I open the door to my apartment. Keys rattle in the lock, and I drop my bag, wrinkled and lonely, in the corner. Basil needs feeding. I pour his food and set it down for him, jade green eyes watching my every movement. He gorges himself, not even a thank-you. Damn cat.
A knock comes at my door, the secret raps that I know so well. I look at the calendar. It's been a while. I open the door, the dead bolts rhythmic in their clatter. He stands there, grinning at me, long and lanky. A specter of death in a black suit and a blacker fedora. An angel of death. I can tell he's hurt. He sways, his face a rictus of pain. His eyes glaze, and I catch him as he falls forward into my apartment.
He never comes unless he's hurt.
He's light, almost as if he doesn't eat enough. I finally see the scarlet bloom on his side. It soaks his blue shirt, spreading fingers through the hole in his side. I drag him in towards the back. His eyes flutter, but he doesn't make a sound. I figured he wouldn't. An angel of death would be silent.
He knows to lie still and allow me to patch him up. He's smart, even when unconscious. I lay him on the bed as gently as possible and strip him of his shirt and jacket. Those will be tended to later, but for now, I'm more worried about the bullet. Here, in the back room of a dingy, rent-controlled apartment, I do my real work. Work I shouldn't be doing.
I perform field surgery. I dislodge the bullet from the wound. Thankfully, it isn't deep. His ribs caught it, this time. I shake my head as I drop the bullet in the pan. He's going to end up killed, but still, I patch him up and send him on his way. The thought is morbid. I shake it off as I make the tiny stitches. My work is good; there won't be as big of a scar.
The needle flashes, hypnotic in the lamplight. My eyes trace the scars that crisscross his body, marking a highway of pain across the thin torso, wiry and muscled. He's been lucky most of his life. I think the angel was luckiest when he collapsed in front of me as I was walking home from my shift that first time. He whispered that I shouldn't call the cops. I've always honored that unspoken request, every time.
The bandages seem to wrap themselves around his torso. Have to make sure the wound stays clean. I undress him the rest of the way, slipping the pajama bottoms on him like the practiced professional I am. Still, my hands shake. He groans a little, now that his wound is taken care of; I have just the thing for that, courtesy of his mysterious employer.
Doped up sleep is angelic, at least for him.
Basil watches me as I wash and press his clothes. Not even an offer of help. Damn cat. Sitting at the kitchen table, I mend the shirt and jacket, my stitches tiny, neat, and quick. I look at the clock. Over an hour since I dragged him in. I check the deadbolts and the window locks before I go to bed. Good thing I'm off tomorrow.
Sleeping arrangements include the luxurious caress of the armchair by his bed. I don't mind. I've done this a lot. I check on him. Still asleep. I set his folded clothes on the nightstand, his hat on top, and settle myself in the chair. The light goes off, but I'm alert for any signs of distress.
A hand shakes me awake. I snap to, only to find him kneeling in front of me, still in bandages and pajamas. He tells me he appreciates the continued care. I stammer something, my professional nurse's tone gone suddenly squeaky when I meet his intense, black eyes. My voice is silenced as his lips meet mine, the taste of him intoxicating. The slight taste of scotch overridden by the tobacco he smokes, just like I'd always thought he would taste. My hands, which have mended him hundreds of times, tremble as I touch him for the first time without needing a bandage.
The rasp of a lighter, harsh and final, shatters the dream. I sit up, stiff from the chair, and watch the glow of the cigarette's tip as he takes a long drag. It's all that marks him in the darkness. I click my watch, and the lit dial tells me I've been asleep only about five hours. My voice heavy with sleep, I ask him if he's hungry. The cigarette bobs with his response.
I get up, the pins and needles in my legs making me stagger to the door. I trip. Goddamn cat. Flipping on the light in the kitchen, which makes my eyes burn, I put a pot of soup on the stove and set about making sandwiches. Doped up sleep might be angelic, but it leaves you ravenous.
Twenty minutes. That's all it takes. I set everything on the tray and bring it in. The lamp is on, the cigarette smoldering in the ashtray. He's cleaning his gun. I look away. I don't like guns, I never have. I set the tray on the bedside table. He thanks me, and I nod. I hand him some more pills, which he sets next to the coffee.
I eat with him. Listening to what had happened this time. Of course, it's none of my business, but patient confidentiality means I won't tell anyone. Not that I would. He talks, his voice raspy and yet rich at the same time, the results of hard drinking and even harder smoking. I know the cigarettes are what are going to kill him; he wouldn't die any other way, not my angel of death.
He takes his pills, slurring as they kick in. I tuck him in and turn out the light. He won't be up for another eight hours. I sleep in my own bed. Lonely, except for the damn cat.
He's gone when I wake up. More supplies for when he needs them are on the counter, and I store them in the hall closet. His boss gets them for him. I don't know or why, but he leaves them every time he goes. I wish I could talk with him more, maybe learn more about him other than what he does for a living. I go about my day, cleaning the bedding and putting down fresh sheets. I can smell him in the room, which has that intangible scent of cologne and liquor mixed with that deadly tobacco.
I decide to go out to a movie when the sun starts going down. The city can be dangerous at night, or so I've heard. Right now, I don't care. I need to get out of the apartment, away from him…the memory of him.
The movie…I can't remember any of it. It doesn't really matter. I wasn't paying attention anyway. Like I'm not paying attention now. It's almost as if the movie I'm watching is myself turning, preoccupied, down a dark alley. I can see the thugs out of the corner of my eye. One has a knife. I don't carry pepper spray. My job is to heal, not to hurt. I quicken my pace, but they smell the fear on me.
They come for me, faster and stronger than I expected. I break into a run, but one of them grabs my jacket and jerks me around to face him and his friend. I take a breath to scream, but all that comes out is a 'whumph' noise as Thug One's fist connects with my abdomen. I collapse, my knees buckling under the impact, and they move in. A shoe is standing next to me then, and I recognize it as his.
The gun roars once, then twice. The force of it jerks his arm up, but his aim is true. Both of them are sprawled on the pavement, sightless eyes staring at the black city sky. They thought I was an easy mark. Too bad I'm the caretaker of the angel of death. Too bad.
He kneels next to me, checking me for injuries. I mumble something about being fine, and then everything goes black.
I wake up in my bed. The armchair is next to it, and he's dozing. A thought about how ironic it was crosses my mind, and then I'm sitting up. He snaps awake, his hand going behind his back to where the gun is holstered. I freeze, and he relaxes, sitting back.
He tells me he's sorry, but he was passing by and saw it happen. He says he wished he could have been there sooner, but he saw me get punched. I thank him anyway, my angel. He goes red for some reason, then coughs and mutters about it being no big deal.
I feel my stomach. I'm going to be sore in the morning, I know. I lift my shirt to examine it, and I see the bruises already forming. I groan and get up to find some ice for it. I know I'm going to pay for it eventually. He stops me, tentatively, and asks if I'm all right. I nod.
He picks up his jacket as if to leave, and I touch his arm. He turns to look down at me, and I ask him his name.
"Jigen." He rubs the back of his neck, as if I make him nervous. I take the plunge and hug him in thanks; my arms slide up his back to hold him to me. He really is tangible, not just when he's bleeding. He strokes my hair as if he's nervous. I let him go and inform him that I'm here all the time, not just when he's hurt.
He nods, saying he'll remember that. I hear his voice rumble in his chest, and I step back, letting him go. He leans down and kisses me, and I taste the scotch and tobacco, like I knew I would. I hold his arm, and he breaks off, smiling from under his fedora. I realize it's raining.
I offer to let him stay, and he looks out at the storm. He nods slowly. And I smile at him. He's nervous for someone who can walk to my apartment with a belly wound. I find it amusing.
I wake up, and the sheets are rumpled, warm from his presence. I can smell him in the room, and I revel in the scent. A note is on the table in the kitchen. Apparently his boss needs him. But I don't mind so much. The sunlight pours in the curtained window, and I see the jacket, the same jacket I've mended over a hundred times, is tossed over a chair. A smile touches my lips.
He'll be back. He always comes back, my angel of death.
I head back to bed. I can afford to sleep in.