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Old Habit

Arick was pacing around his apartment. "Ugh. I knew I shouldn't have let her go to the store alone." he mumbled to himself.

He thought she would be okay with all of the self-defense training he had been giving Lillafery lately, but he still felt uneasy. He wanted her to be as safe as possible, but also wanted to make sure she would be able to be safe on her own someday. He knows he can't watch over her forever, as much as he wishes he could.

I know the store is just right next door, but it's far enough to where anything could happen, and I'd be too far away to help. He thought. He hated this, the feeling of stress and paranoia that used to plague him in his days in the streets. He wished he could just focus on something else, something like... oh right.

Arick has been smoke-free for a while, ever since he met Lillafery. He wouldn't dare let her be influenced by his less-than-great past. But occasionally, when he gets especially stressed, the cravings come back.

The memories flood his head; the quick feeling of relief that it gave him, the feeling of needing nothing else even for just a few minutes, the one thing he could rely on when he felt like it was the end of the world.

I know I shouldn't, but god is it really tempting right about now. Why is this so FUCKING DIFFICULT. If Lill comes back she'll see me. She doesn't need to see me like this, I don't want her to end up this way.

He snarls and paces around even faster, stressed and lost in his thoughts. She'll end up like me and it'll be my fault. If only I had just fucking gone with her everything would be-

"GOD DAMN IT!"

*CRACK*

The static in his eyes quickly fades away. He stares at the hole he had just punched into the drywall.

Shit. Of fucking course. I have to hide this before she gets back.

Usually, Arick tries to hide his occasional violent outbursts from Lillafery, making sure to never hurt her. Although, he couldn't remember the last time he had an outburst that was this aggressive.

If she sees this she'll be confused, and I can't explain it to her or she'll be scared of me. I'll lose her. I can't lose her, she's the only good I've got left. He thought. He needed to do something quickly.

While looking around in his closet for a poster or something to cover up the hole, he came across a pack of his old cigarettes.

If I would've known these were gonna come back to bite me in the ass at the worst possible time I would've thrown them out earlier. I know I really really shouldn't do this, but I just need one, just to help me calm down. One can't hurt, right?

He pulled one out of the pack. He could remember the smell like it was yesterday. He held it in his mouth and quickly looked around for a lighter, the final step in achieving some sort of relief. He frantically searched all around the apartment, no longer thinking about the hole in the wall or even Lillafery; all he could think about was the cigarette and finding that lighter. Where the hell is it?

He threw open the drawer of his nightstand and rummaged around through the junk. There it is. He reaches in to pick it up and-

*click*

Before he gets the chance to grab the lighter, the door to the apartment unlocks and gently opens. Arick turns his head to see Lillafery standing in the doorway, holding a shopping bag full of snacks.

Shit.

He quickly drops the cigarette into the drawer, but he knows it's too late.

At first, Lillafery was smiling, proud that she was able to go to the store and come back on her own. But when she saw the cigarette fall and the distress in his face, her smile faded away. The door closes behind her.

"Arick? What that?" She asks quietly, still not completely comfortable with her english but just enough to speak small and simple sentences around Arick.

"Lill, you're back! I uh.. this is nothing. It's nothing." Oh god, I never wanted her to see me like this.

"Huh? Something...?" She's confused, only having seen Arick this stressed very rarely. Curious about what fell from his mouth, she glances towards the drawer, then back at him, with her head tilted slightly.

Arick sighs and closes the drawer. He slowly walks up to her, kneels to her level, and gently puts his hands on her shoulders.

"Lillafery, please listen to me. Make good decisions. Be better than me. I've done a lot of bad things in my life. Please don't follow in my footsteps. I know there's only so much I can do to help without forcing anything, but if I can at least influence you somehow, please let it be in the best way possible. I'm sorry you had to see that."

"What you mean? Are you ok?"

"Just promise to be better than me, okay Lill?"

She pauses, wondering if she did something wrong, but notices that he's looking at the floor, seemingly more ashamed at himself rather than upset at her. She doesn't fully understand why, and wants to ask more questions, but knows that right now he just needs her reassurance.

"Ok. I promise."

"Thanks, kiddo." He smiles and hugs her tightly, "I'm so glad you made it back safe. Now, show me what you got from the store."

Later that night, Lillafery couldn't sleep. She wanted to know what Arick dropped into the drawer when she came back home. She quietly gets out of bed, careful as to not wake Arick up, and walks to the nightstand. She slowly pulls open the drawer and spots the cigarette. She carefully picks it up and examines it.

Paper stick? She thought.

Surely something this small and seemingly harmless could be causing so much distress to Arick, right? Then, she looks up, and notices a crooked poster that wasn't there before. The tape was peeling off, and the poster was barely hanging onto the wall; someone must've put this up in a rush. She peers behind the poster and sees the hole in the wall. Did paper stick make Arick do this?

Hm. Paper stick bad, it hurt Arick. Bad.

She quietly closes the drawer, cigarette still in hand, and heads to the balcony. She knows he doesn't like her going onto the balcony unsupervised, especially at night, but she knew she had to do this, and would make sure to be careful. She quietly opens the door, peers over the rails, and drops the cigarette. She watches it fall into a conveniently placed trash bin. She stays out on the balcony for a bit to think about what Arick told her.

"Be better than me"? But Arick is already best. He gives me food and home, and friendship and safety lessons. Arick make me happy. How do I be better than Arick when Arick already is best?

I still try to be better, to make Arick happy and proud of me.