Bones of Spring (WIP) – Chapter 55 – L’chaim

Kat and Fisher said nothing at all to each other in the brief elevator ride up to the 11th floor. He  unlocked the unmarked door, then opened it on a well appointed suite, with a separate bedroom, a stocked kitchenette and a lounge space backed against the exterior bedroom wall. It was dark outside now, but the Georgetown view would be unremarkably pleasant during the day. There was, to Kat’s irritation, a basket of calla lilies on the counter with a printed note of congratulations to the newlyweds, Mr. and Mrs. Miles Fisher, compliments, et cetera. 

Fisher pushed these aside, revealing the briefcase he’d carried with him into their first meeting. He indicated the sofa. “Sit down.”

Kat did not move, merely looked at him in anticipation of seeing that teasing smile, but his expression was sober and serious. 

“Please, just be patient with me, all right?”

He seemed earnest, so she limped over to the plush sofa and sank down on it, privately relieved to be off her feet. She watched as he thumbed open the briefcase’s chrome clasps, and drew out a blue folder marked Pace Private Hospital. A frisson went through her as he offered it to her, his expression difficult to read. 

“It’s experimental surgery, but not a full reconstruction. A graft to loosen the pressure on your instep and some neurectomy to help with the pain.”

Kat dropped the file without opening it. She stared up at him, at a sudden, total loss. The papers that slid out from it had podiatry diagrams with labels and lines, but she could not understand them, or comprehend what they represented. Wordlessly, he collected them and put the file on the side table where it was within reach.

“Your foot won’t ever be the same,” he said, watching her intently, a tone of genuine apology in his voice. “But it’ll be better. That’s something, at least.”

She was surprised to feel tears wetting her cheeks. With one shaking hand she reached up to touch her own face, not sure what to do with this sensation, or even prepared to name it. It wasn’t gratitude. It was shock. Of all the things to throw her reality out of orbit in the past week, this was the last thing she’d expected.

Fisher hunched down in front of her, resting his forearms across his knees and looking up at her with his wide brown eyes. “It’s okay to be scared.”

“I’m not scared,” she heard herself saying from a far distance. “I’m just… why?”

“I made it a condition of my taking this assignment abroad. It’s better for both of us if you have an easier time getting around. And because we’re asking a lot of you. You served in France unofficially, you’ve got no pension, and none of the decorations or honours that you, by any fair metric, deserve.”

“I don’t want — ,“ she began, then choked on the words, her throat closing as her confusion mounted, rendering her unable to speak.  

“How about room service?” he suggested. “They do a good beef wellington here.” 

“Fine,” she said, using the heel of her hand to push the tears away. “Yes, please. Anything.”

He called down the order, then moved to the window, finding something in the night time street to interest him. She knew she ought to thank him. She knew she should take off her boots, that she wouldn’t be returning to the little ground floor room but she couldn’t bring her mind around to that either. She couldn’t settle on one thing, couldn’t parse the conversation she’d just had downstairs, or the things he had just now told her. She looked in confusion at the wedding ring and the engagement ring on her finger, not convinced the hand belonged to her.

She’d started her day expecting to talk strategy and reports. Taking cold eyed operational directives. Now she felt like an icicle caught in the blast of a flamethrower. She felt unstable and reduced. Less sane. Disempowered by this one act of kindness.

If her life had now ceased to make sense, the strange, handsome man standing at the plate glass window was coming into some kind of focus. Miles Fisher had stepped away to give her some space, no trace of his prior attempts to pressure or persuade her. He clearly enjoyed verbally needling her, but she noticed he was also well attuned to her dislike of being crowded or touched without permission. She wished suddenly for his teasing antagonism, his gentle mockery, because the eyes watching her in the dark glass were entirely too compassionate.

“Fisher,” she called softly. “Will you help me with my boots?” 

He returned to her side, knelt down and unbuttoned her suede boots, gently working both off her feet. He laid one hand over the top of her injured foot, and she could feel the warmth through her sock. 

“May I see?” he asked, with no special emphasis. She nodded. 

He slid off the sock, then reached over for the file, flicking it open and drawing out a sheet of photocopied paper. Kat took it out of politeness, but she was too focused on him and his study of her to give much heed to the information on it. 

He visually examined the pocked bullet wound, the cauterized flesh over her inner ankle, the curled-under toes, the skeletal bone structures where the flesh had been cut away. He held the foot gently in his hands, running his thumbs over it, stopping at the mass of scar tissue on the inside. Then he lifted his head, and met her gaze.

“It must hurt you a great deal.”

“Every moment of every day,” she admitted, feeling the heat rise in her face. She hated owning any kind of weakness, but she knew that weakness was not something this man would ever hold against her.

“It’s not a perfect fix,” he said, with that same gentle regret. “But it will change things for you, when it heals.”

“I suppose I won’t be limping any worse in a cast,” she said with a shaky attempt at optimism.

“Much of our training is behavioural, so you won’t need to be on your feet for a little while. They’ll take skin — ” He indicated the outside of her foot. “Graft it here, and remove some nerve tissue. It’ll take time to train your muscles and tendons to straighten, but the surgeon told me that eventually you’ll be able to rest it flat again.”

“How long will that take?”

“We’ve got a date scheduled for a week from now, if you accept. Six weeks for initial recovery, and a few months of rehabilitation.” He pressed his hand against the sole of her foot, then curled it into a loose fist, and let his knuckles ride along the arch, watching her with that warm, amber-brown gaze.   

With one hand, he flipped through the file, and showed her. Sketches, medical opinions, even surveillance photographs of her rolling, wounded gait. Those should have made her angry, but she was finding it impossible. The tiny upwelling of hope threatened to crack her foundations, collapse her in this strange, ever increasing tide.

She jumped slightly at the knock on the door, then reminded herself it was just room service. Fisher bent and laid a swift kiss on the top of her foot, then went to answer it, stepping back to allow the porter to wheel in the service cart. 

The kiss was, so far, the only physical liberty he had taken. It was a light peck, a gesture more familiar than suggestive, which made it all the more disconcerting. Mrs. Fisher would have to become accustomed to such gestures, but he hadn’t done it for the benefit of an audience. He knew better than to draw attention to something so private. He might annoy her, tease her, and perhaps infuriate her beyond all tolerance, but she knew instinctively she would never have to ask him to keep her secrets.

Kat watched Fisher’s reflection in the window as he paid the man a generous tip, and saw him out. In addition to the covered dishes, there was bottle of Moet. He immediately snatched it up, and twisted off the muselet.

“Are we celebrating something?” she asked, awkwardly getting to her feet and taking a few ginger steps over to him. 

“Aren’t we?” he grinned. “Our recent nuptials.”

She rolled her eyes and uncovered a pair of silk-shrouded glass champagne coupes perched next to the bucket. “We can’t celebrate that. We’re only pretending to be married, it would be unlucky.” 

“You pick something, then. Here—”

The cork was ready to spring free of the muselet. He used his thumb to pop it, deftly catching the foaming liquid in one glass, then the other. He put one in her hand and held his up. 

“Well?” he said, his crooked, mischievous grin reappearing. 

Kat thought for a moment of her last toast, the tearful one she’d made with Irina with some vile home-made vodka procured for their last dinner. Her memory of that evening was fuzzy, but the words had stayed with her. 


She could tell by Fisher’s surprised expression she’d caught him unawares. His smile relaxed somewhat, but his eyes brightened as they fixed on her. He raised the glass. 


She clinked her glass against his, and drank down the champagne, savouring it. “Oh, that is…”

“Enjoy it, Kat,” he said, refilling her glass. “Luxury comes a lot more dear where we’re going.” 

“Hard to get less dear than free because you’ve bluffed the concierge,” she observed, now trying to pace herself, feeling the sparkly sweet texture taking the edge off her earlier disorientation, replacing it with something less anxious. She also noticed he’d started calling her Kat, and that fizzed in its own way.

“I wonder how many times we can try it,” he reflected. “We’ll be going as a wealthy married couple on their honeymoon, but that won’t be good cover in all situations.”

“Presumably we won’t need champagne in all situations.” 

“I’ll make the effort,” he said, turning to her with that thousand-watt grin. “I won’t conceal from you that my methods are not what you’d call orderly.” 

“Is that what you meant when you said you don’t believe in clean living?”

He lingered by the cart, toying slightly with the bottle, then dropped his arm to his side and met her eyes. “I’m a sociable animal. I don’t say no to entanglements. I get information, in large part, by being a good time Charlie with deep pockets, and a high tolerance for liquor and the occasional narcotic.”

“And food,” she noticed, letting much of this bypass her. The alcohol was helping considerably to smooth down her comprehension. She recalled to mind she hadn’t eaten since breakfast.

“Good food,” he corrected. “I appreciate fine things. It’s an outlook officially disdained in some of the places we might be going, but I think being alive means enjoying it as much as possible, whenever possible.”

“I’m beginning to appreciate that.” 

“I hope so.” He gave her a quick smile that seemed not quite sincere to her, or at least, not quite as chipper as his tone. He turned to the array of covered dishes. “Tell you what. My room is down the hall, but I’d like to have dinner with you. Then we can both get some sleep.” 

“Interesting arrangement,” she said into her glass, which she noticed now was empty. She held it out to him. “Is it that kind of marriage?”

He flushed a little, not quite meeting her eyes as he refilled it for her. “I know you like your privacy.” 

“Oh, and I thought that was a joke to you,” she remarked, keeping her tone light. “But now you’re going to be precious about it.” 

“I’m not.” His smile turned slightly plastic, as though he knew he was being baited, but was too keen fall for it. “But it’s been a lot to take in, this is a conversation we can have la — ”

“I think we should have it now, Mr. Fisher,” she polished off the rest of the champagne, then set it with tipsy precision on the cart. “Suddenly you’re uncomfortable. I find that interesting.”

He gave her a wary smile. “That’s what it takes, huh?”

She shrugged. She knew she was awful at flirting, and her last two affairs had been less than nothing to write home about. But she was feeling very loose and relaxed in this haze of two-hundred dollar Moet, which was just about the only thing in her stomach.

The truth was, and there was no point in admitting it out loud, she’d noticed him. Not just his cavalier bedside manner, or his epicurean recruitment tactics, but the man himself. The one beneath the clothes, beneath the cruel designation inked into his skin. Beneath the good grooming, the obscure service record, the storied and agonized history, the chameleonic ability with language, there was an endless, devouring crucible. A greedy intemperance of spirit that persisted long after survival no longer depended on it, driven by memories of starvation. 

“Fraternization,” she said, testing the word. “That is the word, yes?”

“It’s a rather vague policy,” he admitted. “I don’t think we should put too much effort into interpreting it tonight.”

“Oh, forgive me. I wouldn’t want to compromise your professionalism.”

Now he did look at her, one eyebrow raised. She wondered at him, at his sudden shyness. After such a long pursuit with such naked tactics, she could not now imagine he was going to play the ingenue. Here in this hotel room, in a building below a star-filled sky free of contrails and the whistling of bombs, words on paper might certainly seem very important to certain people, but he was not of them, and neither was she. 

“Is it just a crush, Fisher?” she said, not trying to be coquettish, but feeling it all the same. “A professional interest? Flirting without intent? Do you think the theatrics were necessary to get my attention or is that just how you work?

“You’re the only woman for the job,” he said calmly, though she could see him biting the corner of his lip.

She moved slowly, just as she always did, hampered by her dragging foot, the foot he’d just informed her he’d contracted with the US government to repair. As she drew in, and he remained stock still, she felt something different in his energy. Felt the direction of it, the drawn tension pulling him, ready to spring. It was not directed away from her, but towards her. He was wrapped like an old rubber band on a primed grenade, each whitening frayed separation bringing him that much closer to the explosion of surrender she wanted so badly from him. 

His hesitation confused her. She thought of his lips on her foot, touching the mottled, twisted skin, knew it was not a mistake or a casual gesture. She wanted him, wanted to say yes to what she thought he’d wanted of her. It seemed he hadn’t counted on her to express any desires of her own. 

“Kat,” he said her name softly, almost as though it was painful. “I think perhaps we should… “

She closed the last of the distance, putting her fingertips to the mother of pearl buttons of his fine silk shirt. She unbuttoned it, revealing a plain cotton wife beater with a deep neck. On his chest, the barest edge of the tattoo was visible —  just a single faded dark green number 1 underneath the hem, stitched into his skin with jagged indifference. 

She bent down and pressed her lips to the solitary numeral, feeling the slight raised skin, and the beating of his heart underneath it. She felt the rise of his breath, the tiny catch inside his chest as she let her kiss linger over the texture of his pain. 

There was force in the way he gripped her hair, force in the way he guided her up, the way he crushed his mouth against hers. A champagne flavoured kiss, warm and wet, his tongue just meeting hers. When he raised his arms, she anticipated his embrace, full of the hardness of the wiry strength he’d carried with him from that world to this. 

Instead of embracing her, he gently withdrew his lips from hers, placed his hands on her shoulders and very, very carefully moved her away. She stared at him, her entire body shuddering, her lip quivering, words so completely and utterly beyond her that she couldn’t have said as much. He seemed caught in the same dilemma, opening his mouth in preparation to speak some placating words. He was flushed, heat radiating off him, making his hesitation all the more infuriating. 

“You don’t…” he began. Abruptly, he moved away, putting out a distancing hand as though to ward her off. 

“What don’t I?” she said, finding her voice at last. 

His face made a little grimace as he met her eyes. “I was hoping for more time for us to understand certain things about each other.”

“I thought you didn’t say no to entanglements.” 

His eyes flashed on her. “This is not an entanglement. You know that.”

“Then what is it, Fisher?” 

“It’s a partnership. And my success with those has been variable.”

“I have an idea,” she offered, aware she was slightly drunk, angry and aroused, and together this was a dangerous combination, but she had ceased to care. “Maybe it would be more natural, more convenient, if I simply follow you around for a year. Taking notes on you, talking to surgeons about which parts of you I will have repaired. That’s what you did, right? Read about how I limped around France shooting Germans, or did you catch some of the show yourself?”

“And if I told you,” he said, his tone sharpening with a first sign of impatience. “That I am untalented at monogamy, that I disdain the idea that affection or camaraderie need be limited to single partners, or even to a single gender. That I mix work and pleasure with alacrity. How would you apply that to your own expectations and desires?”

“You found me,” she retorted. “You walked into my life, in and through it, circling me like a vulture. Now I’m supposed to have these answers for you?”

“I don’t know,” he growled. “But if you don’t know either, we have things to resolve.”

“You didn’t put it in your paperwork. I read it carefully. Maybe you forgot to include it.” 

“You might find you don’t like my methods,” he warned, looking hard at her. “But I get results. Largesse and amusement works better than threats and violence. It doesn’t come without cost. I can’t leave you ignorant of that.”

“Largesse and amusement,” she repeated, furious now. “Why don’t you say what you mean?”

He took a deep breath. “Don’t be naive.”

“Liquor, drugs, bribes…” Kat counted them off her fingers, then considered. “Sex. Was that your play to get me to agree to this?”

“Stop it,” he said softly. “We can’t start this way, Kat. If we can’t trust each other—” 

“But you enjoy it,” she accused. “You like the material pleasures that come with the job. You like having that power.” 

“I don’t like being encumbered,” he told her pointedly. “I have friends, and I have lovers, and some that fit both categories, and I don’t care to be the kind of man who trades them for a new model every season.”

“What…” she put down the bottle and the glass, steadying herself. “What does that mean?”

“I mean,” he levelled his gaze on her. “That while I am painfully attracted to you, I don’t wish for you to misapprehend that there is a specific destined future in that.”

She looked at him in frustrated fury, his cowardly resort to euphemism. It felt like he was building some cage around her, handing her the key and then demanding to know why she was holding him prisoner. 

“So,” she said coldly. “Not friends, not lovers. Which category am I?”

He sighed. “You know that isn’t what I mean.”

“Asset? Agent?”

He didn’t answer. Down by his side, his hand flexed, the tension running all the way up to his shoulder, as though he was fighting the urge to reach for her. When he didn’t, when he just stood there, she felt the last of her anticipation wither in the dry heat of his opaque, incomprehensible rejection.

She picked up the folder from the side table and retreated behind the kitchen counter. “What you said before about intent, you’re right. I don’t know the difference. There’s no point to making this complicated.”

Fisher took a deep breath, and for an instant she found herself hoping that he would shout at her. Then she could shout back, and she wouldn’t feel so helpless. Instead, he exhaled in a deep sigh. He sat down on the sofa and indicated the space beside him. 

“Come here. Please. I need you to listen to me.”

She took a deep breath, then acquiesced, sitting down beside him with her knees together, her eyes on the adjacent wall. She was afraid to look at him, afraid to see rejection in his eyes, or worse — pity. But he seemed angry with himself, his shoulders hunched as he steeled himself.

“Evelyn Max Marquez wrote a ciphered letter to me in 1944, shortly after you both met. He was aware of Frühlingsmorgen from the source I told you about, and when you unburdened yourself to him, he knew I would be interested. In that letter he entreated me to leave you be, to let you enjoy the rest you’d earned. And I did that, keeping my distance while you finished your education. I worked on my projects, worked on Frühlingsmorgen. I followed leads, I grilled our captives about it, took reports from agents in Europe. I laid groundwork for this investigation. But I knew there would be no chance of ever doing more than that without your participation. That was all the official excuse I needed to start snooping into your life, discreetly, every few months or so.”

“For six years,” she said heavily. “Right?”

“I didn’t really begin making serious inquiries until two years ago.” Fisher took another hard breath. “I truly did not want to take over your life or invade your privacy, but I had the benefit of access to an FBI assigned detail on your friend Irina Mironova. I couldn’t resist. I did as all spies do, and told myself it was professional diligence, that your plans to move west and pursue a communications career were somehow my business. That your confidences were already state property. And then…”

He dragged his hand down over his mouth and chin, then looked at her with a gaze too full of pathos to be ignored. There were other emotions there —  anger, and shame. She didn’t understand what he, who had expressed little shame at all in his blatant pursuit of her, should have to feel bashful about now. Then it occurred to her. 

“They were recording us in Lafayette Square,” she said dully. “When I told her what happened to me at Frühlingsmorgen.”

“After I read the transcript, about what Wolfgang Baier did to you, I knew I had no real right to ask you to involve yourself in this. The odds, and even the definition of success change with each day, and the requirements of the agency are undeniably political. I knew how isolated you were, I knew that you were considering moving to California. Maybe if you’d done that, you would’ve met a nice man who would have given you a life with some stability. You’ve earned that.”

“So what?” she shrugged, trying to keep her voice from shaking. “If I’d wanted that, I’d already —”

“Kat,” he said, his voice full of self-reproach. “Don’t you understand? I couldn’t bring myself to let you go. I dragged you back into this mess for incredibly selfish reasons. You deserve to know that much.”

“You really think I’m that innocent?” she demanded quietly. “After all the times I told you to go to hell? You think I didn’t mean it?”

“Well,” he said heavily. “I wasn’t going to press it after last night.”

“It wouldn’t have been fun for you after I made you show me that,” she said, nodding to his chest. “Your big American spy master act doesn’t work so well once it’s clear you’re just another refugee trying to invent yourself.”

“What do you think an American is, Kat?” he said, his smile turning cold. “And why would you think I have any intention of trying to deceive you?”

That gave her pause. It was true that, excepting a few little misdirections, he hadn’t told her any outright lies. In fact, she had to admit he was trying very hard not to misrepresent himself. But she didn’t like that he was deciding her prejudices for her. She didn’t like that he had drafted her rejection and now expecting her to put her signature to it simply because his guilt was making it difficult for him to navigate the change in contract. She’d been an amusing target, but they were level now, and it clearly intimidated him. 

With some effort, she rose from the sofa. “I’m tired, Mr. Fisher. Shall we take an intermission on the charade until morning?”

She could tell he wanted to continue the argument. That he had frustrated his own attempts to be circumspect, something she understood was very much against his nature. He was a man unaccustomed to denying himself, one who indulged his passions, who rarely had to consider the consequences or be responsible for them. He was the ideal stalking horse for an operation that required making people feel important and flattered enough to want to share confidences, but she could not let him think for a moment it would work on her. 

He rose and went to stand by the door, his expression subdued, but his eyes held her in that unblinking stare. He gave an awkward little half-smile, jerking his head slightly in a beckoning gesture.

“Come here.”


“Because I want to kiss you good night before I go contemplate my misapprehensions.”

She hesitated, then condescended to his request, making her way across the carpet until she was face to face with him. Very gently, he pressed his lips against her cheek, just at the corner of her mouth. Without meaning to, she inhaled the scent of him, slightly musky, smelling of champagne sweat, and expensive cigarettes, and under that something subtle and individual that she couldn’t name. Something human she would need to taste to identify. 

“If you need me, it’s room 1106.” 

He left without another word, closing the door quietly behind him.