Happy Monday, my friends. Are you ready for another flashback?
This one is from Strangers in the Night which is in fact the very first MM story I ever wrote as well as the only time I had a writing partner. We had so much fun figuring out how to write a story together, and fell in love with our characters during the process. I'm still sorry that Jaycee Edward, my co-writer for this book, isn't writing anymore.
If the excerpt below leaves you curious, you can find the book here: Strangers in the Night: mybook.to/SitN
THE SOFA was too damn short. And too damn narrow. That’s what a man got for being a Good Samaritan: a long, sleepless night. Callum sighed and pulled the blanket closer around him as he listened to the sounds coming from the bed.
Slade had looked exhausted, tossing and turning only a few times before drifting off to sleep. The jagged scar on the young man’s thigh confirmed Callum’s suspicions. He’d seen Slade rubbing that leg and favoring it when he walked. He was certain it was a war wound. The other scars, though…. Some fading, some angry red. They littered his arms and thighs, and—what intrigued Callum the most—they were straight. Self-inflicted.
As he pondered the possible reasons behind the scars, a change in the boy’s breathing caught his attention. Low moans and murmurs, words Callum couldn’t quite make out, filled the room, growing ever louder.
Slade’s restless movements morphed into violent thrashing. A gut-wrenching scream broke from his chest, startling Callum from his musings.
Jesus. The lad was having one hell of a nightmare. He couldn’t just lie here and listen.
It was only a few steps from the sofa to the bed. Slade was completely wrapped up in the bedclothes. In the faint light from the smoldering fire, Callum could see sweat shining on the boy’s face.
Please… please… and Zach? He couldn’t make out the other words. The pain in Slade’s voice and the few words Callum could distinguish were heartbreaking. Callum sat on the edge of the bed and shook the boy’s shoulder. Slade continued to toss and tangle himself further in the covers.
He flailed as if he were frantic to reach something… or someone. Callum shook him, harder this time.
“Wake up, lad. You’re dreaming.”
“Talk to me, Zach!” Slade shouted, still fully immersed in his nightmare.
The tossing and flailing increased, bringing Slade precariously close to throwing himself off the bed. Callum grasped Slade by both shoulders and shook, hard. Slade continued to jerk. This was more than just a simple nightmare. Lying across Slade’s body, Callum grabbed his wrists, pinning them above his head, and rendered him immobile. Slade’s eyes flew open, and he instantly calmed.
“Interesting,” Callum mumbled without thinking. “You’re safe,” he said aloud to Slade, maintaining his hold on the boy’s wrists.
Slade stared into Callum’s eyes, unblinking. The boy had completely relaxed beneath him. He seemed more than content to stay as he was— pinned under Callum.
“What were you dreaming about, lad?” Callum kept his voice soft.
For the first time since he’d woken up, Slade looked away. “Can’t remember.”
“Don’t lie to me.” Callum allowed some authority to creep into his voice and was only half-surprised to see the boy instantly react to it.
“Deployment. A bomb.”
Despite the severity of the situation, Callum couldn’t suppress the thrill running through him. It took so little to make this lad react. He needed to be told what to do. Callum suspected it wasn’t the only thing the boy needed.
“Look at me, lad. Tell me what happened.”
Slade complied, bravely meeting Callum’s gaze. “We were trying to flush out insurgents.” He swallowed. “There was an explosion. My friend…. Zach….” Slade turned his head.
“Eyes on me.” The naked pain in Slade’s eyes when he obeyed cut right through Callum. The sudden impulse to pull the young man to his chest and hold him close unsettled Callum. That wasn’t what Slade needed right now. Instead, Callum sat up, lifting himself off Slade’s chest but retaining the firm hold on his wrists. He had no intention of letting go anytime soon.
“Tell me what happened,” he repeated.
A single tear slid down Slade’s cheek. “I was near the end of the line when we entered the building. I knew something was wrong.” A second tear escaped the brimming blue eyes. “I was going to warn them, tell them to go back, when….” The boy’s voice faded as his tears started to flow. “The flash, the noise, and then this unnatural quiet. Zach…. At first I couldn’t see him. And then….”
Sudden anger flashed through the tears. “You want to know what happened? He was shredded by that bomb. There was blood everywhere. I couldn’t reach him. My leg….” As quick as the anger had flared, it disappeared again. “He died before I could drag myself over to him. He died alone. He died because I was too slow… with my warning.”
“You can’t blame yourself, lad. Things like that happen in war. You know that. Everyone in combat loses someone close to them. I take it Zach was the first friend you lost?”
Slade’s eyes slid closed, but his tears continued to fall. He shook his head. “No.”
Callum cocked his head. “What is it, then? Why does his death haunt you more than any of the others?”
“He was… special.”
“Okay….” Callum drew the word out as he nodded thoughtfully. He selfishly wanted to ask what “special” meant, but this wasn’t the time. “Thank you for telling me.”
He released the boy’s wrists and wiped the tears from his face. “If I leave you alone, will you sleep?”
Callum saw something in Slade’s eyes, something that looked a lot like hope. “I don’t know.” It was barely a whisper.
It wasn’t a difficult decision. In fact, it wasn’t a decision at all. “Move over, then. Tonight, at least, you won’t be alone and you will sleep.” Callum had no idea if it was possible to make someone sleep peacefully simply by ordering them to, but for the lad’s sake, he hoped it would work.