There was a black cloud that hung over us all as we went back to work the following day. The usual laughter and banter that filled our mornings was now replaced by heavy silence, and grieving faces. Everywhere I looked it felt like there was a ghost of him, from where he would sit on the balcony and have his morning coffee, to the locker room where his name was still printed above his locked door. This station was our second home, it was always filled with love and humour and warmth, but now that someone was missing again, it felt cold, empty and unwelcoming.
“I know that this isn’t easy for any of us.” Alex said as we finished our morning roll call. “We’ve lost one of our own and that will never be something that you can just get over.”
Everyone remained silent, and I bowed my head, averting my gaze to avoid the intensity of looking directly at anyone.
“But we can’t forget that we have a job to do. We have to put our feelings aside and get on with the job. It’s what Dodger would want, and so we do it for him, and for those people out there that still need us.”
Alex’s voice cracked as he said Dodger’s name, his professional tone slipping as his emotions caught in his throat.
“We’re a man down, and that means that we have to be extra vigilant, and adjust accordingly for now.”
The morning passed slowly, I wasn’t sure whether I preferred it that way, or would have rathered it to be busy. Each way was going to be near unbearable whatever the hand we were dealt, and so we all took to work, going about tasks with minimal interaction. Will had taken over the gym, angry rock music blasting through the speakers whilst he sprinted on the treadmill. Alex had locked himself in his office, most probably buried in paperwork, and Cassie had gone to help Heidi in the kitchen. Those of us that remained downstairs, started working on the appliances, keeping solely to our own job, there was none of the usual banter and larking around. Myself and Sam spent the hours tidying, cleaning and restocking the appliance lockers, whilst Jax and Cain silently washed them over, and Lacey tidied and cleaned the interior. The amount of concentration they were showing strongly suggested that, just like mine, their minds were elsewhere, and the activity was being done purely to keep busy.
As afternoon arrived, so did the first shout. The minor incident meant that only a few of us were needed, but the break was a welcome change of pace, at least for a little while. But then, all too soon, we were pulling back into the station, and I was jumping out of the truck to find myself face to face with Emilia.
She was standing just inside the door, her hair tied up in a messy bun and no make-up. Her outfit was much less together than her usual style, she’d clearly dressed for comfort in an oversized jumper, ripped jeans, and ankle boots. She looked up at me, giving me a weak smile and stepping closer.
“Em, what are you doing here?” I asked as she reached me.
Her big, blue eyes flicked around the station before refocusing on my face.
“I don’t know,” She mumbled, “I just got so lonely. I had stuff to do before, plans for the funeral, family arrangements. Now there’s nothing.”
She sniffed and rubbed away a building tear. I hated seeing her this way. She’d always been so happy and lively, just like Dodger. They were such a perfect couple because of the way they bounced off one another. Seeing that light taken away, and her crumbling before me was both horrifying and painful to witness.
“It used to be easy passing the hours until Harry got back, but now I’m just staring at the walls and knowing that he’s not c-coming home.”
As her voice cracked, she broke down and I pulled her into my arms, feeling her almost buckle with the pain she was overcome by. I held her tightly, keeping her upright and allowing her to let it out, the shoulder of my shirt dampening with her tears.
“It’s okay, I’ve got you.” I whispered, softly rubbing my hand over her back to soothe her as she sobbed.
A door opened nearby and Lacey stepped out. Stopping as she saw Em, her neutral expression changed to one of pain and sadness, those silver eyes that I adored, found mine, and slowly filled with tears. In that moment, everything that I had fought to ignore, raged to the surface, and settled as a lump in my throat. For a second, Em was Lacey, and I was an onlooker, watching as the love of my life shattered in a friend’s arms. All that strength that she’d carried through life, gone. The final straw had landed and proved to be too much, to be her end. My heart seemed to stop with the realisation of what was coming, and I watched her slowly walk away, dread and sadness weighing even heavier in my stomach.
I walked Em through to the kitchen where Heidi and Cassie were still preparing dinner, and made her a cup of tea. Once her crying had subsided, Heidi made her some lunch, insisting that she had something to eat, for herself and the baby’s sake. It wasn’t long after that she grew tired, her eyes drifting closed and her body swaying at the table. It was clear she hadn’t been sleeping much, and I wasn’t surprised, I hadn’t either, so I could imagine her struggle. Deciding that she should stay with us until we could take her home later, I took her through to the dorm and helped her into a bed. She was out like a light almost as soon as her head hit the pillow, and after covering her with a blanket, I crept out and left her to sleep, my footsteps taking me swiftly upstairs and onto the roof.
Walking to the edge, I leant my arms on the brick wall, letting out a breath that I felt like I’d been holding in all day. I watched the people walking by, each one of them oblivious to the grief that had taken hold in the building they were passing. Tipping my head up to the sky, I watched the sun disappear behind large, grey clouds, thinking that at least the weather had the audacity to echo the misery in our hearts.
“I thought I’d find you up here.” Lacey said, drawing to a stop at my side and resting her arms on the wall beside me.
I nodded slowly, internally torn between happiness and sadness at her presence.
“I needed some air.” I replied, not wanting to look at her just yet, unable to be sure that I would have the courage to do what I had to.
“Is Em resting?”
“Yeah, she needs it.”
Lacey made a non verbal sound of agreement, then sighed.
“I know.” She said sadly, drawing my attention as I finally looked at her. “I know what you’re going to say.” She added.
She didn’t look or sound angry as she said it, and I wasn’t sure if that was going to make it easier or harder to say.
“It doesn’t have to happen this way.” She whispered, a pleading edge to her tone.
“It does.” I replied, my own voice trembling as I forced myself to go on, “I wish it didn’t have to, but I can’t lie to myself anymore. Seeing Em like that, so defeated, broken… I can’t risk doing that to you.”
She shook her hair out of her face, pointedly looking away as she quietly sniffled.
“We only just made it out of that warehouse. It was close for all of us, and we lost Dodge as it is. I could have lost you, or even left you, and that pain, I don’t think it’s something that either of us would be able to come back from.”
“Don’t you think that it would hurt just as much even if we weren’t together.” She exclaimed, rounding on me. “I love you Bane, and that’s not just going to disappear as soon as the shift is over.”
“I love you too, more than I ever knew was possible. But it’s because of that, that we need to stop this. It’s breaking my heart to even say this..”
“Then don’t.” She begged, placing her hands on my chest and drawing in closer, her face just inches from mine, my skin tingling beneath her palms. “I’m strong enough to take the risk. It’s my heart I’m putting on the line.”
“But what if your strength isn’t enough? Em was always strong, but look at her, she’s in so much agony.” My hand cupped her cheek as I begged for the ability to get through this. “As much as this hurts me, I will take that pain gladly, if it keeps you from suffering through that. I would take the entire world’s pain over and over again if it meant saving you from even the smallest sting.”
“I don’t want to be saved though. I want you.” She replied, struggling to keep the sadness out of her voice.
“I’ll always want you Lacey. I love you.” I whispered.
I couldn’t help it, I leant in and kissed her. If this was the last time that I would get to taste her lips, I wasn’t going to deny myself. I poured every unspoken work into the kiss, filling it with passion, love and promise. Promise that I would forever be hers, and forever do all that I had to do, to keep her safe… Even if it meant that I was tearing my own heart in two in the process.
She deepened the kiss and her arms began to drift up my back. I felt the familiar shiver that she elicited out of me with her expert touch, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to go further without backing down, so I pulled back, hovering just an inch away, and tucking a lock of her hair behind her ear, tracing her bottom lip with my finger. A look of mutual understanding and heartache passed between us, before I turned and walked back inside, feeling the last pieces of my broken heart, shattering within my chest.