Elena sits alone in her room, the radio nearby droning out some old tune that she’d recognize if she bothered to listen. It’s all white noise though, left on only to fill the space with a little variety from the measured, repetitive hum of the fan.
It’s hot, but not unbearably so. The humidity is high though, and it makes the air sticky, heavy and weighted with every breath. Staring at the ceiling of her apartment, she spreads out her limbs to try and relieve some of the discomfort, to stop skin sticking on skin, smiling a little at how undignified she must look… hardly acceptable for a senior Turk, in her t-shirt and underpants, spread eagled over her bare bed as if she’s freefalling.
It’s not like there’s anyone to see, but old habits die hard, and she has to push down the sliver of discomfort, of wrongness. Remind herself that here it’s allowed, needed even.
Sighing loudly, her muscles finally relax but her eyes stay open. Trying to relax her thoughts is impossible, the slight imperfections on her ceiling far from interesting enough to hold her attention.
Her mind drifts back over the day, a rare diversion from the usual. There’s no comfort in the past twenty four hours though, only a creeping sense of fear she knows is not helpful but still can’t control. Medical tests always make her feel a little defiled, despite the fact she’d requested it, given consent… none of that meant she wanted it.
Tseng would say she’s being melodramatic or overemotional, and it makes her smile a little to imagine what facial expression would accompany his disapproval, how the lines etched into his aging face would deepen in a concern he would try so hard to hide.
But that would only happen if he knew, and nobody knows about this.
Her secrecy wasn’t planned but just kind of… well, happened. Lately she’s been so wrapped up in work that the few social connections she’d had left were fragile, at best. The years fly by and there’s never enough time, and friendships, no matter what anyone says in over-romanticized comments on human connections, need time together and effort to stay strong.
Elena just never had any emotional energy left at the end of the day to chase those connections, to strengthen them and make them stay strong. Her work was draining, in every sense, and by the time she had a minute to herself at the end of the day, all she wanted was silence and peace. The kind of quiet where you could just be you.
Selfish probably, but it was a necessary evil to keep her sanity intact. Memories of those connections, when they were strong and brought so much joy to her life, were treasured and she thought of them often, rerunning the joy they used to bring over in her head. As if the memories could comfort, just a little. As if it was enough.
It never really was. Now that was all too clear. When she wanted nothing more than to have someone, anyone, to rant and rave to, to let out all this tension and stress and worry to. There was only the hum of her fan and the soft melody of old songs that only pulled at her pain and made it prickle.
Sitting up, she gathers her limbs together and sits on the edge of her bed, eyes on the bottle of whiskey she’d picked up on the way home from her appointment. It taunted her with its barely touched contents, as did the still half full glass beside it, long ago warmed to an unpleasant taste. The condensation had long since dried from the sides of the glass, but a small puddle still sat stubbornly around its base, reflecting the dim light from the street lights outside her window back at her accusingly.
She reached for it and downed the lukewarm liquid petulantly, making a face at the taste but swallowing it all down spitefully anyway. It made her suddenly think of Reno, and as her jaw clenched, she reached for the bottle and poured more straight, pushing aside the possibility of bothering to get up to get a mixer from the fridge. The kitchen was too far away and what was it Reno used to always say?
“Mixer's only for drinking socially. Ya wanna get plastered, don’t ya?”
The memory of his voice is so clear in her head that tears start to prickle her eyes instantly, and she almost fumbles the bottle, putting it down so quickly so she can throw back the half glass she’s poured.
It stings straight, and she can’t hold back the gasped out curse she utters, her mind betraying her once more with the sound of Reno’s laughter… at how he’d always laughed at her attempts to match him in the alcohol department.
At least now she can blame her tears on the burn. Pouring another glass, this time full, she tries to throw it back too, but it’s just too much liquid and she chokes, spitting whiskey everywhere as she fights to breathe. By the time she calms her breath, the tears are blurring her vision, coming too fast to stop.
“Fuck,” she mutters to the empty room… to the humming fan and droning radio. Her only answer is the catching of her breath as she finally lets herself break just a little.
The next day Elena wakes with a headache, but it’s from too many tears rather than a hangover. She showers, dresses and takes a couple of pills to dismiss it before going in to the office early.
The private courtyard in the middle of the Turk offices is like an oasis, and she walks into it with little attention on the beauty, instead heading directly for the back corner, hidden by a hedge of lush green.
There are too many names on the plaques on the wall of remembrance, most people she knew little of, so many new faces that didn’t last. The one she’s looking for is apart from the others, a special section to the side for those lost who were of senior status. It brings little comfort to her that if worst comes to worst, her name will rest here too.
Reaching out her arm, her fingers gently trace Reno’s name and she smiles on reflex. His voice is always in the back of her mind, even now, whispering his own brand of wisdom as her mind clings to his memory and won’t let go. She misses him so much more than she ever imagined she would.
“You should have told me.”
Elena’s hand freezes for a moment in surprise when she hears the voice behind her, but she shows no other physical sign that she’s startled by it. His habit of appearing suddenly is far too familiar by now, and it only makes her smile widen as she turns to face him.
“I should have,” she concedes, meeting his eyes… but as she recognises the barely hidden annoyance her smile drops. “It wasn’t an intentional omission. I just didn’t want to worry you unnecessarily.”
Tseng exhales, closing his eyes for a moment that lasts too long. Elena’s heart aches a little, the urge to step forward and comfort rising, but she controls it. As much as she wants to touch, she knows it’s never what he needs from her.
When his eyes open, his expression has softened, but she doesn’t miss how his gaze flitters to her chest for a moment before meeting her eyes again. She almost smiles at that little voice inside her head, her younger self, and how thrilled it would have been at such attention. Rationally though, she knows it’s only his concern for her health and the disease that may be hiding inside her breast.
“Should you be here after yesterday?”
“Yes,” she responds, letting her lips curve up into a smile again. “It was only a biopsy and I’m only a little sore. I’d appreciate desk work though, just for today, if that’s possible.”
“Of course,” Tseng replies, nodding as his eyes dart away, catching on Reno’s name and sticking. She can see his jaw clench, even from this distance.
“It won’t get me too,” she states softly, even if they both know it’s out of her power to promise such a thing. Still, it’s the only comfort she can offer in the moment, and as Tseng turns back to look at her, she sees he understands her intention perfectly… as always.
“I should be comforting you.”
“It’s not confirmed I have it yet,” she counters, finally stepping a little closer. She doesn’t touch though, leaves a distance so as not to bring him any discomfort. “It’s probably just benign and all this drama is for nothing. Reno would laugh at the both of us, for worrying needlessly.”
Tseng nods, but his eyes stay on her and he doesn’t smile. He does lift a hand though, to touch her cheek gently. It almost makes her composure crack, because it’s only the second time in her life he’s ever reached out to her.
“Don’t,” she manages, but doesn’t move. Tseng’s forehead creases up in a frown, but his hand drops and his gaze darts back to Reno’s name. The silence grows between them as she watches him stare at the plaque.
“Please don’t shut me out.” Tseng’s voice is little more than a whisper.
Elena bites her lip and turns away. That one hurt too much because she knows it’s exactly what Reno did. Despite the fact Tseng was his lover. There’s a quick flash of anger, of being used as some sort of substitute, but it’s only momentary and easily swallowed down. She knows Tseng loves her too, just not in the same way, and it’s an old wound that should be nothing more than a dull ache by now.
“I won’t,” she promises, back still facing him. “The results won’t come in until the end of the week. You can come with me, if you like.” She turns back to face him, expression finally under control. “I’d like the moral support, to be honest.”
Finally, Tseng turns away from Reno’s name and manages a small lopsided smile. After all these years, it still makes her heart speed up a little.
“I’d be honoured.”