But I had so much fun writing Skip and Richie’s ficlet yesterday that I thought I’d go for another one tonight–per usual, when my RL isn’t functioning the way I want it to, my fictional life is my happy place–even when my characters aren’t so happy 😉
* * *
Death of a Pilot Fish
Jackson remembered hating that time between Thanksgiving and Christmas when he was a kid. It seemed to serve no purpose–you went to school, but everybody was too wound up to do much learning, and that was when finals and papers were due anyway.
It just always seemed to be the time of waiting–waiting for Christmas, waiting for vacation, waiting for the promise of the new year.
Even if he knew these things weren’t going to be awesome– they never had been in the past– he could recognize the painful optimism, even as a child.
As an adult, recovering from his injuries in Ellery’s house while Ellery went back to work, the time was even worse.
It didn’t help that Ellery was doing his best to do all the paperwork that putting an end to Tim Owens’s reign of terror demanded, keeping the bulk of it from Jackson’s shoulders. All that meant was that Ellery got home from work later than he usually did, and Jackson had spent the whole day knocking around the house fretting, not physically up to do more than wash the dishes, and not mentally up to keep the monsters at bay.
And the monsters were incessant.
What was he doing here, in this stellar house with the matching dishes and the soft leather couches? What was he doing taking advantage of some poor lawyer who seemed to think it was okay that Jackson just leech off him and not pay food or rent or for his own goddamned wrecked vehicles.
Both of them.
Wandering the house alone, Jackson had lots of time to tell himself the things he wasn’t.
He wasn’t smart.
He wasn’t rich.
He wasn’t polished.
He wasn’t that good looking. (Particularly now when he was looking thin and haggard, thank you very much fever and infection and just not wanting to fucking eat.)
He was pretty much a useless has-been, his best function was cannon fodder, he was a human shield for better people than himself and it was just too goddamned bad Owens hadn’t shot at him, because everybody knew that shot would have found its mark–finally.
When Ellery got home, exhausted and distracted, Jackson was a mess–he knew it. But he was damned if he’d tell Ellery.
For one thing, Ellery was working so hard for their future. For another, there just wasn’t any time between Ellery getting home, changing clothes, eating some reheated dinner, and then falling asleep on the couch, his laptop precariously balanced as he worked in front of the television.
And Jackson, dammit, couldn’t stay up much longer.
But sleep didn’t come either–even if he’d gone running, dragging his sorry body out in the foggy cold to make himself tired wasn’t helping at all.
This night, about five days before the firm cut everyone lose for winter holiday, was possibly the worst day of them all. Jackson had tried to run five miles and failed miserably, and Ellery had come home in a snit because the neighbor had called him at work to ask him pointedly who that man was lurching into his house.
They’d bickered when Ellery had gotten home–but at least he’d gotten home early, and bickering was how they communicated. That part had been fun.
But then Jackson had fallen asleep early, and Ellery had shooed him to bed while he stayed up and worked.
Jackson had been sort of hoping for sex–it’s what the bickering often led to, and he’d gotten himself all ramped up, really.
So his nightmare started in a sexual haze of black.
There was a light here– there had to be. There was always a light–sometimes it lied, sometimes it led to monsters.
But there was always a light.
He breathed, he kept the fear away. He knew his dreams by now.
The light appeared. Dangling, bobbing, leading him away from the warm haze of want, the whirling place where the eels of despair kept stripping the flesh from his bones.
He followed it anyway. He needed to see. Needed to know there was an end.
Come away, come away, leave the blackness, come to the hope…
There was never hope. Nobody knew this like Jackson.
But he followed it anyway, because the whirl of his own doubts was a terrible place to be.
The light grew brighter, and he saw the silhouette of the light bearer. His heart clenched.
No. Oh no. Don’t do this.
But the dreams were merciless.
And now he kept following the light, not because the light gave him hope, but because the light bearer was his only hope and he had no choice.
The straight posture, the narrow waist, the stiff, uptight walk. Even the chestnut colored hair precision cut, shaved on the sides and the back, a little long on the front, and ruthlessly scraped back with product.
In the dream, Jackson could even make out the individual comb marks from behind.
He kept going.
“Ellery?” he asked tentatively. Oh, Lord, how he longed for Ellery to be the one, in real life, who led him from the dark to the light. “Ellery, is that you?”
He was almost relieved when Ellery turned around with a horribly distended lower jaw, man-sized teeth and protuberant fishy eyes.
But that didn’t mean he wasn’t terrified, didn’t scream, when the pilot fish that looked like Ellery tried to devour his soul…
“Jackson!” Ellery’s voice echoed in his head and then cold hands held him down by the shoulders and shook him. “Jackson! C’mon, asshole, snap out of it!”
Jackson squeezed his eyes closed and started to shake. “Did I wake you up?”
“Baby, you were screaming.”
Ellery’s surprisingly strong body engulfed him, tucked Jackson’s head against his chest in a gesture of protection Jackson normally hated–any time but this time, exactly, when he was at his most vulnerable.
“It’s okay,” Ellery whispered while Jackson continued to shake.
What was it tonight?”
When the’d met, it had been once a week, maybe. Now it was almost nightly.
“Pilot fish. Looked like you from behind.”
Ellery shuddered. “Those things are so fucking icky!”
Jackson chuckled against his chest. “You are telling me.”
“Jesus… it tried to eat you?”
“I’m saying.” Jackson took a breath. “Looking like you was the worst part.”
“Yeah.”Jackson felt a kiss on the top of his head. “I’m sorry about that.”
Jackson half-laughed. “WAsn’t your fault.”
“Oh no. This one was all me. Sorry.”
“I don’t understand how,” Jackson mumbled. Ellery’s voice in the darkness, his touch, his heat, all of it chased the dream away, leaving Jackson free to make himself comfortable in the tatters of his earlier sleep.
“I’ll show you in the morning.”
“Okay. Fine. Want waffles.”
“Will you eat them?” Ellery sounded sufficiently dubious, but Jackson, warm and comforted and oddly optimistic, couldn’t imagine not wanting anything different.
“Yes. Bacon too.”
“I will get up early to make them. And we’ll kill the pilot fish dream over breakfast, promise.”
“You’re good to me.”
“Love you, Jackson.”
Jackson sighed, melting into the words, the comfort, in a way he wouldn’t have the year before.
“Yeah. You too.”
And he fell asleep, dreaming of Ellery’s hair, standing straight out all over his head.
That morning, he was eating his waffles, as promised, and trying not to let on what a struggle it was to just eat Ellery came in from the living room with a DVD and dropped it on the table.
“What’s this?” Jackson asked, confused.
“This is why I turned into a pilot fish.”
Jackson picked up the case. “Mysteries of the Deep.” He gasped. “You were watching this?”
Ellery grimaced. “Just as you fell asleep.”
On the front was a picture of a giant glowing pilot fish, so real and closeup Jackson got the willies just looking at it.
“Oh my God! Can we… I don’t know…”
Ellery reached over his shoulder, smelling like shower and cologne, and cracked the DVD out of it’s box. “Break it. Destroy it. Pound it with a sledgehammer. I don’t care. Make it your mission in life.”
“But wait!” Jackson saved it from Ellery’s hands. “I want to watch it!”
“But your nightmare!”
“Yeah– but now that I know what it was about, I want to see it!”
“But… but your dream!”
Jackson shrugged, looking at the back of the DVD case. “Yeah, but when I know what something looks like, I’m not afraid of it.”
Ellery sighed. “That’s bullshit. You know what I look like and you’re obviously afraid of me.”
Jackson sighed back and stood, wrapping his arms carefully around Ellery, being careful not to ruin his new suit.
“I just…” So hard to say. “It’s hard to trust. You love me. You know? How do I trust that?”
“So I’m leading you to the light but I’m going to eat you instead,” Ellery said, sounding a little crushed.
“Well, maybe if I see a real fish eating a real fish, it won’t be you anymore.”
Ellery grimaced. “Jackson, you ever think… maybe…”
“Of course not. Why would you possibly need a shrink. Never mind.”
Ellery struggled out of his arms and Jackson let him go. “Hey, Ellery?”
“I love you.”
“Yeah, but you still think I”m going to eat you.”
“Just let me watch the movie!”
Ellery flounced off to work, leaving Jackson to finish his waffles in front of the TV watching mysteries of the deep.
* * *
When Ellery came home, Jackson was watching the whole rest of the series on Netflix. HIs heart fell.
“Oh dear God, what’s that?”
Jackson looked at him happily. “It’s a moray eel–isn’t it awful?”
Oh it really was. “So, are we trying to give ourselves nightmare fodder?”
“Nope! This is one more thing I won’t dream about tonight!”
Ellery was about to argue with him, but it was fruitless–because it made sense. If Jackson didn’t know about something, it scared him.
The one thing Jackson didn’t know about was love. Power. Hope for the future.
“You might still dream about me,” he said gently, because Ellery was all of those things for Jackson.
Jackson shook his head and looked away shyly. “Naw. Usually I dream about you in danger. I don’t think you’re going to eat me again any time soon.”
Well, it was a start. “So, we really did kill the boogie man this time?”
Jackson grinned. “Yes! And there were some amazing shots of things being eaten. Want to see the rest of the series with me?”
Well, why not. “I’ll order takeout.”
They made love that night, Jackson taking him playfully, Ellery on his hands and knees to give Jackson more control. As they fell asleep, naked, covered in spend, still breathing harshly, Ellery panted, “So, no bad dreams.”
“I didn’t say that,” Jackson said, wrapping his arm tighter around Ellery’s waist as they spooned. “Just you won’t be a mystery of the deep anymore.”
Okay, well, it was a start. If they had to fight Jackson’s dream one nature special at a time, Ellery was going to see that he had a decent night’s sleep or die trying.
All things considered, it was easier for them both to kill the pilot fish–at least figuratively– using a nature documentary though.