21. On getting your murder in my happy ending
I've been in the observatory for an hour now, and Yuri's been the only one to come. He sits beside me, smelling of smoke and kerosene, with a box of pepperoni pizza on his lap. I select a greasy slice that slides down my throat, and he puts on this solar-flare smile that flashes on and off.
"We did very well, Seymour."
"No deaths. No murder. Good, no?"
It is good, and I choose to believe him, only my smile might as well be cut into my face with glass. My hands are sweaty and my stomach turns on that oily pizza. My legs won't stop shaking.
"Arlo cannot kill you."
We both know that's not true. I draw spirals in the wood dust on the floor, then scoop it into piles as I light my tenth cigarette of the hour.
"If I die –"
"If I die, you need to find him. And Chip. Dead, alive, whatever. You need to find them."
As Yuri's cheeks crinkle into a warm smile, I think of corpses in ditches. Ira's green eyes, all eaten out.
"Ask my brother," I say. "If anything happens to me, he'll help you."
Yuri's wipes red sauce from the cuff of his candy-coloured shirt, and I think of blood and prison and sixteen-year-old Ira, skinny and scared and alone.
"We will find them," Yuri says, straightening his shirt. "You and me both, little Seymour. We will find them."
But I won't. I can't. How can I do anything when I feel too small to breathe? I curl my toes and stub out my cigarette.
"Yuri, I –"
He leans over and envelops me in strong arms that smell of milk and honey. So warm and soft – it cracks me open, and I feel like dissolving into him, but only cry instead.
I have pink eyes and cigarette-breath when Arlo finally arrives – a whole two hours later. He stands in the entryway, flanked by five gangsters in full-face gasmasks. With his longish brown hair, blue suit and red cravat, he looks more of an aristocrat than a criminal. Pink, down-turned lips appear as he lowers his fashionable little gasmask and steps in. His gangsters lock the door behind them, masks still on.
"You armed?" he asks, pulling off his goggles and replacing them with a pair of wide-rimmed glasses. "Show me."
I pull up my t-shirt and spin on the spot, but his gangsters insist on searching me anyway. Yuri too, though he's positively growling. Once satisfied, Arlo edges past and knocks me with the large sports bag hung over his shoulder. There's this bad smell that lingers – something like old meat.
He points at Yuri, whose lips are peeled back from his teeth, probably because his trousers are down and he wants people to die. "Grease, Lincoln, guard him."
The two skinny guys searching Yuri kick him to the floor and aim their guns down. He hisses as he falls on his bad leg, and rolls over, glaring. I try to catch his eye, to beg him to be good, so he'll be okay, but all I see is the twitch his jaw that says 'fuck you all'.
"Take us somewhere quiet, Seymour." Arlo's voice is lazy and soft. He's a baby bear that will eat your toes while you sleep. He looks back at his remaining three gangster buddies. "Come with us. Bring the bag."
I take them to the planetarium, pausing for half a breath before opening the door and stepping in. The film's been on for hours, and planets swirl on the ceiling. It's like I can feel Ira behind me, breathing down the back of my neck.
Arlo slides past. "There's not a bomb in here, is there? I know how you like exploding things."
I shrug and lie down in the centre of the room with my arms and legs out wide. Saturn soars over me, dusty rings brushing my nose.
Arlo sits beside me, legs folded in pressed blue trousers. His three gangster friends place the stinking sports bag by his feet, then stand around us with their hands over their guns.
It doesn't matter; I feel sad and lonely, but I'm not afraid anymore. Ira's here – in some way, at least – and I'm cold and untouchable and know Arlo can't beat me.
"They say you can't kill an idea," Arlo says.
I suck on the sleeve of Ira's blue jumper.
"Our headquarters were attacked tonight," he goes on. "I assume that was your plan? Show the common man how easily our wicked ways can be disrupted? Then let the common man revolt?"
The stars above us are bright and clear and beautiful. Arlo tilts his face up, glasses reflecting each miniature burst of light. "Sort of boring, isn't it?"
"No. It's beautiful."
He smiles. "Do you think you're really going to change the world by destroying our safe places and looking at stars?"
"No," I admit. "But I don't need to. All I need to do is make a small difference. Something to inspire the people who can make real change."
He adjusts his glasses, leaves his finger to rest on the bridge of his nose. "Seymour... Do you think I'm one of those people?"
"I hope you are."
He laughs shortly. "I tried to blow you up, Seymour. And I put a hit on you."
"Like you told me, you could have killed me a hundred times. But you haven't. Why not?"
A little Arlo smile grows. "I just like watching you squirm." He jerks his head at the sports bag, a wordless command that makes a gangster move, laying the stinking bag in front of my feet.
That smell. Fuck.
I look away, curl my toes.
"I have faith in you, Arlo. I have faith in people. And I believe –"
A curt little noise of amusement cuts me off. Arlo is cleaning his nails, eyeline just shy of Mars, so nonchalant, like he's seen all this before, like the sky is always bright and colourful whenever he looks up at it.
"I believe that you could help bring back the stars."
"You are so foolish," Arlo says sweetly. "You might have faith in people, but I know them. I've seen my whole family die. People are cruel. So am I."
"People can be shitty. But they can also be beautiful. You must see that?"
He keeps smirking.
"Or you must at least know that we can't keep going on like this. The world is dying, and we need to act."
"How?" Arlo asks nicely. "How, Seymour, do we sort out years of apathy, disease and pollution? What do you suggest we do?"
I fascinate myself again with the sleeve of my jumper, which tastes of sweat and Ira. The gangsters around us stand like stone, plastic gasmask faces blank, eyes hidden.
"Oh yes," Arlo says. "Because you didn't think of that, did you? 'Vive le revolution', says Seymour, but then what? Or are you just doing all of this for your pretty little boyfriend?"
"Well... we could start off by...by cleaning..."
"Cleaning?" Arlo asks, wiping his glasses on his shirt. "Will you get your pink pinny on and feather-dust the sin from every man's heart?" His eyes turn to the sports bag. "Open it."
The bag turns my stomach, even now. But it's like Schrödinger's cat – so long as it's closed, whatever's in there might be alive. Or, um, ice cream.
"I don't want to."
His mouth opens, halfway towards a laugh, and then he strikes me, right across the face. My fists his the floor and my cheek bursts with sudden pain. My watering eyes see the supernovas inside my head, then I'm looking up at him, feeling weak and disappointed.
"Open it," he says again.
I spring forward and slam my forehead into the bridge of his nose. There's a muffled yelp of surprise, followed by motion. I can feel the three guns aimed at my head before I see them.
I don't care; Arlo's looking so adorably appalled with dark blood dripping down his chin, staining his perfectly neat pin-striped shirt.
Then he straightens his hair, narrows his blue eyes at me, and wipes blood on the back of his forearm. He's so goddamn immaculate that even the blood looks like a fashion statement.
"Open it, Seymour," he says. "Or we'll shoot off those pretty curls of yours."
I grit my teeth and do as he says. But I refuse to be horrified, and I won't be surprised.
A tuft of black hair, pale, clammy skin.
I am not afraid.
Eyes – closed, with dark lashes. A button nose, a small mouth that parts with the intake of miniature breaths.
Chip. Holy shit!
"I'm not mad at you Seymour," Arlo says, crossing his legs meditatively. "For what you did to our safe houses, I mean. In fact, I am where I am because of idealistic idiots like you. I should be saying thank you. This is my thank you present."
"Chip!" I pull her out of that bag and pat her cheeks. She moans and shifts, pouting, but doesn't wake. There's a cut at her temple that's bleeding. I wipe it as best I can. "Chip!"
"She'll be out for a while," Arlo says, stretching. "Drugged. Anyway, as I was saying, you can't kill an idea, but you can use one. And my little bomb-maker here...I can certainly use her too. My, she's been ever so useful for the Knives, Seymour. The mind on this one just longs to blow shit up." He tilts his head to the bag. "I really enjoyed your idea of twelve assassinations, even if you never went through with it. There's more in there, you know. Fish it out."
My fingers meet a collection of hard objects, slick with warm, sticky dampness. Two mobile phones and a portable television, grotty with blood. Chip's blood, I guess. Shit...
Arlo snatches everything from me and whacks the television on. A grainy image appears –a video from a security camera or something; black and white footage of the outside of a building, a few people walking past. He points the back of one phone at me, then takes the other, clicks a button, and the video footage bursts white. Then, the house is shattered, windows are blown out. Curtains burn and debris rains from the sky.
"That was the home of Kate Winter, leader of the Blue Swords. She sleeps with her husband and children, forever now. Claim responsibility."
He clicks a button on his phone. He's recording me? Guns aim at Chip and the threat is perfectly clear. So I...I go through with it.
"I killed Kate Winter," I say, voice not even wavering. "And her husband. And her – her children."
Arlo smiles. "Good boy." The video footage changes. Another house in the dark, another sleeping gangster.
"Mo Thorley," says Arlo. "Yellow Shanks. Goodbye Moe."
Again, the building explodes, and I have to look away, not wanting to see the dead space left behind.
"Stop," I mutter. "Just –"
"Claim responsibility or the girl dies."
So I do. Dizzy and sick, I admit to everything. Arlo watches me with his cold blue eyes, and I'm suddenly aware how terribly wrong I was about him. How faith in people is idiotic. Ira had it right. Sometimes, some people, you just gotta hate them. Some people need to die.
There's a shot from downstairs. I don't jump, just accept the fact as grimly predictable. Yuri. I picture him bleeding, then dead. And here Arlo is, using me to kill gang leaders he doesn't like. I doubt he'd ever be able to do this before; it would break whatever sort of peace the gangsters have, and everyone would turn on him. Now, though, he's got me. His dumb little patsy.
"You killed Yuri," I choke.
Another building explodes on his little television. He lowers his chin and smiles.
"This is my house. I'm not in. Claim responsibility for it anyway."
This is all I'm worth for. He tells me what to say and I say it. Even if I get out of this alive, I'll be thrown into prison until I'm dead. But Chip's here, lying on the floor with guns aimed at her head. I have to throw away everything, even if they'll kill her in the end anyway. What happens to me simply doesn't matter.
So he blows up more houses, kills more people, and I take responsibility for all of it. Again and again, dead, dead, dead.
And then a single shot cracks through the air of the room.
I close my eyes, knowing Chip's gone. My turn might not come – presumably Arlo needs me alive to make this believable – but I wait for it anyway.
And there are three shots in quick succession. Not one of them hits me.
I open my eyes, one by one.
Arlo Bieri lies slumped in front of me, bleeding from the head. Behind him, a gangster in a gasmask holds a gun and watches me.
I gulp and check on Chip, who lives, and the other three gangsters, who don't. Then I look back at the gangster with the gun and my stupid little heart aches with hoping.
"Ira?" I mutter.
But no. Everything's wrong. The figure's too short to be him.
The mask comes off, and Charlie shakes her hair free. She stands there, breathing heavily and looking at me as I count the seconds, then realise she's speaking.
"...I'm not saying I'm perfect, Seymour, but I'm better than him. I'll pin this on you and let you live. All you need to do is disappear."
I look at Chip, then stare at Charlie again. "You told me she was dead."
Charlie narrows her eyes. "I do what I have to, Seymour. Aggravating you was necessary for you to start your silly little revolution."
"You –" I look at the television. "You shot that gun downstairs."
"No. I'm saying that was ten minutes ago. You – you waited. Until he destroyed all of your rivals. You waited."
She shrugs and plaits her hair. "Do you really believe all that shit you say about changing the world?"
I pull Chip onto my lap, inspect that head wound a bit more. Fuck, she needs a hospital.
"You heard that?"
"I spoke to your Russian. Do you really believe it?"
"I – I don't know," I admit, feeling sick. How long has Chip been unconscious for? Will she be okay?
"We do need to change," Charlie says, shifting her weight. "And maybe –"
"I don't give a fuck about your narcissistic ranting, Charlie! Fuck you!"
She twitches, despite the fact that she just killed five people in cold blood. Gingerly, she steps over Arlo and peers down at Chip.
"I don't know!"
Her long hair hangs, tickles my forearms. "I'm calling an ambulance," she says. "Don't be here when they arrive."
I glare. "Thanks."
"I need you gone. If people find out Arlo did this, all of the Knives will be in trouble, including me. So no one can know. If you disappear, I'll just say you did it, and I killed you. Your family will be safe, and so will you and that girl." She smiles pleasantly. "You won't be the one to change the world, Seymour. But maybe you have started something." She shrugs. "We'll see, I guess."
I lift Chip up onto my shoulders, grateful she's so small and light. Charlie watches me go, looking wistful. She's received the world. I gave it to her. And who the hell knows how that will go.
I stomp down the stairs with Chip on my back. Yuri waits in the atrium, cuffed to the bannister and bleeding from a split lip. He nods at me wearily as I walk past, but his eyes widen when he sees Chip.
"Holy shit," he mutters.
I kiss him on the cheek and lie Chip by his feet. "Help her, Yuri. I've got to go."
He nods, still staring dumbly. "Stay safe, Seymour."
I smile miserably and keep on going. It's time to ask Daddy to make me disappear. I'll leave behind everything, start something new, and try my best not to hate myself for it. Chip's alive. Something's good. At least for now.
Five years later
After making good on his threat to kill twelve gangleaders, Seymour Perry died on the 31st of March. Shot through the heart by Charlotte Cassidy, one of only three survivors of the massacre at the Greenwich observatory, and current leader of the Red Knives.
On the same day, as Steven Robinson, I moved into a little flat in Reykjavik and cried for three hours about everything lost and left behind. The boy with the green eyes who loved me. Roy, who was slaughtered by the press for insisting I was innocent, and still insists it now.
That day was the darkest I've ever had. But, with tissues and tea and a little wall plaster, I got through it standing. I am Incy Wincy Spider in the fucking water spout. You can flush me away all you want, but I'll still keep climbing. I'm nursery rhyme strong, right? And I'm a motherfucking survivor.
My life was shitty. I made it better. I took classes in Icelandic, finally finished my school exams, and now I'm doing a part-time literature degree. By night, I make some sort of living playing guitar in bars around the city, burying the chew of loneliness with dates and fun and occasional sex. Basically, I try my best to live. Mostly, I do okay. And sometimes at night I go to quiet places without light pollution, hoping for a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis. The sky will glow all around me, and I'll sit and imagine Ira's arms around me and feel so fucking grateful that I ever met the guy, because without him I know I'd still be locked in Mama's house, letting my heartbeats go to waste. Even here, with all I've lost, my life is richer because he was in it. I'll tilt my head back and laugh into the night with tears dripping down my cheeks and giving no fucks whatsoever if anyone sees me.
Hell, I'm still in love with the guy. And love should be something embarrassing and gross. It should make you smile gooey shitty smiles, and trip you up in public, and push you into puddles that smash from your eyeballs. My love for Ira can embarrass me as much as it wants to, the cheeky bastard; I'll never mind.
But today...today I'm not crying. Actually, I'm dating. Technically, waiting. Sitting alone at a table in a bar as one of Tiffy's songs fills my insides with fuzz. There's a letter from no one in my hand, and I'm looking down at it and wondering why it doesn't worry me. Found it in my pocket a couple of minutes ago – think it was slipped in while I bought whiskey.
The world is changing, and I'm coming to get you.
I rest my hands on my knees and smile, weird and peppy, giddy, not drunk. If today's the day I die...I'm sort of okay with it? I'm happy. And the world is deep and cold and so fucking beautiful.
And fuck this date.
I pull on my coat and smother my neck with the latest in a collection of thick woollen scarves (fucking Iceland, man). My drink slips down my throat, glass tinkles against the wooden table. I hurry on out into the black neon night, and air that's crisp and awesome. Smoke curls around my lips as I exhale. Something about freezing my tits off always makes me grin – there's something about it that's just real. Away from the heat and pollution of London, this icy slap in the face makes me want to start a sadomasochistic relationship with Mother Earth's hot younger brother.
I finish my cigarette and grind it into the ground as people flit and dance around me, happy-drunk and giggling. There's my car. And there's a stranger sitting on top of the bonnet, drinking coke out of a can with a glow in the dark straw.
"Um, get off?" I suggest nicely, trying to remember the Icelandic for 'fuck off'.
He rises slowly from the bonnet and watches me curiously through the black goggles that poke from his dark balaclava.
I frown and check my car for signs of tampering. All good, though. Suspicious, I unlock the car, get in and whack on the radio.
The stranger nonchalantly climbs into the backseat. I reach beneath my feet and find the comforting shape of my little handgun.
"Farðu í rassgat. This isn't a bloody taxi."
The stranger says nothing. Neon lights reflect playfully in the black glass of his goggles. I can't see his mouth, but I know somehow he's smiling.
"Hvað heitir þú?" I clear my throat. "Who are you?"
He looks out of the window and doesn't reply. Long fingers play imaginary piano chords against the black fabric of his trousers.
I drive anyway, heading for this park outside the city. I talk, because I like talking, but quickly exhaust my Icelandic, and have to babble to myself in English for the rest of the trip – "Fucking rude just getting into a guy's car..." et al. I smoke as much as is humanly possible in an attempt to gas him into reacting. But he still just sits, watching the world race by as we move. Like a kid. Innocent.
Which makes me feel...funny. Like I sort of recognise the way he sits, but I don't want to risk believing it.
I narrow my eyes and park in frozen mud. Climb out of the car and lie in the crispy, frosted grass, staring up at the sky. Dusty streaks of pink and green stretch and glow there.
The stranger steps into my vision. Long, dark trousers, horrible shoes.
"You're a hard person to track down," he says. "It took me all of forty eight hours to break your daddy."
Tears run down my face as I look at him. My throat is swollen. I can't reply. If I do, all my tears will come out and they'll never stop.
"Why Reykjavik. Sort of cold, isn't it?"
His black gasmask is surrounded by a halo of light. I move my mouth, but my lips twitch unhelpfully.
"You know why," I say finally, hoarse. "Where the hell have you been?"
My chest tightens, so every breath becomes an effort. "Why?"
He takes off his mask and looks at me, green eyes incredulous. I choke, because age looks good on him – his dark hair is a little longer, his chin darker. His usual cockiness has been replaced by something more comfortable, somehow richer. He chucks his gasmask to the floor and drops to his knees. He scoots onto my lap and digs his fingers into my shoulders. His brow furrows.
"I did it for you," he says. "I was fucked up, and now I'm not. Now, I don't have Bieri's death hanging over me. You pushed me to it and saved me from myself. Now it's my turn to save you."
Powder blue and green reflect from his features, making them look fake, make-believe. A new scar runs from his left ear, down to his collarbone – a hair-thin line of white. I move a finger down it slowly, trying my best to feel individual cells and hair follicles, the many things that make up Ira.
"Chip...?" I start.
I make a horrible gagging sound. Relief, so sweet and painful. "Ira, I – I thought you were dead. Why didn't you tell me?"
"You would have stopped me."
"Are you mad?"
"I – the things I did because you were gone, Ira. The trouble I might have gotten into!"
"Are you mad?" he asks again.
I shake my head slowly. "I don't know what I am, Ira." I touch his face again. He's really here.
"When I was finally allowed to call you, the whole world insisted you were dead," Ira says. "It felt...horrible. And I made you feel that way too, didn't I? Even when I try to do good, I fuck everything up. So defective. I spent too long shutting people out, I guess. I forgot what it's like to be cared for."
The crease in his forehead deepens, and the corners of his mouth sink down.
"So I'm – I'm sorry," he says, his mouth moving awkwardly around words that were never meant to sit in it. "But I won't abandon you again, Seymour. Not ever."
He creases his eyes in some attempt at sincerity, and he pulls me close into a rib-snapping hug.
"Um." I say.
Then hot lips press into mine, leaving a whisper-kiss with a taste that lingers.
"I'm sorry." His eyes shoot away, then roll up to take in the sky. "Do you accept my apology?"
"Good." He shuffles away and tilts his chin up so the light makes art of his features again. "The Northern Lights. We're finally here."
"No gangsters, no shit. Just me and you, here together in the dark, with the whole universe swirling around us. What do we do now?"
I should be slapping him, or tearing his trousers off and straddling him in the dark. I should be kissing him, hugging him, crying into his shoulder until my face melts off.
And he says I saved him and he might just have saved me too.
"Right." He takes his shirt off, with this chastising look on his face. There's his long, dark body with scars and dents and muscles that twist. "I'm getting naked outside in fucking Iceland, Seymour," he snaps, eyes angled and mean, paired with a cheeky smile that comes straight from the depths of hell. "What the fuck are you waiting for?"
And I laugh and cry at the same time, as I finally come to terms with the truth. The many years that were lost between us are sad when you look at them one way. But on the other hand, I think we've got hell of a lot to catch up with, and years ahead of us to do it. The future might not be bright, but for once, it's ours. Hand in hand, we can do what we want with it. So what the fuck am I waiting for?
"Nothing, Fizz. Nothing. Nothing at all."
Author's note: Well, that's it guys! If you like this, maybe try out my current WIP, Kissing Winter - more of the same smutty silliness, but with added incubi :D.
Just wanted to say a massive thanks to everyone who has followed, favourited, or reviewed this thing (particularly Krlsen, Bananafishh and alltheeagles who reviewed 20!) I would have never finished this thing without your support, and I'm so so grateful for it.
SO NOW LET THE EDITING BEGIN. Mainly I'm planning to get rid of all of the many many plot holes, cut useless characters (um, anyone remember Oliver? No? Good. Let's pretend he never existed), tighten everything, and improve the setting (eek) so less of this happens in a black box.
It's gonna be fun (/hugely painful).
If you do have any feedback, I'd really love to hear it – especially if you've been silent until now, and ESPECIALLY especially if it involves puppies and sherbert. Seriously, though, feedback is worth more than Yuri's pedigree Persian cats, and that is a fact.