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You don't hear the crying at first.

You only woke up to take a leak, and you're still half asleep. But you're marginally more awake when you leave the bathroom than when you entered; enough so that this time, you catch the noise coming from the living room.

You're at the door before you can even think about it, and you open it to find Aubrey propped up on the couch, sobbing so hard she hasn’t even noticed you.

"Aubrey?" She looks up when you say her name, her eye glowing bright blue in the dark, and she tries to wipe the tears off her face, but she can't stifle them for more than a few seconds before she starts up again. You're suddenly very, very awake.



"What's wrong?" you ask, but she doesn't answer. You walk over and carefully perch on the edge of the futon. She doesn't react. Very slowly and very carefully, you extend a hand and touch her shoulder. She looks at you again, but still doesn't make a move, though the tears keep coming.

"Hey. What's up?" Still, nothing. "Okay. Can I--" You scoot closer to her and slide your arm around her shoulders. To your surprise (and relief), she doesn't protest; she leans into your side, still sobbing, arms folded around herself.



"It's okay," you murmur, rubbing at her shoulder gently. "You're okay. Whatever it is, it's not happening now. You're safe." She stops wailing quite so loudly as you attempt to soothe her, but you can still feel her shuddering under your arm. You wonder if it's pain, but she's crying way too hard for it to just be that when there's a bottle of heavy-duty painkillers right beside her that would knock it out in fifteen minutes flat.

You're not actively keeping track, but you must be sitting there for at least ten minutes before she finally quiets down and stops shaking, though her breathing is still ragged. You reach back to tap on the lamp on one of the end tables, and grab the tissue box sitting on the coffee table for her.

"Here." You offer her the box; now, with the light on, you can see her cheek is wet and her eye is red. She takes the box and yanks out a wad of tissues, wiping at her face and sniffling loudly. "Are you okay? Did something happen?"

She chokes out another little sob and shakes her head, balling up the first handful of tissues and pulling out a second.



"It's just a dream. It doesn't matter."


"Are you sure? Because it looks like it matters a lot." You reach out to her again, slowly, as before, and she quickly shuffles over to you, allowing you to drape your arm back around her. "Do you want to talk about it?"

She shakes her head.

"Okay." You put your left hand on the shoulder closest to you and rub gently. Maybe this is what she meant by not sleeping well. "Do you need anything? A drink? I can get you some more water, or tea, if it'll help."

"No. Maybe. Not yet." She shakes her head slightly, her gaze fixed somewhere on the opposite wall. "Stay--Stay here."

"Okay." You feel her move again, pressing herself closer to you. It's… not quite weird, but unexpected. After a minute, she reaches one of her arms around you, pressing her face against your shoulder as she clutches at your shirt. You remember what she told you. Bad family. Rough upbringing. Did she ever have this? Someone to just give her a hug and tell her things will be okay?

God, that’s fucked.

For a while, you just sit. It’s not a comfortable silence, but it’s better than her crying. She shivers occasionally, sniffles once or twice. You keep your arm around her and your hand on her shoulder. Your paternal instincts are kicking in hard , and it's taking so much effort to refrain from doting on her as much as you want to. You don't want to smother her, given her usual attitude towards close contact.

"Can I have that tea now?" she asks, eventually.

"Sure. I have black, green, chamomile..." You pause, and then remember: "I guess taste is irrelevant here. Let's go with chamomile. It might help you sleep a little easier. Are you okay on your own for a few minutes?" She nods. You ease away from her, stand, and head to the kitchen. When you return, she's knocking back another dose of painkillers, and slumps back against the pillows as you offer the mug out.



"Careful, it's hot." The warning comes completely reflexively, and you have to do a double take. "Wait, does that matter to you?"

"No. I know it’s hot, but… no pain." One of those tiny little ghosts of a smile passes over her face as she takes the drink and cradles it in her hands. "Thanks."

"Just don't burn your mouth or spill it. Do you want me to stay here?"

"You don't have to."

"Do you want me to?" She hesitates, then nods slowly, so you sit yourself back down beside her on the futon.

"I'm sorry I woke you up."

"You didn't. It's okay. I was already awake. Anyway, I... Y'know." You shrug. "I think I'd want to know if you're upset. Is it anything I can help with?"

"...I don't know. I don't think you can control what I dream about."

"...I guess not."

"You're--You're already helping." She stares down into her drink and bites her lip. "You got those doctors off my ass, and you washed my clothes and bought me food, and you're letting me stay here, and--" She stops, drawing in a shaky breath and bringing one hand up to wipe at her right eye. "I don't know why you're bothering. I don't deserve any of this."

"Hey, hey. No need to get upset," you murmur, reaching out again to rub her shoulder. "You deserve help . It’s that simple. It's not like you've done anything wrong."

"Why are you doing this? What do you want from me?"

"I don't want anything." The question throws you for a moment. "This isn't... about me. It's about you."

"Why? What's the point?"

"Because you matter, Aubrey." You squeeze her shoulder gently. "You're a goddamn living person, and you deserve to be cared about. You're just trying to survive, like the rest of us, and if we can make that any easier for each other, we should." Aubrey doesn't answer you verbally. She just starts crying again, despite her obvious efforts not to. You sigh and wrap your arm all the way around her shoulders, eyeing her drink to make sure she doesn't spill it into her lap.

"You're a good kid, Aubrey," you murmur. "I think you're doing your best. Don't be so hard on yourself, alright?" She gives a little nod, letting her head loll to the side to rest on your shoulder.

"They are gonna let me go back to work, right?"

"As long as you get medical clearance. Which you will. Don't worry about that right now. You’ve been through a lot. You don't have to think about it for at least a couple of weeks."


"No buts. We'll get it sorted out, I promise. It'll be fine." You give her a firm squeeze, then peel yourself away from her. "Alright, well, I could really use some more sleep. If I go back to bed, are you going to be okay on your own? I don't mind if you stay up, and you can still come and get me if you really need me."

"...Yeah. I'll be okay."

"Alright. I'll see you later."

As you leave the room, you hear the TV click on and the volume wind down until it's inaudible by the time you shut your bedroom door. You might have taken on more than you bargained for by letting Aubrey stay. The next couple of weeks might get interesting.