Christmas Countdown: December 25
Poltergeist: The Legacy
Living on an island was a two-edged sword. Derek Rayne could appreciate that. There could be no light without the contrast of darkness, no appreciation for good without the contrast of evil. The blessing of having the San Francisco Legacy House located on an island was that it insured privacy. The drawback was that the island could be too isolated, especially when the weather was bad.
The weather on Christmas Eve was very bad indeed.
"I'm very sorry, Ingrid," Derek called to apologize to his sister. "But apparently the ferry isn't running because the coming storm has the water too rough. I won't be able to share Christmas Eve dinner with you."
His sister's voice was serene as she answered. "That's quite all right, Derek. I wasn't expecting you."
Since they'd made the plans weeks ago, that could only mean one thing. Ingrid was as gifted with the Sight as Derek was, although she didn't use it as he did.
"There was a reason you didn't tell me?" Derek tried to keep the exasperation out of his voice. He well knew that secrets sometimes had to be kept. His young associate, Nick Boyle, often voiced his frustration about Derek's lack of forthcoming.
"Yes, of course," Ingrid replied. "But it is something you must discover for yourself."
"Of course," Derek murmured under his breath and then louder, added, "Merry Christmas, Ingrid."
"Merry Christmas to you too, brother," Ingrid replied. "And remember, storms often wash unexpected opportunities ashore."
With that mysterious comment, Ingrid cut the connection, no doubt knowing her brother well enough to know that Derek would seek an explanation and wanting to avoid having to refuse him. Derek considered calling her back, but he knew his sister as well as she knew him. If Ingrid decided that there was something that Derek needed to figure out on his own, he was unlikely to winkle the information from her. She was still a Rayne, after all, despite her nun's vows, and had the determination that went along with the name.
Suddenly without a task or destination at hand, Derek found himself wandering towards the kitchen. He'd given the staff the holiday off and his colleagues were gone as well. Alex had gone to visit relatives in New Orleans and invited Rachel and her daughter, Catherine, to go with her. Rachel was eager to get Cat away from the mansion and the paranormal activity that surrounded it, so had gladly accepted the offer. The three of them had left that morning, thankfully beating the storm.
Nick Boyle, the youngest member of Derek's House, was spending the holiday with his mother. Derek hadn't noticed him leave, but then Nick was not one to seek a lot of attention. The younger man had been quiet as the holiday approached, but Derek had not pressed to find out why. For all that he could be volatile, Derek thought of Nick as being similar to a cat. Nick would not be approachable about what was troubling him until he was good and ready. Unfortunately, with Nick, that might never happen.
When Derek reached the kitchen, he was surprised to find Nick there. The other man was digging in the refrigerator and was just as surprised to see Derek.
"I thought you'd left for the mainland hours ago," Derek spoke first.
Nick shrugged. "Nah."
Derek cleared his throat, not knowing if he was entering dangerous territory. "I'm sorry, Nick, the ferry has ceased operations for the night because of the weather. I'm afraid that you won't be able to reach your mother."
"My plans changed," Nick kept his focus utterly on his food, which appeared to be the makings of an omelet. "Mom decided to go visit some relatives instead."
"Really?" Derek was surprised. "You hadn't mentioned it."
Nick looked up and grinned fleetingly. "Well, I wasn't about to. I knew everyone else already had plans and can you imagine Alex and Rachel's reaction to knowing I'd be here alone for Christmas? They would have canceled their trip or made me go with them."
"A trip purely for the holiday might have been fun," Derek pointed out. "You're allowed to have fun, upon occasion."
His attempt at a joke got Nick to snort. "Yeah, right. Mr. Pot, I'd like you to meet Mr. Kettle."
Derek thought about his own work habits and had to admit that Nick had a point. "You're right."
Nick feigned staggering in surprise. "I am? Derek Rayne is actually admitting he works too much?"
His companion had been chopping up a number of foodstuffs, with several waiting for their turn. Derek grabbed green onion and shook it in mock threat. "You tell anyone and I shall deny it."
"Whoa," Nick laughed as he held up his hands in surrender. "Your secret is safe with me."
The two men entered into a casual conversation and Derek pitched in to finish the prep work on the omelets, the only food item they felt comfortable making without a serious risk to the kitchen. Derek was secretly relieved that they were out of oysters. He liked them, just not with his eggs. As the storm hit outside, the cold rain began pounding the windows. Inside, however, it was comfortable and warm. Cozy, even. The mansion was many things, but cozy was rarely a word used to describe it.
It felt good to talk to Nick, but it also made Derek aware of how strained their relationship had become. Finding out that Nick's father had been so abusive towards his wife and son had been an unpleasant revelation to Derek. Personal matters had never been easy for him, and even less so for Nick. Derek was somewhat ashamed to come to the conclusion that his own guilt over not having detected Jonathan Boyle's abuse of his family had come to make him push Nick away. It didn't matter that the abuse had occurred years ago; it was fresh to Derek and he found he had a hard time dealing with the knowledge other than making it uncomfortable to be around Nick. That was no way to treat a fellow Legacy member, especially one who Derek liked to think was a friend.
Maybe more than a friend.
Derek had to admit, if only to himself, that another reason he'd been more distant with Nick was because of a growing attraction. Derek was Nick's Precept and his elder by a number of years; it simply wasn't right. Now that Derek was aware of Nick's father issues, he couldn't help but feel that whatever attraction Nick might feel in return would be because he wanted a father figure to replace what Jonathan should have been to him. Nick deserved a far healthier relationship than Derek could ever offer.
"Well, that was pretty good," Nick pushed away from the table, having consumed the largest omelet that Derek had ever seen, along with toast, coffee and fruit.
"Excellent," Derek agreed. "My compliments to the chef."
To Derek's delight, Nick blushed. "Eggs are easy."
"You are a man of many talents," Derek refused to let Nick shrug off the compliment. "We are most lucky to have you."
"Don't let the cook hear you say that," Nick scoffed. "Or he'll quit and you'll be eating eggs for the foreseeable future."
Derek shrugged. "It's a risk I'm willing to take."
"Speaking of risks. . . ." Nick sidled closer.
All at once, Derek's Sight kicked in. The shared meal and casual conversation had loosened up things with Nick, maybe too much. Derek's abilities enabled him to Know that Nick was about to approach him regarding mutual attraction. As much as Derek would have liked for that to happen, he just couldn't allow it. Nick deserved better.
"A risk would be to allow the ladies to come back to this mess," Derek turned away from Nick and started gathering plates. "You cooked, it's only fair that I do the cleaning chore."
He felt Nick still behind him and Derek closed his eyes at the pained confusion he could feel rolling off the other man. Derek managed to hold the plates without his hands shaking and after a few moments, Nick's body stiffened.
"I'm going for a run," Nick announced.
Derek's eyes widened in alarm and he turned around. "Now? Nick, the weather out there is hardly appropriate for jogging."
"That's where you're wrong." Their easy camaraderie was gone and Nick glared at him. "One thing my father and the SEALs had in common was their opinions on training. You might be called for duty in all types of conditions, so you have to practice in them. Otherwise, you might let your team down."
There was a storm of hurt in Nick's eyes, but Derek didn't say anything to alleviate it. He only watched as the younger man stomped out of the kitchen. The slam of the back door caused Derek to flinch and to also have a twinge of worry. From the timing, Nick hadn't bothered to put on any protective clothing. It would be a miserable run, but maybe that's what Nick was looking for. Obviously, Derek's indirect rebuff of his advances had caused misery too. It was necessary, but one that Derek regretted.
Cleaning up the kitchen didn't take that long, but it felt like it did. Derek kept an ear open for Nick, but he didn't hear the other man return. It was getting late, but there was no way he could turn in for the night with Nick out in the storm, so Derek poured himself a glass of wine and went to the drawing room.
Derek sat at the piano, intending on playing every Christmas song he knew, but all that came to him was a pensive tune. He gave up and sat on the couch instead, after making sure that a fire was going. He sat for an indeterminate amount of time before a sing-song voice interrupted his musings.
"Your heart has been nicked, Derek Rayne. Better find him, soon, or there will be pain."
The rhyme was simple, almost childish. Christina was a spirit that often warned the Rayne family of dire happenings. She'd died centuries earlier and Derek still hadn't decided if she was a benign force or not.
"Nicked – do you mean Nick?" Derek leapt to his feet. "Is he in danger?"
"Hurry," Christina warned him. "Scurry."
Derek didn't need to be told again. He rushed to the same door that Nick had used, but unlike his companion, took the time to don raingear. He also grabbed a second set, as well as a flashlight. An impending sense of doom kept him from grabbing more supplies and, lightly equipped, Derek headed out into the night.
It was every bit as nasty as Derek had feared. The temperature was down around 40 degrees, which meant that the rain that lashed his body was cold and hard. Even with protective apparel, Derek was soon cold and miserable.
Thankfully, he knew the route that Nick usually took for his runs. A vague feeling, however, had Derek tracing the route backwards. It wasn't very strong, but Derek hoped that the idea was more than wishful thinking that Nick had managed to make it mostly back to the mansion.
"Nick!" The wind ripped away the sound Derek's voice almost as fast as he shouted, but he kept trying. "Nick!"
If time had seemed to slow in the kitchen, it crawled while out in the weather. Derek doggedly kept at it, shining his flashlight and calling Nick's name. Several hundred yards from the mansion, he finally came across Nick. The younger man was limping badly, almost dragging his left leg behind him. As Derek watched, Nick staggered and almost fell. From the muddy condition of his knees, he hadn't always been successful at remaining upright.
Derek hurried forward and put an arm around Nick's waist. He assumed as much of Nick's weight as he could, the closeness of their bodies allowing him to feel how Nick was shuddering from the cold. "What happened?"
"S-s-s-s-slllllippe d," Nick stammered. "Ankle bbbbent."
His colleague was in no condition to elaborate, so Derek didn't pester him for more details. He just concentrated on getting Nick inside as quickly as possible. The trip back went quicker or perhaps Derek was too wrapped up in Nick's condition to notice. In any case, they were back to the mansion in a short amount of time.
Once inside, Derek didn't bother to stop at the door to remove their sodden clothing. His bedroom was the closest, so he man-handled Nick up the stairs and straight to the bathroom inside. He sat Nick on the toilet and started the shower running. While he waited for the water to warm, Derek turned back to the wounded man. Nick sat huddled where he'd been left, shaking and with a bluish tinge to his lips that Derek didn't like at all.
"We have to warm you up," Derek told Nick. He didn't get an answer, but hadn't expected one. Nick was too far gone.
Working as quickly as his own cold fingers would allow, Derek stripped the younger man, taking the expedient route of tearing clothing items off when they proved at all difficult. When Nick was nude, Derek made quick work of his own clothing and then put his hands under Nick's arm and lifted the shivering man to his feet.
The water was just short of scalding, but Nick didn't flinch from it. Derek positioned them so that Nick was directly under the spray. He held the younger man close, ostensibly to bolster his wounded leg, but found himself murmuring words of encouragement in Nick's ear. Slowly, agonizingly slowly, Nick's shaking stopped and the skin under Derek's hands warmed.
But Derek didn't let go.
The mansion had a large water heater, but it wasn't limitless in it capacity. When Derek felt the water's temperature dip slightly, he reluctantly conceded that it might be time to get out.
"Better?" He bent forward to ask.
Nick simply nodded and leaned back against Derek. He let Derek do all of the work, from turning off the water to getting out of the shower. Only when Derek set him on the toilet and started toweling him dry did Nick speak.
"Thanks," his voice was rough.
"My pleasure," Derek's hands paused just a moment at the statement, but then started rubbing vigorously again.
"Do you mean that?" Nick asked in a soft tone that Derek had never heard from him before.
Derek left off his chore and looked at Nick. Sitting there, wet and bedraggled, with water running into his eyes from his soaked hair, Nick looked unusually vulnerable. Before he could chastise himself for what a bad idea it was, Derek leaned forward and kissed Nick gently. He felt the younger man start to respond, but before the kiss could get too deep, Derek leaned back until he was sitting on his haunches.
"I guess that's a yes," Nick said, a shadow of his former cockiness in the shy statement.
Smiling, Derek brushed the damp hair out of Nick's face. "I guess it is."
Nick smiled, his lips no longer tinged blue, and reached for another kiss. Derek gladly bestowed it, but felt the need to caution the younger man.
"Nick, this is not wise," he stated. Derek knew he was probably undermining his point by continuing to stroke Nick's jaw, but couldn't seem to stop.
"Says who?" Nick shrugged. "There's wise and then there's stupid. Feeling this way and not doing anything about it? That seems like stupid to me." Nick seemed suddenly unsure. "Unless you've Seen something that says we shouldn't."
"No," Derek admitted.
"Then what does your heart say?" Nick asked.
As an answer, Derek leaned forward and kissed him again. "My heart tells me to quit being stupid."
Nick grinned, but before he could say anything, he sneezed.
"We need to get you dressed and in a warm bed," Derek felt like an idiot, having a deep conversation while Nick was still suffering the effects of his ill-advised jog. "And see to that ankle."
"But - . . . ." Nic protested. Derek silenced him by putting a finger to his lips.
"We've time enough for that later, love," Derek assured him. "We have all the time in the world."
Nick didn't look like he agreed, but he didn't complain too much as Derek fussed over him. In a short matter of time, Nick was dressed in sweat pants and tucked securely into Derek's bed. His ankle was wrapped and his foot propped up on a fluffy pillow.
"Are you always gonna be this bossy?" Nick commented. In contrast to the peevishness of his words, Nick was utterly relaxed. Derek lay next to him and was stroking Nick's hair, which had dried quickly.
"What?" Derek smiled. "You thought that would change once we became lovers?"
Nick shivered and Derek worried that the chill had come back, until he realized that Nick's eyes had dilated. "Lovers. I like the sound of that."
"Yes," Derek agreed. "But not until you're recovered."
"I recover quickly," Nick warned him.
Derek gave him a kiss. "I'm counting on it."
Nick fell asleep quickly, despite the banter. Derek indulged himself for a few minutes, just watching Nick sleep, feeling entirely content that he would be privy to such sights for years to come. Only when he had his fill did Derek lie down to join his lover.
Just as he drifted off, Derek heard Christina's piping voice, "Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night."
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