This time, it ended with a murder. Written for Yuletide 2005, Mireille/Kirika.
L'ombre de ton ombre
When Jerome's girlfriend discovered his body on that cold September morning, she dropped a bouquet of dahlias on the pool of blood around his smashed skull. Yolande spent ten minutes -- /it felt like hours/, she would sob later -- worrying that she had just destroyed police evidence before, finally, screaming.
She did not notice a dark-suited man slipping away, rusty spots flaking on his black leather shoes. There was nothing she could do, even if she had seen him, nor would he answer any questions she might have asked. The only two people who would were already on the Autoroute A1 out of Paris in Jerome's Volvo, the one he never told Yolande about.
Mireille tapped her fingers on the steering wheel as traffic slowed before the /pÃ©ages/. She reached into her handbag and, ostentatiously leaning towards the rearview mirror, applied a fresh coat of lipstick. Kirika met her eyes in the mirror and casually looked out the window, chin resting against the heel of her hand.
The lustre of Mireille's lips matched the metallic gleam of her Walther P99, recently purchased to replace the one she'd retired at the Manor. Even after seventeen kills -- two of which avenged Jerome's brutal death -- it still felt odd in her hands, like the reins of a skitterish horse.
Kirika took to her new weapon immediately, racking up kill after kill with a cool smoothness that belied two years of peace. But in the nights that followed, in flickering moments before she sensed Mireille watching, a furrow appeared between her dark brows.
Mireille had looked at the unhappy bow of Kirika's mouth and reached out to touch Kirika's messy bangs, brushing Mireille's ear as she passed, and thought: /no, she hasn't returned to what she was/.
"I'm sorry," Mireille said, when they'd found Jerome's car.
Kirika was sweeping off the polycotton covering, coughing over a cloud of dust, but at Mireille's words her head snapped up to stare at the blonde. The fabric pooled at her feet, leaving gray streaks on her socks. She didn't seem to notice.
"It's not your fault," Kirika mumbled, dropping her gaze.
"I know. It's not about guilt."
"Ah." And, as Mireille unlocked the driver's door, "I'm sorry, too."
Nine days and thirteen dead Soldats hurled by in gunpowder, crushed glass and aural dislocation as they moved further out from Paris and its familiar rhythms. Kirika blended in among the tourists on the streets of Amsterdam with a Dutch phrasebook in hand, much to Mireille's mock-horror.
She didn't mind the gentle ridicule; Mireille still smiled, but almost never laughed. Not since Brussels, where Kirika slit the throat of a man from Soldats who offered them a false truce. The crime was compounded by the way he'd smiled, like a cosmopolite watching a monkey-grinder, as he held a gun to Mireille's heart. If Kirika had been a few seconds slower--
"/Kan ik u helpen?/"
Kirika shook her head at the girl peering owlishly at her from behind a stack of books, then remembered to be human. "/Ik kijk alleen even/."
I'm just looking/. She hurried after Mireille's receding back and slightly hunched shoulders and thought: /when did I start always just looking? The distance between them was often less than a handspan, but she could no more reach out to touch Mireille's skin than lose Mireille without grief.
Mireille had discarded her frivolous affectation along with her clothes and half her hair, now tied into pigtails with mismatched ribbons. Disguised in jeans and a well-worn leather jacket, she looked younger and unpolished, just one of the university students browsing their way through the Oudemanhuis book market.
"I like you the way you were," she said to Mireille's back, pitching her voice low enough for Mireille to ignore it.
Mireille stopped. Slowly, her hand slid back and curled around Kirika's, pulling Kirika forward until they were standing side-by-side. Human feet moved around them like a river reluctantly split in two, but Mireille showed no sign of unease over the speculative glances darting their way.
"Don't be childish. Humans always change. I'm not the same person I was last year, or yesterday -- or even a minute before. Neither are you."
But she didn't let go.
Kirika swallowed and moved forward, back into the flow of the crowd, unwilling to risk discovery by Soldats spies. She clung tightly to Mireille's hand, past old men in mufflers and lovers looking for half-remembered fairy tales, pushing Mireille away only when when the books around them exploded in a spray of white.
It would have been nice to contemplate mortality with the trill of violins in their ears instead of the distant roar of Leipzig's trains. Mireille was never particularly fond of Bach, but the Double Concerto seemed rather apropos. The thought made her smile.
/All right, perhaps not violins/, she corrected herself, adjusting the makeshift bandage around Kirika's thigh. /It would be a crime to inflict an unappreciative ear on a beautiful piece of music/.
She raised her eyebrows at Kirika, who blinked back inquiringly.
"Do you know Bach?" Mireille whispered.
This time, Mireille laughed, a puff of air through cracked lips. "I thought so."
The fluorescent bulbs flickered, droning in static. Mireille remembered the musty, impersonal silence of their motel room in Bonn, barely seventy-two hours ago. They'd been biding their time, waiting for a contact they knew was almost certainly selling their location to Soldats.
Kirika fiddled with a tiny FM radio, bought from a rail-thin peddler in a town they'd long forgotten. He wanted money to go home, said the peddler, fumbling with his last cigarette. He'd stared at Kirika with dark, bloodshot eyes. There wasn't any point in staying where he wasn't wanted, was there?
"/Oublier le temps/," sang a deep-voiced woman in heavily-accented French, her voice rich with desperation. "/Des malentendus, et le temps perdu/."
Mireille took the radio out of Kirika's unresisting hands and placed it on their bedside table. There were blisters on the pads of Kirika's fingers, red and peeling -- a souvenir from their last encounter with Soldats.
"Quiet," she said, when Kirika shifted on their bed and drew in a breath.
Kirika looked thoughtful for a moment, then replied, "No."
She didn't mind that Kirika wanted to speak, not at all, but she hadn't wanted empty promises and false reassurance -- that was her job in this partnership. She should have known better, known that Kirika had learned enough not to blunder where she'd buried pain under pride.
Kirika's hair was soft to her touch, snagging on ragged fingernails; but her body yielded little, possessing strength enough to keep Mireille close and say /yes, for however long you want to/.
Sometimes they eluded Soldats for weeks at end.
She was nowhere ready to die, thought Mireille, giving her gun one last check. Not right now. She hesitated, glancing at the back of Kirika's head.
"Together," said Kirika, cutting through her half-formed plan.
Mireille breathed deep, and let go. "To the death it is, then."