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Just Breathe

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Alvis had been on his way out to perform his duties when he found Dutch outside his door.  She was sitting on the ground with her back against the wall and her knees folded to her chest.  Her eyes were red and distant, fixed on some far off nightmare only she could see.  

“Dutch?” 

Her head jerked up, eyes full of panic until she registered who it was crouching down beside her.  She looked like she was about to say something, but no words came out, nothing but a soft cry.  He rarely saw her like this.  Something had to be very wrong.

“You don’t need to explain, I’ve got you. Let’s go inside, okay?” He murmured.

She hesitated and Alvis waited for her to nod before he got up, taking her by the arms and standing her up.  He kept one hand on Dutch’s arm and wrapped the other over her shoulder to hold her against his side, his cloak swirling around their ankles as they walked.   

“Alvis––” She stopped, eyes still brimming with tears.  He quickly ushered her into his room, shutting the door behind them.  

“I’m here, Dutch. You’re safe… You’re safe,” he repeated softly as he guided her into a hug.  She practically melted into his chest.  Warm, strong arms wrapped around her, holding her tightly as he leaned his cheek against her head.  He ran a hand up through her hair.  She was shaking.  “It’s okay now… I’ve got you…” He kept murmuring, trying to calm her enough to figure out what had spooked her so badly.  “Why don’t we get you off your feet, Dutch? Come lay down, I’ll hold you,” he suggested endearingly.  She nodded and clung to him as he pulled them both down onto the bed, prayer beads clacking softly on impact.  Dutch hardly ever let her guard down, never let herself be seen as anything but confident and kickass.  Alvis treasured the fact that she trusted him enough to support her when she couldn’t stand on her own.

“You’re safe… Just breathe…. Just breathe with me,” he murmured, starting to take slow deep breaths.  Dutch nodded and nestled into his side, trying to slow her breathing to match his.  For a while the room was silent except for the sound of their breathing, a quiet lullaby in the dark.  

Alvis rubbed circles across her back, brushing her curls to the side.  “You still with me, Dutch?” He asked softly, watching as her trembling began to fade and her body began to relax a little.  She nodded quickly.  “Good, that’s good,” he murmured. 

She finally looked up, sad brown eyes meeting gentle grey in a soft intensity. 

“There you are,” he smiled, not breaking their eye contact. “How’re you feeling?”

“Broken.” 

Her voice was quiet and defeated, nothing like the woman that lay beside him.  He brushed a few strands of hair off her forehead, cupping her face in his hand. “I’ve known you to be many things, Dutch, but broken you are not,” he assured her.  “You just need some time to breathe. And If you want to talk about what happened, I’m right here. And if you don’t, I’m still here, alright?”  

She nodded and leaned her face into his hand, closing her eyes and trusting in him as she’d done countless times before.  “I’m sorry…”

“It’s no problem,” he murmured.  “You are not a burden.”

“You were leaving… You’ve got prayers and blessings to give… You’ve got duties.” She fidgeted with the edge of his cloak, still pressed into his side. 

“They’ll still be there later.  You’re more important right now,” he said firmly, leaning in to press a soft kiss to her forehead.  “You’re more important.” 

She looked like she wanted to refute that, but no words came out.  She just buried her head back down against his chest, taking comfort in the skin to skin contact.  

“You’re so strong, Dutch.  Trying to hold everything and everyone up on your own, never letting anyone else take that burden from you…” With blunt nails, he traced looping shapes across her back.  “You don’t have to go it alone. Whatever’s got you like this, I’m here for you.” He kissed the top of her head, letting her think it over in silence for a bit. 

It took a few minutes, but eventually she spoke, her breath tickling his chest.  “I don’t want to bother Johnny…. He’s got his own shit right now.” 

Alvis nodded.  He knew about Pawter, about Johnny leaving because he needed his own space to process.  “This isn’t totally about John though, is it? There’s something else.” She wouldn’t be this worked up just because he left for a bit.  That wasn’t her style.  “Was it D’avin again? I swear, if he hurt you––”

Dutch shook her head, reaching up to wrap her arms around him. “Alvis. It wasn’t D’avin.” She took a deep breath.  “It was Khlyen.”

He went quiet and tightened his hold on her, letting a hand drift up into her hair again.  “He doesn’t control you anymore, Dutch.  You are nobody’s,” he promised.  He took a deep breath and cradled her close.  “I don’t know what that bastard did this time, but I know better than anything else that you are so much more than anything he tried to make you.” 

Dutch managed a small chuckle, sweeping a hand across his chest. “Your intensity is endearing... but it’s not that simple, Al...”

He nodded understandingly, trying to think of a new approach.  “You’ll feel better if you can get this off your chest... I don’t want to force you to talk if you don’t want to, Dutch... but you did show up on my doorstep.” He looked down at her, running a hand through her hair until she looked up and met his gaze. “How can I help you?” 

She had calmed down a lot since Alvis had brought her inside, but the thought of what had started this made her stomach churn and her chest tighten. She nodded. “I can’t run from this. I can’t.” She insisted. “I won’t let it own me.”

“Good. That’s good, Dutch. Are you ready to let it out?” 

She nodded and then hesitated, still lying stomach to stomach with Alvis. “But not like this. I can’t, it’s too easy to hide.” 

He let go and slid away from her, sitting himself up. “Up here then?” He suggested, watching her roll over to look up at him. She nodded and sat up, shifting over to sit in his lap, nearly back to stomach. “Explain to me how this isn’t hiding?” He asked a little skeptically, though still appreciating their closeness.  

She twisted to look over her shoulder at him. “Don’t have to look you in the eyes, can’t shrink either.” She took a deep breath and turned to refocus on the wall in front of her. “It’s a win-win.” 

“As you wish,” he smiled. “Take off your jacket and I’ll play with your hair the way you always like?” He offered, knowing how comforting that was for her. 

She smiled a little and nodded, slipping off her jacket and tossing it off the bed.  She could feel her nerves returning as she tried to begin.  “Right... here goes...” 

Alvis gently started taking her braids out, playing with the curls as they were released.  Her words came slowly at first, hesitant and unsure as she was pulled back into her memories. She was fighting for grounding, grounding that Alvis was more than willing to give. Once her hair was completely free of braids, he switched tactics and began rubbing the pads of his fingers firmly against the base of her skull. She leaned into his touch gratefully, using him as an anchor to the present. Soon the words were coming in a rush, tumbling past her lips and out into the open, unable to stop herself even if she wanted.  Alvis listened carefully, piecing together the story bit by bit as he focused on keeping her grounded and in the moment. He interjected little comments and questions to keep her talking whenever she began to hesitate again. It was important that she get it all out, let it all go so she could move past this burden. As she spoke, he alternated between massaging her back, her shoulders, and her scalp, making sure that there was always pressure she could connect to.  

Dutch kept talking until she ran out of words, until her breath came short and she was gasping for air.  The weight in her chest lifting until she felt weightless, breathless. She collapsed back against Alvis’s chest, resting her hands over top of his as they wrapped around her middle.  

“Do you feel better?” He asked, hanging his head over her shoulder as he hugged her tight.

She leaned her cheek against his, at ease with the feeling of his stubbly chin rubbing against her skin. “Much.”

“I’m glad.” He smiled and pressed soft kisses to where he could reach along her neck.  “I’ve got your back, Dutch. Always.”  

He meant it. 

“Thanks, Alvis.”

She meant it too.