When David wakes to the sound of choked sobbing it only takes a few seconds for him to get his bearings. It took longer the first time, but several months into sharing an apartment and bed with Jack Kelly he’s more used to it than he’d like.
It’s not an every night kind of thing, but there also haven’t been any full weeks when he hasn’t woken up at least once to the sound of Jack’s tears. Jack never wakes him on purpose, but David’s spent the last ten years or so sharing his bed with Les, and at some point it became second nature to wake up when he heard sounds in the night, which he’s grateful for now.
He’s learned not to immediately reach for Jack, which was what he’d done the first time, more on instinct than anything else, still half asleep, because it’s what he’d always done when Les had nightmares. But Jack’s nightmares aren’t like Les’s were, aren’t the result of a young boy’s overactive imagination, often with the ‘help’ of ghost stories told by his classmates. They tend to be a lot more grounded in reality, as far as David’s been able to work out, and Jack sometimes wakes up not entirely clear on where he is.
When David had reached for Jack the first time Jack hadn’t pushed him away, which David honestly thinks he’d have preferred. Instead he’d flinched back like he was terrified, before scrambling back to where their bed met the corner of the wall, like he was trying to get away, or maybe trying to hide, but in a place where there was nothing to hide behind.
Tonight, before he moves at all David says, “Jackie, you’re safe, you’re here in our tenement with me, it’s just David,” as gently, as softly as he can, and waits.
Jack takes a few shuddering breaths before he manages, “I- yeah. Right. Just us. He ain’t here?”
David wants to find Snyder, in whatever prison cell he’s being kept in and throttle him. He can’t do that though, and it wouldn’t help anyway, any more than locking him up has, although in the morning David will be disappointed in himself for thinking that, will remind himself that if he hadn’t been locked up he’d still be hurting more kids, that when he’s awake and aware even Jack is glad that Snyder’s locked up, even if it doesn’t stop his mind from doing this to him.
Right now, though, David just says, “No Jackie, he ain’t here. He’s far away and he can’t get to you. You ok for me to touch you?”
He can see Jack thinking about it carefully, before he nods, a sharp little movement, and reaches out towards David, a little bit desperately, and David is glad that it’s not one of the nights where Jack can’t stand to have David near him for an hour or more after he wakes up, where he just has to sit there feeling useless and ramble about nonsense until Jack’s shoulders come down and his breathing evens out. The only saving grace of those nights is that at least rambling comes naturally to David. Jack’s told him that it’s better with him there to talk than when Jack used to wait out the shaking and terror on his own, or even than having Crutchy sit with him, but David hates how helpless he feels on those nights.
For now he just clutches Jack close, and reaches out to the bedside table to grab a handkerchief which he hands over, waiting while Jack dries his face and blows his nose before handing it back to David to put back on the table to deal with in the morning.
“Must be love huh,” Jack says, and it’s only a little watery now.
“What?” David is frankly mystified by this comment, because, well, yes, but why is Jack talking about it right now?
“You didn’t even make a face when I blew my nose, Davey. You’re good with the little when they’re sick, but you still make faces about it. But with Les you’re always too busy worrying about him to remember how gross you think it is.”
David can’t help the giggle that bubbles up in his chest, and before long Jack is laughing too, even though his face is still all red and blotchy from the crying. “Jack Kelly, you’re something else,” David says, with a bit of awe when he manages to catch his breath. He can hear in his voice how unbearably fond he is of Jack, and feels like it’s written all over his face that he’d be willing to never get another full night of sleep if Jack will be the one who wakes him up, if he can be sure that there will always be someone there when Jack is haunted by his demons.
“Well, I’m your something though, so that’s all right.” Jack’s actually smiling now, and David feels pretty proud of himself for pulling that off so fast.
“Yeah. Yeah, you sure are. You wanna lie back down and see if you can get a few more hours of sleep before morning?”
Sometimes Jack doesn’t, seems sure that if he closes his eyes again Snyder will just be waiting behind his eyelids, but tonight he nods, and scooches himself down the bed before pulling at David demandingly until he’s got him situated the way he wants him, arms wrapped around Jack. “Sleep well Davey.”
David kisses the back of his neck, and says, “You too.”
They fall silent, and David hears Jack’s breathing even out pretty quick as he falls back asleep, but he can’t stop himself thinking about the strike, and the night when he’d tried to orchestrate Jack’s escape, only for Jack to refuse to come with him. Knowing now that had intentionally gone back to a man who even now haunted his dreams, just because he’d been so determined not to let Snyder get David or any of the other boys still makes him shake a little, thinking of how desperate Jack must have been.
David clutches him a little closer, and Jack obligingly grabs at the hand draped over his body as if even in sleep he wants to be sure to comfort David, sure that he’s keeping David safe. David falls asleep feeling grateful - grateful to have met Jack, grateful that Snyder is far away, grateful that he can be here when Jack wakes up, even if he knows that they won’t talk about any of this tomorrow morning.