Nightmares are part of his life now. It’s been years, and while they’ve diminished in frequency, the demon still shows up in his sleep. It’s never fun, never nice, but at least Merlow knows, now, that there’s nothing it can do to actually hurt anyone. It’s just an image, just an old terror made easier to banish with time that likes to lurk in his subconscious and pounce when he’s not paying attention.
The problem is mostly that it’s such a very real image, and his sleeping mind likes to twist it into horrible fears long since laid to rest. The demon is not going to show up and it’s not going to try to take over him and Merlow certainly is not, is never going to hurt anyone he cares about, anyone he loves, will never be responsible for hurling a lance of demonic energy straight through Nocturne’s chest. The light in Nocturne’s eyes isn’t going to fade, he’s not dead, it’s not, no, never at Merlow’s hands -
But his nightmares disagree, and Merlow finds himself awake, shaking like a leaf, tears burning his cheeks, hands twisted in his hair despite the loose sleeping braid he’d bound it up in. The mattress shifts beside him, and Merlow shakes his head automatically as Nocturne sits up, presumably blinking the sleep from his eyes.
Presumably. Merlow has to assume he is only because he’s seen Nocturne wake a hundred times before and that’s simply what Nocturne does , but the world is hot and hazy through his tears and he can’t turn to look, so he has to guess, in that little corner of his mind that is whispering logic and comfort to him, echoing the sentiments that Nocturne soothes him with every time a nightmare wakes him.
It’s easier to listen to that corner when Nocturne’s hand slides across his back and curls gently around his shoulder, warm and solid and real in a way that the dream hadn’t been. It’s an anchor, and though Merlow can’t really hear Nocturne aside from a gentle baritone rumble through his harsh breathing and desperate tears, he can cling to that. Can cling to the real, solid presence of his love, of Nocturne’s beloved hands at his shoulder and upper arm.
“‘Twere me,” Merlow finally manages to croak through his sobs, turning stiffly to look up at Nocturne, whose reassurances fade as Merlow speaks. “‘Twere me, love, I killed ye, ‘twere me. ”
Nocturne sighs. “Come here,” he says quietly, pressing gently on Merlow’s shoulder. With a sob, Merlow willingly turns into Nocturne’s embrace, crying into his nightshirt as Nocturne smooths his hands down Merlow’s back and rests his chin on top of his head. For a long handful of moments, each one melding into the other with each stroke of Nocturne’s hands along Merlow’s spine and shoulders, offering comfort, offering love that Merlow desperately, desperately sinks into.
“Even if you had,” Nocturne murmurs at last, when Merlow’s sobs have faded into hiccuping sniffles, “it wouldn’t have been your fault.”
“A - aye,” Merlow chokes as Nocturne starts to fiddle with his braid. “But -”
“No buts. Even if the demon could possess you - and he can’t, and he won’t, but for the sake of argument -”
“- even if he could, anything you did under that influence would be entirely his fault. Understand?”’
It’s a conversation they’ve had before. In the stark light of day at that, which makes it easier to swallow now, in the soft darkness grown more gentle by Nocturne’s tender ministrations. Not that it changes that it would still have been Merlow’s hands to do the deed, but that’s not the point. “Aye,” Merlow sniffles for a third time. “What are ye doin’ wi’ me hair?”
“Unbraiding it,” Nocturne replies as he picks apart Merlow’s locks one handed, the other still rubbing soothing circles into Merlow’s back. “It’s a mess.”
Of course it is. Merlow would’ve tossed and turned before finally waking up in a fit of horror; he’s not remotely surprised his braid is ruined. “O’ course,” he rasps, his whisper thick with snot and tears and weariness. “Could jus’ leave it.”
“Mm.” Nocturne’s distracted hum doesn’t agree with him, and Merlow sighs and leans against his narrow chest, ear pressed to that beloved, necessary heartbeat. Alive. Nocturne’s alive. Alive, and humming a gentle bardic cantrip, useless for everything but getting knots out of hair. Merlow’s throat closes, the emotion in his ribcage swelling 'til they choke out his words; he still can’t believe that after they all go to the trouble of teaching Nocturne how to pull magic out of music, his own magic, beholden to no one but him, the first thing the infernal does with it is create a spell to untangle Merlow’s hair.
His heart aches, soft and sweet and tender, sweeping away the pain and hurt and terror. How did he ever get so lucky?
“Ye’re alive,” he murmurs after the cantrip fades. Nocturne strokes his hair without replying, and Merlow draws a deep, shuddering breath, then lets it go, expelling the horrors with it. “Promise me ye’ll stay that way.”
“I’ll certainly try.”
“Good.” Merlow stretches then, reaching out to wrap his arms around Nocturne’s shoulders so he can bury his nose in the crook of his neck. Ash. Ash and books and rosin and Nocturne. Merlow may never let go. “Good.”