I lie awake, staring at the ceiling. I'm too afraid to sleep. Because I know that when I do the nightmares will hit. And hit is exactly what they do. When I finally wake up it feels like I've been punched; beaten; raped all over again. The flashbacks are bad enough without reliving it while I'm asleep. I’m hoping that exhaustion will eventually let me get a few hours of peace.
So I stare at the ceiling and listen to Hunter, snoring softly in my bedroom. He's sleeping in there because I can't stand to. And because he won't go home, even though the hospital only reluctantly released him yesterday. Maybe I should go crawl in there with him. I might get a few hours of peaceful sleep with Hunter next to me. But if I tried Hunter would be out of the bed like a shot, so to speak.
He'd claim it was because I was jostling his shoulder, but I know him well enough to know when he's lying. I think he's afraid of hurting me, or scaring me. I don't really remember but after ... when he found me, I think I backed away, not even registering it was him, just not wanting to be touched. I think that freaked him out more than anything. So I guess I’ll stay where I am. On my nice, comfy couch.
Hunter's up to something, too. He thinks I haven't noticed, but when things get quiet between us I see the look in his eyes, the way his jaw works silently. He's mad as hell, and trying to hide if from me. For the first couple of days I thought maybe he was mad at me for some reason, but that's not it. Now I'm afraid he's going to do something stupid. The gun-shot wound to his shoulder might keep him out of action long enough for his better judgement to kick in, but with Hunter you just never know. I just know I don't want to lose him because of that stupid pig ...
The throbbing of my shoulder wakes me, and I look at the clock on the dresser. Dee Dee's dresser. Dee Dee's bed. The bed she can't bear to sleep in because that scum-sucking pig raped her in it. That thought is enough to make me sit bolt upright, despite the pain. And suddenly an image I don't want pops into my head. Him pinning her to the bed, having beaten the fight out of her, pinning her down and ... No! I’m not going to think about that. I can’t. I can't begin to imagine how she's holding it together, even a little. I’d be a complete basket case. Hell, I am already, and I arrived after the fact.
I wonder if she’s awake? I know she thinks haven’t noticed that she’s been throwing the sleeping pills her doctor prescribed in the trash. The first night she took one I didn’t think I’d be able to wake her from the nightmare she was having, so I guess I shouldn’t get on her case about it. Especially when I’m not taking the pain killers my doctor prescribed. I don’t want to not hear her if she’s having another nightmare, even though sometimes I think she’d rather I wasn’t there when she wakes up crying. Maybe I should go see if she’s asleep.
I stop and listen at the door. I can’t hear anything, but all that tells me is that she’s not having a nightmare. The door opens with a squeak I don’t remember it having during the day. If she wasn’t awake before, she sure as hell will be now. Sure enough, as I get closer to the sofa I see her lying there, wide awake, watching me with those big, brown eyes. OK, so in the glow from the street lights outside I can’t actually see the colour of her eyes, but sometime over the year we’ve been working together I’ve memorized every distinct shade of brown they can turn.
“What are you doing up, Hunter?” she asks softly as I sit on the coffee table in front of the sofa. Under normal circumstances she’d be demanding to know what the hell I thought I was up to. Of course, under normal circumstances I wouldn’t be asleep in her bed, bullet hole in the shoulder or not.
I know if I say I was checking up on her she’ll withdraw further into her shell, so I try to keep the smart-arse banter. “Needed to stretch my legs.” She just cocks an eyebrow at me. I know she needs to feel like she’s got some control over her life again, I just wish she didn’t feel like she had to keep me at arm’s length to do it. She feels like she shouldn’t cling to me, but what she doesn’t realize is that I need cling to her some days, too.
“So what were you going to do? Sit there all night and watch me sleep?”
Her voice is so close to the cynical, world-weary tone she uses when she pretends I don’t amuse her at all that I grin at her lecherously. “Sure. I do that every night. You’ve just never caught me before.”
She shakes her head at me, but she can’t hide her own grin. It becomes a real smile and for the first time in two weeks I feel like there’s light at the end of the tunnel. I’m going to get my partner back; she’s still in there.
But then I go and kill the mood. “So what do you say, Sergeant? Do you want come and keep me warm? I’ll put you to sleep.” Shit, shit, shit! I watch her tense and shrink back instinctively, before forcing herself to relax. “I’m sorry, Dee Dee. I didn’t mean that the way it sounded.”
“I know. I don’t mean to overreact. I just …”
She sounds on the verge of tears again, so I take her hand. “You’re not. And you don’t have to apologize for feeling what you’re feeling.” She squeezes my hand tightly. For such a small woman, she’s got one hell of a grip. Must be all that time she’s spent on the practice range.
“Lookit, what I’m trying to say is … You know how they put a ticking clock in with a pup that’s just been taken away from its litter? To help it sleep? Well, maybe that would work for us.”
The faint smile resurfaces. “So which of us is the puppy dog in this scenario, Hunter?”
“I was thinking more along the lines of us being each other's ticking clock.”
The squeak of the bedroom door always sounds so loud in the middle of the night. Rick must be coming to check on me. I watch him approach slowly. Most of the time he’s torn between hugging me and keeping his distance for fear of scaring or upsetting me. So he settles for hovering, waiting for me to decide what I need from him – like now, sitting on the coffee table, watching me watch him.
When I ask him what he’s doing up he slides into our familiar pattern of teasing banter, giving he his patented lecherous grin, the one that usually has me torn between wanting to smack it or kiss it off his face. Right now it makes me smile – it just feels so normal. But his next words trigger my defence mechanisms, and suddenly I’m scared again. Even though I know he’s only joking, that he would never hurt me I feel like I’m going to cry again. God I hate this! I hate feeling like this. I just want my life back.
I feel Hunter’s large, warm hand wrap around mine and I hang on for all I’m worth. Listening to his stumbling explanation about puppies and alarm clocks takes away some of the chill inside and reminds me what a contradiction my partner is. Beneath the macho, anti-authoritarian posturing and endless barrage of joking come-ons is a caring, gentle man with almost old-world manners. But he’s still the only partner I’ve had who has treated me as an equal when it comes to work.
Which brings me to another worry – that after this, when I finally get back to work, he’ll feel like he has to protect me. When we first started working together I didn’t want a partner, and all that entailed. Now I don’t want to lose the partnership we have had. So maybe now is the time to take a step towards getting my life back. Pushing all the fears deep down inside I stand, still holding Rick’s hand and lead him to the bedroom.
He’s right about the ticking clock. I start to drift off almost as soon as I lay my head on his chest, over his heart, feeling him tentatively wrap an arm around my shoulders. I know the nightmares won’t stay away for long, but maybe for just a few hours I can forget …
She’s tempted, but she’s eyeing the bedroom door apprehensively. I know it’s not the thought of sharing a bed with me that bothers her... at least I don't think that's what worries her. Maybe I just should have convinced her to stay at my house until she feels ready to face her own bedroom. But she surprises me again when she stands and leads me by the hand into the bedroom with no sign of hesitation.
I lie down, suddenly feeling every minute of sleep I’ve missed over the past few weeks. Dee Dee settles against my left side, her head on my chest, listening to my heartbeat. I tuck my good arm around her, expecting her to tense, but instead she relaxes. Within minutes I’m sure she’s asleep, and I let myself follow.
It’s hours later when her scream wakes me. I feel her heart almost thundering out of her chest as I hold her tightly to me. I make her a silent promise. Marianos is not going to walk away from this. He’s not going to escape justice.