Chapter Three
Glower in the Gloaming
©2004-2005  All Rights Reserved

This is a story about  tragedies and triumphs faced in the journey of life.  For the most part, it is a work of pure fiction, though some parts draw upon a host of life experiences.  Though not in the beginning, this story will eventually contain sexual acts between consenting adults.  Gay characters have gay sex, so if this bothers you, or if it is illegal to read such materials due to your age or where you live, then please do not read further.  All copyrights are held by the author, so please do not duplicate, print, alter, or resubmit (or anything else I may have missed ) this story without first obtaining written permission from the author. 

This is my second story in the Raven Cliff series.  For those of  you who read OF LOVE AND CHANCE, you will find ONE RAY OF LIGHT  to be quite different. For one, it is told in limited third person narratives, rather than various individual points of view.  It is also a much darker, more complex delve into the nature of humanity.  It contends with spiritual and social issues, but in a completely different manner.  In similarity, it is ultimately a romantic love story that is not meant to be a quick fix, jerk-off session.  You might also recognize a few characters here and there, for lives often interconnect in ways we do not realize.  If you haven't read OF LOVE AND CHANCE, don't worry, for this story stands alone.

A special thanks to Paul for all his efforts with editing, and to Tob for his input and feedback.

If you have any comments, ideas, suggestions, etc., I would love to hear them.  Please contact me via

"You did what you could for them, Nathan.  Take comfort in that, and let the trauma team do their jobs."  He said calmly.

Max tried his best to ease his young friend's mind, but he knew that was a defeated cause before he ever began.  Nathan was a worrier by nature, he surmised.  And, he tended to carry the weight of things on his own shoulders, somehow seeing himself to blame for almost everything.  Still, Max wanted to give Nathan as much comfort as he could muster.  Nathan was special to him, as were Cindy and Aaron.  They were like the children he never had, or at the very least like his niece and nephews. 

Max never had a sister or brother, though, so he could only imagine the love he felt for these kids would be along those lines.  Max had also never married, deciding to accept his sexuality rather than follow along with what society in his time had deemed to be the only way of life.  He and his lover had instead forged a life together, defying the odds against them.  That, however, came with quite a price, one he often felt may have been too high for his dear Philip. 

As Max thought back over their past, he realized that he was scowling yet again.  For whatever reason, he kept finding himself with a glower across his face, ever since the gloaming had come.  Something about the storm and the falling night had him up in the air, and those feelings were not subsiding themselves.  As he looked at his young friend, he deduced that Nathan must have also sensed an impending doom looming about in the darkness.

Max snaked his arm slowly around Nathan's neck and shoulder, pulling him into a side-ways hug.  "Honestly, buddy, try not to worry so much.  It isn't doing you any good, nor is it doing anything for those two young men."

Max couldn't help but chuckle as he beheld Nathan's gold-green eyes looking at him with such annoyance.  He lightly ruffled Nathan's hair, bringing a slight smirk to the boy's face.

"I know i-it's not, but it's a-all I c-c-can do right n-now."  Nathan sighed.  His face rumpled in such a way that Max knew his plight.

"I know how you feel, Nathan, but we have to stay positive."  Max heard himself saying, yet finding his own words hard to swallow.  He just could not shake that uneasiness that had his stomach in knots.

Aaron looked over from snuggling with Cindy and smiled.  "It really isn't that hard to do Nathan.  You just have to realize that you cannot control everything," he said, reaching out and patting his friend's shoulder, "and that you are not to blame for every single thing that happens."  He added in a soft voice, and Max found himself smiling at Aaron intently.  "I know you all too well, beautiful.  You did everything you could for them, so quit second-guessing yourself."

Max grinned as Cindy reached over and took Nathan's hand in her own.  "He's right, sweetness.  All the worry in the world will not change what has happened."  She brought his hand to her lips and kissed it ever so gently.  "The past is the past, babe.  You have to learn to let it go and move on."

For the hundredth time that day, Max reaffirmed to himself why those three kids were so special to him.  They were there for each other, through thick and thin.  They each held an incredible perceptive quality, easily seeing inside of others and identifying with their pain.  And, they were all three very lovable children, in Max's opinion.

Aaron had this cocky, playful nature that kept you laughing; a perpetual smile adorned his handsome features almost constantly.  Cindy had her snide, witty jabs that brought a hearty smile to your face; yet, she also had a loving glow in her eyes which were illuminated by her caring soul.  And, then, there was Nathan.

Max had to agree with Aaron's assessment and pet name for him.  Nathan was beautiful; no other word would possibly fit him better.  True, he was very handsome, but there was so much more to Nathan than that. 

He possessed the most humble, gentle nature Max had ever encountered.  Nathan also held a loving, compassionate spirit that radiated in his eyes and smile; he practically glowed with its light, in fact.  His every action seemed so selfless to Max, as he believed Nathan to always be placing the needs and desires of others far above those of his own. 

That, Max surmised, was both Nathan's gift and his curse; his young friend thought so little of himself, he just could not see the true beauty that dwelled inside.  Max sadly wondered if he ever would.

Max felt himself moving towards tears as he reflected upon the tragic life his dear friend had faced.  He recalled the many heart-to-heart talks the four of them had shared, as Nathan bared his very soul to them.  The countless times Nathan was physically and verbally abused by his step-father Jasper Morton, the uncaring indifference of his birth mother Barbara, those things had left many scars upon Nathan's heart.  Then, the death of his natural father had left Nathan with little hope of ever escaping their cruelty.  But, the sexual abuse the poor boy faced had tainted his life, possibly forever Max feared.

A shimmer of liquid sorrow dripped from the corner of Max's eye as he thought about all of that.  He remembered the vivid details Nathan had disclosed to him, and he could practically visualize the entire ordeal the poor kid had undergone.  At the age of nine, Nathan had been raped by Jasper, and with the added aid of Barbara no less; she, his own flesh and blood mother, helped to hold the terrified Nathan down so Japer could force his way upon him... well, into him was more like it.  Then, if that were not enough, the two of them sold Nathan out to anyone who had the money.  One of these men had been so brutal, so savage in his conquest of Nathan that the kid had taken to the streets for safety.  There, Nathan faced starvation unless he committed the most painful act Max could possibly imagine; Nathan was cornered into placing himself back into the exact same situation from which he had fled. 

In Max's view, when Nathan was at home, he had no choice in the matter; he was forced to do what Jasper wanted.  However, on the streets, Nathan had to willingly sell himself, succumbing to the sexual desires of grown men in order to survive.  Granted, Nathan had little option, but he still had a choice.  And as heart wrenching as it was, Nathan had to make that God-awful choice all alone in a darkened alleyway.  Max knew this fact was what haunted that boy who had become so dear to him. 

All the years of being told how worthless he was were culminated in that instant.  Of that, Max was certain.  From what he gathered, Nathan had never had much self esteem.  But, once he had willingly accepted his first trick, Max realized that Nathan lost all sense of self worth.  That downward spiral took upon a whirlwind pace as Nathan did what was necessary to survive.

As the tears trickled down Max's cheeks, he bit his lip in an angry scowl.  In his mind, Barbara and Jasper Morton were to blame for all the atrocities young Nathan had faced.  Max just hoped that they both found themselves playing bitch for many a horny and relentless inmate, if only that they would suffer an inkling of the harm they had caused his dear Nathan.

'May you both be tortured as you rot in your cells!  May your pleading cries for help fall upon deaf ears!  May you suffer until the day you each rid this earth of your disgusting presence!'   Max proclaimed in his thoughts.  ' Then, may your agony truly begin as you both burn in hell!'

 Max pulled Nathan snugly to him, kissing the top of his head.  "She's right, Nathanael.  You need to let the past go and realize your potential in this new life you've been granted."  As he held Nathan to him, Max whispered "I love you, kid.  Don't ever forget that."

And he did.  Max loved all three of those kids with everything inside of him.  Never before had he felt such a love for anyone other than his life-partner Philip.  Despite their many traumatic hardships, Max remained faithfully devoted to his darling Philip for over forty years.  That was the thing about Max; once he loved someone, it was forever.  That brought a small smile to his face as he again took in those wonderful children who had become such a vibrant part of his world.

'Such a brilliant future.'  Max assessed to himself.  Coming of age during the social reforms of the 1960's, Max held strong to many of the beliefs he had developed during the times of LOVE and PEACE.  This philosophy had perpetuated itself into Max's adult life, becoming his personal mantra.  True, because of Philip's family and his position as both an attorney and then family court justice, they had to live their love in secret.  But, in those same shrouds of secrecy, Max had found a way to build upon his dream:  to make the world a better place. 

In order for Philip and Max to get their first apartment, a pretense had to be started.  That was how Maxwell Billings had been born.  He had assumed the identity to pass as Philip's cousin, a necessary lie to protect themselves from the hatred of society that was all around them. 

However, Max's true name was Uzziel Uriel Shalom.  As Philip's career had grown, none of those in that circle knew of Uzziel, which gave Max a freedom to follow his heart.  After his parent's deaths, Uzziel used what fortunes his family had amassed and began building his dream.  He had known he could never do so in the foregrounds of the fight, but at least he could make a difference in the background, safely shrouded in secrecy.

It was simply named THE MISSION, but during the 29 years of its existence, it had touched many lives.  It had started out as a simple shelter, a safe haven for those suffering hardship.  In time, it grew to meet the needs of the community of Raven Cliff.  At that very moment, The Mission held 57 unique program departments, each addressing a different area of need for families and members of the community.

Uzziel felt strongly about the importance of community and family, though his interpretations of the words far exceeded those who were in current political power.  To them, the freedoms and sanctities of life for which those words held meaning were to be granted only to persons who fit into what they deemed as moral and decent.  However, to Uzziel, those words were bonds that connected every single life to one another and to the father who created all things; in his beliefs, everyone was entitled to these precious gifts, for we were but one world, one large family struggling to exist together. 

And, in that lay Uzziel's dream.  He wanted to help bring about a world in which all persons were given the respect and dignity of life that were an innate part of being a society.  To Uzziel, family and community were the building blocks of the social order he prayed would one day evolve.

That, Max realized was another reason why those children were so important to him.  They were the future.  The older members of society had been so deeply rooted in prejudices and stereotypical thinking that he saw little hope for change.  But, the youth of the world had fresh, moldable minds and hearts that had not yet been hardened.  In them, Max felt the seeds of hope lay dormant; all they required was to be nurtured in love, tolerance, and understanding.

As he assessed his three young friends, he could not help but smile.  'A truly bright, magnificent future for us all.'  He affirmed to himself.

As they tried to console Nathan, Max became aware of eyes that were set upon him.  Glancing towards the front desk, he spied them.  They were six more reasons to find hope for the world, Max thought.  Only two of the six were aware of his presence, and they were perhaps the brightest beacons of faith and hope Max had ever encountered:  Aisa and Chance.  Both boys held radiant smiles as they waved to him. 

Aisa had grown some over the past year, Max realized, for he now stood at 6'4", the same height as his father Kanawha.  Aisa's stocky frame had also become more defined.  His pale blue eyes glistened with the kindness that Max knew sprang from his very being.  His dark black hair jetted about every which way, ending in tips of electric blue haircolor.  His pale complexion seemed to only enhance his charming looks.

Chance, on the other hand, had hardly grown much at all.  He was still so lean and thin, though Max knew it wasn't from starvation; that kid could eat his weight in food easily.  Chance stood at 5'9", and Max grinned as he remembered the young man glowing as he proudly proclaimed his one inch growth spurt.  His dark brown hair was a jumble of unruly curls, setting off his hazel eyes which shifted from green to blue with his changing moods.  His high cheekbones and square jaw were highlighted by the dimples that showed when he smiled.

They were both extremely perceptive young men whom Max knew held a divine purpose.  But, then again, so it was with their entire family.  Kal and Kanawha, the boys' fathers, were the very epitome of all love represented.  Brad and Pete were Aisa and Chance's new brothers, and Max felt certain those two boys also held an important destiny.  The six of them had been blessed by the Father, and their presence always made Max feel a warm glow emanate within his soul.

Softly, Max gripped Nathan's shoulder, gaining his attention.  "Looks like you have visitors."  He said, pointing out Nathan's adoptive uncles and cousins.  "Maybe that's a sign."  Max noted, more to himself.

Nathan grabbed Max's hand, giving it a squeeze that felt like desperation.  "I-I sure hope s-so." He replied, and Max understood the worry which again lined Nathan's face.

"So do I, buddy.  So do I."  Max mumbled as he rose to his feet.  As the four of them made their way across the lobby, Max realized Nathan was not the one they were there to see.

"Love, Coal is here somewhere.  God, I just pray he is OK."  Kal stated softly, as Max wondered what was wrong with Cole.

"Dad, what's wrong with Aunt Cole?"  Brad asked as Max noted tears of worry gleaming in his eyes.

Kal bent down and caressed his young son's face.  "Oh, Son, no.  He... It's not your Aunt Cole, it is a friend of mine.  His name is Coal also, but it isn't even spelled the same way.  Nothing is wrong with your aunt, though, Brad."  He soothed.  The relieved look on Brad's face mirrored that which Max felt himself.  He did not want to see anything bad happen to anyone in Kal and Nathan's extended family.  Then, Max felt slightly stupid as he realized Kal had said he, not she, in his previous statement.

Kal looked up to his husband Kanawha.  "I'm worried about Coal, and his baby girl, too."

Kanawha chuckled lightly, as he rubbed Kal's shoulder.  Max found himself wishing for Philip's comforting embrace at that moment.  "Love, I'm sorry, but I just cannot see why anyone would name their daughter Malice."

A lopsided grin grew on Kal's face as he shook his head lightly.  "No, Love.  Malice is a cat, a huge gray fluffy cat that is probably a good six pounds overweight."

Max gripped Nathan's shoulder tightly as the reality of the situation set in.  Nathan looked at him and the lines of worry grew sharply.

"D-D-Did y-y-you say c-cat?"  Nathan asked, and Max noticed his young friend's entire body trembling.

"Yes."  Kal replied, as he looked up somewhat startled.  "Oh, hey Nathan!  Wait.  What are you guys doing here in the middle of a blizzard?"  A concern began to cross Kal's face, and Max felt he would probably have laughed had the circumstances not been so grim.

Nathan clenched Max's hand, leaning his head on his shoulder.  "I kn-new it, Max.  Th-this i-i-is bad."

"Does your friend drive an older tan truck?"  Cindy asked Kal.

"Yes, he does.  Why?"  Kal responded, the concern growing even more.

"Well, we kinda found him, Kal."  Aaron stated gently.  "And another young guy too.  Both of them were, well, injured and sorta buried under some snow on the side of the street."

"WHAT?"  Kal seemed terrified with hearing this, though Max himself could not think of any easier way to have broken that particular news.

Young Pete moved over and took his father's hand in his own.  The immediate effects of this did not escape Max's attention, and he found himself again realizing that Pete and Brad were indeed destined for something important.  Kal's shoulders slumped in an almost completely relaxed state, as his overall affect calmed quickly.  Pete stroked his dad's hand for a moment, then let it go. 

"I'm not sure what happened, Kal, but they were both in pretty bad shape."  Max responded.  "They had injuries I don't even claim to know about, but Nathan does."  He added, turning to his young friend.  'Come on now, son.  You can do this.' He thought encouragingly.

"W-w-well, h-h-h-he... umm, h-h-h..."  Nathan started.  Tears filled his eyes as he quickly shut them and began humming to himself.  All the while, Max's heart reached out to him.

Nathan tried to explain again and again, but his tongue simply twisted his words as they hung in his throat in a seemingly endless stutter.  The streams shimmered down his cheeks, and Max, too, found himself crying as Nathan held his head down in defeat.  He could only imagine what pain his dear Nathan felt in that moment.

Pete stepped over and took Nathan's head between his hands, stretching up on the tips of his toes to give it a gentle kiss.  "It's OK, Nathan.  Just relax and breathe."  He calmly stated.  Max was once again amazed at the reaction Pete's tranquil presence could bring, for Nathan began to calm himself almost immediately.  "That's it, Nathan.  Just relax and let it all out."  Pete soothed.

Taking Nathan's hand in one of his own, Pete lifted Nathan's head with the other.  "Now, tell us what happened."  Pete said, ever so calmly.

"W-we were going t-to Cindy's house.  On the w-way, we saw the t-t-truck.  One of the g-guys was n-n-naked, a-a-and he h-had been b-beaten.  Then, I f-f-found the o-other m-m-man a-a-and his c-c-c-cat."  Nathan softly began.  Max reached out his hand and gently rubbed Nathan's back as the boy explained everything that had happened and the injuries he suspected. 

"The thing is, Uncle K-kal, he l-l-lost a lot of blood.  I'm k-k-kinda w-worried about that."  Nathan added, gripping his uncle in a firm hug.  "A-and, h-his throat was c-c-c-cut.  Th-that can't be good, e-e-either."  Nathan let out a sigh that sounded as if his world were ending.  "I d-don't even wanna think ab-bout that c-c-c-cat.  Sh-she must r-really love him."

Kal wiped the tears from his eyes and tried to compose himself.  The sight of him moved Max's heart as he thought of what a fine young man Kal was.  Kal worked for Max... well, for Uzziel, anyway... at The Mission, and he had been recruited by order of Uzziel himself. 

There had been several letters recommending Kal for scholarships at the university, and one of those scholarships happened to be sponsored by The Mission.  Upon reading about such a fine, outstanding young man, Max felt certain he could be a catalyst for positive change in many people's lives.  So, Uzziel arranged for Kal to be interviewed.

>From the interview notes, Max had learned that Kal was everything the letters of recommendation had stated, if not more.  He had also learned that Kal had several close friends whom all wanted to attend school together.  After dwelling on the matter and consulting guidance through prayer, Uzziel made Kal and his friends an offer.  That offer, in Max's opinion, was one of the best decisions he had ever made. 

Together, the lot of them made such an impact.  The seven grew into eight when Mic had married Thomas, another of Uzziel's personal recruits.  Then, Kanawha, Jena, and Ethan had joined their little family.  Before long, their residence was bubbling with new additions, each making a contribution to the lives of others.  That was why Max had decided last year that Uzziel would sell the band of friends the old hotel at just a fraction of its true value.

Together, they had given a loving home to twelve children in need.  They also had given counsel and guidance to a group of young, confused, and scared homosexuals (a group which Max himself sponsored), leading them to find purpose in their lives through helping one another at school and feeding the homeless.  And, together, they had developed a special home for homeless teens, as well. 

In the beginning, Max had purchased the hotel as a means to entice Kal and his friends into joining The Mission; he had offered it to them as a home, rent and utility free, in exchange for working for him there.  Still, he tended to their needs by making sure they had enough of a paycheck to bring home, along with periodic allotments to make the hotel into a place of their own.  Then, when Kal and Kanawha needed to purchase a home in order to adopt the boys, Max's path became clear.   He had Uzziel sell them the place, adjusting their pay to make sure they could afford to live; of course, the adjustments were passed off as differentiating the residence and utilities they were no longer receiving for their work, and no one had been the wiser.

As Max looked at the young couple, he smiled to himself.  'Yes, Uzziel, they are truly one of your better decisions.'

Kal reached out and pulled Nathan into his arms.  "You are right about that, buddy.  Malice loves Coal with her very life."  He leaned back slightly to look Nathan in the eyes.  "Coal feels the same way about her, if you were wondering."  He smiled.  Then, Max noticed tears again filling Kal's eyes.  "She is his entire world, honestly.  Oh, God, please let them both be OK, and that other kid, too."

Time seemed to slowly crawl by for the next twenty or so minutes.  During that time, the group paced the lobby, trying to comfort one another from their worry.  Then, Kal's cell phone rang.

"Hello... Yes, this is he... Coal, yes, I know him.  Why?... Yes, I know.  That is where I am right now... He what?... Oh, well, yeah, sure.  I'll be there in just a minute." 

Kal had a look of confusion on his face as he hung up his phone.  Kanawha moved quickly into position to comfort him.  Again, Max found himself longing for Philip.

"Love, that was the hospital.  Apparently, they have figured out who Coal is from his wallet.  I guess that is how they had my cell number, too.  Anyway, she says that Coal has me listed as his next of kin in their records."  Kal seemed to swallow hard to fight back his tears.  "The thing is, Love, he has absolutely no one other than Malice and Mrs. Turner.  To think that he would actually list me as his next of kin..."  Kal trailed off.

Kanawha wrapped his husband in his strong, bulky arms.  Max mused to himself as to how gentle Kanawha could be, particularly for one of his size and physical might.  Max also knew he possessed quite a temper, but that rage was only fueled by the protective love Kanawha felt for those he held near and dear.  Overall, Max knew him to be an outstanding young man and an excellent father.

"Love, if you only knew all the things that poor man has been through."  Kal crossed his arms and snaked his hands along Kanawha's forearms which held him.  Leaning his head back on his lover's shoulder, he sighed.  "He is such a good man, too, Love.  He doesn't ever seem to see it, but he is, just the same.  He certainly is not deserving of something like this."  Again, Kal trailed off into tears.

"No one is, Dad."  Aisa said softly, wrapping his arms around Chance. 

Max had to smile, seeing how much those boys mirrored their fathers.  The love each held for his partner was as evident as it was with Kal and Kanawha.  Max, too, was certain that these two young men would spend their entire lives in love together, just as he knew it would be for their fathers.  He just prayed each couple had a much easier journey than he and Philip had endured.

Again, Max thought of his beloved partner, and a strong yearning filled his very soul to the point of aching. 'Wherever you are, Philip, know that I love you.' he declared within his heart.  'Just be safe and sound, my love.'

Max could almost feel Philip's arms around him, and his skin began to tingle.  In his mind, he could see his lover standing before him.  Of course, over the forty years they had been together, both Max and Philip had changed considerably.  Still, Philip was the only match that could ever light the fires of passion within Max's heart.  Often, Max believed he would burn beyond control at the very touch of Philip's lips, which he could almost feel brushing against his own. 

Just as he was losing himself to his pleasant fantasy, Max smelled that familiar scent as a hand firmly grasped his shoulder.  His hand reached up and gently stroked the fingers of that all too familiar hand.  "I was just thinking about you."  Max sighed.

"Were you, now?"  The deep baritone voice of Philip actually triggered something in Max's ears, sending a shuddering shiver down his back.

Max turned to his partner and smiled.  Man, was he a sight for sore eyes.  Philip stood at 6 feet tall, just an inch beyond Max's own height; to Max that made them a perfect fit, especially when spooning together at night.  He had soft tan eyes, which were a sharp contrast to Max's almost black ones.  Philip also had a paler complexion than Max, though he still would be what one would consider tan.  His light brown hair was slightly peppered with grey around his ears and nape.  There were a few creases that adorned his face now, but Philip was holding up quite well, Max assessed.  The love of Max's life was dressed in one of his usual dark suits, carefully tailored to fit perfectly.  The crisp, clean creases that lined the outfit, the well polished shoes, it all screamed Philip; at least, that is how Max saw it. 

Max leaned in, careful to not draw too much attention to them, and whispered.  "With you looking like that, how could I possibly think of anything else?"

Philip just chuckled lightly giving both of Max's shoulders a gentle squeeze.  Max knew this was about as affectionate as it was going to get for them, as Philip had his career to think about.  He sighed within himself as he looked over at Kal and Kanawha snuggled up together, holding hands as usual.  What he would not have given for Philip to hold his hand right then... or, to even give him a gentle hug, much less a kiss.  But, at least Max knew he had Philip's heart, and in all honesty, that was what really mattered.  That thought brought a slight grin to Max's face.

"I got your message as soon as I reached home.  Needless to say, I was worried sick.  So, well over an hour later, I finally made it here."  Philip explained quietly.  "I didn't want you to be alone, honey."

Max was startled, but in such a joyful way.  Philip had not changed overnight, but at least he was making an effort.  Max recalled his telling Philip that if he could not stand up and be counted, then Max could no longer be a part of Philip's life.  That had happened at the hearing where Philip eventually awarded Kal and Kanawha adoption of Chance, Brad, and Pete; that small action had changed the lives of those three boys for the better.   But, it had cost Philip a good bit of public support.  For that very reason, Max found it to be one of the most romantic declarations of love Philip had ever given him.

"I've had some good company," Max smiled, pointing out his nine companions, "but no company is more welcomed than yours, my darling."

Philip blushed and gave Max's shoulders another squeeze.  Then, the two walked casually over to the rest of the group.  As they took two unoccupied seats, Philip seemed surprised to find Brad quickly seated in his lap, a sight that only warmed Max's heart.

Pete wrapped his arms around Philip's neck and gave him a strong hug.  "I never got to thank you, sir."  He said softly.  "I'll never forget you, though, or what you did for us."

Philip ran his hand along Brad's head, grasping his nape lightly.  "It was my pleasure, young man, but thank you just the same."  He then smiled at Max.  "I have no doubts that my decision was the right one, and it does my heart good to see you boys are happy, healthy, and safe."

"We's got us some good dads is why."  Chance chimed in, and Max noted the small smirk on Philip's face as he again experienced everything which was CHANCE.  "I reckon we's just glad you could see that n' all when ya did." 

Chance rolled his eyes as his entire body expressed what he was feeling.  "Man, I's gotta tell ya, though, you had me just sweatin' 'em ol' bullets while you's tellin' us what you 'cided to do.  I just knowed for sure I wasn't never gonna see my dads again.  But, you sure 'prised me in a real good way when you said what you did!"  He enthused.

As Philip's smiling face turned towards Max, it had him grinning.  Then, softly Max said.  "Maybe now you understand why."

"I never doubted why." He replied, again bringing a tingling joy to Max's heart.  He knew exactly what Philip was saying:  he had made his decision solely on his love for Max.

"Remind me to tell you something later."  Max replied, as he desperately desired to show his lover just how much that meant to him.  Max realized however, it would be an agonizing wait before he would be able to do that.

As Brad, Chance, Pete, and Aisa talked with Philip, Max smiled.  Philip, he knew, was enjoying every minute of affection and attention those young men were pouring upon him.  Max had always believed Philip would have been a wonderful father.  Then, his mind began to ponder this. 

He could imagine Philip, in a time when they were much younger, coming home to him.  He would be greeted at the door by a swarm of anxious children, all thrilled that Daddy was finally home.  Max would sigh happily as he watched Philip roughhousing with the boys, while gently assuring each of the girls that Daddy was glad to see them, too. 

Philip would finally make his rounds and greet their other father, who was every bit as happy to see their Daddy safely back home.  Dinner would be ready, and their large family would enjoy the meal together, discussing each of their days.  While Max would clean up the mess, Philip would help the children with their homework. 

Next, they would spend the evening together playing board games and pursuing the children's interests. 
Then, Max and Philip would read a story with their brood.  After a wonderful evening, both fathers would tuck their children into bed, saying prayers before kissing each one good night.  Finally, Philip and Max would snuggle in the living room, fondly discussing how lucky they were for having such wonderful children.

That had been their dream, many, many years before.  It was a simple dream, really, one that most couples shared.  They had wanted a family. 

However, at that particular time in their lives, society was quite different.  By the time it had begun to change even slightly, Philip had long before entered his career in law.  The world was still, for the most part, indifferent and biased in its views towards lesbians and gays, but it was a far better world than the one Max and Philip had lived through.

Still, Max could not help himself but wonder if it had been fair of him to have ever loved Philip.  The price of that love had been so very high, as many of Philip's dreams had to be compromised or abandoned altogether.  Was Max really what Philip had needed?  Would Philip have been better off if he had married and followed the way of society?  Though Max could not imagine life without his beloved, he felt an agonizing regret for the toll that love he cherished so dearly had taken upon Philip.  And, again, Max found himself glowering.

Max became infuriated with himself as he again cast his gaze upon his life-partner, fondly conversing with the children.  'How could I be so callous and cruel?' he mentally demanded.  'Philip gave up so much for me, but I never really even thought about that before.  And, when I asked... no, forced is more like it... when I forced Philip to make his court decision regarding those boys the way I wanted it to be, what more did I cost him?  The only part of his dream he was able to really achieve was his career.  Have I screwed that up for him, too? ' 

A deep sorrow washed over Max, as he pondered the possible ramifications of Philip's decision to honor Max's wishes.  Granted, it was the right thing to do, and Max did not regret that the boys were with their loving fathers.  But, as a family court justice, Philip was in a position to do good for many people.  He could protect children from cruelties like what Nathan had faced.  He could also protect a spouse from abusive situations.  Max wondered if his desire to see justice for the gay and lesbian community might end up costing the larger community of Raven Cliff the kind and compassionate rulings he knew Philip always rendered. 

Mostly, though, he wondered if his beloved Philip would someday soon come home to him completely broken hearted.  It had happened so many times before, and each time, Max did all he could to comfort his darling.  But, a man without a dream had nothing; how could Max possibly comfort Philip if the last piece of his shattered dream slipped from his grasp.

It had started over forty years before. 
It was fall, but unseasonably warm.  The year was 1964, yet he could remember it as if it were only yesterday.  Uzziel was so small back then, standing at 5'5" and weighing well less than 100 pounds.  His dark brown hair was neatly cut, swept over into a side part, and glistening with healthy shine.  His blue slacks were well pressed, as his mother insisted he look his best.  His white short sleeve button up shirt and navy tie completed his wardrobe. 

As the maddening rush of classes halted for lunch, Uzziel decided to take advantage of the sunshine.  He carried his lunch with him as he passed through the double doors which lead to the front lawn of the high school.  It became apparent that much of the student population had also felt the beckoning of the sunshine, for the grounds were pretty much covered by them.  Uzziel sighed to himself, as he had wanted a bit of peace and quiet so desperately.

He was a shy boy, truth be told.  His small size did not help matters much, either, for he was often the target of school bullies.  But, then again, most of the freshmen were.  Being one of the Jewish kids, though, seemed to bring with it a particular magnetic aura, for Uzziel could attract a bully from almost a mile away.  So, he always sought to blend deep within the background.

As Uzziel quietly strolled along the hedges of the lawn, he decided he would try the side entrance of the school.  To his delight, there wasn't a soul in the area.  So, he sat down beneath a maple tree and unpacked his lunch.  He was just biting into his corn beef sandwich when the most stunning guy he had ever seen began walking in his direction.

As he drew closer, Uzziel could make out his features even better.  He stood around 5'8" and possessed a fairly broad build along his upper torso.  This narrowed to a small waist and nicely shaped hips.  Uzziel liked the lighter brown hair, but he was speechless when he gazed into those soft tan eyes.

"Hey!  Are you deaf or something?"  The young man said, startling Uzziel as he found himself to be staring into the boy's eyes.

"Umm, no.  Sorry, I was just thinking."  He replied softly, as his shy nature began to take over.  Uzziel dropped his head somewhat in embarrassment.

"Well, I just asked if you minded my sitting here for lunch.  But, if you want to be by yourself..." 

"No."  Uzziel responded, almost too forcefully.  He did his best to get control over himself, but found his voice was shaky when he spoke.  "You're welcome to sit anywhere you want."

"Really?"  He asked.

Uzziel simply nodded in reply.  However, he gasped in astonishment when the young man sat himself down right upon Uzziel's lap.  The contact caused an odd reaction for Uzziel.  His stomach knotted itself up tightly, and his palms began to sweat.  A sharp tingling sensation danced its way from his spine to his groin, and Uzziel shook with panic as he knew what was about to happen.  He just prayed the young man could not feel the twitching taking place in his underpants.

After a moment, the boy turned his head to look at Uzziel.  Then, he fell over to his side, laughing violently.  Uzziel just knew he had felt it and was almost in tears from embarrassment.

"Sorry.  That was just too good to pass up."  The young guy laughed.  "If you could have seen your face!"

Uzziel let out a huge sigh of relief.  Then, he found the humor in the joke.  "Well, I was not really expecting something like that."  He said in defense.

"I know.  That was the whole point."  The boy smirked.  "I'm Philip, by the way.  Philip Billings."

Uzziel thought that was the most beautiful name he had ever heard, but then he felt uncomfortable.  He argued with himself that he should not be having thoughts like that, especially over another boy.  "I'm Uzziel."  He said softly.

"I know who you are.  We have four classes together."  Philip said, shaking his head while he chuckled at Uzziel's shocked face.  "I didn't figure you'd have known, anyway.  You never look up from your books long enough to see anybody."

Uzziel felt himself blush, knowing that Philip's assessment was true.  He really did try, but the shyness was so hard for him to overcome. He wanted nothing more than to make friends with his entire class, but it just wasn't possible.  Uzziel wasn't sure he could even do that with one person, much less hundreds. 

Philip's laughter was so melodic.  Uzziel was intrigued by the mischievousness that danced within his soft tan eyes.  Philip's lopsided grin and casual smirk made Uzziel feel a bit more at ease.

"Look, don't worry about it.  So, you're shy.  I think I can handle that."  Philip grinned.  Then, he looked away for a moment.  "I just thought that maybe you might want to talk sometime, and, you know, maybe become friends or something."

There was a sudden loss of confidence when Philip said that, which Uzziel found endearing.  He wondered to himself why a boy would have him so entranced but quickly decided to dismiss this. 

"Sure."  He smiled in reply.  "That would be nice."

That casual smirk quickly returned to Philip's face, and Uzziel realized he found this boy to be quite charming.  He knew this should bother him, but, for whatever reason, it didn't.  Maybe it was perfectly normal for friends to find something about the other as being attractive; at least, he found himself hoping that was the case.  But, something deep within Uzziel's heart told him that it didn't matter; if it meant being abnormal, Uzziel would just be abnormal.  Somehow, having Philip in his life seemed to be more important than all of that.

An awkward silence fell.  Every once in a while, one of the boys would look at the other, then smile or giggle.  But, that was all either could do for several minutes.  Then, finally, Philip broke the silence.

"You seem to be a whizz with math."  He said which took Uzziel a bit by surprise.  "I'm not very good with numbers."  Philip added, then looked at Uzziel expectantly.

It took him a moment to figure out that Philip was awaiting his reply.  Then, he laughed at himself for not picking up on the subtle hint.  "Maybe I could help you with it sometime." 

The relieved look on Philip's face let Uzziel know he had read the situation correctly.  "If you wouldn't mind, that would be great."  Philip took a deep breath, and his voice cracked slightly.  "You want to get together after school sometime and study?"

Uzziel became a bit nervous, chewing lightly on his thumb nail for a moment.  Then, he looked Philip in the eyes.  "Look, you do realize that I am Jewish, right?"  He asked, awaiting the rejection to follow.

Philip looked at him a moment, as that casual smirk again crossed his face.  "Is that supposed to explain your brilliant math skills or something?"

Uzziel was surprised to say the least.  Most of the time, once his potential friends had realized this, they quickly found a way to excuse themselves.  Later, they would avoid him like the plague.

"No, I'm good at math because I'm brilliant.  Being Jewish is just a bonus."  He laughed.  In a more serious tone, Uzziel sighed.  "So, this isn't going to be a problem?  I mean, your parents aren't going to ground you or something for this, will they?"

Philip seemed lost in thought.

"It has happened before, Philip, so I understand."  Uzziel explained.

"I don't see where it would be a problem with them."  Philip responded.  "It's not one for me, anyway."

Knowing how things had gone before, Uzziel sighed softly.  "Well, maybe you should ask them first.  If it is alright with them, then maybe you could come by for dinner sometime.  We could study afterwards, but you'll have to have dinner with us before hand.  See, my parents will want to meet you."

"Hmm.  You better give me your number then.  My mom will want to talk with yours to make sure it is ok that I come to dinner."  Then, Philip laughed.  "She makes a big deal out of stuff like that, too."

For the remainder of lunch, the two discussed the similarities their two families held.  Both boys disclosed stereotypes they had heard about the other's religion, bringing better understanding to one another as they each dispelled those myths.  Uzziel was amazed how much they had in common, as he truly hoped their religious differences would not hinder their friendship.

He was pleasantly surprised when Philip had called him that evening.  After their mothers chatted on the phone for what seemed like forever, the two boys anxiously made plans for the following day.  To further put Uzziel's mind at ease, his mother seemed to have really liked Mrs. Billings.

Philip seemed a bundle of raw nerves when they sat down to dinner that next afternoon, and Uzziel found himself sweating it out as his parents grilled Philip with their constant questioning.  To the boys' delight, however, Uzziel's parents gave their approval for him to spend time with Philip.  Two days later, it was Uzziel being drilled with questions from the Billings, yet they too gave their consent to the boys' friendship.

Over the course of the next four months, the two spent many evenings together.  They studied, but they tended to talk and goof around more than anything else.  Uzziel's feelings for Philip had grown strongly, and he worried about their meaning and consequences.

Then, three days before Hannukah, their relationship took a turn.  They had been debating the social ramifications of the continuing racial riots and the importance of recent music icons, such as Bob Dylan and the Beatles.  Of course, this was on a much smaller scale, as they were but fourteen and fifteen years of age.  But still, change was all around them, and they both hoped the changes would be for the better. 

They had been discussing music, when Philip made a lame comment that compelled a physical response from Uzziel.  So, he struck Philip over the head with a pillow.  The resulting blows brought out great laughter from the boys, turning eventually into a wrestling match.  Philip had obviously overpowered Uzziel easily, and, as he lay upon Uzziel's chest catching his breath, his hand lightly stroked Uzziel's side.

With the soft stroking of fingers to his ribs, Uzziel found himself becoming aroused.  As Philip raised his head and looked into his eyes, Uzziel realized he could never live without Philip.  Caught in a whirlwind of confusing emotions, Uzziel reached out his hand and lightly traced Philip's face.  Their calming giggles ceased in that moment and a heavy awkwardness descended. 

Uzziel brushed his hand through Philip's hair, cupping the back of his neck.  Slowly he drew him foreword.  As their lips met, an explosion of thoughts and feelings erupted.  To his dismay, Uzziel found that something else had exploded, leaving a sticky mess in his underwear.

But, the intensity of the kiss continued to build, as both young men obviously delighted in the roaming hands of the other exploring his body.  Though completely inexperienced in such matters, instinct seemed to lead them in the areas where knowledge was fleeting.  Uzziel found his heart racing to the point it felt as if it were going to rupture within his chest.  He could barely get a breath into his lungs his need for Philip was so strong.

Suddenly, Philip broke the kiss, raising himself up slightly from Uzziel.  His face was flushed, his hair disheveled, and his eyes glistened with a glazy film.  "If we don't stop, I'm going to shoot."  He announced breathlessly. 

His hand glided lightly down Uzziel's side, then softly slid up his inner thigh.  An odd expression crossed Philip's face for a moment, but his patented smirk soon returned.  "Too late for you, I believe.  Sorry about that."

Uzziel, despite the primal urges raging within his hormonally charged body, felt completely embarrassed.  He tried to think of something cleaver to say, but how could he come up with anything to pass off an act as mortifying as that?  He just looked away. 

Philip rolled over and lay beside him, as they both took to staring at the ceiling.  Because of the awkward silence that pursued, Uzziel became worried that Philip was having thoughts of regret.  Uzziel himself was battling this, as the war between what he had been taught was right and what he felt in his heart conflicted greatly.  Just as he was about ready to cry, he felt Philip's fingers gently rubbing up and down his hand.

Uzziel turned to his side only to find Philip staring at him.  His eyes were glistening with unshed tears.  Immediately, Uzziel felt terrible for upsetting Philip, and he just knew their friendship had been ruined.  He was in the middle of mentally kicking himself when Philip softly spoke.

"Look, Uzziel, I am really sorry if this has upset you.  It's just that I, well, I don't know how to say this."  A look of deep despair and desperation loomed in his soulful tan eyes.

Uzziel was so uncertain at that moment.  Should he apologize and pass it all off as a simple mistake, or should he trust in what his heart was telling him?  Though it seemed like he wondered in his inner turmoil for hours, Uzziel quickly decided he would just be honest.  If their friendship was meant to last, then Philip would find a way to forgive him.

Taking a deep breath, Uzziel stretched out his hand, gently tracing Philip's face.  Then, he unloaded the burden that was weighing on his heart.  "I think I'm in love with you, Philip.  You probably think I am crazy or sick, but that is how I feel." 

Philip grasped Uzziel's hand, giving it a firm squeeze.  Sighing, he replied.  "I don't know what it is I'm feeling right now, Uzziel, but whatever it is I don't want it to stop.  All I know is I can't lose you." 

It took all of two seconds before they were again entangled within each other's arms.  Their kissing was far less animalistic this time, though Uzziel felt it was every bit as urgent as it had been before.  They were softer, more passionate and caring kisses, ones Uzziel believed were fueled by feelings of love more so than hormonal urges.  And, he knew for sure that he would never survive a single day without Philip being at his side.

It was on the first night of Hannukah that year when Philip and Uzziel gave the first part of themselves to each other.  Philip had spent the night at Uzziel's, and he felt certain that Philip was the best gift he had ever unwrapped.  During each of the following holiday evenings, the boys found new ways and parts of themselves to share with one another.  By the end of Hannukah, they had tried every conceivable way in which their teen minds could think of to be united together.   And, they were rather imaginative, Max mused to himself as he remembered.

But, his pleasant memories were halted as he recalled so many of the struggles they had faced in the years that followed.  Every time one piece of Philip's dream for their future shattered, Max had felt his own heart crumble.  The dejected look worn by the man he loved more than life itself had been overwhelming.  Again, a glower took possession of his face as Max relived the pain.

"Is something wrong?"  Philip asked with such concern laced in his voice.

Max snapped himself back to the current time, leaving the memories to loom where they may.  Brad was still resting on Philip's lap, his arms encasing Philip in a tight embrace.  Brad's head leaned on Philip's shoulder, and his young eyes danced with the happy energy that seemed to radiate from Brad's very soul.

"Sorry, I was just thinking."  Max replied, trying to force a smile.  Nathan leaned his head over onto Max's shoulder, and Max encased his young friend in a firm hug.  "I know, Nathan.  I am worried, too, but we still need to be positive."

"I-it's just t-taking so long."  Nathan sighed.  "It m-m-makes me a-antsy."

"Maybe Dad and Daddy will know something when they get back."  Brad commented cheerfully, and Max felt certain he was trying his best to lift everyone's spirits. 

For reasons Max could not explain, not even to himself, he found himself smiling as he looked at Brad.  In fact, he noticed the whole group of them were doing so.  This phenomenal effect Brad seemed to bring about with his very presence mirrored the tranquillity exuded by Pete, Max realized.  Again, he pondered the destiny of the two youngest members of the Darkstorm-Lord clan, and he stood in awe as he mentally surveyed the possibilities.

Brad let out a soft giggle as he cast his gaze towards Max.  "See Nathan, it's not so hard to smile every once in a while.  It might even do ya' some good."   The most endearing smile Max had ever seen then burst its way across Brad's face, bringing a dazzling twinkle within his soft green eyes.  "Nanna says being all down and gloomy makes you constipated."  He laughed.

"Hmm.  That would explain why your bowels seem to work so well."  Pete replied timidly, bringing a hearty laugh from Aisa and Chance.  The soft giggle from Nathan, though, was music to Max's ears. 

Though Brad cast an indignant look to the little Pete, a slight smirk broke through.  "Is that so, Shrimp?"

Pete chuckled lightly.  "I would rather be short than stinky any day!"

"Hey, now!"  Brad snickered.

"P-p-p-pete is r-right.  Y-you s-s-stink up the p-place!"  Nathan chuckled.

A shocked look crossed Brad's face as he protested his innocence.  "I do not!"

"Dude!  Your ass is so rank!"  Aaron laughed.  "I think something died up in there years ago."

Brad jumped from Philip's lap, crossing the waiting area quickly to stand before Aaron.  "I've been saving one just for you, Mouthy!  It has your name all over it."

As Brad started to turn around, Chance interjected.  "You's better not be pointin' that thing at nobody, Brad.  And, if'n's you let that ol' nasty stuff loose in here, I's gonna skin you good!  Ain't nobody wants to be gaggin' from your ol' stink noways."

Before Brad could protest, the giggling Aisa intervened.  "Brad, Angel's right.  Nobody wants to smell your foul stench, so back that butt away from Aaron."  He reached out his hand, and pulled Brad into a gentle hug.   Kissing the top of his head, Aisa said softly, "Besides, you shouldn't behave like that in public.  Why don't you read one of your books or something."

Brad gave Aisa a small smile, then returned to Philip's lap with his backpack.  As he snuggled into Philip, Brad produced one of his books.  Seeing the title sent Max into a fit of giggles:  TOILET TALES -- THE BUTT OF THE JOKE.

Philip grinned at Max, wrapping his arm around Brad.  With a wink, he softly asked Brad.  "Say, you're not going to..."

Brad laughed heartily.  "No way!  You could throw me in jail for something like that!  I was just kidding, anyway."  Brad opened his book, then looked up at Philip.  "You can read with me if you want to, but it's a graphic novel.  The pictures are real good, though.  I'm on page 29, but we can start at the beginning so you don't miss anything."  The boy enthused.

Philip shot Max a huge smile.  "So you like to read, do you?"

Brad shook his head in a vigorous response.  "Yeah!  And these books are so funny, too."  He smiled over at his three brothers.  "You know, this time last year, I could hardly read at all.  There is so much I'd have missed out on had y'all not taught me how."

As Brad began reading aloud, Max watched his brothers' faces intently.  Each time he would stumble upon a word, the three had such supportive looks.  As Brad would sound through the words and figure them out, smiles of joy and satisfaction would line their lips.  A prideful, loving gleam radiated in their eyes as Brad continued reading.

When Philip took his turns, laughing as he read with Brad, Max again thought of how wonderful a father his lover would have made.  The happiness at seeing Philip interacting with Brad became mixed with a sadness for what could have been.  Yet again, Max found himself with a glower crossing his face.  His thoughts, however, were interrupted as Kal and Kanawha announced their return.

Chuckling, Kanawha smiled at Brad.  "Son, the judge may not see the humor you find in TOILET TALES."

Philip smiled as he looked up at Kanawha and Kal.  "Actually, I think they are rather comical.  And, outside of court, it is Philip, or just Phil."  Max then realized that Philip was quite taken with the family, just as much as he had been, for there were few people that were given the option of calling his darling Phil.

"A-any news, Uncle K-kal?"  Nathan asked, as Max drew him in tightly in a supportive hug.

"All they said was that the doctor would be with us shortly."  Kal replied, showing signs of frustration.

Kanawha wrapped him in his large, muscular arms.  "Love, Coal will be OK.  Just have faith."

"I do, Love, but I'm still worried, regardless."  Kal half-smiled, leaning his head on Kanawha's shoulder.

As Kal swayed gently in his husband's arms, Brad and Philip resumed their reading.  Chance pulled Pete closer on his lap, as Aisa wrapped his arms around them both; Chance, Aisa's Angel, leaned his head on his beloved's shoulder.  Max noted that Cindy was in a similar position, resting in Aaron's embrace.  He found himself clinging to Nathan even more as time slowly crept on by.

A half-hour later, the doctor Max had seen talking with Nathan walked towards them.  He looked rather haggard, but Max hoped it was from a long day's work; otherwise, it would not be good news.  The doctor moved his way over to Nathan, taking the seat beside him.  With a heavy sigh, he stretched out his arms along the back of the chairs.  Max noticed Nathan's immediate reaction and fought hard the urge to snicker.  It was apparent to him that Nathan fancied the good doctor, and Max had to admit that Nathan had good taste when it came to men.

"Y-you OK, Garrett?"  Nathan asked softly.

He smiled, wrapping his arm around Nathan's shoulder.  "Yeah, buddy.  Just tired.  Thanks for asking, though."

Max thought for sure Nathan was going to have a stroke, the way his face went so red.  At that point, he could not control it any longer.  Max shook with silent laughter, even more so when he felt Nathan's finger poking him in the ribs in an attempt to quiet him down.

Garrett looked around at everyone, then asked.  "So, which of you is Killian?"

"That would be me."  Kal said, raising his head from Kanawha's shoulder.  "How is Coal?"  The worry was evident in his voice.

"He came through surgery just fine.  We managed to repair most of the damage, though I'm not sure about his voice.  The way he was cut, well, it makes it difficult to say.  It was just so close, and if scar tissue forms... well, we'll just have to wait and see."  The doctor replied.  "He lost a great deal of blood, too." 

Garrett rubbed Nathan's shoulder as he smiled at the smitten teen.  "The cat did control the bleeding, though.  But, still, your friend lost a great deal of blood.  The good and bad news of it is that Coal is type AB-.  That means he can receive red blood cells from just about anybody with a negative RH factor.  We also had the right plasma and platelets on hand, so that part was easy."

Kal let out a sigh, then formed his words before speaking.  "Well, what is the bad news?"

"Coal's white blood cell count is pretty low.  To keep down infection, he needs granulocytes.  They are a type of broad-based white blood cell.   And, they cannot be stored, really.  See, we use a process called apheresis to extract them from a donor, and the granulocytes must be transfused within 24 hours.  AB- is a pretty rare blood type, too.  Only 1% of our population has it.  We can get it in, though it takes some doing."  Garrett wiped his bangs from his eyes.  "With the storm, though, I don't know when we can get a batch here."

"Could you do this apheresis here, should one of us have his blood type?"  Max asked.  He had no idea what his blood type was, but he was more than willing to donate it should he be a suitable candidate.

"Yeah, we can.  Do any of you have AB- blood?"  Garrett asked.

Everyone looked at each other questioningly.  Then, Kal spoke for them all.  "Well, could you type our blood for us?"

Garrett grinned.  "Yeah, we can do that, too.  But, blood donors must be at least 17 or have parental consent.  They also have to weigh at least 110 pounds, so that might leave a few of you out."  He looked at Pete and Brad, who seemed rather disappointed.  "Sorry boys, but we can still type your blood for you, if you want."

"But what if either of us is the only one who has the right kind of blood?"  Pete asked, seeming to be in deep thought.

"Well, buddy, your bodies are not big enough to donate blood yet, even if it is the right type of blood."  Garrett replied.

"What about Malice and the other boy?"  Kal asked.  In afterthought, he added, "Malice is the cat."

Garret chuckled lightly.  "Well, officially, we do not treat animals at the hospital.  But, unofficially, I had one of my staff contact a veterinarian friend who guided us in what to do for her.  She is in the staff lounge recuperating as we speak.  We didn't find any signs of frostbite on her, though I strongly recommend she see a vet in the near future."

Then, a more somber look crossed his face.  "We still have no ID for the other young man, but he is in pretty bad shape.  He had several fractures throughout his body, even to his skull.  There were a few bone fragments that were lying on his brain, so they had to go in and remove them.  Dr. Haga was still in OR when I came out to see you."  He squeezed Nathan's shoulder gently.  "You did an excellent job with him, Nathan.  You assessed the situation and gave the proper care.  All we can do now is pray for his recovery."  He paused a moment, then pulled Nathan into a strong hug.  "There is one more thing, though.  With the rectal tissue damage, it appears that he was forcefully sodomized."

Hearing this news, Max bowed his head in silent prayer.  The idea of a young life suffering such brutality was unfathomable to him.  Max was not all that familiar with medical terms and such, but he knew that it had to be a pretty serious beating in order to fracture a person's skull in that manner.  Then, compounded with being raped, Max felt his heart breaking for the young man.  As a few tears escaped the confinement of his eyes, Max felt his lover's hand gently stroking his back.  As Max looked up, he was pleasantly surprised to find the group gathered around him in prayer.  As their prayers ended, Garrett held Nathan close to him as he sobbed on Garrett's shoulder.

"Come on, buddy.  Let's go get your blood typed."  He said softly, turning and guiding Nathan down the hallway.

Everyone, with the exception of Cindy and Aaron, followed Garrett and Nathan.  Since Cindy and Aaron were not 17 and did not have a parent with them, they were not permitted to even be tested.  Pete and Brad watched intently as the phlebotomist drew everyone's blood.  When it came their turn, Pete held Chance's hand tightly. 

Brad, on the other hand, had to have both his fathers, Aisa, Nathan, Philip, and Max touching some part of his body for moral support.  Philip chuckled lightly as Kanawha told Brad what a brave young man he was.  Brad, of course, delighted in his father's praise, up until the needle entered his skin.  At that point, his eyes grew wide, much like a scared rabbit Max thought.  Once the ordeal was over, though, Brad passed it off as if it were no big deal.  That fact had Philip in fits of laughter, as he gently ruffled Brad's hair.

Garrett then led the group to the ER staff lounge.  Wrapped snugly in a pile of blankets lay Malice.  Max was moved when he heard Garrett explain how heroic the animal had been, having actually been a key factor in saving Coal's very life.  To Max, though Malice was indeed a large cat, she seemed so small in the scheme of things.  A small smile passed his lips as a few tears trickled down his face.

In his mind, one thought prevailed.  No matter how seemingly insignificant a person, or even an animal, may be, the Father could use them to accomplish great things.  Humbled by this revelation, Max scanned the room, looking intently at Kal and Kanawha's four sons.  When Nathan returned with Cindy and Aaron, he also studied them closely. 

' Yes, the good Father could use them in many ways.'
Max determined.  At that point, he realized that each of those precious children held a destiny of their own.  And, in his book, each of their futures was of equal importance and greatness. 

As Kal and Nathan gently stroked the sleeping Malice, a page for Dr. Kersey came over the intercom.  Garrett picked up the phone and spoke with someone for a few moments.  Then, he smiled as he returned to the group.

"Well, fortunately, we have two donor matches."  He bent down to look Pete in the eyes.  "It seems you were right, little man.  You indeed have AB- blood, though we still cannot let you donate until you are bigger.  But, it won't be necessary for you to donate today, anyway, because Philip is also a match."

A strong sense of pride washed over Max as he cast his gaze upon his lover.  Philip was such a wonderful man.  The fact that he could help in saving the life of someone in need made Max even more thankful that his darling was a part of his life.

Dr. Kersey led the group down the hallway to another waiting area.  After giving Philip a short physical examination, Garrett handed him a blood donor form to fill out.  The first few questions gained both Max and Philip's attention.

"Have you ever used intravenous drugs?   Are you a man who has had sexual contact with other men since 1977?  Have you engaged in sex for money or drugs since 1977?"  Philip quoted quietly.  He then looked intently at Max.  "Honey, they categorize us with drug addicts and street hustlers."  Philip said dejectedly.

The idea saddened Max for a moment.  Then, laughter brought his eyes upon one of the dearest souls he had ever encountered.  As Max pointed out Nathan to Philip, he smiled.  "Well, darling, I can think of far worse company to be in than that."

A rather large grin crossed Philip's face as he watched Nathan interacting with his family, friends, and Garrett.  "Hmm.  I believe you are right about that, honey.  That kid sure is something else."

As their concentration returned to the form, Max could sense Philip's hesitation in answering the one question he knew was bothering him.  For so many years, they had to live their lives together in secret.  It had always caused Philip such pain to deny their love.  Yet, to help save the life of another, he would have to do so once again.

"It is a necessary evil, Philip.  I don't like it either, but it is something we must do."  Max soothed.  His heart ached, however, when Philip checked the NO box.

After completing the form, Dr. Kersey explained the procedure to the group.  As he was getting ready to escort Philip to the area where the apheresis would be conducted, Brad grabbed his hand.

"Hey.  I was wondering.  Can Philip read while he is giving blood?"  Brad asked, clutching his book tightly.

"That depends.  Is that your way of asking if you can go with him?"  Garrett grinned.  Brad's smile grew to broadly cover his face as he shook his head vigorously.  "Well, if your dads and Philip do not mind, I think it is a great idea.  It gets rather lonely in a room all by yourself."

When Philip quickly gave his consent, Kanawha looked at Brad sternly.  "Promise to behave yourself?"

Brad gave his best innocent look in his response.  "Of course, Daddy."

Both Kal and Kanawha snickered in seeing this.  They both reached out to him as he raced to them for a hug.  "Remember, you promised."  Kal warned, though a grin still crossed his face.

"I know Dad.  I just wanna read with Philip some more."  Brad smiled.  "No jokes or pranks.  I know."

"Then, we will see you in a bit.  If you need us, just ask one of the staff."  Kal added, a loving worry gleaming in his eyes.

Brad took Philip's hand as they walked down the hall.  Max found himself smiling at the sight, not to mention the impact Philip seemed to have made on Brad.  'Or is it the impact Brad made on Philip?' Max wondered to himself.

Dr. Kersey returned a few minutes later and led the group down the hallway towards the staff lounge.  He assured the worried Kal that Brad was perfectly safe and behaving himself like a young gentleman.  As they neared the lounge, two orderlies came from a set of double doors with a patent on a gurney.  Aisa and Chance hugged their fathers firmly, then sprinted down the hall to the patient.

As the remaining group continued down the hall, Max saw Aisa, holding Chance's hand, lean down and kiss the young man's cheek.  Then, he seemed to be whispering something in his ear.  As they drew closer, Max realized Aisa was praying for the boy.

Tears streamed down both boys' faces as they turned to face their fathers.  "I'm so sorry, Dad."  Aisa sighed.

"There ain't too much we's gonna be able to do for 'im, Dad.  Not for 'at Coal fella neither.  They's tellin' Aisa it ain't our place to help 'em."  Chance added sadly.

Max recalled Nathan telling him about his Uncle Shaft, and how those two young men had helped him with his ailing heart.  He realized that somewhere in the back of his mind, he had hoped they could do the same for Coal and the young man; for the cat, too, for that matter.  Yet, that hope had now been crushed.  The same glower Max had fought since the onset of the gloaming returned to his face.  He just prayed that the Father, with all his mercy, held another plan to help them.

Well, that finishes Chapter three.  The next installment should be out shortly.  Again, if you have any comments, suggestions, etc., I would love to hear them.  Please contact me via