It was lonely work, but Connor survived. With the ships sailing so close to a rocky shore, someone needed to man the lighthouse, and Connor figured it was the best line of work for him. He was a quiet person, perpetually lonely, so working in solitude suited him. He wasn’t always so lonely, though.
The lighthouse stood over a small port town, sparsely populated with streets as lively as any large town. Connor and Dylan took to the streets like children to candy. Most kids born so close to the port never went to school, and that included them. They learned enough from the women in the marketplace who’d pinch their cheeks and teach them their crafts, and the men who spent the nights gambling. After coming out drunk and down a few nickels, they’d pull Connor and Dylan aside and tell them stories that no man should know, and they’d learn of the world far too young. They learned how to slip a hand in a drunk man’s pocket and a sober man’s heart, and they often enough got away with it.
One day, Dylan started feeding one of the stray dogs they saw every day, and soon enough the dog followed them everywhere. Connor’s mom wouldn’t let them take it in, and Dylan’s father wasn’t around enough to care, but neither was Dylan, so they left the dog in the elements. Every morning, when the dog approached them close to the market, Dylan’s eyes would light up and Connor’s chest would grow oddly warm.
Dylan never spoke of his mother, and Connor never asked. Some things should remain unsaid, and Connor accepted that as one of them. Their fathers worked together on a fishing boat, and they’d often go out on the sea with them. Dylan in particular took a liking to sailing, and once he was old enough, his father taught him how to rig a ship. Connor prefered to be on land, but wherever Dylan went, he went too, so he spent many a day pulling fish from the sea. When they turned twelve, they began working with their fathers in the day time and continued wandering the streets at night.
Connor’s mom loved Dylan, and he was over for dinner nearly every night. Dylan’s mother had left his father when Dylan was three, so Connor’s mom mothered him as well as she could. Dylan’s father was busy enough that Dylan was on his own when his dad wasn’t around, and it broke Connor’s heart. Dylan wasn’t meant to be alone. He thrived in the presence of friends and family, and never seemed to want to be alone. Once, when they were thirteen, his dad was on a trip and Dylan found himself climbing through Connor’s window in the middle of the night.
“Dylan, what are you doing?” Connor asked, more curious than anything. As far as he was concerned, Dylan was always welcome wherever Connor was, but the sudden entrance through the window was concerning.
“The house was too quiet,” Dylan explained, taking off his boots. He had dark circles under his eyes that made him look years older than he was. “I didn’t know where else to go.”
Connor said nothing, instead choosing to move to the side of his bed and pulling his sheets back. Dylan smiled softly and crawled in beside him, and so started a tradition. Any time Dylan found himself too lonely, he’d come to Connor, wherever he was. They shared Connor’s bed on most nights, and Dylan would leave just before the sun rose only to come back a few hours later. Eventually, Connor’s mom caught him climbing in, and she sat him down in their kitchen.
“Dylan Strome, you know you are always welcome in my house, do you not?” Dylan nodded, nervous and embarrassed. Kelly McDavid was the sweetest woman Dylan had ever met, but nobody wanted to be the subject of her anger. Connor watched as tears filled his best friend’s eyes and he nearly stepped between him and his mother. To his surprise, Kelly knelt before Dylan and took his hands in hers.
“You will always be welcome here, darling. You don’t need to sneak in.” She reached into a pocket she had sewn into her dress and pulled out a key, placing it in his hand. “Use the front door, dear.”
After that, Dylan only ever left Connor’s side when his father called for him or when they were working, and even then, it was never for long. They spent practically every night sleeping beside each other, and neither would have it any other way.
Connor realized that he was in love with Dylan when they were fourteen. He heard men speak of the women they slept with when he and Dylan wandered the streets at night, and he never truly saw the appeal of laying between a woman’s thighs. It wasn’t until he had a dream about being between Dylan’s that he understood. After the dream, he couldn’t seem to stop himself from watching Dylan’s lips, or his hip when he walked away. Nothing really changed, though, and though Connor longed for his best and only friend, he knew he could do nothing to risk their friendship.
That all changed on one fateful night. They had fallen asleep next to each other after celebrating Dylan’s fifteenth birthday, and Connor was sleeping peacefully until he felt Dylan move against him. It wasn’t unusual to find themselves wrapped up in each other in the morning, so Connor paid it no mind until he felt a hardness against his hip. Suddenly he was wide awake. Dylan was still sleeping though, so Connor panicked as silently as he could. He didn’t know what to do with himself entirely, as this had never happened before, and he didn’t want to wake Dylan and embarrass him. Eventually, he slipped out of Dylan’s hold and laid on the other side of his bed, and waited for the call of sleep to take him over.
When he woke, Dylan was turned towards him again, though this time he was awake. He must’ve been awake for some time, as his face was already washed and he was changed out of his nightclothes.
They simply looked at each other for a moment before Dylan reached out and tucked an errant strand of Connor’s hair behind his ear, before letting his hand rest on Connor’s cheek. Dylan seemed to search Connor’s face, causing a blush to rise to his cheeks, and he must’ve found what he wanted because he then leaned in, pausing for a moment so close to his lips before pressing a gentle kiss to the corner of his mouth. He drew back mere centimeters opening his eyes and looking for a reaction from Connor. Connor did, in fact, react, chasing Dylan’s lips with his own. They spent the morning before breakfast trading soft kisses, and found each other’s lips again in the evening. When they finally parted, Connor couldn’t stop himself from speaking.
“I love you, Dyl.” He had for a while now, and he was warmed by the thought that Dylan had come to love him as well.
“I love you too, Connie,” Dylan whispered back, placing a kiss on his forehead. “I always will.”
They held hands whenever they could get away with it and fell asleep wrapped around each other instead of on separate sides of the bed. They’d whisper soft “I love you”s in the darkness and trade kisses until the power of sleep drew them in. They didn’t have much, but they had each other, and that was enough.
Enough for Connor, at least.
It was subtle, at first. Dylan was always the more talkative of the two of them, so it concerned Connor when Dylan was quieter than usual. Dylan brushed it off as exhaustion, which Connor understood, and they went back to work. Then Dylan started spending more time on the boat with his father, and less with Connor. It wasn’t such a big deal, but it was strange all the same, as Connor had become accustomed to Dylan always being by his side. It was when Dylan stopped holding his hand that Connor put his foot down. It was a silly thing to get upset about, but they always held hands when they could, and though Connor never said it, Dylan had to know that it kept him anchored in bustling crowds and busy streets, and that he relished in the feeling of Dylan’s skin on his.
They were laying in bed, Dylan turned towards him when Connor finally brought it up.
“Why don’t you hold my hand anymore?” He wasn’t proud of how small he sounded, but he had to ask. Dylan sighed and rolled onto his back, away from Connor, and Connor suddenly felt cold to his bones. He didn’t want to know the answer, if that was how Dylan felt. He rolled onto his other side to hide his face and the tears that had sprung into his eyes, and he curled up into himself, only to have Dylan roll him back over.
“Connie, it’s nothing. I’m sorry sweetheart, I just thought you could use the space, I don’t want you to get sick of me.” Dylan looked so sad, and Connor had to wrap him in his arms.
“I could never get sick of you, Dylan. I love you.” Dylan snuggled against Connor and relaxed in his arms.
“I love you too.”
Connor was relieved to know that Dylan did still love him, and that things were good. He had no clue what kind of hurt was in store for him.
“So, you’re just… going?” Connor tried to keep the hurt out of his voice. He was sixteen, much too old for tears, yet he found himself fighting them back.
Dylan nodded, refusing to meet Connor’s gaze. They had fallen asleep together the night before, as usual, but Connor woke up alone when the sun roze, and Dylan’s side of the bed had been cold and the majority of his belongings were gone. He jolted out of bed, throwing on the first thing he could find, and ran downstairs to find Dylan in the kitchen with his bags, ready to head out the door. He didn’t even turn to look at Connor when he asked where he was going.
“I have to, Connor,” Dylan said, voice cold in a way that Connor knew meant that he was hiding his emotions behind a steel wall. “I can’t stay in this port forever, and I always wanted to sail. I belong on the seas, not trapped in a small town living the same life every day.”
That stung. That hurt.
“You never told me!” Connor exploded, all of his emotions coalescing into anger. “You never told me that you wanted to sail, that you didn’t want to stay here!” That you didn’t want to stay with me went unspoken, but it rang loud in the empty space between them. Dylan told him that he loved him and he believed it, but now he couldn’t believe that Dylan ever loved him at all.
Finally, Dylan looked at him, and Connor was broken by the sadness he saw masked in his eyes.
“I tried to. I tried to pull away, I tried to make this easier, but I couldn’t. You wouldn’t let me. I’m sorry, Connie,” he said, voice hoarse and thick with unshed tears and unspoken emotions. The tears in Connor’s eyes began to fall as he realized that this was it. The happiness he found with Dylan was dissipating and like all good things do, they had come to an end. “I have to go.”
Connor reached for him and Dylan fell into his arms, and when they kissed it felt like a goodbye.
It didn’t take long for Connor to take the job at the lighthouse. It wasn’t far from the port, sitting right on top of a hill maybe a mile or two away, and it overlooked Connor’s childhood and adolescence. As soon as Dylan moved out, loneliness moved into Connor’s heart and nothing could soothe it, so as soon as he heard that the old lightkeeper had passed on, he took the job. Being a lightkeeper was notoriously lonely, and such loneliness was something Connor would not wish on his worst enemy. The days were long, the nights were longer, and he was alone. He did get letters from his mother, and when she could make the time, she would come and visit him, but when she left it hurt all the worse. He tried not to hope for some miracle to happen, a letter from Dylan appearing or Dylan himself standing at his door, but he couldn’t stop himself. He remained firmly in love with Dylan and it destroyed him bit by bit every day. Connor used to love running the streets with Dylan, but without him the market lost it’s joy, and the crowds were overwhelming. As the months passed, Connor spent less and less time in town, only going out when he had to. Without Dylan, it wasn’t worth it.
Months turned to years, and Connor never heard from Dylan. He remained in his lighthouse, his only company the ships on the water. On the coldest nights, he let himself remember Dylan’s warmth, the feeling of him sleeping against Connor, the feeling of their hands intertwined, and it soothed him to sleep, only to hurt him all the more in the morning. The importance of his job kept him going, knowing that his work was a life or death matter for the sailors. He watched as the same ships sailed in and out of the port, and his life remained the same. After a decade of monotony, he was used to everything the lighthouse had in store for him, so when a new ship sailed into port, he was understandably curious. He wasn’t expecting what came with it in the slightest.
The knock at the lighthouse door startled Connor. Nobody visited him, not since his mother lost the strength to make the trek to him, and he was never expecting company. He walked towards the door and opened it, only to nearly slam it shut again.
“Hi, Connie,” Dylan said, a small smile on his face. “Did you miss me?”
Connor didn’t mean to be as cold as he was, but it had been ten years since he had last seen Dylan and Dylan had just waltzed back into his life as if nothing changed. Of course, he couldn’t be too cold because it was Dylan, Dylan was back, and as much as it hurt him, Connor still loved him. Dylan wandered around the main room of the lighthouse, looking at the sparse decorations Connor had put up when he moved in and the books Connor had littering around. They didn’t speak, mostly because Connor had no idea what to say. The ten years showed on Dylan. From his longer hair to the bags under his eyes, the roughness of his skin to the way he held himself, Connor could tell that Dylan had changed more than he could imagine. It hurt to see, but Connor pushed the feeling away. There was nothing he could do. He let himself get lost in his thoughts, and eventually his memories of his time with Dylan, and a sharp hurt grew in his heart.
He startled when he felt something touch his shoulder, and he glanced back in time to see Dylan flinch away, eyes downcast. He wasn’t smiling anymore, and even with his hurt, Connor couldn’t help but think that it was a shame. Dylan always looked nice with a smile, warmth radiating from his expression and seeping into the coldest crevices of Connor’s weary soul.
“I like the new place,” Dylan said, making eye contact again. “It seems like a lonely life, though.”
“You get used to it,” Connor lied through his teeth. Dylan glanced at him and he shrugged. Dylan always used to know when he was lying, and it seemed like that much hadn’t changed. He gave Dylan the grand tour, from the control room to his living quarters (“Are these the same sheets from your old bed?”), to the service room and finally the gallery. They leaned against the rail together, close enough for Connor to feel the heat radiating off of Dylan’s body but still too far away. Despite everything, all Connor wanted to do was wrap Dylan in his arms and hold him tight. He refrained, and they watched the water crash against the shore in silence. Not five minutes into their sea-gazing, the skies opened and rain began drizzling down. Connor didn’t mind it, he often found himself standing out in the rain anyways, but he didn’t want Dylan to feel like he had to stay so he sighed and began walking back in, Dylan close on his heels. When they got inside, Connor led them back to the living area, though he had no idea what to do once they got there. He didn’t need to worry though, since Dylan seemed to have a plan. He grabbed Connor’s wrist in a gentle grip, light enough that Connor could break out of it if he wanted to (he didn’t) and took a deep breath.
“Connor, I know it’s been a long time, but I’ve missed you.” He paused, biting his lip, a nervous habit from their adolescence, and looked at Connor through his eyelashes. “Can I stay here with you?” Nothing had changed since Dylan left, as Connor could deny him nothing.
“Of course. I only have one bed, though.” They looked at each other, and Connor realized that he would finally be able to have Dylan next to him, soft and sleep-sweet. Suddenly, a need burned within him, engulfing him and leaving him shaken and off-balance. Dylan must’ve noticed because he just smiled and laughed.
“Nothing new there, right? It’ll be just like the old days.”
And it was. Once they both bathed and changed into their nightclothes, they slipped into Connor’s bed together, and Dylan pushed himself into Connor’s arms. It hurt, just a little bit, like the memory of the last time he held Dylan. He hadn’t even known it would be the last, and he wished with every ounce of his soul that he had. He would’ve savored it. He would’ve held Dylan just a bit tighter, he would’ve memorized the feeling of Dylan’s body against his, he wouldn’t have ever let go. This time, at least, he knew it wasn’t for good. He got to hold tighter, he felt Dylan shift against him and he tucked it away in his memory, and he tried his best not to cry. He didn’t do well enough, as a few tears streamed down his cheeks and his body shook. Dylan pulled back and looked at him, concern written all over his face, which only made it worse.
“Connie, sweetheart, what’s wrong?” The “sweetheart” broke something in Connor and he began sobbing in earnest, unable to hold it back. Dylan, sweet as ever, wiped away his tears and hushed him, whispering sweet nothings against his cheeks. Connor felt rubbed raw, all of the hurt and sadness and loneliness he had felt over the last decade bubbling up to the surface. He grabbed Dylan’s wrists, and looked him in the eyes.
“I missed you, Dyl,” he whimpered, his voice cracking. “I missed you so much. Please don’t do this and leave me again. I don’t-- I don’t think I could handle it.” The admission opened another floodgate of tears, and he broke once again. Dylan pressed his forehead against Connor’s and sighed.
“I’m sorry, Connie. I never wanted to leave you like this, but I just had to go, I had to see what else was in the world. I missed you every second, darling. It was so hard to sleep in my bed without you there, and every time the sun rose I thought of you. I wanted to turn around as soon as we left port, but I couldn’t, and then we never came back, and I couldn’t find a single ship that was sailing this way. I missed you so much, but I couldn’t come home until now. I’m so sorry, Connie, I didn’t mean to do this to you.” Every word made Connor cry a bit harder, until his was curling into Dylan with the force of it. Dylan maneuvered them so Connor was laying on top of him, sobbing into his shoulder. Dylan wrapped one arm around his waist and pet up and down his back with his other hand, and it was too much, too much for Connor to handle.
“Dyl, you can’t--” Connor choked out between sobs. “You can’t do this. You can’t do this and leave.” Dylan whined at that and held him tighter, closer, and shushed him quietly.
“I’m not leaving, Connie. I’m not leaving this time. I’m staying now, I’m not leaving you again. Don’t worry about that, Con. I’m here, I’m not going anywhere.” Dylan babbled softly as Connor calmed down. Dylan wasn’t leaving? He had to leave. The ship he sailed on wasn’t going to be in port and when it sailed off, so would Dylan. Once he caught his breath, he voiced those thoughts to Dylan, who huffed and rolled his eyes.
“I’m not sailing anymore, Connor. I’m done, and I told the captain that when we unloaded. I want to stay here with you.” Dylan looked at him earnestly, as if he was trying to make Connor believe him by sheer force of will, and it worked.
Connor understood. Dylan wasn’t leaving.
Connor wiped his face on his sleeve and pulled back to look Dylan in the eyes.
“I love you, Dylan. I wouldn’t be able to survive it if you left again.” Dylan’s eyes softened and he gently placed a palm on Connor’s cheek.
“I love you, too. I’m not leaving you again. I promise.”
Dylan held to his word. He learned the intricacies of the lighthouse easily, and Connor didn’t spend another day alone. In the day time, they’d walk the streets of the town, hand in hand, stopping by the market square to pick out a bouquet or pastries to snack on. When it got too quiet in the lighthouse, they took in a stray dog, a large brute of a thing that Dylan fell head over heels for when he saw it resting in a gutter. Connor’s once silent and lonely house became lively, filled with laughter and life and love. He would never be alone again.