Disclaimer: I don't own any characters except Naomi, Irbis and several innocent short-lived bystanders; everything else is Marvel's only.

Chapter 12

Settling Down

Irbis got up at 5.30 am. She always got up very early: as soon as the sun started lighting her room, she couldn't help but wake up… and for as much as she always tried to will herself back to sleep, she just could never stay in bed once she was awake. She took a quick shower and put on a pair of jeans, a large T-shirt and a pair of grey trainers. It was still cold outside, but she opened the bedroom window nonetheless so some fresh air could come in. She then proceeded to open Mr. Creed's bedroom windows, too. She had no idea when he might show up again, but she always made sure that his bedroom was more than ready to receive him.

Downstairs, she fixed her breakfast and sat down near the bay window. On the wall between the two kitchen windows, Irbis had set up a calendar. Today was the 20th of June. She sighed. Mr. Creed had left her alone in the house for 17 days, now, but it felt like 17 months. Everyday she had followed the same routine: get up at 5.30, fix her bedroom and Mr. Creed's, have breakfast, do the laundry, clean, have lunch, clean some more, have dinner, iron clothes, go to bed at 10 pm. She had broken down the house into its rooms, and worked on them for two days each: dusting, and vacuum-cleaning, and washing, and oiling, and… It was tiresome. But she was glad she was busy. Today, though, there was nothing for her to do. She had finished cleaning everything; there weren't any clothes or towels needing washing or ironing. Everything was shining in the house.

Irbis finished eating her bread and butter and drinking her milk. She silently took the things to the sink, washed them, rinsed them and put them away in their right places. Now what? The idea of having nothing to do, of being left with her own thinking, scared her. She didn't want to think, because she was sure she couldn't think of anything else besides what she had lost: her home, her family, her future.

She went back to the bay window in the kitchen. Well, there was something left doing after all. The many pots that had cluttered the window sill and the floor were all gone, but the spot seemed empty. Irbis thought it was time to go look for some new plants to populate the empty pots… only it was still too early and all the shops were closed. She sighed and shook her head.

She went upstairs, got a jacket and went down to the backyard. The air was very cold: it almost seemed like it was spring, not summer. And a very rainy spring, too: the first half of the month had seen a constantly clouded over sky with rain coming down every other day. She looked up at the sky. There were come clouds today, but she was sure that the day would be mostly sunny, as the last four days had been, and that it would be hot and humid, and that the evening would bring along dark clouds which would hang over threatening a thunderstorm that would never come. The floor was covered by long grasses, and bushes were invading the tree-free area which enveloped the house for 3 metres. Well, here was something else for her to do: put some order in this overgrown jungle! She didn't really felt like it, though. Every morning she had had to force herself into action, but now that her primary function was fulfilled, it all just seemed so… pointless.

She remembered the day when those men had come into the house and beaten her up. Mr. Creed had saved her, then. He had taken her to Canada and then he had killed the men's boss. Not to mention he had made her kill one of the man who had injured her. She didn't like to think about it, though. She wished she could wipe out from her mind all the death she had seen and felt in the last couple of months.

Irbis willed herself to go to the garage and soon discovered a lawn-mower. It was a modern machine that resembled a little car where you could sit while driving and mowing the grass. She cleaned it, filled it with fuel from some cans on a corner and brought it out. She decided on starting with the front lawn and got herself working. It wasn't hard work, though. Rather boring, actually. The only time she had felt truly at peace in this… this new world, had been that night in Canada, when Mr. Creed had broken the street lamps and everything had been wrapped in the quiet darkness and the crickets' relaxing noise. They had gone to the airport, afterwards, and he had booked a private airplane to take them to British Columbia. There he had taken her to a man he knew, a doctor. He had checked her up, made sure there was no real damage from the beating, prescribed some pills and balms and off they'd gone to fret another plane that took them back to Wausau. He had left the next day.

It wasn't that she really wanted that man's company; it was just that… she didn't know. She supposed it might be because he knew who she was, where she had come from; and no one else could ever know about that. In a way, it made him the closest person she could get to. Only common sense directed he should be the last person anyone should get close to.

She took a deep breath. Ah! There was nothing more invigorating than the perfume of freshly cut grass!

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The cool early morning mist was fading away when Creed parked his bike in front of the garage. He didn't bother to place it inside. He was in a bad mood and actually slammed the door when he got in the house.

"Mr. Creed?" The girl entered the house through the living room french window slightly startled.

"Yeah, Mr. Creed. Why? Ya're expectin' somebody else."

She frowned and stood her ground. She better not give him any lip, he thought to himself as he went upstairs. Fortunately for the girl, his room was in perfect shape so there was no reason to give her an early grave. He had a quick shower and got in some clean clothes, but his mood wasn't improving yet. He figured he'd need to eat something first. When he came down and didn't see her fixing him some food, his mood just got worse.

"Hey! Whatchya think ya're doin'? Ya should be fixin' me some breakfast of sorts!"

She looked up at him from her gardening with a surprised expression.

"Whatchya're waitin' for? Get me some scrambled eggs an' coffee; an' make it snappy."

She quickly took off her gloves and almost ran to the kitchen. Her readiness to work eased his mood only slightly. He left the backyard and entered the living-room, turning on the TV and sprawling himself on the armchair facing it.

Not five minutes had gone by when he smelled a different but nice aroma from the kitchen. He sniffed the air and identified olive oil, onion and garlic. What on earth was the girl putting in his eggs? Nevertheless, he resisted the will to go check the cooking. Soon, the stimulating perfume of bacon and ham being fried relaxed his suspicious nature. If it smelled good, it would probably taste good too.

"Where do you want to it, Mr. Creed? Here, in de kitchen or in de dining room?"

"In the kitchen."

He got up and instead of going to the kitchen table quickly surveyed the frying pan.

"What's this!"

"ah… What?" She looked at the frying pan, not understanding the indignation in Creed's rough voice.

"I said I wanted eggs! This ain't eggs; this is hardly a single egg!"

"It… it's two eggs…"

Creed turned to the puzzled girl with dramatic emphasis.

"Two eggs? Two…! Look at me, girl. Take a good look at me. Do I look like I'm on a freakin' diet here? If I ask fer eggs, ya fix me half a dozen eggs. Half a dozen, ya hear me? Hell, I may even accept just five or four, if I ain't hungry. But you don't ever, ever fix me a light-good-fer-nothin'-diet-meal. Are we clear?"

Irbis nodded her head with an embarrassed expression which only further irritated him.

"Now go fix somethin' else while I eat these… these starters. It can't be called nothin' else, this thing."

He grabbed the frying pan and took it to the table where he sat eating the eggs directly from it.

"And what about that coffee?"

Irbis brought a mug and carefully added she didn't know how he liked it, but that most Portuguese men liked it that way, and that she was sorry she didn't know how American men liked it, but if he would bother to explain to her how to do it to his taste then she'd make sure he'd always have it perfect for him. The speech annoyed him, but at least she was interested in learning how to please him. He grunted, sniffed the coffee and got up.

"Com'ere. Ya do it like this."

He quickly fixed two more cups and handed one to Irbis.

"Here, try it. That's how I like my coffee, so make sure it's gonna taste like that next time ya bring me some."

She nodded, tasted it, smiled warily and returned to the cooker to scramble some more eggs. Creed was feeling better, now. True, the girl wasn't perfect, but she was eager to improve and to wait on him properly, so what else could he ask for? Besides, even if the first round of eggs wasn't enough, it not only smelled good, it tasted good, too.

Having eaten, he sat back on the chair and relaxed. Irbis was doing the washing up and he felt a sudden curiosity to check just how well fixed the kitchen was; after all, his bedroom might be in shape, but other things might not. He got up and started with the fridge: it was filled with food and beers. Good. Then he went about opening random cupboard doors, not finding anything at fault, he finished his survey by the bay window, admitting that the pots looked very well in the spot now that they were populated with fresh looking plants. He had also liked the nice looking bowl filled with scented fruit which stood in the middle of the round table; but he definitely didn't like the calendar between the windows, so he took it down and threw it in the trash bin. Irbis, who was finishing the washing up, frowned and glared at the trash bin.

"Ya got a problem?"

Creed made sure his voice warned her that he was not to be meddled with. She swallowed, but her eyes held his gaze without fear and after a few seconds of hesitation she picked up the calendar from the trash bin.

"I buyed it wid my money. I don't put it in your kitchen, but it is my and I say it doesn't go to de trash."

She set her jaw stubbornly and once more held Creed's glare without fear, even if her heart was pounding so hard he wouldn't have needed his heightened senses to hear it. He narrowed his eyes and came one step closer to the girl.

"Ya listen ta me vary carefully, girly. Ya're standin' at the edge, an' ya don't wanna not even squirm 'cause ya might find yarself really wishin' ta die. Ya understand?"

She squeezed the calendar harder against her chest.

"I understand." Her voice was very low, she was trembling somewhat, and her eyes danced nervously while holding the big man's gaze, but there still wasn't the slightest scent of fear coming from her. "I don't put my things in your places. I understand."

Although he could appreciate the girl's guts and realize that her answer was satisfying enough, he didn't feel satisfied. He looked around looking for something else to complain about. Not finding anything, he opened the door to the laundry room, but it was perfectly empty and in order. The pantry was half empty, only a few obvious essentials peeking out from the shelves; he thought it too empty, but last time he had been in the house he had been very clear on keeping expenses to a minimum so he just packed up his growing irritation. He didn't stop his quest, though. He had made a contract with the darned woman and he was determined to keep to it: he wouldn't go about hitting her or even yelling at her for no tangible reason, but if she happened to mess up his house, then he would have a perfect reason to put her through a world of pain.

He went back to the entrance of the kitchen and opened a door to his left, going into the classical looking dining-room. There were a couple of tree-like plants which gave a nice touch, and he noticed the girl had put a HI-FI in a nook of the large cupboard in the place of a TV which used to be there. Before he could say anything, though, he heard her soft but stubborn voice from the door.

"De television is broke. I finded the HI-FI in a empty bedroom and put it here. De TV is in a room to put things away, in de first floor. I didn't want to do nothing widout to tell you."

He grunted, then turned his back on her and opened one of the two windows which opened to the front lawn. Only then did he notice how carefully it had been mowed and trimmed near the house. He stifled a growl and abruptly left through the double door, which faced a wall with a closed door in the middle and a staircase at its right end. He ignored the hall where he was and the living room and went to the other wing of the house. He started by checking the study, with its shelf covered walls and central round table. All the books had been taken off, dusted and aired. Irbis, watching him take off a couple of books and inspect them, spoke in her previous professional voice.

"I taked everything out but put everything in de same place. De computer doesn't work but I don't know many things about computers."

Creed couldn't resist anymore and said the first thing that popped in his head.

"And who the Hell told ya I wanted 'em in the same places, huh?"

The girl's puzzled look irritated him further, but her prompt, innocently honest answer reminded him of the contract and he shut his mouth and cringed his teeth.

"I didn't know… If you don't like dis organization, I'll do a new. How do you want it organized? Do you want like a library? Or maybe by thematics? Or… dis have many books; I can do a database for libraries, I learned to do dem in school. You can find every book more faster!"

He bumped her out of his way and entered the ground floor toilet room. It had a plant, too. Since there was nothing to complain about it, he moved on to the sitting room, with a window to the left side of the house and another to the front lane. There were two large pots filled with fresh green plants. Suddenly, he had an idea.

"What's with all the pots and plants? Ain't I told ya I don't want my money wasted on crap?"

"Yes, Mr. Creed. But de house has many pots and dere is a big sale for spring in de florist. I thought it was more cheap to buy plants in promotion. You have a very big garden wid many trees so I thought you could want some green in de house, too. I have a book wid all de money I spended. Do you want to see?"

Creed narrowed his eyes in silent frustration.

"Yeah, I wanna see it all right. How come ya ain't mentioned it before?"

"I'm sorry. I go get it."

As she left, he felt victorious for finally finding a fault with her: forgetting to show him the expenses book right away! But her professionally half submissive and prompt action, instead of a frightened fully-submissive reaction, diminished his victory. He left the sitting room, ready to continue his survey of the house upstairs, but was checked by Irbis, who was coming out of the study with a commercial diary on her hands.

"Here it is, Mr. Creed."

He grabbed the book without a word and climbed the stairs, approvingly noticing the well brushed and oiled wooden steps and banister. He passed his bedroom door and inspected the room next to it. It was the Rose Room. Its walls were covered in soft pink tonalities and it had dark pink and green motifs on curtains and bed covers. The two windows opened to the right side of the property, but he didn't even check on the private bedroom, which he knew was decorated in pink and green, too. He closed the door without a word and moved on. He hated that room decoration too much to actually bother whether it was properly cleaned or not.

Then he inspected the store room. It was a rectangular room with a single window to the back, and it truly impressed him: not only were the walls, floor and ceiling perfectly cleaned without a single trace of dust or cobwebs, but also every closet and ark had been emptied, thoroughly cleaned and re-stocked with their now-shining contents, whether they were old clothes, toys, dolls, or weird and obnoxious looking trinkets. The TV set was securely stashed away in a box. He couldn't help but admit that the girl was truly efficient.

Next came a small bathroom, the only one upstairs which wasn't part of a bedroom. Decorated in a boring white with a few lonely black streaks, it looked as pristine as anyone could have wished. The dark but somehow freshly aired corridor ended with two doors facing each other. The one to the left had the girl's scent all over it, so it was the room she had chosen to herself. He opened the door on the right. It was the Navy Room, a wide room decorated in blue and white and the only bedroom in the house which didn't have an inner bathroom. It had one single wide window to the back, but Creed was bored of the survey and just looked lazily around and closed the door. Nevertheless, he couldn't resist his curiosity, and although Irbis was standing behind him, he opened her room's door and entered.

The Spring Room had one single window to the front lawn and was decorated in green, red and white. He entered it, registering the neatness of everything and opened the bathroom's door. It also had a window to the front lawn, and its back wall separated it from his own bathroom. He went back to the bedroom and found Irbis glaring at him with an outraged silence. He had been very clear that the only things that could be considered hers were the things she bought with her own money and, for as long as she worked for him, her bedroom and the white mini-van. Those were her only properties; and he was clearly trespassing right now. That knowledge lifted his mood and he sat down on her bed and opened the expense book.

Every day had an annotation, stating if there had been any shopping, where it had been, what had been bought and how much had been spent in each article. It was a boring read, so he just pretended to be checking the numbers, while really congratulating himself over Irbis' sulking chin and dangerous glaring. He could have laughed at her impotent rage, but that would have been an acknowledgement of his conscious trespassing and a breach in the contract, so he just laughed to himself and kept the most serious expression he could muster. He was wondering if she was going to do or say anything that would 'displease' him; if she did, he could call it a breach in contract! He was having fun with this twisted tag game.

"De receipts are in de study. You can check dem and see dat everything is right."

She immediately left the room and went downstairs. He waited for a minute but it was obvious she wasn't coming up again so he went down to the study himself. Her sulking chin gave away her still boiling rage. He had half expected a sweet victorious smile, which would surely have ended the matter in a blood bath; so he was actually pleased that she was still pissed, even if she had managed to kick him out of her bedroom in a subtle 'legal' way, according to their deal.

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Creed was sitting under a tree in the back of the house and watching Irbis sighing in the middle of her gardening. She was trying to recover a few flower beds, but was planning on adding some aromatic herbs, too. She had asked him if he allowed the changes before buying them, which had added to his after lunch good mood. He closed his eyes and sighed remembering the excellent banquet she had spent the morning preparing: a drink accompanying the starters – bread with butter and garlic, olives and smoked ham and sausages. Then she'd brought a stew with pork meat pieces, clams and fried potato cubes, all wrapped in a thick rich and spiced sauce and accompanied by the contrasting taste of pickles. He had eaten heartily while drinking a well chosen bottle of red wine. Before the meal, she had asked him if she was supposed to eat with him or if she should wait on him and eat either before or after him. He had preferred her company, and had been pleasantly surprised to see her eating and drinking heartily everything included in both starters and main meals. Nevertheless, he had made a point of honour on absolutely out-eating and out-drinking her for a wide margin.

After the main meal, she had brought a fruit salad, which had been very cool and sweet, its taste spiced up from being sprinkled with Port Wine. She filled and ate three delicious small bowls, and he eagerly ate the whole main bowl empty much to her surprise. He was already full to the brim but received the chocolate mousse as if he was starving and was very pleased when she commented on his appetite with a satisfied approbation. He was now feeling sure she'd never again try to feed him wussy diet meals. At the end she brought him a cup of coffee and a tray with an assortment of digestive drinks. The coffee wasn't exactly as he liked it, but he was too indolent to care.

He hadn't been able to refrain himself from complimenting her on an excellent meal. He slowly got up and lazily wondered through the cool shade of the trees in the back of the house, resisting his broken body sleepiness. She didn't take long to clean up the kitchen, and he soon heard her working in the back garden. It had been then that he had sat down next to a tree to watch her and get his own thoughts in order.

He had arrived in a rotten bad mood, but Irbis had been fortunate enough that he'd distracted himself with the house. Now that he had eaten well, though, he felt he could go back and dwell on the reasons for his bad mood without going into a berserker rage; because the one "reason" for his worst moods could indeed drive him into a killing spree. Logan. He closed his eyes. He hated that man so much it was almost insane. He hated him so much that words couldn't even describe it. It was a red hot insane and desperate rage that filled him and then he just couldn't think… and that was always why Logan managed to beat him up in the end. It was really Logan's fault. If the man wasn't such a stupid bastard runt, he wouldn't stop thinking and he'd defeat him without breaking a sweat. As he had done in their last run in. He had kept his hate in check, then.

Irbis cursed in Portuguese and he looked at her but didn't really see her. His memory conjured up the image of a woman half covered in clothes and fishing in a cool Canadian river. Native. He sighed. He hadn't had a choice but to keep his bearings together. Logan would have taken her with him to the X-Chumps, and then what? Settle down, have a pack of cubs? They'd find her. Logan and Native would have been the pet target of every secret agency in the universe, much like Jean Grey and Summers had been Mister Sinister's pet project. And then what? Then what? They'd pick up their kids, they'd turn them into new Weapon Xs… Logan couldn't be so stupid as not to see the reality! He and Native would become nothing more than the breeding mare and stud for the secret agency of the day. Sure, he'll kick about for some time, he'll swear to kill everybody who points out that Native had to die… but sooner or later he'll realize that her death was for the best. Even if he doesn't admit it to anyone, he'll have to realize it was the best thing.

Settle down… They hadn't been born to settle down. And Logan was a jackass for not seeing the obvious. There was no woman for them, no cubs, no family. That was the simple truth which Logan refused. He was always drooling after some chick and whining about how she was too good for him, going down on his hands and knees for them. The image of a blonde woman flickered through his mind and he shook his head. Bonnie had been a one night incident. She had been impressed with him, true, but she didn't know anything about him. Even if she had wanted to run away with him, she'd soon have seen what he really was… and then what? It was good she was dead. It was good he had killed her. And he had killed Native for Logan, too; because they were not meant to settle and raise a brood.

"Mr. Creed?"

He opened his eyes. Irbis was a couple of feet away.

"Whaddya want?"

"I just wanted to say dat I'm going to de florist. I be back in twenty minutes. OK?"

"Whatever. Ain't I told ya I don't wanna be bothered unless it's somethin' important?"

She left. Soon he could hear the engine of the mini-van speeding down the lane. He closed his eyes again, enjoying the heat of the afternoon. Now that he was alone he could finally indulge in a well-deserved nap.

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The day is hot and humid. Most days are. And they start out very cold, too. I found a thermometer in the store room, upstairs, and I actually bothered to check the temperatures. When I get up at 5.30, it's usually around 57º F – and that's cold when you're used to a comfortable 65º F. The warmest temperatures show up late, around 4 pm, and they're usually in the 80's, but rarely reach 90º F. And I long for the sunny days where the mercury would reach the 90º F as early as midday and often climb up to nearly 100º by 2 or 3 pm! But the hottest days, here, are never sunny but cloudy. Monotonous grey clouds cover the sky and are replaced by menacing dark clouds at the end of the day, threatening thunderstorms. You can actually see the distant lightning flashes, sometimes. In the last few days, for instance, thunder or no thunder, rain was often pouring down.

I made the mistake of asking Mr. Creed if these cloudy, rainy summers were normal in the United States. He just laughed at me and said they were normal everywhere except in the Mediterranean, which has a dry summer. He even had the nerve to say that Portugal, Spain and the likes were the ones with freaky weather, not the States. I don't know if what he said about the weather is true or not, but one thing I do know: that man will do and say anything to annoy me. And he always looks so pleased when he manages to irritate me that I could throttle him! And he just keeps that serious straight face, even though I know he's suppressing his mischievous grin, because I can see his yellow eyes glittering with delight. It drives me out of my mind!

Nevertheless, I'm not someone to be toyed with, and I don't care whether he's dangerous or not. There's no point in pretending I'm not listening to him, because he just won't give up until he gets some sort of response from me; and I'm not as suicidal as to openly tell him to stuff it and drop dead, so I decided to play his game. For instance, on the second day he was here, I cooked an omelette fit for three hungry people, filled with well fried garlic, onion, ham, sausages and mushrooms, and seasoned with pepper, parsley and coriander. It smelled marvellously and he loved it: ate his plate clean! And then he congratulated me on the magnificent "Spanish Omelette". I was annoyed and explained to him that confusing Portuguese things with Spanish things is as offensive to Portuguese as confusing American things with British things, or with Cuban and Russian things. He chuckled and I thought that had been the end of it. The next day, though, he said he loved the way I cooked things the Spanish way. If looks could kill, he'd have had a terribly painful death right there and then; as it was he just grinned with that mocking wide grin and I 'swallowed the frog', as we say it back home, and planned my revenge.

Next morning, as soon as he entered the kitchen frowning over some strange smell, I presented him with my sweetest smile and placed in his front what I called a truly Spanish Omelette; I added that I had made it on purpose for him since he liked Spanish recipes so much and I happened to know a few. Obviously, what was on that plate was just a little something I had concocted: an omelette with too little salt and too much pepper filled with an obnoxious mix of nearly raw onion and garlic, sliced cabbage, tomato, cheese and olives. He looked at me and I just asked whether he really liked Spanish Omelettes or if I had misunderstood… and he sat down and started eating it, saying it was a very interesting recipe. I hadn't dreamed he'd actually try to eat that thing, so I quickly drove the last nail in. After a couple of uncharacteristically shy forkfuls, I asked him if I should continue doing Spanish recipes for breakfast… or if he preferred the less interesting Portuguese recipes. I considered myself avenged when he grunted and pushed the plate away, telling me to fix him something from whatever nationality for as long as it was edible. That same day, though, he found something else to get at me, and I was damned if I was going to let him get away with it.

It's terribly childish, I know, but it's also fun. Every meal we eat together there's always something he's bound to say to annoy me, and I'm constantly planning ways to turn the tables on him. I can't forget he's a killer, though. Not that his usually serious face and cold angry eyes could let me forget it. Sometimes he says something that annoys me and I can see in his eyes that it isn't just his twisted joking spirit, so I just stay put and wait till his mood is better… or I'm careful to set a limit in such a way as won't aggravate him. But he's usually in a good mood at meal times, and very talkative, too. After all, killer or not, he's only human, and he can't possibly be mad at the world every single minute of the day!

On the day before he left, he didn't go out for a spin on his bike, as he usually did. Instead, he spent the entire day following me around and nagging me over how I did this instead of that, and how I should have done things this or that way, or I don't even know anymore. And no matter what I said or did, I just couldn't shake him off. Finally, I just turned to him and said 'OK, I give up; you win. Happy now?' I guess he wasn't expecting that: he laughed out loud and then looked at me with the widest naughtiest smile. He was positively beaming with joy at my capitulation in that leg of the game. So what could I do but just forget my annoyance and irritation and laugh with him? Even if he was laughing at me! Not to mention he stopped the nagging after that, too.

Mr. Creed has left a week ago. The house gets a bit empty without him, especially at the meals. I often wish he had a family or friends or whatever who lived in the house with him; but on the other hand, I like the quiet and silence. So sometimes I'm glad I'm alone in the house, and sometimes I wish there were more people living here. Wishes aside, though, I'll probably stay here all on my own for at least another three weeks or a month, if not longer, because I doubt Mr. Creed will return any time sooner.

And it's OK. I'm getting used to living in Wausau. The weather doesn't really bother me, even if I miss my hot dry summer. I've also bought some books and grammars of English for foreigners and I'm studying hard to improve my spoken English, not to mention I'm thinking up things to keep me busy from sunrise to sunset… My aim, right now, is to fix myself some sort of stable living and a reason to live. Something that will diminish this pain, this longing for my family, my friends, my former life… something that will help me get up in the morning without the weight of the loss. But I often wonder, when I'm in bed at night, I often wonder if I'm ever going to feel alive again.

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