She still wakes up some nights in cold sweats with a scream rising like bile in her throat,
waiting to fling itself out into the world. Sometimes she’s awake enough to hold it back and
sometimes she can even fall asleep again. Sometimes, she can’t.
Tonight is one of those “can’t” nights.
When she wakes up tonight (or is it this morning?), she’s panting and sweat-soaked.
Before she knows what she’s doing, she slides out from under the sheets and pads down to the
She leans forward, up against the counter, and tips her head into the sink. On more than
one occasion, the rising scream has turned into actual sick and she’s not cleaning that up in her
current state of mind. When it feels like her body’s finally calmed down, she lifts her head and
moves from the sink. She stands in the middle of the kitchen, staring at the walls. She doesn’t
know how long she stays like that, but by the time she decides to make some sweet tea, her feet
are ice from the chill of the floor.
It’s never been easy for her to live with her job. Being a spy isn’t something that rests
easy on the soul. Too many lives ruined, too many secrets held in, each one like a needle ripping
through her heart. Too much time spent in the service of a job that abuses her. Too much.
Just too much. She tries to forget the faces of the men she’s killed, the parts of her life she’s
never had time for that feel like they’re slowly killing her. At this time of night (or morning, or
whatever it is), regrets are her friends, her angels, her demons. They are all of her. And after the
latest incident… she doesn’t want to think about it.
She puts the kettle on and moves to pick up a mug. And suddenly every memory comes
flooding back in such a rush that she drops it with a gasp of pain. The mug shatters on the floor
and she finds herself collapsing against the counter, clinging desperately to it as the faces of the
past haunt her. As the memories subside, she slides down the cabinets and comes to rest on the
cold floor, pulling her knees to her chin and wrapping her arms around them.
It doesn’t seem like any time passes between then and when he stands in the doorway,
watching her anxiously. Before he fully processes what’s happened, he’s crossed the room
and grabbed a towel. As she sits, quivers, on the floor, he picks up the pieces the mug left and
throws them away. The water’s ready and he grabs another mug, makes her tea – sweet, just the
way she likes it.
He lowers himself to the ground, holding in the groan of pain that comes from his aching
joints, steaming mug in hand. He offers it to her. On the nights she’s woken him, it’s become a
sort of ritual. Tonight, she ignores it. He presses her shoulder, gently insistent, with his and she
finally reaches out and grasps the handle. She begins to sip and is just thinking about speaking,
telling him it’s good, when her attacker’s face jumps into her mind and she cries out in pain.
The mug starts to slip, but he catches it this time and sets it down beside them. He folds
her in his arms and presses her rapid heart tight against his own calmer one. He feels rather than
hears her cry, the sobs wracking her body, warm tears sliding down her cheeks and melting into
his t-shirt. As he murmurs love to her, he strokes her hair, rubs her shoulders, gently kisses her
It’s another part of the ritual. After that day, she became more skittish about being
touched. He tried to brush her hair back and she would take three steps away from him. He
would try to kiss her and she would turn her head. Now, after all the nights he’s been soothing
her, she’s starting to pull herself together. He still feels her shudder as his lips touch her skin,
but she doesn’t physically separate from him. He can tell she’s trying her best not to shut him
out anymore, and he loves her all the more for it.
Her face settles into his neck and he can feel her soft kisses dancing across his skin as she
whispers his name. When she pulls her head back, she stares at him and he can see the glimmer
of her tears. He’s always hated to see her cry, and now’s no exception. He lifts his hand slowly,
like he’s taming a wild animal, and softly sweeps the tears from her cheeks.
“Sorry,” she murmurs. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“Shhhh,” he says quietly. “You didn’t.”
They both know it’s a lie. She knows he doesn’t sleep well anymore, not since she
moved in. He stays up most of the night to watch her sleep and when she has her nightmares
he can sense even her slightest movements, he’s been sleeping so lightly of late. As much as
she knows it’s a lie, it’s a comforting one, so she doesn’t challenge him. She’s about to say
something else when he shakes his head and presses a finger to her lips. She falls silent.
He begins his healing one scar at a time. He traces the lines that fall over her eyebrows,
around her mouth. He softly kisses the gash that runs across her nose and moves his mouth
down to touch her split lip. His fingers lightly brush the line of stitches running from cheek to
jaw and he kisses all the way down the line. His lips follow the path down her neck, caressing
the remains of her burns, brushing over her bruises gently, so gently. When he pulls his head
back, her eyes are closed and she’s breathing more calmly.
He slowly uncurls himself from her and stands, brushing himself off. She stares at him
from the floor, waiting for his next move. He’s too old now for heroics, so instead of leaning
over and sweeping her into his arms to carry her up the stairs, he offers his hand. It’s enough,
and she grasps it tight as he pulls her to her feet. He could pull her close and intimate as they
find their way to the stairs, but he knows that’s not what she needs right now. Instead, he
entwines their fingers and tugs gently at her hand. She’s staring at their hands, two pieces of the
puzzle, and smiles ever so slightly as he squeezes her fingers.
She follows him as he leads her back to bed and doesn’t argue when he nudges her under
the covers. She curls up tight on her side and listens to the sheets rustling as he tucks himself in.
She feels his arm fall around her waist, pulling her closer to his calming heartbeat. She sighs and
pushes herself further into his arms. Her eyes close, and she sleeps.