They turn in early for the night. Well, earlier than most nights. The sun has long since disappeared beneath the horizon. They often end the day with a trip to a jazz club or a quick—albeit violent—game of poker in the hideout. Tonight it’s the latter.
After Boxcars wins the third game in a row, he stands and leaves a grumbling Crew to get ready for bed. He goes through the regular motions, for the most part avoiding the other three as he does, then stalks off to his room.
But he doesn’t sleep.
He sits on the edge of his bed, listening to the rustling as the others prepare to sleep. It’s not more than five minutes until the last door slams. All is quiet. But still he sits there. And he waits.
Half an hour. Boxcars doesn’t need a clock to know it’s been that long. Not anymore, anyway. He’s done this enough times. Every night, in fact.
He stands again and tip-toes to his door, opening it slowly to reveal the main room, pitch black and empty. It seems like they’re all asleep, but he’s sure they’re not. At least two of the four are awake.
The floor creaks slightly underneath him as he walks around the table, not loud enough to be audible to anyone but himself. He stops in front of another door, with a red symbol on it, like his own. He doesn’t bother knocking, turning the handle and peaking into the darkness.
Narrowed white eyes stare back at him.
Without sharing a word, Boxcars walks inside and shuts the door behind him. He can feel Droog’s eyes boring into him, cold in more ways than one. He sits down on the edge of the bed. Lies down. Turns around.
He’s barely managed to get comfortable before Droog’s burying his face in his shoulder, arms and legs tangling with his in a desperate attempt to engulf himself in the larger man’s warmth. His shivering is almost contagious.
It began some time ago. How it began is a bit hazy, but why is clear.
They found each other first when they were exiled, way back when the planet was nothing but sand and heat. There were other exiles, but they were strangers. They didn’t stick around very long, either from lack of trust for unknown faces or their notoriety from the rebellion back on Derse.
It was just the two of them. For weeks—months, maybe—they traversed the desert alone, not really sure what they were looking for.
During those nights, this is what they did. When the sun went down the air became blisteringly cold. The rags around their shells weren’t enough to keep the nip of the air from seeping to their very cores. So they held each other, out of necessity. Out of desperation to survive.
They found Slick and Deuce, eventually. Even then, they still kept close at night, and the others understood. Survival. That’s all it was.
Then they started to build, and it wasn’t long before Midnight City was big enough that they could sleep alone in the warmth of bedsheets, rather than in the arms of another.
But something was wrong. With each passing day Droog looked weaker and weaker. He was good at hiding it. Little things gave him away, though. The way he slumped slightly when sitting in a chair. The spaced out look that crossed his features in the middle of conversations, followed by a ‘pardon?’ when it was his turn to speak. He kept his cool demeanor most of the time, but his movements seemed sluggish.
He was tired.
About a week after Boxcars noticed it all, he knocked on his door. In the middle of the night. Half an hour after everyone had gone to bed.
“Go away,” Droog said, but his voice was oddly unstable. When Boxcars opened the door, he found Droog clutching the sheets, and even in the darkness he could see him shivering. As if he was still out there. In the desert. Alone.
It scarred him, in some way. In a way that Boxcars has trouble understanding. Probably why Droog never brought it up. He’s a part of the Midnight Crew, so he should be able to deal with something as trivial as this. But for whatever reason, he can’t. The cold of the desert night is ingrained into his psyche, and no matter what he does, no matter how many blankets encase his body, he’s cold, shivering to the point that sleep is impossible.
Unless Boxcars is there.
That night, inspite of any protests Droog might have had, he crawled into bed with him, because hell, he couldn’t just leave him there like that. Droog fell asleep almost instantly.
He figured that would solve the problem, so he didn’t check on him the next night, but on the second day, Droog approached him. Casually. Calm. And he asked Boxcars to visit him that night again. Awkwardly. Flustered.
From then on it slowly became a routine. Every night, after half an hour, Boxcars goes to bed with Droog, waits until he’s stopped shivering and has fallen asleep, then leaves to sleep on his own. They never mention it otherwise. It’s just a thing that happens every day, and that’s all. No words needed. No strings attached.
Slick and Deuce still don’t know. They prefer to keep it that way.
But lately Droog seems to be getting over it. Now and then Boxcars will walk into his room, and he’ll already be asleep. No white eyes staring at him through the darkness. No trembling blankets.
He feels… disappointed, almost.
The shivering gradually lessens until Droog is motionless in his embrace. His breathing is almost inaudible, and the clutching of his limbs around Boxcars is gone, hands and feet limp. That’s his cue to leave. He pats the slimmer man’s back gently before making a motion to stand.
The grip around him tightens.
“Stay,” Droog grumbles. He’s half-asleep, if not completely. He doesn’t seem to need Boxcars there anymore. But he asks anyway. Demands it, really.
Boxcars frowns, hesitating. It doesn’t take him very long to decide. He sinks back into the sheets. Droog sighs into his shoulder and relaxes again. And for once it’s not because he’s cold, but because he wants him to be there. For once Boxcars isn’t rushing out of the room because he’s fulfilled an unspoken duty. For once he doesn’t need an excuse to hold him as if he’ll never let go.
For once, they fall asleep together, the desert a distant memory.