Never Too Far Away
Time Stood Still

Disclaimer: This story involves love, relationship, and "adult" subject matter between teenage boys... so I guess that means your not supposed to read this if your under 18, but really if you are younger than that, I can't stop you. Just Don't Get Caught :)  If homosexuality offends you, then leave, or join the 21st century, and open up to it.

This Is FICTION... any character resembling a real life person is by coincidence, and in the rare event a character is based on someone in real life their name has been changed due to legal and personal protection.  You never know who's lurking around reading this. So now the little spiel is over so hopefully you'll enjoy this.  Do Not Reproduce this story, and if you would like to have it on your web site, email me & get my permission. Thanks. Copyright © Jaded Edge Productions


Chapter 8
When It All Falls Down

The familiar blaring of a bell echoed through the hallways of Arrowhead High School.  The quiet calmness slowly became pierced by the sounds of students breaking free of their now previous classes.  Some rushed through the doorways, trying to avoid the crowds of teenagers that were bound to plague the halls at any moment.  Others hung back, not really caring one way or another how fast they made it to their next class.   School was a place to learn or a place to socialize for most of the students.  Not often was it both, one always seemed to take precedent over the other.

Ben emerged from his sixth period art class, seemingly without a worry in the world. He was one of those kids that seemed to have everything going for him.  He was good looking in a way that many would envy. His body was sculpture like due to his constant training and play on the school's hockey team.  The boyish look of his face gave him the cute factor on top of his amazing body, which made him a complete package.  Throw in the nice guy personality and it would seem that he had been gifted with all of the things that people could only wish for.

Ben was grateful for what he had been blessed with.  He knew that he had it better than a lot of other people, so he tried not to dwell on any shortcomings that he might encounter during life.  When he started to have feelings for another boy, he took it in stride.  It scared him, as it does almost all people that come into something that they don't know.  He understood that it wasn't some taboo like a lot of people make it out to be.  Seeing friends of his that had already come to terms with their sexuality was probably the biggest factor in allowing him to accept that he would be okay whether he liked girls or boys.  Dealing with being gay or at the very least being bi, was the easy part.  Having a boyfriend that couldn't seem to deal with either was the part that couldn't be prepared for.

Ben took a seat on one of the few benches that were built around what would be considered 'the hub' of the school.  It was the very center of the building where a set of stairs led up to the second floor.  A square sitting area aptly named 'The Pit' was below the stairs where students gathered between classes or on lunches.  Ben took his bag from his shoulder and set it down beside him on the bench.  He scanned the crowd of people that had started gathering around the area.  There were many boys with girls on their arms, playfully flirting with each other, their smiles giving away the feelings that were between them.  Ben sighed, but didn't falter in appearance.  He knew that being with Jake like that wouldn't be possible, even if Jake was okay with their sexuality.  The possibility of them being out as a couple would be nearly impossible.  One of the first things they had talked about were the consequences of them coming out.   The ramifications for them would be too great.  Not because they were worried about being labeled gay, but because of their fears of being outcast by their teammates and outside authorities.

Ben has the hockey team, the one that had made a huge deal out of Tyler's coming out the prior year.  Even Ben had been involved in that, not really knowing anyone gay at the time or at least not to his knowledge.  The team had not taken well to the idea of someone being gay, even though Tyler had little to nothing to do with the team.  True that some of the instigators in it were no longer at the school, but they only backed down when Blade and Joey threatened to leave the team right before the playoffs.  Ben wasn't the captain of the team and was still only a junior, but if he was outed, there would be no Blade or Joey to put the team in check.

Jake on the other hand has much more at stake.  It was a well known fact that he was being looked at by many colleges, even as a sophomore.  Now in his junior year, he had to make sure he kept his level of play rising if he was to get into a tier one school.  The football team was overhauled completely from the previous year.  With Eric being on the team it had added that dimension of a gay player to the team.  Eric was obviously out and had no qualms about it.  The team didn't seem to mind that much, as long as they could turn in a winning season for once, then that was all that mattered.  For Jake though, he had to worry about the colleges that were scouting him.  He was well aware that there were some southern schools looking to offer him a spot, and had also been made well aware that the schools' reputations could not be compromised by any kind of 'unwanted attention'.  This was made clear to him by a couple of schools' agents.  They had scouted some games, taking notes on not only Jake, but other members of the team as well.  After one particular game they talked to Eric briefly but were automatically put off when Eric made no effort to hide his affection for Matt when Matt had joined Eric as their conversation was ending.

Ben tried to keep his thoughts away from the hard facts that had kept his relationship so strained, but it was hard to do so when Jake was starting to pull away from him again.  Their romantic weekend in the mountains was anything but romantic for the most part.  Jake's seeming disinterest in anything remotely sexual only led the way for more feelings of uncertainty in Ben's mind.  No matter how he tried to deny it, he felt like he was losing the person he cared about most.

"Watch out guys oversized load coming through."  Ben snapped out of his thoughts and turned his head in the direction of the comment.  A group of boys huddled around each other, dressed in their skater garb snickered amongst each other while looking at the brunt of their joke.  Another boy walked slowly by them, his head down, avoiding any eye contact with the group.  He was a heavier set guy, his horn rimmed glasses not exactly giving him the look that would earn the acceptance of his peers.  "Hey, Ronald, I'll give you a Big Mac if you step out of the sun's path so I can catch some rays today."  The boys continued to snicker at the bigger boy's expense.  He kept walking, not breaking stride even though the words had to have stung him a bit.  Ben shook his head, wondering what they gained by ridiculing someone like that.  He didn't have much time to think about it before his eyes caught sight of Jake on the opposite side of the pit.  Jake gave Ben a small smile when he spotted him.  He started making his way over to his boyfriend, when a commotion stopped him.

A few yards from where the group of skaters were hanging out, the boy they were making fun of had stopped abruptly.  His books were scattered on the floor and whatever the cause of it was, was blocked from view.  Jake looked to Ben, who was also watching the scene intently.  Suddenly, Ronald was spun around and pushed back first up against a row of lockers.  A wave of students rushed to gather around, as any train wreck deserves an audience.  Jake and Ben weren't able to see what was going on exactly with the wall of students that had formed in front of them, so they made their way toward the crowd.

Voices could be heard egging on the confrontation, but one voice came out loud and clear.  "Take up enough of the hallway rub-a-tub?!?"  Jake looked over the crowd and saw Eric push Ronald hard up against the lockers.  The boy was nearly twice Eric's size, but made no effort to push the smaller boy off of him.  "Are you fucking deaf too?"  Eric let go of Ronald and the boy immediately started picking up his books.  When he had gotten a pile of them, Eric walked up him and knocked them out of Ronald's arms.  "Last time I checked, I was talking to you."  Ronald continued to ignore Eric, turning once again to grab his fallen books.  Eric sneered while Ronald leant down to grab a paper.  Eric put his foot forward and sent him tumbling over.  "Fucking pussy."  Eric kicked the nearest book into the crowd.  Jake watched on stunned by what he was witnessing.  Ben on the other hand had snuck through the crowd.

"What the fuck is your problem, Eric?"  Ben stepped between Eric and Ronald, who was still kneeling on the ground, looking as if he was fighting back tears.  Getting a closer look at Eric startled Ben a bit.  Eric looked like he hadn't eaten for weeks.  His eyes were dilated and bloodshot.  He kept scratching at his right arm before giving Ben an angry look.

"He ran into me, so don't act like this is my fault."

"He ran into you so that gives you the right to attack him?  What the hell is wrong with you man?"

"Me?!?  What the hell is wrong with me?!?  Since when do you give a fuck about ME?!?!"  Eric looked like he was going to pounce on Ben when Jake stepped in.  Eric laughed while shaking his head, "You guys are a joke."

"We're a joke?  Look at yourself, Eric.  You look like you live on the street," Said Jake.

"At least I'm real.  At least I'm not scared of being me."  Eric looked from Jake to Ben, "Both of you.  A couple of scared ass little girls."

Jake's face reddened with anger.  He stepped toward Eric, but was stopped by a hand on his shoulder.  He turned his head and his eyes met Ben's, "It's not worth it, Jake."

"Yeah, listen to your boyf.."  Before Eric could finish he seemed to wince and shake his head.  He scratched at the back of his neck before he snapped out of it.

Ben watched Eric's strange actions intently.  It was true that he hadn't seen much of Eric lately, but Eric didn't seem to want to be around anyone.  He was always clubbing or doing his own thing.  The effects of that were starting to become clearer and clearer to the young hockey player.  Ben looked at the crowd who had started breaking up.  A couple of teachers could be seen from a distance making their way down one of the corridors.  "Eric, you know if you need help.."  Ben reached a hand out to Eric, who abruptly smacked it away.

"I don't need anything from you or anyone.  Just leave me alone and stay out of my business."  Eric pushed through the crowd roughly and stalked down the hallway.

Ben looked to Jake with worry in his eyes, "Did you see the way he was acting?  The scratching, the violence, the twitching.."

Jake nodded at Ben while staring at Eric's retreating form, their problems seemingly becoming an afterthought for the moment.  "He needs help more than he knows."

Meanwhile, Eric walked down the hallway, barely giving a passing glance to anyone along the way.  He had lost control in the middle of school without a second thought.  He felt like he was on overdrive and his mind was going out of control.  His progression in the world of narcotics had moved quickly.  Ecstasy had been replaced by speed and the effects of it were in full force.  He looked at his arm and saw something moving on it, causing him to stop and smack at his arm frantically.  When he was satisfied that it was gone he continued on his path.  He had pushed his friends as far away as possible from his new world, but there was only so much one could hide when things had gotten to the point they had,

Ethan had provided a gateway.. an escape for Eric.  He hadn't intended on using any drugs, but one doesn't usually set out to get hooked on something.  They just want that temporary release from themselves.  To let go of the pain if only for a few hours.  Eric walked briskly and nearly freaked out when an arm wrapped around his waist, halting his progress.  His pulse sped up, but he soon could smell a familiar scent of cologne invade his air ways.  He relaxed a bit, letting his body lean back against the one that had latched on to him.  "Matt.."

Matt held his boyfriend tight, feeling the tension leaving his limbs, "Where's the fire?"

Eric's head was still clouded, "What?"

Matt gave a worried laugh, "Um, it was a joke baby."

"Oh. Sorry.. I-I'm just.. I have a lot going on in my head."

Matt turned Eric around so they were face to face.  Matt's eyes filled with worry when he saw the condition of his love.  He brought a hand up to Eric's cheek, caressing it softly, "Eric, what's going on with you?"

Eric felt like his skin was on fire.  He broke away from Matt's grasp as gently, but quickly as possible.  He rubbed at his arms and any other exposed skin, "There's nothing going on."

"Eric.."  Matt's phone started ringing, cutting him off.  He sighed, answering it, "Hello?"

"Hey, Matt."  The sound of Corey's voice made Matt's stomach tighten.  He looked to Eric, but Eric had started backing away down the hall.

"Hey, Core.. Hang on one second, okay?"


"Eric," Matt called out, causing Eric to only slightly slow down.

"It's.. don't worry Matt.  Just.. do what you have to do with whatever.  You can't help me anymore.  Find.. someone who can be what you deserve.  I love you okay.. just yeah. Know that."  Eric turned and walked briskly away,

Matt watched on, feeling as helpless as Eric had looked.  He shook his head, feeling stray tears start to fall from his eyes before putting the phone back to his ear, "Corey?  Sorry about that."

"It's okay.  Um, is this a bad time?"

"It seems like it's always a bad time with Eric.  I don't even know how to take what he just said to me.  I think he just dumped me"

"Maybe I should call you another time.  I don't want to add to your problems."

"No.. it's okay.  What's up?  How are you feeling?"

"I'm.. well, you know.  Sick and they don't know what I'm sick with.  Sounds like a case for Dr. House."

Matt forced out a laugh, but was stressed about his friend and his boyfriend, "So.. you didn't say how you're feeling."

There was a slight pause on the other end of the line, "They said I'm getting worse."

Matt ran a hand threw his blonde locks, "What does that mean?"

"They don't know if I'm going to get better, Matt."

"Are you saying you could die?"

"I'm saying that.. It's possible if they don't find out what's messing me up inside.  I just want to get out of this hospital.  It's lonely in here, man."  Corey's voice cracked, "I don't want to die, Matt.. And I really don't want to die in this hospital alone."

Matt took a moment to think, "Do you want me to come there?"

"That's kind of why I called.  But.. if you need to fix things with Eric, I understand, man.  Don't let him just walk away from you."

"I think I lost Eric a long time ago,"  Matt said, frowning to himself, the words stinging him deeply.  "I'll pack my things and arrange to transfer my records out to your school."

"Thanks, Matt.  You're the best.  My mom will call your parents to figure everything out.  I'll see you soon."

"Yeah.. see you soon, Core.  Keep fighting.  Bye."

Matt leaned back against the closest wall, feeling the air rush from his lungs.  The tears fell freely as he fought the feeling of being completely overwhelmed.  He was losing everything and knew that he couldn't do anything to stop it.  All he could do was sit back and watch.  There was no way he could sit there and watch Eric deteriorate like he had been doing for the last two months.  He loved Eric with all of his heart, but Eric was lost, even to himself.   Matt had to make a choice between two people who needed him.  Only one wanted his help, and Eric had made it clear nothing that Matt could do would keep him or their relationship from falling apart.  Sometimes the hardest choice is the one that we can't make ourselves.


On the way to LA, Kai's Car..

The sounds of horns wailing filled up the area, people showing their impatient nature when it comes to Southern California freeway traffic.  The cars were lined as far as the eye could see, crawling at a snails pace five lanes wide.  For the residents that frequented the freeways it was nothing new, but still frustrating none the less, especially if they had to be somewhere at a specific time.

Kai laid into his horn, not for any other reason than to join in with the rest of the drivers.  "This is awesome.  It's like musical chairs, but not."  Kai turned and grinned at me widely from the driver's seat.  I had to laugh at the look of glee that was plastered upon his face.

"You sir, are a very easily amused person."

"You're right. Now why don't you climb up here between Jordan and I and get to work amusing Russell The One-Eyed Wonder Muscle."  He grabbed his crotch making a lewd gesture at me.

I exploded into a fit of laughter, followed shortly by Zach and even Jordan.  "Jordan please tell me he doesn't really call it that."

Jordan snickered, "Well...among other things.."

Zach smiled, "So what do you call yours, Jordan?"

"Uh.. we are not really having this conversation are we?"

Kai once again chimed in, "His is the thrill drill."

"Hahaha..  Oh my god.."  I coughed from laughing so hard.  "What is wrong with you? Do you really have that much time on your hands that you can sit there and make up a list of penis names?"

"Let's think of it like part of my anatomy class.  See, it's educational."

"Can I join your class?"  Zach asked.  Kai laughed and turned his attention back to the road momentarily as the cars started moving a bit.

We moved about 20 feet before the brake lights came on again in front of us, "Woooo, watch out now.  I didn't want to thrill you guys too much by going above 10 mph."

"What's the condition he has called again?"  Zach whispered to me.

I smirked at him, "Hey Kai, what did they diagnose you with again? "

"They said I have Special Disease.  It's a serious condition where my balls fill up with cum.  If I don't get laid at least five times a day, I'll be in extreme pain and my balls could explode."  I couldn't believe he said that with a straight face.

Jordan piped in, "That's not contagious is it?"

"I don't think so.  Maybe by penetration.  Let's find out, quick, pants off and in my lap, we've got 30 seconds until I explode."

We all laughed again, Kai always having some sort of comeback to everything.  The people in a car next to us were looking at us through their windows like we were on drugs.  I probably would have done the same if I was in their position.  We all probably looked like we were high on something.

Jordan flipped on the radio, putting us in a comfortable silence for the slow drive ahead of.  He reached over and took one of Kai's hands in his own, interlacing their fingers.  Their wedding bands shined from the last bit of the setting sun's rays.  I felt a bit of jealousy shoot through me.  Their love was something that was very rare.  Not many people can claim to have found the person they would marry at the age of 17 and 18.  I envied them more than anyone would ever know, but was happy for them all the same.

I glanced over at Zach who was also looking at their hands.  His glance turned in my direction, our eyes coming in contact.  His eyes drew me in every time I looked at them.  To most people there wasn't anything spectacular about them.  I found the mix of light and dark colored brown fascinating and beautiful.  He smiled, but didn't speak.  We had a lot of that silent communication.  He moved closer to me so he was leaning against my left arm. "Comfortable?"  I teased.

"Yes.  I'm sleepy.  I don't think I got enough sleep last night."

"Why not?"

"I don't know, just.. things on my mind I guess."

"You should've called me."

He laid down so his head was lying in my lap.  He looked up at me with a grin, "Why, do you have some high powered sleeping pills at home?"

"Haha, no.  But you could've come over.  You seem to sleep okay when we're together."

He closed his eyes, but didn't lose his smile, "Mmm, yeah.  You're comfortable.  But I don't think I would have been any fun in bed last night."

"Zach, you know we don't have to do anything to be around each other."

His eyelids fluttered open and his dark irises gazed up at me.  I felt like he was reading my mind and it made me uncomfortable.  He didn't give any sign of what he was thinking, but if he really could read minds I would be in trouble.  He just took hold of one of my hands and kissed the top of it gently before laying if over his chest.  His breathing became deeper and soon his eyes closed once again, this time sending him off into a peaceful state of sleep.  I ran my hand over his face, feeling a pang shoot through my heart.  It was something I had been trying to fight off, but was failing miserably.

I was falling for Zach and I couldn't stop it.  No matter how much I told myself that it was a bad idea or that I was warned not to, I couldn't help the feeling that ran through me every time I was with him.  It wasn't lust, it was more.  I connected with Zach from the moment I laid eyes on him and that's not something that happens very often.  Especially not with the wall of defenses I've put up.  Somehow Zach eluded all of the barriers I had raised around my heart and gotten inside a place that he wasn't supposed to. One that had been badly bruised emotionally.

Zach had warned me not to fall for him.  I've tried to heed that warning, but you can't control how you feel about someone.  The thing with sexual relationships, friends with benefits or whatever you may call them, is that rarely do they work.   Rarely do they stay at an equal level for both sides.  One person usually gets attached and then they get hurt in the end.  I fear that's where I'm headed with Zach, but for some reason it's not enough to make me walk away from him.  I can't.. not at this point.  I just don't know how to tell him without sacrificing our friendship.

He's hard to read.  He seems to be carefree and doesn't want to be tied down, but when we're together his actions completely contradict that attitude he likes to portray.  He scares me because I know if I don't find a way to make it stop, I could really let myself fall for him completely.  With my situation right now, that could be disastrous.

Tyler made it clear he wanted to try being a couple again sooner rather than later.  We were supposed to go on dates and see what happened from there.  The thing is, Tyler's work load has gone from busy to crazy in a matter of a few weeks.  He's never around to spend time with and what little time we do see each other is not significant enough to see where we stand.  I love Tyler, I really do.  It's just.. been a long time since we've been more than friends.  I guess all around when it comes to love I'm scared to death.  With the potential of falling in love with Zach or getting back together with Tyler, it opens me up to a whole other world that could crush me all over again.  I don't know which way I'm going, but I know that I can't deny what I feel for either of them.

Zach stirred a bit, but only momentarily shifted a bit to get more comfortable before he was soundly sleeping again.  He looked beautiful awake or sleeping.  There was no denying his model looks.  His mix of Portuguese and Caucasian gave him a beautiful skin tone to compliment his ultra dark hair.  His cheekbones were prominent and finished off with cute subtle dimples.  Yeah, there's no denying it, falling for him was happening and happening fast.

"Hmm, so what's the deal with you two?" Kai looked back through the rearview mirror at me while asking his question.

"We're friends."  Our tones were close to a whispering level.

"Is that all?  It seems like more to me."

"Well, you know the extent of it," I said, a little uneasy with the questioning even though Zach was sleeping.

"I think he means it looks like you two are a couple," Jordan piped in.

I looked down at Zach one more time making sure he was asleep still, "I'm confused."

Jordan turned around so he could talk to me directly, "Blade, you know that look you get when you're totally in love with someone?"  I nodded, "Well, that's how you look when you look at him."

I swallowed down the lump in my throat, "I don't know, Jordan."

The car had stopped again in the traffic, so Kai turned to me as well, "You don't know or you're afraid to admit it?"

"I hate you two.  Get out of my head,"  I pouted.

They chuckled lightly before Kai spoke again, "Blade, if he makes you happy then what's wrong with that?"

"He's not available.  Not like that."

Kai's brow furrowed, "What's that mean?  He looks like he's totally into you."

"He told me he's basically not emotionally available before we even started to go beyond regular friend activities."

"Blade, you and I both know that feelings change.  Just because he wasn't ready before doesn't mean he's not now.  I mean, he's always looking at you or touching you some way or another," Said Jordan.

"Look guys, I appreciate your input, but I can't fall in love with him.  I just--- can't."

"Can't or won't?  Dude, is this because of Tyler?"  Kai questioned.

I looked at him puzzled, "What do you mean by that?"  I wasn't aware that Kai knew anything about Tyler's proposition to me.  Kai turned around momentarily to move with the traffic.  When we stopped again he put his attention back on me.

"I mean, is this because you're afraid that taking the next step with Zach would mean pushing Tyler further away from the relationship zone?"

"No.. I mean.. Gah.  I don't know what I mean.  You guys know that Tyler will always have me in some way.  Friend or more.. I don't see how my life doesn't involve him.  I love him, he was my first boyfriend.  It's just been such a roller coaster with him, a lot of the time I don't know which way is up concerning us."

"So you're unsure about being more than friends with Tyler?"  Jordan questioned.

"I don't know what I want with Tyler.  It's been so long since we've been anything other than friends.  I know he wants to try again and I agreed to that.  I don't want to complicate things with other feelings and other people."

Kai pulled onto the exit and stopped at a stop light before speaking again, "Then stop seeing Zach.  Choose one or the other.  If you can."

"Lots of help, Kai.  Why didn't I think of that?"  I said sarcastically.

"What was Tyler's plan?"  Jordan seemed to be really concerned with my decisions on love.  Considering our history, I have to say that he really steps up to the plate when it comes to me and love.

"He wants to start dating a bit and see what happens from there.  Meanwhile we're open to see whoever we want."

"So, go on the dates and see what you want.  You'll know when you know, Blade.  If you and Tyler are going to be together it has to be because you both still are in love with each other.  Not because it's what you've known for so long.  If you and Zach are going to be together, then you need to talk to him about it when you think the time is right.  He'd be stupid to turn you down.  Anyone would.  Just don't think that you don't have anyone to fall back on.  This isn't the one man Blade Show anymore.  You don't have a choice, but to actually use our help this time around."

I smiled widely at Jordan, feeling genuinely touched by his words, "Why are you so smart?"

"One of us in the relationship has to be," He teased Kai, who took a moment to get the joke.

"Wha--- HEY!"

The three of us laughed, causing enough noise to stir Zach from his slumber.  He brought a hand up to rub the sleep from his eyes.  His eyes squinted slightly as they adjusted to being open again.  He smiled coyly realizing he had been napping, "Hey.  What's so funny?"

"Nothing.  Just making fun of Kai."

"Aww.  I miss all the fun."

"Are you saying sleeping in my lap is no fun?"  I joked.

"Mmm, point taken."  He paused then leaned his head up.  "Hey, I have to tell you something,"  He waved at me so I would meet him half way.  He brought his mouth close to my ear and whispered, "You're beautiful." He turned my head gently and placed a soft kiss over my lips.  We both smiled at each other before Zach laid his head back down and toyed with the end of my belt.  My eyes looked up to meet Kai's in the mirror.  He raised his eyebrows knowingly and then shook his head with a grin.

Sigh... If this is love, then I don't want it to end.


Somewhere in my heart
I'm holding on for you,
I'm waiting for your love.
Hoping to see us through

Could you see us,
Like me?
Would you want it
Like me?
Please remember
When I loved you and you only
Believe in the world I see
Just like me

All I want is something real
That we both can feel..

"Cut."  Tyler looked to the producer who had halted him mid syllable, "I think we can call it a day.  I'll get these vocals mixed and we should be good to go with this track."

Tyler removed the headphones from his ears and set them down on the music stand beside him.  "so, you think that was good enough?  I think my pitch was a little off."

Jason, the producer, laughed, "Your pitch was fine, man.  You're too much of a perfectionist.  When you sing a song like that, that you put your heat and soul into, you want to hear that emotion come out.  Don't think so much that you end up stifling it with an idea of perfection that doesn't exist."

Tyler grinned, "You're the professional."

"That's right, baby boy.  I know what I'm talking about."  Jason glanced over at a clock that hung upon the far wall, "You should probably head up to see the big boss.  I don't need that bitch Colin on my ass for keeping you too long."

"Yeah, I know how that goes.  Unfortunately for me, I don't think I'll be able to shake him as easily as you,"  Tyler frowned as he spoke.  He knew what he was getting himself into by interfering with Colin's agenda against Blade.

"He's a dick.  I think he has this job because the higher ups are afraid he'll be up their asses for the next 20 years with lawsuits if they fire him.  I guess it does pay to have your lips permanently attached to the ass of the people in power."

Tyler laughed while putting his messenger bag over his shoulder, "He'll get what's coming to him someday.  You can't act like he does forever and not expect karma to come back for payment in the end."

"You're probably right.  Catch you later shawty."  Tyler gave a nod of his head to Jason before exiting the studio.

When Tyler signed his new contract he knew that things were going to change.  He wasn't prepared however, for how quickly that change had come.  His workload had tripled in less than a month and he spent more time in the studio and learning choreography than he did at home.  Or more importantly in his mind, spending time with Blade.

He had moved himself back into his mother's house, not because he wanted to get away from Blade, but because they both felt it'd be awkward if they were trying to date and were already living together.  That on top of the arrangement that Blade seemed to have with Zach, one which Tyler definitely did not want to be within earshot of should they decide to stay at Blade's condo, made it clear that living together was not the right choice.

Tyler walked into the secretary's office, one he had become fairly familiar with lately.  Joy immediately smiled when she saw Tyler enter the room.  Tyler returned her smile kindly, welcoming the friendly vibe that was otherwise lost among the strictly business types around the building.  "How are you, Joy?"

"I'm fine sweety.  How are you?"

Tyler ran a hand through his blonde hair, "I'm okay.  Still adjusting to this crazy schedule.  Sometimes I feel like I live here."

Joy gave him a sympathizing look, "I know how you feel.  Just keep telling yourself that it will all be worth it in the end.  It takes a lot of hard work to get your name in lights and it seems that's where yours is headed."

"I hope so.  I'd hate to do all of this and end up a nobody."

"Oh, Tyler.  You could never be a nobody.  People can just look at you and tell you're meant for great things.  Whether it's singing or not, you'll do just fine for yourself."

Tyler smiled widely, his dimples framing his perfect smile. The sound a door opening caught his attention and the sight just inside of it made him lose his smile.  Colin stood there with an annoyed look upon his normally smug face.  "Were you planning on joining us sometime this evening, Tyler?"

"Sorry.. I was just talking to.."  Tyler stopped himself, knowing there was no use in trying to explain to Colin.

"We don't pay you to talk.  Especially not to a receptionist who obviously isn't doing her job if she's got time to sit here and chat away with you."  Colin sneered at Joy who nervously, but quickly turned back to her computer.

"Leave her alone, Colin.  It was my fault."

"I don't want to hear it.  Get in there, now."  Tyler shook his head and begrudgingly walked past Colin and headed to the conference room.  Colin on the other hand hung back a moment.  He looked at Joy who tried to avert her gaze from him, "As for you, you'll be docked a half hour of pay for your slacking.  Next time remember that when you try to waste my time."  With that Colin walked out of the reception area and down the corridor to the conference room.  He entered and closed the door behind him.  Mr. Jamesan was not there, but Mr. Edison was.  Tyler was seated to his left, silently staring down at the table.  "Let's get started shall we?"

Mr. Edison nodded, "Right then.  Tyler, I just want to tell you that I'm very impressed with the amount of work and effort you've been putting in here for the last month.  I know that things are moving quickly, but this company has a lot invested in you.  The market research shows that you have the potential to break out if we strike now while the single is catching on."

Colin took over, "Basically, we need to get you exposure and a lot of it.  The more appearances you make, the better chances are that you will catch the public eye.  That means your workload will be getting heavier from this point on."

Tyler looked at Colin for the first time in bewilderment, "Heavier?  I'm already here 15 hours a day."

"Do you want this or not?"  Colin growled.

"Yes.. but when am I supposed to sleep.. have a life?"

"You gave up that right when you signed the contract.  This business is about sacrifice, not about convenience."

Mr. Edison interrupted, "Colin, don't scare the boy."  Colin nodded, but not without throwing a dirty look Tyler's way, "I understand that you are a bit overwhelmed by the way things are going right now.  The thing is, we normally don't push for a so much to be done in such a short span of time.  There's a reason for that as well, which is why I called you in."

"Okay, so what's the reason?"  Tyler asked.

"We have booked you as an opening act for an upcoming tour,"  Mr. Edison smiled as he broke the news.

Tyler felt a rush of mixed emotions, excitement and fear at the forefront of them, "Really?  For who?"

"For one of our acts that has become quite popular.  Echo."

"Echo?  The boy band?"

"Yes, but we don't use that term anymore.  They're only a trio anyway.  They have had 4 number one singles and are about to start their first headlining tour."

"So.. I would be opening for them alone or with other acts?"

"There will be two other openers and you will each get a three song set.  Which is why we have been pushing you to get a demo done as quickly as possible.  The tour starts in 2 weeks."

Tyler felt his heart jump into his throat, "Two weeks?  Isn't that a bit soon?"

Colin jumped in, "Tyler, I'm really starting to question your commitment to this job."

Tyler looked nervously from Colin to Mr. Edison, "Look, I am committed, it's just you know.. that's really soon.  With working so much how am I supposed to prepare and talk to my friends about it and.."

"If this is about your little girlfriend then you need to start getting your priorities straight."

Tyler glared at Colin, "You wouldn't understand seeing as you don't have a heart."

"That's why I'm successful.  I know when to separate business from pleasure.  Unlike you, who is putting a loser that's going nowhere ahead of the opportunity of a lifetime."

Tyler opened his mouth to speak, but was cut off, "Enough you two.  I understand that you two don't seem to like each other, but I expect professionalism in the workplace and nothing less.  Now Tyler, is there an issue with this or not?"

"I.. I guess not.  I can always see everyone during my days off.  Where is the tour?  LA.. San Diego..?"

Mr. Edison frowned a bit then looked to Colin.  Colin on the other hand smirked knowingly.  "The tour is in Europe.  You'll start and finish in the UK."

Tyler felt like a truck had just hit him.  "Europe?  Are--Are you serious?"

"Yes.  Europe has been known to be a place to breakout for pop singers.  Then we can transition into the states with an established fan base behind you."

"I don't know what to say."

"Say you'll be ready to go in two weeks,"  Colin stated.

Tyler fidgeted in his seat.  To say that he was unprepared for such a revelation was an understatement.  His plans had always revolved around his friends and family.  Lately he had put them on the back burner so that he could focus on work.  Now work was demanding he leave them behind altogether.  The last thing he wanted to do was leave them behind.  Especially when things were starting to move on the front that had been eluding him for so long.

Blade.  What would Blade think?  Tyler had told him that he wanted to try dating each other again.  Granted that hadn't happened yet, though their first date was scheduled for tomorrow.  They both have waited so long to take the next step and now that the time had come to try and do so, this bombshell gets dropped.

"Tyler?"  Mr. Edison questioned, seeing the look of stress on the boy's face.

"I need some time to think about this.  Is that okay?  I don't want to seem ungrateful.  It's just.. a lot to digest.  I was totally unprepared for hearing all of this and it's just.. too much for me to handle right this second."

"The more time you waste, the less time we have to be prepared for you to join the tour.  What is your hold up?  Lucas signed on without hesitation.  You should see if you can borrow some of his common sense,"  Colin shot out.

"Lucas is going?"  Mr. Edison nodded.  "Just.. I have a lot here, you know?"  Tyler struggled with his words.

"If Blade let's you ruin your life for him then how much does he really care about you anyway?"  Colin was not letting up.

"Don't talk about him.  You don't know anything about him or me.  It's none of your business."

"It is my business when it interferes with your job.  Now hurry up and get over it."

Mr. Edison chimed in, "Look, it's obvious things are way too tense at the moment.  Tyler, take the weekend and think about it.  Then call me the moment you have an answer so I can get things into motion.  Just understand that this may be your only shot.  Not many people get two big breaks."

"I understand."  Tyler stood from his seat.  "I will call as soon as possible."  With that Tyler walked toward the door.  Colin stood there blocking his way.  They stared each other down, but no words were spoken.  It was a challenge that both were ready to stand up to.  Colin out of arrogance, Tyler out of pride.  No one was going to bully him into giving up love.  Only one person could tell him to go.  Whether he would ask him to stay was the question.

Next Day.. Blade's Condo...

The silence that filled the condo was almost deafening.  Not often was there such a peaceful state with the likes of a 4 year old and his video games ruling the place.  It was a pleasant change for Erik, though he had to admit that it was strange when Cameron was out of their home.  A certain life or energy was missing that was normally there.

Erik laid back on his bed, propping himself upon a pillow against the headboard.  He pulled his guitar onto his lap and strummed at it gently.  He had gotten much better than he had thought he would in a short time thanks in part to Kai and Tyler.  Kai tried to get around as often as he could, but it was understandable that he has a lot going on with school and Jordan.  Tyler had given many more lessons than Kai, especially when Blade was gone.  They developed a bond with each other that made Erik happy.  He finally felt like he had found a place in life where he was comfortable.  Where people wanted him around.

His real parents had never made him feel like he was anything more than a burden.  He was just there in the background, a fixture that was convenient only when it came to doing chores or taking frustration out on.  When Cameron was brought into his home, he almost wanted to take the little boy and run off with him.  To save him from a life of hurt and heartache.  Luckily, Blade came along.

The cost of getting out of the situation was one that couldn't be measured.  Cameron's real father had to die in order for his son to live.  He saved Cameron and Erik himself without knowing it.  He gave them someone who would lay down his own life for them without a second thought.  The minimum age difference made it near impossible for Erik to look at Blade as a father figure.  He was more like an older brother who watched out for him, just like Erik tried to do for Cameron.

Erik ran through a few chords, trying to find a sound that satisfied him.  Music relaxed him and he was thankful to have so many people around him that were musically gifted.  He could pick up little things here and there from each of them, giving him a benefit that most musicians didn't get.  With each strum of the strings music seemed to echo throughout the empty house.

*Ding Dong*

The sudden intrusion of sound caused Erik to jump, startled from his peaceful state.  He gently set his guitar aside and slid off the bed.  The doorbell rang again a few moments later, so Erik tried to step up his pace.  "Coming!"

He opened the door and was greeted by a mostly unfamiliar face, "You didn't have to cum just for me."  Zach grinned widely, his bright smile lighting up his face.

Erik blushed, but grinned back, "Yeah, sorry, I guess it's a bad habit."  He opened the door and stepped aside signaling for Zach to come in.

Zach pulled off his sunglasses and set them on the table, "I've seen you in passing at school, but I don't think we've officially met.  I'm Zach."

Zach extended his hand out and Erik grasped it firmly, "Erik.  I've seen you around at school too.  Well, and trying to be discreet about coming over with Blade."  Erik teased.

"Haha, I wasn't aware that I was caught."

"Yeah.  So what brings you by?  Blade isn't here, I'm not sure when he'll be around."

"Oh, I know.  He's got his big date tonight.  I just came by to get my wallet.  He was holding onto it for me when we were at Universal yesterday and I completely forgot about it."

"Oh, well if you know where it is feel free to get it."

Zach smiled appreciatively before heading to Blade's room.  He saw the bed was still a tangled mess of blankets and snickered to himself.  He spotted Blade's messenger bag on the floor and picked up.  He opened it up and rummaged around looking for his wallet.  As he did he heard a thud on the floor and cursed to himself.  A notebook and some other small items fell through the back of the bag where a zipper had been left open.  He put his wallet in his back pocket and leaned over to pick the items up.  As he grabbed the notebook by the binding the pages fluttered and a small square shaped piece of paper fell out.  Zach stuffed the notebook back into the bag and picked up the object. He flipped it over and saw it was a picture.  Zach's eyes scanned the image in front of him, smiling to himself.  His eyes were closed and his lips pressed softly against Blade's.  Both of them had underlying smiles on their faces in the picture, at the time it had seemed corny to the both of them, but now seeing the photo it was sweet.  Zach took out a pen from the bag and scribbled something down on the back of the picture before tucking it back into the notebook inside the bag.  He started to walk down the hall when his phone rang loudly.  He pulled the phone from his belt clip and looked at the caller ID.  When he saw the name his smile dropped immediately and so did the feeling in his stomach.  He frowned and stuffed the phone into his pocket before returning to the living room.  Erik looked up from his seated position on the couch when Zach entered, "Found it."

Erik smiled, "Cool.  Um, I guess I'll see you later then."

Zach was about to say goodbye when the doorbell rang again.  He just looked at Erik and shrugged, "I'll get it."  Erik watched as Zach walked to the door and opened it.

A blonde boy stood there with a confused look on his face, "Who are you?"

"Hello to you too," Zach said sarcastically.  "I'm Zach and you are?"

"What are you doing here?" Erik growled, making his way closer to the door.

"Such hostility, man.  I just wanted to talk to your daddy."  Riley smirked, trying to get under Erik's skin.

"Well, I'm sure he doesn't want to talk to you and he's not my dad."

"Why don't we ask him if he wants to talk to me or not?"  Riley shot back.  Zach listened to their exchange, intrigued but confused.

"It doesn't really seem like you're welcome here, so maybe you should come back when Blade's around."  Zach said as politely as possible.

"Are you his new bitch?"

Zach scoffed, "Does it look like I have tits?"

Riley rolled his eyes, "I need to talk to him about something important."

"Like what?"  Erik interjected.

"Not that it's any of your business Oliver.." Erik glared harshly.  He felt a pang of hurt shoot through him even though he tried to ignore it, "It's about his job."

Zach noticed the look in Erik's eyes when Riley made the Oliver remark.  "Look man, he's not here.  So I'll tell him you were by, but I think it's time for you to leave."

Riley smiled a cocky smile, "Do I make you nervous pretty boy?"

"Um, no.  I'd call it more of a sick feeling than nerves."

Riley's face immediately scrunched up in anger, "Whatever.  You're just mad because you got stuck with Blade when you could've had someone that looks like this."  Riley made a show of himself like he was a work of art.

"Could you get out of my sight now before I throw up?  I didn't even eat yet."  Zach's eyes burned with challenge and sarcasm dripped from his voice.

"You hang around with losers you become one.  If you ever decide to trade up, give me a call."

"You wish," Zach pushed Riley back and shut the door in his face.  He looked to Erik who was sitting back on the couch with his head down.  Zach sighed, seeing the sadness in Erik's posture.  He walked over and took a seat beside him.  "What's up, Erik?"

Erik refused to look up, feeling ashamed that he was so upset by such a stupid comment, "Nothing."

"Come on, you can tell me.  It's okay."

Erik looked up, wiping the remainder of his tears away.  His face was flush from crying, "I just.. He made me feel like such.. garbage.  I try to keep positive but people still look at me like I'm low class trash just because I don't have parents."

Zach put his arm around the younger boy, "You know that's not true.  That guy is a joke and a bad one at that."

"I don't know that dude.  You don't know me.  I've never been wanted.  I thought it was different now, but maybe you just can't escape who you are.."

"Listen.  You seem like a really nice guy.  You obviously have people that love you here and you wouldn't be upset if you didn't care about them as well.  Don't be so down on yourself."

"I-I'm just afraid."

"Afraid of what?"

"Of getting taken away."

"Why would you think that's going to happen?"

Erik remained silent for a moment before speaking, "I.. there was a message on the answering machine a couple days ago.  From a case worker saying they had someone that was interested in adopting me.  I erased it before Blade could hear it."

Zach didn't know how to respond at first, never being in a situation like Erik was in, "You know they'll call back right?  You can't live by the phone making sure that they never get ahold of Blade."

"I know.  I just don't want to leave.  I know they won't let Blade adopt me."

"Probably not, but that doesn't mean you'll have to leave.  Blade will fight for you.  I'll help him.  Don't worry, okay?  We'll get you through this and you'll see that you were worried for nothing."

Erik mustered up a smile, "Thanks.. but I don't know."  Erik's stomach growled loudly causing him to blush.

Zach laughed at the boy's embarrassment, "Sounds like someone needs something to eat."

"Then I can throw it up just like you?"  Erik giggled.

"Ha ha. Funny boy."  Zach's phone rang again, so he looked at the caller id.  He flipped it open with a grin on his face, "Shelly's Slave Service.  What's your pleasure?"  Erik laughed loudly.  Zach smiled at his reaction,  "Yeah, I'm at your place.  Uh huh.  I got my wallet and some guy stopped over.  Blonde and obnoxious, thought he could get me to jump his bones."


"Erik says his name is Riley.  Yeah.  I don' t know, I threw him out.  He said it was about your work.  Okay, I'll let you go.  I'm going to take Erik to get something to eat before I head to work myself.  Later sexy."  Zach snapped his phone shut and was met with a peculiar stare from Erik.  "What?"

"How come you and Blade aren't together?"

Zach was caught off guard, "Umm.. Well, it's complicated I guess."

"Try me."

"Hmm. Maybe over dinner Dr. Phil.  So throw some threads on and lets go feed your angry stomach."

Erik smiled and ran off to his room to get ready.  Zach leaned back against the couch and stared at the ceiling.  Why aren't Blade and he together? You can't get hurt if you don't get attached.  As long as Tyler was around, Zach figured he didn't have anything to worry about.  Tyler was number one and as long as that remained, the safety barrier between Blade and himself would stay up.  You can't give your heart away if you're not willing to take a chance.  That chance was just far too great of a risk for Zach to attempt.

8pm Pierce Residence..

The coolness of night time air had begun to set in, the palms swaying against gusts of wind that whirled unseen all around.  Stepping out my car, I became glad that I had worn a blazer, taking the edge off the chill in the air.  The wind howled with an anger, something that I had come to develop a great distaste for.  I was dressed to impress, more formal than I was used to, but the wind was apparently set on trying to offset the prep time that had been put into looking presentable.  I walked briskly up the walk way leading to the Pierce residence before stopping just outside the door.

I took a moment to run a hand through my hair, trying to repair any damage that the wind had caused.  I took a breath and tried to collect myself before letting it be known that I had arrived.  I wasn't feeling nervous, not like I expected to.  Maybe Tyler and I had reached a level of comfort where nerves were no longer part of the equation.  I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing; maybe we're too comfortable.  In my mind there should be nerves, excitement, wondering what will happen next.  I wasn't feeling any of those things and I wondered if Tyler was feeling the same way.  Wondering where this date would lead was one thing, but in the grand scheme of things, I wasn't worried about it as much as I would have say a year ago.  So much has happened between us since we were together its hard to picture what we would be like as more than friends again.

Loving Tyler was the easy part.  It's the rest of the things that build a relationship that makes for the hard parts.  He's been special to me since the day we met, as a friend, as a lover.  Our relationship was good for the short amount of time that it was, but looking back on it after he and Kai had their fling while I was in New York, we spent more time chasing each other than anything.  The real loving moments were few and far between.  Sometimes I wonder if I made it out to be more than it was.

Outside factors have contributed to my confused state in the ways of relationships.  Zach kind of popped up out of nowhere and it seemed harmless at first.  Attractive boy, physical attraction, mutual agreement on it being nothing more than that.  I should've seen it coming though.  That sex isn't something that I can just go around doing without any kind of emotional attachment.  That's not me and it never has been.  Zach didn't help it any by being so.. perfect.  Okay, so no one is perfect.  He just makes it incredibly hard not to care for him.  It's complicated and it only makes things harder for me to deal with on top of Tyler.  I don't know where I stand emotionally and it's frustrating, but I guess that's what I'm here to find out.

I pressed the small lighted button beside the door, a loud chiming melody emitted from inside of the house.  Fumbling locks could be heard before the doorknob turned slowly and a woman appeared in the doorway.  I smiled politely, "Hello, Mrs. Pierce."

Mrs. Pierce's face lit up, her kind nature shining through brightly, "Hello, Blade.  My, don't you look handsome all dressed up."

My face became warm, embarrassed by the motherly compliment, "Thank you.  Tyler warned me that we had to dress up for the restaurant he picked out.  No jacket and tie, no entry."

"Oh, sounds fancy.  Come in, he'll be right up."  Tyler's mother stepped aside and I stepped inside the house, relishing in the homey warmth that immediately greeted me.

"Yeah, I suppose he's gotten caught up in the more lavish things in life seeing as he's a big pop star now."  I gave her a cheeky smile and she laughed softly.

"Don't you let him hear you saying that.  He hates when he gets teased about his fame I guess you would say."

"Ahem."  Mrs. Pierce and I turned at the sound of a throat clearing, spotting Tyler by the doorway to the basement, which was also his room.  "I'm not famous, nor a pop star.  You two.. I don't know what I'm going to do with you."  His eyes met mine and a smile played upon his lips.  I stood and made my way over to him.  He was dressed in almost identical attire to myself.  Black slacks and a black blazer.  The only difference was his button up shirt was a light alpine color with a black tie where as I was wearing a cerulean blue button up and a black tie.  When we reached each other we embraced gently, knowing full well that his mother was watching us as only mothers do.

"You look handsome,"  I said gently into his ear.

"So do you."  We pulled away from each other's arms, the smile still painted brightly on each of our faces.  Out of nowhere a flash lit up the room, startling both of us.  We turned quickly toward the source, finding Mrs. Pierce standing there with an approving smile on her face and a camera in hand.

"Moooooooommmmm," Tyler whined.

"What?  I don't care how old you are or how famous you get you're still my baby and you two look so cute together."

Tyler and I gave each other a look, both of our faces a little flushed from his mother's remark, "Okay, we're going now, Mom."  He grabbed me by the arm and made more of a show of pulling me toward the door than he actually was.

"Oh, fine.  Spoil your old mother's fun.  You two have a good time and be safe."  I raised an eyebrow at that comment, hoping she wasn't referring to what I think she was referring to.  I think Tyler was thinking the same thing because his face became even redder.

"Goodnight, Mom.  I love you,"  With that we left the house and headed to my car.

Inside the car there was a calm silence, or at least that's how I interpreted it.  I glanced over at Tyler every once in awhile while watching the road.  His gaze seemed to be fixated downward, apparently fascinated by the dance his hands were doing with each other.  The look on his face looked strained, possibly even stressed.  "Are you okay?"

His head shot up as if he was surprised that he had been acting the way he was, "What? Oh, um yeah.  I'm good."  He smile reassuringly, "How are you?"

I couldn't help, but laugh at him.  "You're such a dork.  You just looked troubled."

The smile never wavered from his face, though considering his ability in acting I don't think I could tell if it was real or not, "I'm okay.  Worn down a little, but still kicking."

I matched his smile, "Try not to kick too much under the table.  I don't think my shins would be too happy."

"Does that mean I can do other things under the table?"  Tyler's eyes lit up with a devilish gleam.  I shook my head smiling widely.

"You need to get laid."

"Well, we can always skip dinner.."  The devilish gleam had been replaced with his best look of innocence, one I'm now sure that he taught Cameron.

I raised an eyebrow at him, "Like I'm easy or something."

"It was worth a shot."  We both snickered and continued on our journey listening to the radio.

Tyler directed me on where to go to get to the restaurant, and soon enough we had pulled up to the entrance.  A young guy came up to driver's side of the car and waited for a few moments before I stepped out.  I gave him a look,  "Um, can I help you?"

"Keys, sir?"

"Oh, right."  Tyler giggled at my display of blondness.  I shot him a look then handed the keys to who I now knew was the valet.  There was a commotion across the street where a large group of people was gathered.  Tyler walked up beside me and interlocked our arms, "What's going on over there?"

"That's one of the hotter clubs around.  Surge.. um.. I guess the record company has some kind of cross promotion with them.  We can go by after we're done if you want."

I listened to Tyler, but my eye had caught on someone in the crowd.  I squinted trying to make out the person, but they had turned around and all that could be made out from the back was the slim body and dark brown hair.  "Maybe."

"Let's go inside, I'm starving.  Oh, and if you have your phone you might want to shut it off.  People get a little crazy about cell phones in here.  Rich people, I don't know about them."

I turned my phone off and let Tyler lead me inside.  The place was immaculate.  Everything looked as if it was made of the finest quality materials, the women were dressed in fancy evening wear and shimmering jewelry, while the men were all dressed in various designer suits.  "Are you sure this isn't going to cost a house payment?'

Tyler smiled, "I'm pretty sure we'll manage." We came upon the Hostess station and Tyler let them know we had arrived for our reservation.

"This way gentleman."  She seemed to speak in monotone, that or she was thoroughly unimpressed with the idea of two teenagers able to afford a place like this.  "Your server will be over in a moment, enjoy your evening."

"My, she was full of life wasn't she?"  I teased.

"I guess you get tired of people after awhile at this kind of place.  I came here with Lucas and.."

I was tensed a little, intrigued, "You and Lucas?"

Tyler nodded, "And our choreographer."  For some reason adding on the choreographer made the tension quickly slip away.  Tyler gave me an odd look, like he was amused, "Did you just get jealous?  He who does not get jealous?"

"I-- Shut up.  I wasn't jealous, I, uh.. just had a muscle strain.. yeah.. that's it."

The amusement on Tyler's face increased, "That was the best you could come up with?"

I shrugged, "Hey, I can't be clever all the time."

"But your ego can't take a hit either."


A waitress appeared at our table before I could say anything more.  She took both of our orders then set out to put them in to the kitchen.  I looked at Tyler, who in return looked at me.  Our eyes stayed on each other, but no one said anything.  I really couldn't ask for anyone better than him.  He's beautiful, talented, sweet.. Just everything you could want in a boyfriend.  Why I was having such a hard time feeling.. well, anything, was troubling me.  I couldn't tell what he was thinking, but the look on his face had gone back to the same look he had while he was quiet in the car.  The waitress came back with our food breaking the silence and bringing us both out of whatever thoughts we were having.

"Blade, can I ask you something?"  Tyler questioned.

"Of course."

His hand held a fork which he was using to fidget with his food, "It's about um.. Zach."

I gave him my full attention, unaware of where he was going, "Tyler, we're here for us, not Zach."

Tyler seemed to struggle with himself before speaking, "I know.. just.. Does he make you happy?"

I didn't want to lie to him, "Yes."

Silence once again fell over us, and it left me wondering if I should've said no instead.  "Ty.."  Before I could finish I was surprised when Tyler had dropped his fork and slipped his hand into mine.

"Blade, I love you.  You have no idea how much.  I think a lot has changed between us.  Not only between us, but us ourselves.  I know we're not the same people we used to be when we were together before.  I mean, let's face facts right?  You and I didn't have a great run as a couple and I know that was my fault.  I think about it sometimes.. what it would be like if we had never broken up and we were still together today.  Would we be the people that we've become?"

"Probably not.  So much has happened that we probably wouldn't have experienced if we had never broken up."

"I know.  Like I said, I love you.  I always will and I want to be the person that makes you happy."  His hand squeezed mine gently and I slowly started to feel something inside of me give way.  Like there was a crack in the dam and the feeling I had been locking away was starting to seep through.  "I guess I just want to know where you stand.  With me, with us."

I looked down at the table for a moment, thinking of what to say.  Tyler truly had changed into a more grown up, mature person than he had been before.  I guess we both had grown up. Some things force you to get older faster than you want to.  "I'm afraid of letting you in again."

Tyler frowned a bit, "What about Zach?"

"Why are you so interested in Zach all of a sudden?"

"You said he makes you happy.  Does that mean you let him in?"

I sighed, "Tyler, I'm afraid to let anyone in.  Is it easier for me to let Zach over boundaries than others? Yeah, because he hasn't done anything to tell me he's going to hurt me.  None of that matters though, because he doesn't want a relationship."

Tyler took a breath, "If he did?"

My eyes looked up and met Tyler's soft gaze, "Then I'd consider it."  His eyes dropped a little, but he did his best to hide it, "Tyler."  I grabbed his other hand and held them both tightly, "I love you.  I can tell you're confused, so am I.  You're right we are two very different people than we used to be.  That means we can't go back to how we used to be."  He swallowed hard, but didn't interrupt, "That means we have to start over.  The past is the past, we can't go back to high school and the days of making out in the parking lot at lunch."  That got a smile out of him, "If you want the chance to be my boyfriend again then you have it."

"Are you asking me to be your boyfrie.."

"Ahem.  Pardon me, but there is an urgent call for Mr. Pierce at the front desk."

Tyler looked annoyed, before begrudgingly standing up, "I'll be right back.. um.. hold that thought okay?"

I nodded and watched as the hostess led him away, making my self laugh at the timing.  Sometimes I wonder if I'm being fought by an invisible force in most of my decisions.  I pulled my phone out of my pocket and turned it on to check for messages while Tyler was away.  A waiter walked by and saw the phone, shooting me a dirty look to which I just smirked and gave him one back.  The screen lit up and a message flashed across it indicating I had eight missed calls.  I furrowed my brow and checked the calls noticing three from Ben and five from Matt.  I dialed my voice mail and waited for the messages to playback.

"Hey, Blade it's Ben.  Coach wanted me to call you and ask if you'd come by the school soon.  He wouldn't tell me what's up, but he wants to have a meeting with you as soon as possible if that's cool.  I haven't seen you in forever, it'll be nice to see you again.  I have some, uh, questions too.. about last year after the championship.. and um.. anyway we'll talk about it when I see you.  OH and do me a favor and check up on your brother please?  He's been acting really weird lately and I think he might be using.."  The message cut off before Ben could finish his message.  I didn't have much time to process what he had said before Matt's voice came through the speaker.

"Hey, Blade.  I just wanted to talk to you, but I guess you're phone's not on.  I'll try again later."  The automated voice indicated it was going on to the next message, "Blade, it's Matt again.  Um, could you call me back when you get this please?  Thanks."  I was about to hang up and dial his number when the next message started playing again.  Matt's voice came through kind of muffled and breaking like he was crying, "Blade, I don't know what else to do.  I can't get in, they keep telling me Eric's not in there, but I know he is. I just-- I can't leave like this, not knowing if he's okay.  I have to be on a plane in a few hours.. God.. I love him so much, but he keeps pushing me away and.. "

I hung up on the voice mail and stepped away from the table.  I walked toward the bathroom area and dialed Matt's number before putting the receiver up to my ear.  It rang a few times before I was greeted by a lot of background noise, "Matt?"

"Hello?  Hello?"

"Matt, can you hear me?"

"Blade? Yeah, I'm.. Get your fucking hands off me!"

"Matt.  MATT!"  I tried to get his attention from whoever was obviously bothering him.

"Blade can you come here p-please.  I don't know what else to do.."

"Where are you?"

"I'm at this club called Surge.  It's by um.."

"I'm across the street, I'll be there in a few minutes."

"What.. Why are you.."

"Matt, I'll be there okay?  Just calm down."  I hung up the phone and walked back toward the table where Tyler was sitting looking visibly upset.  I must've looked a bit upset myself, as Tyler stood immediately when he saw me.  "What's wrong?"

"I.."  Tyler looked at me as if he knew what he had to say had to wait at that moment, "Nothing.  What's going on?"

"I have to go across the street, Matt's over there and he's really upset about Eric or something."

"I have to go to the studio, they're sending a car for me."  He frowned, "Do you want me to go with you to the club?"

"No, I'll handle it.  Tell Colin I said to suck my balls,"  I joked.

Tyler barely cracked a smile, but then seemed to force one to play upon his lips, "He should only be so lucky."

I smiled widely at him, "Thanks for dinner.  Um.."

"Blade.."  I turned to the sound of a voice, to be greeted by the Zach standing just inside the entrance.

"Zach?  What are you doing here?"

"Uh, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt.  Just Matt has been calling and he's frantic going on about Eric and.."

"I know, I'm just about to head over to the club to find out what's going on."

"Blade. If what Matt's said is true, it's not good."

I felt a lump form in my throat before I turned back to Tyler who was looking from me to Zach, "I have to go, Ty.  I'll call you when I find out what's going on okay?  Thank you for tonight."

He nodded and I turned toward the door.  I felt a hand grasp my wrist then spin me back around.  Tyler pulled me into him and our lips pressed against each other firmly.  Feeling the softness of his lips delicately glide over mind made me forget where I was for that moment.  For one single moment, my mind and heart became clear.  No matter what we've been through or how we've changed, one thing will never change.  Our love. When he kisses me, I'm his whole universe and in that moment I am his.  I pulled away reluctantly, but not before Tyler wrapped his arms around my waist, "I love you, Blade.  Don't you ever forget that."  He let me go and backed away.  It looked like he was crying, but he quickly turned around and headed back to the table.  I stood there watching him, before I felt a hand on my shoulder.

"We should go, Blade."  I looked back at Zach who gave me a look of sympathy.  I nodded and followed him out the door.

We ran across the street and headed for the still crowded entrance.  People shouted and cursed at us, not happy that we were walking right up to the front without waiting as they were.  I spotted Matt being held off to the side of the doors by two large bouncers.  They saw Zach and I coming, judging by the signal they gave to the main bouncer watching the door.  I stepped up to the man, who towered over me in height and mass.  " I need to speak to him,"  I nodded at Matt who was struggling with the other bouncers, "Now."

"I don't know who you think you are, but you best step back behind that rope before I have to throw you back."

"Try me."  I challenged.

Zach stepped between us, not exactly intimidating the bouncer.  "I'm on the list, Zach Ferreira."

The bouncer snarled a bit before looking through his list.  "Fine, you are cleared.  This one,"  He said motioning toward me, "Isn't."

"He's with me.  So be nice and don't make me call your boss?"

The bouncer laughed, "You don't know who my boss is kid."

"I do know that he's got an underage teenager in there and I'm guessing from the people in this line that he's not the only one.  So unless you want some real trouble.."

"Oh, another one.  As we've told your friend over there many times, we don't allow underage people into our club.  We've even gone as far as humoring him and letting him go through the club with one of the owners to look for him."

"Give me a break man, we both know you're just blowing smoke.."

My eyes met Matt's who looked like hell.  His eyes were red from crying, the tears had left marks running down his face and he just looked flat out defeated.  He mouthed Eric with his lips before he dropped his head, not even struggling anymore.  Something in me just snapped.  I pushed past Zach and the bodyguard tried to jump in front of me, but I seized the moment while he was off balance.  I dodged his arm, pushed my left fist forward then dropped my right fist hard into his jaw.  He dropped like a sack of potatoes and I quickly ducked through the doors before the other bouncers could make a move toward me.

The club was jam packed with people.  I scanned the crowd trying to make out any sign of Eric, but the lighting and the constant movement made it near impossible.  I kept my eyes peeled for security, knowing they wouldn't be far off after the stunt at the door.  I weaved through people, pushing others out of the way, still with no sign of my brother.  A boy stepped in front of me, halting my progress, "Hey sexy.  Wanna partyyyyyy?"  His speech was slurred and his breath reeked of alcohol and smoke.  I pushed him gently, afraid he would tumble over and crack his head open with too much force considering his state.  I kept moving until I came to the bar.

"Have you seen a guy in here, a little shorter than me, dark brown hair around ear length, dark eyes,.."

The bartender leaned over the bar, "You've just described half of the crowd in here.  Take your pick."  I shook my head frustrated and pushed back to the center of the room.  There were bodies everywhere, pushing against each other, dancing to the beat.  The lights were driving my eyes crazy and I felt the frustration building quickly.  I ran a hand through my hair, spotting a security guard approaching from across the room.

"He hangs in the back room, off to the side of the bar."  I spun around to see who had just whispered in my ear, but was met only with a sea of people.  I looked for a few more moments, but gave up and ducked through the crowd once again.  I kept low, to stay out of sight.  The door was right where the voice had said it would be.  No one was standing outside of it, so I nonchalantly walked up to it and slipped inside.  I shut the door behind me and was greeted with a scene that most people only think they'd see in movies.

People were spread all throughout the room, some sitting at booths, some dancing nearly naked.  One man sat at a table while another younger guy kneeled in front of him, his head moving up and down obviously.  There were pills and joints on the table in front of him, as if it were normal to leave things like that sitting out in the open.  He leered at me as I passed, sending a sick feeling through my body.  A boy and girl danced against a small bar area, the girl with her top off and the boy grinding up on her with urgency.  Another man had a powder spread out on the opposite end of the bar and was snorting it up his nose, twitching in the process.  I didn't see Eric anywhere, and the thought that he had been in this room sent a chill through me.  The boy that was grinding up on the girl had stopped at some point and come up behind me. Before I knew it, he had an arm around my waist and a hand grasping at the buttons of my shirt.  "Mmm, pretty boy, you have way too many clothes on.."

The girl he was with soon joined in, stepping in front of me and bringing her mouth inches from mine, "Yeah, let's see what we can do about that problem."

I slipped out from between them and they nearly fell into one another.  After a few seconds they started grinding again, seemingly forgetting I was ever there.  I noticed a door at the back slightly ajar, so I stepped over to it.  I peered out into the dark night, into what I'm assuming was the small alleyway to the left of the club.  I walked outside and gave my eyes a moment to adjust.

A man stood about 20 feet away, seemingly talking to air.  I stepped forward and saw that he was looking down and speaking to someone who must be on the ground.  The man had dark long hair that was slicked back into place, his coat flowing with the wind.  With each step I took the outline of another person became clearer.  I could hear their voices and definitely recognized one of them.

I ran quickly and shoved past the man to where Eric was sitting propped up against the side of the adjacent building.  I kneeled down in front of him, "Eric?"

It took a moment for him to respond, his eyes were glassy and bloodshot.  His head seemed to tilt from side to side like his neck wasn't supporting it.  HIs body looked substantially thinner than the last time I had seen him, the skin on his arms marred by scratch marks.  Finally his eyes seemed to register my voice, "Blade...?  How.. what are youuuuuu doing here man?"

"I think you should be asking yourself that question,"  I put a hand on his shoulder, but it seemed to piss him off.

He smacked my hand a way and clumsily pulled himself to a standing position, "Man, I don't need you. Like.. fucking whoa.."  He fell back against the building, but didn't fall over.

"He just needs a moment."  I stood myself and spun on my heels.  The fire in my eyes mirrored back at me in the eyes of the man that was standing there.

"A moment?  Does it look like a fucking moment is going to make him better?"

"Now, now.  Calm down.  He's just hitting the high point, he'll come down soon enough.  I've seen many people much worse than he is.  He just wanted a little escape from life.  I don't let my friends die on my watch."

I grabbed him by the collar of his shirt and shoved him back hard against the cold brick of the building, bringing my face close to his, "You listen to me mother fucker.  If anything happens to him, I'm coming back for you.  Not your bouncers, not your middlemen, you."

Eric moved toward me and made a half assed attempt at pushing me off of the guy, "Man, let Ethan down, haha.. he's flying like a birrrd.  Tweet tweet.. hahaha"

I shook my head in disgust, "What is he on?"

Ethan smirked,  "He's on whatever he wants to be on.  He needed help and he came to me, not you.  Understand this,"  He quickly and firmly knocked my arms away from him and caused me to stumble back a few steps, "Your threats, however well intentioned they may be, hold no water with me.  I'm done with your brother, I have to admit he was an entertaining little thing. I'll miss him a bit.."  Before he could continue a loud crack echoed through the air as my fist slammed into Ethan's jaw.  He didn't drop like the bouncer.  He turned his head and spit a little blood from his mouth, before intensely staring me down.  A sick smile spread over his face, but he said nothing.

"Eric, let's go."  Eric struggled with me, so I pushed him hard up against the building and placed my hands on either side of his face.  I spoke softly, ignoring Ethan's presence, "Eric, I know you're hurting inside okay?  I told you before and I'm telling you now, you don't have to deal with things alone.  You have me, you have Matt, you have a lot of people who care about you.  I'm sorry if you felt like you couldn't come to me with what's doing this to you, but I'm here now whether you like it or not."

"I--I can't.  I'm going crazy, Blade,"  Tears fell from his eyes and his chest started to heave by the sudden sobbing.

"We're going to get you help.  Shhh.."  I took him in my arms and hugged him tight.  His body seemed to go limp in my grasp as if the weight of his troubles had been handed to me for that moment.  My eyes went up to see Ethan still standing there in the same spot, silent but his eyes burning with intensity, and the same satisfied smile shining through the darkness.  I glared back, challenging him to do something, but he didn't, instead gave me one last sneer and walked off the opposite way down the alley.  Eric held on to me while I led him around the building and back toward the front of the building.  He wasn't there at all, mumbling and crying, his body shuddering in my arms.

Zach spotted us and quickly ran over to us.  The look on his face when he saw Eric said it all about the kind of shape he was in, "Is he okay?"

"He's really fucked up.  I need to get him to the hospital.  You and Matt meet me there, make sure Matt knows Eric is going to be all right."  Zach looked like he wanted to say something to me, but instead nodded and went back to get Matt.  I made my way back to the restaurant and told the valet to get my car as fast as possible and soon we were on the way to the hospital.

Luckily the hospital was nearby and Mrs. Kimbal was on staff for the overnight shift.  I told her how I had found him and that I didn't know what was in his system, but from the looks of the place that it could be any number of drugs and alcohol.  She assured me he would be okay, they just needed to detox his system and check him out before recommending further treatment.  Of course the obligatory I should go home and get some rest came up, but I was having none of it.

Memories of the time I had spent in the hospital over the last year and half kept popping into my head, none of them were pleasant.  Losing a loved one, nearly losing two others, nearly losing myself.. no.. this hospital was not my favorite place to be.  Zach and Matt were there not long after I arrived, Matt was still upset as ever, but I think knowing that Eric was here and safe gave him some peace of mind.  Matt stepped outside to cancel is flight and passed out in one of the waiting room chairs shortly after he came back in.  The emotional exhaustion had set in, not only in him, but I could feel it creeping up on me as well.  Zach sat in the chair next to me and had fallen asleep on my shoulder.  I didn't have much time to think about Zach or Tyler at that moment as my eyes fluttered before shutting themselves.

I was awakened when my mother showed up an hour or so after I called, looking stressed and worried as ever.  She looked at Zach who had started to stir, but was still laying his head on me.  His eyes opened sleepily and he gave my mom a sheepish smile.  She smiled back, for a single moment letting the stress go. She took a seat beside Matt, before letting me know that Cameron was at my condo with Erik and told me to head home.  I put up a fight, stubborn as I was, but finally gave in around six in the morning.  I didn't want Zach to drive home being so sleepy, so I had him leave his car at the hospital and he rode back with me to my condo.  He was sound asleep in the passenger side all the way there, a peaceful calm resting over his face.  When we arrived I stepped out of the car and went around to his side.  I opened the door and gently shook him, but he just muttered a bit and went back to dreamland.  I had to laugh a little, before picking him up the way a groom would carry his bride up the threshold, and carried him to the door.  After we got inside, I put him in my bed and tucked the blanket over him.

I checked in on Erik and Cameron who were both out cold, not disturbed by our arrival.  Sometimes I wish I could have the innocence of being a child back.  Not a care in the world besides video games, toys and puppies.  I pulled my shirt off and tossed it at the hamper beside the linen closet, making my way toward the bedroom for some much needed sleep.  As I started to close the door to my room, I heard a faint knocking sound.  I furrowed my brow and walked back down the hallway.  The knocking became more clear the further down the hall I walked until I came to the living room.  The knocking continued, clearly from the front door.  I looked at the clock and saw it was nearly 7 AM.  I walked briskly to the door and opened it cautiously.  Nothing could've prepared me for this night.


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