Race kept one eye on the radar and the other on the satellite up-link. They both showed the same thing. A storm. A very big storm, not yet a hurricane but skirting the criteria, headed their way. Calling in the second shift crew to join the current shift, he started the battening down process that would secure the island from Mother Nature's wrath.
Three hours later, he slogged through the worsening rain to the main complex. He circled the buildings, making sure the steel shutters were up over all the vulnerable windows. He detoured once to make sure the garages were locked down before continuing on his tour. The wind howled with banshee wails. Race felt like a mime, walking against the gale. The goggles were the only way he could keep his eyes open.
Minute particles of sand kept stinging his face and he could feel the beginnings of a serious burn. He headed for the family entrance with a sigh, for a moment wishing that he could stay outside in the storm rather than face the mini-hurricane inside. Taking a last look around, he took a deep breath and manhandled the door open.
Bolting the door behind him, he began to remove the layers of water proofed clothing. The mirror by the door showed him his raccoon look as soon as he took off the goggles. His face was bright red except for where the hard plastic had protected his tan. Shaking his head, he kept on stripping down to his khaki pants and long sleeved shirt. The dim light told him the emergency generators had kicked in so they were in good shape.
"Race." Benton's voice came quietly from the hall that led to the laboratory where he'd taken to hiding from their latest visitor. The look of unhappiness on his face wrung the bodyguard's heart.
Crossing swiftly, he gathered his long time lover into a hug while closing them into the small soundproofed lab. Leaning back against the door, he locked it decisively and cradled Benton in his arms. "Is she still talking? And pontificating?"
"Gods, Race, she never stops. What the hell can Jonny be thinking of?" Benton groaned into Race's shoulder, his voice muffled in muscle. "She's cornered the market on every subject known to man. And her way is the only way. I can't believe he's falling for it."
"He's young and his thought processes are coming from much lower than his brain. She's beautiful, you have to give her that." Race tried to be fair while his arms tightened around the man in his arms.
"Sandy has barricaded herself in the lab and says she's not coming out until Carrie-tilla the Hun has left." Benton sighed and raised his head with a slight grin. His fingers lightly touched the red patches on Race's face. "This look painful. How bad is it?"
"Bad. But we've ridden out worse. A little burn cream will help my face. Don't we have something in the lab?" Race smiled and angled for a kiss. Benton's taste was addictive and not even a hurricane could make him forego his favorite morning wake-up.
"Hm-m-m, I missed you this morning. Did you get any sleep at all?" Benton leaned into the kiss with languid strokes of his tongue.
"No. But I can take a nap after breakfast or lunch or what ever the hell the next meal is. Care to join me?" Race quirked an eyebrow.
"I'd kill for a nap, love. But I promised Jonny I'd explain the Cirrus Project to Carrie. Maybe I can sneak away for a bit." The worried look was back on his face and Race held in his sigh.
Jonny had invited his girlfriend, Carrie Withers to the island over spring break. They thought they'd been prepared for anything except the formidable young lady who'd arrived like the hurricane forming outside. A beautiful young woman with hair as red as Benton's had been in his youth and the classic features of an Athena with pale white skin, she and Jonny looked like a perfect couple.
He had a rather glazed look in his eyes when ever he looked at her and Race had decided within a half an hour of meeting her that he must be tuning out her words because otherwise the sensible young man wouldn't have stood her for a minute. He just hoped they would survive the next four days. At least the hurricane would blow over.
"Come on to the lab. We'll see if Sandy will let us in. I snuck out while Carrie was lecturing Jonny on his cholesterol levels." Benton shuddered slightly and tugged Race towards the other door that led into the main lab.
Sandy was working at her computer and turned a gimlet eye on them until she saw who it was. "Race, your poor face. It must be bad out there. The burn cream is in the other desk, Dr. Quest."
"Thanks, Sandy. Any movement on the other side?" Benton crossed to the other side and rummaged through the drawers until he found the cream.
"Nope. The last time I clicked on the kitchen intercom, she was still nagging him about the bacon in the fridge. Thank goodness Lazlo isn't here." She mentioned the vacationing cook with a mock shudder.
"Oh, I don't know. That might rate a pay per view for a real knock down dragged out fight." Race joked while he sat on the edge of the desk and let Benton rub in the analgesic cream. He almost missed the fleeting smile that crossed his lover's face.
"We shouldn't laugh, I know. But she is like way too young to be such an expert. I thought better of Jonny. I really did." Sandy echoed the scientist's earlier comments without realizing it. "Oh, never mind me. I'm just miffed that she dismissed me out of hand as a minion and therefore not important."
Race watched her grimace ruefully and go back to the computer screen where she was modeling the new generator they'd been working on for the past few months. He considered her quiet beauty and soft cap of short brown hair with approval. Her quiet serenity was matched with an irreverent sense of humor. She'd become a real asset since reporting for duty almost six months before. And he was pretty sure that she knew about he and Benton and approved of them.
She'd covered for them when the Senate Subcommittee on Energy had visited last month and one of the aides had eyed Race with suspicion. Sandy had snuggled next to him and flirted with fervor while watching him out of the corner of her eye. As soon as he'd wondered off with a smirk, she'd straightened up and rolled her eyes with a grin before heading back to a computer mock up and a clueless senator.
They approved of each other and both watched out for Benton even when he didn't need to be looked after. But right now, it was family and they'd both stepped back to let him deal with his son and guest.
"I'm sorry about that, Sandy. She does seem to label people and then cast them aside if they don't fit her criteria." Benton sighed.
"Not your fault, Dr. Quest." Her eyes stayed glued to the monitor. "Just a combination of an egocentric viewpoint and appalling manners. I'll bet she was a real terror while growing up. Her playmates obviously didn't hit her over the head with the nearest blunt object enough. That's what straightened me out at an early age. Well, that and three older brothers."
Race bit back a chuckle with difficulty while surreptitiously licking a passing finger. The cream overlaid the salty sweet taste of Benton's flesh but he savored even the hint of his lover. It had been a long two days without him while they endured this visitor and got ready for the storm. He'd gone back to a nearby bedroom while Carrie was on the island and was beginning to feel deprived.
Benton's eyes told him, he too was feeling the strain. A beep from the communications board broke their silent conversation and Benton went to answer it. "Yes?"
"Hi, Dad. We're ready for you. I'm just showing Carrie the Control Room now." Jonny's voice resounded through the lab.
"I'll be right there, Jonny." He clicked off and took a deep breath then slowly let it out. "Wish me luck, guys. Maybe this will be new to her."
Race watched him leave and sighed quietly.
"Family can be a real bitch sometimes." Sandy's voice was resigned. "My oldest brother brought home one just like her. I thought Mom would bust a gut before the weekend ended. Maybe we should just evacuate the island and leave them on the nearest landmass?"
Race snorted once and shook his head. "Better we stay here and just try to act normal. Jonny's not stupid. He'll notice the problem when he stops thinking from below the belt."
"The stress is telling on Dr. Quest. I don't think he's sleeping very well. Those dark circles under his eyes are not at all attractive. He's losing that Viking god look, I enjoy so much." She teased him gently and he grinned into her dark brown eyes.
I guess she does know. And for some reason, she approves.
A blinking light on the console grabbed his attention and he quickly answered the call. The marina was in trouble and they needed him. It acted like a cold shower, waking him up to the greater problem of the approaching hurricane.
"Tell Dr. Quest where I am and to expect me when he sees me. Once I get over there, I may not be able to get back right away."
"Will do, Race. Be careful. The eye isn't due to reach us for another twelve hours." Her eyes were solemn and just a bit frightened and he tousled her hair in passing.
"I'm always careful. You guys will be fine. Just stay inside and don't try any sightseeing. Call the marina if there's an emergency."
Race panted and tried to move again but the steel beam was too heavy. The marina personnel were trying to rig a fulcrum and lever but the wind kept them from coordinating their efforts. The pain was there but not too bad and he used hand signals to send them back into shelter for now. The eye of the storm was approaching and soon they'd have an hour or two to rig up something and get him out of danger before the second wave hit.
Thank God, Benton is safe at home. His thoughts were muzzy and he tried to shift into a more comfortable position but the beam lay across his left leg with unwieldy weight. He could flex his toes so it wasn't broken but if any of the rubble shifted, he'd be minus a leg pretty quickly. Race tried not to think of that and instead tried to focus on the tools they had on hand. Maybe something on one of the boats?
At least they'd gotten a partial shelter rigged so the rain wasn't driving right into his face. He counted his blessings and tried to be glad the water soaking him was at least warm. But there was so much of it. Thank goodness, I was able to push Miguel out of the way. Bad enough I got caught. He checked his watch and tried to calculate how much longer until the eye reached them.
But his eyes weren't focusing very well and he wondered if he'd hit his head just a little too hard on the way down. He tried to distract himself with thinking about Benton, remembering a hundred times he'd come to his rescue in one form or another. The intent look he always wore when he was working through a problem. The way he ran his fingers through his hair, making it stand on end.
He was grayer now except for his mustache but Race didn't even notice anymore. The years had been kind to his lover and his brain was just as sharp as ever. For men in their forties, he thought they were doing pretty good. Running ten miles a day on the beaches of the island kept them in shape and helped Benton think. Not to mention the times they stopped at the moonrise pavilion and made love before finishing a run.
"Race. Stay put while we get this off you." Benton's voice was tightly controlled but Race could hear the fear beneath the words.
"Sure. I'll just lay here and let you guys do the work." He tried to joke but the flashes of pain were gaining now, shooting up his leg to his hip. Nerve damage?
He watched through blurring vision while Jonny and Miguel Sanchez, the marina foreman stationed themselves to one side. Only when he heard a familiar whirring sound did he realize that Benton was directing the robot towards the beam. *Good thinking, love. Use pure strength against pure weight.*
Another few moments passed while the scientist maneuvered the robot into position and then the weight was gone. Jonny and Miguel slid him to safety and the robot gently set the I-beam down. The others applauded and brought over the stretcher from the first aid station.
"How's your head, Race?" Jonny held it gently and probed with sensitive fingers until he found the bump. "How many fingers?"
Race concentrated but the fingers in front of his face kept blurring. "Two?"
"Close enough, big guy. Your pupils are unequal so I'd say we're talking concussion here and you don't even want to know what your leg looks like." His voice was brisk but relieved. "The bruises are going to be painful and we can't give you anything until the concussion passes. If I remember right, you're a worse patient than Dad."
"I'm a saint compared to Race." Benton's voice shook ever so slightly and his warm hand took a pulse reading from Race's wrist. "Let's get him back to the clinic and get him x-rayed to make sure he didn't break anything."
He shivered then shivered again. They quickly wrapped him in blankets and shifted him to the stretcher. The whole crew of five came with them, taking turns carrying Race with Benton at the rear with the slow moving robot. It seemed to take forever and only Jonny's voice with a constant stream of chatter kept him conscious.
The nurse on duty helped Jonny strip him and get him into a white cotton robe. She covered him with a heated blanket and the shivers began to subside. They ran him through the x-ray while he was flat on the gurney and the computer scan showed nothing broken, not even a hairline fracture. He kept fading in and out but the feel of movement and Benton's voice brought him back from the twilight world he'd inhabited.
"Right in here. Thank you, Miguel." He opened his eyes enough to see the familiar ceiling in their suite. "If you'll just take his head, I'll take the middle and Jonny can take his feet."
Race felt himself weightless for a moment then the familiar feel of their mattress supporting him. He heard Sandy's voice asking a question before he faded out.
I have to admit to being scared. Really scared for Race. When the call came through that the center I-beam at the marina had collapsed on him and they couldn't get him out, I came close to panicking. He's so strong and sure that you forget that he's only human. No way did I want to tell Dr. Quest this news over the intercom so I unlocked the lab door and headed for the control center.
Dr. Quest was showing Carrie the incredible work being done on the solar energy display that we call the Cirrus Project. Solar energy even through clouds for our northern cousins. I caught his eye and motioned him over. By this time I was wringing my hands and trying very hard not to cry. It was over an hour until the winds would die down enough for us to get to him.
I gave him the news and he flinched. Just once but I saw the same fear in his eyes that I knew was in mine. He stilled and the gears started working, I could see it. We were working with a skeleton crew and I knew that manpower might be a problem especially with a beam that weighed over a ton and was precariously balanced on one fragile human and some rubble.
Jonny came over and I told him while Dr. Quest thought. He gasped and touched his father's arm, his eyes widening. Then I saw that same look come over him that I saw daily on his father's. Maybe there was hope for him yet. Carrie was making inquiring noises, not used to being so ignored.
"The robot." They said simultaneously and I saw them exchange an identical grin.
Jonny turned to make his explanation to the girlfriend while Dr. Quest motioned for me to follow him. I just heard one last thing before we headed to the covered walkway that would take us to the hanger where several of their experimental projects were kept.
"Really? That's too bad. How in the world did he fall under an I-beam?" Carrie's voice was faintly condescending.
What I wouldn't give for just five minutes alone with that girl. I sighed and put her out of my head so I could help the doctor. That robot was a marvel. It ... I mean ... he ... looked a battered wreck but was still fully functioning. Primitive, with a simple robotic brain instead of the positronic ones now available but his massive strength and claws would be able to lift the beam and move it.
By the time we'd gotten the controls up and working, Jonny had joined us and they left for the marina. The winds had died down enough that they decided to start out. Dr. Quest asked me to get Race's room ready and alert the nurse.
I grinned and headed for Anne to let her know she had incoming. I'd never been in their suite before but I did know that Race had moved to a guestroom for Carrie's visit. About time he moved back where he belonged. I set the heat higher and turned down the king sized bed. I was betting that the right side was Race's so he'd be between Dr. Quest and any danger from the outside.
Ducking into the guestroom, I grabbed the robe that smelled like Race and took it to the infirmary. He was going to be soaking wet and I didn't want him to catch cold. I was there when the stretcher came in and I watched while Jonny kept up a nonsense dialog all the way until Race was under the x-ray machine.
Thank goodness, he was all right. Except for a concussion and some really spectacular bruising. I met Dr. Quest outside the infirmary and told him in no uncertain terms that Race would have to sleep with him tonight so he could keep waking him up and checking on his head. He blushed and kissed my cheek.
"Thank you, Sandy. You don't mind?"
I knew what he was really asking and I shook my head. "I'd like to be loved that much some day. So, for now I'm just soaking up pointers so I'll know what to look for."
He smiled tenderly. "A warm heart and a forgiving nature are top of the list."
I sighed. "Not to mention a body to die for."
He blushed again and I took pity on him, shooing him into the room and heading for the suite so I could open doors. I also took a couple of cold packs with me for his leg. They might help with the swelling if we could get it elevated. I found a couple of extra pillows in the linen closet and was there when they brought him to the suite.
As soon as he was in bed, he passed out. Which was probably all to the good since we had to get his leg propped and the ice packs secured with towels so they didn't burn his skin. His rapidly swelling, black and blue skin. Miguel took the gurney away and Jonny and I fussed over his leg while Dr. Quest sat by his side, those beautiful green eyes riveted to Race's face.
I elbowed Jonny and we made our getaway. Outside in the hall, Jonny started hemming and hawing until I laid a finger over his lips. "I know. They've got my vote for most loving couple of the decade. You don't have to worry about me. Worry about Carrie instead."
"Jonny, is everything all right? Isn't that your father's room? They surely haven't taken the bodyguard there?" Carrie's lovely soprano voice carried down the hall.
"He has a concussion so Dad is going to watch him until the danger is past." Jonny spoke softly and we headed away from the suite.
"Heavens! How silly, that's what you pay the nurse for, Jonny." She said condescendingly.
"Dad and Race are close. He wouldn't just leave him to Nurse Byers even though she's extremely competent." Jonny strove for an even tone while I itched to slap her silly.
"Goodness, how ... interesting. All for a bodyguard who didn't do a very good job, judging by today." She laughed the tinkling laugh that had so mesmerized him earlier.
"Race is more than a bodyguard, Carrie. He helped raise me after my mother died. He taught me how to take care of myself and how to behave around those who are different from me. He is an important part of both our lives." Jonny spoke quietly but I could have cheered.
"Old time retainers are all very well but you mustn't let them get above themselves." She smiled and took his arm.
I watched his face and could have hugged her while she tore down the lovely veils that had kept him from seeing who she really was. Every word out of her mouth condemned her inability to relate to anyone other than those she considered her equals. I murmured an apology and practically ran to the lab so I could laugh in privacy.
Settling in to work, I listened to the weather feed from our satellite up-link as the tropical storm made its way overhead and out into the Atlantic. Barring any unforeseen shifts, it looked like it would miss the other islands except for the winds and rain. Thank goodness, this one was almost over.
As for Hurricane Carrie, I grinned and decided that her damage was finished as well. Jonny was too polite to tell her what she could do with her biased world view but I made a little bet with myself that she would be on her way as soon as traveling was safe. He was a good kid and I was glad to see that he knew and approved of his father's relationship with Race.
The intercom buzzed, interrupting my idle thoughts.
"There's stew simmering and salad ingredients in the fridge. Would you mind telling Jonny and Carrie that it's potluck tonight?"
"No problem. I'll bring a cart about six o'clock for you two. Trust me, you do not want to hear from Hurricane Carrie."
I heard duel chuckles from over the intercom and Dr. Quest agreed with dignified tones before signing off. I heard a sigh from the lab door and realized with a horrified start that I hadn't locked it behind me. Turning, I saw Jonny leaning against the doorframe, looking very much his father's son.
"Sorry. Bad joke?" I grimaced.
"Don't be. You must think I'm an idiot." He rubbed his cheek and his blue eyes clouded. "All I can say is that I'm the one who should be sorry. I guess I never saw or heard the 'real' Carrie before today. My filters just removed the offensive stuff."
"Been there, done that." I had too. His name was Troy and he was built like a slimmer Race but the beautiful outside cloaked an inner toad. But, oh god, could he kiss! "There's not too many out there with beauty and brains like your father or Race. You just be grateful that you woke up in time before you'd committed yourself to her."
He twitched and nodded ruefully. "Dad always said that experience was the best teacher. I guess he was proved right again. Maybe I should just swear off girls for a while."
"You're 18, Jonny. By the time you've reached my advanced age of 24, you'll have kissed a lot of interesting people. And just maybe you'll find somebody special. I know I'm still looking but seeing your dad and Race shows me how wonderful it can be with the right one."
"I forget that sometimes and take them for granted." Jonny folded his arms just like Race. "I'm lucky to have two such great fathers. And things like today remind me that life is fragile and maybe I need to tell them more often how much I love them and appreciate all they went through to bring Hadji and I up."
The conversation was about to make me cry so I averted danger by going off on a tangent. "Where is Hadji? I thought he'd come back for spring break as well."
"He went to visit some of his Indian cousins this time. He tries to go at least once a year to make sure that side of his family is okay." Jonny grinned at me and I got the feeling he knew exactly what I'd done. "I'll help you make up dinner. And I'll make sure Carrie and I eat in the dining room. Unless you'd like to join us?"
I batted my eyes at him. "Why, Jonny, how plebeian of you. Asking the hired help to sit with you at dinner? It's just not done."
He stuck out his tongue at me and shook his fist then closed the door behind him. I chuckled and went back to my readouts. He wasn't a bad kid and he'd just grown up a little. In another couple of years he was going to be breaking hearts right and left. Too bad he wasn't older!
Race woke from a doze and tried to move his leg but the pain stopped him.
"Don't, love. What do you need?" Benton's voice came from his side and he recognized the blessed warmth as his.
"The bathroom. It seems like forever since I took a leak. And no, I don't want a bedpan." He mock glared at the scientist.
"Okay. But we're going to take it slow and you're going to use the wheelchair." Benton crawled out of bed and came around the bed to where the chrome and leather chair sat waiting.
"All right. No arguments, I feel like shit." Race sat up and felt the room tilt alarmingly.
Benton lifted and settled him into the chair, his hands lingering on his arms with a firm grip. Race gripped one and kissed it gently. A muffled sob from behind him broke his heart. "I'm all right. I'm here, safe and semi-sound."
"I know. But it was close this time, love. I almost lost you." Benton hugged him from behind and pressed a kiss onto his spiky hair.
"Not going to happen. Our guardian angel works overtime when she needs to." Race leaned back and soaked up Benton's heat.
"She deserves a big reward for this one." Benton pulled back and began pushing him to the bathroom. The heater had been turned up and the room was toasty warm.
Benton steadied and left him to take care of his need while he turned on the water in the tub and poured in the sandalwood oil. Then, he began a deliberate strip tease that soon had Race watching him with bated breath.
"Come here, love. Let's soak some of the bruises and then I'll give you a massage." Benton held out his hand and Race laid his in it.
The water was almost too hot and he soaked it up with a purr, Benton spooning up behind him with the soap and a washcloth. Long lazy movements cleaned them both and they kissed slowly and with tenderness rather than passion. After twenty minutes, Benton helped him out of the tub and over to the massage table.
Settled on his stomach, he purred again beneath the strong sure hands of his lover. All the knots of tension in his back were smoothed away and the muscles in his leg were friction-warmed and gently stimulated but not to the point of pain. He felt limp as a noodle when Benton finished with a sweeping stroke from toe to shoulder.
"I've got your flannel pajamas warming. It's almost six and we wouldn't want to flash Sandy." Benton chuckled and helped him roll over.
"Oh, I don't know. She'd probably enjoy it." Race sat up and waited for the room to stop spinning. "She knows about us, you know."
"I know. She's the one who told me that you were sleeping where you belonged tonight." Benton slipped the flannel bottoms up his legs and he raised himself so he could pull them all the way up. The heavy green flannel felt good against his skin and he accepted the shirt with less reluctance than he'd thought he would.
He went back to the wheel chair and Benton fixed the leg so it was parallel to the floor. The swelling was back but not as bad as before. They settled in the sitting area of the suite and turned on the TV to watch the weather feed. Race was glad to see the storm would soon be gone. A knock on the door and Sandy wheeled in a cart filled with food while she looked approvingly at him.
"Well, you look a little less like something the cat dragged in. You'll be glad to know that Jonny has seen the light and that hurricane has become a fading storm that will be leaving shortly." She smiled naughtily and wagged her eyebrows at us. "Eat up and leave the cart outside the door when you're done. I'll check on it later. Tomorrow will be soon enough to worry about anything else."
"Sandy, thank you. For everything." Benton hugged her and she unabashedly hugged him back.
"No problem, Dr. Quest. I'm learning ... a lot." And with a laughing wave, she left them alone.
Benton locked the door behind her and came back to serve them both with steaming bowls of stew and crusty hot bread spread with garlic butter. Cold water chased it all down and they finished with a salad of mixed greens and raspberry vinaigrette dressing. Race could feel himself getting sleepy and he let himself be wheeled back to bed.
He was tucked in and after the lights were turned down, Benton slid in beside him and he turned into his embrace. "Make love to me, sweetheart. Remind me how lucky I am."
Benton kissed him gently and stripped them both of their pajamas. Under the warm covers, he touched Race with firm loving strokes and followed with the rough edge of his tongue. Slowly, he built the passion between them until Race was quivering with need. Every touch was electric and each lick a shock. When he deep throated him, he felt every little flex of the warm tongue and the suction pulled his climax from him in long spurts of seed.
Benton slithered back up to hold him tight and Race stroked him with a firm hand to his own release. Race felt the tension flow out of them both and when his lover got up to get a warm washcloth, he moved a little closer to the middle of the bed.
"Go to sleep, love. I'll be waking you in two hours to be sure you're all right." Benton cleaned him up and threw the cloth onto the bedside table before drawing him back into his arms.
"Looks like we survived both the storms this time." Race murmured into his shoulder.
"We always will. Although for the second storm save, I think our guardian angel might be named Sandy. Maybe we should do a little matchmaking there. Jonny could do a lot worse." Benton chuckled sleepily.
"Let them alone, love. It's more fun to sit back and watch the fireworks." Race wiggled into a more comfortable position and relaxed into sleep. Tomorrow would come soon enough.
The end for now