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Certain Dark Things

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Goa
When they get to Goa Jason takes Marie to the beach. At the water's edge she lets go of his hand and runs into the water, the waves slapping at her legs and tangling her dress around her. She twirls and splashes water up over her head. She can hear Jason laughing and wading in behind her. She looks straight up and then out at the horizon. Where the waves split against it the sky is so desperately blue that Marie thinks her heart might break from looking at it. She ducks underwater to escape from it.

Before she surfaces she whispers, "I love a man who kills."

Marie says it to herself, every now and then and always when Jason can't hear. It's not to remind herself of who he is. Neither of them can ever forget that.

She says it to remind herself of who she is. She is a woman who loves a killer. She is Marie, who loves Jason.

She wants to.

She rises from the water straight into Jason's arms.


Milan
In Milan Jason tells her to leave him. "Why?" she says. "You spent all that time looking for me," but he shakes his head when she bends to kiss him and looks her in the face. In Milan she still sometimes has to look away from his eyes.

He laughs a little when she does, a laugh that sounds like it comes from someplace deep inside him, someplace deep and dark. Marie looks back at him in defiance of that laugh and this time Jason is the one who turns away. "You're too brave," he says, "that's your problem."

"Reckless," she says. "That's what my grandmother always called me. Reckless and restless. I'm perfect for you."

Jason kneels on the floor in front of her and takes her hands in his. In another city, in what feels to Marie like another life, a different man once knelt before her and said, "I was never reckless before I met you." Jason doesn't say that. Instead he says, "You will never have a home again."

"What?"

"If you stay with me, you'll always have to be ready to leave on an hour's notice, on a minute's. You'll live in a thousand different places but you'll never have a home."

"Well," Marie says, "I was never much of a housekeeper."


Ushgorod
"You're cooking?"

"I'm baking," Marie says. "Be quiet and I'll teach you how to make my grandmother's spice cake."

Jason laughs and Marie tosses a tea towel at him. She's not much of a cook but this day just calls out for a spice cake. It's crisply, perfectly autumn, the leaves on the trees vivid and bright, the wind scrubbing the streets raw. Her grandmother used to love to bake on days like this, opening the window over Marie's protests to let the cool air in. "It'll be warm enough in here once the oven heats up," she used to say, and Marie says it now when Jason complains about the chill.

The kitchen does heat up quickly, helped along by the sunlight shining through the big windows, brightening the yellow walls and the bleached wood floor. Marie loves this kitchen. She won't tell that to Jason, though. She knows they might have to leave. She knows they will leave.

When the cake is in the oven Marie leans against the windowsill and tips her head back against the glass. Jason stands in the sun and smiles at her. Music from a neighbor's radio floats in and Jason takes her wrist and pulls her into a graceful waltz. He's an expert dancer, and for a moment she glides across the floor with him easily. Her mind is less fluid than her muscles, though, and she comes to a sudden stop.

"What's wrong?" Jason says. He lets go of her hands.

Marie almost says, This isn't you, but again she comes to a sudden stop, because of course it is him. This polished charm is new to her but it fits him like a second skin. She thinks about how many other skins are lurking inside Jason, waiting to come out. She shivers.

Jason walks over to the window and shuts it. With his back to her he says, "I've never loved anybody the way I love you."

It's only a fleeting thought, but he turns back too quickly for her to be able to hide her doubt from him.

"I would remember," he says. "I would know, if I - I swear. The other things - I don't remember the details, but I can feel the weight of them. I carry them on me, in me, and it would be the same with love, too, wouldn't it? It would have to be. I might forget the details but I'd carry love the same way I do the - the rest of it. I wouldn't be able to forget it. I'd never forget love," he says urgently. "I never would."

Marie kisses him. "I believe you," she says. She wants to.


Dalkey
"You'll never have another friend," Jason says. "If you stay."

Marie doesn't even look up from her book. "You, my friend, are getting a little boring."

Jason plucks the book from her fingers and tosses it across the room. His face is the calm mask he only wears when she's brushed against a bruise neither of them realized he had. The book is only a cheap paperback she picked up when they stopped to fuel the car, but she still feels a pang of regret as she watches pages flutter free of the binding and drift across the floor like snow. She knows that later Jason will gather them up and hand them to her shyly, but no matter how careful he is, one of the pages will get left behind, abandoned behind the nightstand or beneath the corner of the rug. She knows it will be the page with the solution to the mystery or the big final declaration of love. It always is.

"This is serious," Jason says.

"I can tell. You're using your serious voice."

"Listen to me -"

"No, you listen. This is not serious, this is repetitive and boring. I'm not leaving without you and you're not leaving without me. Now please give me back my book."

Jason leans toward her. His eyes are shadowed with something hard, relentless, and Marie just barely manages not to flinch from it, from him. Then Jason sits up and puts his head in his hands for a long time. Marie watches and she doesn't flinch from that either.

Later he hands her back the pages, each one carefully smoothed. "I'm sorry," he says. "I ruined it."

"Listen," she says, "there's no point in worrying. We don't know what's going to happen - who knows, they might even stop looking for you one of these days. Maybe they already have. There's no point in -"

"You can't think that way," Jason says, and Marie flinches from the sorrow in his voice. "You can't stay because you think things might change. They won't. They can't. It won't stop. It never stops."

"I don't care," Marie says. She drops the broken book and puts her hand around his wrist. "I don't want to leave. I won't."

Jason breaks away from her and walks toward the window. He ducks his head and looks out at the darkness, away. "Now who's using their serious voice?" he says finally, his voice carefully teasing. His face is still hidden from her.

"You drive a woman to it," Marie says.

"You know I'm right," Jason says. "You won't ever be able to tell anyone who you really are. You won't ever be able to let anyone get too close."

"Well," Marie says, "at least now I'll have an excuse."


Zomba
Jason has been gone for five days when Marie starts talking to her old friend Maria inside her head. Maria is the only one of her friends she can bear to think about. Missing Maria is such an old ache that it's almost comforting.

"I love a man who kills people," Marie tells her.

"Really?" Maria says. "When we were in Barcelona I loved a man with crossed eyes for two whole weeks. Do you remember that? I look back now and think I must have been insane but at the time it made sense."

"Maria, you're not taking me seriously."

"You've always taken yourself seriously enough for both of us." Marie says and Maria looks at her. Her eyes are lined with kohl, the way they always were. Her nails are blunt and red and perfect, the way they always were. "Fine, fine. What is it you want to tell me about your killer?"

Marie flinches and Maria laughs. "My, you've gotten so sensitive."

"I'm not sensitive," Marie says. "I just - I'm worried. I worry. About what it means."

Maria doesn't answer, just runs a hand through her hair in a gesture that's utterly familiar to Marie. She's hit with a wave of pain and longing for her old friend, her almost twin. Maria was just her height, just her build, and then of course there were their names. Strangers were always confusing them when they met, although once they'd known Marie and Maria for a while they never, ever mixed them up.

Only strangers and those who knew Marie and Maria very, very well ever thought they were alike.

"Tell me," Maria says.

"What does it mean about me, that I can love someone who's - who's done the kind of things he's done?"

Maria laughs and stretches. "Of course. I should have known. In the end it's all about you."

Marie starts to deny it and then finds herself laughing too. "Of course it is."

It's only when Marie is laughing that Maria stops. "Leave him," she says.

"What?"

"Leave him, walk away, walk out. If he's a killer, if he does bad things and they can't be undone- if that bothers you, then leave him."

"I can't," Marie says, and even as she says it she knows it's a mistake. Maria's eyes narrow.

"You can't? He locks the doors? He ties you up?"

"I love him," Marie says, and even though she knows how it sounds she can't stop herself from saying it. She wants to say it.

"So stop."

"I can't," Marie says. "I won't."

"Why not?"

"I just - I don't want to stop. I love him. I want him."

"There!" Maria cries, the way she used to when she won a game of cards, when she beat Marie. "That's what you wanted me back for. You wanted me to remind you."

"Remind me of what?"

"The two most important words in the world to you."

"Love?" Marie says. "Him? What?"

"I want."

Marie tries to turn away but Maria is too quick for her. "You've always wanted what you've wanted," she says. "There's always been something - something hard about it. Something dark. You wanted me to remind you of that too." Marie doesn't even try to turn away this time, and Maria smiles. "You never used to be such a coward about it."

"He says I'm brave."

"I called it reckless," Maria says. Her eyes narrow again as she studies Marie, and Marie tilts her head back. Whatever Maria says to her, she won't flinch.

"Maybe we're both right," Maria says. She leans in and kisses Marie gently on the lips. Then she disappears.

No matter how Marie tries, she can't conjure Maria back again. She's left with half-memories, the scent of Maria's perfume, the echo of her laugh, the ghost weight of her lips on Marie's. She has plenty of time to try and fail because Jason is gone for fifteen days. When he comes back, he looks haggard and haunted and Marie can see that something has shifted in him. He hasn't remembered anything yet, but when she looks at him the hairs on the back of her neck stand up.

"I don't know why you wait for me," he says. He sounds almost angry.

"I want to," Marie says. She laughs and for a moment Maria rises in front of her. She's laughing too. Then Marie leans in and kisses Jason, not gently, and he reaches for her desperately.

Maria is gone by the time Marie lets Jason let go of her.


Hong Kong
There's a certain tone of voice Jason only uses to tell her the things he thinks he's taking from her. "You will never have a child."

Marie's never thought of herself as the maternal type. She's never been one of those women who nursed dolls carefully when they were young, who look longingly after strollers on the street. She's never really thought about having a child.

Still, she's never thought about never having a child, either.

Years of training, forgotten but never unlearned, have taught Jason to be ruthless in the face of weakness. "You know it's true," he says quietly, his eyes never leaving her face. "You could never have a baby like this, when we might have to run at any time. You couldn't put a child in that kind of danger. You wouldn't."

"So?" Marie says, as lightly as she can. "Who says I want a child?"

"You're fooling yourself, Marie." She wonders how many people died with that calm voice snaking around them. "You'll lie to yourself, you'll lie to me, until it's too late, and then what will you do? By the time you admit what you want, you'll be too -"

"Stop it," Marie says, and her voice swoops up loud and then cracks, a crazy lady's voice. Jason falls back a step. He's never heard her like this. Neither has Marie. "Don't you tell me what I want. Don't you ever tell me that."

"Okay," Jason says, softly again, but this time his voice is soothing. "Okay."

"Because you don't know," Marie snaps.

"Okay," Jason says. For just a moment, he looks like he doesn't want to know. For just a moment, he looks a little afraid. He stares at the floor, his hands clenching and unclenching. Finally he says, "I'm sorry."

Marie isn't.


Tortuguero
The nightmares start again in Tortuguero.

Four nights pass before Marie realizes. They had a hard trip, and although she will never say it out loud, she's growing a little tired of starting over, of beginning again with a different country, a different language, a different name. When she goes to bed at night, she sleeps hard. She doesn't dream.

Four nights pass before Marie wakes up to hear Jason talking in his sleep. She lies still and strains to listen. He's mumbling, the words slurred and seemingly random. She can't make sense of them. She doesn't get up for fear of getting caught, but as soon as she's alone in the morning she writes down what she remembers from the night before. Run fog number B come black street knife. She keeps the notebook hidden. There are only two words he's ever said more than once. No, Jason repeats again and again as he sleeps. No, and blood.

Eight nights pass and Jason shouts loudly enough to wake himself up. He sits up and turns away from Marie. He shoves the sheet down and puts his feet on the floor, but he doesn't get out of bed. "Sorry," he says. He's panting and sweating, as if he's been running fast and far. "I didn't mean to wake you." He looks back over his shoulder at her. "Did I - did I say anything?"

"What were you dreaming about?" Marie asks.

"I don't remember," Jason says. Marie finds it a little comforting when he lies badly. She knows he could do it so much better if he really wanted to.

"Tell me," she says.

"I don't remember," Jason says. "God, don't you think I would, if I could?"

Marie looks at him, then slips out of bed. She finds the skirt she was wearing earlier and takes a piece of paper out of the pocket. She gives it to him.

Jason reads it slowly. "Did I -" he says, his eyes still on the paper.

"The past four nights," Marie says. "You've been talking in your sleep." Jason looks up at her, and she looks back, the nightmare a living thing between them.

There's a loud noise as Marie suddenly pushes herself away, slamming against the wall as she gets as far away as she can from the look on his face. Jason is moving almost as soon as she is, looming over her. Marie makes a small sound as her head hits the wall, and Jason pulls back from her.

"I didn't -" he says, and his voice is high and frightened. "I didn't - did I?"

"No," Marie says. "No, you didn't push me." He didn't. She knows he'd never forgive himself if he ever hit her.

"God," he says as he retreats to the other side of the room. The piece of paper drops crumpled from his hand to the bed. "God, I can't -"

"Tell me," Marie says. "What did you dream about?"

"I don't remember."

"Tell me."

"No."

"Tell me."

Jason turns from her and starts pacing. "I can't - these things, in my dreams. I can't tell you these things. I should, though," he says, and his voice is thick with self-loathing. Marie's head still hurts but his voice is the first thing she's flinched from all night. "If I were a man I'd tell you, because then you wouldn't love me and you'd leave me and you'd be safe and you'd have the things you wa- the things you deserve."

"That will never happen," Marie says. "I love you. Now tell me."

"Anyway," Jason says, "anyway, I can't remember."

"All right," Marie says. She gets back in bed and pulls the sheet up. "I can wait." Jason lies down again too. He doesn't reach for her, but he doesn't pull away from her either. "You'll remember, and I'll be here. You'll tell me."


Goa
"I love you," Marie says. She almost falls as she turns to him, the waves rough around her waist. Her skirt floats like seaweed around them.

He steadies her with an arm around her shoulders, but his eyes are worried. She leans against him and the waves rush past them, reckless, restless. If the sky doesn't break her heart then the sea might just finish the job. She has never even dreamed of anything so lovely.

"It's beautiful," Jason says. "I wish - God, it's so beautiful." Marie is surrounded by so much beauty that she's giddy with it, but Jason is looking only at her. His arm tightens around her and she can feel in him the weight of all the things he's done and all the things he's afraid he'll have to do.

"I want this," Marie says. She takes his face in her hands and looks straight into his eyes before she kisses him. "Remember that, whatever happens. I want this. I want you. I want."