When Fischer got off the plane in The Hague, his injuries had stiffened up again. The cuts on his face stung; his lip felt three times normal size; his left leg would not cooperate. People streamed past him down the jetway.
For the first time in his life, someone was standing in Arrivals holding a sign with "Fischer" hand printed on it. He blinked at it and wondered if maybe Fischer was a common name round here.
Only one way to find out.
He limped toward the man with the sign. Probably a Dutchman, very tall, maybe in his 50s, with a long face and fair hair going silver on the sides. He wore a jacket and tie. A very nice watch. Fischer felt sweaty and sore inside his rumpled clothes.
There was a moment of recognition, something changing in the eyes—had Palsby sent Europol a photo or something? Made sure some counterfeit Fischer didn't show up and worm his way into the heart of cooperative law enforcement?
"Good morning," the man said, in English. Unaccented, as far as Fischer could tell, though really, who knew what a Dutch accent in English sounded like.
"Morning," Fischer replied. He hadn't thought about how his whole workday would be in English now.
"Wim van Dalen." Okay, definitely a Dutchman. He reached toward Fischer for a handshake; his fingers were long and squared at the tips, his hand broad.
Fischer had a split second of double vision, though it wasn't from his injuries. He saw Ingrid and I.P., heading up the team, meeting some new group from some new place for a collaboration. Handshakes all round. Full names. Professional demeanors. Laying out the field on which they'd join forces.
He also saw—and this wasn't entirely figurative, he almost truly saw—Bo, the biggest guy on his cellblock, stepping up to him. Eyeing him up and down. Fischer's very first moments inside, a disgraced ex-cop, but a cop nevertheless. Target on his back, every con itching to see a weakness, any crack, so they could take their shot.
It flashed through Fischer in the briefest moment, squeezing his chest so he had trouble taking a breath.
Then he cocked his head back and jerked his chin in a slight nod. "Yeah," he said. After just enough of a pause, his left hand jammed casually in his jacket pocket, he returned the handshake, his grip hard and brusque. "Fischer."
First impressions were important.
The thing about getting yourself thrown into prison, with only one person on the outside who knew (plus the Chief of Police, for all the fucking use he was, but otherwise top secret), is that it went for you pretty much like every other prisoner.
He came out the other side without his apartment or his car. He'd been fired, of course, for being a crooked cop, not to mention a sleazy, drug-dealing asshole. His old personal email account had lapsed when the bill wasn't paid. The life he'd blown up remained blown up, fragments scattered everywhere and ground into the dirt.
Europol found him a flat, got him on the payroll. But somehow Fischer kept not getting around to sending his new mobile or address or email to anyone in Denmark. He didn't even write to Victor, though he doubted he could have even if he'd tried—the kid and the ex had been put in anonymous protective housing for a while. Just till all the trials were done.
It was good, not getting any email except work stuff on his Europol account. Wasn't hard to get used to, after being without any internet access in prison. He liked it. Nice and quiet.
The flat felt huge for the first month or so. He bought a mattress first thing, of course. But he didn't get a proper bedframe for a few weeks. Instead, he jammed the mattress into the corner of the bedroom and slept along the edge. Pressing his back against the wall helped him sleep a little better.
After he finally got a bedframe and put it in the middle of the room, he could look out the bedroom window anytime he wanted. Though he seldom wanted.
Springtime brought leaves to the trees, and they filtered the view into a restful dapple-green, not just a bottomless open sky. It helped.
He'd never had so many meetings in his life. Never gone so long without time in the field.
He didn't think the other Danish liaison officers here had expected him. It made sense. So he was an extra, a graft, with no clear niche. He'd sit around big polished conference tables with them as they talked with their counterparts from other countries, and he'd watch the Germans, or the Poles, or the Latvians, everyone clear and calm. Consultation, information, communication.
No investigation, no arrest powers. Nothing at all like the table he'd come from, cramped in the mobile office, the tiny room thick with cigarette smoke and the smell of fear-sweat. There he'd watched the suspects, their eyes, their posture, the breathing quick or slow, and he'd known how to burrow in and get at them.
It had come in handy in the prison workshop. You could make a shell around yourself with just your posture and your eyes; you could lean on the guy across from you without even moving, could convince him you were the big dog and shouldn’t be fucked with.
These days, when the other liaison teams around the table started looking uncomfortable, Rasmus or Søren would ask Fischer for some facts or figures, which often meant he had to go back to his desk for a while to dig something off the computer. Everyone always seemed happier afterward.
Once, a few months in, Wim and Rasmus and some guy from the Swedish liaisons came up behind Fischer while he was finishing some paperwork.
The Swede had good reflexes and just barely managed to slip Fischer's joint-lock, though Wim wasn't so lucky in dodging the shove that knocked him back against the wall. Everyone stood there, Wim breathing quickly, the Swede rubbing his wrist.
"Sorry," Fischer managed, after a moment.
"We, uh," said Rasmus, and cleared his throat. "We weren't sure if you heard about the football team. Lars C. has finished his secondment and is heading back to Copenhagen, so, you know. There's an opening."
"Oh," said Fischer.
"Charity match with Interpol is next month," said Rasmus.
"Right," said Fischer.
Rasmus pulled a folded paper from his jacket pocket. "You'll need to fill this in so they can order you a jersey."
"I'll let you know," Fischer said, and took the paper.
He never did let them know. A contractor from IT showed up on the team: fast enough, but too sincere, and almost always fell for the fake pass.
Subj: La Cour
Found your email through the staff directory, courtesy of Ulf's old friend who works there.
Did you get any of my voicemails? Tell La Cour to give me or Ingrid a call ASAP.
Feel free to call yourself, while you're at it. Been a long time.
Fischer had first hit delete without reading it, and then three minutes later dug it out of the Trash mailbox, his hands cold on the keyboard.
"I.P. Jørgensen." The phone connection to Denmark wasn't great, static and a little echo.
"Haven't you retired yet?"
"Fischer!" He sounded really happy about it.
"If I were you, I'd already be off on a boat somewhere."
"Well," said I.P., and Fischer could hear his smile, "there's a lot of extra work here, since someone got a nice cushy secondment."
Fischer could have replied in kind, gone along with it. But instead, he suddenly found himself saying, "Thought you'd already got used to that while I was in prison."
"No." I.P.'s voice was hushed now. Definitely couldn't hear a smile anymore. "No one ever got used to it."
Fischer couldn't take I.P. sounding that way. He couldn't take much more in general. So all he said was, "Look, I just called to say that if you want La Cour to call you, tell him yourself."
"Yeah, okay," said I.P., businesslike again. "Put him on."
"Put him on the phone," I.P. said patiently. "Isn't he there?"
Fischer just breathed for a second.
"No," said Fischer. His mouth was so dry it stuck together at the corners.
"Come on, be reasonable," said I.P. "Tell him it's just a minute of his time."
"No, I mean he isn't here."
"What, are you calling from work?"
"Yeah. But I mean—he just isn't. You know. Here."
Even through the iffy connection, I.P.'s amiable scoff was clear across the miles. "Sure, sure. I understand."
"No," said Fischer. "You don't."
"If you somehow end up running into him," I.P. went on with friendly irony, "maybe you wouldn't mind asking him to give us a call."
Fischer wanted so desperately to accept that, let it be the story. The way it used to be, where when you wanted to find one, you just asked the other. Fischer's mobile is off—call La Cour to find a hungover Fischer on his couch. La Cour's report needs revision—call Fischer, who always knew when La Cour was in a reverie at some crime scene or other and needed towing home.
That's how it was. Had been.
Fischer squeezed the phone handset until his tendons spiked with pain. And he'd thought he'd already lost everything there was to lose. What a joke.
"I.P.," he said as calmly as he could. "Is he all right?"
After a beat of staticky silence: "...He really isn't there." I.P. sounded blank, stunned.
There were some muffled sounds, I.P. talking to someone else with his hand over the phone. He was willing to bet it was Ingrid.
"I.P.!" He barely managed to restrain his voice to an office-appropriate level.
"He's all right," I.P. said. "Of course he is. He's just on leave, and fell out of touch. You know how he is about voicemails."
Fischer used to know how La Cour was about voicemails. Just now, he didn't feel like he knew how La Cour was about anything. But who cared, anyway. It didn't matter, no need to get sensitive.
I.P. was talking again, but it took him a second to focus. "...to bother you. It's just...we were sure he'd be there."
"So how are you doing?"
"I'm great," said Fischer. "It's really good here. Really very good. Great people."
"That makes all the difference," I.P. said, sounding happier. "I hope they know how lucky they are to have your skills. Not to mention your inside knowledge of the biker gangs. It takes international cooperation to help the local forces knock down those drug networks."
"Oh, yeah," said Fischer. "Speaking of which—there's a meeting. You know how it is."
After all of I.P.'s sincere well-wishes, after they'd said their goodbyes and hung up, Fischer sat at his desk. There weren't any meetings until after lunch. He blinked, and breathed, and sat. Who cared, it didn't matter. Who cared.
But suddenly Wim was tapping on the partition (he didn't step too close to Fischer anymore), Birgitte with him carrying the files for the human trafficking consult, and it was 13:00. Fischer only then realized his hands were clenched into tight fists. When he was eventually able to uncurl them, his fingers were white and cramped. During the meeting he kept them under the table.
A few days later, and Fischer felt better. No more emails, no more calls. No reason to be a baby about it. People moved on; he certainly had.
He signed out at 17:00 and left, groping for his cigarettes before he'd even finished pulling on his jacket. He considered going to the pub. Rasmus and a couple of the other Danes had a favorite local, even if they'd stopped asking him months ago.
He walked out of the stately-government-building zone, past the galleries and luxury shops, finally merging into the regular foot traffic. The Danes' local was on the next block up; he stopped at the light to wait for a crowd of bicycles to pass, and whiled away the time lighting a fresh cigarette off the butt of the old one.
When the light turned green, he turned the corner instead and headed in the direction of his flat. Maybe another time.
The days had shortened fast, the dark closing in for winter. And when he stopped in front of a kebab takeaway to consider the menu in the window, a shadow darted quickly through the reflection, disappearing between him and the fairy lights strung along the next shop's facade.
Nothing unusual in that. Except, the next shop's door hadn't moved, so it wasn't someone going in or out. And no one was on the pavement in that spot.
He abandoned the kebabs and walked purposefully away. Turned the next three rights—not a path that anyone else would be taking, on their way home or out for a happy Friday night. And he browsed the shop windows, watching the reflections of pedestrians and bikes and trams and cars.
Ida had actually told him stories back in the day about how they'd practiced this sort of thing on the last weekend of the FBI course. The whole group had headed into Washington DC to mess about before going to dinner. The instructors had tailed them, or assigned them to tail each other. She'd laughed through the whole story, careless and cruel, knowing how he'd longed to be sent for that same training, how he'd missed out. But fuck her, fuck that whole thing—he'd been a cop long enough, he knew how to handle this.
He dodged around a corner and crossed against the light. The bikes didn't kill him, barely, but the people waiting for the walk signal looked like they'd be willing to try.
He hurried down a side street along a canal, passing apartments with pots of greenery and herbs out front, his exhalations steaming in the chill. He couldn't help but remember his clandestine meetings with La Cour: scrambling through the snow in Rold Forest, puffing clouds of white breath, alert for the faintest sound behind him. If any of the gang had followed him, seen him climb into La Cour's car in the middle of nowhere, he'd have been dead.
So he followed the same instincts that had kept him alive then, ducking into shadows and crossing and re-crossing streets, doubling back, blending into crowds. Straining all his senses as he reached for the flicker of something wrong, something familiar.
Eventually, he found himself a pretty far distance past his flat, tired out, his hands chilled through. Many shops had actually closed for the night. He'd lost time in there somewhere, like on the day I.P. called.
No one was after him. He was being ridiculous.
He walked back to the flat, footsore in his office shoes. There was a late-night pizza place on his way; he usually skipped it because the food was crap, but now he bought himself a few slices and carried them along, wrapped in foil in a paper bag.
On his front step, he dug in a pocket for his keys, jammed in there with his lighter and some folded cash and a big wad of cheap napkins from the pizza shop.
And as he was struggling with the door, one hand occupied with the keys in the balky old lock and one hand gripping the greasy bag, a shadow rose from the ground, where it had been sitting in the next doorway.
"Fischer," it said, and the voice was La Cour's.
The jolt in Fischer's body was enormous and entire, adrenaline stabbing through him into every limb, leaving his neck sore and his mouth dry and electric beneath the taste of stale cigarettes. He found that he'd dropped the pizza bag.
But underneath all that was a wild, dizzying feeling, as if he had been breathing too hard. La Cour was here. He had come after all.
The long, dark shape that was La Cour in an overcoat stood expectantly at the step, his face in deep shadow. He didn't say anything. And he wasn't smiling—before, when they'd met after an absence, they'd always found themselves grinning at each other like idiots. Now, though, La Cour just stared at him. He didn't explain, he didn't ask—he just showed up and waited for Fischer to hop to it.
The dizziness abruptly lost its pleasure and instead felt more like nausea.
"Well," Fischer muttered, and stooped to grab the crumpled bag. "Come in, I guess." He said it in English without thinking, like he was at the office or something.
He climbed the two flights to his place, La Cour's footsteps soft and relentless behind him. Inside, he fumbled for a light switch, and turned to see La Cour for the first time.
La Cour looked thinner, if that were possible. Waxen undertones to his skin. His hair was too long, falling into his eyes.
"You all right?" Fischer asked despite himself, in Danish this time. Something was wrong; something must be wrong. It was a drop of pathetic comfort: at least La Cour knew where he could go in extremis.
But La Cour only nodded, glancing behind himself before stepping through the door. Okay, fine.
"You look like shit," Fischer said. He turned away and pulled off his shoes and coat, flinging the coat over the kitchen chair he kept by the door. It landed on the chair's little heap of jackets and scarves, dangling precariously.
Those footsteps dogged him into the living room. Fischer, despite the buzzing in his nerves at having someone behind him, forcibly didn't look around. He tossed the pizza bag onto the end table and sat heavily in his easy chair. The only chair. There was also a little couch, but it wasn't as comfortable, and he'd be damned if he'd give up his chair.
La Cour stood in the middle of the room, still wearing his shoes and coat. Fischer could easily see the flat through his eyes: scantily furnished even after a year, coffee cups of cigarette butts on the windowsill and end table instead of ashtrays, a carrier bag on the floor as a rubbish bin.
"Like it?" Fischer asked bitterly.
La Cour picked his way to the couch and sat down. "Yes."
Fischer smiled without humor. "Nowhere near as nice as when I lived in your place. But nicer than Horsens, right?"
"I like the view," La Cour said unexpectedly, instead of responding to the needles in Fischer's tone. The place did have a great view, the bay window framing a nearby park by a canal. There were ducks in the daytime, and some other birds Fischer couldn't name, swimming and diving and fixing him with beady little looks.
He didn't tell La Cour about the birds. He just picked up the bag and dug inside for the pizza.
"Hungry?" he said courteously, holding out the least mushed slice, still in its foil.
"No, thanks," said La Cour.
Fischer unwrapped it. It was the most unappetizing thing he'd seen lately, the cheese thin and grainy, the crust soggy from steam. He took a big bite.
"I.P. told me you went on leave," he said with his mouth full, the way La Cour used to hate. "Having a nice vacation?"
La Cour shrugged, lost inside his coat. Fischer swallowed and took another bite.
"Well," said La Cour, and here it was, at last he'd get down to it. He fidgeted for a moment, lacing and unlacing his fingers, then reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a folded packet of papers. "I have the adoption paperwork."
When Fischer just stared at him, pizza gluey and lukewarm in his mouth, La Cour went on: "The financial adoption. I know it took a while. But I found a lawyer who handles this sort of thing, and she made sure it was put together properly."
Fischer had been drunk as shit that night, and practically hallucinating from lack of sleep, but he still remembered every moment. Shoulder to shoulder with La Cour on the floor of that motel hallway, hurting head to foot, counting down the seconds until he'd be leaving everything behind. And La Cour's voice, a halting murmur, talking about provisions for a murder victim's children. That was all, that was their last hurrah. Fischer didn't know what else he had wanted. But whatever it was, he hadn't got it.
"Savannah's kids," he said.
"That's why you've turned up like a bad penny."
La Cour looked down at the papers, shuffled them around, moved one to the front of the stack. "I had her write a précis here in layman's terms. But if you want your own lawyer to review it before you sign it...."
Fischer got up and went to the kitchen, coming back with two handfuls of beer bottles, the bottlenecks dangling between his fingers.
"Here," he said, dropping one on La Cour and putting the rest on the floor between them.
He'd already settled back into his chair and was eyeing the sad remains of the first slice of pizza, when he saw La Cour was just sitting there and rolling the bottle between his palms instead of drinking it.
"No clean glasses," Fischer mumbled in half-hearted apology. No glasses at all, in fact, clean or dirty, but since when was that La Cour's business. If he was too fine to drink beer from a bottle, he could wash one of the coffee cup ashtrays himself.
La Cour just said, "She ended up arranging it as a trust; that was the safest way," and Fischer realized he'd forgotten the bottle opener.
He unearthed it and got their bottles open. "To Savannah," he said, clinking the bottom of his bottle hard against La Cour's before sitting back down. "May her kids end up millionaires."
La Cour watched him for a moment, brow furrowed, peeling the corner of the label on his beer. Then he drank deeply, and said as if he'd never stopped talking, "The trust has options to take small payroll deductions over time from many contributors, so the financial burden doesn't fall in any one place. I got a lot of the Skørping force to sign up, at least for the first few years. And by then, the capital will have built up and can bring in some interest."
Fischer drank and stopped paying attention. The pizza slice got cold; he ignored the rest in the bag. La Cour droned on.
"...I.P. insisted on signing up too, and Boysen and Ingrid. She actually got Ulf to chip in. Gaby wanted to, but Ingrid argued her out of it, since she has her own baby to look after. And she...." He finished his beer and picked up another, retrieving the opener, bowing his head over it as he eased the cap off. He didn't continue the sentence.
Fischer was doubly glad he hadn't eaten more than a bite, because his stomach wrenched so sudden and hard that he surely might have vomited. And she has Johnny to worry about, he finished in his head.
They sat in silence but for the quiet slosh of beer bottles upending. For a minute it almost started to feel familiar. If he had let himself, he could have savored the presence of La Cour in this space where no one else had ever been.
With his next beer, La Cour looked around and asked, "Have you lived here the whole time?"
Fischer's ears actually heated up at that, like he was some kind of blushing kid. Ohh, so you've been here a whole year, have you, and still live like a bridge hobo?
"Uh huh," he said.
"No." Fischer drank some more, made him wait. Finally: "Not officially, but they found it for me."
"From a public advertisement, or do they have a favorite estate agent?"
"Agent, I think?" Fischer said. "I wasn't paying much attention."
"Hm. Neighbors all right?"
Fischer squinted at him. "Yeah."
"I don't know," said Fischer with irritation. "Haven't really noticed."
"But no one seems unusual?"
"Just me." Fischer laughed to himself and sucked at his beer.
La Cour opened another bottle. "Neighborhood okay?"
"Is this a chat show or something?" Fischer said. "Give me the précis and the signature page, okay, I'll read them."
He swiped the papers from La Cour's hand and brooded over them, glad to put an end to the completely unaccustomed wash of small talk between them, as if they were strangers meeting in a waiting room. The legalities seemed fine. He could afford a share easily; he wasn't doing much with his Europol assignment pay, so it just sat around in the bank.
"Not a lot of street crime?" La Cour asked after a while.
"Can't pin that one on me moving in, I don't care what she says," Fischer said. He checked the end table for a pen; nothing. He headed to the door to rummage through his jackets.
"What do you mean?" La Cour called.
Fischer found a ballpoint, but it wouldn't write. He shook it to get the ink flowing.
"Fischer?" La Cour said again from the living room.
At last he managed a legible scrawl. He headed back in and sat down with the papers in his lap. "What?"
"The street crime. Are you saying someone blames you for it?"
"You have the damnedest way of making conversation," Fischer said, resigned. He drank more beer, then busied himself folding angles into the signature sheet.
"Has it gone up since you arrived?" La Cour asked.
"Fuck, I don't know. I mean, that was the joke from the landlady last time she called. Or maybe she said that if it went up now I could take care of it. Something like that. She has a weird sense of humor."
He finished with the folding, producing a tidy little paper airplane. One toss sent it looping right into La Cour's chest, where it crash-landed on his knee. There were no survivors.
La Cour stood up abruptly, grabbing the paper plane hard enough to crumple it.
"Leaving already?" Fischer said, forcing a smile. "And it's been such a lovely time." He thought his tone stayed even, but who knew, he'd had a bit to drink.
La Cour went to the bay window and looked down intently at the street.
"The toilet's over there," Fischer muttered, waving a hand. "Don't get it confused with the closet."
But La Cour just stood by the window, rubbing his forehead. Even bulked out by his coat, he looked skinny, like a scarecrow. Didn't anybody take him out for dinner after work anymore?
Then he muttered something Fischer didn't catch, and turned around. He really did look like shit; Fischer regretted not having any actual food to offer him. No, worse than regret. He felt mortified.
Fischer got up and went into the kitchen, just in case there was something he'd overlooked. There was an old muesli bag, but all it had in the bottom was a few oat grains. On the counter was one apple gone soft with brown spots. The fridge had mustard. The only other thing on hand was beer, so he rummaged out some more bottles.
La Cour appeared behind him in the kitchen doorway. The mangled paper airplane stuck out loosely from between his knuckles.
"Come with me," he said.
"Let me guess, you want to call in a hazmat team," Fischer said, poking dubiously at the apple.
"What?" La Cour looked blank.
La Cour just stood there. "Dinner," he said at last.
"I had mine."
In the old days, that would have triggered a very specific face from La Cour. Or maybe just the word "Fischer," in that particular tone. He got a version of it out of Ingrid sometimes too; it was fun to try. But La Cour's was always his favorite.
He didn't get it now, though. La Cour stared at him, or possibly through him. Maybe it hadn't been the best idea to give him so much to drink, not when he looked like that.
At some point La Cour had dropped the airplane. Fischer stooped to grab it, and saw that it had crumbs adhering to it from the grotty kitchen floor. Just those crumbs made him see red, somehow, a wordless howl surging up from his stomach like acid.
"Here." He shoved the signature page into La Cour's hand, crumbs and all. Then he took his elbow and started ushering him toward the door. La Cour drifted with him, unresisting.
"Thanks for coming," Fischer made himself say, and reached for the knob.
La Cour's palm landed awkwardly on the door, holding it shut. Scarecrow he might have been, but Fischer well knew the strength in his frame.
"What?" said Fischer, trying to hang on to the last of his cool but feeling it slip away. "Huh? You have the signature. You saw—" he waved a hand toward the apartment— "—all this. You got what you came for."
There was no response at first. Not just no answer, but no response, La Cour's pale face fixed and unseeing. Then he said, "That's not what I came for."
Fischer opened the door with a yank. La Cour's hand slid down, but he seized Fischer's arm instead, and his grip felt surprisingly strong, even for him.
"I came for you," said La Cour.
Fischer scoffed. "Well, you saw me. Okay? Now you can go back and tell everyone how well I'm doing."
He tried to sort of ease La Cour through the door, but La Cour was trying to pull Fischer out after him. Fischer resisted, and they strained clumsily against each other, knocking into the chair and sending jackets and scarves sliding to the floor. The door swung closed.
"What's the matter with you!" Fischer demanded. He had to make this stop. He had to get out from under those strange, unhappy, faraway eyes. "Will you just leave me alone?"
"I can't," said La Cour, and his voice still had that blank and distant sound.
Fischer yanked against the hold on his arm. "Make sense!"
La Cour's lips moved once or twice, and then he said, "I can't leave you here. Again."
"What is all this?" Fischer put his hand on La Cour's to pry it free, and felt how cold it was, knotted tight.
La Cour only shook his head. "I don't know. I don't...know."
They stood there in the drift of clothes, La Cour's foot on Fischer's favorite knit hat. La Cour was looking past him into nothingness, his pupils constricted to points. Fischer's temper was fading. His head was far from clear, but at last he thought he was beginning to understand.
"Okay," he said at last, warily. "Is it...Did you have a vision?"
He knew about them, of course he did, and he'd talked to La Cour about them before. But it was just something that existed in the background most of the time, rare and easy to forget.
What wasn't easy to forget was the look on La Cour's face. Haunted, ashamed. His cold hand clung to Fischer's arm like a man overboard who'd already drowned.
"Hey," Fischer said. "Just tell me where you're taking me. Where's your hotel?" He knew he'd either have to drive, if La Cour had a rental parked out there somewhere, or call a taxi, because there was no way La Cour was in any fit state.
La Cour blinked slowly, his brows drawing together.
"Uh... Do you have a hotel?" Fischer asked.
"...No?" La Cour said.
"Of course." Fischer sighed. "Look, if you saw something, okay, of course I believe it. But I won't be better off just running around outside. Especially once you go face-first into a canal." He could feel unsteady tremors through La Cour's gripping hand.
"I'm fine," said La Cour, and fainted.
The couch was far too short, so once Fischer had hauled La Cour bodily up off the pile of jackets, he carried him to the bedroom. As he thoroughly remembered from their sparring sessions, La Cour was heavy for his build, and Fischer was out of training what with all the meetings and deskwork; he was glad that at least La Cour probably wasn't fully conscious to hear him swearing as he staggered through the door.
The sheet hadn't been changed in a while, and the duvet cover who knew. But there was no time to be precious about it, so he stretched La Cour out and pulled off his shoes and overcoat, then tucked the duvet up around his shoulders. He wished he'd had the forethought to shove the piles of dirty laundry under the bed or something.
La Cour's eyes opened, dazed and blurry.
"I can call a doctor."
As he'd expected, La Cour shook his head slowly.
La Cour nodded. He was no longer staring past Fischer, but looking directly at him with troubled urgency.
"Okay." Of course there weren't any chairs; Fischer sat heavily on the side of the bed. "You better tell me about it."
La Cour looked away and let out a long breath from deep inside. Fischer just let him have his silence.
And after a while, La Cour said, as if it cost him: "I have these dreams."
"Uh huh," said Fischer.
"They got...pretty bad."
It explained a lot, the way he looked so thin and drained, the haze in his eyes. "So you took leave and jumped on a plane? You know they do have such a thing as email now. 'Dear Fischer, watch out for bikers, best regards.'"
La Cour shrugged, but didn't smile. "I didn't take leave."
"I.P. said otherwise. If you're expecting to get reimbursed for your plane tickets, you should—"
"I was put on leave."
Fischer frowned. "By who? Don't tell me it was fucking Palsby. That prick."
But La Cour glanced at him, and he seemed uncomfortable. "Ingrid had to, Fischer."
"She had to. I couldn't— I wasn't—"
Fischer's rage flared. "You're three times the cop of anyone on the force! More! How could she make you— She's turning into Ulf."
"I understood," La Cour said simply. "I'd have done the same. If I was in my right mind."
It felt good to be angry at Ingrid. She was an excellent target, and it never seemed to dent her. But Fischer looked away and rubbed the back of his neck, pressing the muscles hard, calming down. "When are you ever in your right mind."
"Not then, anyway," said La Cour. "And no matter who I asked to check up on the locations of the remaining gang members—off the record—they were all still accounted for. No sign of a conspiracy. No sign of any attention on you, or Mille or Victor. But...."
He spread his hands, looking lost.
"You're still convinced," said Fischer.
"No... I don't know."
"You wouldn't have come all the way down here if you thought it was nothing."
"I had to," La Cour said again, and he sounded discouraged, exhausted to the bone. "I'm sorry I did."
Fischer had nothing to say to that. He made himself stare out the bedroom window at the tops of the bare trees. And by the time he was able to school his features well enough to look at La Cour again, La Cour was asleep. Or maybe passed out was the right term. He looked like someone had dropped him onto the bed from a high building.
"Well, fuck," said Fischer.
After a while, La Cour's breathing had deepened and slowed enough to convince Fischer he wasn't waking up any time soon. So Fischer stripped to his shorts, turned off the lamp, and crawled in on the other side of the bed.
He was tired, and his head still buzzed from the beer, but he couldn't sleep. He felt somehow stiff and sore, like he'd just come out the other side of a fistfight. La Cour was on the side of the bed Fischer was used to, and it felt strangely unfamiliar over here. Not that he'd had anybody on any side of his bed for a long time now.
He just lay there. La Cour's breathing was slow and steady.
Maybe he dozed after all. Or else he lost track of time. Either way, at some point he opened his eyes with a start, only to find the hushed stillness of the truly wee hours. No traffic, no giggling couples heading home from the pubs—no noise from outside but the wind.
La Cour's breath sounded different. Shallow; much quicker. Fischer knew he was awake too.
"I didn't mean to wake you," La Cour said.
"You didn't," he answered by reflex, but then considered it. "Maybe you did. Bad dream?"
"Every night." La Cour's voice was quiet and controlled.
"Stupid question," said Fischer. He thought morosely about his empty kitchen. If he was going to get any proper food into La Cour, he'd have to wait until the breakfast places opened. On Saturday that took a while. He hoped they had the time— "When's your flight out?"
"As soon as I can get one."
"Great," he said, keeping his tone light with an effort.
Time passed. It didn't sound like La Cour was falling asleep again. Fischer figured he was counting the minutes until he could leave.
Lying here in the dark with La Cour at his shoulder put him in mind of all their time in cars at work. Stakeouts, looking for witnesses, transporting suspects, even chasing bad guys. They'd spent surely hundreds and even thousands of hours like that. By the end, of course, the car was their place for those furtive secret meetings in the forest, Fischer sniffling from the cold air and maybe some of the coke he'd had to snort to keep his cover, La Cour glowering at him, surely knowing everything.
Before, he'd been confident La Cour wouldn't hold any of it against him. But everyone had his limits, and at last Fischer must have found them.
What would it be like never to see him again? He'd had a year of it, so he knew it was possible. It was only...at the time, he hadn't known it was never. This was just a secondment, after all. Palsby had said maybe three years. Keep Fischer out of harm's way while the gang was scattered and imprisoned, and give him a nice plum for his résumé. And then he'd get to go home.
He turned onto his side, away from La Cour. He remembered clinging to that same fact the whole time he'd been in prison: do this, stick it out, maneuver Jack just where you want him, and you can get back in the car with La Cour and go home.
The real trick now was to realize that that was always a mirage, then and now. He hadn't gone home after Horsens: he'd been in the gang until they'd rumbled him, then he'd been a transient with a smashed face and a suitcase, then he'd been on a plane to the Netherlands. The old easy time with La Cour, in the car, in the dark, eating or bullshitting or even actually talking about personal stuff, you couldn't get that back. They'd sat together in cars to trade info, or to pretend he'd been arrested, but it was all business and all temporary.
Same thing here. He had to stop that quiet voice, the one from sleepless nights in his little cell: do this, stick it out, and you can go back home. Back to him, where you belong.
What if this really was his life now? Would he treat his flat like a nice place to live? His body like something worth taking good care of? His co-workers like people to talk to?
So really, La Cour was doing him a favor, and a big one at that. It was time to detach from the old idea of where he belonged. The old, bone-deep desire.
Fischer breathed through the realization like he had through Jack's beating. You could make it through anything.
The moon finally rose high enough to shine through the bedroom window, right into Fischer's eyes. His night vision was well adapted by now, and the cold light actually made him squint.
He knew La Cour was still awake.
"Hey," Fischer said, rolling back over. The moon shone on La Cour's face, his eyes open, his exhausted pallor lit in blue and white as if he were submerged under ice.
"Thanks for setting up the thing. For Savannah's kids."
After a pause, still looking at the ceiling, La Cour said, "The lawyer has been working directly with people in Savannah's home village. There has to be an ironclad path to get the assets directly to the bank, then disbursed to the family. The legal structure internationally can be complex, because these—"
Fischer just watched him as he went on and on about it. He looked strangely young, with his shaggy hair and his hands folded on his chest. And he recited various boring legal strategies as if he were back in school giving a presentation or taking a verbal exam.
It reminded Fischer of that motel hallway again. The final replacement for the car, he now saw: sitting close in the dark, facing the same way, talking even if feebly. He remembered the heat of La Cour's shoulder against his, and he remembered how empty he'd felt afterward, that feeling of missing something, having wanted something, but nothing he could name.
Well, he knew what it was now.
Fischer remembered La Cour's fingertips so gently brushing his as he took the smoldering cigarette. And the way Fischer had kept trying to smoke through his exhaustion, as if he could make La Cour get all prissy one last time and tell him not to smoke in the car.
He couldn't help it: he grinned, thinking of that. He'd loved it so much, knowing just how to hit those buttons. Poor old La Cour.
Poor old La Cour proceeded to glance at him and stumble to a halt mid-sentence. "...What."
Fischer didn't really think he could explain what. He just knew that this was the last, the end, no more hope he would one day be right where he had wanted to be. And while that fact still burned terribly behind his eyes and in his chest, there was also a strange freedom in it.
"Nothing," he said. He relaxed and spread out, letting his arm and leg press warmly against La Cour's. La Cour still seemed as tightly-wound as ever, but maybe he'd let Fischer pretend. Just once. Just to push this one last time as far as he could, for a taste of what he'd only now fully realized—to have it to hold on to and remember once he was finally left on his own.
La Cour sighed, but didn't pull away. Fischer slung an emboldened arm over his waist and moved in close, resting on him. It would have been easier if he was still drunk, but he was surprised at how natural it felt, how La Cour's body welcomed his. Fischer hadn't been able to hug him goodbye the morning he'd left Denmark, and he'd reassured himself this whole time, when he'd found himself brooding on it: La Cour was an awkward sod, a hug would probably baffle him. Even one of the macho kind with a lot of thumping on the back. And yet here he was under Fischer's arm (and now one of his legs) without turning to stone. It made Fischer feel brave.
"Did you know you still have your belt on?" he asked.
"Uh," said La Cour. "Yes."
"I guess that's my fault, since I'm the one who tucked you in." He took hold of the belt buckle and began to work on it one-handed.
"Uh," said La Cour again.
"Let me," said Fischer, trying to keep it light.
He must not have managed it, because La Cour's face changed. His startled uncertainty faded all at once to something sad. Fischer could hardly stand it—but with only the one last stupid chance, he'd take pity if it was all there was on offer.
"Just...let me. Okay?" Fischer tugged the end of the belt back through the buckle, took hold of the strap.
La Cour didn't say anything. But he moved his hands under the covers and put them on Fischer's. His fingers were cold. Together they eased the strap loose of the buckle, and La Cour eased his hips up so that Fischer could draw the belt free from its loops.
"Okay?" Fischer said again.
There were a few ways this could go. "That's more comfortable, thanks," La Cour might say, then roll over and pretend to sleep. A very dignified ending, saving Fischer's face whether La Cour thought he deserved it or not. Or, there was "No thanks," which didn't give Fischer any plausible cover, but was at least kinder than a punch in the face.
But, "Okay," said La Cour in a faint, choked voice, and Fischer ducked his head so as not to see more of those sad eyes shining with moonlight. He could just pretend it wasn't finally happening like this. He could imagine he'd figured things out a lot sooner, and some night, sitting in a car next to La Cour like always, he'd leaned over to him and been welcomed with a half-smile and a wry comment—before the last op, and Fischer fucking it up and ruining Johnny and Gaby's lives; before he'd landed in The Hague among all these high-class specimens.
He dropped the belt over the edge of the bed and untucked La Cour's shirt. The buttons were awkward from this angle, but it was rewarding to uncover him, and the task gave him something distracting to look at. La Cour didn't help this time, but his breathing had picked up, and his stomach and chest rose and fell beneath Fischer's busy hands.
The trouser button was easier. And while drawing the zip down, Fischer could feel La Cour was already aroused, which was a pleasant surprise. If they'd been talking, Fischer would have probably made a string of jokes about how long it had been, since it was a grand tradition to chaff La Cour about his sex life or lack thereof.
But oh, fuck, the relief of not having to talk. It was strange to him, but vast. He didn't have to navigate the words or the subtleties, he didn't have to hear himself saying things he didn't really mean or curse himself for not saying the things he did mean.
All he had to do was keep his focus right where it was. He could have one last memory of the place he'd thought he belonged. And in the meantime, judging by the hardness under his fingertips, he could at least give La Cour a little fun so he wouldn't have to regret his generosity.
"Here," he said, pushing La Cour onto his side and fitting in close behind him. The trousers were a pain, shoved down only to thigh level, but he didn't want to spend time on them—that just meant all the more time for La Cour to come to his senses and put a stop to things.
It still felt so good. He plastered his body all along La Cour's back—even with the shirt rumpling between them, it brought his skin to life like a prickle of static electricity.
He almost moaned, but stopped just in time—he couldn't let go that much, and hearing himself would be embarrassing. Instead he pressed his face against La Cour's neck, through the strands of overlong hair curling over his nape, breathing the scent of his skin.
Taking his own good time, he rubbed his hand down La Cour's stomach until it was very low, savoring the warm skin and the jumping muscles underneath. La Cour was breathing unevenly; Fischer hoped he wasn't in a big hurry.
Because there was something about just lying there—his hand almost but not quite taking proper hold, his own hard cock trapped firmly between their bodies but otherwise unattended—that he wanted to keep. They were balanced together. It wasn't easy but it was perfect.
It had been a long time for him, too, and just the press of La Cour against him, the wiry firm familiarity, had him shivering on edge in record time. He held on as long as he could—or as long as he thought he'd be allowed—filling all his senses greedily. But he wasn't a monster, or a eunuch either, so finally he wrapped his hand around La Cour's cock and stroked him, and La Cour twitched head to toe, his breath leaping and catching on a muffled noise.
If he'd had more time, he'd have loved to chase that noise. Who would yell first? But he didn't have the time, and now he no longer had much coherent thought. He let himself sink into movement, his hand and his body, adjusting his speed instinctively, the inside of his head blessedly free of anything but the roar of his hunger.
Fischer came first, intensely, his toes curling; he couldn't help it, hearing and feeling the way La Cour's composure was shattering against him. He lost the quick rhythm of his stroke, but he still did his best. And suddenly La Cour strained and arched, pulsing hot in Fischer's hand, saying something breathless and incomprehensible.
Fischer flopped back onto his own side of the bed, letting La Cour go, and panted through an open and stupid smile. His entire body was warm and loose and alive. He let his eyes close and enjoyed the empty-headed bliss of it all.
Then he felt La Cour's hand touching his chest, tentative. He patted it without opening his eyes. The whole mixed up stormcloud of feelings and shit was lurking in the background somewhere, yeah, but he'd hang on to his orgasm amnesia as long as he could. Fall asleep to it. He yawned.
"I'm sorry," La Cour said. Fischer ignored him, reaching for sleep with open arms and all his effort. If he could just go unconscious before he heard the door close behind La Cour....
Suddenly, though, he was being kissed. Right on the mouth. And no joking, either.
Fischer could scarcely understand—his brain cells weren't re-engaged quite yet, for one thing, his cock still oversensitive, his animal mind uppermost. But he opened to it gladly and savored the urgent mouth on his, the hands on his face, the press and strain that pinned him flat on his back with La Cour on top—almost as if they'd been sparring, but sweeter.
When La Cour let him up for air, Fischer finally opened his eyes. "What's that about?" he asked, feeling extremely slow. La Cour looked dazed and bedheaded and a complete mess; his trousers were still tangled around his legs; his bare chest was slender but solid through the open shirt.
"I was, uh," said La Cour, then cleared his throat and set his jaw. "I said I was sorry."
"Uh huh," agreed Fischer. A few realities came back to him, and he sighed. What a buzzkill. "You told me already, you wish you'd never come here, sorry you ever saw me or whatever. I know, okay? No need to rub it in."
La Cour blinked. "Well, I— That's not what I meant."
"Sounded like it."
"It wasn't." La Cour's mouth was thin and stubborn, though the effect was ruined by the unusual warm color in his lips. Fischer had made that happen; he admired his handiwork.
"So what the hell are you sorry for, then?" he asked.
"Okay." Fischer yawned again.
"Look, Fischer—" and strangely, though he sounded tense now, he wasn't moving away— "I know you want me out of here. I don't blame you. But I just needed to say—"
"Hang on, hang on, I want you what?"
La Cour shrugged silently.
"Just a fucking second. That isn't what I meant!"
They stared at each other. La Cour's pupils were so large that his eyes looked practically black.
"Sounded like it," La Cour finally said, deadpan, as Fischer knew he was going to.
"Really subtle about not wanting me to leave, the way you were pushing me out the door."
"Okay, okay." Fischer rubbed his face. "It's just...I couldn't take it."
He would have groped for more words, if there were any, but La Cour spoke first, his voice soft: "No, I know."
Fischer looked at him intently. And he felt, with an ache like a stiff muscle finally moving, that he could read La Cour again at last.
"What the hell," said Fischer in wonder. He couldn't quite unpack that, the idea that maybe this entire night really hadn't been what he'd thought. It was like doing math.
La Cour sat up, clumsily peeling the trousers and shirt off. Then he stayed there, facing away, moonlight shadowing the long line of his back.
"I really am sorry," he said. "For everything. That op was my stupid idea, but everyone else paid for it. Especially you."
For once in his life Fischer found himself wishing he hadn't just recently had a mind-blowing orgasm, because he was still having trouble concentrating.
"Hey," he managed at last, frowning. "It was at least fifty percent my stupid idea."
"You took one hundred percent of the consequences."
Fischer made a rude noise. "We talked about this before. It had to be done. And we both did our share. If I didn't think I could handle prison I would've said."
La Cour muttered something.
"Can't hear you," Fischer grumbled. "And come here, you'll catch cold."
In a shocking turn of events, La Cour actually listened to him, climbing back under the duvet. He wasn't lying on top of Fischer anymore, but they were close together in the middle of the bed, warmth pooling around them.
"I said," La Cour repeated, stiffly, "I didn't enjoy watching you handle things."
Fischer was officially not going to be allowed to enjoy the last of his leftover bliss. It evaporated, and he said fiercely, "You don't like the way I work?"
"Don't be an—" La Cour stopped. He looked away. When he spoke again, it was cautious and slow. "Everything you had to handle, of course you took it. But there was too much. I had to sit and watch. It's not the same thing, I know. But it was my fault. And...it was hard."
Fischer chewed on that, tucking his hands behind his head. Now that the afterglow had been doused, he was craving a smoke, so it wasn't like he was suddenly at his sharpest. But this was a new angle he hadn't really considered.
"You're not going to listen to me," he said after a minute, "but you should shut up with the fault stuff."
"Oh?" La Cour sounded remote again, ready to step back behind his wall.
Fischer rolled his eyes. "Told you." He let it lay for now; he'd have to poke at it some more later. "So is that why you never called me?"
"How about you never calling me?" La Cour replied.
"I asked you first."
"Well, one of us got a Dutch mobile provider and changed his number, and it wasn't me."
Fischer scoffed, but it felt comfortable now, not bitter and precarious.
"Would you have answered?" La Cour asked. The sparring tone was gone, and he sounded tentative. So Fischer made himself really think about it.
"No," he admitted.
He rolled to his side of the bed and groped around on the floor for a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. Of course it took until he'd already lit up and was settling back in with his first deep drag for La Cour to complain.
"You shouldn't smoke in bed."
Fischer wordlessly blew out the smoke in a long, lingering cloud.
"You'd think," La Cour mused to no one in particular, "a detective who'd seen the remains of so many house fires would be more careful about his own place."
Fischer took another good puff before answering, savoring it. "You'd love this place to burn down."
"Weren't you the one being all fussy, interrogating me about the crime rate?"
La Cour fanned both hands in the air, irritably dispersing the smoke. "Tell me this. If there had been a recent change in the neighborhood—street crime, new neighbor, anything unusual—would you have noticed?"
"Yes!" said Fischer, stung. "Europol may not do the legwork themselves, but I haven't completely deteriorated."
"I know. But when you'd noticed, what would you have thought?"
Fischer smoked, and thought about how he'd fled home from work, convinced every shadow was out to get him. "Yeah, all right. If someone from the gang had managed to find me and get down here, and he was staking the place out...."
La Cour had slid down further under the duvet like a turtle slowly going into its shell, and didn't respond.
"But come on," Fischer said, "they're not super geniuses, these guys."
"Your name is on the door," said La Cour, and Fischer felt like less than a super genius himself. "You're on secondment, not in witness protection."
"You said the remainder of the gang were all accounted for," he insisted.
"That's what the team says."
Fischer blew smoke off of his own side of the bed this time. "Well, the team haven't completely deteriorated either, have they?"
"No," said La Cour, muffled by the duvet.
Fischer took one last hard drag and pinched the smoldering filter out between his fingers. It went into the closest coffee cup on the floor. So elegant.
"But," he said, "you have these dreams."
He didn't get an answer to that, and hadn't really expected one. When he settled in again under the covers, he stayed close to La Cour, still in his aura of warmth, but didn't reach out. If he scared him off, where was La Cour supposed to go this time of night?
After a while, though, La Cour unexpectedly spoke. "I think... Maybe this time I really am going crazy." He said it with an intellectual detachment that prickled through the back of Fischer's neck.
"Fuck that!" Fischer belatedly tried to tamp down the intensity, but it was a struggle. "No you aren't."
La Cour didn't answer. Fischer swore to himself, and then managed to say evenly, "Tell me about them."
La Cour shifted, the duvet rustling, and peered dubiously over at Fischer.
"Well? They're about me, aren't they? So they're my business."
"Broken glass," said La Cour after a moment, a little hoarsely. "A gun... a bullet hole in the glass. Blood."
Fischer remembered him staring down through the bay window. And despite his own pretense of calm, he felt uneasy.
"What kind of gun?" he asked in his most ordinary voice, as if he were questioning a nervous witness.
La Cour's eyes were wild, but he blinked and seemed to be thinking. Maybe the boring workaday tone helped. At last he said, "Uh. It has a...cylinder. The barrel is... It's a revolver?"
"So a pistol," Fischer said.
He considered. "Well, we know no one could shoot all the way up through my windows with a revolver. Not and hit anybody. No sign of a rifle, something like that?"
La Cour shook his head. He had shrunk down so far under the duvet and into his pillow that he was mostly lost.
"You said dreams... what are some of the others?"
"Someone is facing you," said La Cour. "He has you by the hand. Everything...hurts. You can't get away. You're afraid."
"Okay," said Fischer. "Can you see a face?"
"You're on the floor. It's dark. You're not...tied up or anything. But your back is cold—it's against the wall. I don't know if anyone else is there."
Fischer blinked. That suddenly rang a bell. It wasn't that he'd had these same nightmares, but he certainly—
"You're somewhere else. The doors are shut, but someone's in there with you. A whole group. Can't see if it's anyone from the gang, they're... Everyone is looking at you. Eyes."
Fischer's mouth felt dry.
"Another one. Someone is behind you," said La Cour. "Three men. You're cornered."
Fischer tried to clear his throat but couldn't. He desperately wanted another cigarette. "I fight them," he said in a croak.
"Yes. But then you have to stop. I don't know why."
"I do," Fischer managed. "Ah, fuck."
He expected La Cour to go on reciting, mercilessly trampling through Fischer's life over the past year. And he found himself suddenly and ferociously angry. He almost felt like he could shove La Cour physically away, out of bed and onto the floor. The fine hair on his arms bristled as if he were cold.
You can't get away. You're afraid.
He bit down on his tongue, holding very still with an effort. Sweat felt chilly on his forehead.
La Cour pushed one arm out from under the duvet. And slowly, he reached for Fischer. Slow but not nervous—just gradual and calm and steady.
Despite the pulse leaping in his chest and head, Fischer was able to wait. And La Cour touched him very gently, tracing a thumb along his cheek. Fischer knew what he saw there, the scar from the beating in the warehouse, toward the end when so much had gone wrong. The bandage strips hadn't held it together too well across the point of his cheekbone, and it had healed up slowly, well after he'd left Denmark.
Those thin, clever fingers were warm now. They traced the line again, and again, with tenderness and a matter-of-fact right.
So Fischer, through parched lips, told him where the visions came from. One after the other the stories tumbled out. La Cour listened with solemn attention, never seeming surprised or put off. By the end, his hand was resting on Fischer's, fingers loosely circling his wrist, and Fischer no longer had any urge to push away.
"Though this doesn't explain the glass," Fischer continued. "The glass and the blood. Nothing like that's ever gone on around here." He felt some weight in La Cour's silence and said emphatically, "Nothing. And no...plans or anything, in my head. Not even for a second. I swear."
La Cour stroked the inside of Fischer's wrist, nodding.
"You know what, though," said Fischer. And he instantly wished he hadn't thought of it, but he knew he had to finish. "Johnny...he was shot by a revolver."
He was sure now that the same pain that arced through him whenever he thought about it was also happening to La Cour. But La Cour only said, "That's true. And there's something I never told you."
"What, you?" said Fischer, almost lightly.
"I barely remember it now...but I saw what was going to happen. I was...I tried to tell I.P., I..." His hand tightened around Fischer's wrist with a sudden and welcome pain. "But I thought it was going to be you."
"Holy shit. You never did tell me that."
La Cour tried to nod.
"I guess we were a little busy," Fischer said. "After."
This silence had a heft to it. But La Cour's grip eased eventually, and he sighed.
"Maybe you're just remembering it at last," Fischer suggested. "And it got grafted on to...to the rest."
"Maybe," said La Cour. He sounded willing to believe.
"And it's over now." Fischer remembered being struck, being kicked, unable to get his breath, bloody dust in his mouth. He remembered the shot. And as he looked at La Cour, now he knew that La Cour also remembered it—directly and too well, sitting helplessly, shaking, his gift forcing him to see.
"It's over now," La Cour echoed, obviously believing it about as much as Fischer did, but trying just as hard.
He let Fischer draw him in, though his body felt thin and brittle as wire. He held on tightly around Fischer's ribs, the pressure a little hard to breathe against and entirely welcome.
Fischer could have used one more cigarette. But there was no way in hell he'd break off to get one, not right now. Instead he buried his nose in La Cour's hair and breathed deeply.
At some point, La Cour's breathing actually steadied and softened, and his muscles relaxed. And as if that were a cue, Fischer found himself sinking down without effort. Nothing to fear down there. Just quiet, and dark, and sleep without dreams.
He woke, gradually and comfortably, to a touch on his head. His hair, more specifically. Over and over. In fact, he was basically being petted. His memory came bubbling back to him and reminded him that the body next to him was La Cour's. The hand on his head, stroking his hair, was also La Cour's.
"What do you want," he said, stretching. "I have a haircut appointment for next week."
"Good," said La Cour, sounding relaxed and smug.
"I should give it to you, though." He opened his eyes to early morning light in the window; it was probably about 9.
"It's a fair cop," La Cour conceded.
He petted a few more times, then tousled Fischer's hair more roughly and climbed out of bed. Fischer watched him pick his way across the cold floor—no rugs yet, of course—out toward the toilet.
He jammed a morning cigarette gratefully into his mouth and padded around the bedroom, picking up La Cour's discarded clothes. They were unfortunately pretty badly off. So he dug into his clean clothes pile and retrieved some sweatpants, T-shirt, sweatshirt, socks, underwear. He added an actual clean towel and put the whole stack in the bathroom. There was soap and shampoo in the shower, even if the tile maybe wasn't the cleanest.
Speaking of which...Fischer put on socks and a bathrobe, and changed the bedsheet and pillowcases. The duvet cover was going to have to wait. He wasn't a miracle worker.
Showered and dressed, they walked together along the pavement in the chilly morning frost. Fischer's clothes hung a bit baggily on La Cour, and the trainers on his feet were not quite his size. But he was wrapped up warm and had some color in his cheeks. Unless that was just from the wind.
"You'll like it," Fischer told him. "It's got great food. Not to mention the architecture."
"If you say so."
"And plenty of seats for breakfast." He lit a cigarette. "The Dutch don't really do fancy breakfasts out."
Fischer shrugged. "Calvinism, I guess." He happily ignored La Cour's look.
They reached the center of town and the hotel he'd been aiming for, its elegant pale colors and grand curves dominating the square.
"Um," said La Cour, looking up at it.
"They take the VIPs here," said Fischer. "Like for work conferences. You'll love it." He looked forward to feeding La Cour up, maybe some breakfast cocktails even, watching his eyes soften and brighten along with the winter day.
But as soon as La Cour had stepped in and seen the decor—which, okay, Fischer had to admit, was plush and luxe and very French—he was backing toward the door.
"What?" Fischer asked.
"I'm dressed like I'm off to play goalkeeper," La Cour hissed.
"And just what's wrong with that?"
"Fischer," La Cour said, a world of longsuffering packed into the syllables.
Fischer grinned at him, rejoicing, and towed him away to a more modest café.
They were sipping their coffee afterward, replete, when La Cour suddenly said, "Did anybody else keep in touch?"
"Not really. I mean, they tried for a while. But."
"Well," La Cour said, "I looked in on Victor. He's doing well. There's a neighborhood football team for kids around his age, and he settled right in."
"Hey!" Fischer felt a not-unfamiliar spike of pride and guilt. "Chip off the old block."
La Cour pulled a piece of paper from his wallet and handed it over; it had an address and phone number on it. Fischer took out his own wallet and slipped the paper behind Victor's photo.
"You know," La Cour said carefully. "If you didn't get anybody's emails... Johnny has the use of his arms and hands."
Fischer buried his face casually in his coffee cup, but listened.
"The surgeries have been going well," La Cour went on, looking out the café window as if idly struck by the scenery. "He's up to assisted walking. The physical therapists think he'll keep improving."
He was out of coffee, so he lowered the cup and nodded.
"They had a little girl. Freja."
"I'll, uh," Fischer said. His voice sounded thin and uneven, so he coughed. "I'll send a card. Some presents, or...."
La Cour met his eyes just for a second, then was distracted into precisely folding up his napkin. "They'd love it."
Fischer paid the bill and they left. The sun was climbing, pale and cold in the haze; the wind had picked up.
"Speaking of keeping in touch," he said.
La Cour glanced at him. "Oh, are you finally going to give me your mobile number? Or are you too important now that you've joined the big boys?"
Fischer dug out his mobile and smacked it into La Cour's hand. "I.P. called for you yesterday. Still not checking your voicemails, huh."
"They pile up," La Cour complained, even while he was obediently poking I.P.'s number into the phone.
"Well they wouldn't pile up if you'd check them!"
La Cour hushed him with an angelic face. "I.P., it's La Cour," he said into the phone. "Sorry to— Yes, this is his number. I'm with him now."
Then there was a long silence, La Cour listening, Fischer browsing shop windows as they wandered slowly in the direction of his neighborhood.
"I see," La Cour finally said. "Yes. I appreciate that... Thank you. Yes, of course."
He offered the phone to Fischer.
"Hi, I.P.," said Fischer. "What's up?"
"Thanks for getting him back on the grid," I.P. said. "Only you could have done it."
Before Fischer could come up with an answer to that, I.P. was continuing. "I really wanted him to hear it from me, about the last of Jack's bikers. The ones Jack trusted at all, I mean. You remember the tall guy, Lund."
"Angel Hair," Fischer said numbly. He remembered him very well.
"That's the one. We got a call from our contacts in Poland. Lund got caught up in the last gasp of Jack's old drug business over there. They found him submerged in the river, tied to a concrete block."
"We have your back, Fischer." I.P.'s voice could sound stern and very gentle at the same time. Fischer was never really sure how he did it.
"I know," he said. And he did know.
"I asked La Cour if he thinks he'd like to try coming back to work," I.P. went on, more casually. "How's he looking?"
"Great," Fischer said honestly. Without adding poorly-dressed, or regretting that second helping of bacon, or even shaggable, if I'm lucky.
"Can you put him on a plane on Monday?"
"Sure, no problem."
"Thanks. And maybe let us know how you're doing?"
"All right, all right," Fischer said, smiling. "Tell Ingrid hi for me, will you."
They said goodbye and hung up.
Fischer tucked his hands in his coat pockets. "Back to work, huh."
"I suppose so." La Cour wound his scarf a little tighter against the wind.
"Up to it?"
"Of course." He glanced over at Fischer. "I do seem to be sleeping better."
Fischer glanced back. "Yeah?"
"Maybe it's the exercise."
Fischer bumped him with an elbow. "Mm-hm."
"Or," mused La Cour, "could be the fresh air off the canals."
Fischer grinned. At last, and for the first time in a long time, he felt most thoroughly at home.