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the joy you longed to know

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You’re fine.

You work. You work. You work. You work.

You bounce from crime scene to crime scene, no patience for the in-between timewasting of ordinary lives. You fill the days, the hours, the minutes and seconds and nanoseconds with case after case after case. You try to ignore the silent itch slithering in your veins, crawling beneath your skin, burning in the crook of your arm. You hold everyone at arm’s length, wrapping yourself in condescension, wearing it like a coat, the collar pulled up high to protect your own too-vulnerable neck.

You wonder what the point of it all is. You wonder if this is it, if this is all there ever is. You wonder if it would be better if it all just stopped.

You work. You eat. You sleep. You work.

You’re fine.

***

You’re fine.

You work. You eat. You sleep.

You take cases because you don’t know what else to do, because it’s what you’ve always done. You don’t know how to deal with the warmth in your chest, the spark in your fingers. So you work, and he’s there by your side. You try to ignore the way it feels as if he belongs there, as if he always has. You tell yourself you don’t need him there, but you can’t lie about the way your eyes see more, the way your thoughts coalesce faster, the way you push yourself to be good, to be better, to be amazing, to be every superlative he sends your way when he’s there beside you looking at you as if you breathe stars.

You let it become your routine. You let yourself think that maybe, just maybe this is how it could always be.

You laugh. You smile. You live.

You’re fine.

***

You’re fine.

You work. You eat.

You lie in bed at night and try to ignore the warm weight of him pressing down above you, only springs and wood and a million unshared hopes separating you from the feel of it. When you sleep, you wake gasping, biting back fear, swallowing it down in gulps chased with the bitter burn of chlorine. When you sleep, you think of him. It’s no different than when you’re awake.

You don’t name this thing growing inside you because to name it makes it real. You aren’t sure. You aren’t ready. Not yet. Not yet.

You toss. You turn.

You’re fine.

***

You’re fine.

You work.

You try to ignore the worry that eats at you, but it gnaws and gnashes and nags. You wonder if you should tell him. You wonder if he knows.

You focus on the puzzle, on the game. You try to win, you try to win, you try to win, realising too late that you’ve already lost. You lost the minute you took his heart in your hands and let it be a thing worth protecting, a thing worth saving, a thing worth loving. You accept it, that this is the cost of his future, and you know you would pay it a thousand times over.

You stand on a rooftop and know you should tell him, but when his voice breaks so does your resolve and you bury the words deep beneath your breastbone in a cavity filled with feathers, with hope, with a softness that will keep them from shattering.

You lose.

***

You’re not fine.

***

You work.

You eat because you know you have to, because the ridges of your ribs are already too prominent, because he would fuss–or he would have before–but every bite is ash and blood in your mouth. You try to ignore the silver-sharp bite of pain across the bridge of your nose, around your neck, twisting along your back. It’s easy because it doesn’t compare to the pain of his silence, seeping deep down into all the nameless places your fear lives.

You were dead for 701 days, every one a slash mark against your skin. Every one lived, endured, survived for him. You gave up almost everything, and all you got in return was anger. You gave up almost everything, and all you have to show is regret. But you’d do it again in a second if you had to, though this time you’d give it all.

You try to stop waiting for forgiveness you know you don’t deserve. You try to remember how you used to do this, how this went before him, who you used to be before he showed you that you could be more. You try to forget you’re alone. You don’t. You can’t. You take cases and try not to miss the praise that doesn’t come.

You get by.

You’re fine.

***

You’re fine.

You work. You eat.

You stay awake all night learning how to fold swans and opera houses, organising seating charts, scheduling the day down to the second. You lie in your bed and try to ignore the aching thought of him in hers. You fail. You think of his small frame curled around hers, protective even in his sleep. You think of his breath on her neck, the soft brush of his nose against her skin as he nuzzles closer. You think of his hands on her waist, on her hips, under her nightshirt, in her hair, and you fling yourself from your bed as if it will distance you from your nightmares. You fall asleep on the sofa instead, fitful and restless, curled in on yourself, with no hands on your skin but your own. You’re up again before the sun rises, the weight of the darkness too heavy on your eyelids, but you can’t tell if it’s the night’s darkness or your own.

You see him at a crime scene, the heat of his body too close when he crouches beside you to examine the body. The brush of his thigh against yours is too intimate, the millimetres of fabric between not enough to keep the pink flames of his skin from licking desire into yours, and you have to move away, hating how it feels like giving up.

You write a speech full of half-truths, full of the bits of yourself you’re allowed to give away, your throat burning with acid affection for this man you’ll never have. But it isn’t enough. It will never be enough.

You give it anyway. You flee.

You’re fine.

***

You’re fine.

You work. You eat. You sleep.

It’s all you can manage with a hole in your chest. You try to ignore the way your skin sings when he checks your bandages, when he takes your pulse, when his hands linger like he’s looking for something he’s lost. You try to ignore the way his eyes stick to you like toffee, like if he blinks you might disappear. You try to ignore the hope blossoming rose-soft around your lungs with every shallow, fluttering breath.

And still you know he has to go back to her. You know it’s what’s safest for both of you. You know it’s what would make him happiest.

So you try not to think of him at all.

You fail. You fail. You fail.

You’re fine.

***

You’re fine.

You work. You eat. You sleep. You work.

You plan and plan and plan. To keep her secrets. To keep him happy. To keep them safe. You try to ignore your own desires to preserve his. So you plan. But it all goes wrong and you find yourself on the wrong side of the crime. The metal is cool against your palm, but the warmth of your love spreads in you like wildfire, and you know this is what you have to do. You look at him one last time and he doesn’t even see. He never sees. But you look, and you squeeze, and you tell him the truth the only way you know how.

You sit in a cell and wonder if he understands. You wonder if it makes any difference.

Before you go, you get one last chance to tell him. But even with the courage that comes from the cocaine, the words won’t form in your throat. Because this was never meant to be. Not with him. Not with you. Instead you make him laugh because it’s all you have left to give him. Because it’s all you’d ask to take with you if you could. But you have to leave it here with him, one last laugh, one last smile, one last chance for him to be happy, and you can only hope it’s going to be enough.

You leave with the imprint of his palm burnt into your skin, a brand you’ll proudly bear for the few minutes, the seconds, the nanoseconds you have left. You open his blog and read about the day you met, letting the haze pull you under, satisfying yourself that at least your last thought will be of him. All that’s left to do is wait.

You wait. You wait. You wait. You wait.

You’re fine.