Shelter

"Blood's thicker than water, and when one's in trouble best to seek out a relative's open arms."-unknown

He's working through his second drink when he hears her behind him, that light step of her bare feet against the wooden floor. The glass slips from his hand and onto the table as he shifts in the chair, head tilting to the door.

She's standing in the doorway, looking small and insubstantial in her nightgown, hair tumbled over her forehead, eyes reddened with barely held back tears. He gets to his feet, legs heavy and faltering to support him, teetering like an ancient man without a cane to prop him up.

"Jarrod." She hasn't even finished his name when he opens his arms and she ploughs into them, face buried against his chest, arms reaching around him, fists clenching handfuls of the back of his shirt. They cling together, her scent of soap and flowers mingling with the cigar smoke and musty books that seep into his clothes.

"I know." He whispers against her hair. She sobs against him, and he holds her too tightly, as if he can siphon the pain out of her and into himself, take away a little of the grief. Her tears soak into his skin and his own eyes burn from withheld tears, jaw clenched in a feeble effort to hold himself together for her sake.

He's always tried to soften the world for her, it seems, sweep some of the dark clouds away before she sees it each morning and only present her with the sunshine. Nick was independent from the time he could walk but Audra was his baby sister, the one he spoiled and teased, fought for and dusted off when she fell and scraped her knees, the one he'd die for rather than see her hurt. Tonight there's nothing he can do to shelter her, not even a lie to convince her that Father isn't dead, that he's coming home.

He was always her protector, the scapegoat for her mischief, the one to run to at night when she had a nightmare, the way he once ran to father. But he's grown and too old to hide from the monsters under his bed and there's no one to run to now.

So he clings to Audra and draws a little of her strength for himself as she draws from all he has left. And somehow together they make it to morning.