Lucas Connolly cleared away some of the leaves cluttering the grave and let his fingers skip along the smooth marble. The stone felt wet against his skin, and the chilly air cut through the thin fabric of his jacket. Grangegorman Cemetery was nearly empty, and Lucas was relieved for the privacy. This place had a beautiful silence to it, Lucas felt at peace here— Jamie would have liked it. He'd struggled with loud noises after being in the trenches, even when they were safe and away from the battlefield.
“I miss you,” Lucas whispered to Jamie's grave. Jamie never answered, obviously, although sometimes Lucas would shut his eyes and imagine that he had. I miss you too, heaven is boring. Bring some liquor, we’ll tear this place up and I’ll tell you all about what makes God tick. And he’d smile, Lucas would, too, and they’d marvel at how it felt like no time had passed.
It never got any easier, none of this ever got any fucking easier. Even now Lucas still found himself a wandering stranger in the world, chasing ghosts and clinging to memories. This time, somehow it felt different. One fucking week and it would be ten years, and Christ, Lucas had somewhat expected to be better by now. Jesus, the fucking ten-year anniversary. If his grief was a marriage, it’d be doing great. Ireland had its first national currency in a century, they’d flown the Irish flag at the Olympics for the first time ever—so much had bloody changed. And yet Lucas was still….
“Lucas?" A piercing call cut through the crisp air of the cemetery.
Ugh. Angela’s voice. What the hell was she doing here? He hugged his shoulders and prayed the grave was large enough to hide him from her hawkish eyes.
“I thought that was you!" She trotted over and waved at him, her slender hands wrapped up in black leather gloves. “You’re late, ass! You were meant to meet me at the pub!”
Lucas glanced at his watch. Good lord, he was very late indeed. “Most people would have gone home to teach their tardy friends a lesson.”
She sat next to Lucas, her bottom squishing in the wet grass. “Yeah, well. Most tardy friends can’t be guilted into buying drinks. Besides, I already know you’re hopeless."
“How’d you know I’d be here?”
“Mm, knowing you, I figured this was a safe bet. Unless you got tied up with the blokes at the docks but… it’s not sailing season, so…."
Lucas glowered at her. He hadn’t traded at the docks in years.
“Plus it’s soon, right? The anniversary." She shivered briefly, stuffed her hands into her pockets. “You need a minute?”
“Yeah, Ange. Just give me a second."
“Lucas… don’t take too long, alright? You spend too much time here as it is."
The sound of her footsteps softened as she stepped away from Lucas. He shook his head, narrowing his eyes— she’d still be in earshot, surely. Angela had no fucking business telling him how to spend his time, it wasn’t her life that was wasting away in isolation. To be fair, she was the closest living friend he had these days, but that didn’t give her the right to tell him how to waste his own time.
Jamie was dead, he’d been dead for a decade. Their old flat in Dublin was long sold, Jamie’s clothes and possessions largely missing or stolen or sent back to some unknown grieving loved one. Jamie’s body was in a mass grave somewhere in the shell-torn fields of Belgium, never to be recovered. The tomb Lucas took so much comfort in was empty, but it hardly mattered. He’d saved up money for months to get the grave erected for Jamie; he’d even had the local priest check over his letters to make sure that the inscription would be perfect.
James A. Murray, Lieutenant of the 36th (Ulster) Division, killed in Belgium October 14, 1918. Honors include the Allied Victory Medal, the British War Medal, and the Victoria Cross, awarded for his death in the Battle of Courtrai and his bravery and tenacity in the Battle of Passchendaele.
Jamie’s face flashed in his mind, flesh rotting, bones cracking through skin, a hollow laugh echoing between his ears. A bony hand reached out to cup Lucas' cheek, his voice hollow, echoing... “Help me, Lucas. Jesus Christ, help me." Lucas' eyes snapped open and he tried to catch his breath.
Jamie wouldn’t want to see him like this, breaking down in the middle of a cemetery. Jamie would chuckle softly, clap him on the shoulder, and tell him to keep his head on straight. “You’re better than this, Lucas,” he’d say, and Lucas would believe it, somehow.
Jamie's had been an easy existence leading up to the war, maybe he hadn’t been ready for the horrors that faced him. The bombs, the shells, watching men be blown apart right in front of his eyes. Lucas had occasionally found Jamie alone in his hollowed-out room in the trenches, head in his hands, eyes glinting in the soft light of the lantern as he stared out into nothing.
A quivering silence, hackles raised in anticipation. It was starting again; Jamie always got worse before he got better.
“Jamie." Lucas had placed a hand on Jamie’s shoulder and flinched when those wide, manic eyes whipped around at him. “Jamie, it’s me. I’ve got you."
The bombs fell anew, and Jamie flailed away from Lucas' solid hand.
Boom. Boom. Screams in the distance, dust shaken free from their makeshift rooftop, Jamie covered his head with his arms. Before the shell shock… God, Lucas didn't even like to think about it. Jamie would have run out to protect the others, would have covered Lucas with his bigger frame and stayed steady, stayed focused.
“Lucas… please… Jesus, help me. Help me!”
His pleading, desperate voice… begging him for help, those strong fingers digging into the fabric of his shirt. It isn’t real, it isn’t real. Lucas fingered the little button that he kept in his pocket and tried to ground himself, hoping to prevent this little blip from turning into more than it was. This isn’t happening. Jamie’s dead, he’s dead, he’s dead and he can’t talk to you, can’t see you, can’t touch you. You can’t help him now, idiot. Ground yourself. Lucas Connolly, it’s your fucking fault he’s dead, you’re suffering because of your fucking own choices.
“Lucas?" Angela called out, rushing over to him as quickly as she could.
You deserve this. You deserve worse, you fucking coward.
“Lucas!" She shook his shoulders. “You’re alright, I’ve got you. We’re in Dublin, you’re safe, okay?”
Lucas was suddenly aware of the way his whole body was shaking as he gasped, how his fingernails were caked in mud from where he’d clawed his way through the earth beside him. He found himself coughing and he pulled Angela close, shaking his head as reality settled in. Jamie wasn’t dying, he wasn’t in danger. It had all happened already. It was too bloody late.
“I’m sorry." He gasped, clutching at her coat, his hands slick with mud. He wasn’t sure if he was speaking to her or to Jamie, shit— he wasn’t sure of anything at all.
“I know." Angela whispered, stroking his back. “S’why I don’t think you should be out here alone, okay? Come along, poppet. We were going to the pub, remember? Are you still up for it or do you want me to take you home?”
Christ, he must have been in awful shape if Ange was willing to forfeit the alcohol he’d be expected to buy her. “It— I’m fine." He muttered, pushing himself away from the grave. Lucas' hand lingered on the stone, as it always did. He patted the stone and tipped his hat slightly. “I’ll see you,” he said softly.
Angie pulled him into a quick hug and held him there until his pulse slowed. “Y’aright, Lucas? You wanna talk about it?”
Lucas shook his head, eyes drifting to Jamie’s name. “Don’tcha worry. I think I’ve stewed in my memories long enough." Besides, the weather was clearing up, and Lucas strongly preferred to suffer poetically when the weather matched his mindset anyway.
Angela kept hold of his elbow until they reached the pub, her broad smile reassuring in the face of Lucas’ outburst. He truly appreciated her dedication to keeping things chipper.
“Rude bastard you are,” she said lightly. “Standing up a beautiful lady like that! The bartender couldn’t believe it—gave me a free round, he did!" She pulled off her coat as they arrived at the bar, plopping down in a comfortable booth. “So guess what, smart guy? Next round’s on you. That, and you owe me for getting mud all over my lovely coat!" She kissed his cheek and fluffed up his hair. “Aww, that face! You’re like a little kitten! Careful now, or I’ll put you in a box and drag you home with me.”
“Jesus Christ, Ange,” Lucas mumbled, somehow feeling hungover already. “You ever figure out how to bottle that energy, you’ll make a Goddamned fortune.”
“Don’t need it! Tom proposed finally!" She raised her glass to him and chugged her beer. “You’ll be my maid of honor, right? I’ll get such a dress for you!”
Despite himself, Lucas smiled a little. “Gonna make an honest woman out of you, then?” he asked, signaling the bartender for another round of beer.
“Ah to hell with ya, you bastard,” she said, nudging him with her elbow. “Oh you shoulda seen it, Lucas, he took me out to the garden, near the rosebushes—you know, the ones I planted with his mum last summer. And he took my hand and said, ‘Angie, my father’s going to disown me if I don’t marry you, so I’d best do it before such a time as he starts to think poorly of me!’" She paused, downing her beer. “I slapped him right on his cheek, so I did! Then he showed me this lovely ring and I didn’t slap him again." She laughed and shoved her hand in Lucas' face so he could see it, a mischievous smile playing over her lips. “He’s such a cock, bless me for loving him so."
“And such a catch you are, Angie, I can’t believe no one’s snapped you up sooner,” he said over the brim of his glass.
“You had your chance, you little buggering bastard!” she teased back, pushing her thick glasses up her nose. “Least I didn’t have to get pregnant to get him to finally pop the question, that would’ve been quite undignified. Christ, what a proposal. He’s lucky to have a woman as understanding and sweet as I am!"
Lucas frowned at that, but he knew Ange had no way of knowing how his own parents had met. She wasn’t one to judge anyway, not even for his colorful social life. Truthfully, he was glad for her, glad that she’d managed to find happiness after the war.
She’d been an army nurse and patched Lucas together once or twice when he was in the trenches with Jamie. They’d go out sometimes when they were on leave; Jamie would come, too. They liked each other, they’d been a nice little group, but she’d always been much closer to Lucas than Jamie. Maybe she just clicked better with Lucas, or maybe it was because even then Jamie had lost so much of himself. Lucas wondered if she even understood what all the fuss was about.
Lucas had admired Angie’s guts more than anything else, her unwavering ability to sift through mounds of flesh and blood and shards of bone and somehow manage to rip life away from the jaws of death. Her love had been killed in the war, though they hadn’t even been stationed near each other. She was in Belgium, he was in Germany, they hadn’t exchanged a word in person for years by the time she got his death notice. Angie had mourned, tied back her hair, finished the war with a black band around her arm, and somehow moved on with her life. Lucas liked to tell himself that she probably hadn’t loved Euan that much, considering the ease with which she’d gotten over her fiancé, but deep down, he knew that the abnormal behavior was his.
In ten years, Angela had furthered her career, made the world a better place, and now she was about to start a family with the man she loved. In ten years, Jamie had rotted away to bones in the earth, and Lucas had done nothing.
He and Jamie had never been lovers, had never even kissed. Hell, Jamie probably had no idea how much Lucas had obsessed and agonized over their relationship or… whatever the hell it was. Lucas sometimes wondered what the hell was wrong with him; he could probably move on if he would only allow himself to.
Angie finished her beer just as a man who could easily be mistaken for Jamie entered the pub. Lucas shut his eyes, turned away, and finished his beer. Was he seeing things? Jamie’s stupid twins wandering around the city like they had nothing better to do than drive Lucas mad.
“How’re the stones doing?" Angie asked, an expert at catching Lucas in his moments of over-reflection. “Still as talkative as ever?”
“They’re fine, thank you.” Lucas set his glass down with a firm, definitive clunk. “Government isn’t paying enough for their upkeep; I had to clear off the leaves again.”
“They should pay you to do it! You’re there often enough. Hell, you could probably give tours out, if you wanted to.”
Lucas knew she was holding back. He’d been known to be quite sensitive over the matter of Jamie’s grave, and neither of them wanted this to turn into a heated argument.
Angie took off her glasses and polished them, her warm brown eyes shining beneath her thick eyelashes. “Have you been able to go to work?"
It didn’t matter, really. Jamie had made Lucas the beneficiary of his pension, it was enough to live on… though he’d trade every last penny for the man who’d left it to him.
“Have you tried to speak to anyone real this week?” Angie asked.
He was silent, and Angela sighed.
“It’s not healthy, Lucas. I don’t know how many more times I can tell you that it’s not healthy to have a dead person be the most prominent figure in your life.”
“What about priests?”
She frowned. “What about priests?”
“Well, they devote their entire lives to a dead person, in fact they get paid a living wage to do so.”
“Technically, our Lord and Savior isn’t dead, he’s resurrected and immortal, ass. If you end up taking up the cloth, I’ll eat my shoe. And technically, some pretty boy you had a hard-on for in the trenches isn’t on the same level as our Lord and Savior, either. Checkmate."
“Bite me.” He shrugged, finishing his beer.
She reached over and grabbed his hand, placing it in her mouth and nibbling on it harmlessly.
“Honestly, Ange, I can’t believe it took Tom this long to propose. I mean, you are the epitome of womanhood and class.” He rolled his eyes but smiled, watching a little drop of condensation descend down the side of his glass.
Angie chewed on him a little longer and released his hand, seemingly sated. She passed him a kerchief for the saliva, and Lucas frowned at her. “Lucas? I know this time of year is hard for you. I’m only trying to help.”
“I know that, Angie. For what it’s worth, I’m sorry that I cause you so much grief. I know it’s not easy being my friend.”
“No, but you make me laugh and that’s worth something. Why don’t you try something for me then, boyo. Just for one month, don’t visit the grave. Get up in the morning, eat your breakfast, go to work, and then at the end of the day you go home. I bet you’ll find that the world keeps spinning, eh? You might even find you get rid of that little wrinkle between your eyebrows." She pressed on it with her index finger and laughed. “What do you say?”
He considered it. Finding a job, a lover, never visiting Jamie again. It might be a nice wee life actually, where he could be a man instead of a tattered wandering spirit. Let Jamie go, just… live? But Jamie’s smile came unbidden to his mind, melting away seamlessly into blood, screams, and terror. His heart sped up as he relived Jamie's last moments anew, and he imagined Jamie's spirit waiting for him at the graves. He seemed cold, he seemed frightened. No. I can't leave him like that. He deserves better. And Lucas certainly didn’t.
“Angie… please let me have this." Visiting Jamie is one of the only things that brings me any peace, it’s one of the only things that makes me feel like my soul isn’t dying. “You think I don’t know how odd it is? How unhealthy it is? I need this. I need him." And he needs me. His voice cracked, and Angela took his hand. “If I forget about him, if I move on, it’s like he never even… I don’t want to lose him all over again. He’s all I have.”
Angie frowned a little, perhaps hurt by his words. She’d been his friend for a long time, and seemingly it still didn’t matter.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that, I just…”
“You know I love you, right, Lucas?" Her soft hand moved to cover his, her eyes were warm and gentle. “That I only want what’s best for you?”
He swallowed, snatching his hand away as he angrily avoided her gaze. “I know what’s best for me." And he’s dead and buried.
It was freezing. Then again it was always bloody freezing, there was no fucking escaping from it. His mother couldn’t afford to keep the stove going all the time, nor to keep her children in warm clothes all winter.
Lucas did his best to build up a fire in their house to help keep the others comfortable. In his efforts, he’d inadvertently incinerated one of his father’s betting slips, a fact which was not particularly well received.
Lucas could see the white of Mick’s eyes as he staggered forward, grabbing at his son with one hand. “You cock suckin’ piece o’ shite!" He punctuated his anger with a swig of liquor, the brown glass of the bottle shimmering in the warm light of the fire. “I paid good money on that bloody horse!”
He drained his alcohol and smashed the bottle on the nearest wall, leaving a sharp and jagged threat that he brandished at his son. Through his swelling eye, Lucas could make out the deadly shards that stank of whiskey.
“Mick!” Lucas’ mother Molly tried to get between them. “It was an accident only! He’s try’na help the other children!”
Da’ Connolly dropped his son and swatted his wife to the floor, looking down his nose at her. “He cost us a fortune!”
Lucas swallowed, heart beating frantically in his chest. Stay away from her. Leave her alone! He shifted nearer to the door, maybe he could get his father’s focus away from his mother. “Y-your stupid horses never win!" He cursed his voice for trembling. “At least one of us can keep the family warm!” You bloody fucking useless coward.
“You piece of shit," Mick hissed. “The family’s gonna starve because of you. We’re all gonna freeze because you lost me a fortune. C’mere boyo, I want you to watch while your fuckin’ sister dies.”