Authors Notes:

This is a work of fiction – a bit of science fiction and fantasy mixed together in fact.  None of the characters, names or personalities, are based on real people.  Any resemblance to a real person is entirely coincidental and not intentional.  I do live in the Atlanta area and use a lot of places I’ve been in the story.

If you are offended by sex between adult men don’t read any further.

If you are not of legal age don’t read any further.

If this type of story is illegal where you live, for whatever reason, don’t read any further.

This story is copyrighted to me and cannot be reproduced without my express written consent.

If you have any comments you can send them to btaoc1963@gmail.com  I appreciate anything that anyone has to say good or bad.  If you have bad things to say please at least be polite.  I’ll try to respond to anyone who sends me an email.  I'm astounded by how nice everyone has been, and I really do feel like I've made some great pen pals.  I check my in box all the time now hoping to see new messages.  I don't care if they are about the story, I just enjoy the conversations that some of us have started up.  You guys are awesome!

I used to say that I’m rusty at writing.  I did some writing back in college in the mid to late eighties but this is the first thing I’ve tried to write of any length or complexity since then.  Man did I jump into it feet first lol.  I should have started with something shorter and less involved.  I’m not so much rusty anymore but I do consider myself inexperienced as far as being a writer.  I’m sure my story comes across as naïve to many people – but I’m having so much fun writing it and overall the feedback has been good and positive.  I would write it anyways even if no one enjoyed it – I’m writing it for myself. However, with that being said, if you have any ideas you want to share please email me.  A few ideas in the story were sparked from emails from readers.

I am not in nor ever have been in the military, so I apologize for getting anything wrong.  The characters are all Navy SEALS in the Prologue, where the story starts.

The email notification list for new chapters has been building and seems to be working well.   As great as Nifty.org is in many ways, sometimes it's difficult to find new postings when the stories aren't put out on a set schedule (like mine *cough cough*).  So if you are interested in getting on a mailing list send me an email and I'll create a group so I can let you all know when I post a new chapter.

Last chapter wasn’t as long but this one is.  My master file for this chapter is 145 pages in Microsoft Word.  It did take a little longer to get out than I intended.  I really got stuck early in this chapter and had a hard few weeks pushing through it.  The ideas came slower and I had to re-write quite a few scenes.  I think I managed to pull it out but we’ll see how you like it.


The song that Lane wrote the chapter before but never got to sing is in this chapter at the very end.  Here’s the Link to it:

 My Love Took Me Down to the River to Silence Me


There are a few other Links I wanted to put in here for reference.  In this chapter the guys have to rent a Yacht.  It's really big and really cool.  This is what it looks like if you want to get a visual:

ZEUS


One more Link.  In the story you all know that Bryan is the Guardian of the Tree of Life (and the Dragon he so lovingly named Leroy).  The Tree of Life is referred to as Yggdrassil in this chapter.  Yggdrassil is taken from Norse Mythology.  Here's a link if you want to read up on it:

Yggdrassil


I'll hold off on more Links for now.... I wanted to put a Link to the palce where the guys are going but I don't want to give it away here.  I'll try to remember to add a a Link in the 'Author's Notes' for Chapter 24.

This chapter takes the guys through Thanksgiving and the next Chapter will take them through Christmas.  It’s so weird writing about Thanksgiving and Christmas in May but the timeline has gotten off.

Also just as an FYI I’m about 25 pages into Chapter 24 already as I’m posting this one.  I have a good start and I’ve made notes on what I want to cover so I should get it out on time.

Many thanks to Steven for helping me again with the editing !  You're a great guy and I so appreciate the help! 

Rafa wherever you are man I hope you are OK and I miss you.

And now on to Chapter 23!


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Chapter 23


 

<>< Prologue ><>

 

          Orophir was alone, replaying the memory that Brad shared with him – the memory of his death when his father shredded his existence in the alternate reality.  The look of pain and anguish he saw on his own face… the tears in his eyes… the knowledge that he was simply a tool for his father to be discarded once his usefulness was complete hit him hard.  As he watched the black talon of energy atomize his other self, it was a harsh realization that he meant so little to his father. No… not even ‘so little’. He meant absolutely nothing. He couldn’t begin to describe the ache that discovery left inside his heart.

          It dawned on him how foolishly naïve he had been – Luke raised him in isolation and he now understood that was as much to keep his existence a secret as it was to control him.  He feared his father now – but under that fear was anger and hate.  All he wanted was to be accepted by the being who gave him life – accepted and loved.  Was that so inconceivably difficult?  Apparently so.

          Brad Wilson opened his eyes.  Orophir was young for one of his kind, and although brilliant, he was immature and his experience was limited – so he set out to educate himself.  Using the knowledge of the Runes his father had shared with him he created powerful Charms and Matrices.  Luke always gave him meticulous instructions on what to create and how, and now he would use that knowledge for himself and his own gains…

But he was lonely… the emptiness and isolation of his existence was tragic.  Serving his father’s ends had been fulfilling when he thought he meant something – now his existence seemed meaningless.  He didn’t know any others of his kind and wasn’t sure he could reach out to them, afraid if he tried it would not go well.  Because of who he was, who his father was, he had few options for companionship.  His father’s identity still remained a secret, and he felt it would have to remain so, or he would be destroyed either by Luke himself or his father’s enemies.

          So Orophir stayed completely hidden, his presence undetectable even by his father, as he watched and observed; witnessing Luke’s behavior and actions as much as he was able. Luke never stayed in one place for long but Orophir had come to know a few of his recent haunts.

          He treaded carefully – Luke was an incredibly powerful being, and even though he couldn’t detect his son’s presence he still seemed to know something was amiss if Orophir eaves dropped for too long.

          When he wasn’t watching his father Orophir stayed hidden in the far reaches of the Pale.  There was a cave where he felt almost at home – it was where he crafted his amulets and rings and performed his own rituals.  Through much experimentation he devised and created many potent combinations of Matrices and Charms.  He spent an exorbitant amount of time and energy making the cave invisible and undetectable to anyone but himself.

          He noticed his Spirit jars were nearly empty – he would have to harvest additional lesser spirits soon to continue his craft.  Planning and creating his trinkets kept his mind busy and he needed the distraction.  If he was idle too long, his mind drifted back to the memory Brad Wilson shared with him. 

          Orophir expected a summons shortly.  He hadn’t been called since Azaziel’s rebirth and knew it would be soon.  He would continue to play along, for a time at least, until he could decide what to do.          

Almost as if the thoughts of his father triggered the summons, he heard his name:  Orophir.   He knew he had to obey and continue his charade of obedience for now.

          He donned a ring that would mask his thoughts, and removed the amulet that kept his presence hidden.  Immediately he felt naked and vulnerable, but he knew there would be risks.  Once he left the protection of his cave his father would be able to find him again until he donned the Amulet once again or returned to his cave.

          When he appeared before his father in the Physical Realm he was stunned.  A powerful Arch-Angel was chained to the floor being tortured by his father’s servants while Luke observed.

          “You will give me The Mantle Thomin!  I will have what I want.  We can do this for eternity if you wish.”

          Thomin didn’t respond – he simply screamed as his body writhed in pain.   Orophir recognized the Runes on the chains… they bound Thomin into his physical form allowing him to be tortured, burning into him. His skin blistered and bubbled where they touched his flesh; they also burned deeply into his Mind, and Orophir knew the pain must be nearly intolerable.  His father was relentless, and he knew that Thomin – whoever he was – would break eventually.

          Luke saw Orophir appear and asked him, “Where have you been?”              

          “Awaiting your call.”

          “Why did you let Azaziel fall?”

          “I was there to observe at your behest father.  I did move to intervene when I saw the possibility of his defeat but, the half-breeds had allies present.  I could not stand against Istariel and his cousins and aid Azaziel.  They still do not know who I am, although they have seen me now.  I did not wish to betray our secret.”  He left out the part where Ken Habersham and Brad Wilson recognized him from an alternate reality.

          Luke was in a foul mood but he was patient – the Warriors of The Order proved to be stronger than he gave them credit for.  He had underestimated them, and that would not happen again.  He had to admit that Orophir used good judgement in keeping his identity a secret.  Not that he cared for his son’s wellbeing, but he was a useful tool and obedient.

          “Stay here and make sure that Thomin does not escape.  And make sure they do not destroy him yet.  If he says anything at all before I return call to me.”

“Yes father.”

“The hoods you fashioned to keep the mortal hostages bound – were they taken?”

“At least one of them, yes.”

Luke smiled and said, “One is all I need. Stay until I return.”

          “Yes father.”

 

 

                                          <>< Chapter 23 ><>

 

Albrecht groaned and said, “Oh! Aaron… what have you done!?”

          They were all speechless as they realized what the doctor attempted to do.

          Brad and Lane had been to Thomin’s Vault in the alternate reality.  Uriel had taken them to the cave where Brad confronted Thomin before they retrieved the bodies of their counterparts that rested in the Vault for safekeeping.  Thomin turned out to be a fickle and eccentric creature for an Angel.

          Ken looked at Darren intently and asked, “Dar can you get us there?  Brad and Lane were there – can you use their memory of the place to take us there now?”

          Albrecht’s voice was shaking as he tried to calm himself and keep control, “No Ken.  First of all I do not think it would work – the Vault is warded and Uriel took them the first time.  Secondly, even if Darren’s Avatar allowed him to get there, teleporting into an area he’s never seen would be far too dangerous, and I will not allow you to put yourselves at that kind of risk.  Drew needs you – the World needs you.”

          Ken wasn’t sure how Albrecht could stay so calm – if Brad was the one missing he wasn’t sure he could stay as composed or rational.

          Ken’s frustration was evident, and he pushed back, “But this is the doc!  We have to get him back.  There’s no tellin’ what kinda’ trouble he just put himself in.  We don’t even know why!”

          Brad sighed and said, “I think I’m beginning to get the picture.”

          Albrecht looked at him shrewdly, “Me too, Brad.”

          Lane’s eyebrows were raised and he asked, “Someone feel like sharing?  What the hell’s going on?”

          Albrecht was silent so Brad continued, “It’s The Mantle.  I think the doc was trying to get it out of himself.”

          “I believe you are right Brad.  I could tell Aaron was different – even after losing Charisa and Jonathan and the others, Aaron was not himself after he took it back.  I was intending to talk to him about it.  Apparently whatever was going on was worse than I thought – in his selfless manner he wished to spare any of us from whatever was going on.  The Mantle must survive – I believe he wanted Thomin to take it from him and keep it safe.”

          All of them looked concerned.  Lane said, “Fuck!  That Thomin guy is a whack job and a half.  How could the doc think he’d just do what he wanted?”

          Albrecht smiled wanly and said, “Aaron can be very persuasive when he wishes to be.  He was not himself, but he would never attempt something if he thought there was no chance of success.  Something must have gone wrong since we haven’t heard anything.”

          Ken asked, “How can we get to him?  Do you know where the Vault is?”

          Albrecht gave a heavy sigh and said, “Yes, I do.  You are probably the only people on the planet capable of getting there alive.  It lies at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean in the Marianas Trench.”

          All of the men were Navy SEALS and knew about the Trench – anyone who ever trained as a diver had read about it.  It was the deepest known area on the planet… nearly seven miles down in the deepest known part of the Ocean. 

          Ken rubbed his face roughly, “This just gets better ’n better.”

          Darren spoke up, “Ken, the place might be Warded against me from teleporting there… but I bet if I was there I could pull all you to me if we were Linked.  I’ve learned a lot about the way these things work and that aspect of my Avatar.  We operate outside the normal bounds of magic enough I’m confident of that.”

          Bryan said, “That’s a fuckin’ deep dive.  I think with the right equipment me, Ken, Pat, Rick, and Kev could do it, but no offense guys I don’t think the rest of you could.  Even for us, the pressure will be incredible.”

          They all moved back inside and into the Conference Room as they were talking.  Brad pulled up a map of the Pacific Ocean for a visual reference.

          He looked at Albrecht with all the Compassion from his Avatar and said, “Albrecht, you know the doc is like a father to us.  We’ll get him back.  If he’s with Thomin, or worse case trapped in the Vault, there’s really no place else on earth where he’s safer if you think about it.  We’ll have to figure out a way to get him back once we get there, but I doubt he’s in any immediate danger.”

          “You are right Brad.  It doesn’t make me miss him any less, but thank you for stating that so bluntly.  If he is in the Vault he is indeed safe.”

          Loy said, “That doesn’t mean we aren’t gonna’ bust ass to get him back ASAP.  We know how to organize a dive of that magnitude.  We’ll have to charter a boat and get the gear together.” 

          Loy paused to grin, and he said, “And I have a few friends who might come in useful!”

          Lane said, “Go, Doctor Doolittle!”

          Ricky glared at him until he gulped and said, “I… uh... mean go, Beastmaster!”

          Ken said, “OK we’re on mission status, guys.  Let’s plan what we need and execute.”

 

<><><> 

 

          They were all focused, and by early afternoon managed to locate and reserve nearly all the gear they would need.  Rick was waiting to hear back from the Charter Company he contacted – they needed a big boat, possibly even a Yacht and a fast one to get them in position as quickly as possible.

          Henry explained to Drew that the doctor was missing, and the news upset him terribly.  Brad talked to Sally and the Keenans and filled them in.  Darren and Pat teleported to the Australian base to explain to Kelly – she would be staying there until the doctor was returned. 

          Albrecht received a touching SKYPE call from the young soldiers in Australia offering their assistance in any capacity with no questions asked.

 

<><><> 

 

          Once everything was set in motion it was going to take a few days for all the details to come together.  The type and quantity of equipment was unusual and the dive shop didn’t carry it on hand so they had to have it sent in from a few different locations.  They didn’t share where they were going with the shop owner, simply telling him they were making a deep salvage dive and it was time critical.

          Everyone was on pins and needles, so to keep them focused and to work off some of the tension, Ken continued their training schedules for half days – the rest of the time was needed for planning and running errands to get everything ready for their time away.  The plan was for Albrecht to stay in Australia with Kelly while they were gone and for Henry to stay in Atlanta with Sally, so Drew could stay on his school schedule uninterrupted.

          It was a testament to how much everyone cared for the doctor to see how intensely upset and sad they were.  Drew cried when Henry told him the doctor was gone, and he was more affectionate than usual with all the men when they were in the Lab, sitting in their laps whenever he could.

          Darren and Pat drove one Suburban and Rick and Loy drove the other once the Dive Shop called letting them know the diving equipment was available to be picked up.  It was costing them a small fortune and required a huge security deposit – they had no idea how long they would need the equipment so the reservation was open ended. 

          Rick commented, “It’s a good thing the doc is basically a billionaire.  Between this gear and the boat we’re spending a small fortune.”  The doctor was a financial genius among all his other talents and had written elaborate algorithms to play the stock market and monitor and seek out numerous investments.  They were all set financially for life.  None of them had personal income – they all shared in the accounts the doctor set up via unique debit cards.  He taught them fiscal responsibility and trusted them to use the money wisely, and he rarely questioned anything they purchased.

          The Dive Shop, as it was so aptly named, had come through for them in a big way.  The owner was impressed by their knowledge and Navy background and went out of his way to prep everything for them personally. 

The business was in an older shopping plaza which also happened to house a large fabric store a few doors down.  Darren had been studying the hood he brought back from Syria when they rescued Jacob and the other hostages.  The Runes were meticulously embroidered into the fabric with what appeared to be silver thread.  He knew Silver was a metal used in Runes and Alchemy – the Amulets that had imprisoned Istariel and their Nephelem cousins were made of silver.  He wanted to experiment some on his own, so when they left to pick up the diving gear, he grabbed the hood to take with him.  He wanted to ask someone who worked in the store about the thread.

          While Rick, Loy, and Pat were loading the gear, Darren said, “Guys, I’m going to step into the fabric store a sec.”  He pulled out the hood he brought and continued, “I want to see if they might know anything about the type of thread that was used in this thing.”

          The entire storefront of Fabric World was glass and easily visible from the parking lot, and they were linked together tightly, so none of them were worried about anything happening.  Neither Darren nor Loy felt any Enemy presence, or had any sense of danger.

 

<><><> 

 

          The woman working behind the counter was stunned when she saw Darren walk in the front door.  He was so incredibly handsome she was speechless.

          His dimples made her knees shake as he walked up to the register and said, “Hi there.  I was wondering if you could help me?”

          Darren didn’t have to be a mind reader to know what she was thinking – her face said everything, and he blushed slightly which made him even more adorable in her eyes.

          “What is it you’re looking for?”  She was hoping he would say he was single and looking for a wife, sweep her off her feet, and go start making babies.  Darren blinked when he picked up on her thought and then he grinned and winked at her.  Darren liked to flirt, but he also wanted information, and with his angelic charisma on top of his devastating smile, and his dimples, he knew how to get it.

          He reached into his back pocket and pulled out the hood.  He turned it inside out and showed her the embroidery.  “Can you tell me what kind of thread this is?  It looks like silver.  Do you sell real silver thread?  Or other metals?”

          She set her bifocals on the end of her nose, tilting her head to see the detail.  She looked at it carefully and pulled out a small magnifying glass to get an even better look. 

“I do have some, but it depends on the quality you’re looking for.  That looks very expensive, and whoever did this was very talented.  The stitching is immaculate.  I would definitely have to order something like that, but the answer is yes, it’s available.  Most of what I carry is just for looks, but I do have some customers that I order specialty items for on occasion.  Would you like for me to order you some?”

          A voice just behind Darren said, “Funny, I lost a hood just like that not too long ago.”

          The voice was unmistakable and even as Darren formed the thought, black chains of energy wrapped around him sending agonizing pain throughout his body.  Luke smiled and said, “You’re coming with me, Darren.”

 

<><><> 

 

          Lane was in the Lab when his eyes suddenly turned white, and he shouted, “DAR!”  Cold fear hit him hard in the stomach, and he doubled over.  He was overcome with dread and anxiety and felt something horrible was happening to Darren!  He saw Darren wrapped in black chains surrounded by Demons – there was another man present whose identity was clouded, but Lane was sure he knew who it was.  “Fuck!”

 

<><><> 

 

          Pat felt Darren’s presence vanish, and it struck him like a physical blow.

          He shouted, “DAR!” at the top of his lungs and his Mind as he took off at blinding speed towards the fabric store.  All the windows across the storefront exploded, sending splinters of glass flying everywhere.  Pat threw an arm up to protect his face as shards of glass made dozens of deep lacerations all over his body, slicing through his clothing and imbedding his skin.  He instinctively tensed his body, and his muscle density was so great that the shards of glass weren’t able to penetrate deep, but they did cut into his flesh until they hit muscle.

          Loy grabbed all of them and plunged deep down in a Link so Time was barely moving.  He attempted to grab Darren as well but he was shielded.  Loy sent a white spear of Light at the shield, but they were ready and their defenses were strong.

          Pat saw the Demons inside the store – they had Darren wrapped up in chains of black energy.   He could hear Darren’s scream of pain and see him struggling.  The Demons spread their massive wings, flexing their grotesquely muscled bodies as they exploded through the roof of the building, collapsing much of it onto the woman behind the cash register and the other shoppers.

          They shot into the sky dragging Darren with them – they were in the clouds and out of sight in seconds.

          Rick, Loy, and Pat were in shock, trying to wrap their heads around what happened.

          Brad’s voice filled their Minds:  Pat!?  What’s happening with Darren!?  We heard you and Lane shout Dar’s name!

          Pat couldn’t respond – he fell to his knees balled over in pain.  He was so scared for Darren with what he just witnessed he could barely breathe.  He couldn’t sense Darren at all – the feeling of emptiness inside him was cold and debilitating and left him stunned.

          Loy:  Brad, Darren’s gone!  He was just a few feet from us – we were being careful.  He was in the fabric store in plain sight, and we didn’t feel any danger or sense any Enemy presence.  Demons appeared from nowhere and grabbed him – the store is practically destroyed.

          Brad: Fuck!  We’ll be right there.  You and Rick take care of Pat – I can tell he’s in shock.

          It was an effort without Darren to get everyone together, taking far more Power than they were used to without his Avatar, but a few minutes later Ken, Brad, Bryan, Lane, Kevin, and Bill were all in the parking lot with them.

          Ken immediately went to Pat and wrapped his arms around him – he was covered in blood and absent-mindedly plucked shards of glass out of his skin.  Lane pulled from Brad, Loy, and Bill and all the slivers of glass disappeared and he sent a healing flow of energy into Pat’s body.  The only evidence of his physical wounds were the holes in his clothes, the blood covering his body, and a light sheen of sweat caused by the healing.

          Pat was almost unresponsive, but he managed to put one hand on Ken’s forearm as it wrapped around him from behind.  Ken could feel the trembling in Pat’s big frame – it was a cold shiver that went down to his Soul.

          I’m here Pat – we’re with you.  We’ll figure this out.  You have to stay calm for Darren.  I know it’s hard – lean on me Brother, lean on all of us as hard as you need too.  You aren’t alone no matter how you feel right now.  We’ll find Dar and get him back.

          Pat didn’t say anything, but he squeezed Ken’s arm in a grateful gesture.  He felt the Conviction of Ken’s words, but he didn’t trust himself to speak. He was still reeling from how suddenly Darren was ripped away from him – from all of them – and there was nothing they could have done about it.

          Loy was in the wreckage of the Fabric store – the women inside were trapped under the rubble.  They were alive, but it was dangerous to try to dig through to them.  With Brad, Lane, and Bill helping they teleported the women out of the wreckage into a safe spot and blurred their memories of the event.

          Brad looked at their memories, but they were practically incoherent.  Aside from the explosion and their physical injuries, the presence of the unshielded Demons nearly drove them insane.  As humans, the women were beneath the notice of the Demons and were lucky – their Minds could have been obliterated so easily – it was clear the focus was Darren.

          The owner of the Dive Shop came over trying to be helpful, but Loy slipped his Mind into neutral so they could work uninhibited. 

          Ken stayed with Pat, who, once he started moving, couldn’t stay still.  He was pacing and distraught and could barely form thoughts.  The tension in his body was incredible – the tears were non-stop.

          Fuck!  Ken I saw him!  They had him wrapped up in in chains of black energy… he was screaming in pain. 

          Pat!  Listen to me, and try to calm down.  We’ll figure this out; I promise.  I know how hard this is… try to focus and help us find him.

          Ken and Rick focused on Pat with their Avatars.  Ken Willed Pat to believe that everything would be alright somehow, and Rick unwound the worry and stress as much as he was able and prevented it from building up too much.

          Ken:  B, let’s get this wrapped up ASAP and get back to the Lab.  We need to figure out what happened.  Do what you need to do with the cops, firemen, and EMT’s.

          Brad:  On it.

          None of them liked to tamper with memories, but in light of what happened, Brad reconstructed the memories of all the witnesses and erased everything they didn’t want them to remember.  He modified the Dive Shop owner’s memories to make him think they had picked up all the equipment earlier in the day.  The explosion would have to remain an unsolved mystery for now.  The first responders were there, and Brad orchestrated their memories to have no recollection of their presence, and he wiped the memories of the security cameras in the area.

          Twenty minutes later they were back in the Lab.  Brad coordinated the synchronization of their Avatars to teleport most of them back while Loy and Bill drove the Suburban’s back with Rick and Kevin.  Once they were all back, Ken called everyone into the Conference Room so they could try to piece together what happened and start to formulate a plan.

 

<><><> 

 

          Darren passed out seconds after the black chains wrapped around him.  It wasn’t just the pain – his Mind was overwhelmed, and his shields were shattered before he could rally a defense.  There were too many demons to face by himself – and Luke was with them.

          When he awoke he was in a dim, oddly lit cavern, and he smelled salt water.  He saw the intricately carved stone doors with the torches in scones beside each one and he knew he was at Thomin’s Vault. He recognized it from Lane’s and Brad’s memories. 

The cave was frigid – the stone walls wet with condensation and the freezing depths of the ocean, nearly seven miles of cold unyielding pressure pushing relentlessly down onto this place.  Albrecht said the magic of the Vault altered the pressure, but he still felt some of it – he knew what deep pressure felt like from his diving experience.

          He hurt all over – every muscle in his body ached from the after-effects of those black chains.  His Mind was still on fire, and he felt horrible, but he pulled himself up into a sitting position and looked around.

          “So, you are awake.  You are strong Darren Wilcox – you and your half-breed Brothers.  I will give you that.”

          Darren recognized Luke’s voice from the time they met him in the Valley on their camping trip to the Tree.  He returned Luke’s stare with a blank look.  Luke’s appearance was a Glamour – the inhumanly handsome face and angelically charismatic body; the exterior perfection masked the vilest being in all of Creation.

          Darren kept silent and returned a blank stare.  Darren, like his Mentalist Brothers was a genius and knew he was outmatched – the being addressing him was as old as Creation and existed outside of Time.  Darren, no matter how smart he was, even with his Nepheleme Heritage, was a fleshly being and knew his limitations.  He wasn’t going to try and match wits or Power with Luke in a senseless struggle or game of banter.  

          After a moment Luke smirked and said, “What?  No false bravado?  No demands to be set free?”

          Darren staggered up and looked around, ignoring Luke for the moment.   He moved over to the doors of the Vault knowing the doctor was most likely inside.

          “The doctor cannot help you Darren.  Yes, he is in the Vault, and safe for a short while at least, but I will have the doors open soon enough.  This will be a good day for me… I will have The Mantle and you.  You see I am most displeased that you and your Brothers reset Azaziel.  That was unexpected, and I am afraid an Act of that magnitude requires a Response.

          “Killing you would be too easy.  I could atomize you with a snap of my fingers.  No, that would be far too simple… I have something better in mind, something that will take the wind out of the sails of not only your Brothers but also Michael and the rest of them - a message.  An eye for an eye. You converted Azaziel therefore I will convert you.  You tipped the cosmic scales when you did that you know – the ripples are still being felt.  I normally relish that kind of Chaos… when I create it.  I nearly felt a pang of jealousy at your actions – it was a masterstroke on your part. I am still managing damage control over what you accomplished.

          “No Darren, what I plan on doing to you is going to be extremely painful, and I will make it slow… oh so slow.  You can fight it, but I will have you as one of my servants.  I will drain you of every ounce of Light and fill you with my own Darkness.  I will leave the tiniest shred of memory in you of what you used to be so you will feel the torment of what you will become.  After a few millennia I might take pity and let you forget… or not.  My taste for vengeance is long … it depends on how much pleasure I take in your misery.

“I will have all of you eventually – you and your little band of half-breeds.  I wish to see the look on the faces of Michael and Raphael and the others when they realize I have brought their plans to ruin.  You are their end game, and I can sense Raphael’s Wisdom in your Creation.  I admit the blindness you cause by your very existence excites me – but like all things, I can turn it to my advantage and use it against them.  There is much I still don’t know because of the brilliance of that act – but I will discover everything in time.”

          Luke held the embroidered hood in his hands as he continued, “Orophir did his job well with these.  They served the purpose of keeping you from rescuing the hostages too soon… but I was confident that your curiosity would get the better of you, and you would take at least one of them with you to study.  I was right, and that is why you didn’t detect our presence in the store.  As with all my plans, there was more than one layer of deception.  You never suspected there were two sets of Runes stitched into the fabric.  Seeing as you are curious about their creation, I will give you a lesson in how to stitch runes to get the desired results.”

          With that Luke gestured and a fine silver chain appeared and flew right through Darren’s shoulder.  The pain was so sudden and intense he cried out and clutched at his shoulder as blood spurted from the wound.  The chain shot through his body and into the doors of the Vault – the other end was anchored into the ceiling of the cavern.

          In his weakened condition Darren’s legs buckled from the intense shock to his body, but the chain kept him from falling over.  The pain was incredible as his full body weight pulled against it.  Another and another appeared as Luke gestured, impaling Darren’s body repeatedly, trapping his body in a web so thick the chamber started to look foggy as all the fine links filled the cavern.  Luke continued gesturing and the cavern was filled – a Pattern formed with Darren at the heart of it – his clothes and body were soaked in blood. 

Masterfully the chains missed any major organs, but they lodged themselves between bone and muscle and tendons, suspending his body like a puppet on strings.  With the first chain he screamed and his cries scaled louder with each new impalement adding to his torment.  His body broke out in a heavy sweat from the pain and blood mixed with it, making him a horrible mess.  Luke spared his handsome face.

          Aside from the pain Darren felt something else happening… the Runes etched into the chains were leeching the Light out of him.  He felt them already beginning to drain his strength.

          He dug as deeply as he ever had inside himself and his Avatar flared as his Shields solidified.  His Avatar made him equal to the task – barely, but he could already feel himself slipping.

          Luke laughed, “How long can you keep that up Darren?  The Light is spilling out of you.  I am learning about your Avatars… whoever designed them was truly brilliant.  Their existence has blinded me to the outcomes I am so very fond of seeing.  Once you are mine I will delve into that mystery and learn exactly how they work so the others will fall to me even easier.

          “I have this place warded against Michael and the others so there is no hope of rescue from them.  They will eventually break through my protections, but you will be mine long before then… and if your half-breed Brothers try to teleport here they will join you as flies in the web as their bodies materialize inside these chains - and they will join me sooner than expected.

          “I am going to leave you for a short time… I must oversee Thomin’s questioning personally and persuade him to open the Vault to me.  I trust you will be comfortable while I’m gone?  I will give you this piece of advice Darren… the longer you keep yourself Shielded the faster the chains will drain you.  Now I leave you in your pain and torment to think about your fate as you fade.”

          Darren felt it as soon as Luke vanished – the bitter cold of the cave became normal, but he still shivered from what he was facing.  Through the fog of unbearable and relentless pain the magnitude of his predicament hit him.  While Luke was taunting him his Mind listened and took everything in.  Even as incredible pain wracked his body he let his Mind and subconscious do what he had trained them to do –observe and remember everything.

          Now that there was no need to put on a brave front the tears streaming down his face changed from pain to fear and despair.  There was no way for the guys to get here to rescue him and Luke warded the cave against the Arch-Angels.

          Darren could feel the Light of his Soul seeping out of him – he was already starting to slip in and out of consciousness.  The effort of strengthening his Shields even briefly was more than he could stand.  He knew Luke spoke the truth, and keeping them up would drain him even faster. 

          Pat!  God I love you so much!  Please be OK without me!  I know you’ll try to save me, but I don’t see a way out of this.  Not against Luke – I’ll hold on as long as I can, but I don’t know what to do….

He knew it was futile to try, but he attempted to teleport and bit back a scream as black fire licked over the chains and into his body, blocking his attempt.

          As words formed in his Mind he lost consciousness and his body sagged.  The pain from the chains in his body briefly woke him up as the tension pulled inside him, supporting his weight.

          After a few minutes of that torture he succumbed to unconsciousness and exhaustion, and as he hung suspended and unconscious, like a broken marionette, his Light was slowly being consumed.

          His training was at work even while his conscious Mind was unavailable.  The work and practice that he participated in every day with Brad and the other Mentalists was working.  Just as Bill had shored up and hidden his own Mind away before the skull of General Zherneboh Mstislav overcame him, Darren’s Mind worked on his behalf.

          It took a tremendous amount of energy in his weakened state, but a small ball of light emerged from his chest.  It bobbed softly for a few seconds and shot out and down into the water. 

          That ability was Mental and not Spiritual – and it was beneath Luke’s notice.  The Vault was Warded by Thomin and further by Luke, so no one could reach him, but a memory sphere was one small way his subconscious mind knew he could reach out to his Brothers.  If there was any hope of being rescued, they would find it, but he had to warn them of the trap and what was happening to him.

          His Mind collected and recorded everything that happened to him since the fabric store, and he sent those memories to the other half of his Soul. 

 

<><><> 

 

           The doctor and now Darren were gone.  How in such a short time could things fall so far apart?  It was like the Balance was exerting itself… they had two major victories against The Master and The Enemy recently and now two of their own were gone… the doctor missing and Darren taken right out from under them. 

          Everyone was holding Pat tightly in their Minds and Hearts.  Loy shared the memory of everything that happened, and they went back and relived the actions from his perspective as well as Pat’s and Rick’s.

          Once it was clear what had happened, the situation seemed unavoidable.  There was no blame … they were stunned that Luke would make such a bold and open move.  They expected repercussions from The Enemy and The Master but nothing so exposed. 

          Now that they knew they could call out to their Angelic relatives even inside the Lab, Ken, not knowing what else to do, cast his Mind out and shouted:  Michael!

          We are aware Ken.  The Dark One prepared well for this event.  Thomin is missing, and we fear that he is a prisoner.  His presence is hidden from us, and we are searching for him even now.  If the Dark One is successful in getting Thomin to open the Vault and its treasures are made available to Him, it will wreak havoc and surely sway the Battle in His favor.

          For now we are pressed to our utmost – Remiel is aware and distraught over Darren’s capture.  You must try to find Darren on your own.  Remember there are no Rules for you – that is your strength. 

          Michael’s presence vanished and Ken closed his eyes and lowered his head, frantically trying to come up with a solution.

 

<><><> 

 

          Brad pulled Ken down into their Hearts so deep Time stopped. Appearing naked to one another in that dark place they held each other tight.  They both took solace in their signature hug; chins resting against the neck and shoulder of the other while their strong arms wrapped around each other; as always the warmth and comfort of their bare skin touching helped to calm them.  The feel of their unshaven cheeks against each other was blissful even in the midst of what was happening.

          Fuck B.  How can this be happening?

          Ken felt a strong wave of Power come off Brad as he Warded them so they could talk freely.

          I know Ken.  Everything is escalating.  We’re pinned down which is exactly what Luke wants.  He doesn’t want Darren dead, and that scares me.  There’s no telling what’s happening to him.  He only needs one of us gone to keep us from completing our Avatars, so if Darren is taken I’m sure he’ll be used against us instead of killed.  Luke is never simple or obvious - we know that.

          Seein’ Pat like this is killin’ me B.  You and I have felt that before – the thought of you bein’ gone like that is almost more than I can take.

          I’m here Ken.  We’re both here.  Brad squeezed his strong arms around his lover, reinforcing his physical presence even as he grabbed Ken with all his formidable Mental and Spiritual strength.  He wrapped them both up and let Ken lean on him. 

          They stayed together for a long while as Ken breathed in the strength he needed from his partner.  The soothing gentle caresses of Brad’s hand across his back and shoulders, occasionally rubbing his chest and neck filled him up in a way nothing else could.  Before his thoughts turned sexual, which was inevitable with Brad’s hands on his body, he pulled back a little.  He stared into Brad’s blue eyes and thought:

          Fuck I love you so much B.  Thanks for bein’ my rock.  I’m good to go now.

          I love you too Ken.  You make me strong too… always remember that. 

          He wanted to add I’ll always be her, but they both knew that after what happened with Darren that statement might no longer be true.  Any of them could be gone at a moment’s notice the way events were proceeding.

          They couldn’t live in fear and let it rule them, but they would continue to take precautions and be as extreme as they needed to be to prevent anything like this from happening again.

 

<><><> 

         

          As Ken and Brad came back to themselves Ken stood up and moved over in front of the lectern.   Just as he took a deep breath to collect his thoughts a small ball of light shot into the room.  It stopped in front of Pat, bobbing slowly, then moved forward and sank into his forehead.

          Pat’s eyes flashed white and he let out a loud groan.  A sob escaped his big frame as he shouted, “Oh God!  Dar!  No!”          Brad had them all tightly Linked, and the images that became a part of Pat were available to all of them.

          The scene showed Darren’s body suspended, riddled with holes as fine rune covered chains supported his weight as he hung like a marionette.  The pain and agony as his Light was slowly being drained was clear – they felt it through the memory.  There were no words from Darren – the images came from his subconscious. The trap was plain – the clarity of the memory was more than clear enough for them to use it as a teleport spot, but the chains were so thick in number there wasn’t enough space for any of them to fit.  They were all too large.  They heard Luke’s monologue about the cave being Warded against Michael and the other Arch-Angels and his intent to transform Darren into one of his Servants and open the Vault to destroy The Mantle.

          There was a smattering of “Oh shit’s” and “fuck me’s” under their breath as they all saw and felt what Darren was going through; his pain was heartbreaking.  Pat’s Avatar flared as he saw the connections of the chains and what they were doing to his lover – the positioning and careful placing of the chains were intentionally cruel to cause pain and suffering while avoiding fatal damage.  He saw the Runes and Understood how they were draining his Light, his Soul, and burning into his Mind – slowly leeching away everything that made him Darren. 

          Pat knew that Darren wouldn’t last long without some type of intervention – less than twenty-four hours, but probably half that.  From their calculations it would take them at least two more days to get the boat and the equipment in position over the Marianas Trench.    They were planning on going anyway to try to free the doctor, but now their time table just escalated, and it seemed impossible.

          The fact hit them hard that there was no way they could get to Darren in time, and tears streamed down their faces with that realization.   Henry, closest to Pat, reached over and placed his hand on Pat’s heavy shoulder, trying to give him even the smallest bit of comfort.  He didn’t share a Soul with another person like his Brothers did, but he had relived parts of their lives, and he knew what their bond felt like.  He longed for it himself – until times like this when he knew how much pain Pat and Darren were in.  With what Darren was already going through the separation from Pat magnified his suffering even more.

          Sally didn’t know any details other than Darren and the doctor were missing.  She was with Drew in the common area working on his lessons using the interactive whiteboard.  She was trying to act normal and not clue Drew in that something was wrong, but he was perceptive and could tell she was upset about something.

          She gave him a reading assignment to occupy him for a little while, went to her computer, and phoned in a large food order from the Publix deli.  She splurged and had the Takeout Taxi Delivery Service set to pick it up and deliver it so that no one would have to leave to pick it up.

          Everyone in the Conference Room was so intent on their discussion and supporting Patrick, thinking of anything they could do they didn’t see her trying to get their attention.  She wrote a note to Brad and used her code to enter the room.  She moved over to Brad and slipped him the note, and was evident how visibly upset everyone was. Comprehension dawned on her that whatever was happening was more serious than she first thought.

          Pat had his head down on the table and she could see him shaking – it was a combination of stress and sobs.  His body was flushed and he was sweating from the emotional strain.  Sally had never seen him so upset before.

          She moved over behind him and pulled him up by his shoulders – no small feat for a woman of her stature and Patrick’s muscled solidity.  She cradled his head against her for a moment and kissed his cheek and whispered, “I love you Pat, and I’m here.  I don’t know what I can do, but I want you to know that.  I’m here for Darren too.” 

          That was all she could manage to get out before her own throat tightened up to the point where she couldn’t talk anymore.  She kissed the top of his head gently brushing his short sweaty hair back off his forehead in a gentle caress of comfort.  It touched Pat deeply, even with all his pain.  The gesture was one of the few things he remembered of his own mother… she would brush his hair back in that same way when he was upset.

          He couldn’t speak out loud, but he said into her Mind:  Thanks, Sally.

          Brad sent her a private thought:  Thanks for the food, Sally.  We have to eat, even though I know no one feels hungry at a time like this.  It would have hit us in a little while.  You take good care of us, and we appreciate it.

          Brad felt her gratitude for his words, and she left quietly to let them continue their meeting.

          As uncomfortable as it was, Brad put the image of Darren’s body in the cave up on the Operations Board.  They needed to view it from every possible angle and explore every option.  About an hour later the food arrived and Sally went to the door to meet the driver.  She double checked the security monitors before unlocking the door and felt Brad’s presence more fully enter her Mind as he Shielded her until she was back inside and the Lab was once again secure.

          It took her a few trips to get all the boxes of food into the kitchen.  While she was occupied arranging everything she didn’t notice that Drew had slipped out of his chair and disappeared on her.

          Drew was normally a well behaved little boy, but he was curious and still did things he wasn’t supposed to do – like changing the channel on the TV when Henry wasn’t in the room.  Curiosity was eating at him about what was going on in the Conference Room, and he couldn’t resist the temptation to find out.

          Sally had left the door unlocked behind her assuming she would be bringing the food in before long.  Drew saw the green light on the door mechanism and knew it was open, so he waited until Sally was distracted and snuck over to the door.

          It swung open silently and he stared wide eyed at the Operations Board showing the image of Darren’s body unconscious, suspended by the chains and covered in blood.  Drew’s Mind flashed back to his own abuse by Doug - the cigarette burns and broken bones.  His eyes went to the empty chair that his Uncle Darren normally sat in.  He loved all his Uncles; each of them were special to him in their own way - Darren always played a game with him where he would levitate a ball around and have Drew try and catch it.

          It was an agility and dexterity game where Darren worked on Drew’s reflexes, but Drew never realized it because Darren made it so much fun.  Hot tears started falling down his cheeks as he saw Darren, his body riddled with holes, hanging almost lifeless.  No one heard him until he sniffed loudly and started to cry. 

          Henry was the first to move as he exclaimed, “Drew!  What are you doing in here?  You know you aren’t supposed to come in when the door is shut!”

          He picked up Drew who immediately latched onto his dad like a spider with his legs around Henry’s middle and his little arms around Henry’s heavy shoulders.  Burying his face against his father’s thick neck he launched into a wailing cry.

          Henry mumbled a, “Sorry guys I’ll be back” as he left the room with Drew.  Drew was crying even louder by the time they got to the kitchen on the way to their room.  He was so upset he couldn’t talk, and it took a few minutes for Henry to get him calmed down.

          Henry continued to hold and comfort him, whispering soothing words into his ear and rubbing his hand up and down his back until his breathing was under control. 

          When Drew was calmer Henry said, “I’m sorry honey; you weren’t supposed to see that.”

          “I... I’m sorry daddy.  Som… something’s wrong.  Everyone looked sad and I… I wanted to find out why.  Is Uncle Darren going to be alright?”  He was still blubbering and it took him longer to get the words out.

          “We don’t know yet, honey.  He’s hurt very bad.  Some very bad men took him.”

          “Why can’t you go get him?”

          “The bad men have made it so we can’t, honey.”

          “Is he going to die like Mommy?”

          Henry felt Drew’s anxiety levels spike when he asked that.  Drew still had severe separation anxiety with Henry, but he didn’t realize it extended so much to the guys on the Team.  In Drew’s Mind they were invincible just like Iron Man, and for one of them to be taken and hurt was unthinkable to him.

          “I don’t know honey.  We’re trying to figure out a way to get him back, but so far we don’t know how.”

          Henry wasn’t giving details, but he felt he had to be honest. 

          “Can I help?”

          “You can help by being brave for me and your Uncles sweetie.  Are you going to be OK if I go back with them now?”

          Drew sniffed and wiped his eyes and said, “Yes, sir.”

          “Good boy.  You need to tell Miss Sally you’re sorry for what you did.  I’m sure you scared her when she didn’t know where you were.  Let’s go back out, and I’ll come find you in a little bit when the food’s ready OK?”

          “OK, Daddy.”

          “Give me a hug and a kiss first.”  Drew gave him a wet sloppy kiss on his cheek and hugged him tight.  Drew loved the smell of Henry’s aftershave and he breathed deeply – it made him feel better.  His new dad always made him feel safe and made him feel better when he was sad.

          Henry took him back out into the common area where Sally was organizing the food. 

          Sally’s eyes were bright from thoughts about Darren and the doctor, and she seemed upset with herself over letting Drew out of her sight even for a second.  She said, “I’m sorry Henry, I didn’t even see him slip away on me.”

          Henry looked at Drew, who looked at Sally and held his head down as he quietly said, “I’m sorry, Miss Sally.”

          “It’s OK, Drew; I was just worried.  Are you ready to get back to work?”

          “I want to help.”

          “You need to let the guys and your dad deal with this Tiger.   You and I need to work on your lessons.”

          Thanks Sally.  Keep him distracted.  He saw the image of Darren on the Ops Board, and it really rattled him.  He’s terrified that Darren is going to die like Liz.

          Oh no!  Poor thing!

          Henry took a deep breath and made his way back into the Conference Room where he apologized again.  Everyone assured him that it wasn’t a problem, and they were all concerned about Drew and what he saw.

          Brad:  Is Drew OK, Henry?

          Henry sighed: He’s really upset about seeing Darren like that.  He’s still not over Liz being gone, and the chance he might not see one of his Uncles again has him in knots.  He wants to help.

          As soon as Henry said those words the thought struck Brad – Drew would be small enough for them to teleport him into the cave!  He would fit in that tiny space by the water’s edge where all of them were too big – if they tried it, they would materialize with the chains inside their bodies and be in the same predicament as Darren, but if Drew was scrunched up tightly he would fit.

          That thought hit everyone in the Link at the same time, and Henry balked.

          Ken quickly thought:  Wait Henry!  It’s just a thought.  You don’t have our background from the Navy.  When we plan missions, all cards are on the table, no matter how ludicrous or crazy they sound.  It doesn’t mean we’re doin’ it – but we have to cover every option available to us, even if it’s just to rule them out.

          The ripples that ran through the Link from Brad’s thought were uncomfortable in many ways – Pat’s heart leapt for a second imagining Drew could give some small relief to Darren, but he knew he would never risk a hair on Drew’s head, even if it meant Darren’s life.  Darren wouldn’t want that either – which sent him back down the path of despair and the probability they would be too late to save his partner.

          Henry reeled inside at the idea of sending Drew into a situation like that.  He was only five years old!  His inner thoughts battled, and he felt completely conflicted.  He was Drew’s dad and had to protect him – Drew wanted to help, but he had no idea what was really going on.  Drew had to survive to confront The Master, and if Luke showed back up while he was there with no one to protect him everything they were working for would be for nothing; however, if they lost Darren, as Henry understood everything, ultimately their goals were lost too. 

          Henry wasn’t shielding his thoughts, and they were clear to everyone – as well as Pat’s fear and guilt.

          Bill’s thought came through:  This is just one fucked up situation.

          Ken saw that Henry’s reasoning was correct… if they lost Darren off the Team, their chances against The Master weren’t impossible, but the likelihood of their success went down considerably, and their ability to revoke the Curse was gone for good.

          Pat was groaning inside with all the thoughts… his own life without Darren – the separation was too painful to think about.  Darren wouldn’t be dead; he would be something else though, and would be under Luke’s dominion.  If they could ever find him again they could reset him, but then he wouldn’t be Darren anymore either – his fate and their ability to undo whatever Luke was doing to him were unknowns.

          They were already tightly together, but Brad pulled them into a complete immersion so they were One.  Time nearly stopped, and they heard his thoughts:  Let’s take a breath guys, and hold each other up.  Rest in one another.

          Immediately the warmth of their Souls washed over each of them.  It didn’t take the pain away, but it softened it, and feeling the love and the concerns and support from everyone helped tremendously. All of them pulled tight especially Henry and Pat just like Brad wanted. 

          Ken gave his lover the equivalent of a mental hug and thought:  We aren’t gonna’ fight guys.  We’re gonna’ figure this out.  We have to figure out how to get Dar and the doc both back in one piece.  The situation is bad, but if we keep calm and stick together, we’ll make it through.

          Ken pushed the thought to Patrick – Darren was in a bad way, but he was strong and he wasn’t done yet.  Hold onto the Hope they would find a way.

          Their eyes were closed but Ken, Pat, Rick, Kevin, and Bryan all heard the door open as Sally came back in.  She felt the Soul warming Aura emanating off of them, and fresh tears fell on her cheeks and her breath caught at the sudden intense feeling washing over her.  No matter how many times she felt that, it was still like the first time with Darren and Pat the night they merged with her. The beautiful intensity was both exhilarating and exquisitely intimate.

          She was almost afraid to talk – it was as if she was being irreverent by breaking the peaceful quiet of what she witnessed.

          Ken’s eyes opened and she moved over to him and said as softly as she could, “I’m sorry Ken.  I have everything ready in the kitchen, and it would be easier for everyone to go in there.  I know you might not feel like it, but you all need to eat and keep your strength up.”

          Ken’s mental voice was powerful, but he kept it as gentle as possible – when they were so strong inside one another their powers were magnified greatly.

          Thanks, hun, you’re right.  We’ll be right there.  Guys let’s break for food.

          Everyone’s eyes opened, and they quietly got up and headed into the kitchen.  Pat stayed seated with a blank look on his face.

          Sally moved over to him and sat down beside him and took one of his big hands in her own.  Her other hand rested on his heavy shoulder and she said, “Come on Pat.  You have to eat.  I know you’re a bottomless pit.”

          She leaned in and said very quiet and conspiratorially, “I saved the best pieces of chicken for you, but don’t let on.  I don’t want to start a riot.”

          Pat actually grinned and looked at her.  He pulled her into a brotherly hug and said, “Thanks, Sal.  I love you.”

          She kept ahold of his hand and led him out into the kitchen.

          The mood was subdued as they filled their plates – Sally had set up all the food buffet style.  The Keenan’s joined them and gave words of encouragement.  The older couple had a peaceful and comforting way about them – their faith was strong, especially in the ‘boys’ as Olive still liked to call them.

          Sally excelled at taking care of her surrogate Brothers, and the other ‘guests’.  She didn’t think of herself as a ‘guest’ anymore… she was one of the Team, and she was carving out her own place among them.

          She had always been successful in dealing with their clients at the security firm because of her attention to detail – just like she excelled with helping the doctor with his various projects. 

          She knew all their favorite foods and idiosyncrasies – and in stressful situations like today she knew that small things could make a world of difference.  She ordered everybody’s favorite sides and desserts and had each one labelled with post-it notes.  She ordered biscuits, rolls, and cornbread, and had the different kinds of butter each one liked.          Everybody loved her sweet iced tea, so she spent extra time making gallons for them.

          Her knack for taking care of them was almost like Bryan’s knack with cooking.  She had a flare about the way she took care of them – she made it look effortless, but she put so much effort into it.  It was a way she expressed her love and support back to the men who had come to mean so much to her.  She didn’t see it as paying them back for saving her life – she was part of the Team, and they didn’t keep score.

          Drew was watching everybody with that adult-like look he often got.  His eyes kept darting between his dad and his Uncle Pat.  His Mind was Open and he was feeling the tension and sadness inside them. 

          Drew didn’t understand what being ‘gay’ meant.  He heard Mr. Hampton use the word ‘faggot’ towards his Uncles, and felt the hatred and fear behind his words.  He also remembered his dad saying he wasn’t ‘gay.’  He was curious about the words – he had wanted so badly for his dad and his mom to be together.  He saw how happy they were as a couple, and it made him happy too.  He also saw how his Uncles were happy together.  He felt the Love between all of them, and he knew what they felt for him and what he felt for them.

          He didn’t want any of them feeling sad.  He left his plate of food and scooted his chair back and moved around to Pat.  He didn’t ask permission as he grabbed one of Pat’s big hands and lifted his arm up, snuggling against him.  He started to crawl up into Pat’s lap – Pat lifted him up and set him down wrapping one big arm around Drew’s waist holding him firmly against his body.  Drew settled in against his big Uncle.

          Pat’s throat tightened and he had a hard time swallowing his food.  He felt the Love and concern that Drew had for him, and it added to what he felt from all his Brothers. 

          Pat kissed the top of Drew’s head and said, “I love you Tiger.  Thanks for sitting with me.”

          “Is Uncle Darren going to be OK?”

          “I don’t know Drew.”

          Drew started crying quietly, and Brad brought him into the surface of their Link, letting his Intuition guide him.

          They could feel Drew’s desire to help – it was strong.  Underlying that was his fear of losing Darren; he knew how sad it would make his Uncle Pat and the rest of them, and he needed to prevent that from happening.  He was happiest when everyone was together and whole, and something inside him was striving to try and create that situation.  There was a powerful need inside of him he didn’t understand, but he desperately wanted everyone in his life to be safe, happy, and secure.

          Pat noticed that Drew had left his plate of food half eaten so he nodded to Kevin, who was sitting beside Drew’s empty seat and they passed the plate down along with his silverware. 

          Pat said, “You gotta eat too, Kiddo.  We all have to keep strong.”  He moved everything around to make room, but he kept his arm around Drew and held him tightly in place.  Drew’s presence was a comfort, and he needed it.

          Drew was picking up on more than any of them realized.  With his Mind Open he was extremely perceptive.  At his age he was more Empathic than Telepathic – he seemed to pick up on other’s emotions more than their thoughts.

          Henry was afraid and didn’t know what to do.  He was so scared for Darren and what he was experiencing even as they sat there eating – as he hung suspended and tortured from the chains that were draining everything out of him that made him Darren while they sat there eating.  He had to remind himself that things were already set in motion – the boat they chartered was being rushed, but it was still some hours from being available.  Even if they left now, they would simply be waiting somewhere else – outside of the Runes’ protection in the Lab and more vulnerable.

          So far they had no options.  The cave was Warded against the Arch-Angels.  Luke left the cave open to the Team because it was a trap – the worst kind of trap.  It was designed to catch them like flies in a web.

          It seemed like such a simple solution to have Drew go in and try to free Darren, but they had no idea when Luke would return.  It seemed to depend on how long Thomin held out – and once Thomin broke and opened the Vault, the doctor would most likely die as well.

          Henry looked at Ken intently.  The glazed look in his eyes left as he focused and asked quietly, “Ken… I’m just asking.  If you send Drew there can you get him back?”

          Ken took a deep breath and said, “Not right away.  The cave is protected Henry.  If Darren recovers enough since he’s there and inside, he could reach us and we could use him as an anchor to get him and Drew out.”

          “But it will take you too long to get there – whatever Luke is doing to him will finish before you can get there in person.”

          “Yeah.”

          “So if Drew was there he’d have to help keep Darren alive long enough for one of you to reach him.  What if Luke comes back before then?”

          Ken didn’t answer because he didn’t want to scare Drew, but Henry had his answer from the silence.

          Henry continued… “So what if there was a way to make sure Luke didn’t get back right away.  It wouldn’t have to be forever… just long enough for you to get there and get Drew and Darren out.”

          Ken nodded, “Yeah that would work for Darren.  The doc would still be trapped and maybe lost though.”  Ken was glad Albrecht was in Australia and not a part of this conversation.  He missed Albrecht terribly and felt he should be here, but they were all stretched so thin with trying to protect everyone that when something like the current crisis came up it made matters worse.

          Bill interjected, “Ken, there’s a good chance if we can get into the cave I’ll be able to see what happened with the doc and Thomin.  We might be able to find out where they took him so Michael and the others can rescue him.”

          Ken sounded angry, not at anyone in particular, but at the situation.  “Whatever we do we’re goin’ full throttle with the intent of gettin’ Dar and the doc back.  I’m not gonna’ settle for one or the other!”

          Bill said, “If we get Dar back, our chances of getting the doc back – or at least keeping him safe – go up significantly.  I get what you’re saying Ken, but one might preclude the other.”

          Henry swallowed hard and lowered his head, “Drew has no idea what he’s getting into guys.  You know that!  He doesn’t understand the danger!”

          Drew looked at his dad for a second and said calmly, “I do, Daddy.  The bad man took Uncle Darren and wants to hurt him.  Not the bad man from the basement but the other one.  He’s meaner. He scares me too.  He wants to hurt everybody.”

          Everybody was a little wide eyed – Drew was talking more like an adult again.  When he slipped into that mode, they weren’t sure where it came from, but it was evident through the Link that he knew what he was saying.  Somehow he knew about Luke, which shocked all of them.

          Henry finally broke down and voiced his real fear.  Aside from the World and their mission; aside from defeating The Master and resetting the Curse and restoring mankind - Henry was willing to face all those things and do what he needed to do to help his Brothers and the cause of The Order.  He was brave enough to face all that, but after losing Liz the way he did, he couldn’t face losing Drew too.

          Henry’s eyes flooded and his face flushed a deep red as his voice quivered, “I can’t lose you Tiger.  I couldn’t take that after losing your mom.  It would destroy me.”

          The emotion was so thick it was tangible.  Drew got down slowly from Pat’s lap and made his way around to Henry, who had put his head down, sobbing.

          As soon as Drew got close, Henry grabbed ahold of him, pushing his face into Drew’s chest.  Drew’s arms wrapped around his dad’s head instinctively and he said, “I love you, Daddy.  You’re the dad I always wanted.  You never hurt me, and you make me feel safe.  You make me not afraid.  I can be brave for Uncle Darren and help him.  I’m fast and strong – I know how to hide myself against the bad man.  Please don’t cry.”  Drew was softly crying as well, and he was caressing his dad’s head as he spoke, just like Henry did to him sometimes.

          Brad was wide eyed and asked, “How do you know how to do that Drew?”

          “Sometimes I know things.  I remember things.   When I hear inside people like I do now, I remember before.  Especially since Mommy’s gone.”

           Brad remembered as the Stone orbited Drew’s body when the Eschphene leader had him trapped and floating under the dome.  The Stone reacted to Drew, and he had started dreaming about the first time he was killed by The Master.  Something that day must have unlocked more inside Drew than they realized.

          Ken’s voice was calm and as compassionate as he could make it as he said, “Henry it’s your decision about Drew.  We know it’s dangerous and what the stakes are.  It seems like a no win situation either way.  We’ll do everything we can to speed up gettin’ there so he’ll be there as little time as possible.  But I need to know your answer soon – Darren’s runnin’ out of time, and if Drew goin’ isn’t an option, we need to try ’n figure out another way.”

          “I can do it, Daddy.  I know I can.”

          Brad’s voice was filled with Compassion, “I know it’s not fair Henry.  This decision sucks.  Know that no matter what you decide, you’re our Brother, and we love you.  No one will judge you.”

          Henry’s Mind was reeling.  What kind of a father would put his son in that kind of danger?  But at the same time Darren was most likely gone from their lives if Drew didn’t go.  How could this decision come to rest on his shoulders?

          Henry looked around at all of them – they were all looking back, and their eyes were supportive and caring.  They understood the pressure he was under, and each of them was available to him in any capacity he needed; even Pat, who had as much to lose as Henry did.  The little voice in the back of his mind told him even in the middle of this entire situation he was blessed to be a part of a group of men like these.

          He looked at Brad and asked, “What does your gut tell you Brad?  Intuition is your thing... or you Lane… what do you See?”

          Brad replied first “I don’t have a bad feeling Henry.  I’m nervous as hell, but my Avatar isn’t giving me any particular vibes one way or another.”

          Lane said, “Mine either, Henry.  It’s actually strange… I don’t see anything.  I’m not sure what to make of that.  It’s like everything is undecided.”

          Bryan spoke up for the first time, “Henry, trust Drew.  I know that sounds crazy… sending a kid into somethin’ like that.  But doin’ bat shit crazy stunts sometimes is the best thing to do.  He loves Darren and wants to help, so I say let him.  He’s just as much a part of our family as any one of us.  Family helps family – it don’t matter that he’s young.  He’s willin’ and doin’ it out of love.  That has to count for somethin’.”

          Brad followed up, “It’s certainly bat shit crazy.  And I don’t think Luke would expect it.   Drew what did you mean you know how to hide from the bad man?  What do you remember?”

          “I can make him not see me.”

          Lane piped up, “Holy shit!  I thought it was just a rudimentary Shield but it’s more than that!  Guys the day I gave Drew a haircut and fixed his foreskin he was hiding in the bathroom.  My Intuition told me someone was in the room hiding, but I couldn’t sense him at all, and it was confusing.  Until I laid eyes on him hiding in the stall, I didn’t know for sure he was even there!”

          Henry said, “That doesn’t make me feel any better.  There won’t be any place to hide there – he’ll be in plain sight.”

          Ken said, “If we do this Henry, we’ll let Michael and the others know – not details but if they can do anythin’ to delay Luke gettin’ back there they will.”

          Henry put his hands on Drew’s shoulders holding him out at arm’s length, “Drew you have to promise me if I let you do this you’ll be as careful as you can be.  You have to come back to me.”

          “I promise, Daddy.  I’ll be careful.”

          Henry sighed and lowered his head, and his voice was barely audible as he said, “OK.”

          Ken moved over behind Henry and knelt down and put his arms around him, “I know this isn’t easy Henry.  We’ll do everythin’ we can to make Drew safe.  We need to get crackin’ so we can get him to Darren ASAP.”

 

<><><> 

         

          Drew scrunched himself up into a ball as tightly as he could.  He had practiced this with everyone in a Construct Brad made of the cave over and over until he had the position and the timing down perfectly.

          His dad was adamant that he not look at Darren when he first appeared.  He promised he wouldn’t – he wanted to badly, but he promised he wouldn’t.  They didn’t want him seeing Darren and getting upset.  The first few minutes were crucial to getting set up – he needed to be focused and concentrate immediately on getting into a safe position so they could send supplies through.

          As soon as he appeared he started maneuvering himself between the chains - it was like a game of Limbo, and he did his best not to touch any of them.  If he touched a chain that was inside of Darren it would hurt him.    He counted to thirty as he got into the new position.  He touched a few of the chains accidentally and heard Darren groan from even the small bit of tension and movement.

          At thirty the first box appeared.  He took a deep breath – he was on his own now until they got here or somehow contacted him – Darren was depending on him.  It was deathly quiet in the cave except for the sound of his own breathing and Darren’s occasional moans.  The water was so still and dark it looked like a black mirror.   He pulled the first box out of the way to a clear spot and waited for the next one – it was partially in the water, but the boxes were waterproof.  The last one would be too heavy for him to move by himself and it would have to remain where it appeared, and it had to be out of the water.

          Drew was freezing – even in his sweater and new Iron Man hoodie.  The light was funny here… the torches gave off some light, and the silvery chains glittered in the flickering torchlight, but there was a soft blue light that the walls of the cave seemed to emanate that washed out most of the color except for right around the torches.

          He reached for Darren’s Mind and felt him, but he was unconscious.  Fresh tears filled his eyes once he finally looked at Darren – his clothes were dark from the mix of blood and sweat covering him, and his body shivered in the freezing air.  He only had on shorts and a t-shirt, and his usually tanned face was pale and washed out in the blue light.

          Drew could practically hear Henry’s voice in his Mind:  OK Drew remember everything step by step.  You have to make your way to Darren a little at a time.  Try to cut the chains first that aren’t attached to his body.  That will help clear the area and give you more room to move in.

          Drew had spent the equivalent of days in a Construct learning everything they needed to show him how to do – it was drilled into him by repetition.  His hands were cold, but he couldn’t wear gloves yet.  He opened the box revealing the portable plasma cutter that Kevin and Pat converted just for him to use.  Half of the space in the box was taken up with high capacity batteries to drive the plasma cutter.  It was far too heavy for him to move by himself from the weight of the batteries, but the cord was extra-long so he would be able to reach anywhere in the cave and still have excess for maneuverability.

          He practiced and practiced with the plasma cutter so he could cut as many of the chains as possible before the batteries drained.  It was a tool normally only used by experienced welders and he knew it could seriously hurt him if he wasn’t careful.

          He unpacked everything meticulously – food and water for both him and Darren, Saline and Blood Plasma packs, an adrenaline shot, blankets, his own iPad, and a iPod Nano from Lane.

          He separated everything like he had been shown to keep things that needed to stay cool away from things that needed to stay warm.

          Brad told him to talk out loud if Darren was unconscious – he wasn’t supposed to push into Darren’s Mind unless it was absolutely necessary.  If Darren regained consciousness and Linked with Drew that would be fine, but Drew was NOT to try to Link with his Uncle unless things got really bad.

          “Uncle Darren?  Are you awake?”

          He got no response, but Brad said that was fine.  Darren’s subconscious would still hear him, and it would give him comfort knowing Drew was there.

          “I’m here to help.  I’m going to start cutting the chains.”

          Drew connected the plasma cutter hose to the base unit and flipped the switches like his Uncle Pat had shown him.  He rewound the hose to make sure it had no kinks in it and it would start to elongate as he worked towards Darren.

          In just a few minutes he had everything prepared perfectly.  He put on his modified sunglasses for the glare and pulled the trigger on the plasma cutter – it was just like a ray gun.  He started on the chains that were embedded closest to the water’s edge that weren’t connected to Darren – the ones that were in the general area to keep anyone from Teleporting in.  The plasma cutter melted through them like butter.  He was careful not to let any molten silver splatter on him.

          The chains were taut – Luke had embedded them into the rock so as Drew cut them they whipped back immediately as the tension released.   The first one caught his cheek and it stung badly – a few seconds later he felt blood dripping down his cheek.

          He also felt something happen when the first chain was cut.  Luke had a secondary trap set up just in case they managed to get into the cave.  Wards activated to keep anyone else from entering or leaving the cave by magic.  Drew didn’t understand it, but he felt it and knew it was bad.  Brad had expected it and warned him of the possibility.  Darren could still bypass the magic if he was alive and conscious and strong enough – or his uncles could once they reached the cave physically.  

          Drew worked meticulously – the problem solving skills the doctor had been teaching him helped.  He quickly identified which chains to cut to clear the largest area.  In a little less than twenty minutes he had moved forward enough to touch Darren.

          He needed Darren’s help for the next part and braced himself.  This was the hardest part for him to learn and the most uncomfortable.  He put his gloves on for a few minutes and stuck his hands under his armpits to warm them up – his fingers ached from the cold.

          He opened the small medical kit and swabbed the back of both Darren’s hands with an alcohol wipe.  He tore the paper wrapping off two catheters and took a deep breath.  He scrunched his face up as if he was feeling the sting of the needles himself as he inserted a needle into the back of each hand.  He was nervous and messed up once and had to re-stick Darren’s hand, and he felt horrible.

          He cried and said, e cried “I’m sorry!”  He was upset with himself knowing he caused Darren more pain, even though it was slight.  He got it right the second time and breathed a sigh of relief.  He tore off a piece of medical tape with his teeth and secured the catheters in place along with a gauze pad.  He took one of Darren’s big hands into his two small ones and squeezed it gently, trying to comfort him and let him feel he was there to help.

          He used the lid of the first box to stand on so he was tall enough to reach up and place a small harness around Darren’s neck.  He hung one saline IV pouch and one Blood Plasma pouch from the harness and attached the tubes to the catheters.  He twisted the little knobs at the base of each bag and liquid started filling the tubes into the back of Darren’s hands.

          The Saline was a special mixture the doctor used specifically for his Uncles – it was rich in vitamins, antibiotics, and electrolytes; and Bill added a mild pain killer and a stimulant to the mix.  Drew needed Darren lucid to help him and once the mixture entered his body it should help bring him back to consciousness.  He backed up far enough to look up and see Darren’s face – his strong handsome Uncle he loved so much.  Henry had told him he had to be patient and let the medicines take effect.

          Now that he slowed down to wait he looked long and hard at his Uncle.  When he saw the physical torture and what had been done to Darren’s body he started to cry again.  He wanted to give his Uncle a hug so bad, but knew he couldn’t – the slightest movement would cause him more pain.

          The worst part was looking at Darren through his Mind’s Eye.  He could see inside Darren and he knew how dangerously weak his Soul was.  His usually bright and powerful Aura was dim, and Drew could see what little Light was left leeching into the chains inside his body and draining him

          Drew was an observant little boy – he watched his dad and his Uncles and even the doctor and Albrecht all the time.  When his Mind was Open he saw things they did.  He was careful not to let on too much – he didn’t know why he kept it a secret, but he thought he might be in trouble if they knew how much he learned from them.

          He listened to the guys in the gym when they thought he wasn’t paying attention.  They dropped way more ‘F-bombs’ around him than they were supposed to.  He knew that was a bad word, and he occasionally slipped one out, and his dad told him about using bad words especially in front of Miss Sally.

          Drew didn’t have an Avatar and he wasn’t part Nephelem, so he couldn’t Heal his Uncle, but his Mind was Awake – and he was the second oldest human Soul in existence.  His Soul was incredibly powerful, but it was raw and un-channeled. 

          Darren wasn’t waking up like he was supposed to – the chains were draining him faster than they thought.  He only had one adrenaline shot and he couldn’t use it yet.  As Darren continued to hang unconscious Drew was feeling desperate and scared.

          There was a pleading note to his voice as he cried, “Please Uncle Darren, wake up!  You have to wake up for the next part so you can help me!”

          He had seen all his Uncles help each other before if one was hurt or weak after a fight.  It wasn’t Healing – he couldn’t do that, but he could give Darren some of his own energy.  He took off his gloves again so he could see his fingers.  His vision blurred as he shifted his Sight – he should have done this sooner because the room seemed much brighter.  The doors were very bright – but Darren looked much worse this way. 

          Wispy tendrils of energy started seeping out of Drew’s hands.  If he got too close to one of the chains he noticed that it tried to suck in the energy he was generating.  He tried to direct the tendrils into Darren’s chest where his Heart energy center was.

          Once he found a spot where more went into Darren than the chains he pushed hard and immediately felt dizzy.  He wasn’t used to any kind of energy transfer, and he sent quite a surge of Power into his Uncle.

          Darren groaned, and his eyes blinked open.  His voice was so slurred at first Drew could barely understand him.

          “Drew!?  What the fuck?  How are you here?  How could they let you do this?  You have to get away from here!” His words were fuzzy and drawn out, but he seemed a little stronger.  He seemed agitated that Drew was here.

          “I’m here to help!  I was the only one who would fit.  Daddy and Uncle Ken and everybody else are coming to help, but I had to come first and help you!”

          “Oh God no!  You need to get out of here!  He could come back any time!”

          Uncle Pat told him that Darren would try to make him leave, but he knew he couldn’t even if he wanted too.

          “I can’t leave now.  Something happened after I started cutting the chains.”

          He wiped the tears from his eyes and continued, “I need your help Uncle Darren.  I cut as many of the chains as I could that aren’t holding you up.  I have to get you down but it’s going to hurt bad.  I’m not strong enough to hold you, so you have to try to stand up until I get them cut.”

          “Fuck, that’s gonna hurt.”

          “Daddy said no F-bombs.”

          Darren actually tried to smile and thought:  Fuck you Henry.  It fucking hurts, and I’ll say fuck as often as I fucking feel like!

          Drew heard his thoughts and actually giggled through his tears:  Uncle Darren you’re using bad words.  I promise not to tell. 

          It hit Darren again how much older Drew sounded.  He was talking like a young adult and not a child.  Maybe something happened, but he knew he shouldn’t worry about it in the moment.  He knew Drew was stuck here helping him until Ken and the others arrived.  The stronger Darren was if trouble showed up, the better their chances of making it out alive. 

          “OK, Tiger, give me a minute.”  Darren was breathing harshly and kept sucking in breath as pain tore through his body at the slightest movement.  He knew that pulling the chains through the wounds was going to hurt like hell.  He didn’t have enough strength to block his pain centers – he was barely staying conscious and was fighting hard as hell to stay awake for Drew’s sake.

          The chains were so taut he knew they would whip as soon as the tension was cut, but they might not make it all the way through his body if they got lodged in muscle or bone.

          “Drew, come here.” 

          Drew moved over in front of Darren so they could see each other face to face.  Rage filled Darren at how in the world Henry or any of the guys could send Drew to do this.  He knew all the ramifications of their thought processes, but he was in the middle of this with a little boy he loved deeply, and what he was about to be forced to do was nothing a child should ever experience.

          Darren was crying too – it was a combination of rage, frustration, pain, and remorse.  As Darren started to speak, it took him some time to form the words.  His breathing was ragged, and his vision was blurring.  How he was going to survive this and try to help Drew was beyond him.

          “Drew listen to me very carefully.  I’m pretty bad off.  Even with the medicine you brought I might not make it through this.  I’ll try to stand as long as I can and give you time to cut through the chains.  Some of them will pull through my body and some won’t.  You’re going to have to pull the ones through that stay in.  I’m going to scream at you, honey – I won’t mean to, but I don’t think I’ll be able to help myself.  The pain is going to be more than I can take.  No matter what I say to you – you have to promise me you won’t stop until all the chains are out.   I might scream at you, but I won’t mean it.  I’m not trying to scare you, honey, but… it’s just the way it is.  I’m sorry...  do you understand?”

          Drew was crying softly as Darren spoke.  He put his little hands gently on Darren’s thick thighs and he said, “I understand.”

          What Drew didn’t say was that Ken had taken him aside and explained all this to him beforehand.  Ken had been captured and tortured beyond his ability to cope years before and knew what Darren would go through with the physical torture.  Ken was very careful to make sure Drew knew that whatever Darren said or yelled, it was the pain talking and not Darren.

          Darren tried to steel himself for what he knew was about to start and he said, “OK do it.”

          Drew got in position – he had traced all the chains that were in Darren’s body, and he would cut them from the top down leaving his legs last.  The one in his shoulder was first. 

          Drew put on his glasses and pulled the trigger on the plasma cutter and the tiny intense blue flame lit up and he put it up to the chain.  Darren’s entire body jerked as fire literally exploded inside of him.  The friction of the chain whipping through the wound yanked and shredded the nerves all around the muscle and he let out a scream of excruciating pain.

          Drew jerked with the sound that came out of Darren, but he continued.  Darren held on as long as he could – he screamed obscenities and called Drew all kinds of names that Drew had never heard before.  The words didn’t hurt him, but the sound and feeling behind them was tearing him up.  He was hurting his Uncle but he had to – he wanted to stop, but he couldn’t.  He was trying to be brave, but it was harder than he ever thought it would be!

          He flinched every time Darren’s body twitched and thrashed around in pain.  He went as fast as he could but it seemed so slow compared to when he started.  When he was halfway through and Darren still had more than a dozen chains going through his abdomen and legs he passed out.  His body fell forward, limp.  A number of the chains inside his arms and torso hadn’t pulled through and rattled as they hung out of his body onto the floor as he swayed back and forth.

          The pain was too much, causing Darren’s body to twitch and spasm as his nerves were ravaged by the rune covered chains.  As long as the links remained in his body they continued to drain him and all the trauma was sapping what was left of his strength.

          Frantic, Drew cut as fast as he could, and after what seemed like forever Darren was on the ground curled up in a fetal position, his body covered in a fresh coat of sweat and blood.  He continued to twitch as his body screamed at him.  Drew was smart and cut the chains that were still in his body closer to him so there would be less to pull through, but even the smallest movement was agonizing.

          Drew could barely see for the tears falling down his face.  He was so scared for Darren - he was shaking as much from the realization of how much he hurt his beloved Uncle as from the cold.  Darren’s voice was raw from the screams by the time he passed out completely… Drew thought the veins in his neck and upper body were going to pop… his whole body was purple from the strain and fresh sweat poured off him.

          Drew kept saying, “I’m sorry!” over and over but his words were barely discernable through his crying.  He was as gentle as he could be as he pulled the pieces of chain out – a few of them were stuck and he had to pull hard. 

          Once the chains were all out, Drew had trouble rolling Darren over onto his back and getting his arms and legs straight.  Darren was a big man like all the guys at 5’10” and weighting 235lbs of muscle.  Drew tried as hard as he could and finally got Darren into a more comfortable position.

          Darren’s body was shivering; now as much from shock as from the cold, but the chains were finally out of him.  The catheters pulled out when he fell and Drew got them re-situated.  He set the IV pouches on the lid of the box he used as a footstool… it was the highest he could get them and the liquid still seemed to be flowing.  They were nearly empty but there were two more pouches of the clear and four more of the red.

          Drew was worried about the amount of blood loss… Darren was losing so much blood – the holes from the chains were bleeding profusely.  Brad and Lane had shown him how to apply pressure to any of the wounds to help stop the bleeding, but there were so many holes Drew didn’t know where to start.

          Drew was tender and careful in trying to help the man he had come to love so much – he loved all his Uncles.  He was terrified that everything he did wasn’t enough – or that the damage he did trying to help Darren was going to end up killing him.

          He cried because he was so young and couldn’t do more – if he was an adult he would know what to do.  Lane had stuffed some small towels into the box and Drew went over to the water’s edge and wet them.  The water was cold, but Darren was feverish and shaking – he used one of the towels to wipe the sweat off his face and the others to clean him up as best he could without hurting him more.

          As cold as it was, he took off his Iron Man hoodie and rolled it up and put it under Darren’s head, and he tucked the blankets all around his body trying to do anything to keep him warm.

          Drew kept wiping Darren’s face gently and rewetting the towel when it dried out.  His heart clenched in fear when Darren stopped trembling – he leaned over and put his head down to Darren’s chest and didn’t hear or feel a heartbeat.  Drew could hardly breathe himself, and his eyes filled with tears when he realized Darren stopped breathing.

          Lane’s words came to his thoughts: Drew the adrenaline shot is for an emergency.  If Darren’s heart stops because he’s hurt so bad, this will start it again.  The needle is sharp, but you have to jab it hard.  He had practiced on a dummy in the Construct until he could do it, but it was scary.

          All of the things they had shown him for emergencies were happening. 

          “Uncle Darren you can’t leave me!  Not like Mommy!  You have to stay!  I won’t let you leave me!”

          The pitch of his voice was high and desperate, and he could barely talk.  He was so frightened his hands were shaking as he pulled out the adrenaline shot.  He unzipped the black case and looked at the long needle and plunger.  He didn’t hesitate though – he had practiced this hundreds of times in the Construct until he knew how to do it perfectly.  He had to be strong and brave for Darren.

          He used both hands and swung as hard as he could to get the needle through Darren’s hard muscles and chest plate.  The long needle disappeared into Darren’s body and Drew put both hands on the plunger and used his body weight to press it down.  Darren’s body convulsed as he sucked in air and sat upright as the adrenaline shot directly into his heart.

          Not caring if he hurt Darren anymore, Drew threw himself onto Darren’s body sobbing.  He kept crying over and over, “You can’t leave me Uncle Darren.”  He was begging him and Darren, through the fog of pain and disorientation, heard him.

          One of his big arms slowly moved up and wrapped around Drew and pulled his body against him.  His fingers could barely move, but he stroked Drew’s back soothingly trying to comfort him.

          He couldn’t speak out loud and even his Mental voice was barely discernable as he thought:  I love you, Tiger.  I’m with you.  I’m going to pass out again any second, but I’m here.  Be brave, little man.

          Drew felt Darren’s hand stop moving, but he was breathing again – barely, but he was.  Drew crawled under the blankets with him and held onto him for warmth and comfort.  He was so traumatized by everything he was exhausted and he fell asleep holding onto Darren.

          Drew snapped awake sometime later and had no idea how long he had been asleep.  The IV bags were empty and he got up quickly to change them.  They were the last ones.  He looked over Darren and most of the bleeding had stopped but the blanket was soaked through in many places.  The blanket was frozen and crusty from all the blood, and Drew wasn’t sure if it was even helping anymore.   Darren looked paler than ever, but he was still breathing.

          Drew stared at the water, hoping to see the figures of his other Uncles coming out but the water stayed black and still.  He decided to move around to try and warm up.  He roamed the cave for a bit and looked at the doors closely.  There were pictures on the doors carved into the stone, but he didn’t understand what they were.  If his other Uncles were right, Doctor Aaron was inside and trapped.  Drew tried to push on the doors, but they were cold and hard and didn’t move.

          After a few minutes he went back over and knelt down.  He scooted forward and it took some doing but he managed to get Darren’s head in his lap.  He held Darren’s face and brushed his short hair back off his forehead like Miss Sally did to him when she was soothing him.  Darren was still hot from the fever and the heat from his skin felt good on his hands.

          Drew coaxed him awake just long enough to get some water down him and then he passed out again.  He was incoherent and not even aware of what he was doing, but he was thirsty and swallowed the water without coughing too badly.

          He kept Darren’s head in his lap and continued to gently stroke his face and hair even though he was unconscious.  He hoped it made him feel better. 

          After a while Darren’s eyes fluttered open slightly.  He was awake, but so weak he could hardly move.  He looked up at Drew, who was hunched over so that his face was right over Darren’s.  He smiled weakly and tried to talk but couldn’t.

          Drew was Linked with him and knew he was awake.  Drew was shivering badly, and his face was pale, but he smiled.

          Darren’s mental voice was weak and he sounded far away:  Drew…

          I’m here Uncle Darren.  I’m with you.

          Darren’s eyes watered… the enormity of what Drew was risking, what his brothers were risking, to help him was overwhelming.  What Drew was going through to help him was staggering, and he could see how scared Drew was – he felt the hot tears falling down onto his cheeks as Drew knelt over him. 

          Yes you are Tiger, in more ways than you can imagine, little guy. You’re doing great and being so brave.  I’m proud of you, kiddo.

          Are you hungry?  Uncle Bryan made us food.  I tried to give you some water, but you only drank a little.  You had some though.  Uncle Lane said if you woke up to give you a present.

          I’m starving, but I don’t know if I can keep food down. 

          Drew gently moved Darren’s head off his lap and got the food.  Darren couldn’t see him but he heard him.  A minute later he came back over and repositioned Darren’s head onto his lap again so his head wasn’t lying flat.

          Drew held something up to his mouth, and he opened it.  The most exquisite thing he ever tasted filled his mouth.  Bryan had made small oatmeal banana balls with a little bit of organic almond butter and honey.  They were mild on his taste buds and filled with protein, fat, and carbs - just what his body craved to help him recover.

          They were small, and he managed to eat four or five before he started to feel nauseous and told Drew he had enough.  He was thirsty for something besides water.  Drew had some Capri Sun Apple Juice pouches – Bryan knew him so well!  Apple Juice was his favorite – it a little tart in his parched mouth and made his jaw clench slightly on the first sip.  Drew held the straw from the pouch to his lips and he drained the pouch. 

          He was already fading again as his body absorbed the food and apple juice.  He was still dehydrated – the saline bags helped, but he lost so much fluid from the bleeding.  The blood pouches barely managed to keep up with how much blood he lost before the wounds finally clotted enough to stop seeping.

          As he was drifting on the fringe of sleep he felt Drew put earbuds in his ears.  Drew had the iPod Nano from Lane and he pushed play.

          As soon as he heard the opening chords, his eyes watered at the memories they invoked. 

         

          Nature, Nurture, Heaven and Home,

          Sum of All and by them Driven,

          To Conquer Every Mountain Shown,

          But I’ve never crossed the River…

         

          They were the words to the first song Lane ever Dreamt, the one that unlocked their Powers, and the lyrics filled his Mind.  The memories were clear, and they touched him.  It was a new version of the song Lane made just for Darren, and he could almost see Lane in his Mind playing it for him.  He enjoyed watching his Brother play… the look on his face of concentration and joy as he made music was so evident in every aspect of his expression and posture.

          When the song was done he heard Lane’s voice.  It was a recorded message:

 

<><> 

 

          “Hey Dar!  I hope you like that version of the song.  I put it together just for you, so I hope that makes you feel special!  Not short bus special – but you’re always welcome to ride the short bus with me buddy.  Sometimes it gets lonely being the only special guy in the middle of all you losers.

          “You have to hang in there and stay strong!  Drew’s with you now, and I know that probably scares the hell out of you – us too by the way.  Henry is a wreck about it, but Drew was our only option to get you back.  And the little fucker wanted to do it so bad… he loves you, Dar, just as much as we do.  That has to make it alright and count for something.

          “I don’t want to hog up all the space here so I’m going to let the other guys say a few things to you too.  I saved the best for last – so hold onto your hat and don’t go crying like a little girl when Pat has his say OK?

          “Alright Brother… I love you so fucking much, Dar.  All of us do.  We’re on our way to get you back, so just hang in there, and we’ll be there as soon as we can.”

 

          There was a slight pause and Ken’s voice came on, followed by Brad, and then the others.   Every one of his Brother’s, including Henry, sent him their own personal message.  He could tell there were tears in a lot of what Ken said.  Darren chuckled a little and it hurt like hell – Ken could be such a crybaby sometimes for such a huge macho stud.  He could hear Ken’s throat tighten with emotion as he struggled to get the words out as he told Darren to be strong and how much he meant to him.   A few of them used humor, and others were so serious it tore his heart out to hear the pain and fear in them.

          What they did touched him deeply, and even as his Mind slipped back into unconsciousness he was held up hearing the comforting sound of their voices.

          Drew’s hands kept gently stroking his head soothingly as he drifted back into sleep.  He fell in and out of a coma, although Drew didn’t know the difference.  The damage to Darren’s body and Soul were severe, and he was teetering on the edge of death the entire time.

          Drew lost track of how long he stayed that way, but he was determined to stay awake in case his Uncle Darren woke up and needed him.

 

<><><> 

 

          As soon as Drew disappeared, Henry collapsed on the floor and thought:  What the fuck did we just do?

          Ken thought:  He’s gonna be fine Henry.  He’s an amazing little boy, and he knows how to do everythin’ we showed him.  He wants to do this.

          I know Ken.  But fuck, he’s just a kid, and he doesn’t know how hard it’s gonna’ be when he sees Darren in front of him.

          Bryan:  He’s stronger than you give him credit for Henry.  It’s gonna’ be tough; there’s no doubt about that, but he’s gonna’ save Darren.  He loves Darren, and he’ll rise to the occasion.

          Everyone held Henry close in the Link, but Pat came up behind him and pulled him up into a tight embrace:  Thanks Henry.  I know it’s scary as hell, but he’s Dar’s only hope right now.

          Henry:  I know Pat.   You know how much I want Darren back too.  I’m just worried.

          Pat:  Me too Brother.  I just want you to know that I Understand how hard the decision was for you to make, and I love you for it.  Drew is going to save the other half of my Soul.  In my world, it doesn’t get much bigger than that.

          Brad:  I wonder how Michael and the others will react when we tell them what we did?

          Lane actually grinned and thought:  Pissed as hell is my guess.

          Ken:  Alright guys I’ll talk with Michael in a sec.  Everybody get hoppin’.  Bill contact Albrecht and fill him in on everything we’re doin’.  There’s no need to stop in Australia with the gear.  Ricky where are we with pickin’ the boat up?  Any update?

          Rick:  I hated to have to do it this way, but our best option wasn’t available, so we had to intervene.  He grinned at Ken and continued: Your boyfriend is badass in case you didn’t know.  With Brad’s ‘help’ the family renting the Yacht had a sudden change of plans, and the boat is now available.  It’s a Mangusta 165 Superyacht and it’s incredible. I estimate it will take us about 40 hours at top speed to get in position over the Trench, but I think once we’re on board we can make some modifications and cut that down a good bit.  The Company wasn’t happy about us not using their Crew and Captain, but money talks.  The security deposit was steep because of it, but the Yacht is ours for as long as we need it.

          Ken:  OK good deal.  Bry, once we get there, you’re in charge of getting us supplied with food.  Everybody can take care of their own gear and clothes.  Lane can you help Henry pack? 

          Lane:   Sure thing boss.  Henry, come with me, and let’s get your things sorted.  I’m a master packer.  No jokes.

          It took Henry a second, but he actually laughed.  Lane had that way of lightening the mood.  Lane put his hand on Henry’s solid shoulder and led him back to his room to start gathering what was needed.

          While everybody efficiently prepared the details for the trip, Ken went back into the Conference Room and shut the door.  His eyes flashed white and he looked up to the Heavens.  His deep voice resonated with Power as his Avatar flared:  Michael!

          I hear you Ken.

          Ken went on to explain that Drew was now in the cave at the entrance to Thomin’s Vault to help Darren and that they were on the way. 

          Ken wasn’t in the mood to put up with any Arch-Angel attitude, and he pre-empted Michael’s outburst as soon as it started. 

          We know the risks grandfather!  We’re between a rock and a hard place here, and you know it!  Luke can be back there anytime, so if you can, we need you to keep that from happenin’ until we get there.  Once we’re there and have Darren, we might be able to get more information that will help you find Thomin.  We won’t know until we’re there, but Bill can see if he can pick up on any left-over imprints. We can’t get the doc back without Thomin, so we’re motivated.

          Michael:  We will surround the Vault.  It is warded against us from entering, but Barachiel can send his legions to help protect the area.  It is not certain – things are bad, and we are stretched thin at the moment, but it will help.

          Ken:  Thank you grandfather that’s all we can ask.  Good luck with everythin’ you have on your plate.  We all need it.  I love you, and be careful.

          Ken couldn’t see the look on Michael’s face when Ken told him he loved him.  It touched Michael deeply and warmed the Depth of his Ageless eyes.

          You as well Ken.  The Light will see us through.  Be strong, and remember who you are.

          Ken smiled – that was Michael’s way of reminding him whose grandson he was.  Ken wasn’t sure if Michael would ever understand Ken’s humility over that and how funny he thought it was. 

 

<><><> 

 

          A few hours later, again with some effort because Darren wasn’t with them, they were in Manila in the Philippines.  

          Brad piggy-backed off the Mind of the representative of the Charter Company they rented the Yacht from, and used him as an anchor to jump to.

          There was a smattering of ‘fuck me’s and ‘holy shit’s when they appeared on the deck of ‘ZEUS’.  It was one of the most impressive vehicles they had ever been on outside of a Virginia Class Nuclear Submarine – except the Yacht was a luxury cruiser and totally decked out.  The boat was nearly 50 meters in length and normally had a crew of eight and room for twelve guests on top of that, so there was plenty of room for all of them.

          By the time they arranged for the rest of their supplies and got everything on board and prepped, it was almost nightfall.  All of them had extensive boating experience, but just to be safe Brad read the mind of the Captain and pulled from his experience with the craft. The Captain reluctantly left the boat in their hands.  He wasn’t happy about turning over ZEUS to anyone, but some of his apprehensions were alleviated when he saw how capable and comfortable they all seemed to be as they maneuvered around the deck.

          All of them shared their memories and experiences with Henry so he was fully able to help with the preparations.

          A few hours later, Brad took them masterfully out of the harbor, and they were underway.

          Pat went down to look at the engines – the top speed of the Yacht was rated at 37 knots, which was already impressive; it was faster than most submarines.  Anything they could milk out of the engines beyond that would get them in position faster.

          Loy spent a lot of time on deck looking out over the water.  He loved the ocean as much as all of them, but with his Avatar the Ocean was even more special.  The life in the waters was blissful to him – to Bryan as well, but in a different way.

Loy was meditating and communing with a pod of Blue whales – they were ecstatic at his presence and playful swimming in exotic gyrations and making huge air rings.  He had Henry with him, wanting him to feel that part of Creation.  He knew the beauty of it would help take his mind off Drew for a few minutes, and it helped.

          The whales were smart – Henry realized they were so much smarter than he ever imagined.  The females sensed the hurt in him.  They thought of Drew as Henry’s ‘calf’ and expressed an empathic concern for his well-being.  The fact that they understood family dynamics was a shocker in and of itself, but when they expressed a concern for him, he was blown away.

          Loy took Henry deep inside them feeling the incredible grace and power of their bodies as they glided through the water.  Being inside another creature, especially one of such giant stature and strength gave Henry a view into the world he had never imagined.

          Loy:  Pretty amazing huh Henry?  There’s so much in the world human’s just don’t get.  Intelligence takes many forms – who cares that they don’t have opposable thumbs and can’t make cars and computers?  They’re thinking, caring beings with their own form of society.  I can’t wait to share more with you down the road once all this nastiness is behind us.

Loy had been with the whales for an hour when suddenly his eyes flashed white and his Mind filled with images.  It was more a Vision than a waking Dream, but it was strong and gripped him tightly.  Rick felt it and rushed to Loy’s side – all of them felt anxious about what was happening to him and prayed it wasn’t another catastrophe to add to their already considerable burdens.  Oddly, Lane didn’t seem overly concerned – not out of ego, but he was the Seer and Oracle of The Order and his Avatar was Primary for Dreams and Visions, so if it was something catastrophic, he was sure it would have affected him.

          While Pat and Bill worked on the issue of nursing more speed out of the engines, Loy sent a thought to everyone:  Guys I’m going to need your help in a few minutes.  I think our plans might have just changed a little. He had a big grin on his handsome face.

 

<><><> 

         

          Loy breathed deep and his Avatar flared, sending his Awareness of creatures out and south to Antarctica.  He put his Presence and Awareness into every creature; when he allowed himself to do this, he felt more alive than at any other time, except when he Rick were One and making love.  It didn’t take him long to find what he was looking for – a colony of Emperor Penguins.  He scanned the colony for the five strongest and best divers among them.

          Come my friends.  I need your help for a little while.  I’ll have you back to your mates and your offspring soon.

He Linked with everyone else and synchronized his Avatar with Brad’s, Bill’s, and Lane’s, and pulled power from Henry and everyone else – seconds later the five Emperor Penguins were on the deck of ZEUS, flapping their flippers and quietly squawking.  They were huge birds, all of them over four feet tall and weighing upwards of eighty pounds each.

          Loy set his Will on them to keep them calm and relaxed – they were willing servants to the Steward.  He felt that same sense of completion and contentment that all creatures felt towards them inside the giant birds – but Loy in particular.  Now that they were Original Men the animal kingdom fell under their Dominion – and Loy most of all with his Avatar of Stewardship.  He was their primary Caretaker – there was no fear in them, just curiosity and unconditional love for Loy and his Brothers.  Henry was astounded – he was a part of that now.  He didn’t have an Avatar but the doctor said he was now an Original Man like the others and he was astounded at that part of him he hadn’t been able to explore yet.

          Brad sent Henry a private thought:  You know Henry, when all this is over and we’ve won, you can get Drew a puppy.  With that part of you now, it will be easy to potty train, and it will make having a dog even more fun and amazing.  I bet Drew would like that.

          Henry teared up at the thought – for Brad being optimistic about their future and for the idea.  Drew had mentioned wanting a dog early on, but living in the Lab made it impossible for all kinds of reasons.  It was something to look forward to, though.

          The Yacht was equipped with satellite based internet and Wi-Fi and Loy got on the web to do a little bit of research to clarify what he saw in his Vision.  Everything he read about the penguins was true – he was inside them and knew how their bodies worked.  They were perfect for what he had in mind, and they squawked happily as they felt his excitement.

          Ken waited patiently with Brad who was piloting the craft.  Brad had them all tightly Linked; while he and Ken stayed up top, the rest of them gathered in the main lounge area as Bryan cooked dinner.  The only things missing were their Brother Darren and Drew; Darren who was in the bottom of the Ocean seven miles underwater, cold and hurt with the Light being drained out of him and a little boy who had touched all their lives in ways they could never have imagined who was trying to save one of their own.

The weather was warm and humid and even with the ceiling fans going it was sticky.  All the guys wore shorts and went shirtless.  They did wear deck shoes for better footing – as agile and dexterous as they were, wet boats were accidents waiting to happen, and the shoes let them keep a better grip.

          While they waited for dinner Pat explained how the modifications to the engines were going to happen – it would be a combination of enhancing the fuel and making a few adjustments to the engines themselves – basically tuning them to take advantage of the enhanced fuel.  Altering the chemical composition of the fuel would have been far easier with Darren, and it emphasized his missing presence.  It would take all of them working in concert and Ken said they would do it right after they ate when their energy levels were peaked.

          The Penguins stayed on the deck, quiet and still, under Loy’s influence, content to be close to them.  At some point nearly all of the guys went out and visited with them.  Loy called up a small school of bait fish and had Brad stop ZEUS for a brief moment to collect the fish – there were small nets stowed with the emergency rafts they used to scoop them up.  The Penguins were in heaven – Lane enjoyed feeding them and talking to them, and he made sure their bellies were full.  They would need all their energy soon.  

          Bryan had thrown together his own garlic Alfredo sauce with Linguini and fresh sea scallops.  He made a Greek salad and fresh garlic bread to go along with it. He had fully mastered using his Avatar to activate and grow yeast quickly and he could produce fresh bread and rolls with ease.  He used heavy cream to make fresh salted garlic butter for the rolls.  The smells were causing everyone’s stomachs to rumble – especially Ken’s.  Brad wasn’t surprised that he could hear the rumbling of Ken’s stomach over the noise of the engines.

          After Bryan saw Loy call the bait fish to feed the Penguins they had a discussion about calling fish for additional meals – Loy’s view was the same as in the Valley of the Tree.  He didn’t mind calling sea creatures for food if they needed to – he would free their spirits first and make it painless.  Many of the smaller creatures like scallops didn’t have spirits which he found interesting – yet they still responded to his Avatar.  They were alive and Bryan felt them as much as he did.  He would have to have a philosophical discussion about that with the doctor and Albrecht once they were all safely back in the Lab.

          Once they sat down to eat they devoured the food until they were all bloated – even Henry, who at first said he wasn’t hungry.  It was so good they couldn’t stop eating.  The fresh air and being on the water made them hungry, and they reminisced about their days in the Navy while they ate – trying to keep the conversation lite.  Lane managed to get Henry laughing and relaxed somewhat with his stories of a few of their antics from that time in their lives.

          Ken knew that having Pat focus on the engine problem would help keep him distracted – nothing could erase his worry over Darren, but it would lessen it.  He planned on putting Pat on task regardless, but it was still a good move – Pat’s Avatar was best suited to address the issue, and it gave him a purpose that would directly affect how quickly they could get to Darren and Drew and the doctor.

          As they all finished eating, Bill and Kevin were on cleanup duty and started clearing the dishes.  Lane excused himself for a few minutes and once everyone was ready and settled, Ken turned things over to Pat.

          “OK guys this shouldn’t take long, but it will take a good bit of energy.”

          Pat had a mason jar of fuel in front of him – he looked at it and his eyes flashed white as his Avatar lit up and started to glow softly.  He saw the chemical composition of the fuel and shared it with Brad, Lane, Loy, and Bill.  Loy was best at Chemistry – all of them had the equivalent of advanced degrees after working with the doctor for so long.  Brad and Lane and Darren were better at Physics and Math, and Loy and Bill were better at Chemistry and Biology, but they were all geniuses.

          “With Bill’s help, I came up with this.  Loy, take a look and see if you agree with the changes.”

          Pat shared the new formula with them – it only took a few seconds for Loy to work through the changes, and he was impressed and sure the new chemical composition would work great.

          “That’s gonna’ kick ass fellas.”

          Brad commented, “The potential kinetic output of those changes is phenomenal.  We’ll have to be careful on tuning the engines to utilize it – if anything we’ll have to cut back to keep the engines from blowing apart.”

          Pat added his ideas on modifying the cooling system as well which would help.   For the first few hours Pat, Ken, Bryan, Rick, or Kevin would have to monitor the engines to make sure everything stayed within safe parameters.  Pat’s main concern was the higher vibrational output – basically the engines or the boat tearing apart. 

          Brad seemed confident that the structural integrity of the boat could handle it, but they would cover all the bases and be as safe as possible.  There was no way they would risk becoming stranded in the Pacific Ocean and leave Drew, Darren, or the doc hanging.

          A few hours later, the engines seemed to handle the increase in power from the modified fuel fine.  The speed boost equated to just over a twenty-five percent boost in power increasing their speed by ten knots – it would get them in position eleven hours ahead of their original plan.

          When they were comfortable that the engines didn’t need monitoring so closely, Ken called everybody else back up into the lounge area.  Brad put the Yacht on autopilot and locked in their course so he could come down with everyone in person.  The on board radar showed no other vehicles in the area so he felt comfortable leaving the helm for a short time.

          He also had a mental scan set in his subconscious monitoring for any people within miles of their location so he would have plenty of warning even before the radar alerted him with a proximity alarm.

          Ken started, “OK, Loy, fill us in on what it was you saw.  What about a change of plan?  You were smilin’, and now there’s penguins runnin’ around so…”

          Loy’s eyes flashed white briefly, his tattoo softly glowed, and the five Emperor Penguins waddled in from the outer deck.  They loved the cool wind from the speed of the boat – it was so much warmer in the Pacific than Antarctica – it was soothing to them.

          They filed in, looking comical.  Kevin snickered when he saw them… each one had a green military issue bandana wrapped around their necks like scarves with a name on it:  Tack, Jolly, Toe, Puck, and MB.  Those were the call signs for Lane, Bill, Brad, Darren, and Loy when they were in the Navy.

          Lane was Tack – Henry remembered the story of Lane and Bryan being trapped in Taliesin’s Construct when Lane died.  The half of Lane’s Soul that belonged to Bryan took on the form of a small white kitten that Bryan, even though he effectively had amnesia in the Construct, had instinctively named Tack. 

          Brad sent a private thought to Henry about the others to fill him in:  Jolly is Bill because he’s so tall… it stands for Jolly Green Giant.  I was Tow because I’m Towheaded… in the Navy being outside all the time my hair stayed bleached out even more, and it was almost white.  Darren was Puck because he was the shortest and the widest of us like a hockey puck, and Loy was MB which was a bit of a risk back in those days but it stands for Muscle Bear because he’s so hairy and studly.  Henry grinned and shook his head at Lane’s antics.

          Bryan did a face palm and shook his head over what Lane did, but the corner of his mouth was tilted up.

          Loy looked at Lane with raised eyes – Lane didn’t bat an eye and said, “Hey I got a pretty good idea why they’re here.  There are five of us including Dar and five of them.  Go ahead and ’splain yourself, and see if I’m right.”

          “Alright you’re on track.  Ken, what I saw was these guys diving for us. No sea creature, mammal or otherwise, can dive as deep as we need to go.  The bottom of the trench is 6.8 miles deep at the very lowest point – there are some shrimp that live that far down, but shrimp don’t have eyes that we can use as a reference to teleport, and their tiny bodies couldn’t begin to channel the amount of energy we’ll need to get down there.

          “Penguins have an amazing ability to regulate the oxygen in their system to dive deep, and their bodies actually compress with the pressure.  With us inside them, guiding them, and healing them as they dive, they can get to the bottom of the Trench in about an hour.  Even at the fastest rate of decent you guys couldn’t make it that quick. 

          “It won’t take any significant energy for us to keep them fully functional on the way down. These guys can get into the cave and it will be like us being there.  Remember what Dar said about his Avatar working that way even through Wards?  We’ll be inside them, and we pull our bodies there along with you guys.  If something goes wrong, we still have the gear as a backup.”

          Ken grinned and said, “Loy, if I wasn’t already with Brad, I’d kiss you.  All of you guys are awesome… and I couldn’t be more proud.  Between the time we’re savin’ with the speed boost and that we’ll be there even sooner… Pat and Henry we’ll be there before you know it, and Dar and Drew will be safe.  Then we get the doc situated, and we’re back on track.”

          Ken’s Avatar was at work, and it sent out a feeling of optimism to all of them.  Things were coming together, and they all had a good feeling… and while Pat and Henry were both still deeply concerned for Darren and Drew, they felt more at ease with the way things were progressing.

 

<><><> 

 

          Drew was worried; Darren looked so pale and Drew had to concentrate and focus to detect the barely discernable motion of Darren’s chest rising and falling with his shallow breathing.  The adrenaline shot was gone so if he stopped breathing again, Drew had no idea what he would do and was starting to panic.

          Darren’s head was in his lap with Drew hunching over him, his small body rocking with worry.  His tears fell on Darren’s forehead, and he kept wiping them off.  His anxiety levels were high, and he felt an icy knot of fear in his stomach that Darren was dying and there wasn’t anything he could do about it.

          With his Mind’s Eye he could see Darren’s Soul was even dimmer than just a short while ago.  Drew had removed all the chains from his body, so he didn’t understand why he was still getting weaker.  His Uncle Brad and his daddy told him not to look into Darren’s mind unless it was an emergency.  He didn’t know what else to do, and in his desperation he merged into Darren.

          He was inexperienced but powerful, and he broke through easily – Darren’s shields were practically non-existent at this point.  He tried to share his own energy with Darren but something was stopping him… something was making Darren’s body reject it.

          He started crying loudly, “Don’t leave me, Uncle Darren!  Don’t leave me!”  He kept repeating it like a mantra hoping that Darren would hear him, but he was so far gone he didn’t think it was possible.

          He felt it when Darren stopped breathing.  He didn’t hear anything, but some unidentifiable difference told him Darren was gone.  It only took a few seconds, but what was left of Darren’s Soul slowly lifted out of his chest and hovered.

          Drew screamed, “NO!  YOU CAN”T LEAVE ME!  YOU CAN’T GO!  STAY WITH ME!”

          He could barely see, the tears were so thick, and he instinctively reached his hands out clutching desperately at Darren’s Soul.  He felt it in his hands, and he scrambled around putting both hands on it and pressing his body down, trying to push it back into Darren’s chest.  It was slippery, and he had to keep changing his grip; it didn’t want to go back in, and that scared him. 

          He looked inside his Uncle’s Mind trying to see anything that might help.  Drew idolized his dad and Ken and the other men – he thought they had the answers to everything.  Drew still operated under the premise that all adults knew everything, and so far they had never proved him wrong. 

          Darren’s Mind felt comfortable and warm.  He saw so many things… Darren’s whole life was laid out to him.  He felt Darren’s love for Pat… and he saw what they did when they were naked together.  He didn’t understand it completely, but he felt the love they shared when they were together and did things to one another that made them feel good.

          He saw Darren’s time in the Navy and growing up as an orphan.  He saw how Darren and Pat helped Miss Sally when her boyfriend Carlo was killed.  He saw many things but nothing that would help. 

          Then he saw something about him – everything about Drew that Darren knew.  It was all there in a box – the box was locked, but Darren was so weak Drew opened it easily, and his eyes widened in shock. 

Drew had a brother!  The bad man that almost killed them in the basement of that house was his brother!  How could that be?  Drew was petrified with what he saw.

          Everything was laid out before him – he saw the Curse and how he died every seven years… when that realization hit, something in the back of his mind that was hidden very deep unlocked.  Memories of being killed… not just the first time, but over and over.   The terror of each death was fresh in his Mind.  He thought they were dreams, but they were memories… of a Stone and blood and pain.

          Before the terror of the horrifying memories washed him away, Drew saw something else… something that Darren was terrified of.  Besides being lost forever and separated from his Uncle Patrick, Darren was terrified for Drew and what he faced.  Drew would have to confront the bad man, and the man would have to ask his forgiveness for killing him.  If Drew did that, then he saw how his Uncles could fix the World.

          Darren and all his Uncles were terrified of losing Drew again, and they were desperately trying to come up with a way to save him.  Drew realized many of the games they played with him were to teach him things… the new slinky game in the gym was one of them and catching the ball.  They were helping him and trying to protect him – make him stronger and prepare him for what he would have to do.

          Drew realized his dad knew everything – but hadn’t known for very long.  He saw how much Darren loved his dad as a Brother, and he saw everything Henry had gone through.  The horrific pain of his own transformation from a normal man into a Protector of The Enemy – and all the bad things he had been forced to do.  Darren had merged with his dad before and knew all his memories, and Drew saw how hard Henry’s life had been, how much he loved Liz, and how devastated he was at losing her.

          So many of the feelings he saw in Darren were adult emotions and Drew didn’t fully comprehend them – his empathy let him feel the strength of them more than the intellectual side of them.

          His young Mind was reeling – his world was rocked, and he was scared.  He had seen the bad man and knew how powerful he was.  How could he possibly fight an adult especially one as dark and as powerful as The Master?  He now knew that’s what his Uncles called the bad man.

          Suddenly another pair of hands covered his own – they were rough and ruddy colored with sharp fingernails.  His head shot up and he looked into a boy’s face… he thought it was a boy.  He looked strange… his skin was darker; he was naked and his body was covered with a light coating of hair, but his eyes looked familiar.  His teeth were funny, and he breathed loud.

          “W… who are y… you?”

          The boy didn’t say anything, but he nodded at their hands and with his help Drew was able to push Darren’s Soul back down into his body.  They each got on one side of Darren and kept their hands pushing down holding his Soul in his body keeping him alive. His chest started slowly rising and falling again.

          The desperation to save Darren overrode everything he saw in his Uncle’s Mind.  He was crying over everything but saving Darren mattered more to him than what he learned about himself.

          Drew felt Darren’s Soul constantly pushing to leave his body and he didn’t know what to do.  He didn’t see anything in Darren’s Mind that would help him.  He needed Lane and the others to Heal him and make him better.  He would have to hold on until they got here. 

          He had no idea how long he had been in the cave – he fell asleep twice but didn’t know how long he slept, but it seemed like it had been a while.  He was exhausted and freezing.  He wanted his dad.  He wanted his Uncle to wake up and be OK.  He wanted Miss Sally and Doctor Aaron and Mr. Albrecht…

          He knew his Uncles were on the way, but he had to be brave and keep Darren alive until they could get here no matter what. 

          The boy was looking at him.  Drew sniffed and leaned his head down to wipe the tears out of his eyes on his shoulder.  He was shivering and wanted to put on his hoodie, but he had it rolled up as a pillow for Darren’s head.

          Between his shivering and crying Drew was stuttering but he managed to say, “Th… thanks for h... helping.  Wha…what’s your name?  I’m Drew.”

          The boy made a grunting sound but didn’t say anything.  It dawned on Drew that the boy was naked but he didn’t seem to be shivering.   The hair all over his body wasn’t thick but it was course and long.  He squatted, flat footed with his knees up like a frog, which looked funny to Drew.

          “How did you get here?”

          Again there was no response.

          Drew didn’t like it that the boy wouldn’t say anything.  He only grunted and sucked air through his crooked sharp teeth.  There was still something disconcerting about his eyes that made Drew uncomfortable. 

          Drew’s arms were shaking with effort, and his tears started flowing again.  He had to be strong enough!  He had to be!  His dad was strong enough – all his Uncles were strong enough!  He had to be too!  It didn’t matter that he was young – he had to pull his own weight.  He heard Miss Sally talk about that with the Keenan’s when she didn’t know he was listening – how she needed to be as much a part of the Team as any of the guys.

          He was never strong enough to defend himself or his mom against his real dad, Doug.  Doug made him feel weak and useless and stupid – Henry and his Uncles made him feel strong and safe and smart.  He had to make them proud of him – he had to be worth something to them.  After all the abuse from Doug he finally started having a sense of self-worth.  After years of being put down and verbally and physically abused by Doug, he felt safe and loved – they loved him. 

          Drew saw in Darren’s Mind that he loved Drew – he didn’t love him because he had to, or because he was trying to make up for his mom being gone – he loved Drew because they were friends and Darren really enjoyed spending time with him.  He saw deep down that Darren was as proud of Drew as if he was his own son.  All of the guys were.

          He couldn’t lose that – he couldn’t lose Darren.  He had to be enough!

          The other boy was staring at him, at his tears.  It hit Drew out of the blue – those were his eyes staring back at him.  This boy was him – the first him; the one that was killed by The Master.  He wasn’t really here – he was inside Drew, and Drew was hallucinating.  But he was helping – his presence made Drew stronger somehow.

          A loud crash shocked Drew out of his thoughts, and he stared at a large grotesque body that smashed into the back wall of the cave.  It looked like a man; a naked man with dark bluish purple skin; with hooves instead of feet, and huge wings coming off his back.  He had wounds all over his body like he had been in a fight, and he was breathing heavy.  His dark skin was wet with sweat and black blood that dripped from multiple wounds on his body.

          He shook his head and looked around as he slowly rolled up.  His body was massively muscled – he looked much bigger than his Uncles, and his wings couldn’t spread out completely in the cave.

          He saw Drew and stopped, then looked around at the tattered chains and realized somehow the half-breed he had been sent to bring back to his Master had help. Michael and the others had taken an interest in protecting the Vault and Luke didn’t want a direct confrontation, so he sent countless underlings to break through their defenses.  Most of them died – they fought fiercely, but Michael himself led them along with Barachiel.

          He could see that the half-breed was nearly dead – the boy was keeping him alive.  His mouth spread wide in a smile showing his sharp yellow teeth and black tongue.

          He spoke with a voice so deep Drew could barely understand him, “You should never have come here boy.  I will take you to The Dark One along with the half-breed.  He will enjoy playing with you.”

          Drew knew from Darren’s memories that the man named Luke was The Dark One.  Neither Luke or The Master knew who Drew was – he was a secret they didn’t know about.

          The boy – the other him – started motioning frantically with his hands.  He cupped his hands together like he was holding something.  An image of the Stone came into Drew’s Mind. 

          The Stone was connected to him somehow – it was the weapon his brother used to kill him.  It was powerful.

          Drew felt the Stone appear in his hands.  It was rough, bigger than his fist.  As soon as it touched his skin he felt a shock and the memories of all the deaths started welling up into him.

          He was getting a grip on his budding abilities – squeezing his eyes shut he willed the Stone to be quiet and the memories stopped.  He felt the boy’s hands on his own – taking the Stone.  How could he touch the stone if he wasn’t real?

          The boy stood and interposed himself between Drew and the Demon.  He thrust the stone above his head in a defiant gesture and a dome of energy, just like the one the Eschphene leader put up, appeared over Darren and Drew and the boy.

          The Demon looked surprised, but said, “Resourceful, but foolish.  You will not forbid me!”

          The Demon tried to move forward but one of his legs failed him – black blood oozed from a wound.  He bellowed his rage and forced himself up as a black rope of power shot out of his clawed hand and hit the dome.  Drew felt it in his Mind like a hammer, but the dome held.

          He crawled on top of Darren’s body – he knew he must be hurting Darren with his weight on his wounds, but he didn’t know what else to do.  He put his hands over Darren’s chest, holding his Soul down and braced his hands under his knees.  His entire body was trembling and shaking from the effort – plus his fear and desperation and the freezing cold of the cave. 

          Another blow hit the shield and he cried out.  Another.  Another.  And Another.  Drew was swaying, his vision blurring as he started to lose consciousness.  All the Power in his untrained Mind was used up and drained.  The image of the boy vanished and the Stone fell to the floor.  He heard the echo as it hit the floor and rolled a few feet away.

          As his vision was fading, he looked up and wasn’t sure what it was he saw – there was something looking down at him.  Five somethings – they were black and white and had long slender beaks.  They made a squawking sound.  He saw an explosion of Light and he passed out.

 

<><><> 

 

          They were all on pins and needles – the calm they managed to find in the evening was gone.  Brad and Lane in particular had a strong feeling something was wrong.  They couldn’t hide it from the Link, and it set Pat and Henry both into a tailspin.

          Ken:  Hold on guys.  We’re less than an hour away from the drop point.  Once we’re there, we won’t have to prep the gear, so the birds can high tail it down. No matter what’s goin’ on we’ll get there in time. 

          They knew he believed the words, and it helped a little.  Ken wasn’t just saying the words – he believed them, and he forced his belief into all of them.  It wasn’t just part of his Avatar, it was a part of him that Brad loved.  He had a strength about him from before any of the changes the doctor made.  It was part of the reason he became their leader.

          Loy filled the Ocean with his Awareness, clearing away all natural predators that might go after the Penguins.  He could have easily stopped them, but it would be easier not to have to worry with the distraction.  He, Brad, Lane, and Bill were ready.  They spent a lot of time with their Awareness inside the Penguins earlier, getting acclimated to the feel of their bodies and how their metabolisms worked.

          The Healing would need to start about two thousand feet down – just less than half a mile.  The pressure would work for them as the bodies of the penguins compressed as they went deeper.  The oxygen would compress as well so it would last longer – but they would have to keep their bodies from imploding from the pressure once they passed their normal limits.   Each of them would be pulling strength from their Avatars and partners, who in turn would be pulling strength from Yggdrasil, the Tree of Life.  They were all synchronized, but Ken couldn’t lock them all together as One without Darren. 

          Loy summoned multiple pods of whales, dolphins, and porpoises to be in the area and sing so Lane could tap into the Music, and Brad pulled from the across the Veil.  Loy pulled from the nearby animals he summoned as well as the animal spirits.

          They all discussed it and felt the strain would be minimal – their concern was for the Penguins as vessels, but that was why Loy picked such large birds.  Aside from their unique ability to regulate their oxygen levels, they were large and strong and could handle a considerable amount of Power channeled through them – much more than the rats in Syria when they tried to heal Jacob.

          Loy discovered one more trait about his new friends he didn’t realize – the Penguins trapped air in the soft feathers of their body.  They could release bubbles that would reduce the density of the water surrounding them – this enabled them to glide through the water at much faster speeds than expected, especially in short bursts. 

          Using the part of their Avatars that came from Darren, they induced a basic form of electrolysis, pulling oxygen from the water itself to replenish this supply.  That process would be minimal and wouldn’t cause any excess drain over what they were already expecting.

 

<><><> 

 

          As soon as they arrived, Brad cut the engines and ZEUS swiftly slowed until it was drifting.  Without the noise of the engines, it was quiet and peaceful – there was a steady wind blowing across the water.  It was hot and humid; all of them were shirtless, a light sheen of sweat covering their bodies.   

          Brad initiated the GPS stabilizers and small water jets activated to keep ZEUS in position.  The water was too deep to use the anchors to hold them into position.

          There were only a few hours of daylight left – it didn’t really matter as the rays from the sun would only travel two thirds of a mile down into the ocean.  After that the Penguins’ senses, as well as their own, would have to guide them.

          Loy felt the tiny shrimp at the bottom of the Trench… there was an area where they wouldn’t go, and based on Albrecht’s input that was most likely near the tunnel that led to Thomin’s Vault.

          The Penguins were standing on the dive deck off the back of ZEUS, and even before the Yacht came to a stop they plopped into the water and took off like bullets into the dark depths with Loy and the other Mentalists inside of them.  Their Avatars flared on the balls of their strong shoulders, visible even in the late afternoon sun.

          Each couple was One inside the vessels of the large birds; Henry and Pat were with them as well, carried and wrapped up tightly in the warmth of their Brothers’ Souls.  Loy controlled the fifth bird named Puck.  Puck wasn’t really needed, but it seemed appropriate to take him – five Mentalists and five birds.  It just seemed right to all of them.  Puck represented Darren, and they were going to bring him home.

          If the mission wasn’t so critical or stressful it would have been fun being inside the large birds.  Their bodies, awkward on the deck of ZEUS, were graceful and agile in the water. 

          Feeling the changes in the Penguins was incredible… the way they adapted as the environment changed and the way they controlled their bodies.  Nature was an intricate and beautiful thing, and they all learned something through the experience.

          If anyone in the Ocean could see with their Mind’s Eye they would see five brightly glowing balls of Light surrounding the birds – feeding them oxygen and supporting their bodily structure from the ever-increasing pressure of the depth. 

          The Penguins were completely at ease and content – they loved the presence of the men inside them, and were playful as they made their descent, flipping and twisting around each other.  It didn’t slow their progress, so the guys let them have their fun.

          Henry was linked with all of them, but he wasn’t able to participate in the descent.  His anxiety levels were high – he had no idea what they would find in the cave once they arrived.  The plan was for the guys to use the Penguins as anchors and if Drew had the area clear of the chains, to teleport everybody there immediately and Heal Darren.

          In a little over an hour they were at the bottom of the Trench.  Only a few humans in specially designed submersibles had ever been so deep, and even then only for a short time.  The pressure at the bottom of the trench was tremendous – eight tons per square inch.

          Loy guided them to the area where the shrimp wouldn’t go, and sure enough the Penguins felt afraid.  They sensed something there they didn’t want any part of – Loy and the others had to set their Will on them to continue and keep them calm.

          It took a few minutes to find the cave mouth – they all felt the magic as they crossed the threshold where the pressure lessened.  The tunnel was long and winding and the light from the cave seemed bright after the darkness they had been swimming in.

          The last few minutes of the descent were tense for all of them.  Brad’s and Lane’s Intuition was telling them something was wrong – it was a strong feeling that left an ice cold ball in the pits of their stomachs.   As they got closer, the others started to feel it as well.

          Ken:  Alright everybody be ready.  We don’t know what to expect, so we have to be ready for anythin’.   Keep calm, and we’ll be what we need to be.  Remember who we are and what we’re trained for.  We got this.

          On the dive deck of ZEUS, Ken had his arm around Pat’s shoulder in comfort.  Loy did the same with Henry, trying to lessen his worry in any way he could.

          Ken’s Conviction flooded into all of them, helping to stave off the anxiety and keep them focused.  They were trained soldiers and laser focused on the mission.  No matter what they saw or felt, they were prepared and ready to do what was necessary – Drew and Darren and the doctor were depending on them.

          As they got closer, Brad felt it first and then the others immediately after – the presence of Darkness; of the Enemy.  Inside the cave!  With an amazing burst of speed the Penguins shot through and out of the water landing on their feet – they passed through the barrier protecting Drew as if it wasn’t there and they landed right beside Drew, looking down on him.

          The scene before them caused a gamut of emotions – fear first.  Darren’s body was laid out on the floor covered in the blood soaked blankets.  There was a dome of some kind of energy over him and Drew.  Drew was lying across Darren’s chest with the Stone in his hand and in the process of passing out.

          There was a Demon covered in black blood attacking the dome over Drew and Darren.  Just as the Penguins burst out of the water the dome shattered and Drew lost consciousness and the Stone fell from his hand.

          They were already together, but Brad pulled them deeper and Time nearly stood still.  All of them were full of Power – their Light was as strong as ever.  The only thing missing was their Brother Darren to make them even brighter.

          Henry was frantic as he saw Drew fall unconscious on top of Darren – he had no idea how Drew could have gotten the Stone or what had transpired.  Darren looked awful; he was barely alive, but they still sensed a tiny spark of life in him.  They could see his Soul trying to leave his body but Drew was somehow keeping it inside him.

          Lane had the same thought as he had on previous missions:  Why the fuck do we always have to cut it so close?

          White Light exploded from the birds, and all of the Team materialized in the cave.  Even with the secondary trap Luke had set when Drew cut the chains – with their presence inside the Penguins, their Avatars circumvented the magic and let them through.

 Drew had done his job and the chains were down, scattered all over the floor of the cave after he cut them.  The Demon recoiled in fear and pain – confronted with a Light he hadn’t felt since he Sundered himself from Home.

          They didn’t have time to try and reset him – and they couldn’t let him escape and return to Luke.  Brad held out both hands and chains of white Light wrapped tightly around the Demon binding him.  He writhed in pain – the chains burned into him.  Brad didn’t want to draw enough Power to destroy him – even as full as they were, he wanted to make sure Lane had plenty to draw from for Darren and Drew.

          Simultaneously Lane sent white ribbons of healing into Darren and Drew – he was in a dilemma because Darren was so weak but he looked through Pat’s Avatar and knew just how much he could push it and minimize the trauma to Darren’s weakened body.  Drew was weak too – whatever he had done to form that shield and help Darren drained him to a dangerously low state.

          As the white ribbon of energy hit him, Darren’s body arced up nearly throwing Drew off of him.  Consciousness returned to him, and he instinctively wrapped his big arms around Drew, holding him tight as his Brothers Healed them both.

          Darren’s presence flooded into the Link.  Tears streamed down all their faces, and the relief Darren felt was immeasurable.  Not just of his Body and Mind – his Soul was restored and even more importantly to him the feeling of Pat and his Brothers inside him.

          Loy sent a command to the Penguins to get in the water and out of the way.  It was as much for their safety as it was for more room – the cave wasn’t very large and was crowded with all of them present – and Loy was shielding the birds from the Demon’s presence.  They could stay under water for nearly twenty minutes before having to come back up.  As long as they stayed in the area where the pressure was altered they would be fine.

          Pat:  Dar!  Oh my God man I thought I lost you!

          Even though Darren’s body was Healed, the experience of everything he had just been through was clear and present inside him.  He felt Pat’s arms around him holding him, and he felt all his Brothers holding him up inside his Heart and Mind, but he was hurt.  The emotional and Spiritual trauma was harsh, and he needed time to recover. 

          Pat held onto him with desperate strength, feeling all the hurt inside him.  He tried to merge them completely and was shocked when he rebounded.

          No!  Not yet Pat! I…I’m sorry but I need… time.  You know I love you, but I’m not ready.  There’s too much I don’t want you to see yet.

          Darren felt the hurt he caused his lover, and it hurt him too, but he wasn’t ready – as difficult as it was to articulate he couldn’t… didn’t want to… forget everything that he just went through.  He didn’t want to make it as if it never happened, and he didn’t want to flood Pat and his Brothers with the experience.  He knew they meant well, but he held everything back.  What he went through put something inside of him he wasn’t ready for them to see.

          Everyone felt the discomfort at the barrier he had up inside him.  He was in the Link and he let it wash over him on the surface, but it didn’t begin to touch what he just went through.

          Pat saw the turmoil and Understood it, but it rocked him down to his core that Darren would shut him out like he did.  After the desperation to reach him and to finally make it and be together only to be rebuffed – it was like a kick in the nuts to Pat.

          Henry rushed forward and took Drew into his arms.  He had to be careful not to squeeze him too tightly.  Henry had Drew cradled against his torso – tears were falling down his face in relief and concern.  He had no idea yet what Drew had gone through, but based on the scene waiting for them it wasn’t good.

          The Demon howled in pain and rage, trapped by the chains, while he twisted and strained to break free.  There was only one set of chains around him from Brad but the Power came from all of them, and it was enough to hold him. 

          With the physical wounds of Darren and Drew healed, all the Power in them was made available to Brad.

          Ken?

          Bill Read him.  I’m bettin’ he knows where Thomin is.

          As Bill moved forward the Demon screamed.  He was loyal to The Dark One and was willing to sacrifice himself rather than betray his Master.  He knew if he did his existence would end, so he turned his black Power inwards and destroyed his own Mind.

          Bill:  Fuck! 

          Ken: Slice him up.  We aren’t here to reset him.  We need to see what we can find out about the doc, and then we need to get Dar and Drew back to the boat and out of here.

          Loy, Bill, and Lane added their own white chains to Brad’s, and razor sharp edges formed.  They all yanked and the Demon’s existence was shredded – his physical existence ended just like his Mind.  His howling shriek faded as his Essence and corporeal form were obliterated.

          Pat stepped back in shock when Darren rebuffed the merge.  Darren’s clothes were stiff and dark with dried blood and he looked a mess.  He was shaking – he wasn’t smiling or frowning; his face had a neutral look they weren’t used to seeing.

          Ken stepped forward and pulled him into a hug.  Darren’s arms wrapped around Ken’s back and he squeezed.

          Ken:  Are you ready to get out of here Dar? 

          Darren: Not only yes, but hell, yes!  Henry is Drew OK?

          Henry:  He’s still unconscious, but he doesn’t look hurt.

          Brad was viewing everything through his Avatar.  The emotional trauma in Darren was so strong it was painful for Brad to look at – Pat wasn’t in much better shape.  His Mind was on overdrive thinking of the best approach to handle what happened to Darren.

          Drew moaned, and his eyes slowly fluttered opened.  He looked at Henry and his eyes immediately filled with hot tears, “Daddy!  I’m sorry!”

          Henry and all of them were shocked and Henry hugged him tighter, “Drew!  Sorry for what, honey?”

          “I tried to save him!  I tried so hard! I pushed and pushed, but I wasn’t strong enough!”  Drew’s words were barely discernable through his cries, and some of what he was saying didn’t make sense.  It dawned on them he thought Darren was dead.

          Drew was tightly shielded at the moment, and neither Brad nor Henry wanted to try and force him into a Link.  He didn’t have enough control yet, and as distraught as he was it might hurt him.  Brad realized they needed to address that issue immediately – he was surprised the doctor hadn’t already started Drew on some mental disciplines.

          Darren moved over immediately and cupped the top of Drew’s head, “Hey Tiger!  Drew look at me!  It’s Uncle Darren buddy!  I’m fine!  I’m OK because of you!”

          Drew’s eyes went wide when he heard Darren’s voice, and Henry almost dropped him as he spun around and held out his arms towards Darren.  Darren put his arms around Henry and Drew at the same time and Drew was sandwiched between the two big men as he cried. 

          Henry kept his soothing dialogue, “It’s OK Drew, Uncle Darren’s fine!  You saved him Tiger.  You did great!”

          Drew crushed his face against Darren’s neck and hugged him as tightly as he could, “I thought you died!”

          Darren’s eyes filled with tears too, and his throat tightened up.  He laughed a little at himself for calling Ken a crybaby when the same thing happened to him.

          Darren’s voice was quiet and intense.  He had one arm wrapped around Henry and with his other hand he reached up and pulled Drew’s cheek against his own and he kissed him.  “You saved me Drew.  No one else in the world could have, but you did.  I owe you my life.  You are the bravest little boy in the world.  I love you, Tiger.”

          Emotions were high all around – Pat watched all this from a few feet away.  He wanted Darren in his arms – he wanted to merge with the other half of his Soul.  What he went through wasn’t nearly as traumatic as what Darren did, but the separation from his lover had taken its toll on him.  He watched Darren from a distance and felt like an outsider.

           While they were still filled with Power, Bill looked with his Avatar.  He stumbled against Kevin as the intensity of everything hitting him.  He saw and felt most of what happened to Darren and Drew.  He realized more had happened than they were aware of – which explained some of Darren’s odd behavior.  He saw a little boy in the cave with Drew, which shocked him.  His Mind recorded and stored all of this, but he pushed through it and went further back.

          Kevin’s big arms wrapped around him from behind and he felt his lover’s presence enter his Mind and Heart supporting him.  You aren’t alone Bill.  I’m with you through all of this.  We’ll watch it together and share the load and the pain.

          The love he felt for Kevin flooded to the surface and he wrapped his hands around Kevin’s forearms and leaned his head back against Kevin’s shoulder so his cheek rested against Kevin’s neck. Bill refocused and looked further back.  He saw the doctor appear and Thomin waiting for him.   He heard their conversation.

 

<><> 

 

“Thank you for hearing me.”

Thomin’s manner was aloof and arrogant, “I know what you carry inside you.”

Is it possible for you to separate The Mantle from me and keep it safe?”

          Thomin gazed at him intensely, looking deep inside at the magic that was now intertwined with his Soul.

          “Yes – it will be painful for you, and not easily done, but yes.  Why do you wish it removed?”

          “It has changed.  The Mantle must survive for The Order to exist, but it has evolved much from the time I bore it before.  I will need your promise that if I need to retrieve it you will return it to me.”

          “My aid will come with a price.  If I agree to do this, you will have to perform a task for me before I will return it to you.”

          The doctor replied, “Very well. I have but one question first – I must be sure that it will be safe.  How was the Liber Loagaeth removed from the Vault?  I must be certain there is no chance for The Mantle to be removed as well.”

          They both spun around in surprise as Luke appeared a few feet from them, “Yes Brother, how was the Book removed?  I wish to know that tidbit myself!”

          Thomin all but shouted, “What are you doing here?  You’re presence defiles this place!  Be gone!”

          “Now, now, brother, no need to be so touchy.  I really do want to know who gave the Book to Darren Wilcox.  That was a brilliant maneuver for your side.  That’s not why I’m here, but I’m dying to know….”

          The grin that spread across Luke’s face sent a cold chill down the doctor’s spine.

          “You cannot have the Mantle!  It is mine!”  Thomin’s voice sounded like a petulant child.

          “You do not wish to oppose me Brother.  I am far more powerful than you.  I have no wish to destroy you… you are useful to me alive – let me take what I want and I will be gone.  I will even leave the good doctor here alive.”

          The doctor tore off his jacket and ripped open his shirt.  He heard the buttons click against the stone floor as they popped off.  The doctor grimaced from pain he caused himself as he cut into his body with his fingernails, using his own blood to trace a Rune on his body.

          The doctor’s eyes flashed white as he sent a private thought to Thomin.  Thomin’s body shielded the doctor from Luke’s line of sight, preventing Luke from seeing what he had done.  Thomin’s eyes were wide in surprise when he saw the Rune torn into the flesh of the doctor’s body.

          With inhuman speed Thomin placed his hand on the doctor’s chest and a white burst of Light exploded.  He Empowered the Rune, sending Luke far away.  It was a Rune of Banishment, but the doctor did not know Luke’s true name, so the spell would only be partially effective.

          The doctor screamed as the Power ripped through him – it nearly tore his body apart. 

          Luke screamed in surprise and pain as he was sent away against his will.  Suddenly the cavern was silent once again except for the harsh breathing of the doctor.

          Thomin said, “He will return quickly.  Your actions are brave Aaron Thomas and have bought us a small window.  I am sorry to do this, but if you wish to survive along with The Mantle I have no choice.  The Dark One cannot have what you carry inside you. It is mine.”

          Aaron’s face registered surprise – Thomin raised his hand, and there was another flash of Light – and suddenly the doctor was inside the Vault with The Mantle still inside of him encapsulated in the soft blue magic – frozen and outside of Time.

          “I am sorry Aaron Thomas.  It would take too long to separate you from that which you carry, and The Dark One would return before I could finish.  I grant your wish of keeping The Mantle of The Order safe.  It will remain here now until the Dragon is called where it will be destroyed along with everything else in the world.”

          Luke appeared in a thunderous blast of Power, “What did you do?!”

          “You may be stronger than I am, but where my Province is concerned, my Magic is too strong even for you.  The Mantle is in the Vault now and safe from your hands.”

          Luke’s face contorted in rage, but his voice was icy calm as he said, “You will pay for that!”

          A dozen Demons appeared around them, and black chains of energy wrapped around Thomin. 

          “Open the Vault Thomin!  Do not defy me!”

          “The Mantle is mine!   He gave it to me!  Not you!  You cannot have it!”

          “You are a child Thomin, for all your age.  I will enjoy this.”

          Luke motioned to the Demons and said, “Bring him.  We will see how long he lasts before he changes his mind.”

          They all vanished.

 

<><> 

 

          They now knew what happened with the doctor, but they had no idea where Luke took Thomin.

          Ken:  Fuck! 

          Bill:  Sorry Ken, there’s just nothing else to see.

          Ken:  I know Bill – we know more than we did thanks to you.  I’m just pissed that we still don’t know what to do about the doc.  He’s just a few feet away from us behind those doors and he might as well be a million miles away!

          Lane:  We should take down the wards that Luke put up while we’re here.  If Dar is up for it we can do it.

          Darren was physically fine – what was going on inside his Mind and Heart were still a mystery, but he replied:  No problem.  I’m with you.

          Brad looked at Darren and then at Pat and asked:  Are you sure Dar?

          Darren:  Yeah let’s do it.

          Henry:  I’m with you guys, but I want to get Drew out of here ASAP.  If one Demon made it through more can.  I know you can deal with them, but he doesn’t need to be exposed to anything else.

          Ken:  You’re right.  B fire us up.

          Brad’s eyes went white, and he pulled everyone together.  Darren still had a place inside him that was inaccessible to any of them, and it was painful and uncomfortable not just for everyone else but also for him. 

          Henry:  Pull from me Brad if you need to.

          Drew said out loud, “Me too Uncle Brad.  I want to help.”

          They hadn’t shielded their discussion and didn’t realize Drew was listening. 

          Brad opened up their energy centers one at a time and wove them into a bright white ribbon of Light.  Then he unlocked their Avatars and Ken bound them together – the Runes on their shoulders transformed into the master Rune.  Brad pulled heavily from Henry and he tapped lightly from Drew as well, so he would feel included.

          A wave of Power came off all of them and clashed with the protections Luke had set up.  They dug deep – Darren single handedly provided them with the extra power they needed. He had something inside of him fueling him; it was a surprise to all of them how much Power he put into the effort. In a matter of minutes the only protections on Thomin’s Vault were the ones Thomin incorporated into the cave originally – any influence from Luke was gone.

          It was an effort and they were all sweating and breathing heavy when it was done.

          “Very impressive.  I see why you are continuously underestimated.”  The deep voice surprised them and they spun around to see Orophir standing by the water’s edge. 

          “When I felt the protections crumble, I was able to slip in.”  They saw he wore many rings and an Amulet and none of them could sense his presence even though he was standing right in front of them.

          Ken stepped forward and asked, “What’re you doin’ here?  We aren’t in the mood to be fucked with, so get to the point.”  Ken grimaced when he realized he used the f-bomb in front of Drew. 

          Even Henry grinned a little when Drew piped up, “That’s two bad words Uncle Ken.”

          Lane snickered:  So hard to look the fearless leader and be all impressive when a five year old calls you out on your language in front of the bad guy huh?

          Henry whispered to Drew, “I’ll talk to him later, honey.  Be quiet, and watch.”

          Orophir looked around the room at all the chains on the floor, the equipment Drew had used to cut them down with… and his eyes landed on the Stone.  He didn’t know what it was but he recognized an object of Power when he saw one.

          The Stone vanished and appeared in Darren’s hand.

          Brad asked, “What is it you want Orophir?”

          He seemed hesitant and took a deep breath.   His handsome face looked strained but he said, “I wish to help you.  I owe you Brad Wilson for what you showed me.  I know where The Dark One is holding Thomin.  He is near the breaking point, and you do not have much time if you wish to rescue him.”

          Brad looked at him intently, “Who are you Orophir?  Really?   We appreciate the help and we’re grateful for it, but why?  Is this a one-time thing, or have you had a permanent change of heart?”

          Orophir looked conflicted and said, “My identity must remain a secret for now.  As for a change of heart, I do not know myself.  I am taking a great risk by helping you, but I have taken precautions.  What you showed me opened my eyes in many ways – I have learned more since you shared that memory with me. Please keep the source of Thomin’s location to yourselves.  It would not go well for me if it were discovered that I am the one who aided you.”

          Ken pushed, “Like Brad said, we’re grateful for your help, but without more to go on we can’t trust you.  If your help pans out, then we can talk more.”

          Orophir spread his hands out in a gesture of goodwill and said, “I can ask no more.”  A memory sphere appeared in his hand and floated over to Ken.

          “That is Thomin’s location.  Wait until I am gone before you act on it.”

          With that he vanished back across the Veil. 

          Lane stated the obvious, “Didn’t see that coming.”

          Ken looked at Brad and asked, “How long do you think we should wait?”

          “If he’s across the Veil he could be anywhere by now.  I say go ahead.”

          Ken’s eyes flashed white and he looked upwards.   All their Avatar’s flared in conjunction and Ken’s voice was filled with Power:  Michael!  We have Thomin’s location.  The protections around the Vault are gone.

          There was a sound of fluttering wings, and Michael appeared in front of them, along with Raphael, Gabriel, Barachiel, and Remiel.

          They had never seen Michael in his battle regalia.  He was wearing a full set of rune covered armor that was so bright they could hardly look at it.  They had seen his sword the first time they met him, but never his armor; he was truly impressive.  The other Angels wore similar armor however each suit was unique to the wearer.

Ken held out the memory sphere and said, “Here you go.  There isn’t much time left.”

Michael, Raphael, Gabriel, and Barachiel vanished. Remiel stayed.

          Remiel moved over to Darren.  His voice was intense and quiet as he asked, “Are you alright?”

          Darren lowered his head and said, “No, I don’t think so.  Not yet.”

          Remiel looked at a loss for words, but he embraced his grandson and said, “I am here for you Darren.  I can help you if you let me.”

          “Maybe soon Grandfather, but not yet.  I have some things to sort out myself first.”

          “Know you are loved.  Patrick loves you dearly as does everyone here.  I can see it.  Do not suffer needlessly Daren.  I will make myself available to you anytime you call.”

          Darren blushed a deep red, but he was blocking himself again so no one could tell if it was from anger or embarrassment or shame.  His eyes were glassy and he said, “Thanks.  You should go help get Thomin back.  They might need you.”

          “Very well.  Walk in the Light, Darren.  You are filled with it still, even if you do not think you are.  We will talk soon.”

          With that Remiel vanished.

          The cave was quiet for a moment.  To break the silence Loy summoned the Penguins out of the water.  As soon as Drew saw them, he got a wide-eyed look on his face and practically yelled, “Daddy, look!  Penguins!”

          They shot out of the water and landed on their feet and waddled over to Loy.  Drew scrambled down from Henry’s arms and moved over to them.  They were taller than him, and he wasn’t sure what to make of them.  He got on his knees and looked at them.

          Loy said, “Go ahead and pet them Drew.  It’s OK.”

          They weren’t sure since Drew’s Mind was open if he was considered an Original Man yet or not.  The doctor had told Henry that he would continue to grow until he reached ‘the perfect age’ and then he would stop and would basically be Immortal like the rest of them – assuming he survived his seventh birthday.  Loy lessened his Presence in the giant birds until they were aware of him, but he wasn’t controlling them in any way – he wanted to see how they felt about Drew.

          The Penguins didn’t feel the same sense of completeness or contentment with Drew they did towards Henry or any of the guys, so that wasn’t a part of Drew’s nature yet.

          Loy exerted his influence to make sure they didn’t get aggressive – they sat docilely and let Drew pet them.

          Ken said, “OK guys let’s get back to the boat.  Drew you’re gonna’ love ZEUS.  It goes really fast.  The Penguins are comin’ with us at least for a bit, but we have to send them home soon.”

          Loy had left a command for a small pod of dolphins to stay near ZEUS.  He looked through their eyes and shared the clear picture of the dive deck for them to teleport too.

          Dar you want to do the honors?  It’s been a chore hauling the fat asses around without you.

          Darren’s blank look changed and one dimple showed in a lopsided grin, “I can’t believe you sissies. Now that you know how valuable I am my rates are going up!”

          He synchronized their Avatars and it felt perfect for all of them to be together – except for the huge gulf that somehow existed between Pat and Darren right now and the wall Darren had inside himself.

          Ken wanted to address it soon, but Brad sent him a private thought:  Ken you’re the only one of us who has personal experience with what Dar went through.  You know how it messed with you… he’s going to need time to get over this, even with our help.  We can’t just merge and make all our problems go away – he needs to get back with Pat first, and once they work things out, everything else will follow.  We need to be available to both of them – Pat as much as Dar until this situation is resolved.

          You’re right as always, B. 

          I love you Ken Habbersham. Situations like this just drive it home.

          I love you too, B.  Now let’s hope Michael and the others get Thomin back so we can figure out how to get the doc out of the Vault.

          They all vanished and appeared on the deck of ZEUS.  Darren took the Penguins with them, but there wasn’t enough room on the dive deck for all of them plus the giant birds so he had them appear out over the water and positioned them so they would dive beak first.   Darren exerted enough of an influence on them to make them aware so they weren’t scared or startled when they appeared in the air.

          Loy sensed how much fun they thought it was, and his handsome face broke out into a smile.

          The warmth and humidity felt wonderful after the biting cold of the cave.  Everyone cleared the dive deck and made their way up into the main lounge area of the huge Yacht.  Brad went up to the control room to check on things.   

 

<><><> 

 

          As soon as they appeared on the Yacht, Ken heard Michael’s voice in his Mind:  We were in time.  Thomin is alive.  I will let you know something soon about Aaron Thomas.  Be at ease Ken.

          Relief flooded through all of them – the doctor was still trapped in the Vault and safe, but now they knew he would be back with them soon. 

 

<><><> 

 

          The first thing Darren wanted to do was take a shower. With the way Darren had rebuffed him when he tried to merge earlier, Pat wasn’t sure if he should go with him, so he stood awkwardly by himself.

          Darren stopped and looked back and held out his hand, “You coming?”

          Darren felt the relief in Pat at that simple gesture and question.  Darren dropped them both out of the Link with everyone and formed their own private one.  He felt Pat’s relief, and it made him feel guilty.

          Damn Pat this boat is something else!  Where’s the shower on this thing?

          Darren felt the confusion in his lover, and as he looked into Pat’s eyes they were glassy.

          Darren said, “Hey, Pat, come here.”

          I’m sorry about earlier.  I really am.  I’ve got something inside of me right now I don’t want you to see yet.  You mistook that for a rejection, and I’m sorry – that’s my fault.  It was harsh, and I’m so, so sorry about that. 

          I get it Dar, and it’s OK.   It shook me, but yeah, I get it. 

I know I smell pretty bad.  Will you help me get out of these clothes and get cleaned up?

Pat moved over and Darren pulled him into a tight hug.  They stayed that way, resting against one another for a few minutes.  You smell perfect to me Dar. Darren had his face pressed against Pat’s furry hard chest and he inhaled his lover’s scent; the comfort of their bodies touching was a balm to both of them.

          Pat choked up completely and started sobbing.  His arms squeezed even tighter around Darren.

          I’m sorry Dar. I thought you were gone, and I was never going to see you again, and I don’t know what’s going on with you right now.  I can see a lot of things inside of you right now – more than you think.   But you’re not letting me in, and I don’t know what to make of that.  I thought we could share anything.

          Is the shower big enough for both of us?

          We’ll make it work.  I need to feel you against me.  I need to take care of you Dar.  I need to feel your amazing body under my hands, and more importantly I need to feel you in my Heart.  Why won’t you let me in?

          As they were talking Pat led Darren down below into the master suite where there was a walk-in shower.  For a boat, the shower was huge and big enough for three to four normal adults.  There was plenty of room for the two big men, and it wasn’t cramped – although they both wished it had been smaller so they could press together even tighter.

          Pat stripped Darren’s clothes off carefully.  His body was healed, but the dried blood still was stuck against his skin in numerous spots.  Darren could have teleported out of his clothes, but he wanted Pat to help him.

          Once they were naked Pat started to wash him.  The tenderness and love in his touch started Darren crying again.  After a few minutes, Darren completely broke down, and Pat grabbed him and held him close as the water cascaded over their muscled bodies; and he held his lover, letting him cry as long as he needed too.

          They each held onto the other as if their lives depended on it – and they did.  Pat didn’t try to push deeper than Darren was willing to let him in.  He knew Darren better than anyone in the world, and with his Avatar of Understanding he knew what Darren needed and was going through.  The problem was he knew it intellectually – that didn’t always bring with it the deeper meaning of how it felt.

          I’m with you Dar.  Now and always – I’m here.  I’ll be whatever you need me to be; you know that.  Don’t be afraid for me, and don’t be afraid of me Dar. 

          Pat held Darren until the water started going cold.  They dried each other off and moved into the master bedroom.  There were mirrors everywhere in the room – even though the Yacht was an upscale classy design, it was apparent the design of this room was for sex.  No matter where they looked or at what angle, they could see each other completely.  Their naked bodies looked hot to one another, and it started the fires of their physical desire for one another.

          They lay down on the bed and Pat spooned Darren’s naked body against his own and held him.  It was warm and muggy, and even with the fans going they were already sweating lightly.  They looked beautiful to one another – incredibly handsome with their muscled bodies shining with the glow of health in the dim lighting.

          Please show me Dar.  Let me carry whatever’s inside of you that you don’t want anyone to see.  You’ve never kept anything from me – you know you don’t have too.  I’ll accept it no matter what it is – you know that.

          I don’t want you to see that part of me Pat.  It’s ugly. I don’t like it.

          Nothing about you is ugly Dar.  If it’s a part of you it’s beautiful to me because it’s a part of you.  Don’t you get that?  If the tables were turned wouldn’t you want me to share whatever it was with you?

          Pat was spooning Darren but he could see his face clearly in the mirrors, and he saw Darren smile bringing out his dimples:  That’s different.

          Pat laughed and Darren loved the feeling of his big strong body moving against his own.  The warmth of Pat’s skin, slightly slick with sweat, glided against his own.  The firmness of his hairy muscled body coupled with the softness of his skin and the sensation of him laughing sent impulses Darren couldn’t control straight to his dick.

          Pat reached down and grabbed ahold of Darren’s erection and held it in his hand.  There were few things in their lives together that Pat loved more than the feeling of how hard Darren got for him.  He knew just how to touch Darren, caress the shaft and head, to get him going.  He loved the velvety foreskin that was now there – he was fascinated by it and pulled it back exposing the perfectly shaped head.

          Darren started leaking precum almost immediately, and his whole body shivered with pleasure.  After everything he had just experienced and gone through Pat wanted to give him pleasure and let him know how loved he was.  He amped up his own Aura and let it shine on Darren – he literally wrapped Darren up in his arms and body and his Soul while his hand worked its magic.  Darren needed the release badly, and they both knew it, so instead of prolonging and edging him like he sometimes did, Pat concentrated on the area just below the head of Darren’s dick.  With Pat’s heightened sense of touch, he could feel Darren’s heartbeat against his chest and through his erection as he held it in his hand. 

          The precum was leaking in a steady stream from the head down his shaft, and Pat used his thumb to catch it as he rubbed the nerve bundle just below the head in slow deliberate circles.

          He felt Darren get harder and harder.  Darren turned slightly so they could kiss, and their tongues started their own battle.  Darren’s lean hips began thrusting slightly, trying to get more friction against Pat’s thumb, and he let out a whimper of pleasure.

          Pat held him tighter as his body tensed and fresh sweat broke out all over his muscled frame.

          Darren could feel Pat’s own hardness pushing against his ass and lower back as Pat spooned against him. He was thrusting his own hips slightly, grinding his erection against the small of Darren’s back and ass cheeks; the sweat on Darren’s back and his own precum made the perfect lube.

          Darren didn’t last long; he was completely overwhelmed with the sensations and let himself be held and comforted by his lover.  Seconds later, Pat felt the shaft pulse as huge ropes of cum shot out of Darren’s dick, covering his tight stomach.

          Pat held onto Darren until his trembling subsided and then he rolled him over so he could lean down and lick up every drop of cum that had sprayed over Darren’s body.  Pat felt his Mind expanding as Darren’s DNA fueled their supernatural bond.  He took Darren into his mouth and continued sucking;   Darren never went soft, and within a few minutes he shot another load down his lover’s warm throat.

          Darren’s eyes were spilling tears from the love he felt wrapped around him.  He realized his Brothers were with him too – Brad was sometimes too subtle, and he brought Pat and Darren into an extremely light Link while they were making love.  Not enough to intrude, but enough to let their Love and care for him add to what Pat was giving him.

          Darren chuckled and thought to Pat:  I bet we start feeling them in a few minutes.  I know those horn dogs too well… what they just felt from us will set them off.

          Pat had a sad thought:  Poor Henry.  He’s all alone and doesn’t have this like we do, and now he’ll be all horned up and by himself and he has to take care of Drew.  I wish there was something we could do for him.

          Darren said:  This isn’t really the time to bring it up, but if Henry ever wanted to join us for a threesome I’d be up for it.  I don’t think he ever would, but if you wouldn’t mind, I wouldn’t either.  You know I love you and nothing will touch that – but I’d do it for him to bring him comfort.  I bet most of us would.

          Pat:  If the timing is ever right we can ask him.  Or he’ll see this conversation at some point when we merge with him.  I don’t think he’ll be offended, even if he doesn’t want to do it.  To be honest I think he’d be flattered.

          Their conversation lapsed as Darren let Pat hold him some more.  They rested in each other – but that place was still inside Darren that he kept locked up.

          After a while Darren rolled over on his stomach and said:   I want you in me Pat.  I need to feel you inside me just like your Heart is in me and your arms are around my body.  Make me yours.

          Pat cupped Darren’s chin and brought his face around so they could kiss again.  Pat’s big hand caressed Darren’s face so tenderly, running his fingers through Darren’s short sweat dampened hair.  Their eyes met and Darren shifted their sight so they could see the change in their eyes – Darren’s piercing green ringed by Pat’s dark brown and vice versa.

          He made love to Darren for an hour and made him feel safe just like he wanted.

          When they were done, Pat lay on his back with Darren by his side.  Darren was running his hand all over Pat’s hairy body wherever he could reach.  He played with is nipples occasionally leaning over and sucking on them and licking the sweat off his chest or thick neck.  They didn’t talk most of the time – they were simply together.

          Pat was feeling better about both of them and Darren could feel it.

          Darren:  I’m sorry Pat.  I still don’t want you to see what’s inside of me, but I’ll share it with you.  You’re right – I need you with me on this.  I don’t want to show it to the guys yet.  I know I’ll have to eventually, but not yet. Help me make them understand.

          Of course Dar.  I’m here love, when you’re ready.

          Darren let the barrier down and Pat saw what Darren was holding back.  He was slightly shocked at first and Darren flinched inside, but Pat pulled him closer.

          You’re right Dar, it’s not pretty.  But it’s a part of you, and like I said I want to know every part.  What do you think unconditional love is all about?  You were hurt.  Luke hurt you in a way that we didn’t think was possible.  The rage and the hate inside you towards him – well, we should talk to the doc when he’s back with us, but I’m not sure Luke falls into the category of unconditional love for us.  He’s not human for one thing, and what he did to you was beyond cruel.  If he had succeeded, and you were still alive but something else I couldn’t touch … I’m not sure I could have survived.  I feel some of the same thing you do, just not as strongly.

          You were so brave Dar.  None of us can know how we’ll react to something like that until it happens to us.  But you were strong – you didn’t give him anything.  You made him take everything from you and didn’t give an inch.  I knew you’d be furious at us for sending Drew… but we had no choice.  He was there for you, not you for him – but I knew you wouldn’t see it that way.

            Pat – I don’t like feeling like this.  It’s not who I am.  He pushed me past what I could take, and now what I’m feeling is what’s left.  I’m in damage control right now.  The hate I feel and the anger – it’s there, and I don’t know what to do with it.  If I hold it in, I’m not sure what it will do to me or to us.  But I don’t know how to let it go.  I don’t want to just let it go.  He can’t get away with what he did to me as if it never happened.  It happened to me.

          Darren cried again as they talked, and Pat continued to hold him.  He cried with Darren and he took all of the rage and hate inside Darren and made it his own.  He made sure Darren knew how strong their love was despite everything.  He was strong enough for his lover and became what he needed to be.

          They fell asleep after a while as the emotional trauma caught up with both of them.  Brad made sure they stayed tightly together and felt the net of support of all the rest of the Team while they slept.  Their unconscious minds felt it, and their Hearts were comforted.

          They woke up a few times during the night and made love again each time.  Darren was insatiable and needed it.  He needed the feeling of being safe and fulfilled by having Pat inside of him.  By morning they were fully rested, but now they both had a place inside of them they held back from their Brothers.

 

<><><> 

 

          As soon as they got back to ZEUS, Henry took Drew to the small cabin he was using.  Drew was wound up when they first got back and couldn’t stop talking.  He was so tired he was running on adrenaline.  Henry needed to get him clean and warm and in bed.

          There were a few smaller showers among the cabins.  Henry knew that Pat and Darren were using the master suite shower, so he picked one furthest away hoping the hot water would last long enough to get Drew warm and cleaned up.  He hopped into the shower with his son and washed him from head to toe.  He couldn’t help it, and he stopped a few times just to hold Drew against him – the relief he felt from having his son back and safe was almost too much for him to take.

          Once the excitement wore off and he was clean and warm, Drew faded fast.  Henry lay down with him until he fell asleep, and he continued to lay with him for a while.  He held Drew close and let his own tears come.  He didn’t want to let Drew see him upset so he tried to keep it under control, but he sobbed hard for a few minutes while he cradled Drew’s small body against his own.  He looked so pale Henry was concerned – he knew Lane had healed his body and they had restored his energy levels to normal, but something didn’t seem right still.  He would let Drew sleep himself out and see how he felt when he woke up.

          He was glad Darren was back safe, and he didn’t yet know what Drew had gone through in the cave.  Somehow the Stone was there.  More happened than any of them knew yet – and Drew had even faced off with a Demon for a few seconds.  He had been so brave – but Henry was afraid of the cost.  What would happen when he woke up and remembered everything?

          He railed again at the injustice of it all – how could a little boy carry the weight of the Curse on his shoulders?  Henry remembered his own epiphany about what mattered most to people – being known and understood.  Drew had his mother taken away from him – and she was a great source of what mattered to him.  There is nothing like a mother’s love for her child – Henry needed to find a way to replace that, and he felt woefully inadequate.  He loved Drew with all his heart, but knew it wasn’t the same.

          He didn’t want to be alone with his thoughts, so he made sure Drew was comfortable and left him to sleep peacefully.  He was too wound up himself to sleep, and he knew if he lay there his thoughts would tailspin into a dark place.

          He went back into the lounge area to see who might be around.  Brad and Ken were above deck in the control room.  Bryan was piddling in the galley, and Lane was with him, chattering as usual.

          Loy, Rick, Bill, and Kevin were all swimming with the Penguins and the dolphins. 

          When Bryan saw him come out from the cabin he asked, “How’s Drew?  Is he OK?”

          It was apparent Henry had been crying, and Bryan moved over and pulled him into a tight embrace.  He asked quietly, “Are you OK?”

          Lane came up behind him and put his arms around Henry from behind so he was sandwiched between the two big men.   It started the tears flowing again for a minute, but he needed the comfort, and he wasn’t ashamed anymore to admit it.

          “I’m sorry guys.   Thanks.”

          “Fucker you never need to say you’re sorry.  All of us were afraid for Drew – we get it.  But you’re his dad.  And a great dad too.  Drew’s a lucky little fucker.”

          “Thanks for saying that, Bry.”

          “Just the truth, Henry.”  Bryan pulled back and said, “I’ll have some food ready in a bit.  Some of the guys are out swimmin’ if you wanna’ join ‘em.  I’ll be out there too as soon as I get things in the oven.”

          “That sounds great.  I think I’ll join them.  Lane you coming?”

          Lane looked at Bryan and asked, “You need my help?”

          Bryan rolled his eyes and said, “Go.  I’ll be out in a sec.”

          Lane gave his mischievous grin and put his arm around Henry’s shoulder and went with him out onto the deck.

 

<><><> 

 

          Henry took off his boat shoes and was just about to dive into the water when Loy shouted, “Whoah!  What do you think you’re doing?”

          Henry looked at him dumfounded and said, “Uhhh… going swimming?”

          All the guys had huge grins on their faces, and Loy nodded over to the end of the dive deck.  Henry looked, and there was a pile of everybody’s shorts and shoes.

          Henry laughed and shucked off his suit and said, “My bad.  I should have known if there was a chance to be naked, you pervs would take it.”

          Kevin laughed and said, “You know you love it too Henry.  It feels great so why not?”

          Loy looked at Henry’s long flaccid dick and said, “Don’t worry Henry I’ll keep the big fish away.  If they see that thing they’ll get hungry, and some of the fish around here have teeth!”

          “Very funny!”

          About that time they heard Ken’s deep baritone shout, “CANNONBALL!” and his big body came sailing from the control deck at the top of the Yacht and he landed right in the middle of everybody. 

          A second later Brad’s naked body appeared in the air about thirty feet up and he did a perfect dive right after Ken.

          Henry looked on in wonder and asked sheepishly, “You think I could try that?  It looks hella fun.”

          Bill said, “You don’t have to be bashful about asking Henry.  Not only are we used to seeing you naked now, but you’re one of us.  What’s ours is yours, and what’s yours is ours.  If that makes sense.”

          Before Henry could even think of a witty retort Lane pushed him off the deck and said, “Quit showing off that big dick, and get your ass in the water!”

          That started a round of laughter and splashing.   Henry had never swum with dolphins before, and he was amazed at how they felt and how strong they were.  Loy called up a whale and they all got on its back.  Henry wished Drew was awake to be a part of it.

          Brad picked up on his thought and said, “We’re still waiting on what’s going to happen with the doc Henry.  We’re in no rush to leave, and once the doc is safe we can hang out here for a few days and take advantage of this amazing boat.  We’ll make sure Drew has a good time.  We still need to find out what he went through when he wakes up.”

          Henry got serious and said, “I don’t know what to make of the Stone being here.  How could that happen?”

          Lane said, “We don’t know yet Henry, but we’ll figure it out.”

          Bryan came down and stripped off his shorts and said, “Food’ll be ready in about an hour fuckers.”  Then he cannonballed and splashed everybody.

          Henry got his wish and Brad, Lane, Bill, and Loy teleported him high up in the air so he could dive or cannonball to his heart’s content.  Since he didn’t have the extra density that Ken and the others did, it wasn’t any real effort for the four of them to do it without Darren.

          Suddenly they all felt the strength of Pat’s and Darren’s Auras coming from the master suite as they made love to one another.

          Lane grinned and said, “Here we go.  Up periscopes!”

          They all laughed at the old Navy joke about having a hard on while swimming.  None of them could help it – the feeling washed over them through the Link Brad had set up, and it hit them hard and fast.

          Henry wasn’t embarrassed about his erection, but he did feel awkward; he was the odd man out being the only single man there and the only straight man.  If he wasn’t there the others would be more open to taking care of each other.

          With his Avatar, Brad clearly saw Henry’s discomfort over the situation.

          The others became aware of it too, and Henry blushed a deep crimson.  He chuckled and said, “I’m sorry guys.  Don’t mean to cramp your style.”

          Lane grinned and said, “Most of these ladies don’t have any style to cramp Henry.”

          Brad swam over beside Henry and said, “Henry… you’re a normal healthy testosterone filled man.  You’re just like us – your body and your Mind are enhanced, and your sex drive is way stronger than a normal guys.  With the sexual aura Dar and Pat are putting out, it’s impossible not to get hard.  No need to feel embarrassed about it.”

          Brad winked at Ken who continued, “The question is what are we gonna’ do about it.  Drew’s asleep and Pat and Dar are doin’ their thing, and we’re all stuck out here.  There’s no real privacy on this boat – it’s too small for us not to bump into each other.

          “We’d never ask you to do anything you’re uncomfortable with Henry.  But we feel bad you’re by yourself and we don’t like that for ‘ya.  We know you’re straight so we’re not askin’ you to play around with any of us – at least me and B aren’t – if any of these other horn dogs want to that’s up to them.  But for now I say we take care of business and put matters into our own hands.  I’m gonna’ jerk off – if you or any of these other ladies want to join me that’s cool.  After what they’re puttin’ out my dick’s not goin’ down without some attention, and since I can’t disappear with Brad the only option is out here.  We don’t usually do anythin’ like this, but I don’t want you to feel left out, so I’m hopin’ everybody’ll join in includin’ you.  Hell, after mergin’ and bein’ naked around each other what’s the big deal?”

          Henry thought about it for a second – the part about being naked and merging was really the point.  He had bared his Soul to these men whom he considered his Brothers.  They were all guys and had needs – there was no embarrassment about that.  He had never jerked off in front of another guy before Albrecht taught him his tantric practice to boost his own strength and mental powers.

          He remembered how turned on he had been at the thought. 

          Henry grinned and said, “I’m game if you guys are!”

          Ken grinned back and said, “Atta boy!”

          It was no big deal – they kept it toned down for Henry’s sake so no one helped each other out.  Everybody took care of themselves and didn’t put on a show.  The freedom of being naked in the ocean and in the fresh air was a bit of its own aphrodisiac for many of them, and it was over in a few minutes.

          Lane laughed and said, “I’m glad there’s a strong current here.  Hope you fat asses didn’t kill any fish!”

          They all laughed, but Loy steered all the creatures away for a few minutes just to be safe.  The DNA from Ken, Ricky, Kevin, and Bryan could kill a normal person if it was ingested, but they had no idea about other mammals.

          That set off a whole string of sheep jokes that had them all in tears.

          Everyone was much more relaxed afterward and they all treaded water and talked together.  Henry wasn’t as strong a swimmer as the rest of the guys – their SEAL training was evident.  He wasn’t winded and he had the leg strength, but his legs were cramping. 

          He started to get out of the water but didn’t really want too.  The water was the perfect temperature in the heat and humidity, and he admitted to himself being naked outside felt damn nice.  He laughed at himself and thought: I could so easily become a nudist.

          Kevin called him back, “Henry get back here.  Guys circle up!  Henry this is a maneuver we used to do in the Navy all the time.”  Everyone got in a circle with their arms over each other’s shoulders forming a big ring helping to support one another as they treaded water. 

          Ken got next to him and coached him a little on the proper form to maximize his efforts and minimize his physical output.  Even though Henry was apparently older than all the guys by a few years, they were decades older than him calendar-wise.  They accepted him as one of them, but they had more experience than he did, and they always coached him in little ways – never patronizing him in any way or making him feel inferior or embarrassed.

          Ken was a natural leader, especially when it came to physical teaching.  He had a natural charisma that made Henry want to follow him and make him proud.

          Ken was next to him and had his arm over Henry’s shoulder in the circle; he squeezed Henry’s shoulder in approval when he adjusted his kick properly and immediately felt the difference.

          He had a brief sad thought about wishing he had grown up with Brothers like these as a young man.  His family was broken, and he lost touch with his parents as a teenager when he left the house after high school.

          They continued to talk and kept the conversation light.  They talked about Christmas coming up and threw out ideas on how they would handle getting presents for each other.  Bill talked about the Orphanage, and had some ideas on something to do for the kids there. 

          Henry voiced a concern he had been having, “Guys this Christmas is going to be rough on Drew.  Liz told me how much he was into Christmas, and her not being around is gonna’ hit him hard.  I’ve got to come up with something special for him.  I have no idea what, but be thinking about it OK?”

          Ken knew how important Thanksgiving was to Bryan, and they were almost on top of it so he brought up the idea, depending on the situation with the doctor, of having it on ZEUS.  With Darren’s help it would be easy if Bryan wanted to do it.

A few minutes before the timer in the kitchen was due to go off Brad got a tingling in his gut and everybody was instantly alert.

          Michael appeared on the dive deck along with Raphael, Gabriel and Uriel.  None of them were in armor this time, and they looked out of place in the attire the guys were used to seeing them in.

          Michael didn’t look happy at all and Ken had a sinking feeling in his stomach.  He asked, “What’s wrong?  Where’s the doc?  We thought he’d be with you?”

          As usual when Michael was upset Raphael answered for him, “Thomin is back but refuses to free the doctor.  He said they had an agreement and he is being petulant – he knows the doctor cannot fulfil the agreement while he is in the Vault.  We are at a stalemate.”

          Brad sounded incredulous, “What the hell?  After everything we just went through, he’s going to pull that shit?  We just saved his ass from the fire!”

          Michael gritted his teeth and said, “The Vault is his Province.  We cannot interfere, but I cannot believe his behavior.”

          “Can’t you pull rank on him?”

          Gabriel sighed and said, “If only it were that easy.”

          Ken said, “OK, guys everybody out.  Let’s get our shorts on and have a meeting in the lounge.”

          A few minutes later they were all inside – Bill had grabbed some towels so they wouldn’t drip all over the furniture.  They were still wet, and their hair was on end.  The sun was completely down and they had all the lights in the lounge turned on.

          Ken turned to Michael and his voice was cold steel, “Can you make Thomin come here?  I want to talk to him.”

          Raphael interjected, “You cannot force him Ken.  Brad knows from before in the alternate reality that Thomin is eccentric for one of our kind.”

          Lane rarely showed anger, but his face was red and he said, “Just get that bastard here.”

          Gabriel spoke for the first time, “You must all promise to keep calm.  If you agitate him, it will go bad.”

          Ken glared and said, “We’re not gonna’ coddle him.  He’s a fuckin’ Arch-Angel for cryin’ out loud.  He’s acting like a baby, so we’ll treat him like one.”

          Uriel closed his eyes and shook his head, knowing this was going to be difficult.

          The eyes of the Arch-Angels flashed white and Michael’s voice echoed with Power as he called out, “Thomin!”

          Nothing happened.  Michael’s face turned purple with anger and he took a deep breath as if he was about to cut loose with a bellow that would shake the world.

          Raphael put a hand on Michael’s heavy shoulder and said, “Wait Michael.  He’s been terribly hurt.  We do not know the full extent of his torture, but you saw him when we arrived. We must be gentle and compassionate.  If we force him to appear, it will only add to his suffering.”

          Raphael’s words were like a slap in the face to Ken.  He felt a huge remorse for not taking into account Thomin’s torture at Luke’s hands. Brad put his hands on Ken’s shoulders and gave him a squeeze. 

Fuck B, I feel like a heel.    

Raphael’s right Ken, but don’t feel bad.  You’re focused on getting the doc back.  But we do need to keep in mind Thomin has suffered as much or more than Darren.

You’re right.

Ken looked at the situation through Brad’s Avatar, and his eyes misted over.  He felt the support of all the guys around him – they were all angry just as he was, however their attitude softened as his did with the new perspective.

Ken’s eyes flashed white and his throat tightened as he looked upwards and his own voice echoed with Power, “Thomin please!  I’m beggin’ you.  I know you were hurt, but one of us was hurt just as bad, and the doc means everythin’ to us.”

There was a slight pause and Thomin appeared before them.  He didn’t look well at all.  His physical wounds were healed, but he had a gaunt and haunted look about him.  His body was exhibiting his inner suffering, and the extent of his torture was clear to them.  As soon as Pat’s Avatar kicked in, they realized what had been done to him.

Ken’s voice was almost a whisper, “I’m sorry Thomin for what that bastard did to you, but you have no right to keep the doc from us.”

“I have every right!  I was hurt!”  His voice sounded like a hurt child, and he practically screamed at them.

Brad sent a private thought to Raphael:  We know what happened at the Vault grandfather.  Why is he being so obstinate?

Raphael:  For all his Power Brad, he is a child.  I believe his nature is that way because of his Province.  I admit I do not fully see the Wisdom of it, but I am not one to question our Creator.

Henry felt Drew’s hand take his own, and Drew’s voice was sleepy as he asked, “Daddy, who are all these people?”  Thomin’s yelling woke him up, and he wanted to see what was going on, and he moved so quietly not even Ken or the others heard him come into the lounge.

Henry leaned down and picked him up and his arms immediately went around Henry’s neck.  He didn’t know who these strange men were and was apprehensive because Thomin was yelling.

All of the men were caught off guard when Michael, Raphael, Gabriel, and Uriel went down on bended knee facing Drew.  They lowered their heads briefly in homage to the little boy – the bearer of the Curse who held the key to the restoration of the human race.

“Drew these are the grandfathers of some of your Uncles.”

Michael stood up and moved over and said, “It is a great honor to meet you young Drew.”  Michael held out his hand and Drew tentatively took it – his hand was so tiny against Michael’s large strong hands.  Raphael and the others all greeted Drew.  There was some surprise in the Link at the sincere reverence the Arch-Angels expressed towards the little boy.

Drew, not knowing what to make of their behavior, stayed quiet and looked to Henry for direction.  After merging with Darren, Drew knew who they were, but their significance was still lost on him.

Henry whispered in his ear and Drew said, “Hi.”  He looked around and asked tentatively, “Where’s Doctor Aaron?”

Henry said, “He’s still in the cave Drew.  Come on let’s get you back to bed.  You need to sleep.”

“Can’t I stay for a few minutes?  Please?  I’ll be quiet, I promise.”

Henry didn’t want more of an interruption than there already was, so he let Drew stay.  Drew rested his head on Henry’s shoulder and watched quietly.

Ken looked at Thomin, “We know what happened, Thomin.  We heard the entire conversation you had with the doc.  You promised to separate the Mantle from him and keep it safe, and we know you came to an arrangement with the doc to get it back. But he can’t honor that arrangement while he’s stuck in there.  Why won’t you free him?”

“I do not wish to.  The Mantle is safe and so is he.  It is now mine, and that is all that matters.”

Michael gave Ken an ‘I told you so’ look of frustration.

Brad asked, “Why?  What purpose does it serve?  You’re keeping a very important person out of our lives, and we need him.  Keep the Mantle, but give him back to us.”

“No.  I do not wish to.  You’re concerns are not mine.  I am weakened by the torture, and I do not wish to separate the Mantle from the Host.  I wish to be left alone.”

Uriel’s deep voice said, “We will help you Brother.  Separating the Mantle from him with our help will be trivial.”

Thomin was getting agitated and said loudly, “NO!  I am leaving now.  Do not call to me again!”

He vanished, leaving all of them speechless.

Ken’s face was red with anger, “That son of a bitch!  Get him back here NOW!”

Brad put a hand on Ken’s arm and quickly said, “Ken wait.  If they force him back now, it’s just going to make matters worse.  We need to let him calm down some.  Remember what he just went through too.  We’ll get the doc back, but he’s still safe for now.”

Raphael nodded his acknowledgement of Brad’s words, but Michael looked as furious as Ken. 

Lane said, “I’m having Déjà vu in a bad way.  He’s just as much of a prick here as in the alternate reality.  We need to find a way to reach him.”

Gabriel’s tone was mirthless as he said under his breath, “Good luck with that.”

Loy ran his hand roughly over his face and said, “We could really use the doc.  We need a child psychologist.  Thomin’s basically a child.”

Uriel responded, “He is; and his wounds and hurt are deep.  But he is not human, so do not make the mistake of thinking he is.  He only cares for things, not people.”

Michael said, “We will leave you now Ken.  You all did well today.  The Vault is safe, and its contents are still secure because of your efforts.  You rescued your Brother, and he is safe.  The day went well.  Call us at need.”

The four Arch-Angels transformed into balls of Light and disappeared.  The room was quiet – the breeze coming in through the open doors was warm and fresh.  The moon was rising and the ocean was brightly lit by its light.  To Ken and the Bodies it was almost like daylight outside.

They all took a seat around the lounge and continued to talk, throwing out ideas on how to approach or deal with Thomin.  Bill mentioned trading back the Book of Loagaeth for the doctor, but with the Book still attuned to Darren they weren’t sure if they even could.  More than likely the Book would return to them, and there was no telling what Thomin would do if that happened and he thought they had double-crossed him.

No one knew how he did it, but Bryan managed to produce another round of heavy snacks while they talked.  Broiled mushroom caps stuffed with deviled crab and lobster with a sprinkling of parmesan.  He cut a hotdog up into small pieces and wrapped them in dough and made a small plate of ‘pigs in a blanket’ for Drew with ketchup.  Of course they had small squares of American cheese in them.

When the breeze off the ocean stopped the evening turned muggy, so after a while most of them were shirtless again.

Drew reclined on Henry’s chest, listening to them talk.  His stomach was full, but he was too tired to fall asleep right away, and the sound of their voices was soothing.  The feeling of reclining against Henry’s big body with his strong arms around him was incredibly comforting.  Henry was so worried about filling the gap that Liz left in Drew’s heart, and while nothing really could replace a mother’s love, Henry filled a place in Drew that he could never have imagined. 

There were so many things Drew found comforting about Henry… aside from making him feel safe and loved.  Henry wasn’t used to being around children, so he often treated Drew more like an adult.  But the love and care that Henry had for him… the way he showed Drew how to clean his foreskin after Lane regenerated it, the smell of Henry’s aftershave, the combination of sweat and deodorant after he had been working out all day, the way he made him feel safe… Drew loved everything about his new dad.  He worshiped the ground Henry walked on, and Henry didn’t have to have any worries over the place he held in Drew’s Heart.

Drew was thinking of all these things as he reclined against Henry while the Team strategized about getting Doctor Aaron back.  They thought he was asleep, but he was listening.  He was so relaxed against his dad that he was in that twilight place between wakefulness and sleep as their deep voices lulled him into a state of total relaxation.  He was surrounded by the best group of men he could imagine, who all loved and cared for him.  He saw how much in Darren’s Mind, and he knew how afraid they were for him.

Brad had Drew in a lite Link with all of them, and they felt how content he was.  The Link wasn’t deep enough to hear his thoughts, but they felt his emotions.

Drew’s Mind wandered to The Master and what he now knew he was going to have to do.  He wondered more about the boy – the other version of himself he saw in the cave.  Then he remembered the Stone, which was now in his room, wrapped up in a t-shirt in his bag.

 

<><><> 

 

          Drew never woke up when Henry took him to bed – he was warm and relaxed and felt so content to lie on his dad’s big chest.  He woke up to Henry’s light snoring.  He loved that sound; it made him sleep better.  He had to pee badly, and it took him a few seconds to remember they were on a boat and where the bathroom was.

          Henry felt him moving and asked sleepily, “Drew?  Are you OK?”

          “Yes, Daddy.  I have to pee.”

          “I shouldn’t have let you drink so much after dinner.  Do you need any help finding the bathroom?”

          “No sir.  I can find it.”

          “OK honey.  Come right back OK?”

          “Yes, Daddy.”

          Henry was a heavy sleeper, and his words were slurred during their short conversation; he rolled over and immediately went back to sleep.

          Drew got up and exited their tiny cabin into the short hallway where the bathroom was located.  ZEUS gently bobbed in the ocean… it was so large the motion was barely noticeable but it did take some getting used too.  Uncle Lane told Drew he needed to find his ‘sea legs.’

          He used one arm to steady himself once he pulled his underwear down and pulled his foreskin back with his other hand.  He let out a sigh of relief as the pressure on his bladder immediately lessened.

          He concentrated so hard on keeping his balance and not making a mess, he woke himself up.  He had no idea what time it was other than it was still dark outside.  He liked the boat, but he missed the air conditioning of the Lab.  On the other hand, it was fun being only in shorts with his dad and all his Uncles – he had never been in such a warm climate or on the ocean, and it felt great to run around mostly naked. 

          As he pulled his underwear back up, a thought struck him and his eyes widened.  He knew he should wake up his dad and talk about this, but after the way Thomin acted he didn’t want his dad or any of his Uncles getting into a fight. 

          Drew was still too young to realize his own significance and role in everything.  He saw it in Darren’s Mind, but he didn’t understand how important he was – though he did know how frightened they all were for him.  He snuck back into the small cabin, and it took him a few minutes to find what he needed.  He moved slow and quietly not wanting to wake Henry up.  Henry wasn’t snoring, but Drew could still hear his even breathing – so strong and steady, just like the characteristics he had come to love about his new dad.

          He took the Stone and went back onto the dive deck; the sliding glass doors leading onto the back deck were open to catch any breeze that might come up.  Neither Henry nor any of his Uncles realized that Drew couldn’t swim, and being so close to the water made him nervous.  His real father, Doug, thought swimming was a waste of time and wouldn’t pay for a YMCA membership so he could attend classes.  Liz always had an inflatable baby pool in their yard for him to play in, but it was only a few inches deep – he loved the water, but was never able to learn how to swim.

          The Penguins were standing on the deck, asleep.  He wanted to pet them but needed to focus on his plan first.  Unwrapping the Stone, he held it in his hand and looked at it.  Immediately, the memory of his first death wanted to come back to him, but his eyes flashed white and he stopped it. 

          His eyes still white, he looked out over the ocean and said quietly, “Mister Thomin.  I have something for you.”

          A second later he vanished from the deck.

         

<><><> 

         

          Drew jumped as he appeared in the cave.  He didn’t feel any transition, but he was suddenly freezing.  He forgot to get dressed and he was just in his underwear and slightly sweaty from the humidity and heat on ZEUS.

          Thomin loomed in front of him.  He was so tall he loomed like a giant, and in the dim light of the cave with the flickering torchlight he looked ominous.  Drew noticed the cave floor was clear of all the chains he had cut to free Darren.

          He started shivering right away and hunched down in a ball trying to stay warm, clutching the stone to his chest. He looked up at Thomin and their eyes met.  He had strange eyes.  They were Deep, and Drew saw stars in them; he also saw pain.

          “I’m sorry Mister Thomin.  I know the bad man hurt you.  I wish he hadn’t.  Are you better now?”

          Thomin was taken aback.  No one had expressed any concern for him like this child.  Michael and the others rescued him and Healed him, but not even Raphael understood how hurt he was on the inside – the others never bothered to look inside of him and see that.  Angels weren’t supposed to feel things on the inside like humans, but Thomin was more like a child than an Angel.  He was made that way; it was necessary for him to have childlike qualities to fulfill his role.  He didn’t care about the Power of the objects in his Vault – he cared for the objects themselves and felt a need to protect them and keep them safe, but never to use them for his own purposes. 

          Thomin’s face went slack as he slipped into the recent memory of his torture – how Luke had ravished his Mind and Heart and his body, wanting his Treasures.  Thomin was created to collect and keep those Treasures safe – and his obstinate innocence is what allowed him to defy Luke’s efforts for as long as he did.  He was very nearly to the breaking point when Michael and the others appeared to rescue him.

          He snapped out of the memory and looked back at Drew; he was not better, and Drew saw it.  He might not ever be the same again, and somehow the child before him understood that.  Thomin looked, perceiving Drew’s pain as well and the concern for his well-being.  Drew was a very caring little boy and his question was sincere.

          Thomin almost started to cry as he said, “No child, I am not alright.  The Dark One had no right to do what he did to me.”

          “My Uncles can help you feel better if you let them.  They helped my dad, and they helped me before too.”

          “They didn’t help your mother.”  That statement hit Drew hard, and Thomin immediately realized he hurt the boy.  He didn’t mean to – his interaction with others was extremely limited, especially with humans.  He didn’t mean to be cruel, but his bluntness both shocked and hurt Drew’s feelings.

          Drew’s eyes watered and he shivered as much from the painful hole inside his Heart where the memory of his mom still lived as from the cold.

          The pitch of his voice went high as he cried, “They tried!  It wasn’t their fault.  Uncle Ken almost died too!”

          “I cannot see that part.  The men you call your Uncles are closed to me.  I do not like that.”

          “They’re the best.  So is my daddy. They can help you if you let them.”  Drew was shuddering from the cold.

          Drew felt a warmth spread over him – he wasn’t sure if he warmed up or the cave did, but he no longer felt the cold.

          “Thanks.”

          “You are welcome, child.”

          “My name’s Drew.”

          Thomin was silent, staring at him.

          Drew held out the Stone and said, “I want to trade you this for Doctor Aaron.”

          Thomin looked at the Stone and his eyes lit up with excitement.  His Province allowed him the Awareness of objects of Power.  Very similar to Pat’s and Bill’s Avatar’s he Understood what the Stone was and he saw its history – its significance was plain to Thomin.   The magnitude of what the Stone represented, aside from its Power, was tantalizing to him. 

          He was so excited he blurted out, “Yes!”

          Thomin snatched the Stone from Drew’s outstretched hand and vanished.  Drew felt the cold return immediately and he was upset, thinking Thomin might have lied to him.  There was nothing he could do about it if that was the case, and he fumed.  After a few minutes he was sure Thomin had tricked him and he started to cry.

          He heard a groan behind him, and he spun around to see the doctor lying on the cold stone floor, his clothing in tatters and his torso covered in dried bloody scratches.  He was barely conscious.

          “Doctor Aaron!”  Drew rushed to his side, frightened at how bad the doctor looked. 

          His voice was so weak it was barely discernable, “Drew my boy is that you?  However in the world did you come to be here?  What have you done?”

          “I traded Mister Thomin my rock to get you back.  I didn’t know what else to do!”

          “Oh my.”

          “You’re hurt!”

          “Yes… he was not gentle when he took the Mantle from me.  It was very painful.  And I was drained from the encounter with…”

          “The bad man.  I saw.  Uncle Bill made it so we could see.”

          The doctor’s voice was getting softer and he passed out.  Drew was so afraid the doctor was dying he started to cry again.  In that moment his Mind wasn’t in that mode of acting and sounding older.  Right now he was just a scared five-year-old little boy; overwhelmed and not knowing what to do to help the doctor.  His Uncle Darren had almost died in this same spot the day before and Drew had the feeling the same thing was going to happen to Doctor Aaron.

          He was on his knees shivering and sobbing, his hands impotently lying on the doctor’s chest.  The blood was dry and his body was so cold.  He was so distraught he cried out, “Mommy! Help me!”  He instinctively called to Liz and it made his pain all the greater that she not only couldn’t come to comfort him, she never would again.  She didn’t exist anymore, not even in Heaven.  Thomin had just reminded him of that.

          Drew heard the sound of fluttering wings and through his tear filled blurry vision he saw a white bird light on the ground.  It was a dove.  It was beautiful, and so white in the soft blue light of the cave it almost glowed.

          Drew felt a deep calming presence around him; it filled his Mind and made him feel safe, just like when Henry held him in his arms. The words he heard were barely a whisper, but they echoed with so much Power Drew felt like they would wash him away if the Voice spoke any louder. 

          I am with you Drew.  I always have been and always will be.  Even when you can’t feel me I am there. 

          Doctor Aaron is dying!

          He sleeps, but needs help soon.

          He felt relief at that, but the stress of worry and fear sent him back over the edge into tears.  The memories of his life with Liz and Doug; the abuse of his father; Henry coming into his life; the loss of his mother; finding out that he was The Master’s brother and had died every seven years through thousands of years; it all hit him hard.  His five-year-old mind was overcome with it all – he wanted to forget.  He wanted all of it to go away.

          Finally the words came:  I want my mommy!

          I know you do.  You have suffered so much through the ages, and I have been with you each and every time.  The absence of your mother in this life was not supposed to happen – the law of unintended consequences. 

          I don’t understand.

          Your father is frantic with worry Drew.  He woke up and cannot find you.  He cannot reach you here – but you can reach him.  Call to him. 

          Who are you?  I’m not supposed to talk with strangers.

          The Voice laughed – it was a warm and comforting sound.  I am not exactly a stranger Drew.  You have met my son, Istariel.  He cares for you greatly you know.  He misses you.  Go now Drew.  Call to your father.  And remember I am with you always.  You can talk to my whenever you wish and even if I do not answer know that I hear you.

          Drew’s face was red and splotchy from crying, and his nose was running both from the chill of the cave and his tears.  He wiped at his eyes and when he opened them the dove was gone.  

          The desperation in his voice hit Henry like a hammer when Drew shouted with all the Power in him:  Daddy!

          Drew?  Oh my God honey where are you!?  I can’t find you!

          I’m in the cave with Doctor Aaron.

          Are you OK honey!?  Are you hurt!?

          I’m cold and Doctor Aaron is hurt.  He’s asleep.  Please come get me, Daddy! I don’t want to be here anymore! I’m scared.

          As soon as Henry realized Drew didn’t come back to bed he got up and searched the boat.  He thought Drew might be down with the Penguins, but he wasn’t.  He had crawled into bed with most of the guys at some point so he was probably fine, but he had to be sure.  Henry gently wrapped his knuckles on each of the cabin doors asking if Drew was with them.

          It was apparent after a few minutes that Drew wasn’t on the boat, and Henry’s stomach went cold with fear that maybe Drew had fallen in the ocean and drowned.

          He was shaking uncontrollably.  Ken and Brad and all the guys were up and around him, holding him tightly.  Brad called out for Drew repeatedly in his Mind, casting his powerful voice all over the planet.  There were only two possible explanations – he was someplace that was Warded from them, or he had fallen into the water and was gone. 

          None of them heard a splash though, and the Penguins were undisturbed.  Loy sent his Awareness into all the sea life nearby and had them frantically searching for Drew.  If his body was in the water, they would find it soon enough, but he hoped and prayed that wouldn’t be the case.

          Henry’s head snapped up as he heard Drew’s shout in his Mind.  They all felt it through the Link.  The relief running through all of them was palpable.  Drew was alive and with the doc!

          Ken:  Dar can you pull them here?

          No can do Ken.  We’ll have to go get them.  I can use them as an anchor to get to them through the Wards and then use you guys to get back. 

          Lane reached out into the Heavens and pulled the first thing he heard and filled them all up with Power.  Brad pulled from across the Veil, and Bryan pulled from the Tree.  The urgent and Powerful Light they filled themselves with lit up the Spiritual Plane like a star.

          Bright white ribbons of energy flowed through all of them as Brad opened their energy centers and wove everything they pulled into one thick flow.

          Darren had more than enough Power but he didn’t disappear.  As soon as he visualized the cave he froze – the memory of the pain and torture in the place came fresh into his Mind and they all felt it.

          Brad’s Avatar glowed brightly, looking into Darren when he hesitated.  Brad saw the turmoil inside of him, and he realized how difficult it was for him to go back to the place.  He hadn’t healed inside yet, and they were asking him to step back into a horrible place.

          Brad: Fuck Dar I’m sorry.  We’ll handle it.

          No!  I’ll do it guys.  I’m sorry.

          They felt his embarrassment from hesitating when Drew and the doctor needed him, but he felt no blame from any of them, only loving support.  Darren steeled himself, and with Pat’s arms around him they both disappeared with Henry.

          The second they appeared Henry rushed over with inhuman speed and grabbed ahold of Drew.  The emotional damn inside Henry broke when he saw Drew in his underwear, shivering with cold and his face red from crying.

          His own tears were thick and he started rambling, “Oh God, you’re OK.  I was so worried.  Don’t ever do that again Drew! Please!”

          He kept repeating himself over and over as he held Drew against him for warmth.  Drew could feel his dad’s big body shaking from the emotional turmoil he was in.  Drew snuggled against him for warmth, pushing his face against his father’s thick neck and strong warm body.

          After a few seconds Henry got ahold of himself, and he started rubbing and chaffing Drew’s skin trying to warm him up.

          Darren seemed to be in a fog… as soon as they materialized the memories of what he had experienced in the cave came rushing back.  Even in the cold he started sweating, and his body was tense – the striations of all his muscles were visible.  In his mind the chains were still there and the memory of the pain as they shot through his body repeatedly.

          Pat saw the doctor lying on the ground with his clothes ripped open and dried blood all over his chest.  He was unconscious and his breathing shallow, but Pat could see he was alive.  Pat was torn… he literally saw the fear and turmoil going on inside of Darren and how weak the doc was.  He also saw how damaged the doctor was on the inside… whatever Thomin did to separate the Mantle from him was brutal and nearly killed him.  The Mantle was literally ripped out of his Soul.

          Pat and Darren had made love numerous times through the night, so Pat’s Mind was fully Open.  He cast his Mind back up to Brad’s and the rest of the Team flooded into the Link.  Their presence was comfortable and warming, and he drew strength from them.  He had Darren wrapped tightly in his Mind and Heart trying to shield him from the memories of the pain and torture.

          Pat knelt down and scooped up the doctor as if he weighed nothing.  He moved over to Darren and leaned against him – he felt Darren’s arms go around him and the doctor both, clutching them tight.

          I’m sorry Pat.  I thought… I didn’t think it would be this hard.

          I’m with you, love.  We all are, but me especially. 

          Henry moved over beside them.  Without another word Darren synchronized his Avatar with everyone’s through the Link and they all appeared back in the lounge of ZEUS.

 

<><><> 

         

          With Drew and the doctor back, a huge sense of relief washed over them.  The stress and emotional rollercoaster they had all been on the last few days left them drained.  Darren and Pat still had a wall inside them they wouldn’t share through the Link, but everyone was giving them their space and made sure their two Brothers knew all of them were available in any capacity they needed whenever they needed it.

          Once the doctor was Healed, they took him immediately to Australia to be with Albrecht.  Their reunion was both heartwarming and painful to watch.  The two men had shared their Souls for thousands of years and the depth of their relationship and love for one another was profoundly intricate and powerful.  

          Albrecht assured them he would take good care of Aaron, and he thought it would be a good idea if the Team stayed on ZEUS for a while to relax.

          The next morning they had to make a few supply runs to replenish their food supplies on ZEUS, and both the Atlanta and Australian Labs.  Rich was taking care of everyone in Australia with Kelly’s help as far as food and meals, and he welcomed the new supplies.  He had been forced to get creative with the dwindling food options. 

          Brad had never heard Kelly laugh so hard as when she told him the faces everyone made when she served Vegemite on toast for breakfast.  She literally had tears in her eyes from laughing and ragged on her American mates that they were total wimps when it came to a traditional Australian staple.

          When the errands were done and everyone was back on ZEUS relaxing, Ken called Bryan aside while they were floating in the water and enjoying the morning sun.

          Hey Bry?  I got somethin’ I wanna run by you.  I know how important Thanksgivin’ is to you.  You know we’re all lookin’ forward to the feast we know you’re plannin’, so I’m just throwin’ this out there.  I’ll leave it up to you on whatever you wanna’ do – how about we postpone Thanksgivin’ for us for just a few days.  I want you to be relaxed and join in on the sun and fun and not be stayin’ inside cookin’ an entire day.  I know you love it, but it would be great to just kick back for a few extra days and not have to deal even with that.  What do ya’ say?

          Yeah Ken I can definitely go for that.  Rich has everything he needs for the Aussie bunch.  It’d be nice to just chill out with you fuckers for a few days.  We can have it the first night we’re back in Atlanta.  I’m still on duty here cooking for you pansy assed bottomless pits, but I want to do Thanksgiving right, and it’ll be easier in Atlanta than here.  It would be hard as fuck to cook four turkeys in the oven on this tub.

          Good deal Bry.  I’m glad you’re OK with it. 

          Thanks for being so concerned fucker.  You’re a good Brother.  I think I’ll keep you a while longer.

          While they were talking, Ken had moved over beside Bryan so they were close.  As Bryan thanked Ken for his concern his big hand popped out of the water and dunked Ken.

          Ken popped up laughing and thought:  Big mistake!  It’s on now!

          They proceeded to have a water wrestling match and only stopped because they were laughing so hard they were out of breath.

          About mid-morning Henry showed up with Drew in tow – they had slept in and came out on the deck together to see all the guys in the water.

          Henry called out, “Morning fellas!  I need your help with something!”

          Everyone swam over to see what he needed.  Drew was holding tightly on to Henry’s hand and staying right by his side. 

          “It’s come to my attention that this wonderful brave little boy can’t swim!  It took me a while to talk him into coming out with me.  I figure since you were all SEALS who better to teach him how to swim than you guys?  Can you help us out?”

          Loy sent his awareness out to the pods of Dolphins, Porpoises, and Whales in the area – they would all be available to help and protect Drew while he was in the water and would guard and protect him with their lives.

          Henry grinned when he felt what Loy did through the Link and said, “Thanks, Aquaman!”

          Lane piped up, “Aquaman is badass – not like Loy at all.”

          Loy sent a wave of water into Lane’s face with his Mind.

          Ken laughed and said, “First things first.  We have a few rules, Drew.  Since you’re a newbie to swimmin’ you have to wear a life vest at all times.  You understand?”

          “Yes sir.”

          “Second rule is you have to be naked just like us.  You OK with that?”

          Drew giggled and said, “Yes!”

          “Then get those shorts off, put on plenty of sunscreen, and get your life vest on.  We’re gonna have you swimmin’ like a fish in no time right guys?”

          Everybody added their comments and encouragement – they were on a mission.  His nervousness about the water was evident through the Link, but with all of them there he knew he was safe.  He watched his dad and all his big Uncles swim around and having so much fun – he was envious and wanted to be able to join in.

          Brad went deep down inside all of them and pulled memories of learning to swim as kids and then later in the Navy.  He boiled it down to the essentials and formed a memory sphere and sent it into Drew.

          “This will help for starters Drew.  This will teach you what you need to know, but we need to practice with your body so it will learn too.  And swimming is another great way to make you stronger and faster.”

          A small voice in the back of Drew’s Mind thought:  I’m going to need that.  He kept that voice behind a wall so no one heard it. 

          Drew was completely on board once the memories were a part of him – the guys formed a large circle and he swam from man to man.  They kept him swimming drills and his rewards for making it to the next Uncle were hugs and kisses. Their bodies were so solid he was able to kick off their chests to make it to the next one.  He loved the attention, and when he got tired and had to rest they held him up.  He had the life vest on, but he loved being held.

          Later in the afternoon the Penguins went swimming with them, amazing everybody with their aquatic acrobatics and speed.  Over the next few days Drew got to ride on Dolphins and Porpoises and even on the back of a whale.

          After the ride on the whales Lane and Loy were sitting side by side on the edge of the dive deck, resting.  They were sitting so their legs were in the water and they were leaning back enjoying the warm sun on their naked bodies and kicking their feet slowly in the water.  All of the guys were tanning nicely – the Bodies tanned fast because their skin literally healed as the sun hit them.  If the Mentalists got too much sun, they simply Healed themselves. 

          Loy’s dark brown hair already had lighter highlights in it.  Lane had always been jealous of that – Loy was already handsome, but when his hair started bleaching out naturally in the sun it gave his already devastatingly handsome looks something extra.

          Out of nowhere the mischievous grin appeared on Lane’s face.  He said, “Hey Loy, call the whales over for a sec; I want to try something.”

          Loy knew perfectly well that Lane could have done it, so he wondered what was up, but he saw the grin and figured he’d let Lane have his fun.

          The pod of humpback whales that was with them wasn’t large – there were two males and three females, or cows.  The whales formed a circle around ZEUS slowly circling the Yacht at Loy’s instruction.

          Lane summoned a set of bass bongo drums and started what could only be described as “brown chicken, brown cow” porn music.

          Loy’s eyebrows raised and he asked, “Lane what the fuck are you doing?”

          “I want to see if the humpbacks like porn music.  You know… ‘hump’, ‘porn’… there might be a connection.”

          Not even twenty seconds into the music the closest whale blew a large stream of water out of her blowhole drenching Lane’s face and torso.  Loy caught some of the overspray but broke out into raucous laughter.

          Lane had a stunned look on his face as Loy reached over and put a hand on the big ball of Lane’s heavy shoulder, “Sometimes you are such a dumbass man.  You totally deserved that!”

          The other guys were almost crying from the laughter when the closest whale hit Lane with the stream of water.

          “OK, OK, I get it.  My bad!”  He apologized to the whales.  The bongo drums disappeared and a beautiful violin replaced it.

          “Here you go guys, maybe this’ll make up for it.  Sorry about the porn music.  Who knew humpback whales wouldn’t like some good old fashioned humping music?”

          He did his best to play a whale song, hitting the highest notes possible on the violin.  Some of the notes were so high they were almost outside the range of normal human hearing.  The Bodies heard it all, and they were stunned at the sound and beauty of what Lane pulled out of the instrument.

          The whales broke off and started gyrating their huge bodies in the water, pushing themselves up playfully out of the water and splashing the guys.  Lane was talking to them through his instrument in a way that made them happy.

          Loy leaned over and put his big arm over Lane’s shoulder and pulled him close.  He said, “Lane sometimes you just blow me away.  One second you pull some goofy ass stunt like playing porn music to whales, and then you flip and do something so amazingly touching and beautiful it makes me want to cry.  I love you man.  Don’t ever change.”

          Lane was touched.  He was just playing around, but he felt Loy’s real love for him as a Brother.  Trying to keep the mood light he grinned and said, “Never fear Loy.  I’ll always keep an extra seat on the short bus warm for your furry ass.”

          Loy laughed and pushed Lane off the deck.

 

<><><> 

 

          On the third night, after everyone had eaten they were lounging around, talking, and relaxing.  Lane had his guitar and was idly strumming a few songs but wasn’t in full-fledged ‘music mode’ yet.

          Henry had been waiting for the right moment to talk to Drew and he figured now was as good a time as any.  He had to get ‘the talk’ over with so he stood up and picked Drew up to go back into their cabin.

          “Hey Tiger, come with me.  We need to have a talk.”

          Drew’s eyes got big, and he immediately thought he was in trouble.

          Henry smiled and hugged him saying, “Come here, kiddo.  You aren’t in any trouble.  I love you, but we just need to have a talk.  OK?”

          “OK, Daddy.  What do you want to talk about?”

          “It’s been so nice here with you and all the guys.  The last few days we haven’t had a care in the world.”

          “I wish Mommy was here.”

          “Me too Tiger.  More than anything except you.”  Henry tickled him when he said that to get a giggle and keep things light, at least to start with.

          “Drew I’ve not merged with you, honey, to find out what happened in the cave with your Uncle Darren, but I need to know.  Mainly because I’m your dad and you’re my responsibility, but also because I love you so much, and I want to be able to help you through the bad things.  You never, ever, need to be afraid to share anything with me Drew; no matter what it is, how big or small.  I’ll be really upset with you if you fret about things and don’t come talk to me.  Do you understand?”

          Drew got a serious look on his face and said, “Yes, Daddy.  What’s fret mean?”

          “It means worry.”

          There was a short pause, and Henry settled Drew on his lap and he started in, “OK Tiger… so tell me what happened.  I want to know everything from the time you got there until we showed up.  If you want, you can show me with your Mind.  That would be good practice for both of us, but only if you want too.  If you would rather just tell me, I’m fine with that.”

          Drew had been dreading this – neither his father nor his Uncles were aware that he knew about his relationship with The Master and his Curse.  He was sure his Uncle Darren didn’t know either – he was so close to death when Drew merged with him, he was unaware of Drew’s presence in his Mind.

          Henry wasn’t surprised when Drew started to cry, but once their Minds came together he was shocked at the reason he was crying.  Henry panicked completely when he saw everything that happened.  The trauma Drew went through was nothing any child should ever have to deal with – every emergency they trained him for came to pass!  But he rose to the occasion just like Bryan said he would, and Henry was so proud of him he could burst.

          Henry got a chill all the way down into his stomach when he realized that Drew now knew everything about his Curse.  He saw how Drew merged with Darren, desperate to try and find something in Darren’s Mind that would help him save his Uncle – and it was apparent Darren didn’t know that Drew had merged with him while he was unconscious and dying.

          What surprised Henry was why Drew was crying – he was ashamed he held it back and didn’t tell Henry sooner.  He knew he should have, and he was upset that Henry would be disappointed in him.  Drew was a very sensitive little boy, and the thought of Henry not loving him or being disappointed in him was killing him on the inside.  That deep seated fear that Henry would leave him was somehow still there.

          Henry pulled Drew against him in a hug and started sobbing: Oh my God Drew, I’m so sorry, honey.  I had no idea what happened.  You should have told me sooner! I’m not mad or upset with you, honey.  I just don’t like it that you carried all that by yourself these past few days – you were a hero, and you saved Darren’s life.  How could I be mad over that? 

          Drew’s tears turned from embarrassment to sadness and a little fear.  The unknown of what he faced – still not understanding the full implications of everything but knowing it was important and he was in the middle of it.  He had seen The Master in the basement, and knew how evil he was – how he could have a brother like that didn’t make sense to him, and what he had to do seemed impossible.

          As Henry moved forward through his memories, he saw the last few days and everything that happened with the doctor. Henry was reeling with everything he saw – the other boy that appeared with the Stone; the first version of Drew that was killed.

          In the middle of all that, and underlying everything, was the Love Drew had for his Uncles – seeing it from Drew’s perspective was so pure and simple.  Seeing how Drew saw Henry was humbling and fulfilling at the same time, and it made him cry like a baby – that such a great little boy would look up to him the way he did and love him.  He could never have imagined that before.

          The most worrisome event in all of it to Henry was the Voice Drew heard when he rescued the doctor.  When the dove appeared – Henry wasn’t religious, but anyone knew that the dove was a sign of peace and was also used to represent God in religious art.  Was that voice God?  Was the Creator of the Universe talking to his son?

          That scared him beyond anything else.  He didn’t know who it was for certain – the Voice said Istariel was his son, so that was a shocker.  He might be some powerful Arch-Angel none of them had ever met or heard of. 

          The question that came to the forefront of Henry’s Mind was:  Why?  Why couldn’t Drew just be a normal boy and live a normal life with Henry?  Why did he have to be the focal point for the Curse on all of Mankind?  His heart ached for the boy in his arms. Now that he knew everything, Henry needed to be stronger than ever for Drew.  He needed to become whatever Drew needed him to be to help him prepare for his encounter with The Master; in whatever form that encounter took.

          Brad’s voice came into Henry’s Mind:  Henry?  Is everything OK?  I’m getting feelings from you that are all over the map.

          Brad – I just merged with Drew to find out what happened in the cave with Darren.  He knows everything!

          Brad plunged himself into Henry’s Mind and Heart in a private merge – Brad’s strong presence was comforting and it helped calm him down.

          Henry how!?

          Take a look.  It’ll be easier if you see it all straight from Drew.

          Henry pulled Drew gently into the merge that he and Brad shared.

          Brad’s voice was Compassionate and gentle as he thought:  Drew, let me see what you just shared with your dad. 

          Brad was just as shocked as Henry with everything that happened.  Darren wasn’t consciously aware of much of what went on in the cave.  Brad needed to know what was behind that wall Darren had inside of him.  With him holding back, there were pieces missing that Drew just answered, but also more questions.

          Brad was sure that Darren was unaware of what Drew had seen, and knew that Darren would be devastated to know that Drew found out everything because of him.

          His first concern was Drew, who seemed far more upset about disappointing Henry than he was about the Curse and what he had to do.  His reaction about The Master being his brother was strange – he seemed more sad than scared.  Henry’s reaction was far more severe than Drew’s.  His whole body was trembling and shaking and his anxiety levels were through the roof.

          Brad sent a private thought to Henry:  Henry you need to calm down for Drew’s sake.  I know this is tough, but you’re his rock.  If you fall apart, he won’t know what to do.  He seems oddly OK right now, but he might resonate off your reaction.

          I’m sorry Brad.  God how can this be happening?  He didn’t need this!

          It was inevitable that he would find out – this definitely wasn’t the way to do, it but it’s no one’s fault.  He had to be told at some point – we’re already preparing him, he just didn’t realize it.  Now that it’s out in the open it will make it easier to help him.  He’s a smart little boy, and at some point would have started asking questions anyways.

          What about that Voice? 

          I don’t know Henry.  Whoever that was gave Drew comfort.  We can ask Istariel about his father the next time we see him.

          What about him seeing that other boy – the first version of him?

          Again I don’t know, but we can figure that out.  I definitely want the doc in on that one.  I think giving Thomin the Stone was not a good thing.  I’m glad the doc is back… but Drew seems to be able to Summon the Stone somehow, and if he does that it’s going to piss Thomin off.   Drew didn’t think about that, he was just trying to save the doctor.

          Brad… God I’m so worried about him., I’ll get my shit together; I have to.  I’ll be strong for him, but it’s tearing me up inside over what he’s got facing him. 

          You love him Henry – it’s that simple.  And remember what Raphael said; you’re in Drew’s life for a reason.  What you went through gives you an insight into The Enemy that we never had before – it gives you a perspective that you can share with Drew and help him understand.  He’s already a very compassionate little boy – we have to grow that inside of him until its big enough to do what he needs to do.  He won’t physically fight The Master – that’s our job once Drew does his.  And you’ll be right there with him – he worships the ground you walk on, and I can see why.  You’re a good man Henry, and I believe what Raphael said.  In this cosmic game we’re all wrapped up in you’re here for reason – and I take great comfort in that.  I know that might sound fucked up to you – you might wish you had never met any of us when all this is said and done.

          No… I’d never think that Brad.  I’m beginning to see what you’re talking about.  I’m not as smart as you or the doctor, but it’s all sinking in.  Even with everything I’ve been through, I wouldn’t have it any other way – except for Liz.  She’s the only regret I have in all of this – that she can’t be with me and Drew.

          The Voice said she wasn’t supposed to die.  That’s disturbing, and again I want the doc and Albrecht to help us figure that out. 

          There was a pause where Brad held Henry tight inside.  They were in a private Link and Brad took them deep so Time was barely moving.  He helped Henry work through the worst of his anxiety and fears until he was calmer.  When he was ready, Brad brought them back up with Drew.         

          Henry was much calmer and he looked into Drew’s Mind.  Drew was open to him and he again saw everything that happened.  He saw all the little lies Drew told Miss Sally during his lessons, and lying to Bryan about not having snacks so he could get more, and other little white lies that all little boys told. 

          But Drew wasn’t all little boys – his Mind was Open and he was aware of everything Henry saw inside of him.  He was embarrassed and ashamed – he knew right from wrong.

          Henry realized why the doctor didn’t want anyone merging with Drew – he felt he had to do it in this case, but Drew’s Mind was still developing, and he was now exposed to many things he shouldn’t be at his age.  He would have to help Drew deal with those eventually and would need the doctor’s help.

          Drew wasn’t prying, but he was aware that his dad had to jack off a few times a day to increase his own powers.  He saw Henry and Liz making love and how good they made each other feel.  He had seen much the same in Darren’s Mind in the cave so the cat was already out of the bag as far as sex was concerned, but those were the types of things the doctor didn’t want Drew exposed too – it could hyper-sexualize Drew at a young age and cause problems later. 

          Brad was confident they could handle it.  If ten half-angel gay Uncles, a super dad, and the doc and Albrecht – who were both thousands of years old – couldn’t help a little boy, then no one could.

          Henry made sure Drew knew he was loved and accepted regardless of the lies, and there was no need to be embarrassed.  Henry held Drew close, his Mental arms around him just like his big arms were hugging his little body and explained once more how unconditionally he loved his son and how proud he was of him.  He shared with Drew, in the simplest terms he knew how, what Brad and the others had shared with him the first time they merged – there was no need to lie anymore.  With their Minds Open and able to be in one another, they were above that and it would hurt moving forward.

          As Henry looked deep inside his son he was still shocked at much of what he saw – the mistreatment of Drew by his real father Doug, all the memories he had of Liz, and of Henry himself.  He saw the memory of Drew’s first death by The Master wielding the Stone.  He saw glimpses of other deaths too but not clearly – Drew didn’t see them clearly either.

          Tears were streaming down Henry’s face as he clutched Drew against his chest, holding him and rubbing his back in comfort.  Drew was crying too, knowing his dad was seeing everything about him.  The tears were cathartic for both of them, and helped wash away the worst of the initial sting of all the pent up emotions.

          As Drew’s cheek rested against Henry’s bare chest, he felt the strength in his dad.  Not just the strength of his body, but inside him.  Henry was a barrier between Drew and what he faced.  Drew felt the Protection his dad offered against everything he faced, and it was the most comforting thing in the world.  He never had that before – he had loved his mom so much but she was never able to protect him against Doug.  She tried, but she always got hurt, or Drew ended up bearing the brunt of her actions.

          Henry was like an immovable Wall – and it scared Drew that Henry would so willingly give his life up to Protect him and keep him safe. 

          Henry reassured Drew that he was never going to leave him, and that no matter what he faced or how the confrontation with The Master occurred, Henry would be at his side every single step of the way.  His Uncles would be there as well – all of them were there for him and he would never be alone. 

          Drew felt something inside of him stir – what he didn’t realize was that in every life he had lived since his first death by his brother’s hand, he had never had a father like Henry.  Part of the Curse was pain and suffering and while not all his fathers had been as bad as Doug, none of them were good.  The short years of each life he lived were always filled with pain, misery, and sadness.

          All the other lives, now only existing in memories buried deep in his Soul, felt what Henry was for Drew, and they found comfort in him as well.  They were all rushing forward and trying to become a part of Drew so they could feel Henry’s strong arms around them as well.  In the pain of their lives, they finally found a father that was strong and brave and cared for them like a father should.  Henry would have to find the strength in himself to be the father for all of them.

          Drew felt the wave of pressure – he didn’t understand it.  Occasionally he heard a voice, or an echo of a voice, crying out for the Love they yearned for.  Henry’s heart was big enough to hold all of them, but they were still locked away.  Drew’s Mind made the connection and Henry and Brad both felt it – the Stone was a gateway to all those other lives and their Power. 

          Drew, if he wasn’t strong enough, could get washed away by them.  They would all be fighting to be the one in Henry’s arms and to come out of that well of darkness.  They also wanted revenge for their deaths – but right now they hit the Wall that was Henry’s love.  He kept the bad parts away from his son and would have to figure out a way to bring out the good parts.

          Brad was with them through all of this, and he felt like a voyeur, but he lent Henry all of his own formidable strength, helping him to face everything.

          I’m glad you’re here Brad.  You guys needed to see this anyways, and now everyone will have access to it through you.  I’m not sure I could have done this with everyone at the same time, so I’m glad it was just you.

          Brad had tears streaming down his own face over everything he witnessed.  In the middle of all this, Brad felt his own wish that he had a father like Henry when he was growing up.  None of his foster fathers were good dads, and he wondered how much of a difference it would have made in his life if he had had a dad like Henry.

          Henry actually blushed at that thought and took the compliment the way Brad intended.  It bordered on embarrassment, and they both laughed a little about it.

          Brad quickly realized the futility of that line of thought.  With Lane’s help he could probably even go back and look into an alternate timeline and see what he wanted to know.  He was who he was now because of his past – he might never have joined the Navy and met Ken or become what he was if  his wish was true, and he was content with that.  He still felt the tug of that wish when he felt Henry’s arms around Drew and how deeply it affected the little boy.  Just like Ken’s arms around him now, holding him and supporting him.  The feeling of that strength and love sent Brad to another place, and there was nothing else like it. 

          Outside in the lounge, Ken looked over at Brad and saw the tears on his face.  He knew Brad was Linked with Henry and Drew – he felt that and didn’t intrude.  They all wanted to go to Henry when they felt the initial wave of fear and confusion, but it was unspoken among them that Brad would be the best one to find out what was happening.

          Even as Brad was having those thoughts, he felt Ken’s arms wrap around him and hold him.  He felt Ken’s warm strong body, shirtless, pressing against his own.  Their skin was slightly sweaty in the heat and humidity, and it kept them both constantly on the verge of a hard on.

          Ken knew his lover well, and he gave Brad strength and comfort to deal with whatever was going on with Henry and Drew, and Ken didn’t make it sexual.  He trusted Brad to bring him or the other guys into the issue when the time was right and they were needed.   

          What was happening between Drew and Henry was so strong and powerful Brad felt blessed to be a part of it.  What Brad felt for Ken was the same, but with the added sexual element.  If Brad separated the sexual relationship he had with Ken, what he was feeling now with Ken’s arms around him was the same as what Drew was feeling towards Henry.  The Connection – that profound sense of unconditional love and care – was so deep and strong it hurt.  In a strange way it was almost orgasmic, at least in the intensity of the sensation and how overwhelming and overpowering it was.

          Brad remembered the first time he and Ken shared their Souls.  They had already merged, but when the doctor took them through the last change and Opened up their Hearts to one another so their Souls could merge as well as their Minds and Bodies… he remembered wanting to lose himself in Ken and never go back into himself.  He could have stayed there forever, inside Ken and his love, until he died of starvation.

          Drew had a sense of that with Henry now – the dynamic was slightly different because it was his father’s love he was immersed in, but the power and vast comfort was still there.

          Drew saw Henry’s concern about filling the gap inside of him – the lack Henry felt of being adequate to fill the hole of a mother’s love for her child.  Drew cried for his dad and reassured him, not in words but in emotions and how tight his arms squeezed around his neck, that Henry was more than enough.  Drew missed his mom, but he had never been in her Mind or Heart like he was with Henry. 

          Drew loved his dad beyond anything Henry could ever have imagined and he felt humbled. 

          Everything Henry, Drew, and Brad experienced only took a few seconds.  Ken wrapped his arms around Brad on the tail end of everything.  Brad brought them all back up and Time started moving again.

          Henry we need to bring everyone in on this.  I know it’s all fresh for you and Drew right now, and maybe even a bit raw, but it would be better to get this done now than to bring it all up again later. 

          We’ll be right there.

          Henry stood up with Drew still in his lap, clinging to his torso like a spider.  Drew had his legs wrapped around Henry’s stomach and his arms around his neck and shoulders.  He could still feel the wetness of Drew’s tears against his bare chest as his son snuggled against him.

 

<><><> 

 

          The ten big men, handsome and shirtless, their muscles gleaming in the heat and humidity and the dim light of the cabin, were waiting.  Lane’s guitar disappeared as soon as Brad’s eyes opened.  They had kept the conversation low key and quiet so as not to disturb Brad while he was with Henry.

          A few seconds later Henry came back out of his cabin with Drew clinging to him.  They were both still crying.  Bryan had gone into the galley and gotten a box of Kleenex and put it on the small coffee table in the middle of the pit.

          Ken pulled his arms back slightly but kept Brad close.  Brad took a deep breath, wiping at his own eyes and said, “OK guys.  We have some news for you.”

          There was a little trepidation through the Link, but everyone was present and Linked and available to one another.  They were already holding Brad, Henry, and Drew as tightly as the Link would allow.

          The anticipation was high and there was a pregnant pause before Brad said, “Drew knows everything guys.”

          Brad took them all deep and everyone merged.  He kept Drew on the fringe, not completely with them.  Drew had already seen Darren and Pat together, but he didn’t need to see everyone else as well.

          Darren went white as a sheet when he realized Drew discovered everything from merging with him in the cave.  Even Darren’s subconscious had no memory of the occurrence – he had been close to death and so weak, even his subconscious wasn’t aware of it.

          The pain and trauma that Drew went through to save Darren was all there, and his desperate attempt to merge with Darren, looking for some way to save him. 

          Darren abruptly vanished but was still present in the Link.  For a split second Pat panicked and thought he left.

          They heard him retching his guts out into the water off the dive deck.  Pat rushed out and saw him hunched over, vomit still dripping from his mouth.  The physical reaction to what he learned took over his body.  He was sweating and tense, and Pat tried to soothingly rub his back while he continued to heave.

          Drew felt the terror inside of Darren and the shame from the responsibility of discovering Drew learned everything from him.

          Darren was in a total panic.  When he finally stopped throwing up, his bloodshot watery eyes looked into Pat’s and he thought:  I have to get out of here.  I can’t face him Pat.  It’s my fault.  Fuck what have I done!?

          When Darren teleported out onto the dive deck he stayed in the Link but pulled back to the surface.  They all felt his reaction and tried to pull him back in, but he resisted.

          Pat:  You aren’t going anywhere Dar.  Don’t you dare leave me!

          But Pat I can’t be here. I can’t go in there and face Drew and Henry, or the guys.

          Yes you can Dar.  This isn’t your fault.  You didn’t do anything wrong or intentional.  It happened because of… you know who.  They weren’t warded, and Pat didn’t want to even think Luke’s name.

          Henry’s voice intruded into Darren’s Mind:  Darren?  Please come back in.  Drew’s really upset and thinks you’re leaving because of him.  Don’t do anything rash, buddy.  Neither me nor Drew blames you in any way.  The situation just sucks plain and simple.  He had to find out eventually – this wasn’t planned, but it might even make it easier in the long run.  So please don’t beat yourself up; come back in with us. We love you.

          Ken was on the verge of intervening with Darren when he saw Henry’s eyes flash white and Ken knew he was talking with Darren.

          Darren was a wreck.  He was pale and shaking – his nerves were shot, and his stomach still ached from the emotional uproar.  Even with the last few days of relaxing, everything he had bottled up inside of him was still there and hidden from everybody but Pat.

          As soon as Drew saw Pat step through the sliding glass doors leading out to the dive deck, he scrambled off Henry’s lap and made a beeline to Darren.  Drew was so upset and crying loudly that Darren couldn’t make out what he was trying to say.  Darren’s gut wrenched even more, knowing he was the reason for Drew’s distress.

          Darren got down on one knee and Drew launched himself into Darren’s arms.  Darren was so tense and sweaty Drew almost slipped out of his arms, but they both clung to one another desperately.

          Darren finally made out the frantic words, “Uncle Darren you can’t leave me!  You can’t!”

          Darren saw what happened in the cave and how courageously Drew fought to keep him alive.  The memory of Drew crying, “NO!  YOU CAN”T LEAVE ME!  YOU CAN”T!  STAY WITH ME!” and all the emotion behind it hit Darren like a Mack truck.

          The Love Drew had for Darren and the rest of the Team was so deep it shocked all of them.  They knew Drew loved them, but none of them had ever merged with him at the deepest level – just how profoundly deep and significant his love for them ran inside of him was astounding.  It all went back to that day in the food court at the Mall of GA when Brad and Ken rescued Drew and Liz from Doug.  That was the seed that grew into what they felt inside him now, and it was powerful. 

          Brad’s subconscious sent him an epiphany about Drew and the depth of his emotions.  The reason Drew’s love for all of them, including Henry, was so powerful was directly related to the Curse.  The memories of each one of his previous incarnations were inside of him – and like the creature that was inside of Ken a few years ago, they were real and inside him – they weren’t just memories they were entities.  They felt the love Drew had for Henry and for all of them and the memories, in their own way, wanted it too – after the pain and misery of their lives they saw a Light and it pulled them in.  That was why it was so powerful – it was magnified thousands of times in its intensity and depth.

          The significance of their lives in Drew’s was more profound than they imagined, and just like Henry they were humbled.  Drew wasn’t part Nephelem, but with his Mind and Heart opened this last year, just like his Uncles, his capacity for Love had expanded.  His capacity to be hurt had expanded as well… but he was only five years old.  He didn’t fully understand it all but he felt it.

          They realized the doctor knew all of this and had been working with Drew and preparing him emotionally just as they had been physically.  Now that they saw everything inside the little boy, they realized how deeply he cared for the Doctor and Albrecht too, and they for him. 

          What made it all even more special was the innocence Drew still had about him – he had a hard life and had been through horrible atrocities, but he still had a very simple though profound way of loving.  To him it was all or nothing – none of the complexities that adults used to take black and white matters and make them grey existed in Drew yet.

          Darren was so choked up he couldn’t talk.  He kept swallowing, trying to find his voice but he couldn’t.  The wall was still there, but he Opened the rest of himself to Drew.

          I’m so sorry Drew!  I never meant to hurt you! 

          It’s OK, Uncle Darren.  But you can’t leave me!  Promise!  Please!

          I promise Tiger.  I’ll always be here for you no matter what.

         

<><><> 

 

          Thanksgiving came and went.  Bryan checked in and with Darren’s help he showed up for the feast in the Australian Lab, but he made sure Rich’s dad knew that Rich was responsible for all the hard work and effort that went into everything.

          Bryan noticed more changes in all the young soldiers.  Under Albrecht’s tutelage they had all gained more muscle and trimmed down even further.  Rich truly was looking like the stud he had inside of him all along, and Bryan made sure Rich knew how proud he was of him before he went back to ZEUS.  He made a point of telling all of the young men how proud he was of them and their hard work. 

          They stayed on the boat for another five days.  Drew was turning brown as a nut with their help… he was fair skinned, but they healed his sunburn a few times a day.  His light brown hair also lightened and as short as he had it Brad wanted to start calling him Tow after his own call sign in the Navy.

          Lane played his guitar for them most evenings and they swam every day.  Other than a few trips for food supplies they never left ZEUS.  Bryan was going crazy with different fish recipes but he ran out of dairy and vegetables fast with as much food as everyone ate.  The refrigerator on the boat just wasn’t large enough to accommodate the hyper appetites of eleven men and a little boy.  Since they didn’t fish Bryan commandeered the built in coolers all over the craft as food storage and it eased the need for daily trips.

 

<><><> 

 

          Once they got back to the Atlanta Lab and settled into their training routines, life seemed to go back to normal, or as normal as it was for ten half–Nephelem hybrids and a former Enemy Protector and his son.

          Per his conversation with Ken, Bryan put on a Thanksgiving feast that blew everyone away the first full night they were back in Atlanta.  They had all the tables in the kitchen area pulled together to make a large banquet style presentation.  Sally helped with the table settings.  She was so relieved to have them all back – she had gotten an immense amount of work done for the doctor in their absence, but she missed their smiles and hugs and giving Drew his lessons.

          The entire Lab smelled of slow roasting turkey all day long… Bryan had four large turkeys, all stuffed with his own special cornbread dressing seasoned with fresh celery, Vidalia onions, and mushrooms.  He used organic chicken broth for stock and made fresh mushroom giblet gravy from all the drippings.  He made his famous mashed potatoes with eggs, flour, cream cheese, and onion rings; had chilled jellied cranberry sauce; fresh asparagus; and he made more fresh yeast rolls than they could shake a stick at.  He even made salted creamed butter for the bread and of course dessert was homemade strawberry ice cream.  He wanted to make something more traditional like pumpkin or apple pie, but Drew’s pleas wore him down and he caved on dessert.  It was worth the hugs and kisses he got.

          The legs on the tables were shaky from the weight of so much food, and there were hardly any leftovers by the time they were done.  Sally looked on the devastation of the food and wondered where in the world it went – she was convinced even with their hyper metabolisms they all had hollow legs.

          Bryan had a fifth turkey he started later in the day for the sole purpose of using for sandwiches over the next few days.

          None of them were big wine drinkers, but Lane managed to produce a few bottles of a very nice rosé.  It was mild and had a wonderful taste.  Drew made a face when he tried it, so Henry poured him some grape juice instead, but he drank it out of a wine glass so he felt like he was drinking with the grownups.

 

<><><> 

 

          The Friday night after their first full week back Loy and Rick appeared in their kitchen.  They were still jumping around with Darren’s help, under strict orders from the doctor about traveling by conventional means only when absolutely necessary.

          It was easy in their houses – the Trees protected the entire property and even a little ways out into the surrounding houses.

          They had been gone so long most of the food in the refrigerator had to be thrown out.  Loy was taking the trash out when he saw Will, the teenage son of his neighbors sitting on the curb with his head down on his knees.  Loy’s stomach tingled with that Intuitive sense that something was wrong.

          It was dusk but still light enough outside to easily see and there was very little traffic on their street.  He walked over and asked, “Hey Will.  Is everything OK?”

          Will looked up and his eyes were red from crying.  He was sixteen years old and at a very awkward stage – he hadn’t heard Loy approach, and he was embarrassed to be seen crying.

          He wiped at his eyes quickly and said, “Hey Mr. Barton.  I’m fine thanks.”

          Loy sat down beside him.  Like Ken, Loy had a very comfortable way with people. He was easy to talk to and a great conversationalist.

          “You don’t look fine Will.  What’s going on?”

          He started to tear up again and he said, “It’s Lucy, our dog.  She’s not doing so well and we’re taking her to the vet in the morning to have her put down.”

          Loy’s compassion swelled inside and he asked, “What’s the matter?  I know she’s getting older.  Is it that, or is something else wrong?”

          “Her legs and hips are giving out and she fell down the stairs.  She didn’t hurt herself, but she can’t get up.  I’ve been carrying her into the yard today so she can go to the bathroom.”

          “I’m so sorry Will.  How old is she?”

          “She’s fifteen.  Dad says that’s old for her breed.”

          Ricky, I need you.

          Loy put his arm around Will and pulled him close.  Will hesitated for a second and then leaned in and accepted the hug.  Loy ran his arm soothingly over Will’s back.

          Rick came out and saw the two of them sitting together, with Loy’s arm over Will’s shoulder.  With his enhanced vision, he could see Will’s bloodshot eyes from across the street and knew he was crying.

          As he approached, Loy looked up at him and said, “Lucy isn’t doing very good Rick.”

          Rick heard Loy’s tone of voice and thought:  Are you sure you want to get involved?   You of all people know it’s the natural cycle of life.  I know it’s sad and it hurts but…

          Yeah but…. With everything that Drew and Darren just went through… I don’t know Ricky.  I want to push back.  I know it’s not natural, but we don’t have to follow the rules either.  Michael said that to Ken.

          I’ll follow your lead, love.  You know that.  This is your Domain.

          Loy asked Will, “Will you take me to her?  I really want to see her.”

          “Sure Mr. Barton.  Hey Mr. Crawford.”

          Rick held his hand out to pull Will up to his feet.  “Hey Will, and don’t worry.  Everything is gonna’ turn out OK.”

          “Yeah that’s what my parents said too, but it’s not.  She’ll be gone.  I’ve known her my whole life.  My mom got her for me when I was only one.  She’s my best friend.”

          The hurt in his voice was painful for them to hear, and he started crying again when he said she would be gone.  He was sixteen and in his mind the pain he felt would never go away – he didn’t have the life experience yet of losing a loved one.  Loy sensed that, but he didn’t want him to have to learn such a lesson just yet.

          Will led them over to his house and they entered through the garage door.  When they went in, Will’s parents were in the kitchen, and Loy and Rick both said hello. 

          “Hey Phil, hey Trish.”

          Phil Cambridge held out his hand to both Loy and Rick.  He wasn’t overly pleased to have them in his kitchen.  He knew they were gay, and his church didn’t approve, but they were good enough neighbors and were always nice to Will.

          Trish smiled at them genuinely and offered them some iced tea.  Her eyes were red and a little puffy from crying.

          Loy said, “Thanks but we’re good.  If you don’t mind we want to see Lucy.”

          Will went into the laundry room and picked her up.  She was a medium sized lab mix and weighed around sixty pounds, so she wasn’t exactly light for Will to carry.

          He set her down on the kitchen floor as gently as he could.  She sat funny with her hind legs splayed out.  She seemed calm, and Will rubbed her head and said, “Good girl.”

          Lucy looked at Loy expectantly.  Under his t-shirt his Avatar started to glow softly.  He saw her in both worlds – her aging physical body was simply giving out.  She was smiling though, happy to be in the presence of her family, especially Will, and Loy and Rick.  She was in mild pain and her mobility was all but gone.  Her Spirit was bright and in his Mind’s Eye her foggy eyes still sparkled.

          Loy did something he had never done before – he asked her through his Avatar:  Lucy do you want to stay with these people?  Are you happy, and do they take good care of you?  Or are you tired and want to be released from this world?

          He knew she didn’t understand his words, but she still comprehended his intent.  He looked in her Spirit and at her memories.  She was neutral about the father, but she liked the mother, and she adored Will.  She was his, and loved him more than anything and wanted to stay with him.

          Loy’s eyes teared up at the well of Love he saw in her – that special Love that animals have, unconditional and pure.

          Rick:  Are you sure you want to do this?  And if you do how are we going to handle the family?

          I’m not.  I’m going to tell them the truth.  I’m tired of having to cover everything.  My gut isn’t telling me not to.

          Loy took a deep breath and said, “Will… if you had a wish right now what would it be?”

          Will sniffed loudly and said, “I want her to be happy and free of pain.  I don’t want her to go, but I don’t want her to suffer.”

          Rick put his hand on Will’s shoulder and squeezed him gently in comfort, “Good answer.”

          Trish was concerned for Will’s emotional state and asked, “What are you getting at Loy?  I don’t want to see Will hurt.”

          Phil was tense, but so far hadn’t said anything.  Loy knew he was intimidated by himself and Rick.  He was a slightly built man and their physical presence overshadowed him.

          Loy said, “OK here’s the deal. I’m going to make you an offer.  All I ask in return is that you keep what happens here in your kitchen to yourself and never tell another living Soul.  If you promise me that I will fix Lucy.”

          Trish sounded upset and said, “Loy that’s just cruel.  I think you need to leave!”

          Rick took Loy’s hand in his own and Loy brought them together, not bothering to shield themselves.  They delved into one another and became One and the warm golden light they emitted washed over the Cambridge family and Lucy.

          Loy looked at her, with his angelic charisma enhanced by their Auras. 

          New tears started streaming down all their faces as they felt the most profound feeling penetrate their Hearts.  They had never felt anything like it.

          Loy’s voice echoed with Power and he said, “I can make it happen Trish.  I’m not teasing Will – I would never do that.  Don’t ask any questions, but understand that I will know if you’re telling the truth about not talking about this to anyone.  If you do that, I will take care of Lucy and she can stay with you for another full and happy life.  It’s up to you as her keepers.  I know she loves you Will… she told me so, and you too Trish.  Phil you need to do some work there.  She doesn’t have any feelings for you one way or another.”

          Rick was almost laughing inside – but he kept his own Avatar focused on all of them, trying to keep them calm.

          Phil had a look of disbelief on his face and he whispered, “How?”

          “I told you no questions.  Just accept that I have the power to help her and make this situation right.  But I need your answer.”

          Will blurted out, “Yes!  Mom, Dad, please?!  Say yes!”

          Trish managed a barely audible, “Yes.”

          Phil didn’t say a word, but he nodded his head ‘yes.’

          Loy looked down at Lucy who was still looking at him.  She had a smile on her face – the goofy lab smile he remembered on Ely and other dogs.  Her tongue was out and panting, but it was from excitement not fear.

          OK, old girl, let’s fix you up.

          Loy pulled deeply from Rick, and their Auras got even brighter.  Loy pulled from across the Veil and Listened filling them with Power.  Rick pulled from the Tree – the Cambridge family could feel something happening around them but had no idea what.  Loy shielded them from any hurt – the amount of Power he and Rick pulled could burn a human out if they weren’t careful.

          Loy pulled Phil, Trish, and Will into a light Link – enough for them to see with their Mind’s Eye.  They saw the energy centers on the two large handsome men open up.  The brilliant ribbons of energy, red, yellow, and blue wove into one bright white arc.  The Light was beyond white it was so pure, and they felt how powerful it was. 

          Loy leaned down and gently pulled Lucy against him.  She leaned into him and he directed the flows through his hands and into her aged body.

          As if seeing the two men lit up like Angels in their kitchen wasn’t enough, they saw Lucy start to change.  She grew younger before their eyes.  Her muscles filled back out, and she trimmed down, the teeth she had lost grew back and they were white and fresh.  Her eyes lost the green fog of cataracts and went back to a dark brown that sparkled with her love for them.

          In less than a minute she was back to a year old.  Loy didn’t want to take her much further back.  He left all her training in place so she was house broken and knew all the tricks that Will had taught her.  She was still Lucy.

          Her butt was wiggling so fast she almost knocked herself over in excitement as she jumped up against Will trying to lick his face.

          Trish’s and Phil’s eyes were so wide they were about to pop out of their heads.

          Will was on his feet and crying like a baby and trying to hold onto the gyrating Lucy.

          The light around Loy and Rick faded until they were back to normal.  Loy was sweating slightly, but it he wasn’t exhausted – in fact he felt exhilarated and horny as hell. 

          Rick looked intently but kindly at Phil and Trish, “Remember guys – never say a word about this.  I can’t tell you how important it is both for our safety and your own.  We could make you forget all of this happened, but we don’t want to do that.  I want you to remember that miracles can happen, and good things still occur in the world.”

          Loy almost fell over when Will threw himself against him in a hug.  Will wasn’t a jock or an athlete – he was a nerd and not in very good physical shape for a boy of his age, but he threw himself against Loy with everything he had.

          He was crying so hard from joy he could barely talk but he managed a, “Thank you Mr. Barton!  I don’t know how I can ever pay you back!”

          “Consider this an early Christmas present Will.  Just keep taking care of Lucy.  She has another full life in front of her with you.  Keep making her happy

          Loy winked at him and said, “She’ll tell me if you aren’t, so I’ll know.”

          Rick took Loy by the hand and they left the Cambridge house and went back across the street to their own house.  When they were in the kitchen, Rick turned and kissed Loy passionately and their arms found their way around each other’s big strong shoulders.

          Damn it felt good to do that Ricky.

          What?  Hugging me or taking care of Lucy?

          Loy laughed and thought:  Fucker.  Both.

          Rick moved one hand under Loy’s shirt, around to the middle of his back and his other hand was on his chest with his fingers splayed out.  He gently clawed his fingers into Loy’s hard furry chest and squeezed Loy’s body between his two large hands.  He still never understood why Loy found that so hot, but it never failed to start his engine.

          Fuck I love you Loy.  What you did was amazing.  We’ll tell everyone what we did, but I don’t imagine anyone’ll have a problem with it.  You made Will one happy young man.  And I hope we gave Phil something to think about.

          All that energy going through me completely energized my dick.  Let’s go make out like rabbits for a few hours.  What do you say?

          And that’s exactly what they did!

 

           <><><>

 

That same night Lane went in search of the doctor.  He was in the Atlanta Lab and Albrecht was back in Australia for a few days. 

“Hey, Doc, you got a minute?”

“For you, my boy, always!  What is it you wish?”

Lane went into the doctor’s office and sat down. 

“So how are you doc?”

“I am fine my boy. Fully recovered with your help and Albrecht’s tender care.”

“I know your body is fine, Doc, but I’m worried about up here.”  Lane tapped his temple when he said that.

The doctor looked at him smartly, wondering where this was going, but he replied, “My mental state is fine Lane.  I am still grieving over Charisa’s death, but I have accepted it.  I am comforted to know that she is now in Heaven and at Peace.  I appreciate your concern, but I am guessing there is more to your question?”

Lane looked a little sheepish and said, “Yeah there is, Doc.  I mean we were all scared shitless when Thomin took you; and you facing off with Luke was almost more than we could take.  That took some major cajones.”

The doctor actually chuckled and said, “I am glad my cajones came through that intact.  I think Albrecht is as well.”

It took a second for Lane to catch what he said, and then he burst out laughing.

After a short pause the doctor asked again, “So what is it you are getting at Lane?  I am curious as to your line of questioning.”

“I had a Dream doc.  I lived parts of Charisa’s life with you and some without you.  The Gift was involved, and I wrote what I experienced into a song for you.  It’s really personal, and I’m trying to figure out if you’re ready to hear it.  I hate to be that blunt about it, but I know I can’t pull the wool over your eyes.”

“I see.  Well there is no time like the present, my boy.  Do you wish to sing it here or somewhere else?  I am eager to hear it.”

“It might be uncomfortable doc.  That’s why I asked how you’re doing.”

“I appreciate your concern.  I think I will ask Darren to bring Albrecht here for a few hours to be with me if it will allay your concerns.”

“OK, how about the gym in a couple of minutes?  I need to round up a few of the guys to help me with the chorus.  The harmonies are tricky but I think they can pull it off with my help.”

 

<><><> 

 

A few minutes later the doctor came into the gym with Albrecht.  Lane had brought in some chairs from the kitchen and Ken, Bill, and Bryan were with him.  Their deep baritones would be perfect for the harmony of the chorus.  Lane didn’t want Brad or Kevin singing this time so they stood off to the side to listen.

He took them down deep and spent the equivalent of an hour with them, teaching them the lyrics and the song.  He wanted it to be perfect. 

Lane was rarely nervous about singing one of his songs, but he was tense and Bryan moved over behind him to massage his shoulders and whisper in his ear, “You’re gonna’ kill it, Little Buddy.  You always do.  This one’s deep – it’s fuckin’ beautiful too, and it’s gonna’ be hard for him to hear, but you’re doin’ it out of love, and he knows that.”

“Thanks, Bry.”

Ken and Bill both gave him a pat on the back or shoulder as they sat down.

There were chairs for the doctor and Albrecht and they sat down.

The doctor could see how nervous Lane was – so out of character for him.  He said reassuringly, “There is no need for nervousness, my boy.  If the Gift is involved, and your own incredible talent, I know it will be wondrous.  I also think it will be difficult based on what you told me, so do not mistake my reaction towards you if it is upsetting.  I love you as my own son, and I know you only have my best interests at heart.”

Lane grinned sheepishly, “Thanks, Doc.  There’s a lot I wanted to say before I get started, but I changed my mind.  Hopefully I did a good enough job on the lyrics you’ll get the metaphors.”

          His grin turned impish and he said, “And I know you’re a really old man, and probably hung out with Plato and Socrates and God knows who else, so you could probably write circles around me if you put your mind to it.”

          The doctor raised an eyebrow at his comment, and Albrecht chuckled.  Ken and Bill stifled a laugh.

          With a flourish Lane summoned his guitar.  This one looked slightly different.  It had the same mosaic pattern of his Avatar on it, but it was shaped differently.

          Bryan didn’t summon his drums – he would produce the sound through Lane.

          Lane looked at Bryan, Ken, and Bill, “Ready, girls?”

          They nodded and he tapped his hand on the guitar casing lightly, “One, two, three…” 

          The chorus started immediately with the first chord.

 

Down to the river to silence me, love took me down to the river to silence me, [x6]

 

My love took me down to the river to silence me,

And when he left I could not speak.

I lay on the ground I tried to scream,

But no sound did come out, I could only bleed (blue).

 

I waited for him 'til the frost did come,

My skin it turned blue and my body was numb.

But my heart it burned out 'till it was no more,

Still I wait on the ground I don't know what for.

 

There, there is a heart in here.

Where, where is the heart in here?

 

This love's killing me, but I want it to.

So long you're gone, just like I always knew.

But I'm still here waiting for you.

But I'm still here waiting for you.

 

My love took me down to the river to silence me.

And when he left I could not speak.

And what he said to me I can never say.

Because it's breaking my heart to this very day.

 

There, there is a heart in here.

Where, where is the heart in here?

 

This love's killing me, but I want it to.

So long you're gone, just like I always knew.

But I'm still here waiting for you.

But I'm still here waiting for you.

 

Down to the river to silence me, love took me down to the river to silence me, (x11)

 

There, there is a heart in here.

Where, where is the heart in here?

 

This love's killing me, but I want it to.

So long you're gone, just like I always knew.

But I'm still here waiting for you.

But I'm still here waiting for you.

 

Here waiting for you.

 

Here waiting for you.

 

The memories that Lane had seen in his Dream started playing in the doctor’s Mind.  His hand unconsciously reached for Albrecht’s in comfort.  Albrecht put his arm over Aaron’s shoulder and pulled him tight, holding him as the song progressed.

The pain and uncertainty of Charisa’s life was all there, and her tumultuous relationship with him.  As Albrecht had stated, Aaron sacrificed his relationship with his daughter for the sake of The Order and his mission of saving the world.  She was collateral damage from a time in his life when he was less wise and caring.

He learned so much over the centuries, and as he grew and changed into the man he now was, Charisa was still an issue for him he could never address.  Part of it was that she didn’t want to reconcile with him – and after wearing the Mantle he saw why.  They truly did love one another, but there was also a strong thread of dislike between them that was difficult to overcome.

The guitar Lane summoned sounded electric.  He needed it for many reasons, partly for the close of the song.  The lyrics were simple but harsh, evoking and illustrating the images and feelings he was shown by his Avatar and enhanced by the Gift.  The sound of the guitar continued briefly when the lyrics were over and then abruptly cut off, just like the relationship between Aaron and Charisa.

Silence filled the gymnasium.  The doctor was staring at nothing, his eyes wide.  Tears ran down his face, slow and steady. 

Albrecht squeezed his hand and held him tightly in his Mind and Heart.

After a moment the doctor managed to say, “Thank you my boy.  That was profoundly poignant.  Your talent never ceases to amaze me – what you put into music is what I needed to face.  It brings clarity and a deeper understanding to the pain of her life and the pain I still feel.”

Lane’s voice was filled with Compassion as he asked, “Are you OK, Doc?”

“Yes my boy, I am.  You and your Brothers enrich my life in so many ways. Sometimes life is unbearably painful, but you all manage to turn it around into something good.  You are a blessing Lane.”

He looked at Ken, Bill, and Bryan, who were glassy eyed as well, “All of you are.  I have no idea what I would do without you.   You made my life bearable all those years Albrecht and I were separated, and you mean so much to me.”

In a rare show of affection he moved forward and hugged Lane and the other men.  Then he took Albrecht’s hand and left the gym, still pondering the memories and thoughts of his daughter and her tragic life without him in it.


<><><>



Ok that’s it for Chapter 23… I hope you enjoyed it!  Now to get started on Chapter 24! 

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