Souvenirs From the Front

Pearl stood at the foot of her bed, staring at it with trepidation, not feeling the least bit like sleeping. She glimpsed herself in the mirror; it was getting worse. She wished Reyna were here. She was a good partner, even if she couldn’t actually help.

Reyna would wake Pearl from her terrors and rub her shoulder until she fell back asleep. Only a handful of times over the years did she move to the couch in defeat, unable to endure Pearl’s disturbing mumbles. She was understanding—as understanding as a civilian could be—but this month she was offworld. Business trip. And now Pearl was alone.

She never remembered her dreams. Blackness until morning when she would wake sitting straight up in bed, the sheets sweaty, feeling unrested but otherwise unshaken. But Reyna had told her things she’d said in her sleep—and not all of them, Pearl suspected—things that Reyna could never have known. That’s how Pearl knew she still dreamed of the front. Of the smell of cauterized flesh. Of fields covered in bodies, body parts, like mismatched human jigsaw puzzles.

She woke up with scratches in the mornings, sometimes bruises. She hid them from Reyna as best she could with extra layers. They sometimes faded during the day, and she didn’t want her to worry.

But now Pearl was alone, and as she examined herself in the mirror she found deeper scrapes in her back, some where she couldn’t reach. Too far apart for her fingers. And last night, she’d bitten her tongue so hard it swelled too big to spit out the blood; she had to swallow it.

The war was not over, no. It had just moved from the Regulus Coast to her bedroom. And while she wasn’t afraid, she knew there was a chance she might not survive this time. She laid down, pulled the covers up to her chin, and closed her eyes.

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