You already knew something was wrong before you opened the door.
There wasn’t anything strange or out of place. The door was the same old–the mat was dirty but familiar–the walls were cracked in the same places they always had been scarred. There was just a sort of pinching feeling in your gut that warned you that when you opened the door, you wouldn’t like what you saw.
The Interpol issued gun resting against your side was suddenly heavy. You pushed the door open with your fingertips, the nauseating aura around the place making you feel like you couldn’t touch anything. It creaked open like an old man moaning in agony; as slow as bones bending.
The reception area was dark, and you might as well have been looking into the abyss.
Your voice was quiet in the screaming silence. There was no stirring in the complex, so you wondered if he was even home at all. You looked at the floor and your heart fell at the familiar sight. You’d seen it lots of times.
When you led drug busts.
You picked your way past the maze of empty bottles and kicked a bag of syringes by accident. It clattered to the side, and when you followed its movements, you saw another plastic bag full of white powder. You sighed through your nose, hardly daring to breathe through your mouth. You could probably get high just by breathing in the air.
The apartment complex adjacent to the office was also unlocked. Bitterly, you wondered how the man hadn’t even been robbed yet. You pushed it open, more forcefully this time, and saw him lying on his bed like a corpse. For a heartbeat, you actually thought he might have been, if he didn’t sigh.
“…I’m back, Phoenix.”
Your greeting went without reply for a long while until finally, he registered your presence.
“So I see.”
An awful, uneven scruff had grown over his face, like a dark cloud that had aged him 10 years forwards. He sprawled on his bed in a hoodie and sweatpants, his hair splayed across dirty pillows like tendrils of a monster. You had to stop yourself from making a face of disgust.
“I can arrest you, y’know. Possession and usage. I’m a Narc, for Christ’s sake. What were you thinking?”
He finally moved for the first time since your entrance, rolling over onto his side to look at you. His piercing gaze still brought a shiver through your body, but it wasn’t the same as before–it was glossy, like the life had gone out of him. They weren’t the eyes that beheld you with love and adoration. They were the eyes of a taxidermied fox – something once beautiful and now, a shell of what was long since gone.
“Then arrest it. It’s not as if I can defend myself in court, anyways.”
You finally scowled, your calm demeanor gone. You slammed the bedroom door shut behind you, but he didn’t even flinch at the sharp noise.
“Stop being a sorry piece of shit! God, what happened to you?”
You rubbed your temples and swallowed back a sob, blinking away the prickling in your eyes. With your jaw tight, you gritted your teeth and turned away from the sight.
“Lay off of me. You know what – just leave, okay? Report me if you want. I don’t even care.” He rolled over again, and you felt dismissed. You stood your ground in his hazy, dark bedroom and only grimaced, the hot well of tears in your eyes flowing over. You swiped at your cheeks hastily.
“I’m not going to send the person I love to jail.” Your voice dropped to a whisper, unable to support itself. You turned away to recollect yourself.
“Well, the experience will be the same as what I’ve been doing here all this time.”
Your eyes flicked over to the assortment of familiar drugs in ripped baggies strewn across his floor. You couldn’t even lie and say that you hadn’t seen the band wrapped crudely around his arm. This would have been a record drug seizure–if you had the heart to pull out your badge.
“I shouldn’t have left…” You started to blame yourself for his condition. If you hadn’t flown away, would he have been fine? If you could be there to comfort him when he had lost everything, would he at least be smiling?
He only exhaled in response. He might as well have been dead in between breaths.
Finally, you mustered the strength to sit yourself down beside him. When you did, his body rolled to you, the dipping of the mattress too much for him to fight. You flinched when his cold skin pressed against your body.
You first pulled the string off of his forearm, tossing it to the floor. When you gently rolled down his sleeve, you could hear him stir slightly. Maybe he wasn’t too high to completely ignore you, after all.
“You know… I looked into your case. That kid. Trucy?”
“What about her?”
His response was so quick that he could pass as lucid, if not for the slur on his vowels. You couldn’t help yourself and dug your fingers into his hair, smoothing it back as if everything was normal–as if he was only down with a cold, and not like he was 2 seconds away from an overdose.
“Well, she’s probably going to be put into the system. You know, a foster family.”
“No other relatives?”
Excited with his consistent responses, you continued slowly as not to scare him back into silence. “No.”
“Why isn’t she being adopted? She’s too young for the system.” He rolled slightly, onto his back. His gaze stared past you into the ceiling, but his eyebrows furrowed–you sighed with muted relief.
“…what are you going to do about it?”
His stare turned onto you, and you had to look away.
“What the hell am I supposed to do? Take care of her?” he scoffed and let his arm drop onto the bed weakly. “I’m literally surrounded by a lifetime’s worth of heroin. I might as well just kill myself.”
The words hung in the air like the inescapable scent of blood.
“Maybe you shouldn’t say that to an Interpol agent,” you joked weakly, but the statement coming from him only made it more real. He was dirty, and broken–you didn’t even know if you could fix it. A dark thought told you to keep your gun safe. You pressed your arm against it to make sure–you didn’t even want to think about what would happen if it went missing. Your hand pressed against Phoenix’s clammy forehead. You wished that he would at least feel like a warm body.
“…she can’t go into the system. It’s too messed up for a kid like her. How… how old is she?”
Now curious as to his own curiosity about this girl, you answered slowly. “Eight.”
“You… you were in the system. For a while, right?” he suddenly grasped your wrist, and your breath hitched with surprise–you hadn’t expected him to move in a week, much less now. You placed your left hand over his. The grip relaxed, but you held him to you.
“Yes. After my dad passed.”
“You turned out okay. Better than okay–she’ll be fine.”
You suddenly laughed, a cruel bark. You could feel yourself being burned by the hot water of all the dishes you were forced to wash–the foster mother of yours pouring it on your frail body if you didn’t scrub hard enough. If you hadn’t finished washing, you would go without food, or a bed. If you had broken something, you would have been better off dead rather than go through that again. It was no place for a child. You had seen Trucy’s picture when you looked into her state file, too… there was no way you could put her through that.
“Phoenix, there’s no way she can go there. Not if it’s still like when I had to. I...”
“Well, damn.” His hand went slack, and you had to let it go. It slipped away and fell back into the dirtied sheets. You pulled it back into your grasp, trying to massage the icy and stiff fingers.
“I can’t take her,” you warned, “not when I have to leave so much.” Your job as an international agent meant that you were hardly at home. But, with the way things were looking now, you didn’t think you could call this place ‘home’ any longer. Distantly, and with a great deal of pain, you wondered if Phoenix even loved you anymore. The place where you would usually sleep beside him had been occupied with sweat-stained pillows. It seemed that he found a better girlfriend in drugs, anyways.
You looked at him as he began to sit up. You had been hinting at it, but you didn’t think he would actually consider it. He raised himself upright and stared forwards, before looking at you. He blinked a couple of times, and you thought you actually saw a gleam in his irises.
“…Sorry. Can you help me get rid of all this?”
You broke out into a smile that made you feel like everything bad had melted away. Your arms wrapped tightly around him, folding him into your embrace.
“Thank you,” he murmured, after kissing the inside crook of your neck.
“I’m going to pretend I didn’t see any of this. I can still arrest you, after all.”
He laughed, a short and throaty chuckle, and you could tell he hadn’t laughed in a while.
And now, standing outside the door after your latest trip overseas, you felt at home. You could hear Trucy singing like a banshee to the Steel Samurai theme, with an equally terrible piano accompaniment. You felt okay. Things would be okay. Things could be purified and shards could be mended. You felt like you belonged again. Like the spot beside Phoenix in his bed was made and ready for you to slip in. Like there was sunshine streaming into the rooms, and smiles on everybody’s faces.
Like everything would be all Wright, after all.
“I’m back,” you called, and a chorus of ‘welcome home’ greeted you.