My lover laughs around a sneer, mocking the trembling in his hands, the night terror which has reduced him once again to this wretched state. “Which do you think will go first,” he asks, “my body or my mind?” From where he sits on the cold bathroom tile his gaze lifts, bleak and black, untouched by the cold laughter. “Shall we place bets on the nature of my demise? You would collect in the end no matter what.”

I start to open my mouth but can’t manage an answer; still reeling from the nightmare or not, Daren will sense a lie if I attempt one and detest my cowardice. Yet how can I admit to either of us that, knowing I must lose both, I find myself praying his body fails before his mind? I am more desensitized to the reek of blood on his breath than I am to the gleam of instability in his eyes. Instead of answering I can only shake my head and beg with weary patience, “What do you want from me?” Besides, of course, to push me away so he may die alone, as if mere distance will soften our separate agonies.

“I want you to be a hallucination,” For just a moment that dazed gaze sharpens, pierces me. “Or maybe you already are one…” His eyes narrow as if by concentrating hard enough he can glimpse frayed edges, wavering lines, any evidence that I should not be trusted, that I am nothing more than a kinder version of his mind’s conjured terrors.How do I know you’re real?”

He thinks he’s clever; I expected this question, though, and at least for this one have an answer. “Because I’m not perfect. If I was only another hallucination, wouldn’t you imagine someone better than me? Someone who isn’t as flawed?” His gaze slides from mine and his mouth twists in an expression I want to interpret as shame or guilt, but with Daren it’s impossible to tell. It occurs to me I will lose him forever before I even learn how to read his face. “You aren’t flawed,” he mutters, grudging but honest. “And you aren’t going mad,” I counter as I kneel on the tile. “No matter how much you want to cling to that excuse.”

The only proof my words do more than slide off his chill exterior is the twitch of his fingers. “It would be easier,” he argues, but the fight has gone out of his voice and I know the desire to hurt and be hurt has passed. Now I can risk touch and so I lay my hand over his, nodding as I agree, “Yes, it would. Now, will you come back to bed?”

I’m not tired,” Stubborn unto the very end, he shakes his head and feigns a strength he just doesn’t have anymore. I could argue but it’s easier to play along, so instead I head off to the kitchen to make us coffee. When I return with two mugs in my hands, however, Daren’s forehead rests on his drawn up knees and he’s fast asleep. The coffee goes down the sink and I carry him back to bed like a sick child.


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