The scent of smoke – part 13

Shouting, crying, accusations and apologies – she had seen it in movies and TV shows a hundred times already and each time Jazz had known exactly how she would react if she was in the main characters shoes. But now, on her socks, she was speechless, clueless. Numb.

They didn’t talk on their way to the living room where Jazz chose an armchair instead of her usual spot on the couch. She curled up on it, pulled her knees close to her chest and wrapped her arms around them.

“Are you ready to let me explain now?”

She avoided his gaze, just rested her chin on her knees and hummed. “Can I even be ready for this conversation?”

Subaru took a seat across from her, ran his hands through his hair and exhaled deeply. “Yeah, probably not. Believe me, I’d prefer not to have this talk either.”

“Ha!” Jazz barked, bit her tongue before she could launch into a rant.

“I mean it. This – I didn’t plan it, you know? I never wanted to hurt you. Don’t want that now either.”

As long as she didn’t look at him she could keep her emotions at bay; only when she noticed the dark circles under his eyes and the stubble on his face she had to fight the tears. Which wouldn’t solve anything, so she blinked a few times and took a deep breath instead of sobbing.

“Go on, explain everything. Give me the nice, rational report you probably prepared. The one to get you off the hook.”

She had found out that anger was easier to deal with than heartbreak, masked her pain with snark.

“This is not about me getting off the hook,” he hissed back, fingers curled to fists in his lap. “I owe you an explanation and an apology. I – made a mistake.” He bowed his head, stayed like this while Jazz counted her heartbeats. Ten, eleven, twelve. When he lifted his gaze she was staring at him, unblinking and silent.

“We had split up, I stayed with Mrs. Fukuhara. She had gotten a few anonymous letters the weeks before, just like her husband.”

Despite his attempts to explain Jazz didn’t react, just held his gaze and kept her mouth shut.

“Mitzuki and Takamura accompanied Fukuhara-san. And suddenly I got a call, saying there was an incident. Mrs. Fukuhara basically went berserk, threatened to knock me out if I wouldn’t let her go to her husband.” His chuckle faded in the empty space dividing them, barely reached her ears and got drowned out by her thoughts. Jazz bit her lip, it trembled between her teeth. She increased the pressure until the pain and coppery taste occupied the part of her that had focused on the betrayal.

“It was pure chaos. When we got there, Fukuhara-san was safe, his wife cried in shock and relief and Mizuki was -” His voice broke and Subaru cleared his throat, sat up straighter again.

“Takamura was in shock, too. All of us were, but we managed to take care of the necessary steps. As the team leader I should have been there, should have protected my team.” He ran his hands through his hair and jumped up, pacing the small patch between couch and coffee table up and down.

Jazz stayed where she was, only her eyes followed the tracks Subaru took. Her fingers were cold, numb, and rested in her lap like a prop, pretty to look at but lacking substance. Her whole body was a prop, a mannequin, hollow and unfeeling.

“If I – nothing of this would have happened…” He fell into the cushions of the couch heavily, sending some fluffs flying.

Jazz made a mental note to vacuum the furniture next time she was cleaning. Maybe she could rent one of those fancy vacuum cleaners that could also wash the fabric. And while she was at it, she could also clean their mattresses because-

A quick shake of her head got rid of this train of thought. She sat up straighter, but kept her distance from Subaru.

“Listen, a few days ago I would have been thrilled if you had opened up about your issues and I do know it’s deeply linked to the whole-” She swallowed thickly, but forced the next few words out before she lost courage, “- attack and Mitzuki’s death. And while I’m shocked and grieving for him, I have to be selfish here and bring you back from your trip to Selfblameville for a mission gone wrong and to the elephant in the room: you slept with another woman and while I don’t really want to know the details, I kinda need to know them or my mind will keep coming up with all these horrible images I can’t shake and I will never, ever sleep again.” Her voice was shaking just like her hands, she gripped them tightly, knuckles already white. If she just broke a finger now, would that pain mask the heartbreak? Some more pressure made her knuckles crack.

“Should I – should I just give you a report? Just the facts?” Subaru swallowed, his voice was hoarse already.

“Facts, yes. Not too many details, though.” Her voice sounded just as hollow to her own ears as her heart felt.

“We took Mizuki to a hospital. At some point they sent us back to our hotel rooms; Katsuragi had called and given us new orders, too. Backup came to take care of Fukuhara and his wife. Takamura was – she was very calm. Until I dropped her off at her room; she broke down in tears there. I just wanted to comfort her and – I don’t even know how it happened. We just lost control.”

Just lost control.

“Control?” Jazz inhaled sharply, held her breath for a moment before she exhaled again. “You make it sound as if only your ‘control’ prevents you from jumping any woman in sight. Is that it? It’s so hard not to cheat on me that once you don’t pay attention, you find yourself balls deep in someone else?”

“Don’t be so vulgar!” From desperate to admonishing in a split second. New record. “I’m trying to be civil here.”

“You are trying to save your ass here,” Jazz objected. Anger warmed her and chased away the chills she had earlier.

“I’m not! I’m taking responsibility for a mistake I made.”

Just one more word of her, one more time of talking back – Jazz shook her head. Escalating wouldn’t solve the problem, so she closed her eyes and counted to three.

“Were you drunk?”

He shook his head no, hiding his face in his hands.

“But when you called me – you called me after it happened, right? I mean, you didn’t sleep with her after talking to me, did you?” Somehow this would make it even worse for her, would deepen the betrayal.

“After I – after I realized what I had done I went to a bar. I called you when I came back to my hotel room and I wanted to tell you everything right away but you sounded so shaken but glad I was okay and I – I felt horrible. Like the worst person ever.” He sighed and raised his head only to rest it against the couch, still avoiding meeting her gaze.

“Because you are,” she dryly pointed out. “Well, maybe some of the fanatic mass murderers and historic leaders were worse, but adulterers are definitely runner-ups.”

He stared at her, eyebrows slowly rising as his eyes widened. “Was that a joke?”

Was it? It sounded like one, even to Jazz.

“Maybe,” she replied, arms crossed in front of her and her chin jutted out defiantly. “Anyway, at that time I actually WAS glad and relieved, for some horrible hours I thought you might be the one gotten hit during the attack. I thought I had lost you, Subaru, but you came back and I was so grateful only to find out that I indeed lost you that night. For a different reason, though.”

“But you haven’t lost me! I’m here, I want to fix this! I love you and I just want us to be together again. I promise you, I will never again make such a mistake-”

“Damn sure you won’t,” she interrupted his passionate declaration before he could go down on his knees in front of her; he was halfway off the couch already.

“I won’t. It was a crazy situation and I handled it abysmally poorly.”

“And your job will keep throwing you into crazy situations. Back when we got married you vowed to be faithful, that I would be the only woman for you now. Looks like you lied; why should I believe you now?”

That was the crux; the question she had avoided all the time. Could she even believe him, trust him again?

“Jazz.” He sighed, slumped into the couch some more. “I really have no idea what to say. I know I can’t just apologize and it’s all fixed again. But if you let me, I will spend the rest of my life proving to you that you are the only one I love, the one I want to be with. I meant what I said at our wedding; I want to cherish you and honor you and spend my life with you in it. Please, please let me prove to you that I’m sincere.”

Jazz exhaled, all the anger and tension, the pain chipped away little pieces of her heart and her energy. Sleep sounded so tempting, just going to sleep and once she woke up she could deal with all this. Maybe she could sleep until Subaru made the decision to leave.

“I’m tired,” she mumbled and closed her eyes. “I’m tired of crying, I’m tired of hating you.” Tired of feeling.

“What – what does that mean?” Confusion and hope shone from his eyes as she looked at him again.

“I don’t know. For tonight it means you can stay here. For the future?” She shrugged and got up, stumbled towards the bedroom door. “One more question,” she added with her hand on the handle already, eyes on the white surface of the door. “Are you still working with her?”

He shifted on the couch, she could hear the springs creaking lightly.

“I try to avoid her. We both know we messed this up and she – we both feel guilty.”

Jazz hummed and leaned her forehead against the cool wood in front of her. “I can still smell her cigarettes on you. It’s making me sick.” With this last piece of information Jazz fled into the safety of her bedroom. Tonight, though, she didn’t lock the door.