Gevuyn’s uniform was constricting when worn properly, and his tightly bound ponytail strained his scalp. And they had to sit through the higher-ups’ questions. It was like being back in training. He longed to loosen it all up.
Meanwhile, the prettiest man in the world was being obnoxiously straight-laced with the head knight. He’d even taken implicit credit for Gevuyn’s ‘unusually professional attire’. Well, he could let that go today. Just barely.
Pay-off would be later today.
“Well,” Sir Suradin said from behind his oversized desk, “you did good work overall. We’ve got most of the Department of Development back in line. There are some left-over factors, but if you’re looking for a new challenge, I can hand those to someone else.”
Yes, do it. Though the man’s eyes were too piercing during that offer. Still, anything but more of that department’s mess.
“Thank you,” Yurtoril said. “We appreciate it. But we like to tie up loose ends. It’s no good to leave things to the next ones in disorder.”
Oh for fuck’s sake, why? Of course, of course. Standing in the order. Promotions. But this case out of all?
Gevuyn bit down on the inside of his lip and straightened his shoulders. “I agree.” He gave Yurtoril a curt nod.
They both looked pleased. Fuck this all.
“Good,” Suradin said. “That’s what I was hoping to hear.” He flipped open a folder in front of him and turned it around for them to read. A photo of a grey-haired woman, Reinelle, 62 years old, etc.
“The murdered director’s widow,” their superior explained. “Normally this wouldn’t be the department’s issue anymore, but she’s been acting erratically by some accounts, and seeking contact within the department, spouting conspiracies. Everyone says they didn’t talk to her, but you know how it is. Something’s up there, and we’ve got to get this cleaned up before we set up the new director.” He looked at each of them in turn. “This is a minor issue, and I don’t care how you clear it up, as long as you do it. And do it today. Things are set in motion for tomorrow; a delay would be awkward.”
Yurtoril met the head knight’s gaze with that too sensible expression of his. “When you say you don’t care how, just to clarify…”
“I mean I don’t care. Use your imagination or be unoriginal. I want the rumour-mongering gone by tomorrow. How the source stops spreading them is your business.”
Yurtoril nodded smoothly. “Understood.”
The wind was biting into his skin outside the order’s southern headquarters. At least his hair was safely confined. As confined as he felt.
“You know why,” Yurtoril said.
“That’s the worst part,” Gevuyn muttered.
“It was a test,” his partner elaborated. “We can go up or down, hanging on today. We’ve both been displaced from other districts. If we want to achieve anything in the future, it has to be up.”
“I know all that, I know.”
“You did follow.”
He sighed. “That’s the other worst part.” He allowed himself a smile after all. “Fine. So, a widow. Not the most honourable job.”
“Depends on how we handle it.” Yurtoril gave a tiny frown. “Well, maybe not. So. How do we do this? If you want to try the role reversal another time and go for the safe route today…”
“Oh, hell no. That’s all I’ve been looking forward to.” He raised his hand to brush hair out of his face that wasn’t there. “Highlight of my workday,” he amended. “And the only reason I’m wearing this…” He looked down on himself unhappily. “I really hate this.”
Yurtoril grinned. It was endearing, fuck him. “So potential chaos then? Alright. We did get free rein; it’s a good test case.”
He hadn’t planned this on some level, had he?
All the windows in Reinelle’s house were hung with air filter cloth. All of them. They’d checked.
Rusty air driers from across the border with illegible labels hummed and clattered for the most long-term-grating sound carpet you could achieve on short notice. Once in a while, one would sputter and die and turn itself back on. Once in a while, one from another room would do the same, and you’d hear it.
All the water ran through filters.
The humidifiers were, of course, emptied out.
“Have fun,” Yurtoril had whispered to him before they’d returned to the salon.
Reinelle herself sat rigidly in her armoire, her grey hair done up with obvious effort, but there were stray hairs escaping, her face was pale and lined, and she was clearly trying to keep it together.
Well. His turn. “You’re aware of how this looks, aren’t you?”
“I’m aware you’re not here to show me any sympathy. But let it be known you’re in the wrong.”
How did this proceed? Yurtoril cast him a glance. His turn still? Alright. “Like you’ve let the whole Department of Development know? Why don’t you share that with us, too? What’s your insight?” Sneer at ‘insight’. The distanced role was so much less taxing.
“You know why my husband is dead.”
This was where the sympathy came in normally. “Some guy went crazy and killed him. Yeah. And now you’re trying to turn yourself into the same kind of crazy. Why? You’re gonna kill somebody, too?”
She clenched her teeth, and her fingers twitched, probably in annoyance.
Yurtoril stepped closer and laid his left hand on Gevuyn’s arm. His turn now, alright. “Madam, I’m sorry your husband is dead. You can be assured none of us wanted that to happen. He was an important member of the government, and an ally to the order.”
Smooth, maybe a bit focused on the professional. Though who knew, maybe with the dignified widow type that wasn’t so bad.
She balled her small hands into fists, then slowly extended her fingers again and laid them on the arm rests. “I appreciate it.” Her voice was small and forced.
“We have to know – We wish you no harm. But we have to know…” He’d stumbled across that one. Out of his element, clearly. This was rare entertainment.
“You can ask,” the director’s widow said. “I will decide if I answer.”
Yurtoril nodded. “Of course. So – You mentioned something about the rain, to the other members of the department, didn’t you? Perhaps out of anger, out of the moment. Out of grief.” He was copying him! With the generous ‘guesses’ that left the other a way out.
“So what if I did?” Defiant. Gevuyn was itching to jump in again. But Yurtoril was still trying his own role.
“We need to deal with this somehow; surely you understand”, his partner said, the way you’d talk to an unruly dog or a 2-year-old. This was too good.
Reinelle folded her hands. “And surely you understand that my husband is dead, and it’s the fault of your rain.”
Enough now. She was too right, but that didn’t matter here. “Understand?” Gevuyn’s thin grin came easily. “There’s nothing to understand about your nonsense. What killed him was an absence of the rain, for a guy who went crazy.” He shifted his stance. “The associate’s taken on sense again. Maybe it’s time for you, too.”
Her composure was flickering. This was easy!
“Indeed… I must correct myself. You don’t understand a thing. How could you?”
Understand, don’t understand… whose keyword was this? He looked over to Yurtoril.
His partner returned the look, then sat down in a chair and leaned forward towards the widow. “I may understand… and not.”
Reinelle raised her carefully plucked eyebrows.
“Not from experience,” Yurtoril conceded.
Her jaw moved, and she was dragged into it. “You’re married?”
Come on, don’t falter now. Bullshit something.
“No. Not yet.”
Reinelle nodded, with expectation in her posture.
“But…” Yurtoril tucked a stray hair strand behind his ear. Good, that looked sincere. “You must think we don’t understand because we don’t get affected by the rain. That’s no secret, and certainly not to someone in your position.”
She gave a non-committal nod, but she was leaning forward and hanging onto his words now.
“Well.” Yurtoril tapped his lips as if in thought, then rested his hand on his thigh. “There are losses where… if they happened, I’d wish I could drink a whole humidifier of the stuff. Or be like those wretches in the city underside. Anything to stop it. But I can’t anymore.” He leaned back. “So in that way, I don’t understand. You have the chance.”
Not bad. Not bad at all.
Or … too real. Or at least a lot more real than this normally got.
Or was it? What was this?
Gevuyn noticed his pulse racing, apparently just in case, and he kept his position very still, so as not to spoil whatever this moment was.
The widow was sitting still, too.
Her brow furrowed slightly.
She sat up straight. “Your girlfriend is a lucky woman.” She reached into the pocket of her dress. “My husband should be as lucky. You’ll understand that much.” She pulled out a tiny handgun, held it to her temple and pulled the trigger.
They remained still for a moment, then Yurtoril broke the silence. “Well.”
“That could have gone better. On the other hand…”
“She’s not going to talk anymore, is she?”
Yurtoril got up. “Not likely.”
Gevuyn walked over to the widow and examined her. Dead. “No. Not likely.”
“Before evening, too. What do you say, do we leave it like this? It’s a clear suicide. Plausible enough.”
And she’d had the right idea, too, about everything. Pity. But couldn’t be helped. She’d come in too early for them. “Yeah. Sooner we get this over with. Report, then dinner?”