They slept. A dreamless sleep that left them both feeling oddly rested when they woke late the next morning. Isobel was on the late shift tonight and Jake didn’t seem in a hurry to leave.
“Don’t you have to call in sick or something?” Isobel asked, leaning against the wall, drinking coffee as Jake made breakfast in her tiny kitchen. He smiled at her and Isobel couldn’t help smiling back, maybe a little too keenly. Jake, however, didn’t appear perturbed by her glee.
“I’m sort of my own boss right now,” he explained.
He nodded and gave her a lopsided smile, “Unemployed. How’d you guess?”
“You’re not exactly running out the door.”
“Maybe I like you.” He smiled and turned to check the food.
Isobel’s heart did a little excited dance at his words and she took a sip of coffee to cover her widening smile. A voice in her head cautioned her to be careful, but she ignored it, bathing in the rare feeling of contentment.
“I haven’t been able to hold down a job for a while,” Jake elaborated reaching absent-mindedly for the fork on the counter. He drew the grill out and began turning sausages, pausing to call one a “son of a bitch” as he shook a fat-scalded finger.
Isobel smiled further, amused. She’d been surprised when Jake offered to cook for them. Isobel didn’t usually drag herself out of bed in time for breakfast so it had been a long time since she’d cooked herself a fry up. It had been even longer since she’d had a man cook for her, let alone cook her breakfast.
“Anyway,” Jake resumed, straightening up and refocusing Isobel’s attention. “I’ve been out of work for a while. Problems sleeping. Recurring nightmares, trouble getting a good nights sleep, y’know?”
“I can relate.” Isobel smiled and shook her head, “Why are you never this funny at work?”
“I’m usually there to self-medicate not socialise.”
“Is that why you were looking down my top the other night?”
“You can’t show that much cleavage and not expect a man to look.”
“I don’t.” She gave him a meaningful look through her long dark lashes, fixing his eyes with hers as the sausages spat on the grill.
Finally Jake broke the eye contact, turning away to throw bacon on with the sausage.
Isobel sipped her coffee, unsure whether she’d crossed some sort of line. Had her flirting been too subtle? Too forward maybe? She shook her head to clear it.
Hardly the time for romance, she thought, but then again when is?
Frowning, she went back to her coffee and watching Jake cook. “What do you think it means?” she asked at last.
“What?” Jake asked.
“The dreams,” Isobel said sharply. “The eyes. All of that.”
“Oh, that,” Jake said absently, pulling warm plates from under the grill.
“There must be a reason we both get them Jake. It means something, I’m sure of it.”
“Yeah, it means the funny fucking farm beckons, is what it means.” He laughed mirthlessly.
“Spare me the gallows Jake,” she replied, grumpily. Her irritation due at least in part to her botched flirting. His offhand comment was also uncomfortably close to what her mother had told her; that she belonged in an institution, locked away from a society that she had no place in. Anger stirred at the memory of her mother’s words and Isobel could feel it showing in her eyes.
“Sorry,” Jake shrugged. “But why does it have to mean something? Maybe we’re just two loonies who found each other by chance.”
“Just coincidence right?” She hated the acid in her tone and tried to swallow her anger back down. It wasn’t entirely Jake’s fault she was suddenly pissed off.
“I don’t know.” He looked at her shrewdly, his eyes narrowing. “What are you getting at?”
“I’m not really sure,” she said. “But it... it seems like it’s speeding up. I’m dreaming more frequently and you said you get them every night.” She frowned and sipped her coffee. “Do they feel like other dreams to you?”
“How do you mean?”
“Do they seem normal?”
He laughed, “None of this is fucking normal Izzy.”
“You know what I mean. And don’t call me that!”
“Sorry, Isobel,” he grinned as he emphasised her name.
She just narrowed her eyes at him and sipped her coffee.
His smile quickly faded, his expression reverting to something more serious. When he spoke again Isobel thought he sounded scared. “I don’t have other dreams anymore,” he said sombrely. “The nightmares are the only ones I remember.”
“Because they’re more powerful, more potent, more vital somehow.”
“Oh, for God’s sake.”
“Jake, they mean something!”
“Why, Iz?” His irritation was growing now, “Why? Why are they more potent? What the hell could that mean? Huh? Maybe being burnt alive every night is just pretty fucking memorable! Maybe that’s it!” He turned angrily back to cooking.
Isobel’s own anger flared back to life and she locked eyes with him again. “Maybe someone’s trying to tell us something,” she said.
There was a pause, tension filling the air. Isobel wondered if there was going to be an argument. Would he hit her? Throw things at her as her mother had done? Tension filled her heart as she waited for the inevitable violence to begin.
Then Jake burst out laughing. Staring at her serious expression made him laugh even harder as if her very conviction added to the hilarity. Shaking his head, he turned back to cooking.
Isobel breathed a sigh of relief, thankful that the disagreement hadn’t become physical.
“Come on Isobel, that’s ridiculous,” Jake said turning the food. “They’re just nightmares. Particularly disturbing, vivid, scary nightmares, yeah, but... just nightmares.”
“But why both of us?” Isobel continued, “Don’t tell me that means nothing. We’re having the same, or at least very similar, dreams Jake. And more of them. I don’t want them every night.”
“Yeah well, you might not get a lot of choice about that.”
“Oh, that’s helpful,” she retorted. “I thought we were going to compare notes. So what happened to you last night? What did you see?”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“I saw fire dragons. That’s what they looked like. Fire dragons, flying in a sky full of flames.” Her voice shook as she remembered the dream, the sensation of being burnt alive. “One of them set me on fire with its breath. What do you think that means?”
“Maybe it’s the end of the world!” he snapped. “How about that? Maybe the end is fucking nigh!” He paused in his rant, stopped by her thoughtful expression. “What?” he said more gently, “What is it?”
“You ever read the book of Revelation?” she asked.
“No.” He looked puzzled. “That’s the last one right? Armageddon, day of judgment, all that shit?”
“Yeah,” she said, “Fire, brimstone, the dead rising, demons. All that shit. Not too dissimilar to our dreams right?”
“Are you saying what I think your saying?”
“Depends what you think I’m saying.”
He turned the grill off and gave her his full attention. “You’re suggesting that it actually is the end of the world and God, or whoever, is giving us a heads up with these dreams.”
She considered the phrasing and smiled, “Basically, yeah.”
“Shit, I need a drink,” he looked around for some whiskey to put in his coffee, “and frankly so do you.”
“Jake I’m being serious.”
“So am I.” He spied a whiskey bottle near the decrepit, wooden wine rack and crossed the kitchen. After pouring a generous measure into his mug he extended the bottle out to her.
Isobel hesitated for a moment, unsure whether she wanted to be drinking whiskey at this hour. Deciding the pubs were open and it was therefore okay, she held out her mug. Jake topped it up with a lazy smile and settled back against the counter, the strong scent of whiskey filling the air. “This is crazy you know that right?”
“Having these nightmares is crazy,” Isobel replied inhaling the potent fumes infusing her coffee. Just the smell of the whiskey relaxed her, made her feel safer, more sure of herself. “It’ll drive us crazy too if we let it. It’s a wonder we’re still functioning.”
“My drinking’s gone up...” he paused, considering. “A bit.”
She raised an eyebrow, “Aren’t you serving breakfast?”
“Shit!” Engrossed in the conversation, Jake had completely forgotten the food. He strode back across to the oven and began serving out. Isobel smiled and wandered off into the living room.
“Where you going?” Jake called.
“To get my Bible.”
* * *
They sat on Isobel’s twin sofas, condiments spread across the coffee table, eating breakfast. Isobel was scanning the book of Revelation, reading seemingly relevant bits aloud to Jake, expounding her theory that the contents reflected their shared nightmares.
“Listen to this,” she said, a mouthful of sausage and egg distorting her words. “Revelation 20: ‘Fire came down from Heaven and devoured them.” She swallowed. “Or ‘if anyone’s name was not found written in the Book of Life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”
“Sounds like we’re not on the guest list,” Jake smiled. The deadpan look Isobel gave him only made him smile wider.
“Can you please take this seriously?”
Isobel couldn’t help smiling just a little despite herself. Jake had stopped eating and seemed to be staring at her. “What?”
“Just,” his mouth crooked. “Admiring your determination.”
Isobel raised an eyebrow, “My determination?” She couldn’t keep the smile out of her voice.
“Yeah,” his eyes wandered over her. “You’re very determined.”
“Right.” Despite the serious discussion, she couldn’t quite suppress her smile. Her heart raced a little, seeing Jake’s eyes devour her and she had to sip her coffee to keep from grinning. “The best part’s yet to come,” she told him, returning to business. “It says here that Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. Two people.”
“So?” Jake said, round a mouthful of food.
“How many of us are there?”
“So, what? We’re Death and Hades?”
“Maybe. These dreams certainly qualify as a lake of fire. Or a sea.”
Jake scoffed. “World of fire is more like it.” A haunted tone entered his voice, his face momentarily looking more sober. A fleeting change, just long enough for Isobel to realise how deeply the nightmares disturbed him, before the expression disappeared back behind his jovial façade.
“Revelation 12,” Isobel continued flipping pages with one hand. “The Woman and the Dragon details how a woman was visited by a red dragon...”
“Very Thomas Harris,” Jake observed. “Is it meant to be the Devil?”
“No, I don’t think so. It’s just an agent, I think. Satan’s mentioned separately in other sentences. Sounds like different beasts.”
Jake smiled at the pun.
“I’ve seen dragons made of fire in my dreams Jake, and after what they did I’d say they certainly visited me.” She snapped the book shut. “What do you think?”
“Honestly,” Jake let out a long, weary breath and looked her straight in the eye. “I think your clutching at straws, but I haven’t got any better ideas. Frankly I’d written it off and given up getting to the bottom of it.”
“Very defeatist of you.”
He shrugged, “I thought maybe if I drank enough I’d block out the dreams, not have them or something.” He smiled thinly, “Hasn’t worked yet.”
“That’s why you’re always at Dave’s.”
“Not a glass half full type are you?”
“Born pessimist,” he agreed. He set his tray down on the table and leaned back, “You?”
“Made that way.” She shoved the remainder of her breakfast, some beans and egg, into her mouth and set down her tray at an angle to Jake’s, “Good breakfast.”
“You’ve got a little sauce,” Jake gave her a crooked smile and indicated her chin.
Before Isobel could reach up to clean herself Jake leaned forward and with his thumb wiped the stray ketchup away, his skin softly brushing her lower lip. The look between them was electric and Isobel urgently wanted to lean over and kiss him but he moved back out of reach.
“You can stay over again,” she said, a little breathless, her skin tingling where he’d touched her.
He laughed, “That’s what they all say. Then it’s ‘stop flailing around screaming and go to sleep.’” He shook his head, “There’s no pleasing some people.”
“I don’t mind the flailing,” Isobel said. “It was nice having you here.” He didn’t say anything and when she looked up through her eyelashes she swore she could see heat in his gaze. Worse, she could feel an answering heat in her own. It had been a long time since Isobel had taken a lover and she’d always enjoyed sex. But part of her wanted to remain distant, thought she shouldn’t just jump into bed with him right now. She had been raised to believe that wasn’t what good girls did. But then Isobel had been bad for such a long time already, at least by her mother’s standards that it didn’t matter anymore. Nonetheless the familiar nagging voice in the back of her head was whispering to her, discouraging her from pursuing the wanton course she desired. Besides, getting to the bottom of their curse and ending it should surely be their priority? On the other hand there was a mutual attraction… and what was the harm in a little sex?
Hell, we could both use it, she mused.
She met Jake’s intent gaze for a moment, then her eyes flicked down again. Lecherous drunks she could deal with, but a guy who actually wanted her? That she never knew how to handle. Or knew too well. Or something. She shook her head to clear her confused thoughts. When she looked back at him again he was still staring at her the same way. “What?” she asked, confrontationally, nerves making her sound annoyed.
“Nothing,” he said, standing up. “Just...” he walked over to her.
“Just?” she raised her eyebrows, looking up as he loomed above her.
“Forget it.” He looked away. He was standing so close she could smell his skin.
“Tell me.” She rose from her chair, they stood so close they were almost touching. As he turned back to her, his arm brushed her breast, which she later thought may have been deliberate. As he turned to her, Isobel instinctively moved forward, her heart pounding so hard it hurt. They stood face to face for a moment, a good head height apart. She looked up into his dark eyes and saw not just heat there, but sorrow too. She understood that sorrow. It was the same as hers; the lonely sorrow that came with this affliction, this taint that cursed them both. Her eyes flicked down to his lips and she felt her tongue moisten her own, then her eyes went back to his.
Oh God, she had time to think, I’m really gonna do this.
Elation and fear raced through her, then they were kissing, lips locked together in the blazing morning sun. She felt his lips part, her tongue slide easily into his mouth. It started gently but soon become more urgent, more passionate as need consumed them both. Her hands slipped around his neck, his round her waist, stroking her back, caressing her behind. She moaned and pressed against him, feeling light headed from lack of air, but not wanting to stop. His hands ran up her body, slipping under her t-shirt and she pushed herself harder against him, making her desire felt as eagerly as she could feel his. Her earlier caution disappeared, overwhelmed by desire. All she wanted was Jake inside her, thrusting into her, her nails scoring his back. Without thinking she began walking backwards out of the room, dragging Jake back down the hall… to the bedroom.
* * *
Afterwards they lay entwined together in the sheets, hazy late morning sun filtering through the cheap, gauzy curtains. Isobel lay sated and drowsy, the sweat of exertion cooling on her skin as the warm afterglow began to fade. She hadn’t slept with anyone for a long time and she prayed she was still as good as she’d once been told. Insecurity wasn’t an attractive trait she knew, but Isobel couldn’t help feeling anxious about her performance. It had been so long.
She turned her head to look at Jake lying next to her. He was gazing at her intently.
“What?” she said, irritation masking her insecurity under his rapt attention.
“Just kicking myself for never asking you out.”
“Really?” Isobel had her doubts.
“So why didn’t you? I mean you’ve been drinking in that dive for years.”
He shrugged. “I thought about it. Ever since I first saw you, I thought about it. I came close once or twice, but I bottled it.” He grinned, laughing at himself.
“Because of the dreams? The Taint?”
“Partly,” his smile broadened. “You seemed so cool and sassy. I thought you were out of my league. I was sure you’d blow me off.”
She smiled, raising an eyebrow at the innuendo. “Maybe. Probably.” She ran a hand over her sweat dampened face, “I can’t believe I slept with Loner Jake.” She began to laugh.
Jake frowned at Isobel’s bizarre response.
She just laughed harder.
“I’m sorry” she gasped when she recovered herself.
“It’s cool, I’m the laughing stock of the pub.” He smiled ruefully, “No wonder I drink so much.”
She laughed again. “You’re not a laughing stock Jake,” she smiled affectionately at him. “You’re just a bit strange. Always drinking alone, barely responding to anyone. Hell, you hid your crush on me pretty good.”
“And there I was thinking I wasn’t good at subtle.”
“You’re good at other things,” she said, a sultry purr creeping into her voice.
“Yeah,” heat coloured her tone as she stared into his eyes.
“So are you.” He dropped a kiss on her warm, bare shoulder.
“Honestly?” She asked hesitantly, wincing a little, hoping it was true.
She breathed a sigh of relief, “Thank God.” She noted his quizzical expression. “I’ve not… done this for a while,” she explained. “I hoped I hadn’t lost my touch.”
“Definitely not.” He kissed her neck, making her sigh with pleasure.
“Oh yeah,” she moved her body closer to his, enjoying his warmth as she pressed against him. She sighed again, this time with a note of reluctance. “We should get up… again.” Jake raised an eyebrow and she laughed. “Oh if you’re up again, definitely, but I meant up and out of bed.”
“What for?” Jake asked. “I didn’t think you were in until later?”
“I’m not,” Isobel sat up, some of the good cheer disappearing from her face. “I’ve just…” She licked her lips and frowned before continuing. “I’ve been thinking about my theory, or I was until we got distracted.” She favoured him with a warm smile. “If our dreams mirror the book of Revelation, maybe a priest or a vicar, someone like that, might be able to shed some light on things.”
“Okay,” Jake nodded slowly, following her logic. “So what, we just pop into the nearest church and ask the vicar some questions?”
“Maybe,” Isobel nodded, considering. “That might be preferable to my plan.”
“My mother’s religious,” Isobel told him. “She pressganged me into going to church when I was a kid. The Father and I didn’t always see eye to eye, apparently I questioned things too much, but I thought maybe he would be a place to start.”
“You want to get out of bed to go see a priest?”
“Not really,” Isobel told him seriously. “But we need some answers. At least I do anyway.” She sighed agitatedly and ran her hands through her damp hair again. “Let me put it this way,” she turned back to him, “I’m going to see my old priest. I’d like you to come too but I’m going either way.”
“What if he doesn’t give you anything?” Jake asked.
“Then at least I tried.” Isobel was determined to give it a shot. “I’m tired of this thing inside me, Jake. I want it gone.”