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The Absent Spaces

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The Reason Why - Rachel Yamagata

 

Easy isn’t the right word to describe those first months after the Promise Day. Simpler, maybe. Manageable. But not easy.

There is so much to do, so little time to think. When Miles does find himself alone with her, they’re both too tired to do anything but sleep, curled up in each other, trying to ignore the feeling that something—someone, is missing.

They’re scheduled to return to Briggs soon, taking the man formally known as Scar with them. But as the day of their departure draws closer, Olivier becomes more distant—closing herself off to him. He knows that Liv felt each loss personally—knows the names of every one of her fallen soldiers. Would always carry those names, those men, with her. It made sense for her to be wary about returning to Briggs. The fort’s halls would be considerably empty.

Neither of them have talked about Buccaneer. How his death will affect their dynamic, their relationship—working and otherwise. But Miles know his General, knows to give her time—that emotions, particularly big emotions, are hard for her to deal with. Perhaps naively, Miles simply imagines that they’ll talk when they get back to Briggs. When they can finally have some privacy.

Scar accompanies them north. Olivier avoids him on the train. The latter doesn’t surprise him; they maintain a strictly working relationship in front of the Briggs men.

They’ve been back at the fort a week before Miles realizes that she’s been working through the nights, falling asleep at her desk when her body forces her to take a break.

Although he’d initially been hurt when she didn’t invite him back to her room that first night, especially considering they hadn’t spent a night apart since the Promise Day. But he’d understood. It had only every been the three of them—keeping this distance, burring herself in work, was a way to forget that they were now only two. She could pretend that things were simply too busy for the three of them to be able to spend the night together.

He brings her coffee one night. The terrible Briggs coffee laced with something stronger. She’s not in her office or her quarters. Instead, he finds her in Buccaneers room, sitting on his bunk. The room is still filled with his things, still smells like him.

Olivier looks up at him, blue eyes raw, face made even paler by the dark purple rings under her eyes, and the lingering bruises from the battle with Sloth; looks up at him and just breaks. He’s never seen her cry like this—is fairly certain that no one has ever seen her cry like this, if she even has before. Miles feels like he’s been punched in the gut—the combination of Olivier’s pain and his own, standing in the empty room, knowing that Buccaneer will never return to it. His absence makes it look bigger, and Miles wonders if, when Buccaneer left it, if he had any kind of hunch that he was never coming back.

She’s sleep deprived and hurting in more ways than he can count. So, he holds her, until she can’t cry anymore. For the longest time, neither of them talk, content with simply being close, drinking.

Much to his surprise, Olivier is the first to speak. Her broken whisper is almost more than he can stand.

“I want to go home, Miles.” He doesn’t know what to say to that, so he doesn’t say anything. Just holds her tighter as fresh tears fall, slow and silent.

“It’s easier during the day.” Her voice is raw. “It just feels like he’s out on a mission, or, I don’t know, scarring the new cubs. That the whole day goes by and I’ve just missed him because he just went to the mess, or he just turned around the corner.” She pauses, long enough that Miles thinks she’s fallen asleep. “But when I get back to our room, he’s going to be right there, just like always. He was always right there, right next to me.”

She’s gone when he wakes up, took her mug with her, leaving no trace that she was ever there.

In the weeks that follow, she’s not outright cold to him, but that’s about the extent of it. She treats him like any other soldier—trusts him to do his duties, whatever they may be, to continue to keep everything running smoothly.

And he does. He works his shifts, speculates about the growing unrest in Drachma and what it might mean for the Fort. Makes plans for the restauration of Ishval with Scar.

Time passes. He gives her space, hoping she’ll come back to him when she’s ready. All the while making plans for her to travel to Ishval with him.

But she doesn’t come to him, instead growing more cold and unreadable. Withdrawn from him and everyone else. The soldiers who had been at the wall long enough notice the change in her as well. She’s detached from herself; doing her job and nothing more.

The distance between them wasn’t entirely her fault, Miles was willing to admit. He doesn’t seek her out like he used; doesn’t want to walk the familiar hallways that lead to her rooms, expecting the old Liv and finding the husk that was left of her.

But he still tried. Miles made it obvious that he still loved her, still wanted her. Was more than willing to try and make things work when she was ready. That he was always there if she needed him. He knew that distancing himself from her would be like punishing her for her emotions—emotions that he knew she didn’t know how to deal with nonetheless. It would have been easier if she was at least trying. But she acts like none of it mattered to her. Like she had simply cut off a piece of herself that was no longer useful and was moving on in its absence.

He’s grown tired. Tired of being left to grieve on his own. Not just for Buccaneer, but for Olivier too. Even though she’s not gone in the same way he is, the Olivier he loved certainly doesn’t seem to exist anymore. He’s angry at her, something he’ll only admit to himself in the small hours of the morning, alone in his room. He’s angry that she’s given him another person to grieve. She may have lost Buccaneer, but Miles lost them both.

He spends a year in Ishval. Still technically under her command, just loaned out for the time being. He fools himself into believing that the distance will help. He follows the goings on at the wall in the newspapers, and through updates from Mustang and other soldiers who pass through.

Drachma is growing increasingly reckless. Under the rule of a new tyrant who seems desperate to take the wall, no matter the cost. It’s a messy year up nothing, Fort Briggs featuring in the papers more than he’s ever seen.

Occasionally, if the article is newsworthy enough, it’ll be accompanied by a picture. The first one he sees is one of Olivier, blood stained and furious. Sword drawn, looking like he’s threatening the photographer. It’s the first time he’s seen her in nearly six months, and she looks terrible—thin and exhausted—but it’s enough to make him smile. Not all the pictures feature General Armstrong, but he keeps them anyway.
He returns to the wall periodically in the latter months of his time in Ishval. Even though the arrangement is strenuous and impractical, there is still a part of him that hopes that one day she will come back with him. Come back to him.

But it becomes painfully obvious that this won’t be happening. That the Olivier he loved died with Buccaneer.

He doesn’t want to leave her. But he can’t do this anymore.

“I’m resigning from my post at Fort Briggs. Effective immediately.” He stands in front of her desk, back straight, arms hands clasped behind his back.

“Excuse me?” She stands suddenly, one hand automatically going to the hilt of her sword. “You’re what?!”

He’s nervous, for a moment, that this might be her breaking point. But he doesn’t show it. Just repeats the words he’d rehearsed over and over in his head for the past month. “I’ll be stationed in Ishval full time. I can’t keep coming back here, and I’m needed there more than I am here.” His subtext is obvious to them both; he can’t keep coming back to her anymore. He needs to be there—without her—more than he needs to be here. With her.

She lowers her eyes. He’s hurt her.

“Fine then.” She’s furious now; sits back down at her desk, returns to the paperwork that she was doing when he came in. But he can see her hand shaking. “Go then.”

He knows what he’s doing. Knows that she’ll feel his absence just as much as she feels Buccaneers. Feels like he should say something to make it hurt less. But there’s nothing left to say. Still, he pauses in her doorway, looks back at her. The words form of their own accord.

“I loved him, too, Olivier.”