Title: Being Together
Warnings: Angst, character death, alternative universe
Note about AU: This takes place after the Icarus II crew succeed and return safely to Earth.
"Hello?" Mace answered the phone in his office. He had a ranking position as an engineer for the International Aerospace Agency now, and although he wasn't prone to spending too much time cooped up in his office, he did have one.
"Christopher Mace?" the voice on the other end enquired.
"Yes," he replied.
"This is Agent Hughes with the International Beaurough of Investigation. I'm contacting you because there was an incident today at the Neutrino Astronomy Research Facility."
"Where's Capa?" Mace interrupted. If something were wrong, why hadn't Capa called him himself?
"That is the matter the IBI is currently trying to resolve," the agent told him. "An unknown group of individuals infiltrated the facility earlier today and apprehended several of the lead researchers."
"How long ago did this happen? What leads do you have for finding them?"
"The event occurred around eleven a.m. this morning. I can't divulge the specifics of the investigation, but know that we are employing every resource at our disposal toward safely recovering the missing persons."
"I need to know what's going on!" Mace objected. "Capa is my—"
"Due to your civil union with Robert Capa, we will keep you informed about the situation as it develops," Hughes assured him.
Two days later, the television remote slipped off the couch and hit the floor. The screen blinked on in Mace's peripheral vision.
"—charred material, identified by forensic experts to be human remains. There has yet to be any report naming whom these remains may belong to, but they are widely speculated to belong to the fifteen scientists who were abducted on Tuesday. Most notable of these, of course, was Robert Capa, the physicist of the Icarus II mission and primary creator of the dark matter bomb. Our thoughts and prayers are with—"
The entire end table went through the thin screen on the wall. It was the first move Mace had made in over an hour. The TV report hadn't shocked him; he'd already known. Agent Hughes called to inform him. He also gave Mace a piece of information the public media wasn't yet privy to - that the kidnappers had been apprehended along with the burnt remains, and they'd confessed that the remains were the scientists. They shot Capa in the head.
"Mace." Where had Searle gotten a key to their house? Capa gave him one, no doubt. He trusted the psychologist without reservation.
"No one's seen you since the wake. We're worried about you."
Mace didn't speak or move from where he sat on the floor against the foot of their bed.
"Greiving…" Searle said slowly, "isn't something to be handled clinically. Not usually, anyway. But that doesn't mean you can't get any help. You don't have to go through this alone. You're not going through it alone, you know. If you don't want to talk to me, that's fine, but a lot of people loved Capa. You could talk to his sister, his parents, Cassie… They know what you're going through."
Mace had wanted Searle to stop talking half-way through his first sentence. "I'm eating and showering. Okay? I just want to be alone."
Searle watched him, and sighed. "I can trust you to call me if you need to?" he asked.
"Yes," Mace answered, because he wanted him to leave now.
Once Searle was gone, Mace rose to his feet and crawled onto their bed. He hadn't been able to sleep here since it happened, but he was so tired now and so very lonely.
It was painful to lay on his side of the bed and see the yawning emptiness of Capa's side. As he stared at it, the pain began to manifest physically, collecting heaviness in his chest. It was hard to breathe. He turned over, facing away from the blatant visual of Capa's absence.
He started crying. He had seen Capa cry a few times, and Capa cried with his whole body. His face showed what he was feeling, his chest heaved, his limbs trembled. Mace was very still when he cried.
The pillow soaked up most of it, and the release calmed him a little. He began to drift off.
He could imagine Capa coming back to him. The bed would dip only slightly under his light weight, he would press against Mace's back, his arm would wrap around him. He would kiss Mace's cheek and maybe, if he knew Mace weren't already asleep, he would whisper "I love you" in his ear.
Mace did Capa's laundry. These were Capa's things and they shouldn't just be left wadded up in his clothes hamper like they had been for so long.
He got them out of the dryer and carefully folded them, before putting them back in Capa's side of the wardrobe. Placing the last stack, he paused to look at the grey t-shirt on top. He may have stood there looking at it for several minutes.
He picked it up, undoing his neat folding, and closed the drawer on the rest of the clothing. He sat on the bed and felt the material between his fingers. It was a thick jersey cotton. Soft and sturdy. It was very pleasant to touch, but he suddenly regretted washing it. It didn't smell like Capa anymore.
Hesitantly, he reached over for Capa's pillow. Closing his arms around it and burying his face in it, he was engulfed in his late lover's scent.
He was on the brink of tears again, tense with the force of his emotions. It was so hard to be without him. He could imagine Capa giving him physical comfort. It was easy to remember the feeling of Capa holding him, how the other man's body would fit around his own. It was easy to remember the sound of his voice, and imagine him saying soothing things to him.
"It's okay… Everything's okay. I'm right here."
Mace was still barely leaving their house. Every few days he'd walk to the nearby store to buy the essentials. For the first several trips, he'd put a pint of sorbet in his cart. Capa loved the stuff. Mace didn't really care for it, himself. Then he stopped because he realized it was accumulating in their freezer with no one to eat it.
He felt no desire to return to work. Being on the Icarus II basically meant the government would keep paying him for the rest of his life, so he didn't need the money. He wanted to stay here, where he was closest to his memories of Capa.
He would spend time every day looking at Capa's things, remembering how he used them, trying to piece together his exact motions and mannerisms. Sometimes it hurt, but he would much rather do this - spend time with Capa - than go do things that would make him forget about him.
He eventually didn't realize it was strange at all to lay one of Capa's shirts on their bed and just sort of gently touch it while he thought about him. He would have conversations with Capa through his things.
He would tell him how his day was going, eventless as it was, and he would tell him that he missed him. At first. After long enough he stopped telling Capa how much he missed him and instead found himself telling him how much he loved him. He held on tightly to his mental focus on Capa; he didn't want to lose the feeling that he was still here with him.
Some mornings he would wake up and stare at the ceiling. Capa's gone. Capa's gone. No more Capa for you, ever.
But that was too painful. It eliminated his will to live, and he just couldn't stay like that.
So other mornings he'd wake up and set Capa's breakfast dishes on the table beside his own. He and the absence of Capa would just sit there quietly and have breakfast.
He found he did that a lot these days - just found a spot and sat there silently by himself. He liked to occupy himself by imagining Capa. It was much more soothing than television or music.
Capa had that gentle-but-firm look. He added to it with a hint of a smile.
"You really need to get out of here, man."
"Are you shooing me out of the house?" Mace asked.
"Pretty much… I'm getting bored through how bored you must be," Capa said.
"I don't know what to do out there…" Mace had never been an anxious person, but he had developed a bit of a nervousness lately. He didn't know what the world held anymore.
"See a movie, go to the park. Anything. Just go."
"Don't you want to go with me?" Mace asked.
"I think I should stay here."
So Capa stayed in the house while Mace left. Mace just kind of wandered through the park and the merchant booths beyond. He collected interesting things to tell Capa about when he got home. It was a nice time, but he looked forward to getting back to him.
Mace's phone was ringing.
"Aren't you going to get that?" Capa asked.
Mace shrugged. He never answered the phone.
Capa sighed, grabbed Mace's phone, opened it, and handed it to him. Mace accepted, having no choice.
"You still know how your phone works!" Searle's voice on the other end.
"I just wanted to know how you've been. I've called a few times," the doctor said.
"I'm fine." Mace knew he should have elaborated at least another sentence's worth on that point, but he couldn't think what to say. A long pause followed his statement.
"Well I thought you should know your picture was in the news the other day. Someone photographed you while you were out."
"Yeah." Mace's hadn't known, he hadn't looked at the news in ages, but it wasn't uncommon for the former Icarus II crew to attract paparazzi.
"We're all glad to see you out and about, Mace," Searle said. "I know a lot of people would like to see more of you. What do you think about meeting Cassie and I for lunch sometime?" Searle knew Mace liked Cassie, that she was someone he might actually want to see.
"I…" He looked at Capa. Capa shook his head. "I don't think so. I think… I'll just stay in."
"Okay." He could hear the disappointment in Searle's voice. "But just know it's an open offer. I'll talk to you again soon, alright? If you'll answer your phone?"
"Alright," Mace said.
It seemed like a big incident, Searle trying to make him go socialize with other people. It had only been a gentle invitation, but it shook Mace.
It took him a while to go out at all again, and Capa wasn't trying to encourage him now. Until of course it had been a day and a half since Mace had eaten.
He felt Capa stroke his hair. "You need to go to the store, baby." There was an empty pantry, empty fridge, empty Mace.
Mace peeked out from under his arm at him. He had been curled up on the couch for a few hours now. Capa was looking at him sadly. He curled up tighter. He didn't want to go out there.
"Just make a quick trip for a few minutes, and I'll be waiting for you when you get back," Capa said.
"Can't you come with me?" Mace asked.
"You know I can't. But you really need to go - you're getting sick."
Under Capa's insistence, Mace changed into clean clothes and left the house. He was nearing the store when he heard someone shouting.
What the hell? Mace tried to keep walking, but someone stopped him: an excited-looking man with a quick-clicking camera.
Mace sighed. How many days must this guy have been camping out here since he found out this was where Mace did his shopping? "Sorry, I'm kind of in a hurry…"
"The public hasn't seen you for months. How has Robert's death been affecting you?" the so-called reporter fired off.
Mace punched him square in the face, and he was pretty sure he broke his nose. The man screamed and cursed at him as he quickly turned around and went back home. He'd find a new place to shop.
"I'm only concerned," Searle placated.
Headlines such as "GRIEF-STRICKEN CHRISTOPHER MACE LASHES OUT AT BYSTANDER!" and the photographer's assault charges were certainly drawing out this reaction from the psychologist.
"The guy was up in my face and talking shit!" Mace defended.
"I know, I know. Just tell your lawyer to settle out of court with the guy, and don't punch anyone else."
"Mace, I'd really like if you'd talk to someone. Everyone is very concerned about you. If you don't want to talk to me, I could set you up with someone," Searle suggested.
"I'm not going to counselling over this." Mace thought this was all being blown way out of proportion.
"Okay." Searle didn't want to try to force Mace into anything. "Maybe you could just call me every once in a while, to check in. We could set a time. Maybe at four p.m.?"
"I'm not calling you every day, Searle."
"How about once a week? Can you handle talking to me once a week?"
"Fine. Friday at four, I'll call you." Stupid paparazzi.
So every week Mace called and gave him a short update about how things were going. True to his word, Searle didn't try to turn it into a therapy session. Or he only tried very subtly, at least. He didn't ask about Capa or the lack thereof.
Perhaps he was reassured by how relatively normal Mace was being. He had settled with the asshole paparazzi, and he was carefully avoiding the rest of them. After the incident he had stayed in home for a few weeks, paying extra to have his groceries delivered. Then he started going out again, once a week to the new store and once a week to somewhere else. He wouldn't stay out for long, but it was better than complete hermitage. He didn't talk to Searle about Capa.
"Are you sure you need to keep talking to him?" Capa asked.
Mace wasn't sure what he meant.
"I mean, you handled that assualt thing. It's not as if you have a serious issue, the guy just provoked you. You could tell Searle you don't need to talk to him anymore."
Mace supposed he was right. So that Friday at the regular time, he called Searle up and told him it would be the last check-in. He could tell Searle wanted him to change his mind, but he wasn't able to convince him.
Mace remembered distinctly how Capa's skin felt.
Mace had been out late that night. He decided this week's activity should be a movie. He hadn't seen a movie since— a long time. He didn't want to go to a regular movie theater, with all the crowds of people who might recognize him, so he dusted off his car and headed out to one of the few drive-ins left.
It was about a fifty-minute drive, then he watched the movie intently, remembering all the amusing or interesting details so he could tell Capa about it when he got home. The long drive back, and staying up to describe the film to Capa, he didn't get to sleep until past two o'clock.
So when Searle was knocking at his door at ten o'clock, the doctor wasn't visiting inappropriately early in the morning. It just felt that way to Mace. He opened the door, squinting at him grumpily, "Searle?"
"I'm sorry to bother you, but you weren't answering your phone, and I wanted to make sure you're okay. Something could happen to you and we'd have no way of knowing, Mace…"
Mace cut off his lecture, "Okay, alright. Just keep your voice down, Capa's still sleeping."
Searle's brows drew together. "What?"
"He's still sleeping, so keep your voice down," Mace repeated.
"You said Capa's sleeping?"
"Yeah, sleeping," Mace said incredulously. "What do you want, man, we were up late."
"You think Capa's there, in your bedroom, sleeping?" Searle clarified once more.
"Where else would he sleep?"
"Mace… Capa's dead."
Mace immediately became tense. "I think you should leave."
"Mace, Capa's not in your bedroom. He was murdered, back in March, remember?" Searle was speaking carefully, as if to a confused child.
"Shut the fuck up!" Mace slammed the door in Searle's face.
He could hear the other still trying to talk to him through the door, but he just went back into his bedroom, shutting that door as well, and laid back down with Capa. His husband was still asleep, despite the shouting and slamming. Mace curled up around him and blocked out the noise.
Some time later, a small noise did reach him. The click of Searle using the key Capa had given him to get into their house. He held onto Capa. Don't come in here. Don't come in here.
"Don't let him come in here." Mace didn't know when Capa had woken up.
He got up and pushed on the door, holding it shut.
"Mace?" Searle called.
"I know how hard this must be for you, but Capa is dead. If you're seeing him, he's not real."
"How can you say that? He's right here! He's here!"
"Then let me in and I'll see for myself. If he's really there, nothing's wrong. If he's not, you need to come with me to the hospital," Searle said.
Mace looked back at Capa. "Don't let him in."
"I can't let you in, Searle."
The doctor tried to convince him for a while, but Mace stopped answering. Then he heard Searle talking, but not to him. Ten minutes later, a few other voices appeared.
"Mace, I have some doctors out here. We just want to help you. Can you let us in?"
Mace didn't answer.
"We're going to have to come in by force, otherwise," Searle said.
Mace paused. They were going to get in here, and it would either be through Mace letting them in or through them cracking down his and Capa's bedroom door. "Okay. I'll let you in."
He stepped back from the door and opened it. Only Searle came in; the other doctors were standing back, ready.
"Capa's not here, Mace. You know he's not here," Searle said.
"He is here!" But when Mace turned back toward the rest of the room, Capa was gone. His presence couldn't stand up when Mace knew, buried under however much denial, that no one else would see him there. "Capa?"
"It's okay. Just come with me, and we'll get you some help." Searle didn't want to have to take Mace in by force.
Mace was trembling, looking at the empty room. "Where… Where'd he…"
"It's okay," Searle repeated.
"He was here, Searle. He was right here." Nothing made sense. Nothing around him made sense.
"You know he wasn't. I'm sorry. I miss Capa too, but he's gone."
Mace rounded on him. "Would you stop saying that? Capa is not dead! I would know if he were dead!"
"You do know it, Mace," Searle said. He didn't want to be unkind, but he had to reaffirm reality.
"He's not… He can't be… I can't… without him…" Mace felt physically unstable, like he was losing control of his senses.
"It's okay, Mace. Let's go."
Mace let Searle steer him away with a hand on his shoulder until they were outside on the steps, about to get into the waiting ambulance.
"No!" Mace was suddenly backtracking. "I can't go! I have to stay here!"
He was struggling against Searle, and then he was struggling against Searle and two other doctors. Or orderlies. Or medical bouncers. Or whatever you call large men in scrubs who help doctors with psychotic patients. And then something stabbed him, and the house he and Capa had shared was fading from view.
Mace didn't bother to count the long weeks that passed before he saw it again. Therapy was hell. Much of it consisted of the most painful fact in his life - Capa is dead - being told to him over and over and over again. He had to say it back, and the doctors had to believe him.
He knew Capa was dead, now. Capa had died a long time ago, and he had lost his shit. He'd gone off the deep end. What were you suppossed to do, when the person you wake up next to every day is suddenly yanked out of your life? Mace hadn't been able to cope. The doctors made it clear that they weren't judging him, this wasn't about him having done something wrong, but it didn't help his view of himself that what most people could handle, even if it hurt them, had made him completely lose his sanity.
He didn't know whether or not his little 'episode' had leaked into the press or not. He hadn't asked anyone. But whether it had become public knowledge or not, he wasn't ready to be back around regular people full-time again. He was considering a job, but he would wait a while.
His house had been professionally cleaned while he was gone. He had been resistant at first - they'd move Capa's things, they'd wash his scent out of the pillow case - but eventually agreed with his shrink that it needed to be done.
So the house - his, not theirs - seemed different when he returned. He moved some things on his own. He put Capa's pillow in the hall closet. He moved his chopsticks out of the silverware drawer. All the sorbet in the freezer got thrown out.
He was readjusting, setting up a new pattern for his life. He had to call his therapist every day, and every once in a while he'd call Searle too. Every other week he went to a group counselling session for grief.
By he was still alone most of the time, in the house that really was the same house he and Capa used to be together in. He could feel his other self-occupying thoughts being hijacked by how much he missed Capa, how much he wished Capa were here, even if yes, he knew, the doctors had said so, Capa was never coming back.
He went to his group session one night and talked more than usual. He hadn't really meant to, it just happened that way. And group therapy was all about honesty, so he spoke a lot about how he had no idea how to live his life without Capa. As an inpatient he'd been given substantial lessons about life management, but he still had no practical idea about what to do with himself for the rest of his life.
The next day he was worse than usual. His phone had started ringing constantly, but he ignored it. It wasn't time for his scheduled psych call, so if anyone else wanted to talk to him, they were going to have to wait. Eventually he just turned it off. He was entitled to alone time when he wanted it, damnit.
He was giving up for today. He'd get back on track tomorrow. He couldn't fight his loneliness anymore. He went and got Capa's pillow from the closet and held it hugged against his chest, sitting on their - he couldn't make it just 'his' right now - bed.
He didn't do anything else for a long time. He simply allowed himself to feel all his agony and longing. He wanted Capa. He wanted Capa back.
Through the open bedroom door, he saw the front door's knob turn. It didn't open, but there was a knock on the other side. After taking a moment to overcome his own resistance, Mace sat the pillow aside and answered it.
Capa, eyes wide and hopeful. And a scar beside his eye, symbolic of his pain - Mace's guilt, really - at Mace trying to forget about him.
Mace sighed and turned away from the door. He was proud of himself for not feeling relieved about his delusion's presence. It would soothe him, but only for a short time, and then it would hurt more to reaffirm again that Capa was dead, Capa was dead, Capa was dead. He was frustrated with himself for being so weak.
Mace sat heavily on the couch, placing the heels of his hands over his eyes. "You shouldn't be here."
"What? Mace, it's me!"
He became suddenly angry. He rose and grabbed the image of Capa by the shoulders. For a moment he wondered what this must look like to a sane person watching. "You're not him! He's dead! I wish you would just go away!"
Capa had instantly tensed under the aggressive touch. He stared at Mace and slowly shook his head. "I don't know what you're talking about."
Mace carded his fingers through the phantom's hair. "I can't have you anymore. You have to leave."
It looked like Capa was starting to blink back tears. "What is wrong with you?"
"I know. I wish… I wish you were here. But I can't keep doing this—"
"You're not making any sense," Capa interrupted.
Mace went to the door and held it open. "You used the door this time, so you should probably leave the same way." He was looking down, he couldn't face turning his vision of Capa away directly.
"I just spent the last twenty-two hours negotiating with the IBI so I could—"
"Just go. Leave."
A long silence. "Fine." The voice sounded wet.
Mace kept his eyes on the ground as Capa passed him. Then he closed his eyes tightly. You're going to count to ten, and when you open your eyes, he'll be gone. He counted to ten, each number deliberate.
When he opened his eyes and looked out the door, Capa was still there. He had stopped on their top step, and there he sat, arms crossed over his knees, forehead resting on those, shoulders shaking. Mace watched him for a while. His imaginary Capa had comforted many times when he was crying, but it had never cried itself.
He pulled out his phone and dialed. "Searle? Listen, I… I just need you to listen for a minute, and tell me what you hear."
He crouched and held the phone out to Capa. Capa raised his eyes and took it.
"Searle? It's Capa. Yes, I— I— I'll explain later, I— Because I've been trying to call Mace! Look, call Agent Erikson at the IBI. What the hell is wrong with Mace? He's not—"
Mace took the phone back and eyed the hallucinated man warily. "What did you hear?"
"Mace, it's Capa," Searle confirmed.
"…How do I know I'm not imagining this, too?" Mace asked. He was staring at Capa now. Was this the real Capa? The one who was dead?
"There's no easy answer for that one, Mace. But you wouldn't be seeing Capa if he weren't there and you didn't think he was there. I don't know whats going on either, but I can tell you I just heard Capa's voice."
Mace shut off his phone. He reached out and touched Capa's face. "You're real?"
"Yes, stupid." His skin was red around his eyes from crying. "I've been in captivity for eight months, and since I've been rescued I've done nothing but try to get to you, and you don't even want me here. What the fuck is going on?"
It took Mace a moment to answer. He was just staring at Capa in shock. "You're alive…" He suddenly lunged forward and pulled Capa into his arms, hard. Capa didn't resist, holding onto him just as hard. It was awkward, with both of them down on the pavement step, but they didn't care.
"I've been seeing you," Mace told him. "I wanted you back so badly I had myself thinking you were here. I spent a while in a psych ward."
"God, Mace." Capa had been angry with him only a moment ago, but now he understood why he had acted so strangely.
Mace released him from the embrace enough to look at him closely. He touched the scar beside his eye. "How are you alive?"
"They faked our deaths. They had bodies from people they had killed off the streets. Three of those bodies were ours, though… The ones they didn't need. They burned the bodies to make it look like they had killed and cremated us, and they left some of their own people behind to get caught and tell that story."
Mace shuddered. If he had known, if he'd had any idea, he wouldn't have rested until he found Capa. He had been sure he was dead. They'd found his wedding ring in the ashes.
"Here." He shakily removed his own ring and took Capa's bare hand, sliding the band onto his finger. It didn't fit, Capa was even bonier than before, but that was alright.
They sat in silence for a while, simply being together again.
Capa wiped under his eyes. "We should go. The IBI only gave me an hour. They still want me to answer a thousand more questions." Capa stroked Mace's face and took his hand, leading him across the street to a waiting black car. Mace had thought it belonged to one of the neighbors before, but now he realized there was a serious-looking IBI agent within. For a moment he was embarrassed to have been seen in such an emotional state by a stranger, but then he really couldn't care.