***

Challenges

Part XVII

***

Modern Day

***

Jason inhaled deeply. He couldn't remember the last time he had slept so well. He could feel the sun peppering his skin with warmth, but he didn't want to open his eyes. He wanted to stay like this. Warm, in his bed. He rolled over on his side, but the bed did not give way as it usually would have. He put his hand down, but instead of feeling the give-way of the mattress, his fingers felt a mess of small pieces of paper, with a hard surface underneath. He shot open his eyes, which he wished he hadn't as the sun was bright, and his eyes were not prepared. He closed them and opened them slowly. His vision returned and he saw that he was lying on a bed of thick green grass.

He froze in place, only letting his eyes move to take in the landscape. There were various oak trees splattered around the plot. The grass was well manicured, and he had the sense of being in this exact spot before. The problem was he couldn't remember going to a place like this, or falling asleep for that matter. He slowly turned on his back and looked up. Above him were tree limbs with the leaves filtering out the sun. Sun beams danced around on him as if they were magic little fairies. He smiled and started to close his eyes again. The sound of running water stopped him.

He propped himself up on his elbows to look towards the sound of the running water. His eyes shifted across the landscape until he saw the source of the running water. It was large square fountain, with three levels to it. Atop was an angel that had water flowing over its wings. It was similar to the fountain that his grandmother had in her garden at the back of her house. He looked around again, and this time he saw the various flowers that she had planted every year. He was back at his grandmother's garden. The problem was she had died 10 years prior, and this place no longer existed.

"This is a peaceful place." A man's voice snapped from behind him.

Jason jumped as he didn't expect anyone else to be here. He turned around quickly, getting onto his knees. A move that apparently was not wise as he felt the world tilt and he fell over on his side from dizziness.

"Careful." The man laughed and reached out a hand to help Jason up. "You need to take some time to get oriented before standing."

Jason took the man's hand and pulled himself up. A feeling of warmth and comfort flowed through him, and all concerns seemed to end. Before him stood a man who was a god to look at. He had bright blue eyes that seemed to burn in the sun and his face was square, and clean shaven. His hair was cut short and spiked. He thought it was blonde, but he could have been wrong as the sun seemed to catch it and make it shimmer as if on fire. His body was perfect. His shirt was tight against his skin and showed off a perfect chest and abs. He had to resist the urge to reach out and touch, just to make sure he wasn't dreaming. He started to laugh.

"What is funny?" the man smiled at Jason in a way that made him feel like he was the only idiot in the room. This of course made him laugh harder.

"I was thinking to myself I want to touch you." Jason blurted out in between laughs. "But I stopped myself because I didn't want to be rude as I thought for a moment this wasn't a dream."

"Why do you think it is a dream?" The man asked moving forward a bit. As he moved his shirt moved as if it were liquid, and not cloth.

"For one, this place hasn't existed for 10 years." For every step the man took towards him, he took one back. "Second, you are here, and you are way to perfect to be here."

The man stopped and grinned. "We all have escapes. This place was one that you always felt safe, and comforted in. Are you afraid??"

"Yes." Jason again felt the urge to touch this man, and took a step forward.

"And do I make you feel comfort?"

"Yes." Jason reached his hand forward.

"Then why are you here? What do you last remember?"

Jason stopped just inches from the man's arm, and thought for a moment, but he couldn't remember. "I remembered flying out of Albuquerque after meeting what could be best described as a soul mate. We were going to meet up again in Seattle, or Albuquerque, depending on who got back when. The flight was pleasant as there were not problems, not even air turbulence." He grinned as his thoughts went back to Justin. "As we were landing there seemed to be more turbulence than usual, and as we touched down, something happened. Smoke and fire..." he stopped and reached up to the side of his face as the memory of searing fire came back to him. He felt panicked and scared. He dashed towards the man and clamped down on him. He started to cry.

The man just grabbed him back, rubbing his back, allowing Jason to cry. The shirt was cool to the touch and Jason found the feeling of comfort and joy spread through his body.

"Am I dead?" Jason put his head against the man's chest and could hear a solid beat of the heart.

"No." the man chuckled and rubbed his hair. "You are the edge, but you can live if you want too."

Jason pulled himself away, even though all he wanted to do was have the man hold him. "Why am I here?"

"I told you. You are scared, and this is where you go when you are scared." He started to walk away, but grabbed Jason's hand. "Come let me show you something."

Jason smiled, and happily followed the man through the garden, towards one of the far walls. It was about 6 feet high, and made out of large stones. Jason always liked this wall as it provided him with hours of fun, climbing up and down them. His grandmother told him one day he would fall off and break his neck.

"What is your name?" Jason asked absently as they passed the fountain.

"Lane." The man smiled.

"Interesting name." Jason pondered as they continued to walk in silence for a few moments.

The edge of the garden came into view, and there was the stone fence just as he remembered. However, there was a wooden gate that he did not remember being present before.

"Where did that come from?" Jason asked stopping, letting Lane's hand go.

"Beyond, are my own memories, and my safe spot." Lane grabbed Jason's hand and continued him on his way. "I want you to see something."

They got to the gate, and Lane dropped his hand. He reached into the pocket of his pants, which Jason just noticed. They were ruffled up, loose knit pants that reminded him of pajama pants. They were so loose; they did not reveal anything, the opposite of his shirt.

"Why is it locked?" Jason asked, not sure why it mattered.

"Secrets." Lane laughed as he put the key in and turned. He pushed the gate open and made a motion with his hand to have Jason go in first.

Jason went from a bright sunny day to a dimly lit room. Jason blinked to focus his eyes once again, and surveyed the room. In the center of the room was a bed, and it looked like all the lights were focused in on that bed. It reminded him of a memory sequence from a movie, where the important memories were focused on. He felt Lane stand next to him. Jason looped his arm around Lane's big trunk of an arm, and hugged him.

Lane, holding onto Jason started to walk towards the bed. As they neared Jason could see the bed was a hospital bed, and there were all types of instruments around. The heart monitor was steady, but looked weak. Jason focused on the bed, and there was Lane lying with his eyes closed. He looked younger, and half his size.

"What..." Jason started to ask, but Lane put his fingers to his lips.

As they stood there people started to appear. First a woman and man, who Jason assumed were his parents. Then another man who was wearing a doctor's coat came in, and he was followed by a younger version of Justin.

"Unfortunately," the doctor started to speak, "the cancer has returned, and this time has metastasized to other parts of his body." The doctor put his head down. "I am not sure, but we are not looking at much more time. We have him on medication for the pain, and to keep him comfortable."

The woman who seemed to be his mother started to cry and put her face into her husband's shoulder. Justin put his hands on the foot board, and closed his eyes, and seemed to be praying.

"The doctor gave me a few months to live at best." Lane said breaking Jason's concentration. "But, I was given an option." Lane grabbed Jason's hand and he led him back to the gate, which was once again locked. "I was given the option that I could either die here, or I could live another two years. A very painful two years, but I would have them." Lane unlocked the gate, and motioned for Jason to go through first.

Again, Jason had to blink as the blinding sun caused him some pain.

"What did you pick?" as Jason put his hands up to his face to block the glaring sun.

Lane came up beside him and grabbed his hand. "I choose another two years, so that I could be with the love of my life."

Jason felt a knot form in his throat. In the last image he saw Justin standing at the foot of his bed. Was that the love of his life?

Lane guided him through another garden. This one was different. Not as large and not as many trees. There was a small pond with a bridge over it; flowers growing that gave off a sweet aroma. The trees did not hide the sun as much as his grandmother's garden, but they were still attractive. In front of them a two story house appeared. He looked up and saw a man standing in the window of one of the second story rooms, but he could not make out any more features.

As they approached the door, Lane opened and let Jason in first. Inside was a nice kitchen. At the stove was a woman silently stirring a pot. She looked like the woman in the last vision, but this time more sad, and aged. As they made their way into the living room area, there was a small boy sitting playing a hand held game, and the older man sitting in a chair reading the news paper. Like the woman, he seemed sadder, and aged.

Lane stopped at the base of the stairs, and looked up them. His face was not smiling anymore, but it was somber. "That is the true joy of life. We do not know when death will come and take us away." A tear started to form on his eye. "Sometimes, just sometimes, death tells you that you have time, and gives you the last day, a time of reckoning. You can prepare for it. You can make all the arrangements you need." Lane looked back at the man and the boy on the coach. "Do you tell them? Do you tell them they only have mere seconds with you?"

"You didn't do that did you?" Jason could feel himself tear up. This was going to be more tragic then he thought.

"How could I?" Lane grabbed Jason by the hand and squeezed hard. "You can't put that much pain on their minds. They would be motivated to find ways to extend that due date, and not focus on the time you have."

He started to climb the stairs, and Jason followed silently. Was he going to be in the same situation? Was he going to have two years to live?

They got to the top of the stairs, and Lane moved down the hall to a door, and opened it, again allowing Jason to go first.

This room was different. The room was bright, and everything was lit up. Lane was lying in bed, and this time he was awake. He was talking to the man that must have been in the window: Justin. Again the lump formed in his throat.

"Do you think I will go to heaven?" the sick Lane asked with a serious look.

"You mean because of you and Grayson?" the younger Justin asked. He was holding Lane's hand now. The lump in Jason's throat grew larger.

"Grayson has been the best thing for me." Lane turned his head to look at a photo sitting there. In it was a picture of a scrawny kid standing next to Lane. This must be the love of his life, and Jason couldn't help be sigh. "But did I do the right thing giving into my feelings? Did I do the right thing by being with him?"

Justin let out a sigh. "I think you are fine. I think you did what you were supposed to do. You followed your heart, and you love Grayson. That is all we are required to do: love each other."

Jason couldn't hold back anymore and broke down crying. He turned and buried his head into Lane's chest, and did not hear the rest of the exchange.

"Justin was the only person I told about how much time I had left." He patted Jason's head and held him. "He knew the day, the hour, the minuet. He was there, when everyone else was living their life. He bore the burden, and it destroyed him a bit."

Jason turned around and found Justin crying as he was hugged up against Lane. As he watched the door to the bedroom opened, and in walked the scrawny boy, but now much older.

"Cody!" the man screamed out and ran to the bed.

"Cody?" Jason turned and asked. "Your name is Cody?"

"Cody Lane." Lane smiled and turned around. "Now it's your turn." He walked back to the door and opened it, and motioned for Jason to enter first. "You have a decision to make, and time is running out."

Jason swallowed hard and walked through the door. Again he was plunged into darkness, and had to blink his eyes. "I wish you would stop taking me from dark rooms to light rooms."

Cody laughed. "I am sorry."

The scene before Jason was simple. A hospital bed with machines hooked up. The heart monitor was steady beeping away, but it sounded weaker than it should be, similar to the beep from Cody's hospital bed. In the bed lay himself, unconscious. He could tell from where he was standing that the entire left side of his face was burned. In a chair holding his hand, softly crying was Justin.

"He's here?" Jason was shocked.

"His brother Matt flew him here so he could be with you." Cody walked over and put his hand on Justin's shoulder. "You have a decision to make."

Jason took a deep breath in. He knew what the answer was before the question was asked.

Cody looked down at his body. "You will live if you so choose so. But you will be in great pain for the rest of your life. The entire left side of your body forever will be scared. There will be no fixing all the damage. You will have to undergo various procedures to correct future issues that will pop up. It will not be easy."

Jason stood with his mouth opened. He was not expected this. "What about Justin?"

"There is no guarantee." Cody took a deep breath in. "You spent your whole lives looking for each other, and now you have found each other. You are true soul mates. But he may not be able to bear the pain and responsibility he must take. He is a good person. He is a good soul. But that grace only goes so far."

Jason stood looking at Justin and then back at his body laying there. If he could have just a few months with Justin it would be worth it all. He moved in closer to look at the burn marks on his face. His left ear was gone, and his face looked like it was melted. He reminded himself of Two-Face from the Batman series.

"Maybe I could become an evil villain." Jason laughed. Cody just stared at him. "I just found Justin, and I don't want to lose him. I want to be with him, even if he wants to leave me after a day or a month, or a year."

Cody smiled wide. "Good." The room started to fade away.

"Thank you Cody!" Jason called out as he lost conscious again.

***

Justin jumped back and hit his head on one of the monitors.

"Son of a bitch!" Justin shouted as he grabbed his head, and resisted the urge to fall over. He felt as if he would see stars like you would in a Looney Tunes cartoon.

As the pain subsided he looked back down on Jason, who was still unconscious, but no longer mumbling.

"Why did you say Cody?" Justin sat back down in the chair, but continued to rub his head. A lump formed in his throat and he felt the air leave his body. Was he thinking of a former lover, one that meant more to him?

He touched the exact spot that made contact with the monitor on his head and he sucked in a sharp breath of air, and held it. In the air he sucked in was a smell he had long forgotten. His hand stopped moving and his whole body felt a cold chill. His eyes grew wide as he smelled a cologne that he had not smelt for 9 years. It was musky, but sweet. It filled his lungs, and his senses swirled back to that moment he had dreamed of. He felt a hand touch his shoulder, and stood quickly, spinning as he did, leaning against the bed. No one was there.

"No." Justin mumbled. "No. No. No!" He felt his heart race, and took in another breath of air, again pollinated with the order that he wished he could not remember. His hands started to shake, and he bolted for the door.

He ran down the hall, past the waiting room where Matt and Jason's family were seated. He ignored Matt's call for what was wrong, and rushed to the stairs. He took each stair two at a time until he reached the first floor.

Busting out the stairwell door, he looked around. The lobby was mostly vacant, but the people turned to see the commotion that came out of the stairwell. He was not sure where he was going, but he had to go some place. He had to escape. He breathed deeply to catch his breath, but the smell was still there. It was growing stronger.

"No!" He yelled louder than he had intended, and started to run towards the front door, but stopped. Where was he going? He spotted the sign for the hospitals chapel, and headed towards there.

Entering, the chappel was empty, but several candles had been lit, supposedly by those who had prayed for their loved ones. He took a breath in, and could only smell sage. He sighed and took a seat at the rear of the chapel. He looked at the alter at the front, which was designed to be non-denominational, but at the same time serve every need that may enter. There was a cross at the back, with pictures of Christ and various other religious painting hanging around.

"Why?" Justin asked quietly. "Why take him? We just met, and you are going to take him?"

"Take who?" a voice that seemed too familiar, but so far away said from behind him.

"You know who." Justin said with hatred in his voice. "You are here to take him. Even for all that I did for you."

"You think I am death?" Justin felt a hand touch his shoulder, and warmth spread through his body like he had never felt before. He also felt peace and comfort, which caused him to sigh, and felt all the pain leave his body.

Justin looked up and there stood Cody. The one he feared and loved at the same time. He looked like his self once more. He was not the weak looking individual on the bed 9 years ago. He had his muscle mass back, and was in classic tight shirt and loose fitting pants, that he loved to wear. His eyes shone like the sun, and his hair was short, but radiated light. The rest of the room fell away, and it was only the two of them in the entire world.

"My dear friend." Cody said with a smile on his lips. "I have missed you so."

Justin felt himself move over, and Cody sat down next to him. Justin couldn't resist it, and put himself against Cody, and felt his warmth take over. He could feel tears forming in his eyes.

"Why are you here?" Justin started to sob.

"I am only here for a moment." Cody rubbed Justin's back. "I had to deliver a message, and was granted this sole opportunity."

"Message?" Justin looked up at Cody.

"Jason is a strong person, and he has love in his heart for you." He looked up as if looking at Jason lying in his bed. "I gave him the same option I got years ago. Live, or die."

"So he only has two years?" Justin closed his eyes, and pressed his head into Cody.

"No." Cody laughed. "I was sick, and no cure could be given. Jason is just injured, but will be scared for life. He had to decide if he wanted to live with the pain for the rest of his life or pass on."

"What?" Justin pulled back.

"He will be in pain and suffering his whole life. Whole portions of his body have been burned, and they will never recover. Nightmares and other things will follow. Years of surgeries, and heartache. But he wanted to live it, for a chance to be with you." Cody smiled. "You will have to decide if you are strong enough for him."

Justin just leaned his head against Cody's body, and sighed. He missed Cody.

"It was hard keeping your secret." Justin said quietly. "Knowing that you had two years left and watching the days fly by, and knowing the time fast approaching. Everyone was excited that you were getting better, but in the end..." Justin trailed off and started to sob.

"That was the best two years of my life." Cody put his head on top of Justin's head. "I think it was worth every moment. I got to spend another year with Grayson."

They sat in silence for a minute.

"I need to give you a message." Cody pulled Justin up so he could look at him. "Please tell Grayson to forgive himself. He was not responsible for my death. No one was. There was nothing he could do. Tell him the story. He felt like you got the best moments with me, as you were the one that was holding me when I passed. Tell him what happened, and why I could not tell him the truth."

Justin nodded without saying a word.

"Also," Cody continued, "Forgive yourself. You have faced many challenges that many could not have handled as well. You were there when you needed to be, and you will always be there. You were the best friend I could have ever asked for."

Justin put his head down, and sighed. Cody grabbed either side of his head, and kissed the top of it.

"Tell him I love him, and can't wait to see him, but he needs to forgive himself." Cody's body started to fade. "Tell him to find someone to care for as much as he cared for me. I understand."

As Cody's body faded from sight, Justin leaned forward and started to cry.

****

End of Part XVIII

****

Authors Note: I want to think all who have asked when the next chapter would be out. I apologize that it has been so long, but my laptop was fried by my cat, who decided to drop water on it. I lost all my files, and I lost my motivation for writing. I wanted to get this out, and wanted to edit previous chapters. That will not happen I think for a while.

If you have comments please send them to sockingsaw@hotmail.com. Please understand that I try to answer everyone's emails, but that sometimes does not happen. Also, I understand that there are errors in the writing. I am not perfect, and I am not going to catch everything. If all you want to do is point that out, you will not get a response. Please make is constructive if you have criticism.

Also please consider donating to nifty. I am posting this before the end of the 2014 year, so this could be a nice tax deduction if you so need it. Please go to donat.nifty.org.

Thanks,

Matt (Socks)