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those were happier days, but now

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There’s a moment, in the middle of the parade when Nadia locks eyes with an Alan who’s grinning back at her, swept up in the spontaneity of waving a lantern on a stick amidst people wearing giant paper masks, that she feels like she’s looking at her Alan. The one who called her selfish and thanked her for it. She’s at one with the mood surrounding her as she feels the cool wind on her teeth from grinning.

But the night inevitably ends and Nadia walks a still-drunk Alan back to his apartment, steadies him while he shuffles out of his shoes, and makes sure he doesn't hit his head when he collapses onto his bed. He’s not pulling away, he’s mainly seems interested in sleeping, but he asks what her name is again when she tucks him in. He passes out almost immediately, a deceptively peaceful smile on his face that’s going to be wiped off the moment the hangover kicks in.

And then there’s Nadia, feeling like the last man standing in all of New York, in Alan’s apartment the messiest she’s seen it and she feels exhausted. Between the dying and the waking up from naps in a panic, she can’t remember the last time she’s actually had a full night’s sleep. But a couple hours ago, when she’d lain down and passed out for a second, she’d woken up to Alan on the roof and she still feels too wired.

She surveys the apartment for a moment then uses her foot to push some of the empty cake plastics and beer bottles across the apartment floor to scatter them in front of the bedroom doorway and Alan’s shoes across the floor of the living-room. She drags the umbrella stand across the front door for good measure before she collapses onto the couch. She’s out cold 2 minutes later with her unlit cigarette dangling from her mouth.

And then. Of course since Alan was the kind of fucker who’d be up at the asscrack of dawn after a night of binge drinking, Nadia jolts awake to the sound of mild swearing and the crackle of plastic trash being tripped over about three hours later.

Nadia’s up like a shot, and it takes a moment for the exhaustion and the bleariness in her eyes to fade enough to make contact with a very confused looking Alan looking shockingly pulled together after how drunk he’d been the night before

“Who are you?”

Even after having time to get used to it the night before, some part of her must have been hoping that her Alan would be the one waking up in the morning. Nadia was going to have to get over the crushing disappointment she felt looking at an almost stranger.

“I’m Nadia. We – uh- met last night.”

Somehow the cigarette had stayed in her mouth all night, the paper drying and gluing to her lip. It finally falls now and Nadia catches it and shoves it back into her pocket.

“You don’t remember.”

Nadia tries not to let the profound disappointment come through, but luckily, she’s had a lifetime of practicing pretending to be cool.

“We met last night. At Farran’s. You were really drunk and I kinda had a bad feeling about it so I volunteered to keep an eye on you.”

Alan’s brow furrow, then furrows and furrows and furrows.

“Did you take me to a… there were giant heads?”

He pauses, his mulish expression feeling too familiar to Nadia, and she takes pity on him.

“There was a parade down by the park. We got swept away in the moment, you know?”

Nadia feels a tangle in her hair as she turns her head, and she pulls at the clump, focusing on squinting on it instead of Alan just as his expression wavers, and she resists the urge to turn to count the creases in his forehead, lets him work through his drunken memories on his own.

It takes him enough of a moment that Nadia conquers the knot without losing part of her scalp, and she doesn’t end up with too big of a hairball in her hands.

She’s not so distracted that she misses the hitch in Alan’s breathing.

“Did we have a conversation on the roof?”

This Alan is recovering his memory so much faster than her Alan- maybe it’s the lack of trauma of actually going through with it. Maybe her telling him a bedtime story soothed him a bit.

She looks up to see Alan’s face finally crumble, and. Oh. It’s so much worse this time. There’s no distractions of timeloops fucking with dozens of other deaths reducing the impact of it all..

Alan crouches down, collapses in on himself, and Nadia finds herself standing over him, petting him awkwardly on the shoulder making what feels like attempts at soothing ‘there there’ noises.

“You know. I was almost afraid you wouldn’t remember. I kinda committed myself to looking after you now and trying to delicately explain myself and the situation seems like a challenge.”

She remembers confusing him with her sudden swings in conversation, throwing him off his thought train. She’s using it to her advantage.

“It’s like that saying? That proverb about how you’re responsible for people or some shit if you save their life? Maxine found it on some really trashy racist looking piece of kitch at the thrift store. Inspiring words in some chinese takeout font. Real inspiring.”

Alan’s still now under her hands, head slightly cocked. It feels like he’s stopped crying for the moment.

“So. Alan my friend. You accidentally tripped and landed with your own fairy godmother.”

She smiles beatifically at him, holds the grin until he looks up at her, and gives him a look at her full set of teeth. She has been told it’s her most unsettling smile.

***

Alan clearly does not know what to make of her, and Nadia is using it to her full advantage. He’s letting her into his apartment when she stops by though, only a little bit hesitant. A few times she brings food. A couple times she’s brought Oatmeal over. She’s quite familiar with how soothing it is to pet a cat.

Alan had been a little skitting around Oatmeal at first, unfamiliar with cats, but he’s learned to sit very still and let Oatmeal lounge in his lap. Occasionally, his spine relaxes a little as he skritches Oatmeal a behind the ears.

Conversation is still awkward. There’s only so much Nadia can say Alan word vomited at her while he was drunk, though she can get away with saying she knows all there is to know about Beatrice. The rest is all thin ice of sensitive topics that Alan spent a lifetime repressing.

That rest of it, she has to pretend to learn it all again, and let this Alan learn about her in turn.

It’s slow going.

Nadia has opened up to an Alan. She’s talked about her mother and unloaded at least three family secrets to an Alan. Not this Alan though. She’s mostly a stranger to this Alan, as much as she remembers having a few of the most difficult conversations of her life with him.

Just because the universe has given Nadia a small tall child to take care of, doesn’t mean the universe gave her the child-rearing skills to go along with

This Alan is still leery of her, though not as much as he had been when she had hunted him down in the middle of the time loops. But. opening up is slow going, and as much as Nadia wants to just skip to the end of the book and have all the work be done, she’s still working out how to have conversations with him. But generally, the idea is to keep him from feeling alone- to keep both of them from being alone.

Changing a lifetime of habits even after one (ongoing repeating) traumatic incident is hard.

Mostly, she’s been sitting next to him on his couch, playing her video game at him. They don’t have to look at each other in the face, she can figure out what her younger self was thinking when she designed the fucker, and Alan can warm up to her.

“So like Ruth. She knows how I feel about therapists. She mostly therapizes me by being wise and hoping I absorb it via osmosis.”

The level she’s playing is a particularly frustrating and she barely recognizes the younger version of herself who designed this.

Alan, sitting completely still, but with his spine relaxed for once to balance Oatmeal in his lap, turn uncomfortably in the corner of her vision.

“I always hated therapists. Makes me think of spiders.”

The response- the line- is at the tip of Nadia’s tongue, but that feels like tempting fate again or something. (Who the fuck transports bees on the fucking subway?)

“Well, you've got the next best thing then, a sarcastic damaged asshole who grew up adopted by a therapist. I might tell you maybe to smoke a little weed to relax when you need it, but mostly I’m here to describe life to you as a detached, aloof viewer trying to crack how this all works. All I know is. Ignoring problems doesn’t really work, and we shouldn’t be alone if we don’t want to be.”

Nadia can hear the frown in air between them as she reaches the end of the level, and she lets the game autosave before she gives it a pause and sets down the controller.

“You want anything to eat? Farran said he wanted to borrow Oatmeal for a bit to impress some girl, so I need to stop by the bodega.”

Alan stands and pulls on a coat, following her out the door of his apartment, trailing her, a little like a baby duck she metaphorizes to herself, and it shows how much she’s grown as a person that she finds it kind of endearing.

***

Contrary to her carefree bohemian seeming life, Nadia does sometimes have to put in hours at her job and occasionally work at home. Even if her team are all condescending douche bags who keep thinking she can’t find the space bar on her keyboard with a map and clear directions from a man.

So call her a petty bitch. She takes a few hours to bang out some code over dinner to fix some problems Chad couldn’t get a handle on in the office. Gives her a chance to show him up, and get her stamp on the new release. Like she’s been showing him up at the office. Probably why Derek kept mouthing ‘bitch’ when her back was turned, like he was too stupid to realize laptop screens were shiny and reflected.

So she’s in the middle of a coding spree, eating chicken tenders out of the takeout carton, when there’s the politest knock at her door. So polite it takes a repeat for her to notice it, and it’s definitely not more delivery people knocking that tentatively.

“Hold your fucking horses, I’m coming”

She yells this basically into Alan’s face as she’s opening the door, and she’s unsurprised to see the look of alarm on his face set on his face at her volume.

“Alan.”

She steps back, pulling the door open further, the universal ‘come in’ gesture made with the wireless mouse she’s apparently brought with her to the door.

Alan takes a step forward, then pauses just before crossing her threshold.

“Aren’t you going to ask how I know where you live?”

Nadia pauses and thinks back- back, back, back- to the last time Alan was at her apartment, which was that one time they’d banged then she’d thrown a fit about him touching her stuff.

Ah.

“I never mentioned it? We are neighbors.”

Alan shakes his head.

“I texted Farran. He mentions he drops off Oatmeal sometimes.”

Nadia shrugs, because that absolutely checks out, and she impatiently waves her hand in the doorway until Alan finally steps inside and she shuts the door quickly in case her escape artist cat finally notices and tries to make a break for it.

“I thought it might be super stalkery if I told you I found out where you live, and I didn’t want to freak you out, so I had the whole story ready, and I think Farran thinks we’re dating or something.”

He’s blabbering as Nadia directs him to the couch and points to the leftover fries from her takeout while she shuffles over to hit save on her computer so she doesn’t lose the last couple hours of work.

“I have seen you at your absolute worst, drunk beyond belief, and you wouldn’t hurt a fly. Well. Maybe yourself but you changed your mind about that too.”

Maybe she says it too casually as she walks back out to her living room, and she catches the expression that wobbles across Alan’s face, but he stuff a few fries in his mouth and doesn’t make eye contact for a moment.

“I think about punching some people sometimes?”

Mumbled through a mouthful like he’s afraid she’ll actually understand what he’s saying.

“Then I think about getting arrested for assault and I walk away. Doing push ups help.”

Nadia coughs out a laugh as as she drops down onto the armchair across from the couch and leans back to put her feet up on the corner of her coffee table.

“So. What brings you to my den of iniquity this fine evening, my young street fighter.”

Alan picks up another fry, still not looking at her, and pokes at the chicken tender left in the box.

“This place does some great wings. I can’t help myself on cheat day.”

Nadia, who misses chicken wings despite them betraying her, sighs.

“Do you know what choking on a bone feels like? Like dying. I’m not going to order wings when it’s just me here with Oatmeal to pick at my corpse when I expire on my carpet.”

“You’re really dark, you know that?”

She shrugs dramatically.

“Eh. I’ve been through some traumatic situations recently. You could call them near death experiences. Left me with a warped sense of humour”

She sits up to snag a fry then looks at Alan until the heat of her stare must get him him and he finally looks in the direction of her face.

“So. Not that I’m not impressed with you making the move to come find me, this developing into a two way friendship only says good things about my people skills. But what brings you here on this glorious Wednesday night.”

For someone so tall, Alan sure does know how to make himself look small, especially on her tiny couch.

“I had a stressful day at work and I got home and almost called Beatrice. And then I started to spiral. So I called Farran.”

“Ah, you remembered you had a fairy godmother so you came by for some emotional support. Look at you making an effort.”

She feels so proud, and it must come through in her voice- Alan relaxes a little.

“Well, my old coping mechanisms of smoking laced joints till I have an out of body experience isn’t your jam. So. Wanna eat cake and play video games?”

She’s putting in the delivery on her phone, and she gets up to sit by his side on the couch- not touching, but close enough that she could if she wanted to. She can feel Alan slowly relax next to her, and this kind of quiet night would have been completely out of character for the old her, but really, she’s grown as a person. A lot of character development, seemingly overnight to her friends, but they still love her, and she can pass some of that warmth along to let Alan know he’s not alone in the world.