Disclaimer: Don't own.
This is what happens when you marathon a series you had no idea has so many feels.
His nightmares had come back.
He'd barely been able to sleep at all, at first; launching from bed, hands scrabbling at the covers, a dead man's name on his lips. In the morning his mother would tut at the state of his sheets, but not say anything. Worse still were the ones where he knew it was a dream, knowing what was going to happen next but being unable to pull himself away (unwilling more like; he'd long since mastered the art of pulling himself out of dreams he knew were dreams), waking up in a cold sweat, lying there for what felt an eternity as the images replayed over and over. But eventually they faded; he could go a night, then a week, then a fortnight, until finally they were few and far enough between that they caught him off guard when they did happen.
Except now they were back, and with a vengeance, reality twisting them from once was to could be's, which was all the worse. No longer were they something that had already happened, that he couldn't do anything about, but now something that hadn't happened yet, something that terrified him.
"Hershel, are you all right?" Claire asked him one day, looking him in the eyes skeptically.
Smiles came easily when it came to her. "I'm just fine, why?"
"No you're not, you're exhausted!" She laughed, beautifully. "You've been staying up too late working, haven't you?" she accused.
He reached up to adjust his hat, looking suitably sheepish. "You got me."
When they parted that day she implored him to go to bed at a decent time; she wanted the bags under his eyes to go away. He promised he would try, knowing full well that even if he did he would not stay there, retreating into his work in the early hours to get his mind off of Claire plummeting to her death in the ruins of Akbadain.
To his chagrin, Claire grew increasingly worried as his sleep schedule became increasingly erratic. "You know you can tell me anything, right?"
"I'm fine Claire."
"No you're not Hershel, don't lie to me."
And so, alone together in her flat, sitting on her couch, with the rain streaming down the window panes, he told her about Randall.
"Come on Hershel, for old time's sake!"
"Randall, I haven't fenced since high school. I'm terribly out of practice."
"And you think I'm not?" Randall asked, waving the mask he'd unearthed god-knows-where. "I've got everything we need, except knickers, but you don't really need those anyway so come on, what do you say?"
"No Randall. Shouldn't you be pestering Angela instead of me?"
"But you're going back to London in a few days. I've got forever to pester Angela." At that moment Luke emerged from the Ledore house and out onto the patio where Hershel and Randall were, followed by Emmy. "Hey you two, you want to see me and Hershel duke it out, right?"
"The Professor would win of course!" Luke declared.
Emmy smirked, folding her arms. "I'd rather not take sides."
"But the Professor would have to take off his hat," Luke pointed out.
Hershel raised an eyebrow at Randall, whose sheepish look admitted his guilt. "Okay, fine, you got me. But it's a ridiculous hat and besides, I want to see what you look like with short hair properly."
Hershel reached up to adjust the object of Randall's offense. "It is a perfectly fine hat."
"It's too tall. How does it even stay on? Did you glue it to your head? Is that why you refuse to take it off?"
Hershel gave Randall a dry look, as if to remind him of his own recent fashion choices. "It is a perfectly fine hat. Now I strongly suggest you go bother Angela."
Randall paused at Hershel's tone. "I suppose you're right. She did wait for me, after all." He slunk past Luke and Emmy and back inside the house. Luke and Emmy spared a glance at Hershel, and then followed.
The door opened a crack, then eased wider. A foot entered, then two.
Then the light flickered on and the desk chair spun around. "Really, Randall?"
"I'm not the one sneaking into other people's bedrooms at night."
"You should know that you would make a very good villain. This whole setup reeks of cheap theatrics."
"But of course."
The two men smiled at each other, chuckling. The pajama-clad Randall sat down on the foot of Hershel's bed as the equally pajama-clad Hershel rotated in the chair to face him, top hat mocking Randall. "So are you going to tell me the story behind the hat, or does that warrant super-secret status instead of just secret?"
And so, with the moon coming in through the window working with the desk lamp to bathe everything in a soft light, he told him about Claire.
The first time he sees her, he doesn't think anything. Merely freezes, lost in his memories.
The second time he sees her, he thinks, Randall came back.