Summary: Annie and Mitchell learn to face the long nights together. (spanning Series 1 & 2, with minor spoilers)
Disclaimer: It's all yours, Toby.
Annie's nights alternatively dragged on or passed in the twinkling of an eye. Sometimes, on the long nights, she read books. Sometimes she mended the boys' clothes (torn during this fight or that beastly transformation). For a while, she tried to teach herself ghostly skills (shimmer, fade, alter her outfit in slight ways, move objects with more precision, etc). Then fancy napkin-folding. Sometimes she just played solitaire on George's phone.
George had always slept like a baby. Well, like a human. Well, an animal, anyway. He had always slept like a living thing: soundly, with mild, occasional turbulence. Annie could never bear to disturb such well deserved rest.
For herself, though, and for Mitchell, the night was an extra shift—overtime hours without the pay, without the support. Life quieted; gone was George's general tizzy of incredulity, and gone was the clarity of daylight, the buzz and buffer of lives being lived in the neighbourhood around them. For humans, it was precious quietude. For them… well.
Soon, Annie relapsed. That is to say, she took to making tea in the middle of the night. She had done it for a while—weeks? months?—before the boys had moved in, during her year alone. Now, again, she'd putter around, washing up, tidying this or that, rushing to the kettle as it steamed so as to stop the whistling before it woke any of the flatmates.
Occasionally, she got the feeling Mitchell could hear her. Was he just lying there, in his bed, half-asleep, listening to her putter? Did it comfort him? Did it annoy him? He never brought it up.
When Mitchell slept, he slept deeply, still and silent (as the grave, one could say…). When he didn't sleep, which also happened sometimes, he lived through the nights as though he stood at a precipice—fangs at the ready, pressing at his gums to come out—and he clenched his jaws and his fists against it. It wore at him, she knew, and she learned to sense when he was awake, fighting the inner battle—the energy around his room crackled somehow.
At first, she'd knock softly at his bedroom door, and they'd exchange status updates and pleasantries. "Are you okay?" "Yeah, fine." "Well, just call if you need anything." "Thanks. Goodnight, Annie."
Then, as their friendship deepened, she learned to read that energy, from outside, and she learned to guess (accurately) whether or not she would be welcomed on the other side of his door. She got into the practice, whenever it seemed a sure thing that he wanted company, of popping quietly in, bringing him a cup of tea and sitting underneath the window with a book while he tried to fall back to sleep. "You've come to dispel my demons, have you?" he'd say, with a sleepy, crooked smile.
Once or twice, she got a story out of him before he fell asleep. Usually memories about interesting places or people. He really did remember things in vivid detail. The strangest things—fabrics, shadows. Sometimes they just played Trivial Pursuit. Once, for nine hours straight. (Predictably, Annie was best at the pop culture questions, but Mitchell won the day in history and arts and literature.)
Occasionally Mitchell shared a memory—in a far-off voice, with a softer timber—about his human life, his original family, and Annie had to suppress the heartbreak and the endearment she felt. Rarely, but still occasionally, he'd tell a darker story, an unpleasant memory, a life lesson of his. For those, she sat against the bed—nearer to him than under the window, but still far enough away that he didn't feel intruded upon.
Still more rarely, when he had an insomniac night, they'd just chat. All night long. Whispers and giggles and sighs.
And so the nights became less terrible.
Annie began to live her new, ghostly life at night as well. It wasn't like before, when she felt—when she was—housebound. She began to wander the streets, getting to know the neighbourhood, and then the city, and then the countryside.
To be housebound, rattling her chains, was to be a proper ghost, but to walk the countryside was to be a spectre, a phantom. She wuthered in the heights. She rattled casements whenever she came across them.
Now and then, in the early morning, she shadowed the postman. Late at night, the bouncer at a local disco who made particularly entertaining quips when tossing unruly guests.
The nice thing was, at the end of her peregrinations, there was always home.
Once or twice, early on, when he must have felt a little guilty that he could sleep at all and she couldn't, Mitchell suggested that she try it. "Maybe it'd be good for you, havin' a little doze." She'd waved him off with a chuckle and kept reading.
Later, after she learned what had happened to her, and remembered the truth about her life, and her death—and how much more dangerous her un-life could be, and how dangerous George and Mitchell's lives already were—she felt something like what used to feel like fatigue. There were moments when she felt her whole self was sighing, like she was sinking into grey clouds—or the whole world was grey clouds, including herself—or she was being tossed about by the wind—or she was the wind. It was exhausting. In a way.
Maybe she just wanted to feel exhausted; maybe she felt she had the right.
Maybe she was worried that all her wuthering would eventually set her adrift on the proverbial moors.
That would be so… ghostly.
Maybe she was worried for what was left of her humanity.
So she decided to try it. Nap, that is.
It came down to this: one quiet night, while George slept off his transition (the wolf made him a very tired man), and Mitchell was out doing who knew what (and, probably, Who didn't want to know What), Annie slipped into his bedroom and laid herself down on the bed. There was no bed in her room, and she didn't think he'd be home anytime soon, nor would he probably mind that she preferred this to the living room couch as her test site (and even if he did, he could complain all he liked; it had been his idea in the first place).
It was comforting, to get into a bed, enfluffed in a blanket and a pillow, just like old times. And it was cosy to be still in the dull shine of moonlight, surrounded by the weighty absence of Mitchell, his now-familiar clothes, his flotsam and jetsam. … But it didn't feel like it was working. She watched the curtains sway lightly in the breeze. She looked for the craters in the moon. She perked up to George, who made a slight grunting noise from the other room, but forgot about it as soon as she deemed it innocuous.
Well, it had failed. Annie couldn't sleep. Back to reading it would have to be. … But maybe just another minute or two in the bed, for old time's sake. She sighed and pulled her knees closer up and her jammies tighter around herself as if she was cold (finally, she chuckled to herself, it was coming in handy that she had died in what were essentially her jammies). She looked at the clock. 1:43 AM. She sighed again.
It was moments like these, in which she was alone in some sense, when she couldn't help but recall the sorrow and anger of her first few months as a ghost. Those long nights of stillness and solitude before the boys had come.
What would happen as time wore on? As George aged? Would they move on? Would they leave her? How she would miss them. How she would moan and howl. How the house would creak and groan.
Would they miss her? If she could ever move on, that is. George would remember her, perhaps, but… would she be forgotten—another of a thousand faces—by Mitchell?
And then, what seemed like suddenly: "Budge over, sleepyhead." It was a quiet voice, a little gravelly. She could tell he was smiling even though she could only vaguely make out his form in the half-light.
She was up, then, and sitting. "My eyes were closed!" she marvelled, in a whisper, looking down at herself in befuddlment. Then she looked up to Mitchell, who was doing some puttering of his own, throwing off his jacket, taking his wallet and phone from his pocket and putting them down.
"How did you get in here?" she asked. (And how handy, as well, she reflected, that her hair was eternally done; if she took to napping, as it seemed she might have, she could cross bedhead from her list of worries.)
"Er, it is my room. In the house where I live, so…" He quirked an eyebrow at her as he sat down next to her on the bed.
"No, I mean, how did you get in here so suddenly? It's like you… rent-a-ghosted."
This time he grinned at her. "Annie, I got home at least fifteen minutes ago, and I pretty much came right upstairs, brushed the teeth, and then came in here. I was checking my phone messages for a full minute before I noticed you sleeping on the bed. Yes, sleeping. And how cute are you—" (he poked her and grinned wider) "—curled up in your little fetal position with your drapery wrapped all about."
Still marvelling at her newfound ability, she made room for Mitchell in his own bed, and they sat together, leaning against the wall at the head of the bed.
"How long were you out? Did you dream? Do you remember anything?"
"I don't know. What time is it? I don't think I dreamt anything. No, I didn't… I couldn't have been asleep for very long, if I was asleep… I don't even know for certain that I slept at all."
Mitchell turned the bedside clock slightly in her direction, lowered his head toward her, and raised his eyebrows triumphantly. 3:10 AM, the clock read.
She returned his gaze, with wide eyes, as she leaned back a bit. He leaned further and tugged lightly on one of her curls. "That's my girl, I knew you could do it."
And just as soon as he was all up in her space, she recalled that it was all really his space.
"Well… I'll… leave you to get to bed, then," she stuttered.
Annie began to shift away from him as he slid himself into a horizontal position. She shifted again, away from the middle of the bed, but Mitchell took the loose ends of her grey sweater in both hands, like reins, and tugged them toward him. Her forehead almost knocked against his as she lay down to face him.
"I'm knackered, Annie," he said with a great sigh, "and it seems like you are too. Just stay."
They were still lying on top of the sheets, sharing a pillow, but Mitchell pulled the blanket up over them both, and rubbed her arms—then stopped, as if he had just realized that he wasn't going to be able to warm her up, no matter what he did. But then he… nuzzled her. There was no other word for it. Forehead to forehead. Out of pity? Comradeship?
Was she blushing now? Could she even blush?
After a few quiet minutes, he spoke again. His voice wavered; Annie could tell he was drifting off. "I'm glad you slept. I mean I'm glad you know you can, now, if you want to."
"Thanks. Bit weird, but yeah."
Then, with his final burst of energy for the day: "should we get you a bed? If you're going to make a habit of sleeping, it's only fair."
"No." She snuggled closer. "No, it's fine."
Nice as it was to sleep next to someone (and it was so nice—she had forgotten), the best part was waking up. Mitchell was still there, with his raspy "mornin'" and his adorable stretching, but the best part was that she had closed her eyes in darkness and opened them to streaming sunlight. She basked in it. And it had been some time since she'd basked.
(Mitchell, on the other hand, she noticed, was very… squinty—until he rolled out of bed and pulled the curtains closed.)
"What woke you up?" he said, as he dove straight back onto the bed, lying on his stomach and scrunching the pillow up under his head.
"I don't know… maybe I just woke up because you did."
"I thought I woke up because you did. I felt a chill."
"Oh," said Annie, bristling a bit. She began to remove herself from the situation, standing up beside the bed.
"Nah, I didn't mean that in a bad way," said his muffled voice. He reached out for her without looking up from the pillow and made contact with her hip. Quickly he moved his hand up to grasp her elbow and pull her back down so she was sitting on the bed's edge. "I just meant… I don't know… I didn't mean anything by it."
She sat still for a moment, unsure of whether she should just leave the room. She picked lint from his blanket and tossed it to the floor.
"It was nice, Annie, don't fret about it. It was like—" he trailed off, and Annie recalled their accidental kiss—the same moment he was probably recalling. "Anyway, you're cold in a nice way. Seems like I've told you this at one time or another." (That last was said with his little quirk of the eyebrow.)
"You're cold too, you know," Annie said quietly. "At least, I think you are."
"Yeah, well, I am dead, so, I wouldn't put it past me." She could hear in his voice that he was smiling.
"Alright, well, lazybones," said Annie, ending the spell, "you're going to be late for work if you don't get cracking. I'll go put on the coffee."
This time, he groaned and rolled over.
She was already gone.