It wasn't raining. It wasn't even overcast or particularly cold. Not that LA usually was any of those things (did smoggy count?), but Kathy still felt like there have been something to mark the day. Since superheroes had started appearing a few years ago, they'd lived kind of a charmed life. Sure, there had been injuries, like Nick's bullet to the shoulder, but they'd never lost anyone before. Maybe never really realized they could.
How much of that had been Regenerator's doing, she wondered.
Meredith wasn't a hero, but she'd been married to one and one of the more important ones, too. Her loss had an impact, even if most of the LA heroes still didn't know her name. It just seemed unfair to have her burial under a sky that was still a cheerful blue, with birds singing and the scent of flowers in the air. Sure, most of those flowers came from the service, but they still made Kathy feel like something was vaguely amiss. Her nostrils were filled with the scent of roses and carnations and she watched Regenerator--Josh--cling to his wife's urn looking...distant. Like he was barely there at all, in his mind.
After the service, once the bulk of the guests had snifflingly said their goodbyes and gone their ways, Kathy crossed over to him. She didn't think she imagined the way he flinched when he saw her, clutching the urn tightly to his chest like he was worried she'd take it away. "Hi, Josh," she said softly, stopping a few inches short of his personal bubble to make it clear that she had no intention of going after his wife's ashes, or whatever. "I just wanted to let you know I was here. And that I'll be heading out tomorrow." She glanced around to see who was in earshot, but it only the two men who'd accompanied her stood close enough to hear. Etiquette for paying one's last respects, she supposed. "You take all the time you need," she continued, choosing discretion anyway. "Backup shows up tomorrow." She nodded at the slim, sandy-haired man nearby. "According to him, anyway."
"Who...?" Josh asked, sounding a little bit dazed. He realized how tightly he was gripping the urn and hastily shifted it into a one-armed grip. "I--"
"George," the sandy-haired man said quietly. "George Bailey. Yeah, uhh, just like the movie." His mouth kicked up at the corners, even though his eyes remained solemn. His voice differed without the mask, but a thin trickle of smoke ran from his nostrils before disappearing into the air. "I came with Kathy. For support." He reached out and shook Josh's hand.
"Me too," said the other man, tall, dark, and handsome behind the mirrored shades he wore, even in the gathering gloom. His suit was easily twice as expensive as anyone else's here, and there were several members with respectable medical practices amid the mourners. "Nick Bartamian. Also with Kathy and...here for support." He raked his hand through his hair. "This is some shit, man, I don't mind saying it. I'm sorry. We all are."
"Thanks," Josh said, small voice at odds with such a big man. What seemed imposing under motorcycle leathers and a mask now just seemed unfitting and unkempt, like he was unused to taking up such room. "That--that means a lot it really does. I'm going to need it, I know. Just--right now, I still need a little more time. Just a little more."
"Of course," Kathy soothed. "We understand. We just wanted to let you know we were here. In whatever capacity." There was a tick behind Nick's glasses, some expression or other that no one could read, but he didn't gainsay her. "We'll probably head out now, get an early start--"
"There's a--a dinner thing," Josh blurted out. "Afterwards. At a neighbor's house. If you wanted to come."
The other three superheroes glanced at each other and shook their heads. "That's for close friends and family," George said. "We're--not. Don't worry, we get it. We just wanted to let you know we were here. Looking out for you."
"Thanks," Josh said with a small chuckle no one joined in with. Whatever the joke was, they weren't getting it and he wasn't sharing. A moment later, he said, "I should--I should go. See to the rest of the--" He grimaced. "Guests? Sorry. I should be better at this. I just--"
"No one should be good at saying goodbye to their spouse," George said with that quiet firmness that made him a force to be listened to on the field. "Whatever you're worrying about right now--don't. It doesn't matter. We'll see you again when you can manage it and that's all that matters."
"Soon," Josh promised again. "Just a little while longer."
"Just a little while longer," Josh said, letting himself in through the back door again. Mrs. Halifax's house was across the way, but he'd stopped using the front door. It was just easier that way. Safer, too. "I just need a little more time. That's all. A little more time."
He'd practically had to fight off an escort home, surrounded by people who wanted to come in with him, crowd his space, interrupt his work. Maybe wash him and brush him and put him to bed if he'd let them. Fortunately that phrase I just just need a little more time worked on multiple levels and he was finally able to extract himself from the arms of well-wishers and just come home to the dark and the quiet. But not the alone, no. Not alone.
There was a thump and scurry from the living room. It sounded like the urn had fallen over. He'd tossed it into the living room on his way to Mrs. Halifax's dinner, unwilling to hold it all night. From the noise, it sounded like the lid had come off again; one of the cats was probably chasing it. Almost certainly Lewis. Clarke had been avoiding the living room every since the day he'd gotten...hurt. Josh had been able to fix him, but there was no trust left in that cat's eyes anymore. No love, either. The pain had awoken something feral in him and he stayed upstairs, lashing his tail and growling anytime Josh came near.
Not terribly unlike the other resident in the living room that way.
Forty-two hours of work. He'd put in forty-two hours of work, then slept like the dead for another thirty. He'd nearly missed the damn funeral today, had arrived late and looking harried, which was what everyone expected from a widower, so they didn't inquire too closely. Forty-two hours of work and for what? For nothing. It wasn't her. The thing strapped to the gurney with clacking teeth and empty eyes wasn't Meredith. He'd just brought back her body, like some superpowered lifesupport machine, its jaws snapping at him, the cats, whatever moved. He knew he should have destroyed it, but he couldn’t.
It still had her face.
"Just a little longer," he said, walking into the living room and staring at the body of his wife. "Just a little more time to fix it. I'm not doing anything wrong. This was a mistake, I'm just trying to fix it." He pressed his hand against her cheek; it was cold with barely any time to warm before he was snatching his hand away from her teeth. "I'm going to fix it. For you, Meredith. For us. And the others will learn to understand."
[NFI and establishy]
- A Small Funeral Home, Los Angeles, Wednesday Evening