A bird doesn’t forget how to fly.
Sometimes they may fall from the air when the world is against them, yet before they hit the ground their wings will always know what to do.
Phin had always been a stubborn man. Brave and hardworking, not that he didn’t have his faults, but Charity loved his passion, his dedication for everything he did. Every letter he took the time to write her even when he was cold and alone as a boy, every painful and thankless job he’d worked to support her and their girls, right up until the circus where he spent every waking moment pushing harder and harder to crack a smile on even the most stubborn faces.
He was a bird soaring through the clouds all of the time.
Except when he wasn’t.
Charity was the only person who had seen his majestic form fall from the sky. It happened when they were alone. When the sparkling lights of show business were out and he wasn’t facing the world and putting on a showman’s smile.
Only she knew that this bird had an injury, and while he could force himself to fly all day in the face of others, when they were alone he would always fall. The heaviness of the smoke in the air would pull him down and he would drown in it’s darkness.
Charity Barnum loved her bird, broken parts and all. Every night she would open her own soft wings to protect him from himself.
He’d woken with a start, almost jogged her out of bed as he suddenly sat up. It didn’t phase her, this was a regular occurrence. Sleepily she turned in her sheets to place a warm hand against his back. “Phin?”
“M’fine. M’fine.” He mumbled back groggily, hesitantly sinking back down to let his head hit the pillow. His glazed eyes watched the ceiling tiles quietly and Charity watched the rise and fall of his chest as he caught his breath.
“What was it this time? ” She asked softly, her soft wrist slowly moving across his chest to draw little circles on his chest. Her eyes threatened to close again and she propped herself up to stay awake.
“Mm. The trapped one.” He murmured, his gravely voice forever soft for her. “Where I can’t breathe and the walls are closing in. The fire is everywhere.”
The woman gently let her head lean into his shoulder, feeling like a perfect puzzle piece against the curve of his neck. “You’ve been having these nightmares since the fire, you need to open up and talk about it, Phin. Just because you don’t have any wounds on the outside doesn’t mean you don’t have any on the inside.” She whispered to him gently, moving a hand up to play with his soft curls. “That evening was terrifying, Phillip could have died, YOU could have died. You’re allowed to be knocked down by what happened.”
“I’m fine, Chairy.” He muttered back, eyes fluttering in an attempt to stay open as his cheek rested against her soft hair. “They’re just nightmares. Everyone has nightmares.” He breathed.
“Not every night. Not so bad they shake you awake and stop you falling back asleep.”
“I’ll be fine.”
The man sighed through his nose, shutting his eyes and turning his face to bury it in her warm messy hair. He was silent for a while, only the sound of his still rapid heart thudding gently in the woman’s ears.
“I need to go outside. It’s too warm, too small in here.” He murmured out after a moment, gently lifting his head and turning to swing his legs over the side of the bed.
As Phin forced himself to his feet and rummaged for some trousers, Charity turned on her side to watch him, sighing quietly before leaving the warmth of her blanket too. “You’re having one of those attacks again, Phin. You always get claustrophobic just before it happens. You’re not going outside, it’s the middle of the night. Sit down. I’ll make some tea.”
The man buttoned up his smart trousers and threw on yesterday’s shirt carelessly, struggling to button it up in his exhausted state. Charity noticed his shaking hands and gently moved over to take the task from him, doing the buttons up herself.
“They’re not ‘attacks’, no-one’s attacking me. I’m not claustrophobic either. I just need some fresh air. That’s all.” He grunted quietly, hands moving away without argument as she buttoned him up. “I’ll just go to the roof, I just need to be outside for a minute, Chairy. What happened last time won’t happen again.”
He sounded defensive, yet before she could make her case, he’d turned on his heal and left the room. She sighed, hearing his footsteps echo down the hall.
Charity set the stove to boil and made tea. He’d need it when he came back inside, she knew her husband and she knew his strange attacks, even if he denied them. Sometimes he’d get too warm and too breathless, then he’d scramble to get away from people as best he could. The few time’s she’d managed to find him were the same few times she’d seen her Phineas cry. He’d be a mess of sweat and tears, trembling and sucking in uneven breaths as he curled up small in whatever hiding place he’d found.
It broke her heart to see her beautiful, brave husband come undone like this.
Charity had learnt to give him space, even if she did wish that he’d open up and talk to her about the stresses building up in his chest until they sometimes burst out of him at the seams. He had too much pride for his own good, it broke him to cry in front of her. Instead she’d stay back until he was ready to return to her arms. She’d bring him tea and rub his back and hold him tight for the rest of the night, whispering sweet mutters of affection and pride in his ear.
When her sweet, broken bird was ready to come back to the nest, she’d always open her wings wide for him and keep him safe from the darkness of the night. She could only pray he’d someday stay there long enough for his injuries to heal.