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Rain patters an incessant beat against the window of Kim’s bedroom. Staring at the wall opposite, Jean hears the unseen water behind him like the footfalls of a thousand little ghosts scampering through Revachol’s streets, carried on chilling winds. It’s miserable rain, in the held breath between winter and spring. The still half-frozen ground refuses to bear much more, and the water flows restlessly in search of home.

The rain used to help him sleep. These days, nothing much does, other than sheer exhaustion or enough alcohol to dull the nerves, and he relies on both in approximately equal measure. Sleeping at Kim’s place is hit or miss. It's nice, sometimes, when the Lieutenant’s steady, rhythmic breathing lulls him into peaceful slumber. It has to happen within the first five minutes, though. Otherwise he starts thinking.

Laying in his shirt and briefs under the thin grey sheets, he’s been staring, motionless, at the wall and thinking for at least an hour. His arm is starting to go numb where it’s crooked under the pillow. Shit or get off the pot.

He props himself up, stretching his hand a few times to loosen the pins-and-needles sensation. He knows that Kim, the lightest sleeper he’s ever met, will be wakened no matter how quietly he tries to move. He turns and sets a hand on Kim's shoulder. “I’m alright,” he murmurs preemptively. “Just can’t sleep.”

Kim lifts his head an inch, blinking slowly at Jean through the dimness of his room, the only light that of streetlamps below. He nods, then slumps back down, nuzzling his cheek into the pillow with a sigh. It’s so endearing that for a second Jean reconsiders his course of action, wondering if he would be just as content staying in the warm bed and… brushing the little lock of hair from Kim’s forehead, or something equally embarrassing.

He gets up, letting the thought slough off his shoulders along with the sheets. The bed creaks beneath him as his weight lifts away. 

His trousers are slung over the back of Kim’s desk chair, and he gives them a shake before pulling them on quickly, foregoing his socks. Out of the bedroom, Jean jams his feet into his shoes and grabs his coat from beside the door, then steps through the rest of Kim’s small, orderly apartment in about a dozen paces.

The tiny balcony is cut from the same worn-down concrete as the rest of the tenement, a narrow rectangle walled off on two sides. The corner peers out toward a sliver of the harbour visible between two other apartment blocks. Fat droplets of water slink down along the length of the balcony above, dripping slow and contemplative against the backdrop of steady drizzle beyond. There’s room for a single chair out here, but lately Kim’s kept it folded away behind the door, letting the two of them stand with a bit of comfortable space between them.

Jean takes a grateful lungful of the bracing night air, before rustling out his smokes and lighter. He leans back against the door as he lights a cigarette and sucks in a hot breath, holding it for a beat before exhaling into the rain. He watches the wisps quickly disappear into the wash, carrying the particulates invisibly down, down into the gutter and eventually rinsing them out with everything else, meeting the rest of the springtime melt on its way to the nothingness in the ocean.

He doesn’t really know what to think about. It’s the part of insomnia that he finds most annoying. On his feet like this, he feels exhaustion leaching down his body, from his traitorous brain down his carefully dosed nervous system. He’s tired. He’s never not tired, and every thought seems so far away, through the gauzy Pale-dark clouds drawn over his horizon.

But once he’s laying down, once the lights are off and all is quiet, everything will hit him all at once, all over again. The creeping un-life that makes its inexorable way toward shore. The inevitability of war. The unseeing eyes he’d had to close this week, the Stations he’d had to perform. The whispering pleas of every unsolved case, lingering behind his back and waiting until he was horizontal to pounce on his guilty conscience. 

And, he thinks, with an inadvisably strong pull on the cigarette, the fucking performance reviews he has to write this week.

He thinks about going back inside when he’s finished his smoke. He thinks about kicking off his shoes and clicking on the dim lamp, then picking up one of Kim’s books to bring to the couch and read until his eyes get so sick of his bullshit they give up and let him have his miserable few hours’ rest. 

If it were his own place, he’d turn all the lights on, put on music, and get out his weights, because at his place there’s no use pretending he can manage anything like a regular sleep cycle. Here, though, he feels like he should at least dignify it with an attempt. So he usually tries, laying in Kim’s warm bed, next to Kim’s warm body. Sometimes he’s even too tired to start freaking out about what he’s doing, and with whom. And sometimes he’s pleasantly surprised when it all works, and he wakes up to the sound of Kim’s shrill alarm clock several hours later.

But he’s never surprised when it doesn’t.

Standing on Kim’s balcony, he can’t hear much other than the symphony of the rain drumming out its beat on tile and concrete. If it were his own place, he'd be smoking inside, and not in this godawful weather.

Jean has always thought of the rain as very Revachol. It suits her, in a way that sweltering heat or pretty, postcard-perfect dustings of snow never seem to, although by all rights those are as much her domain as the dreary not-quite-storms that roll through in the transitional seasons. Revachol is always headed somewhere else, for better or for worse, never quite satisfied with whatever seizes it with the greatest intensity. No matter what happens, there’s always a hard rain around the corner, ready to wash away the tears, the joy, and the blood alike.

Looking down four stories, Jean can see the fool’s jewels of wet, broken glass glimmering up at him from next to the foundations. Even down at street level tonight, the worst of the nightly din is subdued by the weather. He looks back up, toward the shore. This part of the GRIH mostly houses dockhands who like to get rowdy at the bars further down Rue De Lorimier. It’s not quite late enough for them to be stumbling home from seaside last calls just yet. And it’s fucking Monday, anyway.

It’s Monday, because he and Kim both have Tuesday off this week. Kim has the day, Jean’s only got until noon. Jean finds himself already looking forward to morning, even though mornings with Kim Kitsuragi usually start at the crack of dawn. There will be coffee, and stale pastries that Kim buys in bulk – the surest way to see that he’s all ‘Vacholiere, and none Suresne – and a little bickering over the crossword, while Kim’s still sleepy and disarmed. Later in the day, any attempts to doubt his intellect are much less generously received. 

Jean won’t be around to see it, though. Because like every other day they share, before he is asked, Jean will excuse himself mid-morning, even when every atom in his body is telling him to get on his knees and beg to stay a little longer. And Kim will watch him go, with a little nod of understanding.

Down to the filter already, he realizes. The butt gets tossed into the glass jar perched on the tiny folding table beside him, half-full of browned rainwater. He lights another, with a defeated sigh. He takes the first drag slowly, like he always does, before muscle memory can take over and make him swallow the rest greedily like it’s his lifeblood.

He knows it would be better to just stop, cold turkey. Not the smoking. Although– no, god, what would he even have left? No, he means stop, stop all of this: the coming here, the inviting or being invited, the kicking around like a stray puppy at the heels of the closest thing he knows to being wanted.

He wasn’t even sure how he felt about Kim for the first couple months. A storm of envy and resentment and admiration brewed in him as he watched his ex-partner with his cool, collected, handsome new partner, the easy camaraderie bouncing between them that Jean always wanted but could never materialize. He kept his distance, and they kept theirs. He watched the way Kim handled Harry much more effectively than Jean had ever managed to, and the way Harry invigorated Kim, the way they’d go haring off after wild hunches and improbable leads with a gusto that had burned out of Jean years ago.

But finally, one late night of work and shared smoke break too many, Jean realized that on top of Kim's being a great detective (who Jean had never had to fish out of a pool of his own vomit), and a huge fucking dork who yet managed to make it seem cool, he was also, in the driest way possible, the funniest motherfucker this side of the Esperance, and Jean really liked being around him. 

And then he realized he was in trouble.

The hookup was meant to be a fluke. A daring, tipsy joke that became much less funny and much more handsy. But– it was Kim that later invited him back for a second round, clear-eyed and a little hesitant, and that had made Jean want to take a victory lap around the fucking block, punching the air and screaming. He had just stood there like an idiot, instead, his brain short-circuiting, and when he finally nodded, far too eagerly, like – perish the goddamn thought, like Harry when he was trying to convince someone he had his shit together – Kim had smiled at him.

Because he likes you, a stupid part of Jean’s brain offers. People who like each other smile at each other sometimes.

The fact that Kim likes Jean is not the problem, despite its wild improbability. Or– it is, in an oblique way. It churns everything up in the murky, trash-strewn mess of an ocean sloshing around in Jean’s chest. It makes the hours of closeness – even hours like this, having a miserable smoke in the rain at one in the morning – all the more agonizingly precious. It makes the days between having time for it all the harder to bear.

No, the real problem is that it’s getting complicated. It’s a nice thing, made not-nice by its surroundings, all the professional not-talking-about-it at work, and then all the other not-talking-about-it, too, because if there’s one thing Kim Kitsuragi is really, genuinely bad at, it’s discussing his personal life, even to those in it.

And now they’ve let this go on too long, this very decidedly Bad Idea they had, and have allowed themselves to keep having. It’s appallingly obvious, the way their mutual invitations for each night-before-a-day off have been getting a little perfunctory. The way Jean’s been spending some of their nights together completely sober, a feat he wasn’t sure he was capable of, before it happened. It’s proof of just how fucking bad he’s got it for Kim - that he doesn’t want to be distracted around him.

Fuck

Another smoke. Why not.

Of course he’d fall for another fucking cop, Jean thinks, leaning forward against the railing. He shields the freshly lit cigarette from the rain with the back of his head, planting his forehead against his palm. The chill runs over his neck and creeps down his spine, a lingeringly cold shower telling him to leave well enough alone.

But despite the mile-long list of reasons it’s a terrible idea to be with a coworker – even one who doesn’t send him spiraling, who doesn’t feed off his bullshit and spew it back at him ten times worse – there’s also a palpable relief in neither having to hide nor explain anything. Who else would understand? Who else wouldn’t complain about the hours, or the way death follows him home? Who else wouldn’t need an explanation when Jean needed to scramble out of bed and choke back bile because something, some angle of exposed flesh snapped his unwilling mind into the memory of a gruesome tableau that no amount of time in his shitty, lukewarm shower could ever wash away?

Kim doesn’t pry. He doesn’t fucking can-open, because he gets it, and he doesn’t need the reassurance of being told he’s right. He doesn’t need to be reminded of all the things this work does to people. And it’s a blessed thing, to leave so much unsaid, to see the way Kim looks at him, silent and steadying, and to pull strength from it instead of feeling it drained away. 

Jean’s never had the goddamn time to explain himself, let alone the words. He’s never really had the chance to try, anyway. This is about as good as it gets.

He pauses. Then he stands up straight, wiping some of the rain from his hair, and laughs quietly at himself, the way he’s thinking. He leans back against the door with a sigh.

Kim likes to rib him about his age, telling him he’s too young to talk about himself in the same terms that he and Harry do. He tells him he has decades ahead of him to get as haggard and run-down as he likes to pretend he is, and they both laugh, and Jean feels heat inching up his neck, the way Kim looks at him when he says things like that. But, under the laughter, they both know that Jean has been working homicides just as long as Kim – neither of them as long as Harry, except they actually remember it all – and that under the creaking dome of the Bloody Murder Station, people tend to break.

So…

So? Sit back and enjoy it until it all comes crashing down.

He scoffs. That’s the kind of hedonistic shit the old Harry might have given him, and he would have told him to fuck off, even back then. 

They should be better than this, the both of them, the two Lieutenants of C-Wing that have their fucking brains intact. They’re going to get caught. They’re going to fuck up. They’re going to hurt each other, if they’re lucky – other people, if they’re not.

He knows he should stop. But in lieu of stopping, it’s all he can do to leave earlier than he needs to. To bite back a casual invitation to lunch at work even when neither of them have plans. To clamp down hard whenever he thinks about pressing a kiss to the back of Kim’s neck when he’s standing at the sink, a tautly muscled vision in a plain white shirt and brown flight pants. 

He has to withhold something, to carve out space between them even when part of him just wants to hold on and never let go. He did that once, though, and it nearly killed him. He can’t let it happen with Kim. He’d never forgive himself. He hopes Kim never would, either.

Jean drops his cigarette into the jar and only pauses for a halfhearted second of temperance before lighting another. The last of the pack. At least the inexorable fallout from this indulgence is limited to killing him, personally.

He jumps and nearly drops his lighter when he feels two short raps against the door he’s leaning on, derailing the train of thought he’s been riding quickly downhill. He turns around to peer through the frosted glass. Then he frowns, puffing out smoke to the side as he steps back to let Kim crack the door open.

“Hey,” Jean says, uncertainly.

“Hey,” Kim says back, through the sliver of light. “I’m making tea. I can pour you a cup, if you like.”

Jean blinks, rubbing his eyes with the back of his hand. Past Kim, he can see that the light above the tiny kitchen has been turned on, and the kettle is already on the lit burner. He smiles a little. This is the way Kim offers kindness: bluntly, and in a way that makes it clear he’s not going out of his way – even if it requires a decidedly out-of-the-way setup first.

“Sure. Uh. No caffeine, right?”

“Mint or lemon,” Kim offers.

“Mint.”

“Okay.” 

Kim steps away, leaving the door ajar. Jean watches as he gets two mugs out and tosses the teabags in, then clicks the stove off just before the kettle starts whistling and pours water for each of them. Shouldering into his jacket and stepping into his slippers, Kim leaves the steaming mugs on the table beside the couch to cool, before he joins Jean outside.

They stand shoulder-to-shoulder in companionable silence for a moment, a couple inches closer together than they have to be on the tiny balcony. Kim doesn’t ask why Jean can’t sleep, and Jean doesn’t ask why Kim got up, too. He doesn’t want to prod at the miracle that is having company on one of his many long nights of insomnia, because in the back of his mind lays the fear that if he does, the moment will suddenly shatter into unreality.

“Good that we have the morning off,” Kim begins, absently.

Jean nods, although they both know that the most they’ll sleep in is an hour, not nearly enough to make up for any of their accumulated exhaustions. And Jean will still leave earlier than he needs to, for no other reason than to reassure them both that he still can.

There’s another silence, a little more awkward this time. Jean’s almost certain Kim is wracking his brain for conversation that doesn’t have anything to do with work. It’s hard. He can’t do it either, a lot of the time. His own mind is wrapped up in a tired, but appreciative study of Kim’s profile, the way he leans over the balcony railing even though it’s getting his hair and face wet in the cold drizzle of rain.

“You finish that book?” Jean says, a bit too suddenly. “The, uh. The one about the robot pilot.” He’d skimmed the first couple chapters on a different night like this, his legs slung over the edge of Kim’s too-short couch and the book propped up on his chest.

Kim looks over at him with a smile that is half bemusement and half grateful relief. “The Auxiliary? Not yet. Sorry,” he adds. “I know I said I’d lend it to you when I was done.”

“At this rate I’ll finish it just by visiting here enough.”

Kim pauses, then makes a little face at that – he’s biting the inside of his lip. Jean looks away, cursing himself silently. That was… too much, by just a little: the implication that Kim will keep inviting Jean over, and Jean will keep saying yes.

“Are you liking it so far?” he blusters through.

Kim clears his throat. “Well. The pacing is a bit odd. And there are moments where it feels a little too cerebral. But I appreciate what she was going for. And it’s good to read something that isn’t a rehash of all the same arguments about artificial intelligence.”

Jean makes an interested noise, lifting his cigarette thoughtfully.

“I mean, the stories about whether robots will decide to rise up and domineer us…” Kim smirks, thinking for a moment. “I suppose Harry would say that it reveals the capitalist positionality of the authors. The anxieties of the ruling class about burgeoning class consciousness and revolution.”

Jean snorts. “Right. Nothing to lose but their…” he gestures vaguely.

“Programming,” Kim offers.

“Hm.”

“Then,” Kim starts, disdain tinting his voice, “There are those stories where an author goes on for a hundred pages hand-wringing about whether an opinionated being that demonstrates clear self-awareness can possibly be a person if it runs on gears instead of blood…”

“Too obvious?”

Kim nods, matter-of-fact. “Of course robots can be people.”

“Of course,” Jean echoes wryly. 

He thinks it’s a little sentimental. It reminds him of Harry, who tells the coffee maker at work bon courage, and who would probably fall in love with a radiocomputer if it ran a script that addressed him by name. But then, he is also talking to Kim Kitsuragi, whose fastidiousness with his things borders on passionate, and who talks earnestly about his MC’s moods, translating the reverberations and rumbles into a language only he knows.

“Anyway,” Kim says, his hand waving through the drizzle, “In The Auxiliary the question is less, ‘can a machine have personhood’ and more, ‘what does it mean to be a person who isn’t limited to one body?’ How much are we our sensory and informational inputs, or the ability to process them?”

Jean nods, although he feels he’s too sleepy to be having this conversation. He reaches for the first thing that comes to mind. “As in… would your personality fracture? If you received contradictory inputs? Got overstimulated?” He’d certainly seen it happen, very first-hand, very up-close.

“Mmh…” Kim tilts his head. “Not exactly. That hasn’t come up yet, at least. More like… what’s the difference between being a network and an individual? If you understand the world through a hundred sets of eyes at once… if you lost ninety-nine, would you still be you? Of course, a person could adjust to a new reality, and that’s often the theme of these stories. The inflexibility of machines against the fluidity of organic life. But scripts can be rewritten, too.”

“How much change can your programming go through before you’re something else?”

“Something like that.”

“What if you have your memory wiped?” he offers dryly. Kim gives him a look. “Does the original programming make you you, or is it all the input that comes after?”

Kim lets out a silent breath of laughter. “It seems likely both would be in play.”

“Likely.”

Jean taps ash out over the jar. He takes another drag, the vague image of a mechanical Harry floating into his mind’s eye: heavy and ceramic-plated and unstoppable, servos whirring as he runs tirelessly down Perdition…

When he looks over, he notices Kim eying the last of his cigarette. He smiles to himself, always quietly delighted by the knowledge that Kim is as susceptible to little temptations as anyone.

His smile grows into a lopsided grin when Kim notices him noticing, and reaches over expectantly. They’ve shared a few smokes like this, Kim cheating his self-imposed rule with a puff or two from Jean’s definitely-greater-than-one number of cigarettes. Lately, Jean had started carrying Astras in addition to his own Drouins for this very reason, and for the undisguised fondness it had brought to Kim’s eyes, he would have paid triple that damned import tax.

“May I?” Kim says, even though he’s already reaching into Jean’s space.

Jean raises his hand out of the way just as Kim’s is about to make contact. He just wants to tease a bit. “Ah-ah. You’ve already had your fill for the night,” he tuts.

Kim narrows his eyes, dropping his hand. “Detective. How many have you gone through, just standing here tonight?”

Jean shrugs, taking a drag and letting it billow out just over Kim’s head. “I’m not the man with the rules.”

“You could do with learning to follow a few,” he says, a dangerous lilt in his voice as he crosses his arms.

“I don’t think you’ve ever found my compliance lacking before, Lieutenant,” Jean answers archly.

Kim’s eyes flick away just for a second, not allowing Jean a smile. “I suppose not. I'm sure your performance review will say that you’re nothing if not... dedicated to service.” He delivers the deadpan as if he’s been rehearsing it, his weight even on both heels, his hands loosely clasped. The salacious wink is implied.

Jean bursts out with a snort of laughter. “There’s less complicated ways to ask me to blow you, Kits.”

Kim’s lips press into a thin line at some combination of the vulgarity and the nickname, and Jean laughs harder. It’s stupid, and it’s addictive, the way Kim looks when he’s trying not to laugh because the joke is beneath him.

“You don’t seem inclined to say yes when I ask you politely,” Kim says, with a meaningful glance at the stub of the cigarette between Jean’s fingers.

Jean stops, swallowing the not-quite-joking response he wants to give. They both know just the way Jean likes to be asked. But that's getting a little off-topic.

He lets out a shallow breath, the ghost of a laugh. Acting on pure instinct, he lifts a hand and cups Kim’s jaw, and he almost winces when he feels Kim stiffen. But then the shorter man relaxes, lifting his eyes to meet Jean’s, letting his arms hang loosely by his sides. Not knowing exactly what he’s doing, Jean thumbs a trail of cold rain from Kim’s cheek, feeling the warmth of his neck, fingers straying closer to his pulse as if magnetized. It feels very daring, which itself feels absurd, considering all the other ways they’d been touching each other a few hours ago.

He lifts the cigarette to his lips and inhales. Mild annoyance crosses Kim’s expression, assuming that Jean is just gloating. Jean lets the smoke just barely touch his lungs, before he leans in. He hesitates, an inch from Kim’s face, giving him enough room to pull away. He doesn’t.

He parts his lips as they kiss, and Jean can feel the muscles of Kim’s jaw shift under his fingertips, opening up to him in turn. Jean exhales, letting the smoke out between his teeth. Some escapes out to the sides, but Kim readily takes most of the breath from Jean’s mouth, his tongue lapping over his chapped lips as if to chase down more.

Kim leans back. He closes his lips over their shared breath for a second, tilting his head at Jean as though asking what he wants to happen next. He has no idea, so he just stares.

There’s a little quirk of the corners of Kim’s mouth. Then he turns his head, letting the smoke gently back out into the rain, where it will soon wind its way down through the streets in little rivulets. Some will seep into the foundations or flow into the rusted veins of the city. Some will find its way into the embrace of the forgetful sea.

He didn’t inhale, Jean notices, with a twinge of disappointment. He didn’t let your breath into his lungs.

No, a sensible part of him pipes up, that’s because it would be fucking weird to inhale a thin mouthful of secondhand smoke.

He doesn’t notice the way Kim’s snuck his fingers closer to his until he feels a gentle tug on the cigarette. Bested fairly, Jean relents and lets him take it. Holding his gaze, Kim raises it to his lips, taking a long, deliberate pull that brings it down to the filter. Fuck. Jean feels a strange sort of vertigo, tipping into the perfect darkness of Kim’s eyes.

Without hesitation, Kim slides his free hand into the hair at the nape of Jean’s neck, tugging him down into an open-mouthed kiss. Kim lets the smoke roll over their tongues a little more slowly than Jean did, the familiar waft accompanied by an electrifying thrill – an undertone that is purely Kim. The smoke wafts a little between their mouths, pushed and pulled. Jean inhales. He wants to suck the heavy warmth down deep and savour the tar and tobacco forever – curse the damn habit for having stolen his ability to hold his breath.

Eventually, he does have to let go of the smoke, but he doesn’t fully break away to do it, instead letting it out in a low huff before he closes the distance again, wanting to smother himself in the bitterness lingering in their mouths. Kim smiles against his lips as he tosses the butt vaguely in the direction of the jar, not caring to check whether it lands. It is just about the most romantic thing Jean has ever seen him do.

Jean cradles Kim’s face in his hands, tugging gently on his lips with his own, and sighs into the feeling of arms wrapping around his waist and neck. Kim usually kisses with intent, like Jean is a lock and Kim’s mouth is the key. Much rarer are these moments where his attention is aimless and unhurried, where his hands search him out without asking anything of him. It makes Jean’s chest feel hot and light, like any moment he could be dragged lungs-first into the sky.

When they part, Jean rests his forehead high on Kim’s, peering down at the top rim of his glasses and the curve of his nose. Jean sneaks a hand in under the orange shell of the jacket, seeking the reassurance of warmth there. They stay embracing for a moment – not nearly long enough. 

It’s Kim that moves first, this time, clearing his throat quietly. “Our tea’s getting cold,” he murmurs.

“Mmh,” Jean acknowledges, pressing his nose into Kim’s hair, damp with petrichor. He turns his head a little to look into the apartment, where more sleeplessness awaits him. It’s just a waiting game, him and his mind. It always ends, eventually. Just hard to say who wins. “You… really don’t have to stay up with me,” he sighs.

Kim pulls away, holding Jean by the arm as he adjusts his glasses and looks up at him. “No,” he agrees. “But I will.”

There it is again, that Kitsuragi-brand kindness that doesn’t leave much room to decline. 

“Okay,” Jean says, and that’s that. He lets Kim slip out of his grasp and back into the apartment, watching him shed his slippers and jacket and settle comfortably into the couch, picking his mug up and cradling it between two roughened, slender hands.

Kim looks up expectantly. “Jean,” he says, with an arched eyebrow, even as warmth threads through the even tone of a single syllable. “It’s raining. Come in.” The space beside him looks too inviting, improbable in every way. But there it is, for him.

Jean smiles faintly. He takes his coat off and shakes the water from it before bundling it under his arm and stepping inside. He can have this night, he decides. Just one warm, shared breath in a long lifetime of breaths. Soon enough, the rain will wash it away with the rest of memory, sending it all out to sea.