Home » Short stories » Short story: “One night at a time”

Short story: “One night at a time”

Continuing to write and plot out my novel backwards, by writing this character piece of a story.

***

Zouriel was no stranger to bad dreams and bad sleep.

He’d had every bad decision replayed for him when he closed his eye, reliving every death and every excruciating moment of his time under the care of the lab-rat physicians who turned his body into what it was today. With time he’d perfected the routine he fell into every time he woke up shaking and bothered, sweat soaking through his sheets: Retreat to the kitchen and crack open the window while he smoked a cigarette, letting the cool air force the nightmarish imagery away.

But it was one thing to live through that, to find a way to cope with something that directly affected you and another thing entirely to see the same agonies writ on Marcus face every night. To see his face contorted with pain, to hear him moan and whimper was like a dagger to Zouriel’s heart, yet he wasn’t sure what he could do to fix it, it seemed like such a foolish assumption to think that what had worked for him would work for Marcus too.

Marcus who’d lived through things Zouriel had been spared and now he was paying the price for it.

He remembered the first time…A gentle hand on Marcus shoulder, to coax him out of sleep had jolted his old lover from his tortured rest, but there had been no recognition in his eyes as his hands clamped down on Zouriel’s shoulders, pushing him away. When Marcus had become aware of himself again, the look on his face when he saw the fresh bruises blossoming on Zouriel’s body was worse than how he had looked while still asleep.

“What if it’s going to be like this forever”, he’d mumbled, hunched up in bed with the sheets tangled around his legs. “What if I’m always going to be this dangerous…”

There had seemed to be no appropriate words at the time. Zouriel had never been all that good with words anyway, so he’d just wrapped his arms loosely around Marcus frame, feeling him fold into his embrace limply, whispering apologies against his chest.

Marcus had insisted they sleep apart for a time, fearful that he’d do something worse the next time Zouriel tried to wake him, but the separation wasn’t giving either of them any peace of mind. Zouriel became a light sleeper, listening for any sounds coming from the bedroom and what that might mean. He didn’t get much sleep either, though he was spared his own nightmares for a time.

Finally Zouriel decided he’d had enough.

The next night, he rose at the first signs that Marcus was deep inside some horrible dream, approaching the bed with caution. He touched his hand to Marcus face, as gently as possible and he felt Marcus freeze at the sudden touch. His eyes snapped open, focused on something far away and Zouriel placed his other hand on Marcus other cheek, cupping his face. Before Marcus could react further he quickly leaned down, allowing their foreheads to touch.

“You’re here”, he murmured. “Everything will be alright now.”

He tried to inject the hope he clung to himself, that this was something that could be fixed and Marcus would once more be the man he’d been when he’d first met him. When he’d first fallen in love with him.

Zouriel felt Marcus metal hand on his bicep, grip hard, bordering on painful, but before it would cross that threshold into true pain, the grip slackened and he felt Marcus body relax with a deep shudder.

He invited Marcus into his own routine he adopted on nights like this. Without another word, he coaxed the other man out of bed, swaddling him with the blankets like a child. Zouriel led him into the kitchen and opened up the window, allowing the cool air of an early summer morning to drift inside. Far away he heard the ever present rumbling of cars, of a dog barking and somewhere a car alarm began to blare.

He sat Marcus down in one of the chairs, then placed another opposite him, clasping Marcus normal hand in his, running his thumb over the back of it in gentle circles.

After a time Marcus let out a long sigh and Zouriel could feel his eyes on him, observing him from behind the curtain of hair.

“This is nice…” he said, smiling weakly.

“We could make it nicer”, Zouriel offered with a smile of his own. When there was no protest, he leaned in and let his lips brush against Marcus. The kiss deepened, but then they pulled apart, neither willing to move too fast too soon.

“I don’t normally do this, but I think this can be an exception”, Zouriel said, releasing his hold on Marcus, so he could fetch the bottle he kept tucked away in the upper kitchen cabinet.  His secret, saved for special occasions, such as this.

Marcus sipped the amber colored liquid and winced, but went back for another drink.

“Easy, don’t want you to wake up with a hangover”, Zouriel said and sipped from his own glass.

“Do you really think this will work?” Marcus said, brushing the hair out of his eyes with his free hand. His eyes seemed to hold all the sadness in the world and it broke Zouriel’s heart a little, he wasn’t sure if Marcus merely meant this one night, or if it was the rest of his life he was talking about.

“I think it will”, Zouriel said, gently placing his normal hand on Marcus knee, forcing that confidence in the future that Marcus sorely needed to hear right now.

Zouriel didn’t have much experience at being a caretaker. Before he met Cassandra, he’d never had to try his hand at it at all, but she had taught him much and now he felt like he was ready to apply those skills on the man he loved, the man who’d saved him once. Surely Zouriel was strong enough now to be able to repay that favor, one gesture, once sleepless night at a time.

He had to. Marcus had been lost once; Zouriel couldn’t let him disappear out of his life again.

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