He’s double-checking the lock on the door—he’s pretty sure he locked it but he’s also been up for 30 hours and, a minute ago, had been pretty sure there was a chair right behind him. (Turns out the chair hadn’t been there and he’d ended up on the floor.)
So he’s right on the other side of the door when he hears the knock. A jarring sound, loud against the quiet of the apartment. Connor checks the clock: a quarter to midnight. He can’t think of anyone who’d be at his door at this hour, and after the day he’s just had all he wants to do is lie down in his big, comfy bed and sleep. He’s probably imagining the knock like he imagined the chair.
But whoever is at the door knocks again, hesitantly this time, and he can’t write it off as a hallucination of his too-tired brain. It occurs to him as he’s opening the door that he forgot to check the peephole and please, please let it not be an axe murderer because he doesn’t think he can deal with one right now. Connor opens the door and—
“Ava.” He takes in the sight of her. Blonde hair disheveled, skin paler than usual. She raises a hand to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear and it shakes, a little. “What’s wrong? Are you hurt?”
After all the death he’s seen today, his first instinct is to scan her for potential injuries, eyes moving over her lightning-fast and on the verge of panic. He’s never been particularly religious and it’s been years since he’s prayed. Still he finds himself thinking, Please God, not her. Take whatever you want but not her, not her, not her.
(Because things between them are complicated, have always been complicated, and maybe it feels like they’re constantly stuck in a holding pattern, but he cares about this maddening woman more than he can admit.)
Ava shakes her head, opens her mouth to speak but a sob comes out instead. She brings her hands up to her face, flustered. “I’m sorry, I’m—I didn’t know where else to go. I—”
“Hey. Hey, it’s okay. Come in.” He fights the urge to hug her, placing a hand on her shoulder and guiding her in instead. Something about her looking so vulnerable makes him want to hold her.
Connor guides her to couch, watches as she sits down and seems to curl into herself. “First mass shooting?”
A nod. She makes a half-hearted attempt to wipe away her tears.
“Wanna talk about it?”
“No, I—” Ava takes a deep, shuddering breath. “I can’t stop seeing it.”
He moves over to sit next to her, rubs soothing circles on her back. She’s shaking and he’s not quite sure what to do for her—he feels like one of those clowns in the circus trying to put out a raging fire with a watering can—so he gets her a glass of water and watches as she drinks it numbly, her movements mechanical.
It’s a long while before she says anything else, though she starts and stops and tries to speak again.
“He wasn’t old enough to read yet.” Quietly. When he tilts his head to look at her she’s staring intently at the carpet, eyes a little unfocused.
“This little boy today. Cody. Blonde hair, so, so tiny.” She stops, and her voice shakes when she speaks again. “Massive internal bleeding, unconscious. And he was clutching this alphabet primer. He died on the way up to surgery, and his mom—”
Her voice breaks. Connor takes her hand and Ava blinks, as if she had forgotten he was there. Slowly, she looks up from the carpet and meets his eyes. “His mom said he was just learning his letters. They were in the park and she was teaching him his letters and now he’s dead.”
“So much death and what’s the point?” Ava shakes her head, “God, I sound so pathetic. I know it’s part of the job.”
“No, not pathetic. Human.”
She looks away then, lips quivering—she’s stronger than this, she will not cry again, but the expression in his eyes is so soft and she doesn’t think she can look at him without tearing up.
“Ava, hey, look at me.” She does, reluctantly, and her eyes are the color of honey and full of pain. “You’re right. It’s part of the job. But that doesn’t make what happened today any less wrong.”
She hugs him then, surprising him, and all he wants is to make her pain go away, but he knows that’s beyond his power so he just holds her tight and strokes her hair. At some point she stops shaking, relaxing against him, and her breathing evens out. Connor eases away slowly, until he can look her in the eyes.
He tilts his head slightly, hands still rubbing her arms gently. You okay?
Connor can read the answer in her eyes, a little red but no longer full of pain, and the way her lips tilt up at the corners in the hint of a smile. “Thank you,” she says quietly, eyes never leaving his. After a second she adds, “I should go.”
“Stay.” He doesn’t realize what he’s saying until the word leaves his mouth, and his heart skips a beat in surprise. “Please.”
She blinks, brows furrowing slightly, feet already angled towards the door. Her weight shifts to the balls of her feet like a wild animal considering bolting, and he finds himself compelled to add, softly, “I don’t want to be alone tonight.”
Her gaze softens.
(They sleep entwined in each other’s arms, Ava in one of his shirts, her head on his chest. Her thumb caresses his arm in slow, comforting patterns, until the steady sound of his heartbeat lulls her to sleep.
And he manages, somehow, to focus on how Ava feels comfortingly warm in his arms and on the way her hair smells like cinnamon. He manages not to think about what they’re doing, to ignore the memory of the last time he’d fallen asleep all tangled up in someone and how he’d gotten his heart broken, then.
Because somehow—with the whole world upside-down and wrong, with senseless shootings and children dying before they’re old enough to read—this is the only thing that feels right.)