This story contains FICTION of a male-male nature. Do not read this if you are:

  1. too young, or
  2. too narrow-minded, or
  3. living in a city/state/country where it is illegal.

Again, this is FICTION. While I have bumped into the BSB here and there in Orlando, I do not make any claims about any of their sexualities.

NOTE: If you have not read 'Forever', I suggest you do so before reading this story.

Equilibrium: Beyond Forever

by: DJ

Part II – Reactive Forces

Chapter 13

The Present

I ran my hand across my forehead, taking a second to pinch lightly on the bridge of my nose. The headache I'd been nursing all day had not faded. If anything it had grown worse, particularly in the noise and confusion of rush hour. I'd been stuck on the freeway for nearly an hour, and things weren't looking good for the rest of the trip.

The reel of my...of Dylan's memories had finally run out. It always did. There would be glimpses, flashes over the next few days. Until my natural skill at beating down the images finally won out. If I'd learned any lessons in life, it was how to crush emotions.

There hadn't been much more to remember of Dylan's life. The end of that life was pretty nondescript. He'd holed up in his room the rest of the day, then left the house when everyone finally went to sleep that final night. Within a few days of that, Dylan Richardson had ceased to be, and Jacob Phillips had been born.

Jacob was different from Dylan in many ways. Dylan had been happy, expressive. He'd loved life, especially since meeting and marrying Kevin. Kevin's betrayal, coupled with Dylan's overwhelming guilt over Preston's death, had broken something in Dylan.

Jacob walked through life as one just enduring each day. There was no enjoyment, no happiness. All emotions were crushed, suppressed. If he didn't feel, he couldn't be hurt. He could fake feelings when need be, to impress clients or otherwise deal with the public. But, that was all it was. Fake.

I sighed, shaking my head slightly. I knew, if I ever allowed myself to think it, that I would be a great case study for a psychiatrist somewhere. I had existed as Jacob for nearly 18 months, now. Dylan existed only in my memories.

I didn't really know who I was anymore. I had no contact with those who'd been family and friends in the past. I didn't allow myself to wonder where they were or how they were doing. I spent my days at work. I spent my nights at work or working out.

I avoided the radio and network television. I limited my news to personalized websites where I could block certain content. Mainly, anything from the entertainment arena. I didn't even listen to the same music anymore. Anything that would remind me of the past was eliminated, purged from my life.

It didn't always work, of course. There were leaks in the armor of my life, allowing glimpses of the man I was, of the life I led. Mainly, these revolved around Nick. He was still a pop star, so his name made it to my ears on more than one occasion. I did my best to ignore it. When that didn't work, I turned to a few shots of medicinal whiskey. That usually cured the problem. At least, for a while.

I settled back into my easy chair, the quiet strains of Enigma drowning out the silence in the house. Silence was bad. It was easier to suppress the memories when there was noise, distraction around. The music coupled with the glass of Jack Daniels in my hand would hopefully prove enough tonight.

Tomorrow was December 6, 2006. Were he still alive, it would've been Preston's 6th birthday. This was the first major anniversary for which I'd been home. I'd been travelling for his birthday last year as well as for the anniversary of his death in June.

Travelling made things easier. I took as many of the travel jobs as possible. Time at home meant time to myself. Time to think. If I could travel, I could work more, again providing a distraction from...past issues.

I wondered vaguely, in the back of my mind, how long I could survive like this. I'd `celebrated' my thirty-third birthday this year. My life stretched before me, long and dreary and colored gray. Was it really worth another forty years of living like this?

Probably not. Unfortunately, I couldn't...wouldn't allow myself to open up again. I was too tired, too wary of people now. Perhaps, once, I could've let it happen. But, I'd gone too far, pulled myself away too much. I had no desire to try.

Perhaps, that should've scared me. If I ever felt anything, then perhaps it WOULD have scared me. But, I really didn't feel much. I felt distant, detached from everything around me. Threatening Stephanie today was a good example. Logically, I knew I was hard on her, harder than she deserved. Logically, I knew that a good, kind person would've never done that to her. But, that was all it was. Logic. I didn't feel anything. Guilt or sadness or remorse. I KNEW it was bad, but I didn't FEEL it was bad.

I took a long swallow of my drink. The whiskey burned as it slid down my throat. I knew I should stop. I was drinking more often, and that was probably a bad thing. Again, logical thinking with little feeling to back it up. I didn't care, one way or the other. I just knew that alcohol dulled the memories, suppressed the senses.

A loud knock at the front door almost made me dump the drink in my lap. I stared at the hallway leading to the door, debating whether or not to answer it. In the time I'd lived in this house, no one had ever come to the door. At least not when I was home, anyway.

The knock sounded again, very firm and determined. I reasoned that, whoever it was, they'd seen the light on and weren't going to give up easily. I sighed, setting my drink down on the coffee table and standing.

I padded down the hall, my bare feet making no noise on the cool tile. I reached the door and leaned down to check the peephole. What I saw should not have surprised me, I suppose. But, it did. I reached for the doorknob and pulled the door open.

"Hello, Nick," I said, staring out at the man I'd once called friend.

"Hi, Dylan," he replied, with no trace of a smile on his face.

Neither of us spoke, each just staring at the other, assessing one another. I had to admit that, strictly speaking, he looked as good as ever. He was wearing his hair short again. His eyes were still bright blue, enough to cause the summer sky to be jealous. I could tell from the lay of his clothes that he'd kept up with his workout regimen, which was probably important for his career if for no other reason.

"What do you want here, Nick?" I questioned, my voice betraying no feeling.

"That's it?" he wondered in return. "We haven't seen each other in a year and a half, and all you can ask is `what do you want here'?"

"What do you want here, Nick?" I asked again, ignoring his response.

"I want to come in, Dylan," he said, his voice hardening.

"I told you before, Nick," I replied, "Dylan's dead. And you're not welcome here."

"Fine. Dylan's dead. Whatever you say...Jacob," he answered, voice still firm. "And I don't give a flyin' fuck if I'm welcome or not. I'm here, and we need to talk."

We stared one another down, neither moving nor blinking. Blue eyes facing down blue eyes. Internally, I was impressed with Nick's `stamina'. He'd never really had much luck with staring me down. Obviously, he'd continued to grow while I was gone.

Eventually, I gave in. I could tell that he was resolved not to leave until we'd spoken. I knew that I was going to have to face him, let him have his say. I could always send him on his way then.

I didn't say anything to acknowledge his minor victory. I simply stood aside, ushering him inside my house. He walked in purposefully, striding down the hall a few feet until he came to the arch marking the living room on the left. He turned, disappearing inside the room, not even bothering to look if I'd followed.

I shut and bolted the door, then turned to follow him into the living room. He was standing across the room near a window, apparently listening to the music still playing on the stereo. He turned to me when I walked in.

"Good music," he said, almost conversationally. "Who is it? Sounds familiar, but..."

"Enigma," I replied.

"Of course," he acknowledged with a nod of his head. "Should've known. Used to listen to it now and then when I needed some quiet time on the bus."

"What do you want, Nick? Why are you here?" I questioned him again, unwilling to drag out the meaningless pleasantries.

"Why am I in San Diego? Or why am I in your living room?"

I just stared at him, refusing to acknowledge the questions. He knew very well which one I wanted answered. He, being Nick, answered the other one first.

"I'm in California because I have a show," he said, turning to face out the window. "We're playing the Staples Center up in LA on Friday. Sold out. Should be fun."

I didn't respond. I just stared at him across the room, refusing to play the polite game with him. He waited a few moments before finally turning away from the window to face me. His blue eyes betrayed a deep sadness as he looked at me.

"I'm in your living room because I missed my best friend. He disappeared one night, without a word and with little or no trace. I thought he'd come back," he said softly, then paused. "He never did."

"Things happen, Nick," I replied, breaking the stare between us. "Life got too hard, so..."

"So you ran away," he broke in on me. I turned my gaze back to his.

"If that's how you want to look at it, Nick, then yes," I spoke in a cold, distant tone. "I ran away."

"Why?" he wondered, moving to stand in front of me. "Why did you leave us? Why did you leave Kevin?"

I stiffened at his mention of Kevin's name. I turned on him, walking out of the living room. I momentarily considered showing him the door, but I knew it would do no good. Nothing short of physical force would get him out of my house, now. I remembered Nick well enough to know that.

Instead, I turned and moved further into the house to the kitchen. I crossed the room and pushed open the double doors onto the back patio. The noise of the city greeted me, the faint glimmer of stars shone down on me.

"Running again, Dy...Jacob?" Nick's voice questioned from behind me.

"Sometimes, it's all you have, Nick," I replied.

"That's not good enough," he said, grabbing my shoulder. I swung to face him.

"I don't care if that's not good enough for you, Nick," I said as I brushed his hand from my shoulder. "That's just the way it is."

"Why?!" he practically screamed it at me. "Why is it all you have? Why did you run?" He grabbed my shoulders and shook me again, emphasizing his words with each shake.

I tried to brush him off, but he held fast this time.He wasn't letting me go, refused to let me off the hook. So, I did what came naturally to me these days. I shut down, turned cold.

"Because, Nick, I couldn't face it anymore," I replied, my voice firm, my tone distant. I felt as though I wasn't even there anymore. "Preston was dead. And, as much as I might've tried, I couldn't shift the blame to anyone but me."

"Kevin just got done telling me he slept with Kari in Jacksonville. All of my friends, all of my family, my entire life revolved around Kevin and Preston.When he told me what had happened, my life ended. I couldn't forgive him for that. And I couldn't forgive myself for Preston. So, I walked. Or ran, as you like to put it."

"I left at night when no one would see me go. I took some money from our bank the next day.I flew to San Diego, got my name changed, got a job, and just forgot that any of you existed."

"And, whether you like it or not, whether you understand it or not, that's the way it is. Dylan's life is over. It ended that day when Kevin ripped his heart from his chest. His life ended, and Jacob's began. For better or worse."

My voice faded, my brief speech over. There was nothing else I wanted to say, nothing else he needed to hear in my opinion.

"You're such a coward," Nick said, breaking the silence of the night. He dropped his hands from my arms, almost pushing me away.

"If that's how you see it, Nick, then fine," I replied with no feeling whatsoever.

"How else should I see it?" he asked, amazed. "You walked out on Kevin, on all of us. You didn't even leave a fuckin' note to tell us where you went."

"It would've kind of defeated the purpose of leaving if I'd told you where I was going, don't you think?" I interrupted him, sarcasm thick in my voice. "I didn't want any of you to know, Nick. I didn't want you to follow me."

"Well, you got what you wished for, didn't you?"

"Obviously not, Nick. You're here now."

I never even saw it coming until I was already laid out on the patio. My jaw ached where his fist had connected. I even saw a few extra stars above me until the initial shock faded.

"You selfish son of a bitch!" he yelled down at me. I moved to stand, but he pushed me back down. "Don't get up, or I'll just hit you again."

"Fine, Nick," I complied, laying down on the cool stone of the patio. I closed my eyes, blocking out the sight of my former friend standing above me, his fist clenched.

Chapter 14

He didn't say anything for several minutes. I could hear his breathing, could hear him pacing next to me.

I didn't say anything, did nothing to betray my state of mind. I couldn't let him know how he was affecting me. I couldn't let go of my self-control.

I wanted to. Deep down, I wanted to grab him in my arms and thank him. Thank him for looking for me. Thank him for finding me. Thank him for being my friend.

But, I couldn't. I wouldn't. I wouldn't give in to the impulse, to the emotion. It would just lead to pain. I had buried myself so deep under layers of emotional insulation that there was no coming back.

I don't know how long we were like that, me laid out on the patio, Nick pacing next to me. Finally, I heard a sigh, then the pacing stopped. When I opened my eyes, Nick had a hand stretched out in front of me.

I ignored the hand, turning on my side to push myself up. I wouldn't touch him, wouldn't give him any kind of contact if at all avoidable. It helped maintain my control, maintain what little sanity I possessed.

"I think you should leave now, Nick," I said in the same cold and distant voice I'd used since he arrived.

"I wish it were that simple, Dy...I wish I could." He shook his head and sighed. "But, I can't."

"Nick," I began, but he held up a hand to stop me.

"Look, I came here for a reason, alright?" he sounded frustrated. "I didn't just track you down because I missed you, although that was a big part of it. Truth is, I've known where you were for more than a year."

"What?" I exclaimed, shock finally winning over the emotional distance. He nodded.

"I had Tom track you down a year ago," he admitted. "He's been keeping tabs on you for me since then."

"Nick, I...," I stammered, not sure what to say.

"You may've washed your hands of us, Dy...Dylan," he stressed the name, "but the fact is that there are quite a few of us out there who love you," he said softly, his blue eyes shining with unshed tears. "I've been watching over you for them, letting them know you're safe."

"Who?" I asked, immediately regretting it. Questions like that opened doors I wanted left sealed shut.

"Jeremy and his wife, and little Jana and Dylan." He smiled when I gasped. "He's the spitting image of his uncle, actually."

"How old is he?" I asked, unable to contain my curiosity.

"About five months," he answered, obviously glad to get some response from me. "He was born in July, just before your...your mom's birthday."

I heard the pause, the catch in his voice when he mentioned Mom. Something inside me tightened. Somehow, I knew what he was going to say before he said the next part.

"Your mother's sick, Dylan," he spoke softly, glancing away from me. "Cancer."

It was either a tribute to my self-control or a sign of my weakness that I betrayed not an ounce of emotion when he said the word. Cancer. The plague of the 20th century it was once called. While strides had been made in the years since my grandmother had succumbed, there was still no cure, no panacea to eradicate the disease.

`And now, it's going to claim another of Dylan's family.` As the thought passed through my head, I was amazed at my own ability to maintain segregation from Dylan. Was it selfishness? Or self-preservation?

"She's not going to last much longer," Nick was still talking. "It struck her pretty suddenly."

"What type...where is it?" I wondered as I turned to stare across the yard.

"It's pretty much everywhere now. It was silent for her, not many symptoms beyond fatigue and some aches. She thought it was just old age, and you know how she hates to go to the doctor."

I did know, actually, but I was surprised that he did. I told him so a moment later.

"We've all gotten close the last year," he replied. "I tried to stop and visit when I had time, and I always kept her up to date on...on you. She took your leaving hard, but she was the reason I never came before now."

"Really?" I asked. I'd wondered what prevented him. He nodded in response.

"She told us to leave you be, that you needed to sort things out on your own. She was adamant about it, even when you didn't make any contact for so long. She even made us promise not to tell you she was sick."

"Then why are you telling me now?" I questioned distantly.

He walked over and grabbed me, turning me violently to face him. There was fury in his eyes and on his face. For the first time since I'd met him almost seven years ago, I found myself scared of Nick.

"Because she's going to be dead soon," he screamed at me. "Because, like it or not, she NEEDS to see her son before she dies, to know that, as worthless as your life's become now, you're still doing alright."

"My life is not worthless, Nick," I said, pulling myself from his grasp.

"Oh, really? You have no friends, no family. You never socialize outside of work. You travel three out of every four weeks, including weekends. Shall I go on?"

"Look, Nickolas, whether you like my life or not is irrelevant," I said, turning away from him. "It's still my life, and it's how I've chosen to live it." I turned back to face him again.

"No, I don't have friends, or family. And no, I don't party and socialize with anyone. I also don't have to deal with all the problems associated with that. No heartache. No loss. No be...no betrayal."

"No love, no happiness, no joy," he supplied.

"Sometimes, sacrifices must be made, Nick," I practically whispered the words.

He didn't say anything for a few minutes, just stared at me, studied me. I didn't know what he saw, but I could imagine that it was nothing he liked.

"You really do believe all that, don't you?" he wondered.

"Yeah, Nick, I do," I replied, somehow finding strength to add to my voice.

"What's the point, Dylan?" he asked softly. "What does your life mean if it's spent alone, isolated?"

I didn't answer. I couldn't, because I really didn't have an answer. It was a question that I'd asked myself a lot over the last year. It was a question I'd been asking myself tonight before Nick got there.

"I lied to you earlier," he broke in on my thoughts. "I don't have a show in LA. Truth is, we cancelled all our shows for the next two weeks."

"Why?" I wondered. He paused before answering.

"Because your mother's not expected to last that long. We wanted to be there to say goodbye," he whispered the last part.

We lapsed into another silence. I stared off into space, unfocused and thinking. Nick stood behind me, probably staring at me and wondering what I was planning on doing.

"She knows me too well, I think," I said to no one in particular.

"Why is that?" he asked.

"Because," I replied, "she left me alone." He didn't respond.

"Thank you for telling me, Nick," I said before turning to him. "Now, I'd like you to go."

"What?" He looked stunned. "That's it?"

"Yes, that's it," I replied. "What else did you want?"

"I wanted you to say you'd come with me. I wanted you to say that you'd come say goodbye to her." He paused, his voice dropping. "I wanted you to say you'd come back to us."

"I'm sorry, Nick," I replied. Surprisingly enough, I actually was. "But, I can't."

"She's...she's your mother, Dylan," he whispered. I gave him a small, emotionless smile.

"I wish it mattered, Nick," I told him. "Maybe, someday, it will, but right now...right now, it doesn't."

I was lying, of course, but the façade had to be maintained. He couldn't know how I felt. The key to suppressing feeling was to not acknowledge it existed.

He stared a moment longer, then turned and walked to the door. I shifted, again facing out towards the yard. I heard him shuffle across the patio, then stop when he reached the house. I felt his eyes upon me one last time.

"I guess you were right," he said, so softly I almost didn't hear. "Dylan really is dead. Goodbye...Jacob." Moments later, I heard the front door click shut behind him.

"I wish I could be as sure," I whispered. A single tear slid down my cheek.

Chapter 15

"Jacob," Stephanie's voice floated over the intercom. "You're 2:30 appointment is here."

"Thank you, Stephanie," I acknowledged. "Give me five minutes, please."

It had been a long day. After Nick left last night, I hadn't slept. I'd tried, of course, but all I ended up doing was tossing and turning.

I hated to admit it, but it had been good to see him, even if the news he brought was terrible. It was like...it was like one of those old commercials, where everything was black and white except one person or item that was painted in rich, vibrant color. That was how Nick looked. My life, drab and gray, had shone with brilliance for an hour while he was in it.

And now, it was irrevocably altered. Where I'd simply passed through the gray before, now I was forced to deal with it. I was forced to acknowledge how truly meaningless my own existence had become. Even if the acknowledgement was only to myself.

I suppressed a sigh as I contemplated again the news that Nick carried. Mother was dying.

In the years that I'd been with Kevin, she and I had become closer than ever. Her visits to Orlando were happy, some of the highlights of both our lives. She'd loved Preston with all her heart, spoiling him as much as she could with that love.

Without Dad around, I'd known she was lonely, but she never sought out other company. Dad was her one true love, her soulmate. She never felt the desire to try to replace that love with another, less intensive substitute. Somehow, I understood that. I'd thought I'd found the same thing in Kevin.

She'd contented herself with visiting her family, with spoiling her grandchildren, and with passing the time doing her crafts and volunteer work. Dad had left her with a very healthy insurance payoff, so she'd been able to stop work at her menial job and do things that truly meant something to her.

And now, that would be cut short. She'd celebrated her 56th birthday in July, just before my 33rd in August. She was young by today's standards. Too young, really. She should've had more time.

But, of course, life wasn't fair. It didn't work out as we all felt it should. If it did, I would be in Orlando, loving my husband and raising my children. I wouldn't be in San Diego, living an empty life and pushing away any and all forms of affection.

"Jacob?" Stephanie came over the intercom again.

"Yeah?" I wondered.

"Your appointment is still waiting," she reminded me. I'd forgotten.

"Right," I acknowledged, trying to remember what appointment I had. "Send them in."

The face that walked through the door was one I hadn't seen in nearly four years. I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised, given the way the past was waking up to haunt me the last few days. But, nevertheless, surprised I was.

"Lindsay?" I gasped, unable to contain my astonishment at seeing the beautiful woman before me.

"Hello, Dylan," she replied, a bemused expression on her face. "Or should I call you Jacob now? Or Jake?"

"Jake's fine," I answered, feeling a little silly at my reaction to seeing her. I stood, holding out my hand over the desk.

"A handshake?" she wondered as she took my hand. "Is that all I rate these days?"

"It's all I have to offer," I replied, regaining my composure. She hesitated, then nodded before sitting down.

"How are you?" I asked. "I haven't seen you since you left Tampa. That was, what, four years ago?" She nodded.

"I got my job in Austin in April, 2002, right after you finished the final tour with Kevin and the guys," she acknowledged.

I nodded, out of meaningless pleasantries to exchange. It was ironic that, with a total stranger, I could still manage mindless chitchat for an hour or more. With someone who'd, for a time, been my closest friend, I couldn't come up with more than five minutes. I decided to give up trying and just come to the point.

"I probably don't have to ask why you're here, or how you found me," I stated the obvious to get us on subject.

"No, you probably don't. I talked to Nick," she said.

"I figured you had," I acknowledged. "That doesn't really explain why you showed up here, though."

"Dylan...Jake, you have to go to Kalispell," Lindsay said, leaning forward in her chair. "Your mom."

"Understands me," I interrupted her. "Obviously better than any of you."

"Perhaps she does," Lindsay acknowledged slowly. "But that doesn't make it right. Dylan, she NEEDS to see you."

"Why?" I asked, leaning back in my chair to stare at her. "She's dying. It's cruel, but it's a fact, and my visiting her won't change anything."

"What happened to you?" she wondered, seeming amazed at my lack of caring. "When did you become such a heartless prick?" I nearly flinched. She never was one to pull punches.

"Life happened. Plain and simple," I stated firmly.

"Bullshit," she practically snarled at me. I was suddenly glad of the desk between us, as she looked like she'd attack me any moment.

"Life is life, Ja...DYLAN," she continued. "Preston died. Kevin cheated on you. ONCE, I might add. Move on, already." I raised my eyebrows, acknowledging my surprise that she knew about Kevin.

"I thought that was what I was doing, Lindsay," I replied, my voice still calm and cool.

"That's a load of shit, Dylan," she said. "You and I both know that, whether you'll admit it or not. You were running, end of story."

"Perhaps," I acknowledged. "But what's done is done, and there's no changing the fact that THIS," I stressed with a wave around my office, "is my life now."

"And what kind of a life is it?" she asked. "Nick told me how you live. Why don't you just suck it up, admit you're wrong, and go home where you belong?"

`Because,' I thought, although didn't say. `I don't think I'd have a home there, now.'

"Because, I don't believe I was wrong," I replied, my voice turning cold, dismissive. "This is the life I live now. And it's a life I live by my own choice. If you and Nick and whoever else doesn't like it, you can just fuck off!"

"Fat chance," was her only reply.

"Excuse me?" I couldn't hold in my surprise.

"You heard me," she stated, suddenly calm and cool as she leaned back in her chair. "I'm ending this, Dylan. No more hiding, no more running. It's time to face the world, again."

I stared at her. She stared at me. Neither of us gave an inch. Finally, I made a decision and reached for the intercom.

"Stephanie," I spoke in clipped, harsh tones.

"Yes, Mr. Phillips?" She'd obviously picked up on my tone.

"Please call security. Ms. Sailor will be leaving now," I stated before shutting down the intercom.

"You'd actually call security?" Lindsay's voice held surprise, mixed with a dose of sadness and...pity?

"I don't want to see you," I replied. "Any of you. I won't do it again, I won't get involved anymore."

My control was shaking loose. I was actually near tears, now. I was desperate not to reveal this to her. I should've known better, of course. She knew me too well, even after our long separation.

She didn't say anything more. She simply stood and moved to the door. She stopped just before opening it, her hand on the knob.

"Ya know, Dylan," she said, her voice soft and tinged with sympathy. "Some day, you're going to wake up and realize that this life isn't for you, that you need people again." She turned to look at me, then.

"And no one's going to be left to welcome you back."

"So be it," I acknowledged her words with a nod before turning my back. A moment later, the door clicked shut behind her.

Author's Notes:

Hey, folks. Wanna give a shout out to all of you who are still sticking with me on this. I'm getting the feeling the ranks are thinning out there. ;-) But, I do appreciate you all.

I got a few more chapters done over the weekend. Sorry the new post took so long (and was so short), but I'm nursing not one, not two, but three friends through assorted styles of divorce and relationship endings. It's getting a little confusing to deal with life. I've done more sympathy drinking and movies in the last week than I've done in the last five years. But, I love my friends, so ya gotta do what ya gotta do.

Hope y'all enjoy the new chapters. Jacob/Dylan's life is beginning to take a curve in on itself. What will the future bring? Hopefully, you'll all hang around to find out.