Why Do You Keep Pretending?

Why Do You Keep Pretending?

The thrashing never woke him up anymore. He’d grown too used to it. That bothered him. In the past, he’d been able to apply a gentle prod or a soft murmur, even if he pretended to be asleep afterward. Now he didn’t wake until he heard the loud thump indicating Domerin had run into one of the doorways on his way out or back into the room.

This time, his eyes cut through the darkness to find Domerin laying in the doorway leading to the living room. It was the third time this week he had misjudged his distance from a doorframe. His bruises had to have bruises by now.

Unfolding himself from his favorite loaf position, Crescent hopped off the bed and padded across the room on all fours. It was easier and made it less likely he’d bump into something on the way. He nosed Domerin lightly, but the man was already pushing himself into a sitting position.

“You can turn on the lights, you know, it won’t bother me.” It was the same thing he always said. He already knew what Domerin’s response would be.

“I never think about it until I’m already on the floor.”

How long had Domerin been up this time? Had he gone to the kitchen to get something to drink? Or had he spent the last three hours in his office trying to make himself tired all over again? How bad had the nightmare been?

Crescent bit the inside of his lip to keep from saying something he knew would upset Domerin. He waved one hand in the gesture the man had taught him, summoning a dim stream of light from the ceiling.

“Maybe we should rig some kind of new night-setting for the hallway.” He tried not to let concern cloud his features, but he could tell by the way Domerin set his jaw that he had failed.

“I hate to waste power unnecessarily-“

“You won’t be saying that when you run head-first into a wall and give yourself a concussion.” But Domerin must not have found it funny because the man glared daggers at him as he pushed himself to his feet. Crescent followed, crossing back to the bed on two legs this time. He settled on the edge, watching as Domerin eased himself down, sitting with the same rigid posture he always did.

“What?” Domerin grunted after several long moments of silence.

“I didn’t say anything.”

“I can feel your eyes breathing down the back of my neck.”

Crescent hesitated. How many times had they bordered on the edge of this conversation? How many times would it take before Domerin told him the truth?

As if Crescent’s thoughts prodded him to action, Domerin turned and glanced over his shoulder. “Just spit it out already.”

“You had the nightmares again, didn’t you?”

“That’s really all you want to ask?” Domerin sounded annoyed. The last thing Crescent wanted was to awaken his anger. But he was torn between wanting to soothe the man’s hurts and not wanting to argue.

“I just… wish you’d talk about it. That’s all. I’m only trying to help, Domerin.”

“I’m fine. You don’t need to worry about me.”

Crescent clenched his teeth so hard he feared he may have cracked one in the back. The fur on the back of his neck stood on end. It was hardly the first time Domerin had used such a forceful tone against him, but after enduring it twice this week already, he felt less inclined to put everything aside. His heart pounded in his chest, his fight or flight instinct buckling down. It was time to fight.

“When are you going to drop the act?” he growled, each word pausing to rumble in the back of his throat.

Domerin’s eyes narrowed to slits. “Excuse me?”

“Why do you keep pretending you’re okay when we both know you aren’t? There’s no one here who you have to maintain that tough act for. I’m not going to judge you if you’re having trouble. Why don’t you talk about it? I can help.”

“What do you think you’re going to do, Crescent? Magically make them go away? If there was some way to do that, don’t you think I’d have applied it by now?”

“No, I know that they’re always going to come back, but you don’t have to keep pretending like they never happened!”

“What makes you think I want to have a long, philosophical chat in the middle of the night every time the night terrors drive me out of bed? Do you have any idea how long that would take?”

More of his fur stood up. He must look like a puffball by now. How did Domerin always know the worst thing to say? The thing that would set his nerves most on edge. “Well maybe they wouldn’t bother you as much if you were honest about them. Have you even thought to give it a try?”

Domerin had no animal characteristics, but his angry growls were almost as convincing as Crescent’s. “A decade or more of therapy sessions isn’t enough for you? You want to write me a prescription too, Doctor Crescent? You know the answers to everything now, is that it?”

His claws slid part way out of their sheaths and Crescent had to force them back before he shredded the sheets clenched in his fists. “I never said any of that. I’m just trying to help you!”

“No,” Domerin’s voice was low and cold. “You’re just trying to help yourself.”

Shock eased some of Crescent’s anger. He released the sheets from his death-grip. “What are you talking about?”

Domerin straightened. It was difficult for him to twist on the bed, so Crescent understood why the man turned his back to him for so long before he gathered himself into a new position, no less rigid, but it made it easier for them to make eye contact.

“Talking about my nightmares isn’t what helps me.” His voice was still low, but some of the anger had seeped out of it. “Lingering on my memories isn’t what helps me. You want to talk about it because you don’t know what I see. You think knowing will help, but it won’t.”

Crescent shook his head. “How does doing nothing help more?”

“Just because you don’t see anything doesn’t mean nothing is happening. If you focus on the thing that panics you, you only make the attack worse. By focusing on the memories, you give them more power. When I wake up, I need to focus on the now, on the sensations that ground me in the present. On the carpet beneath my bare feet. On the smoothness of the walls between here and the door. The soft swish when the doors open. Cold water. The bright light in the fridge. The soft sound of your breathing while you’re asleep. Those are the things that help me.”

Crescent sat in silence for a moment, letting the revelation wash over him. It had never occurred to him to think about it that way. As far as he knew, two-legs encouraged each other to talk about everything that bothered them. It seemed to be their cure for every ailment. And in truth, it had done a lot of good for him so far. Talking about things had led to finding solutions to problems, where as avoiding conversations had led to complications. But he could see now how he had oversimplified the lesson. Two-legs lived in a complicated society. They required communication in a way his people hadn’t. But one couldn’t hunt prey by talking about it, even if one could learn more about the process that way.

“Why didn’t you tell me this sooner?”

“Some things are personal. Even lovers sometimes need to have things which are their own.” Domerin’s gaze bore through his. The man had an intensity to him in moments like these, as if he could look through his partner’s soul. “You’re fond of talking about masks. The masks we show the world so that they will think we are things we are not.”

Crescent nodded. He had learned to wear many different masks since he came to live among the two-legs. The biggest and most important mask had been learning to look, act and think like the two-legs themselves. But he had smaller masks, designed to hide his personal feelings from those he didn’t want prying. Though he never wore masks in Domerin’s presence. Not anymore.

“Well, Love, not all the masks we wear are for the benefit of others.”

Domerin’s pointed look made Crescent’s heart sink. How could he have overlooked something so critical?

“Sometimes, pretending to be normal, going about the motions of a normal routine, helps me feel like that’s what I am, especially when I feel most that I’m not.”

“I understand.” And he did. He bowed his head, cheeks burning slightly. “And I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have acted as though I knew what you needed more than you. I shouldn’t have pushed.”

“You shouldn’t,” Domerin agreed. But when the man let his fingers trail down the kattar’s cheek like a feather caught in the wind, Crescent knew the rift had been mended and all had been forgiven.

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