The needle glinted in the morning light, a cool stream of sun flooding inside swimming with sluggish dust specks. It took both suns to get rid of the desert night chill and the orphan star hadn’t risen yet. Things would get sweltering soon enough.
She wove the needle in and out of the rough black cloth. She stitched the first bullet hole closed. The finality of it sat heavy in her gut and the numbness spread through her. It was so hard to keep focused, like this was all some kind of surreal dream--it took all her effort to not let the needle slip and prick her fingers.
There were several holes in the jacket’s back. She hated the very sight of them, hated having to hold this jacket in her lap, but she needed to fix it. Mr. Priest needed to look his best. She couldn’t think of how those holes had gotten there, how much it must have hurt, how painful it had been as he’d gone to that church alone…
A drop of blood welled up on her index digit from the jab it’d received. Milly sucked on it perfunctorily. She had to force herself to the task at hand--couldn’t she do that little bit for him?
Once she’d mended the first rip she had to shift the jacket some. He had broad shoulders; the other mars lay in difficult places and she would also have to patch them or else it wouldn't fit him correctly. In doing so the cloth passed close to her nose. She caught the faint yet lingering scent of it and, against her will, she brought it closer and buried her face in it.
Tobacco, gunpowder, coffee grinds, cologne, and the slightest hint of her own perfume. The smells mixed up in her mind to form an image of him. His smile had always been so free and easy around her save for a few times when it had been false, and two nights before when he had gazed upon her with such longing and need. He had cried that night. Out of love she had stayed with him and he had looked at her and his hands had been so warm upon her. He had done so many things and had such a soul to make her love him, love him as much as she did her family and Senpai and Mr. Vash but in a most singular way. She would've given him the world.
She had given him everything she could.
Again the needle jabbed her, this time on her thumb. Milly fiercely shook her head in self-reproach. Such thoughts were the last thing she could afford right now, not when she had a task to perform.
Truth be told, she had never enjoyed sewing that much. Her mother and aunts had forced it on her at an early age, saying that it was an essential skill. She never liked it much yet never hated it either. But not this. She hated this. It really was a thankless task--what was the good in fixing something that would never be used ever again? Once he was buried it wouldn't matter what his clothes looked like.
She wouldn’t have minded sewing things for Mr. Wolf--Nicholas--she decided.
Images of happy children filled her eyes, their raucous voices happy. She wouldn’t have minded sewing for them as well. More jabs. Jab. Jab. Jab.
Was it wrong to think of such things? Had it really been so horrible and naïve to wish that they might have been able to have a life together? For all four of them? What was wrong with it? It had not been a proud, totally selfish dream, not something she thought was beyond her capacity or worthiness. For she had loved him. But it hadn’t been enough to help him.
She placed her bloody fingers in her quivering mouth. A soft whimper of pain slithered out from around them. She shut her eyes tight against the tide and tears; but a few trickled down anyway.
The suns hit her face. The suns. She thought about them--they must be rising up now. Rising up and up, not caring what went on below, just as they’d done countless times before. Milly’s eyes opened, watching the golden stream hit the floorboards, then moving on to the patch of sky in the windowpanes. There was a natural cheer, a comfort in that. Looking at the sunlight and feelings its warmth tends to make a body feel more hopeful. She wouldn’t be able to stand it, she mused, if everything had just stopped and left them all to hurt alone every time a bad thing happened to someone. That would be just unbearable. The suns were good, and so were the songs of the birds and the thomases and the sand dunes. It wouldn't help any to keep on begging the universe for the impossible. She always had possessed a good imagination but she never escaped for long, she wasn't as good at pretending as Mr. Vash. She wondered if he could smile that fake smile after what had happened.
Milly felt her mouth go stable and the bloody tang inside grew faint. Keep perfectly still long enough and the pain would pass. She couldn't let it get to her. It was a shame that Mr. Priest had spoiled her, she couldn't accept substitutes, but she could still make something of herself. Her her own friends now were sufficient and she had to think of them. She would follow that thread calmly to its end. And at the end--it wouldn’t matter anymore. Until then, though, the children at December needed someone to take care of them in their lost big brother’s place.
It had to be modified, but the dream was there. She liked to think that in being with them she would also bring him honor. That was the best thing she could think of. She had given her all.
The last holes were sewn up. Just as that happened, Senpai knocked quietly on the door, peeking her face in timidly.
“I’m done, Senpai.”
“That’s good. Oh! Milly, your hand is bloody!”
“That’s all right, it’s stopped bleeding. I just need to wash my hands, that’s all.”
Senpai’s gray-violet eyes searched her subordinate’s face. “Well, if you’re done with it why don’t you bring it down? He can’t leave without it, can he? Vash won‘t touch him, he says he's not dressed properly."
Yes, Wolfwood was laid out downstairs on a kitchen table, waiting. She hadn't seen him, she didn't want to, she heard that people's lips turned blue when they died and she didn't want to take that. Milly glanced at the freshly mended jacket. This, this she couldn’t do; it would destroy her resolve. No, she owed it more to go her own way than force herself into more undeserved pain.
“Please take it, Senpai,” she pleaded. “Neither Mr. Vash or I have the heart. I can't leave here just yet. He needs--we can't bury him if he doesn't have it on. This is all I can do. Could you?”
“All right, Milly,” Senpai responded with utmost gentleness, taking the jacket away. Her footsteps, always brisk at the office and during their travels, plodded down the hall.
Milly took in a rush of air; the action caused her ribs pain. Her whole chest hurt from all the sobbing yesterday, the muscles strained. With an effort she rolled off the bed to retrieve her work clothes that had been laid out for her. She slipped out of her pajamas and put on the shirt and pants. On went the clunky shoes. Her fingers fumbled for a bit over her suspenders but eventually she strapped one over each shoulder. He always liked to snap them softly when he wanted to get her attention without Senpai and Mr. Vash noticing.
Finally she reached for her favorite red tie. She remembered how many times before he had used to grab it playfully, twirling it around his finger before pulling her up to give her a quick kiss, and how he’d liked to tease her by deftly untying it and holding it behind his back as she struggled to get it back. The sunrays gave the shiny red material a quiet sheen. She tied the knot very badly, lopsided, but it too did its duty to complete her wardrobe.
Mr. Vash would go out soon. Milly paled, sitting down in the chair before the window. She had to stay right here, she’d promised him, and she wouldn’t break that promise until circumstance forced her. Who else would watch over his cross?
Low voices murmured in the hallway--Mr. Vash and Senpai were talking to each other, probably planning on leaving for a while to . . .Would they bother her? She’d told them of her promise. Senpai’s voice went sharp as they found something to disagree on, business as usual there; Mr. Vash replied in a short monotone answer that apparently quelled any further argument. The double pair of echoes receded once more.
The door of the hall closed shut. Milly sat in the chair and looked at the cross, daydreaming.