Chapter One

Part Two
of Three

Jarod came awake in a rush, sitting up far too fast. The room spun.


As soon as his head settled, he looked around. He was laying in a large, old-fashioned bed in a sunny room with, he noticed almost absently, a truly hideous wallpaper. Throwing the covers back, he swung his legs off the bed, a move that made his head once again spin. He leaned forward, waiting for the room to stop moving before attempting to stand.

When the room finally settled, he looked around again, realizing for the first time that he was dressed only in his underwear. He blinked in surprise, wondering who had undressed him and, for that matter, where he was. Nearby he could see his clothes, obviously freshly cleaned and stacked neatly on the dresser next to other items from his packs. Now who would have done that. . ?

The silver-haired man. Steve Horne.

"He didn't have to do that." He said aloud then jumped as something rumbled at him. Heart pounding, he jerked around to see one of the huge dogs laying in the fireplace. He took a deep breath, forcing himself to calm down. He didn't think the beast would hurt him. Maybe. He hoped. Please. "Finn, right? Good boy. I'm just going to. . .to find a bathroom, I think. I don't suppose that's it just past you, is it?"

No answer, of course. Feeling a little foolish, Jarod stood and walked to the dresser, gathering together clothes before walking gingerly past the dog and into, yes, the bathroom.

Ten minutes later, after a quick shower and shave, dressed in clean clothing and feeling better then he had in weeks, Jarod walked back out into the bedroom. He hesitated at the doorway for a look before venturing out. The hallway was wide and he could see a stairway going up and another just past it going down.

There was a scrabble of claws behind him and he turned hurriedly to see Finn coming toward him. He stepped back instinctively and the dog stopped, panting at him.

"Ahhhh. . .I don't suppose you know where I should go?"

Finn tilted his head then trotted past him and toward the stairs going down. Jarod followed him down the stair to a wide foyer then toward the back of the house. Finn turned into a doorway at the back of the house and Jarod started to follow only to freeze as a familiar voice came from the room just beyond the doorway.


For a moment, fear overwhelmed him but then he heard the words and realized that the voice was recorded, the words familiar. They were from a DSA. So that's where they were.

Jarod walked to the doorway and looked into a large kitchen. Picture windows covered half of one wall, looking out onto an unfurnished patio complete with a dismantled hot tub. Finn was just clambering into a large walk-in fireplace that dominated the wall directly ahead; Medb was already there. A series of very modern appliances dotted the left wall and Steve Horne stood at the stove, stirring something in a large pot, head tilted as he listened to the DSA running on the reader nearby. His back was to the door and he didn't know Jarod was in the room until he keyed off the simulation.

Horne turned to look at him, gray-blue eyes sizing him up. His first words were not what Jarod expected

"When was the last time you ate?"

Jarod blinked, realizing that he was very hungry. "I. . .I don't know." He finally said. "Yesterday, maybe."

"More like the day before. Sit down." Horne commanded and Jarod obeyed, sitting at the large table that took up pretty much the center of the room. The wood of the table were worn by frequent use and he ran his hand absently across the smooth surface. The next minute, a large bowl of soup, clam chowder from the smell, was set in front of him. Mouth watering, he reached for the spoon, barely noticing as Horne set a glass of milk and container of crackers nearby then sat down across from him with a smaller bowl of chowder. They ate in silence for a long moment, darting looks at each other.

"The doc said you're suffering from a fairly bad case of malnutrition and exhaustion." Horne said finally and Jarod looked up from his half-empty bowl warily.


"I had to call someone. You were passed out pretty good. You've been out for over eighteen hours." Horne sounded bemused.

Jarod stared at him in surprise then looked down at his bowl. His brief feeling of being in control had vanished, leaving him once again lost. Horne spoke again.

"I know your first name's Jarod. How about a last one?"

"How. . ?" Jarod started then paused, remember the stack of identification that had been in his duffel. "Oh. Well, I was always told it was Russell." Jarod reached for the glass of milk.

"But you have your doubts?"

Jarod nodded, his mouth once again filled with food. He found himself studying the man sitting across from him, liking what he saw more and more. Or was it lusting? He pulled his mind back to business. "Who else knows about. . ?" He nodded at the reader and the case of DSAs.

"Other than me and the dogs?" Horne turned to look at the animals. "No one." He looked back.

Jarod fell silent, uncertain as to what to say or do, feeling oddly uneasy. From the look on his face, Horne was even less certain of how to proceed. It was Jarod who finally spoke again.

"Out in the woods. . ." He faltered then sighed. "You recognized me."

Horne smiled slightly. "I recognized you." He admitted.

"From dreams." It wasn't a question and Horne's look sharpened.

"Dreams." He paused, looking down at the chowder. "Yes. From dreams." Horne looked back at Jarod. "The last one I had was three nights ago."

"That long ago?" He smiled at that memory. "Yes. We were making love. I was on to. . ." Jarod stopped in mid-word, suddenly afraid that he had offended the other man. "I mean. . ."

"You were on top." Horne finished gently. "I remember too."

Jarod stirred what little was in his bowl absently before looking up. "Are you gay?" He asked abruptly.

Horne flinched ever so slightly. "I didn't think so. Are you?"

Jarod hesitated. "I don't know." He admitted. "Actually, I'm very, very confused."

"Join the club. When I started having those dreams four months ago, I just couldn't understand why. I mean. . ." He looked up at Jarod. "Why would I have dreams about you? And having sex!"

To Jarod's relief, there was no disgust in Horne's voice, just amusement. He smiled. "Sounds like something you'd write."

"Huh. My books are better then that."

"You never did answer my question." Jarod noticed Horne's confused look and elaborated. "About the scars on your chest."

Horne stiffened, his face going blank and Jarod instantly regretted asking the question, remembering too late that the same thing had happened in the dream.

"It's not something I like to talk about." Horne looked at Jarod's empty bowl. "Want some more?"

"Sure. Thanks." He handed Horne the bowl and watched as he rose and stepped to the stove to ladle more into it. Jarod found himself studying the other man's body; the graceful lines of his back, the smooth muscles of his arms, the nice flat. . . .

Jarod tore his eyes away, feeling a tightness in his groin. When he got himself back under control and looked up, it was to see Horne standing next to him, the bowl in his hands, his eyes studying Jarod intently and Jarod knew that, somehow, the other man knew exactly what he'd been thinking.

Horne set the bowl down and walked over to the counter where the reader was, staring at it thoughtfully.

"How many of those DSAs have you watched?" Jarod asked between swallows.

"About a dozen. They're very enlightening."

"Yeah. That's one word for them."

"How'd you end up at this Centre?" Horne rejoined him at the table, watching as he ate.

Jarod shrugged. "I don't know. They told me that my parents died in a plane crash and that they were taking care of me now. I was four at the time."

"Sweet Trinity." Horne muttered, his eyes darkening to a stormy gray.

"I found out later that they were told to tell me my parents were dead. Though, to be honest, I'm not sure they are alive. You would not believe what I had to do to get a picture of my mother out of them."

Horne looked down at his bowl but not before Jarod caught an odd look in his eyes. "I saw the pictures." He said. "You had it aged?"

"Yeah. Some months back. Y'know," Jarod finished the bowl and reached for a roll, taking it apart thoughtfully. "What really confuses me is that I'm telling you this. I mean, I really don't know. . ." He paused, flustered and Horne looked at him in amusement.

"Except biblically. And in dreams." Horne laughed, a low throaty sound that sent chills up and down Jarod's spine. Jarod stared at him a long moment then stood, picking up the empty bowl and glass and carrying them over to the sink. Horne joined him, his own dirty dishes in hand. Together, they washed the dishes, putting them in the dishwasher.

"So now what?" Jarod asked.

"Well, I could use some help around here. And some company." He glanced at the dogs. "Some human company rather. If you want to stay awhile, that is."

Jarod hesitated then reached out to eject the DSA from the reader and close it up, dropping the disc into the open case with the others. Closing the case, he stared at it for a long moment. He'd come all this way to meet this man, to find out why he'd been dreaming of him. Could he leave with these questions unanswered?

No. He couldn't.

"I'll stay. If you like. If you don't mind, that is." He realized he was rambling and stopped, throwing a shy look at Horne. "I mean. . ."

Horne was watching him with a slight smile. "In that case I'd better introduce you to the dogs. Don't want them to pin you every time they see you."

It was on the tip of Jarod's tongue to tell Horne that he'd much rather be pinned by him but shyness swept through him and he didn't. Instead, noticing a stack of clean laundry over in what had to be the laundry area, he took refuge in minor details.

"You didn't have to do my laundry. . ." Jarod fumbled to a halt, uncertain of what to call his host.

Steve chuckled. "Call me Steve. And you didn't have a clean shirt to your name." He caught the lost look on Jarod's face and sobered. "I just did them with my laundry. It wasn't any trouble."

"I hadn't realized I had no clean clothes." Jarod mumbled. "I hadn't eaten in days. Or slept. I've gotten so damn obsessive. Maybe Sydney's right. Maybe I should go back to the Centre."

"What the hell are you talking about?" Steve snapped and Jarod realized he was babbling again. He let his head drop into his hands.

"I'm not sure." He said, his voice muffled. "I think. . .I think I'm going insane."

Steve snorted. "You can thank the Centre for that. And that is the last place you should ever be. What you need is sleep and good food and to be. . .normal for a while."

Jarod surprised himself by laughing. "You call this normal?"

"All right. How about not on the run." Steve paused. "Look, I'd like to hide those DSAs. If you don't mind."

Jarod hesitated then nodded. "Okay, sure." He picked up the case and handed it to Steve. "Where. . .?"

"It might be better if you don't know. Don't worry. If you want em, I'll fetch em." He paused, looking at Jarod, continuing gently. "Do you trust me, Jarod?"

Jarod licked his lips, studying the other man intently, feeling all his barriers fall away. "Yes." He whispered, hoping he was not making the biggest mistake of his life, certain that he wasn't.

Steve smiled. "I'll be right back then." He turned and walked out, leaving Jarod staring after him. After a moment, Jarod blinked and looked around, eyes finally resting on a red notebook nearby. It took him a moment to realize that it was his and he went to pick it up, knowing which one it was already. He opened it then closed it just as quickly, feeling his face burn.

"They're very good." Steve said softly from the doorway. "Really."

"Thanks." Jarod mumbled, looking at the man shyly. "I didn't mean for you to see them though."

"In that case, I suggest you make it a point not to pass out at my feet." Steve's voice was dry and he walked to Jarod's side, taking the book from his hands before he could react. He flipped it open to one of the sketches inside and Jarod glanced at it, biting his lip in embarrassment.

When the dreams had first started, he had taken to drawing the images he'd seen out in one of the notebooks he used, later adding synopses of what had occurred and how it felt. They were graphic in detail but then he'd never expected to ever meet the man he'd been dreaming of. The sketch Steve had turned to was a graphic depiction of them making love, centering on Steve, his face a mask of pleasure as Jarod took him.

Steve closed the book, his face unreadable, and offered it back to Jarod. "Have you ever thought of taking up painting?" He asked pleasantly and Jarod threw him a startled look.

"I've done some painting. Maybe I will again. Later. First, I think I'll be confining my painting to this house."

"It does need it, doesn't it?" Steve glanced around. "Come on, I'll show you around."

The house was larger then Jarod expected; four stories high including the attic. Then there was a lower level that once served as the servants quarter and that Steve was planning on turning into a rec room/living quarters shelter for the storm season. Steve mentioned a basement but didn't bother pointing out where it was. He also pointed out some of the work that needed to be done.

Eventually, they ended up outside, working on the project Steve was just starting when Jarod had unexpectedly arrived; checking the shutters and repairing or replacing those that needed it. They set to work, finding the shutters to be remarkably solid for being so old. The two men worked together smoothly, not even noticing that they were handing each other tools without asking and occasionally answering unspoken questions.

It was late afternoon when Jarod felt something thump against his leg. Startled, he looked down to see Finn standing there, holding a Frisbee firmly in his mouth. He whuffled at him then swung his head to thump the Frisbee against his leg again.

"We've been ignoring the dogs." He said in bemusement and Steve chuckled.

"We better remedy that." He reached for the Frisbee but Finn danced away. "Wanna go to the beach, big fella?" The dog whuffled again and trotted away. "Guess so. Interested in going to the beach, Jarod?"

"Sure. Where is it?"

Steve grinned. "Down the stairs at the back of the house."

"A private beach? I'm impressed." He followed Steve around the house.

Well, it's shared actually." They reached the stairs and Steve paused, pointing across the cove where another house could be seen. "My great-aunt. Or rather great-great. Or maybe 3x-great. I'm not sure." They started down, the dogs running down ahead of them. "These stairs are among the first things I replaced."

"Use them a lot?"

"Sure! The dogs love to play here and early morning swims are great." He threw Jarod a thoughtful look as they reached the beach. "Do you know how to swim?"

"Yes. But I don't have any trunks."

"Don't need them." Steve grinned and after a moment Jarod smiled back.

The two dogs were racing through the surf, Finn still with the Frisbee in his mouth. Steve whistled and he came running to them, skidding to a halt and offering Steve the toy. He took it and sent it skimming through the air. Both dogs ran after it, shouldering each other aside in an attempt to catch it.

Jarod watched with a touch of envy as Medb caught the Frisbee and ran back to Steve, who once again threw it, then ran after the dogs, laughing. He'd never had a dog, never had any type of pet. Undoubtedly Sydney thought it would have detrimental to his development.

"Jarod!" Steve's shout snapped his attention back to the present and he looked up just in time to catch the Frisbee. He blinked then realized that the dogs were charging him with intent to run over. With a whoop, he threw himself to one side and ran, dodging the dogs until he could once again throw the Frisbee, rather desperately at Steve, who was laughing too hard to catch it. Medb knocked him over in an attempt to catch the toy.

It soon became a game of man against dog with the dogs noticeably ahead in points. They tumbled into the surf and ended up covered in sand as the dogs outran them and ran over them. Jarod could not remember a time when he'd had more fun.

He got to his feet after the most recent tumble and stumbled over to offer Steve a hand up, hindered by Medb who was apparently trying to trip him up once again. "Are they always this rambunctious?"

"Are you kidding?" He took Jarod's hand but before he could pull himself up, Finn careened into Jarod, sending him back to the ground, this time on top of Steve.

Gray-blue eyes met brown ones and the two men stared at each other for a moment that lasted for forever. Except for their initial meeting -- the events of which were hazy to Jarod -- the two men hadn't actually touched. Now they were practically nose-to-nose and the effect was distracting to say the least. It was Steve that made the first move. He reached up to grab Jarod's shoulders, rolling over so he was on top, kissing him hard, almost with desperation.

Jarod responded eagerly, finding the feeling of hard muscle pressing against him as exciting as Nia's softness. After a long, breathless moment, Steve finally drew away, his eyes bright.

"God, that was. . .different." He said and Jarod smiled, understanding what he meant.

"Different but good?" He asked.

"I. . .yes." Steve raised himself up onto his elbow and traced Jarod's cheekbone, his eyes thoughtful. Jarod realized that he had as little idea about what to do as he did.

"I haven't had much experience." Jarod blurted. "I mean I. . .well, I've only had one lover."

Steve tilted his head. "That's not that unusual." He murmured.

"We were only together for a couple of days."

Steve blinked in surprise. "Wait a minute. When was this?"

"Four months ago."

"I. . .see. You were a virgin until four months ago?"

Jarod flushed as he nodded.

"Well, let's see." Steve rested his head on his hand, looking down at Jarod, his hand idly stroking down the other's chest. "You're still basically a virgin, I haven't slept with anyone for. . .my god, has it been five years? Neither of us have made love to a man. We make quite a pair."

Jarod licked his lips, aware of their mutual arousal. "So now what?"

"Well, I think maybe we should take it slow." Steve scrambled to his feet, pulling Jarod up with him. "I mean. . .hell, we don't even understand what's going on here."

"But. . .!" Jarod stopped then sighed, running a hand through his hair. "You're right. But still. . .!"

"Talk to me, Jarod."


"Talk to me." Steve's hand reached out to entwine with Jarod's in a gentle grip that he found oddly soothing. "Tell me about the Centre. About you."

"It's a long story."

"We've lots of time."

Jarod studied him then smiled shyly, squeezing Steve's hand gently. He reflected that he really hadn't had much human contact in his life. He'd never realized how good it could feel to have someone simply hold his hand.

He talked as they made their way along the beach, slowly at first then with more and more confidence as Steve listened intently. He told him more then he really meant to. Of the Centre, his stolen childhood, his escape, his life on the run. An abbreviated version, granted. Just hitting the highlights but he was surprised at himself. He'd never meant to tell him that much. At least not yet.

Darkness had fallen by the time Jarod finally finished. They had walked the beach a number of times and the dogs had finally settled down at the foot of the stairs, panting. Now, empty of words, he turned to look out over the ocean, aware of Steve doing the same. All during the time he'd been talking, Steve had held his hand. Now he raised it to his lips and Jarod felt him gently kiss the back of his hand.

"Thank you for trusting me." He said quietly.

"Thank you for listening. It felt good. Telling someone about everything."

"I'll bet." Jarod saw the flash of teeth as Steve smiled. "We better go inside. The dogs are probably starving."

Medb whoofed her agreement.

Steve laughed and tugged on Jarod's hand. "Come on. We better get something to eat too."

Both dogs scrambled to their feet as they approached and ran up the stairs ahead of them. As they entered the house, Steve flipped the light switch and they both blinked in the sudden light. They stared at each other for a long moment before Steve finally, reluctantly released his hand.

"There's the makings for salad in the frig. You wanna get it while I feed the dogs?"

"Sure." Jarod had a large salad ready when Steve returned, minus the massive dogs. The two men sat at the end of the long table and ate in silence, exchanging occasional glances.

His salad was half-eaten when Jarod abruptly put his fork down. What little he'd eaten was heavy in his stomach, he felt tight with tension. "What happens now?" He asked.

Steve looked at him, his fork halfway to his mouth. Slowly, he lowered the fork. "We take it slow. As slow as you like, Jarod. I don't want to rush you into anything. For that matter, I don't want to rush into anything. And we have plenty of time."

Jarod looked down as his bowl. Part of him wanted nothing more then to drag Steve to the nearest bed, to make love to him like in their dreams but another part was leery at the thought. To Pretend was one thing, to dream another, to actually do it was yet another. For the first time in his life, he was truly afraid and totally uncertain.

"As slow as you like, Jarod." Steve said in his ear and Jarod jumped. He hadn't realized the man had moved and was now sitting beside him. He turned to face him, seeing the truth in Steve's eyes, just as Steve could see the uncertainty in his. "All you have to do is say stop. Slow down. Whatever."

Jarod turned away. "I feel foolish. I mean, some of the things I've done! A lot scarier then this." He paused. "But here I am, scared to death at the prospect of going to bed with someone."

"We've known each other less then a day, despite those dreams. So we take it slow." He reached up to run a hand through Jarod's hair gently. "What does it matter? Tonight? Tomorrow night? A week from tonight? The Centre can't find you here. We've all the time in the world."

"I wouldn't be too sure about that." Jarod faced him again. "They're clever. I shouldn't even be here."

Steve grabbed him by the wrist. "Leave now and I'll start breaking bones." He said firmly.

Jarod looked at the hand holding his wrist then at the man's intense eyes. He raised his free hand, slipping it behind Steve's head, drawing him into a gentle kiss. It was Steve who finally pulled away, rising and stepping back with a faint smile.

"We better get some sleep. You're still catching up on your sleep, Jarod."

Jarod followed him up the stairs, reflecting that walking behind Steve was not a bad place to be. A very nice view indeed. They reached the second floor all too soon for Jarod.

"See you in the morning, Jarod." Steve said as he turned to go up to the third floor. Jarod grabbed his hand.

"Steve. Steve, wait. I want. . ."

"Don't jump into anything, Jarod. We have time. Get some sleep." He leaned over the railing to kiss him gently before starting back up the stairs.

"Steve!" Jarod hesitated and Steve smiled at him over his shoulder.

"Slow, Jarod. Slow." And he disappeared up the stairs, leaving Jarod staring after him in fit of frustration. There was no way he'd be able to sleep now! He felt. . .alive, energized, ready for anything. With a sigh, he walked into the bedroom and looked around.

That wallpaper definitely had to go. A truly hideous color to begin with, it had been made even worse by water stains and a terminal case of peeling. And since he couldn't sleep. . . .

Jarod slipped downstairs to find the tools he needed to peel off the old wallpaper.

Part Three

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