Alpacca bites: A spur-of-the-moment middle of the night write for a Paper Pusher's Message Board Iron Chef challenge (PPMB Iron Chef Challenge: Here's a challenge in which you write a story that Daria is crying over her depression getting to her and it's up to Quinn to comfort her. The rule is that Quinn succeeds in the story and Daria starts feeling better.). It got a pretty good response, so I decided to post it up here. I haven't edited or cleaned it up in any way, and I don't intend to. So if there's a mistake, you'll just have to live with it. And yes, I'm continuing Winter Hearts. Soon as my writer's block knocks off.


Now And Then

It was dark. That was the first thing Quinn noticed as she opened her eyes, confused as to what had woken her. Her child's mind immediately connected the large, clumsy dots; darkness -- fear -- monster. Instinctively she drew her legs up against her small body, and that's when she heard it. It was a small sound, barely more than leaves brushing against the window in a light breeze and Quinn wasn't sure she had heard it until it came again. Across the room, from the direction of her sister's bed came a muffled sniffle and what sounded like a cough. Quinn's large eyes widened in dismay and worry as she realized what she was hearing.

Daria was crying.

Several long seconds passed, the silence broken only by the whimper and gasp of Daria's tears as the younger girl lay unwilling witness to her sister's sorrow as it spilled softly into the heavy charcoal night. Uncertainty filled the small body and what limited understanding Quinn had of her sister insisted that Daria didn't cry. But what she was hearing was undeniable and, determined, Quinn climbed out of her bed and made her way to the other end of the room.

"Daria?" the tiny red-head whispered as she tugged on the comforter which hid her big sister from view. At the utterance of her name, Daria froze. Guilt and shame warred for dominance, guilt for waking Quinn from her peaceful slumber, shame for having been caught with her walls down. The five-year-old girl lay as still as possible in the hope that Quinn would think her asleep and return to her bed. "Daria, did you have a bad dream?" No such luck.

With a shaky sigh Daria rolled over so that she was laying on her back and glanced shortly at her little sister's indistinct form.

"Go back to sleep, Quinn." The blur didn't move.

"Was it about the boogey man? Sometimes I have dreams about the boogey man and can't sleep after, but Mom says he doesn't exist cuz there's no way anyone can fit in the closet with all our toys and stuff, and anyway if there was a boogey man he would have to climb in from the window to get in the closet and if he did that we would hear it, so"

A sob brought that train of thought to an immediate halt and Quinn's preceding dismay returned in force. After a moment's hesitation, the three-year-old used the chair beside her sister's bed as a step and climbed onto the plush comforter. Quinn's small face was puckered in a frown as she reached out and felt the wetness of tears on Daria's cheeks.

"Daria, what's wrong?" The threat of tears was present in the high register of the younger child's voice as she scooted closer and attempted to wipe the damp away. "Why are you crying"
The concern in her little sister's voice managed to break what reticence Daria had developed so far in her short life, and she broke down in earnest. Her misery was complete in the way only children can truly experience it, and her small frame shook with the force of her sorrow.

"Mom and Dad don't love me!" It was gasped out between racking sobs and, shaken, Quinn reacted the only way she knew how. She closed the distance between their bodies and hugged Daria as tight as she could.

"It's okay Daria, it's okay," Quinn murmured as she rubbed Daria's heaving back with trembling hands. "Mom and Dad love you, course they do, that's what Mom's and Dad's do!" When this infallible logic failed to quiet her sister's grief, the younger girl began to shed tears of her own, tears of fear and barely understood despair. "Daria, please don't cry"

"They're always mad and they yell, and when they look at me..." Daria's breath hitched violently and she buried her face in small, cold hands. "It's not like when they look at you." This started her all over again, the refreshed outpouring muted only by oncoming exhaustion.

As sometimes happens at such moments, Quinn's growing panic at her inability to console her big sister, the younger girl experienced a moment of clarity. She suddenly remembered a scene, its source uncertain, but the feeling that of unmistakable contentment and warmth. Gently, she began to rock back and forth in a slow, calming rhythm with her arms still around Daria's body. And she began to sing.

"Baby mine, don't you cry, baby mine, dry your eyes. Rest your head close to my heart, never to part, baby of mine. " Her eyes drifted shut as the song came to her, an early memory of an afternoon at the very start of her life, a moment, barely remembered, held close at heart.
"Little one when you play, don't you mind what you say. Let those eyes sparkle and shine, never a tear, baby of mine."

Daria's sobs slowly began to quiet as her subconscious journeyed back to the days when, still in her crib, Helen Morgendorffer would sing the lullaby to infant Daria to still her cries and ease her off to sleep. The sweet, high notes of Quinn's voice soothed the ragged edge of her pain and slowly, a small smile rose to Daria's lips.

"If they knew sweet little you, they'd end up loving you too." Quinn swallowed past a lump in her throat and laid her cheek against Daria's, unaware that she was now rocking them both to sleep. "All those same people who scold you, what they'd give just for the chance to hold you"
They never remembered falling asleep. Once the song wrapped them in its serene embrace, there was nothing else. Whatever might happen upon waking tomorrow, the sisters were, at that moment, right where they needed to be; under the security of the thick comforter Daria lay with her small arms wrapped protectively around the petite form of her baby sister, just as on a sunny afternoon so long ago.

Quinn smiled absently as she brushed the hair back from Daria's forehead, humming a half-remembered tune under her breath. Summer was nearly over, and in just a few weeks her big sister would be leaving for college. It wasn't much of a revelation, admittedly, but enough of one to have driven the girls together on this late afternoon. Neither voiced their apprehension; it wouldn't do to break the charade of indifference they kept up so well. But the fear was what drove Quinn to seek Daria's company with the ready (if flimsy) excuse that she just didn't feel right watching Gone With the Wind alone after the first time. A sad sigh escaped the petite red-head as she admitted to herself the fear of being without her sister for the first time in her life.
Helen sauntered into the livingroom with the intention of calling her daughters to lunch and froze, mouth agape, at the scene which greeted her. Daria lay asleep on the couch, head partially cradled in her sister's lap as Quinn stroked dark hair tenderly back from an untroubled brow, humming softly. Tears prickled at Helen's eyes and squeezed her throat at the sight and, unbidden, a gasp escaped her parted lips as she lost herself in memory.

It was Sunday morning, sunny and fair. Although early, Helen had woke with the sole purpose of getting the girls ready for a pleasant family brunch, no matter how difficult the act of extracting them from their beds proved. Quietly she eased their door open, ready to ambush if need be, and was brought up short. Like sleeping angels, her daughters lay illuminated by a stray shaft of sunlight which peeked through a gap in the blinds. Quinn was tucked in under Daria's chin, tiny hands clasping the fabric of her sister's shirt and matching smiles lit their perfect little faces. Helen held a hand to her mouth as she watched her girls together as she had only seen them once before, fifteen long years ago. Through the still air drifted a song in Quinn's quiet soprano and the corners of Daria's full lips lifted in a small, beatific smile.

"From your head to your toes, you're not much, goodness knows, but you're so precious to me, cute as can be, baby of mine."