It's not like this was the first time he'd fallen into this nightmare. Countless nights John found himself drowning in a sea of black opal oil as far as the eye could see.Each time the same thick tar crept down his throat and filled up his lungs as he struggled to surface himself in the violent waters. But though the ocean threatened to swallow him whole, it never put him out of his misery. It kept John alive and in pain for as long as it wanted, to make him feel just how powerless he really was in the grand scheme of things.
A wave crashed overtop him and John was sent into the murky depths of the sea that, he soon realized, had no up or down, left or right and just was. That's when millions of eyes opened up around him and thousands of hands started to latch onto him. John struggled as much as he could but was helpless. He did this to himself. This was his creation. His worst nightmare was his own fault.
John's eyes sprung open and took in the room that surrounded him. For a split second he could still feel the oil suffocating him, the hands tearing him apart and the eyes piercing through his hubris even though he was awake. He felt sick. John was so dazed by this nightmare that he jolted when he felt a hand rest itself on his chest.
"Shit, sorry John," whispered Merle,"You were hyperventilating and I wanted to make sure you were okay." He paused and looked deeper into John's face and saw dark cracks in his skin. His hand extended and moved to trace his thumb over the dark opal tears."Did you have that nightmare again?"
John sighed then muttered,"Yeah." He had no reason to lie to Merle. Merle held John's head in his hand, still brushing one of the larger cracks with his thumb. Feeling much more relaxed, John leaned into his touch. Merle brought his head down to the pillow, made sure he was comfortable, then got out of bed.
"Where are you going?"John asked.
"Relax John,"the door creaked open,"I'm just getting you some water."As sneaky and quiet as he tried to be, the floorboards still groaned under the dwarf's weight. Apparently loud enough to wake the gnome slumbering next to John.
Davenport's groan was muffled by John's shoulder, but was still audible."What's goin' on?"
"I had the nightmare again and Merle got up to get some water," John chuckled," I didn't know this would turn into such a production."
"I don' mind,"slurred a sleepy Davenport,"I jus' wanna make sure you're okay." He shifted in the bed and rubbed his eyes. Noticing John's cracked face, he leaned over and pressed comforting kisses onto the fractures. Davenport snuggled into John's neck and whispered lazily,"I'm right here. You're safe. Nobody can get you here, love." Even though he found the gnome's tiredness amusing, he still knew that the words were genuine. John wrapped his arms around the Davenport and realized he no longer felt as sick as he had moments before.
"I'm back," Merle announced in a stage whisper,"Oh, sorry Dav. Didn't know I was that loud."
"It's okay. Wasn't sleepin' all too well anyways." Davenport lingered in the embrace before sitting up on the bed along with John. Merle hopped under the covers and gave John his water. He took a few sips before reaching over Merle to set it on the nightstand. They all sunk into the soft bed and got back into their sleeping positions.
Davenport wrapped his arms around the humans waist and buried his head in the crook of John's neck. He curled his tail lightly around one of John's legs. John pulled Davenport closer with one of his arms, but left one arm free for Merle to curl up in. Merle accepted the silent offer and spooned the side of John, his beard tickling the skin under the neck of his shirt, but John didnt really mind. He stared at the ceiling for a bit, soaking in the affection from his husbands, before closing his eyes in an attempt to go to sleep.
• • •
John woke up to find that he was alone in bed. He yawned before sitting up and meandering to the kitchen. Davenport sat at their dining table drinking hot tea and staring out at the sunrise over the sea through the window in the house's front door. Merle was fixing some eggs for breakfast and gasped amusingly when John pulled him into an embrace.
"Good morning, dear." John planted a kiss on the top of Merle's head. "How's breakfast coming along?"
"Could be better," Merle laughed,"but I'm trying."
"You always say that, dear," Davenport chimed in,"and it's never as bad as you say it is." Davenport, wanting his share of cuddles, walked around the counter to join the pair. They all stood there, albeit awkwardly, hugging in the middle of the kitchen. Though it was clumsy, they cherished it.
"Pandamn it! The toast!" Merle shouted. Sure enough all three of them notice a burning smell take over the kitchen. Davenport and John laughed while Merle hastily ran over to the fantasy toaster on the countertop. The former made their way back to the dining table just to relax in the others presence while Merle continued to cook breakfast through daybreak.
As John lay there with Davenport, he stared into the almost fully visible sun on the horizon. It reminded him of how helpless he felt after The Hunger fully took over his rational thought. How desperate he was for Merle to kill him and stop the terror in their last Parley. How his last moments as The Hunger were spent with Merle on a beach just watching the sunset.
But the sunrise was different. It reminded him of how liberated he felt when he washed back up in Bottlenose Cove, free from The Hunger's grasp. How welcoming both Merle and Davenport were to him, their greatest enemy for over 100 years. How they didn't just welcome him in, but decided to love him and let him love them as well.
"You good there John?" Davenport questioned, looking concerned about how spacy the human had just been.
"Yes, Darling," John reassured,"I was just…thinking." Merle finished up the breakfast sandwiches and made his was over the the couch where John and Davenport sat. He got comfy next to Davenport and handed everyone their plates.
"About what, Love?" Davenport took a bite of the sandwich. John sighed before explaining.
"Me. Us," John finished up one slice of the bacon and egg breakfast, "Just everything that's happened this last year. I know you guys say I've thanked you enough but I still can't bring myself to stop. You all helped me and loved me even after all that I did. Both of you mean the world to me and I dont know what I'd be without you." He didnt realise he was crying until he felt a tear hit his arm. Within seconds both Davenport and Merle adjusted to pull John into a loving hug, silently reassuring him.
"I'm not too sure either," Merle spoke," but I do know where I am right now and I wouldn't change it for the world." Davenport wiped off John's tears of gratitude and softly kissed him to let him know that this was, infact, reality and not another sick dream.
With nothing better to do, they all decided to nap the day away on the couch, listening to the waves and seagulls. John was stretched out over the length of the couch with his legs dangling off. Merle lay on John's chest with his back pressed against the backboard and Davenport in his arms. A long, human arm wrapped around the pair to keep them secure in their akward position on the sofa.
As John rested, he thought about Merle's words, and realised that even after every terrible thing that's happened during his time as The Hunger, he wouldn't change anything. He remembered what Merle had said ages ago about how you can find joy in anything you do, and realised that he has been doing just that. Because with Merle and Davenport in his life, it was easy to choose joy.