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Forbidding Mourning

by MeridyM

Subject: [glass_onion] NEW: FORBIDDING MOURNING by MeridyM (1/1), R (XF) Date: Monday, July 22, 2002 3:48 PM

Forbidding Mourning
by MeridyM
Rating: R

Key words: Post-colonization. Angst. Romance of a sort. For the sake of the story, I can say no more.

Disclaimer: Are these characters mine? Well, a few of them are. You already know about the others.

Summary: "Death and sorrow seem to be our constant companions, don't they? But I just hope we never get to the point where we can't feel anymore. I think that would be so much worse than the pain."

Notes: The tiniest glimmerings of this story came to me months ago during brainstorming sessions for a collaborative story. That story never happened, but this one just wouldn't go away. And thanks, always, to Jenna for all her work maintaining my site and for decorating it with such lovely pictures!

"Our two souls, therefore, which are one, Though I must go, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion,
Like gold to aery thinness beat."

--John Donne, from "A Valediction Forbidding Mourning"

The soldier toiled up the rocky path, putting one scuffed boot in front of the other and hoping to whatever spirits inhabited this place that the compound wasn't much farther up the hill. A breeze pushed a dark lock of curly hair across her sweaty forehead, and she impatiently shoved it back away from her face.

She shifted the leather shoulder pouch she was carrying and lifted her battered Nalgene water bottle to her lips. She sipped the lukewarm water slowly, almost reverently. Dragging the back of her hand across her mouth, she replaced the cap and shoved the water bottle back into her belly pack. The leaves of the old aspens shook in the wind and shimmered in the sun, and the soldier looked up at the splash of autumn gold against the blue of the sky.

Bet they called this God's Country back when there was a God, she thought.

A twig snapped, loud in the afternoon stillness. Whirling in the direction of the sound, the young woman slid the old rifle out of its sheath on her back and raised it at the two men stepping out from the stand of trees.

"Put it down," said the taller of the two men. "Or we'll have t' hurt ya." There was just a hint of a smirk on his dark face.

The young soldier scowled, sighting down the barrel of the rifle at the tall man. "Like hell you will," she said. "Just take me to your number one. I have things he needs to see."

Wary, the young soldier walked between the two men, her watchful eyes not missing anything. They marched her on up the rocky track, through a wooden gate, across a dusty commons, and up to the door of a barrackslike building. She held tight to the strap of the leather pouch slung over her shoulder, thankful for the solid weight of the rifle in its sheath. She knew she could pull it out fast if she needed it, and she knew how to use it, probably better than these two numbnuts escorting her did. Neither one of them had even bothered to try to find her knife in its arm sheath, something else she knew how to use. She almost smiled.

"Hey, Morse, where's the Loot?" the taller numbnuts called out to a blonde drinking chicory at a table in the ersatz mess hall. "This chica says she needs to see the old man, and I'm thinkin' she'll see the Lieutenant first."

The young woman shook the shorter soldier's hand from her arm and stopped walking. "I came to see your Captain," she said. "And that's who I'm gonna see."

"Loot's down in Nederland today, anyway, Chavez," the blonde replied over the rim of her cup.

"Ah, fuck me, that's right," Chavez almost groaned. "Looks like you win," he said to the woman standing next to him. "You stay here till someone comes to get you," he added, annoyed. "I'll go tell the old man." He slung his rifle across his shoulder and walked back out the way he'd come.

The other man shook his head and wandered over to the counter, grabbed a mug, and filled it with the hot, bitter liquid. He leaned against the counter and slowly sipped from his mug, his dark eyes watchful.

Irritated, the young stranger was left standing in the middle of the mess hall, shifting the leather pouch on her shoulder. She looked at the man lounging against the counter and back to the blonde woman, who tilted her chin, a subtle invitation.

What the hell. The young soldier walked over and sat down at the table across from the blonde. She slid the pouch off her shoulder and dropped it on the bench next to her.

The blonde lifted her mug. "Want some?"

The other girl shook her head, made a face. "No, thanks."

"Suit yourself," the blonde replied. "I'm Kat Morse."

"Bree McConnell," the other woman said.

"You're Pony Express?"


"Well," Morse leaned forward a little. "Let me apologize for Chavez. He's not normally such a--"

"Dickhead?" Bree offered.

Morse smiled. "Yeah. I think he was just in the mood to fuck with someone. There hasn't been a lot going on here the last couple weeks." She sipped the chicory slowly and sized Bree up. "So where's your pony?"

Bree snorted. "My bike is down the hill a ways, in some underbrush. The track up here's too damn steep and rocky." She raised her brows. "You do know that most of us don't use horses, right?"

Morse looked a little uncomfortable. "Yeah, I know. I didn't mean any offense."

Bree waved a dismissive hand in the air. "No problem. We may all end up on horses yet, anyway. There's only so much gas left to steal."

Chavez came through the door, all business this time. "The Captain'll see you now," he said to Bree. "Follow me."

Chavez wordlessly escorted Bree across the commons to a log house with a porch that extended its entire length. On the porch were a couple of rocking chairs and a swing with a colorful Indian blanket thrown over its back. Bree thought she'd never seen such a inviting spot. Chavez led her inside and down a hall to the door of a quiet room, nodded to her, and turned on his heel and walked away. She looked into the room, her throat suddenly dry. Maybe I should have had that chicory, she thought. Too late to pull out the water bottle now.

The afternoon sun was slanting through translucent window shades, giving the room a soft gold glow. A man stood next to an old desk, reading something. He was dressed just like every other grunt around here, in fatigue pants, boots, and a T-shirt. So this was the famous Captain she'd been hearing about since she was old enough to understand what the rebellion was about.

She knocked weakly on the doorjamb.

The Captain turned, pulling off his reading glasses and laying them and the paper on his desk.

"Come in, soldier," he said, and Bree walked inside. For a crazy moment she wondered if she was supposed to salute him. It wasn't something she was used to doing in the Pony Express.

Medium-tall and lean, he stood straight, as if his body had forgotten how to slouch. His lined face was grave, still except for his startlingly alert eyes, his short brown hair shot through with silver. There was a pale scar on his face that ran from the top of his right temple, across the edge of his eye, almost to his upper lip, giving him a vaguely sinister appearance.

The Captain assessed the young soldier in turn, from her glossy dark hair to the tips of the weather-beaten boots. Her hair was tangled and wild, tied back with a strip of leather. She had a scrape on one cheekbone, raw in the sunlight, and her skin was pink from sun and wind. He could tell her body was thin and hard beneath the baggy fatigues. The fatigues and the boots were too big, probably hand-me-downs from an older brother, or a lover, or a soldier long dead.

The Captain's cool gaze finally settled on her eyes. They were a crystal blue-green rimmed by gray--unusual eyes, shaded by a dark sweep of lashes.

As she looked back at him, something shadowed his face, something behind his eyes. He blinked, as if he were trying to chase away some vision only he could see.

Bree wondered what it was that could make this man flinch.

"Please," the Captain said then, "sit down. You must be tired."

At that, her eyes narrowed, but she recovered quickly. "Thank you, sir," she murmured. Bree sank down into the proffered armchair, also draped by a color-splashed blanket, and dug around in her leather pouch. She pulled out a folder held together by a rubber band and looked up at the Captain. He was totally still, watching and waiting. "I have mail for you. Orders from Colonel Markham in Denver, and something personal. . .from Arizona, I think." She opened the folder and pulled out two envelopes.

He nodded and took the envelopes from her. "You've been on the road a while?" he asked.

She shoved the folder back into her pouch. "Yeah, I was in Moab this morning to pick up mail, then back to Denver Center. And then, here." She swallowed, uncomfortable under his sharp-eyed scrutiny.

"Thank you, soldier," the Captain said, his mind clearly no longer on her or her concerns. He half turned away and then stopped. "There's a bathroom upstairs if you'd like to clean up a little. And then go talk to Corporal Morse about getting some chow if you're hungry."

"Thank you, sir," she said.

"The stairs are out the door here to the left," he added. "The bathroom's the first room on the right upstairs."

She stood up, shouldering her bag once again. She'd been dismissed. "Thank you," she said again, nodded to him awkwardly, and made her way out of the room.

The Captain looked after her and then back down at the envelopes in his hand. He sat down slowly in the armchair and stared straight ahead for a moment. He knew he was going to open one of those envelopes and read a directive that would put his young soldiers--and him as well--in danger. That came with what he did, what he'd always done. The other letter was from a friend he hadn't heard from in a while. He didn't know what to expect from that, and it filled him with a mixture of excitement and dread. "No news is good news" had been true more often than not in the last 20 years.

Looking at her letter brought on a momentary vertigo, made him feel displaced in time. Was it 2002, the first year he'd lived underground? Or maybe 2012, when the world had ended. Or maybe it really was 2021, with the world still here but desperately altered.

Despite the letter in his hand, he'd never felt more alone in it.

The rebels had cobbled together a communications network over the last decade, but they didn't have anything remotely like what had once been in place--no computers, no cell phones, no telephones or televisions, only a rudimentary kind of radio. A Pony Express for the New Era had slowly been pulled together. It was dangerous work, but it was gradually reconnecting a country that had been thrust back in time about 200 years. So were the printing presses that had begun to operate again underground.

It was a consummate irony that the natural world itself was still so beautiful. Despite dire predictions of pole shifts and nuclear winter, the invaders hadn't made any attempts to destroy the planet--that would have been against their own best interests--but they'd come up with a number of simple ways to neutralize or remove the current residents: Electronic disruption had set up one pinball-like economic crash after another. Nothing could be maintained the way it once had with no new fuels being produced, no power plants on-line. The aliens had infiltrated at almost every level, and no one knew who anybody else was anymore. Whatever trust and civility had been the norm in human existence had given way to varying degrees of paranoia and violence. It was simply the way things were, and one either adapted or one died.

But the invaders' most effective weapon by far was the designer diseases. No one knew who would get sick and who wouldn't. There was no immunity except by fluke, and there was no cure. People had already died in the millions, and many more would die in the days to come.

The Captain opened the envelope from Colonel Markham. He scanned it quickly and set it aside on the arm of the chair. He'd deal with that in a while. It was the kind of thing he could do almost by rote, and it would be good to be busy again. Training young soldiers was good, but action was even better.

The letter was addressed in purple ink, and he wondered vaguely where she'd gotten it. He knew her rounded handwriting almost as well as he knew his own angular scrawl, and it made his heart ache for all the years of forced separation, for the kind of friendship that might have been possible in a different world.

He opened the envelope and slid the yellowed letter out, opened it slowly.

"Dear John,

"I had to write to thank you for letting me know about Mo. I don't know if I can express how sorry I am. I just want you to know that I truly believe her spirit is at peace. You have to believe that yourself and know that she fought alongside you all these years because she loved you and believed in you. She believed in what we all had to do, and she was where she wanted to be, right up until the end. I know you made her life so much happier than it ever would have been without you."

She knows me too well, he thought. She knows I'd blame myself.

"I'm afraid I have bad news too, John, and I hate it that you have to learn about it this way. I'd give anything to be able to be there with you, but it's not possible right now--it may never be. I don't know when you'll receive this, but Dana passed away on September 21, three nights ago."

Today was October 13. Three weeks, give or take. The Captain lowered the letter to his lap and closed his eyes, let his breath out in a long sigh. He rubbed his rough hand down his face, suddenly bone-tired, the feeling of loss an ache in his middle. God almighty. Dana. She'd always seemed so vital, so indestructible. She'd given so much to a cause that had started out Mulder's and had slowly become everyone's. It had been the defining force of her life for almost 30 years.

He raised the letter again and forced himself to read on.

"She had the same wasting disease that took Mo, and from what you told me in your letter, she caught it the same way Mo did, taking care of the sick, even though Mulder didn't want her to expose herself that way. Mulder is pretty much out of his mind, as you can probably understand better than anyone. I haven't seen him since the 22nd, but I plan on being with him and the others tonight at Dana's memorial.

"If we can scare up enough gas (so far it looks good), I'll be leaving tomorrow to go back to Oregon with Gibson and Will and some other young people you don't know. (Odd how we both ended up Cub Scout Troop Leaders in our old age, huh?)"

He smiled in spite of himself. Monica had always been a good den mother.

"It should be a smooth trip, though you never know. We'll be going up through the Nevada desert, and there isn't a lot of cover.

"I should stop here and just say again how sorry I am about Mo. I know how much you loved her. And I'm sorry to have to tell you about Dana. Death and sorrow seem to be our constant companions, don't they? But I just hope we never get to the point where we can't feel anymore, John. I think that would be so much worse than the pain.

"You know that you have all my love. Write to me when it's safe. Monica."

He folded the letter carefully and replaced it in its envelope. He turned it over in his hands. Death and sorrow as constant companions--that rang true. But he wasn't sure about the other part. Almost anything would be better than the constant pain.

The aspens had leafed out and the days had begun to warm when she'd finally slipped away. He still expected her to be in the kitchen in the mornings, swore he could still smell her scent on the bed linens, even though in the last few months they'd been washed whenever there was water enough for laundry. He figured that if she knew he felt those things she would just laugh and say that she'd always known he was psychic, that he knew she'd always be with him.

Every morning, he awoke with half of the bed barely mussed. He wondered if it would be that way forever, after most of a lifetime of sharing his bed with a woman, the second one as dark as the first one had been blond. Lately he wondered if he was losing his mind even thinking about such bullshit.

Honor was all he had left, honor and duty and the company of comrades who were willing to die for the same things. He wasn't the only one who'd lost people he loved, though some days it felt that way. Some days it felt like he was the oldest man still alive on the planet, with no one else left to talk to who could remember the world the way it was before. Funny, he thought, that they'd put him in charge of a bunch of raw kids, a man who'd never see 60 again and whose only child had been dead for decades.

He picked up the orders from the chair arm and stood up, crossing to his desk. He filed the orders in a drawer and slipped the letter into his back pocket.

Bree unfastened the too-big fatigue pants and slid them down, sighing as she sat down on the old toilet seat. Why do things like peeing and sneezing always feel so good? she wondered. Almost like sex. Not quite as much fun, but you take what you can get in this fucked-up world.

She looked around the bathroom. The walls were paneled in old whitewashed barnwood that someone had carefully cut and planed and nailed into place just so. There was a small clawfoot tub with a shower curtain hooked on a roundel of metal tubing. The tub didn't look like it got a lot of use, but the rug on the floor was clean, and the wicker clothes hamper was an oddly homey touch. The pressed wildflowers in frames on the walls were distinctly nonreg--strangely girlie for a Captain's quarters.

But it was the black silk nightgown hanging from a hook on the back of the bathroom door that really took her by surprise. She smiled. Either the Captain had kinky taste in sleepwear, or he had a doxy. He wouldn't be the first officer to keep a woman, and a Captain's woman often enjoyed comforts everyone wanted: real coffee, good food, maybe a soft bed to sleep in. . .maybe even chocolate. Of course, it also meant she had to open her thighs for the Captain, which wasn't always particularly fun. But then, if there was one thing Bree had learned long ago, it was that nothing came for free. Everything had a price.

At least this Captain wasn't fat or ugly, even if he was old.

Bree looked around and found the little basket of cloth scraps. She wiped herself and tossed the cloth, pulled the pants up, tucked, zipped and tugged the belt tight. She ran a trickle of water in the sink. The little bar of soap in its dish was rough-edged like soap always was, but this one had little flecks of some purple flower in it, and it didn't smell bitter like normal soap. She lifted it to her nose and sniffed, smiling. It smelled wonderful. She soaped up her hands and watched the gray dirt swirl down the drain as she rinsed. She peered at herself in the mirror and smoothed her hair back, rubbed a smudge from her cheek. She grabbed her bag and went back out into the hall.

She meant to go downstairs and back to the mess hall, but this house and its occupant had her curious now. Instead of turning left at the bathroom door, she crossed the hall to a room with an open door.

It was a bedroom, and she slowly walked inside, her eyes wide and mouth open in wonder. She was old enough to remember her parents' bedroom back in their quiet Denver ranch house. It had been nice, but she'd never seen a bed like this one anywhere, especially in the more recent years of her short life, lived mostly in crowded rooms with cast-off furniture and old mattresses on the floor. The bed was big and high, covered with a soft old comforter and lots of pillows. The rug on the plank floor was old and faded too, but it was soft and thick, woven with an intricate design. It made her want to take off her heavy, hot boots and walk on it barefoot.

Bree walked over to the dresser. Feeling uncharacteristically guilty, she glanced over her shoulder, expecting someone to catch her snooping. There wasn't much on top of the dresser: a book, a couple of beeswax candles, a small photo in a wooden frame, and a ceramic dish holding a silver earring, a few coins, a small gold ring.

It wasn't like her to feel so nervous about trespassing, but the nerves didn't stop her. She reached out slowly and picked up the little picture frame, peering at the photo in it. It was a dark-haired woman dressed in what looked like a white nightgown, her arms wrapped around her body. The woman's eyes connected directly with Bree, with a warmth the girl could feel even through the photo.

The woman's face was open and friendly, her curly hair a little wild. But those eyes. . . They could be Bree's own. That was fuckin' wack, but it might explain why that spooky-looking Captain had looked at her like she was a ghost. . .

"What the hell are you doing?"

The Captain's voice was like a slap in the face, and Bree jumped. The picture frame slipped from her fingers, and she watched, horrified, as it hit the floor, its glass shattering. She fell clumsily to her knees and began gathering up the shards of glass.

She heard his heavy, angry footfalls approach, and then his boots were in front of her.

She looked up at him, her eyes dark.

Jesus Christ. She's either scared to death of you or she's gonna cut your throat.

The Captain knew that Bree had come of age in a world where nothing was ever safe, where everything was a potential threat. She'd never had much of a chance to learn what trust was--and, for all her toughness, she wasn't really much more than a child. She could be his child, if he'd ever had another.

But child or not, she was a little like a feral animal. He let out his breath in a long sigh and knelt down next to her. "It's okay," he said softly, taking her hand. "Here, let me have that." He carefully eased the glass shards from between her fingers and put them back on the floor. "I'll clean up later." He examined her fingers and palm. "I don't see any blood. But you should go wash your hands to make sure."

He helped her to her feet, and she looked at him wonderingly. "Go on," he said, giving her a gentle nudge.

At the sink again, Bree inspected her hands. No cuts. She washed her hands with the wonderful smelly soap and dried them on the soft towel.

She walked silently back to the bedroom. The Captain was sitting on the edge of the bed, looking at the photograph. As quiet as she could, Bree walked to the rug beside the bed and stood, waiting.

He laid the smashed photo on the bed with a gentleness that seemed out of character.

"She's pretty," Bree said. "Is she your d--" She caught herself before she could use the other, less polite, word. "--woman?"

The Captain looked at her with an odd not-quite-smile. "You could say that," he said.

Bree nodded, misunderstanding entirely.

"The photo's almost 20 years old," he explained. "She passed on a few months back. She's my wife."

Bree bit her lower lip, not wanting to say the wrong thing. So she said the obvious. "You miss her."

He was silent for a long time, and Bree wondered if he'd heard her. "Yeah," he finally said, not looking at her. "You know," he added, softly, "before she died, she told me not to mourn her, that she wasn't leaving me but somehow making us both larger with her passing." He glanced at the young girl, checking the effect of his words. "She. . .had some odd notions."

He knew that she'd told him that long before he'd accepted the inevitability of her death. But she seemed to accept it from the very beginning of her illness, and maybe she also knew that when death came closer, she'd be too ill to tell him anything.

She'd died slowly, at the end not much more than bone and wasted muscle and desiccated skin. By then, she didn't know who he was or who she was because of the herbs the healers were giving her for the pain. She'd been too thin to maintain her body heat, so even swathed in blankets she'd been cold, as if she were already dead. As he'd watched the vibrant woman he'd loved for so long turn into a lifeless shell, more than once he'd considered helping her on her way. He still felt guilty that he'd entertained the idea and that, in the end, he couldn't steel himself to do it.

"But was she right?" Bree asked, barely able to breathe, wanting to know his answer. "I mean, about her death making you both larger?"

He looked off. He didn't want to look into those eyes that were too much like hers. "Sometimes I think she was. Sometimes I think that no matter how many of us die, we're doing the right thing, fighting for a just cause, for honor, for freedom, for the truth. . .and death doesn't separate us, doesn't diminish us." He shook his head. "But then when I look around this room and remember what it was like to love her for the last 20 years, I think she never could be right about that, that there's no way her death could do anything other than make me and the rest of the world smaller and sadder." He finally met her eyes. "I've been a soldier most of my life. I've killed a lot of people. I've lost track of how much killing I've done, in how many different ways. But it's only lately that I've come to remember what death really means, what it feels like in my gut."

Bree didn't say anything. She didn't want him to stop, hoping that if maybe she was quiet he'd keep talking.

He shook his head. "What the Christ am I tellin' you all this stuff for?" He ran a hand back through his hair in frustration and stood up.

She backed up, giving him plenty of room, knowing that his customary reticence had returned and that whatever had loosened his tongue was no longer having that effect. It was time for her to go.

She felt him looking at her.

"Did you ever get anything to eat?" he asked.

"No," she admitted. "I'll go on over to the mess hall now."

The Captain checked his watch. "There'll be staff over there now. Feel free to go over." He almost smiled. "We can't send you back to Denver Center hungry, after all."

She nodded, backing out the door. "Thank you, sir."



"What's your name?"

"Bree McConnell, sir."

"Private McConnell, are you happy runnin' mail?"

"Happy, sir?" Bree frowned.

"We need good people here who aren't afraid to fight," the Captain said. "And who aren't afraid to stand up to their CO's."

As she studied him, a blush spread up her neck to her cheeks. She took a deep breath. "Sir, are you asking me if I want to stay here. . .with you?"

It took a minute, but then it dawned on him what she was asking him: if he wanted her to move in with him, be his. . .woman. He didn't know whether to be angry or embarrassed, and ended up being a little of both.

He'd never tumbled anyone that much younger in his life, though he'd come close a few times. That girl, back in that ferny Georgetown tavern, in what, '99? He knew damn well she was barely legal to drink in that bar, and he'd just turned 40 a couple months before. She'd wanted to take him home, God knows why, and he'd been tempted. It had been a steamy summer night, and he was a little drunk and more than a little lonely. And, yeah, it hadn't hurt that she was a sweet, pretty thing, with big blue eyes, lots of soft brown hair, and a body that he knew would feel so good under his hands.

But it was just too weird.

This was even weirder.

He scowled at Bree. "How old are you? 17?"

She stood up straighter, scowling back. "I was 19 in March. Sir."

"And I was 62 in April. I'm old enough to be your damn grandfather, so I'll pretend you didn't imply what I think you just implied. And for future reference, I don't ever wanna hear any more crap like that from you. Is that clear?"

"Yes, sir!"

"You think about what I said," he added, pulling the letter out of his pocket and tossing it next to the broken photo on the bed. "And let Sergeant Merritt or Lieutenant Stanz know what you decide. I can talk to Colonel Markham about a reassignment. But if you come here to be in this unit, you'll pull your weight as a soldier and not as a whore. You got that?"

"Yes, sir."

"You're dismissed, Private." The Captain watched as she nodded and left the room. He blew out a long breath and shook his head.

And you thought you were through with fathering all those years ago. Well, it never goes away, and it never gets any easier.

The Captain lit both the candles on the nightstand and lay down on the bed. He folded his hands behind his head and let out a long sigh.

Gradually relaxing, he breathed in the sweet breeze coming through the window. It was so quiet. He could hear the leaves of the cottonwoods whispering outside the window and the owls calling to each other out behind the barracks. Over the years, he'd grown to love the harsh majesty of the land here, even the waist-high snowdrifts in the winter. The natural world had a way of persevering against the toughest odds. He wondered if the humans on the planet would persevere the same way.

He remembered something he'd asked Mulder once, so many years ago now: "When the hell is it all gonna end?"

"I don't know," Mulder had said in reply. "Maybe it doesn't."

Maybe the son of a bitch had been prescient all those years ago, but he'd been right: Maybe it doesn't end. Maybe they'd be fighting until they were all dead. In his darkest moments, it seemed to the Captain that that was the likeliest ending to the story.

She'd told him not to mourn her, but he mourned not only the loss of the woman he'd loved, but the loss of the life they might have had together had things been different. They'd lived first in hiding and then in open rebellion, moving from one place to another until the last few years, and he mourned that he'd never been able to provide a truly safe place for her in all their years together. He sometimes wondered if she'd had regrets, if she'd wished she'd chosen better.

He took her old book of poems out of the drawer of the nightstand, where it had been for the last many months. He found the passage from memory, and reread it, squinting in the candlelight:

"Our two souls, therefore, which are one, Though I must go, endure not yet A breach, but an expansion, Like gold to aery thinness beat."

He wasn't sure he believed it, though he wanted to so very much. He laid the book back on the nightstand and blew out the candles, then settled back onto the bed. He closed his eyes and breathed slowly, letting it all come, letting the anguish wash over him, a heaviness pressing down on his body, a stinging behind his eyelids. So many things lost--so many people he loved.

Every place with you was a safe place, my darlin', because you loved me.

Had he really heard that? Or had he just imagined it?

And you know I'll always be with you, I'll always love you.

Was it real?

It didn't matter.

"I know." His voice was a whisper in the darkness.

Be at peace, my love. You have a lot to do, and you can't give up. Sleep now.

He sighed and rolled over, burying his face in the old down pillows that still smelled like the lavender she'd used in her hair, the warm sweetness of her skin.

And, after a while, he slept.


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