Nick liked to pretend he was okay.
One day in ICU and four days in a general unit and he returned to the house, weak and bite-marked but none the worse for wear. He smiled blithely over breakfasts and lunches, watched and discussed bird documentaries he caught on the Discovery Channel during his time off, offered to do Bobby’s ballistics paperwork while complaining of boredom.
Bobby watched him carefully as he filled out the forms, acted as though he didn’t notice when the pen shook ever-so-slightly, and listened as Nick rambled about the mating practices of some obscure South American bird. He ignored the three night lights in the bedroom, bright bulbs burning in the artificial darkness, and poured Nick an extra coffee on the days he looked particularly exhausted.
Nick attended therapy as he was supposed to, and even if he never talked about it, it seemed to help. Most nights, partially thanks to a carefully regulated prescription, Nick fell asleep quickly and slept through the night, a deep, deadened sleep that often lasted beyond the alarm.
There were some nights, though, where Nick pretended nothing could bother him, anymore. He pulled the night lights out of the outlets and left them in a pile in the corner, tossing his vial of sleeping pills in with them. He smiled and wished Bobby a good night when he curled up in bed, the room bathed in pure, unadulterated black.
The act never lasted for more than an hour.
An hour into it – the clever pretending – Bobby would be roused from sleep by the subtle motion of the bed sleeping, and the sound of Nick’s panic, manifested in shallow, shuddering sobs. It was always the same, Nick curled on the edge of the bed with his back to Bobby, clutching the blankets to his body and trembling helplessly.
On those nights, Bobby abandoned the part he played and slid out of bed, replacing the night lights one-by-one even though he always pretended he didn’t know they were there. When he returned to the mattress, he crossed the distance between them and gathered Nick into his arms, quelling him by cradling him tightly in his arms.
“Shh,” he always whispered, burying his face in Nick’s shoulder or peppering kisses in his hair and across the back of his neck. “You’re here, Nick.” He repeated it again and again, even if it never did any good. “You’re safe.”
The next day, Nick always pretended he was better, and Bobby always smiled and handed him a cup of coffee.