Still A Jerk


karrie_icon.gif russo2_icon.gif

Scene Title Still a Jerk
Synopsis Some things never change, even when everything else does…
Date April 26, 2011

Bean Scene Coffee Shop

The post work crowd in a coffee shop lacks a little to be desired, with more people opting to go to bars before curfew takes hold of the streets. But the sparsity of the patronage makes for a quieter atmosphere, an intimacy that's accepted easily in public. And it's a coffee shop where a red headed woman sits alone except for a book, a small thing to pass the time until the person she's to meet arrives.

Karrie, having left straight from work, is still dressed fairly casual. A simple blue and purple broomstick skirt and a long sleeved shirt of a complimenting plum. She has already acquired one of the freshly brewed teas, preferring the subtle and cleaner taste than the bitter starkness of coffee, and has taken residence at a table for two set against the far wall. It rests upon the table, fairly untouched. The book, however, is held between her hands, opened to nearly midway through, though the woman's attention is split between the door and the reading material.

One leg crosses over the other as she glances toward the door for an uncounted time and a soft, nervous sigh escapes her. Realizing her action, Karrie, again it should be noted, inwardly chides herself and returns to her book. He'll show up when he does, or not at all. No sense in fretting.

He's late.

It had been difficult leaving Studio-K today, particularly as Bradley Russo had so many files to skim. He's far from done. In fact, if he's lucky he'll get through the majority by the week's end. And maybe take a meeting or two. Maybe.

But even in the mountain of work, Russo wouldn't pass up the request for coffee. With no real father figure growing up — beyond that of his grandfather — an odd determination had taken over; even if his son is only a few years younger than him.

Time travel is weird.

Even with his desperation to be a good parent, Brad carries files with him; things to go over with a producer rather than talk about over coffee with a son. He hadn't intended it to be a working coffee, but the conversation with Liz had left the television personality in want; wanting more. Always wanting more.

The grey suit, nearly silver, pressed with crisp edges has an odd sense of formality to it while his lack of tie offsets the image. Every step exudes confidence.

Especially upon reaching his destination. A glance had been given the shop. There were no easy signs of Kincaid, prompting Brad to hop in line. It isn't until he gets to the front that his eyes catch that beautiful fan of red hair. His lips press together tightly as his eyes stare at it; bringing forward a faint memory of two women with the same colour.

Five Years Ago

Six hours have passed since the rally at Columbia University was dispersed. Six hours have come and gone since police brought in a fair number of protesters. Most had been released, on bail or unable to be detained for some reason or another, mainly a lack of evidence that they’d done anything besides assemble peacefully if loudly. Most had been released meaning some hadn’t, those whom law enforcement had reason to believe, convoluted as it may be, that more than just peaceful assembly had been the intention.

Six hours gone, and Karolina still sits within one of three intake cells. Because of her prior conviction and penchant for being a strongly outspoken voice, and rumors that more action would be taken if Bio Tech went through with its plans, she was being held until bail could be posted. If it ever would be posted, or her name was cleared. Violent response was never something she participated in; really, she’d been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

At least they’d removed the handcuffs, the plastic zip ties had bit into her wrists a little. Nothing major, and nothing that stands out any worse than the bruises or scrapes she’d gotten when police stepped into the crowd. But they’d left Karrie free to move about the six foot-by four-foot cell. With nothing but time on her hands, she sits at the foot of the bed built against the wall, elbows resting against knees and eyes studying her nails. Particularly a stubborn hang nail.

“Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen~” the melody that streams from the front door is terribly off-key, and the voice distinctly male. “Nobody knows my sorrow~” Oxfords shuffle into the jailhouse as a very suited, very debonair Bradley Russo nearly preens within the space of the jail. He clears his throat as he steps into the light, closer towards the holding cell to inspect those present. There’s a twitch of a smile, nearly devilish as his hands tuck into his pockets, an easy retreat for idle hands. His throat clears as the officer behind him stares at the host somewhat expectantly. Sometimes having money came as an advantage.

His blue-grey eyes, rife with playfulness and stifled amusement scan the cell. “What do you think, Officer?” There’s a pause. “I’ve been told blondes have more fun,” there’s distinct merriment in his smile, an edging of something grace-filled and good humoured in his grin, particularly as the tension within his swagger dissipates. And then, he attempts to act casual, “Heeeeeey” his hand draws from his pocket as he broaches the red head, “I know you” and no one else in the prison. What exactly is Russo doing there, anyways?

The singing brings Karolina out of her thoughts, head lifting to look silently toward hallway. She recognizes the voice, even if it doesn’t seem suited to sing. But for a flutter and quickening of her heart that some saving grace really is within that man, she also hopes it isn’t him come to rescue her. How would she live with herself after?

No smile meets the television host. No jovial pronouncements of freedom to come. But there’s no eye roll or groan of shame, either. Karolina, caught in a cross between hope and shame, stares at Brad Russo’s appearance beyond the bars of the cell. Her eyes move between Brad and the officer in a moment of uncertainty. Pink colors her cheeks and bleeds heat into her ears when he claims knowledge of who she is.

Karolina fixes a small smile on her face, managing an unadulterated expression of happy to see him without giving Brad the full benefit of her hopefulness. “Mister Russo,” she says pleasantly, as though greeting a long time friend and not sitting in jail. “Pleasure seeing you again.”

Brad,” he corrects abruptly as his hands drift from his pockets. “Call me Brad.” She’s flashed another smile, this one somewhat more sheepish than the last, but the amusement continues to reflect in his eyes. He looks over his shoulder at the officer and shrugs his shoulders. Oddly, the officer leaves, prompting Brad to explain, “We served together. Military… “ his gaze turns upwards towards the top of her cell, “My career there didn’t last long though.” His hand rolls up to his tie which he adjusts, only to explain, “I like my head where it is.”

There’s another twitch of a smile, forced away by his own stubbornness. “So..” he clears his throat as his eyes drift from one side of the cell to the other. “How you been, Lina?” His eyebrows arch upwards. He is, in many respects, the cat that just caught the canary.

“Brad,” Karolina repeats, slowly and much like tasting the word. Her brows go up at the explanation, truly she hadn’t seen the television host as the military sort. Too money made, self assured, lacking the clean cuttedness of anyone who’d served the country. But maybe that’s part of the mystery that first caught her attention.

His question, whether intended to or not, causes that wall Karolina first put up to crumble a little. She chuckles, a light and amused sound that could brighten the situation. “I’ve been good,” she answers, her smile warming, amusement evident in her own countenance. All things considered, it is an odd question to come about while she sits in a cell. “And yourself?”

As the wall Karolina had built between them crumbles a little, Russo’s smile eases while his shoulders visibly relax. “I’m… good.” His eyebrows knit together a little as he paces the floor in front of the cell. “Been good.” Looking over his shoulder to where his former comrade had exited, he hmmms, “Got a call from a friend today.” Thoughtfully, a single hand strokes his chin while examining her again. His cheeks flush slightly while his gaze turns down.

Loudly, Brad clears his throat while his head shakes tightly. “We’d.. we’d gone for drinks just a few night’s back.” His lips curl into a boyish grin, “Nothing fancy. Just the pub near my house for wings and beers. Anyways,” his throat clears again, his nervousness still apparently. “I told my buddy about this woman that I couldn’t stop thinking about.” His cheeks redden a little more while his chin drops to his chest. “She… she shot me down. Hard.” His chin lifts in an effort meet her gaze. “And, of course, my buddy… he thought this was the funniest story ever.” The smile edges his lips again. He doesn’t get shot down often. Or ever, really. “Anyways. He, naturally, asked for her name. Because my friends?” his head lolls to the side, “They love my suffering.”

His hands move to the bars, gently grasping them. “I… I didn’t think it would come to anything.” He shrugs while his smile becomes timid and, perhaps, a little nervous. While he’s had his own success, the risk of failure here is high. He’s already aware.

A single brow rises as Brad begins to share a story about going to the pub with his buddies. Of all places, jail really isn’t the place for such tales as Karolina would expect. Nor would the admittance that follows. She holds her peace, though, stubbornly withholding judgement or opinion. At least, that’s what she tells herself.

As the story unfolds, Karolina’s expression becomes a mirror of Brad’s own. There’s a demure quality, about her eyes and smile as she studies his face. Some part of her longs to fill the stretching silence with a light hearted joke and a gentle jest at his expense. But the other?

Karolina stands and takes the step and a half that brings her to the barred wall. Looking downward, the woman who usually has a word for everything finds herself failing at saying anything. Color once again suffuses through her own cheeks, but she lifts her hands to grasp the bars to her cell, above his own hands, hands resting lightly against his.

The tiniest contact has Brad reddening further. His lips turn down a little, concealing his shyness. “He…” he sighs heavily, “..he called me when you ended up in here.” His lips press together tightly, thinning while he thinks. “So here I am.” His hands move to his pockets again, releasing the bars while his forehead meets them lightly. “To bail you out.”

There’s a pause while he lifts his head again. “I.. I think we got off on the wrong foot earlier.” He forces a pseudo-confident smile, “I”m Brad. I like cooking, and gardening, and spending entire days at the farmer’s market finding the best food and the freshest ingredients. And.. I’m not a jerk.” And then, with a chuckle he quips, “But I play one on TV.” Where… he plays himself.

Her own hands remain on the bars, eyes turning down again. “I— Thank you.” Karolina frowns faintly and only for an instant. Thank you doesn’t seem quite appropriate for what Brad and his friend had conceived. But once again, she finds herself failing at speaking and blushing further. Her hands slide down, without losing their hold on the bars, and her feet take her in a step closer.

Looking up again, Karolina’s smile returns. There’s apology in her expression, and understanding, and something else. A warmth a shade different from what must be her normal openness and demeanor. It’s no less open, just different. “I’m Karolina,” she replies with a quiet shyness of her own. “I’m an activist, a vegetarian, and I like animals.” She pauses, lips twitching toward amusement for a fraction of a second. “And you are a jerk.” But whatever the words spoken, it’s said with a genuine fondness.

“Nice to meet you Kar-o-lina,” Russo overemphasizes her name with a smirk. He leans against the cell bars, as he observes, “I once knew someone named Karolina. It’s a pretty name.” There’s a tightness to his smile, an obvious yet-unspoken carefulness as he hmmms, “I used to call her Lina. May I call you Lina?” His eyebrows arch upwards. It’s all a game, a very coy game.

His smile eases again as he shifts his weight from one foot to the other. “You like Italian, Lina?” there’s a small twitch of his eyebrows. “Because… I imagine…” his throat clears, “…you’re probably kind of hungry coming out of here.” His blue eyes turn up towards the ceiling, “And I’m already going for Italian. I mean, I have this reservation. It would be a shame to eat alone.” His eyes trail back to Karolina.

“You may,” Karolina answers with a small nod. She means it this time, unlike the last. She studies him a moment longer, hands releasing the bars but only so her arms can fold against them. She’s aware of the game, and more willing to play along. This time.

Her own smile once again edges into a shyness, and a nod will have to suffice for an immediate answer. She edges a small step back, arms half hugging herself as they had been when pressed to the bars. “I’d like that,” Karolina says, with just a slight timidity in her own tone and demure reluctance to meet his gaze.

He’d expected her to say no. Which is probably why his weight shifts from one foot to the other as his eyes widen somewhat. “A-a-awesome.” Brad shoots her a grin as his eyes track back towards the entrance. “I guess.. let’s get you out of here. Just… hold up, okay, Lina? I’ll.. I’ll just be…” He holds up a finger before retreating back to the door. And once he’s rounded the corner, he leans against the wall with a stupid grin pasted to his face.

The Present

The clerk had pressed Brad for his order three times, but the host hadn't heard— couldn't hear; Russo's focus remains on the redheaded woman. Holding up his file-free hand, he finally scoots out of line towards her, stopping at the chair just across from hers. To stare.

A moment, then two, and finally a third threatens to go by without any notice given to the man looming over Karrie's table. Maybe she's finally allowed herself to be swept up in the novel, taken by flights of fancy in a fictional world. But in her mind, when three minutes seems as though three times that has come and gone, her attention wanders up to move toward the door only to be stopped by the man standing at the empty chair.

"I'm sorry," the red headed woman begins, generously polite and tilting her head back to greet the stranger with a small smile. "But that chair— " The remainder of her comment, a gentle apology that the chair had been meant for someone else, slips into silence. Her mouth closes part way, lips only slightly opened as green eyes gaze upon the television host.

Pink suffuses the woman's cheeks and her breath catches. Heart pounding, the book is closed and laid upon the table without further regard, but those hands lift to cover her mouth. A slow, shaking breath draws inward as Karrie watches Brad's reaction, left speechless by a myriad of emotions.

The staring continues for some time, intensifying at the apology. The files in Russo's hand drift out from his grasp— fortunately they're binder clipped so the papers don't escape in a fan all over. Just a clump at his feet. Like a codfish his mouth gapes, the air drying it considerably, but he can't close it no matter how he tries.

Finally, he blinks. And it's not until then that he even realizes he's staring, prompting his head to shake. And his lips to part. Again.

His heart beats heavy in his chest, drawing the makings of a distinct frown while his pulse zooms; this is not at all what he expected to happen today.

His breath hitches in his throat as he forces his eyes to close. Maybe things are coming clearer. He near-whispers, "What year is it?" Because clearly it's not 2011.

"Brad," Karrie says quietly, her own voice just barely hitching above a whisper, hardly breathing past her hands. Her palms press together, forefingers resting against her lips. Tears threaten to fill her eyes and spill over in essence of her cacophony of emotions. "Brad— " She swallows against a lump in her throat, only to find the motion catching a little lower and growing in her chest.

Another shaking breath is drawn in and then let out slowly as the red head begins to stand. After only half way to leaving her seat, she lowers herself back onto it in a sudden surge of distrust for her ability to remain upright. Her tongue dabs at her lower lip as anything and everything she could say further is aborted as unnecessary. Finally she gives up trying to speak, and presses her teeth into her lower lip, eyes welling with wetness against her attempts to keep them dry

There's no blinking; no acknowledgment that 'Brad' is even his name as he stares. His blue grey eyes become watery from strain (or, perhaps, something else, draw your own conclusions) while he tries to swallow around the growing lump in his throat. The breath hitches in his throat again as a raspy, dry voice whispers, "What year is it?" It's the second time he's posed the question.

His mind races while everything else dulls; the colours of the room become a swirl rather than anything defined. And then, with a pang in his chest, his knees buckle. A single hand reaches out for the chair, not to sit, but to be used as a prop against which to lean, while the other presses against his forehead. Finally he reaches one conclusion in a quiet whisper, "Damned time travellers…"

Folding her hands upon her lap, knuckles whitening in efforts to restrain a sudden tremble, Karrie finally pries her gaze away. Shame, guilt, both ride heavily as her eyes close, spilling the tears she'd only a moment before tried to avoid. Drawing in a shuddering breath, its intent to be steadying, she speaks toward the table while her words are intended to be for Brad. "It— It's 2011." Her voice, softly spoken, hesitates over the words as they're offered. "It's April, and it's 2011."

Her head lifts slightly, and she uses the inside of a wrist to dab at her cheeks. That hand goes out to catch Brad's elbow as he begins to fall, but Karrie stops the action short in apprehension and his own quick movements to catch himself. "I'm so sorry," she whispers, drawing her hand back to herself. "I— It isn't time travel. It's— " Her mouth works, words tested and tried but no explanation seems suitable. Helpless, she looks from Russo to the table once more.
Russo flips a coin. It comes up heads.

It's a trick. It has to be a trick. Brad's expression says as much while his lips hitch quite hesitantly to one side. His lips part expectantly— he expects the words to pour out. But nothing comes. Not even breath, eventually causing him to gasp for air. The sharp pain in his chest deepens, prompting the hand on his forehead to travel to his chest. The pounding of his heart increases, causing his knees to buckle further underneath the duress.

His breath becomes ragged in his throat and that pounding continues. With another sharp gasp, Bradley Russo collapses to the floor— that ache in his chest ever growing as it becomes difficult to breathe. In the middle of the coffee shop. Which prompts the clerk who'd just requested his order to call to her supervisor, "Call 9-1-1!"

Time seems to stretch and elongate as Karrie watches Brad collapse. She moves to catch him, to ease his weight downward instead of allowing the floor to take the full force of his body, though to her the movement feels as though fighting through molasses. She's unable to capture his full force, but she keeps the television host's head from cracking against the floor.

"I'm sorry," the red head repeats, over and over again. She settles herself on the floor, Brad's head carefully pillowed upon her lap until emergency responders arrive. Trembling hands smooth back his hair but once, that lower lip finding teeth pressed upon it again. The only time she moves is when paramedics arrive to take over, and numbly, silently she follows in their wake.

A Few Hours Later

The Hospital

The white reflections of the floor and walls made the room seem endless, almost like it turned back on itself. With a heavy sigh, Brad grasps his jacket and tugs it back over his shoulders. Nothing like wearing the grey suit to the hospital after a rather uneventful trip. "You're sure it was just a panic attack, doc?" his tone borders on sullen before he steals a glance at the woman who'd caused all of the nonsense in the first place. There's a pause, "And you can really see her?"

"Look Mister Russo, I don't know what else to tell you. You had a panic attack, often people mistake them for heart attacks, but everything came up negative." The doctor glances back to the woman standing in the corner before shrugging his shoulders, "And as near as I can tell you're nut suffering from hallucinations. Now. If you'll excuse me." With that the doctor retreated.

Those same grey-blue eyes stare at the woman in the corner, who he'd insisted come in with him, before he pushes himself from a stand on the uncomfortable hospital bed. "So. You're.. " his eyes track downwards, he hasn't really been able to address her since she confirmed the year and foiled his time travel theory. " look good.." he finally concedes before tacking on, "for a zombie."

Familiar with hospitals and hospital routine from countless days of volunteer services, Karrie had made quiet practical use of herself. Somewhere in the wake of rescue come, she'd gathered up the book and papers that had fallen, held them against her stomach, and stuck to lingering in the corner well out of the way while doctors and nurses determined that absolutely nothing was wrong with Brad Russo. She'd had a difficult time meeting his gaze, or that of the doctors, though the few glances she stole toward the host were watery and worried.

Fingers tighten around the papers at her middle, her eyes of green following the doctor's retreat from Brad's bedside. When addressed again by Mister Russo himself, Karrie turns her attention to him once again. A small, sad smile shoulders into her expression, eyes filling again though the tears are partially blinked back. "So do you," she returns softly. "And you're still a jerk." It might have been more heartfelt, but her voice catches, the last coming out in a watery whisper.

Lips twist to the side as Brad's eyebrows arch upwards. He releases a small sigh and then counters, "I'm not a zombie." Although evidently, he concedes to being a jerk. The back of his hand rubs against his forehead while he bites his bottom lip in silence for a moment. Slow stilted steps draw him back towards the door. With a small nod towards the door he beckons she follow.

His throat clears as those same stilted steps drag him down the hallway. "So…" his head turns back to look at her. "…you're… here." Those same grey-blue eyes narrow as his jaw tightens, defining it more. "April must've named me its fool this year," between this and his time travelling son. "Should I expect an explanation?" he asks while his brows furrow tightly.

With a shake of her head, Karrie follows, her head bowing over the parcel of papers and book held against her stomach. A deep breath is drawn in, steady and strengthening, but on exhale it catches and tightens through her throat and chest again. "I'm here," she confirms amidst the choking of her words. "I'm very much here."

She remains a half step behind, though to one side of him, as she walks through the hall. "It's— a very long story," she says, apology still claiming her soft tone. Her head lifts a fraction, green eyes slanting to look at Brad. Words fail where they should be plenty, nothing seeming adequate enough to fulfill any questions of how she might be. Remorse is etched into her features, spilling again from her eyes in tears that leave tracks along her cheeks.

The irony doesn't escape him. After years of longing for a moment like this, Russo can't quite bring himself to acknowledge her the way he'd always imagined. But then, maybe bitterness is his life's blood. Leaning against one of the walls of the hall, he stops and turns to face her. His showman's face had tried so hard to retain its emotionless edge, but here, somehow, his armour fails. Something distinctly human crosses his expression. Distinctly human and distinctly withdrawn. For a moment he appears wounded.

He shakes his head, an erasure of his pain like a child with an etch-a-sketch. But it doesn't erase the way he wishes. There's no coldness or emotionlessness left in him. Instead he's experiencing those stages of grief again. "Is it one I should be expecting to hear?" There's a pause. "Or have I always meant so little to you?" The hardness in his tone accompanies the shrug of his shoulders. Anger has always been easier to grasp than sorrow.

"I don't know what you're expecting to hear," Karrie answers, her voice drawn again through the anguish of abandonment she'd put herself through. That she'd put Brad through in her selfishness. She takes a step toward him at his wounded expression, then stops at the sudden change of his tone, the hardness that seems suddenly foreign. She appears as though struck, shock and fear tearing an ugly path through her demeanor.

A wavering breath is inhaled, green eyes lower to the floor, and she backs up a step or two until her back touches the opposite wall. "I— I should have died. I thought I was going to. I— " She lets out a tight exhale and raises an arm to dab at her eyes again. "I thought— I didn't want you to see me that way. I didn't— I didn't want you to suffer like I was."

Processing doesn't come quick enough. The silence continues thanks to the slow pace of his thoughts. "You can't— " he begins only to fail. Bradley Russo has never felt like this before. Not even then. His teeth toy at his lip while he head turns away. Looking away is easier. "But you didn't die." There's a pause. "You let me believe you died, Lina." For the first time he's actually dared breathe her name, a name too sacred to speak in affairs such as these; a name he'd tried to let go of for years.

"You…" his eyebrows furrow tighter, "…you don't think I suffered?" He takes a step towards her, a single hand pointing back towards the door, "I suffered every day for four years! Four years! I waited. And hoped. And I thought— " with his voice becoming louder, the pair have gained spectators, but Brad doesn't notice. "— for Christ's sake, I talked to your picture like it could hear me— "

Her name draws an unwelcomed, unintentional flinch. That she'd avoided it as much as her self to be known for nearly four years, so called is akin to having spike driven into her heart. "I let everyone believe I died," she manages. She, too, grasps for words, for an explanation, anything solid in a reeling mind. "I tried to believe I'd died too, and disappear. Because I didn't and your mom did. Because of me, because I said we should go shopping that day. It's my fault and I tried to protect you from it."

Her back already against the wall, it's difficult to shrink away when Brad approaches. But trembling, tears left unchecked, Karrie tries to press herself into the drywall behind her. "Brad, I'm sorry," she near whispers this time. She's not unaware of the crowd slowly gathering, but perceives them as distant, as like to the conversation as the floor or walls or ceiling. "I— It took years before I— before I felt comfortable to accept everything. By then— It seemed like you moved on. When I allowed myself to live again, I wanted to see you, to touch you, let you know I was alive."

He tries to speak, but the dryness leaves nothing but that raspy edge Brad had gained during his panic attack. "You let me believe you'd die. Me. I'm not everyone! I will never be everyone— somehow I'd fooled myself into believe I was more than just— I don't.." He releases another exasperated breath. "I've never moved on! A person never moves on from that— "

His eyes clamp shut, "I tried. I spent months trying! I put our fucking condo back on the market— " His hands move to his forehead. "And now.. you're just.. you're just alive? And avoiding me? If you wanted to lose me, if you wanted to not -marry- me, you could've… you could've broken it of— that would've been easier than grappling with losing you— than spending months on end talking to your photograph when I thought no one noticed!"

"That's not it," Karrie interjects, both pleading and fierce. "I never wanted that, to lose you and us like that. I couldn't—" She inhales sharply, the exhale that follows bringing to life the tears once again. Her head shakes over the sudden futility and loss she hadn't allowed herself to feel in years. Her head bows again, chin coming to her chest, an arm lifts half way to meet her face, pressing over her eyes.

At a complete loss for words, she slides down the wall to sit upon the floor. The papers find home on her lap, though that lap is pressed against her chest. Head hanging over her knees, Karrie's shoulders give a small shudder. "I tried," she explains, her voice thick and the words coming haltingly. "I tried so many times. I was afraid and— I don't— I don't deserve your forgiveness." Her head lifts just enough to look up at Brad, the image of the host wavery and misty to her eyes. "I— It was selfish, but not meant to hurt you."

"How could that not hurt me? If you died how could I even breathe again?" Russo's face crinkles, "I lo-cared," he chooses the easier of the words, "cared about you more than anyone should care about another person! Am I so unfeeling you think theres stone in my chest? There wasn't a night for two years where I didn't have that dull ache in my chest and that nagging in my mind— " They're getting nowhere. They've spent the last few hours together and it's only moving in circles. And her posture, against the wall, gives him pause.

Her expression, her remorse, and her very image tugs on his heartstrings. The conflictual nature of his desires mixed with his stubbornness rises within the back of his mind. There's no level-headedness here, only emotions that he already believed he'd dealt with.

Like her, he slides down that white wall, his own eyes itchy against his more stubborn selves. He sniffles once, but no tears are permitted to fall. The mistiness in his eyes reminds him of another time. One where he'd want nothing more than to hold her. To comfort her. But now? The ache in his chest is unrelenting and he feels so right about all of it. In a stifled move, his arm begins to rise to cut around her, only he stops. He'd cut himself off in that time.

Instead his feet flatten against the floor and draw into his chest while his head turns to face her. With another sniffle he notes. "I wasn't okay." And then, in an equally raspy whisper he amends, "I'm not okay."

And there it is.

The truth.

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