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This was written in response to an HT100 Flash Fic Challenge: Under Cover of the Night.
Hi, Society: In the Still of the Night
by Riley Cannon
In the Still of the Night
March, 1940, New York City
Chris sighed and let the curtain fall back in place,
no sign of the early spring snowstorm letting up -- or
of Toby coming home. And all right, Toby'd called and
said he was going to be held up this evening, but that
didn't mean he had to be easy about him being out in
Back in the living room, he sat back down and picked
up his book, but it was hard to concentrate on Philip
Marlowe when he kept listening for Toby's key in the
lock. After he'd read the same paragraph a half dozen
times, he put the book down again and just watched the
kids playing Monopoly and listening to the radio.
Holly'd wiped him out half an hour ago and just about
had Harry polished off too. She was collecting her
dough from him when the lights flickered a couple of
times, the radio fading in and out -- and then
everything went completely out.
"Fu -- damn." There was enough light from the
fireplace for Chris to make his way back to the
window, the kids clustered around him as he pulled
back the curtain to look outside.
"Is it the Martians?" Harry whispered anxiously,
little hand latching onto Chris'.
Chris picked him up, assuring him, "No, that was just
a story. The power must have just gotten knocked
out." He couldn't get over it, the whole city dark,
traffic grinding to a halt and the drivers climbing
out, huddling with some of their neighbors who had
stumbled outside with flashlights to look around. He
itched to get out there with them, start pulling
together a story for the Observer. His mind was
racing, knowing the rumors that would already be
circulating, ranging across everything from those
Martian invaders to Nazi saboteurs. Odds were the
real cause would prove to be thoroughly mundane. That
was usually how it worked. The human interest angle
was irresistible, though, and he was within seconds of
grabbing his coat and heading out there -- when
Harry's arm tightened around his neck, Gary and Holly
crowding closer as well, and he felt a far stronger
urge to stay right here and make sure the kids felt
safe and secure.
And that wasn't even the amazing part. No, what he
hadn't seen coming was how comfortable and welcome
that was, not a twinge of frustration or
disappointment that they came first. Let someone else
bust his ass landing the story; Chris had really
important things to do.
"Is Daddy all right?" Holly whispered, squeezing his
Chris squeezed back. "He'll be here any minute," he
told her, not a shred of doubt that promise would be
kept. He needed to keep the kids occupied and
distracted, though, so they wouldn't be fretting away
waiting for Toby to get home. Well, yes, and that
likely wouldn't do him any harm either.
Taking care of some basics -- hunting up candles and
hurricane lamps, and having the kids change into their
pajamas -- ate up a fair amount of time, and then
Chris had them all snug as bugs on the couch, the
firelight and candles casting enough light to keep
worries about monsters at bay. In fact, as he sat
down beside them he couldn't help thinking that, under
slightly different circumstances, with the kids in bed
and their dad here beside him, this wouldn't be so bad
"Are you sure there's no Martians?" Harry
"Pretty sure, yeah." He scootched around, back
pressed against the arm rest, so he could face them.
"I wrote up a story all about that when it happened,"
he told them.
"For your magazine?" Holly said.
"Umm hmm, the old one I used to work for."
She nodded, up on all those details. "What was your
"Just how people let themselves get carried away when
common sense should have told them it was all a make
She nodded seriously, in no doubt she possessed common
sense enough to put others in awe. "I remember Daddy
and Grandpa said that, but Uncle Angus still wanted us
to all get out of the city just in case."
Gary shook his head. "Grandpa said he wasn't heading
for the hills just over some fool radio show, and
Daddy told Uncle Angus to put a sock in it."
Chris grinned. "I'll bet he did."
Looking thoughtful now, Harry asked, "How come there's
"Well I don't know. Maybe there are, but Mars is
really, really far away from here so I don't think we
have to worry about them."
Harry gave him an interested look. "How far?"
"Miles and miles and miles."
Apparently satisfied with that ambiguity, Harry
scootched a little bit closer and said, "I bet it
would take a long time to get there."
Chris smiled. "I bet it would too." There were times
he missed the days when Harry parceled his words
judiciously, but he had gradually gotten better at
following three threads of conversation. It still
amazed him how Toby could keep track of everything and
never miss a beat.
"I bet Superman could get there like that," Gary
snapped his fingers to illustrate.
Holly rolled her eyes and pointed out, "Superman's
make believe too."
"So's Nancy Drew."
Before an argument could get going, Chris said, "Lots
of good stories are made up, that doesn't mean any of
them aren't important."
"How come?" Harry asked.
"How come people make up stories?"
"Well, way back in olden times it was so they could
try and understand the world."
"Because they didn't have any scientists and stuff
then," Gary said.
"That's right. The world was mysterious and
frightening, so they needed to explain things so they
wouldn't be scared anymore."
"Like if the lights all went out?" Holly said.
"Umm hmm. Except they didn't have lights back then,"
Chris said, thinking he had a way to show them how
this blackout didn't have to be anything scary. "All
they had was the sun and the moon, and firelight, and
because these were so important to them, they had
stories to explain what they were and where they came
Eyes wide, imagination already dazzled, Harry asked,
"Well," Chris got more comfortable, "one time I heard
this story from the Cherokee people--"
"Those are Indians," Holly informed them all.
"That's right. Anyway," he hurried on before she
could launch into a discussion of Indian Affairs,
"what they believed was that the Sun was a young woman
who lived in the East, and the Moon was her brother
who lived in the West. Usually the Sun and Moon lived
in harmony with the Earth, but one time the people
down on Earth saw the sky was growing dark when it
should have been bright as midday, and looking up they
saw this giant frog creeping across the sky, chasing
the Sun to swallow her up." Three pairs of big blue
eyes were riveted on him, all of them inching closer.
"The people were afraid, but there was nothing they
could do. Even their bravest warriors couldn't hope
to rescue the Sun from her fate, and the land grew
dark as the frog caught her and gobbled her up." He
paused dramatically. "Do you know what happened
then?" Three golden heads shook in unison. "Well,
the Sun was much more powerful than anyone had
reckoned, certainly more than a match for an old giant
frog, and suddenly light began to return to the land
as she fought her way free. First just a few golden
rays of sunlight and then more and more until the sky
was blazing with bright, warm light once more and the
frog could only hop away in defeat."
"And he never came back again?" Harry asked, worried
"Sometimes he did. Sometimes he tried to swallow the
Moon, but the Moon and his sister always escaped and
triumphed in the end."
"I bet I know what really happened," Gary said.
Harry turned to him. "What?"
"The frog was an eclipse."
Chris nodded. "That's right."
"What's an eclipse?" Harry wanted to know, so
he could be absolutely certain about this giant sky
"It's when the Moon moves into the path between the
Earth and the Sun," Gary said. "That's a solar
eclipse. A lunar one is when the Earth moves into the
path between the Sun and the Moon."
Harry tilted his head back, as if trying to peer
through wood and brick and glimpse all of this
astronomical hurly-burly. "Did I ever see one?"
Gary shook his head. "Not yet."
Holly gave Chris an interested look. "Did you?"
"A couple times, yeah," he admitted, bracing for the
barrage of questions sure to follow. "The first time,
I was with my uncle and aunt upstate, and we'd just
gotten up on a cold January morning, only instead of
the sun coming up we had this eclipse. Your grandpa
and dad probably saw it too, right here in the city."
"Was it scary?" Harry asked.
He nodded. "A little bit. Mostly it was exciting."
Harry nodded to himself. "I bet I see one sometime."
Chris ruffled his hair, smiling. "I bet you do too,
pal." He angled his watch to catch some light and
check the time, firmly told himself Toby was fine and
would walk in any minute now, and ransacked his memory
for any other stories to keep them all distracted in
And as if on cue, Harry commanded, "Tell another
"Tell another Cherokee story what?" Chris prompted.
Abashed, Harry said, "Tell another Cherokee story,
"That's better." Getting comfortable again, he began,
"This is one about what they thought the stars were
like. Some people would say those were only balls of
light up there, while others thought they might be
human, but mostly people said they were living
creatures that were covered with feathers and fur that
glowed with an unearthly light. One night, a hunting
party had been out all day and decided to make camp in
the mountains when they saw two lights moving along a
far off ridge..." he continued, not even about to
entertain the thought of running out of stories before
Toby got home.
Not quite frozen to the bone, Toby thought he
had never been more glad to see his own front door as
he held onto the handrailing and carefully made his
way up the snow-clogged and slippery stoop,
cold-numbed fingers fumbling for his key. His taxi
had been four blocks away when the lights went out,
the driver spooked and refusing to budge another inch
in the darkness. No amount of money would make the
guy change his mind, and Toby had finally given up and
decided to make the rest of the trip on foot. Piece
of cake under ordinary circumstances, but more akin to
some strange trip through hell tonight, with people
milling around, the air filled with fearful whispers.
The only thing Toby was afraid of was getting lost
thirty feet from home, but as he turned the key and
swung the door open, all those worries melted away in
an instant. It was a little chilly here in the
vestibule, but loads warmer than outside, with a
hurricane lamp set out on a table and lit for him, the
soft glow from the living room holding a promise of
even better things.
Hanging up his overcoat and hat, he went in quietly,
stopping to simply look in at his family, cozy as
could be in front of the fire. Harry was asleep, head
resting on Chris' shoulder, and it looked like Gary
and Holly weren't far behind him. On tiptoe, Toby
made his way over there, laying a hand along the back
of Chris' neck. "Hey."
Chris looked around at him, smiled. "Hey. Hand's
"Sorry." He started to move it.
"Nah, it's okay. It'll warm up."
Yes, he could feel a thaw already setting in as he
went around to join them on the couch, Chris lifting
Harry onto his lap to make some room. "Everything all
"We're good," Chris told him.
"I can see that," Toby said as the kids stirred,
blinking sleepy eyes at him, faces lighting up as they
realized he was home. "What's been going on?" he
asked, ashamed he'd been worried that Chris might not
be coping well under the circumstances. On the other
hand, as they told him how they'd found the candles
and lamps, and weren't even scared for a second, it
felt good to have his more usual confidence in his
"Wow, sounds like you guys've been having a great time
here," he said as they finally wound down, sharing a
smile with Chris. "Guess nobody missed me for even a
second, huh?" he went on, pooching his lips out like
he was sad about that. A tangle of tiny arms around
his neck and a flurry of kisses promptly reassured
him, however, and he fell back against Chris, laughing
up into his face and betting he'd get a hug and a kiss
from him in just a bit.
"How's it look out there?" Chris said, setting him
upright, hand lingering along the back of his neck.
"Dark and cold. You're not missing anything."
Wracked by a shiver, he pressed closer to Chris and
tried to absorb some of his body heat. He was telling
them he'd been halfway home to them when all the
lights went out all over the city, turning his
adventures into a far more amusing tale than they had
seemed at the time.
"You know, I can draw my own bath." Toby felt obliged
to point that out as Chris undressed him and led him
over to the tub.
The lights had finally come back on, to the delight of
all, although after putting the kids to bed there had
been a mutual agreement to keep some of those candles
going, spread around their bedroom and bath, their
flickering glow creating an intimate and inviting
atmosphere. Keller, warmed by the summer sun, was a
glorious vision; Keller by moonlight was a sure bet
for very sweet dreams. But Keller lit by the soft
glow of candlelight ... yes, that wasn't too shabby
either. And it was a delicious cherry on top to look
into those blue eyes and know Chris was thinking those
very same things about him. A guy could really get
used to basking in that.
"You complaining?" Chris whispered, holding him close
and making him feel a hundred times warmer already.
"Don't get a chance to spoil you often," he added,
pressing a kiss to his cheek.
Hands resting on his shoulders, Toby gave him a
playful look. "So, are going to join me or just
watch?" he asked because it felt odd to be standing
there naked in the candlelit bathroom, with Chris
still fully clothed.
"Mmmm," warms lips brushed along his jaw, "just watch,
"Hmmm, you have plans?" He loosened Chris' necktie
some more, worked a couple of shirt buttons open.
"Could be," Chris admitted, kissing his mouth this
Pretty sure he would enjoy whatever Keller had in
mind, Toby lowered himself into the bath water,
submerging completely for a second before bobbing back
up and shaking water out of his hair. "Sure you don't
want to come in? The water feels good." No lie
either, the warmth was seeping right into him, chasing
the chill away.
"Well I gotta say, the view's pretty good from here,"
Chris said as he sat down on the edge of the tub and
dipped his hand to cup some of the water, drizzle it
over Toby's head. "Feeling better?"
He dropped his head forward, giving his lover better
access to his neck and back, the feel of those strong
hands massaging him doing wonders. "Feeling pretty
Those hands slid up to grasp his shoulders as Chris
kissed the nape of his neck. "Okay if I go check on
Harry? Gotta make sure he's not watching for
Smiling at that, loving him for it, Toby said, "I
think I can manage not to drown myself, yes."
Chris laughed, kissed him again. "Glad to hear it. I
don't need an emergency to give you the kiss of life."
Toby looked around at him. "Is that what it's
Chris leaned down to meet his lips, lingering this
time. "Fits, don't you think?" he whispered, one
finger stroking along his cheek.
He nodded, reached up to pull him back for another.
"I could live on them."
Hand cupped along his cheek, Chris caressed him with
that intent gaze. "Me too," he whispered, pressing a
kiss to his forehead before standing up. "I'll be
Toby nodded, resting back and closing his eyes, not a
doubt in his mind about that.
Chris lingered a moment, committing this vision to
memory: Toby, wet and gleaming in the candlelight,
pale skin slowly warming up with color as he soaked up
the heat of the water. Far too tempting to climb in
there with him, stroke his hands along that lean body,
kiss every inch of him until he was feeling nice and
toasty -- but if they got started, they wouldn't be
able to stop, and he really did need to go look in on
Harry. It was all right, though, Toby wasn't going
anywhere. That knowledge made it somewhat easier to
leave him for the moment.
Tiptoeing down the stairs, he cracked open the door to
Harry's room and saw he'd been right about the kid
still having the Martians -- or giant sky frogs -- on
his mind: he was over at the window, kneeling on the
window seat and looking out the window. Chris knew
what an overactive imagination was like, racing around
like crazy sometimes, no matter how many times you
were assured that there was absolutely nothing hiding
under the bed.
"Hey," he called softly, and Harry glanced around at
him. "How's it look out there?"
"Pretty good," Harry allowed with caution, trying to
angle his head to gaze up at the night sky. "Looks
like about all the lights are back on."
"That's good." Chris joined him at the window, having
to admit it felt pretty good to look out at the city
all lit up again. "You know what I heard?" he asked,
snagging Joe the Bear from the dresser.
Giving him a curious look, Harry said, "What?"
"That bears are really good at keeping Martians away."
Chris held the bear out to him, watched him look it
over seriously, an internal debate raging away. When
he'd turned five, Harry had announced he was too old
to sleep with the bear anymore, but Chris had a hunch
that resolution wasn't always easy to stick to.
"I don't know," Harry reached out a little hand to
stroke Joe's soft fur. "You don't sleep with a bear."
Chris smiled. "Well no, not anymore, not since I met
Eyes wide, Harry asked, "But you used to?"
Hand closing on the bear and dragging him over, Harry
nodded. "And Joe might be lonely."
"I bet he is," Chris agreed, leading him back to his
bed and getting him settled in again, Joe clutched
"Does Daddy keep the monsters away now?" Harry asked,
eyes starting to drift closed.
Smile wistful now, Chris nodded. "He sure does."
"That's good," Harry said around a huge yawn.
"Yep." Chris waited, making sure Harry was well and
truly asleep this time, and let himself out of the
room quietly, confident in Joe's powers to fight off
any sign of nightmares. Bears really were good at
Back upstairs, he was only mildly disappointed to find
Toby already out of the tub and starting to dry off.
"Here, let me," he took the towel from him and began
working the soft cloth over him, extra diligent about
getting him completely dry because of the cold.
"Yep," Chris rubbed along Toby's collarbone, "Joe's
fighting off the Martians for him."
"That's good. And I really can dry myself off."
Moving, Chris drew the towel along his back, nuzzled
the nape of his neck. "Want me to stop?"
"Well I didn't say that."
Chris laughed and kissed his shoulder. "Yeah," he
drawled, "let's not get crazy, huh?"
"Exactly. So, these plans you had," Toby went on as
Chris finished up and tossed the towel aside, "what's
the next step?"
"Well, you can start with these," Chris handed him a
pair of pajama bottoms and got a quizzical look in
"You want me to get dressed?"
"Umm hmm, but just those. You'll warm up faster skin
"No kidding," Toby replied, laughter in his voice as
he bent and pulled on the navy pajamas, taking his
time about it because of being well aware Chris'
appreciative gaze was lingering on those long legs and
beautiful ass. "What about you?" he asked, pulling
them over his hips and tying the drawstring.
"Go get in bed," Chris told him, locking up another
memory there: Toby standing there, pajamas riding
tantalizing low on slim hips, the dark cloth making
him seem luminous in the soft light. He reached to
stroke the line of golden hair trailing up from his
groin, soft and downy under his fingertips. "You know
"We should start making more use of the tub?"
He laughed. "Yeah." Fingers curved around Toby's
waist, he gave him a squeeze. "Go on, I'll be there
in a sec."
"Okay." Toby's head angled and Chris closed his eyes
as lips teased the corner of his mouth and staked a
quick claim on his lips.
Stripped down to just his boxers, Chris slipped into
bed beside Toby and rolled on his side to gather him
close, hands massaging over his back. "Still cold?"
Toby snuggled closer, trying to keep their feet from
tangling. "A little. Sorry, my feet feel like blocks
"Then bring 'em over here," Chris growled, pulling the
covers up and catching Toby's feet with his, rubbing
them. Kissing his temple, he confessed, "I was
worried about you, out there in the dark and the
cold." He could admit to the fear now, when all he'd
ever want was safe and sound here in his arms.
Toby didn't tell him that was nutty. He only drew
back a bit to look at him, serious and understanding,
touching his face. "I had a few moments myself." He
bent his head, kissed Chris on the shoulder. "And I'm
sorry you had to cope with the kids all on your own."
"Don't be. Taking care of them wasn't any kind of
Searching his eyes, smiling when he saw that was only
the simple truth, Toby nodded. "You're sure?"
Chris kissed his cheek. "I was right where I wanted
to be, Toby. The only thing missing was you."
"Well I'm here now."
Oh yes, he was, and heating up nicely every moment.
Please send feedback to Riley Cannon.