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Actually that was a complete fucking lie. Dying was horrible. It turns out that when you
explode, when you turn into gooey confetti, you can feel each part of yourself
wink out as your nerves fizzle out. Oops, there go my fingernails, eyelashes, liver,
But the thing about dying is, it’s a one-time deal. A few
endless seconds and you never have to deal with it or be afraid of it ever
again. But being dead, that’s the part that goes on. That’s the one that’s
If there’s a heaven, if there’s a hell, Abbie never found
it. Or maybe she did. Maybe getting to watch her loved ones was both her reward
and her punishment.
She got to watch Jenny and Joe get married. Her sister wore
combat boots and a vest, but wove flowers into their hair.
Their daughter had Joe’s eyes and Jenny’s big mouth and
Abigail for a middle name.
She had to watch them all mourn, of course. The tears and
the anger and the drinking too much. The visits to a grave with no body.
Joe took it hard. Jenny took it harder. But they were
pragmatists. They knew the risks. And they knew that Abbie had known them. They
never stopped missing her, but they learned how to live without her.
But Crane. He took it hardest. She knew he would, ever since
he said that “don’t” that meant something else entirely. Something she wished
he’d said long before, back when there was still time.
But he hadn’t and she hadn’t figured it out and now here
they were, her three years dead and him still having conversations with the
space where she should have been.
He couldn’t see her, of course. Didn’t really think she
could hear him. He just needed to pretend, sometimes. Needed to say his part
out loud so he could imagine what she would have said back. Imagine what it
would have been like if they’d both been a little faster, a little braver.
Abbie yelled at him. He couldn’t hear her either, but it
made her feel better. She told him to get over it, move on, call Zoe or call
someone better or take up Sudoku or something but to get living again.
Sometimes he remembered that he had to keep going. That he
had to keep fighting. Duty kept him plodding forward, getting out of bed in the
morning. But grief drained so much of the curiosity and the spark from him.
She cheered every time he laughed. She took it as a personal
victory every time he made a friend, conquered holding a regular job, forgot to
talk to her for days at a time.
The more he forgot, the happier she was.
It took longer than she’d ever thought for him to join her.
He lived out the seven years and then some. Twelve, to be exact, before he got
sloppy and careless one night against a wraith and paid the price.
If she’d have had, you know, a body, it never would have
But one minute there he was, writhing on the ground with a sucking
chest wound. And the next he was beside her. Beautiful and young as the day
when she’d last seen him with actual eyes.
She’d thought about what she’d say a thousand times.
Sometimes in her head, their reunion was mushy, with tears and whispered words
and tender embraces. Sometimes it was passionate, hard, demanding.
But seeing him there, seeing him how he used to be, the
words just blurted out.
“Dumb move, letting your guard down like that. You never did
remember to keep your off-hand up.”
“It was considerably less important when fighting an
ill-trained infantryman from the arse-end of Cornwall than when fighting an
undead abomination,” he snapped back just as quickly.
She laughed first. Then he did.
And then there was time for all the things they never said
and never did and never shared.