is folded in front of him on the table, but he doesn’t pick it up. He usually reads six different newspapers a day, and gets to it right away.
You’re holding him up.
You use the doorframe to pull yourself up. Getting from the door to the counter to the table is a feat you’re not sure you’re up for, but somehow you make it without injury. You sit back in the chair across from Deadeye, just in case you pass out. If you passed out on top of the table, you'd likely get his paper wrinkled and even a little slobbery.
Why do you feel so weak?
Detective continues to wait. He's unpitying, you think, even under these circumstances. Somehow you take comfort in that.
You turn your cup of coffee around in your hand. It's hot and very, very black. Quite honestly, you're scared of it. Deadeye drinks without flinching. You try to think of your opening line. What would Scofflaw say?
"I, I guess I'm not, not mmuch good at sneaking."
"It's early yet."
You pause, looking for something else to say.
"Th-Thank you for, for ah-offering to, to l-let me st-stay here."
"It's not an offer."
You expected something to that effect. But hearing it still makes you focus all of you attention down to the table. You can see yourself in your coffee, little more than white lines in perfectly black liquid. Focus on that, you tell yourself, focus on the dark.
A chill goes up your back, one so familiar you don't shiver. Shadow magic, at long last.
"You can't force me to stay."
"Where would you go, Innovator?" You think he wants to add 'back into Scofflaw's lap?' but he stops himself. You're not sure you would mind if he did say it.
"Home." You want to tell him you don't need him, that you can do just fine on your own and that he's being nosy and impolite and that you think this is all just an elaborate prank he's put together so he can laugh at you.
"You'll freeze there." He takes another sip of coffee and reaches for the newspaper. You make a spear and go to stab it through his hand before he can get the paper, but the chill goes out of you entirely and you don't even get the first magicky wisps of a weapon.
And he's right, you would freeze if you went back home. But you think maybe that's the point.
"W-what, how did I, uhm, Detective," it's no spear, but your stutter does annoy him, "what, what happened?"
You've thought about it and the Detective you know would not help a man who broke into his apartment. Something happened, something you can't remember.
He looks up from the paper, folding it up again as he speaks.
"What do you remember?"
For once you remember quite a lot very clearly.
You remember Scofflaw coming over on the one day you were feeling bold enough to tell him you didn't want to be his chew toy anymore. You remember his reaction, how he negotiated the side of your head into the countertop, bargained your clothes off, cut some deals into your skin and buried his hatchet.
Thinking about it doesn't make you as sick as you think it should. You remember it with a clarity that is unusual for you, and it's not the worst you've ever been hurt. Not even the worst Scofflaw has ever hurt you. A sprained ankle and a broken wrist aren't that bad, considering how poorly you usually take a beating.
The cuts, they're mostly just Scofflaw making his point that it would be so easy for him to kill you.
It's really your fault, you shouldn't have shot your mouth off like that. He's your leader, after all, you don't get to tell him what he can and can't do. It was really rude of you, and arrogant. Nothing annoys you like arrogance, especially in yourself. You'll have to apologize when you see him again, if you can ever get out of here.
But Detective doesn't need to know about that.
"I was... I f-fell ah-asleep outssside." And then you woke up here. No, no. You woke up, you had been dreaming, and you woke up and started for home. But Detective was there. That’s when you really took off towards home.
Deadeye nods the little nod that means you've stopped talking, even if you haven't.
"You passed out, I had to carry you inside." That's one thing you will say for Scofflaw, he's quite a powerful storyteller. Deadeye simply doesn't compare. "You've just been sleeping since then," he pauses, looking for something in your face, "It's Monday." he adds.
It all happened on Friday.
"I'm sorry," the words come easily because they're true and familiar. You slept for two days straight and more than that, you ruined Deadeye's weekend. And you relegated him to the couch.
Being a bad person is one thing, but you never mean to be a bad guest.
“I-I can just go,”
“No you can’t.” His eyes do that thing where they catch some light and keep it in a strangle hold, and in the semi-darkness it reminds you of the dream you had on his patio. Remembering it hurts, but that helps. Slowly, you can feel the chill starting up your back again. If you take it slow this time, it should work.
You can feel it rolling down your arms, nice and slow and it’s bitter cold but that just means it’s strong.
“Stop saying that.” The magic reaches your hands and you know without looking that the tips of your fingers are glowing purple. This is good, you’re that much closer to having the upper hand.
“You’re not going anywhere, Innovator.” He takes up the paper again and you just can't handle that. You grab it by the centerfold and try to rip out of his hands. But you couldn’t hope to beat Deadeye in a test of strength on your best day. Instead you do what is familiar and start burning the paper. Your fist shakes with the strain of keeping your smokeless fire going. You’ve barely roasted half an inch’s diameter around single finger, but it feels like you’ve tried to burn the entire building. A sudden throb sends you reeling and you fall face-forward toward the table. But Deadeye reaches out and catches your head before it hits. His hand is big and his fingertips almost hook into your eye sockets. Instead, though, they hold your forehead and you can just feel the top of his palm as he lowers your head to the table.
God, why won’t he stop it?
He puts your head down gently, folds the singed paper up and leans forward, looking down at you. You close your eyes.
For a moment all you can hear is your own quiet breathing.
“You’ve lost a lot of blood,” he talks to you like you’re a dog, like you can’t really understand what he’s saying.
“What do do do you na-na-know ab-bout b-blood?”
Deadeye doesn’t respond, rather you hear him pull away from the table and move out of the kitchen entirely. You don’t try to follow him on your mental map of the apartment. To hell with that.
Let him go get his guns, send a bullet into your head. He’d be doing everyone a favor, yourself included.
You hear him come back, slide something onto the table by your head. Then he just stands there at your side, waiting for you to look up so you can watch him crush you.
You're a miserable excuse for a human being, but you're not that dumb. And for all that you wish you could face him and be done with it all, you don't want to get his kitchen dirty with bone and blood and brains.
And then he's talking before you can work up the guts to suggest you move someplace your head exploding won't be so messy.
"I have to go to work. You're going to stay here and rest until I get back. Be sure to eat something."
"I won't be h-here when you, when you come back."
"We'll see, Innovator."
Then he just goes about his usual morning routine, as if you weren't sitting there, face to the table like a child throwing a tantrum. He doesn't even say 'goodbye' as he pulls on his coat, grabs his hat and walks out the door. The only sign that he knows you're still there is the roll of the tumblers when he locks you inside.
You sit there and somewhere in time you start to doze. Far be it from you to exaggerate, but you don't think you've ever been this tired before.
Even sleeping takes it out of you.
In one of your more wakeful moments, you decide that, if you are going to sleep, you won't be doing it at the table. It's bad for your back, which is bad enough already. You don't usually care about your body, but right now you can't seem to care about anything. And you'd be comfortable on the couch, at least.
You won't go back into the bedroom. That's just too weird.
You lug yourself over to the couch and curl up. There's a blanket to the one side, the one you made Deadeye use because you'd stolen his bed. You won't use it, you'll do just fine without it.
When you wake up you'll go dismantle the lock on the door and be on your way.
You just need to rest for a minute.
When your eyes open, you're curled up under the blanket and the lights in the kitchen and majority of the rest of the apartment are on.
You sit up slowly. Your head doesn't hurt, nothing does. Even as you turn back to the kitchen, forcing your eyes to adjust to light, you feel fine.
Deadeye is sitting at the table, looking over case files. The side of the table you were sitting at is clear, you untouched cup of coffee is gone, but you notice a small black book right about where your head was.
"You haven't eaten."
"Sssorry," he was right, just like he always is. "I... Was going to, to leave."
"You should've eaten something, first."
"I'm sorry," he doesn't look up from his papers for a moment, and it makes the scolding worse. Now you aren't some dog that can't understand, you're smart enough to know he's angry, and to know you did wrong. "I was g-going to, when, after I got h-home."
"You shouldn't have waited." He gets up from the table and starts to move around the kitchen. You rest your chin on the top of the couch, watching him. It's all so easy for him, everything is right where it's supposed to be, right where he left it. It's hypnotizing, how smoothly everything goes. Water boils, sauce warms, carrots are diced and added to the sauce, noodles cook, strained, two plates, forks, spoons, serve up.
You duck back down and pull your legs up to your chest as he comes over, hiding your face. Fat lot of good it does you, he knows you were watching. You don't keep up the charade when he comes around the side of the couch. Instead you look up, take the plate he offers, silverware too.
It smells great and, even though it's canned sauce and you're not sure why he put carrots in, you know it must taste even better.
Your hands shake as your fingers fold around fork and spoon. This can't really be happening, and even if it isn't you feel sick all over. Because Deadeye Detective just made you dinner.
On the most basic level it means he doesn't want to you to starve.
Because everyone knows Deadeye cares about others, he acts like he doesn't and never drops the act, but everyone knows. He cares about people more than Scofflaw cares about his own reflection.
Means you're part of the people
The people he cares about.
When he brings you a glass of water you're shaking so violently you can barely speak without your teeth chattering.
"W-w-w-wa-wah-wah-why?" It's not what you want to say, not at all. You want to tell him you've been in love with him since he first foiled you and your team, that you've made a study of every minute detail in his life, that your fistful of rooms are filled with bits and snatches of his story, that when you were curled up with his pillow you were the happiest you've ever been and that you knew you were dreaming earlier because you knew he wasn't as cruel as your imagination made him, that you've always been careful to reason away any little wound or slight he's ever done you and you are so, so sorry that you unnerve him, because all you ever wanted was to be close to him but he scares you so much and when you get scared you just can't be normal, and that's hard enough for you already.
And the most you can manage is a stupidly suspicious question.
Why can't you control yourself and just try to enjoy this? You're so stupid.
"Because you need to eat." He doesn't mention that that statement goes against everything he stands for, that he just wants you starve and wither, that he's disgusted by the thought of you and your obsession with him, that he's meant every shot he's ever fired at you.
And you don't care.
He goes back into the kitchen and somehow you manage to eat without crumpling into a weeping mess on the hardwood floor. Eating is an instinctual, mechanical action. You don't remember what the food tastes like, you just wolf it down like the starved man you typically are.
All you remember is that it's good, and that's all you need to remember.
When you finish, you pull yourself up off the couch and take your plate into the kitchen. You nearly wrap yourself up in the blanket and walk around that way, as you usually do at home. But right now that would be rude and more than a little silly. It's plenty warm in here, anyway.
You put your plate in the sink. To get back to the couch you'll have to skulk past the table, and Deadeye. It wasn't such a monumental task when you had a plate to use as an excuse for moving. Now all you can think of is how its feels like you were sitting there only minutes before. Detective, however, wears the whole day on his face. In the only way that he can, which is to say that he refuses to look tired at all, and in that way shows just how tired he is.
Does that make sense?
He hides stuff like that, and most of it is so well hidden that you have to think about how to find it. But you're a champion at hiding, and there's no trick he could use that you don't know already.
To his credit, he makes it a challenge, and that's something no one else can manage with you.
The world is transparent, but Detective is not.
He looks up at you as you finish that thought.
You just been standing here staring at him.
For once, though, Detective isn't glaring at you. He just looks over at you, like this is totally normal behavior. For you, at least.
It strikes you that this is the face he sees in the mirror, still hard and unpitying, but not so angry. The frown stays in place, you expected no less, but the eyes aren't so finely focused and you can see his brow has smoothed out. The usual lines persist, but they seem more natural now.
He looks his age.
He reaches across the little table and picks up the book. That must've been what he left by your ear this morning. He holds it out to you and you notice that he's moving slow. He really must be tired.
He's just relaxed?
Deadeye's never relaxed around you before. Even when he's needed to, when you'd tied him up in your attic, he'd never really relaxed. He'd acted the part, done it beautifully, but you're obsessed with him and you know when he's forcing it.
You take the book.
He's not waiting and watching for your inevitable screwing up. He’s just sitting in his kitchen.
“Read that, it should explain some of this.” He turns back to his own reading material. He finished eating long before you, and went back to his case files.
You look down at the book because looking at him is starting to make you shiver. It’s small and black, bound with grey, the kind of book that should have a jacket. Looking at the spine, you’re a little confused. No title, no author. You check the front again, nothing, the back, nothing. It’s about a hundred and fifty pages long, but rather small so you could probably read it in three hours. Maybe four, if your head was hurting. Which is starting to happen right now.
“Uhm,” he doesn’t look up, and neither do you. “W-what is it ah-bout?”
“Magic,” and of course he can make the word sound silly, even without trying.
“Ohh,” Deadeye Detective has a book on magic. No, no that can’t be right.
You open it, and your head swims.
The page you open to has the tiniest type you’ve ever seen, arranged in neat, incredibly tight rows.
You flip through the entire book now, front to back, then back to front for good measure. It’s all like that.
Scratch four hours, this may well take a whole day.
“Where, where did” you flip through a third time, trying to decipher a line or two. “Ah, where did you f-find this?”
“I can’t tell you that.”
Oh, right, of course he can’t. If he did he would be putting the author, or probably just the seller, in a lot of danger. You’re the most magically inclined man in the city, regardless of your current condition, and anyone who could write or sell a book on magic is someone you would want to keep out of the Company’s hands. You’ve done it before. You’ve killed people who knew about magic, who knew more than Detective knows. It’s part of your relationship, that you teach him about it little by little.
Well, perhaps experience by experience is a better way of putting it.
Scofflaw would say ‘Blow by blow,’ but you don’t want to think about that right now.
Experience by experience.
Except he has a book. One hundred and fifty pages of the smallest type all about magic.
You think back to your last official run in with Detective. It was nearly two months ago. He sent a bullet past your ear, and you nursed the burn for days. The ringing wasn’t so bad.
You, in turn, burning half of Scout’s leg. You always go for Scout when there’s a fight. He’s easy to hurt, for all that he’s the toughest of the Company.
It was a very tame encounter, now that you think about it.
“When did I buy it?” ‘Buy,’ not ‘get.’ But you know better, he can’t fool you with careful word choice. Magic users, or anyone who knows about magic, trade. Money is so temporary, so useless. Metals, even used ones like spoons or watches, are the common currency with magic-related people.
“Y-yes, when wasss, was it?”
“About a month ago, when Scout relapsed.”
Oh, yes, that does happen. You didn’t mean for it to happen, but it’s still your fault.
Scout has had a history with pain killers. Particularly diamorphine. Heroin.
Burning his leg would have put him in a lot of pain, which would make him reach out, despite Deadeye’s best efforts. You don’t doubt that Detective had to all but tie Scout down to keep him from using, and that he might have gone that extra mile. But, sadly, Deadeye can’t always be where he’s needed.
Detective says nothing, which is just as bad as saying something. As blaming you, outright. It’s just like him the play this close to the vest, leave you knowing you did wrong and that he blames you, but keeping quiet.
Making himself a martyr.
You hate it when he does that.
Just when you thought you could talk to him, he goes and does that.
It makes you so mad you go back to the couch.
It’s dark in here, too dark to read type this small, but you refuse to turn on a light and remind Deadeye of what a terrible burden you are to him.
You curl yourself back up and glare at first page of the book.
If you could you would set something on fire. Not the book, not yet. You need to read it first, then you’ll get rid of it. It was stupid of him to give it to you, anyway. But no, now you want to burn...
You look around.
There isn’t much you could burn, actually. Bookshelves, the couch, a record player and shelf of records. A radio, end table beside you.
You’d make the biggest dent in his life if you burned, exploded rather, the radio. But then he wouldn’t hear about your exploits fast enough. The morning, or evening, you’re not picky about when it’s reported, news is always a source for him. People don’t know that the best detective in town is the man to call when there’s trouble with the Scoundrels. Scofflaw’s very careful to make people think the Company is just a detective agency, nothing all that important.
So when no one calls him directly, Deadeye has to look elsewhere for the details of your disasters.
No, the radio would live to see another day.
The records, however, are a different story.
Which would be better, destroying the records and leaving him with a useless player, or destroying the player and leaving him without music. No, that wouldn’t be as crushing for him as it would be for you. Making his record player big and fairly expensive and utterly useless is better than just making him get a new one. And the time and effort that would go into putting together his record collection would have been entirely wasted.
And nothing bothers Detective more than wasting things.
You smile to yourself, curling up tighter and watching the shelf of records.
They have no idea how very endangered they are.
The lights come on.
You turn to look at him. He’s headed back to the table, with that long-suffering look still on his face.
He wants you to forget his arrogance, knowing full well that you won’t. But he’s trying.
That’s more than can be said for Scofflaw.
Stop thinking about him.
You focus on the book, leering down at the first page.
What is this stuff?
You turn to another page, hoping to find something that makes sense.
It only gets worse.
“H-how, how is this going to, going to eh-explain?”
“It takes time,” he’s calm, but you get the feeling he doesn’t quite know what to say. You’re willing to bet he thinks it’s all nonsense. “In five pages it goes from fingernails to blood volume,” you hear him get up, and you can’t help turning just a little to watch him come over. He’s coming over to you and he’s probably not going to hit you. “All you need to know, is the amount of blood in the body informs the strength of your magic.”
He reaches over and takes the book. You’re sorry to see it go.
You want to figure it out, go word by word, letter by letter if you have to, and understand the thing. You don’t care if it takes weeks, you’ll go through it and figure the whole thing out, leave the pages dogeared and wrinkled, scribble notes and translations in the margins. You don’t care if in the end the front and back panels have faded spots from where your fingers grip them, or if you break the spine permanently and relegate the whole thing to laying wide open, pages bleeding out from being handled too much for so long, waiting for someone to come along and put it out of its misery.
You sit up, leaning on the arm of the couch to see where he’s putting it. Third of the five bookshelves, the one by the window. Second shelf, five over from the left side.
“How, how did you f-f-find it?” The prospects of that kind of a puzzle sets your heart racing. And he’s already figured it out. “Please don’t, tell me w-what it says, again,” If he does you don’t know what you’ll do. But he must understand what it’s like to want to solve something on one’s own.
“You don’t mind sleeping on the couch from now on?”
“No,” would it be wrong of you to get up and retrieve the book now? He doesn’t want you to have it, or else he wouldn’t have taken it away. But he isn’t keeping it hidden, and you know he knows you’re watching him.
“Good,” He goes over to the table, starts putting his papers in order. Third bookcase, second shelf, five from the left. “Goodnight, Innovator.”
“Goodnight,” you wait until he’s got everything nice and neat and goes into his room, then you’re up and at the bookshelf.
You grab the nameless book, wrap yourself up in the blanket, and try to decode the thing until well into the night, when you realize that you’re supposed to be being held here against you will.
 Minus your sad little escape attempt.
 Taste and smell share the same nerve leading to the brain, hence the two share sensory information at times. There is, though, no substitute for actually tasting something. Vanilla extract, for example.
 God you hope he wasn’t trying.
 The heavier paper is nice, and good for little things like origami, but it doesn’t serve to do much in the long run.
Chapter 4: Chapter 3
"I'm sorry I've, that I've been, uh," you don't mean to take so long, but you really have no idea what you're saying, "such a, a bad guest."
"Don't worry about it." Hearing it, even with his centurion delivery, reminds you of Scofflaw. You wonder what he's up to, without you around. Maybe he's looking for you?
"I'll, I won't be any, I'll be good, f-from now on."
You’re determined to keep that promise. You have questions, of course, but you’re willing to set them aside in favor of making this a more pleasant experience for both of you.
It’s your second night, well, the second night you’ve been fully conscious, and you know that whatever plans you might have for getting out of here won’t work until you can get your magic working again. Even something as simple as picking the lock on the front door, a task you could manage just fine without magic, is exponentially harder without the use of your right hand.
And you don’t want to make him angry, by being as contrary as you were yesterday morning. Or by pretending you hadn’t done that at all. It’s better to face these things head on, and to be gracious and apologetic.
The fact that he, in turn, is a rather gracious host gives you hope that this will be a relatively easy stay. Deadeye does not like trouble, in any form. Knowing that you aren’t looking to cause any will, you’re certain, put him somewhat at ease.
You never look to cause trouble, it’s very rude.
Alternatively, you don’t look to overenjoy yourself.
But you don’t know how to apologize for being so fascinated by that book, much less how to apologize for sitting up reading it when he, sort of, told you not to. You don’t want to tell him you disobeyed, even if there was never a command given. But knowing you did weighs on you.
Asking if the book is really off limits is sort of tipping your hand, but it is the best way you can absolve yourself. If it is, then you’ll come clean, you promise, and if not, you might still confess.
You need to word it just right.
You need to think about this, very carefully.
Social interaction, especially with Deadeye, is always a delicate operation. You don’t want to say the wrong thing, though that is usually what happens. Now more than ever it seems to be important that you get things right. He could very easily kill you if you didn’t. Or throw you out.
Deadeye rubs his eyes, rereading the file he’s got in front of him. His knuckles aren’t white, but his fingertips press against the pages such that you can see the whiteness of lower-skin through his nails.
“Is, is there anything, that I c-could do, to help?” You sincerely doubt you could be helpful at all.
Deadeye sits back, holds the papers out to you. He’s frustrated, he doesn’t want to talk, he doesn’t want to have you here, he doesn’t want to share his files with you.
You take them gingerly, and try to read without getting any germs on them.
If you could, you would burn your fingerprints off of it, just for good measure.
It’s a murder case. A woman was, well, the official language is ‘brutalized,’ and then bled to death. Her doctor was the one who found her, who called it in. Crowbar must be busy, giving cases that should be strictly police business to Deadeye. Well, Deadeye will be much more effective than old Crowbar could ever be, so it’s just as well. No, it’s better.
She was single, entirely so, void of anything someone would call a beau. That’s odd. She had a good relationship with her parents, a few friends. She was new in town, but that’s hardly unusual.
“You,” of course he has, why do you even ask, “you’ve s-spoken with, with Doctor G-G-Gatson.”
He nods, digging out his pipe.
You shut up, handing the papers over again.
“I,” you need to say something now. “W-would, would you uh, sh-should I mmmake tea?”
“That would be fine,” anything that will shut you up is wonderful, right now.
You shuffle quietly over to the stove, go about your business as silently as you can. The tap and the stove aren’t sympathetic to your cause, and that worries you. But you manage despite them. You need to find his tea. You keep it in a big glass jar, boxes and individual bags alike, with a cheap metal top. Much of your life has been spent rifling through that jar, for just the right kind.
You have no idea where normal people keep tea.
You’re going to guess that, if he has any at all, it’s going to be in the cabinets. And, another guess, not any of the lower cabinets because you know that those are generally for pots. And why would someone put the tea with their cookware? That’s just silly.
You check the cabinets opposite the sink, because Deadeye is not the kind of man who inconveniences himself by putting whatever he needs to do dishes opposite the sink when he could put it above.
And you don’t use teabags to do dishes.
Sure enough, you find some earl grey. It’s at the back of a cabinet, which probably means he hasn’t used it in some time.
There are two bags missing. One pot of tea.
You take two more out, and are just able to track down a teapot just before the water boils. That’s the trick, to get the water just about boiling, then pour it in. If you don’t, if you let it boil, then you end up scorching the teabags. The debate about whether or not it’s better to pour the water over the teabags or to put them in afterwards is an odd one, you think. Not scorching the teabags with boiling water kind of implies that you want to be gentle with them, that it serves your purposes more to be careful and patient. You pour the water in and then add the bags.
You stand by the stove and look over at Deadeye.
That’s what he’s doing, isn’t it? Being gentle and patient, and of course careful. When is he not careful? And what does he think he’ll get out of it? Information on the others? Does he really think you can be bought so easily?
You like to think you’re a good teammate. In fact, you’d say that out of all the Scoundrels, it’s you who best exemplifies loyalty. Courage and strength are not your department, and have never been. You’re not one to delude yourself. But you’re a Scoundrel, through and through, and he should know that.
Sadly, though, Deadeye is not omniscient. He can read faces and bodies and everything else, but he can’t read minds. If he could you wouldn’t be here. He wouldn’t have let you in, wouldn’t have dragged you inside, wouldn’t have cleaned you up, dressed you, and let you sleep in his bed.
Your gut roils.
He did all that, what in god’s name could he want in return?
You can’t think of anything you could do for him that would even hold a candle to all this.
Even without you ratting out your best and only friends, he’s going to catch up with you three sooner than later.
Doesn’t he know that?
Isn't that a certainty for him? Everything Detective does he’s sure of. If he’s chasing you he knows he’s going to catch you.
Or is that what this is? Has he caught you? Does it count that you came to him, because you’re weak and stupid and you thought he actually cares enough to take care of you?
You really are stupid.
You’ve overbrewed the tea.
God, how could you be so stupid?
He’s expecting tea by now. You’ve taken too long, you always do. Too long or too short, that’s you all over. You really don’t know what Scofflaw sees in you.
Stop thinking about Scofflaw.
You pour out two cups.
You haven't overbrewed tea in years. The whole thing should have been a mechanical, familiar motion, something you can in your sleep. If you were anywhere else you would say it was the unfamiliar kitchen that's thrown you off. But the kitchen is not unfamiliar. You know perfectly well that Detective's silent presence has effectively detoured you from managing the one thing you're good at.
And he didn't need to lift a finger.
You bring him his tea, wishing there was arsenic in it.
Scofflaw says you have 'asbestos fingers' because you can handle very hot and cold things more or less without flinching. Your hands don't shake because the tea is so fresh and hot. It does burn your palm because you wrap your whole hand around the mug, but you can't stop shaking because you're serving Deadeye Detective tea and he's not tied up.
You're in his apartment and you've been here for days and you're not rotting in a bodybag.
He takes the mug from you before you can lean over his shoulder to put it on the table. Of course he knows you'll jump at every little chance you get to be close to him. You wouldn't have touched him, though. You couldn't fake accidentally grazing his shoulder or neck without spilling tea everywhere.
His hold on the mug is much steadier than yours, and as he sets it beside his papers on the table you don't even see the tiny muscles around his eye flinch because of the heat. Considering what you've done to him, it shouldn't be surprising that he has a high tolerance for pain. But seeing him so calm when the hurt is accidental, caused by forces beyond your control, gives you chills and you don't know why.
You sit across from him at the table, because returning to the couch would be very rude. You think. He uses the table as a second desk, you're not sure if that necessitates different rules of etiquette. Either way, you feel going to the couch would be equal to ignoring him. And he is not a man who asks, as you do, to be ignored.
Sitting across from him, folded with your knees up to your face, your body just managing to fit all of its gawkiness into the seat, you watch him as he works. It's a familiar thing, a drama you've seen so often you know every tiny quo and gesture. When he's like this, when he's frustrated, his fingertips run back and forth along his jaw, feeling whatever small bumps or cuts his straight razor left. He doesn't wince if he finds a tender spot, but his fingertip lingers there for a moment before he sighs through his nose and sits back, straightening himself out and angling his eyes down with a focus that's laser-like. He doesn't grind his teeth or bite his nails, crack his knuckles, chew his lip, tug at his ear.
He just feels along his jaw.
How he can stand to do just that is a wonder to you. He is the smartest man you've ever met, and you're given to thinking that with intelligence comes distraction. His may be a different kind of intellect, but the point remains that you expect more activity from him. And, as is so often the case, he denies you, defies you, and reminds you that your hypotheses are based entirely on your own imaginings.
He drinks from his mug and your heart stops as he speaks.
"You brew it strong."
"Sorry," you squeak, betraying your anxiety about everything from the tea to your haircut to the book you shouldn't have read to the fact that you can't stop thinking about Scofflaw.
He takes another sip and puts his mug down.
You're going to die.
He puts the file down, rubbing his eyes and the spot above his nose.
"I think it would be best if you got a blood transfusion."
It comes apropos to nothing, which means he didn't have time to wait for the subject to come up on its own. Which means it's important.
You don't flatter yourself by thinking that implies you're important.
It's much more likely that he just wants you stronger so you can leave that much sooner.
You try to think of something besides that. You did promise to be good, after all.
You haven't been to the hospital in a long time, aren't transfusions the things where they give you a bag of blood on a stand and hook the bag into your arm?
A bag of blood, where'd the blood come from?
A bag of meat, a raw steak wrapped in plastic and left to rot, breaking down to nothing but viscous red liquid in the bottom of the bag. And maggots, small and white growing fat off of another animal's pain and death, eating away until there's nothing left but the blood. Then they swim in it, wriggling their lumpy bodies around and turning on each other when their tiny brains realize the real food is gone. Half eaten maggot bodies floating it their own blood and the blood of the cow, until all of them finally break down and all that's left is a bag of bright red rot.
And he wants you to hook that into your arm?
"N-n-n-n-no, th-th-th-thank-k-k y-y-you."
He looks at you, confused by your rejection. Deadeye knows you can't say no to him, usually. He must not know where the blood comes from.
"It would help you get better."
You shake your head, hugging your legs tighter.
"Innovator, you may not feel it but you've lost a lot of--"
"I don't want it, Deadeye!"
The silence that follows makes you want to curl up and die. He keeps looking at you, studying you as you cringe and turn your face away.
You're not being a very good guest.
"Drink your tea, before it gets cold."
You take a dutifully take a sip, it's bitter and awful on your refined pallet.
You remember that morning, when you came off of reading that damn book with a very similar taste in your mouth.
It was nearly three in the morning, and you weren't sure that Deadeye had locked the front door from the outside. And instead of checking you crawled into the bathroom and looked at yourself in the mirror.
There you were, bundled up in his blanket, your face a mess of scabs, wearing his clothes. You should have been trying to find whatever way you could out of here, trying to sneak into his room and slit his throat, then rifle through all his things until you found his keys. And instead you took a shower.
Under the stream of cold water (hot water would send your blood racing around your body, and likely make you pass out again) you could just pretend you were inspecting your injuries in the subjective comfort of your own home. They were all minor, just a couple fistfuls of cut, and all were disinfected and healing nicely.
When the chill finally became too much you climbed out of the shower, shut off the water and sat on the rim of the tub, looking at your hanging right hand before drying off.
You should not be in love with Deadeye Detective.
You dried off, only taking action when you thought the chances of you dying from hypothermia were about fifty-fifty. Then you got dressed again, bundled yourself back up, and curled back up on the couch.
Once you were balled up in the crevice of the couch again, it was conspicuously easy to warm up. You considered the facts; Deadeye does not live in a cheap or run down building, hence the heating and air conditioning work just fine, you've eaten a decent meal for the first time in a while, the quilt is very heavy and you're occupying the same spot as you were before, and the crush of the cushions against one another must have saved some of your warmth from before.
You fell asleep to the sound of Deadeye's alarm clock and your brain's quiet hypothesizing.
And now here you are, sitting across from the man you're in love with, who's let your wear his clothing, who made you dinner again, making an ass of yourself.
You want to go back to the couch and pretend none of this is happening, but he hasn't given you permission to leave the table.
"A woman is found dead in her apartment, there are no signs of forced entry, she dies painfully but no one hears it, her doctor then comes to check on her and finds her dead behind a locked door." He looks at you, thinking but not looking through you.
He wants you opinion.
"Uhhhm," very eloquent, "wa-was the dddoor b-bolted?"
"No, the killer left the way they came."
No, a man would not climb up (or, in more fantastic circumstances, repel down) to the third floor of a building, kill the woman inside, and then leave the front door locked but not bolted.
"S-someone, she knew. Sh-sh-she t-trusted." You say it as an afterthought, Deadeye doesn't respond. "W-what f-f-friend would, would uhm, w-want to do that?"
"No one she knows in town has a criminal record, no one in therapy or counseling. Officially they're all sane."
Deadeye shakes his head. You look down into your tea. His is nearly finished, yours is barely started.
Your eyes sneak back up to his face. The bags under his eyes are a little puffy, leaving the rest of him looking sick. The face of a battered god. He never sleeps deeply enough, or long enough. Sometimes, when you sit by his window at night, you can see him lying awake until well into the morning. You can't be sure he's awake until he reaches up the stop the blearing of the alarm clock, but there's something off. Something in his breathing, or the way he lies there, or something so much less obvious, but something.
You bite your lip to keep from telling him he needs to rest. He doesn't want to hear that right now.
"Ah-are there, do, do you h-have any other c-c-c-cases?"
It's a lie, but only in its diction. He does have more important cases, he has cases that are highly important the people who are powerful and private. He has your cases, for that matter.
But this is the one that's caught his eye, for right now. No other case is as important to him.
It stings a little.
"Don't l-let mmme get in the, in your way."
He glares at you.
"Don't be childish."
"Y-y-you dddon't even l-like me! Why, why do, why w-would you do all this?"
"Innovator calm down."
"No, no you don't! You don't! why are you doing this? What do you want?"
"Why won't you just tell me?"
You shut up.
Deadeye has never raised his voice at you before, even when he had a gun to your head. You've heard him shout, you've heard him scream, but that is nothing like hearing him give an order. You can hear a rasp in the very tailend of his voice, like the rebounding of the initial harsh note.
You hide your face in your knees, your head filling with the realization of how easily he could grab you and break your jaw, then rip out your tongue and shut you up permanently. And if he stopped himself there, if he let you live with just that, no one would ever say you didn't have it coming.
Minutes tick by, but you don't move to look back at him.
You're not a good guest at all.
If he kicked you out now, let you fend for yourself against the world and Delinquent and Scofflaw, you wouldn't blame him.
"Drink your tea."
You peek over your kneecaps enough to see the table, stretch out a hand and take your mug. It's cold as you sip cautiously, and the tastes is worse, but you swallow the lot of it.
"You need to get better, Innovator."
You nod, not looking him. You miss the burn of the mug against your palms.
You nod again. Get better. That's it.
"Tell me you understand."
"I understand." It doesn't sound like your voice, and you don't think you moved your mouth at all, but it comes out of you all the same.
You slide your mug onto the table, feeling like you're being held captive for the first time.
It's a terrible cold feeling, like a snake coiling and uncoiling in your stomach, reaching itself up around your lungs and squeezing. You don't know if you'll ever see Doxy or Delinquent or Scofflaw or Bawd ever again, you're completely helpless.
Is this how Detective feels when you kidnap him?
No, it can't be. He's never helpless, even when he's bound to a chair and faced with you at your most magical, he knows that at any moment he could snap you in two.
You're only safe when you have your magic, and now he's gone and found out how to take that away.
Your understanding that it was Deadeye's goal to simply put you behind bars is incorrect. He wants to kill you.
And you're in love with him.
He cleans up his papers and goes into the bedroom, leaving you folded and terrified at the table.
He’s keeping you here so you’ll be strong and terrifying for the papers when he catches you. You can almost see the picture, a tiny grainy image of you in full magical regalia, captured by some hapless reporter before a wave of your magic stopped their pesky snapping permanent, and a larger picture of Detective at the very top of the page, so clear and lifelike he could step right out of it.
You take some comfort in knowing that when you’re finally dead there’ll finally be a picture of Detective that captures the glint in his eye. It comes and goes, that look of perfect intelligence that he gets when he’s proud of himself.
It happens so infrequently.
You wish you knew how to make him happy.
 There is a very small part of you that does not want to leave.
 Even if you were feeling extremely bold.
 You caved.
Chapter 5: Chapter 4
Things don’t improve.
You can’t bring yourself to feel any better about staying here, you can’t pick the lock with one hand, just looking out the window at the fire escape makes you dizzy, and Detective is making no progress with his oh so important case.
And you hate earl grey.
You can’t even bring yourself to enjoy your secret sessions with the book. All it is now if a symbol of how Detective is going to methodically destroy you.
You sleep more than you know is healthy.
If you’re to serve out the rest of your time here like this, you doubt you’ll be able to look at Detective ever again. He doesn’t understand you, no matter how smart he is he just doesn’t get it. And he never will, no matter how hard you try to spell it out for him. You two are worlds apart, and that’s the way it will always be.
It all makes you sick.
Things do not get better as time passes and Detective is left with an open case.
It’s different when he’s working one of your cases, because then he’s working backwards. He already knows who did it, all he needs to do is work back to the actual event. Now, working from the murder itself, he’s left groping for leads. And none come to him.
You know it drives him crazy, as does your presence. You keep from being underfoot, you try to make as little of a footprint as possible. You cook for yourself, keep out of the kitchen when he’s home, stay away from the table period, leave everything exactly where he left it, clean up after yourself meticulously. You wouldn’t eat at all if you weren’t sure that would make him angrier.
And even while you do all this, you know somehow your insistence in making yourself nonexistent aggravates him further, so much so that you’re not sure not existing is working out for you.
Soon, you know, there will be one too many straws for Detective and he’ll deal with it by breaking your back.
He’s hit you before, he’s hit you hard. But now you’re sure that once it’s starts you’re not going to get back up. You don’t even consider what will happen ‘if you’re lucky’ because you won’t be.
He’s going to be very careful about how he starts, even though he doesn’t need to be when you’re so weak. He’ll sneak up on you, grab you from behind, dragging you back by the hair just to get that first pained yelp out of you before he sends you to the floor. He won’t bother with kicking you, he’ll come down with you, on top of you, and show you just how much he hates you. Over and over, he’ll try to crack your cheekbones or split your nose, nevermind the fact that the skull is made of the strongest bone in the body. But he won’t break your jaw, or even knock out that many teeth. He wants to hear your begging him to stop. Over and over, in the one side of your face that’s avoided scaring, until you’ve covered his right fist with your blood. Splatters, you’ll see, all up his forearm, before he lays into your side and then hard into your stomach. Smashing the air out of your lungs before you can reach up to try and touch him. Because even then, when he’s trying to break you open, you’ll just want to feel that hard line in his brow that just never goes away. You’ll reach for it, shaking under his weight, he’s sitting on your legs, making it impossible for you to kick or writhe out from under him, and before your hand even reaches up to his shoulder his fist drives into your stomach again and you wretch when he pulls it away slowly. He’s slowing down, breathing hard and fast, his body straining to take in air even as it expels it. You try to talk, blobbering as your tongue tangles with blood and loose teeth. They’re all there, just so he can pull them out later. He leans in towards you, grabbing your left hand by the wrist and breathing slower now. His other hand wraps around your index finger.
“Say it,” he’s right against your ear, loud even as his whispers, and you can hear blood rushing passed your ear and you have no idea whose it is, “say it without stuttering.”
Your body convulses and you’re sure you’ll vomit. You clamp your jaws shut, trying to breathe with him pressing down on you. He eases your index finger back, nearing an unnatural angle.
He snaps your finger back. You scream, your throat burning with the effort. He takes hold of your middle finger. You whimper and shake your head.
He breaks it back, goes your ring finger.
This time he breaks the middle phalange, waits as you swallow the end of your scream, waits there with his face pressed against yours, where you always wanted it, as you gasp and whimper and squirm under him, until you quiet down and then he breathes a sigh and breaks it at the first knuckle.
He doesn’t wait for you with your fourth finger and thumb. Or your wrist.
Then he sits up, takes your ruined hand and presses its palm to his cheek.
His other hand finds your neck, his thumb pressing lightly at your adam’s apple. His fingers wrap around you, sliding over the throbbing vein that sticks out from your throat so easily it must look like he just wants to hold you. Caressing you, your hand to his cheek. His thumb presses down and you gag.
“This is what you wanted, isn’t it?”
The hand tightens. You squirm and try to pull your hand away, its partner trying to grip the fingers at your neck. He won’t let you go.
The front door snaps closed.
Chapter 6: Chapter 5
It’s only two in the afternoon.
He doesn't get home until seven, and that's on a good day. With you here he comes home much later, as late as midnight. Just staying in the office thinking, reading, avoiding coming home to you.
But now he's home early.
You'd hide the book if you had it, but lucky for you you were just contemplating the patterns on the tops of your fingernails. So you just hide yourself.
He's headed straight for the bedroom, which gives you a chance to peek up at him.
His shirt is covered in blood.
He looks over at you, the skin under his right eye is swollen. And he looks so calm.
You sputter and stare.
“We had a run in with some Marxists. No serious injuries.” But that’s a lot of blood, and even if it only came out of the other fighter they must have tried to hurt him. You’re the only person in the city who would just let Deadeye beat that much blood out of you.
“Ah-are--you’re, you’re alright? Detective?” You’re about to jump over the back of the couch, all he has to do is mention that black eye.
“Fine.” He starts peeling off his shirt. That’s when you notice that his suit jacket is missing. And that he’s taking off his shirt.
There’s blood on his
He’s got his
He took his
You duck behind the back of the couch again, curl up extra tight and don’t open your eyes. What is going on you don’t know what’s going on something is happening and you don’t know what it is but that’s always bad and and and
Detective got hit. In the face.
You should do something about that.
You unfold yourself and sit up shakily. God what are you going to do? What can you do? You’re more useless than ever right now.
Then you hear the shower, nothing more than a low hiss from the far side of the apartment. Of course he would want to clean up, that’s what he always wants.
You take this time to lurch over the couch and hustle into the kitchen, start a pot of water for tea. You’ll need it, even if he only has earl grey and the bitterness makes you want to die. Chamomile, chamomile would help. It’s just what you need right now. But of course he doesn’t have any.
You boil enough water for a pot, but you’re sure he won’t want any.
He’s so strange after he’s loosened someone’s teeth. Calm and collected, moreso than usual, and almost happy. As happy as he can get. You’d do anything to make him that happy, and once or twice you’ve been the one he beats on. But it’s never the same with you. You never fight back. If you even tried you’d risk putting him through a wall. Such is the nature of shadow magic. It will take care of you as long as you want it to.
Only a person who hates themselves as much as you do could work with it and not make people explode over every little thing.
So you can never deliver for Detective the way someone who doesn’t want to be kicked in the head can.
You ball your hands into fists on the countertop.
He’s going to be in his right mind when he leaves the shower, he’s going to be perfectly calm and reasonable and this charade of keeping you here ‘until you get better’ will be over altogether. He’ll kick you out and no one will ever think him wrong for doing so.
You won’t think he’s wrong, you couldn’t possibly disagree with him.
But when you leave you’re going to feel the cold much more acutely than you think you ever have before. No, you haven’t enjoyed your time here. But he let you into his home, and he tried to take care of you.
Why do you only realize that now? He was just trying to do the right thing and you just couldn’t play along because you have to be so suspicious of everything.
Your name is Pernicious Innovator and you ruin everything you touch.
The shower shuts off.
You grab your tea and hurry back to the couch.
No, you’re not safe here, but up till now it’s been understood as your domain. He doesn’t bother you when you’re here and so you stay here to ensure he knows right where you are so you don’t surprise him by being somewhere else and get in the way. You never mean to get in the way, if you could remove yourself entirely from the world and just watch him that would be absolutely fine with you.
It would be ideal.
There must be a way to do that. Shadow magic, shadow magic can do things like that. Maybe the book can
“Let me see your arm.”
He’s sitting next to you on the couch which should be your couch but it’s actually his so you can’t be mad at him for being here but you it’s it’s it’s supposed to be yours when you’re here.
Very eloquently, you squeak.
Detective waits, perfectly patient.
“S’fine,” you don’t want him anywhere near the broken parts of you, even if that means keeping him away from you entirely. He's so good at destroying you, he can do it without even trying. And what's to stop him now that he's got a taste for blood? Not you, certainly.
You shiver and hold out your arm. If he wants to snap your wrist into even smaller pieces, then so be it. At least this way you avoid having him beat you into submission.
You bite back a whimper as he loosens the brace and takes it off. This man is going to destroy you, piece by piece, and you won't lift a finger to stop him.
His hands are warm.
You close your eyes.
He holds your hand very gingerly, waiting for a response. It doesn't hurt yet.
His thumb pushes against your palm, that doesn't hurt either. He's got rough hands.
He pushes your index finger about a millimeter up from where it hangs at the first knuckle. Pain shoots up your arm, hot and sharp and you feel it vibrate through your bones. Surprising yourself, you only hiss.
He stops there, just like that. You have to watch him putting the brace back on to believe it's actually happening.
And even then you don't believe it. And you don't care. You've never cared so little.
He must have some reason, he must
No, no stop that.
He's Detective and he's being nice.
It just happens to be you he's being nice to. But he's just being nice.
So don't question it. For once in your life, Innovator, just accept it.
"How's the ankle?"
"B-b-better. It," you breathe carefully, just in case this is a dream and breathing too hard or too soft will wake you up. "It doesn't, doesn't h-hurt."
"Good." He gets up.
"Are you g-g-g-going back--back in?"
He shakes his head, flipping on the radio. The apartment fills with classical music.
Innovator, you've died and snuck into Heaven.
"W-what happened?" Marxists, you know, but you’d like to know why Detective put himself in danger. And, if he knows, the identity of the one who hit him.
You hear Detective in the kitchen, in the fridge. Ice for his eye.
"There was a report from Seventh Street, a development in one of my cases. A fake report, as we learned after the ambush. But now we know the Marxists are involved."
A thrill goes up your spine as you realize that tonight the radio will report several Marxists were arrested and Detective's name will be broadcast to the whole city as the brave man responsible for it.
You bite your lip and turn to watch him over the top of the couch.
"Y-you brought them, b-brought them in?"
"Some of them, yes."
Detective killed people today and he's the calmest man in the world because of it. You wish you could sit with him and hold the ice pack up to his eye while he gives you a full report. But that would be too much, even if you are dead and raptured.
"Y-y-your eye," you have no idea what you're saying, but talking to him is all you ever want to do. You're just saying words at this point.
God he's so hardboiled it gives you chills.
“They--they--they d-d-didn’t hhave guns?”
“They did, in fact.”
You bite back a gleeful noise.
He fought and killed people who’d outdrawn him--
“Y-you’re sure you’re not--that they didn’t, that you’re not,” you set your tea aside and try to clamber over the couch without clambering over it. He won’t like that, even if he is just a mirage. You’re pressed up against the back of the couch, trying to determine how painful a quick vault would be on a broken wrist.
Deadeye wouldn’t appreciate gymnastics in his home, even if they’re done for the singular purpose of getting closer to him to check and make sure he really is alright.
He might actually dislike them more.
You grab the quilt and pull it over your head, peeking over the couch at him.
You wrap yourself up.
Bullets move so fast and with such a sudden heat that he may have been grazed and thought the thing was just a very close shot. There wouldn’t be much blood, the bullet would be so hot it was sear the wound closed almost upon contact.
Detective could be hurt and not even know it.
And he wouldn’t notice until later, if he were sleeping and turned over on his side the way he always does at about two thirty-seven in the morning, and he woke up to a bullet wound. He wouldn’t be able to get back to sleep all night. And those last two hours and twenty-three minutes are vital.
They’re when his breathing evens out and he actually rests, instead of just sleeping.
He only gets two hours and twenty-three minutes every night, how could you ever let him miss that?
Your legs are shaking as you stand. Wrapped in the quilt. You can do this. You just need to be calm. And the quilt. You could never do this without the quilt.
He’s standing in the kitchen, looking at you.
The quilt adds about a foot to your silhouette on all sides.
You can’t admit that you want to curl up in his lap and sleep for days and days. Or that you would brave the cold with you especially low blood volume just to sit outside his window so you can watch him tonight to make sure he rests easy. Or that there’s a big part of you convinced you’re only worried because you want to touch him.
“Mmmmay I-I-I, ca-can I, uhhh,” a shiver racks your whole frame. “Ch-ch-check?”
He sets the mug he was holding down by the pot of tea you started.
"If you think you can contain yourself."
You nod, shivering. Keep it together Innovator.
He moves a step closer and takes his shirt off.
Suddenly it a whole lot harder to breathe.
"C-c-c-can--can I--m-mmay I t-t-t-check closer?" You pull the quilt tighter around you, shrinking back into its folds. What are you doing what is going on
"Of course." He doesn't want you to, doesn't want to encourage or even acknowledge your obsession with him, doesn't like having you here even when your curled up on the floor trying not to get blood everywhere.
But he's letting you do this.
He resents you for loving him.
Yeah, well, you're
You're going to touch him extra hard
To get back at him.
Yeah, yeah that's why.
You make sure there's plenty of quilt between you two before moving closer. His breathing is absolutely normal, standing in front of you half naked has no effect on him.
Your teeth lock around the inside of your lip as you find yourself almost bent over in front of him. Something makes you hunch so dramatically, reversing the height difference and perhaps worsening it. You just can't stand up straight with him like this.
Your hands are so clammy, why doesn't he flinch away when you touch him?
You poke at a rib tentatively, not looking at him because you can't look at him because you're touching him and he's not tied up and if he realizes that it's you he's going to hit you.
You're really close to him and he just radiates warmth.
You poke another rib and then another. He hasn't hit you yet, but you're not going to push your luck. Your eyes roll up his side, rather than your hands, and you see nothing out of place. You make the same pass a few more times, just in case.
No little burns, no little bruises. He’ll turn over in his sleep as peacefully as usual.
Your eyes follow the curve of his side up to his shoulder, his neck, his face.
Oh god he's watching you
You pull your hands back, looking down again.
"Everything checks out?"
"Yes," you already know the lines of the hardwood floor but you give yourself a refresher crash course. Detective steps away.
You stand there, trying to process the fact that Detective let you touch him. No threats, no magic, no electro-shock, not even rope.
What in god's name is going on?
Detective is buttoning his shirt and pouring himself tea. You slink back over to the couch and hide.
This quilt is perfect for hiding in. Why didn't you realize that before you ended up here?
You would have snuck in and stolen it when it was folded up nice and neat in the hall closet, during the summer. Then you'd have enough time to replace it, so that Detective wouldn't be disappointed when he came looking for it at the end of fall. And then you would a decent trinket, trinket, no, piece, piece of Detective's life that you could cuddle up with.
You can't really fall asleep on his old library card. It leaves lines on your face, and you don't really care about that but it looks bad in photos when you're trying to be threatening and you've got a weird, square imprint on your cheek. Bad publicity is really the last thing you need.
"Mind if I join you?"
He's got the book, and that day's copy of the Inquirer, which you know his preferred newspaper out of the six he reads.
You shake your head, unable to blink.
He tosses the book into your lap with a little flick of his wrist, then sits beside you, of course he knows about the book, you're not smart enough to hide something like that right under his nose.
Your fingers rattle their way around the book, and you would say you have a hold rather than a grip on it. Detective lays the paper across his knee and rolls his eyes over the headlines as he pulls his pipe and tobacco box out of his breast pocket. He lights his pipe and picks up the paper, reading more carefully.
Innovator, you're staring.
You're trying not think about Detective reading unbound next to you, but you don't get far. The book, well you can't even open it. Your hands aren't strong enough, your fingers are jittery and in all honesty your brain can't handle the confused language of the book right now.
Watching Detective read isn't not at the top of the list of things you'd kill to do.
You're sly though, you lean back into the couch and your hands shake with the effort but you get the book open, then it's just a matter of watching him in your peripheral vision.
The strain on your eyes feels like a stiff, steady pinch on the side of your face and it doesn't slack off the way pain usually does with you, but you manage.
The Inquirer covers mostly national and international politics, even though it's printed here in Metropolis Central. It's one of the few rags that gives decent accounts of scandal and schemes in the city, and you've overheard several telephone shouting matches between Scofflaw and its head editors. The result is a newspaper that shies away from reporting about its home city, but you have to say that is quite a relief from the propaganda machine Scofflaw has put together.
Detective is reading about the status of the Russian royal family. There's a big photo of the family, with the father and little son decked out in full regalia, and the girls all covered in bits of white and grey, jeweled corsets and dresses caught and printed in black and white.
"Some people have no sense of humility."
"They're an Old World family, they don't think they need one." You're talking before you realize you are. That happens sometimes.
He shakes his greying head.
"That's no excuse."
"O-of course nnnot, but, but they won't ch-change." What else could you do? Sit there and pretend you didn't start to give your two cents on the Romanovs? What would that have accomplished? "And they w-won't just, just, uh, ac-cept the Revolution."
"They're foolish, but they aren't blind, Innovator."
You shake your head.
"Foolish and b-blind in, in this c-c-case are th-the same. They aren't g-going to."
"The Bolsheviks are about to run them out of their home, they've already taken over so much of Moscow."
"The Bourbons didn't accept it until Louis was on the g-guillotine."
"Perhaps, but no monarchy since then would make their mistakes." You start to contradict him, but he adds. "With the exception of the Serbians."
"B-but if, if they could do, do it so recently, what's to stop the Ro-Rom-Romanovs?"
"They may be foolish enough, but you can't expect them to underestimate a movement against them in light of what happened in Serbia."
"No two c-con-contemporary mmmonarchies th-think themselves alike."
Detective tamps down ash.
"That's very true."
He’s holding the ice to his cheek, and it frustrates you to no end. He must be numb already, he can’t feel that the worst of the swelling is under his eyes, just out of his normal line of sight. You should say something, but that would risk derailing your current conversation.
“I do,” you fiddle with the edge of the quilt, trying to not sound pathetic. You do want to give your opinion on all this, if only to give him some proof that you have an eye on the rest of the world in much the same way he does. “I, I do feel, f-feel sorry for the, about the l-little children.”
He nods, the corners of his mouth angling down. Deadeye doesn’t look away from the paper, but it doesn’t have his attention.
“It’s sad, especially when the boy is that young.”
He knows the Romanovs aren’t going to survive with the Bolsheviks, and you don’t have to explain the situation to him, or mention that those poor little rich kids are going to be killed, because there is no way the royals are getting out of this one. Even if it isn’t the Bolsheviks who do the deed, the rest of Russia hates them so much. Right before the Revolution, Louis and his family tried to leave France. They were caught and taken back to Paris because they insisted on using the royal carriage.
You don’t doubt that these Russians, however sad they may be, are no different.
You scoot a little closer.
“H-history repeats i-its-itself, first as tragedy, and, and second as farce.”
He looks at you.
“F-for eh-everyone who’s, that’s, uhm, w-w-watching.”
“That’s the case for most people, yes.”
“B-but, I would, would never s-say it’s ah-actually, uh, f-funny.” Oh god what did you do that for?
“I would say it sounds more like Scofflaw’s modus operandi.”
You nod shakily. You just think it’s sad, you honestly don’t want to see bad things happening to other people, and you could never really laugh about it. Well, that’s not all true, is it? You’ve laughed while you did awful things to people, people you hated because they mocked or insulted you.
You’re such a hypocrite, what do you think you’re doing? Playing the good guy even as you sit next to the man who’s chronicled your every criminal move.
Your guts twist.
“Y-yes, it’s a, a Scofflaw thing.”
He nods, but no it’s not a nod. You don’t know what it is. He moves his head, kind of like a tilt that he takes back a moment later. What does that even mean?
You hide in the quilt.
“It’s good to know you disagree with him.”
You nod again, and try to snap your neck.
You don’t manage it.
The fabric of the quilt is scratchy, but probably just because you’re rubbing your face on it so frantically.
What if he was being sarcastic?
Oh dear god.
He didn’t sound sarcastic, he didn’t look sarcastic, he was talking about Scofflaw, he doesn’t joke about Scofflaw.
You need to prove him wrong.
Do something nice, show him that you’re capable of caring about someone, not just talking about it.
Oh god no shut up don’t you dare say what you’re thinking!
“If, if it’s not, t-too much, that--that is, uhm,”
Stop stop stop stop stop stop
“I-I-I uh, the, your icepack,”
He looks at you and your body won’t die.
“C-c-c-c-could I-ah, your-your eye is, you, you’re--you’ve--”
He takes your hand and puts the icepack in it.
He goes back to the paper, holding it up with both hands now.
You get up and, very quietly, move to sit on his right side.
You hold the icepack up to the redness under his eye.
He reads the paper, the music plays quietly, and after a while you don’t mind how cold the icepack is against your palm.
 Not actual Marxists, or even Communists or Socialists. The Marxists are a largely German and Austrian gang whose founder, Johan Marx, had always wanted to name something after himself. But why are you thinking about that, Detective’s hurt!
 Don’t get ahead of yourself, it’s a small couch.
 Not good.
 Or possibly right.
Chapter 7: Chapter 6
The Anna Moore case is going nowhere.
Detective's other cases are simple, the sort of thing you can figure out in the time it takes to boil water. You solve many of them standing by the stove quite often, actually. Just working from the paperwork Detective put together for each one, you can decide who the the guilty party is.
Then it's just a matter of telling him.
You've solved his cases before he did plenty of times, it's all a part of your constant obsessing over all the little details of his perfect life. But now everything is entirely different.
Because he's expecting you to solve them.
You’re equal to the task, of course, but when it’s time to tell him your answer, something happens and you’re reduced to a voiceless bag of bones. Opening your mouth to address the fact that you’re doing his work is hard, but talking about it?
It’s amazing you’re able to put two words together on the subject.
Thinking about it in Detective terms helps.
You’re just a tool, a source of free labor. Up till now you’ve been freeloading, now at least you’re pulling some weight. Not your own, much as it troubles you.
You’ve got to think of a way to fix that.
Yes, you’re covering his other cases while he busies himself with the late Anna Moore, but these things are trivial to you. And him. You’d like to help in some other way, if he would let you. Make him dinner, say, or wash his clothes, or let him use you as a punching bag when he’s frustrated, or as an extra blanket, if for some reason the other few in the apartment aren’t enough. You’re not very warm at all, but being so slim makes you ideal for being a reassuring type of weight. Not unlike a teddy bear.
You’d do whatever else he wanted, if he would just ask.
He’s very like you that way, he never asks for help, or anything less trivial than to have the salt passed his way.
You’ve got to take initiative to do something for him.
Your opportunity comes when he comes home with reports about two murders almost identical to that of Anna Moore.
He’s royally pissed.
You keep from getting underfoot, you even fake sleeping while he stays up working at the kitchen table. He works through the night, only getting up to go shut off his alarm clock when it starts ringing at quarter of five.
You don’t think he noticed you faking sleep. You’ve learned how to keep your breathing even and slow, it helped convince Scofflaw he hadn’t hurt you as badly as he had, which made him happy because he thought you were toughening up.
You suppose that’s what he was after.
You would call it something more like ‘rape.’
It feels wrong to think of it that way. Scofflaw is your friend, your boss, your teammate.
He’s not a depraved lunatic in the bushes, waiting for someone weak to walk passed.
He might be a shadowy guy, the kind of person you would avoid if you didn’t owe him for breaking your old boss’s nose. He might be mean and inconsiderate, and he might forget everything from your feelings to your birthday to your name. But he’s your leader. Even if he isn’t your friend.
He isn’t your friend.
You always knew it.
Detective knows what happened, or at least he suspects. There’s been no talk of it. You’re not sure it you’re glad about that or not. He’s been very kind so far, perhaps he would indulge you.
Not now, though. He’s coming down from his violence high to folders full of identical murders, all unsolved, leadless, suspectless.
You hide and fake sleeping.
He stops his alarm clock and runs through his morning routine.
You wait until he’s gone, and then another half hour after that just to be on the safe side.
Curling up with the book does nothing to distract you. Tea does nothing.
You’ve got to help.
There’s nothing you can do that doesn’t grossly overstep your position as a guest.
He comes home and nothing has changed.
But he goes to sleep, at least.
For an hour.
You get a bad feeling in your gut.
If he keeps this up it will end badly not only for him, but for you as well.
You decide that overstepping in order to help him might be preferable to doing nothing.
After all, you're given to thinking that the idea of a status quo is only recognized so that it can be subject to change.
After working for roughly three days on one hour of sleep, he is on the verge of destroying everything in the apartment, including you and his wardrobe. You barely breathe while he's slaving away into the small hours, trying to piece together the events that led to three unrelated women's deaths.
The apartment fills with smoke. It's heavy and as potent as incense, but bitter in your nose and you squirm on the couch, trying to find more breathable air without moving more than a half an inch. When that fails you you sit there quietly and choke.
The rustling of the papers and his occasional rumble makes you shiver.
You terrify yourself as you go over your plan in your head, but what's even more nerve wracking is the little nagging voice in your head that keeps saying 'he won't be sleeping tonight at all.'
You curl up when the hour is right and make your breathing heavy and rhythmic. He doesn't seem to notice you at all, which is perhaps the best you can hope for.
Finally you hear the floorboards creak. He doesn't bother arranging the papers. The bedroom door closes.
You don't have the luxury of waiting. Rather than simply counting the minutes as they passed you've ended up doing multiplication tables in your head. You have no idea what time it is.
You sit up and fight the urge wait before getting up and going to his door. Every synapse in the left side of your brain says you need to take this slowly, inch your way to the door and ease your head inside as slowly as is humanly possible.
Instead you move quickly, betting your clumsiness against his fatigue, and praying that you come out on top. You've never come out on top before, why should now be any different?
No, no, no, no, no, bad thought bad thought!
Focus in the plan, plan plan plan!
You open his door.
You know every square inch of this place, you can navigate it with you eyes closed, your hands tied. But you're thrown by how dark and warm the bedroom is, and how suddenly foreign everything is. You know this room, but from a completely different angle. The window and your usual perch on the fire escape don't give you a sense of the height of he ceiling, or the way the sheets are tucked under the mattress.
Your feet slide over the threshold and your arm pulls the door closed silently behind you.
The air rumbles with his snoring and in the heat and the dark you think you see scaly wings folded over him, and wisps of flame coming from his sleeping mouth.
You've no sword or shield, Innovator, you couldn't fight a dragon even if you did, asleep or not.
The alarm clock is on the bedside table, by his head. Level with his eyes. He's going to see you.
Bad thoughts bad thoughts
You slide your feet over the floor. They betray you almost immediately, creating a hiss that crashes through the dark and makes you freeze.
He heard you he heard you he's going to get up and grab you and
Your breath is hissing through your nose once you make it to the bedside table.
You can't do this you can't you can't you can't
He's still snoring, no fire. Not yet. Once you fuck this up and get caught he'll start spitting flame.
Your hands are shaking so badly as you pick up the alarm clock you have to hold it by the bell to keep it from jangling him awake. Looking at the clock's face makes your heart stop.
The hour-hand is centimeters away from eclipsing the tiny third hand that sets the position all the gears need to be in to start the alarm.
You chew through the dry skin on you bottom lip as your fingers slip repeatedly over the gears in the back. You turn one and the minute hand jumps forward. No no no no no no no no no no no no!
You turn it back, your face suddenly hot, and your fingernails clack and clatter over the second gear.
You can't you can't you can't you can't you can't
The arm that signals the start of the alarm twitches dangerously close to the hour-hand, before you manage to turn it back. You turn it around and around until you've put an hour between yourself and the alarm.
Your hands shiver violently as you lower the clock back down to the nightstand, and the tiny, gigantic noises of your own breathing and metal bell brushing fingernail enamel stop when he sighs suddenly. Your eyes jerk up from the clock as his shoulders heave and his arms churn around, one hand ramming under his pillow as he turns over on his side.
The next thing you know you're sitting on the floor on the other side of the bedroom door, screaming into your hands in the throes of a panic attack.
When you can breathe right you get up and start making his coffee.
It was one of your shorter panic attacks. You have a half an hour to make him breakfast.
He's not a man to waste anything, and even if he beats your head into the counter first, you think he'll eat your cooking.
You go heavy in the bacon, and get singed quite a bit.
You lay everything out for him on the table, coffee, toast, hard boiled eggs and bacon, neatening his papers without looking at them or rearranging them. Then you sit across from his place at the table, knees up to you forehead, curling your fingers in your hair as the alarm clock goes off.
He's out of there like a shot.
And you, of course, are his target.
The chair is gone from under you, one hand is yanking your hair and making you look at him, the other clamped around your neck. You hold onto his wrist for dear life even while he shakes you and sends your brain rattling inside your skull.
"What do you think you're doing?"
You choke and pull at his fingers, which only makes him tighten his grip.
He could kill you and no one would care.
He lets up on your throat enough for you to wheeze in and work your tongue around your mouth.
He glances over his shoulder. His hands release as he looks at the table and you crumple to the floor. That doesn't mean much, considering his foot is now dangerously close to your head. You stay down, stay still. The worst you could do now is try to get away. Barring the fact that you've nowhere to go, it would force Detective to bear the weight of his rage across the few feet you could put between yourself and him.
And he's under enough stress as it is.
He looks down at you and suddenly you're babbling.
"I, you, you j-just, ssssleep, you nnneeded to sleep and I, I just wanted to help I didn't, I wasn't, it, you, I, I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry,"
Please love me please love me please love me please love me please love me
You're shaking so bad you can barely stand. Your palms itch when you think about just clinging to him, but you don't so much as look at him as you pull yourself up. The shaking is so bad that it finds your tongue and you're actually whimpering as you get your feet under you. You hunch, a little harder than usual. It adds about an inch to the height difference that you usually keep at about two and a half inches, his favor.
He lays one hard fist into your stomach and you're ready to hit the floor again when a big hand grabs your arm and keeps you on your feet.
Your eyes were watery when the alarm started and you can feel those tears starting down your face now.
But he doesn't hit you a second time. He's just looking at you, waiting for you to glance up at him.
Of course, you crack first and look at him.
He hits you in the stomach again, and doesn’t catch you. But you catch a glimpse of him looking at you before you hit the floor, and you know he’s surveying the damages.
You wait for his foot to connect with your head.
It doesn’t come. Instead he goes around to the table and sits, glancing at his papers as he picks up his coffee cup and drinks.
After a moment, you put your chair to rights and occupy it, folded up as before, you forehead on your knees.
You’ve watched him eat enough to know what he’ll do. It can’t be good of his digestion to be observed this close.
You just want to stay nearby in case he needs to hit you some more.
He starts rustling the papers and you look up.
He ate everything.
You smoosh your mouth against your knees so you can’t smile and disturb the aura of calm that surrounds his morning routine.
He looks at you with one eye, then the other in quick succession. The kind of look that tells you his vision has become more divided, that he’s looking at you with his good eye. You don’t know if lazy eyes run in his family, but you can find out.
If they do, you must find a way to get him to do vision exercises.
You sit up, dead pan, and you remember to blink so that you don’t disorientate him with your stare.
“When you plan these things, tell me in advance.”
Then it hits you.
He’s letting you do this again, he’s willing to give just enough to let you try to take care of him.
It’s a wonder you don’t leap across the table and curl up in his lap.
“Tomorrow morning, do you think you could do this again?”
Your throat closes and you just nod dumbly.
And then he goes about his morning routine as usual.
You sit there as he showers, shaves, dresses, collects his papers, his coat, his hat, and even after he leaves you sit and wait at the kitchen table just in case he’ll come back.
Oh, but he would look for you on the couch, wouldn’t he?
That’s where you usually are.
You go and curl up with your blanket and the book, and when you get bored you mind returns to the details of Detective’s Anna Moore mystery.
You’ll need to see that body before you come to any conclusions.
Photos just won’t do.
You’ve got to see it yourself.
 Well, no, not free. You’re eating his food, using his hot water, putting grooves in his couch. So not free. Cheap, then. Yes, you’re a source of cheap labor.
 You know exactly how he likes them folded.
 When he was still coming off of his ramage with the Marxists he was kind enough to buy you some Chamomile, it was very good of him to do that.
Chapter 8: Chapter 7
Seeing is believing.
That is what some men believe.
You’re not a great fan of that ideology, however. It’s impractical, poorly thought out. Not thought out at all, really. You can’t always see the desert that borders the city, does that mean you stop believing it's there?
No, of course not. That’s just plain foolishness.
Seeing is not believing.
Seeing is, however, crucial to Detective’s work.
And by extension, your work tonight.
You think of all this when you’re using a pair of bolt cutters to break the chain on the doors of the Highland Park Morgue.
You’ve gained weight. Not much, you’re still a very thin man, but you may weigh more than air now.
You’re strong enough, physically, to work the bolt cutters, and after a few attempts the link you chose as the weakest breaks.
The bolt cutters are, of course, not Detective’s. For all that bolt cutters may help him here and there when he needs to get into a place that he isn’t expressly allowed, Deadeye is not the sort of man to go to such extremes as breaking a chain.
Or bolt, as the case may be.
You snuck into a hardware store you frequent, and lifted the bolt cutters from them. You left money in the register, with exact change and a friendly note in nondescript handwriting saying you were sorry for having to break in.
You’re wearing gloves, which you did, admittedly, steal from Detective. But it’s nearly spring and you’ve worn his other clothes for the duration of your stay. He won’t miss the gloves. There’ll be no investigation that would necessitate the use of whatever tiny, tiny bits of leather you might leave on a few few few things you touch to identify the wearer of these gloves.
And the way they’re too big for your hands, the palms stretched too wide, the folds under the fingers too close together for your extra long digits.
They even smell like him a little.
But you can’t think of that now.
This is one of the awful moments of your life when thinking overmuch will do you no good. When thinking at all will do you no good.
You are not a man of action. You never have been.
You don’t consider ‘stealing’ bolt cutters, making breakfasts, messing with alarm clocks, reading or even teleporting around town in puffs of smoke and flame ‘action.’ The magic stuff, for all that it may have the power to light fires, burn faces, and destroy everything around you, is not you acting.
It is, to use a very loose comparison, like watching a tiger jumping through a hoop in a circus show. The tiger is the most powerful big cat there is, and controlling one is no mean feat. No feat at all, in fact. A tiger is beyond control. It can do tricks for rewards, stand on its hind legs and purr like a housecat. But it’s claws and teeth do not lose their keenest, nor their muscles their power, anymore than the skin loses its stripes and its eyes their yellow glow.
The trainer, with his whip and the chair he fumbles with as if it could stop the cat if it chose to turn on him, may be able to coax the tiger through the hoop. But he is not the one acting, however much and however loudly he cracks his whip.
You are, in this metaphor, the hapless trainer. Sooner or later your tiger will be fed up with listening to you, and your whip and chair, as it were, won’t help.
So you, Innovator, are not a man of action.
You are, however, a man of science.
And as you pull the Highland Park Morgue’s door open, you get the hard, familiar, industrial smell of formaldehyde, latex gloves, blood, disinfectant, floor polish, spit, hair tonic, acidic cleaners and urine.
You are, very briefly, thrown back to your short and lackluster college days, your momentary hopes of being a doctor, being a paramedic or an Emergency Room attendant, someone who could perform at all hours, under all conditions, and need no semblance of a bedside manner.
That flash is over mercifully fast, and you head through the noxious air into the back of the morgue.
Anna Moore’s body has stayed here, her local morgue, since the beginning of the investigation. You suppose it is sad that no one has come to claim her. But it makes your work now so very much easier.
You can’t imagine what would happen if you had to find her in some graveyard, dig her up and see about this.
That would take more than one night. And you’re not willing to waste that much time.
You’ve got to be home in time to fix Deadeye’s breakfast.
You get right to work.
That is, once you’ve opened all the drawers on the cold wall and finally found her.
And struggled to get her, a grown woman of medium build and all dead weight, onto a stretcher.
You turn on one set of lights, careful to keep away from all windows and doors out of the room, and position them around you such that the small shadow that you do cast is faded and does not get in your way.
You shed Deadeye’s gloves, tuck them safely into your pockets, wash your hands quickly, quietly, and carefully, don a mask and cover your hair. You clean up again, just like before, just to be sure, because germs are everywhere, and pull on your gloves. Latex, this time.
You gather your tools and wheel them over to Anna’s side.
You start by cutting through the stitches holding her greying skin together. The classic black red autopsy Y is stretched across her collarbones and down to her navel.
You cut the stitches, pull out the strings, and peel back the flaps of flesh.
They’re loose but stiff. Like hardening rubber, no longer elastic over the muscles but slow to move under your hands. You notice small folds forming where you coax the flesh back.
“Note: smooth out flesh before restitching.”
You continue, checking blue and green organs for signs of trauma. You find nothing in the lower half, besides the obvious signs of forced intercourse. You check her nails, and find dried blood under them.
Absently you remember that you did not have to courage to scratch at Scofflaw.
“Note;” you swallow, looking at her plain, pretty, dead face, “adjust expression. Something braver.”
You keep going. Her stomach is empty, as are her intestines, for the most part. You make an incision in her stomach, poke two fingers into the cut and push it wide open, peeking inside. Her stomach, much like her other organs, are deflated and flat looking. Her liver is giant, purple, and green with rot. It looks like a fat, dry-wet slug. As much as it is desiccated it is coated with frost and a natural, sweet and musky slime of the decay’s own design.
The smell doesn’t bother you as much as you think it should. It’s disconcerting, but that’s the way of it.
You close her stomach with two quick stitches, and move between her ribs.
You would try to split the connections between her ribs and sternum on one side and in that way open her chest up and take a better look at her lungs and heart. But that would take a bonesaw, a lot of noise, more time than you can risk, and more than anything you worry that cutting her bones would make them shatter. Her body is a little thawed, but her bones are still brittle and icy. You can’t be sure that they’ll break apart under pressure, but if they do the nurse or whoever takes her back out of her drawer will notice that her torso is misshapen because of it.
You train your light on her chest. Everything’s silvery red, green, blue and black. You see nerves shrunk and grey, and her heart is still fat, red, but its veins athick and ugly purple.
You look at her lungs. They shine wet in the light, big pinkish green sacks with blue tubes disappearing up into her throat. You run your fingers under and around them, poking between the ribs. Heavy, thick, you end up with a reddish opaque slime on your gloves.
You feel something inside, a bubble between your fingertips.
You get closer, getting a noseful of Anna’s perfume that sends your head spinning. You close your eyes and try to keep your feet under you.
That, Innovator, was dumb.
You converse your breath better.
You squeeze your knife in between her ribs, make a long cut around the edge of her lung, and pull the knife back. You open it up with your fingers, pushing it open nice and wide.
Inside you find red yellow jelly, lumpy, wet.
Strawberry jam with butter under it.
You touch it, and it moves in one mass under your finger. You stir it around a little, and it doesn’t break up.
Carefully, you pull it out, between the ribs, and find yourself handling a wet, rot speckled plastic baggy.
You peel it open, poke around inside.
It’s full of pills, little white and blue capsules.
You smooth out her skin, sow her back up, pull your gloves off such that they turn inside out, put on another pair and adjust her expression. You lower the eyebrows, turn the edges of her mouth up just a bit, and leave her with a triumphant smile.
By the time it’s all done, it’s four thirty in the morning.
You lug her back into the drawer, close it up, and go into the records room.
You get into the M files, find Anna’s file, and a pen.
You copy the doctor’s handwriting exactly, careful to forget crossing your ‘t’s the way he did. You add a note about a bag of pills being found in her lung. There are fifteen pills in the bag, you take one and write down fourteen on the paper. You write that you, Dr. I. P. Freely PhD, suspect it was originally lodged in her throat, obstructing her breathing.
Meaning that you, Dr. Freely, were wrong and she did not die of heart failure from the shock of the rape.
Anna Moore died from asphyxiation.
You find some tupperware to put the bag of pills in, put it in a small fridge that has ‘EVIDENCE’ scrawled across its door, and go turn off your lights, throw away your gloves, run back to the hardware store, purchase a heavy chain before working hours, get your bolt cutters, chain up the Highland Park Morgue’s doors, and tear-ass back to Deadeye’s apartment.
You get there five minutes before six.
You replace his gloves, make sure you take Anna’s pill out of your pocket and put it on top of the little black book because you’ll remember it’s important if you leave it there.
And then you make some coffee, fry some bacon and chop up some potatoes to make homefries in the bacon grease. Deadeye comes out of his room groggy, and you bite your lip to keep from spilling about your night.
You pour him a cup of coffee. He adds sugar and salt by himself, enjoying that unbroken part of his routine.
“Deadeye,” you start as you serve him, “I looked, loo--looked into it ah-and I think, Anne, Anna Mmoore was asphix-as-ah--”
You nod happily.
“How do you know this?”
“I read a, they uh, got a second, second opinion. I believe it.”
Detective looks at you and frowns more than usual.
You sink a little. He doesn’t believe you, doesn’t trust you.
At least he eats your cooking.
“I need to research more,” you falter.
“I’ll speak to the doctors.”
You nod, and find yourself yawning.
He goes about his routine and leaves, advising you to get some sleep, and not to stay up all night anymore.
You go to the couch when he leaves, pull your blanket up around you and roll the blue and white pill around on the cover of the book with a finger. Eventually you get caught up in the repetitive motion and your eyelids sink.
 Five and a half.
 You, however, are.
 You accounted for tax.
 Though, really, it should be considered 'buying after hours.'
 Or, as these shows prefer to have it, to avoid being tortured as a punishment.
 Tigers and striped down to the skin, not merely on the pelt.
 Though it is technically a simile, as you used the opening phrase ‘like watching a tiger.’ But for the purposes of you’re rather involved extension of it, it is easier to simply call it a metaphor, though that is, of course, wrong.
 Bruising, mild ruptures, scarring.