Disclaimer: Darkminds was created by Pat Lee and owned by Dreamwave Productions. No money is being made from this story and no copyright infringement is intended.

Author's Notes: Slight spoilers for Darkminds, Vol 1, Issue 0. Thanks to Trisha Lynn for pointing out my error.

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Cigarettes
By Gen X

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It's strange. Expectations, I mean, and they way they can change. Careful planning and hard work can be dashed by the reality of the world. The things one never expect to happen come about. And when the unexpected happens frequently enough, it becomes a way of life. And then there comes a point where you leave your old expectations behind and start rethinking your goals to fit your new reality.

It's been a year.

At one time, my goal was to catch a criminal. That was the overriding focus, when I first took this case. But now, I've been after the same person for an entire year. Days upon days spent looking for Paradox. Uncountable time just looking for clues and reading through files. When I first started, I thought I'd have it wrapped in two weeks. I wanted to catch the person no one could catch, accept my accolades, and move onto the next case. Now, after a year, I'll settle for not getting a homicide call before noon. I'd be delighted if the non existent progress didn't have to be detailed to my boss and his superiors every week. I just hope that a murder doesn't happen today or tomorrow or the next, but I know they won't end.

Twelve months.

Filled with crime scene after crime scene. Each one is more gruesome than the next. Way back when, I hoped not to have a body. Now, I hope that it is not a creative crime. Something simple would be a change of pace. Gun shots, slit wrists, but no... the standard fare is dismemberment and disembowelment. Entrails spread over apartments and forensics using rolls after rolls of photographs just to photograph someone's small intestines. The files that were three boxes, now stretch three feet high.

Fifty-two weeks.

Of waiting for the phone to ring. Timing my meals and hoping the beeper doesn't go off before the food's digested. In my office, I spend time staring at the radio just waiting for, daring it to squawk. And each time, I wonder if it's a different call. There's a nagging hope that for reasons unknown that maybe the killing has stopped. Maybe he's walked away and given up. But it's always the same words that lead me to my car. Always the same tell tale symbol waiting for me behind yellow tape. Everyone just dying to tell me that, "We've got a body."

Three hundred and sixty-five days.

Agonizing over photos. Day after night after day of trying to compile leads. Trying to identify subjects, trying to talk with the family, the friends, the coworkers. Trying to avoid the reporters who get on scene before I do. Sleepless nights spent staring at the ceiling as I wonder, and ponder, and drive myself crazy. Instead of dreaming, trying to puzzle out a why? Trying to put a name or a face to the who. Then I wonder, if it will ever stop because I'd never suspected it would continue for this long.

After an entire year, how can a person not slip up? How can they be so brutal? So methodical as to not leave a single shred of evidence? No fingerprints. No hair. No skin. No leads. Nothing except the mocking symbol, the sign of paradox reminding me that I haven't caught him.

It's a year to the day, since I took the case. And tonight's another bad one.

1328 Durning Street. Apartment 1257. A single mother, mid-forties. Dead in the kitchen. Approximate time of death: unknown. I'll have to wait for the ME's report. The son found the body and made the call.

He didn't make it to the bathroom before he threw up. His mother's blood has long since cooled on the tiled kitchen floor. Even though it's starting to congeal, it shouldn't stain too bad. The apartment might still have the opportunity to be rented out to new tenants after this. Only if the crime photos don't get out to the public, that is.

She's ripped out all her hair. The self-inflicted nature of the crimes, is something which really gets me down. Her stomach's been split open and parts of her organs are still on the knife. Forensics just found it underneath a chair. It'll probably only have her prints. Her eyes are glassy and empty as she stares up at the ceiling. She's probably wondering where her inner organs went to.

They were found roasting in the oven. Just lightly, on a broil. Time and consideration had been put into the meal. They've been arranged the symbol of Paradox. Three patrolmen have tossed their dinners at the stench. The windows have been opened, and the cool, fresh air wafts into the apartment.

Officers are taking down statements from the son, from the neighbors. I start to go through my motions and hope I'll find something different. Pray for a ray of hope but instead I get reality.

Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.

An entire year without a concrete lead. The victims are random. The victims are bloody. The victims are the only ones who know the truth. There has to be something that I'm missing. There has to be a connection. Is it someone he follows? Someone he knows? Maybe it's not the person, maybe it's the place. Which place? The place he sees them as they past through? The place they live? The place they die?

They're taking photos now. I won't be able to do anything more before the analysis gets back. I walk out onto the balcony. To get fresh air. To get out the way. To look at the city below and wonder where he is. My eyes scan over the skyline, looking over the familiar buildings and just wondering. I close my eyes, push the glasses down to rub the bridge of my nose. He's somewhere in the city, but I can't pin him down.

Something has to give eventually, does it?

Even after a whole year?

I open my eyes when I hear a noise. A rookie comes out, looking frazzled, to join me. Even for Macropolis, crime like this is rare. He's gulping down air and looks pale. His embarrassed eyes meet mine. "I've had better days," he admits lightly, trying to play off his condition through humor.

I nod in understanding. We all have. I watch as his hands fumble nervously, tiredly with his chest pocket. He draws out a small while box. Bolyeen cigarettes. I've heard they're a good brand. He taps one out with obvious need, then holds out the box for me.

"I don't smoke."

He shrugs and puts the box on the railing. "Soothes the nerves. Really bad habit though."

"It works?"

"For a moment."

A moment is sometimes all we have. I smile and nod in understanding then step back inside. Everyone's looking at me, Tedashi Nagawa, lead investigator for the Special Investigations Unit. Forensics wants me to do my job so they can stop trying to catalogue which spongy part is from which missing organ. The detectives want Paradox caught so they can stop pulling crowd control and keeping the press at bay. The single mother stares up at nothing, towards me, with dead lifeless eyes. She just wanted to live.

An entire year. Twelve months. Fifty-two weeks. Three hundred and sixty-five days of living and breathing death without making any progress. An entire year spent moving from place to place but getting nowhere. Endless minutes where the entire city watches over my progress and wonder why their tax dollars are paying me. The bodies get buried deeper than the files are stacked high. Twenty nine. That's what I should count by, not by days or minutes or time. Twenty-nine people driven to the unspeakable for no apparent reason at all.

Thirty, if you count tonight.

I go back outside for a moment to escape the scrutiny. I look at the city of millions... and one. If anyone ever needed a measure of calm, it's me. The rookie's watching me with an inquisitive gaze. His body's not shaking any more. It's relaxed into the nicotine. He's enjoying the drug and the moment of escape. A moment of distraction.

"Offer still good?" I ask. He nods and I slid one out of the pack. I need a moment. It's been an entire year, fifty weeks after I thought I would break the case. Days like this I can't even imagine an end in sight. Which is fitting because one doesn't come. Not anytime soon.

The time continues to pass and the body count mounts steadily. Another twelve months, since the mother and the oven, and nothing's different. The mother's just a file number now. She's body number thirty. Her fifteen minutes in the press is up, and her plot is nice and quiet in a cemetery. She's moved on. Paradox has moved on to the next victim and I'm still the same. I'm still answering the calls, driving to scenes, and feeling everyone's accusing eyes upon me. Like tonight.

I got the call in my office and headed out. The familiar streets stand as if time doesn't touch them. I wonder which alleyway will be roped off next. I pull in to an alcove filled with flashing lights. I turn off the engine, get out of the car, and look at the scene. Only the faces seem to change.

Day by day passes and everything's still working the same. I sit, I ponder, I hunt, but I invariably wait. Then I drive, deduce, and find I'm at yet another dead end. I close the door and start heading for the yellow line. I take a deep breath before I step over the police tape.

I look down at the body. Male. Half dressed. Completely dead. Body contorted, huge hole where his belly button should be. Scratches and cuts around his chest. He's victim number sixty-two. Just another day not unlike the rest. Cameras are already whirling and clicking. The blood's already cooled.

From my breast pocket, draw out a small box, tap out a cigarette. A snap, a crackle, a spark, and the tip of the cigarette lights. The tiny glow of light in the cold city street. The tiny warmth, before the coldness of reality. I take a long drag and look at the newest victim, destined to become a file number. Exhale slowly and watch the smoke rising up into the city.

Until death, life is just a series of moments.

I nod to the on scene personnel and flip out my credentials.

"Agent Nagawa. What have we got here?"

fin