Kiro held his arms open, tears brimming in his eyes as he clutched me tightly to his chest. His embrace felt impossibly warm and gentle. “I’m so sorry,” his voice, normally so cheerful, was low and thick with grief. “I’ve got you though. It’s gonna be okay.” His large, warm hand ran a comforting circuit back and forth, up and down along the tense muscles of my back.
I buried my face into his chest, choking on a sob as I tried to hold myself together even a little. “It hurts so bad, Kiro…I feel like it’s never going to feel okay again. I can’t make myself stop.”
He hummed softly, tucking his chin atop my head so that I was nuzzling his throat, despite the way the tears and snot soaked his skin there. “Do you trust me, Kaylee?”
I shakily nodded, clinging to his warmth like a lifeline. “Of course I do. You’re the only thing keeping me from collapsing completely. Possibly literally but also figuratively,” I weakly attempted to crack a joke, but the tone of my voice completely betrayed the lack of mirth.
Kiro nodded, leaning back to drop kisses along my hairline, dipping down to trace the path of the tears. The touch of his lips felt so light, I thought I had imagined it until the next one fell. He spoke slowly, eyes filled with resolve as he moved to rest our foreheads together. “Then you’ve gotta trust that you’ll be able to feel okay again someday. I’ll make sure that you smile again no matter what. Right now it hurts, and there’s no avoiding that. But I won’t let you go no matter what. You won’t be alone, and we’ll be together every single step of the way. I promise.”
Gavin didn’t wait for me to tell him; he didn’t need to. I knew it was clear from the look on my face what had happened, no matter how hard I fought to keep my cool and remain stoic. Immediately, he closed the space and swept me into a tight embrace. “I’m here. It’s okay, you can let it out. You don’t have to pretend now. You’re still brave and strong even if you let yourself relax with me. You won’t lose anything for it.” his voice was a low, warm caress to match the gentle touch of his hands.
I could feel the tenuous armor crackle under his words, shaking and biting back a harsh whimper in spite of myself as a fresh wave of grief washed over me. “I’m trying. It’s just…I’m so used to holding it in as long as I can—I can’t let myself freak out, I don’t know why I am this time…”
He pulled back slightly, callused thumb gently tracking across my cheek as it collected tears to brush them away. “You know you don’t have to around me. Not ever. Even if you don’t think it’s ‘justified.’ You can let everything out, and I’ll always help you come back from wherever that leads. We are strong enough to support each other.”
I buried my face back against his chest, shaking with sobs even as I tried to center myself with his scent. “Thank you. I don’t really know how, but I’m not sure if I have a choice right now. Even if I wanted to hide it, I know I couldn’t. I guess I’m just going to have to ride the waves until I can settle down a little.”
He pressed a soft kiss to the top of my head, pulse offering a comforting refrain. “That’s okay too. We’ll get through it together. We always will.”
“My little fool…” Lucien’s voice held a surprising note of hurt, barely palpable. I felt guilt at the knowledge that I had avoided telling him the precise nature of what was wrong for fear of burdening him while he was so busy at the lab; I hadn’t meant to hurt him.
“Come here.” He sat down on the couch, patting his lap invitingly. When I settled against him, he picked up running his fingers soothingly through my hair in a practiced motion, gently pressing against my scalp in a careful massage. “You can always come to me when you’re feeling sad. No matter how hard the circumstances, or how weak you feel, you are safe with me. And I am never too busy for you, though I thought you knew that.” His tone was lightly reproachful, but the soothing touch didn’t lessen.
I leaned into his hand, scrubbing at my eyes as they soak themselves anew. “I keep thinking it’ll be okay and then it’s not. Then I feel like it’s never going to be okay again and the okay time was fake. It’s like no matter which moment I’m in I’m faking it somehow.”
“Human emotions are incredibly complex,” he soothed, tone even and gentle. His hand never stopped moving, and I centered myself as best I could on his steady heartbeat. “There is no one correct answer, and every grieving process is different, even among a particular individual’s experiences.” He sighed softly, arms flexing as he deposited me onto the couch. “I’ll be back in just a moment. I’m going to bring you a cool towel for your eyes and a glass of water. Tears, while cathartic, are incredibly dehydrating and can lead to headaches for a number of reasons. I can’t stop you from hurting, but I can care for you afterward. Perhaps we should change you into something more comfortable too…what would you like me to bring you?” he eyed the dirty shorts and t-shirt I wore.
“Maybe one of your shirts and some clean fuzzy pants?” I asked softly. He nodded, disappearing into the bedroom. A moment later, he returned toting the clothes and said items. He smiled as he saw me waiting for him, blowing my nose into a tissue with vehemence.
“Good girl. Let me take care of you.”
I wasn’t surprised to see Victor’s black Mercedes pull up next to me not long after I texted him with the news, but I was surprised to see the sheer amount of stuff piled in the passenger seat when he gestured for me to get in. A new box of tissues, a packet of painkillers, a bottle of water, a soft blanket, and a packet of saltine crackers.
“You should have come to the office.” His tone was gruffer than he meant it to be, but I could see the worry on his face. He reached over, plucking a tissue out and wiping the tears collected on my cheeks away. “I don’t ever want you to have to be alone like this. You don’t have to hide yourself from me when you feel weak, dummy. I will share in your weakness and keep you safe until you can stand on your own again.”
“I’m not going to get any of my reports done, I’m sorry,” I blurted out, unsure what to say and looping through a dozen emotions and memories a minute.
He shook his head decisively, stifling an offended look that I would even consider such a thing. “That won’t be necessary regardless. Until further notice, you don’t have to worry about work. It will still be there when you feel better.”
I tapped on his arm softly, sniffling and doing my best not to let him see me snot too much. “Victor, can we pull over?”
He did so immediately, though I could see the question in his eyes. When the car came to a stop I crawled over the console, curling up in his lap and tucking my head against his broad chest as best I could without soiling it. He wrapped his arms tightly around me, heedless of that, hand cradling the back of my head protectively. “We can stay as long as you need. I’m right here.”
A thick bolt of lightning streaked across the sky as soon as he caught sight of me, a frown crossing his face as we passed one another on the sidewalk outside our apartment. “What are you doing out in this rain? And without a jacket…tch.” The warmth of his leather jacket dropped over my shoulders, crowding out the chilly air.
“Thank you…I’m sorry, I just—I had to get out of my head—" before I could finish I found myself anchored against his chest, ear pressed solidly against the steady beat of his pulse.
When he spoke I could feel the rumble of his unsteady voice in his chest. “I was almost home, yknow. It took me a minute to get out of class and walk back from campus, but I wasn’t gonna just leave you there like that. I heard what happened.”
“I didn’t want to bother you,” I whimpered, fighting my body as my muscles spasmed in a sharp, gasping sob. “I’m okay.”
“Like hell you are,” he snorted, smoothing the disheveled hair back from my face. “But that’s alright. I didn’t just fall in love with you for the easy moments. I’m here for the rough ones too, and that means you’re not gonna fool me so easily.”
He took my hand, leading me back inside the building. His fingers felt warm and sure against mine, and I did my best to focus on the immediacy of his care rather than the pain. He seemed to realize what I was attempting, and gave a soft smile of encouragement. “Let’s get you dried off.”