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and a panic disorder

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Scrags was a federal agent who didn’t need to use colorful language to describe everyday situations. But he was almost certain, driving back to his hotel room, that it was the end of the longest fucking day of his shitty goddamn life.

He tried to drown out his thoughts by turning up his radio loud enough to make the car tremble, but nevertheless the day’s events wouldn’t leave his mind.

A cold case he’d stayed overtime trying to crack, filled to the brim with loose ends and disturbing crime scene photos. Hours of poring over his work only to have his partner figure it out on a bathroom break and take credit for the whole thing. And the cherry on top? Getting stuck outside in the rain while he jammed his bent key into the van door’s busted lock for six minutes until it finally budged.

Thinking about those lovely six minutes made him acutely aware of just how damp his butt still was. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat, trying to focus on the road ahead of him. He was nearing the hotel, where he’d be able to get a nice, hot shower and sleep in a clean bed far into his day off tomorrow.

That is, if his hotel room was still intact. He always booked two double rooms when the squad was staying out of town, and this time he was bunking with Keith. So, fingers crossed, that meant he would be sleeping in a bed devoid of drugs stuffed beneath the sheets and without any blaring Instagram videos waking him up in the morning.

Hell— if he was really lucky, he thought as he checked the clock, Keith would already be asleep by now. It was nearing one in the morning on a weeknight, and they didn’t start on their next case until tomorrow. Maybe he could get his first good night’s sleep of the week.

Alas, this was not the case. Scrags had barely exited the elevator when he could hear the blare of music coming from down the hallway. Every ounce of exhaustion left his body and his eyes widened with panic as he darted down the hall.

Christ, they were so going to get a noise complaint. He fumbled for his key, hastily unlocking the hotel room door. He didn’t know which of their rooms the music was coming from, but they were adjoined so it was of little import.

A wave of shock came over him when he entered the hotel room, half expecting to see his squadmates high off their asses and raving.

Instead, he was greeted by the sight of Esther sleeping peacefully atop a pullout bed, with Keith nearby poring over case files. The stereo was still obnoxiously blasting R&B, though. That was a problem.

As if on cue, Keith’s eyes met Scrags’s and he quickly shut the music off, glasses slipping down his nose from darting up so quickly.

Glasses. Since when did Keith wear glasses?

“I wear them for reading,” Keith supplied, making Scrags realize he was so tired he must have said his thoughts aloud.

“You look smart,” Scrags offered sincerely, going to close the door behind him. He exhaled heavily, relieved that no one down the hall had come storming in to complain.

“Care to explain what I just walked in on?” He asked, stepping over Gwen’s sleeping body sprawled out on the floor.

“Oh, shit, yeah,” Keith patted the chair beside him at the hotel room’s cramped excuse for a desk. “Come sit down.”

Scrags did as he was told, internally cringing at the squish of his wet pants on the leather seat. Keith raised an eyebrow at him, but didn’t comment.

“So,” Keith began, proudly detailing every bit of the night’s case progress to Scrags, describing each epiphany the three other members had.

“And now all we have to do is interview the administrators. As soon as we have a last seen, the killer’s trail will lead us right to him,” Keith finished proudly, looking to Scrags for a reaction.

The latter was grinning warmly for the first time in what felt like an eternity (though in fact had only been a few days). “Nice job, Keith,” He commended, speaking softly so as not to wake the girls. “I can’t believe you guys actually started a case without me.”

“Solved it, without you,” Keith corrected smugly. He received a tired whatever look from Scrags before adding, “It was mostly Esther. But I was a good cheerleader.”

“I bet you were. Keith?”

“Yeah?” Keith’s eyes had trailed back to the case files, clearly tempted to resume his work.

“Why were you guys blasting music at one in the morning?” Scrags glanced at the door again, still half expecting the cops to bust it down before he remembered that he was a cop. He probably could’ve come up with an excuse.

“Oh, Esther.” Keith said simply. “She was on something or other and said we had to play the music for her to go to sleep.”

“She demanded it,” Keith amended after a moment. “Very aggressively.”

“She solved a case high? That’s new.”

“Hey!” Keith interjected, then blushed and lowered his voice. “We all solved it.”

Scrags gave him a placating nod. “And Gwen?” He glanced at his friend passed out a few feet away on the carpet.

“She was tipsy as fuck.”

“Lovely,” Scrags replied, a bemused smile tugging at his lips. He tried his best to always look disapproving of his friends’ substance abuse tendencies, but every time he walked in on a scene like the one before him it was hard not to break.

“Oh, come on, Scrags!” Keith teased, catching on. “You look like you could use a drink yourself.”

Keith then stood, snatching a small Ziploc full of powder off the ground. “Or maybe whatever this is, Esther seemed to like it.” He waggled the bag in front of Scrags’s face (not-so) enticingly.

“Keith,” Scrags interrupted in a tone not unlike that of a worn out parent. As always, he wasn’t even slightly interested in a good time.

“Sorry, officer.” Keith set the bag down on the desk.

Scrags rolled his eyes, though his expression softened a bit. “Besides, I gotta clean this place up. It’s a disaster.”

Keith followed Scrags’ gaze to the mess of papers, takeout boxes, and empty bottles littering the floor. A hint of shame colored his face.

“You don’t have to worry about that, man,” Keith assured, pushing Scrags away from the trash heap by his shoulders. “You look exhausted.”

“Keith,” Scrags protested without any real heat, taking a step back. “This whole room smells like pot and Chinese food. Let me clean it for you guys.”

“No, Scrags,” Keith said, more determined now. “Let me clean it for you.”

He disappeared into the bathroom for a moment, then quickly returned with a handful of towels and tiny bottles of hotel toiletries gathered up in his arms.

“You go take a hot shower, I’ll take care of the mess,” Keith said with his usual levels of unearned confidence. He was clearly determined now.

Scrags couldn’t fight a smile. Keith could be a bit obnoxious at times, but he was being really sweet at present, so Scrags took the towels and toiletries without protest.

“Plus, you kind of smell like wet dog.” Keith added, drawing a mean glare from Scrags. So much for being sweet. Even if it was probably true.

“So I’ll head over to the other room then?” Scrags asked quietly as he turned to leave, so as to not wake up the girls.

“Yeah, these two have taken over ours so we’ll just swap for tonight.” Keith replied, already setting to work with a plastic garbage bag in hand.

Scrags was in and out of the shower in half an hour. He normally didn’t even take that long, but allowing the steam to suck the deep-rooted frigid wetness from his body took longer than expected. He was still left with a aching muscles afterwards, but one can only expect so much from a hotel shower.

He stepped into his (or, technically Esther and Gwen’s) hotel room in his towel, realizing he hadn’t brought any clothes with him. He was scanning the room for any discarded sweaters he might’ve left behind when something soft impacted with his back.

He whirled around to see Keith grinning at him, then glanced down at the clean pair of boxers and rolled-up T-shirt at his feet.

“I got you, brotha,” Keith said with a cheesy smile, knowing that Scrags was too tired to lecture him about the importance of personal space and privacy.

“Thank you,” Scrags replied, sheepishly retreating once more into the bathroom to change.

Scrags returned to find Keith gone, so he carefully opened the door that conjoined the two hotel rooms, making sure it didn’t creak. He felt his heart swell up with something between pride and gratitude when he saw the spotless floor of what was previously his and Keith’s hotel room; Keith had stuck to his word about tidying up.

His eyes traveled to the pull-out bed, where Esther had been covered with a blanket. Further back in the room, Gwen was curled up on what used to be Keith’s mattress; an upgrade from the floor.

Keith himself was nowhere to be seen, though. Conceding defeat, Scrags shut the door and stumbled into the nearest bed.

He could tell it was Esther’s by scent alone, but he was too tired to move. Even disregarding the smell of weed radiating from the bedding, he found it difficult to actually fall asleep. So there he sat, in sleepy purgatory, unable to stay and sleep nor get up.

God, his whole body ached. He couldn’t find a single comfortable position, one where his back didn’t scream at him and his legs would stop jittering.

Scrags’ frustrated fidgeting was interrupted by the hotel room door squeaking open, slowly. Carefully.

“It’s okay, Keith,” Scrags assured, “I’m not sleeping.”

“Oh thank god,” his friend replied, shutting the door behind him, “It’d be weird if you slept with the lights on.”

Scrags felt a slight twinge of embarrassment in his chest at that comment. After the day’s events, he was sort of hoping to. He was worried that being alone in the darkness would allow his mind to wander and dwell on disturbing sights of the day.

Scrags shut his eyes nonetheless, listening to the shuffling of Keith undoing Gwen’s impeccably made bed. They didn’t even allow room service in here, she was just that much of a neat freak. For a moment, Scrags wished he would’ve taken her bed instead. Too late now.

Keith switched off the lights, mumbled a goodnight, and then Scrags was alone again. After some half-hearted attempts at deep breathing exercises, his body finally listened to him and he drifted off.

Only to awake an hour later, on the floor beside his bed. His heart was pounding and he felt cold and clammy and what was on his legs oh god—

“Scrags?” A voice slurred from above.

Keith, Scrags thought, his chest still pounding, Keith is here.

He looked slowly around him, eyes straining in the darkness. His bedsheets were twisted around his legs, he was in the hotel room.

He’d woken Keith up.

“S-sorry,” Scrags managed, getting to his feet with some struggle. “I uh— I fell out of bed.”

“No kidding,” Keith propped himself up on his elbow, visible even in the darkness. “You were kicking around a lot. I didn’t wake you up cuz I figured you must’ve been having a pretty good time, if you know what—“ Keith paused.

It was then Scrags realized just how loud his breathing must’ve been; Keith was staring at him worriedly and the only noise that could be heard was his shaky panting.

“Scrags,” Keith began, in a voice gentle enough to make the other man think he had FRAGILE plastered across his forehead. “Do you wanna sleep here instead, buddy?”

Scrags was still standing but he barely felt strong enough to anymore, and the last thing he wanted to do was crawl back into his sweaty, empty, weed-scented hotel bed. But it was Keith and they’re dudes and Scrags is an adult man and he doesn’t need—

“Scrags, come on,” Keith was up on his feet too now, gently placing a hand on his friend’s back and guiding him towards the bed. It made Scrags feel like he was back in junior high, cowering beside Keith as they made their way through some crook’s headquarters.

Scrags’s breathing was still uneven at best, but he was ever-so-slowly regaining his composure. As soon as he laid down on Gwen’s mattress, he let out a sigh of relief. Keith hovered nearby, hesitant.

“So...swapsies?” He eventually asked, in true Keith fashion.

“No,” Scrags replied with certainty, scooting over. “Here.”

The two shuffled around a bit and settled in, a mix of tension and exhaustion filling the air. Scrags was jittering a little in place.

“You okay?”

“Of course I am.”

A beat.

“Is it your anxiety or whatever?”

“Truth is,” Scrags rolled over to face Keith, even though his face was obscured by darkness. “I worked a really brutal case today. I can’t stop seeing the crime scene photos. I-It was kids, man! People can be such...such monsters.”

Keith didn’t say anything, blinking thoughtfully. Scrags didn’t blame him. It was late, and that was heavy, and it was Keith. Keith wasn’t good with words.

“And, y’know — my whole body hurts,” Scrags continued, “A-and I don’t want to have another nightmare.” He finished more quietly.

Keith rolled onto his back, still not responding. Was he truly that tired, or was he even worse at comforting people than he claimed to be?

“Tell you what,” Keith finally declared, interrupting Scrags’s pondering. “How bout a brand new pillow to ease your mind? Never fails.”

Scrags squinted at him in confusion, but didn’t have time to ask before Keith had scooted over and pulled Scrags’s torso onto his own.

“Keith,” Scrags laughed softly, but didn’t otherwise move. “This is dumb.”

“Scientifically proven to prevent nightmares,” Keith refuted.

“Yeah, right,” Scrags mumbled, though his eyes already felt heavy. He yawned and tucked his chin against Keith’s shoulder. “You’ve got a big neck, you know.” He added with the same level of import.

“Thank you,” Keith sounded pleased. He was probably proud of developing a buff neck or something. The man was almost always working out.

When Scrags didn’t reply and his breathing began to slow, Keith smiled to himself and nudged Scrags with his chin. “G’night, bud. Get some rest.”

“Night Keith...” a very tired Scrags leaned into the comforting touch, and Keith tried not to move a muscle.