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[personal profile] gelaecter posting in [community profile] nordipalooza
Title: Event Horizon (Part 1)
Author: [personal profile] gelaecter  (tumblr | AO3)
Prompt: Iceland, Denmark - Missing - AU or Modern
Other characters: Belgium, Netherlands, mentions of the other Nordics
Rating: T
Content notes: Well this snowballed - only part one atm because I'm caught up in in the middle of an unexpected (but ultimately positive) job transition and didn't have time to type up the rest (it is finished though). No other warnings, at least for this section.
Summary: Emil's estranged brother goes missing, and Emil gets to know him in his absence.



Emil’s 19th birthday began fairly uneventfully. His housemate left very early for work, so he had the apartment to himself for a couple hours before he had to head off to work himself and spent it sleeping in until the very last second. He accidentally left his phone plugged in on the kitchen bench when he left for work, which didn’t matter much except that he’d have to come back and get it instead of heading to heading to the harbour with his new sketchbook like he’d been planning - but his boss let him sign off early, handing him an unlabelled package (“From some mysterious friend of yours” was all she’d said about it) and all but shoving him out the door.

He got home just before 1pm, and there were three voicemails waiting for him - one from his brother, wishing him happy birthday in a bored monotone and reminding him of their dinner plans on Friday for the twelfth time at least (“Bring a friend,” he said with a hint of mockery, and Emil made a face). The others were from his half-brother (or more specifically, his half-brother’s fiancé on behalf of them both) and his parents, and he was half way through listening to his father bumble through technology with his mother laughing at him in the background when the message was interrupted by an incoming call. Startled, he answered it without seeing the caller ID.

“Hello? Am I speaking with Emil Sørensen?” an unknown woman said, in English.

“Yes,” he sighed, glancing at the foreign number on the screen and realising this was probably just a cold call.

“Sorry for calling unexpectedly,” she continued, coolly professional. “Your workplace gave me your number, said I’d just missed you.”

Emil had been ready to just hang up, but that statement made him pause.

“Sorry, what’s this about?”

“My name is Margot Vervleot, I’m looking into an incident which occurred late Saturday evening,” she said, “It involved a colleague of mine, Matthias Thorsen? His call records show he’s made several calls to your workplace over the last week, with your name as the contact. I was just hoping you could tell me what business you have with him? I’m sure I’m just wasting both of our time, but I need to cover all possibilities.”

“I don’t know who that is,” Emil responded, frowning.

“Mr. Sørensen,” she said, in a disbelieving tone. “I have no interest in your personal business beyond the connection to my colleague. I promise you, I’m just as discreet as he is.”

Emil bristled defensively. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said, “I’ve never spoken to…” He trailed off when his eyes landed on the unopened package his boss had handed him. Mysterious friend. “The only Matthias I know is my brother... Matthias Oxenstierna... but we haven’t spoken in a long time.”

Silence. He began to feel uneasy, wondering if she was still there or if he should just hang up, when suddenly she let out a string of Dutch expletives and he knew immediately his suspicion was correct.

“I’m sorry,” she said after a moment, “I should have realised. Fuck.”

“What’s going on?” Emil asked, hesitantly.

“I’m sorry,” she repeated, professional tone crumbling. Emil got the impression she wasn’t even talking to him that time. “There were no details next to your name in his book… I wouldn’t have called if I’d realised who you were, I just had to check everything. I’m sorry. Just forget I called.”

“Wait!” he said sharply. There was a silence, but he knew she was still there. “Please. Is Matthias… Did something happen?”

She sighed heavily. “There was a break in at our office on Saturday evening, nothing was taken but Matthias hasn’t been seen since. The police are investigating, but…”

Coldness spread through Emil’s chest. “Do they know who took him?” he asked weakly.

“There’s been no news yet,” she said. “Listen, I have to go. I’ll… call. When I know something.”

She hung up, and Emil felt a burst of helpless anger. After a moment, he opened his browser and typed “Matthias Thorsen” into google. He’d googled his brothers name many times in the past, usually late at night feeling desperate for any scrap of information. He’d never found anything, but then maybe he’d been searching for the wrong person. He didn’t find anything this time either, so he added the woman’s name to the search.

Several spelling attempts later, he finally found something - the website of a tiny investigative firm in Amsterdam, operated by Matthias Thorsen and his partner, Margot Vervloet. That had to be it. He’d found him. His burst of excitement was immediately extinguished by cold fear when it occurred to him he might be too late.

Today was Monday. Matthias had been missing for nearly two days.

Emil shivered, suddenly overwhelmed. He should call Halvard, or Berwald, or his mother.

(Maybe not Berwald)

He called a taxi.

---

Emil had never been to Amsterdam. He missed a class trip when he was fifteen because he caught pneumonia, and his uni friends talked about going over the break, but despite being a fine art student Emil didn’t feel particularly inclined. The flight there now seemed very surreal.

When he stepped out of the terminal, he immediately felt extremely foolish.

“You what?” Margot said sharply when he called and told her where he was. “Why?”

“He’s my brother,” Emil said, unsure what else to say.

She sighed. “Okay. Okay, I’ll pick you up at the station, call me when you’re close.”

She met him outside the gates; a young woman, about his height, with short blonde hair and a stern, almost angry, expression. She looked tired, faint dark circles under her eyes and stress pulling at the corner of her mouth.

Suddenly, he felt terribly guilty. He’d given this woman, obviously under strain already, yet another thing to worry about without anything to offer in return. He cursed himself. What use would he be here?

He yelped in surprise when her face crumpled and she pulled him into a hug without warning.

“I’m glad you came,” said whispered, arms tight around him. She let him go, embrace ending as abruptly as it began. Emil stared at her as she wiped her eyes roughly, stern expression falling back into place.

“Come on,” she said after a moment. “You can stay with me, but it’s getting late and there’s a couple stops we need to make so you’ll have to tag along.”

She turned without waiting for a response, and he almost had to jog to keep up.

“I need to to the house first, then we’re going to the hospital.”

“The hospital?” Emil felt a spark of hope, until she glanced at him and he saw her mouth twist angrily.

“They broken into his home too, yesterday afternoon. Willem was there when they did.” Her eyes flashed dangerously. She muttered something under her breath. “He’s fine, they’re releasing him in the morning so I need to grab some stuff in case I don’t get time tomorrow. The police wouldn’t let me earlier.”

The pulled up outside a row of narrow brick townhouses. She climbed out of the car and disappeared from sight - she made no indication he should follow, so he waited nervously in the car for her to come back. After no more than ten minutes she reappeared, threw a bag in the back seat, and they drove off.

“Are you and Matthias… close?” Emil asked after a brief silence.

“He’s family,” she said firmly, without hesitation. She glanced at him. “We’re not together if that’s what you’re asking. He’s like my brother. No, he is my brother.”

“You work together? At that firm?”

“We founded it together - Willem mostly owns it though, it was his money.” She sighed. “I’ve known him for about ten years now.” Emil was surprised and vaguely irritated by that, but before he could ask anything else he saw they were pulling into a hospital car park. “You’d better come up, I’m not sure how long I’ll be.”

He trailed after her through the hospital, feeling more awkward than he’d ever felt in his life. When they reached their destination he hesitated, before curiosity won out over nerves.

The room’s only occupant stirred as Margot approached his bedside, opening one eye and blinking blearily at them. The other eye was swollen shut, the entire left side of his face a mess of bruises. Margot murmured something in Dutch, placing the bag next to his bed. He responded, voice sounding hoarse and painful, and the two of them conversed briefly before the man - Willem - turned to address Emil directly. Emil just stared back for a long, awkward moment, uncomprehending, before Margot rescued him. She cleared her throat loudly.

“Willem, this is Emil,” she said. “Matthias’ brother.”

“Hello,” he said, once again feeling like an idiot.

Willem said nothing, just stared at him before suddenly turning away from them both, an odd, pained expression crossing his face. He said something, low and tense, and Margot frowned.

“What? No, there’s been no news.” She looked between the two of them with confusion in her eyes, then grabbed his hand and switched back to Dutch, speaking low and urgent until finally he looked at her. She gave his hand a squeeze and he nodded, glancing at Emil before closing his eye and laying back against the pillow. Margot kissed his undamaged cheek before pulling back.

“Get some rest,” she said, “We’ll be back tomorrow.”

---

Margot’s apartment was bright and lovely, mostly white and cream broken up by vibrant splashes of colour. Every surface was cluttered - souvenirs, books, unopened junk mail. Next to the door sat a pile of brochures advertising a gallery opening at the end of the month, and a very expensive camera.

She showed him to the guest room before disappearing into her own room to change.

The most striking thing about the apartment was the photographs. Dozens of them, some framed and some not, with a wide variety of subjects - landscapes to portraits to candids, with more personal images scatter among them. Emil examined them as he made his way to the kitchen. Margot herself was rarely in them - because, Emil assumed, she was the one who took most of them - but she appeared occasionally in the more casual shots, or old photos of her and her brother when they were children and teenagers. Willem was a regular subject, usually looking fondly exasperated. Emil's breath caught when he came across one of Matthias, older than Emil remembered him being but unmistakable, grinning at someone outside the frame with his arm flung over Willem’s shoulder. Emil’s chest felt tight.

His brother was a frequent subject, almost always alongside Willem, and Emil found himself fascinated by each image. He examined them all carefully, but one picture in particular caught his eye. It was one of the larger prints, hung at the end of the hall with nothing else around it. Margot was in this one, dressing in a beautiful gown with her hair pinned back and a bouquet in hand, smiling radiantly. The men on either side of her wore matching suits - or her right stood her brother, his arm around her shoulders. He was smiling softly, his joy quieter but equally powerful. One her other side stood Matthias.

Emil was twelve the last time he’d seen his brother, but the thing he remembered most about him was his smile. He was smiling in most of Emil’s memories, and in all the photographs still on display in his parents home. Matthias had been the most stubbornly and aggressively joyful person he’d ever known.

But he’d never seen Matthias like this. Unlike the other two, he wasn’t looking straight at the camera, but rather his head was tilted slightly to look over at his companions. His expression was one of pure happiness, captured perfectly on film. A lump formed in Emil’s throat. He’d never felt as distant from his brother as he did looking at this photograph.

He swallowed heavily as Margot approached from down the hall.

“It took five tries to get this photo. It rained almost the whole day.” She was smiling wistfully. “Willem planned it so carefully, but not even he can fight the weather.”

“How long ago was this taken?” he asked, suddenly realising the context of the photograph. Nearby hung another photo, clearly taken the same day - Matthias and Willem, side by side.

“Five years the August.” All traces of happiness fled from her face, leaving her diminished. “It was a small ceremony, but it was lovely despite the rain.”

For one terrifying moment he thought she might burst into tears. Even worse, he thought he might also. But then she shook herself.

“Come on, I’ll make some dinner,” She said with false cheer. “Are you hungry? I know I am.”

That was a lie, he knew. He wasn’t hungry either.

---

“I feel like I should apologise,” she said as she set a bowl of reheated pasta in front of him. “For dragging you around with barely any explanation. This must be a hard for you, given the circumstances.”

“It’s okay,” he said, poking his food.

She smiled. “Not really.” Emil shrugged helplessly, and after an awkward silence he spoke.

“Do they have any idea idea who took him?”

“Not last I heard,” she said, sighing. “They’ve been going through our cases - so have I - but private investigation isn’t as exciting as you might think. Before this, the worst trouble we had was some angry phone calls - just posturing though. It has to be work related though, I thought maybe Matthias was running some cases on the side he hadn’t told me about, because I’ve been so busy organising my show, but…” She shook her head. “The police are interviewing Willem tomorrow morning, maybe that will help.”

They both stared at their food miserably.

“So, Emil.” She leaned forward resting her arms on the table. “You’re Matthias’ youngest brother, right? He used to talk about you a lot.”

“Did he.” Emil glanced away momentarily. “Yeah, I’m the youngest. Just turned 19… today, actually.” He could hardly believe it was still Monday.

“Oh my God.” She dropped her fork with a clatter. “I had no idea. Happy… well. Congratulations?”

“Thanks,” he replied dryly, lip twitching. She coughed, covering a snort of slightly hysterical laughter. “I’m meant to be having a family dinner on friday to celebrate.”

“Do they… know?” she asked carefully.

Emil felt sick. “No. I don’t… I don’t know what to tell them.” Margot looked conflicted, and Emil recalled her brother’s expression back in the hospital room, the memory nagging at him. He took a deep breath. “Margot, what did Willem say to you, after you told him who I was?”

She looked away, and Emil felt ill again. “He thought they must have found him,” she said after a moment.

“No,” he corrected her, shame and anger rising within him as the pieces slotted together. “He thought he must be dead.” Margot closed her eyes. “Because that’s they only reason you’d have called us. That’s what he asked you, right? If they’d found his body!”

His breath was coming in short, sharp pants, and he struggled to get back under control. The horror of the situation was almost overwhelming. Margot’s face was hard.

“I’m sorry,” she said, coldly. “But you have to understand-”

Emil let out a bitter laugh. “Oh no, I understand. Why would you? He hasn’t spoken to us in seven years.” He covered his face with his hands and breathed deeply.

“It’s not your fault,” she said after a moment, a useless platitude. He snorted.

“I know, our family was a mess long before I came.” All the anger drained from him. “Did you know me and Matthias aren’t actually related?” He removed his hand from his face. Margot said nothing. “Because I didn’t. I should have, but I was a dumb kid who couldn’t pick up on the obvious.”

“They only person he’s related to is Berwald,” he continued. “Their father was my mothers first husband. They were born one day apart, but they aren’t twins - Matthias’ mother was his father's mistress.” He swallowed. “I don’t know the full story. She died though, I think. That’s why he went to live with this father, but then he left.” Margot made a soft noise. “Technically we’re not even his family. He only ever fought with Berwald, not us, but when they fell out he left.” Anger was hot in his throat, and he had to stop talking before he said something awful.

“You are his family,” she replied gently. “It’s hard though, when you don’t feel like you belong.” Her response annoyed him, and he said nothing.

“He shouldn’t have left,” he said, choked up. “He should have called at least.”

“Yes,” she replied. “I’m glad that he still has some family out there who love him.”

“Berwald loves him,” Emil said, desperately. “They had problems, but he does. He wasn’t the same after Matthias left.” He shivered violently, and continued in a low voice. “I keep thinking what it will do to him if Matthias is dead.” He scrubbed his eyes.

“He’s not,” Margot said fiercely.

“I think I need to go to bed,” he said abruptly. Margot looked concerned, but wished him a good night. He curled up on the bed and sobbed quietly until he finally drifted off.

---

Date: 2016-07-21 08:58 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] kanadka
I love this!! You do the atmosphere really well here. It's stark and blank and sad. Maybe it's the addition of the private investigator and the missing estranged family member but it feels really noir too. And my god how I love noir. I loved this and can't wait for more.

But now I'm curious...what kind of relationship have those three got? It seemed like Margot and Mads had A Thing but then she said they weren't together so then that gown picture might have been her wedding (to someone else)? Or prom or something? Then I thought maybe Willem and Mads have a thing but I don't know whether that's just me being hopeful and reading too much into an actually platonic relationship. I don't knowwww but I love it!

I hope all's going well with the new job! Best of luck transitioning :D