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The Committee of Sleep

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Marcus Keane doesn’t give much thought to his nightmares.

They’re a part of him, and as ugly as the rest of it: the lines on his face and the ropes in his bag and the weight of the cross on his neck and the scars. Especially the scars, starting with the first one, a comma shaped mark on the back of his right kneecap, a birthday present from dear old dad.

When he was a child, the Church had taught him to manage them along with everything else. The boys he’d grown up with had learned as he had, to keep the screams inside so the other budding warriors of God sleeping in the cots next to them wouldn’t be woken and made less than sharp for their holy mission. By somebody else’s nightmares, anyway.

He’d gotten somewhat lax about it, in the years he’d spent rattling about in motel rooms by the dozen, with no one in the room to disturb. Maybe he’d woken someone or someones, on the other side of the thin walls, but on balance it didn’t bother him. The righteous had no rest, might as well give a taste of that to others that were spending a night on scratchy sheets with questionable company.

But then suddenly there was Tomás, fearless and beautiful and breathing in the next bed. 

The first night he’d woken choking back a scream he’d fled directly into the bathroom, heaving. When he'd shut the door, carefully, Marcus had prayed on sore knees resting on cold linoleum. It had been a long time since he’d felt ashamed of his dreams.

When he finally slunk back into the room, Tomás was still fast asleep, on his belly. The sheets were bunched up around his head, clutched in one hand, the thumb sticking out and almost but not quite touching his lip. Adorable, Marcus had thought, and then the weight of that thought came crashing down and he was disgusted with himself all over again.

Even that didn’t silence the small part of him that wanted to just climb in bed with him, bury his nose at the back of his neck and breathe him in to let the scent lull him to sleep. As if he’d be welcome.

Marcus had shaken his head, considered going back into the bathroom to search for more penance. Instead he’d climbed into his own bed, now gone cold, and turned his head in the dark. Tomás had gone on breathing and Marcus had lain there listening until the sun had come up.

Afterwards he’d promised himself he’d never to anything to break Tomás’ rest, fleeting and hard earned as it was. He remembered his teachers, hissing furiously that screaming and crying and carrying about helped no one, least of all himself. Marcus wasn’t a creature made for comfort or kindness, and deserved neither.

God might have joined them together, but not in a way that couldn't be torn asunder.

He let the words play on a loop on the nights that the nightmares didn’t come with screams but silent, shaking sweat that wouldn’t let him budge under the covers even after he woke. But then his weak heart would start to whisper, spinning golden, impossible fantasies. He hadn’t thought of sneaking into Tomás' bed since that first horrible night, unwilling to break Tomás' perfect, foolish trust even in his head. The idea of Marcus looming over him, like some pale English boogeyman, turned his stomach. Instead he imagined Tomás slipping into his bed, where he’d always, always be welcome, taking Marcus into his arms like that was something he could deserve.

Even then he couldn’t picture an aftermath beyond waking alone and the two of them quietly ignoring it after. It’s close to what really happens, in the mornings that come after those nights, Marcus’ bed too big and lonely even with him in it and Tomás none the wiser.

Those days he finds little ways to punish himself further, slipping more food onto Tomás' plate, or more sugar in his coffee, or letting him pick the radio station more often.

Though maybe it doesn’t quite count as penance, if the sight of Tomás’ small smiles make his heart so full. 

The thing that really hurts is keeping his hands to himself and he relishes it, knows he deserves it, knows he can never put his hands on Tomás in the way he wants without dirtying him irreparably. Not that he should want to, weapon that he is. Marcus is a knife without a handle, he can't be gripped safely. He can't even wake when Tomás shakes in his sleep at night, the way he surely must. Not that Marcus could do anything to comfort him if he did hear, not really. He can only keep his own dreaming wounds to himself.

The nightmares come less often now, anyway, as if Tomás’ simple presence is so sanctified as to keep them at bay.

And then there’s Dublin. Not the one in Ireland, where Marcus has never been but feels he knows from his mother’s stories, still sketched in his mind. But the smaller, sadder one in California.

The woman tormented by a demon is a prison guard and her small cigarette smoke stained house, where they pry the evil out of her bit by bit for a entire week as her sister stands guard, smells like she takes her work home. He can feel it coating his skin when they leave, slinking out with the setting sun, the oily film of desperation and pain and shuttered air.

Oh the wind was sighing, and the day was dying, as the loike lay crying, in his prison cell...And that auld triangle went jingle-bloody-jangle, all along the banks of the royal canal ” he sings to himself, under his breath, as they slouch towards the truck.

“Hmm? What is a loike?” says Tomás next to him and Marcus actually laughs. “Give me five quid and maybe I’ll tell you” he says and Tomás jostles his shoulder.

He’s still smiling at the way Tomás voice had felt out the shape of the word when they get in the cab. Naturally, that’s the night he dreams of his death.

It’s not the first time. Tomás being martyred, swallowed by darkness, set aflame and being subjected to a thousand tortures from the depths of Hell feature often in the horror show that is Marcus' mind. It’s not even the first time he watches a demon consume him slowly as he begs Marcus to help him, to not leave him, please please please.

It is the first time that Tomás’ arms wrap around his middle and his lips settle on Marcus’ ear as they watch Tomás’ skin peel off in strips.

“You did that to me, you know that?” Tomás whispers, low like a lover.

Marcus can only scream, riveted to the dying man in front of him.

He’s sure, with the knowledge of dreamers, that he could save him, if he could only reach him, break the circle of the arms holding him. But he can’t, can’t, can’t no matter how hard he tries, or how much Tomás bleeds or how much Tomás laughs directly in his ear. Then his tongue starts to lick.

Marcus gasps himself awake, arms flailing. And in the bed next to him, Tomás, the real one, opens his eyes.

The shame is instant, and total. He turns his head, tries to slow his lungs, aware the cords in his neck are all standing out and anyone that bothered to look could see the rhythm of his pulse there.

“Marcus?” Tomás whispers, concerned, and it undoes him. He curls on his side and weeps, helpless.

There’s a rustle of cloth and then Tomás’ arms really are around him. “Ya, ya, ya pasó, solo fue una pesadilla, no pasó nada, no pasó nada, no pasó…” he whispers against Marcus’ neck, soft and warm. His left hand is clenched in Marcus’ and held tightly against his racing heart. It doesn’t seem to bother him, and neither does the way Marcus tangles their legs together.

His words get sleepier, of out order “pasó nada, aquí ‘toy, ya duerme, pasó nada” but still firm, sure. “I’m sorry” Marcus whispers back.

Tomás shushes him, nuzzles his hair. Maybe he’s not even awake, not fully.

Half of Marcus’ heart wants to just die of the shame of it, the other half wants to take advantage, roll his sinner's body and tuck his face into Tomás' neck in the way he’ll never be allowed to do again if he does. But he doesn’t. He’s just so tired.

Instead he just squeezes Tomás’ hand harder and lets himself sink back into sleep.

He doesn’t have any more dreams.

When he wakes up, Tomás is still there.

Marcus is flat on his back and Tomás’ head is resting, heavy, on his chest. Their legs haven’t come loose from the warm knot they’ve made. It feels right.

He’s scared to breathe and wake him, so of course he does.

“Did you sleep well?” Tomas whispers, framed in the golden light. His eyes are warm and wide and open, like he’d bleed if Marcus answers no.

Not that he can.

His tongue feels like it’s gone, so his hands opt to speak instead. One runs along Tomás’ back, the other traces the curve of his face.

When they kiss, softly, Tomas sighs into his mouth. He tastes of Heaven.

Marcus isn't entirely sure why they've never done it before, now that they have.

“I was afraid –he confesses and Marcus can feel his own face crumble– that you’d be angry with me. For climbing into your bed”.

His cheeks are dusted pink.

“Darling –he finally manages, his heart still so full he can’t believe he can speak– there’s never been any risk of that”.