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The Conquered - Chapter 27: Trials (part 1)

***** Don *****

Wednesday night was our only night off from the Dojo. With everything that'd happened recently, this was the first Wednesday we didn't have someplace to be or something to do. I smiled at Seb and raised an eyebrow inquisitively. "What do you think?"

Seb frowned. "I think you're crazy."

I looked back at the bike that I'd been lusting after for the past two months. Custom choppers weren't usually my thing, but the Double Dragon Cruiser was just that hot. "There's space for two."

Seb shook his head. "Don. We live in an apartment. A bike like that can't be left outside, even covered."

"So, maybe we should get a bigger apartment." I really wanted this bike. My bonus check from Comdex would make a sizeable down payment.

"You can't park a bike in the apartment, no matter how big it is." Seb looked back at the bike. "Bikes are dangerous."

"Only if you're stupid," I countered, leaning in close. "Come on, Seb. Imagine. You, me, Summer, with the wind rushing past and nothing but miles of winding road to explore."

"You, me, pavement, no safety cage or air bag."

"Me, in low riders, leather boots, vest, no shirt, out in the sun and breeze."

Seb laughed. "Blowing past like a bat out of hell, trying to get away from all the leather queens and fetish bears who'd be on your tail."

I came close to nuzzling his neck. The owner was talking shop with another customer near his latest chop job. "There's only one person I'm going to let on my tail. I'd love to have him pressed against my tail while I had a monster like this between my legs."

"You're a sick puppy, you know that?" He was melting; I could feel it.

"Yeah... imagine how I'd be coming home after having some vibrating steel between my legs."

"Stop it."

The owner wasn't looking. I kissed Seb's neck. "Why?"

He hissed under his breath. "Because these slacks don't hide much."

I chuckled, pulling back. "There's a lot there they need to keep hidden."

"Shut up," Seb whispered as the owner started back our way.

I'd come in almost every week, save the two weeks before Christmas; to lust after this machine since I had seen it in the window.

Keith smiled at us. "So, what do you think?"

I looked at Seb, cocking my head. He shrugged.

"You're money."

I frowned. "Our money."

He looked at the bike again. I knew it was meant for us. The dragons on it were too similar to the design on our rings to ignore the coincidence. He sighed.

"It is a beautiful bike."

"Is that a yes?"

"We have no place to park it." That was such a weak argument.

"It's no fun to ride in the slush and cold anyway." I looked at the shop owner. "I bet Keith would be willing to leave it on display, with a sold tag, until March or so."

Keith nodded. "Save you a couple months of insurance too."

Seb shook his head. "I can't believe we're buying a bike."

I looked triumphantly at Keith. "That's a yes."

Keith smiled. "I'll get the paperwork drawn up. How much are you putting down?"

"Twenty-five hundred. You do your financing here?"

He nodded. "Will take us a day or two to get everything through. I'm sure there won't be a problem."

We left Roadster's Custom Bikes & Body Shop twenty-five hundred dollars poorer, but I didn't care. Just the thought of all that metal-muscle rumbling between my legs had me hard. "You won't regret it, Seb."

"Madre de Dios." He rolled his eyes and smiled tolerantly. "I'm just too stupid in love to say no." He stopped at the bumper of his car. "I probably wouldn't have given in, but you were in that damn uniform."

Yeah, right. I smiled. "Any leverage I can use is fair."

"I still don't like the fact that we have no place safe to store it."

I grinned. "Oh, didn't I tell you?"

Seb narrowed his eyes at me. "Obviously not."

"The couple in 2548 are being transferred by the husband's company. They will be out by the end of February. I talked with the office, and they will be happy to transfer our lease to the other apartment. No new deposits or advanced rent." I wiggled my eyebrows. "Two bedrooms, a garage, and only $200 more a month."

"That's during tax time, and right before the wedding."

"Uh huh," I agreed, leaning in as I placed my hands on the car at either side of his hips. "We can make the second bedroom an office with a hide-a-bed. You won't be usurping the dining room table for six weeks with the work you bring home. And we'd have a garage, so I won't have to change the oil in the vehicles out in the parking lot. There are laundry hookups in the garage too."

"How domestic of you, but I think life will be crazy enough about then without adding in a move."

"It'll be March, Seb. You changed my life last March. I want a chance to change yours this one. New home, new bike, new husband, new life. You and me." I grinned. "And new bed. We can throw out the old bed. The mattress is shot."

"Bastardo," he mumbled, slipping into that sexy Latin voice of his. "You leave me no options."

"I suppose that means I'm going to be punished?" I grinned hopefully.

Seb closed his eyes and whispered into my lips before kissing me. "I'm going to have to spank you for being a bad boy."

"Woe is me," I mumbled as we finished the kiss.

"Keep the uniform on," he breathed, pushing me back upright.

"See you at home." I stepped back to let him get to the driver's door.

"Not for long," he said as he unlocked his door, "I remember where that sash was put."

I was hard all the way home.

***** Andrew *****

I was used to my old ways. This dog certainly didn't want to learn new tricks. I grabbed the palm pilot and added it to my bag before I headed out to Taylor's SUV. Lee was a saint for letting me have these two days off. I owed him big. Heading towards the school, I drove quickly to make up for lost time. I didn't want to upset Taylor by being late. The man really needed to relax about timeliness.

The last school bus was leaving the parking lot as I arrived. I hopped out and made my way to the main office so I could sign in before I headed across the hall to get Taylor. When I opened the door, I smiled at Cheryl "Hey. Is Taylor ready?"

She smiled at me as she grabbed her purse. "He's back there. Have a great weekend."

Heading back the short corridor, I stopped outside Taylor's door and watched for a moment as he finished signing some papers. I'd have loved to have gone inside, shut the door, and kissed him senseless. But I didn't. He still wasn't comfortable with being `out' at school. I cleared my throat. "Ready to hit the slopes, Mr. Madison?"

Taylor sat up straight and grinned at me. "Ready when you are."

I stayed at the door. "Your chauffeur awaits your presence."

Taylor stood and grabbed his jacket before he flicked off the lights and shut and locked his door. I followed him out and went around to the passenger side. He preferred to drive his own car. Besides, I could watch him as he drove. I liked it more than I thought I ever would.

After we got on the highway towards the mountains, I whipped out my palm pilot and tried to get myself a bit more familiar with it. I liked how it had a list of all my clients, their training notes, billing information, and various other sundry items about them. The fact that it linked up to the laptop in case we made changes in either location was an added bonus. It would have been simpler if I could have kept with my old habit of handwritten notes in a folder, but with how many clients we had, it was impractical.

"How's the temp working out?"

I raised my head at Taylor's voice and smiled. "She's working out fine. Her QuickBooks training is proving invaluable."

"It really is the most common bookkeeping software around. That's why Tyrone and I chose it."

I nodded. "Yeah. Lee and I were so used to Charlotte's way of doing things that we didn't think about changing it and moving into the modern age."

Taylor chuckled. I caught his smile in the last bit of sunlight as it grew darker. "I'm glad you like it. I wasn't sure at first."

"I may have turned my nose up, but now that we have it, I kind of like it." I grabbed the stylus and waved it in front of Taylor's nose. "This is taking some getting used to." I felt a bit sheepish. "I've lost it three times already."

Taylor laughed but was soon disrupted by the ringing of his cell. He picked it up and looked at it. His lips twitched into a frown before he turned it off. He'd done it three times this week. "Who was that?"

Taylor shrugged. "I don't want my phone to interrupt us this weekend." He glanced at me and grinned. "I plan on having a lot of fun this weekend."

I chuckled. "We're sharing a two bedroom condo with Tom and Moira. You can't mean that much fun."

Taylor reached across the center console and placed his hand high on my thigh. "Are you unable to keep quiet?"

I covered his hand with mine and drew them both up towards my crotch. "With you? Never."

He sucked in his breath as he slowly withdrew his hand up, over my fly and against my belly. "Behave. I'm driving."

I growled at him as his hand brushed against my nipple ring. "How about we pull over and neck?"

Taylor snorted at me. "Yeah, right. Like that will ever happen."




"Horn Dog."

"Bacon." I dragged the last syllable out and watched as Taylor shuddered. "Soon, Bacon. And I'll be as quiet as the grave." I turned and faced the windshield again. "You on the other hand..."


"You moan louder and deeper than anyone I've ever heard before."

Taylor looked at me, shock spreading across his face. "No."


He fought a smile for a few moments and then gave in. "You make me."

"Damn straight."

We both chuckled over that one for a few moments. Before long, we saw signs of snow and then the resort signs. As we pulled off the highway, Taylor pressed the OnStar button. He gave the tinny voice the address and where we were. They relayed the directions to him and before we knew it, we were at the condo.

"That's a great feature."

Taylor grinned as he shut off the engine. "Sorry we didn't go with a Ford again?"

"I was at first. But that little button could come in handy."

He opened the door and stuck his head back inside. "Glad you saw it my way."

I crawled out of the SUV as Taylor headed for our gear. After he'd opened the backend, I grabbed him by the hips and hauled him against me. After tasting him for several moments, in which Taylor had become deadweight in my arms, I pulled back. "That's more like it. Hello, Taylor."

He laid his head against my chest. "I like how you say hello."

I chuckled as I rested my chin against the top of his head. "Me too."

Taylor pulled back to look at me. He was about to say something when Moira's voice called from the condo. "Get your asses in here, it's freezing out."

I rolled my eyes and kissed Taylor quickly as we grabbed our bags and equipment. We bounded up the steps and dropped our equipment to join Tom and Moira's in the hall. Moira led the way down the hall and had us drop our bags in a bedroom across the hall from their room. Taylor thought I was loud. Moira screamed. And Tom... Jesus. You'd think it was the second coming. Literally.

After I dropped off the bags, I headed out to the living room. Tom was knelt before the fireplace, putting a few logs on the fire. Moira and Taylor were sitting on the couch talking. I headed over for Tom and put my hand on his shoulder. "Ready to hit the moguls tomorrow?"

Tom stood and grinned at me. "I was out there today. Awesome conditions."

"Great. I can't wait."

Moira laughed. "You two are like children."

I turned back and raised my eyebrow at Taylor.

"Don't look at me, Andrew. I agree." He turned to Moira and smiled. "You'd think we were at Disneyland."

She chuckled. "Perhaps next time we'll have to take the boys there."

Tom turned to look at me. "And they only `ski'. How pathetic."

"Tell me about it."

Moira looked at me and grinned. "How about we go get some dinner?"

Tom had an Escalade, which we all piled into. I sat in the back with Taylor and cuddled with him as we drove halfway around the lake to a little restaurant that Moira had heard about and had made reservations there. The food was French, the atmosphere wonderful, and the service was mediocre.

After dinner, we went back to the cabin and talked for a bit before we headed for bed. Once in our bedroom, Taylor unpacked his bag while I went through mine until I found the boxes from the silversmith's in Santa Fe. I looked up to see him putting things away neatly. Were my gifts enough? Would he like them? Well, there was really no time like the present to find out.


He turned and grinned at me where I knelt by the bed. "Yeah?"

I crooked my head so he'd sit down in front of me. I placed my hand on his leg and looked up at him. I felt the weight of my bracelet on my wrist and looked at it for a moment. I opened the first box and turned it so Taylor could see. "I got this for you. It is the same design as my and Sean's bracelets."

He reached out and ran his fingers over the links. "It's beautiful."

I took it out of the box and undid the clasp. "I only take mine off at work and put it in my pocket. The moment I grab my keys to go home, it goes back on." I wrapped it around his neck and did the clasp. "I figured you'd only take this off when you race." I sat back and grinned. "Now we're all connected."

His eyes grew moist as he looked at the necklace. "We're already connected."

I cleared my throat and swallowed the lump of emotion. "Yeah, we are. But now there's a visual reminder."

He leaned forward and kissed me. My breath caught at his ardor. I lost myself in his taste and flavor as our lips met. When he moaned, I pulled back. "I'm not done."

I opened the second box, which contained the silver hoop for his ear. I'd taken the mate out and replaced the matching nipple ring with it. "We haven't replaced the ones we got when we first pierced ourselves." I shrugged. "I figured these would last longer and look better."

I reached out to Taylor and brushed his hair back from his ear. I undid the hoop and removed the simple gold-filled ring he'd worn since the day we'd gotten them. I undid the connector on the silver one and gently put it in his ear then reconnected it. Once I sat back on my heels, I handed the box to Taylor. I grinned at him before I pulled my shirt over my head. "I'm going to need some help here."

Taylor's hands shook before he took the ring and undid it. He placed his hands against my chest and smiled as he looked at me. He leaned over and concentrated on undoing the original. I hissed as he pulled it out, feeling great sensation that made me shudder. He gently put the new ring in and connected it. When it was done, I looked in his eyes and smiled. "I love you." "I love you too."

We came together in a kiss that quickly devolved into stripping off clothing and rolling on the bed. We both had to fight hard to keep from crying out into the night.

***** Taylor *****

I shot Moira a spiteful look as I came into the kitchen for some coffee. "At least we tried to be quiet."

Moira laughed. "We've been married longer, and we never worried about quiet before."

I rolled my eyes. "You're as bad as Andrew. Do you try to get Tom to stop along the side of the road to neck too?"

"All the time," Tom confirmed as he came in wearing his long underwear, socks and nothing else.

I laughed. "Red?"

Tom looked at his underwear. "What?"

"You look like a big, buff, half Amerindian Santa."

Moira patted Tom's not flat, but certainly solid belly as he bent down for a kiss. "He can bring me presents any time."

"Aaaghh," Andrew cried, clawing at his eyes, "Het-sex, het-sex. Ewwwww." He smiled at the three of us as we rolled our eyes. "Oh, come on guys. I'm the only gay man here."

He waited, but all we did was look at him doubtfully. I sipped my coffee, quiet as the grave. Andrew made a disgusted noise and went for his coffee.

"Damn critics. It was a joke." He got his coffee, took a disappointed sip, and then looked back at Moira, who had lifted her eyebrow at him. "What?"

She shrugged. "I would think the best revenge would be to subject us to gay sex in retaliation. But I know how shy and retiring you are..."

Andrew leaned in, maneuvered his face around my coffee cup, and kissed me until I moaned. That took a little while. I grabbed the back of his neck and savored the kiss. I wasn't an exhibitionist, but if I was going to be kissing in public, especially due to a dare, I was going to get my money's worth. Moira raised her eyebrows inquisitively at me when I let Andrew go.

"And you won't neck along the side of the road?" She shook her head and left for the bedroom to finish dressing. "Poor travelers are missing quite a show."

How did she always manage to get in the last word?

We hit the slopes by eight, and warmed up on a couple green slopes before heading up the mountain. I eyed Moira with a grin as Andrew made flopping off the chair lift into an Olympic event. It'd obviously been a couple years.

"I hope he gets his snow-legs back soon," I commented as Andrew stood up, brushed off his ass and the back of his jeans, and one-foot-toed his way over to us.

Tom had come off the lift flawlessly and swooped around us before stopping twenty or so feet further down slope. He was laughing his ass off.

"Don't let him goad you, Andrew," Moira consoled as Andrew clipped his back foot to his board. "He did that yesterday."

"Revenge is sweet," Andrew vowed as he turned his board down hill and descended on Tom. At the last minute, Andrew swished to the right, spraying snow onto Tom from the hips down.

Moira shook her head. "Let the games begin."

I smiled as our two overgrown thirteen-year-olds one-upped their way down the slopes. "They're always like this?"

Moira nodded. "Andrew has never quite forgiven Tom for being bigger than he is." She smiled. "Andrew is supposed to be the biggest man in my life."

I smiled. "He's the biggest man in mine."

"Obviously," she retorted dryly as she shoved off and started her way down hill, "We figured that out last night, Mr. Whimper-Gasp-Moan-Sigh. Quiet my foot."

The last word again? Killing my in-laws would be a very bad thing. Being Andrew's boy was great. Being Bubba's Boy wouldn't have been the same. I resettled my sunglasses and started down after her.

I grinned at Moira as we strapped our skis to the racks before clomping up to the mid-mountain lodge. "How white do you think the boys are?"

She shook her head. "Luckily, it's been colder than Paris Hilton's ass up here, so the powder is dry. I think they'll look pretty clean." She nodded at Tom and Andrew's boards. "Not to mention, they got here first."

I held the door for Moira as we entered. "How long have you been skiing?"

"I started in my teens. One class field trip, and I was hooked." She smiled. "I met Tom in the ski club at college."

I chuckled. "Smart woman. You picked an older man with lots of earning potential."

She laughed. "And a big dick." She feigned shock at her frankness, and leaned in. "Though, as any woman will tell you, size doesn't matter."

I rolled my eyes. "They lie."

"Who lies?" Andrew smiled at me as he came out of the cafeteria line with a tray of beef, potatoes, soup, salad and a huge Diet Coke.

"All the women who mourn the fact that you took Taylor off the market," Moira replied without missing a beat. "He knows how to treat a woman right." She eyed Andrew's tray. "Tom already get his food?"

Andrew nodded toward the far windows where Tom was sitting. "Yep. I held the table while he got his tray."

Moira shoved her gloves, hat and goggles into Andrew's arms, took my gloves, stacked them on hers, and took my arm. "See you at the table." She started toward the ever-growing lines for food before I could think. "Come on, Hot Stuff, let's get through this rat's maze before Tom's food gets cold. I want to have lunch with my husband."

Two bowls of chili, corn dogs, hot peach cobblers, and two hot chocolates later, we sat down with our men. The day was bright, the conditions were perfect, and Andrew's jeans were skintight. He'd practically had to roll the jeans up his legs with his long underwear on. The contrast between his big, wool sweater, broad shoulders, and then snug jeans and narrow hips made for a very pleasing site on and off the slopes.

"Having fun?" Andrew asked as I sat down.

"Yeah. Was a little wobbly the first run or two, but I'm back in the flow." I smiled at him. "You?"

He grinned. "I'm always having fun when I can get husky-mug over there to go face first into a snow bank."

Moira raised an eyebrow at Tom, and he scowled.

"You did not. I was avoiding that grandmother you nearly sent to an early grave."

Andrew snorted. "I was nowhere close. She didn't even get the fluff from my turn. You were the one trying to cut me off on the inside, and set a beeline for her."

I rolled my eyes. "I assume the aborted victim is fine?"

Both Tom and Andrew nodded.

"Yeah," Tom explained as he sipped his coffee, "but she had a few choice words about hot-rodding down the slopes." He chuckled. "Then she was kind enough to wait to make sure I hadn't broken my neck."

I nodded. "That's only good skiing etiquette. You hot-rodders have no manners."

Andrew growled playfully. "I'll show you manners."

My cell beat me to a response, and I held up my finger.

"Hold that thought."

I picked my cell up from the table and almost clicked the answer button before I saw the caller ID. With a disgusted grunt, I clicked the damn annoyance off. I didn't need this shit; especially when I was on a desperately needed vacation. The hell-a-days, a week of house painting, and then a week of solitary confinement hadn't provided me any de-stress time. I didn't need any more complications.

Andrew frowned as I set my phone down. "Who was it?"

"No one important," I insisted, picking up my hot cocoa and sipping. "Like I said last night, I don't want anyone interrupting my time with my man. I only turned it on to call in about a student earlier. I forgot to turn it off afterwards. I'll check messages again by mid-afternoon."

I saw a flicker of doubt in Andrew's eyes before he shrugged it off. I saw no reason to add something to his load. Between the influx of clients at the gym, fighting with the insurance company about letting me handle some of the paperwork and questions, and difficulties getting replacement windows installed in the dead of winter, right after the New Year, Andrew had enough headaches. I'd also seen him stop more than a couple times near Sean's room and just look in the door, as if hoping the kid would magically be there. I missed Sean too, but I missed a lot of the kids I'd worked closely with. Years of having to care for, and then let go, gave me a buffer from the ache of Sean's absence. Andrew didn't have years of experience.

"So, what do you two plan to do for the afternoon," Andrew asked as he shoved the remains of his now slaughtered lunch onto his tray.

"We're going to the back side to hit a couple black diamond slopes," Moira answered, picking up her corn dog and challenging me with it. "Mr. Ass-hugger-pants here has been twitterpating the girls on the slopes. I'm going to take him were I have him all to myself."

"You've been shaking your ass at strange women?" Andrew asked, frowning at me.

"The only strange woman I've had my ass toward is Moira. It's the only view she gets of me when I'm showing her up on the slopes."

"You wish," she snorted, stabbing at me with her half eaten dog.

I defended myself with my chili spoon. "You're hot, Moira, but you're married and it'd be like incest. You're just going to have to get your satisfaction from Tom."

Tom reached out and stopped the spoon and corndog fencing. "Are we going to have to separate you two?"

Andrew shook his head. "And they say we're like kids?"

The rest of lunch was less combative and more congenial. Andrew squeezed my well-displayed ass as the four of us got back to the ski racks.

"This ass is mine. No teasing other people with something they can't have."

I grinned, loving his possessiveness. I really needed to feel wanted. Of course, I never doubted Andrew's desire or love. I supposed the stress of the last month was getting to me.

"Yes sir. I promise to put a sign on it that says: not available."

He looked at Moira. "I'm trusting you to keep the needy bitches off my man."

Moira saluted. "Yes sir, Andrew sir!"

Tom complained, "What about me? Doesn't anyone care about who might want my ass?"

Andrew snorted. "With an ass that large, no one can miss it, whether they want it or not."

Tom frowned, pulling on his goggles. "I'm going to plow you into the turf, Bunny-slope-marauder."

"You and what army," Andrew retorted as they got their boards unlatched from the racks.

I shook my head and looked at Moira. "I say we leave them to wallow in testosterone alone."

She kissed Tom briefly before taking the skis I handed her. "I agree. I may need an injection of estrogen just to balance this out."

"See you around four at the Base Camp Lodge," Andrew confirmed as he pulled on his gloves.

"We'll be there," I replied as I stepped into my bindings. "Have fun."

"You too."

We went our separate ways, and Moira and I took the lifts over to the backside. As we got to the top and looked out at the sparsely skied slope below us, I looked out at the eastern bowl. "I hope the guys will be careful over there. Loose powder is a whole different beast."

Moira laughed. "They'll be fine."

We started down The Rattler, and I had to focus. Steep, moguls, loose powder, and some ice all combined to make for a challenging descent. Moira led the first leg of our descent, and we paused briefly where another trail crossed ours.

"How you doing, old man?"

I grunted. "I'm not the one wobbling as we hit back mogul ice."

She grinned. "Then show me how it's done."

I started out and we hit the second field of moguls at a good clip. I said something like, "fuck," when I caught my ski edge. The last thing I remembered thinking was, Moira is never going to let me live this down.

***** Andrew *****

Tom and I blasted down to base camp about ten minutes early. I unlatched my boots from my snowboard, laughing at Lard-Ass as he slid up beside me, and picked up my board. I strutted my victory walk up to the racks. Tom unsnapped his boots and hobbled up while I got out the lock open.

"You gonna make it, Tom?"

My attitude was all bravado. We both knew it. We were going to be sore the next day. Not that either of us were out of shape, but when you didn't regularly use your muscles in the way you did snowboarding, it took its toll.

Tom put his board in the rack. "Yeah. This has been great, but I'm going to be sore tomorrow."

"Tell me about it." I scanned the hill, searching for Taylor and Moira, but didn't see her turquoise jacket or his too hot to ignore yellow and blue ski outfit. "I guess they're going to be a bit. Want to find a place to put our feet up and get something hot to drink?"

"Coffee. Black. And hell yes."

We went inside, and Tom found a place by the fire while I went to the bar and got us a couple of hot coffees. Tom groaned as he pushed his chair back, straightened his legs, and put his snow-encrusted boots on the coffee table. I elbowed his feet as I sat down with our coffees.

"Were you raised in a barn?"

"Igloo," he retorted as his cell rang. He grabbed it out of his jacket and looked at the number. He grinned. "Taylor. I guess they're going to be late."

"Classic Taylor," I chuckled. "He hate's being late."

I handed him his mug as he answered.

"Hello? Moira?" He listened briefly, his happy smile melting away. "What's going on?"

I'd never seen an Amerindian go pale. I sat up and looked at him, leaning in. He waved me off.

"Okay. We'll be there. Where are you?"

My stomach plummeted to my feet. I swallowed, trying to push aside the images that were running through my mind. Moira was tough. She'd be fine

Tom rang off, swinging his feet off the table, and stood. "Come on, Andrew. We need to go."

"What's going on?" I stood, reaching for my gloves.

"I don't have all the details, but Taylor took a fall on the slopes. He's in the emergency room."

I stopped and caught my breath. Taylor? My knees gave way and I dropped into the seat, hard.

Tom gripped my arm. "Come on big guy, keep it together."

He pulled me towards the door, but by the time we got there, I was practically running.

Not Taylor. Nothing happened to Taylor.

As we got to the Escalade, I thrust my hand out to Tom. "Give me the keys."

Tom stopped, shaking his head. "No Andrew. Let me drive."

"Give me the Goddamn keys!"

Tom pushed me against the car. "Listen! You're upset and in no condition to drive. I'll get us there in a hurry. Now get in."

I tried to stare him down, but he wouldn't budge. Pushing Tom away, I frantically reached for the keys. He just pushed me back and stared me down. In the logical part of my mind I knew he was right. The logical part of my mind was being battered by fear and adrenaline. Finally, I nodded and got in the passenger side.

The drive to the hospital went by in a blur. I'd never been one for prayer, but I sent several of them heavenward during the drive.

Please not Taylor. Don't take him away from me. Why Taylor? Why? He's everything to me.

When we got to the hospital, Tom had barely slowed down before I had the door open and ran to the Emergency Room. I got through the doors and found Moira sitting in a chair in reception. I tried to get it together as she stood. I looked her over, making sure she was okay, and took her in my arms. "Where is he?"

She looked in my eyes and paused, as if trying to determine what to say. I fought back the panic and my urge to shake her.

"They took him into the ER when we arrived. I've been sitting out here since."

"Are you okay?"

She nodded. "I'm fine."

I breathed again. I could barely keep sane with Taylor hurt; I couldn't have faced it if both of them were injured. I kissed her forehead and then left her as Tom came in. I went to the admissions desk.

A nurse looked up and gave me a professional smile that didn't meet her eyes. "Can I help you?"

"Taylor Madison. How is he?"

She folded her hands together then leaned forward. "And you are?"

Who gives a fuck who I am! My man was lying, beyond those doors, in God knows what condition. Fucking bitch! I swallowed my anger and mean retorts. As long as he was okay, I could put up with this. "Andrew Jackson. I'm his partner."

She looked me over for a half second, a slight frown cracking her veneer, before her 'professional smile' returned. "I'm sorry, but only family members can be given patient information."

I ground my teeth, but kept my temper under control. "He is family. He's my family."

"I'm sorry, Mr. Jackson, but patient information is confidential. It's hospital policy."

I was so close to the edge. All I wanted was to see Taylor, to hold him and make sure he was okay. Tears welled in my eyes. "I'm sorry means nothing when you don't mean it." I leaned forward. "His biological family is four hundred miles away. He needs someone to sit by him and tell him everything will be okay. I'm the only one who can." I dashed at my eyes when they became too blurry to see. My voice cracked, "Please?"

I saw a brief flash of compassion in her eyes when my voice hitched. She would bend; she had to. The compassion, like her disapproval, faded behind her 'professional veneer'. "I'm sorry, Mr. Jackson, but I cannot help you."

Just as I was about to reach across the desk and throttle her, Moira touched my arm and stopped me. I looked at Moira and saw Tom standing beside her.

"You're a lawyer. Fix this." I didn't care how desperate I sounded. It didn't matter if the macho shit head was whining in a hospital. None of it mattered.

"There's nothing I can do, Andrew." His arm wrapped tighter around Moira as his hand touched my shoulder. "The law is the law."

I shrugged Tom's hand off my shoulder and stomped outside. The cool air bit into my cheeks, shocking me for a moment. When I caught my breath, the last of my control fled. I slumped to the ground against the hospital wall as the tears began to flow. I was probably only twenty fucking feet away from him, and I couldn't see him. He needed me. I was all he had in the world. I knew everything about him. He hated depending on others. He couldn't stand to sleep on his back. He'd be confused when he woke and I wasn't with him.

Before Taylor, I'd never given a shit about gay rights or the whole gay marriage movement. Now I understood why so many people fought so hard for them. A few words from a hospital employee invalidated everything that we were to each other. Family. The word had so many meanings, but only the legal one mattered to them. We could have been together ten years instead of just ten months, and I still couldn't have seen him. I looked up to the sky with tear streaked cheeks and yelled, "Why?!?"

Moira and Tom had followed me out and were standing by my side. Moira knelt down beside me.

"Andrew? Taylor was unconscious after he fell." She put her arms around me as I sobbed. "I stayed with him until we got here." I turned in and clung to my sister as I cried. I couldn't have stopped the tears had I wanted to. Not Taylor.

Finally, I pulled back and wiped my face. "What happened?"

"I'm not sure. I think he clipped a chunk of ice or maybe a rock." She shrugged. "One moment, he was skiing away, showing me up, and the next moment he was sprawled in the snow."

I looked up at Tom feeling guilty and ashamed. "I'm sorry."

Tom knelt down to face me. "It's okay."

The very thought that Taylor lay unconscious and alone in some cubicle made my heart contract. I cringed. "What are we going to do?" I looked back and forth between them. "I could call Katherine, but it would take her hours to get here. I need to see him."

Moira stood and offered her hand to me. I took it and stood.

"I have an idea." She turned to Tom and pointed. "Not one word."

Tom nodded and started to walk forward. Tom reached out, grabbed her hand, and she squeezed it before pulling away. "Stick close to Andrew. This won't work if you're holding my hand."

We followed her back inside and down a long hallway away from the ER. Moira looked at a hospital directory briefly, and turned right. I glanced at Tom who only shrugged. When we rounded a corner, I saw another admittance desk. She walked right up and put her hands on the counter.

A young woman looked up with the same smile I'd gotten in the ER. "Can I help you?"

Moira looked at the woman, her expression worn and her lips in a distraught frown. "I was skiing with my fiancée and he fell. I was told they brought him here."

"His name?"

"Taylor Madison."

The woman looked at her and smiled. "And your name?"

"Moira Cechalis."

The woman smiled. "That's an unusual name. How do you spell it?"

Moira spelled the name out and grinned. "It's Coos Bay Indian for Sea Otter."

The woman tapped on her keyboard and looked at the monitor for a second. "Okay. Taylor Madison is in the ER. They're about to move him to a private room." She looked at her monitor again. "They're moving him now. If you will wait a few minutes, you can go up and see him. Room 1511."

"Thank you."

Moira turned and headed towards us with a grin. She took both our hands and smiled. "I don't know what I would have done if you hadn't been here, bro." She kissed Tom's cheek. "Thanks Andrew for tagging along with Tom while he kept me sane."

We headed towards a bank of elevators. While waiting, I gave Moira a relieved smile. When the elevator arrived, we got in and were thankfully alone. It pissed me off that they didn't bat an eye when Moira stepped forward as Taylor's fiancée, but if she hadn't been there, I'd still have been sitting downstairs, or had been arrested for forcing my way into the ER.

"Thanks, Moira."

Tom grabbed her up and kissed her soundly. "I love how devious you are, wife."

"Thank you, husband." She kissed him again then pushed him away. "Now remember, you two are a couple." She touched my cheek. "Just don't be too friendly."

"As if," I muttered even though I couldn't stop the grin. In one swift move, Moira had gotten all the information we needed and a way to see Taylor.

She set her expression as the doors opened on the 15th floor. In front of the elevators was a large nurse's station. Moira marched right up to it and waited for someone to speak with her. "I was told downstairs that Taylor Madison was brought up here?'

"Yes, Ma'am. If you'll wait over there, when the doctor has him settled, I'll have him come see you."

Moira nodded as the nurse pointed us to the lounge. We sat.

As long as I moved or had something to take my mind off things I didn't think. Sitting in the uncomfortable waiting room gave me too much idle time. Unconscious? Hurt? He wasn't waking up? My throat closed as I fought tears. Taylor. He was everything. I couldn't lose him. Not now. Not after everything we'd been through.

The sun had long since set by the time a harried looking man in a white coat entered the room. He walked to Moira and smiled a tired smile at her. "Are you Taylor Madison's fiancée?"

She stood and walked to him. "Yes. How is he?"

"If you'll come with me?"

I watched as Moira walked off with the doctor. It took everything in me not to follow. Tom came over and sat beside me. I gripped, white-knuckled, the arms of the chair.

"Keep it together, Andrew."

I looked at him and managed not to bite his head off. Tom wasn't the problem. "I can't stand this."

He nodded. "I know." He stood and walked away before he turned back. "I was serious at Christmas, Andrew. If you want, I'll put the paperwork through. Powers of attorney. Deeds. Everything." He shrugged. "This won't happen again once the papers are filed."

I looked at him and let all the bitterness out. "Can you guarantee that? Seriously?" I never knew I hid so much down inside me. How could anyone promise that? Tom sat back surprised. "I'm serious Tom. Even if we have the papers, anyone can deny them as being legal."

"Honestly? Yes, they can try, which is why unlike a married heterosexual couple, you'll need to keep copies of your powers of attorney with you. In those instances, you remember you have a mean brother-in-law who'll sue their asses, and keep your cool. The law will be on your side." He smiled. "They'll regret the second they denied either of you your legal rights."

I started laughing, because if I didn't laugh I'd break down in tears again. "Thanks, Tom."

He shrugged. "I don't agree with the law, but I have to work within the confines of it."

I nodded and was about to speak when Moira came back in. I stood and went to her. "How is he?" I gripped her arm, desperate for news.

She smiled at me, but it didn't reach her eyes. "He's still unconscious. His left wrist broke and is in a cast. His right knee popped and is in another cast." She looked at Tom. "He hit his head, has a couple of stitches, and a concussion. His neck is in a brace."

I couldn't move as her words sank in. Taylor. He was hurt. I gripped her arms harder as the tears started to flow again.

Tom came up behind me and hugged me. I lost it. I couldn't stop the tears as I held on to my sister and sobbed.


Moira ran her hands up and down my neck, and through my hair. "I'm sorry, Andrew."

I had to stop this. I had to pull it together. Taylor needed me. That thought alone got me to straighten up. "I want to see him."

Moira looked over my shoulder at Tom. "You can't."

"What?" My voice had gone quiet and still. "Why not?"

She looked down. "It's still family only while he's unconscious. I'm the only `family' member."

I walked away from them and stared out the window. I counted to ten to keep me sane, tracing some condensation that pooled on the pane. When I got to fifty-eight, I turned around. "You'll stay with him?"

She nodded. "Yes. Of course."

I looked at Tom. "Come on Tom, let's get your sister some dinner."

I marched out of the reception area and pressed the elevator button. I stood, my jaw ticking as I waited. I wanted to punch the wall. I wanted to find the hospital administrator and beat some sense into him. I wanted to fight. I wanted to yell. I wanted to howl at the moon and demand to see Taylor. When the doors opened, I stepped in and pressed the button for the lobby. When Tom and I made it to the main floor, I pointed towards the cafeteria.

"Get her something to eat. I'm going outside for a few minutes. When you're ready, I'll be by the car."

I went outside and stomped around the parking lot for a few minutes. At least he was okay. I couldn't go see him because of some closed minded rules, but I knew he'd be okay. If Moira weren't there, I'd have lost my mind. I was so angry I couldn't think straight. I walked around the parking lot until I found Tom's SUV. It took everything inside me not to punch out the side window. I had so much rage bottled up that I could barely breathe. A lone, decorative evergreen stood in the median between aisles of the parking lot. With all my might, I kicked it. The tree swayed but didn't break. I didn't feel better, but I had to do something

Tom came out and beeped the locks so I could get in. Once inside, Tom fastened his seat belt.

"Want to get something to eat," he asked as he started the car.

I just glared at him. He drove us back to the condo. Once inside, all I could do was pace. After about a half hour, Tom got out of his seat and grabbed my shoulders.

"Will you stop?"

At that moment, I wanted to do what I'd stopped myself from doing when I first met him. I wanted to deck him. "Back off, Tom."

Tom held me fast. "No. You calm down." When I pushed him back, he grabbed me again and pushed me against the wall. "You have to keep it together for Taylor."

I paused in my struggle. I felt the fight drain out of me. I slung my head forward. "I know."

Tom let me go and stood straight. "Good, because I'd hate to drag you down to the lake and dunk you."

I scoffed at him. "Like you ever could."

"Don't try me, Andrew."

I looked at Tom and realized how upset he was. It only served to show me how selfish I was being. I paced back and forth in front of the fireplace. "I'm sorry, Tom."

Tom came up behind me. "Listen, I know you don't like to drink... but how about a beer?"

I chuckled, but there was little humor in it. "No. When Moira calls, I want to be clear headed."

"I understand." He turned towards the bedrooms. "Here's my cell phone. I'm going to take a shower." I nodded as he left me to pace. After I heard the shower start, I stared into the fire and sat on the sofa. I shut my eyes and took several deep breaths. As I sat there, I grabbed the box of Kleenex on the end table. I pulled one out and slowly shredded it as my eyes blurred and I lost focus. Taylor had only been hurt one other time since we'd met, and I caused it. I felt my stomach roil as I remembered the sight of his blood on me.

I pushed the memory away and I remembered waking up this morning, with Taylor snuggled against my chest, his hand resting over my heart. I wanted that moment back. I wished we'd stayed in bed. If I could, I'd have traded places with him. If only I were the one lying in the hospital.

I started laughing. Like that would help. Good one, Jackson. If I were lying in the hospital, Taylor would be shredding Kleenex and pacing the floors. Perhaps it was for the best; I didn't want Taylor worrying about me. Taylor was okay. The rest didn't matter: not the anger over the stupid hospital policies, not the hurt at being apart from him, or the pain of the fear of losing him. Taylor was alive. My hands shook as I opened my eyes to stare blindly at the fire. What would I do if something ever happened to him? How would I go on?

Tom came out of the bedroom, his hair still damp and his shirt unbuttoned. He sat in the chair cattycorner to the couch. We waited. Nearly midnight, Tom's cell rang. We both scrambled for it. I got there first.


Moira's voice came across, tired and ragged, but with a smile. "Hey Andrew. He's awake."

I shut my eyes and sighed. "Thank God. How is he?"

"He's suffering from whiplash and he has a concussion; they're going to keep him overnight."

"Can we see him?"

I felt her pause and knew the answer. "No visitors until morning. They'll let me stay. They've set up a bed for me in the room."

I shut my eyes and waited to be calm again. "Can I talk to him?"

"He's asleep again." She sighed. "Come back in the morning. Visiting hours start at eight."

"We'll be there. First thing."

"Can I talk to Tom?"

"Of course. I love you, Moira. Thank you."

Her voice softened just a bit. "You're welcome. Now get some sleep."

I handed the phone to Tom and stepped outside. The cold air slapped me in the face. When I looked down, I realized I still wore my skiing clothes. I let out the breath I felt like I'd been holding all day. He had woken up. I cried again. I didn't think I'd ever really stopped crying. When Tom tapped on the door, I turned and headed back inside. "How is she?"

Tom smiled. "She's pissed at the hospital, but she's fine."

I nodded. "Thanks, Tom."

"No problem." He grinned as he pointed towards the bedrooms. "I'm ordered to bodily put you to bed if you don't go willingly."

"I will. I'm going to take a shower first."

"Okay. Good night, Andrew."


I walked into our bedroom and grabbed a change of underwear. I walked down the hall and turned on the shower. I left it scalding hot and stood under its spray, letting the hot water pelt away at the tension. After I'd washed my hair, I could smell Taylor's shampoo. It never quite smelled the same on me, but it didn't matter. I let go of the walls and cried. I stood under the spray and let the shower wash my tears down the drain.

I didn't sleep for shit all night. I tossed and turned and wished for Taylor to be in my arms. How empty the bed was when he was gone. I thought it was bad the week I drove Sean to Florida. This was ten million times worse. When the sun rose, I was up and dressed. When Tom came out at seven, I simply handed him his keys and pointed to the door. He drove us to the hospital.

Once on Taylor's floor, I didn't pause as I marched to room 1511. I stood at the door and watched Moira sleeping. Behind the room dividing curtain lay Taylor. I walked in and slowly moved the curtain aside. The tears I thought I'd cried out came back. His eyes were sunken and bruised looking. His neck was in a brace and his leg propped on pillows. Oh Taylor.

I went to his side and pulled a chair beside the bed. I took his right hand in mine and held it. I kept pressing kisses to it. Taylor opened his eyes slowly and looked around. When he saw me, he smiled. "Hey you."

I smiled at him; grateful he was talking to me. "Hey baby. Oh Bacon, what happened?"

Taylor looked back at the ceiling. "A chunk of ice got in my way."

I wanted so badly to sit by his side and curl myself around him and take his pain away. But I stayed put. "I'm so glad you're awake."

Tom, and a sleepy Moira, stepped around the curtain. Taylor looked at them and frowned. "I'm sorry I screwed up your vacation—"

"Stop it. You did no such thing." Tom had a great way of cutting off arguments.

I squeezed Taylor's hand in mine and flashed my brother-in-law a grateful smile.


I took his hand and brought it to my lips. "Stop it, Taylor. It was an accident. They happen." I stood and leaned over him and brushed his lips with mine. We were interrupted by a cheery voice.

"Ms. Cechalis? How are we doing?" She came up short as she rounded the curtain and saw me leaning over Taylor and Tom with Moira wrapped in his arms. She blinked a couple of times and looked back and forth between the four of us. Then she shook her head and plastered the professional smile on her face. "How are you feeling, Mr. Madison? Any pain?"

Taylor blushed a bit then barely shook his head. "My wrist aches and my knee throbs."

She had his chart in her hands. She looked it over. "The doctor will be in in a few minutes. I'll get some breakfast for you." She turned to Moira. "Why don't you go down to the cafeteria with these gentlemen while he's being examined. I think the doctor will be ready to release him by the time you return." She turned and left the room.

I looked at Moira. "Why don't you two go ahead, I'll be there in a few minutes?"

They left and I turned back to Taylor. I couldn't help it. I had to kiss him. I leaned over him and kept my weight off him as I claimed his lips. I didn't press against him, but I devoured his mouth. I had to know he was really okay. When I pulled back, I wiped tears from my eyes. "Don't ever do this to me again."

Taylor put his hand against my cheek. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be sorry. Just promise it won't happen again."

Taylor smiled and wiped a tear away from his cheek. "I promise."

When the doctor arrived, I left the room and joined Tom and Moira in the cafeteria. They tried to get me to eat, but I wasn't in the mood. After breakfast, we got upstairs and were told we could take Taylor home later that afternoon. Moira stayed with Taylor while Tom helped me gather our stuff and pack Taylor's SUV. That afternoon, I lifted my man, safe and sound, into the car and drove him home.

***** Taylor *****

I stared, resentfully, at the two-ton superstructure imprisoning my leg as Andrew drove in silence. I didn't have anything to say. One careless misstep and I'd gone from his hot little ass to his pain in the ass; and not the good kind. For once, I was thankful I was small. If I'd been Andrew's size, and stuck in two casts and a neck brace, I wouldn't have fit in the passenger's seat. As it was, the seat was as far back as it could go. Andrew broke the silence after we were back on the interstate.

"We should call Katherine."

I blinked, turning my head slowly in the brace. "Mom? Why should we call Mom?"

Andrew snorted. "Taylor. Your mother would want to know that her son's been injured."

I frowned. "Andrew, she's still recovering from the flu." I knew exactly what Mom would do if she found out. She'd pack a suitcase, bundle herself up, and would drive her feverish, shivering little self the three and a half hours down to take care of her little boy. "She'd be just like your mother."

Andrew groaned. "Okay, but I'm not going to lie to her if she calls."

I shrugged, regretted it instantly, and winced. How was I going to talk without shrugging? "Then let me answer the phones."

Andrew shot me a sideways glance. "You'd lie to your mother?"

I'd have nodded, but the brace wouldn't let me. "About this? In a heartbeat. She doesn't need to be worrying about me; especially when she's sick."


I closed my eyes. "Can we talk about this later, Andrew?" My head pounded and I struggled not to let the pain make it to my voice. I didn't manage it.

"Yeah," Andrew answered, "sorry."

I snorted. "You don't have to be sorry for anything, Andrew. I'm the one who ruined our weekend and—"

"Stop it!"

The car wobbled, and I opened my eyes. Andrew was gripping the wheel so hard his knuckles were white.

"This isn't your fault." Fuck, he was so on edge. I should have seen it. "You're going to be okay. We're going to get home, and I'm going to take care of you."

My big, bad protector. Not that I needed one, but I had him nonetheless. I reached out and rubbed my wrist cast against his sleeve. "Hey?"

He glanced at me.

"I love you."

I was still amazed how those three little words could melt away almost any problem. He reached down and squeezed my good knee.

"I love you too, Bacon."

I sighed. "I won't be a sizzling hot pig any time soon."

Andrew smiled, squeezing my knee again. "That's okay. Slow cooked bacon is the best anyway. This will give you plenty of time to cook up right."

I resisted laughing. Laughing made the back of my head throb. "You're one sick puppy, Andrew."

He grinned, and we continued on our way home.