It was a dream he couldn’t shake. Pinned down, Cody on the ground scant yards away, certainly hurt, maybe worse. No way to get to him, enemy fire holding him in place. Any step was death, and if he died, so did Cody.
Simple as that.
Nick woke, struggling to breathe, adrenaline firing through his veins. He wanted to vomit, to run, to shower, to cry, but his body, still heavy with sleep, wasn’t ready to obey him.
By the time he managed to sit up, Cody was there. Strong arm, dry towel, cool water. Not dead, not injured, not lying in a road in Saigon, limp as a rag doll.
Nick went ahead and cried.
He’d been dreaming that way since the day it happened - sure, he’d made it to Cody in the end, and found Cody bruised and shaken but not even hit, playing possum, trapped as he was out in the open.
They’d made it out of danger, back to base, back to their own bunks in one piece - but part of Nick’s brain had stayed right there in that moment. And quiet times, it liked to take it out, show it off. Remember, in vivid technicolor.
He’d tried talking about it, back in the MP’s. Cody had this theory if you told your dreams out loud, they went away. So he’d told Cody one miserable three a.m., when the dream had dogged him four nights straight and Cody was starting to get worried.
“Yeah, I remember,” Cody’d said, and “hey, it’s okay, I get it,” and “Nick, we made it, we didn’t get hit or anything that time, c’mon, guy,” and Nick couldn’t explain, couldn’t find words for why he couldn’t stop crying.
Yeah, they’d made it. But for some seconds-long eternity inside Nick’s soul, Cody had been dead. And that wasn’t something he could shake, or forget, or even put away in the space he kept for the stuff he couldn’t look at - not for long, anyhow. Not so it stayed there.
The dream went away after he told Cody, that was true. For a whole year, nearly, right up until some asshole threw Cody through a plate glass window.
A few hours with the medics stitching his thigh back together, and his elbow, a few shots (and it was evens who hated needles more, Nick or Cody) and they were home, in their tiny shared on-base apartment, Cody bumping his elbow every ten minutes and bitching fit to kill.
It was fine, they were both fine, but there’d been that moment, Cody lying among shards of shattered glass, broken, limp, unresponsive.
Only a moment until Nick had reached his side, scant seconds until his terrible stillness was replaced with returning consciousness. But what if it hadn’t?
Nick ran away to the bathroom, showered despite the fact he could barely move his left arm - a blow with a chair leg had nearly dislocated his shoulder, but he’d kept that quiet in the face of what had happened to Cody - and vomited pain meds and bitter terror into the toilet.
That night the dream returned, sharp and clear as the day it happened, mocking him with its certainty. One day, he’d make it across the road and Cody wouldn’t move, wouldn’t answer him. That was it, the threat, the promise across the years.
“Which part’s the dream?” Nick had babbled into Cody’s frightened face, grabbing him, hurting Cody’s elbow all over again, sending his own shoulder into a crippling spasm. “What if it’s this and we’re still in Saigon? Huh? What if you’re dead and I just don’t know it yet?”
A glass of water thrown in his face had brought Nick sharply aware of reality, out of the moment of panic, the nightmare still close but powerless in the face of Cody’s presence.
“Sorry,” Cody had said, “sorry, I’m sorry but you gotta wake up, yeah? C’mon, Nick, don’t do this. You don’t wanna end up in the hospital, am I right?”
No, Nick most certainly did not want to end up in the hospital. Not for his shoulder, not for the dreams, not for anything.
He didn’t exactly have to pretend things were okay when the dream came, not for Cody. Cody had terrors of his own that came by night, and when they did, he needed Nick the same as Nick needed him. That was simply how it was.
But Nick made sure not to mention the day in Saigon, nor even the plate glass window. Cody didn’t need the reminder, anyway.
Safe on the Riptide, lulled by the waves, the war and its nightmares seemed a long way away. When asked about it, Cody told people he hardly remembered, it seemed like a dream, like something that had happened to someone else.
Cody lied. They both remembered.
And they both still dreamed.
Nick, after a tough case, when he’d had to use his weapon, when he’d been separated from Cody. Sometimes a chopper in the jungle; a few times, for variety, gunfire in L.A.; but mostly, usually, the crushing heat and strange glassy light of that day in Saigon.
Now, so many years later, they’d learned to rely on each other in the night. Cody’d used a wet towel a couple of times, when Nick was deep under, but he’d never thrown a glass of water again. Nick, for his part, knew - knew that Cody was there, somewhere on the other side.
Cody, a lighter sleeper, woke easy from his dreams, clung to Nick wordless, big-eyed, a kid in the jungle all over again.
That same kid Nick had lost his heart to fifteen years before.
“I think dreams are really very boss,” Murray declared as they entered the salon.
Nick and Cody exchanged an exasperated glance, and Nick went to pour coffee. They both felt like they’d been tricked - Murray had shepherded them along to a seminar on the meaning of dreams in the guise of checking out a lead on a missing man.
“Maybe so, but I don’t feel like we’re any closer to tracking down George Perrin,” Cody said, perching his butt on the edge of the table. “What were we supposed to get out of that seminar, anyhow?”
“Oh. Oh! Well, Sarah Perrin’s been dreaming about lemon trees and chickens for a month - ever since George disappeared. So I thought if we figured out what that meant, maybe we’d get a lead.”
“”Right,” Nick drawled, coming to Cody’s side and handing him a cup of coffee. “So a bunch of chickens mean he headed north, and the lemon tree means he’s holed up in a two-bit motel with some girl ten years younger than his wife?”
“Wow, Nick! Did you figure that out at the seminar? I must have missed that part. That’s very boss!”
Nick rolled his eyes. “No, Boz. No, I didn’t figure that out. I made it up right there, but it’s about as plausible as your theory about the lemon tree, you know?”
Murray looked crushed. “Aw, c’mon, guys. Everyone knows dreams carry hidden meanings. One time I was ten and I kept dreaming about a skateboard, you know, being able to ride it and do tricks, and everything? And then Christmas came and do you know what?”
“You got a skateboard,” Nick said impatiently. “We get it. But - “
“No,” Murray said in triumph. “That’s the thing! Dreams don’t mirror real life, it’s all about meanings! I got a puppy, and Melba got a bike. But I trained that puppy to do all kinds of tricks!”
Nick and Cody looked at each other. “Uh, right,” Cody said. “I think me and Nick are gonna leave the dream interpretation to you, okay, pal?”
“Recurring dreams are particularly important.” Murray wasn’t to be put off so easily. “Nowadays I sometimes dream about a particular set of equations and their meaning. The trouble is they don’t exist! I’ve tried recreating them while I’m awake but I just can’t figure it out.”
“So does that mean you’re finally getting your skateboard?”
“That’s a good one, Nick!” Murray laughed uproariously. “No, it usually means I’m missing something obvious - either in the code for a new game or maybe in a case. Isn’t that boss? What about you, Nick? Do you have any recurring dreams?”
Nick put his coffee cup down hard, spilling some over the side. “No,” he said harshly. “I dream about choppers.” He turned and took the steps to the galley two at a time.
Downstairs, he grabbed a cloth and stood, leaning on the counter, breathing deep.
“ - about the war,” he heard Cody’s voice from above. “Nothing he wants to talk about, okay, Murray?”
Nick forced Saigon back in its box, and went back up to the salon. He wiped the table, put the cloth down, perched his butt beside Cody’s and shamelessly leaned on his partner. “So,” he said conversationally. “Have you figured out what those lemon trees mean yet, Boz?”
Cody was particularly gentle with him all that evening, right down to taking galley duty and producing sausages for dinner, and even suggesting that Mimi’s often-postponed maintenance should be undertaken the next day.
Nick put his beer down, and gave his partner a look. “I’m okay, man. You know?”
The corners of Cody’s mouth lifted in a small smile. “I know, buddy. But we gotta do it sometime, huh?”
That, Nick reflected, was true. He lifted his beer again and clinked the bottle against Cody’s. “We sure do.”
Nick dreamed that night - no surprises there, and apparently not for Cody either, because he woke Nick at the first rat-tat of machine-gun fire, the Saigon road barely in his consciousness before Cody’s voice was in his ear, Cody’s hand on his shoulder.
Shaken and off-balance, Nick crawled directly into his partner’s arms and held on. Not unprecedented; not for either of them; but tonight it was more than just comfort.
“How’d you know?” he mumbled into Cody’s shoulder.
“Didn’t you?” Cody countered, rubbing his back.
“Yeah,” Nick agreed. His heartbeat had steadied already, but he had no plans to let go of Cody anytime soon. “Were you still awake?”
“I wanted to wake you before it got too bad. Did it work?”
“Yeah,” Nick said again, and sat back so he could see Cody’s face. “Wait, you didn’t go to bed? Because you figured I’d have a nightmare?”
Cody shrugged, looking away. “I wasn’t sleepy,” he evaded, dropping his arms and letting Nick go. By his expression, he expected Nick to get mad.
Nick’s heart filled. “Thanks,” he said softly, and rubbed Cody’s leg. Maybe it was kind of over-protective, but Nick got it. “Wouldya stay with me awhile?”
“Sure,” Cody said, and his expression was a curious mix of unease and anticipation.
Nick thought he got that too, and lay down. Cody moved into the space beside him and shuffled around, getting one arm around Nick. Nick snuggled in, and put his own arm around Cody.
It was awkward, and cautious, and nothing like how they usually shared space. Nick knew he was to blame for that, for making what amounted to an offer, out loud, on Christmas Eve at Cody’s mom’s place.
“It’s still Saigon,” he said baldly, using his free hand to find Cody’s against the mattress.
“I know,” Cody said quietly, and entwined their fingers. “I’ve always known, I guess. I’m sorry about that night, huh? And the glass of water, but you were panicking, and I guess I just got scared.”
Nick swallowed hard, then rolled on his back and pulled Cody against him. Cody curled in willingly, folding against Nick’s body, into his arms, and Nick exhaled in relief.
“I don’t need a seminar to know what it means,” he muttered, “you know?”
“Getting pinned down,” Cody agreed softly. “Trapped.”
“No,” Nick said, and stroked Cody’s hair. That was new; as often as he’d longed to bury his fingers in Cody’s thick gold hair, over the years, he’d petted Cody’s hair exactly twice, not including tonight. Not that he was keeping count.
Cody flinched, stiffened, then relaxed as Nick kept on stroking. “No?” he asked, and tilted his head so he could look up into Nick’s face.
“No,” Nick repeated. He progressed to rubbing Cody’s neck gently, and Cody pressed back into the touch. “You’re right, we were pinned down. But we were separated, too, and what you maybe don’t know is that you went down right in front of me. I thought you were hit. You didn’t move, you didn’t even try to get up, an’ I couldn’t get to you, Cody.”
“Shit,” Cody said, and sat up. He looked down at Nick, anxious, troubled, guilty. “Shit, Nick, I didn’t know. I didn’t even think - I was behind that Jeep.”
“Not from my line of sight,” Nick said simply, and raised a hand. Cody took it and gripped hard. “I thought you were dead. I made bargains with God and the universe and I don’t even know what else, but you never moved. Then I got over there and you were breathing - but in my dream I never get to you, I can't get to you, you know?”
“Yeah,” Cody said, “shit. I know, buddy, and I can’t make it right. Shit.”
“Every time I wake up and you’re here, you make it right. Yeah? Hell, tonight you woke me up before you even got hit. Or went down, whatever. You know?”
“At least now you’ve talked about it properly, maybe it’ll ease up.” Theory or no theory, Cody didn’t sound convinced.
“After the night I told you the first time, it did go away.”
“But it came back.”
“Yeah, it came back right after you went flying through a plate glass window, and I watched you lay there all still and broken, and never move.”
“Shit!” Cody said again, with more force than was strictly necessary. “And I threw water in your face.”
“In hindsight, we were prob’ly both concussed,” Nick said, and grinned. “You know?”
“Yeah,” Cody agreed, and allowed himself a smile. “I still feel like this is kind of my fault.”
“Yeah? So make it up to me.” Nick tugged the hand he held.
Cody stiffened, and a shadow crossed his face.
“Hey,” Nick said sharply. “No. Not whatever you’re thinking. Hold me, okay? Be here with me. So when I open my eyes, I know what fucking decade it is, yeah? And I know you didn’t eat it back there in Saigon, or Fort Ord, or Connecticut, or right here in King Harbor.”
Before Nick finished speaking, Cody lay down and pulled him close. “Sorry,” he said, and his face was flushed. “I guess I’m just off-balance right now.”
Nick snuggled in and let his hands on Cody’s back do the talking. His mouth had already gotten him in enough trouble, although if he had a do-over, he wouldn’t change anything. Maybe Cody wasn’t ready to put thought into words, let alone action, but the thoughts were there - Nick knew it.
“Like I said,” he mumbled, “whatever you want out of this is okay by me.”
Cody sighed. One of his hands crept up and rubbed Nick’s neck, right on the sweet spot, with exactly the right amount of pressure. Nick went limp with a soft whimper, and closed his eyes.
“Tight?” Cody murmured. “I guess sitting in that lecture room all day screwed with your neck as bad as flying, huh?”
Not as bad, Nick would have said, if he could have managed to form words. Along with don’t stop, and I love when you touch me like that. Instead, he groaned.
“Not as bad,” Cody continued. Maybe he’d read Nick’s mind; maybe he could feel the difference. His fingers drifted further up and hesitantly toyed with the hair at the nape of Nick’s neck. “Y’know, I kind of want to know what you want out of this, too.”
“As long as I got you,” Nick said, and lifted his head so he could see Cody’s face. Cody’s hand slid down his neck, down his back, and rested just above his tailbone. “That’s what I need.”
“Moron,” Cody said. “Don’t you know that by now?”
Nick thought of Natalia, and lowered his eyes. “Guess so.”
“Natalia?” Nick didn’t need to look to know Cody’s eyebrows had shot up. “You can’t be serious.”
“Did you take a course in mind reading today, big guy? Because I don’t remember saying anything about her, you know?”
“You didn’t have to.” Cody sat up abruptly. “C’mon, buddy, talk to me.”
“Tryin’ to sleep, man.” It was as good an evasion as any - and given how much Cody hated talking about anything important, there was an even chance it would work. Nick held his breath.
“So I’m gonna lay something out I think we both know,” Cody said slowly.
Nick let go his breath and propped himself on his elbow. It wasn’t often Cody really wanted to talk, but when he did, it was Nick’s job to listen. Even if what Cody had to say was uncomfortable or maybe even scary.
“You’re really important to me.”
Nick opened his mouth to agree, to say Cody was equally important, maybe more important, to him, but Cody waved him silent.
“I know it’s the same for you. And the other thing I know is how much you hate it when I’m seeing some girl, like maybe she’ll make it so I don’t care about you anymore, huh?”
Nick swallowed hard, but kept looking at Cody this time. Looking away wouldn’t make Cody’s words less true, or his own feelings any different.
“Don’t you know,” Cody said, reaching out and touching Nick’s cheek, “that I gotta work at thinking about her instead of you when I’m with her? You wanna know how many ladies have dumped me because all I do is talk about you?”
Nick smiled a little at that, because he got it. “Same here,” he said quietly.
“Sure, I wanted to screw Natalia that day in Chicago. You know why I didn’t?”
“Because I was an asshole about the hotel room,” Nick reminded him. “Sorry.”
“Because when I thought about why you didn’t want it to happen, I realized I couldn’t do it either,” Cody corrected him.
“Couldn’t do what?”
“Couldn’t fuck her in a bed I was gonna share with you. Felt like cheating.” Cody shrugged.
Nick rubbed his own face, then pinched the bridge of his nose. “Yeah,” he said, then lowered his hand and looked at Cody. “It’s not so much that I think you’ll stop caring about me,” he said. “I don’t believe you could, no more than I could walk away from you, you know? But one day you’ll find a keeper, and she’ll have to come first, and she’ll get your time, your attention, you know? She’ll get to sleep beside you and wake up beside you, she’ll get evenings and weekends and holidays an’ I just hope you’ll still wanna work with me, you know? An’ maybe have a beer sometimes, or go to the game, or - “
“Nick, easy, c’mon.” Cody reached for him, pulling him up until he was resting on Cody’s chest.
Nick held on, fisting one hand in Cody’s t-shirt, the other arm wrapping around Cody’s shoulders. Unaccountably, he was crying. He kept his head down, hoping maybe Cody wouldn’t notice.
“Shh,” Cody said, wrapping both arms around Nick tightly. “There’s no world where I wouldn’t want to work with you. D’you get that? You’re my best friend, my partner. Hell, there’s days I only make it out of bed because you’re waiting for me, buddy. I know you know that, huh?”
Nick nodded against Cody’s chest, because he did know that. “I’d fall apart without you,” he said harshly. “Sometimes I think you know that, but mostly I think you don’t wanna know that. Yeah?”
“That’s not true,” Cody said, raising one hand to Nick’s neck and finding the tight place again. “I pretend, sure. Chicks, dates, career traction, the whole nine yards, but it’s all B.S., big guy, and I kinda thought you knew that. I’d fall apart without you, too.”
Nick opened his eyes in the early dawn, aware before he was really conscious of Cody in the bed with him, close, still asleep. He didn’t move, enjoying the moment - as always, far more than he had any right to.
Or maybe not, he mused, thinking of the night before. Felt like cheating. Yeah, and every time you’re with a girl, I feel like you’re cheating too.
Which wasn’t fair, of course. Not to Cody, not to the girl, not to himself. Nick sighed, slipped his hands under Cody’s t-shirt and ran them lightly up and down the strong back.
Cody, who’d stayed up in case Nick dreamed. Who’d looked so lost, alone outside his mother’s house in Connecticut, that Nick had missed his flight on purpose. Who’d stayed, Nick’s best friend, the other half of Nick’s heart and soul, through toil, bloodshed and laughter.
“Hmmm?” Cody said, and opened his eyes. “Whassup?”
“This is what I want,” Nick said, the words coming from somewhere deep inside, without conscious volition. “Cody, I wanna go to bed with you. I wanna wake up with you. You know?”
“Oh yeah?” Cody yawned, stretched, and grinned. “I kinda like sleeping with you,” he agreed, ducking his head. “But if we’re gonna be spending all that time in bed together, maybe there’s some other stuff we could try.”
A matching grin made itself at home on Nick’s face. “So you’ve decided what you want then, huh?”
“I want you,” Cody said, raising his head again and looking into Nick’s eyes. “As for the rest, I kinda figured we’d done enough talking, and maybe we can just figure it out as we go.”
“Like this?” Nick asked. He moved in close, taking his time, making sure the angle was just right - so many times he’d imagined doing just this - and finally claimed his partner’s lips.
When Cody kissed him back, it was every kind of perfect he’d ever imagined.
But the very best part was that when they finally broke apart, Cody was smiling in a way Nick had never seen before. And when Cody initiated their second kiss - hard, fierce and hungry - Nick understood, for real, exactly what Cody wanted.
Cody wanted everything, so much more than Nick had ever dared to imagine. He took a moment before he started their third kiss - he had to get this right - then let Cody have it, all the hunger, all the need, all the longing he’d carried for so long.
Cody took it, all of it, and gave it back in spades. There were no more barriers now, and no more questions.
By the time they got to the fourth kiss, no-one was counting anymore.