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and if the night comes (and the night will come)

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Charlie isn’t the only one who has his share of nightmares.

Sameer just happens to be a lot quieter about it. He doesn’t tend to shout or scream, but will wake up gasping in silent paralysis, heart pounding with visions of things he would rather forget, unable to drive them away as he lies there staring helplessly into the darkness or weeping silently into his pillow. Curled up alone on his side of their bed, he tries very hard to stay quiet — Charlie already loses enough sleep to his own pain. Surely it would be callous to wake him with Sami’s troubles too.

Luckily for Sami, years of reflexive field training mean that Charlie is a fairly light sleeper most nights (even though he could probably snore through an artillery barrage if he was really trying). A little sound or movement in a quiet room is enough to rouse him slightly, and while he will usually just fall right back asleep, when he wakes and feels Sameer lying stiff and silent next to him (or sometimes trembling with muffled tears), facing away into the dark, that will snap him right to full wakefulness right away.

“Sami?” he murmurs this time, sitting up a bit and blinking in the low light that filters in from a streetlamp outside. Reaching out to gently touch Sameer’s shoulder, feeling him stiffen at the contact with a sharp intake of breath. “Are y’ alright, love?”

“It’s... it is fine, Charlie.” Sami’s voice sounds a bit hoarse, though he’s clearly trying to pretend it’s not. He hasn’t rolled over yet. “You should... you should go back to sleep.”

Perhaps Sameer’s most notable characteristic is that he can lie more convincingly than anyone — but Charlie has known him for a long time now, and has learned better than most to see the signs that Sami is putting up a hastily constructed facade. The tension in his tone, in his shoulders and spine. The rarer use of Charlie’s name instead of a nickname or endearment. The fact that Sami, usually a clingy cuddler, stays apart from him in their bed, gazing into the dark. No, to him it’s quite clear that Sameer is upset by something. And with pasts like theirs, it’s not too hard to narrow down the options and figure out what kind of upset it might be.

Charlie is not the only one with ghosts that haunt him.

Now, comforting is... not Charlie’s strongest skill, at least if you were to ask him. You’re supposed to be good at being soft for that, and... well, he has spent so many years forging himself into rough edges and hardened points that he is often not sure he has it in him to pull off that kind of bedside manner on cue anymore.

But if there is anyone in the world who can reliably slip past his tired old defences and bring out his gentler side, it is the tiny little family of endearing misfits that he’s acquired in recent years. And more even so than any of them, it is the man on the other side of the bed. The people he loves... they make Charlie want to do better, for their sake. To be what they need, even if it seems like an impossible challenge to get back in touch with that part of himself.

Looking at the hunched, stiff line of Sameer’s shoulders in the dim light, Charlie knows in his aching heart that there is no other choice but to try.

“Hey, sweetheart...” he says quietly, rubbing his thumb over Sami’s shoulder where it still rests, as if smoothing out some wrinkle from his shirt. “Just... just look at me, please? It’s alright, you don’t hafta be embarrassed-”

“I am not embarrassed!” Sami blurts out, too quickly and a bit too loud as his spine stiffens ramrod straight. There’s a tense second of silence, and then he sighs heavily and curls in upon himself just a little bit more. When he speaks next, his voice is very very quiet, tinged with guilt and inwardly-directed bitterness. “Goodness, I’m.... I am so sorry, Charlie. For snapping. You should just go back to sleep, please. I’ll be quite alright.”

“Don’t be daft,” Charlie shakes his head, squeezing Sami’s shoulder gently. “You really think I’ll be able to sleep, knowin’ that you’re lying here with somethin’ eating away at you? Nah love. If you’re stayin’ up to brood at the darkness, then I’m stayin’ up with you.” He puts a little firm steadfast edge behind it, that streak of stubborn determination which they both share.

Sounding very tired, Sami sighs. And then he finally rolls over onto his back, mouth open to deliver what will surely be a very almost-convincing ‘please don’t worry about me’ speech. “Look, Charlie-”

“Hey, there ya are!” Charlie grins teasingly, even though he can barely make out Sami’s face in the dim light. “Thank god, I missed seein’ your handsome mug! Thought you’d never turn over.”

Again Sami sighs — but this time it is a soft, fond sound, two steps sideways from the laughter Charlie was aiming for. Sameer drops his gaze. “Matraba...”

“It’s alright.” Letting go of Sami’s shoulder, Charlie finds one of the fidgeting hands folded over his partner’s stomach and takes hold, squeezing it gently. “You don’t hafta explain or anythin’, I... I understand. You know I do. Better than most folks might.”

Sami nods, silent.

Taking this as a potentially encouraging sign, Charlie takes a deep breath and makes himself keep going. “Now, if you want, we can just lie down again, try and get back to sleep together. Or I can make you some tea, or put on a record, or whatever you like, it’s no trouble! I just- I don’t want you to be alone, in this. It’s... well, it’s a bloody hard place to be.”

Finished, he ducks his head, a bit sheepish at having said so much all at once without really thinking it through. Unlike Sami, he is no clever wordsmith. Perhaps that rambling little speech was foolish of him. Perhaps he has said all of the wrong things.

The only warning he gets is a sort of damp choked sound, before suddenly his arms are full and he is nearly bowled over where he sits — sent reeling by Sami launching himself up and across the bed to throw both arms around Charlie and cling on, so so tight, face pressing into the crook of Charlie’s neck.

Instantaneously Charlie embraces him in return, spreading both hands over Sami’s back to clutch him close and breathe a sigh of relief. Sameer seeking out comfort through touch is already a step closer to normality.

“S’alright, I’ve gotcha,” Charlie murmurs hoarsely against disheveled curls, hugging him tight and rubbing his back. “I-I’m here, you can let it go now darlin’. Let it go, it’s okay...”

Fists curling tight in the fabric of Charlie’s undershirt, Sami draws a deep, shuddering breath, and then there’s a hiccuping sort of sob that shakes his shoulders and the shaking does not stop, and Charlie realizes a bit belatedly that Sami has begun to cry.

“Och, it’s alright. Just- just breathe Sami, I’m right here...” Mimicking what he has heard Sami say for his own episodes, he forces the words out through a painfully tight throat. Gentle and slow and almost unthinking, he begins to slowly rock them back and forth on the bed, kissing the top of Sami’s head and carding his hair. “I’m here, I’m right here love, we’re okay. It’s over now, we’re okay. We- we made it home...”

He knows, as Sami does, that this last statement is something of a cold comfort. Half the pain they suffer is on account of the fact that they made it home, but others didn’t. Steve didn’t. The guilt is crushing, sour in the gut and heavy on the shoulders every day. But Charlie also knows that Sameer in particular is chased sometimes by visions of how things could have been worse, of losing Charlie or even more members of their little family. Sometimes it helps to remind him these aren’t true — that against all odds, they have made it through that wretched war alive.

The pain still aches, though. Nevertheless, it hurts.

“I’m sorry...” Charlie whispers, when minutes have passed this way, and Sameer has finally gone quiet and still. “Sorry I dunno how to make it better.”

A sniffle, and a shifting of the weight in his arms. Sami’s hand, moving to rest warm and solid — if not entirely steady — across the bare skin at the back of his neck. “It is okay, really. Just having you here to hold onto means so very much ameli, I promise.” There is a long pause, and then Sami says, rather hesitantly, “You could... sing me something perhaps, s’il te plaît? To help me fall back asleep. Or at least to fill the silence with something nicer than my thoughts.”

Charlie blinks, eyebrows rising, and leans back a little bit to look at him properly. “You- you’d really want that?”

“Come now, you know I love your singing matraba, no matter how I may tease.” Sami kisses his cheek, soft and affectionate, and then gives a bright-yet-tired little smile. “It is one of my most favourite sounds.”

Now Charlie can feel his face and ears heating up, and hopes Sami can’t see him blushing like a fool in the dim light. “Alright fine, fine, no need for flattery!”

“It is not flattery! It is the truth!”

“Yeah yeah, hush now.” He leans back against the pillows, guiding Sami to follow him. “Got any particular requests?”

“Hmm...” Sami hums and purses his lips, thinking to himself as they shift and settle in lying down again, his head coming to rest on Charlie’s chest. “I will ask for... my favourite one, if you please. The one you did in Veld, at the piano that night. About walking with one’s lover through the world.”

Charlie nods, a bittersweet yet happy pang in his heart at the memory of that day. “Aye, I know the one. Comin’ right up, sweetheart.”

Merci,” Sami murmurs, pressing in close and sliding both arms around his middle.

A smile can’t be helped at that, the feeling of how tightly Sami holds on to him. This touch is comfort for them both. Charlie tugs the blankets back up over them, and lets one hand settle over the centre of Sami’s spine as the other tangles gently in his hair, cradling him close as if it can protect him from the cruel, cold world, from his own demons.

And then Charlie begins to sing.

I’ll walk beside you through the world today,
While dreams and songs and flowers bless your way,
I'll look into your eyes and hold your hand,
I'll walk beside you through the golden land...

A contented sort of sigh escapes Sami in a gentle huff, something like relief, as the long-memorized words roll easy and melodic off of Charlie’s tongue. Soft and soothing, like a lullaby.

I'll walk beside you through the world tonight,
Beneath the starry skies ablaze with light,
Within your soul love's tender words I'll hide,
I'll walk beside you through the eventide...

I'll walk beside you through the passing years,
Through days of cloud and sunshine, joy and tears,
And when the great call comes, the sunset gleams,
I'll walk beside you to the land of dreams...

While his hand strokes over and over again through the messy curls of dark hair, he can feel Sami’s body growing lax and heavy against him, the tension seeping out of his frame bit by bit. The rise and fall of his chest pressed to Charlie’s own is slowing gradually, each breath puffing soft and sleepy now against Charlie’s collarbone.

I'll walk beside you through the world today,
While dreams and songs and flowers bless your way,
I'll look into your eyes and hold your hand...
And I'll walk beside you to the golden land...

Perhaps it truly is enough, to be able to do just this. To sing for Sami and hold onto him, and bring him some peace in this way. Maybe, Charlie thinks as he closes his own eyes, he is good for something in this particular area of expertise after all. It is a peculiarly warm and comforting sort of feeling, to know that one is needed. And that is unarguably what he feels now, needed; in the way Sami’s arms wrap round him, in the way Sami sighs and snuggles just a little closer as he relaxes at last. In the way Sami drifts fully back into that sleep which was stolen from him, simply by virtue of Charlie guiding him on the way with a song.

Who will sing for us? says a soft voice from memory in the back of Charlie’s mind, words twinkling with a goddess’s kind smile.

Yes. Perhaps this is enough.