Three weeks after Martinaise, Kim works his second case with Harry and his first at Precinct 41.
They’re on the very edge of Jamrock’s western flank, right where the city gives way to the harbour. A fishing trawler cuts through the oily water ahead of them. Across the bay, if he squints, he can see yachts bobbing on their tethers in Stella-Maris. The air tastes like fuel exhaust and salt.
“All right,” Jean says. He hangs up the radio receiver and sighs heavily, dragging a hand through his hair. “Well, the tide doesn’t turn until five. We’ll have to wait.”
“Twenty minutes,” Kim agrees. He closes the driver’s side door with a pat. “Detective, should we…?”
He frowns at the empty space over his shoulder.
“There’s something down here,” Harry calls out, swinging his gangly legs over the harbour wall and landing on the other side with a squelch. “Under those fishing nets, I think. Want a boost?”
“You go ahead,” Kim calls back. “We’ll, ah… keep an eye on the tide.”
Harry shrugs, wading further into the mud.
“He’s going to get stuck,” Jean says, leaning back against the Kineema. He sounds immensely satisfied by this.
“You think so?”
Kim shrugs. In companionable silence, they watch the figure in front of them heave a filthy crate out from under the web of fishing nets.
“No, don’t kick it,” Kim murmurs, wrinkling his nose. “Just turn it over.”
“He always kicks it,” Jean says. “He loves to kick things. What the hell is he doing now?”
Harry, hunched over his newfound treasure, has paused his attempts to break the lock. Kim pushes his glasses up his nose. He watches Harry struggle with a pair of yellow gardening gloves.
“Police work,” he says.
Jean snorts. He reaches for the thermos propped by his feet and uncaps it, prying apart the two tin cups stacked inside and passing one to Kim.
“You know something funny? He wouldn’t have done this, before. We would’ve gone straight to the body.”
There’s an odd note in Jean’s voice, something Kim doesn’t know him well enough to parse. He hums, non-committal, and stays quiet.
“He stopped doing all this.” Jean waves a hand in Harry’s direction. “It was like… I don’t know. Booze induced tunnel vision.” He flicks the flask open with his thumb and begins to pour. “Still dressed like a fucking clown, of course.”
Kim shuts his eyes, inhaling the hot coffee steam with reverence, and murmurs a thank you.
“Those are his field autopsy gloves,” he admits, cupping the mug in both hands. “From Martinaise.”
“He’s going to catch a disease,” Jean mutters fitfully. He takes a long sip of coffee, wiping his mouth on the back of his hand.
“No, it’s inevitable,” Jean says. “Just wait. We’ll end up in Pryce’s office... Sorry, sir, Harry’s not in today, he’s diseased—”
Harry, naturally, chooses that moment to clamber over the wall.
“Did you say my name?” He stops dead and stares at them, his eyes going wide with alarm. “Oh, God. Why are you saying my name? What’s happening? What did I do?”
“Nervous, isn’t he?” Jean remarks in an undertone. “Like one of those little dogs.”
“We shouldn’t wind him up too much,” Kim murmurs back, watching Harry jog across the road. “He has a remarkably fragile constitution, for someone so hard to kill.”
Jean smothers his bark of laughter with a cough.
“Stop doing that,” Harry demands, pointing at him as he stumbles to a halt. “Stop slandering me in front of Kim.”
“I would never slander you,” Jean says mildly. “I respect you, Harry. You’re a very reasonable man.”
He holds out his coffee cup, presumably as a peace offering. Harry, scowling, trudges closer and takes it. His wet shoes squelch unpleasantly on the pavement.
“I am reasonable,” he mutters.
“Yes, that’s the spirit,” Jean says placidly. “Did you even get that crate open?”
Harry grimaces — due to the lack of crate opening, the coffee burning his mouth, or possibly both. It’s hard to tell.
“Try again once we’ve examined the body, detective,” Kim suggests. The three of them start walking down the main road that loops the harbour: Kim in the middle, Jean on his left, Harry on his right. “We’ll have time on our way back.”
“You’re going soft on me,” Harry accuses. He’s smiling, his eyes crinkled in the morning sunlight. His tie has come undone again. Kim had cornered him in the 41st’s break room and fixed the knot before they left, his knuckles brushing Harry’s throat. Looking at it makes his fingers itch.
“Good cop-bad cop,” Kim says, gesturing between himself and Jean. “It keeps the miscreants in line.”
Harry grins at him. Kim opens his notebook, clears his throat, and flicks to a clean page.
“Time of death…” Jean wrinkles his nose, eyeing the corpse up and down. “Let’s say a week ago.”
“Five days,” Harry murmurs absently, peering with interest at the dead man’s fingernails. “Saturday morning.”
“All right, sure,” Jean says. “Saturday morning.”
The body looks bloated and alien thanks to its time in the water, bruised from its brief journey in a body bag, and out of place on the stainless steel autopsy table. There are signs of asphyxiation and aspiration, consistent with drowning; there is a ragged bullet hole under the left ear, which is not. Harry stares at this wound for some time, wordless, before reaching for a pair of tweezers and carefully easing something out of it. Kim pulls an evidence bag from his jacket’s inner pocket, shaking it open, and Harry drops a deformed little bullet husk inside. The shape of it is eerily familiar.
“Nine millimetre,” Jean notes, tapping his pen thoughtfully on the edge of his ledger. “Custom casing, muzzle loaded… this was the Mazda.”
A knot of tension in Kim's chest abruptly dissolves. He takes off his glasses and wipes the lenses on his shirt, one at a time, to occupy his hands while he weathers the adrenaline rising and falling in his body.
No breechloaders, no conspiracies, no cryptids, a little voice murmurs in his ear. Welcome back to mundanity, lieutenant. Is it everything you dreamed of?
Kim exhales, ignoring this thought. He puts his glasses back on.
It takes them another hour to finish their notes, sign off on the death certificate, and check in with the station. Midday finds Kim walking shoulder to shoulder with Harry and Jean in the thin April sunlight, pushing through the crowds of people hurrying to lunch breaks and smoke breaks and afternoon shifts. There’s a foot or so of space surrounding them on every side. People speed up when they walk past, Kim notes - giving them the same wide berth often afforded to loud drunks or crying children. He wonders if any of them knew the dead man by the harbour. If any of them would tell him if they did.
“Do people normally get shot in the head this much around here?” Harry asks. Jean laughs, flicking his lighter and bowing his head.
“Welcome to Revachol West, Harry.”
“It isn’t common,” Kim clarifies, catching Harry’s eye, “but it’s not unheard of.” He sighs. “This time of year, after the thaw…”
“Poppy season,” Harry says softly. Jean coughs around a lungful of smoke, looking surprised.
“You remember that?”
A small furrow appears between Harry's brows. Kim ignores the urge to smooth it with his thumb.
“We were working on something...” Harry says, trailing off.
“Algorithm.” Jean flicks ash to the ground. “Homicides versus snowfall. Post-thaw, higher body count, it happens every year. You thought we could mathematically predict when Mazda and Madre started planting based on when their underlings started slaughtering each other.”
“Huh,” Harry says. “Could we?”
“No idea. All the notes were in the motor carriage. On the backseat, I think.”
“It was trite,” Jean says hastily, noticing Harry’s expression, “just... I don't know. Something we worked on when we were avoiding paperwork.” Harry opens his mouth, clearly planning to refute this, but Jean adds, louder, “you’re meeting that woman today, aren’t you? The one from Martinaise?”
“Lena,” Kim cuts in smoothly. Jean shoots him an appreciative look. Kim inclines his head. “She wanted to hear Harry’s account of the phasmid in person before her interview with La Fronde.”
Harry glances at him with a frown.
“You’re not coming?”
“I have some loose ends to clear up with the 57th,” Kim tells him, with genuine regret. It’s not a lie. “Besides, you spoke to it, detective. Not me.”
Harry nods, his mind clearly elsewhere. He drops the subject until they reach the station ten minutes later—at which point he pulls Kim aside by the elbow, furtively ducking their heads together in a narrow alley that smells of damp and mold.
“I’ll still see you tonight, though,” Harry says in a low undertone. “For, uh… Suzerainty. Right?”
“Yes,” Kim says dryly. “If you want.”
He tips his head back a little so he can watch Harry loom over him — one palm pressed flat on the wall beside Kim's head as they talk.
“I got my stitches out.” Harry clears his throat, tugging on his tie. “Just, ah. So you’re aware.”
“I'm aware,” Kim says.
“On Tuesday,” Harry adds. “So that’s three days, technically. Three stitchless days.”
“It is,” Kim agrees.
“Right,” Harry says, nodding. “Yeah.”
He lasts, by Kim's estimate, another four or five seconds before nerves get the better of him.
“Kim, just so we’re clear, I’m talking about—”
“I know what we’re talking about,” Kim murmurs, reaching out to fix Harry's tie. It doesn’t escape his attention, the way Harry goes still. He’s pliant and patient, humouring him, tilting his chin up so Kim has space to work. There's a grin playing on his mouth. Affection wrenches hard in Kim's chest like a pulled muscle. He is very glad, suddenly, that the second bullet hit Harry's shoulder and nowhere lower, and that Harry still looks at him the way he did on the Whirling’s balcony: as though Kim is trustworthy, as if he is good.
“You should get going,” he says, stepping out of Harry’s orbit through sheer power of will. “You don’t want to be late.”
Harry hangs his head with an unsteady huff of laughter. He seems to sway forward for a moment, then stops himself.
“Yeah, I should,” he says. “I should, or I’m going to…”
Kim’s hands twitch at his sides. He wrestles his mouth into a firm line, trapping a smile behind his teeth, and makes a shooing gesture with his hands.
“Go,” he insists. “Lena’s waited long enough for this moment, don’t you think?”
“Right!” Harry says, clearing his throat. His fingers, seemingly of their own accord, start to fiddle with his straightened tie again. “Lena. Phasmid-and-Lena. I’ll just…”
He rocks on his heels for a moment, clearly wracked with indecision, before darting forward like a bullet. His stubble rasps on Kim's cheek as he presses a kiss there.
“Sorry,” he says. “Felt like the right thing to do.”
“It was,” Kim murmurs.
“Oh.” Harry backs away, sounding relieved by this. “Okay, then. That’s good.”
Not trusting himself or his voice to keep it together, Kim lifts a hand and waves. Harry grins at him one last time — bright, sincere, and blinding to look at — before jogging out the alley and into the bright afternoon.
Kim sags back against the wall, head in his hands, and laughs.
His apartment smells stale when he lets himself in. Kim makes quick work of fixing this: crosses the room to prop a window open, waters the mint on his windowsill, and after a quick shower changes into a grey sweater, worn at the elbows, and the same pair of RCM issue cadet trousers he’s been wearing (and darning) for the past decade. He stretches his arms above his head, rolling his wrists. They click, one after the other. His spine aches dully. Exhaustion throbs behind his eyes. Kim acknowledges these small hurts, one by one, and methodically discards them. He has work to do.
There’s a slim stack of paperwork on his kitchen table, all of it stamped with the 57th’s insignia. Kim pulls up a chair and stares at it, motionless. His pen hovers in mid-air for so long that ink drips onto the topmost page, leaving a stain shaped like a tiny bullet hole.
The gnawing in his stomach, he decides, must be down to too much caffeine. He and Harry had stopped for coffee that morning: loitering outside one of the cafes that litter the harbourside, waiting for Jean to finish briefing the precinct over the radio. It was Couron, which meant everything was too small and overpriced, but the sky had been clear and the coffee was hot. Harry had licked pastry crumbs off his thumb with single minded focus, scribbling intently in his ledger with his free hand.
(“Seriously, though.” Their knees knock together under the table. “You know there’s stuff out there, Kim. You’ve seen it. So why—”
“I know the phasmid is out there,” Kim corrects. “I have yet to see any compelling evidence concerning other… stuff.”
“But that’s what intuition is for!” Harry insists, leaning forward in his seat. “Sometimes you don’t need evidence, sometimes you just... know.”
He looks positively electric when he's arguing, like his body was made for it. It's impossible to look away from his smile, or his eyes, or the way his hands cut and shape the air as he gestures; animated, earnest, insistent. There’s a smudge of powdered sugar on his bottom lip. Kim tries not to think about it.
It’s not just the way he looks, a sly voice points out. It's the way he looks at *you*. He thinks you’re clever. He thinks you’re cool. He wants to impress you, and you like it. Don’t lie.
Following a reckless impulse, Kim leans across the table and smooths the pad of his thumb across Harry's mouth. Harry trails off and goes still. His eyes follow Kim when he pulls away—dark and curious, pupils blown.
“Thanks,” he says slowly.
“You’re welcome,” Kim says.)
For reasons known only to himself, Harry hasn’t replaced the badge he salvaged from the icy wreckage in Martinaise. When they’d stopped to pay, Kim had allowed himself the rare indulgence of looking at the photo printed on it: a stranger with combed hair and a clear cut jawline, Harry's bright eyes and roguish grin on a face he doesn’t recognise. If Kim had lived two streets over back in ‘23, he would’ve fallen into the 41st’s catchment area, and he would’ve met the man in that photo on his first day of work. They would've hated each other.
Kim exhales, hard. He drops his pen again.
It’s better for both of them, he decides, if Harry decides against pursuing this. It was only ever a slip of the tongue. He should never have said anything, and he shouldn’t have transferred, and then he wouldn’t be in this mess at all.
The knock comes just as he looks down at his paperwork again: two quick raps, the usual pattern of the building rep. Kim pads barefoot to the door and opens it.
“Pryce wanted to see me,” Harry says in a rush, rocking on his heels. “Shit. Sorry. Can I come in?”
Kim blinks at him. He wonders, bemusedly, if he’s finally cracked, and this is the hallucinatory result of all his recent pale exposure—but Harry looks solid and whole, fidgeting on his doorstep. He must have walked here all the way from the station.
“You can say no,” Harry adds hurriedly, “I know it’s late, I’m just—I thought—”
“Of course,” Kim hears himself say, stepping aside on autopilot. Immediately he realises he’s made a mistake, because this sight is familiar and dangerous, all at once: Harry is looking at his bookshelf, skimming his fingers briefly across the row of spines. He seems more tightly wound than usual, more skittish — wary of something beyond Kim’s line of sight.
Harry jumps, wide eyed. Kim sighs.
“Harry,” he says, not unkindly. "Are you all right?”
“I'm great,” Harry says, nodding rapidly. “Yeah, I'm fine, I’m good. Are you good, Kim?”
Kim nods back, just once.
“Come here,” he says. Harry follows him obediently to the open window. He runs his fingers up and down a crack in the frame, staring at Jamrock’s skyline with a strange, sudden melancholy on his face, like he wants to drink it in. Kim waits out the silence, lighting a cigarette.
“I can’t stop thinking about Martinaise.”
Kim sighs, exhaling smoke.
“It was a lot to take in,” he says. “Especially considering your… condition, at the time.”
Harry nods. He taps his fingers on the window.
"I miss it,” he says quietly, glancing at Kim. "I miss being there with you. Is that weird?”
It is very difficult, Kim has discovered, to recover from being part of something. He thinks about this often, but only at night. Martinaise had been a strange, exhausting, exhilarating chain reaction, rocking his worldview on every possible axis — his choices there had terrified him, but they'd mattered. The most intense experience of his life can somehow be neatly condensed into three objects: his case report, a single photograph, and Harry. It doesn’t feel like nearly enough.
"Not so weird,” Kim says.
Harry’s gaze snaps to him. Kim offers him his cigarette and Harry reaches out and takes it, taking a drag without looking away. His eyes are dark and curious.
"I want to value my work. Or, rather… I want to believe my work has value. That the RCM…”
Wordlessly, Harry passes the cigarette back. Kim shuts his eyes, inhaling. Smoke hits the back of his throat.
“Sometimes I'm not so sure,” he murmurs.
It’s the first clear sunset of the year. Motor carriages and horses are jostling for space on the street below, trapped in rush hour traffic that snakes all the way to Pont Saint Michel — there’s live music playing in the bar down the road and the streetlamp by the entrance is flickering again, the only one left on this block with a working bulb. In the distance, as they do every Thursday, the Coalition warships are running through their drills. Kim flicks the ash from his cigarette and watches a frigate tack back and forth across the bay.
"I think that’s what did me in,” Harry says softly. "Before Martinaise, I mean. I think I stopped being sure, too.”
The streetlight across the road is reflecting on Kim’s glasses, making him squint. He steps closer to Harry to escape the glare. Harry’s eyes flick down to his lips — swiftly, before he can overthink it, Kim stubs his cigarette on the sole of his shoe and leans in, resting one palm flat on Harry’s chest.
He kisses Harry purposefully, as though he has a point to prove; the point being, I want this, and also, I'm good at it. Harry’s lips curve up into a smile that’s difficult to press his mouth to, although he keeps trying. Eventually Kim gives up with a breathless laugh, shaking his head.
“Harry…” he says. Harry makes an unhappy sound in his throat when he pulls away, chasing after him. He cups Kim’s face in his hands, darting in and kissing him again, once, twice—viper quick, as though he can’t help himself. He drags himself away and rests his forehead on Kim’s, panting.
“One more,” he insists muzzily.
“That was two more,” Kim says.
“I'm your superior officer, I say it was one,” Harry murmurs. Kim lets out a low, amused sound. His fingers are toying with Harry’s shirt hem. He lets go once he realises this, flexing them one by one. The back of his neck prickles.
“I don’t do this,” he says. “With colleagues.”
“You say that like you think I sleep with everyone, Kim,” Harry points out. Kim purses his lips and swats his shoulder, but he shouldn't have bothered — the rest of his sentence stays stuck anyway, half formed, in his throat. Harry reaches for him again, thumbing his cheekbones gently before leaning in. Kim sighs into his mouth. He’s content to have this, if only for a moment. There's nothing complicated about the way Harry touches him, or the scrape of Harry’s beard on his chin.
“Sorry,” Harry mutters. He doesn’t move his hands. Kim leans into them, letting his cheek rest on Harry’s warm palm.
God, what to say? I don’t do things by half, I don’t have time for that. You make me laugh too much. You’re driving me insane. Eyes, too, had made him laugh: an art he’d perfected by driving Kim home on Friday nights, leaning sharply into every turn until it felt like the motorbike would spin out into oblivion, only to corral it upright again with the showmanship of a circus ringmaster. Eyes had made him laugh until he stopped being Eyes and become a body instead. Kim has worked diligently to reflect his recklessness inward, tempering the flame until it resembles control. There’s a unique appeal to burning brightly until you burn out—but you will burn out, and someone, inevitably, will be left looking at your paperwork, when they’d rather be looking at you.
Harry’s mouth grazes his throat. Kim slides back to the present with a jolt.
“Okay?” Harry asks, pulling away to look at him. There’s fear and doubt in his voice, in his eyes — Kim reaches for him and cups the back of his head, fingernails scratching lightly. Harry grins, a brief flash of teeth, before picking up where he left off, kissing his way down.
“Be nice,” he breathes, muffled and wet-hot against Kim’s collarbone. “I don’t know if I’ve done this before.”
Harry, it quickly becomes apparent, has done this before. He lets himself be pushed and manhandled across the room with contented ease, only opening his eyes when his back thuds into the bedroom door. They’re hazy and half-lidded, focused on Kim like he’s forgotten how to look anywhere else. Kim’s hands make quick work of his tie, deftly pulling it down and off. This is easier than he expected, since it turns out Harry has merely looped it around his shirt collar like a scarf. He dangles it in front of Harry’s nose, eyebrows raised.
“I like it better that way,” Harry protests.
“Of course you do,” Kim mutters. Removing the tie from the equation has loosened Harry’s shirt, and the newly exposed expanse of his throat seems to warrant investigating. He noses it, breathing deeply, and feels Harry shudder in response, pulling Kim closer by the waist. Harry’s hands around his thighs is all the warning he gets—Kim blinks, tilting forward, and finds himself looking down at his face.
“No stitches,” Harry explains proudly, hefting him higher in his arms.
Kim shakes his head, looking away while he laughs: at his forwardness, at the general lunacy of it all, Harry sweeping him off his feet like they’re in one of those old boiadeiro films the Paledriver had talked about. Harry isn’t laughing. He's looking up at him with the solemn reverence of a knight’s errant, if knights errant wore FALN sneakers.
Kim is familiar with Harry’s body in theory (and in constant awe of how careless he can be with it), but it’s different like this, pressed so close. Harry is soft in some places, wiry in others, and there are tiny freckles scattered where his neck and shoulders meet. Kim strokes them slowly with his thumb. He realises, sometime after they make it to the bed, that Harry has done this before, too — which is the last coherent thought he has before the world narrows down to Harry's mouth on his dick.
“Fuck,” Kim says quietly. He shudders, bucking his hips too early—Harry just takes it with a muffled, appreciative groan, scrabbling around until he finds Kim’s hand curled claw-like on his shoulder, dragging it to his hair again. Kim winds his fingers in, pushing down. Without his glasses the world is hazy and shapeless; Harry is the only thing close enough to be in focus. His pink mouth is slick with spit when he pulls off, panting, resting his forehead on Kim’s thigh.
“That’s good,” Kim breathes out. “God, Harry—”
Harry has been here before, which surprises him; Harry has been here on his knees for someone more than once, and Kim finds himself wondering, under the slick haze of pleasure, if he remembers doing it. There are bars on Boogie Street where it’s easy to be faceless. Did Harry know about those? Did he discover this in cramped club bathrooms, or in bedrooms, or back rooms—were they good to him, the people he did this with? Did they make it worthwhile?
Harry’s hair is sweaty and damp, falling in front of his forehead now. He lurches upright and folds his arms around Kim’s neck when Kim breathes, “up, come up,” buckling at the knees and sitting astride him on the edge of the mattress like he doesn’t trust his legs to hold him steady. He buries his face in the sweat damp nape of Kim’s neck, his bare chest heaving, leaning on him heavily. Kim noses the crown of Harry’s head, eyes shut. Harry is a hot, tactile weight on his lap, fidgeting his weight around until they’re aligned enough for him to roll his hips down.
“Is this ok?” Harry pants into his mouth.
Kim nods. Want diffuses through him hazily, setting him alight. He aims for a kiss and bites Harry’s lip in the process— recoils, breathing hard through his nose—but Harry doesn’t seem fazed by it, laughing and murmuring something Kim doesn’t catch before running his hands from Kim’s shoulders to his forearms, easing him down, down. He props himself up on his elbows once Kim’s back is flush with the sheets. His breathing hitches around a moan when Kim reaches down to touch him, thumbing the slick head of his cock and curling his hand loosely into a fist. The angle of their bodies changes, allowing Kim to grind up into the crease of Harry’s thigh, and the sudden pressure is so good and unexpected, it hits him like a physical blow. He arches into it with a hiss, twisting his head to the side, feeling Harry’s teeth on his throat—one of Harry’s hands nudges his aside and grips them both, coaxing Kim into moving faster, rocking forward and up—
He comes with a sharp, breathless sound, dimly aware of Harry shivering against him, following him down. He rides out the aftershocks with his face buried in Harry's shoulder until Harry pecks the top of his head, behind his ear, nudging closer like a honing missile. Eventually Kim finds the self-will to pull himself upright, but not enough of it to leave the warm orbit of the bed. He sighs, resigned to the judgement of his future self, and wipes them both clean with the handkerchief on his night stand.
“Kim,” Harry says sleepily. “Please tell me that’s not the one you gave me after I threw up on a dead guy.”
“This is not the dead guy handkerchief,” Kim says. He settles his glasses back on his nose, squinting at Harry as he slides into focus. “What are you doing? You can’t put those on lying down.”
“Yeah, I can,” Harry mutters, dragging his boxers haphazardly over his knees. He pauses, considering, and performs a bizarre, eel-like writhe. “Probably. I can probably—I’ve done this before.”
Kim watches him for a minute or so, until his own nakedness makes him feel suddenly exposed. This is irrational and clearly stupid, since Harry’s idea of getting dressed amounts to putting on underwear and calling it a day—but he’s too tired to fight his own impulses tonight. He heaves himself over to the dresser and digs out an old running shirt and boxers, both soft and thin from years of being worn, washed, dried, and folded. Outside his bedroom window, through the gaps in the blinds, he can see the streetlamp down the road flickering to itself. Every so often a few night revelers will stumble past, their shadows rippling and looming in the light. Kim watches this metamorphosis as he changes. He breathes deeply, in then out. Tutti noi vivremo per sempre, sempre e in eterno. Potremo volare, berremo miele, vino in miele…
“I know that,” Harry’s voice says muzzily from behind him. “Why do I know that?”
“School, probably,” he says. “Or work. The Voltas are part of the RCM’s training program.”
There’s no reply. Kim glances over his shoulder and feels something stir behind his ribs when he sees Harry curled on his side, sleepy and sated, eyes closed.
He pads barefoot towards the bed and kneels on it again, inching forward until he can trace the outline of Harry’s mouth with his fingertips. It's true: he doesn’t look like the man in his badge photo anymore. The shape of his jaw is no longer clean cut, and his eyes have wrinkled at the corners—but they’ve shed the wild, bloodshot stupor they had in Martinaise, and his cheeks aren’t flushed from drinking or gaunt from blood loss. His hair smells faintly sweet, like the no-brand soap he pilfers from the station supply closet.
"What are you doing?" Harry mutters gruffly. His eyes are still closed.
"Looking at you," Kim says. He drags his fingers through the bushy stubble on Harry’s cheek, back and forth, and watches Harry turn his head just enough to nip his thumb. His grin is difficult to kiss, especially from this angle, so Kim throws one thigh over Harry’s waist and looms over him instead, the sheets slipping down his back and pooling behind him in the crook of his knees. Harry’s eyes finally open: roving from Kim’s mussed hair to his forehead, his nose, his neck, then up to his face again.
“We should go back to the harbour tomorrow,” he mutters, reaching up and winding a cowlick of Kim’s dark hair around his finger, tracing lazy patterns on the small of Kim's back.
“Mhm. For the case or the crate?”
“Kim,” Harry says, wounded.
“No, no, you’re right,” Kim murmurs. The sheets rustle as he settles. Harry’s chest is warm and comfortable under his cheek. “We can check the canal run-offs. There could be a trail.”
Harry hums in agreement. He dips his chin, his beard scratching pleasantly against Kim's temple, and drops a dry kiss there.
“So,” Pryce says, studying him over steepled fingers. “Du Bois.”
“Yes,” Harry says. “Hello.”
“How’s the leg?”
“Well, there’s a hole in it,” he says. “And my shoulder also has a hole in it, so it’s more like holes, plural. There are holes in me. But the holes are getting smaller, and my brain also has holes in it, which are also getting smaller, so… solid six out of ten, I think? All things considered.”
From the other side of the desk, Pyrce looks at him with an unreadable expression.
“I’ve stopped having heart attacks,” Harry adds. This feels like something important to point out. “And passing out all the time. And drinking.” He pauses, frowning. “I think those might be related, actually.”
“Good to hear,” Pryce says mildly.
HALF LIGHT: Enough small talk. Grovel at this man’s feet for your sins before he eats you.
Harry swallows. His throat is too dry for this to make any actual difference.
“About the...” he croaks. “Sir, listen, about the Coupris—”
Pryce waves a dismissive hand.
“Irrelevant to this conversation, Harry,” he says. “Don’t worry about it.”
REACTION SPEED: You’re Harry again. Good work.
EMPATHY: You know what’s weird? He really means that. He truly, genuinely doesn’t give a shit about your wilful property damage—
LOGIC: Because that’s small fry compared to what he’s about to tell you. Shut up and listen.
Pryce, right on cue, sits back in his chair and sighs.
“I called you in to tell you the situation in Jamrock is going to escalate,” he says steadily, meeting Harry’s eyes. “And we are going to be outgunned.”
Harry stares at him. His ears are ringing, the way they do in strange dreams—but Pryce seems real enough, and Pryce is still watching him. Harry swallows again. It's just as useless as before.
“Revachol West will declare martial law,” Pryce clarifies. “The Coalition will push us to enforce it. If and when this happens, we will lose. Do you understand?”
He says all this very carefully, Harry notes. With deliberate purpose.
LOGIC: If Revachol ever wanted to overthrow its occupation—for this isola to stand a single, tattered chance of self governance—it would need to be seen as a genuine force. Something with a foundation too credible to bother sending reinforcements across the Pale for. And for that…
CONCEPTUALISATION: This is the same line of thinking that compelled Evrart Claire to paint all those containers. Same shit, different scale.
“I understand,” Harry says, at last.
“Are you sure?” Pryce’s expression betrays nothing at all when he gestures between them with a flick of his wrist. “People will die for this, Harry. For this city.”
“Too many people are dying here anyway,” Harry says, before adding hurriedly: “Uh… sir.”
At that, Pryce smiles slightly. It’s a wolfish smile.
SHIVERS: In November ‘09, when he was thirteen years old, a court martial ensured that Ptolemaios "Ptolemy" Pryce lost his mother to the final firing squad led by Coalition forces. Her body was buried in an unmarked grave. At the time, he never understood why she was sentenced so harshly: unmarked graves were for communards, he thought. Not mothers. In the present, forty years since, children do not learn about the commune-that-was. His father never spoke of Mazov, or his mother. He put his medals in a little shoebox and left them in the fireplace. Six months later, he founded the RCM in cooperation with INSURCOM—where he worked until he died, at forty four years old, from liver cirrhosis. He was buried in an unmarked grave.
“How long do we have?” Harry asks.
“A year,” Pryce says. He shrugs. “Maybe more, maybe less. With the harbour under Union control… certain timelines have been pushed forward.”
REACTION SPEED: The situation in Martinaise was way, way more complicated than you were told going in, and substantially bigger than one murder.
LOGIC: It was never about the murder. Lely Kortenaer was a well timed convenience, the harbour dispute was always the real case. That's why he chose you. The cards needed to fall a certain way. He knew you’d manage to push them in the right direction, bit by bit…
“This is why you sent me to Martinaise,” Harry says. The realisation slots into place with a tangible click. “You used me.”
Evening rain taps on the office window. The dark circles under Pryce’s eyes are growing darker as the sun goes down. Slowly, he inclines his head.
EMPATHY: Don’t take the manipulation to heart. This man is a tactician — he categorises people by their uses. You’re not his friend, you’re his rook.
ENCYCLOPEDIA: A member of the crow family in the passerine order of birds, known for its size, gregariousness, and cloak of dark feathers.
SHIVERS: The last thing Korty ever heard, dressed in his lilywhite armour, was not the roar of your gun. It was the click-click-click of ceramic, like pieces being gathered off a board.
COMPOSURE: You’re a rook to this guy, sure. To Judit, you’re a coworker, and to Jean, you’re a pain in the ass, and to the alley cats outside your building you are the lumbering giant who brings them water and little dried fish. You’re a lot of things.
ESPRIT DE CORPS: Three streets from here, at his kitchen table, Kim is staring at unfinished paperwork and thinking about who you are to him.
ELECTROCHEMISTRY: Yeah? What’s he decided?
VOLITION: Focus. Pryce is talking.
“Lieutenant Kitsuragi.” Pryce looks at his ledger, then at Harry. “Do you trust him?”
“Completely,” Harry replies, without hesitation. Pryce makes a miniscule note in the margin.
“Allow me to rephrase,” he says. “How much can he be trusted with?”
“Anything,” Harry says instantly. “All of it. Whole shebang.”
“You’re going to tell him everything I tell you, aren’t you?”
Harry coughs, squirming in his seat.
VOLITION: That’s not really a lie. You wouldn’t just tell him all this unbidden. But if he asked… if, say, an eyebrow was raised…
AUTHORITY: You’re screwed.
INLAND EMPIRE: Well, not yet. But you will be, my friend.
Pryce laughs. It’s a sharp bark of a sound.
“Bring C-wing up to speed when we’re done here,” he says, meeting Harry's eyes. “You can include Kitsuragi. Keep this from Heidelstam, for the time being.”
HALF LIGHT: Smoke and mirrors, that’s all this is. A doomed, foolhardy trick of the light: it will be impossible to keep the Moralintern’s eyes from straying, to keep their troops from crossing the water. It won’t work, Harry. Turn around and bolt.
INLAND EMPIRE: Après la vie, mort. Après la mort, la République de nouveau.
“What do we need to know?” Harry says.