Fiction: The Art of Mutual Destruction Chapter Forty

Chapter Forty

She looked terrible and he had no idea what to do. Adam stared at the blonde hair spread over the pillows and clenched his jaw. Even her hair seemed less bright. Iman was withering faster by the day and it was infuriating him that he could do nothing to help. The culprit was dead but that didn’t help her nightmares.

It had been just over a week and already, he could see a difference in the way she stood, in the set of her shoulders. The lack of sleep wasn’t helping either. She’d woken from nightmares almost every night – twice screaming so loudly that it had made his own heart race to hear it.

All he knew was the advice Kat had once given him – to talk about it. He didn’t see how reliving the experience yet again would help but he was almost desperate enough to try and suggest it.

Thinking about Kat was like picking at a scab – painful and likely to leave a scar. But he couldn’t help it. He missed her. He’d picked up his phone countless times, wanting to talk to her, had even gotten as far as dialling a few times. She’d never answered.

As if all of that wasn’t enough, his month of holiday time had ended and Ali had just let him know that he was expected to leave for the other side of the world in a week. He couldn’t turn it down but the idea of leaving Iman while she was in such a state was almost painful.

He was running out of time.

There was a whimper from the woman lying in bed next to him and Adam quickly reached out an arm, hoping that she wouldn’t scream herself awake this time. Feeling restrained seemed to make the nightmares worse so his first action was always to remove the covers that she somehow always trapped herself in.

He held his breath, waiting. Sometimes that was enough to stave off the worst of it and allow her to stay asleep.

Tonight was not one of those nights.

Iman let out a sob and yanked at invisible hands. She screamed when he tried to touch her and he cursed, shaking her too roughly in his haste.

Iman, wake up!”

She screamed again and wrenched her eyes open, gasping.

Adam immediately retreated, giving her space.

Talk about it. That’s what Kat had said.

Iman pulled her knees up to her chest and sniffled.

Enough. He had no idea how else to help. There was no harm in trying this, surely?

He opened his mouth. “Do you want to talk about it?”

Her throat was raw from screaming. Iman shivered, her skin clammy with sweat. It was the third time this week that she’d woken in the middle of the night, tormented by her dreams.

At least she hadn’t vomited this time.

Adam had been the one to bring her out of the dream, just as he had every other time she’d begun thrashing and moaning in her sleep.

Iman felt her cheeks burn with shame. She’d offered to sleep on the couch so that she wouldn’t keep disturbing his sleep but Adam had refused. When she’d persisted, he’d simply declared that if she went to sleep on the couch, he’d follow her and all she’d accomplish was making them both uncomfortable for the night.

Exhausted, Iman had dropped the issue. But she still felt guilty every time she saw that pinched, exhausted look on his face.

Do you want to talk about it?”

Iman lifted her head. “What?”

Do you want to talk about it?” he repeated. “The nightmare? It’s… supposed to help. When you talk about it.”

The sheer panic she felt at that question must have been obvious because he quickly backtracked. “Never mind. Maybe you should just try to go back to sleep.”

But Iman’s curiosity had been piqued. “Does it help? You don’t have any – nightmares, I mean. Is that because you talked about them?”

Adam shifted uneasily. “Well… no. I do have them.” His face turned haunted for a second as he remembered some past horror. “But my nightmares are a little different to yours.”

So… you do have them then?”

I do,” Adam confirmed. “I had to learn to be quiet which is probably why I haven’t been the one waking you.”

Distracted now, Iman unconsciously began to relax. “That’s awful.” she mumbled.

Adam shrugged. “It’s how we were trained. Showing weakness wasn’t tolerated well – or at all. Nightmares, injuries, phobias… We were made to act as though they didn’t affect us. And if we ever slipped, those weaknesses were used against us until we’d learned better.”

Why would you keep training then?” Iman wondered, trying to wrap her head around it. “Surely people would just leave instead of subjecting themselves to that?”

Adam laughed darkly. “Because the only way to leave was – and is – in a body bag. You can’t really change your mind.”

Iman didn’t know what to say.

I take it your grandfather does things differently?”

I’ve never really thought about it,” Iman whispered, horrified. “God, I hope so.” She knew her grandfather had killed people, but she’d never truly thought about it before. She’d always been content to stay away from that side of his life and see him only as the loving grandfather who doted on her.

It was jarring to remember that technically, he was a criminal. As was Adam.

Iman?” Adam shifted to look at her. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”

It’s fine,” Iman said automatically. “I just… I’d forgotten.”

Adam nodded understandingly. “The grandfather you know is very different to the person the rest of the world gets to see. That’s not such a bad thing.”

Iman lifted her hand to her mouth to cover a yawn, suddenly feeling sleepy. “I guess not,” she agreed as she closed her eyes and settled into the pillows.

She vaguely heard Adam say something else but she was already too far gone for it to properly register. Moments later, she was fast asleep.

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