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

Chapter 32

The phone didn't start ringing until nearly 10:30 the next morning. We were all pretty surprised it had taken people even that long to trace Mom's number. It was unlisted, but it hadn't changed since just after Kevin and I had married years before. The reporters covering the wedding and assorted other tabloid tidbits had nearly driven her nuts before she'd finally relented and changed the number.

The first dozen calls were from fans. I got a bit of a kick out of their tenacity, at least for the first couple of calls. After that, it became insulting as they all tried one lame excuse after another. After I hung up with Nick's `sister' for the fourth time, I disconnected the phone from the wall.

"We're going to need that, Dylan," Kris spoke up from the kitchen when she saw me unplug the extension.

"I know," I replied, "but it can wait until Stephanie gets here, can't it?"

I'd talked with Stephanie briefly the night before. I'd arranged with her to take some time off without using her vacation. I'd be paying her a full wage, plus travel time and bonus, although she didn't know all of those details. She'd been more than happy to come just to help out once I'd explained the situation.

I chuckled to myself when I recalled her reaction to my request. She'd been more than a little confused at my need for someone to screen calls. After all, it wasn't like I was really all that important. Our conversation filtered back into my head.

"Not to sound crass, Jake," she said, "but why in the world are you expecting so many calls?"

"Well," I began and hesitated, wondering how much I should impart over the phone. Suddenly, I recalled something that she'd mentioned during my gross dressing down session with her the week before.

"Do you remember the man who called looking for me?" I asked. "Not the private investigator, the other guy."

"Sure," she replied, obviously confused. "Nick Carter. Remember? I told you his name stuck because my granddaughter is crazy about a guy by that name. He's a singer."

"Well, the fact is that the guy who called and that singer are the same person," I explained. "The Nick Carter who was looking for me is the same as the Nick Carter that drives your granddaughter crazy." I smiled a little at the sudden silence. "Stephanie?"

"Yes, Jake," she answered.

"Did you hear me?" I wondered.

"Yes, Jake, I heard you. I was just a little surprised, I guess. I never would've known you to have famous friends." She paused. "Frankly, I never would have guessed that you'd have friends of any kind." She said it slowly, cautiously. I chuckled to reassure her.

"It's something of a long story," I said. "One that I'll tell you when you get here. If you're willing, that is."

"Of course, Jake," she replied. "I'll book the flight for tomorrow. I'll contact you in the morning before I leave."

I'd thanked her, then said goodbye. Shortly after that, I'd gone to bed on the sofa, had my disturbing dream, then ended up sleeping with Kevin again. I smiled another smile.

"You seem awfully happy this morning," Kris said as she sat next to me at the table.

"I...I had a good night," I said softly, glancing down at the mug of tea in front of me.

"Did you and Kevin?" she lifted her voice at the end of the question, obviously asking something of a personal nature.

"No," I replied. "We just slept. But," I paused, "it felt really good. Like we belonged there."

"Dylan," she said, placing a hand on mine, "you DO belong there. Together."

"Thanks, Kris," I replied. "There's just so much between us, I hope we can work it all out."

"You will," she reassured me. "It's obvious, more now than ever, that you're both still crazy about each other. You just need to talk about everything." My face clouded over at her words.

"I know," I said. "I'm kind of dreading all of that."

"Why?" she asked, although I think it was more to get me to talk about it. I think she knew enough about the situation to have an answer already.

"Up until now," I began, indulging her prompting, "we've just kind of...existed together. These last days, we really haven't talked about much. The few times we have," my voice dropped as my mind recalled our fight on the street yesterday morning, "we've just thrown things at each other, then walked away from it.

"What do we say?" I wondered aloud, although not in expectation of an answer. "He slept with someone else, I walked out on him for almost two years, and," I choked up a bit, "and he never came after me."

It was the first time that I'd given voice to one of my greatest fears in the whole situation with Kevin. If he did still love me, if he did still want to be with me, then why hadn't he ever come after me? It wasn't like him to give up on me like that. He never had in the past. Was something different this time? Was he tired of trying to keep me?

"Dylan," Kris' voice pulled my gaze to hers. "You need to talk to him."

"I know, Kris," I agreed. "But, I need him so much right now. If I lose him, finally, for good, I just don't know how I'm going to handle everything that's coming."

"We'll all be here for you, Dylan," Kris reassured me. "Just like you'll be here to help us. But, you've got to get this stuff with Kevin at least out in the open. Maybe you don't solve everything, or anything, now, but at least you'll know a little better where you stand."

"You're right," I sighed. "As usual." She grinned at my overly obvious compliment.

"Of course I am, Dylan," she replied, standing to walk back into the kitchen. "I'm a woman. We always know."

"Whatever," I muttered.

"I heard that!" she yelled over her shoulder at me.

Chapter 33

The day passed uneventfully, for the most part. I spent a lot of it by myself, sorting through my thoughts and feelings, trying to figure out just what I wanted to say to Kevin when the time came to talk. Kris and Lindsay spent their time playing with the kids and talking. I noticed a lot of yearning looks on Lindsay's face as she watched the kids. I was beginning to understand a little more about my new-old friend.

Jeremy spent his time going through Mom and Dad's old papers. The will had already been written and signed, and he knew its contents. He and I hadn't really discussed it at all, but I assumed that the bulk of things went to the two of us, and our respective spouses. Mom had no real reason to leave things to her siblings, or Dad's. She'd always told me that the family heirlooms in her collection would pass on to us and to our children rather than to siblings or cousins.

Kevin and Nick were rediscovering their childhoods. I spent some time on the back porch, watching them make snowmen and pelt each other with snowballs from time to time. Little Jana came out to play with them for a while when Kris thought it was alright, but she couldn't take the cold as long as they could, so she'd gone back inside. Watching the two of them, I realized that they'd once again grown close, as they'd been years ago. As with most relationships, mine with Kevin had distanced him, even if only a little, from those who'd been important in his life. It dawned on me that they had rediscovered that lost connection while I was away.

The realization weighed upon me, of course. If Kevin and I were to get close once more, his relationship with Nick might become more distant again. I hated to see that happen, but I'd never discovered a way around it. Even with the best of intentions, love and commitment between two people rarely left as much room to keep others as close as they were now.

Tom had a working Sunday. He was on the phone, coordinating things with the rest of Nick's management team. I finally saw the full extent of his position in Nick's life. He basically ran everything for Nick, although I knew Nick better than to believe he didn't have his own hand in a lot of it, as well. Tom arranged his day-to-day world; Nick oversaw the whole thing. I wondered where Kevin fit into things.

Stephanie had arrived at 2:00 and been picked up by one of Tom's new security flunkies. She'd taken the time for only the briefest of introductions before plugging the phone back in and assuming her role. As I sat watching her take calls and arrange things in my life, I began to realize that she was my answer to Tom. She took care of all my minor details, while I simply oversaw the big things. It occurred to me that I was still not paying her enough, and I made a mental note to give her a raise.

I'd been impressed that she hadn't immediately demanded to know my whole story. She had to be curious, especially after seeing the security men wandering around the acreage surrounding the house. But, she'd contained her curiosity and gone straight to work. I guessed that, perhaps, she trusted me enough to wait until I found the right time to tell her.

I could still hear her in the other room as I rested in front of the picture window in the living room. Mom and Dad's house was built into a hill. The basement was actually exposed as a first floor entrance on the west side. The living room was upstairs, on the main floor. The picture window faced the west, and it was essentially the second floor on this side, so the view was unfettered by any trees or ground clutter.

I was rocking in Mom's old antique rocking chair. It was one of those that looked and seemed like the most delicate and light construction, but could easily support any weight you placed upon it. I had my feet up on a matching footstool as I sipped a mug of Earl Grey, enjoying the sparkle of the stars on the snow in the distance.

"Penny for your thoughts?" Kevin asked softly as he took the chair next to me. I glanced over and gave him a small smile.

"Kev, after all that's happened in the last five days, I think I'm up to at least a nickel," I joked, hoping he wouldn't pursue it too far.

"Well," he seemed to ponder, "I can probably afford those rates." We both chuckled softly. "Are you going to share?"

"I don't see any silver in this hand," I replied, holding out the hand closest to him. He proceeded to drop a nickel into my open palm.

"Fine, smartass," he said, obviously enjoying the fact that he'd caught me. "Now, spill."

"I was thinking about a lot of things," I hedged, unwilling to dig into issues.

"Such as?" he asked, just as unwilling to let me get away. He knew me far too well, at times.

"Such as the fact that I haven't treated Stephanie near well enough, although she's done a great job in her work."

"And?" he prodded me gently. I sighed, giving in a little.

"And about Mom, remembering the good times we had here. Our last Christmas together here, showing Preston his first snow." My face took on a sad smile. "He was so excited on Christmas Eve when he saw it snowing outside. Do you remember?" I glanced over at him.

"Yeah." Kevin nodded, a smile coming to his face as well. "And he was so worried that Santa would get lost in the blizzard or that he wouldn't know where to find him so far from home."

"We got him that sled and took him down the south hill all morning." I continued the memory.

"He slept through Christmas dinner," Kevin said. "We couldn't get him to wake up."

"Not even for a slice of Mom's apple pie."

We both fell silent for a while, both lost in our thoughts. I looked down at one point and realized that he was holding my hand. I stared down at his where it rested on mine. I could see the shadow of his knuckles, the curve of veins under his skin.

"Do you miss him, Kev?" I whispered, finally breaking the silence.

"Every day, D," he replied. He squeezed my hand.

"Do you still feel guilty?" I wondered, returning the pressure. He paused to consider his answer.

"No," he replied after a while. "It took me a while, but I eventually realized that it wasn't my fault." He paused again. I heard him shift, and I turned to find his gaze locked on mine. "It wasn't your fault either, Dylan," he whispered.

"I know, Kev," I gave him a small smile. "I think it probably took me even longer than it took you, but I finally figured out that it's not my fault, or yours, or Kari's. It just...happened." I choked up a little and turned back to look out the window.

In admitting it wasn't my fault, I was letting go of something to which I'd clung for these long months. My guilt had been a shield, holding the rest of the world at a distance, away from my heart. Now, I felt exposed, vulnerable. I felt free of the burden, but I also felt wide open. Without realizing it, I squeezed Kevin's hand even tighter.

"What else were you thinking?" he finally asked after we'd sat there for several more silent minutes.

"About Dad," I replied. My voice was still a little choked, so I cleared my throat. "I hadn't thought of him in a long time, it seems like. Now, being here, it kind of brings him back."

"I'm sorry, D," Kevin whispered.

"Why?" I asked, surprised at his words.

"Because, I know how much what happened with your dad always bothered you," he answered. He turned to me with a knowing look. "Even when you didn't want to admit it. And, because the death of a loved one always reminds us of deaths we've gone through in the past. We all relive the loss every time someone close to us dies."

"It's probably why Preston's so vivid in our minds," I mentioned.

"Yeah," he agreed softly.

"And, how are you doing, Kev?" I suddenly felt selfish, realizing that this had to be reminding him of his own father's death. It had been over 15 years before, but I doubted that made it any less hard to deal with.

"I'm fine, D," he replied. "Why?"

"I don't know," I said. "I guess all this talk about death. I worry about you, about what it reminds you of. I know your dad is probably lurking in the back of your mind. And Preston, of course." I turned to look into his eyes again. "I just...just wanted you to know that I care, and that I'm here for you if you need to talk." I whispered the last.

"I'm okay, Dylan," he said. "But," he almost seemed to blush in the dim light, "thanks for caring."

"Second nature, Kevy," I whispered. "I'm always worried about you somewhere in my head."

"Always?" I could tell what he was really asking by the tone of his voice. Had I worried about him while I was gone?

"Yeah. Always."

Again, silence fell between us. His hand still clasped mine, and neither of us seemed to be interested in changing that. We stared out the west window into the darkening night sky.

"It didn't mean anything, you know," he suddenly spoke.

"What?" I asked, confused as to his point.

"That night," he said, then hesitated. "With Kari. It didn't mean anything."

"Oh," was all I could think to reply.

"It just sort of...happened," he continued. There was a pause, neither one of us speaking.

"Do you want to talk about this right now?" Kevin asked, breaking in on the silence.

"Honestly?" I asked. He nodded. "Not really." I sighed. "I'm trying so hard to just take things a little bit at a time, trying not to let things overwhelm me." I glanced over at him momentarily before turning back to face the window. "We both know it happened. We both know it didn't mean anything. I guess," I paused, "I guess I feel like I really don't want to deal with more than that right now."

"Like you're afraid of what might happen if we're too honest?" He phrased it as a question, but we both knew he was truly stating it as a fact. I didn't bother to answer, and we both drifted off into our own thoughts for a time.

"Kev, do you love me?" I asked suddenly, afraid I would lose my courage if I waited any longer.

"Yes," he replied, with no hesitation.

"But?" I prodded him, having heard the question in his tone when he'd answered.

"I just," he began, then stopped. He stood and walked to the window, facing out into the night.

"I don't know what that means right now," he said, so softly I could barely hear him. "We've been apart for so long, so much has happened. I...I...Oh hell," he broke off, obviously unable to say what he wanted to say. I had a guess what he was trying to say.

"You don't know if what you feel for me is enough to rekindle our relationship. You're not sure that you even want to try that, anyway. You're afraid that any feelings you have for me right now are based somehow in sympathy, that you'd be letting me off the hook too easily because of Mom." I paused. He didn't speak, so I continued.

"You're afraid of what might happen if we do get back together. Will I leave you again? And what about Maya?" He turned his emerald gaze back to me when I said her name.

"She's not the issue, Dylan," he whispered. "She's just a friend."

"Does she know that?" I wondered.

"I've told her that before," he replied. "Whether she's listened is anyone's guess." Judging by what Nick had told me up until now, she hadn't really listened, but I didn't feel a need to voice the point.

"How am I on everything else?" I asked, returning to our talk.

"Pretty much dead on," he said as he turned to face back out the window. "You know me too well." I didn't answer with anything except a nod.

"You're the other half of my soul," I whispered, not even intending to vocalize the thought aloud.

Neither of us spoke for a while. I eventually stood and walked over to stand next to him. We both stared out across the prairie at the distant hills that surrounded the Missouri River. The moonlight and starlight did an intricate dance across the crystalline surface of the snow accumulated on the ground.

"Ya know," I spoke softly, hesitant to break the silence, "I almost never slept longer than four hours after I left Orlando...after I left you. I couldn't, unless I'd gone so long without sleep that my body just gave up. Or," I smiled ruefully, sadly, "unless I'd had a few too many shots of whiskey. Sleep wasn't really a friend."

"Why?" he wondered. He seemed genuinely interested in where I was going, although I was sure he knew as well as I did that it was mostly a distraction, a reason to speak.

"Dreams," I whispered. "Too many dreams. Of you. Of Preston. Of everyone I left behind." I paused, shifting my voice to a silly tone. "Plus, I didn't have a happy thought."

"A happy thought?" There was a note of quizzical humor in his tone.

"You know, like Peter Pan," I explained, a smile on my face. "He always needed a happy thought in order to fly." I turned to glance at him out of the corner of my eye. "Didn't Mama Ann ever read to you as a child?" I asked, using my best Southern drawl.

"I got the reference, Dylan," he said with the smallest hint of a grin.

"Good," I nodded. "Glad to see that education isn't totally lacking in the great state of Kentucky." I turned back to face out the window before continuing my story. "See, Peter Pan always needed a happy thought to fly. And fairy dust, of course," I chuckled at my little pun.

"I," my voice fell along with my smile, "I always needed a happy thought in order to sleep. In that dark time of night, just when you lay down. Your mind begins to wander, to think over events of the past or make plans for the future. It was always in that borderline time between awake and asleep that I had the darkest thoughts, the scariest dreams.

"When I was a kid, I used to stay up late and watch scary movies with Jeremy. I wasn't supposed to, and Mom and Dad always got mad at him for letting me. He did it anyway. Hell, most nights he encouraged me. I think it was his first means of torturing his little brother. See, I had an...overactive imagination, and I'd always end up sleeping with Mom and Dad because I'd get so scared in the border time." I paused, recalling a specific memory with a slight smile of embarrassment.

"I can remember reading The Amityville Horror one night. Scared the crap out of me, but I was 12 years old and determined to stay in my own bed." I glanced over at him, seeing the slight smile there. I nearly lost my train of thought just seeing that smile. I turned back to the window. "I made it until about midnight and ended up crawling into my parents' room and sleeping on their floor." My smile faded as I went on again.

"When I got older, that time of day was when my depression first surfaced. When it started, that was the only time. As life went on, it would spread out from there, but it was always darkest then. It continued on that way through high school, and even into college to some extent.

"After," I hesitated, "after Michael raped me, I went to see a therapist in Denver. One of the things she and I talked about was the border time, and my problems with the...black thoughts, with sleeping. She told me that I needed a happy thought." I smiled at the memory of our talk.

"I had about the same reaction you did when she started talking about Peter Pan," I said. "She told me that I should try to think of one thing that made me happy, one daydream, of sorts, to help my mind focus away from the dark things lurking in corners. Everyone has dark thoughts, she told me, but my problem was that I let them overwhelm me. The mind has the fewest defenses up at that time of day. You purposely relax in order to let sleep come in. I needed something to distract my mind that would still allow me to sleep.

"So, I spent a long time trying to come up with a happy thought. One simple dream to keep," I paused, letting my voice drop, "to keep the darkness away." I paused again, turning to look at Kevin. "My happy thought was you, Kev," I whispered. He met my gaze, obviously confused.

"But," he began, but I held up a hand, forestalling his reply.

"Not you, particularly," I elaborated. "At least, not yet. We hadn't met and wouldn't for a few more years. But, it was what you later came to represent. Someone who loved me, who wanted me for me, who would wrap me up in his arms and just hold me whenever I needed it. Especially in the border time.

"When we met and," I paused, "and fell in love, you became my happy thought. Every night, when I needed to focus away from the darkness, I would think of you, think of saying `I love you', think of hearing you say it in return. It was a lot harder when we weren't together, but, even then, the thought of you could hold back the darkness.

"After...after the separation, knowing, or believing, that I'd lost you, my happy thought went away. There wasn't any way to hold back the dark. So, I avoided sleeping as much as possible. If I was absolutely exhausted, or...or drunk, then I could sleep. Otherwise, the dreams were too much." I stopped, waiting for him to say something.

"Why are you telling me this?" he wondered.

"I haven't got a clue, really," I replied truthfully. "I guess maybe because I've never told you before, never told anyone but Wendy before. I just," I turned to face him again, "I felt like you needed to know, Kev.

"But," I put a hand on his arm, "I didn't tell you this to somehow put guilt or pressure on you. I just wanted you to know what you represent for me, what you mean to me. This was the best way I knew how." He didn't speak for a while. I turned and stared out into the night once more, just listening to him breath.

"Who's Wendy?" When he finally spoke, I had no clue what he was talking about.

"What?" I asked.

"You mentioned you'd told this to `Wendy'," he elaborated. "I just wondered who she was."

"Oh," I replied. "Wendy was my therapist in Denver." I shot him a questioning gaze. "I never told you that?" He absently shook his head, still thinking. Then he gave a wry chuckle.

"Your therapist Wendy was telling you stories about Peter Pan?" he asked.

"I know," I said, also giving a small smile. "Bad coincidence, huh?"

"Very bad," he agreed.

"Well, tacky as it was," I said, "she was damn good at her job. Kept me sane for at least five minutes."

"It is kind of a full time job where you're concerned," he admitted, although I knew he was still teasing by the tone.

"Maybe it's time that changed," I spoke softly. I hadn't actually intended to say that part aloud.

"I wasn't serious, Dylan," Kevin said, turning to look at me again. I sighed.

"Maybe you should be, Kev," I said, also turning so our eyes met in the reflected moonlight.

"Dylan, stop it," he said. "Just stop. Give yourself a break. Please, for once in your life, give yourself a break. The rest of us do occasionally." I sighed again.

"I'm tired, Kev," I whispered.

"Maybe you should get some sleep," he suggested.

"Not tired physically," I told him. "Tired here," I pointed to my temple, "and here," and I pointed to my heart.

"I know what you mean," he sighed in agreement. I stepped over to him, reaching down to take his hands in mine.

"Kevin," I began, staring into his green eyes, "Will you do something for me?" He nodded, very slowly, obviously unsure if he should commit himself.

"Be here for me?" I asked. "Just table all of this...this baggage for a couple days. Just until the funeral is over? I know it's a lot to ask of you, but...I could really use a happy thought again, even if it's only for a short time." I paused, then whispered one last, pleading word. "Please?"

He stared into my eyes, not moving. As usually happened when I was in close proximity to Kevin, time seemed to stretch out, to expand almost to the point where it stopped. Our breaths, which could only be taking a second or two, now felt as though they were taking minutes, even hours. He studied me, I pleaded with him, mentally, emotionally.

"Sure, D," he finally said, drawing the words out. He slid one hand up to cup my cheek. "For a few days, we'll be there for each other." He stroked my face softly as he continued to study my gaze. "And after that...well, we'll figure it out then."

I leaned in towards him, tentatively asking for, and offering, a hug. He seemed to accept as he drew me in closer, wrapping me up in the solid strength of his body. I buried my face in his neck, trying desperately, unsuccessfully, not to cry.

"Thank you, Kevy," I whispered against his neck as the first of my tears dripped onto his shirt. "I love you." I said it without thinking, without realizing I was doing so. I hadn't intended to put any kind of additional pressure on him.

"I," he began, paused, then continued. "I love you, too, D." His voice was a whisper that should have faded with his breath. But, in my mind and my heart, his words echoed on.

Author's Notes

Greetings from sunny central Florida!

Yes, I know a number of you are a little upset at how long these installments are taking. All I can do is offer up my apologies. As with most people, life gets in the way. Between work, working out, and working on my home/yard, time just disappears. Frankly, I can't believe it's already mid-August.

Well, in honor of the momentous event that occurred in all of your lives on this glorious day in 1973 (whether you knew it happened or not, it did!), I'm posting another section. For those who missed the reference in Forever, the 14th of August, 1973 marked the day that yours truly was ushered forth into the world. So, all of you should celebrate.

Now, the good/bad news. Good news? I've got most of the rest of the story mapped out in my head. For those of you who've expressed the concern, Equilibrium will be completed...eventually. I will not leave it hanging around without a wrapup. Bad news? My time's still pretty limited. I've been writing as I can fit it in, which isn't nearly often enough. But, I'm trying, so be patient.

Hope everyone that's stuck around is still enjoying the story. Comments/criticisms are always welcome via e-mail. Whether I actually take your suggestions is entirely at my discretion ;-)

Oh, and forgive any typo's or other errors in this section. I'm in a hurry to get to the gym, so I'm rushing through the HTML conversion.