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Fathers and Other Strangers

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I didn't like him. Not one damned bit. Oh, I was supposed to. Or at least I was supposed to put up with him, to work with him. Derek told me so, and he was the Precept of our House. The Legacy's like that, you follow orders from above, and Bryan Crenshaw, fucking little prick, was in from London as a "consultant." Read that, "to run the show."

Hell, it was *my* father's ghost in the house over on San Dimas. It was *my* father to argue with, to shout at, to try to run away from. And this goddamned interloper, with all the status that coming in from London meant, was no way gonna get in the middle of my private little war with my fucking drill sergeant of a father – even if it was the ghost of the drill sergeant I'd come to hate, it was *my* ghost, my past, my hate.

I didn't like him from the start. Small guy, dressed to the nines, better than Derek even. Couldn't even show up at the place, fresh off the plane, looking halfway relaxed – no, straight spine, stiff upper lip, public school – what Brits call public school, not what I went to, no sir – all over him, and a brown silk shirt that had to cost some kind of fortune on under a dark jacket, with a black silk tie – hell, I couldn't earn in a month what this limey shit with the accent was wearing on his damn back, and me stuck making nice to him while I was in my cruddiest jeans and a pair of sneakers that should have been buried a year before, which Alex and Rachel took every opportunity to tell me.

The intruder's name was Crenshaw. Bryan Crenshaw, son of my dad's old Legacy partner, Jason Crenshaw. My father, Jason, they'd both been murdered, Jason first. Bryan was out on a Legacy-inspired and personally-fueled vendetta against whoever'd done in his old man. Me, Nick Boyle? I just wanted the dead to stay buried, not chase after me in the abandoned houses they'd been killed in. But if Robert Boyle wanted to come after me with some stupid message, I sure as hell didn't want Mr. Oxford Education over there horning in on my little seance.

Derek read me the riot act. No more going back over to the place on San Dimas to pick fights from beyond the grave with the father I'd rejected without The Twit going with me. The Twit, Bryan, was up to his neck in reports, old files, photographs, transcripts of interviews, and the moldy old books Derek liked to stick his own nose in. You'd think seventeenth-century Latin reports from the Vatican meant something.

Finally, one evening, he's there elbow-deep in those stupid reports on our fathers' deaths, at the kitchen table – still has his collar buttoned, his tie knotted tight, you'd think the guy can't even relax for a minute. I'm rummaging through the fridge, and yeah, there's still a couple of beers. Well, can't pop a cold one in front of a guy without offering him one too.

The beer might have been pretty damn cold, but it sure as hell started thawing some other things. We wound up talking – about his dad, mine, life after death, and shit, and then I stormed out and came back because there was more beer in the fridge, so we wound up wandering out on the stone portico or whatever the hell Derek calls it, over near the bushes, and bullshitting some more.

Great night, the moon was out, there was a breeze coming through the hedges, and whatever in hell I should have done then, looking at Bryan Crenshaw's face was not it.

His eyes. I just should not have looked over at his eyes.

Derek says Bryan was trying to hypnotize me, or was using something on me, something he'd learned when – well, whatever. Derek wasn't there. Right then, Bryan wasn't trying to do a damn thing to me.

He just looked back over at me, and the blue in his eyes kinda went with his tie, except it was more like the color was trying to play off the sunset, and I fucking kissed him. Right on the mouth.

I backed off. I was kinda figuring for a second on a punch in the mouth, cause you know that's what usually happens there, times like that, but he just looked at me again, and he gave me this tight-lipped little half-smile, and said, "I wondered."

"You wondered what?"

"There's something that's not in the official Legacy files about our fathers. I wondered if it wasn't going to be that way with us. Once you got the bug out of your bloody arse, that is." Then he grinned.

For half a second I thought about slamming him into the stone – nobody ever called Robert Boyle a queer – but hell, I'd just kissed a guy myself, hadn't I? And it wasn't like I’d never thought about it before, either. I'd never known Bryan's father, Jason Crenshaw, and I'd been starting to realize I never really knew my dad – sure, it was possible. Anything was possible.

And the possibility just then – reaching out, touching Bryan's shoulder – was something I wasn't ready to pass up, not with the look he was giving me, not with his hands working their way under my shirt, and …

… damn, whatever those boys do in school over there, he'd sure been doing it, and pretty intensively, because one of us knew what he was doing, and I was glad of that because I had no frigging clue at first. But I picked up one hell of an education pretty fast, feeling what he was doing to me and trying to do it back.

If I'd have known what was going to happen out there, I'd have stuck a hand towel or something in a pocket. Bryan, of course, had a handkerchief on him. When we went back in, he didn't even look ruffled, let alone rumpled, and what we'd been doing should have left our clothing looking like it had been through the wars. But no, everything about Bryan Crenshaw had to be perfect, didn't it?

Including what happened a couple of hours later when he slipped into my room and worked at finishing off my education.

* * *

I couldn't believe my ears.

After what Bryan had told me about our fathers… after what we'd been doing… to tell me, in front of Derek, that the killer was a woman, that I knew the type of man my father was? What else could I say? "He wasn't that type." He couldn't have been, not if he and Jason Crenshaw…

All of the remnants of my father weren't enough. I thought I'd had a picture of the man I thought I resented. Bryan was upending it, one day after the other, while he was upending everything I'd thought about myself, one night after the other.

I'd never been this confused about anything, and I didn't like it at all; how the hell was I supposed to know what to do or what to think? And Derek was telling me to follow Bryan's lead – shit. It was driving me freaking insane. Maybe Alex had a clue, maybe she didn't – it was obvious that Derek had no clue. Me, I had no clue at all. I was so off-balance, I could barely tie my shoelaces.

And now Bryan was telling me that he'd seen my father in the house over on San Dimas, that my father had spoken to him without my being there – it had to be true, he described exactly what my dad's ghost had been wearing, to a T – and that the ghost had said I needed to be there that night.

I got my Mustang over there as fast as I could without having the police on my tail. I went on in, in the darkness… and Bryan was already there. "I knew you'd come. You've got a lot of your old man in you, Nick. Take that as a compliment."

I didn't realize until a few minutes later just what Bryan really meant.

It was right after I figured out that Jason Crenshaw wasn't dead… that "Bryan" was what Jason Crenshaw was now calling his supernaturally younger self, that he'd killed my dad.
"His life or eternal life. It was a no-brainer."

Yeah, and so was the idea that I'd been sleeping with my dad's lover – which was enough of a shock to throw me pretty well off balance. Which let Jason – Bryan – whoever he was – get me up against the wall. Literally. He had some fucking superhuman strength to go with the eternal life and good looks deal – I bashed a table on him, the bastard didn't even blink, just picked me up and shoved me against the plaster, leaning close enough to kiss me. For one second, I thought he would. That was the one second in which I wasn't preparing to die.

And then he made me the offer.

I couldn't tell if Jason Crenshaw had really loved my father, but I knew he'd gone soft around the edges about me. It was right out of a vampire movie – did I want to die or join him?

Smart or dumb move, I started struggling. That wasn't the kind of choice I felt like making pinned to a wall. Then he put his hand on my chest, right where it had been the night before, when he'd been sleeping in my bed. "Do I have to kill you too?"

"It's gonna be hard to kiss and make up after this."

"You're insane. You betrayed your friend and the Legacy." I could have said "your lover," but I still had trouble picturing the man holding me there as being with my father; he only looked a few years older than I am.

"The retirement plan left a lot to be desired. Eternal life was far more attractive. Don't make the same mistake your father did. Join me and live."

I looked back into the same blue-gray eyes I'd fallen for back at the house. He was ready to kill me, and I still couldn't figure how it was the same guy. But stuck between my dad's ghost, and a guy who wasn't the guy I thought I'd been screwing, after all, I figured I'd pick the one that really looked like he needed me. Which was my dad. After all, he'd asked for my help. Crenshaw didn't need me, he just wanted me, and he wanted me along for the ride. "Go to hell."

His hand was back on my chest. At night, it had been one thing – but I'd seen how my father had been killed, and I knew what else that hand could do – not Bryan's hand, I reminded myself. Jason Crenshaw's hand. The bastard laughed, I swear it. "You're about to spend eternity with a man you spent a lifetime hating."

Usually when Derek walks in on me and something's happening, he's interrupting. Right now, on the other hand, I was glad to see him. Apparently the guys back at the house had figured out the Jason Crenshaw thing too, and Derek was the cavalry. Not bad cavalry, either. No John Wayne, but it worked.

* * *

I finally read the letter my dad had written to me just before he was murdered. I cried when I read it. I'd never given him a chance before he was dead, but he'd loved me.

And apparently he'd loved Jason Crenshaw. Enough to try to find his alleged killer, enough to die trying. Crenshaw had come back to try to keep anyone from realizing that he was the one who'd killed Robert Boyle. In the process, he'd tried to kill me.

Derek asked me what was wrong a couple of days ago. I finally told him. It wasn't easy. Fortunately, Derek isn't the type who shocks easily. He tells me Crenshaw only did it to throw me off balance, to keep me from figuring things out earlier.

I don't believe him. When Crenshaw asked me to join him, asked me if I'd care to spend eternal life hanging out with him, the thing is, he meant it. And no matter what Derek thinks, Crenshaw was surprised when I kissed him the first time.

Crenshaw said he saw a lot of my dad in me. That was just before he asked me to join him.

I'll never know, but maybe he really had loved my dad.

Because, you know, I think that seeing my dad in me was why he'd come back after the first time, why he'd told me he felt that way about *me* the night before he almost killed me. I think he'd started out trying to blindside me, but it wound up being something else, and that part was my doing.

Well, I've always thought there were a lot of things that Derek goddamn Raynes, Ph.D., who isn't always quite as psychic as he thinks he is, has never needed to know.

And maybe that should be one of them.