“I don’t think I can do this, Will.” Mac lies half-covered by a sheet on their bed, her arm covering her eyes as she feels her own tears seeping into her skin. She shields her eyes despite the lack of light in the room – the curtain is drawn against the light of day as she refuses to acknowledge that the day she’d been dreading has finally arrived.
“I know it’s hard, Kenzie. But don’t you want to say goodbye?” Will clears his throat, tightening his tie despite feeling like he’s already choking.
“I do – I just-” She swallows back her tears, knowing that this must already be impossibly hard on Will without her adding to his troubles. A feral moan rips through her chest as she sits upright and buries her head between her knees.
“I’d understand if you need to stay home, Kenzie, but I have to go.” Will fastens cufflinks into the cuffs of his formal shirt – ones that Charlie had given him. It’s only right that he wears them for the funeral.
“No, no. I’m coming,” she sniffles quietly, “I just never thought I’d lose someone again so soon.” Her voice is small and muffled between her knees as her head wedges deeper into her own skin.
“Oh, Mac,” sighs Will. Gently, he settles himself beside Mac, cuddling her close into his side and kissing her hair.
“I’m sorry, I just need to get my shit together. I’ll be ready soon, Billy, just wait for me.” Reluctantly, Mac pulls herself away from Will’s arms, unfolding her body into a standing position gingerly. Shuffling to the bathroom, Mac begins to undress; taking little notice that Will follows her in.
“You’ve already finished getting ready,” she murmurs, taking in his polished appearance.
“Nervous energy – I’ve been awake since 3am and didn’t have anything else to do; I didn’t want to wake you,” explains Will, shrugging lightly as he watches his wife in the bathroom mirror.
A worried expression overtakes Mac’s features, but she says nothing as she steps into the shower, pursing her lips with concern instead. Turning the water on, she waits to lose herself in the downpour, glad for the distraction of the scalding shower.
“Y’know, one of the first things he said about you when he told me that he’d hired you was that you’d been to way too many funerals for a girl your age,” begins Will, his tone sympathetic.
Mac notes that Will doesn’t use Charlie’s name, and supposes that it’s because it would be too painful. Sighing, she reaches down for her shampoo bottle before replying.
“By that point, I had been to a fair few funerals – mostly for good men and women that I’d worked with as an embed.” Her tone is weary, and she massages the shampoo thoughtfully into her scalp, working it into her short locks far less frantically than she normally would.
“They were your friends.”
“They were. But more than that, they were my protectors. They made sure that Jim and I were safe, but they still treated us as equals.” Reaching for the shower handles with shampoo-covered hands, Mac is relieved when the water comes on once more, allowing her to rinse her hair and hide her face simultaneously.
“I owe a lot of them my thanks,” remarks Will appreciatively, his voice quiet.
“I owe them my life. One of them in particular,” she recalls with a fond smile, her eyes filling with tears that she hides in the spray.
“Tell me about them,” prompts Will, knowing that Mac needs the distraction and feeling that the discussion of protectors is somewhat apropos, considering what Charlie was to them.
“Lieutenant Hansen – he was there when I was stabbed in Islamabad. He pulled me from the crowd and held me every step back to base. I was delirious, but I still remember his arms around me, shielding me from any other harm that might come my way.” It’s almost cathartic, talking about the experience with Will.
“What happened to him?” asks Will quietly.
“He died. IED in Afghanistan before the troops were pulled out. I attended his funeral – met his parents and younger sister,” her delivery is clinical, but Will can tell that it’s the only way she can talk about his fate without losing the small amount of composure she’s been working on maintaining. “But he was so much more than a soldier,” she adds, “he was a softie – a gentle guy wrapped in the stereotypical muscular frame of a military man,” she laughs softly, swiping at her wet eyes with wetter hands. Reaching for her conditioner, she begins to work it through her sopping strands. “He played the guitar for me when I was feeling down – taught Jim to play, actually. He was just, a great friend.” Rinsing her hair thoroughly, Mac turns off the water and stretches her arms to reach for her towel.
Standing from his perched position atop the toilet lid, Will passes Mac her towel, admiring how beautiful she can look, even when soaking wet and saddened.
“What did he play you?” Will continues to prompt her, distracting her as she continues to get ready.
“There was this one song – he knew that we’d just broken up and that I was…well, he called it ‘moping’,” she chuckles wetly, “it was Boston and St. John’s. He would remind me that it didn’t hurt to be optimistic, even if, for the time being, I had to learn how to be apart from you.”
“Sounds like I owe him a lot,” replies Will, smiling gently as he towels off her hair with a smaller hand-towel. In the meantime, Mac reaches for her underwear and begins to get dressed.
“Mostly, what stuck with me was this one line: ‘If I return half broken, will you still want me anymore.’. It sort of stuck with both of us, actually. He was afraid that nobody would ever want him if he returned from the war ‘broken’, and I was afraid that I’d never get you back – especially if I was… ‘damaged’.” Mac’s voice drifts off, lost in a sad reverie that Lieutenant Philip Hansen probably hadn’t found anyone before his untimely death.
“I don’t think there was ever a chance that I wouldn’t love you with Charlie around. He really knew what he was doing – as I’m sure he’d remind me, if he were here right now.” There’s a small laugh in his reassurance to Mac. The fact is, with Charlie’s interference and Mac, well, being herself, Will’s not sure he could have ever resisted her. At least, not for all that long.
“It does seem that he almost planned every last detail,” chuckles Mac quietly, reaching for the doorknob to leave the bathroom.
“In which case, the best thing we can do is thank him.”
Mac nods silently in agreement. She has a lot to thank the dead for, especially Charlie. Gritting her teeth, she yanks open the bathroom door and continues to get ready for Charlie’s funeral, grateful that his persistence in pushing herself and Will together means that she has someone to support her through it.
Yanking the curtains apart, Mac fixes her eyes on an indeterminate point in the distance absentmindedly.
She’s ready to face the day.