"One should never let an evil continue out of respect for a good when that good can easily be overwhelmed by that evil." Machiavelli, Discourses

He is used, now, to guilt and betrayal. He is used to not being trusted, and used to not trusting, and most especially used to not trusting himself because he is no longer quite certain who that self is. He is used to making and breaking promises and vows, used to going back on his word, used to carrying things through he swore he never would. And some days he is tired, worn from hiding and lying and all the things he's grown accustomed to, all the things he's made a part of his daily routine.

But grief is new, different; it stands out from the truths and lies that converge one upon the other, forming themselves into an almost tangible mass of the rather indefinable thing that is his life.

The truth is that he hasn't felt anything in years — hasn't allowed himself to feel anything for a precise amount of time that he doesn't care to calculate or remember because recalling that night would hurt far too much.

The lie is that he doesn't care, that none of it matters; all of this is simply a means to that ultimate end, and he can endure anything, everything, all of it.

Somehow those two, along with the minutiae of everyday living that necessitate their being acted upon, have come, unacknowledged, to define him. He allows this, welcomes this, because it is something to hide behind and within; somehow, by allowing these things to define him, he simultaneously acts upon them. It has become a sort-of routine and if he ever allowed himself to think on it, he might be startled at how the ingredients of this inward self reflect the outward definition of the majority of his adult life: ingredients cut up precisely so, measured, added just at the right moment, stirred, simmered, re-stirred, counted, timed, tested, poured out, over and over, day after day.

He never could deny that he wants everything routine; he prefers the routine to his dreams and ambitions and ideologies, because this way, he doesn't have to take note of the condemnation, the distrust; because he understands, probably more than most, that when that long-ago author wrote that appearing to be good was more important and necessary than actually being so, the heart of it was simply that ultimate virtue superseded momentary actions, that sometimes mercy had to be sacrificed for the absence of rampant crime, personal morality sacrificed for peace, self sacrificed for others, good sacrificed for the greatest good.

Greatest good has never been something he's felt capable of defining, and yet it somehow governs his life, governs every important decision he makes: he vowed to himself, all those years ago, that the ultimate good would take precedence over all: it's the one vow he hasn't broken, the one vow he'll never break: this has become his routine.

Until now — until this — until the only one who has never doubted him, the one who embodies all that makes him believe in any kind of ultimate good, has very nearly asked him to take this vow, this new vow that has caused him to question things he habitually drowns in that mass of truths and lies. Grief is new, and it refuses to be buried or drowned or stuffed into routine.

And grief, he thinks, is a strange thing, because it empties and fills one all at once. Because it makes one nothing: it is nothing, nothing but frailty and brokenness, but as it eats away at one's soul, he is remade into someone else — something out of nothing out of everything.

Stranger still to grieve for one who is yet alive, one whose death is imminent and whose death he may have a hand in, one who has loved and protected and sacrificed and trusted and therefore deserves to ask this much of him. It is strange how, in all this knowing, the questions come to him more persistently than ever before. Nothing and everything has changed at once, and strangely, life goes on and he feels helpless and frozen.

But he has been nothing but frozen for at least two decades, frozen into this being of truths and lies and an ultimate end. And this is simply a spell, simply mercy sacrificed, simply self forgotten for the others who will not understand and never forget, but none of that matters, he admonishes; he repeats, none of it.

Grief is new, and he attempts to tell himself it is a lie, but he knows that nothing in his life has ever been truer. Yet there have been other new things, other lies and other truths, and eventually he can force them to surrender and converge and drown. (He is used to the feeble snivelling of protestations as they are, at last, silenced.)