Heaven Can Wait
Beginning portion based heavily on "The Beast Within" as written by Sam Glickson
Derek looked down at his younger colleague fondly. "How long have we been together?"
"Too long," was said with a snort. Despite the dire situation, the Precept couldn't help but notice the taut backside as the other turned away and bent in search of the crucifix hidden in the dust.
Feeling the older man's stare, the Dutchman's companion continued. "I dunno. Since I left the SEALS and you hired me on at the Luna Foundation as a mechanic."
"I didn't relegate you to the garage for too long," Derek reminded Nick, "You were too promising as a potential Legacy member......" The taller man's face grew pensive as he was lost in memories. "If something were to happen to me, where would you go? Would you stay?"
Nick stopped rooting around in the dust momentarily as the question surprised him. "Stay? With the Legacy?" He looked up at his associate in concern. "I dunno. Are you plannin' on leavin'?"
Derek saw the younger man's worry and quickly moved to diffuse it. The last thing he needed was for Nick to get stubborn on him. "Me? Don't be silly! Where would I go?" He moved the conversation along quickly before Nick took offense at being referred to as silly. "But..... I really think you need to find someone......"
Nick bent back to his work before the other man could see the pain in his eyes. "Tried. Didn't work out."
Indeed, Derek knew exactly what he meant. It seemed like every woman the ex-SEAL became involved with died or was somehow corrupt. Time after time, the Dutchman had wanted to advise Nick that maybe it wasn't a woman that the young man needed, but his sense of honor kept his words unsaid.
A fact that, considering what the Sighted Precept knew was coming, bothered him a great deal.
"Look at you," Derek said. The least he could do, while he still had the time, would be to set Nick's feet on the right path. "Young. Beau attractive. If you hadn't been my old friend's son....." As he realized what he'd come close to saying, the tall man's words took an abrupt change of direction. "I mean, if I had been a woman, I would have asked you out myself."
Another snort. "Now, I *know* you're lyin'." Despite his favorite fantasies, Nick knew that Derek would need a more refined and elegant mate. Someone more like the suave Dutchman than he could ever be, scruffy ex-sailor that he was.
Nick's inner self-recriminations were cut short as his fingers brushed across cold metal.
"Hey, look," he cried, lifting the crucifix from its shroud of dust and brandishing it at the Precept.
"Oh my God, you found it!" Derek cried, kneeling down in the dirt next to the young man.
Derek reached for the silver cross, his hands touching Nick's smaller ones. For a moment, as he felt his fingers brush against Nick's, the Precept felt his resolve not to reveal his feelings to the ex-SEAL waver. But then, memories of his visions returned. Even if, hope against hope, Nick returned his feelings, it would be utter cruelty to bring up the issue now.
Not with what Derek had Seen was coming.
All business, the Dutchman, led his younger colleague off to their next task....... but the sensation of Nick's warm hands touching his stayed with Derek for a long time.
"How's it going?" Derek entered the library and carefully set his backpack down. Even though the C-4 charges contained within the bag weren't set yet, it still was smart to treat them with caution.
"We're getting there," Alex replied, referring to her and Rachel's task of consecrating each room in the house. The older woman had gone to get another bottle of holy water. "I wish we had more options." Alex knew that the explosives were a last resort, but she didn't like the thought of destroying their home, even if it meant that the portal would be destroyed too.
"I understand," Derek said. "Listen, Alex, before things get out of hand..." The Dutchman took off his ring. "I want you to have this," extending his hand, he offered it to his former student.
Alex's head shook slightly with half-understood denial. "Your Precept's ring?"
"On the chance this turns out badly, I want you to have it."
"What are you talking about?" Alex shook her head again. Surely he couldn't mean what she thought he meant?
"Should anything happen to me, I would like it to fall to you."
Damn! He *did* mean what she thought he meant. "Nothing's going to happen to you!" Just because she understood what he said didn't mean she had to accept it.
"All the same, just take it."
"Why?" Derek was so serious that the researcher hated to question him, but Alex didn't like the defeated look in the Dutchman's eyes either.
Uncharacteristically, Derek hesitated before starting to speak. "Seeing my father alive again...." The big shoulders shook with a small shrug. "Or, at least, what looked like him, made me realize that soon my life, too, will be over. I never had a daughter, but if I did, I would like to think that she would have been like you."
Alex turned away from her mentor, uncomfortable with the emotion in his voice and eyes. "This is crazy! Why are you talking like this?" Unsaid was the need to know why he chose *her* and not someone more suited like Nick.
"Because soon there won't be time!" Derek's voice had become sharp with his need to convince the young woman to take the ring, but seeing the distress on her face caused him to soften his tone. "You remember Horton..... and Cross...."
"The time I betrayed you," she whispered. "When we thought you'd died."
"Yeah, that time." Derek gave a tight smile. "I admired the way that you questioned the Legacy, the way that you didn't take anything at face value. That was the time I knew I was right about you. I knew that, eventually, this day would come." He forestalled Alex's objections by placing the ring in her hand. "They duped you, but only temporarily. Having been taken advantage of that way, you'll be twice as vigilant that it doesn't happen again." Decisively, he closed her fingers over the symbol of his leadership. "Until this day is lost or won......"
Turning way, Derek bent to take up the burden of his backpack..... and all that its contents implied.
"Derek," the Precept turned as Alex finally found her voice. "I just want you to know that I didn't stay with the Legacy just to lose. When this is over," she held up his ring. "You can expect this back."
Smiling at Alex's eternal optimism, Derek turned and left. He had some explosives to set.
Nick strode down the castle's hallways, trademark swagger even more pronounced than usual.
"Nick, can you hear me?" Came a tinny voice out of his earpiece.
"Yeah, Derek?" The ex-SEAL stopped and pressed his fingers against he small electronic piece, hoping it would improve the sound quality.
"I need you to meet me in the garden," Derek's voice said. "Near the griffin."
"Okay, I'll be right there."
Putting action to words, the young man changed direction and jogged towards the indicated location.
The moonlight made Derek's face look like stone, worry etching deep lines into his patrician features. Only his eyes looked alive and even they were dull with heartache.
As the sound of Nick's approach became apparent, the Precept turned to face the young man, hoping that the dim light would shroud his expression. "Nick! Over here. Quickly!"
The ex-SEAL quickly saw Derek and hastily made his way over to him. "What's wrong?"
"The cross." The Precept asked abruptly. "Show me where you put it."
Nick looked at the Dutchman askance. "In the base of the griffin," the young man answered, bending to retrieve the requested item. "Just like you told me." He shook his head a bit. Just a short time ago, Derek had told him where to stash the crucifix and Nick couldn't quite figure why the Precept had needed to call him out here to retrieve it. Nick might question Derek from time to time, but didn't the older man trust him to follow orders during a battle situation?
As he watched the ex-SEAL obey his directive, something inside Derek broke. He knew what he'd truly called Nick out here to do, but now...... watching Nick........ being with him for the last time.... suddenly, Derek knew that he couldn't follow through without at least giving voice to his feelings. Nick looked up at him briefly, but then turned his attention down to opening the compartment in the statue's base.
"Listen, there's something I want to tell you. Something I should have said a long time ago." Derek spoke unusually quickly, wanting to get the words out before he changed his mind. Knowing that if he lost the courage now, it literally would be too late. "Maybe If I'd allowed myself to be a little bit more human, we might have had something....."
The ex-SEAL continued to feel around in the dark compartment for the crucifix. "What are you talking about?" Kneeling, he was unaware that Derek was coming up behind him and taking a small bottle out of his pocket as he approached. "You sound like you're saying goodbye...."
Finally, Nick's groping hands found the what he was looking for. "Here's the cross...." Nick started to get up and was in the midst of turning to hand the crucifix to Derek when the taller man suddenly sprayed him in the face, using the mysterious bottle. Whatever the potion was, it was fast-acting and the young man's body went limp almost immediately.
As the athletic ex-SEAL toppled towards the ground, Derek grabbed him around the waist, supporting the lithe figure and reverently nestling the young man on the grass. Bending to take the cross from Nick's slack fingers, the Dutchman indulged himself by bending in for a quick kiss.
Warm, soft, tasting faintly of apples...........the Precept pulled back for a moment, running a finger along Nick's lips before leaning in for another kiss. Stolen as they were, the kisses would have to last him for eternity.
"We *are* saying goodbye," he said as he stood, belatedly answering Nick's question from earlier. Then, with one last look at the recumbent figure on the lawn, the Precept made his way back inside.
The hardest deception over with, the Dutchman stealthily made his way back to the beleaguered House. Hiding in a corridor, he silently asked for forgiveness for one last lie.
"Alex. Rachel. Come quickly, in the garden. Nick's been attacked."
The Precept watched as his two female colleagues quickly ran to assist.
"Alex, did you hear Derek?" The psychiatrist asked as she reached for her coat. "Nick's been attacked in the garden."
The younger woman's reply was lost on Derek as the two ladies jogged out the door. Moving quickly, the big man came out of his hiding place and bolted the door shut.
His Sight had been a burden to him as much as a gift over the years. But now, more than any other time in his life, he was glad that it had prepared him. Thanks to his Foreseeing, he could deal with this attack the way he was meant to.
Catching the movement of a shadow in the corner of his eye, the Precept moved deeper into the House. The portal was waiting............
"Nick?! Nick...." Rachel called as she moved through the moonlit garden. Finally, she saw the young man sprawled on the ground. "I've found him," she called out, even as she knelt to access the situation. "Alex, over here!" She turned to her unconscious friend. "Nick, Nick," the psychiatrist softly called, patting the young man's face in an attempt to wake him.
"What happened?" Alex fell heavily to her knees as she joined her friends.
"I dunno," Rachel turned Nick's head and pressed her fingers to his neck. "His pupils are dilated and his pulse is thready..."
Alex picked up one of Nick's slack hands, careful not to jostle the ex-SEAL until they were sure there was no serious damage. "Nick!" She called urgently.
A soft moan answered her. "I think he's coming around," Rachel said, happy that at least one thing was going right. She cupped Nick's face with her hands until she was sure that he was awake and then, knowing her patient, she gestured for Alex to help her get him to his feet.
When he was vertical and supported between the two ladies, Nick groggily looked around. "Where's Derek?"
Alex looked at him in alarm. "I thought he was with you?"
Her worry woke Nick up more, helping him focus. "No, he told me to meet him here....."
"He called us here too," Rachel paused as she realized what their leader had done. "The portal...."
"He suckered us out, so he could do it alone," Alex surmised, quickly moving to call Derek on the wireless remote. "Derek?"
For a moment, static was her only answer, but then the Precept's strained voice was audible. "Alex! Is everyone out?"
"Everyone but you. Where are you?"
"The portal." They couldn't see Derek but he sounded out of breath.
Alex looked at her friends and realized that they were as determined as she was. "We're coming in!"
"NO!" Came the quick answer. "Stay where you are. I'm coming out."
That was the last time they heard Derek's voice.
Down below, facing his father and the portal, Derek let Winston Rayne's hateful words wash over him. For a moment during the struggle, it had actually looked like he might win. That he might walk away from the gateway to hell, knowing that it was sealed for a thousand years. Might have an opportunity to create a relationship with Nick after all.
He should have known better.
When he saw the crucifix in his father's hands, Derek knew that he'd been fooling himself. Deep down, he'd known from the beginning how this would end, it was why he'd taken such great pains to say farewell to each of his colleagues. His chosen family.
And, in his last moments, as he visualized of each of those he loved, Derek's thoughts were primarily on the one that was closest to his heart. If *he* were faced with being blown to Kingdom Come, what would his beloved Nick's final words be?
It only took a heartbeat to find the answer.
Smiling grimly at his father, Derek held up the timer. "Go to hell."
The timer read "00:00" and Derek had the satisfaction of seeing genuine horror on his father's face before the world exploded.
When the shockwave from the explosion hit the garden, all three of the Legacy members went down hard. Alex and Rachel remained on the grass, fearful of flying debris, but Nick quickly leveraged himself up. Derek was still in there; he *had* to see what was going on.
He quickly wished he hadn't.
The castle, his home for the last several years, was completely engulfed in flame. Even though the explosion had just happened, fire licked its hungry way out of every window. Woodenly, it occurred to Nick that he and Derek had done their job well when they set the C-4.
The damage was too great, the explosion too thorough. There was no way in hell anyone was walking out of that mansion alive. Just like when Julia died, Nick was forced to observe the aftermath of the death of someone he deeply loved.
But unlike when Julia had died, this time when the ex-SEAL screamed out his anguish, there was no Derek to comfort him...........
There never would be again.
Alex Moreau watched her home burn to the ground and seriously contemplated damning Derek Rayne to hell for the burden he'd placed on her shoulders. Only the fact that the devastating fire was also Derek's funeral pyre kept her from uttering the words.
Nick had been swifter than the others to understand what the explosion had meant for the Precept still inside the House, but his agonized scream had quickly brought the ladies to the same realization. There was no way anyone that anyone could have survived such a blast.
Derek was dead.
Thinking of how the ex-SEAL had reacted, Alex was a little more inclined to curse the Dutchman, even though she now had a better understanding of just why Derek had deeded his leadership responsibilities to her rather than to Nick. The Dutchman must have known the affect his death would have on Nick. It had taken both Rachel and Alex to keep him from running in to the House, apparently the ex-SEAL was hoping against hope to offer some sort of assistance to the Precept. If it hadn't been for the drug still lingering in the young man's system, Alex knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that they never would have been able to hold him back.
The Legacy researcher-cum-Precept hadn't borne witness to Nick's reaction to Julia Walker's death, but Derek's description had haunted her for years. With a sense of secondhand deja vu, Alex realized that Nick's reaction to Derek's death was the same, confirming the suspicions she'd been harboring for some time.
Nick loved Derek..... and now Derek was gone.
Dead. Alex made herself repeat the word, rolling the meaning of it around in her mind. Somehow, she never expect to connect the concept to Derek Rayne. Her former teacher had always seemed invincible; time and again able to pull last-minute saves out of his hat. Only the fact that he accomplished his goal of sealing the portal gave any meaning to his loss. On top of all the other responsibilities she'd inherited along with the Precept's ring, Alex knew that she was now responsible for keeping the young man he'd left behind from shattering into a million pieces. It wasn't going to be easy, but Alex refused the contemplate the possibility of failure.
She'd already lost one dear friend tonight, she'd be damned if she was going to lose another one.
Thinking of Nick brought Alex's gaze over to where the ex-SEAL sat, Rachel keeping vigil over him as they watched the House burn. The young man hadn't uttered a word since screaming his denial of Derek's loss, although an occasional clench of his jaw gave witness to the emotions raging within him. After his colleagues had restrained him from entering the burning building, all of Nick's energy seemed to leak out of him and he had become unnervingly compliant. Silent tears streaked his face, however, becoming ribbons of flame as the fire was reflected in the moist tracks running down his cheeks.
Alex felt like weeping herself, but the sound of sirens drawing closer let her know that she didn't have that luxury. She had an explosion to explain to the authorities and, eventually, a House to rebuild. For the moment, she would have to rely on Rachel to keep Nick sane.
Squaring her shoulders, the new Precept turned to face the emergency vehicles racing up the path. Her list of priorities was daunting, but her mentor had given Alex his ring as a symbol of his confidence in her ability to do the job.
She'd just have to trust that Derek had been right.
"What do you think, should we call Ingrid or wait until we can tell her in person?"
Rachel asked the question, not only out of concern for Derek's sister, but because of her deep worry over Nick. There was no doubt that the young man was in shock over their leader's death, that was to be expected. But the ex-SEAL had refused to speak for hours now and the psychiatrist was becoming alarmed at his lack of response. Seemingly mesmerized by the remaining flames that continued to eat away at the doomed mansion, Nick huddled in the blanket the emergency personnel had given him and focused his gaze on fire's progress.
Rachel was grieving too, and she knew that Alex was every bit as heartbroken. Nick's grief, however had a different feel to it. More brittle, as if the ex-SEAL were to break apart at any moment. Knowing of the young man's tendency to put the well-being of others over his own, the psychiatrist had hoped to use concern over Ingrid's welfare to tug Nick's attention away from the catastrophe.
It didn't work. Nick slowly turned his head to look at her with eyes gone gray and flat with sorrow. They locked eyes for just a moment, then the ex-SEAL turned back to the fire, his silence remaining unbroken.
Rachel sighed. It had been worth a try, anyway. Legs stiff from too much time kneeling by her friend, she got up with a groan and made her way over to where Alex was conferring with Detective John Royce. As she did, the psychiatrist allowed herself a tired smile. Sometimes it seemed like Royce was the only positive thing they'd encountered lately. His exposure to the succubus had inured the detective with paranormal phenomenon and they'd finally gained a much-needed ally with local law enforcement, something that had been sorely lacking since Frank Karmack's death.
"So, you're sure that Dr. Rayne was in the house when it went up?" He'd been questioning Alex for several minutes and, so far, her story of the Luna Foundation having received threats regarding returning an artifact to its native people seemed to be holding up.
Any envy Rachel had been feeling towards Alex for having a task to do to distract her from the reality of Derek's death eked away when she saw the expression on the younger woman's face. Sensing that Detective Royce's stark question had nearly undone the new Precept's composure, Rachel moved in to support her.
"Yes, we're sure," she answered for Alex, laying a supportive hand on her shoulder.
John seemed to realize that he'd been less than sensitive. "I'm sorry to be so blunt. It's just that with this old houses, sometimes they have caverns underneath..."
Rachel's short intervention had allowed Alex a moment to catch her breath. "That's all right, I understand. It's just that it all seems so surreal."
The detective's eyes swept in the scene around him. Emergency people buzzing around like angry bees. A home, albeit a big one, in the process of burning to the ground. Media hounds barely kept at bay by a line of police personnel. This macabre type of circus was an all-to- frequent occurrences in his line of work but was a shattering experience for the survivors. Surreal, he guessed, was as a good a description as any. "Yeah, I bet it does." Decisively, he snapped his notebook shut. "Do you folks have a place to stay?" It was a general question, but his eyes were on Rachel when he asked.
"Yes," she readily answered. "They'll be staying with me. I have a house in the city." She gave the detective her address and the women agreed that they would be available for further questioning if needed. With a lingering hand on Rachel's shoulder in a gesture of silent comfort, Detective Royce left them to their sorrow.
"He's a good man," Alex said.
"Yes, he is," Rachel agreed. There was silence between the two as they ran out of mundane things to say.
The psychiatrist finally spoke. "What the hell do we do now?"
Alex closed her eyes in pain. "We go on."
Rachel gave a brittle laugh. "Just like that? It's that simple?"
"No," Alex said, eyes focused on where Nick sat huddled in his blanket. "It's not simple at all." She turned and gave the older woman a searching stare that reminded Rachel uncannily of Derek. "But can you think of a better way to honor Derek's memory?"
Looking at Nick's forlorn figure, Rachel couldn't help but wonder which would be the most daunting task. Rebuilding their House..... or rebuilding Nick?
When the detonator reached the end of its electronic countdown, Derek watched as the triumph in his father's face turned from victory to horrified dismay. Winston Rayne had only a split second to realize that his son, once and for all, had defeated both him and his dark legacy.
Derek had a bit longer than that.
Time seemed to slow for the younger Rayne, allowing him to witness several extraordinary events happen virtually simultaneously. The door to the portal rattling open. The flash of the explosion that blew the gateway, literally, straight back to hell. His father's image, consumed by the blaze that would be on him in another instant.
The beautiful white creature flying ahead of the flames' heat, scooping him up and carrying him away.
One moment, Derek was waiting his inevitable combustion, the next, he was drifting above the fire, watching disinterestedly as it destroyed his home, priceless artifacts, and decades of work. A strange, muffled sound distracted him for a moment from his dispassionate contemplation, but he couldn't focus on its source. He did realize, however, that he wasn't alone.
As soon as Derek sensed the presence of another, his companion was revealed to him.
"Kristin," the Precept said, idly wondering why he wasn't more surprised to see his deceased Legacy associate. For that matter, Derek vaguely wondered why he wasn't feeling much of anything. Funny, he'd never imagine death to be so emotionless.
Kristin smiled at him with an expression more sweet than anything he'd seen on her face during life. "That's because you're not dead."
Having laid half of the C-4 explosives himself, Derek wasn't so certain. "Are you sure? That's quite a fire down there. I don't see how I could have escaped." It didn't seem at all odd to be discussing this, drifting high above the burning mansion with no visible means of support, chatting with a dead woman.
"I'm quite sure." Kristin seemed to be holding back laughter, but sobered when she herself looked down at the inferno that had been the San Francisco Legacy House. "Come, let's find a more peaceful place to talk about this."
Then, simple as that, they were in San Francisco itself, seated in the back pews at Philip Callaghan's old church. "There, that's better," his companion said, seemingly satisfied with the change in venue.
There it was again, that quiet, choked sound. Derek had swivelled in his seat, hunting for its source, when a soft touch on his knee drew his attention back to Kristin.
"Did you mean what you said?" She asked him.
"I don't understand...."
"When you told Rachel that you were tired of fighting the darkness," his unearthly companion reminded him. "Did you mean it?"
Although he seemed disconnected from his emotions now, the Dutchman could easily remember the pervasive exhaustion that had caused him to make that statement. "I did at the time...."
"But you don't now?" Kristin was every bit as persistent after death as she had been when still alive.
"...... I don't know." A vague sense of confusion now. "Why do you ask?"
Kristin sighed and settled in to give a longer explanation. "There are some of us who are given a choice. For me, that choice came after death. Did I want to serve as a guardian or go to my eternal rest. I chose to stay and watch over the portal." She gave a rueful smile. "Not very well as it turned out, but at least I managed to stabilize it until the *real* 'Chosen' one was around."
"So, now that I'm dead, I get to decide?"
"No," she shook her head. "I already told you, you're not dead. Not yet."
"But, you said you were given a choice after you died.....? Besides, the fire....?"
"*Some* people are given a choice at death." Kristin qualified. "Others are given it before. That's why you're here, in this in-between place. To give you the opportunity to decide between continuing your earthly battle or going on to your heavenly reward."
Derek still didn't understand. "But, if I'm not dead yet, why don't I feel anything?"
"Because you're not exactly alive right now either." Seeing his continued confusion, she tried to explain. "The afterlife isn't an emotionless desert, Derek. You're just being given the.... space... to make the decision."
The Precept was appalled at the choice in front of him. How could he decide? "What if I make the wrong choice?"
Kristin patted his hand in comfort. "There *is* no right or wrong choice, Derek. Simply different options."
Derek opened his mouth to ask another question, when that soft but persistent noise tickled his ears.
The Precept realized that Kristin was expecting an answer, but somehow, that recurring sound made him think of the people he left behind. "The others, are they okay?"
"Yes, Derek, they all made it out of the House just fine. They're okay, you needn't worry about them."
Derek wavered, not quite satisfied with her answer. "I need to see them for myself. I can't decide not knowing....."
His companion's lips twitched. "Ever the responsible Precept, right, Derek?"
"If you say so," he replied. "But I can't decide. I won't. Not until I see them."
"All right," she conceded. Then, as soon as she took his hand, the two were once again drifting about the remains of the Legacy House. But, instead of burning furiously, the ruins were cold, wet, and smoldering.
"What happened? We've only been gone a moment..." Derek looked to his erstwhile subordinate for an answer.
"Time moves differently when you're in-between life and death, Derek. It's only seemed like a few minutes to you, but a little more time has passed for the truly living."
If he could have felt his lips, he was sure that would have been dry. He was about to ask her how long it been in reality, but the sound came back. Was it his imagination, or did the noise have a little more despairing quality to it now?
The Precept turned back to his guide. "I want to see them. Now, please." Long used to command, the "please" was an afterthought.
"All right." With seemingly no effort, suddenly the two were drifting along the ceiling of Rachel Corrigan's living room.
Something within Derek seemed to relax as he took in the cozy scene. It was evening again, judging by the still-smoldering remains of the castle, most likely the night after the battle. Rachel and Kat were cuddled up together on the sofa in front of a fire, mother and daughter seeming to draw comfort from the flames that were completely under their control, unlike the conflagration that had decimated the mansion. Alex was nearby, seated at a desk, a phone glued to her ear. It took only a second to realize that she must be on the line with the London House, ironing out details for rebuilding the Luna Foundation. Business that, no doubt, would be better off conducted in private, but the young woman seemed to crave the company of her friends.
But something was missing. Or, rather, someone.
A veil of sadness dropped over Kristin's face. "He's here, Derek. Upstairs, in the bedroom."
As soon as she said it, Derek found himself, hovering in the darkness of a bedroom lit only by the moonlight hesitantly creeping in the window. He could make out Nick huddled in the center of the bed and, by the glistening eyes, could tell that the young man was awake....
..... and crying.
Suddenly, Derek knew the source of the soft sound that had been chasing him during this not- dead/not-alive experience. Although the ex-SEAL was weeping silently, the echo of his lament had haunted the Precept all the way into the doorway of the afterlife.
Suddenly, seeing his beloved's sorrow, the choice before him didn't seem so difficult at all.
Rachel shook her head as she finished descending the stairs, food tray carefully balanced in her hand. "Not a thing. He wouldn't touch it." The ex-SEAL had barely even acknowledged the food and had only looked at her with hurt eyes when she'd tried to coax him to eat.
"Damn." Alex rubbed her temples with exhaustion-induced trembling hands. "Did he say anything?"
The psychiatrist set the tray down with a sigh, carefully balancing the untouched tray on a nearby table. "Not a peep."
The resignation in the older woman's voice broke something within the curly-haired Precept. "Okay, that's it." Alex got up and strode towards the tray. "Some of this food *is* going into Nick. Whether he eats it or I shove it up the most convenient body orifice will be totally up to him...."
"Alex," Rachel said, knowing this sudden outburst had to do with fatigue and worry, not really the anger her friend was displaying. "Nick's a big boy. One day without eating isn't going to hurt him. We have to let him grieve in his own way."
The brunette's anger leaked away and tears filled her eyes. "That's just it, Rachel, this is *not* Nick's way and you know it." Agitated, Alex started to pace. "When Nick's upset, he gets angry. Growls a lot. Throws things sometimes. You know how he was after Julia died...."
Rachel grimaced, remembering how wary of the anger-filled young man she'd been at first, until she realized that his bark was much worse than his bite. "Give him time, Alex. As much as he loved Julia, I think Nick's feelings for Derek go a lot deeper. He's bound to grieve for each of them differently."
Alex looked at her askance. "You saw it too, that there was a spark between them?"
Despite the circumstances, Rachel snorted. "You'd have to be blind... or a man... not to." Alex's pacing had slowed and the psychiatrist took the opportunity to deflect the conversation. "Alex, when was the last time you had any sleep?" Seeing the blank look her friend gave her in answer, Rachel continued. "I don't think any of us slept last night and you've been working steady ever since."
Her younger friend blinked. "Derek trusted me with his House, Rachel. There's been so much to do...."
The psychiatrist wrapped a motherly arm around Alex's shoulders and guided her towards the stairs. "Let's both call it a night." Indeed, Kat had crashed hours earlier, sleeping in her mother's bed for comfort. Nick was curled up in Connor's old room, but Rachel doubted that the ex-SEAL would find any rest there -- or anywhere in the immediate future.
"Things will look better in the morning," she declared as the two of them made their way up the steps.
Alex stopped and looked at her, one eyebrow raised in disbelief. "Really?"
Rachel grinned at her friend's rally. "Well, maybe not. But at least you'll be rested and ready to deal with it."
Tiredly, the two women made their way upstairs, hoping that dreams would soon soothe their concerns away, at least, temporarily.
Welcome to the Pity Party.
Nick Boyle scrunched down further into his nest of blankets and tried to ignore the small voice in his head. He didn't mean to worry the others, he truly didn't. But at the moment, he couldn't seem to work up the energy to care about the extra burden his grief was placing on Rachel and Alex's slender shoulders.
How could anyone think of something as mundane as food when Derek was dead? It seemed like every time he blinked, Rachel was acting all SuperMom on him and trying to get him to eat. Even Kat, sweet kid that she was, had tried to tempt him by making one of his special shakes, just they way he'd taught her. But, for once, even Kat couldn't get through to the ex-SEAL and the concoction had gone untouched.
As much as he cared for his chosen family, Nick couldn't bring himself to eat and alleviate their worry. For now, the young man gained a small measure of comfort by the way the emptiness of his body reflected the emptiness of his soul.
If his father were here to see the way his son was behaving, no doubt he'd drop-kick Nick halfway across San Francisco for acting like such a pathetic loser. Hell, if his navy drill sergeant were around, he'd tell Boyle to pick up his sorry sissy-boy ass and start acting like a man.
To hell with them both.
Was it so bad to have wanted something for himself?
Nick couldn't pinpoint the exact time that Derek Rayne had gone from being mentor and friend to being the figure that haunted his dreams. He'd tried to drown his longing for the Dutchman with a few dalliances with women, but the first run-in with the succubus had put the kabosh on that idea. Karen had used sexual encounters to literally suck the life out of her partners in an effort to continue her miserable excuse of an existence. Nick couldn't help but draw comparisons with what she did to his own efforts to create a relationship with a woman who would only end up being a poor substitute for what he really wanted.
As for Julia, well, Nick had convinced himself that he'd loved her and, on some level, he probably had. More importantly, however, she had loved *him* and, at the time, he'd desperately needed that. He'd come to discover that, although he loved Julia, he wasn't in love with her. Not the way he'd been with Derek. The fast way he'd recovered from her death had been proof enough.
A hundred times, he'd tried to tell Derek how he felt, but when it came down to it, he was just too scared. He ached for more than friendship with the older man, but the possibility of losing even that tie was too much think of if his feelings weren't reciprocated. So, he'd remained silent and now that silence consumed him..
When the first fiasco with Horton had gone down, and Nick thought that Derek had committed suicide, he had thoroughly berated himself for keeping quiet about his feelings. He'd tried to hide his pain under the familiar cloak of anger and the man he thought was Cross had been an easy target. Then, a sore but alive Derek had shown up in his bedroom one night and turned his world upside down. Nick had vowed not to let this second chance go to waste, but he'd already been too late. That damn reporter had already beaten him to Derek's bed. The fact that she was now dead too brought no comfort, not when Derek had seemed so shattered when she died.
And then the ultimate irony, before Derek had drugged him the Dutchman had said something that indicated that he'd felt something for Nick too. All that wasted time for nothing.
Nick shivered. H e'd wasted hundreds opportunities. Now that Derek was truly dead, the words he'd been afraid to utter while the man was alive clogged his throat, making any speech impossible. The young man knew that his current silence unnerved his friends; Nick Boyle normally had a sarcastic comment ready for every situation. But, he supposed they'd get used to it. They'd have to. Now that Derek was dead, there didn't seem to be anything left to say.
Something was wrong with this picture.
Derek Rayne looked up at the darkened windows of Rachel Corrigan's house and *knew* something was wrong.
He shouldn't be here.
He should be... somewhere with explosions and flame?
The Precept's brow furrowed with the intensity of his thought. He remembered duping Nick into coming out to the garden... Confronting his father and knowing that he was about to die... Watching, as from a distance, the towering inferno that had been his House....
The bittersweet flavor of stolen kisses.
The memory of sneaking a taste of Nick's lips while the young man was unconscious brought the Precept's focus back to the house in front of him. What was he doing, out here in the middle of the night woolgathering? He must have come closer to being caught in the explosion than he thought.
Vague, unsettling impressions were replaced by the recollection of what had happened. Of how he'd managed to dive into a nearby tunnel just as the C-4 detonated, escaping the firestorm that had consumed the rest of the mansion. Of wandering for hours in the passageways underneath the old castle, until, just as dawn broke, he'd finally emerged miles down the coast of the island. Even from that distance, he'd seen the flurry of lights and activity buzzing around the catastrophe but for some odd reason, it had seemed imperative that he avoid the emergency personnel. So, he'd made his slow way to the ferry, taking most of the day to get there in his unhurt but weakened state. It escaped logic, but even when he made it to the city itself and had more convenient access to assistance, the Precept had continued his journey on foot, determined to make his way back to his family on his own.
Derek tiredly made his way up the porch, pausing only to dig the extra key out of the place where Rachel hid it. He smiled softly as he remembered Nick chastising the psychiatrist for leaving it under a rock. According to Nick, that was the first place any thief worth his salt would look but Rachel had laughed off the ex-SEAL's concerns. At the time, Derek had thought that she'd been a bit naive to ignore the security chief's recommendation, but now he was glad she had. Her bad habit was certainly making his life easier at the moment.
The Dutchman entered the quiet house, hushed now as its occupants slept. The Precept softly closed the door before re-fastening the locks and then immediately made his way up the stairs, making a beeline for one particular bedroom. It never occurred to him to wonder why he was so certain that it was the room that Nick was in. He just knew that entirely too much time had been wasted already.
The muted light in the hallway had prepared Derek's eyes for the darkened state of the room and the Precept's gaze went directly to the miserable figure huddled in the bed.
The Dutchman's long legs quickly brought him to the bed and he gingerly perched on its edge to gaze down fondly at the still form. Nick's quiet breathing told him that the younger man was asleep, but the still-moist tracks of tears indicated that he hadn't been that way long. Derek's heart skipped a beat as he realized that for the first time that the others had not known of his last- minute escape. Nick must have thought him dead.
Given Derek Rayne's line of work, it was understandable that he had many regrets. One of the biggest was that he'd met Nick Boyle twenty years too late. Ever cognizant of the burdens brought by Legacy work, Derek had been loathe to approach the ex-SEAL in a romantic manner. Oh, he'd been attracted to Nick from the get-go and, being too observant to miss the oblique glances his chief of security had been throwing his way, had a feeling the attraction was mutual. But he had been reluctant to act on those feelings, not wanting to tie this vibrant person to a Legacy veteran that had more than his fair share of scars, inside and out.
So, over the years, he'd done his best to steer Nick towards others and had even told himself he'd been happy when the younger man had hooked up with Julia Walker. Derek's visions of his coming death had weakened his resolve to be silent, however, and now the floodgates of years of repressed feelings had finally broken open.
The tear tracks gave silent witness to the pain that Derek's supposed death had brought his beloved and the Precept soon found that he could no longer bear the sight of them. Gently, he brushed the last traces of moisture from Nick's cheek, bringing his wet fingertips up to his lips for a reverent kiss. Nick stirred during the process, murmuring gently in his sleep. "Mmmmmm.... that feels nice, Derek."
Well. If he wasn't sure before, *that* certainly made it obvious where Nick's heart was given.
Smiling fondly at his still-asleep love, Derek decided, sleeping or no, it was time to ease the younger man's pain. "Nick, wake up." Reaching out again, he tenderly used one large hand to cup the exposed side of ex-SEAL's face.
Slowly, the hazel eyes opened and Nick gave a sleepy smile when he recognized the Precept. "Hi, Derek."
"Hi, yourself." The Dutchman's face hurt, he was smiling so broadly. To think that for years he'd denied himself the look on Nick's face when he awoke to find Derek in his bed....
Suddenly, the ramifications of Derek being seated next to him became clear to Nick and his eyes opened wide, all traces of sleep gone. "*Derek*!" Instinctively, Nick didn't shout. Rather, he used a hoarse whisper, as though he was reluctant to bring anyone else into this encounter.
"Shhhh...." Despite the ex-SEAL's startled reaction, Derek had managed to keep his hand on Nick's face. Seeing his companion's dismay, he began to rhythmically stroke the smaller man's lips with his thumb. "It's all right, it's really me."
"But you're dead."
Derek backed off a bit, allowing the other man to sit up. "Not quite, but it was close." Then, before the former SEAL could interrupt, he briefly outlined his escape.
When the Dutchman was finished, Nick just looked at him expressionlessly.
Derek became a bit worried. He hadn't had time to develop any expectations of the reaction his survival would garner, but he'd never thought that what he'd receive was *no* reaction at all. "Nick, I know this has all been a bit much for you...."
The Precept's words broke off as he suddenly found himself flat on his back on the floor with 150+ pounds of Navy SEAL straddling him. Nick's face was intent as he rapidly ripped the front of Derek's shirt open and the way he breathed in rapid pants, not to mention his dilated eyes, worried the bigger man.
"Nick!" Like Nick had done moments earlier, Derek used a loud whisper rather than a shout.
His companion ignored him, working until he had the shirt open and t-shirt underneath pushed up to reveal the expanse of the Dutchman's chest. Derek's nipples automatically stiffened in reaction to the cold air, but the he was more worried about the ex-SEAL. Once he'd reached bare skin, Nick lowered himself on the Precept's body, shifting down until his head was cradled on Derek's chest. Derek immediately reached to wrap his arms around Nick's smaller body, his warm hands running comforting patterns up and down the ex-SEAL spine.
The tableau held for a few moments and then Nick started to shake. "I can hear your heartbeat," he whispered in a broken voice. "You're really alive."
"Yes, love, I am." Derek bent down and softly kissed the top of Nick's hair. "I'm so sorry to have put you through that, thinking I was dead."
Nick lifted his head, wide eyes meeting Derek's. "Say that again."
"No, not *that*," Nick interrupted. "The other thing."
Derek thought a moment and smiled. "Love."
Nick smiled back. "I like the sound of that." His eyes dropped momentarily before lifting again to meet the Precept's gaze. "When did that happen?"
Derek made a pretense of having to do hard thinking. "Oh, since forever."
The Precept jumped when his beloved slapped his shoulder in disgust. "Well, you could have *told* me!"
"That works both ways," the older man gently reproached.
Nick hid his face in the crook of the Dutchman's neck. His whole body was shaking again and, at first, Derek thought he'd begun to cry. Concerned, Derek grasped the ex-SEAL's chin with his fingers and gently brought the younger man's head around so that he could face him.
To his surprise, Nick was laughing, not crying.
Seeing the confusion on the Precept's face, Nick reached up and planted a playful kiss on the end of Derek's nose. "Aren't we a couple of fools." Just as suddenly, the younger man's mood sobered. "My God, Derek, think of all the time we wasted. What if you hadn't gotten out of the castle before it blew?"
Derek clasped Nick closer to him, bringing one hand to the back of Nick's head, gently leaning him forward until the two were forehead to forehead. "Shush. Don't beat yourself up about things we can't change. We each made the best decision we could at the time."
Nick's body reminded him that he was laying full-length on top of the man he'd been lusting after for years. "Um, now that we know better, you think we could do somethin' about it."
Derek's eyes slid over to the bed. "I'd like nothing better, love, but isn't this Connor's old room."
"Yeah, I think so. Why?"
"How do you think Rachel would feel if we made love in her deceased son's bed."
Nick closed his eyes in frustration. "Oh. You've got a point."
"Besides," Derek continued. "When I make love with you for the first time, I don't want it to be in a place where we have to be quiet in order not to wake anyone." He positively leered at the younger man. "I want to make you scream, love."
The ex-SEAL actually felt himself blush. "But, until then, holding is okay?"
"More than okay."
At Derek's acquiescence, Nick clambered off the taller man and offered him a hand up. He gestured for the Dutchman to climb into the bed first and, once Derek had settled, eagerly nestled against him. The Precept tried to close his shirt, but his lover would have none of that, brushing aside the long fingers as they tried re-fasten the buttons.
"Na-huh," Nick said, sleepily, the emotional ups and downs of the past days finally catching up with him. "None of that. Like to hear your heartbeat." His fingers stroked his living mattress. "Feels nice too."
Derek laughed quietly as his beloved Nick drifted off to sleep. Somehow, despite all the odds, he'd survived the darkside's latest attack and been given a reward beyond his wildest imaginings. He rather thought that, somewhere along the way, someone had decided to give Derek Rayne a second chance.
And he had absolutely no intention of wasting it.
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