My Dreams Don't Comfort Me
I don't wanna sleep, I don't wanna dream
'Cause my dreams don't comfort me
—Comatose , Skillet
Dropping his cloak over the uncomfortable visitor's chair, Vincent Valentine turned his attention to the pictures hanging on the walls. In a brave attempt to break up the stark monotony of the ward, someone had hung them – cheap prints of watercolour landscapes – above every bed in the room. Instead of making the place seem more cheerful, it added as much to the hospital feel as the underlying stink of antiseptic.
After a few moments, Vincent's eyes left the picture and returned to his true concern.
Shelke's face and neck shone faintly in the harsh lighting. The borrowed pajamas – light blue cotton decorated with yellow stars – made her look very young, and very vulnerable. As Vincent watched, a droplet of sweat rolled down her neck and vanished into the damp material. Three days ago, the ex-Tsviet had risked conducting an SND in order to gather concrete evidence against a group suspected of skimming funds from several WRO building sites across the Planet. It had drained Shelke's already limited reserves of strength, leaving her susceptible to whatever bug had been circling the headquarters at the time. Since the fever had risen, she had emerged into glassy-eyed awareness only a handful of times.
The light rap of knuckles on glass startled Vincent out of his reverie. Reeve stood outside the door, peering into the ward. Vincent got up and stepped out of the room, guiding the door quietly shut with one hand.
"Is she any better?" asked Reeve.
Vincent resisted the urge to twist and check. Shelke's condition would not have miraculously improved in the fifteen seconds since he had left her side. "No," he said. "She isn't."
The concerned dent between Reeve's eyebrows deepened, and his mouth pursed. Vincent suspected that his friend was feeling guilty, even though the only person who could possibly have dissuaded Shelke from her chosen course of action was currently floating in a tank down the hall.
"At least she's getting plenty of rest," said Reeve finally. Vincent glanced over his shoulder, in time to see Shelke twitch restlessly. His sharp vision picked out the shape of her hands clenching under the covers, and couldn't help his mouth tightening a little. 'Rest' might have been stretching it.
Reeve seemed to think so, too. Shifting uncomfortably, he coughed and said, "I suppose I'd better get back to work." With a nod to Vincent and a final, furtive glance at Shelke, he set off down the corridor at a fast clip. Silently, Vincent slipped back into the room.
"Vincent Valentine." He started at the dry whisper. Shelke forced her eyes open and tried to smile at him, blinking slowly. The dark smudges around her eyes looked like bruises.
Vincent sat down, feeling obscurely comforted. Despite Shalua's final command, he often felt inadequate to the task of taking care of Shelke – and like Reeve, he felt guilty about the state that she was in now. But Shelke had a mind of her own and a will forged in hell, and short of emotional blackmail, they had no leverage with her. Right now, with the aloof attitude stripped away, she looked like the child that she resembled – someone that he could take care of.
"You should go back to sleep," he said. "You need the rest."
The tentative smile vanished. Her eyes dropped. "I don't want to sleep," she said, sounding as young as she looked. "I will dream." The last word drifted on a tired exhalation; she seemed too exhausted even to yawn. Vincent paused for a moment. How much had she actually slept, and how much had she faked in order to escape whatever it was she dreamed of?
"I can wake you if you start having nightmares," he offered.
At first she said nothing, staring straight ahead. Then she closed her eyes slowly, her air that of someone laying down their weapons in surrender. "I would appreciate that." She settled deeper into her pillows. Vincent returned his attention to the picture hanging above her head, alert for any sound of discomfort.
The hours passed slowly. Occasionally, Shelke would twitch, brow furrowing, but each time he reached out, ready to nudge her awake, her face smoothed back into impassivity and she returned to deeper sleep. He was beginning to become bored – and slightly amused at himself for becoming bored – when she made the transition into nightmare.
He had returned once again to contemplation of the hanging prints, so he did not immediately notice that her face had crumpled. He started when she began to thrash, then lurched to his feet and reached for her shoulders. One clenched fist smacked his cheek, and he reeled, more from surprise than pain. For a brief moment, he stared at her. Then, shaking himself, he dived in to restrain her. As his hands fastened on her shoulders, she moaned, making his stomach drop.
"Shelke." He didn't have a clear idea of what had happened in Deepground, but he knew from the references that Shelke had made and what he had observed himself that it was an experience that no one should have to relive. "Shelke, wake up." He shook her lightly.
She came awake with an almost audible snap, every muscle taut. He kept his hands on her shoulders, hoping that physical contact would bring her out of her nightmare faster. She gazed up at him, glassy eyes sharpening oddly. Raising one hand like it was made of lead, she brushed her fingertips against his cheek, and he froze, ignoring the faint sting that came with the contact. Shelke had never facilitated touch in the time that he had known her – what was going on?
Her free hand pulled at the front of his shirt, and he relaxed, yielding to the weak tugging as he realized what she must be doing. He could tell her that he was fine, but she would find it easier to believe after she checked herself.
"I hurt you," she said softly.
He was about to remind her that he didn't bruise easily when her hand moved to cup his jaw. Shocked to immobility, he didn't react when the hand that had tugged his shirt shifted its grip to his shoulder, allowing her to pull herself upwards and kiss him on the mouth. Her lips were dry and chapped; fever heat radiated from her skin. Thought fragments whirled in his head, each one slipping away before he could properly grasp it.
She released him – he realised, belatedly, that she had only held the contact for the briefest of moments – and, lacking another action to take, he helped her lie back down. Her eyes had already closed. As he stared down at her, trying to process what the hell had just happened and wondering whether she would remember this when she recovered, she sighed lightly.
Obviously, I don't own anything of this franchise.
I owe special thanks to several people who have helped me pull this one together (or pull the final version together) over the last few days: Nero-The-Sable, ShiningSugar14, Zaz9-zaa0 and MedliR, all of whom offered encouragement, praise, and crit for the flaws. I couldn't have done it without you guys.