Title: A Solitary Night

Disclaimers: Not mine.

Notes: Was actually a challenge response, but thought it might fit here, too.

Summary: P&D Challenge Response to: "He awoke with a ragged gasp, bathed in sweat, his heart pounding in his ears."

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He awoke with a ragged gasp, bathed in sweat, his heart pounding in his ears. The room was dim, bathed in shadows from the moonlight coming in through the windows. His slick skin cool in the night air, he shivered as he scrambled out of the damp sheets with a grimace of disgust. Reaching down, he pulled a corner of the tangled sheet to wipe his face, shaking his head as he dropped it and made his way into the attached bathroom. Bending over the porcelain sink, he splashed water on his face before looking to the mirror. There was no light, but he knew what he'd be seeing if there was. His normally clear brown eyes clouded and bloodshot, most of his skin a sickly grayish-yellow that reminded him of days-old corpses he had stumbled upon during his military career. His cheeks would be flagged with red, flushed from the adrenaline still flowing through his system.

It was how he always looked after these flashbacks.

Nightmares.

Memories.

The biggest difference between tonight and the nights before was that when he padded barefoot over the cold linoleum tiles back to his bed… he would be climbing in it alone. His wife was gone, having felt invisible for far too long, her voice drowned out by his ever-growing obsession. She had stuck around for years, living as a ghost in his world that faded a little bit more each day. In the end, he'd been surprised she'd stuck around as long as she had.

It had still been a shock to him, leaving him adrift in a familiar world that was suddenly black and white. Things that were familiar to him now held a sense of distortion, the few people he saw flat, like photographs, with no real sense of truly being there.

Shaking his head again, this time to clear it, he splashed the cold water on his face before turning abruptly and going back into the bedroom. Hands roughened by years of living on the fringes of civilization began to strip the bed, sheets being tossed in a crumpled heap in one corner. In quick order, the bed was remade with fresh linens and he was smoothing a quilt down over the bed and fluffing the two pillows at the head.

Cocking his head, he looked down at it through the shadows, decided that it looked inviting.

It was an invitation he wasn't interested in.

Turning his back on it, he strode through first his bedroom and then his home, unlocking the front door and stepping outside, unmindful that he was still in his boxers and nothing else. A deep breath filled his lungs with the fresh desert air and he took another, drinking it in greedily. His eyes scanned the nighttime horizon, the pale sand shifting slightly in the silent breeze and a lone coyote howl echoing in the almost-stillness.

This was his domain, his territory. This was the place he had settled down to between missions for good old Uncle Sam. This was the place he had finally retired to when he'd grown tired of the political games and questionable orders. It was where he felt safest, although that was a relative term. It was where he was most comfortable.

Tonight, though, the placid scene in front of him didn't comfort him as it had on sleepless nights in the past. It still shifted, the desert fading into a jungle with parachutes hanging from trees, shifting into another desert, this one bright with a harshly unrelenting sun. The faces of friends slid past, smiling and laughing, grimacing in pain, twisted in the final throes of death, a gruesome kaleidoscope of memories he usually did his best to suppress.

With a sigh of disgust, he turned and went back inside, making sure that the door was locked behind him. Padding once more over the cold floor, he pulled the covers back and slid back into the bed, the cool sheets quickly warming from the heat of his body. Settling himself in to be more comfortable, he sent up a prayer to who-ever might be listening that this time his sleep would be dreamless before closing his eyes.

The End.

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