I Did the Right Thing

“Let’s go over it one more time.” When he didn’t respond, the chief paused, glancing up from the constant rustle of paper to arch an eyebrow. “Lorcasf?”

“Of course.” Domerin tried not to sigh. The chief was only doing her job, after all, and the situation warranted a thorough report. He wasn’t on trial, no matter how he felt. It had been a long time since this office and its vast stacks of manila folders made him nervous.

Chief Calis nodded. “From the beginning.”

He tried not to wince. How many more iterations would he have to relive before this memory let him rest? “At first, everything went according to plan. We got in, we retrieved the plant and her information and planted the false trail. The agent was skilled, so we sent her ahead. She had already fulfilled her station.”

The chief flipped through several pages on the document she’d been skimming and nodded for him to continue. He tried not to see it as he described everything in the most clinical terms he could muster.

“We decided to split our exit in case they noticed the plant’s retreat. It’s a fairly standard practice and we hadn’t encountered anything up to that point which suggested we should stay together. Gilson retraced our route and, as the senior member of the team, I took the route we deemed would be more dangerous.

“We were both approaching our exit routes when I spotted the girl.” He wondered what might have happened if his eyes weren’t more keen. It wounded him in more ways than one. “She was alone and barely conscious in some kind of holding cell. She looked local, was probably out in the woods, might have been separated from a larger group and wandered too close to their operations. I don’t know. There’s no evidence to suggest our targets were involved with slave trade, but I can’t imagine what else they had in mind for her. I assessed the situation and we agreed that I should liberate her from her prison.”

“Gilson held while you performed the extraction?”

“That was the agreement. We worried if one of us left too soon the other might get pinned. If he took any action contrary to that, he didn’t tell me, and we were in fairly frequent radio communication.” He wrung his hands together. It was hard not to. “I had the girl and I was close to safety when he sounded the alarm. I couldn’t send the girl ahead. Even if she had been capable of moving on her own at the time, it was too dangerous to leave her alone.”

“And what did your partner think of your assessment?”

It was such a cold, emotionless question. Domerin’s answer felt equally flat. “He agreed that I should get the girl to safety and he would try to make the rendezvous. I left the girl with the agent and went back. But by the time I got there, the best I could do was recover the body.” So at least his wife would have something to bury at the funeral. Closure, of a sort. Plenty of his other coworkers had left their families devoid of such comforts.

Silence. The shuffle of papers. The scribble of a signature. He tried not to see the lifeless eyes. The last time Sulray Gilson grinned in his direction. As far as Domerin had been able to determine, his partner’s end had been quick. Cold comfort.

“That matches Agent Tilgan’s report,” Chief Calis announced, setting the papers aside and folding her hands together atop her desk. “And I think that will do until you’re able to submit yours in writing. You’re dismissed, Lorcasf. Go home. Get some rest.”

He was halfway to the door before she spoke again. “For what it’s worth, Domerin,” her voice was softer, without the air of authority, “you did the right thing.”

He closed his eyes, his hand wavering as he reached for the doorknob. They kept telling him that, everyone who worked in the division. Why did he have such a difficult time believing it?

*   *   *

There wasn’t a soul alive who didn’t dislike funerals, but Domerin Lorcasf found them particularly painful when the weather remained pleasant. It was too bright a day for saying goodbye, and he had nothing with which to hide his guilt and sorrow.

An all too familiar lump had been lodged in his throat for days now. He had indirectly disobeyed the chief’s order to rest, instead spending most of his time in the office clearing through Sul’s paperwork. In some ways, it was easier to deal with than his own. It came in a finite amount. He wasn’t foolish enough to believe that clearing his partner’s desk of work somehow absolved him of involvement in the man’s death, it just proved a lot easier than sleeping.

As was so often the case, he didn’t hear the eulogy. He was too busy staring at the coffin, its dark surface strangely reflective in the bright sun. The mourners stood like a staunch forest of black in a sea of bright green. Part of him wanted to believe in a dramatic comedy where the coffin lid flew upon and Sul danced a jig while the crowd tossed insults to hide their relief. But he’d seen too many of these days end. Rain or shine, his partner was going in the ground with a cold slab of chiseled granite to mark the fact that he had lived. A somber reminder to all those present of their own fragile mortality.

When their somber duty was finished, the coffin lowered, the flag folded, he stood in line with the rest to offer his respects to his partner’s widow. He kept his eyes on the ground the entire time, counting the number of shoes ahead of him in line, knowing he would choke when it came time to speak.

Sulray’s wife hadn’t stopped sobbing since the funeral started, but she glared at Domerin with silent outrage the moment he stood across from her. Her eyes cut through him like twin knives. For the first time in a long time he stuttered an apology.

“Why did you come?” her hiss of condemnation made him recoil. He couldn’t very well miss his partner’s funeral.

“Julia…” her name came from more than one mouth, sometimes patronizing, sometimes soothing. He didn’t even hear the excuses uttered in his defense. The hatred in her eyes drowned them out.

“If he had been doing his job my husband would still be alive,” Julia Gilson announced frostily.

There were a surprising number of people willing to argue with the widow in his defense. But then these were his coworkers. They knew him. He and Juila were only passing acquaintances. He couldn’t imagine her family was going to be happy about the discussion.

“You know very well Domerin can’t tell you any more than he already has-“

Domerin laid a hand on his best friend’s shoulder to halt his impassioned defense. “She’s not wrong.” Not as far as he was concerned. “I’m sorry,” he said again, managing to keep his voice steady this time. “I was just leaving, Missis Gilson.”

Her hateful eyes might have burnt holes in the back of his head as he retreated if several of his coworkers hadn’t formed in his wake to chase him all the way back to the parking lot.

*   *   *

He knew he shouldn’t order coffee this late in the afternoon, certainly not his fourth cup, but three weeks hadn’t seen his sleep schedule improve. The late nights were doing wonders for his work backlog. But if Rilan didn’t give up the quest to make him smile soon, he might just snap.

He managed to sweep the coffee cup away from the counter before the barista could offer to sprinkle it with all manner of sweet things. He was halfway down the street before he heard the soft, tentative call.

“Mister Lorcasf?”

Domerin glanced over his shoulder, but didn’t see anyone he recognized. He was tempted to keep walking.

A grey-haired older woman shuffled up behind him, her eyes wide and pleading. It gave him pause. “Mister Lorcasf?” she said again. “It is you, isn’t it? I saw you on the news.”

He grit his teeth against a sigh. Not another one. “Yes,” he tried not to sound impatient. “How can I help you?”

“I don’t mean to take up your time,” the old woman hastened to explain. A blush crept into her cheeks and she lowered her head as her hands frantically raked through the contents of her large shoulder bag. “It’s just that, I’m Liara’s grandmother and-“

“Who?”

“My apologies.” The woman’s cheeks turned a deeper shade of red. “Liara… the girl you… you rescued from across the border a month ago?”

Domerin’s heart skipped a beat. That mission was still classified. But of course there had been a cover story and, of course, the girl’s family would have heard it. And of course his name had been attached to it because the girl had seen and spoken to him.

“I’m sorry.” He shook his head slightly, trying to anchor himself in the moment. “I didn’t really speak with her much afterward.”

The old woman waved a hand in dismissal while the other continued to plumb the depths of her purse. “A busy man like you? Of course, dear, of course. But she’s my granddaughter. And I’ve been hoping, ever since I saw your face on the news, that I’d be able to thank you.”

“Thank me?” he repeated, dumbly. It wasn’t that he didn’t receive a fair amount of gratitude, given his line of work. All the Queen’s Division did. It was that he had never expected anyone to thank him for choosing the life of a stranger over the man who’d worked beside him for six long years.

“Of course, dear, of course. You saved my little grandbaby. I can’t imagine what my daughter would have done if she lost Liara, such a bright young star in all our lives. You don’t get to know all the people you help, I imagine. But, well, I know her. And I know all the lives she touches from here on out will be, at least in part, thanks to you. Ah! Here we are.” She extracted a mass of fabric from her bag and held it out to him.

Still somewhat dazed, Domerin extended his free hand and allowed her to place the mass on top. “What is this?”

“It’s a scarf, of course,” the old woman announced. She seemed pleased with herself as she snapped her purse closed. “I knitted it myself.”

“I can’t-” he began to protest but she cut him off with a wave and a laugh.

“Well of course you can. You look like you need something to keep you warm in the winter months. And it’s the least I can do for the man who saved my grandbaby. Thanks again!” she called as she took off down the street. “You take care of yourself now!”

She was strangely nimble for a woman her age. She disappeared around a corner before he could manage to thank her. He hadn’t thought much about the girl he saved the day Sul died. He had been too busy thinking about how he failed to save his partner.

As he shoved the mass of fabric into a pocket so he wouldn’t lose it on the way back to the office, Domerin considered for the first time what might have happened if he’d chosen differently. Strangers attending a funeral instead of friends wouldn’t make it right. And just because he believed he should have been able to save them both didn’t mean he could have.

writing prompt, Domerin, short story

*   *   *

He recognized the strange irony of finally standing in front of Sul’s grave while the rain beat down on his unprotected head. He hadn’t bothered to bring an umbrella; the sun had still been hanging on when he left his apartment. Not that it mattered. There was a relief to the sensation of cold moisture dripping down his face. His long hair was completely plastered to his head and back. Another late night cup of coffee seemed appealing at the moment.

He was surprised when the raindrops stopped falling, thunking against a heavy canvas covering instead of his head. He turned and cringed when he saw the familiar face of Julia Gilson. Her eyes were still red but, this time, her cheeks were dry. And she didn’t look as though she wanted to kill him; a welcome change.

“I’m sorry, Missis Gilson. I was just leaving.”

“Wait!” she grabbed his arm before he had a chance to turn, stepping closer so the umbrella better covered them both. “Please don’t go. The truth is, I saw you walking over here and followed.”

“I didn’t plan on the rain,” Domerin admitted, “but you shouldn’t worry, I know better than to stay out here long enough to catch cold.”

“It’s not that.” She lowered her eyes. “I wanted to… apologize. For what I said at the funeral.”

“You don’t have to-“

“Yes, I do. I was upset and I wasn’t thinking properly. I wanted someone to blame. I thought being angry would make me feel better.”

Tears welled in her eyes. Domerin shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot, uncertain what to say. Julia banished the moisture from the folds of her eyes and went on.

“I know Sul meant more to you than a guy who shared the office. And I know you would have done everything in your power to bring him home. It was wrong of me to be angry that it was him and not you…”

“Don’t,” he said softly, shaking his head. A lock of saturated hair flopped from side to side with the motion. “I don’t think anyone should have said anything that day. You buried your husband. I can only imagine how that felt. Besides… I blamed myself too.”

They stood in awkward silence for a moment, then Domerin reached into his jacket. “Here,” he said, holding the mass of knitted fabric in her direction. His jacket had protected it from the downpour. “I think you should have this.”

Julia took the mass in one hand, pressing the soft fabric to her cheek. “A scarf?”

Domerin slid the umbrella out of her other hand and motioned for her to wrap the knitted fabric around her neck. “We rescued a teenage girl the day Sul died. He and I, I mean.” He got all the credit, being alive, but if it hadn’t been for his partner’s sacrifice, Liara’s family might never have seen her again. “Her grandmother knitted this for me, but I think you should have it. I think it will mean more to you.”

Julia’s fists tangled in the multi-colored fabric, pressing the ends to her nose and mouth. She made a soft sound; he couldn’t tell if it was a sigh or a sob. He supposed it didn’t matter. A moment later, she threw her arms around his damp torso and pressed her scarf-covered cheeks to his chest.

“Thank you, Domerin,” she gasped. “Whatever happened, I know you did the right thing.”

*********
Don’t forget to check out my writing partner’s version of this prompt to see if you think Seibel did the right thing.

Over at Ithilear, Beth Alvarez has done the how they relate to their race prompt!

If you’d like to participate, leave a link to your response in the comments and I’ll feature it next week.

One Response to “I Did the Right Thing”

  1. » Domerin; An Introduction Megan Cutler; Stories from the Soul Says:

    […] prompts (none of them the original ^^; ). The first lives in a modern world, much like ours, infused with all the elements of high fantasy (magic, elves, ghosts, demons, ect). The second is a displaced version of the aforementioned […]


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