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Between the Sunlight and the Grave

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There is a man in the ferryboat who will not leave.  Oliver knows his name, just as he knows the names of each other who passes this way--young and old, strong and frail, violent deaths and quiet passings.  Jon's was not quiet, but the man himself sits silent in the ferry, fidgeting, glancing back, peering forward.  Each time Oliver guides his boat to the landing on either side, he looks to Jon, and Jon averts his indecisive gaze.  

Oliver learned long ago that his other passengers cannot hear him if he speaks, but Jon eventually breaks the silence by asking what happened to them.  He falls quiet again as he listens to the last tales of the dead.  When they read the opposite shore, he does not follow.  

Once, on the silent trip back, Oliver asks Jon if he wants to hear his story, too.  Jon’s surprise at being spoken to is the most emotion Oliver has seen for years aside from dread and melancholy, but Jon says yes.

Companionship is a strange thing to have again.  Is that what this is?  Stolen conversations and confessed secrets in this strange limbo together--is he allowed to name it that?  

The seasons cycle by in the world up above.  Oliver had just ferried Spring back to the shore of life (as he does each year) when the echoes of a living voice trickle down towards them.  Pleading, poetic.  Jon’s face is instantly alight with yearning.

“You can return, you know,” says Oliver for the tenth time (or is it the hundredth?).  “You have a choice.”

Jon doesn’t answer at first.  Oliver grips the pole to set off again, their too-familiar pattern, when Jon grips his hand.  “I--  I’ve chosen.  I’m sorry.”

Oliver doesn’t need to ask what shore he chose.  He takes the hand on his and helps Jon out of the boat, helps steady him when Jon sways on his feet.

The voice can no longer be heard, but Jon’s face stays turned towards it like a flower to the sun.

“I’m sorry,” he says again, but doesn’t look back.  He shouldn’t look back.  “I’ll return one day.”

Oliver presses his lips to Jon’s knuckles before releasing his hand.  “You will.  Everyone does, in the end.”