“So you and Mish got a moment to yourselves. Behind enemy lines?”
“Sort of, not at war, but on a recon mission. In a house. Look, it doesn’t make sense to try to relay it, dream logic never has any.”
“Logic or sense?”
“Untrue. It has logic, just not the sort we normally deal with. And it makes some sort of sense while you are in it, or you would wake out of it at the absurdity. And since you didn’t until it became too much, your dream must have had both.”
“I guess. How did you know Mish was in it, though?”
“I heard you say his name, which is why I checked on you a minute later, to make sure you weren’t in the middle of some bloody war dream.” I gave him a ‘did you like what you saw?’ look and he sighed, exasperated. “You chuckled indulgently at something he’d said, and there was no tension in you, so I left you to it.”
“Thanks. I think I’d needed that. I mean, to work some things out.”
“But.” My tone made him look up at me from the paper he’d started folding. “You haven’t answered my question.”
He frowned. “Yes I did, I said —”
“You answered what you want for me. Not from me.”
“But isn’t that clear?”
“Not to me it isn’t.”
“Come, I told you about this ages ago. I even wrote it down…Oh!”
“What?” He jumped up and went into his bedroom. I threw my hands up into the air, at a complete loss as to what he was on about. Luckily, he came back moments later.
“Do you still have that letter I wrote you about my time in – about my past?”
“Yes. In my bedside drawer.” He turned to head upstairs. “No, the one on my side of your bed.”
“Ah.” He looked taken aback slightly as my cheeks flushed, but he headed back to search.
I stood up at this point, still unsure as to what he might be doing.
He swept back into the room holding up two sets of papers, as if he’d found a particularly relevant piece of evidence. “Here, now. This —” he held up the left hand pages “— is what you read.” Then he held up his right hand. “And here is the rest of what I wrote but wasn’t ready for you to read. For some idiotic reason that has escaped me now.” He held out his right hand for me to take the papers from it.
Do I want to know this? The first time through this letter was devastating. Why would I want to read the part he didn’t want to show me before? Because, you git, he wants to show you now. And you asked.
“What do I want, generally? In life? Or is this a more specific question?”
“Don’t be a prick. You know what I’m asking. What do you want from me?”
“From you. Not ‘for you’ or ‘with you’, but ‘from’.”
“Don’t get cagey with semantics, Sherlock. Just answer the bloody question.”
“I want to answer the thing you are asking, John. I —”
“No, you want to find a loophole like you did before. Just be honest with me about this. Tell me what you want, even if you don’t think it’s what I want. I need to know.”
“You don’t need to know. You want to know because you don’t know what you want, and you would prefer to take my lead on this. But the only thing I’ve ever wanted, aside from you, is for you to come to this of your own accord, with your own agency, knowing it’s something you want.” He wasn’t making eye contact any longer, but his voice was penetrating enough that it felt excruciatingly intimate. “That, and for these bloody Yows to leave me the fuck alone.”
I still wasn’t sure I knew what he thought ‘this’ was, so I jumped on the question of how anything could be possible in this situation. “Well, but that’s the thing, Sherlock, what is it we can actually want, with the threat of those damned things hanging over us?”
“We can want whatever we bloody well like. What we can have…well, that’s where things get interesting. And creativity in experimentation is key.” His eyes lit up as he looked up at me.
“Hence the sleeping trick.”
“Trick? You didn’t feel tricked, did you?”
“No. Ambushed, slightly, but pleasantly…”
“Until such time as things went too far, is that it?’
I sat down in my chair opposite him. “I don’t really know, it’s happened twice in a row now. It’s as if I’ve Yowed when things got too much in dreamworld.”
“Yeah, with you and with…” I worriedly looked at him and he simply nodded, willing me to say it, as if he already knew. “Yeah, well…it was just a quick snog in a stairwell, not much, considering…” His eyes darted quickly at me and then away again as if dismissive, but I could tell he was listening hard. “I, ah…it didn’t…” My smirk was lost on him. “It didn’t end as expected.”
“So you Yow when we are sleeping and I Yow when we are awake? We are a pair, aren’t we?”
And not even that different. Just more. More types of feeling, and more intensity. All at once. And navigating that has been harrowing. I really should start acknowledging that my reactions are closer to Yows than I want to admit. Though I feel like that is just an invitation to despair on some level. Because if both of us are making this absolutely impossible, then what are we doing? What can we do? I guess that depends on what we want to do…
That thought drove me from my seat.
I stepped out of the bedroom and into the front room, wondering if Sherlock had indeed stayed close to be available. He was in his chair, reading the papers.
From behind the Daily Mail, I heard his overly casual tone. “Sleep well, John?”
“Yes. Well, sort of.”
The paper came down and his scrutiny kicked up. “No nightmares…”
“N—no. Not a nightmare. Somewhat disturbing, but…”
“I checked in on you at one point, you seemed just fine.”
“Ha. Yeah. I noticed.”
“In my dream, you…made a cameo. Opened a door and then…closed it.”
“Are you sure you were asleep?”
“Yes. Though I’m almost sorry you weren’t.”
He looked censoriously at me and I grinned like a fool. “For what purpose, exactly?” His eyebrow raised oddly high and his voice shifted tone.
I felt my face flush. “No reason. Just…the moment was amusing, is all.”
“You came out here to say something. Or ask something. I can see it in your stance. And your hands. And, of course, your face.”
I willed myself into parade rest and the tiniest hint of a chuckle emitted from him. It disappeared when he looked into my eyes.
I sat up in Sherlock’s bed thinking about the dream, especially the shift at the end, trying to parse out my feelings about it. About the two of them.
Sherlock and Mish.
They are two very different people from two very different times of my life and they have absolutely nothing in common, except that I’ve had feelings for both of them, which have been complicated by their loss. Granted, one came back from the dead and has complicated matters further than should be humanly possible, but no one should be surprised by Sherlock’s ability to do something as absurd as that.
The point is, they are different enough in themselves – not to mention in the feelings they engender in me — that I shouldn’t be having this problem of conflating them in my head. Granted, it’s my dream brain, and who knows why it does things, but….
Still. That had felt unfair. The switch. But, because I was alone in bed, I didn’t think of giving myself the out of being angry at Sherlock, wondering if he was being an interloper. It was my own doing and I had to deal with it. I just didn’t know how.
Mish was someone I never got to resolve emotional/intimacy issues with. Fine. I understand. And Sherlock was supposed to be the same, except then he wasn’t dead, and then there were about a thousand issues to resolve. Sure. And we are working on those. Slowly.
Or at least we were until he started to kick things up a notch. Now the issue is something I don’t know how to deal with and it’s making me go back to the relationship where I didn’t have to. Maybe. Or maybe it’s time to clean up all the messes at once.
I don’t know. It doesn’t matter why I had the dream. It matters how I felt about what went on. And that answer is basically the same as in life: freaked out and unsure if I want it. Mostly because it doesn’t feel like it should.
Or at least how I expect it to.
Which is reasonable.
I mean, the answer to how I expect it to feel is: reasonable. Because that’s how I expect things that have to do with attraction to other people. To be reasonable. And by that I mean, not out of control, something I can think through, and that which will not make me question my sanity.
Which is every other situation of attraction I’ve had in my life. There is that initial pulse of attraction/lust, and then the ability to think things through, whether it is strategy or decision making or immediate action, whatever one needs to attend to in order to work towards getting what one wants.
That makes it sound like a battle or something. I mean, there can be incredibly fond feelings, it’s not as if I haven’t fancied the girls I’ve gone with or anything, don’t get me wrong. It’s just there has never been the vertigo I feel when presented with this scenario.
I’ve chalked it up to the fact that it’s a brand new experience for me, but maybe it’s something else. Mostly because it’s clear to me now that it’s not really that new. Just different.
I panicked because his touch didn’t ground me like I remember it doing in Afghanistan. Instead, it electrified me. And that turned me topsy turvy because nothing about that felt right. Not with him.
So then, even mid-kiss, my brain went into overdrive and started to pull me out of the dream. Or at least into something sort of lucid.
This is really bloody different. It can’t be all right, can it?
I mean, Mish isn’t dreaming this with me, he’s dead, so it’s basically non-consensual, and probably very far from what he would have wanted. This is a lot of projecting on my part, for reasons I don’t actually understand.
Because I never actually wanted this from him, right?
I was never in love with Mish, was I?
Not like this. Not like…
“Not like Sherlock.”
“I’m not like Sherlock. And you seem upset about it.”
“No.” It feels too much like Sherlock to not be upset about everything. “No, Mish…”
“Shall I stop?” He started to pull away from me.
“No, don’t go. Just…be here.” I wrapped my arms around him and pulled him down against me, making sure his entire weight was pressing me into the mattress. When the tension left him and he cradled his face in my neck I could finally relax into it and feel that grounding presence I needed so badly. Even if there was also the static hum of the electric charge we’d created running through every point of contact.
We lay like that for what seemed like a good while, as I made myself focus on nothing but the sensation of holding Mish. No second-guessing, no comparing, no worrying about myself or anyone else involved.
Finally, eyes closed, I sighed and pressed a kiss to his hair. He responded by kissing my neck, then my jaw, then my earlobe, then my temple, and when I turned to give him my mouth he whispered my name against my lips. As he tentatively kissed me, my fingers found his hair, burying themselves in curls. Which made me open my eyes to find Sherlock’s face against mine.
Sherlock startled at being yelled at, especially when it wasn’t me who was doing the yelling. I did, however, close the door in his face. And locked it, for good measure.
The moment I had, Mish backed me up against the wall and pressed the whole length of his body against mine. I wrapped my arms around him again, wanting to feel the closeness we had always shared as a physical presence. He exhaled into the hair at the nape of my neck and let more of his weight rest against me.
“This all right then?” His lips brushing against my hair made me shiver.
“Yeah.” I nodded. “God, I’ve missed you.”
“Doesn’t seem like it. Seems you’ve got a new boy. Young and pretty.”
“And I just locked him out to be here with you. So…?”
“So…” In the dark he moved his hand to palm the front of my trousers and I let out a breath. That escalated quickly. “Yes?”
I couldn’t respond because air hadn’t returned to my lungs yet. My upper body went through a survival-mode panic response at the same time my lower body was responding to Mish’s touch with arousal. Everything in me wanted to back away, but I was up against a wall.
No, I was laying flat on a bed. In my bedroom growing up.
There was light coming in from the window behind my head and I could see the hunger in Mish’s face as he looked down at me. It made my heart pound, and I wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not.
He was still waiting for an answer, and I had none to give him.
I was still trying to reconcile the polar opposites inside my body, not to mention having slowed down enough to let my brain start exerting its prerogative to make everything a lot more difficult.
Mish was getting impatient, and since I hadn’t said ‘no’, he leaned in for a kiss.
I mean, there was, there was a small landing and then stairs down into an empty, dank basement. But that wasn’t the point. We slipped through and closed the door behind us so we wouldn’t be discovered by the bad guys.
The moment we were engulfed in darkness I knew what I was supposed to find because it was right in front of me. Or, more accurately, directly behind me, pressing up against my back, with his hands on my hip and shoulder, his breath on my neck.
“Yeah, Johnny boy?”
He tensed, but let go to shift sideways as I pivoted to face him. There was only the thinnest outline of light along his profile so I couldn’t gauge his expression as I reached my fingers to his jaw and grasped his hand to place it back on my hip, but his breath and heartbeat seemed to match mine and his whispered curse broke apart any of the reservations we had left.
He tugged my torso towards him and let me guide his face to mine, though he turned it aside at the last minute so our cheeks and temples met. He put his lips to my jaw and I let out the breath I’d been holding, nuzzling his neck as I wrapped my arms around him and held him tight.
Thinking about it now, I’m not sure we’d ever hugged like that before. It was a run of the mill sort of thing, really, but it felt incredibly intimate, alone together in the dark with our faces so close. Of all the feelings that were spiking through me, the need to never let go was top of the list.
And of course, that was the moment we were startled apart by someone swiftly opening the door, bringing light and sound and the end of privacy to our hiding place.
It was Sherlock, damn him, silhouetted in the door frame. His face was mostly in shadow but I could still pick out the smirk of having guessed right – deduced, never guessed – pulling sharply at the corner of his mouth.
Mish had me stand directly in front of the lock, then came up behind me and put one hand on my hip and one on my wrist to guide the torsion wrench in the keyhole, slowly and smoothly. Then, when it was firmly seated in the lock, holding the tumblers in place, he pressed on my shoulders to get me to kneel down. When my face was level with the lock, he handed me the half diamond pick, standing so close behind me that his feet straddled my shins laid along the floor. Again, his hand on my wrist guided the pick so he could show me how to feel the individual pins, raking them gently and pressing to find the shear line—the place at which they will allow the lock to turn.
It was a delicate process and I think we both were holding our breath, concentrating hard and moving together to find the right spots. His free hand had been resting on my shoulder, but at one point he unconsciously moved it to the side of my neck. The brush of his thumb on the hairs at the nape caused me to gasp softly and my hand slipped.
We both cursed under our breath, me, at my clumsiness and the wasted time, him, I assumed for similar reasons. When he knelt down just behind me and to the left I wasn’t sure, however, because his forehead rested on the tip of my shoulder for a moment. Then he pressed his shoulder and hip up against mine as he took hold of the pick without freeing my hand and began manipulating the pins in the lock so I could feel how he did it.
My breath and my heartbeat went funny as he got the last of the pins in place and we turned the lock together.
Which was odd, but only upon waking. While I was in it, it made perfect sense. Mostly because we were doing recon of a building. Some maze-like building that we were pretty sure housed enemies of the crown armed with contraband weapons. I don’t really remember what we were looking for, but we were determined to find it. Mish was certain there was something hidden that was important, something that would prove we’d had the right to search to begin with. He seemed afraid to leave without having uncovered something. Or maybe I’m projecting.
Because I knew there was something to find, but that knowledge was only based on a gut feeling that if I didn’t get to it, I personally would suffer. I don’t really know how to describe it, except to say there was something in that house that I wouldn’t be able to go on without.
So we were searching every room while at the same time avoiding notice. It was a high tension situation. Every nerve in me was strung tight and thrumming. There were near misses and dead ends and back tracking and the stress of it was harder to handle than I would have thought. Out of practice, I guess.
Anyway, we got to this old door that Mish was quite sure went to the basement, and that felt to me, completely without logic, like the only way to find what we needed—I needed. And of course, it was locked. We would have kicked it in or shot it open, but it was right next to a room full of traitors that we had just spent a good deal of time and energy sneaking past. So Mish took out his lock picking set.
I was intrigued immediately. Sherlock has a set and has used it in my presence, but has never allowed me to watch him at work. Mish was so the opposite that he wanted me to attempt to pick the lock before he took a turn. I couldn’t say no, even if it were a waste of time and made it more likely that we’d be caught. It was an irresistible challenge. One I had never been allowed to take on.
Of course, I knew nothing of how to work the picks, so Mish showed me. The door had a knob and a keyhole set at hip height, and the first thing he showed me was how to slide the L-shaped torsion wrench into the lock. It took some finesse.
I haven’t thought about this in ages—haven’t let myself—but by the time we were sent to that godforsaken town with the lorry full of IEDs and shrapnel, I was addicted to Mish’s touch. And his eyes on me. There was nothing so grounding as that. Nothing else in the entire country could come close to making me feel safe. Being close to him was the only thing that helped me believe I could survive the god damned war. I desperately want to think I had at least a modicum of the same effect on him.
Though, if he believed that too strongly, that could be why his first mission without me had been…
And the sobs came back.
And they wouldn’t leave until I’d cried for every one of the boys in my unit. We all had something that we’d put our faith in to see us through. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one that had put my faith in Mish. We had a few religious guys, and a few who bordered on worshiping their firearms, and the one who was certain his own strength would get him out of anything, even the many fubars we encountered (granted, he was right that one time we had to lift part of a collapsed building to get us out).
Faith in yourself is probably safer than faith in another person, but Mish and I had trained together. We’d promised each other to be there, to do everything possible to keep each other alive. I had every right to have that much faith in him. And he’d, bless him, delivered.
I, on the other hand, hadn’t. I’d abandoned him when he needed me most. Never mind I was in hospital and it wasn’t my fault. Doesn’t matter there was nothing I could do about it. I’d failed him. I’d failed them all. Not one of those boys made it back, no matter what I’d done to try to patch them up when we all got blown apart.
And so I cried for them. For us. Until my breath was gone and my voice was ragged and my heart felt torn up and my mind gave out.
I fell asleep with my eyes still leaking tears.
And the dream I had simultaneously made everything much worse and quite a bit better.