It had been weeks since Howard Payne had terrorized Los Angeles. Weeks since Jack had played the madman’s game and jumped onto a speeding bus in order to diffuse a bomb attached to its undercarriage. Weeks since he had outsmarted him. Weeks since he had fought him on a subway car. Weeks since that man died, ending his reign of terror.
Yet, in the still of night, Jack woke up in a sweat-- an event that had been repeating since that day. Howard Payne still haunted his thoughts. The images flashing through his mind: red numbers, wires, explosions, the blue bus, and Harry’s face. It cut him deep like a knife.
Throwing the sheets off of him, he sat up in bed and wiped away the beads of sweat running down his face. He reached for his running clothes and continued with the routine he had set for himself when these dreams would occur.
He grabbed his keys and headed out the door of his apartment. He ran down the flights of stairs at a quick pace. When he reached the pavement, he could feel the treads of his sneakers wearing beneath him. He sucked in the crisp air, his lungs feeling like they were burning. He pushed himself further. He always did. He had to.
There was only one place he marked as his destination, the only place that he needed to be. He ran the streets of Venice, his eyes shifting into tunnel vision. He picked up speed. Faster. Chest heaving. Faster. Heart pumping . Faster. Pulse racing. Faster.
The sound of a bus beeping at him as he crossed the street broke him out of his trance. The irony.
He caught his breath and looked at his surroundings. At first he hadn’t been sure where he was until he recognized the street signs. He was almost there. He couldn’t stop now.
He picked up his pace again, running the streets until he came to the tiny bungalow unit. He pushed the red wooden gate open and followed the walkway to the stairs. He shook his head at the ceramic turtle that sat on the top step. He had told her to get rid of that. He picked it up and, sure enough, there was the duplicate key. He pulled it out and put it in the lock. He quietly entered, taking off his shoes and closing the door behind him.
It was a short walk to the bedroom. Annie was asleep in the bed. He slowly moved the comforter and slid in beside her. The change in weight shifted the bed and he saw her begin to stir. She opened her eyes and her face turned sympathetic when she saw him.
“Another one?” She simply asked, knowing what had been afflicting him as of late.
She gave a slight nod in understanding; she had been dealing with her own post traumatic stress. She reached for Jack, inviting him closer to her. In a matter of seconds their arms were wrapped around one another. It was a comforting position, one that brought peace to both of them.
“A girl can get used to this, you know,” Annie murmured into Jack’s chest.
“What’s that?” He asked as his hand stroked her back. He could feel his eyes becoming heavy, his body settling down finally, now that he was with her.
“You here. Arms around me. A girl could get used to feeling this safe.”
“I know what you mean. Right now your arms are stronger than mine,” he confessed, with a vulnerability he was only showing to her.
He felt her squeeze him harder, letting him know that she was there, in his eyes proving his point. He kissed her forehead and reciprocated, never wanting her to ever doubt. He would always be there for her, too.
“We’re going to get through this, Jack. He’ll be nothing but a distant, nasty memory; an asshole that got what was coming to him and is currently rotting in hell.”
“And, just for the record, don’t feel like you can only slip in like this when a bad dream enters that brain of yours.” She looked up at him, her brown eyes meeting his in a sultry stare, “Remember what we decided the basis of this relationship was…”
He let his mouth curve up, a chuckle escaping. “Yes, ma’am.”
Her lips touched his and, just for a moment, everything was fine. Nightmares and negative thoughts escaped in a puff of smoke and nothing could hurt them.
Jack wanted nothing more than to get used to that feeling and hold on to Annie.