There are gaps all around him.
Work at Dock One moves slower with two pairs of hands missing. Paulie pushes on and yells for everyone to keep working harder because he can’t hire replacements.
Not for reasons of sentimentality, he’s far beyond that, but because he can’t let anyone new in. Every unfamiliar face floods him with feelings of mistrust and dread, so he stubbornly writes off every foreman applicant as not good enough. His skills don’t quite meet the mark, or he wouldn’t gel right with the rest of the team.
What he really means is he’s just not ready yet.
Gaps are all over his home too, from the picture frames that still sit empty, to the missing trinkets and objects he can’t live with any more. Like the ticket he kept from the time he made Lucci pick him a yagara to bet on. And he won, big for once. And the baseball cap Kaku got for him to wear as he worked the time he got badly sunburnt.
Everything goes into a ritualistic fire he has in a metal dustbin out at the back of his apartment building. He stands and ceremoniously watches it as he drinks, sharing his booze only with the fire itself, sloshing it on to make the flames burn hotter and brighter and bigger.
Though it still couldn’t rival the fire at headquarters.
Drinking on his own becomes a bit of a habit. He sits beside empty seats at the bar front and it’s not Bleuno serving anymore. And all his complaints of scant clothing are directed in two ways to Kiwi and Mozu instead of Kalifa now. Though somehow they take it as flirting. He can't cope with the teases back.
Lucci’s stupid pigeon voice is in his ears telling him to stop drinking so much. If he wasn’t so compelled to actively rebel against it, he might listen, because gaps in his memory start to pop up too. He can’t quite remember how he makes it home during the night, or he wakes up somewhere that definitely wasn’t his home and he’s unsure why and how.
When he wanders to Dock One uncharacteristically later and later for work, Tilestone looks at him with concern, for once completely silent. Lulu catches him for a quiet word at lunch break, and Paulie pushes him away.
Iceburg dances around directly talking about the night as well, though Paulie knows he’s not dealing well with it either. The signs are there and written in the gaps between what they say almost more than in what they actually do. It’s in the way that Iceburg, just like him, hasn’t been taking care of himself or his work either. Without Kalifa his schedule is sporadic, his office a sea of papers.
He lies awake at night and wonders if maybe the gaps he had, and the gaps Iceburg had might allow them to fit neatly together like a perfectly measured piece of joinery work. There’s many times he finds himself so close to reaching out to him. Shared pain is lessened. But what if it wasn’t? He can’t bare another crushing realisation of being the only one to think there was more there than what there was.
He continues his downwards spiral until eventually he wakes up on the steps of headquarters one morning, and Iceburg wakes up there with him. Neither quite knows the series of events that lead to it, but they both agree it’s time to stop dealing with it like this. And agree too that it’s time to finally talk about it.