Work Header


Chapter Text

"Will you stand by me, always?"

"No matter what, my lady."



A simple notion once understood, now lost to time itself. A hand touched a glass door, before grabbing the handle and pulling it open. Grass and twigs in their hair, and dust on their sweater. Cheeks red from the cold, but a happy smile on their face. The woman at the stove sighed and turned off the fire, only to set aside the pan and walk over to the sweater-wearing intruder. Deft hands plucked grass and twigs out of their hair, throwing them into the trashcan nearby.

"Esther, aren't you ever going to learn to stop playing in the trees?"

"Maybe." The teen grinned, stepping outside once the de-grass and de-twigging of the hair had ended. They dusted themselves off before returning inside, shutting the glass door before a snow-white cat could get out. The cat meowed quietly but retreated to their bed in the living room, curling up in it and closing their eyes. "So, anything you need me to help with?"

"No." The woman went back to the stove.

"Alright! I'll be in my room if you need me!" With that, Esther took off.

"That girl..." The woman shook her head with a smile.

Once she'd retreated to her room, she shut the door. Walking over to the bookshelf, which was full of both video games and books, Esther merely looked over them before snapping her fingers and grabbing a fantasy book about a witch who never found her lost love. It was thought to be real, but the author had confirmed it was not. Sitting on her bed, she opened the book and stared at the first chapter.

It was in writing she didn't understand.

"..Huh? That's weird. I don't remember this being in the book." Holding it up, she tried thinking of where the writing had come from. "Ugh, this is ridiculous." Tossing said book onto the bed, she flopped backwards. The writing was familiar, but not familiar enough to decipher. Thinking on it, she pulled herself onto her bed and buried her face in her pillow. What a strange development. Her mother was busy cooking dinner, so she couldn't ask if they could go to the bookstore to find a different copy… not that one would be open at this time, anyway.

"Wonder what the words mean anyway." Esther mumbled into her pillow. "I know I've seen writing like that before, but I don't remember where." Turning over, she stared at the ceiling before sitting up and grabbing her book again.

Ouin zuinhao ryc uhmo pakih.

Y cbamm ihraynt, ihlryhkat.

Drana syo oad pa ruba ihdybbat fedreh oui.

"I wonder why it says 'yes' twice, anyway." Mediocre French at its finest. Esther stared at the words for a bit, before giving up on trying to decipher it. Closing the book, she set it on her dresser and laid back down, staring at the ceiling yet again. It wasn't really a big deal, was it? She'd figure it out. Maybe later, when she felt up to getting on her computer and asking her friends. Speaking of… she wondered how they were doing, and if they were wondering where she was. Probably not, but it never hurt to wonder about them. It was strange, to think like that. Maybe she didn't have actual friends…

Closing her eyes, she wondered.

"Am I really… Do people actually like me?"

"Hey, can you hear me?"


Esther woke with a jolt, expecting to see her ceiling but instead seeing… a ruined ceiling. It was slightly chilly, but with the sweater she didn't really feel it. Sitting up, she looked around. Had someone been calling her? There was a campfire a few feet away from her, but it wasn't lit. Patting her pockets, she felt a hard lump in her left pocket. Right, a guy had asked her to hold onto his lighter a couple days ago and she carried it with her to return when she saw him when school resumed after break. Pulling out the lighter, she flicked it open.

"Right. Zippo. Carved. Zippo lighter. I feel like I'm supposed to have a cigar or something to go with this." She chuckled before trying to light the lighter. A couple flicks later, a small flame ignited and she puts the flame towards the wood before it lights. Gently blowing on the flames after closing the lighter and putting it in her pocket, she was happy to see them engulf the wood. Standing up, she stretched a little.

"Huh? It's already lit? How'd you do that?" A voice, oddly familiar, asked. She turned around, only to see a blond-haired teen standing there. Putting her hands in her pockets, Esther grinned.

"I had a bit of help from my good ol' friend, Zippo."

"So I got these for nothing?" The teen groaned, then his stomach grumbled. "...I need food."

"Don't think I have anything edible on me, sorry."

It was quiet for a moment, but then she heard something. Glancing around, she looked above. Nothing. Just her imagination. Great. At least she wasn't really phased by this happening. Sure, accidentally fall asleep before dinner's done and wake up in a strange place. Maybe it was a lucid dream. She didn't know, really, but it was fine that she didn't.

The fire flickered lower, and lower. Esther had done a search earlier but hadn't found any wood so she knew that this fire would end up dying at some point. Time seemed to go by faster, but she didn't understand why. Maybe it was because she was exploring instead of staying put like she usually did when at home. A small sigh escaped her just as the teen woke up and started panicking over the fire. That was when she heard it again. Standing up, she glanced upwards. It was then that it clicked. Ruins, the teen, the fire… This was Spira! Which meant that she wasn't dreaming if she could actually feel everything that was going on. Testing it, she pinched herself as the many-legged monster jumped off the wall and into their area. The teen pulled out a sword, which Esther remembered he got from Auron in the beginning of Final Fantasy 10. Which also meant she was defenceless. Damn it.

"Argh! Just what we didn't need! If only Auron were here..." The teen started an assault. He wasn't really any good, but that was to be expected of someone who didn't know how to fight with a sword. There didn't seem to be much force behind his attacks, either. Ugh, she felt like such a nerd knowing this stuff.

"Hey, try putting a bit more force into your attacks. You're barely denting the thing."

"And what makes you so sure of that? I don't see you with a sword!" The teen remarked. Esther sighed as he took a hit from the monster.

"Just listen. Put some more force behind your attacks. Fight to survive. This isn't a game. Wouldn't Auron say the same thing if he was here?"

"Ugh… Yeah, guess you're right." Reluctantly, the teen started attacking better. She smiled just a tiny bit. He listened. That was a good thing, in her book. Not many people took her seriously since she was such a child sometimes. Esther was slightly glad that it wasn't happening here. Though she expected him to ask her how she knew about Auron unless he realized she'd know from him saying the guardian's name earlier. It wasn't long before the wall behind them exploded and a girl in odd swimwear that made her look as if she was nearly naked arrived with a some other guys.

Right. The Al Bhed. Hadn't she studied their language when she didn't have all the Al Bhed primers to translate for her? Esther mentally berated herself for forgetting, but understood that it had been a long time ago when it happened. The girl assisted the teen with taking down the monster. She breathed a sigh of relief, but then noticed the Al Bhed had surrounded her and the teen. Well, then.

One grabbed her, while the other grabbed the fiend. The Al Bhed in a blue cap then brandished his weapon at the teen, as if wanting to kill him.

"Fryd ec drec?" He asked.

"Veahtc! Eh risyh teckieca!" The spiky-haired Al Bhed responded.

"Oac! Ed ec cu!" The bearded Al Bhed said.

"Fa gemm ed?" The gas-masked Al Bhed asked.

"Fyed!" Both Esther and the girl said at the same time. The guys looked confused and the one holding Esther tightened his grip.

"E's hu veaht. Ev oui mad sa ku, E lyh ramb oui." Esther hoped she pronounced the words right. Her heart was pounding in her chest. "E lyh ramb oui." The girl seemed to understand, but the others seemed more intent on killing the teen than listening to her.

"Pid fryd uv dra udran?" The blue-capped Al Bhed yet again brandished his weapon at the teen, who was still trying to get away. Esther swallowed, trying to force down a panic attack. Panicking wouldn't help in this situation whatsoever. She couldn't help if she was panicking… but she couldn't let them know she knew anything, either. Had to play dumb. Metagaming would just end up getting herself burned figuratively and literally.

"Ed'c y veaht! Gemm ed!" The gas-masked Al Bhed said, making a motion across his neck.

"Pid fryd ev ed'c risyh?" The girl inquired, glancing from me to the teen. The gas mask Al Bhed seemed really insistent on the teen being a fiend. The bearded man, however… He glanced at Esther, who gave a small, shaky smile at him as if trying to insist she wasn't a fiend.

"Drao yna dra cysa eh taydr!" The gas-masked Al Bhed made erratic motions, which didn't help Esther's growing panic. Great, she was going to die here. The girl then shook her head at the gas-masked Al Bhed.

"E vunpet ed! Fa pnehk ed fedr ic. Pudr uv dras." She commanded. Turning to Tidus, she leaned over before whispering something to him that Esther knew was the Al Bhed word for sorry before punching him. He fell, almost immediately. The girl then turned to Esther.

"Mad ran ku."


"Ev cra fyhdat du vekrd, cra fuimt'ja vuikrd fedr dryd kio yht E frah dra suhcdan yddylgat. Dra sucd cra lyh tu ec clnays, yht hu uha lyh rayn." The girl then motioned for them to release Esther, who was grateful for it.

"Dr-dryhg oui. E femm tu fryd E lyh du ramb." Esther heard her voice shake, and then mentally berated herself. Breaking down wouldn't help them at all.

"Oui lyh cdynd po lynnoehk res!" The bearded man pointed at the teen, who was unconscious on the ground. "Yht fung uh ouin bnuhihleydeuh! Ed'c yfvim!"

"Nekrd." Esther then grabbed the teen, hefting him up. Oof, he was really heavy. This didn't bode well. So, she thought for a second before rearranging how she was carrying him, letting him lean against her like dead weight. Following the Al Bhed, she made no sounds besides breathing as the others talked amongst themselves about what they were doing next.

The vessel they were using wasn't too far away, and Esther laid the teen against a railing. He soon came to, but she knew it wasn't going to go well for him. The two of them were captives, and that wasn't going to change no matter how much of the language Esther knew.

"Ced, lybdeja!" The spiky-haired Al Bhed whacked him which earned a gasp of pain from the teen. His attention turned to Esther, who backed away slightly.

"Ow, hey! Take it easy!" The teen rubbed his head.

"Hu sujehk, rayn?" The gas-masked Al Bhed said. The way they advanced on the teen made him back down almost immediately. The doors opened, and another Al Bhed arrived with the girl. He gestured at both Esther and the teen.

"Caynlr dras!" He said. The two Al Bhed did, finding nothing unusual but Esther's lighter, which she quickly reclaimed after a momentary argument between her and the spiky-haired Al Bhed. The tattooed Al Bhed then started to mime swimming. The teen didn't understand at all, which actually frustrated the tattooed Al Bhed. He then started miming the same thing towards Esther, who sighed slightly.

"Oayr, E lyh cfes. E lyh'd rumt so pnaydr muhkan dryh y vaf sehidac, druikr, ev dryd'c fryd oui'na ycgehk." Esther replied. "Yht E ghuf so bnuhihleydeuh haatc fung. E's uid uv bnyldela."

"Oui cbayg Al Bhed, duu?" The tattooed Al Bhed was actually surprised. Esther gave a nod.

"Oac. E cditeat ed frah E fyc ouihkan. Ykyeh, uid uv bnyldela." She shrugged, before shaking her head just a little. The tattooed Al Bhed then gave her a strange-looking device. She surmised that it was the same one he'd give the teen.

"You can understand and talk to them?!" The teen asked.

"Pretty much." Esther shrugged again. "I.. didn't expect this to happen, though."

"He's saying you two can stay if you make yourselves useful." The girl said, just as the tattooed Al Bhed shoved another device at the teen. Yup, same one. Esther looked hers over, deciding not to comment instead of saying what they actually meant.

"You… understand us?" The teen asked, before getting smacked upside the head. "Ow, okay! I'll work!"

"We found some ancient ruins beneath us. It's not active now, but there should still be some power left. We're gonna go down there and activate it…and then we should be able to salvage the big prize!" The girl said, looking from Esther to the teen. "I'll get you two some supplies real quick. Stay here." She walked off as the others dispersed. The teen looked over at Esther.

"So… have a name?" He asked.

"Esther. What about you? I can't just say "Hey, you!" every time I wanna talk to you, if we're stuck together." Esther grinned at his frown. Wow, he was easy to tease… "Relax, I'm kidding. I'm not one to be totally serious unless we're in a dire situation."

"This is a dire situation." The teen groaned. "I'm Tidus."

"Nice to meet you, Tidus."

The girl came back with supplies, and the three of them put on the odd machines before jumping off into the water. It was strange, as if the machines made the water air instead. Esther wasn't sure she wanted to do this anymore, but there was no choice in the matter. The three of them worked together to delve deep into the ruins as they fought different fiends along the way. Tidus and the girl made quick work, and at one point the girl made a motion towards Esther that basically asked if she could fight. Esther merely shook her head, as it wasn't necessary for her to fight back home since no one wanted to mess with the "crazy kid". She lingered behind as the two of them moved forward, only to encounter the fiend Nautilus. Making sure to hide behind some machinery so the fiend didn't lock onto her and attack her, too, she watched as Tidus and the girl fought against it. Esther sometimes poked her head out when the fiend's back was turned to gesture at Tidus to attack it a certain way, but he never understood.

After what felt like an hour, the fiend was defeated and Esther swam over to the controls before giving them a good "hammering" like Tidus did in the game. She grinned as the controls flickered to life and opened the final hatch. The three of them then swam towards the depths, finding a big ship under the water. The girl pointed upwards, and the three of them surfaced after about twenty minutes of non-stop swimming. Taking off the machines, they reboarded the ship. Esther sat down near the edge, taking a small rest as Tidus tried following the Al Bhed but basically got told to stay outside. His stomach grumbled again.

"Still don't have anything, sorry."

"Wish they'd feed us." Tidus sat down near the machinery. "It just seems… rude not to."

"We're captives, Tidus. We don't have a say." Esther glanced out to the ocean. It was a good while until the girl returned, carrying two trays of food. She set one in front of Esther, who took it with a small word of thanks before watching her give one to Tidus after kicking him to make sure he was awake.

"Whoa, right on!" He started eating really fast, before starting to choke. The girl giggled and handed him a canteen full of water.

"It's cause you eat too fast." Once the two were done eating, Esther stood up… while Tidus stood up and stretched.

"Your stomach's going to tie in knots doing that." She warned, with a shrug. It wasn't like he'd listen to her right now, anyway.

"She's right, you know." The girl said. Tidus didn't seem to realize she said anything, so the girl pouted a bit. "Hey!"

"Hello there. What is your name?" He asked.


"Whoa! You really do understand!"

"Yeah, didn't realize that earlier when she started speaking to us?" Esther asked. "Common sense, really. Rikku here is bilingual. Two languages."

"Uh..." Tidus rubbed the back of his head.

"I would've said something earlier, but everyone thought oui were a fiend." Rikku pointed out.

"Uh.. 'we'?"

"Oh! "Oui" means "you"."

Esther let them talk, walking over to the railing and looking out to the sea. It was strange. Here she was, in Spira, and yet everything was going as it should. Shouldn't something have changed by now? She knew that interference, like cheat codes, lead to something else happening that shouldn't. By all means, something should've been triggered by now. Or maybe she was overthinking it.

"And what about you? Where are you from?" Rikku's voice snapped her out of it.

"Me? Oh, from Kilika." It was the first place Esther could've thought of. If she said she was from another world entirely, then she would've probably gotten the same lecture as Tidus probably did. Tidus ended up kicking the railing after a few moments of silence, and the entire boat shook. The other Al Bhed arrived, talking about Sin, and a wave knocked both her and Tidus off the ship. Losing consciousness, Esther only remembered Rikku's concerned and scared face among the Al Bhed.

The sun was shining high in the air, and Esther woke with a start, finding herself in the water. The ship was nowhere in sight. Of course, the two of them had been dragged off the ship. Sin had done it, hadn't it…? Tidus woke up not too long after her, and got hit in the back of the head with a Blitzball. He noticed the blitzball, and got excited. They both looked to shore, seeing a bunch of people waving at them.

"Hey! You okay?!" The redhead shouted. Esther waved back, but Tidus waved back then did a blitzball trick, sending the ball flying away. Swimming to shore, she paused as the men surrounded Tidus. So Blitzball really was a big deal. The redhead asked if he could do the move again, which he showed off. Esther snickered, shaking her head.

"You wanna try?" The redhead held the blitzball to her. She took it carefully, looking it over and then giving a nod. It took her a moment, but she tossed the ball up and… missed twice before actually kicking it away a good distance.

"I have never played Blitzball in my life. I've kicked things, but never a Blitzball." Esther murmured to herself as the attention returned to Tidus. He mentioned about getting close to Sin and his head being all "foggy-like". The redhead introduced himself as Wakka, captain of the Besaid Aurochs.

"Guessin' Sin's toxin got to you, too?" He asked.

"I'm fine. No symptoms. I just daydream a lot sometimes." Esther said. Tidus' stomach rumbled. "...I seriously should pack snacks just for your ever-hungry stomach, Tidus. Geez."

"Not my fault!" Tidus argued, which made Wakka laugh.

"Let's head back to the village. I'll get ya somethin'." Wakka said, walking off. Tidus and Esther followed after, though Tidus asked Wakka about Zanarkand and Wakka tried cheering him up. Feeling like a third wheel in things, Esther slightly lagged behind to let them have their space. A third wheel, was that what she actually was? Shaking her head, she hurried to catch up to Wakka and Tidus, only to make it when Tidus was pushed into the water.

Wakka dove in after, and Esther jumped in after the two of them. Swimming along the river towards the end, having to dive under, she watched as Wakka propositioned Tidus to join his team and Tidus reluctantly did so. Esther had to wonder what would happen with her if she didn't push herself into the team. Would she be left behind on Besaid? It was a possibility. Once on dry land again, Wakka explained to Tidus about the Auroch's losing streak and the tournament last year. Tidus helped him see a new way of looking at blitzball. Shoving her hands in her pockets, she walked ahead before turning around.

"After ten years of never having a win, put your all into this final game. Make sure to make it count, or you'll never forgive yourself. Words from a friend of mine who used to coach." Esther said.

"Ain't that the truth. You sure that'll work, though?" Wakka asked.

"As sure as I am that the sea is blue." She remarked with a grin. "Anyway, I think Tidus' stomach still needs filling. Let's keep going."

As if on cue, Tidus' stomach rumbled and they laughed before heading to the road. A couple of men ran out in front of them.

"Ah, the ones from the sea." The tall, burly redhead said.

"Be on guard. There are fiends on the road today." The shorter black-haired male said.

"After your run-in with Sin today, 'twould be a shame if something happened now." The redhead remarked.

"Thanks for warning us. We'll keep on the lookout." Esther gave a pseudo-curtsy as the two men ran off.

"Who were they?" Tidus asked.

"Luzzu and Gatta. Crusaders." Wakka replied.

"Eh? Crews of what?"

"What? You forgot that too?"

Tidus just deflated at Wakka's words, and Wakka put a hand on his shoulder. The two of them talked a bit more before the three of them set off again. A few fiends rushed into the path, and then turned to notice them. Tidus pulled out his sword and Wakka somehow got his hands on a blitzball. Esther backed away, quietly, before one of them charged at her. With a loud scream, she flung a hand at the fiend while covering her face, hoping to smack it away. The smell of burning skin reached her nostrils and she covered her nose and mouth before seeing the fiend run away.

"Whoa! I didn't know you could do that!" Tidus said.

"Do.. what?" Esther asked, voice muffled from holding her hands over her face to filter out the smell. "I didn't do anything."

Wakka and Tidus dispatched the other two fiends before Wakka walked over to Esther.

"You can use magic?" He asked. Esther glanced up at him. Boy was he a tall one. Stepping back to get a better look, she shook her head.

"I can't. I'm not even sure what happened."

"Looked like magic to me. Tell you what. When we get to the village, I'll introduce you to someone who knows how to use magic, too. Might help you not run away from every fiend you see." Wakka said.

"To be fair, though, I have no weapon and I'm generally an easy target. Ask Tidus." Esther gestured at Tidus, who nodded in agreement. "But let's keep going before more show up. I don't wanna end up a fiend's lunch."

Besaid Village was a quaint, quiet village. Before entering, Wakka had asked if they knew the prayer, which Esther had responded in the positive. Memories of playing as if she and her friends were Final Fantasy characters flooded her mind, and she checked out for a bit as Tidus and Wakka went over the prayer… or, for Tidus, the blitzball sign for victory. Wakka told both of them to check out the village, which ended up with the three of them parting ways as Wakka went to his hut and Tidus explored. Esther, on the other hand, headed towards the temple. The doors were ajar, but easy to pass through. It seemed a lot friendlier than most churches she'd been to.

The resounding hymn from the statues reminded her of the game. The voices weren't the same though, as each one singing was different but they all blended together perfectly. Esther glanced around for a moment.

"Ten years have passed since Lord Braska became a high summoner. And finally, we have a statue for our temple!" A priest said. Esther followed their gazes. The statue was big, and the spitting image of what Lord Braska had looked like when he was alive. They really put care into the statues. Moving a bit closer, she then looked at her right hand. It had been feeling a bit warm since the fiend attack earlier.

"A high summoner who gave his life to protect Spira from Sin." She said, looking back at the statue.

"Indeed. It seems you've been studying. But this is your first time here at our temple, is it not?" The priest asked, looking at her with interest. "From what word has said, you and a young man ran into Sin. Your faith must have kept Sin's toxin from affecting you."

"I suppose it did." But she didn't have faith in Yevon, so it wasn't that. Perhaps Sin's toxin just didn't affect her like it did everyone else. Or maybe it did and she was just lucky? It raised many questions in her mind, none which she voiced.

"Why have you come here, young one?"

"To offer my prayers to the high summoners, for guidance." Because that's all I've got. I really need to think of more excuses.

Time passed, and Tidus did visit for a brief moment before heading to Wakka's. Esther, intrigued by the architecture of the place, merely looked around and didn't disturb anyone while they were praying. She wondered if it help her fit in, knowing more than she should. The priest left the temple after a bit, and returned with Wakka in tow… followed by a majority of the villagers.

"So she hasn't come out yet..." Wakka said.

"Wait, someone's in the room where the Fayth is?" Esther asked, feigning ignorance. She knew who was in there, but didn't want to make it out to seem like she was crazy or some sort of clairvoyant or something like that. "Is she okay?"

"We don't know." The priest said.

"Should… shouldn't we go in there and see?" Esther asked worriedly. "I know the rules, but desperate times..."

At that moment, Tidus came in and struck up a conversation with both Wakka and the priest, before going into the trials. Wakka cursed under his breath and went after him. The priest then looked to Esther, who raised her hands in a sign of surrender and resigned herself to wait. A couple hours later, people emerged from the room. Esther moved aside as the villagers rushed to the brown-haired girl in front. They were asking her questions and the procession moved outside, with Esther following far behind as if afraid. The summoner then summoned an Aeon for the village, who cheered in response. Esther clapped a couple times before putting her hands in her pockets.

"Seeing this makes me miss home."

The next day came, and Esther was up before the sun rose. Getting out of bed, she pulled on her shoes and put her lighter back in her pocket before heading outside into the village. Unlike with Tidus, the villagers treated her like they did yesterday. As if she'd been there for most of her life. Wakka, seeing her, waved her over. Esther noticed a woman standing there with him. Tall and drop-dead gorgeous. Swallowing, she made her way over.

"Is this who you were talking about?" The woman asked.

"Yeah. Yesterday, she burned a fiend without even realizing it!" Wakka responded eagerly. The woman shook her head before turning her gaze on Esther. Her only visible eye widened slightly before she composed herself.

"I see. She does have the capability for magic. However..."

"However?" Esther looked at her curiously. "Something wrong?"

"Only your ability to learn other magic. It seems that your ability is quite… stunted."

"And you can tell that just by looking at me?"

"I can sense it."

"Lulu, go easy on her, ya? She just started usin' it yesterday." Wakka said. "She's probably just a little green."

A little green? Esther pulled out her lighter and opened it, staring at the carving. Through everything so far, the lighter had been her constant companion. She should probably name it or something. While mulling that over, Tidus finally exited the lodge and Wakka gave Tidus a sword. The summoner, whose name was Yuna (as said by Wakka, though Esther already knew this), was dragging a big suitcase behind her. She was made to leave it behind, and the four of them headed out of Besaid. As luck would have it, about partway to the Promontory, fiends attacked. But Lulu waved the others away.

"Let her handle it." Lulu said, indicating to Esther.

"Alone?! Lu, I told ya, she's not as good of a magic user as you!"

"If anything happens, we'll be right here." Esther sighed as Lulu said that, resigning herself to her fate and stepping in front of the others. Her right hand still felt warm, as if the fire she'd whacked a fiend with were still there. "The fire from before, it's still lingering. Call upon it, and strike."

Esther stared at the fiends before her, before clenching her left hand into a fist. Just like yesterday. Swiping her right hand across diagonally, a flaming shockwave crashed into two of the fiends and they dispersed into pyreflies. "That's good. Now, once more."

Ducking and weaving as the fiends attacked, Esther had to dance around as she tried to get hits off. Her heel hit a rock, and she was sent tumbling down. A fiend nearly got her, if not for the blitzball that knocked it away. Esther dispatched the last one quickly after getting up and dusted the back of her pants off.

"Keep practising. You'll be able to utilize it better as you do." Lulu said, before walking on ahead. Esther groaned, putting a hand to her forehead.

Was this her life now?