Michael couldn't remember the nightmare, but he knew it must have been a real son of a bitch because he was sitting bolt upright in bed, heart pounding like crazy, still scared shitless for no earthly reason. He scrubbed a hand over his eyes and looked at the clock. Too early to get up and too late to feel like he'd gotten a solid night if he fell back asleep.
There was something surreal about coming down from a big scare with nothing but comfort and familiarity in his surroundings. Terry was asleep beside him, for Christ's sake, keeping his left side toasty warm and making the very idea of fear seem alien. He planted an elbow on the pillow and propped himself up to watch him sleep. Hell, now he thought about it, Michael couldn't remember having a single bad night since he went to work in Mississippi and found out God had made the best protection, the best pillow, and the best friend a man could ever have all in one big country boy with a great piledriver and an even better laugh.
"Man, you were such a goody-two-shoes when we met," Michael said fondly, resting his chin on his fist while he played idly with Bam Bam's hair. He was dreaming, Michael could see his eyes darting around behind their lids. Maybe at least one guy in this bed would have a good one.
What got him tonight? Too much sour adrenaline from the match? That fucking suspect sausage gravy in that fucking suspect diner? Just ran out of luck? Shit, two years still wasn't a bad streak.
He felt the grip on his wrist before he saw it. It was dry and, though he felt something slide like cloth on cloth as he jerked his arm reflexively, it felt strong as iron. What he saw when he looked down didn't make sense. The fingers digging into his wrist were impossibly long, and the hand, there wasn't-
His head jerked up and his eyes opened. Fuck, if that was what he was dreaming before, no wonder he woke up like he did. He must have nodded back off without even realizing.
A soft grunt of distress made him look down. Terry's jaw was tense, his brow furrowed. He flinched against the pillow.
"Oh, hey," said Michael, alarmed. He smoothed Terry's hair back and kissed his forehead, then laid down and wrapped his arms around him. "Hey, shh, it's okay. It's okay, brother."
He knew, rationally, that poor Bam Bam was having his own damn nightmare, but the thought of that thing from his own dream - it was just fucking upsetting, was all.
"Shh, shh, shh." Should he wake him? Michael wondered, bouncing Terry slightly in his arms like a crying kid. He'd never seen Terry have a bad dream before either, he realized, not fucking once. If that shithole diner were a hundred miles closer I'd go back and burn it to the ground. "Shh, you're just dreaming, baby, you're dreaming and I'm right here."
Slowly, as he soothed and petted, the tension in Terry's muscles began to ease. His breath slowed as he settled into Michael's embrace.
Michael held on until they were both asleep. If he had any more dreams, he didn't remember them.
Maybe a little fear would have lingered in the dark, but the two of them were both up and at 'em sharply at the crack of noon - early to bed and all that jazz - and there were hardly any shadows to jump at. And then they were back on the road headed for the next town. One thing about this new gig, old man Watts sure kept them busy.
God, did he ever. It was no coincidence, either, Michael'd told Bam Bam that as soon as he figured out the old bastard's game.
"See, he knows he's got a couple of young, athletic stars on his hands, man, not like the nobodies he's used to lording it over, and if he don't keep us run down and worked to the bone we'll have those belts-" he snapped his fingers "-like that. That's why he's got the Freebirds working harder than any two men on the card - well, that and people will pay to see us, unlike him and the rest of the senior citizens' brigade."
Over the next few months, the schedule only got worse and Michael had an idea maybe it was the stress that had caused that nightmare, because it wasn't the last. When they won the titles, he finally found out what it was he'd dreamed about that first time and every time after.
It wasn't the night of the match, because they spent all of that night partying, and when they spent the next day in bed they sure as hell weren't doing any sleeping. But the night after, when he should have been too tired to dream, Michael found himself in a rotting corn field that seemed to stretch out in all directions. No trees, no buildings, no hills, the whole world was a featureless, sickly grey. Except for the scarecrow.
It hung in the center of what was almost a clearing - there was corn right up to the base of the scarecrow's pole, but the closer it got the further along it was in its putrefaction. At the point where the pole met the earth, the limp stalks littering the ground were little more than slime.
There were campfire stories about scarecrows that turned out to be built with human corpses, but that wasn't the vibe Michael got from this thing. It was shaped wrong. Its arms were too long and so were its spindly twig fingers, twisting off from its tattered sleeves with no hand in between. With an icy shock of gooseflesh, he recalled the unnatural grip he'd felt on his wrist that first night.
More than that it felt wrong. It seemed to emanate a palpable malevolence from the tattered hat perched jauntily on its burlap head to the ragged, empty ends of its pant-legs. If there was anything in there that used to be part of a human being, that wasn't what was sucking the life out of this corn field.
If there was anything in there that used to be part of a human being, it was something this thing had taken.
It felt like he stood in that dead landscape staring at the scarecrow for hours before awakening in a cold sweat with the image of it still clear in his mind. He wriggled free of Bam Bam's embrace to go splash some water on his face with all the bathroom lights turned on.
Leaning on the sink and waiting for the fear to wind down, he tried to laugh it off as typical dream bullshit, a scarecrow for a Freebird, paging Dr. Freud. But even under the lights it didn't feel very funny. The thing he saw in those dreams wasn't symbolic of jack shit, it felt too real to have any purpose except to... to get him. Yeah, sure, to get him. Even in the dream there wasn't any obvious harm it could do. Except for maybe that first dream, it had never touched him. Hell, it never moved. And yet....
And yet it set off screaming alarms in some animal part of him that couldn't be reasoned with. It creeped him out the same way spending the night in a morgue or being covered in daddy longlegs would.
He had the bathroom door open in a second. Terry was standing outside it looking half asleep and all miserable. Michael reached out and put an arm around him to guide him into the light. "What is it?"
"Another fucking nightmare," yawned Bam Bam, rubbing his eyes. "Fucking scarecrow. You okay, brother?"
"Yeah," said Michael, shutting the door on the shadows behind him, "yeah, same for me, another nightmare." He swallowed. He'd been stretching the truth a little saying he was okay, but he'd needed a second to work up to this. "And I mean the same." He was still trying to work up to it when Terry finished for him.
"Yours was the scarecrow too?" Not a scarecrow, Michael noticed, the scarecrow, like they'd dreamed about the same one.
Michael nodded stiffly. "Every time."
The way Terry was looking at him was serious, almost solemn, but not one bit shocked. "Michael, do you think people can be soulmates?"
"I don't know, maybe. If anyone was, we would be, and I guess us having the same goddamn nightmares at the same goddamn time doesn't exactly argue against it, huh?" Agitated, Michael ran a hand through his hair. "Fuck, Bam Bam, trust you to find something sweet to say at a time like this."
With a crooked little grin, Terry leaned in and kissed him, and they didn't do any more worrying for a while.
When they made love in the shower it was the sleepy, half-assed fumbling of a couple who've done it right before and know they'll have plenty more chances to do it even better again. Afterwards, they hadn't had to exchange a word to decide to leave the bathroom light on with the door ajar when they crawled into bed and cuddled up.
"I wouldn't mind the scarecrow dreams so much if we were together," Bam Bam said, warm breath tickling his shoulder. Michael mumbled some agreement and snuggled closer. As he drifted off to sleep, he thought that now they were tag champs, no longer under the stress of trying to get their hands on what they rightfully deserved, things should get better for them. He was wrong.