The dreams are coming, wild and still.
The dreams are coming in.
The thief of love collects her kill.
The night can now begin. Walls start closing in.
I can’t possibly compete. Not with THAT, Jez thought to herself. The bright smile and laughter had slid away as soon as she’d said goodnight to her guest and shut the front door. Leaning for just one self-pitying moment against the carved ridges of the doorframe with the soft curve of the knob pressing into her left hip, Jez stared vacantly into the still, shadowed emptiness of her flat.
Slipping out of the boldly colorful teal and beige heels she’d worn for their day of clothes shopping, Jez’ stature diminished from being almost at eye level with the red-headed captain with whom she’d so recently parted company to her true pixie-like height. Neither of her parents was particularly tall, but in Jez genetics and a somewhat nutrient-poor diet during childhood had conspired to produce a dainty woman with slim curves in all the right places, nothing like the imposing stature she’d always dreamed of using to make her mark on the world.
Ah well. The corners of her mouth lifted in a tiny smile of contentment. I may not have height on my side, but I’ve certainly found other ways to compensate.
Padding through the lounge and around the sink and range island which separated her kitchen from the rest of her flat, Jez felt no need to turn on the overhead lights. She’d lived in the same flat for close to a decade, between her time at university and the start of her life as an independent career woman. Despite Jez’ protests, her father had purchased it for her as soon as she’d received her acceptance letter from university.
“You’ll do better with your studies if you have a place of your own,” he’d stated firmly. “And don’t think this means you’re getting off easy, pixie! I’ve every intention charging you a monthly renter’s fee until such time as you’re solvent enough to take possession of the mortgage under your own name.”
He’d been right, of course. Having a space of her own had given Jez a quiet, stable place to retreat to as she plodded doggedly through her academics. While her course-mates’ lives imploded periodically in fights with flat-mates and boyfriends resulting in the sudden scramble for new lodgings, Jez had always known she’d have her little sanctuary to return to at the end of each day. As he’d predicted, the mortgage on her neat little modern flat had also provided Jez with plenty of motivation upon graduating to go out into the world and find a job.
Little did I know where I’d wind up when I took that agency posting for a high-end telecommunications and computer expert, she smiled ruefully. Both Kavan Emerson and Alex Prescott certainly qualified as the epitome of high-end but their company, with its motley team of civilians and military personnel, was leagues beyond anything she could have expected. From the minute she’d set foot in the stillness of The Roundhouse’s musty, hay-scented brickwork Jez had been hooked. And when she’d seen the footage of that first singularity…
Breathtaking doesn’t even begin to describe it- Jez thought, the awe and wonder still raising hairs on her arms every time she thought about it.
Sure, the project (and her bosses) has provided their share of infuriating moments in the subsequent four and a half years. But Jez wouldn’t have traded the boring life of CEOs leering at her skirt-clad buttocks for even the most mundane of the days she’d spent working for TEAR. And then there was Captain Bennett.
William Percival Bennett, Captain (MOD Special Projects Division) currently seconded to the joint army-civilian Temporal Effects & Actions Research (or TEAR) project.
Every single reservation Jez could possibly have had to signing the Official Secrets Act had melted the minute that man had walked in the door. The warmth of Sergeant Michaels’ greeting, the mute undercurrent of respect with which Colonel Colby had introduced the new captain, everything about the man had screamed intriguing. And then Jez caught sight of that fleeting expression as she’d shown him past the place where the workmen had finally been mounting the commemorative plaques on The Wall. Pain. Endless mourning. Guilt.
What on earth has this place DONE to you? Jez had been unable to resist looking through the files. She shouldn’t have.
It’d taken a while to piece together duty rosters, new hire paperwork, mission reports, and absurd news clippings. What she’d found had left Jez shaken to her core and even more resolute than ever that this was a job worth keeping. In the end, only one conclusion could be drawn: mistakes had been made and people had died. It’d been in the earliest days of the project. Subsequent mission files showed that those costly errors had not been repeated. While Jez could see that the project had learned from their mistakes, it in no way made up for the damages which had already been done.
Still ruminating, Jez looped an index finger through the brass pull of the pocket door that led to her bedroom. She closed the door behind her and was engulfed in soothing darkness. Situated against one of the building’s interior walls, her richly painted indigo bedroom possessed no windows. Nothing mitigated the darkness except the faintest green glow from the grounded circuit outlet behind the nightstand.
Still moving with the certain tread of long familiarity, Jez undressed, dropped her clothing into the dirty laundry bin, hurried into the pajama pants and top she’d left on her pillow that morning, and slid beneath the heavy comfort of the duvet with a tired sigh.
It was the stuff of science fiction: the creatures they were fighting, the theories they were attempting to prove. Or at least, it had been until a Tear opened in the House of Lords’ cloak room, disgorging an enraged ankylosaur during parliamentary session. There’d been no problem with TEAR getting their much needed funding and additional personnel after the Home Office had been faced with tackling that particular little PR nightmare.
Jez couldn't help but grin at the thought of Agatha Leicester, the whip-sharp PR shark whom TEAR had acquired as the result of that particular incident. That woman could convince the PM that the sky was going to fall tomorrow if she put her mind to it. Good thing she’s working for us these days. God only knows what sorts of havoc she would have caused once she got restless working for that insipid magazine.
There’d been other new faces since the highly public debacle in the House of Lords: brilliant, good-hearted, people - however quirky some of them might be - who had become Jez’ friends. Her thoughts circled straight back to where she’d started: Captain Fiona Black, Fee, as she’d insisted on being called when they’d met that morning for their planned clothes shopping trip.
The pixie can’t sleep.
Wriggling down into a comfortable position, Jez stared sightlessly upward into the darkness. She loves you, Captain Bennett: that much is obvious. Could you let her? Could you love her back? Worrying at her bottom lip, thoughts of the lithe, athletically-built female captain left Jez conflicted. From her first day on the job it was clear that Captain Bennett had worked closely with TEAR’s newest addition before. Hungrily watching the two captains together, Jez was acutely aware of how comfortable Captain Bennett was around Captain Black. With her, he smiled, laughed: expressions of emotion which Jez had rarely managed to draw out of him despite going out of her way to do so.
Why can’t I banish worries of the two of them? I wish I could just forget her, but Captain Black is an amazing woman. She’s fantastic company, someone I could easily grow to consider a friend, Jez rationalized, trying to barter her way out of hating the other woman. Come on, brain; out with the hungry. Let go of the jealousy. Burn it away.
Sergeant Michaels tried to help Will let go of the guilt; but he failed, and so have I. Being in the company of Captain Black is the first time Will has been truly alive since rejoining TEAR. Fee is easily his equal in every way. (Something I most definitely am not, an insidious little voice in Jez’s head quipped.) She’s flesh and blood, camaraderie and laughter. Not ghosts. She’s everything he’s so badly needed these past few years. So why can’t I be happy for him?
Sighing, Jez got out of bed and headed back into the lounge to curl up with a book in her favorite chair. The lesson is learned; we both are the victim, she reminded herself. So why is it that the pixie can’t sleep?
“You look knackered. I’m devastated! Here I thought you were a veteran at the sport of marathon shopping,” Fee quipped, taking in the circles like fading bruises under her colleague’s eyes.
“Oh, I am, Captain. But my neighbors were watching the football match last night. They had it turned up a bit too loud,” Jez did her best to match the captain’s light tone. “No worries. Rest is overrated.”
“No it’s not!” Fee insisted, a playful gleam in her eye. “How are you going to catch the attention of a certain strapping young captain if you don’t look your best?”
“Not bloody likely! Love is a dream, without a world. It’s language empty as a coma.” Jez snapped.
Lesson learned! Fee thought. Let go and go on. She raised her hands in a conciliatory gesture. “Sounds like you’re quoting an aphorism of some sort?”
Still looking at the code scrolling past on her computer, Jez offered a one-shouldered shrug. “Loose translation of something my father used to say. It doesn’t translate particularly well.”
Fee nodded. Between personal interest and being a commissioned female officer, she’d spent plenty of her operational time in Afghanistan working with the locals, hearing metaphors spoken in their own tongue. She knew that it was all too common for translation of such things to fail at conveying their true intent.
“Your father,” Fee asked, “where was he originally from? Your name doesn’t exactly strike me as terribly foreign.”
“He grew up in Kensington but our family is from Saudi Arabia a couple generations back.”
“And the very British surname?” Jez’s responses thus far suggested this was a safe topic, so Fee continued with the line of questioning.
“The original family surname was Isa. It was changed when they emigrated.”
“How do you get from Isa to Church?”
“Isa is the Arabic name for Jesus. It’s also part of the word for a Christian place of worship; a church,” Jez replied sourly.
“That doesn’t sound so bad.”
“It isn’t unless you get the subtle bit of linguistic humor embedded in the choice.”
“Sounds like the sort of humor I’d appreciate.” Fee no longer needed to feign curiosity.
“It’s a long story?” Jez offered a weak protest.
“Unless the Tear alert goes off, I’ve time to listen,” Fee coaxed gently.
Jez’s cheerful facade had cracked, revealing embarrassment and self-consciousness. Intrigued, Fee wanted to know why: what sore spot had she accidentally uncovered? It was a habit built of too many tours in theater and too much time spent in a high risk trade. Fee made a point of knowing every single thing that made her team members twitch. Too often that knowledge had been the difference between living and dying.
“My father’s family were -” Jez paused, “are,” she corrected herself, “landholders. Very well off, even by Saudi standards.”
Stringing this together with some of the bits of linguistics she knew, Fee narrowed her eyes, a thin, predatory smile flitting at the corner of her lips. “Precisely how well off are we talking about?”
“Very,” Jez replied.
“Well enough off for the locals to have applied the honorific, khan?” Fee asked with a pointedly raised eyebrow.
Jez nodded mutely and buried her face in her hands.
“So darling Will has caught the eye of a prin-cess, no less? Oh but wouldn’t some of our cohort just love to know about that.” Fee muttered.
“I am NOT a princess,” Jez shot back in a vehement hiss.
Fee’s laugher was bright and rich. “What’s it worth to you to keep that secret?”
Jez ground her teeth. ““Name it.”
“Shoes,” Fee shot back. “You simply must show me where you get your shoes the next time we go shopping.”
Hearing voices coming down the corridor behind and to her right, Jez was quick to acquiesce.
“Done,” she stated. “But not a word of this to anyone!” Especially not Will, she added mentally, the words both a plea and a prayer. “Now shoo, Captain Black,” she said, softening her words with a smile. “You may not be busy, but I’ve work to get done.”
“As you wish, M’Lady,” Fee chortled, sweeping an enviously graceful bow before taking her leave.
But as Jez turned her attention back to the code on the screen, the lightness in her expression slid away revealing the blank numbness that had been hidden behind it like a mask. He’ll never want you, not when he could have someone like her. Accept that, accept her friendship, move on. Oh, how she wished it could be that simple. No matter what sort of bargains Jez offered, her traitorous heart persisted in wanting Captain Bennett for her own. And with that want came the jealousy she couldn’t shake. She hated herself for the pettiness of it all but she couldn’t stop wanting.
There's more room to breathe when you're alone? It was a paltry excuse at best. Jez was all too aware of that.
“Damn them!” Jez snarled. “I can’t sleep. AGAIN. Damn both of them to hell!”
"She’d been tossing and turning for hours. Her blankets had been thrashed into a confining knot around her ankles. Every time she’d closed her eyes the dreams wailed wild and shrill. The vibrant light in Will's eyes each morning when Fee arrived. Will's approving smile at Fee’s lethal skill with a pistol when his cohort had capped her weapons qualification drills with a pair of perfectly matched shots to the head and heart. Fee teasing him: accusing him of growing soft behind a desk, challenging him to best her time on the agility trials. The pair of them bickering amicably back and forth over the details of a mission report. A part of Jez that refused to stay buried howled in protest. Louder than any football match, the cacophony inside her own head was raging, growling, moaning."
Dragon dreams, her father called them: the sort of dreams which relentlessly held one’s own actions up like a mirror, stealing one’s peace.
Thrashing her way out of the claustrophobic tangle of linens in which she’d been trying to sleep, Jez retreated, giving a sour look at the vaguely person-shaped lump into which she’d arranged the pillows on the other half of her bed. Out in the lounge she sprawled with her legs and head on opposite arms of her favorite chair.
“What are you doing?” she seethed. “If you think he’d ever pick you when he could have her, you’re dreaming! Haven’t you learned that lesson already? Get over it. Move on.”
But that was the problem: she couldn’t. In Fee, Jez had stumbled across the sort of kindred friendship that didn’t happen more than once or twice in a lifetime. They had fun together, conspiring and laughing in a way Jez had never been able to do with anyone save one particular Saudi cousin whom she hadn’t seen in years. The flat her father had given her may have provided stability and the beginnings of a financial future, but it had also created distance between her and her coursemates at university. Sure, she’d had friends, but Jez had missed out on the late-night dormitory antics, the melodramatic highs and lows of day to day life that created such deep bonds between her coursemates.
For so long she’d told herself it didn’t matter. She finished her degree, got a job, immersed herself in her work. It’d been the way in which Michaels and the other lads faces went somber every time they passed the Wall that’d made Jez realize she was missing something: who would mourn for her when she was gone?
Michaels with his easy-going disposition had been all too willing to accept her awkward overtures. One by one, she’d gotten to know the lads: a quick joke traded with Kipling, a taunt about broken equipment aimed at Nigels, the concern in her voice when she asked how Meecham’s younger sister was holding up through boot camp. Each effort earned her a warm smile from Will Bennett; that alone would have been enough to reinforce Jez’s efforts. Then Alex had hired mechanic Bob Trenton.
Regardless of how rough around the edges the man was, the sincerity in every interaction they’d had cracked Jez open like a walnut. She no longer spent every weekend reveling in her solitude, telling herself she was recharging herself for the coming week. She had plans. She had people who wanted her company. In return, Jez found she enjoyed being sought out, being wanted. She still hadn’t known what to say to the other women who worked at TEAR, but there weren’t very many of them and most of their work was isolated in the same way as hers was, so it hadn’t really mattered. Not until Fee.
Fee was warm, mischievous, vital. In spite of herself, Jez couldn’t help smiling. She hadn’t intended to become friends. She hadn’t thought she would know how to be friends with another woman. But there they’d been this afternoon in her favorite high street shop, giggling like a couple of schoolgirls over a pair of completely impractical embossed lavender suede shoes. I don’t want to let go of this, Jez had found herself thinking. It feels good, having people like this in my life. If I were hit by a bus or eaten by an extinct predator today, she thought wryly, there are people who would miss me. The thought was enticing in its warmth. So why can’t I find a way to accept what I have?
Angry at herself all over again, Jez took petty glee in slamming her feet to the floor as she rose, knowing the sound would disturb the sleeping people in the flat below. She’d only taken a single step when she heard the sound. What she’d thought to be an echo of her own feet had been a knock at the door.
Can’t be the flat downstairs come to complain, I’ve only just made the noise. She made for the door, rising onto the balls of her feet to look through the peephole only to stumble back a step in surprise.
“Fee?” She opened the door.
Standing a very precise two paces from the door, the red-headed captain didn’t look anywhere near her usual cocky self. “Can -” She swallowed before trying again. “I know it’s late, Jez, but could I come in please?”
Jez turned wordlessly sideways, holding one arm toward her space in obvious invitation. Closing the door, she self-consciously compared her casual vest top and flannel pajama pants to the sleek riding leathers the other woman wore. In an outfit like that, with a body like that, it’s no wonder Will would choose her over me. The thought snuck in leaving behind an acrid bitterness like the residue of inhaled smoke. Blinking, Jez realized Fee had preceded her into the living space and was now studying the space’s contents, looking anywhere but at Jez. Taking a deep breath, she continued to give the captain her space by leaning against the wall at the end of the short entry hall.
“Not that I’m unhappy to see you, but given the hour, I’m guessing this isn’t just a social call?” As opening volleys went, it was a softball pitch.
Fee continued to wander for another few moments, looking for all the world as if she hadn’t heard a word Jez said. She was standing before the tall windows when she finally responded.
“I - “ Fee’s back straighten as she took a deep breath. “I apologize for the late hour, but I could really use someone to talk to.”
Her voice was the same - that smooth, sure tone with just a faint trace of something not-quite-British about her accent - but every line of Fee’s body bespoke discomfort. The sight of the brash woman looking so uncertain of her reception made something deep inside Jez ache.
Walking across the lounge - her footfalls deliberately making just enough noise to allow the wary woman plenty of warning of her presence - Jez drew to stand beside her.
“No worries,” she murmured as she placed a gentle hand on her friend’s arm. “I was having trouble sleeping anyways.”
Fee tilted her head just enough to give Jez a raised eyebrow. “Doesn’t sound like your neighbors are to blame tonight.”
“Insomnia,” Jez responded, trying to put sincerity into her voice. Fee turned fully toward her, eyes quickly assessing Jez’s expression, her body language. Before Fee could speak again, Jez hurried to divert the conversation. “So what was it you wanted to talk about?”
Fee stood statue-still, her eyes unfocused, mind obviously far away. Jez shifted from one foot to the other then decided to wait it out; the captain would talk when she was ready. Having made up her mind, Jez turned on another lamp and put a kettle to boil. She fished two mugs out of a cupboard and was debating whether or not to make cocoa for them both when Fee finally answered.
“There’s no one else I could talk to.”
The captain’s voice right beside and just slightly behind her made Jez give a tiny shriek.
“Oi! No fair sneaking up on me! What are you, a cat?”
Fee’s eyes went unfocused again, a sad curl flitting across the corner of her mouth. “Stripes always did look good on me? At least, so my dad used to say.”
Shaking her head at the oddity, Jez held the heaping spoonful of cocoa above its container in silent invitation. Fee nodded then watched as Jez portioned powder into the second mug and poured hot water over them both. Picking up the mugs, Jez led the way back into the lounge.
“I would have expected you’d have gone to Captain Bennett to talk. It seems like the two of you are very close.” She presented the observation as evenly as she could, using the excuse of putting the mugs down to keep her back turned.
Cautiously picking one of them up, Fee settled into one corner of the sofa with a grimace. “Can’t.”
“I can’t imagine anything you could talk to me about that you wouldn’t talk about with him,” Jez murmured dismissively.
“A friend of Will and I’s from Sandhurst. She’s in ordnance disposal and five months into her current deployment. We’ve kept in touch but she hasn’t responded to my last couple messages.”
“Isn’t there someone up the chain of command who -”
Fee shook her head. “Already tried that. Colby’s clerk, Robin, told me there was nothing that either he or Colby could disclose.”
Jez had been at TEAR long enough to understand. She had seen members of the squadron worrying over their mates who were still out in theatre. She could see the tension Fee carried: it was in the line of her jaw, the set of her shoulders, the way in which her her legs were curled just a little too tightly. Much as Jez wished she could do something to relieve that tension, Fee was right: they could only wait. Nothing Jez could do would change that.
At least, Jez thought, there’s nothing I can do that wouldn’t bring the wrath of Colonel Colby and Alex down on our heads.
But Fee knew that. She hadn’t come to Jez expecting information.
She wants comfort, someone to share her vigil.
The mug in Jez’s hands shook as her grip spasmed around it.
This, she thought. This is worth more than gaining Will’s attentions. So be it.
For once, the insidious, angry voice inside Jez was silent. Tentatively she reached across the space between them, giving Fee’s free hand a gentle squeeze.
“Why don’t you tell me about her? This friend of yours.”
“Her name is Mace, or well, Sarah, but everyone who knows her just calls her Mace…”
The dreams are coming, wild and still
The dreams are coming in.
The thief of love collects her kill
The night can now begin/the walls start closing in