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From the Mixed-up Files of Aiba Masaki, (Amateur) Detective

Chapter Text

But I have never been a very temperate man. And I could not—I might almost write, I would not—allow our detective to depart this world in peace.

Taking Aiba’s face in my hands, I searched his dark eyes for some clue as to his fate. They were clouded, but I could still find pinpricks of light in the dark; I remembered the first time we had kissed, and how the lights in his eyes had dazzled me. Even as his eyes were fluttering shut, I could see the detective struggling to hold my gaze—his focus slid away only to return desperately, obstinately to my face.

I was decided. “Stay awake, Aiba, and breath,” I commanded, speaking only to the detective. There was a flicker in his expression—I believed he understood me. “This is not the end. I am going to save you,” I pronounced the words carefully, clearly, so that the detective would be sure to understand me.

For a moment, I felt myself lose my command; suddenly, I was back in the Sudan—Aiba was still in my arms, but dust surrounded us. I could smell blood, smoke, and gunfire, and I could even hear the din of battle surrounding me. Then I was holding Shun, watching him gasp his last breath. Then Aiba was in my arms again, looking up at me imploringly, his breathing ragged.

I snapped back into myself when I felt the light touch of a hand upon my shoulder. I was back in front of the House of Lords, on a cold, gray morning, a light drizzle beginning to fall. I turned towards the touch, recognizing, to my utter astonishment, the face of Ohno beside me. As usual, the valet seemed to have materialized out of thin air. I was later to learn that the valet had disguised himself in order to watch the scene from a distance. But at that moment, I did not question his appearance—it seemed natural, and I could have wept with relief to see him. He was handing me my medical bag, which I had dropped to the ground on my way to Aiba’s side. “Your bag, doctor,” he encouraged me, thrusting it into my arms. There were tears upon Ohno’s face, but his voice was calm.

I accepted the bag and turned back to the detective, a strange, still calm descending over me as I began tearing away the detective’s jacket and shirt. Aiba’s face was contorted with pain, eyes closed, his breathing loud and rasping, but I (perhaps brutally) pushed my awareness of his pain back into a small, dark corner of my mind so that I might proceed with his treatment.

I had intended to remove the bullet from Aiba’s chest. But rapid examination revealed an even greater danger to the detective’s life; while just missing piercing the lung itself, the powerful impact of the bullet had caused the partial collapse of the detective’s left lung—part of the detective’s chest was sunken in, and he was turning as white and cold as frost—I knew he would soon be turning blue. The detective struggled to breathe as his heartbeat rose to a dangerous pitch. Aiba was drowning before my eyes.

With a quiet command to Ohno to hold the detective still, I plunged a knife between Aiba’s lower ribs, opening a pocket of air. I covered it with my own hand as he inhaled, removed my hand as he exhaled, hoping to give him at least a few minutes more of breath.

It was then that sound returned to awareness—all had seemed quiet around me in my concentration, but now I heard the professor shouting, “You maniac! You are mutilating him as he dies!”

I looked up to discover the professor lunging toward me, restrained (improbably, I think now) by none other than Lord Kazunari—I do not know where his lordship found the strength to hold back the desperate Sakurai, but he wrestled him to the ground before looking up to gasp in my direction, “Please Jun, proceed.”

In truth, the professor was right to doubt me—to repair a collapsed lung in such a circumstance was impossible. I might gain minutes of life for the detective, but I was placing him in a state of pain that I shudder even now to consider. But I was beyond reason, and his lordship and the valet joined me eagerly in my delusion.

“Please, Sho,” I begged, handing him a cloth, gauze, and alcohol, “Hold this to his wound, or he will bleed out. Press as hard as you can.”

I watched the indecision in the professor’s eyes as he stared up at me, panting, from the ground. His lordship simply gaped at me with astonishment. But as I had expected, the professor paused only a moment before accepting my command. He quickly pressed the cloth below the detective’s ribs. “If he dies after this, I will kill you,” he muttered.

The professor’s statement relieved me—if I should lose the professor now, I could not imagine how I would live with the guilt—death would almost be preferable.

“What can I do, Jun?” his lordship questioned me eagerly. His face was badly scratched, and there was a trickle of blood in the corner of his mouth, most likely from when Aiba had pushed him to the ground as he blocked him from Meisa’s aim.

“Do you see how I am helping him to breath with my hand?” I demanded.

“Yes.”

“I need you to continue the action for me. I am going to open his chest and try to decompress the collapsed portion of his lung.”

His lordship blanched at my words while the professor gave an inarticulate cry of protest. But his lordship replaced my hand with his own, wide eyes following the course of Aiba’s shuddering breaths intently. There is no other man in the world I would have trusted to take over the task.

“Becky,” I cried, certain the lady would be near; she did not disappoint, her face immediately looming before me.

“Yes, doctor?” she gasped, speaking through a sob.

“Take over Ohno’s place. Take Aiba’s head in your lap, and if you see him begin to stop breathing, or lose consciousness, stop him—shout at him if you have to, but command him to keep breathing.”

Madame Becky gave a shaky, hysterical laugh as she obeyed, cradling the detective’s head in her arms, “Yes, captain,” she managed to respond tearfully.

“Ohno, I need equipment. Alcohol, a beaker, a tube, a cork, a needle, water. As fast as you can.” My request was indeed an impossible one—how could I expect the valet to produce laboratory equipment from thin air? Yet it never occurred to me to doubt the valet’s ability to procure what was necessary, and he set off at a run without a word of inquiry or protest.

I began making the incision while I waited for Ohno to return. I shall attempt to spare the reader some of the more terrible details of the procedure. In explanation, I can only write that I had studied treatments for consumption extensively while treating my parents, and I had come across writings by German doctors who recommended artificially collapsing and then re-inflating the afflicted lung as a treatment—an absurd, dangerous method, but I had once employed their method of decompression in an attempt to save the life of a soldier in the Sudan with an injury similar to the detective’s. The soldier had died soon after, of an infection he contracted while healing from the procedure.

It had been a terrible death, and I can offer no justification for my decision to perform the same operation upon the detective—the chance of its success was perhaps a million to one. I would like to write that it was my love for the detective that made me cruel, but it troubles me to think that cruelty can spring from love. Perhaps I should write, my selfish desire for the detective’s presence made me cruel—I would keep him by my side, in defiance of God and all medical probability.

Ohno returned to the scene with astonishing rapidity; the professor made a choked noise of amazement at his appearance. “Where did you find such things?” he cried.

“I stole them from the morgue down the street,” the valet responded quietly; I believe a shudder passed through our whole party at the soft-spoken words.

Removing a length of tubing from my bag, I began the operation of inserting a tube in the detective’s lung; Ohno followed my instructions to create a water seal from his supplies with remarkable intelligence and dexterity. His lordship continued to watch and assist Aiba’s breathing while the professor tended to his bullet wound, and Madame Becky talked, I believe, without a pause throughout the procedure. She hardly drew breath once, I think, never ceasing in her words of recrimination and encouragement to the detective, “Only you would be so idiotic as to jump in front of a speeding bullet, do you imagine yourself impervious to violence now? If you are attempting to attain some kind of sainthood, amateur detective, I can assure you that you will not be successful, as today sainthood is not given to mere simpletons hoping to look impressive and heroic. So you must live, as that is the only way that I will even begin to forgive you for your foolishness. Indeed, if you live, I will even do you the honor of allowing you back into the theater. In fact, I will even dance in my under-things on stage at the Circus, if you should wish it…” and so on, the lady continued, trying with her words to tie the detective more tightly to this earth.

I write of the contributions of these dear friends of the detective to show their goodness, courage, and invaluable assistance; the detective would not have lived through the procedure without them. But all blame should be placed squarely upon myself. Each trusted in me as a physician—though the professor suspected, they could not know how dangerous was the operation I was attempting.

For some minutes, the detective seemed to exist in a realm beyond us—not yet in death, but in a place of absolute pain. Yet, he kept breathing. Soon the passage was open, the decompression performed; miraculously, the collapsed portion of the lung began to reopen. His breathing eased; his heart rate slowed; the blue tinge began to disappear from his skin. He lived. Aiba opened his warm brown, almost black eyes; he looked upon me and tried to speak. I quieted him, but his hand moved as though struggling to reach mine; I took it, and he clasped my fingers weakly.

I cannot describe this moment to the reader—no words can express my relief, or my intense love and gratitude toward the detective for enduring so much, for not slipping away from me into the tempting embrace of death, a state so much easier than what I had demanded of him.

I sewed closed the detective’s chest where I had made an incision; I removed the bullet from just below his ribs. When his chest had risen again, I removed the tube and sewed closed the second incision I had made below his arm, near his heart. I declared the detective fit to be moved. It was only when I attempted to stand and follow the stretcher that carried the detective that I became aware of the burning pain radiating throughout my injured leg—almost the instant I stood, I fell back to the pavement, my vision smearing before the world turned black once again.

 

*

 

The detective and I were at the clearing in the forest near Hayworth, watching the white-tailed deer browse through the underbrush. We were seated, leaning back against a large tree, our hands intertwined. The detective was running his thumb across my knuckles.

“If you believe I will soon forgive you for this, you’re mistaken, detective.”

I smiled at the sound of the detective’s rough, breathy laughter. He squeezed my hand more tightly and reached to turn my chin so that I faced him. His beautiful visage was, as always, irresistibly pleading. “You would have done the same, Jun,” he breathed.

I closed my eyes, attempting to shut out his persuasive handsomeness from my consciousness. “Step in front of a bullet to save Lord Kazunari? Abandon you completely after promising so faithfully to stay by your side? Leave my lover’s side to greet death like an old friend? I could not, Aiba.”

I opened my eyes; the detective was examining me seriously. “But you would, Jun,” he insisted. “You care for the people around you so deeply—you know how impossible it is to love only one person. Once you open your heart to someone, all other kinds of scamps and ne’er-do-wells start to lay claim to your affections as well.”

I huffed, rolling my eyes in response to the detective’s impassioned plea. “Well, you are quite right to refer to his lordship as a scamp and ne’r-do-well.” Now I turned my gaze from the detective to focus determinedly on the quiet deer, “But even if I love those around me enough to die for them, as you say, I would never find the courage to do so.” I turned back to meet the detective’s eyes, “Today, detective, you were nothing short of heroic. Idiotic, but heroic.”

The detective looked positively delighted, his face immediately assuming a boyish grin. “Was it like something in the novels you read when you were young? Like what you hoped the Sudan would be like?” he inquired.

I groaned, falling back into the grass as I covered my eyes against his blinding smile. “Please don’t tell me you nearly had yourself killed because you wished to be like a character in a book, Aiba. Is modeling your career—and even your sense of fashion—after Sherlock Holmes not already enough to satisfy you?”

My breath caught as the detective fell atop me, pulling my hands from my eyes and catching my lips in a passionate kiss. After some minutes, the detective attempted to raise his face from mine, but I determinedly pulled him back, forcing his lips in a biting kiss again and again, as though I would consume him.

Finally he broke from my grasp, “If I come back, Jun,” he spoke breathlessly, “I’ll consider my amateur detecting at an end. I’m afraid that I’ve changed my mind—rather than a detective, I’d like to be the amateur hero of one of your adventure stories.”

“If?” I cried, instantly alarmed. I sat up hastily—daylight was fading. I heard the deer flee the clearing, as though the animal sensed an approaching storm. “If you return?” I repeated stupidly. The detective avoided my gaze; I seized his shoulders, forcing him to face me. “Come back to me, Aiba,” I demanded, my voice shaking with the intensity of my speech. The words tasted metallic on my tongue, as though my mouth were filling with blood. “Promise me that you will come back.”

I was lost again in the dazzling eyes. “I will try, Jun. I cannot promise something that I am not confident that I can perform, but I will try.”

Not good enough, I thought, watching helplessly as the rapidly setting sun cast stark shadows upon the detective’s face.

But before I could speak the words, I woke; I was lying in a bed in a hospital ward, my leg raised in a sling. My dream dissipated in the antiseptic light of the ward. I am not a superstitious man—I had never believed in signs or portents. Yet I am confident that my unconscious recognized the danger the detective was in before the signs of his illness became outwardly apparent.

Someone was placing a glass of water to my lips; I looked up to discover Ohno standing before me. I tried to speak, but my throat was rough; reluctantly, I accepted a drink from the valet. “Aiba?” I rasped.

“He is alive. But he is fevered. He inquired after you when we first reached the hospital, but then he seemed to fall in a delirium.”

I struggled up, reaching to unfasten the sling that held my leg. Ohno observed my actions quietly. “Kazu thought you might attempt to leave your bed,” the valet spoke gently, “but the doctor said that that you must rest. I was told to keep you in bed.”

“I see a set of crutches there,” I gestured toward the corner of the room, “if you will be so good as to bring them here, I will confirm Aiba’s condition myself. I am his personal physician. I must examine him.”

There was a smile tugging at the corner of Ohno’s mouth; I blessed the man as he immediately retrieved the crutches and brought them to me without further protest, helping me escape the ward and guiding me to Aiba’s private room.

I felt calmed as soon as I caught sight of the detective from the door; he was feverish, yes, but his chest still moved—he breathed, he lived. Professor Sakurai, who sat beside the detective, holding his hand, gave a startled cry as I entered; his lordship visibly paled and, strangely, made as if to slink from the room. His escape was arrested by Ohno, who dragged him forcibly back to Aiba’s bedside.

My relief was only momentary; I examined Aiba’s chart with concern. He had fallen into a high fever; the doctor (one of the finest in London, and the Kazunari family’s personal physician) had declared the cause unknown—he suspected shock, as no infection was yet apparent.

I placed a hand upon the detective’s brow. “I must speak to the doctor,” I began. “And he will have to be moved. If he does not have an infection yet, this hospital will surely provide him with one soon. Ohno, if you could began making the arrangements to return him to Garden Place…”

“Doctor,” came the professor’s voice, his tone firm, “You cannot be on your feet. You nearly lost your leg earlier today—the doctor was not certain that you would ever recover feeling in it again. You must rest. I have already made arrangements for Masaki at my London residence. He will have private attendants and constant nursing….”

I could not prevent myself; I laughed. My gaze sill fixed upon the detective’s fevered countenance, I interrupted the professor, “Thank you for your concern. Truly Sho, I am grateful. You helped to save Aiba’s life, which I can never repay your for. But if you imagine for one moment that I will let Aiba escape my sight, or that I will rest while he remains in this uncertain state, then you should submit yourself as a patient to a mental institution. It will take far more than a sore leg to draw me away from his side.”

 

*

 

It was in the special conveyance we had hired to transport Aiba back to Garden Place that Lord Kazunari finally spoke to me; he had, indeed, resisted entering the vehicle with me—Ohno had thrust him inside quite forcefully, slamming the door behind him with authority. I had been too preoccupied in arranging Aiba’s bedding to pay much attention to the commotion, but my attention was caught by his lordship's defeated address, “You must despise me, Jun.”

I considered his lordship’s words carefully before answering. I passed a hand over Aiba’s brow—his hair was still damp with perspiration, and I could see his eyes flickering uneasily beneath his lids. But he was quiet; earlier, he had been speaking in his delirium, piercing my heart as he called out for “Jun” and “Nino.” “I wish I could despise you, Nino. But I cannot find any anger for you.”

His lordship snorted quietly, “That is almost more frightening. Are you certain you did not hit your head when you fainted? I was convinced that you would tear me limb from limb once you regained consciousness.” Lord Kazunari’s voice grew thick, “And you would be right too, Jun. I can promise you that, at the very least, I despise myself.”

I spared a glance in his lordship’s direction; his countenance was pale and drawn, and he was shaking as he spoke. “Was the cut at the corner of your mouth treated?” I asked, striving to speak as gently as I could.

His lordship glared back at me, “Yes, Ohno insisted on holding me down while a doctor at the hospital disinfected it. Will you not hit me, Jun?” he demanded.

“Would you like me to hit you?”

His lordship pressed his head into his hands, “It would be relief. To feel something else, for a moment,” he sighed.

I was silent.

His lordship raised his face, “So your far more cunning and diabolical plan is to leave me to the torments of my own guilty conscious?”

“Yes.”

“And how would you suggest that I expatiate my sins, Jun?” His lordship’s tone was desperate.

“You should determine your repentance yourself, Nino—I cannot take on the task of your punishment. But I would ask that you continue to show Aiba your friendship, and that you treat Ohno well once you give up your fortune and take up residence at Garden Place.”

There were tears in his lordship’s eyes. He turned from me, his gaze coming to rest on the detective. “The two of you are so peculiarly alike, Jun,” he surprised me by offering quietly, “I sometimes feel as though I can hear Aiba speaking through you.”

 

*

 

To write this narrative without the detective’s active presence enlivening these pages proves challenging—even as I fill the pages, they seem empty as I look back upon them. They are dull and sterile without Aiba’s enthusiastic presence.

So I will be brief, now: Lord Kazunari’s bill failed to pass. As the reader knows, it was popularly reported that Lord Kazunari had been nearly assassinated by his pregnant ex-mistress; it was assumed that his lordship was the father of Meisa’s child, and her assassination attempt an act of vengeance for his abandonment. Madame Becky countered, of course, with the tale of Lord Akanishi’s guilt, but the public proved more enthralled by the notion of a lord assassinated by his ex-mistress. The story also proved popular among enemies of the bill, who were quick to point out the irony of a politician proposing to improve the conditions of poor mothers and children yet abandoning the poor mother of his own child.

It soon became clear to us that Meisa had alerted Lord Akanishi of Lord Kazunari’s presence at the Circus that fatal night, directing the assassin to follow him to St. Giles; that Meisa had ransacked Madame Becky’s room in search of the manuscript, and followed her to Garden Place; and that Meisa had not been satisfied by Lady Riisa’s offer of financial support. The offer, in fact, had only served to further stoke the white-hot hatred she felt for her ladyship and for Lord Kazunari, who she blamed fully for her lover’s arrest. The lady is still awaiting trial; because she is with child, she is allowed to remain—under guard—at the family home of her adopted sister, Miss Maki.

But while I was sincerely grieved for the failure of his lordship’s bill, it seemed of little importance to me in comparison to the fragility of Aiba’s health. When we returned to Garden Place, Aiba’s fever broke, and I believed he would soon recover. He was very weak, his breathing still labored. He could hardly speak, but he tried often, and what he said overwhelmed me in its earnest simplicity: he apologized, he thanked me, he inquired after Nino and after my leg. When I could convince him to rest, he held my hand in his own tightly as he slept.

But the next day, he was far more ill; so ill, that I did not think he would survive a second night. It soon became apparent that he suffered not from infection, but from a terrible pneumonia—not consumption, thank god, as I feared at first, but his ordeal had rendered him vulnerable to the epidemic sweeping the city. It is beyond my ability—and perhaps, I fear, beyond the reader’s patience—to recount those harrowing hours, but the detective spent the next week in a state of desperate illness, and his survival to this day is a miracle.

Or a curse, I sometimes think. While I am grateful for every breath, I am haunted by the possibility that I have condemned the detective to a purgatory of suffering that can end only in his lingering death—my hopes were raised when he seemed to emerge from his delirium after a second fevered week, but now he is so weak that he cannot speak. His hair was all cut away during his fever, and now he is skeletal in his thinness. I have buried him in ice to bring down a fever. His body is wracked with spasms of coughing. He can manage to eat only rarely. Every night is a struggle. And I have only myself to blame as he endures this agony; the three deep scars that cross the left side of his chest are a constant reminder of my choice.

How I came to write this narrative: a cold winter descended rapidly upon us, exacerbating the detective’s illness and the city’s epidemic. Forced by Ohno’s quiet but effectively obstinate efforts to force me to leave the detective’s side for at least a few hours each day, I at first spent my hours shivering in the park, staring at the hard-packed snow upon the ground. Then I thought to betake myself to St. Giles, where I spent time treating the patients there. During these excursions, I contracted the flu myself—it was a mild case, lasting only a few days, but during that time I experienced delusions of such vividness—in which I seemed to speak with, touch, and even make love to the detective—that I was almost sorry to emerge from my fever. But in the midst of my illness, I recalled my dream of Aiba in the hospital. In particular, these words of my imaginary detective pressed themselves upon my consciousness again and again: I’d like to be the amateur hero of one of your adventure stories.

I decided to pass the hours I am forced to spend away from the detective’s side in writing of our adventures together; at night, I read them to the detective, hoping he might hear and perhaps enjoy these accounts. At first, I read to him from his favorite, A Study in Scarlet, but when we came to the end of that great work I continued with this improvised tale of detection and—more accurately—of heroism; I hope you can take some pleasure, Aiba, in becoming the hero of a story, even if it is only of this poor and unskillful account. And while I cannot bring myself to write of it with the same careful detail, I recognize the heroic selflessness of your actions now—I know that you fight, each day, to return to me.

 

*

 

My story is at an end, or, at least, at a standstill—yet I find I cannot stop writing—it has become my habit. I shall continue, if only to keep a diary of Aiba’s health.

 

*

 

Better again today. Aiba sat up in bed; he drank water and broth. He looked into my eyes and spoke my name, he had no fever. Perhaps he is finally, truly recovering.

 

*

 

Worse, much worse. Today he did not recognize me; he thought I was one of his schoolmaster’s, then Professor Sakurai, when I came into the room. He begged me not to take Holmes from the room, believing that he was breaking some school regulation.

Forgive me, but only here can I confess my other fear, a fear I dare not to speak to the others: that the fever he has endured has affected his brain, and that he will not remember me, or himself, if he recovers.

 

*

 

After a week in which I believed him to be recovering steadily, Aiba has plunged back into a delirium in the course of these last two days. He vomits when I try to have him eat. I do not fear—I despair of his life. For the first time since the assassination, my heart truly forsakes me; his pulse is low, and I feel a conviction that we are approaching the crisis.

 

*

 

Tonight, Ohno found me by Aiba’s bedside, my head pressed against Aiba’s hand. All our friends—the professor, his lordship, the two good ladies, even Holmes, who never leaves the detective’s room—have proved indefatigable in their care of the detective. But the valet had outperformed them all (including myself) in his exertions; I cannot recall witnessing Ohno sleep in the four weeks since the detective returned to Garden Place. And that is not even to speak of the visitors clamoring to be at the detective’s side; I had often noted Aiba’s remarkably wide circle of acquaintance, but his illness revealed to me the incredible number of people—from all classes of society—for whom the detective had performed some good action.

Even tonight, Ohno did not find me alone; but the clock was approaching midnight, and his lordship had finally dropped to sleep in his chair. Ohno entered and, spotting his lordship, took him up in his arms and carried him, I presume, to bed; he returned a few minutes later determined, I think, to do the same for me, but I raised my head and held up a hand to stop him. “I am comfortable here, Ohno.”

“I think you can hardly be comfortable in such a position, sir,” the valet murmured, pulling up a chair beside me.

My laugher was perilously close to a sob; “You are right, I can hardly be comfortable here, seeing him thus,” I choked out bitterly. Before us, the detective’s emaciated visage was deathly white and creased with pain.

Ohno said nothing; his silence only encouraged my self-pity. “Ohno, do you think…would you consider that I made the right decision that day? That it was right to attempt to pull the detective back from death?” I glanced at the valet from the corner of my eye, anxious for his response.

“You saved his life,” he replied firmly.

“But I sometimes think… if I could have saved Shun when we were in the Sudan, I might still be there, now…and I would never have encouraged the detective to pursue the investigation…he might have played no role in the mystery, and he would never have been injured…”

“And if you had never been injured in the Sudan, the detective might still have followed the course of the investigation, but you would not have been in London to save him, and he would have died on the street that day.”

I frowned, “But then I should have to be grateful for Shun’s death. Otherwise, I would not have met Aiba.”

“Which is why one should not engage in such purposeless speculation, sir. It is done now. You cannot look to the past for answers.” The valet spoke with uncharacteristic intensity, almost with vehemence; I felt, for the first time, truly chastened by the quiet artist.

I was deeply impressed by his words; my next inquiry was not sarcastic, but sincere, “Then how would you have me live, Ohno?” I stopped for a moment, almost unable to continue speaking, “When I feel that I cannot bear the suffering of the present?”

The artist’s reply was immediate, “Live in anticipation of the spring, sir. Each year, I endure the winter by looking forward to spring’s return.”

 

*

 

I will write this, in the hope that someday these words might revive even more vividly to our minds the sensations of this morning:

I woke this morning with a hand in my hair; just as I was blinking open my eyes, I felt the surprising sensation of my hair being tugged and my head pulled upward. I was just able to catch sight of Aiba’s wide eyes staring into my mine before the strength of his hand seemed to give out and my head thudded back onto the bedspread; I raised myself up again to discover Aiba biting back a smile, his eyes glinting with amusement. He licked his lips before rasping softly, “I am sorry, Jun. I only wanted to see your face again so intensely—I could not wait until you woke.”

As the detective’s eyes met mine, something inside my chest turned over; I felt with absolute certainty that I was seeing Aiba: my detective, my love. I had spoken to him often over the course of the month, even conversed briefly—but in all those moments he had still been somehow distant from me, as though speaking to me from another world, as though looking at me through a dark glass.

But in that instant I felt his presence run through my body like an electric current—I could write it again and again—he was here, he was here, he was here.

His eyes were passing over my face, drinking in my features with the same eagerness with which I was devouring his. I took his hand to press it to my lips, kissing it repeatedly and with such force that I may have bruised it. “Aiba…” was all I could speak as he continued to look upon me.

“Jun…” he replied softly. His eyes were shining as he continued, “It has been so long.”

I felt myself began to shake, the waves of relief and thankfulness passing over me threatening to overwhelm me entirely. As I struggled to form the words that would convey my complete happiness and love to the detective, I was surprised by Aiba’s sudden inquiry, “What happens next in your novel, Jun?”

“My…novel?” I stuttered.

“Your novel…I thought you wrote me a novel, Jun” the detective struggled through his slight breathlessness to explain, “You were writing the story of a man who returns to England after some sad occurrence, and he helps others and begins to find happiness again…I thought…I hoped you were reading me your own story, Jun…but then it ended suddenly…you stopped reading…”

I laughed; the first genuine laughter I had enjoyed, I think, in weeks, “I am afraid that I have failed then, Aiba—I was attempting to write your story. The story of an amateur detective with a kind heart, and more courage than powers of deductive reasoning.”

Aiba smiled brightly at my words (how long had it been since I had seen that smile? How had I lived so long without it?), “Then instead, you wrote the story of how that amateur detective fell in love with you, Jun?”

I offered Aiba my own widest smile in return. “You are mistaken, Aiba. I wrote the story of how that detective saved my life.”

 

Four months later

When Aiba and I returned to Hayworth in the spring, we discovered that Ohno’s sculpture had been completed; the frame of the structure was entirely covered in thick, green ivy that twined itself about the lattice work, and a profusion of white flowers bloomed, as if by some magic, from the wooden turrets at the top—Daigo’s work, Aiba deduced. What stood upon my lawn was no longer a bare skeleton, but a tower embraced by living greenery.