It quickly fell into a routine, though Tyler’s days were so monotonous and un-eventful that he could barely tell one from the next. He spent most of his time just waiting for Zeke to come home. When he was out, Tyler couldn’t relax, he was fidgety and agitated the whole time, planning escapes and imagining invasions to the point that he sometimes felt like it was real, but when Zeke washomehe felt like he was safe from the whole world, and from the torment of living in silence with his own thoughts.
The first week passed with predictability, they would both get up around dawn, Tyler would sit with Zeke even if they didn’t talk while Zeke had breakfast, then he’d trudge up to the lounge room and settle in for the day trying to distract himself with shows and movies to get through the hours until Zeke came home. They would have dinner together, neither of them game to ask the other about their day. Zeke would disappear into his office for a few hours and Tyler often followed him in, on his more paranoid days, he’d end up lying on the couch and falling asleep while Zeke mumbled to himself as he worked, other times when Tyler wasn’t feeling so on edge he would just drop in with a coffee for Zeke and tell him he was going to bed. Within no time at all they were both slipping into the comfort of each other’s company and even when they didn’t speak at all, they appreciated one another just being there.
The following week however, things were starting to change. Zeke was busier and with the lack of sharing of any kind of helpful information, and the already evident anxiety Tyler was feeling he struggled not to be paranoid in Zeke’s absences.
“I’m off to work.” Zeke announces as he takes a quick look at himself in the mirror.
“You just got home.” Tyler argues, he’d struggled to get any sleep last night because Zeke had been out until past midnight.
“I know. It sucks doesn’t it?Anywaycyalater. Try and get some sleep.” Zeke smiles as he leaves the bedroom. Tyler follows him to the front door, wanting to be able to stop him leaving somehow.
“Do you want me to leave?” Tyler asks. Zeke stops and looks at Tyler with a smile, before realizing just how distressed Tyler looked. “I can leave if you don’t want me here. I get that we aren’t really that close and it’s a bit weird practically having a stranger live in your house.” Tyler sighs, tugging at his shirt sleeves before crossing his arms.
“You think we’re strangers?” Zeke asks, turning his full attention to Tyler, his gaze so concentrated that Tyler felt as though Zeke was looking right through him. He adjusts his clothes again and nervously fidgets, hoping that he wasn’t looking suspicious but feeling so transparent.
“Wellwe are, aren’t we?” Tyler shrugs, uncomfortably shifting his weight from one foot to the other as he tries to ignore looking directly at Zeke.
“I don’t want you to leave, and not just because it’s safer for you here, but I like having you here.” Zeke tells him happily, wanting to lift Tyler’s spirits somewhat but Tyler was not phased.
“You don’t act like it.” He replies in a sulking tone that reminds Zeke that despite his best efforts to be brave recently, Tyler was still a traumatized teenager that up until a few weeks ago, had his family and school life to worry about and was just slingshot into very advanced and complex problems that he was forced to have to adjust to and accept.
“I don’t really know how you want me to act, I’m out all day working, I come home and it’s not like I can tell you about work so we’ve got nothing to talk about and then we go to bed. In between all that I guess I try to comfort you when you’re upset and you keep me company. I really don’t know what signs you’re reading that makes you feel like I don’t want you here but it’s not my intention to make you feel that way.” Zeke sighs and steps forward towards Tyler, guilt washing over him that he’d clearly not been as supportive and comforting as he thought he was being. He spent all day at work analysing small snippets of behaviours and conversations and could perfectly pick out underlying emotions to help bring down weaknesses in the people they were working against, yet he’d completely ignored the signs Tyler was showing that he was struggling to cope.
“I guess not but I’ve been here for 3 weeks now and you seem to be making more effort to avoid me, I just feel like I’ve outstayed my welcome.” Tyler admits with a shrug, in his head he was playing it cool but the words were coming out like he was just being desperately attention seeking.
“I’m not avoiding you I’m just busy, work justkindadoesn’t stop. I’m really sorry. I am not use to having someone here to come home to and I suck at looking after people but I swear I do care about you. I just can’t really change things right now. I’ll try to get home earlier today so we can talk, ok?” Zeke promises, putting hishands onTyler’s shoulders and trying to look into his eyes for sincerity.
“Ok.” Tyler nods, reluctant to let the conversation end because he knew the moment Zeke walked out thedoor he’d be at the mercy of his agonizingly deteriorating self-control.
“Hey.” Zeke says softly, noticing Tyler was avoiding looking at him. “I care about you.” Zeke tells him, despite Tyler still not being able to return the eye contact. Tyler nods again but he seemed like he’d switched off. Zeke stares at him, wishing there was something he could do but knowing he needed to get to work. “I really don’t want to leave like this, but...” Zeke pauses. “Will you be ok today? I will be home as soon as possible, I know this is obviously the worst time but I just, I can’tnot turn up. I really have to go, if I’m not there and something happens...”
“Go, I’ll be fine.” Tyler says unconvincingly, turning away from Zeke and walking back up the hallway and into the bedroom. Zeke looks at his watch then runs his fingers through his hair and sighs, he could see how much he was needed here, but his hands were tied so he leaves quickly before he let himself doubt if it was the right thing to do. Tyler was only here because of Zeke’s commitment to wanting to protect people, this was bigger than both of them and Zeke had a responsibility to his team and to the unknowing targets of future attacks, to not spend the day at home with one person. It was a harsh reality, but Zeke couldn’t risk other people’s lives, to nurture the broken heart of a survivor that was emotionally lost, but physically safe.
The banging on the bathroom door shocks Tyler awake, he sits up in a panic and draws the blanket up around himself, sinking into it in relief as he hears Zeke’s voice.
“Tyler? Is everything ok?” He calls out urgently.
“YeahI’m fine.” Tyler answers, quickly getting up and folding the blanket, placing it on top of his pillow. He creeps towards the door and unlocks it, turning it slowly and opening enough to just peak out, he had hoped Zeke had left the room so he could sneak out without him finding out that Tyler had been sleeping in there, but Zeke was sitting on the end of the bed and the moment the door was partially open, he made direct eye contact with Tyler, he had what looked like dried blood on his face and his clothes were covered in blood spots and dirt.
“Sorry I just need a shower.” Zeke stands up and pulls his shirt off as he walks over towards the bathroom, he puts his hand on the door to push it more open and Tyler notices he had blooded knuckles too. Zeke freezes as he looks around the bathroom confused, Tyler glances behind himself at what Zeke was looking at, the pillow and blanket. “Something wrong with the bed?” Zeke asks, raising an eye brow at Tyler. Embarrassed, Tyler quickly picks it all up and takes it back to the bedroom. He turns and looks back towards the bathroom where Zeke was leaning against the doorway, his arms crossed and his eyes staring with intense curiosity at Tyler. “Are you ok?” Zeke asks gently.
“Don’t worry about me.” Tyler mutters, feeling ashamed of himself for looking so ridiculous in front of Zeke. He quickly leaves the room before Zeke could ask anything else about it. As he walks through thehousehe notices the light on in Zeke’s office room, the voices coming from the TV down the hallway and smells freshly brewed coffee in the kitchen, suggested Zeke had been home for at least a few minutes before he’d gone to find Tyler freaked him out. Not only had he not heard him come in, but he had not heard any of the noise of Zeke making his way through the house. On one hand Zeke was clearly trained to be able to sneak around, but by the same logic, so were the people that Tyler was most afraid of. The thought that he may not even notice or hear someone walking through the house in the dead silence of the night, was horrifying. Annoyed with himself, Tyler presses his thumb against the tender fresh scar on his arm, pinching until tears stung his eyes from the pain.
After a few minutes, Zeke emerges from the bedroom and makes his way to the lounge room where Tyler was sitting in front of the TV but looking off towards the window, deep in thought. Zeke walks over and sits down beside him, the weight beside him on the couch jarring Tyler out of his daydream in fright.
“Ok I know I already asked this, but are you ok? You’re a bit jumpy. After this morning and then the way you’ve been since I got home, you really don’t seem ok.” Zeke points out.
“I’m fine.” Tyler replies unconvincingly as he draws his knees up to his chest and looks at the TV, pretending he had been watching it. “Are you ok? Was that blood yours or someone else’s?” Tyler asks, hoping to move the conversation away from himself, he glances at Zeke but looks away again quickly as he sees that Zeke was shirtless.
“It was just from training.” Zeke shrugs, looking down at a bruise on his chest. “Things have really ramped up lately so I’m probably going to be late a bit more often.” Zeke looks at Tyler as he speaks, watching his reactions and at the idea of Zeke being home late more Tyler seemed to becoming anxiously fidgety once again. Zeke shifts a little closer to Tyler, he’d been thinking about it the whole way to and from work, that he needed to be more attentive to Tyler and be physically comforting, not just encourage him with well-meaning words. “I am so sorry, I did intend on being here earlier but things came up and it’s just not that easy to get out, it’s not really the kind of job that has start and finish times. I don’t judge you, if you felt safer in the bathroom...”
“How long were you home for?” Tyler interrupts, looking at Zeke with fake confidence.
“Like, half an hour.” Zeke answers, giving him a shrug.
“What did you think I was doing in the bathroom for half an hour?” Tyler asks, regretting it the moment he sees a smirk cross Zeke’s face. “Oh my god. Well now I’m less embarrassed aboutsleepingin there.” Tyler covers his face with his hands. Zeke laughs at his reaction which only serves to enhance Tyler’s mortification.
“Seriously though, if you feel safer in the bathroom then I am not judging you. I am sorry I was so late home.” Zeke apologizes again.
“I thought you might have died.” Tyler admits darkly. “Or that you were just not going to come home because you were sick of me.”
“Not at all, I just have a lot going on, I am not avoiding you. ThoughhonestlyI don’t really know what to do around you, you seem on edge when I am here. I want to think I’m helping you in some way by being present but I can’t tell whether you’re any better off with me here.” Zeke replies with a shrug. Tyler lets out a sigh and stares up at the ceiling, considering whether to admit how desperately he needed Zeke to be around and how much better off he was with someone around.
“If you die, what will happen to me?” Tyler asks, closing his eyes and trying to relax.
“Don’t worry I have plan for that situation, you would be visited by one of my friends, he’d make sure you’re safe.” Zeke answers matter of fact.
“Your friend? I thought you said no one knew I was here.” Tyler asks.
“When you overdosed, I had my friend come and asses you. He’s a doctor and I trust him with my life.” Zeke replies. Sensing that Tyler wasn’t particularly feeling any more comfortable knowing this Zeke turns to face Tyler completely, wanting to show him with his body language, that he was there for him. “I understand this is going to come across as a stupid question, but what exactly are you worried about right now?” Zeke asks. Tyler glances at him like he’s an idiot, which Zeke ignores.
“Aside from the chance of you being murdered and me being abandoned? Or me being murdered?” Tyler asks, only able to look at Zeke for small moments.
“Yes, apart from that.” Zeke replies with clear sincerity in his tone. Tyler was taken aback by thequestion,it was easy to blame the ‘in your face’ fears but thinking about what else was worrying him managed to instantly trigger panic in Tyler. He tugs at his sleeves and hugs himself, avoiding looking at Zeke all together.
“Nothing.” He was so far from convincing, and from the corner of his eye he could see Zeke was staring at him curiously. “Can you stop looking at me please.” Tyler gulps nervously, he couldn’t keep up the fake confidence knowing that Zeke was probably seeing right through it. “Leave me alone.” Tyler groans, hanging his head and rubbing his neck.
“I just want to help.” Zeke sighs.
“Find the guy that killed my family so I can go forward in living some kind of actual life. I can’t keep doing this.” Tyler turns his head and for a moment he makes eye contact with Zeke, intimidated by the caring way Zeke was observing him. There was a softness in his eyes that Tyler felt drawn to, but he also felt like opening up would be showing Zeke that he was weak. Silence hangs between them, with Zeke waiting for Tyler to say something else. “Do you like me?” Tyler asks quietly, hating himself as soon as he’s asked. “I mean, just in general, I am not exactly the best company right now, I understand that. But...” It was hard even for Tyler to acknowledge how he was feeling around Zeke, to some extent he still loathed him for saving his life because of how much he was struggling to live now, but he was also feeling needy, and dependent on him not only for safety and support, but he was starting to feel like there was more to it. At the same time, he couldn’t tell whether that was coming from a place of Stockholm Syndrome, or an urgency to feel literally anything outside of the numbness he was living in.
“Tyler.” Zeke pauses after his name, trying to think of how to answer his question. “I know you’re scared, but you’re going to get through this. I know it doesn’t all make sense right now and it feels like you’re never going to be normal again but you will be, things will be ok and you will get through this. This is still the hardest stage, you are grieving and trying to comprehend the loss and trauma you’ve been through and I’ve been, just, shit at taking care of you in that aspect. But please know I will make more of an effort to be here for you.” Zeke assures him, it was nice to hear but it fell flat after the promise was made only earlier that same day and Zeke hadn’t been able to live up to it.
“I don’t want to be alone.” Tyler mutters nervously.
“I know, I don’t blame you. But whatever you’re worried about, you’re safe here and I’m not going to let anything happen to you.” Zeke was saying all the right things but it was bringing no comfort.
“You can’t save me.” Tyler states darkly, looking down at his hands. “When I’m alone, you can’t save me, can’t protect me. I’m not safe.” His words leave another silence between them, Zeke left with no idea what to say back. He could feel the tension, as though there was something else that Tyler was screaming out while saying nothing.
“What can I do?” Zeke finally asks quietly.
“Nothing.” Tyler shrugs, getting up from the couch and leaving the lounge room, headed to the bedroom. Zeke leans forward and rests his elbow on his knees, dropping his head into his hands and sighing. He was beyond tired, drained in every sense of the word but he knew he had to find a solution for Tyler, because neither of them could keep living like this.