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22 October 2011 @ 01:04 am
Refuge at Sea [Part 4]  
Part Four
It took Looker ten minutes to locate the Jamison at the harbour. He almost wished that he had Mihara with him, but he doubted that she would have approved of this, and even if she had, her superior certainly wouldn’t. Even though the methods of investigation weren’t up to her, she would probably be in trouble anyway, and Looker didn’t want that. Besides, if she could become a good detective without learning to resort to cheap tricks like this, then all the better for her.
Locating the ship was by far the most complex part of the procedure. After that, it was merely a matter of retreating to the alley where he’d left Surge (“It certainly feels like I’m helping to do something legal,” he’d sniped, but he was just too memorable to be walking about in the open) and releasing Dolos. The kecleon tilted his head, sniffing the air hopefully.
Smiling, Looker said, in Greek, “Sorry, Dolos, no food right now. I’m in the middle of a case and I need help. You okay with that?”
Dolos stilled immediately and watched.
Looker breathed a sigh of relief. He’d been worried Dolos would be too tired at first; he had been out a lot in Hoenn, simply because it was home for him, and he’d had as little chance to relax as Looker had. “Good. I’ll treat you to something after this, I promise.”
Dolos flicked his tongue out almost too quickly to follow. It came a few inches from his nose.
“Alright, alright.” Looker rolled his eyes. His kecleon could be more impatient than him sometimes. “There is a ship five down from here.” He gestured, and then paused. “You remember five, right?”
This time the tongue flicked him straight in the middle of his forehead.
Looker sighed and calmly wiped it with the back of his hand. He was too used to this to be disgusted anymore, and too tired to worry that this was a bad sign. He carefully did not look at Surge, who was failing to stifle laughter. “I’ll take that as a yes.
Dolos curled his tail a little tighter and silently snickered.
“Same deal as always, alright? And stay away from the busy areas of the ship, someone’s bound to spot you and you probably wouldn’t be able to find anything useful there anyway. Wait for Lethe to give you the go ahead.”
Dolos nodded and settled down to watch, one eye swivelling to the entrance of the alley with some interest. Looker left him to it and released Lethe.
“Hey, a musharna,” Surge said, raising his eyebrows. “Been a while since I’ve seen one of these.”
Looker was momentarily confused, until it clicked that Surge was American, of course he would know musharna. He’d almost gotten used to releasing Lethe to looks of bewilderment.
Surge slowly stretched out a hand towards her, but Lethe squeaked and floated away from him. She let out a puff of dream mist and disappeared.
Looker covered his eyes with his hand. “Lethe.”
:: ??? ::
“You don’t need to be scared of him. He’s a friend.”
:: ...! :O ::
“That’s not helpful, Lethe.”
:: :( ::
“You can trust him, I promise.”
:: ...? :) ::
She appeared again and Looker breathed a sigh of relief. “Sorry. She can be a little timid on occasion.”
Surge just looked a little confused.
:: >( ::
“Don’t be so childish! It’s true - why else did you hide yourself?”
:: ... :S ::
“Anyway, I need your help for this case.”
:: ! ... :D ::
“I don’t always need your help...”
:: :) ::
“Lethe, if you’re going to waste time--”
:: !! ... :( ...? ::
“That’s better.” By his feet, he could see Dolos twitching with impatience, so he filled in Lethe as quickly as he could. “You alright with that?”
:: :D ::
“Whenever you’re ready then. Just let me know when Dolos gets there.”
:: >D ::
Dolos was invisible and gone within seconds.
“Huh,” Surge said. “Well, that was weird. And no one notices that red stripe when you do things like this?”
“Very occasionally,” Looker admitted, “But Dolos is fast, so they do not get a chance to look again.” When Surge still looked sceptical, he added: “Is it often that you are looking for such a thing?”
“Then it is safer than you are thinking.”
Surge still looked as though he didn’t quite believe this. He didn’t seem to have anything else to say about it, though, because after a moment he said: “What was up with that disappearing trick, anyway?”
Looker frowned. “You mean Lethe? It was only use of dream mist. You did not know this?” he added, genuinely puzzled. He said that it had been a while since he’d last seen one, but he couldn’t have forgotten, surely?
“Hey, it was too dry for these guys where I was from,” Surge said, a little defensively. “I’ve only seen one a few times - I didn’t know they could do things like that with this dream mist stuff.”
Looker was even more confused for a moment, but then - oh. Well, of course America was made up of more than Unova. It wasn’t too surprising that Surge was from somewhere else in the country.
“I see,” he said. “Well... a lot of musharna probably could not do that so convincingly. Lethe has been trained specially.”
“By you?” He sounded impressed.
“Ah, no--” Looker said hastily. “At least, not only me. I am not very good at this sort of thing - I had help from a friend who is very experienced at this.”
Surge frowned. “I thought you had to be a trainer before you could join the police?”
“What? Oh.” He shrugged. “I said that I am not very good at training, not that I never was one. It was not for me - that’s why I became an officer in the first place.”
:: !!! ::
Surge opened his mouth to say something else, but Looker waved him off. “He’s there already?” he asked Lethe. “That was fast.”
:: ! ... :/ ::
“He shouldn’t push himself, but there’s not much I can do about it now.”
:: :( ::
“I’ll talk to Dolos later, okay? Just show us what he’s seeing for now.”
:: :D ::
Lethe released several puffs of dream mist which seemed to clump together into two distinct circles. At the same time, it darkened, and took on shape, became a view of a carpeted hallway from two different perspectives, a few centimetres apart.
Surge watched with interest - until Dolos suddenly flicked one of his eyes towards the ceiling, whilst keeping the other level, when he did a double-take. “Okay, now that’s weird.”
:: >( ::
Looker shot Lethe a glare.
:: :( ::
He would have told her why getting angry at a Gym Leader was a bad idea - Lethe could get some weird ideas sometimes - but focussing on what Dolos was seeing was more important. With how quickly he moved and his... odd... way of viewing the world, it was quite easy to miss something that could be crucial. Looker couldn’t afford to do that. Instead, he made a mental note to discuss it with her later.
Although it turned out that he probably could have taken the time now, because Dolos didn’t see anything of interest for a good half an hour - and even though part of that had been spent hiding under random pieces of furniture or cargo to keep from being spotted, it was still a little disappointing, albeit unsurprising. Dolos, like Looker, was not used to searching for a needle in a haystack.
Then Dolos found a hand-written sign which said “Off Limits”, pasted to a door that looked regularly used, even though the sign itself was torn and stained with age. It was even closely poorly enough for Dolos to force it open and look inside.
It was a small space, with the only light coming from the open door, and if Looker had been there he probably wouldn’t have been able to see very much. Dolos’ vision was only slightly better, but it was enough.
It didn’t look very exciting. In fact, it was much like any other room on the ship: rectangle with uniform walls and ceiling, some sort of water stain in the corner - maybe mould, it was difficult to tell. The only unusual part of the room was the huge chest pushed up against the far wall. Dolos moved toward it. It was old, but not well-cared for. It had been chipped and splinters stuck out from all angles; there were even huge chunks of it missing in places, so that it was difficult to see more than snatches of the intricate pattern on the lid and sides. Vines, Looker thought, before Dolos gently pushed open the lid and peered inside.
The light was too poor to see in any detail, but Looker could vaguely make out... rolls of something - some kind of fabric? Plain, not patterned. Doyle&Co. didn’t ship fabrics of any kind, so Looker was confused as to why they were on the--
No, that wasn’t the right question. Looker had made a career out of asking the right questions. The right question wasn’t ‘why would Veronica Matthews poison her brother’ but ‘why would Veronica Matthews poison her brother there?’ - that was how he’d gotten even this far. So it wasn’t ‘why were there fabrics on the ship’ but ‘why were the fabrics in this room?’
Just because he didn’t know why the answer was important yet didn’t mean it wasn’t the right question.
Dolos must have picked up something from the fabrics that Lethe couldn’t show - a scent maybe - because he stayed by the chest for several seconds before shutting it.
And that’s when Looker saw the handprint.
For one heart-stopping second he thought that it was blood.
He stepped into the room and froze. The white carpet was soaked in blood; the room full of the sickly crisp copper scent. There was a small handprint in red wrapped around the leg of the side table, and drag marks on the floor. There was no body of any size.
In the dim light it looked a dull red, and he was convinced for an instant that he’d failed another child, a stranger this time. Panic swamped him suddenly, but fear had constricted this throat so tight that he felt like he could barely breathe, let alone move or do something stupid. Like last time.
How could Ioanna have done this? He’d trusted her, he’d thought that she was... that she was... how could she have done this?
Bile started to rise in his throat as someone pulled him away; he could distantly hear Sanna shouting ‘For God’s sake, get the man out of here!’, and forced himself not to throw up - he wasn’t a rookie anymore, and he wasn’t going to lose it in front of his superior.
Besides, it wasn’t Stacia. If it was Stacia he would have to tell Nico, his friend, his brother, that she was... that her godfather had let her die-- It couldn’t be Stacia. Someone - anyone - else, but not Stacia.
Please dear God, not Stacia.
He was telling himself that there was no way he could have known about this before he realised, with a sense of relief so sharp he swore felt his knees weaken for a moment, that the colour was wrong. In this light, with Dolos’ eyes, it should look darker - crimson, almost purple.
Surge seemed to realise something was wrong. “Are you alright?”
It wasn’t Stacia.
“Fine,” Looker said, more curtly than he’d meant to. He clenched and unclenched his fist a few times. It helped a little, but he couldn’t help but wish that Kinney had assigned anyone else to this case. Murder cases always reminded him of Stacia and Ioanna, and this one seemed to delight in finding new ways to bring up the past. But it was only for a moment, because he knew that not everyone was stubborn (reckless?) enough to do what he did and the last thing he wanted was any murderer going free.
Lethe must have gleaned something from his head, because Dolos remained in the room.
What was he doing? He had another case to think about; now was no time to be preoccupied by a murder that had happened seven years ago. Looker knew that Surge was probably still looking concerned - though God knew why - and Lethe, though she hadn’t said anything, would want to be giving him a lecture later. But he couldn’t worry about that. There was a murderer still on the loose and it was Looker’s job to put him behind bars. Anything else would have to be set aside until that was done.
He was not going to let what happened seven years ago repeat itself. Not if he could help it.
“Lethe, ask Dolos to look again please.”
She didn’t respond, but curled into a slightly tighter ball. That was unlike her... maybe she was more upset than Looker had thought, if she didn’t dare to share her thoughts with him - that was usually a sign she was afraid of worrying him about something. He bit the inside of his cheek. He wished he could speak to her now, but - the case. It felt like he was getting close to a breakthrough, especially now, with a discovery like this. Lethe would tell him if it was something serious... wouldn’t she? It could wait. It would have to wait.
Whatever was bothering her, she must have told Dolos to look again, because now he had once again lifted the lid. This time he focussed on the handprint, which was curved around the edge, as though the child had pushed it open, much like Dolos. Looker had to hold back a grimace as he stared at the handprint. It was small, probably belonging to a five or six year old, and... and damnit, it was like someone had set this up deliberately, why did everything have to remind him of...
“So, what d’you make of it?” Surge asked, breaking the silence in the alley.
Looker was profoundly grateful for the distraction, even though Surge probably didn’t realise he was providing one. “I am not sure. But I can think of no innocent reason for it to be there.”
“He’s targeting kids now?” Surge demanded, with a voice like flint.
“It has probably been there for a while,” Looker said - then added hastily, when this only made Surge look more furious, “But it does not mean anything - necessarily.”
“Doesn’t mean anything? You said yourself that there’s no innocent reason for it to be there!”
“I can do nothing!” Looker snarled. He was overreacting, he knew he was overreacting, but that had come just to close to accusing him of letting another child die. “What is it - do you want me to arrest him? Now? He would be free again within an hour and if he tried he could disappear easily before I had another chance - is that what you want?”
“No! I never said--” Surge cut himself off abruptly and let out a deep breath. “I never said I wanted you to arrest him,” he repeated, calmer. “Just...” He shrugged helplessly. “Don’t you get angry when kids get mixed up in this sort of thing?”
Looker made himself relax. This was the sort of thing that would make anyone angry, let alone Surge. He wasn’t blaming Looker for anything. The similarities were just getting to him, that was all; everything seemed to be trying to link itself to Stacia.
“Of course I do,” he answered softly, although angry probably wasn’t the word for it. It was hard for him to get angry about it when all he could think of was what that child would miss out on because he’d been too slow, too gullible, too sympathetic, too-- well, he couldn’t say that was the case this time, at least.
“I’m sorry.”
“I trusted you.”
“I didn’t mean to... I’m sorry...”
“I trusted you and you... how stupid was I! You’re no better than he was, you bitch, you--”
But it was hard to shake the reminder.
Dolos was still hovering around the chest. Looker wasn’t sure there was anything else of interest in the room; if there was, it was probably in the chest and he couldn’t get a look without disturbing the contents, which - apart from potentially destroying evidence - was a little too close to illegal for Looker’s comfort. Still, to be certain, he decided it was best to ask Dolos to do another sweep of the room, and then move on. He wasn’t sure how much more of the ship he had to look over, but it was best to be thorough, although the chances of finding something more incriminating were slim...
“You’re not fine.”
Looker started. “What?”
“You’re not fine,” Surge repeated.
He was watching Looker with an unreadable expression, and nothing about him suggested anger - but all the same Looker’s immediate response was to tense. He put on a puzzled expression. “What is it that causes you to say so?”
:: >( ::
He ignored Lethe.
“Are you kidding me?” Surge said. “Listen, you can’t buy me off with that shit. I was in the army. You think you’re the first person who’s tried to make me believe they’re fine? You’re not. You’re not even all that good at it.”
“You are being mistaken,” Looker insisted.
“Then why did you look like someone had socked you in the gut when you saw that handprint?”
Looker froze. Had he really been so transparent? No, Surge couldn’t have seen through him so easily--
“Freezing is the wrong response,” Surge said. “For future reference.”
He winced. That was probably one of the oldest tricks in the book, and he’d still fallen for it. “It is nothing in particular,” he said carefully. “It only... reminds me of an old case.” It wasn’t a lie, anyway.
“If it’s getting to you that much, you need to take a break,” Surge said.
Looker decided to take this as a suggestion, rather than the order it had been phrased as. “That is not necessary,” he answered coolly. “It was only a moment. It has passed.”
“Sure didn’t seem that way to me.”
“As I have said, you are being mistaken.”
Surge responded with a look that was somewhere between disbelieving and insulted, to the point that he didn’t seem able to form words for several moments.. “Do you think I’m an idiot?”
“In the moment, I do!” Looker snapped, rounding on him.
“You’re having goddamn flashbacks!” he retorted, for the moment every inch the soldier he used to be.
Looker recoiled and felt his chest tighten. “I am not. You are--”
“Think about who you’re talking to. For just one second. That excuse doesn’t work on me,” Surge growled.
“It is no--”
“And what’s more, it’s not even a good excuse,” he continued, as though Looker hadn’t spoken. “Just take a fucking break, Looker!” Abruptly he took a deep breath, and carefully folded his arms, speaking far more calmly than any man who looked that fierce had a right to. “Kent was a good man, but he’s not worth forcing yourself through... whatever the hell is messing with your head right now. Just... take a break.”
“There is nothing wrong,” Looker said, although he knew he had no hope of convincing him at this point. “I am not taking any break. Not now.”
“For fuck’s sake!” Surge snapped, arms briefly unfolding with clenched fists -- but then he closed his eyes and forcibly, obviously, checked his anger. “Why,” he said after a moment, enunciating every word with almost frightening delicacy, “Are you so determined to work yourself to death over this?”
This is a murder,” Looker bit out. He was not nearly as calm as he wanted to be, but it was all he could do not to hit Surge at this point. “I can not take any break.”
What was so difficult to understand about that? What else could Looker possibly say that would make Surge understand that he couldn’t just leave a murder, why was he the one who had to persuade people to keep working all the time when it was their loved one who had just died - when it was someone it their city who might be next?
“Why not?” Surge asked stubbornly, because somehow, he still didn’t understand. “What is it about this case? Because if it’s me, then--”
“Do not be absurd,” Looker scoffed. “As if it would have a thing to do with you. I do not care what you think!”
Surge cocked his eyebrow and did not respond immediately. “...Then why?”
If a man could be that stupid... Looker glared at him with utter contempt. He was a soldier, but somehow he was still naive. Pathetic. “There is a murderer loose, and in every minute for which he is free is another minute where he may kill again. Do you understand this?”
Surge just looked at him. If he was confused by this, then Looker had been giving him far too much credit, but it didn’t really matter - he just hoped he would understand; would let Looker finally get on with his job.
He was disappointed.
“The chances of that...” Surge said, shaking his head, face curled into some kind of twisted incredulity. “They must be tiny. You’re doing all of this for the sake of such a slight possibility?”
“I trusted you.”
“No,” Looker said, forcing himself to sound as normal as possible, even though his throat felt constricted and there was a tremor going through his hands, safely hidden in his pockets. “It is a bigger chance than you think.”
“How d’you mean?” Surge prompted, suddenly sounding oddly soft.
Looker glanced at him warily. He was sure Surge had hated him just as much as he had hated Surge at the beginning of the day, and he wasn’t really sure where the change had come from. He would have continued regardless, but it puzzled him.
“You can not know the mind of a murderer,” Looker said, slow and tired. He felt suddenly drained, and didn’t know if he’d be able to continue investigating for much longer, even if he won the argument. “It is not possible - you may think, oh, this person, I can understand them - murderers, they seem a lot like a normal person when you speak to them, sometimes... even like a good person.” He swallowed and continued. “But they made a choice to kill - murderers, they are a very small percentage of people. It is said that we all have that capacity, but I do not think so. There must be something different about them, something fundamental, that is different to us. We can not ever understand.”
Surge stared at him for a long moment, expression somewhere between dismay and pity. Of course he didn’t agree. Of course he didn’t get it. Why would Looker be so lucky?
“What happened?” he asked eventually.
Looker let out an irritated sigh to keep from flinching. Not only did Surge not understand, but he apparently could see straight through him, too. He wondered if this was what his suspects felt when he was the one asking questions, except that he was sure he was never this accurate about anyone.
After all, he’d proven a terrible judge of character in the past.
“I made a mistake,” Looker answered, careful to keep his voice steady. He was quite proud of how well he succeeded. “I made a mistake and it was not myself who suffered for it.”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
Amateur therapists were even worse than the real ones. “No. But I have a suspicion that I have no choice in the matter.”
Surge just shrugged. It was starting to get to him, that under a time like this he could remain so nonchalant, when Looker... couldn’t. “It might help, but you don’t have to. It’s your choice.”
His choice? Now that, Looker did not believe.
At least, Looker thought irritably, Surge had been gracious enough to let him finish working with Dolos before he forced him to take a break -- he’d threatened to have his electrabuzz knock him out if he didn’t, and something about the way he said it made Looker believe he would have, too. Getting Surge out of his hair with an assault charge was tempting, but he would probably only lose more time that way.
As it was, Looker estimated he was wasting an hour. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been, considering that Looker was already quite tired by the time Surge got around to making things worse, but any amount of delay sent his mind spiralling into terrifying ‘what-ifs’ that he tried not to let his imagination run away with. He had mixed success.
Surge had offered - in what even Looker would admit was a charitable move - to let him use a spare room at the Gym, since in his rush to get started on the case he had neglected to make arrangements for a place beforehand. He could have found somewhere without too much trouble - Vermillion City was not a tourist city for nothing - but this was more convenient, even if Looker couldn’t shake the feeling that he was being trapped.
Looker was confident that a Gym Leader, or at least not this one, wouldn’t do something like that, but he couldn’t convince himself to fully trust Surge either. He was left with a feeling of mild unease and tried not to let it become full-blown paranoia.
“You’re putting it off,” Surge pointed out.
Looker barely twitched at his candour this time. Forget what he had said about amateurs being more irritating than professionals - this had to be the result of more than a passing interest. Or Looker was losing his touch. But he much preferred the former as an explanation.
...Surge was right, too. He was putting it off.
He let out a deep sigh and buried his face in his hands, scrubbing forcefully to wake himself up. Although he could’ve kept working for longer, he couldn’t say that he wasn’t looking forward to a night’s rest, either. As far as he was concerned, the day had been relatively peaceful - but remembering what had happened to Stacia always seemed to drain him, and he had had almost more reminders of that today than he could bear.
Looker laughed suddenly, bitterly, and Surge winced. “You know, it is not so grand as you probably think. I suspect that you will be disappointed.”
Surge just shrugged again. Looker knew why he was trying to keep his responses neutral, vaguely, at the back of his head, but it still made him clench his teeth. “Go ahead.”
“Very well then.” If Surge was so desperate to hear it, then it would be cowardly to hide. “Seven years ago, I lived still in my home town, in Greece, and I was a detective there... either I think I had just made full detective or it was the last few months where I was a junior, I do not quite remember. Facts like that, they do not seem so important anymore, I forget these things.”
He was rambling. Looker frowned at his hands on the table and told himself to try to keep on subject this time - if he was going to tell this story he might as well do it properly. Surge said nothing.
“It was a case...” He stopped. That wasn’t right. This had never really been just a case for him, even at the beginning. “An incident. When we were first called out, it looked like it was just an accident. A man had fallen down the stairs. His widow was the only one in the house at the time, and by all accounts, she would never hurt a fly. We could not say for sure, but we certainly thought it was an accident.”
Of course, after making that assumption, the idea had been challenged quickly. The more Looker had heard about the dead man, the more he sounded like someone who would have been murdered. He was physically and emotionally abusive, and all the neighbours knew it. Nico lived a few streets away, and even he was sure there was some truth to those rumours. But Argyris was terrifying to more than just his wife, and Nico had two young daughters to think about. He’d spoken to the wife, urged her to leave, but she never had. The neighbours had said much the same thing. No one had reported it to the police.
“I started to wonder,” Looker said, “After I found out more. He was abusive; he had tricked Ioanna into marrying him in the first place...”
Damn it, he hadn’t meant to say her name. That was part of what had gotten him into trouble to begin with. Sharing names; becoming friends. Ioanna-- Mrs. Argyris had been a pleasant person, he’d thought, and he’d liked her, felt sorry for her and the terrible marriage she’d been trapped in.
But that was the problem.
She smiled at him. “Please, call me Ioanna, Officer Kokinos.”
“Well, I...” He hesitated. He probably shouldn’t, not when the case was still being investigated, but - she came alive when she smiled. “Alright then. But you’ll have to call me Andreas.”
“I think I can cope with that.” There was a brief moment of silence. Softly, she said, “Even though we’re meeting under terrible circumstances... you seem like a kind man. I hope we can be friends in the future, Andreas.”
She did have a nice smile. When she offered him her hand, he had to fight off the impulse to kiss it instead of shake - that would be beyond inappropriate, and horribly unfeeling of him. It was terrible to see her shrink in on herself again as he turned to leave. She became so small, so quiet, so... invisible, almost beneath notice.
He stopped in the doorway and looked back, and was gratified to see her raise her head.
“I’m sure we’ll have all of this cleared up soon,” he said, giving her a smile of his own. She returned it, and he struggled not to look away from the intense warmth of her expression. “And then you can get on with your life.”
“I’ll be glad when that happens,” she said. She was sitting straighter in her chair, like a real person should sit, and not a doll, or a puppet. “Thank you.”
He lingered in the doorway, enjoying her grateful smile, but he couldn’t think of any more reasons to stay and he had been here too long already, so he gave her one last nod, and left.
He started and sat up straight, clasping his hands together. He had completely forgotten that Surge was there. “I... sorry. What was I saying?”
“The guy was abusive.”
“Oh... yes.” Had he only gotten that far? “Well, when you find out these things, that is the point where you start to wonder... I began to think that perhaps Ioanna-- his wife,” he corrected, wincing. “I began to wonder if his wife might have been responsible.”
“Ioanna,” Surge said.
The name sounded stilted and awkward coming from him. For once, Looker was not bothered. It sounded foreign, the way Surge said it, and not at all how Looker was used to hearing it.
“Please do not call her that,” he said quietly. “Mrs. Argyris, if you must call her anything.”
There was a moment of silence, and then, to Looker’s relief, he nodded. “Alright.”
“But, yes, I suspected she may have been involved. The details, they do not particularly matter right now, except...”
Except for one.
“I wanted her to get away with it,” he admitted. “I wanted her to get away with it because she was young, she was pretty, she had not had a good life and... I liked her.”
“Andreas, you must come visit me again sometime.” She smiled shyly at the floor. “I haven’t enjoyed myself this much in... in a long time.”
“I-uh-I--” He found himself tongue-tied. “I’d... love to,” he eventually stammered out. “I-It would be... I mean, I... I-I enjoy your company.”
“I liked her a good deal,” he said softly.
Looker hadn’t told anyone this before, except Nico and that... that had not ended well. His friend had apologised later - or tried to, because Looker wouldn’t accept it. By all rights Looker shouldn’t be able to consider him a friend at all anymore; why should he get an apology for anger he deserved?
“So you didn’t tell anyone?” Surge said.
Looker nodded, biting the inside of his cheek to keep from wincing at the memory. How stupid he’d been back then. It seemed like more than seven years. “I had told myself that I would not be interfering with the investigation, but I... did not hurry it along either.”
“That’s understandable. She sounds more like a victim than the dead guy.” Surge leaned back in his chair, watching him contemplatively. “But somehow I don’t think she ended up getting away with it.”
Looker couldn’t disguise a wince this time. He wondered if Surge did this sort of thing often. He was certainly starting to think that, in some ways at least, Surge was sharper than he looked - and a lot sharper than Looker had given him credit for.
“No, she did not,” was all he let himself say. It was the truth, after all. Ioanna Argyris had certainly not walked free.
“What happened?” Surge prompted, when Looker took several seconds to continue.
He was starting to wish he had something to keep his hands occupied. Looker couldn’t resist tapping his fingers against the tabletop, twisting them, clenching his fists; he felt suddenly restless, and had to resist the urge to simply get up and leave. What was he doing here? He should’ve taken Surge at his word and refused to talk about it. He had no right to know.
Except that stopping now would be proving Surge right. He would only prove that the case was getting to him and he did need to stop. Alright, the case was bothering him, but... the past was the past, and he wasn’t doing this for himself or for Surge, he was doing it for the potential victims, if not of this murderer, then of the next one, or the one after that. After all, the links between this case and Stacia’s had been tenuous at best; Looker’s mind had made the connection, not anyone or anything here. And that wasn’t a good thing, by any means, but if he couldn’t cope with it this time, what would happen next time? Just because Looker rarely investigated murders didn’t mean he could hope to avoid it again.
He hadn’t recounted this to anyone for seven years. It was hard. That was understandable. But he had to confront those memories anyway, if he wanted to be able to work at his best later. Maybe that was what Surge had meant when he said it might help to talk about it. Maybe... he had been right after all.
Maybe Looker was still as poor a judge of character as he had ever been.
But he had let the silence stretch on for too long. “You don’t have to--”
“No,” he said sharply. He couldn’t let Surge give him an out now, or his resolve would crumble. “It would be... better for myself if I were to finish.” He paused. “If that is alright.”
Surge cracked a small smile. “That’s fine.”
Looker nodded, and let another moment of quiet pass whilst he gathered his wits.
“As you can picture,” he began, slowly, “The others on the case, they were not stupid - after a time, they also reached the same conclusions which I had. Evidence was uncovered which said that perhaps it had been murder. So suspicion fell on Ioa... on Mrs. Argyris.
“It was not all immediate - I was not the only one who had sympathy. I do not believe that any of them wanted to arrest her. But she had herself said earlier that she was in the house at the time, and so we had no choice to keep going back to her with these questions, and the answers, they brought up more questions, and then...”
Looker trailed off, almost unwillingly. His mouth felt suddenly dry, and anxiety had tightened his chest to the point where breathing felt somehow alien - not laboured but... strange. How did he say this? How did he say it and not sound... he didn’t even really know what he was afraid of. Afraid of sounding callous? If Surge was any variety of intelligent he would know better than to take that at face value.
Waiting wouldn’t clear the issue up any. He forced himself to start talking again. “Mrs. Argyris, she was not stupid either. When the police keep returning with questions, and the questions, slowly they become more pointed, slowly it is more difficult to answer them... what are you supposed to believe?
“She realised that she was now a suspect. And so she... panicked.”
Panicked. It seemed like such a small word. There were some actions that panic made excusable. Looker had been pushed to the brink of panic himself many times - probably Surge had too. He knew how hard it was to think logically, to keep your thoughts to reality, to stop yourself from spiralling into paranoid tangents with no basis in facts; to do anything other than attempt to take the shortest route away from danger. Looker knew how hard that was and he was trained to cope with panic.
All the same, he could never forgive Ioanna. And not himself either.
“She had two pokemon in the house,” Looker said. “One of them was - rather like her. A psychic type, not one with which you are familiar, it is a native of Greece. The other had been her husband’s... a relation of houndoor, I am sure you can imagine what it was like. I do not know why she decided to keep it, or why it decided to remain loyal to her...”
He was rambling. He was putting it off. Stop it.
“The next time the police came to the house she left out the back door and tried to make an escape.”
In his effort to get the words out, they came out in a rush. Looker closed his eyes briefly in irritation. This was seven years ago. It should not be so hard. Not this part, at least. Remembering Stacia would always be painful.
“Let me guess,” Surge said. “You were one of the officers?”
Looker opened his eyes again and sighed. “Yes.”
“You went after her?”
“Of course,” he said, a little offended.
“And caught up?”
Looker stilled. Surge must have realised he’d asked the wrong question, because he let a few more moments of silence drag on. Maybe it was really the right question. Looker was reluctant enough to remember as it was. The prompting... helped, a little.
“No,” he said, eventually. “At least, we did not catch up quickly enough.”
Of course he’d thought Ioanna was harmless then. He’d replayed that part several times over, wondering if he could have stopped Stacia’s death if he’d just been that bit faster, if he’d just realised that she’d already killed once--
He stopped that train of thought abruptly. Now was not the time to be thinking about ‘what ifs’.
“It resulted in her taking a hostage.”
Surge winced, which was the first major reaction Looker had seen out of him. It still seemed underwhelming somehow.
Looker was expecting him to say something, but he didn’t, and there was left an awkward silence that he wasn’t sure how to break. The only ways he could think to say this... they didn’t say enough. But could anything really say enough? Probably not. Even in his native language, Looker didn’t think the right words existed. And it would be rude to leave Surge hanging.
“The hostage was my goddaughter,” he said, quietly.
Surge didn’t answer immediately. For a moment, he just stared - and then his face softened.
Looker moved his eyes down to the table again. He didn’t mind pity when he deserved it. He did not deserve it this time - not when Stacia was the one who had been trapped in that house with a strange woman, half mad with hysteria, so terrified and with nothing to comfort her.
No. Looker wasn’t the one who deserved sympathy.
“That explains a lot,” Surge said. “What happened?”
Looker shut his eyes.
Someone screamed, high pitched and terrified. He felt as though the earth had suddenly dropped out from beneath his feet, and he started forward despite his colleagues trying to drag him back, sending a silent, mental apology to the swearing Detective Sanna - but he couldn’t wait, because Stacia was in there and--
Argyris’ kerbero howled and his blood froze, but he kept moving, because he couldn’t afford to stop.
“She died,” he whispered. Looker hadn’t intended to whisper, just as he hadn’t intended to bury his face in his hands and suddenly feel like he was confessing to Nico, all over again.
He’d had to tell his closest friend, brother in every way that mattered, that one of his daughters was dead.
That she was dead and Looker had let it happen because he’d liked a fucking murderer.
Of course Ioanna Argyris said that it wasn’t her fault, when she was finally coherent again. She said she had been panicking because she was trapped, and her husband’s old kerbero attacked of its own accord. Maybe it had picked up her mood and a pokemon mind was not quite good enough to think of an elegant solution. She didn’t know, she hadn’t ordered it, it wasn’t her fault!
Looker could buy, on a good day, that she hadn’t ordered the kerbero to attack a five year old.
He would never, ever, believe that it wasn’t her fault. And he would never believe Nico’s insistence that it wasn’t Looker’s fault, either.
Sleep, when it came, was plagued by bad dreams, but in the morning Looker felt strangely at ease, considering everything. He did not feel better; thoughts of Stacia still haunted him, and in many ways they were just as loud as before. This time, though, the echoes felt more like a promise than a reminder. It was... almost refreshing, and it made it a lot easier to focus on what was important.
At least, it might have been, if Lt. Surge didn’t insist on being so irritating.
“You’ve got to eat something,” he insisted.
“Just coffee, please,” Looker repeated carefully, as though he was speaking to someone very slow. He knew he wasn’t anymore, but maybe if he pretended he was...
Surge folded his arms, unimpressed. Looker lost the ensuing staring match.
“If it will have you stop bothering me,” he muttered. Surge grinned. “Do you mother everyone that you meet?”
“Oh, yeah, I do this to everybody who tries to starve themselves,” Surge said, utterly deadpan. “You’re nothing special.”
Looker shook his head, but he was trying not to smile. He consented to toast, although he rarely ate breakfast, and even less in the sort of civilised manner his mother would have approved of.
“Didn’t get a chance to ask yesterday,” Surge said suddenly. Looker blinked. “About that room your kecleon found. What did it mean?”
He frowned, although it was mostly to himself. “Apart from that there has been a child and paint in the room, not a lot. But it is suspicious.”
“You don’t know what it means, but it’s definitely suspicious?” Surge repeated sceptically.
This time, Looker did frown at him. He hadn’t had much chance to think about what it might mean yet, what with being mother-hen’d by a certain Gym Leader and all.
“I meant what I have said yesterday,” Looker told him. “I can not think of any innocent reason for which it would be there... but it is the first time I have seen something like that.”
It was only a half-lie. Of course he had seen something like that before; but it wasn’t relevant, Surge didn’t need to know about it and, after yesterday, Looker didn’t think he would really want to know.

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