She woke up suddenly, a strangled cry lodged in her throat. Panting, she stared at the darkened ceiling, trying to situate herself, separate herself from the nightmare. Her heart was beating rapidly, she felt as if she was battling to breath and, for a desperate second, thought it possible that she would stop breathing altogether. No, no, don’t think that, nobody ever died from a nightmare before.
She closed her eyes, intentionally taking slow deep breaths, consciously relaxing each muscle of her body, ordering her heart to pick up a normal pace. It’s alright, I’m alright.
After what seemed an agonizing eternity, her heartbeat began to normalize. Not anymore trapped in panic, she was able to shift her focus to other sensations, looking to anchor herself. She moved her legs haltingly, trying to reconnect with the rest of her body. A gentle breeze caressed her sweat-covered skin, making her hairs prick out in silent protest against the thermic shock. Distant sounds came through the window: a car alarm, the soft ruffle of tree leaves, a lonely bird singing in the dark. The sounds of a city night. A voice, murmuring on her ear, making her hairs prick in fear “you think you can escape from me?”
No, no. It’s not real, I’m alone, I know I am. In defensive reflex she closed her eyes, feeling, with renewed anguish, her heart rate rising again, her muscles trembling; if from cold or fear, she couldn’t tell. A ghost sensation of a hand, holding her wrist. No, stop it, this is your mind, playing tricks. A soft whimper escaped her lips, mixed in with a car engine sound in the street outside. Shaking, she gripped the bed sheets with all her strength, looked towards the window, where some streetlights could be seen. She needed something, anything.
I’m in control, I can’t be hurt, everything is alright. She repeated mentally, in a desperate mantra. Focused back on her breaths. In, and out. In, and out. Slowly, surely. I’m alright, all is well. Her breath was shaking, bur her heartbeat was slowly normalising. Yes, that’s it. Suddenly, without warning, the peak of the panic took over and she found herself bolting from the bed, barely in time to be violently ill in the toilet.
With reflex tears from the pain running down her cheeks, she sat down on the cold tiles, hugging her legs, supporting her head back against the wall. Breathing, just breathing. It’s over, it’s fine, the worst is over. God, she was tired. Her muscles shook with the adrenaline hangover, her head pounding painfully.
After what seemed a rather long time, she slowly felt fit to get up, supporting her weight in the sink. Washing her mouth and face, she looked at her reddened eyes in the mirror, her tired reflection staring back. This sort of incident had become more spaced out through the years, but when it happened it was always much more intense and tiring. There weren’t many things that helped, mostly she just had to get through them.
It was easier when he was around. Supporting her weight against the bathroom doorstop, she looked at the empty bed. She needed rest badly, but didn’t think it possible after what happened. She still felt somehow disconnected from her limbs, numb. Resigned, she gathered the bed sheets and cocooned them around her body, as she was still shaking and the breeze – however gentle - felt cold against her skin. With a sigh, she sat by the window, looking out. The clock marked 4am and it was still dark outside, or as dark as a big city could be. She could see the streetlights, an overnight bus going about its business, darkened buildings. Saddening, you could never really see the night sky in the city.
When he was around, even when this happened, she always could go back to his arms, to his warmth. Snuggle against him, waiting for his breath and heartbeat to lull her back to sleep. But he was in Japan, some thousand miles away. Foolishly, she felt tears begin to form, and bravely fought them back. What was she, a child? She spent so many nights like these without him, she could survive another without lamenting his absence.
As if on cue, her phone vibrated against the wooded side table, the sudden and invasive sound startling her. It’s just the phone.
She sat back on the bed, getting the phone, a hand against her heart, trying to calm it back down. So jumpy. She felt in no state of mind to hold a conversation, but it could be something important about work.
Her heart leapt. Was he a psychic? What time was it in Japan? Too tired to think, she answered the call instinctively; he would worry if she didn’t.
“…Hey”, she tried to clear her voice, hoping it didn’t sound as shaky as she felt.
“Hey. Did I wake you?” His deep voice came in, distracted. Just hearing his voice was like a balm to her soul, making her feel ridiculously close to weeping. “Shit, it’s the middle of the night for you, sorry”
As it seemed like he would hang up, she hurried to answer, “No, don’t worry, I was awake”, a sigh of relief from the other side. “Don’t hang up yet. It’s… really good. To hear your voice”, she managed to prevent her voice from trembling.
“Hmm? Well, it’s pretty late for you though. You sure it’s okay?”
“Yeah, it’s alright” gathering herself on the bed, she hugged her knees, smiling weakly. There it was, her anchor. She searched her mind for something to say, “do tell, how was Hizashi’s birthday? I’m that sorry I missed it”
“It was loud. You missed nothing, really. Just everyone getting loud and pissed.”
“Oh, are you drunk? You are a funny drunk,” she teased.
“No, as a matter of fact, I was the designated driver” he answered, dryly. “Just barely managed to prevent Nemuri from vomiting the whole car”
She made a sympathetic sound in her throat, appreciating that the conversation was beginning to distract her, “She never did hold her liquor very well”.
“Yeah, was just a mess, better to be home” he said in a tense tone, with a heavy sigh.
They fell into silence. She squeezed the bed sheet in her hand strongly, battling back her nausea. She felt like her mouth was trembling, but the night wasn’t cold. A small ‘meow’ came from the other end of the line. Miku, their kitty. Shouta made a sound for the cat, “are you hungry? Come here, Miku”
“Maybe she’s missing me,” she joked, rather feeling like she could use the cat’s soft fur against her skin, Miku being quite the cuddler as well.
“As if. She only wants food, the selfish wicked creature”, he said, though his tone was one of fondness. Shouta was a softie for cats. There was silence again, but she relaxed in the homely sounds of him serving the cat, talking to it absentmindedly, as he always did. Closing her eyes, she could almost feel as if they were both at home.
“…Maybe I am” she heard him say, almost inaudibly.
“Hmm? Sorry, what did you say?”
“…Missing you. Maybe I am missing you”, he repeated softly, “maybe Miku too” he added, for lack of something better.
Ah, there it was, the knot on her throat was back. Oh god, she wanted him close so badly. Not feeling equal to answering him without crying, she kept silent, trying to recover herself, taking in a deep breath. She didn’t want him to worry, to think she couldn’t handle herself.
“What’s wrong?” he said very softly, worry merely hinted. The tone he used when he knew she was hiding something. Damn, she couldn’t get anything past that man.
She opened her mouth, closed it again, “I… I’m alright. Just tired” she stumbled on the last word, voice trembling. Shit.
He made a low throat sound, indicating he wasn’t buying it, “Talk to me”.
She bit her lower lip, feeling torn. Still suffering the hangover of the nightmare, she didn’t feel equal to revisit it. Maybe I’m going weak. I should be stronger than this.
“[Name], I’m here for you. Talk to me.” Shouta insisted gently, voice soothing.
Her emotions spilled down her eyes, the warm tears almost shocking against her cold skin. Sniffing discreetly, she wiped her tears. “It… it truly is good, to just hear your voice”, not wanting to let the sobs take over, she battled them down, voice shaking “Sometime is… hard for me, that’s all”.
“I know” he said, “I know.” he repeated, shuffling something, she could hear him changing positions wherever he was siting. “If I was there… no, no use in dwelling on that.” He said, resentfully. She laughed meekly through the tears, all but seeing him shuffling his fingers through his hair, as was his habit when thinking. “It’s late for you, [Name], do you want to sleep?”
“I do.” she said, quietly. She stopped, searching for the words, the strength to admit her own weakness. He waited patiently. “I’m scared to go to sleep. It’s silly” she added, forcing a nervous laugh, wiping the tears that resurfaced with a trembling hand. Suddenly drained, she let her forehead rest on her knees, as if trying to find security within herself. “it’s silly” she repeated, weakly.
“It’s not. It’s okay.” He murmured, understanding her mood. He grunted softly to himself, thinking. “Are you in bed?”
“Yeah” such an incongruent question “you?”
“Yeah” he sighed, stretching his body “I will make you company, so… You can sleep” he murmured, as if sharing a secret “I can’t be there, but I will stay here with you, until you can fall asleep, okay?”
Slowly she laid down on the bed, “You don’t need to, I can tell you are tired”, she said, hesitant to hold the offer, remembering how demanding his workload was. However, it was almost appalling how her body responder just to the idea, her muscles relaxing for the first time in the last hour.
“It’s alright. I’ll sleep after you.”
“I’m sorry,” she whispered, suddenly feeling guilty “but,” she interrupted what he was about to say “Thank you” she let out a sigh, “I’m happy you called”.
“Don’t worry.” He looked at the ceiling, feeling his dry eyes sting. Closing them, he tried to imagine her close “I also like hearing your voice”.
He kept talking to her, whispering about the day, Hiazashi’s birthday party, some bit of news he saw recently. She paid little attention to the content, soothed by the rhythm of his voice, the deepness of it, slowly relaxing into it like she would in his arms. Closing her eyes, she could imagine he was beside her. Without realizing it, she began to drift.
He went on about any events he could think of for some more minutes. Finally stopping, then, listening to her soft breathing, making sure she was asleep. “I love you,” he murmured, before letting sleep take over him as well.