Mitchell woke with a start. One moment he was deep in dreamless sleep, the next he was awake, sitting upright in his bed, staring at Annie, illuminated by a shaft of moonlight. He didn't know what exactly woke him. It might have been the scent of the tea from the cup she held between her hands, or possibly it was the scent of Annie herself, a phantom of roses and vanilla that always dissipated when he tried too hard to hold onto it. That scent had been there, teasing him, from the first time he and George had stepped into the flat, but it had taken several days after they moved in for him to realize that it was something intrinsic to Annie.
"Is something wrong?" he asked her, concerned, for it wasn't usual for her to come into his room and watch him while he slept. At least, he didn't think it was usual.
She told him, "I can't sleep," and held out the cup; Mitchell caught a whiff of honey mingled with steaming Earl Grey. She looked a little embarrassed when she said, "I made you some tea."
"You made me some tea, did you?" He shot a pointed look at his alarm clock, which read 2:53 a.m. Rare though it was, he was scheduled for a morning shift at the hospital and had gone to bed a bit after midnight.
"Well, it's not as if I can drink it myself," she observed as he slid across his bed and backwards toward the wall, pulling his pillow around for a cushion. Grinning at Annie, he reached for the tea and gestured for her to join him on the bed, making sure the sheet was secure at his hips. It might become a touch awkward if she slipped in under it, naked as he was. She dropped to the bed beside him, tugging the pillow a bit toward her as she leaned back against both the wall and Mitchell.
He sipped at the steaming tea and glanced sidewise at her. "There's George…"
She shot him a look, one that clearly said he was an inconsiderate pig for even suggesting it. "George is asleep."
"So was I!" he responded in mock outrage. "I guess I know where I stand, then."
Looking sheepish, she quickly hid her face by burrowing in under his arm; he slouched down a bit more and slid his arm around her shoulders. When she rested her cheek and one hand on his chest, he felt the same chill tingle at the feather-light touch that he'd felt when he kissed her a few days before.
"I can't hear your heart beat." Mitchell felt her breath on his skin as she spoke, a cool puff of air, and her hair tickled his neck and jaw. That was new; it was as if she was becoming more substantial the longer she was around him and George. He fought off a shiver, not wanting to dislodge her.
"That's because it doesn't."
"Oh, duh. Sometimes I forget." Again, he felt it when she smiled against his ribs. "You don't seem like you're…"
She made a generic sound of agreement and they fell into a companionable silence, she resting against him, he sipping at his tea. It was good, neither weak nor overly sweet. He smiled. Like Annie herself.
Once only wet tea leaves remained, he shoved a copy of Entertainment Weekly off the nightstand, adding to the pile on the floor, and set the cup in its place. Staring into the moonlit room, he brought one hand to rest on Annie's shoulder.
"You know, it's funny, sort of…" Her voice was soft, as if to speak any louder would break some sort of spell.
"It used to be I didn't try to sleep because of the nightmares. I didn't want to fall asleep, to risk the shadows, the fear." He gently stroked her arm, up and down the length, a soothing motion. "Now the nightmares can't hurt me anymore; I know the worst. I remember what Owen did."
Mitchell placed a light kiss on the top of her head. "That's not really all that funny."
"No, it's not. What's funny is that now I do want to sleep..." She sighed. "What's that saying? I'll sleep when I'm dead? Well, I am dead, but I still can't sleep." She lifted her head to look up at him but said nothing else, just stared at him. It made him want to fidget.
"What?" he blurted out when he couldn't take it anymore.
"Talk to me, Mitchell." She lay her head back down on his chest. "Tell me… I don't know. Tell me a story. Tell me something about you."
"You mean when I was alive?"
"Yeah, that. Anything. What were you like when you were a kid? What did you do for fun?"
"You're asking an awful lot of me, Annie, remembering that far back."
"Oh, shut up." She punctuated the words with a slap of her palm to his stomach. "I am not. It wasn't that long ago."
"A hundred years!" he protested even as he pulled her in closer to his side, trying to trap her arms so she wouldn't hit him again. "All right, woman, let me think."
"Did you have any brothers or sisters?"
"No, I was an only child. My da and I lived with his sister and her two daughters."
"I bet you were a brat as a boy."
"Oh, now that hurts."
He felt her smile. "I bet you drove your cousins insane."
"Maybe." He shrugged, deliberately recalling his family for the first time in years, possibly decades, the twins who were two years older than he and quite puffed up with it. Mitchell looked down at Annie and found her looking up at him expectantly. Grinning, he told her, "They may have tried to lose me at the beach one afternoon."
"Shut up!" Annie's eyes widened in delight. "Why? What did you do?"
But he had obligingly clamped his lips shut, teasing her. Since her arms were pinned, she bit at him. "Hey!" he yelped, startled, even though she wasn't really in a position to have connected and he might not have been able to feel it if she had.
"Why did they leave you?" she persisted.
"I may have been teasing them about a boy they both liked."
"No doubt you were as merciless with them as you are with George."
"How old were you? How old were they? Where did they leave you?"
"All right, Annie, I surrender." He let out a martyred sigh as she relaxed against him. "They were twelve, I was ten, and they left me on the beach at Howth. Not that it was much of a beach. And there was a stray hound pup; I barely noticed they'd gone."
He'd been following along behind them, singing a song about Leda and Maura and Matthew, the boy they liked, Maura ordering him to stop it or they'd make him pay, when they'd been interrupted by shouting from a man on the nearby docks. A puppy, a rangy thing, all black and white and brown, nothing but legs and floppy ears, had come running to the beach, the angry man chasing after him. Without thinking about it, he'd joined in with the pup and they'd gotten away from the man. By the time they'd stopped running, the docks weren't even within earshot, let alone sight, and there was no sign of his cousins.
"That pup and I chased each other round the beach and through the water until we tired each other out, and then I dug clams all afternoon. By the time Da found me, I'd gathered enough clams – and rescued enough from the pup, who I'd started calling Tory – for our supper. I'd piled them up out of reach of the tide and the dog, but we had to scrounge something to carry them in." He didn't mention how frightened his father and aunt had been or that they'd searched for him for hours because neither Maura nor Leda had paid much attention to where they'd left him, nor had he exactly stayed put.
"Tory had a good, long life with us." Mitchell expected more questions or possibly a request for another story, but Annie said nothing. He looked down at her and saw the dark feathers of her lashes resting on her cheeks. He smiled as he realized she'd fallen asleep and he closed his eyes to do the same.