#1160

Tanim dreamed of wind that tore at him and rain that cut at him and air that froze his lungs as he sank to his knees with a gasp, rolling the limp body over on the pavement, needing so desperately for it to be anyone else but of course it was him, it always was, and Tanim hung his head, moaning, “Daren…”

He woke but the chill did not banish with the dream. Tanim’s hand moved automatically to the space beside him but he wasn’t surprised to find it empty, the sheets cool and flat. He sat up on his elbows and peered into the dim room, seeking out the presence he felt more than saw. As his gaze adjusted it fell on a patch of darker shadow in the doorway, the unmoving silhouette familiar in shape. “Daren?” He bit back a yawn and tried to mask the sleepiness in his voice as he asked, “What are you doing? Can’t sleep?”

“They’ll come for me,” The words were soft, barely a whisper past the man’s lips. No one else could have discerned the subtle change in Daren’s voice but Tanim had heard that thin, slightly wavering tone before and knew the episode it heralded. He rose with great care, shivering from something other than the cold. “Who, darling?” Tanim kept his voice gentle, level, his movements slow; there may still be time to salvage this without pushing Daren any farther if he tread with caution. Sometimes he could use humor or good-natured cajoling to draw Daren back, but not at a time like this. Right now Daren could be shattered with a single wrong word.

“They know I’m here,” Daren shuddered and lifted his head, wide black eyes darting up to Tanim and then away again as if the shadows themselves might solidify into the tormentors from his dreams. “They won’t let me stay. They’ll come, they’ll take me back, they’ll put me in that hell and I won’t…” He shook his head and gave a strange, strangled moan, “I can’t…”

“No one’s coming for you, Daren,” Tanim took a step forward, hands before him, palms up to show he meant no harm. “You’re safe here. You’re safe with me.”

“Then you’ll do it,” The wild black eyes narrowed in a feral mixture of fear and suspicion. “Finally get sick of your mad, wretched lover and lock him away where he can’t burden you anymore so you can find someone else—don’t!” Daren recoiled with a snarl as Tanim attempted to touch his arm. “Sorry, sorry,” Tanim raised his hands in apology but refused to concede neither his own calm nor the distance he had closed between them. “I won’t hurt you, Daren; you know that.” He attempted a weak smile. “I’m the one who likes to be hurt, remember?”

“…Right,” Daren grimaced and glanced away, rage shifting to bitter self-loathing with disorienting speed. “I’m the one who does the hurting around here.” Tanim flinched as if the words were a physical strike and almost said ‘you know what I meant’ but held his tongue. He couldn’t let Daren distract him into pointless arguing. Later, when the man had calmed, he’d let Daren say whatever awful things he wanted. Tanim didn’t care what happened once he had talked Daren back down from whatever mental ledge he balanced on right now; he just wanted his companion calm once again. “Come to bed, lovely,” he pleaded instead.

“Why?” Again the nervous glare, the distrust bordering on mania. Tanim shrugged with feigned nonchalance. “Because I’m cold and it’s much more comfortable there. You’d be more comfortable there, too.”

“Then go to bed,” There wasn’t much force behind the command, just an intense weariness, and Tanim took this as a sign the episode would pass soon. He held out one hand. “Not without you.” A spasm of misery twisted Daren’s face and he shook his head, muttering “I won’t go back. I won’t,” but Tanim took Daren’s bony elbows in his hands and soothed, “Hush. Of course not. You’ll stay right here with me where you belong. I’d never let anything harm you, Daren.” He slid one hand up, tracing the line of his lover’s sharp jaw. “I’d never let anyone take you away.” For a moment he thought Daren would shrink back from his touch again but instead he turned his face into the touch and said with a tired sigh, “Sometimes it feels like I leave you anyway.”

“You always come back,” Tanim tugged gently at his arm. “And I’m always here when you do. Now come to bed, love. You don’t have to sleep, just rest with me.” Daren let himself be pulled over and gathered into Tanim’s arms before they sank together back into bed. For a moment neither spoke; then, his face turned against the older man’s chest, Daren asked softly, “Am I mad?”

“You’re not mad, you’re…” Tanim searched for the right word as he trailed his fingers along his lover’s ridged spine, “eccentric. I like eccentric; keeps things interesting.”

“Eccentric,” Daren snorted, the noise turning into a sigh as he shifted nearer. Exhaustion had finally replaced panic and his voice was heavy and dreamy as he said, “We’re both fools, you know.”

“Mmm…” Tanim drew the blankets over them both and hugged the man close. Now that Daren had calmed, his own fear was also giving way to exhaustion. He pressed his lips to the crown of his companion’s head and murmured into the silky hair, “It’s why we work so well together.” No clever response came in reply; against his side Tanim could feel the shallow rise and fall of Daren’s chest in sleep. Satisfied, and not just for having gotten the last word for once, he allowed himself to relax and drift off as well.

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