The Island: Stuart & Nathan
By: Dash & AJ
Pairing: OC, Stuart and Nathan
Implements Used: None
Series: The Island Series
We were working on another, longer, TI story when we heard a song on the radio. We started talking about it and Stuart demanded that we write his story. As always, the characters, ideas and set up of The Island Series may not be used without the written permission of Dash and AJ.
This is dedicated to R, T, and M, and in loving memories of A & N, straight from our hearts.
Stuart was the last one off the plane, stopping at the top of the stairs to breathe in the heady scents of tropical flowers and the salty brine of the ocean that identified The Island. It had been too long, he thought, absorbing the sights and sounds that said Home to him. It had been over a year since he'd been on TI. Too long. Taking another deep breath, he closed his eyes, savoring it. Memories of previous trips flooded his mind for a moment before he pushed them away. There would be time for memories later. He carefully adjusted the shoulder of the carry-on bag he held, making sure that it was secure, then started down the stairs to where Emerson waited, greeting the new arrivals.
"I'm glad you could make it," Emerson told him, shaking his hand, then impulsively pulled him into a hug. "How are you doing?" he asked, drawing back and looking into his old friend's face.
"Good," Stuart told him. "I think I'm ready to move on. Seemed kind of like fate when I opened up the quarterly newsletter and saw this seminar listed. It was the first time I'd opened anything but personal mail from The Island for quite a while."
“We’re so glad that you did, Stuart. I can’t--” Emerson's reply was interrupted by a call from one of the staff, loading luggage into the carts that would take them all to the resort or main compound. He glanced that way and then back to Stuart. "Duty calls. I’ve got to escort this group,” he said, “but I want to have a long talk with you later. Dinner tonight? I can arrange something private for the two of us.”
“Let me get back to you. I’m tired and I’m not sure how good my company would be tonight.”
Emerson nodded. “All right, I won’t push. But remember, I’m here for you. Day or night, just pick up the phone. I’m available.”
“Thanks,” Stuart said simply.
“Do you want to ride with the others or walk? I remember that you always enjoyed walking in from the airstrip."
"Works out the stiff muscles and all that--” he started to quote, then caught himself and glanced again at the new arrivals for a long moment before continuing. “I think I'll walk. Re-acquaint myself with The Island."
"Okay. I'll make sure your luggage gets to your room. Do you want me to take that for you?" He indicated the bag Stuart carried.
"No, I'll keep it with me. I'll catch up with you later and let you know about dinner, all right?" Then, turning, he started down the path toward the resort without waiting for a reply.
He took his time following the familiar path, reliving old memories. Nathan had loved it here. The lush, green, moist jungle was so different from the desert where they lived. He'd been offered a staff position here, as Budget Director, and Nathan had wanted so badly for him to take it, but he hadn't been ready to give up their home and his career. He should have made the sacrifice for Nathan. What did a house and a job mean compared to his partner? Maybe if he had, things might have turned out differently. Maybe...
He cut off that thought with the ease of long practice. He was here this week for closure - to accept the fact that Nathan was gone and he needed to move on. There was no sense in endlessly rehashing old circumstances and 'what ifs'. It wouldn’t change the present and he had been living in the past with the 'if onlys' too long.
He jogged up the steps to the two-story white adobe hotel where visiting Tops who didn’t want a private cabana stayed. Glancing around, he found the registration desk and checked in. He hadn’t stayed in the hotel for over three years, since before Nathan. When they had come before, they had always gotten a private cabana, enjoying the peace and quiet and total privacy. Now, the slight buzz from fellow Tops was a welcome relief to the solitude his life had taken on. Heading up to the second floor, he quickly found his room and went in.
Ignoring the brochures and reading materials left for him on the desk, he busied himself with unpacking and freshening up. Getting a bottle of water from the small courtesy bar, he took a deep breath and sat down at the desk. "A New Beginning: Learning to Live with a Second Brat." The simple words on the outside of the notebook did little to convey the rush of emotions that every Top must have felt when he signed up for this seminar. Glancing out the window, he took several deep breaths before looking at the notebook again and flipping it open to the front page. He scanned the outline for the 4-day seminar and then leafed through the material, quickly becoming engrossed in it.
The ringing of the phone startled him from his reading. Stuart glanced at the clock as he reached for the phone, surprised to see how late it was getting.
“So what about dinner, my friend?” Emerson asked.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I’ve been sitting here reading the materials for the seminar and I just lost track of time.” He stood up and stretched, the stiffness in his muscles proving just how long he’d been sitting in one place.
Emerson gave a small laugh, “It’s a good seminar. We’ve had wonderful feedback from it. I’m glad you're finding it so interesting. Now, what about dinner? You want me to call the kitchen and have them prepare something private for us? I’ll kick Philip over to some friends and it can be just the two of us.”
“Let’s make it another night, okay? I think I’d rather eat in my room tonight. I’m tired.”
“Nope, sorry, Stuart. No room service for you this trip. You can eat with me or you can eat in the dining hall and slum it with the rest of us. I don’t want to worry about you eating alone or not eating.”
“I’m eating,” he answered defensively.
“I’m sure you are. But, there are too many memories here. I’d worry about you. So, humor me and eat in the dining hall with the rest of us. It’s meatloaf night,” he added with a laugh.
“Oh, wow, I can’t pass up meatloaf night. Does it even have canned, watery red food coloring on the top?”
“Smartass,” Emerson shot back with a laugh. “I’ll have you know, it’s great meatloaf. With the picky eaters we have here, we can’t afford to serve anything that’s not good.”
“Nathan loved meatloaf on winter nights, with mashed potatoes. Serious comfort food, he called it….” Stuart's voice trailed off for a moment before he cleared his throat. “Sorry about that. The dining hall sounds good. What time should I meet you there?”
Emerson was silent for a second. “Stuart, please, don’t ever feel as if you have to apologize for bringing up Nathan to me or to anyone here. We all understand what you're going through.”
“Okay,” he said softly.
“All right, why don’t you plan on being there at 6:30? That should get us over the main rush of Orphans, but we'll still have plenty of time to talk.”
They hung up a few minutes later and Stuart looked at the materials again, but his mind was still on the conversation. / How much longer would it take,/ he wondered, /before he stopped referring to what Nathan used to think or do or feel? It happened rarely now among their friends - his friends/ he corrected himself, /but coming back to The Island seemed to bring back so many good memories that Nathan was in his thoughts constantly.
Walking back into the bedroom, his fingers touched the carry-on bag lightly, hovering over opening it before delving into the side pocket and pulling out a paperback novel. Lying down on top of the blankets, he tried to lose himself in the murder mystery about the White House and the plight of the young attorney being framed for it.
An hour later, he found himself walking up the path to the main dining hall. The main quad was almost empty, most of The Island occupants either sitting down for dinner or busy preparing it. He waved as he caught sight of Emerson standing by the door and was thankful he wasn't going to have to wait alone.
"Hi, been here long?" Stuart asked when he got closer.
"No, just a few minutes. Philip is inside already but he, Ben and John are plotting something, so he won't be joining us," Emerson said with a laugh. He opened the door and motioned the other Top in. When he hesitated, Emerson smiled. "Come on, one step at a time."
"You're right," Stuart said, passing through the open door. "There are so many memories here. I can't believe it."
"There's a lot of you two wrapped up in this place, a lot of emotions, and it's the first time you've been back in a while."
"Yeah," he said simply. Looking around the crowded room, his eyes fell on a familiar face. Smiling slightly, he nodded at the young man.
Curtis gave him a small smile and nodded back before returning to his conversation with some other Temp Tops.
"I didn't realize that Curtis was still here," Stuart said softly as they picked up trays and headed toward the serving tables. "I thought I read in the last newsletter that he was becoming partnered."
Emerson nodded. "He is, a young man named Jason in Cottage 5B. We're training a new TT for 5C, then they'll move in together. But," he added as he picked up several slices of meatloaf and moved out of the way for Stuart, "Curtis is going to continue to work on The Island with us. He's going to be moving into the education department."
"I'm glad he's found someone. He and I always got along well, and Nathan loved him."
"You know," the other Top began, "we would love for you to come work for us, too. The job offer is still out on the table for you."
Stuart didn't answer for a moment, instead concentrating on filling his plate. As they walked away from the serving tables, he said, "It's been over a year. You're telling me you're still without a Budget Director?"
Emerson motioned toward the table where Hayes and Ryan were eating. "Is it all right if we sit together? They were asking about you." Stuart nodded and he led the way over and sat down before continuing. "No, we have someone, but his contract is going to be up in April and we may not renew it."
"Not renew what? Hi, Stuart," Hayes said with a smile, holding out his hand. "It's good seeing you again. I was thrilled when Emerson told us you were coming."
"Hi, Hayes, it's great seeing you again, too." He shook hands with Ryan and exchanged greetings before sitting down and picking up his fork as Emerson filled the other two men in on their conversation.
"I was just telling Stu that Gordon might not be working out and how much we'd love to have him back on The Island with us."
Ryan nodded and patted Stuart on the back. "That would be great. You know you were our first choice last time."
"Why isn't Gordon working out?" Stuart asked, trying to change the subject.
Hayes laughed. "Very interesting gossip going on about him." Ignoring the glare that Emerson shot him, he continued. "It seems that Mr. Gordon is spending a lot of time over on Limbo lately. He's been going over there at least once a month for the past 5 months. And, he's been signing in a guest from Limbo at least once a month."
Ryan rolled his eyes. "We're all trying to figure out if he's getting into BDSM, just in love, or both. My vote is he's in love and his new boyfriend is a Dom over there."
"That's what I think, too. They don't let their subs travel alone or, from what I understand, have visitors," Emerson said. "I've talked to their head guy a couple of times at meetings and it's strictly punishment and retraining. No one vacations at Limbo."
They all laughed and Stuart relaxed into the general gossip of The Island and easy flowing conversation around him.
As he walked back to the resort area with Emerson keeping him company to, as he put it, 'Work off that great apple tart', he was surprised to find that he was smiling easily, not something he had done in the last year.
"I'm serious about the job, Stu. Just say the word and we'd love to have you back with us," Emerson said.
He nodded. "I'll think about it. Nathan really wanted me to take it, before he-- and afterwards, I just couldn’t. Too many changes, too many decisions and upheavals and …” his voice trailed off. “It was just too much.”
The other top patted his back and pulled him into a brief side hug. "I know, my friend, I know."
"It's been a really bad year," he said softly.
Next morning, the bright sunlight that filled the room woke him up. Stretching and yawning, Stuart was surprised at how well he'd slept. He had expected to toss and turn after he and Emerson parted ways the night before but instead he had fallen to sleep immediately and slept through the night. He took a quick shower and then ate a fresh nectarine while he got dressed. Clipping his badge on his belt, he glanced at himself in the mirror. The dark blue border around the edge of the badge took him by surprise. It had been purple for so long now that he had forgotten it changed when there was a change in status. Unclipping it, he stared at it for a long minute. He hadn't noticed last night but this morning the changes stood out in sharp contrast to his old memories of his badge. Nathan's name was gone, the purple border had changed to blue and it was now official. He was single again. For three years, his badge had been purple, proudly displaying his commitment and love to Nathan--” he shook his head, cutting off the thought almost as soon as it had started. Taking a deep breath, he picked up the course materials and headed toward the education building.
He found the classroom easily. It was on the second floor in the section that was normally used for incoming Top sessions. Opening the door, he wasn’t surprised to see five or six other Tops scattered around the room already. Smiling at the few who looked up, he sat down in an empty chair near the front. As he pulled out a pen, he remembered the first session he and Nathan took together. The Brat had commented how in *his* classes, everyone sat in the back, huddled together and hoping someone would sit in front of them. Glancing at the placement of his fellow Tops, Stuart saw that the observation was still correct. They were all clustered in the first three rows, nicely spaced and with a clear view of the front.
A minute later, the door to the room opened again and a tall dark-haired Top wearing a Staff badge entered. "Good morning," Hobbes said. "I want to thank all of you for being so punctual. Of course, that’s not something we usually have to worry about with your group. For some of my other sessions, the listed start time is thirty minutes early just to make sure everyone is there when the session actually starts.”
They all laughed, the joke breaking the silence of the room and making them all comfortable.
“You all come from different areas of the country, you’re all different ages and professions, and on the surface you may think you have nothing in common with the men you are sitting with today.” The Director continued, “But, you do have many things in common. You're all TI alumni, you've all known the happiness, hard work and compromise of a committed discipline relationship, and you've all had that relationship end for some reason." His eyes rested on Stuart for a moment before moving on. "And you're all here to try again. Which, from my point of view, is the most important thing.”
He sat on the edge of the desk and put down his paperwork. “Before we begin, let me tell you a little bit about who I am and about what I hope this seminar will do for you. As you know, my name is Don Hobbes. I’m the Co-Director of the Psych Dept. and my specialty is working with Tops. I’m in a committed relationship of five years with my co-director, Calvin Sands, who works with the Brats. Yes, that’s right, Calvin and Hobbes.”
Again, the men in the room laughed as Hobbes smiled at them.
“One of the few times I hate the tradition of Brats using their first names and Tops using their last names. I think Don and Cal, or even Hobbes and Sands would sound better.” He paused again to let the laughter die down. “But, I also have something in common with all of you. Before I began my relationship with Cal, I, too, was in a committed discipline relationship that ended. I turned to The Island for help getting through the pain of the loss and to help get back on track in a new discipline relationship. To my surprise and disappointment, I found that no such class existed. As Tops, we are expected to be strong, in control and able to handle any adversity or setback. But, we are also real people and real people need help. There’s nothing wrong with that. It takes a strong person to admit that you need help with something.” He paused again letting his words sink in.
Stuart glanced down at his materials, unable to meet Hobbes eyes and afraid to meet the eyes of the other men in the room.
“When I became Co-Director of the Psych Dept four years ago, instituting such a class became a high priority, and since then, we have offered this class twice a year. We are there for you at the beginning of your relationship, during your relationship and, with this class, at the end of your relationship. This seminar isn't about looking back at the old relationship and trying to figure out what you did wrong or where you made your mistakes,” Hobbes continued. “No matter what you feel, your relationship did not end because of you. The Board looks at relationships that end to determine if action is needed, and if it was your fault, you would not be sitting in this room. During these four days, I’m hopefully going to show you how to look ahead, to use the experience from the old relationship but to understand and build another
discipline relationship with another Brat that is new and unique all on its own. Are there any questions?"
They all sat silent, each lost in their own thoughts and memories.
“Okay then, let’s go around the room and have you introduce yourself and tell us where you’re from, and maybe what you do for a living.”
The next few days passed quickly. The seminar took up most of the day and Stuart's free time was spent renewing old acquaintances and visiting old haunts. He spent one evening just sitting on a bench watching the Brats go by, hurrying to or from dinner, laughing and talking, arguing good-naturedly with their TTs. He had missed this in the past year - the easy companionship, the friendship and the acceptance everyone seemed to find here.
The evening before his last full day, he sought out Emerson. "I want to go up on the Point tomorrow morning. Do you think you could--"
"I'll make sure everyone knows that it's off limits tomorrow," Emerson replied reassuringly. "Do you want someone to go with you?"
"No, I think I need to do this alone."
The enticing aroma of freshly baked cinnamon rolls greeted him when he entered the quiet dining hall early the next morning. It seemed different somehow, larger and less welcoming without the cheerful noise and laughter of the Brats.
"Morning, Stuart," Charlie said as he came out of the kitchen carrying a large basket of muffins and rolls. "The sausage and eggs will be out in a minute and I have a lunch packed for you."
"Thanks, Charlie," Stuart replied, "but coffee and a roll is enough for me."
"Not if you're hiking up to the Point, it isn't," the cook replied. "Now sit down and I'll bring you a plate."
Shaking his head, he laughed silently at the number of caretakers he had on The Island. He ate quickly, then packed the lunch into the carry-on bag, being careful not to disturb the other contents of the bag.
A half hour later he was on his way. The trail started out easily, winding along the beach, but soon turned inland as it began the climb to the Point. It was overgrown in places, a testament to how few people made the long, arduous hike, and he frequently had to set his bag down to hack away the heavy growth. He was soon sweating from the exertion and he stopped again to rest and drink thirstily from the bottle of water provided by the kitchen.
/He was getting out of shape,/ he thought. Nathan had loved hiking and backpacking and they had gone out at least once or twice a month. Since then he hadn't had the heart. He pushed away the memories once again and, picking up the bag, slung it over his shoulder and struggled on.
At last he reached the top This had been one of Nathan's favorite spots on The Island. He loved to go out on the very tip of the rock and look out toward the horizon and then down at the waves crashing against the rocks below. Stuart had always worried about him falling, but Nathan had the grace of a cat.
He set the bag down on a rock and pulled out a hard plastic box containing a sealed plastic bag, and a CD player. He unsealed the bag, then turned on the CD player and set it to the track he wanted. Taking the bag out to the edge of the point, he looked out over the horizon as the rich voice of Richard Marx filled the air.
The sun's still warm and most days are good
The world still turns like you said it would
But this pain seems to never let me go
And there is really no movin' on
There's only going along
/It's been a year since you left me, Nathan. I thought my world had ended then. But you were right when you told me that life would go on. The sun is warm and the days are good again. The pain is still with me, and I think of you every day, but it's time for me to move on./
If I could I would gladly trade
A thousand tomorrows for one yesterday
There are so many things that I would say
You're a part of every memory
That lives on in me
/It was so fast, Love, barely a month from the time they told us until you were gone. I tried to fit a whole lifetime into that month, but there were still so many things I didn't have time to say, so many tomorrows that we didn't have. I'm sorry, Nathan. I thought we would grow old together. I always thought there would be more time./
And I will always be
Better for you loving me
Better for the times we shared
That travel with me everywhere
And I will always try
To hold my head up to the sky
If only just to let you know
That straight from my heart
I still miss you so
/I am a better person because of you, Nathan. You taught me so much about life and love. I'll always remember you and I'll always miss you. Goodbye, my sweet love./
He opened the bag and slowly poured the ashes into the sea.
Lyrics from 'Straight From the Heart' by Richard Marx.