She awoke in the dead of night, dead afraid.
There was no moon; it was far and away, on the other side of the sky. There was no light; the street lamps were out. She felt a heartbeat against her back, a chest that expanding with every breath; they slept curled about each other, spooned. "Baby? Are you there?"
"I'm here, Kati," came the murmured reply, the soothing feeling of his arms around her. His arms were magic: they could form a barrier that halted any distraction from the outside world. He denied being able to do this, but she knew the truth.
"What's wrong," he asked. "Nightmares?"
She shook her head, feeling matted hair against the pillow. "No," she said. "Just ... I woke up, and everything seemed so strange." She was very small compared to the world, and she knew it, and the world knew it, and it loved to scare her. "I thought..." Why had she thought this? "I thought that you weren't there for some reason."
"I was here," he said simply. And he had been, she knew it; but it hadn't felt like it.
"I know, but..." she said.
"Shh." His whisper was for silence. "It's okay. It doesn't have to make sense, Kati."
It didn't. That was one of their agreed-on laws. The objective wasn't to decide whether it made sense or not; the objective was to deal with it. "I know," she said. She felt small and frightened, a little child. Things seemed magnified in the night.
She heard the difference in his tone; whatever the truth was, he wanted to hear it. "Are you okay, sweetie?"
All the better to heal you with, my dear, she thought, imagining what he must be thinking.
"I'm afraid," she said.
"Of what?" he asked, taking the next logical step. Logic; logic. He claimed that logic was by no means natural; it was a framework the human mind imposed on itself. He was probably right. But he used it. It was his nature to appreciate the virtue and vice of a concept at once.
"I..." Helpless shrug. "I don't know."
"Is that bad," he asked. To him, it was okay not to know things. In his mind, humans were not expected to have all the answers.
In her mind, they were. "Yes," she said, "it ought to make sense. But ... It doesn't." Frustration marred her voice.
"It's okay," he said. His hands were soothing. "Calm down, Kati. It's not the end of the world."
"Maybe not," she said, "but I ought to know my own mind."
He shook his head. "No one knows their own mind."
"What?" she asked.
"Imagine it this way," he said. "You're standing inside a building. Can you see the outside?"
"No," she said.
"Well, there you go," he said. "That building is you, Kati. You can't go outside yourself to get an objective look; it's just not something we can do."
She turned over in his arms so that she faced him. Running to him, running from him ... All at once.
"I guess you're right," she said.
His hands stroked her back, soothing, calming. "If you figure it out," he said, "and you want to tell someone, I can listen."
She nodded, feeling close to tears. It was true she could not exit herself, see herself from the outside; but the building she occupied was a maze, a mess of intertwining corridors and dead-end hallways, of rooms leading nowhere, of hallways a mile long. The architect who'd built her building ought to have been dragged out and shot.
A maze, she thought. That sounds about right.
She curled up in his arms and cried, silently, and he held her, taking her tears into himself, absorbing her pain so that she could wipe her eyes and forget anything that had happened.
"I love you," he whispered when she was through, "whether you know your own mind or not."
"I know," she said, miserable. "I love you too, Edward." It was hard not to run from him sometimes. His empathy was too strong.
"Is there anything I can do to help," he asked.
No, she thought. "Just hold me," she said. "Please."
He held her, her warm body tense and frail, with the subtle movements of her breath. It was as hard for him as it was for her to have no idea what was wrong.
Her hair was soft to touch, falls of veils. Her face had not yet lost the innocent roundness of childhood; gentle was the way to describe her face. She was very beautiful, and he loved her dearly.
"Do you want to sleep," he asked her.
"I don't know," she said. "Dreams..."
He knew the dreams.
She had never been an outgoing person, but as college wore on she gained some measure of confidence. They were close, quick friends, but she had a boyfriend. It ended after she refused to have sex with him, and he forced her. She had come home in tears and he had thought his heart would break—from pain, from grief, from anger. But the crisis flung them together. In several months would be their fourth wedding anniversary.
She was in therapy, which was either the height of irony or the perfect place for a woman who had graduated with a degree in psychology; he was starting to pick up some of the details of it himself, and supplemented her sessions with what advice he could offer, and his love for her. But the spectre of the disaster that brought them together, though past and gone, still hung over everything they did.
"I just want it to be simple again," she whispered, pained. "It hasn't been for so long."
Too, he knew that feeling. It was as if they controlled the world—everything they did seemed to have unforseen circumstances, most of which came back to haunt them. He sometimes felt they couldn't breathe without causing some disaster.
She sighed. "Even sleep isn't simple anymore."
"I think that's just part of being alive and growing up," he said, apologetic.
"Well, I don't like it," she muttered.
He kissed the top of her head. "That makes two of us."
She turned away from him, her back against his chest. "I can't breathe. Let me loose."
He did. Her hair made a carpet on the pillow; its texture was familiar to him now. He spooned behind her, their bodies corresponding; his face in her hair, he drank in her scent—sweat, and the herbal fragrances of shampoo, and a vague musk that was all her own.
He could feel her shoulders quaking. She did not like for him to see her cry. He held her, giving what support he could.
"Is there no escape," she whispered. "None at all?"
He had no answer for her.
"I'm cold," she whispered. "So cold ... There's nothing outside of here. It's all empty space..."
"There's more out there," he said, shaken.
"Not that we can trust," she replied. "I'm so scared, Ned, I'm so scared..."
He held her tightly, and this time she came to his embrace, let him shelter her.
In their hearts was the knowledge that he needed her just as much as she needed him.
"I don't want to feel cold," she said. "Unloved. Ned..."
He understood the connection.
"Ned—" Like pain. "Love me ... Please..."
He nodded. "I will, Kati. Just ... Calm..."
His hands on her body, soothing. He could not love her if she was tense.
"It's hard," she said.
"I know," he murmured. "But ... Just calm yourself. Relax. It'll all work out, you'll see ... We'll make it better, you and I..."
She took a deep breath and expelled it, striving for calm. It wasn't entirely easy to do.
"Calm..." he said. "There's nothing out there—nothing to bother you, nothing to scare you. There's nothing to be afraid of..."
He let his hands drift across her body. If he were to hold her naturally when she faced away from him, he would find his hands capping her breasts. It was sometimes a constant battle not to do that; but hands on her breasts scared her. Unless she was ready for them.
He traced her breasts at random, his hands courseless and wandering. She wore a loose, thin nightgown that rippled as his fingers moved over them, graced the curve of her breasts. She shuddered a little, leaning into the sensation. It felt marvelously, marvelously good. It was completely unfair how good he felt.
His hands disappeared for a moment, leaving her alone, and she wanted to whimper at their absence. But his hands were behind her, on the closures of her nightgown, opening them. A few moments' work, and she was free, her skin bare to his ministrations.
She wanted him to go back to fucking her, but at the same time she wanted him bare as well. The latter finally won, helped by his admonition: Calm, Kati. "Turn around," she said.
He did, wondering what she wanted. The answer came when her hands slipped underneath his shirt and began to raise it. It was was a little tricky, with both of them lying down, and his briefs were even harder, but it was done, and they were both naked.
She leaned down and kissed him; her breasts, small and lovely, hung and swayed. "Happy?"
"Shouldn't we be asking you that," he asked with a playful smile. He was pleased at how quickly her mood had changed. Sometimes, when she wanted his love, it was like working with a statue—very little response. But not so today, evidently. At least she was speaking.
"I suppose," she said, her eyes neutral, hidden.
"Well, I'm asking," he replied. "Happy?"
"Happy," she said at last. "But happier if we keep going."
He laughed, trying to make light of her serious tone. "Men are supposed to be the horny ones," he said.
She shrugged. "So?"
In answer, he reached up and pulled her down on him; and then rolled over, so that she was trapped under him, both of them laughing.
"You're mine," he said triumphantly, tickling her. She laughed, protesting, swatting at his hands, catching them finally.
.... There is more of this story ...