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Soul Cage

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There is an old legend, one around as long as boats and sailors have existed. It says when someone is lost at sea, their soul is taken to a cave at the bottom of the ocean and placed in a cage by Satan. A loved one who wants to retrieve the captive must dive to the cave and challenge Satan to a drinking game. If the loved one manages to drink Satan under the table, the captive and the loved one are set free. If Satan drinks the loved one under the table, both souls are trapped in Hell for eternity.

Almost everyone loses this game.

***

He was diving, down, down, ever down, going toward the darkness. He was scared, his lungs were close to bursting, but he was desperate. He had to get to the bottom. Something was down here, something he wanted. Badly. He didn't stop until his palm touched the sand at the bottom. Where was it, what he was so desperate to find? He was running out of time...

James awoke in the dark in his own bed, taking a tentative breath lest he was dreaming right now and he was still underwater. What filled his lungs was, in fact, air, and he took a much deeper breath. Feeling his heart pattering, knowing he wasn't just going to roll over and go back to sleep immediately, he stumbled to the loo to wash his face and grab a drink of water. When he returned he crawled back over to Richard, still deeply asleep.

James smiled in the dark, staring at his husband's sleeping form. If Hammond was awake right now he'd be worried. That was an occupational hazard of being married to someone with frequent nightmares, James figured. It had taken time and therapy and support for him to get a handle on them, to realize how much anxiety he'd carried since the first serious accident years ago. He and Richard had been married almost two years now, a fact that helped ground him, giving him safety and security. Yes, Richard was still content to fully embrace Life, to not always play things safe, to never act his age. But time had given him reason to stick around; his now-adult daughters, his friendships and associates. And there was James. James had to learn that fact, that Richard had reasons to not be completely reckless, and that sometimes the cost of his not dying had been the occasional event that risked everything. And so now the nightmares were contained.

But...what was this one? What had he been so desperate to find? What was important enough to risk drowning?

In his sleep Richard snuggled closer to James, resting his head against James' chest. James gladly let him, hoping the proximity of the man he loved would let him go back to sleep. In a few minutes it did.

***

"You look like shit, May."

James grimaced slightly. "Thanks, Clarkson," he replied.

"But Hammond is looking as fresh as a daisy," Jeremy observed. "So that means either you didn't sleep well last night while he did, or my imagination is going to torment me with images of you two having sex where he just looks younger and you just wither away." He lifted his tablet and continued to read the article he found. "But what do I expect from someone whose neighbors were Fred and Wilma Flintstone?"

"That's quite enough out of you, Jeremy Clarkstone," James grumbled good-naturally as Richard laughed. "If you must know, I had a strange dream that I entered midway, and I can't figure out what it means."

"I know what it means, " Richard offered. "It means you have to be more careful what you eat just before bedtime."

"I had a nightmare about Daleks last night," Jeremy added. "What do you suppose that means?"

"It means you're watching too much Doctor Who," Andy Wilman answered as he entered the room and made some tea. "And if we're all done with the dream analysis, we need to get the Conversation Street segment written for this week's episode."

"So much for Bollocks Hour," Richard sighed as everyone filed into the writing room. He turned to James, who was making a cup of tea. "And I'm getting you home early tonight so I can draw you a hot bath, rub your back, and get you to tell me all about your dream." He stroked James' back with concern.

"Really, Hammond, I am not holding out on you," he replied. "I truly have no clue what I was doing there or what I was seeking."

"You knew you were seeking me when you'd dream of that mountain in Canada," Richard countered.

"Yes, and in those dreams I'd find you dead," James acknowledged. "Obviously those dreams were wrong. And it doesn't explain why I'm trying to find the bottom of the ocean. Meanwhile, we better get to work before Wilman has us sleep with the fishes."

***

James couldn't argue with Richard's effort to relax him for sleep. The house was quiet, bath drawn, music and lighting soft. Richard sat with him in the tub, simply letting James recline in his arms, massaging his back once he was out, planting soft kisses on his skin. Normally James would be incredibly turned on by all the attention, but the interrupted sleep had affected him, something that had become unusual. So all of Richard's ministrations resulted in making James very sleepy.

"James?"

"Mmmmmmmm"

"Let's go work on your motorbike."

"Mmmmmm."

"James?"

"Mmmmmmm."

"Someone stole your Ferrari and tampered with your Panda."

"Mmmmmmmm."

"James?"

"Mmmmmm."

"I'm lying here completely naked, begging you to tie me up and use me any way you see fit."

"Mmmmmm."

"Come to bed, you tired old man," Richard said with affection in his voice. Somehow James managed to crawl a few feet until Richard could cover him with the duvet. "I love you," Richard whispered gently.

"Love you," James replied with some effort. He didn't even remember the light going out.