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  1. It was hard not to be caught up in the emotional current of the service, to be aware in a very tactile way of the swelling tides of grief and hurt through the squeeze of her father's arm around her shoulder and the gentle pressure of her mother's cool fingers laced through her own. She could feel the sting of tears pricking at her eyes, the taut ache in her throat, the knot coiling in her stomach; all normal physiological responses to seeing Charlie's mother, pale and drawn, teetering on the verge of collapse, and to hearing the sound of quiet sobbing and murmured prayers among the onlookers. Intuitive empathy, her scary-smart boyfriend called it. But these weren't, Autumn knew, her own feelings, generated from some place of deep friendship and rapport with Charlie Cole because that... hadn't really been a thing, had it? She could probably count the number of facts she knew about him on one hand, even after several years of living in the same town: his parents were separated, he did something with the drama club, he had just started dating Sophia, and he was- had been, she corrected with a mental wince- touched by the Dawning Light. Or Radiance, or Shine, or... what-the-fuck-ever. And, really, if it hadn't been for that last part, she and Charlie probably wouldn't have ever really interacted at all. It was weird, and kind of uncomfortable actually thinking about it, but standing there looking at the huge spray of flowers on the lacquered casket as Devin spoke, the redhead didn't feel any overwhelming sorrow, or pain, or any of the things she was absolutely sure she was supposed to be feeling at a funeral. What she felt, instead, was the warmth of the sunlight on her face, and the reassuring presence of her family, Nathan and Jacob included, and, maybe... Maybe a little guilt, for not feeling more? Because as much as it sucked that Charlie was gone, a part of her kept insisting that they were all still here. Tawny and Sophia were still here. They'd survived to bury him, and that was important. And... There had been other families who'd grieved, and wondered, and lost over the years, the names of which were scattered throughout the journals she'd inherited. Was Charlie Cole any different from those others swallowed up by the Dark? The image of a small white shoe, forlorn and forgotten in the corner of a basement, flickered briefly through her mind's eye, and despite the weather, Autumn couldn't help but shiver a little. Dana's grip on her daughter's hand tightened briefly in response, a tactile check-in that the young vitakinetic returned in kind: Are you okay? ... Yeah, I'm fine, went the unspoken exchange, both women watching with red-rimmed eyes as Hannah Fuhrman struggled to keep her composure and Lucius Cole attempted a polite smile, taut as piano wire as he murmured his thanks to someone offering condolences. And there was that twinge of guilt again, because she was fine. They'd never know what happened to their son, and he'd never finish the school production he was working on, and they were- all of them- changed after what had happened... ...And as she and her parents trudged quietly away from the gravesite she caught sight of the Jauntsens in the little parking area, and Gar and Jase heading back, and a few of the others mixed in- probably on their way to the reception, to talk about shared memories and convey regrets. She wasn't sure she wanted to deal with all of that, the awkward conversations and teary reminiscing about someone who had equal space in her memory as an awkwardly artsy guy and a monstrous biological weapon against the Darkness. But all that wasn't really for her benefit, anyway; the sun was shining, and she was alive, and there was always coffee at these things and she was kind of hungry and that was... fine.
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