Your name is Jim Lake Junior and your hands shake as you sit up in bed. Your whole body is shaking and you stifle a scream into your hand, bite down on your palm to keep anyone from hearing you, so hard that your teeth puncture the skin-
There is blood in your mouth, now, warm and red and bitter. It turns your stomach and nearly makes you scream again. You don’t even remember what the dream was about-
Your sword, the hilt cool against your palm as it slips from your grasp- you slip, and you scream at the very top of your lungs- falling, you are falling-
And then you’re on the ground again, flat on your back, and you cannot see, cannot breathe- your breath comes in heaving gasps and your throat is closed up. An enemy that you cannot see is bearing down on you, and you are alone-
You cannot save yourself, this time, and no one will save you.
You don’t know where you are for a terrifying second, and you find yourself going for the amulet on your nightstand. You only end up whacking your hand on the table, and the amulet glows harshly blue against your fingers- you set it down. You do not want it. You don’t think you ever really wanted it.
“Jim- honey? What’s going on, I heard a noise-”
Your mother’s voice cuts through the silence, and it takes everything in you not to sob right there. You feel a little like you’re going to puke, or faint, and you’re not sure which would feel worse, really. There is a strong, throbbing pulse in your head, and your breaths come in great, heaving gasps as you try to breathe. You try to scream, but you cannot - or maybe you just don’t register it? Your head spins as you remain sitting up and you dizzily slip backward against the bed.
“Jim, it’s okay, it’s okay-“
Your mom is talking again and you can hardly understand what she’s saying-
She presses a hand to your forehead, briefly, and you try to push her away, but you can’t, you aren’t strong enough. You are never strong enough.
“Honey, talk to me, are you okay? Are you sick, is something wrong?” You find that her voice is soft, but calm- she works long shifts at the hospital and has likely seen children not even half your age die despite her efforts-
You muster the energy to whimper, a soft, pained sound.
“Mom...” There are tears in your eyes, suddenly, a thick lump in your throat that makes it hard to breathe- “I,” you try to speak, try to tell her, you’re not sick you’re not hurt you’re, you’re alive, though you barely believe it yourself. Instead of trying further, you simply start crying, the tears pouring hot down your face and stinging your eyes.
“Jim, hey... please tell me what’s wrong.” She gently cups a hand against your cheek and tries her best to wipe your tears away, and before she can say anything else you’re pulling away, a low growl rising in your throat as you resist the urge to summon your sword. Feral, animalistic. Inhuman.
She looks visibly alarmed, and backs up. “Alright, I don’t have to touch you if you don’t want that. Just, breathe for me, take it slow, I don’t know what happened but you’re going to be alright,”she says, and your shoulders suddenly slump. The rush of terrified energy has faded, and was now replaced with exhaustion. You rush forward, starting to sob into her shirt, your arms wrapped firmly around her. She relaxes visibly, and starts to stroke your hair, and you tell yourself that you are alive but you do not believe it.
The nightmares were almost as common as sleepless nights now, but the topics would switch. Sometimes it was you who was torn into nothing, knifelike talons ripping through your armor like it was made of tinfoil and cracking your ribcage open with one brutal gnash of brutal teeth. Sometimes it’s Toby, or Claire, or your mother. But this time, it was you. Helpless. Failing. Always failing. Strickler would always call you Young Atlas and now you know why, because you can feel the weight of the whole world on you, threatening to snap you like a twig.
You’re crying so hard now that you can’t see, can hardly breathe as your breath comes in long, drawn-out sobs. Your mother is saying something, trying to console you with gentle words. You can hardly hear her, and once you manage to stop crying for even a second you go entirely silent. You pull back, and look at her. You remember what you’ve seen: awful, awful things. The death, the destruction, the decay. Violence. All things you’ve seen a million times, really, so many you’ve nearly gotten used to them.
More specific nightmares now. Her eyes, dull and lifeless. Dried blood in her auburn hair. You blink. Cracked, bloodied fingernails. The intricate scar patterns of electricity.
You blink. She’s looking at you with a look you would give someone when they’ve been stabbed. You almost wish you had been stabbed, because she could at least fix that.
“I’m not going back to sleep.” Your voice is raw and harsh from screaming, and she nods, not questioning it for a second.
“That’s okay, I didn’t expect you to.” She murmurs, and you nod.
“Tea?” You ask, or really propose. It’s not as if you think she’d say no, but it’s always better to check. Your mother relaxes further and nods.
“I think that’d do you some good. Would you mind making me some too?”
“I wouldn’t mind.”
You get to your feet, astoundingly steady for someone who had just been crying, and walk toward the kitchen, as if you’re on autopilot. You heat the electric kettle. You take out the mugs. Blue one for you, the one with the bees on it for your mom. Green for you, mint for her. It helps with the stress, you remember her telling you, one night when she got home even later than usual. Two sugars for you, honey in hers.
In the blink of an eye, your tea is ready, and you find yourself curling up in the couch with the scalding mug in your hands. Trying desperately to calm yourself, you whisper fragments of your Romeo lines. Your mother joins you soon after, beside you. She watches you, curious- head tilted slightly, her glasses sliding a little lower on her nose. Concern, that’s something you catch too.
“Jim, do you want to tell me what happened?” Her voice is soft, like she’s afraid any sound will shatter you. You feel a little bit like it could. You look toward her, meet her eyes with a sort of seriousness that wasn’t often present in sixteen-year-olds. You’d been told ‘that look’ —as it was often called — was that of someone haunted, your blue eyes blank and fixating. You never let your eyes betray what you had seen. Often, the emptiness was enough.
“It was just a dream,” you rasp, your throat burned raw from screaming, and you’re still breathing unsteadily. Your hands tremble, but it doesn’t bother you anymore, and you sip your tea.
“It didn’t seem like it was just a dream,” she says, her eyes going from your hands and back to you.
“I- mom, I’m okay, everybody has bad dreams sometimes,” You dismiss her concerns as you sip, but your voice wavers at the end, and she bites her lip slightly, sighing.
“Jim, you don’t always have to be okay. It’s alright if you aren’t.” She brushes a strand of hair behind your ear, and leans back on the couch, legs curled beneath her. She sips her tea and looks at you, with this expression that’s unspeakably sad. Your mom doesn’t know you’re the Trollhunter — not yet — but as a doctor, god knows she could recognize fear like that. Had likely felt it herself.
“I know, mom. I know.” You are not okay. You suspect she knows that already. It’s evident in the contemplative, small frown she has on her face, her eyes down. Threads of guilt lace through your chest, poking holes in your facade like the strings of a corset.
Silently, you pull her into a hug. Your mom always smells like lavender and the faint scent of antiseptic, and that steadies your breathing. She gives you a little squeeze before she pulls back, and you wipe your tears away, taking in a slow breath.
“It’ll be okay, hon. I promise.”
And this time, you believe her.