Warnings: lack of editing warning.
Sorry it’s late. Forgot to hit publish because that’s how I roll.
In the movies, they wake screaming.
Mal’s never been one for that, though. He wakes up gasping in air like he’s been choked half to death, drenched in sweat and tears and more snot than a grown man will ever admit to.
And if there’s sounds, well, he’ll admit it’s sobbing. But only because he can’t tell other people to respect their emotional responses while crapping all over his own. He spends a lot of time selling emotional acceptance, even if some nights he feels like the worst kind of hypocrite because of it.
There are good nights, and thank God and everything good that they’re getting more common. But there are bad ones, too. Ones where he wakes up convinced that the shadows on his skin are blood, Mya’s blood. Nights where the pillow he’s clutching could almost be her broken body about to be torn away by the angels.
No. She’s alive. She’s home again, in the one piece that noone mentions can crumble with the hint of a wrong-look.
Tonight, clearly, is a night for keeping the shadows at bay. Sleep looks less and less like an actual option.
The shower is the wrong side of hot, the sweat cooling on his skin only helping the shock set in faster. He’s cold, cold like he’ll never be warm again, and he wonders if the newer recruits ever feel like that. He’ll need to check on that- there’s too many for a one-on-one kind of conversation, but maybe something in a group?
Fuck. Sure. Schedule that shit in between the fighting for your life and the digging out survivors. Seems likely. What could go wrong with group therapy in a damn warzone?
He hides in the shower until the room is filled with steam, and their meager hot water ration is ready to fade out. And then he grabs the spare pair of pyjamas he keeps hidden in the bathroom (sooner or later, you get prepared, or you freeze your ass off wandering back for pants), and settles in for a night surfing an intermittent net while his people sleep.
He hears the whimpers the second he opens the door. Forces himself to focus, to snap the hell out of his own night terrors and help. He’s heard Seb’s nightmares, and this isn’t it.
He hesitates at the door.Waking up a revved up proto-human with PTSD is one of the stupider things he’s considered doing, and in the days following her abduction, there was a lot of stupid on his to-do list. There’s a moment, fleeting, where he thinks he could go back to his room, pretend he couldn’t hear anything. She’d probably prefer it.
He doesn’t speak Enochian beyond ‘yes, Sir’ and ‘no, Ma’am’, but he knows begging when he hears it, no matter the language. So he shakes the coward out of his system, and opens the door, switching on the light and watching Mya wake instantly, shaking and terrified, clutching a blade with a desperation Mal really wishes he couldn’t relate to.
“You okay, kid?” She watches him warily, spooked in that way that rips the talk right out of you. He’s seen the look in the mirror enough to know the symptoms, knows answers aren’t likely and tries to keep working through the urge to stutter an apology and run the hell away. “I heard your nightmare, thought I’d check in on you. You’re safe. You’re home.”
She’s drenched in sweat, more human than he’s ever seen her, and Mal feels a momentary pang of guilt for using all the hot water. “If you can sleep, that’s great. If not, I’m making coffee.” He shoots her what he hopes is an easy going smile (probably more a grimace, given how tired and overwhelmed he is, but it’s the thought that counts, right?) and switches off the light as he leaves. He’s ten steps away when he hears it click back on.
The coffee’s almost done by the time Mya creeps out, and it’s hard not to notice the way the kid’s packing weapons. She doesn’t try and hide it, which is a plus, but it’s still odd to see her dressed for battle, hair mussed from broken sleep. The hand clutching the hilt of her blade is shaking- not something he’s used to from her. Her eyes track his every move with the sort of intensity he’s only seen from her in battle, expression spooked as hell and waiting for the inevitable attack.
Mal can’t blame her. Not really.
“Did I… did I wake you?” When not in soldier mode, Mya sounds a hell of a lot like a scared kid. She’s got the earnest sort of eyes that will cause no end of trouble when she’s healthy enough to exploit it, but Mal’s seen that scared, shamed look on enough faces to know he can’t lie to the kid. Not now. Not about this.
He shakes his head, starts pouring coffee into mugs so he doesn’t have to meet eyes drowning in misery. “Nah, kid. You’re fine. I was already up. Had some nightmares of my own.”
From the corner of his eye, Mal can see her gnawing at her lip, focus elsewhere. It’s a new habit of hers, and one he’s looking forward to never seeing again. Aside from that first day, fear hasn’t been something she’s shown a lot of. The woman was more likely to punch an angel in the balls than try and run away. Fear seems out of place, wrong, in her expression. The soft, wary voice is almost lost to the settling of the compound. “Does everyone have them?”
“Nightmares?” She nods, gaze on anything but him. “Yeah. Most people, they see a scary movie and dream of scary things. Clowns, spiders, shit like that. People like us, though, we dream about what actually happens. People we couldn’t save, mistakes we’ve made, trauma we’ve experienced. It’s natural. Nothing to be ashamed of.”
“Bri doesn’t have them. Dad didn’t either, I don’t think.”
“You don’t know that for sure. But even if that’s true, you’re not them. Despite the mojo boost, you’re still one of us, kid. We dream, we feel fear. It’s normal. It’s what you do with them that matters.”
“Bri will worry if he finds out.” A thread of steel to the tone, and Mal grins to the exhausted graceling, glad for the touch of normalcy while it lasts.
“Secret’s safe with me, kid. You think I want him fretting about my sleep habits? Last time he did that, I woke up with him staring at me from the corner of the room. Scared the shit right out of me.” She smiles, and it’s a broken, rusted kind of smile. But Mal’ll take what he can get. He doubts the kid has had many chances to smile over the last few weeks.
Mya looks like her next words are lined with broken glass, like she’s waiting for the bad to come swooping into the kitchen and at her face. “What happens now?”
“Now, you rest. Get your strength back. You’ve had a bad time, and you need to recover before any decisions get made. We lie low, let the others pick up the slack for a while, and figure out a plan.”
“They’re not going to sit and wait me out, you know.”
The silence drags out while he hands Mya a coffee, lowering his own to the table before making the trip for coffee and milk, just in case. Her gaze shifts between the mug, the milk, and the sugar, like she’s not quite sure what to do with any of it. It’s a no-brainer to add sugar to his coffee, if only in hopes he’ll stay awake a little longer, and he fights the grin as Mya warily mimics his movements, still wincing at the bitter taste.
Watching a half-angel sip gingerly at the coffee will probably still be a hilarious memory when they’re all old and in nursing homes.
The silence is filled with quiet sips and the sounds of breathing, and it’s so peaceful Mal’s almost forgotten the nightmares when Mya’s quiet, child-like voice brings the world back into focus. “I don’t know how to do this anymore.”