Authors: Emily Moreton
Never Let It Go
with being invalided home from active duty was that, no matter how bad things got, it was impossible to forget that the people Will cared about most in the world were still out there. Still being shot at, still risking driving over an IED, still flying over areas known to house rebels with rocket launchers.
And the worst part of it was that Will knew exactly how badly it could go.
Will curled tighter in on himself, ignoring how the movement pulled at his still healing bruises and sprains, and pressed his cheek into the pillows. The cotton was too warm against his skin but still sort of comforting in the face of the pale dawn light and the lingering nightmares.
God, he was so tired.
The three of them—Will and Isaac and Ade—had chosen the twelfth floor apartment partly for how quiet it was, but right now, Will would have given anything to be on street level and have something more to listen to than the empty silence.
He rolled over again, only remembering at the last moment not to put his weight on his broken arm. The covers twisted around his legs with the movement, and when he tried to kick free, his feet got tangled too. Will fought for another few seconds, then flopped over onto his back and stared up at the ceiling, utterly defeated and blinking against the tears burning his eyes.
“Get a grip,” he told himself, voice too loud. He wasn’t going to start crying over the bedsheets. Though, if he was being entirely honest, crying from frustration and pain probably wasn’t out of the question.
Will took a deep breath, then another, until the tightness in his chest eased and he could struggle out of bed. The covers ended up on the floor around his feet, but at least they were easier to shake off now. Of course, bending down to pick them up was pretty much out of the question, which put paid to any vague idea he’d had of sleeping some more.
Before, he’d have used the time to go for a run, enjoying having the world all to himself, but that wasn’t an option and wouldn’t be for a while. At least they’d finally put a walking cast on his leg, so he didn’t have to contend with a wheelchair to get around the apartment, even if he did still need to wear a sling for his left arm.
The microwave clock read just after five, which meant Will had managed a grand total of three broken hours of sleep. No wonder his head felt ready to explode.
Will topped up the coffeemaker and set it to run. He didn’t need anything like that much coffee, but the smell was familiar and oddly comforting.
He reached over for one of the thick white mugs at the back of the counter, good hand curling round the smooth surface and…
And he was burning, his hands were burning, searing pain like nothing he’d ever felt—
Will gasped, coming back to himself in their kitchen. His hand was shaking so hard he struggled to let go of the mug, and even looking down to find clean, undamaged skin didn’t do anything to help. Even the air hurt, like he was breathing smoke instead of—
“Stop it. This is your kitchen, in your apartment, and it’s just a coffee mug.” The coffeemaker burbled in agreement, making Will laugh, for all that it made his chest hurt worse. There was no one else around. He let himself wrap his arm around his chest and close his eyes, pretending. “You’re not going to freak out over a coffee mug.”
His next breath was shaky, but the one after came more easily. He tipped his head to the side, pressing his cheek to his shoulder, and told himself that was Isaac’s shoulder under his skin, that the arm wrapped around him was Ade, and the voice in his head reminding him that he was safe, it was over, could have been either of them.
Will didn’t know how long he stood there, lost in the fantasy, but when he finally let it fade away, the coffee was barely lukewarm.
the body doctors in the morning—arm still broken in three places, leg still broken in one, and ribs still sprained, but at least the bruises had gone down again—followed by the mind doctor in the afternoon. Will was never entirely sure whether he hated those sessions or sort of liked them, but either way, they weren’t making anything worse, which was about all he felt he could reasonably ask for.
Thursday also meant dragging himself across the city via public transport, stubbornly refusing to take a cab that he wouldn’t have needed before his injuries. The bus stop was only a block from their apartment, though, and the walk took him right by a new coffee shop, usually an hour or so before the evening rush started.
Today he was a little later, but the two women in suits occupying his preferred table were gathering their things to leave as he walked in, and Maria was behind the counter, smiling when she saw Will.
“Hey, Will, how’s life?”
Will leaned his good elbow on the counter, doing a passable imitation of casual, rather than someone who needed to lean or fall over. “Nice hair.” Maria was a grad student in sociology, back in school for a year after working in local government for six years, and liked to embrace her freedom from business wear by dying her shoulder length hair a series of increasingly unnatural colors. Today’s was bubblegum pink, with silver ends.
Maria grinned. “I could do yours some time. I’m thinking… camo green?”
Will kept his face carefully neutral, but apparently it didn’t matter, because Maria’s grin softened into a concerned frown.
“You okay? You don’t look too good.”
Will dredged up the best smile he could manage. “That’s just what a guy wants to hear.”
“Go sit down,” Maria said instead of taking it back. “Usual?”
“Just orange juice, thanks. And an English muffin if you’ve got any?” The warmth and steam of a coffee would probably be fine, even soothing, but Will’s shoulders were still tense with the morning’s flashback, compounded by the session with his counsellor, and he drew the line at freaking out in public.
“I think I can find something,” Maria promised. “Go on. Jack’ll clear the table in a second.”
Will took the corner seat, like always, and unfolded the local paper the women had left behind. Turning the pages using his wrong hand was still awkward, but reading about the mayor’s new parking initiative while Jack quietly gathered empty mugs never failed to ease the tension of a whole day out in the world.
up staying in the coffee shop well into the evening rush, so that the apartment was mostly dark by the time he managed to fumble the lock open and get himself inside. All he really wanted was his painkillers and sleep, but the message light was flashing on the machine, too bright to miss.
Will dug out his cell phone and checked the screen, then unlocked it and went into his messages, just in case the notification wasn’t showing up. Nothing.
That had to be a good thing. If anything bad had happened, someone would have tried his cell, not just left a message on the apartment phone.
Except that Isaac’s parents called on Friday evenings, Ade’s mom called Sunday afternoons, Will’s sister Jenna on Tuesday mornings, and Isaac and Ade on Monday evenings if they could, or sometime Saturday if not. No one called on Thursdays, because Thursday was the day Will came home and crashed out, the only day he could actually sleep through the night, exhausted from the day.
It was probably a telemarketer, or their landlord. It was probably nothing.
And whatever it was, it wasn’t going to change, no matter how long Will stood and watched the light blink.
He took a deep breath, reminded himself firmly that he was being ridiculous, and hit Play.
“Hey, Will.” Isaac, sounding warm and pleased and not at all like he was calling with bad news. Will breathed again, relief flooding him so fast he felt shaky with it. “Sorry we missed you”—in the background, Ade said something Will couldn’t catch—“but we wanted to tell you…. The unit’s being recalled, just heard it this morning. We’ll be stateside early next week. They’re confirming the exact date tomorrow. So—”
A brief scuffle, then Ade’s voice picked up: “So change the sheets, clean the bathroom, get rid of any one-night stands, you know, the usual.” There was a beat of silence. Then Ade said softly, “We’ll see you real soon, babe. We miss you.”
Another moment of silence, then the click of the connection ending. Will restarted the message before the automated voice could get a word in and closed his eyes, just letting the words flow over him.
We’ll be stateside early next week.
We’ll see you real soon, babe.
focused on just the horizon, he could almost imagine they weren’t in an active combat zone and that the bright sun and baked roads were some spur of the moment vacation spot the three of them had picked.
Well, if he also ignored the radio chatter, the way they were bouncing around the vehicle, the automatic weapon in his hands, and how ridiculously overheated he was under his Kevlar.
Next to him, Isaac turned away from the road for a moment. His mouth moved, framing what was obviously meant to be a joke from the bright smile in his sharp, pale face, but there was too much noise, and Will couldn’t make anything out. He grinned back anyway, just enjoying a moment of looking into Isaac’s clear blue eyes and wanting to touch.
Isaac tipped his head, mouth moving again—something about Ade, then, in the vehicle behind them. They were due back at camp a couple of hours before dark, and tomorrow had no patrols scheduled. Maybe they could hitch a ride into town with someone, just get out of camp for an hour or two. Will turned back to the road, now lined with the occasional empty shop and abandoned car.
Up ahead, the lead vehicle came to a halt, the rest of the convoy following suit. Without the engines, the air seemed too quiet. Too still.
Sergeant Sutherland jerked his head in a clear indication for everyone to take up a guard around the vehicles—apparently they weren’t moving anytime soon. The reason for it jogged by just as Will stepped out onto the road: one of the Ordnance Disposal guys.
Will glanced down the line of vehicles and saw Ade looking back at him. He nodded, a quick jerk of his head, and Ade nodded back, already turning away to watch the empty roadside.
Too quiet, too hot, too still. Will focused and didn’t let himself think about how they’d be late back to camp now.
himself up screaming, trying to pull free of the wreckage of their vehicle, searching desperately for Isaac and shouting for help.
All the fighting threw his balance off, and he fell from whatever he was lying on and hit the ground hard. Pain sparked lightning bright up his arm. He scrambled for something to catch hold of with his free hand. He was in the apartment, in the living room, the dream receding as he came all the way awake, but he couldn’t make sense of where he was, everything distorted and shadowy.
His hand collided with something, so he latched on and held tight, trying to force his breathing back to normal. He tried closing his eyes, but all he saw was his weapon, and beyond that, the road, shortening his breath all over again.
Slowly, Will was able to make out the shape of the coffee table and then the couch. He’d fallen asleep there and must have rolled off, landing badly on his broken arm. He unclenched his hand from where it was curled in the couch cushion and slowly eased himself up until he could lean against the couch and focus on breathing.
Will didn’t remember anything between standing at the side of the road and waking up in a hospital bed. He’d read the reports of what happened—the shot and the explosion, how he’d been thrown away from the vehicle by it—and Isaac and Ade had given him the basics of everything between the explosion and the helicopter airlifting him away for treatment, but it was still a blank. Even when he dreamed about it, the dreams always ended with him on the side of the road and then him awake and screaming, usually trapped in a way that hadn’t even happened in real life.
His therapist said that meant the memory was probably in there somewhere and that it might come back to him but probably wouldn’t. She didn’t seem too concerned about that, and Will was quite happy not to have it. Just the pieces that he got when he dreamed were bad enough.
He didn’t have much hope for sleeping again, but it had to be worth a try. He hit Play on the answering machine as he walked past, just to hear Isaac’s and Ade’s voices once more.
Just for the promise that they were coming home.
was the only one who really got that the three of them were together and committed to each other. Isaac’s parents generally acted like they were just roommates, and Jenna always teasingly asked who was with who when they spoke, like the three of them were trading partners. It meant Ms. Drew was the one who called Will on Saturday afternoon to let him know her flight would get in a couple of hours before the others were due to land, and to ask if he wanted a ride to the base.