Author's Note: I'm working on so many fics atm its ridiculous, but there is just not enough Salem/Rios love out there, so I thought I'd add something small. In fact, now that I'm thinking about it, I really want to write an AOT / L4D2 crossover, but I do not have the time. This one appeared out of one of Salem's offhand comments whilst I was playing AOT – cannot find it for the life of me – about blowing shit up and how it makes all the ptsd just melt away. Something like that.
I couldn't resist. Or rather I didn't try.
Disclaimer: Army of Two (Salem and Rios included) do not belong to me. I only wrote this story. The two-part title is from Emeli Sande's This Is Where I Sleep, so all credit to her for that. I'm not sure if the lyrics fit or the title fits, but it seemed to make sense to my brain.
Reviews and concrit are always deeply appreciated.
...This Is Where I'm Home
It was something that went unspoken between them. A taboo subject, untouchable, so dangerous that it could sweep the ground from beneath their feet, let the poisonous world seep in and pop their bubble from the inside - because hidden in the unreality were real memories, real experiences.
Now, Rios had his fair share; times when he'd wake in a cold sweat, maybe with a hushed cry on his lips, a dying scream. Maybe not. Times when he would wake with aching hands gripping his sheets, breaths short and fast, bloody images burnt into the backs of his eyelids. He would get up and get a glass of water, sometimes take a walk in the cold night air, allow his body to relax and the adrenaline to fade before he returned to sleep.
It happened enough to be a pain, not enough to cause a problem. As long as he didn't think, didn't talk about it, he could pretend it never really happened at all. There was nothing tangible to fight, so as far as he was concerned, there was really nothing he could do about it.
Which was all very well in regards to himself.
Salem was another goddamn story. Tyson could hardly call whatever the fuck went on in his sleep "nightmares" because the word just didn't even begin to cover it. He'd heard the shouting and crying out, the rolling out of bed, even observed the sleep walking once – it was something more like post traumatic stress fuelled hallucinations than bad dreams.
More like chasing ghosts than being afraid of the bogeyman.
But Salem seemed to handle it on his own just fine – it was enough to be a pain, enough for him to have a constant headache from lack of sleep but not enough to be a real problem.
If he was struggling with his nightly issues, Rios would know because Elliot's reactions would be sluggish, face drained to the greyish colour of an old, once-white shirt. And if he was struggling, Rios would step in – stay for a night or two – try and make it all go away again, help to bury it, stuff it back in the box, wherever Elliot kept it stored away so that it didn't come bursting out and incapacitate him in the middle of the day, when he was trying to cross a road or put a bullet in someone's brain.
They never said anything about it because to acknowledge it was to acknowledge that the things that they did day by day were breaking them down, killing them slowly, psychologically. That they were quite possibly one more nightmare away from insanity. Rios didn't want to think about that. How could he think about that when they were surviving the missions that paid their way by the skin of their teeth?
When it was all he could do to protect himself and his partner from a spray of bullets, keep their bodies safe and whole, how could he worry about nightmares...?
Except one night he finds himself half-asleep on Salem's couch with the tv playing, a low, comforting background hum, the younger man snoring beside him.
He's dropping off...he's pretty much lost control of his body, mind starting to go strangely quiet at the same time that quickly forgotten images are flashing through it, only his hearing acting as a slim tether to the world...
A small grunt. At first he doesn't realise he's aware, caught between half-dreams and flickering wakefulness. Another grunt, louder, vaguely angry or perhaps confused.
Rios realises he's awake when a flailing limb catches him in the mouth and he jerks suddenly, heart racing. At first he's disconcerted by the foreign surroundings – not his bedroom, a couch, Elliot's couch, Elliot's apartment, he's safe – but a snarl and another thrown fist brings everything into focus.
Tyson tries to shake the younger man awake gently at first, "Salem, buddy, Salem, wake up" but it only serves to agitate him further. He fights back, kicking, shouting nonsensically, furious and frightened, struggling against the strong hands that hold him.
Its when Elliot starts shouting out instructions that Tyson's heart sinks into the region of his lower ribcage. He feels so far out of sorts he's not really sure this isn't a dream in itself; trying to hold Salem still while he's yelling, "Take him out, ten o clock for fuck's sake! I need you to cover me – damn it!" is surreal but the intense look of pain on the young man's face is concrete enough to terrify him.
He can hear his voice, though he doesn't remember ordering his mouth to say the words, "Jesus! Take it easy, fuck, wake up, wake the fuck up already, it ain't real!" Except it is real, its all too real; they're splintered shadows of memories coming back to haunt him and Salem's sweating and shaking and hyperventilating and screaming something that was relevant to them once, might have saved them once, heart beating as fast as a tiny animal's under Rios' hand.
And he's panicking because now he can't stop thinking that this might be the one, the one that drives Elliot over the edge and he can't – he can't -
Then Salem goes limp in his hands, whimpers once - "Tyse" - and he's whispering desperately back,
"I'm here, man, I'm right here, s'alright, s'just us, you're safe," and Elliot's eyes snap open, glazed, he murmurs something insensible and then sits up with a jolt.
Rios doesn't want to say anything because that's the routine, because that's the way not to drag these things into the daylight where you can fucking see them. Except that he's not sure he can just pretend when Elliot - his friend, his partner, the only thing in the world he really loves above all else - tries to swallow and chokes, trembling, fight or flight response clearly at the forefront of his brain.
After a few seconds his face goes weirdly blank and he pushes Tyson's hands off him, standing on weak legs, swaying, muttering that he needs a drink – Rios doesn't ask if he means water or alcohol. He doesn't say anything. Can't. All he can concentrate on are the muddled thoughts and feelings suffocating him, the desire to fix this, to hit the other man for freaking the hell out of him or maybe hug him, hold him, beg him never to scream like that again, like he's dying, like he's splitting right down the fucking middle.
Usually Rios wouldn't say anything. Usually he would let Salem deal with this whatever way he wanted to deal with it. Its just that he can't help thinking that avoiding it, hiding it, pretending it doesn't happen isn't a way to shield themselves – that its cowardice because the nightmares are real and the memories are real and shit, he has to face that. He has to face all the times this has probably happened when he hasn't been here, when the young man has screamed himself awake and been alone and never dared to speak of it.
It makes him sick to his stomach even to think about it but he has to face it. He'd sleep on this couch every night to make sure Salem is never alone after suffering through something like that, ever again. Hell, this is his home more than his apartment is anyway – Salem is home, has been for a long time now.
He has to face all this because if, in the end, it drives Elliot mad, he's damn well going to be by his side when it happens.
So instead of hiding, he gets up and goes to the kitchen where Salem is gripping onto the counter like its the only thing keeping him standing. Perhaps it is.
"Elliot." Salem doesn't so much as look at him. "Hey." Softer, scared. Salem looks up and his eyes are glassy, pupils wide.
"Hate this." He says bleakly, grip getting impossibly tighter before he pushes himself into a standing position. "I like our job. Doesn't make any sense." Rios knows that it makes perfect sense but he doesn't say that. He crosses the few feet between them and wraps Elliot in himself, hopes to God he can hold the younger man together because he just can't be without him. Not anymore.
Salem goes still, like he's not quite sure what's happening.
Rios doesn't say anything, realises that any words he could conjure are pretty much besides the point now. He just needs to be here. He knows he has no need to speak as soon as Salem hugs him back and his shirt starts to get damp, the chest that's pressed against him shuddering silently.
"'M just so tired." His voice is muffled but still audibly thick with tears. "Fuck, 'm not even upset, bro, just fuckin' tired."
"I know." and damn if he doesn't sound haunted too.
Fingers curl and dig into his back.
"Can you..Stay? Sleep better when..you..you're.."
If this is better, Rios doesn't want to know what bad looks like.
"Yeah. Yeah. O'course." He rubs one gentle circle into the younger man's lower back before he allows him to pull away, offers him as sincere a smile as he can. "We'll figure this shit out."
Salem nods, always trusting in him absolutely, some of the tension easing off his shoulders.
Rios can only hope that this is the same as everything else – that if they face it together, they will win. It can remain unspoken, untouched, if that's what Elliot really wants but Rios knows that, from now till the day he dies, this is where he sleeps.
Where he'll see to it that Salem sleeps too.