Let There Be Peace on Earth

Thanks to Thyme for her editing help and to Sabina for the inspiration
Dedicated to my dad and firefighters everywhere
This story was also written for QueerAsChristmas on LJ. 


Cathal ran a grimy hand through his hair as he took off his helmet and let it drop to the floor. Twelve hours. Twelve fucking hours of smoke and heat and not knowing which fucking end was up in a tinderbox of an old building that should have been torn down decades ago, but instead had been home to dozens of families…babies even...when it shouldn’t have housed a self-respecting rat. He and the rest of the men from Ladder 45 carried out tiny body after tiny body while the police held back the screaming grandmothers on the icy sidewalk. It was always the grandmothers, of course. God alone knew where the parents were.

He had to quit this business.

As he struggled with the buckles on his heavy department issued coat that weighed two tons but kept him from burning inside the infernos he voluntarily entered, Joe, his partner came into the locker room.

“Hey, Cat. What’s the word? You’re off for the long weekend, you dog, gonna see the folks for the holidays? Or are you gonna find yourself a hot date and burn up the sheets? All puns fully intended?”

Cat looked at the older man blearily. Joe was on the shady side of forty, settled down with a wife and three kids, the oldest in college. How did he stand it? Cat was his third partner. His second had died on September 11, 2001. Cat had been a rookie back then. Really a rookie–his very first day on the streets. He remembered standing on the sidewalk outside the World Trade Center, with one of the later arriving ladders. He and another guy were assigned to hold a hose, trying to keep down that thick black dust. Two of his older brothers were inside the building and his father, a fire chief, was somewhere directing the action. His oldest brother was somewhere in the chaos outside. Cat hadn’t seen Darragh at all. He was worried sick about all of them as word started being passed around of firemen being lost.

Cat knew he should be longing to rush into that burning, collapsing building. He was “Cathal” which meant “battle mighty” and his battlefield as a son of Sean O’Keefe was to fight these fires that took lives as much as any war zone.

He just hadn’t expected, as a young man of twenty-one, to find that this other kind of war zone would come find him on his battlefield in his very first season. He did his best. He really did, using his big O’Keefe brawn to muscle equipment into places it needed to be, carrying people to safety when their own legs gave out from exhaustion and fear, running back and forth all day like the athlete he was without ever giving up or giving in.

But...he didn’t go into those deathtraps that day. It wasn’t asked of him, thank God, so he never had to find out if he would have been able to do it. Thomas and Stephen, Chief Sean O’Keefe’s twins. They went in without pause, Tommy turning to look back over his shoulder at Stevie, no doubt a joke on his lips. Hours later, Thomas carried Stephen out like a child, the large broken body cradled to his chest. Once clear of the building he collapsed in their oldest brother’s arms. Darragh held them both as Tommy clung to his twin, crushed by a falling beam. All Cathal could do was watch from a distance– transfixed by their own O’Keefe pieta, until he saw a reporter from one of the newspapers direct her cameraman to take a picture and he very deliberately walked in front of the man and palmed his camera with an ash darkened hand.

“Don’t.” It was all he had to say. Forest green eyes beneath fire red hair shouldn’t look intimidating, but when coupled with two hundred and fifty pounds of solid muscle and a six foot five inch frame...it did. The O’Keefe family’s private grief never became part of the nation’s scrapbook. Too many died, in his father’s opinion, for the attention to focus on any one or two poignant stories, but if the nation needed a focal point for the fire department, he was just as happy that it was Fr. Mychal Judge. Cat’s grief at seeing the kindly old priest’s body being carried out had been worse in some ways than at seeing Stephen’s. By the time Stephen was brought out, Cat was practically numb from pain. Too much death, too many lives lost, too many horrible sights coming at him too quickly. That one of their own, an O’Keefe, was lost, invincible as they’d always been, seemed inevitable on a day when even the Pentagon was struck. The old rules had been tossed out and new ones took their place. Even Dad, the rock of his life, seemed to age ten years that day. Suddenly, he looked at his father and saw a mortal man. It was a disturbing concept, all the more so for being so obvious once apparent, that he told himself that he must have always known it...but in truth, he hadn’t.

Cat was paired with Joe a few weeks later. He’d wanted to be teamed with Tommy, but Darry explained that Tommy wasn’t ready for the field yet. Róisín, his oldest sister, named for his aunt Rose and more like her than was pleasant in Cat’s opinion, said that Tommy was never going to be ready. Once again a little slow on the uptake, Cat kicked himself for being the last one in the family, seemingly, for realizing that Tommy wasn’t ever returning to the fire department, when week after week passed and there was no talk of his leave ending. He finally pushed the issue with Darragh, but it was Róisín who answered him, Darry just turned away, muttering something about things taking time.

“Tommy thinks he died in that Tower too, and if Daddy doesn’t do something about it soon, he’ll lose another son to that tragedy.”

Cat’s father didn’t do anything, but his cousin Danny did. Seeing the terrible shape Tommy was in, and soon to be leaving New York for France, Danny, an actor, had lured Tommy into his world of travel and excitement. It was the best thing for him. But, he only ever came home for very short visits, and never for overnight, the emptiness of a life without his lost twin most oppressive in the places where they’d shared every aspect of life.

Cat had benefitted by getting Tommy and Stephen’s Manhattan apartment, which he found comforting more than ghoulish, as their sisters insisted it would be. Here, the echoes of the twins’ lives were reminiscent of a happier, more innocent time, when no one died and brothers didn’t move away for good. Cat found it fascinating, because instead of evidence of a life lived as bookends, which was what one saw at the O’Keefe house, here in their apartment was proof that they were two very different men.

Thomas the man was more into sports, his room still filled with baseball memorabilia and ticket stubs from the Mets...always a lover of the underdog, that was Tommy. Then there were his videogames, of course, and Playboy magazines side by side with his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and Steinbeck.

Stephen was more cerebral, with the poems of Pablo Neruda, next to the writings of Garcia Marquez, both in the original Spanish, Cat was impressed to see. There were also many copies of Playbill, evidence that Stevie had loved theater, both musicals and dramas. Cat was surprised that he hadn’t known that. The twins were only six years older. That wasn’t so much older that he shouldn’t have known them better, he thought guiltily. But then, he had his secrets too.

That hit home even more when he searched further into Stephen’s room, having decided to take that as his own, and make Tommy’s a guest room, all the better for when he came back to visit, he reasoned. If he came back, went unspoken, but the thought was there. Danny, who had more money than God, was subsidizing the rent of the apartment, in case Tommy wanted to come back, but that was between Sean, Cat and Danny.

It was the contents at the back of Stephen’s underwear drawer that made Cat sit down to take stock of the situation. Dildos in all sizes and forms, double-headed, ridged, ticklers... then there was the assortment of butt-plugs, cock-rings, and some things Cat wasn’t sure what they were, though the magazines that were there no doubt could give a clue. Definitely not Playboy.

He flipped through some of the magazines, sitting down to look more closely. That was when Danny arrived to drop off the check for the first year’s rent in advance and bring Tommy’s spare key to the storage locker. And probably, knowing Danny, to make sure Cat was okay with the job of going through Stephen’s things alone, what with having Darragh made sure Tommy’s wishes were followed, and the girls and his mom were kept out.

Sitting with all the sex paraphernalia spread around him, Cat had just stared at his model handsome cousin...which just happened to be how Danny got to be as rich as God...modeling paid a lot, certainly a hell of a lot more than firefighting Or acting, singing, and dancing, Danny’s real talents. You’d hate Danny if he weren’t such a nice guy, Cat thought, looking enviously at his cousin’s long black hair, which he felt looked much better with the O’Keefe green eyes than the flame red that they’d all inherited from their mother, along with the Feeney temper. His mother Maggie and Rose O’Keefe, Danny’s mother, were also first cousins, and that temper was said to be why his branch of the family moved to New York from Pittsburgh. The O”Keefe brothers got along great, but their wives couldn’t be in the same room more than ten minutes without a knock-down, hair-pulling fight starting. A third O’Keefe brother, Uncle Frank, a policeman, lived in Pittsburgh, but his wife was only half Irish, so the cousins figured that was the main reason he was able to stay in the same City. Rose walked all over the poor woman.

“So, you figured things out before I could kind of explain it for you?” Danny had said lightly, coming into the room and leaning against the dresser. He’d raised one of those perfect eyebrows of his. “Any questions?”

Cat had been floored. Just like that? Your dead brother was gay? Or maybe bi...Cat looked again at the collection and swallowed. Nope, gay. Thinking back, he didn’t know all that much about Stevie’s dating life. It was always just “the twins” were doing something, and there were girls along, but he couldn’t recall either of them being particular with any one girl. Yet, Thomas’ room indicated he was into girls, right. Without thinking about it, Cat was flipping through the magazine, staring at the pictures. Men kissing men, stroking the cocks of other men. Swallowing....

Danny had coughed. “I was going to ask if you wanted me to take those things away for you so the family doesn’t find out, but obviously I can leave them.” A faint smile touched his lips.

Cat had protested. “Hey, I know you’re bi and all, little cousin, and apparently Stevie was, or at least interested in,” his gaze flickered down toward a very graphic picture of a man penetrating another man while sucking on yet another man’s cock, how could he keep track of what he was doing, he wondered, “and there’s nothing wrong with that, but I’m not, and Tommy sure as hell wasn’t and....”

Cat had found his eyes tearing up and he put his head down between his knees. O’Keefes didn’t cry, damn it. But, sometimes, you got so damn tired. And when Danny crouched down on the floor and wrapped his arms around him, Cat had found himself crying for the first time since 911.

Later that night, he went out with Danny and got rip roaring drunk. He kissed a man, more than one, in fact, and let a man suck his cock. It gave him the most fantastic orgasm he’d ever had. He’d fallen asleep on his cousin’s sofa and woke the next morning with an incredible hangover, but at least some of the weight was gone from his shoulders. He’d survived 911 but it wasn’t because he was a coward...a gay coward. Stephen had been gay and he’d died a hero’s death. Cat could stop stalling and get on with his career, and his life.



Now, over seven long years later, Cat was the battle weary veteran, but still a novice when it came to someone like Joe. As he pulled off his heavy coat, his voice reflected all of his discouragement as he said, “Joe, I’m quitting. I just can’t take any more days like this.”

“Firemen don’t quit, son. We just get burnt out,” Joe quipped, going to the coffee machine. He handed the first cup he poured to Cat.

“Coffee, the nectar of life, son, drink it down and the whole world will look better,” he advised.
“Just what I need, hot liquid on my scalded throat,” Cat complained.

“Yep, washes the soot right down into your stomach, haven’t I taught you anything after all these years?” Joe looked at the handsome young man, weariness etched into every line, his big shoulders slumping, his legs sprawled. Joe knew the only reason he was still able to stay with the Ladder and hack the long hours with his forty year old body was because of this big-hearted partner of his, who didn’t think twice about carrying twice his share of the load, who had the body to do it without a second thought, most days. No, it wasn’t Cathal’s body that ever failed him, the man was an ox. Nor was it his heart was wanting, that great heart never quit, Joe would bet any man in the station that Cat would never give up as long as there was breath in that great body of his. He had a love for all people and wanted to save the world. Maybe that was the problem though, Joe thought as he sipped at his own cup of coffee, the boy just can’t accept that he can’t save them all, so he is killing his soul bit by bit over the ones he can’t save.

“You know what it was today, don’t you?” Cat looked up at him, the green eyes bleak in his soot marked face.

Before Joe could answer, Cat went on, his deep voice harsh from smoke inhalation. Better have him checked out before he heads off on his leave, Joe thought.

“The Christmas tree. Isn’t it always, this time of year? They try to bring a little holiday joy into their kids’ lives and what happens? It kills them, Joe. Because they don’t know that the electricity sucks in their squalid tenement building, or at least, they do, but they don’t put two and two together and figure out that they can’t plug cheap dollar store lights into sockets that send out sparks and then leave them on when they go out to earn a few bucks on the street corner...oh, and don’t forget the space heater set too close to the plastic tree. Can’t forget that fire hazard. It’s like a ‘how to’ on setting a home fire.”

“We got six kids out, Cat. You personally got those last three out. They would have been goners the way they hid themselves in that back bedroom.” Joe thought it past time to break into this litany of pity. “You don’t win them all. You, of all people, should know that.”

Cat looked up blearily. “We don’t win enough, Joe. Not enough.” He walked toward the shower room, his suspenders trailing behind him. “I just can’t take it any more. I’m sorry.”

Joe was startled as Cat leaned against the shower wall, still mainly clothed and let the water run over him. Although the younger man’s face was perfectly still beneath the hard stream of water, Joe would have sworn those were tears mingling with the rush of New York City municipal water. Except he knew that Cathal O’Keefe, like his illustrious father, Chief Sean O’Keefe, and the five brothers who had preceded him into the New York City Fire Department, never cried.

Joe wouldn’t be called a religious man like some people thought of religious. If his day off fell on a Sunday he’d rather spend it working on his old Harley and then taking her out for a spin than sitting inside hearing what he should be doing. He talked to God plenty though. What fireman didn’t? They were on close personal terms, in fact, and Joe never hesitated to ask for a favor, or yell at the man upstairs when things didn’t go quite right. And he remembered to say thanks when they did. Today, he’d done all three, and most especially the last when his young partner came out of that burning deathtrap after the last time he’d insisted on going back in. Damn, he made Joe’s heart almost stop, but come out he did, with three little rugrats clinging to his front like lemurs, damn, if it wasn’t a sight to bring you to your knees. He said a quick thanks to the Big Guy for that one right before he berated the young big guy for his damn heroics. Then Joe got the clinging, frightened children into the ambulance as he held his partner up and protected him from the chief’s ire.

That was before they got the smoke and fire down, of course, and were able to get in again and found the rest of those kids. The ones Cat hadn’t been able to see and carry to safety. They’d been in the next room from the ones he had found. Just a few feet away.

Now, watching Cat hide his tears in the shower, tears he couldn’t hold back for the time it would have taken to finish taking off his clothes, Joe started talking to his God, asking him to take care of his buddy Cat.

“Help him find the answers he needs, God. He’s a good kid. We need more like him on the Ladder. Don’t let the job turn him hard, like some, or the loss send him away in pain, like his brother. I don’t ask for you to spare our lives, Lord, that’s in your hands. Not even my life, though I’d like to see my kids’ kids, like all of us would. But these people will keep having fires and we’re the ones who have to go in and much as I’d love never to lose another man, God, it’s your Will, not mine. But if you could help out the boy, that would be a good idea. He did good today, that had to be your Will. And I can’t think that those four little ones dying in the fire was your idea, any more than it was Cat’s fault that he didn’t get to them in time. So if you could find a way to let him know that...I’d be thankful, God.”

To Cat, Joe merely yelled in, “Hey, brain trust, it works better naked. Use soap too. Didn’t they teach you Irish boys anything in that fancy college of yours?”

Green eyes sprang open and almost as though in a daze, Cat looked down at his soaking wet pants and shirt.


Joe laughed and went back to refill his cup.



Cat walked down the street in Soho, hands in his pockets and head down. A lot had changed in seven years and yet in some ways much was the same. Danny was still the only “out” male of their generation, happily living with his partner in Pittsburgh now after a tumultuous several years. He’d had several discussions about coming out, especially once Danny’s father, the official head of the O’Keefe family and its major homophobe had died. Cat’s father was much more tolerant–practically had to be, living and working in New York City. Yet...Cat held back.

Certainly the NYFD wasn’t the worst place to be gay in, but neither was it the best. There was that time that the rugby team was supposed to play in that big charity tournament and one of the FDNY’s top players, great player, in fact, cover of Sports Illustrated honoring firemen and everything, embarrassed the department and the city when he went over to the other team, The Gotham Knights, and asked if any of the players were HIV positive. The upshot was that the Firefighters forfeited, but then the Knights ended up withdrawing from the tournament, anyway. It was a nine-day wonder, with everyone weighing in, from legal experts to health experts to sporting experts. Everyone was an expert.

Joe had shaken his head at the controversy. “We go into burning buildings for a living! Are you telling me that one of our guys is afraid of banging elbows with some gay guy on the rugby field cos he thinks he could get AIDS from it? How low are they setting the civil service exam scores these days?” He’d nudged Cat and snickered.

Cat had grinned obediently, but what he’d been thinking was, would some of these guys hesitate to play baseball with him if they knew he sometimes went over into the gay clubs in New Brunswick and Princeton? He rarely hit the New York clubs. Too much chance of running into someone he knew, or who knew him. Once, on a whim, he dyed his hair black, and was startled to see his cousin looking back at him. Not Danny, but Jamie, the second youngest in Danny’s family, who was also the second biggest, about an inch taller than Cat. It was amazing how much Cat looked like him with something as simple as a hair color change. He found himself acting freer that night, adopting his cousin Jamie’s bolder, more devil-may-care style with men and women.

Of course, that would be the night he’d run into Danny. They’d eyed each other for a few moments, then his cousin’s dimpled smile had appeared and he’d made his way across the crowded dance floor, his own green eyes gleaming as he cut in on the man Cat had been dancing with.

Cat found it disturbingly sexy to feel that slim muscular body pressed against him. He knew that Danny’s slender appearance was deceiving, and for all that he had almost a half foot in height and nearly a hundred pounds on him, the smaller man could more than hold his own in any fight, being a black belt several times over. Cat’s body however, had been taking more than a clinical interest in those muscles, and he had to keep reminding himself that they were related, for fuck’s sake, cousins a dozen times over. Danny, meanwhile, didn’t seem to be at all worried about any lack of degrees of separation. He was busy putting on quite a show for the circling men, who were drooling over the sight of two look-alike men but for the size thing, groping each other on the dance floor. At least, one was groping, the other was being groped.

Danny had gone up on his toes, easy for a ballet dancer. He could probably dance like that for hours, Cat had thought, and tried not to think of what else Danny could do with that body. He’d told himself he wished he had gone to Princeton instead that night. But that shapely mouth was whispering in his ear...and my God, Cat thought, tell me he isn’t licking it?  “So, playing on the wild side, are we, and sober too? Because something tells me that this is not me own brother Jamie, and I suspect the curtains don’t match the carpet, if I were to take you into the backroom and take a little peek, now, would they?”

Cat’s face flamed as red as his hair usually was. Danny laughed low and wickedly.

“Didn’t think to use the hair dye in all the right places, now did you? Darling Cat, your lovely red hair is too noticeable in your nether regions not to give you away if you choose black. Go brown, less of a startling change and you can rinse it out easier. Looking like me in this neighborhood is guaranteed to get you attention you don’t want. If you’re serious about staying in your closet in New York, you’re going to have to play in a different sandbox. But may I say, you make one hot Dark Angel?”

Cat had rolled his eyes. City the size of this one and he had to be related to one of its King Queens.

That had been a while ago. Danny did take the time to introduce Cat to clubs that were fun, safe, and not likely to cause any problems back home. They’d had discussions about whether Cat should discuss his orientation with his folks. Cat hated keeping anything like this from his parents but with their grief over Stephen and the sorrow of Thomas leaving, and the loss of their own brother and cousin, Cat didn’t feel they needed any other ... disappointments. He didn’t lie to them so much as he was...non-committal.

Danny said he understood. But then he’d asked Cat, “If you always stay in the closet, Cat...how can you ever love? Will you keep the one you love in the closet with you? Or will you leave this,” he’d waved his hand at the gay neighborhood, the lights, the men walking hand in hand all around them, “ and join Darragh and Michael and the others in their normal straight world? I’m not mocking it, mind you, I’m just asking, as that’s a switch I could never see myself making, but I’m not you. I couldn’t live in the closet this long.”

Cat had assured him that when he found someone he wanted to be with, the answer would be easy. Until then, it wasn’t necessary to make a change, Cat’s life was fine as it was. That’s what he told him, but he wasn’t so sure himself. Still, as he wandered the streets of Soho after leaving the Engine House and his talk with Joe, he felt somehow as though his life was missing something. There had to be more to it than this. More than simply trying to stay ahead of the body bag count. If that’s all there was, then Cat was losing, and if he was losing, who the hell was winning?

Cat left Soho and took a cab back to that building where those small bodies had been brought out. Something in him snapped. He couldn’t handle it anymore. He sat down on the short stone wall across the street from the burned out building and bent his head between his knees and just cried. Cried like he did in the shower, but this time there was no hiding the tears. He didn’t stop to make sure there was no one around to see.

“Why are you crying? You couldn’t have known anyone who lived in a place like this.” The man was standing in the shadows. Cat couldn’t see his features, just that his hair was dark, his form lean. He looked to be wearing decent clothes but around here you couldn’t be sure. He could be a dealer or a pimp if dressed a little better.

“I’m not crying,” the defensive answer was out almost before Cat could even think. He almost flinched at the laughter that came back, but it wasn’t the harsh laughter of the schoolyard, or even that of his home growing up, [“...are ya crying...,” “is he crying...”, “look, Darry, your baby brother’s crying..., “what a big baby!”], but a softer, more mellow sound. There was a soft crunch of shoes across ice, the snow finally beginning to lay on the sidewalks, and then the other man sat down next to him.

“Hey, name’s Miguel Martinez. Sorry for being a jerk. I used to live in this neighborhood...long time ago it seems now. Knew the girl whose babies died. Knew some of the dads too,” he added, with an ironic twist of his lips.

“I’m sorry,” Cat said, feeling renewed pain at the loss of lives that seemed somehow sadder for this tangible connection. See, they were being mourned, Joe, this guy knew their mom and is now standing out here keeping vigil in the snow.

Miguel shook his head. “No, I wasn’t looking for an apology. Martina was probably drunk off her ass. Poor kids, they never had a chance. I look at this house, and I think, thank God my brother and me, we got out of a house like this, a place just like this, because our grandmother worked so hard to save us from our mother’s neglect. But it took a friendly policeman who helped her help us. We were heading the wrong way. So today, I heard that there was this fireman who pulled Martina’s sister’s kids out when by all rights, man, they should have died too. I felt like maybe it was a sign that I should step in and take an interest in something more than my bank account. Help out Martina’s mother in raising those kids of hers.”

Miguel turned to stare at the building while he continued his story in a reflective voice. Cat found his voice very soothing. “Folks around here are arguing about what to call him. Some say the Angel Rojo, because of his hair, they said it was like fire when he defied orders to go in, but then he was all black when he came out with the kids clinging to him.” Miguel leaned back on his gloved hands, and gave Cat a measuring look. He started to say something but then seemed to change his mind.

“You wouldn’t know anything about that guy, would you? And it is considered polite in certain sidewalk circles when someone introduces themself to....” Miguel didn’t finish, he didn’t have to.

Cat smiled faintly and offered his hand. Miguel’s handshake was firm, sure. “Cathal O’Keefe, but my friends call me Cat. I worked the fire today with Ladder 45. We...I...” Cat was furious that his voice broke when he tried to discuss the fire. Looking down, he saw that his hands were shaking. A leather gloved hand came over his and clasped it again firmly.

“You really aren’t dressed for this snow. I have my car around the next block...company car, such a perk for City life, especially since the firm pays for the parking of it. Would you like to continue this conversation at a coffeeshop I know that has great pie, decent coffee, and is open until you feel like leaving?”

Cat found himself agreeing and following Miguel to his car, leaving the shadow of the burned out building behind him.

They talked half the night, about sports and politics and music. It wasn’t until about three-thirty that Miguel reached out and stroked his thumb over the pulse point in Cal’s wrist. Cal thought it was one of the most erotic things he’d ever had done to him by a man...or woman for that matter. Miguel’s dark brown eyes held his, and he whispered softly, “I want to make love to you, Cathal.”

They went back to Miguel’s apartment and slowly undressed each other. Cat’s experiences had mainly been anonymous one shots in backrooms or motels. This was a pick-up, sure, but it was different. Miguel took his time. Once they were both naked, he had Cal lie down on his bed, face down, and he massaged Cat’s tired shoulders and back muscles with a lotion that warmed as it was worked into his skin by strong, talented fingers. Miguel followed the path of his hands with his lips, murmuring the whole time in Spanish. Cal had brushed up on his college Spanish years ago in order to read his brother’s books, so he delighted Miguel by answering in a fairly respectable accent, and begging him to continue. He even borrowed some of the language from Neruda’s love poems, and Miguel rolled onto his back and swore he was in love.

Cat pinned him down and assured him, with a grin, that such had been the purpose– to make the handsome dark man swear his love– and roll over onto his back. Staring down into those rich brown eyes, Cat finally thought he might have found a reason to come out of his closet. Then he saw the deep scarring that covered Miguel’s lower abdomen, and frowned. Miguel tensed, and waited to see how Cat would react. He’d forgotten to turn the lights down low as he usually did. To keep his front covered until he knew a man better, especially a man as good-looking as Cat.

Cat simply looked, then bent and kissed his way across the scarred area. Miguel smiled, a warm, beautiful smile, then wrapped his long muscular legs around the fireman’s strong hips. Sensing that Cat needed to feel dominant, at least for their first time, Miguel reached for the condom and rolled it onto the bigger man.

“I’ve never...Miguel...I don’t want to hurt you.” Cat’s voice was husky, whether from the smoke from the fire still or from emotion, neither of them knew.

Miguel hid his surprise that Cat was that inexperienced, mentally shrugging. Some gay men didn’t ever engage in anal sex as a matter of choice. That he had chosen tonight to change his mind worked for Miguel. And while Miguel was not a virgin by any means, he more often topped, so, based on the size of Cat, a bit more preparation than normal probably would be a good idea, he decided.

And kind of sweet.

He leaned up and kissed those full lips, thinking how incredibly adorable the big fireman was and how amazing to have met him, after following his instinct to go out to the fire site this evening. Wait until he called Danny and told him he’d met a cousin of his...a gay cousin, no less. He wondered why Danny had never mentioned having a gay cousin?

That was the last thought that Miguel had about anything or anyone besides Cathal for the rest of the night. The man proved a quick study. Miguel was not a small man, he was a good six one, and while lean, he was wiry, with hard muscles on a toned frame. But Cat made him feel fucking fragile as he turned and lifted him with ease. One long arm would be stroking along his thigh and ass while his other hand would be cupping the back of his head, holding him close for a deep kiss, while those incredible legs propped him up completely. Miguel swore he tried more new positions with Cat than he’d used in the past five years. And that was just in the foreplay. But he most certainly was not complaining.

Then, after Cat’s long fingers had lubed and stretched him, Miguel wrapped his legs around that tight ass and felt the blunt end of a monstrously huge cock pressing against his anus. At that point he really had to wonder at his chivalrous instincts...why did he offer to bottom when going to bed with King Kong? He bit his lip as Cat pushed in and Miguel felt a pain like he hadn’t felt since he was fifteen and he’d let Jamal bend him over the radiator in the boy’s room at St. Francis Xavier’s. Fuck, it hurt. He pushed against it and breathed deeply. Cat moved Miguel’s hands up to his broad shoulders, and said, “Hold on,” just before he pushed in deeper.

So, Miguel closed his eyes and held on. He couldn’t help thinking of those small children, hanging onto this same broad chest less than twenty-four hours ago, clinging arms and legs like he was, to the strength of this man, and he almost giggled, but then Cat was in all the way and hallelujah the man can find the prostate on his first try. Miguel relaxed and let his knees fall back to his own chest. He opened his eyes to see Cat smiling down at him.

Miguel smiled back. This looked to be a good thing. Cat started moving then...hard...and removed all doubt.



“Yo, Miguel, did you see the paper, my twin? Wake up! I brought you coffee, Christmas cookies, the paper and a shopping list a mile long, so get up! We have to go shopping!”

Cat raised his head up from the pillow. That racket! He was alone in the bed. That much he could figure out...not that he was ever all that good in the morning. Needed coffee! What was that voice shouting? And where was Miguel?

He started to get up but the bedroom door burst open first. There stood Miguel...but not quite. Cat stared blankly at a doppelganger of his lover from the night before. The doppelganger stared back, then started laughing.

“Jesu, Maria and Joseph! You are the fireman! Not only that, you are the Angel Rojo! That is so funny! Don’t tell me, you have a twin fetish too!”

“Why would I have a twin fetish?” Cat stiffened at the suggestion, thinking of Stephen and Thomas. Some people had thought him strange for living in their apartment, so he was a bit sensitive on the subject of twins. The fact that Stephen had died on his first day as a fireman was seen as some sort of eerie portent by others, but Cat did his best to ignore such people and ideas...as much as any person of Irish descent could.

“Just a thought, given how your cousin harps on and on about it,” the stranger with Miguel’s face said, sitting on the bed and sipping from a cup of coffee, a cup that Cat looked at longingly. “Of course, Miguel harps on and on about the Dark Angel, so getting the new Angel Rojo to bed on the very day he appears, Dios! My brother! There will be no living with him!”

Cat felt like he’d been gut punched. “Your brother has a thing for Danny?” Who said Cat was slow, he felt as though he were getting this picture crystal clear, and it was making him ill.

“Who doesn’t?” The other man grinned. “Oh, listen to me, and you dying there for some coffee, too, I bet. Here, take Migg’s, he’s probably out getting you some, anyway. I’m Juan, his brother, as you probably have guessed. That whole identical face thing is a dead giveaway, don’t you think? We share this place, kind of. I’m usually not in town, but got in this morning. Big surprise! Should have phoned, my bad. But Miggs has been on a no man kick for a while, all work, no play, making Miggs a boring boy, so it’s a pleasure to meet you, and you are the big one, surprise, that is” Juan looked appreciatively at Cat’s large form, which was only partially covered by the sheet. “We’ve both known Danny for ages, and Miguel works with your other cousin, John, the lawyer...did you get around to sharing life stories? He’s a lawyer,” Juan beamed as Cat thought, no, he didn’t mention that, or that he worked for John, funny thing to leave out.

Juan was chattering on, “...and we’ve kind of met a bunch of the rest of those O’Keefes through them. I’ve met Denis too, a couple of times, and I think I’ve met Tommy. Would he be one of your group?”

Cat was feeling overwhelmed but managed to say, “Denis is another cousin, Tommy is my brother.”

Juan nodded, satisfied. “Thought so. Denis has those gorgeous blue eyes, but the black hair, and Tommy had your lovely red hair with the green eyes. But why am I telling you? You know all that. So gorgeous, all of you. Of course, Miguel will never let me forget that he’s made it with one of you...and you so big and brawny too! The paper didn’t mention you were gay. I wonder why Danny never mentioned you?”

Cat stood up, the sheet wrapped around him like a toga. His eyes were sparkling like emeralds, a green fire dancing in the center. Any one of his brothers could have told Juan that it was a good idea to stay away when Cathal was fired up. He didn’t get mad often, but when he did...look out. He didn’t come out of a fury for hours.

“Danny never mentioned it because I’m not gay. Miguel can just as soon let you forget he ‘made it’ with me, the ‘Red Angel’ because it is not ever going to happen again. He’s had his O’Keefe experience, good for him. Maybe if he gets really lucky, he’ll get the real thing some day and Danny will give him a roll. He’s not as big and brawny, but I have it on good authority that his cock is almost as big. Now excuse me, I’m going to get dressed and get out.”

“Cathal...what the fuck happened? What did Juan say?” Miguel stood in the doorway, a bag in one hand, a cup carrier in the other. He shot his twin a glare. Juan looked innocently back at him. He really didn’t understand what set the big guy off.

“I was just discussing Danny and the fact that you worked for John...I mentioned I was surprised that Cathal, Cathal is it? That Cathal’s name never came up in all this time. We all could have gotten together. The paper says he works right in the City, man. The old neighborhood isn’t your usual district, huh?” Juan looked at Cat, his eyes touched with sadness. “They needed to call out extra trucks for that one or something? It was a good thing they did. Shame about those babies.”

Cat had been throwing on his clothes. At that, he paused and looked at the two brothers. He seemed to want to say something but the fire was still burning in his eyes, so he just nodded and left. Without another word.

Miguel sat down on the bed. “You really fucked me over on that one, Juan,” he said heavily.

Juan looked at him closely. “I don’t get it. What was with tall, red and handsome? He made Danny seem even-tempered. You, brother, are not lucky in love. Maybe you should stick to women?”

Miguel raised an eyebrow at him. “Maybe I should change my locks and keep you out. Get my cell phone from the other room. I need to call Danny and find out what the fuck is the problem with his cousin. Not that anyone would like being told they’re a substitute for someone’s fantasy man. I heard what you said, Juan and that is so not true.”

Juan looked at his brother shrewdly. “Are you sure that he wasn’t?”

“What do you mean?”

“What I mean is, if you want an answer to your question, why call Danny? Why not go after the source?”

Miguel looked at his brother and sighed. “I don’t have a crush on Danny, Juan. I don’t know what it is I have with Cat, but it seemed really good. One thing I did feel is that whatever it was for me, it was even more significant for him. The man had...” Miguel hesitated, not wanting to expose Cat’s secrets but being used to sharing everything with his twin. He compromised. “Cat and I were closer than he’d ever been with anyone and I felt closer to him than I’ve been with anyone in a long time, maybe ever. I want to know what I’m getting into so I don’t hurt him, or mess this up anymore. Maybe it was just a one night stand, but even if that’s all it’s meant to be, I don’t want him to remember it as something ugly. It wasn’t.”

“I have a big mouth sometimes, huh?” Juan looked shamefaced.

“Yeah, all the time, but I love you anyway.”

They hugged, then Miguel again ordered Juan to get his phone for him. “Then make me breakfast, while I get showered. We have a lot to do. I want to go back out to the old neighborhood.”

Meanwhile, Cat caught the subway back to his apartment and showered. He prepared his resignation. His father would be upset. His mother would hit the roof. She was more fiercely loyal to the Fire Department than even his father. His father would understand...he hoped...his mother never would.

He refused to think about Miguel, although the pain in his chest wouldn’t let him completely forget either. His cell phone showed that he had a call from his cousin Danny. And his cousin John. His cousins Julie and Johnny also. There must be a four alarmer out on him, he thought whimsically, to bring out two levels of cousins. When Denis’ number showed up on his caller ID, he knew it was time to exit the apartment for awhile. Denis was a detective with the NYPD, and if he’d been brought into project Cathal, there was every likelihood he or one of his cohorts on the force would be on Cat’s doorstep sooner or later.

Cat’s beeper went off around seven pm. His cell phone he could ignore, but his Fire Department beeper had to be answered. He called in. “I’m on holiday, what’s up?” he asked dispatch, as surly as he ever got.

“You’re being called in, if you don’t mind, Prince Charming. Joe needs you; he’s in charge of this one, three alarmer at the site of yesterday’s fatality. Joe said to tell you sorry if he’s cutting into your retirement but that’s what friends are for.” She went on to give him the address formally and signed off.

Fuck, another one in that hellhole neighborhood. Joe would have his gear there. All thoughts of resignation gone from his head, Cat thought only of getting out to the scene as quickly as possible. He commandeered a cab and made the driver happy by promising him a huge tip and freedom from tickets if he could get him out there before the fire trucks.

They made it just about the same time. The scene was chaotic, with children and old folks screaming, young people laughing and drinking, while the flames leaping up into the night sky added a Dante-like touch.

Cat ran over to Engine 45 and Joe started handing him his gear as he briefed him.

“Seems to be the same type of fire, despite the warnings we gave yesterday. Front room is engulfed. Grandmother had gone down to the grocery to get diapers and milk. Says the kids should be in the front bedroom, Cat. The ladder’s ready. Bill and Frank will help. The other two hoses are working on containment. I don’t want to knock you off the ladder with the water but can you take the smoke?”

Cat just nodded and moved, his AirPac ready, as well as the spare Pacs for the kids he hoped to find. Four, all under the age of six. With luck, he could carry all four, two to an arm, get them to the window and hand them out to Frank.

The first two were where they were supposed to be and he found them in the smoke filled bedroom, huddled by the floor near the door. Scooping them up, he took the time to hook masks on them both, then moved, never stopping, for the window. Two out, and then back. Easy, he told himself. Keep moving. He paused just a second at the window, to make sure Frank had a good grip on both of them.

“Where are the others?” Frank asked the two children as they started down the ladder but the children were too frightened to answer. Pausing no longer, Cat went back into the hot, dark hell that had been their home. Miguel had grown up in a place like this, he couldn’t help thinking. Cluttered, small rooms, where the slightest spark sent the whole place up like a tinderbox. Four or more children crowded into a tiny room.

Cat bent down and reached under the bed, while flames now licked toward the ceiling. A small hand touched his. Thank God, the little fingers moved around his. He bent as low as he could. Two sets of eyes. Two terrified sets of eyes.

He pulled the mask away for a second.

“Come on, munchkins, time to go outside and play. Hide and seek is over for now.”

Incomprehension looked back. It struck him that this was a Spanish speaking neighborhood, duh. He asked the children to come with him to see grandmother, in Spanish, he was there to help, he was a fireman. They quickly crawled out. Cat clasped them to his chest, affixed the AirPacs to their small faces, and headed back to the window. He watched with a sinking face as the floor started to give way under the heavy dresser next to the window. Frank, who was still at the window, looked nervously at Cat.

“You’re right above the fire, big guy, not sure if those floorboards will hold you,” he called over worriedly.

Cat could see space between some of the floor boards. The heat inside was tremendous. He opened his coat and tucked the children inside it. He signaled to Frank that he was going to try going around to another window.

Outside, Miguel and Juan watched with some of the neighborhood’s residents. Juan had his arm around an old woman, comforting her. Miguel simply watched what was going on, his keen eyes missing nothing as the fire and police worked desperately to get the fire and the crowd under control.
Suddenly, a woman came running up. She started yelling at one of the older women who was being questioned by a police woman. Miguel looked at Juan and the old woman, then nodded and walked over briskly.

He interrupted the newcomer and spoke sharply to her in Spanish, managing to take control even from the policewoman. He turned and got the attention of the fireman who seemed to be in control, whose attention was at that moment centered on Cat’s efforts to get himself and the two remaining children out of the building, but Miguel didn’t know that.

“Excuse me, this woman says that there may be two more children in the building. She left her children with the others to play while she ran down to buy a lottery ticket and got…” Miguel looked back at the woman, who was crying copious tears now, “she was delayed. She didn’t let Mrs. Delajueva know that she’d left her children there, so she didn’t know to tell you there were six children , not four.”

Joe looked at Miguel incredulously. He pulled off his helmet and scratched at his thinning hair. “I’ve got a fireman in there trying like hell to get two kids and himself out of that place, young man. I’ve got medics working on the two kids he already got out. I’ve got a dozen men scouring the connecting houses to get everyone out and try to keep them from burning to the ground while six other men try to help the first guy find his way out of that maze of smoke and fire since his way out just got cut off. You want to tell me how in hell I’m to find two more kids in a place they shouldn’t have been in the first place?”

Miguel grimaced. He looked back at Carmel. She looked shocked as it sank in that the fireman was saying that they weren’t going to be able to get her babies out. Miguel looked back at the building, grateful that Cat was scheduled to be off for a few days. The last thing he needed was another one of these tragedies.

He turned at the cheering. A large soot covered figure was coming from around the back of the building, staggering, his arms wrapped protectively around his front. Other firemen ran up to him and opened his coat as Miguel watched, and two small children were pulled from within the long firecoat, to the sound of more cheers.

“Excuse me,” the fireman said to him, leaving them to run over to the other fireman and slap him on the back.

“He isn’t even going to tell him about my babies!” Carmel cried, in disbelief. “He doesn’t care!” She turned on Miguel and Juan. “If you were real men, you’d do something. If you weren’t maricones, you’d save my babies! If Leon were alive, he’d save my babies.” She threw herself at Juan and started pounding on his chest.

It was that last comment that did it. Miguel was not usually one for stupid gestures. He left that to Juan, actually. Or Leon, the oldest Martinez brother who died in prison. Didn’t make it out of the projects, didn’t grow up to be a college graduate, summa cum laude, Juris Doctor or Master’s of Fine Arts, like the twins. No, his was death by knifing in the prison yard, while serving eight to ten for armed robbery.

A felon, yes. But, no one would ever have said of Leon Martinez that he lacked machismo.

There had once been a time when Miguel thought that Carmel’s babies could have been Leon’s.

Maybe it was that. Maybe it was the fact Miguel saw one of the firemen nudge his buddy and snicker when Carmel cried out her grief and rage...but he got mad. Because no way was it funny. The woman was losing her children and sure she was a terrible excuse for a mother but she loved her children as best she knew how.

So, in rapid fire Spanish, Miguel asked Carmel what room the children had been in when she’d left them. Her eyes lighting with hope, she told him. Juan started to argue with him but Miguel told him to be quiet and distract the firemen while he stole one of those coats and an AirPac.

“Forget them, someone had better distract Abuela,” Juan told him.

Deciding the heavy coat would just slow him down, Miguel grabbed an AirPac from the truck and took off for the house. He ignored the shouts from behind him and kept on running until he made it to the back, figuring that since the last fireman to come out used that path, it must be the clearest way. Carmel’s two had been in the back bedroom, watching TV. He knew the layout of these buildings like the back of his hand. He ran up the back stairs and felt as though he’d entered a sauna where the thermostat was broken.

Fuck...the pack gave him air to breathe but he couldn’t see worth a damn. Good thing he didn’t need to in order to find his way, he thought. He also thought he was out of his fucking mind. This was beyond a doubt the stupidest, scariest thing he’d ever done. Swallowing hard, he forced himself to move on, up the dark smoke-filled staircase, to the hallway. Counting off steps, he came to the back room. Should be Mrs. Delajueva’s so he skipped it, and moved to the next room. He leaned against the wall briefly. The heat was incredible. His foot hit something and he swore his heart almost stopped. He looked down but the smoke was so thick it was hard to see. He bent and felt with his hands.

A body. Two. The kids. Dear God. He felt for pulses. They were there, faint but there. He got the Airpac on the first child but then as he tried to get the second one on the other child, he hit a snag. It wouldn’t work. He tried not to panic but the damn thing wouldn’t work. He thought but saw no solution but to take his pack off and put it on the little girl.

Picking them both up with difficulty...no one ever called him brawny...Miguel staggered to the stairs. Flames were licking along the bottom. Okay, this fireman thing is not as easy as it looks, he decided. Next time, he’d leave it to the professionals. Dying a hero’s death was not what he had in mind for his Christmas this year. He wondered how Cat would feel if he read about it in the paper.

That thought was morbid enough for Juan, he decided, and the black humor gave him enough energy to hoist the two children onto his shoulders and make it into Mrs. Delajueva’s bedroom. He crossed to the bedroom window and after setting the children down on the floor, he kneeled down, trying to catch his breath. Not a good idea in a smoke-filled environment, he decided. He swore he could see an angel in front of him, flying by the window. Think, Miguel...think. What to do next. He was so tired. He needed to smash the window, though. Close the door to the hallway to keep out the fire and then smash the window so they can find you, a voice told him.

Sound plan. Miguel staggered to the door and slammed it. But then he collapsed before making it back to the window. The last thing he saw was the angel flying over him.



Outside, Cat was being helped over to the medics, to be checked out for smoke inhalation and to have a few burns treated. His attention was caught by the commotion over by Engine 45.

“Joe, what’s going on, why is that woman screaming...hey, I know that man.” At this distance, he couldn’t tell if it was Miguel or Juan, but his instincts told him that something was wrong. He tried to get up but Joe pressed him back down.

“No, Cat, you sit. You’ve done your part. I’ll go check it out. The police have everything under control though. Here’s Charlie, Charlie. What’s the commotion?”

“Funniest thing. That woman is screaming to beat the band. Says she left her kids with the old woman whose house is burning...seems she forgot to tell her, hey, you’re babysitting my kids. So the poor old woman wasn’t even home when dimwit leaves her kids off, and didn’t know to tell us that there aren’t four kids, there’s six kids, and she thinks that it’s everyone else’s fault but her own. Right now she’s yelling at some poor guy from the hood saying if he weren’t such a faggot, he’d be willing to go into the building and fetch out her kids for her.”

Cat felt shocked. He had to go to Juan, Miguel, whichever one it was. First though, he had to say something to Charlie, the ass. Before he could, Joe turned on him. “What kind of attitude is that to take? I’m going to go over and talk to the woman. I should have been more patient with the young man when he asked me for help for her. It’s a shame, but there’s nothing we can do now, finding this out late like this. I’m ruling that house a no enter zone. It’s too dangerous.”

Cat looked at Joe. “What young man? You mean the one standing there, right?”

Joe shook his head. “No, the other one, he was standing right there also. Looked just like that one, though. Must be twins.”

“That’s right,” Charlie put in helpfully. “She yelled at both of them. Wanted to know why they weren’t rushing into the burning building for her, but then figured it out, called them maricones, something like that. There you have it, Cat. What kind of faggot goes into a burning building just to save people?”

Cat looked at the snickering man and didn’t think twice before swinging hard, just once. Knocked Charlie out cold. He spoke to the man’s unconscious body.

“This kind.”

Then he looked Joe in the eye and told him, “I’m going back into that building regardless of what you decided...you should have told me there were two more kids in there. And now there is an adult male in there also, trying to do our job.”

“You’re not the only one out here who can do this, you know,” Joe said, frustrated.

Cat looked around. Most of the team was busy…but not everyone. “I know...so why didn’t you send anyone else in to get those kids?”

Joe didn’t have an answer. Maybe the answer was that he’d lost too many partners and friends and didn’t want to lose any more, so he played it safe. He watched Cat run over to Frank and discuss points of entry. Juan ran after him and talked to them about the back rooms. They nodded and headed toward the back of the building.

Cat heard the slamming door as he reached the bottom of the stairs. Praying that it wasn’t just a gust of wind from the broken windows in the front of the building that caused the door to slam, he made his way carefully up the stairs and felt his foot hit something. Reaching down, he picked up the abandoned air pack. Testing it, he frowned. Any fireman knew that it was more important to keep himself breathing, and at most would share his air with the person he was helping. He doubted, however, that Miguel would know to do that. Misguided heroics would make him give up his pack to one of the children and as a result, he would likely collapse from smoke inhalation.

Frightened for his...whatever Miguel was to him...and of course for the children, Cat moved quickly. Coming to the closed door, he tried it and felt it open partially. Something was blocking it. Something heavy. Squeezing in, he crouched down. Miguel’s crumpled form. Looking toward the window, Cat saw the two children propped against the wall, both wearing AirPacs.

Picking Miguel up easily, Cat moved to the window and found it was painted shut. Covering the other three with the cover from the bed, he broke the window and called down to Frank and Bill. The two men were ready to take the children, and they brought the bucket lift up so he could pass them out to them. He carried Miguel out, stepping out into the bucket, with Miguel over his shoulder. Once on the ground, he strode directly to the ambulance, Juan on his heels. The unconscious man was taken straight to the hospital to be treated for severe smoke inhalation.

Cat and Juan had no choice but to talk while waiting for word on Miguel’s condition at the hospital. Cat found he had to be there, and Juan was not the kind of person to let you sit out a hospital vigil with him and maintain a formal distance. Just wasn’t going to happen.

“Graci...thank you,” Juan whispered, tears falling down his cheeks. “He is everything to me. Please...forgive me for the silly things I said...Miguel was so angry at me. He…” Juan looked around, blushed and fell silent.

Cat reached out and touched Juan’s hand. “There’s nothing to forgive. He’s really something, isn’t he? Going in there like that? Took a lot of courage.”

Juan looked thoughtful. “But you do it every day. You know what took real courage, in my eyes?”

Feeling cautious, Cat asked, “What?”

“Telling your fellow firemen that you were one of us...you know, while you were in that building looking for Miguel and the kids, that was more of an issue than Miguel going in there unauthorized. I thought it was rather silly myself, but then, I’m an actor...gay is not such a showstopper.” He smiled self-deprecatingly.

Cat smiled back at him, a shy smile that hinted at dimples. Juan thought he was adorable. “But you do it every day...let the world know you’re gay...takes a lot of courage from where I’m standing. Would rather run into a burning building myself.”

“Well, I’ve done both.” a hoarse voice from the bed announced, “and I can say that the burning building thing sucks.”

“Well now, do you mean sucks ass, or sucks cock?” asked Juan, irrepressible as always, the relief in his eyes at hearing his brother speak far greater than his flippant tone would suggest.

“Juan, I love you, now leave,” Miguel told him, reaching out to touch Cat’s hand lightly.

“Love you too. Don’t make goo goo eyes too long, get some rest and all that...and Merry Christmas!” Juan leaned down and kissed Miguel, then after a second’s pause, kissed Cat on the cheek. “Thank you again for pulling him out of that building...my brother. Now I am off to decorate our tree!”

Juan fluttered a hand and left.

Cat looked at Miguel, hair dark against the hospital linens. The reasons for being angry earlier seemed so frivolous when viewed in the context of the moments when he’d seen Miguel crumpled on the floor of that smoke filled room. He sighed.

“I hope he knows not to use old lights, and to make sure the electrical system can carry that much voltage, and that your smoke alarm has a fresh battery....”

“Maybe someone competent should check it?” Miguel suggested hoarsely. “Juan is not very good with things like that, and me, I’m not the manly type.”

Cat raised his eyebrows. “No? I beg to differ. You seem quite manly to me.”

Miguel smiled slowly. “Well, the truth is...I go both ways.”

“I like versatility in a man.”

“I was hoping you’d say that.”

“Do you have anything special planned for the holidays?”

“Some quiet time at home, some time with friends and family...you?”

“I have an important conversation I need to have with my family and after that, I thought I’d like to spend some time with family...and some friends...especially with some friends.” Cat leaned forward and kissed Miguel lightly. Miguel brought his hands up and closed them on either side of Cat’s face as he deepened their kiss.

“You need to rest,” Cat murmured.

“Plenty of time to rest later. I need to tell you something right now,” Miguel told him. “I was trapped in that room, but this angel told me that my fireman would be there to carry me and the kids out...don’t laugh...I knew it would be okay, Cat...and I am not a fanciful man. Believe me I’m not. But tonight is Christmas Eve and one thing I know I’m doing as soon as they let me out of here is going to Church for the first time in, like, forever. I thought I was crazy to go in there for Carmel’s kids, but I had to do it, something made me, just like something made me go out there last night and meet you. And it’s all worked out like some big plan. Carmel’s kids were saved, even though you felt so bad for the ones you couldn’t save. I talked to Father Jose about an after school center for the kids in the neighborhood, but more than all that...”

Miguel fell silent, his hands still holding Cathal’s face. Cat finished the thought for him.

“Even more than that, we found each other...and I found peace. I’ll go with you for midnight services. Assuming they let you out.” He brushed his lips across Miguel’s again. “If not, we’ll just have to wait until they do. I have the time. I’m not going anywhere.”

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