Nick Boyle whistled as he jogged down the San Francisco Legacy House's large staircase. The young man had plenty of reason to be in a good mood. Not only was it Sunday, which traditionally meant he got fix his housemates a huge brunch, but it was also Valentine's Day. The ex-SEAL didn't have a sweetheart of his own, but still enjoyed the extra love vibes the day brought. He had his eye on someone special and, even though he probably had a snowball's chance in hell of actually attracting that person, anything seemed possible on this day set aside for romance.
Visions of a certain someone, dressed only in a red ribbon, flashed through his mind. The picture in his head made him blush. Then he thought of what might happen after he untied that strategically placed bow and he started to sweat.
What the hell, a guy could dream, couldn't he?
As Nick rounded the corner to head towards the kitchen, a shapely arm snaked out of the hall and grabbed him by the shirt front. Before he knew it, the young man was slammed up against the wall with his "attacker" right in his face. Only the familiar scent of Alex Moreau's perfume kept him from retaliating violently.
"If you laugh, Boyle, I will make your life a living hell."
From the glint in Alex's eye, Nick didn't doubt her for a moment. The only problem was, he didn't have the foggiest notion of what his colleague was talking about.
"Alex, what's going on--"
The Legacy researcher twisted her fist in Nick's shirt and pulled him even close to her. "Not a smile. Not a wink. Not even a twitch!"
Alex wasn't in the mood to let him get a word in edgewise. "If I suspect that you're even *thinking* about teasing her about this, I'll let Derek know who signed Kristen up for that Blondes in Search of Mates mailing list."
Damn, Alex was serious!
Kristen had been a thorn in Nick's side ever since she wormed her way into the San Francisco Legacy House. Since the blonde seemed to consider finding ways to irritate him her hobby, Nick had soon decided that she needed to find new interests. Signing her up for that mailing list had seemed like a good idea at the time. The flabbergasted young woman had quickly started getting all sorts of odd e-mails from around the world. At first, her reaction had been most satisfying-- until she started whining to the Precept about it. Derek might suspect that his chief of security was behind the prank, but he didn't have the necessary evidence yet.
Nick desperately wanted to keep it that way.
Derek had never become violent the way his father had when angry, but the Dutchman was deviously clever in coming up with unique ways to shape his staff's behavior. The young man certainly did not relish the thought of cleaning the sub-basement's storage room with a toothbrush. Again.
Nick's expression must have been suitably cowed because as suddenly as her strike began, Alex backed off. She released the ex-SEAL and smoothed his t-shirt back down over his chest before giving him an approving little pat. "Good. Just as long as we understand each other."
The young man stared at his colleague's back as she turned and went into the kitchen. What the hell had that been all about?
Nick made his way to the kitchen door and gingerly nudged it open before peeking in. The females in the House were arranged around the kitchen table. Kat, who was generally Nick's second-in-command on Brunch Days, was already gathering the necessary food items. Rachel, Kristen, and Alex were happily chatting while reading the paper.
Everything seemed normal enough.
Rachel spotted Nick hovering at the door. "Morning, Nick!" The rest of the room's occupants also called out greetings, cheerful enough but without the false heartiness of the psychiatrist's. The ex-SEAL shot a confused glance at Alex. Her smile became a little harder, but at least she didn't leap out of her chair to attack him again. Deciding that the only course of action would be to proceed as normal, Nick entered the kitchen all the way.
"Hey there, Kiddo," he greeted Kat, who seemed to be the safest one to approach. "Sleep well?"
To his surprise, the pre-adolescent blushed. "Yeah, thanks."
Nick decided that what he needed was caffeine. He grabbed his mug off the drainer and filled it. Turning around to lean on the counter, he studied his companions. Rachel was staring right back. Nick automatically looked down, thinking she was trying to tell him something. He soon realized that, when you're wearing sweat pants, there was no zipper to be open. He glanced back at the older woman, even more thoroughly confused.
The psychiatrist jerked her head to the left several times, but stopped the small motion when her daughter turned her way.
Nick nonchalantly wandered over to the empty spot at the table, which seemed to be where the older woman was pointing. Sure enough, there was a card with his name on it, one long-stemmed red rose, and a small gift-wrapped package. "What's this?"
Kristen rolled her eyes. "Why don't you open it and find out?"
Nick opened the card first. Not surprising, it was a Valentine's card, complete with red hearts and lace. Under the "Happy Valentine's Day" message, there was a handwritten note. It read "Will you be my Valentine? Love, Kat." Nick turned to the young lady in question, who was watching him intently.
"Sweetie, this is from you?"
"Yeah, you like it?" The previous blush was back and even deeper.
"Like it? I love it! Thank you." Nick walked over to give the girl a hug, which was enthusiastically returned.
"Aren't you going to open the present?" Kristen asked.
Nick sighed and opened his mouth to comment, but subsided when Alex suddenly cleared her throat. Apparently, his co-worker hadn't decided to let him off the hook yet. The ex-SEAL contented himself with a glare in the direction of both women. His momentary irritation was forgotten as he opened the brightly wrapped box to find one of the world's most glorious delights: home-made fudge. "Oh, man!" The young man eagerly popped a piece into his mouth and closed his eyes in ecstasy.
Rachel laughed and wrapped her daughter in a hug. "I think he likes it!"
Alex's chuckle joined the older woman's. "Take a close look, Kat. You're seeing hard evidence of that age-old truth: The way to a man's heart is through his stomach."
Nick ignored the laughter and gave Kat another hug. "Thank you, Kiddo, it's wonderful."
Kat had returned Nick's embrace at first, but stiffened at the young man's words. "That's the second time this morning you've called me a kid. I'm not a kid. Not anymore!" The distraught young woman ran out of the kitchen, almost running Derek down as he entered. Rachel was just a few steps behind her daughter.
Nick's delight turned to confusion. "What did I say?"
Alex's face was sad as she answered. "Nick, haven't you noticed? Kat's growing up..." Apparently at a loss for words, the young woman's voice trailed off.
"What Alex is trying to tell you is that Kat is old enough to start noticing boys," Kristen supplied. "And the poor kid had the misfortune to notice you first. Your behavior certainly fits into the 'boy' category, but let's hope her taste improves with age."
This time, Kristen was on the receiving end of Alex's glare. "Kat has a crush on you, Nick," she gently told him.
Nick closed his eyes as the all of the implications of Alex's quiet statement hit him.
The ex-SEAL, who could face down slathering demons without batting an eye, shook in his socks at the thought of being the object of a pre-teen's romantic affections.
Derek's unhappy expression went unnoticed by the rest of the Legacy staff, so caught up were they in the romantic angst and drama being unfolded by the House's two youngest members. The Precept picked up the neglected rose and promptly got stuck by a protruding thorn.
Sucking on his wounded finger, the Dutchman watched forlornly as Nick followed Rachel out of the kitchen.
It didn't take Nick long to track Kat down; her mother'd clued him in to where her daughter was moping. The ex-SEAL wasn't surprised that the younger Corrigan was by the castle's elegant fish pond; both of them seemed to be drawn to the tranquil water when upset. Seeing his young friend sitting on the stone bench, Nick silently walked over and sat down.
"I'm sorry. You're right." Without looking at Kat, Nick reached down and picked up a stone to throw in the water. "You're not a kid anymore."
"Why is that so hard for everyone to understand?" Kat tearfully replied, carefully not looking at the object of her affections.
The ex-SEAL thought a few moments before answering her. "Because we see something in you that none of us have had for a long time." He waited until Kat looked at him before continuing. "Kids are innocent, Katherine. But the young don't know how precious that is until it's too late. I guess by calling you a kid and thinking of you as a kid, we're just trying to protect you keep you innocent for as long as possible."
Silence again engulfed the unhappy duo.
"Is it really so terrible that I love you?" Kat finally asked.
Nick resisted the urge to laugh, knowing how serious this situation was for the girl. Instead, he draped one arm over the young woman's shoulders. "No, I can use all the love that I can get...but you know that I can't love you back. Not the way that you want." Seeing the stricken look at Kat's face, he hastened to add, "I mean, I do love you, but more like a kid sister. Anything else just wouldn't be right."
Kat rolled her eyes in exasperation. "I'm not *that* much younger than you, Nick!"
"Kat, you're twelve years old! I'm twenty-five. You do the math."
Young Ms. Corrigan glared and defiantly crossed her arms across her chest. "I won't always be twelve." No doubt she was right, but at the moment, she sounded more like a pouting toddler.
Seeing that logic wasn't working, Nick decided it was best to change tactics.
"Kat, I'm never going to have kids of my own..." Nick faltered as he became less sure of the reception his next words might receive. Hearing the uncertainty of his tone, his young charge looked at him worriedly. "You see, Kid-- I mean, Kat...I *know* I'm never going to have children...so...I kinda, you know...considered you...after those times when your mom needed me to help protect you and all...my chosen daughter." Nick stared out over the water, not really wanting to see the expression on Kat's face. Nick's words seemed to disperse Kat's anger and the girl leaned into him, resting her head on his shoulder.
"Why do you say you aren't going to have kids? Did Alex or Derek have a vision?"
Kat abruptly sat up and covered her face with her hands. "Oh, man, Nick! Why didn't you just tell me that you didn't like girls! This is *so* embarrassing!"
The ex-SEAL blinked his eyes at the conclusion that Kat had jumped to. In reality, he knew he wasn't going to have kids because he'd had a vasectomy upon leaving the SEALs. He'd read that people who'd endured abuse as children were likely to abuse their own offspring. A vasectomy was a small price to pay to make sure that wouldn't happen. Hell, he'd cut the damn thing off if it meant he wouldn't be like his father.
It never occurred to Nick Boyle that even worrying about such a thing distinguished him from his father and other monsters who preyed on children.
Still, the young man had to admit that Kat's conclusion had more than a little truth to it. While he'd never acted on any of his fantasies, they'd always been a part of his life. His little mental picture this morning was proof of that. And it seemed that, lately, one male figure in particular was haunting his daydreams...
A small hand touching his arm pulled Nick out of his mental meanderings.
"It's okay, Nick," Kat reassured him in a very sincere voice. "Mom told me all about it that some people are just wired differently than others. It won't wig me out or anything."
Nick smiled at Kat's confidence. He wasn't so sure that *he* wasn't wigged out. Still, Kat's rejection would have hurt. A lot. He patted her hand where it rested on his arm. "Thanks, sweetheart, that means the world to me."
This time the silence that descended was companionable. Finally, Kat sighed and spoke up. "So, is it somebody I know?"
"The guy you've got the hots for...is it someone I know?" Kat apparently had inherited her mother's persistence.
Nick looked at her skeptically. "You're sure you're twelve? How'd you get so smart?"
It was Kat's turn to scoff. "Quit trying to change the subject." Ouch. It looked like she'd inherited Rachel's bossy tendencies too.
Nick tapped the girl on the nose with his finger. "That's for me to know and *you* not to find out. Let's just say that I know how it feels to pine after someone that doesn't feel the way you want them to."
"Men...can't live with 'em, can't live without them." The twelve year-old solemnly declared.
With a much lighter heart, Nick completed his morning martial arts exercises and jogged up the stairs. It had been a most unsettling Valentine's Day so far, but surely the day would improve. Hell, it couldn't get any worse.
Famous last words.
Nick opened the door to his bedroom to find his Precept perched on the edge of his bed. Derek had a scowl on his face and the remains of a rose in his hands. The poor thing looked like it had been tortured, with only a few bedraggled petals clinging to the stem.
Nick didn't even have a chance to mount a defense, verbal or otherwise. Upon seeing the younger man enter the room, the Dutchman got up and waved the rose in front of him like a sword. Soon, Nick was backed against the hastily closed door.
"A Valentine card! Candy! A rose, for God's sake!" The Precept's pupil's were dilated...with anger?
"Derek?" The Dutchman was beginning to make Nick nervous. Pinned against the door as he was, he had nowhere to go. Not that he thought the situation was going to turn violent, but there was a certain primal pulse in the air...
"Do you have any idea how that makes me feel?"
Nick looked from the wilted flower to the flushed face of the older man. "Derek, it's just a simple schoolgirl crush. Tomorrow, she'll have pictures of some anemic rock-and-roll stud plastered all over her bedroom walls. You *know* I'd never do anything to hurt Kat..."
Derek moved his arms up to place his hands on the wall, one on each side of Nick's face, pinning the ex-SEAL even tighter. "Do you have any idea how it makes me feel that a *child* can give you these things...can proclaim her love for you in this way...and I can't?"
Nick felt his chest tighten. Derek couldn't be saying what he thought he was, could he?
"Derek, what do you mean?"
Instead of verbalizing his answer, the Dutchman leaned in and sealed his lips to Nick's. With an animal growl, the bigger man pressed his body against the former SEAL's, flattening him further and even lifting him a few inches.
When he'd stolen all of the young man's breath, he released him. "What do *you* think I meant?"
Suddenly boneless, Nick slumped against the door. He looked at the object of his fantasies with dazed eyes, unable to form any words.
The Precept chuckled and leaned in to nip at an earlobe. "Cat got your tongue?"
Nick simply shook his head in denial.
"Good," his new lover said. "I'm glad to hear that you're still in possession of that delicious tongue. I have things I want to show you how to do with it..."
And he did.
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