Markus stirred his drink and smiled at Miranda. She took a long slug from the bottle of beer on the table, then she put it back down with a long exhalation. After the session, Markus had asked if she would sit and talk for awhile. Miranda agreed and chose the venue of the hotel bar, which suited Markus fine.
"That was powerful." Miranda nodded and stared at the condensation on the bottle in her hand. "I mean, even before you brought up Tad."
"Thank you." Markus sipped his Dark and Stormy, enjoying the spiced rum in the beverage.
Miranda looked at him. "You're welcome. You're a great speaker and you know your business." She smiled. "Thank you, for what you said about my brother. It means a lot to me."
"I had to say it." Markus looked earnestly at her. "When the venues send attendee lists for any engagement, I always read through for names I recognize." He shrugged. "I know a lot of folks in the business now, and I make it a point to seek out a few close contacts. When I saw your name I wondered if it was really you, and just in case I brought my book." He smiled. "His art is so good I recognized your face. I knew it was you."
Miranda nodded. "His art is amazing, and I'm glad you approached me."
"Me too. Tad saved my life, I'm sure of it." He sighed. "I only wish I could have met him and his men. There's not much about Nate in the book, just the last few pages, but they all looked so happy together."
Miranda nodded, a sad smile on her face. Then she grew thoughtful. "Well, Christopher and Nate would probably love to meet you. To hear about what an impact Tad made on you, it'd be a real gift to them."
Markus considered. "I do have a trip to the west coast planned next month. It's for a speaking engagement in San Francisco." He tapped his finger on his glass as he thought. "You really think they'd be all right if I fanboyed over the dudes in my favorite book?"
Miranda laughed, and her eyes sparkled. "They'd love it. It's still a two-hundred-fifty-mile trip north from the city to us, but if you'd like, I can probably get some interest drummed up in a presentation locally for you. There are certainly community partners who could use your crisis management session. That way it's not a wasted trip for you."
"I don't think it'd be wasted, even without the additional presentation." Markus nodded and grinned. "But yeah, if you could feel out the local organizations that might be interested then I'd appreciate that." Miranda gave him a thumbs-up as she took another drink. Markus checked the calendar on his phone. "I have a free week right after the SF conference. That'll be the first full week of April. I could rent a car and drive up the coast. It'd be a nice little vacation." Markus smiled. "I'd love to see all of the things and the places your brother drew in the book."
"That'd be great." Miranda picked up her beer. "I'll let the guys know. They'll be thrilled to meet someone who appreciates Tad's work so much."
Markus made a happy sound. "Good." He picked up his glass. "To Tad."
Miranda held up her beer and cocked her head with a little impish smile. "And to new friends."
Markus gave her a pleased grin, gently touched his glass to her bottle, and downed the rest of the delicious, spicy beverage.
A month later, Nate came home from his Saturday morning shift at the bookstore. "This house is a mess!" Nate wailed from the door, and Christopher cringed a little.
"Sorry!" He called from the kitchen. "Miranda's work friend is going to be here soon, and I wanted to make some dip. I'll pick up the living room as soon as I'm done."
"His name is Markus, and Miranda really liked him." Nate walked into the kitchen with a pair of Chris's underwear in his hand. He shook the used item of clothing at his partner. "Seriously, Bear? Your skivvies are on the floor?"
Christopher's face betrayed his surprise. "It wasn't me, I've been in here! You know Kali drags them out of the dirty clothes. I can't help if she's a nasty girl!"
Nate snorted, then shook his head and stepped closer. He gave Chris a quick kiss and the big man relaxed a little when he saw Nate smile. "I'll handle the living room. You finish your dip." Nate turned and walked back toward the front of the house. He held up one finger as he moved away. "If the rest of the house needs to be cleaned, try and finish quick so you can help me. He'll be here in an hour!"
Chris was sure there was still a hard water stain in the toilet bowl. He sighed and stirred the cheesy dip in the crockpot. It was loaded with sausage, jalapenos, and salsa. It was simple, but everyone they knew loved it. More importantly, it was now at a stage where he didn't have to babysit it. Chris took off his apron and stuck his head into the living room. "I'm headed to clean the bathroom."
Nate nodded and grinned at him, then his redheaded lover continued to pick up and straighten the living room.
Christopher loved their house. They had only moved in a few months ago, and though they had liked their apartment, when the house came up for sale in Eureka they had to buy it. They used the leftover insurance money and proceeds from Tad's book, which meant that they were able to drop a significant downpayment on their home. Now, they lived in a quiet residential area of the city, near a park and shopping. The yard had a high fence and they could allow Kali to run and play in the backyard with no fear. She never tried to climb the wooden obstacle. The outdoors were an entirely new thing to her, so she timidly explored this new world, usually when one or both of the men accompanied her.
By the time two p.m. rolled around the house looked pretty good. Christopher and Nate met up in the living room and they gave one another a high-five. "All right! Mission accomplished." Nate rubbed his hands together, took a breath to say something, and the doorbell rang. He motioned grandly at the door. "Just in time!"
Chris laughed, and he stepped to open the door.
A smiling, handsome man greeted their eyes. "Hello!" He extended a hand. "I'm Markus, and it is such an honor to finally meet you both."
Christopher grinned and shook the offered hand. "I'm Chris, and it's great to meet you too."
Nate took his turn. Usually, when Christopher met someone new, there was a little adjustment, some time spent getting comfortable. Yet Markus seemed both new and familiar to him. His dark eyes reminded him of Tad's in a way, but there was something different in them too. Christopher had to actively make himself avoid staring.
"Come on, we'll give you the tour." Nate led Markus into their house and Christopher followed along.
Kali appeared as they started down the hallway, and Markus pointed. "Is that the same cat? The one in the book?"
Christopher picked her up and she began to purr in his arms. "It is. This is our monster, the infamous Kali, goddess of creation and destruction."
Markus laughed, and Chris noticed that his teeth were very white and straight. "Oh, I love her name." Markus scratched her ears. Kali closed her eyes and pushed up into his touch.
Chris could feel the warmth from Markus's hand thanks to the closeness of their skin. He reacted below the waist, just a twitch, and Christopher felt a flash of annoyance with himself. 'You're not a teenager. Get a grip.'
Markus didn't seem to mind their closeness. He continued to stand there and smiled at Nate. "She loves attention, huh?"
Nate glanced at Chris and stepped up right next to them. He too began to stroke Kali. Nate grinned at Markus. "Well, who doesn't?" Chris heard the inflection and the quality of Nate's voice. There was an undercurrent of suggestiveness there.
Markus laughed again, and he nodded with a smirk. "You've got a point there."
Kali began to squirm and Chris knelt to release her. When he straightened, Nate and Markus hadn't moved. They were all very close, and Christopher wet his lips.
Markus swallowed with an audible sound. "Ah, what smells good? Something cheesy."
Christopher was thankful for the distraction. "Yeah. I made some dip for us. We've got a reservation at Brick and Fire at Five. Do you think you can handle chips and dip until then?"
"Yeah, no problem." Markus grinned. "Show me the rest of your place first. I really want to see your yard. Mine is non-existent in Amarillo, since I live in an apartment."
They walked out to the back yard. Kali heard the door and scampered past them to run through the grass. She disappeared under a bushy plant that grew next to the fence. Markus laughed at her antics and his eyes moved around the area. He took in the little fruit trees they had planted, the garden bed Christopher had installed, and the detached garage which bordered the alley behind their house.
Christopher put an arm over Nate's shoulders, and they both watched Markus. Chris leaned over. "Are you flirting with him?" he whispered.
"You started it! Standing so close to him," Nate said under his breath. Markus sat on his haunches and ran a finger through the grass, taunting Kali who crouched in the bushes. She ran from her hiding spot at him, and he jumped up, laughing. "He's pretty fucking cute."
Chris didn't have time to respond. Markus rejoined them with a grin. "I love your place, it's great." Markus rubbed his flat belly. "Is it time for chips? I've not had much, so the beast is beginning to complain."
Christopher nodded. "Yeah. Come on."
Nate went to catch their kitty while Markus and Chris walked inside. Soon they were all seated around their small kitchen table. Each man had a bowl of corn chips, and a ramekin of warm, gooey dip was on the table within arm's reach.
"Mmmm." Markus closed his eyes as he chewed a chip loaded with meaty, spicy cheese dip.
Christopher smiled as he watched him. He felt that very familiar sensation of affection he had for his closest friends toward Markus. Chris glanced at Nate and saw how Nate gazed at their guest. There was something there, some spark in his lover's blue eyes. Nate looked at Chris and they each took a breath - as if they could both feel the same thing.
Over the next three hours they snacked, paged through Tad's book, and Markus made a list of all of the places he wanted to see.
"I could take off a few days and drive you around the county if you want," said Nate and Chris echoed the offer.
"Guys, I don't need babysitting." Markus waved a hand. He grinned. "But I wouldn't say no if somehow both of you were available to hang out."
"I've got the time off. I could take it." Christopher looked at Nate. "How about you? Think you could take off the week?"
The redhead grinned. "Yeah, Kent has been asking for more hours. He's in his final year at HSU and could use the cash. He'd pick up a lot of my shifts, I'm sure."
Now decided, they continued to plan their trip through the sites, food, and points of interests that appeared in the comic.
It was time to head to Brick and Fire. They arrived and entered the dimly lit, cozy eatery. Nate had the foresight to get the same table featured in the comic, and it wasn't lost on Markus. He sat in the same spot, the exact position Tad had chosen to do the perspective drawing that appeared in his work.
Markus looked slowly around the room, at paintings, decorations, and the other patrons. Then he gazed at Nate and Christopher. He chuckled and wiped his eyes. "Ah, sorry. I don't know why this is so emotional for me." He pressed his lips together, and visibly struggled to reign in his feelings.
Christopher felt his fondness grow. 'He's handsome, sensitive, smart, and driven.' Chris swallowed and he smiled at Markus. "It's okay."
Nate nodded. "Yeah, it's fine." He looked around as well. "I can't help but think of him when we come here.”
Their meal was, in typical Brick and Fire fashion, fantastic. Christopher had driven, so Nate and Markus split a bottle of wine, with Chris sneaking sips of Nate's here and there.
When they had finished their meal, they all climbed back into the truck. Chris got them safely back to the house and Markus looked toward the kitchen. "I'm grabbing some water. If you don't mind, I need to hang out a little before I drive." Markus wrinkled his nose. "I should have stopped at a glass of wine."
"You can hang out. It's still early." Christopher smiled and Nate nodded his agreement.
While Markus got his beverage, Nate turned on some music, and the mellow, melodic sounds of the group Hollow Coves played through the compact soundbar mounted under their television on the wall.
His glass of water in hand, Markus stepped back into the living room and smiled at the music. "I like this."
"Tad listened to them and stuff like them when he drew." Nate pointed at the TV where the Spotify station played. "This is his station."
Markus sighed. "Wow. You guys have so many memories, and so much history with him." He considered. "And that's good. It means he's still here, and still living through you."
Christopher loved how Markus put it. "Thank you. Yeah, he affects our lives every day, all positively."
Markus sipped his water and pulled the folded list of places he wanted to visit from his shirt pocket. He stood next to the bar counter and unfolded the paper on it. Nate and Christopher went over, and they all stood to look down at it. "Okay, Brick and Fire, done." He put a checkmark beside the entry. He grinned. "Though we could definitely go back. Man, that food was good."
As they stood close, that same magnetic pull to Markus hooked into Christopher's mind. He realized that he could smell him. Markus exuded a scent of soap, musk, and the slightest odor of sweat.
Nate stood on the other side of their guest, and he too seemed distracted by Markus. Nate's eyes met Christopher's for a split second as Markus looked down at his list.
Finally, Markus looked up. He shifted his gaze back and forth, and Christopher saw just the slightest smile. "Uh, do you guys mind if I use the restroom?" His smile was frustratingly enigmatic.
"Oh, not at all." Nate pointed down the hall. "There, on the right."
Markus walked away then stepped into the bathroom, and Nate looked at Christopher. "Bear. What. Is. Happening?"
They hadn't done anything with anyone since Tad. What was happening between them now and over the course of the evening was entirely anomalous for them both. Christopher adjusted himself, Nate noticed, then the redhead chuckled and did the same. Chris shook his head. "There's something about him, Nate."
Nate rubbed a hand over his mouth, and he nodded. "Yeah, I know." His blue eyes speared Christopher. Then he bit his lip. "Do you think he'd want…?"
The bathroom door opened and interrupted Nate. Markus was still all smiles, and stepped right back into that close, intimate space near them. "So, apart from a presentation that Miranda organized at the hospital on Thursday, my schedule is completely free, guys." His smile grew into a grin.
Christopher watched Nate as the redhead seemed to weigh his response. Chris beat him to it. "Well, we will be off work, so we'll be happy to drive you around the city and the county. You've got the list of stuff you still want to see. That'll be easy, we can do you." Chris heard what he just said and reddened. "Uhh. I mean, we would be happy to do it to you." He sagged and made a noise of frustrated embarrassment. "I mean…"
Markus grinned broadly. "I'd be happy to do whatever you guys would like to do."
Nate smirked and waggled his eyebrows. "A few things come to mind." Christopher watched as Nate leaned just slightly into Markus.
Markus looked straight into Nate's eyes, then he turned and checked Chris's expression.
Chris pushed past his fear and took a page from Tad's book. "Life's too short to wonder." Christopher said the words, then he put a hand on the back of Markus's neck. The man swallowed in anticipation, and Chris leaned down.
Christopher kissed Markus, who seemed starved for it. Chris enjoyed that moment, then he pulled back and looked at Markus's eyes.
Markus shook his head and blinked. "This has turned out to be a great trip so far," he whispered, then Nate gently turned Markus's head and kissed him.
Christopher watched as the man he loved kissed Markus. "Mmmm. Okay, we need to move this to the bedroom."
Nate and Markus both grinned as they made out, and they pulled apart.
Soon the men stood bedside. All of their clothes except for Markus's briefs were on the floor, and Christopher admired the hidden erection under the material. He rubbed a hand over the trapped organ, and Markus let his head loll back. "God, I've fantasized about this for years now," Markus confessed. While Christopher played with his cock, Nate flicked a tongue over Markus's nipple.
Their guest moaned, then he pushed his underwear down and kicked them off. Markus was uncut, and the exposed purple head of his cock throbbed to his heartbeat.
Christopher went to his knees in front of Markus. He looked up to see Nate deeply kiss him, while Markus stroked Nate's drooling penis.
Chris knew that he shouldn't put a stranger's dick in his mouth, but that's not how Markus felt to him. He went down on Markus, and was rewarded with the sweet taste of precome and an inhalation of surprise from the dark-haired man. Chris fondled Markus's balls, and he pressed a knuckle into the man's taint while his other hand worked his own tool.
Markus groaned around Nate's mouth, then Nate made a desperate sound of his own. Chris felt a warm spurt of semen hit the side of his face as Nate got off.
Markus pulled his lips away for a moment from Nate's trembling mouth. "I'm close."
Nate breathed. "Can he keep going?" he whispered in Markus's ear. Markus's jaw dropped, and he nodded.
Chris felt the contraction of Markus's testicles, and then he grunted. Markus's release flooded Chris's mouth, and the brown-haired man gulped it down, while his lips and tongue continued to caress Markus's turgid cock.
As soon as Markus stopped coming, he reached down and pulled Christopher to his feet. Chris wasn't sure exactly what was going on at first, then Markus dropped to his knees and went down on him.
Christopher had a big cock, and Markus didn't even try to deep throat him. Instead, he took half of it into his mouth, and the rest he stroked with his hand while he gently rubbed Chris's balls.
"He's safe to swallow. We both are," Nate uttered, then he kissed Christopher as Markus expertly sucked him.
Chris was already close. The stimulation of kissing Nate and Markus's mouth was too much, and he moaned as he came. Markus continued to slurp, and he swallowed everything. Once Chris shuddered at the end of his orgasm, Markus stood up. He laughed and wiped Nate's come off of Chris's face with his underwear.
Markus put one arm around each of their shoulders and grinned. "Well, I don't know if anything else we do or see is going to top this," Christopher loved how Markus’s dark eyes sparkled mischievously, "but it will sure be fun to try."
Markus spent the week with them, and he canceled his hotel room after the first night. Nate felt, at long last, as if things were "normal" again for himself and Christopher. Markus's presence, wit, and body all seemed to fill a gap that he and Christopher had merely learned to live around. They were doing fine before, but with Markus, Nate could feel them thriving again.
Yet their new friend had to return to Texas.
Christopher and Nate took him to the airport early that Saturday morning. "I'll call you guys when I make it back to Texas." Markus stood at the curb at the tiny airport. He looked just as sad as Nate felt, and he smiled forlornly.
"Okay. Sounds good. Bye, Markus." Nate worked hard to steady his voice. Chris too bid him goodbye.
"Bye. Talk to you both soon." Markus turned. They watched him wheel his luggage into the airport.
Chris sighed. He put the truck into gear and pulled onto the loop which would take them back to the highway.
Nate flopped back, and he let his head relax against the backrest. "Fuck."
Christopher snorted a blast of air out of his nose. "I agree." The rest of the ride home they spent in quiet thought.
That evening the call came. Nate put Markus on speaker. "Hey, guys." He sounded tired. "I'm here safe."
"Good." Chris put an arm around Nate's shoulders. "It's good to hear your voice, Markus."
"It really is." Nate leaned into Chris. "I know you had to, but I wish you didn't have to go back."
Christopher leaned toward the phone. "Me too. It was nice having you here."
Markus was quiet for a beat. "Yeah." His reply was soft and contemplative. "It was really great to meet you guys and to be with you. Even if it was for just a little while."
They talked for almost an hour, then the worn out Markus had to go to sleep.
Every night for the next two weeks they talked on the phone. It became a ritual. Every evening at six p.m. Markus called, and tonight on the dot, the phone rang.
"Hey, gents!" Markus's voice was exceptionally clear, chipper and upbeat.
"Hi. How's it going tonight, Markus?" Christopher sat next to Nate and their fingers were intertwined as they spoke over the speaker to him.
"It's good. Hey, I wondered if you guys would want a visit? Maybe a little longer this time?" There was such a hopeful tone in his voice.
Nate grinned. "Yeah!" He blinked. "I mean, it's fine with you, right, Bear?"
Chris grinned just as broadly. "Absolutely." He leaned forward over the phone. "When were you thinking, Markus?"
The phone unexpectedly cut off, and they both frowned at it. Nate reached for the device, and there was a knock on the door. They both looked at it.
Nate scrambled to his feet, and he bounded to the door, Christopher right on his heels.
Nate opened it, and Markus grinned at them, a duffle bag in one hand and a backpack over his shoulder.
"You're here!" Nate laughed, and he threw his arms around the dark-haired man.
Markus was soon overwhelmed with both Nate's and Chris's arms and affection. Kisses began to get a little more serious, and he had to pull back from a scorching make-out session with Christopher. "Whoa. Okay, I know where this is going." He chuckled, as Nate rubbed his denim-covered crotch. "Before too many clothes come off, I wanted to ask you guys if I could spend the night. Then I'll go apartment-hunting tomorrow."
Both Nate and Christopher gaped at him. Markus smirked in self-satisfaction at a secret well-kept.
"You, you're moving? You're moving here?" Nate's eyes were wide.
Markus nodded. "Yeah. I sold my stuff in Texas, and I already have a consulting gig here at Miranda's hospital." He made a face. "My friends Shane and Heather weren't thrilled, but they understand."
Christopher grinned, and he shook both Nate and Markus back and forth in his strong arms. "Yes!"
They quickly ended up in bed. To Nate, it was as if Markus had always been a part of them, and he was only coming home.
They invited him to stay the week. Then, a month. When the first of the month rolled around, Markus asked how much the mortgage was. They told him, and he pulled his phone out of his pocket. He typed a bit, then both Nate's and Christopher's devices vibrated. Nate looked at his phone and saw he had a PayPal deposit.
"There's my part," Markus said. That was the moment that Nate knew he was there to stay.
Tad's birthday was May 29th, and the men always visited his grave on that day. Markus joined them for the first time, and he stood graveside while Christopher and Nate each lay a single red rose on the headstone.
All three of them had their arms around each other's waists with Markus in the middle.
"Bear and I miss you." Nate smiled, and he wiped his eyes. "We love you."
Christopher quietly patted Nate's back, and Markus kissed the side of his face. After a few minutes, they turned to leave.
Markus cleared his throat. "Hey, I'm gonna stay back a little. I wanna talk to him, just us."
Chris smiled and both he and Nate nodded. Markus watched as they put their arms around one another's shoulders, and they walked back to the path leading to the gate.
Markus looked down at the grave. "Hi." He took a deep breath. "I, ah, I just wanted to let you know that you saved me. You saved me in so many ways, and I'm sure you have saved others too." He felt himself begin to cry and let it happen. "I wish I could have met you. I wish that we could have been friends. I feel so connected and intimate with you."
He looked toward the gate of the cemetery and saw his pair of lovers standing, waiting for him. Markus smiled, and he turned back to the grave. "Your men are fine. We all are." He straightened his spine. "That's thanks to you. You might be gone, but your impact on the lives around you still goes on - like ripples in a pond."
Markus put a hand on the headstone. "Thank you for my life. I'm going to spend it taking care of our men."
After one more moment he turned, dried his tears, and strode away to meet his loves.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Never doubt the power a single life can have. Never think that your life doesn't matter. You may be the person who saves someone, just by being yourself.