The words spun out in the wind, blowing away down the length of the shore in tiny wisps that John fancied, just for a moment, he could see. “Then I'll stay with you.” John was relieved that it was so simple. “Stay until you get it sorted out. This ghost -- it'll be local, will it? Not one you brought with you?”
“He must be.” Nick got up gingerly, as if afraid of jarring his wrist. As John stood up as well, Nick added, “It's not just him. It won't be. He's the first, which might mean he's stronger; or maybe just that he's more observant.”
“They -- they sort of hunt you then?” John was horrified by the thought of it. He didn't wonder about Nick's restlessness any more, or the endlessly searching look in his eyes. “Track you down? What for? What do they want you to do,
in the name of God? They're dead!”
“I know!” Nick snapped, with a spark that reminded John that the man wasn't beaten down, not entirely, despite the fact that he was holding his hurt arm awkwardly at his side like a broken wing. “Believe me, I know!” He licked his lips in what looked like a nervous habit. “But they don't; not always. It depends on how long they've been dead. At first it's like they don't know what happened, but they usually figure it out eventually.”
“Eventually? So it's just a matter of enduring it until they ... fade away? Nothing you can do to just make them leave you be?” John began to move over to his boat, with Nick falling into step beside him. “I'll need to move it up to anchor it.” He nodded at the rock he used as a mooring point when he left the boat here instead of at the jetty in town. “Then we'll get you home.”
Nick stood there silently as John pulled his boat up and secured it; guaranteed the one time he failed to do so properly the tide would be high and carry the boat out to sea. When he'd finished and straightened up, Nick was watching him.
“You don't have to do this. Any of it. It wouldn't make you a bad person if it was all too weird to deal with. I'd understand.”
“Would you?” John started to walk up the beach, the fine sand dragging at his feet. “Aye, well, I'll remember that, although I can't say I agree with you. But you're forgetting that I felt that damn ghost myself, although I don't suppose it was anything like what you went through, and I want it gone.” He turned his head. “This ghost -- can you describe it? Draw it? Hell, can you take its picture? Because if it's from here -- if it's from the graveyard -- then the odds are it's someone I know, or someone I'm related to.” He shook his head. “God, I hope it's not my grandfather or he'll be trying to drag me off to hell for my wicked ways, so he will, the miserable old bugger.”
There was what sounded like a bit of a smile in Nick's voice. “Your wicked ways?” he repeated, as if the idea amused him. “No, I don't think so. It feels younger. And old -- um, like it's been around a long time. Hundreds of years, maybe. That happens. I don't usually get a lot of detail, though, not about what they look like. This one's a man, I can tell that much. Not a lot more, though.”
“Probably still related,” John said glumly. “Hell, you and I are, did you not know that? And trust me, Granddad wouldn't approve of the way I'd turned out at all.” Just thinking about the man's reaction to having a grandson who was gay made John shudder, even though Charles McClure had been dead a good fifteen years.
“We're related?” Nick stopped briefly.
John turned to him, feeling a flicker of amusement -- and hope -- at Nick's reaction. “Aye. Let me see now ...” He pursed his lips in thought and then nodded. “Your grandmother's cousin was my great uncle. I'm thinking that makes us cousins. About seven times removed, mind you.” He cleared his throat, fighting back a smile because Nick had looked so damn thunderstruck. “Is that a problem for some reason, then?”
“The fact that we're cousins -- very distant cousins, extremely distant cousins -- is probably less a problem than the fact that I --” Nick cut himself off and shook his head. “Sorry. It's too soon.”
John felt a twinge of shame at teasing him, but the idea that there was any barrier at all to him and Nick getting closer was worrying. “If there's anything about me -- about what I am -- that's making you wish we'd not met, I'd be grateful if you'd tell me now.” He was tired of the evasions and hints. “And for all that it's been no more than a day since I first set eyes on you, it's been one hell of a day.” The wind whipped the sharp, thin blades of dune grass across his damp jeans and he shivered, feeling suddenly weary and cold. “You know more about me than all but a handful of people on this island. And I've seen what you are. What you do. We don't have to be friends, we don't have to fuck, but we're not strangers. Not now.”
“I don't know why I came here, if it wasn't to meet you,” Nick searched John's eyes, and took a step in his direction. “Don't get me wrong -- I don't think I believe in fate, or some bigger meaning. Well, okay, I believe that there's more to life than we're born and we die, but I really would be crazy if I didn't, considering ...” John felt his lips twitch in a tentative smile. “But if we're going to be friends ... and I think we are ... I don't want to be the kind of friend that makes your life harder instead of easier. So, from where I'm standing, the problem ...” And Nick stepped closer still, although not, John noted, so close that anyone watching might have suspected anything, “The problem is that I'm wondering what you might look like without your clothes on. And I don't know how long I'll be happy just wondering. And none of it's a problem for me unless it's a problem for you, and I'm thinking it might be.”
“God.” John's body reacted to Nick's words with an immediacy that left him breathless. Nick seemed able to get a response from him with just his words that other men would have needed to have been naked, hands and mouth busy, to achieve. “You --” He shook his head, caught between arousal and the caution that, after all these years, was ingrained. He wished, quite desperately, that they'd met anywhere but here. He couldn't imagine Nick as a casual pickup in a pub, drifting out of his life a bare few hours after they'd met No. That wouldn't be enough for John when it came to Nick -- but at least off this island they'd have a chance at something. “Don't think that.” The wind took his words as he spoke them. “That I don't want you, because I do. Have done since I saw you. I just -- I've never -- not here. Not on the island.”
He moved closer, because he couldn't help it, could he? He couldn't keep away from him, couldn't keep his hands off him. Nick's face was warm against the curve of John's hand but he didn't move, holding himself still, waiting. “And it was never easy, but I managed. Now --” John brought his other hand up, pushing a lock of dark hair back off Nick's forehead and feeling everything shift with that single, gentle touch, doubts and fears falling away. They'd return; he wasn't so lost in this sudden yearning as to think that they wouldn't, but for now he was free of them. “Now I just -- I can't do it. God, Nick --”
He could see Nick swallow and glance down uncertainly. “Not here. Not yet. I can't; I need you to see, first. What it's really like with me, because if you don't believe that it's real, if there's even some little part of you that thinks I'm just crazy or deluded or making it all up, then I can't.”
Jane Davitt & Alexa Snow