by Grasshopper

Chapter 23

This chapter is for all you romantics out there who've been waiting patiently for the sun to shine on my two heroes

Cole couldn't stop looking over at Wes. He had so many questions, but he didn't need the answers right now. All he needed was Wes, who sat fast asleep with a tiny boy cuddled snugly in his lap. The heat in the truck cab pumped up high, Cole hit ten miles above the speed limit, set the cruise control and put as many miles as he could behind them, driving through the cold, cold night.

What had Wes been doing walking out in the freezing night? Where was he coming from? He looked older somehow, squint lines around his eyes, and tired, God, he looked tired. All he'd said when they got in the truck was, "Can I go home now, Cole?"

Luc hadn't said anything, had sat quiet as a mouse, but he reached over, laced his fingers through Wes' big hand and smiled. Wes smiled back at him, the same lop-sided grin. "Luc," he sighed. Luc crawled up into Wes' lap, laid his cheek on Wes' chest and, as if the sound of his heartbeat was all he needed to hear, the boy closed his silver eyes and finally fell asleep.

Off the state roads, taking short cuts, Cole made it home as the pale morning light edged its way into the new day. Pulling into the barnyard,

He cut the engine and just sat, not wanting to wake them up. Albert tapped on the window and Cole rolled it down so they could whisper.

"Thank God! You found him. Is he alright?" Albert asked.

"I don't have any idea, Dad. We were driving along this lonely two lane road and Luc said 'Wes' and pointed into the falling snow. He's so exhausted. I haven't asked him anything."

" I'll go around and get Luc." Albert said, as he rounded the front of the truck. Pulling the door open gently, Cole grabbed onto Wes' jacket and Albert slid his arms around Luc, carrying him into the house. Cole saw his mom opening the kitchen door.

"Wes? Wesley?" he shook Wes' arm, "Come on, baby. Come in the house and we'll get you to bed." Wes opened his eyes, smiled at Cole and slid out of the truck onto the frozen ground.

Taking a deep breath of frigid air, Wes slung his arm around Cole and sighed, "I'll never leave you again."

"I know, it's okay, come on, let's get you in the warm house and out of these wet clothes."

"I have so much to tell you, to explain," Wes mumbled, his feet dragging.

"I know and we'll talk for the rest of our lives, but right now, get in the house, Wesley," Cole tugged at him. Wes had always been much stronger than Cole and it was a struggle to get him to move when he didn't want to.

Sarah flew out the door, a woolen shawl wrapped around her head and shoulders. "Wesley! Come inside! I want you in a hot bath and in the bed right now!" She winked at Cole, and Wes obeyed that 'Mother's Voice'.

Down the hall, into Cole's apartment, Wes fell onto the big bed that Sarah had covered with thick towels and a shiver ran through his body. "Forget the bath, Mom. I'm gonna get these wet clothes off and get him warm."

"But, he needs to get warm quick......................," she trailed off when she realized what Cole meant. "Sure, I'll be in the kitchen if you need anything," Sarah whispered as she closed the door.

Cole pulled Wes' dripping boots and socks off, tossing them across the floor, peeled off his soggy parka and watch cap, his breath escaping in a gasp as he saw the streak of white hair running along a harsh scar through Wes' dark hair. 'Oh, God, what happened to you?' he murmured as he peeled a damp sweatshirt, a flannel shirt and a black t-shirt from Wes' icy body. Finally, he grasped the waistband of Wes' jeans, popped the snap, yanking down the zipper, his thumbs gripped jeans and long johns and peeled the clammy clothes down Wes' long legs. His frown grew when he saw the long jagged scars on Wes' leg. "Come on, baby, crawl under the covers now," he coaxed as he threw the wet towels down and laid a dry one on the pillow. Wes mumbled, "Missed you."

Cole groaned. He yanked his clothes off and slipped into the bed, moving as close as he could, wrapping his arms around Wes, spooning him to his chest.

Pressing every bit of his body against Wes, Cole rubbed gently, his hands making small circles on Wes' cold flesh; his arms, his chest, his ribs, his belly. As his hands caressed lower and lower, he could feel Wes' skin warming, could hear his heart beating. Wes was home! Cole was holding him in his arms, just like he'd dreamed for these years when he'd been alone.

Cole inhaled the rich aroma of Wes's body. It awakened every memory, every remembered touch. He wanted to feel all his senses open up to Wes so that they would belong together again. Licking the little place between Wes' shoulder blades, he tasted the salty flavor of his skin. Suddenly, his body was consumed by a yearning so hot that it couldn't be dampened. "Wes?" he whispered. "Wes, I love you so much."

"Cole?" Wes' sleepy voice reached out to him and Wes rolled over to look into Cole's burning eyes.

"Sorry, Wes, I know you need to sleep. I know how exhaus........................," His next words were cut off by Wes' mouth. Hot tongues, hot hands, bodies straining, grabbing, rubbing, stroking, both cumming so hard, so fast that there was no gentleness, no soft whispered love words...just two men in desperate need of release. Release from the years they had been apart, thinking only of each other.

Lying so close, Cole's face pressed into the niche of Wes' neck, he licked the edge of Wes' ear. "You taste the same," he sighed.

Wes raised his fingers to his tongue from where he'd been rubbing them in the sticky pool on Cole's belly, "You do too." His eyes had turned the color of a newly minted dime and his warm breath touched Cole's cheek. "I'm so sorry for the hurt I've caused. I was coming home, those years ago, I was coming back. I promise, I was coming home." His voice broke and tears ran in rivulets down his face.

"Shhh, sleep now. I'll hold you," Cole sighed as he brushed the tears away with his fingers. "I've got you. Shh, sleep." Rocking slowly, he held Wes with his arms and his legs, sharing his strength and his heart. "Shh, Baby, I've got you."

Cole lay still, holding Wes. At first, Wes was restless in his sleep, muttering and moving, but the more Cole whispered to him, the more he began to relax and finally he slept deeply. Cole drifted off, his hand resting gently on Wes' chest, listening to the rise and fall of his breathing.

Luc made a whooo whooo sound as he blew on his steaming bowl of lentil soup. He sat at the kitchen table with Sarah and Albert at lunchtime, a hunk of homemade sourdough bread and a tall glass of milk completing his meal. "Wes?" he asked, "Daddy?"

"They're asleep, Luc. I think it'll be awhile before they wake up."

"Look," he said, and slid off his chair.

"No, Luc, you're not to go look. You'll wake them up."

"No," Luc said, "Little mouse."

"No," Grandpa Albert said firmly.

Luc's chin quivered. "Look?" he said in a break your heart tone.

"Well, let me go check first," Albert said, not wanting to see the laughter in Sarah's eyes for giving over. He walked softly to the bedroom door and, feeling kind of horrid, he tried to listen without listening. It had been over five hours since Cole had brought Wes home, so they should be umm... sleeping by now. He didn't hear a sound and opened the door just a crack. The sounds of soft snoring caught his ear and he could see two sleeping faces close together on the pillows. He turned to find Luc right behind him. Motioning him to tiptoe, he opened the door a bit wider and the little fella slipped in. Luc, his finger pressed to his lips, tiptoed across the carpet and stood by the edge of the bed. He patted his daddy's face and then walked to the other side, standing silently, just staring at Wesley. Hesitantly, he reached out his small hand and touched the white streak in Wes' hair, then he leaned down and rested his forehead against Wes'. Frowning, he turned and ran from the room, grabbed something from the hallway and ran back to Wes' side. He laid the red-tailed hawk feather on the pillow by Wes' face. "Okay now Wes........okay," he whispered. He backed away from the bed when his grandpa beckoned to him and they closed the door softly behind them.

Wes dreamed. He was soaring high above the rooftops and swooping down close to the old house, over the Harrelson's barn and back up to the cave and the bluffs beyond. He could see far over the horizon and Annie's voice called to him, "Wesley, the boy. Be careful of the bluffs."

He could smell the smoke; hear Callie's voice. He didn't want to go back, not to the darkness. "No, Cole, help me," but Cole couldn't fly, not like Wesley.

Not like the red-tailed hawk. Make your choices, Wes. Make your choices.

The wind picked up, and Wes just cruised with the currents. He could see the fire now, flames blazing up, up into the sky. He could feel the heat, smell the scorching land below. He could hear Luc calling his name, "Wes, Papa, come get me." Wes struggled and he began to feel his wings turning back into arms, his body changing back to human. He began to fall, the fire was raging, devouring everything it touched; eating the old Straihan house. Wes plummeted down, down through the smoke ....................

Then, suddenly, just as he felt the flames licking his face, just as he cried out for Cole, he felt something press against his forehead and the air currents began to lift him. His wings strengthened and he soared up, away from the blaze, away from the heat and the danger. Coasting on the sweet cool high cloud breeze, Wesley Straihan slept peacefully for the first time in his life his head resting on the pillow next to a beautiful red feather.

He awoke to find Cole sitting crosslegged beside him on the bed, the covers thrown back. Slowly, that grin, that lovable lop-sided grin broke across Wes' face and he laughed. "You turn into a perv while I was gone?"

"Nah," Cole smiled, "I just wanted to look at you." His hand brushed lightly against Wes' face, then his chest, coming to rest on his belly. "You couldn't come home, could you?"

Wes sighed, "No. I left here so confused and hurting, but the further I drove, the more I knew you'd never hurt me like that. I turned the car around and was coming back, but there was an accident."

"And you couldn't call and let me come get you and bring you home?" Wes could see the pain in Cole's eyes.

"I wanted to. I wanted to more than anything, but there was a lot wrong with me and I couldn't come home all broken."

Cole frowned. "You remember a time, years ago when we were sitting on the Harrelson's barn waiting for the moon to change and I asked you what you'd do if I fell off?"

Wes answered softly, "I said I'd glue you back together and carry you around on my back."

"Why would you think I'd do any different for you? We talked about forever that night. I will love you forever with all my heart. Don't you know that yet? It's not your pieces and parts I love, it's you...the essence of you. That will never change. Tell me how you were hurt."

Wes closed his eyes and recited, "I broke my right leg in three places." He felt Cole's lips touch the puckered scars that ran across his thigh and calf. "I broke ribs." He felt Cole's fingers caress his sides. "I cut my head open when I hit the windshield." Cole's fingers ran along the scar. "I kinda crunched my knee and I have a new one in there now." Cole began to frown, the pain of what Wes must have gone through just beginning to reach his heart, "And I broke the fingers in this hand," Wes said, touching Cole's face with stiff fingers. "But, those things I could have lived with. It was my eyes." He opened those silver eyes and stared at Cole.

"Tell me."

"They just went black. No one could help me. At first I couldn't see much, then I could see in shades of gray and finally everything was black and white. No color, Cole. Nothing. I couldn't come home like that."

"Does anything hurt now?" Cole asked.

"No, and my eyes changed back suddenly late the other night and I knew it was time to come home. That's why I was walking."

Cole climbed onto Wes' outstretched body and nestled himself into all the nooks and crannies. "What night, Wes?"

"Umm, Christmas Eve. Annie and I were both asleep and ......................"


"The great nurse that let me stay in her house while I was getting well. You'll love her, Cole."

"Okay, how late Christmas Eve?" Cole realized that he knew where this was going. "Was it almost midnight?"

Wes cocked his head, "Yeah, it was. I remember looking at the clock and it was 11:37. I could see the blue digital numbers on the clock and when I turned on the lights I could see colors. Why? How did you know?"

Cole answered in a stunned voice, "Luc was born at 11:37 Christmas Eve five years ago and he woke up the other night, December 24, at 11:37. Wes, his eyes were bright blue when he was born, but on Christmas Eve this year at 11:37 they turned silver just like yours. And that's not all that happened. He never speaks Wes, never. But that night, he said, "Wes coming home." Cole looked into Wes' face expecting to see surprise or astonishment, but all he saw were the tears running from Wes' eyes.

"What, Baby?" Cole laid his hand on Wes' cheek.

"I felt it ... I felt him. Someone whispered to me while I was in the hospital and while I was healing. I knew in my heart it was Luc. He has always been with me since he was born."

Cole shifted his weight, then rolled off to the side. "God, I've missed you."

He moved further down the bed and laid his head on Wes' belly. "Just relax, I'm going to love you for awhile."

Wes chuckled, "I don't think 'relax' and 'love me' belong in the same thought."

His eyes drifted shut and the world narrowed to just the two if them ..... For awhile.

"Okay, it's time for all the questions and all the answers," Cole sighed as they pulled on jeans and sweatshirts, but first, I have a feeling there's a little boy waiting very impatiently for us to come out."

"He's sitting just on the other side of the door," Wes smiled and called, "Luc, get in here." The door opened and Luc ran into the room, straight to his daddy and Wes. "Daddy, Wes." he said quietly.

Wes picked Luc up and sat him on his hip as comfortably as if he'd been with the boy since he was born. He reached over and gathered up the red tail feather, "Thank you." Luc just smiled. Luc put his two small hands on Wes' face and silver eyes met silver eyes.

"I am so sorry, little one."

"Okay, Wes, okay," Luc answered just as solemnly.

Cole watched the close interaction and was amazed. It was as if they each knew what the other was thinking.

"Wes, hand okay?" Luc asked, touching Wes' left hand gently, running his small fingers over the scars.

"How did he know.....?" Cole started to ask and then just shook his head.

After an early hot supper of thick beef stew and cheese bread, Wes knew it was time to tell Cole things that were going to hurt him deeply. How do you tell someone that their twin sister, whom they love, lied and betrayed them? "I think we have a lot to talk about," he said slowly. "Let's go out to the barn. Luc, you need to stay here right now."

Pulling on heavy parkas, Wes and Cole walked across the snow filled barnyard, their boots sinking down into the fresh fall of snow. Whistler whinnied from his big stall and Wes stepped over to feed him a carrot from his pocket. "Hey old boy, remember me?" Crossing over to the smaller working stalls, he turned to Cole. You got a new horse, I see and this is Luc's."

"Yeah, Whistler retired from the ranch work. This is Angel, and Luc named his Hawk."

They sat on the wooden bench near the old Ben Franklin stove and Cole fed it a piece of wood from the pile by the door. "Now, what happened, Wes? I left for school and, all week I felt afraid. When I got home, you were gone."

Wes swung one long leg over the bench and faced Cole. "I came by here to see Callie that Thursday. She was cranky, so I decided not to stay long. She said she had a picture to show me. I thought it was gonna be a picture from when we were all young, but it wasn't."

Wes was quiet so long that Cole nudged him on, "What, Wes? What did she .........Oh my God! Was it a picture of me that looked like I was fuckin' around with some guy?"

Wes jerked his head up from where he'd been staring at the hay on the floor, "How did you know?"

Cole groaned. "Wesley ..... Why didn't you wait and ask me what the fuck that was? Why didn't you trust me? Shitshitshit! All this time, I didn't know what made you leave and it was one of those godawful pictures Lily took."

"Lily? What's Lily got to do with this?"

"Okay, back up, do you remember me telling you that I had a huge problem but you couldn't help me with it? I should have told you right then. Damn! I swear, and you better damn well swear too, right now, that we will never, and I mean never, keep stuff back. Look what it did to us."

"I swear ....God, do I swear, but now explain what you're talking about."

Lily Campbell's party, remember? Well, someone asked her to do something really crappy and she did. She did something to my beer and that's all I remember from that night. At school, the next week, she showed me a picture and told me that there was a whole pile of them plus a video. Since you've already seen one of them, you know it's me and some guy. Lily said that someone wanted to break us up and if I didn't pretend to be her boyfriend, she'd show the video to you and Mom and Dad. I wanted to tell you, but I was scared."

"Okay, I've got all that," Wes said after a few minutes thinking it through, "But, why did Callie have them and why would she hurt us like that?"

Cole shook his head, a crushed look on his face. "What did we ever do to Callie? She's my sister, for God's sake. Wes, do you think Callie asked Lily to do all that?"

"Yeah, I'm so sorry, Cole, but I've thought about this for a long time and the only person who wanted us apart bad enough to do something like this was Callie. I know it hurts."

Cole stood suddenly and paced over to Whistler's stall and back. "Don't ever tell Mom or Dad. It's bad enough that she never comes home or even writes. She never even remembers Luc's birthday."

"Where is she?"

"Last I heard, she was in Paris. Mom sees Lily's mother when the Campbell's come in to check their ranch. Apparently, she and Lily have become quite a pair in Europe."

"The further I drove away from you, the more I just knew that you wouldn't do that, but you know .... How I sometimes get," Wes mumbled.

"Yeah, you get stupid. I would never, I will never abuse your trust. You hear me?"

Wes grabbed Cole by the shoulders and swung him around mid pace hugging him so tightly Cole begged to get loose. "I'm so very sorry I didn't trust myself enough to believe in you. I've made us waste years that we'll never get back. Forgive me?"

"Baby, you're home, that's all that matters to me. It's been a long long five years."

"Tell me about Mercy? Is she happy? I knew if I called her, she'd come where I was and I just thought it would be better if...............,"

"I think that wreck rattled your brain. You made wrong decisions all over the place. I'm gonna say somethin' I never thought I'd say to you, but you were being damn selfish, Wesley. We didn't know if you were alive or what. Every day hurt like hell. I know Mercy was hurting too."

Wes ran his hand through his long hair, "I was thinking how much trouble I would be. I guess I thought it was all about me. I'm so sorry. Aw, Cole, I'm so sorry. Can you forgive what I did? I didn't mean to hurt you."

Cole felt tears burn the backs of his eyelids. "I love you, Wesley Straihan. I can forgive you just about anything. You were coming home; that's all that matters. We'll work everything out day by day. I'm not so sure about Mercy.

I can't answer for her."

"Where is she now?"

"She married Craig and they have two great kids, Katy and Violet." He saw Wes smile at the names. "They live in a house over on the bluffs."

"I need to see her. Can I use the truck?"

"Sure, but you're not going anywhere without me."

"I won't disappear," Wes smiled, "I promise."

"I believe you, but I still want to stay close."

Cole backed the truck out and pulled up by the barn. Wes looked over toward the house and beckoned with his upraised hand. A small bundle of bright red parka flew out the back door, letting the storm door slam, calling out, "Auntie Mercy's house."

Cole looked at Wes. "Get used to it," Wes said, "Secrets are not something you can keep around him."

Luc climbed up in Wes' lap and sat quietly, staring out the window into the darkness. Wes could almost hear his young mind spinning, just as his had done so many years ago. "You're not alone, little one," Wes whispered, "We're all together now."

"Love Daddy. Love Wes," his voice was soft and muffled.

Cole's hand reached out for Wes and he felt two hands grab hold; one tough and strong, one small and fragile, but both warm and clutching.

"Where are we going?" Wes asked when they didn't turn on the usual road that led to the bluffs.

"There's been some building going on up here while you've been gone," Cole said. "This is the new road that leads to the houses."

As they drove near the fields where they'd found the old cave, Wes said, his voice full of memories, "Tomorrow, let's go up to the cave. Is it the same? Have you ever come up here?" He felt Luc squeeze Cole's thumb. "What?"

"Yeah, Luc and I come up here almost every day, don't we, son?"

"Yes, Wes' and Daddy's cave."

"I've missed so much, but I couldn't have come to the cave anyway. Do you understand why I couldn't call you?"

"I understand, but I don't agree with you. I would have done anything you needed .... Anything. Luc and I needed you here."

"Daddy, Wes home." Luc snuggled over and pressed his finger to Cole's lips. "Shhh."

"Yes," Cole sighed, "Shhh, Me. Wes is home."

A dark shape loomed across the field, but the moon was behind a cloud and Wes couldn't make it out. "Another house going up?" he asked.

"Seems like it," Cole answered, and Wes felt Luc give another squeeze.

A turn in the road and they pulled up in front of the first house on the cul de sac. There were two beautiful homes built far enough apart for privacy, but close enough for family. The front porch light blinked on in the closest house and the front door opened. A woman stood, leaning on a cane, peering out into the dark. "Cole, what are you doing out at this time of night and do I see Luc in there with you?"

The light in the truck cab came on and she gasped. "Wesley? Is that you? Oh My God!! Wesley, you're home." She dropped her cane and limped across the porch just as Wes swung her up in his strong arms and hugged her tight. "Oh, sweet Mercy," was all he could manage, suddenly feeling six years old again as he buried his face in her soft hair.

The lights in the house began to pop on and Craig appeared at the door to clap Wes on the back. "What a great surprise. Glad you've come home." Wes looked down to see two little girls, both the spitting image of his sister. "Your girls are beautiful," Wes smiled, kneeling down to introduce himself.

"I'm Katherine Anne Harold," Katy said proudly, hissing slightly through her missing front teeth.

Her baby sister hid behind her slightly, "I Violet Hawald," she lisped.

"Both named for Mother," Wes sighed, "You got your house and your kids, Mercy." He pulled her close again.

"And now, I've got everything," she sighed as she wrapped her arms around her brother.

"Come in and tell us everything. Where have you been? Why are you limping like that?" Mercy was full of questions.

Violet had one too. Tugging on Wes' jeans, she scrunched up her face and looked him up and down, "Unka Wes, Why you hab skunk hair?"

Wesley broke out in laughter, the first he'd felt in many years, if ever. Mercy was shushing her child, but Wes stopped her. "Let her be. She's right. I'll be over tomorrow and tell you everything. Right now, we've all got little guys that need to go to sleep." He looked over at Cole who had been standing quietly holding Luc while Wes was being hugged hello.

As they walked to the truck, Mercy slid her good hand through Cole's arm. "I can see your happiness written across your face. Now we can relax and our lives can really begin, right?"

Cole looked over at Wes, "Yes, nothing can hurt us now."

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