The Day After
Miko: Age 26
It was still mostly dark in the bedroom when Miko awoke for the third time, but it was the only time he'd woken by his own volition without the nightmares that had plagued him since childhood, and so he elected to stay that way.
He lay in bed, the heavy weight that had been on his chest replaced by a new, far more pleasurable one: Toby's sleeping body, his arms wrapped around Miko's ribs. Each time Miko's sleep had been interrupted by dreams of the crawlspace and all the horrors he'd relived by telling the truth, Toby was right there, ready to soothe him back to sleep. It had taken Toby lying completely on top of him for Miko to finally feel safe enough to make it the rest of the way through the night.
Gently stroking Toby's hair, Miko smiled at how peaceful he looked, sleeping soundly in the arms of a murderer. Almost soundly. Toby had cried over Miko's past more than Miko had, and now he was softly snoring, his nose clogged.
Miko felt raw himself, but with a relief he never thought possible. There had naturally been questions on Toby's part, but mostly he'd just listened. And when it was all over, everything out from Tola and his hand to Simon calling him poison, Toby said something that proved he could do this, proved he could understand better than Miko had given him credit for: “Someone benefited from her death. Maybe not directly, with money and fame like her parents, but someone did. You just need to figure out how. Then you'll know who.” And with everything Hector had told Miko, all the murders and motives, every assassin's name, their descriptions, their quirks and favorite kills, there was absolutely no one in a better position to find out the truth than him. He just needed time to clear his head and figure it out.
He stared up at the ceiling until it was light out, tired but wide awake. Then he noticed someone staring at him. Toby smiled as he sat up, and for a second it looked like he had a bruise on his neck from where Miko had grabbed him. Miko gently touched Toby's chin, tilting his head so he could see his throat. Toby didn't show any sign of hesitation, despite Miko confessing to strangling no less than five people.
“Did you finally get some sleep, little spoon?”
“You are good Kevlar.”
“Well you're not a very good pillow.” Toby rolled off of him, snuggling up to his side instead. He traced his finger over the tattoo on Miko's chest. Now Toby knew that Miko had bludgeoned someone to death before Nasir gave it to him, he knew Miko had bludgeoned others, and shot and stabbed and knocked them into industrial mixers on accident. He knew about the reputed Mako Shark and the real one. He was drawing a heart around Tola's flower. “I bet this one hurt the worst.”
“I did not feel the others.” Miko had been in enough pain when Nasir tattooed the flower petals on his wrists and the H on his back that the sting on his skin went completely unnoticed.
“That's what I figured.” Toby rested his head on Miko's shoulder. “Miko?”
“If Lewis sent that man to kill Silva, why wasn't he suspicious of you? Wouldn't he think you were there to kill him?”
“He must not have known it was done yet.”
“And when Bella went to his door weeks later? By then he would've had to know, right?”
Miko's head suddenly hurt again. He'd done nothing but think and all it had accomplished was pain. “He was very arrogant. Maybe he thought he got away with it. She told me it was Lewis who did it.”
“Yeah,” Toby said with a yawn. He was taking everything surprisingly well, and Miko thought back to when they'd joked about feeding Jonathan Peterson cyanide mashed potatoes. It had felt so normal. Being with Toby felt normal.
Miko nuzzled his face against Toby's hair. They had showered before bed, together with no blindfold, and both of them had gone to sleep with wet hair. Toby's was just a little messy whereas Miko didn't even want to consider the state of his own. “Do you have to work today?”
“No. Tomorrow though. It's a huge wedding, I'll be gone all day.” Toby kissed his chest. “You can come if you want.”
“You know I am bad at catering. I will stay here.”
Toby looked at him, his eyes sad. “You're not gonna take off, are you?”
“Only my clothes,” Miko said flirtatiously.
He smacked him. “Your clothes are already off.”
“And you are worrying again.”
“Well you did try dumping me.”
“It was not dumping it was...” Miko thought back to Nasir, trying to talk some sense into him before letting Toby do it instead. “Foolish.” He rubbed his face, then remembered something else. “Why did you aim a gun at me?”
Toby laughed. “Same reason you grabbed my throat. To make a point.”
Miko reached over and ran his prosthetic fingers across Toby's neck. “Your point would have been made better if you loaded your gun.”
“And by now you should know better than to aim a loaded gun at someone if you're not going to shoot them.”
“Yes, I should.” Miko smiled bashfully. “Let that be your first lesson with the gun.”
“What's the second lesson?”
Toby heaved a sigh like Miko had just stated the impossible. “God, where am I even going to keep it?”
He smirked. “Fruit bowl.”
With a glare Toby said, “I am not keeping it in the fruit bowl.”
Miko put his arms around him. “In nightstand.”
“I will teach you to shoot.”
Toby nodded. “Just in case.”
“In case.” He kissed Toby's head. “We can use parsnips for target practice.”
Toby's eyes went wide and he beamed at him in a way that made Miko really question his disgust with violence. He eagerly asked, “Can we?”
“I will give you your vengeance.”
“My hero. I shall reward your bravery with a feast.”
“You will make me streusel?”
Toby's face fell. “Oh, Miko. What if I fuck it up? With everything you're going through, having me mess up Hector's streusel—”
“It is fine. I know recipe. No messing up.”
“I burnt your breakfast,” Toby said bitterly, as if the one slightly overcooked casserole somehow negated the thousands of other immaculate meals.
“That was once and it was still good.” It didn't seem to relieve Toby, so Miko tried something else. “You were distracted. This is easy fix. While food is in the oven I will not give you the D.”
Toby blushed and shook his head. “For as bastardized as your English is, you sure have a way with words, little spoon.”
“You will make?”
“I'll try.” Toby sighed and got out of bed, putting on some pajamas and tossing Miko a pair of pants. “Wouldn't want to be tempted,” he said sarcastically, and led the way to the kitchen. “You pull out what we need.”
Miko had gone through Toby's kitchen before to be sure he had all the ingredients, and he carefully set everything out in measuring cups and spoons just like Hector would do. But Hector had boxes from the store and Toby had everything in jars with labels, and Miko stood there twitching with a teaspoon in his hand, not knowing what was right and feeling like nothing ever would be and he needed to sit in the cabinet again. “Two of these...it is white stuff...” he trailed off, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath as Toby came to his side. Miko helplessly handed over the teaspoon but Toby just smiled and winked at him, going straight to the baking powder. Miko was hugging him before he realized that Toby had been right to worry about the effect it would have on him if he messed it up.
“It's okay,” Toby said, gently stroking his back. “You want me to make something else?”
“You are sure it is that stuff?” he asked, releasing him and looking at the counter where white powder was spread in an arc from Toby being so suddenly mauled with a hug while his hand was in the jar.
“Positive. Want to preheat the oven?”
Miko nodded embarrassedly, sidestepping the powder that had made it to the floor and setting the oven to the right temperature. His cell phone rang from the bathroom where they'd left their clothes last night, but it was probably Nasir to say I told you so. That could wait. Baking streusel with Toby could not.
Toby had already started mixing things, doing it in the right order without having to be told. Then he froze, the bowl of batter in his hand. “Simon.”
“What about him?”
“He would've benefited from Ophelia's death if you got the book for him.”
Miko shook his head. “It was not motive, it was opportunity. He liked Fee. He was angry at me for cutting her face.”
“Right.” Toby disappointedly continued stirring. “Well he's still an asshole.”
Miko smiled. He'd never seen Toby so passionately dislike anyone as much as Simon. Toby had been utterly offended on Miko's behalf when Miko told him what Simon had said, and now he was gripping the spoon far tighter than necessary. “He is.”
“God, I can't believe he said that to you,” Toby said in a huff.
“Settle down.” Miko took the bowl from him. “You are all riled up.”
“You know what you should do?”
“What should I do?”
“The next time you see him you should punch him right in his smug face for calling you an idiot. For Hector, of course.”
Toby took the bowl back. “I'll teach you how to throw a punch.”
“I know how to throw punch.”
Scraping the batter into a dish, Toby gave him a doubtful glance. Then he gave Miko the spoon. “Make sure this is right. I imagine that you're very familiar with how the batter tastes on the spoon.”
Hector had always let Miko lick the spoon. He leaned against the counter, not at all afraid that it could be wrong, or that it would taste like blood. But Toby was clearly nervous, and Miko might've been able to prolong his suffering if he hadn't giddily laughed as he tasted its perfection.
Toby kissed him on the cheek and put it in the oven. “Good. Do not make me burn it.”
There was a knock at the door and Toby gave Miko a look like the potential distraction was his fault. Then he set a timer and went to answer it since Miko was only half-dressed and completely preoccupied with licking the spoon clean. Toby looked out the peephole, announcing, “It's Nasir,” as he opened the door.
“Is he up?” Nasir asked hurriedly, coming into the apartment and sighing as his eyes fell on Miko.
“I thought you left,” Miko said accusingly. He should've known Nasir wasn't actually leaving town. He did need to rest, after all.
“I'm not here to gloat, even though I did tell you so.” He glanced at Toby, then back to Miko. “Can we...”
“Yes,” Miko said, coming out of the kitchen and taking Toby's hand. “We can talk.”
Nasir smiled. “Good, now...” He pursed his lips with a pained wince on his face. “You're on television.”
“What?” Miko ran to the TV, dropping the remote in his rush to get it turned on and scrambling to pick it back up. “What channel?”
“How should I know?”
Toby came over and took the remote, flipping through until he found Ophelia's mother at a press conference. “This?”
The three of them stood there, watching in silence as Mrs. Marlowe spoke. She was heavily made up, not a bruise showing on her. She wore black. “As I'm sure you all know, my darling daughter Ophelia died last Christmas Eve. The straight razor that was found in the bathtub with her was the same type of weapon used against her and Jonathan Peterson in Morocco, and it was naturally assumed that she took her own life.” She dotted her dry eyes with a handkerchief. “Several days ago a masked man came to my home, and he told me the truth: Ophelia was murdered!” Miko twitched as Mrs. Marlowe paused for dramatic effect. His eyes were wide, his mouth wider. “This man, Ophelia's secret paramour, has set out to avenge her. And he needs our help. If anyone has information on the events of that night, or of the night of her attack in Morocco, please contact me. I believe the one responsible for her murder is the very same person who attacked her and Jonathan, and together we can bring my daughter the justice she deserves, and bring peace to her grieving innamorato.” She clutched at the diamond necklace dangling over her heart and lowered her head in a staged lament.
“What's innamorato mean?” Toby asked.
Miko didn't know either but he hadn't breathed enough in the last several minutes to manage to ask a question.
“Lover,” Nasir said. “It's Italian.”
“I've set up a website and a hotline, both of which you can see there at the bottom of your screen. The police do not condone vigilantism but I'm afraid that law enforcement will be limited in their means and without this noble man, the people who loved her may never have closure. Therefore I'm accepting donations on his behalf, to assist him with his quest. Thank you.”
“I guess that's what the phone call was about,” Toby said. “Wow. Just...wow.”
“Phone call?” Nasir asked.
“Yeah, a little while ago. It wasn't you?”
Toby gripped Miko's shoulder reassuringly and went to go retrieve his cellphone from the bathroom. Miko looked up his missed calls. “It was Russell.”
“With this kind of attention he won't be able to ask around,” Nasir said knowingly.
Turning back to the TV, Miko closed his eyes and rubbed his head. He hadn't expected Russell to find anything to begin with, but he had hoped. Now the only thing he could expect was a furious phone call from Simon.
Then Toby thought of something Miko hadn't. “Didn't you say she knew your name?”
“She knows your name?” Nasir said incredulously. “You said she did not remember you.”
“She did not. But she guessed why Ophelia named her cat Miko and she said it to me at the cemetery.”
Nasir groaned, not liking where this conversation was headed. “Cemetery?”
“I went to pay respect. She was there and talked to me about Fee. She asked if I would find who was responsible.”
“She called you clever,” Toby interjected.
“She did call me clever,” Miko said brightly. That did not happen often.
“Did she see your face?”
“I was wearing glasses.” Miko knew that wouldn't help, but somehow he also knew that it wouldn't be a problem. Ophelia's mother had said the police were limited, and that Miko was masked. She'd said Miko was noble. She set up a hotline.
“Why did you not tell me about this?”
“You would be and are mad?”
“Because you were too busy pouting, that's why.” He looked to Toby. “I suppose you talked some sense into him at least.” Toby blushed and gave an insecure shrug. “Can we have a moment, Miko?”
“I'll make coffee,” Toby said, excusing himself.
“I told him everything he can hear—”
“That job Russell gave Simon went bad.”
Nasir nodded. “One of ours is dead. A Hungarian, István. I'm sure you know of him.”
“He drowned someone in a toilet.”
“Yes, well, he's dead and Simon blames Russell.”
“You think it was setup?”
“Joe said it wasn't.”
“Do you believe him?”
Nasir seemed to consider for a moment, although Miko knew he would've already made his decision before he'd told Miko the news. “Yes I do. But this complicates things. Call Russell back to thank him for trying, then don't speak with him again. Or Simon, until I say so.”
“Simon will call me when he hears the news.”
Nasir rolled his eyes. “It is not like this will be the first time you ignore his calls. I will speak with him.”
“Will Toby's friends be a problem?”
“No,” Miko said firmly. With their relationship finally at the point of truth, the last thing Miko needed was for his friend to kill Toby's. “They will be fine. Toby will talk to them.”
“You really told him everything?”
Miko fidgeted with his bad hand. “You were right.”
A smile spread across Nasir's face, shifting the bandage up his cheek. “I am always right.”
“And you believe Russell. I do too.”
“It will be best if you stayed here for awhile. Simon will not be pleased about the situat—” He stopped, catching sight of Toby setting out three plates on the kitchen table, the smell of heaven emanating from the kitchen. “Is he cooking Hector's streusel?”
Miko smiled proudly. “He is.”
“Then it will be best if I stayed here for awhile too.”