There’s a hand on his shoulder, shaking him, trying to rouse him and in his sleep-deprived state, Lin has half a mind to simply ignore it. He wants nothing more than to roll over, bury his face in his pillow, and sleep for the next 14 hours. He’s barely conscious enough to register what’s even happening until a voice breaks through the quiet room.
Lin’s up immediately, shoving himself into an upright position, swinging his legs over the edge of the bed, movements uncoordinated and graceless as his exhausted body tries to keep up with his suddenly alert mind. He reaches out blindly and fumbles a moment before he manages to flip on the bedside lamp. In the sudden brightness, he squints at the boy awkwardly hovering near the side of his bed.
“Alex? Are you okay?” Lin half-whispers, having just enough presence of mind to realize Vanessa is probably still asleep next to him.
Lin waits for a beat, two, but Alex doesn’t answer him. He watches as Alex hugs his arms tighter around himself.
“Did you have a nightmare, kiddo?” Lin guesses, trying to piece together the events that could have led to Alex in his bedroom in the middle of the night. Nightmares are a common occurrence in their home, but Alex in his room is certainly new.
Alex nods hesitantly. Now that his eyes have adjusted, Lin studies Alex’s expression, taking in the sight of the tear tracks on Alex’s cheeks shining in the glow of the lamp.
“Oh honey,” Lin says softly. He opens his arms in invitation, half expecting Alex to refuse the offer of a hug and the other half expecting Alex to bolt out the door at the mere suggestion of a touch. To his surprise, Alex all but trips over himself in his haste to throw himself into Lin’s embrace.
He clings desperately to Lin, arms wrapped tight around his neck and face buried into his shoulder. Lin reciprocates on instinct, pulling Alex onto his lap and holding him tightly as the boy starts to cry more earnestly.
“It’s okay, sweetheart. You’re okay,” Lin repeats again and again as he rocks Alex gently. “You’re safe here, mijo. You’re completely safe. I won’t let anything happen to you, okay?”
Alex doesn’t respond to the words, but Lin thinks they must be helping as the tears subside and he feels Alex begin to slump more heavily against him while the minutes tick by and Lin keeps whispering reassurances to him. Lin glances at the alarm clock on the nightstand, noting that it’s just past three in the morning. He knows Alex must be absolutely exhausted and god knows he is too, but he can’t bring himself to move from their current position, himself sitting upright with Alex still cradled in his lap. He’s mentally debating over whether he should a) try to carry Alex back to his own room, b) forgo his own sleep and just resign himself to keep holding Alex all night, or c) hope Alex somehow falls asleep right where he is so Lin can try to subtly lay them both down without waking him.
“Alex, honey, do you want to sleep in our bed with us tonight?” Vanessa asks, having woken up at some point during the episode, as if she’d somehow managed to read Lin’s mind.
Lin feels the way Alex tenses up and he’s not sure if it’s because the noise startled him or if the suggestion of sharing a bed with them, with him, was enough to freak Alex out and make him want to run back to the safety of his own bedroom where he can lock the door and avoid all human contact.
“You don’t have to, sweetie,” Lin is quick to reassure him when Alex doesn’t immediately answer Vanessa, wanting to stave off any panic that may be setting in. “You can go back to your room if that will make you more comfortable.” Lin feels Alex shake his head ‘no’ where it’s still pressed against his shoulder. “You want to stay here?” There’s a moment’s hesitation, but then Alex nods.
He carefully shifts Alex off his lap and into the center of the bed. He can see Alex’s face now, see the flush to his cheeks from all the crying and the tears that are still welling up in those big, brown eyes. He wants nothing more in the world than to wrap Alex back up into his arms and hold him tightly until he falls asleep, but he knows how important it is for them to be mindful of Alex’s limits, especially when it comes to physical touch, so he refrains. Instead, he stands up and pulls down the comforter so Alex can slide under.
“Lay down, mijo. Get comfortable” Lin instructs after a few moments of Alex merely sitting in the middle of the bed, unmoving. Alex does as he’s told and Lin pulls the blanket back over him, tucking him in as Vanessa arranges a pillow under his head.
“Do you want me to leave, Alex? It’s okay if you’d prefer it to be just you and Vanessa,” Lin offers. He knows he just had the boy sitting on his lap, a position that was closer than any contact they’d had up to this point, and he knows that Alex had made the choice to wake him up instead of Vanessa in the first place, but sharing a bed isn’t something he’s sure Alex can actually handle. Lin doesn’t know the exact details of the abuse Alex suffered at the hands of his former foster father, but he’s willing to bet sharing a bed with a man is high on the list of Alex’s triggers.
“No!” Alex blurts out, looking panicked at the mere suggestion of Lin leaving.
“Okay,” Lin says, surprised by Alex’s reaction. “Okay, I’m not going anywhere.” Lin gets back into the bed and is even more surprised when Alex instantly burrows into his side the second Lin lays down.
Alex has his face pressed against Lin’s chest, one hand tucked between them and one hand clutching Lin’s t-shirt tightly. He still seems to be on the verge of crying and Lin can feel the fine tremors that run through his body from where he has an arm wrapped around Alex’s slim shoulders. Lin begins to hum a soft tune, knowing that is one of the most reliable ways to calm Alex down. Predictably, Alex’s fist begins to loosen its grip on his shirt and his breathes slowly start to even out. It takes long minutes of Lin humming random show tunes and Disney songs while gingerly carding a hand through Alex’s sleep-tangled hair as Vanessa rubs soothing circles into the boy’s back, but they eventually manage to coax him into sleep.
Once Alex is dead to the world Lin turns his head and catches his wife’s eye. They share a look, communicating silently the way only couples who have been together as long as they have can manage. Tonight was another rough night for Alex, like all of them tended to be, and it breaks both of their hearts to see their kid suffering.
But they also know tonight was a major breakthrough. Alex had sought them out on his own. He had come to them when he got scared, when he was upset, and he had let them provide him with the comfort he needed. He had let Lin hold him, let them both touch him, and Lin knows that they’ve still got a long road ahead of them, but he can’t help but feel choked up at how much trust Alex has placed in them, in him.
He’s overwhelmed once again by the realization that he would do absolutely anything for the child in his arms. Lin shares a small smile with Vanessa, knowing she feels exactly the same way. He tenderly presses a kiss to Alex’s forehead and closes his own eyes, letting the feeling of love he has for his family wash over him as he drifts into sleep.