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only in my dreams

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She isn’t sure how to approach him about it.

Scratch that- there’s a lot that she isn’t sure how to approach him about. There isn’t exactly a correct way to talk to someone as elusive as Jesse without overstepping boundaries, and the last thing Jane wants to do is pry, but there are certain aspects of his life that overlap with hers more directly than others. She wants to keep their relationship strictly professional; short, civil conversations on the front porch and the occasional shifty over-the-shoulder glance are enough in her book. There doesn’t need to be anything more than that. Jesse’s her tenant. No more, no less.

But the walls of the apartment are unforgivingly thin, and despite Jane’s best efforts, she’s found herself wedged between the cracks in his floorboards, his private life spilling over into the crawlspace. She knows too much based on context clues and overheard phone conversations alone, paired with the wickedly lurid details of his all-cash payments and half-assed alias. Jesse’s a drug dealer- it didn’t take too much time to figure that out. He seems to have it mostly under control, and he keeps his home life as isolated from his business as possible. On a professional level, that’s all she can really ask of him.

On a personal level, she’s more than a little concerned.

Maybe it’s the nights when she can hear his door opening at some ungodly hour, or the times he tries (and fails) to hide his sporadically-placed bruises and scars under layer upon layer of ridiculously oversized clothing, or the distant sound of him snarling into the phone over details that Jane would probably never know in full. Sound carries through the vents, but not well enough for her to get a solid feel for whatever the hell is going on with him. With that being said, she’s gotten a pretty good feel for what Jesse’s nights entail.

The minutes slither by lethargically until whenever he gets home. Jane’s come to find a strange comfort in the sound of his keys fiddling with the weakly forged lock on the door next to her own. For some strange reason, she likes knowing that he got home alright.

Any compassion within her drains the second Jesse turns his subwoofer on. The bass bleeds into the carpet and jostles the foundation and he’s practically begging to get a complaint at this point, but she leaves him be. His payments have been prompt and on-time, and he’s always bright-eyed and eager to talk about absolutely nothing on the rare occasion when their paths cross for even a moment on the front porch. He’s playfully irritating, finding backhandedly charming ways to get under her skin whenever he can, and maybe Jane’s weak for giving into that and letting him live however he wants, but he really, truly isn’t hurting anybody. No one in the area has made any sort of complaint against Jesse yet, and she isn’t going to be the first.

The music fades out late into the night, typically closer to dawn than dusk. At this point, Jane usually smells heavily diluted cigarette smoke, yet another thing she should probably be more on his ass about, but she can hear the obnoxious whirring of his air purifier and she knows that at least he’s trying. Once the smell dies out, the odds are that Jesse’s finally asleep.

It doesn’t stay that way for long.

A couple hours pass if the night in question is feeling particularly forgiving. Under more unfortunate circumstances, Jane won’t even have time to fall asleep before it starts.

Jesse cries in his sleep, and not in the distant, repressed whines one might expect from someone who presents as outwardly nonchalant as he does, but in guttural sobs and low, withheld whimpers that are just slightly too loud for Jane to ignore. She wants more than anything to pretend it isn’t happening. It’d be better for the both of them if she could, but she’s subjected to his muffled wailing every night and she’s always left questioning how much longer it’ll carry on like this. Despite the property being her own, she doesn’t want to intrude, and if there was really a problem, consolation from his landlord is probably one of the last things Jesse would want.

It’s just not her business.

***

Jane shoots upright to a familiar yet unwelcome noise at an unknown hour. The darkness has been watered down, the indigo of the sky glowing slightly lighter through the blinds, but it’s definitely still night.

Before her eyes can even start to process the faint outlines of the useless clutter swamping her bedroom, there’s another scream, a perfect replica of the one that woke her. This has become something of an unfortunate routine for her, but something’s different this time. Jesse sounds so desperate, as if he’s actually in pain. She knows by now that he almost definitely isn’t, but the fact that it’s even the slightest possibility gnaws at her core. He lives alone, for Christ’s sake, and she’s the only one within earshot. No one other than her would think to check up on him, as far as she can tell.

The idea of it bothers her so much that she uses her nightstand as a guide to pull herself out of bed, feeling along the wall until she comes to her front door. She pauses for a moment, blinking the remnants of a few hours’ sleep from her eyes, before twisting the deadbolt and stepping out onto the porch. She leans across and gingerly knocks on the glass of the frame adjacent to hers. The air seems to hold its breath immediately after she does so.

Silence.

Gaining composure, Jane leans over and knocks again, more firmly this time.

“Jesse?”

There’s a brief pause, but she can practically hear him trying to form his response. He’s awake.

“Uh, yeah?” he calls, clearly taken aback.

“Can you come to the door?”

The flurry of movement inside slowly unfolds itself into her field of vision, solidifying her suspicion that Jesse had been lying on the living room floor. He peels back the curtain that had previously been blocking the interior from view, and his expression softens only momentarily when he realizes who called him over.

“Whoa, hi. What’s… what’s up?”

She raises her eyebrows at him, as if to pose him the same question, and he casts his gaze to the floor.

“Everything cool?” he continues warily, staring pointedly at his feet.

“You didn’t do anything wrong, if that’s what you’re worried about.” she notes casually, which makes him cast a fleeting glance in her direction. “I just… heard that you were awake too.”

“Ah. Couldn’t sleep?”

“Something like that. Can I come in?”

Jesse’s face freezes. His place probably isn’t exactly in the condition to host guests. His eyes dart back and forth between her and the floor, before nodding reluctantly.

His setup is pretty much exactly what Jane expected. The air in his sitting room feels lethargic and hungover, miscellaneous wrappers and empty bottles strewn across the hardwood, accentuating the tragic focal point that is the half-folded sleeping bag cast aside near the back wall. Jesse surveys her reaction a little too closely. Subtlety isn’t exactly his strong suit, she’s learned.

“Yeah, I uh… I was gonna clean this up tomorrow.” he chuckles awkwardly, despite it being clear that nothing about his current living situation is funny to him.

Jane waves her hand dismissively. “It’s cool. I don’t mind. You wanna sit down?”

He pauses for a moment, gnawing on his lower lip and shifting his weight from foot to foot, as if he’s still trying to unpack everything that’s going on, before nodding slowly. He trails over to the corner with the least amount of clutter, unrolls that sad, deflated sleeping bag, and slides down the wall, easing himself into a sitting position. His gaze turns expectant when it shifts back to her, and she makes her way over, careful not to further crush any of the empty cans lying about. Once she comes in contact with the wall, she drops into a crouch, maybe a little closer to him than she’d intended, but not abnormally so. It’d be rude of her to move back, anyway. And regardless, Jesse doesn’t seem to mind.

“So… you’re up late.” she comments, and he laughs drily.

“Yeah. I’ve kinda been having trouble sleeping, y’know?”

“I can tell.”

Jesse smiles weakly at this, seeming to shift his focus to playing with his hands. He may be sociable, but the second the conversation turns to him, he always makes an effort to shut it down. Maybe it makes him uncomfortable, maybe he genuinely doesn’t know how to talk about himself, maybe he doesn’t think there’s anything to talk about in the first place. Whatever the reason, it’s always been clear that he internalizes a lot more than he puts out. This, apparently, isn’t an exception.

The silence is weighted, not inherently suffocating but bordering on overwhelming. They should be talking about it. Jane knows that, and she suspects that Jesse does too. Whether he’s going to open up is a completely different matter altogether.

They should be talking about it, but the sight of the buildup of countless consecutive sleepless nights clinging to the fibres of Jesse’s eyelashes is enough to make Jane’s heart ache in a way she can’t quite understand.

He should rest. That should come first.

Almost instinctively, she reaches over to rub his shoulder, keeping her thumb stationary on his arm while her fingers trace abstract circles over the fabric of his shirt. Jesse freezes the second they come into contact, as if any movement at all might scare her off, but his eyes flutter closed. Jane trails her hand to right between his shoulder-blades, applying the slightest amount of pressure to invite him in closer. He obliges wordlessly, turning his body to close the sliver of space between them and letting his head fall against her chest. She keeps pressing circles into his back, only pausing for a moment when Jesse lifts his arm and drapes it over her torso, pulling himself closer still. He’s closer to her than anyone’s been in a long time, and she can’t help but freeze momentarily, which she knows that he notices. He lifts his head, presumably surveying her reaction, trying to figure out if he did something wrong.

“Listen, I…” he begins, slowly scooting himself away from her.

“Go to sleep, Jesse.” Jane cuts him off gently, pulling him back into his original position. “It’s okay.”

Jesse slumps into her arms with a trembling inhale that sounds akin to someone surfacing water. She keeps an arm around his waist and shifts the other one up to his shoulders, lacing her fingers in his hair, trying to smooth out the effects of what she can only imagine to be a night of seemingly endless movement. She traces her thumb over his cheek, which holds a bruise she hadn’t noticed before, and Jesse hums softly at the touch. She looks down at him, watches his breathing slowly even out and his jaw unclench, and finally finds the time to breathe herself.

Jane’s shift starts at 11am, and the air in Jesse’s apartment is still stagnant and cloudy, and the dawn is already starting to fight its way through the blinds, and her body is practically begging her to sleep.

But she looks down at him, practically passed out in her arms, his nose pressed against her collarbone and his hair still holding the imprint of her hand, and she finds it in herself to stay.

They’ll talk about it tomorrow.