Actions

Work Header

After the Pale, the World Again

Work Text:

Third time’s the charm, Kim thinks with a trace of weariness. He does not have high hopes for today, but he’s sure that at least he can finally intercept the detective from Precinct 41 as he takes up his spot in front of the doors of the Whirling-in-Rags. There’s something vaguely absurd and degrading about blockading the only exit just to wrangle a colleague into working with him, but at least it's far from the most absurd or degrading thing he’s ever had to do for the RCM.

“Are you a police officer?” An older woman in a wheelchair peers up at him warmly through thick glasses.

“Hm?” He blinks. “Ah, yes, ma’am.”

“I guessed, based on those patches on your jacket.” Her smile turns sad. “You must be here about that body. Such a terrible thing. People can be so awful to each other.”

“Indeed. But we’re here to set things right.”

If the other detective deigns to come downstairs.

As if on cue, a pair of heavily bell-bottomed legs appear on the stairs. He’s moving slowly, this new man. He looks older. Seasoned, as the Precinct 41 dispatcher had told Kim with a smirk. What he's been seasoned with becomes clear as the detective winces and raises his hand to his face, like the morning sunlight hurts. Kim mentally opens the notebook he keep in his head and, where he has mentally written THE CASE OF THE MISSING DETECTIVE, adds CASE CLOSED. He can only hope the case of the body in the tree will be so easily solved. Especially since his new partner doesn’t look like he’s up for anything more.

The man cranes his shaggy head around the room, shielding his eyes like the cafeteria is an interrogation light. He’s on the taller side of average. Sturdy. An athletic build gone to seed. Faded disco holdover clothes and hair. Not even trying to hide his hangover. Kim very consciously does not form an opinion of this man. It would only make things harder.

The detective stops to speak to the cafeteria manager, who is currently fussing with what appears to be the broken remains of a stuffed skua. The manager snaps in response to whatever he says, and gestures over in Kim’s direction. The detective barely glances Kim’s way, continuing to press the manager. Kim chooses not to have a reaction to that either. The way the detective leans toward the bar manager–arms crossed across the counter, emphasizing the size and strength of his upper body, leaning close, eyes intent–it feels coplike to Kim, an posture honed by years on the job. It could be the posture of a talented detective, or a manipulative bully. The two are not always as different as one would like to think.

Finally, the detective wanders Kim's way. He wears a smirk, curiously fixed and inflexible, which doesn't reach his eyes. It’s unnerving, and reminds Kim of his time transporting dead bodies in Processing. Advanced cases of rigor mortis are not entirely dissimilar to whatever’s going on with the detective’s face. Somehow, it’s the first thing he’s seen of the detective that makes him feel a twinge of… something. This is not a normal case of drunkenness on the job. Not normal pissing contest behavior either.

Kim steps forward and extends his hand, offering a small, conciliatory smile. No hard feelings about the last two days.

The detective stares at it like Kim has just heaved a dead fish into the space between them. He looks up at Kim a moment later, then down again. He does not take Kim’s hand.

Kim withdraws his hand. Okay. This is fine. It doesn’t have to be a harbinger of things to come.

 

__

 

It is absolutely a harbinger of things to come.

By dinner-time, a number of concerning things have become clear about the detective from Precinct 41.

First, the detective appears to be sincere in his insistence that he cannot recall even the most basic facts about the world around him, including his name, and the concept of crime. This is a problem when one is a detective, but not, in Kim’s opinion, an insurmountable one. The 41st’s procedural memory for detective work seems… functional enough. As Kim observed from the detective’s posture with Garte, he instinctively knows how to interrogate hostile witnesses. Knows how to get up in their faces and make accusation, chipping away at their defenses. It’d be impressive if he were drilling an actual suspect, and not a obviously innocent service worker.

On a related note, the man is a bit of an asshole. This does not faze Kim. Most cops are.

It does bother him, though, that the man is in no hurry to let his wild weekend of drunken debauchery end, if his need to consume every drop of alcohol he can get his hands on is any indication. And that’s saying nothing of the pills the detective keeps pocketing whenever he thinks Kim isn’t looking. The way he picks pointless fights for no reason, and refuses to take suggestions. 

And the detective seems to be laboring under the delusion that he is some kind of… superstar cop.

Kim breaks out his notebook and scrawls a few quick notes as the detective grills the Frittte clerk again about whether she knew the murder victim.

 

        -Refuses to get shit together

        -Licked a rum stain off the counter

        -Is spending every cent he finds on alcohol and sunglasses

        -Claims his name is Raphaël Ambrosius Costeau–obviously not true

He sighs heavily. 

        -Is attempting to shoplift a plastic rain coat as I write this

He clears his throat and raises an eyebrow at the detective.

The detective keeps reaching for the rain coat as he throws a look Kim's way. C’mon, Kim. I need it.

Kim arches an eyebrow at him.

They have a momentary standoff. Then, somewhat to Kim's surprise, the detective withdraws his hand, evidently cowed by Kim’s eyebrow.

It's an interesting development. Kim wonders how far he could take this. What would happen if Kim corned him up against the wall outside the Frittte, got up in his face and used the voice he honed with delinquents for fifteen years, telling him in no uncertain terms that he will get his shit together, that this is an order, and he will take them…

He shakes his head. What is he thinking? Kim has always taken a non-interventionist approach with his colleagues. That’s how he’s maintained his sanity for the last twenty years. Besides, it’s best not to overuse this trick, lest the detective build up resistance to it.

The truth is, he thinks he understands why the detective is the way he is. He’s seen many cases like it, officers broken by the stress of the job and the turmoil of their personal lives–it’s never easy, having any kind of life and being RCM. Pain, guilt, trauma, laid upon each other with no chance to heal in between.  Lashing out by turning to drugs, or petty abuses of power, or retreating into delusion. 

The truly maddening thing is, despite all of that, Kim almost likes the detective.

They pass the racist lorry driver who has seemingly taken up permanent residence in front of the newsstand beside Frittte. Kim keeps his eyes straight forward, ignoring him, but the detective turns and makes a rude gesture at the lorry driver.

He was clearly a good detective once. Maybe even a great one. There are glimmers of it even now. Kim doubts many other detectives would have been able to find that bullet in the corpse’s throat. Kim knows he wouldn’t have. There was also the odd moment afterward, when he offered the bullet to Kim almost shyly, a slight blush coloring his cheeks. After all the superstar bullshit, it catches Kim off guard. He gets the sense that the detective likes him. The detective smiles appreciatively at Kim’s jokes, playing along a few times. Kim doesn’t know what it says about him that the 41st is one of the only cops he's ever worked with to appreciate his jokes. Probably nothing good.

There’s also the fact that Kim has worked beside cops for twenty years that wouldn’t take his side against a Revacholian racist telling him to go home in his own city. So the fact that the detective did…

He glances down at his notebook.

              -Says he’s got my back, he had written, rather puzzled, afterwards.

Kim doesn’t know what to do with these moments where he almost believes him. He’s quite certain that's a liability, given the detective's... everything.

He frowns down at his notebook and scratches out the last line of his notes.

 

__

 

There are other moments that don’t make it into his notebook. 

The detective turning, eyes wide and bathed in neon, asking Kim how he got so cool. It stirs feelings that are utterly inappropriate for a case, and utterly insane to feel about the drunken, belligerent, shambling man in front of him.

The detective staring at the art student who agreed to put them in touch with his friend who witnessed the lynching. A dazzled, wistful smile playing on the detective’s lips as he asks if they’ll see him again. It makes Kim unaccountably fond of the detective.

He thinks he knows what’s going on. The detective is lunging, drunkenly, from one impulse to another, reaching for anything that will make him feel better. Little moments of power, defiance, bravado, comfort, pleasure–grasping for whatever he can get his hands on that might momentarily dull the pain. Kim doubts he'll find what he's looking for.

 

__

 

Their second day is drawing to a close, and the detective will not stop spending money, even though Kim keeps reminding him that he has not paid Garte for his room tonight. 

“Sure, sure, it’s cool,” the detective says. “But Pale-aged vodka, Kim.” The detective has just learned what the Pale is from Ms. Messier, and he can’t stop talking about it.

Of course the detective would be fascinated by obliteration, Kim thinks, as the detective drinks the vodka right there, in the fluorescent-lit aisle of the Frittte. As if, not satisfied with obliterating his past, he’s determined to destroy his future too.

 

__

 

Kim curls his toes in bed and tries to focus on his crossword. 46 down… five letters…

He sighs. Reproach seems to radiate back at him from the page.

“It’s not my fault,” he mutters. “I warned him.”

Kim plucks his glasses off and scrubs his eyes. He should not be talking to his crossword. The detective is a bad influence on him. He slides the crossword aside and opens his notebook, scanning the last page of notes, a sizable portion of which concern his partner rather than the case.

       -41st learned about the Pale today 
             -(need to check protective impulses, unprofessional)

        -Harry Du Bois?
             -may be a bluff on the Union’s part, need confirmation

        -At this rate, 41st will not have enough money for Garte tonight

He’s underlined the last line twice.

Kim feels a flood of frustration. What was even the point of the last two days, if it’s going to end like this? He can’t stop thinking about the lost look in the detective’s eyes as he realized that this was really it, that no last minute salvation was coming tonight. Kim only had the spinner hubcaps to pawn, and he already did that last night.

“Night, Kim,” the detective says, standing in the yard of the Whirling-in-Rags, one hand on the lid of the trash container. He’s very afraid, and trying to hide it. “Sorry it had to be this way.”

It didn’t have to be this way, he wants to shout. But there’s no point to saying that now. He'd only be kicking the detective while he's down. Instead, he just inclines his head slightly and says, “Me too.”

He smokes beside the trash container for a while after the detective goes inside, as if watching over the detective can keep the cold away or stop the snow from falling. Eventually, he stubs out the cigarette and walks away.

Back in his room, he looks down at his watch. 02:00. Strange, so little time has passed. He would have sworn it was 02:00 when the detective went into the trash container.

 Kim stares at his notebook until his eyes cross, his pen frozen over the page. What more can he possibly write? "Planning to conduct investigation alone tomorrow?" "Will need to make time to take another body to processing?"

He takes off his glasses and wipes them furiously. This is insane. Is he really planning to sit up here with the snow falling outside, while his partner freezes outside? 

The detective needs him, and he needs the detective, if he wants to solve this case. That much is clear from the last two days.

His eyes slide closed. “Ah, fuck it.”

Before he can persuade himself otherwise, he has his boots on. 

He has no clue what he’s going to do. It doesn’t matter, though, he’ll come up with something. Maybe he can distract Garte with a false emergency while the detective sneaks upstairs, like a scene out of some Vespertine juvie comedy, or let the detective sleep in the Kineema…

Let’s not get crazy. The point is, he’ll think of something.

He grabs his jacket and rushes downstairs. He’s out the doors of the Whirling before Garte can say anything to him. 

 

__

 

It’s bitterly cold outside. This late at night, time itself seems to have stopped. He thinks again of his watch, and glances down at it. 02:00. He shivers. It's dead. And he’s usually so careful about winding his watch. 

The streets are deserted, and the buildings stand dark and empty. He hurries to the yard of the Whirling-in-Rags. The delinquents are gone now. Everything is very still.  He heads to the dumpster, which has already turned white under a dusting of snow.

“Detective!” he whispers. 

He heaves open the lid. The detective is shivering in the dumpster, seemingly the only other living thing in the world.

“Kim!” he speaks though chattering teeth. “Is it morning already?”

“No. You won’t survive till morning if you stay in there. Come on.”

He holds out his hand.

The detective stares at Kim’s hand. Hesitates. And takes it.

The world goes cold and still.

The detective’s lips move, but Kim can’t hear him. Images and memories not his own flood his head, and he reaches up to grab his head, but he can’t feel himself any more. He feels... overwritten. Like he’s a screen with a cinema house’s entire collection of films projecting onto him at once. Kim sees the world being unmade, and remade again, and hears the scream of a Kineema on the wind.

 

__

 

“You must be here about that body. Such a shame. People can be so awful to each other.”

Kim blinks.

Around him, cafeteria tables and broken pinball machines sit and a woman in a wheelchair smiles up at him indulgently. 

“Are you all right, dear?” Lena’s big eyes turn worried. 

He looks around. Sunlight pours through the windows, and somewhere, a radio softly murmurs the weather report. Mirova, 4° centigrade, dull.

He’s back by the doors of the Whirling-in-Rags. The detective is nowhere to be found. What... just happened? 

He opens and closes his mouth a few times, and nothing comes out. Finally: “What?”

“Oh dear, I shouldn’t have assumed you were here about that business. Of course RCM officers have all sorts of reasons to be in Martinaise.”

“I’m here to investigate the body,” he says. He knows that, at least.

He looks down at his wristwatch. It's still stopped at 02:00. It fills him with a deep sense of unease.

“May I trouble you for the time, ma’am?”

“07:30, dear.”

“Thank you. And have you seen my partner anywhere?” A number of questions crowd his head, but he settles on that one. It seems practical. Answerable.

Her smiles fades a little, turning apologetic. “I’m afraid I don’t know who that is.”

“The other officer, the one with the disco clothes and the, uh, dimple. He invited you to… roll with us yesterday.”

She shakes her head, still gentle. “I don’t think it was me you were talking to, sweetie. I was at my friend Gary’s yesterday.”

He doesn’t know what to do with that, but arguing seems like a waste of time. “Of course. I’m sorry for the confusion.”

He decides to speak to the cafeteria manager.

Garte glances up from the broken skua just long enough to take in the RCM patches on Kim’s jacket when Kim asks him if he's seen the detective. “You mean the drunk cop staying in Room 1? Haven’t seen him, but he better be down to pay his bill soon. He owes me 130 reál for the broken window and the booze he drank.”

Kim blinks. He seems to be doing a lot of that right now. Has the detective somehow broken another window? How long ago did they get back to the Whirling? And why can't he remember? “Okay. This is a... different broken window than the one he payed for on Monday?” 

“What? Sir, no one broke a window here last Monday. That's not a thing most people in hostels do. Unless you're him, apparently.”

Kim clasps his hands behind his back. This conversation is giving him a queasy, off-kilter feeling.

The cafeteria manager sighs. “I suppose you need a room too? I think 2 is open. Payment in advance, of course.”

"I already-" He pats his pockets. There’s no key there. Something cold settles in his stomach. A ghost of a sensation: the feeling of being unmade and remade, of sinews tearing–

“Room 2 should be fine,” he hears himself saying.

Heavy footsteps sound on the stairs above, and they both look up. It's the 41st, looking exactly the same as he did on Monday. Shuffling, bleary-eyed, wincing at the sunlight. Looking lost. The sight makes Kim's stomach knot. If the detective doesn't remember him either–what is he thinking? Of course he won't.

Panic is starting to claw at his throat.

But when the detective lands on the ground floor, he spots Kim, and actually waves. “Kim! The lady upstairs doesn’t remember me, I think my amnesia might be spreading–” He draws up short. “Also, what happened last night?” The detective turns to Garte. “Did you let us back in, Garte?” He sounds touched.

“What is he talking about?” Garte asks Kim through his teeth.

Kim is rarely at a lose for words, but at the moment, his tongue refuses to work. 

The detective draws up short. “Oh no. Garte. Did it get you too? Don't you remember? You threw me out last night? I went to go sleep in your dumpster?”

Garte shoots a glance at Kim, but whatever he finds there offers him no help. “Much as I can believe that’s a thing that happens to you–I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. I wasn’t even here last night.”

The detective sidles closer to Kim, their shoulders almost touching. “Uh Kim…. What’s going on? You remember me, right? I didn’t give you amnesia too, did I?”

“No, detective. You are very memorable." The look that crosses the detective's face wrenches his heart. It's so naked with relief and gratitude. Kim glances away, eyes darting around the cafeteria. "Let’s talk outside.” 

__

They stand in front of the body. The putrid, decomposing body, which is somehow back in the tree. 

“Is this normal?” the detective asks. “Is this how time works?”

“No. This is not normal.”

“Am I going crazy?” The detective pauses, reconsidering the question. "Are we going crazy?"

"I don't know." He doesn’t feel crazy. He looks across the yard, at the trash container, and feels a prickle of cold. He’s overwhelmed by the memory of those moments–like something ripping in reality, and something terrible pouring in, blotting out what was there and replacing it with–

The detective follows his gaze.

“You think something weird happened over there. Something supra-natural.”

Kim straightens, his lips tightening. “I never think something supra-natural happened.”

“But it was weird. You felt it too.”

He sighs. “Yes, it was weird.”

Kim had the wherewithal to ask for the key to the trash container off of Garte back in the Whirling-in-Rags, so they open the lid. There's nothing inside but several layers of waste and food scraps in various stages of decomposition.

“I can’t believe you slept in there.”

The detective’s already leaning in and digging through the trash already, heading straight for the bounty he recovered last time. Clothes. Broken mug. And after a long, pained sigh from the detective, and a raised brow from Kim, he dives in for the ledger too.

“Well… this produced no new information,” Kim says. “But at least we know that we didn’t dream finding these things.”

“Which means we’re not crazy. Unless this is all part of the delusion? Maybe this is all the last flickers of a dying brain as I freeze to death in the dumpster. Kim, are you part of my delusion?”

"I'm definitely not." 

The detective looks at him skeptically.

"Which I know I can't prove. But let’s consider that an explanation of last resort, okay?” 

The detective seems to accept that. Kim turns to the body, which is back to being used as target practice by two of Martinaise’s more anti-social delinquents. 

The detective steps up beside him, nudges Kim with his shoulder. They watch the body twist in the wind. “Wow. It really is just like Monday. I told you there would be a sexy supra-natural twist to the case, Kim.”

“The supra-natural doesn’t exist,” Kim hears himself say. Not as emphatically as he normally would have.

“The fuck are they on about, Cuno?” shrieks the girl child from behind the fence.

“Pig says sex is natural,” Cuno guffaws. “ Super natural. He’s trying to get other pig to fuck!”

“Sick!” squeals the other one.

The detective blanches a little, and looks to be in imminent danger of yelling something in response to that. Kim pinches the bridge of his nose. “Let’s save this discussion for somewhere… quieter. Right now, we have a job to do.”

“A job?”

“We need to get the body out of the tree and perform an autopsy.”

“But, Kim…” The detective glances at the little delinquents, who are waiting for what going to fall out his mouth next with malicious anticipation. He lowers his voice. “...We’ve already done that.”

“Well, apparently not." He flashes a small smile, and gestures to the body.

Kim. ” 

“Pigs think they already took Cuno’s fuck-gimp out of the tree!” Cuno reports. “Like Cuno would let them! Pigs lost the fucking plot!”

Kim holds the detective’s gaze, letting the words of the delinquents roll off his back like rain.

“Detective. There’s a body in the tree. It’s our job to get the body out of the tree. That, at least, has not changed.”

 

__

 

It’s surreal, going through the same motions of the same investigation again. It feels faintly absurd, covering the same ground, being confronted with the same lies and stonewalling. They’re on a better footing though, the second time. They know which ones are the lies. They ask better questions. The detective doesn’t have a panic attack when Evrart Claire pulls out that file on him.

In fact, the detective is subtly different in a lot of ways this time. Some better. Some less so.

He cries a lot more, and gets into a screaming match with the Racist Lorry Driver at one point that Kim is quite convinced will come to blows, before Kim calls him off. Not for the Lorry Driver’s sake, but for the detective’s. There’s something wild and desperate in his eyes that makes Kim wary. He’s coming out of the protective layers of gauze he wrapped himself in with his superstar bullshit, Kim thinks, and it’s not pretty. There is a reason the detective retreated into fantasy in the first place.

Despite all that, he likes this version of the detective better. This one listens to him, and does not say things like “I don't know, man. Sounds like an order. I don't take those.”

By the end of the night, Kim is exhausted. They both are, but when the detective gets to his hostel room door, Kim nods to the balcony instead.

Out there, Kim lights up, and blows a line of smoke at the moon.

“So, uh, are we going to to talk about the giant fucking time travel in the room?”

“Well, it’s only two days. That’s hardly any travel at all.” He takes another drag and releases it. “We’re already half-way to traveling back to the present.”

“This is serious, Kim.” 

Now he wants to be serious. “So am I,” he says. “Today was an improvement over our first day. With any luck, tomorrow will also be an improvement. This is a chance to start over. I’m glad you’re taking it.”

The detective frowns. “You're really not curious about what's happening? Kim, you're always telling me to investigate crimes. This is a crime against space-time continuity itself!"

Kim sighs. He really doesn't want to think about this, but a part of him has been desperate to talk about it too. “All right, detective. Let's talk about it. Who do you suspect has committed this crime?”

The detective's eyes go unfocused for a moment. “Um… Me?”

He shakes his head. “I don’t think you’re to blame for this, detective.” If it was anyone, he thinks, it might have been Kim. It was Kim taking the detective's hand that caused all this. And this is why you don't get involved in other colleagues' problems, he thinks.

The detective is shivering. “When you grabbed my hand. I had all these sensations and memories, but they weren’t mine… It seemed like how the Paledriver described traveling through the Pale.”

“It was nothing like that.” His hand clenches instinctively around the rail, lets the cold seep through his glove. “You heard Ms. Messier. The closest Pale is 6,000 kilometers away. It couldn’t have been that.”

 

__

 

Tuesday brings more investigations. The detective can’t quite be dissuaded from taking on a completely irrelevant investigation in the bookstore. 

“We have reason to believe there are other paranatural events afoot in Martinaise,” the detective says confidently to Plaisance. To Kim, he says, “Maybe this entity is the reason we’ve been displaced in time, Kim. Malevolent entities would totally do something like that.”

“I thought this malevolent entity liked to bankrupt small businesses.”

“It can do two things, Kim.”

But in the end, the malevolent entity is just a woman who runs a business with remarkably low overhead by working out of a chimney. She’s pleasant to talk to. The detective seems mildly disappointed, but hides it well. Even grilling her about time travel and wormholes through dumpsters does not shake her amiable calm. Kim sighs. Malevolent entities are definitely not the cause of this situation. He wishes he could so confidently rule out the Pale. What would it even mean for the Pale to have caused this? Could there be Pale in the middle of Martinaise?

 

__

 

The detective pays his hostel bill early, and collects enough tare to pay it again. Just to be safe.

“I’m gonna kind of miss this." The wind from the harbor gently tugs at the detective's hair up on the Whirling-in-Rags balcony. They didn't spend this evening up here before, but Kim wants to this time. He feels less tense, smoking and talking this situation over with the detective. "The part where I know what's going to happen during the day. It kind of evens the playing field, memory-wise,” he points to his head. 

Kim nods. Understandable.

“We did good, right?” There’s that smile again on the detective’s lips, grateful, relieved, pleased that Kim is pleased. Kim doesn’t want to chase the feeling that smile gives him.

"Yeah, we did." He’s very, very tired, and he really hopes this is over.

 

__

 

“You must be here about that body. Such a shame. People can be so awful to each other.”

Kim blinks. Sunlight. Pinball machines. Linoleum. 

Lena’s smile turns to a frown. “Oh, I’m sorry dear. Did I say something to upset you?”

 

__

 

“What now?” the detective shouts, standing in the plaza. "I thought that was supposed to be the end of it!"

He kicks the mailbox, and yelps in pain.

“Detective, calm yourself. We need to focus on the task at hand."

"Which is?"

"Getting the body out of the tree again."

The detective stares at him. Dumbfounded. "Kim, no. I've stuck my hand into that rotting corpse mouth twice. I'm not doing it again."

But Kim is adamant. He needs some order to assert itself, or he feels their wheels are in danger of entirely spinning off their axels. He lifts an eyebrow. "Detective, we'll have time to answer that question later. But in the meantime, we have a job to do."

The detective shivers at the expression on Kim's face, and nods. Kim desperately hope he’s right. When in doubt, he’s always relied on putting his nose down and pushing ahead, focusing on the job that needs doing. Most often, it’s worked. There’s a reason he’s survived this long in Revachol West without a breakdown.

 

__

 

The detective drinks a lot, this time around. Kim tries not to think about that.

“But what’s happening?” He must ask that a dozen times. Kim doesn’t have an answer for him.

They decide that they need to make more progress on the case. And that's going to require getting the Hardie boys to break for them.

 

__

 

They pushed the Hardie boys hard last time, but they still haven’t broken them. They need, Kim realizes with despair, to establish dominance.

And the Hardie boys being who they are, that can only be done in exactly the kind of macho bullshit way Kim detests. 

They’ve confronted them about the lady driver being present at the lynching. Now it’s up to the detective. As Kim expected, he’s good at it. Getting up into dockworker’s face and puffing up his chest.

“Why don’t I just arrest you?” The detective’s chest is almost touching Titus’s.

“Yeah, lawman. Why don’t you?” Titus is big too. Bigger than the detective, a fact that very obviously does not escape the detective’s notice. The current in the room has turned electric, dangerous.

Kim steps beside the detective, brushing a hand against his sleeve. There’s no shame in backing off this time, he thinks at the detective. They can regroup and try again.

The detective doesn’t seem to pick up on the message. Several of the Hardies are reaching into their vests, but the detective is flying high, focused wholly on presenting an authoritative lawman to the Hardies.

“You’re under arrest.” He grabs Titus’s wrist, and Kim knows in that moment that this has been a grave miscalculation. There’s only one gunshot. There doesn’t need to be more. The detective looks genuinely surprised as he staggers back, as his legs give out and he lands on the floor. Kim’s knees hit linoleum, hands uselessly covering the gaping wound in the detective’s chest, blood bubbling up through his fingers and turning his orange gloves red. It’s like Eyes all over again. “Detective! Come on, stay with me!” 

His own voice sounds shrill to his ears.

 

__

 

Kim barely spares a glance at Lena, his focus entirely on the gleaming spot of linoleum where the detective was just bleeding out a second ago. Then he’s tearing up the stairs, heart in his chest.

He pounds his fist on the door of the detective’s room. He's still knocking when the door swings open, revealing the detective half-dressed and breathless. He’s managed to get his pants on, and has thrown on his blazer over his unbuttoned shirt. Kim can’t help but stare at his hairy chest as his shirt hangs open, some part of his brain unable to accept that there’s no blood there. Nothing. The hole in his chest, where Kim felt his hot blood pumping out between his fingers, is gone.

“Kim, did I just die?”

Thoughts are racing through his mind. Blood. Death. Or something even worse that’s only beginning to take shape in his mind. Something impossible.

He makes a decision. “Come on. We’re getting out of here.”

“What?”

He catches the detective’s wrist and pulls him towards the stairs. 

“Kim?” There’s a hint of fear in his voice. Well, dying can’t be easy.

“Hello, officers.” The smoking blonde woman by the stairs has been watching this all with detached amusement. She waves her cigarette in greeting. The detective, still dragged along by Kim, nods to her. Kim can’t imagine how this must look to an outside observer, and for once he doesn’t care. 

“Where are we going?”

“Back to my precinct. Or yours, if you’d prefer.”

The detective doesn’t offer a preference, so Kim supposes it’s his. Kim opens the door the door to his Kineema, only realizing now that he’s still got a death grip on the detective’s wrist. He releases it, covering his embarrassment with a small cough. “Get in.”

The detective doesn’t need to be told twice. He scrambles into the back seat, and Kim slides in front.

The radio connection with East Motor Tract is so heavy with static he can barely hear them. He doesn’t remember it being this bad before. Voices and music keep cutting in over the connection, but eventually, the company agrees to let them out. The drawbridge creaks all the way open, and the road out of Martinaise lies open before them. 

“What about the case?”

Kim doesn’t answer. It’s the hardest decision he’s ever had to make, but some things, Kim reasons, are above their pay grade.

He floors it out of Martinaise.

He can see Jamrock up ahead, but the sky is darkening quickly. Unnaturally fast, as if night is somehow falling at 07:30. Distantly, he notes that the radio is going quiet, as if someone else is fiddling with the volume. But the detective hasn’t touched the dial. He squints through the windshield, and his heart stops. The city is disappearing all around him. It’s not like night at all, really. It’s just… gone. In its place, nothing. Nothingness. He can hear the detective speaking, but he can’t make out what it is. He leans harder on the lever in a moment of pure animal panic. It’s the last recognizable impulse he experiences. The lever dissolves under his hand, and his hand goes with it a second later.

 

__

 

“... People can be so awful to each other.”

Kim spins around. Pinball machines. Mirova, 4° centigrade, dull. The smell of old borscht and stale beer and cleaning products. His Kineema sits outside, gleaming.

He sits down on the floor, his head in his head. He does not care, at the moment, that he hasn’t done something like this, sat down in a ball and tried not to cry, since he was a child, and is fully a homicide detective on duy. He just whispers the volta to himself, and wraps his arms until his heart’s stopped racing.  Till he’s capable of standing again. 

“So, um. What was that?” The detective appears by his side. He is, thankfully, not referring to Kim's panic attack, which he didn't see. "Did we die again?"

"Let's discuss this outside."

He crosses the plaza and collapses on the bench. This can’t be what it seems. These things don’t happen. Not in the middle of a populated city, not like this–

A hand appears on his shoulder, jerking him out of his revery.

“It was Pale, wasn’t it?” the detective is sitting beside him. He looks, somehow, even more ragged, even more tired, than the first time he appeared on the stairs.

Kim shakes his head, but the detective presses closer.

“But what else could it be? It was like nothingness. And driving into it…” he shudders. “Didn’t you feel that? You could see things. Things you never lived, but could still remember…” He squints into the sun. “I was a revolutionary pilot, shot down into the sea. What were you?”

A street cafe in what looks like Revachol East. He sits across the table from a well-dressed woman in ‘20s fashion, discretely wiping her tears away with a handkerchief. “Raoul,” she says. “You son of a bitch.”

Kim shakes his head. “I'm less concerned with what it is, than what we do about it. And I think..." He closes his eyes. It pains him to say this, but it has to be done. “We need to ask for help.”

 

__

 

Kim radios Precinct 57 first. A part of him is terrified he’s going to get nothing but static. That they really are alone in a sea of Pale. But he makes a connection. The one to catch his call is an officer who was hired eight years after Kim but now outranks him. And has never once let Kim forget it.

He doesn’t even care. It’s confirmation that the world outside Martinaise still exists. He closes his eyes, and explains the situation as quickly as he can. It’s excruciating, trying to get a man like Lieutenant Wauthier to listen to him about something Kim himself would normally find ridiculous. He concludes with, “I’m not asking you to believe me, just to send someone else to Martinaise to see for yourself–”

“Shit, if you’re not making any progress on the case out there, you can just say so. Sounds like you’re in over your head, Kimball–”

He can feel the detective shoot a look at him. They talk to you like this? He ignores it. 

He closes his eyes. “Fine. Yes. I’m in over my head, you’ve nailed it. Now send help.” He and the detective are jammed so close together by the Kineema's open door, trying to hear through the static, he can feel the heat radiating off the detective's body. He can feel the barely restrained vibrations of the detective's body. He hates this, having the detective witness this. He'd hang up if he weren't so desperate.

“I don’t know, Kimball, we’re stretched pretty thin." He can hear the man stretching and kicking his legs up over the phone. "Maybe McMurphy could get up there around Thursday, but you really ought to remember this isn't juvie anymore.”

The detective snaps. “Hey, do you realize who you’re talking to? That’s Lieutenant Kim Kitsuragi. Who the fuck are you?”

“Detective–” he exclaims.

"This is Lietenant-yefreitor Wauthier. Who the fuck is this?"

"I don't know!" the detective bellows. "But I know Kim, I know he's amazing at his job and you're all lucky to have him. He does his fucking job even when there's a Pale incursion making it impossible to get anything done, and he doesn’t lose his head, ever, so when he tells you there’s something weird going on in Martinaise, send help, you goddamn better listen to him!”

Kim puts his hand on the detective's arm. The detective is panting. He wants to be angry at the detective for his outburst, but he can't quite manage it.

A chuckle over the line. “Holy shit, is that the Can Opener? Damn, Kimball, you got the legendary burn-out of Precinct 41 cheerleading you? That’s fucking great.” Wauthier doesn’t even sound annoyed, just amused. “Well, sounds like you two got this, since you're such a great detective. Any help we'd send would just be holding you back.”

The line abruptly dies, replaced with the buzz of static.

“Shit. I’m sorry Kim. I think I just ruined our chance of getting help.” He slams his palm against his forehead. "I'm such a fuck-up."

Kim catches his hand.  "Don't do that, please." His expression softens. "I obviously wasn’t getting anywhere with him anyway.” As sick as he feels over not getting help, there's a part of him that can't help but feel a little gratified to see the detective rip into Wauthier too. He might be smiling a little bit.

"But," he continues, "Why don't you let me do the talking to Precinct 41?"

The detective readily agrees. He called in about his badge the very first day, and it was undoubtedly even more painful for him to experience than it was for Kim to witness.

Kim calls, and the connection to Precinct 41 is, if anything, even more heavy with static. But eventually, he gets Satellite Officer Vicquemare on the line, who identifies himself as the detective’s partner. "What did the shitkid do now?"

Kim lays out the general situation as bet as he can. Saying it a second time doesn’t make any of it sound any less ridiculous. He hates this.

There’s a long pause on the other line, so long he thinks that he might have lost the satellite officer. 

Then the radio crackles. “Okay. I see what’s going on. Look, lieutenant, I don’t blame you. The shitkid is obsessed with that entroponetics bullshit. You wouldn’t be the first to be taken in. He’s persuasive, he's gotten me convinced there’s some crazy supra-natural shit going on before too, but that's all it is.

"I assure you, that is not what's going on here,” Kim says, unable to avoid casting a worried glance at the detective, whose brows are knit very heavily.

Static swallows up most of the satellite officer's response. An old song Kim hasn’t heard on the radio since the ‘20s cuts in for a few bars. 

“--Emotionally manipulative–-” the satellite officer can just barely be heard saying.

“Satellite officer?” he says. “You need to listen to me. Whatever's going on between you and the detective, that is not the situation we're in.”

“--can’t trust Harry Du Bois. Believe me. I’ve tried–”  Kim can feel the detective trembling again beside him, though Kim doesn't think it's from anger this time. Not just anger, anyway.

“That’s not at issue, officer. The issue is that we’re trapped here, there’s some kind of… Pale intrusion blocking our way out, and we need immediate assistance.”

Finally, the line clears, and Kim can make out a long suffering sigh. “Look, we can be there in a couple days. Try to hold up. We'll see what's going on then. And try to get some distance from him, if you can–”

"That'll be too late!"

The connection fails, swallowed up in static. 

Kim tries calling back. Tries calling the 57th too. All he can get are snippets of radio broadcasts and what sounds like communist war propaganda. The connection is gone. They are alone.

 

__

 

They walk along to the waterfront after that. Kim takes out two cigarettes, and shares one with the detective. It’s not like he’s in danger of running out.

The detective’s hands are shaking. “So, my partner. He sounded like a real asshole, right? Like someone who would make up a terrible name on purpose and call you by it, probably because he’s jealous of your secret, much cooler name, right?” 

He lights the detective’s cigarette. “I think he was telling the truth about your name, detective. And I don't think Harry's a terrible name. I think it's a good name, actually." He sighs. "That doesn't mean he's right about everything else."

The detective looks up at him, desperation in his eyes. “Am I emotionally manipulative, Kim?” 

“I don't think so. Not with me. You may come on a bit strong with others, but that's often the nature of investigation." He tries to gather his thoughts. "Many partners hurt each other. This is an incredibly difficult job. You would not be the first officer to let a partner down.” He releases a line of smoke through his lips. “I’ve done it. The question is, what are you going to do going forward?”

The detective is quiet. He doesn’t mention that “going forward” is something they, by definition, aren’t doing anymore. Kim couldn’t blame the detective if he did. If he rejected Kim’s advice. Kim is, after all, the one who thought that they could get out of this by solving the case.

“Yeah, maybe,” the detective says. "I think I need some time to think, Kim."

“Okay.” Kim is a little worried for the detective, but he really does just seem to want to think. And Kim does too, desperately. He feels shaken. The word alone keeps recurring through his brain.

They part ways, agreeing to meet back up in a few hours. Kim wants, needs, suddenly, to be back in his room. There's no talk of working the case this loop. Kim can’t bring himself to look at the body right now, to smell the body, to watch the detective–Harry–throw up again. And what is the point, anyway? It'd only be back up there next time.

As he walks back to the hostel, he realizes it’s the first time he’s been apart from the detective during the day since they arrived in Martinaise. It feels liberating as he walks back to the Whirling-in-Rags. Liberating and strangely lonely.

 

__

 

He curls up in his bed and tries to write in his notebook, but he doesn't know what to say. What does it matter what he writes, if they're trapped here? Eventually he puts the notebook down and rests his eyes for a moment. He wakes up with his cheek stuck to the page a few hours later to a knocking at the door. 

It’s Harry, leaning on the doorframe, looking strangely shy. The first thing Kim notices is that the detective is no longer wearing that bizarre rigor mortis smirk. He’s somehow banished it from his face. Kim didn’t even know it was possible for the detective. 

“Hey, Kim. I think I've had a breakthrough.”

“Yes?” he says, stepping back. He hasn’t let the detective into his room yet, and a part of him is still reluctant to. This is his space. The only space of his own he still has.

He lets Harry in. Harry looks around, his eyes wide. “Wow, Kim. This is nice!” He frowns, his mood turned, as it so often does, to something melancholy. If Kim had to hazard a guess, he’d say Harry is thinking about his own room, and the state of it. 

“Tell me about your breakthrough,” he prompts.

“I... um. I want to change.” He closes his eyes, like the next words are hard for him. “I don’t want to ever make you talk about me the way my old partner talk about me.”

Kim wants to object, say he'd never speak that unprofessionally about a partner no matter what they did, but he knows what he means. He thinks he has a sense of how difficult this has been for Harry too. The soft bunting of superstardom has been thoroughly peeled away, and the Harry underneath looks rawer, more vulnerable.

“That’s–that’s wonderful, detective.”

Some part of his brain pipes up to remind him that they're trapped in a time loop and the Pale is closing in. He pushes it aside. If Harry wants to focus on something they can do, he won't stop him.

Harry grasps the the back of his head and looks down, suddenly bashful. “But uh. You know I’m not sure I’m so good at the self-control thing. So I was wondering if you could do... uh… help.”

He doesn’t have a clue what Harry is talking about. “Yes?”

“I was thinking it might help if you could... order me to be better? And use the eyebrow when you do it?”

A surprised smile flits across his face. Okay. He wasn’t expecting that. “I thought you don’t take orders.”

Harry shrugs. “Maybe I want to now. Please, Kim?” He folds his hands and looks hopeful. He looks nice like that, a thought drifts through Kim’s head. He pushes it aside. That is not remotely relevant.

"As long as we agree you're doing this for yourself, ultimately. I'd be happy to help with accountability.” He leans closer. Pulls his back up straight. Authoritative. “Stop drinking detective. Stop hurting yourself and others. Get your shit together.”

He steps closer, a little closer than he’d normally stand to anyone. Fixes Harry with the eyebrow, and a look that he hopes says, Don’t fuck this up, or I will be disappointed in you.

And maybe also: Please do this. I need a functional partner in this. I don’t know how to do this alone. 

He’s not entirely sure his eyebrow works on Harry offensively as well as defensively, but he supposes they’ll find out.

Harry has his body angled toward Kim, leaning  closer, leaning in, as if captivated. It’s a ridiculous effect to have on someone, and it makes Kim feel uncomfortably intoxicated, to be looked at like that by anyone. “Thanks Kim.” 

“Happy to help, detective.”

Harry drops his gaze to the floor, but not before he can see a genuine smile on his face. When did that. “Also, I’ve been thinking. You can maybe call me Harry, if you want.”

He smiles, and offers Harry his hand. Harry takes it. “Pleased to make your acquaintance, Harry Du Bois.”

 

__

 

“Well, this hypothetical scenario you’ve laid out sounds very troubling, officers.” Joyce Messier flexes a small smile.

“Is it possible?” Harry asks. “To be in a Pale time loop? …Hypothetically?”

They’re getting another Pale-reality reality lowdown, on Harry’s insistence. And Joyce seems their best resource on this, as someone cleared for up to 22 days of Pale exposure. And Harry obviously just finds her very charming.

“I’ve never heard of this particular situation you’re describing.” Her eyes glitter with interest. He doesn't know what she makes of this line of questioning, but it clearly amuses her. Maybe it even amuses her to think that the two RCM officers really do believe themselves trapped in a bizarre science fiction scenario. It’s hard for Kim to tell with her. He wonders if Harry has a better read. “But my experience suggests just about anything concerning the Pale is possible.”

“Even the part with dying and coming back to life?”

“Well, as the Dolorians say: Apres la vie, mort; apres la mort, la vie de nouveau. Looks like you’re getting a front row seat to the Pale in action.” She can’t help tipping her hand a little. She likes the idea. She’s intrigued enough by it that she’s willing to play along. What’s the harm? It’s not her that’s going to have to live with it. “Have both of you experienced dying?”

“Not Kim.”

“And I’d like to keep it that way.” Kim says. “In this imaginary scenario.”

“We need to know how to get out of it. Do you have any ideas?”

“Hm. A very tricky question. I think there’s several schools of thought on the Pale. I seem to recall at least one story of a Kedran entroponeticist who was expelled from her Moralintern position after publishing her theory that social bonds can form a sort of containment ring around it. Make of that what you will. Otherwise, I’m afraid I’m simply not an expert. My job involves traveling across it, not trying to affect it.”

“Yeah, but this is a really bad situation and we really want to get out. Hypothetically.”

“Officer, in my experience, the only way out of the Pale is travel through it.” She leans back against the rail of the boat and regards the two of the them. “What that looks like for your scenario, I don’t know. But you have my best wishes, officers.”

 

__

 

They go back to working the case. What is there to do Martinaise, aside from the case? Staying busy, he hopes, will keep them sane, and give Harry something to do besides drink. They get as far as the balcony of the Whirling-in-Rags, where Klaasje shares her suspicions about the lady driver. The lady driver who took off up the coast before they arrived in Martinaise, which is now covered in Pale.

 

__

 

Harry plugs away at stereo-investigations, and the usual sort of Harry diversions Kim has come to expect. Harry discovers the art of graffito. He says art is good for getting the poison out. Kim thinks he may have a point. Going sober has been hard on Harry. It would be under any circumstances, but these are far from normal circumstances, and they make it that much harder. Kim can't imagine what it's like, to wake up in a permanently hungover state ever day, body screaming for what it's become accustomed to, and deny it over and over. It's a remarkable effort, and Kim admires the detective fiercely for it. And though he's slipped up and fallen back more than once, he’s been remarkably true to his word.

Harry's graffito always ends up on the same wall, his favorite canvas, wiped clean every two days, and he runs through a gamut of slogans and symbols, before one day turning the brush over to Kim.

“Come on, Kim! Paint something!”

He shakes his head. “No. I’m not artistically inclined.”

“Look at you! You say that, but then you dress like that. You carry that cool Trigat Sunshine Mini. You pose on the balcony with a single cigarette each night. You put spinner wheels on your Kineema. Your whole life is an obvious artistic statement.”

He shakes his head, vaguely aware that his ears are heating. “I never put the spinner wheels on the Kineema.”

“Yeah, but you wanted to. That is what’s called an artistic impulse. Follow it!”

“I’m following one now. It’s telling me to explore the art of not making artistic statements.”

“Conceptual art, then." Harry nods. "Not really my thing, but I can respect that." His face brightens. "But you know what else? You actually put the spinner wheels on your MC out here. Who’s going to stop us?”

When they get the wheels on Kim’s car, he has to admit. They’re beautiful.  He smiles. Maybe he’ll put them on his car for good if they ever get out of this.

The thought makes his expression cloud. They can pass the time and have fun, distract themselves for entire loops at a time. But they are still stuck in Martinaise, and the only thing that changes is the darkness on the edge of Martinaise they catch out of the corners of their eyes. The nothingness creeping and consuming the water lock panel, the drawbridge. Hemming them in tighter.

 

__

 

They work out that the lady driver couldn’t have been the killer. There would have been the sound of gunfire in the Whirling-in-Rags if she had been the shooter. No one heard anything. They pour over maps, and conclude the killer must have been outside of Martinaise. Harry zeroes in on an islet across the harbor. They can see it through the viewfinder on the waterfront, a crumbling fortress on its shores.

Maddeningly out of reach, and about to be overtaken by Pale.

 

__

 

Every night, they go to their separate rooms.

Harry to his freezing room with the broken window, blowing cold rain and snow inside. He sleeps poorly. Kim can hear the shivering through nightmares through the adjoining bathroom.

One night, when things are particularly bad, he stands at the one adjoining door separating them, and opens it. 

“Detective?” he says. “It’s warmer in my room.”

The detective drags his blankets in and makes a nest for himself on the floor in Kim’s room. Kim thinks about offering to let him share his bed, but something holds him back. One bulwark of propriety still firmly in place. Besides, Harry insists the floor is an improvement over his piss and alcohol-stained mattress.

“Good night, Kim,” he says. The next morning, he grins up at him. “That was the best I’ve slept in ages.”

The next morning, Harry will wake up in his own room, face down in a puddle of alcohol and filthy carpet. That’s how it goes.

 

__

 

One time, they spend an entire loop pretending they are TipTop racers hiding out from gangsters in Martinaise, who took a bribe to throw the game, then double-crossed their benefactors and won the game and prize money for themselves. The plan is to run away together, if they can just get away from Martinaise.

The way Harry looks at Kim during that loop. It could make a man do things he’d regret.

Sometimes he wonders what regret even means, in their current situation.  What would really happen, if he crowded Harry up against a wall and kissed him? He could  see if he would yield to a firm hand on his chest, if his eyes would slide closed if Kim leans in and kisses him.

But that’s not something that can be washed away on the next loop. All the two of them have is each other. Kim can’t do anything reckless.

And they are reckless and wildly inappropriate, the thoughts he finds himself imagining about Harry. Harry kneeling at his feet, his mouth warm and willing. Harry on his back, covered in bite marks, red fingerprints around his neck. Kim's interests have always taken that particularly bent, especially towards big, hairy men. Stronger men. Men like Harry. Kim feels suitably guilty for those thoughts, directed at a man who barely remembers even having sex. 

He rolls over, and touches himself, just briefly, then releases his grip. He can’t do more. Harry will hear him.

 

__

 

 Harry is endlessly fascinated by people. He likes digging and asking questions. And when he puts aside his ego, there’s an instinct to help that Kim finds endearing and more than a little contagious. He likes sinking into a place and getting to know people, all the minutia of people’s lives. There are no problems too small or discursive conversations too irrelevant to Harry. He makes friends with everyone for a couple days. Even Garte can be won over by Harry when Harry puts his mind to it. One loop, Garte and Harry end up talking about favorite OO songs late in the night, and Garte's hopes to own his own place someday. Maybe the Whirling itself, not that the property owners will ever sell. Kim is watching Harry when this conversation is happening. Wondering at him, at how open his face is and how hard it is not to like Harry in these moments.

And the next morning, things reset. Garte’s back to glowering at Harry over the broken skua, disdain curling his lips.

Kim’s never been someone with an overabundance of hope for the future, but he’s always felt like he was moving forward. That if he worked hard, things would improve in some small but significant ways. It’s the belief he’s structured his entire life around.

Here, even that’s in doubt. 

 

__

 

He stands by the door of the Whirling-in-Rags, tapping his foot, waiting for the detective to get dressed and join him.

It’s taking an awful long time. A coil of dread starts to knot in his stomach.

He pushes open the detective’s door to find the detective standing in the middle of his room. He has gotten as far as pulling his pants up over his hips, but they hang open, fly undone. He’s staring up at the tie on the ceiling fan. Kim has glanced at that tie often up there, the knot twisted like a noose. It makes him sick to look at, but never more than now.

“Kim… What am I doing?”

“I don’t know, detective. What are you doing?” He closes his eyes. That fan couldn’t hold your weight anyway. He tries to focus on that. But it doesn’t change the look in Harry’s eyes.

“Do you think I’d die for real, if I did it myself?”

Kim shudders, and puts a firm hand on his shoulder, forcing Harry to turn, to look at him. “Don’t you dare.”

“I’m so tired,” Harry says.

“Me too. You’re not relieved from duty, though.”

Harry looks at him. Kim is very acutely aware that Harry is peering at him out of an aching, hungover body that he abused halfway to death before they ever met. Trying to go sober under these conditions, while eternally chained to the lowest moment in his life... of course it's taking it's toll. Did Kim really think it would be as simple as a few slip-ups? 

"I've been thinking, what if I have the power to release everyone from the loop this way?  What if I’m what’s keeping you trapped here?”

“Get dressed.”

“Kim, I could free you–”

“No you couldn’t. That's nonsense. And if you could? I wouldn’t want it.” His shoulders feel tight and back as far as they’ll go. He’s trying to control the anger and hurt in his voice. 

Harry looks at him. Kim can almost read what he’s thinking, his face is so transparent. But it’s so hard. I can’t do this anymore. Please. This whole thing started because of me. Maybe my sacrifice could –

“The Pale doesn’t care what you do to yourself. I do.” The words rip themselves out of him with a terrifying force.

Harry’s blinking at him. Disbelieving.

“You think I’d be happy with that? With losing you? Harry–” Kim puts his hand on his mouth, trying to shove back the emotions that are threatening to escape his chest.

Harry shuffles forward, still only half-dressed, and wraps his arms around him tentatively, then buries his face in Kim’s shoulder. He can feel the tears dampening a spot on his collar. He brings his hand to Harry’s hair. Petting it.

“I'm sorry, Kim–” he snuffles into his neck. “I'm so sorry. I just don't know what to do.”

“I know,” he murmurs. “Just stay with me, detective.”  

 

__

 

Harry throws himself into stereo-investigations after that. Dockworkers who have lost their wallets. An elderly woman in the Seaside apartments who keeps having her mail stolen. It’s not much. But it’s things to do in Martinaise.

Harry also insists on looking for the working class woman’s missing husband. They don't find him anywhere in Martinaise. That's not a cause for alarm as far as Kim is concerned, but Harry is convinced this is a case that needs to be solved, so instead of trying to figure out where he is on the second day, they just intercept him first thing Monday morning, stepping out of the apartment he shares with his wife.

It's awkward, trying to convince a man that he will go missing if he leaves to return a library book, but eventually, Harry manages to convince him to go for a walk with him. They end up sitting on a bench and talking science fiction and the hardships of Martinaise. The working class husband drinks out of a flask as they talk. Kim watches Harry watch the flask tip up intently, want registering on his face, but he doesn’t ask for any. He talks to the man about married life. About his daughters. He loves them, clearly, whatever else is going on with him. Eventually, the man gets up and walks home, nodding to them as he goes.

"I guess you solved the case," Kim says. It’s hard to say what making a difference means, when everything’s going to reset again next time. But it feels like something. It feels like something happened that matters. “I’m surprised. Good work.”

He’s not surprised really, though. Not anymore. Not by Harry’s charms.

Harry blushes in the falling snow, and Kim thinks about how much he wants to reach over and brush his hair out of his face, pull him into a back alley and make his blush deepen. He tightens his nails into his palms and banishes the thought to the recesses of his brain, where all dangerous impulses go.

They pass the Kineema, and Kim sighs. He knows his dangerous impulses don’t stay down forever.

 

__

 

“What do we know about the mercenaries?” Harry asks. 

"What?"

"I was just thinking. Even if we ever make it out of this loop, there's still a blood-bath facing Martinaise. I don't want that. I mean, I never wanted that, but now that I know everyone?"

Kim knows what he means. About the stupid hope that they can still get out of this that neither of them can quite extinguish, and with it, the deepening feeling that they need to do something to make this worth it. To stop this war from happening. They can't find the killer, off on that islet in the harbor. 

But they can examine the other killers. Probe their weaknesses. Their weapons. Figure out where they're hiding and when they intend to strike.

So that night, Kim rolls over, and says, into the dark. “Let’s investigate the mercenaries.”

 

__

 

It takes several loops to find the apartment they’re holing up, but they do. They creep up the stairs together. They’ve worked out the timing over a great deal of observation. It’s Monday afternoon. The Scab Leader is down at the harbor gates. The radio operator–-the female mercenary–-will slip out to the store to shore up their food supplies for a half-hour. They’ve stolen a spare key from the landlord’s office, and can slip in and search the room.

He turns the key in the door and they slip inside. “We have ten minutes,” Kim whispers.

A radio hisses on the windowsill. There are weapons on the bed, on the floor. He slides over one, and makes towards the lone desk. “Here,” he says, and turns to Harry. There are three ration tins on the table, with the recent remains of three recently eaten meals on it. Kim looks around, his heart stopping. Counting the weapons. The badges on the table.

Harry meets his eyes. A single, silent thought passes between them: there’s a third mercenary.

In the mirror, he can see himself, and Harry standing in front of him. He can also see the bathroom door swing open on silent hinges behind Kim. 

The man is huge. He’s not wearing his armor. He’s just wearing civilians clothes. But he’s big enough that he looks like he’s bulked up in armor. A knife gleams in his hand.

“Kim–” Harry shouts, and pushes him out of the way, but he’s too slow. He feels the fabric of his jacket rip and something lance between his shoulder blades. Pain explodes in his back.

He stumbles into Harry’s arms.

Not my jacket, he thinks. Maybe I can still mend it?

Distantly, his body still hurts, but the pain is fading. Harry is shouting. Holding hims tight and shouting. Something heavy hits his whole from behind. The pain in his back intensifies. He can feel the hilt flush against his. He tries to tell Harry, but there’s too much blood in his mouth.

Dying hurts, Kim thinks. More than he hoped it would.

 

__

 

The pain stops. He’s never been so glad to be back again. Monday morning in the Whirling-in-Rags. He’s glad to be alive.

He hears a loud bang from upstairs. Heavy footsteps pounding across the upstairs floor.

“Oh my,” Lena says as Harry practically runs down the stairs.

“Kim! Are you okay?”

He slams into Kim with the force of a freight train, and Kim is engulfed in big biceps and warmth. “Are you hurt?” 

“I’m fine. Really.” Harry’s hands are searching his chest feverishly, pulling up his shirt and sliding his hand under his shirt. He can feel Harry’s pulse through his big hand on his chest. “You know it doesn’t work like that.”

 “I watched you– You were bleeding! I wanted to fucking kill him. Kim–”

“Hey! Pants aren’t optional! I’ve got patrons trying to eat in here!” Garte calls.

“We’re having a moment here, Garte! Give us a break!” Harry shouts, then looks down at himself, only now seeming to notice that he’s naked, apart from his briefs and his socks. 

“Don’t talk to me like that–” Garte starts, and Kim can’t help it, a chuckle escapes his throat. He’s clinging to a naked man in the middle of the Whirling-in-Rags and he smells like alcohol and death, and they’re both alive, and he can’t remember being happier.

“We were just leaving, sir.” He says to Garte. Turning to Harry, he says, “Let’s go upstairs and get you dressed, detective.”

 

__

 

He leads Harry to his hostel room door. Kim hesitates on the threshold, and follows him in. His heart is racing. He remembers nearly flipping his car with a friend on the 8/81 one night, and making out desperately against a trash container later after they pulled off the road. His body is flushing like that. He feels alive. And when Kim really feels alive, he feels reckless. 

Harry doesn’t move to collect his clothes from the floor. He just gazes at Kim, knitting his brow. In wonder.

Something about it puts a final crack in his own resolve. 

He wants to touch Harry right now. Somehow, death has a way of clarifying certain things. Even death that doesn't last.

“-Kim?” 

He puts a hand on Harry’s shoulder, lifts himself on his toes, and presses his lips to Harry’s. Harry’s eyes go wide, and his lips are soft and yielding. His hand tangles in Harry’s hair, coaxing a moan out of him.

Harry might not remember any of the kisses he’s ever hard, but he clearly remembers how to do it. He's responsive. Sweet. Kim breaks the kiss and looks at him. There’s a flush rising on his cheeks.

“Kim–”

He tilts his head up, and breathes in deep. 

“Detective… would you take a shower for me?”

 

__

 

Kim leans against his own bed, listening to the shower run, his heart pounding. He palms himself a little through his pants, to relieve the tension. It’s like throwing gasoline on a fire.

What is he doing? This is something he can’t even begin to explain in his notebook. He just knows that right now he feels desperately grateful to be alive. Alive, and able to put his hands on Harry. He feels like he’s at the starting line at a racetrack, palms sweaty in his gloves. Excitement humming through his body.

He imagines Harry touching himself in the shower, wondering whether Harry’s fingers drift between his legs as he thinks about Kim.

 He tries not to think about the firm certainty he feels in that moment that he’d still fuck Harry even if he didn’t shower. But, well, they have a shower, so why not use it?

He pointlessly smooths the sheets of his bed and takes his notebook out of his pocket and sets it aside. He will not be writing about this.

The water turns off, and a minute later a tentative knock comes on his door.

Kim can’t hide the smile on his lips. 

Harry steps out, naked except for a threadbare white towel around his waist. Putting his clothes on afterward would have defeated the purpose of a shower. Something about the way he holds the towel one-handed, nervous, sends a jolt of arousal through him. 

“Shit Kim, you look amazing.” Kim doesn’t look any different than he always does. He’s done nothing but remove his boots and tuck them neatly at the foot of his bed.  “Sorry all I have to offer is this…” he gestures at himself.

“Don’t talk about yourself like that,” he murmurs.

Kim circles Harry as he drips water on the carpet. He imagines running his fingers through his chest hair, pushing Harry onto the bed, holding him down to explore his body at his leisure.

What are you doing? The sane part of his brain asks. But he doesn’t answer. He’s speeding down the highway, foot on the gas. He knows he wants to set the pace of this, though, and looking at Harry, he seems only too happy to let him. He wonders if Harry can see the color rising on his neck. Of course he can. He suddenly decides he doesn’t mind so much. Not like this. Not with Harry.

“Drop your towel, detective.”

Harry opens his hand, and the towel slides from his hips. He sucks in his gut and straightens his back a little as he does. It’s oddly charming. There’s very little of Harry he hasn’t already seen, but the sight of all of it, all of him on display, while Kim is still fully clothed, does something to him anyway.

It’s doing plenty for Harry, too, by the looks of it. His cock stands up straight, begging for his attention. It’s downright impressive, given the hangover Harry just woke up from.

He cups Harry’s face, and Harry breathes into his glove. “Kim…”

A flush still rises on his chest and shoulder from the hot shower. His fists clenching and unclenching helplessly at his side. Harry jerks a little from the cold brush of his jacket zipper against his belly as Kim leans up to kiss him again.

It might as well be the first time anyone’s ever touched him like this, he thinks, blood pulsing in his temples. He reaches down and grips Harry, feels his cock jump in his hands. A whimper spills out of Harry’s lips. 

“Good?”

Harry nods, feverish, all agreement. Kim loves this, having Harry by the cock. He wraps his arms around Kim, is leaning on him for support. Even with the the extra, weight, it makes him smile. The warmth of Harry, shuddering against his body.

“On the bed,” he says, voice thick with want.

Harry flops onto the bed, stomach-first. “On your back, detective.” He can’t hide the smile from his voice.

He rolls over, his eyes starry and fixed on Kim. Kim drinks in the sight of him like this. He looks right. Happy. Almost healthy.

Some part of him is trying to put on the breaks, steer him away from the edge–you can’t think things like that. Especially not about him Not here. Not when you’re both trapped here–he decides to reach other and turn that part of him down, like a radio.

Harry swallows, grinning up at him a little. Harry’d have to be a very poor detective indeed not to notice the tent forming in his pants. And Harry is very far from a poor detective.

He hasn’t let himself think about love for most of his life. Once, some boyfriend told him during a fight that he thought Kim wasn’t really capable of love, that the orphanage must have stripped that out of him. It was a low blow, but some part of him has never been able to forget it either. This is the absolute worst time imaginable for any of that to change, and Harry is absolutely the wrong man to change that. But…

“I want you to fuck me,” Harry blurts out. He says it with an utter lack of shame and utter devotion that makes Kim feel as if he’s being knocked over by a tidal wave. He clambours onto the bed. 

Kim puts one hand on the back of his hand–and sticks his gloved fingers in Harry’s mouth. His eyes slide closed, and he sucks on them blissfully. 

“Fuck you?”

Harry nods. “Or whatever. I think I’d be happy with anything you wanted to do to me, god, Kim.”

By way of answer, he puts his hands between Harry’s legs, and spreads them, kissing up and down his thighs. He even teases the tip of Harry’s cock for a moment, just sucking it in for a minute while Harry whimpers and tries not to buck on the bed. He runs his fingers through his chest hair, savoring the thickness and softness of it. It feels better than he hoped. He bites on glove off, and sets it aside on the nightside. One glove on, one glove off.

He brushes his naked hand up and down Harry’s middle. His prominent belly, the dark sprinkling of hair across his broad chest, his skinny hips, the white scars dusted across his body. Harry looks away, suddenly regretful.

“I’m sorry,” Harry whispers. “I’m sorry I made such a wreck of my body.”

“Please don’t talk that way about someone I’m attracted to, detective.” Attracted to. Harry grins up at him, but his own words hits a slightly sour note in Kim’s gut. Like he’s not being entirely honest with Harry. Even now. 

Harry’s gaze is open, as honest as it’s ever been, frank with adoration. “I can take it, I promise.”

He’s not sure he’s talking about Kim’s dick, or whatever Kim’s not saying. He chooses to focus on the former. He slicks his naked hand up and brings his fingers, to Harry’s hole, teasing him. Harry lets his head fall back on the bed with a sigh.

“There,” Kim murmurs. “I’ll take it slow.”

“However you want to give it to me, Kim.”

“Mhm.” He’s sure Harry is enthusiastic. But just teasing Harry’s hole tells him that Harry’s tight. “Are you sure? Are you sure you know what you’re signing up for?”

He adds a little husk into his voice and Harry throws his head back, his throat making a high pitched noise that can only be described as a whine. “Kim, you’re fucking killing me.”

He slips his finger in then, sliding into the tight ring of muscle that struggles to accommodate him. Harry clenches around him, his muscles squeezing down on him. This is going to be a process. A process he intends to thoroughly enjoy. “You’re tight. No way to know for sure, but I’d guess you’ve never done this before.” Puts a little detached note of scientific interest in his voice. 

“Fuck, Kim. You’re the first,” he swallows. “I don’t remember much, but I’m pretty sure of that.”

A small smile touches his lips. “Well aside from your thumb. In public that one time.”

“That doesn’t count, Kim. That was for honor.”

“Of course.” He really shouldn’t be as attracted to this man as he is. This is pure insanity. But somehow having two fingers inside Harry, his cock aching with anticipation, is the hottest experience he’s ever had. 

He slides another finger into the warmth of him, feeling Harry’s muscles struggle to adjust, and Harry shifts a little, trying to lift his knees, squirming downward, trying to fuck himself on Kim’s fingers. He pushes Harry back down onto the bed with his free hand, and Harry goes pliant, eyes wide as saucers. He can feel Harry’s chest rise and fall under his hand with each breath. His thumb is on the edge of Harry’s collarbone, on the verge of dipping into the hollow of his throat, and Harry sighs blissfully, eyes sliding closed. 

He could slide his hand up just a little, just enough to tenderly press a thumbprint into that hollow. The thought makes his breath catch and his other hand speeds up of its own will.

He does not want to think about what this says about him. He has spent most of his adult life carefully not thinking about what this sort of thing says about him.

“You can if you want to,” Harry murmurs. 

“What?”

He meets Kim’s eyes. Of course he can see that Kim wants to. Of course.

Kim doesn’t, at first. Instead he focuses on slipping a third finger inside Harry, and it’s so tight his fingers cross.

Harry’s cock is rock-hard and bobbing uselessly between them with each thrust. Kim starts to move his hand off Harry’s collarbone, intending to give Harry’s long-neglected cock a few friendly strokes, but Harry whimpers, bares his neck, pleading. Begging for him to put his hand on it. He’d rather have your hand on his throat than on his cock. His own cock twitches helplessly at the thought, and with it, a deflating sense of guilt.

He thinks about the tie hanging off Harry’s ceiling fan. The image still haunts him. It’s hard to square that with this Harry, so alive and so eager beneath him, but he doesn’t want to be part of Harry’s death wish.

“Harry….”

Harry licks his lips. “It’s not like that,” he whispers, still squirming around him. “It’s you. I like that it’s you, in control of something so…” He tries to shrug. “I trust you.”

Kim feels something tug back into place. A description of what he wants but has not felt like he has the right to reach for. He senses in some primal way that this comes from a different place. Or at the very least, it could lead to a very different place.

He’s not sure he trusts himself with the enormity of Harry’s feelings, even now. A word flickers in his mind for what this, what they’ve wandered into, but it’s still too scary, too new. He’s not sure can be the breath in anyone’s lungs. But he trusts his hands. And he trusts Harry. Trusts the warm, focused look in Harry’s eyes. Trusts himself to push Harry safely and pull him back from the edge.  

He puts his hand around Harry’s neck, slotting in place beneath his jaw perfectly. Harry sighs, his eyes sliding closed, grateful. And there’s no denying what it’s doing to Kim. His dick is painfully hard.

He slides his fingers out of Harry’s ass, letting his fingers trail along his still-powerful thighs, and takes himself in hand, guiding his cock to Harry’s entrance. Harry squeezing tight around him as he slide in, a moan sliding out of his lips. He grips Harry’s neck firmly, gives it a squeeze.

Harry looks up at him with a look that should be reserved for movies. “God, you’re so fucking cool, Kim” he whispers. 

He strokes his thumb slightly below Harry’s jawline. Strong jaw, soft hair, skin so hot it warms his hand through his glove. He can feel Harry’s pulse fluttering wildly even through his glove.

He gives his hips a sudden rock forward, having to bite back a groan at how Harry wraps his legs around him and tries to pull Kim closer. He tightens his grip around Harry’s neck. He is gazing steadily into Harry’s eyes. He keeps rocking his hips, trying to angle himself to hit Harry’s prostate and keep a steady rolling wave of pleasure in the head of his cock.

He thinks, suddenly, of the first time he kissed a boy, in the junkyard where they salvaged what rusted MC parts they could. How head-over-heels he had been. Afterward, he walked home with his oversized jacket zipped up to his chin, some part of himself certain that everyone would see his lungs glowing and know what he’d done. 

He feels something like that now. That heady mix of ecstasy and fear and hope and–the fear of being found out, of exposing his insides to the world. He’s been so good, loop after loop, variation after variation, keeping his lungs hidden from view, even from himself.

A thin reedy line of air is coming out of Harry’s mouth. Kim’s thrusts become lazy, his focus entirely on Harry’s eyes, which say I trust you. I love you.

He’s almost flat against Harry now, one hand on the mattress and one tight around Harry’s neck,  Kim buried deep inside him. Harry’s dick caught between them, giving him just enough friction to keep him on edge. 

Kim tightens his grip, scrapes the leather of his glove against the soft underside of his jaw, and rolls his hips faster. He’s thinking about Harry’s lungs burning, he can almost imagine that it matches the burn in his own lungs.

Desperation rocks through Harry’s body, and then he’s tensing, arcing like a bowstring, his cock coming in spurts between them, marking them both, though mostly coating the thick, dark hair across Harry’s belly. Kim keeps a grip on him through the throes, then gives a gentle parting squeeze as Harry gasps. Deep, grateful breaths, like he’ll never get enough of it. Looking at Kim like he gave his whole life back to him.

That’s what makes him come, that look. Kim’s eyes slide closed, shuddering as his orgasm racks through him. When he opens his eyes again, Harry is looking at him with an awed expression.

“Kim,” he whispers, his voice raw, Kim’s fingerprints still red around his neck. He’s giving him the look that says he’s figured something out. There’s no mistaking that look for anything but what it is, any more than he can mistake the glow in his own lungs for anything else.

He could deny it, but what would be the point? If someone asked him if he loved Harry du Bois, he wouldn’t even dodge the question.

He lets Harry pull him close, his softening cock slipping out of Harry with a slick sound, not even having a chance to feel cold because he’s wrapped in Harry’s warm arms.

There’s a pleasant ache through his thighs and core muscles that come from fucking someone hard. He feels like they just went running up and down the length of Martinaise, and he feels wonderfully worn out. Harry wraps his arms around him and they slide together, their bodies slippery with sweat. Kim can’t bring himself to say it yet, even now, but thankfully, he doesn’t have to. Harry can read him too well.

 

__

 

They stand out on the balcony together. The world feels newly-made, and Kim wonders why he was so afraid of admitting it to himself. He loves this man. This lunatic with a past he can’t remember and can’t escape. He suddenly is far from content to let the Pale close in on him.

“Let’s go soon,” he says softly to Harry. “Next time.”

“What? You sure?”

“It doesn’t feel like we have much time, do we?” He can’t be the only one who’s noticed that they can’t even see across the bay anymore. When they look back towards the coast, or the road leading out of Jamrock, there’s only nothingness. Martinaise is an island within the Pale, but it’s not clear for how much longer.

“Walking through Pale? What are we trying to reach, exactly?” Kim asks.

“Something else. Maybe.” He shrugs. “I don’t, Kim. But it feels like we have to try, doesn’t it?”

“The only way out is through,” Joyce Messier had once told them. He doesn’t really know what that means for them. They’ve tried before, and failed. 

“But something’s changed,” Harry says. Can’t you feel it?” 

And Harry, as unlikely as it is, often seems to be right about these things. They have to try one last time.

He kisses him on the balcony, in the light of the Whirling-in-Rags sign. He doesn’t care if someone sees them. He thinks, distantly, that it turns out that ex-boyfriend was wrong about Kim’s ability to love. He tries the words out in the silence afterward, breathed softly in Harry’s ear before he can pull away, too low for anyone else to hear. The words are not meant for anyone else.

 

__

 

He looks around the village, and feels, impossibly, a twinge of sadness at the thought of never seeing it again.

They pass Billie Mejean's husband in the library, and Harry stops him and gives him a stern talking to about going straight home from the library afterward. The man rolls his eyes, but Harry says confidently that he thinks he'll listen. Kim's inclined towards skepticism, but Harry’s so confident. He trusts him, in spite of himself.

He also breaks into one of the rooms under renovation in the seaside apartments, and pulls out some paint cans.

Kim cocks his head, watching him set them out beside the wall. Where any kids who creep along might find, and might get inspired.

Harry shrugs when Kim gives him a look. "Might as well try."

 

__

 

They get the body out of the tree one last time. Conduct interviews one last time. Try to convince the Hardie boys they’re outgunned. But there’s no changing everything.

They do what they can. It’s all they’ve ever done. Monday night, they share a bed, move against each other in the darkness.

Tuesday morning, Harry doesn’t bother paying his rent. They walk to the edge of Martinaise, to the road leading out. The drawbridge is up, but it doesn’t matter. The Pale has already spilled over it.

They exchange a glance, and step out into nothingness.

 

__

 

The Paledriver once said that the Pale was like looking into the ocean, but Kim now disagrees. It’s like drowning in the ocean, so deep below the surface that there’s no light. You can’t tell which way is up or down. Vastness and sameness all around, no matter which way you turn. You might as well be swimming upside down for all it matters.

And yet he feels radiant. Sensations float up out of the deep, autumnal and glowing. Orange like a thousand sunsets. The howl of fighter engines, the warm of a lullaby he’s never heard pouring from his lips, the sound of prayer, of dance music.

He jerks forward and nearly loses his grip on what he’s holding, but instinctively, he holds on.

This is important, some part of his brain that’s not lost in the deep tells him. The most important thing.

He’s being assaulted on all side by memories, sensations–hatred, and seething resentment and jealousy, so thick it could drown him–

There’s a hand in his. He looks down at it, frowning. Trying to remember. It’s warm, and large. He knows it’s important to hang onto, and grips it tighter, and the hand in his squeezes back.

Harry, the name registers in his brain. It’s Harry.

It’s like holding a line through the fog, and he follows it along through the dark. 

The Volta on his lips pours out, but Harry, the warm and shape of him takes root in his mind, in his lungs, and he breaths it out. He can’t forget him. He follows that string, that string that leads through Harry and back to himself.

He remembers that he loves him, and that he wants to know what he looks like in the light of his apartment. He hangs on.

Oranges and greens and greys, it’s not all bad.

 

__

 

He wakes up in grey early morning light. His body stiff and cold. He lies on the ground, a warm body pressed against his. He feels dew on his eyelashes, and every joint is his body is cold and stiff. He feels half frozen, but Harry’s wearing his RCM cloak, which has covered them both surprisingly well through the night, keeping the snow off. He sits up uncertainly, and looks around. They are in the back of the Whirling’s yard. There is no body in the tree, just the remnants of a cargo belt that they shot through.

He looks at his watch. 07:30, ticking over to 07:31.  

“Kim?”

“It’s morning.” He looks around. “Also, I can’t believe we survived the night outside.”

Harry stretches. He looks happy. “Wow. Wednesday. I never thought I’d get to experience a Wednesday."

Kim shakes his head, smiles. It feels good to wake up somewhere unfamiliar, somewhere new. Next to someone very familiar. He clambers to his feet, aching, and helps Harry up. He looks around. Martinaise is quiet, still.

“Do you think it’s… tomorrow?” Harry asks.

“It looks like it.” He doesn’t want to get his hopes up. But it’s different. And different is good.

Harry heaves a breath, and then he laughs. It’s sharp and clear in the morning air–before the yard can be filled with delinquents. Before anyone else is awake. It’s a good time to kiss Harry, so he does. Just a quick peck on the cheek.

They have a murder to solve.