Christmas Story Continued: Part VIII
It always gets worse before it gets better…
Part One: Santa’s New Line: http://dontkickmycane.livejournal.com/146309.html
Snow drifted lazily out of the indigo wash overhead. Kriss watched at the picture window, long arms wrapped around his middle. Behind him, the lights on the Christmas tree winked on and off, a random pattern of illuminations and shadows that changed his reflection in the window with every flash. His stomach rolled over itself. It couldn’t be because he was hungry. He never got hungry. That fact weighed on him heavily every time he sat down at the dining table with his lover, Michael and forced himself to eat. If he was succeeding in his quest, he’d get hungry and tired. There wouldn’t be the thin membrane of other between him and the world.
No. He wasn’t hungry, so why had the sharp twisting in his gut woke him and hauled him out of bed in the middle of the night? Why was it keeping him up, pacing the small living room and making him sweat, something else he hadn’t done in the year since he’d been back in the human world?
Clive had made short work of reprogramming him. He’d arrived back just a week after he’d left, he eventually figured out, in a city far south of the tiny house he’d been stolen from. For the first month after his arrival, Kriss had volunteered at a homeless shelter in the city where he’d found himself, oblivious to his previous life. He’d worked closely with young police man, Michael Bridges, to patrol a secluded park frequented mostly by gay homeless men looking for safety in numbers. A month into their association, when Michael had discovered Kriss himself was one of those homeless, he’d had a small conniption.
“Why didn’t you tell me!” Kriss remembered the fury on Michael’s face, his tight grip on both Kriss’s arms as he shook him slightly, and he remembered the visceral feel of the fear behind the words. Fear Michael had been unable to voice. The shock of realizing Michael’s words and actions didn’t match his inner emotional state–knowing that they didn’t–had rocked Kriss. He couldn’t have explained how he knew. He just did.
Kriss had a flashing image of Clive ram through his head in that instant. He didn’t understand it. At the time he didn’t even know who the miniature man in his mind was, and it had thrown him off. “You didn’t ask,” he’d snapped, not sure where the angry response came from, unable to stop the random flashes of what he now knew had been memories. At the time, he’d thought he was going mad as those images overrod the artificial memories Clive had installed in him.
“I didn’t…” Michael had stared at him. “I didn’t ask? Kriss. I thought…” Michael’s inner confusion had battled the anger off his face. As Kriss righted his thoughts from the knife sharp flashes of memory he didn’t recognize, all of Michael’s agony hit him like a wrecking ball. “I thought we were friends,” Michael had said, voice dropping to soft, liquid emotion. The young cop was just too soft on the inside for his own good, and Kriss had stepped close, touched him, needing to comfort him.
“We are. I’m sorry. That wasn’t fair. I didn’t say anything because I didn’t think it mattered. I helped the others. I have everything I needed.”
“A home? You don’t think you need a home?”
“Home is…” Kriss had frowned, unable to answer. He could only see an vague shadow of a small, white kitchen, a ragged living room with faded brown carpet. He didn’t know the house in his mind. He couldn’t have said where it was, who’s it was, or that he’d ever been there. But he couldn’t shake the indistinct images away, either, and they left him dizzy and uncertain. Michael had taken him off the street, then and there, brought him to his own small, cramped house on the outskirts of the city.
At the time, confusing memories had assailed Kriss, leaving him disoriented, even a bit frightened. It had taken days to sort them out. Images of Clive’s workshop had overlapped with sweet memories of a man who’s name Kriss couldn’t, to this day, remember. A lot of quiet, lonely hours curled in the only bed Michael owned passed as he sorted out what was happening to him.
In the end, he gathered up the memories of Clive, sorted them into order and figured out who and what he was. Whatever Clive had done to him, however he had tried to reprogram Kriss, it hadn’t worked. The reality was, Kriss knew he was meant to be somewhere else, with someone else, but he couldn’t remember where or who. He also knew, instinctively, that Michael needed him here. He’d been sent to help him overcome his debilitating fear of persecution and loneliness, and he knew this was his quest, because Michael was the only person who’s heart Kriss could understand.
In remembering what Clive had done to him, Kriss also understood he could no more leave Michael searching and alone than he could get back to the place he thought of as home. This was his life, now, and if he was going to keep it, he had to solve the puzzle of Michael’s fear of coming out. It would be wrong to say he was resigned to it. He did love his partner. Michael was a good, kind man. He treated Kriss well. If Kriss had to be stuck somewhere, he couldn’t really complain about it being here.
Michael cared about people, possibly too much. Kriss suspected that care was what held him back, prisoner inside himself, afraid to hurt people by telling them things they didn’t want to hear. Michael’s beat partner, Jack Chance, was one such person. Kriss had asked many times to meet the man Michael spent ten hours a day with. He wasn’t jealous. He wanted to know what the guy was like. But Michael’s response had always been that Jack wasn’t comfortable with their relationship. Michael didn’t want to rub his face in something that upset him when there was no reason to. All Kriss could do was accept that for now, Michael wanted to live this half life. Kriss just hoped he could help him understand people could be accepting if he was brave enough to try.
In truth, he felt most sorry for Jack. He had a partner who would move the ends of the earth to protect him, to do right by him, and he didn’t get the full benefit of Michael’s warmth and love. He was resolved to do his best to meet the man and talk to him, find out if he really was that uncomfortable with the idea of working alongside a gay man, or if there was something else going on.
Except, now, as Kriss watched the night and the snow, and tried to reach for the comforting warmth that was his lover’s heart and soul, he found nothing. Only the churning in his gut. The empty feeling kept him company as he gazed out at the first snow fall of the year. Three days to Christmas, Michael’s last shift before a week of holidays, and Kriss knew, on a gut-deep, bone-chilling level, the warmth he searched for had been taken from him.
A half hour passed. The snow accumulated on the front porch. Kriss moved from the window to turn on the outdoor light above the front door. Someone would be there soon to tell him what had happened. It wouldn’t be Michael. Damp warmth curled it’s way down Kriss’s cheeks.
It was Jack Chance who finally knocked on his door. Though he already knew the news the other man carried, Kriss invited him inside and showed him to the couch. People needed to talk, he’d learned. They needed to say things to make them real. The look on Jack’s face said he was trying very hard to hold back the reality he’d come to tell Kriss.
Jack sat, lighting on the very edge of the couch cushions, skin pale against the dark wrinkles of his uniform. He turned his hat around and around in his hands. He said nothing. His lips parted, like he might speak, but closed again on empty air.
“Where’s Michael?” Kriss was surprised how flat his own voice sounded.
Jack met his gaze, and they both knew Kriss already sensed why Jack was here. “There was a shooting,” the police officer said, finally. Mechanically, he described the freak riquochet that had entered Michael’s body on a downward trajectory , just missing his clavicle, his flack jacket, his ribs to shear straight through his heart.
Kriss nodded. That had been what woke him, what set his stomach roiling. Michael had died instantly, and Kriss had felt it, even the quiet trance-like state that passed for sleep for him.
“I’m sorry,” Jack said, his voice a dull throb. “Is there someone I can call for you? Family? A friend?”
Kriss shook his head. “There’s just me. Me and…” his gaze drifted to the photo sitting on the mantel of himself and Michael at a party. He shifted to look at the shining tree. “Just me.” He hadn’t ever cried. Ever. But his cheeks were damp again, his heart empty. His only consolation was knowing, in three days, it wouldn’t matter. In three days, his expiry date would arrive, and there would be no Michael to save, no puzzle to solve. No wish to grant.
“You can’t stay here by yourself,” Jack said. There was something in his voice, something strong and resolute that made Kriss look up to where he was now standing. “Christmas is in three days.”
“Since Michael had no family…no one but you, that is, and he never filed anything official about you…” his brows drew down. “And I’m sorry that he didn’t. I tried to get him to, but he wouldn’t. He was afraid it might affect both our careers.”
“It’s fine.” Kriss managed a fake smile. “He was private…”
Jack just nodded. “The department is arranging his funeral. Please.” he drew in a deep breath. “Please don’t stay here by yourself.”
“Where would I go?” Kriss rose, suddenly needing to be alone. “There was just us. Me and him. This is my home.” That hollow feeling, that vague, thin memory of another house, another, worn but welcoming living room flashed through his mind and he ached as much for never having found that memory as for the loss of his life now. He found himself leaning heavily on the door handle as the memory faded.
“You’ll come to mine,” Jack said, reaching and supporting him by the elbow.
“You don’t even know me.” he tried to pull away. His motion was weak, though. He couldn’t free himself even of that gentle touch.
“Michael loved you, Kriss. He talked about you…I’m sorry we never met before now. You can’t spend Christmas sitting here alone. Michael wouldn’t want that.”
Unexpected, Kriss felt a heavy twinge of regret. It twisted it’s way through his heart and he winced. It wasn’t his emotion. He looked up into Jack’s eyes and saw it there, a deep sadness the man was holding in a tight grip of control. He nodded. “You’re right. He wouldn’t.”
Kriss didn’t know for sure if that was true. He realized he’d relied heavily on his ability to just know what Michael was feeling and now that the feeling was gone, he couldn’t say for sure what his lover would have wanted. But he could see in Jack’s eyes that he wanted very much to fill the void for both of them that Michael’s death would leave.
Sighing, he left Jack in the living room and went to pack a few clothes into a bag. He’d told Jack this was his home, but without the warmth of his lover, it was nothing to him now, just an empty shell. The last thing he did before following Jack out the front door was unplug the Christmas lights. They winked out and the room sank into darkness.