A/N: It was three a.m. and I couldn't sleep, so I wrote this self-indulgent little piece to relax me. Figured it might be relaxing for someone else, so here you go :)
Crossposted from AO3.
Title from A Midsummer Night's Dream:
"And sleep, that sometime shuts up sorrow's eye,
Steal me awhile from mine own company."
Potential Trigger Warning: Shibari (Rope Bondage). Clothed. Non-sexual/No smut.
"I used to love thunderstorms," murmured Aria, barely breaking the veil of despairing silence that had fallen over them.
They were curled together on the couch in their tiny, one-bedroom apartment, listening as heavy rain lashed at the side of the building. The power had gone out around ten minutes ago according to Spencer's wristwatch, and they were both desperately trying to keep it together in the muted blue darkness of the room, all while the sky fell mercilessly outside. Aria was currently focusing on the strong, laboring beat of Spencer's heart, but every now and then, when lightning would illuminate the room and a loud crack of thunder would swiftly follow, her girlfriend's heart would skip a beat, flutter beneath Aria's ear like a drowning butterfly. She could feel the tension in Spencer's muscles, feel the anxious rise and fall of her chest, and her fingers were carding through Aria's hair in a way that probably soothed her as much as it soothed Aria.
"When you were little?" asked Spencer, her voice thick and strained but playing at nonchalance.
Aria tilted her head up to look her in the eye, which felt like a mistake as soon as she saw the distance and the moisture in Spencer's gaze, and the grim, wavering line of her mouth. She felt pressure build up behind her own eyes, knew she was probably about to cry, sob, panic, her stomach twisting with it all, but she tilted the corners of her lips upward and nodded and held on tighter to Spencer's midriff. "My parents would let us go outside when it lightened up. I'd put on my raincoat and my boots and I'd go spin around in it, and Mike would splash around in mud puddles." Aria smiled a little at the memory, trying not to remember the chill of rain down her back. "One time he got so muddy that my dad had to spray him off with the garden hose before he could go inside."
Spencer smiled softly, but it was fractured, almost insincere, like she knew that Aria's mind never really wandered to those happy memories when it rained. At least, not anymore.
And it was true. It didn't. Instead, she thought of the dollhouse, of that fenced in area they'd stumbled into after their macabre prom. She remembered being terrified, surrounded by that lightning rod of a fence, the rain beating cold and angry against her back as she huddled into Spencer's shoulder. She remembered being hungrier than she'd ever been in her life, remembered the sandpaper feeling of her dehydrated tongue, remembered the heat of the sun on her face and the itchiness of her dress as she wasted away in the elements.
She remembered being gassed and then waking up in the morgue, naked, frightened, and scrubbed clean of the dirt that had permeated her skin for three endless days. She remembered the horrible realization that their captor was responsible for her washed skin and hair, that they could have done anything to her in such a vulnerable state.
She remembered everything that had happened after wandering into her mimicry of a bedroom wearing nothing but a sheet. Every awful, dehumanizing thing. The games, the torture, the twisted lessons. The blaring siren and the switchboards and her friends' screams ringing in her ears. Waking up to find that her hair had been hacked off like she was some kind of animal.
She still didn't let just anyone touch her hair, still had panic attacks in dark, enclosed spaces. Her girlfriend was her grounding force, though. She only let Spencer stroke her hair, and she'd called Spencer that time when Aria was on the Metro and the power went out. Spencer had driven through DC traffic to pick her up, held her until she stopped shaking, called into Aria's work for her when it became clear that she couldn't go in. She felt safe with Spencer. Safe like playing in the rain when she was little. Safe like home.
But right now, the thunder was loud and her eyes were wet and she felt sick, felt like she couldn't breathe. She felt the panic rising in her throat, choking her, and she knew that she was going to freak out if she didn't do something. Anything.
"I always hated storms." Spencer's fingers stilled, her palm warm against Aria's skull, and she looked over to the window, twisting her mouth into a rueful smirk. "I was terrified of the lightning when I was a kid, but my parents made me sit by the window until I got over it. Now here I am scared of it again." Her voice got quieter, thickened, and tears welled up in her eyes. "Funny how that worked out."
Not funny at all, and Aria pressed a gentle kiss to the hollow of Spencer's throat, nuzzled into her neck, hid in the safety of her hair. "I'm scared, too," she admitted. Then, after a long couple of beats, she said tentatively, "Spence?"
"Hmm?" Spencer looked back at her, and her fingers began to move again, her nails scratching lightly against Aria's scalp.
"I need to do something," she blurted. "Anything. I don't like sitting here waiting and I know you don't either."
Spencer nodded, sucking in a deep, anticipatory breath. "Okay." She shifted a bit and Aria sat upright in response, wiping the moisture off her own face with the back of her hand. "Anything?"
"Anything," Aria confirmed, watching as tears slipped down Spencer's cheeks, silently, almost like they weren't even there. She didn't acknowledge them, just sniffled and nodded and pushed herself up off the couch.
"I have an idea. I'll be right back, babe," she said, then strode across the room and disappeared into the hallway. Aria sat there, surprised but numb all at once, and the claustrophobia began to creep in the longer the silence went on, the room colder without her girlfriend. It was suddenly too dark, not even moonlight coming in through the cracks in the blinds, and the faint tick tick ticking of the clock on the wall over in the kitchen made her nervous, smothered her like a two ton blanket draped over her head. The only thing that reassured her was the sound of Spencer rummaging around in the bedroom, so she focused on that instead, trying her best to block out the wind and the rain, and Spencer was back in no time.
In the darkness, she could barely make out what Spencer tossed on the coffee table, but from the weight and general shape of it, she could tell it was a familiar, soft length of jute rope. There was also a pair of safety shears for emergencies. A second later, there was a fwip of a lighter igniting as Spencer lit a candle, and all of a sudden it wasn't so dark anymore. Spencer set the candle on the table, then went around the room lighting a couple others, until everything was cast in a flickering orange glow. Aria felt a touch better now that she could see properly—candle light wasn't so threatening—and the room started to feel more intimate than suffocating. If anything, she felt closer to Spencer, and she took one look at the rope and knew exactly what her girlfriend wanted.
"You want me to tie you up?" The ghost of a smirk played on her lips, but her heart wasn't in it. Spencer looked just as washed out and downtrodden as Aria felt, and there was a look like desperation in her eyes. They'd done this before, and Aria knew that sometimes rope bondage was more therapeutic than anything else for Spencer, so she nodded resolutely and smiled when Spencer's shoulders slumped in relief. "Okay."
Spencer raised her index finger. "Just one more thing," she said, and grabbed her phone off the side table. She thumbed around on it before soft, classical piano music began to play, and Aria felt the tension begin to seep out of her body. "Mood set. Now…" She set about moving things around, clearing an empty space in the floor where they could work. Spencer was careful with scooting the easel Aria had set up by the window closer to the wall, and then she dragged a fluffy rug over to the newly cleared expanse of hardwood floor. "Voila."
Realizing that she was just sitting there numbly instead of offering to help, Aria straightened up and grabbed the rope—which was actually two separate lengths—and shears off the coffee table. Doing something had been her idea, after all, so she jolted herself into action. Getting to her feet, she strode over to where Spencer was meticulously straightening the rug with her foot—it was a nervous habit for Spencer, straightening things—and braced her girlfriend's narrow shoulders.
"Spence," said Aria, catching her eye. Her irises were a warm coffee color, lucid, but a bit bloodshot. Aria didn't think she was actively flashing back to anything, but she wanted to make sure. "Are you sure you're up for this?"
"I'm sure," Spencer said, with utmost certainty. "It'll calm me down. I… I need it, Aria."
Aria trusted her to know her limits, just like Spencer trusted Aria to make accurate calls to keep her safe, and she also knew that when Spencer brought need into it, she was better off in rope than out of it. Without it, she'd feel compelled to scrub her hands raw, would push Aria away in a paranoid effort to keep her safe. Because Spencer still remembered the blood on her hands, still had intrusive, unwanted thoughts about hurting people, but the restriction of the ropes took that doubt in herself away, made her feel secure. She couldn't hurt anybody tied up, and it was as simple as that.
It was fair, really, for Spencer to use bondage as a way to cope, if Aria was doing the same thing. It made Aria feel in control. Her panic attacks had come back with a vengeance a couple years ago, before they'd gotten into shibari, but they'd steadily become less frequent with meds from her psychiatrist and the mindfulness that was required to learn a new art form. It also made her feel good that she was helping her girlfriend and connecting with her on a deeper level, and it satisfied her desire, no, her need to take care of people. Taking a few rope safety classes had helped with her confidence level in that department, too.
"Alright," she said, rubbing Spencer's upper arms. "You want to do this clothed? Naked? Uh… half-naked?" She took a look at her outfit, making sure it didn't have any loose pieces that could get caught in the rope. Spencer was wearing a comfy Georgetown hoodie that she'd grabbed when the power first shut off and a pair of boxers. Aria knew she had a well fitted t-shirt on underneath the hoodie, and it would definitely be fine with the rope.
"Clothed." Spencer looked a little squeamish at the idea of shedding her clothes. Aria didn't blame her, because memories of that cold metal table still clung to her own spine. Being naked and this vulnerable with each other had taken some adjusting to after the dollhouse. Spencer especially had trouble with it, and Aria was always careful to ask how she'd be most comfortable when they played with rope. Right now, with the storm pushing them back into painful memories and also quite literally chilling the air, it was probably a good thing Spencer didn't feel like stripping.
"Just get rid of the hoodie and watch and you should be fine," Aria told her, and Spencer obliged, tugging it over her head and tossing it onto the couch. She also undid her watch and set it aside. Aria herself was plenty comfy in joggers and her own t-shirt, so, ready to get started, she had them both sit down cross-legged on the rug. She set her tools aside, pulled her hair back into a ponytail, and asked Spencer to do the same. Spencer opted for an adorably messy bun instead, and Aria gave her a thumbs up. That'd do.
"So I'm thinking I'll do a simple chest harness, arms behind your back," began Aria, weaving one of the ropes between her fingers. "And maybe a spiral futomomo on just one leg. Then you can just lay on your side and get some rest. Sound good?"
Spencer nodded. "Sounds great."
"You don't have to use the bathroom or anything before we start?"
"Green for good. Red for stop," said Spencer.
"Green, good. Red, stop," Aria repeated, just to make sure she understood. Spencer nodded her approval. "Okay, turn around."
Spencer maneuvered herself around until she was facing away from Aria, and then Aria got started, doubling up her rope.
With a firm grip, she took Spencer's wrists and folded her arms behind her back, baring them perpendicular to her spine. From there she secured the rope loosely around her forearms, then guided it diagonally up over her deltoid and brought it straight across her chest, checking tension and symmetry. She looped it around to the stem she'd created and then brought it back around again, doing her best to avoid the nerves in Spencer's upper arms.
Aria was pretty confident in her grasp of anatomy. It'd started when she'd burned through a book of basic anatomy for artists that her parents got her when she was ten, and since then she'd only learned more and more. She thought the human body was beautiful, loved studying its organic shapes and supple curves and hard edges.
Her girlfriend was, naturally, her favorite subject to admire. She had photos and drawings and paintings of Spencer, all trying to capture how lovely, how elegant she was. It was kind of turning into an obsession, which scared her some days, how easily she could turn into him. Exploiting women—teenage girls—for art's sake. But she got Spencer's explicit consent to craft each portrait, take each picture, and that eased her mind. She wasn't skulking behind her, but being up front and honest. Nowadays, besides safety, there was nothing Aria valued more than honesty, transparency. She wouldn't stand for anything else, and Spencer felt the same way, because she had similar scars when it came to being lied to. Which was how they'd been going so strong since high school, for years now.
Neither of them believed in marriage, but they were committed to each other. They had an unspoken agreement that what they had would last for lifetimes, because they'd been through so much together, learned how to communicate with each other, seen the best and the worst of each other, and at this point nothing could tear them apart. Aria had never felt more like herself than when she was with Spencer, and she thought it was ridiculous how long it took them to figure things out.
She still remembered their first kiss, vividly, because it had felt like finding the missing piece of herself. Spencer had helped her file the police report and Ezra had been led away in handcuffs. Toby had left town a long time ago, after Spencer ambushed him in a diner, wearing the black hoodie, and made him beg for forgiveness that she didn't end up giving. After Ali came back, they'd both been lonely and traumatized and grieving, so they did what they did before everything started: they leaned on each other. They learned that that was love. Love didn't chase you into the woods and leave you there, alone and screaming in the face of the ugly truth. It didn't, and it shouldn't tear you apart at the seams. And it shouldn't hurt so much that you flip a switch, dissolve into Jane Doe. It shouldn't turn you into prey, into a weak little creature that needs saving. It should turn you into a lion. Brave and bold and unafraid.
Aria had asked her to prom, kissed her hard when she said yes, and it was the bravest she'd felt in a very long time.
"Everything feel okay?" she asked, making sure Spencer could move her wrists if she needed to. Then, to check, she grabbed both of her hands, and Spencer squeezed them without a problem. "No tingling, numbness? Hands feel weak?"
"Nope. All green."
Satisfied—and grinning at Spencer's wordage—Aria continued to tie and wrap, running the ropes carefully across her skin. She paused every now and then to run her palms along Spencer's arms, just to feel her shiver at the sensation. There was silence for a while, except for the creak of the rope, the tick of the clock, and the rush of the rain still falling outside.
Aria had almost forgotten about it.
Finally, after doing another hand check, she was done with the upper half, and so she steered Spencer around, cautiously guiding her onto her back. Already, Spencer looked dazed, her expression blissed out, and the sight made Aria's heart beat faster, made her focus tighten until she was convinced she could feel the emotions radiating off of her girlfriend. She reached down and stroked Spencer's cheek with her thumb, smiling as Spencer smiled, and then Spencer tipped her face into Aria's palm to kiss it. Aria's heart fluttered.
"This is nice," Spencer murmured.
Gently, Aria folded Spencer's left leg up. "Must've been a genius that had the idea," she said, and Spencer's smile widened. "Seriously, though, how do you feel, babe?"
Spencer blinked, limply obeying as Aria secured the end of the second length of rope around her ankle. "Vaguely floaty," she said. "Relaxed. Safe. Green."
"Good." Making sure her calf was pressed to the back of her thigh, Aria began to wrap the rope around and up her leg. She adjusted it here and there so the tension was even all the way across, and then looped the rope around itself, weaving it under and over until she had a decent-looking pattern. It took some time, but she'd been practicing a lot and could do it fairly quickly now compared to when she'd first started.
Once she was finished and had checked that everything was loose enough to be safe, she helped to get Spencer onto her side, and her girlfriend looked impossibly peaceful as she lay there, one leg stretched out beneath the other. "You can rest now, Spence," Aria told her. "I'm gonna draw you while you do."
Spencer nodded mutely. Her eyes fluttered closed, and Aria was struck with a heady sense of pride. It felt amazing giving her permission to just sleep, made Aria feel like she was some kind of benevolent, all-powerful entity. And when she leaned away from Spencer, dragging her attention backwards and expanding it to all four corners of the room, she felt like she could see everything. Every miniscule detail. Lightning illuminated the room as she got to her feet, and she noticed how Spencer didn't flinch, and Aria didn't flinch, and Aria felt breathless for an entirely different reason than she had—what was it now? Thirty minutes ago? Either way, Aria counted the seconds in her head, and grinned when the thunder that followed came rolling in late, sounding distant and harmless. The storm had passed.
She padded on bare feet into the bedroom, nabbed her current sketchbook and a charcoal pencil off the desk they had shoved against the wall, and then hurried back to the living room, reluctant to leave Spencer alone. She stopped at the linen closet on her way and grabbed a soft blanket for later use, threw it over the back of the couch, and then settled down on the cushions to sketch out her girlfriend.
Flipping open her sketchbook to the next clean page, Aria took a moment to examine her muse, soaking in the details like a sponge. Swiftly, she roughed out an outline of the pose, and then went into the intricacies of it, focusing on the way the ropes hugged her chest and constricted her leg, expressing tiny things like the strand of hair that had fallen from Spencer's bun and was curled beneath her cheek. She worked steadily for another long expanse of time, feeling like she was getting the most out of this heightened state of being. She loved creating art in this headspace because she could see her mistakes more easily, could create a more coherent piece. She shaded the soft contours of Spencer's face, and listened as the rain trickled to a stop.
After a while, she started to come down as she sat there and drew, the tinny yet soothing piano music coming from Spencer's phone easing her transition. Spencer's breaths were deep and even by now, and Aria outlined the white fluff of the rug beneath her. Once she'd shaded it all and then added the finishing touches, she signed her initials in the corner and penned in the date so she'd remember.
The power clicked back on a few minutes later, when she had set aside her work and was just watching her girlfriend sleep. Spencer didn't even stir as the hum of appliances restarted and the lights clicked back on, bathing the room in comforting yellow light. Aria sat up and stretched her arms out, and then made her rounds, blowing out each of the candles Spencer had lit, shutting off Debussy, and then heading into the kitchen with the intent to make some tea. She grabbed a box of chamomile from the cupboard, put the water on the stove to boil, and then waited, leaned back against the counter so she could keep an eye on Spencer in the living room.
Her girlfriend slept soundly, didn't wake up even as Aria clattered pots and mugs around, busy pouring them both a mug and dropping the tea bags in to steep for a few minutes. When the timer beeped, that's when she saw Spencer shift, heard her take in a sharp, sudden breath, and her eyes opened.
"Hey, babe," said Aria, in the middle of adding honey to her own tea. Done with that, she grabbed a plastic container full of homemade granola bars and tucked it under her arm, then grabbed the mugs and brought them around the island counter, setting them down on the coffee table alongside the snacks. She strode over to Spencer, who was busy blinking the sleep from her eyes, and kneeled beside her, easing her onto her back so she could undo the ropes.
She started with her leg, gradually revealing strips of red, indented skin, and helped her stretch it out very slowly, admiring the way her muscles flexed. Then she guided her up into a sitting position and gradually worked the ropes binding her arms loose, her memory vivid as she worked backwards. Spencer stretched out all ten fingers, demonstrating that she still had feeling in them, and rolled her neck and shoulders out.
"How long was I out?" she asked groggily, and Aria glanced at the clock on the wall.
"Around forty minutes."
Spencer looked surprised at that, started to get to her feet, and Aria helped her, wedging her shoulder under Spencer's arm to keep her upright. "Wow."
"How do you feel?" Abandoning the ropes on the floor for now, they made their way over to the couch and sat down, and Aria wrapped the blanket around her girlfriend's shoulders, noticing how Spencer was trembling a bit.
Spencer slumped back into the cushions, a lazy grin stretching across her face. "Better. I feel like I could sleep some more."
"Go right ahead," Aria said, reaching for the tub of granola bars. "After you eat something. I don't want your blood sugar to get too low.
Spencer obliged, nibbling obediently on the bar Aria handed her. That was when she noticed Aria's sketchbook sitting open on the table, and her eyes lit up. "Holy shit, Aria," she said with a mouth full of granola. "That's amazing."
"Thanks, I'm pretty proud of it. Is it okay if I post this one online?"
"Go for it." Spencer leaned forward to pick up the sketchbook so she could look at it better. "The more people that see your art, the better." She shook her head with a sense of wonderment that had Aria's face heating up. "How in the world did you…?"
"Practice." Aria shrugged, grabbing her own granola bar to eat. The tea had cooled considerably while she was untying Spencer, so she took a tentative sip of it to wash down the granola, sighing contentedly as its warmth filled her belly. "Drink your tea. It's good."
Spencer finished her granola and set the sketchbook down, picked up her mug to take a big gulp of it. Aria hadn't put anything in it because Spencer liked it that way, and she wrinkled her nose as Spencer downed half of it.
"You know, I read somewhere that psychopaths like bitter foods."
Spencer looked at her over the rim of her mug, furrowing her brow. "Fascinating."
Aria playfully elbowed her in the ribs. "I'm calling you a psychopath. Or a masochist, at the very least."
"I gathered that." Spencer smirked, setting her mug down and grabbing another granola bar. "So what does your raging sweet tooth mean? Boundless empathy?"
"Yeah, probably," Aria teased. "Anyway, it makes sense. I've seen you eat toast. You'd have to be a masochist to like it burnt."
"It's good." Spencer acted offended, even though it was true. "So I've got special taste buds. Don't judge me."
There was laughter in her voice, and it made Aria laugh, too. It felt like the color was back in her life, she was so removed from where she'd been an hour ago, the storm raging outside, casting the room in gray tones. She shook her head fondly, leaning over to peck a kiss on Spencer's cheek. "I love you."
"Love you, too." Spencer turned her head, beckoning Aria in for a proper peck on the lips. Aria grinned as she pulled back from it, and Spencer kissed the tip of her nose, opened her blanket to invite Aria into the cocoon of warmth. She swaddled them in it and leaned them back, and Aria pulled her legs up so they were curled beside her. Spencer propped her feet up on the coffee table, grabbed the television remote, and Aria set about tracing the slowly fading marks on her thigh, feeling warm and content and so very happy like this.
The sky was still dark and overcast, but it was quiet, nighttime falling over them. They were huddled together for the second time that night, but as Aria rested her head on Spencer's chest, she found her girlfriend's heartbeat was significantly calmer. Steady and slow. Enough to lull her to sleep.
A/N: Hope you enjoyed this (not so) little blurb. Please leave a review letting me know what you think and thanks for reading :D