It's a Cruel World, Sir

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27 | Panic Attack

I wake with a start, blinking at my surroundings. At first, I’m confused. Even in the dark, I can tell I’m not in my room because the ceiling looks too rundown to pass Mother’s inspection. Then someone next to me shifts, and I look over just in time to see Whitler pull the covers over her head.

Right. We’re at Chase’s. We stayed here after…

My heart starts racing, head pounding.

What the hell…?

Annoyed, I carefully slip out of the covers and crawl over Nikki. She’s dead to the world after she falls asleep, unlike Whitler, who usually wakes up the moment someone moves. Both of them are passed out, though, clearly exhausted from days without sleep.

Trying to keep from waking them, I crack the door open and look down the hall. The living room lights are off, so I creep into the bathroom and turn on the water, washing my face.

For some reason, I can’t calm down. I think it’s why I woke up: all of a sudden, I was in fight or flight mode with a pounding headache and a racing heart. I can’t remember having a nightmare, but I must have because I’m definitely shaking. My hands are practically vibrating as I put them under the faucet again.

“Vixen?”

I jump, throwing water everywhere.

Chase is standing in the doorway, somehow managing to make the crooked door look even smaller.

“What’re you doing?” I hiss quietly.

“Are you okay?” he asks instead.

“What?” I demand, wiping my hands on my shirt.

He follows the movement, catching my hands with his. “You’re shaking,” he states.

I rip away from him. “I’m fine,” I grumble. “I’m just…” But I don’t know what I am.

“You’re panicking,” he answers softly. “It’s normal.”

“Panicking?” I scoff, rolling my eyes. “What would I be panicking about?”

He sighs, leaning against the door. “You were attacked, love,” he says easily. “And it should have been the first thing we addressed, but it wasn’t, and that is entirely my fault.”

“Why should it have been the first thing?” I ask absently, trying to talk over the sound of my heart in my ears. “It’s not like he could do anything.”

“I know I got there before anything too dastardly could happen, but that doesn’t change the fact that you were kidnapped, tied up, and beaten. It’s completely normal to be panicking.”

“How is it normal to be panicking now? I’ve been safe for hours!”

“Because the adrenaline has worn off,” he says easily. “Everything happened so fast—you haven’t had time to process it.”

“I don’t need you to be my therapist, Chase,” I grouse out, yanking a towel off of the broken rack.

“I don’t want to be your therapist,” he says. “I’m afraid it would be unethical for me to be your therapist and your lover.”

I stop wiping the water up, completely frozen.

I’d expect him to snicker if this wasn’t serious. “Are you listening to me now?”

“Sadly, I’m always listening,” I mutter.

“Now that I have your attention,” he continues, unphased, “you can’t avoid it forever, Vixen. If you hold it in and shut it off, it will get worse.”

“I just woke up feeling on edge—that’s all!” I defend, looking down at the counter. “My heart’s beating stupid fast because that’s what it does when you’re around, and my hands won’t listen to me because… because… I don’t know! But I’m not panicking.”

“It’s okay, love,” he says softly, stepping closer to me. “You’re safe here.”

I put my hand up to stop him, but it’s shaking so badly that I grab the counter instead. The room’s starting to spin, and I’m very aware of the fact that I’m not breathing. “What’s wrong with me!?” I demand, trying to keep from crying.

“You’re having a panic attack,” he explains calmly. “You need to ground yourself.”

“How!?”

He grabs my hand and puts it to his chest. There’s no heartbeat, but I can feel something thrumming as he takes a deep breath. “Focus on me, love. Breathe in slowly.”

I listen to him, trying to remember how breathing works. Nothing feels solid, though. Not even him.

“Hey. It’s okay. I’m right here. Nothing’s going to happen. Just follow my lead.”

I squeeze my eyes shut and try to listen to him, taking a breath and holding it. He counts to three, the sound reverberating all the way to the center of his chest, and I focus on that, balling his shirt in my fist.

“One more time.”

I manage to breathe in shakily, listening to him count, before letting it out.

“Good girl.”

My legs are so numb, I collapse, falling into a heap on the ground.

Chase doesn’t say anything. Instead, he joins me, sitting on the grimy floor without a word.

“I think I’m losing my mind,” I say, voice cracking.

He shakes his head. “You just need time, love. It’s not going to get better over night.”

“This never happened before, but it’s happened twice today alone!” I admit without really meaning to.

“Twice today?” he parrots.

My mouth closes with a click.

Shit. I didn’t mean to say that.

“What are you talking about?” he wonders. “When did it happen earlier?”

“I… It’s stupid,” I deflect.

“Somehow, I doubt I’ll agree with that assessment.”

I cover my face with my hands, groaning as I rub my eyes.

How is it possible that I’m tired and wired at the same time?

“Fine. Whatever. I give up,” I grouse out. He wants to know? Then I’ll tell him. “It was after I walked out of your class.”

His face is suspiciously blank. “After you lost your temper?”

I nod once, almost defiant.

He returns it, a finger going to his chin as he starts thinking. “What happened?”

“I was just… I was confused. You ignored me, and I was angry, but it didn’t feel like the normal anger. It was… heavier, I guess, and it felt like it was suffocating me or something. The room was spinning, but I couldn’t move, like my legs were lead, and I kept thinking about how I hadn’t been disappointed in so long that I forgot what it was like. And then there was this voice that reminded me how ridiculous it was to be disappointed in you when Leon and Whitler were threatened and I was freaking out over… over… over being disappointed. I mean, how stupid could I—”

“Vixen.”

His voice is so deep with emotion that it stops my rambling immediately, and I finally notice that he’s closer now, a hand on mine.

“I apologize,” he says.

His eyes are almost a luminescent silver, making me blink.

“What? Why?”

“Because you were right earlier, and I should not have acted that way,” he explains. “I let something inconsequential cloud my judgement and ended up hurting you. For that, I apologize.”

“You don’t have to apologize,” I say quickly. “I don’t know what was wrong with me, but—”

“I thought we had moved past you taking the blame for everything?” He pointedly looks at me.

I close my mouth.

“You are correct to an extent—there are things that are more pressing than what is currently brewing between us—but there is nothing ‘stupid’ about something that affects you so much, it causes you to spiral into a panic attack,” he says, thumb rubbing the back of my hand. “Your feelings are always valid and important, no matter what is happening around you.”

I rub the tears away with my free hand and glare at him. “Why do you always say the exact opposite of what I expect?”

His answer is a kiss on the back of my hand.

My face burns, but I push ahead, trying to ignore the embarrassment. “How come this is all happening now?”

“Because you never let yourself feel anything before,” he answers almost off-handedly, like it’s the most obvious thing in the world.

I glare at him. “For someone who’s not my therapist, you sure are acting like one.”

He chuckles. The sound makes my heart race for a different reason. “A bad habit, I’m afraid,” he says. “Although, I was being serious when I said that I’m not trying to be one.”

“Why not?” I wonder, trying to distract myself.

“Two reasons. One: it really is unethical to fraternize with a client, and we are clearly more than therapist and client. Two: I’m far too biased when it comes to you.”

I blink. “Biased?”

“Yes.”

“How?”

“In so many ways,” he says, chuckling wryly.

“That doesn’t really answer the question,” I grump.

“Do you want the technical or layman’s terms?” he asks, smirking.

I think about it. “Both,” I decide, knowing that it’ll keep him talking, and there’s something ironically human about him when he’s talking about psychology.

He raises an eyebrow, surprised, before he smirks and shakes his head. “If only you looked so interested in class,” he says.

I glare at him, but it just makes him laugh.

“We haven’t talked about biases, but there are several types. The one that I find the most when it comes to you is what psychologists call “in-group favoritism,” which simply means that I tend to favor those in a specific group of people over those outside of that group.”

“Like the kids at Cheshire,” I say.

He nods. “Delinquents have always been more interesting to study.”

“And what could be more interesting than outcasts in a school full of delinquents,” I mutter.

He smiles, a hand going through my hair. “Yes, well, a sub-category under ‘in-group favoritism’ is called the ‘halo effect’ or ‘halo error.’ It’s a bias that is more commonly found in marketing, though it works in this instance because of how highly I think of you.”

I slip my hand into his without thinking. “H-highly? Of me?”

He nods. “Because I think so highly of you, I automatically think poorly of those who are against you, despite no evidence supporting it.”

“Why… why would you think that highly of me?” I wonder in disbelief.

“You don’t see what your friends and I see in you yet, but you have to understand that you are strong and selfless in every sense of the word, even to those who are undeserving,” he says, making my face heat up. I squeeze his hand absently, trying to distract myself from the embarrassment, and his eyes drop to my lap, where I have his hand in mine, before looking back up at me, eyes silver. “And utterly tantalizing,” he finishes.

Now my face is burning, especially when his other hand comes up and grazes my cheek, thumb brushing my bottom lip.

“I… I don’t know what to say.”

“There’s a first time for everything,” he murmurs, leaning in to give me a soft kiss.

Everything feels hot as he sits back, smirking easily. “Another good example of why I can’t be your therapist.”

“What?”

“You were panicking just moments ago, and I got too caught up in how bewitching you are when you’re so unassuming.”

“I’m fine now,” I grumble.

“Your heart is still racing, Vixen,” he points out.

“That’s not because I’m panicking, asshole; it’s because you kissed me!”

He smirks. “Is that so?”

I glare at him. “Wipe that stupid smug look off your face,” I grouse out.

“Forgive me,” he says, mocking humility.

“You know what? I’m going back to bed,” I declare, standing up. There’s a moment when I wobble, nearly falling, but I manage to grab Chase’s shoulder and steady myself.

“Perhaps you should rest more—give yourself some time to calm down and process,” Chase offers from his seat on the floor.

“No,” I say instantly.

“Vixen.”

“Don’t ‘Vixen’ me,” I growl. “I’m too tired to ‘process’ anything.”

“And you’re too panicked to walk properly,” he points out.

“I’m standing just fine, thank you!”

He raises a brow, easily moving his shoulder out of my grip without warning. I teeter and nearly face-plant, but he catches me easily, placing me on his lap with a smirk.

“Have I mentioned how much I hate you?” I grumble, situating myself more in between his legs instead of on top of them.

“Yes. I’m quite fond of you as well,” he says with an insufferable smirk.

“Whatever,” I grumble.

“Just breathe and focus on me, Vixen,” he instructs. “Everything will solidify soon.”

I sigh and give up, laying my head against his shoulder. Despite the fact that I’m nowhere near the center of his chest, I can still feel a thrum of some sort. It’s not a heartbeat—it’s too steady, too constant, to be a pulse.

“What keeps you alive?” I wonder out loud.

He chuckles. “Where did that question come from?”

“Well, you don’t have a heartbeat,” I mutter, “but I can still feel something against my cheek right now.”

“Ah. That would probably be essentia,” he explains.

“Like the stuff you gave me?”

“More or less,” he says. “Technically, there are different types of essentia. One type is pure, unfiltered, human essentia, more commonly known as the ‘soul.’ Another type is filtered essentia, which is what sustains us. The latter is what I gave you.”

“Unfiltered… Wait.” I sit up and look at him. “Do you eat human souls?”

He tilts his head, actually thinking about it. “Yes and no.”

“That’s not an answer.”

“That’s because the answer is complicated,” he says, trying to find the words. “I’m assuming you’ve heard of reincarnation, yes?”

I nod.

“In order for a soul to be ‘reincarnated,’ a Comoinis has to imbibe it. Mostly, to keep the balance, we only imbibe souls of those who didn’t really live during their time.”

“You mean people who just go through the motions or something?”

It’s his turn to nod. “Yes, essentially. Sometimes, a Comoinis will act out and consume the soul of someone too selfless or someone too selfish, but, as long as it doesn’t happen often, there aren’t repercussions.”

I yawn. “That’s so… weird.”

He chuckles. “Don’t you mean ‘barbaric?’ You’re aware that I’m talking of devouring the souls of your kind, aren’t you?”

I shrug, resting my head against his shoulder again. “You’re also talking about how those who are ‘imbibed’ or ‘devoured’ or whatever you wanna call it are reincarnated,” I say easily.

“You accept things too readily,” he says, but there’s a hint of amusement in his voice.

Another yawn. “I just accept you,” I mumble, closing my eyes.

He pauses, silence falling in the room except for my breathing and the strangely comforting thrum coming from Chase.

Softly, as if I’m not supposed to hear it, Chase whispers, “I can’t win against you, can I?”


This took forever. And when I say forever, I don’t mean that because it’s been a solid 6 months since I’ve updated; I mean it because I’ve been working and reworking and overworking this stupid chapter that entire time. Like, I think I started this chapter four months ago? Got the first page and then just died? Unfortunately, I was revived when I decided to go to grad school about a month before applications were due because I don’t hate myself enough apparently. (That’s a joke, cupcakes. I swear. I’m okay. Don’t worry. I’m not contemplating my life decisions at all. Promise.)

Happy New Year! Ironic that I finally update in 2021. Oh, well~ I hope this chapter made sense, and you all enjoyed it! I’m gonna go finish Chuang 2020 and then work on some homework before editing this chapter for the 50th time~

Happy reading, cupcakes~

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