Fighting for Everything:A Warrior Fight Club Novel(7)

By: Laura Kaye

“You can’t,” he bit out on a quick shake of his head. God, the closer she got, the less air there was in the room. And, ah, hell, the fact that he’d been all over her right before he’d fallen to pieces just made it that much worse. He’d just felt so bad and she’d felt so good and he’d broken and given in to the sheer need to feel better. Just for a little while.

What an asshole he was to use her that way. His best friend.

And then the fireworks. They’d been over for what felt like several long minutes, but his body didn’t seem to be unwinding one damn bit.

“I’m not leaving.” She met him glare for glare, and he could see her digging in.

“Should,” he managed.

She shook her head and ignored him entirely. “Was it the fireworks?”

Noah heaved a shuddering breath. She wasn’t going to back off. Part of him loved her for that, because he would’ve done the same thing if their positions had been reversed. But their situations weren’t the same. Because he hadn’t weathered a lifetime of living with a father who had a habit of deciding he no longer needed his meds, which would lead to a sometimes months-long episode of troubling or even dangerous behavior that sometimes resulted in the police being called to assist in an involuntary hospital admission. But even when he was on his meds, Mr. Moore sometimes believed he was an undercover agent involved in covert investigations, investigations he’d actually pursue when he was out in public—though he only made admissions quite that revealing when he was doing worse.

Damn if Noah didn’t now have a helluva lot more insight into what Mr. Moore might’ve been facing all these years. It wasn’t the man’s fault that he perceived the world differently, and it wasn’t Noah’s either. He knew that. But that didn’t mean either of them were always easy for the others in their lives to handle. And the last thing Noah ever wanted to do was burden Kristina with his own mental health issues. She had enough to deal with.

And he was hanging on by a very thin thread.

“Kris,” he managed, hands fisting against his thighs.

“Sshh,” she said. “Just breathe for a minute.” She rose in a flourish of pink cotton, disappeared into his bathroom, and returned a moment later with a cup of water. “See if this will help.”

Hating the feeling that she was nursing him, he accepted the cup in his hand, knowing he wouldn’t be able to hold it steady even as a little water sloshed over the rim. Noah sucked half of it down in one greedy gulp. It eased his throat and cooled the hottest edge of the fire inside his chest.

“Thank you,” he whispered, his head dropping back against the wall. He closed his eyes and wished he could will the whole world away.

“Have you had panic attacks like this before?”

Noah kept his eyes closed and clamped down on the knee-jerk reaction to snap at her. He was going to have to give her just enough to get her to back off, wasn’t he? Fine. He’d go with the basics he gave his family.

“Have had panic attacks before. Normal consequence of the TBI, apparently,” he said, referring to the traumatic brain injury caused by an IED blast that had taken out a lot of his unit and stolen half of his hearing and sight.

The real shit of the situation was that the wiring in his brain was so fucked up not just because of that one blast, but also because he’d experienced dozens of blasts over the course of his military career. Maybe even more than a hundred. And it turned out that blast waves played punching bag with your brain coming and going and had a cumulative effect his neurologists said they were just starting to fully understand.

Which was apparently why the hit he’d taken had fucked him up as bad as it did. It’d been the final straw that had broken the already-beat-up camel’s back.

All that was a real bitch to learn after the fact for someone who’d served in the 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, which handled anything and everything having to do with explosives—breaching doors and roofs, ordnance disposal, demolitions, minefield construction, and sweeping operations, to name a few.

He gulped more water. “Never this bad before, but it’s also the first time I’ve heard fireworks since I’ve been back.”

If he never heard them again, it would be too soon.

“And the fireworks…sounded like…shooting?” she asked carefully.

Noah lifted his head, guilt and embarrassment swamping his gut. “Look, I didn’t mean to freak you out. Especially given…” His gaze flickered to the bed.

“Don’t apologize, Noah. It’s not your fault,” Kristina said. “I only care that you’re okay. Are you at least…talking to someone about this?”

He nodded. “I got a guy.” And a bad habit of canceling appointments, but she didn’t need to know that. Problem was that the more he talked about all of it, the more the nightmares plagued him. And the last thing he wanted to do was waste his or the doc’s time by quietly staring at the carpet in the guy’s office for an hour a week. Being forced to talk didn’t help.

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