Bump in the Night

by Miss Kitty E

Howie was in bed, lying awake, trying not to move in case shifting position would just wake the part of his mind already near sleep, when he heard a bump in the night. A dull thump, followed by a shouted, "Fuck," that seemed to come from the other side of the wall behind Howie's headboard. Bumps in the night didn't usually hail good things, and the fact that it was Nick rooming next to him this time around didn't help soothe his worry. A door slammed, another not good noise. He went to see what was going on.

He had Nick's extra keycard, as always, tucked into his wallet, because Nick still liked to believe that six-thirty in the morning was just the suggested time of departure, that seven or later would work just as well. He was horribly stubborn, but everyone knew that. Wake-up calls, alarms, and periodic knocks on the door, even all of that combined, didn't help. The trick was to keep waking him up until his body gave up on sleep. Howie usually asked him questions, starting with, "Feeling good, Nicky? Pretty day. I love rainy days, don't you?" He substituted whatever weather it was outside, be it sunny, snowy, cloudy, cold, or windy, Nick had never called him on it, yet.

Because Nick would always mumble something, usually "Fuck you," or "Dammit, Howie."

And when Nick rolled over onto his stomach, face buried into his pillow, Howie would then ask, "What do you want to wear, Nicky?" He'd already be picking out the clothes, lifting them to his nose, because Nick didn't keep the clean and dirty laundry separate in his luggage. Sometimes he chose outfits because they were the only clean, and unwrinkled clothes that matched. Sometimes he chose outfits because he liked how Nick looked in that one blue sweatshirt he had, or the way a particular pair of jeans hung from his hips like Nick was just a punk skater kid in a mall parking lot.

If Nick was in a good mood, the answer to "What do you want to wear?" was a wry, "Nothing." If he was in a bad mood, it was more swearing.

And then he'd poke Nick between the shoulder blades until he started to squirm, and rolled over again. Regardless of his mood, Nick would be annoyed, "Jesus fucking Christ, Howie, leave me alone!"

"Get dressed. Did you want to go down for breakfast?"

And by then Nick would always be awake, getting dressed, and thinking of things to say in the silence. Things like, "Where are we going to today?" or, "This hotel has crappy food," or, "I really was going to get up soon, fucker."

So it wasn't any big thing, was it, to use the key now to see if Nick was okay, if he could use it to enter when Nick was asleep and unguarded. He took a deep breath after the click of the key being accepted, and then turned the handle. Nick was on the floor beside his bed, legs curled back so he was resting mostly on one hip, cradling his hand in his lap.

"Oh Nicky," Howie said, softly. "Oh, what did you do?"

He knelt next to Nick and finally heard the quick rush of breathing from Nick's mouth. He put his hand on Nick's cheek, and tipped his face up and his grey-blue eyes flashed wet, but maybe not suspiciously so, Howie couldn't tell. Nick whimpered, a soft unconscious noise that Nick would not have made if given the choice, when Howie tried to pull him up by the elbow.

"I'm sorry," Howie said quickly. "Um, I'll be right back." He went to grab the ice bucket from the desk, hurrying down the hallway to fill it halfway. When he returned, Nick hadn't moved much, just laid his head back against the bed, neck bent now at almost ninety degrees as he stared at the ceiling.

Howie went into the bathroom to grab a towel, taking a handful ice and making an impromptu cold compress. "Come on, Nicky," he put his free hand on Nick's shoulder. "Get up on the bed, you'll be more comfortable." Nick slowly complied, moving under Howie's hand. He sat against the headboard, still looking at nothing, his red mouth, down-turned, was beautiful and heartbreaking.

Howie sat next to him on the bed, fluffing up the pillows so Nick could sit against them, and not end up straining his lower back or anything. He touched the compress gently to Nick's red and swelling knuckles. Nick winced, softly, so softly Howie wouldn't have noticed had it not been for the flinch he felt pass through Nick's shoulder butted up firmly against his.

"What did you do?" Howie asked again.

"Used my fist to find the stud in the wall," Nick answered, ambiguously.

He looked at Nick, who was still looking at nothing, pretty mouth all slack and sad. "Next time, try throwing something. You know... to break something other than yourself." He lifted the compress and frowned, "How bad does it hurt?"

"Everything hurts... it all hurts," Nick replied, slumping a little more. He thumped his head against the wall and closed his eyes tightly.

Howie switched hands with the compress, and slipped his arm around Nick's shoulders, pulling at him a little, until more of Nick's body was warm and heavy against him. Howie squeezed his shoulder then moved it up to stroke Nick's hair just once. He was a little surprised when Nick automatically rested his cheek against his shoulder, even scooted down so he could really... rest. "It's okay," Howie told him.

"No, it's not." Nick's first sob broke against Howie's neck, tight and suppressed, but the first of many.

"It will be, then." Howie insisted, because Nick was the kind of guy to let himself think that things were hopeless. Howie was the kind of guy who never saw the logic behind that way of thinking. "Shh," he kissed Nick's forehead, because he loved Nick- in a lot of different ways -and Nick was in pain right now- in a lot of different kinds of pain -and he wasn't going to let the 2001 Edition of "Modern Male Interaction" deny him any impulse to comfort him. "It'll be okay, I promise. Everything gets better."

"I'm really, God, Howie, I'm really scared about, um."

Oh, Howie thought, so that was it. They were all scared about that, but Nick had probably forgotten that, had felt that he was all alone in fighting off the worry, and the anxiety, and the frustration, and the guilt, and the helplessness. "We all are, Nicky. Okay? And um," should he say this? "No matter what, okay? And I mean that, no matter what, I'll still be here. Like... always there. For you."

Nick's breathing had gradually slowed, tapered off till it was almost silent, just sighs endlessly strewn together. Howie stroked Nick's hair again, kind of tentatively, to see if he would pull away. Nick didn't, and if he didn't want to be close to someone right now, he wouldn't have hesitated to move, wouldn't have worried about seeming closed off, or hurting Howie's feelings. Nick hadn't grown up thinking he had to look out for or please anyone but himself. It took a while to realize that didn't mean he was automatically a bad person.

He kissed Nick's forehead again, just along the hairline, but when he lifted his lips he just moved them down, and placed them right in the middle of Nick's worried brow. He let them linger a second, and when he pulled away Nick lifted his chin, kind of dragging their lips across each other's clumsily. He shifted again, and found a better angle, a better position, and the kiss was better, Howie's mouth rubbing, slightly open, against Nick's.

He rubbed the shell of Nick's ear with his thumb; that was a place he'd never touched Nick, and he was aware of it. He ran his palm down the center of his broad chest, and swept it low across Nick's hips, touches that a moment ago would have been too far over the line. There was a brief, silent quarrel over who gets to do what, Nick wanted to suck on Howie's lower lip while Howie wanted lick all around the inside of Nick's mouth, and then Nick was intent on thrusting deep inside Howie's mouth just as Howie tried to catch his breath. Eventually, there was a rhythm created, an unspoken policy give, then take, even though Nick wasn't particularly good at being patient. Nick leaned forward, hand closing around Howie's upper arm to tug him closer, but he just made Howie's hand press harder against the compress, sharp pain spreading through his injured hand.

"Fuck!" Nick pulled away, sharply, curling around his hand. His whole body was tense, and he continued to curse until the pain dissipated back into a dull ache.

"I'm sorry," Howie whispered, earnestly. He still laughed though, breathless because he just made out with Nick like they were teenagers at the drive-in. He kissed the corner of Nick's mouth and looked down at the ugly purple bruise forming, just under the surface of Nick's skin. "We gotta get a doctor to look at this, Nicky."

"No, it's not that bad," Nick said in the way that meant it was.

"I think it is. I mean, we need to be sure."

Nick shook his head, Howie didn't know why he was being so adamant. He was usually the kind of person to milk an injury for attention, but Howie guessed this was a little different.


"If it hurts tomorrow, okay? Then I'll go." Bargaining. Nicky would just lie again tomorrow. But tomorrow Kevin would be frowning at it, and ushering Nick into a cab bound for the hospital.

"How will you sleep with your hand banged up like that?"

Nick looked at the analog clock on the nightstand; it was 3:57am. "It's almost morning. I don't need to worry about it for very long."

Howie sighed, "Do you still want the ice?"

Nick shook his head, and Howie got up to dump the ice back into the bucket. He crumpled up the towel and threw it back into the bathroom. When he turned, Nick was curling up on his side, resting his hand gingerly against the pillow, palm up. "Do you want me to go back to my room now? Do you want to talk?"

Nick shook his head, and Howie started for the door.

"No, um, you can stay. I'm gonna try to go to sleep, but you can stay. If you want." Nick's eyes were surprisingly clear and easy to see in the dim light.

Howie made a show of shrugging, but went to Nick's bed pretty eagerly. He snapped off the light, so that Nick wouldn't have to shift around too much to do it himself, and crawled in on the other side. He tried to press himself against Nick's back and slip his arm around his waist but in the dark it felt like cuddling up to a wall. He didn't have to say anything, the second he pulled away, Nick rolled onto his back, his good hand groping for Howie's shoulder. Howie sat up, a little, and let Nick slip his arm under him, let Nick pull him close.

Howie put his hand on Nick's chest, feeling it rise and fall smoothly.

"So, um," Nick said to the darkness.

"Yeah," Howie said, smiling; it was funny. They'd known each other for, what, almost eight years now and still there were things they didn't know, like the capacity of love to change over time, and under the right circumstances, like how they kissed, and how they breathed, and how they hurt. "Just don't regret it, Nicky."

"I hate it when you call me that."

"No, you don't."

"Maybe. And anyway, I think I'm too far past regret, right now."

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