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Fear

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“Really, Havers, this is ridiculous.  We should have sent Adams.  COs scrabbling around in a cupboard, for Heaven’s sake.”

The Captain brandished his swagger stick at his lieutenant.  The younger man put his finger on the tip of the stick and slowly but pointedly moved it away, maintaining eye contact in the gloom, lit only by a small, high, grubby window.

“Classified information, sir, and we don’t want gossiping.”

“Classified, my foot.  If you can’t trust your warrant officer, who can you trust.”

Havers turned over a tin bucket and raised himself up on it to reach the highest shelf.  The movement caused his uniform to stretch tightly over his buttocks.  The Captain’s eyes widened and then snapped shut.

“Found it!” Havers’ exclamation caused the Captain to open his eyes.  They revealed a broadly-grinning lieutenant brandishing a plain brown cardboard folder.  Havers jumped down from his perch, waving the documents.  The Captain rolled his eyes.

“Good grief, Havers, look at the state of you.”

Havers glanced down to find his tunic covered in dust and fluff.  He looked completely unperturbed.

“Sorry about that, sir,” he said, sounding not sorry at all, “I’ll sort it out in a jiffy.  Let’s get back to the office.”

The Captain turned to the door and grasped the knob.  As he twisted it, he felt an unexpected resistance.

“Er…Havers…?”

“Yes, sir?” Havers mumbled, his attention mostly on scrutinising his newly-retrieved documents.

“Um…we appear to be stuck.”

“What?”  Havers looked up with a frown.  The Captain jiggled the door knob in demonstration.  It remained firmly in place.

“That can’t be right.  Let me try.”

“Havers, I know many of the men consider me an imbecile but I thought you were my friend.  I know how to use a door knob.  And this one is stuck.”

“Nevertheless…”  Havers moved towards his captain and the two performed an awkward manoeuvre to swap places in the narrow space.  The Captain tried not to notice the contact as they passed each other, he was already feeling a little lightheaded.

Havers repeated all the same actions with the doorknob but he had to admit that it was indeed stuck fast.  He banged on the door and shouted for Adams.  After two or three attempts a confused voice called out

“Lieutenant Havers?”

“Adams, thank God.  Seem to be having a spot of bother old chap.  Couldn’t break us out could you?”

“Hold on, sir.”  There were noises and bangs as WO Adams tried to release the door from the outside.  “Seems to be stuck, sir.  I think I’ll have to unscrew the hinges.  Hold tight, I’ll be right back.”

Havers turned back towards the Captain with a relieved smile.  It faded immediately when he looked at his superior.  The Captain was pale, clammy and looking decidedly unhappy.

“Goodness, Captain!  Whatever is the matter?”

The Captain took a deep breath and prayed for his head to stop spinning.

“Thing is, Havers, rather shameful I’m afraid but always had this fear of being trapped in a small space.  Makes me feel quite unwell.  Quite unwell, indeed…”  He moved as if to lean against the shelving but misjudged the distance and stumbled.  Havers was beside him in a split second, steadying him and guiding him to sit on the upturned bucket.  He crouched beside the Captain and looked up into his face.

“Nothing to be ashamed of, sir, we all have our little foibles.” 

The Captain gave a weak smile

“Adams will have us out of here in two ticks, you’ll see.  And if not, well, I’ll just barge the door down as if it were a scrum half.”  Havers grinned at the Captain who nodded queasily as if he hadn’t really understood.  Havers watched him worriedly.  He lowered his voice to a more soothing tone.

“It really will all be over soon, Captain” he said gently.  “And in the meantime, I’m right here with you.”  The Captain raised his eyes to meet those of his lieutenant who looked back with nothing but concern and warmth.  He felt himself swoon forward.

“Whoops” Havers said quietly as he caught his dizzy colleague.  He moved from a crouch to kneeling on the hard, concrete floor and guided the Captain’s head to rest against him.  For a few moments it felt strangely peaceful.  The Captain’s breathing seemed to steady but he didn’t move from his position.  Havers resisted what felt like a foolish urge to stroke his hand soothingly over his superior’s neat grey hair and settled for patting him softly on the shoulder.  The room was silent.  The world seemed to stop turning for just a few moments.

 

Reality came crashing back in the form of Adams and what sounded like two other men noisily attacking the hinges of the door.  Havers pushed the Captain back to sit up straight.

“Captain,” he said, his voice low enough to not be heard outside the room, “Come on, Captain, time to go”

Grumbling a little, the Captain allowed Havers to guide him to his feet.  Havers brushed the dust from his uniform as best he could.  As he looked up he noticed that he had transferred some to the Captain’s tunic as they had squeezed past each other.  Without thinking, he began to brush it away from the coarse, green fabric.  The Captain seemed to go very still and swallowed hard.

“Thank you, Havers” he said croakily, a thousand words trapped behind those three, unable to articulate all the ways in which he was grateful.  Instead he looked deep into his lieutenant’s eyes, simultaneously desperate to believe he was understood and petrified that he might be.  Havers looked back calmly.

“You’re welcome, sir”

Their eye contact was broken by the bright, streaming light as the door was lifted out of its frame and they both turned towards it, blinking.  Havers immediately switched on his smile, thanking and cracking jokes with their rescuers.  The Captain watched him quietly, in awe as always of his colleague’s easy charm.  Ever since he was a child he had been afraid of locked rooms and small spaces.  Havers had been his hero, saving him in his moment of need.  The question now was who could save him from his feelings for Havers…