A/N: First of all: I'm not Jewish. I'm just your run-of-the-mill culturally Christian agnostic. Everything I write about Yom Kippur here is based on what I've learned from various resources on the internet. Don't take me as a source, and I've done what I can to be accurate but I'm genuinely sorry if I got anything wrong. (And to any Jewish readers: feel free to point anything I got wrong out to me if you so wish, I'd gladly edit things to make the story more accurate if necessary. Also, happy Rosh HaShanah!)
Anyway, how messed up is it that people close to Henrik keep dying close to Jewish holidays? Fredrik and David a couple of weeks before Hanukkah. Rox right before Yom Kippur. John a few weeks before Hanukkah again. They might as well start killing people Dom loves at Christmas every year. (Holby writers, if you're reading this, PLEASE do not actually do that.)
This - or the first half or so, anyway - ended up way more Johnrik than I intended. But I went to check Inscrutable to see if any further context was given for how Henrik spent that particular day and John says he stayed with Henrik until he fell asleep. (Which could mean, and was probably intended to mean, they stayed at home together and acted like it wasn't one of the most major Jewish holidays, BUT! John doesn't explicitly specify Henrik didn't attend synagogue services before that. So THERE. If the Holby writers can't be bothered to just... let Henrik be Jewish, I'll do it myself.) So I had to rewrite my original beginning where John just drove away.
Also, this is vaguely connected to my last fic thematically (kind of unavoidable because, again, people close to Henrik keep dying near Jewish holidays...) and makes some references to it. But you can probably understand this one just fine without reading the other fic.
The actual story here is all in this chapter. Chapter 2 is an additional author's note with clarification both on the Yom Kippur stuff and some headcanons I included in the story.
Content warnings for: death (but no actual death scenes, just heavy discussion), discussion of suicidal thoughts, OCD, and not eating (it's in the context of fasting for religious/cultural reasons, but if you have an eating disorder or anything like that please be careful anyway, I don't want you to be triggered).
Henrik can't make much sense of anything right now.
Recent events have gone so quickly that he's had no time to process everything. He's not even sure he's fully processed the fact that Roxanna is gone yet.
One thing he does know, however, is that John's driven him back home for the second time this last year. And John offers to stay, as Henrik slowly gets out of the car.
"Don't put yourself through that," Henrik mumbles quietly. He winces as the top of his head meets the car's door frame, his brain having apparently misjudged the distance in the midst of his dissociation. "I'll be at synagogue for a lot of the evening, anyway."
"Synagogue?" John gets out of the car himself.
"Yes, John. I went for Rosh HaShanah, do you not remember?"
A look of horror crosses John's face. "Oh, my God. I'm sorry – I didn't – it's Yom Kippur?"
"Not until sundown," Henrik deflects, despite knowing the real intent behind John's words.
"It's almost Yom Kippur, then," John corrects himself, before returning to his original point. "God, Henrik, I'm so sorry. I was so caught up in the shock, I didn't even stop to consider…" He squeezes Henrik's hand tightly. "May her memory be a blessing."
Henrik nods, too choked up to speak.
"You never answered my question," John points out.
"Yes I did."
"I asked if you wanted me to stay. You deflected. So do you? Want me to stay? I don't mind if I'm alone while you're at synagogue. We've still got some hours left until sundown."
Henrik can't find it in himself to answer, for a while. Finally, he whispers "please", his voice breaking as he speaks.
John frowns and puts an arm around Henrik, leading him inside.
Henrik barely notices John walking him to the sofa and helping him sit down, untying his shoes for him. He just keeps asking himself one thing, over and over:
None of this makes sense. Henrik needs answers. How could something like this just happen? It's been one thing after another – the car accident, Roxanna coming out of surgery trapped inside her own body, the tiny dash of hope when she began to show signs of improvement… only for her to flatline barely an hour afterwards.
During the Yamim Noraim. On the day before Yom Kippur.
Henrik almost wants to try to ascribe some spiritual meaning to this. It's said, he knows, that on Rosh HaShanah, the names of the righteous are sealed in the Book of Life, and those of the wicked in the Book of Death. And Roxanna died mere days after the holiday.
Henrik can't help but think about that, despite the fact that he doesn't even believe anymore.
(He can even remember the moment he stopped believing for good: when he saw his own son killed in front of him.
If there is a god, Henrik had asked himself over and over again during those first months afterwards, why would He do this? To me, to David, to Raf, to Oliver, to Jac?
And it wasn't that he hadn't had doubts before. Of course he had; Henrik was always a man who questioned things, who weighed up every possibility. But after the shooting, he hadn't been able to find it in himself even to wonder whether there was a god out there at all: his mind had been made up on the matter.)
Some part of his mind had, regardless, prayed that Roxanna would survive, during those horrible moments in the ITU, watching her be shocked over and over uselessly. (There's a saying in English, he recalls: 'there are no atheists in foxholes.' Perhaps, Henrik supposes, it's true.) And now, that same part wants to cry that Roxanna wasn't wicked, she was one of the kindest people I'd ever known, why take her today of all days, why did You take her when You could have taken me, why, why, why?
How is he supposed to survive this? How is he supposed to cope with even more loss? He'd meant it, when he said to John that he couldn't lose anyone else. He's spent enough time thinking about whether or not to kill himself in this past year. He had only really just begun to reach a point where those thoughts were calming down. And now, the life he'd been trying to rebuild, the one he'd been looking ahead to during Rosh HaShanah… that's gone, too, it died with Roxanna, and Henrik doesn't know if he can find it in himself to carry on much longer anymore.
Henrik glances up. He'd almost forgotten John was here.
John places a glass of water down on the table, before sitting down next to Henrik. "I went to get you some water and came back to find you muttering to yourself. Or – not to yourself, really, it sounded more like… like you were talking to God, saying He should have taken you instead."
Henrik looks away in shame.
"Don't you ever say that about yourself again, okay? If this is about–"
"The Books of Life and Death," Henrik interrupts.
"Do you remember me telling you about those?"
John nods. "The righteous have their names sealed in the Book of Life on Rosh HaShanah, and the wicked…" John seems to realise, then, what Henrik is trying to allude to. "Henrik?"
"Roxanna wasn't wicked," Henrik murmurs, "she was the exact opposite. But she… today… towards the end of the Days of Awe… it's like – and I don't think this, I don't, you know I don't have it in myself to believe in God anymore, but – it's as if He made a mistake. It… it should've been me. If any of us were wicked enough to be sealed in the Book of Death, it would be me."
A guilty look crosses John's face. (Henrik will remember this moment, two months into the future, and wonder how he didn't see the signs.) "Henrik. You're not wicked. You're just a human being trying his best like the rest of us."
"But… Fredrik?" Henrik whispers. It comes out more like a question than he intended it to.
"Shh, no." John pushes a strand of hair out of Henrik's face while he talks. "That wasn't your fault."
(On a better day, Henrik thinks to himself, he might find the gentle touch and soft voice to be patronising. But this isn't a better day: his close friend – the woman he loved – has died, and the sedative pill he was given earlier to calm him down is still affecting him, and he doesn't know if it's the grief or the fact that it's High Holy Day season or a combination of both but he's filled with a sudden longing to be young again and be cuddled and rocked in his mother's lap and this is the closest he can have now.)
"That's what the Rabbi told me, too," Henrik tells John. He tries to laugh, but it comes out more like a broken cough; he then takes the opportunity to sip some of the water John brought him. "On Rosh HaShanah, when we were doing tashlich. I told him my sins were surely too great to cast away. 'Your son's sins are not your own', he said. For a moment, I could almost believe him."
"But you can't believe me now."
Henrik shakes his head. "I don't know if I can go to synagogue tonight," he admits. "What's the point of Yom Kippur when half the people you need to make amends with are dead? Fuck, the very last conversation I had with Roxanna was an argument–"
"Last… last conversation, maybe," John interrupts. "But that wasn't the last time you talked to her, Henrik. I heard you, once, telling her how sorry you were."
"You don't know she forgave me. Neither of us do. You said it yourself, she wasn't well."
"If I know Roxanna at all, I think she would've. She always cared so deeply about you, Henrik. Yes, she was ill at the end, so she might have disagreed with you. But I don't believe for a moment that she was angry."
"I hope you're right," Henrik mutters softly, and he does. He wants John to be right about this more than anything. He did love Roxanna, and only ever wanted the best for her. He wishes he had intervened sooner, got her proper help. Maybe if he had, they wouldn't be in this mess.
As it was, all he could do was sit with her for hours on end after she became locked-in. He'd briefly gone back home after his shift that first day, and returned quickly with a book he knew she'd always liked; he'd then proceeded to sit by her bedside and read it out loud to her until he grew exhausted. He knew she was in there somewhere, he could just tell, and he didn't want her to become understimulated on top of everything else. (Roxanna never did like being without something to occupy her mind.)
He hopes he was able to bring her some comfort before she died. He hopes he was forgiven for his remarks about her concerns, even if they seemed dismissive to her, and for not getting her the help she needed. He hopes she didn't die hating him.
"Do you want me to come to synagogue with you?" John suggests, bringing Henrik out of his thoughts.
"I don't… I don't think so. It's not personal, you understand, but I think… maybe I'll do better if I'm in a room with people who don't know who Roxanna Macmillan is."
"Mr. Levy's not coming then?"
"Had to work late, he said. There was an important surgery to do. I'm no rabbi, but I think that qualifies as pikuach nefesh. He'll be at services tomorrow, at any rate, but tonight it's just me, Rabbi Stein and the acquaintances I've made at Holby's synagogue over the years."
"I see," John nods. "Anyway, I tell you what. I'll drive you to synagogue, and come to pick you up after the service. I'm not sure I want you going anywhere on your own right now. But you can just be alone, if that's what you need."
"I can agree to that," Henrik tells him. "I'm sorry, by the way. For anything I've done within this last year that may have hurt you. Snapping at you for trying to look out for me. Doubting the quality of your work. All of it."
"You have my forgiveness," John promises. "You'll always have it, Henrik."
John gives a small smile. They sit in silence for a while, before John eventually asks "do you, uh… want to talk about her now, or is it too raw?"
"Too raw," Henrik answers without a second thought.
"Mm. Yes, I think it is for me, too. I'll just put the telly on for now, okay?"
So John puts on some silly reality channel, and Henrik tries to focus on paying attention to what the celebrities on TV are doing.
John makes Henrik dinner later on. It's clearly John's best attempt at making something filling, and Henrik appreciates that, even if he's starting to feel guilty for taking advantage of John's generosity like this.
"I don't know if you have plans to fast this year, but… I thought you needed a good meal at the moment either way."
"I do, yes. Have plans."
"I'm not sure that's a good idea, Henrik."
"Let me have this, John," Henrik insists. His voice cracks again, but he can't bring himself to care. "I do this every year on Yom Kippur. I need this little bit of stability because what else have I got? Please. Let me have this."
"Whatever you say," John reluctantly agrees as Henrik picks up his fork.
After finishing the meal, Henrik goes to unpack the candlesticks he keeps in a box in his bedroom. He's had them for years, now, and not just for Yom Kippur: he's used them for Shabbat candles, sometimes, back when he used to observe that (keeping Shabbat was hard to do as a doctor, so he's fallen in and out of the habit over the decades; but during his more observant periods he would often try his best to keep it to some degree).
He takes another box from his room, too, and then heads back downstairs, fetching the candles he'd bought some weeks ago. Two normal candles, and one yahrzeit candle. In previous years, he'd light a yahrzeit candle at least twice a year, once on the Hebrew calendar anniversary of his mother's death and once at Yom Kippur.
In the latter case, he'd always keep in mind the other people he'd lost, too – people like talented junior doctor Tara Lo, or his old friend Nils Johansson. But it was primarily, and most importantly, for his mother.
This year, though, he's not only lighting it in Elisabet's memory: it's in Fredrik's, too. And David's, and Raf's, and even…
And even Roxanna's.
"I always swore you were going to burn your place down with one of those candles," John teases as Henrik searches for a match.
"It's not the time, John," Henrik says.
Henrik lights the yahrzeit candle, first. There's not a word spoken by either him or John as he does so, but a brief moment of eye contact between them shows Henrik that John's thinking of Roxanna just as much as he is. He carefully puts the candle into its little glass container, meant to prevent it from starting a fire during the 24 hours it will be burning.
There are tears in his eyes, he realises. He wipes them away with his free hand.
Then, Henrik places the two regular candles into the candleholders. His hands are shaking, he notices. He takes a moment to breathe and steady himself before he carefully lights the candles, John still standing at his side. He closes his eyes and recites the blessing, one he knows off by heart: "baruch ata adonai eloheinu melech ha-olam asher kiddishanu b'mitzvotav v'tzivanu l'hadlik ner shel yom ha-kippurim."
He adds the second blessing, next. He can just about hear John mouthing this one along with him, as they stand there together. It's comforting, somehow, that they still have this one little thing.
"Baruch ata adonai eloheinu melech ha-olam shehechiyanu v'kiyimanu v'higiyanu la-zman ha-zeh."
He opens his eyes, after that, and not a moment too soon John asks "I can look now, right?"
John opens his eyes, too, meeting Henrik's gaze in the candlelight. "G'mar chatimah tovah, Henrik." (He's looking at me with that certain awe you have for someone you're in love with, Henrik thinks. He wonders if the looks he's been giving John have been coming across the same way.) His pronunciation is off, now, like he doesn't quite remember the phrase anymore. Henrik appreciates that John bothered remembering it at all, regardless.
"G'mar chatimah tovah," Henrik repeats back. He then opens up the other, smaller box from his room, and lifts out his kippah. Carefully, he places it on his head, ready to wear it to the service.
John pulls up outside the synagogue not a moment too soon.
Of course, in Henrik's opinion, there is no such thing as a moment too soon for anything. This, in fact, is much later than he'd prefer. But he's still got some minutes left before the Kol Nidrei service begins.
He takes a few of said minutes to just stand there outside the synagogue, hands in his pockets to keep them warm in the chilly September air.
He feels like he's come right back to square one. Until Rosh HaShanah just days ago, he hadn't been to synagogue services since… everything with Fredrik. He hadn't been able to bring himself to visit. In fact, he hadn't even been able to celebrate Hanukkah or Passover last year. It was too much. The grief was too raw, then, and stories of miracles and perseverance that had brought him comfort in former years just served to make him feel worse.
He'd wanted, though, to be able to go to High Holy Days services this year. He's gone to them every year ever since he was a teenager (and on a few occasions as a child, as well), even if his attendance throughout the rest of the year waxed and waned. But he'd worried about how it would feel to step into the synagogue after everything. To deal with the awkward stares and 'I'm sorry for your loss' speeches. To listen to all the talking about making amends for the wrongs one had done, while knowing there were people he could never make amends to.
Yet in the end, it hadn't been as bad as he'd expected, and in some odd way it had even been freeing, even if the rituals were perhaps not as literal for him as they had been in previous years. Even if he was seeking his own forgiveness for his wrongs against himself, now, instead of God's for his wrongs against Him. He was finding a new meaning in life, ways to carry on, and it would be going too far to say that he was happy but he was beginning to think that maybe, just maybe… he could be, someday.
He'd felt optimistic for the next year, then, hoping that everything would work out between himself and John and Roxanna. Things were strained right now, he knew, but they could surely overcome it.
But everything is different now. Roxanna is dead. The future Henrik had hoped for during Rosh HaShanah will never come to be. He's lost yet another friend – this time, someone who could have perhaps been even more than that, if he hadn't messed everything up so badly – and he'll never get to make it up to her for how badly he failed her, just like he'll never be able to make up for failing Fredrik.
How, he wonders, can he even live with himself? How can he just carry all this guilt for the rest of his life? It's becoming too much to bear.
He hears the door open. A woman who he thinks he might've seen walk in a few minutes ago is looking at him. (He should remember her name, he thinks, he knows he's seen her before. But he's still too caught up in the shock to recall it.) "Service starts in three minutes," she informs him gently. "And I don't see what good you're doing yourself standing out there in the cold. Come in."
"Yes, sorry," Henrik murmurs, walking inside. He hadn't intended to get lost in thought like that, but it's hard not to at the moment.
It turns out the woman was right – it is warmer inside the synagogue. Henrik appreciates that.
He picks up a prayer book, the same one that he'd used for Rosh HaShanah service this year and last and the year before that. Even despite everything else that has changed in the last year, Holby's synagogue is still using the same mahzor as ever, and Henrik tries to take comfort in that one small constancy.
Henrik can't help but find it difficult to focus, hard as he's trying. But when the cantor begins to sing the Kol Nidrei, his attention is finally caught and he joins in with the recitation. It calms him, in a way: he doesn't know what to do with his life as a whole from here on, but he knows what to do here, he knows the words to recite. Not much has ever been certain in Henrik's life, but the High Holy Days are always fundamentally the same, even if there are small differences throughout the synagogues he's been to as he's moved around throughout the years.
The prayers afterward are equally familiar and thus equally soothing, at first. But after a while, all the focus on repentance makes thoughts of everyone Henrik's failed – Fredrik, Maja, and now his dear Roxanna – start creeping into Henrik's mind again. He finds himself shaking slightly, emotion overtaking him.
A man glances at Henrik in concern, during a moment between prayers. "You look upset," he whispers, clearly making an effort not to distract the other attendants.
"Are you alright?"
"As much as I can be. I've had a difficult day. A dear friend died earlier."
The man gives Henrik a sad look. "I'm sorry to hear that. Ha'makom yenahem etkhem betokh she'ar avelei Tziyonvi'Yerushalayim."
"Thank you," Henrik mutters.
In some odd way, the man's kind words give Henrik the strength to get through the remainder of the service.
When the evening's services are finally over and Henrik walks out of the synagogue, he can see John's car there again, just as John had promised.
Henrik finds himself trembling, suddenly, and he knows it's not just because of the cold weather. He thinks he must have spent his last remaining energy on getting through the evening without breaking down. Now that it's all over, though, he feels like he just might cry at any moment.
"How was it?" John asks quietly, as Henrik forces himself to get into the car.
"I got through it," Henrik responds, because it's the only positive thing he can say that would be true.
"Must've been hard," John says, as if he's seen right through Henrik.
"It was… the actual Kol Nidrei was okay, but then as things moved on all I could think about was Roxanna."
John frowns sympathetically. "I'm sorry, my friend," he murmurs.
"No point in being sorry. It isn't as if you killed her."
John doesn't say anything after that (he's probably feeling guilty regardless, Henrik thinks, John always did blame himself for everything), just does Henrik's seatbelt for him before clipping his own together.
Henrik stares out the window for most of the car ride home. He really is beginning to feel as if he used up the last of his energy at synagogue: he can hardly even think, by now, just wants to get home.
"Hello, Earth to Henrik?"
Henrik glances over at John from the passenger seat.
"We're here," John announces. "You didn't hear me the first two times I said that."
Henrik simply nods in acknowledgement. It's too hard to form words, right now.
John leads him inside again, and Henrik still doesn't protest, just lets John walk him through the doors. "C'mon now, let's get you to bed," John whispers gently.
"I don't go to bed this early," Henrik says. It's not even nine o'clock yet, if he recalls correctly.
"Make an exception for this one time, then. You can't have had more than four or five hours' sleep last night, and it's been such an awful day…"
"Why don't you, then? Go to bed?" Henrik refutes. He looks back at the candles he'd lit earlier. Excepting the yahrzeit candle, they've nearly burnt out by now.
"This isn't about me," is all John says in reply. "Just get yourself sorted. Use the restroom, brush your teeth – are you allowed to brush your teeth on Yom Kippur? I don't remember all the details – read a book. Whatever it is you normally do before bed. I'll find you some pyjamas."
"Alright," Henrik agrees, because it would be pointless to argue with John.
By the time Henrik's walked into his bedroom, John is indeed there, holding out a set of pyjamas. They're warm to the touch, Henrik notices when he takes them. John must've done something to warm them up.
"You know, Yom Kippur isn't really supposed to be about being comfortable," Henrik remarks.
"Fasting is surely uncomfortable enough no matter what you're wearing," John points out.
Henrik lowers his voice as he says, more seriously, "you didn't have to do this on top of all the other things I've made you do."
"You haven't made me do anything. I've done it because I want to. I want to do what I can for the one friend I've got left."
"If you say so." Henrik unbuttons his shirt (he'd removed his jacket after getting home). John recognises the cue, and turns his back while Henrik changes into his pyjamas.
After he finishes getting that done, he climbs reluctantly into bed. "I don't think I can sleep tonight."
"You and me both," John agrees. Then he silently hands Henrik a small packet.
It takes a moment for Henrik to realise it's the pack of sedative pills he was given earlier.
"It's only a small dose," John admits, matter-of-factly like he's pretending this is a totally normal situation, "so it's not going to be putting you to sleep on its own. But I thought… it might help."
As he sits up, popping a pill out of the packet and dry-swallowing it, Henrik tries not to think too hard about the fact that this is John's way of admitting they both know Henrik needs this, that he might not sleep at all without the pills.
"Is there anything you need?" John asks. "Should I play some of that classical music you like? I remember it always used to help you sleep."
"Worth a try."
So John takes a CD from the table by Henrik's bed, and puts it into the CD player. The music starts out loud, and in Henrik's fragile state, it almost makes him jump; John quickly turns it down, though, so it's just a gentle echo throughout the room.
"Anything else you want?"
Henrik is silent for some moments. "I just want Roxanna," he eventually mumbles.
John sighs. To Henrik's surprise, it sounds more sad than exasperated. "Oh, Henrik… I know. I know, I want her back too."
"She's… she's really gone, isn't she?"
"Yes," John quietly admits.
Henrik can't hold back the tears anymore after that. He finds himself beginning to cry, teardrops rolling down his cheeks and dampening his pillow.
"Oh, Henrik," John whispers again. He sits down on the side of the bed, and takes Henrik's hand in his own, rubbing Henrik's palm in gentle circular motions. "You're exhausted, aren't you?"
Henrik just nods. He can't find it in himself to speak. After some time – his head is too fuzzy for him to figure out how long and he doesn't know if it's the sedative or the exhaustion or the grief or what – he lies back down, John still holding his hand.
He thinks about Roxanna one last time before he falls asleep.
He wakes up to his alarm clock ringing and no one by his side.
The warmth of John's hand in his has disappeared, replaced with a simple note on the bedside table. Henrik blinks a few times, rubbing the sleep from his eyes, before he attempts to read it.
'Went back to work. Had some things to sort out.
I hope you slept well, and that the rest of Yom Kippur isn't too hard on you. Please be careful with the fasting thing, ok?
After reading the note, Henrik decides to check his phone, and notices he has two new text messages from Jac. They're dated back to yesterday evening, in fact (sent within minutes of each other), but Henrik supposes they must have got lost amongst the noise in his head.
'Just heard about Roxanna. I'm so sorry. She was an admirable surgeon, we're all going to miss her.'
'I know losing someone today of all days must have been especially painful. Please look after yourself. Tzom kal.'
Henrik doesn't remember ever teaching Jac that phrase. She must've learned it from Sacha, he supposes, or perhaps for Sacha.
He feels too numb to think about the actual context of the messages, or of John's note. Roxanna is dead, and Roxanna has been dead for nearly a whole twenty-four hours now. But that doesn't make sense. Henrik can't find a way to understand it.
Since yesterday, he's been trapped in a cycle of feeling numb and feeling pure, unadulterated grief. One moment he's just trying to wrap his brain around it, the next the realisation will hit him all over again and it feels impossible even to breathe.
Even though he's dealt with a great many losses over the years – his mother's death, the day he declared his father dead to him, the day his father actually died, the first time he lost a patient, the deaths of promising young doctors like Penny Valentine or Jasmine Burrows, when he lost Tara Lo and then Arthur Digby (whom, though he'd never admitted it to either, he saw as like a daughter and son to him respectively) to the same wretched disease, Nils' death, losing David, watching as Fredrik was shot by the police, knowing he was partially responsible for Raf Di Lucca's passing… it's still not any easier.
He wishes coping with grief were something one could get better at with practice, like stitching a wound or performing an appendectomy.
He looks at the clock. It's 7:58 A.M. The pill certainly did its job, because he'd slept right through for nearly eleven hours.
…And the morning services start in a little over thirty minutes. At least, he supposes, the synagogue isn't too far away.
He hurries out of bed, pushing back against the part of himself that just wants to lie there all day. He can't do that, not now: the last time he did such a thing, after they'd put Raf Di Lucca's memorial statue up, a day in bed had quickly turned into a week. It had only been after eight or nine days (he doesn't recall exactly when – time had been such a blur) that he'd even had it in him to do so much as call Serena Campbell and say the hospital needed her right now because he didn't have it in him to go to work.
He gets ready in a rush, hastily sorting out an appropriate suit and shoes to wear to the synagogue. Last night, he'd worn the same clothes as he'd been wearing all day, but this time he chooses to honour tradition and picks out a white shirt to wear with one of his usual jackets and trousers. He almost forgets his kippah, but puts it on at the last minute.
He's out the door before it occurs to him that on a normal morning he should've stopped and made breakfast – thank goodness that, what with the fast and all, his tendency to forget to eat is actually an advantage for once.
His steps are hurried, his pace brisk. He would really rather not be late. (It would've been easier to drive, and he's more than lenient enough in his Yom Kippur observance to be alright with driving to synagogue. But he probably still has traces of the sedative pills left in his system, so it's safer to walk.)
He seems to get there on time, at any rate, as there are still a few people outside.
One of whom happens to be Sacha Levy.
"Shalom," Henrik greets him.
Sacha smiles at first, seemingly glad to see Henrik there. "Shalom," he replies. But his expression turns more solemn as he says "I was sorry to hear about Roxanna. She'll be dearly missed."
"Mm. Jac said the same," Henrik responds, and Sacha nods in understanding. "I must admit, I think I'm still in shock. One moment I don't feel anything, I can barely even make sense of it, the next…"
Sacha puts an arm around Henrik's shoulder. "We're all here for you, you know."
"Thank you," Henrik mutters, before quickly changing the subject. "I'd assume services are about to start, at any rate. We'd best go inside."
The first part of the service is perhaps the most difficult.
Henrik can't focus on what's around him, only making it through the prayers because he's attended enough Yom Kippur services that he could probably recite them in his sleep.
All he can think about is all the people he's failed. And how he keeps failing them, in the same ways, making the same mistakes over and over, mistakes he can never make amends for. No matter how many times he promises to his god that he'll try to do better.
He can never make amends to Fredrik. He can never say how sorry he is for not being a decent father. For not even trying to be a decent father. He can never undo what happened, never go back to 1987 and make the decision to stay with Maja, never go back to 2016 and contact Fredrik on the day of Nils' death, never go back and stop the Oxamarol trial before Fredrik's drug killed people, never go back and save Raf's life and save Oliver and Jac from their months of pain and maybe even buy David some more time.
Why is he even here, he wonders? Why did he even think to go to High Holy Days services after what happened last year? If there were a god out there, He wouldn't want to hear Henrik's pathetic attempts at apologising. Henrik knows that.
He can't make amends to Roxanna, now, either. He can't go back and encourage her to get the help she needed. He can't go back and prevent her from getting hit by Meena Chowdhury's car. He can't go back and say 'I'm sorry if I made you feel like I was dismissing you, I'm sorry I didn't realise how ill you were, you must have felt so alone and I'm sorry'.
All he can do is stand here and pray to a deity he lost his belief in months ago.
After some time, Henrik finds himself lost in the routine of prayers and Torah readings. The ache of grief is still in the back of his mind, of course – but the more time passes since he last ate, the less clearly he can think (which is, in a way, a welcome relief), and the more of the service goes by, the more it reminds Henrik he at least has this one little bit of stability in his life.
(Rosh HaShanah services had been similarly comforting, he remembers. He honestly wasn't sure he'd even be wanted at the synagogue after what happened with Fredrik last year, but no one seemed to object to his presence, and a few people even noted that they were glad to see him there. Services went on as normal, and while Henrik had logically assumed they would, there was still something soothing in having physical proof that the world wouldn't stop turning just because the man who fathered a killer went to synagogue.)
And then he realises some of the congregants are beginning to leave, and it suddenly clicks in his head just what that means.
The Yizkor service is about to begin.
The memorial prayers were never easy, but Henrik's been dreading them since Rosh HaShanah, and even more so during the last twenty-four hours.
Rabbi Stein leads a few readings, first, and Henrik finds himself back to being barely able to focus. A squeeze from Sacha's hand, though, grounds him.
And then it's time to pray.
Henrik closes his eyes and quietly begins to say the Yizkor prayer. First, he says it for the people he says it for every year: his mother, and then his uncle Henrik, the man he was named after but never got to meet. He skips praying for his father – he did it that first year, out of courtesy if nothing else, but hasn't been able to bring himself to since – and then…
And then he stops, for just a moment. Despite everything, he had wanted, and planned, to say Yizkor for Fredrik. But some part of him wonders if he even should.
Fredrik wasn't a good man, no, and perhaps not one worth praying for. He wasn't even Jewish, really (but he should've been, if things had gone right, if Henrik hadn't been so cowardly; Henrik had always wanted to raise any children he might have Jewish, and he'd thought that was non-negotiable until the time actually came and he didn't end up raising his son at all).
But Henrik needs to do this. For his own sake, more than anything. For some closure, or at least an illusion of it.
So he whispers the prayer anyway. "Elohim nishmas b'ni Fredrik, she-holach l'olomo…"
By the time he says "amen", there are tears in his eyes, dripping down his cheeks. He reaches up and wipes them away.
He takes a moment to collect himself, to try to breathe. After doing so, he finds himself mouthing his own words: prayers for Raf and David and Roxanna. He promises, silently, to do whatever he can to honour their memories as well. He can't bring himself to say anything about souls or an afterlife, however, like one might expect to hear in a prayer. It would feel too fake, like he was lying to himself, because now that all those people are dead they're dead, there's not a trace of them left, he doesn't have it in him to believe anything else anymore –
Instead, he says what he can and wishes for them to all be at peace. That thought's easier to swallow than anything else.
He recites the rest of the prayers along with everyone else, and while doing so, realises that somewhere along the way this has actually started to help. It's difficult, of course it is, but it's difficult in a relieving way rather than one that makes him feel worse, and the tears welling up in his eyes feel cathartic rather than hopeless.
It's not long after that that Rabbi Stein announces a break until the afternoon service.
Various congregants then quickly excuse themselves to the bathroom, or decide to go out for some fresh air, and before Henrik knows it suddenly the synagogue is empty except for himself and the Rabbi.
And even he looks to be about to head outside himself.
"Wait," Henrik requests impulsively.
Rabbi Stein turns around. "What is it?"
"I'd like to talk to you about something."
Rabbi Stein sits down in one of the empty congregation seats. "Go on, then. I already needed a sit down anyway."
Henrik takes a seat himself. (He's really starting to feel exhausted now, and thinks to himself that he'll be glad when the fast is over.) "I lost a dear friend yesterday afternoon."
"I'm sorry to hear that."
"It all happened so rapidly. One second she was alive and well. The next, she'd been hit by a car. A car driven by one of her colleagues, at that. Then they bring her out of the operating theatre and she's developed locked-in syndrome. Aware of everything around her, but unable to communicate. Then she starts showing signs of improvement, she can blink, she even tries to communicate things but – but–" Henrik chokes back a sob. "The next thing I know, she's flatlining and I'm watching them defibrillate her to no avail. And despite myself, I'm praying for her to live. And she doesn't."
The Rabbi nods silently.
"Roxanna Macmillan. That was her name. Yes, the same Roxanna Macmillan I told you about at Rosh HaShanah, the one I had… more than friendly feelings for. Less than two weeks since I told you about her, and she's dead.
The last conversation I ever had with her was an argument. She was… I know I said she was well, but she wasn't, at the end, not mentally. Persecutory delusions, it seemed like. And I just shouted down her concerns, when I should have been helping her seek support, just like she did for me after… after, you know, Fredrik. I apologised, many times, after she… became locked in. She must've been sick of listening to me," Henrik tries to force a chuckle. "But I'll never know. If she forgave me, for my awful, selfish, ungrateful behaviour. And it's been so terribly difficult to get through Yom Kippur when… she's all I can think about."
"I see," Rabbi Stein affirms. "I can't tell you if Roxanna forgave you, Henrik. But do you remember what I told you when you said the same thing about your son?"
"That I couldn't keep dwelling on things I couldn't fix. That it would only make me miserable."
"Exactly. Take all the time you need to grieve for your friend, but don't let it become about punishing yourself. That won't bring your loved ones back. You don't need to try to be a martyr."
"It's just been so difficult. Of all days…"
Even though Henrik didn't finish his sentence, the Rabbi seems to pick up enough from his expression. "Yom Kippur isn't about punishment, either," he gently reminds Henrik. "Atonement and repentance are not a reason to do yourself harm."
"I know," Henrik admits quietly.
A few minutes pass in silence after that.
"Thank you, Rabbi," Henrik finally says, as he hears the footsteps from more people making their way into the room.
"Of course. Ha'makom yenahem etkhem betokh she'ar avelei Tziyonvi'Yerushalayim," Rabbi Stein adds, then heads outside – presumably, Henrik supposes, for a walk of his own.
Henrik just sits there for some time, staring right ahead. He had got too caught up, he realises, in the idea that he needed to punish himself for this. But Rabbi Stein is right: that won't bring Fredrik or David back, and it won't bring Roxanna back.
After a while, he gets up, paces the length of the room for a bit, awkwardly stopping every now and then as people make their way in and out of the building. He feels restless, he can't think straight, he just needs to move and so that's what he does.
Sacha comes in eventually, having left for some fresh air when the break started. Henrik moves out of the way to let him sit down.
"Henrik?" Sacha asks quietly, clearly recognising Henrik doesn't want a fuss made about everything. Henrik appreciates that.
"How are you doing? I know it can't be easy. Today. After losing Roxanna. You know, if you need to go home…"
Henrik shakes his head immediately. "No. I need to be here. I can't be alone with my thoughts right now."
Sacha nods in understanding. "Yeah. Yeah, I know how that feels."
Henrik reaches out and places a hand on Sacha's shoulder.
The afternoon services are easier. Something about the Yizkor service and then his talk with Rabbi Stein has seemed to lift a tiny bit of the weight off of Henrik's shoulders.
But easier is not easy, and a tiny bit of the weight is not all of the weight. The question still tugs at the back of his mind: how do I carry on now?
How can he just keep living after everything? The things he's seen, the people he's lost, are starting to affect him more and more. There's only so much he can cope with, after all, and he thinks this might just be his breaking point.
There's a reading from the Book of Jonah, of course, as there is every year. And as Henrik reads the story, he can't help but think he feels a bit like Jonah right now. Wondering why he even bothers anymore. Thinking perhaps he really would rather die than live.
Finally, the neilah service comes around.
There's a recitation of the Amidah, and as Henrik stands in prayer, he makes a desperate, silent plea to find the strength and courage to go on – not even from God, necessarily, but simply within himself. Because more than anything, Henrik is scared. He doesn't know that he can handle this any longer.
But back in January, he hadn't thought he was strong enough to even make it to this part of the year. He pictured he'd have killed himself by mid-March. And yet, somehow, he's here. The strength he used to survive then – is there any of it left now?
He can only hope there is.
The Shema is recited, and Henrik tries to lose himself in the repetition of the words as he did earlier. Then, finally, he hears the shofar blast, and joins in with the shout of "le-shanah ha-ba'ah be-Yerushalayim".
He can't bring himself to stay, neither to pray Ma'ariv nor for the break-fast meal; he's only barely struggled through the day and he just wants to go home and rest now. So he hurries out instead and hopes no one pays too much heed to his hasty exit.
Sacha comes outside after him some moments later.
"Don't bother trying to persuade me to stay for the meal."
Sacha shakes his head. "If you don't want to, you don't want to."
"I just… can't. I'm done. I want to go home."
"I thought you said you didn't want to be by yourself?"
Henrik sighs. "I don't know," he quietly admits, his voice cracking in the process. "I don't know."
"It's the crowds, isn't it? You don't want to be around that many people?"
"Something like that. You – you know how I get," Henrik mutters. "Sensory overload, or whatever they call it."
Sacha nods. "I'm not much in the mood for it either this year, if I'm honest. Should we go over to Jac's and eat there instead?"
"Why Jac?" Henrik questions, though the idea of having a steadfast force like Jac around does sound quite appealing right now: she wouldn't try to socialise with him too much or pressure him to open up about Roxanna, she'd just let him be and allow him to lead any conversation as he wanted and maybe that's what he needs at the moment.
"Oh, we're…" Sacha seems to be unsure of whether to tell Henrik the following information, but he says it anyway. "We're moving in together."
"I didn't want to share that news with you earlier. Didn't seem fair when you'd just experienced the loss you did. But I guess it's out in the open, now."
Henrik shakes his head. "The world has to keep turning, I suppose. It can't just stop for one woman, no matter how much I…"
The attempt at confessing his feelings for Roxanna dies on Henrik's lips, but Sacha seems to pick up on it regardless.
"Oh. I'm so sorry."
Henrik can't say anything at all for a moment. When he does speak up again, all he can ask, with his voice breaking mid-sentence and tears forming in his eyes again, is "what am I going to do now?"
Sacha doesn't have an answer to that, and it was perhaps silly of Henrik to expect that he would. Sacha does, however, gesture for Henrik to come closer to him, and Henrik does, letting Sacha wrap his arms around him in a gentle hug.
Henrik returns to work the next morning.
It's all he can do, right now.
He gets a lot of glances from other staff members, and everyone seems to keep asking him 'are you sure…', but they don't get it. Henrik needs something to distract him. Yesterday, that was Yom Kippur. Now, it's work.
(And besides, he thinks, if he couldn't save Roxanna, then maybe he can save someone else, and spare their loved ones the awful pain he's feeling.)
Even John pulls him aside eventually, asks him "are you really okay with working right now?"
"I could ask the same thing of you," Henrik points out. "I don't think Roxanna would want us stopping our lives for her."
"No," John admits, "no, she wouldn't, would she?"
"Exactly," is all Henrik says. And then, he walks away, hoping against hope for a way to get through this.