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anatomy of a loss

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"She keeps mentioning it."

The room is silent. The particulars of their game lie forgotten - figurines of their friends lie strewn across the table, and the dice have somehow made it out to the balcony - but the significance of the night is palpable enough to choke. Tina snores on the couch in the other room, haloed by half-eaten pizza slices and empty ale bottles that they're not quite sure she wasn't stealing sips from, blissfully unaware of the matter weighing heavy on her friends' minds. There is nothing they could say to her that time wouldn't heal, eventually. They aren't so lucky.

"She doesn't know better," Lilith says softly, legs crossed under her. She perches on an empty desk, stares hollowly at the Crimson Raider emblem that has always spun quietly above their map table. Meaningless, now, but sentimental.

"Yeah, I know," Mordecai says. He's in the chair that he's occupied since the game began, knees drawn to his chest, half-heartedly clicking his nails against his seventh drained bottle. He has chosen the restlessness of HQ confinement against the depression of recon isolation, and pays for his troubles with cynicism and a spinning head. He has never lost anyone before.

Brick stands in the doorway, back turned, watching the streets, ever-vigilant. There are two paws around his neck and a worn beret tucked into his pocket, and that is everything that has fanned his fire all these years. He has always been good at turning loss into purpose, and he does not think his friend would begrudge him to give the blood on his hands a meaning.

They think, maybe years from now, this will be something they can look back on without pain, finding the ever-elusive happy memories under that pervasive nightmare of an angel and a man in a mask and a key. The truth is, they have always been at war, since Brick took his first trophy, since Mordecai tamed his beak and wing, since Lilith made her existence known by the screaming of a newborn child and the death of a far-off star. Their story lasted five, bloody years. Their survival was always optional.

In truth, they are at a loss. They have been saddened before but not like this, not in a way that claws its way into their chests and waits for them to break, die, burn from the inside out, in a way that makes them long for oblivion, not vengeance. Not in a way that settles in the marrow of their bones like it was born there. They never wanted eternity.

Brick sees Mordecai raise a filthy bottle to his lips and come back wanting. Mordecai sees Lilith scar and seethe and pulse with the energy of keeping her sorrows wilting in her veins. Lilith sees Brick bite before he barks, close his eyes at inopportune moments, stretch out his arms like he's grasping for purchase. They have all lost something vital.

And so they sit, together and alone and empty, wondering why a child can will back something they miss like a limb. Naïve, juvenile denial has made her happier than they will be ever again.

Softly, as if not to upset the air around her, Lilith slips down from her precarious seat, crosses to Brick as if to talk to him, but she sees his solemnity and the words catch in her throat. For a brief moment, she thanks every god in the galaxy that her tears evaporate before they touch her cheeks, because Brick hasn't been blessed with that same favor - he sports a black eye and an outrageous amount of dirt, which make the tracks across his face obvious even in the dim light. At least he cries quietly, now.

There is something unreal about the way she takes his hand, as if her fire should burn his callused palms, as if his strength should snap her fingers in two. The universe gets a little bit smaller.

Mordecai turns away as they walk over to him, wishing desperately that he could hide his eyes. He copes the worst of them, an addictive personality creating a toxic mix with unfettered devotion that goes scrambling with the loss of a master. He had 34 years on his back before he first called anyone friend. He was damned from the start.

Without a word, Lilith waves her hand for him to move over, crawls into the office chair like it wasn't built for a man smaller than Mordecai's six feet, like her knees don't knock against Mordecai's thighs as he arranges himself to accommodate her. Brick takes the floor beside them, a watchdog and a sentinel. They can only ever hear another breathe.

"I miss him," says Lilith.

"I want him back," says Mordecai.

"I know," says Brick.