"Do you dream?"
The question is asked casually, with the weight of a thousand others behind it. He looks over at her, the mask's ink swirling into shape after shape.
They sit on the swings in an empty playground, Blaire's parents and Nite Owl standing within view but far enough away to afford some privacy. He's dressed as she remembers him, in his trademark suit but without the trench coat. Even though the one he has now is new, he keeps it folded off to one side for this.
"Do you dream about when you found me?"
Her shoes scuff in the dirt, barely touching as she drifts back and forth. A breeze makes her hair flutter, the faint sodium light from the streetlamps giving her a ghostly cast. He shudders at that thought.
She's looking at him, but he finds himself keeping his gaze fixed at his own feet where they hold him in place. He rocks slowly to and fro, his hands clenching on the chains at either side. He hears her give a hitched sigh.
"Sometimes I dream. Sometimes I dream that I'm still there."
He does look at her then, and sees the weight of her memories sitting in her shoulders and the droop of her head. The swings fall still. One gloved hand reaches out to coax her chin up toward him.
"You're not. They're only dreams."
The words are as much for him as for her, in a voice that isn't entirely steady. She clutches softly at his sleeve, at the jacket he wrapped around her that night.
"Mommy and Daddy say that too. They come wake me up and tell me that every time."
He leaves his seat to kneel in front of her, letting his hand reach out to cradle the side of her head for a moment. He swallows back fruitless wishes, tries to feel the warmth of her cheek under his palm.
"That's good... I'm glad they do that."
The toes of her shoes dig in as she steadies the swing to lean close. Her hand leaves his sleeve to reach for his scarf, drifting over it softly while her other hand still clutches tight on the chain.
"What do you dream?"
The air rushes out of him for a second, and a few seconds pass before he can look up again. Her eyes hold fear, and trust, and something that makes them much, much too old. His hand falls slowly to rest in his lap and behind the mask his eyes fall closed.
"I dream. That I can't find you. That I'm too late. That you"
He can't finish. He shouldn't be saying this anyway, especially not to a child, but her eyes won't let him go. His hand rises again to cover hers, to remind himself he did find her, that he wasn't too late.
"Does someone wake you up to tell you it's a dream?"
He thinks of a room that is and isn't his, of the disorientation of strange sunlight and soft linens, of strong arms and the smell of books and machine oil, of a voice that's always with him in the dark.
She smiles, and her eyes are almost the correct age again.
- fin -