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The Evening and the Morning

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The nurse was so polite as to mumble something about the required observation period, but from the way her eyes didn't meet his Dan concluded that they just wanted to wait for the cover of darkness before releasing him from the hospital.

He stepped out the front door alone, into the falling dusk. It was so much like the light out at the Watch the last night he'd been there that he wasn't in the least surprised to see Duck McDonald standing there waiting for him, though he felt a moment's instinctive panic at the sight of Buddy French beside him. But they were only standing together because they'd been talking; Duck looked up and took a quick step toward Dan, wearing the same bright, charming smile he'd always worn on the Watch.

Buddy seemed to fade away, and when Dan tore his gaze from Duck after a few dazed, grinning seconds, he realized it wasn't just because Duck had taken up all of his attention. Buddy, all six feet two hundred pounds of him, seemed to be doing his best to melt backward into the twilight. He couldn't have looked more different than he had that afternoon, when he'd visited Dan in his official capacity, solemnly informing Dan that he'd be within his rights to press various charges against Mrs. French. He'd been uniformed and proper and apologetic about the clear conflict of interest, and had looked about like Dan felt.

Buddy was wearing jeans and a faded sweatshirt now, and seemed embarrassed to be there, though that afternoon he'd been almost excruciatingly professional. Dan thought it was that he didn't want to be caught watching out for the island's two most recently outed queers in his spare time, but as Dan walked up Buddy squared his shoulders and said quietly, "Mr. Jarvis, I just wanted to thank you again. Carol--"

"Saved my life," Dan said, not wanting to repeat the whole discussion. The words came out a broken whisper; he'd rushed to speak, not preparing his voice.

Buddy flinched, turning his face ever so slightly away, and Dan realized that one thing hadn't changed since that afternoon: Buddy still hadn't gotten any sleep. He looked old and exhausted for just a second, and then he gathered himself and nodded formally, nearly a bow. "Thank you," he repeated firmly, and then nodded briefly to Duck--if he'd been wearing a hat, he'd have tipped it, maybe said something like all in a day's work, gentlemen--and walked away in the direction of the faded sunset.

Dan stood still for a minute, watching him go in helpless appreciation of Wilby's very own living white-hatted cowboy, and then Duck said softly, in his ear, "I had a crush on him since I was eight years old."

Dan turned his head to meet Duck's eyes, bringing their faces kissing-close as he grinned. Duck grinned back and gestured to his truck as he stepped away. "Come on."

They'd agreed earlier that Dan would come home with Duck--he didn't have anywhere else to go, not even a motel room to call his own tonight. And they were definitely something to each other now, more than just two guys fumbling around in the dark, or two guys waiting for the same lynch mob. Duck had brought him flowers, after all. Nobody had ever brought anything but booze out to the Watch. Dates brought flowers, boyfriends brought flowers. Dan just wasn't sure where they were on the continuum between the two, and Duck was still wearing the same flashing-bright smile that had never told Dan so much as his name, out there under the trees at night. He didn't think now was the time to ask.

But when they were both in the truck and Dan was looking down, adjusting the seatbelt that had clearly last been used by someone a hell of a lot shorter than himself, Duck cleared his throat and said in the low, steady voice that Dan had only heard from him in the last day or two, "I just... since I was eight, y'know? I'm not real used to getting what I want."

Dan hesitated for a second--remembered to swallow first this time, testing the words on his lips, unsure he'd be able to say them for all sorts of reasons, and then said carefully, "I was married. For six years."

Duck didn't make a sound, and when Dan looked up at him he was smiling just a little, a quiet kind of smile that would have been invisible at the Watch in the dark. A daylight smile. "Yeah, okay," Duck said, turning the truck on, "you win."

 


The truck's radio played the same station Duck had turned on at the motel the night before. They didn't talk; they were past the need to make awkward conversation, and Dan couldn't think of anything he wanted to say badly enough to try. Beside him, Duck just drove. Nobody threw anything at the truck, or yelled as they went past, but then it was dark; maybe they didn't know who was going by. Something small and optimistic and bruised almost beyond recognition, somewhere down inside of Dan, said that maybe they just didn't care. He couldn't tell whether that was a better thing to hope for than that they wouldn't know, but it was all he had left now.

Duck pulled the car up at a house with its porch light on, and Dan opened his mouth to ask where they were, who they were visiting. Before he'd forced the words out, Duck looked over at him and said, "I figured it might be dark before we got back. I put your car in the garage."

To hide it? To keep it safe? Dan just nodded and got out of the truck and followed Duck up to the porch. He fumbled with the keys as he unlocked the door; he could have been nervous, but Dan would bet he just wasn't used to unlocking it. What islander on Wilby ever locked their damn door?

When Duck finally got the door open and stepped inside, Dan followed on his heels. He took a breath, and the thought that the place smelled just like Duck, but concentrated, was cut off when the air hit his throat, thick with the smell of paint and cigarette smoke. He grabbed Duck's shoulder, tried too late to hold his breath, to hold still enough not to cough, but once he started coughing Dan couldn't stop, and it hurt like dying.

He felt Duck turn under his grip, breaking it, and then Duck's hands were on his arms, hustling him back out the door to the porch, pushing him to sit down on the step. He kept coughing in the clean cool sea air, his eyes hurting and his vision darkening and his lungs straining for air that was never going to come. But Duck said, "Come on, breathe, you can breathe, you can do this," and he gasped in one breath and then another. Not dying, just coughing. He stared down at his feet with watering eyes, and realized he had a whole new kind of nightmare to look forward to. One of the drawbacks of almost dying.

He wiped his eyes and then his mouth with the back of his hand and finally looked up at Duck, who was crouching over him, still holding tight to Dan's arms. Duck glanced back toward the open door with an unreadable expression and then said quietly, "Shit." It was the first thing he'd said since they got out of the truck.

Dan opened his mouth, then smiled weakly and nodded his agreement; he didn't want to think about trying to talk right now. Duck's hands released him, but he trailed his fingers across Dan's bruised throat, and said "You good now? I'll be right back."

Dan nodded again, more firmly this time. Not dying at all. Duck stared into his eyes, searching for something, and then smiled a little, and Dan smiled back. If he could have spoken, he'd have tried to make a joke about what great starts they kept making. Duck seemed to get it anyway. He set his hand on Dan's shoulder as he pushed himself up, and Dan listened to his footsteps retreating through the house, losing them in the creak of the trees and the sound of water--not the ocean, but the river, rushing along somewhere nearby. It wasn't a big island, but Duck had still found a place to be lonely on it.

Duck said "Hey," and a glass, clear but for a faded figure he thought might have once been a hockey player, appeared before his eyes. Dan took it from Duck's hand, sipping the cool water cautiously.

Very quietly, Duck said, "You scared me."

Dan held still, wondering whether Duck meant just now, or... or everything. He nodded slightly, a motion as slight as Duck's words were quiet. He'd scared himself. But that fear was a cold twist in his gut, and the idea that Duck had been scared for him, last night or just now or ever, that was... that was better. That meant not being alone.

Duck cleared his throat and said, "I'll go open up some windows. You just sit a minute." Dan felt Duck's hand touch the top of his head, not even enough to mess up his hair, and Duck was gone again.

Dan listened for the scrape of the sashes--the windows ought to have been open anyway, in July. Duck had probably closed them all right before he locked the door. The sound of the windows opening faded into other, less identifiable noises from inside the house, Duck making whatever last-minute preparations he needed to, or just avoiding coming back outside. Dan drank some more of his water and shifted forward on the porch step, looking up at the clear night sky. The stars on Wilby were like the ones he'd read about as a kid, cowboys lying awake on the prairie with the sky stretching huge above them.

He'd thought Wilby would be like that when they first moved here, a wide-open new start for him and Val. But there had been nothing new, and nothing open, on this little island. He'd gone right on waiting, for Val to realize, for the perfect pose they'd held for years to finally break. And he'd broken it himself, in the end, only it hadn't been the end at all.

 


When Duck came outside, he flashed Dan an apologetic smile and kept walking, halting several feet away at the corner of the house to light a cigarette. Dan watched, baffled. Duck was standing in shadow--the flare of the match lit his face for an instant, and then the brightest thing about him was the tip of the cigarette--and then Dan saw Duck exhale a cloud of smoke and realized that he was standing carefully downwind of both Dan and the now-open windows.

Duck, Dan thought, not for the first time, would have made a great cowboy if he'd only been born in the right century--not the movie-star kind, tipping his hat and kissing the cowgirls, but the real kind, with callused hands and a tanned face, who didn't say much because cattle don't give a man much practice in conversation. The kind who might be thoughtful in funny ways, like knowing where downwind was, and standing there to smoke.

Dan set his water glass down on the porch and pushed himself to his feet, shoving his hands into his pockets as he walked over to where Duck stood, stopping a little short--and upwind--and slouching against the house so Duck wouldn't have to look up at him.

"Sorry," Duck said, holding his cigarette behind his back like a kid caught smoking. "I just--"

Dan hadn't smoked since he was fifteen, but if he thought he could have managed a cigarette right then, he might have wanted one too. And Duck--it struck him all at once that it was Duck who was nervous this time, Duck who'd brought some potentially-crazy near-stranger maybe-boyfriend home with him, and what did cowboys know about dating anyway? Dan shook his head and smiled. "No, I--I like it."

Duck grinned, teeth bright in the porch light over Dan's shoulder, and took another drag. "Yeah? All right then." He glanced around and then said, "We're right near the river here," and nodded across the narrow road.

Dan glanced that way and nodded, looking back to Duck to see that Duck was studying him intently.

"Mainlanders always want to live near the ocean," Duck said, in a tone that suggested he was explaining something. "Closer to home that way, or they like the pretty view. The old families all settled near the river, though. You can't drink the ocean."

Dan nodded again, studying Duck right back, sparing a sideways glance for the house he leaned against. He couldn't guess its age in the dark; had Duck been born here? Was this some ancestral homestead? "How old?" he managed.

Duck raised his eyebrows and then waved a hand dismissively. "Oh, well, my mum's dad was a French on his mum's side."

Old family, right. "French?"

Duck grinned. "Buddy and I are half third cousins once removed," he said, "although the Frenches will tell you we're fifth cousins, because they count," his hand briefly sketched branches in the air between them, and then he dropped it, looking a little embarrassed. "Anyway, the thing is--my mum's mum, she was born on Cape Breton and she'd wash your mouth out with soap if you called her a mainlander. She said anybody born on this island was an islander, and so was anybody who died here."

Dan raised an eyebrow, beginning to see where Duck was going with this. "Died, huh?"

Duck nodded. "She's been an islander twenty years now, but I figure--maybe she would've approved of you."

Dan did laugh a little then, at the thought of Duck's sainted grandmother approving of any of this, and the sound came out rough-edged, but at least it made Duck smile. "M'not quite an islander," he managed.

Duck shrugged. "No," Duck said, his smile shrinking but not quite disappearing. "But you're close enough to last you a while."

Dan nodded, and Duck said, "A long while, right?"

Dan shifted sideways, so the light would fall on his face, so Duck could see when Dan met his eyes. "Rest of my life," he whispered, as firmly as he could. He had no intention of scaring Duck again.

Duck held his gaze for a moment, and then looked away, tossing his cigarette down and conscientiously grinding it out. "Come on, let's go inside. You must be tired."

 


Duck's bed was neatly made, covered with a faded quilt striped in red and yellow that looked old enough to have been made by his grandmother. Dan wondered whether he kept it for sentimental reasons, or inertia, or because it appealed to the sense of aesthetics boasted by the assortment of dog-eared books on art he'd spotted on shelves and stacked here and there around the house. It was too complicated a question to try to force past his throat right now, and he tucked it away for the future.

Duck smiled and turned the quilt down, folding it into neat thirds over the foot of the bed and smoothing it invitingly, the patter he'd kept up as he showed Dan the small house apparently exhausted. Dan smiled back, wondering whether he should say something, or if Duck would take the initiative, or if they could carry out such delicate negotiations as "which side do you sleep on?" and "shake me if I start snoring" entirely by gestures. Duck's smile faltered, and he stepped toward the door, finally looking away as he muttered, "I'll just--"

"Wait!" Dan's whisper sounded nearly panicked even to his own ears, and Duck turned back, looking concerned. "Where you going?" His voice failed, the last word coming out a hollow breath. Duck winced, but didn't move any further away.

He rubbed the back of his neck with one hand and said slowly, "I was going to sleep on the couch, I thought you might--"

Dan shook his head. He'd never wanted time or space less than he did right now. If they were going to be here, in this little house, in this lonely place on this little island, Dan wanted to be here together. Duck had brought him here; Dan hadn't agreed to come so he could be a guest who got the comfortable bed. All the words clogged in his throat. He opened and closed his mouth a couple of times under Duck's gaze--watchful and still, too genuinely interested to seem patient--and finally shook his head again and said, "Please."

Duck met his eyes for a moment and then looked around, seeming more uncertain than Dan could ever remember seeing him. It wasn't, Dan realized, that he wanted to escape; it was more like he was trying to figure out where downwind was in this room, and how to stand there.

Dan saved him from his dilemma, taking two quick strides to close the space between them, reaching out to cup his cheek. Stubble scraped against his palm as Duck smiled, looking up at him with that same stillness. He didn't move at all as Dan leaned in, slowly and cautiously, and kissed him.

For a moment neither of them moved, holding the press of mouth to mouth. Dan could feel the tickle of Duck's breath, could feel his own heart beating faster and the faintest tremor under his fingers on Duck's cheek, belying that cowboy stillness. Then Duck's hand settled on his hip, pulling him closer, and Dan caught a handful of Duck's shirt. The contact of body to body was electric, even through their clothes, with the promise of more so close, and Dan broke the kiss, gasping in a ragged breath. Duck settled a hand on the back of his neck, grinning open-mouthed as he drew Dan back down, and this kiss was wet and hot and going places.

Duck moved against him, hips pressing in, and Dan could feel him getting hard in his jeans. He pushed back, his own growing erection mirroring Duck's. This part was more familiar than the kissing; their bodies knew each other already. There had never been time to risk kissing, out on the Watch. Duck's hand slid around to his ass, pulling him closer still, the kiss breaking up into brief contacts of lips and tongues, punctuated by gasps for breath. It crossed Dan's mind that they didn't have to do this quite this way--even out at the Watch they'd unzipped, and there was a bed right behind them--but having gotten this close to Duck he didn't want to move away, not for anything.

But Duck whispered, "You wanna--is this--" his voice gone as husky as Dan's, and Dan nodded quickly, not trusting his own voice at all. His breath burned a little now, but he didn't care. He was alive, and he was here with Duck. Duck's hand left his ass, catching his elbow and steering him backward until he could feel the bed against the backs of his legs. Dan started unbuttoning Duck's shirt with clumsy fingers, and Duck helped him along, their progress only a little slowed by more kisses. Dan kept his hands scrupulously off Duck's skin, his eyes averted--if he looked, if he touched, he didn't think he could stop. Duck got Dan's shirt off and shrugged out of his own, and suddenly Dan was down to getting Duck out of his pants or getting into the bed, and froze in indecision.

Duck took over this time, warm hands on his bare arms pushing him onto the bed, following him down. Duck held himself over Dan and kissed him, and Dan let himself relax into it, the novelty of all of this, bare skin and lying down and being able to see, for God's sake. Duck raised his head and looked into Dan's eyes as his hand moved lower, covering Dan's erection. Dan pressed up, arching into the touch, his head sinking into the pillows. He had to close his eyes under Duck's gaze, and Duck's hand began to move, flicking open the button on his jeans, easing down the zipper. He murmured in Dan's ear, "Someday, we are going to do this right."

Dan didn't think there was anything so wrong with the way they were doing it now, but he nodded, inspired to reach for Duck, his hands landing on denim and sliding around to find the bulge of Duck's cock. Duck ground against his hand, and his breath was harsh in Dan's ear, his tongue flicking against Dan's skin. His hand joined Dan's, undoing his own jeans, and he whispered, "Someday we are going to do this slow, and nice, and--" Dan opened his eyes again, struggling out of his jeans and boxers and kicking them off as Duck knelt up and got free of his own. It was weird, wasn't it, that his cock was a more familiar sight than his nipples, or the slight softness of his belly?

Dan reached for him, and Duck moved into his hands, all bare skin and hot, avid gaze, looking down at Dan like he was every bit as gorgeous, every bit as much worth seeing by lamplight. "Someday," Duck said again, settling himself over Dan, finally skin-to-skin. Dan forgot to breathe entirely until Duck's lips brushed the tender skin of his throat, the raw spot just under his jaw, making him gasp. "But for right now, I'll settle for naked."

Dan laughed breathlessly, and it was a small rusty sound, but Duck raised his head and smiled. Dan managed to say "Deal," as he thrust up against Duck's hip, spreading his legs wider to let Duck settle between them. Duck pushed up instead, wrapping his hand around Dan's cock, and Dan had to close his eyes for a second and focus on breathing. Duck's touch was fast and almost rough, familiar enough to bridge the gap between there and here, then and now, rocks and a double bed. Dan raised one hand from clutching the sheets, reaching for Duck. He caught his shoulder, and worked from there to the back of his neck, his hand sliding on sweat-slick skin as he pulled Duck down for another kiss. Duck's tongue traced his lip as Duck's thumb teased his cock, and Dan thrust up into his hand, his breath deserting him as he came.

He did see stars for a second, as Duck's hand slowed and Duck's lips brushed his ear, and then he remembered to breathe. Dan squirmed over onto his side, throwing one leg over Duck's in case he came down with another attack of chivalry, and reached for Duck's cock, sweat-damp and splattered with his own come. Duck made the same soft sound in his ear that he remembered, almost startled, like he didn't expect anybody to give him so much as a fair shake. He shuddered even as Dan closed his hand, and Dan turned his head for another kiss as he stroked Duck in quick brisk motions, spurred on by the tightness of Duck's hand on his hip, the tension he could feel in Duck's thigh under his. Duck didn't last much longer than Dan had, jerking under his hand. Dan watched his face, eyes tightly closed, mouth working soundlessly; he'd seen Duck come before, but he'd never been able to see his face. He forgot to breathe again, entranced, until Duck's escaping breath touched his mouth.

Duck sank back against the pillows, and Dan looked down at his hand, still wrapped around Duck's cock, softening now in his grip. No hasty zip-up this time, no watching for flashlights, no listening for a warning shout. He rubbed his thumb idly against Duck's skin, and Duck shivered. When Dan looked back up at his face, Duck was smiling sleepily. "Think you can get used to this bed thing?"

Dan took his hand away, smiling back sheepishly, and wiped it on his own hip. "Think so," he said, and Duck leaned in and kissed him once more before he reached back and shut off the light.

 


Dan woke up half a dozen times in the night. The first time, Duck was getting back into bed--he muttered, "Had to shut off the lights," and Dan thought muzzily that that probably meant "lock the door," but he only nodded and shifted back to his side of the bed as Duck laid down.

The second time, and the third, and the fourth, he woke up as Duck tossed and turned, and Dan tried to help detangle them, to make sure he was on his side and that the covers were shared properly. The sky was turning grey with morning when he rasped out, "It took me a long time to get used to it."

Duck went abruptly still, a grey shape against the pale sheets. The whole world was a black and white movie. "Used to what?"

"Sharing," Dan murmured, and reached out to pat Duck's arm, though he miscalculated and found himself patting his collarbone instead. "Takes a while."

When he went to take his hand away, Duck caught it and held it where it was, and after that Dan slept undisturbed.

 


When he woke again, color had returned. The red and yellow quilt was pulled up over him, and he was alone in the bed. He couldn't hear Duck anywhere in the house, but after a minute he detected faint thumping noises and footsteps crunching on the gravel drive. Dan flipped the quilt back and got up, taking a moment to catch his breath. He pulled on yesterday's boxers and jeans, draped neatly over the foot of the bed, and a clean t-shirt from his duffel bag, and headed for the front door.

When he stepped out onto the porch, Duck looked up from what he was doing, attaching something to the garden hose. His smile was a little tense, and he nodded toward the garage. "Had visitors last night."

Dan winced, and stepped down onto the walk to see. Sure enough, someone had scrawled FAGS in black spray paint on the garage door. "Huh," Dan said. He searched for some feeling--hadn't he been waiting for this? Wasn't this what he'd been afraid of?--but the only thing twisting his guts this morning was hunger. It was just paint. He glanced toward Duck, raising an eyebrow in question.

Duck's smile was a little easier this time, and he shrugged. "Would've been me, when I was seventeen." He glanced toward the garage door, squinting critically, and added, "Should've used pink. Pink really gets the message across."

Dan snorted, and Duck's smile widened.

"Here," he said, holding up the hose attachment. "Wanna try the power washer?"

Dan took it from him with a nod. The washer had a pistol grip that fit his hand easily, and Duck loosened the coil of the hose. Dan walked gingerly onto the gravel, chose his target, and fired from the hip.