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who's gonna save us now (when the ashes hit the ground)

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Sirens, smoke, and the nauseating stench of blood.

Swirling tobacco, frantic footsteps, heat on her back.

Her senses are a whirlwind. Her body’s a mess. And everything is red.

Grace exhales slowly, watching the smoke escape her lips and disappear into the air. Funny how everything disappears in the end, how impermanent it all is. Fucking hilarious.

People are there. Running around, urgent, trying to talk to her, she thinks, but nothing really sinks in. It’s all a hum, a buzz, a swarm of bees in her head and filling her body. Vibrating, writhing, filling her up, drowning it all out. Maybe eventually they’ll burst through her skin and let her fall to the ground in pieces.

She takes another pull from the cigarette between her bloody fingers. (Le Domas cigarette. Le Domas blood.)

“In laws,” her tongue finally manages to tell the faceless, concept of a person next to her. She doesn’t even look up. She watches the sunrise and fills her lungs as she hears him call for the paramedics a second time.

Fucking in laws.

_

 

She thinks she probably blacks out the next few minutes because even later she can’t put all the little parts together. Of all the things about that day to forget… She can remember the exact way her heart stopped when she saw the first maid’s brain exit the back of her head. Remembers the smell of the goat pit so clearly she could vomit at the thought, the feeling of Daniel’s blood spilling through her fingers, the sound of a body fucking exploding and covering the walls in front of her.

She can remember all of it in perfect fucking clarity, but she can’t for the life of her entirely sort out how she got from the south lawn, to the front door, to the ambulance.

It’s just flashes, moments like a slideshow being played across her brain. Someone asking if she’s okay. Managing a snort because does she fuckin look like she’s okay? Someone else gripping her forearm. Her cigarette falling from her fingers. She thinks she asks to go to a hospital, but who the fuck even knows. So many different voices mumbling curses when they see her.

It’s all a terrible blur wrapped in bruises.

Then she’s sitting in an open ambulance, letting awestruck EMT’s flicker lights in her eyes and poke at her torn skin. She doesn’t feel it. Not really. At some point she just went numb, locked herself behind a steel door and kept any sort of feeling, any sort of pain, on the other side.

Someone reaches for her hand - a brunette with a ponytail and blue gloves - and she hears the shout from inside that snaps everything else back into perfect focus.

“We have a pulse!”

The lock breaks. She’s Grace again, and she feels fear.

A pulse means alive. Alive means someone’s survived. Alive means she’s not safe.

She feels her tired fucking body tense with the single thought to run.

Her brain doesn’t register the fact that hey they all blew up into gore all over the front of her. It doesn’t remind her she saw every one of them die in a display of red. It doesn’t rationalize a single thing. It can’t.

She only hears pulse, and she needs to run.

She stands up somehow, on her weak swaying legs, and the brunette grabs her arm.

“Ma’am?”

“I have to go,” she gasps, irrational (or completely rational if you think about it) anxiety begging her to move, get out, hide.

Run. Run. Run.

“I know. We’re taking you to the hospital.”

“No. I have to leave.” Her heart feels like it’s broken through her ribcage and is hanging from her chest it’s beating so fast. She’s gonna throw up. She might pass out.

Run. Run. Run.

“Mrs. Le Domas-”

“No,” she screams. Fuck no.

She struggles, flails, screams.

“If you don’t calm down, we are going to have to sedate you.”

“Let me go!” She throws an elbow behind her, hears a soft groan and a mumbled ‘fuck’, and stumbles away, searching for an escape…

Just as they bring the stretcher around.

She sees dark hair, slim legs, messy stubble covering pale cheeks. A bowtie replaced by blood adorning his soft neck.

The fight leaves her.

“Oh my god,” it’s a barely audible whisper on her lips.

Daniel.

It’s Daniel.

Daniel that died. Daniel that saved her. Daniel that bled out in a dark hall.

She’s stepping forward instead of back. Moving towards him, so desperately, repeating his name.

She’s beside him as they lift him into the ambulance, ignoring anyone telling her to back away. She doesn’t give a shit, she needs to see.

He looks worse, somehow, than he did last time she saw him. He has no color left, his skin a frightening pale blue. Blood is everywhere, down his front, soaking his hair, drying against his mouth. Piles of gauze have been pressed to his neck, already stained crimson. There’s a tube down his throat and a man pumping furiously at the bag attached to it.

He looks dead.

There’s no way, she thinks. There’s no way he’s alive.

And yet he still has a pulse. He’s still fucking there.

Maybe he’s just as much of a fighter as she is.

They let her ride with him after she threatens them several times in increasingly creative and vulgar ways.

He doesn’t move at all. She doesn’t even think she can see his chest rise to breathe. The only thing assuring her he’s not gone is the steady beep of the heart monitor in the background. She tunes everything else out. None of it means a damn anyway.

Her eyes shut and she lets her head fall back only slightly.

Holy shit, she thinks.

And then she finally passes out.

.

.

.

She’s unconscious for almost three days.

One surgery, then another. Stitches, morphine, gauze.

Pain. Terrors. More fucking pain.

She yells. She throws her tray at someone when they startle her awake and it takes her a whole 5 minutes to chill the fuck out and remember where she is. Who she is.

They tell her she’s lucky. That she was a mess when they brought her in, like she didn’t already know that. They list her injuries, the state they’re in now, in medical terms she doesn’t even try to understand or pretend to care about.

None of the nurses or doctors or fucking surgeons want to tell her about Daniel though, no matter how many times she fucking asks. They get very serious and look away and she doesn’t know what that means, but it feels really fucking bad. That only causes her to freak out more until a sweet nurse with salt and pepper hair finally takes a bit of pity on her.

He’s in the ICU, still sedated. He flatlined twice on the table, lost so much blood it’s a miracle he even made it to the hospital.

A miracle. That makes her laugh.

But it’s still touch and go and she still can’t see him, is still stuck in the limbo of whether or not she’ll be a sole survivor.

She tries not to think about it, but there’s nothing else to fucking think about. Their faces are being broadcast on every news channel in existence by then. Two survivors. Critical condition. Le Domas family tragedy. Devastating fire. Blah Blah Bullshit.

They show pictures of the rest of them too, of Alex. She has to lean over the bed and throw up when she sees it, when she looks at his smiling, traitorous, lying fucking face. She throws up again when they call her his wife.

She keeps the TV off. Makes herself not feel it, any of it. That doesn’t last long either because no matter how hard she tries to ignore it the rage and the betrayal bubble in her stomach, they fester and grow until she wants to fucking scream. Every time the heat in her hand shoots up her arm, or the stitches in her shoulder itch, she thinks of knives and guns and the faces swarming around her hailing fucking satan.

She hates them.

All of them.

(Sometimes she even tries to hate Daniel, but that never lasts.)

She skips therapy because she’s too afraid to leave the room. Still too scared of open spaces and empty doorways where someone might be waiting.

And she doesn’t sleep. She can’t. They all come back when she does - Alex, Becky, fucking Georgie- and she wakes up screaming.

She just sits in her bed, eats her prepared meals, stares blindly out the window, and talks only when the police come to get her story, minus the part about spontaneous human explosion, until they think she’s finally lost it and have the good sense to leave her alone.

(The official story remains a fire.)

.

.

.

“He’s going to be fine,” Maggie, tells her as she’s checking her IV.

“What?”

“The man that came in with you, your brother in law?” Grace cringes. “He’s out of the ICU. They say he’ll be fine.”

“Oh…”

Grace has two overwhelming emotions one after the other.

Her heart stumbles, the air rushes out of her lungs in utter relief. He’s okay. He’s really okay. He made it out and she is not alone. His blood is not on her hands, he didn’t die for her.

Then dread, creeping up the back of her throat like bile.

Because now she has to tell him his family is dead.

She’s afraid he’ll look at her and resent her, blame her.

(She’s afraid she might do the same thing.)

They’re both alive, but she doesn’t know if they’ll be able to live with it.

.

.

.

She can’t move her arms. She can’t move anything. She can’t even scream.

They are around her.

And it’s wrong. It’s horrific.

Their hands are gnarled broken claws digging into her limbs.

Cold, damp flesh is pressed against her mouth and clamped around her jaw.

She can’t fucking move.

She wants to struggle, but her muscles won’t listen. The weight is too much.

The pressure.

“Hail Satan,” Alex hisses and she thinks blood spills from his mouth, but it’s black and bubbling.

“Hail Satan!” Other voices chorus around her.

Fuck you! She wants to yell. Fuck all of you! You sick, pretentious, demented, fucking, sad, psycho mother fuckers!

She smells blood and smoke.

She wants to cry.

“Hail Satan!”

Let me move!

She can see the knife, the glint of it in the dim light.

Her chest trembles.

She blinks and it’s not Alex’s face anymore. It’s someone else.

He smiles.

She finally screams as the knife plunges down.

.

Her body jerks violently as she startles awake, gasping and chasing a scream.

She heaves.

Fuck me.

The sweat is thick and cold on her skin. It mats her hair to her forehead and neck. Clings to her clothing.

The nightmare scurries back into the shadows on thin legs, but she can’t seem to make her hands stop shaking.

The room she never wanted to leave, the four walls that protected her, suddenly felt very, very small. She’s caged in. Trapped.

There’s salt in her throat. Her tongue is too big for her teeth. And her eyes won’t stop darting from corner to corner. That sick, smiling face is everywhere.

She’s not even thinking, moving on autopilot, as her legs swing over the side of the hospital bed and walks towards the door.

She finds his room without even trying. Her feet just lead her there and she’s standing in the doorway and she can see the dark shape of him.

Her heart actually fucking stops.

He’s asleep, breathing evening and softly. Machines beep around him and blink in red, yellow, and blue lights. The blood has been scrubbed from his face. His neck is wrapped around in bandages that could almost look like a scarf, soft and white. Even in the dark blue shadows, he has more color than he did in the ambulance. More life.

So much of it feels like a dream. Something her poor, traumatized brain would make up as a coping mechanism. He can’t really be right there, alive and okay? They can’t have both made it. In three seconds he would disappear and she’d be alone with it all again. She feels so certain.

She stands there and she doesn’t know what to do.

She wants to touch him, is aching to touch him, to prove to herself it’s real and not one last big cosmic joke against her.

She wants to run away.

She wants him to wake up.

She wants…

His skin is warm under her fingertips. Solid. Smooth.

Because he’s alive. Actually fucking alive.

Her breath shudders in and out.

She notices how long his fingers are, how soft his palm is.

So warm.

The chair in the corner isn’t the most comfortable thing in the world and she’s afraid to drag it any closer, but it’s the only seating in the room and she isn’t ready to leave just yet.

His chest rises, falls, rises again.

“We fucking made it,” she whispers.

And then she cries.

.

.

.

“Have you seen him yet?”

“No,” she lies. She doesn’t have to ask who. There’s only Daniel.

Maggie looks at her sadly. Her round face pulled sideways in a soft smile that’s not really a smile, but it’s sweet.

Grace likes Maggie. She’s just about the only nurse Grace likes. She reminds her of a grandma, the kind of grandma she never had and so desperately wanted.

“He asked about you.”

“Oh.” She picks at the skin around her fingernail.

“He seems very worried,” she says, her voice rising at the end of her sentence, like a song. Grace wants to roll her eyes.

“He tried to protect me,” she whispers.

“Then he’d probably like to see that you’re okay,” she sighs, scratching something onto Grace’s chart.

She snorts.

Okay.

That’s what people kept saying. She was ‘okay’. She was alive, her skin was stitching itself back together in blues and yellows, she was safe. But she wasn’t the same thing as being okay.

Maggie lays her worn hand gently on top of hers, squeezes it just slightly. It’s comforting. “You should go talk to him.”

“I don’t know what to tell him.”

She pats her knuckles twice.

“I don’t think that matters.”

.

.

.

She stands in the doorway for one minute. Two.

He hasn’t seen her, not yet.

He’s propped up in bed, staring blankly out the window to his right. She can imagine it’s a mirror image of what she looked like the first few days after she woke up. fit back together, but still lost.

Fucking traumatized and just trying to breathe.

She knocks on the doorframe before she loses the nerve and walks away.

He turns slowly and blinks at her like she’s a ghost. Those dark eyes dazed and sad. Almost as if she’s not really there, just dust in the air, and if he blinks a few more times she’ll disappear completely.

“Hi,” she says.

You know, like a dumb ass.

He swallows. She sees the effort it takes and the way it pulls at his bandages.

“Hi,” he responds, thick and tired. He’s probably filled with more morphine than blood at this point. “You look… better.”

“Well, the shower helped,” it’s supposed to be a joke, but it comes out flat.

“Mmm.”

Awake and lit by daylight he still looks alive, better than he had before, but she can see the dark circles around his eyes. The hopeless way his skin sits against his cheekbones. His hair sticks up in just about every direction. Really he looks like shit, but shit is better than dead she supposes.

“You don’t look dead.”

A shadow passes over his expression, just beneath the skin. Wrong thing to say, Grace.

“Shower helped,” he croaks anyway, repeating her joke. She has no idea why that makes her want to cry, but she feels it building right behind her eyes.

The ghosts of his family watch them from the corner. They can both feel them. Like they’re piled on their shoulders, pressing them down, down, down…

“We’re alive.” He can’t look at her. He stares through his mother’s forehead at the yellow and brown painting on the wall. Sunflowers.

“Yeah.” She can’t look at him either, her eyes downcast at the unspoken implication of the statement. They aren’t.

“How?”

Her cheeks feel hot with tears that smell like blood.

“I don’t know.”

It’s the truth.

.

.

.

She has to tell him.

Because he deserves to know.

It was his family. Yeah, they terrorized her, hunted her, and tried to sacrifice her to the devil on her wedding night. They were fucking psychos. But…

But they were his family and no matter how afraid she is or pissed or anything, no matter anything she feels, he deserves to know.

But she is so afraid.

Because for some fucking reason she’s scared of losing him. And it’s not like she even has him or anything.

She puts it off. She wastes her time, anxiety building like a stone in the pit of her stomach. If she doesn’t tell him, he can’t hate her for it. Can’t leave her alone.

(She really doesn’t want to be alone again.)

She’s so scared and she doesn’t even fucking know him. Not really. He’s Alex’s disappointment of a brother. The flirtatious alcoholic. The one with a quip and a smirk from the other end of a dinner table.

And somehow, he is all she has left.

So she has to tell him.

“Fuck.”

.

She doesn’t leave anything out.

Even when she tells him she bashed his mother’s head.

Even when she tells him about Alex. When the words themselves are cotton lodged in her throat. When she sees him flinch and his eyes squeeze shut. When his knuckles turn as white as the sheet clutched in his hand.

His family explodes at dawn in a spray of gore.

She doesn’t leave any of it out.

He doesn’t look at her and she doesn’t blame him.

Doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.

“I’m sorry.”

He actually laughs. It sounds like a cough.

“You don’t have to be. You shouldn’t be.”

“Not for them. I won’t be sorry for them.”

He nods. That’s reasonable.

“But… I am sorry they were your family. I’m sorry that was your life. I’m not sorry they’re dead, but I’m sorry you lost them.”

It’s the best she can do. Her honesty to him is the best she can do and she hopes it’s enough.

“Do you want me to leave?”

He shakes his head.

“Okay.”

They sit in silence, but that’s fine. It doesn’t feel suffocating.

.

.

.

Birds chirp outside the open window like this is some fucking Disney movie and Grace avoids Daniel.

Well, avoids might not be the right word.

Grace lets Daniel have some space to process… everything, away from her. It has nothing to do with her inability to find a single thing to say to him. It really doesn’t.

That lasts about a whole day and a half.

He finds her instead, shows up like a sad, disheveled scarecrow backlit in her doorway. There’s a cheap hospital robe over his shoulders and, of course, a bottle of scotch tucked inside it. It does not surprise her. He’s still Daniel Le Domas. If anyone can smuggle contraband top shelf liquor into a hospital, it’s him.

“Want to forget?” he asks.

She can’t say yes fast enough.

.

.

.

Spit dribbles from her mouth when she laughs.

“Shhh,” Daniel slurs, but his own snort cuts it off.

They’ve shut themselves in her bathroom, although, now, she can’t remember why. Daniel is leaning next to the toilet with his back against the wall. Grace is slouched against the tub. An empty bottle sits on its side between their useless legs.

He coughs and it ends in a gag.

“Are you sure you should be drinking?” she mock-whispers. “You know, with that hole in your neck and all.”

“I have a fucking hole in my neck? How’d that happen?”

“Your wife shot you.”

“What a bitch.”

She laughs again. He does too.

What a funny thing.

“This was an excellent idea,” she sighs. She feels light. She feels weightless, like there’s tiny bubbles filling her belly and she’s just going to float away. That would be nice, to just float into the sky. She giggles. She can’t even feel her hand throbbing.

“Fucking superb.”

She lifts her hand in front of her face, stares at the ugly pile of skin puckering in the center. Tiny black stitches weaving through it like worms or snakes. Her two middle fingers don’t move.

Fucking Georgie.

Funny, she used to love kids. She used to want kids. Want a whole family.

Now she can’t think, can’t dream it. Everything feels warped. Children feel dangerous. Mothers feel like liars. The things she used to want are now decaying things in the back of her mind. Family feels like something different to her now. Something dirty.

She laughs. Of course they would ruin that for her too. The rest of it simply wasn’t enough.

“I just had to want a fucking family,” she curses at the universe.

“What?”

“I always wanted a big family. Growing up in foster homes, I just wanted something that was mine, people that were really mine,” she laughs again and this one has absolutely no humor, no happiness in it. “I wanted to get married. I wanted parents and siblings and family and jokes and love and-”

“And you got us. Ever heard of ‘be careful what you wish for’?”

“Oh fuck you.” Her legs kicks out, aiming for his middle and falling miserably on his knee. She thinks about Alex. How he was supposed to love her and be her dream come true and lead her into a life of everything she ever wanted. And how instead he tore her apart and fed the squirming parts to the dogs.

She hates him. A week ago they were getting married. A week ago she thought she would love him for the rest of her life. Now she feels sick.

“How do you reconcile yourself with hating the person you loved?” she whispers. More too herself than to him, but he hears her anyway.

“How would I know?”

“You didn’t love Charity?”

“God no. At one point… at one point, fucking forever ago, I thought, maybe I could. Maybe down the line we could, but...” He laughs. “No, I never loved Charity.”

“That’s kinda sad.”

He laughs again, more of a bark really, that shudders out of his chest and quickly turns into a cough. He spits in the bowl.

“Ew.”

He wipes his mouth on his sleeve.

“Well, I feel great.”

“Yeah,” she nods, but to be honest she’s not really sure that’s the truth. Her stomach does a somersault. “I feel so much better now.”

“Really fantastic.”

He vomits.

And then he starts to cry. Heaves turn into shaking sobs, dripping thick from his mouth. His hands grip the toilet seat for dear life. She’s afraid it might crumble in his fist. Like dust. Or ashes.

It’s ugly, messy, the kind of wet, endless cry being ripped right from his chest.

It pries her ribs apart.

Crawling on her hands and knees, she drags herself over to him. Her body wraps around his. If he’s going to fall apart, she’s going to be there to hold the pieces together so he doesn’t lose any of them.

She just holds him. He shakes and trembles and she presses her cheek to his back and holds him tightly against her chest.

“It’s so fucked up,” he slurs.

“I know.”

She lets a few of her own tears soak the back of his shirt and she soothes him. Soothes them both.

This is what surviving fucking looks like. Getting yourself drunk in a hospital bathroom so you don’t have to see it, don’t have to remember it, only to crumble and fall all over again. Live till dawn, and it’s the days after that really kill you.

She hates them so much. Not just for herself. She hates them for Daniel. Every second it builds and grows.

His shoulders finally stop shaking. His breathing begins to calm. She leans him back and wipes the mixture of spit, puke, and snot from his beard. She combs his damp hair back with her fingers till he looks at her.

It hurts to look in his eyes and not see him there.

“It’s gone. It’s all fucking gone.”

It looks like he’s about to start crying again. Or maybe like he’s about to laugh, she’s really not sure which.

“I saved you though, right? I saved you,” it falls from his lips in a whisper.

“Yeah,” she squeezes his hand. “You did.”

“Good. That’s good.” His eyes close like he’s letting it sink in. Absorbing it. He’s trying to hold on to the one thing that isn’t completely broken now. “I’m sorry, Grace.”

She puts her head on his shoulder. “Me too.”

They almost pass out like that, a couple drunk fucks holding each other up.

“What the hell are you two doing?” Maggie asks from the doorway. Grace has to force her heavy eyes open to see her standing there, angry as hell, with her hands on her soft hips and her brows drawn completely over her eyes.

“Hey, Mags. We’re forgetting.”

“Mhmm,” Daniel mumbles and nuzzles his scratchy beard into her hair.

Maggie sighs and then Grace really does pass out.

.

.

.

They silently agree not to talk about it after that. To ignore the giant ass elephant in the room.

The one named ‘your little brother is dead, your family tried to murder me because they worship the devil, and you let them die so they wouldn’t’.

That elephant.

Logically, she knows they should. Any trained professional with a single brain cell would tell her to talk about it at least a little bit so they don’t bottle all that shit up and fucking explode.

But they don’t. They simply let it hang there.

(Between the two of them, she gets the feeling they aren’t the best when it comes to healthy coping mechanisms.)

.

.

.

She hates how relieved she feels to have a cigarette between her fingers.

But she also doesn’t care.

The smoke leaves her lips like a secret and she exhales slowly.

“We are definitely not allowed to be up here,” she says as she hands him the smoke and leans against the edge of the roof. The night air is cool on her cheeks in a pleasant way that tickles up her arms and down her spine.

“Absolutely not.”

“How did you do this again?”

“Flirted with the overnight nurse,” he hums, eyes closed. “I am incredibly charming when I want to be.”

“I do not believe that for a second,” she snorts.

“I paid the janitor $200 to let me borrow the keys.”

“There it is,” she smiles.

They smoke quietly. Passing the thin white peg back and forth, and back and forth. And then lighting a second one when it burns away. They watch the cars so far below, like tiny illuminated bugs skittering around. The dark sky is almost void of stars.

It could be serene if she let herself fall away in it.

“You ever think about jumping?”

She startles, not just at his voice suddenly so loud in the dull chaos, but at the idea. The thought of letting her body drift, fall through the air until the ground met her back and snapped her bones and she was… gone.

Free?

No. It felt like cheating. She didn’t last a night in a fucking house with a bunch of rich, satanic, psychos to jump from a roof right after. She wouldn’t give them that satisfaction.

“No.”

She sees the way he’s looking over the edge, a little too closely, the way he’d look at a bottle of scotch. Like an escape. She doesn’t ask him the question back. She doesn’t need to. And she doesn’t want to hear him say it.

She hates it though. She absolutely fucking hates it. To be broken by them.

That’s what they did. And she won’t let them do it anymore. She can’t.

They don’t own her. They don’t own Daniel. They got away and dammit if they aren’t going to fucking use it.

Fucking rich, fucking crazy, devil worshipping, ass hole, piece of shit, psycho killer fucks. That feeling fills her belly and-

And she screams. She just fucking screams. It’s a pure, guttural yell ripping from her throat and echoing around her and it feels… it feels fucking good.

“What the fuck are you doing?” Daniel asks, wide eyed. He’s looking at her like she’s insane. At this point she fucking might be.

“Coping.”

“Alright then,” he sighs.

She screams again and again and the end comes out sounding like a ‘fuck you’. She screams until she’s breathless and her chest heaves and her hands are fucking shaking. Daniel just watches her. He doesn’t say anything. He just kinda blinks at her and lets her yell over the roof of a hospital at the top of her lungs.

The scream fades off and she wipes spit from her lips. Gross.

“Feel better?” Daniel asks, sardonically.

“Yeah,” she gasps and takes the cigarette.

A few minutes later there’s the sound of a heavy door opening behind them.

“You have to be fucking kidding me?”

Daniel leans into her. “I think Maggie found us,” he whispers.

.

.

.

(They saw trauma brings people closer to-fucking-gether and now it looks like she’s stuck with Daniel Le Domas. All things considered, it could be worse, right?

She could be dead.)

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.

Grace watches Daniel sloppily eat jello with his bare feet propped on the corner of her hospital bed. A red glob drips from the corner of his mouth and slides into his beard. He gets it with the tip of his tongue.

Her final surgery on her hand is done and the limb is wrapped in itchy, white bandages. Her arm is too heavy to move and she has the deep urge to squeeze her fingers together. She does not mind the morphine though.

She feels drunk, but better. Everything is rippling and bright and soft. Red jello on Daniel’s tongue included.

She smirks.

Oh, this is nice.

“Let’s go to Paris,” she says suddenly.

“Paris?”

“Yeah,” she nods. She imagines herself standing in front of the Eiffel Tower, eating bread, someone holding her hand.

Oh, bread sounds so good…

“Why would we go to Paris?” He leans towards her slightly, ready to play along.

“To run away,” she says wistfully. Duh. There would be music. And art on the streets. And maybe she’d eat snails.

“Why Grace, are you trying to get me to run away with you?” It’s snarky. She likes it.

“Of course,” she giggles. Her tongue feels so heavy. When did it get so heavy? Like a big fat worm. She laughs again. “I’ve always wanted to go to Paris.”

“Really?” He grins and she so wishes it was bigger. His smiles are always too small it seems.

“Mhmm.” She imagines smiling and drinking red wine even though she’s more of a white wine person, because everyone says the cabernet is simply the best. She’ll wear an expensive dress and have sex on a balconey.

Oh, yes. That was the plan. They’d have dinner and get drunk on champange and have sex on the balconey and order room service and have sex in a bubble bath and it would be so romantic and she’d catch her ring shining in the light and smile and-

“We were supposed to go on our honeymoon…” she realizes.

Oh, right.

Alex. Her honeymoon with Alex who is now very dead.

Fuck.

Daniel’s smile falters. One corner twitches downward, like someone suddenly pulled on a thread.

That scar on his neck bobs.

Now she feels sad. Fuck. Fuck.

And she was doing so well.

“Well, Paris is overrated,” he says after one, two, three seconds.

“Really?”

“Oh yeah. Way overrated. Smells like smoke, everyone looks constipated. No fun.” He nods. She knows he’s lying to make her feel better, but his face is so honest and, okay, it’s pretty convincing.

“Well where did you and Charity go on your honeymoon?”

He flinches only slightly at the name, then smirks. “Paris.”

That makes her laugh.

He laughs too.

She loves laughing. They should do it more.

“We’ll go to Ireland instead.”

“Ireland?”

She thinks about it. Ireland isn’t bad. They have lots of… trees and mountains and stuff. She likes those. Interesting music. Alcohol.

Oh, well that makes sense now.

“Okay.” She gives Daniel an assured nod.

He looks at her for a while, with that one look in his eyes that kinda makes her feel vulnerable and maybe a little uncomfortable. Because those dark eyes can be so heavy.

“Okay,” his voice rumbles, she thinks she can see it, vibrating towards her. “Let’s run away to Ireland.”

“I can’t wait.”

She closes her eyes and everything is green.

.

.

.

He gets released before her, but he doesn’t leave. She’s grateful for that.

He tells her he got a hotel room to sleep in, but he doesn’t look like he’s used it much. Or the shower.

Maggie chastises him for being there after visiting hours, but after the first four or five times everyone just kinda gives up.

He still hangs around. He doesn’t have anywhere else to go. She doesn’t either.

.

.

.

“I have to go back to the apartment.”

It dawns on her the day she before she’s free. The day they send her home, and she remembers ‘home’ is an apartment upstate she shared with her now dead ex-husband. An apartment filled with their things, their pictures, his face on the walls, clothes that fucking smell like him in the laundry.

Shit.

“Why?”

“Because I live there?”

“Obviously,” he sighs from his contorted position in the armchair next to her. “I mean, you could just move?”

“Just move?” she mocks.

“Yeah. You’ve got the money.” She hates to be reminded of that fact. “Just live somewhere else.”

“And all my stuff?”

“Just hire someone to get it.”

That’s true.

But she’d still have to find a place. On her own.

The last time she was looking for an apartment it was with Alex… So many last things she did were with Alex. Her entire future was shaped around him, around them and their life together. She wants to barf.

Now it was just her. It would be only her, alone with her trauma and ghosts, alone with all her fucking nightmares in a place that wasn’t safe...

Her face must have been contorted in some type of horror or panic because Daniel coughs softly.

“Alright, this is clearly a lot for you right now. So feel free to just tell me to fuck right off or whatever, I won’t be completely offended, but we… I’ve got a guestroom, well three guest rooms, if you-”

“Yes.”

.

.

.

And so Grace moves across the country with her (ex?) brother in-law, into the apartment he once shared with his now dead (ex?) wife, with a single bag of belongings and an unquantifiable amount of fucking baggage.

This is perfectly normal and there is absolutely no way it is a stupid idea.

.

.

.

Of course he lives in a sexy fucking penthouse. Honestly, where else did she think he would live?

Of course there’s three extra bedrooms and Italian furniture and some fucking room with premium shag fucking carpeting.

Of course the home bar is already fully stocked.

There’s absolutely no trace of Charity, thank fucking god, which he does not explain and she does not ask about. But she notices there’s no trace of any of them, of anyone at all.

Her room is at the end of the hall. It has its own bathroom. And a lock.

“Thanks,” she says. It seems right.

The bed’s too big. The curtains look too heavy and too expensive. Her belongings are only going to fill a shelf and two dresser drawers. It’s bigger than her entire first studio apartment in college and it’s the smallest one. (She knows. She saw the others.)

She thinks he’s gone when he clears his throat. “Grace?”

“Hmm?”

“I’m glad you’re here.”

He looks so much older and so much younger than he is. He looks haunted. He looks right on the edge of falling apart and so she can tell he means it.

“Me too.”

Maybe suffering isn’t so hopeless if you’re suffering together?

.

.

.

The first night they get drunk again.

They both vomit, but thankfully no one cries.

She falls asleep on the couch. He falls asleep on the floor.

It turns out she was wrong and the suffering isn’t exactly less hopeless with him there. It’s just nice to know you aren’t the only one going through a bunch of bad shit.

In the morning, Daniel orders pizza too early and they eat it on the floor, with the lights off, in the same clothes as the day before.

They’re drunk again by 3.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

.

.

.

She wakes up with a jolt.

Sweat chilling on her heaving chest. Hands shaking. Just like every other time.

And just like every other time, she curses softly to herself until she can catch her breath. She waits for the nightmare to recede and take her tremors with it. Then she’ll shuffle to the bathroom and take a cold shower and put on different sweatpants and not go back to sleep.

There’s a noise in the corner. Her neck snaps up.

She can’t see anything in the dark.

“Hello?” she whispers. Like a fucking idiot. Maybe it’s just Maggie checking in on her.

She thinks she hears a very quick breath to her left.

Her hands are shaking again. She’s not sure if her heart is beating too fast or if it’s stopped beating altogether.

There’s someone in her room.

There’s someone in her fucking room.

“Hello.”

Before she can scream a cold hand slams into her chest and presses her into the mattress. She tastes iron. All she sees is red.

She tries to scream, and oh god she can’t. It feels like there’s blood in her throat.

She tries to call for someone, for Maggie, for Daniel. Anyone. Another hand, slippery and sticky, slides around her throat. It tightens.

Alex smiles down at her.

She thrashes, or she tries to. She yells and begs for her body to just fucking move. But it doesn’t. It’s gripped in iron and her muscles are cold and there’s nowhere for her to go. All she can do is cry and look at his horrible face, twisted in a sneer. He looms over her.

She can’t breathe.

He strokes her face, his hand so gentle on her cheek. Like he could love her almost. But she knows he doesn’t. Won’t.

He looks like he’s going to kiss her and he smells like blood and dirt.

“Grace,” he whispers sweetly. There’s drool on his lips.

She squeezes her eyes shut.

She wants to die.

She wants to claw his fucking eyes out.

“Open your eyes, Grace,” he croons.

No. She doesn’t want to.

No, no, no…

“Grace, please,” his voice is starting to sound different, sweeter.

She shakes her head. It’s a trick. She won’t do it. She tries to scream again and doesn’t.

“Come on… Shh…” the voice soothes. It wants to warm her. It wants her to open her eyes.

There’s hands on her cheeks that are no longer covered in blood. Warm hands.

“There you go, just open your eyes…”

“No,” she whimpers. Oh, but now she wants to. This new voice sounds so safe. This new voice pulls at her.

“Grace…” Her name sounds so soft. Almost brittle.

So she dares.

She lets her eyes crack open. She doesn’t see Alex. There’s no blood.

At first there’s only black, then there’s a silhouette, and a face. There’s dark brown eyes that look at her almost frantically. There’s Daniel.

“It’s just me,” he says. His body is leaning over hers, perched on the side of the bed and not too close. His hands cradle her face, not hard and rigid like Alex’s had, just lightly enough to make her look at him.

“There you go. Breathe.”

She sucks in a breath that burns her lungs, but it’s still not enough. Her throat stings. She can’t. She shakes her head.

“Yeah, you can,” he urges.

Desperately, she tries again. She begs her body to breathe. Begs her lungs to fill with air.

“Good. Good…” His voice pulls her in. Slowly, it chases away the ghost of his brother. Slowly, he guides her back to reality, to safety, to him.

“You okay?” he asks as he leans back away from her. Giving her room.

She nods. “I just need a second.”

She needs more than a second. She needs a lifetime. Or a fucking time machine.

She sits up wearily, her tense muscles still feel so weak, like wet paper. Her head falls into her hands. She tries to focus on her rough breathing and calm down. Her fingers tug absently at her scalp. She fucking hates every bit of it.

Daniel doesn’t say anything, she's grateful, but she can still feel him watching her.

“It never ends,” she whispers into her open palms. “We got out and it’s still not over. It never fucking ends, Daniel.”

“Grace...”

She presses the heel of her palms into her eyes until she sees spots and stars, and then drags her fingers over her face, wishing they were claws and she could tear though her skin until she wasn’t Grace anymore and she was someone else. Something else.

“I just want them all to go the fuck away,” she wants to yell it, but it’s a crushed whisper instead. Like velvet.

“I know.” His fingers trail up and down her spine. Soothing.

He’s her anchor. He brings her back. He chases his family away again and again and she doesn’t know why. She can’t fathom why he’s still saving her, why he still even cares, this guy she barely fucking knows. But he is.

She’s glad.

“We’re pathetic,” she sniffs.

“Mmm,” he hums. He smooths her hair. “But at least we’re still pretty.”

That makes her laugh, which makes him smile. Neither of them are very happy things, but that’s okay.

.

.

.

Grace’s nightmares wake her violently.

Daniel’s hold him prisoner.

They coil around him like a snake and choke him until he begs and whimpers. They eat him alive.

Waking him up usually makes it worse. He had hit her once, on accident of course, caught in the confusion and terror. He couldn’t fucking look at her for days after that. So he prefers to suffer in silence. Like he has his whole life.

She doesn’t think that’s fair, but she doesn’t want to argue. She doesn’t know how to argue really. So she just lets him.

And when she hears his sad, broken sobs through the doors as she’s wandering around sleepless, she hates herself just the tiniest bit.

(She makes herself ignore it.)

Sometimes she hears Alex’s name and her blood boils.

Sometimes it’s her name.

Sometimes she can’t take it.

She’s getting a drink from the kitchen. She’s been awake since 2am this time and she’s not going back to sleep.

His voice calls out over the faucet, she can hear it shake.

She downs the glass.

He cries.

Her fingers shake.

“Grace-”

It’s not a shout. It’s barely even a whisper, but she hears it and it rings in her ears. Her name.

She drops the glass at her feet. She watches it fall, watches each tiny shard break away and glitter across the floor. Not her best idea, but her hands decided for her.

The crash echoes against the walls.

She gets the broom from the closet and ‘accidentally’ slams the door. She makes as much noise as possible and tries to pretend it’s not completely intentional.

His door opens as she’s dumping the dustpan into the trash. He looks at her, rubbing at his puffy eyes.

“What happened?” he asks, voice groggy.

“I just dropped a glass. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you up…”

He blinks. “No… No, it’s fine. I wasn’t really sleeping.”

There’s something off about his voice. He sounds too far away for someone standing right in front of her.

“You wanna talk about it?” she ventures. She always tries.

“No,” he says resolutely. He never does.

But he doesn’t move. He keeps looking at her and shifting.

“You wanna get high and watch cartoons?” he asks after a beat.

“Sure.”

His head ends up in her lap at some point and his hair is so much softer than she expected. Like really, really soft. Her fingers run through it absently, trailing along his scalp, tugging gently.

He sighs happily with his eyes closed.

It’s a good look on him. Contentment. It makes him look less like a shell and more like a person. Like someone without the weight of devils on his shoulders. Someone he never got to be…

She wonders what that Daniel would be like, if he’d be much different than this one.

“What are you thinking about?” he hums.

“You,” she answers.

“Sexy.”

She smacks his shoulder lightly, but he only turns his nose into her stomach and groans. “No, jackass. What it would’ve been like if I met you first…”

“Hmm.”

He doesn’t say anything else and she thinks he’s finally fallen asleep.

Then he stirs under her fingertips.

“Wouldn’t have happened.”

“Why not?” she scrunches her nose up at the statement.

“Because I avoided girls like you.”

“You avoided girls like me?” her voice dips in mock offense.

“Yep,” he sighs, letting the end of the word pop on his lips.

“What are ‘girls like me’, exactly?” she asks, poking the soft hollow of his cheek with her thumb.

“Too pretty, too sweet, too smart…” he sighs. “Girls I could fall in love with.”

“Shut up.”

If words themselves could sober a person up she thinks his just fucking did. There’s saltwater in her mouth and no matter how many times she blinks she still feels like she needs to blink more. She can individually count her heartbeats.

He chuckles, but he doesn’t say anything. A curl winds around her ring finger. She doesn’t know if she’s breathing.

“Daniel?”

But this time he’s actually asleep and Grace can only comb through his hair and think about what the fuck he could have meant.

.

.

.

“Hey Grace?”

“Yeah?”

“What’s your favorite color?”

She lifts her eyes from the book she’s not reading to look at him, leaning in the doorway, empty glass in his hand.

“Why?” she asks.

“I don’t know it,” he shrugs. He does this, finds her with a random question or statement that doesn’t really make sense. She chalks it up to boredom and the endless alcohol, but she indulges him anyway.

“It used to be yellow.” She thinks of shoes dappled in blood, and the color of the sun shining through a window half covered in gore. Her stomach turns.

“What is it now?”

She wants to roll her eyes. Truthfully, she doesn’t really know anymore.

“Grey, I guess.”

“That’s dull.” He looks at his empty glass, but still hasn’t moved to refill it.

“And what’s your then?”

“Used to be red.”

She can see why that might have changed. Red like blood and family and the devil himself laughing in a dining chair.

“Now?”

He thinks about it, really thinks about it.

“Blue.”

.

.

.

The kitchen smells like fucking shit. And she’s smelt goat corpse.

There’s at least six empty pizza boxes in the living room alone. Twice as many empty bottles. Every surface is covered in dust and to be quite honest Grace can’t remember when exactly she showered last.

“This place is fucking disgusting,” she tells Daniel.

“Hire a maid.”

She looks at him startled.

There’s a maid shot through the head, gurgling just around the bed corner. One choking on an arrow before losing her head. One slowly crushed to death in a dumb waiter.

“No maids then…”

The next morning, she starts cleaning.

And she keeps cleaning. Daniel watches her from the couch, from the counter top, from the bed. Never helping, usually drunk.

Two days later, she calls a therapist.

It feels like progress.

.

.

.

“Why are we doing this?” Daniel asks for what feels like the fourth time since they stepped outside.

“Because you haven’t been out of the apartment since we got here.”

“That’s not true.”

“Taking the trash out and accepting your delivery order at the front door does not count.” She tightens her grip on his upper arm and hauls him along. “It’s just eggs.”

“We have eggs inside.”

She huffs and stops, turning to face him. “I’m trying to help. Will you let me fucking help?”

“Help with what?”

“Daniel, I just want to get eggs. I just want to get out of the apartment and walk down the street to the first questionable diner we find, and have runny eggs and burnt toast, and see things that aren’t the same beige walls, and fucking pretend to be normal people for once. And I want you to go with me because I just feel safer when you’re with me and frankly you’re turning into a zombie.”

He looks at her like a child that had just been scolded and pulls his bottom lip between his teeth. She feels sort of bad.

“Sorry…” she sighs. “I’m sorry. We don’t have to. It’s fine let’s just go back.” She tuns around to head back down the street. She doesn’t know what she was thinking in the first place.

“It’s two blocks over.”

“What?” she pauses.

“There’s a 24-hour diner two blocks over. Really shitty eggs.” He offers her his arm reluctantly, like he’s indulging her and her heart swells.

“Perfect,” she smiles.

The eggs are incredibly shitty as promised and the toast tastes like rubber. They play the same four songs from 1967 and Daniel jumps a little bit every time someone hits a glass or jostles a plate. Generally speaking, it’s a terrible experience.

She loves it.

.

.

.

(They are a tragic fucking pair.)

.

.

.

Daniel is an alcoholic.

To be fair Grace already knew that. She’d known that before she had actually even met him. Daniel, Alex’s alcoholic brother.

Now, though, it is decidedly worse.

She gets it, she does. Trying to block out the memory of your entire cultist family trying to brutally murder your then sister in-law, now roommate, your wife shooting you in the neck, and the same family then exploding at dawn… it can lead someone to alcoholism. And Daniel was already fucking there when all that happened.

He’s coping.

She thinks.

But there’s more empty bottles in the apartment than there is edible food at this point. More times than not he’s passed out or throwing up. It makes her worry.

And then she goes to the store, ventures out for only an hour, maybe two. She returns to find broken glass on the floor. Broken glass and small drops of blood.

“Daniel?”

She drops the bag at her feet torn between being worried and being fucking terrified. Those were the only two options she had anymore.

She calls his name again, following the trail of crimson petals through the apartment.

He’s in the living room, slouched against the couch. He has a full glass of amber liquid in one hand. The other is wrapped several times with a reddening washcloth, and lying uselessly in his lap.

“Hey, Grace,” he slurs, when she comes around the corner.

“Um, what the fuck?”

“Oh yeah. Broke a glass,” he holds up his wounded hand for emphasis.

“No shit.”

He makes a face and lifts the glass to his lips for another drink.

“Nope. No more. Nuh-uh.” She rounds the couch and takes the cup from his hand. “I think you’ve had enough.”

“Hmm, I disagree.” He tries to reach for the glass again, but being as she is sober and he is very much not, the only thing he succeeds in doing is almost knocking himself off the couch.

“Jesus…” she mutters to herself, turning around to set the glass down somewhere before he breaks a second one. She’s going to leave it on the end table, and she sees the picture.

There’s blood on the corner, so he must have been holding it. It’s old too, faded and discolored, a crease down the middle where it’s been folded too many times. Daniel looks up at her, but a young Daniel, a happy one. His arm is around his smiling brother. Alex has his tongue sticking out at their sister. She looks like she’s about to cry. They’re so young. So normal.

Fuck.

The fight leaves her and stains her rib cage blue.

He’s not looking at her. She hates that she feels pity for him because she knows how much he’d hate it if he knew.

“Alright, let’s clean you up.”

He says something back to her under his breath, something she can’t quite pick up.

“What?”

“I should have died with them,” he repeats.

She freezes. Her fingers go cold. Her breath turns to solid ice in her lungs.

“What?”

He looks right at her. “I should have fucking blown up with the rest of them,” he sneers slowly, making sure each word sinks into her skin like a needle.

“Don’t say that.”

He laughs, fucking laughs. “Oh, but why not? I’m a Le Domas. I deserve it.”

“That’s not true-”

He cuts her off with a snort. Something breaks. Something snaps like a piece of chalk between her fingers. Her jaw hardens.

She moves in front of him and grabs his chin in her hand, forcing those bleary eyes to look at her.

“Don’t. Fucking. Say that.”

“It’s. True.”

“It’s not fucking true.”

“Grace-”

“No, shut the fuck up for once and listen to me. You are not them. You are not like them and you don’t deserve that. You saved me, Daniel. You helped me.”

“And got them all fucking killed in the process. My family.

“You’re family spent my wedding night trying to sacrifice me to the fucking devil! All of them! How many people in that house? How many, and you were the only person that helped me. I know you loved them, Daniel, I know. But that does not mean they were good people. You made a choice, whatever it was, and you did the right fucking thing. The good thing. Because you are a good person.”

“But I’m not,” he cries. She can see his lip trembling and she can see in his eyes that he fucking believes it. Whatever he’s saying he believes it and that breaks her heart. “You think I’m this good guy, but I was part of it. For so long. I’m not supposed to be the good one. I promise you, I’m not. Alex-”

“Oh fuck Alex.” That shuts him up. “I know he was your little brother. I know, Daniel, I know you loved him. I did too. Fuck, I did. But he gave up, he gave me up. He was my husband and he was supposed to love me and he held a knife over my head. You didn’t really know me, you didn’t have any obligation to me at all. It would have been so easy for you to just let it happen. When it came down to it, he fucked off for the rest of them just like he was supposed to and you… Daniel you stood in front of a bullet for me. I made it because of you. Because you’re good. You are a good fucking person, and I know you might not believe it, but I do. And I know you don’t deserve that. Any of that. You’re where you’re supposed to be. So stop saying that shit, okay?”

She notices she’s crying a little too late. She notices she’s shifted and is standing between his knees, holding his face in her hands, and looking down at him.

“Okay?” she whispers again, a little like a prayer.

Finally, he nods. There are tears in the corners of his eyes too. He nods and then he nods again and then he’s reaching for her.

She crashes into his chest. It’s a messy, tangled hug. He buries his face in her hair, his arms almost wrapping around her entire body like a cocoon. She holds him back.

“I’m sorry,” he whispers it into her neck. “I’m sorry.”

Her bones crunch and grind together. She only holds on tighter.

At some point they’re both broken, fucked up people, shaking and sobbing and holding each other together, fucking barely. She tells him he’s a good person. She chants it over and over hoping maybe eventually he’ll believe it. Maybe.

This is the first time they’re letting themselves completely fucking crumble. No walls. Bare, battered souls. They let it all go. They break apart in each other’s arms.

And in the morning, they start over.

.

.

.

(Shared trauma is a nasty fucking bitch.)

.

.

.

“I think we should move.”

She stops chewing and looks up from her plate, startled. “Um… what?”

“I think we should move. Out of the apartment, out of town, just… away. This whole place feels like it’s haunting me. I think we should really start over.”

He says it wearily, like he thinks each word might send her fleeing. It won’t. In fact, it only makes her hide her smile behind another bite at the way he said ‘we’. If he was going so was she. They were a team now and that felt nice.

A step in the right direction.

“Yeah, sure,” she says lightly even though she feels like bursting at the seems and shitting smiles for the first time in fucking forever. She likes having a partner. She likes having a person.

“Okay… Okay, cool.” He nods to himself. Did he not expect her to say yes?

“Cool.”

.

.

.

They have a practically endless supply of money (as Daniel likes to continuously point out) and absolutely no connections to anyone or anything, and two months later they move into a reasonably sized and modestly furnished apartment in the great state of Washington.

At three bedrooms, two baths, and a dining room she can’t actively ice skate across, it’s arguably the smallest home Daniel has ever lived in. But he covers it pretty well.

If she’s being honest, she doesn’t really think the lavish, illustrious life of the rich and famous is something he gives a single shit about anymore. It’s a nice thought.

This is their clean slate. This is their official do over.

She is not who she was before. Neither of them are. They can’t be.

They’re still them, still Grace and Daniel, just different. New.

This Grace gets herself a job at a little, rundown bookshop down the street, even though Daniel constantly reminds her they don’t actually need to work, but she likes having something to do. This Grace chops her hair to her shoulders and bites her nails down to the quick. She doesn’t like the color white, wide open spaces, or being touched without warning. She goes to therapy twice a week instead of once a month and takes sleeping pills to ward off nightmares. This Grace smiles less, but Daniel thinks they mean more.

This Daniel doesn’t have whiskey with his breakfast and can occasionally be up before noon. This Daniel foregoes pressed button ups and crisp dress pants for flannels that are one size too big and jeans that Grace says ‘hug his ass’. He lets his hair grow out just enough to look messy without looking entirely homeless. He jumps at loud noises, has an assortment of antidepressants in the medicine cabinet, and doesn’t like crowded places unless Grace is with him. This Daniel is a work in progress and grossly codependent.

(Really, they both are. Grace is just better at hiding it.)

.

.

.

A bell rings.

This is shortly followed by a brisk, cheerful voice calling over her shoulder, “Grace, your platonic life partner is here!”

She rolls her eyes and sighs at the blonde head bobbing back through the shelves.

The platonic life partner in question has his elbows propped on the desk up front, head in one hand, a look of pure boredom written across his face. His damp curls drip on his shoulders. Daniel in a bookstore is something she’ll always love to see in the morning, if only for the irony.

“Is something wrong?”

She watches his face lift when he sees her.

“Why would something be wrong?”

“Because it’s 11am and you’re out of the house already. And, oh my god, did you shower?”

“Yeah, yeah,” he nods along playfully, swatting her away. “Fuck you, alright.”

Her hand finds her heart dramatically.

“Actually, if you must know, we were out of coffee.”

“So you came to a bookstore to… get more?”

“No, smartass. I got coffee at Starbucks, and being a great roommate, who cares for his friends, I decided to get you one and drop it by as a treat, but I mean if you’re going to be mean about it-” He lifts two to-go cups from the counter top, holds them briefly in front of her face, and then moves as if to carry them away.

“No, no. I want coffee. I want the coffee, Daniel,” she pouts, making quick, grabby hands for the cardboard cup. He hands it over without much of a fight.

“I think Loverboy here just misses you when you leave the house.”

“Hello, Caitlyn.”

The other blonde dances around the two of them, an impossibly tall stack of hardcovers in her hands. She pauses to drop the books at her feet and wipe her palms on her thighs. “No warm beverages for me, ‘as a treat’?” she asks him.

“You know, I did think about it, i really did, but I know you only like tea and I just didn’t want you to get the runs halfway through your afternoon shift.”

“Oh my god! Wow, that’s so sweet of you.” She looks at Grace softly, fake sincerity in her eyes. “Such a charmer this one.”

“Just looking out for you,” he assures with a grin. Grace can’t help smiling too. She loves these small moments when life feels normal again.

“Always the gentleman.” Caitlyn lifts her tower of books back into her arms again with a grunt and turns back to the rows of shelves beside them. “Now, don’t go checking out my ass as I walk away,” she calls over her shoulder.

“Too late,” Daniel answers without looking.

Grace snorts. He takes a long drink of his own coffee. She can smell it from where she stands. He takes it black with just a little cinnamon.

“I think she’s a bad influence on you.”

“Oh, she’s the bad influence?” He nods. “She’s not the one interrupting me at work because she’s bored.”

“Ouch. You try to do something nice for someone and this is how they treat you. Alright, I’ll leave.”

“I’ll be home at 3. I’m sure you can survive until then, right?”

“I might just die of loneliness.” He walks backwards to the door, one hand on his chest. He does a dramatic turn at the door and it opens in a flourish. It makes her chuckle. “I’ll be counting the seconds, darling.”

“Hey, Daniel?”

He glances over his shoulder.

“Thanks for the coffee.”

He winks at her and then he’s gone and the sound of gentle rain sneaks in through the open door before it shuts. She watches the spot where he was with a soft smile and a warmth in her chest. A warmth only he can ever fucking put there.
The air still smells like cinnamon.

“Can you tell me again why you remain single and celibate when you live with fucking reject Adonis out there?” Caitlyn hops on the counter to her left, materializing out of nowhere as she tends to do.

“It’s complicated?” she says, like she always does because there’s really no good way to tell your plucky co-worker that you aren’t dating your hot roommate because he is in fact your ex brother in-law and the two of you are on the run from the trauma of his entire family trying to kill you the night of your wedding. Also there is the fact that she doesn’t even have feelings for him to begin with, right?

Complicated doesn’t even begin to cover it.

“Sure, sure. Complicated. All I’m saying is-”

“Nothing. You’re saying nothing,” Grace interrupts her. Her afternoon shift, on a rainy Tuesday, inside a musty book shop is really not when or where she wants to unpack everything there is to unpack about Daniel and herself.

They do not have the fucking time for that.

“Hmph.”

There’s the ring of another bell and a slouched old man shuffles through the door. He looks at the few shelves immediately in front of him.

“I’m up,” Caitlyn gives her a mock salute and hops off the counter, bounding in light steps over to the confused man and slipping Grace the middle finger behind her back.

She enjoys this job. She likes the way the really old books smell when she’s reorganizing the back rooms. She likes the steady flow of quiet patrons and the gentle way they speak to her. She likes the view of the street from her front chair. She likes Caitlyn’s bubbly energy and bad jokes. She likes Daniel finding reasons to stop in and check on her.

It’s her first step towards normal and she thinks it’s going really well.

Cait shows the man towards some stacks to the right of the building and they walk out of sight.

She takes a quick sip of her coffee and smiles.

He got her order right.

.

.

.

“I think you should get a job.”

He puts his newspaper down in front of him. It’s not even weird to her anymore that he does that now, reads the newspaper like an actual grown up.

“Why the fuck would I do that?”

“What do you do all day, Daniel?” she asks him very seriously.

“I hang out with you, babe,” he smirks.

She hates it when he smirks. She hates it when he calls her pet names like babe and darling and makes her insides feel all mushy and romantic and fucking girly. (She doesn’t really.)

“And when I’m not here? When I go to my job?”

“I lay around heartbroken and lost until you come back.”

She looks at the front page of the paper and he holds it back in front of his face. There’s a new brewery downtown. Of course, there is.

“Daniel.” She tries for a serious tone.

“Grace.” He’s better at it even though she knows he’s only doing it to be a pain in the ass. “I, we, have actual millions of dollars, why would I voluntarily make myself work?”

“To get out of the house? To pass the time? To try to feel like a normal fucking human being maybe?”

“Ew,” his eyebrows scrunch together over the top of the bolded headlines. “Sounds gross.”

She groans dramatically, thinks about draping her body over the side of the couch and sighing in his face until he listens to her. But that might be overkill, she’s not really sure.

“Come on. I just think it would be good for you to do something during the day.”

“I can think of some things.” He says it quietly and doesn’t look at her, but she can see the fucking grin in his eyes.

She smacks him upside the head.

“Okay! Fuck, I’ll think about it.”

He doesn’t end up getting a job because he’s a stubborn shithead, but he does make sure to get out of the house at least once a day. Even if it’s only to walk down the street and read his stupid newspaper in the bookstore until she gets off work.

.

.

.

Life can be really fucking slow. It can also be incredibly boring and Grace is beyond grateful for it. Routines help. Repetition helps. Daniel helps more than anything.

It’s still really fucking hard. They are both still hanging on to sanity by their pinky fingers and she’s certain neither one of them has any idea what the fuck they’re doing. But it’s life. They’re living. As boring or as monotonous as it might feel.

They aren’t just getting by, they aren’t just surviving anymore. They’re being people.

Or they’re trying to be.

Slowly, they’ll get there.

And until then she’s glad his hand is the one she gets to hold when she forgets how to breathe.

.

.

.

“Okay, little thing. Now be very quiet until I say so,” she whispers to her bag.

She unlocks the front door and fucking prays Daniel doesn’t yell at her.

“Daniel,” she calls. The door clicks behind her. Her bag rustles. “Daniel!”

“What?!” He yells back from down the hall. She hears wet footsteps and then… oh.

“Shit, sorry I didn’t know…” she swallows.

He looks at her expectantly, towel slung incredibly low on his hips, tiny drops of water falling rhythmically around him. She looks at his face. She definitely looks at his face and not his incredibly fit and attractive, half naked body.

Nope.

“Yes?”

“Oh, I had to tell you something, I didn’t know you were in the shower, obviously.”

“What do you need to tell me?” He’s trying not to smile. She can fucking see it in his eyes. Bastard.

“Okay, well I did something stupid, and I need you to not be mad at me when I tell you what it is,” she tells him calmly.

“Jesus… what did you do?” He crosses his arms. She does not look at the way the muscles in his chest tighten.

“Now, just remember you care about me and I’m really your only friend and, like, you went through a lot of trouble so that I didn’t die and killing me now would just be a waste, honestly…”

“Grace.”

“Right,” she sighs. And then before she can try to explain herself further there’s a soft noise from her bag. They both freeze. Shit. His eyes zero in on the lump at her hip, the moving lump.

Another tiny cry.

“Grace…”

“Yes?”

“What’s in the bag?”

“A cat,” she says plainly, biting her lip.

“A cat. Okay, why is there a cat in your bag?”

“Because we found him in the trash at work and he was just so tiny. Look at him!” She finally lifts the top flap of her bag and a tiny grey mound of fur pops its little head out. She reaches her hands inside and pulls the tiny creature out, holding him to her chest. “See, he’s so tiny and sweet and helpless. He just looked at me with those eyes and what was I going to do? Just leave him there to starve on the streets?”

Daniel is looking at her sternly, blinking between her and the kitten.

“Come on, look at him!” She pouts, shifting the furball to look at him. She gives him her most innocent and deserving face just short of actively begging him. “Please.”

He looks at her, down at the cat, then slowly back at her and she sees his eyes soften and knows she’s won. “Fine,” he sighs.

She squeals and hops around in place. Her grin feels like it might actually break her face.

“You hear that, tiny? You get to stay,” she coos, nuzzling her nose into soft fuzz. “Yes, you have a new home now.”

He blinks his round fucking eyes and mews quietly like he knows what she’s saying. She scratches his little chin.

Daniel shakes his head and gives her one of those tiny smiles of his that make her heart kinda trip and stumble into her lungs. The kind of smile that somehow makes her cheeks feel warm whenever she catches it.

“Alright, well I’d like to finish my shower now, if that’s okay with you two?”

“Permission granted.” She smiles as a mini paw begins swatting at her chin. “Oh so cute!”

She wiggles her finger in front of his nose and lets him catch it, fitting it into his mouth without biting. Her heart swells. She’s truly never seen something so cute.

“Hey don’t take too long in there. We need cat food before dinner,” she calls out to Daniel’s retreating back.

“Well, you could always join me and help me get it over with a lot faster.”

“Fuck off!”

He laughs until the bathroom door cuts him off.

She carries the new edition into the living room, tickling his soft tummy.

“Now what are we going to call you?”

.

.

.

“Cait’s having a party,” she announces as she lets her body fall into the couch next to his.

“Good for Caitlyn,” he says through a mouth full of potato chips. He offers her the bag, but she shakes her head.

“She invited us.”

That makes him look up.

As a general unspoken rule, Grace and Daniel don’t really ‘do’ social functions. Part of it has to do with not really having any friends other than eah other. Then there’s the fact that Daniel doesn’t like big crowds and Grace doesn’t like to dress up and neither of them really drinks anymore. Oh, and also the tiny part about them both almost tragically dying at the last party they went to.

He looks at her for a second, trying to figure out what she’s thinking. She can hear Mouse running around somewhere behind them.

“Oh. Do you… want to go?”

“No.” That’s the immediate answer. No, she doesn’t want to go to her co-worker’s party and make small talk with strangers and try not to freak out anytime someone bumps her elbow. No, she doesn’t want to make Daniel do something she already knows he’s going to hate. No.

But…

She thinks she should? It’s the third quasi-invitation she’s turned down and she’s really starting to feel bad about it. She knows she’s supposed to challenge her anxieties if she ever wants to make progress and she knows it’s not like anyone’s going to try to kill her again. She knows what a normal person would do, and she wants to be ‘normal’ again so, so badly.

“Maybe. I don’t know. You know, there’s the overwhelming urge to lock the doors and never leave the apartment again, but… I think we should try?”

He nods at her slowly.

“Or I should try. You don’t have to go with me. I’m not gonna make you go, obviously. I mean I want you to, if you want to.”

“Grace.”

“Yeah?”

“We can go.”

“Are you sure?” she asks, really asks. Because the party doesn’t matter, not really, and if he doesn’t want to go that’s not something she’s going to make him do. She’s giving him an out.

What a cliche.

“I’m sure.”

She believes him. And she smiles. “Okay.”

“Okay.”

She takes a deep breath and lets it rush out of her lungs in a huff. The cat pounces on her foot. “We’re going to a party.”

It feels exciting.

(She’s fucking terrified.)

.

.

.

“Why does this feel like stepping into battle?” She can feel the sweat on her hands and she can’t stop fidgeting with the bottom of her shirt. She checked her reflection at least four times before they left. The last time she’d been this fucking nervous was her own wedding and that was not a fun venture.

She only thought about faking a contagious disease once though, which sort of feels like a step in the right direction.

“Because we have underlying social anxiety as a result of being incredibly, emotionally fucked up,” Daniel reminds her.

“Oh right.”

She tries to breathe and psych herself up. She went to tons of parties before Alex. This is a safe place to be. Daniel is beside her. It will all be fine.

She still can’t move to knock on the door.

“Hey, listen,” He rests his hands on her shoulders, his palms are warm. She cranes her neck to look up at his face. His kind face. “It’s just a party. It’s just a bunch of rowdy grown adults drinking cheap beer and probably playing very bad music. If you hate it, if it’s too much, we can go. Just say so. We don’t even have to go in, but this doesn’t have to be a big deal. Alright?”

He’s right. She knows he’s right. His soothing voice and the steady feeling of his strong hands, secure and grounding on her arms, calm her. He’ll be beside her, like he always is. She swallows her panic like a dry pill.

“Just a party,” she repeats. “Okay, let’s kick it in the dick.”

He grins and knocks his knuckles lightly against her chin. “That’s my girl.”

And fuck if that doesn’t make her heart freak out for an entirely new reason. His girl…

She’s not going to overthink that right now. She has other anxieties to obsess over.

But dammit if her smile doesn’t widen just a little bit.

.

They’re only 40 minutes late, but Caitlyn is already drunk when she answers the door. Her hair is curling around the temples, her face pink, and her smile lazy. She bounces on the balls of her feet when she sees them, joyfully calling Grace’s name across the room.

She’s passed between hands and introductions, strangers and drunk smiles swirling around her for a moment before Daniel squeezes her hand and she remembers to chill the fuck out.

She breathes and it’s okay.

Well not, okay okay, but she doesn’t feel like jumping out of a window.

Her heart slows down, her palms even stop sweating at some point.

Eventually, she’s able to let go of his hand. Eventually, they mingle and move as separate people, even though she feels the absence of him the entire fucking time.

Fucking codependence.

She sips on her water. She talks to Caitlyn’s neighbor about some fucking show she’s never seen, but can bullshit her way through a conversation about. She sneaks glances at Daniel every few minutes from across the room, refilling his cup and shoving pretzels into his mouth.

He gives her a wink when he catches her.

“How long have you been together?” a short girl with thick eyebrows asks her.

“Hmm?”

“You and the hot guy in the plaid?” she points across the room.

“Oh, Daniel? We’re not…” They’re not what? It’s true, they’re not together. They’re not fucking romantic. That’s true. But why does she not want to say that? Why won’t the rest of that sentence come out?

“We’re not dating,” she manages. That much is the truth.

They’re not dating.

But.

But fucking what, Grace?

But he’s beyond fucking important to you. But you guys are a package deal. But you don’t know where you’d be without him. But you live together and have a cat together and buy your groceries together and have super fucked up shared trauma together.

There’s no short or subtle or understandable way to explain to a complete stranger exactly how their relationship works. He’s just her… person.

“Oh, I’m sorry! I just assumed. Cait said you guys lived together and he came with you and just the way he keeps looking at you.”

“No, it’s alright. We do live together. I mean, we’re close. He’s my best friend, but… no we’re not together or anything like that.”

“Gotcha,” the girl nods. Grace can’t remember her name. Bree or Becky or something.

“Yeah,” she sighs and watches Becky smirk at Daniel’s back.

She decides to find Caitlyn before she has an identity crisis.

The hostess in question is in the kitchen, trying to fill several shot glasses in a row. There’s probably more vodka on the counter around the glasses than has actually made it into them, but Grace doesn’t bother mentioning it.

“Shot?”

She shakes her head.

“Figured I’d ask anyway,” she says and downs two in a row.

“Are you having fun, Grace? Like for real?” she asks very seriously, as the burn passes through her throat.

“Yes, Caitlyn. I am having fun.”

“Good!” she beams. It’s bright enough to make her smile back. Cait was contagious that way. She simply had too much energy in her body to contain it. “Where’s your not-boyfriend? Aren’t you guys like physically incapable of being away from each other for this long.”

Grace rolls her eyes. “Ha ha. I think I left him stress-eating by the snacks.”

She scans the corner.

Sure enough, he’s still there.

Only now, he is no longer filling his mouth with pretzels alone.

Because it looks like her old friend Becky has found her way over to him. She’s standing to his left, twisting her short, dark hair around her finger and talking close to his ear. And he’s listening to her. He’s nodding along. She sees him smile.

She looks like fucking Charity…

Caitlyn laughs beside her.

“What?”

“Honey,” she sighs. “If you’re going to keep acting like he’s just your roommate, I’d try not looking like you want to take Becca’s head off for talking to him.”

“That’s not-”

“Sure it isn’t,” she nods. Grace can tell she won’t believe whatever sentence she would’ve pulled out of her ass.

“Oh, fuck you,” she groans. She lets her friend pat her cheek.

“You’ll figure it out. In the meantime, I’ve got to get these back in there before someone gets stabbed.” She lifts the shot glasses, now barely balanced on a tray, over her head and starts to back out of the kitchen. She shakes her hips suggestively in time with the music and winks. “Oh, and just so you know, Becca’s gay.”

She almost yells after her, but she turns around and then…

“Time to play a game, fuckers!” she shouts.

The room stills aronud Grace, and then it starts the fucking sway, like an old tape that’s been paused and won’t stop glitching on the screen.

Her hands go ice cold.

“You have to play a game,” Alex tells her.

His face is swimming in the crowd, standing in the corner. Is right in front of hers. He’s smiling and then he’s not and she can’t tell if she’s blinking.

A game.

Suddenly, coming to this party was a bad idea. It’s getting harder for her to breathe. She almost forgets where she is, then remembers, only to forget again.

The room feels so hot, when her skin feels so cold.

Air. She needs air and she needs to get out of this room. Out of this house. She needs to get outside before she suffocates.

Somehow, she picks her way through bodies until she finds a door.

She manages to get on the other side of it, manages to fucking breathe again.

It fucking sucks.

One word and she can’t even function. One word and she’s on the back patio, leaving over a railing, and trying not to throw up.

The door opens and closes again behind her not a minute later.

She doesn’t have to turn to know who it is.

“You okay?” Daniel asks her, hovering at her shoulder. His hands are in front of him like he hasn’t made up his mind yet about whether or not he should touch her.

“Yeah.” Her voice comes out sounding strangled. Fuck. “The game… she just said ‘game’ and I fucking freaked out. I was fine and then just like that, I couldn’t… God!”

She feels so angry with herself.

“Grace, it’s okay.”

“No, it’s not! It’s not okay. It’s embarrassing and sad,” she wants to fucking yell. This was her fresh start. This was New Grace that was getting her shit together and putting her past behind her. She wasn’t supposed to think about drinking games and then see her dead fucking husband again. “It’s pathetic. It’s fucking pathetic that I can’t do this.

“Shh. Hey,” he grabs her hands gently, always gently, and pulls her towards him so she’ll look at him. “It is not embarrassing, Grace. I promise you. It’s okay to fall apart a little bit. After everything, you don’t heal overnight. You don’t just get over shit like that. It takes time. Hey, look at me.” He brushes her hair from her face, his fingers so light. “It’s okay.”

“I wish I was better at it. I wish I was stronger.”

“Grace, you’re the strongest fucking person I know.”

“Sometimes, I just want normal. I just want to be normal again, when everything wasn’t so fucking hard.” A bitter tear escapes, falling like ice down her cheek.

“I know.” He pulls her into a hug and she lets him. It’s the best comfort she has. He can hold her and the shadows can’t touch her. He can hold her and she feels safe. God, he’s the only thing that makes her feel safe.

He presses a kiss to her hairline.

She lets herself cry, only a little. The anxiety and panic bleeds out of her with each tear that falls from her eyes and soaks the front of his shirt. She holds him back.

“You wanna leave?” It’s a whisper through her hair. “I told you we could leave. We can go right now.”

She sniffles, but shakes her head. “No, it’s okay. I’m fine. I just need a second.”

She pulls herself free, wipes at her wet cheeks, smoothes her hair back. “Fuck, I probably look like a complete fucking mess.”

“Only a moderate mess.” It’s a bad joke, but it gets her to let out a small breath of laughter. Brings the warm little bubble back into her chest. He grins at her, head tilted down, those fucking brown eyes soft and light despite the heaviness behind them. He blinks. “Don’t worry about it. You always look beautiful.”

She smiles wider. Her cheeks burn. She’s been called beautiful before. More than once. It’s something she thinks she knows.

So why does she now feel sixteen and embarrassed to hear it from him?

(In the back of her head, there’s a very small voice that’s pretty sure it knows why, but she pretends not to hear it.)

“Why, Mr. Le Domas, are you flirting with me?”

He grins the way only he can and again she’s reminded by just how fucking pretty he is. He leans in a little closer, eyes still pinned on hers. She might have forgotten how to breathe. “I’m always flirting with you, Grace.”

In that singular moment, she really fucking wishes he wasn’t kidding.

“Fuck you,” she whispers.

“You offering?”

She punches his arm and he leans away, swinging his arm around her shoulders with a chuckle. They’re back.

Normal Grace and Normal Daniel.

(Sort of.)

“You wanna go play beer pong?” he sighs. “Without the beer.”

“Sure.”

They head back inside and he doesn’t let go of her hand the entire time.

.

.

.

She’s startled awake by the quiet sound of her door clicking open. She’s a light sleeper now, it tends to come with the territory.

She blinks awake in a groggy second, turning towards the stream of light falling onto her floor from the open doorway. There’s a silhouette outlined in a soft glow.

“What the fuck?” she asks it groggily. Part of her expects it to be Alex, checking in for his regular nightmare. It’s been a few weeks, he’s probably due.

The shadow shifts between its feet. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you up.”

“Daniel?”

Her eyes are adjusting to the dark, she can see his face now. It’s shiny.

“Sorry,” he repeats. “Um…”

He sounds out of it, like he’s still half asleep and he can’t process anything. His words are a thousand tiny ants spilling between his fingers before he can catch just one. He just stands there looking at her.

“Daniel, what’s wrong?”

“You died,” it sounds fucking pitiful, broken. The shine on his cheeks makes sense now, as if it didn’t before. He scrubs at his eyes. “Um, you can go back to sleep, I just wanted to check…”

She can see how distraught he is, she can feel it radiating off of him from the doorway. She knows.

She’s seen him die a thousand times. It still feels real every time. Every fucking time.

So she knows.

She shifts over in bed, moving Mouse to the side amidst his quiet protests, and sits up. “Come here.”

He hesitates. She thinks he might actually turn around and just leave.

She doesn’t want him to. She really doesn’t want him to.

Finally, he steps forward and shuts the door behind him. He finds his way to the bed in the dark. She can’t see him, but she feels the mattress dip and shift as he settles under the covers beside her.

He’s trembling.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“They got you. They had you on the table and… I couldn’t move. Grace, I tried so hard and I couldn’t fucking move. And then the blood. I… I’m sorry.” His voice shakes. He sniffs.

She reaches for him in the dark, and finds his hand, holds it between hers. She traces the ridges of his knuckles, draws patterns on his palm. “I’m okay. I’m right here.”

“Yeah,” he whispers. His voice is so small. “Yeah.”

It’s like he’s trying to reassure himself even now. Even touching her skin and listening to her voice dance around him. Some part of him is still scared, still haunted.

She fucking hates that.

“I’m fine. We’re both fine. You saved me.”

She combs through his hair. Brushes her fingertips across his forehead and down his neck. Anything to calm him, anything to bring him back, to remind him she’s there. He relaxes, he turns into her.

He lets her.

She finds the taught scar on his neck, traces it with her pinky. Once, twice.

“I’d do it again,” he tells her, like it’s some deep secret of his. It might be.

“What?”

“If I had to, if I had to do it all over again, I’d still save you. Every time.”

It was something she could assume, something she thought about in the middle of the night when her shoulder throbbed or her hand ached. Especially in the early days of their recovery when she wasn’t sure if he would blame her. If he would hate her.

But now…

It feels like a confirmation and hits her right in the chest.

“I want you to know that. I don’t regret any of it.”

She could cry if she wasn’t trying so hard to keep him from doing the same thing. She smiles instead, and if it’s a little watery or fragile in the dark, they can’t see it.

He doesn’t need to say it. Not really. By now she knows. It’s one of the few fucking things she’s sure about. One of the only things she knows that feels absolutely true. She hears it everyday in the way he looks at her, the way he smiles, the way he lets Mouse curl up and fall asleep in his lap because she thinks it’s too cute. He doesn’t regret it.

She knows he doesn’t. He would save her again. In a lot of ways, he was still saving her. Everyday.

And she knew she’d save him too. As many times as she needed to.

She touches his cheek, lays her palm flat against his face.

“I know,” she whispers. “I know.”

.

.

.

(They are two people who inexplicably need each other.

And they have no fucking idea what that means.)

.

.

.

“The number of attractive men that blatantly flirt with you every single day is starting to get annoying, and honestly it’s feeling a little unfair. Because I would have gladly gotten coffee with that man that just wrote his number on the receipt and I know you’re never going to call. It’s a fucking shame. It really is.”

“I’m not interested.”

“How?” Caitlyn nearly squawks. “Did you look at him?”

Grace sighs. Yeah, she looked at him. He was hot. He had nice hair and a really straight smile and his watch looked too expensive for the store he was in.

“I don’t know. He was fine.”

“‘He was fine’ she says. Oh my fucking god. Grace, at least twice a week some cute, perfectly datable man stumbles in here, desperately trying to get your attention, and you show absolutely no interest in a single one of them. I mean, I’m bi and hate men and I’d still take one or two of them out for a test drive. I know you said you weren’t gay, but like, are you really sure?”

“Yes!” she laughs. “I told you I’m just not interested.

“In any of them?”

“In any of them.”

“Hmm.” She’s quiet for a moment, and Grace dares to think that might be the end of it. Incorrect. “And you don’t know… why that is?”

For the first time, her wedding night tragedy isn’t her immediate answer.

For the first time, it’s a different Le Domas her stunted fucking brain provides.

Oh.

Fuck.

.

.

.

(If Grace can just ignore the fact that she might have slight, sexual feelings about her platonic roommate and best friend, then everything will be totally fucking fine.)

.

.

.

Caitlyn forces Grace to take the cake home. So really none of this is her fault. It’s Caitlyn’s.

Because now the cake is gone.

Because they ate the entire thing in one sitting and cannot move themselves from the couch for fear of throwing up or possibly exploding.

“I regret what we’ve done,” she sighs, rubbing at her aching belly, ready to bulge out of her sweatpants.

“But it was so good.”

“Mmm, it really was.” Her head falls back to the couch cushions behind her.

It’s true. It had been an incredibly delicious cake. That’s why they had eaten all of it without stopping to notice the growing ache in their stomachs. Now it was just sugar and mush digesting and rumbling around inside her.

Maybe she would give up sweets for New Year or something. Maybe just sugar entirely.

“Grace?”

“Hmm?”

“You’ve got icing on your face.”

“What?” She wipes hastily at herself, but her hands come away clean. No icing. “Where?”

“Right here.”

He reaches his hand out and smears what can only be described as an entire handful of chocolate icing across her mouth.

She screeches.

“Daniel!”

He’s grinning, leaning away from her, ready to make his escape. It’s a nice smile...

Too bad she’s more focused on the sugar in her fucking nose. She glares at him.

“You almost got it. There’s just some right there,” he gestures around his own mouth.

“I’m gonna kill you.”

He tries to make a getaway, but she manages to grab his ankle and pull him back down. She yanks him closer. He tries to crawl away, his arms flailing and grasping at the ground, but she’s got him trapped now.

She pins his legs under hers, not letting him dare move another inch.

“I tap out,” he laughs.

“Oh no you don’t.”

She tries to reach the plate of leftover icing on the table, but he’s crawled too far and it’s just out of reach. Damn her short arms.

So, she resorts to driving her fingers into his sides as hard as she can. His body squirms violently. She tickles him harder.

“Stop,” he gasps, but he can’t get the word out completely without dissolving into a fit of laughter.

“Not a chance,” she slots a hand under his armpit. He fucking squeals.

His desperate laughter booms around her. The harder he tries to get away, the harder she wiggles her thin fingers into his skin.

“Grace,” he tries to grab at her hands, but she’s too quick and he’s too full of cake. “You don’t want to do this.”

There’s so much laughter in his voice she can barely understand him. The words come out in short gasping breaths. The whole apartment fills with it. She wonders if she’s ever actually heard him laugh like this, really laugh.

“I think I do,” she grins devilishly. She’s gonna fucking destroy him. She tastes chocolate in her mouth, licks at the smear of it around her lips.

Revenge is sweet as fuck.

She shifts her hips, meaning to crawl over top of him, but she quickly realizes that was a mistake. He twists, they roll, and then he has her pinned on her back, straddling her hips. His face hovers over hers, fucking smiling like an idiot.

“No,” she tries to push him off, to regain the upper hand, but he’s already moving to pin her hand down.

And then it stops.

And he’s on top of her, breathing heaving, pressing into her hips, his face right there. They breathe through their smiles. His hands are sweaty on her wrist.

“Gotcha,” he says. She feels it on her mouth.

She could move if she wanted to. He’s not holding her that tightly.

She doesn’t want to.

She wants to look at him. His eyes, brown and happy and so soft in the way they’re looking at her. His smirk. The way a few of his curls fall in front of his forehead. She wants to brush them away.

She feels something heavy in her chest, and something… warm in her belly.

He looks down at her mouth, just briefly, just a flicker of his eyes, but she sees it. She sees his face change, his smirk slip to one side.

She thinks he might kiss her.

She thinks she really fucking wants him to…

A crash and a shatter makes them both jump and pull away.

Moment over.

Sexual tension broken.

(It doesn’t stop her heart from racing. It doesn’t make her want to let him go when he rolls off of her.)

“Fuck,” he groans.

She sits up too.

Mouse is sitting on the coffee table, gingerly licking his paw, broken plate shards and lumps of chocolate cover the ground at his feet.

“Mouse,” she says sternly. He blinks at her.

Fucking cat.

“Bad,” Daniel scolds, pointing a finger in his direction.

Mrow.

“Very bad kitty,” he bops him on the nose with a single finger. The cat hisses, lurches back, and flies down the hall.

They watch him go. They don’t look at each other. They don’t say anything.

Great, she thinks. Just fucking great.

What even is there to say?

‘Hey so I think you were about to plant a big one on me just then, before our stupid cat decided to interupt, but I was really kinda into it and now you won’t look at me and I really want you to because we don’t do awkward and my body feels like it’s still on vibrate and-’

She has to physically shake her head to stop herself.

He’s already too far away, picking the ceramic pieces off the floor.

She looks at his ass.

It’s a really nice ass…

Oh my god. Get it together, Grace.

When did the apartment get so warm?

“Here, I got it. Go get the mop from the hall,” she says. Just anything to break the silence and have an excuse to get away from him.

She really needs a fucking second to think.

She drops the broken plate into the trash can, watches the pieces sprinkle the bag.

There’s chocolate on her hands. There’s still chocolate on her face.

She should probably wash it off.

With cold water.

“I think the cat might have been a terrible idea on your part.”

She didn’t hear him behind her, but he’s leaning against the doorframe looking at her.

Back to normal. She can do that. That’s all the last year of her life has been.

She forces a gasp. “Don’t you dare say that! He’s perfect. He’s just a little… different.”

“He just tried to climb up my leg and then ran into a wall.”

She snorts. “He’s special.”

He walks towards her.

(That’s fine. She can think of a thousand normal times he’s walked in her direction.)

“Like us,” he says.

That makes her smile. “Like us.”

He stops in front of her, close. She has to lift her chin to meet his eyes.

“Our own weird, little family.”

Family. That’s what they are. In some small, fucked up way, this is her family.

And to hear him say it, god she could fucking cry. She had thought she needed a big family, too many people to love her that she wouldn’t be able to keep track. But this? This feels so much better. This is more than enough.

“Yeah.”

“Grace,” he whispers. It’s so quiet.

“Yes?”

He takes one more step closer.

“I’m gonna kiss you now.”

She smiles and then he fucking does.

His lips brush hers, just enough, warm and soft, like butter melting against her mouth. He tastes like cake. And she pulls him closer.

He is the only thing she feels. His hands gripping her hips, his chest under her fingers, his beard brushing against her chin as his lips move over hers. He fits against her perfectly. Every part of him matches every part of her. He makes her feel like she’s full of helium and ready to simply float away.

His fingers thread through her hair, angling her face closer. Always closer.

She thinks, this is what it feels like. This is what being really, really happy feels like.

It feels like him.

He pulls away too soon, breaking their lips apart to breathe and she immediately misses it. She wants to chase after his mouth until it fits over hers again.

She stops herself, barely.

“Fuck, you have no idea how long I’ve wanted to do that,” he whispers. His breath stirs the hair on her cheek.

She can probably guess.

“And how was it?”

“Good.” He grins at her like only Daniel can. Cocky fuck.

“Just good?” She bites her lip. He watches her. There’s a hunger in his eyes she’s never seen before. She likes it.

She likes that she’s the one to put it there.

“Well, we should really try it again. You know, just to be sure.”

She could not wipe the smile off her face even if she wanted to. She’s just too happy.

“Just to be sure.”

He kisses her again.

And again, and again. Through smiles and sighs and eager hands cupping her ass. She really hopes he never wants to stop kissing her. She never wants to stop kissing him. Fucking ever.

Because this? This is perfect.

This is fucking everything.

(And he’s really fucking good at it.)

.

.

.

“Are you listening to me?”

“No,” she sighs.

“You know, I might be vaguely offended if I didn’t think you looked so hot right now.”

She finally opens her eyes to look over at him from among the bubbles surrounding her. He’s leaning back on the toilet next to her (lid down, pants on) with his arms crossed loosely over his chest, looking at her very unimpressed. She grins.

“You can only see my face,” she sighs. It makes her tummy warm anyway.

“Yeah, but what a sexy face it is.”

“This face?” she asks, sucking her cheeks in and pursing her lips like a fish.

“That’s the one.” He fights a grin.

“This sexy face?” She crosses her eyes and screws up her mouth. She lifts her soapy hands to frame her face.

“Oh yeah. God, I’m already getting hard just looking at you,” he deadpans, but the right side of his mouth lifts in a smirk.

She giggles. She actually fucking giggles and he bends his body over sideways to place a light kiss on her upturned mouth. He already smells like coffee.

This stupid domesticity and casual affection make her so happy. He make her so happy.

All he has to do is look at her a certain way and she won’t be able to stop smiling.

Fucking idiot.

“What do you want for breakfast?” he murmurs, leaning back.

“Ice cream.”

“Besides ice cream.”

“Hmmm,” she taps her finger on her chin, sitting up out of the water as she pretends to think. It drips from her hair, down her back.

“Now you’re really killing me here,” he groans, letting his head drop back in despair.

(She happens to know how much he really loves her tits and watching him squirm brings her great joy.

It might also turn her on a little bit, but that’s her business.)

“I’ll take pancakes,” she smiles.

“One order of pancakes for the smoking hot siren trying to kill me.” He gives her another quick kiss before standing.

“With blueberries!”

“With blueberries.”

She doesn’t know what it is. Maybe it’s the soft smile on his face that always gives her butterflies. Maybe it’s the slightly bitter taste of coffee he leaves on her lips. Maybe it’s the way he’s acting like he’s going to go make her pancakes when she knows he’ll just order them from down the street.

Maybe she’s just happy.

But it fucking slips out.

The words just tumble out of her mouth like they have a mind of their own and they slide right between her teeth and out into the world. And once they’re out… well, that feels right. She says it and she thinks yeah, of course. It’s true and it’s real and wow she should have said it a thousand times before.

“I love you.”

He stops and stares at her like a fucking deer in headlights, eyes wide and stunned. He blinks and his mouth moves, but he’s not really saying anything. And then it seems he snaps out of it and looks right at her and slowly he smiles.

“What?” he asks.

“I love you.”

He grins. The biggest fucking grin she’s seen on his face. It makes her heart swell twelve fucking sizes.

“Say it again.”

She straightens her back and clears her throat dramatically, making it a spectacle, a grand announcement.

“Daniel Le Domas, I am in love with you.”

He’s back across the bathroom and cupping her face in his hands and kissing the hell out of her. She doesn’t think she’s felt this giddy, this happy… ever. Not since, and not before. Her whole body is warm, every cell of her is bright and shining. She could probably shoot rainbows out of her ass if she tried.

“Well are you gonna say it back?”

“I love you too. God,” he laughs out a ragged breath, “I really fucking love you.”

He falls into the tub, or maybe she pulls him, she can’t really remember. Water splashes over the sides and bubbles spill across the floor. They only laugh and pull each other closer.

They’re happy.

They are so, so happy.

And they really fucking deserve it.

“Do you know how sexy it is that you first told me you loved me, naked in the bathtub?” he asks her.

She cackles and throws her head back, feels his smile along her collarbone. “That is very sexy of me.”

He nips at her skin and she thinks he should really take his clothes off in the bath.

(The pancakes are good, but the marathon sex is way better.)

.

.

.

Being in love with Daniel is so easy. She doesn’t have to try, it just happens. It’s just there.

She loves him and it’s so good.

.

.

.

It’s Alex’s birthday and she finds him on the roof, smoking a cigarette. Several more butts litter the ground around his feet. He’s been here a while.

She stands beside him and he offers it to her without a word. She takes it.

He’s not crying. He doesn’t cry very much anymore, neither of them do. Enough time has passed, the scar tissue has healed enough that the wound doesn’t bleed. It only aches.

His eyes are still sad though. It would be hard for them not to be.

They don’t say a word. They just pass the cigarette back and forth until it’s out and then he lights another one. And that’s fine.

They don’t need to say anything. There’s nothing to say. They both feel it.

When the last butt is smashed under her shoe, she leans her head on his shoulder and he pulls her closer.

“I think we’re gonna be okay,” she whispers.

“Yeah, me too.”

.

.

.

“Tell me a secret,” she whispers to him in the dark one night, when they’re sleepy and curled together.

His middle finger traces small patterns across her shoulders. She can hear his heart under her ear. Or maybe that’s Mouse purring on the other side of him?

“Sometimes I’m afraid you’ll disappear.”

“What do you mean?”

“This, you, it’s too good for me. I know that. I don’t come close to deserving you, but you’re here and it’s really great and I’m just afraid one day I’ll wake up and none of it’ll be real.”

She lifts her head. He looks at the ceiling instead of her.

“Daniel, I’m not going anywhere.”

“You can though. You know you can? You don’t owe me anything.”

He’s giving her an out. Like Alex had tried to do before. Like he’s saving her from something, but this time the something is him and even though he just told her, the thought of her leaving basically scares the shit out of him, he’s giving her the chance to run.

Fucking self deprecating, selfless shit.

“That’s alright.”

“Grace, I’m serious.”

“Okay? So am I.”

“I know you wanted more than this. You wanted a family-”

“I have a family,” she interrupts him defensively. She’ll be fucking dammed if that’s not what they are. And she’s perfectly content with it.

“A big family.”

“I’ve come to the realization that big families are way overrated.”

He sighs. He clearly wants very much to be a masochist tonight, but too bad for him, she’s not in the mood to let him.

“Daniel, I promise you this is the only place I want to be. I am happy and I love you and none of your self-sacrificing monologues or hero complex breakdown are going to change that. So you can stop being afraid that you’re gonna scare me away or run me off. You’re not.”

“I love it when you say that,” he smiles.

“What? That you’re a self sacrificing jackass?”

“No, the other thing.”

“I love you?”

He grins and pulls her back to his chest yawning. “Yeah, that one.”

“Well then I guess I should keep saying it.”

“I guess so,” he says sleepily.

She traces her name over his heart.

“I love you.”

.

.

.

Grace and Daniel are happy.

They have no interest in marriage, no matter how many times their friends ask. It’s just ‘not for them’. And that’s perfectly fucking fine. They don’t want kids, they’re barely able to take care of their cat. They’re a little messy and a little unconventional, but Grace thinks that’s what makes them so good.

And they are. Good.

She’s decided she doesn’t need the big family - like she said, they’re way overrated. Her little one does her just fine.

It’s not perfect. Some nights she still wakes up yelling, but Daniel is already beside her, whispering into her hair to bring her back to him. He still jumps at loud noises, but she holds his hand and leans into his side to ground him.

Mouse sleeps in their bed, curled into a fluffy ball between their legs. They’ll get another one eventually, once this one grows up a little bit. Or maybe a dog, if Daniel gets his way.

This is their life. Sometimes it’s still hard, she can’t lie about that. But it’s getting so much better. They’re healing. It’s just going to take them some time and that’s fine. Because it’s theirs.

She’ll think about it sometimes, how far they’ve really come, to get here. To have this.

It feels worth it.

With Alex, she had thought she trusted him, in the way any eager bride naively trusts her fiance. She loved him, she did, that’s not something she can lie about. She had loved him, she had loved him so much and she had been ready to give him her heart and the rest of her fucking life. Because she had thought he’d never hurt her.

And that’s the thing. With Daniel, she doesn’t think.

With Daniel she knows. Deep in her fucking bones. Without a fucking doubt, she knows he’s there. She trusts him completely with every part of her. She knows he’ll catch her, hold her, love her, fucking die for her, god forbid. She doesn’t have to question a single thing.

It’s a different kind of love, but it’s better. It’s growing and it’s good.

It’s so good.

.

.

.

“Hey Grace?”

“Hmm?”

“Do you want to take a trip to Ireland?”