The power was out. It had been out for days, actually, and everyone was using candles to navigate the dispatch office--not that they were in the office much. Grell had been working almost non-stop for...weeks, maybe? Months? Time was blurring together, and she wasn't sure anymore.
She slumped exhaustedly over her desk and reached for her inbox. For the first time since she had become a reaper, she found herself looking forward to sitting for a while and doing paperwork. She needed the rest so badly.
"Don't bother, Sutcliff. Your next batch of assignments is ready."
Grell looked up to see Will beside her desk with a thick folder in hand. "Will..."
How long had it been since she'd seen him? She was always in the field, and he was always in his office anymore. She saw the ink stains on his shirtsleeves, the shadows under his eyes, the way his hair fell in his face a bit like when they first met. It was the only bit of softness to his features, and it made her heart ache.
"You should have a nap in the lounge if it's that bad. I need you back in the field as soon as possible," he said, and she had no idea what he meant until she rubbed at a tickle on her cheek and realized she was crying.
Grell fumbled for a handkerchief from her drawer, dabbing at her eyes out of habit. There was nothing there to smudge, though, as she had long since quit wearing makeup. She must look a fright, all freckles and invisible eyelashes and too-pale mouth.
Will lingered as if he meant to say something, but he only watched her try to clean herself up before shaking his head and turning to go.
"Will, wait!" She was on her feet before she knew it, reaching for him. He looked back at her. "I'll go as soon as I can, but...eat with me first?"
They had to bring a lantern to make their way down to the canteen. The halls were unsettlingly empty, and their footsteps echoed in the absence of so many colleagues. She wondered where they had all gone. How long had it taken? She thought she remembered Father going away on vacation a few years ago, but she couldn't remember him ever returning.
After that, the Spectacles boys had started trickling away, then the General Affairs girls. She remembered that, because Ronald had complained that there was no one to have group dates with anymore.
Ronald. When was the last time she'd seen her sweet pup?
Grell blinked and found herself sat at a small table in the canteen, Will sitting across from her, a modest dinner on a tray in front of each of them. A look around showed three other reapers in the once bustling room. Each of them was alone, eating mechanically.
"Will, what's happening?"
Will put down his fork but said nothing.
"Is it that time?" she asked, partly to herself. Her mouth quirked in a half-smile. "The end..."
The concept had seemed so nebulous before, something too far off in an infinite stretch of time. She'd never imagined she would see it. Yet here they were, no end to the numbers of humans dying, but not enough reapers to carry the load. It mustn't be long before something higher up would come to judge the rest all at once.
They ate in silence after that, and walked back to Dispatch together. Grell wanted badly to take Will's arm, but she didn't have the strength to face a rejection. They parted ways at her desk, Will returning to his office and Grell heading to the lounge in hopes of getting a bit of sleep on the lumpy sofa.
She slipped out of her jacket and waistcoat, unknotted the ribbon at her throat, and sat to ease her boots off. Taking off her gloves seemed too much of an effort, somehow, and she stared down at her hands in her lap for a moment.
Perhaps the moment had been longer than she'd thought. She must have fallen asleep already, for surely that was the only explanation for Will standing in the doorway and calling her name. Her handsome William wouldn't cross the room so hastily, wouldn't slip her glasses off so gently. Her truest love wouldn't lean over to cup her face in his shaking hands and kiss her.
She was crying again, she knew, but when they pulled apart, he was, too. Grell smiled through her tears and ghosted a hand over Will's cheek.
"When I wake up, I hope you won't mind if I pretend this is real," she said. "I just need something to keep me going a little longer."
"It's all right," he replied, pressing his mouth to her palm. "I won't mind."
"Then will you hold me, too? Just for a little while."
Will slipped off his own glasses and laid them next to hers before gathering her into his arms. Lying down together was an awkward fit on the narrow sofa, but they managed, Grell half draped over Will. She felt something almost like peace as she closed her eyes and drifted off to the sound of his heartbeat beneath her ear.
Will does not sleep. He doesn't know how anymore. Instead, he selfishly holds Grell close and tries very hard not to think of his own ledger, with a single reap newly slated for two weeks from now, one name in red ink.