by Anne Carr
It was going to be a wild storm. Already the wind was high, and lightning rippled continually across the night sky, outlining the rolling thunderheads in momentary fire. The intervals between light and sound were growing ever closer--it would not be long before nature's fury was unleashed completely.
Bodie snuggled deeper into his bedding and tried to ignore the fireworks.
Lightning streaked and seemed to pierce his tightly closed eyelids. He grunted and rolled to his stomach, pulling the pillow over his head. That was better, though the unfamiliar mattress was hard. He'd slept on worse. Better, too, for that matter. From muddy ground to satin sheets, it was part of the job. He forced himself to relax and, with glare and sound muted, he drifted gradually to sleep.
The storm swirled closer.
It was a scream, terrified and cut off before it finished.
Bodie jerked awake just in time to stop himself being thrown off the hard mattress onto the harder deck. The ship balanced precariously on its side until he was almost perpendicular to the floor, only his tight grip on the built-in shelf beside him keeping him in place.
"Digger!" He answered the yell, kicking free of the bedding, still trying to clear his exhaustion-muddled head.
The ship eased back as the wave passed, creaking ominously as it struggled to remain intact against the strength of the ocean. Bodie took the opportunity to climb free of his bunk and staggered toward the cabin door. He wrenched it open and paused at the base of the short flight of steps leading to the open deck.
Lightning flashed, illuminating the scene of catastrophe. In front of him Digger Jones, his fellow mercenary, was lashing himself to the mast. Of the captain and crew there were no sign, the railings had broken and nothing loose was left on the water-swept deck.
"Digger!" He shouted again and the tall blonde waved, barely visible in the pouring rain.
He was calling back, pointing beyond the cabin, but the only words Bodie could pick up over the cacophony of floundering ship, thunder, and water, were "...keel..." and "Reefs ahead!"
"Damn," Bodie whispered, and knew he was dead.
The night sky lit again and he watched, mesmerized, as another wave curled high over the ship, a firelit mass of destruction. There was no time for fear. Tons of salt water fell directly on the bow and surged towards him. Digger disappeared under the mass, his mouth still open in a useless angry scream, and above him the mast cracked and began to fall.
The wave came relentlessly closer and hit the cabin, tunneling forward down the steps. Bodie was thrown back, borne across the small floor space to the aft wall and held there by dark water. He made no move to resist. It would be useless and anyway, drowning wasn't the worst way to go.
Below him a grinding crash stopped the ship in mid-spin, ripping the deck from beneath his feet. He had just time enough to think, 'we've hit the reef,' when he was struck from behind by a loose board. Unconsciousness was swiftly black, enveloping and welcomed.
"He's coming round."
"Here, I'll wipe his head. That cut's still oozing."
"I wish Meri would hurry. How far away could the Healer be?"
"Quiet, child. The path is probably well covered since the storm. They'll be here as soon as they can. Ah. Hello, young man."
Bodie blinked and winced as the wet cloth found the lump on his head.
"Poor man. It's a nasty place. But don't worry, we'll take care of you." The woman's voice was soothing, her hands soft on his face. He blinked again and tried to focus, but everything was blurred and grey.
"Don't try to move yet," she held him gently still. "My older daughter's gone for the Healer. Just relax--they won't be long."
He was too weak to argue or even speak. The soft hands touched, his eyelids closed and he sank into a half stupor, letting the voices and the pain merge into a timeless haze.
"They're here, Mother!" the excited shrill of the child brought him awake. Bodie lay still, feeling the woman leave his side, hearing the low drone of voices without caring. Another body took the woman's place and different hands began to touch him. Just as gentle, these fingers explored, prodding firmly from feet to head until every inch of him had been knowledgeably examined. Bodie groaned as the lump was touched. Unable to stop the involuntary noise when pain ripped through him. Everywhere else ached, but his head was worst.
"Will he be all right?"
That was the woman, quietly concerned. It had been a long time since anyone had cared about Bodie. He wanted to thank her but had no strength to open his mouth.
"Yes, I think so."
A new voice, male, soft but authoritative. This would be the one they called the Healer, whose fingers still lingered on his scalp.
"Has he been ill? Gotten rid of the water?" the man asked.
The woman moved closer. "Yes, when Meri first brought him up, out of the ship."
Bodie had no memory of being brought anywhere, of being sick, of anything at all between being trapped in the cabin and awakening here. The man's voice intrigued him and he struggled to open his eyes.
Green. He was drowning all over again in velvet green. The Healer's eyes, large and oddly slanted, smiled into Bodie's from beneath a mass of red brown haphazard curls and the mercenary felt a stirring. Recognition? But he knew he'd never seen this man before.
"Hello," the man said. "Do you have a name?"
It came out as a croaked whisper. "Bodie."
The Healer motioned and took the rounded bowl handed to him, holding it to the injured man's lips. "Try and drink a little, Bodie. It will help heal you. That's it--finish it down. Good, good."
A pleasant warmth trickled down his throat to his stomach. It spread throughout his body, relieving the aches, clearing his head. The Healer sat back and nodded and Bodie saw for the first time the finely worked necklace that lay about the young man's throat. It was silver, set with oval jade stones of various sizes, and worth a king's ransom. The silver glinted against the muscled, tanned body of the Healer, catching the morning light, throwing it back in his eyes. A piece like that would set me up for life, Bodie thought. He closed his eyes as a delicious sense of well being filled him, not knowing or caring when dreams over took him. They were light, he could hear, but nothing mattered, as if he was wrapped in cotton wool where nothing could ever harm him again.
The Healer looked down at the injured stranger, his eyes enigmatic. "The drug takes effect. Meri, hand me the pouch there. I'll stitch him now, while he's still under." He smiled at the girl and ignored her fluttering lowered lashes with long experience. "Once Bodie comes to I doubt we'll be able to keep him still long enough for the needle."
Meri's mother reached to help position the injured man's head. "Where do you think he comes from, Healer?"
"From the Other Side obviously--but he seems to understand our speech." The Healer's fingers moved with swift dexterity, drawing the torn skin back into position, neatly closing it with a thread. In his haze Bodie felt nothing. The Healer went on, "The storm must have opened the portal just long enough for his ship to have passed through."
"Like your grandfather," Meri breathed from behind him.
The Healer smiled and said nothing.
"Can he stay with us?" The child had slipped around her mother, eager to be a part of it all. "Please, sir? Can he?"
"No, Sima," he ruffled her hair affectionately. "You are three women alone here--it wouldn't be very wise. We don't know what kind of man Bodie is yet, do we? I'll have some of the men take him to the Temple."
"It's not fair," she grumbled. "You get all the fun."
"Sima!" Her mother shushed her quickly. "Healer, I'm sorry."
"It doesn't matter. When I was her age I thought everyone outside the Temple had more fun than me. It all comes even in the end. Besides Sima, you'll see him when you come to school, won't you?" He made a final knot and allowed the hovering Meri to cut it. "That's all. He'll sleep in peace now. My men will return for him."
"You're welcome to stay and share a meal," the woman smiled at her eldest daughter, understanding her youth. "Meri managed to catch a number of fish before she stumbled on the ship."
The Healer gathered his tools. "No, thank you. Perhaps another time. I've heard Meri's fish are the most tender of all."
It was the right thing to say. Meri had not covered her confusion before he had departed and the woman let him go, still smiling, already more concerned with the injured stranger.
Bodie lost any vague interest he'd had then and drifted deeper into sleep. He dreamed of green eyes, jade eyes and jade stones....
Bodie slept for two days and awakened the morning of the third feeling completely well. He sat up, glanced down, and hastily wrapped the silky material he had been laying on around his naked waist, then looked around.
"Where the hell am I?"
His voice echoed back to him from the empty room.
"All right then, next question. How do I get out?"
He tucked the ends of his sheet around himself more firmly and stood up, surprised at how well he felt. He had no idea how long he'd been out, but the lump on his head was gone, only the neat stitches under his questing fingers there to remind him of his injuries.
The room was rectangular, large, with his bed at one end and a wide, opened window at the other. Between were a series of Hellenic looking columns that seemed to be made of marble, like the gleaming white walls and floor. To one side were several oddly shaped chairs grouped around a low table. There was a bowl of fruit on the table. Bodie picked up a piece and weighed it in his hand. They'd gone to too much trouble only to poison him as soon as he awoke.
The fruit was juicy and sweet. He wiped his mouth and munched on a second piece as he wandered to the window. It led to a balcony and he stepped onto a sun-warmed marble to peer over the intricately carved rail into the courtyard.
With a frown Bodie vaguely recognized the man below. The Healer stood with one hand shading his eyes, smiling up at him. "Are you well now?"
Bodie nodded. "Where am I?"
"Physically or philosophically?" The man laughed. "Never mind. You're at the Temple of the Sun. Come on down, I'll show you about."
He indicated a curved flight of steps to one side and waited while Bodie tucked his sheet more firmly before coming carefully down to him.
"I like your choice of clothing," the Healer said, still with that lopsided grin.
Bodie felt that the Healer had nothing to talk about. All the man wore was a short skirted tunic. "There wasn't a lot of choice."
"Our first stop had better be my room then. You can pick from there. Hang about a minute. I've got to tell Marcos something."
Bodie watched as the man walked away across the circular courtyard, his bare feet silent on the brightly colored mosaic tiles. "Marcos!"
An old man was nodding as the Healer pointed toward a fountain, and the younger man smiled that same slow, crooked smile before turning back to the mercenary. Bodie felt the sense of recognition again and shivered, pushing aside the sensation.
The Healer was coming back and Bodie watched him walk with a connoisseur's eye. He might prefer women but that didn't mean he couldn't recognize a sensual man when he saw him. And the Healer exuded sexual invitation, conscious or unconscious, with every move.
"Let's go through here and avoid the school rooms, shall we?" The Healer held open a small door to let Bodie precede him.
The wide corridor was well lit by high windows and again the Hellenic columns were set in stately rows. Bodie began to think he'd stepped back into ancient Greece and half expected Plato to spring out at him from behind one of the marble carvings, spouting about the Republic. He glanced at the man walking silently beside him. "What do you call this place?"
"Lightslide," came the prompt reply. "Sounds strange, I know, until you watch sun come over the mountain."
"I've never heard of it."
"Not surprising. Go left here and up these stairs. My room is right by yours."
The wry tone of his host's voice reminded Bodie of his seldom used manners. "Thank you."
"Saving my life--stitchin' me up 'n all." Thank yous weren't easy for him.
"It was our pleasure, Bodie," the Healer told him and Bodie got the impression he meant it.
"Look, you know my name, but I don't know yours. What do I call you?"
"Oh, my name's very long and boring. Mostly I just use Raylin."
"Sounds like a synthetic fabric," Bodie said without thinking.
Raylin raised an eyebrow. "Synthetic?"
"Yeh, like nylon, rayon, polyester."
"Oh." He paused at an open doorway. "Through here. This place is like a maze, but don't worry if you get lost. Just ask anyone."
"I will," Bodie said as they started down another seemingly endless hall. All this was a bit much to take in. Maybe his head injury was worse than he'd thought. Nobody'd dressed like this in a thousand years, nobody built marble temples to the sun, and everyone had heard of synthetic fabrics--even the African tribesmen he'd come to know too well in the last couple of years. Though they were more interested in the guns he supplied. The thought brought him up short. "My ship...is it...."
"Completely smashed up on the reefs," Raylin finished for him. "I'm sorry. Though it wouldn't make much difference."
"Because," Raylin opened another door and led the way into a room similar to Bodie's own. "No one ever leaves Lightslide. Once you're here--you stay."
The moon rose full that night, spreading silver over the landscape. Bodie stood on his balcony and watched the stars ride their continual paths and realized he didn't recognize a single constellation.
It only proved what Raylin had told him. He was no longer in his own world. Somehow, someway, he had crossed through a 'portal' into another universe, and it didn't look like he would ever go home again.
He hadn't believed the Healer, not at first. But against all his arguments Raylin had merely shrugged and said, "You'll see."
Never one for beating his head against a brick wall Bodie had given in, even to the point of wearing one of his host's tunics, a ridiculously short affair, dark blue, and very silky. He had to admit it was pleasantly cool, that the soft material felt comfortable against his skin--but he didn't have to like it or this place. He had every intention of finding a way home.
In the meantime he intended to learn everything he could about Raylin and the people of Lightslide. From the looks of things they were a wealthy lot--he had vague ideas of taking some of their riches back with him whether they liked it or not. He'd made an exploratory beginning that afternoon, leaving the Temple grounds to wander down the road, studying the simple houses on either side until he got to the crowded village square.
Raylin had gone off after lunch to visit some ailing patients, but everyone seemed to know Bodie, greeting him by name as he walked by, smiling and nodding for all the world as if they welcomed a stranger in their midst. He eyed their jewelry, the shiny metals that looked like gold and silver, and wondered a little at their casual attitudes.
He was used to furtive glances, to watching his own back where a knife might be plunged at any time, to violence and death. This uncomplicated friendliness was beyond him and he had turned back to the relative quiet of the Temple before he had gone half where he had intended.
It seemed that besides being a home for Raylin and an as yet undetermined number of priestesses, the Temple was also a church of sorts, a stable--a self sufficient community that included a school. His quiet morning courtyard swarmed that afternoon with children of all ages. They accepted him in their play period, circling eagerly around and between his legs while their instructors watched benignly from a shaded terrace. Bodie recognized the little girl, Sima, and managed to make her day when he called her by name before escaping to his room. So many people so overtly friendly gave him a headache.
Meals were communal, served in a large hall by novice priestesses and consisted thus far of foods he'd never seen before. More proof that he had left his own world. He stayed quiet at dinner, listening to the conversations around him, watching Raylin deal with one problem after another in a sort of quietly ruthless way, admiring the jewelry they all wore. The atmosphere was cheerfully noisy and he eventually escaped with relief.
At least now it was quiet. In the distance he could hear dogs barking, but it seemed to be more in tribute to the moon than for warning. Closer were the sounds of the fountain, gentle rustlings from the nearby stable, and girlish laughter from some room above his own. The giggles were breathless, unmistakably proclaiming her activity. The sound alone made him randy.
Until he got to know their customs better he would be smart to keep to himself, he reckoned. It would be just like him to pull some tidy little bird, only to find out she was their equivalent of a vestal virgin and that the pretty well in the courtyard was meant for human sacrifices.
Above him the girl moaned and Bodie turned away from the balcony. The slight ache in his groin was becoming more uncomfortable with every step. He reached his bed and rolled onto it, his fingers quick to find the hardening shaft between his legs.
His life in the African jungle had long since taught him how to care for his own needs. He gripped himself firmly and let the feel of increasing sexual tension curl through his body.
He was close, pumping his cock in a steady rhythm, drawing out the pleasure he could from his own hand when a noise at the door brought him straight up in bed. The shadows parted and a figure stepped forward on silent feet.
It was Raylin, he could see the Healer clearly in the moonlight as he came closer. Somehow it never occurred to Bodie to be embarrassed--his eyes met the night dark gaze of Raylin's and held there. After a moment, almost as if encouraged by the man's gaze, his fingers continued their set purpose.
The Healer made a sound low in his throat and sat on the bed beside Bodie. He reached out, still not speaking, and his hand covered the mercenary's then slid beneath it, taking over the rhythm, slowing the pace.
Bodie groaned and arched into the touch, too far gone to question the other man's sudden presence in his room, or even care. That was another thing he'd learned in the bush. Take it where you can get it and don't bloody ask questions.
He hit flashpoint unexpectedly and cried out as his body pulsed and flowed onto the Healer's ready hand. It felt good and he savored the sensation, half asleep before he realized Raylin wasn't finished yet. The warm hand left his cock and rubbed at his belly, spreading the thick cream over him before lifting to his shoulder. Sure fingers released the clasps holding the tunic in place, then it was gone, floating to the floor beside Raylin's own and the Healer's hot naked body pressed against his. The man's erection rose hard between them, reminding Bodie that it had been a one-way ride, that he had taken release but not repaid the debt.
All right, he thought, if that's what you want....
He moved suddenly, rolling Raylin beneath him and ground his own hips down in a vicious plunge. The Healer's breath left his body in a rush and he stilled. "Bodie?"
"You wanted it, Ray--so I'll give it to you," Bodie muttered and felt himself harden as the power of dominance awakened in his veins. This was what sex with another man was--a struggle, winner take all--the only way he'd ever known it to be.
"No," Raylin said it softly, but firm. "Not like that."
Bodie fastened his teeth in the man's shoulder and reached for his hands, intending to trap them over his head.
The next second his own wrists were grasped in a steel grip, wrapped against his back and held immobile despite his struggles.
"I said, 'no'." The Healer sighed. "Relax, Bodie. I'm not fighting you. Not when I want it too."
Bodie merely wrestled harder, surprised by the man's strength. His movement wielded them closer together and he felt himself begin to respond again as his prick rubbed between them.
Raylin too, felt the first twitchings of the awakening organ and arched, his own fully engorged length sliding between Bodie's thighs. "Relax..." he whispered again, "...I can make it good for both of us."
But Bodie was used to violence, had never learned to trust, and the thought of gentle caring was not part of his experience. He went still and, when the healer loosened his grip, pulled free, trapped the man's face between his fingers and bit at his full lower lip.
Raylin tasted blood and moved convulsively, pitching Bodie aside. The mercenary landed on the floor, his head making a dull thud as it cracked against the marble.
Raylin rolled to look at the half-stunned man and shook his head. "You've got a lot to learn," he said softly and went to help Bodie back onto the bed.
The mercenary blinked at him, still seeing stars. "What'd you do that for?"
"Because I'm not here to get raped," the Healer answered promptly. "This time we do it my way or not at all."
The words were accompanied by a slow glide of body against body, a move that excited Bodie. His breathing sharpened and he reached for Raylin, wanting the other man with a frightening intensity. The Healer's hot cock pressed into his belly as Raylin came obligingly closer.
"What is it you want from me?" Bodie asked in his ear.
"Try it my way and you'll see."
The Healer's voice tantalized, promised unknown pleasures. Bodie was silent, waiting.
The voice commanded and he obeyed, clasping his arms around the hard muscled back. Raylin's hands moved through his hair and his mouth hovered against Bodie's as he spoke. "Open your mouth."
He tasted of Lightslide liquor and something that was just him. Bodie let Raylin's tongue slip past his teeth, allowed himself to be invaded, explored, and when the Healer drew back he followed, taking up the invitation.
When the kiss ended Raylin nuzzled his neck, nipping instead of biting, licking where he touched, following the great vein down to his shoulder. His head went lower and Bodie's grasp loosened, sliding over sweat slick skin as the Healer found a nipple and played with it. He sucked it into hardness and chuckled when Bodie gasped, then did the same to the other side. Bodie was aching, could feel the throbbing tenseness of Raylin's body and vaguely wondered why he held back, then the Healer's body lifted, moved, and he was engulfed in wet heat. He curled his fingers in the head of curls and bucked, wanting to be deeper, succeeding beyond anything he'd known before. His whole body quivered as he came and the Healer sucked him dry then lifted his head.
"Now," he said quietly. "You do the same for me."
Bodie awakened slowly, vaguely aware of warmth, security, the satisfied ease of sexual repletion. Beside, and half on top of him, Raylin still lay sleeping, a sprawled heap that had lived up to every invitation his sensual body had promised. Full of surprises, too. Those lean arms had more bloody muscle than they seemed to. Bodie stared at the man's face and felt a tinge of fear.
It was too good, this sex-without-violence, too fulfilling, too easy to become addicted to. If he wasn't careful the green-eyed bundle in his arms could start to mean something to him. The thought scared Bodie to death. He'd cared before--had long since decided the pain of loss wasn't worth it--he had no intention of ever being caught in that trap again.
Look out for number one. It was the rule he lived by and it had served him well enough. Until now.
Raylin's breath was warm against his neck. In the early morning light Bodie could see the faint bruise on the Healer's lower lip. He'd caused that mark. A part of him yearned to kiss the swollen lip, to bring pleasure where pain had been before, but he quickly pushed aside the half-formed idea. His eyes traveled lower, rediscovering by day what his fingers had learned the night before. The Healer's body was slender steel, all muscle, every inch flowing easily into the next. His bare tanned leg rode intimately between Bodie's paler limbs and one long arm was tucked securely around the mercenary's waist. His chest was covered with a pelt of fine curls that tickled against Bodie's hairless skin, and around the Healer's neck--the only thing he wore--was the silver and jade chain.
Bodie fingered one of the stones absently, feeling the warmth drawn from Raylin's body lingering on the smooth surface. This was just one piece of the wealth he had seen in Lightslide--one piece, but at home it's sale would bring enough to set him up. He could leave the mercs, the jungle with all its dank horrors, and return to England. He didn't think about what he'd do once back in his birth land. Something would come up--it always did.
Raylin sighed, stretched his body full length against Bodie's and opened his eyes. "Good morning."
"Yeh," Bodie agreed faintly.
Raylin snuggled closer, ignoring the mercenary's lack of response. "I should be getting up, I suppose."
It was a clear invitation and Bodie was tempted. But he had made up his mind not to let this man get under his skin, to try and stop what he knew deep down had already started, so he moved away and asked the first question to come to mind. "What exactly are your plans for me?"
"Hmmm?" The Healer took Bodie's rejection graciously and sat up, yawning.
"I can't just eat and sleep and wander around all day," Bodie said and was surprised to realize it was the truth. He'd worked hard, played hard, all his life. Without purpose--something to do--he'd go spare.
Green eyes studied him. "I suppose not. What do you want to do?"
Bodie shrugged. "Get to know the lay of the land, enough about the customs not to get my head blown off. After that...find a way home."
Raylin ignored the last bit. "Do you ride?"
"Not much." As in never.
"If you're willing you can go out with me. Lightslide isn't very big, you'll soon get to know it. There's a couple of horses you wouldn't have any problems with." Raylin swung his legs over the edge of the bed. "I'm in need of a wash. Come on, I'll show you where the baths are, then we'll have breakfast."
He picked up Bodie's tunic, tossed it to him, then slipped into his own. His belt, Bodie noticed, was made of what appeared to be gold links, each one carved with a different design. He stared at it, mentally assessing its worth.
Raylin paused. "Do you like it?"
"Do I like what?"
"Sure." Careful Bodie, don't be so bloody obvious.
"Here." Raylin gave it to him and calmly proceeded to use Bodie's cloth one.
Bodie weighed the heavy chain. "This must be worth a ton."
"It's a belt. I prefer silver. It's lighter, but it tarnishes too easily, so generally I wear gold or cloth. Keep that one if you wish, it's yours." He was already moving towards the door, fastening the shoulder clasps of his tunic as he went.
Bodie wrapped the golden belt around his waist and figured how to work the clasp. The first bit of treasure and very easily come by. "Thanks."
Raylin just smiled. "Hurry up or we'll be late to breakfast, and I warn you, the women around here have appetites like an army. If you're late, you go hungry."
Bodie wished horses weren't so bloody big. The ground seemed a long way down--a ridiculous thought for one who climbed trees and scaled buildings without a second thought. Hell, he'd even conquered a mountain or two--but this was different. On a tree or a mountain he had control. Now the horse was in charge and they both damn well knew it.
Luckily the animal was well behaved, a docile gelding who seemed unperturbed by the more spirited mount beside him. Raylin's mare pranced along with springs for legs and shied at every passing leaf. The Healer rode with the effortless ease of a lifetime of practice--Bodie concentrated on just staying on.
They had ridden clear across one side of the island, stopping occasionally so Raylin could visit a patient, traveling cross country through plowed fields and a heavy forest. Everywhere Bodie was greeted with welcome smiles, and like the day before, it overwhelmed him a little. But today, with Raylin beside him, it seemed a bit easier. Bodie knew how to be charming when it suited him, though he'd gotten out of practice in the last couple of years. He found the skill came back easily enough today. He grinned and talked, getting to know the people, wondering behind a friendly face who would be the most use to him.
Lunch, Raylin told him, would be eaten with one of the patient's families and Bodie was more than ready when the Healer finally called a noontime halt. He slid off his mount with relief and landed on rubber legs, much to the amusement of the household children. He took their teasing in good part and allowed them to lead him into the house, a rambling wood frame affair tucked neatly into a grove of fruit trees. The family was large, boisterous and unabashedly curious. Bodie answered their questions, generally lying through his teeth, aware that Raylin saw through every word, and eventually found himself under the intense scrutiny from the eldest daughter--a beautiful girl he judged to be about eighteen. In his own world he'd have flirted, have found a way to be alone with her. It was in her dark eyes, the press of her thigh against his under the table, and concentrated on watching Raylin deal gently with the mother of the brood.
The Healer answered all her questions patiently, but when she went on too long he became firm, countering the sharpness in his voice with a gentle supporting arm around the woman. Bodie watched and remembered the strength in those long arms. Raylin had more sides than were immediately apparent. If one of those sides was jealous and the Healer had staked Bodie out as his own, obviously slipping off with the girl beside him, Bodie reckoned, could be very dangerous. He pondered over a series of excuses to stay behind and eventually discarded the whole idea. Where he stood with Raylin was too cushy a position to blow it for a bird.
Lunch was cold, plentiful and eaten off plates made of the finest porcelain. Bodie left off thinking about the girl and began to wonder if the whole of Lightslide were wealthy. Even the children wore jewelry and delicate ornaments decorated every corner of the house.
He lingered over the meal, not terribly anxious to get back on the horse, but all too soon Raylin was rising, saying they had to be leaving. The children scampered outside to bring their mounts and the beautiful daughter and her mother went to check on Raylin's patient, leaving Bodie and the Healer alone.
Bodie, still putting off the dreaded moment, wandered around the room, getting a closer view of the intricate decorations. He picked up one that looked remarkably like a Faberge egg and studied it, aware that Raylin had come up behind him.
"This is nice," he said and set the piece carefully back into place.
"Take it along," Raylin sounded amused. "Go ahead. It would be a great compliment that you appreciate Madred's taste."
Wondering if he was falling into some kind of trap, Bodie reached for the egg and paused. "Must of cost a bundle, this."
"Why do you always worry about the price of things? There's plenty on Lightslide, you're welcome to whatever you want."
Bodie looked at him and realized Raylin spoke the truth. "Anything?"
"Certainly. Including the daughter."
"There's age limits, Bodie," Raylin handed him the egg, "but that's about it. Stay if you like--she can show you how to get back to the temple when you're ready."
Bodie was still gaping. "But what about...."
The Healer touched Bodie's shoulder briefly. "I don't own you any more than you own me."
Bodie got another shock then, one that was worse than all the others put together. Worse because it hit him without warning, unasked for, unwanted, but too deep within to deny. It was simple...he didn't like the idea of Raylin sleeping with somebody else. In fact the mere thought of it made him bloody mad. For the first time in his young life he felt jealousy rip through him and Bodie had no idea how to deal with the sensation. So, with the habits of a lifetime to hide behind, he pushed the thought to the back of his mind and kept his face completely bland.
The Healer waited a moment longer and when Bodie was silent turned away. "If you're not back by dinnertime, I'll tell someone to leave a tray in your room."
He was almost out the door when the mercenary found his voice. "No. Wait. I'll come back with you."
Raylin raised an eyebrow.
"I still have to learn my way about, don't I?" The only thing he could think of to say.
"As you prefer. Ah, Madred--Bodie had taken a fancy to your bauble here."
The woman immediately beamed and insisted he take it along. Bodie waited while she packed it carefully in a padded pouch then went to face the dreaded horse.
What kind of people were these that gave away priceless belongings like nothing, who gave themselves as easily? Bodie dwelt on it as they rode along, trying to ignore his increasingly sore muscles, and could find no simple answer. It just wasn't normal, not to his way of thinking. He had expected to accumulate some of the abundant wealth here, but not like this, not by just being given whatever took his eye. At home one got what one wanted by fighting for it, earning it, working for it. Sometimes even just taking it. Here he held out his hand and it was filled. It made him nervous.
Raylin rode silently beside him and that made Bodie nervous, too. It was as if the man knew when he wanted to talk and when he didn't but how could he? They had only really met the day before--twenty-four hours--and in that time Raylin had become companion, lover, even...friend for lack of a better word. It was that damn recognition bit that grew with every passing moment, washing away all his better instincts, making him aware of Raylin's every movement. "It's too damn fast," Bodie muttered, wondering just when he had lost control, how to get it back...if he wanted to trade the first warmth he'd felt in years for icy safe loneliness.
Raylin glanced at him and said, "I know."
"It's like it was meant to be or something."
"You read minds, too?" Bodie growled.
"No. But somehow I know what you're thinking."
Bodie made a face, not at all pleased. "I'd like to know what you're thinkin'."
Raylin raised an eyebrow again and suddenly Bodie knew exactly what was on the Healer's mind. He blushed a fiery red for the first time in years. "Besides that."
"All right." Raylin pulled his mount to a halt. "We can rest the horses here by the stream and relax. Come on."
Bodie swung one stiff leg over and slid to the ground, grunting as he registered the jar clear to his shoulders. His ass felt numb. He let the reins trail, following Raylin's example, and immediately the gelding bent to graze, politely ignoring his rider's near hobble and collapse at the foot of the nearest shade tree.
"When we get to the Temple," Raylin seated himself with far more grace, "you can soak in the hot baths to your heart's content."
"Good." Bodie leaned back against the thick trunk of a kind of tree he'd never seen before. He shut his eyes and relaxed, listening with jungle trained ears to sounds around them. A sixth sense he was beginning to recognize told him Raylin was close by even before he felt the light stroke over his thigh. He knew, too, that it was not a lover's touch, but a silent acknowledgement of his aches.
"You still want to know what I was thinking about?"
"I was wondering why things mean so much to you."
"It's not things, it's what they buy that matters," Bodie stated with rare honesty.
Raylin settled beside him, wiggling a little to get comfortable. "If you had all the wherewithal to buy what you wanted, what would you do with it?"
Bodie didn't have to think about that. "Buy a nice flat, transport, clothes, stuff like that."
Bodie chuckled. "I guess so."
"I've already got all that. So do you. Here."
"But here isn't home." Bodie lazily opened one eye to look at him, then closed it again. "Would you be...happy...away from here?"
"Depends on who I was with," Raylin answered promptly.
"People aren't that important to me."
"Don't be sorry for me, I like it that way."
"I wasn't," Raylin mumbled sleepily. "I was being sorry for me."
Bodie registered his meaning. It would have been easy to pass it off, to tell the Healer something--anything--that would lighten the conversation. But he couldn't lie, the words wouldn't come. It was too late--he was involved with Raylin whether he wanted it or not, and Raylin was as inexorably tied to him. He stayed silent.
A hand moved over his, gripped it, and he found himself returning the force.
"Do you think this is any easier for me?" Raylin said and his voice held a new harshness. "Do you have any idea what it's like, being a Healer? Have you thought at all?"
Bodie opened his eyes.
"I'll tell you. It means I can never get involved with the people here, never play favorites, never have a close relationship with anyone. The people here are good--there'sno fighting that amounts to anything, no greed, no wars, no feeling for things." Raylin's eyes were dark. Another side, Bodie thought.
"Quite the little paradise," he drawled.
"Yes, it is."
"But," Bodie suggested.
"It's ingrained in them. But not me." Raylin stirred, drew his hand away from Bodie's.
The mercenary watched him silently.
"My grandfather was like you. He crossed over from your side."
Bodie half-smiled. "Bad blood?"
Raylin abruptly changed the subject. "While you were ill I watched you sleep."
Bodie looked at him and away.
The Healer traced one finger down Bodie's nose, over his eyebrows, across his cheeks to his lips. It tickled, not unpleasantly, and Bodie knew the touch, remembered it from his injury dreams.
"Sometimes," Raylin whispered, "two people meet and know they've met before, will meet again. It's...."
"Fate?" Bodie said facetiously. He didn't much like this conversation.
Raylin grinned, giving his serious face a gamine quality. "Yck! No...it's...necessary."
His hand still lingered on Bodie's neck, feeling the pulse that was slowly igniting under his fingers. "Necessary, " he repeated and when he bent his head, moved his mouth against the mercenary's, Bodie forgot his resolutions, forgot everything but the sudden raging need flowing through him that began with the Healer and could only be relieved by him.
"What do you call this?" Bodie pointed to an oddly shaped reddish thing in his spoon, hesitant to taste until he knew if it was, at least, flora or fauna.
"Miffen," Raylin ate a bite of his own with apparent relish. "S'good. Sort of a spicey vegetable."
It was good. Bodie swallowed and attacked his plate with renewed interest. He had passed mere hunger some hours ago--now he was famished. Climbing always gave him an appetite and he and Raylin had been gone all day, scaling Lightslide's small but dangerously steep mountain to visit the old man who lived on top.
Replete at last, he sighed and pushed away from the low table, cradling a steaming cup of what passed for wine. All alcohol was taken warm here he had discovered and though it took some getting used to he had learned to savor the strong hot drink. He sipped the dark liquid, letting it warm through himself, feeling the gradual relaxation it helped bring, loosen his tired muscles.
Across the table Raylin too had finished eating and was holding a low-toned discussion with one of the Temple women. Bodie watched him through half-closed eyes. Four weeks now they'd been together, twenty-eight days--and nights--rarely venturing far from each other's presence. So much for good intentions. Maybe Ray was right, maybe they were somehow linked. Certainly the more he got to know the Healer, the more he liked and respected the man.
The Temple woman's long hair slipped over her shoulder as she bent closer to Raylin and he tucked it back again, smoothing the strands in a casual caress. It was a typical gesture. Ray appreciated women, genuinely enjoyed their company, liked to touch them. At first this had bothered Bodie, unused as he was to open displays of affection. But now he merely yawned and gathered his sprawling thoughts before climbing to his feet.
Ray's eyes were instantly on him, asking without words, several questions at once. "I'm tired--if you'll all excuse me?" Manners came naturally these days. And he was tired, a nice drowsy kind of weary that bespoke of a good day's exercise and a belly full of hot food and drink. He smiled at Raylin. "Thanks for the trip. It was good."
Their words were conventional, their gazes holding an entirely different conversation. After a moment Bodie nodded to the company and departed, knowing his way easily to his rooms.
They had bathed the day's grime off before dinner, not taking time to linger in the natural hot spring that ran below the Temple itself. The Temple springs had first been discovered and found beneficial for certain illnesses many generations ago. Where the marble had come from for the building itself no one seemed to know or care--the baths were there for anyone's use, as was the Temple itself.
Bodie wandered around his room for awhile, admiring the multitude of 'gifts' he had acquired in so short a time. They ranged from jewelry to furniture, gold and silver bric-a-brac... things.
Raylin could scoff at his collection all he like; things made Bodie feel rich and he liked the sensation. He had enough now to never have to work again--if he could just figure a way to get himself and his wealth back home. He hadn't given up entirely on that dream--not yet. If one could cross to here, then one could cross back again. It was merely a matter of finding out how.
In the meantime his private treasure trove was growing, thanks to the people of Lightslide who seemed to have made it their personal project to make him rich. Once over his initial discomfort at getting something for nothing, and never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, Bodie had settled back and accepted.
Eventually he ended up in bed, snuggled naked between cool silky sheets, dozing easily, half dreaming of what he would do when he got home. The first he was aware of Raylin's presence was when the Healer slipped between the sheets to curl against him.
"You asleep?" Ray asked softly, his breath barely tickling Bodie's ear.
"Can I wake you up a little?"
Bodie rolled over and looked up at his lover. In the dim light all he could see was Raylin's outline, a head of unruly curls, a slender muscled shoulder.
"Good. Then listen," Raylin sounded all business for once. "Rhonda, the lady I was talking with at dinner, said word came in from the other side of the mountain. There's a big storm brewing...."
"How can they tell?" Bodie yawned, sleepy again without Raylin's hands to keep him awake.
"They can, believe me. Anyway, when it storms the mountain passes we used today are like tunnels. They flood. It's dangerous."
"So don't go that way."
"Really Ray, I'm a big boy, I can take care of meself, you know."
"Bodie, listen! I'm serious!" The Healer sounded exasperated.
Bodie shrugged. "All right. Now can I go to sleep?"
At once the hands were on him. "So soon?"
"Well...." Bodie squirmed a little, arching to meet the exploring fingers. "Well, maybe in a little while...."
He pulled Raylin against him, accustomed now to the sweet darkness of his lover's touch, wanting it--needing it--his mouth opened obediently to the questing tongue.
A long time later the Healer slid down beside him, entwining himself around Bodie with still quivering limbs. Something else he'd gotten used to, this living blanket. A slight squirm and they were comfortable. Raylin nuzzled his cheek and sighed. "Necessary," he whispered almost savagely, and this time Bodie made no protest.
He registered the silver and jade necklace that pressed between them with sleepy weakening avarice. Somehow home, and the desire to be there, were fading before the hot riches of Lightslide and its Healer. Bodie closed his eyes and for the first time his final thoughts before he slept were not of going back, but of staying.
Bodie yawned, stretched and warily opened his eyes to mere slits. Morning sun on Lightslide was deadly for brightness, it always took him awhile to adjust. He automatically reached for Raylin and was surprised to find the bed beside him was empty. Sitting up groggily he forced his eyes all the way open. "Ray?"
"Over here." Raylin was in the far corner of the room, already dressed, and fingering one of Bodie's latest acquisitions.
"Old lady Jorda gave me that," Bodie was still struggling to awaken fully. "Be careful, it's worth a king's ransom."
"Worth?" Raylin set the piece aside, an odd look on his face. "Do you know what that is?"
"Yeh," Bodie was pulling on his tunic, jerking nastily at the folds. "It's a carved wooden box with opal and silver inlay."
"It is also Jorda's betrothal box--the one Ansel gave her when he asked her to join his household."
Concentrating more on his full bladder and empty stomach, Bodie shrugged. "So?"
"Worth. Things. " Raylin stood still, his breathing suddenly harsh. "That's all you care about, isn't it? Feelings don't mean a damn to you!"
Bodie was silent, watching him with a wary eye.
"The people here give you their belongings because they know you're finding it hard to adjust--to show you they want you to belong. And you take and take and take and never give anything in return--not to them, not to me--you run through the motions, play the game.... Look at this!" The Healer held up Jorda's inlaid box then slammed it down again. Bodie winced.
"This has to be a symbol of Jorda's Ansel--one of the few things she's got left to remember him by; it's beautiful, a fine piece of art--and what do you see? A thing. Something you can sell off when you go home!" Raylin came closer, graceful even in his working rage. "Well, I've got news for you, Bodie. You're never going home again. You're stuck here in this little paradise whether you like it or not and I'm sick to death of your greedy narrow little mind. And your thrice damned things!" He picked up the nearest piece, the egg-piece Madred had given Bodie when he'd first arrived and threw it to smash against the wall by Bodie's head.
Too astounded to move, the mercenary sat, still silent, amidst the shattered glassy bits.
Raylin stared at him for a moment longer, his green eyes bright with rage, then suddenly the air diffused, he relaxed, slumped almost, and shook his head. "Whatever it takes to get to you, Bodie--I don't seem to have it." He walked to the door and was through before the mercenary could think of a thing to say.
A glass shard had embedded in Bodie's arm. He pulled it free, ignoring the trickle of blood, still staring at the door in shocked amazement. What the bloody hell had come over Ray? Where had all the sunshine gone? He had awakened for the first time really happy in this world, had expected the easy going warmth of the Healer's--no, his lover's smile--and instead a volcano had erupted all over him!
"Shit," Bodie said and carefully extricated himself from the scattered glass and rumpled sheets. He should have known. It had happened again, just like always; just when he thought he had his life all straightened out it bloody blew up in his face.
How dare he? Stupid, temperamental, island nobody. Who the hell did he think he was, anyway? Bodie grabbed for his belt and paused, the carved gold links cool in his hands. 'Feelings,' Ray had said.
"How the bloody 'ell was I supposed to know about that damn box?" Bodie asked the room. It echoed his words hollowly. The golden belt clasped about his waist and glinted in the morning light.
'Whatever it takes to get to you, Bodie--I don't seem to have it.'
A feeling welled up inside Bodie, an aching, filling, overflowing alive sensation that hurt and eased him in one. Bodie smiled. "Just goes to prove you're not always right, Ray."
He picked up Jorda's inlaid box and looked at it with new eyes, seeing the beauty of the design, the rich colors that blended and wove.
"Necessary," he said softly and left the room by the balcony steps. He had things to do, places to go, and the stable was first on his list.
Jorda had left her youth before Raylin was born, and her man, Ansel, died under the care of Lightslide's former Healer. Her body was crooked, gravity and age's disintegration having long since taken their toll, but her mind was sharp and her eyes saw everything.
She was working in her garden when Bodie rode up, watering her half-grown plants one by one from a huge bucket. Bodie knew better than to offer help, she'd half-blasted his ear off the last time he tried.
Jorda shaded her eyes and identified her caller. "Bodie! What's a youngster like you doing callin' on an old lady when there's most of the island eatin' their hearts out for a looksee from you?"
He grinned and slid free of the gelding, as ever glad to be on his own two feet again. "I'd rather be with you."
She snorted, "You'd rather be with young Raylin. Well, you're here now, you'd best come on in."
Hers was one of the smaller houses, easy to clean, with a beautiful view of the nearby orchard. Bodie relaxed in the chair she indicated and sipped the cool fruit drink she gave him. The air today was hot and muggy and the black storm clouds gathered around the mountaintop in the distance. He was sweating freely after his ride but the house shaded the sun and encouraged breezes.
"So," the old woman sat opposite him in her rocker. "Tell me why you're here."
"I came to give you this," Bodie handed her the betrothal box. "Raylin told me what it is--and," he searched for the right words so as not to offend, "it would make me very happy if you'd agree to accept it back. It's so beautiful--but it belongs here, with you."
She took it silently and he got his reward watching her gnarled hands stroke the familiar surface with loving tenderness. Eventually she looked up. "Thank you."
He squirmed a little.
She gestured, "Please, choose something else."
"I'd rather...if you could...would you tell me about Raylin? He never says and I don't like to ask...." Hadn't thought to ask until today.
She nodded and sat back in her rocker, gently swaying the chair with one foot while she thought. "Raylin.... I remember when he was born...such a pretty woman Ola was. Wild though...got it from her father, he was like you, you know, from the other side of the portal...."
Bodie vaguely remembered something about it. He nodded.
"Ola's man was a carver--he died before Raylin was born...one of those mountain floods as I recall...." Her voice faded as Bodie clearly heard Raylin's warning about the coming storm the night before. No wonder he'd been so adamant.
"...screaming and kicking...." He picked up her story again in the middle. "All red faced and ugly! But he soon quieted down and with all those curls he turned into a quite a pretty little baby."
"Was he born in the Temple?"
"Oh yes. Ola had long since promised him to the Healer--no man left to be Raylin's father, you see, and they do get the best education, but they lead such lonely lives, no one ever really wants to be one. It doesn't do to get involved with your patients," she added at his puzzled look.
"And custom decrees that a Healer never marries, never acknowledges any children he might father. He's really the most powerful person on the island and the people don't much like the idea of it becoming a family thing. Raylin's been training a young lad for about two years now, to take his place someday."
Bodie recalled seeing Ray spend time with a tall, serious looking boy but hadn't attached any importance to it. "Okay."
"It's a hard life really, though I've always thought that in many ways it suited Raylin."
"Because I don't think any of us ever really understand him. For all he's three quarters Lightslide, there's still his grandfather in him and it makes him...like...."
"Me?" Bodie suggested.
"Yes," she nodded. "Exactly. He had such a hot temper growing up. A real hell raiser, rebelled against everything, until his grandfather finally stepped in and took an interest."
Bodie was startled. "I thought he was dead."
"No, he crossed back to the other side eventually, but Raylin must have been twelve summers by then and had straightened out quite a bit. Yes, that was the year of the big storm...."
Bodie's eyes narrowed and his heart began to pound. "His grandfather went back?"
"Certainly...once Ola was gone there was nothing but Raylin to keep him and he belonged to the Temple...."
"Then there is a way back. A known way?"
"Of course," she looked a bit startled at his abrupt vehemence. "Only the Healer knows it, but nobody really cares because we can't go through, of course, only outsiders and their children can...."
Somehow he managed to get politely out of Jorda's house, to swing himself up on the gelding and point the horse towards the Temple. He did it, but never remembered how. He was seeing through a red veil of rage, angry beyond anything he'd ever been before--but mostly he felt betrayed.
The gelding was foaming by the time they reached the stable courtyard. Bodie tossed the reins to a worried looking Marcos and started for the Temple, ignoring the stares and whisper of the people he passed.
The small hospital room was empty except for two patients and a smug looking cat.
The dining hall, the school, Raylin's rooms, all were checked, but the Healer was gone.
"Dammit, Ray--where are you?!" Bodie stood in the main hall and didn't see Rhonda, the Temple woman, until she tapped his arm. He glared at her. "Well?"
"Raylin's gone out," she bit her lip. "We told him not to go, but he insisted since old man Murdosh's up there alone. He thought he'd have time, but the storm...."
"Two hours ago at least--you were gone and he was in such an odd mood...please...."
He shook her off. "All right. I'm going. If nothing else, just to make sure he stays alive long enough for me to wring his bloody neck!"
He turned and stomped out of the building, shouting for Marcos. "Get me a fresh horse, a rope, some blankets, the Healer's spare med kit thingy...." He looked at the black shrouded mountain and noticed for the first time that the air was getting cool. "...and something warmer to wear. Well, don't just stand there with your mouth open! Get moving!"
He had remembered his other side shoes and gone back for them, knowing the tough soles had a better chance on the rocks than flimsy sandals. Having gone that far he went ahead and put on the neatly folded cords and sweater that had sat unworn on the shelf since his arrival. Better by far for climbing, and warmer, too. He would be unable to follow the path, already the rain would be turning the farther gorges into turbulent rivers that swept everything along as it tore by.
In the end he went straight up the most convenient cliff, finding footholds on the sheer surface, not bothering to look down. The rain was icy, stinging his face and hands. Bodieshivered and was glad of the protective cloak Marcos had provided. It was heavy, but it blocked the elements like stone, shielding him from the wind. After the first few minutes he ceased to be conscious of the storm, concentrating only on getting higher, one crab-crawl after another. He carried the make-shift emergency pack on his back and ignored it as well, long since used to re-balancing his weight to adjust for the extra pounds.
Adrenalin pumped through him, fed by anger, gut wrenching fear, and frustration. How could Ray be so stupid? The old man who lived on the mountain was surely high enough to be out of the water's way. What drove him to do it? How far ahead could he be? Why had he lied?
Bodie rounded the cliff face and found himself in a natural cave-like shelter high above the faintly visible path. He rested for a minute, taking advantage of the lightning flashes to look below, searching for movement--human movement.
In the distance he could hear a heavy rumbling, almost like a train, too prolonged to be thunder. It took him a moment to realize.
The flash flood was approaching.
The call was faint and echoed, making it impossible to pinpoint. But there was that extra sense, that something in him that reacted to Raylin. In the next lightning flash he spotted the Healer.
Below and to the right, and sheer solid rock between them. Bodie shrugged off his backpack, throwing it into the dry hollow behind him, keeping the rope. He looked back over the ledge. "Ray! Here's a rope!"
The echo died and the answer came, faintly over the converging water. "No use. My foot's stuck!"
"Damn." Bodie didn't stop to think. He tied one end of the rope around the jutting rock, knowing it could easily slip off, but having no better choice. The folds of his damply clinging cloak worked as gloves as he wrapped the rope around himself in the accepted climber's fashion and began the descent to Raylin.
Lightning flashed again, illuminating his body on the rock's surface. Above the thunder he could hear Raylin shouting and after it rumbled away the words became clear.
"Go back! The water's coming! Go back!"
He continued on, hurrying. The cloak slipped aside and his hands burned with the friction, beginning to bleed. It didn't matter. It was a race between him and the water, and the prize was Ray. Bodie hated to lose.
Thirty feet. Twenty. Ten. He dropped to the path, keeping one hand on the rope. "Okay, Sunshine, what've you done now?"
"Foot got stuck when the rock slide got me," Raylin spoke through clenched teeth, still trying desperately to pull free. "Go back, Bodie--we don't both have to die."
"Shut up a minute." He investigated the cleft where Raylin's foot was firmly wedged. "Look, it's this one here's causing your problems." He began to work the stone free. "Why'd you lie?"
Raylin went still.
"Because...you're mine. From the first, you were mine. I didn't want to lose you. At least, not until you had a chance to know me."
Bodie glanced up and met the jade eyes. His hands went on working.
Raylin tried again. "We're meant to be together."
"You...." The Healer's eyes searched and found their answer. "Bodie...."
"There! Can you move?"
The roaring water was close. Bodie practically threw Raylin at the rope. The Healer began to climb and Bodie tied the end around his own waist, waiting until the last second to get clear--another man's weight on the anchoring rock could be their undoing.
Raylin was halfway, yelling at Bodie to hurry, when the first of the black oily waves surged down the gorge. Bodie leapt to begin his climb.
His hands were burned raw--bleeding still--they refused to clasp the cord. He slipped and the water claimed him.
"Bodie!" There was anguish in the cry and the mercenary caught the last of the echoes as he bobbed to the surface.
He was being shoved along at an enormous rate--the rock above would never hold, he thought--the rope reached it's length and bit into his waist, jerking him like a tantrum flung toy against the cliff. He felt the skin of his shoulder blade ripped by the sharp stone, tasted his own blood in the swirling river water, then he was tumbling again, buffeted from all sides.
It seemed to be his lot to be drowned. Bodie was not the least surprised when the column of rock appeared in front of him. The rope seemed to get caught on something, it slowed his forward roll. He couldn't see Raylin on the ledge above, pulling desperately, against all odds to save him.
Lightning flashed again and he watched the column come nearer as if in slow motion, then he was slammed against it and he relaxed, accepting the inevitable, thinking only that he hoped Raylin was safe.
"Hang on, Bodie, hang on."
Oh god, the pain.
"Raylin, please. He's dead...."
"No! He's not! Bodie...."
You tell 'em, Ray. I can't move...the pain. Ray, stop the pain....
"There, see. He's breathing."
"He's torn to shreds. Lost too much blood--Raylin, you brought him this far. You can't do anything more."
"Go away, Rhonda. Don't argue--just go."
Hands. Raylin's hands. Warm...I'd know that touch anywhere. Fingers tracing my face. You're a Healer, save me.
"Bodie. I'm going to send you back. I can't do enough here. I don't have the knowledge, but I can make a portal in the storm...."
Ray, don't sound like that. It's all right, sunshine. I don't want to die, not now I've found you, but going back without you would be worse.
"Bodie, I'll have to move you out of the hut into the storm. It only takes a second to make a portal in a storm like this. Hang on--just a little longer...."
Don't let me die here. Hold me. Stop the pain.
Wet. And cold. Why can't I move on my own? Open my eyes? Tell him....
"Oh, Bodie." Whispered words, soft breath. "We're meant to be together. If there's a way I'll find it. I promise. Here, use this. Don't die, Bodie...just don't go and die."
There. Oh, god. I can barely see him. Cold rain water and warm tears. Don't send me back, I want to stay with you! Don't let go. Don't leave me...please, let me stay...it's.... "Necessary...."
The whispered word faded. Raylin stepped back and the bleeding torn man was gone.
Bodie opened his eyes and winced. "Christ!"
"So you decided to join us, eh?"
The voice was cheerful, the accent American. Bodie focused on the tall, dark haired man and croaked, "Where am I?"
"USS Connecticut sick bay. I'm Dr. Stone, ship's medical officer. We picked you up three days ago off the Gold Coast. What's your name?"
"Bodie." Dr. Stone. Stone. Rocks.... Bodie tried to sit up and failed. "Ray!"
"Ray?" The doctor looked puzzled. "I'm sorry--you were alone in the ship, crammed down in the cabin. We got you out just before the storm took the whole thing onto the reefs. You were lucky."
Lucky. Oh, god.
The doctor puttered, checking tubes and things plastic. "You've got a number of injuries and you'll have a few scars--but you'll heal good as new. Not as pretty maybe, but the scars are all body marks. You got pretty torn up down in that cabin."
It didn't matter. Bodie turned his head away. "It hurts."
"I'll give you something for that. You could use the sleep--have some pleasant dreams on me."
Bodie watched, blank faced as the doctor slipped the needle into the tubing. Pleasant dreams. Sure. Never again. He close his eyes and slept.
The storm was over. Bodie watched the sunlight straggle through the blinds and sighed. There was no doubt about it, he'd have to get a new mattress. Sleeping on this thing was worse than cold hard ground.
It wasn't a bad place though, all in all. He swung his legs over the side of the bed, stretched, and wandered to the walnut dresser. There was a box on the dresser, one he'd found in an out-of-the-way antique shop here in London. The inlay wasn't perfect, but it was close. He opened it and stared at the contents, then tipped it out to spill into his hand.
A silver and jade necklace. Worth a king's ransom. Something he could never sell. The jade stones were warm against his fingers. He stroked the smooth jewels, feeling the beauty of the piece. Feeling....
Bodie replaced the necklace, winding it carefully so it would fit into the box. The lid closed quietly.
He yawned. Today was going to be an important day, busy, he'd have to get a move on. Today he started CI5, working for that A-1 terrific bastard, George Cowley. He'd sign the contract, do the lectures, get a partner.
A partner. He hoped it was someone he could work with. A good partner was necessary if one was to stay alive in this business. Bodie smiled and it turned into another yawn. Yeh, an important day, this. He walked into the bathroom and turned on the shower.
-- THE END --