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Duck is there when Dan gets out of the hospital, wearing a tan shirt and jeans, and a strange, little smile that is only meant for Dan, and it makes Dan feel special. Like, warm inside.

They drive to Duck's little house in his truck, Dan sitting in the passenger seat which has already been pushed back slightly to adjust his long legs, and it still amazes him how easy it is to be around Duck. Duck tells him about life on Wilby, what it was like when he grew up, and in his mind, Dan can see a Duck, skinny little kid with a brush of blonde hair on top, running along to buy ice cream on a hot day.

Duck's bed is big and comfortable, and it doesn't feel strange sleeping next to another man at all. Dan lies awake that first night, watching Duck as he sleeps, watching the steady rise and fall of Duck's chest. They don't do anything more than kissing, and it's okay. Dan understands. He needs time to adjust to--that--and Duck gives it to him. In a small fit of panic, he wonders when Duck's patience will give out, but then Duck moves in his sleep, unconsciously throwing an arm over Dan's waist and snuggling up against him, and Dan can only smile down at the tussled, blonde spikes of hair.

Dan doesn't talk much the first few days, his throat is still bruised and swollen, but eventually, it becomes easier, and he gets to tell a few stories of his own. Some of them are less pleasant, the memories of harsh words and arguments with his wife surface in the most painful manner, but it seems important that Duck knows, and Duck once again only nods patiently and understandingly, one callused hand squeezing Dan's shoulder.

The first time Duck touches Dan, really touches him, Dan's heart is pounding so hard in his chest, the sound of it is ringing in his ears and blotting out all other sounds. He's never had this kind of intimacy, only fast encounters at The Watch that left him shamefaced and guilty, and it's something else entirely to do more. Handjobs mostly, a few blowjobs, even less kissing, and always fast--and that's his history right there, but Duck has gotten him pretty well and thoroughly used to the kissing part, and if Dan could only get over his own nerves, it doesn't seem like such a far stretch to let Duck get him used to the more part.

Duck calms him, though, reminds him without words that part of this, he's already used to. Part of this, Dan knows--the handjob part of this, he knows. And the intimacy, the slow part, the affection and attraction that is there between them--it isn't really that scary at all, not really.

Duck helps him through it all, and it feels good, really good--even better than he can ever remember any sex being, and once the rush in his ears starts to fade, he can hear Duck's breathing; heavy and hot in his ear. Duck stays still for a long while afterwards, not bothering to clean up the mess Dan made, not asking, not even hinting for anything in return, but just stroking Dan's back.

Two nights later, Duck lets Dan fuck him, and Dan is once again terrified, because he's never done this either, but this time at least, the rushing in his ears isn't so bad that he can't hear anything. This time, he can hear Duck's breathing right from the get-go, he can hear the quiet instructions Duck is giving him, and he can eventually hear Duck's quiet pleas for "More, yeah, like--like that."

His fingers tremble, but Duck only murmurs words of encouragement and hushes him in a quiet way that makes something in Dan's chest do a strange flop. When Dan finally enters him, pushes slowly into the willing body beneath his, Duck grabs his hand, laces their fingers together and squeezes hard, so hard that both their knuckles turn white, but Dan knows it's not in pain. Duck continues to squeeze so hard, and Dan thinks his heart might burst.

Duck is tight and warm around him, and Dan thinks maybe this isn't where he belongs now, this is where he belonged all the time, and he just didn't know it. When Duck moans again, breathes out Dan's name, Dan shudders and comes, his cock deep in Duck's ass.

The next day, Dan has been living with Duck for almost two weeks, and they go grocery shopping together for the first time. In the store they run into Buddy, in the process of taking down a can of soda from the top shelf.

"Dan!" he says, sounding pleased, "You look better."

"I feel better," Dan replies honestly, even managing to smile.

"Duck," Buddy acknowledges with a nod, which Duck politely returns. "How are you?"

"We're doing very good, actually," Duck replies and puts a hand over Dan's.

Dan can't help it; he tenses up. His heart lurches a little, because they haven't really talked about this, and the gossip is still going strong, possibly even stronger since the damn article never was printed. What if someone else sees them, God help them, what if Irene is nearby and sees them?

Buddy probably didn't even mean you-the-two-of-them, but you-just-Duck, because Buddy and Duck are both islanders, and Dan's not. Dan knows the two men go way back, even back to the school days when they were both little skinny kids running along to get ice cream on a hot day, and Dan wasn't and will never be a part of that, and he's queer on top of it all, so why should Buddy be talking to him?

But Buddy just smiles and says, "I'm glad to hear that," then adds, with a significant look at the both of them, "you deserve it."

"Say hi to Carol," Duck says, and he and Buddy exchange the strangest little glance that Dan doesn't quite get the meaning of, before Duck takes his hand away from Dan's and they head down the aisle in the opposite direction of Buddy. Dan's heart is still beating a little rapidly in his chest, but the store is nearly empty, and nobody seemed to have noticed, so eventually, Dan relaxes and smiles at Duck.

He knows Duck may not get it completely; for all his quiet behavior and patient words, Duck is a stubborn man--his persistence in his pursuit of Dan alone, showed that--and most people already know about them, but it is one thing to know something through island gossip, and it's a completely different thing to see the two faggots hold hands in the grocery store. Dan knows this, and he knows Duck doesn't quite get it, but he also knows Duck trusts him. Dan does his best to trust Duck back.

He has already noticed that Duck eats cereal in the morning, and that he likes it with a small scoop of strawberry jam on the side, and as he picks out Duck's favorite brand and a jar of strawberry jam, he catches the other man giving him a strange look.


One corner of Duck's mouth quirks up in a little smile, but he says nothing, just shakes his head at Dan.

One day, long after they've settled into a routine, long after Dan has gotten used to Duck going to work in the morning and coming home in paint-covered overalls smelling like paint fumes and brush cleaners, Duck suddenly looks up at Dan, then down at the lit cigarette between his slender fingers, and asks, "Hey, do you want me to start smoking outside?" and suddenly, Dan gets it--really gets it. Because yeah, a lot of this is pretty new territory for him, but it's also pretty fucking new territory for Duck, isn't it? And that thought really hadn't occurred to him at all.

"No, it's okay," he assures Duck, and goes back to reading the paper, mulling over this fact.

Yeah, Duck may know about fucking and intimacy and every trick to make a blowjob last longer than what seems to be an unofficial limit of five minutes, that was required down at The Watch, but that's it for him. Whereas Dan, he knows about relationships, and okay, yeah, not with a man, but he did have a wife. He knows about grocery shopping for two different people, and compromises and not leaving wet towels on the bathroom floor and love--love. This Dan knows about, and of course, a lot of these things have come naturally to Duck, but not everything.

Duck is obviously trying to learn, though, once again obviously trusting Dan, trusting Dan to lead him where he doesn't know the way. Duck offered to smoke outside. Dan doesn't smoke, and if he'd said yeah, please do smoke outside, then Duck probably would. But the compromise has to go both ways, and if Dan can have the remote a few nights here and there, then Duck can by God smoke inside in his own damn house!

They have been together for almost four and a half months, when Duck finally fucks Dan. It's one of those incredibly slow nights again, just like the first time, Duck showing and guiding and reassuring Dan that everything's gonna be okay, and Dan takes a deep breath that hitches a little in his throat, and he trusts Duck.

Duck is careful with him, and when his cock slips into Dan's ass, it doesn't even hurt, not even a little burning pain that Dan was prepared for and had even expected. It baffles him a little, and a surprised "Oh," escapes his lips.

Duck laughs quietly, delightedly, against his back, kisses his shoulder, and laces their fingers together tightly, squeezes until their knuckles turn white and Dan thinks his heart might burst, before Duck finally begins to move.