Sunlight streamed through the blinds, narrow bars of light falling across Top's face. He squeezed his eyes tighter and rolled over, grabbing the spare pillow and hugging it to his chest. It was hardly the same as how he'd been wrapped around Jack in his dream, but dreams were all he had left. And since that damned expedition, his entire life had become something of a dream. Or a nightmare. One he'd yet to wake from, and at the rate he was going, he wasn't sure he ever would.
Top buried his nose in the pillow, wishing it were a mess of auburn curls instead. Tears welled behind his eyelids as he choked back a sob. This dream had felt so real. They usually did to some extent or another, but this one had been different somehow. Like when he woke, the nightmare would have finally passed and Jack would be there, sprawled half across the bed like usual.
Just another dream. He'd never been woken from a sound sleep to find Jack at his door, forlorn and soaked from the rain. He'd never gotten to hold his lover once more, their bodies fitted together like puzzle pieces. Jack hadn't said those haunting words: It wants out. His fingers hadn’t traced the frame of an old photo of two of them, still prominently displayed on the dresser. He hadn't let Top take care of him for once; hadn't let Top curl around him before falling asleep in his arms.
Tossing the pillow aside, Top pushed himself up on his elbows and huffed a sigh. Jack was gone, and the sooner he made peace with that fact, the better. His chest ached at the thought and he rubbed the phantom sensation away. Easier said than done. Wiping the moisture from his eyes, he hauled himself out of bed with a groan. If he had any hope of escaping this nightmare, he couldn't keep dreaming of what would never be.
He threw a t-shirt on and stumbled from the bedroom, his chest constricting as the scent of coffee wafted past his nose. Great, now he was hallucinating smells. Top shook his head, a wistful smile tugging at his lips. Jack never could live without his coffee. Didn't care what kind, either, so long as it was caffeinated. The man knew his coffee as well as he knew his diving.
Halfway to the kitchen Top pulled up short and blinked in disbelief. “Jack,” he breathed. Dizziness suddenly washed over him and he grabbed the back of the couch to steady himself.
Bathed in the sunlight spilling through the window, Jack turned and offered him a lazy smile. Star-shaped pupils stared back at him, framed by constellations of freckles. So peculiar and yet so perfect. Jack lifted the mug in his hands to his lips, taking a sip before he set the mug aside on the counter. Scars littered his bare torso, smooth flesh glinting in the light as he moved. There was still a slight frailness about him, but he looked healthier; content. A shadow of the bedraggled man Top had taken in the night before.
"Got your hopes up, didn't you?" Jack asked, his lips twitching into a knowing smirk. He sauntered over and reached for Top, hesitating, as if unsure the gesture was allowed. After a moment, his hands settled on Top’s hips. Warmth blossomed under his fingertips.
Top licked his lips. "Can’t help it," he said, hoarse. He reached up and took Jack's face in his hands. "You are real."
Jack huffed a laugh and patted Top's cheek, the effect of his smile somewhat unnerving with those starry eyes. "When I told you not to get your hopes up last night, I meant it. I want to stay here, but..." His smile faltered and he averted his eyes. "I don't know how long I can do that before I hurt you."
Top dropped his hands to Jack’s shoulders. “You won’t.”
“You trust me?” Jack’s eyes flicked up to meet his. His brows furrowed in confusion. “How?”
“Because I always have.” His trust in Jack had been implicit from the day they’d met. Their quiet leader had earned that trust through action, and though some of those actions had seemed questionable at the time, not once had he led them astray. Regardless of what the parasite was doing to him, this was still the Jack he knew and loved, and nothing would change that.
Eyes narrowed, Jack tipped his head back and studied Top for a long moment before nodding. “Just promise me one thing.”
“If I lose control over this, you have to let me leave.” Top opened his mouth to protest, but Jack fixed him with a pointed look that said this topic was not open for debate. “Understand?”
“Yeah,” Top answered quietly.
Jack wound his arms around Top’s neck, his tense expression softening into a smile. He pressed their foreheads and noses together and closed his eyes. “For what it’s worth,” he murmured, “last night was the first time I felt completely human again.” His voice pitched lower to the graveled tone that always tied Top’s insides into knots. “I have you to thank for that.”
Top hummed and tilted his head, kissing the corner of Jack’s mouth. Heat flooded his veins as Jack turned and found his lips. The kiss lacked their former urgency, now only the languid glide of tongues and gentle presses of lips as if forever were within their reach. Other coffee-flavored kisses sprang to mind. Those when their odd little family was still together. When the waking hours were met with optimism rather than dread. When Jack wasn’t sick.
“You saved me,” Top whispered, swallowing past the tightness in his throat. “Now it’s my turn.”