Put Out the Light
Epilogue. The Funeral and the Fault
They walk on eggshells. Sometimes literally (because Peter remembers to go grocery shopping and Leight excels at making messes), but always figuratively. They've been stretched too far, and they haven't figured out quite how to snap back to what they were. It isn't that Peter hasn't decided to forgive Leight because he has, mentally, at least. He's been through it a thousand times, and he knows he was right to stay. Emotionally, however, it's still complicated. Because as much love as he feels, he can't forget those other, darker emotions. It comes on quickly, when he least expects it, when he cooks with exotic spices or Leight tidies the orange wool blanket. He remembers (so many images, a rickety motion picture, a fucking he knows to be false), he hurts all over again, and he can't forget.
There isn't anything Leight can do or say, and as much as he implies that he's here (or there or wherever Peter needs him to be), he has his own troubles. As much as he pretends that the Knightley case didn't touch him, it did. He has nightmares. Each night, he wakes in a cold sweat, panting. He doesn't go back to sleep; he goes to work, and Peter just watches. And as much as he knows he should, Peter can't bring himself to offer condolences for the fact that Leight had to kill Charlie because—because—they're both hopelessly alone in their little messed-up worlds.
This morning isn't any different—except that it is, of course, because today is the day of Raymond Fisher's funeral. So Peter wakes, for at least the tenth time since he went to sleep last night, shakes the dreams (nightmares) from his mind, and sits up. He glances casually at the clock (it's just before eight). He sighs. The curtains are drawn, so the apartment is still dark. It takes a moment to locate Leight; he's sitting at the table, laptop open, typing furiously.
"Mal," Peter calls, his voice still rough from sleep, "are you ready?"
Leight turns toward him, cloaked in shadows, "For what?"
"The funeral," Peter frowns. "Raymond's funeral," he clarifies. He can't really believe that Leight forgot, but then again, the man hasn't slept in a week. "It starts at ten, but we promised the Captain we'd get there early, remember?"
"Of course," Leight nods noncommittally.
Clearly, Peter thinks to himself, Leight doesn't remember anything at all, and he doesn't know what to do or what to say to make this go away. "So," he says awkwardly, "we should get ready."
Leight nods. "Do you want the first shower?"
"I showered last night. It's all yours." Peter watches and waits as Leight closes his computer, stands up, and stumbles around their messier-than-ever apartment until he reaches the closet-sized bathroom. When the door shuts, Peter sighs. He gets up. His muscles creak. He, too, needs more sleep. He goes to the window, pulls back the curtains. He's staring straight at the morning sun, yellow and bright. It's beautiful as it casts its pale light on the city streets, which are humming, buzzing, flittering with life. Yellow jackets, yellow taxis, the yellow sun. Peter thinks back to the wedding, the dance, the song. "Yellow" was their song; yellow has never looked so far away. It hurts to look at the light, and he has to remind himself that he'll go blind if he keeps this up.
He tears himself away from the window, goes to the cupboard-sized closet, opens the door, stares at the items inside. He pulls out the hanger with the gray pinstriped suit on it. It's the suit he wore to the interview with Dr. Ye, to the wedding—it's the only suit he owns. Before he closes the door, he grabs another hanger, Leight's less-than-interesting plain black suit. He lays it on the bed.
He dresses quickly, deftly, efficiently, listening to the sound of water spewing from the rusted showerhead on the other side of that paper-thin wall. He buttons up his white shirt, knots his jade green tie, polishes his glasses, runs a comb through his hair. He looks the part—the only trouble is that he doesn't have the faintest idea what part that is supposed to be.
The water stops, or the faucet switches off, but the water keeps on dripping.
Peter sits on his edge of the bed, pulling on his socks and then his shoes.
Leight comes out of the bathroom, clothed only in a towel.
Peter doesn't look. He doesn't feel he has the right anymore. He doesn't want to remember the memories he himself conjured. He doesn't know how to go back. He coughs once, twice, thrice, to clear his throat, his head, his conscience. "I got your suit out."
"Thanks," Leight acknowledges him with a brusque nod. Then he goes to his side of the bed and sets about getting dressed.
Peter listens to the drip drip drip and stares at a wholly unrelated water spot on the wall across from him. He wonders if it isn't about time he called a plumber.
"Which one is today?" Leight asks, and then grunts as he steps into his pants.
Peter doesn't have to ask for clarification. "The informal one, just family and friends, at the graveyard." He looks over his shoulder. "The formal one's tomorrow."
"How did we get invited to the informal one? We weren't either."
"We were friends," Peter says, even though he knows it isn't true. "We're friends with the Captain." That, he thinks, is a little closer to the truth.
"Of course," Leight nods, but it's clear from his tone that he's skeptical. He's fumbling with his tie.
"Here," Peter sighs, forcing himself to get up and move to Leight's side of the room, "let me help you with that." He stands close (but no closer than necessary), takes the tie in his fingers, executes a perfect double Windsor. He can't help but notice that the tie is somewhere between seafoam green and robin's egg blue—the color of the walls of their apartment, the color of Charlie's shirt the day Leight killed him. "Mal," Peter sighs again because Leight has told him a thousand times that coincidences don't exist. His fingers have curled (entirely without his permission) around the bottom of the tie. He looks up, meets Leight's too gray eyes. "It isn't your fault."
"Of course it is," Leight frowns. "Charlie blamed me for the fire. John blames me for Raymond. You blame me for Saffron. I blame myself for all of it—for having to—"
"For having to kill Charlie," Peter finishes.
"No," and suddenly Leight is caught somewhere between a deeper frown and an expression of surprise. "That isn't it at all."
"Then what is it?"
Leight sighs, raises his hand to Peter's cheek. "I haven't forgiven myself," he speaks slowly, "for what I did to you."
Something clenches painfully in Peters chest. "Mal—"
"No time now," Leight pulls back abruptly, putting on his best fake grin. "We wouldn't want to be late for the funeral."
"Peter, Leight, thanks for coming," the Captain smiles, but it's all an act. From where he stands on the grass of an old and mostly forgotten graveyard just across the railroad tracks from a factory, John Smith doesn't look any better than he did the last time Peter saw him. He looks tired, drawn, weary, worn. He's sporting a black armband on his left arm.
"We wouldn't miss it," Peter smiles softly, with what he hopes passes for empathy. He's never been much better than Leight at condolence. He feels it, but he can't say it. It always sounds so impossibly stupid, worthless, futile. "You said you wanted our help?"
"Well," the Captain falters, "it turns out there isn't really anything for us to do. I thought there would be. But all the same—"
"You didn't want to be alone."
Peter stares at Leight. He shouldn't be so surprised. When has Leight ever behaved according to Peter's expectations? He bites his lip. He should know better.
The Captain nods. "Can you just—"
So they follow the Captain across the grass while the sun beats down upon them. They stop by the fence.
There's a freshly dug hole, six feet deep. For now, it's empty, but behind it stands a simple gray tombstone, which reads:
1977 – 2011
"Not In Vain"
The gathering is small. It seems the Lieutenant didn't have much in the way of family or friends. There's an uncle, who appears to have a great deal of money and raised Raymond after some childhood family trauma that none of them ever could have guessed. There's Jennifer and David Markoff, who came on behalf of the Captain. Then there's the Captain, Peter, and Leight, who have been standing by the open grave for the better part of an hour.
Of course, now there's also a priest, standing in front of a closed mahogany coffin that shimmers violet in the sun. "I didn't know him." The priest is old; his voice is as cracked as his skin. "But from what I've been told, Raymond Fisher was an honorable man and a fine detective who died in the line of duty."
It's a small lie, white and bubbly. It doesn't matter. Let corpses lie.
"I won't bore you with platitudes," thank god, "so now I'd like to invite the man who knew Raymond best to speak." He gestures with his crooked hand to the Captain.
The Captain takes on step forward. He clears his throat, but even so, his voice is rough. "I remember the first day I met Raymond," he says, his eyes trained steadily on the coffin. "It was twelve years ago. He was fresh out of the Academy, and he'd started there straight out of college. He came into Captain Baker's office on that first day with a smile on his face. I was a little resentful that I'd been partnered with this kid, and I remember telling him that by the end of his first day in Homicide, he'd stop smiling. He told me he wouldn't stop—not then, not ever. I shrugged, and then we got called out to a crime scene. It was a dead girl, five years old, strangled by her own mother. It wasn't a difficult case, and we brought the mother in without any trouble. I remember sitting with Raymond in the stairwell after. He didn't quite cry, but I thought he was going to. I told him that I wouldn't think any less of him if he transferred to a different division. Because him being a homicide detective was like a doctor being afraid of blood. It didn't work. Then he looked at me," the Captain's voice breaks, and he's not quite crying. "He wiped the tears from the corners of his eyes, and he put on this funny little smile, like he knew something I didn't. And he told me that that was why he had to stay—because he felt it more.
"And he did. He felt everything more. He stopped showing it, but he never stopped feeling. He's the only man I've ever known—ever will know—who could smile in spite of the tragedies he saw every day. He didn't change, not in twelve years.
"We used to talk about this," the Captain continues after a brief pause, a deep breath. "We figured we wouldn't make it to retirement alive. We thought about what we'd say at each other's funerals and what we wanted said at our own. He said that if he died before me, I had to read this poem. By Emily Dickinson." He reaches into his pocket, pulls out a crumpled sheet of paper, unfolds it, reads:
If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain:
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.
"Let it be said," the Captain pushes the paper back into his pocket, "that Raymond Fisher did not live in vain. He may have," he coughs, once, twice, thrice, then presses on, "broken my heart by dying, but he did not live in vain." The Captain stops, nods, and they all keep staring at the mahogany-violet coffin.
On the other side of the fence, a train speeds by.
They go to Café Cairo, everyone but the priest. They sit around a circular table that really isn't quite big enough for the five of them. They sit with their Turkish coffees and buttery pastries. They sit, and they talk.
"It wasn't supposed to happen this way," the uncle, whose name has been revealed as Winston Fisher, says. "I was supposed to die and leave him all my money so he could spend it on frivolous things."
"Raymond wasn't frivolous," the Captain sighs. "He was frugal."
"But eccentric," Peter adds, thinking of the neon yellow shag rug and the lava lamp in the late Lieutenant's apartment.
"Yes," the Captain puts on the barest of smiles, "he was that."
The chatter is harmless. They sing the Lieutenant's praises. Most of it isn't true. Lies, white and bubbly, but harmless. The coffee is strong, bitter, dark; it's so difficult to forget. Best to let them lie.
There's a lull in the conversation, and that's when Leight taps the Captain on the shoulder, murmurs, "A word, John?" The words are just loud enough for Peter to hear; he realizes that Leight hasn't said anything the entire time they've been here. He watches as the Captain nods, and the two of them make excuses and go off to a distant corner of the café.
They're too far away. Peter can't hear what Leight is saying. He can, however, see Leight's face; the expression has become all too familiar in the last week. It's the guilty frown with the too gray eyes, and everything about it is wrong.
Leight's lips stop moving every so often, and presumably the Captain responds to what has been said. Each time Leight starts up again, his jaw is set firmer, his eyes are grayer, his whisper is harsher. This goes on, and it's easy to ignore whatever gibberish Winston, Jennifer, and David are speaking.
Then, entirely without warning, the Captain's fist makes contact with Leight's right eye.
"I deserved that," Leight says when he and Peter have safely found their way onto the appropriate subway. "But not for the reasons John thought."
"Shit, Mal." Peter shuts his eyes so he won't have to look at the bruise blossoming on Leight's skin. "What the hell did you say to him?"
"I apologized," Leight shrug, glancing at the empty seats all around them. "I said it was my fault, that it never would have happened if it hadn't been for me, that I was sorry." He lets out a low laugh. "It's funny." He looks to the ceiling, stares straight into the fluorescent lights. "I never used to be sorry about anything. Now I seem to be apologizing constantly, about everything, and people keep telling me it isn't my fault."
"It isn't," Peter insists. He takes Leight's hand in his, laces their fingers.
"So John said."
"What else did he say?"
"That I shouldn't try to take responsibility for the actions of a mad man. What he fails to recognize is that I made the mad man mad. First cause, my fault." Leight shrugs again. "He told me to give up the Atlas complex. I said I couldn't. Then he punched me."
"Mal," Peter tries again, "this isn't you."
"Well, being myself hasn't exactly produced favorable results."
"What do you know," Leight puts on the wriest of smirks. "This is our stop."
"Here," Peter says, brining over the sole cold compress he found in the freezer. "Let me help."
"I don't deserve your help. I hurt you. You should hate me; you should—"
"Stop it, Mal," Peter snaps. He presses the compress to Leight's rapidly developing black eye. He slides to his knees in front of were Leight is sitting on their shabby couch. He takes Leight's hands in his. "What do you want, Mal?" He looks up at Leight, tales in the guilty frown and the too gray eyes. He sees Leight, and for once, he sees nothing (no one) else. "Do you need absolution?" he asks softly. "You have it, I swear to god, I—"
"Peter." Leight smiles down at him, eyes full of sadness.
"It won't be enough," Peter says suddenly, epiphany flooding through him. "It won't matter that the rest of us have forgiven you; you can't forgive yourself."
Leight stares down at him, expression thoroughly unreadable. He's a closed book.
"I don't know what to do, Mal. I don't know what to say. I mean, I thought this was about Charlie, but you said it wasn't. You think this is about me, but I know it isn't. But this isn't about anyone but you, is it?"
Leight's eyes flutter shut. "God, Peter, it hurts."
"I know, Mal," Peter whispers. "When it hurts—" He lets go of Leight's hand and raises his own to Leight's chest, places his palm over Leight's heart. He feels the beat beat beat against his skin. "That's the proof that it works."
When Peter wakes, he sighs. He can tell from the light spilling through the open curtains that it's late afternoon. They're on the bed (he barely remembers how they got there), and Leight is still asleep. He runs his fingers through Leight's unkempt blonde hair, studies the innocent unguarded expression on Leight's face, finds himself thinking that everything he felt this morning (about fault and Saffron and eggshells) seems so far away. He keeps close (just a little closer than necessary) and relishes the heat of Leight's body so near his own. It's too hot, given that it's a sunny summer day, and their air-conditioning leaves something (everything) to be desired, but he can't (won't) pull back. (It's like staring at the sun.) He doesn't get up. He isn't tired. He doesn't want to disturb Leight. He isn't thinking straight.
He doesn't want to.
When Leight wakes, he groans.
Gently, Peter asks, "How's your eye?"
Peter can see that, but he doesn't say so. Even more gently, he asks, "How are you?"
Leight rolls over onto his side. He's facing Peter, staring steadily at him with his good eye. His eyes are clear. "It still hurts."
Peter nods. "That won't change over night."
"I wish it would."
Peter laughs. "So do I, but it doesn't. It takes time."
"I know." Leight looks solemn. "We'll be okay, won't we?"
"We are okay. You're asking the wrong question."
"Will I be okay?"
Peter smiles. "You're brilliant."
So, here's the epilogue I didn't think I was going to write. I'm kind of surprised it came along as quickly as it did. It didn't turn out quite as I expected. It was originally going to be called "The World Turns Right-Side Up." It was supposed to be happier, schmoopier, etc., but somehow, this happened. More angst. But I think (or I hope) that this end works better than the weird conversation at the end of Chapter 7. Also, it felt right to give Raymond a funeral (and a retroactive personality).
Also, credit for the line about a heart that hurts being a heart that works goes to the Placebo song "Bright Lights." And of course, credit to Emily Dickinson for the poem "Not In Vain."
Thanks all over again for reading. I'm really done this time. (Unless I encounter a happy, schmoopy plot bunny.)