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no longer alone

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He's quiet about it. You think that's the worst part, really. Dave was never quiet.

He's quiet; but you have sharp ears, and you don't sleep deeply, and you see pretty well in the dark. Slipping out of bed, wearing nothing but a pair of sweatpants, you pad over to the pile of cushions he's built in the corner of your room. You kneel down beside him. "Sol," you say. "Hey, Sol. Wake up, kiddo, it's okay, you're cool, everything is cool as can be," and when you reach to touch his shoulder the blue-scarlet spark that jumps to your hand is bright enough to kill your goddamn visual purple.

It's impossible not to hiss--that felt like the world's worst dryer spark--and yet you regret it immediately because he does that huddling thing that you know means he's feeling guilty. "Th-thorry," he says. "Didn't mean to wake you."

When Dave did this, back in Houston when he was a little kid, he didn't zap you with his brain, but he also didn't apologize for having nightmares. He'd just flailed and thrashed around and yelped when you woke him up, and then as soon as he was over the fright pretended the whole thing hadn't happened, with a kind of cocky insistence that you pretty much had to applaud. Sol just huddles, eyes bright in the darkness, and you want to punch something hard enough to damage your fist.

Instead, you just take a chance and scoop him into your arms and hug him hard. There's a crackle and flare of light, but he's in control now and he doesn't hurt you. He clings, wrapping his skinny arms round your neck and pressing his face hard against your shoulder, and you can feel him sobbing though he makes no sound.

"Aw, kid," you say, sitting back on your heels, holding him tight. "Sol, man, what was it? What'd you dream?"

"'th thtupid," he tells your collarbone.

"Nah, not stupid. But it's not real, okay? You're safe now, whatever that shit is that gets in your head is just nightmares."

Sol sniffles, and you can feel his tears warm and slightly sticky on your bare skin. "Jutht...it wath the Aquarium. Only inthtead of eelth and fisheth an' thtuff it wath trollth on dithplay. And Mith Harrithon brought her kidth to thee me."

You remember the carefully made-up woman you and Dave and Dr. Z had spoken to, just after Sollux was rescued. You remember how much you really, really wanted to have edged weaponry to hand, and how wise it probably was that you didn't. "Aw, dude. I'm sorry. That's a miserable fucked-up dream."

"Karkat wath there too. Only hith ecthibit had a cardboard bocth. An' it wath raining on him."

Never let it be said that Sollux thinks only of himself. You rest your narrow cheek on the top of his head, between the twinned hornpoints. "It's over now. All that shit is behind you guys, you'll never ever have to be in an aquarium, or in a box, or anything other than where you want to be."

"I want to know that," Sol almost wails. "I mean I do know it, thort of, but...but my dreamth don't? It'th tho thtupid, I'm thtupid, I can't even thtop dreaming thtuff that ithn't true..."

"Everybody has bad dreams," you tell him. "Dave does. I do. You're not stupid, this shit just sucks, and it doesn't listen to reason. Man, I wish we could train our brains to quit it with the goddamn nightmares, that would be sweet."

He sniffles again and then says in a slightly incredulous tone "You have thethe?"

"I got my own, kiddo. Mostly mine are about Dave. I was pretty young when I got to be his guardian, and, well, I wasn't exactly confident in my abilities, you know? No fuckin' clue what I was doing, and I hoped I wasn't screwing him up permanently. He used to have asthma, too, and boy did that give me a couple of nightmares."

You've never talked about this. Sol pulls back enough to be able to look you in the face, his mismatched eyes searching for mockery. "Really?"

"Yup. Everyone gets 'em. I bet Dr. Z gets nightmares. Possibly about getting gum in his hair, I dunno."

That makes him snicker, and you grin and ruffle his hair. "Ain't nobody immune to this shit. But...Sol, you don't have to be ashamed of it. There's nothing at all to hide about bad dreams, they just straight-up suck. As long as I'm around I promise I'll wake you out of 'em."

He huddles a little. "I'm thorry I thparked at you."

"No worries, kid. I've had worse, and you needed to wake up."

The truth of this is evident in his face, just before he buries it again in your shoulder, and you just hug him, your warmth and solidity doing what they can to banish the nightmare. "Want to sleep in my bed?"

He doesn't look up, just nods against you. "Dirk?"

"Yeah?"

"....Thankth."

You can remember Dave saying that, too, long ago in the dimness of another shitty apartment bedroom. He'd clung to you pretty much just like this, as if he was trying to press himself so hard against you that you'd close over him and protect him from the world; by daylight he'd never have so much as admitted he was frightened, and you wouldn't have encouraged it, but at night things changed. At night things were, in some ways, simpler. Thanks, he had whispered, and you'd messed up his shock of white-blond hair the way you mess up Sol's now, and you'd said No problem the way you say it to this troll.

He's all angles and bones but he curls up next to you under the covers and you can tell he feels safer with you there: you can tell, because he gives a little sigh and lets himself relax, wanted and protected and no longer alone.