Feferi: Wake up
You don’t need your alarm clock, but it’s on anyway, just in case—sometimes you have to get up in the night and deal with emergencies, and you often have paperwork that keeps you up fairly late. It’s the kind of thing you never forget to do: turn on the alarm before you pull the covers up and switch off the light.
First order of business, of course, is to feed your fish. The tank in your room is a Fluval Edge you’d saved up for—and spent a long time planting—before you got your dwarf puffer, and that little guy is just the most darling creature. He’s tiny, not even an inch long, and he drifts around fluttering his miniscule fins and gazing at you thoughtfully while you tweeze out several gross little bloodworms from a frozen cube and drop them into the tank. Then, of course, his concentration is totally on FOOD. His name is Foster.
(He has the tiniest little buck teeth. You can’t get over how adorable this is.)
Later you’ll fetch him a snail from the bigger tank in the day room—he hasn’t had one of those in a while, although you kind of don’t really like watching while he eats those. Snails are cute too, dammit.
The weather outside is grey and depressing and rainy, so after you shower you put on a bright fuchsia-violet-blue batik dress and pull your hair back from your face with a similarly bright scarf (which Equius had given you, actually, two years ago, for Non-Denominational Winter Solstice Holiday Celebration, after which he had been unable to look you in the face for three whole days). Clinking bangles follow, and a cream-colored cardigan because St. Lobaf’s air conditioning can be pretty fierce at times, and you’re ready to face the day.
Mostly what you do is babysitting—you’re in charge of the women’s ward, the live-in supervisor, and for the most part it’s very rewarding work: you get to help create an environment, an atmosphere, which supports these kids as they’re getting better, and watching that happen is the best thing you’ve ever felt. Sure, from time to time you’re exasperated—Vriska Serket is never an easy prospect to handle—but if you didn’t love this work you wouldn’t do it. And the people you work with are genuinely good people, whom you trust and respect and enjoy being part of a team with.
You think about them as you bustle around the ward, checking in the duty desk computer for who’s got to see whom when—oh, good, Eridan’s regular therapist is back on, he’d had to see a locum for a couple days while his proper therapist dealt with something at home—and if there are any notes you should be aware of. Dr. Pyrope is…well, she’s a lot to deal with on first acquaintance, but she’s one of the smartest, most talented, and most determined people you’ve met in this business, and what she’s done with some of these kids is nothing short of miraculous.
(Heh. That makes you think of Gamzee, who always makes your heart hurt a little: he’s so sweet, so genuinely good-natured, that when he has his downturns it wakes your mostly-dormant emotional response that this is unjust, that there’s some kind of overarching authority to whom you could appeal and say that the world is not as it ought to be and someone ought to fix it. You’ve learned through long experience to push that response away, because it helps no one, but sometimes you just want to shake the world until its teeth rattle and tell it to S)(AP—E UP AND FLY RIG)(T! —generally a warning that you need to take a step back and go watch the fish swimming for a little while and get your own head serene.)
Then there’s Equius, who is objectively adorable on a number of levels he’s totally unaware of, and whose rumbling shoulder-hunched shyness you have learned to disregard. He’s not the first person in this world you’ve known who comes from privilege, or the first who’s taken the mental step away from everything he’s ever experienced to throw himself into the business of helping others, but he is so endearingly earnest about it, so serious, so mirthless, that his small attempts at levity or self-awareness or, God forbid, jollity, seem to you like the little wonderful breakthroughs you see your patients make.
(You had squeaked to yourself when you’d seen him doggedly attempting to knit for the first time. And then you’d told yourself to be sensible, for God’s sake, Peixes, he doesn’t need any more attention called to this than he can help; but you’d gone to the good yarn store that winter-solstice-gift-exchange and you had bought for him a couple of skeins of soft heavy merino in the dark blue he seems to favor, and a set of steel needles less likely to splinter than the acrylic ones he’d been working with.)
Tavros, you think, has a brilliant career ahead of him. It’s more than a little cliched to remark that he’s Overcome Obstacles, but he has, and he is, every day he is, and his work with these kids must be doubly challenging given that he’s barely more than a kid himself. It’s not often that you see someone his age with such a…well, vocation. And it makes you so grateful, again, that you get to work here, and you get to be part of this place. You can’t fix people, you can only give them the support they need and the company and companionship and reassurance they need, and the rest they have to manage on their own: but with people like Terezi Pyrope and Equius Zahhak and Tavros Nitram around you think they have a fighting chance.
You are also, always, so glad that St. Lobaf’s has a relaxed attitude toward things like your fishtank and your pond-digging escapades and your insistence that the patients not on checks be encouraged to join the group walks around the grounds; you’re absolutely sure that sunlight and fresh air and the presence of actual dirt and growing things is helpful to people who’re trying to work through prisons their own minds are building for them. Watching your kids marveling over how fuzzy baby ducklings are is more than enough to make up for the way your back had hurt after you dug that damn pond out, or still the lecture from the center’s financial officer. (Dr. Pyrope had stood up for you. You had sort of foreseen that, but it had been a wonderful feeling nonetheless.)
Jade hangs out with you a lot. Sometimes she helps you with the water changes for the big tank; sometimes she just settles on a chair while you’re doing the paperwork and doesn’t expect you to talk, to entertain her, just sits there in comfortable silence. Kanaya is less outgoing, but Rose had spent several weeks attempting to psychoanalyze you in such a pointed way that you had more or less just allowed it, answering cheerfully and simply whenever she ran down.
(You kind of want to shout at Rose’s mother.)
Then there’s Nepeta, whose attachment to Equius is both sweet and on the face of it potentially problematic: but you think it actually probably does both of them a lot of good. He isn’t used to simple unquestioning affection: she has never had someone like him around to braid his hair and demand that he tell her stories, someone so large and quietly present in a way that doesn’t require that she respond to it.
Vriska Serket, girl disaster, is your most problematic charge. Personality disorders are always difficult to deal with, and it’s vital to remember that the person in question isn’t always responsible for their behavior, but sometimes you could swear she’s doing it just to get up your nose—and at the same time you wish, you wish very much, that there was something you or anyone else could do to really help. She’s a bundle of hurt and anger and resentment and vulnerability and self-destruction, a knot of knives, and she of all the people you care for makes you tired to your bones and question whether you’re doing any good at all.
(When that happens you go and watch Foster putter about and gaze at you, or feed the ducks, or visit Ms. Paint and do some extravagant drawings of cuttlefish, or make a batch of cookies, or steal a couple moments to do some brief yoga poses. It never lasts, you know it never lasts.)
Finished with the computer for now, you go to say hi to the staff who are now coming on duty, and catch a glimpse of Equius in his blue scrubs across the hall. He really has got very good hair, and maybe one of these years you and the rest of the staff can convince him of this. You wave, and toss your head very slightly so the bright scarf flutters, and yes, even at this distance you can see him blush.
You go about your duties, but the smile on your face takes a long time to fade.