They are it again. Kurt rages, his face contorted as if in pain, as if it's his - his and not the boy's - mangled, cut-up body lying on the sidewalk, seeping blood into the freshly-paved concrete. Magnus snarls. The case is no longer their business. The NBI Special Operations division is taking over. Tomorrow. They should move on. Kurt should move on.

Kurt, predictably, doesn't take this too well.

He launches himself at Magnus and manages to land one solid blow before Nyberg and Ekholm drag him away. Magnus is knocked on the floor, and he just sits there with his legs stretched out, like an awkward wooden doll, eyes wide and shocked, blood gushing from his nose. He should really know better.

Anne-Britt imagines she can hear Lisa's patience snap - a hollow, final sound, the sound of dry branch cracking under somebody's heavy boot. She has been teetering on the brink for weeks, waiting for the ultimate breakthrough, but nothing comes, nothing ever comes, and every route they took is a dead end. The body count keeps rising. It's too high now to risk it. Lisa won't risk it. Not even for Kurt.

"We are done here," she declares. Kurt is suspended, the rest are free for the day. Well, for the night, seeing as it's half past midnight already. People rush from the room, picking up their coats and hats and scarves as they go. It's miserably cold outside.

Only the three of them remain: Magnus, Kurt and her. Magnus is glaring at Kurt, a white handkerchief pressed against the lower part of his face, and Kurt... Kurt is looking at her, pleading with her, imploring. She knows it all too well. Every argument he throws her way. Lives are taken, innocent lives. Nobody deserves to die. Certainly, not this young. Certainly, not such a horrible, horrible death.

For once, Anne-Britt discovers, she doesn't care, can't bring herself to care. Nothing tugs at her heart. Her heart! She isn't even sure she has enough heart to tug at anymore.

"People die," Kurt tells her - as if it explained everything, as if it somehow escaped her notice- and she wants to lash out at him, to scream that people die everyday, that this is simply what people do. Instead, she looks at him, really looks at him for the first time in days. His face is haggard, pale, shadows creeping along the line of his jaw. When was the last time he shaved? When was the last time he bathed or ate or slept, for that matter? He lost weight, she notices, and he is sweating through his clothes, even though the police station central heating expired almost a week ago and no one bothered with a replacement.

"Go home, Kurt," she says, "That's enough". Then she hits the showers.

###

The divorce rate in Sweden is high, very high. Practically everyone she knows is divorced. It isn't Henric's first marriage either. She wonders if his returning to his first wife will affect the statistic. She wonders if it will affect her because no matter how hard she tries she doesn't feel a thing. The night Henric broke the news to her, she lay in their bed, alone, watching headlights drift across the ceiling. A peculiar emptiness, a small gap opened in her stomach then and started to grow, to expand. By now her whole body seems hollow, a great nothingness stretching underneath her skin, stealing into the places where her love for Henric, for the boys, for her daughter used to dwell.

This nothingness is choking her, numbs her. Desperate to feel something - anything at all - she turns the faucet to the max and the hot water scalds her back. She cries out. Tears spring from her eyes, and suddenly she is sobbing, really sobbing, her face pressed into the tiles, steam clouding the shower room.

###

Anne-Britt doesn't know how long she was in the showers. She only knows that when she comes out her eyes are dry, her back is tender, and Magnus is still there, clicking furiously on the keyboard.

"Finally," he tells her, " I've been wondering if you can give me a ride."

His nose stopped bleeding. Bruises bloom on each side of it. The one on the left is a little bigger, a little darker - it gives his features a slightly avian impression, he reminds her of a surly seagull.

"What happened to your car?" she asks.

"It won't start," he says and rises up to examine his injured face in the mirror. She realizes he is vain. Funny how she has never noticed this before. The careful way he dresses himself, his expensive watch and nice cologne and immaculately manicured hands - it's all there, really. Even the way he holds himself, the way he walks and stands and lounges, draping his tall, lean body over the chairs with the air of bored indifference... everything betrays the manner of a man who intentionally puts himself on display, who knows he is being watched, relishes it.

Tonight, she is inclined to begrudge him his obsessive self-maintenance. She doesn't want to give him a ride, doesn't want to drive him anywhere, but if she refuses, he'll try to argue his point.

"A ride?" Magnus prods.

"Yes, yes," she says and leads the way.

###

In the car, they keep silent. Magnus is still seething, in no mood to chat. She is grateful for that, her ability to hold a conversation is pitifully low at the moment.

###

Some time during the ride the snow starts to fall. Small white specks dancing through the air, delicate and pristine against the huge dark unmovable bulk of the city. They tether themselves into Magnus's nice coat as he hops out of the car. Without thinking, she follows him.

###

Outside, it's freezing. Her breath dissipates in soft puffs of airborne warmth - here one moment and gone the next, broken into thousands tiny ice-crystals, adding to the snow, adding to the cold, adding to winter.

Magnus's eyebrows shoot up. He clearly hasn't expected this; he can't make sense of her sudden decision to materialize on the sidewalk when she should be heading home to her kids and husband. "Uh... thanks?" he tries.

For a moment, it seems that nothing but vapour will come out of her mouth, that she is doomed forever to talk in these fluffy meaningless clouds of exhalation. Yet the words do come prodded by the image of the empty house with its empty rooms and empty beds.

"May I come in?"

The effect her request has on Magnus is almost comical, and were it any other time, she would indeed laugh. As it is, she notices he doesn't wear a hat - another tribute to his vanity, no doubt - and that fine crop of golden curls of his is getting a frosting; his ears are red and his face has gone all blotchy.

He looks like he is about to argue, but then sighs, gives up. "Be my guest," he says and shrugs with his hands deep in his pockets. She figures he isn't so eager to add a frostbite to the bruised nose, and in any case it's easier to argue inside. Warmer, at the very least.

###

His place - like his shoes, his clothes, his watches and, she is starting to believe, everything else he owns - is nice. Very nice. Stylish, picked up with obvious taste, but most of all tidy. This last observation stings, and the resentment wells up inside her.

Keeping a house clean with three kids running around is a feat to accomplish.

With her working hours, it's nothing short of heroism. Something she could never manage, in Henric's opinion. Henric believes in order; he believes that each thing has its proper place outside of which it has no meaning, no value, almost no right to exist. She has never thought this attitude of his extended to relationships. Apparently, it did - she was one such a thing littering his dream of a family.

Magnus calls out from the kitchen and she startles.

"Black or green?"

"Black," she says, "No sugar. No milk".

She hears him mumble about the milk as she follows him into the kitchen. Shopping for perishables is kind of pointless with the occupation like theirs. True enough, his fridge is mostly empty. He isn't a guy who cooks often - once again, not necessary a personal failing but one of the bad habits you get into working for Ystad's police department. Late nights rarely call for three course dinners.

Still, his kitchen is neat and, yes, nice. Nicer than hers, tidier.

She thaws her fingers against the tea cup while Magnus hunts for the sweets. There is a box of chocolates on the table, hard as a bone and probably tasting likewise. She wonder if it's a gift - too fancy for Magnus to buy it for himself. Then again, the man's vanity seems boundless. Whatever the case, she has no desire to try her luck or her teeth for that matter, so she settles for watching her reluctant host instead.

Magnus's back is tense, frustration emanating from him in waves strong enough to send her head reeling any other day. Lisa always counted her as some sort of a breakwater between Kurt and, well, everyone else. Stubborn is he is, Kurt needs mothering from time to time and that's when she comes into the light, that's her function, her input: she provides a buffer. Does she have any value beyond that?

It irks her how Henric managed to undermine everything she is in one fell swoop, how easily he ground everything she deemed worthy into dust. She has been a detective before him, she had a life before him, she has been good at things, she had.. Yet all this amounts to nothing now.

The cardboard door snaps shut with a final bang. Magnus has run out of places to rummage through and, subsequently, out of patience. He squares his shoulders and turns to face her.

"Look," he says , "If this is about Kurt-"

"This isn't about Kurt," she interrupts, "Do you have anything stronger?"

###

The supply of liquor Magnus owns is in a far better condition than whatever meager food he managed to stock up. It is as expected - a man of his age, a bachelor and not exactly struggling to pay his bills. She takes comfort in having guessed correctly, even though it's a rather mediocre guess.

After a small dispute, they settle for brandy. Champagne is horribly inappropriate, wine is too intimate, too loaded with what society perceives as romantic notions, and beer is for buddies which they are not, in any shape or form - three years and she can barely call the man an acquaintance, another notch on her bedpost of social ineptitude.

So brandy it is.

Magnus hands her a snifter as she sinks into the plushy softness of his nice, fashionable sofa with only the slightest of winces for her still tender back. His choice of glassware, as well as the fact there is a variety of glassware to chose from, surprises her not at all and irritates her even less - she is getting used to this disgusting niceness of his. They have abandoned the kitchen which started looking too clinical, too sharp and precise with her intention to stay over laid bare on the table between them.

Reluctant host that he is, Magnus does not question her further than the obligatory "Should you call home?" to which she shakes her head and adds a vague and noncommittal "It's complicated".

"It's complicated," she tells him, but in truth it's horribly, dishearteningly simple. So simple, it makes her sick, makes her angry for not seeing it earlier, for not catching on what was happening right in front of her eyes, for not leaving first.

Except she never leaves first. She always stays.

###

The steady buzz of the TV lulls her into sleep. Only not quite. She floats on the rolling waves of commercials and the murmur of the news reporters, shipwrecked in the middle of Magnus's living-room on his too cushy sofa. Magnus retreated to his bedroom not so long ago, after - was it their fourth or fifth glass of brandy? Fourth, she decides for the sake of preserving some nonexistent decorum and leaves it at that.

She is a little disappointed he didn't offer her his bed. After all, it is a gentlemen-like thing to do, is it not? Though, in all fairness, she does not appear all that lady-like slumped amidst the cushions and drinking herself into oblivion.

She is a mess.

The realization sobers and shames her. So much that Anne-Britt decides to climb out of Magnus's incredibly nice sofa and apologize. Which she does - the climbing out, that is - albeit with some difficulty. Then she stumbles to his bedroom, but not before some truly ever-sober, ever-vigilant part of her acknowledges another reason for this sudden surge of contrition, the one that is uglier and ten times more frightening, the one that has been gnawing at her from the moment Henric told her about their upcoming divorce.

Anne-Britt opens her eyes wide, wider, and flees.

###

Magnus is not sleeping. He stands, arms crossed, in front the window, watching the snow dancing behind the glass, thinking, brooding.

Magnus is good at brooding - that much she learned about him during the years of their non-friendship, non-anything. He would spend short periods of time glaring at traffic and passers-by, lips pressed into a thin, unhappy line, like a child who believes himself blameless and undeserving of his parents' reprimand. Usually after some disagreement with Kurt.

Now that she discovered his not-so-secret affinity to nice things and his habitual vanity, she wonders if he does that solely for the dramatic effect. He certainly looks dramatic at this very instance, staring at her like that and swaying a little on his feet.

Lights and shadows slip across his face in a never-ending pattern. It's fascinating. She steps closer to get a better look. Magnus doesn't move, doesn't ask her why she is here or what she is doing. She thinks he has given her sanity a rain check for tonight, given her free rein to act like a total lunatic.

This is more tact than he has shown her, shown anyone for years.

Idiotically, she feels flattered. She wants to do something nice - ah, the irony - for him in return, so she steps closer and closer and closer still, so close that she has to brace her hands on his chest in order not to fall right into him. This is such a precarious position - balancing on her toes, her head angled back - that she has to wonder exactly how drunk she is. Then she has to wonder how drunk Magnus for he does seem to mind.

And then, of course, she kisses him.


Decided to add this to the first chapter. The next one is the morning after and first stirrings of the plot (I hope). The chances of regular updates are scant. Thank you for reading!