Title: Safe and Sound

The night hadn't been rough, but it had been continual. An onslaught of words and resentment and need. Work had torn at her, wearing away the armor around herself slowly but surely, like the ocean against the shore. It left her feeling exhausted and in desperate need of a drink.

She couldn't be bothered to wait for coworkers in the break room, nor for her car to warm up before throwing it in reverse and hightailing it out of the parking lot. At the first stop sign, she rolled the windows down. The cold night crept inside, curling around her and tightening like a constrictor. Each breath she drew in hurt, bit harshly at her lungs and burned the lining of her throat. The hurt made her smile.

Drawing in a deep breath, she bypassed her exit and headed for lonely country roads. Her fingers curled tight around the steering wheel, her knuckles protruding sharp and white, and her tendons aching. The radio whispered until she reached out and cranked the knob hard, until the sound was pounding against her skin. The sound tore and pounded through the car, heavy, throbbing beats that tried to crush her thoughts.

But still, they lifted free.

What-ifs tapped sullenly against the inside of her skull, making her question everything. What if it was all just a ruse, a way for him to manipulate her? What if only she felt it so acutely? What if everyone was right?

He was haunting her thoughts.

Without thinking, she turned the music up even more, until the seat under her began to quiver from the pulse. Her foot pressed hard against the accelerator, mashing the gas pedal to the floor board. Somewhere around 75 MPH, her thoughts floated away. With a sigh, she let off the gas pedal and coasted along the empty road.

Her phone buzzed in her cup holder, and she thought about what to do. Finally, she just shut off the music and grabbed her phone, sliding her thumb toward accept. "Hey," she started in, her voice sounded breathless and cold to her ears.

"Hello…what are you doing," he asked her softly, managing to sound interested and aloof in the same instance. She stopped completely at a stop sign, rolling her window up as she loitered there. "I am driving around…you?" She could see his shoulders twitching lightly in a halfhearted shrug in her mind, "Thinking about you."

His response made her heart skip a beat, and unintentionally she smiled. "Well that's always a good thing, right," she asked, letting go of the steering wheel long enough to rub her forehead. "You should come over," he said, his voice just shy of sounding plaintive. Her breath escaped her lungs in a slow sigh. "I dunno…it's kinda late..."

Her words met silence, and already she could feel him retreating. He had put himself out there, and she had slapped at his entreaty. Running her fingers through her hair, she tugged the wheel to the left and starting driving. The back roads could lead her anywhere, and she would gladly follow them to him. "You better have coffee ready when I get there," and she hung up.

She drove based on memory, driving slowly so not to make a wrong move. Her headlights cut a bright swatch in the night, illuminating all the random side roads. It took longer than she would have liked but eventually she found herself on his doorstep. Tentatively, she knocked on his door before slipping inside. He gave her a look from the kitchen door.

It was an assessing look, as if he was taking inventory of everything she felt. That look, it pulled and prized apart the fragile shell she had reformed about herself. His brow barely furrowed before he was moving across the house, his arms coming around her to hold her crushingly tight against his chest. Her fingers curled in his shirt as she held her face against his chest, breathing in deep and slow while she listened to his heart beat.

"What's wrong," he mumbled softly against the top of her skull. Her fingers shook, and she tightened them in his shirt before slinging her arms around his neck, her fingers digging in hard against his shoulder blades. She rubbed her face against his throat, feeling the prickle of his beard against her skin. "Nothing's wrong."

His hands moved slowly up and down her back, and she let herself relax against him. Her body felt melted against his, and she let him hold her up. It had been a while since she had let someone else be her anchor, but he kept her grounded. Even when she didn't want him to.

Slowly, she relaxed back on her heels, drawing away from him. She could feel the reluctance in his arms as he let her slip away. "I don't believe you, you know," he said, giving her a look, but she just flashed him a bright smile and sat down on the couch, tucking her legs under her. He sat down next to her, one of his hands coming up to gently card through her hair.

She turned toward him, slinging her legs over his lap and regarded him quietly. His hands smoothed over her thighs while he stared back at her. She reached out, her fingers catching on his sleeve, and she tugged him toward her. His head pressed against her shoulder, his arm coming around to curl against her waist. She tilted her head back, letting his face press tight against her throat.

He squeezed her gently, "Tell me." She moved her head just enough to press her mouth against his hair. "Just work," she murmured, bringing her arm up to rest over his shoulder.

Exhaustion clawed its way up into her mind and rubbed sullenly against the backs of her eyes. Sighing heavily, she squirmed until she was lying on the couch. She scooted to the edge as he tossed and turned about until he was lying next to her. She curled around him, slinging her leg over his thighs as her fingers curled in his shirt. She pressed her face hard against his chest.

His fingers curled through her hair, smoothing it away from her. Sleepily, she looked up at him. "If I fall asleep, wake me up, okay?" His lips brushed her forehead just below her hairline. "Mhmm…we'll see." She laughed and rubbed her face against his chest before pressing her face against his throat. His pulse point was a bit distracting where it throbbed against her lips, but she managed to ignore it and just pressed a little closer.

Once again, he had taken up running his fingers through her hair, and she could feel the motion lulling her into a vulnerable state, where the exhaustion could finally just catch up to her. Her world narrowed until it contained only him. She focused on the steady beat of his heart, the slow rise and fall of his chest as he breathed.

A content noise curled up from the bottom of her chest, and she pressed closer to him, taking solace in the heat of his arms around her. The thoughts ever present in her mind slowly shut off, blinking out like stars at dawn. All that mattered was the feel of his arms around her. She drew in a deep breath before relaxing, her body pressing against his as much as she could, before she opened herself up to the idea of lingering in the warm dark for a bit.

And the exhaustion swallowed her whole.