He blinked a few times, when cool water drops slided in his eyes. His head was pounding, his ears were ringing deafening out an otherworldly echo. What the hell had just happened? Was he drinking too much after the battle with his buddies? And now was he waking up next to the pub walls in the rain? He sweared not to drink anymore, like he always did after long nights of dancing and blowing off steam.
He pried his eyes open, willed the water drops away, waited his sight to clear. He tried to assess his environment turning his head right then left on the cold cobblestones. It took some time for his sight to adjust to the darkness surrounding him. When he sat up, searing pain started to lick his right thigh. Wow. Was he stabbed with a broken soda glass while partying? Did someone tried to mess him, and did a fist-fight turn into something more severe with knifes or other kind of sharp objects? Ok. No more drinking nights. No more unconscious partying.
As he scanned his environs, he spotted lights in the distance looking like streetlights. And under one of those lights he could see a bench with a figure sitting hunched over. He didn’t have a clue where he was, so why wait in the dark, when he can go to that man, and not be alone anymore. He made up his mind. Then came the next challenge, to get his feet under him, an order those limbs to move and take him to that shadowy figure.
As soon as he could stand, he knew it would be a very long and painful walk, but he didn’t falter, he stubbornly got one foot before the other then repeating the process countless times while fighting the distance. The lights have surely but incredibly slowly grown closer. He passed some of the streetlights, one no-one was sitting below them. And the figure in the light circle was still excruciatingly far away. He could scream with every step, the pain in his thigh was binding. But he didn’t stop, one next step always followed the previous one.
As he walked a great wind rose hindering his steps. The wind brought a salty ocean smell making him thirsty, and his skin itch. From the right and the left of the cobblestone road he could hear the waves braking on huge stone boulders. The road was an unending bridge into the nothingness of the ocean and horizon, only the benches and streetlights he’d passed marking the distance travelled.
How did they get here? He had to ask the man sitting over there under the next streetlight. A few more steps and he could see the man’s face, his features. His heart started to beat faster. Charlie. So his initial intuition did not deceive him. Gut feelings, as he always told to Charlie. Always follow your gut, and your chances of survival should be greater than when denying your gut. And he was right. His gut always knew better.
Left leg. Right leg. Left then right. Left then right. Repeat some more times and you’ll be right next to Charlie. Charlie was looking at he waves. Could he see them? Tommie sure as hell couldn’t, the darkness was too thick. But only hearing them breaking was eerie and spooky beyond measure. Don’t go there, leave the ghost be, concentrate on Charlie.
Charlie noticed him as he crawled closer and closer. Confusion crept up on his beautiful features, disbelief hooding his eyes. Was it so unlikely to meet someone out here? Where exactly? At the edge of the world? Tommie shook himself mentally, the where wasn’t important. Only the presence of Charlie mattered. He stopped beside the bench and took a shuttering breath.
“Can I sit down?” He asked. “My leg is killing me.”
“Oh, yes p-please, s-sit down.”
Wasn’t he adorable? Charlie always stuttered when he was nervous, or afraid of being impolite. He moved a bit towards the other end of the bench to make enough place to sit for Tommie. And he felt his knees buckle, right before he collapsed on the bench. A strangled sigh escaped his lips before he could stop it. Moving gingerly he straightened out his legs, trying to ease the pain. Due to this, his legs were sticking out to the darkness, disappearing in the dead of the night, like he hadn’t even had legs.
But he didn’t care, he could feel both of his legs through the pain. He started to massage one of his knees right below the throbbing in his thigh. Tommie felt Charlie’s gaze on himself while he continued to massage his knee. He was brooding on something, Tommie was sure of it.
“Do we know each other?” He asked abruptly.
Tommie’s head snapped towards Charlie. Why was he asking this? They were inseparable friends since boot-camp. Was he drunk? No, was he injured? Looking him up and down, he concluded that Charlie hadn’t had any injuries visible in the pale lamp light. Had he hit his head? Or the most likely of the possibilities, was he joking him? Because it wasn’t funny.
The waves were silent, the wind ceased blowing, like the whole world was waiting for his response. The silence was deafening around them.
“Yeah. You know me, Charlie.” He whispered his answer.
Charlie looked him dead in the eyes, frustration, fear and uncertainty mingling in his beautiful, bright green eyes. That strict concentration on his face. Was he trying to remember? Of who he was? Or of who Tommie was? Did he even know where they were? Charlie’s lips started to move, trying to form worlds. One word exactly.
“Tommie?” His name. He let out a breath he didn’t even realized he was holding. Charlie remembered him. It was enough to make him feel alive. He wasn’t a ghost, a specter, not until at least Charlie remembered him. The whole world could forget, but not this one man.
“Yes.” He breathed out, and felt as a smile reached his eyes and lit up his face. And Charlie returned his smile.
“Why are we here?” With his next question both of their smiles had disappeared.
“Dunno. Maybe waiting.”
Tommie had no answer. He turned his head sideways and stared out into the darkness. He sat beside Charlie, but there were moments when he couldn’t see him, it was like Tommie blinked in and out of existence. In one minute he was sitting on the bench, but he was lying on his back in the next. There were a lot of sudden movements around him, he tried to follow them with his eyes, by turning his head right and left, but that movement made him nauseated.
The wind came back with a new force blowing salt in his face. He tried to hoist his hand, wanted to wipe the salty drops off his eyes. His hand was heavy. Not just his hand. All of his limbs, his whole body. Even his eyelids were like concrete. His head sagged sideways, and he could see Charlie lying not so far across from him surrounded by others. His arm shot straight out to his direction, struggling to get Charlie’s hand in his. He finally managed to lace their fingers together.
“Charlie, can you hear me?” He wanted to shout, but his voice was barely above a whisper.
“Of course I can hear you. You’re sitting right beside me.”
Sitting? What had gotten into him? Saying thing like this… He still did not know what had happened to them, but one thing he was sure of: they were lying in their own blood. Was Charlie hallucinating? It was probable…
“Squeeze my hand, if you can hear me!” He begged.
And he waited. Waited for Charlie to respond, with words or with a squeeze of his hand. And finally there it was. After half an eternity, a faint squeeze on his fingers. There was nothing left in it from Charlie’s powerful handshakes. There was more force in a stuffed animal than in his hands right now. But Tommie was grateful even for that weak grip on his hand.
“All right. It’s all right. Just don’t let go.”
“You’re scaring me, Tommie…”
“Why?” He tried to send him a bright smile when their eyes locked on each other. “I just don’t want you to let go. No one goes without the other, remember?”
“Of course I remember. This is why I was waiting for you. I think I was going to somewhere. Am I late from somewhere? Or is it too early?”
“I don’t know, Charlie.”
“My chest hurts…”
His voice was coming from an unimaginable distance. Tommie felt Charlie gripping his fingers with all his strength. Now he was the weak one, his squeeze loosened on Charlie’s hand. He was slipping into the darkness, into a bottomless pit without pain and conscious thoughts. The streetlamp next to the benches bent over them, blinding them both, and Tommie’s eyes closed shut protecting him from the sharp light. He drifted off.
“Tommie! Stay with us, buddy! Doc, do something, he’s bleeding to death…”
“Put more pressure on that damn artery! I have to finish this first!”
Tommie’s eyes swung open, he shook his head, chasing away the noises. They were still sitting on the bench. So everything was all right. Charlie was right beside him, not going anywhere without Tommie.
“What happened to us, Tommie?” He asked, his voice gentle, still gripping his fingers, hanging on for dear life.
“Dunno.” Tommie shook his head. “Where we going somewhere?”
“I don’t want to go.”
Far far away from them a new light appeared on the other end of the horizon. The lower sky started to burn, a red Sun started to climb up from the Earth below. But the Sun’s redness wasn’t lighting up the clouds which stayed a blackish dark blue hue. The light kept creeping higher and higher on the sky, the Sun swallowing everything in its wake. The cobblestones, the benches and streetlights all melted into that Sun.
But that red light was still unbelievably far from them, even a lifetime of walk wouldn’t suffice to cover that distance. And they kept sitting under their own lamp, on their own bench. There was nothing around them, except for the blackness, the light circle of the lamp and the unwavering silence.
“We can still go there” Charlie pointed toward his chin to the red Sun on the horizon.
“Do you want to?” Asked Tommie.
“I-I don’t know. But it s-sounds like a plan.”
“Don’t go without me.” It was Tommie’s turn to grab Charlie’s fingers with more force.
“I don’t want to. Therefore I asked whether you wanted to come with me.”
Tommie couldn’t answer. He looked into the darkness. Should he go? Should they both go? What will await them in that red glow? He was certain of one thing. He would go wherever Charlie wants to go. But before he could reply, pain had vibrated trough his leg, and every and each of this thoughts were repulsed by an escaping groan.
“What did we say to you?” The voices came through the darkness. “You can’t fall asleep.”
Were they speaking to him or to Charlie? He was too weak, couldn’t hold onto Charlie’s hand any longer. In the end he was the one letting go.
“Tommie!” Was Charlie crying? That weeping noise gripped his heart, he never wanted to make him cry. He wanted to say something to make this all easier for him, but he couldn’t find his voice.
“He’s in good hands, but you have to breath!”
Yep. They were speaking to Charlie, they are taking care of him. Would he have more chance if Tommie wasn’t dividing the others’ attention? Maybe he should just give up.
“Can’t we bring them under some tent or something? I cannot see a thing in this fracking rain!” The Doc was swearing as usual. Was it really raining? He couldn’t even feel it on his skin. I did not matter, the only thing that mattered, was Charlie. So he tried to listen to the Doc and his never-ending swearing.
“Got it! This is the last splinter. Hold that frackin’ lamp in place, I can’t fuckin’ see what I’m doing. Somebody help me close the wound!”
They were saving Charlie. It was all good then. He can sleep now. He was lying in the middle of nowhere, but the bench and lamps were nowhere to be seen. It was only the red Sun looking down on him. When did it get this close? But it was OK, if Charlie could survive he wouldn’t mind to go alone. That red Sun was so promising.
“Doc! We’re loosing him!”
“I’m done with him. It will have to do. Let me see!”
And with that the pain was back in his thigh. Pointy sources, like a needle was hitting his flesh over and over again. Why not leaving him be? He didn’t want to hurt anymore. He wanted Charlie, wanted one last minute with him, one last touch from him. He never told him his feelings, never closed his arms around him, never kissed his plump lips. And now he wouldn’t get the chance.
“Don’t move buddy, your seams will open. He’s in good hands.”
Was he? He didn’t care. Charlie was fine. Was he trashing to get to Tommie? Oh, God, let him be fine, don’t let him hurt himself. He wanted to see him one last time. He pried his eyes open. And he saw Charlie searching for his slack hands, and hadn’t given up, until he got his hand over Tommie’s fingers.
Again they were lying in the nothingness, the red Sun above them. He smiled at Charlie, and he was happy knowing he had succeeded to steal his breath away. The certainty hit him then: he was unable to live without his Charlie regardless of the type of their relationship, let it be friendship or something more.
“We are all good, Charlie” he breathed while he caressed Charlie’s face with his trembling fingers.
Charlie turned into his touch. Maybe they could have more in an other life. Tommie pulled back his hand. Then felt like sitting up. We was ready. Ready to go. Maybe Charlie wants to come with him? It’s worth a try. Even if he can’t accompany Tommie, he will go, he will follow the red Sun.
“We can go now.” He looked down to Charlie.
“Go? To where?” The confusion was evident on his face, so he didn’t want to follow Tommie and the Sun. “Where do you want to go? I can’t get up… Don’t leave me Tommie…”
Tommie stood up letting Charlie’s fingers to slip out of his grasp. His time was up, he couldn’t stay any longer. But before he could take that final leap, pain bloomed in his chest. Stopping his heart? Restarting it? He couldn’t say, because he was falling into darkness where not even the red Sun’s glow could reach him.
He looked up to the Chinook. It was only a matter of time to get loaded in the massive helicopter. He turned his head right. Charlie was lying beside him on a stretcher, still unconscious. Days had passed since Tommie regained consciousness screaming for help for Charlie. The Doc had to use every bit of his skills to calm him, and convince him, that both of them had survived. At that time, no one was especially worried for Charlie, in the Doc’s opinion that chest wound would throw anyone off his feet hard.
But still. Days had passed. He knew that Charlie’s injuries were more serious than his, but he should have woken up by now. Even the Doc started to worry and prepare him for the worst.
Tommie looked at Charlie, willed him to wake up. He already said prayers to every God, every Saint he could think of, he was begging to them to give him back his Charlie. But no one seemed to hear his pleas. Don’t you worry. He tried to convince himself countless times. He won’t leave you. He will be awake in no time. You’ll get chance to tell him everything.
But his hopes slowly but surely started to dim. He got closer and closer to giving up on Charlie. And when he got really deep in self-pity, Charlie chose that moment to stir. To open his eyes, and turn his wide-eyed gaze to the skies. Tommie couldn’t speak, but he hoisted and steadied himself on one elbow, with his other hand he tried to reach him.
“Hey, Charlie” he felt his smile split his face, and his Charlie smiled back, it was a lazy, sleepy, barely awake smile, but it was unmistakably there.
“Hey yourself” then his face turned pained. “I thought you were dead.”
“You thought me being dead?” Tommie couldn’t stop the laugh bubbling up in his chest. “What do you think I was thinking? After they drugged you, you weren’t waking up for days. The Doc is ready to shit bricks over you.”
“What happened to us?”
“We were ambushed” Tommie explained, plain and simple. “But the guys have saved us, and brought back our sorry asses to the camp.”
“So will we survive?” He grinned one of his breathtaking grins.
“Yup, we will. And. We’ll going home, Charlie.”
Tommie propped up himself higher on his elbows. Checked their surroundings, he noticed Charlie to follow his perimeter check. But there was no-one there, everyone left them alone. They were the last cargo waiting to be loaded on the Chinook. It was his chance. He never would let precious moments to go to waste. Never again. He bent over Charlie, and just looked at him for slowly ticking seconds.
He didn’t let Charlie to word his question, Tommie covered his lips with his own. He aimed for a chaste, brief kiss, but feeling Charlie’s willingness under his lips, he couldn’t pull away. He kissed him for everything he was worth, he poured his soul into that kiss. But finally he had to pull away, and he did reluctantly. He looked at Charlie noticing his blown up pupils, the lust in his eyes, and couldn’t hide his grin.
“We have to speak about this… about us, when I can get you truly alone” to make himself better understand, he gestured between them with one of his arms.
“I can’t wait for it” Charlie winked at him with a playful glow in his eyes.