By SF Writer
Copyright 1998 - 2009, All rights reserved.

SF35a: Running on Empty

* * * * * *


Dade's head hurt as he woke from his slumber. He ended up having more to drink than he planned to. And now he was paying for it with a hangover. He let out a yawn as his hands wandered down his chest to his stomach. The bare skin he expected. He'd be lying if he said he didn't like the feel of his own firm build. What he didn't expect was for the bare skin to have a companion. As his eyes opened in sudden surprise, he realized he wasn't in his own room. No ... he wasn't even in his own house.

"Oh shit." Dade just about screamed as he realized he was in Claire's room, who lay sleeping right next to him. "Oh shit, Dade. What the hell have you done?"


* * * * * *


Carl sat in Marty Lee's hospital room, waiting for him to wake up. He didn't have any family in Merlow and Carl didn't really know who to contact so he called Mike, who said he would take care of everything. Carl was just biding time until either Marty Lee woke up or someone else arrived. He and Marty Lee weren't friends but he still felt it was the right thing to do to wait around till he woke up at least. He could imagine how he'd feel himself if he woke up in a hospital room with no one waiting for him.

"Hi." Marty Lee said somewhat groggily, catching Carl by surprise.

"Hey." Carl replied with a small smile.

"You brought me in?"



"You have any idea who did this to you?"


"I'm sure Mike will find out for you."

"He knows?"

"He does now. He'll contact whoever needs to be contacted. He was the first person I could think of."

"Good ol' captain." Marty Lee said with a weak smirk. "You don't have to stay. I'll be ok."

"If I were you, I wouldn't want to be on my own right now. Is there anyone you want me to call?"



And that was about all the conversation the two had in them. Carl couldn't think of much small talk and Marty Lee didn't seem overly talkative right now. They just sat there for a while, trying to avoid eye contact. Carl tapped his fingers aimlessly on the arm of his chair to try and distract himself from the awkward silence.

"So ... " Marty Lee said finally.

"You don't have to talk. You must be pretty tired."

"I don't really know much about you, Carl. We've been playing together since the start of the season and I still don't really know anything about you."

"I probably know more about you."

"So ... tell me about yourself. You have family?"

"Yep.  Most people do."

"I bet you're either an only child or the youngest child." Marty Lee said with a confident gaze.

"Youngest of four. Only one left at home. How'd you know?"

"I could just tell. You have good parents."

"Yeah. How'd you know?"

"You just seem happy a lot. You always seem to be in good spirits."

"You're a pretty observant guy for someone who says they don't know much about me."

"I'm good at making observations."

"So what else do you think you know about me?"

"You're a nice guy." Marty Lee said sincerely. "You treat other people well and liked to be treated well in return. You're a good friend but you wish you were closer to some people. You never push things though. You're just ... a nice guy."

"You know what they say about nice guys." Carl said with a smile. "Always finish last."

"I don't think that'll be the case with you, Carl."

"So what makes you think I'm a good friend that wants more?"

"You and I have a little more in common than you might think. Your best friend is Storm but you don't think he treats you in the same regard."

"He has enough friends already. You know how he is with those guys. I've been friends with him for years but I've always been just a regular with him. I don't mind though. He's cool."

"I don't know what it is about him. He just seems to attract people."

"Oh no, I don't like him like that. I just like him. He's my friend."

"Wish I could say the same." Marty Lee said with a pained laugh. "If these guys didn't get to me, he would've. He wants to kick my ass so bad."


"Because I'm the kind of person whose ass people want to kick."

"You must have done something. He wouldn't just want to kick your ass for no reason."

"Ehh why not? I'm the one who sided with Stacey when I was supposed to be Storm's friend. When I first arrived in Merlow, I went after Storm because well ... do you know about Lucas and my sister?"

"Uhh kinda. Storm doesn't talk about that much but I know a bit."

"Short version of it all is, Lucas and my sister were an item. I thought they were in love. They did too. You have to understand, I come from a ..."

"Yeah, I know. You're a snob."

"Ok." Marty Lee smiled. "I come from a privileged background. My parents didn't really take to Lucas. Anyway, he got her pregnant. My parents sent her away and Lucas never found out where she was until I arrived in Merlow."

"So THAT's where he went! I knew Lucas did a runner on Storm. Storm thinks I didn't know but the two of them were so obvious. I used to get annoyed at him because he acted like I didn't know. But I knew. I didn't care either. He's my friend."

"Like I said. You're a nice guy."

"I sometimes wonder about Lucas. He seems like such a dumbass sometimes. He's so emotional and clingy to Storm." Carl said with a small laugh. "I shouldn't say that. I like Lucas. He's a nice guy."

"I used to hate him. I used to hate him so much. I wanted to get at Storm because he was with Lucas when I thought Lucas should be with my sister. But then ... I ..."

"But then you got the hots for him because you're a horny little bi guy. Isn't that right?"


Carl pointed at his head. "You're not the only one who notices things. I could tell with Storm and I could tell with you. For a while there, I thought you had the hots for Dade."

"You're kidding, right?"

"No. You stare at him enough in the showers."

"Can you blame me? I blew things with Storm. Dade was the next best thing."

"You two ever fool around?"

"Hardly. I trained him for a while on my own. I believe I was helping him in my own weird way. But Storm didn't take too kindly to finding out that I was training Dade so he could beat him."

"Can't say I blame him."

"And then there's Brad. I think that was the last straw."

"It was you?" Carl asked in surprise.

"It was me. You gonna leave now?"

"No. But you know Mike is gonna kill you. He's been trying to find out who attacked Brad."

"Maybe it was him who attacked me."

"No. It wasn't." Carl said firmly. "You don't know Mike like I do. I've known him my whole life. He'd never hurt anyone. His Dad used to beat him up really bad. He's tried really hard to make sure he doesn't turn out like him."

"How do you know he was successful?"

"I just do. And you're lucky you're in that bed because if you talked about him like that when you were standing up, I'd kick your ass."

"You think you could?" Marty Lee said with a wry smile.

"No wonder Storm wants to kick your ass." Carl said as he stood up.

"Wait, wait. I'm sorry. I like Mike. I really do. I respect him. I'd be angry if I were you as well."

"See? I told you, you wouldn't want to be left alone."

"I think I know who it was. It could've been Brad but I doubt it. I think it was Scott."

"Why him?"

"He was picking on Brad at the party. I stopped him. He wasn't happy."

"Scott's always been a bit of a loser. He gives jocks a bad name. Why'd you help Brad if you're the one who beat him up?"

"I don't know." Marty Lee said with a distant look in his eye. "I just did."

"Conscience got to ya. This is probably like karma right?"

"Funny, that's what I said to Lucas last night before this happened."

"And what did he say?"

"I don't remember. I was already a bit drunk by then."

"So what are you going to do now? Get some payback?"

"No. I'm not angry actually. Maybe it was a good thing."

"How do you figure that?"

"Well, I did a lot worse to Brad. And I'm pretty sure someone is still going to want to kick my ass when I'm back up and at em."

"You ever tried saying sorry? Or are you proud of what you did?"

"I'm beyond sorry. Sorry wouldn't cut it."

"I'm gonna tell Mike it was you. I'm sorry but I have to. If your injuries don't keep you out of the game next week, Mike will. He's gonna be pissed. He won't even put you on the bench."

"Oh well. I kind of wish it was him who attacked me. Then I'd at least feel like there was some justice being served and I could move on. But if it was Scott, then I'm still not off the hook."

"It wasn't Mike. I can tell you that much."

"You have a lot of respect for him, don't you?"

"I do. There'd be more chance of it being Brad, even with his crap arm. But I don't think it was him either. I don't think it's in his nature anymore."

"Then it probably was Scott."

"And if it was?"

"I'll ... do something. To make sure he doesn't do it again."

"Eventually, Marty Lee, you're gonna have to let things start sliding. Otherwise this is how it'll always be for you."

"It's not in my nature to let things slide."

"Well maybe it should be. Some things aren't worth it. Some things are."

"Well ... I'm kinda tired."

"Go to sleep then. I'm not going anywhere." Carl said as he leaned his head back to try and get some shut eye himself.

"You don't have to stay."

"I know. But I will anyway. What about your sister? You want me to call her?"

"No. She'll just come down and tell me off. Then she'll baby me. I'd rather she didn't know."

"Ok. Well just go to sleep then."

"Ok." Marty Lee said with a yawn. "Listen, when I get out of here, I'd like to pay you back for helping me."

"No thanks. Just get some sleep." Carl said as he closed his own eyes and let himself drift into an uncomfortable slumber.


* * * * * *


"You looking forward to the game next week, Josh?" Colin Barrett said as he sat down at the breakfast table with his family

"I am. That reminds me. I thought I should tell you both. Mike's invited me to his wedding, not next Saturday but the one after. Is it ok if I go?"

"Of course, Son. Mike's a good lad. It's so unfortunate about his girlfriend. He's doing the right thing. That's good character, Son. I know he's had troubles. But he always keeps his head on. I've always liked him. You give him our best when you see him."

"He put my name up for captain next year so it's between me and Lucas now. I think we'll go co-captain for the season maybe."

"I think I like him even more now."

"He's a good man, Sir. The team won't be the same without him."

"No doubt about that."

The table fell into silence again. Josh taking pauses to send the odd smile and wink at Carly. She was getting a lot older now but she was still his little sister and he was still her big brother. She brought a lot of joy to Josh's life when everything else seemed to be going wrong.

"I haven't seen Claire around lately." Colin said with a curious look. "Everything ok with you two?"

"We broke up, Sir."

"When? What happened? I thought things were going so well for you two."

"It's no big deal. Don't worry."

"You're still friends, I hope?"

"We are."

"Cheer up, Son. You'll find another girl soon. A strapping young lad like you won't stay single for long. There must be a dozen girls lining up. You think you'll find one before the ball?"

"Uhh, I don't think so." Josh said, pausing at his father's statement. "I'm not really sure if I'm going to go."

"I hope you do. When you're my age, you'll look back and be glad you did a lot of these things. When you're young you don't realize until it's too late, just how precious these moments are. Make the most of it, Son. Have fun."

"I'll try, Sir." Josh said as he suddenly felt as though he'd be sick from feeling like such a fraud. "Do you need me for anything today?"

"No, not really. Do you have plans?"

"I wanted to go hiking maybe. Would that be ok?"

"Sure, Son. Go ahead. Have some fun."

"Thank you, Sir." Josh said as he stood up and excused himself from the table.

Josh placed his dishes at the sink and rushed to the passage before he leaned back against the wall to catch his breath. He felt as though it was taking everything he had to keep up this lie with his parent's. He felt like such a fraud. One thing Josh had never been good at was lying or being dishonest. And that's what he felt like right now. So much that it made him physically sick as though he were going to hyperventilate.

"He's a good son." Colin said to his wife, unaware that Josh was still within earshot. "We've done a good job with him."

"He is. Always respects his parents. We should both be very proud."

The pained look on Josh's face gave away the torment he felt inside. `This is wrong', was he all he could keep saying to himself. His parents thought so highly of him. If only they knew. If only.


* * * * * *


"Make yourself at home." Lucas said somewhat regretfully as he helped Marty Lee inside. "This is going to be home for a little while. At least until you're able to move back into that bachelor pad of yours. Your homestay family is ok with this?"

"They don't care as long as they get the cash every week from my parent's. I tell them what happens and it happens. Don't worry about them."

"Don't expect the same treatment here, Dude. I'm only doing this because I feel guilty. Don't think you can push your luck though. I don't want any of your money. I don't want anything from you. All I want is for you to make this as easy on us as you can. I still don't know what the hell Storm is gonna think when he gets back."

"I'll do my best to stay out of your way, Lucas. I appreciate you doing this but I'll be ok if you do want me to go."

"No. You're staying here. I already told Ashley. She said if you gave me any shit, she'd come down here herself. You don't want that, do you?"

"No. I wish you hadn't told her. She's gonna come down now anyway."

"Scared she'll tell you off for all the shit you've been doing?"

"Something like that."

"Good. Someone needs to kick your ass." Lucas snapped angrily. "If it's not her, I'm pretty sure it'll be Storm. I just hope that bottle smashed some sense into you."


"Go sit at the table. I'll make you something to eat and then you can entertain yourself while I go and see."

"Ok." Marty Lee replied almost meekly as he sat down at the table.

"I can't believe you did that to Brad. No ... I can actually. That's disgusting."

"He did it to Storm. What's the difference?"

"That was a long time ago. Brad paid the price for it. He's still paying the price. He didn't deserve what you did to him. You're just lucky he didn't go to the police. You could be in serious shit."

"Brad will never do that. You know how it is around here, Lucas. We all handle our own."

"Well I'm not from around here. You ever pull that shit again on anyone else, I'll be the one who goes to the police or calls Ashley."

"You're not my Dad, Lucas."

"Thank goodness for that. Right now though, I'm responsible for you. So shut up and sit there. And you better not cause any trouble when Storm gets back. He's gonna be pissed enough as it is just to see you."


"Don't think you're gonna make me feel sorry for you. I don't feel sorry for you at all. You were right. Karma just bit you in the ass. Maybe you should pay attention to what it's trying to tell you. You do shit, you get shit. You do good, you get good."

"Yes, Boss."

"Don't be a smartass with me, Marty Lee. I should have done this a long time ago."

"You used to." Marty Lee sighed. "When you were with Ash."

"That was a long time ago. I'm older now. I've learnt from my mistakes. Maybe I could've done better by you, Marty Lee. But you are responsible for this, Dude. Don't try blaming me. It won't work."

"Man, you're a drag. I don't know how Storm lives with you."

"Shut it. You're not a baby, Marty Lee. Don't act like one."

"You're too old for Storm."

"And you're the right age, are you?"

"I'm closer than you are."

"You say that like you have a chance. You're far too immature."

"You're wrong. I could be good for him."

"Except for the fact that you're mentally unstable."

"And he isn't?"

"If you weren't already banged up, I'd bang you up for saying that. Don't talk about him."

"I didn't mean that with disrespect. I just mean he's having a rough time."

"Ok. Fine. Now leave it alone. Keep your mouth shut. You can talk when I'm gone."

Lucas threw Marty Lee's gear down beside him and headed to the kitchen. He was in a pretty foul mood. He had little sympathy for Marty Lee and begrudged the fact that right now he had to look after him. Nobody forced him to but he knew Marty Lee had no other family in Merlow and he wasn't exactly close with his homestay family. Lucas knew after he did this for Marty Lee that his own conscience would be clear. This was as far as he believed his debt to Marty Lee would extend.

As he prepared some food for the two of them, he tried his best to simmer down. He was still trying to figure out how he would explain all of this to Storm when he got back. Lucas had enough on his plate to deal with right now without having to take care of Marty Lee. He was still worried about his baby and he didn't want Marty Lee upsetting the household.

"This is all you need, Dude." Lucas cursed to himself as he placed some pasta salad onto the table.

Marty Lee took his plate without a word and Lucas sat down opposite him. This was all Marty Lee's own doing as far as Lucas was concerned. This was all a result of Marty Lee's ill treatment of others and it just made Lucas angry to think now he was stuck with him.


"What?" Lucas snapped back.

"I promise I'll be better to Storm. You may think I have no honor code but I know it would be pretty low to kick someone when they're as down as Storm is. Dade too, I suppose. But mostly Storm."

"Thanks." Lucas said with a softening sigh. "You do your best and maybe we'll get along. It won't be forever, Marty Lee. So let's just try and take care of each other while you're here. You think we can do that?"

"I'll do my best."


* * * * * *


"How you doing there, Brad?" Josh asked as the two of them hiked along a rocky path of North Lake National Forest.

"I'm ok." Brad said as he wiped his brow with his good arm. "I still keep in shape but it's a long time since I've been hiking with you. I still don't know why you enjoy doing this to yourself."

"Your arm isn't uncomfortable?"

"No. I'm ok, Josh. Just a little sore. My ribs still hurt from when ... well they're just still sore. I'm ok though. This is fun. Thanks for inviting me." Brad said with a genuine smile as the two approached a clearing.

"Let's stop and have something to eat. Then we'll start heading back."

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah, I don't want to overwork you. Maybe next time we'll carry on a bit. Maybe even camp out."

"Out here?" Brad asked wearily. "Just us?"


"This place would be kinda scary at night. You come up here by yourself?" Brad asked as he sat down on the grass.

"Sometimes. It's nice." Josh said as he pulled his backpack off and sat down next to Brad. "Look at the view."

"Wow." Brad said in astonishment. "I can see why you come up here now. It's beautiful."

From where they were sitting, they could see down into the valley they had just come up from. Further out they could see Lake Herren, the sun shimmering off the water like beacon. And far in the distance they could see their hometown of Merlow on the opposite side of the lake.

"This is incredible." Brad said in awe. "I wish I knew about this place before. I would have come up here."

"You shouldn't come up here alone unless you know how to survive out here. It can get pretty tricky sometimes. The rain can just move in on you and before you know it, you're stuck."

"I don't think I'd ever come up here without you. I'd probably get lost. You wouldn't leave me here, would you?"

"Are you kidding? I told you, I'll look after you. I'm not playing with you, Brad. You can trust me."

"Thanks, Josh." Brad said happily. "I'm starving. What have we got to eat?"

"If I remember right, you love turkey right?"


"Good. Two turkey subs. Here." Josh said as he handed Brad a drink flask and his lunch. "There's some apples and oranges in here too. Try not to eat too fast."

"Ok. Thanks, Josh." Brad said as he still ended up taking a huge bite from his sub. "Oops. Apples and oranges? That's like you and me. Don't you think?"

"No. We're not that unalike." Josh said as he shot Brad a warm smile. "I'd say we're both apples. I just taste sweeter than you."

"So, Josh. Why'd you break up with Claire? She's like the hottest girl in school."

"I had my reasons."

"Sorry, it's none of my business."

"No, it's ok. I just ... don't think I'm ready to tell you about that just yet."

"That's ok. Maybe one day."

"Probably the same day you tell me who did that to you." Josh said as he tapped Brad's cast.

"Yeah ..." Brad said meekly as he took another bite of his sub. "So, who you taking to the ball then?"

"No one. How about you?"

"Me? I'm not going there. Are you crazy?"

"You might have fun. You might find yourself someone nice."

"She'd have to be desperate too." Brad said with a laugh. "No thanks, Josh. Maybe next year."

"I wasn't planning on going either."

"Really? But there are tons of girls who'd go with you."

"Maybe you and I could hang out?" Josh asked with a hopeful glance.

"What's wrong with you?" Brad said with a disbelieving smile. "You're going to pass up the ball to hang out with me?"

"I don't think I want to go. I'd have more fun with you."

"You're crazy. You just don't want to see Claire with Dade, do you? I can understand that."

"No, it's not that. It's just not my scene. Maybe you and I could come up here next weekend. Camp out a night. What do you think?"

"I think you're still crazy. What about Maya? She'd be into you. She's really hot too. Why don't you ask her?"

"It's ok, Brad. I'd rather not."

"Ok, I won't push you. I just think if I were you, I'd go. Everybody likes you. Girls like you. You look good. You're a nice guy. You're the kind of guy girls want to take home to meet their parents. That's why I still can't figure out why you're hanging out with me." Brad said with a big smile on his face. "But I'm not complaining."

"Good." Josh responded with a smile of his own. "Because neither am I."

"Thanks, Josh." Brad said as he smiled at Josh. "You've been really nice to me."

"You're welcome. So next week then?"

"It's a date." Brad nodded in agreement as he finished his last bite of lunch.

"Huh?" Josh asked anxiously.


"Oh, nothing." Josh said as he realized how he must have looked getting uptight over a simple comment. "We should start heading back before it gets dark."


* * * * * *


"I hate red eye flights." Marcel said with a yawn as he ambled out of the taxi outside his house. "Thanks for coming with me, Storm. You sure you don't want to crash here tonight? It's 2am."

"I will if you want me to."

"No. It's ok. I've kept you to myself long enough. Go home. Sleep with your baby." Marcel said with just the tiniest tinge of sadness in his voice.

"Don't worry, Marcel. Everything will work out."

"How can you be sure, Storm?"

"No matter what's going on with my brother, I'm pretty sure he still loves you. Give him a chance to show it and you'll see."

"What about Claire?"

"I'll take care of her. I'll take care of everything. If he's what it takes to make you smile. Then he's what you'll have."

"Thanks." Marcel said with a fleeting half smile. "Storm, I wish you'd talk to him. And not about me. I wish you'd just talk to him. You two need each other."

"I'm not sure what I need anymore. Don't worry about me. You just get some sleep." I said as I gave Marcel a big hug. "I love you, Blondie."

"I love you too, Storm. Thank you so much for doing this. Thank you for coming with me. Are you going to tell Lucas what happened?"

"I suppose I should. We're at that stage now. Who'd have thought?" I said with a wry smile.

"Storm? Committed?" Marcel said cheekily. "I'm glad you didn't get hurt. I didn't mean for any of that to happen at Drake."

"I know you didn't. It's ok. Nice to feel needed and to be able to help. I'd do it again. You know that." I said with a smile. "I'll see you tomorrow?"

"You can count on it."

"Great." I said as I pulled my keys out and hopped into my lonely jeep that had been waiting for my return. "Love ya, Bud."

"Love you too, Storm. Thank you."

I smiled back at him as he stood on his driveway, watching me go. I really hope that things start getting better for Marcel now. I know it'll take him a while to get over what happened to him but I think he's starting to get some of the closure he needs to start really moving on.

The drive home was long and drawn. I don't know whether it was intentional, but I took the long way home. I wasn't really in a hurry to get back there. I miss Lucas but I don't miss my life. It was good to be away but flying back to Merlow was like losing air. Everything starts feeling heavy again. Just being away for that little while, I was able to forget about everything back here. Except Lucas. With Mike and Sarah leaving and I don't know what Marcel is doing yet but I have a feeling he'll stay if he has Dade. Those two will be ok. The only thing keeping me here now is Lucas. He was one of the only good things on my mind.

He's the reason why right now, as I pull into his driveway, I'm happy. I pulled out all my gear and headed inside, going straight for the shower. I don't know if it's just me, but it's always a little claustrophobic in those damn planes. I didn't even go in to say hello to Lucas yet. Knowing my sleepyhead, he'd be fast asleep. I wanted to wait till I hopped into bed all clean and fresh.

I let the water run over me as I leaned against the wall. I tried to think up what I'd do tomorrow to help Marcel get Dade back. If I didn't believe that the two had something, I wouldn't bother. But I think they do. I don't know what I'll say to Dade. I don't want to talk about us, I just want to talk about Marcel. Fuck it, I'll think about it in the morning. I'm too tired to try and figure it out now. All I want to do is hop into bed next to my baby and try to get some sleep.

I slip into my boxers and do the ritual toothbrush buzz. As I stand there looking in the mirror, I try to figure out who it is I'm looking at. I feel ... older now. I suppose in a way, jaded. Less innocent. Lost would be a good word. Lately, all I seem to be doing is going through the motions. I do what I think I should do. But I don't really feel like doing anything. I keep thinking that maybe Dade was right. In fact, the more I've thought about it, the more I believe he is right. I did give up. I don't feel so much anymore. Not inside. Most of the time, I just feel drained.

I head into Lucas' ... well, I suppose `our' bedroom now. It is his house but I know he wants me to feel like this is our house and not just his. He's such a sleepyhead but I love watching him sleep. I always have. I can always tell his mood from how he sleeps. He wears his emotions so openly, you can always tell how he's feeling. Even now. Makes me smile. And that's why I'm still here with him, because he makes me smile.

The look on his face is a tired one. I don't mean physically but mentally. I wonder what's been happening in his world the last few days. I missed him. I missed him a lot. I think I depend on him more than I care to admit. And then again, not as much as I probably should. I think he knows I hold back. But I do it for him. To make his life easier. I don't want to upset him or cause him any stress. It's weird being the pacifist of us now. The quiet one. Not that Lucas was ever really quiet but my temper tantrums were pretty hard to match. Thinking about that even makes me smile too. Still though, I get the feeling I'm at the other end of the scale now. Perhaps too much. I've gone from feeling too much to hardly feeling a thing.

Once again, I've gone beyond tired now. To the point where I don't feel like going to sleep. I head into the lounge and return to my usual nightly vigil. My eyes gaze through the window, looking out towards the dark street outside. The clouds overhead have blocked the moonlight. It truly is dark in here. It's then that I swear I can hear the sound of someone breathing. My eyes follow the direction the sound is coming from to the lounge suite.

"What the hell?" I said in surprise as I found a sleeping form on the couch.

I knew it wasn't Lucas. I figured it might be Dade. Maybe I even hoped it would be Dade. But as I stepped closer to make out the shadow, I knew it wasn't him either. It was someone I least expected. And the last person I wanted to expect. With a well ... half gentle nudge, I wake him from his slumber. I'm actually surprised he didn't wake up already, being the super freak that he is.

"What are you doing here, Marty Lee?"

"Oh, Storm." Marty Lee responded groggily as he stirred awake. "Uhh hi?"

"What are you doing here, Marty Lee?" I repeated, this time a little more insisting.

"Some guys jumped me on Saturday night. Smashed a bottle over my head. I had to go into the A&E. Lucas insisted I stay here till I was on my feet again. I said no but ..."

"Ok." I said, cutting him off. "If this is what Lucas wants. I can understand why he wants to but you had better not take advantage of him."

"I won't, Storm."

"So tell me. Do you know who did this to you?"

"Take your pick."

"Do you think it was Brad?"


"That's too bad. One of these days, you'll still have to pay for what you did to him. You crossed the line, Marty Lee. You're lucky that I haven't told Mike. He might be leaving but he'll still make life difficult for you. You'd be off the team if he knew."

"Are you going to tell him?"

"I'll think about it. I'm still angry at you for what you did to Brad. You'd better do something to make it up to him. No to mention what you've done to me. To Dade."

"So you still care about him then?"

"I appreciate what you did, Marty Lee. But it doesn't change anything between us. You and I are still going to finish this shit between us. But not today. Not now." I said in a somewhat softening tone. "How are you feeling?"

"I'm alive. How about you? You ok, Storm?" Marty Lee asked with what passed for almost genuine concern.

"I'm ok." I said with a sigh, not really wanting to go on the offensive with him anymore. "Just tired. Always tired."

"What were you doing before you noticed me here?"

"Just ... thinking. I do that a lot. When I can't sleep."

"Why can't you sleep?"

"Like you care?" I said with a small smile plastered on my face.

"I do. I just ... don't have much experience in trying to show it. Do you wanna talk about it?"

"To you?"

"If you want. I'm not one of your friends. I'm not family. You could tell me whatever you wanted and I wouldn't judge you. You wouldn't care what I think. You can just be honest."

"Who would've thought?" I said rather cynically.

"I'm all ears if you want."

I thought about what he'd said. I thought about how strange this situation was. There was a time there when I felt like I could actually talk to Marty Lee. When Lucas and I weren't together. I really felt like I could trust him. And then it was like he turned on me. I think I know why but it still doesn't excuse anything. Still ... right now, it does seem like he's genuine. Maybe that smash over the head did him some good. Maybe it would be good to talk to someone outside of my usual circle. Someone I didn't really give a rats ass about.

"Ok, Marty Lee. You wanna know what I was thinking about?"


"I was thinking ..." I said with a drawn sigh as I sat down on the single seater next to him. "I was thinkin about how lonely life is. How pointless it seems sometimes. You spend your days trying to get somewhere. Trying to make things better. And in the end, it doesn't mean anything. You just die. You just die."

"You miss your Mom?"

"So much." I said softly. "So very much."

"I'm sorry she died."

"Not as sorry as me. I still ... can't let go. When she died ... so did part of me. I don't know how to get it back. That's why I push Dade away. I'm so afraid I'll let him down. I'm so afraid I can't be the big brother he needs anymore. And he reminds me so much of the life I used to have. I don't feel ... anything anymore. I'm just so tired. I miss her so much. I miss my life. I just wanna go to sleep." I said in barely a whisper.

"I feel so bad for everything I've done to you, Storm. I know I'm the worst person to say anything but I think if Dade heard what you just said ... if anyone else heard what you just said."

"I hope no one else will ever hear it. But thank you for hearing it for me. I'm doing my best, Marty Lee. I'm trying as hard as I can to keep everyone from worrying about me. If it weren't for them ... if it weren't for Lucas, for Marcel, Mike, Sarah, even Dade. I wouldn't be here right now. I would've really given up. Mike and Sarah are going. Marcel could go any time he wanted. I don't know what I'd do if anything happened to Lucas too. I'm just barely holding on. This place. This town. Everything just reminds me of what I don't have. Reminds me of her. That sounds so pathetic. But I can't help the way I feel. I wish I could."

"You need help, Storm. Why won't you just tell them how you're feeling? You're doing everything to try and keep everyone happy. But it's not helping you. And it's not helping Lucas. He's still worried about you. He can see something's wrong. I had no idea you had it this bad. I know it must have been terrible. I can't even imagine what it's been like for you lately. Losing your Mom. Sarah being sick. Finding out about Dade. Mike and Sarah leaving. But mostly your Mom. You seem so ... lost now, Storm. It isn't like you. You should at least talk to Lucas. I know he's worried about you."

"Don't worry. In the morning, none of this will have ever happened. And I'll do whatever it is I think I need to do to keep my baby happy. If he's worried about me, then I'll have to do something to make sure he doesn't. Something good. Something that'll make him smile."

"It won't be good, Storm. Not as long as you're like this. You can't hide it forever. Something has to give."

"My brother did it for over a year. Who's to say I can't?"

"I'll tell him. I'll tell Dade. I'll tell Mike. I'll tell Lucas. I'll tell anyone."

"You do what you have to. I better let you get some rest."

"You don't have to. I like being here with you. Actually helping for once."

"There was a time when I trusted you, Marty Lee. Tell me something, was that real? Did you actually care?"

"I did, Storm. I really did."

"You still have to pay for what you've done. Especially to Brad. I don't know how you're going to do it. Maybe, just maybe then ... maybe. We'll see what happens. I don't know."

"Ok, Storm. Thank you. Are you ok with me being here?"

"If Lucas wants you here, then you stay. Are you comfortable?"

"Uhh yeah."

"Why don't you sleep in the guest room?"

"I don't wanna settle in or anything."

"Come on." I said as I helped him up. "If you're banged up, the last thing you want to be doing is sleeping on an uncomfortable couch. Let's get you to bed."

He stood up pretty freely but I could tell he wasn't at his best. I put his arm over my shoulder and led him into the guest room. I waited for him to get in and he let out a contented sigh. Obviously he wasn't that comfortable in the lounge. Not in his state. He leaned his head to the side facing me. He seemed to be studying me intently with his eyes.

"I underestimated you, Storm. You're so tortured. So empty. Yet you can't let go of your duty to the people you care about. Even now when I know some others would've just ... gone to sleep, as you put it. I'm sorry I ever turned on you. That was my loss."

"Yeah? You're not the only one. Get some rest. I'll see you in the morning." I said with a half smile, pausing at the doorway. "Marty Lee?"

"Yeah, Storm?"

"It's nice. Don't you think?"



"It is, Storm. I know it wasn't your choice, but I'm glad to be here."

"Be nice to Lucas. He's one of the sweetest people you'll ever meet. You've known him longer than I have. You should know what he's like. Just ... be nice to him."

"I will, Storm."

"We might even enjoy our time together. Who knows?"

"Thanks, Storm. Goodnight."

"Night, Marty Lee."

I closed the door behind me and wouldn't you know it? I actually felt a little better. I felt tired actually. But a good tired. Like I actually wanted to get some sleep. But more than that, I wanted something else. Something that brought a smile to my face just thinking about it. Lucas.

I slipped under the covers and with one of the most content sighs that I think I've ever hard, wrapped my arms around him from behind. I can't describe how good it is just to do this. Just to know he's right here next to me. To feel his warmth. To smell him.

"Mmm ... Storm?" Lucas said with a yawn as he turned around to face me.

"Hey, Baby." I said as I placed a tiny kiss on his lips. "Shh. Go back to sleep."

"What time is it?"

"A little before 3am."

"I'm so glad you're home." Lucas said as he wrapped his arms around me and kissed me gently. "I missed you."

"I missed you too, Baby." I said with a catch in my voice as I realized just how much I missed him.

"Are you ok, Baby?"

"I'm fine. Everything's fine." I said with a smile as I watched him doing his whole talking while he's still half asleep routine. "Just go back to sleep."

"I have to tell you something. It's about Marty Lee."

"It's ok. I know. It's fine. Everything's fine. Just go back to sleep, Baby." I said as I pulled his head onto my chest.

"Love you so much." He moaned before I could hear the gentle breathing that signaled his return to sleep.

"Love you too, Babe. Love you too."


* * * * * *


Talk about your short sleeps. It's 4am and just about time for me to get up and go to work at the produce warehouse. No matter how I'm feeling, I still have to do what I'm supposed to. I half wish I had of just stayed awake instead of going to sleep. I rub the sleep out of my eyes and can still feel Lucas laying on my chest with his arm draped over me. I don't have the heart to wake him, he always looks so peaceful when he sleeps. My sleepyhead.

"Babe?" I say softly as I rub my hand down his back. "Lucas."


"I have to get up. I've got work."

"Are you kidding, Dude?" Lucas said annoyed as he opened his eyes groggily. "You just went to sleep. What time is it?"

"About 4am. I have to be there by five."

"You gotta get a new job or quit this one." Lucas moaned as he let out a huge yawn. "You get up too early. There's always something to get you up."

"Sorry, Babe. They've been good to me. I can't let them down. Besides, we need the money."

"No we don't."

"I don't wanna touch any of Mom's money."

"I'm not talking about her money, Storm. We're ok. We've got money. Will you just think about cutting your hours down? I just want more time with you. I hate waking up every morning and you're already gone. Work, training, there's always something. And then you wander in at some ungodly hour at night. You've got training tonight, don't you?"


"So that means you won't be home till after ten."

"I guess not."

"I'm sorry, Storm. You just get back and already I'm nagging you. I'm just being a baby. I just miss you." Lucas said with a sigh, refusing to move himself off me.

"It's ok, Babe. I know we haven't spent a lot of time together lately."

"I'm just worried about you. We all are. I wish you didn't have to go."

"I promise, we'll spend some time together soon. And don't forget, I'm your date for the ball this week."

"Good, because I wasn't planning on taking anyone else."

"I'll see you at school, ok?"

"Ok, Babe. Do you think we could talk sometime today? There's a few things I want to talk to you about."

"Sure." I say as I slip out from under him and give him a kiss goodbye. "Go back to sleep. Love you."

"Mmm." He mumbled before he dozed off again.

I made short work of getting myself washed up and ready, slipping in a protein shake on the run as I threw my bag over my shoulder. I hopped in the jeep and looked at my watch. Still had just under an hour before I had to be at work. Maybe I could talk to Dade now. I'm sure he wouldn't mind. I have to do it sooner or later.

I think I'm going to have to catch up on some sleep sooner or later. I figure it'll be sooner if I keep this up. It didn't seem as if I'd been driving very long before I pulled up in our driveway. The lights were still off. That's not surprising. I'm usually the only person ever awake at these hours.

This feels strange. Coming home but not having it feel like home. It's been this way since Mom died. I used to have no problem coming back here at any time and just walking in. Because it was my home. I felt safe and protected here. Now ... it just feels strange. As I stand here at the front door though, it all comes flooding back to me. Every memory I have here. My whole life. And funnily enough, I only remember the good stuff. It actually makes me smile and I can't help feeling like I miss this place. I love Lucas and I love living with him but this will always be home to me. I've had a hard time coming back here since I moved out. A lot of it has to do with Dade but to be honest, I've come to realize that it's mostly to do with me. I just hated being here without Mom. It didn't feel right. But it's still home.

As I turn the key and open the door to step inside, I start to feel safe again. The house still feels empty without her but ... I don't know. It's hard to explain. I don't want to be here but I want to be here. Go figure.

It's actually a pretty hard thing for me right now to step inside. The house dark and quiet. My thoughts echoing in my mind just as I felt my voice would if I spoke right now. But I suppose admitting to myself the real reason I've been so withdrawn lately has helped me face what is actually wrong. Losing Mom. That's what a lot of it is.

I try not to let myself be overwhelmed. I didn't come here to cry. To get depressed or withdraw even more. I came here to try and make peace with my brother. I tiptoe upstairs, trying not to wake anyone. I can't just jump through the window to my old room anymore because I don't know if Abby will be there. I just assumed she would be unless Dad's gone again and she's in Mom's room. I've been trying to psyche myself up to coming back because I keep thinking it's maybe time to pack up a lot of Mom's things. I asked Dad to leave them alone for the time being but I know it's getting to the point now when we ... when I have to start really saying goodbye to her. To start letting her go. Thinking about that gets me all emotionally wrought and I try to put it out of my mind for now. To just focus on what I came here to do.

I just about turn to go to Dade's room when I see Mike's door is slightly ajar. I figured he'd be at Sarah's but I can hear him breathing as he sleeps. I poke my head through his doorway and smile to myself. Stepping softly, I sit down at his desk, trying not to wake him. I lean my head on his desk and watch him sleep. Sounds weird because I've always hated when people watch me sleep but I seem to find it intriguing doing it myself. I can't believe we've come this far. That we're all getting so old now and starting to go our own way. Mike especially. He has been such an awesome part of my life, I'm really going to miss him. We're the ones who got lucky with him, I really think he's the glue for a lot of us. I think Mike is one of the few people I've never really minded watching over me while I slept. He always made me feel safe. I'll never forget the time I came home after getting smacked around by Brad and his gang. Mike took care of me. Watched me the whole time I slept to make sure I was ok. If that's not love, I don't know what is. He's incredible.

"Having a good perve?" Mike said with a half grin, his eyes still closed, almost making me jump.

"You wish." I snicker back.

"Good to see you, Bro." Mike said with a yawn as he stretched out and turned on his side to face me. "What are you doing here? Need to talk or just come for a look?"

"Maybe in another lifetime, Mike. But not this one." I say with a grin on my face. "A couple years ago I might not have felt weird but I would now."

"Besides the fact I'm getting married. I'll also be a proper Marcus pretty soon too. So you'd better get your best looks in now, while you can."

"Ego head."

"So what are you doing here, Storm? I don't mean in my room, I already know what you're doing here." Mike said cheekily. "I mean here at home. You hardly come back here. Why now at this time of the night?"

"Marcel and I just flew in a few hours ago. I was just on my way to work and thought I'd stop in and talk to Dade. Then your door was open and I just wanted to watch you sleep. Don't make me go all soft here. You know I'm gonna miss you."

"Enough to come with me?"


"Sarah and Lucas were talking the other day. Lucas seems to think that some time away would do you some good. School is out soon, you could come with us for as long as you wanted. I know you're having a hard time. I know it's still Mom. It's not Dade. It's Mom. Maybe Lucas is right."

"Lucas said that?"

"He did. He just wants what's best for you, Storm."

"What do you think?"

"Just for selfish reasons, I'd like to take you with us. But I wouldn't want you to come until you at least tried to work through a few things here first. Like Dade and Lucas. Things have been going so well for you two, I wouldn't want you to jeopardize that now. As for Dade, well, I think it's about time you two sort your shit out. If you talk this over with Lucas and you talk to Dade, and you still think it's a good idea to come with us after that ... I'll take you. You know I'll take you anyway but I want you to sort a few things out first."

"See? Who's going to give me advice like this when you go?"

"I guess that depends on whether you come with me or not."

"I think I'd better talk to Lucas."

"You gonna talk to Dade before you go? He'll be bummed if he knows you were here and you two didn't get to see each other."

"I don't know." I said with a sigh as I prepared to leave.

"Storm." Mike said as he sat up and put his hands on my shoulders. "Everything's going to be ok. We'll get through this."

"Thanks, Mike." I said with an appreciative smile.

"You know I love you, Bro." Mike said as he kissed my forehead and gave me a hug. "I'll always be here for you. You know that."

"I know."

"Good, now get outta here so I can get some look good sleep."

"You and Lucas must be related." I said with a smirk. "Sorry for waking you. Sleep well. Love you."

Mike smiled at me as I closed his door. I could see Dade's door was closed. I did want to talk to him. Mainly for Marcel. But I've already lost too much time. I guess I'll have to leave it until later. I'll have to do it eventually. Maybe at school. Right now though, I have to get to work. Dade will have to wait.


* * * * * *


"Hey, Bro. How you feeling this morning?" Mike asked as Dade sat down at the table for breakfast. "I made us some breakfast. Just you and me today. Abby won't be back till tonight. You want eggs?"

"Thanks, Bro. Who's going to cook me breakfast when you go?" Dade asked with a cheeky smirk as he yawned and scratched his bare navel. "You're up early."

"Storm woke me up. Couldn't really get back to sleep. It's ok. I had some laundry to do and started packing up some of my gear."


"Just some odd stuff."

"Wait a minute. Storm woke you up? Did he call? Is he back?"

"He didn't talk to you? He was here this morning before he went to work."

"He was here?" Dade asked in surprise.

"He actually came over to see you. Maybe he couldn't get you up."

"Shit. He came to see me though?" Dade asked with a hopeful smile. "Did he look angry or happy?"

"He didn't look angry or happy. He just looked the same as he always does lately. I don't think he wanted to fight or anything. He just wanted to talk to you about something. Maybe he ran out of time before work. I don't know."

"Maybe he just changed his mind." Dade sighed.

"So go talk to him. You two have got till my wedding day to sort your shit out."

"Sarah told me she's thinking of taking him with you guys. Do you really think he'll go?"

"If he needs to, Dade. And I'd like him with me. But I get the feeling things will work out before Sarah and I go. So maybe he won't come. He doesn't seem too keen on the idea. Quite likes being married to Lucas." Mike said with a cheeky smile.

"I'm glad he's not keen." Dade said with relief. "Mom, you and then Storm. I don't think so. Somehow, I'll work things out with him. I'm not losing everyone. Sarah's going. I think Marcel is going to go eventually. If you take Storm as well, that just leaves me with Lucas. And you know how depressing he's going to be."

"Like I said to you before, Dade. You're stronger than you think. You could survive without us. But I don't think some of us could survive without each other. Like Storm. He might say otherwise but he needs us more than you do."

"Bullshit. I need you guys too."

"I know you do, Dade. Just ... not as much. I'm not saying you don't love us. I'm just saying you'd survive. That's all."

"Not Storm though. You can't take Storm. I'll sort things out with him. I know I'm causing him grief. Didn't help with the party. I just can't seem to get anything right with him. I just keep causing him grief."

"Not as much as you think, Dade."

"You just know everything, don't you?" Dade said shaking his head at Mike with a smile on his face.

"Only if it's important. If I don't know it, it can't be important."


"Eat up, Tarzan." Mike said as he put a hot plate of bacon, tomatoes and eggs in front of Dade. "Then go shower and put some clothes on. We're gonna be late for school and I want to stop by Sarah's first."


"Hey, how's everything going with you and Claire?"

"Uhh ... kinda ... weird." Dade said with a guilty look on his face that Mike clicked onto straight away.

"You little bastard. You slept with her. Didn't you?"

"I didn't mean to. We just ... and then ..."

"You horny little bastard." Mike said with a slightly angry frown as he started clearing the kitchen up. "I can't believe you did that. I thought we talked about this. I didn't expect you to just end it straight away but I didn't think you'd sleep with her."

"Sorry, Bro. I didn't mean to. Really."

"Let me guess, you had a little too much to drink at the party. She came back and then you two decided to make like rabbits?"

"Uhh ... something like that."

"Don't say I didn't try, Dade. You've slept with her now so you can't just leave her hanging. Do you even really want Marcel back?" Mike said with an annoyed look on his face. "Geez."

"Mike, I'm sorry! I didn't mean for it to happen."

"Dade, save it. You were horny, you wanted it, she wanted it, you both did it. Were you her first?"

"Yeah ..."

"Geez, Dade. I can't believe you sometimes. Claire's not like other girls. You can't just treat her like that and then throw her away. How do you think she's going to feel now? I know what I said about Marcel but it's too late, you fucked it up. You just fucked it all up. I can't believe you slept with her."

"You're disappointed?"

"That's an understatement. But whatever, Dade. What's done is done. Finish your breakfast and make sure you're not late for school. I'm going on ahead."

"Ok, Bro." Dade said dejectedly as he began playing with his food. "She is my girlfriend you know."

"Does she know that?" Mike said flatly. "I'll see you at school."

"Ok. Bye, Bro."

"I still love you." Mike said as he kissed Dade's forehead on his way out. "But you didn't do yourself any favors. Except for like a what? A one minute favor?"

"Mike! It was an hour at least, Bro."

"An hour? That doesn't just happen, Dade. Throw that shovel away before you dig your grave any more. Here." Mike said as he threw Dade a ten dollar note. "Buy Claire some flowers. You ... you stupidhead."


"And just ... leave Marcel alone for a while."


* * * * * *


"Hey." Dade said as he met Claire at the front gates of Merlow High.

"Are those for me?" Claire asked as she eyed the flowers Dade was holding.

"Oh, right. Yeah. Here." Dade said as he handed the flowers to a grateful Claire.

"Thank you." Claire said as she hugged Dade and kissed his cheek. "What are these for?"

"Uhh no reason in particular."

"I wasn't sure how you were feeling about us after ... the other night."

"I told you I wouldn't leave you."

"I know what you said, Dade. And I don't regret what we did." Claire said with a blushing smile. "I've got the hottest boyfriend in the whole school. And he just happens to be a sweetheart as well. But I'm not ... going to break if you leave me. If that's what you want to do."

"Do you still want me?"

"Of course I do. But what do you want?"

Dade contemplated this when he spied Marcel hopping out of his Wrangler. For some reason that made Dade smile. He knew Marcel had a Z4 at home but he hated bringing it to school because he thought it was too pretentious. So he'd bring his Wrangler instead, which seemed even more ridiculous because it was older than Storm's model and everyone knew Marcel had a lot more money than Storm did. Still, that was Marcel. That was just another thing that Dade loved about him.


"Oh, sorry." Dade said as he turned his attention back to Claire.

"I guess that answers that question." Claire said as she noticed Marcel as well.

"Sorry, Claire. Listen, I feel really bad."

"About what? Sleeping with me or thinking about Marcel?"


"That's the worst thing you can say to a girl after you've slept with her."

"That didn't come out right. I mean, you were great, Claire. You're beautiful and you're so fine."

"That's better." Claire said with a smile. "Flattery will get you places."

"Don't tempt me. I just feel bad because ... you know ... it was your first time. Josh would have been better than me. At least he's worthy. I'm used goods. You deserve better"

"You used your goods, that's for sure." Claire blushed. "And they were good."

"So were yours." Dade said with a blushing grin of his own.

"So what's it going to be, Dade? Who you taking to the ball this week? Me or him?"

"I don't know, Claire. Even I was with Marcel, I don't know if I'd be up to being out like that. I don't know if Marcel is in a hurry to come out either. I'll leave that to Storm and Lucas."

"You still didn't answer my question. It doesn't matter. You don't have to tell me now. But I want you to make a choice, Dade. And whatever choice you make, stick with it. I'll see you later ok?" Claire said as she kissed Dade's cheek. "No lips till you make your choice. Such a pity for me."

"Ok, Claire."

Dade watched Claire walk away and still had Marcel in the corner of his eye. He had an idea that he could make Claire happy eventually if he knew there wasn't any chance left with Marcel. But for Claire's sake as well as his, he had to find out. He could still hear Mike's voice in his head and he couldn't blame him, but it wasn't going to stop him from talking to Marcel. With a nervous breath, Dade made his way over to Marcel who was heading into the main foyer.

"Hey." Dade said as he tapped Marcel on the shoulder.

"Dade." Marcel said with a nod before he turned to carry on walking.

"Hey, can I talk to you? Please?"

"What's to talk about?" Marcel asked rather abruptly.

"I just wanted to see how you were."

"I'm fine, Dade. How about you?"

"I'm ok."

"Great." Marcel said flatly. "Anything else?"

"I don't know. Is there?" Dade asked with somewhat hopeful eyes.

"No. Not anymore. I'll see you around."

"Ok." Dade said with a heavy sigh.

"Actually, there is something." Marcel said as he pulled Dade aside by the arm into an empty courtyard.

"What?" Dade asked a little too excitedly, just for the fact that Marcel was actually talking to him.

"I heard what you did to Storm at Sarah's party. Don't ever do that again." Marcel said sternly. "Ok?"

"Huh? Is that what you wanted to talk to me about?"

"I told Storm to talk to you. Have you spoken yet?"

"He came over but he must have changed his mind."

"Don't do that again, Dade. I want you to fix this whatever it is that's going on between you. Can you do that for me? I told Storm what I thought so it's only fair I tell you too. Whatever he said to you, he doesn't mean it. You just don't know what he's going through."

"I do, Marcel. I know now. I was just frustrated. I don't have any excuses. I just did it because I was angry and I felt like he didn't leave me any choice."

"I was really disappointed when I found out, Dade."

"About Storm or Claire?"

"Claire isn't my business." Marcel said stoically. "Neither are you except when it comes to Storm. Do what you like with Claire but you shouldn't have done that to Storm. He's just feeling a little lost lately. And you're not helping."

"What about me?"

"What about you, Dade? You've had your turn of being the baby. Grow up."

"That's not fair." Dade said with frustration.

"Life's not fair, Dade. Get used to it." Marcel said as he turned to start walking away.

"Why won't you tell me what happened!?" Dade snapped after Marcel. "Why did Storm have to go with you? Why can't you tell me?"

"You think he's a pussy, Dade? He's not. The difference with Storm is he knows when to use it and when to leave it. If you knew what he did for me this weekend ... but you have no idea. I don't think you'll ever have any idea now. It's not my fault things didn't work out for us, Dade. I thought it was but it isn't. And it's not your fault either. Shit just happened. It just wasn't meant to be."

"You don't believe that."

"I don't believe in anything. Go and talk to Storm."

"He doesn't care anymore. You've seen him."

"Yeah, Dade. I have. It's a pretty sad thing when I start knowing Storm better than you do. Now just talk to him and I better not find out you had another go at him."

"Why are you siding with him? This isn't a war. You're both siding with each other. I'm not the bad guy here. Don't treat me like the enemy. I'm not."

"I know you aren't, Dade. It just frustrates the hell out of me. June's dead and you're both acting like idiots. Makes me sick. She'd be disgusted with both of you. I know I am."

"So tell him that! He's not the one who died! But he acts like it every day. I don't know how to help him. I keep thinking he's going to just give up one day and jump off that stupid bridge. Like he wants to go with her. I don't know what to do. I've tried. I really have. That's why I'm so frustrated. I used to be able to get through to him. But I can't anymore. And now he's put me on the outside. He doesn't trust me. I don't even know if he loves me anymore. It's like he hardly feels anything anymore. Everything's just fucked up. And it's all my fault. I killed her. Don't you tell me otherwise. Storm blames me. He won't say it but he does. He might not even say it to himself but he feels it. That's why he won't talk to me. He blames me for her dying."

"I hope for his sake that he doesn't." Marcel said in a softening tone. "He never said he blames you, Dade."

"Maybe he wants to. Maybe that's what he's got locked up inside. He hasn't yelled at me since she died. Maybe he does still care about me. Maybe he's just trying to protect me after all. Protect me from himself. I don't know."

"He does still love you, Dade."

"Do you?"

Marcel seemed to have been caught off guard by Dade's question. So direct, leaving no room to mistake it's intention. Dade knew Marcel wouldn't lie to him. He'd asked the question, now it was Marcel's turn to answer.

"It doesn't matter anymore. Talk to Storm." Marcel said as he left Dade standing alone.

"Shit." Dade cursed to himself. "That went great."


* * * * * *


Brad walked anxiously towards his second period class. He hadn't seen Josh yet and he was kinda nervous about seeing him. It was one thing for them to hang out outside of school. But in school? That was different. Brad could see Josh talking to Carl and a bunch of the other jocks. He wondered whether he should risk saying hello just in case Josh blew him off in front of everyone. He knew Josh was a nice guy but he still wasn't sure what his boundaries were.

With a nervous gulp, Brad walked along the hallway towards where Josh was talking to everyone. He had to go past Josh to get to his next class but he wanted to try and be as obscure as he could be. Walking briskly but steadily he almost made his way past the group before Carl of all people noticed Brad. Carl shot Brad a wide smile and the brow raise hello. Brad looked at him confused for a moment but carried on after he feigned a smile back to Carl. Luckily, he didn't seem to have drawn Josh's attention. Or maybe he had but Josh didn't want to talk to him in school. He wasn't sure but at least he'd made it past either way.

"Brad?" Josh called from behind.

"Oh, hey." Brad said rather meekly as Josh ran up to him.

"Not even a hello?" Josh asked with a wide grin. "Don't we have next period together?"

"I wasn't sure if ..."

"Silly." Josh said as he threw his arm around Brad's shoulder. "How long is it going to take for you to just loosen up, Brad?"

"Probably a while." Brad said with a shy smile.

"That's ok. I have a while. Come on, let's go to class."


* * * * * *


"Hey, Miss!" Carl yelled to his favorite young new teacher, Miss Garrett as he took his seat in biology. "You're looking hot as always."

"That's enough out of you, Mr. Bentley." Miss Garrett said as she waved hello to Carl.

"She likes me." Carl said to Claire as wiggled his desk closer to her.

"Lucky her." Claire responded with a smile.

Carl tried not to be so obvious as class began, but he couldn't help throwing a glance in Claire's direction every five seconds or so. Biology was his favorite class and she was the reason why. It always seemed to go too fast though. It only just seemed to start and it was almost over already.

Carl never made any advances to Claire since their last failed date. It was so long ago that Claire had probably forgotten by now but for Carl, it was still the night before. He never tried to push anything with Claire. He just enjoyed being around her. That was enough for him. He noticed though as they went through class that she seemed distracted. As if her thoughts were elsewhere.

"Why so glum?" Carl asked finally.

"I'm not glum." Claire said as she shook her head at Carl. "I'm happy. I'm always happy. Claire's happy."

"Maybe this will help."

Carl pulled a small square piece of paper from his art case. He placed it on his desk and immediately began folding it. Claire stared inquisitively as Carl folded an intricate origami. At first she had no idea what he was making. Eventually though she realized what he was making. A paper rose.

"Someone like you should never be glum." Carl said with a smile as he handed the paper rose to Claire.

"Thanks." Claire said feeling rather swept away by Carl's small but sweet gesture.

"You're welcome." Carl said as he stood up and threw his bag over his shoulder. "Bye."

"See you later."

Claire smiled to herself as she studied the paper rose in her hands. She wondered why she never questioned the reason Carl was always so nice to her. He just seemed to be nice to everybody. That must be it. He must just be a nice guy. And what a nice guy he was.

"He really should find himself a nice girlfriend." Claire said as she stood up. "He deserves one."

"I think he has his eye on someone in particular." Miss Garrett said with a knowing smile as she cleared the blackboard.

"Really?" Claire asked curiously. "Who? Anyone I know? Maybe I can help hook him up."

"Maybe you can. Why don't you ask him?"

"I wish I knew. I could try and set him up with her before the ball so he doesn't have to go alone."

"That would be nice, Claire."

"Well, I'll see you tomorrow, Miss. Have a good day."

"I will, Claire. See you tomorrow."


* * * * * *


"Hey, Brad." I said with a smile as I patted him on the back and sat down next to him.

"Oh, hey." Brad said with a smile of his own.

"How you doing, Bud? You've been quiet lately."

"I don't want to be a nuisance. I know you've got a lot going on."

"Listen, I just wanted to say sorry for what happened with Marty Lee."

"You know about that?"

"I know. I should've done something about it before. I wish you had of told me."

"How'd you find out?"

"Marty Lee and I have this little thing going on between us. He told me in his own way. I guess I've been too preoccupied lately to deal with it. I'm sorry. Some friend I am, aye?""

"It's ok, Storm. I didn't want you to get involved."

"Did you hear about what happened to him?"

"Yeah, everyone was talking about it today. I bet it was Scott."

"I heard he was giving you shit too. Marty Lee stopped him?"

"Yeah." Brad said with a small laugh. "I don't know what his deal is. He scares the crap out of me."

"That still doesn't make up for what he did to you. You should've told the police or someone."

"You didn't when I attacked you."

"That was different, Brad. And it was a long time ago. Don't bring it up. I've left it behind. Besides, you didn't snap my wrist. He crossed the line. He still has to pay."

"You're not going to do anything are you?"

"I'm not sure. Before he had his head smashed in I had the feeling that he and I were going to throw down against each other. It's been coming for a long time. But I think I've done enough fighting for a while."

"You had a fight?"

"Long story. Some other time. But I told Marty Lee that when he gets better, we're going to settle this. On the mat. Rules and everything. But I seriously think he needs to be put in his place. He has to know he can't keep terrorizing people."

"We handle our own." Brad said with a small smile. "That's how it's always been around here. Be careful, Storm. He's dangerous."

"I know. He's staying with us right now. Lucas has a bit of a history with him so we're stuck with him while he gets better. I'll keep an eye on him. I don't think he'll come after you again but if he does, I want you to tell me. Promise?"

"Storm ..."

"Promise me."

"Ok, Storm. Thanks."

"You've had enough, Brad. Even Scott. If he comes near you again, you let me know."

"He only got one punch in, Storm. I'm used to it. Don't worry about me."

"Friends watch out for each other. I'll talk to you later?"

"Sure, Storm. I'd like that." Brad said with a smile as I stood up and left him.

Time to go find my baby. I needed a bit of a pick me up and he always seems to do it for me. I hadn't seen him since I left for work so I just wanted to touch base. I headed towards the back of the fields where I figured Lucas might be. Where I hoped he'd be. It was on my way there that I spotted Scott, Peter and Anton heading towards the fields. I figured a little warning was in order to make sure they don't hassle Brad again.


"What do you want?" Scott snapped back as I approached him.

"I want you to move to Siberia, but I don't think that's going to happen anytime soon. So instead, I want you to keep your hands off Brad. Touch him again and I'll touch you. Understand?"

"Like I want your faggot hands on me. You and Mike will get what's coming to you. Just like everyone else."

"What did you say?"

"You heard me."

"Well maybe I want to hear it again."

"I'm not stupid, Storm. You can't touch me. It'd break your little honor code." Scott said as he did the bunny ears with his fingers. "You can't hit me first. And I'm not going to hit you first so I guess that means you're just gonna have to eat shit."

I noticed one of his hands were bandaged up and it was pretty obvious to me how that happened. I still don't feel particularly loyal to Marty Lee but I figured a bit of inquiring wouldn't go astray.

"Where'd you cut your hand?"

"None of your business."

"You know, Scott? I don't really care what you did to Marty Lee. But if you even look at my brother funny. Fuck the code. I'll whip your ass a new shade of black and blue. Wanna try me?"

"He kicked me out of the finals for having a go at that little sprat, Brad. He can't do that to me. My parents are going to call the principal and I'll get back in the team."

"That is the lamest thing I have ever heard. You're gonna tell Mommy and Daddy? Poor wittle Scotty Baby got kicked off the team. Aww, poor baby."

"Fuck you, Storm."

"No thanks. You're not my type."

"You and that faggot Lucas. You make me sick." Scott said as he spat in my face. "You faggots should be rounded up. You're disgusting."

"You did not just do that." I said as I wiped his spit from my face.

"I didn't touch you." Scott goaded. "What are ya gonna do?"

"Scott, leave him alone." Anton said as he grabbed Scott's shoulder. "I don't need anymore trouble."

"Shut it, Anton. I'm not scared of this pansy ass. He won't do shit. Will you?" Scott said as he stepped backwards.

"You better listen to your friend." I said as I stared relentless at Scott, warding him off with my eyes.

"You're a pussy, Storm."

"Fuck off, Scott." Marcel snapped as he ran in and shoved Scott back. "He might have to wait for you to hit him but I sure don't. So just fuck off."

"You're probably a faggot too, aren't you? Or just a faggot lover like Mike?"

"Fuck off now." Marcel said simmering with anger. "While you still can."

"All of you wait, I'll get you. The whole fucking lot of you queer loving freaks."

I stood there seething with anger as Scott walked off, laughing his stupid head off. I can't stand people like him. I don't really care if he calls me a faggot. That doesn't get to me as much as people think it might. But the fact he's such an asshole does.

"That guy is just an asshole." Marcel said angrily as he turned back to face me.

"Thanks, Marcel."

"You've had enough fighting, Storm. You don't need to waste your energy on that loser."

"He's just an idiot. Keep your eyes open. I think he's got a hit list with all our names on it. Mike, you, me, Brad."

"He'd better hope he doesn't. You ok, Storm? You look a little tired."

"I had to work this morning."

"And that's it? You're not hiding anything from me, are you? I know you kicked those guys asses but you took your share as well."

"So did you."

"I never meant for that to happen, Storm. I didn't want any trouble. Your ulcer isn't playing up again is it? You sure those guys didn't hurt you?"

"They won't touch you again. That's what matters. I think they got the message."

"Why don't you go home and get some rest?"

"I'm ok. I was just on my way to find Lucas."

"I was just talking to him. He's at the back courtyard."

"You wanna come?"

"No. I'm just about done for the day. I was about to head home."

"Ok. I'll talk to you later then. Watch out for that dickhead." I said as I nodded at Marcel and we parted ways.

I watched him walk off and hoped that he would start becoming his old self again. I hope that trip was good for him. I think it was. My run in with Scott didn't really phase me. Idiots like him are a dime a dozen. I can take care of him if I need to.

"Hey, Stranger."

Ahh now there's a voice I want to hear. I turn around to see Lucas smiling back at me. This is what I needed. My strawberry fix.

"Hey, Baby."

"You look tired, Storm. Why don't you go home and get some sleep before training?"

"I'll be ok. I was just coming to find you."

"Everything ok?"

"It is now." I said with a smile. "It is now."

We both walked over to the back courtyard of the school. It was one of the few places we could have to ourselves and wouldn't have to worry about anyone staring at us. I didn't really care and I don't think Lucas did either but neither of us wanted to put up with any grief. It just distracted us from just being together. I sat down on the seat bench and leaned back against the wall and pulled Lucas down so I could hold him. Thank goodness for my baby. He's one of the only things that keeps me grounded these days.

"Are you ok with Marty Lee staying with us, Babe?"

"I don't mind whatever you want to do, Lucas. It's ok with me."

"You sure?"

"I'm sure."

"There's something I've been wanting to talk to you about, Storm. I was talking to Sarah and ..."

"I know. Mike told me."

"I hope you're not angry. I just want you to do whatever's best for you. Not for me."

"You must be crazy though."


"What makes you think I'm gonna leave you?"

"I just ..."

"Not a chance, Baby."

"I don't mind, Storm. If you need some time away."

"I might need some time away from a few things, Lucas. But you're not one of them." I said with an adoring smile.

"Are you sure?" Lucas asked, a happy and relieved smile passing over his lips.

"I'm sure. No matter what I'm going through. No matter what's happening. I'm doing it beside you for as long as you'll have me. I know you used to be afraid that I wouldn't ever give myself to you, Lucas. That I wouldn't really commit myself. I was scared then. I'm not now. And it's because of you. So no, I'm not going. I want to be with you. I'm in this for the long run. For as long as you want me."

"Oh, Storm." Lucas said with a tear filled laugh as he kissed me anxiously a few times before our foreheads rested against each other. "Thank you."

"No, Lucas. Thank you. You're the one who got me through this. If it wasn't for you, I really might have given up. But you ... thank you."

"I don't think I've ever been happier, Baby. From the first day I saw you, I knew this is what I wanted. I wanted you but you always held back. Now ... finally ... I have you the way I always wanted. And I hope the way you want as well."

"It is, Baby. I never though I'd get here either. I thought I'd always be afraid. You got me in the end, Baby." I said with a smirk. "You got me in the end."

"So you're really gonna stay with me? Here?"

"You stayed behind for me. I have no intention of leaving you. I mean, I kinda like you." I said with an even bigger smirk.

"Oh really?"

"Just a little bit. But don't tell anyone."

"Oh, I won't, Dude. Don't worry, I kinda like you a little bit too."

"Good. Then we both kinda like each other." I said as I laid back and held tighter onto Lucas.

See? I can still make him a little happy. I wish I could say I felt better now. That I didn't feel so drained and tired. But I still did. I still felt ... lost. But I want Lucas to be happy. I don't really care what I want anymore. If there is one thing I want it's just to make everyone happy. Especially Lucas. I'll do whatever he wants me to do. Say whatever I have to. Whatever I have to do to make him happy. That's what I'll do. He comes first.


* * * * * *


"Heya, Snoogums!" Mike said as he greeted Marcel with a hug from behind. "How the hell are ya?"

"Hey, Mike." Marcel said with a relieved smile. "Good to see you."

"You guys have a good trip?"

"Yeah. Well ... kinda. Doesn't matter. I'm happy to see you." Marcel said sincerely as Mike sat down on the table opposite him.

"Me too, Blondie. You feeling ok?"


"I hope you're not still thinking about Dade."

"A little bit."

"Don't. I hate to say it but he slept with Claire. I tried to talk him around but it obviously didn't work."

"I don't care, Mike. It's not like we're together. We're not like you and Sarah. When you guys split up, neither of you looked at anyone else. I guess Dade just ... I don't know. I'm not going to let it get me down."

"You spoken to Sarah yet?"

"No. I was gonna head over tonight."

"Come with me then. I'm heading over now. Stay for dinner. You don't wanna be on your own tonight. Come on."

"I'd love to. That'd be nice."

"So did you get everything done at Drake? Are you going back?"

"I'm not sure. I don't have to decide anytime soon."

"You staying in Merlow?"

"I don't know. I don't really know what I'm going to do."

"Just remember, you're always welcome to stay with me and Sarah. Storm might be coming up for a while. You should come too. I don't know what's happening with Dade but I know you don't want to hang around and watch him make babies with Claire."

"Storm never said anything to me about going with you."

"That's because he didn't know about it until today. It was Lucas' idea. He thinks Storm might need some time away from Merlow."

"For how long?"

"Just till his head screws itself back on."

"I think that might be a good idea. I'm a little worried about him."

"Was he ok on your trip?"

"He was. I think it was good for him to get away but ... he's holding a lot in, Mike. He's still got the anger. He just buries it."

"What happened?"

"He went after the guys who hurt me. They attacked him and he ... he went crazy."

"Good. I hope he hurt them a lot."

"Mike, I'm worried about him. I saw what he had inside. It's still there but it's worse. It's like he was taking out all his anger on them."

"So what? Hell, I would have cheered him on. Those fucks can burn in hell. Good on Storm for kicking their ass."

"He didn't kick their ass, Mike. He broke it. It was scary. I mean, I get angry but ... not like him. His is deep and when he lets it out. I'm just worried that he's holding more in than he should. He'll either explode or implode. Either way it's gonna be bad when it finally does catch up with him. He can't keep running on empty like this. That's why I wanted him to talk to Dade. He can't fight the world. He almost had a go at Scott today."

"What's your point?"

"He would've killed Scott if Scott pushed him a little bit more."

"Marcel, those guys at Drake. They should be in jail. Of course Storm is going to be psycho on them. I would've too. Next time, I'm going with you. They can have a piece of all of us until they realize who they fucked with. People hurt one of us, they fuck with all of us. You'd do the same if somebody hurt Sarah or me."

"I guess. But I'm just worried. You're the grounded one here, Mike. What do you think he should do? How do we help him?"

"I think you're right, Marcel. Storm's holding a lot in. Maybe it's time one of us got it out of him. I suppose I win the coin toss?" Mike asked with a resigned smile.

"Thanks, Mike." Marcel grinned. "It's not that I don't want to. I've tried to help him but he's too busy trying to help me. He respects you. You're probably the only one of us who could confront him about this without him getting all defensive."

"I know, Mate. I'll talk to him."

"Poor you, Mike. Your last weeks here and you seem to be spending your time still cleaning up after everyone else."

"Trust me, I'll miss it when I go." Mike said with a sad smile. "I might as well make the most of it while I'm still here."


* * * * * *


Claire sat in her room, studying for her final exams. She tried to distract herself from thinking about Dade but she couldn't help it. She knew the whole situation was wrong but she wasn't having an easy time letting him go. She found herself falling more and more for him every day. Wishing that he'd fall for her the same way she was starting to fall for him.

"Hey, Sis."

"Jacob!" Claire beamed as her brother burst in her door. "What are you doing here?"

"Mom gave me the car." Jacob said as he kissed Claire hello and flopped himself back on her bed. "Thought I'd come and see my favorite sister."

"I'm your only sister."

"Like I said." Jacob said as he put his hands behind his head and lay back. "So how's my sister doing today?"

"I'm ok. Thanks for coming to see me. How long are you here for?"

"Just an hour or two."

"Dad back yet?"

"Didn't see his car outside. How's everything going with your latest victim?"

"I think it's over between us. I really like him but ... I don't think he likes me the same."

"Want me to lay some smack down on him?"

"I don't think you could. He's a hard nut."

"Don't get me all excited now." Jacob said with a wicked grin.


"Sorry, Sis. So tell me. I have had no luck finding myself a cute, available, gay, super being. I don't suppose that hottie friend of yours is still available?"

"Which one?"

"You mean there's more than one?"

"There's more than one."

"Anyone I know?"

"Storm and Lucas you already know about. I can't tell you the rest. Except for Marcel."

"He's the one I want. Is he available?" Jacob asked eagerly as he propped himself up.


"Can't hurt to call."

"He won't go out with you."

"He wanted to before."

"That was ages ago. You're not his type."

"How do you know?"

"Because I'm going out with `his type'." Claire said with annoyance in her voice. "Ok?"

"You mean Dade?"

"You can't tell anyone. I don't know who is supposed to know or not."

"I won't tell, Sis. Who am I going to tell? I don't know anyone in this fag friendly town."

"You know I hate it when you say that."

"Sorry. But are you serious? Dade? He is one ..." Jacob said as his lips began to curl up in a grin. "Pardon my french but he's absolutely fucking gorge. I could run my tongue along that body all day. That guy is sex on legs."

"Jacob! Don't be so ... crude."

"Sorry, Sis. I just do it to get a rise out of you. You know I think you're the sweetest thing since the Virgin Mary."


"Sorry! It was meant to be a compliment. So have you two ... you know ... fucked around?"

"I am so glad we don't live together. You are so rude." Claire said as she shook her head. "I can't believe we're twins."

"Well, have you?"

"Yes, we have."

"Wow. How was he?" Jacob asked with a mischievous look on his face. "Was he good?"

"I'm not telling you!"

"I always thought you'd wait a bit longer, Sis."

"So did I." Claire said with a disappointed sigh. "It wasn't exactly how I planned. I'm pretty disappointed with myself."

"Don't get down, Claire Baby. You're still an angel to me. Don't let anybody tell you otherwise."

"Thanks, Jacob." Claire said appreciatively.

"Was it good?"


"A guy can dream, can't he? I think I'm gonna get myself transferred to Merlow next semester. You have all the hot boys."

"Trust me, you'd have more luck than I do."

"You think so?"

"With my track record."

"Is it serious with Dade?"

"I don't think so, Jacob. I'd like it to be and I know he likes being with me but ... there's something missing."

"Yeah, a penis."

"Ok, that's it. One more peep out of you and you're outta here."

"I was just suggesting. But you really like him?"

"I do. But everybody loves Dade. He's just one of those guys. Everyone loves him. But I really think he wants Marcel. And I want to be someone's first choice. That's it. That's all I want."

"Maybe you and I should switch schools. You go live with Mom and I'll come live with Dad."

"And have you ruin my good name? I don't think so, Brother. This is my hometown. I love this place. I'm not leaving."

"Why don't you put in a good word for me with Dad? Your school sounds so cool. I can't believe Storm and Lucas came out like that."

"They're not `out'. They just don't care. Nobody will mess with Storm anyway. He'll kick anyone's ass if they push him. I don't think it would be the same for you, Jacob."

"Are you saying I'll stand out? You calling me a queen?"

"I'm calling you obvious. That's what I'm calling you. And you'd be the new guy so all you'd have is me."

"You don't think that'd be enough?"

"Could be. I have friends. It's all politics, Jacob. Who you know. At one end you have Storm. The other end you have Brad. Now Brad's not gay but I'm just using him as an example. He's not real popular at school. If he came out, he'd be crucified. But Storm, he's pretty tough and he has a lot of support. See what I mean?"

"I guess so. Are you saying I'm a loser now?"


"I'm just playing with you, Sis. I wouldn't leave Mom anyway."

"Maybe I should just be a lesbian."

"You can't just `be' a lesbian."

"Yes, I can. I can make myself kiss a girl. I can make myself like it. I might have some better luck."

"You're not a lesbian, Claire."

"I know. But I just have such crap luck with guys. It's not fair."

"I can't complain, I love perving at your boyfriends. That Josh, what a hunk of jock flesh he was."

"I don't believe you. You're just a one track wonder." Claire said as she shook her head.

"Well, you know. Just like you, I've been a virgin so damn long. Everytime I look at a guy now I just wanna go ... pop!"

"You're still a virgin? But you act like such a slut."

"Well thank you, Sister." Jacob smiled, caught off guard by Claire's witty comeback.

"It's the truth. You always talk about sex."

"Because I never get any. Guys at my school are either closet or homophobic. Doesn't do anything for the dating scene. And I'm so not into cruising. I guess deep down I'm just like you. I just want that one nice guy to sweep me off my feet and make me his forever."

"Well, I'm glad you're not into cruising. I wouldn't want to tie you up."

"Maybe Dade would like to?"

"Ok that's it. Go on." Claire said as she started pulling Jacob off her bed. "Get your sex starved attitude outta my room."

"You are such a virgin, Claire."

"Not anymore." Claire said with a sigh as she sat back at her desk. "Not anymore."

"I'm sorry, Sis." Jacob said as he put his hand on her back reassuringly. "Don't feel so bad."

"Why not?"

"Well ... he was good, wasn't he?"

"He was great." Claire blushed. "He was really great."

"Do you regret it?"

"I do. I lasted this long just trying to save myself for that special moment with that special someone. And I just blew it. If he loved me, I wouldn't regret it. I mean, I think I'd have a hard time finding a lover as good as Dade but ... I just he were mine all the way. I don't know, Jacob. I'm disappointed with myself. I feel like I let myself down. But I just ... I was so scared I wouldn't get another chance. I've had such bad luck with guys. I keep thinking I'm going to be some old spinster with a hundred cats when I'm sixty. I didn't want to let him go and then find I never had another chance. It's so depressing. I just want someone to love me. You'd think there'd be someone out there for me by now. I don't expect you to understand. It's a girl thing."

"Hey, I do know a few things about girls."

"Yeah right."

"You two were safe, weren't you?"

"Is that Jacob I hear? My brother? Being sensible? Protective even?"

"Well? Were you?"

"Of course we were."

"I don't want you getting knocked up on your first bat."

"I don't believe you sometimes. You're just too crude for words. I hope you don't talk like this in front of Mom."

"Hey, I'm just doing my job. I'm still your brother. I won't have any guy, no matter how good looking or great in bed he is, taking advantage of my baby sister. You're too good for that, Claire."

"You think so?"

"Don't be stupid. Of course I think so. Any guy would be lucky to have you."

"You're my brother, you have to say that."

"Good point. But unfortunately, it's actually true as well." Jacob said with a wry grin. "So is Dade taking you to the ball?"

"So far he is."

"Not if he's in love with someone else. We're going to find you a new date."

"I'm dating Dade though."

"Yeah, but is he dating you? I'd like to give him a piece of my mind."

"Leave it alone, Jacob. I can take care of myself."

"He's right, Claire." Dade said with a feigned smile as he entered the room and leaned back against the closed door.

"You two just break up right now." Jacob said vehemently. "And make it quick, I gotta get back to White Swan and do my biology before I go to sleep."

"Jacob, we don't want to hear about your nightly activities." Claire said as she shook her head.

"I was being serious! I have homework. I need to study. Dade, you don't love my sister. I want you two to break up right now before you screw her again. She's not here to give you a free ride."

"Jacob!" Claire said with a red face of embarrassment.

"He's right, Claire. I shouldn't have let myself sleep with you. But can you blame me? You just make me so ..."

"I thought you were gay?" Jacob asked in confusion.


"Aren't you hot for Marcel?"

"You told him?" Dade asked Claire curiously.

"Sorry." Claire said meekly.

"I don't care." Dade shrugged. "Forget about it."

"Dade's like you, Jacob. He's horny. Only he likes girls as well as guys."

"Lucky guy. Best of both worlds. But anyway. Dade, are you with my sister or not?"

"Of course I am."

"Excellent." Jacob said with a smile as he stood up. "Guess that means Marcel is free then. You two do what boys and girls do and I'm going to go and see if I can't ask me out a babe. Wish me luck."

"No!" Dade said suddenly as he shot out his hand to stop Jacob from leaving. "He's uhh not home."

"You sure?"

"He's at Sarah's."

"Damn. Claire, do you think he'd mind if I called him?"

"Uhh ..." Claire scratched her head as she tried to absorb what was happening. "Dade? What's happening here? Either you're going to go after Marcel or my brother is. Who's it going to be? Me or him?"

"Shit." Dade said with a sigh. "021 555 1701. That's his mobile number, Jacob. Good luck."

"Thanks, Dade. You're a legend." Jacob said with a wink before he left the room.

"Why'd you do that, Dade?" Claire asked curiously. "Why'd you give him Marcel's phone number?"

"I told you I wouldn't leave you, Claire." Dade said with a feigned smile. "I try to keep my promises."

"We shouldn't have slept together, Dade. I'm not blaming it on the alcohol. I'm not blaming it on you or us being caught in the mood. I'm blaming it on me. I feel so disgusted with myself because you don't love me and I promised myself I'd wait for someone who did."

"I do care about you, Claire. Just gimmie time. I didn't think it would be like this. I thought I'd be over him. But I talked to him, it's over."

"So good old Claire is the back up again. No. I might be desperate but even I have my limits. Go."


"Don't you have karate?"


"So go."

"I don't want to leave you like this."

"I don't blame you, Dade. I blame me for letting you get the best of me when you clearly don't deserve or want it. I'm sorry you have your problems with Marcel but I'm not going to be your reserve player. Just go. I'm fucking turning lesbian."

"Did you just swear?"

"Now, Dade! Get out. Just leave me alone. You made me feel so cheap when you sleep with me and you're still looking at him." Claire said with tears in her eyes. "You don't know what it meant to me to be with you like that. It meant everything to me. I didn't want to just give it to anyone. I'll never get that moment back. For you, it'll always be that free ride you got with Claire. It'll never mean anything to you. But I'll never be able to forget it."

"Claire ..." Dade said with mournful tears in his eyes. "I do care about you. I hate seeing you hurt like this. Just give me a chance. I'll make it so that you don't regret it. Just give us more time. I can make you happy."

"But can I make you happy?" Claire said with a somber face. "I don't think so. Please, Dade. I can't take much more of this. Will you please go?"

"I'm sorry, Claire. I swear, I never wanted to hurt you. I'm so sorry. And you weren't just a free ride. You're more than that. Please don't hate yourself for this. If you have to hate someone, hate me."

"Go, Dade. Please."

"Ok." Dade said feeling rather ashamed of himself as he headed for the door. "I'm sorry."

"So am I, Dade." Claire said with a sigh. "So am I."


* * * * * *


Marcel pulled into his driveway, having just come back from Sarah's house. He arrived back to find a car parked in his driveway. The car looked familiar but he couldn't quite place it. He knew it wouldn't be his parents. And it wasn't one of his usual visitors.

He walked past the car and up to his front door to find Claire leaning against it. She wasn't really someone he was expecting but he could see she'd been crying. No matter what was going on with her and Dade, Marcel had always liked Claire. From the day she set foot in Merlow. And he didn't like seeing her like this.

"Claire? Are you ok?" Marcel asked with concern as he opened his front door and helped her inside.

"I'm sorry to show up like this, Marcel. I know I'm probably the last person you want to see. But you're the only person I could think of. I didn't want to go to Sarah's like this. And I wanted to talk to you. I've always admired you, Marcel. I trust you."

"What is it, Claire? What's wrong?"

"Is it ok for me to be here? Do you mind?"

"Of course I don't mind. We're friends. What's wrong?"

"Do you still love him? Do you still love Dade?"

"Why are you asking me this?"

"I let him go. So that he'd come back to you." Claire sobbed, choking on her words as she spoke. "He's not mine, Marcel."

"Oh, Claire. You didn't have to do that. I wasn't going to interfere."

"It wouldn't have mattered. He still loves you."

"Are you gonna be ok?"

"I did something really bad." Claire sobbed as Marcel wrapped his arms around her. "And I don't know who to talk to about it. That's why I came here. I know I shouldn't have but I didn't know what else to do."

"Hey, you can come here anytime. Don't feel bad. I'm your friend too. What did you do?"

"I slept with him, Marcel. I slept with Dade."

"I know. I already know."

"But it was my first time." Claire cried profusely. "And I feel so bad. I shouldn't have done it. Now I just feel used and cheap. But I know it was my fault. I just feel so bad. I don't know what to do to make myself feel better. He doesn't love me. I promised myself I'd wait for someone who did. And I waited so long and now it's gone. It meant so much to me, Marcel. Now I just feel like some cheap whore. Why'd I do something so stupid?"

"Hey." Marcel said feeling a little teary eyed himself as he could see how distressed Claire was. "Don't ever say that about yourself. Ever. One night doesn't change who you are. You're still a princess. I kind of know what you're going through, Claire. Feeling ashamed about something you can't change. Something happened to me that made me feel the way you do. Ashamed, cheap, worthless."

"Is this what Sarah was talking about? What happened to you?"

"You won't tell anyone will you?"

"Of course not. You can trust me."

"The rest of the pack know. The only one who doesn't is Dade. I'm not telling you this because I want you to feel sorry for me. I'm just telling you this so you know that it's not the end of the world. It'll be ok."

"What happened?"

"Uhh ... at Drake ... some guys ... hurt me the way people shouldn't be hurt. The way that can take away someone's innocence. Do you know what I mean?"

Claire just sat there staring wide eyed at Marcel in disbelief. Her face had a look of utter horror as she realized what Marcel meant. She couldn't believe it. Suddenly, everything she felt just seemed insignificant. And everything with Dade and Marcel seemed to make a little more sense. But still, she couldn't get over the sheer shock of what Marcel had told her.

"You mean they ..."

"Yeah." Marcel said as he pulled up his shorts to show her his scar. "And this."

"Oh my god, Marcel." Claire said with a rush of tears as she kissed Marcel's cheek and held onto him. "I'm so sorry. If I had of known, I ... I'm so sorry."

"You don't have anything to be sorry about. The only reason I told you is because I wanted you to know that it's not the end of the world. You can still find that person. And the next time can still be special. You're not some cheap whore and don't ever let me hear you say that again. You're a good person, Claire. It'll be ok."

"Don't worry about me. I don't even care what I was just feeling sad about. It's nothing compared to what you've been through. I had no idea. I'm so sorry for coming over like this."

"Don't be sorry, Claire. I've always liked you. You were a good friend to me before I went to Drake. I never hear anyone say anything bad about you. You're a special person. You'll find that guy. I'm positive you will."

"Is that why you pushed Dade away? Because you weren't ready then?"

"Something like that."

"Are you ready now?"

"I don't know."

"But you still love him?"

"Quite a bit." Marcel said with a half smile. "But when I saw you two at the party ..."

"I'm so sorry, Marcel. I had no idea."

"It's ok. Dade doesn't know what happened. I wasn't going to tell him. I think I would've just left without telling him."

"You're leaving again?"

"I'm still thinking about it."

"I know he still loves you, Marcel. If he didn't, I would've held onto him. He's not meant for me. Maybe you could tell him now that he's free."

"No ... I don't think so. Dade and I have never really had a chance to be together. I've always been gone or something else has messed us up. But we've never really had a clear run. This latest thing with you, it just makes me wonder whether it's just not meant to be. I don't know if I'm ready to be with him the way he wants me."

"If you told him, he'd understand. He wouldn't push you. If you don't do it for yourself, then do it for the next person who falls for him. Because he'll still spend his time pining over you."

"You didn't come here to talk about me, Claire."

"It's weird but I feel a lot better than when I first got here. Thank you." Claire said sincerely as she rested herself in Marcel's still tight embrace. "You're so strong. I don't know how you do it. I can see why Dade loves you so much. There's a lot to admire about you. I hope it works out."

"For you too."

"Well, I should probably leave you. I ... hope I didn't make you feel uncomfortable."

"You didn't. You think you'll be ok?"

"I think I will be. Definitely. Thanks for setting me right. I hope you and Dade give it a shot. It'd be nice to see you both happy."

"That's why everyone loves you, Claire." Marcel said with a warm smile as he helped her to her feet. "Always thinking of others."

"I'll be thinking about you tonight, Marcel. I really hope you get something good soon. I'll see you tomorrow, ok?"

"You will, Claire. You will."


* * * * * *


"Welcome, Class. Shizukani shite kudasai." Sensei Takada spoke as he stood at the front of the training room. "As some of you may already know, Marty Lee will be out of action for a little while. Wendell will be taking his place to help train those of you who were working with him. The rest of the classes will be as per usual. If you need any help, you can speak to Storm or myself. A reminder that prize giving is coming up. It has been a great year and I am very pleased with all of your progress. However, we all know that the big one is just around the corner. The Regionals are coming up and we have compiled our list of potential entrants. We will have entrants in every division and those of you competing already know who you are. We will let you know what dates you compete on at our next training session. For the main division, the Under 19 Open Championships, of course, Storm will be there to defend his title on behalf of the dojo. And we will be entering three other qualifying candidates for the main competition. Marty Lee will be entered providing he is one hundred percent fit. Wendell will also be competing and our final entrant is Dade. We will have a copy of the draw and the dates for the qualifying rounds at our next training session. Congratulations and good luck to those of you competing. Let us begin."

Even I didn't know the list yet. I knew Dade was doing well but I didn't realize Sensei was considering him. I guess that's my own ignorance. He's not a kid anymore. I'm not sure whether I really care about the regionals anyway. I don't have the fight in me that I used to. I had almost forgotten about the regionals. If I had of remembered, I probably would have dropped out by now.

I took my usual spot at the front and began leading the opening kata. My mind zoned out, I've been doing this so long that it just comes without me even thinking now. I would have rather taken the juniors today but I was stuck with the senior class and would be until regionals were over at the same time as our end of year. Comes with being the best, I suppose. I guess this is something I should be proud of. Something to lift my spirits. It didn't. I'm just going through the motions. I haven't seen Dade around but I know he's here. I've been avoiding him all day but it's time I did what I'm supposed to do. Not for me, but for Marcel. I could see that Dade was helping Wendell with the juniors. He looked in my direction every so often but thankfully they were in a separate room so our eyes rarely made contact.

Thankfully, training passed by pretty swiftly, even though I was filled with a sense of anxiety at having to speak to Dade. As time passed though and training drew close to an end, I started getting cold feet. I made sure that to let my class go before Wendell let his go, as I wasn't so keen on speaking to Dade after all. Scared, you could say. Go figure? He just intimidates the hell out of me now. I'm not the man I used to be. A dissipated Storm? Is that what I am now?

As soon as training was over, I headed straight to the showers. I didn't waste any time in washing myself down. I felt so tense inside, so anxious. I just wanted to get out of there. So I did. I avoided any questions from the other students, which was pretty sad of me to be honest. I made sure I finished changing before Wendell let his class out. I just wanted to high tail it.

I just about made it too before Sensei Takada pulled me aside on my way out. I can avoid students, but I can't avoid him. I have too much respect for the relationship we've built over the last ten years of my life. I have too much respect for him.

"Sensei." I said with a dutiful nod. "Is something wrong?"

"I have been watching you since your mother died. You seem distracted. I can understand why. Are you handling things ok, Daniel? Do you need some time off?"

"No, Sensei. I'm sorry if I've been distracted. It won't happen again."

"This is not a test, Daniel. I am not grading you on your performance. However, you are the senior student here and the others look to you for guidance. If you need a break, I can manage. No one expects you to carry on as if nothing happened. I know how much your mother meant to you. Are you certain you wish to compete in the regionals this year?"

"Yes, Sensei. I'll compete. I don't need a break. I just ... have some ... things on my mind. But I will sort them out and make sure I'm performing my duties adequately."

"I am here if you need anything, Daniel. Your mother would be very proud of you. Do not forget that. You are very worthy of your achievements." Sensei said with a smile as he patted my shoulder. "See you on Wednesday."

"Yes, Sensei."

"Ja mate ne."

"Ja mata." I said with a nod as he left me to carry on.

Great one, Storm. Now you've even got him worrying about you. Stupid, stupid, stupid. I shook my head in disappointment at myself as I headed out to the car. I think inside myself, I knew he was right. Maybe I did need a break. Some time away. I'm not doing anyone else any favors right now.  But I don't want to leave Lucas.

I let out a deep sigh as I leaned my head against the windscreen of my jeep. I don't know what to do. I feel like letting go but there are so many people who depend on me. People I don't want to let down. Lucas. Mike. Sarah. Marcel. Even Sensei. People at school. The council. Karate. I don't know what I'm going to do.

"Storm? You ok?"

And oh shit. There he is. My baby brother. I knew he'd catch me. And once again when he catches me, I just seem devoid of energy. I'm not up to this shit anymore.

"Leave me alone, Dade." I said as I threw my gym bag in the back seat and hopped in.

"Uhh, could you give me a ride home? Please?" Dade asked pleadingly.

I let out another sigh as I rested my head against the steering wheel. I can't say no to giving him a ride home. I had a feeling it was some kind of ploy. Like he was forcing us to be in the same proximity. But what can I say? I can't say no and make him walk.

"Ok, Dade. Jump in." I said finally, taking a deep breath to try and psyche myself up.

"Thanks, Storm." Dade said with a smile as he threw his own bag in the back seat and jumped in the front.


First time we've spoken since Sarah's party and it's as if nothing happened. I didn't want to talk about it and he didn't seem to be mentioning it. We were just being civil. That was just fine with me. As long as we minimized the chit chat and I got him home as quickly as possible, we'd be fine. I didn't say a word as I pulled out of the parking lot. We drove along in silence, my stomach pulling the kind of knots it did before I went into hospital. Which was not a good thing to be honest, as it kinda hurt. That's the last thing I need. A fucking relapse. Stress. What a bitch it is. Or maybe I did hurt myself up at Drake after all.

"Storm? You ok?" Dade asked with concern.

Damn him and our stupid connection. I would've thought that shit went out the window along with our relationship. The last thing I need is him acting concerned about me. I just want him away from me so I don't have to feel so nervous and anxious.

"I'm fine, Dade. I'd rather not talk." I said flatly.

"Do you think we could, Storm? Maybe we could go get some dinner before you take me home?" Dade asked rather anxiously as he knew the last turn into our street was coming up pretty soon. "I'm buying."

"I don't want to talk, Dade. I just want to take you home. We're almost there."

"Please?" Dade asked with those damn pleading eyes again.

He's doing it again. Giving me the whole little brother routine. He knows I'll fall for it. I wonder if he does it intentionally or whether it just comes to him.

"Please, Storm?" He asks again, this time with a hint of desperation thrown in.

Bastard. I don't know how he does it. But I won't give in to him all the way. He wants to talk? Ok. We'll talk. But we're not eating. And we're not going anywhere else.

"No." I said flatly. "I'm not hungry. But we'll talk."

"Thank you, Storm." Dade said with a semi sad smile.

I pulled over to the side of the road just across the street from our house. I looked at it for a moment and saw my whole life flash before me. I can't describe the feeling. Halfway between happy and sad. Both at the same time. Melancholy? Not quite. But it was enough to get me watery eyed. And that's it. I don't like to let myself cry that much anymore. Not since Mom died.

"I wanted to talk to you anyway, Dade. But I guess I got cold feet." I said with a sigh. "But you caught me so maybe that's a good thing."

"I think it is, Storm. I've been wanting to speak to you ever since you got back but I didn't know what to say or how to say I was so sorry for what I did. For hitting you. For saying those things. I really am, Storm."

"It's not important, Dade. I didn't want to talk to you about us." I said as I turned on the ignition again and began driving along.

"Where are we going?" Dade asked in surprise. "Are we gonna get something to eat now?"

"No. The reason I wanted to speak to you was about Marcel."


"I don't want to fight with you anymore, Dade."

"Neither do I, Storm." Dade said with frustration in his voice. "I hate that we're fighting like this."

"In case you don't remember, Dade. You were the one doing most of the fighting. But I understand why. I don't want us to fight over Marcel. I just hate seeing him hurt. You have no idea what he's been through, Dade. And that's why I wanted to talk to you."

"Why, Storm?"

"Dade, you're the only one that makes Marcel smile. He needs you. I don't know what's going on with you and Claire but for your sake ... for Marcel's, I hope it's over. Because that's where I'm taking you."

"I don't understand, Storm."

"Dade, something happened to Marcel. He won't tell you. And he may very well hate me for this but I'm going to tell you." I said as we pulled up at the end of Marcel's driveway, where I killed the ignition. "And then you're going to get out of this car. You're going to go up to that house and knock on the door. And you're going to tell him how you feel. You're going to tell him that you don't care what happened. That it doesn't change the way you think about him. You're going to tell him that you won't let him go away this time. That you're going to stand by him and take care of him and give him everything he needs. You're going to tell him that it's finally time for the two of you to give it a go. Just ... give it a go. Ok?"

"Why are you doing this, Storm?" Dade asked with tears in his eyes. "I thought you hated me."

"Dade, I want you to know something. You spent so much time thinking that I held you back. Thinking that you were in my shadow. Did you ever once think that maybe, just maybe, it was the other way around?"

"What do you mean, Storm?"

"You're better than you've given yourself credit for, Dade. You really are. Now, I hope Marcel doesn't hate me but at the end of the day, I don't really care. Not if it means you make him smile again. Do you think you can do that, Dade?"

"This isn't like you, Storm. You're really going to tell me? I don't think you should. I mean, I know how much you value your integrity. Your loyalty to him."

"Don't make this any harder for me than it already is, Dade. I'm not an idiot. I know Marcel is never going to trust me the same again. He might understand why I did it, but he'll still feel betrayed. You just have to make sure that you make this worth it. Ok?"

"Ok, Storm."

"When Marcel came back, he had a limp. Did you notice?"


"About a month before he came back. He was stabbed."


"Yeah. That's what I said when he told me. Just let me finish. Marcel was raped and then they stabbed him to make sure he wouldn't run again. That he wouldn't be able to train. They took away his innocence and then they took away his dreams. That's why he doesn't smile so much anymore, Dade." I said with tears in my eyes. "He was too ashamed to tell us. It was Mom who got it out of him first. Before she died. That's why he pushed you away. He's still hurting, Dade. He wasn't ready for anything physical but he couldn't tell you because he was too ashamed and scared of what you'd think of him. Do you understand now?"

Both Dade and I were crying. Dade from learning the horrible truth about Marcel and what happened to him. And me from sheer, overwhelming guilt. I've betrayed my best friend. Told something I promised I wouldn't. I feel so disgusted with myself that it hurts again. This stress is starting to get to me. I don't know what Marcel is going to do when he finds out I told Dade, but I hope they find each other again because of this. I know Dade won't leave Marcel's side now. He'll be there for him, even if Marcel fights it at first.

"Ahh fuck." I cringed as I felt my stomach tightening up again.


"Go." I said urgently. "Go be with him. There's no reason now. No reason you two shouldn't be together. Look after him, Dade."

"Storm, I don't know how to thank you." Dade said as tears streamed down his face.

"Don't. Your ride's over now. Go on."

"What about us, Storm? You need me too. Don't you?"

"Dade. I told you. I didn't come here to talk about us. Don't waste your time. You just get up there and talk your ass off to make him be with you."

"Thank you, Storm. Are you gonna be ok?" Dade asked with genuine concern in his eyes.

"Don't worry about me, Dade. I'll be fine. You look after yourself, ok?" I said with a small smile as I revved up the ignition again. "And you look after him. Good luck.  I hope it all works out for you."


* * * * * *

* To Be Continued *

Storm's Passing / End of An Era / GoodBye

Well that was another biggie.  Storm's running on empty in more ways than one.  The second part will see some resolution to a lot of what's been going on lately before we say 'GoodBye' to some of our favorite characters in SF36

A lot happened in this chapter.  We see more of Carl.  And he shows even more that he's really just a fun nice guy.  Marty Lee's moved in with Storm and Lucas for the time being and he seems genuine in trying to make things better for everyone.  Mike is his usual self, grounded and the center of the pack.

Brad and Josh's friendship is building and hopefully some better times are ahead for our reformed bully.  Josh seems quite happy with Brad and vice versa.

Dade is having a hard time trying to get everything back on track for his relationships with both Marcel, Storm and Claire.  Sleeping with Claire was probably not the best move for either of them.   Claire's trouble with men has probably reached a head and she's definitely in need of some serious affection from perhaps a certain someone.  Her talking to Marcel shows just how much her bad run with men has affected her but as usual, Marcel shows some form and pretty much comes to her rescue.  As he usually does.

No real headway for Dade as far as Storm goes.  They talked at least but didn't really settle anything between them.  No doubt that will come in the next chapter as well as finding out how Marcel will react to both Dade knowing and Storm telling Dade his secret.  He seems nothing but frustrated of late and hopefully we'll see a return to the Dade you all love if he manages to work things out with both Marcel and Storm.

Storm is back in force in this chapter.  He's running on empty and doesn't seem to be handling things very well but he's doing his best.  It's obvious that he really depends on Lucas and isn't prepared to give him up, even if everyone else thinks he should get away for a while.   He has a lot going on in his head and we still don't know everything that happened during his trip to Drake.  Not to mention the fact that Scott seems to have a hit list on some of our pack members.  Storm also made a bit of a sacrifice in telling Dade what happened to Marcel in the hope that it would reunite them. 

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