Characters: Ryuuken, Uryuu
Summary
: One has nightmares while sleeping, the other while awake.
Pairings
: None
Warnings/Spoilers
: None
Timeline
: pre-manga
Author's Note
: Okay, I've turned a simple thing into a longer oneshot than what I normally publish these days. Am I crazy? Possibly.
Disclaimer
: I don't own Bleach.


He wakes up in the darkness when he hears it, greeted by the abrupt, clanging sound of the air conditioning duct switching off and a car going by on the road, casting golden jail stripes through the blinds.

And Ryuuken wakes up to the sight of the bare plaster ceiling above him, frowning slightly, not entirely sure what he's hearing at first despite having heard it at least a dozen times before as of now (And it really feels like much more than that). Sharp twists and turns of sound filter imperfectly through the thin walls.

Then, Ryuuken remembers what causes this sound, and he's out of bed and pressing open the door beyond, into a soft darkness and silence except for the jarring rustle of his son twisting and writhing in the sheets of his bed.

-0-

A thin light through a strainer spills over the room—Ryuuken has turned the lamp back on and dimmed it—like milk scattered from a glass as he recites words over and over again in his mind to keep him calm, even if it can't quite stop his heart from jolting.

Night terror is a parasomnia disorder most often affecting younger children from ages two to six, though it can affect adolescents and adults just the same. It occurs during stage Four sleep, and is characterized by extreme terror on the part of the sufferer.

The sufferer can not be easily awoken since they themselves are so focused on waking themselves, and the attempts on the part of an onlooker to awaken them may actually make the suffering more acute.

There is no cure or treatment for this disorder when it occurs in children; it is almost always simply outgrown.

Paraphrased directly, more or less, from the source (a medical text book), and though he can tell himself that more than a dozen times, and then start all over again, Ryuuken still has to restrain himself from the obvious answer and try to wake Uryuu up any way he deems fit. For once, Ryuuken can see the value in not making a problem worse.

The thrashing's mostly stopped—if anything, it stopped nearly altogether when Ryuuken leaned over his son and plucked him up from his bed. That was convenient. At first, Ryuuken was alarmed when this didn't wake Uryuu up—he was normally such a light sleeper that it only took a car passing outside to wake him up—and it was only when he remembered the lines out of a text book concerning sleep that he managed to calm himself.

To listen to Uryuu gasping, Ryuuken can almost think that the boy is dreaming about drowning, small hands pawing at the water in a desperate bid to reach and break the surface and fill screaming lungs with air. But Ryuuken knows that can't be it. Dreams are based on experience (at least as far as Ryuuken believes), and Uryuu has never come close to drowning even once in his short life.

Hollows, perhaps, he speculates moodily. Somehow, it always comes back to Hollows. Forcing himself to think rationally, Ryuuken knows he can't blame Uryuu for this—dreams are involuntary and can't be helped. But it still irritates him that the supernatural manages to be such a pervasive aspect of both their lives, even down to the subconscious despite Ryuuken's best efforts to expel it.

His eyes droop but don't close. To Ryuuken, the sound of his son gasping for air fills his ears, echoes off of the walls and won't leave him alone. It bothers him, for all that he doesn't want to admit it, and doesn't, except to acknowledge that his heart's still beating fast.

One hand strays absently to the top of Uryuu's head, then to his throat to check for a pulse. Fast and erratic, just as Ryuuken expected it to be.

He only drops off to sleep when the sound of gasping next to him ceases, and still feels heavy and weighted throughout the night's long hours.

-0-

"Father, what are you doing?"

As per usual for sufferers of night terror, when the morning comes Uryuu has absolutely no recollection of any of what happened the night before. He has no idea how he got into the same bed as his father, and accepts Ryuuken's terse explanation with the sort of unquestioning faith that, Ryuuken decides, only the very young are capable of.

It's Sunday, so Ryuuken doesn't have to go to work and they're both at home. Ryuuken has retreated to the company of his books, looking up everything he can on sleep disorders.

He barely spares a glance for Uryuu, who is standing on tip-toe and peering into the pages of an open book with a fixed fascination—father and son share the same passion for reading—in wide blue eyes. "Researching."

Uryuu nods and, with some difficulty—the book is heavy—slides the book off the table and sits down on the carpet in a bright ray of sunlight emanating from the window, holding it in his lap with hands poised on either side. His brow furrows in concentration as he comes to a word at the top of the page.

"Som… Som-na…"

"Somnambulism, Uryuu." Trust a child's natural curiosity to lead him to this, Ryuuken thinks with slight exasperation. "Somnambulism is a sleep disorder of the parasomnia family, characterized by spurts of activity while sleeping." Ryuuken rattles off the words with a brittle, impatient note in his voice, the beginnings of temper as Uryuu knows all too well.

Uryuu gapes up at him, eyes blank and uncomprehending, and Ryuuken remembers that it's a toddler he's speaking to. He tends to forget how old Uryuu is fairly often—all the same, the blank stare is still somewhat infuriating.

Ryuuken's sigh sounds more like an airy snarl. "Give me that book back."

Flinching, Uryuu does and then wastes no time in removing himself from his father's presence.

Once gone, Ryuuken returns to his own studies, attention fully absorbed into the task at hand. It's not like he doesn't notice Uryuu's timid, at times half-hearted attempts to make friends with him, but he doesn't have time for that right now.

The sounds of shifting in a nearby room come and go and Ryuuken knows that Uryuu has retreated back to his bedroom, no doubt pulling one of his own books out from a shelf, with words a three-year-old can understand and pronounce easily—Uryuu spends most of his time at home reading, strangely inattentive of the world around him or perhaps trying to tread as lightly as possible when inhabiting the same sphere of awareness as his father.

Night terrors, night terrors, I know it's in here somewhere; it was here a month ago when I checked. Finally, Ryuuken finds the entry on night terror in the heavy tome lying open before him on the table, finger running down the length of the page and tapping on the heavily inked words.

Ryuuken already knows what he's looking for when his eyes scan the rows of small font words. Is there any way to keep this from happening again, any at all?

The sunlight is hot against the back of Ryuuken's neck as he searches through the roughly two pages devoted to night terror. As he peruses the pages the air in the room grows more suffocatingly still. Breathing becomes more difficult.

'Night terror is exceedingly rare in adults but is treatable and preventable, in the case of those who develop the condition due to stress, by antidepressants as prescribed by a practicing physician.'

Oh, this helps me so much. Sarcasm is easy to come by in such a situation and Ryuuken rubs his forehead when the familiar clouds of a headache start to form. I'm looking for preventative measures in children, not adults! Tell me there's something, anything I can use here. Hands move over the pages again.

And there's nothing. Not a word on preventative measures for children suffering from night terror, not even a note telling him to perhaps reference an appendix or a related text. The book, as Ryuuken was afraid it would be, is utterly silent.

A heavy sigh breaks the silence of the tense air though does nothing to expel the tension found there buzzing like a storm cloud in summer. Ryuuken casts his eye to the two or three other books piled on the desk. The disappointing volume is cast aside back into the book shelf it came from, and the others taken up.

And as with the first, there is nothing to be said.

-0-

Tick-tock, Tick-tock. In the night's watches there is nothing with a more hollow, echoing sound than the rotations of a clock. It mocks the hours, lambasts the passage of time. It lies and tells those who lie awake that the night will never end, and the wakeful believe those lies, drink them despite the bitter taste of poison.

And tonight, Ryuuken is listening to the lies the clock passes down. His heartbeat chokes him.

This is his nightmare given form, a problem he can't solve, an event he can't control, a situation that controls him and forces him to react rather than act. Something, anything Ryuuken can't fix, can't put his hands to and cure.

In the dry, ascetic jumps of logic he's used to utilizing in such situations, Ryuuken wonders what he should do. His answer to problems of any magnitude that he's helpless to solve has always been to do his best to deny the problem's very existence. And look how well that's turned out.

When his mother was sick and dying, Ryuuken tried to convince himself that she would be alright, and kept telling himself that she'd recover up until the moment she died and he was forced to face with reality. This is a far less serious problem, but he looks at it the same way. What he can't solve, he can't accept, he can't face. It's the only way to deal with anything, by not really dealing with it at all.

This is the nightmare that he can't wake up from, because even though it's not something that will become life-threatening it will eat at Ryuuken until there's nothing left. He's already mostly gone, anyway.

Nightmares… Funny. Sayuri had had a simple solution to nightmares of the physical sort, what tore at him when he was asleep. When she was still alive and Ryuuken was having a nightmare of any sort, if she woke up (which was likely, considering she was just as light a sleeper as Uryuu), she would grab him by the shoulders and shake him until he woke up, leaning close over him with her brow creased in concern.

Ryuuken's only now realizing how much he's missed that.

-0-

It's happening again. Through the thin walls Ryuuken can hear the small child thrashing against the bed sheets and mattress—he's long since learned how to differentiate between night terror and a simple nightmare.

And he doesn't move a muscle.

Even if it was a nightmare, Ryuuken wouldn't move—in that case, Uryuu has to come to him. But he really doesn't see the point—And this will become a favorite excuse and rationalization of his in years to come—to trying to rouse a child who can't wake up. Uryuu can't even remember any of it in the morning anyways (which is perhaps a mercy), except the vague sensation that he did not sleep well, except for the phantom memory of a racing pulse and the ache of sore, tired muscles.

And the only cure to this is time.

Willing himself not to care, Ryuuken doesn't get up, and isn't sure what to think when he finds that it's easy to simply turn over and go back to sleep. His pulse doesn't race this time—in fact, his heart barely beats at all, except to thump from time to time to remind himself that he is still alive.

This too will pass, as he has always addressed everything, and how he will address everything from now on.

For Ryuuken, at least, there will be no nightmares tonight.