Dead of the Night



He thinks anyone would know that Sandburg was having a nightmare without Sentinel senses when he first wakes and hears the sounds drifting up the stairs, but halfway down them, yawning and chasing the taste of sleep out of his dry mouth with his tongue, he realises that the kid's being pretty quiet about it. He's not yelling out; he's just making these soft, distressed little whimpers, and he's not thrashing the covers into a tangle around his body, he's just… Jim concentrates and listens to the drag of cotton over damp skin, small susurrations as if Sandburg's legs are moving in slow twitches.

When he gets inside the bedroom, the sounds upgrade to a murmured jumble of 'no' and his name, sounding odd coming from a sleeping mouth, and Sandburg, curled up on his side, is jerking his legs in barely perceptible, scaled-down movements that, if he was awake and vertical, would be running full-tilt.

Oh.

It's a classic nightmare scenario; running through endless, empty corridors, a monster breathing hot, sour breath on the back of your neck, pure malice and evil on your heels, and the worst of it is, whatever's going on inside the kid's head can't be worse than what actually happened earlier.

Jim can still feel the desperate clutch of Sandburg's hands when they'd collided in the corridor of the prison, still hear the hurried thump of a stressed-out heartbeat.

Chapel had freaked him out. Jim can understand that; the man's got a skewed kind of crazy shining in his eyes and blood on his hands, both old and fresh.

Hands he'd put on Sandburg. Jim focuses as Sandburg rolls to his back, still sleeping; brings the faint smudges on Sandburg's neck into sharp relief, until the marks left by Chapel's squeezing fingers are all he can see, filling his vision.

He kneels beside the low bed and blots out the line of view to the bruises with his hand, letting it hover an inch away from touching skin, wanting to wipe the taint away, and knowing he can't. Sandburg moans, and the thin skin of his eyelids crinkles as if he's trying to close eyes that are already shut.

Jim should wake him, save him. Should do it now… but he's caught up in looking at the familiar face, shadowed, unsmiling, a mask cracking now and then as fear breaks through to the surface. Sandburg doesn't look that sad and still often; his smile's always ready to burst out, sun and clouds kind of deal, and he's a bouncing, energetic, frenetic buzz in Jim's ear most of the time.

He doesn't know why he's staring, rationing breaths taken to slow, shallow sips to keep Sandburg from waking. He doesn't like seeing Sandburg like this; hates the marks left on him with a possessive, protective loathing.

Serve and Protect.

His job to do that, not Sandburg's, and it'd been his recommendation that had put the kid at risk.

It's just…he's close to the kid, really close, and he can look as much as he wants without having to meet the puzzled question in the clear eyes -- and that's wearing off recently, leaving a dawning awareness, he's sure of it -- and how often does that happen? Jim tells himself he'll wake Sandburg soon, he will… and then his name is whispered again, panicked and pleading.

Some things aren't worth the price.

His hand moves to a shoulder and shakes Sandburg free of the dream; his mouth says something casually reassuring when Sandburg blinks up at him, shudders, and starts to describe his nightmare in an incoherent, fast flood of words and then falls asleep again halfway through, his breathing regular and easy.

Jim peels Sandburg's hand off him, pats it gently, and goes back to bed, even though something tells him Sandburg wouldn't mind him staying within reach just this once. Call it penance for his hesitation; call it practicality because he needs to sleep. Which he wouldn't do curled up on the floor listening to Sandburg breathing.

And the next night, with Chapel locked away again, key lost if there's any justice in the world, Jim lies stretched on the couch in the shot-up ruins of his apartment, stares down the length of his body at the doors of Sandburg's bedroom and tries to be glad the man asleep in there is snoring happily and doesn't need him.



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