A scrap of skin branded by a misspelled tattoo, the delicate and flimsy material shifting in the slight breeze coming from the open window as a white-haired, red-eyed man clad in a suit and a bright yellow tie stretches it out on a square piece of glass. He places the glass with the skin stretched taut upon it into a frame of dark wood, making sure the glass fits the picture frame before closing it and hanging it up on a wall, alongside a gold band hanging on a chain and a picture of a dark-haired woman holding a baby while three other children, two toddler boys and a school-age girl, sit beside her. Behind them all sits a heavy-set man, smiling just as happily as the rest of his family. The white-haired man turns to look at the family in the picture, and their smiles twist into grimaces of pain as blood flows from suddenly appearing wounds. Their silent screams are louder than anything. Four letters. Two syllables. Over and over and over again. Four letters. Alex. Two syllables. Alex. Over and over and over again. Alex. Alex. Alex Alex Alex Alex.
The white-haired man in the suit and vibrant tie turns from his admiration of his spoils of a war he won before it had even started. A sneer twists his lips as they mockingly form the same four letters. Alex. Alex. Alex. Alex.
Silent screams. Alex. Terrible taunts. Alex. Bleeding. Alex. Red eyes. Alex. Pain. Alex. Cruel laughter. Alex. Alex.
Alex wakes up with a start, a strangled gasp cutting off the scream that had been tearing itself from her throat. She sits up, gasping for breath, heart thrumming like a hummingbird's wings. Her eyes are wide as she looks around the room in a daze, expecting to see Hatch or the picture frame around her brother's tattoo or even the photograph whose inhabitants cried out to her as they bled.
She jumps when she feels a hand on her shoulder, one arm uncurling itself from around her torso to strike out. Her hand is caught at the wrist in a gentle grip, and she waits, her breath tremulous, as she hears someone fumbling to turn the light on. Alex winces as the light comes on in a blinding flash, dimming slowly as her eyes become used to the sudden brightness. She looks up, eyes watery and full of a fear she doesn't quite understand.
"Alex? Alex, it's only me. Calm down, please." The hand that had been gripping her wrist lets go, stroking her cheek softly instead. His other hand is raised so that he can cup her face in both hands, gently forcing her to look properly at him. "Are you all right, Alex?"
Still lost in the confusing haze of her dream, Alex screams. Hal is quick to silence her, one hand covering her mouth as gently as possible while the other takes hold of her wrists before she can try to hit him. He murmurs nonsensical words of comfort as she quiets down, doing his best to hide the concern making his heart pound. Once Alex is quiet again, he clears his throat awkwardly and moves away, crouching beside Alex's bed with his hands in his lap.
"Alex, please. It's only me." Hal is frowning, all pursed lips and furrowed brow, very obviously worried. In her sleep-addled state, Alex can't help but to notice how much like a puppy her friend can sometimes be. Her lips twist into a small and slightly dazed smile at the sudden realisation, but that smile quickly fades as she catches sight of a picture frame hanging on the wall behind Hal. She sees the frame and sees the torn piece of skin branded by a tattoo. She sees the frame and sees the portrait in which the family screams in agony. She sees red eyes and white hair and a black suit and a sunshine-yellow tie. Alex can't breathe. The red eyes are looming ever-closer and she can't breathe. They're too close. Too close.
They're nowhere. There's only Hal. Hal Hal Hal. Alex's tense body slumps in relief, falling forward onto Hal, who wraps his arms around her in a protective embrace. His hands wrap around her waist, caressing her lower back gently as he murmurs comfortingly.
"H–Hal..?" It's the first time Alex has spoken since she woke up, but her voice is hoarse from screaming. Hal stiffens slightly, pulling away from Alex just enough that he can look at her without letting her go entirely. Her eyes widen, shining with tears that threaten to trickle down her flushed cheeks. "Hal. Oh god, Hal. Don't let me go. Please."
"I won't, I won't. I promise I won't." Hal moves, sitting next to Alex on the bed. His arms wrap around her trembling form again, and he can feel the sadness stabbing at his heart when he feels her clutching at him, clinging to him as tightly as she can. With one arm wrapped around her waist and the other around her shoulders, he strokes her hair softly, whispering words of comfort.
Alex has her head resting on Hal's shoulder, biting her lip to keep the tears at bay. She shifts back, not quite out of their embrace, before speaking quietly, a shy and hesitant question slipping, unbidden, past her lips. "Will you stay with me?"
Hal nods and gets to his feet, giving her space to lie down again. She leaves a space beside her, looking up at him expectantly. He lies down next to her, pulling the covers over them and taking Alex's hand. He does nothing more than watch her silently, his presence comforting her more than she had expected.
Hal watches her and Alex watches back, but soon enough she's blinking slowly. Her breathing evens out, her eyes fall shut, and a tiny smile makes its way to her lips. Hal smiles to himself, allowing the cloud of sleep to envelop him.
Tom finds them in the morning, having looked for Hal everywhere else in the house. He smiles softly at the pair who lie so entwined on the bed that it's difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins. Tom shuts the door carefully, walking back downstairs as silently as he can manage, fixing his tie as he walks out the front door.
"I s'pose he can stay home from work today."