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It had been a rather disappointing morning for Clara Entwhistle. She had left the office cheerfully and early, following a lead in a case only to find a smoldering ruin where a group of firefighters told her that her would-be informant had spontaneously combusted, along with his important papers, his room, and in fact, his entire building. The kerosene bottle on the pavement outside had nothing to do with it, they insisted. Not to be deterred, Clara had searched the wreck anyway, but came up empty handed. Except for the soot which, if scraped off her hair and clothes and collected, would probably amount to more than handful. Then, to add insult to injury, a brave starling had snatched the consolation sausage roll she had bought for the Voltaic Omnibus ride home right out of her hands.
So it was only natural that Clara be somewhat distracted by ruminations about the case and her lost lunch when she reached the Fleet and Entwistle offices. Opening the door slowly, lost in thought, and stepping inside, Clara looked up to see Fleet at his desk, his back to her. Apparently he hadn’t heard her, since he didn’t look away from the white cloth he was holding- or mostly white, as Clara could see, over his shoulder, that it had a large and distinctly coffee-colored stain that he was furiously and ineffectually pawwing at. Then, all thoughts of that morning's disappointments abruptly left her mind as Clara realized, with a dawning sense of, not exactly horror, but something related to it, in the pit of her stomach, that the cloth was Fleet’s shirt and that he was, actually, completely naked from the waist up. Which was fine, and normal, and all she had to do was go back outside and knock to alert him to her presence so that he would put his shirt back on and she wouldn’t have to see any more of him than she was entirely prepared to see.
This all seemed like a perfectly foolproof plan- she had actually opened the door again, ready to tiptoe out- until Clara caught sight of the scar on his back. It was perfectly straight and shockingly pale, nearly pure white, starting somewhere on the back of his head above his hairline and running down his neck and back, perfectly following the line of his spine until it disappeared into the waist of his pants. At a few instances, it was bisected by other similar scars: once across his shoulder blades, once at about the mid point of his back, and once at his waist. Not like Clara had never seen such a large scar before- it occurred to her that she had probably even seen this one before peeking over Fleet’s collar- but the scale and preciseness and on-Fleet-ness of it surprised her. This was not something you could get in one of Even Greater London’s famous stabbings, it was medical and purposeful. It, she realized uneasily, was the result of the surgery that had saved his life or, more accurately, restored it.
Still ignorant that he was being watched, Fleet held the shirt out in front of him and regarded the stain, mumbling something defeatedly about the launderette portion of Miss Pomligan’s Coffeehouse, Launderette, and Museum of Nearby Horrible Murder to himself. But Clara wasn’t paying attention to that; a muscle (or rather, a few,) had moved under the skin of his back and it had suddenly occurred to her that, though he was slim, Fleet was surprisingly fit. He wasn’t going to win any of those weekly body-building competitions at the Pleasure Coast, but this was a man who barely slept and whose main diet seemed to consist mainly of Miss Pomligain’s coffee; a substance with dubious nutritional value, and a reliable enough ability to kill small animals that they had begun to bait their mouse traps with it. He shouldn’t have this much of a shape to him. This realization, and the subsequent realization that she was having a very hard time looking at anything besides the furrow that ran down the middle of Fleet’s back, shocked Clara enough for her to let out a little “oh!”
Immediately, Fleet whipped around, snapping his arms up to clutch his coffee-stained shirt to his bare chest, his eyes wide with a mix of shock and something else Clara couldn’t quite place. His mouth opened, and closed, and opened again, before he was finally able to squeak out; “Clara!”
That woke her up enough for her to tear her eyes away from him, desperately searching the wood floor for a knot interesting enough to replace the memory of his rather broad shoulders and bare arms. Unfortunately, there was no knot in the world interesting enough to do that, and if there was, it would not be on their floor.
“Oh dear.” Said Clara, trying to organize her thoughts. She had to say something to diffuse the sudden tension- anything but ‘I’m sorry I was just oggling you, but don’t worry! This won't affect our relationship at all. You can put that shirt down and turn around again, if you like’’ But all she could get out was a weak; “I’m sorry…. Your... scars.”
“Oh,” Fleet’s voice was clipped with discomfort. “Yes. Them.”
Against her better judgement, and honestly her will, at this point, Clara looked back up at him. Her comment had disarmed him a little; at least enough that he had dropped his arms and was gripping his shirt tightly at waist level. This gave Clara a distressingly good view of his chest. She didn't have much time to admire it from an aesthetic perspective before her eyes found another huge scar; presumably an I-shape (though it appeared more like a T, from what she could see. Not that she wanted to see any more of this), looking horrifyingly like a mark from an autopsy, all strange and bare and ropey and white against Fleet’s smooth skin and the hair on his chest. The longer she looked, the more scars Clara could see. Another pair of I-shaped scars running down the inside of his left arm, from bicep to elbow and from elbow to wrist; small, straight scars on the inside of his elbow and the top of his shoulder; even a curved, but still precise, scar that traced the side of his face and his jaw-line, which she must have seen before, but never really noticed, or put together. Any pleasure she might have gotten from looking at him just then was drowned but the thought of that had happened to Fleet that night.
Apparently, Clara had stared for just a little too long, because Fleet cleared his throat. “Clara?” he said again, a little more insistently.
She shut her mouth (which she didn't realize was even open, until that point) and looked, really looked, for the first time since she had entered the office or even the night she had met him, at his face. His eyes, in particular. This was a mistake.
First, Clara realized, with a jolt, that they were different colours. Both were shades of brown, similar enough that she, in the months they had known each other, hadn’t noticed. Or, well, she thought she had known his eye colour and hadn’t bothered to look again. One, Fleet’s right eye, was a dark brown; a lovely, deep colour that she remembered from that night he opened the door of his apartment. The other was a few shades lighter, more of a hazel. As she looked, he moved is head, just a tiny bit, and the light from the windows shifted over his face. The pupil flashed strangely, internal diodes reflecting light. A natural colour, but that was where it stopped. It all seemed so silly to her in retrospect, that she hadn’t noticed it. She looked at him every day-- and her profession was literally investigator!-- and she couldn't even notice his heterochromia, let alone connect it to his resurrection. Clara felt little like she was boiling and freezing at the same time; horror at the thought of the injury necessary to replace an entire eyeball, mixed with how very captivated she was by the final product, sprinkled liberally with guilt for but not noticing sooner and, worse, finding it attractive, formed a nearly lethal concoction.
The second reason looking at his face was a mistake was seeing his expression. Fleet practically beamed discomfort like the tower beamed electricity. He looked like he might fold in on himself and Clara might be witness to a second spontaneous combustion, this time driven by pure embarrassment. Instantly, all of Clara’s mixed emotions were replaced by a solid wall of regret.
“I’ll just.” she said, clearing her throat “I’ll just wait outside.”
“Okay.”
They regarded each other for a moment.
“Clara.”
“Right.” She slipped out the door, which was still open, and shut it perhaps too firmly behind her. Clara leaned against the wall, trying to catch her breath, let the warmth in her face subside, and try to sort out her conflicting feelings about the horror of what must have happened to Fleet that night he fell from the tower to cause such permanent scars, with the swirling thoughts concerning the breadth of his shoulders or the curve of his waist.