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a bird, a stone

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It’s an old panic that wakes him, that keeps him up and gasping into the dead air of his tent. He had been dreaming (remembering, really) that night in the windmill with the - with the cloying heat and the dead air and rot thick in his nose, Strange slashing his hand and lending his life to the corpses, the magic creeping into the air like a gross caricature of a living thing. It’s the kind of night that stays with a person, lingers.

He’s had dreams of it before. Once, twice. The fear had been different, then.

(He had feared at the time that Strange would have turned the gun on Wellington, but that was foolish, really. Strange, he has learned, abhors violence, abhors killing and it had been irksome, these morals, at least at first in the time before Strange had endeared himself to Grant. Then the aversion to violence had become concerning - he had the notion that Strange would allow someone to kill him before he took a life.)

Regardless, it’s been months since he thought of it.

He thinks it’s Waterloo that’s brought this nightmare back to him - magic had choked the courtyard he’d found Strange in, thick and viscous like mud and the look in his eyes, the emptiness - it had - been like -

I cannot make them dead again; I have tried everything


And the pistol, the gunshot deafening in the small space, the dead man staggering back and the look in Jonathan’s eye, the -

Grant cannot breathe. That terrible night is gone, the moment long passed, but still, with the nightmare fresh in his mind and how close to - how close Strange had been to - it nearly stops his heart. He makes a harsh, discordant sound in the back of his throat, cards his fingers through his hair, wraps his hands around the back of his neck and curls in on himself. Grounds himself.

He had feared Strange dead, after Waterloo, because of his damned morals. In his mind, the way it played out in the hour or so after the battle, when he had mourned, there had been no way for Strange to avoid the bloodshed in such a way that he would not have had to kill to defend his life, and he would never - he never would have - well. He had been wrong in his assumptions. When pushed, Strange had killed, and he was viciously, awfully grateful for it, because it meant that he still lived and breathed beside him, even if he was not entirely well. He will be, eventually, because he is alive, and Grant is so thankful -

I was told you were dead

I felt sure you would be

Here is a truth: Grant is selfish. He knows this, owns it.

He quiets his gasping, heaving breath, stops it and listens to the still, silent air in the tent. Waits a moment, two, then, there - the sleep-deep, calm hush of Strange’s breathing from his bedroll opposite of him. He lets himself breathe again, his heart rate steadying.

Strange is not well - not yet. There is still mud from the courtyard under his fingernails, still mud in his hair. Waterloo still hangs over both of them. But tomorrow, in the morning, Grant will go with Strange down to the river and they will wash themselves clean and then, and then