The man had done so much - such evil, that Philip had not been able to bring himself to absolve the man of his crimes. How could he, when the man had clearly felt no remorse? Not even a small amount of responcibility for his murdering rampages. His taking - without remorse - of innocent lives. No mercy, no regrets. No sorrow.
But Father Philip Callaghan felt his sorrow, carried it for him; maybe that was why Philip hadn't been able to resolve the monster the man had become. Oh yes, the priest carried Ravenwood's sorrow and many more - all of the sadness of countless lives ended needlessly, too soon.
Except his own.
Even now - now that Ravenwood's spirit was finally locked in Hell where it belonged, Philip carried the weight of his decision. A decision that had cost at least one innocent girl her life. And had almost cost much more than that, so much closer to home.
Rachel, Alex, Derek - Nick - all alive because the Legacy had done what the church, thorugh him, had been unable to do...stop Ravenwood and his tormenting soul from harming anyone else.
Stop Philip himself from becoming a vessel for the spirit's rebirth. His plan had gone wrong and instead of trapping the evil spirit, Ravenwood had been stronger and had taken over Philip's body instead.
If Derek hadn't been there...
So he stayed away from that life for now; stayed on the island with the Legacy. Away from churches, away from the priesthood, wearing old jeans and doing the menial tasks that the grounds staff had protested was unnecessary for the gentle young man to bother with. That is, until Nick or Derek, had taken the kind-hearted aside and then they left him alone.
He needed this, this hands-on, back to basics connection to himself. Needed something to do with his hands that would occupy his body while leaving his mind free to roam without the need to make weighty decisions.
Decisions that would come with a price. Would affect lives.
And indirectly, his own.
So, for now, he larbored...
...praying, without knowing he prayed, that eventually he would find the answers and the balance he so desperately needed.
Give him time.
Derek had been comforting him with those words for days now. And so every time Nick would get this urge to go check on his friend he found himself heeding the older man's words and would wind up doing something else instead. Working, katas, running - Nick could legitamently say he'd been over every inch of the island in the last three days.
Tinkering, like he was now, head stuck under the hood of the Mustang, ostensibly to tweek the engine into purring.
Who was he kidding? She was a kitten now; any more and she'd end up growling at him when he threw the balance off by over attention.
Rest - that's all he needs.
But Nick didn't agree. Something inside the ex-SEAL had been prompting him to restlessness ever since Philip returned to the House for an extended 'rest' away from the bustle of the city.
And the reminder of the church.
Derek could say all he wanted that the priest only needed to rest, be given more time; that he was only there for a brief respite against the public and the press before he would return to his old self, though, hopefully he would keep in better contact with the Legacy from now on.
Wrong. That was wrong. But if pressed, Nick couldn't say why for sure, or how he knew so strongly that it was more than that, this time. This time, Philip needed more healing than time and self-direction could give him.
Wiping hands made dirtier moreso by the rag than any contact with the engine, Nick straightened resolutely, lowering the hood with a decisive thunk and put what little tools he'd gathered away. Philip may not need to talk, but he did. He'd said a few things that, at the time, he'd felt strongly about; and still did. But calling out his friend's faith in his chosen belief system had been a mistake. While he firmly believed the priest had done the right thing by leaking Ravenwood to the cops, Philip had seen it only as a betrayal of a sacred trust, and God knew he didn't need Nick's self-righteous attitude picking him apart.
There were enough pitfalls between the church and the Legacy for the man to fall into as it was and Nick had no intentions of shoving him face first into one. If Philip still wanted to juggle both vocations (for the Legacy was as much a vocation as the church) then it was up to his friends, starting with himself, to help him walk the wire.
With an inward chuckle Nick admitted that it had taken him a long time to work his way to that conclusion; no doubt Philip would be proud once he confessed it.
That thought in mind, Nick made his way along the cliffside path until it wound further inland, away from the bay. With the help of the servants, groundstaff mostly, Nick had managed to keep a fairly unobtrusive eye on the young priest, knowing that by now he was probably in his usual brooding spot; if not the gardens, then the stables, working with the horses.
He found him in the big barn, the horses - all three of them - already turned out and grazing happily in their own little pasture. The doors were open, allowing the breeze off the bay but it was around noon and the heat of the day, having burned off the fog a couple of hours ago, was starting to make itself felt. Working in just a what used to be a white tank undershirt and jeans, Philip was pitching hay from one end of the barn to the other, away from the opposite wall. The moves were mechanical; definitely with the body language of someone with his mind on something other than the work he was doing.
Or with something on his mind. It was clear to Nick that, not only had Philip not been able to start solving his troubles here, he'd not even managed to get away from them.
Well, they would just have to see about changing that. Opening his mouth, Nick never saw it coming.
Philip turned at an inarticulate grunt to see Nick standing there, a bit of hay clinging to his hair and shoulders where Philip had obviously thrown the last pitch. An impulsive chuckle bubbled up from his throat at the shocked and slightly incredulous look on the ex-SEAL's face.
Forgetting whatever else he had been about to say, he simply responded to that smile, letting old times direct the words. "So you think that's funny, do yah?"
"Well, now that you mention 't, " Philip laughed, "Yeah - I do."
"Yah?" Far from being angry, Nick had been trying to get a smile much less a laugh out of his grieving friend for days, and if it took getting a face full of hay, so be it. He'd take it.
Oh, they would still have to talk, but later. Best to take the laughter while he could get it.
Of course, it wouldn't due to appear too agreeable. After all, accident or not, Philip was bound to be expecting some type of action. His eyes narrowed and his grin turned saucy, predatory, as he moved in and pushed the priest backwards into a loose hay bail. "How's that?"
Philip only looked up at him, the indigant look he was now wearing sent Nick to grinning so hard that he missed the twinkle flashing in the blue-gray eyes.
"Well y' ruffian - ya might as well help me up."
Holding out a hand, Nick took it, preparing to make amends when Philip suddenly yanked backwards, pulling the unsuspecting bully into the bail beside him. Only before the SEAL could react, Philip was up and running, putting a sturdy beam of wood between them.
"Now that's funny!"
"Yah?" Nick glared, laughing with him. "We'll see about that."
With those ominous words of warning, he launched himself out of the hay, only Philip was already on the move, always keeping something between them as the two men chased each other around the barn.
Nick had never realized that Philip was so agile until the priest had managed to sucessfully avoid every attempt the SEAL had made to corner him. But as they both began to tire, something across the barn snagged his attention. Maneuvering so that the next few 'attacks' would position him just so, Nick bided his time.
As for Philip, he was getting winded pretty quickly now; unlike Nick, Philip didn't rise at the crack of dawn or earlier to run miles every morning. But just one look at the wicked grin on the other man's face was enough to keep him moving. Whatever Nick had in mind for retaliation would not be pretty, but would be more than a simple mis-toss of hay warranted. At the very least, it was bound to be humiliating, Nick would see to that.
On the other hand, as worried as he was about what Nick was planning, Philip hadn't had so much fun in...well, a long time. And Lord it felt good to play again; to laugh again.
Resting with one hand leaning against another support beam, the irishman eyed him warily, running the other, free hand, through dark, sweat-damp hair. The interior of the barn, though the huge doors as well as the loft windows were open to circulate the air, was stifling and smelled heavily of heat and hay.
"What's the matter, Philip?" The taunt came and remained unanswered, Philip saving his breath for running. "Giving up?"
"No. Contemplatin' a peace treaty." Philip grinned back, his chest heaving as he fought to catch his breath. It couldn't hurt to try.
But Nick only shook his head, the grin growing wider, evil, as his eyes all but disappeared. "But what if I don't want peace, Father? What if I want payback?" Immediately Nick winced, cursing himself for the oversight, but Philip didn't seem to catch the title.
Best defense was a good offense. It was obvious thinking hadn't done him any good, so make him react, don't give him time to think.
Philip began to back up hastily as Nick advanced towards him. "Payback? Now Nick...surely..."
Whatever Philip had been about to say was abruptly cut off as the SEAL made an abortive rush for him and Philip - not realizing the danger behind him - backed up one step too far. His hands up in a futile gesture to ward the charging man off, his knees hit the side of the horses' water trough; arms whirling wildly as he tred to regain his balance. He might have succeeded...
...that is, if Nick hadn't walked up and calmly placed a palm on the priest's chest, tipping him over.
With an involuntary yelp, Philip fell backwards, hitting the water and going under with a loud splash. He emerged to the boisterous sound of laughter and peered through his wet hair to see Nick Boyle a few feet away, actually gasping for air and holding his sides.
"Now tha' - that's payback!"
"Oh yeah?" Spotting something out of the corner of his eye, Philip grabbed it while Nick was still laughing and, before the helpless SEAL could react, drenched him with the bucket of cold water. "So's this!"
While Nick was still wiping the water out of his eyes, Philip launched himself in a flying tackle, bringing them both down in a large corner pile of hay, rolling them around in it, getting the mess all in Nick's hair and clothes, ignoring his own, before he was off and running again.
"That's it! That's it, Philip! You're dead!"
"In yer dreams, SEAL-boy! Y' have t' catch me first!"
Open-mouthed Nick watched the other man, older by a couple of years, skitter around a center beam. Sputtering, he could only sit, half drenched and hay clinging to his shoulders. "SEAL-boy? SEAL-boy?"
Could only sit and stare, that is, before his sense of humor (not to mention a finely honed sense of getting even) caught back up to him.
"Orf, orf orf!" Philip clapped both hands together, grinning from a few safe feet away.
Safe in theory, only. Nick's own smile definitely eclipsed the former and the added demonic twist sent Philip shifting back into deeper cover. Not deep enough. Time for a lesson on the fine art of ambush.
"Hey, Nick? Why d' walruses go t' Tupperware parties?"
Despite himself, Nick felt himself grinning.
"T' find a tight seal."
Laughing, he shifted and dodged, watching the punster as Philip dodged the other way, face red and snickering. "Oh, baaaad! Hey, Philip? What do a Christmas tree and a priest have in common?" Waiting from his face until he almost had it, Nick supplied helpfully, "Their balls are just for decoration."
"Ahh!" The groaning scream followed a halt as Philip turned and advanced back the other way. "Nicholas, I'm goin' t' kick your ass!"
The tide turning at that warning, Nick beat a hasty retreat with Philip hard on his heels, up the ladder and into the upper loft, sliding on hay as he skidded with a little too much speed around one of the inner beams. "You haven't got - oof!"
The rest of the taunt was tackled out of him in a whoof of air as Philip attacked, knocking the surprised SEAL to the ground. The man was everywhere, his height advantage giving him reach as Nick bucked, squirmed and twisted, trying to dislodge his captor without hurting him. But Philip was determined and held on, rolling them around until he once again had the upper hand and Nick lay pinned in the hay beneath him.
One minute they were trading good natured insults and threatening bodily harm and the next...
...the next, their mouths met, unplanned, unexpected; soft and sweet, taste and texture. Philip lay above him, Nick's own fingers caught and tangled in the hands that held them, legs tangled where the lighter man saught to keep him down. A tingle, like a shock, threaded through him, sending his mouth closer, wanting more of that contact, the taste, the pressure.
More of Philip.
Silence. Utter silence; not a word spoken, breath returned in short gasps as their lips parted and two sets of bewildered eyes, blue-gray and green met and searched.
Silence. And then...
"Did you mean it?"
Maybe it was the sudden lack of oxygen that prompted, "What?"
"The kiss - did you mean it?"
Rocked by the quiet question, Philip was all too painfully reminded of who and what he was. And who he was with.
He couldn't do this. It wouldn't be fair. "Nick, I...I -I...I mean, th' church..."
Beneath him, Nick turned to stone; the open expression that had made him appear so vulnerable before, so young, closing down, shutting him and everything else out. "Z't's ok. I understand." The self-loathing in the flat tone as he tried to turn away twisted his heart.
No - no you don't. Philip wanted to scream it but he couldn't get the words past the lump in his throat at even a whisper.
Dear God. He loved him. Knew it in a burst of clarity so pure that the only thing keeping him from a spontaneous confession was the lump that threatened now to steal his breath.
When Ravenwood had used his body to almost kill Nick...the only thing Philip had thought about was his brother lying in the dirt of the basement floor, unconscious and bleeding, the shovel that knocked him out now being used to dig his grave. How easily it would have been for the priest to kill Ravenwood, to damn his own soul to Hell for all eternity if only to save his friends.
How could he tell the only person who had meant so much to him - his best friend, a brother - that he would gladly give everything up if only that same man would, could look at him the same way? More than friends. Friends never felt like this, this need to be near him; the way Nick took all of his pain and made the agony bearable, if only with a look?
But the only thing he could think of was the church; the censure he would receive if he ever dared take that step.
Looking into green eyes gone dull, suddenly...suddenly the church didn't mean as much to him as erasing the pain his indecison had caused. He didn't know where he would end up, the church or the Legacy; right now, at this moment, he didn't care. It was his job to ease the suffering, dammit, not to be the cause of more of it in the world and especially not in the people he held the most dearly. Somehow, someway...God would make it right.
Sometimes you just had to go a little on faith.
"Screw th' church." The grim smile easing at the stunned look, Philip nodded. "I meant 't."
The walls cracked again for the second time that day, hesitant but there. "Yeah?"
Another smile - broad if somewhat shy - answered it. "Yeah."
"I - thanks." Low and hoarse, gathering his wits from the most welcomed admission, Nick managed to answer with, "But I'd rather you screw me."
"Nick!" That shocked a laugh out of him and Philip drew back a little, the action allowing him a better view of Nick's mischeivious grin. "You did that on purpose!"
Borrowing a line, he answered, "Yah - but I meant it."
The young priest's grin drew up again shyly, but it was open and his heart was in it. "N' so did I."
"Then kiss me again?"
An embarrassed chuckle informed him shakily, "You kissed me!"
Looking up at the blushing man above him, Nick looked thoughtful for a moment; then, "Okay." And his lips were moving upwards, catching, grazing. Pulling back slightly, stretching into a grin before moving again, arching up, this time to be met in equal distance by Philip who instictively lowered until he lay, resting lightly, on the body stretched out beneath him.
He felt strong arms folding up, surrounding him. Nick's hands bunched into cloth as his fingers saught the warmth of skin beneath, smoothing out again to cover as much territory as possible in the journey up and down along the hard back.
For his part, Philip, no longer divided for the first time in weeks, was simply content to curl down and kiss.
He had been right. Nothing had ever felt like this - this sudden, undeniable need to be a part of him, to breathe the same breath, share the same skin. It shot a bolt of pure pleasure through his body and scared the hell out of him. He had no clue what he wanted, he simply wanted everything. Everything and anything this man could give him and he wanted to return it the same way. Nothing in his life had ever prepared him for this; it was scary, intense - and he couldn't get enough.
Breaking the kiss with great reluctance rather than pass out, Philip rested his head along one shoulder, feeling Nick's arms around him, his fingers as they trailed random patterns along his spine as his own brushed the outside of Nick's ribs. Both men content to simply lay there, soak up the new closeness they had discovered, he realized he hadn't felt home like this in - forever.
Grounded, secure. Safe. Emotional safe.
"You don't have to be alone anymore, Philip."
The whisper in his ear made him shiver, but not with cold. The pledge, so close to his own thoughts, held such promise, such understanding that he was dizzy with it.
"Thank you." It seemed so inadequate for what he was feeling but that was all he could think to say. But Nick understood. The smile in his voice didn't have to been seen to be heard.
"I - I want..."
"What?" Nick's smile was happy, green eyes sparkling; what could be seen of them escaping beyond the fringe of lashes hiding them as the ex-SEAL admired his blushing friend. That particular shade of firecracker red was spectacular and, although it wasn't quite Philip's best color, Nick found the shy blush made the priest look totally adorable, urging, "Tell me."
But he couldn't say it and Philip bit his lip uncertainly.
Nick reached up and brushed the shorter hair back from his face, missing the longer strands that used to make their way into Philip's eyes, and whispered again. "Tell me, Philip. What do you want?"
The blush was back, brighter than ever, but this time the priest managed to meet his eyes and give Nick what he wanted. "You. I want you..."
"You have me, Philip." The smile turned into a light flush of his own as Nick admitted wryly, "You have for a long time."
"I - I mean..."
But Nick shushed him, a finger to his lips. "I know."
A half smile drifted down at him as he admitted, "That's good, because I don' know what I mean."
To his surprise, Nick nodded thoughtfully. "I came here to talk. About what's been goin' on." At Philip's attention, he admitted, "I'm sorry for hasslin' yah about the cops. I shouldn't have done that, you were right."
Blue-gray eyes closed and Philip took a deep breath, letting it out again. "Thank you. That means alot, Nick."
"I know." Not wanting to get too serious just yet, that said and over with, Nick let the humor creep back into his voice. "But, now, I didn't expect this..."
"Y' mean y' didn' come here t' seduce me?" Philip shifted back a little in horror, grin keeping the joke in the words. "What is the world comin' to?"
"Oh, sure, if I thought I could get away with it," he agreed readily.
You can. "I think tha' c'n be arranged..." Suiting actions to words, Philip slowly lowered his head, lips almost there to touch, their breaths already mingling...
Just as Nick's cellphone rang.
Growling and glaring at the badly timed interruption, the security chief wiggled around to reach his back pocket since it was clear that Philip had no intention of helping seeing as it meant moving off of Nick's body. Grunting and straining, Nick tolerated the smirk until he bucked up suddenly and got a gasp from Philip as their hips connected, spreading a new pulse of arousal through their bodies..
"Serves you right..." he whispered snickering as he hit the button. "Hello?"
Philip waited as Nick sat up, now that he could, using the opportunity to feast all he wanted on the sight of Nick's body in profile. Months worth of stolen peeks and nocturnal imaginings hadn't even come close.
"You got it. Yah, he's here. The barn. Trouble?" The SEAL smirked over at him. "No trouble, just pitching hay. You got it, boss man." With that, he disconnected, getting to his feet and offering a hand up. "That was Derek; meeting in twenty minutes."
"What seems t' be the problem?" Accepting the hand, Philip followed him up, disappointed that their moment seemed to be over.
"Not sure. Somethin' about London. Sloan's needing some help."
"May I come with you?"
"I was kinda counting on it." The low, seductive tone made no mistake that it wasn't the meeting Nick was referring to. Add to that, the fact that Philip couldn't see his eyes, the grin was so wide, and the young priest rolled his own. "Yer hopeless."
"Hopeful." Came the automatic correction.
Shaking his head, Philip distracted himself by running his fingers through his hair, trying without much success to dislodge most of the hay their roughhousing had produced. Nick wasn't in any better shape, but as short as Philip's was, his was shorter.
Moving in close, the younger man placed a hand on each shoulder, holding him still before reaching up to pluck several stubborn pieces that Philip had missed. Closing his eyes, he had to remember to breathe while the SEAL was so close. He could feel the extra heat burning into him, sense the stillness as Nick regarded his handy work. See, when he opened his eyes, the change in expression as those eyes began carressing him on their own.
Damn Derek and that meeting anyway!
Nick must have seen the thought because he was smiling that smug grin that always managed to do evil things to his heart and stomach, not to mention the simple act of breathing. Leaning up and in closer, Nick brushed his lips; a light kiss, meant to savor, to promise. "Later. This isn't over yet."
But the head of security only lit up, mischieviously. "Nah." Hands and fingers trailing down the softness of worn cotton, Nick surprised him with a possessive hand ghosting over the crotch of his jeans, stroking once before delivering a demonstrative squeeze. "That's teasing!"
The only sounds heard were that of feet clattering at breakneck speed down the loft ladder, threatening curses hurled towards the man in the lead...
...and laughter that sang on the wind, chasing away the shadows in the bright midday sunlight.