Nick opened his email looking for something that said he would work this week. This hiatus stuff is killing me. Nothing to do, nowhere to go. No anyone to hit on. He sighed and opened the window, scanning the names to find a familiar one waiting.
Yes, Margo, blessed angel of things to do. He quickly opened that one, maximizing it to read it easier. Trust exercise? What's that? He read it again.
Nick, Tues., nine PM, bar. Trust exercise.
He shrugged and looked around his apartment. He needed to find some clean clothes and take a shower in the hour or so he had left.
Nick knocked on the office door before sticking his head around. "Hey, got the message." The Major waved him in to a seat. "So, what's up?"
The Major, Matt, looked over the top of his paperwork. "We're doing a trust exercise. It pulls the team closer together, makes us trust each other." He put down the papers, lining them up neatly. "I take it you've never been part of one before?"
Nick briefly thought about trying to bs his way through this, but he knew the man in front of him would know, and it was bad to disappoint the Major. Being kicked off the team wasn't as worrisome to him as gaining the trust and respect of the people he worked with. "No. What's going to happen?"
Matt smiled. "Oh, you'll find out." He picked paperwork back up and looked at it. "Downstairs in an hour. And no drinking beforehand."
"Yes, sir," Nick said and stood up. He went down to the bar, trying his usual pickup lines on a few of the women with his usual effectiveness, nothing. He sipped a virgin mixed drink and danced the time away.
By the time he got downstairs he was more than a little anxious. He knew he trusted the people who would be in this room with his life; but did they do the same for him? Benny Ray thinks I'm some demented child, Margo just thinks I'm annoying. Deke's okay, but he doesn't really like me. I know the only reason Matt took me on was because of the guy on high telling him it was a good idea. Damn, I can not screw this up for anything. I don't want to lose these people; I'm comfortable here, it's like a new home with all of us as sick little kids fighting for the right to fire the biggest gun. He snorted at his thoughts before looking around to make sure he was alone. When he saw he was the first one down there, he sat down on one of the couches in the briefing room to wait.
He waited for quite a while, the sugar from the mixed drink making him
sleepy. Where is everyone? Matt did say down here, didn't
he? Nick settled himself more comfortably into the couch, wiggling
around to miss the spring that usually got him, finally falling to sleep
helped by the knockout drops he had unknowingly swallowed.
The rest of the group came out, smiling. "Let's do this people," Matt said and bent over the sleeping man to check on him, just in case. Once he nodded, Nick was picked up and carried out the back door to the waiting van.
Nick opened an eye, looking around at the blank room around him. He tried to move, but the cold metal around his wrists and legs stopped him; as did the cool air blowing across his skin. He turned his head, looking over at the person sitting beside his bed. "Hey, what's going on?" he asked Deke.
"This is part of the trust exercise. You have to trust us to know what's best for you and what you want and need. Just lay there and enjoy it, man, 'cause you will never do anything like this again."
Nick swallowed hard, his mouth suddenly dry but full of spit where his tongue was swelling. He turned his head, looking around the rest of the room to get any clues. It's all dark. Nothing. Can't see anything. How did they get me here, get me tied up like this? "Um, Deke, how did I get here?"
"Van," was all the tall black man said before disappearing back into the heavy shadows surrounding him and the bed.
A voice came out of the darkness. "Are you ready?"
Nick looked around trying to find the source of the sound, or even the person who said it. "Come on guys, this is not funny."
"It's not meant to be funny," Margo said from the left side of the bed. "It's meant to show you that you can trust us with all that you are and everything that you do." She stepped forward. "Now, the question was, are you ready?"
Nick drew in a deep breath. If it means I get to stay... "Yeah," he said, taking a deep breath. "I'm ready. Bring it on."
Matt laughed. "Oh, it's not like that. Nothing at all like that." He stepped out and smiled down at the confined man. "This isn't a test, this is an honor; but you still need to go through with it. Do you understand?"
"What are the rules," Benny Ray said from behind Margo.
"Rules?" Nick asked, turning to look at Benny Ray.
"No rules. We need to let him know he can trust us. Whatever gets the job done is right." Matt Sheppard stepped back into the shadow's. "I leave him to you, Benny Ray. Guide him gently." They could all hear his footsteps leaving the room, heard the door open and close again.
Margo stepped forward. "You have a choice here. You can have all three of us, or just Benny Ray since the Major put him in charge."
Nicky thought about it. To be at the mercy of all of them or just the aggressive man standing beside the bed. "I... I don't...." He swallowed hard.
"(buzzer noise) Time's up." Deke stepped out and smiled. "Margo, I do believe we have a plane to catch if we want to get to Texas to see our friends." He held out a hand and she took it. "Later," he threw over his shoulder on the way out, wiggling his finger's over his shoulder.
"Have fun boys, and play good and be safe," Margo said, walking out after giving each of the men a pat on the head.
Benny Ray looked down at Nick and smiled. A sharp, predatory smile. "So, we're alone now." He walked slowly around the bed, taking in the body laid out for him. "What am I going to do with you? Hmm, I could make you fight me until I wear you out, or I could do it the frat house way." His smile got bigger as he started to smell the fear coming off the younger man. "Or I could do this my way."
"Very good choice," Benny Ray said and walked back into the shadows, whistling. When he came back, he was carrying a tray, covered by a towel, and a small bag. He carefully laid the bag beside the bed on the floor and laid the tray on the small stool he rolled from under the bed.
Nick looked over, straining to see what was on the tray. He got cuffed upside his head for it. "Hey!"
"No, not yet." Benny Ray leaned over, putting his face very close to Nick's. "Not until I say so. Do you understand me?" Nick nodded, fear present in his eyes. Benny Ray took pity on him, sitting down between his spread feet. "Now then, do you want to know what's going on?" Nick nodded again. "Okay. I am going to teach you to trust me. For the next day you will be entirely under my control. Everything you do is under my control. That means that I feed you, I give you water to drink, I do anything and everything for you and all you have to do is trust me to do it."
"That doesn't sound so hard."
Benny Ray held up a finger. "Ah, but it is because it means I can do whatever I want to you, whenever I want. You have no say in your own care. None."
"So that means if I need to drink, I have to ask you?"
"If you need to drink, to eat, to eliminate. Anything you need, I have to give to you. When I feel you need it and not before."
"So Mr. Guns is going to go dominant over little Nicky?" Nick asked sarcastically.
Benny Ray smiled and held up a finger. "There's also the matter of me. I can give you what I think you need. You won't be able to ask for anything. Nothing, do you understand?"
"What?!? You mean I'm gonna be gagged or somethin'? Not a chance!" He struggled to get out of the bonds. "Let me out."
Benny Ray just sadly shook his head. "I can see you're going to be harder than CJ was." He laughed a little. "But you're nowhere near as mouthy as that man was." He patted Nick's leg and got up to walk away.
Nick knew the first real fear of his life. He was about to be
left alone in a dark warehouse tied to a bed by his limbs. He couldn't
catch his breath, couldn't breathe in at all. He started to pant,
trying to make a sound to bring his only savior back.
Little did he know that Benny Ray was standing not a foot away from the bed in the shadows, watching him struggle. That the older man was watching his first panic attack in years. That he had purposely induced it to test him, to check out his reactions.
"Let it go," came the gentle command.
Nick tried to fight it, tried to fight for his breath, but nothing would come. He made a sound, trying to talk, to call, but only a squeak came out. He thrashed trying to loosen the bonds that held his chest too tightly. His vision was starting to black out when he felt the gentle hand on his head, stroking him, calming him.
Benny Ray couldn't take it anymore. Not only had Nick's profile been right, it had been too little. He quickly came over to the bed, laying a hand on the flushed and sweaty forehead to calm the younger man. "Ssshh, it's all right. I'm not leaving you alone. I'm still here." He could kill Matt Sheppard for having him do this to Nick. The man was supposed to trust him to not hurt him, to take care of him. How was he going to build that trust now, when he had allowed the panic attack to happen?
"Nick, listen to me. I'm here." He held the younger man's head still. "I'm here. You can see me, hear me, right?"
Can't... Nick closed his eyes, the presence near him not doing anything to help him come back. This was something he had to fight through on his own. He tried to start the breathing exercise the doctor had shown him, but nothing was working. He opened his eyes and begged, silently, to be helped. His vision was still tunneled, but he could see Benny Ray there with him again.
Benny Ray leaned down, placing his mouth near the dark ear. The bluish tint to the earlobe disturbed him. He had to bring Nick back now. "Listen to me. You aren't alone. You're here with me. Right now, right here." He took a deep breath, blowing it across the tender flesh, making Nick flinch. "See, you could feel that, that shows that you're not alone."
They worked together to bring the younger man back to the present. Nick's breathing shallowed out, a little fast and panting still, but returning closer to normal. Benny Ray kept up his efforts, tenderly wiping off the sweat and stench of fear that had rolled off him not very long ago. They got Nick calmed down, together, and focused.
Benny Ray sat back at the foot of the bed. "Better?" Nick nodded. "Want to talk about it?" He shook his head. "Didn't think so. Happen often?"
"No," Nick croaked, his throat sore from it's prior exertions. "Not really."
Benny Ray smiled. "I'll tell the Major he's an ass for you." At the shocked look, he nodded. "I wouldn't have done that, I know better. My sister had them." He shrugged. "It was Matt's idea, once he saw your profile."
Nick nodded. "I haven't had one in years, but yeah it's in there." He took one last deep breath and let it out slowly. "So, what was the purpose of that little exercise?"
Benny Ray shrugged. "Same as the rest of it I guess. I'm not the shrink on the staff. Margo's better at that stuff."
"You're just the trigger man, right?"
Benny Ray started to laugh and held up a cup. "Yup. Thirsty?" Nick nodded so he scooted closer, leaning over Nick's torso, to slip the straw into his mouth. He waited while Nick drank deeply, sucking down the fluid like he wasn't going to get anymore. "Better?" he asked as he pulled back, gently brushing his sleeve down Nick's chest.
Nick's heart rate speeded up. Oh, man, it must have been a long time for us if he's doing that to me with just a simple little brush of his sleeve. But then again, it's been a while since I had a man too. I wonder if that was in my file too. "Um," he cleared his throat. "Anyway, so how long are you my jailer?" That's it wise-ass, cover it up with humor. Just like always. See how far it gets you. Especially when we're naked. "And can I have a blanket? Please? I don't' want anything to freeze off."
Benny Ray smiled and laid the cup on the floor before taking off his outer shirt. "Nope, don't have any." He gently laid the flannel over the chilled body. "Better?"
"Yup, thanks." Nick shifted some. "You never answered the first question."
"Yeah, I did. Earlier." He stood up. "And now, I gotta go do something over there. Yell if you need me."
"I thought I couldn't ask."
"But I'm not a mind reader. That's Deke." Benny Ray smiled and retreated back into the shadows where he belonged. The first thing he did was disable the camera.
It was very late in the night, or very early in the morning depending on how you looked at it, when the inevitable finally happened. Benny Ray said he was tired and there was only the one bed.
"But at least you won't be cold anymore," the older man had joked before crawling up the body under his and snuggling down next to it. "Hit me if I get too friendly."
Nick laughed. "Oh, like I can do that." He rattled the chains. "I don't suppose you have the key," he asked, but before the words were all out of his mouth he could feel the soft hair on the hard head shaking no. "Damn. I can't sleep on my back."
"Side?" Nick nodded. "Well, we might be able to arrange something." He shifted the chains some, making Nick's mouth open wide in shock. "Yeah, they're connected together." He rearranged them until Nick was able to lay on his side on the narrow bed. "Better?"
"Yeah, much." He closed his eyes and tried to pillow his head on his arm. "Don't we even have a sheet?"
Benny Ray shook his head no.
Again the head shook.
"Food, enema kit in case I wanted to torture you with it. First aid kit. Water jugs. My clothes." Benny Ray didn't even open his eyes. "Margo got her test in the woods, we had to forage." He chuckled softly. "That was quite a trip, you would have liked it."
Nick smiled. "Oh, I'm sure I would have. All that fresh air, the pained agony of a chained up Margo Vincent." He laughed softly.
"Nope, only chains for you and Chance." He patted the shoulder
sticking up, noticing the cool temperature. "You are cold, aren't
you." Benny Ray rolled out of the bed and stood up. He stripped
off his clothes and laid them over Nick while he adjusted the chains so
he could lay in front of the younger man. He was muttering something
about wearing more clothes next time when the knock came at the door.
Fortunately he was still in his jeans. "Be right back
Don't move or make a sound."
Benny Ray headed for the door, having memorized the location earlier. He slid open the rusty door, making the tracks squeal. "Yeah Major?"
Matt Sheppard walked in and smiled. "Well, it seems to be going well."
"And we'll thank you to leave now," Nick yelled after he heard who it was. "And that was cruel, what you made him do earlier."
Benny Ray just looked at the floor and shook his head.
"Let me guess, things went according to plan?"
"Sir, with all due respect, I've got it under control. He and I are getting along great and he's recovered fully from his attack earlier." Benny Ray looked up. "And I agree with him, it was cruel to do that to him. He coulda died."
Matt patted his arm and walked further into the warehouse, smiling as he saw Nick on his side. "Playing well together?" he asked as he stepped out of the shadows.
Nick wanted to flip him off so bad for making Benny Ray do that earlier. "Why? Did you want us to?"
Matt dropped the little bundle on the mattress and stepped back. "I just heard it's supposed to get down into the thirties tonight. I wouldn't let either of you freeze."
"Thanks Major," Benny Ray said as he undid it and laid out the contents. "Now, if we could get a few pillows in here....." He left the rest unsaid as he saw the smile. "What?" His eyes narrowed. "Oh, please tell me we aren't going to be here more than tonight."
Nick groaned and tried to hide his head in his arm. "No, not happening. This has got to be a nightmare," he chanted over and over.
"Seems Margo and Deke ran into some problems in Texas. Trout has asked me to go take care of it." Matt shrugged. "But, I'm allowing this to go on until I get back at a different location."
"You mean like a house?" Nick asked hopefully.
Matt just tossed the keys to Benny Ray and smiled. "Oh, and CJ's at the bunker. Seems his newest former girlfriend wasn't happy about him not wanting to join the family business of gun running."
Benny Ray smiled. "Well, the man did know how to pick the bad ones." The two older men shared a laugh and Matt went away. Benny Ray turned to look at his captive. "So, what's your place like?"
"I thought you'd been there," Nick said, looking over his shoulder. Benny Ray shook his head. "That's right. Your sister needed you at home that day I moved. Sorry."
The older man smiled. "That still doesn't answer my question."
"Well, let's see. It has heat, hot and cold running water. Cable, Cinamax and Showtime. Food, big bed, soft big bed with pillows and matching blankets and sheets."
Benny Ray leaned over and put a hand over the running mouth. "Okay, yes or no, can we do this there?"
Nick closed his eyes and thought. His antique four poster bed, the one without a scratch on the wood. "Only if you promise not to hurt the bed," he said through the hand. Benny Ray raised an eyebrow. "It's an antique in great condition."
Benny Ray nodded and removed his hands, digging through the key ring until he found the right one for the shackles. He carefully undid each one, rubbing the tired and almost numb flesh right after it was freed. He helped Nick sit up, holding onto him until his balance returned and grabbed their clothes.
Nick dressed in record time, before walking over and looking at Benny's watch over his arm. "We should be just in time for the Emmanuelle festival." They laughed and packed the stuff up carefully, carrying it out to the car and storing it.
Nick got the box out of the closet, handing it over. "Here, these will be better on the bedposts and won't scratch."
Benny Ray raised an eyebrow and opened the box. Just like what was advertised on the front, he pulled out the sets of padded handcuffs. "And we have these..." He let the rest of the sentence drop off.
"Because one of my ex-girlfriends liked them," Nick said and shrugged. He laid down on the bed, earning a frown. "What?"
"Can't I at least keep on my boxers?"
Nick gritted his teeth and stripped while Benny Ray went to answer the intruding doorbell. "Who is it?"
"CJ," came the softly accented call from the living room. "Are you still decent?"
Nick quickly pulled back up his boxers, which hadn't made it past his knees. "Yeah." He sat down on the bed, plumping up the pillows to make a better back rest. "Come in."
"Oh, if you insist." CJ led the way, peeking around the door first to make sure. "Hey, so you're that Nick bloke everyone's told me about."
They shook hands.
"Yeah, apparently I fill the smart ass role now." He grinned. "I heard that used to be your job."
CJ laughed and turned to Benny Ray. "Oh, he's got the role filled well too." He scooted Nick's feet over and sat on the bed. "So, how did you come to meet my mates?"
"Well, let's see. There was this sting to catch crooked Marshals and I was posing as the bad guy." He smiled and looked over at Benny Ray. "And he was mean to me. The rest was just a fairy tale waiting to happen."
The two older men laughed. "Oh, I don't remember it quite that way," Benny Ray said. "I remember having to chase you because you got away to go buy a suit, then getting a hotel room shot up, then listening to you bait one of the Marshals." He looked over at CJ. "The only person who ever gave us as much trouble was you, and he's picking better women."
CJ blushed. "It's not my fault I'm drawn to the sticky ones."
Nick laughed, covering his mouth when Benny Ray frowned. "What? Margo told me."
"Oh, I'm sure she did," CJ said and sighed. "It'd be just like her."
"After all the crap you gave her? What else would you expect?" Benny Ray walked over to the bed and handed over the cuffs, modified to make them longer. "Here, put them on." Nick nodded and crawled around on the bed to hitch them. "It's his trust test," Benny Ray said in explanation.
"Oh, yes, remember mine very well, thank you." His grin got wider. "And why did you think I just dropped in?"
"Oh, I don't know? Old times sake?" CJ shook his head. "Well, a guy can dream, can't he." Nick finished latching the cuffs and laid back down, plumping the pillows up just the way he liked them and covering himself. "Oh, well. I guess it's time."
Benny Ray nodded and shooed CJ out. "Yup, sure is." He velcroed the cuffs and stepped out of the room. "Be good."
Nick awoke to the feeling of a hand playing with him; and since there was only one other person in the bed, it had to be Benny Ray. "Man, do you know what you're doing?" he asked quietly, just in case the other man was still asleep.
"If your answer is molesting an innocent, I'm leaving you chained up," Benny Ray whispered back. He shifted his hand a little, making Nick moan. "Just lay there and enjoy it like the present it is."
"Yes sir," Nick said and threw a quick salute which turned into grabbing the pillow and moaning in joy. "Thank you sir."
Benny Ray moved closer, inserting just the tip of himself. "Oh, keep that up and I'm gonna do something bad to you."
Nick woke up with a yell, panting. He looked over at the woman next to him, just to make sure he hadn't woken her up, and sighed in relief. He stroked down her firm flesh, sensitive fingers skipping lightly. Oh, now if only... He got himself sitting up, watching her. I know she's going to leave soon. She's been dropping hints lately, too many, and I know she knows. He looked at the bulge in his lap. You know, if she catches you up, you'll have to do something with her or to her. It promptly started to go down.
"Another nightmare?" came a sleep-husky voice.
"Yeah, another one. Go back to sleep. I'm sorry I woke you."
"S'okay. Not the first time." She rolled over, her impressive chest heaving up to lay on his leg. "You okay?"
"Yeah, it wasn't too bad." He wiped off the last of his sweat and smiled. "Nothin' I can't handle."
She hummed, moving closer. "So, would you like to purge that mean nasty memory with a new one?" She moved closer still, placing little love bites on his thigh. "I could give you a new one..." Her offer was cut off by the phone, which made her growl.
"Hello?" Saved by the bell. Thanks, whoever you are. Long pause. "Sure, I can come in. Half hour?" Short pause. "'Kay. Be there." He hung up and looked down at her, contrived smile on his face. "I gotta go to work."
"No other private investigator keeps hours like yours. Not even my brother." She stood up, wrapping the sheet around herself. "I won't be here when you get back."
I know and it's a good thing. You deserve someone better, someone who's not hiding behind you. "I understand. Just leave the key where I can find it." And leave the stereo and tv alone and where they're at.
"Fine," she said and flounced out of the room. She came back a few minutes later, dragging her bag with her. "Maybe next time you'll be more honest with everyone about what you really want." She stomped out of the room.
Nick watched her go with very little sadness. He had known that she knew, had picked up on it after a dream like he had had tonight. He only hoped she didn't spread it around. What would he do if it got back to the team?
He finished dressing, hurrying out the door, wondering why Trout had called him in.
He knocked on the office door, not expecting to see everyone in there. Hadn't Trout said he needed to see me alone? This can only be bad. Margo's giving me that look, I'm in deep shit this time. "So, what's going on?"
"Nick, we need to talk to you," Matt started, waving at a chair.
Oh, damn, somehow they found out. "Okay," he said slowly, sitting as ordered.
"Margo was cleaning her house earlier and found a bug."
Play dumb, it's what they expect, what you've led them to expect from you. "You mean like a roach right?" He didn't like the looks he got, but it was better this way. "Not a roach?"
"Like a listening device," she said. "One of ours."
He started to stand, "I didn't..."
Margo and Matt stopped him. "We know you didn't," the Major said. "She came here to find me, expecting me to be working on the books. Instead she found Trout, listening."
Well, that explains something. Now to find out how much else they know.// "So, like the tapes were destroyed?"
Matt shook his head. "No, Margo and Benny Ray both wanted to find out what was on theirs, how long it had been going on." He shook his head. "I just can't believe that Trout would do something like that. He's not usually that slimy."
"Major, the man was a slime through and through, even if he did fund us," Benny Ray said.
Nick hadn't heard him though. He was lost in the scheming part of his mind. Have to get those tapes destroyed. At least mine. I know there's at least one incidence with a man on there, and a few dreams too. Can't let them know why, they'll make me leave. Don't want anyone to find out, especially not him. Have to get it done before anyone finds out, can't let them know, don't want to leave the team. Their respect means too much to me. Gotta get those tapes. "If it's all right with you, just destroy mine."
Margo shook her head. "We don't know why he made them, but there were more of your's than anyone's. We need to know why he made them, if he made them for others. Was he looking for something or just being a voyeur?" She laid a hand on Nick's arm. "Sorry, but we need to know."
"Can I listen to them myself and destroy them then?"
Matt nodded. "Mostly. Deke or Margo will listen with you to make sure you don't miss anything." He held up a hand to forestall the argument he knew would be coming. "I know we can trust each other, but we need to make sure nothing was going on."
"No," Nick said. "I don't want..."
"Like you've been doing things we haven't," Benny Ray said, shifting uncomfortably. "Hell, there are things on mine I don't want anyone else to know either, but that's not an option. Get over it."
Nick stood up, running his hands through his hair, showing his agitation clearly. "No, and I mean it. There are more things on my tapes than things I don't want people to know about and I don't think it's necessary for mine to be viewed like some evidence in a trial." He walked out of the office, knowing he had just burnt the bridge to his last family.
Matt looked around, seeing the shock. "Okay, someone go after him. He's never been close with me."
"I'll go," Margo said. She jogged out the door, meeting Nick in the alley. "Wait."
"Nope," Nick said as he headed for his car.
"Hold it," she said, grabbing his arm and spinning him around. "Tell me."
"Nothing to tell," he said coolly. "I just don't want them listened to by the others. There are things on there that would make it impossible for some people to be around me. It's better for the team this way." He pulled her close, kissing her gently on the lips. "I gotta go. See ya."
"Why?" Deke said from behind her. "We, or I, know it's not her. So why go?"
Nick didn't even turn around. He opened his car door and threw over his shoulder as he got in, "Think about them for a minute if you think you know." Then he left.
Margo turned and looked at Deke. "But we didn't have a problem with you doing it."
"I'm not into another member of the team." The tall man sighed, rubbing his face. "And he's right, it's better for the team this way. He'll never know what was going on."
Margo shook her head. "It's not better, not for the people on the team." She slid herself into his warm hug. "Not for any of us."
They went back inside to deliver the bad news and the suggestion, each planning on how to fix this.
Nick picked up his cell phone and made two very familiar calls. I've had too much practice with this. The running and moving and becoming someone else. It's time to stop. He drove all night, wandering around, planning his next moves carefully.
to the second story: