Josh woke from a sound sleep, fuzzy and confused. Sitting up, he pushed his hands through his hair as he glanced at the clock on the nightstand. It was almost 2:30 AM. He’d left the television on like he did most nights, since he slept better with the low noise. Sometime during the night the latest storm had cleared off. Now moonlight spilled in through the far window.
He fumbled for his glasses, swearing as he knocked them to the floor.
He froze, mid-reach, at the most unholy sound he’d ever heard, the hair raising up on the back of his neck. Mark shouted in pain, his voice pitched in fear.
Josh rolled out of bed, grabbing the Marine issue Ka-Bar knife from under his pillow before he bolted down the hall wearing nothing but sweatpants. Mark’s shouts bounced off the walls of the empty, dark hallway. Josh pulled the knife from its sheath before bursting through the half open door that led to the master suite.
Mark tossed and thrashed, tearing the bed apart in what Josh recognized as a nightmare from his past in Vietnam. He kept repeating the name Ryan, sobbing it between shouts for help. Before trying to wake the other man from the nightmare-flashback, Josh sheathed the knife and tossed it well out of harm’s way, down the hall.
"Oh God, Ryan, don’t do this! Don’t you go and die on me!"
Josh reached to grip Mark’s arm. "Hey, Connor, wake up, man. Come on, Mark!"
"Ryan!" Mark sat bolt upright, eyes wide, his bare chest heaving. "Don’t touch me!"
Josh let go of Mark’s arm but stayed beside him, watching and waiting until he could see sanity return to Mark’s eyes.
Blinking, the man stared at him, then looked around the room as if seeing it for the first time. The realization must have hit him like a ton of bricks. Drawing his knees up to his chest, Mark groaned, wrapping his arms around them as he buried his face there.
"Hey, you okay? You need me to get you something?"
Mark didn’t answer him, only sat in the tangle of blankets, wrapped around himself.
Josh hesitated. "You sure you don’t—"
"Get the hell out. Now."
Oookay, he could take a hint. "Sure, man, you know where to find me if you change your mind." With that, Josh backed out of the room. He paused at the threshold before glancing back at the other man. Mark was still huddled in the tangle of blankets, shaking in the aftermath of the nightmare. Josh wanted to go back, sit on the bed, touch him and talk to him and help him to calm down. He knew how paralyzing it felt in the wake of such flashbacks. He knew Mark had faced these alone before, but he didn’t have to, not now, not with Josh there.
Josh knew it would be a huge mistake too, all good intentions aside. This was Mark’s private war, and he made it clear he didn’t want Josh’s help. They barely knew each other. As much as Josh didn’t like leaving Mark this way, now wasn’t the time for him to push personal boundaries. He left, going back to his own room, picking up his Ka-bar on the way.