Things were still a little awkward between me and Lacey as we worked through a shout together the next day. The fact that we remained a man down meant that more often than not, we were having to work even closer together, and that was made harder by the very obvious feelings that sparked between us. It was as though we’d forgotten how to communicate, as though every word that we would say to each other under normal circumstances, suddenly held too much meaning to be able to speak. And I hated it. I was missing her so badly, sitting awake at night recalling the sound of her laugh, the teasing words that she’d throw my way as we messed about at work, or off shift. I missed her touch, her kiss, the way that she bit her lip whenever she was about to be inappropriately snarky or frisky when around the others. I felt each day passing in slow motion and dull repetition, the light that could only come from being with my soulmate was out of my reach, condemning me to hour upon hour of constant internal battling, and struggling to see the dawn when there was only darkness without her.
Returning to base, we were quick to flee in opposite directions, and honestly, at this point I was unsure whether it was to avoid the strong temptations that still lingered, or because we just didn’t know how to be around each other. The others had picked up on something going on, but thankfully hadn’t brought it up. I wasn’t sure how that would have gone down, but I knew that having a bunch of other people involved was going to do anything but be helpful.
The bell rang for the second shout of the day, just after dinner. It was being handled by Shaxbury, but they’d summoned an extra appliance for back up, meaning that Alex and half of the Watch jumped aboard, leaving the rest of us behind. I hated watching them go, it was always a horrible thought that we wouldn’t be there if things went wrong, especially lately, and it was made even worse by the fact that Lacey went with them. I knew that I was going to feel sick until they returned, and so I decided to go and keep myself busy in the gym.
Heading into the locker room, I was about to pull out my gym bag when a small package tumbled off the top, hitting the floor with a soft thud. Bending to pick it up, I recognised it as the parcel that arrived two days ago for Dodger. I’d meant to drop it round to Em after my shift, but it had been a mental day, and it slipped my mind. I tapped the package against my palm in thought. Em’s place was only the other side of the high street, about a five minute walk, I could cut that in half if I drove. Given that we were undermanned, there wasn’t going to be any new shouts that we could attend before the others returned. Forgetting the gym workout I was going to settle for, I dashed out of the door, sliding down the pole and swinging round the office door.
Sam looked up the moment that I entered, casually finishing off the page of the newspaper that he was reading through.
“Hey, I’m gonna dash to Em’s real quick okay. Just got to give her something.” I explained, holding up the package.
He glanced at it, saddening as he made out Dodger’s name on the front.
“Sure, I’ll call you if we need you.”
I nodded in agreement and rushed out the door, unlocking my car as I crossed the lot at speed.
Sitting in Em’s living room a few minutes later, she was holding the little personalised onesie that had been inside the package, clutching it closely as she was overcome by emotions at the last gift that Dodger had bought.
“Trust him.” She finally said, letting out a tearful chuckle as she held it up.
It was tiny, clearly made for a newborn, the soft fabric was in a bright red, and emblazoned on the back where the letters LFB, for London Fire Brigade, and as she turned it around, I laughed with her. The front being covered by the words: Red Watch Rookie.
It was undeniably Dodger, and I could visualise his face as he would have ordered it and eagerly awaited the moment that it arrived and he could put it on his little baby.
“I think it’s perfect.” I said gently, reaching across the table and squeezing her hand reassuringly.
“It is.” She whispered, holding it against her chest again.
I watched as a single tear trickled slowly from the corner of her eye.
“I don’t know how I’m going to do this.” She admitted, “Raise this baby by myself.”
“You’re not by yourself Em, you’ve got a whole family behind you. We’re just down the road, and we’ve got your back on this. Besides you think we stop by a lot now, just wait until you have an adorable little baby here with you. You’ll never have five minutes without one of us being here.”
She smiled, nodding slowly and looking curiously at me.
“You know, I wanted to ask you about Lacey.”
“She’s been by a lot, and I can’t help thinking that there’s something wrong? She seems like something’s bothering her, you know, aside from…” She drifted off, gesturing around her, and the meaning behind the unspoken words was crystal clear.
It felt wrong to divulge our issues to Em, given what she was dealing with, and so I tried to sound convincing as I shrugged it off and replied:
“It’s nothing, just some work stress.” I lied.
Em’s eyes narrowed and she placed the onesie on the table, folding her arms tightly across her chest and giving me a disbelieving look.
“And what about you? Because I’m getting the same impression from you, and I’ve never known you to be stressed about work.” She said firmly, making it clear that she wasn’t buying the lie I was selling.
“Please talk to me, maybe I can help?” She continued, adding as an afterthought, “You’d be doing me a favour too, I could use a break from my troubles.”
“Then this situation really wouldn’t help.” I sighed.
She let out a triumphant ‘Aha!’ at my admission that something was up, and I was happy to see that there was still a little piece of the old Em lurking underneath the heavy grief she was working through.
“Spill it Bane, or I will unleash my pregnancy hormones on you.”
I was taken aback by the unusual threat, but rolling my eyes, knowing that she wasn’t about to give up, I let her in, and told her how me and Lacey had broken up.
“Harry always said that you’d finally fall in love one day. That someone would break through that armour you’d encased yourself in.” She said sweetly once I’d told her everything.
“Well, he was the most pushy person in my life. He never stopped trying to match me up.” I admitted, remembering the vast number of failed set ups and catastrophic dates.
Em smiled and took a sip of her tea before continuing:
“He always loved you like another brother. He never wanted you to miss out on what we had found with each other. He knew that there was someone out there who could win you around and show you what you could have, he just wanted to help you meet her.”
I felt warmed by the knowledge that he cared about it so much more than just being meddlesome. He had a knack for subtly steering people somewhere, especially if they didn’t know that’s where they wanted to go.
“Well I found her in the end.” I breathed, thinking of the day Lacey joined Red Watch.
Even then, I had remained closed off and harsh, attempting to distance myself enough for protection, but I just couldn’t stay that way, not with her.
She took hold of my hand, a soft smile on her face as she squeezed.
“Then don’t let her go.” She said.
I shook my head, that same flurry of confusion and emotion that came up whenever this moment was rehashed, came flooding into my brain and I struggled to remain calm.
“You know why I ended it. I had to, like I said. It’s too risky, there’s too much hurt there. I don’t want either of us to have to feel how you are right now.”
She let out a sad sigh, her eyes flicking to a framed photograph of Dodger on the bookcase across from us.
“I wouldn’t wish this feeling on anyone, it’s the hardest thing that I’ve ever had to deal with, and I still have no idea how to make it through to the other side, or even if there is another side.” She began, directing her explanation to the photo she was staring at. “But,” She looked back at me, her lips curving upwards, “I would live through this agony all over again, just for one more day with Harry. I would relive the funeral, just to walk down the aisle and be able to call him my husband. I would suffer through that hellish night that he died another time, just so that he could hold our baby in his arms, and we could be a family for a moment. And I would trade places with him in a second if it meant that I could hold him in my arms and tell him that I love him, just one more time.”
Tears built in her eyes, and her voice trembled, but still she didn’t stop.
“There’s nothing that isn’t worth trading for the person that you love. And no amount of fear, sadness or suffering should ever come between making every single day count, with them at your side.”
I felt choked, my own eyes welling up and my heart beginning to pound in my chest as her words began to kick in. I was overwhelmed by the crashing emotions. I didn’t know which was leading me at the moment. Sympathy for what she had and what she would give, just for another moment with the man she loves, fear for what I new still lurked ahead, and the many ways life could throw a curveball, or anger for having been so damn stupid, and walking away from the person who completed me. Resigning myself to living a life of locked away love rather than shouting it from the rooftops and spending every single second that I had left with her on this earth, making sure that a single minute wasn’t wasted between us. Adrenaline surged through me and with it, a decision. I knew what I had to do, and as I leapt to my feet, I swept Emilia up in my arms, hugging her tightly and thanking her, promising that I’d come by later, before flying out of the door, my destination settled, but with just one detour needing to be made.