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While We Live

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The sun is beginning to set over Main Street Park as Ray lands.

He finds a quiet corner behind a grove of trees and descends with a bit of a bump, then cloaks. He wonders, again, how it is that no one ever reports a UFO when the engines of the jump ship explode out of oblivion and into reality. But somehow, the denizens of Star City don’t notice—just like everywhere else.

Ray comes here a few times a year. Specific dates. Sometimes a little more often, when something reminds him. After the Pilgrim, was the last time he came here off-schedule.

(Whenever something rips his heart out.)

Sara couldn’t look at him when he asked if he could borrow the jump ship for an afternoon. They didn’t talk about it. But at least she’s never had anything bad to say about his little—visits. They all have places to haunt.

(It’s been four years. You have to move on sometime, Ray.

I know, Mom. Stirring his coffee, not looking at her.)

He takes a deep breath as he approaches the corner of the park. Here, black gates overshadow the entrance to the small cemetery, a space set aside by the city for victims of the siege.

It’s still there, not far beyond the narrow gates, under a canopy of willows and oaks.

Of course it’s still there. But timelines reshape, universes warp around him. And even though it would cause untold upheaval in his personal history, a little spark of something always kindles inside him, makes him wonder if one day he’ll come here and it will be… gone.

It never is. Of course.

(Why d’you even keep going? She’s dead, Haircut.

It’s not for her, he tries to explain, but the words get clogged up inside.)

He never gets up too close to the headstone. He sits on the bench nearby, instead. It’s a little too low to be comfortable, his legs twisting awkwardly beneath the seat.

He’s not mentioned on the stone. He was never close with her family. And they were so busy afterwards. No one thought to ask him. He’s sure it was just that.

Even this far north, the sun takes a searing path above him as he sits.

He takes a flask of coffee out. Then he feels a stab of guilt at having coffee so near the graves, and puts it away.

There’s a family having a picnic at one graveside not far away, and he feels his eyebrows arching. But maybe they just have different cultural traditions from him—and then he feels bad. Which is apparently just how he’s going to feel today. Appropriate, at least.

He takes his notebook out. Puts it away again.

And sits.

“So this is where you’ve been hiding, Raymond,” a familiar drawl says, just to his right.

“Wondered when you’d be turning up,” Ray says, keeping his eyes on the black stone ahead of him. He snorts (and then looks up nervously—should he be laughing in a graveyard?) “This is so easy in the movies. People sit, and they cry, and they say nice things. You should be able to talk to your dead fiancée. Right?”

“And say what, exactly?”

“I don’t know. Tell her things. All the exciting news. And…”

“And?”

Ray spots a straggling nail on his left ring finger, and begins to worry at it with the other hand. “I don’t know.”

“Yes, you do.”

He rolls his eyes to the sky for a moment, before they ricochet back to the stone. “I should probably tell her how I feel,” he says, after a minute.

“Well? Go on then.”

“I said I can’t—”

“Raymond. No one here but us. Give it a shot.”

He sighs. “This is ridiculous.”

“Yes. Yes, it is. And headstones are banal, and flowers are pointless—” Ray catches sight of a wilting bouquet on a nearby headstone, the stems old and colorless at their end, and he chokes a bit on something. “And don’t get me started on the utter absurdity of sitting in parks full of corpses that mostly rotted away years ago. But since you’re here anyway…”

Ray sits very still for a minute, while he sorts out his breathing.

Then he says, “Hi, Anna. I wanted to—”

The voice on his right stays pointedly silent as he cuts off.

“Actually, I just— I just miss you,” he manages to get out, when he tries again.

In a rush of surprise, the dam opens.

He tells her things.

About the new crew members he’s growing fond of, and the ones that aren’t with them anymore. About how old companions are faring through adventure and change. It’s strange, he realises, to talk about friends made and lost since she’s been gone, and still to think of them as old friends. He tells her about them anyway.

About how he failed to master the power of a mystical totem, and helped a friend, and which one was more important.

And then he tells her he knew it wasn’t her, when the Death totem came to him with its malediction, the memories of all the people he couldn’t save, until he didn’t care when it beat him to the edge of his own death.

That secret out, he declines into silence again for a while.

“I still miss you,” he repeats, glancing up at silent stone. “I think…” The words get stuck again, for a second. “I think that’s okay.”

There’s more he could say, much more. But he’s tired, and whatever was pouring out of him seems to have slowed to a trickle.

He turns his head a little to the right, fully expecting the empty seat next to him. “Thanks,” he says to the air anyway.

Two women walk past the bench, hand in hand. He smiles, following their path for a moment, before they disappear around a corner.

His smile falters.

He glances at the stone again.

Turning back to the bench, his smile returns, even if it feels a little strained now. He taps the seat next to him. “Time to go home, I think. See you next time?”

If he doesn’t know which of them he’s talking to, he thinks maybe that’s okay, too.

He gets up, gathering his things, already looking up towards the grove where he started. Sara’s on the chore wheel to cook tonight. Maybe he’ll pick up dessert on his way back. Humming under his breath, he sets off back towards the jump ship.