AN: It's been ages since I posted anything, but here goes! Let me know what you think!

After her father died, and before she discovered her fairy of a godmother, I was the girl's best friend. There were the mice, and the birds as well, of course, but they were her charity cases. They gave her something to look after which would appreciate her efforts and love her in return, no matter how small or clumsily executed the gesture. And the first batch of miniscule shirts and dresses, however lovingly measured and cut and sewn, was quite clumsily executed.

But she can hardly be blamed – she was eight years old and ought to have been making clothes for dolls, which would have sat still for fittings and tended towards conventional human shapes. As it was, even if she had had time for play, her dolls had long since been appropriated for her stepsisters' amusement.

The first time she came to me, her stepmother followed, and watched us from the kitchen doorway. The girl was in tears, and buried her face in my back, oblivious to our observer. The three of us stayed like that for hours, until Anastasia whined for a bedtime story. Only when she heard her stepmother's skirts rustle away did the girl look up in surprise. I felt her shiver as she recognized her stepmother's silhouette. Though the warm summer nights were fast giving way to autumn's chills, she stayed with me in the barnyard dust till the sun rose again.

By the time she turned thirteen, her stepmother had ceased all interest in where her stepdaughter passed the night. The girl kept a bed made for herself in the attic tower, but the barnyard was cooler than it in summer and the kitchen was warmer than it in winter, not to mention the endless climb to reach the attic room, and so more often than not, she curled up next to me on the thin rug over the heavy flagstones to sleep. Too dirty herself to be bothered by my breath and my fleas, she pressed close and held me tight.

As her seventeenth birthday approached, I learned to find her in the late evenings, most often snoring quietly in front of the half-swept kitchen hearth. Softly, I'd join her, resting against her tired warmth, but no matter how carefully I'd try not to wake her, I'd soon feel her obliging fingers scratch for a moment at just the spot behind my ear, and then her arm would fall draped over me, heavy with sleep.

She had it rough in those years, rougher than anyone should. Not because of the work, outrageous as it was for a girl of her years, but because of the isolation. Losing her father, whom she adored, was a terrible blow, but when the last of her family turned on her, she found herself more alone than she ever could have imagined. Humans are social creatures. They yearn for interaction with other humans; they strive for recognition and respect. Especially as children, they long for love and warmth.

My girl lost all of that when she lost her father, and gained disapproval, haughty indifference, and jealous cruelty instead. She adopted the birds and the mice to remind herself how to love and be loved, but a child should not become a mother before her time. I allowed her to be the scared, lost little girl that she was during those years when she needed a friend the most. In all those nights together, I calmed her, warmed her, and loved her, because it had fallen to me – mangy, flea-ridden mutt that I was – to be that girl's best friend.

AN: This is based off of a sketch I did. If you're interested in seeing it, let me know.