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Nightmares

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andrew couldn’t sleep.

it had been a few hours since he realized it was pointless to even try. or maybe it had only been a few minutes; it was impossible to say. the hours passed as though they were days and those days could never find an ending.

andrew rarely slept.

sometimes it was easier when he was alone. there was no body pressed up against him, nothing reminding him of all those nights where he’d been unable to protect himself. no shallow breathing, no heartbeat underneath his palm. no one he trusted sleeping next to him, letting his guard down, only to wake up in a sweat unsure of where he was and who was next to him.

sometimes it was harder when he was alone. there was no body pressed up against him, nothing reminding him that all those nights were finally behind him. no shallow breathing, no heartbeat underneath his palm and no one he trusted sleeping next to him. nothing to remind him when he woke up in a sweat that he was safe. he was safe.

that was one of the reasons andrew didn’t sleep; he never knew who he would be when he woke up.

he didn’t have nightmares every night. some nights were good. some nights he fell asleep and didn’t wake up until the sun was up with him. other nights were bad. other nights he fell asleep and was haunted by all the reasons he had to sleep with his back to the wall. he would wake up with his nightmares lingering and sometimes it was easier to find himself alone, but sometimes it wasn’t.

there were also the nights where he never even got around to falling asleep. the nights where he knew those memories would haunt him through closed eyelids before he even closed them. some nights it was easy to fight sleep, but some nights it wasn’t. there were some nights where he had no choice but to face it.

and then there were nights like this one. the nights where he would have accepted sleep and could possibly even enjoy it. not that he would ever know, though. he’d been laying here for dangerously long hours and his eyes would not stay closed. it was rare that he asked them to, but tonight he did and tonight they didn’t listen.

andrew had been avoiding the dim gaze of the clock for an indiscernible amount of time. the persistent checking of time only made it slower and it was already moving slow enough. but now he caught the faint glow of it and he could no longer ignore it. it was beckoning to him. he looked.

3:59am. which meant he had been lying awake for four hours and 32 minutes. which meant the sun would be rising in approximately 64 minutes. give or take.

there was no reason for andrew to be in bed when there was no chance of sleep presenting itself tonight. other than, perhaps, hope, which he’d never been a keen believer in. the only other thing keeping him in bed was the lone example that suggested he was capable of kindness. perhaps the word wasn’t kind, though. considerate, maybe. whatever it was, it was the only thing keeping him from abandoning the bed that would not be seeing any sleep tonight. from him, anyways.

the issue was that the bed was tucked away in the corner of the room, right against the wall. and andrew, like usual, slept on the inside with his back to said wall. if he did want to get up it would not be easy to do so without disturbing the person who was actually sleeping.

andrew stared at the silhouette of neil as he had been all night. when the night had begun, neil had been tucked right next to him with his bare back against his bare chest, legs tangled together, and andrew’s arm protectively curved around his waist. now distance presented itself between andrew and the one person that could sometimes make sleeping a little easier. it had gotten hot as andrew had attempted to force sleep and he could no longer deal with the warmth of another person sidled up against him. his back now touched the wall, but his arm remained outstretched and his fingers lightly brushed against bare skin. underneath his faint touch, neil shivered. a natural reaction; it didn’t mean the two were both in a state of consciousness. andrew drew back his hand, but hesitated. his fingers hovered above neil’s waist before making a decision. he placed his hand back on his bare skin and let it stay there.

something about the touch made andrew feel very unlike himself. it was so innocent and gentle; it meant to cause no harm. there was only warmth and comfort, words that had never been affiliated with andrew. and yet that’s what he felt. with his hand holding onto the only thing in his life that had ever been stable, andrew didn’t feel afraid. he didn’t dread sleeping - whether he could or not - and he didn’t feel angry. all he felt was a sense of peace flood his chest.

the fact that he didn’t feel afraid was enough to scare him. andrew retrieved his hand and held it close to his own chest, cradling it as though it were tainted. it was, in a sense. andrew had never been used to the idea of safety. that was never a concept that had been offered to him, so why would it be now?

andrew had been dealing with demons his entire life; who was to say this still form sleeping next to him was not another one? he’d been offered a sense of security and it was enough for him to let his guard down, but what if that was the point? what if he was no longer watching his back close enough so he didn’t see when the person who made him feel safe proved to him why that was never an option?

it was easier to not let people in. stay closed off, stay on guard, don’t get hurt. he wouldn’t let himself be hurt by somebody who looked at andrew like he was a place to call home.

andrew closed his eyes; sometime that was easier.

he was safe. there was no one in this room that would hurt him. he knew that, but it was hard to really know it. he wished he wasn’t the only one awake. it would be easier to reassure himself that this body next to him would never hurt him if he could see neil and not just another person.

sometimes being awake was harder.

andrew, as quietly as he could manage, got out of bed. he moved to the foot of the bed and eased himself onto the floor, careful not to make any noise. the door made a slow creak as he pulled it open and he stopped. he glanced back to the bed he’d just abandoned.

from this angle, with the curtain drawn back slightly and the moon pooling through the sliver of revealed window, he saw what he was running away from.

it was hard to remember all of the horrible and scarring things neil had done when all andrew could see was the innocence on his sleeping face. it was hard to imagine this boy being someone who had to bury his dead mother while running from his mafia-involved father and spat vicious, death-enticing words at someone who could - and would - easily tear his life apart.

this was another person entirely. this was someone who could take andrew apart with one gentle touch and held onto andrew so lightly when he couldn’t sleep, either. this was someone who believed the two of them deserved to be safe and deserved each other. he believed they were more than their trauma.

andrew wanted to believe that, too. neil made it easier to believe.

but right now this room was full of thoughts that andrew no longer wanted to believe and he needed an escape. neil remained motionless, so andrew slipped past the door and shut it as quietly as he could.

it was brighter out here. moonlight spilled through the kitchen window and cast a soft glow throughout the room. it felt safer out here. he thought if he crawled onto the couch he would probably be able to fall asleep, but he no longer wanted sleep. he wanted to breathe.

andrew stepped outside onto the balcony and let the door fall shut behind him. mid-august left the air with a sticky heat that clung to skin. the summer had been unusually hot which stuck around even into the night. andrew didn’t mind the heat, though. there was something about the prickling warmth that reminded him he was alive. and he was awake.

and he was safe.

out of habit, andrew intended to grab cigarettes. he had barely moved his hand from his tight grip on the railing when he recalled there was no possible place he could be storing them. the only article of clothing he wore was boxers and he no longer had a backup. the armbands he’d once sported everywhere he went - even in sleep - no longer took up constant residency on his arms. he still wore them when he went out in public or on the rare occasion people were over, but when it was just him and neil he had found no need for them.

smoking was also no longer the habit it once was. he still had a cigarette in a stressful situation or after a particularly bad nightmare, but he didn’t depend on them the way he once did. neil had quit altogether nearly a year ago, but andrew could see the change in his eyes whenever he caught the scent. it was the way he looked when he thought of his mother. there was something dangerous and sad in that look and it was the reason andrew had cut back. not that he would ever tell neil that.

with nothing else to do with his hands, andrew drummed his fingers against the railing. the city beneath him was lit up, but it was quiet. few cars roamed the streets and even fewer people. he could hear the murmur of music playing in the far off distance; far enough away that all he could pick up on was the rhythm of the bassline.

andrew closed his eyes. the air was already thick and humid. it was clear the ensuing day would be another hot one. soon, the sun would be rising and the streets would be filled with life. people would be waking up because they had been asleep and they would head off to work. andrew would still be at home because exy was in its off-season. perhaps he would finally fall asleep, or maybe he would remain awake. maybe the thoughts that kept him awake all night would not disappear with the moon and stars, rather follow him into the day. that happened sometimes.

sometimes the day was no easier than the night.

the door behind him opened.

just like with the cigarettes, andrew’s instinct was to retrieve his knives from his armbands. whoever was behind him would not get to him before he could get to them. unlike with his cigarettes, andrew’s mind pulled ahead of his actions. he remained staring straightforward with great restraint.

he knew who it was. he knew the person now with him on the balcony was the same person he’d just left behind in his bedroom, but old habits died hard. and on a night like this one it was hard not to imagine another person from many other nights finding him in an enclosed space where he had no way out. now he had no armbands and no knives tucked away which meant he had nothing to protect himself.

but there was nothing to protect himself from, because he was safe.

even still, andrew felt his shoulders stiffen as the door fell shut. there was a presence right behind him now and he heard footsteps moving closer to him, but he still looked forward. there was no sense in turning when he knew exactly who it was.

neil stood next to him now. there was enough space between them that another person could almost stand in the middle if they were small enough. but andrew knew he wasn’t alone and maybe that made this easier. maybe.

andrew realized the sun was beginning to rise. right in front of him the sky was lighter and stars were beginning to disappear. it faded into a pale blue that met with a dim orange at the horizon. a new day and it felt like the previous one hadn’t even ended.

neil was looking at andrew now and andrew didn’t need to be looking back to know that. neil had the type of gaze that was piercing and impossible not to feel. or maybe that was just the way he looked at andrew. andrew had never been able to figure out whether he hated that look or loved it; he had the same dilemma with neil, himself. andrew stopped himself from looking back for as long as he could, but it became difficult to resist the pull neil had over him. he looked.

andrew saw that neil was as awake as andrew was.

he didn’t look like somebody who had just been woken up. he looked like someone that had been lying awake for hours, trying to find someway to convince himself to fall asleep with no success. it was the same way andrew looked.

more importantly, andrew felt relief when he saw neil.

this was the neil that had buried his mother’s bones on the beach. it was the neil who had spent his life running from his father and had been nearly murdered by him because he’d been trying to keep andrew safe. this was the same neil that held onto andrew when neither of them could sleep, and could make andrew - with his eidetic memory - forget everything he knew with one kiss. neil could tear andrew apart as easily as he could keep him together; the reverse was also true.

but there was nothing about neil that scared andrew. neil would never hurt him in the same way that he would never hurt neil, and sometimes it was harder to wake up alone, but right now andrew never wanted to be alone again.

andrew slid closer to neil so they were only a breath apart. neither of them said anything because neither of them had words that would make a difference. but neil offered his hand to andrew and that was enough. andrew slid his hand into neil’s, their fingers laced together, and he let out a breath. it was a breath of fear he had been unable to shake until now, and now it was only air.

sometimes being awake was easier when he wasn’t alone, and even easier when he wasn’t the only one awake. sometimes being awake was easier when he could watch the sun rise and feel the comfort of a palm warm against his own. sometimes neil made being awake easier.

there was nothing to be afraid of; andrew was safe.