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The Conquered - Chapter 6: Falling Apart

***** Andrew *****

When we got to the lake, I realized that something had changed. How I felt, how I saw everything was different. I couldn't put my finger on what exactly was off, but it seemed as if I'd turned a corner and could see new things. I took my time to process it all.

Becca and her husband seemed like nice people. The affectionate, easy manner Taylor had with both of them made me feel... not uneasy and not uncomfortable, but something. After a while, when I still couldn't put my finger on what I was feeling, I shrugged it off; at least until he hugged both of them. The feeling that came over me stole my breath. I'd swear it was jealousy with a heavy dose of possessiveness. It made no sense; Taylor and I were only friends. We were client and trainer. We weren't dating or seeing each other. What the fuck?

Taylor grabbed my arm and pulled me closer to the couple, introducing me to them. "This is Andrew, my... friend." I think I was the only one who heard the pause there. I couldn't blame him; I didn't know what it was we were either.

"Nice to meet you."

Becca gave me a thorough look over that made me uneasy. "So this is why you've toned up so much, Taylor?"

Thank God! She wasn't sizing me up. Women made me nervous. I never could figure out why.

Taylor smiled warmly at me, and I remembered something from last night. I won't let him hurt you. "He's an incredible trainer."

My hands shook a bit as we started out around the lake. Taylor and Becca settled into an easy, practiced pace ahead of me. They chatted about school and kids, noting the potholes and uneven ground as they went. My thoughts weren't on the course at all and I almost tripped twice. I won't let him hurt you? The nightmares hadn't come back last night. Did he do that? When the three of us were done jogging, we split companionably. Taylor and I headed over to a great place for breakfast. Adkins nuts would bomb the place if they knew about it; old school, health conscious food at a reasonable price. The owners made you think you're getting real breakfast food, but it's all low fat, mostly vegetarian fair. We both had baked hash browns and an Egg Beaters vegetarian omelet.

After we'd finished eating, but while we were sipping our coffees, the words slipped out before I could stop them. "Did I have a nightmare last night?"

Taylor looked away for a moment, but quickly turned back to me, his eyes open and honest. "Yeah, you kind of woke up for a few moments, but then went back to sleep."

I could barely get the words out, my throat tight. "Did I say anything?"

"Your arms tightened around me, which woke me up, then you mumbled a bit."

I looked down at my cup, swirling the coffee. "I've had this dream for the past couple of months. I never remember all of it, but it scares the hell out of me. After I wake up, I can't go back to sleep."

"Do you want to talk about it?"

I shook my head. "No. Not really."

We got up and paid the check. Taylor dropped me off at the gym so I could get my truck. Before I left his car, he grabbed my arm. "If you ever want to talk about it, let me know."

Within moments, he was gone. I stood there, staring after him. There was a warm feeling in my chest. Smiling as I climbed in my truck, I drove home. I wasn't sure what that feeling was, but it made me happy. More than anything, I didn't want it to go away. It made the darkness seem less bleak. That night at work, I was still smiling, whistling even.

That night, while asleep, I had a rather erotic dream about Taylor. I can't say that it was a wet dream, because I'd never really had one. I didn't sleep deeply enough to complete the dream, but usually woke up and took care of the problem before I'd cum in my sleep. After I cleaned up, shaking my head at the uselessness of having lustful thoughts about a straight man, I fell back asleep, only to wake a few hours later, the scream still echoing off the walls.

The man in my nightmares had called me by name as he pushed me against a locker room bench and pushed that big, ugly cock up my ass, tearing me in two.

***** Taylor *****

Looking at Andrew Monday night was painful. Had he gotten any rest over the weekend? How do you get someone to open up to you when he's fighting with himself for his own survival? How do you get past the man to the suffering child he's trying to hide? How do you tell him it will be all right? What bothered me more was that no one else seemed to notice. How could anyone not respond to that much suffering? How could it be missed, or worse, ignored.

I swear the kid pleaded with me briefly, near the end of the workout, before his big, strong protector locked him back in the box. There was nothing I could do. I left feeling depressed and helpless. I couldn't force Andrew to trust me. I couldn't force him to go to therapy. I couldn't do anything but be his friend and pray, a lot.

I was actually dreading the gym on Wednesday. I had to be there. Not for my training, that wasn't important any more. I had to be there for Andrew. I swear he looked like the living dead to me. His complexion was a bit drawn and the darkness under his eyes was haunted in ways I'd never understand. I had to swallow down my pride again. Andrew needed the help more than I needed to maintain my independent, strong, male persona.

"Andrew?" I wiped my brow after putting the dumbbells back.

He looked at me, both worried and defensive, but mostly he just looked worn out. "Yeah?"

"Come over tonight." Did that sound like a come-on?

Andrew blinked, looking like he was wrestling with himself over my request.

Sighing, I swallowed everything down and met his eyes. "I'm worried about you. You haven't been sleeping."

He was about to object, but I cut him off. "Don't lie about it, it isn't like denying it will change the fact that you haven't."

His shoulders slumped as his eyes dropped. I don't think I'd ever seen a more representative image of a defeated man. His voice was low, exhausted, and raw. "The nightmares won't leave me alone. I'm lucky to get a couple hours a night."

I reached over, squeezed his bicep, and tried to convey a confidence I wasn't feeling but had to believe. "We'll figure it out. I'll make something simple for us to eat and we can talk, or watch TV, or just sit and do nothing at all. I guess I just need to do something..." I grinned, trying to lighten the mood. "My 'Mother Theresa' gene is really kicking me in the butt."

Andrew grinned, looking torn between letting himself laugh and being worried that he wanted to.

"I'm not trying to be your therapist, Andrew. I'm just trying to be your friend."

He nodded. "Thanks. Is eight forty-five too late? I have a seven-thirty client."

"That'll be great. I can go for a long run back and get washed up before you get there."

He looked at me for a moment that seemed to drag out forever. It was both intense and weighty with need. Finally, he blinked; looking embarrassed, and smiled a little. "Thanks, Taylor."

Nodding, I left for my run. I let the feel of my feet hitting the road pound away the insecurities and discomfort I was feeling. It would be okay. I had to believe that with anyone I tried to help, or I'd have broken down long ago. Something about this time was worse... this time I needed it to be okay, and that was what frightened me. I focused on the road, the run, the movement, and tried to let the rest of it go away for a while.

***** Andrew *****

By the time my last client left for the evening, I was almost totally drained. I had kept up a façade for so long, that now that I didn't need to anymore, I practically dragged myself into the locker room. I turned the water cooler than tepid and hoped the icy shower would wake me. Beyond tired, I pulled on my clothes and trudged out to my car.

When Taylor had made the offer for me to come over, I had two responses. The old, usual response of `I don't need anybody' didn't even register. It was almost an afterthought. Instead, all I felt was gratitude. My friend saw what was wrong. He saw beyond the front I put forward and knew I was falling apart.

Whenever my mind wasn't occupied, the imagery came back from my dreams. The intensity of them made me slowly start to realize that what I was seeing wasn't something I feared, but something that I had faced in the past. Only, I didn't recognize the man. I knew that it was the old locker room at the junior high, but everything else was a blank.

When I got to Taylor's, the relief I felt was almost overwhelming. I practically ran to his front door, but once I got there, I schooled my features, tried to hide how tired I was. After I pressed the doorbell, Taylor opened the door, smiling big with a carton of ice cream in his hand. He thrust it at me and dragged me inside.

"Hurry up. WWE is starting."

When I sat down on the couch he handed me a spoon, I stared at it for several moments, feeling relieved and safe. The tears started welling in my eyes as I tried to clear them, gratitude overwhelming me as Taylor flipped through the channels, searching for the wrestling program. He didn't press anything; he was just being a friend. When the introduction music started I sniffed a couple of times and blinked hard to get rid of the moisture before ripping open the ice cream and dipping my spoon for a creamy, chocolaty bite.

I tried to keep my eyes open once the ice cream was gone, but I was fading fast. When the program was over, Taylor turned to me and smiled. I couldn't help from returning the grin.

"How long since you slept, Andrew?"

I shrugged. "A couple of days."

He stared at me, looking at my eyes and the dark circles under them. "Well come on big guy, I think you could use some sleep."

"What do you mean?"

His laugh was warm, and I found myself staring into his eyes, lost in the compassion swirling there. "The couch isn't big enough for you, so you get my bed tonight."

I was embarrassed. I'd slept there once before and all I could remember is what I saw the next morning, while Taylor was still sleeping. "I can't turn you out of a bed."

"Nonsense. I like the couch. I sleep there a lot."

"But Taylor..." My voice trailed off. My protests were feeble even to my own ears. At that moment, I think I would have sold what was left of my soul to the devil for a decent night's sleep.

After he'd showed me into his room and where some towels were if I wanted to grab a shower, he made to leave, but I couldn't let it end like that. I grabbed him up and wrapped my arms around him, hugging him tightly to me. My voice was choked up when I tried to express what I was feeling. The words tied up around my tongue and all I could do was mumble a trite "thanks". The words were so inadequate, but truly heartfelt.

Taylor left me alone in the room and I stripped down to my boxer briefs before climbing between the sheets. As I turned onto my side, my nose pressed into his pillow, I caught his scent, making me feel warm and comforted. Within seconds, I was asleep.

I woke, alone, crying out. I wasn't alone for long. Before I knew it Taylor was sitting on the bed, holding me as my body shook. Normally, I'd have pushed him away, been mortified at being so vulnerable. But at that moment, I couldn't have let go of him if he were on fire. The next thing I felt was his hand, trailing through my hair, calming me. I don't know when I fell back asleep.

***** Taylor *****

I was worried Andrew wouldn't show up. He'd never broken his word, and I had faith that he wouldn't now, but the anxiety wouldn't let me be. I got washed up from my run, fretted about what to wear, and then chastised myself for the idiotic thought. I was acting like a guy trying to look good for his boyfriend. I grabbed a comfortable Tee and slid on some sweats. I contemplated what to have ready, soup, salad, sandwiches? I was still trying to decide when I heard Andrew's truck pull up.

"Fuck it," I thought, pulling open the fridge and pulling out the latest chocolate sin that came in the form of ice cream. I had the ice cream and spoon in his hands before he made it through the door.

I didn't even realize how relieved I was that he'd arrived until we were on the couch, I had found the channel for wrestling, and I caught a glimpse of him sitting there, holding his ice cream, and looking like he was going to cry. Fuck. I wanted to just pull him into my arms and tell him that I really did care. I didn't do it though. I let it all slide and stayed up far too late in an attempt to make Andrew feel safe and secure.

I was glad he didn't argue with me about staying the night. I was tempted to tuck him in, but that would have been overkill. I left him to his own thoughts, of which I'm sure there weren't many; he looked nearly dead on his feet.

I woke to the sound of Andrew screaming. The pain in that sound had me off the couch and into the bedroom before I could even think. That was the kid I wanted to protect, the one who kept pleading with me behind Andrew's eyes, being raped. I was able to keep it together while he held me, shaking, until he had slipped off to sleep again.

That was when I let myself cry. Maybe he still didn't know what was going on. Maybe he couldn't remember, but it was coming back. It was coming back full force and with none of the issues or emotions having been dealt with. I didn't know if I had the strength to be there through it. All I knew was I had him holding me, his head against my shoulder and chest, and I knew he was safe from the nightmares for a little while.

I'd have gotten a bigger bed and had him hold me every night if that is what it took to keep him safe. He still wouldn't talk to me about it. He was still trying to fight this thing alone. Until he asked, I was stuck with no power to do anything. I managed to call in to work and leave a message that I would be late, if I was able to make it in at all, without waking Andrew. There was no way I was going to let him wake up alone.

I fell asleep feeling strangely comforted by being in Andrew's arms. I was his protector, but something about having such a huge man holding me as he slept was the most peaceful sensation I'd ever had in my life. I went to sleep trying not to think about the reasons why I felt that way.

***** Andrew *****

The sun crept along my body, warming me. It was mid-Spring and the heat was getting more pronounced. The heavy blanket against me was too warm and I shifted, trying to move it off me but it was too heavy. Something brushed my nipple in this very erotic dream. It had been so long since I'd had sex. Before, going more than a few days without a fuck was unheard of. It had been almost three months. My body craved contact. Jerking off was great, but the warmth of another body, taking me in, surrounding me, milking me, I sorely missed. My erection was achingly full and heavy. My nostrils flared, recognizing the musky, sweet smell of a man and I could do nothing but drive my hips up, searching for the hot body that would take me in and give me what I had always wanted, but never knew existed.

I felt a heavy, thick pressure against my swollen shaft. My hips took over and kept rubbing against it, letting my moan escape between my lips, clamped tightly by my teeth. "Oh Taylor, I need you." Taylor? What was going on? When I heard a muffled snuffling sound, the peace of sleep faded, the dream shattered, and I awoke. Taylor was draped against me, snuggled against my chest. As my eyes focused in the morning light, I saw his fingers entwined in a clump of chest hair.

For a brief moment, I savored the feeling of someone lying next to me. There was a wealth of warm, almost tender feelings that filled my chest and made my throat ache with emotions that were very foreign but most welcome. I lowered my head to nuzzle his hair with my nose, taking in the sweet smell that was mostly shampoo and all Taylor. A grin formed on my lips and I tightened my arm that rested against his shoulder. As I nestled my head deeper into the flat pillow, I knew at that moment that I wasn't home. Reality came crashing in on me hard and the good feelings I was having faded away.

He had let me sleep in his bed. He'd held me when I'd screamed and shuddered from another Goddamn nightmare. The competition was this weekend, and when he should have been sleeping, getting all the rest he could, he'd helped me. Tears of shame and gratitude flooded my eyes, but I couldn't let them slip past my lids. I didn't want to need anyone. I didn't want to feel this way. This was closest I'd ever been with anyone, the strongest connection that I'd ever felt with any other human being, and I terrified.

I was beyond feeling scared or macho. Taylor had somehow showed me how empty and meaningless my life had become. That last time with Don woke me up, and the empty sex with Frank proved that I couldn't go back. There was something more to it than getting off. I wasn't sure what, but I knew that that's what I wanted. If my thoughts strayed to Taylor's dark hair and the way his breath fanned through my chest hair, I quickly pushed it away. He was not for me. He was my friend and nothing more. It would be enough. It was more than enough.

When Taylor shifted, turning away from me, I got out of bed, adjusting my hard on, wondering why my underwear was sopping wet. That was when I remembered the dream and I knew I blushed. I stared at Taylor's bare chest, the muscled planes of his body, and with all my heart, wished for something that would never be. With an angry muttering of "fuck it all," I left the room. After finding the bathroom and pissing away my morning wood, I went into the kitchen.

For all his kindness, I made him a hearty breakfast. I got out a can of orange juice and mixed it up. There were some mushrooms, peppers, onions, and potatoes in the fridge; I sautéed them for a few minutes in olive oil, adding garlic and pepper to the mix. When it was all done, I beat some eggs and poured it over the caramelized veggies before shoving it under the broiler. Some bread went into the toaster and popped just in time for me to take the frittata out of the oven. After flipping it onto a plate and sprinkling it liberally with cheese, I put it all on the table and filled a glass with juice.

Taylor was up and scratching his belly when I got to his room. My throat ran dry at the sight of his unguarded pose. His ass was high and tight under his sweats and the flat planes of his belly made me drool. Why had I never noticed it before? He was beautiful. He had always been beautiful. Then I thought back to all the muscle studs and steroid dimwits I'd fucked. Of course I wouldn't have paid attention to Taylor. What a fool I was.

"Good morning, Taylor."

His yawned smile and easygoing attitude made the guilt fade. "Mornin', sleepyhead."

I couldn't stop the chuckle. "Shouldn't that be my line?"

He shrugged and sniffed deeply. "God, I hope that that smell is breakfast."

I grinned and held out the glass of juice. "It is. I promise."

For once in my life, I felt shy, unsure of myself. We sat and ate, Taylor relishing each and ever bite. How could he act like nothing was wrong? I felt like a fucking freak. Nightmares. Crying. Shit, I was a mess. I couldn't meet his eyes. Not only did I have screaming nightmares, but I also seemed to have a serious crush on him. Jesus Christ! I was so confused. When breakfast was done, Taylor grabbed his glass and stared at me until I looked at him.

"I'm glad you slept Andrew. You were pretty close to collapse."

I shifted uncomfortably in my chair, not wanting to look at him. "I'm sorry about that." When he laughed, my eyes lifted to his, curious despite how I felt. "What?"

"I was wondering if he'd come back."

I felt my eyebrows crease. "What the fuck does that mean?"

His smile was not unkind, but actually very warm and caring. "A little sleep, and all the macho shit comes rolling right back." He drained his glass and stood. "I think that means you're feeling better."

I sat there, staring after his retreating back. It wasn't until I heard the shower going that I got pissed. Who the fuck did he think he was? What `macho shit'? I was steamed as I did the dishes, putting everything back the way it was before I got there last night. I headed back into the bedroom, fuming, when I saw the crumpled sheets and remembered how it was to wake up with Taylor. The anger faded and something like sadness filled me. But it was more than sad; it was... I couldn't describe it. I grabbed my jeans and was pulling them up when the light dawned. No longer did I feel guilty or ashamed. I felt centered and as in control as I possibly could.

When the shower stopped, I looked up to see Taylor come into the room with a towel slung around his hips. The respect I had for that man jumped through the roof. By making me pissed, he got me to get past all that stuff that was making me feel uncomfortable. I gave him this; to deal with all my `macho shit' meant that he was one hell of a counselor. When he got back to the room and saw me standing there, his eyes flicked away briefly before meeting mine again. I walked up to him and grabbed him up in a fierce hug, rocking him gently, grinding his nose into my chest.

"Thank you, Taylor." I cursed my brain for not being able to form the words for how I felt. Gratitude, friendship, warmth, tenderness, I felt them all, but the words wouldn't form. "For everything, thank you."

His muffled `you're welcome' had me pull away laughing for probably the first time in weeks. I looked at my watch, eleven-fifteen. I blinked and checked again. I looked at Taylor in shock. "Do you know what time it is?"

He nodded, totally unfazed. "Yep, after eleven."

"You missed work!" I could still get to mine; I didn't start till two in the afternoon.

His eyes were so sincere as he looked up at me. "Friends come first, Andrew. I didn't want you to wake up confused and alone."

I looked away.

"I called in and left a message with work last night after the nightmare. I'm sure the world won't collapse if I'm not there for a few hours."


He hit my shoulder, hard enough for it to sting, and grinned at me. "Where's my macho shithead? I can't let you out of here thinking you're not back to something resembling normal."

I growled at him. "Asshole."

He smiled. "There he is." He went about getting dressed, and we parted in the parking lot. Damn it was good to have a friend.

That night at work, I was smiling, joking, making lame ass jokes to get my clients to work harder. I was myself again. Charlotte even commented on it. The bitch is evil incarnate, but I knew it was bad when any improvement would cause her to mention it. Hell, I was feeling so good; I didn't even give Lee a hard time when Tyron came by to pick him up. I watched as they kissed and instead of a sneer, I actually felt a stab of envy. What they had, what they shared, like Frank and Leon, Sebastian and Don, hell, even my sister and her husband, wasn't something to knock. Deciding to actually try and do the right thing for once, take other's feelings into consideration, I walked up to them and shook both their hands and wished them a good night. Tyron's expression would have been laughable, if I didn't know how shocking my newfound behavior was. For a moment, I felt a stab of regret for what had happened before, but I put it aside. The past didn't matter.

When I got home, I took a long, luxurious shower. The water soothed what ached, caressed what needed a gentle touch, and steamed away the last of my worries. The shampoo was different than Taylor's brand, but I could still smell his hair. Remembering the smell had me hard in seconds. Rather than rushing what I knew would come next, I paused and adjusted the spray so it aimed right for my crotch. I let the gentle rain pulse against my engorged head as my hand massaged and stroked my chest. My nipples beaded and I tweaked one with my fingers, biting my lip against the gasp of pleasure.

For once, I didn't banish the thoughts or push away the fantasy. I embraced it. Taylor as he was that morning after I got drunk, hard and tenting his briefs. Taylor at the gym, with his legs sweaty and taut from leg lifts. Taylor this morning, clutching at my chest hair. Taylor's smile. Taylor's eyes. Taylor's everything. I didn't picture him with me, or my doing anything with him, but slowly stroked my inflamed shaft, picturing him as I had seen him, knew of him. Somehow, I didn't want to taint him with anything that I didn't know first hand of him. The mystery proved too drugging as my back arched and hard, forceful spasms erupted through my body, propelling my essence, my soul, against the tiles of my shower. I watched as rope after heavy, thick rope coated the wall. The pleasure so great, my own body betrayed me, letting the heavy, throaty, smoky moans leave my mouth to echo throughout the cavernous bathroom.

With my body pliant from warm water and a most excellent orgasm, I crawled naked between my sheets, luxuriating in the soft, very expensive cotton and closed my eyes, content to let sleep take me. As consciousness faded into blackness, my last thought was of Taylor, hugging me last night before going to bed.

I stood in the old gym at Woodrow Wilson Junior High. I was working out, building muscle to add to my tall, lanky frame. My body was humming and I could see the difference in only a few weeks of heavy workouts. I felt so special. This was a privilege that none of the other students got. I was on top of the world, cock of the walk. Nothing was going to stop me. This was all me. This is who I really was. Not the mama's boy that the other kids called me. Not `that poor boy who's father ran off' that the teachers whispered behind my back. No. I was Andrew Jackson, soon to be a top form stud. Thanks to Coach.

No one knew about the help he was giving me. It was a secret, because the Coach could get into trouble for letting me stay so late after school. But it was okay; Mama didn't get home until after five. It would be okay. No one knew. I could continue to workout and take care of myself. When I was done with my last set of reps, I went into the locker room, waving at Coach in his office. I shucked my clothes and stood under the spray.

Sometimes Coach joined me in the shower. It didn't make me uncomfortable exactly. It was kind of cool to see another man all naked. He was so hairy, front, back, legs; everywhere was lots and lots of hair. But his dick. Jeez the man had a huge dick. It was very thick and long, real long. It was a lot different than mine. I was cut; he had a lot of droopy, wrinkly skin at the end of his. It sort of made me get all hard when he'd join me in the shower. The previous summer, I'd figured out what all the other guys were talking about when they said `jerking off'. It was fun and I probably did it too much, if Father Brian was to be believed, but I didn't care. The hair had just started to grow on my balls and around the shaft when I started the workouts. I felt all grown up, not like the Coach of course, but still more adult than the other students. Hell, some of the other guys still had the little boy dicks that weren't bigger than a pencil.

Today though, Coach joined me in the shower and started washing around his big dick, soaping it up a lot, pulling the skin back to clean. I watched as his thick head came out and he rubbed his fingers all around it. I tried not to look, but it was so cool to see. Oh my God! It started getting bigger and longer. The flabby skin started to stretch out. He was getting hard too. I didn't feel so embarrassed anymore about my own lengthening prick. He turned to look at me and his eyes were real dark. I felt odd, kind of scared. I turned off the water and grabbed my towel. I wasn't exactly afraid, but my hands shook as I dried off. I grabbed my underwear and stepped into it, hopping to get the other leg in when I felt his hand on my shoulder. I bit back the scream. This wasn't right. Something was so wrong.

The Coach spun me around and pushed on my shoulders. When I was down on my knees, his huge, fat cock was right in my face, hard as stone. I didn't even try to stop shaking. I was terrified. Grown ups aren't supposed to do that in front of kids. He yanked my hair and I opened my mouth to scream when he pushed that fat, dripping thing into my mouth. He kept pulling me by the hair down on that thing as he pushed his hips into me. I was choking. It was so big, and I couldn't breathe. I bit down, trying to get him to take it out. I heard him curse and pull out before he backhanded me. I went flying. I heard his wet, bare feet slap against the concrete floor. He picked me up and pushed me down on the bench, facing it. Before I knew what was happening, he was pushing against my ass, pushing hard. I screamed louder than I'd ever screamed before. It hurt so damn bad I couldn't see for the pain.

When he popped into me, I felt something tear, as if he'd cut me in two pieces. I knew I was crying. I hated to cry. I never cried. It hurt my Mama too bad when I cried. But I was crying now. It hurt. Oh God! Please let it stop hurting. Maybe the janitor heard me scream. Maybe the principal stayed late. Maybe there was someone who forgot something. Please! Anyone. Stop this!

I woke up screaming. My voice was ragged from screaming. It didn't stop though. The walls were inky black; no light broke up the endless night, the nightmarish black of darkness. I kept screaming, yelling out pain and anguish for long minutes. I couldn't stop shaking. My entire body trembled, but I couldn't move. The dark was closing in around me. My lamp was less than an arm length away, but I couldn't reach for it. When the first rays of dawn softened the dark, the tears began to fall.

I watched the sun's light create shadows across my bedroom, tolling away each hour, and yet I didn't move one muscle. Tears, screams, silence, sobs all filled the time as I stared at nothing and everything. The ringing phone filled the silence, but I heard it barely and had less inclination to answer it. When the daylight started to fade, I knew I couldn't stay in bed. The darkness was too great. With day's last light, I left my bed and moved through the house quickly, turning on each light, every lamp. If it had helped, I'd have opened the refrigerator, just to add more light to chase away the darkness.

My movements were furtive, restless as I paced away the long hours of night. Coffee was brewed and guzzled as fast as I could drink it. When dawn's light shown through the curtains, I sank to the floor in my living room, screaming out. "He raped me!"

***** Taylor *****

Ok, so maybe the world did fall apart while I was dealing with personal matters. We'd had two kids with panic attacks, one of my kids had been hospitalized the night before, and the Principal had more than a few words to say about my disappearance. I told him to fuck off, which had the man puffing up like a blowfish, and then I verbally chopped him into fillets before leaving his office. I didn't care what the arrogant walrus thought of me; no one treated me like a prissy little wimp.

Truth be known, I was worried about Andrew. I wanted to know he was okay. The day only got worse, and I ended up staying late, trying to help a kid whose home life was a wreck. By the time I got home, I was too exhausted, mentally and emotionally, to do anything but grab a bite of leftover chicken and crawl into bed. I found myself wishing Andrew was there. I could have used a pair of arms holding me, even if only a friend's arms. Hard days reminded me of just how alone I really was.

Larry grinned at me as he climbed the bleachers during lunch on Friday. "I hear you bent fat, old Harris over his desk and fucked him a new asshole yesterday."

I grunted, chewing on my sandwich. "Don't I wish? Then I'd at least have gotten something out of the ordeal."

Chuckling, Larry sat down and smacked my thigh. "If you ever swing the other way, bud, please don't pick a prick like Harris. The idea of you and that fat, arrogant whale is just gross."

I smiled. "Larry, you'd be grossed out if I swung with anyone in the other direction."

He shrugged. "Yeah, probably." He unscrewed his thermos and took a swig. "I just don't get it, you know? Why would a guy want a guy when there are women to be had?"

I just smiled. "Talking to the wrong man, bud. I was in the fashion industry; remember? I saw it all."

He shuddered. "All those limp wrists. How the hell did you stand it?"

I shrugged, trying not to get offended. "I accept people for whom they are Larry, not -what- they are. Black, white, male, female, Christian, Moslem, Buddhist, straight, gay it all doesn't mean anything. What matters is who the person is. How he lives his life. How he loves and cares for others. The rest is just window dressing."

Larry looked out at the field. "You doing okay?"

I nodded. "Yeah, just worried about a friend."

"Anything we can do?"

I shook my head and smiled. Larry might have been a bit narrow minded, but he had a big heart and he was honest. "No, but thanks."

"You'd do the same for me."

It's true, I would.

I got home from work and found myself too antsy to go for my jog to the gym. I had put my bike in the SUV; checked my instructions, put in a set of clothes, water, etc. I didn't want to be packing late. I wanted to get rested up. The race started tomorrow at nine in the morning. I wanted to be there by seven-thirty.

I didn't see Andrew's truck in the parking lot when I pulled in. That wasn't a good sign. Lee looked haggard, and Charlotte was in the main gym. Charlotte was never here at night. She worked the place morning until about four in the afternoon.

"Hey, Taylor." Lee's smile didn't make it to his eyes. "I'll work with you tonight. I was just trying to figure out what your routine was from Andrew's notes."

I frowned. "Where's Andrew?"

Lee breathed deep. "I don't know. Both Charlotte and I have called his place twice. He hasn't called back. Frankly, I'm worried."

My heart was in my throat as I thought about all the possibilities. I should have checked on him yesterday. I should have been a friend and followed up. Hell, even as a therapist I would have done that. "Do you have Andrew's address?"

Lee blinked. "Sure, but we don't give out that stuff to clients."

"Please, Lee. I think I know what's going on." He looked at me suspiciously and I shook my head. "You've got to trust me, please. I have to make sure he's okay."

Lee shook his head and pulled out a note pad. "Just don't do anything stupid." He ripped out the page he'd scribbled the address on.

"I won't."

I took the sheet and was on the road in moments. Andrew's address was out of town. There was no fucking way I'd figure out how to get there. Thank God for Onstar. I hit the button and gave the voice the address. Ok, there are certain things about technology I really, really liked. Getting me to places without getting lost was one of my favorites.

I wasn't sure I had the right place as I turned off the road and followed the drive back. The old house I stopped in front of had all the lights on inside. I couldn't see any movement, but I did see Andrew's truck parked around the side. I got to the front door and pressed the buzzer. He didn't answer. I slammed the knocker a few times and pounded, but there wasn't any response. The fucking thing was locked.

The images coming to my head as I ran around to the side of the house had my gut clenching. How the fuck could I have left him to fend for himself? I knew the memories were surfacing. What would he do faced with the knowledge of what'd happened? How bad had it been? The side door was unlocked. It was stupid, but I went in anyway.

"Andrew?" I made it through the mudroom and into the kitchen, and looked around. The coffee pot was on; mostly empty, but no Andrew. "Andrew, it's Taylor!"

I made it to the living room and was frozen by what I saw. Andrew was sitting on the floor near the coffee table. He was sort of rocking, looking distant, and clutching his knees. He was alive. I wanted to run over and pull him to me. I didn't. My training kicked in and I realized that too much of a shock would be a bad thing.

"Andrew... it's me, Taylor." I approached him slowly, sinking to my knees near him. "I'm here."

He blinked a couple times and his eyes seemed to focus on me. His cheeks were tear streaked and his eyes were bloodshot. The dark hollowness around his eyes told me everything I needed to know. He stopped rocking, his eyes only vaguely fixed on mine. I couldn't stop myself when I reached up and cupped his cheek. He pressed into it, his eyes closing, and I felt his body tremble.

"I'm here, Andrew. You don't have to face it alone."

His body slid against me as I pulled his head to my shoulder. The sob that he breathed into my neck tore me to pieces. He'd remembered. I didn't have to say anything. I don't think I really wanted to know what had happened. I had him and I wasn't going to let him suffer through it alone again. I hadn't been there for him when it happened, but I was here now. It was all I could do.

I don't know how long I held him, letting him cry. When he finally stopped and sat up, looking uncomfortable and worried, I tried to give him my best smile as I stood up and held out my hand. "Come on, let's put you to bed."

He looked like I'd just told him we were going to cut off his balls. I squeezed his hand and pulled. He made it to his feet. "I'll stay, Andrew. You don't have to tell me anything. All I need to know is my friend is hurting. After that, it's a done deal. Lets get you washed up, in bed, and I'll stay."

I don't think he knew what to say. Hell, I don't think he was thinking all that clearly. I had to guide him up to his bedroom, after I was able to get an answer as to what room was his, and got him to the master bath. He needed to feel clean, to have something comfortable. I didn't even blink as I got him out of his shorts and pulled off my clothes. God he stank. I'd had to sober up some of my frat brothers in the shower before, so I knew how to handle bigger dopey guys in a stupor. The thing was, I didn't want to sober him up. I wanted him relaxed enough to get to sleep.

Any other time, being in a shower with a man like Andrew would have either turned me on or scared me to death. I didn't see the man. I saw the hurting child. I helped him wash and dry. He looked at me, his eyes so lost in the pain of memory.

"Why are you doing this?" His voice was so small, so tired, and so full of doubt.

I smiled as I slid my briefs back on. "You're my friend, Andrew. Do I need another reason?"

He shook his head and followed me into the bedroom. "No, I guess not."

He looked uncomfortable as he pondered the bed.

"It's okay, Andrew. Really. I'm just going to turn out some of the lights downstairs, okay?"

He nodded and sat on the bed. He was still sitting there when I got back. Damn it was a big house. I had no idea how he could afford a place like it. I ran my fingers through his hair, just like I would a kid, but he leaned into my touch like it was water to parched earth. I held my hand there, in his hair, as he pressed against my palm. His eyes were closed, and he just sat there for the longest time. Finally, he took in a breath.

"Thank you."

I smiled. For a split second I had the impulse to kiss him, but I pushed it aside. I didn't need that complication. He needed his friend. "You're welcome."

I woke up once after we'd gone to bed. Andrew had pulled me to him and was clutching to me. I had to shift until we were spooned before it was anything resembling comfortable. I supposed I was his shield against the nightmares. As I slipped back under, I admitted I liked the feeling of not being alone.