There’s banging against the door he’s pressed against. Scratching, clawing, and groans from the splintering wood and the monsters doing their damned best to get in. He can’t stop this; he has one bullet left in his chamber. The conversation he partakes in feels distant and clouded. Michael’s trying to convince him to hold on, but there’s no way. There’s no way in hell he’s going to make it through this. He looks to the left and there’s a rickety looking set of stairs. He swallows bitter fear and throws himself towards them, tripping and cursing them under his breath. The door shatters behind him and at least a dozen zombies rush through the door, snarls on their faces, growls in their throats.
He reaches the top of the stairs and runs towards an open door down a meager hallway, throwing the door closed and moving a supply cabinet in front of it. Michael’s voice sounds desperate but he can’t make out any of the words. It doesn’t matter anymore. He’s known what he was going to do the moment he shot his last round.
And he hates himself for giving Michael one more reason to feel guilty.
He feels bile climb up his throat as he says his last words. He’s drowning in his own misery, his tears salty and hot on his face. He raises his favorite gun – his trusty Beretta – and presses it to his temple. He takes a breath – a deep one, filling his lungs one last time – before he pulls the trigger.
But nothing happens.
Panic replaces his misery as the cabinet begins to rattle with the force of what sounds like a thousand zombies, all thirsty for his blood, attempting to break through. He pulls the trigger again and again, receiving nothing but empty clicks. His once silent tears turn into loud, gut churning sobs as his fingers speeds up, trying to find that sweet release of this life.
The cabinet falls and he snaps his head up, watching in dazed horror as the door finally gives and there’s not a thousand zombies, but rather, thirty, all bearing faces of his friends and family. He stands on shaky legs, only to fall on the bed when he knees protest the movement and give up. Michael and Gavin are there, holding hands, but snarling, licking their chops, like he’s about to be their next meal. Lindsay is behind them, her once beautiful face twisted in gleeful murder. Geoff and Jack are there, smiling sinisterly, flesh rotting, revealing bones and muscle and bile finally bursts from the back of his throat, spilling all over the cot he’s cowering on.
Ryan appears next to him, after he wiped his mouth on the back of his hand. He holds up the gun, more reflex than anything else. Ryan reaches forward and wraps decaying fingers around it, pushing it down. “Why did you let me die?” Ryan whispers.
“I didn’t,” he cries out, shaking his head, once again turning the gun towards himself. He presses it tight to his head, hoping – praying – that this time. This time the weapon will have something to release him from this nightmare.
“We died for you,” Zombie Michael says casually.
“You killed us,” Zombie Gavin remarks, smirking with ashen lips. “You donut.”
A sobs rips from his chest and he looks down, staring at his blood stained hand. He knows whose blood is staining his skin and he clenched his digits into a fist.
“I never really liked you,” Geoff remarks. “You were a piss poor soldier.”
“And not to mention a bad friend!” Lindsay crows.
The zombies of his closest friends all laugh, and he can’t do this. He presses the hot metal harder to his skull and this time, when his fingers squeezes the trigger, he’s blessed with darkness.
Ray wakes up screaming. He’s drenched with sweat and everything feels a sicken mix of hot and cold. He tries to calm his racing heart, taking a few deep breaths but the night terror is still on the outskirts of his mind. All the guilt he’s ever racked up over the three years spent on Earth is pressing into his chest, constricting his breathing and does nothing to quell his frantic heart.
Back in Texas – real Texas, not Heaven-Texas – whenever Ray would have a night terror, he would roll from his nest of comforters that was his bed and press all of his exposed skin to the cold, hard floor of the warehouse. He would count his own heartbeat and listen to Michael’s gentle breathing, soothing himself to his best friend’s presence until he was sure that he was real. That he wasn’t in the dark place that he would be forced to call his own head, where guilt came as simple as blinking and regret wasn’t blocking his windpipe.
This was his tenth nightmare over a week and he didn’t know what was causing them. He tried to ask the angels once, although they rarely show any presence whatsoever, (he was once told that they prefer “the laissez faire” approach to running heaven) but after enough begging and pleading, Gabriel, heaven’s messenger, came down to answer his questions.
“Heaven is a place for you to live out your afterlife, kiddo. It’s not perfect; demons exist and they live inside of you. We can house you, keep your comfortable and content, but you’re still you. You experienced Hell and you have to find your own way to survive that. There’s nothing we could do, short of erasing your memory, to change that. …Do you want me to erase your memory?”
Ray blinked once at the short man with golden eyes and golden hair and thought of all the memories he would lose – the dark ones that consumed him in the dead of nights and the light ones, the ones that filled him with such happiness, like seeing Michael’s dimples or hearing Gavin’s laugh or the way Geoff would ruffle his hair – and shook his head. “No. I want to keep them.”
“Then you have to figure out how to live with yourself. Now, if you excuse me, I have a moose strapped to my bed that I really need to get back to.”
Ray scrunched his nose in a healthy mix of disgust and confusion as the angel snapped his fingers and disappeared into the air. Who knew that angels were kinky little shits?
And it wasn’t like anything has changed too much in his afterlife. He sleeps in the same bed he did when he was alive, he eats the same food, watches the same porn. He has his Beretta hidden in his nightstand because he can’t sleep without a gun near him (which, neither can half of them, so Ray isn’t too worried about what that says about him). There’s nothing that has changed.
Ray sits up in his bed and glances around the empty room. He raises a hand and slaps himself on the forehead. There is one change. He shakes his head and scoffs at how stupid he is.
Carefully, he creeps out of his bedroom, years of training still etched into his muscle’s memory. He’s in a ratty pair of sweats (that’s still ridiculously soft on the inside) and nothing else, so he grabs his favorite hoodie from the floor and throws it on, leaving his bedroom and soon his apartment. He snaps his fingers to lock the door and smirks at how fucking great Heaven is.
Once he’s in the night, with his gun still in his apartment, his fear comes back. It’s this illogical, irrational fear that consumes him and he crosses his arms in hopes to alleviate some of that fear. He still ends up glancing over his shoulder every couple of steps, always being vigilant.
Angels apparently draw the line at just appearing wherever you please (Ray’s guessing that they want to have something just to themselves) so he’s forced to walk everywhere. Which is fine with him, because with how much junk food he’s been gorging himself on since he got here, he needs the exercise.
The few blocks pass in a blur and before he realizes it, he’s standing in front of a blue and white apartment complex. He walks the flight of stairs and goes to the right apartment. He takes a breath, unsure of how this is going to blow over with the lovebirds, and grips the handle tight. He turns it and, thanks to Heaven mojo, the lock turns at the same time. Ray let’s himself into “Mavin’s” apartment and closes the door, physically relocking it.
“It’s an experiment,” he mutters to himself. He’s just going to crash on their couch and see if he can get through the rest of the night without having to relive the horror. He just needs to know that he’s not alone, that he’s alive and real, and that his dreams are nothing more than a device his mind has created to torture him. “Just an experiment.”
Ray lies down on Michael’s comfy couch – one that feels like you’re melting into it – and wills a blanket into his hands. His head hits his favorite pillow, brought by the thought from his own apartment. He tries to concentrate on his breathing and the knowledge that just a couple of steps away, his friends are safe and sound, probably curled together with Michael as the little spoon (because the thought makes Ray snicker) and there’s nothing out there that’s dead-set on killing him.
He ends up staring at the ceiling for half-an-hour because apparently it’s not enough. His chest is still tight with guilt; what his subconscious made his zombie friends say were true – all of them – and his mind is swirling and swirling. It’s like a hurricane in his head, he’s trapped in the eye, and every time he tries to take a step out of it, he’s reminded of how much a fucking failure he was.
How much a failure he is.
Ray groans and rolls of the couch gracefully, landing on the balls of his feet and his hands. He pushes himself up and grabs the pillow and blanket. With both tucked under his arm, he heads towards Michael and Gavin’s bedroom, feeling a sense of stupidity crawl up his spine until his cheeks are tinted pink.
If (when) he’s caught, how in the hell is he going to explain this? Hey, I can’t sleep without being able to hear Michael breathe, so I just snuck into your apartment to sleep on your guy’s bedroom floor. No big thing.
Silently, he opens the door and pauses at the sight in front of him. He was aware of how much Michael loved Gavin (and after spending a couple weeks attached to Gavin’s hip, he’s more than aware of how much that love is reciprocated) but seeing this makes it seem real. Michael is the little spoon, much to Ray’s amusement, and Gavin is wrapped fully around him, arm possessive around Michael’s waist. Their hands are linked together, fitting the way puzzle pieces should, and when Gavin snuffles in his sleep, pulling Michael in tighter, Ray smiles softly to himself.
And the glorious sound of Michael breathing deep is filling the room, soothing Ray for the first time since he awoke. He closes his eyes and just listens. Eventually, although their breathing is synched, Ray can tell the subtle difference between Michael’s and Gavin’s breath. The terror that was itching at his fingertips and the guilt pressing on his chest slowly loosen before they fade away into the air.
Quietly, he closes the door and drops the pillow on the ground, immediately following it. He pulls the blanket over his shoulder and is slowly lulled to sleep by the sounds of his best friend’s breaths.
He’s up and gone before either of them wake.
It slowly becomes a thing without Ray even realizing it. After trying to fall asleep in his own bed, and waking for the night terrors, he’ll slink over to Michael and Gav’s, sneak into their room, make himself a bed on the floor, and fall asleep, knowing that those terrors weren’t real.
If they know, neither of them ever call him on it, so Ray figures he’s still in the clear.
It works perfectly for a few weeks until one night he fucks up.
“Shit, fuck,” he hisses as he brings his stubbed toe up, trying to soothe the ache. He doesn’t even notice the lamp on the wobbling table falling until it hits the ground. It makes an angry shattering sound that reverberates throughout the room until Ray wills the lamp back together. It sits perfectly back on the table but what’s done is done and Michael’s sitting straight up in his bed, empty hand outstretched, a phantom gun held in his hand.
Ray freezes like a deer in headlights as Michael slowly lowers his arm. “Ray?” He asks, sleep still heavy in his voice.
“Yeah, hey, what’s up?”
“What the hell are you doing here?” Michael asks. Ray finally looks over and bites the smile trying to emerge on his face; Michael’s sitting upright, but Gavin is still wrapped around him, arms around his middle and face pressed into his stomach.
“Nothing. Breaking lamps, apparently,” he remarks casually, like it’s perfectly sane to be sneaking into his friend’s bedroom at three in the morning.
“It’s early as dicks, dude,” Michael groans, shuffling slightly, disturbing Gavin who moans in annoyance as he approaches wakefulness.
“Yeah, well, y’know,” Ray mutters, feeling his face flame. “I couldn’t sleep.”
“Christ, will you two just stop talking!?” Gavin groans in annoyance, releasing his grip on Michael and rolling over, back to his lover. “Ray, either lay on the floor or get in bed, but, for the love of everything, stop. Talking.”
Michael looks sharply over at Gavin. “What the hell are you talking about?”
Ray says nothing because he can’t even think over the sound of his heart beat pounding in his head.
“He’s been sleeping here for over a month, Michael,” Gavin replies, sounding irritated that he is still talking when he could be sleeping. “You seriously haven’t noticed?”
“No,” Michael answers, eyebrows furrowing. Ray feels his whole face flushing, traveling down his neck until he’s sure his chest is pinking too.
“He has night terrors,” Gavin replies, talking as if Ray’s not even in the room. “He can’t sleep for very long without something comforting near him. Apparently, that’s you.” Gavin lifts his head from the pillow, laughing eyes sharp on Ray. “You’re lucky I don’t mind sharing.”
“What?” Ray squeaks as Michael makes a protesting squawk. “It’s not like that, I swear!” Michael and Ray stare at each other for a moment, matching blushes painting their cheeks. “I like chicks!”
“And sexuality is fluid; get in bed,” Gavin answers. The bed grows a few more inches, their queen turning into a king at Gavin’s will. Ray still doesn’t move. Michael glances down, looking up quickly, before looking back down.
“I don’t mind,” he whispers and Ray can feel his heart beat in his fingertips. “I have them too – the night terrors. I get it. I do.”
“Shut up,” Ray mutters but his feet slowly cross the distance, shucking off his hoodie as he goes. He’s shirtless, just like the other two, and he crawls up the end of the bed. He expects Michael to scoot closer to Gavin, letting Ray take the outside, but he does the opposite, opening a space between himself and Gavin. Ray pauses before he shrugs and falls face first into the empty spot.
Michael slowly lays down on his other side, but he can tell that he’s still super tense. Ray feels guilty about it before Gavin lets out a loud groan. He throws himself on to his back, imitating a child throwing a temper tantrum.
“I’ve said this a million damn times,” Gavin starts and Ray turns his head towards him. “I understand, Mi-cool. I’m not mad. I will never be mad about it. You need to quit beating yourself up about it and get over it so we can start an awesome polyamorous relationship. Please?”
“What?” Ray asks dumbly, turning his head back and forth between Michael and Gavin, who seem to be having a whole conversation with nothing but eyebrows and angry lip curls.
“It won’t work out,” Michael mumbles and Ray feels something click inside of him. He quickly puts the pieces together and, yeah, he still likes chicks but the only two people in the world who will ever understand him – truly understand him – are lying in this bed with him, so why not?
“It could,” Ray says, gracefully rolling over onto his back, staring at the ceiling to avoid Michael’s gaze on his face. “Don’t know until we try, right?”
Everyone in the bed stops breathing for a moment and Ray’s waiting for the other shoe to drop. What he should do is take everything he just said back, deal with his nightmares like a big boy, and go home. Once his body’s made his decision to leave, a pale arm reaches over his stomach, curling around Gavin’s hip and pulls. Ray’s shoulders ends up sandwiched between Michael and Gavin’s chests and his heart goes into overdrive.
“See. Better than the floor, huh?” Gavin whispers in his ear and Ray huffs a quiet laugh as Michael snuffles against his neck. Ray starts to move so Michael loosens his arm enough for him to turn fully towards the older man. Michael freezes when Ray summons a burst of courage and presses his face into Michael’s smooth chest.
Behind him, Gavin gives a small chuckle before he plasters himself all down Ray’s back. Michael relaxes slowly, melting into Ray, arm across him but his fingers pressed to Gavin’s hip. Gavin’s arm comes up and curls around Ray’s middle and they all snuggle into one another.
With another burst of courage, Ray presses a kiss to Michael’s racing heart and gets a responding one on his forehead and one to the back of his neck.
It’s fucked up but Ray can’t honestly remember a time when his life wasn’t completely fucked up.
Later, he gets a bouquet of roses from Gabriel with a card that says, That’s one hell of a way to deal with your demons. Proud of you, kiddo.
His life is pretty weird but, hey, he doesn’t have night terrors anymore. So he considers it a win.