He rubs a cool washcloth over his face and tries to shop shaking.
He listens to the voice in his head and makes his body find air for his lungs. It's not until a few minutes later, sitting leaned against the tub, breathing near normally, that he realizes the voice in his head was not his own.
The tub is cold. The floor is cold. Even the cloth is too cold now, and he figures he better get up and go back to bed before he starts shaking for a different reason. He's okay now. The nightmare's over, gone. He can't even remember it. He knows it was one of those, and not remembering a dream about a night that he could never remember seems appropriate. People are fucking grateful when they can't remember their nightmares. Why does he hate it so much?
Maybe his mind's still trying to protect him, but to not even be allowed what his own subconscious can conjure seems like insult added to injury. He wakes up gasping, heart pounding, in physical pain and feeling like he's going to die… and his brain is blank. Like it's all over nothing. It's like being chased by a shadow of a shadow, and he feels stupid for being scared, especially after all this time.
The bathroom door creaks (as does much of the apartment, much of the time) and Justin is glad that Ethan is a heavy sleeper. He, himself, used to be… but not so much anymore.
This… waking up swallowing screams… is rare. More often it's just sleep never quite settling fully. Tiptoeing around in the wee hours, getting drinks of water. Listless, needing to find a book to read. But it makes Justin feel better to know he can get through the occasional disturbed night without disturbing his boyfriend.
He glimpses Ethan across the room, eyes still closed, snoring softly, before shutting off the small light. Reassured, he doesn't head straight back to bed. He pads quietly over to the small closet and kneels, hands locating his duffel bag in the dark. He can find what he's looking for blindly. Tucked away, folded, in a side pocket.
He pulls it carefully out. Feels the texture on his fingers, smooth silk, coarse in patches. Can see it just a little by the moon from the window. Dark and light.
Knows no one would ever understand this treasure. This old scarf covered in dried blood.
No one… but one. Though he probably has no idea Justin kept it.
He slips the scarf around his neck, like he has a few times. Slides it carefully beneath his T-shirt. Just for a minute. He's not really sure why it's a comfort, and he tries not to even think it, but it is. He sits, and breathes, and it is.
After a minute, he takes it off and puts it away. He returns to bed and moves close to Ethan, almost but not quite touching. He closes his eyes and eventually sleeps.
The next time it happens, it's bad.
He doesn't quite manage to swallow all of the screams this time, and he wakes Ethan.
But he's out of the bed before he can be reached for or held. One hand pressed to the white hot pain in the side of his head, one hand to his chest where his heart is so volatile that a coronary episode seems within possibility, Justin tries very literally to hold himself together.
He can hear Ethan, at a loss, asking if he's okay, asking what to do. He tries to summon the strength for one completely fake smile so Ethan might relax, but he can't. He makes a frantic waving away gesture, then doesn't even bother with the cool cloth route. He heads right for his bag.
His fingers fumble the zipper a little, but the pocket's already partially open…
Justin pushes his hand around inside, still looking, as if the scarf might only be invisible, not gone. He checks the larger compartments, everywhere, though he knows he only ever kept it in one place. Coming up with nothing, an even greater panic grips him. He feels like he is falling, rapidly, unendingly, and even as he lies on the floor and pushes his face into the carpet, it doesn't stop.
After a few minutes, possibly… time feeling slow-motion and fast-forward for Justin, and not making any more sense than anything else right now… he hears music. Soft violin music.
Having no clue what else he should try, Ethan is playing.
When it breaks through Justin's haze, it's kind of odd and almost funny, except that it's helping a little. The melody is soothing and it gives him something to focus on other than the white noise dull roar in his brain.
But once he shows signs of life and sits up, Ethan stops and rushes over to him, rubbing his arm and calling him "baby." Which maybe should be, but is not soothing at all. Justin pulls his arm back. Tries to speak and finds he can.
"I had… something in the pocket of my bag, and it's gone. Did you go in there?"
Ethan looks over at the bag, nearly turned inside out. "I went through everything in the closet looking for laundry the other day. You mean that filthy rag?"
"It's not a rag," he says, hearing another voice repeat the sentiment in his head, with extra disdain. Justin feels strangely violated just knowing Ethan has seen it. "So, what? Did you wash it?" He's on the verge of tears at the thought.
"I don't think it would have done any good. It was beyond washing. I threw it away."
There are no tears. There's not even a sense of falling. The words crystallize as reality and Justin is purely angry.
"You WHAT? Why the fuck would you do that? You had no fucking right!"
Ethan blinks, stunned, never having heard Justin raise his voice or curse at him this way. Justin gets up and runs towards him, looking possessed, and for one bizarre second Ethan thinks he might get hit. Instead, Justin runs past him to the kitchen, opens the trash can lid and shoves his hands inside.
"Justin, stop! I took the trash out yesterday… They were picking it up as I left," he adds quickly, before Justin can run outside and climb in the dumpster.
Justin stops. He gives Ethan the saddest, most broken look, and goes to the sink to wash his hands.
"Look, I'm sorry. I didn't think-"
"Why would it even occur to you to go into my bag and do that?" he asks calmly… eerily so. "Why would you just throw something of mine away? How would you like it if I threw your violin in the trash?"
"My violin? Justin, I don't get the comparison there. I'm not defending my actions, but it's not like I threw away a piece of your art."
Just a piece of my heart. Justin expects to hear that voice in his head laugh at him for the thought, but it doesn't. "Why wouldn't you at least ask me about it before you did anything?"
"You're right. I should have. I'm so sorry, Jus."
Justin turns around. Looks at Ethan, who seems genuinely contrite. But… "Maybe you threw it away because you knew what it was."
"If I knew what it was or that it was so important to you, I wouldn't have!" Again, he seems sincere.
Justin has the realization that, despite living with him for months, he really doesn't know Ethan well enough to know if he's lying.
Justin wonders if Ethan isn't as heavy a sleeper as he had thought. If maybe he'd woken and seen him with the scarf one night.
Ethan knows about the prom, of course. Knows about the bashing. Knows that sometimes Justin's hand still doesn't want to work right. But he really doesn't know much that anybody who read a newspaper article back then doesn't know. He knows the facts, and that Justin doesn't talk about it.
He knows Brian was there, but… he could never know what it meant.
"Okay. I can believe you, that you didn't know what it was."
"Thank you, ba-"
"…consciously. Maybe you didn't let yourself. But you're not stupid, Ethan. Subconsciously, you had to know."
Ethan doesn't say anything.
"Tell me now, then. What do you think it was?"
Ethan shifts, uncomfortable, and a bit guilty. "Scarf? Stained…"
"A men's white silk scarf stained with my blood, from prom."
Ethan blanches. Even if he possibly almost knew, hearing Justin say it is disturbing. And… he doesn't understand. The when, where, and how, yes, but not the all-important why. "Why would you hold onto that? Was it a symbol of your survival?"
"Then why would you need your old scarf from such a horrible night?"
That's something else Ethan can't understand. That it was horrible, the worst night of his life. But Justin knows it was also the best night of his life, even if he never remembers. He doesn't try to communicate that part. Only this.
"It wasn't mine."
The words are spoken softly but they resonate. And Ethan is not stupid. It wasn't the why, so much as the who. He can fill in the name Brian Kinney. Owner of the scarf… and apparently, still, of Justin's heart as well.
Justin's eyes are filled with pain and love and even a kind of serenity, unfocused, focused on something inside. And despite his role tonight in bringing these emotions up, Ethan knows none of it has anything to do with him.
"Justin, I am sorry."
Justin nods. Ethan sighs.
There's nothing more to say.
"I'm going to… go back to bed, if that's okay."
"I'm going to read for a while."
"Okay. Goodnight." He wants to kiss Justin… on the cheek, at least… but doesn't try. He's thrown more than a scarf away.
Ethan eventually falls asleep, to the sound of Justin sketching furiously, like he's drawing a subject he hasn't allowed himself to for a long time… and feeling that his tiny apartment will seem quite large tomorrow.
This time the voice is his own. The cold tub he's leaning on and the cold bathroom floor he's sitting on are Daphne's. He is not hiding away from a nightmare, but gathering strength for realizing a dream.
He's hit the button. The phone in his hand is ringing against his ear. And that other voice is saying hello.
"Brian, it's me. Could we talk?"