Sleep Stays as Far by Emachinescat
A Tales of Arcadia Fan-Fiction
Summary: Until Jim became a troll, he never realized how much he took sleeping for granted. And once human again, he finds himself struggling to do the very thing he missed so much. No rest for the weary, and all that. Febuwhump Day 6: insomnia
A/N: I'm so excited to share another Trollhunters story with everyone! This one plays with the idea that trolls don't really need to sleep, and the toll that takes on Jim when he's turned into one - and after. This takes place after and in the same universe as my stories "That I Should Fear a Door" and "Lest Back the Awful Door Should Spring," but it's not a direct sequel. Also, although this is whump, there's a lot of fluff too, especially near the end. Spoilers for the final season / ending of Trollhunters and Wizards. I hope you enjoy!
Sleep Stays as Far
So my thoughts are:
But sleep stays as far…
For sleeping, like death,
Must be worn without pride,
With a nod from nature,
With a lack of strain,
And a loss of stature.
- From "How to Sleep" by Philip Larkin
It's strange, isn't it, how human beings have a tendency to dismiss, or even grow to resent, things that, if taken away, they would miss very dearly?
Jim Lake grew up hearing that old idiom that parents love to impart upon their children crying for that which they don't have, "The grass is always greener on the other side." But never did it have more meaning to him than when he was turned into a troll and could no longer do a great number of things he had enjoyed as a human.
Eating normal human food was one, but his tastes changed with his body, and he soon adapted to his strange, newfound tastes. He really missed being able to go out in the sunlight. Walking through doorways without gouging grooves into the wood above with his horns was another.
Sleeping, though, was what he found himself missing the most.
It was funny, he thought wryly as he sat huddled in a corner of the cave he and his fellow travellers were currently occupying - just a month ago, sleep would have been at the very bottom of his to do list. After all, he was a teenager, and what teenager has time for sleep? Especially with his double life, Jim was used to working with very little sleep. And even when he did have a rare night off, he still usually stayed up until the wee hours of the morning playing video games or watching Netflix.
But now, it seemed, sleep wasn't something he needed. At first he'd been thrilled. He was finally able to stay up all night and not feel like he was trudging through quicksand the day after. As Claire was the only one in their party who was human and had to sleep, there were plenty of others to keep him company during the long nights. He trained with Blinky and Nomura, who, as a halfling, only slept about two hours a night, explored the world outside of whatever cave they happened to be staying in, and even played on his phone sometimes when things got quiet just before dawn.
Eventually, though, he found himself distancing from his trollish friends and sitting, lost in thought, most nights. Sometimes he would watch Claire sleep - not in a creepy way, just remembering what it was like to be able to curl up under a blanket and let the world fade away for a bit.
He'd had his battles with sleep before, and for a while, first after he'd returned from the Darklands, broken in so many ways, and then later, after healing wounds had been torn open by his arrest and forced journey into The Deep. For weeks after these occurrences, he had been terrified to let sleep claim him, as nightmares haunted his mind, throwing him back into the Darklands, into a cage, into a pit.
Time had passed, and he, with the help of his friends, had slowly begun to heal, and eventually, sleep became more of an escape from the stress and fatigue of trying to save the world from Eternal Darkness. He missed the way that he had been able to let go and just rest his mind and thoughts, even if the odd nightmare did show up and spoil his peace from time to time. Now, there was no release from the thoughts and fears and conflicting emotions swirling around inside of his head.
Once, he had tried to lie down, close his eyes, and just try to drift off. It hadn't worked, and he'd spent the entire night tossing and turning endlessly, and by the time he sensed dawn slithering its burning tendrils through the opening of the cave, he was ready to slam his head through a wall.
He'd also tried talking to his friends about it.
Claire was sympathetic, but it was clear that she didn't understand his dilemma. To her, an over-achiever who seemed to never have enough time to get everything she needed done, not having to sleep sounded like a dream come true.
Blinky frowned and began to wax philosophical about sleep being an abstract construct, and how it has often been believed to be a gateway between realities, and then got distracted by quoting the famous soliloquy from Hamlet ("to sleep, perchance, to dream").
He had hoped that he'd have better luck with Nomura, especially since talking to her had largely been what had gotten him through the trauma of the Darklands (and since she was a changeling and still needed a bit of sleep herself). She listened to his complaints, a slight frown on her face, green eyes studying him seriously. After he'd finished speaking, she'd contemplated his words, and Jim was sure she was about to say something wise or even fractionally helpful. Instead, she just growled, "I don't get it."
Tonight was worse than most. It had been a rough day, physically taxing, and his mind kept whirling in so many directions he felt as if he were being pulled apart. He missed his mom. He missed his bed and his old life and being able to feel the sun on his skin, and he was tired of seeing the unfamiliar, trollish face blink back at him every time he saw his reflection. He missed hanging out with Toby and Arrrggghh, missed eating fast food and cooking and even going to school.
And he was forced to trudge, wide-awake, through it all, with no rest from his thoughts, and it made him angry, and pulled at the aching hole that had been festering in his chest since the moment he'd become a troll.
Three Months Later
Another sleepless night.
This one was the worst yet, though, because somehow - Jim's mind was even now trying to come to terms with what all had happened - he was human again, after being mortally wounded, frozen in time (which didn't count as sleep because he had just stopped while encased in the crystal), turned into a full troll, had his mind taken over, and turned to stone. No one could explain exactly how it happened, not Blinky, not Douxie, the latter of whom, to be fair, had been in no shape to really offer his coherent thoughts on the matter after his fall from the clouds.
But did it matter? In the end, here he was, Jim Lake, Jr. once more. Fully human, with a few new scars to add to his collection. He could go outside in the sunlight and fit through doors. He was still reeling from the loss of his amulet - Blinky said he was in a state of shock and that it would hit him soon - but he had gotten to hug his mom with his own arms again.
And now, here he was, back in his own bed, exactly as he had yearned to be so much over the past few months. Jim's whole house was asleep, Toby and Claire were back home, probably asleep right now, too, and Douxie should be passed out from the muscle relaxers Jim's mom had prescribed him.
Everyone was sleeping. Jim had been dreaming of sleeping for weeks. Now that he had the ability to sleep once more, even though his eyes burned in exhaustion, he found that sleep evaded him just as it had done when he was a troll.
It wasn't that he had a lot on his mind. He did, but that wasn't why he couldn't sleep. He knew what sleeplessness from a cluttered mind felt like, and this wasn't it. It was like his body had physically forgotten how to fall asleep. Perhaps it had. If so, he was in trouble, because human-Jim needed sleep to survive.
He couldn't get comfortable, no matter how many times he changed position. His body ached with the pains of battle, and the bed was too soft after months spent sleeping on rock. Every little noise - a car passing outside, a distant police siren, the creak of wind through trees - grated on his nerves like someone was dragging fingernails across a chalkboard. Time slunk by, eluding him as much as sleep - at times he was sure it had stopped. Every time he glanced at the clock, it was as if no time at all had passed since he last checked.
By five in the morning, he admitted defeat and heaved his weary body out of bed, all but dragging himself into the shower and standing under the hot water long enough for the bathroom to fill with steam before he started to wash. He felt physically ill from exhaustion, and his head pounded in time with his heart. He'd hoped the shower would wake him up, or put him to sleep - he just wanted out of this limbo.
It did neither, and he left home without eating breakfast, too nauseated to consider eating anything even though human food was one of the things he'd missed out on as a troll. He got on his Vespa and drove off, not knowing where he was going, barely even caring.
He ended up at the overlook, the place where he'd first danced with Claire, and where she'd taken him for a picnic while stuck in the past. He remembered how it had felt to know he was going to die as soon as he returned to his own time, and how hard it had been to keep that from Claire, whose bright brown eyes had gleamed a future he'd been sure he'd never see.
He flopped down on the dewy grass and savored the feel of the first rays of sun on his face as dawn broke through the night. He knew his clothes would be damp and grass-stained when he got up.
He watched the sun rise over Arcadia, and for the first time since his return home, since he'd become human again, he felt a sliver of peace.
Still, he did not sleep.
This is how Claire found him at half past nine. Jim had left a note for his mom, telling her he'd gone out for a ride to clear his head, but he'd forgotten to text Claire to let her know. His phone was still at home on the bathroom sink, where he'd forgotten it.
Claire had known exactly where he was, though, and he saw the concern in her eyes from the moment she stepped out of her Shadow portal. "Jim, your mom was worried about you," she said matter-of-factly. She moved over to his side and sat down.
"I told her I went out."
"Yeah, but you didn't say where or why, and you left your phone. Here." He took the device she offered him and slowly, painfully propped himself up on his elbows. She studied his face with her lips pressed together in worry. "You look awful."
Jim chuckled. "Yeah, I don't feel so hot, either."
"Did you get any sleep last night?"
Jim laughed again, this time hollowly. "Not a wink." He scrubbed the back of his hand across his eyes. They felt gritty and prickled like he'd just finished chopping a particularly potent onion. "I don't get it," he went on in frustration. "I went without sleep for weeks, and I thought I'd never get a proper night's rest again. But then - whatever it was - happened, and I'm me again, and I still can't fall asleep." A horrible thought occurred to him. "What if being a troll broke something inside of me? What if I never sleep again?" He could hear his voice rising in speed and pitch. "How long can a human go without sleep?"
Claire took one of his hands in one of hers. With her other hand, she cupped the side of his face. He leaned into the touch. "Don't worry, Jim," she reassured him. "You've just been through a lot. Your entire physiology's reworked itself so many times that the rest of you is probably still trying to catch up. Plus, you've got a lot on your mind."
"Yeah," he agreed glumly. He yawned.
"You know," Claire said suddenly, tone brightening. "Maybe you haven't been able to sleep because you don't feel safe yet. After all, you've been through so much lately. As a troll, maybe you forgot that humans need to feel safe before they can fall asleep."
Jim quirked an eyebrow at her. "You seemed to have no trouble falling asleep throughout our travels," he commented. "In caves and gorges and once in an abandoned shipping container. You couldn't have felt safe in any of those places, away from home and lying on the hard ground."
Claire shook her head as if marveling at how dense he was. "There was never a night that I didn't feel safe, Jim."
Jim blinked. He was so tired. "Oh yeah," he realized. "There were tons of trolls guarding you."
"No, dummy," Claire sighed, smoothing a stray lock of hair off of his forehead. "I felt safe because I was with you."
"Oh," said Jim blankly. Then realization dawned. "I feel safe with you, too."
"Hold that thought." She smiled warmly at him, gave him a quick peck on the cheek, and rose to her feet. "I brought something I think you'll like. Just a sec." She hurried back to her bike, and he heard her tug something out of the front basket. She returned with a purple and pink checked picnic blanket and together they spread it on the grass and laughed as the wind almost blew it away, off the overlook. They plopped down on it, side by side, in a desperate attempt to keep it from escaping.
Two hours later, Toby came looking for his friends and found them on the grassy knoll overlooking Arcadia. They were lying on a blanket underneath a blue, cloud-specked sky with the noon sun keeping watch over them. They were curled up close to one another, wrapped in each other's arms, fast asleep.
Toby smiled and let them rest.
A/N: And there we go - I hope you enjoyed! If you liked this, I've got a few other Tales of Arcadia stories out right now, all in the same universe as this one, so I encourage you to check those out if you haven't already. :) Anyway, thanks so much for reading - I'd love to know what you thought!