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Caffeine and Cuddles

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“NO! Don’t-” Ash paused briefly to swallow some saliva “Don’t come any closer!”

Herbert was taken aback by his guest’s frightful outburst, the way his eyes darted fearfully around the dark room, the way his chest rose and fell in time with his erratic breathing. This was nothing Herbert ever would have expected from someone as outwardly confident as Ash Williams. Even so, it was happening now, so Herbert had to do, at the very least, something.

It all started about an hour ago when Herbert trudged to his room after a long evening of work in his lab. He was practically running on fumes as he shoved his door open, only to be interrupted by the sound of muffled yelps from the guest room. Finding the sound odd (mostly because Herbert made sure to triple-check that none of his little doodles had escaped the basement), Herbert instead entered the other room to find Ash tossing and turning in bed. Attempting to shake him awake is what made Ash give such a frightful response, and nearly back-handing the scientist.

“Alright. I won’t come closer,” Herbert raised up his hands and deliberately spoke slowly “You were having a nightmare, Ash, and you’re awake now.”

“I am!?” Ash pushed himself back and away from Herbert “How do I know I’m not still dreaming?”

Herbert couldn’t help but sigh a little as he heard the plain distrust in Ash’s voice. Making sure not to break eye contact with the other man, Herbert slowly and deliberately made his way to the Tiffany lamp resting on the night stand. Ash’s eyes were glued on him, perhaps waiting for some sudden movement or attack. Instead, Herbert lowered a hand and tugged on the lamp’s chain, the lightbulb within illuminating the whole room with a myriad of warm colors from the lamp’s stain-glass shade. Ash gasped at the sudden brightness and looked up at the colors on the ceiling, giving Herbert enough time to extend a hand to him.

“I assure you that you’re awake, Ash,” Herbert spoke softly “Now, come with me.”

Ash stared at his hand for a solid minute, wearing an expression of bewilderment as if Herbert’s hand was mutating before his very eyes. Herbert grew concerned that perhaps he would have to yank the man out of bed himself, but to his surprise Ash grabbed his hand, allowing the scientist to pull him out of bed. Once he was on his two feet, Herbert began to let go of Ash’s hand, only to find that Ash was refusing to let go. He was looking down at the floor like some petulant child, which made Herbert frown in disapproval but nonetheless squeezed Ash’s hand.

“If you’re going to act like that,” Herbert sighed as he began to lead Ash out of the room “At least you’re quiet.”

Ash shuffled behind Herbert, uncharacteristically quiet as he was led down the stairs and to the kitchen. Herbert wasted no time in sitting Ash down at the kitchen table and beginning to rifle around the shelves for coffee filters. He always forgets where he leaves them last.

“Why are you awake?” Ash’s voice cut through the silence. Herbert glanced back to see Ash picking at the table’s surface with his one good hand.

“I was working, obviously,” Herbert replied, spying what he needed on the top shelf. He sighed, raising up on his toes to grab it. Damn his height…

He saw something appear close to him out of the corner of his eye, and Herbert paused to see Ash standing practically up against him. Herbert lowered his hand and shied away on instinct. Ash didn’t seem to notice the scientist move away as he reached up and effortlessly plucked the box out of the top shelf.

“I had coffee this morning,” Ash mumbled an explanation as he began to prepare the coffee machine “You want anything?”

“Black is fine,” Herbert answered, lifting his glasses to rub his eyes, feeling sleep calling to him but knowing that now was not a good time to answer it.

Silence fell between the two of them once again, the only noise being the gurgling of the machine as it spat out the blackish-brown liquid into the pot. Herbert moved over to table and took a seat for himself as he watched Ash continue to stare at the machine.

“That’s not going to make the coffee come out any faster,” Herbert narrowed his eyes with slight irritation “Sit down.”

Ash looked back at Herbert, looking just as frustrated, “You don’t have to be awake right now, you know that?”

“I was a medical student once,” Herbert retorted “I’m used to all-nighters.”

Ash let out a disgruntled sigh and sat back down heavily while Herbert watched him. True, Herbert could just leave Ash alone in favor of sleep, but there was a nagging voice in the back of his mind telling Herbert that leaving the man won’t make him feel better. Of course, Herbert won’t admit it out loud. Would Ash even care if Herbert told him?

Herbert’s thoughts were cut off by the sound of the chair’s legs scraping against tiles as Ash got back up to pour the two of them coffee. The scientist observed Ash’s face, which looked very tired and even depressed compared to Ash’s more outspoken self. Herbert knew what the man had gone through, and perhaps now he was finally seeing how much of a toll the experience had on Ash. The man’s broad shoulders were slouched forward, his eyes half-lidded from exhaustion and had heavy bags under them. Herbert couldn’t help but think of Dan as he watched him, before he left. Dan had gone through much less compared to Ash, but even he shared the same stance that Ash was adopting at the moment. Herbert briefly pondered on whether or not Ash was emotionally stronger than Dan based on these observations.

“It may just mean that Ash does a better job hiding his pain,” Herbert concluded silently as Ash returned to the table, passing him a green mug of black coffee. How appropriate.

“So,” Herbert spoke allowed, setting his mug down on the table, “Do you need to talk about anything?”

“What’re you? My therapist?” Ash furrowed his brow and took a sip of his own brew.

“Most of the time, talking about our problems provides a release for our built-up emotions,” Herbert answered with a rehearsed statement, a statement he’s used for many patients and even Dan a few occasions.

The practiced(?) sincerity seemed to work, for Ash looked at Herbert with an even more depressed expression, “After watching your sister and all of your closest friends die and come back to kill you, nightmares won’t let you just forget it.”

Herbert nodded, coming to a somewhat understanding with Ash. He never dares to admit it, but he’s prone to have a nightmare from time to time when he falls asleep early enough to dream. Even now, he could picture the rejects bursting through the walls and dragging him into the crypt while Dan does nothing to stop it and the severed head of Dr. Hill laughs at him. Herbert hated that dream, which made it all the more frustrating whenever the nightmare came back. Herbert was sure that Ash must experience the same frustration.

The two sat in silence, sipping on their respective mugs of coffee. Herbert looked up to watch Ash tilt his cup up and chug the last of the beverage, his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down with every gulp. Pretending he wasn’t staring, Herbert finished his coffee as well and set his mug, grimacing slightly at the bitter taste.

“You do need to go back to bed eventually,” Herbert noted, standing up to place the two empty mugs in the sink.

“So do you,” Ash noted back. Herbert smirked while his back was turned. Touché…

“Then I’ll follow you back upstairs,” Herbert conceded, turning back to Ash and offering a hand to help him back on his feet. It wasn’t until Ash actually took it and stood up that Herbert realize that Ash didn’t really need his hand. A little heat rose in his cheeks at the sudden thought of Ash actually wanting his hand, but Herbert quickly brushed the thoughts away.

“No one really liked me, and Dan just barely tolerated me. Why would Ash be any different?” Herbert thought to himself, leading Ash by the hand back up the stairs. Ash was no longer shuffling, from the sounds of it, so the coffee had seemed to have done some semblance of good. It wasn’t long before they reached the doorway to Ash’s room, and Ash let go of Herbert’s hand to step inside.

Ash paused, glancing at Herbert and then away with a conflicted expression. He ultimately turned away, muttering, “That’s stupid…”

Herbert frowned with a quiet anger, catching Ash’s arm tightly to force him back around, “What’s stupid?”

“Ow! Alright! I get it!” Ash pulled his arm out of the scientist’s grasp “I was just thinking about asking you to share my bed!”

Herbert’s anger quickly evaporated which was replaced with a shocked expression. He understood that sometimes people need to the presence of someone else to help them through a nightmare, but him of all people?

“See? I said it was stupid,” Ash nodded, turning back to head to bed.

“It’s not stupid,” Herbert admitted aloud. The two men looked at each other with shocked expressions, Herbert staring like a deer in the headlights and Ash looking like he was just asked to solve some complicated equation.

“Did you just-?” Ash started.

“You heard me,” Herbert interrupted, knowing full well that he now had to lie down in the bed he just made.

“Well…” Ash turned away to process everything “Okay, I guess.”

Herbert stepped in, fully aware that his cheeks had to be bright red at the moment. He looked up and was equally surprised to see that Ash’s face was flushed as well. Taking off his shoes, Herbert watched as Ash climbed back into bed, which was thankfully large enough to fit the two of them. Herbert finished preparing for bed by taking off his belt and tie, placing them neatly with his shoes. As he approached the side of the bed, Ash rolled over onto his side.

“We’ll sleep back to back,” Ash acknowledged. Herbert detected an unspoken “to make things less awkward” in the way Ash said that. Herbert nodded in agreement, taking his glasses off for the night and laying down on the soft mattress.

 

Almost a half an hour into the night, Herbert awoke to a sound. The light sleeper that he was, his eyes snapped open to hear something shifting in the bed.

“Ash?” Herbert whispered “Do you hear tha-”

The sound turned out to be light snoring, and the movement was Ash himself rolling over. Herbert froze up as Ash threw his right arm over the smaller man, his warm chest now pressed up against Herbert’s back and his breath ghosting over the hairs on the back of Herbert’s neck. Herbert shivered at the foreign contact, his face growing hot once again. Yet, for some reason, he didn’t really feel like moving. It was definitely awkward for him, but at the same time doing anything for the first time can be awkward. That feeling aside, he couldn’t help but experience a soothing sense of comfort, an enveloping warmth that spread from his back to his whole body, making Herbert remember just how cold he can be sometimes. Herbert closed his eyes with a soft sigh and moved closer to Ash, his heart fluttering a tiny bit as he felt Ash tighten his hold on him. A small smile spread over Herbert’s lips.

“This isn’t so bad,” Herbert concluded to himself as he drifted off to sleep.