Jason

He never dreams.

Someone told him, once, that everyone dreams. 'Maybe that was true. But, he'd long ago grown used to being different from 'everyone'. Whoever everyone was. It never used to bother him, the absence of dreams. Seemed like just another thing that didn't matter that people spent too much time worrying about.

Robin used to ask him about his dreams, her fingers twined in his, head centered precisely on his chest as if she needed to hear his heart beating. She never seemed satisfied with his noncommittal answers, his assertion that he didn't dream. She didn't say anything, but he'd become adept, by then, in reading the quality of Robin's silences. Later, towards the end, he'd begun to tell her small things when she asked. The same kinds of things she'd tell him she dreamed of. The things he feared, the things he wanted. He answered the questions she wasn't asking when she asked him what he'd dreamed.

Funny. He'd always thought it was Carly who'd taught him to lie.

Lately, he'd begun wondering. If he did dream, what images floated beneath his eyelids in the dark of night? Whose face did he see when he closed his eyes? It made his head hurt, wondering that. But, he couldn't seem to stop. Laying in another bed in whatever town he'd landed in, his last thought before waking was 'who will I lose tonight?'

So many nights, so many different beds. Most of them alone. All of them lonely. None of them home. He'd said something, once, to Sonny about needing to be the one who left. He'd meant it then; he still meant it now. He just hadn't known, then, the thing you don't know until you leave. Once you're gone, the world doesn't stop. People go on; they move on. And, when you come home again, home isn't the place you left.

Maybe that's why he's started trying to gain back those hours lost to sleep. Those mornings, when Robin used to talk about dreams, she'd tell him about hers. Sometimes they were about things she wanted and didn't have yet -- a baby, a medical career, a house in Paris. Sometimes they were about the things that scared her -- dying, being alone, rats. But, mostly, they were about a time when things were easier, when she understood her life. Robin dreamed of them when they'd been new, she dreamed of Stone before he got sick, of her parents alive and strong. When Robin slept, she dreamed herself a world where she was happy.

He wonders what world he'd dream himself. Who would live in it? As he lies in small twin beds, alone, neon signs and full moons and illuminated pyramids shining outside his window in turn, he wonders why he doesn't know the answer to that question.

He never dreams. But he wishes he could.


Gia

The first time I woke up gasping, my heart beating so hard I thought it was gonna fall out of my chest, he woke up with me, and held me tight in his arms, whispering sweet things that I've since forgotten, 'til morning. The third time it happened, he held me, and we made love. The fifth time, he didn't even wake up.

I don't know which was worse -- the fear or that he didn't know I was afraid.

It's a terrible thing to be so afraid. And, I know it's my own fault; I've created most of my own demons. When I lie down at night, I lie in the bed I made. That doesn't make it easier. If anything, it makes it worse.

Worst part is I never learned how to feel fear, what to do with it when it comes knockin'. I mean, look at me; I grew up in the mean streets. I know how to take care of myself, how to take on all comers. My mama made damn sure of that. When she sent her children out in this world, she gifted them with all the protective gifts she knew how to give and then some. So why is it that my mother's daughter can't sleep through the night without a panic attack of her very own?

That's a rhetorical question, of course. I know what scares me. Being found out. I don't mean the accident; that's just part of this whole damn thing. I mean my life, the mask I'm wearing. I'm not even a princess yet, and I feel like the worst kind of pretender to the throne.

In this life, you don't get anything for free, Gia. My mother's ideas of homilies rarely included the naive or the optimistic. Just the truth. You don't get anything for free. Why did I ever thing he would be?

It started out simply enough. Or, maybe it didn't. That's the thing about going over your life in your head. You get to edit your memories to suit your image of yourself. Maybe that's why I wake up screaming. In the daytime, I can tell myself the story of the way it's happening and pretend it's true. At night, I dream the truth. Which is this: it started out the way it is now. Complicated as hell. But, I didn't love him then. So it didn't scare me near as much.

Now, though, now. Now isn't the same as then. Now, when he says my name, sometimes -- I cringe. Now, he holds me in his arms, and there's this little part of me that screams like I'm in a trap and need to break free. Now, I look into his eyes, darker than anything I know the name for, and I see myself, and it's not an image I recognize. I don't blame him for that. He sees what I've shown him. Like I said, the demons that haunt me are the ones I made all on my own.

It was just that from the first, even before I knew who he was, he had this vibe about him. He strode through the world like he owned it -- which, more or less, he did. His crown was visible, even when he wasn't wearing it. And, a prince needs a princess, right? So I made myself into one, an urban princess to compliment his old world hauteur. It worked, didn't it? The prince and the princess waltzed off together, hand and hand.

And, at night, I drown under the weight of my techno tiara while he sleeps peacefully at my side. Sometimes I wonder if he'd be the one who woke screaming in the night if he knew who I really was. Sometimes I think maybe we'd both sleep peacefully if all the masks were gone. I don't think I really believe that.

You don't get anything for free, Gia. That's one lesson my mama taught me I think I finally learned.


Luke

Strawberries and silk.

Wedding bells and disco balls.

The magic of her smile and the moon over Morocco and memories of a thousand lives, most of them lived with her.

These were the things she smelled like when he drew her closer into his arms. He closed his eyes, leaned forward, drinking her up. It had been a hell of a long time since he'd been allowed to do this.

After a long moment, he rolled away, gently, his fingers still moving idly over her hair. He'd always loved her hair. Long, golden, sun-kissed and free. It made a man think forbidden thoughts. It made a man feel innocent even when he wasn't.

His golden-haired girl. His benediction. His angel. Twenty years gone and he still felt wonder when he held her in his arms. She made a small noise, almost a sigh, and he looked down, startled. He hadn't known she could still make noises he didn't know. He chuckled, lightly, so as not to wake her. He should have known, should have remembered. She had always had the power to surprise him. He had very little doubt she always would.

He lifted his head, looking past hers to the clock on the bedside table. It used to be on his side of the bed, when this bed was still theirs. Things change. Three o'clock. He lay back down, one elbow underneath his head. He hadn't figured that this night would be a sleepless one.

But here he is, three am, and so far from sleep that he marvels when he looks at her, lying in the curve of his arm so easily. The rise and fall of her chest is so simple, so goddamn gorgeous. It takes his breath away.

Doesn't make it come easier, unfortunately. Ah well. He's spent more than a few sleepless nights before. No better place to do it than in her arms. Even if her arms are the reason he can't sleep in the first place.

They've had their ending, too many times over. And, there's only so many times a phoenix can rise from the ashes. And, when he holds her, even though he's fought like hell to have the right again, he's still wonderin' how long before it ends.

Because that's the other thing Laura's always been. Something he was never supposed to have.

White picket fences and bridges long ago burnt.

Sunlight in her hair and prayers he never believed in.

Surprises and endings.

These are the things he holds in her bed at three o'clock in the morning. The things he knows by heart, the reason he can't sleep. His past and hers. Surprises and endings; he waits for them both. 'Cause the one thing he knows is true -- both are coming.


AJ

Some people count sheep. I count booze.

Gin, tequila, vermouth -- both dry and sweet, bourbon, vodka... Ah, vodka. Nectar of the gods. Smells crisp as air, goes down like fire. My drink of choice. Sometimes, when I lie here, sleepless, I swear to god I can taste it.

Knowing I can't, ever again, is almost enough to make me take a drink.

I know a lot of things that no one realizes I'm aware of. Numero uno on that list -- I know what kind of man I am. I see myself pretty clearly. Why do you think I drink?

Wait. Stop. That's a lie. And, whatever else I am, I'm not a man who tells lies to himself in the dark. I drink because I'm a drunk. A weak man who's never gonna be able to stop after just one.

I can hear her breathing in the next room. Soft and even. It sounds so-- Red wine, white. Schnapps, scotch, champagne... Here's another thing I know. This stopped being about my son a long time ago. I love him. I love him with a depth I didn't know I had until the first time I felt his sweet weight in my arms. But, this path I'm on -- he's not the destination that waits at the end of it.

Revenge. Cold, spare, and sweet. I have a feeling it might taste like vodka going down. That's why I'm in this game; that's why I do do these things. I don't ever want to have to choose between my son and it's pursuit. I don't want to know what I'd choose.

I got a taste of it when she chose me over him. She heard both stories; she had a choice. And, she placed her hand in mine, turned her eyes on me. They were full of trust, Courtney's eyes, full of--

Brady, rum, sherry, beer. Creme de menthe. Creme de anything. I tell myself I'd chose him. That I'd rather have Micheal in my life than the people who call themselves his parents out of it. But then I look at myself, how far I've gone, what I've done. And, I have to admit that I don't know anymore. If someone came up to me, said 'you can have him back if you just let Sonny and Carly go. Let them live free and happy, and Micheal's yours'. I don't know if I could walk away.

She lay her hand on my cheek when she told me goodnight. I can still feel it lingering there. For just a moment, I was tempted to grab the lifeline she was tossing me, all unknowing, and hold on. To kneel at her feet and let her be my salvation. To be the man she sees when she looks at me, the one who loves his child more than he wants her brother dead.

The moment passed. It always does. And, instead, I lie here and count booze. Whisky, sake, rye...


Carly

Rituals. They took the place of so many things now.

Walk around the living room once, turn off all the lamps. Check the back door, then the front, then the back once more -- just in case. Pour herself a cup of coffee, set it on the counter to cool. Program the alarm. Get the coffee, add one sugar, never two. No cream.

Walk upstairs. Check to make sure he's breathing, one hand resting softly on his chest. Pull the blanket he's tossed off up. Kiss him once on the forehead. Turn on his monitor, even though he insists he's too old for it. She's not.

Drink coffee. Go back downstairs, make sure alarm is set. Head up again. Run a bath, read a magazine, set the playlist for the club. Go over the martini and appetizer menu. Brush teeth. Climb into bed. Finish coffee, knowing the whole brushing teeth thing just became useless. Shrug. Turn off lamp. Sleep. Or not. Turn lamp on.

She used to stay up 'til all hours of the night, dancing, partying, fucking, whatever. She still stayed up but now the things she did in that time her mama used to call the 'witching hour' were so ... domestic. The same rituals she used to make fun of Virginia for performing, she now owned.

There was some kinda lesson in that, she was sure. Oh well. She never had been much good at learning lessons. And, this one freakin' scared her. Was she actually becoming her mother??

Perish the thought.

But then again, this was her life now. Same as it had been her mother's. A woman, her child, her home, her job. Nothing more. Nothing less. She tried to convince herself it wasn't less. But, man, she wanted more.

There was this insistent little part of her that swore that this wasn't a complete life. Couldn't be. There was no man in it. God, she hated that part of herself. Problem was hating it didn't make it shut the hell up.

She was starting to believe she didn't have listen to it, though. Starting to believe that she could do this one thing, stand on her feet without grasping onto anyone's shoulder or anyone's dick. Starting to. It was a hell of an uphill climb, and she wasn't sure it was worth the effort.

Virginia had done it though. Her ineffectual, quiet, soft mother who she'd spent most of her childhood, hell, most of her life, despising -- she had done the thing her daughter couldn't. She had carved out a life on her own terms and lived it. It hadn't been a life her daughter wanted or respected, but it had been her own. She wished she could tell her how much she respected that. She hoped to god somehow that she knew.

She turned off the light. Turned over. Whispered her mother's name in the same way that some people say 'thank you'. One more day complete, one more day closer. Sleep now. Ritual complete.



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