A/N: I wrote this piece back in September of 2005 as part of the Livejournal community tdd1's first drabble contest, where it won second place. After reworking it numerous times, I've finally decided to post it here with minimal adjustments. Consider it a brief interlude to prove that I'm still alive, even though further progress on my beloved "BatO" continues to elude me.

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The nightmares continue to haunt him, each in a different yet wholly destructive way.

One taunts him with the memory of the corpses of his fallen comrades, each more painful to recall than the last. Another places an AK-47 in his calloused hands and paints him with blood as he again takes the lives of countless enemy soldiers, of ruthless assassins, of the helpless civilians he has failed to protect from harm. The smell of death overpowers his senses, and yet his dream counterpart calmly reloads his weapon, his grey eyes cold and unfeeling as he once again begins to fight.

He wakes with a start now, shaking terribly as the images continue to flash before his eyes. He has spent several years adapting to a civilian lifestyle, and yet the past still refuses to release him from its clutches. How can he hope to be normal when the memory of each murder he has committed remains at the forefront of his mind, when he can still feel the blood on his hands, when—

His thoughts stop abruptly as he feels a gentle kiss upon his bare shoulder.

"Are you okay?" a soft, sleepy voice asks quietly from beside him.

Unable to answer, he finds comfort in momentary silence. He remains hesitant to share his painful memories with her; she has fought by his side on countless occasions and witnessed more death and destruction than any civilian ever should, but still she retains some semblance of innocence and purity. He has vowed never to taint her with tales of his blood-drenched past.

After all these years, he also continues to fear that she could never understand, that the love in her eyes would quickly be replaced by hatred and disgust if she were to learn the details of the death and destruction of his youth.

So lost is he in his thoughts that he barely notices her hands gently pulling him down to rest his head against her breast. She sighs softly and moves her small hands to gently stroke his hair.

Her heartbeat sounds in his ears with a calm, even rhythm as he rests silently against her smooth skin, eyes falling shut as he is overcome by a sense of peace and warmth. The serenity he finds in her arms overwhelms him, and he succumbs to the tender concern contained within her simple gesture. There is nothing of hatred as she holds him gently, as she reaches out and takes one of his eternally blood-stained hands in her own, squeezing reassuringly. The night is still and quiet as the brutal images refuse to disappear but begin to fade, and his anxious heartbeat soon comes to match hers, measured and tranquil, as her heart beats for him and she wordlessly and effortlessly banishes his demons.

"Are you okay?" her concerned voice asks once more.

His eyes remain closed as he returns her soft hand's gentle squeeze. "Yes," he responds simply.

Silence once again reclaims the night, and he sleeps.