Continued from Part 1
Jim, of course, had insisted on being the one to cross the creek to retrieve Nick's pack.
He figured that it was the least he could do, given that the young man had saved Blair from a possible drowning. By the widening of Boyle's eyes and his vehement protests, it was apparent that their new friend was not used to preferential treatment. But the Sentinel had noticed the goose bumps on the kid's arms and the faint tremors that ran through the newcomer's body. The cold water was having an affect on him too, although not as profound as with Sandburg. Jim's protective nature already juiced by Blair's similar condition, Ellison settled the dispute by simply turning his back on Nick and wading into the water. The sooner they got their butts back to the cabin, the sooner his two charges could get dry. The big man smiled as behind him he heard his partner smooth the kid's ruffled feathers. Some things never changed.
By the time the detective got back to the two young man on the other shore, Nick was settled enough to give a gruff "thanks" as Jim handed him his pack.
"Any time," Ellison responded. "Let's get the two of you somewhere warm and dry." Characteristically, Jim ignored the fact that he was now also wet from the waist down and had to be nearly as cold as his companions. But the Sentinel simply turned the dial on his tactile senses down so he didn't feel the cold as badly, clasped Blair's hand firmly in his own, and led the way up to their rental cabin.
"So, Nick, are you from around here?" Blair's question caused Ellison to smile. His partner's curiosity was legendary and the cop had no doubt that, by the time they reached the cabin, the smaller man would have wormed out numerous details about the newcomer.
He wasn't disappointed.
By the time they'd reached the cabin, Nick had revealed that he was from San Francisco, had a love for classic cars, and was an accomplished martial artist. When it came out that Nick had served with the SEALs for several years, he and Jim had a lively conversation comparing the Navy's elite program to that of the Army Rangers, Ellison's former unit.
"So, why did you leave the SEALs?" It was obvious that Nick had loved the military and the cop wanted to know why he'd left it behind.
Upon hearing the older man's question, Nick winced. "We were ambushed." The young man's voice became choked and he could only continue in a whisper. "I was the only survivor..."
Jim was intimately familiar with the look of pain on the younger man's face. After all, he'd seen it in his mirror often enough after Peru. "...and it seemed like, even though everyone said they were glad you made it, you always wondered if deep down, they really wanted to know why you were so special to have lived." All three men were stopped in their tracks as Ellison continued. "And the kicker was, you started to wonder the same thing yourself. So, a stranger to everyone-including yourself-you decided it was time to make a new start. Where you could be just Nick instead of Nick the-last-man-alive-in-his-squad Boyle."
At his new friend's nod, the ex-Army Ranger explained. "My unit went down in Peru. I was the only one that made it."
Nick reached out to briefly lay a hand on Jim's arm. "I'm sorry."
"Yeah, me too." Jim felt a nudge as his partner moved in closer. He looked down to see Blair, eyes wide in wonder at hearing the stoic Ellison speak of his Ranger experience to a virtual stranger, press close to his side. The detective dropped a quick kiss on the top of his lover's head before resolutely turning back to head up the hiking trail.
Enough of this maudlin stuff. He had two men to take care of.
It had been, Blair Sandburg reflected as he climbed into his make-shift bed to join his lover, an odd day. Considering the level of oddness he and Jim had been through since being together, that was saying a lot.
After the emotional revelations of the two ex-military men, the conversation had veered towards lighter topics. Blair suspected that Nick was as relieved as Jim at the change in the discussion--the younger man didn't strike the grad student as the type who talked about feelings much. But neither was Jim and Sandburg still didn't know what had made his lover bring up his own painful memories that way. Maybe it was because at long last, he'd found someone who could understand exactly what he went through. Blair tried, and certainly was sympathetic to Jim's loss, but the anthropologist had never been in the military. Never truly understood the ties that bound professional soldiers together, let alone being able to know the level of pain the violent severance of those ties brought....
Resolutely, Blair nestled closer to his life partner. It was pointless to be haunted by an event that had almost taken Ellison from him-years before they'd even met. Instead, Blair thought of what had happened when the trio had reached the cabin this afternoon. The fact that it was a one-room type made the situation more than a little awkward. If had been just the two of them, wet clothes would have been hitting the floor the minute they entered and Blair would have been in a hot shower lickety split. And, most likely, Jim with him. Nick's presence made that impossible.
Even though both he and Ellison had taken an immediate liking to the ex-SEAL, neither of them was about to hop in the shower with him either.
So, amidst a lot of blushing and testosterone-inspired overlooking of those same blushes, each of the three men had taken their turn in the cabin's small bathroom. Blair himself had cut his own shower short when he realized as he was soaping himself up that he was fantasying about two sets of hands helping him out. In his mind's eye, one set of strong, athletic hands was running a washcloth over his taut nipples. The other set, slightly smaller but equally sturdy, was gliding a slippery bar of soap slowly down his back and into the crevice between his.......
He hadn't been able to look at Jim the rest of the evening.
When it started raining outside, it hadn't taken much coaxing to get Nick to stay for the night. To Sandburg's relief, it had been Jim who had made the actual suggestion. Ellison had made the offer sound casual; something about since they went to a special effort to dry Nick, it would be a shame to get him all wet again; but Blair knew that his lover was serious.
Now their guest was curled up in some blankets by the fireplace and the anthropologist was ensconced in bed with his lover. Cuddled close to Jim's beloved form and trying desperately not to think of Nick way over on the other side of the room. Sleeping alone.
"It's okay, Blair." Jim's voice sounded even more gentle in the shadowy light of the cabin. The big man started to run his hands through the grad student's curly hair in a soothing caress. "I think I know what you're feeling..."
Blair lifted his head, peering through the darkness in a futile effort to see his lover's face. "How can you know what I'm feeling when I haven't a clue myself?" Both men kept their voices to a whisper, keenly aware that they weren't alone in the room.
A big hand cupped the back of his head, gently guiding it back down on his chest. "You got me there, Chief. Okay, I don't know how you're feeling but I can smell how you're feeling..."
"Would it help to know, that if you had these souped up senses, you'd smell the same thing coming from me?"
"Jim...." A finger placed across his lips prevented the young man from saying anything else.
"Let me explain, Love. The minute I saw you and Nick together.....Chief, it hit me like a freight train. Love at first sight. At first, I was put off a bit. It seemed a little too much like what happened with Alex." Blair moaned almost inaudibly at the thought of the female Sentinel that had almost destroyed them both. "But then I decided to take a closer look at what was really goin' on. What happened with Alex, and before with Laura, that was nothing but instinct. Animal lust. Hormones. Whatever you want to call it, Blair. But whatever happened with those two, it truly only had a lasting affect on the smaller of my two heads." Jim took a firmer grip of his Guide before continuing. "But it never affected my heart, Blair. You're the only one that's done that."
"Until now," the big man agreed.
Blair mulled over Jim's comments for a few minutes. "So you want him too?"
"Maybe we're just reacting this way 'cause he's good-looking?" Sandburg's voice sounded hopeful.
Jim snorted. "Rafe is good-looking. So is Simon--and you've never wanted to jump their bones, have you?"
Jim's Sentinel senses allowed him to see Blair's appalled expression. "No way! That'd be like... like kissing my brother!"
"There you have it. This is more than just a crush or instant attraction, Chief. I may not feel the mating compulsion that I did with another Sentinel, but I do feel drawn towards Nick."
The grad student lay quiet, his mind racing at the implications. "You know, Jim, that stream ran West to East, didn't it?"
"And we were on the North side of it, right?"
"I see where you're going with this. Your vision last night...you said something about someone coming from the south."
"The wounded soul."
"So you think that maybe Nick's the reason that you were drawn here?" The Sentinel sounded relieved that a possible explanation for their instant fascination to the young man had been found.
"You know, Jim..." Blair's voice sounded small and hesitant in the dark. "This may be leading towards.....I don't know......."
"Yeah, Chief, I know."
"Are you okay with that?" Sandburg didn't sound so sure himself.
"If there's one thing I've learned, love, it's never to say never." The detective bent down to kiss the end of Sandburg's nose. The grad student sounded so unsure-like a kid that's just been told to pick out two treats at the candy store. Excited, but not so sure at his good fortune. "Nick just feels right."
"Naomi always said that your heart is never too full, that there's always enough room to invite someone else in." Sandburg started to sound sleepy. "I never knew what she meant until now."
"I always did think your mom was a smart lady," Jim said, blithely ignoring those times he'd voiced his opinion that Ms. Sandburg was a certified loony. "Now go to sleep, Chief."
Wrapped up in each other's arms, both men drifted off towards slumber, their dreams filled with images of each other...and the young man sleeping just feet away.
The next morning found Nick going through his morning exercise routine, habit taking his body through the familiar pattern of movements and letting his mind free to roam.
Roam it did.
The young man had surprised himself by accepting not only a dinner invitation but also an offer to spend the night. If someone had told him even a week ago that not only would he willingly spend time with two men that were obviously a couple, but would enjoy every moment of it, the ex-SEAL would have scoffed. But Nick found the indisputable sparks that flew between the slight anthropologist and the burly cop too intriguing to ignore. Even more difficult to ignore was his own growing urge to do a little sparking himself...
The Legacy member had endured an uncomfortable night wrapped up in his borrowed blankets. He hadn't been quite as asleep as the other two men had thought and, although he was too much of a gentlemen to try to eavesdrop on their conversation, Nick was aware that his cabin mates had spent some time in a whispered parley. He couldn't help but wonder if-and even wish-that their discussion had been about him.
The thought made him squirm, troubled by desire and yet feeling guilty over it. What made the young man even more uncomfortable was the fact that he'd lied to his two new friends. Well, not lied actually, but certainly played free with the facts as to the reason he was in Idaho. Somehow, Nick was sure, Jim had seen through his story of taking a hiking vacation as the fabrication that it was, although the grad student seemed to accept the tale easily enough. The thought of starting this new relationship, whatever it turned out to be, on a lie made him uneasy. So, as soon as the dawn light started to paint the woods with its rosy glow, the former SEAL had slunk out of the cabin to do his tae kwan do routine.
Panting, the young man came to the end of his practice session. His body was pleased with the flush that exercise brought but his mind still turning in circles, trying to reconcile the dilemma of guarding the Legacy's secrets with being truthful with his friends.
"Hey, Bruce Lee! Are you finished?"
Looking up quickly, Nick saw Jim's muscular form leaning against the doorway to the cabin. How long had the cop been watching him? The thought of Ellison's deep blue eyes scrutinizing his every move while he worked out brought a blush to the young man's cheeks. Hopefully, it would go unnoticed in the overall ruddiness caused by exertion.
"Yeah." Nick didn't trust his voice, so kept his answer short.
"Well, breakfast's about ready. Blair's got an algae shake in here with your name written all over it." The detective laughed when the younger man's nose wrinkled in disapproval. "I think we might be able to scare up an egg or two. What do you say?"
"Sounds great! I'll be there in a minute." Nick watched until Jim had re-entered the cabin. The bigger man's easy and friendly manner had served to cement his new resolve. He'd keep the Legacy's secrets, but somehow he'd find a way to be more truthful to Jim and Blair.
After all the friendliness they'd shown him, it was the least he could do.
"God, Chief, it's like looking in a mirror."
Jim came back into the cabin and watched while the ex-SEAL did some quick post-exercise stretches. Hearing the pain in the bigger man's voice, Blair came up behind him and watched while Nick's lean body twisted in the newborn morning light.
"So much pain bottled up...trying so hard to be tough..."
Blair wrapped an arm around his mate in comfort, seeing someone else in such emotional pain had brought back some distressing memories for the older man. "We've got to help him, Jim. He's bleeding to death on the inside and doesn't even know it."
Jim chuckled without humor. "Yeah, I hear that. It's funny, we've known him for, what? Less than a day? He already feels like a part of my tribe, like someone I have to protect. Besides, I remember what it's like to hurt like that. Believe me, I would not wish those P.B. years on anyone."
Blair's forehead wrinkled in confusion. "'P.B.?' What does that mean? Puberty?" The anthropologist grinned, knowing how their own age difference sometimes bothered Ellison-and Nick Boyle was even a little bit younger than Blair. " I think he's a little older than that, Big Guy."
Jim reached down for a kiss. "Not puberty, Chief. "P.B." as in Pre-Blair. I remember what a S.O.B. I was before you came along. I wouldn't wish that on anybody."
Blair's response was prevented by the object of their discussion coming into the room. A hooded sweatshirt wadded up in one hand and towel draped across his neck, Nick looked from one man to the other. "Jim said something about breakfast, but I can go for a run or something..."
"Nope, we're just about to get started. How do you like your eggs?" Jim gave the grad student one last kiss before heading towards the cabin's minuscule kitchen area.
Nick had sensed a kindred dry wit in the bigger man. "I don't suppose you have any oysters, do ya?"
One eyebrow arched. "Oysters? With eggs?"
"Yeah, they make a hell of an omelette." Keeping a straight face at Jim's grimace of distaste was made easier by the fact that Nick wasn't really kidding. Oyster omelettes were a favorite of his.
Blair's peal of laughter brightened the room. "Oh, man! And Jim thought my food preferences were weird!"
The detective joined in the laugh, relieved to see both of the younger men in such high spirits. "Well, I'm very sorry to report, Mr. Boyle, that Caf Ellison is fresh out of shellfish. Will plain old scrambled do?"
Nick made a show of considering. "That'll do in a pinch." The effect was spoiled by a rumble from his empty stomach and the ex-SEAL had to grin ruefully at his companions' enjoyment of its betrayal.
"You start on the eggs, Jim, I saw a blackberry bush out back. I'll see if any are ripe." With a quick kiss, and artful dodge of the swat that his lover aimed at his retreating behind, the anthropologist was out the door.
Jim couldn't help but notice how intently their guest was watching the interplay. The Sentinel started assembling cooking utensils, not to hard to do in the shoebox- sized area, and gathered his thoughts. Maybe now, when it was just one-on-one, it was time to start broaching some sensitive topics. Make it seem less like an interrogation.
"Does it bother you?" The older man asked nonchalantly.
Nick brought his gaze back from where it had been lingering out the window watching Blair stooping over a berry bush. "What?"
"The fact that Blair and I are lovers."
The ex-SEAL blushed and became intent on folding his towel. "No."
Liar. The Sentinel could smell the younger man's arousal clearly.
"Good." The cop waited until Nick would meet his eyes. "Because Blair and I don't hide what we are from our friends."
"And I'm your friend?"
"If you want to be. Do you want to?"
The ex-SEAL averted his gaze for a moment, nervous tongue darting out to moisten suddenly dry lips. Just as quickly, his eyes came back to lock on Ellison's. "Yeah."
Jim gifted the young man with an ear-to-ear grin. "Good."
It was a start.
Breakfast consisted of scrambled eggs-the powdered kind-and unsweetened blackberries, but to Nick it was a feast. Of course, the company the young man found himself in might have had something to do with his enjoyment of the meal.
"So, Nick, what are your plans for the day?" Blair's eyes were alight with interest.
"I thought I would do some hiking..."
The ex-SEAL broke off when Jim snorted. "Well, we kind of figured that out for ourselves, since you're here on a hiking vacation." Ellison's subtle emphasis on the word reminded the Legacy member that he hadn't been entirely truthful with the two men. "We were just thinking of doing a little trail-blazing ourselves and wondered if you might be up for company."
It was now or never, Nick realized. He'd never get a better chance to be a little more open with his new friends. "Well, I didn't exactly tell you the truth last night..." Seeing the disappointment in Blair's eyes, he hastened to continue. "I'm here to help a friend...and it sounds a bit weird."
Blair smiled. "We can handle weird."
"There's been sightings of a hunting cat around here. A black hunting cat that seems to disappear..." The former SEAL broke off his explanation when he realized that the other two were looking at each other fondly. "Have you guys seen it?"
Blair blushed. "No-o-o-..." It was the honest truth, he and Jim hadn't actually seen the big man's spirit guide. On this trip, anyway. "Have there been any wolf sightings?" Where there was one spirit animal, there was bound to be two.
"Wolf? Not that I've heard of. But then, that wouldn't be too unusual for this area." Nick was a little confused by the disgruntlement on the normally cheery grad student's face. What was the big deal about a wolf, anyway? "What makes the cat distinctive is that it's colored like a black jaguar and this is way out of their hunting range."
"So you're tracking this cat?" At Boyle's nod, Jim continued. "Why you? I would think this would be a job for the game warden."
"I'm not actually trying to capture it, not in a cage anyway. Mountain lions don't usually have that coloring. I'm just trying to get a picture, that's all." It was a lame excuse, but the best Nick'd been able to think of. Truly, having a camera along on this type of job was standard procedure and he did have one in his pack.
"What about your gun?" Jim's face was unreadable when he asked the question.
"Jim!" Blair smacked his lover on the back of his head. "Did you snoop in Nick's bag?"
Ellison rubbed his head's sore spot. "No need to, Junior. It was laying on the ground. Right where Nick dropped it." It was a statement, not a question.
"But, Nick, why would you need a gun if you're just going to take pictures of this cat?" Although he'd been willing to defend the younger man to Jim, Blair was confused as to the weapon's presence.
"It's just a handgun, Blair, not the type you'd go hunting with..."
"For animals, anyway." Jim had been burned by too many would-be lovers and friends in the past to let this topic drop.
Boyle's nostrils flared in anger, but the young man admitted that Ellison had a good reason for his wariness. Nick didn't really know why he always insisted on bringing his gun along on Legacy investigations anyway, it rarely did any good. "I suppose it's just habit."
The two ex-soldiers looked each other in the eye for several heartbeats before Ellison conceded the truth to Nick's statement with a minimal nod of his head.
He couldn't be too hard on the ex-SEAL anyway, considering his own policeissued weapon was tucked away down the back of his pants, safely hidden from view by his sweater.
"What the hell--?"
The ex-SEAL bent down to look at the animal tracks a little more carefully, but what he saw only added to his confusion. The three men had been hiking all morning, with no signs of a cat to be found. Until just now. Within sight of the creek where the young man had helped Blair, Nick found the tracks of a big cat. What was confusing him was that the distinctive paw prints were merged with the marks another animal's tread, what appeared to be a wolf. Both sets of tracks intermingled, making it obvious that the two animals were running together.
Nick circled the small clearing where he'd finally found the signs he was looking for. Much to his frustration, however, there was no clear indication where the tracks began...or where they ended. It was as if each of the animals had appeared out of thin air, ran around a bit, and then vanished in an equally mysterious manner.
"What did you find?" Even from the hiking trail several yards away, Jim's Sentinel eyesight showed him exactly what the ex-SEAL had discovered, but the detective wanted to see what Nick could make of it.
"Well, it's a big cat all right, but it's not alone." The young man's brow furrowed in concentration. "But I don't see the entry point to the clearing, or where they left it either."
At the comment that there was more than one animal, Blair was roused from his contemplation of the way Nick's jeans went taut over his backside when he squatted. "'They?' What's the other animal?"
Nick was too distracted to look up. "A wolf, it looks like."
Sandburg was inordinately pleased that wolf tracks had been found. A wolf wasn't as splashy an animal spirit as a jaguar, but every bit as good, in his own, unbiased estimation. The anthropologist had been a bit miffed that the locals were making such a fuss over a black jaguar and ignoring the wolf. Behind the ex-SEAL's back, the shorter man raised his thumbs up in a victory gesture while mouthing "Yes!", much to the amusement of his lover.
Reaching over to swat at Blair's head as he went by, Jim moved off the hiking path to join their new friend. "We've been at this all morning. What say we take a break?"
Nick rose from his stooped position, hands rubbing his aching lower back. It had been a rough, mostly fruitless, morning. "Yeah, I could go with that."
The three men found shelter under a nearby tree and plopped themselves down in the shade for a well-earned rest. Each man dug around in his pack. Jim dug out beef jerky sticks, Nick came up with craisons, and Blair pulled out an apple. For a few moments, the only noises that disrupted the peaceful setting were the sounds of satisfied munching.
Nick frowned at the direction where they'd found the mysterious animal tracks. The ex-SEAL had a lot of experience following trails, but this was like nothing he'd seen before. Even if the points of entry and departure had been wiped out by some human, there would have been some sort of trace left.
The sound of a crisp apple being bitten into caught Nick's attention away from his frustration and the young man moved his gaze back to his companions...
..and was instantly mesmerized.
Sandburg was sitting in a patch of sunlight, the bright,
warm rays bringing out subtle auburn highlights in the anthropologist's hair.
The crunching sound immediately drew Nick's eyes to Blair's mouth, where, amidst
much slurping, the curly-haired man was devouring his fruit. The ex-SEAL watched
as the grad student's nimble teeth tore off piece after piece of the apple's
crisp meat, the smaller man's lips seeming to embrace each portion before it
slid into the warm cavity of his mouth. When the Blair stopped to lick the juice
from his fingers, one at a time in agonizing slow motion, Nick licked lips that
were suddenly dry. He moaned softly when an agile tongue darted out of Blair's
luscious mouth to delicately scoop up juice that
dripped from the nearly spent apple. Finally, when all that was left of his snack was a core and some seeds, Blair looked directly at the ex-SEAL and rimmed his full lips with his tongue, wiping away at the trail of juice dripping from the corner of his mouth.
"Ummmm.....I think we need some water, I'llberightback." Nick's words rushed together as he urgently tried to find a way to escape the scene before doing something embarrassing. Grabbing his nearly full canteen, the Legacy member made for the nearby stream.
"That was evil," Jim said with a smirk as the lovers watched the hastily retreating figure.
"Yeah," his lover cheerfully agreed. "But it got to him, didn't it?"
"Nick's not the only one it got to, Chief."
Blair looked over to see his lover on all fours, stalking him through the clearing's short autumn grass. The anthropologist shivered at the feral look in his Sentinel's sultry gaze. The big man stopped just short of his partner.
"Hey, you be a nice kitty! We don't want to scare Nick off!" Sandburg tried to distract his lover, knowing Nick could return at any moment and that the bigger man's timing was a bit off.
Jim rose up onto his knees, making the men almost eye-to-eye. "I'm not a kitty, Chief. I'm a big bad wolf."
"Oh, yeah?" Seeing that Nick was nowhere in sight, the grad student started to relax into the game.
"Yeah and stand back, 'cause I'm gonna blow your house down..."
With that promise, Ellison reached for Blair's zipper.
"Oh, man," his Guide breathed. In his arousal, the academic got his nursery rhymes all mixed up, "Something tells me that I'm going to be saying 'wee, wee, wee all the way home.'"
Nick categorically refused to watch Blair eat dinner.
The ex-SEAL had lingered by the stream for a long time, trying to get his raging hormones under control after Sandburg had nearly undone him with his erotic fruit display. It occurred to Nick that he ought to be grateful that the anthropologist hadn't brought a banana along as a snack. The thought of what that long, ripe fruit would look like sliding past the grad student's full lips made the Legacy member shiver and he had to splash cold water from the stream on his face before returning to his companions.
Nick was still so dazed when he came back to their resting place that he never thought to be worried about how long he'd been absent. That maybe his two new friends would tease him about being gone so long. Had he been in any condition to do so, the ex-SEAL would have noticed that Blair looked a little red in the face and out of breath. Or that Ellison looked like the proverbial cat that had just downed a bowl of cream. But, in his hormone induced haze, the Legacy member was too overwhelmed to notice such details.
Luckily, for Nick's sense of control, the vigorous hiking of the rest of the afternoon prevented any more uninhibited flourishes. Unfortunately, there were no more cat or wolf signs to be seen. Evening found the rather frustrated young man again at Jim and Blair's supper table. After a quick call on the cellphone to Charlie, reassuring the Native American that he was alive and well, the ex-SEAL allowed himself to be persuaded to spend the night.
Nick told himself it was the absolute last time. Sleeping with Jim and Blair, even if it was across the room, could be habit forming.
If Nick was a little distracted during dinner, Blair had no trouble filling in the lulls in the conversation with chatter. The ex-SEAL didn't mind at all, the soothing cadence of the anthropologist's voice was very relaxing to him. To Jim, too, if he were reading the bigger man's body language correctly. Seeing the bigger man leaning back in his chair, eyes half-lidded with contentment, made something in the Boyle's heart ache.
The trio had soon talked themselves through the warm September evening and by nightfall, the three men were ensconced in front of the fireplace, still deep in conversation. The cabin had two dilapidated old chairs, but since there weren't enough to go around, the friends eschewed them altogether and sat on blankets placed on the floor. Jim sprawled out with Blair sideways between his legs, the anthropologist alternately having the ex-SEAL in stitches or jaw-dropped in disbelief as he told of his escapes as a Cascade police observer. For himself, Nick kept his stories to the safe topics of the military, still mindful of the Legacy's secrets.
Jim and Blair managed a whispered conference while Nick was making his telephone call and the couple had decided it was time to take pity on the frustrated young man and let him in on the animal spirit portion of their secret. If the vibes they'd been getting from the younger man that afternoon were any indication, the relationship was about to get a whole lot more intimate.
If they were lucky, in more ways than one.
It was a given that Blair would be the one to broach the subject and the grad student finally managed to do so, by relating the story of the Chopec's trip to Cascade...and Incacha.
"I don't get it," Nick said, after hearing the portions of the story that were fit for his ears. "From what I understand of shamans, you can't be given the gift. It's sort of like giving Barbara Streisand the gift of music. You have it all along, but only need to be made aware of it."
Both of the other men looked at the ex-SEAL like he'd grown a third head.
"You know about shamanism?" The wide-eyed grad student finally asked.
Nick hesitated before answering. Actually, as a member of the Legacy, he had learned quite a bit about shamanism and witch doctors but he couldn't tell Jim and Blair why he knew such things. Still, it was hardly fair to lie to them. After a moment of thought, the young man thought of a compromise that he could live with.
"You remember I said I worked a job in security?" When two heads nodded, he continued. "Well, the place I work for is kind of special. You can't help but pick up the odd fact or two..."
"A museum?" Jim guessed.
"Not exactly, it's called the Luna Foundation-"
Blair smacked his forehead with an open palm. "The Luna Foundation, you gotta be kidding me! That's one of the most fantastic private collections on the West Coast." Sandburg twisted in his lover's lap in order to look the bigger man in the face. "You remember, Jim, couple of years back there was this guest lecturer at Rainier. Dr. Derek Rayne?"
The Sentinel frowned. He remembered the incident clearly. Blair had come home from the lecture very jazzed up, even considering the exuberant anthropologist's normal state of being. And a lot of the enthusiasm had been for the very suave, very elegant guest lecturer. Since it took place shortly before Jim and Blair became a couple, the big man hadn't been able to express his jealousy. Instead, it had festered.
Yes, Jim Ellison remembered the name of Derek Rayne very well indeed.
Too excited in their discovery of a mutual acquaintance, Nick and Blair had continued the conversation without him.
"Derek's my boss," Nick said with quiet pride.
"He struck me as a cross between Indiana Jones and James Bond...."
Nick grinned at hearing Sandburg's description of his Precept. "I suggest that you not mention the name 'Indiana Jones' around Derek. Them's fightin' words at our house." Privately, the ex-SEAL tucked the description away for use once he got back home. Derek could use a good tweaking now and then and Blair's description was bound to get his goat.
Sandburg nodded and sighed explosively. "Man, what I wouldn't do to get a chance to look at his library."
Jim laughed and tightened his grip around his slighter lover's waist. "Chief, you are shameless!" The detective "punished" his Guide by tickling him, with Nick watching regretfully from the sidelines.
When Sandburg caught his breath back, he turned back to their new friend. "Seriously, you know about shamans?"
"A bit. They're like healers and educators, right? In some cases, even sorcerers?"
Blair blinked. That last had taken him by surprise. "Well, I don't know about sorcerers, but the rest is right on target. That's what Incacha passed on to me. I'm the Shaman of the Big City." Blair's tone of voice capitalized each word, marking how important the title had become to the grad student.
"Really." Nick's voice was very noncommittal.
Blair tried not to let the ex-SEAL's lack of enthusiasm deter him. "Jim and I have found our animal spirits, Nick...."
Suddenly, Boyle put two and two together. "Let me guess, a black jaguar and a wolf."
The men cuddled together across from him nodded in unison, afraid of the conclusions that Nick might draw but reluctant to say anything regardless. Not even Simon knew this choice little tidbit and they were aware of how... odd... it would sound to an outsider. Even thought they'd only known the young man for a little over a day, it would be painful for them to have him think they were crazy.
Little did the men from Cascade know that, compared to what Nick saw on a day- to-day basis, animal spirits were pretty tame stuff.
But tame didn't mean benign and Nick admitted he was a bit worried about these two souls that had so quickly become close to his heart. "What do they do besides driving the locals nuts?"
Blair was quick to answer. "That's the odd part. No one's ever seen them except us before. We don't often even see each other's."
Boyle was skeptical because he knew that the powers of darkness could often assume a friendly aspect. "Do they ever try to get you to do something?"
Jim snorted in amusement. "All the time. Usually it's something that we don't want to do, but that's good for us."
Nick's eye's narrowed in suspicion. That didn't sound at all promising. "Like what?"
"Well, the first time I encountered him, my animal spirit got me to accept my.... what happened in Peru." Jim bit his tongue in frustration. They both trusted Nick, but it was too soon to tell if they could confide in him about the senses.
"And when Jim was being a dick about us being lovers, the jaguar told him to pull his head out of his ass."
"Those weren't his exact words, Chief."
"Yeah, I know, but that's what he meant."
Jim let the comment slide and went on to tell the most chilling visitation. "A couple of months ago, I had a vision. Of me shooting a wolf, a wolf that changed into Blair as it died." When the anthropologist shivered, the big man wrapped his arms tightly around him to comfort both of them and hid his face in the fragrant curls. When he looked up, his blue eyes were clouded with pain. "I misunderstood. I thought I was supposed to drive Blair away to keep him safe. So I did and I ended up practically digging his grave with my bare hands...."
The grad student reached up to cup Jim's strong jaw with one hand. Turning his lover's face to look at him, Blair kissed Ellison before offering vocal reassurance. "It's not your fault, Jim. If I'd been a better shaman, you would have known to come to me...."
Nick had heard enough. It was obvious that these animal spirits were safe and had only Jim and Blair's best interests at heart. Besides, he could always slip some holy water into the two men's coffee tomorrow as a safety test. But as he watched the couple reassure themselves, deep down the ex-SEAL was cursing his findings.
There was no escaping the reality that now that he'd discovered the reason for the mysterious sightings, Nick had no excuse to stay.
As the broken pleas disturbed his slumber, the Sentinel automatically felt for his mate. Blair had seen a lot of pain since becoming his Guide and it often manifested itself into nightmares. Much to Ellison's surprise, however, a perfectly calm Blair was wide awake and looking at him in sleepy confusion.
"Stop! For the love God, please stop.........."
As one, the lovers looked to the blanket-encased form huddled by the fireplace, realizing that the cries came from Nick. Jim possessed the longer legs of the two, but Sandburg had been closer to the fireplace in order to compensate for the missed warmth from the blankets they had loaned their guest. As a result, when the two men bounded out of bed and dashed across the room, they reached the ex- SEAL at the same time.
Nick Boyle was writhing in distress, the young man's body responding to the impulses of an obviously agonizing dream. Blair reached out automatically to comfort the younger man, but Ellison's shot a hand out to stop the anthropologist before he could touch Nick.
"Hold on, Chief," the cop said softly. "Remember Nick's training. Handling him while he's still asleep could be dangerous--for both of you."
Sandburg nodded his understanding. He should have remembered, from the times-- before the two became intimate--that he'd tried to wake Jim up out of a nightmare. The ex-Army Ranger had had demons of his own to excise.
"Nick, wake up." Blair knew his greatest weapon was his voice and he wielded it now to help the young man who drew him so. "You're here with me and Jim. You're safe now." The grad student used the same soothing lilt that had pulled the Sentinel out of countless zones and successfully drawn his partner down from numerous emotional ledges.
It didn't work.
Boyle's head shot from side to side and his breath came in short, heavy pants as Blair's continued efforts to wake him failed. Even though his body was covered in a light sheen of sweat, the young man trembled as though chilled to the bone and, as the Sentinel monitored Nick's dream-torn body, he became worried. Nick was in top athletic form, but hearts were only designed to beat so fast.
Finally, just as Jim was about to risk shaking Nick awake, the smaller man shot up to a sitting position, eyes wide open, and mouth forming a soundless scream of loss. Ellison tossed caution to the wind, deciding that his own military training would help him cope should Nick react badly and that the young man needed comfort more than anything at the moment. Wrapping strong arms around Nick's shaking form, the detective pulled him in gingerly to rest close to his heart. Blair followed suit, wrapping himself around Nick from the front, so that the newly awakened dreamer was surrounded by warmth and safety. Both of the older men murmured soft phrases of reassurance and affection as the three of them started to rock.
Feeling the labored breathing finally start to slow and the pliant body in their arms slowly stiffen, Jim and Blair pulled back.
"Are you okay?" Blair knew it was a stupid question. Of course Nick wasn't okay, who would be after a dream like that must have been? But at least it was a place to begin.
"Yeah." His reply was whisper soft, but at least Nick responded. What bothered his companions more was that the ex-SEAL wouldn't lift his head to look at them.
It was Jim's turn to ask the question. "You want to talk about it?"
Nick's only response was a shake of a head.
"Okay, buddy, but we're going to stay with you for a while." Jim didn't bother to state that as question, since the big man had no intention of budging while Nick was in such a fragile state. One quick look at Sandburg confirmed that his lover felt the same way.
Several minutes passed and eventually Nick raised his chin high enough to look at them both. For a second anyway, and then his eyes dropped again. "I'm sorry I woke you guys."
"It's okay. Jim's had to wake me from a few choice ones myself." Blair didn't want to detract from Nick's ordeal, but he felt it was important for the younger man to know he wasn't alone in his experience either.
His effort gained him a wan smile. "Look, maybe you guys should go back to bed..."
"Nah-uh." "No way, pal."
Nick slid his knees up and wrapped his arms around them, a miserable little lump. "This happens all the time, it's no big deal."
"You're wrong, Sport," Jim knelt close to the former SEAL. "Seeing you this upset is a big deal. No one who cares for you could see you this way and not react."
Even Blair, who didn't have enhanced senses, could see how Nick's breath caught at the bigger man's words.
"You... care for me?" His gaze darted from one blue-eyed man to the other. " Both of you?"
The anthropologist dared to place a gentle hand on Nick's knee, showing the ex- SEAL that he didn't have to barricade himself off from everyone. "Yeah, we do. We weren't going to tell you like this, when you're so vulnerable, but you mean a lot to us." Slowly, the grad student closed the distance between Nick and himself to gently brush his lips across those of the stunned young man.
Nick lowered his face down to where his arms rested on his knees, too overwhelmed by both the vestiges of his dream and the outpouring of emotion from the two older men. Disconcerted by his reaction, Jim and Blair looked at each other helplessly.
"Nick, we're sorry." Jim thought it might be time to give the young man some space. "Blair's right, we didn't mean to approach you like this. But we did mean to approach you." Giving Sandburg a hand, the detective got up from the floor. "Look, we're going to go back to bed now. Not because we don't want to be with you--and not because we're mad at you--but because you deserve some space right now." Jim could tell by the alteration in Nick's breathing pattern that his words were being intently listened to, even if the ex-SEAL wouldn't look at him. "The bed's right over there. You're welcome in it, Nick, any time you choose."
Nick tracked the couple's return to their bed by the soft
rustling sound their clothes made when they moved. As the intoxicating presence
of the two men retreated, the flustered Legacy member managed to get his brain
working again. He knew what he was being offered and part of him yearned for it
with his whole being. Jim and Blair's partnering was an exquisite thing to
behold and to be offered a piece of such a relationship was more than the young
man had ever dreamed. But, logically, would it ever work? Ellison was a cop
through-and-through, could Nick keep the detective from learning about the Legacy? Did he want to? And Blair, what would a compassionate, academic like him ever see in a cast-off soldier? Besides, Jim and Blair obviously completed one another, would there even be room for a third?
For nearly an hour, the ex-SEAL let his mind work at the dilemma from all different sides. Finally, after a lot of soul searching, the young man admitted that it wasn't his mind that he had to contend with.
It was his heart.
And after listening to his heart for the barest moment, Nick came to the only decision he possible could. Rising from the cold floor, the ex-SEAL padded over to the end of Jim and Blair's bed. The young man stood looking down at the two men for a moment, but ducked his head when he realized that two pairs of blue eyes were looking right back at him.
How do you accept an offer to become part of a threesome? Suddenly shy, the young man lifted his head a bit to peer at them through lowered lashes. "My feet are cold."
Blair gave a delighted chuckle at Nick's acceptance of their offer, while Ellison simply pulled the covers back. "Come right in, Sport."
Nick discovered, as he clambered onto the make-shift bed, that even though it was rather small, that there was still plenty of room for three.
Nick Boyle wasn't the only one visited by bad dreams that night.
Hundreds of miles away, as the early morning fog rolled in to enshroud San Francisco, Derek Rayne thrashed his way out of a nightmarish vision. Panting, the Dutchman sat at the edge of his bed for a few moments before pushing back sweat-heavy hair from his face. The Precept couldn't tell if what he'd experienced was a prescience episode or merely a dream. The details were already slipping from him. Something about a jaguar and a wolf.....protecting something. Or, someone. In any case, Derek woke with a piercing sense of loss.
It was a familiar feeling.
Suddenly weary of soul as well as body, Derek laid back down in his unkempt bed. Nick had been gone over two days and, while the Precept knew that the young man was perfectly safe, his absence cut deep. Almost as deep as the pain of realizing that it was his own folly that was keeping the young man at arm's length. What difference did it make if Nick was nearly twenty years his junior--and essentially his employee to boot? Attraction was attraction.
But it made a lot of difference.
Derek cursed the honor that kept him from acknowledging his burgeoning feelings for his junior colleague. He knew that Nick looked up to him as a father-figure and that, considering their respective positions in both the Legacy and the Luna Foundation, acting on his attraction to the ex-SEAL could be construed as sexual harassment. More importantly, Derek knew that he'd never do anything to jeopardize Nick's trust in him.
Honor was a noble and worthy virtue, but it made one hell of a lousy bed companion.
Blair had thought that being wrapped up in Jim's strong arms was the best place in the world to sleep.
He was wrong.
Or, rather, he hadn't been quite right. The best place in the world to sleep was sandwiched in between his two athletic lovers, holding and being held at the same time. The grad student sighed in contentment, feeling the Sentinel's strong body pressed up behind him where they lay spooned together. Blair bent his head down a fraction to place a tender kiss on the sleeping form curled up in front of him, full lips gently caressing the fragile shell of Nick's exposed ear.
What a night. What a ride.
Nick had been understandably hesitant at first. It didn't take much of a rocket scientist to figure out that the younger man had never been with another male before. So, the two experienced men had placed him between them and taught him just what a joyful experience it could be. Should be, with the right partners.
They were gratified to find out that Nick was a quick learner.
Quick study or not, there was no way in hell they'd let
him consider bottoming his first time at bat, so to speak. It had given Blair a
twinge or two, at first, to be penetrated by a man that wasn't Jim. But Nick's
young body behind him had felt so... proper... that the shaman knew that
this was the correct course. Ellison's lips on his, love-softened voice
encouraging him to cum on Nick's cock, had lifted him to new levels of ecstasy,
as the anthropologist gave
himself over to the sensation of thrusting fullness from behind and moist heat from in front....
Hours later, Sandburg still had goose bumps.
"Can't sleep, Chief?" Behind him, Jim ran a lazy tongue down Blair's neck. "I would have thought that you would be wore out..."
"Too happy." The grad student felt his older lover's smile press into his skin.
"Yeah, I hear that."
The detective's long arm reached across Blair's hips, giving a loving caress as his big hand moved to stroke Nick's sturdy form. The ex-SEAL gave a soft murmur, but didn't wake.
"Do you think he's all right?" Too well, Sandburg remembered the emotional turmoil that your first male-to-male experience could bring.
The Sentinel grinned as he remembered Blair's response to a similar question when the two had first met Nick by the stream. "Oh, he's more than all right." Sandburg's grin showed the bigger man that his smaller mate understood the reference. "I was keeping a close eye on him, Chief, while you were *occupied.* He's fine. Go to sleep, I think you're going to need your energy..."
For once, the anthropologist couldn't obey his older lover's directive. Sandburg's agile mind kept busy longer after the time that Jim returned to sleep. Inviting Nick into their relationship was probably only the first step in helping the younger man but the shaman in Blair sensed that the ex-SEAL would need a lot more assistance before they were through.
Nick finished his tae kwan do exercises with great reluctance. Doing his martial arts in the gardens of the San Francisco Legacy House was no chore, but even that lovely setting paled in comparison to the natural beauty now surrounding him. In fact, the inner serenity the exercises brought him seemed to extend from his body and meld into the peace of the forest. Sighing, Nick wondered if he'd ever reach that pinnacle of harmony again.
The ex-SEAL picked up his towel and wiped his face, glancing over to the nearby cabin. The young man was keenly aware that his two lovers had already been in a committed relationship before he'd shown up. Robert Boyle hadn't managed to beat all of the sensitivity out of his youngest son and Nick had realized that Jim and Blair might need some quality time together. That's why he'd removed himself in the first place, sneaking out while the other two men were still fast asleep. Hesitantly, he picked his gear up and headed back to the cabin. He'd just tiptoe in so he could quietly leave if the couple wasn't quite ready for his presence.
As Nick slowly opened the cabin door, his eyes drank in the sight of Jim sitting on floor in front of the fireplace, Blair perched on his lap amidst a bundle of blankets and pillows. The anthropologist had his head on his partner's chest, with his legs extended out onto the soft cushions next to them. Both men had their eyes closed, obviously reveling in each other's presence. The older man's hand rhythmically stroked the long, dark curls and Blair sighed before snuggling even more closely into the bigger man's large chest. Had there seemed to be peace outside? It was nothing compared to the ambiance of contentment filling the cabin.
Nick permitted himself another moment of observation before beginning to close the cabin door as quietly as he could. No matter what the other two men said, he knew he was an interloper. The ex-SEAL told himself to be contented with whatever scraps of affection fell his way--he didn't have a right to anything else.
"Where do you think you're going, Sport?"
Startled, Nick looked up to see Jim's eyes trained on him. Damn! How did he do that? The younger man had been trained by the SEALs. When Nick Boyle wanted to be quiet, he was *quiet,* that's why his navy commanders usually used him as a scout. Jim must have ears like a cat to have heard him.
"Yeah, Nick, we've been wondering where you'd gone off to," Blair's sleepy blue gaze had joined the ex-army captain's.
Nick felt rotten for having disrupted the tranquility. It felt almost as if he'd committed a sacrilegious act.
"I was just gonna cut some wood..." he lamely offered as an excuse.
Jim looked over to the pile of wood stacked by the fireplace. Even on him, the stack was chest-high. The Sentinel took a closer look at the young man by the door. He didn't know Nick's heartbeat as well as his Guide's, but the new rhythm had quickly become dear to him. Hmmm. Nick's heart was beating much too fast and, come to think of it, why wouldn't the ex-SEAL look him in the eye? Concerned, Jim looked down at Blair. Nick was new to being intimate with a man, let alone two men. Had they pushed him too fast? He'd seemed to enjoy himself the night before, but was this some sort of delayed reaction? The anthropologist had his lips pursed while he studied the figure hovering by the door, obviously not buying Nick's excuse anymore than his partner had.
The tableau held for a moment, Blair studying Nick, Jim looking to Blair for guidance, and Nick looking at anything in the cabin but them. Finally, the grad student raised his head to meet Jim's eyes.
"I don't think Nick's had a lot of cuddling in his life, Jim," Blair said quietly as he started to get down from the bigger man's lap. The anthropologist padded over to where Nick stood at the door and held his hand out to him. Almost dazed, Nick accepted Blair's hand and let the shorter man lead him back to the nest of blankets and pillows on the floor. Blankets, pillows......and Jim.
"Wait a minute," the ex-SEAL protested as Blair ushered him into Jim's lap. "I didn't mean to take your place!"
Blair chucked as he settled next to them on the floor. "Who said anything about taking my place, Nick? That's the funny thing about love, the more you get, the more you have to give."
The younger man swung around to look at Jim in support. Surely the cop wouldn't be happy about the change in lap partners? Turning his head, Nick found himself nose-to-nose with the ex-army captain. The look of affection on Jim's face stopped the words that wanted to come tumbling out. It was the same look of love that had been on the bigger man's face the night before, as Jim held Blair while Nick had taken the curly-topped man. To see that same expression turned to him shocked the ex-SEAL.
"Blair's right, Nick," the older man said. "When are you going to accept that we want you here? That you're a part of us now? Do you think we take in every hiker that crosses our path?"
If the look on Jim's face had surprised the ex-SEAL, the gentle tone of voice warmed his heart. He'd assumed all along that the cop was indulging his younger lover by inviting him into the relationship. Sure, there had been attraction between the two ex-military men, but to Nick, it went much deeper than that. To find his affection returned was entirely unexpected.
Nick opened his mouth, but the words wouldn't come. He looked back and forth between the two men who'd rapidly become so dear to his heart. How could he express what they meant to him?
"Hey, it's okay," Blair reassured him.
Jim started to rub circles on Nick's back, trying to get the younger man to relax. The kid was sitting ramrod straight, like he was waiting to be punished. With a contented sigh, Blair curled up next to them, resting his head on Jim's shoulder and reaching across to stroke Nick's thigh in comfort.
Slowly, muscle by muscle, the ex-SEAL started to relax. A few more minutes passed and Nick realized that no one was going to come running into the cabin, telling him how unmanly he was to allow himself to be cuddled. Finally giving in to the sensations of warmth, love, and safety, Nick let the rest of the tension drain completely. Jim raised one arm to wrap around Blair's shoulders and the other enveloped the ex-SEAL, pulling the athletic form tight against him. The young man allowed his body to go limp and rested his head on Jim's chest, mimicking Blair's earlier position. A tranquil silence descended on the room.
Blair had lost track of time when he looked up and realized the Nick was silently crying. Worried, he looked up to the Sentinel and became even more concerned to see tears welling in the bigger man's eyes. When the grad student softly touched Jim's arm, the older man looked down at him and gave a minuscule shake of his head. He'd smelled the salt of Nick's tears minutes before when Nick had started to weep, but somehow the Sentinel knew that these were cleansing tears. No, as much as his partner loved to talk, this was a topic Nick was going to have to breach himself.
Nick smiled through his tears when he realized that Blair was watching him.
"You know when the last time I sat on someone's lap was?"
"No," Blair softly answered.
"I was five. My dad'd gotten drunk one night and threw me across the room. I don't even remember what I did to make him go all pissy," Nick's chuckle was humorless. "It didn't take much to set him off. Anyway, the next morning, my arm was sore and Mom took me to the doctor. Turns out the bastard broke it." Jim's arm wrapped around Nick even more tightly. "Setting it hurt like hell and, when we got home, Mom sat me on her lap and we cuddled. Kinda like this."
"Then what happened?" Jim's voice was gruff with unshed tears.
"My old man finally slept off the last of the Jack Daniels and stumbled downstairs. When he saw me on Mom's lap, I thought he was going to break my other arm. Said I was too big for stuff like that. That my mom was going to make a big sissy out of me."
"What did your mother do?" Where Jim's voice had been rough, Blair's was infinitely soft.
"She was so scared of him, that she didn't dare disobey......."
When Nick's voice trailed off, the grad student finished for him . "So, no more lap-sitting."
"No more lap-sitting. No more kisses. No more hugs."
Even Jim, who'd been raised in an emotionally disconnected family, couldn't quite imagine such an affectionless childhood. Some people just didn't deserve to have children.
"Well, then, I'd say you're overdue." The burly cop planted a tender kiss against the back of Nick's neck before burying his nose in the short, soft hair. Blair wiped the remaining tears from the younger man's cheeks before snuggling in to Jim's side. Slowly, the tranquility returned to the room.
Sometimes the most important things are said without words and, right now, Nick realized that the two men were telling him that he was loved. Cherished, even.
It felt good. No, it felt more than good...
It felt *right.*
Continued in Part 3
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