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by: Coraline Larson
The fragile woman panted and struggled against the tide of panic and adrenaline that threatened to drag her back down into a full-blown anxiety attack, shivering despite the warmth of the bath. When Matt came to her side she held his hand tightly for several minutes until she was calm enough to manage standing and getting out of the bathtub. She clung to his hand like it was a life-preserver thrown to a drowning woman, and what was she if not just that? The storm of memories and emotions that the Dark Lord had locked away had been unleashed in a vicious flood when the magic had been broken, leaving Cora floundering both mentally and physically as she tried to deal with the sudden freedom. She needed to get ahold of herself. Matt didn’t need to deal with this after what she had already put him through…

After a few minutes Cora allowed Matt to help her out of the tub and into a warm towel, slowly making her way back to her bedroom. She sat on the stool at the end of her bed and relaxed a little more as he helped her comb out her wet hair and pulled it back into a simple braid when it was untangled. Cora dressed in the outfit Matt had laid out for her, too absorbed in her own thoughts to realize what she was even putting on, and looked up at the marine when he asked to scoop her up in a blanket. Her voice was still little more than a soft whisper when she answered, a slight crease between her brows denoting her concern.

“I… I don’t want the blanket please… My chest hurts still and… and it feels like an elephant sitting on my lungs… Don’t want to be wrapped up. M’sorry,” she trailed off, looking down at her hands clenched in her lap.
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by: Matthew Cox
No burrito, fair enough. Matt nodded at her request and offered his hand to her.

"That's fine. I was planning on taking you to my room and reading to you. Would you rather I brought breakfast in here and read to you here? Actually, that's a better idea than moving you. Here, lay back...I'll be right back."

Matt stood and padded out. He was overdoing the pampering, probably. She wanted him to be mad at her, wanted validation for the self recriminations he had piled on her...and honestly, a part of him wanted to lay it out. A part of him wanted to rail against her and scream in frustration and beat his fists against the wall...but he was a man and men didn't behave like boys. Sunshine had made his point earlier, but that wasn't who he was. No...scripture was clear: do not repay evil with evil, but instead overcome evil with good. That's what he was going to do...a lot of bad had been done to him, but he'd honor God and himself by repaying with good. Besides, Cora wasn't to blame for what the Dark Lady did. she was as much a victim as he was. She'd repented and was grieving...he forgave her. and he'd keep forgiving until neither of them held the past against her.

He balanced the plates and book carefully and returned to her, handed her her plate of french toast, and then bowed his head to pray. Instead of praying silently like he usually did, he gave Cora the benefit of hearing what he was praying for.

"God, thank you for this day of reconciliation and healing. Guide our steps and thoughts so that we may best honor you, please. Thank you for this food we are about to consume. Thank you for Cora, and the opportunity for us to grow together beyond our rougher beginnings. Amen."

That done, he sat on the bed and crossed his legs. He opened the book and carefully felt the page. Matt found the beginning of the story and took a bite of breakfast before he started reading.

"The Five Orange Pips, by Arthur Conan Doyal...When I glance over my notes and records of the Sherlock Holmes cases between the years '82 and '90, I am faced by so many which present strange and interesting features that it is no easy matter to know which to choose and which to leave. Some, however, have already gained publicity through the papers, and others have not offered a field for those peculiar qualities which my friend possessed in so high a degree, and which it is the object of these papers to illustrate."

He lost himself in reading, abandoning his own breakfast in favor of telling the tale to Cora.
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by: Coraline Larson
Matt’s pampering and fussing and kindness was just too much. With the way he was almost manic in his actions with his quick changes of mind and his speech, Cora was simply overwhelmed. She had expected him to be furious, to rant and rage at her like a madman, not dote on her and be so kind… When he explained his plan to bring her breakfast and read to her all she could do was nod quietly and curl up on her bed, sitting against the headboard with her knees drawn up to her chest as she tried to calm the lingering storm of anxiety in her heart. Everything was just too much… She wanted quiet, but didn’t want to be alone. She knew she should eat something, but didn’t feel hungry and in fact, felt almost nauseous with anxiety. She… didn’t know what she wanted, really, just that the raging storm of emotions, memories, and nightmares in her mind and in her heart was so close to swamping her and sending her into a spiral she wasn’t even sure she could explain even if she wanted to.

Before Matt came back Cora quietly wiped the tears that had slipped down her cheeks away. She accepted the plate of breakfast he handed her and settled against the headboard once more, listlessly picking at the french toast more than eating it. When he prayed over their food she wanted to tell him to stop, not because of the act of praying itself, but rather because she still felt she didn’t deserve his forgiveness letalone God’s. She remained quiet, however, and stayed that way while Matt began to read.
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by: Matthew Cox
The story followed the ebb and flow of Sir Doyle's style. Matt finished the story and bent down to kiss Cora's crown. After the show of affection, he picked up his plate and ate his French toast steadily. She was still anxious and uncomfortable with him. What was he supposed to do? He needed to forgive her for himself. She seemed to have issues accepting the forgiveness. Well, there was nothing he could do for her beyond keep giving her forgiveness.

Matt moved the plates to the floor and then laid beside Cora. She was in a quiet mood, so he wasn't going to ruin that by talking. No, he would give her silence. When she was ready to talk, to ask him why, to yell at him, to tell him to go, to ask him to stay...when she was ready, he would be available for her.

He sighed and spooned her, cuddling in comfortably. One of his arms wrapped around her and pulled her snugly against his chest. "Let me know if this isn't comfortable, okay?" He kissed her scalp again.
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by: Coraline Larson
Matt’s gentle, soothing voice recited the words of one of her favorite authors steadily until the story was finished. Cora’s lips quirked slightly in a brief parody of a smile when the mutant kissed her hair tenderly, her eyes still on her own plate of breakfast. She had eaten only a few bites, the knot of anxiety and guilt in the pit of her stomach stealing away any appetite she might have had for the food. She was glad when Matt took the plates away after he was finished eating; even the smell of the food was making her stomach roil and threaten to rebel again.

Cora allowed Matt to maneuver her into lying down with him stoically. She still didn’t understand why he was so willing to forgive her, letalone take care of her like this. Of course he said that he loved her and that he wanted to work toward a future together, but forgiveness and love was such a foreign concept to the former assassin that the words just didn’t seem to make sense in her mind, at least not when applied to herself. It had to be a trap. He would yell and scream at her like she had expected, like he had done briefly earlier, it was just a matter of time. If she relaxed and believed that he forgave her it would only hurt more when the inevitable explosion of punishment happened later. There was no reason to fight or deny it, that was just how things were according to her mind. She deserved nothing less.

And so she lay passively in Matt’s arms as he cuddled her gently. The tender grip around her waist was so comfortable… she almost wanted to believe it was genuine affection, but the cynical voice in the back of her head scoffed at the notion anyone would give her real affection. She was a tool, a weapon, a slave; slaves didn’t deserve affection, they simply waited for orders and did as they were told.

Cora shivered slightly in response to the jumble of thoughts in her mind and nodded slightly. “If you’re comfortable, it’s fine,” she murmured, her voice barely more than a whisper.
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by: Matthew Cox
"My precious little fire...I love you. You're so beautiful. I'm sorry I yelled earlier. Mo tine...mo ghra."

He whispered the affectionate words to her gently and stilled, not quite falling into a doze as he cuddled and relaxed with her. This felt better and more clean than any of the self help recovery techniques he had done for himself in the last several days. He felt still and calm here, relaxed now, happy. He did love her. There was no denying the feeling of cherished, protective, passionate, possessive love. He wanted to shield her from anything that would attack her...so how did he protect her from the dark thing gnawing on her mind? He could sense her guilt and her passive acceptance. This wasn't the fireball that quipped jokes at him. His Cora was hurting and he didn't know what to do for her. For now, this would have to be it.

Matt didn't know how to help her the way she really needed. All he could do was pray for her and give her moments of peace. Taking care of her and reminding her of his love were his go-to strategies until they could find someone to offer her better care. Matt hugged her briefly, then sank into a deeper doze with one arm still wrapped around her protectively.
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by: Coraline Larson
‘... I’m sorry I yelled earlier…’

Oh. Oh no… Cora started to tremble as she listened to Matt’s declarations of love and apologies. The disconnected, distant feeling rising up from the back of her mind… oh, Merlin, not now. She had barely recovered from the last one… not again… The fog of long-forgotten memories and emotions rolled up like a tide and crashed over her already exhausted mind in a destructive tsunami, dragging her back to somewhere she never wanted to visit again…

‘I’m sorry, but you left me no choice, pet… Master is so sorry he had to punish you… but you won’t do it again, will you, my little spitfire?’ The unctuous, slimy voice of her handler oozed over her like molasses: too sweet and as sticky and tricky as a spider’s web. That voice was both a weapon and a balm. It could cut like the sharpest knife or envelope and soothe like the softest velvet, and the man behind it wielded both like a highly-trained samurai.

He stood over her still-twitching body with that same expression of feigned affection, so believable… so comforting… He said that he punished her so that she would learn, so that she could be perfect. Their Lord needed her to be perfect, he said, and their Lord would be so proud of her… would love her… if she could learn to be perfect. And she wanted that… oh, how she wanted that! But… but was it? Was that really what she wanted….? A niggling thought caught at the back of her mind briefly… a name… Coraline… whose name was that? Was it… was it hers?

‘No, no, my pet… none of that,” the voice scolded, although it sounded like the voice was inside her own mind this time. Sheer white-hot agony blazed a trail through her body again, setting every nerve ending, every cell, every molecule of her being on fire as it ravaged her. ‘Master loves you, pet… that’s why you must be punished…’

Tears leaked out of the corners of her eyes and a breathless sob tore from her throat as the intrusive memory subsided, leaving Cora trembling and half-sick in Matt’s arms.
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by: Matthew Cox
MAtt held onto her for dear life during the episode. How was he supposed to fight the demons in her mind when he couldn’t contain the one in his own? He’d have to find a way. Somehow, somewhere, there was help for them...both of them...that didn’t lead to incarceration, slavery, or death. He had to believe that, had to hold onto it. After all? If the hope of recovery was gone? What was left? Devolving into a monster? No.

Matt accepted that he could and would fall eventually. Who better was aware of his own imperfections than him? But the hallmark of who he was was this: he got back up. Life could knock him askew, circumstances could drag him into the dark night of his soul, and situations could floor him, but he didn’t stay down. His was the fire and the fight, the will to persevere, the indomitable spirit that would not bow to injustice or wrong. All that’s Matt and Cora needed was for him to find that grit and pull, right? Wrong. Grit alone wouldn’t salve the wounds in their mind so and hearts, but it would give him the courage to find help.

...Matbe Klaus would be willing to help...? No, it was hard seeing his brother forgive the witch who tossed Matt’s life’s into hell. Klaus could probably try for his sake, but Cora wouldn’t react well if she thought for a moment that the Mi5 contractor was out for vengeance. No, help would have to come from somewhere across the horizon in their lives...Klaus could help him, and maybe recommend someone for Cora...he’d have to call him and see.

Nobody would be happy that hewas back here...hell, would anyone even understand that Cora and the Dark Lady were separate people? In all likelihood, they would be fugitives in the fring of society for the rest of their lives. And you know what, Matt mused, she was worth it.

With that resolution firmly in mind, Matt did his best to calm Cora.

”You’re safe. You’re at home, in my room with me. It’s okay. Nobody is going to hurt you. I love you, and I accept you just as you are. It’s okay to hurt. It’s okay to be scared. I understand that you don’t feel good, and I don’t expect you to pretend to feel okay just to make me happy. It’s okay if you need to cry. There is no shame in feeling, and you’re safe here. I’ll protect you as best as I can. I love you and I’m here to help you however you need. Breathe gently. Calm...can you tell me what you’re thinking?”

He kept his voice soft and gentle for her, trying to gently coax her forward out of whatever has ensnared her mind.
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