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The Dig

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Harry didn't think twice when Roy called him that morning, asking if he'd come help fix a water leak in the irrigation at Ash Park. He said yes, and after tending to his own sheep, drove his truck over.

"I can get down there and and fix it, but the ol' back isn't what it used to be on the digging," Roy said when Harry arrived.

"I'm happy to help," Harry replied, and got to work. He knew it wouldn't be long before Roy was giving him a hand; it wasn't in the blood of someone like Roy Briggs to stand around and watch someone else work.

Sure enough, not ten minutes in, Roy was digging alongside him, though at a considerably slower pace. That was good. Harry didn't want to have to be the one to tell him to slow down.

They shared a companionable silence. If there had been something to share, they would have. For all his country bush exterior, Roy was incredibly emotional, and Harry had gone to him with problems in the past. Roy only asked that certain details be kept at a minimum.

When the pipes were exposed, Harry left the actual repair work to Roy. He'd been doing this sort of thing since before Harry was born. Harry knew he could always do right by learning. Without even being asked, Roy spoke aloud, step by step, what he was doing aloud while Harry watched on.

Harry looked up when he heard footsteps approaching. He was expecting Mr. Bligh, perhaps with David to show him the property and the work, but it was one of the housemaids, in her blue uniform. She carried a basket with her and smiled when she saw Harry notice her.

"I thought you might be thirsty," she said, setting down the basket a couple feet from the hole. She knelt down next to it and retrieved a couple of glasses and a large thermos. She poured out two glasses of ice water. "It's hot already this spring."

"Thank you," Harry said, taking the glass, and feeling bad that he didn't know her name. She was new, and he was sure he's introduced himself at some point.

"Thanks, Jo," Roy said, and Harry flashed him a smile of gratitude. "That's right thoughtful of you."

"It's not a problem," she replied. "Mr. and Mrs. Bligh wouldn't want either of you fainting out here."

Harry nodded. "I know you're busy. I can bring this in to the back when we're finished."

"Oh! No. No, that's -- that's kind, but I can wait," Jo said, her eyes widening. Her cheeks went pink. "I don't mind."

Next to him, Roy snorted softly. Harry gave him a sidelong glance, but he seemed very busy refilling his glass from the thermos to give any indication of what that was about.

Maybe Roy didn't care much for Jo, but with her wide-eyed alarm, she sort of reminded Harry of Eve. It softened him toward her, because despite everything, he missed his sister, even if she hadn't spoken to him in years. The last time he had seen Eve was at Amy's wedding in '55, where she had pointedly ignored him and forbade Colin from going to him after the ceremony. But she could get that way about her, blushing and innocent when she was flustered.

That doey-eyed innocence got Eve into as much trouble as it excused her from it.

"Thank you," Harry said again, handing the glass back to Jo. "Exactly what the doctor ordered."

"You're welcome," she all but whispered. She packed up her basket and headed back toward the main house.

Harry turned, and saw Roy shaking his head. "What?"

Roy laughed. "She's got eyes for ya, mate."

"What? No. She was..." Harry paused, replaying the last few minutes in his mind. While he was thinking of his sister, Jo had been gazing at him. "She couldn't have even known I was here."

"I mentioned you by name to Missy this morning I was gonna have you help. For the budget an' all. She was right there, serving tea."

Harry felt a bit hot. The year before, Henry had gone through this with one of his nurses. It wasn't anyone's fault, but it was undeniably awkward. He looked at Roy helplessly.

Roy smiled sympathetically. "Let her down easy."

Letting her down easy meant a departure from the truth. While Harry and Henry were often the worst kept secret in Inverness ("Homosexuals," Doris Collins may whisper to newcomers, "but they're quite upstanding young men!"), it was still 1966. And despite the way Anna could go on about how unfair it was they couldn't marry ("If any heterosexual couple had been together as long as you have, they'd have been married long ago!" she would say, outraged on their behalf), their relationship was still a crime.

Harry nodded. "Let's get this leak fixed."

When they were filling the hole back, Roy stuck his spade in his ground and leaned against it, contemplating Harry.

Harry looked up at him, squinting as the sun haloed behind his head. "What?"

"That doctor of yours..." Roy started, then trailed off.

"What about him?" Harry always found it charming that Roy nearly exclusively referred to Henry as your doctor. Maybe it was a way for him to separate the idea that Henry's a man, but for Harry, it was nice to be acknowledges. Yes, Henry was his. And he was Henry's.

"Now I ain't looking for details, but you're good, yeah? Happy?"

Harry couldn't help it, he beamed. It was completely unnecessary for Roy to look out for him in this way, but it was sweet. He knew, in many ways, Roy saw him as a surrogate son to the children he'd lost. And considering how little family Harry had left, he appreciated it.

"Yeah, Roy, I'm happy. Wish I saw him a bit more, or we lived closer, but... circumstances as they are. I've got to take what I can get, I suppose."

Roy's brow furrowed. "Now listen here. You don't just take what you can get. If you want something, you've gotta make it happen. No one ever got anything by considering the circumstances. You want to see your doctor more, you do it. There's a lot a' good people here who'd defend you on it."

Harry stared and then forced himself to swallow so he wouldn't tear up. "I... that's good advice. I just may take it."

"Good on ya," Roy said. "Now you about done there?"

Later, after everything was finished, Harry went up the house for another glass of water, and to thank Jo again for her kindness. He managed, not too awkwardly, to drop in a mention of his partner, though he was careful not to use any pronouns. He didn't want to lie to the girl. She looked disappointed, but thankfully not heartbroken.

Though it wasn't a stretch to say Harry was no expert on women, even with two sisters.

It did give him a lot to think about as he got to his own work at home. There had to be a better solution than muddling through awkward conversations every year or so when they were mistaken for single. It wasn't fair, Anna was right, but it was the reality they lived with. One she couldn't fully understand, no matter how much Harry and Henry both appreciated her support.

When he was finished up for the day, Harry took a long shower and after he was dressed in trousers and an undershirt, sat down to call Henry.

"It's me," he said when Henry answered.

"I thought it might be," Henry replied, the smile evident in his voice. "How are you?"

They had been together going on seven years, and they still lived in separate places, in separate cities. It wasn't uncommon for Henry to spend a weekend in Inverness, or for Harry to take a week in the city, but they were still apart most of the time. No wonder they could so easily be mistaken for single.

"I'm..." Harry searched for the right word. "Frustrated."

Henry made an interested noise. "How so?"

Harry sighed. "I nearly got chatted up by one of the Ash Park maids."

"Only nearly?" There was laughter in his voice.

"I put a stop to it before it could get anywhere. I wouldn't have even noticed if Roy hadn't said something."

"She has good taste, if I do say so," Henry replied. Harry could hear the flick of a lighter through the receiver. "But you can't only be frustrated that women find you attractive."

"I miss you," Harry blurted, like it was something to embarrassed about. Henry was his partner -- for the rest of their lives if Harry had anything to say about it. And yet they lived nearly completely separate lives.

"Oh, darling," Henry said softly, almost in a purr. They didn't speak so candidly on the line, but sometimes things slipped through. "I miss you too. I've got a lot of on my plate right now, but maybe I could come down for the weekend?"

"Maybe you could stay," Harry said. He didn't mean to say it, but he generally meant what he said. And he meant this. When there was silence on the other end, he quickly added, "Or I could... stay there. It was something Roy said to me today. If I want something, I'm going to have to reach out and take it. I want you with me."

Finally, Henry spoke. "I'd like that, living together. I've been thinking about it myself. I'll come on Saturday. We can talk about it. We'll figure it out."

"Good. I..." Harry laughed. He didn't realize how tense he'd become thinking that maybe Henry was content with their separated arrangement. It had made sense when they started, but now things were different between them. "I figure if the likes of Roy Briggs can be accepting, then times really are changing."

Henry laughed too. "Roy may be old fashioned, but he's a good man. Not everyone will be."

"There were always going to be pros and cons. And we can wait for the times to catch up with us, or we can do something about it. I'm willing to give it a chance if you are," Harry said.

"I am," Henry replied. "We'll work out the particulars when we're in the same room. Now, tell me about the rest of your day."

Harry smiled to himself. Perhaps soon it would be like this every night, without a phone between them.