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always the same

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Joe always wakes before the screaming starts. 

Part of  it stems from long years of listening for his kids' nightmares, hours of practice chasing monsters from underneath the bed and the insides of closets, longer still waiting for them to fall back asleep. 

Part of it stems from the fact that, far from sleeping down the hall, Caitlin is sleeping beside him. That close, he can't possibly fail to hear the little whimpers and moans that signify a nightmare. The restless tossing and turning that accompanies them is another clue he can't possibly ignore. 

Switching on the bedside lamp, he leans in close, but not too close - he'd learned that lesson the first few times this had happened - and says her name quietly. 

"Caitlin." It's always Caitlin, never ever Cate. "Caitlin, wake up." His fingers itch with the desire to touch her but, just like leaning in too close, experience has taught him better. "It's just a dream, Caitlin... come back to me... it's just a dream..."

He repeats himself, or variations thereof, until she gives a gasp and a start, until her eyes fly open and meet his in the dim lamplight. Her breathing is fast, erratic, and she slumps boneless to the mattress, closing her eyes as an expression of pain contorts her face. 

He doesn't speak until she opens her eyes, doesn't touch her until she reaches for his hand. Then he knows it's safe to move, to gather her into his arms. Her head rests on his chest, his hands moving slowing up and down her back in the vague hopes that the motion, the touch, will stop her trembling. 

"Same dream?" he asks but he doesn't need to feel her nod in response. 

It's always the same dream. 

It starts here, with the two of them in bed, making love. Somewhere along the line, she hears a crackle of electricity, opens her eyes to see blue lightning surrounding the bed and all of a sudden it's not Joe with her, inside her, but Zoom, his voice whispering into her ear all the things that he used to say as Jay, but in that terrible, rasping cadence that on occasion haunted Joe's own dreams. 

She only told him the particulars the first time it happened but he's never been able to forget any of the details. 

"When will it stop?" she whispers and the fear in her voice breaks his heart all over again. 

"Sweetheart, I don't know." He presses a kiss to the top of her head, takes her chin in his hands and looks into her eyes. "But I'm here, however long it takes." 

There's a soft sob of what sounds almost like relief and there is no further need for words after that.