Arthur woke up gasping for breath, swimming in his bedsheets and a pool of his own sweat.
It took him a moment to ensure that he wasn't still trapped in his mind.
The hallucinations were always so real. They were vivid and pertained to all of Arthur's five senses. The flames that licked away at the layers of his skin, the sharp fingernails that raked across his body, drawing blood; the white-hot knives sinking their razor-sharp teeth into his arms, intent on lacerating him, and the short stretch of rough rope, handled by unseen hands, pressed against his windpipe, slowly causing him to turn blue with asphyxiation...
Arthur shuddered again, trying to suppress the memory, but the more he tried to forget, the more those thoughts stubbornly surfaced to his mind. He lifted a trembling hand towards his throat, and was shocked to feel the ragged imprint of the rope, where it had dug into his skin.
He squeezed his eyes shut, gulped, and forced his hand away from his throat. It was always the worst when his hallucinations stalked him into reality. Admittedly, some of them, like the Flying Mint Bunny, weren't too horrifying, but more often than not, most of the visions left Arthur reeling into the dangers of his worst nightmares.
Arthur willed, begged himself to move, to get out of bed to comfort himself with a cozy cup of Early Grey and a scone, but his body refused to obey, trapping himself in the aftermath of his terrors with nothing but his pillow to defend himself in the inky dark.
Just when Arthur thought he could resist no longer, that he would just succumb to the dark demons that nipped at his mind, the door opened with a sonorous BANG!, temporarily chasing the monsters away in shock.
"'Sup, Artie?" the intruder cockily greeted with a grin.
In walked Alfred, the person that Arthur least wanted to see, the person that Arthur swore would never view him in this feverish, helpless state.
But Arthur was too weak to resist, too weak to push him away as he lay next to him, too weak to slap away the hand that stroked his fair hair away from his sweat-soaked forehead. He lay there and whimpered. The final shreds of his resolve and pride soon caved in, and he found his broken self curling into Alfred's sturdy body for protection.
If this was another hallucination, Arthur didn't want it to end. But everything about Alfred was so real; the slightly greasy scent of American fast-food wafting from his clothes, the bright twinkle in his crisp blue eyes, and the mop of artfully messed-up blond hair with the little strand that relentlessly stuck up in a rigid crescent on top of his hand. With each passing second, he could feel the darkness ebbing away at his mind subsiding, eventually vanishing, as he immersed himself in the ostensibility of Alfred.
As Arthur drifted into a rare, dreamless sleep, he still couldn't decide whether this was actually happening or not. Alfred could've been something that the brighter half of his imagination cooked up out of desperation and despair. But Alfred was so tangible, the weight of his well-built body snugly pressing into Arthur, and his soothing, calloused hand was still petting Arthur's head reassuringly. So tangible. So existent. So real.
But then again, all of Arthur's hallucinations were.