A/N: If you haven't read any of my other stories involving these characters, I'm fairly sure it will still make sense, but I really don't know. Feel free to give it a shot.
For those of you who have read about these two before, sequentially, this takes place after every other Derik/Quan story except Marriage Business. Hopefully that's obvious pretty quickly. Mild spoilers I guess for things that happen in their high school years, but nothing that I feel will actually spoil the story (obviously, or I wouldn't share it). For some reason I like telling their tale out of order.
1 | A Man in Uniform
His headlights paint a dim stretch of yellow out about fifty feet in front of him, and Quan makes a mental note to take his car in for a tune-up. The fog isn't helping his visibility, but his high beams ought to cut farther ahead than that, and he knows the bulb on the left side is nearly shot. At least the road's deserted.
He hasn't spotted another car for miles, and while part of that's due to the hour—1:42a.m. according to the glowing numbers on his dashboard—he knows mostly it's the location.
Four years ago, he graduated from Morrison County's public high school with a 2.9GPA and an impressive record in all the sports Morrison High had to offer, allowing him to shamelessly work the words "well rounded" into his assets on college entrance applications. St. Petterman's Technical College took him in on a generous football scholarship, and he left his aunt, uncle, grandmother, and everything else that defined his teenaged existence behind without looking back.
Or, so he tells himself.
It's a lie, but it isn't one he's ready to fess up to yet, not even to himself, and certainly not now. Not when everything from the shapes of the trees to the glint of the street signs to the taste of the air if he rolls his windows down reminds him of the thousand things he left behind here.
Of the one person he left behind here.
No. The ghosts of his childhood wink at him from behind every shadow cast by a blade of grass along the sides of the road, and Quan isn't about to acknowledge them. He isn't sure where he'd end up if he did.
His grandmother passed away three days ago. He remembers getting a call from his aunt an hour before going into his last final of the spring semester—his last final exam ever at St. Petterman's—and he remembers how the news had rung hollowly through his ears like a slow-set poison. He'd barely been able to read the text of his exam afterwards, let alone function at full capacity, but he had finished, and his results won't be in until a month from now, so he thinks about his grandmother instead of the winking shadows.
In high school, in his senior year in the last few months of it when everything had spiraled downward like the all-engulfing suck of a toilet to hell, his grandmother had been the one to hold his hand. The one to sit down with him and talk to him and really listen. She'd been the only one to understand that when Quan had said, "Derik and I aren't friends anymore," he'd really meant, "I've forgotten how to breathe."
Her funeral will be held tomorrow morning.
It's the only reason Quan's here, really, since he'll have to drive back up to his university anyway for the graduation ceremony in another week, and it's not a drive to make lightly—twelve hours one way, making for a twenty-four hour round trip. He'll be dead on his feet for the funeral, given that it's now almost two o'clock in the morning, but he figures that's for the best. The less active brain cells he has to process the situation with, the better.
As the scenery grows progressively more familiar—distinct even in the dark in ways that only one's hometown can be—Quan speeds up without thinking about it. He wants out. Out of his car, off this road, away from this place, and into bed, where he can shut his eyes and pretend the world doesn't exist anymore. Twelve hours of driving without stopping for anything longer than bathroom breaks have made his body stiff and worn, but more than rest, he wants a quiet mind. Anything to keep him from thinking.
Unfortunately, Lady Fate has other plans. Three miles from his final turn off, he spots flashing lights in his rearview mirror and his swearing would have impressed a Hong Kong street vendor. A minute after that, Quan's sitting fuming and exhausted in his silent car as his eyes follow the approach the police officer behind him.
The man is an indistinct shadow at this distance, made vague by the combined forces of night and fog, and Quan works on tempering his mood as he waits. He tells himself that whatever idiot gets himself placed on a night shift like this probably has a shitty life to begin with, and if the asshole has nothing better to do than pull suckers over for going five miles over the speed limit, the best Quan can hope to do is keep quiet, accept his ticket, and get it over with.
Quan rolls down his window as the man's uniform comes into view, leans his elbow against the door to look up and—
A second passes during which Derik doesn't see him, his attention distracted by his clipboard and the pen he can't seem to find. But then he finds the pen, uncaps it, looks over, and for a single surreal moment, before recognition hits, his eyes are beautiful. Bright and blue and tired as Quan felt thirty seconds ago.
Then, recognition does hit, Derik's stare widens, and his fingers on his pen stutter like a bird coming to land only to have the branch snap out from under it. His mouth opens, but it clams up like his fingers, fumbling and soundless.
Quan hears himself say, "Can I help you, officer?" but the words must sound as strange to Derik as they do to Quan, because even in the dim light Quan makes out the budding warmth in Derik's cheeks.
Derik clears his throat. His eyes flit down, but dart back up immediately after, as though scared if he looks away for even a moment, Quan will disappear back into the fog. For an instant he looks like he's trying take in every inch of Quan over the course of seven seconds.
Then he chokes out, "Hi." A moment later, as if realizing the absurdity of the statement, he coughs out a more embarrassed sound and shakes his head. "I mean, uh…you were…" Derik swallows. "Speeding. You were speeding."
"I went five miles over the speed limit—"
"Seventeen," Derik says. "And, umm…the fog, too, you know. It makes it more dangerous. Poor weather conditions can lead to…" His eyes make another quick sweep of Quan's face, skipping around—unable pick a point and land—and then he forces his eyes down to his own hands. "The law's the law, and all that. Public safety…" He looks up again, and this time he meets Quan's stare. "Wouldn't want something bad to happen to you." A phantom pause, and another cough. "Or, er, anyone else. Obviously."
Quan isn't sure if his throat's still functioning or not when suddenly he says, "Derik—"
"Can we just say 'hi' now, please?"
Quan's fingers fumble over the lock on his door. Derik skirts out of the way as Quan wrestles off his seatbelt and tumbles out, and then he's there, standing at the side of a poorly maintained road at 2A.M., face to face with the boy he left behind. A man, now, Quan reminds himself, and it's not difficult to remember, looking at him. Derik looks older.
Not in a bad way so much as a 'loss of innocence' way. Like it's been driven in, gradually, that the world won't always give Derik Carter exactly what he wants, how he wants it, when he wants it. And that sometimes he won't ever get it.
Quan remembers driving home part of that lesson himself, and the knot of guilt in his stomach tightens, solidifying like chilled jello. He realizes with terrifying clarity that he has no idea what to say.
His fingers itch to reach out, to touch his friend's—are they still friends?—cheek, hair, hand, shoulder, anything. He wants to kiss him. Desperately, he wants to catch Derik's chin in his fingers and tug him in and find out if he still tastes the same, if there's anything left of them, or if all of that really is lost and they're just two strangers sharing the same moonlight.
Quan's throat hurts. His eyes sting, though he can't imagine why, and he blinks, forcing himself to look sidelong into the shadows of the pine trees on the opposite side of the road. "Hi." The word tastes like chalk on his tongue.
This was a bad idea. He shouldn't have stepped out of the vehicle. He should have pretended—somehow—that he didn't recognize Derik, or not acknowledged that he cared, or just asked for the damn ticket and—
Derik's hand touches his shoulder. It's a neutral touch—unassuming and unprovocative—but a question all the same, and Quan's attention jerks from the trees to Derik.
They don't kiss.
But they do…'fall' against each other, Quan supposes is the best word for it. It happens in segments, as though Derik's touch to his shoulder is a catalyst in a chain reaction, and after the initial nudge, Quan reaches out too. Then suddenly Quan's pressed against his car, his arms wound behind Derik's back—fingers fisting into the cloth of Derik's uniform like he'll never touch anything more real in his life—and Derik's face presses against his shoulder as he clings, equally tight. Derik's body quivers, barely, in Quan's arms, unless Quan's imagining it.
Maybe it's just a hug.
When they let go, the impression of Derik's body leaves a warm stripe on Quan's front that feels empty without him. The space Derik vacates smells like aftershave, fresh cut grass, and an ocean of memories.
"So." Derik rifles a hand through the hair at the back of his neck and Quan drops his eyes.
"So." He busies his thumbs with the hems of his pockets.
"Uh." Clearing his throat, Quan lifts his chin just enough to observe Derik from under his lashes. "Yeah. Sounds right."
"I never thought I'd—"
They quiet at the same time and Quan looks back to the shadows on the side of the road. Derik is the first to speak up again.
"I never thought I'd see you. Again. Anywhere." Derik frowns. "Ever."
Quan only realizes he's biting his lip when the pressure starts to sting and he releases it, dipping his chin again. "Yeah. Well, I never really…" He frowns too, and is a coward for not looking up to watch Derik's face when he says, "I never thought I'd be back."
For a terrifying instant, Quan thinks Derik means what happened between them, and his heart jars against his ribcage like a madman slinging himself against the bars of his prison. But then Quan realizes Derik means what happened to bring him here, and a startled gust of relief rushes past Quan's lips. "I, umm…" Then, the pain of remembering what did bring him here hits afresh and Quan realizes he doesn't want to talk about that either. Something too thick and physical to be imagined lodges itself in his throat and for several seconds he can't breathe.
At the end of those seconds, Derik says, "Quan?"
"Something I had to take care of, that's all," Quan blurts in a rush. "I just…" Derik opens his mouth. "So you're a police officer now, huh? That's, um…that's great, you know, the…the uniform looks good on you."
Quan's face reddens. "That is, professional. It looks professional. Responsible. I'm glad to see you're taking care of yourself. Not that I thought you couldn't take care of yourself, just that—I'm glad you're doing well. Here. On your own." He frowns. "Unless you're not on your own. Which is also fine of course, I wouldn't expect you to—"
Quan stops talking.
Derik squints at him. "Are you drunk, too?"
Quan coughs and then nods before shaking his head. "Ah, no. Unfortunately, no."
Derik eyes him a moment longer and Quan looks to the ground.
"It's just been a long night, that's all. Long drive, rough week…" In the silence that follows, Quan eventually makes himself look up again, and the guilt in Derik's face startles him.
After another second's hesitation, Derik says, "Yeah. I guess, do you…" He frowns. "You want me to just give you this and let you go?"
There's further still hesitance on the words 'let you go', but nothing prepares Quan for the chasm that opens up under his heart at the suggestion. It shakes him, just how much the thought of vanishing back out of Derik's life distresses him, and at first he can't find his voice at all. His expression must betray him, though, because the uneasy tension in Derik's posture relaxes soon after, and something just shy of a smile teases his lips.
"So, how long are you here for?"
Quan releases a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. "Days. Two or three, probably. Just under a week at most." For a fraction of a second Quan thinks Derik looks deflated, but the look passes and then Derik is nodding.
"Cool. Sounds good. So, umm…how about this." Derik switches up his grip on his clipboard of tickets, rips off the one he was about to—presumably—give to Quan, and flips it over to scribble something on the back. "I give you…" Finishing up the scribble, he holds out the otherwise blank ticket to Quan, "…my number, and you call me sometime, anytime, before you leave."
Quan blinks, startled by the raw sincerity in Derik's expression, and his hesitance as he accepts the offer must show, because Derik speaks up again immediately after.
"For anything, alright? It doesn't have to be…" Derik frowns, and his fingers shuffle the hair at the back of his neck. "Doesn't have to be anything you don't want. I just…I'd really like to see you again. Before you go."
Quan's eyes dart once to the handwriting on the ticket—still familiar—and shadow of a smile graces his lips before he folds the paper and tucks it into his jacket. "So, no ticket?"
Derik takes a moment to catch up, and then raises his eyebrows. "What, you want one?"
Quan comes as close to laughing as he has all night, but shakes his head. "No, no. I'm good." He tilts his head and then smirks in earnest. "You know, before I knew it was you, I thought you were an asshole for pulling me over."
Derik scoffs. "I am an asshole. You know that as well as anyone."
Quan frowns. When he opens his mouth, though, Derik waves him off.
"You're tired. It's late. I have a job to do…technically. I should let you go."
"Derik," Quan says when Derik turns to leave. Quan waits for him to look back before saying, "I am glad to see you again. And I will call you. I promise."
A second passes, and then Derik grins, and for the first time all night he looks exactly like the boy Quan remembers. Like a light flare, almost too bright to look straight at, burned into his past with glossy permanence. The look softens almost immediately, but Quan can still hear his heartbeat in his ears when Derik turns his back again, and as Quan's fingers fumble through the mechanic motions of opening his door and starting his car for the final drive home, Quan wonders what he's getting himself into.
And whether, after all these years, he's ready to face it again or not.
A/N: Bad news is, I like the opening to this a lot more than I like the parts that are actually supposed to be fun (i.e. their interactions). This is the first part of either two or three or four...I don't know, honestly. It should be pretty short in all. Yes, I still plan on updating Best Kept Secrets, and yes, I still plan on writing more stories from their high school years. I'm just...really slow when it comes to these two; I don't know why, since I do like them.
Hopefully this was at least mildly enjoyable.