It is the ninth hour of the twelfth day; the beginning of the second hour of your work day; the fifth time you’ve left your desk; the seventeenth time you’ve looked at the clock. You look for work to do. That’s all you do.
The funeral is done and all of your energy was exerted into organising his final affairs - luckily, his will was already written, and his funeral plans already in order. Most of his possessions were left to his mother (in the case that she outlived him), some, sadly, to Brigadier General Hughes, some to various other officers, his research to the military, and some, you heard, to you. Nothing of particular significance - there wasn’t really any item the two of you shared that held importance to you both. Still, you suppose it was nice of him to leave his possessions to you. Once, in a drunken haze post the death of your mutual comrade, he remarked on how difficult a time his wife must be having arranging his affairs, seeing as Maes had no will, no funeral plans, nothing. You think it was here he decided to arrange his own plans, prematurely.
You didn’t pay much attention to it because you knew you wouldn’t let anything happen to him.
The point being, everything was over, finished. This is where you are supposed to move on. The end of the world is over, and now is the time to clean up the wreckage and salvage what you can from the rubble, begin to rebuild, begin to start again. With everything done, this is the first time since that you have had the freedom to think. A freedom which, at this point, was dangerous.
And so you threw yourself into your work, to maintain, to keep up appearances.
You are The Hawk’s Eye - it is your job, your duty, to maintain a demeanor of control, apathy, composure, in the wake of what has happened. Everything is falling apart around you. Everyone you care about is struggling, struggling to come to work, struggling to look where he sat, struggling to not leave a seat for him. Jean Havoc always keeps one final cigarette in his pack. Vato Falman always makes two cups of coffee. Heymans Breda sits alone at the chess table and fiddles with the pieces. Kain Feury sits at his desk and picks up the phone and dials the number you know is his, and he sits, stares, doesn’t say anything. Even Alex Louis Armstrong remains quiet.
It is your duty to maintain composure, for the sake of everyone else. You make sure to walk with seeming purpose. You had tried to sit at your desk and focus on paperwork, but you couldn’t do it. You couldn’t. Unbelievably, unforgivably, you couldn’t do your duty.
What you do now is mostly roam the military building, making sure to look like you’re working, even though you’re not. You do things like take files, put them out of order, reorder them firstly in alphabetical order by the second letter, then by content, then by alphabetical order by the final letter, then in the order you found them in. Simple, braindead tasks you don’t really need to think about. This occupies most of your time, now. You wake up after a night of - to call it sleep would be generous - feed and walk your dog, go to work, walk through exclusively the East of the building because his office was in the West Wing and you don’t want to be anywhere near it, file, refile, rearrange, pay attention when you’re being talked to, avoid. When you go home, you feed your dog, sit at the table, the couch, the bed, and the hours seem to pass by you without you even noticing. You are going through the motions, and that is all you’re doing.
It is the twelfth hour of the twenty-eighth day and people seem to be coping better with what has happened. They look less like zombies and more like humans. You think that they’ve started processing what grief is and feel more intensely emotional than normal - they seem angrier, happier, sadder, they laugh harder, bite through their words harder. They talk about other things, now. Nobody has spoken to you about it yet. Nobody has really spoken to you at all, other than passing comments about work, questions, nothing too memorable. This doesn’t mean you’re ignored - Grumman brings you tea, sometimes. Rebecca has come to your apartment numerous times with food - she talks and you listen. Havoc offers you sympathetic looks, pat your arm when you walk past and offers you a “You doin’ okay, Lieutenant?”. Falman, Feury and Breda similarly share their concern, offering you assistance with your work, which you placidly decline. You also ask them how they are, almost clinically, trying to make sure that they think you’re as in control as you need to be.
It is the fifth hour of the morning of the forty-third day and you still can’t light candles. Rainy days still make your throat itch with bitter, twisted recollection. All of your life lies around you - your work, your friends, your furniture, your city. But it’s different now. It isn’t yours now. It’s remnants of some kind of past, some kind of different world. It’s all pre, and you’re post.
In the early hours of the other morning, you found in your own kitchen every match you owned, laid out meticulously in the shape of the damn transmutation circle on the back of his hand out onto your kitchen table. You don’t remember doing it, but you know it’s you that must have done it. It’s the kind of thing a ghost does to prove, to itself or to another, that it’s still living somewhere. It's as if you’re haunting your own apartment.
The strange thing about the death of a loved one is that it’s as if part of you is taken with them. You know from experience that experiencing death so close to you will change you, but you will overcome it. Or, at least, that’s what’s supposed to happen.
What is different about this particular situation is the fact, without either of you realising it, your lives had formed around each other’s so inextricably that you had become, for lack of a better description, a part of each other. You’d considered a lot of things following what had happened. When walking around the military building, you thought about how he was a large part of your own purpose in the military; you had joined of your own agency, and over the course of your career your purpose had evolved to so much more, this did not change the fact that protecting him was, undeniably, a significant part of why you do what you do. Now, it felt, as much as you wished it didn’t, as if your chosen role was now meaningless. And not only that - you had failed. Unbelievably, unforgivably, you had failed the one thing you had sworn you would never fail. In fact, your determination had meant you’d never even considered what you would do if this had happened. You were unprepared.
You know, in your mind, that you are more than capable. But you couldn’t stop yourself from thinking about it; you had failed. You couldn’t do your duty. You couldn’t save this one person. You vowed that you would protect him because it was together that you would be able to change things, make the country better, fix what you’d done, and, though it was selfish and something you wouldn’t admit, guarantee that flame alchemy wasn’t only used to destroy and hurt, but some form of good came out of it. Not only was he one of the most important people to you, a necessary constant in a turbulent life - without him, you were sure you’d be cast on a different path, not because of any feelings of fondness or the word you couldn’t even think to say, but because without him by your side, you’re sure the feelings of self-doubt and isolation stemming from what you did would have swayed you to do something different, attempt to redeem, maybe move away - but your only chance of redemption lay together, lay with him. Died with him.
For the first time, you had no plan. No resolve. You had lost part of yourself.
You tried to stop yourself, but sometimes you thought about the families of those you had destroyed, you had let yourself destroy (the word kill was too sharp, too harsh to enter your mind), and wondered if how they felt mirrored how you felt. If they had felt the feeling of numbness you felt in your days, and the loss, the growing vacancy in your chest that felt simultaneously chokingly tight and wide, void and empty, you had felt in the nights. You wished you didn’t.
It is the seventeenth hour of the seventy-fifth day and nothing has changed, but it’s the first time anyone has talked to you about it. Everyone has adapted to a new form of pseudo-normalcy, but you are still here. Why are you still here?
“Do you think about it a lot?” asks Rebecca.
“Certain things remind me.” you lie. It doesn’t leave you. It’s in everything you do. You don’t actively go out of your way and think about it, but it hangs over every aspect of your life like a damp, yellow mist, and it’s probably the reason why you find yourself crying when you catch a glimpse of your own back in the mirror or why you hold your breath when walking past flower stalls in the street.
“Me too. Like what?”
You inhale sharply. “I’m not sure. It’ll be at times when I can’t focus on anything else -” You lie again. “- like when I’m waiting for the kettle to boil, or when I have no work to do.”
“Do you think of him, like... do you miss him?”
“Yes. I think of him with admiration.” you say it clinically and without thought. You’re still going through the motions. You’re sure they’re aware of your maladaptive thinking by now, but no one wants to bring it up.
“Me too. In what ways?”
“Well... it’s not particularly specific features, but I’ll remember how much I respected him. I think... he’s everything I want to be.”
“Me too. He was brave.”
He was brave. Annoyingly stubborn. Loyal to a fault. A protector, a guardian, a good man. But that isn’t what you meant.
He was all of those things. Now, you felt a distance from your friends, from yourself, you didn’t quite know how to bridge. It wasn’t just his death, it was the death of your friends, of the lives you took, of the only people who would ever understand what that meant. It was everything. It was you.
As much as you don’t want to satisfy the thought, he is everything you want to be.