Privideniya – Epilogue

It had been three months. Most days it felt like longer.

Jack no longer dreamed about his father, about Ocelot, about Olga Gurlukovich. He didn't dream about anything that he could remember when he woke up, and that was how he wanted it. He slept now for nine, ten, even twelve hours at a stretch, as if he had years of lost rest to catch up on.

He saw Adrian one evening a week. They alternated apartments. If they met at his place, then Adrian would usually cook. He was intuitive about food; he trusted his senses. He never followed a recipe, but everything always worked out for him. On the nights that he came to Jack's apartment, they made do with takeout. Afterwards, they'd sit on the sofa side-by-side, barely touching, watching whatever happened to be on cable, killing time until they could go back to the bedroom.

It felt like an archaic ritual that they performed with exactness, that they had long forgotten the meaning of. It felt good like that.

Friday night rolled around. Jack caught the subway near his apartment a little after seven. It was spring; the days were longer now. A little light still glimmered in the sky, but down here between the buildings, the streetlamps were coming on. He checked the time frequently. He tried to be punctual, though on his off nights Adrian was late more often and by longer then Jack ever was. He usually called, but sometimes he didn't, and even now it set Jack to wondering.

He took it as an inevitability: they would not be together like this forever.

Sometimes Jack remembered their last night together in Moscow, and he did not know why he had said the things he had. They had spent a week there, soaking out their aches and pains, salving their bruises, gathering their strength to go home.

The Gurlukovich soldier – Kolya – and Innokenty had been with them at first. Neither of them spoke a word of English, but Adrian had taken them aside and, with nothing but a phrasebook from the hotel gift shop and some elementary grammar, half-remembered, he had talked the whole story out of them.

Perhaps it had been his patience then, Jack thought, that had made him do what he did.

Kolya didn't know where Ocelot had gone. He said that he had disappeared from Groznyj Grad; he'd strayed from the path and the woods had swallowed him whole, a fairy character returning to his tale. He'd left Kolya with a letter written in an elaborate code, and the name of a doctor in Moscow. Ocelot had said that they could trust her. Jack hadn't believed that for a second, but he'd kept his mouth shut on the matter. Kolya and Innokenty clearly needed to see someone.

There had been some kind of a reactor leak at Groznyj Grad, Kolya told them. He made it sound like an accident, but Jack wasn't so sure. Whatever the case, by their first night away they were showing symptoms. They were pale and prone to fainting; Adrian was constantly pulling the Jeep over to the side of the rode so one or the other could bolt out of the back seat to puke in the ditch.

The next day, Innokenty had been a little better, but Kolya was still gripped by cold sweats. They had both lost flesh from their faces. While Adrian questioned them, Kolya chewed his lip and shivered.

Later that evening, Adrian had filled him in on everything. Jack couldn't remember what he had said in return, but he didn't think it had been important. There wasn't much of a choice to be made.

They'd herded Kolya and Innokenty into a cab and driven into the city center where the new Western-style buildings were. The doctor's practice was in one of the penthouses. She was tall, dark, much younger than Jack had expected. She scrutinized Ocelot's message with unsmiling intensity.

Jack had sensed he had only a moment before she whisked the boys away, out of his reach. He pulled Innokenty aside and slipped a wad of rubles into his hand. Wrapped around the bills was a scrap of hotel stationary with Philanthropy's secure contact information on it.

He had known that Innokenty would know what to do. He was sure he had been right to trust him.

There had been no word from either of them since then.

Jack got off the subway at Forest Hills. As he came up onto the sidewalk he glanced at the clock at the Bank of America. It was almost eight.

He walked a little faster.

At the liquor store on the corner, he bought a bottle of wine and then went on to Adrian's apartment. He knocked, and then Adrian was there, almost as if he had been waiting.

"Right on time," he purred.

Jack frowned, wondering if Adrian was making fun of him. He presented the bottle of wine.

"What's the occasion?"

"Three months."

"Ah, yes. I didn't forget that."

Adrian was still busy in the kitchen. Jack pulled a chair around so he could watch him work.

He could remember the hotel room in Moscow. Adrian had been stretched out on one of the beds, naked because clothes hurt his bruises. He'd had a sheet pulled up around his hips.

"I'll miss you when all this is over, Ingenue," was what he had said.

"Yes…" Jack had replied, uncertainly.

"You know these things so rarely work out."

"No," he'd said, uncertain still.

Adrian had raised his head a fraction of an inch, enough to look at him. He had not brought the subject up again, but when they were both back in New York they had fallen into this soothing rhythm: food, television, and sex.

These things so rarely worked, but for the moment they did.

"I was at the office a few days ago," Jack said. They never talked during the week; they always saved everything up for Friday night.

"At Philanthropy?"

"Yeah. Hal says he's been keeping an eye out, but there's been no sign of Ocelot anywhere. He just disappeared after Groznyj Grad."

"Are you ever going to introduce me to your friends, Jack?"

Adrian sounded amused. Jack had the impression that he was being teased, and he smiled a timid smile. "You mean Hal and Snake? You know I'm trying to figure out how to break the news to them. They'll just put you to work rescuing orphans from burning buildings and shutting down unlicensed puppy mills. Hero work."

He watched Adrian chop a bell pepper: his fingers flying, the knife flying, everything in the attitude of flight. When he was finished, Jack found his voice again.

"Do you think he's dead?"

Adrian seemed to know who he meant, but he resisted it.

Jack waited.

"He is an old man," Adrian said at last. "And he looked very tired. His mind and his body had grown weary. When a man gets like that, the line between alive and dead is very fine."

"What about killing him?"

"I had my chance," Adrian said quietly. "I know I will not get another."

"Are you… okay with that?"

There was a skillet of olive oil heating on the stove. Adrian added the chopped pepper to an onion he already had prepared, then he dumped them both into the pan. They hissed and leaped in the hot oil, and he pushed them around with a wooden spatula.

The smell quickly filled the kitchen. Jack's stomach growled in anticipation.

"Are you hungry?"

Jack shrugged. "I like your cooking."

Adrian poured water over the vegetables. He turned down the heat and left them to simmer. Then he set the spatula on a rack, and wiped his hands on a dish towel. Methodical and efficient; everything planned a moment in advance.

He turned around.

"I still think about Revolver Ocelot," he admitted. "I think about him a lot. But he is as a specter to me – a ghost – he has no weight and no substance and no form. You are more real to me now than he ever was. Your hunger, and your hands, and your need. These are tangible things that I can measure and grasp."

"Oh," Jack said. He went forward a step, unsure, but Adrian pulled him into his arms, into a kiss.

It felt right. It felt like the truth. Jack moved against him, fitting their bodies together, finding the shape of him beneath his clothes, beneath his disguises, beneath his skin. He thought of a shade called back from the land of the dead, his senses restored by a glut of blood. Stealing what time he could here, amongst the living.

~ The End

A/N: Thanks all around, but especially to EAG, Aunt Arctica, Grayswandir, Sunny Mario, Dahne, Sharkychan, Drake, and everyone who has left reviews over the years. Your assistance, kind words, encouragement, and wave upon inexhaustible wave of horrible Munchans (applies to EAG only) meant a lot to me and haven't been forgotten.