Part 12

   "Phil?" Eric Nevins sighed in frustration and knocked again on his son's bedroom door. Lord knew everybody had warned him against this trip but his mind had set into a different thought, the same one he was having now. Phillip had been separated from his father and the rest of the family for over three years, and that was three years too long, regardless of what the boy or his mother had wanted. Now his ex-wife (and Phillip's mother) was going to die, and he did the only thing Phillip could do about it by signing the Hospice forms for her.
Eric shook his head and almost let a smile cross his lips. He'd finally get his own parents off his back about why their only grandson had refused to see them or even answer their phone calls. He should have never let this go on as long as it had and should have forced the issue of his visitation rights. God knew the boy would have pitched a fit at the courts ordering him to visit for those weekends but, in the end, he'd have had to do it or else he'd see his mom go to jail for violating the Judge's order. So Phillip would have come for the visits.
    Eric sighed and knocked again. He'd listened to both his ex, and his anger management therapist, and had agreed to leave things alone. Now here he was, finally back in tenuous contact with Phillip again. God knew his son was pushing every negative button as hard as he could, even down to grabbing the car keys out of his mom's hand, as if Phillip didn't want his father anywhere around, even her car. "Phil? Come out. We need to talk about the future."
    "Go away!" Phillip snarled through his closed eyes while trying to force his pounding heart to slow down. He'd done what she wanted, all that was left for him to do. He couldn't do any more to protect her. "I know the future already! I signed those damned forms like mom wanted me to! She'll be home on Tuesday and I'll take care of her, so why don't you just get the fuck away from me!"
    "Philip! Don't talk to me like that!" Eric snarled back, as he opened the door, and stood staring into his son's hard green eyes. He quickly appraised his son's tense hard muscles throughout his bare upper body and legs -- and stopped. He left the rest of what he was going to say alone. The last time he'd seen that hard look from his son's face was the night Phillip and his mother left the house and never returned.
    Eric sighed, and rubbed a hand along his neck, as the memories flooded back all over again. Lord knows he didn't really remember just what his former wife and he'd been arguing about, his mind told him, but the bitch had needed some straightening out with her attitude. He'd almost reached out to grab her and fix things again when that sharp high-pitched voice from his then twelve-year-old son had cut through their confrontation and silenced them both. Eric had snarled back, but the little shit had stood his ground to his father.  Eric had watched the fear in the boy's eyes replaced with pure anger, and an anger that wasn't allowed.  Eric never risked it with his parents, and he was sure not going to allow it from his son either. God knows he had to almost kill the boy.
    He shuddered at the flash of his hands around Phillip's neck before the boy finally quit fighting back that night. Upon awakening the next morning, Eric was alone. Now, as he found himself once again staring back the challenge, his son's growth and coaching by Eric's therapist told Eric to do his best to pull his son back into the family. Let him come kicking and screaming, but the boy, his boy, would take his place under his father come hell or high water. Eric sighed again and sat at the foot of the bed. He'd have to be very careful this time. He didn't know or have any influence with the cops around here. "I only meant that we need to talk about your future after your mom is gone.... I only want the best for you, son."
    Phillip stayed quiet and kept his eyes fixed on the man who was once his father. He slowly pulled his legs up to protect his boxer covered crotch and move himself out of casual reach of the man on the bed. The rest of his muscles remained tense and ready to accept any blows that came his way, that he knew would come.
    Eric swallowed nervously at the lack of any response. 'So much for the part about honoring the father.' he thought as he felt his anger resurge while trying to keep his voice calm. "Listen to me... I know you don't want to but you need to know that the car and house will probably have to go to pay medical bills, so you'll be coming to live with me and Janet...."
    "Like hell I will," Phillip snarled and continued his challenging stare, ignoring the reference to whoever his former father had just referred to. He'd purposely had nothing to do with the man for three years and didn't care to begin now.
    "Yes you will!" Eric shot back and took a deep breath before continuing. "Look, you don't have any other options. I...I just want you to know that it won't be that bad, so why fight me about it... You're my son, you carry my name, the family name... Your grandma and grandpa want you back; your aunt wants you back; my new wife wants you. Hell, you're about to be an older brother and I want..."
    "Never," Phillip whispered sharply, his voice dripping with his hard emotionless challenge. "They're yours, not mine."
    "Listen to me!" Eric struggled to try to relax as he felt his hands ball up into fists, but it was getting harder to do. At least before, even if the boy had lost any love that had once existed between them, fear had still kept Eric in control of his son. Now, ever since that night, the fear was gone too. His ex-wife had told him that his son was a fighter, but now it was coming at him full blast. "I said you don't have any choice in this, unless you're going to live under some bridge somewhere or on the streets... I know you don't like it..."
    "Don't like it?" Phillip shook his head and refocused his stare. "Fuck you! I don't ne..."
    "Philip!" Eric interrupted unconsciously and marveled at the way his son didn't twitch a muscle. "I'm still your father! You'd better calm down and show me some respect!"
    "Since when," Philip sighed under his breath.
    "Since now!" Eric barked his own challenge back. "Hate me all you want, but it won't change anything! You hear me? Nothing! I didn't keep putting money away for your college for nothing! I..."
    "Keep it!" Philip pulled into a tighter ball and continued his stare down.
    "Philip, you're my son, and I love you. Anyway, when the time comes, you'll take your place with me and Janet in Austin." Eric continued in a forced calmer tone. "The schools are great there and I've been talking to some of the other coaches, both at the high schools and even at U.T. about your gymnastics and regular sports future. They're all interested in helping you compete and win... You can do better than some cheerleading squad here. Shit, standing on the sidelines with the girls? You need, and I want you, out there competing and winning; bringing back something for us to be proud of.  Not this faggoty-assed shit you've been forced into here."
    "Us?" Philip felt his shock creeping back into his voice before he settled back into his cynical challenge. "You mean you! I've got the Fire Department and my friends. I don't need you! I..."
    "OK! So I want to brag about you. Is that wrong?" Eric felt his own forced calm slipping again right into the face of the unbroken wall of hate and skepticism that the young man presented him with. His eyes glanced once more around the room and focused on an award placed in front of some model battleship. He remembered being told about the small model show that Phillip had entered when he was fourteen, and how he'd won in the under-sixteen category for ships. "Why shouldn't I be able to point to you with pride? You can do better than some bunch of volunteer shit, so enough about the small crap....
    You'll make new friends, better friends; I will see to that. You'll join the teams I was talking about and compete and win. You might as well learn to smile and do your duty. I'll expect it and so will my family. That's what counts so I don't want to hear any more bullshit about it. Look, I've already made a place for you to put your awards right out in front... We can put that one you got for that battleship and the model there until..."
    "This?" Philip found himself suddenly on his feet and standing by the shelf. His hands gently lifted the plastic model off of its cradle, as he forced his eyes away from their previous target, and divided his attention. His chest was pounding in his ears as his grip tightened. "You want this?"
    "Yes, I do." Eric let a smile escape as he thought of his coming victory. He'd get this first minor surrender, and then he'd get the boy himself. He could see it in Philip's eyes now, his mind told him. The boy was uncertain now, and he could use that, build on it. "I can take it when I leave tomorrow night, and then it'll be there when you visit to take a break. And, bring some other things up. Everybody will be so happy to see you agai..."
    "Bullshit!" Philip's arm flashed out towards the shelf, showering the room with shattered plastic and the broken shards of his award plaque. His arm shot out again and cleared the shelf in another shower of model parts. "You won't get shit from me! Not now, not ever!"

   "Mr. Nevins?" Philip quietly struggled to open his eyes, wincing as the pain lanced through the puffy, dark area surrounding the left one. He glanced around his bare feet and legs, splayed out and surrounded by shattered plastic from the models he'd destroyed. He remembered then; he was still in his room. He struggled into a sitting position and hung his head between his arms.
    His mom had convinced him to sign the home hospice forms; she was going to die. Then the sperm donor he had for a father had laid the other bombshell, as soon as he got back to the house they were going to lose the house and car to the medical bills, and Philip was expected to move to his father's house in Austin. In fact, his father seemed to have his life all planned out for him, all for gymnastics and college, and he could forget about childish fantasies like "playing fireman." Of course, he'd need to find new friends, some more appropriate friends. In fact, his father had explained in great detail, that any son of his would make the right kinds of friends and smile whether he wanted to or not.
    Philip also remembered that he struck out first with his fists after his father ordered him to stop his destruction of the models, saying that nobody carrying his name would act out that way. That Philip carried his family name and he'd better tow the line his father had set out or else. Philip had long since dried his earlier tears. He had long since used his mother's maiden name as his own.  Now, a coldness had descended in victory, as did his mom's maiden name, before his father's answering fist and the world went dark; "My name is Philip Griffin, not 'Nevins' ever again!"
   "We aren't done yet!" bellowed the father. Unfortunately, Philip also barely remembered his father's parting words as he'd groggily slipped away. The man's tears while he spoke were the reason for the slight smile on his unconscious son's swollen lips.
    "Philip?" The case worker called out again and waited patiently after re-ringing the bell. The house she was here to inspect seemed new and very well cared for. She was surprised, at the first impression,  she thought about the patient's son living alone while his mother was hospitalized. The whole family's history was a bit unusual from the records, and those she'd met and interviewed. Now she'd see just how much was due to the boy's efforts, and how much the usually absent father had contributed or forced the kid to do in caring for the house. She heard a hesitant fumbling at the door and then it opened. "Oh, my gawd honey! What happened to you?"
    "Ma'am?" Philip asked in confusion as the lady standing before him recoiled suddenly. His eyes suddenly found the hall mirror and the reflection of one major swollen black eye and blood flaked nose and lips; "Oh! I got in a fight; it was dumb."
    "That don't look so 'dumb', honey." She stepped quickly inside and let the door close behind them. "Your papa know about this?"
    "Ah..." Philip almost had to force a painful smile away from his battered face; "...yes ma'am."
    "Fine." She smiled through her own apprehension. He was a very nice boy even with the injuries and besides, it was spring and the rutting season for all young men. Yeah, she thought, chances were good that this boy and another had tangled over some sweet young girl they both wanted to know better... but... she had to be sure of the environment. "Is your father here? We need to talk."
    "Ah..." Philip nervously glanced away, imagining the empty driveway and the cleaned out guest room that he'd checked on his way to the door. "...Ah.... He's gone back to Austin." 'and I hope forever,' he didn't add.
    "OK?" She tried and failed to catch his eyes again and again. A few things fell back into place and she reevaluated her earlier assessments. "Son? Tell me the truth. Somebody beat the shit out of you; now, who was it?"
    "Ah..." Philip shrugged quietly at his newly acquired communication skills. "I can't say right now... please."
    "OK. Are you going to answer the phone?" She couldn't help the laugh that emerged.
    "Huh? Oh!" Philip lurched clumsily towards the ringing and picked it up. "Sorry... Hello?...Yes, sir? ... Ah ... no, probably can't. My mom's gonna be coming home soon...well, Tuesday anyway... No sir, I'm fine, just a little tired is all..."
    "Tired?" she whispered quietly to herself. Yeah right! The kid's lips and face got quite a workout sometime last night. Someone obviously got tired of the freckles and tried to wipe them out. She did wonder who and why the extreme respect for whoever was on the phone. Maybe she could get some answers that way. "Who is it?"
    "Sorry." Philip put his hand over the receiver. "It's my station captain... I'm with the fire department."
    "OK." She reached out a hand and waggled a finger, demanding the phone. "Don't bitch, boy, just hand it over."
    "Bill, I've got a lady here who says she wants to talk to you." Philip sighed and handed the receiver to his mom's case worker. He slowly walked away to get a trash bag but stopped and sagged into a chair, barely listening. He'd clean the plastic model parts off his bedroom floor later. He'd built them once and he'd shattered them, so he'd make sure the remains were disposed of.
    "Yes, this is Nurse Johnson with Houston Home Hospice. Whom do I have the pleasure of speaking to?" She smiled wanly at the suddenly lonely little boy she shared the living room with. She had no doubt that the young man would probably object to such a characterization, but at that moment in time, he was just a lost little boy."Yes, I'm here checking the house out and making some recommendations.... Philip?..." She renewed her smile at the young man. "Just sitting here looking cute in his little boxers... Oh, no. the front hasn't gapped too far..."
    She did let a giggle escape at his fast retreating backside. Chances are he hadn't even noticed his dress, or lack of it, in the state his mind was in that Sunday morning. Now she turned serious when alone; "Listen, I need some help here. I need to know what kind of a guy this kid is... and I need to tell you that he has been in a major fight since I saw him last night.... No, his father seems to have returned to Austin from what Philip says, so there is no other adult around...."


    "You gave us quite a run, young man." Marjorie smiled, to soften her tired rebuke, as she rubbed her eyes again. She finished her glance between the doctor and the handcuffed thirteen-year-old, new orphan and attempted runaway. She needed sleep badly, but had been with him since he was found, and knew she'd be with this kid until he was settled at the appropriate facility.  She'd be with him until he could be researched and placed, either with willing and safe family, or into foster care of some sort or another. Now, all they were waiting for was the health clearance and word about what the docs had found while she was out of the room temporarily. She smiled again at the emotionless boy. "Almost done, Kelly. Then we'll get you settled... I've brought a change of clothes for you."
    "Why?" Kelly whispered and shrugged his bare shoulders, making the cuffs bang against the bed rail. At least they'd allowed the blanket to cover him up after they'd satisfied themselves about his backside. "Why do you care? ...I shoulda just made everybody happy and offed myself..."
    "Why do you think that?" Marjorie sighed, and looked at the doctor for help. She could see that this one was going to Harris County Psych, on McGreggor Road, unless she could make a change.
    "OK, I'm done here." The ER doctor smiled back and motioned everyone out of the room. He stopped outside and turned to face the CPS worker and the sheriff's deputy. "He's a normally developed thirteen-year-old boy. Kinda got scratched up a bit on what had to be a barbed wire fence but that will heal without stitches... though we have given him a tetanus booster." He glanced between the two again. "As for the other, there is nothing remarkable at all about his anus. If I had to testify, I'd say he was telling the truth about his brother never having raped him. Based on my observations, his ass is probably virgin; at least no violence occurred."
    "Then we're done?" Marjorie said quietly and let her smile broaden. She knew another doctor at that hospital would be very happy to hear that last bit of news and that he'd be gaining another son, even if he was Gay white-boy.
    "He's cleared to go, as far as my part goes." The doctor grimaced at the two. "The blood work and drug screens will take a couple of days and we can forward those to you. I do think he'll need a psychiatric consult though... I can call one of our staff, or go ahead and write the transfer orders if you have a facility you want to use.  But both of us know, that after what he just verbalized, I won't, and can't just let him walk out with anyone."
    "Yeah, we know." Derrick sighed quietly himself. He was already four hours past his end-of-shift, but they were his handcuffs the kid was wearing. "I'll help get the kid dressed while y'all decide."
    "Call your guy for me." Marjorie shrugged as she watched her 'success' stride back though the door. She silently thanked God again for letting her find Derrick before the streets did. As hard as he had seemed, the streets would have chewed him up and spit him out in a day, when he was twelve. His easy smile, helped by the slight overbite and dimpled cheeks, had made him a very cute boy, target, and later a fine catch for his wife and new baby son. "I'll clear it through my office, or we'll just charge all this to his late dad's insurance. Maybe, we can make a quick visit upstairs while we're waiting for the shrink?"
    "Huh?" The doctor shrugged his acceptance. "Just watch out for that sneaky little twerp. He'd be out of the cuffs by now if he'd bothered to cooperate a little with his exam."
    'I'd like to see you let some stranger look at your asshole too!' She thought, but left unsaid as Derrick reemerged from the room, leading the quiet topic of their last remarks. At least the kid was looking much better now, in his baggy jeans and blue pullover. The bandages weren't in sight anymore, and she also noted that this time he'd agreed to wear his glasses,  "OK, Kelly? We're all gonna go upstairs for a moment, and then have you talk with one more doctor here.  After that, I promise we'll be done, and can see you safely placed for a time."
    "Whatever..." Kelly kept his eyes down. He cursed himself silently again. His downcast eyes were as dry as they'd stayed even after being told his dad was dead, and that Gabriel (Marty) was the cause.  He cast a quick glance out the door but the cuffs were still there, what could he do?
    "All right, march, little man." The sheriff's deputy remarked from behind him and turned his shoulders with a firm hand.

    "Why, hello." The intensive care nurse smiled broadly, in a way that guaranteed putting a diabetic into a sugar induced coma; "If y'all will please take a seat, we're just finishing cleaning that sweet young man up so y'all can visit. I tell ya, he may be hurt but his bowels... why they sure did work! Not much, he sure hasn't been eating much before coming here, but that part is still healthy."
    "Oh God..." Derrick sighed under his breath and directed the boy to a chair before he decided to race the kid back to the elevator. He didn't know if a flood of molasses would count as a natural disaster but was sure they were about to find out in the middle of a hospital!
    "Don't you say a word! Either of you." Marjorie hid her own grin behind both hands as she watched the faces of both 'her' kids, one thirteen and the other twenty-two, register the same queasy looking fear. Actually she was pleased to see something other than blankness from the youngster. "I'm sure she means well."
    "Why did you bring me up here?" Kelly continued his nervous glance at the door that weird woman had just gone through; "I don't wanna be here... I don't want to see him."
    "That's all right." Marjorie dropped her hand to let her smile through and sighed dramatically; "I won't make you see your brother... but I need to check and see if his clothes have been dropped off... At least enough to tide him over once he's allowed to get out of bed again."
    "Whatever," Kelly cast a quick questioning glance before resuming his study of the floor tile patterns. He tried unsuccessfully to quiet his pounding heart before the whole floor could hear it thudding within his chest. He felt his cheeks start burning again at how some of the people they'd passed had stared at his bound wrists. "Could you take these things off, please? I won't try anything."
    "Ha!" Derrick smirked at the boy and forced his eyes back to Marjorie. The look she returned, he didn't like one bit. "Come on mama B... I chased his ass all fuckin' night... you can't be serious."
    "I said I wasn't gonna fuckin' do anything!" Kelly bristled, the tingle running up his flushed neck.
    "Go ahead D." Marjorie smiled at both of the people now involved in a test of staring. "If Kelly gives me his promise, then I'll take his word..."
    "OK...." Derrick sighed and quickly fumbled for his key and the cuff's lock. He opened then closed his mouth at the warning hand she raised, his further warnings of doom and gloom left unsaid.
    "Ah... Gabriel is all cleaned and ready for visitors now." The nurse returned suddenly, still grinning. Derrick couldn't help himself thinking of the police turn on an old saying... 'Smile and the world smiles with you; grin and they wonder what you're up to?'
    "Marty..." Kelly spoke firmly, dark eyes flashing in his certainty of what he needed to say as he rubbed his freed wrists; "...he hates 'Gabriel'. Call him 'Martin' or 'Marty'."
    "Thank you... we'll be right there." Marjorie gave a reassuring wave at the nurse and quietly leaned over to whisper into Kelly's ear. "Are you sure you don't want to see your brother?"
    "I..I can't." Kelly jumped slightly and forced his flustered face away from the others in the room. His mind kept running through his brother's face, his laughter and tears. The last image was of his brother's silent face, silently accepting another attack. Then the images began replaying.
    "OK." Mrs. Bailey sighed and quietly rose towards the door into the ICU. She stopped and let her hand hoover near the push-opener on the wall; "Would you tell me why?"
    "Why?" Kelly fought to get his strangled voice back under control and quickly tried to wipe his eyes. His face felt like it was burning along with his chest. 'Damn it!' he thought; 'I can't cry.... men don't cry....'
    "Yes, tell me why." She stood still and let her gentle voice coat the atmosphere around them. She pushed the button and let the doors sweep open.
    "Because..." Kelly's voice rose with him and advanced towards to open door. He was oblivious to the hard stares from the nurses station at the loud rising voice he projected, oblivious to it's breaking as he started running into the otherwise quiet area; "Because... because... Marty?"
    Marjorie raised another hand to squelch the sharp rebukes she saw coming from the staff and smiled wistfully as she followed, with Derrick, down to where the boy had disappeared through another door after the head nurse had caught and directed him silently. She now stood by the open door, wiping her own eyes along with the nurse. Derrick quietly excused himself and stood back at the nursing station. Marjorie hid her gaze back at her former client. 'He's a rough tough cop now? Yeah right!'.
    "Kelly?" She quietly moved into the room and took up her watch by the foot of the bed. Somehow, the youngster had found a way through all the tubes and bandages to find himself wrapped tightly around his older brother's neck.
    "He...he...he's..." Kelly managed to squeak out through his sobs; "he's all...all...I...I've got! ...And...and...now...I...I'll lose...tha...that...too!"
    Marjorie sighed. She didn't know what to say. Marty was going to live but she had serious doubts that the two brothers would stay together. There was just too much against that ever happening and she couldn't promise what she couldn't guarantee. It had been pure luck that she'd found someone like Dr. Lewis willing and able to take Marty. The courts were notorious about not allowing multi-racial foster families much less anything more permanent. The only thing she had going for her regarding Marty's placement was his being gay and the lack of anyone else available to place him with.
    So, anyway, she'd try her best to get the two placed close together but doubted that she'd succeed in getting the court or Dr. Lewis to agree to a joint placement. Even if Robert Lewis was willing, she quickly threw out her other option. She'd never ask a kid to to say he was what he didn't, couldn't, didn't know yet. At that moment she knew that Kelly would probably say he was gay too, just to stay with his last family that wanted him around. But the boy needed to stay true to himself, to whoever he was becoming.
    She shook her head to bring herself back to the here and now and found herself looking into the pleading, deep black, moist eyes of the older boy staring back at her. He seemed to move his one and a half legs gingerly, obviously aware of the tube running into his bladder and through his penis, wanting to leave it alone. But his bound arms flexed and struggled with the padded restraints he'd been placed in. She stole a quick glance outside the room. She didn't think he was supposed to be awake yet but she made a quick, illegal decision and quietly pulled one restraint loose from its bed rail anchor and held her breath.
    "Kelly..." Marty wheezed, just above a whisper. He sucked in the breath he had and winced from the pain in his ribs but managed to get his arm around his little brother. "I'm sorry..."
    "I'm sorry too..." Kelly quietly responded and finally let his long held tears flow in the quiet room.
    "Ma B?" Derrick called from the doorway where he'd moved to watch as well. "Everything alright?"
    "Yeah," she replied wistfully as she moved back to stand next to the Deputy. "They're just starting to say good-bye... Found any fresh coffee around here yet?"


    "OK, Flip, who hit you?" Bill quietly stepped around his young firefighter, and sat at the foot of his unused bed. The note from Philip's father weighed heavily in his pocket, since he'd found it at the station and read it. He sighed at the bruises that looked back, while the boy was carefully cleaning up the remains of some model battleship.
    The other four department members he'd brought with him were busy elsewhere under the supervision of the not-to-be-trifled-with Hospice nurse. He thought they were probably dismantling the bed in Philip's mom's room, so the powered hospital bed would have some place familiar to fit when delivered. He watched the side of the young man's face for a moment longer, and wondered about the young man's choice to wear a sweater on what was going to be a hot day. "Philip! Look at me!"
    "Yes, sir," Philip whispered, and tried to swallow back the lump in his throat, as he rocked back on his knees to plant his jean-clad butt on his bare heels. He couldn't help but glance out the window at the loss of privacy, that the small red grass truck and the equally-red huge pumper brought. It sure wasn't as if they were meant to be hidden... God, there was still a crowd of people around them both. He willed his heart to slow back down, and finally tore his eyes back to the patiently waiting man beside him. "Sorry."
    "None of that now." Bill watched the boy's moist eyes drift, first one way, then the other, but refusing to center back at his gaze. "We'll both decide if you have anything to apologize about after you tell me how you got that black eye and not before.... Now, how did it happen?"
    "Nobody... It was stupid..." Philip squeaked quietly. "I...I just wished he'd never... I wish I'd never..."
    "OK, so it was your dad?" Bill watched Philip's silent nod in assent. "And you swung first? Why?"
    "Yeah." Philip slowly turned his back to the man's voiced questions and leaned further back on his heels. His damned chin was quivering again, and nothing he could do was stopping it, or the tight chest and throat. He flinched when he felt his station captain's hand grasp his shoulder but soon quit trying to shrug it off; it only tightened anyway. "My...my mom's dy...dying and all he could...he could talk about was what he wanted...what he planned for me, where I'd live...and...and what I would do. Who I could be friends with, what sports I...everything!"
    "Well, he is your father..." Bill flinched at his own voice then, instantly regretting his initial reaction. There was more to this than the usual complaints of a teenager against his father. Bill quietly remembered the old belt scars his young firefighter wore.
    "Since when?!" Philip's fire returned to his eyes, as he turned to face Bill. "It was all about him! It's always been about him! His damned family name. I told him he could keep it. It wasn't mine anymore!"
    "I assume that's when the fight started?" Bill breathed out quickly, and sat, hoping the slight redirection worked. The roller coaster ride the boy's emotions were on had tightened an already short fuse. He sat fascinated at the internal war he could see playing out behind Philip's eyes. The windows to this kid's soul were thrown wide open to the storms.
    "Yeah...." Philip felt the heat leave just as fast as it had come, followed by a wave of almost physical pain that crashed over him, forcing him to collapse against his captain's lower legs which he then grabbed. "Oh God! You...you've been more...more of a father to me...to me than he ever was...ever will be..."
    "OK, Philip." Bill fought back his own tight chest and the alarms that kept nagging him. He reached down to grab the sobbing boy's arms and help pull him up off the floor. He smiled wanly as he also noticed his new audience standing in the doorway. "It's all right Philip. You're a great kid... I have no doubts about your heart..."
    "Bill?" He quietly shook his head at his wife, standing with Terry and the case worker, as his broad rough hands continued to make light circling strokes across the muscled back of the boy he now held. God he was glad that he'd had Gail follow him over here once she was done getting their daughters up and active for the day. He was just a station officer up until that point, and now he felt himself in way over his own head. He let his eyes return to his wife again. This time, they were pleading help from the leader of the Department's Auxiliary. She was the head of the group that supported the firefighters in all they tried to do, who arranged for assistance when all the firefighters could do wasn't enough, and when someone needed to talk it out with. "What the hell do I do now?" was his silently mouthed question to all three.
    "Just hold him... Be the man you are... I love you." was the silent reply his wife smiled back at him.
    She turned to look at Terry standing silent with her and the other three guys who'd stopped work and gathered in the hallway. Their own expressions were not those of ridicule at the showing of so much emotion, but were of pensive thoughtfulness, and even silent respect for being included in what should have been a very private moment. She sighed out her own admiration of the old traditions again. The crying boy her husband held tightly wasn't a person to be sneered at for tearing up. He was a fellow firefighter to all those guys there. He was in all ways closer than an acquaintance or even a best friend. He was their family, their brother, and God help anyone who did try to jerk the kid around or treat him badly. She had no doubt that the jerk in her mind's eye would've soon found himself sitting on the sharp end of a fire ax.
    "Philip?" Bill smiled again, he lifted the chin off his shoulder and stared into those red tinged, green eyes. Actually, with the dark reddish purple around one of them, he decided he really shouldn't repeat his mind's comment about how colorful Philip was looking that day. Maybe later, but not now. Not now that the boy had quieted his outbreak. "Philip, you're strong and have more heart... Don't let anyone say otherwise... But it's not your heart I'm worried about right now. Can we please go get you checked out now?"
    "But..." Philip shook his head and rubbed his eyes absently. "...but I can't. I've got..."
    "But nothing," Bill kept his smile but slipped into his 'command' tone. "Terry and the others have got it all worked out... I promise they won't touch anything you don't want them to. You don't want them in this room, they'll stay out... Now go get your gear outta the engine and throw it in the booster. You're going."
    "I'll get it!" Peter's voice rumbled from the hallway. Bill cringed, waiting for the sound of shattered glass to follow the shear concussion of his other young firefighter's voice. No wonder Peter had been so successful playing the line last football season. Those opponents he didn't hit hard enough to knock out could simply be shouted out of the way.
    "There, that's settled." Bill hugged Philip briefly and then stood up, bringing the boy with him. His smile grew lopsided and then spread into a grin. "Flip's brother has spoken! ...and I do know when I'd better follow 'those' orders. Come on and get some shoes on, son... No more bitching about it. Trust us on this one... OK so don't trust us then, but we're going anyway. Besides, once we get you checked out, I'll leave ya be with your friend up there before we have to get back."
    "Jeeze!" Terry chuckled at Bill's wife as they returned towards the living room. "So, tell me Gail, what was Bill before ya met him?"
    "Don't you dare say used car salesman." Gail returned the grin with a deadpan. "He's still your captain you know."
    "Awww, I was gonna be nice." Terry shot back the best 'hurt' look he could manage. "I was gonna say auctioneer, myself."
    "Ah, OK." She replied quietly, waiting for the other shoe to drop like it always did.
    "Yeah," Terry lost his battle trying to keep a straight face. "One of those used car clearing house auctioneers..."
    "Fine!" she voiced her exasperation quietly as she watched her man and the younger one leave the house together with just a wave and look of intense affection from her husband. "I do hope that boy will get through this..." She spoke to the just closed door.
    "Amen to that." Terry's face dropped a bit in reflection, then slowly smoothed his features out of the funk he'd fallen back into. "I read the note Bill picked up at the station."
    "What note?" Gail asked, warily wondering what other bombshell that tone of voice meant. It didn't sound good or have any humor in it.
    "It was from Philip's father." Terry almost snarled as he fought the bile in his throat. The memory of Bill's face and reading it himself still burned. "That boy's father...fucking bastard! ...Well, anyway he writes us a note thanking us for turning his son into some worthless loser... Then he went on about how Flip and his mom will be losing everything eventually and how he's glad that it don't matter to him anymore, that Philip can just go starve or live under a bridge and that if Philip doesn't want him around, then he can go ahead and change his name to 'white trash' for all he cares... I mean, the whole thing was like that! I'm just glad he hasn't let 'our' boy see or read that shit."
    "Me, too." Gail cocked her head to one side and remained silent in thought while Peter filed his massive bulk back through the house in a surprisingly graceful manner for someone his size. 'Oh, to be seventeen again' she thought and finally let a sly smile escape. 'Nice ass too.'
    She shook her head and ran a hand absently through her hair before the other part of Terry's last statement registered again. "What did you mean by 'our boy'?"
    "Well, I meant the department's is all." Terry dissembled quietly. "I wish I was in a position to take him myself but Cathy would never let me...what with our first baby almost ready to show up."
    "Ah, I see." Gail gave a worried smile back at the closed door her husband had left through. She and Bill were definitely going to have a long chat. "Don't look at us either, Terry... Not with the two daughters we've got already...even if they're both in college, they still live with us."
    "If it's the money, we can all work on that." Terry smiled back at his captain's wife's suddenly nervous attitude. It seemed Philip's ripples through their calm waters were still spreading. "As for the other, I think your girls would just have to hunt elsewhere. Flip kinda follows another tune."
    "Jeeze, Terry! I know the boy's gay." Gail breathed out her exasperation. "Bill and I do talk you know... That doesn't bother me. The problem wouldn't be with Philip, it'd be with Conny... She'd look at him as a challenge. Lord help that hot little boy when she decides to hook her claws into his ass."
    "Wow!" Terry stifled his chuckle before trying to continue. "I'd better warn Bill about whose claws again?"
    "That's enough from you two, Mr. Lieutenant." Gail grinned back as her tension flew away. "Get back to moving the furniture you lazy-assed excuse for an officer." She swatted Terry's backside and pushed harder. "Go on now! Can't leave it all to your crew now, can you?"


   "And you're sure you swung first?" Bill sighed quietly as he watched his youngest firefighter re-dress himself, covering the other minor bruises with the sweater and T-shirt the boy had been most unwilling to remove for the doctor. Bill glanced at the equally patient doctor and shrugged before the freckle covered shoulders disappeared. "Philip?"
    "Yeah..." Philip felt his cheeks burn again as he smoothed out his clothes and bent to retrieve his sneakers, forcing his feet back into them. "Pretty sure anyway. Why?"
    "Why?" Bill repeated the question thoughtfully and quietly wondered at his own deepening involvement in this dying family. "Listen, Philip. If I thought it'd do any good, I'd say let's go see the cops about this but they'd probably throw your ass in jail instead..."
    "I just want him gone!" Philip's hair rose again as he shrugged the tingle back. "Out..away from me and mom forever."
    "Well, I think you've just about done that." Bill sighed again and watched the heat drain out of the boy's eyes for another time. "Though I will wait and see. What else does your dad know?"
    "Nothing." Philip whispered, deep in his own thoughts. His eyes soon fixed his captain in a fearful gaze. "Shit! Please don't say anything to my mom about...you know. Can we keep it just us?"
    "Jeeze, Philip." Bill almost grinned back but held it hidden. Though he did grasp his crewman's shoulder again. "As to the fight, I think she'll notice the shiner... The other part will be harder to keep within the station though. You did kiss a boy under the freeway on a busy public road after all. I think it's hoping a little too much that it wasn't noticed."
    "I know that." Philip snarled back then swallowed hard and grew fascinated in the study of his shoes instead of his captain's face. "Sorry. I just don't want her to know. I'll deal with everything else."
    "In that case, have Bill here teach ya something new." Philip and Bill jumped slightly as the doctor's voice drawled into their quiet conversation. His eyes sparkled through his attempt at remaining the proper serious professional. He shrugged at the two blank questioning stares he was receiving and raised his hand to trace his fingers along the puffy side of the boy's face. At least the kid's eyes were allot clearer and alert then they had been. "Have somebody teach ya how to duck a punch next time. Now both of ya get out of my emergency room. You'll be fine..." He finished with a jerk of his head at Bill. "Just don't listen too much to this overgrown juvenile delinquent."
    "OK, both of us 'Gomers' are going." Bill slipped into his expected EMT role with his reference to 'gomer', meaning 'get outta my emergency room' and finished his own reassuring smile at both the doctor and his firefighter. "Your not-so-secret secret is safe with us... Let's go visit your buddy and then go check on how Terry and the others are doing."
    Philip trudged quietly along side his captain and breathed out his relief at finally getting out of the clutches of the staff. Actually, he figured the clutches had been few and very far in between as he'd sat alone and sometimes with Bill for what had seemed like most of the day. Now he was free and without having to take anything. The doctor had made some noise about him seeing another doctor later, to talk things over, but he'd blown that off immediately. He'd had all he could stand of doctors right then.
    "Tell ya what," Bill gave Philip a wink as they stepped out of the elevator and turned down the hall leading to where Marty lay. "You go on in and see your buddy while I check out things with Terry and the others." Bill punched the door button and stepped to the side, pushing Philip towards the nurses station. "Don't worry, they just got a call while we were checking you out so I'll see how things went."
    "But?" Philip looked back in flustered silence. His captain had missed a call because Philip had been a stupid idiot?
    "But what?" Bill kept his answering smile and pushed the boy again. "I'm where I want to be and I think Terry can handle things without either of us when he has to... Now go!"
    "OK." Philip sighed in resignation and finished his walk to the station and the nurses who watched him proceed as if they could read every thought or feeling he'd ever had and tried to close off from the world. "I'm...I'm here to see...I mean, check on M...Marty?"
    "Owww! Fu...fu...fuck!" Philip cringed visibly and turned in alarm at Marty's frail but angry voice coming from behind him. He stopped and forced his breathing back into a more regular pattern though the female voice didn't give him much real confidence. "Ok, honey, I know that hurts but until you're walkin' again, I gotta put this new one back in."
    "Why don't you wait a minute out here." Another nurse quietly pushed Philip back against the counter and noted his fire department T-shirt peaking through the deep "V" of the sweater. "It's just time for a catheter change, then you can see him. He's doing fine so far... Are you family?"
    "No ma'am." Philip forced his stricken look away from the doorway and back at the twinkling eyes of the woman beside him. "He's just a good friend and I was there at the scene..."
    "Well..." The nurse cast her eyes through Philip's chest and shrugged uncertainly. The stories and jokes were already circulating through the hospital and amongst the ambulance crews about the strange 'care' provided by this young firefighter with the fiery red hair to match. She carefully hid her remembrance of the last 'kiss it and make it better' punch line she'd heard. "You ain't family, but I suppose it'll be all right... Besides, what you just heard is the first words he's bothered to say to anyone here since he woke up and his brother left with that CPS case worker. So I wish you luck with him."
    "Th...thanks." Philip jumped again at another almost unheard yelp that drowned even further down into what was almost a growl coming from Marty. Well, it sounded like a growl anyway, what little he could hear of it beyond the increased sounds of water bubbling from what Philip remembered about the chest tube reservoir.
    "OK, honey, I'll bring ya some water then." Philip watched as another nurse left Marty's room in the renewed silence. She gave a sad shrug and a sigh, carrying two untouched trays of food out with her. She looked at the others and sighed again. "Not that I expect him to touch that either... Ya know, we might as well go ahead and drop an 'NG' down his throat now and be done with it. At least then we can feed the boy when the doctors want it done... Besides, it probably wouldn't be the first time something went down his..."
    "Yeah, I know, Nancy." The nurse standing in front of the battered red-headed male cast a warning with her voice as she watched the boy flinch with the further blow. She fought to try to turn the comments into something more positive but flinched herself after she spoke. "At least he's said something now."
    "Ha! Yes he did. Though I hope it'll take less than shoving a new tube up his dick next time," Nancy snarled back without turning to look and shoved the trays into their slots in the cart. "I'll tell ya this, though, Angela... I'm not gonna kiss that to make him feel better! God knows what he and that redhe..."
    "Nancy! Shush!" Angela watched nervously as she saw the boy's face suddenly began to burn brightly, only to drain away into a paler tone that seemed to accent some deeper fire within his eyes. She really needed to get this kid away before any explosion happened. "Why don't you go on in and see your friend."
    "Shit!" Nancy finally looked around at the others and into the harsh stare from the bruised redheaded boy as he was pulled towards the room she'd just left. She smiled back halfheartedly and shrugged before turning away and kept her voice to herself. "So that's the kisser... Cute, but he'd better not start any shit... Boy don't like the jokes, boy better keep his lips to himself..."
    Philip bit back any responses that came pouring through his mind as his heart pounded them away and tried to focus back on the black haired boy staring up at the ceiling. 'God!' he cursed himself. He didn't know whether he wanted to run or fight but couldn't do either anyway. So he took a deep shuddering breath. "Marty?"
    "Go away." Marty jumped slightly at the soft quiet voice that interrupted his careful study of nothing. He recognized the voice but didn't dare look. Everyone he'd ever loved had been taken from him, and it was all his fault. This would be the same. His heart ached through the constant pain he had from his ribs and the fading discomfort from between his legs. He remembered that one little kiss but pushed that hope away. He had nothing left to offer in exchange for his hope and love but death. Better he end it now before...
    "No." Philip bit back the quiet snarl in his nervous voice and took a couple of shuddering deep breaths while trying to think through the pounding his heart was making in his chest and ears. "I'm where I... can't you even stand to look at me? I lo... you...you're my friend. Where the fuck else am I supposed to be?"
    "Why?" Marty fidgeted through the barely noticed waves of pain that came with each tortured breath. What had the redhead said? They were friends? He couldn't help himself from glancing down and into those green tinged eyes he'd never been able to ignore completely.
    "Why what?" Philip nervously looked back into the black eyes that he'd once been lost in. Now, he was feeling a cold wall in those same eyes. He shifted uncomfortably and cast a shy smile back, gesturing at his face. "This? ... This is nothing. I just didn't duck in time."
    "No." Marty's whisper drove back in frustration and challenge. It had always kept even his diving teammates from getting too close. Now his voice was the only weapon he had left, such as it was, to drive Philip away from him and into safety. "Why... you here?"
    "I lo.... I lo...." Philip stuttered with the words for a moment before stopping and blinking away another small bit of irritating moisture in his eyes. He then cast a quick glance out the open door and shook his head at his own cowardly actions. Hell, the staff probably knew everything already and if they didn't? Well, screw them, too. He couldn't cover the renewed heat in his voice if he'd wanted to. "I love you, damn it, and before you try asking, I don't know why... Fuck me, but I just do. You ain't getting rid of me that easy, so just shut up and let me be your friend if nothing else."
    Marty lay staring back in silence, his mouth hanging open with everything else left unsaid. He finally groaned and closed his eyes. Somehow the waves of physical and mental pain seemed to be reduced slightly, though the storms still battered at him relentlessly. He felt his empty hand become filled with the moist warmth of the redhead's own grasp and shuddered through the lone tear that escaped his eyes, the last he felt he had left to give in the silence of his room.
    "I'm sorry." Philip winced and coughed as his fight-or-flight instincts faded and a lump re-formed in his throat. He was acting like his father, and the realization shook and scared him. "I...I do love you. I hope you do -- or will -- love me but that's up to you... I'll go now if you want me to, but know I'm still willing...I mean I want to be your friend... If...if you want me..."
    "Shut up...yourself." Marty wheezed quietly and squeezed the hand in his all the harder. He let a slight and wayward smile slowly force the corners of his mouth upward. "Asshole..."
    "I'm the dickhead," Philip sighed quietly and felt his shoulders slump as if whatever huge weight he'd been struggling with had suddenly been relieved but only after kicking his ass unmercifully. "You're the asshole."
  "Nooo...." Marty wheezed again, and willed his chest pain away for the moment again. He'd be damned before he mentioned anything to that bitch who'd grabbed his cock and shoved the rubber tube up into him. He'd almost missed his brother that day due to all the drugs flowed into his veins already as it was. "I got it right this time...."
    "Ok, ok, I'm the asshole." Philip said though the lump in his throat that almost strangled his voice completely, and let a small smile escape  "Di...dickhead."
    "Oh for crying out loud!" The loud voice at the doorway spun Philip loose from his grasp on Marty's hand and into a half crouching defense, ready to fight again, and take it all before Marty could be harmed again. Instead he was met by no more than the raised eyebrows of the short, stocky, middle-aged man standing in the open doorway. He wore the white coat of so many others around that building, but what struck Philip as odd, was the fresh tray of food in one arm, while the other absently was swinging a yo-yo in different arcs and catching it each time. "Kiss him already!"
    "What?" Philip started, as he glanced between this new threat and Marty. God knew he had wanted to, but the only time that he'd let himself go had occurred without thought, and only the lord knew what the final consequences of that action would be.
    "Sorry. My name is James Gillford..." James spoke with what seemed to be much humor in his voice, as his eyes slowly narrowed on both his latest client, and the redhead standing guard over him. "...one of Gabriel's doctors and...."
    "Marty." Philip spoke quietly as his tense muscles began to relax again,  he noticed Bill standing just outside. "He prefers Marty."
    "Marty?" James asked the silent boy still laying in nervous tension on the bed. It seemed obvious to James, that the blackhaired boy had never seen this side of his redheaded friend before. It probably scared him, that Philip had gone from soft and loving, to ready for war and mayhem in a flash.
    "Please?" Marty finally squeeked, he tore his eyes away from the redhead, and back at the doctor's relaxed calm. "I do like Marty better."
    "OK Marty." James let his smile widen into a grin. From what he'd been told, Marty hadn't spoken civily to anyone except his little brother.  So even though his own little talk with Bill had convinced him that he'd probably end up with both boys in his office before too long, at least Philip's presence had opened Marty up to him. "All I'm here to see is what's going on, and why you're not eating, Mr. Miller...and I heard almost everything while waiting.... So why don't you two kiss already and think up new nicknames too by-the-way.... I imagine that asshole and dickhead might be accurate sometimes, but you might want to use them for some of the others you'll both probably have to deal with....Anyway, I think you can find better names for each other."
    "Screw you too.... I'm not...." Well, there it was as Philip thought quietly to himself before he turned and looked at the fear lingering in Marty's deep black eyes. He sighed out his thoughts and slowly reached out and gently took Marty's hand in his own again. The challenge was there for anyone to see. This doctor had bared it plainly enough in Philip's mind. He could kiss Marty again, but this time it wouldn't be an uncouncous act, they'd both know it for what it was, before, during, after. Being honest with himself, he did want to do it, but didn't know how. Oh he knew how to kiss, at least he thought he did. The problem was how to approach it. He found his hands and arms starting to shiver. His father would've just done it, and been done regardless of whether Marty wanted it or not.  Philip silently cursed himself for comming so close to acting like the man he'd grown to hate. The fear in Marty's eyes directed at him was worse than any beating in the past. He
tore his own eyes away,  looked down at thier clapsed hands and started to raise them up closer, but recoiled when Marty's arm resisted, even though the grasp remained firm. "I'm sorry M...Marty.... I should go."
    "N...not yet....please?" Marty saw something he'd never seen before in Philip's own eyes. He suddenly felt his own fears diminish as the fear in Philip's had seemed to grow. He hissed, as he thought 'Fuck the pain.' to himself, and levered up both arms to take hold of the redhead's closest shoulder  to pull him down. "Please?"
    Philip bent slowly in confusion, but let it happen until thier faces were almost touching. He could see the sweat and the tortured expression Marty was trying his hardest to hide. "I'm sorry Marty.... Oh God..... Don't hurt yourself over m...."
    Whatever else Philip intended to say was covered by Marty's mouth. Philip felt his heart melt despite the almost awful taste they shared between them, neither having had the chance to brush thier teeth, for days in Marty's case. Philip wouldn't have noticed anyway, as his chest heaved with the remains of his heart pounding, while puddling around suddenly weak legs. Marty also reveled, as the pain he'd caused himself was brushed aside, and worth every moment. The slight hardening his penis was attempting, despite the tube running through it's length, would cross his eyes if not brought under control. In the end, the need to breath was the winner as they silently separated and stared into each other's eyes again. Each lost within, yet trying to find a home there as well.
    "I love you." Philip whispered quietly in the stillness that had descended into the room, glad to be sharing it with a partner, and not with whatever they had been to each other before.
    "I...I...love...you...too." Marty finally let a slight smile cross his lips as some of the missing life came back into his eyes.
    "OK, Marty." James was all smiles again as he reentered the room, still flicking his yo-yo around and carrying the tray. "I renegotiated with the nurses.... Ah, ok, so I sent my son out, and he came up with something I think even you will like to eat. Now before we start talking.... How's about an ultimate cheeseburger and two orders of chillicheese fries from Jacks?"
    "N...no." Marty flustered briefly at the further interruption, but relaxed his hands.  Philip's eyes flashed back the same fearlessness of earlier, but then rolled upwards in surrender. Marty gave a wistful smile and shrugged further into the pillow. He wasn't trying to piss these people off, he just couldn't eat anything. "I...I'm not hungry...."
    "Bullsh-"cough"-it." Was all the voice outside the door managed, as the three heads within turned to find the speaker.
    "Buck?" James snarled at his own son's unwelcome and rude comment. He turned, and saw the faces of both  the other boys, looking at him with many unasked questions. He shrugged, pulled the room's food table over across Marty's bed, and placed the tray of food bags down. "Let me put this down on your table and you eat if and when you want to.... I'll be right back."
    "I'm sorry dad." Buck backed quickly away from the door and shied closer to the nurses station.
    Bill quietly watched and puzzled over how James had bred such a different son. If the size difference wasn't enough, then the accent certainly was. Buck's "I'm" had sounded like "Ah'm" countrified.
    "Look, I know you don't, or didn't mean anything, but it sure didn't help me any." James went on in his quiet tones as he directed his tall youngster towards the main door. "Now go on home, that boy you told me about and I will get on with getting him back together."
    "Yes'um." Buck mumbled his slurred reply, and shook his hanging head.
    "Come'er." James smiled and pulled his son into his embrace for a brief but tight hug. He glanced up at the boy's bright red face, and glancing eyes, sighed as he released his hold, before pressing the door button. "Oh, by the way Buck, you can drop the dumb routine when you're around here.... None of us are gonn'a buy it.... Not me, Mom, the nurses, or even the teachers anymore.... So no more dicking around with the tests. If you know it, then answer it."
    "Yes sir." Buck sighed out his answer clearly, and quickly found his way out the door; he was on his own way again.
    "Don't ask." James quietly evaded the clear question written on Bill's face, but then thought carefully before answering again, to ease the worry he could see forming. "Buck works and studies very hard, but he's afraid too. At first we thought it was fear of public speaking, because when he heard about valedictorian speeches he purposely screwed a test or two. Anyway, I've seen this fear in him all along, but when it's your own family? We, I'm afraid even me, fall into the same old parental patterns.... You know."
    "Yeah I do..." Bill thought things through again,  he had to sigh and shrug at the irony that this redheaded rookie had made  his thinking so different than he'd ever expected it would be. Lord knew his own parents would've reacted totally differently. He nodded his head at the doorway hiding his firefighter and his 'friend'. "But those two need a break from their own family's parenting patterns."
    "Yes, I know." James let himself smile again, as he turned back towards his assignment, and once again marveled at the lessons being learned by everybody there,  not always by the 'patients' alone. 'Physician, heal thyself.' had once been pounded into his head, and now returned as he began his yo-yo play again. It was time for him to listen and learn again. Somehow he knew that in the treatment there was also an opportunity. He'd see to Marty's demons and get the boy living again in all ways. But then he was going to take the time to finally examine himself, and his family, to face whatever emerged head on, while openly embracing it.
    "Philip?" Bill followed James into the room, and smiled under his hand, as he watched 'his' redhead guiltily move his chilly and cheese covered hands away from the other boy's equally smeared face. "I hope some of that made it inside?"
    "Yes sir." Philip quickly dove his hand into the pile of paper towels and began wiping the both of them off. "Sorry, Marty was hungry after all.... I didn't ha...."
    "I know, I know." Bill finally gave up to his chuckles, and raised his hands up in supplication. "If you're ready, we need to get back now."
    "Don't worry you two." James glanced between the two youngsters, at the remains of the paper sacks and cardboard containers. His own smile grew deeper at the slightly bulging stomach Marty now sported. One problem fixed already, and he didn't have anything to do with it.  Some of his old instructors would have been horrified or disgusted, but James just quietly shrugged his shoulders, and broke out into a grin; another lesson learned. "I'll make sure you can visit again for as long as you want."
    "Yes sir." Philip mumbled his regards and thanks to both men as his eyes stayed focused on Marty's cleaning attempts. He smiled, and squeezed the shoulder his hand found welcome in it's tentative home. "I'm ready."