season of hope (after the flood) @zanetashadoe
Chapter 1

It was time for Melanie to admit the truth. She was a monster. Probably had been one for a while. It was incredibly lonely, feeling so isolated. Not that she was a stranger to the feeling, but it seemed like for the first time in her life she was completely and utterly alone. The only people she knew that would understand were either dead, avoiding her, or busy working themselves into an early grave.

That left Georgie, but there was no way Melanie could turn to her about this. She needed to keep Georgie safe and if that meant staying away from her, then that was a worthy price to pay.

There was one other person, or entity rather. Melanie had largely ignored Helen until the whole “Flesh Incident”. It was true that Helen wasn’t technically on their side, but she had proven herself a worthy ally when she took Jared Hopworth into her halls. Helen had saved her life, and Melanie wasn’t the type of person to forget a debt.

So when a door appeared where one had never been before, Melanie opened it. It was just the polite thing to do, she told herself. Despite being a sort-of-monster herself, Melanie had to admit that Helen was a little frightening. Well, a lot frightening. But being so entangled with the Slaughter wouldn’t make her an easy meal.

The door was a pale yellow, and when Melanie opened it, the inside looked strangely normal. Pleasant, even. It resembled some sort of waiting room; a worn sofa and armchair sat across from each other, separated by an equally worn coffee table. Above them was a popcorn ceiling. The walls and carpet were beige and a few Impressionist paintings hung on the walls.

The door was a pale yellow, and when Melanie opened it, the inside looked strangely normal. Pleasant, even. It resembled some sort of waiting room; a worn sofa and armchair sat across from each other, separated by an equally worn coffee table. Above them was a popcorn ceiling. The walls and carpet were beige and a few Impressionist paintings hung on the walls.

The color reminded Melanie of all those real estate shows she watched growing up, where the realtor and homeowners fought over painting the walls a nice neutral color rather than the bubblegum pink that was causing the house to stay on the market. The realtor usually won that battle.

“Not what you were expecting?” A voice came from behind Melanie, although she didn’t remember moving away from the door. In an instant, she whirled around with her knife in hand.

“Oops,” Helen giggled, “Didn’t mean to startle you. Well, I did but I forgot how tetchy you are.”

“That’s, erm, it’s alright,” Melanie muttered as she sheathed the knife. “Just a bit jumpy after...well, you know.”

The room seemed to be moving out of the corner of her eye. The walls seemed to swell slightly, as though they were breathing. She tried to focus on Helen, but quickly abandoned that idea when she realized Helen didn’t have to maintain a corporeal form in her own domain.

“Would you like to have a seat?” Helen offered.

Melanie accepted and chose the armchair. It was far squishier than it should have been, it had looked solid and firm. But it was comfortable, and Melanie was okay with that.

“So did you want to talk, or…” Melanie offered. She was a little uncomfortable trying to offer comfort to someone, especially someone she didn’t know very well.

Helen did something that made her face look sad as she sat down across from Melanie. It was hard to decipher with all the moving parts, but she definitely looked distressed.

“Yes. I wanted to talk to the Archivist but it seems he’s been...indisposed at the moment.”

Melanie laughed humorlessly, “You could say that, I guess. Although I’m probably a poor substitute for him.”

“Oh no, not at all! In fact, you’re perfect.

“How do you figure that?”

“I - Helen felt better when she talked to him. And although he was rather rude to me the last time we talked, I thought he might have changed his tune after a while. We’re the same, you see. And you are the same as both of us.”

Melanie’s first instinct was to argue, but she bit back the insults. “Yeah, I suppose you’re right. That’s what you wanted to talk about, then? Being a monster?”

Helen clicked her tongue. “Not a monster. Well, maybe you are - you’re certainly stronger than you let on.”

Melanie rolled her eyes and made no attempt to hide it. “The point, Helen.”

“What, not a fan of taking the long route?” A loud huff prompted Helen to get on with it. “Do you feel guilty?”

“Alright, that was a little too short.”

Helen laughed, a sound that made Melanie nauseous. She gripped the armrests of the chair to ground herself. It didn’t help much, the texture of the chair was beginning to feel wrong.

“About what you’ve become. About the...feeding.”

“Of course not!” Melanie protested. “We would have died otherwise. Why, do you feel guilty for eating that one?”

“No. Yes. I don’t feel guilty, but she does. That’s the trouble, really.”

“So you’re like, separate from each other? How does that work exactly?”

It was confusing to Melanie, the idea of an entity being its own persona. The Slaughter seemed so natural to her, in some ways it seemed the only natural progression of her life. To be separate was incomprehensible.”

“I am Helen. But I am also the Distortion, and so is Helen. But she wasn’t ready, it was too early for her. She’s lonely and I’m not such great company. Neither was the Archivist, but it was...something. She didn’t want to be this. Do you understand?”

The short answer was no, Melanie didn’t understand, and it wasn’t likely that she ever would. Part of her wanted to snap at Helen, berate her for wasting her time. But there was a stir of compassion that needled at her, made her think about it.

Melanie had always been impulsive, aggressive, sometimes mean. It came naturally to her, a shell she used to protect herself and those she cared about. It would have been easy to lean into her meaner side, something that happened more and more frequently these days. But something about Helen made Melanie resist the impulse, made her seem like someone she could protect.

“I don’t get it, Helen. But I’d like to listen to you, if that would help.”

---

A few weeks went by before Melanie saw Helen’s door again. It was more conspicuous this time, a shocking purple in the middle of the dull basements of the archives. Melanie had been getting ready for bed, had just left the bathroom where she’d brushed her teeth. Georgie was always telling her that taking care of herself was the first step to feeling better. It wouldn’t fix her problems, but doing it reminded her of Georgie which reminded her that someone cared about her, which was nice.

She debated ignoring the door and just going straight to the couch she usually slept on, but ignoring Helen seemed like it could be costly. Melanie braced herself, and twisted the knob.

The inside seemed cozier this time, several throw pillows were scattered across the furniture. There was a mirror down the hall, and Melanie instinctively looked away.

“You came!” a voice sounded from down the hallway and echoed.

“Didn’t seem smart to leave you unattended,” Melanie answered honestly.

Helen melted in through the wall across from her, despite her voice seeming so far away a second ago.

“You’re probably right about that, dear.”

“Familiar, are we?” Melanie took a seat on the armchair again, tossing a pillow off of it and onto the couch across from it.

“It’s only natural, isn’t it? We’re allies after all.” Helen settled opposite her, unbothered by the pillows. They were wiggling a bit.

“Fair,” Melanie acquiesced. “What did you need me for, anyway? More moral quandaries?”

Helen chuckled, a tinkling sound this time. “Something like that. Tell me, what was it like when you changed?”

“Not much small talk, huh,” Melanie muttered. “It was...gradual. Hardly even noticed, really. Like that saying about the frog and the boiling water. It just felt natural. Everything just kept getting worse and I kept getting angrier. And really, I have quite a lot to be angry about, you know. What was it like for you? Sudden?”

“There was a fight,” Helen said darkly. “I’d been Michael for a long time, I hadn’t really expected much to change.” She shook her head, “What a mistake to try and fool Helen Richardson into coming here. Well, I can’t say I hate it. Good to mix things up every once in a while.”

Melanie nodded, trying to find the words to say. She’d never been great at giving advice or helping people. She was a doer, and the only thing she could do here was listen and respond. No monster to kill, no asshole to fight to make things better.

“I get that,” Melanie offered. “It’s not good to get stuck in a rut.”

That got another laugh from Helen. “Very true. Sometimes it takes years to break someone down, get them through the door. Not Helen, though, she was...is special. Got what it takes to fight an avatar and win.”

“Was it, like, a physical fight? Get in a round of fisticuffs to decide who stays, or something?”

“No, much simpler than that. She locked the door.”

“You can do that? Doesn’t seem like it’d do much good.”

“It did for her, though. Michael went out, went to get the Archivist. Closed the door behind him and she locked it, I remember her fury. How angry she was about being trapped, how tired she was of being scared, of hiding and wandering and waiting. She was tired, Melanie.”

Melanie leaned forward as Helen spoke, intrigued. “So what happened next?”

“I was scared. It was painful, the transformation. For a moment, I was all of them. The fear, the anger, the sharp pains. Like a whirl storm of just feeling. And then I was me, but different now. He was angry with me, you know. The Archivist was.”

“He’s a bit of a prick, that one.”

Helen threw her head back laughing, sending long curls cascading down her back. “Yes, I can see that. He wants to sort everything into neat little categories, doesn’t understand the in-between. I can’t be sorted. I think that maybe Helen liked to sort, too. Good and evil, black and white...they don’t exist here. They can’t.”

“I’m not sure I understand it much, either. But I do understand what it’s like to not fit into what other people expect of you.”

“Really?” Helen asked. “Tell me about yourself. It must be awful hearing me prattle on about my own problems. My, what terrible manners!”

“As if you care,” Melanie rolled her eyes. “About the manners, I mean.” She looked down at her lap. “Not sure that there’s much to tell, though.”

“I think we’re more similar than you think, Melanie. In more ways than the spooky kind.”

“Alright then. But don’t complain to me if it’s boring.” Melanie took in a deep breath. “Not sure if you can tell,” she gestured towards herself, “but I’ve got a sort of, well, gendery thing going on here. It’s- well, frustrating to say the least.”

Helen smiled, “I know what you mean.”

“I was more than a bit of a tomboy growing up, except it didn’t stop when I finished the growing up bit,” Melanie continued. “My dad and I, we were really close. He taught me all sorts of things, about cars and grilling and sports. He was sort of an anchor for me. I used to get into fights all the time in school, and mum would always scold me.” Melanie slipped into a higher voice, slightly mocking, “You’ve got to turn the other cheek! Who cares what the other kids say about you. And maybe if you’d wear a skirt once in a while it wouldn’t be a problem.”

She shook her head and sighed. “It’s just not that simple. But my dad, he, he never got mad at me for it. Just taught me how to throw a proper punch, with the thumb on the outside, you know. He was never angry with me. I tried to hide it most of the time. I didn’t like him worrying about me. Either of them, really. Do you, er, did you have parents?”

Helen hummed thoughtfully. “Not really, no. I mean, Helen certainly had them, had to come from somewhere, but we’ve never gone to see them. I can’t say I understand the appeal. Have you seen yours recently?”

Melanie smiled darkly. “I’m afraid I haven’t. They’ve both passed.”

“My condolences.”

“That was part of it,” Melanie said softly. “My father died in...it was the Corruption. They’d told me it was a fire. But Elias, he, he showed me what really happened. All that time I’d thought I’d done well for him, working hard to afford the best care he could get, visiting as often as I could. And it still wasn’t enough. Wasn’t enough to stop him from-” Melanie hadn’t realized she’d started crying until her throat closed up.

Helen reached across the table, held one of Melanie’s small hands in her own large one. Her features arranged in an attempt to express sympathy, like a crying Picasso portrait.

Melanie sniffed, swallowed back the lump in her throat. “The worst part is, I’d finally forgiven myself. I had been so angry, even about the fire. Like if I had just visited that week instead, if I had picked a different home, things could have been different. And then that bastard just comes in and just, just puts that in my head! It’s complete fucking bullshit!”

She stood up and started to pace the room.

“I didn’t mean to upset you,” Helen said.

Melanie ran her fingers through the spikes of her buzzcut. “You didn’t. It wasn’t your fault.”

“It wasn’t yours, either, you know.”

Melanie gave a wry smile and dropped back into the armchair. “Thanks. I got pretty off track, huh.”

“That’s alright. I’m the one who asked. Here, let me tell you a funny story.”

“Thanks,” Melanie said, and wiped her eyes.

---

Helen started to visit more frequently, her doors in more garish colors and even more absurd places. Once, the door had been on the ceiling and Melanie’d had to stack chairs on a table to reach the handle.

The insides were becoming stranger as well, much different from her first visit. If Melanie hadn’t known better, she would have thought that Helen was becoming more comfortable with her. She knew in her heart that it was just a trap like any other. Get her to let her guard down, then trap her inside for a nice meal. Melanie wasn’t sure who would win in a fight: she was physically stronger, but that wouldn’t do much good if the floor went out beneath her. In short, she knew that she wasn’t really safe there, not really. And yet, she kept opening the door.

Sometimes Melanie would even brew tea to bring in with her. Helen never drank it, said she didn’t see the appeal. Melanie never saw the appeal in her increasingly bizarre architecture, but she sat on the unsettling armchairs anyway. It was the polite thing to do.

The thing was, despite everything, Helen was quickly becoming Melanie’s closest friend. They didn’t understand each other completely, but there was so much that only they could understand about each other.

Basira was becoming increasingly frantic, and even more wary of Melanie since her Spiral visits became more frequent. It was clear that Basira didn’t trust her any farther than she could throw her, and given Melanie’s muscular stature, that likely wouldn’t be very far. She was a rogue element, she could turn at any moment.

It wasn’t true though. Melanie had never committed an act of violence she didn’t believe in. She’d saved them all more than once. It was part of her plan that removed Elias from power, her strength that saved their lives when the Flesh attacked. It was true that a lot of Melanie’s emotions were dulled now, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t care for others, couldn’t love.

Basira couldn’t see that once Melanie decided to protect someone, she could never go back. She was excellent at holding grudges when betrayed, but she would never betray someone in turn. Her fierce loyalty had broken her heart many times, and yet she was still willing to put it out there.

If Martin ever decided to come back, if he was in danger or needed help, Melanie would be there. She just wouldn’t go out of her way searching for him. Jon was a different story. There was no way to know if that was really his body lying in that hospital bed, or if it was another creature, it’s strange body changing all their previous perceptions of him. No, if Jon came back, Melanie would have to fight. He’d come out of the strangers domain - that wasn’t him anymore.

She was telling Helen as much one afternoon, gesticulating with her empty mug.

“What makes you so certain it won’t be him when he wakes up?”

“If,” Melanie said pointedly. “And because, well, I’m the only one who remembered Sasha. The assistant who used to be here, before me.”

“Oh, I remember her. Very beautiful, wasn’t she?”

“Yes,” Melanie sighed. “Wait a second, you knew her?”

“Of course, my dear. I know everyone who's been around here. It was back before the change, Michael wanted to help her. Fat lot of good that ended up doing. At least he managed to mark the Archivist before it became my job.”

“Do you, um. Remember what she looked like?”

Helen shook her head. “Having my own domain doesn’t make me immune to others. As you should well know.”

“Right…” Melanie leaned back into the armchair. The patterns on it moved this time, reminded her of the way her wallpaper looked when she’d had far too many to drink. A fairly common sight, these days.

“She was gorgeous. Long dark curly hair, and even taller than me.”

Helen kindly didn’t remark on the height difference between the two of them. Melanie was only human, after all.

“I was going to ask her out to dinner, you know. Part of the reason I even came back to the archives at all, really. Told myself if I came in and talked to that prick then I deserved to do something nice, too.” Melanie paused, swirling around the dregs left in her mug. “But she was already gone, and I was the only one left who remembered what she really looked like. Feels like I can’t go anywhere without being preyed on by some entity or other,” she scoffed.

“I’m sorry,” Helen said, and it almost sounded genuine.

“That’s what you’re doing too, isn’t it? Being nice to me, listening to me prattle on about myself, letting me get comfortable. Like some sort of anglerfish, luring me in with your niceties before you trap me in here forever.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Helen snorted.

“I don’t blame you, I’d do the same if I were you.” Melanie set her mug down on the lopsided end table, no longer concerned about whether the cup would slide off. It never did.

“Is that really what you think this is all about?”

“Isn’t it? What is this about then, Helen?”

Helen’s mouth twisted. It didn’t seem like she was angry, but Melanie was taken aback by it all the same.

“Is it that hard to believe that I enjoy your company? That maybe my life isn’t completely centered on torturing others? I get lonely too. I thought you understood that.” Helen turned away from her, looking at the wall instead.

“I thought that was Helen,” Melanie said softly.

Helen turned back, “I am Helen.”

Melanie felt her skin flush with embarrassment. All this time she’d been busy focusing on herself, her own shitty life. So caught up in her misery that it hadn’t occurred to her that not everyone’s life revolved around ruining hers. And now she’d gone and hurt the one person she could rely on.

“I-I’m sorry,” Melanie stuttered. “I shouldn’t have assumed like that, it was rude of me.”

There was a long pause where it seemed like Helen was searching for something in Melanie. An answer of some sort.

“Helen had a partner, before,” she started. “You remind her of them.”

Melanie sat in shock, unmoving as the room shifted around her. She didn’t know what to say, and so she waited.

“They were different, of course. Not quite as fiery as you, but fiercely loyal. Just as stubborn”

“Did you...do you love them?”

“I don’t know,” Helen answered. “We never went after them. She didn’t want them to see-”

Melanie reached out, placed her hands on Helen’s. “I understand,” she said softly. “It’s going to be okay.”

Helen nodded, and started to cry, if one could call it crying.

---

She was laying on the archive sofa one day, staring at the ceiling waiting for something to happen. Nothing ever did, these days. Georgie’d convinced her to cut back on the drinking, and time seemed to pass so slowly without it. There was never anything to do at the office, despite Lukas’s emails boasting productivity increases since he installed some new sort of device to keep people from talking to each other. Melanie tried to make a bit more of an effort around the archives, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that it was useless. She read a few statements, not out loud, and took notes on some of them. It was a strange facsimile of a normal life. Pretending to do desk work, pretending there wasn’t a possibility that there would be another attack, pretending she hadn’t lost everything.

Basira, on the other hand, was always lost in a new tome about the occult or rituals or whatever it was that had ruined their lives. Which was why it was such a surprise when her voice interrupted Melanie’s ruminating.

“What’s the deal with you and that thing, anyway?”

“She's not a thing, first off,” Melanie moved to sit up. “And it’s not really any of your business either.”

“It becomes my business when I can’t feel safe opening any of the doors around here for fear of being eaten.”

Melanie rolled her eyes, “As if you could mistake one of her doors for a normal one.”

“But I shouldn’t have to worry about it,” Basira protested. “It’s a nuisance.”

“I don’t have any control over her, Basira, you know that. And if you don’t like it, maybe you should go home once in a while.”

“That’s rich, coming from you,” Basira scoffed. “You know I can’t go home for the same reason you don’t.”

“Look, if she wanted to trap you, she’d have done it by now. You’re fine.”

“Really? What about the McKenzies, then?”

“The who?”

Basira let out a frustrated huff, “That father and son, she hunted them for years before she got them! You’d know that if you cared enough to read a statement every once in a while.”

“Why? So I can learn more about the fucked up place we live in? I’ve had quite enough of that, honestly.” Melanie stood, getting angrier by the minute.

“You have no idea,” Basira said, voice low. “You weren’t even there.”

“You’re joking,” Melanie said flatly. “You’re seriously angry I wasn’t at the museum? We all agreed on that plan!” And it was months ago, she didn’t add.

“I’m not mad you weren’t there, Melanie, I’m mad that you weren’t there and yet you keep moping around like your life is over when you didn’t even lose anything!”

Anger flared in Melanie’s gut. “Shut up,” she growled. “You don’t know anything about me.”

“I know that you’re the most selfish person I’ve ever met! You’ve done fuck all since we got back, and while I’ve been working my arse off every single day trying to figure out how to get the fuck out of here,” Basira shouted, “you’ve been having tea with a monster.”

Melanie’s hands twitched, trying to ball into fists. She had to control it. It was clear that Basira was riling her up to deal with her own problems, and Melanie wasn’t going to give into the temptation, though it itched at her badly under her skin.

“Basira, calm down. I know you’re hurting from everything and I’m sorry, but this isn’t the way to deal with it.”

“Oh, and what’s the right way? Drinking yourself to death? Making cozy with the enemy while shutting everyone else out?” Basira sneered.

Melanie could smell alcohol on Basira’s breath as she walked closer, but didn’t point it out. “She saved us- all of us. I don’t recall you doing much once you realized that weapon of yours was useless,” Melanie bit back.

“She’s just waiting to let that thing back out, end us for good!”

“Why is it so hard to believe that not everything in the world is about you? Why can’t you understand that you aren’t the only one that had to make sacrifices?” Guilt rose like bile in Melanie’s throat, knowing that she hadn’t been much different just a few months ago.

“Because I am!” Basira shouted, and swung fast at Melanie.

So that was it, then. Everything came down to some sort of drunken pub fight, the two of them trading blows, tackling each other to the floor kicking and screaming.

It was the middle of the afternoon, surely there were employees up there that could hear them through the vents, but that didn’t seem to matter to either of them. Basira tried to find a grip in Melanie’s short hair and failed, Melanie threw her off and pinned her to the ground.

They rolled across the floor, each trying to gain control. Basira had started crying at some point and her blows grew weaker. Melanie went limp on the floor, let Basira have it out. It was incredibly hard to resist violence, but Melanie had only defended herself, nothing more. It made her feel stronger than fighting did.

“Why,” Basira choked out, “why did it have to be me?”

Melanie raised her arms, held them around Basira’s waist. “It’s going to be okay,” she offered.

“It’s not,” Basira cried. “They’re all gone and we’re stuck here and there’s nothing we can do!”

“I know,” Melanie whispered. “I’m here with you, though.”

Basira collapsed on top of her, tears soaking through her shirt. Melanie rubbed small circles across her back, soothing her as she fell asleep, exhausted.

Maybe they were all alone. But at least they were alone together.

---

Georgie had mentioned that routines were helpful, so Melanie tried. She brushed her teeth every night, made to-do lists of what statements to look through, ordered vegetables with her dinner every once in a while. Hell, evening ordering dinner every night was a change.

Georgie had mentioned that routines were helpful, so Melanie tried. She brushed her teeth every night, made to-do lists of what statements to look through, ordered vegetables with her dinner every once in a while. Hell, evening ordering dinner every night was a change.

She thought it was just the placebo effect, but doing the same things every day seemed to help. The statements helped take her mind off of drinking, too, so that had to be something. It was nice, thinking she was working towards a goal.

Helen stopped by with more regularity. She started keeping the door in the same place on Melanie’s request. Melanie hadn’t expected her to follow through, wouldn’t have blamed her if she didn’t. But it seemed like Helen really did care about her.

She even brought gifts occasionally. Melanie understood that they were the lost possessions of her victims, but it was the thought that counted, wasn’t it?

There wasn’t much Melanie could do in return, but it wasn’t that kind of friendship. There was no keeping score between monsters. And Melanie felt okay calling herself that now, a monster. No fighting it, no moralizing it. When she was cut, she bled. When she was hurt, she felt sad. When she loved someone, she let them know. That was all the humanity she needed as far as she was concerned.

Melanie had never hated the Slaughter, or the all consuming hunt for it. She had always been a fighter. She fought the boys at school, she fought for her career, she fought for her place in the world as a woman who looked and acted different from others, a woman who loved other women. She never gave up on anything or anyone. The fire that burned relentlessly for answers, the pull towards the Slaughter wasn’t a new feeling, only different. Her passion was her strong suit. She’d fought for her friends and her colleagues and she’d do it all again if she had to.

Her last relationship had ended quietly after several years. They had both loved each other, but they weren’t compatible, not really. Her lover had wanted her to open up, to tell her what was going on inside. Melanie just hadn’t been able, hadn’t been ready to share herself like that. She had been called cold, closed off, and stone-hearted before.

She’d felt so lost when it ended. All the love she had poured into that relationship, that woman, and it hadn’t been enough. Melanie was perfectly romantic. She remembered every anniversary and birthday, she’d bring home flowers from the shops just to see her partners face light up at the surprise. She learned to cook a few meals for special days, and was always appropriately excited about her partners accomplishments.

Melanie had spent a long time wondering how it had all gone so wrong. She’d done everything she was supposed to - who cared if she didn’t open up?

Really, it wasn’t until the situation at the archives had worsened past the point of repair that she started to open up. Finally, the straw had piled up to high on her back, and she’d collapsed. It felt okay doing it with Helen, because they weren’t really friends at first. Talking to strangers about problems made them impersonal. They were just two sinking ships passing in the night. It was easier to commiserate with someone who understood.

Really, it wasn’t until the situation at the archives had worsened past the point of repair that she started to open up. Finally, the straw had piled up to high on her back, and she’d collapsed. It felt okay doing it with Helen, because they weren’t really friends at first. Talking to strangers about problems made them impersonable.They were just two sinking ships passing in the night. It was easier to commiserate with someone who understood.

But Georgie was outside of the situation entirely. Melanie resolved never to tell her about anything at the archives, beyond that she worked there. It would be too much, and she’d only worry. Georgie was the last person who saw her as strong, unbreakable. She’d watched as Melanie had marched on after her father's death, the disbandment of a career she’d worked so hard to build. Watched as she carried on through public humiliation. Sure, Georgie might have thought she was crazy, but then Georgie was a little crazy, too.

---

It was Helen who had suggested she open up to Georgie. It was early in the morning, probably too early if Melanie was being honest. But she hadn’t been able to sleep all night, and she knew she wasn’t going to stop thinking about it until she actually went and talked to Georgie.

“And what for?” Melanie had snapped back. “Just to make her as miserable as I am?”

“Not at all, dear,” Helen said cheerily. “In fact, quite the opposite.”

“How’s that work, exactly? ‘Oh, thank you for telling me all of the terrible things in your life, I feel so much better!’” Melanie rolled her eyes as the façade ended.

“Do you ever think,” Helen started, picking up a full mug from the table, “That she’s just as worried about you now as she would be if you told her?”

“No? There’s nothing for her to be worried about if she doesn’t know. That’s the whole point of not talking about it with her.”

“Melanie, I care for you, but you aren’t as put together as you think you are. The circles under your eyes are dreadful and I’ve hardly ever seen you without a scowl.”

“I’ve always looked like that,” Melanie grumbled.

“The point is, you should let her in. Tell her what’s going on. She’ll want to know, I promise.”

“How would you know? You’ve never even met her.”

Helen fixed her with a gaze as pointed as could be without eyes. “If she loves you, she wants to know.”

“Georgie doesn’t -” Melanie started to protest, but stopped as Helen’s gaze intensified. “I just don’t want to upset her.”

“Remember when I told you Helen’s partner was a lot like you?”

Melanie nodded numbly, not sure where this was going.

“She liked to listen to them. It made her feel...included in their life. The people that care about you want to be able to help. You aren’t just a burden, Melanie. Don’t force yourself to be one.”

“Alright,” Melanie sighed. “Okay, I’ll try it. But Helen?”

“Yes?”

“Maybe you should think about going to see them. Helen’s partner. They might, um. They might miss you too.”

“I doubt they’d like to see me,” Helen chuckled, “But I’ll think about it. Good luck, Melanie.”

---

She took in deep breaths as she waited for Georgie to come to the door. They’d been on a 'no need to knock' basis for the past few years, but she couldn’t bring herself to open the door on her own. She’d just get into her head and end up getting on the tube back home.

She took in deep breaths as she waited for Georgie to come to the door. They’d been on a 'no need to knock' basis for the past few years, but she couldn’t bring herself to open the door on her own. She’d just get into her head and end up getting on the tube back home.

Then there was the click of the handle turning, the door swinging open and Georgie’s arms around her, welcoming her in.

“What’s going on?” Georgie asked once they were seated on the couch, full mugs of tea in front of them on the coffee table.

Melanie opened her mouth, and found that her throat was already closing, tears in her eyes.

“I’m not okay,” she choked out.

“I know,” Georgie murmured, arms around Melanie again. “Will you tell me what’s wrong?”

Melanie melted into her arms crying fully now, great big sobs heaving from her chest as she nodded against Georgie’s chest.

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