Still Okay


                Even though it was warm and stuffy there and he really needed a tissue, Sinclair stayed beneath the covers. There wasn’t anything seriously wrong with him that some extra sleep couldn’t cure. He didn’t need anyone looking at his chapped nose and bloodshot eyes. And he definitely didn’t need anyone prodding or poking or fussing. “It’s just a cold!” He tried to project through the layers of blankets, but from the sound of the voices still in his bedroom, he guessed he hadn’t succeeded.


                “He’s worse than Pit when he’s sick.”


                “Oh, Olly. You’re just being dramatic. He couldn’t possibly be worse.”


                “That’s because you bring him food, Auntie. He likes you. I, however, make him sit up for medicine and try to take his temperature. He nearly bit my hand off when I tried to look at his throat. I was just trying to help.”


                Sin cleared his throat and spoke louder. “You’re not my mom, and I don’t need help!”


                There was a sigh, and from under the blankets Sin couldn’t tell which of the two men it had belonged to. But he also heard footsteps. Great. Just great. Someone else come to fuss over him. “How’s the patient?”


                Olly answered, “Not remotely patient. And I can’t tell if he’s any better if he stays under there. I’ve had it! Mr. Sinclair is your problem now.”


                Things dropped onto the nightstand then two sets of footsteps left the room. The bed sagged and Jamie’s hand patted the top of his head through the blanket. “Hey there, kid. Thought you were a goalie, not an enforcer. What are you doing  driving people away?”


                Sin started to reply, but a strong sneeze seized him. With one hand cupped over his nose and mouth, the other ventured out from under the covers in search of the tissue box. He felt a couple bottles—maybe medicine, maybe water or Gatorade—but eventually he located the tissues. But as he pulled a couple out of the box, he found the blankets being folded down. Sin tried retreating under them further, but they were just pulled away again, and he really did need to blow his nose. So he curled away, trying to hide himself as best he could, as he blew. Then he cleared his throat again before replying. “I don’t like people seeing me when I look like this.”


                “We’ve seen you looking worse, remember?” How could Sin forget? Last year his father had beat the shit out of him. He’d been half dead when the guys had taken him in, but he hadn’t had a choice back then about letting them in, letting them see him at his most vulnerable. He hadn’t had anywhere else to go. But head colds weren’t exactly life-threatening. He didn’t need the attention. “Hey, I talk to you for a minute?”


                “You already are,” Sin replied, not turning back, not even looking at his former coach. He didn’t want to see some look of pity or sympathy.


                “I mean, can we have a conversation? Man to man?”


                Sin sighed and rolled from his side to his back. “If we have to. Might as well. I’ve already missed half the episode.” He gestured to the television on top of the dresser across from his bed.


                Jamie looked over at the television and narrowed his eyes. “You’re watching a fashion show?”


                “Sucks to be sick when there’s nothing on TV.” He grabbed the remote from under his pillow and started flipping through channels.


                “If you were a little nicer to Olly, he’d let you borrow his movies.”


                Sin tried to ignore the comment, tried to concentrate on the television channels scrolling past. He stopped briefly on the Food Network. “Don’t you find it depressing that the naked chef isn’t actually naked?”


                Jamie chuckled. “Sure is cute, anyway.”


                Sin nodded in agreement but when he spoke, there was still attitude in his voice. “Why aren’t there guys that cute around here? I swear, the last handful of guys I met at Strokes…”


                Covering his ears, Jamie started humming. “I don’t want to hear details!” he sang through laughter. Sin smiled back. “So, how’re you feeling, kid?”


                Sin groaned, which made him cough. “Why does everyone keep asking me that?” Immediately, he grabbed a tissue out of the box and held it to his nose to catch another sneeze. Then he balled up the tissue and tossed it onto the bed.


                “Because…” Jamie delicately picked up the discarded tissue by one very dry and unused corner and then he tossed it into the trashcan someone had apparently dragged over to Sin’s bedside. “You’re sick.”


                Another groan. “Quit reminding me. I don’t want to talk about it.”


                “That’s obvious,” Jamie said. “But we only ask because we care.”


                “Yeah… well…” He flipped through more channels and coldly avoided Jamie’s gaze. “If you all really cared, you’d leave me alone.”


                Jamie sighed and stood up. “All right then.”


                Sin sat up at once. “Wait, you’re going?”


                “Ah…” Jamie swayed in place, in mid-step. “Yes. How silly of me for thinking that ‘leave me alone’ meant ‘leave me alone.’” He sat back down. “It’s only fair to tell you, they’re talking about you downstairs. And they’re not using especially kind words, either.”


                Sin shrugged again, in a way that showed he was pretending not to care. He rubbed at his nose, trying to rub away the tickles of the next sneeze he felt.


                Apparently deciding that Sin should be rubbing his nose with a tissue and not the back and then the front of his hand, Jamie picked up the tissue box and set it in Sin’s lap. Sin wrinkled his nose at it a moment, trying to deny he really needed it. Jamie pulled out a tissue and held it up unfalteringly, watching Sin’s hand rubbing and cheeks flushing. With an enormous sniffle, Sin finally broke down and snatched it up.


                “You know, you’re being an asshole to everyone.”


                Sin nodded. “I know. I just don’t like being sick.”


                “Who does?”


                “Yeah, but I really don’t like it. And I don’t like being smothered…” He sniffed. “But…”


                “But you wouldn’t mind a bit of company?”


                “Just don’t talk about my sneezing? Please?”


                “On my honor, hope to die, catch a hockey puck in my eye.” He moved over on the bed to sit next to Sin and patted the younger man’s leg through the blanket. Sin stopped channel surfing, keeping it on the LOGO channel and a program about gay politicians. Cute gay politicians. He grinned up at Jamie and reached for another tissue for his nose.




                The next day, Sin felt good enough to go to his classes. At least, that’s what he told the household. The truth was, it felt good to get out from under the smothering, overprotective watch of all the guys for a while. He had a mid-day lab and two lectures in the afternoon. By the time he was done with all three, he was regretting even getting out of his bed.


                Trying to be responsible, he stopped in on his professors for the classes he’d missed the day before, and one look at him convinced them he’d had a damn good reason for being absent. One of them even gave him a tissue box off her desk after she’d repeatedly told him to help himself to it. He’d been reluctant to blow his nose until he got out in the hallway afterward and had been sure no one was around to see him.


                He took it with him to the student center, feeling like an idiot with it tucked under his arm. Of course, he was a tough idiot who could beat anyone up if they said anything about it. But he was also an idiot who was incredibly glad to have something to sneeze into other than his sleeve. The first floor of the student center was busy and crowded, but he found a free, lone, cushy chair on the second floor. He sunk down into it and set his backpack on the floor by his feet. There wasn’t an electrical outlet anywhere around, so he had to use the laptop on battery power, but Sweetie had just bought him a new battery which would last him for a couple hour. Sin hoped that would be long enough.


                He squeezed the tissue box beside him in the chair and set the computer on his lap. It detected the wireless network and his subscription, and in a minute he was checking his e-mail. He sneezed as inconspicuously as possible for someone with a bad head cold. “hehhh-H’Shooo!” And a pocket full of used-up tissues.


                “Bless you.”


                Sin refrained from snapping at whoever had blessed him. He did, however, glare menacingly as he muttered a thank you. The woman passing by paused as she sized him up, then she smiled sympathetically at him. Sin groaned inwardly. All he needed was someone falling all over him, flirting and trying to be helpful. She got the message, thanks to the look he gave her, and let him be.


                He wasn’t exactly better off, though. He kept trying to work on the paper he had due next week. Even with the notes one of his professors had given him for the last class, he couldn’t make much progress. Writing just didn’t seem to want to jump out of him. The fact that he had to stop every few minutes to sneeze didn’t help, either. “h’Shooo! HAHShooo! Huh… hahhChoo!


                “Bless you.”


                This time, Sin groaned out loud. He looked up, ready to hurl an insult, and froze. “Ducky?” He was used to seeing Ducky in jeans and with Chinese take-out in his hand. But this time he was standing over Sin now in slacks, a yellow dress shirt, and a navy blue tie. There was concern in his dark eyes and his black hair was combed and parted in perfection. He had a thick hardback textbook in one hand and a Styrofoam cup in the other.


                “Hey, Sin. Just stopping in for a coffee.” He nodded towards the cup. “You doing some work?”


                Sin nodded. “Trying. But… shit… h’Shoo! HahhChoo!


                “But you’ve got a cold, huh?”


                Sin nodded again, but he couldn’t resist throwing a bit of sarcasm out. “How’d you guess?”


                Chuckling lightly, “There’s always something going around this time of year. No one’s immune. Well, that and the sneezing sort of tipped me off. But you don’t sound too bad.”


                It was nice of Ducky to say, even it if happened to be a boldfaced lie. Sin plucked another tissue from the box and blew his nose into it as softly as he could. “That’s not much of a consolation, I’ve gotta say. ‘Cause I feel like I’ve been run into. Repeatedly. By a three hundred pound tough guy defensemen.”


                Ducky readjusted himself, standing casually with an arm over his chest and book tucked under his arm. “So what are you doing here? Go home, man!” he laughed.


                “Love to,” Sin replied. “But I parked in the Stokes commuter lot and took the shuttle in today. The next one’s not leaving until six-thirty. I have to wait another hour and a half before I can head… home… wait… sorry—” He sneezed once into the back of his hand then wound up for another sneeze. A third hung on the verge for a moment, but he scrubbed his wrist and then his cuff against his nose to rub it away.


                Ducky looked on reassuringly. “Come on,” he said. “Get up.”


                Sin shook his head. “I’b okay, really.” He knew he didn’t sound very convincing as he pulled a tissue out of the box and blew his nose.


                Shaking his head, “No, I mean get up, I’m taking you home.” Sin looked up, stunned. “I drove in today. I was going to stay at work another few hours and grade tests, but I can do that at home. I’d be happy to drive you home now so you don’t have to wait. After all, I know where you live. So pack up and come with me.”


                “You’re sure you don’t mind?” Sin sniffed and looked up warily. The last thing he needed was another guy fussing over him. But Ducky looked so kind. And he did feel like crap and want to go home.


                Ducky rolled his eyes and tucked his book under his arm. He pushed down the top of Sin’s laptop and put his hand on Sin’s shoulder. “Let’s go.” It didn’t take any more convincing for Sin to grab his bag and the tissue box and fall into step beside Ducky.


                Ducky had to stop by his office before leaving campus, but Sin did not mind a quick detour. Ducky’s office wasn’t quite what Sin had been expecting. The walls were beige but covered in pictures of faraway places like Hong Kong, Sydney, and Tibet. The handwritten border around the top seemed to be pi listed out to the first few hundred places. There were three filing cabinets and one computer with an enormous flat screen monitor. The office was nice and sensible, but he’d expected something a little more fun out of Ducky.


                Sin stood in the corner and blew his nose as quietly as possible while Ducky collected the aforementioned papers and his briefcase. He shut down his computer and locked his office on the way out.


                They walked to Ducky’s car, a silver Honda Civic, which started up as they approached. “Sweet remote start,” Sin said.


                “It makes deliveries a lot easier,” Ducky said with a nod. “Hop in and buckle up.” He got in and cranked up the heat. By the time they’d backed out of the parking spot, it had started to warm up, and Sin found he was feeling comfortably sleepy.


                At this time of day, with beltway traffic, it took just under an hour to get home. Sin was slightly embarrassed when he nodded off for half of that time, but Ducky wouldn’t accept any apology. “Give me a break. You’re welcome to sleep as much as you want.” He reached over and patted Sin’s leg. “I’ll wake you when we get there.”


                But Sin didn’t manage to get back to sleep. Instead, he sneezed his way through a dozen tissues. After all the sneezing and sniffling and blowing his nose, it was miraculous that Ducky heard his stomach rumble with hunger.


                “Are you eating well?” Ducky asked with concern.  “I could call in an order and stop by my parent’s restaurant on the way home. You want some dumplings?”


                Sin grinned, so flattered that Ducky remembered what he liked that he didn’t even mind this little bit of fussing. Besides, there was no denying that he was hungry. “Do really you need to ask?” Ducky laughed and placed the call.


                It was another ten minutes before they left the beltway and turned onto the main road leading into Stokes. And then it was another five before they arrived at the restaurant. Sin dug into his pocket and, around the tissues, produced his wallet.


                “No, it’s my treat.”


                Sin shook his head. As completely stupid as it sounded, he got an allowance from the guys and had the money to chip in for half at least. He thrust a ten dollar bill at Ducky insistently. He could pay for his own food and wanted to make that perfectly clear.


                Ducky still refused it, slipping out of the car, though leaving the keys in the ignition and the heater on for Gary’s sake. At first it didn’t seem necessary. But when Ducky was gone for more than ten minutes, Sin was glad for the warmth. He wasn’t feeling too sneezy, but his nose was running fairly badly. He ended up just holding a few tissues to his nose and closing his eyes, wondering if he could fall back to sleep. When he saw Ducky heading out with a bag in one hand, however, he quickly blew his nose and dropped his hands into his lap.


                “Got tied up in there, sorry. Had to tell my mother I was bringing food to a date in order to escape,” he said, rolling his eyes.


                Sin nodded and took the bag, setting it on the floor between his sneakers. He’d forgotten that Ducky was still completely in his closet to his family. “Sorry, should I have ducked that whole time?”


                “You mean you didn’t?” Ducky asked, alarmed. “You just sat there so they could see you if they looked out the window?”


                Sin gave a start, his heart racing. “I—”


                “Calm down,” Ducky said, with a laugh. “I’m just joking with you. It’s fine.”


                Sin coughed. “Not a nice thing to do to a sick guy.” He coughed again. “You nearly gave me a heart attack!” Then he stopped talking for a little while just to cough. He tried to stop, but he was out of cough drops and there was nowhere to hide in this car.


                “I’m surprised you made it through classes, sounding like that.”


                 “Me, too. I made it through geology lab all right, since there’s lots of noise. But the lectures were… harder. Here I go… again… sorry…” He tensed up and pulled back in his seat, taking several deep breaths. Then he pitched forward with a fresh set of sneezes.


                “Bless you.”


                Sin smiled at the warmth he heard in Ducky’s voice. “Sniff! Thanks, Man. Sniff! I took some medicine when I got up this morning. Eight hour stuff. But it wore off way too soon.”


                “Cold medicine hardly ever works for me,” said Ducky, making a turn. “It either does nothing or it makes me so sleepy I can’t even get out of bed. Of course, with my course load and teaching, I’m so tired most of the time there isn’t much that can keep me awake.”


                Sin feigned worry. “Do you need to sniff stop somewhere and get some coffee, or can you make it to the mansion without snoring?”


                “Thanks for the vote of confidence, funny man.”


                “Hey,” Sin said, shrugging. “I’m sick. I’ve got to keep my spirits up somehow.”


                “Well, hopefully my being here isn’t making you too unhappy.” Ducky took a left turn, heading up the road to the house.


                “Are you kidding?” Sin asked with a laugh. “Sniff! Driving me home, buying me dinner? You’re a… life saver.”


                Ducky knew the current gate code, which was a good thing since Sin’s sneezes had decided just then to return in full force. He kept his nose and mouth buried in several bunched-up tissues, trying to quiet the sound. Ducky drove up to the front door and waited there wordlessly until Sin was fit to collect himself and get out of the car.


                Sin blew his nose then looked over at Ducky. “I’m so sorry. I sound awful.”


                “You do,” Ducky agreed. “But it’s nothing I haven’t heard before. Are you going to be all right?”


                Sin nodded. “Guess so. It’s just a head cold. Nothing I haven’t had before.” He grabbed his bag, box of tissues, and the Chinese food. Then he climbed out of the car and looked back at the seat to be sure he hadn’t left any embarrassing balled-up tissues behind. “Thanks again,” he said, giving a wave. He sniffled and straightened up, rubbing his hand against his nose.


                He took a few steps towards the door, and then he paused. An idea had just occurred to him, washing over him like a wave and making him turn back and pull the passenger door open. He bent over and spoke. “Hey, Ducky? I don’t think I’ll be able to eat all this food by myself. Do you want to join me?”


                “Absolutely,” Ducky replied in a split second, not needing to even think it over.


                Sin grinned again. It was strange, this sudden reaction, but stranger yet was that Sin had actually expected it. Not to mention the fact that he was happy about it. Maybe Jamie had been right; maybe he really had wanted company this whole time. “Pull into the garage,” Sin said, pointing to the garage that was ahead of them and wasn’t often used. “I’ll open it from the inside and meet you there.” After the garage, they popped into the otherwise empty kitchen. There was homemade pizza baking in the oven, which had another ten minutes left on the timer but the kitchen was empty.


                Except for them and for Toby who came bursting through the door and bounding over to them. “Sorry, boy. I’ve got nothing for you.” Sin rubbed the retriever’s head, its ears flopping, tongue hanging out happily. “Go find your Auntie.” Auntie Al frequently carried dog treats in his pocket, so Toby frequently followed Auntie Al around. When Trip or Nick were home, however, the dog was always attached to their sides.


                Sin washed his hands thoroughly then got out two plates and silverware. Ducky raided the fridge. He liberated a bottle of fruit juice for Sin and a bottle of hard lemonade for himself. He grabbed some water while he was at it.


                A few minutes later, they were walking up the living room stairs and heading to Sin’s bedroom. Sin hesitated to open the door, and winced when he finally did. “Embarrassing. Sorry. It looks like the bedroom of a sick person.”


                “Imagine that,” Ducky laughed. He patted Sin on the back and followed Sin inside.


                Whatever else it looked like, at least the bedroom looked homey and lived-in. There were as many mounds of pillows as mounds of used tissues. Though it was light enough, with the curtains pinned back and shades up, Sin turned on the lamps to get a little more.


                Ducky took the food and plates from him and set them on the dresser. “I’ll make some room on the bed. You get changed.” Sin started to protest, to tell Ducky he didn’t need to tidy up for him. But Ducky had already grabbed a few clean tissues and was using them to shovel balled-up ones off the bed into the trashcans.


                Sin stood there, coughing for a few moments. “Changed?” He headed over to his bedside and immediately popped a cold pill out of the box and blister pack. He downed it with the last gulp of water in the glass on the nightstand. He hoped that would at least cut down on the more embarrassing sneezes. Then he remembered his confusion over what Ducky had said and looked over at the man.


                Ducky shrugged. “When I’m sick, I don’t get into my bed fully clothed. I thought you’d be more comfortable in your pajamas. I, ah… can leave the room if you want.”


                Sin was used to changing in front of guys in the locker room, but this was different. This was his bedroom, and he didn’t get this warm, fluttery feeling in him when he thought about his teammates. So he considered the situation. Either Ducky had said it because he didn’t have feelings for him, in which case it didn’t matter if he got changed right then and there, or Ducky had said it because he wanted to see Sin strip down, in which case Sin could easily do a little something for him. Alternatively, Sin could gather up his things and dart over to the bathroom, but Ducky was still going to see him walking back and climbing into bed anyway. Making up his mind, Sin set his bag down on the floor by the dresser. He shrugged off his jacket and took Ducky’s trench coat from him, hanging those both up on the hooks by the door. Then he headed to his closet. He traded his shirt for a thick, dark green, hooded sweatshirt. He pulled off his khakis, leaving himself in yellow boxers. He quickly slid under the covers and dove for his trusty Kleenex box just as another sneeze struck, taking advantage of the fact that the cold medicine hadn’t had a chance to kick in yet. Sin snuffled into the tissues and saw Ducky staring at him. “Not so attractive, I know …”


                “Just so long as you don’t sneeze on my food, I don’t care,” said Ducky. Sin made a promise.


                Ducky sat down on the edge of the bed with the dishes and food. Along with Sin’s dumplings, there was a carton of chicken fried rice, a container of General Tso’s and white rice, and a small bowl of egg drop soup. Ducky insisted Sin have the soup first, before it got cold. “So,” he said, swinging his legs up and sitting Indian-style across from Sin at the end of the bed,  on top of the covers, “are you taking any math this semester?”


                Sin nodded, slurping down the soup with only slightly-soft wontons. Ducky had been right; it was a good choice to start with, feeling warm and soothing against his sore throat. “Finite Math for Social and Management Sciences.”


                “Math 51?” Sin nodded again. Kindly, Ducky did not mention the obvious, that out of two possible courses for that track, it was the course students picked when they were slightly poorer at math. Of course, you still had to get about a 600 on your SAT II to get into the course, so it wasn’t for complete idiots. But it wasn’t as complex as the calculus course he could have been taking. Ducky helped himself to several heaping spoonfuls of the fried rice and the chicken. “Who’s your professor?”


                “All—cough, cough, cough! Sniff! Cough!




                Sin nodded again, kind of impressed that Ducky had been able to figure that one out.


                “You lucked out, then. She’s nice. Rice?” he rhymed. Ducky barely waited for a nod before shoveling some fried rice onto Sin’s plate as he took a little more for himself. “What other classes are you taking this semester? Mostly core classes, I presume?”


                Sin sighed, tilting his head back and counting on his hand.


                 “Environmental Geology, which is kind of a cop-out but I actually like it. Then there’s Principles of Economics, which is all right. Sniff! Sniff!  Organizational Behavior, which is my favorite, and writing, UW 20. Oh, and I have to take this first year development course.” Coughing, Sin took a drink then turned to the side to blow his nose.


                “Do you like your  business major so far?” Ducky asked.


                Sin shrugged. “It’s okay. Business Admin’s just something to do because I have to do something. Sniff, sniff, SNIFF!” Quickly, before any comment could be made about his sniffling, he asked, “What’re you taking this semester?”


                Ducky smiled. “Are you sure you want to know?” Sin was sure. And he wanted some time to take care of his nose and eat. So Ducky took the reins. “I’m doing my thesis in graph theory, but this semester I’m taking Numerical Analysis. I’m also taking Topics in Combinatorial Mathematics, because I enjoy combinatorics and I need a heavy fractional graph theory component. So that one’s my fun class.” He ignored Sin’s deer-in-headlights look and kept going. “What’s really interesting is that it’s one of those classes we’re allowed to take multiple times for credit, with permission, since it changes topics every semester. So several of my classmates are repeats and bring some very intriguing insights.”


                “Interesting…” Sin said, nodding automatically. “Right…”


                “I’m walking the line right now between pure mathematics and applied mathematics. I’m going to have to make the big decision to go toward one or the other this semester.” Sin just stared at him. Ducky chuckled. “Hey, you asked, remember?”


                “So I did,” said Sin, setting the empty soup container aside and picking up the container of dumplings that looked so good he was practically drooling over them. “And now could you please explain all that to me in English?”


                Ducky laughed, but did his best to explain the fundamentals of graph theory to him. He started out with an example, a map of rivers and bridges in a town and different ways of expressing routes to go from one place to another via the bridges. Then he went into algorithms of shortest path possible, paths where you started and ended up on the same side of a river, and paths where you cross every bridge only once. He started to go further than that, but Sin started to look dazed, so he stopped.


                In reality, Sin was following fine; Ducky was a great teacher. Sin really just needed to sneeze again. “hahh-Ahschhh! ahhhShooo! huhhChoo! Snuff! Oh…” Sin turned away and blew his nose again, not understanding why Ducky was still here given how bad Sin sounded right now. As Sin wiped his nose dry, he eyed his last dumpling. When his hands were free, he stabbed it mercilessly with his fork. “I think your thesis should be how to explain graph theory to someone who’s only in Math 51.”


                “Maybe so,” Ducky laughed again. He set aside his empty plate, at last. They could claim that it was the talking, or maybe Sin’s sneezing, that had made them eat at a pace that was slower than normal. However, at least Sin was certain about it from his side, they were eating slowly to make the dinner last longer.


                As Sin swallowed his last bite of dumpling, he felt a little sad that it was over already. And not just because the dumplings had been as marvelous, as expected. Ducky broke out the fortune cookies. He let Sin choose one, and then he ripped the remaining one open. They both read as they ate the cookies.


                “You know what I love about your family’s restaurant?” Sin asked.


                A sly smile crept onto Ducky’s face. “Let me guess… the dumplings?”


                 “Okay, besides those, I mean. It’s the fact that you all have real fortunes in your cookies, not just little bits of wisdom like most do nowadays. Sniff! Mine says: You will find happiness in the unexpected.” He was pleased with it. “What’s yours?”


                “A longtime wish will be fulfilled if your heart is open and mind is willing.


                “Whoa. That’s a really good one.”


                “And they both work well with ‘in bed’,” said Ducky, referring to the practice of adding that phrase to the end of fortunes to make them sound dirty. It was strange to mention since they were both already in bed… or at least on a bed… at the moment.


                Sin looked around at the containers and dishes. “I guess I should clean up…”


                Ducky nodded. “I should probably go…”


                Sin picked up his plate then paused pensively. “Unless… do you want some dessert? There’s ice cream.”


                “Yes please,” Ducky said, a split-second later. Then he lowered his head a little, apparently embarrassed about how fast he had answered. Sin couldn’t have been more pleased, though, and that warm, excited feeling washed back over him.


                “I know where there’s some rocky road hidden,” Sin said, scrambling to gather up the plates and the little bit of food they hadn’t managed to polish off. He carried everything down the hall to find the room at the top of the stairs deserted. He dumped the dishes in the sink and grabbed two clean bowls and spoons from the cupboard. Then he dug the carton out of the very back of the freezer. There was just enough for them to split, so he divided it between the bowls.


                Sin heard a noise and turned, not wanting to be caught raiding the freezer. But the sound must have come from downstairs, because no one was there. Just the empty room and the mini kitchen and Sweetie’s latest project. Sweetie was just starting a new monstrosity made of LEGO bricks which didn’t look like much of anything yet other than a large mound of black and grey blocks on the table.


                He managed to make it back to his bedroom before he sneezed again. Into his shoulder. “I kept my promise and didn’t sneeze on the ice cream,” he stretched his arms out in front of him to get the bowls as far away from himself as he could. “Sniff!” In the process, his eyes fell on the floor, and widened as he noticed where many of his things suddenly weren’t. He looked over at Ducky, who had several of Sin’s shirts in hand. It took Sin a second for it to register. “Oh my God,” he said. “You’re either looking for my porn stash or you’re a neat freak. Both are pretty creepy, but which is it? Come on, fess up.”


                Ducky laughed and draped the shirts over the back of Sin’s desk chair. “Neither, honestly. I just thought I’d tidy up for you while I was waiting.” He sat back down on the bed. “You should see my apartment. It’s messier than this.” He suddenly looked startled at his words.


                Sin gave him a few moments in which to take back the offer. When the man did not, Sin jumped. “I’d like to see it sometime.”


                “I’d like you to,” Ducky answered, though the look in his eye betrayed the fact that he seemed a little surprised at himself. He quickly took a bowl of ice cream and shoveled a spoonful into his mouth.


                Sin sat back against his pillows again, smiling.


                “So…” Ducky said, softly. “I couldn’t help but notice the way you talked about your major. You know, there’s no shame in changing majors if you decide that one’s not for you. I started out in computers and decided I liked the math part best and switched.”


                “The problem is, I wouldn’t know what to change to,” he said. “Lots of hockey players end up running their own businesses after they retire from playing. So I’m learning skills that will probably come in handy. But it makes me feel like I’m giving up and skipping straight to the end of my career already.”


                “I see. But you shouldn’t pick a major you’re not really interested in, just because you should. Is there anything you feel passionate about?”


                Sin nodded. “Hockey,” he said with great reverence. “More than anything, I want to play hockey.”


                “Well then that’s what you should do!”


                “Ha!” Sin broke off laughing to cough, and Ducky patted his back until it passed. Sin nodded thanks and turned his head as he blew his nose several times. “It’s what I’d like to do. But I’m not good enough.” At Ducky’s expression, Sin shook his head. “Seriously, I’m not. Sniff! Have you seen Jamie play? I’m not even half as good as him and he’s only in the AHL. It takes a hell of a lot to make it to the professional league…”He trailed off, his nose tickling itself into another sneeze.


                “I haven’t seen him play, actually.” Sin was aghast. “I’m Asian!” Ducky laughed. “We’re not typically into hockey as a people. And I’m gay on top of that. We’re not typically into sports.”


                “Hmm…” Sin mused, moving his spoon around in his ice cream, which was more of a lumpy chocolate soup by now. “But you’re not a typical anything, Ducky.” Typical gay men didn’t go out on dates with girls, for one thing. He reached over and patted Ducky’s thigh. “You’ve got to go to a hockey game. It’s fast and exciting and I can explain anything you don’t pick up. I dare you not to love it.”


                “All right,” said Ducky, jovially. “I’d like to see a game sometime with you.”


                Strangely, Sin did not feel awkward at all as he replied, “It’s a date, then.”


                Sin wolfed down the rest of his ice cream, which had turned completely to soup by now. He noticed Ducky was done, as well. “Good ice cream,” Ducky said. “Thank you.”


                Sin nodded and stacked the empty bowl in his own. He hesitated for a few moments. Then he couldn’t help checking his watch.


                “It’s getting late,” Ducky said quickly. “And I should grade those papers.”


                “I should probably get some sleep,” Sin agreed. He rose from the bed with the dishes to take them back down the hall. But he did not make it more than a few feet away before he turned back around. “Unless… would you like to watch a movie?”


                 “Excellent idea. I’m in,” Ducky reacted in an instant, grinning. “I can get the grading done during office hours tomorrow.”


                “And I’m not feeling tired yet.” Sin grinned again, though a little sheepishly. “I’ll go get something from downstairs. Is there anything in particular you want to see?”


                “You’re the one who’s sick. I think it’s your choice.”


                Nodding, “All right. But I don’t want to come back to a completely clean bedroom.”


                Ducky grinned back and asked, “Could you define ‘completely’?”


                Sin headed down the stairs to the kitchen and loaded the bowls into the dishwasher. The kitchen was empty, which meant everyone had moved on to the entertainment room for the evening. As that was where most of the movies were anyway, Sin headed over there.


                As usual, they were grouped around the television set but not paying it much attention. Sweetie was picking their brains about different theme nights he had planned for Strokes and, as usual, they weren’t approaching the issue with complete seriousness. Sweetie and Jamie were snuggling in the loveseat. Olly was stretched out on the couch with a book he wasn’t reading lying open on his stomach. Pit sat in an armchair, and Nik sat on the floor, leaning back against Pit’s chair. Toby lay on the floor beside Nik, presenting his large belly to be rubbed.


                Sin thought, right up until the second he stood in the doorway, it might actually be a quick in-and-out job. However, a tickle struck just then, announcing his presence to everyone. “HAHHShoo!” He sniffled into his shirt cuff then scrubbed his wrist under his nose.


                “Hey, Sin. I didn’t even know you were home,” said Jamie, looking confused. Instead of asking about why Sin’s car wasn’t in the garage, he jumped right into overprotective mode again. “Are you taking enough medicine? When did you last have some? How about dinner? Have you eaten?”


                “Yeah, Coach.” He sighed and gave his nose one more rub before dropping his arm. For some reason, he did not want to mention Ducky. It was as though the man was his secret for now. At least until he figured out what was going on between them tonight. Hopefully, a certain movie would help with that. “I’ve eaten,” he said. “And I’m taking care of myself all right, thanks. I just came down for a movie.”


                “Help yourself,” said Olly. He was generous to a fault when lending out movies, but always insisted they be returned to their proper locations in perfect condition.


                Sin had one in mind already. Glad that the movies were in alphabetical order, it only took him a few minutes to locate what he wanted. It took him another minute or two to stand back up again afterwards, however as a small fit of coughing struck. He covered his mouth with his fist and tried to hold back, swallowing and holding his breath. But they burst from him anyway, harsh and louder than he wanted. When they were over, he rose slowly, unsteadily, and leaned back against the cabinets, only to suddenly sneeze.


                “Bless you,” said Sweetie, eyeing him.


                “Uh thanks. Sniff!” He rubbed his sleeve under his nose and scratched the side of his nose through the thick sweatshirt.


                He noticed Pit staring at him critically. “I know you’re sick, kid. But do you have to walk around the place in your underwear?”


                Sin blushed. He had forgotten what he was wearing or, rather, what he wasn’t wearing. “Sorry.” He tugged his sweatshirt down, stretching it over his crotch as best he could.


                Pit chuckled. “Don’t sweat it. I’m just playing with you. You want to watch that down here with us?” He nodded towards the movie Sin held.


                Glad the sweatshirt was covering his bits, Sin tried to control the heat rising in him again as he thought about Ducky upstairs in his bedroom. “I think I’d better get back to bed.” He rubbed at his nose then at the back of his neck.


                “You want some company?” Jamie asked.


                Sin shook his head. He already had all the company he wanted already.


                “Well, keep up with that medicine. And try to get some sleep. If we get too loud down here, just give a yell or stomp hard on the floor. All right?”


                “Sure, Coach.” He was sure that, however much noise they made, he wouldn’t notice any of it. He coughed and cleared his throat. “And, just for the record, theme nights can get pretty cheesy if you overdo things. Leave that for the Halloween party.”


                They all said goodnight to him, and he could hear discussions resume, even though it was just about time for Nik to head off to the club, and Sweetie usually joined him there for a little while at least, maybe with Jamie and Olly in tow. With any luck, most of the guys would head off to Strokes and Sin would feel like he and Ducky had the very large house to themselves. He climbed back up the stairs to his bedroom with excitement.


                The fast pace brought a shortness of breath he had not counted on, and he made his triumphant return in a fit of coughs. He doubled over as soon as he was inside, his palms flat on the bed as his body shook his coughs. He tried coughing into his chest so he wouldn’t spread the germs around. Ducky came over anyway and rubbed a hand up and down his back. When the coughing was over, Ducky offered him the box of tissues but did not call any more attention to Sin’s symptoms.


                “So, what movie did you get?” Ducky asked, sitting back down on the bed, this time on the other side, leaning back against the headboard. He folded his hands under his head as if settling in for a while.


                Sin finished blowing his nose one-handedly and held up the DVD. “Latter Days,” he said. “Have you seen it?”


                Ducky looked curiously at it then shook his head.


                “It’s one of my new favorites.” Apart from being a good one thematically for them to watch together, what with the lovely young gay men, it was a comforting movie for Sin. And he definitely wanted a little comfort more than anything right now. “I promise you’ll like it.” He coughed into his shoulder. Then he walked over to the television and popped the disk into the DVD player. “And I’ll try not to cough and sneeze too loudly since you’ve never seen it before.”


                Ducky smiled. “Thanks for the consideration. You haven’t been doing all that much coughing and sneezing lately, I noticed.”


                “That’s the cold medicine,” Sin said, gesturing towards the box of pills still on his nightstand. “But that’ll wear off before it’s supposed to, I’m afraid.”


                “Well then, we’ll just have to pause the movie so neither of us will miss it, won’t we?”


                Sin nodded and climbed back into bed with the remote in hand. He winced slightly as he got settled. The pillows were between him and the headboard, but he could still feel the hard wood at his back and he couldn’t get the pillows to sit right so that he felt comfortable. He was sure all his squirming was getting annoying, so he tried to be happy with what he had. But then his back and neck started hurting even more frustrated.


                “Pause it, please,” Ducky said, even before the opening monologue. When Sin did, Ducky reached over and pulled out a pillow from behind Sin. He punched it and fluffed it, then put it back, horizontally instead of vertically. Then he adjusted another pillow and put a hand on Sin’s back again, guiding him back. “Better?”


                “Much,” sighed Sin. The hand on his back was warm and felt good against his aches.


                “You’re not a complainer, are you?” It was an observation most of the housemates might be inclined to disagree with. “But I bet you wouldn’t say no to a little backrub. I give a great one, I’m told. If you’re feeling sick and achy, it could help a little.”


                Sin’s cheeks flushed slightly. “Yeah, I’d like that.”


                “All right then.” As the movie resumed, Ducky began rubbing. He’d moved only a little closer to Sin, and Sin still sat where he was comfortable. But now Ducky’s fingers and the butt of his hand dug hard into Sin’s shoulders, squeezing and pushing and rubbing. Sometimes thumbs would press at the base of his neck, and sometimes the fingers would travel up the neck as well. The intensity of Sin’s headache began to decrease and he practically lost himself in the touch.


                “He’s cute,” Ducky whispered automatically not too far into the movie. The main characters were talking to each other for the very first time.


                “Which one?” asked Sin, smiling to his side towards Ducky, without moving his head. He was bent forward a bit, allowing the hands more room to maneuver, but his head was still up so he could see the screen.


                Ducky smiled sheepishly. “Both.”


                Sin chuckled and nodded in agreement. The timid, closeted, blonde, goody-goody Mormon missionary and the fun-loving, out, brunette, promiscuous waiter. Sin could see a bit of himself in both… and he could never decide which he wanted more. The only thing he knew was that he liked watching them slowly drift together.


                “You don’t have to keep rubbing,” Sin whispered, realizing how long Ducky had been at it. “Your hands must be tired by now.”


                “They are,” Ducky admitted, slowing his rubs then stopping. “But did it help?”


                “Remarkably.” Sin noticed that the man’s hand was still touching him, resting warmly on the back of his neck. He did not want to move, lest it leave, so he slowly turned only his head. He was surprised to find Ducky looking back at him. Their eyes met, and then Ducky’s hand moved.


                But instead of moving away, it slid over further behind Sin’s back and cupped Sin’s far shoulder. He gave a little bit of a pull, just a little message and a nudge. Then Sin began to lean toward Ducky and Ducky began to ease Sin closer until their sides were touching. With a happy sigh, Sin put his head on Ducky’s shoulder. With his arm still around Sin’s shoulders, Ducky rubbed his hand up and down Sin’s upper arm. Sin raised his head in a minute. “Actually, your shoulder’s kind of hard,” Sin laughed.


                Ducky joined in and raised his arm, giving Sin room. “Get comfortable however you like.”


                “Really?” Sin asked. Ducky nodded.


                Sin took the invitation. He grabbed a thick pillow and dropped it in Ducky’s lap. Then he shifted around so that he was lying on his side across the bed, his head on part of the pillow and with the blankets still covering most of his body. He hugged the other part of the pillow to his chest and his whole body relaxed with a deep sigh. Ducky smiled down at him. “Comfortable now?” He rubbed Sin’s upper arm again.


                Sin looked up, turning his head a little. “How about you?”


                “Definitely. But we’re going to have to go back a scene in the movie. I wasn’t paying attention at all.”


                They went back, which Sin was just as glad about. “Oh good. The laundry scene,” he said, smiling. “Most important scene in the movie… wait…” Ducky paused the DVD. Sin looked around desperately, not sure where the tissue box had gone to in all the moving around. As his eyes closed and he fought the sneeze, he felt a tap on his shoulder. He held his hand out, his breath catching. “hahhh-IHSHphhh!” He smothered the sneeze and then rubbed the tissue against his nose to get the rest of the tickles out. “Thanks.” He looked up at Ducky again.


                “Think nothing of it.” Ducky placed the tissue box in front of Sin for future use, then un-paused the DVD and went back to lightly rubbing Sin’s arm.


                I wasn’t long before Sin cupped another tissue to his nose. “Pause it?” he requested quickly, then snapped forward with a volley of sneezes he was helpless to stop. So much for the cold medicine, and he couldn’t take more yet. There was an embarrassing amount of sneezes, making Sin want to curl up and turn himself invisible.


                But when they were over, Ducky offered a simple, casual, blessing instead of doting on him or making a big deal about the fit. “Sin, you know I don’t mind if we have to cut the movie-viewing short.” Then, quickly, “We can do this again some time. I mean, I’d like to do this again some time. Because I enjoyed tonight.”


                “Yeah,” Sin laughed, then blew his nose. He made a face at the sound. “Loads of fun listening to me do this all evening. Sniff! SNIFF!


                “What I mean,” said Ducky, “Is that it’s been great being with you tonight, just hanging out and talking. I’ve been out on a lot of dates where all we do is talk, and I mean it when I say I enjoyed talking with you.”


                “Talking is nice,” Sin agreed. There were rules against bringing tricks back to the house, so Sin was always forced to hook up in the backroom at Strokes. There was usually only enough time for sex, not talking. “But… I really liked this. And I’m not ready to see it end yet. So long as you don’t mind more sneezes…”


                “I don’t mind if you don’t. I think they’re a little more bothersome for you than they are for me.”


                So they continued to watch the movie. Ducky got pretty good at hitting the pause button when he heard Sin’s breath catching. Sin was pleased to discover that they reacted similarly to the movie. They both laughed at the same things and sighed at the same things. At the solemn moments, they were both quiet and spellbound. At the sexy ones they both practically swooned.


                Ducky sighed at the sight of one highly romantic kiss.


                Sin quickly rubbed his nose then smiled up at him. “Bet you kiss like that.”


                “Ha!” Ducky said to that. “I wish.”


                Sin rubbed his nose again. He wished he weren’t sick and could find out for himself.


                “I wish you weren’t sick,” Ducky whispered. He squeezed Sin’s upper arm. Sin reached up and found Ducky’s hand. Fingers interlocked tightly. And the sex scene began on screen.


                They watched it in silence, taking in every detail. Though Sin couldn’t see it or feel it through the pillow, he was betting Ducky was just as turned on as he was. Sin pinched his nose. A sneeze now would mean pausing during the action, ruining the mood. The tickle building in his nose could wait until the quiet moments following the sex when it was all right to pause and sigh happily.


                He felt Ducky’s hand slowly make its way up to Sin’s head, petting lightly at first. Then, when Sin did not object, a little heavier though still gentle and comforting. Sin had to work to keep his mind on the movie and the sneezes at bay.


                A little later, Ducky let out a deep sigh. Sin reached over and hit pause on the remote Ducky was still holding. It paused the scene of the two men together in bed, bodies limp, limbs intertwined. “You all right?” Sin asked, rolling onto his back to look up at Ducky properly. He rubbed his finger swiftly under his nose.


                Ducky nodded. “There’s something about sleeping…”


                “You tired?”


                Ducky chuckled. “I mean watching them sleep. It’s…”


                “That level of intimacy, right?” asked Sin. “The closeness. First the sex, then the talking, and then the sleeping.” Sin’s voice was soft, tender, but ended with coughs. They shook his whole body, and he immediately rolled back over onto his side so he wouldn’t cough into Ducky’s face.


                Sin thought it was incredible how at ease Ducky was around Sin when he was sick. Unlike the men of the house, and Jamie especially, Ducky seemed concerned about Sin but did not fuss for a moment. When Sin needed to sneeze, Ducky paused the movie and unpaused when Sin was done without a comment. There was no need for apologies or blessings. Everything was simple, casual, and easy. More than he’d thought possible.


                “hahhhKShooo! Sniff! Oh doe…” Sin pulled the last tissue from the box and blew his nose hard into it.


                He started to get out of bed, but Ducky held out a hand and pressed it to Sin’s chest, keeping him down. “I’ll go get you a new box.” He slipped out from beneath Sin. He returned less than a minute later with a box from the linen closet. They resumed their positions and Sin resumed blowing his nose. Ducky ran his hand over Sin’s head, stroking the brown hair gently. “You’re definitely not a complainer.” Ducky stated. “You feel like shit but you’re not the type to talk about it. Strong and silent, even when you’re miserable.”


                Sin shrugged but nodded. “And you’re not the overbearing, smothering type. This house is full of them. And thank God you haven’t called me ‘kid.’” Sin laughed. “But I can tell you feel sorry for me, without you having to say it or pity me or anything.”


                Softly, “And I can tell you want me here, without you having to say it.” He cracked a smile. “Besides, you’re only a couple years younger than me. I’d never call you ‘kid’.”


                “Thanks for that,” Sin said, quickly restraining a yawn.


                “I might call you impressive, though. You’re almost the opposite of me when I’m sick. I whine and complain like a baby at the first little sniffle. I need lots of reassurance and don’t like being alone for a second.”


                Sin was silent. It was true that he wasn’t the complaining type… and that he didn’t like people hovering over him every second commenting about his illness… but that didn’t mean he liked being alone when he felt sick. And Ducky was soothing and reassuring just in being there. “Movie?” Sin suggested.


                “Movie,” Ducky agreed and raised the remote, aiming at the DVD player.


                They made it a good way through before pausing again. This time, it happened after a stunningly sentimental and pivotal point in the movie. Sin looked up at Ducky and recognized the look on the man’s face. “Not crying, are you?”


                Blinking hard and repeatedly, Ducky shook his head. “No,” he whispered. But he wiped away a tear when Sin went to blow his nose. And he sniffled a little but refused to take a tissue out of the box he’d retrieved for Sin. “But it is so sad.”


                Sin reached past him and paused the DVD. “I promise it has a happy ending,” he said with as much assurance as he could without giving away the twists and the ending itself. He figured it wasn’t saying much to say it ended happily since there could be a dozen ways for that to happen and why would he want to watch a depressing movie if he were already sick, anyway?


                “I know,” Ducky whispered. “I was just thinking about how hard some people have it and some of the consequences of coming out.”


                “Yeah,” Sin said. There wasn’t anything more he could say as his past crept up on him.


                Ducky spoke softly but seriously. “You know… I saw you that night. That first night you stayed here after it happened.” Though unspoken, they both knew to which “it” Ducky referred. “I brought Chinese food over for the guys and I saw you. I don’t know if you saw me… I didn’t go in and introduce myself or anything. I split right after.”


                Thinking back to the time he’d been trying not to remember, “Yeah…” Sin rubbed the back of his head. “Yeah, I remember. I mean, I didn’t see you, but I remember the food and someone said you were busy with schoolwork and couldn’t stay.”


                Looking away, Ducky admitted, “That was a lie. Truth is, I was scared to meet you. Didn’t want to subject of coming out to come up.  It’s not really an issue I deal with well. And I’m always nervous meeting new people in this sort of a setting in case they know someone in my family. Guess I’m just paranoid.”


                “I can understand wanting to be careful. Believe me, you didn’t miss much. I wasn’t much to look at. Certainly not remotely as handsome or dashing as I am now.” He coughed a few times then blew his nose to drive the sarcasm home. “I wasn’t really up for meeting more people anyway.”


                Ducky smirked. “You’re not that hard on the eyes even now.” He patted Sin’s head. “Shall we resume?” He lifted the remote again.


                Sin did sneeze a few more times during the movie, but they were quick and he half-stifled them to minimize the sound. When it was over, Sin retrieved the DVD from the player and put it back in its case so he wouldn’t misplace it. He definitely didn’t need another lecture from Olly. “So, what’d you think?”


                Ducky smiled slyly. “Of the movie, you mean?”


                “Silly.” Sin sat down next to Ducky, pulling the covers up to his waist. “Yes, the movie. Did you like it?”


                “Loved it,” Ducky replied. Sin beamed as though he’d created the movie himself instead of just selecting it. “You know, that group at the restaurant reminds me a lot like this group here at your house. I owe a lot of my confidence as a gay man to Sweetie and Nik. The guys here are a sort of surrogate family.”


                “Sniff! Sniff! They’re definitely that,” Sin agreed. To a fault they could be dependable, loving, encouraging, understanding, thoughtful… everything a family should be. Except…


                There was silence between them, during which time Sin did not even remember to sniffle. They were both lost in contemplation. Finally, Ducky spoke apprehensively. “Hey, Sin, can I ask you a personal question?”


                “Shoot,” Sin replied before he could stop himself. He had a strong feeling he knew what the question was going to be.


                “Do you ever regret coming out to your family?”


                He’d been out in the open so long that Sin didn’t discuss it much anymore, so he hardly knew what to say. He stalled for a few extra seconds by repeating, “Do I ever regret coming out?”


                Ducky nodded and Sin took a deep breath.


                “No. It’s who I am, and I don’t regret letting people I love know who I really am. Sure my life would have been different if I’d stayed in the closet, but then I wouldn’t have met these friends and I wouldn’t have the things I have now.” His voice got softer. “But that doesn’t mean I don’t wish things could be different. I think about that all the time, especially at times like this when I’m feeling sick.” He rubbed his wrist under his nose and sniffled a little, though it didn’t have anything to do with his cold this time. “When I was sick as a kid, Mom used to stay with me the whole time. I didn’t have a cable outlet in my room, so she’d drag in the small eleven-inch color television and set up the rabbit ears, and we’d watch television together all day. If I had a bad fever, she’d spend the night, sleeping on the floor, keeping the monsters and shadows away. My Dad would bring home something special for me every day after work. Everything from milkshakes to books to play dough. My sister made the funniest get well cards and would slip them under my bedroom door when she was sure I was asleep, as though I didn’t know they were from her.”


                “You miss all that,” Ducky stated, not asked.


                “Of course,” Sin agreed. “I mean, I know I’m older now anyway, and I appreciate the guys here and you for looking after me tonight. It’s not the same, but I don’t regret what I did to get here. I can’t regret who I am, who I want to be. Like Jamie always tells me, I can’t control what other people think or make them act the way I want. I can only control what I think and do.”


                There was silence again, for a full minute. Then Sin spoke. “May I ask… is your family the only reason you stay in the closet? I mean, are you worried about losing friends or your job, too?”


                Ducky shook his head. “I’m not worried about the university. They have a fantastic policy of equal opportunity and a track record of nondiscrimination. Actually, with affirmative action, it might actually benefit me when I graduate and want to become a professor. There’s actually an out and proud lesbian teaching in the math department and she’s never had any problems at this level so far as I’ve heard. And I’m not worried about my friends in the department; probably most of them suspect anyway.” He sighed. “It’s just my family. They’re so traditional. I’m not just scared of what could happen to me, I’m most afraid of hurting them. I don’t want the whole community treating them badly just because I’m gay. It could hurt the business and their reputations.” He smirked. “Of course, I love my family and I don’t exactly want to be disowned, either.”


                “I wouldn’t recommend it.” A year’s passage had not been able to quash the memory of the insults and beating. Sin gave a weak smile then stopped to yawn.


                This reminded Ducky to glance at his watch, and he gave a start. “It’s late!” Sin looked at his clock, confirming the time with a surprised look of his own. “I should be going.”


                Nodding, “I should get to sleep if I want to shake this cold.” They looked at each other for a moment, hesitation and uncertainty there between them suddenly being trumped by desire. “Do you want to stay over?”


                “Would you mind if I did?”


                “I know it’s a little fast, but it’s so late.”


                “I wouldn’t want to drive home at this time of night anyway.”


                “There are spare bedrooms if you’d rather—”


                “I’d love to stay here. Unless, well, you’re sick. If  you’d rather—”


                “No,” Sin said. “If you don’t mind my sneezing and all.”


                “I don’t mind,” Ducky said, smiling. “It’s a… this sounds so cheesy, but it’s a price I’m willing to pay.”


                Sin looked at him a moment. “Do you really mean that? Sniff!


                With a smile and a nod, “If you haven’t figured out by now that I like you, I can’t imagine how you manage to make it into college.”


                “Ha ha.” And then, in the same breath, “You don’t think this is too fast?”


                “No.” Ducky reached out and stroked Sin’s arm. “It’s not like we’re going to do anything tonight, anyway, right?”


                Sin laughed. “I’ll be happy if I stay awake for the next half an hour.” He yawned again, to prove his point.


                “We don’t have to talk about… us… tonight,” said Ducky. “Tomorrow, or when you’re feeling better, that’s when we can talk. Let’s just go to bed.”


                Sin agreed, but confirmed that he did want to discuss it some time. But for now, they both seemed satisfied with the fact that this felt right. Sin hit the bathroom first, taking a hot shower that cleared his head a little and made him feel extra sleepy. He knew where the spare toothbrushes were kept, and got a towel for Ducky out of the linen closet as well. “Do you want me to find you something to sleep in?” Sin asked, handing over the items quickly before he made a dive for his tissues. After sneezing, he glanced up at Ducky who was, again, waiting patiently.

                Ducky rubbed his hand up and down his own arm. “Actually, I usually sleep naked. I think underwear will suffice tonight. But thanks.” He nodded toward the towel. “I’ll be back in a flash.”


                Sin sat down on the edge of his bed and checked the time again. He had a little less than half an hour to go before he should take more medicine. “Fuck that,” he muttered and searched around on his nightstand until he found the bottle of nighttime medicine. It was guaranteed to decrease his symptoms and knock him out for the night, both of which sounded excellent right now. Even if only one or the other occurred, he’d be glad. He gulped down a cup of the green stuff and chased it with a few gulps of water.


                He was just blowing his nose yet again, and wincing as it hurt, when Ducky came back in. Immediately, Sin changed his expression to hide his discomfort. But, more importantly, he couldn’t help but let his awe show as he beheld the man.


                Whatever had drawn the two together so far that night—conversation, understanding, curiosity, intelligence—were all still there. Even though they’d been together a number of times before, there was definitely more to it tonight, and Sin had felt that attraction nearly from that very first bless you back on campus. But now there was a whole new level of attraction not at all in contradiction with the first, even though Ducky’s body hadn’t been at all what he’d expected.


                Ducky seemed taller now that he was undressed. Or perhaps that was just the sight of slim, long legs. His skin was a gorgeous, indescribable tone somewhere between cream and olive. His features looked darker somehow, but not in a threatening sort of way, more like smoldering and deep. His arms might have been as slender as his legs but there were muscles to be found in them, not an alarming amount, just enough to give them definition and visibility. His chest was likewise smooth and hairless, but beautifully maintained with a gorgeous set of abs. He had a perfect ‘V’ pointing down towards tight, grey Fruit of the Looms.


                Ducky smiled as he closed the bedroom door behind him. “You look like you’ve never seen a man before.”


                Sin ducked his head, sheepishly smiling. “Anything I say to that will sound like a line. Sniff! So I’m just going to say you look incredible.”


                “Why, thanks,” said Ducky, accepting the compliment graciously and humbly. He crossed an arm over his chest again, his right hand holding onto his left bicep. He took a good look at Sin, too. “Nose feeling kind of sore?” Sin nodded. “You need anything? Vaseline maybe?”


                Sin gave a laugh. “Nah, thanks, though. I can handle a sore nose.” He shifted uncomfortably on the edge of the bed. “What I’m a little worried about is sleeping.” He looked up at Ducky, seriously. “You know how the guys have those rules about the house and all? So I’ve never slept with a guy before. I mean, in a bed, actually sleeping… in my bed.” A hand stroked his comforter nervously and he looked down at his lap. “Yeah, I know. It’s just sleeping. But I thought you should know.”


                “Sin?” Ducky said, walking over. “Take it easy. I know you’re nervous. I’m a little nervous, too. And I know you’re sick. So what I want you to do is lie down in bed like you would if you were alone. Just get comfortable like usual and I’ll scoot in where there’s room.”


                Sin wasn’t so sure that would work, but he gave it a shot. He usually slept on the left side of the bed so that he could reach the nightstand. He made sure he had water there and an almost-full box of tissues. Then he lay down on his left side. He pulled the covers up around himself like always and hugged some of the extra parts of the blanket to his chest. He curled his body slightly, legs bent a little at the knees. It was nice. He was comfortable. He could have fallen asleep like that easily.


                But as soon as he was settled, he felt movement in the bed. Ducky was climbing in, shuffling around, tugging a little at the covers. Sin thought about saying maybe it had been a bad idea, but then he felt Ducky’s front press against his back. Ducky pushed a knee between Sin’s legs, separating them just enough to slide one leg in-between as he rested his other leg on top of Sin’s right leg. Ducky’s bare right arm came around Sin, holding tightly.


                Sin exhaled suddenly, sounding surprised. “Too much?” Ducky asked quickly. “I can back off. Or—”


                But Sin shook his head. “Don’t go anywhere,” he said. “In fact, don’t move. Ever.” Sin felt Ducky shake with soft chuckles then hug him closer. The warmth was overwhelming. “I’ve never been so comfortable in my whole life.”


                “I’m glad.” He nuzzled his face into Sin’s dark hair a little, with affection. “We fit together well, don’t we? I’ve never slept like this with someone I fit against this nicely.”


                “You mean we really get to sleep like this?” He yawned.


                Ducky chucked again. “Of course. For a few hours at least. You set your clock for seven?”


                “Yep. And… oh fuck… hahh-Ihhhshah! Sniff!” But the sneeze hadn’t shaken him free. Ducky still hugged him, and he still felt secure and comforted. “I was going to say I took more medicine, so I shouldn’t keep you up but…”


                “It’s all right,” Ducky whispered. “I’m a pretty sound sleeper.” There was silence for a few moments, and then Ducky pressed his lips to the spot just behind Sin’s ear. “Good night, Gary.”


                Sin was already having trouble keeping his eyes open. But he whispered back, “G’night Bing.”




                In need of the bathroom, Sin ventured out from under Ducky’s warm embrace far sooner than he would have liked the next morning. He had slept soundly during the night and had cursed at his alarm when it dared go off. Sin had thought about hitting the snooze bar or even unplugging the darn thing, letting him stay in bed all day with Ducky. But he knew Ducky had class and office hours, and he didn’t want their relationship to start with either of them ditching their commitments.


                The moment he emerged from his bedroom, he nearly ran into Jamie, who was coming down the hallway. The man was yawning, eyes squinting shut, so he probably hadn’t seen anything, but, just in case, Sin quickly closed the bedroom door behind him and held onto the doorknob behind his back for security.


                “Morning.” Jamie sounded groggy, as if he’d had a late night. “And how are we feeling today?”


                “We’re still kind of congested,” Sin confessed, offering up the information more willingly than he might normally. “And we’re pretty tired.”


                Jamie cracked a smile. “You said it.”


                “Why does morning come so damn early?” asked Sin, rubbing his hand back and forth under his nose. “I was just going to catch a quick shower to see if… hahh…” He managed to shake off the sneeze, or at least postpone it a few seconds. “To see if I can’t clear my head…” He sneezed into his hand, cupped around his nose and mouth.


                “Sounds like a good id—”


                A loud thump came from Sin’s room, making Jamie stop short. His bloodshot eyes opened wider in understanding. “You have someone here?”


                “Coach,” Sin started.


                Jamie shook his head in disbelief. “Sin! You know the rules of the house! You’re not allowed to bring strange guys home. You…” Suddenly, Jamie looked more shocked than scared. “You didn’t let him see the security code did you? You didn’t give it to him? Oh, Sin, you didn’t, did you? Because Sweetie’s going to kill you. He’s going to kill me! Fuck!


                “Coach,” Sin was shaking his head, trying to get a word in edgewise around the panicked, worried rambling. “It’s not like that. I—”


                But he fell backwards a step as the door he was still holding onto opened. “Sin, have you seen my… tie…” Ducky shrunk back, embarrassed, and quickly hid much of himself behind Sin by standing close and slipping an arm around Sin’s waist. “Um, good morning, Jamie.”


                “Oh.” Jamie seemed struck dumb at the sight. “Oh… yeah, good morning.”


                Ducky stuck out a thumb, gesturing back into Sin’s bedroom with it. “I’m going to go… find the rest of my clothes.”


                “Yes, you’d better,” Sin chuckled, his eyes lighting up. Swiftly and carefully, Ducky ducked back into the bedroom and closed the door.


                Sin shifted his weight from one side to the other. “Sorry about that. I was about to explain, but you—”


                Jamie held a hand up, not needing to hear more. More than once he’d made it clear he didn’t want to know about Sin’s guys. “You know you can always come to me to talk. And I really shouldn’t have jumped to conclusions like that. I’ll leave you be and make sure Auntie Al makes enough breakfast and coffee for us all.”


                “Thanks,” Sin said, smiling gratefully.


                Jamie chuckled as he headed back down the hallway. As he reached the door that led to the stairs, he paused and turned back around. Sin was just about to disappear into the bathroom, but their eyes met again. “You and Ducky? Really?”


                Sin blushed. His head dipped a little and he nodded, ginning.


                “Wow.” Jamie ran his hand over his stubble-covered chin.


                “You okay with it, Coach?”


                Jamie nodded at once. “Of course I’m okay. You?”


                Sin smiled and leaned against the doorjamb, tilting his head against the molding. “Yeah. You know what? I’m still okay.”