DISCLAIMER: The characters herein are used without permission. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Inspired by Alex's nightmare at the safe house.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To zipandliang[at]gmail.com
Alex whimpered in her sleep. Quiet, wounded noises that made Nikita's heart clench. Sometimes Alex would soothe herself, shake off whatever terrors haunted her dreams, and succumb to exhaustion's pull. But this wasn't one of those times. Nikita rolled over and slipped noiselessly out of bed to rest on the edge of Alex's mattress.
"Everything's all right. You're safe now," she whispered, rubbing calming circles across Alex's back and shoulders. Nikita could still feel every single rib and knobby vertebra under her palm, and she frowned at how very young and small and fragile Alex was, beneath all of her bravado and attitude, below even the layer of muscle that their training had started to add to her body. She was just a girl, really. A frightened, damaged girl who had seen far too much in too little time.
"Nikita," Alex murmured, so quietly that it barely broke the silence of the room.
"I'm here, Alex."
Alex shivered, and Nikita tugged the sheet higher on her body. "I'll get you a blanket," Nikita said, standing. But Alex turned over and reached for her, catching her hand.
"Don't go," she said, and even in the dim light of the room, Nikita could see panic flashing in Alex's eyes. She sat back down, not letting go of Alex's hand.
"Will you stay with me until I fall asleep?"
"Sure," Nikita said gently, tucking a loose strand of hair behind Alex's ear.
Alex released a ragged breath, and Nikita knew that she was trying hard not to cry, not to fall apart, not to shatter the veneer of control that was holding her together. But when Nikita said, "Come here," and eased the girl into a sitting position, carefully drawing her close, not even the force of Alex's considerable will could keep her from burying her face in Nikita's shoulder and allowing her façade to slip.
"I've got you," Nikita said softly, resting her cheek against the top of Alex's head.
As the young woman wept, almost noiselessly, in her arms, Nikita longed to promise that no one would ever hurt her again, and that she would always keep Alex from harm. But she knew those were wishes, not guarantees, and she contented herself to hold Alex and let her cry herself out, to keep her safe right now and do her best to continue to do so.
Finally exhausted, Alex leaned limply against Nikita, still clutching a fistful of the woman's white tank like a security blanket. Nikita brushed her fingers through Alex's hair and down her back, not letting go or making a move to pull away. Alex took a slow, shuddering breath that turned into a yawn, and Nikita smiled in the dark. Maybe Alex would get some rest tonight after all.
"You want to try and sleep?" she asked quietly.
"Yeah," Alex replied, falling back wearily to rest on her elbows. "I guess so."
Nikita grabbed the box of tissues from the nightstand and handed them to Alex, who wiped her eyes, blew her nose and collapsed on her pillow. Nikita stayed on the edge of the bed, lightly resting her hand on Alex's ankle on top of the sheet.
"It won't always feel this way," Nikita said, knowing at least this much for certain.
"Promise?" Alex asked, barely audibly.
Nikita looked into Alex's impossibly blue eyes and thought of her own journey, not so different from the path that Alex was now traveling. "I promise."
Alex rolled onto her side, not breaking eye contact with Nikita. Slowly, her eyelids began to flutter, droop, and eventually close. Soon, her breathing evened out into a slow, steady rhythm. Even unconscious, Alex looked anxious, her lithe body curled in on itself protectively as if to shield herself from blows. Or unwanted hands, Nikita thought sadly. The girl had already been through so much, it was a wonder she wasn't in far worse shape than she was. Clearly, in spite of everything, there was a lot of fight in her, and a will to live that defied her earlier suicide attempt.
"You're stronger than you think," Nikita whispered, watching Alex's eyes move under their lids.
The next morning, Nikita was up and drinking coffee when Alex awoke, and she watched the young woman stretch like a cat under the sheet before making her way to the kitchen.
"You want some coffee?"
Alex nodded shyly, not quite making eye contact, and Nikita stood to fill another cup. Before she could turn her attention to the carafe, Nikita felt Alex's hand on her forearm, stopping her. The girl opened her mouth to speak but closed it again without making a sound, a parade of conflicting emotions flitting across her features.
Nikita rested her hand on top of Alex's, giving it an encouraging squeeze. "What is it?"
After a moment of hesitation, Alex stepped closer, reaching around Nikita's waist and resting her chin in the crook of Nikita's shoulder. "Thank you."
Nikita blinked, stunned, and swallowed hard around the sudden lump in her throat before wrapping her arms around Alex and squeezing back. "You're welcome."
"I can't remember the last time someone just held me. Without wanting something else," Alex said. Though the admission made Nikita's eyes sting with unshed tears, there was not even a hint of self-pity in Alex's voice.
Nikita rubbed her hand along the girl's back. She wasn't sure how or when she'd let herself become so attached to Alex, but, for better or worse, she had. Over the last few months, what started out as a quest for redemption became something else, and Nikita recognized what she felt for Alex as genuine affection. She'd come to regard the girl as more than a colleague, more than a partner. Alex was like the younger sister Nikita never had. Or even realized she'd been missing until now.
Alex sighed and sagged slightly in the circle of Nikita's arms, her body relaxing as the last of her residual tension slowly drained away.
"You're not alone any more," Nikita whispered.
"I know," Alex said, and suddenly Nikita felt as relieved as Alex sounded.
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