The sunlight assails him through the flimsy curtains the moment he awakens, and he winces, throwing a hand over his eyes with a muttered oath.
Always too soon. Resisting the urge to crawl right back under the covers, he tries to disentangle himself from them; he fails, hitting the floor with a loud and painful sounding thud that signifies the meeting of skin and floorboards.
He looks over his shoulder, half-expecting his mother to walk in – without, of course, any regard for his privacy – and start saying things like, “Language, Alister.” Because he’s never been List to his mother. Never. It would be just wrong, like the world turning backwards or his ties turning orange.
Does. Not. Happen.
Yet, when his eyes fall upon the doorway, it’s empty, the room seeming hollow and sparse, and he remembers…
He’s not at home anymore. Mom isn’t here.
She’d looked up at him worriedly a few months ago, as he’d been walking downstairs, finishing off the last touches on his hair, checking his reflection in the glass of hanging pictures. “You’re spending an awful lot of time with that detective,” she said, hesitantly, voice quiet and eyes on the table.
He swallowed, not sure exactly what she was saying, and his comb halted its progress as he watched her with a wary eye. “Mom?”
She looked at him properly then, meeting his eye, her brow crinkling. “I just… I just worry about you. You could be answering phones and making coffee, or be being dragged off into God-knows-what and I wouldn’t know…”
He looked away from her with an almost inaudible sigh, running a hand through his hair and probably ruining all his work on it – it had a horrible tendency to wither to either lie lank on his head like some sort of wounded animal or look like he’d been electrocuted, seemingly without a comfortable medium.
Thank God she didn’t know about the demons. Maybe that conversation was for another day.
“This city isn’t always friendly…” his mother began, and he was forcibly reminded of Melinda warning him off taking the job, when he’d first asked for it.
“It’s a good job,” he tried in protest, “and I needed it. And there’s nothing too crazy going on.” The lie was worryingly natural from his lips, and his eyes strayed to his shoe, his toe scuffing on the floor in his nervousness as he fidgeted.
“I can’t help being worried for you,” she said, her hands on her face, and he felt a pang of sympathy for her.
“Mom,” he said slowly, gently, and came to rest a hand on her shoulder. “I…” He swallowed, knowing it was complicated. “I trust Melinda.”
When her hands finally came away from her face, she was looking straight into his eyes, trying out a fragile smile. “Right,” she said, voice determined, as if bracing herself. “Right.”
It’s weird, feeling like there’s no-one hovering, expecting him up. Yeah, he has a job to do, but that’s… different. There’s no worried mother at the kitchen table, just Melinda and Mary hanging round the office, independent and expecting him to be too.
He hears Mary’s voice distantly, from downstairs, and runs his hands down his face, aware that these are the new sounds of his morning. It still feels kind of unreal.
He’d been surprised when his mother had agreed to him getting his own place… ish, above the office. He’d been astonished, in fact, and had asked her why.
She’d placed both hands on his shoulders, looked up at him, and said with a smile, “I trust you. And I trust your trust in her.”
He remembered their earlier conversation, remembered what he’d said about Melinda.
His mother had looked away then, worry clouding her eyes once more. “I just hope she’s worthy of it.”
Later, as he steps into the office – Melinda nodding at him with a small smile over her newspaper, feet propped on her desk – he remembers that he’s still not dead yet, mainly thanks to her, and thinks that she just might be.