It was late. Late enough to warrant going home, but too early in Ryo's opinion to already give up. He knew the evidence was somewhere down here, among the hundreds of boxes the officers at the scene had secured throughout the raid. Somewhere in here was the vital piece of information he needed to close a case, to place the suspect behind bars, to make the case airtight.
Sighing, he sat back and worked a kink out of his neck. A short glance at the wall clock told him he had been down here for five hours straight. His stomach reminded him that he had missed food altogether, and he briefly wondered where Dee was. His partner had been on another case, one that was apparently linked to his own, but he had been out of the precinct all day long, chasing witnesses, getting statements, and reevaluating a crime scene.
Maybe he should call it a night.
He was tired, he was seeing things that weren't there, and the evidence wasn't running away.
Stretching, McLane got up and walked out of the evidence room to one of the water coolers. His steps sounded hollow in the silent hallway. There was no one left in the precinct after shift, except the few who put in overtime and maybe Barclay. The commissioner had department matters to take care of and from their conversation lately, Ryo knew that pressure from upstairs was keeping his superior busy. Budget cuts were always hanging over the precinct and Barclay was fighting for every dollar. Currently, he was winning, thanks to their exceedingly good crime solving rate.
Ryo got himself a drink of water, then turned to walk back up the stairs to his office. It was on the fourth floor and there was no elevator, but it was one way to keep fit, he mused. Just quick look at his desk, then get his things and leave. That was the plan. Those plans were interrupted when suddenly someone stepped out of the shadows. He stopped, his hand flying to his gun.
"Harding?" he blurted, recognizing the man.
And not in a good way.
Ron Harding was a paranormal, a magic user, and an unstable one at that. He had used his powers for criminal activities in the past and Ryo had been hard pressed to cover up some of his crimes in the last year or so. That had been before he had known Barclay was an ally too and could help. Still, he had thought Harding was away for good.
He had been wrong.
"McLane," Harding said coldly.
He was heavy-set man in his forties, his eyes burning with the insanity that raged in his mind, and as always dressed in a jogging suit. The man seemed to have only them.
Ryo had an uneasy feeling as he watched the magic-user. Harding wasn't strong, but he was talented enough to be a threat. His main power was levitation and while he had no control over it, ducking low flying objects was hazardous to someone's health.
"You son of a bitch," Harding growled.
"You made my life miserable, McLane."
"You made yourself miserable, Harding. You committed crimes…"
"And you were the good little ally and reported them! You found me and you handed me over to them!"
'Them' had been those of the paranormal community in New York who took care of the ones who endangered their hidden status.
"It was my job."
"You asshole ruined my life!"
Ryo could feel the magic crackle around the man. Something caught his attention and his eyes widened. Levitation, he reminded himself. Harding could levitate small objects. And currently he was levitating whatever wasn't big enough to elude his grasp. Most of it looked like screws and bolts… Ryo's eyes flew to the open workman's box that had been left in the corridor. There had been a leak and someone had been called to fix it. Now his tool box had turned into an arsenal of weapons.
Things happened like in a flash.
Harding grinned manically as he launched what he had at Ryo.
Ryo jumped aside, ducking, but he felt something burn along his thigh, leaving a deep groove.
Someone caught him around the waist, flinging them both back.
There was a cry of pain.
He was falling --
-- down the short flight of stairs he had climbed from the basement.
The air was driven out of his lungs.
Something pinned him down.
Then there was a brief moment of nothingness, of just the hectic panting, harsh breaths, trying to get air into his lungs. His body hurt, was bruised in too many places, and his thigh burned.
Ryo forced himself to open his eyes, his inner voice screaming at him to get moving because Harding was still somewhere, probably coming after him. As if whoever had caught him was reading his mind he was pulled up and pushed against the wall.
He knew the voice, but for now he could only obey the command. His legs seemed uncoordinated as he staggered along the corridor, someone pushing him. His left thigh hurt abominably and he knew he was bleeding. Blood was gluing his pants to his skin. Something hit the wall beside him and he heard a curse. Again the voice.
He knew it.
Barclay was down here with him.
They were staggering, running, stumbling through the maze of basement corridors, heading deeper into the underground that was the lower floor of the 27th precinct. Home to the criminalistics lab, the evidence rooms, heating, numerous storage rooms and the archive.
A door loomed up in front of him and suddenly he was in the evidence room, falling inside, colliding with the boxes. His knees painfully scraped along the floor.
Harding's voice, screeching with insanity and fury. The man was running around the corridors, opening doors, searching… looking for him.
Not Harding. A voice he knew, a pair of lips next to his ear. He fought the confusion inside his mind, let adrenaline take over, let the police officer come to the forefront. Ryo's head came up and he blinked as he discovered two ice blue eyes looking at him out of a pale, drawn face, covered in a sheen of sweat.
"Do you have your gun?" Barclay demanded tersely.
"Yes…" he managed. "But he's a magic-user…"
And Ryo noticed the tremor in the usually so even tenor. His eyes flickered over the tall man and widened as he discovered the stain in the abdominal area.
Barclay shook his head, his face drawn even tighter. "Not too badly. We'll take care of this guy first. Grudge?" he demanded.
"Kinda. Ally work. I found he was behind a series of burglaries. I thought he had been taken care of."
The pale features settled. "Thought as much."
They heard doors banging open, Harding screaming for Ryo, and he was coming closer.
"Not much time. How good is he?" Barclay asked.
"He can levitate small things. Biggest I ever saw was a type writer, but not for long. He's a bit of a flake in that regard."
Ryo frowned as he looked at his superior. The man was growing more and more pale, was sweating, and the pain was quite visible in his eyes and the tightness in his features.
The door to the evidence room flew open and Barclay whirled around, standing suddenly between Ryo and their attacker. Harding looked like a mad man. His eyes were wild, his hair in disarray, and his lips curled back in a snarl.
"I want McLane!" he growled.
"You're under arrest, Harding," Barclay told him evenly, leveling his gun at him.
The man laughed. "Do you even know what I can do, you fool?"
Barclay cocked his head a little. "Annoy people?"
The magic-user hissed in anger and a folder launched toward Barclay, but he warded it off with one arm. Paper scattered everywhere. But Ryo saw that Barclay was unbalanced, stumbling, fighting to stay upright, and no match for Harding at all. As more paper rained down on him, he tried to duck away, but something flew at the blond and a scream told Ryo that it had hit him quite hard.
Barclay collapsed back against him, taking them both down. Ryo's instincts went into overdrive as he pulled his gun and fired at the crazed magic-user, but he only succeeded in making him look for cover. It was just a little breathing space, but it was enough to pull Barclay back behind some boxes.
"You're only prolonging the inevitable!" Harding yelled, voice high and unstable.
Dee! Ryo thought desperately. God, please pick this up. I know you can. I know I'm frightened enough to blast a hole into any shield you might have. Please…
He looked at the blond man at his side. Barclay was barely conscious, his eyes glassy, breathing hard. His face was bathed in sweat, his shirt clinging to his chest with the dampness. One of his hands was pressed against his side. The dark suit jacket looked wet and something red peeked out underneath. It was his dress shirt, stained… with…
"Let me have a look," Ryo whispered and carefully peeled Barclay's fingers away.
It was ugly. Ugly and large, bleeding heavily. Something had hit the commissioner in the left abdominal area, and whatever it was, it still stuck inside the bleeding flesh. A shot wound or worse. It was close to the still visible scar from the shrapnel that had injured Barclay not too long ago. Whatever Harding had launched at them upstairs, it had entered the man's body with the same effect a bullet would have had.
"Hang on," he pleaded.
"Have no… intention to... let… go," came the gasp.
Barclay groaned through clenched teeth, eyes screwed shut, as Ryo pushed away the soaked fabric of his shirt. He had to still the bleeding…
"I'm sorry, sir," he murmured as he pulled off his tie, bunched it up and pushed down hard on the wound.
Barclay screamed, muscles cording in his neck. One hand shot forward, clenching around Ryo's wrist like a vice, intent on crushing him.
"C'mon, McLane. Make it easy on yourself. Your friend might even live if you give up now. It won't hurt… much," Harding taunted.
"My words," a new voice growled.
Ryo felt elation course through him. Dee was here! Thank god for the bond.
And then he felt the gathering of a much more familiar magic. Dee's magic. It was coursing through him like it was coursing through his lover and partner. He felt its cold fire, the control his lover had over it, and then it struck out.
There was a brief cry as Harding was suddenly on the receiving end of a shaman's abilities, then a hard thud of a body hitting the wall, then the floor.
"Dee!" Ryo yelled. "I need help over here! Barclay's hurt!"
Dee ran toward the haphazard pile of evidence boxes, seeing blood everywhere. It was smeared against the brown and gray cardboard container, pooled on the floor and stained paper littering the place. He ignored the slumped form of the pitiful criminal who had tried to take out a shaman's shield, too intent on finding his partner. He had felt Ryo's anger, confusion and panic, he had felt the sharp pain and also the surprise. He had known that Barclay was with Ryo, but only now did he see the extent of the attack.
Blood. So much blood. Ryo in pain…
It had driven him mad just knowing that his partner was in danger and he had no other method of getting there than the old-fashioned one: breaking every traffic law there was to get to the precinct.
And here he was; here Ryo was. His lover, his partner, kneeling next to their commissioner, covered in the red vital fluid, eyes wild and hopeful, relieved and filled with fear. Ryo… and Barclay.
Dee's eyes flickered to the still man, took in the soaked dress shirt, the sweat-slick hair, the pale features, the raspy breathing. Ryo looked only marginally better, but he was conscious at least. There was a wound in his thigh, the pants sticky with blood. His face was as pale as Barclay's, the tie was off, the shirt rumpled and partially open. His gun lay next to him, covered in blood.
Blood-slick hands pressing down on the abdomen of… his brother.
Ryo's voice. Soft but with an edge that touched him like nothing else.
"He did this?" he heard himself ask, voice rough.
The guy had hurt his lover and partner; he had dared to try and take out family, too.
For the first time he thought of them in the same terms.
"We'll talk about this later. He needs an ambulance, Dee!"
Blood everywhere. Ryo was injured, Barclay was…
Something inside of him snapped and he whirled around, the magic coming to life with a roar. Dee felt nothing but unrestrained rage at what had been done to the two men, their injuries, the possibility that he might lose…
The voice penetrated his mind, but it couldn't stop him from his murderous trek. His green eyes were set on the just now rousing man. Harding's eyes widened as he took in the tall figure standing not far away, the energies whirling around him, the sheer power that was bunching up to be unleashed – at him.
"Please, no!" he screamed, begging.
But Dee was beyond reason.
No one hurt what was his to protect. His partner, his lover, his shield. And – his brother.
The energy around him had the strength of a hurricane, a torrent of magic that was in his hands and would splatter Harding's molecules against the wall, leave nothing of him but a smear.
Dee let go –
-- only to have his powers suddenly cut off. Like someone had taken a knife and cut through a string. Everything died down from one second to another.
Harding sank down the wall with a whimper, his eyes rolling back into his head, and he blacked out.
Latener whirled around and stared at his partner. His shield. He could feel the shield around him, containing his power, letting the magic evaporate harmlessly against the powerful barrier his partner had erected like it meant nothing at all. So easily, no effortlessly…
Green eyes met dark brown ones.
Disbelief met determination.
"Ryo…" he breathed.
"Call an ambulance, Dee. He's fading fast."
The words were soft, but there was such steel in them, Dee found himself pulling out his cell phone before he had even thought about it. He cuffed Harding like on automatic, going through procedures, but all the time his eyes were on the two men. Ryo, pushing down on the bleeding wound, Barclay, unconscious and so very, very pale. The only color was the deep, red blood.
Dee swallowed hard and took two steps toward the injured pair.
"I'm fine," was the soft answer. "Just a scratch. But he's losing so much blood…"
He knelt down, staring at the narrow face, the ice blue eyes hidden behind closed lids. He saw the chest rise in irregular pants, the sweat shining on the ghastly white face. His brother. Dee had never acknowledged it. Never. He had hated Barclay for revealing it to him. He had despised their blood relationship.
Dee felt something inside of him start to crack.
* * *
Ryo knew he would never forget the sight of Dee Latener about to take a life. He knew Dee had been ready to turn Harding into nothing but a puddle on the floor, and he had the power to do so. A lot of power. It had been almost terrifying to feel the build-up, and when his lover had turned to look at him, Ryo had been unable to tear his eyes away from the strange gaze.
No longer the green eyes he knew. The intense eyes that had made him weak-kneed in the beginning, that had been able to strip him down to his soul, look into his deepest recesses.
No, the green had made way for gold. Golden irises. A strange metallic touch to them. Incredibly alien, a sign of the power about to be unleashed.
Ryo had done the only thing he could do: he had shielded. He had cut Dee off, enveloping him with his powers. He knew he drew his powers from Dee, but there was little a shaman could do against his shield if the shield was intent on keeping him safe. They would have to talk about it later, but Ryo couldn't allow his partner to kill like this.
Whatever reason, whatever emotions.
The moment police and ambulance had arrived, the two men had changed into their profession, back to police officers and detectives, though Dee had had a rather shell-shocked air to him. Ryo felt the same and if not for one of the paramedics insisting he come along, he would have ignored his own injury.
Now they were at the hospital, his wound had been treated, he had been given shots and painkillers, and then been released with a list of advice and a prescription. By now it was four in the morning and despite the adrenaline, the coffee and the worry, he was getting exhausted.
Limping back from the restroom where he had splashed some water into his face, Ryo settled back into the couch of the private area, raising his leg up, continuing his vigil. Dee hadn't moved, still sat staring out of the window.
Neither man would leave until they knew what had happened to Ross Barclay.
* * *
He stood in the small visitor area at the end of the long corridor. There were high windows, letting in sunlight, plants giving the place a fresh look, shielding those staying here form prying eyes, and the chairs and couch were in a soft, creamy brown color that was much easier on the eye than the usual hospital furniture, which tended to be made of plastic and in bright colors. Dee stood at the high window, looking out over the city sprawling below. It was just after sunrise and people were busily coming and going, visiting friends or going to work here at this place.
Dee let his head fall against the cool glass. It had been five hours since they had wheeled Ross Barclay into emergency surgery and so far there had been no news. Ryo had been treated for his thigh injury, but except for a few stitches, there had been nothing serious.
A pair of strong arms came around his waist, pulling him against a warm body. Ryo's lips pressed against the place behind his left ear. Dee sagged against him, letting himself fall so completely, it almost scared him. In the last five hours he had gone from pacing to sitting motionlessly to staring at nothing. He had lost himself in police procedure, giving his colleagues all the necessary information, the cover-up supplied by Ryo. For the first time had Dee witnessed Ryo the ally at work. He had marveled at the ease his lover lied to their friends and fellow officers about the incident.
Harding had been taken into custody. The man was a gibbering wreck, declared a total nutcase. Someone from the paranormal community would come and take care of him, Ryo had explained. He had also called people, talked to them, explained things, and Dee was amazed at the proficiency his lover displayed. This was what he had done for years… and Dee had never known. Now Ryo was protecting him, the shaman, from potential danger of revelation. No one would ever know the truth.
"Come on," Ryo now whispered. "Let's sit down."
Ryo hadn't even tried to make him go home. They had argued about it twice, but Dee was intent on staying. He needed to know how Barclay was. He just had to.
Turning in the supportive embrace, Dee caught his lover's lips and kissed him, feeling Ryo react. The loving contact was almost his undoing as McLane held him tightly, answered the questing tongue. Dee buried his hands in the light brown strands, need rising, his demands becoming more aggressive.
His brother. Older brother.
All the blood. All over him and Ryo.
Words from the doctors as they had come to the hospital right after the ambulance.
They had nearly lost him once in the ambulance.
Tears streamed down his face and he broke the kiss with a soft sob. His tight control was finally breaking, but there was no one there but Ryo to witness it as the cocky, hard-nosed Detective Latener broke.
Ryo wrapped himself tightly around him, both men sinking down the wall, Dee safely ensconced in a protective embrace as silent tears ran down his cheeks.
* * *
They had gone home. Finally. After hearing the diagnosis, both Dee and Ryo had felt at least some relief. Barclay had survived surgery, though he was still critical and currently in the ICU while they were keeping a keen eye on his vitals. His spleen had received major damage and the doctor had removed it. One rib had been shattered by the projectile entering his body. Except for the blood loss, the surgery had been almost routine. There had been a few problematic moments, especially after nearly losing the man on the way due to shock and dehydration, but it was expected that Ross Barclay could be moved out of the ICU soon.
Ryo sank onto the large bed and sighed in relief. His leg throbbed and he felt lightheaded. He had swallowed another painkiller and he wanted nothing more than to lay down and sleep. Dee looked just as exhausted and he had only put up a token protest once.
His lover came into the bedroom and gave him a tired smile, then crawled onto the mattress. They fell together, mindful of the injured leg, and Ryo was out like a light only a few minutes later.
* * *
Ryo rose from the depths of sleep to the feeling of a sore leg, a sore body, and a headache. He groaned a little and rolled around, regretting the idea of moving right away. His head started to pound and his leg muscles showed signs of wanting to cramp. A strong hand touched his shoulders and massaged them gently.
"Take one of these," Dee's soothing voice instructed and he blindly reached for the offered glass.
A pill was pressed into his palm and he swallowed the painkiller with the water. Ryo sank back into the mattress, trying to relax, give his body the necessary time, but the leg was bothering him more now.
"Cramp?" Dee asked.
"Yes," he whispered.
Knowing fingers dug into the muscles and he cried out in pain, but the moment Dee counteracted the shivering muscles, they started to relax. Ryo moaned softly, relieved, and when it as finally over, the adrenaline rush had reached past the peak.
He opened his eyes, breathing deeply. "Thanks."
"You're welcome. You think a hot shower would help?"
Ryo smiled ruefully. "I feel like roadkill. I think I do."
They made it into the shower and despite the erotic touch of two naked men under the shower, Ryo's mind was farthest from anything connected to sex. He was too tired, too beaten, too hurting, to react with more than a half-hearted hard on. Dee didn't try to encourage him and except for a few kisses pressed to his neck and shoulder, there were no sexual overtures either. They toweled off and Ryo found his body felt a lot better now, the muscles more loose, and the pain was manageable.
Breakfast, which was more like a late lunch anyway, was eaten on the daybed. Ryo elevated his leg, took a second pain-killer as instructed, and sank back, feeling warm and sated and much better. Dee perched himself over him, one hand resting on the mattress, the other stroking over one of Ryo's arms.
"Better?" he inquired.
He leaned down and tenderly brought their mouths together, kissing Ryo with such emotion, the other man couldn't but reply with deepening the contact. He carded a hand into the black strands, his thumb massaging Dee's temple.
"You?" he wanted to know.
"Could be better. Still scared."
Ryo was amazed by the openness and he smiled a little. "Me too. Did you call the hospital?"
A nod. "Before you woke. No change. He's getting better, but he's not out of it yet."
"We could swing by later."
"I'd like to, yes."
Ryo pulled him down again, wanting the contact, and Dee relaxed a little against him, sighing contentedly.
"Nearly lost you," he murmured after a while.
"I'm still here. Don't go into the past."
Dee slipped hand under the loose shirt, resting the palm against Ryo's ribcage.
"Love you, Ryo. Need you. Can't lose you."
He pressed a kiss onto the dark head. "I love you," he murmured. "Love you."
It was how they stayed for a long, long time.
* * *
The mood at the precinct was downcast and that was the most positive word there was for it. Everyone's face showed the shock they felt after receiving the news of what had happened at their own work place. Everyone was asking about the commissioner, Dee and Ryo. There were rumors that ranged from Barclay had been shot at to Barclay was dead, Dee was in critical condition or Ryo's leg was in danger of being amputated. Officers and civilian aides in one were trying to get a look at the crime scene, which had been cut off and was currently under the supervision of a team of crime scene analysts, and by the hour the rumors became wilder.
Jamie Jay Adams had listened to them all and finally decided to make his own mind by swinging by Ryo's and Dee's places. He found no one home at Ryo's, not even Bikky, so he drove over to Dee's. The door was opened by a tired looking, but very much whole Ryo McLane. He was a bit on the pale side and seemed to be suffering from pain, but no limbs were missing, which was a big plus.
"JJ," he said in ways of a greeting.
"Hey. Uh, is it a bad time?"
Ryo smiled a little. "No, come in. It's been a short night and we had little sleep."
JJ walked into the apartment.
"Coffee?" Ryo offered.
He followed the other man into the kitchen. Ryo was wearing sweats and a baggy shirt, limping pronouncedly.
"I can guess why you're here," Ryo said softly, leaning against the kitchen counter as he raised his own mug to his lips to take a sip.
"Rumors are chasing each other at the precinct." JJ shrugged, adding sugar to his coffee. "I thought I'd see what the truth is."
Ryo nodded. "Dee and I won't be coming in today, but we plan to be there tomorrow. Our statements were taken at the hospital already and we got some time off."
"Hey, JJ," a new voice interrupted and JJ was greeted by the sight of Dee Latener coming into the kitchen, bare chested, a towel around his neck, wearing similar sweat pants to Ryo's.
A while ago the sight would have made him salivate and squeal in delight. Well, a lot had changed since then, Adams mused. He still appreciated the sight – who wouldn't? – but there was a clear 'look, don't touch' now. Dee was off limits and his hyper libido was finally in sync with his head.
"Hey," he replied.
No injuries on Dee as far as he could see.
"What happened, guys?" he wanted to know.
Dee gestured at them to take it outside and settle on the couch, which they did. There, Ryo launched into a recapitulation of the night's events.
JJ listened to the details, shocked as he heard about the crazed magic-user going for Ryo, about Barclay intervening, their run through the basement. He glanced at Ryo's injured leg when the other man mentioned the projectile grazing him, but McLane waved it off.
"Just a scratch. I'm fine. It'll heal."
According to Dee's expression it was more than that, but JJ let it slide.
The moment Ryo started his description of what had happened to Barclay, Dee suddenly rose and walked into the kitchen, his mug in one hand. JJ shot Ryo a questioning look. It wasn't hard to notice that the dark-haired detective had been incredibly and uncharacteristically quiet throughout the whole tale.
Ryo shook his head. Not now, his expression said.
But later, JJ answered just as silently. Something was going on and it had to do with Barclay – and Dee for that matter – and he felt he had a right to know.
Ryo finished the explanation, describing how Harding had been taken into custody and JJ glanced at the kitchen door, pondering the man hiding in there. Dee had used his paranormal powers, something he had never seen him do, something he had secretly wondered about but never dared to ask. Latener was a shaman, part of the Shaman Pair made up by him and Ryo, and he was damn powerful. JJ had never given it much thought because the paranormal still disturbed him.
Too much had happened to him, too much was still happening, and he had his own decisions to make. Decisions he was putting off. It was getting harder and harder every day.
Forcefully reminding himself that his own private troubles were currently unimportant, he transferred his gaze back to Ryo.
"How's the commissioner?"
"Still not out of the woods, but when I called an hour ago they were rather positive. He's in intensive care at the moment. His spleen had to be removed, he lost a lot of blood, and one rib was shattered."
"Oh. Uh… will you guys be coming in tomorrow?"
Ryo nodded. "We'll swing by the hospital later today and see if something's changed. I'll call you, JJ."
"Thanks. How much of this… I mean, except for the paranormal part, is for everyone?"
Ryo shrugged. "You can tell the guys. It stops the rumors."
Dee walked back into the living room, looking at bit more disturbed than before, but JJ wisely held back, not inquiring. This, whatever it was, was too fresh, like an open wound.
He left an hour later, thoughtful, a little wiser as to what had happened, and wondering what had happened between the lines.
* * *
Dizziness assailed him from every direction. He didn't know whether he was up or down, or sideways. He was simply there, spinning about uncontrollably.
He had to do something.
There was someone he had to take care of, keep safe…
Nothing seemed to work, least of all his brain.
Random jolts spiraled through his awareness, bringing a faint wave of pain each time and he cringed away from it. Pain would soon become agony.
More dizziness and pings of pain.
He tried to move away, but it was impossible.
The thought hit him unprepared and he wondered where it had come from.
Again, he felt the urgency that he should be doing something, saying something, taking care of something, but it was all beyond him right now.
Ryo… Protect Ryo… Yes, the shield. Had he protected the shield?
Awareness dimmed again and he slid back into the grayness that seemed to dominate his mind.
And then there was nothingness.
* * *
The hospital was busy, as usual. Intensive Care was mostly calm compared to the hubbub outside, but there were still a throng of nurses, doctors and visitors. The reception desk outside the unit was manned by three nurses and Dee was currently having a hard time with one of them. She was two heads smaller than him, maybe in her fifties, and her face was set in an expression that told whoever dared to approach her that she meant business. Ryo was currently just watching, ready to intervene, and it was time to do so soon.
"I want to see him!" Dee demanded, staring down at the woman who barred his way.
"I'm sorry, detective, but it's family only at the moment."
"I'm his brother," Dee said through clenched teeth.
It was the first time he had said it out loud, claiming their relationship in any way. Green eyes were burning with the need to get into the unit and see for himself that Ross Barclay was breathing on his own, that his heart was beating.
The nurse frowned a little and anger bubbled up inside Dee, but it was Ryo who intervened.
"It's true, Nurse Walker. They're related. Please, let him see his brother."
She gazed up at him, frowning a little at the calm, serene face, the open brown eyes.
"You're not listed, Detective Latener."
"I know. We didn't know about each other for a long time. Listen, he's my brother. We might not share the same name, but we have the same parents! Please!"
After another look, she nodded. "All right. If this is a lie, you'll get to know me, Detective, and not in a good way. You can see him for a moment, but I want your name on the family list ASAP!"
Ryo was about to step back, but Dee's pleading expression had him glance at the nurse. She gave them a little smile, the first she had showed.
"Dress up and wear the mouth cover," she instructed. "I can give you a while with him."
Ryo nodded his thanks and they proceeded to don the surgical clothes, covering their mouths and slipping protective covers over their shoes. Then they walked into the intensive care unit.
He looks so pale, was the first that shot through Dee's mind as his eyes fell on the motionless figure on the bed. Barclay was sans glasses, his blond hair combed back out of his face, which just served to highlight how pale and thin he looked. There were dark smudges under his eyes. He was dressed in a hospital gown and there were so many tubes and cables running back and forth, it seemed he was unable to exist without mechanical help. Blood was drained out of the wound, which was a thickly bandaged bulge underneath the thin gown. Two lines ran into his arms, one of them for a blood transfusion.
Ryo took his hand and interlaced their fingers, squeezing them reassuringly.
Dee just stared at the inanimate face, unable to move. Part of him wanted to touch Barclay, another shied away.
Ross Barclay had tried to protect Ryo, had almost died for it. He had thrown himself between his lover and the deadly projectiles. He had stood up despite his injuries, intent on keeping Ryo alive.
Because he was Dee's brother, because Dee was bonded to Ryo, because the whole Barclay family would protect the other man. Dee had never believed it to be the truth, but now…
What if Barclay died? What if he never woke up? What if there were complications?
Questions were running through his head and he felt himself starting to swim. Ryo wrapped an arm around his waist.
"Let's go," he whispered.
"No…" Dee protested faintly, but he followed his partner's gentle pull.
Outside they stripped off the borrowed clothes. Ryo threw them into the bin placed right next to the ICU and pulled his lover with him since Dee seemed to have no life of his own. They finally arrived in the small private area and Ryo took him into his arms, holding him tightly.
"He can't die," Dee whispered. "He can't."
Ryo didn't know how long they had been standing like this when he was startled by someone softly clearing his throat. He looked over Dee's shoulder, still holding him protectively, the black head buried against his neck.
A tall woman with shoulder-length, dark hair stood in the entrance to the private area. She was dressed in casual, gray pants and a dark blue blouse.
"I'm sorry to interrupt," she said softly. "Are you Dee Latener and Ryo McLane?"
Ryo nodded. "I'm McLane."
"My name is Bethany Moore. I'm Ross's sister."
Dee's head came up and he turned around, eyes wide. Green eyes met blue ones and a little smile graced Bethany's lips.
"Hello, Dee. I know it sounds corny, but Ross told me a lot about you." Another smile. "I'm glad to finally meet you in person, though the circumstances could be better."
Ryo caressed the small of his lover's back, giving him the hold Dee needed and radiated.
"Why don't we sit down," he said calmly. "I'm sure you have questions…"
She nodded and sat down on one of the cream colored chairs. Her eyes kept going to Dee, studying him, curious. Dee made a point not to look at her and Ryo sighed to himself. He knew this was bad on his lover, but he wasn't making an effort either. Well, for now he would take the lead, but he and Dee would talk.
* * *
Ryo and Dee had returned to work, answering questions, fending off the well-meaning and too nosey, and thankfully JJ helped with getting rid of people who just wanted the gory details. Ryo was forced to work his desk because of his injury, which meant Dee was out a lot and doing the leg work while his partner got rid of files and reports, cleaning up the 'in' boxes and piling neat files in the 'out' box, both on his desk and his computer.
It was on that first day back to work with Ryo taking it easy as by doctor's orders that someone entered the office he usually shared with Dee. The man was dressed in a casual outfit, his hair thinning and almost gray, his eyes hidden behind glasses that looked like they had been in fashion twenty years ago. He was favoring a full beard, neatly trimmed, and a visitors badge was clipped to his shirt.
"Detective Randy McLane?" he asked.
Ryo nodded. "Yes. What can I do for you?"
"I'm Paul Ortiz from criminalistics."
The man held out a hand and Ryo shook it, making moves to get up. Ortiz waved at him to remain seated.
"Better for the leg," he only said.
"What gives me the honor, Mr. Ortiz?"
"Well, I'm in charge of the investigation of the shooting you were involved in. I thought I'd drop by and talk with you about the results of the first lab tests in person. Some of them are a bit… astounding."
Ryo frowned slightly.
Ortiz materialized a photo from inside the folder he had been carrying. "This is what the doctors pulled out of Lieutenant Barclay."
Ryo gazed at the picture and knew why Ortiz was here. The object on the photo was a screw. A very long one, probably out of the workman's box, and Harding must have used it as a projectile.
"Whatever explanation there is for a screw ending up inside a human body without having it fired from a device that can achieve the necessary velocity for the deep penetration, it's nothing that can fit your report or mine," Ortiz went on and his eyes were suddenly serious. "Normally I wouldn't have come here, would have handled this on my own and no one would be the wiser. I could have Harding down for possession of an unregistered gun, shooting a police officer and assorted other crimes, and you wouldn’t even know it. Fact is, you do know what happened, Detective McLane. You worked the job long enough."
Ryo's expression changed. He carefully schooled his features, watching the other man sharply. Ortiz might be talking about ally business, but he might also be up to something else.
"Not long enough to meet you," he replied, words carefully chosen.
Ortiz smiled. "I hadn't heard from you either and I blame it on the fact that we never worked on such a case before. I called a few people and received an interesting phone call from a woman called Mitsumi this morning. She said to handle this with gloves on and all eyes open. Looks like your status was elevated, Detective."
Ryo smiled wryly. "Not really, no. But I'm out of that business, Mr. Ortiz."
"Yes, being partnered to someone like Detective Latener changes a lot of things. I was also warned about your Lieutenant. Looks an interesting triangle here."
Ryo chuckled. Yes, an interesting triangle indeed. In more ways than one. Then he grew serious.
"What about the evidence now?"
"It'll uphold in court, but I doubt you can get a conviction. Mr. Harding sadly committed suicide."
Ryo shot the man a sharp look and Ortiz waved him off.
"Officially," he added. "Unofficially he's been taken care of and he won't be a bother. I think Latener scared the shit out of the guy, whatever he did. There wasn't a scratch on him, but Harding was babbling about creatures from Hell."
He remembered the metallic golden eyes, the murderous expression, and Ryo could only agree with the phrase. Dee had been a terrifying vision.
Ortiz rose, smiling jovially. "Anyway, just wanted to let you know. You don't have to worry about a thing. It's in good hands."
"Thank you, Mr. Ortiz."
"That's what we're here for."
Ryo gazed at the door Ortiz had closed after himself. Yes, that was what allies were for. He had never appreciated their work more than now – now that he was so much part of the world that needed them.
* * *
Dee looked at the pale form, noting the lines that had etched themselves into the usually so smooth features. The long blond strands were in disarray, the usual style changed into what the nurses had combed the hair into. The dark bruises under the dull, blue eyes added to the exhausted look of the man lying in the hospital bed. Dressed in the standard hospital gown, an IV still leading into the vein of his left hand, Ross Barclay was far from the self-assured, sometimes too arrogant for his own good superior officer Dee liked to hate.
He was simply a man. A hurting, injured man. The man who had protected his lover and partner, Dee reminded himself sharply. The man who would die to keep Ryo alive.
Because Ryo was a shield.
Because Barclay was the Shaman Pair's shaman's brother.
Here it was again. This one word. In the past three days in which Barclay had fought to live, to heal, Dee had come to terms with it all of a sudden. The aspect of losing the man had brought everything into sharp relief. As much as he wanted to despise Barclay, he was his older brother, someone he had never known was out there, searching feverishly for his baby brother he had sworn to protect.
The doctors were pleased with his progress. He had been transferred from intensive care to the normal station and they expected him to return home by the end of the week. Dee was glad the other man wasn't awake; it would have been awkward. He had no idea what to talk to him about anyway.
Turning, he left the hospital room and nearly collided with Bethany. She smiled at him.
"Dee," he corrected her automatically.
Another smile. "Can I invite you for a coffee?"
He hesitated a second, then just shrugged. They silently walked to the cafeteria that was on the first floor of the hospital, looking out the back where no cars or ambulances reminded visitors where they were for a while, though how anyone could forget this was a hospital was beyond Dee.
Bethany got them two large coffees and they settled down at the far end near the large glass windows. Dee let his eyes stray outside, taking in the serene, calming garden that stretched behind the hospital. It was small, but it was still a welcome change to the gray and white everywhere else.
"Ross is getting better," Bethany said almost as if to herself. "He was awake for a while yesterday and today. We talked some. He needs a lot of sleep and his body demands it, but he's strong."
Dee nodded, sipping at his coffee. "Good to hear."
Bethany's eyes were on him and Dee felt decidedly unwell. This woman was supposedly his older sister, twelve years his senior, the oldest of his siblings, but he had no connection to her at all. He had more of a relationship with Barclay than her, and there were more siblings out there, including their respective others and children.
"It's hard," Bethany suddenly said.
"After so many years of no hope, of accepting the loss… and even after Ross told me that he had found you, asking us to give him time before we came here to see you…"
Barclay had asked them to wait? "Why?" he blurted.
"Why did he stop us from coming here?" At his nod she smiled. "Well, he told me that you hadn't been very… happy about the revelation. He said it was because of your past work relationship and after hearing him out, I agreed. Unless you accepted your brother, the one person who never gave up and shaped his life around finding you, we didn't even want to think how you'd react to the whole Barclay family coming for a visit."
Dee winced a little. "It was a bit much," he murmured.
"Finding out you're not an orphan? Having Ross as your brother? Or discovering you're actually paranormal?"
"All and nothing of the above." Dee gazed out of the window. "Who doesn't want a family after growing up alone? It's a child's dream. As for Barclay… I think it shocked me the most. I can live with the paranormal stuff, though." He flashed her a little grin.
Bethany smiled in return. "You look a lot like Mom," she said softly. "I'm so glad you're still alive, that Ross found you… and that you're healthy. Dad shielded you, hid you from everyone, and we never knew. If we had known, maybe we would have found you sooner."
"A lot would be different then."
She nodded her agreement.
"I wouldn't be here, a police officer. I wouldn't have met Ryo."
"Believe me, you would have. Just under different circumstances. He's your shield and in a Shaman Pair, the two parties involved are drawn to each other. You would have met, believe me, Dee."
"It wouldn't be the same."
"No, it could never be the same as how you two found each other and achieved your balance." Bethany smiled warmly. "What I've seen of your partner, he's cute."
Dee shot her a warning look, sharply reminded of the discussion he had had with Ryo about genetics and the Barclay family. Ryo was his and no one would come between them.
"Whoa, Dee, down boy. I just stated a fact. I'm not going to woo him away from you." Bethany made a calming gesture. "I'm happily married. You know it's just a normal reaction from your siblings to your shield."
Her eyes suddenly turned very serious.
"It's why we're sitting here, in this cafeteria, this hospital, right? The reaction we show toward Ryo's safety. Ross did what comes natural to us. We women don't feel any differently, Dee. Not at all."
Dee winced and evaded the knowing eyes, unwilling to think about Barclay and his near-death at the hands of someone who had been out for Ryo's blood.
"This will take time," she said calmly. "And understanding."
She touched his hand and Dee looked up, right into her warm eyes.
"Dee, no one of us is your rival, least of all your brother. Try to give him the benefit of a doubt. Try to give him a chance. This hurts him more than you think."
He bit his lower lip and suddenly pushed away, unable to take this any longer.
"Gotta go," he murmured.
Bethany rose and nodded. "I'll be here until the end of the week. It's as long as I could take time off from work. Gwynn is in Europe at the moment and Lenore can't come, but they'll be in contact. I'll keep them informed." She smiled. "Say hello to Ryo from me."
"Uh, I will."
And with that he fled from the cafeteria and finally from the hospital. Things were getting way too complicated for his liking.
* * *
They drove by the hospital daily, but it was only Ryo who walked into the room and visited their superior and friend. Dee either spent his time in the cafeteria, took a walk around the block, or did something else.
"He's not taking it well," Barclay murmured on the third day he was out of intensive care.
He looked much better, Ryo decided. The IVs were gone, he was on semi-solid food, his skin color was no longer so close to a corpse, and his eyes had taken on a much more lively expression.
"No," Ryo confessed.
He was sitting in one of the visitor chairs of the private room. The first visit had been awkward, but now it felt normal. Their relationship had changed a lot in the last weeks and months. Ever since the awakening of Dee's powers and the revelation that Ross Barclay was an ally. Both men had grown, Barclay had allowed Ryo glimpses that he had never dared to hope, and they had found themselves talking more than just ally business. At work, the relationship was the same: superior and subordinate. Barclay represented the same cool, distanced front both men were used to. But now Ryo knew what lay behind that façade.
Ross Barclay sighed and shook his head, looking tired. "He will never accept it," he murmured, sounding fatalistic.
"No, that's where you're wrong. He has changed, he does worry, but so much has happened to him lately, he doesn't know how to handle you stepping into his life as more than a superior he doesn't want to like."
Ryo gave Barclay a fine smile. Whatever his reply might have been, it was cut off by a new visitor. Bethany walked into the room, giving the two men a wide smile.
"Hey, Ross," she greeted her brother and kissed his forehead. She turned and gave Ryo a bright smile. "Ryo, honey, how nice to see you here."
And with that Ryo was hugged. His eyes widened in surprise and embarrassment, and it didn't help that he could see the smirk on Barclay's face.
"Uh, hello, Mrs. Moore."
"It's Bethany, Ryo. We're practically family, okay?"
"Uh… Bethany," he repeated dutifully, stunned by her warm approach.
"How are you, Ross?"
"Fine. Can't complain, except that I want to get out of here."
"Well, I talked to your doctor and he said if everything's proceeding as nicely as it does, you can leave by the end of the week." She patted his hand. "Do you need anything?"
"No, not really." Barclay smiled a little. "Have I told you how thankful I am you came?"
Ryo felt awkward listening to the private conversation, seeing the soft expression on the blond man's face.
"I should go," he murmured.
Bethany turned to him and frowned a little. "Ryo, please… don't leave because of me. It's okay."
"If you're sure. I mean…"
Bethany touched his arm and rubbed it gently. "I am, Ryo. I'd like to get to know you, too."
And Ryo stayed.
* * *
Dee sat on the daybed, gazing out of the semi-circle window into the night. The apartment was dark and outside, only a few lights dotted the darkness. Some of the lights moved; cars. In the distance, the tall skyscrapers formed a beautiful line against the smaller houses, their windows alight wherever people still worked.
Ryo stopped me from attacking Harding.
Somewhere someone was honking insistently and Dee automatically searched for the source without finding it. There was a siren in the distance, then silence again. One of the pipes gave of a little clonking noise.
Ryo used the shield to cut off my casting.
His own shield had simply interrupted his attack and… controlled him. Him, the shaman. The paranormal part of this pairing.
Ryo, who had no powers of his own.
Ryo, who drew his powers out of him.
Ryo, gentle and tender and soft Ryo.
And he had control.
Dee shivered a little and rested his chin on his lower arms, which in turn lay on his knees. His back was resting against a mountain of pillows.
He had never thought it possible that the shield, the passive part of this pairing, could pull such control. Could wield it! With just a little twist, Ryo had used what was supposed to be there to protect Dee against attacks to keep someone safe from Dee's powers.
Harding had deserved to die. He still did.
Ryo's in control, a soft voice whispered in his head.
And it scared Dee more than he could ever confess.
All his life he had controlled what was going on around him. All his life he had been on top, had been the aggressor, had never let anyone dominate him or tell him what to do. He had taken advice, but he hadn't taken control lightly.
It had translated smoothly into his sex life. He was dominant, he was on top, he called the shots.
Until Ryo, a new voice reminded him.
He had tried his usual methods with the new guy he had set his sights on, but something had gone wrong. Where other objects of his affection had fallen for his charms or had told him a firm 'thanks but no thanks', Ryo had thrown him in a loop. He had neither downright denied him, nor encouraged him. So Dee had taken it as a positive sign and pursued him the way he pursued his other relationships.
But everything was different with Ryo. Everything.
He didn't get the man into his bed within a few days after meeting him. He couldn't shake the feeling that Ryo was more than a fling, a rise of lust for a beautiful body. He felt safe with the man and he hardly knew him. He talked to him about his past, took him with him to the orphanage to meet the Mother, he even told him about Jess Latener. He opened up in a way he never had.
Dee rubbed a hand over his face.
Ryo had seen him at his worst, emotionally and physically, and he had stood by him. This gentle soul had proven to be as tough as steel and as soft as snow in one. Ryo had startled him with displays of affection, with gentle gestures and words, with looks that meant more than just lust.
And Dee had felt his own world unbalance.
What was it about this man that had him pursue him so doggedly, let anybody else fall and concentrate only on Ryo. In all the time, in those two years, he hadn't slept with anyone, neither man nor woman. He had been… true. Faithful.
Latener smiled wryly. Yeah, right. As if they had been married. Ryo hadn't even given him the chance to give him a climax. He had warded Dee off…
…whenever Dee had become too forceful, had slipped back into his old habit of conquering his lovers, of showing the dominance that was so ingrained into him.
And he had let Dee continue whenever Latener had been gentle, soft, caring, slow and loving. He remembered the moment on this very couch, his head on Ryo's lap, Ryo kissing him softly, Dee's right hand buried in the soft, long strands. He remembered falling asleep and waking up to Ryo dozing, his head still on his partner's lap, and it had been the most astounding feeling.
It felt good.
It felt right.
So very good and very right.
Dee had been slow to admit that force didn't work, that overpowering Ryo would never lead to a result, and he had tried to change his way. He let his partner lead… let him control… until the day they had made love. Dee had been on top again because he knew what they were doing; Ryo had been the first-timer, the virgin. He no longer was, but Dee was the top nevertheless, even when he had bottomed.
He needed the control. He needed that little aspect even in his relationship with a man he knew would never hurt him.
Now Ryo had control in a way Dee could never hope to break: he could cut off his shaman powers, shield him inside a transparent bubble of power that was directly drawn from Dee himself.
What did it mean for him? For them? Could he live and work like this? Could he hand over part of himself, his life and soul, without at least a thing thread of a security line.
Buck's words came back to him from so long ago, burning through his mind with the same intensity they had back then.
I think love is egoistic. It’s all about oneself. I love you, I want you, I need you, I want to make you happy. But what about the other one? What if I’m not the one to make him happy? What if I’m not what he wants, what he needs? Could I just step back and watch? Think about it, Dee. What does Ryo want? What does he need? And are you the one who can give it to him?
Did Ryo want that control? Had he ever actively tried to take it from Dee? Had he ever complained?
No. A simple answer. He had never tried. Ryo was his partner and he shared his life with Dee, as much as Dee shared his own with Ryo. Yes, they had adjusted to each other, but no one had been forced to undergo radical changes.
Could Dee just step back and watch Ryo have this kind of power over him? A power he couldn't take away?
He shivered a little.
He loved him. He loved Ryo with an intensity that was beyond words, beyond normal thinking, beyond logic. He desired the man, wouldn't let go of him for anything, and he wanted to be with him of the rest of his life. He was the shaman, he was the paranormal, he could wield this incredible energy…
…and Ryo drew everything he had from him. Ryo could protect him from his own foolishness… because he would have killed Harding, would have made an even greater mess of the already present problem of a paranormal attacking the commissioner and one of his detectives in the 27th precinct of the NYPD.
Dee raked a hand through his hair.
Ryo had done what he would have if this had been an ally matter. He had helped, aided, obfuscated… kept Dee safe.
What am I afraid of? he asked himself again. I trust him with my heart, my body and my soul. I know my instincts aren't wrong when it comes to Ryo. He protects me, even against my own stupidity. He does what a partner is supposed to do.
I love him.
I trust him.
I depend on him and not just because he's a shield. That came last. Being work partners and friends came first. Then lovers. That grew together until it was one.
Now they were a Shaman Pair.
What am I afraid of for real?
* * *
Barclay was released by the end of the week with a ton of advice and several prescriptions. Bethany was there to help pack up her brother's things and Ryo had hurried down to the pharmacy to get the prescription medicine. Dee had hung back, unable to do much more than wait. Everything was getting too much. Work was the least of his problems. It was more the presence of the woman who was his sister.
And the fact that Barclay was a, thankfully, living and breathing reminder of the connection between them all. Genetics.
And Ryo's way of attending to the injured man.
And JJ's sometimes openly worried looks.
Everyone seemed to be waiting for him to do something, to say something, to accept it all, but the more he tried, the less acceptable he found things.
He had told Bethany he had the least problem acknowledging that he was a paranormal, but ever since Harding, ever since Ryo's forceful intervention, that part of him was demanding more and more attention. What was he really? What made him so special that he had Ryo as a shield? He didn't mind being bonded to his lover; hell, it was a dream come true, but what was it about Shaman Pair's anyway?
There were no answers to be found.
Then Barclay… Ryo wanted and needed him to accept that the man was part of their lives. He was their boss, he was an ally, and he was Dee's brother. Sometimes emotions surged, sometimes he felt nothing but furious anger at Harding for injuring him – his brother. Sometimes he was confused as to how he felt about Ross Barclay now. He wasn't a real rival anymore; he wasn't a friend; and how did you deal with brothers?
And sisters, too.
Dee was falling more and more into confusion and he was afraid to talk to Ryo about it. His lover had accepted Barclay, even after the older man had once more or less sexually assaulted him. How could Ryo do that so easily while Dee was rallying to keep up with events?
Latener ran a hand through his unruly black hair and sighed. He was craving a cigarette right now, but he had given up on them, and he didn't want to start again. He pushed his confusion back again, hiding it underneath his usual attitude.
He would deal with it later. Much later.
° ° °
It was the first time Dee was at Ross Barclay's home and he curiously looked around. Barclay had an arm slung around is abdomen, protecting his injury, as he walked into the apartment and switched on the lights.
"Just put it somewhere," came the tired request.
'It' was the small suitcase that contained the commissioner's clothes, the few he had worn at the hospital. Dee deposited it next to the coffee table.
"Uh, you want me to make coffee or something?"
"No coffee. Doctor's orders."
He was at a loss and looked at Ryo, who had jogged up the stairs after them since he had had to park the car. Barclay turned to the two men, visibly dead on his feet.
"Thank you for getting me home. I can take it from here."
Ryo frowned. "Sir…"
"I'll be fine," came the dismissive reply.
Dee didn't like the lines of pain forming on the older man's face, nor the pallor. Barclay had just been released after having surgery after a shot wound. Six days in the hospital, three of them in intensive care.
"If you need help…" Ryo tried again.
"I'll be fine," Barclay repeated, trying to straighten, but it was the wrong move.
He paled even more, bending over, and Dee was across the room and helping Barclay onto the couch before he could even think the thought.
"Shit," the blond breathed through clenched teeth.
"As you said," Dee told him softly, "you've never been shot like that before. You aren't exactly on top of the world."
"I can manage," came the tense reply.
Ice blue eyes burned into his, irritation bright in them. "I don't need a nurse maid!"
Sore spot. Barclay wasn't used to being helpless and the time at the hospital had been bad and frustrating enough for the independent man.
"How about friendly assistance then?" Ryo offered, sounding worried.
"You have your own lives and a job to return to, detectives."
Another sore spot. He would be out of commission for a while and Barclay was good at what he did as a commissioner. Dee had grudgingly given him that, even before knowing who he was. The man had really turned the precinct around.
"Don't be such an ass, Barclay," Dee growled. "It won't kill us and it surely won't kill you to accept some help!"
Barclay straightened a little, fighting against the pain.
"We'll share the time," Ryo added quickly, his voice calming and soothing, dropping a little. "Dee and I will stay with you for a while. You won't be able to do everything alone, Sir, and having you fall over and open the wound is unacceptable."
The blue eyes turned to look at the younger man, the challenge clear, but Ryo held the gaze and finally Barclay relented. He sank back against the cushions, nodding without saying anything, and Dee automatically stepped back. There was no feeling of triumph, just relief.
Things were changing.
° ° °
Barclay had slept through the first day, too plain exhausted to be much company or trouble. Both Dee and Ryo had hung around a little, but when it was clear that their superior wouldn't need two men sitting in his home, Ryo had told Dee to go home.
When Barclay woke hours later, Ryo had already made himself at home. He had passed the time cooking and putting generous amounts of food into the freezer, which was an empty, yawning abyss of frozen ice. The supplies stocked in the kitchen had been put there by Bethany before and it looked like Barclay rarely cooked himself, or heated things here. The kitchen was almost too new for that.
"I thought I smelled something good," came a tired voice and Ryo turned, smiling at the blond leaning against the door frame.
Barclay looked better than before, but sleepy, and was dressed.
"You want some tea? Feel up for something to eat?"
Blue eyes regarded the concoction of rice and vegetables, then he shrugged. "I could try."
That was a beginning. Ryo pulled out two plates, shut down the oven, and heaped a generous amount of food onto them. Barclay had settled on the couch again, the only place he apparently felt best sitting with his injury, and Ryo handed him a fork and his food.
"Thanks," was the quiet reply.
They ate in silence and Barclay set down the plate after about half of the light food had been eaten.
"No offense," he sighed. "It's good, but I can't eat more."
"That's fine. I put small portions into the freezer, so you can microwave whatever you need."
The older man had no reply for that.
Ryo cleaned up and left Barclay on the couch for a while, watching TV. He came back into the living room with a pot of tea and two mugs. Coffee was out of the question for the injured man.
"Dee and I decided to come by after work, alternating the days," he finally broke the silence. "Unless you'd want the others to help, too."
"No!" was the immediate reply, forceful and decisive.
Ryo smiled. "We thought as much."
Barclay took off his glasses, closed his eyes, and massaged them gently. "Sorry, I… I'm just not very much at ease with the situation."
"I wouldn't be either. I mean, it's stressful to have strangers around, trying to help. We'll limit our time, Sir. You have our phone numbers just in case something happens…"
The intense eyes opened and without the glasses, Ryo found their expression even more compelling than before.
"You're not a stranger, Ryo. Neither is Dee. I just don't want the whole, goddamn precinct here. I doubt they'd give a damn anyway."
Barclay slipped on the glasses again and looked away.
"That's where you're wrong. Everyone's been asking about how you are."
The blue eyes narrowed in a frown.
"You can believe it. Ted, Drake, JJ… they all wanted to visit, but visitors had been limited to family."
Because Barclay had asked to see no one else. It had been his own fault. He lowered his eyes.
"Sir?" Ryo asked after a while.
"Ryo, stop calling me 'sir'," Barclay sighed, sounding a bit exasperated.
The younger man looked caught. "I…"
"I know its awkward, but I don't want to be just the commissioner. I thought I had told you that before. In a way, you're family now…"
Ryo felt a small curl in his stomach. He skidded around calling Barclay anything but a respectful name and he knew that the moment he consented to a much more private and friendly approach, things would be inevitably changed. Things had changed already, he reminded himself. He had been the driving force behind them sometimes, but this was something like a last barrier.
He finally decided to ignore the comment and change the topic.
"I haven't said it before, so… thank you for saving my life."
Barclay smiled a little. "I've said it before, though. There's no thanks necessary."
Because he had reacted out of instinct when he had thrown himself in front of the younger man, taking a bullet meant for Ryo, almost dying.
McLane sighed a little. "I have a hard time coping with… you being so… protective."
"I guess we all have. Dee's probably the worst off." Barclay's words sounded light, but there was an old pain there that had nothing to do with the wound.
Ryo sighed a little. "Can I ask you a question?"
Sandy eyebrows rose. "You did already, so shoot."
Ryo met the inquisitive, slightly careful gaze. "Back when… when you were approaching me… when you tried to kiss me in the office… what would you have done if I had responded?"
Ross Barclay felt his world drop away at the words. He was falling while sitting more or less comfortably in his own home, on his own couch.
The words had registered, but his mind was refusing to understand, let alone work with them.
"What?" he finally stuttered.
Ryo's face was calm, very serene, as if he was simply talking about the weather.
"What would you have done if I had responded?" he repeated the question.
"But you didn't," the older man tried to evade the answer.
Ryo tilted his head. "What if I had? Would you have made it happen?"
Barclay curled an arm around his injured stomach, sinking further into the cushions, physically trying to evade the other. Would he have gone through with it? He had been attracted to Ryo, he was a beautiful man, but would he have gone past a kiss? He wanted to think that yes, he would have. There had been desire there, desire for this slender body, the handsome face. He had wanted to kiss and touch – and he had. His reward had been a fist into the face.
"You think you would have responded to me if not for Dee?" he tried to dig deeper, find out about Ryo before baring his own soul.
Ryo contemplated that for a moment. "I don't know. I never gave it a thought because Dee was… always there. There was never any doubt that he wasn't. When you kissed me… I didn't feel anything. Hitting you was a reflex. I didn't have that with Dee."
Barclay smiled a little. "You weren't a bonded Shaman Pair back then, but something was working toward that," he mused.
"Probably. I wondered whether, if not for Dee, I would have let you continue your advances or not. You're very much like him. A lot, actually. It's what confused me so much."
Barclay studied the younger man, surprised by the openness.
"What is your experience with men?"
The commissioner's eyes widened in utter shock. So much for questions that couldn't get any worse! Where was Ryo coming from? Why was he asking such intimate details? How come such a apparently gentle and laid-back man whose temper flared only in the most extreme situations was digging into his soul?
"I…" he stuttered, drawn in by the dark brown, almost black eyes. "Why do you ask?"
"Curiosity. The same curiosity that keeps me wondering what could have been."
"But it didn't happen and never will, Ryo," Barclay fought for a semblance of control. "I don't feel anything like this for you."
"Ever or not anymore? Was it just a moment of lust or was it genetics? Did you know what might happen or was I a possible conquest?"
Barclay cringed. What had he been thinking back then? Ryo was an attractive man, Dee was a thorn in his side, and McLane had been… an interest of Dee's. It would have been a way to take Latener down a notch or two. But would he have slept with him?
"Maybe it was all," he finally confessed. "I have some experience with men," he added softly. "At least a little."
A hand job in college. A blow job in the last year of the Academy. Ever since… look but don't touch. Maybe a kiss, hidden in a dark corner, but nothing further.
"My job and my search for my brother got between me and many relationships, be it men or women. When I saw you… I was confused about this attraction. It was the most intense thing I had ever felt. I didn't know how to handle it. I didn't know it was my dormant paranormal heritage reacting to what you were about to become."
He was baring his soul here and somehow it wasn't as bad as he would have thought. Ryo was radiating such calm and encouragement, it was almost a release. He had noted this about his officer before, but Barclay had never given it much thought. Now he wondered if it was a trade of a shield.
Ryo looked thoughtfully at him, then nodded. "Thank you for telling me."
Barclay tilted his head, studying the younger man. "What about you? Would you have responded if not for Dee? Could there have been something further?"
"I'm not sure. Dee was the first man who ever gave me this feeling that… well, women weren't the only possibility. It was slow… it was filled with a lot of obstacles, but I don't think anyone could have made me feel what he did and still does. You confused me when we met, just like him, but his approach was… different."
What ifs were running through his head and Barclay finally put a lid on them. He didn't feel anything romantic or remotely sexual for Ryo any more. It had been a moment of insanity, of lust brought on by attractiveness and beauty, but now McLane represented something different for him. He was his brother's shield, his to protect.
And that he would do.
° ° °
Ross Barclay lay on couch of his home, a blanket covering his casually dressed form. A thick blanket. The man was suffering from bouts of freezing and shivering, all stemming from the blood loss and hospital stay, as Ryo had explained to Dee. So Dee had found the thickest blanket and draped it over the reclining man, ignoring the surprised look he had received for it. He still wasn't very much at ease with the shared 'baby-sitting duties' as he secretly called them.
He left Barclay to watching some TV as he made himself coffee, casually studying the apartment he had seen only once when he had driven the man home. Now he had the time to give it a closer look and it made him frown.
It was sparsely furnished; functionally one might call it. There weren't any unopened moving boxes, but it didn't look like Barclay liked to display personal items. There was little to no personal touch to the furniture. The kitchen held enough dishes and glasses for a single person to entertain a guest or two. No photos anywhere.
Taking his coffee, he walked back over to the couch and found that Barclay had dozed off. One arm had been flung over his head, the other resting protectively against his stomach. A normal gesture by now. One he was getting used to seeing. The pale face was relaxed in sleep, the pain-killers had kicked in. The glasses were off, giving Dee an unrestricted view of the narrow features that Ryo claimed weren't unlike his own, except for a few differences and the hair and eye color.
Like in the hospital, watching the sleeping man transmitted a feeling of vulnerability. There were no shields left; everything had been torn down, and Dee was looking at the real Ross Barclay.
It scared him more than anything to see that the man was human.
He switched off the TV and turned away, resuming his exploration of the apartment. There was nothing much to find anywhere, not even the bedroom. Someone lived here, yes, but he didn't spend a lot of time in these walls, nor did he plan on staying long. Whatever Barclay possessed, it was easily packed within an hour or two. Dee wondered if the furniture had been rented with the apartment or was Barclay's own.
Thumbing through the book collection, the suddenly discovered what looked like a family photo album, wedged into the shelf next to scrap books. Curious, Dee pulled them out and leafed through the first one.
Two minutes later he had found a place to sit down and was engrossed in what he had found.
The scrap books were old, dating back thirty years. The first one had been created by a child. The handwriting was a dead giveaway, but the words sounded incredibly mature. They told Dee of a young boy who had lost not only his parents, but also his baby brother. It told of the same boy who had sworn to protect the baby with his life because his brother was special in so many ways. He read of the search the growing Ross had continued, of how he had listened in to the grown-ups talking, had been keen on picking up any hints, evidence and ideas, had followed them with dogged determination. He had talked to witches, wizards and other paranormals, he had even gone to the police to file a missing persons claim. No one had been able to keep him from finding Desmond Barclay.
There were baby pictures and little snippets glued in next to the diary. Even drawings had been made. The scrap book continued throughout school and it was amazing how this little six-year-old had so doggedly kept to his oath. Even when he had been older, when he had gone through puberty. Where other boys had played football or gone to the movies, Ross Barclay had spent a lot of time still following up hints. College had come and gone, as had the Academy.
Older now, still collecting every snippet he could find, while the rest of the family and the paranormal world had already given up. Not Ross. The words repeated again and again. He wouldn't give in, even if it took all his life to find that his brother had truly died. Orphanages had been searched, people questioned. As a police officer he had a much wider access and he used it. He had changed precincts, States, even countries. He had even thought about the FBI.
Throughout the hours passing by unnoticed, Dee Latener suddenly met and got to know his older brother. Thirty years condensed in these books, filled with the pain and desperation, the determination and fierce conviction of a child that grew up into a man who would never give up.
It amazed him. It humbled him. And it touched something deep inside.
Barclay woke to the silence in his apartment. The TV was switched off, there was no radio playing, and the faint scent of coffee hung in the air. He blinked his eyes open and stretched carefully, just as much as he could without aggravating the wound. Slipping the glasses back on he was surprised when a mug of tea was held out to him and he took it, looking up into the face of his current 'guardian', as Ryo had called it.
Dee's expression was strange, thoughtful, slightly bemused, and when he sat down, Barclay discovered the collection of scrap books sitting on the table. His personal diary and way of coping with the search for his brother.
"You read them all?" he asked quietly, sipping at the wonderfully hot liquid.
"Find anything interesting?"
Dee's voice was soft, as thoughtful as his expression, and Barclay wondered what the younger man was thinking. They looked silently at each other, lost in thought. Dee's hands caressed the cover of the very first scrapbook, the one he had started when he had been six. Almost seven. Three weeks before his birthday.
"I had no idea. You were really looking for me. Back then…" Latener murmured.
Barclay ran a hand through his hair. "Yes. I had sworn to protect you."
"I had no idea…" Dee repeated, his voice a whisper. "When I was little, I always wanted a big brother. I gave up on that thought when life on the street taught me its lessons. Now I've got one, and I've a really hard time accepting that…"
"That it is me?" Barclay asked calmly, resting the mug on his lap. Still, there was a touch of sarcasm in his voice.
Dee sighed. "Yes and no."
Barclay shot him a quizzical look. "Apart from Ryo, why don't you like me?"
It was an honest question, one he had wondered about for a while now.
Dee studied the table top. He was clearly trying to find an answer. "Ryo once told me that you don't like people who are too much like yourself, that show the same mannerisms, behavior and so on… I scoffed at that back then, but… I think he was right. You are too much like me."
The blond smiled a little. "And Ryo was between us. He still is."
Dee bit his lower lip. Yes, Ryo McLane stood between them.
"What do I have to do that you'll believe me, Dee? That I'm not interested in your partner this way?" the older man wanted to know.
There was no answer for that question and Barclay knew it, but he desperately wanted one. He needed for Dee to understand that he wouldn't touch Ryo in any other way than a friend or brother would. Ryo was Dee's; had always been. One rash action two years ago was costing him something he had sought for over thirty years.
"Ryo will always have someone to protect him when you're not there," he added, voice intense. "Always. Not just me, but my sisters, too."
Dee looked at the older man, feeling something boil up inside him again, but it was no longer so hot and violent as before. He had noticed how Bethany had behaved around his partner, how she had acted like a protective mother or sister. So completely like Barclay, without the fact that it was Ross Barclay who tried something before. It was the one sore point between them – Ross had actually kissed – molested! a voice cried – Ryo.
"None of your sisters tried to kiss and get him into bed," Dee shot back with more aggression than he had wanted.
Barclay flinched and evaded his eyes. "Will you keep bringing that up for the rest of my life?"
He sounded tired and exhausted, but not physically, just mentally. A new line had appeared in the pale face, one that had just been added. A pain that was not physical.
"It's been nearly two years. I haven't laid a finger on him since! What is it I've got to do that you believe me?" he demanded, blue eyes filled with emotions.
"I… I can't!" Dee blurted and he knew right then that it had been the wrong thing to say.
Barclay's face closed off, his eyes shutting down, and with a decisive gesture he threw back the blanket.
"Then don't," he ground out.
He swung his legs off the couch and tried to get up. The operative word was 'tried'. Dee saw the flinch, saw muscles cord and stand out against the pale skin of his neck and face, and a soft sound of pain escaped the older man's lips. One arm curled protectively closer to the injury, and he flailed for a hold as the lance of agony unbalanced him.
Dee was out of the chair and at his brother's side in a flash.
"Ross!" he exclaimed, catching the stumbling man and easing him back down.
Agony-filled eyes opened and stared at him, unable to understand while the pain still raged through the abused body. Dee's hands were around his brother's arms and he held the confused gaze. One of Barclay's hands dug into Dee's forearm in turn, riding out the pain. The expression on the pale face was almost fright, mixed with need, a battle between wanting Dee here and not having him see the helplessness.
"S'okay," Dee murmured. "Just relax."
Finally the slender body sagged a little, easing back into the pillow and Barclay breathed harshly, trying to cope with the remaining pain and the adrenaline rush. Dee gazed at the man, meeting the slightly wavering blue eyes. The need was still there, but Dee was scared of what that need encompassed. He had learned so much about this man, someone he had thought so cold and aloof sometimes, who he hated because of his position, his oh-so-mighty attitude, the way he had confused and even dared to touch Ryo – and he was just human after all. With the same fears and insecurities. With a goal in life that had stemmed from a promise a child had made.
"You threw yourself in front of him," Dee whispered, still holding on to the man. "You caught the bullet."
It was as if he was dealing with it again; for the first time actually. He had never said it out loud. He had just realized it in a detached sort of way.
Barclay was silent, just looking at him.
"You protected him," Dee said softly. "When I wasn't there."
"You can't always be there," was the rough reply and the blue eyes closed in exhaustion.
"Neither can you."
"But we share the responsibility."
Dee smiled a little. Yes, they did. There had been a time in the past when he would have fought teeth and claw against Ross Barclay to have Ryo to himself. Now he knew he had his lover, his partner, and Barclay was… a protector. Their ally. Their friend.
"I'm sorry," Dee murmured as he drew the blanket over the tired man.
"What for?" Barclay wanted to know, sounding exhausted.
"Take a pick." He shrugged, unsure. "There's a lot I threw at you and you didn't deserve."
Barclay's lips twitched in the imitation of a smile. "I always admired your openness, Dee. At least it gave me an idea where I stood with you."
"Yeah, well…" Another uncomfortable shrug. "I can't promise you anything for the future, but I'll try to be better. I can't promise not to be jealous, though."
Dee evaded the so very unguarded eyes. "I… I can't promise how I'll deal with being your… brother outside these walls. I just can't…"
"You can't accept it?" was the weak question and the pain was no longer just physical.
It stabbed into Dee and he winced. Oh God… when had it started to hurt?
"No, it's not that!" Latener blurted. "It's just… what my mind tells me and what my gut reaction to you is… it's different. You're my brother," he added quickly. "I think that finally got through. I just…"
"We'll both need time," Barclay said softly, turning his head away.
Dee thought he detected a faint note of longing and hauntingly familiar, very fatalistic acceptance. Barclay didn't expect him to come around and ever treat him like family.
Blue eyes widened at the now deliberate use of his first name.
"Give me time," Dee begged.
There was a long moment. A heartbeat, two, three, then Barclay finally nodded. "I will."
It was a promise. A sincere one. As sincere as the one the six-year old child Ross had made to his baby brother.
The looked at each other until Dee's discomfort rose to a critical level and he had to detach himself physically from this man. He stepped back and sank onto the chair, getting the necessary distance between them.
"Uhm, you need anything? Pain-killers? Something to drink?"
"No," came the faint reply. "Just tired."
Barclay fell asleep not much later, exhausted by the surge of pain, the emotions, the whole talk. Dee settled back into watching the blond man; watching as the lines eased a little; watching as he slept.
* * *
Work had gone back to routine. There were the usual cases, the usual pressure, and the usual bickering and bitching about bureaucratics. The attack on Ryo and Barclay had become old news, though some still wondered when the commissioner would be back. There were no news on when the man was to be expected back in his office, but some argued that such wounds took time to heal. Four weeks after the attack, their precinct was still without a lieutenant and the higher ups finally appointed a temporary replacement.
The new man had to fight with the normal apprehension, suspicion and distrust, but it was the first time Ryo saw a change in the men as well. They were used to Barclay, to the smooth management of operations, the availability of resources, the quick and effective dealings. The new guy, George Anderson, was different. Ryo overheard Ted wishing Barclay was back, Drake complaining about the slow way things were being handled, and the Chief didn't look too happy with Anderson either. Even Dee was muttering about the new man.
He smiled a little. Well, it showed that Barclay had finally been accepted and that the men under him wanted him back.
Barclay in turn was trying to keep track of precinct matters, and he had someone send him files, reviews, reports and more. He seemed to converse with Anderson despite the fact that he was on sick leave, which didn't help settle Anderson in. Well, that was the alpha male fight between them, McLane mused. Either Anderson submitted to Barclay or Barclay would give up and hand over the precinct to his temporary replacement for the time of his sick leave.
It was after eight weeks that Barclay came back. The doctors had given their okay; finally.
In those eight weeks, Dee had spent more time than Ryo would ever have hoped with his older brother, and while they didn’t see eye to eye, there was an improvement. Dee would never conform to Barclay’s style of command, but Barclay in turn didn’t expect anything else.
"So, you okay with it?" Ryo asked as they sat together, snuggling on the couch, watching lazy raindrops crawl across the window panes.
"Barclay… being your brother…?"
"Nothing I can change about it anyway," was the gruff reply.
Ryo poked him playfully. "Dee…"
His lover sighed. "Okay, okay, yes, I'm fine with him. I mean… sure, I can't change it, and he still gets to me more often than not, but…" A small smile flitted over his features. "Well, it's nice to know I've got family, you know." There was an almost wistful addition to his voice.
Ryo mirrored the smile. "Yes, I understand. Completely."
"Kinda makes them all your sisters-in-law, too."
"Kind of. If we were married."
"Bah. Just paperwork anyway." Dee grinned.
Ryo smiled more. "Yes, paperwork," he agreed softly. "So… any plans with your big brother? Visiting the family? Holidays?"
Dee shuddered. "No, thanks. We might get along, but not that well. No way am I going to some kind of Barclay family gathering. No!"
Ryo laughed, kissing him. "One step at a time. You'll be ready one day."
"No," Dee argued. "Never. Seeing him occasionally off work is enough."
Ryo smirked and rested his head against Dee's shoulder. He knew how often Dee had been at Barclay's place while their commissioner had ben injured. Even now he found his lover shooting glances at the blond, quickly checking him. He wouldn't call him on that – yet. This relationship had developed in leaps, but Dee still needed to adjust to many things.
Ryo knew they had time.
One step at a time…