The nightmares come when you've stopped expecting them.

Which makes sense, of course; if they came when you expected them, you could be prepared and nightmares don't like that. They'd much rather creep around the edges of your mind, waiting for your defenses to drop before they pounce. Kind of like demons...

There used to be writing on the walls, a kind of mathematical defense against reality. A story, like you told Angel, with everything calculated and scripted, and a happy ending written in with the complicated formulae that define the worlds. But they're gone now, buried under layers of off-white paint that Cordelia helped you choose and the boys helped you apply. You thought you were safe now, with your friends and your Momma and Daddy nearby; you're almost sure now that they're real, so you decided you didn't need the numbers and pictures and words that made up your intricately plotted denial.

You were scared when you woke the first night, your scream choked off by five-year instinct, your heart pounding louder than any cry. You were back in the bad place, and your eyes darted around the room, looking for the proof that you're not there anymore. But it's gone, trapped under layers of paint that you applied yourself. So you breathed through it, waiting for your muscles to unlock, telling yourself over and over you're home, it wasn't a dream, it was real, but you're home. You calculated pi and did square roots in your head and got up when the sun came through the window, able to pretend nothing was wrong. You tried to convince yourself it's better to be in a real place than one that isn't, but even you don't believe you.

By the third night, the fear is almost matched by outraged betrayal, your very own mind attacking you even though you've told it not to. You could always trust your mind, even in the very worst of the real true dream nightmare, and it's turning against you now. Pi has lost its meaning; you count prime numbers -- 1, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17 -- and synch them to your pounding heartbeat. You watched television as a child, watched furry monsters with big smiles make people out of numbers and letters, and you try to replace the monsters in your head with the ones you remember. It doesn't work -- no matter how hard you try, squeezing your eyes shut and singing the silly old songs so quietly even you can hardly hear yourself, you can't really put blue fur and goofy grins on top of green scales and sneers, bending over you as their fists fall, which is better than when it's just their hands falling, touching and grasping and--

But that was the nightmare and this is reality, and there's still demons here, but there's Angel to fight them. He's not *your* knight in shining armor, and you've accepted that, mostly, except for the tiny little part of your heart that still looks at him wistfully and remembers how the story was supposed to end, but he's still a champion, and you're safe wherever he is. And Momma and Daddy are here and they'll never let anything happen to you, even if they couldn't keep you from being sucked into a demon dimension for five years, but they love you and they're real and they're here.

What you really want to do is go to Momma and Daddy's room and snuggle up next to them, like you did when you were four and you could hear the vampire in the closet breathing. You know now, of course, that vampires don't breathe, and they don't spend a lot of time in closets -- at least, Angel doesn't, as far as you know -- but it's safe in their bed, and warm, and Momma ran over a demon with a bus, so she really can protect you, like you thought when you were a baby.

But Momma and Daddy are going away soon, and the monsters will still be here, since they're in your head and you can't send that back to Texas without taking the rest of you, and the nightmares will come in Texas as sure as they come here.

You don't want to bother the others with the nightmares, since goodness knows they're bothered enough with their own, and they tolerate your craziness during the day, they don't need it at night. And Cordelia is home with her ghost, who she likes, and Wesley is at home with his books, which he likes and you can understand that, since books are safe and you can touch them and they don't ask anything of you. Gunn is home, wherever home is, and you hope he's got something to keep him company.

Angel is home, a few rooms away, like your parents are a few rooms away, because Angel said it was silly to have them staying in one hotel when this one didn't have anyone in it. You know he's not used to having people around, but he seems to like it, like he seems to like having you around. Or he's acting really well, which maybe he is, although you don't think so.

But you're still not entirely certain sure what's real and what isn't; so it's probably best to assume that's not real, and leave Angel alone.

It'll be all right when the sun rises; when you leave the cave -- your room -- someone real will there. Wesley comes in around dawn, if you weren't all up late saving the world. He smiles at you when you creep down the stairs, and asks how you slept, and even though you have to lie to him, it's still a nice way to start a day, because he sees you, so you're probably real and so is he. Momma and Daddy wake up a little later, and come downstairs to ask what you want to do today. It was Disneyland yesterday, Hollywood the day before that; Cordelia rolls her eyes, but gives directions and she really liked the shiny little Oscar statue you brought back. You're pretty sure Oscar isn't real, but if he makes Cordelia happy, then you can pretend he is. You'd rather he was real than some other things.

Gunn and Cordelia will come in at about the same time, hours after dawn; sometimes they come at exactly the same time and that's kind of fun, because Wesley makes them both be nice until they've had coffee. Angel almost never comes down before then; he says it's because he's nocturnal, but you think it's to make sure *he* doesn't have to make them be nice. But Momma's done that the last few mornings, and she's better at it than Wesley. She and Daddy don't even blink at what Angel drinks for breakfast; Angel and Daddy even got into a conversation about organic versus rBGH cow blood until Cordelia told them to stop it before she got sick. That was a fun morning. They're all fun mornings.

Sure, it'll be all right when the sun rises, you betcha. Just breathe, and think about morning, and try to remember what was written on the wall 2 meters on your left, 1.3 meters below the ceiling. It was Einstein's equation about energy and mass and nothing ever being wasted and if you concentrate on that, the shadows don't move around. Much.

You huddle on the bed, your face buried in your knees and your arms wrapped around your body, because you're pretty sure you're real, even if maybe nothing else is, and you pray the sun rises real soon now.


Fred babbles. On and on. Without breathing. Periods must be forcefully inserted. But she's got a lot going on in that head of hers, what with the total post-traumatic stress thing, so I guess that shouldn't be a surprise. :p

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triptych | angel | seanachais | neon hummingbird