- Lamentia -
- XX -
Toris was only speechless, still as a deer caught in headlights.
His mind, however, was a storm of conflicting thoughts.
Ivan was innocent, or so Alfred claimed. Could it be true then, that the tower of suffering Ivan built for himself laid atop a foundation that composed of nothing but a false conviction? Could it be true then, that each brick placed to imprison him in more ways than one could be so easily destroyed as they were created?
Up until now, Ivan's innocence was only a passing idea that Toris hardly entertained. He spent every minute with the Russian knowing, believing that his charge was a murderer. Of course he questioned the asylum's conventional treatment, but he didn't think to question their legality as well.
So what does this mean for them, for him? Alfred just presented him a third option along with consequences Toris was too overwhelmed to properly consider.
"Ivan… didn't kill anyone?" He asked. He knew what Al meant, but to make sure…
"Well," the other answered, pursing his lips together for a moment. "He probably has, since you know, he's a former soldier. But for the case at hand, no, it was impossible for it to happen, by his hands anyways. Liet's dead, there's no doubt about that, but it wasn't murder."
Neither of them spoke up when Alfred finished his sentence. However, by the looks of the stagnant atmosphere, it seemed that both he and Gilbert had come to the same conclusion.
But Toris didn't want to believe it.
"How… how do you know?" He barely managed, his energy and optimism from before long drained.
"Thought you'd never ask." Alfred flashed him a fleeting smile. "I knew there was something fishy from the start. Braginsky was found guilty because he pleaded guilty. Normally, that wouldn't be enough for a conviction. Shoddy paperwork and half-assed evidence 'backed' him up though. That's how I knew where to look. The guilty verdict was never strong from the start, but it wasn't like anyone was really dying to let a madman walk the streets." He frowned again but shook his head, taking out a folder from his bag.
He shook out a single photo and Toris knew what it was before he flipped it over, ready to avert his eyes and greet a wave of nausea. However, the shot included only the neck and torso of the all-too-familiar corpse. Gruesome, yes, but infinitely better than a mutilated face.
Alfred set it between their triangle and Toris spared Gilbert a glance. He seemed unfazed, but interested in the photo. Toris could practically match each twitch of the eye to every detail he took in.
Al pressed a finger to the print, tracing the thick dark line encircling Liet's neck. "Cause of death: asphyxiation. You already know that Toris. Everyone thought Ivan strangled him."
Gilbert scooted closer for a better look. "That was made by a rope," he pointed out.
Alfred shook a finger, looking pleased with himself. "Yes, but let's not skip ahead for a moment. No one paid much attention to the mark—to them it only told them a cause of death. Rather, they paid more attention the mutilation Braginsky actually inflicted to incriminate him. He's brutal, violent, remorseless—what more could a bored jury want for a verdict?
"The autopsy report says the wounds were inflicted post-mortem, which doesn't really mean much even now. They didn't say when exactly and apparently no one complained. Can I repeat, 'shoddy paperwork'? Thanks to that, I ran into a dead end, but I found something else.
"It takes a while for rigor mortis to set in—even longer for it to disappear. Say it took three hours for Liet's body to stiffen up and then at least eighteen hours for it to loosen again. The rigor mortis ended fifteen hours after the body was brought in, which means that his time of death was six hours more or less before he was found: 9 PM. According to airline records, Braginsky was scheduled to return from a trip—although early or delayed flights might've had some role. However, it's still highly unlikely, no, impossible for him to have even been around Liet at the time of his death."
Toris couldn't believe what he was hearing. It made sense, yet it escaped him to see how many flaws were left to exist and condemn an innocent man.
"I guess no one gives you the benefit of the doubt when they think you're insane," Gilbert thought aloud, crossing his arms. "I'm impressed—I didn't think you were the type to clean up after men more brilliant than you."
Alfred beamed, oblivious to the back-handedness of the compliment. "You know, sometimes I impress even myself. But hey, I can get stuff done if I put my back into it, right Toris?"
"Oh… yeah. I suppose," he replied, rather distantly. Gilbert and Alfred exchanged looks and Toris was sure despite himself that the blonde expected more of a reaction from him.
Gilbert cleared his throat, thankfully shifting the attention away from him. "That's one part of your story then. Let's pretend that Braginsky is the murderer, how does this—" he retraced the line along Liet's throat "—come into play? I was right, right? This was made by a rope."
"That's obvious enough," Alfred replied, "but Ivan was found with the body. He's strong enough to choke the life out of anyone, so why would he resort to something like a rope and leave behind more evidence? I asked myself that and went back to the official site of Liet's death by tracing the broken glass left in his wounds." Alfred pulled out a second, seemingly mundane photo of a tree branch. He pointed out a light-colored ring around the wood.
"Now this is what I meant when I mentioned the tree in the park. This was made by a rope burn. The piece that was left in the evidence locker was stretched and one end was frayed. I found the missing piece back at the site and I was surprised it was never found until then."
"Because no one bothered looking for it," Gilbert said. "The trial must of ended before the evidence could be thoroughly examined… especially since probably no one requested a reexamination."
Alfred nodded, pulling out a third photo that was as old as the first. "You can see the indents in the fibers of the rope. It was tied into a noose, but then undone by Braginsky when he found the body."
Toris felt sick to his stomach. For once, it wasn't because of his empathy… rather, it was what Alfred was insinuating.
"A noose and a rope burn on a branch… Then I guessed right," the German mumbled. "It was suicide."
"Yeah," Alfred affirmed. "After I found a foothold in his innocence, I was curious enough to find out what really happened. Braginsky is in an asylum for someone who killed himself."
"No." He spoke without thinking. Both of them turned their heads towards him with matching bemusement.
"No?" Al asked. "I know it's plain and anticlimactic, but that's what the evidence says. I looked over everything—I swear."
Toris bit his lip, looking away. He didn't think Alfred was lying, but that didn't make it any easier to believe him.
Suicide. Suicide was a reality and victims before they died emanated a suffocating miasma—Toris knew that much. He shook his head, grasping his temples. "I know… I'm sorry, I just need a moment…" Without waiting for an answer from either of them, Toris stood up and left, closing his bedroom door behind him.
He walked numbly to his bedside table, throwing open one of the drawers and taking out the fat enveloped Alfred gave him several days ago. Without looking, he pulled out a single photo and studied the young man it depicted.
Gentle, but unwavering green eyes met his own and Toris gently touched them with his fingertips. He collapsed onto the bed, still grasping the picture as he stared holes into it. Perhaps if he studied it long enough, he'd be able to gain information even Alfred couldn't offer him. Toris laughed. Here he was, hoping a dead man could tell him something the others couldn't.
"Why?" He murmured to someone he knew could never hear him. "Was the man you bound yourself to too heavy of a burden? Did you think that you trapped yourself in a life you no longer wished to live…? That you had no other options?" Scans, autopsy reports, prints… they could only tell you so much—what, when, where, how. But not why. Did he leave behind a note at least? Unlikely if his death was considered a murder. Even if one was left behind, outdated words could mean nothing at all.
When that last thought passed through his head, Toris furrowed his brow in a grimace that was aimed towards himself more than anyone else. Why would it matter to him? It was none of his business and he was in no position to pass judgment. He was a lowly intern with a little too much compassion for his own good. Plain. Simple. He was no one extraordinary, minus his strange ability—but even then, his perception was only another thing he had learned to live with. He parted ways with Gilbert and chose the rode that was the unending mystery of the human mind because he wanted to make a difference, but where was he supposed to draw the line? Perhaps his role was never meant to outgrow the confines of university walls.
Even as he questioned himself, deep down, Toris knew he was entangled in a half-century old scheme the moment Alfred approached him for his help. They were each other's lifelines whether or not he liked it. The day he confronted his friend in the parking lot of Visaillis was the same day he decided to settle for nothing short of the truth. Maybe he didn't realize it until now, but a handful of answers yielded by Alfred's research did not mean their purpose has reached a dead end.
There were answers still hovering out of their reach, and one way or another, Toris was going to gather them for himself.
It wasn't like Toris to suddenly storm off and leave Alfred alone with him. The awkwardness of their situation was overbearing as he exchanged uncertain looks with the albino.
"… I don't get it," Alfred finally said after Toris locked himself in his room. He stared at the ground, picking loose threads out of the carpet. "I thought he'd be happy to know that Ivan Braginsky is innocent."
Gilbert scowled as he leaned back, propping himself up with his arms. "Isn't Toris attached to him? I didn't think he'd be so hung up either, unless…" He trailed off for a moment. "Unless the problem isn't about Braginsky. It's about—what's his name? The guy who died."
Alfred chewed his lip in consideration. Gilbert had a point. Throughout his entire explanation, Toris was silent (probably with awe at his handiwork) and he couldn't really blame him for that—but the moment they concluded that Liet died by suicide, his demeanor changed almost completely. A different sort of disbelief replaced the wary doubt in his eyes. "Probably. But why? It sucks that someone died, but doesn't this just simplify things? Or at least, spell out a happy ending?"
Gilbert shrugged. "Maybe, maybe not. Either way, there's no point sulking over a dead guy. Who cares how he kicked the bucket? It doesn't take a psychic to realize that people can kill themselves." His expression turned bitter. "Actually, Toris should know that better than anyone."
Alfred gave the bedroom door a single, worried glance before turning back to him. "You know I'm terrified of ghosts and other things science can't explain, but I can't help but wonder what it's like, you know?"
"Well it's freaking weird, I can tell you that," Gilbert replied. "At first I thought he was just pulling some crazy psychoanalysis shit on me… obviously I learned that he wasn't. It took me a while to get over it."
"I bet," Alfred muttered. They were fun to believe in, but until now, he'd never think he'd experience a superpower, if he could even call it that. Gilbert was right—it really was a weird ability as far as he could tell. What was it even good for in the long run…? Maybe out of all the impossible possibilities, Toris was just plain unlucky to end up with this one.
He paid no mind to the hole he was practically biting into his lip. No, Toris wasn't unlucky. He wasn't useless, either. Detecting someone's sadness, anger, or pain no matter how hard one tried to hide it was already unnerving on it's own. Suffering is tied to weakness, to insecurities. If Toris could 'see' this, then it would only take a cunning mind and selfish intentions to twist him into something akin to the next Hannibal.
The thought of it was terrifying. What if… No, wait—what the hell was he even thinking? Alfred cringed as he mentally beat himself into a pulp for letting his wacked imagination get the better of him again. Toris was his partner, his friend! He was assigned to this case because he was such a good guy. Even Alfred himself has told him a million times that he was way too nice for his own good. Toris was like the epiphany of compassion and virtue… or something like that.
He trusted his life with him. Some mumbo jumbo he barely understood wasn't going to change that. Besides, they were nearing the end of this mess… Alfred wasn't going to back out because of some stupid idea.
"Don't hurt yourself," Gilbert said, raising an eyebrow. Before he could retort, the bedroom door swung open, revealing Toris.
The brunet briskly walked past them, snatching his coat from the hanger.
"I'm going out," he said.
"Out…?" Both he and Gilbert asked, dumbfounded.
Toris nodded, turning towards them as he tied his hair up into a ponytail. "Yeah. I was just called in for the graveyard shift. You guys can manage here on your own, right?"
"That's not the problem," Alfred said a little more hastily than he intended. "There's practically no one to tend to. Why would they need an extra hand now?"
Toris shrugged, oblivious to his concern. "Probably maintenance around the building. I am an intern after all, I'm used to the slave-driving."
"In that case, I'll take you—" he moved to stand up, but Toris pushed him back down with surprising force.
"I already called a taxi," he said, shouldering his bag. "And to be honest… I would feel better if you two would stay the night." He nodded towards Gilbert. "I won't be back to morning. There are spare sheets in the closet—you two can decide who gets the bed."
The bed? Oh, he better get on that—wait, that's not even important right now. "Are you… worried about us?" He asked.
And quite suddenly, Toris flushed, looking away. "I-I can't keep you guys here, of course!" He sounded a little apologetic. "I mean, I would feel better if you two stayed. I, well, you can leave whenever you'd like, but… I just want to let you know you can stick around as well."
Yes… he was back to his old self. Toris was always that sort of person to worry about others while fumbling with ways to cope for it.
Gilbert wrinkled his nose. "Like I need your permission." His tone was less than friendly, but something told him that he got the message nonetheless. Alfred cleared his throat.
"There are some things I want to look over anyways. I'll give you a call if something comes up."
Toris nodded. "I understand. There are some things I want to find out as well." With that, he left, locking the door behind him.
Gilbert sighed heavily and dragged himself onto the nearest sofa. "I've been here for days, but I don't feel like returning to work anytime soon."
"Tell me about it," he said before pointing out, "I don't think Toris believes the case is a suicide."
"Gee," Gilbert snorted, picking up the remote to flip through the rather mundane TV channels, "What on earth would make you think that?"
Alfred ignored his sass as he spread out the contents of the folder he took out earlier. "Thanks to him, I'm second guessing myself… Damn it, I thought I was on a solid track." He narrowed his eyes, switching from lovable hero detective to scrutinizing investigator. "I guess it wouldn't hurt to double check… everything… I guess."
Toris was right, he was assigned hall cleaning duty. Why he couldn't do this during the day, he wasn't sure, but he was hardly in the position to complain. After finishing the lower wings, he decided to make another round through the now-empty rooms.
Passing by Ivan's, he only aimed to give the other a quick check, but a single question gnawing at the back of his mind rooted him to the spot outside his door. Was Ivan asleep? He was never sure when the Russian would call it a night since more often than not, he left work soon after dinner.
He was just about to shake off his curiosity and return to mopping floors when he heard heavy foot steps on the other side. Ivan opened the door and Toris didn't bother to mask his surprise.
"I… heard you coming," the older man explained without him asking. "Only you walk like that, Toris." His voice was steady, words more articulated—yet he sounded as tired as ever.
"The door's… unlocked?"
Ivan glanced down at his hand still resting on the door handle. "Yes…" He answered slowly. "I do not know why." He turned his back on him and Toris followed him into the room.
"'Is late," Ivan remarked when Toris said nothing. "Why are you here?"
"I was worried there were no patients for me to look after," he replied, cringing as he tried to work out the knot in his back.
Ivan shook his head, sitting back down at the side of his bed. He looked worn, defeated. Well, of course he was never the most energetic compared to the other patients, but the oppressive air lingering about him was still troubling. What went down in the hours when he was gone?
"No, why are you here," he finally repeated, sounding rather impatient.
Toris was about to answer him, but stopped. Ivan was just being Ivan, there was no getting around that. He pulled up a chair and the other took it as a sign that he was here to stay a little longer.
"What about you?" Toris asked him, hands folded and body composed.
If Ivan was surprised to have his question handed back to him, he didn't show it. "You know why… Toris."
It was his turn to shake his head. Of course Ivan wasn't going to cooperate with him on the first try. Perhaps he didn't even know what he was talking about. After all, this was a secret that Ivan had been harboring for years on his own… Or at least he hoped it was just him.
"You didn't kill anyone."
Ivan visibly flinched. There… that was the reaction Toris was expecting. He pressed on, steeling himself and silently apologizing at the same time. "Well, perhaps you did—but not him. So I'll ask you again, why are you here, Ivan?"
The former soldier stared down at his hands. "I had hoped… that Marcel was wrong."
Toris didn't understand, but before he could ask him to explain, Ivan returned to the question at hand.
"I was never punished for leading my comrades to their deaths. There was much hate held against me, but I cannot blame them, da? I wanted nothing more than to bare my neck to their eager hands, but… But I met Liet. Liet was stupid, foolish… Always tangling himself up in the business of other people.
"But… he gave me another way… another road untouched by war and the agendas of politics. I had wanted to die, to let go. No, what I had really wanted was to simply escape, so I took his road… Carrying with me the blood I wanted to run away from in the first place," he anguished.
Toris frowned as he leaned in closer. This wasn't what he asked for. Ivan was acting strangely and going off on his own, but Toris held on to every word he uttered, broken or otherwise.
"How did you know where to find him when he died…?" Toris quietly asked him. "Did he leave a letter, anything?"
Ivan closed his eyes, bowing his head. "No… Only a note to 'meet' him."
Toris winced. It was true then—Alfred had been right all along. He had hoped, for whatever strange and selfish reason, that there was a piece of the puzzle he had overlooked. Liet killed himself, probably from the weight of Ivan's burden as far as he could gather from what he'd been told.
Of course they would never know for sure, since Ivan's old partner didn't leave anything behind. Nothing at all.
He ground his teeth together. What was he trying to do? After all this time, did he have the absolutely ridiculous idea that he could somehow replace Liet? Not out of want for attention, but of arrogance? Did he have the audacity to look up to a man he never met, yet want to accomplish where he had failed?
And accomplish what, exactly? Leading this man out of his own self-condemnation? Toris understood his want for penance, his overbearing guilt for the lives lost in the past. He'd understand his choice and perhaps even let him be, but not like this. This was wrong.
"Toris?" Ivan's gaze fixed onto his.
"Yes?" He stood up slowly, putting away the folding chair. He was tempted to stay just a little longer, but he had another calling.
"You know the truth, da?" His eyes narrowed hazily. "What are you going to do?"
He stood there in prolonged silence, pressing the chair to the ground with rigid hands. What was he going to do? He's asked himself that a thousand times before.
"Fix things," he replied. Answers. He needed them—their jobs weren't done yet and fortunately for him, Toris knew where to start.