a form of heat that doesn't rise
by tahlia

Say it's a form of heat that doesn't rise
But passes from one body to the next.
Say it flows through you and then out
And back in again like some ghostly thread
Weaving a basic pattern inside of you
That will slowly begin to take the shape
Of what you'll think you can describe.
-- Aaron Fagan, "Love"

It's late, and Jack finds her on the balcony, smoking a cigarette.

The air inside their office has become nearly balmy as it is outside, and he has gone searching for something refreshing. He tells himself that this is the reason, as his eyes slide over the light on her desk, her empty chair, and the abandoned files. They are alone tonight, two workaholics, so he goes searching for her. Her tongue has been in his mouth, so he thinks that maybe she will understand.

Of course, it's not really like that. He just walks out on the balcony and she's leaning against the wall in the corner, staring at the skyline with a cigarette balanced between familiar lips. He's slept with her four times, but he didn't know she smoked.

He could make a joke. He could say something witty and watch her jump, because Maintenance finally got around to greasing the hinges on this door so she didn't hear him open it. He could. Instead, he swallows something that tastes like fear and says simply, "Hey."

Surprisingly, Samantha doesn't look embarrassed. She doesn't throw the cigarette on the ground and smash it out with her toe in shame. Doesn't even jump, really; must have taken years of getting caught by her parents and not giving a fuck to teach her a skill like that. Her eyes glance at him for a moment, and then they're back to the skyline. "You're here late," she murmurs.

He walks to the railing. "You, too."

"Yeah, well..." She takes a drag, and doesn't finish her sentence. He can't tell whether she minds that he's here.

He leans on the metal railing and it's refreshingly cold against his skin. He lost his jacket hours ago and his sleeves are pushed up to his elbows. "I didn't know you--" He gestures toward her, vaguely. "You know."

They're about ten feet away from one another, but he knows that one eyebrow is arched and that she finds him amusing. "That I smoked?"

"Yeah," he exhales. Laughs a little, too, nervous for some reason. "You've worked here almost four years, is all I'm saying."

That's not what he means, and she knows it. "It's five," and she points at him with her cigarette in hand and a smile on her lips, "and I don't."

Jack seizes the opportunity and takes two steps. Seven feet now, and he's in the right wind current to smell the smoke. "Whatever."

"Excuse me?" she replies, feigning shock. She lets a tiny giggle escape.

They're flirting now. "It's a habit, Agent Spade, and a dangerous one at that." They've slept together four times. He knows about danger.

She blows a puff of smoke in his direction out of spite. "Can't be much of a habit if you didn't know."

"You can quit any time?" he guesses.

There's a wicked grin on her face. "If you say so."

Her arms are bare-- of course they are. It's past ten o'clock and hovering around seventy degrees. Four times he's seen her naked: once on the road (in Florida; more heat), and three times in New York. It's always a tough case, and then they drink, and then they fuck. Afterwards, sometimes, he sleeps for a while, but he always leaves before the sun rises. In the closet where he keeps his jacket during the winter, there's an extra shirt and tie, and he just calls himself a workaholic.

Maybe he is. He lives his work, he breathes his work, and now he's fucking his work.

He hears her inhale. "Smells like rain."

"Come home with me," he says suddenly.

Silence. She drops the cigarette because it's too small to fit between her fingers anymore and smashes it into the cement with the toe of her designer boots. She does it like it's nothing.

A second later, it occurs to him that his wife owns the same boots. He pushes the thought aside before it has time to dwell in his head.

He thinks she means to turn him down, the way she's just standing there, not saying a word, so he says it again: "Come home with me." Two steps forward, and now only four feet apart. Maybe less.

"I heard you the first time," she whispers calmly. He's close enough to hear her whisper.

But it's not this simple, despite everything else. He knows this. For one thing, they will end up at her apartment. He stares at his shoes. "I wasn't sure."

She breathes fresh (sort of) air into her lungs. "Okay."

It takes Jack a minute to realize she's agreeing with him. There's not a bottle of vodka in sight. Something must be wrong. He blinks, afraid to touch her that she might crumble. This isn't really real. That she is a haze, smog gathered in the heat. But her hair is so soft and it's sitting on her shoulders, humidity-induced curls that are just begging to be touched. Vaguely, he remembers the smell of her shampoo.


"I know." She knows the request is just a formality. Maybe he'll be the gentleman and at least volunteer to drive.

Awkwardness descends and both of them just stand there. He feels familiar doubt creeping up on him: what the hell is he doing? In her fingers, she is fiddling with a matchbook. Maybe it isn't a habit after all. Her lips are pursed and her eyes haven't left the skyline. There is something she's avoiding. The matchbook goes back in her pocket, and her fingers grip the railing. It's time.

"What is this?" she asks. There's a beat, and then she turns her head toward him.

This, he knows, being the reason they find themselves together; the reason he followed her to that parking ramp a month ago and kissed her. What is this, anyway? He has a wife. He has two daughters.

"I don't know," he says. Jack drops his head because he's ashamed that he doesn't.

"Good," she replies, shocking him. He looks up, and she's half-smiling. "That's about all I could come up with, too."

He smiles, too. For a brief moment, he wishes he could take her out. Wine and dine her, pull out her chair for her, quickly grab the bill before she can and smile gently that, yes, this one's on him. He imagines that, when she orders her meal, its Italian name will drop off her lips like air, almost second nature to her. He will smile and it will be another thing he didn't know about her.

Reality. Samantha pushes herself off the railing. "My sister called."

Jack blinks. "Yeah?"

"She, uh." Sam rolls back on her heels. Now she's leaning against the wall. From one support to the other. "She's supposed to come into the city in a few weeks, look around at a few colleges."

He bites back the obvious response: I didn't know you had a sister.

Samantha folds her arms across her chest. "Wants me to help," she adds.

"You'd be good at it." He compliments her like breathing.

Her face is in shadow now, so he can't see if she makes a face, or if she reacts at all. There's a moment between them, one in which he can understand everything she isn't saying. He hadn't realized how vulnerable she looked, standing over there, alone, until now.

"Anyway." She stands up straight. "That's why I was out here."

Suddenly, she is standing in front of him, her hand lightly touching his arm, just above his elbow. Almost light enough not to mean a thing, except that it means everything when it comes to them. Them. There is no 'them'.

Her mouth opens, and at first, no words come. And then: "Are we still--"

She stops herself from saying it. This isn't even a thing, really, and they're already talking in code.

"Yeah," he says quickly, almost too quickly, like they're trying to hide from people who aren't even there. Just two workaholics, alone in the office.

Her shoulder brushes past him. "Garage. Five minutes."


There's the faint smell of smoke on her skin still; sitting in the passenger's seat, he notices. He's never noticed before, but maybe he wasn't paying enough attention. She taps manicured nails on the steering wheel at a red light: one, two, three; and then it's green, and her fingers squeeze the wheel with anticipation. No, he thinks, he's been all over that skin and it was never there.

In her apartment, she throws a briefcase and her suit jacket on the armchair. The jacket tumbles to the floor, but she's halfway to the kitchen already. He drapes his own jacket over the back, carefully.

The sound of her heels on the tiled kitchen floor. She is pouring him wine from a box, into expensive glasses; he has to smile at that. She hands him a glass, half-full. Optimistic. It's only tradition. The wine is pink like her cheeks will soon be, when it goes to her head, like he knows it will.

She is sitting on the counter, legs crossed at the ankles, fingers cradling the glass of wine. In that moment, he remembers that he is older than her. She takes a small sip, and then: "Tell me something about yourself."

He hesitates, glass midway to his lips. "What?"

"A truth, a deep and dark secret, I don't care. Something you never tell people." In another breath, she might have added, something you've never even told your wife, but she doesn't.

There's irony here, somewhere, and he doesn't have to look far. He thinks for a moment. "I never wanted to do this." The pause before he clarifies is almost too much. "This job. I didn't want to be a cop."

Her mouth becomes a smile. "Well, you aren't."

"Yeah," and he shakes his head and smiles, for being so stupid. "I meant what we do. How we do it."

"And how we don't get paid nearly enough to do it."

They are tossing around the old clichÈ like two co-workers, one married, shouldn't. He knows it, too, from the way her smile becomes something altogether devilish when it curls around the rim of her glass. Her glass isn't even done-- it's not the alcohol. Something else. She might even break into a giggle, he thinks, and then she suddenly sobers up. Not impassive, not at all, just schooled features.

"So, this job, it isn't what you want to do?" she asks.

Her kitchen is longer than it is wide, with counters on either long side. He is leaning against one, across from her, elbows resting on it. "That's not what I meant." Her mouth makes an 'oh' shape. "Ask me fifteen years ago where I'd see myself now, and here would not be one of the places."

Her head drops to her chest, avoiding his eyes.

Shit. "Sam--"

She gulps done the rest of her wine. Fifteen years ago, she was still in high school. Maybe not even that. "It's nothing."

A step closer, a hand on her knee without even thinking. "I didn't mean it like that."

"It's nothing," she repeats, and she looks up. It's not nothing, not in her eyes.

He did that to her. His glass is discarded on the counter next to hers, both hands on her knees. Pleading with her, "Sam."

She bites her lip, averts her eyes. The endless ways this has gone wrong fly through his brain in about a second. He's already deciding on an exit strategy when she looks up again.

"What is this?" Again. He knows, this time, there isn't a witty remark to insulate whatever he can manage to put together.

He deliberates for a moment, and then leans forward to kiss her. This is what this is, and she seems to agree, because she kisses him back. Or maybe. Maybe it just feels good, what he's doing to her. He's careful to avoid the wine glasses when he helps her slip off the counter.


They never talk after sex. "This feels different," she says, reading his mind.

He inhales. The smoke from her skin still tingles in the back of his throat. "Oh?"

She rolls onto her back, but loose strands of her hair are still stuck to his shoulders. "Yeah, like, the fact that the room isn't spinning."

A awkward moment, where he decides not to make the joke. Instead, he sighs. "Yeah." The first time they did this here in the city, he doesn't really remember much. There were innuendos over martinis, the way her body fit neatly under his, her hand on his chest as she came; waking up. That was when he started the tradition of leaving before sunrise.

"Hey," and then he rolls over on his side to see her, "your turn."

She glances at him with squinted eyes. "What?"

"A truth, a deep and dark secret, I don't care," he says, mimicking her words. He sees her smiling, embarrassed. "It's only fair."

Here's to hoping he hasn't forced his hand.

She turns her head to him, a serious face. He blinks, waiting. She leans in close and whispers, "I'm from Ohio," and then begins to laugh.

He laughs, too. She's giggling, saying, "I swear to God! Not many people know that!"

In the morning, he wakes up with her.


Almost twenty-four hours later, he slips in his own door. Marie is asleep on the couch, legs tucked under her body. He tries to be quiet, but the inevitable click of the door as it shuts makes her stir. Maybe she was never really asleep.

She looks at him through sleepy eyes. It's late. He thinks his guilt is tattooed on his forehead, but she only stands slowly and takes the extra suit from him, the one that he wore yesterday and is now draped over his arm. "You work too much," she says, pressing a small kiss to his lips. There's a smile behind it, too, and her words lack an angry bite.

He doesn't deserve this. He sighs. "Yeah."

"Kate had a bad dream last night," Marie says, already walking toward their bedroom. He loosens his tie, following her down the hallway. "She wanted you to tell her a story."

He's in the doorway to their bedroom, feeling like a stranger in his own home. "There was this case." He's aware of how contrived it sounds, but he says it anyway. There isn't anything else. "I couldn't get away, I'm sorry."

She's laying the suit flat on the bed. He doesn't know why. She looks up at him with another small smile. "You told me that already." Vaguely, he remembers the early morning call, from Samantha's phone in the kitchen.

"It's just--" In the bedroom now. "I hate that I wasn't here, that's all."

Marie sighs, not angry at all. She should know that he's lying. It shouldn't be this easy. "I know," she says softly.

He throws the tie on the bed, unbuttoning his shirt on his way to the bathroom. It's their sign: no more conversation, just sleep. With the door half-shut, he looks at himself in the mirror. He sees nothing but his reflection; not guilt or shame or anything. He splashes his face with water to forget.

He opens the door. Marie has his suit jacket close to her face, smelling it. His heart skips for a minute. "Smoke," she declares.

"Yeah, uh." Shit, shit, shit. "Suspect."

As sweet and unearned as an act of God, Marie smiles and accepts it all.


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