Status: complete;;

Right Now

Inside the Dark, I’m Aching

Bea passes over a small square of chocolate, and I grin widely, popping it into my mouth. Her hands tremble slightly as she places another chunk in the centre of the flat dough then rolls it quickly between her palms. She hands me the ball of dough, and I drop it into a bowl of sugar then set it on the baking sheet with the rest of the half-dozen we’ve already made. Once we’re done forming another fifteen rolls, Bea steps back so I can slide the baking sheet into the preheated oven. I twist the top half of the egg timer until it’s set to fifteen minutes. We wash our hands in silence before making our way out to the garden. I lean against the doorframe and watch carefully as she lowers herself into the chair on the patio. Though there’s a brisk edge to the air, I don’t worry that she’s wanting to relax out here - the fresh air is good for her, and she has a blanket if she gets too chilled.

I go back inside when the timer buzzes loudly from the kitchen. After two minutes, I transfer the cookies to the cooling racks and set the baking sheet aside. My heart feels peaceful for the first time in a long time; I haven’t had any nightmares or memories intruding in the three and a half months that I’ve been here. Having this job, taking care of Bea and James and Dorothy… it’s helped me work through everything a little bit. I still get overwhelmed occasionally with the same disgust and hatred that I felt that night, and for so long afterwards, but it isn’t as incapacitating for as long any more. I sigh heavily and wash the dishes we’ve used, keeping a close eye on Bea through the window over the sink.

For such an old woman, Bea is certainly persistent as she pushes the bag of cookies into my hands before I can leave that afternoon. I relent after five minutes - and her threats to put me to work in her garden if I don’t take the treats - and walk to the waiting cab with a wide smile on my face. It’s been a lovely day; between the baking and chatting as I cleaned up around the house, my mind has been at ease with everything. For once.

It's quiet when I step through the front door, and I blow out a breath as I lean down to slip my shoes off my feet. Nudging them toward the wall, I slowly make my way into the living room, collapsing onto the couch. No matter how good of a day I've had, I'm always so exhausted by the time I get home. It is especially worse on the days that I'm scheduled for Dorothy and James’s, since that shift is a full eight hours - and much more emotionally taxing. Thankfully, I have a few hours now before Bri will be home, so I pull a throw pillow over my eyes, relax into the cushions, and let myself drift.

“The boys are back in town, the boys are back in to-ow-ow-own, the boys are back, the boys are back!”

I toss a chip in Brianna’s direction and roll my eyes. “Would you stop singing that fucking song?”

“No! Thin Lizzy is fantastic, and you should feel awful for telling me not to serenade you with that wonderful song.”

“The boys aren't back, so it doesn't even make sense!”

You don't make sense.”

“What the actual Hell?”

She ignores me, continuing to sing under her breath, as she pulls the casserole dish from the oven. My mouth waters instantly at the sight of the gooey cheese melted on top, and though I didn't think the kitchen could smell more like heaven, it does. Bri sets the lasagne on top of the stove, ushers me off the counter. I grumble when I realise this means she's not going to let me eat now, but she's a stubborn one, so I don't argue. Plus, I know I won't have to wait too long. I grab the bottle of wine from the refrigerator and fill two glasses, while she drizzles dressing over the salad and mixes it up.

Dinner passes quietly; we've said everything we can about work and plans for the weekend. The best thing about my friendship with Brianna is that no matter what, it's comfortable. Even when we weren't talking because of what I said, I had known she still loves me and cares about me. The fact that she got on the first flight to Tennessee the night I called her was proof of that. So I don't mind the silences. Once we finish eating, she puts away leftovers while I wash the dishes, then we settle in on the couch for a marathon of Scrubs, the bottle of wine slowly draining over the next few hours of JD’s inner monologues, Cox’s dry wit, and the Janitor’s antics against JD.

I jerk to consciousness, flailing wildly, when something lands abruptly on the end of my mattress. Forcing myself to sit upright, I scrub a hand over my eyes; my jaw cracks when I yawn, and a laugh sounds in my ear. I yank my head around to stare wide-eyed at Harry.

“Oh. My. God. You're back!”

He chuckles as I launch myself at him, his arms immediately coming up to wrap around me. “Yeah, we got back last night.”

“I've fucking missed you, you curly-headed dweeb.”

“I… am going to ignore that insult and tell you I missed you, too.”

I finally pull away, shoving a hand through my hair, and smile at him. “I have to work today, but we’ve got a few minutes. So tell me. How was tour?”

He tells me about the trip as I clamber out of my bed; I change in the closet, leaving the door open enough that we can talk while I pull on a pair of baby-blue scrubs. Once I'm dressed and my teeth are brushed, he follows me like a lost puppy down the stairs to the foyer. I lean against him as I slip my shoes onto my feet, double-check the laces, and grab my badge and keys off the hook by the door. I hug him tightly, warmth blossoming in my chest when it hits me again that he's back, and step back after a long moment.

“Okay, I gotta leave now, or I'm going to be late. You guys gonna be here tonight?”

He nods slowly, eyes narrowed as he thinks. “Yeah, should be. Well, Zayn might not be.”

“Okey dokey.” I dart forward to press a soft kiss to his cheek. “Glad you're back, Haz.”

I thank the driver and slide out of the backseat. He waves at me before driving carefully away from the curb. I clip my badge to my top, turn toward the door. I’m not surprised to see Amari sitting on the front stoop, just like she has since the first day I was assigned to Dorothy and James. I am, however, confused that she isn’t smiling the usual welcoming smile. Shrugging it off as maybe a bad morning, I make my way up the walk.

“Hey, Amari, how’s it going?” I pulled the keys from my pocket then took a closer look at her face when she doesn't answer. “Everything okay?”

“Ya might want to sit, love.”

“Uh, okay? What's going on?”

My puzzlement grows when she inhales unsteadily. Her expression doesn't change, but I can see the dull gleam in her eyes; the light that's usually there is gone, washed away, leaving the blue faded and empty. Eventually, she turns to face me. She somehow keeps it together as she tells me that Dorothy’s died. She assures me that there was nothing the doctors could do, Dorothy was just too tired to keep fighting the infection. The way Amari’s voice trembles is the only indication of how much she's hurting. I stare blankly at my shoes, a wave of disbelief crashing over me; I just saw Dorothy two days ago when I took James to visit her in hospital. She'd been in high spirits - pained from both arthritis and her newly-broken hip, but smiling and laughing with us until visiting hours were over.

Amari squeezes my hand comfortingly. “I'm sorry, love. You going to be okay?”

“She was fine,” I whisper, my brow furrowing.

“I know. We all hoped she'd come home again.” She heaves out a weighted breath and wraps an arm around my shoulders, pulls me into her side. “I'm sorry. But, well… the agency has me assigned to a new client already, so I guess this is goodbye.”

I nod though I'm numb on the inside. She presses a soft kiss to my hair then pushes herself to her feet. I watch her make her way to her car, pull away from the curb, disappear around the corner. My breath catches in my throat, but I drag in a steadying breath and stand. I may be reeling from the loss, and that's fine - I still have a job to do. I unlock the door and step inside. James is where he's always been every morning when I've arrived - already in his armchair, his shows playing at a low volume, rubber strip in hand.

“Where's my love?”

I jump, startled by how close James’s voice is. My hands tremble as tea spills across the table, and my eyes sting with tears. When I look up at him, his expression is hopeful yet confused. I hate myself more than ever in this moment, even though we've had this conversation four times already.

“Uh, well…” I clear my throat as his brows draw together, and I hurriedly put on an accent as I reply, “James, I'm - I'm so sorry. She, um, she passed away last night.”

His face crumbles, and he stares at me, eyes shining brightly with the arrival of tears. He shuffles away, back to the living room, and I close my eyes at the sound of his sobs. Grabbing a dish towel, I wipe up the mess of tea and manage to keep my hands steady enough to fill the teacup with the drink. James doesn't look at me as I set the cup on the side table next to his chair. I avoid turning my head, terrified and uncomfortable with the thought of seeing the almost eighty-year-old man crying over the loss of his wife.

It isn't but two hours later, as I'm finishing up serving his dinner, that he asks again. It hasn't gotten easier to have this talk with him; in fact, it's gotten harder. My emotions are threatening to get the best of me, to overwhelm me, and I can't keep my voice steady as I tell him once more about Dorothy. He reacts much the same as he has the last five times - disappearing into the living room and sobbing in solitude.

Caleb gives me a small smile as he enters the house, but I don't bother with pretences. I just pass over the log of the day, warn him in a trembling voice about how the past eight hours have gone, and duck out as quickly as I can. The late-evening air is cold against my skin, and I shiver, though I'm not sure if it's from the temperature or how close I am to falling apart. The cab finally arrives, coming to a smooth stop in front of me, and I slide into the backseat, giving my address, and settle into the seat with my forehead against the window.

The voices coming from the living room cut off as the door slams shut behind me, the sound echoing through the foyer. I storm up the stairs, ignore Brianna calling my name. A storm blows violently through me. I yank my badge from the front of my scrubs, flinging it across the room where it clatters against the wall. I manage to toe off my sneakers without falling on my face, but I don't take pleasure in that victory. Footsteps sound on the staircase, and I know it's Bri. The thought of seeing anyone right now sends bile creeping up my throat. I shove my bedroom door closed, growling in frustration when it bounces back off the frame. The tears come then, and once the door finally closes properly, I sit on the edge of my bed, cover my face with my hands.

Everything I've been pushing aside and avoiding all day comes out in a rush, and I can't catch my breath as sobs rip from me. The pain is almost tangible, clawing its way out of my soul and forcing me to acknowledge its existence. A voice in my head whispers all the doubts that I've done my best to ignore - Can I even do this job? Can I keep putting myself through this whenever a client dies? I reach for my pillow blindly, push it against my face, and scream into the fluff and fabric. Something in me shatters, louder than the roaring of the thoughts and emotions that swirl inside of me, threaten to explode into a starburst of chaos.

Eventually, I'm able to drag in a breath, no matter how unsteady. I hiccup as I strip the cover off my pillow, toss it into the hamper in the corner of my room. My body is leaden, heavy, as I slowly change out of my scrubs into a pair of pyjamas. The coolness of my sheets sends a shiver up my spine, but I curl into a tight ball and focus on controlling my breathing. Someone knocks lightly on the door. I sniffle and stay quiet. Talking is impossible right now.


Liam places the mug on the nightstand, sitting beside by my knees on the mattress. I drag my gaze to his face, hating the sympathetic smile on his lips. His hands are gentle as he tucks the blankets around me then brushes my hair from my face. Neither of us speak as he waits for me to be ready.

“A client died last night,” I croak out. “Her husband doesn't remember things so well, and I had to keep telling him all day.”

“Oh, love.”

Liam does not hesitate, just reaches for me and holds me tightly. The maelstrom inside doesn't seem so frightening, so overwhelmingly suffocating, this time, so I sink into him and let myself feel the entirety of the loss. His arms are secure around me, the warmth and strength comforting and promising safety in the storm; they give me permission to be selfish and allow him to be the pillar I cling to as wave after wave buffets me around and threatens to drown me in their intensity. I don't question it, I don't bother fighting it - I just take what he's offering, and I use it to bring me back away from the edge.
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title credit the show must go on queen