Author: Guede Mazaka
He didn’t get separate urns. With all the goddamned paperwork he had to fill out just for the one, he didn’t see the point.
He wishes that that had actually been a bitter last tweak at them, but it’s not, of course. If they’d been able, they would’ve smacked him on the shoulder and told him he’d done right by them. The motherfucking bastards. All he’d ever done by them was wrong, and they probably never had even realized. Just taken it all for granted.
For that matter, Paul wishes that his bosses had put up more of a fight about letting him do this. If they’d had any fucking sense, they would have sent him to a head-shrinker. Set one of the profilers from Quantico on him. At the very least, they could’ve called him in and had a goddamn go at him on suspicions of sympathizing with some of the youngest criminals ever to hit the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list. But no, they’d just taken in his sarcastic memo and released the bodies into his care. They’d given him vacation time.
“It makes sense,” Greenly says. He’s supposed to be taking notes as Paul dictates how to handle ongoing operations and bulldoze whoever the fuck they’ll to sub for him in the interim, but what he’s doing is trying to help Paul pack. He throws a scarlet tie into Paul’s suitcase.
Paul’s really fucking tempted not to throw the tie back at the jackass, but to wrap it around his throat and do something direct about his stupidity. “Goddamn it, what do you think’s going to happen? They’ll invite me to dance a fucking jig on the grave? Get your fucking hands off my clothes.”
“Sorry. I meant to get this one. But it does make sense—you know, with all the time you guys spent chasing each other, you’re gonna develop respect and twisted feelings for each other. It’d be scarier if you didn’t.” Greenly comes back with a black tie. It’s got red stripes.
“Get the fuck away from my goddamn closet. You’ve still got your own, so get back into it,” Paul snarls.
He doesn’t look up when the door slams shut. It’s much quieter without Greenly. It’s so quiet Paul can hear himself think again.
His hands shake and he knocks over a pile of socks, but he gets his CD player out from the pocket into which he’d carefully packed it. In a couple seconds he’s drowning in Mozart and he doesn’t have to hear the harsh unevenness in his breathing. Very slowly, Paul starts packing again. Shirt, tie, suit. It’s easy—all black. For once he doesn’t give a shit if his appearance screams G-man.
The light notes of the minuet fade and click into a long, slow minor chord, and too late Paul remembers he has the Requiem on this CD.
Before the bits of plastic and steel have even finished skidding down the wall, the door’s swinging in. Ed looks wild-eyed at Paul, then slowly at the broken CD player. “So—”
“Don’t let the sub fucking touch Dellacroce. I want that bastard still in the freezer for when I come back,” Paul says. His tongue’s thick and the words don’t feel right. They echo wrongly in his ears, get stuck because of all their jutting angles and ragged edges.
“Okay. Okay.” Greenly holds up his hands, still watching Paul warily like he would a rabid dog.
Goddamn jackass. It’s too quiet again.
* * *
Paul hates flying. Hates it with all the passion he doesn’t waste on obeying regulations and kowtowing to authority, because it’s a form of travel where he has absolutely no goddamn control between point A and point B. He’s just got to stay put, strapped into the painful hollow they pass off as a chair, and stare out the window at the cheap illusion outside. Man hasn’t really learned to fly—he’s just gotten more creative about transporting his lazy ass. But as for reaching the same effortless heights as the birds, as for discovering that spiraling level of freedom, he hasn’t even come close.
The canned air gives Paul a migraine. The slight vibrations that no amount of shock absorbers can dampen out distract him from getting any work done, but can’t block out all the useless thoughts he has flitting around the inside of his skull. He can’t stand the fucking playlists the airline offers, or the in-flight movie.
The plane’s half-empty since Ireland isn’t all that popular a destination this time of year. It figures that he’d be going when the fabled Emerald Isle looks mostly like greyed-over shit, but at least he doesn’t have to put up with a seatmate. God help the flight attendant that tries to give him a bit of cheer, for that matter, unless it comes in a bottle.
Fifteen, twenty bullets apiece. Jesus Christ, they were men, not gods.
And you never liked Roberts or Lee, but they were good agents and they couldn’t have open-casket funerals either.
Another nice thing about having no seatmates is that Paul can shuffle his feet and tap on the seat-arm as much as he fucking likes. But it’s still not loud enough, so he gives in and boots up the laptop again. His brand new word processor has this nifty feature where upon opening, it’ll offer a list of the documents most recently opened on the side. Four of them at a time, and they’re all the same one. Open, close. Open-and-shut case. So simple.
He puts his fingers over the keys. A rattle of ‘s’ and ‘j’ and ‘d’ and ‘k’ show up on the screen. The letters jumble together and fall off the end to the beginning of the next line, and he can’t make it stop, can’t keep himself from—can’t keep his hands from shaking, fucking Christ.
Paul’s almost happy when his cell goes off. Even when he sees Greenly’s number pop up on the CallerID. “Fuck up already?”
*Man, you could ease off when you’re a couple thousand miles away. I just wondered if you’d gotten through customs okay. Get frisked or anything?*
“Why, no, Eddie. Though I do appreciate your concern—no, I was not groped thoroughly by a handsome blond TSA agent,” Paul drawls. He’s finally gotten his damn hands off the keys and is punching the ‘Delete’ key with one stiff finger. Gone, gone, gone.
They’re fucking gone.
*You know, I never know why I…just check your fucking carry-on again, all right? And fuck you.* Greenly ends the call right when the smile’s beginning to relax Paul’s face.
Asshole. When Paul checks his bag, he finds one of those miniscule new mp3 players. Just because he’s a masochist when it comes to curiosity, he puts on the headphones and turns it on to see what Ed would’ve thought was worth burning. And into the silence swells the slow, tragic richness of Ella Fitzgerald.
I found a dream that I can speak to…
The laptop screen is a pasty greenish glow in the half-dark of the plane, and on it flicker the garish outlines of a standard FBI report. In big capitals, Paul steadily types ‘CASE CLOSED’ where it asks for a brief summary of events. In the spaces for condensed ballistics and coroner’s analyses, he types ‘NOT APPLICABLE.’ He types hard, and at first not very fast, but his fingers are well-trained and even better-habituated, and they speed up. They rush and rush till he’s bruising his fingertips, till his nails are getting hammered back into their beds so it hurts like a bastard, and suddenly he slams on the keys.
The goddamn program asks if he wants to save his changes, or else he’ll lose them all and go back to how he was before. Which is such a fucking pipe-dream that Paul can’t even.
He sits there staring at his half-filled report till the screen-saver comes on.
* * *
The lilts hurt. The Irish accent is one of the most melodic in the world, and every single elongated vowel and slurred-soft consonant stings Paul like the fucking crick he’s developed in his back. He turns up the music a little higher before he works his way through the customs and immigration lanes.
The agents there smile and nod in comradely fashion once they see his FBI ID. Their mouths move and their hands take this paper, stamp that, return this. He can’t hear a fucking word, but he knows this patter by heart so he just tosses out a response whenever there’s a lull. It seems to work well enough. The only time there’s a little trouble is when one of the smartasses looks funny at the four-inch by four-inch by eight-inch cardboard box Paul is carrying.
“Those are the ashes?” is something he can distinctly hear despite the cool wailing of Miles Davis’ trumpet.
“Yes.” Paul clips the word till it bleeds. He wishes he could smile at how the bastard blanches.
Another agent notices and comes over—a tall, pretty blonde with eyes the color of week-old bruises, just when they’ve gone a deep green. She smiles at Paul too, but she does it raw. “Have a nice trip, Agent Smecker,” she says.
By the time he’s turning away, she’s already ripping into her colleague. He catches just enough of the conversation to understand that she knows whose ashes he’s carrying, but that she thinks they were—
--stupid bitch. “Heroes? You think you’re heroes just because you died before your thirtieth? Well, I’ve got news for you. You’re a hero if you live till goddamn senility and old age takes your creaking, piss-full self to the grave. Dying’s the easy way out,” Paul mutters.
He stops to buy some coffee to rinse the taste out of his mouth. Coffee’s a bitterness he’s lived with for a while.
* * *
*All I’m saying is, I don’t want to piss off your bosses. Yeah, it is fine when you do it—you can do whatever you want with your ass. You can put it on the fire if you want to. But I’m not going to burn my balls just because you’re not here to do it yourself.*
How, exactly, does one dress to meet the mother of the idiots to whom one almost sold his security, soul and sanity? Especially when in the end, one couldn’t hold onto that blind faith tightly enough to keep said idiots alive?
Paul’s got no fucking idea. He has three goddamn black ties and he can’t pick one. He wants to say he doesn’t give a fuck since he doesn’t even know this woman’s name, that he’s mostly going out of curiosity because he wants to see what twisted kind of personality could not only tie the knot Catholic-style with Il Duce, but pop out a pair of nutjobs like…
*You’ve gotten really quiet. You still there?* After a second, the levity in Ed’s voice bites it. *Paul? Paul.*
“How many times have I told you I’ll tear out your fucking balls if you call me that?” Fuck it, the middle tie will work. They’re all thinly-veiled excuses for hanging anyway.
Give a man enough rope, and sometimes he’s still too dumb to make it work. Even with a mirror, Paul’s fingers fail to produce a passable knot within a minute. He has to slow down and think about it, which he hasn’t done in decades. He’d say it’s good that he’s thinking about the tie and not about other things, but overall he thinks he thinks too much nowadays. God, he cracks himself up.
*You know, even if I came out to the whole fucking precinct in a tutu, you’d still be a bastard. So why the fuck should I?* comes a feeble snarl from the phone on the dresser.
“I don’t know.” Paul finally twists his tie into shape. He pauses, then tightens it. And tightens it. His throat hurt anyway.
And suddenly he yanks it loose so hard that he almost undoes the knot. His head hurts. He tries to recollect the basic progression of a 12-bar blues song, but all he can remember are the mournful chords of the Requiem, and all he has to say to that is, “Jackass..”
Poor egocentric Ed, always thinking it’s about him. Well, it definitely hadn’t been right there, and now he’s hung up and is going to be walking around in a shitty mood all day for no fucking reason. Poor, poor, blind little man.
Paul avoids the mirror as he walks out.
* * *
Of all the things Paul has claimed and proven himself to be, caring isn’t one of them. Besides, he’s still furious because of the half-mast flag in front of the Boston office that he’d had to walk past to take his taxi to the airport, because of the funerals he’s conveniently missing by being in Ireland. Because of the bloodstains he can’t scrub out of his floor and the final report he can’t write and the surgical kit he can’t bring himself to throw out.
Because they hurt him. Deep in the spirit, where he’d thought everything had already withered and died.
After he rings the bell, he slices his nail beneath the tape and opens up the cardboard box. By the time someone’s opening the door, he’s got the urn out and waiting.
She’s big and blowsy and noisy. Her cheeks have whiskey-glow and her clothes reek of cigarette smoke. The traces of a nasty, mocking smile on her face don’t have time to die before the realization sets in and they have to wrench into a wide-open red mouth that screams and screams and screams.
She’s on her knees before Paul, and he could feel vindicated and vindictive, drawing on millennia of misogynistic glee. Or he could feel sorry and small, like the petty bastard he is in the deep of the cold night. Or he could even feel…hollow, as if this is the catharsis he’s been waiting for, the real final act that’ll wrap everything up so the audience can finally go home.
Like hell he feels any of that. The woman’s getting up now and suddenly Paul doesn’t give a shit what her name is, where she’s been and how much of a part she played in it. He can see the anger in her face and where it’s headed, and when she’s swinging her fist, he’s already dropping down the steps, urn tossed into her arms to deflect her blow.
“And a grand homecoming to you,” he says beneath his breath.
* * *
It’s two in the morning. Paul’s flight is at five. He should be sleeping, but instead he’s sitting on the toilet holding the blade he’s pried from his razor in one hand and the prescription bottle Ed doesn’t know Paul relies on in the other. Mostly he’s wondering which would come off less like a drama queen in the coroner’s report.
Leaving a note. Not leaving a note. One’s explanatory and offers the ultimate chance to make his words memorable and weighty, but offers so many opportunities for coming off like a teenage angst poster-boy. The other’s mysterious and generally not useful.
He’s having a fucking debate on suicide when he can’t even say their—
Click goes the answering machine in the other room. *Smecker, it’s me. I forgot to say—fuck you if I have to come over there and bring your ashes back. Fuck you—fuck—fuck you and fuck Connor and Murphy.*
Ed’s drunk. Very drunk. Smart boy, since that’s exactly what Paul should have done in the first place if his goal really had been to make everything clear and snap-decisive.
*Look, asshole, all I was ever trying to say is that however you wanna do it’s fine. You never bother with expectations anyway, so who gives a fuck whether you cry like a girl over them or whether you’re a stone cold bastard about it? It’s like who gives a fuck if I’m just a piece of closeted ass to you? Motherfucker. It’s a motherfucking mess--you don’t get to have it neat. Nobody does. I don’t.*
Somewhere along the line, Paul’s dropped the razor. The bottle lasts a little longer, but pretty soon he’s glad it’s plastic and bounces because it bounces pretty fucking hard. If it’d been glass, that would’ve set up not only a problem but another temptation to think too long and hard about.
*I don’t give a fuck. So suck on that, you ungrateful son of a bitch. I—fucking—don’t.*
The machine cuts off there. And very slowly, Paul drops his head and threads his fingers through his hair. He rubs hard at his temples. His skin folds beneath his fingers, feeling like careworn cotton. His mouth is so dry it hurts, so he licks his lips and tries it out, one word at a time. “I…”
The corners of his eyes sting. His teeth clamp together in the hottest rage he’s felt in fucking years, his chest freezes in the winter of guilt that’s set into his gut.
His breath doesn’t want to come anymore. His fists want to punch something; he has to knot them in his hair till strands are pulling out in fierce bursts of pain to keep from beating his room to the ground.
That’s as far as he gets.
The tile floor’s colder when it’s wet. Salt-water tastes like shit. He doesn’t find any solutions down there, or any way to get it firmly behind him. He just…gets tired. He’s so tired, and everything would be so easy. Like th—
No, like fucking Connor and fucking Murphy. And of course he’d remember those sordid memories most vividly when the physical damage was the least of what they’d done to him. The fuckers. The angels.
He wonders if he ever had kept it all straight, or if he’s always been fooling himself. Life works like that a lot of the time, he’s noticed. People keep going till they get a kick in the ass, and then they’re down like lead and it’s completely pathetic. It’s not even heroic when they get up again, because they’re so blinded by tears and blood that they continue on in the same groove till the next kick. It’s just that sometimes they have to stop and remember they’re really fucking tired of everything. Do that till they’re even tired of that before the cycle boots in again.
“But let’s pretend I’m getting up because I have hope, and I’m willing to try again,” he chokes to himself, on his elbows with nose touching the floor. “Let’s do that, shall we?”
Interestingly enough, there’s nothing in the silence waiting to barge into his ears, force him to listen. He’s not stupid enough to take this as a good sign. He’s not enlightened enough to not take it as a sign.
“I’m…human,” Paul says. He manages to get it out without laughing or sobbing, which he guesses means he needs to get all the way up and crawl back to bed.
* * *
“I was really drunk,” Ed says.
“Yes, darling, you were,” Paul says. He sets his bag down on the couch, his briefcase on his desk, and locks the door. Then he stops Ed in the middle of his blathering excuse and fucks him on the floor.
There’s no absolution in this moaning, imperfect wrestling of limbs against limbs, this rasp of flesh on flesh. No obliterating insight or sudden restoration of faith—nothing stupidly simplistic like that. But it’s enjoyable—it’s sex. It’s something Paul really fucking likes to do and it’s something that gives back to him when Ed’s ass is suddenly clenching the climax out of him. So why the hell is he supposed to ask for more from it?
Though he does still, soon as he’s coherent enough.
“They want your report,” Ed mumbles. “You do it yet?”
“No, you fuckwit, I haven’t.” Still hurts to think about it. Paul still doesn’t like poking at that wound, can’t help doing it anyway, and like his mind had pointed out before, nothing’s been solved. Things like this don’t get solved, though people get good at faking that they can do that.
Ed nuzzles the point of Paul’s shoulder. It’s not something he does much; he’s a cuddler the way Paul’s a cuddler, which is to mean he’d rather fall asleep. “You’re not dead.”
“No. Disappointed?” Paul doesn’t shove Ed away, which isn’t something he often fails to do. He already has goddamn bloodstains in the floor—like he needs sex stains as well.
“Don’t be a fucking asshole all the time,” Ed mutters. “Though I guess that means your head’s on straight again.”
Even rarer is when Paul actually gives Ed a straight answer. “It works, if that’s what you mean.”
It’s a moment before Ed responds. “Well, whatever. This isn’t rocket science, however much you like making it all high and mighty and important.”
“No, it certainly isn’t,” Paul slowly says. He’s thinking about getting up, and seeing if he can get Bach on an mp3 before his fucking superiors call him for a progress report. He’s thinking that the last time he saw Connor, the jackass had been lying where Ed had been, two inches from tongue-fucking his brother, and that hurts like a poker through the chest. He’s thinking he thinks too much, and he needs to stop listening to himself. “Too bad. At least then you could’ve memorized some equations.”
Things work. That’s about all he can say about them. That’s all he has to say, maybe.