Dwayne can't sleep.
It's almost three in the morning, and still he is lying on his small bed, thinking about the cot that stands maybe three feet away. It is the cot that Frank occupies, his uncle Frank, whom he's closer to than anyone else in his family—and it is empty.
The thing is, Dwayne has gotten so used to listening to Frank's quiet, even breathing at night that he's now helpless to drift off without it.
He clenches his fists and lets his breath hiss from between his teeth. His hair falls out of his face, and he closes his eyes and breathes. He can go to sleep by himself. He just isn't used to being alone, and the irony doesn't escape him, after all he's the boy who spent months without voicing a word to anyone. He's alright with solitude.
Except there's a difference between solitude and lying awake because you need to listen to your uncle's steady respiration as he sleeps.
This bothers him.
He counts his breaths since he can't count Frank's, and he lies in the dark for what might be minutes, might be hours, and might even be all night for what it seems. He rolls on his side and opens his eyes to see Frank sitting on the cot, massaging his eyes with his fingertips and looking almost comically rumpled in his white cotton pajama top.
"Frank?" says Dwayne, and his voice is hoarse with sleepiness.
"Dwayne," his uncle answers, and his hands fall from his face to his lap. His eyes are large and sleepless, but filled with usual good humor all the same. Dwayne is stricken again by his rumpledness, and he thinks amusedly that Frank looks like a puppy when he's tired.
"Where you been?"
"Just out. You're too quiet when you sleep." he says seriously, and Dwayne smiles.
"I didn't sleep," he says, and Frank grins because he didn't either.
"Good thing for us it's summer, I guess. No school for you, no teaching for me."
Then a comfortable silence comes, and Frank checks his alarm clock and shuts it off. He gets up and sits again on the edge of Dwayne's single bed this time, and Dwayne feels a strong hand on his shoulder. He's not uneasy or bothered now that Frank's here, but he feels like going to sleep now. He nestles into his pillow and looks at Frank, and Frank looks back.
Dwayne decides that at night, it doesn't seem so bad. It seems like love, and that's all. No big deal. No big deal at all, it's just in the way that Frank looks back at him sometimes. The way being around him meant feeling safe, the way that Frank wasn't the fragile piece of work that the family seemed to think sometimes. He's got the scars to prove it, and Dwayne's eyes linger for a minute on the thick, twisted scars that Frank bears on his wrist.
"You okay?" Frank asks him, and he realizes that Frank must have caught a little of it. It was in his face, maybe. Dwayne thought he was okay at hiding things, he had to be, but when it's four in the morning and you haven't slept at all and the fingers dancing across your shoulder belong to the person you're never supposed to love—you might let your guard down a little.
He doesn't answer, and Frank doesn't press it. Dwayne is grateful for that. Frank is cool about things, like when he found out Dwayne quit talking because of Nietzsche and flight school, all he had to say was Far out. Open-minded, he guesses you could call Frank.
Open-minded—, he realizes, and he hitches his breath a little.
Frank stops the gentle motion of his hand, but lets it rest still on Dwayne's shoulder. "You really okay?" He looks concerned now, and he turns slightly so that they can see each other's faces properly. No use pretending it's all good now. It's either the truth or part of it, and he still isn't sure which is going to come out.
Dwayne braces himself and plunges into the first question, the easy one.
"How did you find out you were… you were gay?" he says rapidly, spitting it out hard.
Frank seems taken aback. "Just… ah, the way anyone else finds love, I guess. Except for me, it was with another boy."
Dwayne thinks of his seven-year-old sister at the dinner table—"You fell in love with a boy? That's silly."
Uncle Frank agrees. Yes, it was very silly.
He reaches clumsily for Frank's hand, and now Frank is holding his, his thumb is gently tracing the veins in Dwayne's hand, and it's almost too much. Dwayne squeezes Frank's hand and says nothing. He guesses that Frank has deduced enough without words, and he's not wrong.
"It's okay," Frank says quietly, "it's not the end of the world. Don't be scared."
"Nothing is okay," says Dwayne, and his voice is husky and rough.
"Sure it is. Or it will be."
There is silence again, and Dwayne is acutely aware when Frank wraps his other arm around his waist and hugs him tight for a second. Then he releases him, and he asks, "Is there someone?"
Dwayne averts his eyes now, and he nods slowly, feeling like his head is waterlogged, it's so heavy.
"Are they…?" Frank asks.
"Yeah." He has to blink a few times, and oh god is he going to cry in front of Frank? It wouldn't be the first time… but he doesn't want to cry now. He doesn't want to guilt him. "Yeah… but it doesn't matter anyway. It can't ever happen."
"Can I ask why?"
Dwayne chuckles, but it is completely without laughter. "You'd think it was pretty disgusting."
Frank says nothing but waits, and he isn't holding Dwayne's hand anymore, and that makes it a little better.
"They're a relative." Dwayne says finally, and he looks at the wall steadfastly. No going back. Not ever, not now.
Frank tenses suddenly. Dwayne feels his body stiffen where they are touching, and he is not surprised, but resigned.
"I don't think we have a lot of gay men in this family, do we?" Frank says, and his voice sounds calm but he's shaking a little. "Me, and you, that makes two."
Dwayne begins apologizing over and over and he sits up, careful not to touch Frank, and moves to stand but Frank stops him. He takes hold of Dwayne's smaller arm firmly, and he pulls him back to the bed. He refuses to meet Frank's eyes, and he inhales sharply when Frank throws caution to the winds and entwines one of Dwayne's smaller hands in both of his large ones. Dwayne is shaking. They have been this close many times, but there's something different now, a new dynamic, and Dwayne sobs a little, angry and harsh toward whatever entity has taken the liberty to fuck up lives, fuck up families, and fuck up people this way.
"Sh, hey, I told you it was going to be okay, didn't I?" Frank tentatively begins stroking and exploring the smooth white skin of Dwayne's unmarred wrist with unsteady fingers.
"I know, but it's not," Dwayne wants to scream this, scream it at the top of his voice, but there couldn't possibly be a worse situation to wake the rest of his family over. "It's not okay, it's wrong, I don't know why I even told you…" his voice cracks and his eyes are hot and threatening to spill over and he reaches up to wipe the tears away, but Frank gets there first and strokes them away with his fingertips.
"It's okay," Frank repeats. "It's gonna be okay, just believe me, please… please…"
And Dwayne lets himself be pulled into Frank's arms, and Frank holds him and repeats this mantra—it's okay—that Dwayne can't take faith in. The harsh sobs slowly taper off over time as the dark clouds become pink sunrise.
When the light spills into their room Dwayne is still in Frank's arms, his eyes tired and red; Frank is stroking his hair, and by the time the rest of the Hoover family slowly stirs awake and begins rustling around in the kitchen and rec room, Frank and Dwayne have fallen asleep this way, dreaming unsettled dreams and letting themselves be comforted anyway.
And for now, it's okay.
a/n: When I started this, all I had was the first three sentences and I had no clue where I wanted to go. Also there's the fact that I wrote it between 1 and 3 in the morning. So I'm not really sure whether I like it, or if the present tense suits it (it's the first story I wrote in present tense), or any of that crap. Let me know your thoughts?