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Wake Me Up, I've Been In A Dream Too Long

Chapter Text

The last thing Juliana heard was the cell door opening, a loud burst breaking the quietness of the little space. Then a gunshot, as startling as the first noise. She feels like she’s weightless and drifting back in time. Then…

“Jules?” a familiar voice calls out her name, though in a way he never did.

The room expands and opens up. The sun is streaming in from the windows on either side of her. She’s sitting on a much softer surface. Silence. Then a breath of relief, hushed but still sharp on her ears.

John Smith is standing in front of her with the most peculiar expression. She can’t quite describe it, but it’s miles away from the cold, steely look he puts on in nearly all of their encounters.

Before she could read up on his face, he’s already rushing towards her. He kneels before her, shaking and stammering,

“You're --How did you --You're here...” he takes a closer look at her and she swears she saw tears brimming in his eyes, “Sweetheart, what the hell happened to you? Who--”

She’s heard the stories. She understands the concept of different worlds. Hell, that’s why she fought all this time. The only problem is, she simply never took into account the possibility that her captor, the Reichsmarshall himself, would be so… intimate with her in this reality.

He seems to notice the troubled look on her face. “Sweetheart, what’s wrong? It’s me. John.”

When he reaches up to touch her face, she instinctively yanks her hand away, forgetting the bullet lodged on her left shoulder. She bites back a yelp, and his eyes go wide.

“You’re bleeding. Fuck. Jules, we need to get you to the hospital,” He shoots up and tries to put his hand on her shoulder again, but for the life of her, she couldn’t let that happen.

She pushes him aside with what little strength she still has. When he catches her swinging arm, she jerks her knee into his gut and scrambles out of the room. She is in a house, domestic and unassuming, but she doesn’t know what to make of it. It could be a Nazi safe-house, for all she knows.

But John Smith is tailing her, and she doesn’t have time to assess her surroundings. Juliana staggers down the stairs and out the stained glass-paneled door.

Yet another unassuming suburban neighborhood. Uniform houses with light walls and dark tiles, manicured lawn, and cars on the driveway. A flag hangs limp on a pole in one of the houses’ porch, and she can see stars where the insignia used to be.

In her world.

But is it another world? Is she not just dreaming or hallucinating? Maybe they gassed her in the cell. Is this how it's supposed to be?

“Juliana! Please, I --please.” John Smith catches up to her, and stops a good few steps from her, “Just… calm down.”

“Where am I?”

“You're home, Juliana,” he says it, so soft and simple, until she remembers how deceitful he can be.

Where… am I?” She presses on through gritted teeth and scratchy throat.

He looks just as confused. “We're in Queens, New York. Jules, sweetheart, I don't understand--”

She scoffs and turns away. Again with the names.

People from these houses are starting to come out, watching in concern and bewilderment from afar. She could make a run for it, or --

“Dad, what's going on? I heard --” Juliana recognizes that voice and she can hardly believe who it was. “Juliana?”

And it seems that neither could he.

“Thomas,” she breathes out. Thomas, as sweet as he is, in jeans and a green sweater with stripes on its front. He looks like a boy --young, chipper. Healthy.

“Are you alright?” is the first thing that comes into her mind. She wants --no, needs to make sure that he is as healthy as he looks. She reaches over to cup his face with both hands.

The boy blinks in shock, and sputters like his father did just then. “What --Me --of course I am. Are you? You look --God. What happened --”

“We need to get you to the hospital.” the father interjects, with great urgency.

“Yes! Hospital,” he nearly shouts, panic running through his veins as he flurries around, “I'll, uh… I'll get the car keys.”

Juliana watches the boy run back into the house, and as he disappears behind the door, she stares down at the older man before her. “He's not sick?”

“What are you talking about? He's fine, Juliana,” he tries to approach her, but she takes another step back.

“Don't lie to me, John. I kept that secret for you. I kept your secret when people are starting to see that he’s very sick. And when he was taken away --” her head spins and forming sentences suddenly feels very difficult.

“Sick with what? Jules, he was never taken away. You --Jules?” He replies, sounding further and further away.

She thinks she must've traveled back because she feels woozy and light, but a pair of arms hold her down and she fights it. Fiercely, then feebly as darkness drifts over her again.

She could vaguely hear John Smith calling out her name in her ear.

Chapter Text

Two broken ribs. Malnutrition. Severe dehydration. Internal bleeding. A gunshot wound.

John has it all seared into his memory as he watches his Juliana lie motionless on the hospital bed, save for the subtle rise and fall of her chest (even then, he stayed up all night the first night to make sure she stayed breathing).

He searched. Wrote letters and posted signs. Went knocking on people’s doors asking for her. He's played out every single possible outcome in his head --including the most painful ones- but this one came unprecedented. He was at home the whole day, busying himself with work in the living room downstairs. Their house wasn't nearly big enough that a commotion like that would go unnoticed. She was fucking shot, for God's sake!

In that exact moment, Juliana stirs awake, and John clasps her hand in his, drawing lines with his thumbs. He had no idea whether it was more to soothe her and to soothe himself.

Apparently, that didn't work because she snatches her hand with a scowl. “Where's Thomas?”

“He's at school. He was here all day yesterday, but I told him to go home last night,” he sits back in his chair, giving her as much space as he could.

She averts her gaze and toys with the blanket on her stomach. “How long was I out?”

“Two days,” he replies. Two days of staring at her all battered up and wondering if she’s going to wake up or not.

She simply nods, though he can tell that she lies deep in thought.

“I mean, I hate to be rude, but… you look awful,” he smiles gingerly on a last-ditch attempt to lighten up the mood, recalling the last time they were in this exact same position.

Juliana in the bed. John by her side. On Valentine’s Day last year.

She was just starting to show --not enough for other people to notice, but definitely enough reason for him to wrap his arms around her and feel her tiny bump any chance he got. He swears she’s even more beautiful than ever. This lucky bastard couldn’t believe his luck, he would say. She would laugh and blush while he showered her with kisses.

But reality hit soon after and they were faced with the harsh facts that sometimes things don’t go the way they want, and that the baby’s heart just stops beating sometimes and it’s nobody fault. There’s nothing they can do except to take it out before it hurts her.

They must have forgot to tell them that taking it out hurt anyway.

Shame, because he could’ve used some fair warning before it was done. He sat on the cold plastic chair, having no idea what to do with this overwhelming dread in the pit of his gut. It feels like there’s rocks in his throat, and it’s closing up his airway.

When she woke up, she looked at him and he’s dead sure that she was just as lost as him.

John didn’t know what to say, so of course his stupid mouth decided to make an inappropriate joke about how she looks.

Much to his surprise, she smiled knowingly and retorted, ‘have you looked in the mirror lately? Your hair looks like a bird’s nest.’

He laughed in surprise, and just like that, the rocks in his throat turned to dust and he felt painful sobs ripping out from his lungs. The heartache had just set in, and there was no containing it.

Juliana ran her shaking hand through his unruly curls. Tears streamed down her tired eyes and she squeezed his hand as if in reassurance. They were going to go through this together.

This time, he’s got nothing.

She looks straight ahead and she gave no sign that she was gonna give him time of day.

Knowing when he's lost, he stands up. “I'll get the doctor,” he puts his hand next to her pillow, going as close as he can without touching her.

He should give her some space.

And he does.

He stands back as she drifts in and out of sleep. He stands back as the doctors and nurses examines and administers medicine. He stands back when a detective comes in and asks questions after questions after questions that she has no answer to. He stands back as Juliana looks at him with such anger and disgust that he’s never seen before. He stands back and watches on as the love of his life lose grasp of her identity and sinks deeper and deeper into nothingness. He decided that he would only move closer when she's ready.

And every second he spent in that hospital room, he questioned that decision.

He wants to ask her so bad. What did I do? Tell me what I did, so I can fix it because I will do whatever it takes to make it right please I promise you--

The nurse sends him home on the fourth day, insisting that Juliana is in good hands. He says no I'm fine, I'll just be here and the lady, an old woman a good foot shorter than him, all but pulls his shirt collar and hisses,

“Listen, Mister, I understand that she needs you more than ever right now --even if she doesn't realize it. But how the hell do you expect to be her rock when you're barely keeping it together?”

John has no words. “Um.”

“I thought so,” she lets his jacket go and crosses her arms, “so do yourself a favor and go home, take a shower, and get some sleep.”

“Right,” John mutters, reaching for his jacket.

She steps aside to make way for him. “Right. I'll see you in the morning, Mr. Smith.”

“I'll see you in the morning… Nurse Rita,” he nods at her, practically scurrying out of the room.

It seems that the burden of his loss and finding and now longing fails to outweigh his exhaustion. Or maybe he’s overcome with everything that happened in the past few days, that in the night, he lets sleep take over without putting up much fight.

John returns to the hospital as soon as Thomas leaves for school, and finds Juliana sitting up on her bed eating breakfast. She stares up and down at him for a moment, and returns to the food before her.

“You took Nurse Rita's advice,” she comments nonchalantly.

John takes a double look mid-hanging his jacket. “You heard?”

“Yes.”

“Well, I don't think it was much of an advice as it was an order,” he quips, taking his usual seat next to her bed.

She briefly raises her eyebrows, as if agreeing to what he was saying.

That’s about as much agreeable she’s found him all week, he notes. It’s certainly not much, but he’ll take that.

She pokes at the mush in her tray. “Is Thomas at school?”

“Ah, yes. He has a Geometry test today, but I promised I would pick him up today and take him here with me later on.”

She nods, although he didn't miss the glint in her eyes at the prospect of his son visiting. She's always loved Thomas like her own, and he's glad to see that that didn't change.

“He misses you very much, you know,” he muses, studying her features. The bruises on her face healing into a faded shade of yellow and her eyes…

Well.

They’re as blue and beautiful as he remembers, but still cold and distant as the day she came back to him.

She gazes straight into his and he seeks desperately for that moment where everything clicks and she recognizes him. The history they shared all these years.

“And Helen?”

He feels the wind has been knocked out of him. Out of everything that she could remember, Helen turns out to be one of them.

John gapes at her for a long beat. But she wanted answers, that he could tell. At this point, there’s no other choice but to give it to her.

“Juliana,” John started, ever so carefully, “Helen died when Thomas was very young. You know that.”

He honestly thought that was the end, but Juliana's gaze falls to his hands. His palms are pressed together in front of his mouth. When he notices her pointedly eyeing his wedding band, he chokes out a noise that sounds both like a laugh and a cry.

John needs a deep breath, and even then, the sound still escapes him. “Jules, I’m not married to Helen anymore. Not for a long time. You're the one who gave me this ring --you don’t remember?”

She shakes her head.

And right then, it seems that both of them are devastated by this revelation. John because his wife doesn’t remember being married to him, and Juliana… he doesn’t have the faintest idea the questions she has in her head.

She closes her eyes for a moment. “What… happened?”

“Four months ago, you went on a work trip to Colorado, following a story on some secret science experiment, and then you just… disappeared.” he has it memorized like the back of his hand --God knows he's repeated it to enough people. Although he feels that this time was much more important than the rest.

“I don't know what the experiment was about, or what you found there. The last I heard was… ah. You said --” he cleared his throat, feeling the catch as he tried to go on, “You’ll be out of reach and into the woods, but hopefully not for long. I'll call you as soon as I can, you said.”

He pressed his lips into a thin line, willing all the emotion to stay inside. “That was it.”

Chapter Text

Juliana braces herself as the car pulls up on what apparently is her house here. With John Smith. Who apparently is her husband now.

Fuck.

Thomas appears from the front door and he tackles her into the biggest hug she's had in a long while. Above all else, she’s glad that Thomas is just as lovely as she's known him. Better yet, he's not a brainwashed Nazi boy scout in this world.

“Shall we?” John speaks up, slinging her bag of clothes on one shoulder.

She supposes she should also be glad that he isn’t a fascist prick. Then again, she’s learned not to take everything he says at face value. This world may not be a Nazi world, but she doesn’t know where he stands. Yet.

“It’s really good to have you back, Juliana,” Thomas guides her into the living space with his arm around her shoulders.

She smiles politely at him, “Thank you, Thomas.”

Thomas obviously notices her being tense and immediately tries to diffuse it. “I’m serious! Who else is gonna blast Ray Charles to wake me up in the morning and tell me about the cool people you meet at work?”

“Uh…” Juliana chuckles awkwardly, knowing absolutely nothing about the things he just mentioned.

Thankfully, the boy takes one look toward the kitchen on the far end of the room, and panics. “Darn it, I forgot to wash the dishes. Don’t tell Dad!”

She smiles a bit more openly this time and watches the boy run over to collect mugs and plates from the kitchen counter before John walks through the door. Ever so energetic, this kid.

The place feels more homely now that she’s taken a good look at it. It’s a house well lived, if not a little bit messy. Stacks of books and papers are strewn around the coffee table in the living room. The pillows are of various colors, some clashed with one another. The fridge is adorned with Polaroids, cards, and drawings stuck with magnets. And on the wall…

“I’m gonna take this upstairs and then fix us some dinner, yeah?” John snaps her out of her reverie, heading up the stairs before she could respond.

Not that she would give much of a response anyway. She’s too fixated on the captured images framed on the wall. A younger John smiling in a light blue graduation robe and cap. Pictures of Thomas as a chubby toddler holding a ball in his little hands. Little Thomas held in his father’s arms, who’s making a silly face at him. John smoking on the front porch. More recent-looking ones of Thomas holding a trophy, flanked by John and Juliana on either side. Thomas and Juliana sitting on the floor in front of the Christmas tree. Juliana smiling into the camera at a restaurant. Juliana and John holding hands at the beach. Juliana and John, both asleep, leaning onto each other on some waiting room. Juliana and John dancing and laughing freely, bodies pressed against each other.

John in a crisp black suit. Juliana in a flowing white dress. Kissing.

She squints hard at these pictures, trying her damnedest to find signs of trickery. If she didn’t know any better, she would think she wanted him to be a bad person, too, in this reality. A part of her does; her time here would sure be a lot simpler.

But she looks genuinely fond of him in these pictures. She can tell some of them are candidly taken, and there’s no way she would look as relaxed if it weren’t true. They look as familiar with each other as old lovers, and Juliana fears that that version of her was devastatingly fooled… or taken advantage of by this Nazi snake.

Except he’s not a Nazi here. In one of the frames, John is shown shaking hands with an old man in a lecture hall. His curls grow wild atop his head, and the only uniform he’s sporting is a turtleneck. He has a wide grin plastered on his face, as if the other guy was just saying something funny. Right underneath it, she takes a closer look at a bigger frame containing three certificates.

John Fredrik Smith: Bachelor of Art in English, University of Pittsburgh. Master of Education, Rutgers University. Doctorate in Literary Criticism, New York University.

She refuses to believe that he is true. Brushes off the fact that his line of work has nothing to do with the war. Actively ignoring his eye-crinkling smiles and laid-back attitude. Disregards the tenderness in the way he looks at her, both in frame and in real life --or rather, this life.

Juliana must have been standing there for a long time, because John is descending the stairs in fresh clothes and slightly damp hair. She's seen him in plainclothes before, but never as casual as a short-sleeved collared shirt like he’s wearing now.

And she has to admit, he looks much less sinister this way.

“Hey, you okay?” He asks.

“I’m fine, just… looking.”

John pauses, as if mulling over whether he should fret or not. Eventually, he decides to leave her be.

“Right.” he turns toward his son, who's casually drinking soda by the fridge. “You gonna help me with the salad, Tommy?”

“Sure, Dad.”

“And well done on washing the dishes on record time,” John casually brings up as while laying out the vegetables on the counter.

Thomas’ face drops in horror. He turns to his father apologetically.

John sticks his tongue out at him in response.

The teenager relaxes and smiles sheepishly, returning to the vegetables before him. It feels so pleasantly warm. Juliana almost lets herself want to be a part of it.

Almost.

She reminds herself that she does not belong here. This is not her family. She still needs to watch out for John.

As if on cue, the man in question looks up from the cutting board in front of him and right at her. “Jules, honey, sit down. The doctor said you need a lot of rest.”

“Um, I'm fine. I've rested enough in the hospital,” she shakes her head. “Do you need any help?”

“You sure you don’t wanna just kick back and take it easy?” He offers.

Juliana ponders over it for a moment. She needs to learn everything there is to know about her life and her world, and concludes that she has to blend in among them. After all, this is hardly the first time she makes her way into John Smith’s inner circle.

“I’d really like to help, if you don’t mind.”

“Okay.” John says so softly, she can barely hear it.

There’s a quiet beat until Thomas pipes up, “Well, come on and join the club, then.”

Juliana ends up in charge of the mashed potato, perching on the counter stool with a bowl and masher in her hands. Then, when she’s done, she offers to set the table as well. John seems to have no qualms about it whatsoever, and says yes again.

She welcomes the task more than any offer he’s made to accommodate her in the past week. It takes the attention off of her; she’s no longer an alien object sticking out like a sore thumb, a patient --requiring all the care they could give (though not by her choice). She serves a function now, no matter how small the scale. And while she works quietly, Thomas takes up the attention and tells them about his baseball practice earlier that day. She welcomes the change --and she has a strong feeling that John feels the same.

The thing she remembers most about the Smiths in her reality is how rigid they all interact. They all play a part in their perfect little family, but it always feels so performative. Like there’s something else left unshown. But at dinner that night, Juliana mostly sits back and listens to the two Smith men have a lively chat about something as mundane as home repairs. Thomas goes on about how John once screwed up the plumbing system in the whole house, and casually pokes fun at his father. As they banter playfully in front her, Juliana discerns the pleasant ease that carries through the conversation.

In a single fleeting moment, Juliana forgets the threat of formidable and intimidating Oberstgruppenführer or whatever his rank is now in her world. She finds herself more at ease in the close proximity of the supposedly friendly, cheery English professor John Smith who’s very close with his son. And she’s glad that they found that peace in this life.

“I think I'm gonna shower and go to sleep, guys,” she excuses herself, and then stops in her tracks. She feels a bit stupid because she doesn't know where to go.

John immediately pushes his seat back from the table. “Oh, right. Let's get you upstairs, yeah?”

Oh no.

Just like that, her guards are up again and her mind scours for a way to get out of sharing a bed with John Smith.

She's so distracted, she can barely muster up a reply when Thomas wishes her goodnight. Hell, she doesn't even notice walking up the stairs, if she's being honest.

John leads her to the room he found her in, and she briefly considers if she can open up a portal to another universe in the exact place she traveled. Maybe if she closes her eyes again, she will return home.

“There’s the bathroom,” he motions at a door on the corner, and then to a folding door beside it, “and your clothes are here.”

She nods, anxiously waiting for him to fuck the fuck off .

John awkwardly stays put, his broad shoulders hunched up in rigid tension and his hands tucked into his trouser pockets. “How's the pictures?”

She understands that he wanted to look casual, but the sense of urgency there is palpable. ”What?”

“Uh, the pictures.” John runs his hand through his hair. “In the living room --you we're looking at 'em. Did they… jog any memory?”

Juliana is quiet for a moment. What does she say to that ?

“It’s just that…” he speaks up again, “the doctor said that your amnesia may be because of shock. And… I don't know. I guess I hoped that some would come back to you, now that you're in a better state.”

He says it dismissively, but somehow it’s very apparent that he’s looking for some affirmation.

One she cannot give.

Her shoulders sag. She shakes her head ever so lightly.

“What do you remember, then?” He presses on inquisitively. “You recognized me and Thomas. But you somehow don’t remember that we were together. And the whole thing about Thomas being sick and taken away… What was that about?”

She sighs. “Look, we’ve been through this. I was delirious and I didn’t know what I was saying--”

“And you’ve been very cold to me since you came back and I just don’t understand why. Something must have happened, right? Why won’t you talk to me?”

The thing is, she can’t. And there’s no way to explain it without giving away the truth.

John spots that immediately, and realizes how hard he’s being on her. “I’m sorry. You must be exhausted. I’m just gonna take the couch and leave you to it.”

She senses his dejection as he leaves the room, and for the first time, she feels awful for doing this to him.

Chapter Text

It is approaching 2 in the morning on what is supposed to be an early night for John, and yet, for the life of him, he cannot stop tossing and turning in their little home office. Maybe it’s the hard couch he’s lying on, or the scratchy blanket that he grabbed haphazardly from the laundry closet, or the fact that it’s too thin and too hot at the same time. Or perhaps because he forgot to take his pillow with him when he stormed out of the bedroom.

Out of all the fights he’s had with Juliana --and there hasn’t been that many, there’s only one other time that he stormed out and resorted to the couch.

Thomas had just announced his interest (or lack thereof) in higher education, wanting to focus on his athletic career instead. He said that he didn’t want to take such opportunity for granted, chasing an elite school to drag through a degree that will be completely useless to him. It’s very eloquent for someone his age, and John knows he spent a lot of time on it. Still, he didn’t take this very well and proceeded to have a long, preachy lecture on how school is very important no matter what you want to do and I cannot let you risk all of that, I won’t have it, no way.

It was one of the things he is dead set on, and Juliana thought he was being ridiculously stubborn. Frankly, it made matters worse; he needed her to take his side on this. But instead…

‘Honey, you need to calm down.’ She spoke very lightly as he paced back and forth, later on in their bedroom, seething in pure academic rage.

'He's just a kid, Jules. He doesn't know what he wants.’

'Well, he seem to have had a pretty good idea, from the way he said it. I think that’s a pretty mature move.’ Juliana tried to reason with him, watching him as she sat up against the headboard.

'Yes, but throwing away his future like that?! How is that mature?’ he challenged her.

She rolled her eyes -- now she’s annoyed. 'Come on, don't be so dramatic…’

'Dramatic? He doesn’t. Want. To go. To college.’ John sputtered around, trying --and failing to find the appropriate words that represented how appalling that is.

‘He doesn't wanna go to the college you want. There’s a difference.’ she corrected him. 'and what's wrong with that?’

He gaped at her. ‘Jules --it's his future! He would get the best education possible there, but somehow he doesn’t think that would be good for him?’

'Well, he wants to be a professional athlete. It might not be the kind of best education he’s looking for.’

'And if it doesn't work out?’

‘If it doesn’t, then he’ll bounce back and figure out something else. He’s a bright kid, John. Have a little faith.’

She wasn’t wrong, per se. But the way she huffed out her last sentence sounded so venomous and that infuriated him. ‘Are you serious? You seriously think that I don't believe in my own son ?’

‘No, I think you don’t believe the path he’s taking. Academia is not the only way to go, John!’

‘And you think going all in on the sports thing is? Wow,’ he laughed incredulously, ‘What reasonable person you are, Ms. Juliana Crain.’

‘What the fuck did you just say? You’re the one who doesn’t want to reason with your own son, pompous asshole.’

They were at it for another full hour. By then, the fight wasn’t even about Thomas anymore. She called him out on his academic snobbery (which was… fair, but hurtful) and he calls her out on her hippie-go-lucky, anywhere-the-wind-blows attitude (which was refreshing most of the time, but at that moment felt pretentious beyond belief to him.)

At one point, finally John said, ‘You know what? Fuck this. I’m just gonna take the couch tonight and call a timeout on this whole thing.’

The only difference about his abrupt exit is at least he knows what Juliana was thinking. She's never been one to shy away from expressing her opinion or let her emotions be known. If she’s pissed, he would be the first one to know.

He just can’t seem to get anything out of her this time. She does her best to stay civil, he can see that. She no longer looks at him with extreme disdain --and if he catches her tense up in close proximity to him, he says nothing. He just inches away from her enough to let her breathe easy again.

But it has been eight days and he is not getting any closer to the answer --or whatever answer that is, for that matter. And he is determined to find them. As to how to acquire them...

He kicks the raggedy blanket off of him in a few tries, his feet getting snagged in the fabric. He pulls the stupid throw pillow --which is much too small and too puffy- from under his head and shoves it in his face. He smothers a frustrated groan for a long beat before composing himself again.

Maybe he’s not patient enough. Maybe he’s doing it all wrong. Maybe he shouldn’t have asked her these probing questions outright; she probably has had enough with these stupid queries. Imagine how disheartening it must be for her to be poked and prodded and demanded for answers when she hasn’t got any.

It’s time for a change of strategy

Over the next few days, John observes Juliana re-adapts and re-learns her whole life. She spends most of her days in their shared workspace, fingers leaping from page to page of her old notebooks. She pulls up old files and drafts from their bookshelf and sometimes old newspapers, underlines and makes notes on the paper almost obsessively.

It is an eerily familiar sight. Juliana researches, investigates. That’s what she does and she does it exceptionally well. She remains passive to him still --neutral, but passive- but he can see the brilliantly determined Juliana he knows and loves is slowly making its return. It is but a flicker, but it’s flame nonetheless.

This doesn’t mean John stops worrying, though. Some days are stranger than usual, and it serves as a reminder of how serious it really is. That Sunday morning, they sit together for breakfast. The radio plays in the background while Thomas listens in on a game. It is a pleasant white noise of the soft clanks of cutlery meeting tableware. The national anthem comes on, and it takes him a few additional beats to realize that the melodic dings on their dining table are missing on one end; Juliana’s.

She sits across him, knife and fork raised and stayed still as if forgotten to be moved. She is completely transfixed in the muffled, staticky singing. It’s as if she heard the song for the first time. He swears he can see tears welling up her eyes.

He doesn’t stop her. He doesn’t check up on her, although he is aching to.

Instead, he starts a conversation with his son about how the Yankees would fare out against the Braves. And maybe they should go watch a game some time soon. Thomas goes on a sprightly explanation about which games would be the most exciting to watch. He keeps Juliana within his periphery, and lets her recover without all the attention he’s now pretty sure she hates. When she lowers her knife and fork quietly onto her plate, he allows himself a glance and a quick smile at her.

Admittedly, some days are more difficult than others. He doesn’t always have the strength to hold back. His instinct, his need to protect and care for her is too strong. On another afternoon, she answers the door, and just seizes up. There’s no way of telling what’s going on, but he just knows that something is not right. He bolts out of his seat faster than he can think.

He sees a man in a raincoat, but with the shadow his hat casts, he can’t quick make out the face from the distance.

“Who is it?” he rushes over to her side, only to remember he needs to maintain some level of composure. He wills himself to calm down and plays friendly host.

The man takes off his headwear and holds it onto his chest. A familiar face, John muses in relief. Ever so formal and proper with the strongest poker face to boot, his round glasses bringing the only soft edges to his otherwise sharp features.

Cold, but familiar.

He says, “Ah, Mr. Smith. May I have a word, please?”

Juliana doesn’t say anything, so he does.

“Of course. Come on in, Detective Kido.” he steps aside and motions toward the living room.

He doesn’t miss Juliana tensing up at the mention of his name next to him, and he is pretty sure her eyes darts over between him and the detective in panic.

Detective Kido takes long, deliberate strides into the living room and takes his time with it. He scans the whole space, studying Juliana’s sage green coat on the hanger by the door.The disarray of John’s coffee cup holding down a stack of his students’ assignments on the dining table and the striking yellow daffodils in the vase.

“I was just telling Ms. Crain here that I've been helping you on her case since she disappeared.” Nodding politely at Juliana, “I'm glad to see that you're back and recovering.”

There’s a lull in the room for a split second before she answers, “Thank you, Detective.” she nods so low that John thinks she was bowing.

“And I do apologize for the intrusion, but due to the… mysterious nature of your reappearance, I'm afraid I have a few questions to ask you, Ma’am.”

“I'm not sure if I'm gonna be much help, since I don't remember much… if any.”

“That's alright. Any information would be much appreciated.” He quickly counters, his tone clipped and professional.

“Okay…” she breathes out.

She’s not even in his line of sight, but he could feel her unease buzzing through. She’s had questionings with the authorities since her return, and she went through it with a jaded indifference. It’s always riddled with no, I don’t remember anything or that’s all I got or annoyed sighs.

This was different. She was petrified, and Kido could smell that from miles away.

John clears his throat to break the deafening silence. “Coffee, Detective?” he offers.

“I’m fine, thank you.” He barely budges, and really, he should’ve known.

John doesn’t insist, knowing fully that it’ll be for nothing. Instead, he offers him to sit down on the armchair. He sits down on the couch and Juliana follows suit.

“So, Ms. Crain,” he takes out a notepad from his pocket, “Why don't you start with the first thing you remember.”

A tired sigh escapes John before he could stop it. At this point, he doesn't know who is more fed up with this question; him or Juliana. Kido is more than capable as a detective --he can’t help hoping he’d have more critical questions to ask. And honestly, he doesn't understand why these cops keep asking the same thing. The answer is never any different than the last and it’s never satisfying.

She glances his way for a split second, and he gives her a reassuring smile. It doesn't seem to dissipate her nerves at all. On the contrary, she seems even more… alarmed.

“I, uh…” she grips her own hand hard. “I felt very woozy --like I was floating. I felt like drifting into sleep. I don't know what's going on then. But then I woke up… in the bedroom upstairs.”

“Do you remember where you were before then?”

“No, sir.”

“And you don't recall any sensation, perhaps, of being carried or transported from one place to another? Maybe you heard something or smelled --”

She quickly shakes her head. “No, sir. Just that lightheadedness. And then it was gone for a moment, when I wake up. And John found me.”

“And police reports say that you were attempting to escape. Neighbors witnessed you running out and being hostile towards your husband.” He looks at her, head tilted and eyebrows drawn together.

“I know.” She smiles --or rather, tries to. It looks more like a grimace. “I didn't know what I was thinking at the time. I guess I was just disoriented, you know? I panicked and I didn't recognize him as he is.”

And just like that, Kido's dark eyes glint, as if he finds a way in. “Oh? What did you recognize him as?”

Juliana stares at her fidgeting hands, watching her fingers weave and crash into one another while she musters up the words. “To be honest, I'm… not sure, Detective. In that moment, I felt like I couldn't trust anyone.”

“Not even your husband?”

“That’s the thing, sir. I don't remember him as my husband. I remember him --his face and his name, but I don't remember his connection to me.”

Kido hums pensively. He keeps his gaze on Juliana long enough to feel unnerving, and then scribbles down his leather pad.

Without looking up, he continues on. “And where were you before you found your wife upstairs, Mr. Smith?”

“I was here. Grading assignments since breakfast.” He replies, his voice calm and even --crazy as it sounds, that's how uneventful the day had been.

“You didn't leave the house at any point?”

He shakes his head. “I went to get the mail at our front yard around 7. That took two minutes at most. But that was it, I just went back and forth from here to the office across the hall.” Again, this isn't his first rodeo in being questioned about that day.

“And you didn't hear anything all morning?”

“No. There was no loud noise from outside --no roadwork or anything that would drown out the ruckus. I just went upstairs to grab my jacket and there she was.”

“Right. Was anyone with you in the house at the time?”

“My son, yes.”

“And he didn't hear anything either?”

“No. Well, he heard the commotion when Juliana was freaking out and trying to leave. I mean, he came out to see what's going on… but that's about it.”

“Where is he now?”

John doesn't like how he presses on. Doesn't like how the queries comes out as accusatory. “He's out… playing basketball with his friends.”

“I thought your son played baseball.” Kido stops writing.

“Well, he's an athletic kid. He enjoys football and swimming, too.” John quips, sounding less and less welcome than he was when the Detective first came in.

Kido notices the shift in his tone and folded his arms on his lap. His eyes are fixed on John.

“Do you own a gun in your home, Mr. Smith?”

“Are you kidding me? You thought that I shot my own--” John scoffs. He can feel his jaw tensing up and his veins about to pop. If he was annoyed not two seconds ago, he is downright furious now. “Detective, you were there throughout the whole thing. From the start. You know I wanted nothing more than to have her back. Why would I do that?”

“It's nothing personal, sir. I simply need to entertain all possibilities.” Kido tuts coolly. “Now, if you would answer the question...”

He sighs. “No. I don't own a gun. I've never even fired one in my life.”

“Not even during the war?”

“I didn't fight during the war.” He crosses his arms rather defensively.

“Is that so?” Kido's eyebrows rise ever so slightly.

John openly glares at Kido, “Yes. Would you like to search the house? Maybe you can look for a secret dungeon as well, while you’re at it.” he offers brazenly.

Kido leans back into the chair, seemingly sporting a neutral look of displeasure.

He realizes that he's being harsh on the Detective, and immediately snaps out of it. It takes him everything to summon the patience to word his thoughts mindfully. “Look, Detective. I’m sorry. I know it sounds crazy and… unbelievable, to be quite honest. But we don't know what else to tell you. That's all we know as well. We’ve been trying to figure this out ever since and we’ve gotten nowhere. It's...” John feel his voice wavering, and takes a moment to regain composure. “It’s quite upsetting, really.”

Kido takes a moment. The longest moment, or so it feels to John, and eventually seems to soften up --even for just a little bit. “I understand, Mr. Smith.”

“Why don’t we… give you a call when something comes up to mind?” Juliana pipes up, her voice calm and careful. “The doctor said there’s a chance that my memory might come back and… he said we should give it more time.”

He nearly can’t believe that she’s backing him up. She looks to him for reassurance, and he barely nods.

“Very well.”

He can’t believe Kido has no qualms in relenting.

“If anything at all comes up, you two call me.” there is a strict order in his sentence.

“You’ll be the first to know, Detective.” Juliana lays a hand on John’s knee, giving him a light squeeze.

Kido stands up, and it takes John an additional two seconds to stand, too, after the unexpected contact Juliana made. “Then, I look forward to hear from you. Soon, hopefully.”

“Soon.” Juliana repeats, getting the door for him.

“Have a good evening, Ms. Crain.” he says, putting on his hat as he does so. Then, tipping it slightly, “Mr. Smith.”

Juliana closes the door and just stands there for… he doesn't know how long for.

At this point, John is feeling too many things at once that he can only focus on the little rectangular box burning a hole in his pocket. He pulls out a cigarette and lights it between his lips. With a long drag, he lets the smoke fill him and hazes out his lungs. Breathing comes a bit easier then.

He barely registers Juliana propping herself on the armchair Kido was sitting in. “You didn’t fight in the war.”

John looks up at her in a daze. “N… no. I didn’t. Why?”

“What happened?”

He smiles, although it feels terribly tiresome. “I never understood the point of it to begin with. The way I see it, it just brought destruction and pain. And loss. My father died in the battlefield before I was born. My mother lost her home, lost her family… and later, we lost her. It was just me and Edmund --and even then…”

“Edmund?”

“My older brother.” His face pops up in John's mind. Handsome, but frail. Deteriorating. It's painful just to watch him break, bit by bit, one muscle and then another, losing one sense after another. It's still rather painful to look back.

“He was sick. Very sick. And seeing his body just… gave up on him like that, it was --I couldn’t think about the war. Screw the war. My brother's wasting away here. How could I even think about going out there fighting when--”

He feels a catch in his throat, and he takes another drag to numb out the sting.

“I objected. I worked at the hospital where Edmund was, took care of him as much as I could. And he made it just after the war ended --so... guess he took care of me, too. In a way.”

It's strange telling her this again. It doesn't get easier, no matter the time that passed or the amount of time he's told the story. But she made it easier then; war politics were one of the first things they ever talked about, and he quickly learned that she shared his apprehension. She lost her father, too. She told him about her frustration as a child, watching men willingly sacrifice their life for a cause she couldn't wrap her head around.

That's his Juliana.

He doesn't know if this Juliana shares the same stance. Maybe she's disgusted by his cowardice; she certainly wouldn't be the first person to say that about his choice. Maybe this would be her last straw. The fear of her leaving out of her own volition, because she thinks differently of him -- less , rushes over him again. For the umpteenth time in the last eight days. He's almost scared to look up at her.

But her hand lands on top of his, warm and sure. And however different she claims to be from the old Juliana, she still has the same look on her face. Soft. Caring.

Kind.

“I'm sorry.”

Chapter Text

Juliana tries and tries, and by God she tries, to find fault in the man before her. From time and again. She's a bit ashamed to admit it, but up until two minutes ago, she still braces herself for a lie, a sign, anything that will reveal the truth of who this John Smith really is.

But time and again, all she sees is John Smith who has lost so much and is so very lost. His world suddenly falls apart for reasons unbeknownst to him, and he is doing all he can to understand why. And to fix it. Just like her. And all she can think of is how unfair she's being for punishing him for something he didn't do.

For being something he's not.

“I'm sorry,” doesn't even begin to cut it, but it's a start.

And when he looks up at her and laces his fingers between hers, Juliana feels like a dam is about to break.

She hasn't allowed herself to feel anything about this world. There's too many things to take in --she needs to know how the world works, how she fits into it, how she's going to stop the Nazis from there, and if not, how the fuck is she gonna go back.

She has yet to acknowledge her homesickness. It's quite hilarious to think how she could be homesick from a world that is so repulsive and unforgiving. All the blood, sweat, and tears she's spent trying to escape from it all. And now that she's here, she's overcome with such profound loneliness.

But it seems that she's not the only one. And my God, what a relief it is to find company that shares that feeling.

“You okay, honey?” John asks, his thumb rubbing on her hand now.

She lets out a shy smile and looks down, her long hair drawn like a curtain over her face. She wipes at the welling water in her eye. “Y--yes. Um. Can I have a cigarette, please?”

“Oh! Sure.” He puts his cigarette between his lips and offers his opened metal box to her. She hastily takes one out.

She leans forward and he does the same, lighter in his hand. They both stop short, a mere few inches too far from each other.

Now it's John's turn to smile, freer this time. “Just… get over here.” He motions at the empty spot next to him, where she say earlier.

Gingerly, she makes her way over and sits beside him. Her knees almost touching his, one leg folded underneath, her back very nearly aligns with the arm of the couch. With her fingers securing her cigarette, she lets John light a flame on the other end. He's so close --she just realizes they've never been this close before. It feels so intimate, so warm.

She positively feels like she doesn't deserve it.

“I do mean it,” she takes a long drag to calm her nerves, “I really am sorry.”

His face softens, and he puts his hand on her knee like she did earlier. “It's okay, sweetheart.”

She contemplates whether to say something --give him a semblance of explanation. She owes him that much at least.

But there's just no word for it. There's nothing she can say that's going to make it any less crazy than it is. And she is so, so tired from trying to explain things that don't make sense.

“Not just that. All of this…” She muses, “And let’s face it. I haven't been the most pleasant person to deal with.”

“You're right, you drive me insane.” he quickly agrees, a playful smile blooming even with his cheeks sunken in from the cigarette. She can't help but smile back.

It's the first time they truly smile at each other. Not out of courtesy. Not out of pretend. Out of shared experience in an uncharted territory.

Maybe out of fondness.

“But at the very least, you're driving me insane in person, so…” he says in a teasing manner. Then, ever so softly, almost as if speaking to himself, he says, “It's all good.”

God, It must have been awful for him to lose his wife and unknowingly gets her in return.

“Yeah. I guess I didn't realize how difficult this has been for you, too.” she thinks aloud.

He must've sensed the apology in her tone. The soothing hand on her back reaches around her shoulder and moves closer. She would fight it, if only she hasn't been deprived of genuine, affectionate physical contact for so long.

But all she wants right now is to revel in it. Shelter herself with it.

“It’s completely okay, sweetheart. You got nothing to apologize for. I mean, you're here, you're getting better. That's all that matters, right?” he murmurs the last sentence into her hair, pressing a kiss on top of her head at the end of it, which makes her look up.

She is half expecting him to utter a curt apology and moves away from her. That’s been his signature move so far. But then again, her being so painfully guarded may have forced him to take that approach.

For the first time since she arrived in this world, Juliana drops her defenses and acknowledges in the solace she seeks. She revels in the solace John provides.

Juliana has spent a long time thinking about what her life is like in this world. But even her wildest imaginations cannot paint the ease and affection in their relationship so vividly. She certainly would not picture his big green eyes lighting up when meeting hers, lively and enamored. Or the warmth in his smile, subtle as it may be, and how it radiates over his entire being. Or how handsome he really is, with his prominent cheekbones and the softest lines drawn over his face and dark and silver peppering his temples and jawline…

She could see how her other self can be happy here.

For a moment, she wonders if she can be happy here, too.

With John Smith.

Before she even allows herself to think about what's next, John closes the distance between them, lips barely grazing, like he's waiting for her to make a move. Their noses touch and Juliana can barely feel the warmth of his breath. Maybe he’s holding it in anticipation or nerves, but it makes her yearn for it and soon enough, she surrenders to her desire to deepen the kiss.

The fervor doesn’t engulf her all at once; rather it seeps in, bubbling underneath. He tastes like apples and cigarettes --an unusual combination that nevertheless makes her heart flutter- and kisses her in a way that somehow steals her breath away.

Not with passions ablaze; he kisses like he knows her.

When they pull away, it is the heaviest thing in the world because they seem to be gravitating towards each other. Their foreheads pressed against each other, nose bumping into one another, lips always longing to meet, heart aching at the loss of touch.

“God, I missed you.” John breaths out.

It breaks her heart because, “No, you don't. Not me.”

He pulls back just a little, wary clouds his face.  “Why not? Of course it's you. Who else would it be?”

She wants desperately to tell him. But she doesn't know where to start, and all she's left with is the sinking feeling in her gut, telling her that she's an imposter. “I'm not her.”

“I refuse to believe that,” he denies it, although his voice calm and soothing, and he does it all the while caressing her hair. So gentle, so… vulnerable.  “You’re it for me. No matter what happens.”

She struggles to make a counterargument, but her usually quick mind fails her and all she wants to do is stay encased in his arms.

It seems that he feels that way, too. He nuzzles at her nose, cups her face in his hand and returns his lips to hers, where it belongs.

Or so it feels like.

All guilt and judgement goes out the window. In that moment, there is only softness of his lips and the prickle of his stubble. His long fingers carding through her tresses. The warmth he emanates.

She barely registers the cigarette smoke in the air. The light but overlapping taps of rainfall outside the window go unnoticed. And when they hear the front door open, they don't quite move away as quickly as they should.

The unmistakable voice announced, “I'm home! What's for dinner? I'm--” and stopped in his track upon seeing what's happening in their living room.

It was Juliana that straightens up first and looks at the boy in the eye. “Thomas.”

He casts a glance on her and then his father, puzzled and surprised and just all around flabbergasted.

She doesn't dare to look at John, although she's not sure why.

“Sorry. I… uh, I'm gonna shower and then… do my homework.” He makes a face and backs away awkwardly.

She can't put out her cigarette fast enough, basically leaping off of the couch as soon as Thomas is out of sight. Her bubble has burst, and now she's just thinking what a silly mistake she's made.

Fuck.

Chapter Text

Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.

They were doing so well. She didn't flinch when he came closer. They were talking and smiling for the first time in ages. And God, they kissed like nothing had happened.

She is excruciatingly gentle. Almost hesitant, at first. That gap between the moment he leaned in and the moment their lips touched feels like forever. But she gave in, she came to him and he nearly lost his mind. They have kissed millions of times and have explored the entire spectrum of a kiss, from tender to lustful to exasperated to melancholic to heart-bursting lovesick. This was something else entirely.

Maybe that’s where he should’ve known better.  Things have happened, and she's not the same person he knew anymore. And he scared her off by moving too fucking fast.

What an idiot.

Juliana insists on running to the store because they ran out of eggs (they weren't making any eggs for dinner) and said something about the laundry, effectively avoiding being in the same room with him alone for the rest of the afternoon.

Dinner is even more painfully awkward. She’s the last to arrive downstairs and begrudgingly sits next to him, though she makes a point to not make any contact with him whatsoever. Hell, she barely makes any eye contact with anyone throughout the meal.

Thomas shoots him a curious look, and when she’s got her eyes fixed on her dinner, mouths, “What did you do?”

John replies with an equally perplexed shrug, and then brushes it off with a banal question about school.

“Um, not much. I had classes, History exam went fine,” Thomas drags on, very noticeably trying to read the room and see if anyone reacts. “We had chicken sandwich for lunch.”

John wants to bang his head on the table repeatedly until he dies.

And apparently everyone feels the same. Thomas excuses himself to continue studying (John nearly laughs at that, if he weren’t so wound up. Thomas never goes down without a fight when it comes to studying) and Juliana wastes no time clearing up the table.

“Talk to her!” Thomas pointedly whispered at him before he leaves.

Meanwhile, Juliana is scraping remains off of plates, tipping it down at the trash can. The sound of metal against ceramic is woefully grating in his ears. He wonders if she’s doing this on purpose, for some reason inconceivable to him.

“Juliana?” he calls out quietly.

She stops, and the room falls quiet instantly. “Hmm?”

“We can't keep avoiding each other whenever things gets weird.” John rubs his hand down his face. “We gotta talk it through.”

He nearly jumps at the quiet clink of the plate being placed in the sink. She keeps her back to him, but her hands stay gripped on the edges of the counter.

John takes a bracing breath and stands up. He slowly, cautiously makes his way over to her. “I'm sorry if I step out of line. I know it was… very quick and sudden --why do I sound like I'm describing a car crash? -- although it kind of is, come to think of it. Not that it’s bad! It was nice --but that’s beside the point. Anyway. I'm sorry for making you uncomfortable. If you want me to just back the fuck off, just say so and I will, respectfully… back the fuck off.” He stops a few feet behind her, propping himself against the kitchen island.

He mentally kicks himself for such an eloquent apology. Brilliant work, dumbass.

Juliana turns around. But with her arms crossed and the knot between her eyebrows, it doesn't look very good for him.

“Thank you,” she finally says, after much too long a pause.

He honestly thought that was it. He’s fully prepared to end the conversation right there when she continues,

“I really appreciate it. I do need time,” she mulls it over a little more, “but I appreciate you being very patient with me.”

And there it is again. That gentle look in her eyes. She's not exactly smiling, but she looks content. At peace. At home.

And he wants nothing more than that.

“You're a good guy, John.” she utters pensively. He's not sure she's saying this to him or to herself.

John feels a fervent desire to kiss her again, but this time, he wills himself to settle for a smile.

But God, holding her gaze like this only aggravates his need for her mouth on his.

He sets on diffusing the tension instead and clears his throat in resolution. “Yeah, about that, would you like any help?” He walks over, motioning at the sink behind her.

Seeing his earnestness over such a mundane chore, Juliana relaxes and nods graciously. She makes way for him and they get to work in companionable silence. He lathers and rinses the plates while Juliana dries them. It’s an oddly comforting activity. If her elbow accidentally graze his arm, they don't say anything. They don't address it when their fingers touch while one passes a plate to the other. And they definitely don't mention how she puts her hand on the small of her back when she makes her way through the small kitchen aisle.

It's not much. Not by a long shot. But if it's all they can be, he damn well will take what he can get.

By the time they're done, though, John is fighting tooth and nail inside to not complain. Not because of the unspoken barrier between him and Juliana. Or the tension they so intentionally ignore. He can feel the ache in the ridge of his shoulders spreading down to his back. It’s an old habit of him, slouching while dishwashing. It’s all the short counters, he would grumble. The counter’s too short and the overhead cabinet is too low and he hit his head more often than he thinks is healthy.

“Oh, Jesus…” he groans, stretching his body as he does so as soon as the last of the dishes are done.

“You alright?”

“I'm fine, I'm just --” he rolls his neck to the side and hears a crick, “...old is all.”

She stifles a grin --one she always makes whenever they joke about his age. “Maybe you should stop sleeping on the couch.”

John all but freezes, his elbow high in the air with his hand on his shoulder. “Oh?”

“I mean, it’s your bed, too…” Juliana shrugs lightly. She must have spotted the goofy look on his face and realize what she’s insinuating because she immediately reiterates, “I am serious about needing more time, though.”

“I promise you, I will do nothing ungentlemanly.” He raises both hands in surrender.

And nothing ungentlemanly, he does.

They both lie on their backs, fully clothed, blanket pulled up to their chest, a respectable distance between them, and say goodnight. He closes his eyes and takes deep breaths to steady his heart. He counts the seconds he needs to inhale, and the seconds to exhale. One, two, three, four… one, two, three, four, five, six, seven…

He keeps losing track whenever Juliana makes the slightest move. Her warmth radiates and tempts him to cross that invisible line between them, but she needs time before she can be more intimate with him again. And he is going to respect that, if it's the last thing he does.

So he tries to count sheep. He makes it to a good thirty-something before realizing that he's been picturing mountain goats instead. And for the love of all that is holy, he can't remember what sheep freaking looks like! Not that it matters, though for him it does. Anything to distract himself from sleeping in the same bed with Juliana again and to knock him out is --

“Are you awake?” Juliana’s whispers break the silence and the noise in his head all at once.

“...Yes. Why?”

“You were breathing really loud.” There's a smile in her voice.

“I'm sorry. I didn't mean to wake you.” he replies somewhat sheepishly.

“I wasn't asleep anyway, it's fine.”

His eyebrows burrow in curiosity. “Something wrong?”

“Nothing. This just feels very… proper.”

John is outright grinning ear-to-ear. “It's kind of stupid, isn't it?”

To his surprise, Juliana starts to laugh. A quiet, but hearty laugh that shakes from the core. And he doesn't know if it’s the ridiculous circumstance they're in or simply how delightful her voice is in his ears, but he's right there giggling along with her like a smitten teenage boy.

When his laughter dies down, he sighs dramatically and announces, “Fuck it. Might as well get comfortable, right?” he rolls onto his side facing her, tucking one arm under the pillow.

“This proper sleeping arrangement thing won't last long anyway, considering I snore like a lawnmower.” John says matter-of-factly.

“Well,” she shifts onto mirror his position, “Good luck sleeping, because I'm a very fidgety sleeper.”

He catches her playful tone, and it's in his second nature to banter along. “Oh, I know. I've woken up with an elbow on my head and my face full of your hair and I'm pretty sure you nearly kicked me in the balls once?”

She laughs once more. “Well, in that case, I'll try not to invade your space too much.”

“I think I'll manage,” he smooths her hair out of her face before he can stop himself.

She doesn't seem to mind it, although she looks at him with a slight amusement.

“Sleep well, Juliana.” he smiles softly, to which she replies,

“Good night, John.”

He allows himself a good look at the sight he has ached for. His wife, lying next to him again after so long, her dark tresses flowing free, wary washed off of her face. All that's left is just serenity on her impossibly statuesque features, as if the last four months never happened.

He closes his eyes and starts to drift off, and still he envisions it so clearly. Her arm reaching around him, inviting him to pull her in and encase her in his embrace. Her head tucked under his, nestled in the bony crevice of his neck. Her legs find a way between his, entangling and weaving and entwining, and he thinks to himself, if this is a dream, he doesn’t ever want to wake up.

The next morning, he does wake up and finds that it’s not a dream. Juliana lies on her side, curled up into him, her arm splayed out across his chest. His hazy, sleepy mind wants to bask in the embrace and drift back to sleep, but his body stirs awake with a far more pressing need at hand.

Oh.

John really hasn't had the time to think about sleeping with his wife again. He barely had the time to process her sudden return following her mysterious disappearance, and her strange apprehension towards him. It's utterly inappropriate to even consider that when she was still recovering. And when she invited him to bed last night, he actively boots out any notion of physical intimacy given how much she emphasized on needing time to get reacquainted. As far as he's concerned, sex is completely off the table.

But the more he wills himself to let it go, the more urgently his cock needs attention. The clearer the memories of their slow early mornings; all the sleep-laden kisses, rousing each other with grinding hips, how pliant she is under his touch --

With the utmost cautiousness, John finds a way to disentangle himself from her. He gently lifts her arm and pushes her leg off of him, trying his best not to disturb her. He fails miserably, of course, and stops gingerly when she blinks awake.

“What's going on?” her voice quiet and raspy with sleep, but alert as ever.

“Everything's okay, sweetheart. I just need the bathroom.” He smoothly replies, which is not entirely untrue.

She takes a glance at him and then the orange dawn sky out the window, her feline eyes blinking slow and heavy until they don't. It reminds him of how they flutter closed whenever he kisses that spot between her legs. It always seems to coincides with her lips parting open and the hushed, sweet sound coming out.

He jumped into the shower so quick, he nearly left his shirt on.

The steam from the hot water fogs up his haze-ridden mind. Memories and fantasies collide, fueling the stroking motion his hand makes around his stiffened member. Funny how grief blocks an entire chunk of his memory that is now flooding back clearer than ever. He remembers her mouth, teeth nipping at his shoulder and tongue offering comfort at the abuse. He can map out her curves perfectly --her breasts fit perfectly in his hands, her nipples hardened from his teasing tweaks and pinches, hips rolling agonizingly in an erratic indulgence of pleasure. Her legs start to shake and he can feel her coming undone, tightening around him and taking him over the edge with her.

John comes with a strained grunt, his cock spurting its release and twitching in relief. For a moment, his mind goes blank. There’s only hot water pattering on his skin and a massive weight he didn’t know he was carrying lifted off of his back. Breathing comes a little easier then.

It takes about five whole minutes until the stillness rings uncomfortably in his ears, and he allows himself to yearn for that closeness. Intimacy. He begins to wonder how much of it they can salvage. If there’s even any shred of it left.