The nightmares are back. Since the heist they’ve been rarer and rarer, and Barnes can't remember the last one.
He remembers them from the road, the way Carter seems to thrash in his sleep but barely move, arms over his head, seems to cry out but without sound.
Barnes would reach out, gently shake his shoulder, and he’d freeze, go even more still, then relax back into sleep over the space of a few long, shaky breaths. At first it happened again and again, three or four times a night, every night. Then it was once or twice, and some nights not at all.
When Barnes asked once if Carter remembered the nightmares, he said no. He shook his head, turned away, said he didn’t dream.
The night after the rescue, Barnes wakes on his cot, waits in the dark. The sound comes again, choked, and a faint squeak of canvas. He gets up, steps across, sees Carter hunched into himself, arms covering his head. He could be holding his breath. Barnes lays his hand on Carter’s shoulder, leaves it, pets a little, hears a shaky breath, another, then a deep inhale and exhale back into sleep.
It can’t be even an hour until it happens again. Barnes pinches the corner of his blanket and drags it over as he steps across, lays his hand on Carter’s shoulder. Once Carter has relaxed again, Barnes kneels down and shakes him, keeps shaking until Carter’s eyes open.
Barnes shuffles backward on his knees, tugging at Carter’s shirt. Carter rolls off the cot onto hands and knees, and Barnes lies down on the rug, tugging Carter’s shirt until they’re half curled together. Barnes gets the blanket mostly over them, puts his arm under his head. He doesn’t wake again until morning, until Carter sits up on the rug next to him.
Stretches. “What am I doing on the floor? And what are you doing on the floor? Over here?”
“You had a nightmare.”
Carter goes very still, whispers. “Did I wake you?”
“You know I wake up at everything.”
“Sorry. I shouldn’t.” His arms are crossed, not comforting, covering.
“No. But.” He looks at Barnes sideways. “But the floor?”
“It happened again.”
Carter flinches. Barnes makes his voice even softer.
“Easier to be closer.” He reaches, rubs his knuckles over the back of Carter’s hand where it’s clenched around his arm. “Nicer to sleep next to you.”
Carter starts to say something, stops.
Barnes insinuates his fingers between Carter’s gripping hand and his arm, then pulls, tips Carter back onto the rug, rubs his back until he unwinds his arms and his shoulders start to relax.
They spend a couple of hours that day telling the team what happened, and writing it all down. Nobody recognizes the weapons and other items they took from the guards. There’s magic in them, but that’s all Carter can tell. The halfling cleric of Demeter who serves as healer, gardener, and baker to the camp thinks they probably have something to do with fighting. Carter creates descriptions with sketches, as if they are archaeological finds. As he works his nervous energy stills, the pen moving fluidly over the page, a small smile playing over his lips.
They lock up the items and take the documents up to the house where Wilde has an office when he’s here. Someone will deliver the report to him, and sometime soon he will show up with news and a new mission.
The team sits on benches in the old market and Barnes talks them through the rescue, describing what they did and what they should have done.
“It’s on me,” he says, “It was mine to run.”
Carter, from the end of the second bench, calls out, “And yours to fuck up.”
“Which I did,” says Barnes, with a little bow.
There are quiet snorts of laughter from the team.
“With help from me,” says Carter. “As if you could cock it up proper on your own.”
“Good thing you were there, on all counts,” says Barnes.
They recreate and dissect the rescue until the whole team knows the choices, sees the lessons.
They fall into the routine of the camp, take shifts on watch, work out with the team in various combinations, clean and sharpen blades. In the cool of the morning, they run. All afternoon in the shade of the old market, they fight, hand to hand and with various weapons. After dinner Carter joins the perpetual poker game in the common tent. Barnes always has something to read. At night they pull the pillows and blankets off the cots and bed down on the rug, loosely spooned, sound asleep in minutes. If they wake in the night, neither remembers.
On the afternoon of the fourth day, still waiting, they are sparring, each with one blunted dagger and one bare hand.
“Why are we even doing all this fighting?”
Barnes shoves at Carter’s shoulder, and he dances back, feints forward, taps Barnes with the blunt edge of the dagger and steps past, then goes flying forward as Barnes shoves his back.
“Hey! Well you’d be cut anyway from that.”
They square up again.
“First,” Barnes says, reaching toward Carter’s face; Carter pulls back. “Good, you’re learning on that one.” They circle, dodging. “First, you are faster than just about anyone, and I need to get faster.” Carter has gotten past his guard, again, and his dagger hand is pressed against his ribs. Grabbing his wrist and twisting, Barnes continues. “But,” with one leg locking Carter’s knee, twisting his arm up behind his back, “I am stronger, by a good bit, and you need to get better. We need to stay alive.” Barnes has Carter’s knife hand completely pinned, the other hand on his opposite shoulder so he can’t wriggle free.
As soon as he lets go, Carter spins around and taps his face with his hand.
“Second,” crouching, “We have a mission. We are going to keep fighting together against this fucking scourge, and the more we practice, the better chance we have to win.” Barnes stabs the dagger forward, and Carter shifts his dagger to the other hand and in the same movement flicks the dagger from Barnes’ grip. They end up with most of Carter’s collar in Barnes’ fist and Carter’s dagger against the back of Barnes’ neck. Both smiling, they step back, shake out.
“Finally,” says Barnes, ducking Carter’s wild punch, “We can’t appear to be distracted.” He grabs the hand that holds the dagger and hits Carter with the other fist. Carter manages to deflect a couple of the hits, then curls into himself so Barnes only has his back to hit at, and when he uncurls he has a dagger in the other hand, too. “Distracted, you say,” he says, holding the free dagger out of reach.
“If we’re going to fuck,” Barnes says. He hooks a foot behind Carter’s ankle, and they go down, Barnes pinning one of Carter’s hands, Carter holding the dagger’s edge against Barnes’ jaw. “And trust me, we are going to fuck.”