Taylor stood leaning against the doorway watching as his lover packed. They hadn't said a word to each other since the argument the night before had gotten totally out of hand. They'd both said things to hurt the other and Taylor had stormed out of the house. In the bright light of day, he could see that his lover had been right. His reaction to finding out that Tom would be heading up the mountain with Vaughn's team wasn't fueled entirely by fear for his lover's safety. There was a fair amount of jealousy involved as well.
"Are we going to talk about this before you go off half-cocked?" Taylor asked.
Tom didn't turn around. "What's left to say? You obviously don't think I'm good enough to be on this expedition."
"Damnit, that's not what I meant and you know it."
Tom turned. "But you think you'd be a better choice. Why should Vaughn settle for Tom McLaren when he could have the infamous Taylor Brooks, right?"
"No, not right. There's no one better for the job then you, Tom. And Vaughn is damn lucky to have you along. But yes, I am jealous. Not that he chose you, but that you still have the desire to go up there. Climbing was my life, my soul desire, and now I've lost that."
The anger burned out of Tom's eyes. "You just need time to deal with this, Taylor."
"Don't pity me, McLaren. I don't need it or want it."
"God, I don't pity you. But I know what you lived through and I know it's going to take time for you to bounce back from it."
"You know? You don't know shit about what happened up there, Tom. You weren't there!"
Tom suddenly looked tired. "No, but I was there when you came back. I was there when you woke up screaming from nightmares. I'm the one who knows how fast something can go wrong up there."
"Why are we talking about this? We were talking about you going on this expedition."
"Do you not want me to go? Is that what this is all about? Or do you want to go along?"
Taylor shook his head and dropped into a chair. "I don't know what the hell I want."
Tom walked over and straddled his lover's lap. "If this upsets you that much, I'll cancel. They can get someone else."
"No, you should go. This is a big deal and you deserve the shot. I don't know why I'm being such a jerk."
Tom leaned in and kissed him. "You're getting cabin fever. I'll tell you what. When I get back, we'll go stay at that lodge you like and do some skiing. It'll get you out on the mountain without the pressures of climbing. What do you think?"
Taylor wrapped his arms around the younger man. "It sounds like a plan."
They sat like that for several minutes before Tom kissed him then stood to finish packing. "Annie will be here in a few minutes."
Taylor watched as Tom finished then hauled his gear to the front door of the cabin. He walked up behind him and held him. "Be careful up there."
"I always am."
Tom turned into his lover's embrace and kissed him. He knew they were both wishing they'd spent the night before making love instead of arguing. But they would make up for it when he got back. The sound of a horn broke them apart.
"I'll see you in a few weeks."
Taylor helped carry his lover's gear out to the car then watched as the car pulled away. He ignored the lump in his stomach.
Taylor threw the empty glass into the fire place. "This wasn't supposed to happen! You were supposed to be careful!"
But Taylor knew that it wasn't Tom's fault. The blame laid with him. If he had asked his lover not to go, then Tom would still be alive. His hands clenched as he thought about that bastard Vaughn. He hoped the man was burning in hell!
The nightmares had returned with a vengeance after Tom left and they'd only grown worse once he learned that Tom had been killed. But now his dreams weren't only of his own mistakes and near death, they now featured Tom and his death. Taunting him with the fact that he hadn't been there when his lover needed him. And then memories of the last night they spent together... arguing heatedly before he had walked out. They had made up before Tom left, but they hadn't settled things. And now they never would.
Hearing from Annie Garrett about Tom's last hours had only added to his despair and grief. He had been a selfish bastard once but meeting Tom and the events up on K2 had changed him. Tom had taught him how to love, how the hell was he supposed to go on alone? He knew he would've broken down when he'd come down from the mountain if Tom hadn't been there to save him. But Tom wasn't there anymore. And he'd never be there again.
Taylor looked down at the gun lying on the table. The nightmares, losing Tom, his own guilt... it was all burying him in a blanket of depression that he didn't have the strength to fight anymore. Maybe this was fate's way of telling him that he should've died on that mountain. Well, he would fix that now.
Taylor sat down and picked up a picture of him and Tom taken before he'd headed up that mountain. Before demons took away his dreams... before those very same demons took away his lover. Tears ran down his eyes as he clutched the photo in one hand and the gun in the other.
He may not die on a mountain... but Taylor knew that it was the mountains that killed him. He closed his eyes against the loud noise then knew nothing else.