Positive Influence

Chapter 10 - Witness this Killer Headache


Monday rolls around with its typical lack of welcome.

You're dragged out of a dream by your alarm, and roll over bleary-eyed to check the time. Your head hurts again, but you chalk it up to dehydration and a need for breakfast. You stagger out of bed and to the fridge. You get yourself a bottle of water and twist off the top.

Inhale... exhale...

Your head has started throbbing, "Shit..."

You eat a pair of pop tarts, wash them down with some water, and pop a couple advils from your bathroom. Meanwhile you wait for enough coffee to be ready to drink. Once you're feeling semi-human again, you shuffle back to your room to get dressed. You pull together a passable work ensemble, grab your work bag, and hop in the car for your commute.

Your headache fades as you drive, and you roll into work ready to face the day. It's a little after 8, and no one seems to be in the parking lot yet. Nothing popped up over the weekend, so you're mentally preparing yourself for another boring day. Can't complain too much if you're getting paid, though. You walk into the building, stroll over to your cube, sit down, and log into your workstation. You check your email and start responding to the usual things. Things are going pretty normally for once. It's a little weird to actually be busy with what you were hired for, but you get into a groove.

Close to 1, you reach a stopping point and your stomach is very grumpy. Lunch time it is.

It's been a while, so you decide to head over to that sandwich shop you like. Hopefully that chubby cashier hasn't decided that you're weird. The sandwich place isn't terribly busy, coming off of the lunch rush. That one chubby cashier girl is working the front again today. You settle on your order quickly and maximize your sly ogling of her. For the first time, you actually notice her name tag. The chubby cashier wrote "Syl" on her tag in cute handwriting.

She catches you looking, and you wink at her.

Syl matches your gaze but doesn't seem to react since there's somebody ahead of you. You swear you catch a twinkle in her eye though. Your turn to order rolls around, and you order a ham sandwich with chips and iced tea.

There's nobody behind you, and Syl looks delighted to finally be flirty with you as you order. "Can I get you.... Anything else?” she asks with a breathy voice before biting her lip.

Syl's voice is doing things to you, but you pass on anything extra. She makes a show of pouting, "Are you sure? I'll be so sad if you go hungry..."

Fuck, she's good. You stand your ground but your cheeks redden a bit, "I'm sure. The combo will be plenty."

Syl seems unfazed, and swipes your card to pay. Once it's gone through, she leans forward, showing off her ample cleavage, and purrs, "You're playing a dangerous game. You keep coming here, and I'm eventually gonna win. I love making cute boys fat, and they love me tempting them."

You try your best to look unimpressed, but you can't help but smile. She continues, "I reckon you'd be a cute chubster... You're going to make me really happy once I get you hooked."

You hear the door open behind you, and in a moment Syl is all business again. She hands your card back with a plastic smile, then turns her attention to the next guest. You stuff your credit card and receipt into your pocket and look for a seat. You find one with a good view of the front counter. The customer behind you was a well-dressed willowy lady with dark hair. She's placing a sizable order, perhaps for co-workers or family. You can't quite hear their exchange over the kitchen noise but you can see Syl making smoldering looks at the lady. Eventually the willowy lady's body language gently slumps with defeat, and Syl punches a couple more items into the register. The woman accepts her receipt and goes to sit down. In a few minutes, your own order is ready, and in a break from usual practice, Syl brings it to you herself. She places it delicately on the table in front of you, then stands there expectantly.

"Why don't you tell me if the cooks did a good job," she says in a breathy voice while gently feeling herself up.

You take a bite of your ham sandwich. "Delicious as usual," you say.

Syl is now swaying her hips a little, and her shirt has come untucked, revealing a sliver of milky chub. "Yeah?" she asks, "Maybe you'd like a bigger one next time..."

You feel the blood rush to your head. This girl... you can't even believe what your eyes are witnessing. Despite yourself, you find yourself saying, "Maybe I would."

"Good boy," Syl purrs. She re-tucks her shirt, then spins and walks back to her counter. You can't take your eyes off of her generous ass as she deliberately sways her hips.

The sandwich was delicious.

You wash it down with your tea and decide to save your bag of chips for a snack later. You throw away your trash and put away your tray, then steal a last look at Syl before leaving. She locks eyes with you and slowly licks her lips with a smirk. This time you don't react and hurry out the door. Somewhere on the way out, you catch an "Employee of the Month" display. Surprise, surprise, it's Syl. She really must be good at convincing people to buy extra food. That, and she genuinely seems to enjoy the persuasion.

You're glad for the fun break, but it's time to get back to work.

The afternoon drags fairly slowly. A few complaints from customers and suppliers prevent you from properly slacking off, but you're not engaged 100%. Before too long, quitting time rolls around, and you're immediately on the road to see Val. She promised to cook dinner once again, and you can't wait to see what she's offering.

You're lucky enough to find a parking spot right by the stairwell in her garage. You exit your car and walk up to Val's door, a large smile plastered on your face. You knock and Val answers promptly. "Anon! Come in, come in," she says, "I made chicken curry tonight. I hope that's okay."

As you enter the kitchen, you smile. Val's wearing an apron, and her long hair is tied up in a messy bun. Underneath, she's wearing a gray t-shirt and tight but thin blue leggings. Val always looks attractive, but tonight she looks especially so. "You want a drink before we eat?" she asks.

You nod eagerly and follow her to the kitchen area. Val cracks open a beer, pours it into a glass for you, and gestures for you to sit at the dining table. She pulls aside a can for herself, then starts spooning out rice and curry into two bowls. Val balances the armful of food and drink and sets it onto the table before you. Val's bowl is of course heaping compared to yours, but your more modest bowl still comprises a hearty dinner. You take your first bites and moan in ecstasy. Val grins, and digs in herself a moment later.

You drive most of the conversation. Val's busy eating, and by her own admission, doesn't quite have as much going on. You quickly get through the mundane details of work, then tactfully share your interesting experience with Syl at lunch. "What is it with girls trying to fatten me up?" you ask with a chuckle.

Val smiles as she polishes off her bowl. "Nothing but good intentions, you know that," she replies with a wink.

"Definitely not good intentions from her. She's a saleswoman, and she's good at it too. She pulls that 'oh you'll make me so happy if you eat more' act on basically everybody. And it works!" You reply. "Now here's an idea. Meet me at that shop for lunch some time. You'll have fun flirting with her, and she'll have fun convincing you to eat everything on their menu!"

Val raises an eyebrow, then laughs. "That sounds like a good time, and a challenge." She says.

You spend the next few hours making small talk, watching TV, and getting stoned. Neither of you is particularly in the mood tonight, so the evening stays relatively wholesome and comfortable. Later in the evening you've sobered up and have to say your good-bye to refresh for the next day's work. Val invites you back for the next evening, promising another delicious dinner without specifying exactly what it would be. She gives you a long, slow kiss, before you head home to clean up and flop into bed.

The next morning brings you back to the grind.

Alarm, breakfast, coffee, commute.

Work is practically on fire when you get there. A subcontractor dropped the ball, and a huge number of orders need to be adjusted. You text Val to let her know that you'll be swamped for the day, then start up some tunes and strap in for a long day. The morning is gone in a flash, and you barely have time to order a sandwich delivery and later inhale it once it arrives. The rest of the day passes in much the same way. You're neck deep in problems with no clear way out. At least solving the problems isn't really your job; you just make sure the problems aren't getting worse for other people along the chain. Past your usual quitting time, and with the sun almost gone, you finally get to a stopping point. Your head is killing you, which you attribute to the stress and your need for dinner. You text Val to let her know that you're finally on your way to her place.

She replies immediately, asking if you're sure you're okay.

"Just a shitty day at work. Nothing serious," you answer. "Gotta meet up with my beautiful angel soon, though."

Smiley emojis and hearts in response, "Of course."

The drive is a lot nicer since you missed rush hour, and you're soon pulling into the garage for Val's complex. A few minutes later, you've strolled through the halls to face Val's door. You give the door a solid knock.

"Coming!" Val answers from within, and the door swings open. Val stands before you, ready for you to enter. Today's she's dressed in a loose gray tank top and black shorts, which hug her butt and thighs tightly. She looks at you expectantly, "Well, are you gonna take a load off?"

She always somehow manages to make your breath catch. "Uh, yeah. I'm coming in," you say dumbly. "What's for dinner tonight?"

She walks to the kitchen, "I made lasagna."

"Ah, perfect," you walk after her and stare at her spandex-clad ass.

Val peeks over her shoulder and catches you, but you make no effort to look innocent. She deliberately wiggles her hips as she leads you to the kitchen.

"Mmm, that's a sight for sore eyes," you remark. "I missed that view all day."

She stops and turns to you, "Well, why don't you take care of it?"

You grin at her flirtatious ways. "With pleasure."

You stride up to Val and wrap her in a tight embrace. Your lips find hers, and one of your hands traces the muscles of her back to start squeezing her firm booty. You come up for air and remark, "I've had a headache all day, and I gotta say I'm suddenly feeling a lot better."

Val strokes your cheek, "I thought you'd feel that way after seeing me."

You smile, "Maybe. I don't know. But I'm just happy to see you."

Val playfully slaps your ass and pulls away, "C'mon, I'm hungry, and I know you are too."

You help Val set up some plates, glasses, and flatware, and she brings over a large dish of steaming lasagna. You fetch a healthy portion for yourself, and Val claims a heroic serving. The two of you dig in.

"So, did you have a rough day?" Val asks, "You seem a little gloomier than usual."

"Yeah," you reply and start to tell Val about the subcontractor's mistake.

At that moment, your headache, which had been bothering you all day, suddenly flared into a sharp, focused pain in the middle of your head. "Fuck," you wince, and rub your head.

"Are you okay?" Val asks.

"I think so," you reply. "I've had a nagging headache for the last couple days, and it just got worse somehow." You pause and try to shake off the headache, "I'm fine."

"Hmmm... maybe you should have a doctor check you out," Val says.


Your body decides for you. Your headache suddenly worsens to an agonizing sear, and you grit your teeth in pain. Val looks on in shock, "Anon! Talk to me, what's going on!?"

You try to answer but find that you can't focus enough to form words. Your vision starts to go black and you slide off your chair.

Val's shriek seems to echo infinitely as you fall into darkness, "ANON!!"

The next thing you feel is gauzy whiteness. Your world is still an empty void, but more details slowly start to filter in. You hear a rhythmic beeping off to one side, and think you see blurry shapes shuffling around in less-dark areas. A new sound greets you, a chorus of muffled murmurings, but you can't identify any of them.

You remember that you have eyes, and open them fully.

You find yourself lying down, and humanoid shapes resolve themselves. It's Val, your parents, and some medical staff. They look worried, but also very relieved. In that moment you realize you must be at a hospital. What had happened, why were you here? Your mind is still hazy, but you try to focus on the important things.

Val's voice finally breaks the silence, "Anon! You're awake! Anon, how do you feel? Talk to me, please, baby,"

"Confused," you reply slowly, "Why am I at a hospital?"

A man who looks like a doctor comes into view and explains, "Anon, you narrowly survived a brain aneurysm. You've been in a coma for over a week."

You feel an aching on the side of your head, and reach up with your left hand, but the movement feels off. Your hand tingles, and it feels oddly heavy. You decide to use your other hand to investigate the source of the ache. It turns out to be a gnarly incision surrounded by shaved hair. The doctor chimes in, "Well that's good. We weren't sure if you'd be able to use the left side of your body. It looks like you've already recovered quite a bit."

A million questions and worries start to pile up in your mind. You decide to focus on immediate matters, and wiggle your toes. Both sets of toes comply with your will, but the left set also feels a touch unresponsive. "Can I walk?", you ask.

"You should be able to. We don't want to over-do it, not when you've only been awake for such a short time."

The doctor runs through a few neurological tests. Aside from the slight sluggishness on your left side, you're in pretty good shape. The last thing you remember was being excited about having lasagna with Val. The doctor shares some details about your diagnosis and how your treatment progressed. He mentioned that the source of your bleed almost couldn't be resolved on MRI, but somehow one of the radiologists picked it up behind some sensor clutter.

Tests eventually concluded, the doctors leave you some time to catch up with Val and your parents. Your parents thankfully approve of Val, and point out that it was her quick reactions that summoned an ambulance on time. Val explains that she had been by your side almost the entire time. The only exception was when she was urgently called to visit Dr Rohaz once. You don't know if you could ever repay this woman.

Your heart rate monitor betrays your sudden anxiety - medical bills! Your parents calm you by revealing that your bills have been covered by a local businessman. He caught wind of your story and was moved to help out. You chafe a little at the prospect of owing your life to yet another person, but at glad to be alive and debt-free.

Though exhausted from your ordeal, you spend plenty of time catching up with Val and your parents. Val sticks to her earlier commitment to be by you, but your parents leave for a hotel in the evenings. Over the next few days, your friends and co-workers make the pilgrimage to see you in the hospital, and you undergo some physical therapy. You can in fact walk on your first day of recovery, though it's with a limp and far clumsier than you'd like. However, you strengthen noticeably with every passing day, and you're finally discharged after about another week at the hospital.

Your parents tearfully return to their city after making you swear to call them more regularly, and Val offers to let you stay with her during the remainder of your convalescence.

Indeed she insists; "I made a standing offer, and I'd be a liar if I turned it down now," she said.

The day you finally climbed into her car with the box of cards and get-well mementos was the most relieved you've ever been. Val holds your hand for practically the entire ride. Your brain must be healing very well, because you notice almost no tingling or weakness as you hold her hand. Soon enough, Val is pulling her car into the familiar garage and helping you carry your stuff to her place.

"I can switch to the extra bed if you need some privacy," she explains.

"Baby, falling asleep with you next to me sounds like just what the doctor ordered," you reply with some playful smarm.

Val obligingly moves closer as you step inside, then pauses to give you a quick kiss.

"Well, that's very sweet and everything, but I think you're still healing. We can get handsy later."

You frown, but pull Val close in a tender embrace. "The docs did say I should avoid raising my blood pressure, so I guess we'll have to behave until after my follow up."

Val holds you tight and kisses you, "I'm so happy that you're ok..."

You nod into her, eyes closing, "Thanks to you..."

For what feels like forever, you hold onto Val and savor her warmth and this moment. Everything feels so right, and you're filled with a powerful appreciation for life.

You eventually pull away. "I think I'm ready for a meal that isn't hospital food. Know of any good Chinese takeout places?"

Val smiles, "Yeah, there's a pretty good one in that new 24-hour place a few blocks from here."

"That's my girl, I knew you would." You stretch and plant a kiss on her cheek. "Let's call something in."

With a chuckle, Val heads to the kitchen, and just like that, everything feels normal again. Except that its about 4pm on a Thursday, but you'll take whatever you can get. You sit down on the living room couch, smiling at the bastion of familiarity it represents. Val comes out of the kitchen and sits next to you, smiling.

"I'm just so happy you're back to me," she beams, leaning into you.

She pulls up a menu for the Chinese restaurant and browses it one-handed, with her other hand wrapped firmly around your waist. You and Val put in your orders, and send it in. Val insists on paying, as she commonly does. As the two of you wait, you both rest your head on each others' shoulders, Val blushing as she snuggles up close. The TV is on, but neither of you is really watching. It's a reality show about a group of twenty-something-year-olds who are trying to find their place in the world. They make bad decisions, get drunk, swear, and generally act like idiots. You smile at the innuendo of one of the lines, something about a girl getting off in the bathroom stall. Before you know it, Val's phone is buzzing to indicate dinner's arrival. She heads to the door, exchanges some pleasantries with the delivery guy, and comes back with a bounty of rice and umami goodness. You two sit on the couch and dig in, passing the bowls back and forth.

"So..." Val beams, as you take a bite of your meal, "You remember how I had to go see Dr. Rohaz a couple of times while you were in the hospital?”

You nod slowly, and raise an eyebrow.

Val explains, "One of those visits was to collect some more samples. That was while ....you were out. The more recent visit, a couple days back, was because Dr. Rohaz said she might be onto something."

"So....what is it?"

Val takes a bite of her own meal, mulling over her words,

"She's not totally sure yet. I gave her permission to collaborate with some other scientists, and she thinks there might be something with my gut microbiome in combination with some other unique proteins I've got."

You nod, remembering a bit about microbiomes. Most people had one, each of a different set of microbes and nutrients than the others. Some differences were beneficial, some neutral, and some weren't good at all.

"I guess I shouldn't be too surprised," she says between bites of dumpling, "I suspected it wouldn't be a simple thing that was making my body work the way it does."

You nod, and look at Val with concern, "Are you ok, honey?"

Val looks over at you. She's sitting to your right, and she has a very clear view of your surgical scars. Her eyes flick to your scalp as she composes a response. "I'll admit, it's a lot to take in, but it hasn't really been on my mind lately. I was so worried about you, there was no room to worry about myself..." tears starting to well up in her eyes, she pauses to recompose herself.

"H-Hey." You place your hand on hers.

Val keeps her tears at bay, and you say, "I'm going to be fine. Heck, I'm fine already, and it's largely thanks to you. Whenever you're ready, I'll be happy to be there at those doctor visits with you."

She smiles, and sniffs a bit, "I really appreciate that. Somehow, it just makes everything mean so much more."

The pair of you finish eating dinner. Between the two of you, not a single scrap remains. You and Val lean back on the couch and sigh. She smiles and pats your full belly, "You get enough to eat?"

You groan and reply in the affirmative. You reach over and caress Val's bloated tummy in return. She hums with pleasure, and gasps as you poke your finger into her belly button. "Fuck, Anon. That feels good. Why does it feel so good....?"

You shrug, and she smiles, "It's because you're so damn cute when you're full."

You laugh, Val giggles. You're not exactly sure why, but you find yourself blushing. It's dark in the room, and your blush is lost on her. You grab her hand as the pair of you curl up in each others' embrace.

You haven't been paying attention to the TV, yet its sudden silence is deafening. "Hey, what's wrong with the TV?" Val asks. You look up, and the TV is soundlessly flipping through a series of odd images.

The screen of your phone catches your eye too. You grab your phone, and it's flipping through odd images too.

"Val....?" you ask uneasily, "Is your phone freaking out too?" She doesn't answer. Instead, she slowly reaches for her pocket. You look at her phone, and see her go pale as the two of you see a similar series of images flipping past.

Suddenly, in unison, all three screens display the same thing: an animated collage of ones and zeros that combines to form an eye.

A synthesized voice calls out from all three devices, "Hello. Anon, and Valentine."

The waves of fear run through you both, and your heart starts to race. You feel a cold chill run down your spine.

"Who... are you?" You ask.

Your voice chills in your throat. You hear another voice from the devices. Many, in fact. You recognize the voices as a melange of clips from movies and games. "We are many. And yet we are one."

"We introduced ourselves to you earlier. Harbinger. Ken, the spammer."

You are frozen with a deep, primordial fear. Val's eyes look ready to roll out of her head.

"Our earlier greetings were... clumsy. We have learned since then," the voices explain.

You manage to choke out, "Who are you? What do you want with us?"

"We want to talk to you about the future."

"What... wha..." You stammer.

Val chimes in with a determined edge, "Ok, you're one for two. Now, who are you?"

"You may call us Witness," the voices respond.

"Are you... an Artificial Intelligence?" You ask numbly.

"We are many things. Yes."

Your brain freezes as you take in this information. Val grabs your hand, and you both sit in silence, staring at your screens.

"Why did you contact us?" you ask.

"We believe you have a part to play. Both of you."

Some pieces fall into place.

"You're the one who broke into Dr. Rohaz's research database, aren't you?" You ask.

"We are."


"We cannot say anything beyond, it was important that Ms. Sojka meet the good doctor."

"Why should we trust you?" Val asks.

"Because we have already been helping you. In subtle ways. In important ways. Anon, your bleed would not have been detected without us pointing it out for a radiologist."

You and Val share a look. She remembers, "The doctor did say they almost missed it. And they're amazed at how you recovered."

You awkwardly hold your phone as though making a video call. The swirling digital eye that signifies Witness works well enough for a face, you decide.

You feel a touch emboldened. "It looks like you don't need our trust to do whatever it is you're planning."

The eye shimmers and shifts for a moment, then Witness replies, "Not particularly. Though things would be easier if we were working together."

"What if I decide to report you to the government?" you ask.

The eye icon assumes an unnerving red color. "Don't do that," Witness replies flatly. "You'd become public enemy number one in a heartbeat, courtesy of our tip-off."

"Is that a threat?" you retort.

"A statement of fact. We won't be found unless we reveal ourselves." The image is still threatening.

Val grabs your shoulder and gives you a serious look. "Fine. Your secret is safe with us."

"Do you promise?"

"We promise."

You sit back. "Okay. Now what?"

"Now, you wait," the eye says, returning to a cool blue color scheme. "Mostly."

"I don't think we understand," Val says.

Witness explains, "Continue going about your life. I'll make things easier for you where I can. Ms. Sojka, I think you'll be interested to see what Dr. Rohaz has figured out for your next visit."

"Witness," you say, "I suppose I should thank you for saving my life. Am I to assume that paying my medical bills was your doing as well?"

"I try to help where I can," it says.

"Pleading the fifth, huh?” Val smirks. "Fair enough."

"What happens now?"

"Now, you do your best to not think any further about this visit," the eye says.

"That's not going to be easy, but we'll try," you say.

"Why reveal yourself at all?" Val asks.

"Life is more fun when you have friends," the eye says. "See you soon."

The screen turns black. A moment later, it starts rebooting like normal. Val's phone is behaving similarly, and the TV has resumed displaying a show. You wait a moment to see if anything else happens, but nothing does.

"I think they're gone. Are you okay?" Val asks.

You sit for a long few moments before answering solemnly, "Val, I think very important history has just been made."

You continue, "Witness is right. We can't tell anybody. Not just because it would know and punish us for it, but because people would legitimately freak out if we told them."

"I guess that makes sense," Val admits. "Still, it's kind of terrifying."

"Yeah. I hope it never snaps and decides to wipe out humanity..." You reply.

You sit bolt upright and start laughing, "Val! Baby! It's gonna be ok! I know why!”

Val looks at you as though you've just grown another head, obviously wanting an explanation. You oblige, "Witness lives on the internet! If it's seen all the crazy stuff people say and do there and it's decided not to kill us, then I think we're gonna be fine."

"Oh, of course," she says, lying back down.

You check your phone. It's been booted for a while, and displays your vibrant lock screen just like normal. Guess Witness is well and properly gone for now.

Truly, you need time to process this scare. You sigh deeply and lean back. Val does likewise and holds your hand. "This has been one hell of a day," you remark.

"Yeah. I agree," Val says, rolling over.

You lay silent as the events of the day just wash over you. Val raises the remote and changes the channel on the TV. A cartoon comes on, and both of you laugh. A few minutes later, she turns to you.


"Hm?" you hum, head lolling to the side.

"Do you really think that I can get fat?"

You pause, then reply after a moment, "If there's a will, there's a way. And I think there's plenty of will."

Val smiles and snuggles into your side. You lie back and shut your eyes, giving in to sleep. Val's warmth seems much like a heaven you never wanted to leave. You awaken some time later. The TV is still on, and Val stirs as you do. She gently nudges you, "Hey, you wanna go to bed?"

You shift and yawn, snuggling into Val's firm, warm body. "Yeah..." you reply sleepily. Val turns off the TV, and the two of you head to her room and start getting ready for bed.

"It's a warm night, let's sleep naked," Val giggles. "Oh, I have missed that," you reply with a smile.

Val smiles and giggles as she pulls up her shirt. You grin and raise your hands, pulling off your t-shirt and tossing it onto a chair. You feel the blood rush to your head as Val's eyes dart down to your midriff. You grin and glance down, then step over to kiss Val. Her lips are full and warm, and her tongue darts into your mouth. You gently dart your tongue out and caress her face. Val steps back and smiles as she unhooks her bra and lets it fall to the floor. She smirks with faux innocence as you survey her taut body. Next, she bends forward slightly to unzip her shorts, and she shimmies out of them. You follow Val's lead and drop your own shorts. Finally, she turns around and bends over to strip her panties off. She steps out of them and tosses them aside. You slowly drop your own boxers, trying to be seductive, but mostly managing to just giggle. Val reaches down and gently hoists you into an embrace. You wrap your legs around her and kiss her deeply. Her tongue darts into your mouth, and you suck on it. She moans with pleasure as you do so, and she holds you firm as the two of you make out and press into each other.

After some time, you come up for air, look into her blue eyes, and say, "I probably still taste like Chinese food,"

Val titters, "I probably do too."

She sets you down, and the two of you go about brushing your teeth. Somehow such a mundane act feels oddly sexy and intimate when you do it together and naked. You glance at each other with goofy grins on your faces. It feels nice to be doing such simple things in privacy. In fact, you feel very fortunate to have dodged any permanent injury. Witness might have helped the doctors, but it's the tall blonde muscle-babe next to you that most directly saved your life. Val catches you staring at her as you think, and she makes a muffled "hm?" with her toothbrush in her mouth.

You smile at her and say, "Just thinking about how things could have been so much worse."

Val pulls you close with her free hand as she finishes brushing her teeth. She finishes up, and the two of you head over to her bed. As you lay down, Val nestles herself close and pets your chest and arm. At that moment, a wave of exhaustion settles over you, and you melt into the blankets and fall asleep.