Ch3.32 The Pearl

The station is quiet – hardly anyone is present, though through the silence Mayumi’s keen ears can pick up the sound of people in the bar out back, Cherry and Merri, Kori too, excited about something. Mayumi approaches Inspector Tuma-Sukai’s door, a file in hand. She raises her hand to knock, but hears a soft snore, and pauses. He is always guarded, she thinks, always hiding who he is, except for moments here and there. And then the thought comes to her, And it is in those moments I like him most. She tries the knob – unlocked – opens the door quietly, and enters the dark office.

He had been working with them in the records room, but he kept drooping until Sage finally convinced him to go lie down. His jacket is now hanging on the back of a chair, his hat on a hook on the wall. He is lying on his back on the sofa, his body too long for it, legs hanging off one end, shoes on the floor beside the sofa, head on a pillow against the arm of the sofa. One arm trails on the floor, the other across his belly. His flowered shirt is gone; he is sleeping in trousers and a white sleeveless undershirt, his legs draped carelessly with a blanket. Layered over the Inspector’s smell – a smell that evokes in her images of dark ocean waves whitecapped by the wind, even though she has never seen an ocean, in her dream-life or in reality – she detects Alma’s scent, as familiar to her as her own skin, the complex perfume of nature in both life and death. She realizes it is coming from the blanket, and from the pillow.

Were they lovers? No – she would smell that easily. Then why did Alma sleep here? Strange. She wonders if Sky noticed the smell before falling asleep.

Mayumi looks at his brown face, relaxed in sleep. The scar that split his upper lip on the left side is nearly healed, but the one on his right cheek will take awhile yet. She shudders at the memory of seeing his face for the first time after the fight. Rosemary had warned her it was bad, so she was able to keep most of her shock out of her expression, but the memory of that cheek that had been torn open and stitched closed, the obviously broken cheekbone as well – and yet he acted as if nothing had happened beyond a mild bangup. Still, she could see the pain.

The stitches are gone, the bones realigned, and at this rate she imagines that all trace of the fight will be gone in less than a week. She sees him at peace. She sees the stubble on his cheek – wonders why a god even grows stubble. Could he not decide to have smooth skin, not have to shave every day? She flashes back to that day, out in the City, when they first spoke, when they danced at the café, and she hurt her foot, and he healed her at the fountain. His touch was gentle, and when he reached into her to heal her small wound, a memory came with the mana, of his awakening to the touch of a woman…

Suddenly his eyes are open, paralyzing her as if she were pinned by a spotlight in the dark. She is shocked to see that her fingers are lightly touching his cheek – she realizes she has reached out without thinking and stroked him in the same way as the woman in her memory. But his eyes momentarily freeze her blood. They are a solid, dark grey-blue, the very color of those waves evoked by his scent, waves created by storm winds. And she can smell the storm, and feel the charged air on her skin. His body, though it has not moved, is like steel, ready to strike. He seems to be exerting all his will not to move. Then she sees recognition dawn in his eyes, as they soften and return to normal, the sclera a very pale blue, the irises a rich brown with a bar of green in the left one. His muscles unlock and he smoothly sits up, taking the hand that is touching his cheek into his own.

“Mayumi? What is it?” He blinks, clearing away the befuddlement of sleep.

For a moment she cannot speak. Her heart is pounding so hard she thinks it must be visible even through her tunic. Am I frightened? Am I...what am I feeling? She thrills to the feel of her hand trapped in his.

“I-I brought you this.” She holds up the file with her free hand. He looks, then looks at the hand still holding hers. There is a moment, a long, slow heartbeat, in which he continues to hold it as if it were the most natural thing he could do. But then he releases it – or she does, Mayumi is not sure which – and that moment is over as if it had never happened.

He takes the file, glancing at her. She can feel her face burning, and is sure he can see her blush in the gloom. He holds her look and says in Japanese, “I’m sorry. Did I look… strange, when you woke me up?”

She nods, beginning to relax.

He grimaces. “I, uh…” He pauses and scratches his head, then rubs his hand over his face. “The thing is, I’ve spent a lot of my life in...enemy territory, as a soldier, or undercover. So, waking up ready to fight...that became normal for me. Lifesaving, even. I’ve woken up with a gun or a blade in my face more than once.”

“I thought you were about to strike me,” she says quietly.

“I’m sorry. But...I didn’t, right?” He gives her a wry grin. “That’s an improvement.” The smile fades as the joke falls flat. “You know I would never hurt you, or let anyone hurt you, or your siblings.”

“I know,” she says, feeling the truth of it, wanting to hold his hand again. Wanting to pull his head to her, hold it to her chest. Stroke his hair. Stop this! she commands herself. Where is this stupid schoolgirl crush coming from? He’s your boss! He’s a god! Centuries old! He doesn’t need you!

“But,” he continues, “it’s probably better if you don’t wake me like that again. I might not know it’s you next time.” He smiles again, then opens the folder. “So what is this? Um, could you turn up the gaslight?”

She steps over to the wall, relieved to move away from him, and turns the gascock so the lamp becomes brighter. “It’s a report on what Sage and I discovered, sir.”

She turns to see him watching her, his eyes flicking back down to the report too late. He pretends to focus on it. But soon the pretense is replaced by reality. He reads the several pages intently, then looks up at her. “Are you sure about this?”

She shakes her head, her ears drooping. “No, with the names expunged we can’t be entirely sure. But the evidence points toward it. I hope we’re wrong…”

He looks at the report again and sighs. “You’re not wrong. Keep this to yourselves, you and Sage. These crimes that Corporal Kaur committed with this mysterious woman – well, girl at the time – they were kept out of her record, and for a good reason, I’m sure.”

“Did you see the name of the arresting officer, sir?”

He simply nods. “Constable Edison Machado. It’s a small neighborhood, isn’t it?”

“Will Aliyah get into trouble, sir?”

“I don’t see why. She was hardly more than a child.” He looks at Mayumi. “Thank you for bringing this to my attention. But don’t worry.” He looks again at the report, flipping to the final pages. “And this report from Little Falls? About a crossbow-wielding assassin, presumed dead along with her whole gang…”

“Presumed killed by the Dukaines, sir.”

“It seems they missed her.” He shuts the folder. “Good job. Please let Sage know from me. And Mayumi…”

She waits as he closes his eyes, thinking. “I think we’re going to need more help with distributing the water. We simply do not have enough cops. There are some people I want to approach, after Alma returns.” He opens his eyes and looks at her. “I need someone to run messages for me between the Copper Pot and here, and maybe a couple of other places. Someone fast.”

“I’ll do it!” she blurts out.

He laughs. “I had a feeling you would like to get outside. All right, but I have to ask Alma.”

Mayumi hesitates. “How will we explain that I know the way to the Copper Pot?”

“I’ll tell Alma that I’m teaching you the way today.”

Her ears lie flat along the back of her skull. “I am sorry that you have to lie for me again.”

He waves this off. “Just don’t step on glass again. Or get hurt in any other way. You have to promise me you’ll be careful. I don’t want to think what Alma would do to me if you come to harm.”

She nods. “Of course. And thank you.”

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