Chapter Eight: Family Matters

Narrative POV

Dianne frowned as Alexander's sleeping body became restless and jerky. He had been resting peacefully for nearly three hours now; what had changed? As she watched, she heard him begin to mumble. Incoherent gibberish at first, but slowly she began to be able to make out words.

"Who... who is the... the prince? Who is he? Why... why does he... he stares at me... Who are... you?" Dimly, Dianne was aware of seeing two cars pulling into the driveway through Chris' window which overlooked the front of the property. "How do I... I will, tell me how?" As Dianne listened she suddenly became very frightened. Alexander's mumblings reminded her far too much of the dream Chris had told her about. The dream had caused Chris to scream in his sleep, only waking up after she had slapped him across the face, hard. She hadn't been worried about waking Chris so, she had been certain that he would know who she was - but could she risk waking Alexander in such a manner?

As she sat beside the bed contemplating, the decision was made for her: Alexander began screaming just as Chris had been. As the nurse came banging through the half closed door, demanding to know what was going on, Dianne surged up out of her chair, raised her hand and slapped Alexander across the face, hoping it would wake him. It did not, he simply continued to scream, his body thrashing on the large bed and entangling himself in the sheets. "Quickly," Dianne said to the daytime nurse in a tone ringing with a confidence she did not feel, "pull the sheets off him before he gets so tangled he chokes himself."

Still confused as to what was going on, the nurse did as instructed and began removing the bedclothes while trying to avoid Alexander's flailing arms. Luckily for him, Alexander's legs were restrained by the casts, otherwise he might not have had any chance at all. As the nurse struggled with the entangled blankets, Dianne's mind grasped onto the one idea that might work and she rushed out of the room, heading for the front door with a look on her face that caused the household staff to leap out of her way when they saw her heading down the stairs.

It couldn't possibly have taken more than a minute to reach the front door, but it felt to her as though it had taken far too long. Ignoring the logistics involved in pulling the door inward while still trying to barrel ahead, she bolted outside and ran down the path to the driveway.

Jamie, having heard the front door open, looked back just in time to grab Gareth's hand and pull him out of Dianne's way before she went surging through the space the two boys had occupied a moment ago.

"Chris, hurry," Dianne said breathlessly as she came to a jerky halt, "Alexander is screaming and I don't know what's wrong."

Chris' POV

My backpack dropped, forgotten, from my hands as I sprinted forward. My brother was in trouble and I felt sure that he needed me.

As I quickly gained on and then easily outdistanced Dianne, who had begun running back up the path as soon as she had finished speaking, I realized that for the first time since that morning I could once more hear Alexander in my mind. There was something wrong though, the presence that had been a comforting ball of emotion in the back of my consciousness was now a fist of pain in my skull. I stumbled as I started up the stairs, but forced myself onward.

Finally, as I heard Adam, Jamie, Gareth and Amanda come running into the house, I reached the top of the stairs and began to run past nearly the entire household staff, all of whom were lining the hallway and staring concernedly at my room, wondering why Alexander was screaming.

Gasping for breath, I stopped in the doorway and found Alexander thrashing atop my bed, completely naked except for the casts on his legs. The day nurse whom the hospital had sent for today was standing by the bed, attempting to talk to Alexander, and failing miserably. "Leave," I said to him, stepping forward, attempting to grab Alexander's hand as it flailed through the air. With an indignant expression on his face he backed away from the bed, but didn't leave. I didn't care.  Finally I caught Alexander's hand in mine, and knelt by the side of the bed.

"Alexander," I said calmly, both aloud and through our link. "Alexander, wake up." Alexander's hand tightened in mine as his thrashings calmed and an image appeared in my mind.

A large stained glass window occupied the end of the hallway. The image depicted was that of a lovely prince with sad colorless eyes. The landscape around him had turned to ice, and the prince himself seemed to be trapped by great walls of snow. As I watched, the glass began to crack, as if in slow motion, until finally even the eyes were spider-webbed with fractures. Of a sudden, the cracks halted in their course, and time seemed to stand still for an instant as I stared ahead. With a jolt, the entire window exploded outward sending missiles of shattered glass and twisted metal screaming through the air.

Moments later, with the dust settled once more upon the ground, the air stilled and the noise of the explosion still ringing in my ears, I looked up to where the prince had once been depicted in shining pieces of colored glass. There, floating in the air just before the gaping hole that had been the window, was the demon from my dream. I hadn't looked at him closely  last time, having been so terrifed - this time though, I saw him as if he were nothing more than carnival painting.

The creature hung in the air, a six foot tall, incredibly thin parody of a human body. Its head was a pasty white, bald orb that looked too large for its insubstantial neck. Its gaping smile, behind a cruel mouth that resembled nothing so much as a festering wound, revealed sharp, jagged teeth. At the ends of its overly long arms, hung large hands with long claw-like fingers, the nails of which were caked and blackened by dirt and what appeared to be dried blood. Once fine clothing hung from its pale body in ragged strips, covered in the same filth as its fingernails.

Finally my gaze was drawn to its eyes. Black, lifeless looking orbs that seemed to consume light. Somehow they glinted, and I shrank back. "I'll have you yet, little princeling," it said to me in a dry rasping voice. My vision blurred, and the dream was gone.

Alexander, eyes wide and gasping for breath, sat bolt upright in bed and tightened his grip on my hand with such force that I nearly flinched from the pain.

"Alexander," I said, placing a hand on his back as he continued to wake up, "are you all right?"

"Yes," he said quietly, turning his head and focusing his eyes on mine. "I'll be okay." Although he didn't say it aloud, or even through our link, the word 'now' seemed to hang in the air. Looking down in his lap, he blushed, realizing for the first time that he was naked. When he looked around the room and noticed Adam, Gareth, Jamie, Amanda, and Dianne all staring at him, along with the male nurse and even some of the staff who were peeking around the edge of the door, he turned a bright shade of crimson.

Chuckling at his apparent discomfort, Dianne scooped up one of the blankets from the pile on the floor and sent it sailing through the air in a ball. Alexander, still busy being embarrassed, didn't notice it until it was too late, and ended up getting a faceful of blanket. Still blushing, he pulled his hand from mine and went about arranging the blanket to cover himself decently. No longer holding his hand, I stood up.

"Well," Amanda said, breaking the silence as Alex finished with the blanket, "since it seems no one is about to introduce us, I'm Amanda." With a smile she approached the bed and stuck out her hand.

'She's the one who likes you, isn't she?'

'Yes,' I replied, 'she is. Are you going to respond to her?'

"Hello Amanda," he said simply, taking her outstretched hand in one of his own. "I'm Alexander."

After shaking his hand, Amanda continued to look Alexander in the face, staring into his yes. "You have the same eyes as Chris. If I didn't know any better I'd say you were...."

"Twins?" Adam offered, as Amanda trailed off.

"We are," I said, earning a surprised double take from Amanda. Gareth and Jamie didn't respond, they had decided to take the opportunity to engage in a rather long kiss.

Alexander noticed what I was looking at and smiled, which caused Adam and Amanda, as well as Dianne and the nurse to look too. Adam broke into a grin and watched, as did Dianne. Amanda, in a the abrupt but kind manner I was beginning to associate with her, said, "I don't suppose you two would like a room of your own?" The nurse's eyes nearly bugged out of his head.

Pulling back, Gareth smiled innocently at his sister. "Oh? You mean we can have one?"

Jamie smiled, and laughed innocently at Gareth's question. Hearing the sound, Gareth turned back to him and looked into his innocently sparkling blue eyes and smiled himself. "Then again," he said quietly, "who needs a room..." Once again the two were off in their private world.

"It's just as well," Dianne said in a tone that attempted to be serious, relieved, amused, delighted, and worried all at once, "because you can't have one. In fact, for the next few minutes you'll have to put up with a hallway. Now scat, and let us get Alexander decently covered. That goes for you too, Adam. And you, my dear," she said to Amanda, "now all of you get out."

Amid a flurry of half hearted protestations and unacknowledged agreements, Dianne ushered them all out of my room and shut the door, leaving just her, the nurse, and myself to help Alexander. Well, at least we were all of us physically in the room. From the look on his face, the nurse was somewhere else entirely - he was still staring wide eyed at the spot where Jamie and Gareth had been standing.

Walking right up into his field of vision, Dianne spoke with an iron will ringing in her voice. "You, what's your name?"

Caught off his guard, the man stuttered for a moment before finally blurting out, "Sh-Shawn, my n-name is Shawn."

"Well, Shawn," Dianne said, walking up to him until he had to bend his neck down to see into here eyes, "do you think you're going to have a problem with what you just saw?"

"Huh?" He responded in confusion. Then, just as Dianne began to open her mouth, his brain kicked into gear and he blurted out, "Oh. You mean the two boys kissing? No, no problem at all. I have many gay friends, I just hadn't expected to see it here. I'm sorry about spacing out, it won't happen again."

"Good. Now come over here and help us get these bedclothes straightened out."

Although it didn't show on his face, Alexander was nearly dying of mirth at the nurse's predicament as Dianne questioned him. I had to admit that I found the situation hilarious. Dianne, standing at 5'7, and weighting in at 115 pounds, was putting the fear of God into a man that was at least four inches taller, and thirty pounds heavier. And personally, I would bet money she could take him down too - especially if force of will had anything to do with it.

Wordlessly, the three of us set about putting my bed back together as Alexander lay there staring at the ceiling, trying valiantly not to blush again when we pulled the blanket away so we could put the sheets back on..

'Chris, how did you know that dream?' Surprise showed in my face as Alexander's question caught me off guard. Dianne looked at me questioningly, but didn't say anything as she pulled the sheet tight and pushed the bottom edge under the mattress.

'I had that dream Wednesday morning. But the picture in the stained glass window was different.  The prince was the same, but he wasn't surrounded by ice in my dream. He was standing on a cliff overlooking a beautiful kingdom. The Demon was the same, although I didn't see him as clearly last time. Do you know where the ice came from?'

'Yes.' Alexander said. 'Most of my dreams involve me surrounded by an icy fortress while hordes of people try to break it down. I'm never sure if they're trying to help me, or attack me, so I never let them in.'

'A wall of ice to keep the world at bay.' I thought, almost to myself. 'Yes, it will prevent others from being able to hurt you, but it won't prevent you hurting yourself. And it will prevent others from being able to help. Let at least someone in Alexander, you don't have to be alone.

'I have. I let a hole melt just big enough for you...'  Alexander's thoughts trailed off.

'And my Demon came with me. I'm sorry, Alexander.'

In response to my thought Alexander placed his hand atop my wrist as I pulled the blanket up and across the bed. 'Don't apologize, Chris. We all have our Demons to face, and usually we have to face them alone. Even now, the majority of this battle must be yours, but please know that you can always ask for my help. You have helped me calm the Demons in my thoughts, I no longer see Phillip's death before my eyes as though it were happening continually. Let me help you with your Demon, even if all I can do is offer you a shoulder to cry on when the fight seems overwhelming.

In response, I looked into his eyes and spoke aloud. "Thank you."

He smiled gently. "You're welcome."

Dianne and the nurse were both looking at us strangely, but instead of trying to explain I just shrugged and went back to fixing up the bed.

Adam's POV

As we all piled out of Chris' room, or rather as we were all chased out by Dianne, the man who Chris had said was John started shooing the rest of the household staff away.

"Go on, go on," He said, waving at them all, "We all have things to be doing, and none of it will be accomplished by standing around here gawking."

When everyone else had gone, he turned to the four of us and extended his hand to Gareth. "You must be master Gareth, I've heard a lot about you." Then he smiled, "Servants always gossip, you know."

Gareth smiled and extended his hand, "Yes, I'm Gareth. Will Alexander be okay?"

"In all likelihood, yes. And you, my dear young lady, who might you be?"

"Amanda," she said graciously, extending her hand for John to take in his own - which he did, "I'm Gareth's sister."

"How charming to meet you. Jamie, Adam - it is good to see you both again. All of you, please, if you need anything, tell me. Now I will leave you to each other, surely you have better things to do than socialize with an out of touch, almost over the hill chef. Good day." Inclining his head slightly, John turned and walked down the hall towards what I assumed was a back stairway leading to the kitchen.

When I looked back I found that Jamie and Gareth were once again standing in each other's arms. This time though, instead of kissing like a couple of nymphomaniacs on death row, they were simply staring into each other's eyes. Too, I found Amanda staring at me intently. "You," she said walking towards me, "are in love with him."

"Huh?" I grunted, taken completely by surprise. The two boys turned their heads to look at me, but I hardly noticed. "Wha - What are you talking about?"

Completely unconvinced, Amanda smirked at me and said, "I saw the way you were looking at him in the driveway before Dianne came out. You were staring at him like your life depended on his answer. So now I'm asking you. 'You love him don't you?'" It certainly didn't sound like a question, more like a statement of fact. She was right of course, and I couldn't think of a way to get out of this situation, nor could I think of a truly good reason to want to. There was no reason to hide it from anyone here.

After minutes of staring her in the eyes, I finally answered quietly, "I uh... I... Well, not that it's any of your business, but yes. I do have feelings for Chris."

For a moment she was silent, staring at me as though she were sizing up the competition - which in all likelihood is exactly what she was doing. "Well," she said in a very matter of fact voice as she stepped forward and extended her hand, "good luck. 'Cause if he's even remotely interested in girls, you're going to need it!"

Smiling as I shook her hand, I responded, "And to you." Then, grinning devilishly as she let go of my hand, "May the best man win."

She laughed. "Indeed. Well, I have to leave. I really do have things to do and places to go. You boys have fun," she turned to Jamie and Gareth, who were still watching us, "and I'll be back to pick Gareth up at about six. Mom wants you home for dinner tonight."

"Aww man!" Gareth whined.

"Quit whining, Gareth. She knows about you and Jamie and invited him to dinner so she could meet him. And don't you look at me that way, I was just as shocked when she confronted me about it last night. Bye, Adam. Tell Chris bye for me too. See ya lataz love birds, be good."

I'm not sure which part of that shocked me more, the number of bombshells she had dropped in all of five minutes, or the calm collected way she walked off as though the rest of us weren't still trying to climb back out of the craters. Girls... sheesh. Especially that girl.

"So, Adam, you've got a crush on my cousin, huh?" Jamie smiled. "Not that I blame you, he is a total hunk isn't he?" Gareth still seemed to be too shocked to speak.

"Well, ya. I do. And Chris isn't a hunk, he's a God. Do you think...?"

Jamie chuckled as I trailed off. "Like I told Amanda, that's something you'll have to ask him yourself. Besides," he smirked, "you know what to us mortals when we go playing aroud with the secrets of the Gods."

I glared at him. "Brat." He just smiled wider.

A moment later the nurse who had been helping Dianne and Chris fix the bed opened the door to Chris' room, inclined his head to me and walked down the hall to the room that was apparently his for the day while Alexander didn't need his help. If I hadn't known any better I would've thought he was blushing as he passed by Jamie and Gareth, who were still standing in each other's arms. I wondered for a moment if those two did anything besides hold each other and kiss when they were together - you know, like talk.

Since the door was still open I walked back into the room and was mildly surprised to see Dianne helping a clothed Alexander into a wheel chair that had leg supports for his casts. Chris was nowhere to be seen, but light was escaping from under the door to his attached bathroom.

"Ah, Adam," Dianne said to me as she finished getting Alexander situated in his chair, "when Chris comes out of the bathroom, would you please tell him that I went outside to open the gate for him?"

"Sure," I said, a bit puzzled. And then watched as she walked out. Jamie and Gareth hadn't followed me in, and I found myself alone in the room with Alexander.

"Hello, Adam." He said in a voice that was gentle, serious, kind and very tired all at the same time.

"Hi, Alexander." I said, smiling crookedly. I wasn't sure why, but he made me rather uncomfortable. I realized, though, that there was something I wanted to ask him, and I wasn't likely to get a better chance any time soon.

"Alexander, there's something I feel I should tell you, but I'm not exactly sure how to do it."

He smiled, startling me a bit. He looked so much like Chris, and yet so different. His hair was short and had a tendency to fall down in his eyes if he let it. He had the same wide shoulders Chris had, the same pale skin and gentle, almost effeminate features. The same gray eyes, that flashed like shadowed diamonds. The muscle tone Chris had was absent though, and his eyes seemed very sad - as though he had seen things that no one should ever have to experience. Considering the fact that he had tried to kill himself, it was likely he had seen many things that the rest of us had been protected from. Too, his face seemed older somehow, and more guarded, where Chris' face was open, innocent, and very young.

I realized I was staring, and quickly averted my eyes. "Actually," I said slowly, "I have something to ask you. I hadn't thought it would be so difficult... Ok here goes." Gathering all my courage, I blurted it all out, "I'm gay and I think I'm in love with Chris and... and... and for some reason I almost feel like I should be asking your permission." Shocked by my own statement, I sat down on the bed, my hands on my knees to keep me upright.

"Adam," he said quietly, putting his hand atop my own, "you don't have to ask my permission, you have to ask his. But know this," he continued, the sudden power in his voice causing me to look up into eyes that were glinting with determination, "if you hurt him, if you somehow make him love you back and then decide you don't want him any more, I will do everything in my power to destroy you utterly." Normally such a comment from a half cripple in a wheel chair would make me laugh, but something in his eyes told me that this was one threat I should not take lightly.

"Alexander, if by some miracle Chris becomes mine, I will treasure him, protect him, and love him for my entire life and beyond. Don't ever doubt that." Alexander nodded. He opened his mouth to speak, but closed it again as the door to the bathroom opened and Chris walked out. Turning to look at him, my jaw just about hit the floor.

Narrative POV

Gareth wasn't quite sure what to say. He was still in shock from what Amanda had said, even now after Adam had gone into Chris' room. He could hear mumbling and figured they were talking. Jamie was still holding onto him, his hands placed gently on Gareth's hips. Jamie, aside from what he hasd said to Adam, seemed lost in thought as well.

"Gareth," the blond boy said, staring into the nearly black pools of Gareth's eyes, "there's something I want to ask you."

Gareth smiled as he leaned against the wall and pulled Jamie to him playfully. "Then ask it."

"I'm scared though. It's a big question and I'm not sure what my answer would be if you asked me."

"Ahh," Gareth said seriously, tightening his hold on Jamie. "You're about to ask me if I love you, or just want to sleep with you, aren't you?"

For a moment Jamie simply stared, speechless. "That's exactly what I was going to ask, how did you know?"

"Because I've been wondering the same thing myself ever since I first kissed you yesterday. I don't think I know the answer yet. And I've been wondering the same thing about you too."

"I don't know the answer either," Jamie said, laying his head on Gareth's shoulder and holding onto his friend tightly. "I do know that I don't want us to end. But I don't want us to rush either." With a look almost of desperation, Jamie pulled his head back and looked questioningly into Gareth's' eyes, searching his face for the answers he needed. "Does any of that make sense to you?"

Gareth smiled very gently, his eyes staring back into Jamie's and almost glowing. "Yes. It makes perfect sense, and I feel the same way. So what do we do now?"

His heart leaping within his chest, Jamie beamed. "Well," he said pulling the box of mints from his pocket and taking one out, "I seem to remember you promising me a rematch." Quickly he pressed the mint against Gareth's half opened mouth, and watched as his fingertip disappeared between two sweet lips. Pulling his hand back, he quickly replaced the finger with his own lips, and the game was begun. Gareth moaned and Jamie wrapped his arms around his waist. This was one game that neither of them intended to lose.

Adam's POV

He was standing there, in the middle of his room, talking to me, and I couldn't hear a word. All I could do was concentrate on the fact that he was wearing a pair of black swimming trunks, and not a stitch more. Not a single blessed stitch. God in heaven, that boy is gorgeous! Um, yum, yummy - I wanna lick him! I mean really, can you blame me? Strong, kind, smart, and absolutely fine! Wouldn't you?

"Adam?" Chris said, walking towards me. "Adam, are you listening?"

"Uh, sorry. What?"

Looking at me funny, he said, "I asked you if you wanted to go swimming. I've got a bunch of extra suits, even a couple that will probably fit Gareth and Jamie."

Chris wet? Chris wet!? YES! Can anyone honestly think I would turn this down? "Ya, sure, sounds fun." I tell you, I should be on the drama team. Oh wait, I am. "What about Alexander?"

Alexander smiled. "I'm going to sti by the pool and watch. Shawn said the sun would do me good."

"Who's Shawn?" I asked, perplexed.

"The day nurse," Chris answered, rummaging through his dresser.

"Oh, by the way. Dianne said to tell you that she went to open the gate."

"Cool.... Ahah! Here you go." With that, he threw a dark blue pair of swim trunks at me and said, "You can change in my bathroom. I'll get suits for Gareth and Jamie and let them change in the bathroom down the hall." He turned back to his closet and started rummaging through the dresser again. Presumably he was looking for the suits that would fit Jamie and Gareth.

Very nearly jumping in my excitement, I got up off the bed and walked over to Chris' bathroom. I was so excited it took me all of two minutes to strip out of my clothes and slip on the suit Chris had given me. It was a bit too big, seeing as how his waist is a bit bigger than mine, but nothing a few good tugs on the tie strings wouldn't compensate for. Tight as that boy's abs may be, he is still physically bigger around than I am. It was only as I turned and looked in the mirror that I realized I had a problem. It was the predictable problem too, the one that always seems to happen at the most inopportune times. I was, of course, as hard as a rabbit in heat.

Well okay, maybe not that hard, but it was enough to cause embarrassment. Oh, solution! I'm in a bathroom, just grab a towel and hang it over my shoulder so it covers the front of my shorts. Okay, that works!

Chris' POV

"Gareth, Jamie," I called as I walked towards my door, having found two pair of swim suits that I figured would fit them, "you guys wanna go swimming?" I heard a moaning noise and continued out my door, curious to see what was going on. "Figures," I said smiling when I found that they were, of course, engaged in a rather complicated kiss.

"Um, guys?" I said, clearing my throat. Jamie held up one hand, signaling me to wait a moment, and with the other hand began feeling Gareth's chest. I saw his thumb and finger come together in a pinch, and Gareth gasped. Almost immediately Jamie pulled his head back, smiling like a fox.

"You wanted something Chris?" Jamie asked me innocently.

"Hey!" Gareth sounded almost petulant, "You cheated!"

"Yeah," Jamie said, landing a little star kiss on Gareth's lips and pulling away quickly, "but I got the mint." He turned to me, smiling widely. "What was it you wanted?"

"I was about to ask if you guys wanted to go swimming with Adam and me, but I'm not sure if I trust you little minxes half naked and wet in the same pool. What do you think?"

"Of course you can trust us!" Jamie said indignantly. "What do you think we are?"

I smiled at him. "I think you're young and horny. You gonna try telling me otherwise?"

"Well..." Jamie trailed off, and Gareth giggled.

Leaning forward, Gareth spoke up. "Horny we may be, and young too. But we can control ourselves. Now give us the suits and tell us where to change."

"Bathroom." I pointed down the hall away from the stairway. "Two doors down that way."

Narrative POV

With a running step and a bounce on the end of the diving board, Jamie launched himself into the air above the large oval shaped pool and let out a yell. "COWABUNGA!" Almost floating through the air, Jamie remained spread eagle above the pool until the instant before impact, quickly pulling himself into a tight ball and creating an inordinately large shock wave of water.

"How does he do that?" Gareth asked as the water splashed up around the three spectators treading water a few feet away from where Jamie had entered the water.

"I have no idea," Chris said. With a quick scissor kick he had propelled himself to the side and was pulling himself out. Pulling the wet mass of his hair in behind him as he walked behind the diving board, water sluicing off his body in rivulets, he readied himself for a dive. A running start, a forceful jump, and he was high in the air. Throwing his head forward, he twisted in mid air as he seemed almost to spin in place. His body moved in ways that almost defied physics, and the three swimming observers watched in awe along with Alexander, who sat in the shade of one of the large umbrella-shaped sun shades. Moments before hitting the water, his body straightened, his arms extended before him, and he slipped effortlessly into the water. Adam watched in spellbound awe as the few ripples created by Chris' almost flawless entry floated past.

"How," Adam said when Chris had resurfaced, "do you do that!?"

Chris smiled widely. "Practice."

"Forget the wrestling team, you should be on the diving team!"

"I was last year. Having to swim in chlorinated water every day destroyed my hair though."

"Oh," Jamie gasped theatrically, "for shame!"

Their talk was interrupted as Gareth, who had managed to exit the pool unnoticed, splashed down between them, causing them to splutter in protest. Gareth, in turn, was severely dunked moments after resurfacing for air.

Jamie, of course, came to his friends defense and soon all four were engaged in a water war as each of the four strove to get the other three as wet as possible. The simple truth that one can only get so wet, either didn't occur to them, or was summarily ignored.

Eventually, Adam and Gareth found themselves opposite Chris and Jamie. With a flash of inspiration, Gareth yelled 'CHICKEN FIGHT!' and swam toward Adam. Quickly agreeing, Adam set the younger boy on his shoulders and turned to find Chris and Jamie readying themselves as well.

"Charge!" Jamie yelled with a grin.

It was a long and strenious battle, as both sides were loath to give up. Eventually though, Adam managed to hook a foot behind one of Chris' legs and pull it out from under him. Chris fell back as Gareth pulled Jamie forward, and with a yelp of indignant refusal, the cousins fell apart.

Smiling and spluttering, the two came up for air, Chris smiling ruefully and Jamie glaring furiously. "Rematch!" he demanded immediately.

"Aie, not yet," Chris said pleadingly, "my shoulders are sore."

"Besides," Gareth piped happily from his perch on Adam's shoulders, "I claim rights of the victor!"

"Huh?" Chris and Jamie said in unison, looking curiously up at the darker boy.

"Rights of the victor. We won, we get to make one demand. And I demand," he continued smilng widely, "that Jamie must cheat every single time we play Steal the Mint." As Jamie smiled happily and blushed furiously at the same time, Adam laughed at Gareth's remark and in good humor shrugged the younger boy off his shoulders. With a surprised gurgle of a yelp, Gareth fell beneath the surface to come back up spluttering and caughing. When he had regained his breath, he asked, "What's your demand, Adam?"

Adopting the pompous air of a victorious lord, Adam declared, "I, Adam Cross, victor of the glorious battle fought herein, do claim as my right of the victor: The priveledge of having a chauffer for the week." He smiled, dropping the act and looking at Chris. "And you're it!"

Chris laughed. "Aye, good sirra, I accept your demand. But first..." with a good natrued shout he jumped forward, wrapped his arms around Adam's midsection and dragged him down. Yet again the four friends splashed, dunked, threw, pulled, pushed, and manhandled each other - each trying to get the other three to go under while at the same time staying above the water themselves.

From his spot in the shade, Alexander watched, catching a glimpse of the life that had been denied him. Silently, unacknowledged tears slipped down his cheeks at the thought that it would be many long weeks before he could physically even attempt to join them, and probably longer before they would truly accept him. With a great effort, he managed to prevent Chris from hearing even the slightest echo of his despair. Chris was so innocent, so beautiful, laughing and playing with the other three boys. Alexander did not want to ruin that.

Chris' POV

Exquisite torture, painful ecstacy. Is there a difference? Does it even matter? Adam's tanned, tall, slim form glistening first from the sunscreen and later from the water covering him in a blanket of refracted brilliance. The feel of his hands on my back as he spread the oily substance on my back as well. It's a good thing I had my back turned to him or there might have been some embarassing questions to answer. When he'd said he was finished, I jumped in the pool immediately, hoping the cold water would solve the problem. Luckily it did. Now, almost three hours later, the problem had resurfaced as I watched him dry off.

"Hey, Chris," ha said to me, still ruffing the towel over his short brown hair, "your first chore as chauffer is taking me home tonight. Since Jamie and Gareth are splitting at six, what do you think of coming to my house for dinner?" He pulled the towel of his head and wrapped it around his waste as his hair stuck up in all directions. "Alexander too, if he wants to. My mom said she'd like to see both of you again."

"Sounds cool," I responded, then glanced at Alexander. "You wanna go?"

Alexander smiled the first truly happy smile I had seen from him. "I would love to. I'm not exactly sure how we're going to do it, but I would love to."

"Hrmm..." Adam said, rubbing his chin in a way that made him look serious and cute at the same time. "I hadn't thought of that. I could call mom and ask her to come pick me up and you could drive Alex over in your car," he offered.

"No need," I shrugged, "we can just borrow Dianne's SUV. All we have to do is ask."

"Awesomeness achieved!!" Adam said, smiling happily. "Oh grief. Don't look now, but I think our two little love birds are playing Steal the Mint again."

I turned around looking behind me, and laughed. Sure enough, Jamie and Gareth stood in each other's arms kissing deeply as their naked chests pressed together. "Na," I said turning back to him, "they haven't had time to get any mints. Besides, Jamie isn't cheating."

Adam laughed, and turned to walk back towards the house. "I'm gonna go change," he called over his shoulder, the sound of laughter still playing in his voice. A moment later I followed, pushing Alexander before me. "Tell me, Alexander," I said quietly, "do you think it'll ever happen between me and Adam?"

"Even if I knew I wouldn't tell you Chris. There are too many answers. Adam's the only one who can give you the first answer, and only time the rest."

"How do you know so much, Alexander?" I asked, his answer being exactly what I knew I needed to hear, if not particularly what I wanted.

"Phillip taught me. He taught me to read people, and he taught me that sometimes the truth has to be discoverd by the seeker instead of given out like party favors. Then they appreciate it more, for it required more effort on their part to learn it." Alexander continued, his tone half teasing and I could hear the smile in his voice, "he also taught me that what people need is very seldom what they want."

"How do you do that?! You can hear me effortlessly, but I can't hear you unless you let me."

"I have higher walls than you do, and years of practice. Plus, you're just easy to read. I hardly even need our link if I can see your face."

"Am I so transparent?" I asked, suddenly afraid that everyone must by now know the answer to Amanda's question.

"Only to someone who knows how to look."

"Hrmm... I'll have to work on that."

"It's not a bad thing, Chris." Alexander said turning as best he could in the wheel chair to look at me. "It's a sign of innocence, and trust." Alexander turned his face back to his lap, and continued quietly. "Phillip said it was one of the things he loved most about me at first. I miss him... with my whole soul I miss him." Alexander's words struck a chord in me, reminding me of the thought that had pulled me back into reality earlier that afternoon. I was about to voice my thought, but noticed that we had caught up to Adam. Later then, I thought to myself.

Before going inside I turned back toward the pool and saw that Jamie and Gareth were still kissing. I wondered for a moment if they ever got enough of each other's tongues. "Yo, love birds," I said loudly, earning an annoyed wave from Jamie. "Time to change back into your clothes. Amanda will be here to pick you up soon." I turned back to go inside, and heard a groan of definite disapproval from behind me. Closing the door behind me, I wheeled Alexander towards the elevator while Adam took the stairs and went to change so that we could make it to his house in time for dinner.

Narrative POV

Gregg smiled as he leafed through the photos in front of him. "Very good Marcus. You see James? This is what we can use, irefutable proof that they're faggots. Unconfirmable, half heard conversations are worse than useless! Gossip does shit, unless we have proof to back it up. With these we can begin! I knew that little blond pussy boy was one of them!"

James glowered at Marcus as Gregg continued to leaf through the many pictures. 'So Marcus could use a camera, big deal! Anyone could us a camera if they were in the right place at the right time.'

Marcus, feeling unfriendly eyes boring into his back turned, finding James' anger filled eyes flashing at him. Marcus pulled his lips back in what could only be described as a baring of teeth. It certainly wasn't a smile.

James stiffened, and curled his fingers into tight fists. With an outraged glint in his eye, he made to step forward, but stopped when he felt a large hand come down on his shoulder from behind. "Let go of me, Eric." He hissed in a venemous whisper as his finger nails bit sharply into the palms of his hands.

"Think a moment." Eric said into James' ear, his hot breath making James flinch, as an unwanted memory flitted across his mind."Remember what happened the last time you challenged Marcus? He beat you to a bloody, whimpering lump. My favorite part is what happened after. You do remember that, don't you, James? Gregg let us all... how did you put it the other night? Play with you?" James shuddered at the memory. Eric had been the first that night, as well as the roughest. "Not that I'm complaining, mind you," Eric continued, running his free hand slowly over the seat of James' faded blue jeans. "You're a very... entertaining toy." After a final suggestive squeeze, Eric let go of James' shoulder, and backed once more to into his usual spot against the wall of Gregg's large bedroom.

Still angry at Marcus, James glared across the room. Marcus had watched everyhting, and there was a glinting challenge in his eye. James, heeding Eric's advice, stayed where he was and fumed in silence, his fists clenching and unclenching as he tried his best to control his temper.

"Ahh," Gregg said, having found the picture he wanted to use. "This is the one! Now, James," Gregg turned an icy glare in James' direction, "I want one hundred copies of this." Gregg held out the picture he'd chosen and waited for James to step forward and take it. The picture was perfect, it was clear that both boys were very happily engaged in a mutual kiss.

James approached grudghingly, loath to touch anything that came from Marcus. Much as he hated to do so, however, he did have to admit that the picture was exactly what they needed for Gregg's plan. Extending his arm, he took the picture and turned to the door to leave.

Gregg's attack was fast, and unexpected. In the time it took him to blink, James found himself pressed up against the wall, Gregg's eyes glaring into his own and Gregg's forearm holding his neck pressed firmly against the wall. Trying desperately to force air through his throat and into his lungs, he stared terrified into the cold brown eyes that had transfixed his own. When he spoke, Gregg's voice was a cold, emotionless sound, that broke all the remaining supports in James' mind. Had he been able to breath, he would have been gibbering in fear. "The next time someone has to restrain you, I'll give you exclusively to Eric. I'm sure he would enjoy that. Have I made myself very clear to you?"

Forcing the answer past his throat with every ounce of strength he could must James responded. "Yes," he croacked, almost soundlessly.

"Good," Gregg said, stepping back and watching in barely veiled disgust as James fell to his knees, gasping for breath. Something would have to be done about James. He was weak, pathetic and, worst of all, stupid - a useless combination. "Now get out. I want the copies of that picture by Sunday."

Silently, and still rubbing his neck, James picked himself up off the floor and stuffed the picture in his  backpack before slinking out the door. 'Yes,' Gregg thought to himself as he watched James, 'something will certainly have to be done. But not just yet. For now, he can still be used.'

Adam's POV

Dinner was strange. Nothing especially strange happened, we just sort of ate and talked. Mom asked all the 'curious mother meeting her son's friends questions' and Chris answered them with a calm, dignified air that almost surprised me. Actually, the only truly remarkable part of the whole affair was that Alexander actually told part of the story about his life before his unfortunate introduction with my front bumper. All I could do when he finished was stare at him and think 'wow, no wonder!' Mom got up and hugged him when he was done, which I think surprised Alexander. My mother is a very touching person, she almost always touches people, unless they ask her not to.

Other than that it was mostly normal. Mom had really outdone herself with the meal! Pasta and chicken in a wonderfully light Alfredo sauce that just kind of slipped down your throat. Of course the irony of the fact that it was eating a white creamy sauce was not lost on me, nor was the fact that my mother had prepared it. The bread was good too, as was the salad. And so was the ice cream she sereved for dessert. It was all perfect and it sucked big time! I mean, here I had the boy of my dreams in my own house, not ten paces away from my bedroom, and blast it all to the burning pits, I can't do a thing about it. Not one blessed thing. AGHHHHHHHHHH! I nearly jabbed my fork into my leg just to see which would be easier to ignore. Thankfully mom didn't say anything embarassing though, I guess she knew I wasn't ready to out myself just yet.

After dinner was over and we had all made pleasant small talk for a while, asking the normal 'get to know you questions' and everything, Chris said he had to get Alexander home. I understood of course, but I was a bit disappointed. I kind of wanted him to stay, just to be there. I walked Chris and his brother out the Dianne's Chevy Tahoe (why she got that I will never know!) and helped him get Alexander up into the back seat. Chris then folded the wheelchair up, put it in the back of the Tahoe and walked around to his door. He said goodbye to me again, and then hopped into the car and left.

I walked slowly back to the door and sighed as I closed it, closing my eyes as well.

"You," my mother said, poking me in the chest and causing me to open my eyes in startlement, "have got it soooo bad. You're like a little girl with a crush on the captain of the football team!" She was laughing halfway through the sentence, so it came out kind of garbled.

"I do not!" I said defensively, wrapping my arms around my chest and standing up as straight as I could.

"Well, all right, like a boy with a crush on the captain of the wrestling team. Still, it's cute and you have so got it for him!"

"Thank you for the revelation. Have you ever thought of changing careers? You could make tons of money if you could find someone to pay you for stating the painfully obvious. Besides... my having it bad doesn't help at all. I still don't have a clue if he's gay. Well... maybe a few small ones, but nothing determinant. Why, oh why, didn't I get gaydar? It would make things soo much easier."

"Don't get bratty, boyo! And why don't you, oh I don't know, ask him? I don't seem to remember you being this shy with Ryan."

I shrugged my shoulders and walked past her toward the kitchen. "Ya well... I suppose having known him for longer than, what, four days, kind of helped. Plus he kind of found one of my issues of XY, so it's not like I was the determining factor."

"Oh? Then what was?"

Wow, she actually asked it. The one question I was sure she would never ask! Hehehehe, she is sooo not prepared for this answer! I turned around and smiled innocently. She quickly raised her hands in defense, but it was far too late. "Oh, you know, it was when he wrapped his arms around me from behind, put his hands down my pants and stuck his tongue in my ear. Once I got back down off the cieling I was really turned on."

"That was far too much information. Remind me not to ask you about any of your ex-boyfriends any more. Anyway, start puting the dishes from the sink into the dish washer, and I'll clear the table."

I groaned. "I knew I was gonna have to pay for that dinner."

"Smart boy. Now get busy." She smiled wickedly. I grumbled miserably, she knows I hate doing the dishes. Her only response to my grumbling was to deposit another pile of dishes on the counter by the sink and give me a look that said 'Well? Get busy already.' Evil woman.

Narrative POV

Jamie was somewhere between ecstatic, nervous, excited and terrifed.  Gareth's mother knew they were both gay, but according to Amanda, who had been talking non-stop since she had picked them up about half an hour ago, she was okay with it. He really was amazed when he took a moment to think about it: Amanda talked more than anyone he had ever met.

Uncharacteristically she paused for breath. "What was I saying again?" she asked, causing Jamie to stare.

Gareth, who was lying on the large blue couch in front of the TV in the large family room just shook his head. "No, Amanda," he said flatly, "I wasn't listening to you." He giggled a bit, looking at Jamie who was sitting up with Gareth's head in his lap. "And from the blank look on his face Jamie was lost about ten minutes ago."

Jamie blushed. "Sorry, Amanda." He said, chagrinned.

Amanda smiled widely. "It's okay, Jamie. I do tend to babble a bit. If I ever bore you feel free to zone me out. I just like teasing Gareth about it." Jamie giggled as Gareth stuck his tongue out at his sister.

"My, my, Gareth," a new voice said from the front hall, "don't you look comfortable." The boys jumped at the sound of Gareth's mother's voice, while Amanda just smiled. She'd seen her mom come in the door. Gareth, trying to sit up too quickly, managed to get halfway up out of Jamie's lap before landing flat on his back on the floor. Embarassed at falling on the floor, and yet insanely relieved that his mother really did seem to be okay with the fact that he was gay, he burst into laughter. Jamie and Amanda both giggled as well, and Gareth's mother smiled, shaking her head at the antics of young boys.

Smiling, Mrs. Wyett walked over to the comfortable recliner that was set at an angle from the couch with a small lamp table between the two. Finally Jamie managed to pull Gareth up to his feet and the two of them stood in front of Gareth's mother, their fingers itching to interlace.

"Mom," Gareth said happily, "this is Jamie. Jamie, my mother."

Mrs. Wyett stood and walked toward the two boys with a gentle smile lighting her face and sparkling happily in her eyes.When she reacehd the two boys, she looked into Jamie's eyes and took both of his hands in her own. "Jamie, it is a pleasure to meet you. Leave it to my son to find a golden haired angel. Ohhh, Amanda, you were right. He does get cuter when he blushes!"

"Just wait till you see 'em kiss," Amanda chortled, "they look sooo adorable."

"Mother," Gareth said, only slightly annoyed, "you're as bad as Amanda."

Mrs. Wyett smiled widely. "Who do you think taught her?" Happily she leaned over and embraced both boys in a generous hug. When both had returned it, Gareth readily and Jamie unsurely, she gave each a peck on the cheek and then stood. "Now, Jamie, I don't know how far your relationship with my son has gone, or if it will ever be more than just a good friendship, but I insist you call me mom. Or if that makes you terribly uncomfortable, at least call me Vickie. I will not be addressed as 'Mrs. Wyett' by my children's friends. Understood?"

Jamie hesitated, but grinned as he felt Gareth's hand grasp his own. "Yes, V... Mom." He smiled widely. "Thanks."

"Wonderful! Now let's eat! Iskander has prepared an absolutely delicious looking meal." She smiled yet again as Jamie and Gareth scampered noisely hand in hand towards the dining room. "They're too precious for words Amanda. Thankyou so much for telling me."

Amanda got up and hugged her mother. "You're welcome, Mom. We'd better hurry and get in there though, otherwise they might start playing Steal the Mint and then we'll never get the two of them apart."

"Steal the Mint?" Vickie asked, following her daughter after the two boys, 'what's that?"

Amanda smiled mischeviously. It was time for a bit of payback. "Ask Jamie, he'll be able to explain it much better than I would."

Shaking her head as she walked, Vickie entered the dining room. Raising children was certainly an adventure. Especially when one of them turned out to be gay. Then again... dinner was probably going to be fun. She was pretty sure she knew what Steal the Mint was, and if she was right Jamie was sure to turn bright red when she mentioned it. Gareth had been right, of course - she really was as bad as Amanda.

Narrative POV

Gregg cried out in shock as he was awakened by a sharp pain lancing up his back. A whistling sound alerted him and he braced himself for another blow. Even so, he cried out again when his father's belt struck.

Gregg's father, seeing that he was awake, grabbed his son's shoulder and threw him to the floor. He gave no explanation as his belt continued to raise welts across his son's back - he rarely did anymore. Gregg knew the reason already anyway, but refused to acknowledge it. He cried out with nearly every fall of the belt, but no tear escaped his eyes. Not even when his father's foot slammed into his ribs and caused him to gasp for air that refused to come. He merely gritted his teeth, and willed his father to hit him again. Willed his father to give him one more reason to hate him. And as the pain lanced through his body, as his lungs slowly came back to life, his mind repeated a series of phrases like a catachism. A chant to keep him focused.

'Not one tear, not one fucking tear. I'll kill you one day, and I won't shed a tear. Not one tear, not one fucking tear."

His only other conscious thought was that he would have to think of a good reason not to dress out in PE. He didn't want the school or the state interfering with his plans by sending his father to prison - that would make killing him all but impossible. The pain in his back continued to mount, but he had endured worse before and he would endure worse again. It would all be worth it though, when he finally chocked the life from his father's body and watched the fear build in his eyes. It would all be worth it, and he wouldn't shed one single fucking tear.

Narrative POV

Alexander shifted in his sleep, and opened his eyes. Chris had finally finished working out downstairs and was now in the bathroom showering. 'Hey there, sleepy' Chris said, feeling Alexander's mind brush his own. 'Did I wake you?'

'Yes.' Alexander yawned. 'It's okay, though. What have you been doing?'

'I was working out in my gym downstairs. And then I spent some time practicing in the meditation circle.' The water turned off, and Alexander heard Chris moving around in the bathroom as he dried himself and brushed his hair.

'What were you practicing?' Alexander asked, curious about the calm he sensed in Chris' thoughts.

'I've studied several forms of martial arts since I was very young. I was practicing the one of the meditation katas that Sensei Charles taught me. It helps me sleep.'

Alexander was intruiged. All his life he had wished he knew how to fight, he had never felt entirely safe living in the slums. He especially wish he had known how to fight when Phillip had been killed. 'Chris, when my legs are healed, will you... will you teach me? How to fight?'

Chris opened the door to the bathroom and walked towards the bed in the near total darkness of the room. "I would be happy to teach you.
But for the moment, I am exhuasted." Tiredly Chris climbed beneath the covers of his bed and squeezed his brother's hand. "Goodnight Alexander."

"Goodnight Chris." Alexander said. He hoped he did not have dreams, for he did not think that if he did they would be good. Within three breaths he could feel Chris' mind drift into sleep, but he remained awake for a long time. Even without Chris' demon to haunt him, he did not want to temp his own.

End Chapter Eight