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

SF36a: End Of ...

* * * * * *


I woke up with a headache and my stomach giving me shit, but apart from that I felt ... better. Pretty drained emotionally but still better. It felt good to be back. I still felt really tired, but this tired was a good tired. I had a feeling I'd have to get myself checked out pretty soon by Dr. Haslan, but I'm sure I'd be fine for a little while at least. I learnt my lesson last time. It's not good to try and be a hero. I don't want to kill myself when I've just decided I want a hell of a lot more from life.

It was really good to wake up in my old room. I really miss this room. Miss this house. I'm not hiding anymore. Hiding from my grief. Keeping everything in. Letting myself die a little more inside each day. I miss my old life so much. Miss Mom. But I can't change the past. Only the future. She wouldn't want me to do this to myself. It's not my fault she died. Not my fault we didn't get to say goodbye. I hope she knew how much I loved her. I think she did.

I don't have to hide from this place anymore. This is still my home. It always will be. And maybe I'll even smile now when I think about it. Instead of cry or hurt. I'm sure in some way it'll always hurt. Just for the fact that it's gone, that I can't have the life I used to. But I still have my life and my future. And that's what she gave me. So as long as I'm alive, she will be too. I'm half of her after all. That's actually a pretty comforting thought. Kinda makes me smile. Took long enough, but I think I'm gonna be ok. I really think so.

The last thing I remember before I went to sleep was Sarah holding me. Man, I love that chick. I'm one of the luckiest guys in the world to have these five people who care about me so much. What did I ever do to deserve all of them? Just one more thing to make me smile. I still have a lot to be grateful for.

The room is dark. The house quiet. I have a feeling that it's probably maybe one or two in the morning. I had a nice sleep. A good rest. Nice dreams for once. I hope my nightmare is finally over. I hope I've seen everything that terrible dream foretold. I like to think I've come through the worst of it all now. I like to think that things are going to start getting better. Part of me still fears that perhaps I'll still end up alone. But in a way I have been alone lately. That's mostly from my own doing. I just hope that my trial's over and the good stuff is about to come.

I can feel arms wrapped securely around me. But they're not Lucas'. And they're not Sarah's. Surprised, I turn, half expecting to see Mike's face in the moonlight. He was always good at looking after me. But it's not him. It's Dade. I try not to let out a small laugh. My little brother. He is still my little brother. So we're not real blood. I don't care. It hurts to think of him that way. To know that he isn't ... that he isn't everything I am. But it won't change the way I feel about him. It can't. I should know more than anyone, family is more than just blood. It's life.

He's sleeping so soundly that I don't want to wake him. Still, the bastard in me can't help it. With a somewhat evil pinch to his ribs, he stirs with a cringe.

"Storm?" He asks groggily as he opens his eyes with a scowl on his face. "What'd you do that for?"

"You're a bit old now to be sleeping with me, Little brother."

"I wanted to be here when you woke up. Didn't want to risk you taking off on me again. I don't want you leaving my sight until I know we're ok. Are you feeling better now, Storm?"

"Yeah, I'm feeling a little better. Still tired but ... better."

"Your ulcer's playing up again isn't it?"

"Yeah. I guess I've been bottling up the stress a lot lately. And my little trip up with Marcel didn't help things either. I'm a good fighter, Dade. But I'm not infallible. They scored a few good hits on me in the old midsection. Don't think it helped any."

"You're not going to do what you did before, are you? Wait till you're almost dead before you tell anyone? I'll come with you tomorrow to see Dr. Haslan. Just to be safe."

"Thanks for staying with me." I said with a warm smile. "It was nice to wake up and see you here. I've missed you. I'm sorry for the way I've been lately, Dade. I haven't been very good to you lately."

"I go a little nuts when my big bro isn't around to keep me in line. And then you try to say you don't care but you still clean up my messes for me. I don't want us to fall apart again, Storm. I don't want to be in the same hallway as you and still miss you as though you're a thousand miles away. Now Mom's gone, I don't want to lose you too. We gotta look after each other."

"Once were three, now there's two. Just me and you. And everyone else, but you know what I mean."

"I know, Storm. So do you forgive me for ... man ... I still can't believe I did that." Dade said with a mournful sigh. "I'm so sorry I attacked you like that. If it makes you feel better, I was a wreck afterwards."

"I saw you with Josh. That was scary, Dade. I've never been scared of you before. But I was then. You're not so little anymore. And just like Sensei seems to notice, you're a bit of a force to be reckoned with. In my state of mind then, you could've whipped my ass."

"Next training, you can throw in a few punches so we're even."

"Yeah, I probably could. But I wouldn't wanna hurt you. Because you do know, I will whip your ass. And just for the record, you ever speak to or hit me like that again, I will hurt you. Comprende?" I say with a smirk.

"That's more like my Storm." Dade said with wide eyes. "I was wondering where you'd got to."

"Now get the fuck off my bed. Don't you know the only other person I sleep with is Mike. Sleeping with you, now that's just weird. We're too old now."

"Ok." Dade said with a grin as he hopped up with a happy yawn. "Didn't hear you complaining though."

"Get out ya little freak."

"It's so good to have you back, Bro." Dade said with a mischievous grin. "Are you sure we're cool though?"

"I think so, Dade." I said as I stood up and stretched my arms. "I think we're gonna be ok."

"We're a team again right? You and me?"

"Well ..."

"Come on, Storm." Dade said with a frown and his trademark eyebrow. "We're cool, aren't we?"

"Do you think we are?"

"I want us to be."

"Then let's start by being honest with each other. Where do we stand with each other? Where do we stand now that Mom's gone, I've left home and well your little secret's out?"

"Uhh well ... what do you think, Storm?"

"Let's be real here, Dade. I don't want us having these underlying feelings towards each other. I don't want you resenting me or hating me behind my back. If you want us to be close, then it's gotta stop ok? That's one reason I love Lucas so much. No matter what, no matter what's happened between us or what's going on, I can trust him not to talk shit about me behind my back. I can trust him to love me. That's what I want from you. And I hope that's what you want from me. Love without loyalty or trust, Dade, in any sense just doesn't work. I want you to be straight up with me. If you're angry at me, then tell me. Don't go behind my back again. And not with that fucking freak, Marty Lee. That really hurt me, Dade. But you and I both know there was more than that." I said with a somber look on my face. "I'll always love you. You know that. But I won't trust you again unless you give me a reason to. I'm sorry, but that's how it's gotta be. If you want us to be a team, we're a team all the way. No more secrets, no more hating me behind my back, no more moving against me because you resent me. I think the world of you Dade but I've gotta start looking after myself now as well. You know how I am, Dade. Once bitten, twice shy. But with you I always come back for more. You just about lost me then. It wasn't all your fault, Dade. It was me too. But even if Mom hadn't died, you and I would still have had issues."

"Ok, Storm." Dade said with a somber face. "At least you're talking to me now. And I'm still glad you're feeling better. There's so much I want to say but since we're being honest with each other there's two things I need to know from you first."

"Is this conversation going to end with you slugging me again?"

"No, Storm. And besides, you'd whip my ass."

"You're right. Carry on."

"Do you still blame me for Mom's death?" Dade asked with a dead serious face. "I know what you said in the letter but I want you to say it to my face."

His frankness probably caught me off guard as much as mine did to him. I could feel the tension rising between us again but at least now I knew I wasn't just brushing him off. I was actually dealing with what was going on between us. Whatever issues I thought we had.

He'd asked the question of me and now it was time for me to answer. I didn't answer him right away. I just stared at him for a while. Studying his face, giving myself time to answer honestly and thoughtfully.

"Dade." I said surprising him as I took his hand and held it. "I'll look you in the eye right now. You can feel my hand isn't shaking. I'm not lying to you when I say this. I don't blame you for Mom's death. More than that though, I don't think you should blame yourself anymore either."

"But you don't ..."

"Dade." I said flatly, cutting him off. "I know you've been carrying as much as I've been. Probably more. Just like me, you have to let it go eventually. All of this shit you've been dealing with. You and I have never actually talked about it. I don't blame you, Dade. There's something I want to add to that but I get the impression you want to ask me something else as well. So ask me."

"Do you still love me? Am I ... still ... your brother? There's no point in us carrying on this conversation if you don't love me the same. The only thing I want is to be your brother. I want you in my life. If you don't think of me the same ... I don't want to waste my time being anything less. I have to know, Storm. Just be honest with me, please. Am I still your little bro?" Dade asked in such a quiet voice that my heart broke right there, he seemed so afraid.

"Dade ... I'm not saying this to make you feel better. I'm not just saying this to say the right thing. I'm saying this because it is the right thing. And it's how I feel. You have been in my life for as long as I can remember anything. The worst thing to ever happen to me was Mom dying. And then you and I ... we were already drifting. There was already broken trust there. And I have to tell you honestly, when I found out about you ... when you told me, I just shut down. I couldn't deal with it. And for that, I'm sorry. Like I said, I haven't been a very good brother to you lately."

"I haven't either, Storm."

"When I found out, Dade. I can't explain it. I can't imagine what it must have been like for you when you found out. I couldn't deal with it. Not after everything that had happened. I must have made you feel like shit. I'm sorry. I still hate it, Dade. I really hate it. I felt like ... we're not as connected as we used to be. Like this bond we have is just ... bullshit. Like it was all a lie."

"If you're trying to make me feel better, Storm." Dade said as silent tears streamed down his face. "It's really not working."

"I felt ... lonely. Like hey, we'll take your Mom away and now let's take your brother too. You're on your own, Buddy! That's how I felt. Like I was alone. I don't like that feeling. Listen, Dade, I say this so much but you still don't seem to get the message. I've always believed that you could be anything you wanted. I believe you're the best of us. Of you and I. You still have no idea how I feel."

"Don't say that, Storm. I hate it when you say things like that. I'm not better than you. Stop saying that. It pisses me off. I know what you're thinking ok. You think I don't need you anymore. You think I've outlived you. And you think knowing that I'm not your real brother, you won't be tied to me the way you were. That I won't have to listen to you. That we don't have to be brothers anymore. I know how you think, Storm. Just as well as you know me."

"Wow. I didn't even have to say it."

"I'll always need you, Storm. And you think that because of this, I don't have to listen to you anymore. Or I don' t have to be with you. Or we're not special anymore. That we're not family. Well that's a hell no and a negative to all of the above. If I didn't need you, Storm, do you think I'd be so stir crazy trying to work things out?"

"I still think you're too good for me sometimes." I say with melancholy eyes as I ruffle his hair playfully. "That one day you won't really need me after all. Especially now when we're not as tied as we used to be."

"I know you do, Storm. It's a funny thing, I think the same about you. I think you won't want me anymore. That I'm some bastard of the worst kind. Some freak you don't need in your life. You and I know what each other thinks. We both think the other is the best thing in the world. Why do you think that is, Storm? We must be brothers or something, don't you think?"

"I think if you weren't my brother, I would've pushed you off that bridge. Damn near killed myself trying to save your ass."

"Then it's a good thing I am your brother." Dade said with a smile. "And I'm so proud that I am."

"I was scared, Dade. When you told me. I was really scared. I really thought I'd lost you. Things were already bad between us. I didn't think we'd recover."

"Can you come home, please? Or at least come over a little more often?"

"Sure, Dade. I'm going away with Sarah for a little while though."

"Whatever's best for you, Storm. I miss you like crazy though. You don't know how hard it's been adjusting to not having you down the passage from me. I can't knock on your door in the middle of the night. Can't share a hot chocolate. Can't tease you. It's really depressing without you here. And you'd probably still be here if it wasn't for me. Man, I've been such a jerk lately."

"Both of us haven't been ourselves lately, Dade."

"That's what happens when you and I fall out with each other. You get depressed and I turn into a devil. I don't want it to happen again."

"Let's just see how we go. I hope things work out for us. How's everything going with the other man in your life?"

"Slowly. Slowly. Small steps."

"Be careful with him, Dade. None of us really know how long it'll take for him to get through this. But if anyone can help him out, you can."

"Thank goodness Lucas came to Merlow." Dade said with a mischievous grin. "Otherwise I might be fighting you for Marcel. Wouldn't that have been weird?"

"It would've. Me and Marcel? Could've worked. In another lifetime. I think it all worked out for the best though. I'm quite happy with my Dude boy. Is he here?"

"Downstairs. Asleep on the couch."


"I really want you to know, Storm. And I need you to believe me. As scared as you were about losing me, you have no idea how scared I was. How scared I still am. I can't lose you, Bro. I need you." Dade said with sad, watery eyes. "You'll always be my big brother, no matter what you think of me."

"Of course I will be." I said with a few tears in my own eyes as I raised Dade's chin with my hand. "You'll always be my baby bro. Nobody can take that away from me. Not even you."

"I know I've been acting weird lately. And I seem like some clingy little baby." Dade said with honest tears coming down his cheek. "But with Mom gone. And you leaving home. And then you finding out about me. I didn't know what you were gonna think of me anymore. Didn't know whether you still thought of me as your brother. I'm so scared I'm gonna lose you. So if I'm a little emotional or a little clingy, bear with me ok? I still have my own little demons."

His eyes betrayed his sad smile. He was doing his best not to cry. But I've never seen his eyes so sad. Or maybe I have but it still didn't make me feel any better. This is my cue. I knew he was looking at me, hoping I'd give him the big brother reassurance. There was a time when I'd just drop everything to make him feel better. The sad thing is, I had to think before I decided whether or not to even give him a hug. Not because I hated him. I don't. I love him. But it still doesn't change the fact that a lot has happened between us. That things have changed. Still, he is my little brother.

"Come here." I say with a smile as I motion for him to give me a hug.

And so probably for the first time since we buried Mom, I hugged him. I held him the way I used to. I had no idea how much I needed this. Just as much as he did. I couldn't stop myself from crying. It was like a release. And it was the same for Dade. The moment I wrapped my arms around him he started bawling. I almost laughed, it was like old times. He'd wipe his nose on my shirt and make a big old mess of tears on my shoulder. But still, that's what big brothers are for, aren't they?

We held each other like that for such a long time. Even after the tears had long subsided. Neither of us saying anything. I needed this. I still need him. And I know now he needs me just as much.

"Thanks, Storm." Dade said with a sigh, not making any attempt to move his head from my shoulder. "You're still my hero."

"We'll be ok, Dade. We'll take care of each other."


"I promise."


* * * * * *


I stood at the doorway of Dade's room, watching him sleep. I still felt pretty emotional right now. It's weird, you know. I've always been protective of Dade. Even when I'm angry at him, I still hate seeing him hurt. That's why I told him about Marcel. I did it for both of them. I don't know if Marcel's angry or not but at least it got them together.

It's different now though with me and Dade. I feel even more protective of him now that Mom's gone. I know he's still got Dad and Abby, but it's not the same. Next to me, Mike's closer to Dade than those two. Dade has such a wise soul but he still has a lot of growing up and healing to do. Man, I feel old just saying that and there's barely ten months age difference between us. He'll be seventeen pretty soon. I'll be eighteen a few months after that. I've always felt older than him though. Older ... but he's often seemed wiser. I still think he is but when he hurts like he is now, he seems to regress in age. Like he just wants to be a baby and for you to take care of him. I know though that he'll take care of me as much as I take care of him. Even when we have our spats, I know if anyone touched me, he'd go ape shit on them. He's a feisty little critter.

It's strange though. It doesn't seem like that long ago when he was only fourteen. Lucas had just arrived in Merlow. He was still a cocky little thing. But he was almost seventeen now and he'd grown so much. I suppose I had too.

I want to protect him. I don't think it'll ever be different for me. I've always wanted to protect him. But even more now. I was the man of the house. I was the closest thing Dade had to a father. I know he's always looked up to me. Modesty won't change any of that. I'll try to play it down but truth is, I always try to make him proud of me. And though I don't live here and Mom's gone, I'm still the man of this house and I'm still someone he looks up to. I admire him as much as he does me. I'm going to look after him. I'll protect him. Not that he might need me protecting him as much but he still needs me.

"Things will be ok, Dade." I say as I kiss his forehead gently. "Still love you, Bro."

I leave the door slightly ajar. I wish Marcel had of been here. I would have liked to have seen them together. I guess he must have gone home.

I head downstairs to wake my baby up so he can come to bed. When I arrive in the lounge, I see the strangest sight I've ever seen. Lucas is sitting up with his head flopped back on the couch, fast asleep. Marty Lee is lying on the couch with his head in Lucas' lap. It's actually really cute. Marty Lee is a freak. He's psycho. I still don't trust him after what he did to Brad but I can't help but notice the way he's been since Lucas brought him home. I guess I shouldn't be surprised to see him here at my house but I never thought he'd be sleeping here. I've noticed Lucas watching over him lately. He's quite hard on Marty Lee but I know he's just trying to help him. I know he's becoming attached. They used to be close. Like brothers I guess when Ashley and Lucas were together.

I smile to myself again when I see that Marcel is actually here. He's fast asleep on a futon mattress. Mike must have set it up for him. I don't know why he didn't just sleep in Dade's room. Guess they really are taking small steps.

We're a weird bunch. Mike, Sarah and Marcel are all sprawled out on the futon mattress. Sarah in between Mike and Marcel. I really love these three. I know they all stayed here for me. These guys aren't just my friends, they're my family. Obviously it's a bit weird having Marty Lee here but besides him, everyone else is part of me. They've been so great since Mom died. Even before then but I think with everything we've all been through, Marcel's rape, Sarah's cancer, Mom's death, we all know what's important to us. And it's each other. Even Dade, he's part of this.

I don't think I'll sleep upstairs after all. I think I'll just crash down here with these guys. I don't want Dade sleeping upstairs on his own, I don't think he'll mind me waking him up to sleep down here. I'll just bring down another futon so me, Dade and Lucas can shuffle up next to Mike, Sarah and Marcel. We're a weird bunch but I wouldn't trade this group for the world. I don't know what I did to deserve such great people in my lives but do I ever appreciate them.

I rush upstairs, in two minds about whether or not to wake up Dade. This will be the third time he's had to move in one night. I'm sure he won't mind though.

"Dade?" I say as I nudge him softly. "Bro."

"Storm?" Dade asked wearily as he stirred from his slumber. "Is something wrong?"

"I'm gonna pull another futon out and sleep downstairs. Everyone else is down there. You wanna come down?"

"You sure?"

"Yeah, don't want you sleeping upstairs all on your own. Sorry to wake you, I just wanted to ask. You wanna come down?"

"Sure, Bro." Dade said with a yawn as he sat up. "Why not? I like playing musical beds."

"I'm sure you do." I said with a mischievous grin. "How many beds would that be exactly?"

"Oh don't be like that, Storm. I'm not that bad."

"I know. I'm just teasing."

"I'll grab an extra blanket. You gonna grab the futon from downstairs or you want me to bring one down?"

"I'll grab the one downstairs. Marcel, Mike and Sarah are already on one. I'll join our one up, you can sleep next to Marcel and Lucas and I'll sleep on the other side."

"Sure, Storm. I'll be right down."

I rush back downstairs and set up the second futon. Doing my best not to wake anyone up. Mike and Sarah seem fast asleep but I notice that Marcel still seems a bit twitchy in his sleep. Sarah has one arm draped over him securely and I'm sure that helps him.

"Babe?" I say as brush my hand lovingly through Lucas' fringe. "Wake up. It's me, Storm."

"Babe?" He asks with his eyes still half mast, what a sleepyhead. "You ok?"

"I am. I don't want to keep you up long. I just wanted to move you down here next to me on the futon. Dade's coming down. All six of us are on the futons. Come on, you look uncomfortable sleeping like that."

"Hey, Storm." Marty Lee says as he stirs and realizes he's still lying on Lucas' lap.

He somewhat embarrassingly moves his head and Lucas gets up. He's so cute like this. He's such a sleepyhead sometimes. Standing there all sheepish like. I pull his jumper and shoes off and he lays down on the edge of the futon.

"You ok, Babe?" Lucas asks with a yawn. "You gonna lie down now?"

"Here, Storm." Dade says as he hands a blanket for me and Lucas.

"Go back to sleep, Marty Lee." I say reassuringly.

"I hope you don't mind me being here." He says somewhat shyly.

"I mind you being here." Dade said as he lay down on the other side of our futon. "And I still live here. But you're cool for now."

"Just go back to sleep, Marty Lee. Everything's ok. We'll talk tomorrow."

"Ok. Night."

I pull my shirt off and strip down to my boxers before I lay down in the middle of our futon. Dade's sleeping without a cover on one side of me with Lucas on the other. The futons are close enough together for Dade to hold Marcel's hand. There's still a gap between them but it's close enough. I can't help but smile at the small gesture from Dade. I think he's going to do a good job of taking care of our blondie. I don't know why we call him blondie anymore actually, his hair isn't really that blonde now. It's dirty blonde at best. I guess he just got stuck with the name.

"Thanks for coming home, Storm." Dade said as he nuzzles his head into the pillow, facing toward Marcel. "And thanks for staying. I was half expecting you to wake up and bolt."

"Can't run and hide forever, Dade. Love you. Get some rest."

"Love you too, Bro. Night."

"Night, Dade."

I find myself yawning. I feel tired but the best tired I've felt in a while. I actually feel content right now. I'm surrounded by the people I care about in the house I grew up in. This is home for me. These people are my home.

The six of us are all together. The way we should be. Mike and Sarah. Dade and Marcel. Me and Lucas. We're all with the people we love. We're still here. We're still a pack. And just for this brief moment. This one moment. Everything seems right with the world.

I wrap my arms around Lucas and he nuzzles against me, pulling my arms around him more. I give him the gentlest angel kiss as our foreheads rest against each other. My eyes close slowly as my head is filled with happy thoughts. Not the dirty kind of happy thoughts, the pure kind of happy thoughts.

"I love you, Storm." Lucas whispers softly.

"I know. I love you too."

"You sure you're ok now?"

"I'm pretty happy right now. I'm glad everyone's here."

"Everyone was worried. Did you have any dinner? Mike left yours in the oven."

"I'm not hungry. I just wanna lay here. Thanks for coming over."

"Dude, you know I wouldn't have stayed home. I wanted to be close to you. Always do."

"We'll talk more tomorrow. Sorry I woke you. You go back to sleep, Mr. Sleepyhead."

"You know it's because I need my beauty sleep. I have to stay pretty for you."

"That must be why you sleep too much. You're a bit too pretty, Babe. Get some sleep."

"Dade. Dude, are you warm?" Lucas asks with his usual caring tone. "You want some blanket?"

"I'm ok, Lucas. Just don't feel me up while I'm sleeping. You two better not switch sides, I'm not sleeping next to you, Lucas."

"Dude!" Lucas said with empty agitation. "I am so not like that."

"I know. But I can't be held responsible for what I do. Especially when I'm half asleep. You just keep the brother barrier between us and there'll be no chance of trouble."

"Dade, you are so bad."

"You know I'm kidding. I wouldn't touch you if you were the last man on earth."

"Well you don't have to be like that."

That's Dade and Lucas for ya. Like I said before, they have a strange love / hate relationship. I just keep my mouth shut and hope they both go to sleep soon.

"I know you want me, Lucas. But I've told you already, it just wouldn't work between us."

"Why you little ..."

"Would you two just please shut up and go to sleep?" Mike said annoyed as pulled a pillow over his head. "Some of us are actually trying to get some rest here. Now you've gone and woken me up. Watch out if you wake Sarah up. Glad you could join us, Storm. You ok?"

"Yes, yes and yes."

"You had your dinner yet?"


"Good. Maybe these two will be asleep by the time we finish eating. Come on, I'll prep it up." Mike said as he carefully pulled himself away from Sarah and stood up.

"Check out that bod. What a hottie." Lucas said with an impish grin. "Mike, you wanna sleep next to me?"

"Lucas, we kissed already and it didn't work out. Sorry, no chemistry there. I guess you're stuck with Storm."

"Stuck with?" I say as I stand up. "I'm the bomb. He's not stuck with me. We're stuck with each other!"

"Dude, that so did not sound cool." Lucas said with a yawn as he turned over and tried to go back to sleep.

"I meant that in a good way. Look at him." I say as I put my arm around Mike's shoulder. "He's a knockout. And he's a sweetheart. And he's all mine."

"Excuse me while I gag." Dade said as he pulled a pillow over his own head. "Don't be long, Storm. Lucas and I might kill each other before you get back. Or shag. Whichever comes first. Or should I say, whoever."

"Dade, shut up ya little nympho." I said shaking my head.

"You two better be asleep when we get back. And don't wake up Sarah and Marcel. I need you alive so you can clean up at the wedding. And so we can win the game this weekend."

"We are so unloved. Aren't we, Lucas?"

"Speak for yourself, Dude. And don't think you're sharing my blanket now." Lucas said as he buried his head underneath the covers.

Mike put his arm around my shoulder as we headed into the kitchen. I wasn't real hungry to be honest, but I always appreciated some face time with my surrogate brother. I sat on the barstool next to the bench and waited for Mike to get my dinner ready.

"Gave us all a bit of a scare, Bro." Mike said as he put the plate of roast beef salad in front of me. "But I don't think you meant to. Did you?"


"I'm glad you're starting to come around. We were all worried about you. Sarah especially."

"Gotta love that chick."

"She tells me you're thinking of coming with us still."

"For a holiday, if that's ok. Not straight away. Not when you guys leave. Once you've settled in a bit."

"You can help us settle in. School's on break soon."

"I'll talk to Lucas. But thanks for the offer."

"I'll always take care of you, Storm. You don't have to ask."

"This is great, Mike. Thanks. You always know just what I like."

"Yeah, I know. You like your food lean and healthy. Lean meat and lots of greens. You're easy to cook for. Want some desert?"

"Nah, I'm cool."

"I'm glad I woke up. I wanted to spend some time with you on my own. You and Lucas can make nookie tomorrow night."

"Not long to go till your big day. How are you feeling?"

"Pretty nervous actually. I have butterflies just thinking about it." Mike said with a large smile. "I know we're young, but I think everyone understands where we're coming from. And you know me, Bro. When have I ever had eyes for any other girl?"

"Not once since I've known you. Which is your whole life. None of us have a problem and I don't think anyone else does. How does Sarah's family feel?"

"They're all for it. I think if Sarah wasn't sick it'd be a different story. And I wouldn't rush it myself. I'd wait a couple years at least. But I want her to be my wife, Storm. I'm not taking any chances." Mike said trying to hide his fear with a smile.

"She'll be ok, Bro." I said reassuringly as I put my hand on his shoulder. "And so will you. I know you don't really want to leave Merlow. I wish I could fix everything for you so you could stay. But just like I know you'll take care of me if you need me, I'll be here if you need me to. So call ok? You tell me to jump and I will. And I'll be there with you when you're settling in. You're not doing this on your own."

"Thanks, Storm." Mike said with an appreciative hug. "I needed to hear that."

"You've done an awesome job of being the security for us, Mike. The dependable one. Just remember, we're here for you as well. Don't ever forget how much I love you, Bro. And how grateful I am that you're a part of our family. You might be leaving Merlow but you're not leaving us. We'll always be home for you."

As I held Mike, I realized what was happening to me tonight. I was starting to find home again. To find out where I belonged. My life has been turned upside down lately. It's only just starting to settle to the point where I am realizing what my role is. I was lost. I'm not anymore. I still belong. I still have a role to play in our group. I still matter and I can still be someone that others can depend on.  I can still be there for everyone.  I still matter.   I'm starting to like who I am again. I'm strong. Short, corny but true.  I am strong.  I'm Storm.  I like that.  I think I like me too.


* * * * * *


I woke up first. Guess I'm still the early bird in the group. Truth is, ever since I moved out of home, I missed our home gym and so here I am doing weights in it. Mike totally renovated the basement for our gym and it has as much sentimental value as practical. But it is mighty awesome. I've still been able to use the one at school, our dojo and the sports center but it's not the same. This is our space.

Life's looking good again. I guess I just needed time to bounce back and find myself again. My role's changed a bit but I can still play an important role. I can still be there for Dade. I can still be responsible for him, even though I don't live at this house. Even though the dynamics have changed since Mom's death. My voice still matters. I can still be someone he looks up to.

I can still be there for Mike, Sarah and Marcel. I can still be as important to them as they are to me. I can be someone that Lucas is proud to be with. Yeah, life can still be good.

I was alive after Mom's death and the shit hit the fan with Dade, but I wasn't really living. Sooner or later, it would have impacted on my relationship with both him and Lucas. My relationship with Lucas is something I'm not prepared to jeopardize or lose. But more than all of that, I had to do this for myself. If I couldn't do it for myself, eventually it wouldn't have mattered if I was trying to do it for anyone else.

I have my drive back again and I suppose that's why I'm down here right now. I always want to be better than I am. Not just from a purely physical point of view either. I've always believed, healthy body, healthy mind. Not to mention the fact I want to look my best for Lucas. Also with the regionals coming up, I need to be at the top of my game.

I always tend to push myself till my muscles ache. Till I'm so sore that my body just wants to fall down. I love that feeling. I'm almost done now but I'm sure I can squeeze in another round on the bench press.

"Hey, Storm."

"Hey." I said with an awkward smile, surprised by Marcel's presence.

I wasn't really looking forward to this. I knew we'd have to talk sooner or later. I just wasn't sure where I was at with Marcel. I know he cares and I'm sure he's glad he's moving forward with Dade, but he must be disappointed on some level by my huge breach of confidence. I sit up at the edge of the bench and feign a smile at him as he walks across the spar mat towards me.

"You feeling ok?" He asks with his typical sincere tone.

"Uhh yeah, I'm ok. How about you?"

"I'm ok." He says as he slips on his gym gloves. "Just doing the same thing you are. Morning ritual."

"Sweet." I say with an awkward nod.

"Listen, I know you must be feeling uncomfortable. I just wanted you to know, I'm ok with you telling Dade. I don't think we'd be here if you didn't. I wasn't planning on telling him. Don't know whether I could have. So ... thanks."

"Don't thank me too much. I'm sorry I broke your trust. I was in a bit of a head fuck. I wasn't really concerned about how you'd feel towards me. I was more concerned that you might leave without giving you and Dade a chance. I know how you two feel about each other. I know it's not what you wanted. For me to tell him. For him to know. But it might have been what you needed. Anyway, I'm still sorry it happened the way it did but I'm not sorry he knows. I'm just sorry I had to break your trust for him to find out."

"You're my best friend, Storm. Everyone here is. Except Lucas' little freak of course. But you and I, you were the first one I met. I don't know what my life would have been like if I hadn't of met you. I can't remember when the last time was that I said it but I love you, Storm. I hope you know that."

"I know." I say with a weak smile. "I hope you know too. That's the only reason I told him. I want you to be happy. I hope you can forgive me and at least understand why I told him. I really value my integrity, especially with you."

"Thank you." Marcel said as he took position at the head of the benchpress. "So, how much are we lifting today?"

"I guess since you're in here, I'm gonna have to try and show off. I'm no Mike though. You gonna spot me?"

"Sure thing."

"Hold on. Before we start, we are ok, right? You're not gonna drop this thing on my neck?" I said with a tiny laugh.

"Damn and I was really looking forward to doing that." Marcel said with sarcasm. "We're cool, Storm. I trust you to have my best interests at heart. You may think you let me down, but you didn't. You did what I needed. And just so you know, I'll always have your back. Always. But I do hope we're never put in a position like this again, where one of us feels like we betrayed the other. Anyone else can do that, Storm. But not you and me. We're different. We trust each other on a higher level."

"I trust you, Marcel." I said as I lay back and put my hands at the ready on the bar.

"Ditto." Marcel said as he stood ready to spot me. "Good to have you back, Storm."

"It's good to be back."


* * * * * *


"I thought Storm was cutting down his hours at work." Marty Lee said as he and Lucas walked through their front door.

"He is."

"Guess I figured he might take the morning off after last night."

"Listen, Marty Lee. I know you've tried really hard while you've been staying here and I appreciate it. I think it's time we get you settled back into your normal routine though."

"I see." Marty Lee said with a feigned smile. "Guess it had to happen sooner or later."

"You're ready to go back to school tomorrow. You can stay here till Sunday and then we'll get you moved back to your place."

"Ok, Lucas. I could go today if you want. You and Storm will probably want some quiet time. I'm really grateful you took me in and looked after me, but I don't want to be somewhere I'm not wanted. It was stupid of me to think that ..."

"To think what, Marty Lee?" Lucas asked curiously as he started packing his bag for school.

"To think you might want me around. I guess I didn't realize how lonely I was until I stayed here. I've been living on my own for a long time now."

"You'd probably have friends by now if you didn't burn people so much. I don't really want to have this conversation anymore, Marty Lee. You know how I feel. Let's just enjoy the time you have left with us."


"Call me at school if you need anything." Lucas said as he headed for the door. "Make sure you have something to eat and don't try overdoing anything. I'll see you when I get home."

"Ok." Marty Lee said feigning a smile. "Bye."


* * * * * *


I stood in photography, waiting impatiently for the bell to ring. There were a few things I needed to sort out with Claire, now that she was taking over as the class president. I felt bad for not saying anything to her first, I guess my head just wasn't there.

When the bell rang, I headed straight for my locker. By luck I caught Carl at his locker next to mine. I figured he might know where I could find the Carlyle chick.

"Hey, Carl. Have you seen Claire?"

"Why are you asking me?" Carl asked with a weird look on his face.

"Just thought you might have seen her." I said with a shrug. "I wanted to speak to her."

"I don't know where she is."

"Bummer." I said as I opened my locker.

"How you doing today?"

"I'm ok. Why do you ask?"

"Same reason you asked me where Claire was." Carl said with a smirk. "I am your friend after all."

"I'm doing ok, Carl. Thanks for asking." I said with a sincere smile. "How about you?"

"I'm ok. Good to see you in better spirits."

It was then that I felt the all too common pain in my stomach. My face let a grimace slip as I leaned against my locker for support and tried not to look so obvious to Carl.

"You ok, Bud?"

"Sure. So, Carl. You know Claire's single now."

"You'd think I'd have a chance then, wouldn't you?"

"Why don't you ask her to the ball?"

"She's out of my league." Carl said with a shrug. "It'd be a waste of my time."

"But you guys went out on a date."

"Exactly, `a' date. Singular. And that was a long time ago. Nuff said, Stormy one."

"Don't sell yourself short, Bud. Let me buy you lunch. Come on."

"It's ok, Storm. We got a special training session for the team. Big game this weekend. I'll see you later, ok?'

"I forgot about that. Catch ya on the flipside, Bud."

Hmm. What am I going to do with you, Carl? I thought the poor guy would be happy that Claire was single. It seems to have made him feel like crap. Can't have that now.

"Hey, Storm!"

"Hey, Brad." I say with a surprised smile as he sauntered over.

"I'm surprised you're not watching the training session on the fields. Everyone's down there trying to muster up some Merlow spirit."

"So why aren't you down there?"

"Hungry." Brad said with a cheeky shrug.

"Excellent. You may as well eat with me. But ... I'm not feeling the cafeteria today."

"It's good though."

"I know. I just feel like something different. We've got an extended lunch today. Wanna come with me down to Orry's? My shout."

"It's ok, Storm. I already have my lunch." Brad said somewhat embarrassed as he pulled his lunchbox out of his bag.

"I used to bring my own lunch to school. But Marcel and Lucas kept eating it all the time."

"Uhh ... wanna share? Nothing flash, just a couple of chicken subs. But there's enough for both of us."

"I'm in. You got my favorite food right there. I'll grab us some drinks. What'll you have?"

"OJ please."

"Coming right up."


Oh well, this was looking like a good way to spend my lunch break. I really like Brad now. Who'd have thought? I grabbed our drinks from the cafeteria and joined him at a table. Chicken Subs have always been one of my fav foods. Chicken and salad in a sub. I have my own variation of a storm sub, which oughta show how much I love the food.

"Mmm, this is really good." I said in surprise as I took a huge bite. "What's in it? Tastes like one of my specialties."

"It is. We were friends a long time ago, remember? I still remember when we used to make these at your place. And to be honest, I was hoping to bump into you for lunch. I figured I might as well make your fav."

"Thanks, Brad. Nice treat. So what's on your mind? Something in particular?"

"Well how are you doing, Storm?"

"Everybody seems to be asking me that today."

"Guess they're just worried." Brad said with a shrug. "You have a lot of friends who care about you."

"I'm doing ok, Brad. Thanks for asking."

"So ... are you taking Lucas to the ball?"

"Yep. Sure am. Won't that be fun?" I said with a nervous smile. "Are you going?"

"No. Not really my scene. Josh and I are gonna go camping up North Lake ways."

"You and Josh?" I asked curiously.

"Yeah. We've been hanging out again. It's kinda weird. You and Josh have both been my best friends at some point in my life. And now after all this time, I find myself with you two all over again. I'm glad."

"Me too. Josh is a great guy. I haven't really spent much time with him myself but I have a lot of respect for him. Mike, Lucas and Dade have spent more time with him than me."

"Storm ... I wanted to ask your advice about something. We're friends right?"

"Don't ask me that again, Brad. Of course we are. What's up?"

"Well ... see ... I have this feeling about something. Or someone."

"You like someone?"

"No. Nothing like that. Anyway ... oh you're not stupid, I'll just tell you but promise you won't say anything to anyone else?"

"I've already broken one promise lately. I'm not planning on breaking any more. What's up?"

"Well ... see ... Josh and I were friends for a long time before he got rid of me. I always had this feeling about him that maybe ... he's different. Uhh ... I feel kind of uncomfortable saying this but you're the only person I thought could understand where I'm coming from."

"Go on."

"Josh told me he feels ... different. But he wouldn't tell me why. I get the feeling something is bothering him but I don't know how to ask or to tell him it's ok. When we used to hang out, Josh and me, I'd notice little things about him. He'd kinda look at other guys. I don't think he knew I could tell. Then there's the whole boy band thing." Brad said with a grin. "The posters, the CDs. All of this doesn't mean anything. But it's just a feeling. He was always quiet. Shy. I had an idea before, but being sensitive wasn't really good for the whole reputation. I just want to help. That's all. What do you think? Should I say something?"

"Why don't we start this conversation over again so you can ask me something easy?"

"You're still my closest friend, Storm. I couldn't think of anyone else to ask. And I thought you might understand."

As soon as this conversation about Josh had started, I knew where it was leading. I've known that Josh has had issues with his sexuality for years now. Well a couple years. I'm not sure exactly. All I know is it caused a bit of drama between me and Lucas. I knew about Josh but I didn't think it was my place to tell Brad. I broke Marcel's trust already. And even though Josh didn't ask me to keep any secrets for him, it's still not my place to say anything.

"So you're telling me you think Josh is ..."

"I have a feeling. Maybe. Maybe he's just confused or something. I just want to let him know it's ok but I know he likes keeping things close to himself. I don't want to badger him."

"You sure it's not just your gaydar, Brad?" I asked with a cheeky smirk.

"Do you ever remember me looking at you funny?"

"Quite a few times actually."


"I'm just messing with you."

"I should probably go."

"Brad, I was just kidding." I said grabbing his good arm so he wouldn't go. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to upset you."

We sat there in an awkward silence for a little while. I wondered if I'd hit a sore spot. I don't think I did actually, I just think Brad felt uncomfortable with me ribbing him. He's a sensitive one. Finally he spoke with a soft, quiet tone.

"I've never had a girlfriend before. But that doesn't mean ..."

"I know. I was just teasing. I'm sorry."

"I really liked you Storm. You were my best friend. I was really hurt when you didn't show up for my birthday party."

"We were just kids, Brad. That was years ago."

"I know. But it still hurt."

"I guess I created the monster."

"I was just trying to protect myself, Storm. I was always weak. When you and me were friends before, you were always the strong one. I might have been a bully but it was all show."

"I know, Brad. If anyone was the jerk when you and I were friends, it was me. You were the nice guy. You were always the sensitive one. I just didn't appreciate you."

"I used to treat Josh the same way you treated me."

"I have a lot to answer for, don't I?" I said as I shook my head. "Josh and I hardly talk yet we're connected because of you. I treated you bad. You treated him bad. It's amazing how certain events can have such longstanding ripple effects. I wonder how different life would have been if I just went to that darn birthday party."

"It's not your fault, Storm. We all make our own mistakes. You didn't make me a bully. I'm no better than Marty Lee."

"Don't even compare, Brad. The difference between you and Marty Lee is that you were weak. He was just plain sadistic. He likes to hurt people. You were a jock, Brad. A jerk jock. But you never had anything on Marty Lee. I have more chance of being like Marty Lee than you."


"They don't call me Storm for nothing. I have a pretty bad angry streak. When I get angry, I can hurt people. I just think I do a pretty good job of keeping it in check. That's the difference between me and Marty Lee. If I had a little less resolve, I'd be Marty Lee and Dade rolled into one. I'm no angel. I think underneath it all, I can be as bad as he is."

"I don't believe that. You're really mature, Storm. You don't give yourself enough credit. Don't compare yourself to him. You're nothing alike. Trust me, I have first hand experience. I know you have a bad temper but I haven't seen it for a long time. And nothing compared to Marty Lee. He's sick."

"Ok. So maybe I'm not as bad as he is. But it is there, Brad. I've wanted to hurt people the way Marty Lee hurt you. Just this trip away to Drake, I ... lost my control. I hurt some people. They were bad people but still ... I lost it."

"What did they do?"

"I can't tell you. But it was bad. I wanted to hurt them more than I did. It was just raw anger."

"That doesn't make you a bad person, Storm. You're always beating up on yourself. I wish you wouldn't. It's ok to have some humility but that doesn't mean you have to shoot yourself down all the time."

"You wouldn't think it to look at me, Brad. But lately, I've been so angry inside. Look at my hands." I said showing Brad my still healing knuckles. "That's not from training. I told Lucas it was but it wasn't. That's from me hitting a tree so much my hands bled. Because I was so angry at everything that's happened lately. That's from me going psycho on some bastards at Drake. You think I don't have it, Brad. But I do."

"We all do, Storm. Just trust me on this. You're not a bad person. If you were, people wouldn't care about you like they do. You just put too much pressure on yourself to live up to everyone."

"You know something." I said with a small smile.


"You're a pretty smart guy. I guess some demons will take longer to exorcise than others."

"Well, you'll never have to deal with them on your own. Lucas is a nice guy. He'll look after you. So will everyone else."

"Thanks, Brad. I appreciate that."

"Anytime, Storm. I'm your boy." Brad said extending his hand so we could slap a fiver.

"Sure are, Brad." I said, returning the gesture. "Sure are."


* * * * * *


"Good run, Guys." Mike said wiping the sweat off his brow as he entered the changing rooms. "Let's keep it up this weekend. Somebody turn up the noise."

Dade was naturally the first one to throw a cd in the stereo and turn the sounds up. Not that much music could be heard above the loud ruckus of the team. Mike ruffled Dade's hair affectionately, beginning to miss his brother before he'd even left.

Mike stripped down to his boxers before he made a bee line to the showers. He'd just run his last training session as the captain of Merlow High's football team. He tried not to let it get to him, but he was really beginning to dread leaving all of this behind.

"You ok, Bro?" Dade asked as he stepped into the shower next to Mike.

"Yeah, Dade. I'm just going to miss this a lot." Mike said with a somber smile.

"Won't be the same without you. Saran City doesn't know what she's getting. I hope there's more opportunity for you there, Bro. But I'm sure you know, our tiny little dot on the map is still going to miss you."

"Yeah, Cap." Carl said with his typical warm smile as he patted Mike on the back. "Won't be the same."

"You'll still have me." Lucas said cheekily as he hopped under the showers, followed by Josh. "Josh and I will take care of the team."

"Guess that means we'll be losing a hell of a lot." Dade said with a smirk.

"Dade, Dade! Look at this." Lucas said pointing both index fingers towards his crotch.

Dade knew he was being set up, but for some reason he still looked down. As soon as he did, Lucas curled his index fingers up and shot out both his middle fingers. Both aimed squarely at his family jewels.

"Suck it." Lucas said giving Dade a cheeky poked tongue, eliciting a chorus of laughs from the surrounding group.

"You didn't." Dade said in disbelief. "Dude boy bastard just got one up on me."

"And this is what you'll be missing, Cap." Carl said rolling his eyes as he lathered himself up.

Even Josh was smiling at Dade's comeuppance. Being his usual reserved self, he didn't say anything. He just smiled to himself and turned away as he continued showering.

"Hey, did I just see you smiling at me?" Dade asked with a grin as he moved next to Josh. "What? You can't laugh at me anymore?"

"Watch out, Josh. He might take a smile as an invitation." Lucas said still ribbing the youngest Marcus. "Don't drop the soap."

"Lucas, I am going to hurt you soon."

"Don't give it if you can't take it, little man." Lucas said flicking water in Dade's face before he stepped out of the shower. "See ya!"

"Ooooh." Dade said narrowing his eyes at Lucas. "One day, Sheridan!"

"You can't hit on Josh anyway, Dade. He's taken." Carl said wrapping Josh up from behind in a rather suggestive embrace.

This was about as close as Josh had ever been to another guy. He'd had moments with Dade but nothing like this. His back was pressed against Carl's chest, Carl's arms wrapped around his own. Carl even threw in a playful grab of Josh's pecs. And Josh could've sworn he felt something else brush against his ass.

It was all over in a matter of seconds, but Josh's face went completely red and he looked as though he were about to die of embarrassment. For Carl, it was just horsing around. He didn't mean anything by it, but of course Carl didn't know Josh liked other guys. Even worse, the brief escapade had left a bit of a mark on Josh's nether regions. He tried to turn away hurriedly, hoping no one would have seen his `problem'.

"Hey, Josh! I need to talk to you about the game this weekend." Mike said hurriedly as he pulled Josh out of the showers.

Mike led Josh to a private corner of the changing rooms. He handed Josh a towel to wrap around his waist as he did the same.

"Can't have us standing around naked too long. People might think we like looking at each other."

"That's never happened to me before." Josh said in complete astonishment with himself. "I am so embarrassed. I don't know what's happening to me."

"It's ok. Nobody saw anything."

"You did."

"It's hard not to, ya big hottie." Mike said with a cheeky wink.

This elicited the response Mike was hoping for. A large grin from Josh.

"See, there's a smile." Mike said happily.

"Thanks, Mike. I don't know what happened back there. Thanks for saving me."

"Is everything ok with you, Josh? I know you've had ... problems with yourself. You need to talk?"

"It's ok, Mike. It's ... too embarrassing."

"Well, what about Dade? Can you talk to him?"

"I guess I could. It's just ... you and I have never talked ... about this before."

"I know. That doesn't mean I don't pay attention. If you feel more comfortable talking to someone else, go ahead. I just want you to know I'm here and I'll always have your back. You should know by the way I am with Storm and Lucas that things like this don't matter to me. Whatever makes you happy, Josh. You don't have to feel uncomfortable."

"I wish I had of talked to you about this before. It's a shame you're leaving, Mike."

"Listen, I'm free tonight. I'm taking you out for a burger. We'll talk. No rainchecks."

"Ok, Cap."

"Cheer up. The world isn't that bad. You'll be ok."

"Thanks, Mike. And thanks for you know ... helping me out back there."

"Too bad Carl's not into you. You could have a bit of a stud there."

"Yeah." Josh said with a red face. "That was ..."

"Oh come on. You obviously liked it." Mike said with a grin.

"I did. It was ... exciting."

"You don't get with guys much do you?"

"Never. Not like that. I think that's my problem. I don't even know what it's like."

"Well I'd love to offer my services but I'm taken." Mike said with a wink. "But that doesn't mean you can't look for someone."

"I'm gay, Cap. It took me a long time to admit it but it's true. I like guys. And now I know I want it ... or don't want it ... it's frustrating. I'm losing it. I get on edge about everything. I don't want people to find out about me."

"Finish getting changed ok. And make sure big boy downstairs doesn't poke anyone's eye out. We'll hang tonight. It'll be ok, Josh. It'll be ok."


* * * * * *


I sat on the walkway roof, waiting for Lucas to get out of the changing rooms. It's a good thing I think I'm the only guy Lucas looks at. Being surrounded by all those spunks would be enough to tempt anyone. I think if Lucas and I weren't together though he'd probably go back to the girls. I'd have more chance of getting with another guy than him. Not that I plan to.

I could probably get in trouble for sitting up here but I'm not class president anymore, I can be an ass if I want to. I caught Josh walking out beneath me and was tempted to get his attention. To let him know that Brad has an idea about Josh. I don't think Josh and I are close enough friends though for me to talk to him. I like him and I respect him but we're not really close. I'll just have to trust Brad to take care of it.

"Hey, Spunky." I said with a whisper as I tapped Lucas on the head from above him. "Psst."

"Storm? What the hell are you doing up there?"

"Stalking you. What's it look like?"

"Looks like fun." Lucas said with a grin.

He threw his bag up to me before I grabbed his hand and helped pull him up. We sat down on our perch, with a view to not only the changing rooms and fields but most of the main courtyard where much of the school was eating lunch. Today was one of our easy days. Most of us were in the middle of exams and the timetable was a bit of a mess. Not to mention we were all supposed to be building a bit of Merlow spirit for the big game this weekend.

"So what are we doing up here?" Lucas asked with a brimming smile. "This is a nice surprise."

"Wanted some private time. Nobody can see us up here. And if they can, well they can have a free show." I said as I pushed Lucas back and jumped on top of him.

I made my intentions pretty obvious. I just wanted my strawberry fix. I pulled his legs up around me as I my lips met the sweet nape of his neck. I sucked gently on the flesh as Lucas' hands moved up my back. He tried his best to muffle any moans he made but I wasn't helping with my assault on his neck. I moved my way up slowly until my lips eventually met his. I took my time sucking gently on his bottom strawberry flavored lip before he impatiently kissed me full on. Our tongues soon broke the barrier of our kiss and it wasn't long before we were locked in a make out session. Our hands intertwined as we indulged ourselves in the presence of one another.

As with all good things though, it eventually came to an end without either of us tempting fate. Or should I say lust. It was ... nice. I love being with him like this. My opinion might be bias but he's so incredibly beautiful it's scary. Times like this, I wonder how the hell I got him. He's the kind of guy that can make you melt with a glance. He made me melt the first day I met him and ever since, he's just had this huge impact on my life. I don't know where I'd be without him. Did I mention he's beautiful? Still can't believe he's mine sometimes.

"You're looking at me funny again." Lucas said with a smile. "It's been a long time since you looked at me like that."

"I'm just admiring the view."

"Funny, I was doing the same thing. Can't believe you're still mine, Dude."

"Funny, I was thinking that same thing too. I guess great minds think alike, aye?"

"Must be, Dude." Lucas said as we leaned our foreheads against each other in our familiar fashion. "I love you."

"I love you too, Babe."

"It's nice. Just being like this. Not the most comfortable place but hey, I'll take what I can get. Beats the bathroom stall." Lucas said with a grin.

"I have an ulterior motive for bringing you up here. I wanted to ask you something. I know you guys have a last minute strategy meeting tomorrow night but afterwards, can you meet me back at my house?"

"Dude ... what do you mean? You won't be at our place? Are you moving out?"

"No, no. Nothing like that."

"Sorry, Dude. Guess I just wish you'd call our place home too."

"Home is wherever you are, Babe."

"I like that." Lucas said with a grin. "I'll meet you there, Dude. What are we doing?"

"It's a surprise. Just for you and me."

We sat there for a while with Lucas in my lap and my arms wrapped around him. The wind was kicking up a bit but I don't think either of us cared. The sun was still bright and we were enjoying just being together like this. Looking down over everyone else. Both Lucas and I caught Carl sitting by himself. And he'd been like that for a while. He couldn't see us but we could see him.

"He looks pretty depressed down there." I said with a raised eyebrow.

"Why don't you go talk to him?"

"He's got girl problems. I think he's depressed because Claire's single."

"Why would that depress him?"

"Because she's single and he still doesn't think she'd look at him."

"Dude, Carl's sweet. He's a good guy."

"Hey Babe, you wanna see me work my magic?" I said with a mischievous grin as I pointed to Carl.

"On Carl?"


"Dude, he's not like that." Lucas said scrunching his face at me. "And I'm the only one who gets the magic."

"You are so one track sometimes."

"Wanna fool around?" Lucas asked with a sheepish grin.

"Later." I say with a grin of my own. "I wanna do something for Carl. And Claire too if you get my drift."

"Dude, you don't have to clean up all of Dade's messes. You already went out on a limb with Marcel."

"I know. I'm not just doing this to make Dade feel better. I'm doing it because Claire deserves it and so does Carl. Look at him, poor guy's bumming out bigtime."

"Ok, Dude." Lucas said with a smile. "Go work your stuff. I'm gonna stay up here for a while. I'll see you at home."

"Ok, Babe." I said giving Lucas a quick kiss before I jumped down off the walkway.

I threw my bag over my shoulder as I made my way over to Carl. He looked pretty down but as soon as he saw me he turned on his cheery mode and threw me his typical smile. Gotta love that about him.

"Hey, Carl." I say with a grin as I throw my arm around his shoulder.

"Hey, Storm. What's up?"

"Anyone ever told you you're a hottie?"

"Great." Carl said with a sigh. "Only person who thinks I'm hot is a guy. I'm flattered, Storm."

"You say that like it's a bad thing."

"It wouldn't be if I liked guys but riding the pony has never been one of my interests. I'm more of a cat lover myself." Carl said with a shrug before he turned to me with his usual cheery smile. "But anyway, forget about that. What are you doing after school?"

"Keeping the other half happy, I suppose."

"That should only take about a minute, right?"

"Ok ... I'm gonna let that one go."

"Come on, Storm. Work with me here."

"Ok, fine. At least I HAVE a minute." I said as I let a small grin escape me.

"Oooh that was cold." Carl said shaking in mock hurt.

"Actually, I think that's what your love life is."

"Ouch! Colder!"

"You're a persistent bugger."

"And so unappreciated." Carl sighed mockingly.

"Actually I wanted to ask you if you wanted to go out tonight. Go to the megaplex. Sound good?"

"Don't you have karate?"

"Yeah ... umm but well ... do you wanna go out or not?"

"Long as it doesn't involve anything R rated or hamsters."

"Don't make me hit you." I said with a small laugh. "I'll meet you at seven. Cool?"

"Cool." Carl said with a wide smile. "What did you have in mind for us, Stormy one?"

"You'll see." I said with a grin. "You'll see."


* * * * * *


I stood at Claire's front door, getting my thoughts together as I knocked on it. Stage two of my cupid mission was in action. I seem to be doing an awful lot of this lately. Who else can I try to hook up? To be honest though, Carl's my boy and Claire's a really nice girl. I consider her a friend and I think she considers me one as well. I wish we were closer friends but I can say that about a lot of people. Josh, Claire, even Carl and Brad. There's always the future.

"Hey, Mr. Carlyle. Is Claire home?" I asked as her Dad answered their door.

"Hey, Daniel. She's in her room. Go on up."

"Thank you, Sir." I said with a respectful smile as I headed in and up to Claire's room.

I took in a deep anxious breath as I stood at her slightly ajar door. Let this go well. Come on, Storm. Do this.

"Hey." I say with a smile as I nudge the door open a little. "Mind if I come in?"

"Storm!" Claire yelled in surprise as she sat up, rushing to wipe her eyes. "What are you doing here?"

"I came to see you. Is that ok?"

"Yeah but ... well, what are you doing here?" Claire asked in amazement. "This is a rare treat."

"We're friends, aren't we?"

"I like to think so. I'm just surprised. It's not often you show up in my room like this. Am I in now?" Claire asked with a cheeky smile.

"Well, you know. I could've tried to get in your room before but I don't think Lucas would've liked that." I said with a mischievous grin.

"You are so like your brother." Claire grumbled. "You're both just teases."

"Listen, I wanted to talk to you about the presidency. I'm sorry you found out the way you did. My head's been a bit fucked up lately."

"I know, Storm." Claire said sympathetically. "I understand. I thought that might be why."

"Anyway, I wanted you to know. I quit the council because I'm not the best person for the job anymore. And I think I need to start working on myself a little bit. But I wouldn't have given it up if you weren't next in line. I know Sarah agrees with me. With both of us out of the way, it leaves you in there. But don't think you're just getting it because I threw it away. Don't think you're not good enough for it. Think about it, Claire. You've always been good at this stuff. You've always worked hard to try and make things better for others. Your work down at the shelter. The fundraising you did last year for the new sports center. Your work for the school ball. You deserve this and I really hope you contest the next election."

"Will you be?"

"No. I'm out. But I want you to know, I think you're the best person for the job. I hope you're ok with how everything's happening. Don't let Stacey push you around. She's just the secretary, she doesn't have any power over you."

"I'll handle her. Thanks for coming, Storm." Claire said with an appreciative smile. "You really know how to make a girl feel better."

"I'm sorry I didn't talk to you before I quit."

"It's ok, Storm." Claire said with a warm smile. "I appreciate you coming over."

"There's something else I wanted to ask you as well. A favor."

"What?" Claire asked curiously.

"I hope you aren't over guys, Claire. Because there are a lot of nice guys out there who would love to be with you. In fact, I know this one guy who really, really likes you. But he's too shy to say anything. He's liked you for a long time now. I think he'd love to ask you to the ball but he seems to think you're out of his league."

"Someone thinks I'm out of their league?" Claire asked with a huge disbelieving grin.

"Don't play like you don't know the game. You know you're hot property."

"Wow. I can't believe anyone would think that. I'm not a snob, am I?"

"Far from it. I think I'm more of a snob than you are."

"You're classy, Storm. That's why everyone wants to be your bud. You're up there but you're not a snob. So who is this person?"

"Stacey Peters."

"WHAT!? She isn't a guy!"

"She isn't?" I said mischievously. "Just kidding. I wouldn't do that to you. Unless you wanted me to?"

"No thanks. I'm not quite done with guys or girls yet to start moving onto dogs."

"Good. Before I tell you who it is, you promise me you won't embarrass him or anything?"

"Of course I won't."

"Ok. It's Carl."

"Carl? Carl Bentley?" Claire asked with a hint of amusement in her eyes.

"Yeah. You two went on a date ages ago. He always talks about you."

"Yeah and he never asked me out again either."

"He told me you weren't interested."

"Storm, I'm a girl. I need to be wooed. I was waiting for him to ask me again. I think he's a nice guy. Why would I embarrass him?"

"You think you'd like to make a nice guys' dream come true? Give him one date and see what happens? You would totally make his day."

"I don't know, Storm. I'm a bit burnt right now."

"Do it for me then. Please? I'll do anything you want."

"You'll do anything I want?"

"I will. It'd mean the world to Carl. Nothing has to happen. Just give him a night out. Here." I said as I threw her a couple of twenties. "My shout."

"Why are you doing this?"

"Uhhh, I have my reasons. Listen, Carl was going to meet me at the Megaplex. But I was hoping that you might ... take my place?"

"You're asking me this as a favor?"

"And I'm kinda hoping you might have a good time. I know Carl will. You'll make his dreams come true. Just give him a shot. He might surprise you."

"Wow. Someone who actually likes me? This is strange. You sure he's not gay?"

"I hope not. I could always take him home first and me and Lucas could find out for you?" I said mischievously.

"Na uh. You might turn him. Ok, I'll do it. But if I find out he likes guys, I'm gonna come for you."

"Excellent. Thanks, Claire. I'm sorry you've had such a bad run with guys. But I promise you, Carl is a great guy. Kinda goofy but he's a lot of fun. Not to mention cute. And all those jocks have great bods so no worries there."

"That always helps." Claire said with a wry smile.

"Dade didn't ... take advantage of you, did he? You know what I mean?"

"Oh, Storm. I'd love to tell you the answer to that ... but I won't."

"That little shit."

"Hey, hey! I never said he did!"

"So you'll meet Carl tonight?"

"I'll meet him. I guess a friendly date wouldn't hurt." Claire said with a shrug. "And with a guy who actually likes me. I think this is going to be a lot of fun. Thanks, Storm. I think you just made my night."

"No, I'm the one who should be thanking you. You might have had a bad run, Claire but trust me, you are the bomb. Carl is a great guy and he's liked you for years. But if I left it to him, he'd never say anything. Anyway, I'll leave you to it. Have fun, ok?"

"Ok, Storm. Listen, are you ok? I know things have been pretty wired for you lately. I hope I'm not overstepping but you know I've always liked you. Are you and Dade ok now?"

"Don't worry yourself over it. We're fine. Just have a good time."

"You sure you're ok?"

"Yeah. I'm fine. Really. You better start getting ready. See you at school."

"Ok, Storm. Thank you for coming to see me."

"Should've been doing it a lot more a long time ago. You're one of the good ones, Claire. Look after yourself."

Excellent. I left her house with a smile on my face. That went well. Now I just had to let fate run it's course. At the very least, I hoped they both had a good night out. But I wouldn't complain if they decided they liked each other enough to do it again sometime. Maybe even go to the ball. I have a good feeling about this though. Only time will tell.


* * * * * *


"Marty Lee! I'm home!" Lucas called out as he walked through his front door. "You missed a great football session today."

Lucas threw his bag down at the doorway and headed into the kitchen to make himself a sandwich. He noticed he still hadn't heard anything out of Marty Lee yet. The house was also unusually ... empty.

"Marty Lee?" Lucas called as he walked into the guest room set up for Marty Lee.

The room was spotless. Totally clean. The whole house was. Nothing was left of Marty Lee's gear. There was no doubt in Lucas' mind.

"Shit." Lucas cursed to himself. "He's gone."

Lucas found an envelope with his name on it, resting on top of the bedside cabinet. He opened the envelope to find a card with one word on it.


Inside the card he found a wad of notes that Lucas didn't bother counting. He just shoved them back in the card with a disappointed, angry look on his face.

"I don't think so, Marty Lee."


* * * * * *


"Josh!" Mike yelled as he spied Josh entering the local burger joint, Uncle's.

"Hey, Mike." Josh said with a smile as the two greeted with a handshake.

"Glad you came. Let's eat. I'm starved."

Mike motioned for Josh to hop in line first. They both ordered upsized deluxe burgers, their appetites suitably large for two solidly defined young men.

"How's Sarah doing?" Josh asked as the two sat down.

"Well ... she has more off days than on days now. That's the only reason I'm looking forward to next week. I wanna make sure she gets the best care possible."

"She's strong, Mike." Josh said with a surprising amount of certainty. "She's really strong. She'll fight."

"I know." Mike said with a heavy sigh. "But anyway, we didn't come here to talk about me."

"Well we might as well. I'd hate to be the center of the conversation."

"About what happened today ..."

"Thank you for saving me there."

"What's the story, Josh? You've been pretty distracted since you broke up with Claire. I take it that it's because you know you're gay now, right?"

"Sounds weird hearing you say it so frankly like that."

"It's just a word. It won't bite."

"I know." Josh said with a nod. "I tried to deny it, Mike. I still feel ashamed to say it. But I am."

"You'd be surprised how open minded a lot of people are these days. But I know there are still a lot of close minded people too. I like to think it's getting better. Because if it isn't, it's going to make life difficult for Storm at least. Maybe Dade too depending on how he ends up. I hope for their sakes that the world gets a little better a little faster. And for your sake too."

"I wish more everyone was like you, Mike. You're the straight guy we'd all like to know."

"Oh geez. Don't think I'm all that. I remember when they told me. It was ... like two years ago now in our treehouse. I didn't react well. I called them all fruity ass faggots. Oh no I called them fucking fruity ass faggots. Yeah ... not my greatest moment. But I was young and ... I don't know. I guess I was just surprised at first. Mostly surprised. A little scared. Not my greatest moment. I'm not perfect though. We all have our bad moments."

"But you came around. I wish everyone else was like you. I can't ever tell my parent's. I don't want to put them through the agony. My parent's are good people. They're traditional people. They just want what's best for me. But I promised myself I'd rather be alone than put them through the grief of finding out their son's gay. They wouldn't handle it, Mike. I think they'd still love me but it would hurt them."

"One day, Josh. You're going to meet someone who will make you change your view on so many things. Someone you love enough to change your whole life for. Someone you'd take a risk for." Mike said with a warm smile. "Someone you'd be willing to move somewhere you've never been to before."

"Someone like Sarah?"

"Yeah, except for you it'll be someone with something between their legs that she doesn't have. If you get my drift. I'm just saying that right now you might think it's the best thing to pretend you don't like other guys. But one day ... you're going to meet someone who is going to change your life. One day you'll fall in love, Josh. If it's one thing I've learnt from Storm and Lucas, it's that being with someone of the same sex isn't the easiest thing in the world. I imagine it'd be the same for two girls as it would for two guys. But Storm really went through hell trying to accept who he was. And I really think it's taken all this time for him to feel comfortable about himself. That was half the reason for all the tension between him and Lucas. They couldn't be free or open. But they are now. They're out. Because I think one day Storm decided that Lucas was more important to him than hiding was. Not because Storm wants to make a noise. He just doesn't want to be muted. It won't be an easy experience, Josh. And I really feel for you, Buddy. But I don't have to be gay to know that it's all worth it in the end. Finding someone who makes you feel complete. It doesn't matter what gender they are, it's the greatest feeling in the world. It makes everything worth it. Trust me on this."

"Wow." Josh said shaking his head as he absorbed everything Mike had said.

"Sorry to go on like that."

"Don't be. I can see why you guys are all so close. I don't really talk like this to anyone else. The only people I've talked to about this are all part of the pack. Lucas, Dade, Marcel and now you. I wish Storm and I were friends more but I guess we don't really have much in common. And I'm supposedly Dade's friend so I guess that's why Storm and I have never really clicked. But you guys are all so ... tight. And you all care about each other. I wish I had friends like that."

"I guess I'm the odd one out because I'm the straight guy, but I'm here as well if you ever need an ear. I'm not real good with email but you can call me in Saran City. I'm hoping we can stay friends, Josh. We've known each other since we were ... six is it?"

"I was six and you were five. June brought you in with Dade for Mrs. Avery's class. You said hello on the first day. I was still pretty shy back then but you were always nice to me."

"Trust you to remember that much. I miss those days. I don't feel like much of a kid anymore. So much has happened, I just had to grow up."

"You've always been mature though. I mean, I'm older than you but you seem way older than me."

"Is that a compliment?"

"Uhh yeah. I just mean you're a really mature guy. You're a natural leader but you don't force things, people just tend to listen to you. You have ... a commanding presence, I think that's it. Either way, I really like the way you handle yourself."

"Thanks, Josh. So is there anything else on your mind while you have my ear? How's everything going with you and Brad? I noticed the way you were with him the other night at the party."

"Uhh how do you mean?" Josh said rather apprehensively.

Mike noticed the slight edginess in Josh's voice. He didn't make anything of it but figured there must be something there for Josh to feel uncomfortable. Still, Mike wasn't here to make Josh feel uncomfortable so he didn't press him.

"I've just noticed you're hanging out a bit. I really like Brad now. I still wanna know who hurt him. Do you have any ideas?" Mike said in an attempt to take Josh out of sensitive territory.

"Probably Scott. Brad doesn't talk about it but I know it really affected him. He has ... issues with trust. And he doesn't believe that he's worth anyone's time."

"Does he know about you?"

"No. I don't want to ruin our chances for becoming friends again. We're better friends now than we ever were before. He's so different. He's almost ..."

"Sweet?" Mike asked with a smile.

"Uhh ... I ..."

"I'll take that as a yes. Sarah said the same thing about him. Do you like him?"

"Yeah ... he's ... he's my friend."

"A huh." Mike said with a knowing nod.

"I'm just confused. I find myself wanting to protect him. I think ... I'm ... I never thought I'd say this. I think I might be attracted to him."

"Wow. Never would've seen that coming."

"We're going camping this weekend but I'm kinda nervous because he says things and does things and I always get uncomfortable. But even if I did like him, he's straight. And then there's my parents. I think it's safer to just carry on the way we are. I care about him and I don't want to jeopardize anything. I never thought I'd feel this way about him. I mean, it's Brad. Brad who everyone hated and feared. But now ... he's so thoughtful it's unsettling."

"One thing I've noticed about Brad lately is he's pretty open minded and understanding. He just wants some friends. I think if you told him that you're ... can I say it?"

"Yeah. You can say it."

"That you're gay then He'd probably just shake it off and take it in stride. I think you know that too. I mean he's still friends with Storm. He stood by Storm at school. When he and Lucas came out in front of everyone. I don't think you need to worry about that."

"I guess I'm having a harder time with myself than anyone else."

"Yeah, I think so."

"Are you sure you're ok with us talking about this? I mean you're not even like me. This must be uncomfortable for you."

"Nah. It's not. I have a bit of experience by now."

"Well, I mean, I've never even kissed a guy before."

"Maybe you two can teach each other." Mike said cheekily.

"That's a weird thought. Me and Brad?"

"You think you like him?"

"I really do. I'm really protective of him. And every day he does something that makes me feel queasy in my stomach. I don't think he means to, he's just like that now. Everybody thinks the same thing about him."

"Sarah thinks so too. I've noticed how much he's changed."

"I don't think he's changed enough to like guys."

"Only Brad can answer that one. But I think at the very least, you've got a good buddy there. I'm sure if you told him, he'd understand. He seems pretty comfortable with Storm."

"Yeah but Storm's taken. So it's not like there's any chance for sexual tension there where he has to be afraid. I don't know, Mike. Maybe I'm just grabbing onto anything."

"The longer you and Brad are friends, the harder it's going to be for you to keep this a secret."

"We were friends for years before and he never noticed. I think I can keep it up for a while yet."

"Maybe he already knows." Mike said with a smirk. "Maybe he thought all your boy band posters on the wall were a bit obvious too."

"I can't believe I had so many of them."

"I notice you don't have any now."

"I'm trying not to be obvious." Josh said with a smirk of his own. "I guess I'm a closet case."

"Nobody can and nobody should force you to do anything you don't want to do, Josh. Don't let anyone try to force you to do something you're uncomfortable with. You don't have to tell anyone. It's not their business. But that doesn't mean you should be afraid either. I'm probably not the best person to give advice. I'm an outsider looking in. But I try to do what's best for Storm and Dade so I think I have a bit of experience now with this sort of thing."

"Thanks for talking to me like this, Mike. I think you're the first straight person besides Claire that I've talked to. Your advice is really appreciated too. You're an incredible Thanks."

"You're welcome, Josh. Well, I'd better get back and see how much future wife is doing. I'll see you at school."

"Listen, Mike. Before I go ... I just ... I wanted to say, I'm really sorry about June and Sarah. Uhh ... I don't want to make you feel uncomfortable but I really just want to say thanks for ... being you. I've known you for over ten years now and you've always been really good to me. You're not just a great football player, you're a great guy. I really admire and look up to you. I just wanted to say thanks and I'm really going to miss you when you go. You'll always be the Cap."

"You can't say something like that and not expect a hug, Buddy." Mike said a little overwhelmed by Josh's statement. "Thank you, Josh."

The two shared a one armed hug and hand shake. Mike patted Josh's back appreciatively. Josh was always someone that Mike admired and he was glad the feeling was mutual.

"I'll miss you too, Josh. Thank you for saying that." Mike said with emotion laced in his voice. "I really appreciate it."

"I thought I may as well take the opportunity while we're alone. I don't think I could have said it front of anyone else."

"I'm glad we got to hang out. I'll see you at school. One more game together, Josh. Let's make it a great one."

"Ok, Mike. See you later." Josh said shaking Mike's hand before he left.

Josh sat there by himself for a while, thinking about everything Mike had said to him. He wished he had of started talking to Mike like this a long time ago. They'd always been friends but Josh never dared touch this subject before. He wished he had of. He really admired Mike's loyalty to his friends and family. And the way he carried himself seemed to command a lot of respect from people at school.

Josh had a feeling that he might very well be the next captain of the team after Mike left. At the least he'd be a co-captain with Lucas. He wondered whether he'd be as good a mascot and role model for the school as Mike had been. He hoped so. Either way, he figured he'd always compare himself to the departing captain and all round nice guy. And he couldn't think of anyone else he'd rather compare himself to either. Mike was worth looking up to.


* * * * * *


"Geez, Storm. Where the hell are you?" Carl said to himself as he looked at his watch.

He'd been waiting now for twenty minutes. Just standing in the megaplex entryway for his closest friend. He was starting to feel like he'd been stood up.

"Hi, Carl." Claire said with a smile as she tapped Carl on the shoulder.

"Wha? Claire?" Carl almost yelled in surprise. "Hi there. What are you doing here? You out on a date?"

"A friend told me that I might find someone here who wanted to maybe, take me out tonight. You wouldn't know where I could find that guy, do you?"

"Nah, sorry." Carl said with an absentminded shrug. "I wouldn't know."

"I'm talking about you." Claire said with a small laugh. "At least I hope I'm talking about you. You are that guy, aren't you?"

"Holy shit." Carl said in wide eyed disbelief. "You ... you mean ... you're ..."

"You can thank Storm tomorrow. Fancy taking a girl out to a movie? Since we're both here and everything. It'd be a shame not to."

"Holy shit!" Carl grinned as his heart almost jumped out of his chest. "Storm, I love you!"

"I hope not." Claire said with a mock frown.

"Oh no, not like that. I'm a ladies man."

"How many ladies exactly?" Claire asked with a raised eyebrow that was meant only to tease.

"Uhh none. That's not a bad thing, is it?"

"No. That's just great." Claire smiled as she offered Carl her hand. "Why don't we go see what's on? Just have some fun. Sound good?"

"Sounds friggin' awesome." Carl said with a hugest grin he'd ever had.


* * * * * *


Lucas didn't bother knocking as he walked through Marty Lee's front door. He found Marty Lee on his training mat, doing some kata exercises. Lucas pulled out the envelope Marty Lee had left for him as he made his presence known.

"Here." Lucas said throwing the envelope at a surprised Marty Lee.

"But it's for you."

"I don't care if you've got shitloads of money. I don't want any of it. That's not why I took care of you."

"My homestay family get money for doing nothing. You at least took care of me. I really appreciated it. I just wanted to pay my way."

"You're a guest, not a boarder. I don't want your money. What I want you to do is pack your bags and get in the car."

"Why, Lucas? I'll be ok now. There's no point in me staying somewhere I feel like a burden. You and Storm need your space too."

"Come on, get in the car."

"You don't owe me anything anymore, Lucas. You don't have to take care of me because you feel guilty about what happened to Ash. It's history now. I'll be ok." Marty Lee said offering the envelope back to Lucas.

"I do actually like having you around, Marty Lee. Just come back. Think of it as a little holiday. Come on, I'll help you get your stuff."

"I feel like a little kid there. I don't want to be a burden."

"You're not. You keep the house clean, tidy up after yourself. You don't ask for much. But guess what?"


"You're cooking dinner tonight. Get your bags."

"You sure?"

"Would I be here otherwise? Move your ass."

"Ok, Lucas. Does that mean you're gonna call me Marty again?"

"Don't push your luck."

"Can I call you Lukey?" Marty Lee said with a mischievous smile.

"You're pushing it, Miller." Lucas said shaking his head mockingly at his young ward. "You're pushing it."


* * * * * *


"Ok, everyone. Great session. Hit the showers and go home. See you all next week." I said with a smile as our class began to disperse.

"Storm!" Dade called as I was about to hit the showers myself. "Wait up!"

"Hey, Dade."

"Hey, Bro." Dade said with a wide smile. "You've been a busy boy today. It's been hard to catch you."

"I saw you training with Wendell. You're doing good, Dade. You looking forward to the regionals?"

"Not really. I'm gonna feel bad when I beat you."

"You have to make it to the finals to do that. I hope for your sake that you're not the one I go up against. I won't hold back and I don't expect you to either."

"Come on, Storm." Dade said with an impish smile. "You know you'll whip my ass."

"I'm hoping we don't get to find out. The competition is pretty fierce this year but whoever wins the regionals gets an automatic entry into the under 19 nationals. Think you could handle that if you win?"

"I'm not going to win. I don't even want to compete. You're going to the nationals, Storm. And I'm gonna be there to cheer you on."

"I have to win the regionals first. I don't like the idea of competing with you either but thankfully the draw means we'll only meet if we both make it to the finals. And with the amount of competitors, that's a pretty tall order. Now if we were still angry at each other, it'd probably be a good match. But I don't want to fight you, Dade."

"I don't want to fight you either. Can't you just ask Sensei to take me off the list?"

"No. It's not my call. I don't have any control over that. It'd be a conflict of interest. And besides, you're doing good, Dade. You deserve to be in the regionals. If we have to fight each other, we have to fight each other."

"But what if I win? You'll hate me. We both know you like being the best. If you're not the best, you'll just give up and find something else to be good at."

"So I'll give up and find something else to be good at. You still have to beat me first. We'll either both lose or one of us will win. But only one of us can win, Dade. I've tasted glory before, I think I'll live if I don't taste it again this year. It won't be the end of the world."

Dade cast me one of his trademark eyebrows with a contemplative smile passing over his lips. His eyes seemed to smile at me as he regarded what I'd just said.

"You've changed."

"A lot has changed, Dade. You just do your best. And if you want to get Marty Lee to train you again, this time you have my blessing."

"I don't want that freak training me. Can't you?"

"Train you to beat me? Now there's a thought." I said with sarcasm. "I don't think so, Dade."

"Ok. I still don't like the idea of going against you, Storm. I'm gonna have to think about this."

"Think about it like this then, Dade. What if you didn't compete but if you had of competed, you would have beaten me? How will we know if you don't try? We can't be the best without beating the best. It's too late to back out now, Dade. You have to try."

"I don't know, Storm. I don't feel very comfortable with this. There's a lot riding on this. You've always wanted to go to the nationals. This is your chance. I don't think I could live with myself if I took that away from you."

"What makes you think you can?" I said with a cocky grin, trying my best to lighten the mood. "I am the reigning champion. And don't forget who's boss around here."

"How could we forget? You're a dictator."

"Don't think I'm underestimating you, Dade. I know how good you are and how good you're becoming. You have a natural ability. Football, Hockey, Karate, Basketball. You name it, you're good at it. I'm very well aware that you will probably beat me one day. You're a natural achiever, Dade. I have to try a little harder to get where I am. I always said you were the best of us. I meant that. But this is what I love. This is what I do. This is what I'm good at. I've spent the last decade getting here. I'm not going to give it up without a fight, literally. So if we do meet on the mat, come at me with all you've got. And I'll do the same. If I lose, I want to know it was at my best. If you still beat me, so be it. And if I beat you, I want to know that you didn't hold back and that you gave it your all."

"I don't know, Storm." Dade said hesitantly. "I still don't like this."

He's afraid. And it worries me. The reason it worries me is because I know why he's afraid. He's afraid of what'll happen if he beats me. Because he knows he could beat me. And that's what worries me. I'd rather lose to Marty Lee than to Dade. Call it pride or whatever you want, but it's how I feel. I don't want to lose to Dade. As good as I am, and I am good, I'm still afraid of him. Maybe I just lack faith in myself when it comes to Dade. I've always thought he the potential to be better than me at everything, he never seemed to believe it though.

"Try not to worry about it, Bro. You concentrate on your big game this weekend. Gotta give Mike a win for his last game."

"The team's psyched up. We're ready to bring it home. It'll be a game to watch, Storm."

"I'll be watching. Who do you think will get the captaincy next year?"

"Strawberry lips is probably first choice but ... you know Josh is a real chance. Josh's biggest drawback is his confidence. He knows the game better than Lucas does, I hate to say it but it's true. But I'm not sure if he's confident enough to lead. And that's important for a team. They need a leader who can lead. Lucas can be a hardass when he wants to. He's not VC for nothing. If Josh had the same fortitude, he'd probably have the captaincy."

"What about the whole co-captain thing?"

"I think it's a good idea. No VC just two captains. One on offence, one on defence. It could work but Coach has the final call."

"You need a ride home, Dade?"

"Yes, please. I don't suppose you want to crash the night again, do you? It's just me and Mike again. Abby's waiting for her car to be fixed before she drives it back down with her stuff."

"I wish I were eighteen now. I'd move back so she wouldn't have to. How's Rob taking it?"

"She's the boss. He'll still come down in the weekends. And she'll go back and forth."

"What about Marcel? Where's he staying tonight?"

"At home. Just for tonight. Sarah is as well. You and Lucas should come over again. It'll be nice. Last night was cool."

"It's weird feeling like a guest."

"It's not the same without you, Storm. And when Mike goes it's gonna suck even more. Can't you and Lucas both come back to live?"

"He has to look after his house. His parent's didn't sell it because they wanted him to stay there. I can't ask him to leave."

"Bummer. Man this sucks. I hate being the only one left at home. Dad and Abby are cool but Dad's hardly around and poor Abby has to throw her whole life in the air to look after me. Mom's gone, you moved out, Mike's leaving. It really sucks." Dade said angrily. "Why the hell did all this shit have to happen to us? I hate it, Bro."

"Listen, don't say anything or get your hopes up but I'll talk to Lucas. You could come and stay with us. I'll ask him. Lucas would have to be the boss though."

"Of course he would, old man that he is."

"And since you two love each other so much, I'm sure he'll jump at the idea."

"I hope you're not just getting my hopes up. Do you realize this is the longest that you and I have ever lived apart for? Whose door am I supposed to knock on at three in the morning now? Who am I supposed to give advice to?"

"Your foot."

"I tried that but it can't reach my mouth."

"Gosh, you really put your foot in that one ... da dum dum."

"I thought it was funny."

"I think you're funny."

"Funny ha ha or funny what an idiot?"

"You're just making it too easy on me, Bro." I said with a smile. "What's wrong with you?"

"Losing my touch. I better go shower so I'm all nice and clean for my squeeze."

"How's Marcel handling things with you guys?"

"Quietly. I think he's still getting used to the whole thing. I'm doing my best to make him happy. I'm not pushing him."

"That's good, Dade. Glad to hear it. You spoken to Claire lately?"

"No. Not sure if she wants to speak to me or not."

"Well ... hopefully she's having a pretty good time right about now."

"What do you mean?"

"I set her up on a date with Carl."

"You did?"

"Yep. They're out right now. Hopefully having a good time."

"Wow. Still cleaning up my messes for me, aye?"

"What else are big brothers for?" I said with a wry grin. "Hit the showers. I need to speak to Sensei before I have one."

"Ok, Storm. I'll wait for you in the wrangler."

I guess things are going to be ok between Dade and I. I'm looking forward to spending more time with him. Although most of it will have to wait till I get back from Saran City.

"Chotto matte, Daniel San." Sensei called from behind.

"Sensei, I was just looking for you."

"That was a good session tonight, Daniel. How are you doing at home?"

"I'm doing good, Sensei. I wanted to talk to you to let you know that I won't be here for a little while. I'm taking a holiday in Saran City."

"How long?"

"Not sure yet."

"You will call me to let me know how long you'll be away. And of course, to let me know you're ok."

"Hai, Sensei. Will you be ok here?"

"We will be fine. I am glad you are taking a break. Will Dade be going with you?"

"No. Marty Lee should be back next week. He can take the seniors when I go. Wendell and Dade should be fine with the juniors."

"I agree. Don't worry about here, Daniel. You don't often take holidays, you should take one. Try to enjoy yourself. You will still take part in the regionals?"

"I'm defending champion, I have to be there. For myself and for the dojo."

"Good. When are you leaving?"

"Once school gets out. I'll still be here next week. But next week will be my last until I get back."

"Very well, Daniel. You enjoy your trip."

"I was wondering, Sensei. I'd like your help on something ..."


* * * * * *


"This is getting kind of regular." Dade said with a smile as he woke to the sight of Marcel in his arms.

"It is." Marcel said with a sigh, becoming increasingly used to sleeping in Dade's arms. "Thanks for staying."

"Thanks for asking."

"You make me feel safe. I didn't think it'd be this way with you."

"Neither did I. But I'm glad it is. It's nice to be taking care of someone else again."

"Storm seems to be doing better."

"Yeah. But I'll still stay close to him and keep an eye out. I don't think he's just putting up one of his Storm Front's for us but just in case, I'll be watching."

"Sarah thinks his ulcer's playing up again. Make sure he sees Haslan soon."

"I'll try and get him to go today. We don't need any more close calls." Dade said as he sat up and stretched his arms. "How many classes do you have today?"

"Only one. I'll probably spend the day with Sarah."

"You gonna stay here again tonight?"

"No. It's been nice sleeping next to you, Dade but I don't think we should push our luck."

"You know I won't push you. The only thing I do is hold you when you sleep. We haven't even kissed since we ..."

"Since we got back together." Marcel said with a reassuring smile. "We are back together now."

"I didn't want to force that out of you either." Dade said with a grateful sigh. "So does that mean you're my boyfriend?"

"Boy?" Marcel said with a cheeky grin. "I'm all man over here."

"Don't get me started." Dade said with a grin of his own. "I'd better go shower for school. Want me to make you some breakfast?"

"No, I'll probably be gone before you get out. I wanna go home and shower, grab some clean clothes for school. I'll call you tonight or something."

"Why don't I just come over?"

"It's the night before the big game. Stay here and chill out. Get lots of rest. I'll see you at the game tomorrow."

"You sure?"

"I'm sure." Marcel said as he stood up with a half yawn.

"What about the ball? Are you going?"

"Not sure. Are you?"

"I was planning on going. Wasn't sure what was happening with you."

"I think it's a bit early to turn up there together. I'm sure you can understand if I'm not too keen on outing myself again."

"I understand. I'm not real keen on it either to be honest."

"Do you think we could do something tomorrow night though? Afterwards?"

"Sure, Dade." Marcel said with a smile.

One thing that had slowly been coming back to Marcel in the last few days was his confidence. Even his pride on a certain level. He felt more at ease with himself. More aware of his own being. He didn't mind looking in the mirror so much. Didn't automatically cringe at the idea of Dade being with him sexually. Whether it was just a kiss or something more. And for the first time in a long while, he let himself feel good about himself. Like the babe everyone else thought he was. It made him smile.

He even flirted with the idea of teasing Dade at times but he still wasn't sure if he was ready for what would come after the tease. He didn't want Dade to hesitate forever. It's not that he believed sex was necessary. But it would eventually play a part in their relationship. And he couldn't deny the attraction he felt for Dade on a physical and emotional level. Dade turned him on like nobody else ever had. Marcel was finding it harder and harder to keep himself from touching Dade. He always held back though, fearing what would come after the touch. Still, looking at his boyfriend right now, he couldn't help but stare. The guy was nothing short of gorgeous. He made you think impure thoughts. He was that tempting.

"I know what you're thinking." Dade said with a smile.

"What am I thinking?"

"About the same thing every other guy thinks about."

"You caught me."

"It's ... nice that you still can find me attractive that way. You hold back a lot. You let me hold your hand, you let me hold you. And that's enough for me. Really it is. But I hope one day I can show you the difference between having sex and ... making love." Dade said with a warm smile. "Can't beat it. One day maybe. When you're ready. But just so you know, I'm not in a hurry. I still have Mr. Right. In fact, I think he wants to play right now. Sleeping next to you for three nights in a row makes him a little antsy."

"Thanks for sharing that, Dade." Marcel said with a grin. "I'll leave you and Mr. Right to it."

"We'll both be thinking of you." Dade said cheekily.


Marcel threw on a shirt and headed for the door while Dade watched. The two shared a glance as Marcel stood at the doorway. Dade just sat on his bed with an unassuming smile on his face. Not wanting or expecting anything, simply content to be near the person he had wanted for so long.

"Thanks for ... this." Marcel said gratefully as he left the room.

"You're welcome." Dade sighed blissfully as he fell back on his bed. "You're very welcome."


* * * * * *


"Hey, Miss Garrett." I said with a smile as I walked into class.

"Hello, Daniel. How are you doing today?"

"Very well, Miss."

"Where's Carl today?"

"I'm not sure, Miss. I haven't seen him yet. I'm sure he'll be here."

"Hey, Miss. You're looking hot as always." Carl said with a wink.

"One day, you're going to walk in here and greet me with a different line. I'm sure." Miss Garrett said with a mock cross look on her face.

"Not likely, Miss."

Sure enough. Here he is. He walked in with the biggest smile on his face. Mind you, he usually has a smile on his face. Gotta love that guy. But when I say you gotta love him, I don't mean you have to love him enough to let him kiss you. Which is what he did as soon as he walked in. He just put his hands on either side of my face and gave me one hell of a huge wet kiss. Wasn't too bad either, I must admit. But hell, I'm out to the school and I still feel embarrassed.

"Hey!" I yelled as he let me go. "What the hell was that for?"

"Storm, I love you!" He said as if he was shouting it out to the world.

My eyebrow went straight up as if I were Dade himself. I sure hope he hasn't realized he's in love with me or something.

I took two steps backwards and realized everyone's eyes were on us. Carl soon realized that as well and his face went red before he shrugged it off with a smile.

"Have you two quite finished? Could we do some work now?" Miss Garrett said with a smile.

"Oh ... no, not like that, Storm. Sorry, Miss!" Carl said, shaking his head as he sat down on his chair. "But, oh man. You are the best friend in the whole world. I owe you bigtime."

"So it went ok?" I said as I sat down beside him and pulled out my books.

"I don't know how to thank you. I would never have been able to ask her. Oh man, she is so incredible. This is the best day of my life."

"I feel so hurt. I thought the happiest day in my life was when you met me?" I said cheekily.

"Shhh, I'm talking. It was great! It was awesome. And even better, we're going to the ball!"

"That's good, Carl. I'm happy for you."

I noticed Miss Garrett had heard some of our conversation. She seemed to smile at hearing about Carl's date for the ball. Almost as if she had an idea that Carl liked Claire. She's a cool chick our teacher. She's a bit hot though, distracts the students.

"Let me buy you lunch." Carl said eagerly. "To say thank you."

"Do I look that cheap?"


"You don't have to do anything, Carl. Just my small way of saying thank you for perking me up over the years. I hope it works out with you two."

"You don't need to thank me, Storm. I knew being your friend would pay off one day! Took a while but it paid off eventually."

"Ha ha, very funny. I hope this means you'll start forgetting about me soon so we can stop having these inane conversations. Once you and Claire start doing the mooning over each other period, I don't expect to hear from you for about three months at least."

"What the hell does inane mean?"

"It means ..." I said with a gasp as my stomach began cramping something wicked. "Ahh fuck."

"You ok, Bud?"

"Fine, fine. I'm going to see Haslan on Monday. Just my ulcer playing up I think. This shit is happening a bit often for my liking. Haven't been doing myself any favors lately."

"That's what Lucas is for."

"Hardy har har."

"Thanks for hooking me up, Storm. I owe you bigtime. Just no pony riding."

"You're not a pony, you're a donkey."

"You sure you're ok to wait till Monday?" Carl asked with concern. "This is getting a bit regular for my liking. I'll get a pass and take you in now. Come on."

"I'm ok. Really."

"Miss, I think Storm's having problems with his stomach. Can I get a pass and take him to see his doctor?"

"Of course, Carl. Someone will take notes for you two. Go on." Miss Garrett said assertively. "Go on."

"Way to embarrass me." I said with a hint of anger as Carl and I headed walked out of class. "I'm ok. You shouldn't have said anything."

"Hate on me all you want, Stormy one. Not taking any chances. Don't forget I was here yesterday too when you had one of your episodes."

"I'll be ok."

"You'll be ok till you're dead, Storm. Come on. Don't be a hero. You know what happened last time. Stop being so stubborn on this."

"Ok. I'm sorry. But you didn't have to embarrass me like that. Now everybody's gonna know."

"Would you have come otherwise?"

"Probably not." I said as we arrived at the secretary's office while Carl organized our pass.

"We'll take my car." Carl said as he ushered me to the parking lot. "Let's just get it out of the way so at least you'll know what the situation is. Ok?"

"Ok, Carl. You win. Let's go."


* * * * * *


Nothing could ruin Dade's day. Everything seemed to be back on track. He'd made peace with his brother and secured his place with his significant other. And on top of that, the sun was shining. Dade sat out in the school courtyard working on one of his art assignments, blissfully unaware of everyone around him. He was surprised as ever when he felt someone's arms around his neck and a kiss on his cheek. His first thought was Sarah. He turned with a smile on his face, ready to greet her when he realized it wasn't Sarah at all.

"Hey, Spunky." Claire said with a smile as she sat down next to him. "What are you working on?"

"Art assignment. Pastel portrait. What was that for?" Dade asked with confusion on his face.

"It's not in my nature to stay angry at people. I just wanted to see how you were doing. I miss you."

"I've been thinking about you too. I wasn't sure if you wanted to see me or not."

"We've been friends for a long time, Dade. I don't want that to change."

"Me either, Claire." Dade said with a happy sigh. "Me either. You're in a good mood."

"I was thinking. For someone who has the worst luck with guys. I seem to go through a lot of them."

"Well ... you know ..." Dade said rolling his eyes. "You're kinda beautiful. Not to mention wonderful. Yeah, who'd think someone like you could go through so many guys? Look at it this way, you're so hot you even tempt the gay and bi guys."

"Well, I don't want to assume anything but I think I might have actually found a guy who likes me. And I didn't even have to search him out. He just kinda fell in my lap. Thanks to your wonderful brother."

"Good ol' Storm. Cleaning up my messes again. Trying to make everyone happy. Carl likes you a lot though. Storm told me he set you two up. How'd it go?"

"Better than I thought. It was just one date but it was really nice. I could just relax. He's a really easygoing guy. Makes me smile a lot."

"It's about time you found someone who did. You guys going out again?"

"We're going to the ball together."

"Wow. He must be over the moon."

"I still can't believe how much he likes me. He thinks I'm the greatest girl in the world. I just hope it doesn't wear off. He makes me feel really good."

"I'm really happy for you, Claire. Things are starting to look up around here. It's about time."

"How about Josh? I know you see him more than I do. Is he talking to you much?"

"A little. He's still pretty stand offish though."

"I miss him. I miss the three of us hanging out. You think the three of us will be friends again like we used to be?"

"I hope so, Claire. Josh is an angel and I'm a demon. We balance each other out. I tempt him to the dark side and he keeps him on the right side." Dade said with a laugh. "He's a great guy. I hope he comes back to us."

"I might try and find him. I'm a little worried. Since him and I broke up he's been really distant and I can tell there's something bothering him. I think he's having a hard time dealing with the fact that he's gay. Now he finally realizes that he is, I don't think he likes it very much. I think he feels ashamed to talk to me because of how things ended between us."

"Josh is that kind of guy. Shall we go look for him?"

"Sure ... but like first, I want to ask you something."

"Go for it."

"You consider yourself bi right?"

"I don't consider myself anything." Dade said with a shrug.

"I knew you'd say that. You've been hanging out with Storm."

"Only for about my whole life."

"So how do you know which sex you like better?"

"I like all kinds of sex. You have a particular position in mind?"


"Sorry. We've been there before."

"Don't remind me." Claire said red faced. "I'm still getting used to the fact that I'm not an angel anymore."

"It wasn't that bad was it? I know you wanted it to be special but I hope I wasn't that much of a disappointment." Dade said betraying a small amount of hurt on his face.

"You weren't a let down, Dade. You know me, I just want everything to be perfect. It's too bad we didn't get a few more goes." Claire said with a wry smile. "But now how is anyone going to compare?"

"I could give Carl some pointers."

"I'm not planning on going down that track anytime soon. Besides, you might corrupt him."

"Probably. But he'd enjoy it. Everybody does." Dade said with a mischievous grin.

"You still haven't answered my question. How do you know which gender you prefer?"



"I like both." Dade said wickedly. "I really like both. You might think I was good but ... damn ... you don't make it hard. No wait, actually you do make it hard."

"Are you calling me easy?"

"Oh hell no. I'm calling you the hottest chick I've ever been with. You're beautiful, Claire. You really are. I used to dream about you. When you first came to Merlow."

"So that's it. You like both?"

"Ok. I'll give you the honest truth. I get turned on by anything pretty. But if you were asking me which sex I get turned on by the most, I have to say it's girls. It always has been. I like guys as well but I'm a lot more selective and a little less interested. They just don't do it the same."

"So why Marcel?"

"Marcel's different. Marcel's a feeling. I think I'll always have a problem trying to suppress my hetero side but I really love him, Claire. It's not just sexual, it's a feeling. I can't explain it. Girls turn me on, Marcel keeps me on."

"You know what happened to him, right?"

"He told you?"


"Wow. He never even told me. I had to find out from Storm."

"I can understand why he wouldn't want to tell you."

"Yeah, me too."

"So, I guess things will be a little touch and go for a while? No Dadester letting loose?"

"I can wait. I still have Mr. Right. Had to give him a workout this morning."

"Thanks for sharing that." Claire said with a blush.

"We've shared everything else."

"Good point." Claire said as she stood up.

"So we're cool, Claire?"

"We're fine, Dade." Claire said with a smile. "We're fine."


* * * * * *


"How's that feel?" Sarah asked Marcel as she stretched out his injured leg for him. "Still pulling?"

"It's not so bad anymore. I think it's coming right. I should be able to start full on training again pretty soon."

"Don't rush into it, Babe. It'll come right. You're been working it really well. You made a decision about Drake yet?"

"Well if my leg keeps healing up the way it is, I should be able to start training before the next season starts." Marcel said with excitement in his voice. "This is great. I didn't think I'd be able to make it back in time."

"Where would that leave you and Dade?" Sarah asked as she helped Marcel to his feet.

"I'm not really sure." Marcel said with an anxious look on his face. "I'd pretty much written myself off but ... my dreams might not be dead yet."

Marcel hadn't let himself feel this much hope for a long time. He'd all but given up on what had been his biggest ambition in life. The reason for him going to Drake Academy in the first place. To be the best triathlete he could be. It had at once seemed over, but now, he could feel his fire coming back. His drive to succeed, to be the best. Forget the rest, Marcel's the best. That's what everyone said about him. He could feel his chance coming back to prove them all right. To show their faith was not mislaid.

"You're gonna break Dade's heart if you leave him again." Sarah said as she handed Marcel a glass of Refuel.

This brought Marcel's excitement back down to earth. Once again, he found himself in an awkward situation. Once again, he found himself having to choose between his dreams and love. Only this time, Marcel wasn't going to choose. He wanted both.

"No, not this time. We'll make it work somehow." Marcel said confidently. "Dade will understand. Somehow we'll work it out. It won't be like last time."

"Are you sure you want to go back to that place?"

"Those guys are taken care of. Trust me. I'm not afraid anymore. Besides them, I actually liked it there. And this place won't be the same without you and Mike. Merlow will always be my home and one day I'll come back for good, but I don't think it's going to be this time. Not if I can get back into form. I'll work something out with Dade. Let's just see how my rehab goes."

"Good idea."

"Thanks for doing this with me, Sarah. It was a lot of fun."

"For me too. Any excuse to get out of the house. I feel so cooped up these days. I'll be coming in next week to sit some of my final exams so I don't fall behind. The teachers have been pretty good about everything."

"Of course they would, Sarah. You're a great student. They understand what's happening with you. I mean, look how they've accommodated me."

"I would have liked to have spent my last year here."

"There's still hope, Sarah. You've got three months to get yourself back in top form and come back. You can do it." Marcel said with a confident smile. "If anyone can, you can. You're the fighter out of us."

"You mean bitch." Sarah said with a wry smile. "I don't know what Mike sees in me sometimes."

"More than you realize. That's why you're wearing that engagement ring. It's the best thing happening right now. I've wanted to be his for so long. I mean we would've waited normally but ... I want to be his before ..."

"Don't say it, Sarah."

"I didn't say before I die. But before I get any sicker. I want to feel everything about this day. I don't want to be half assed or not at my best. And I want everyone I love to be there. June will be there too, I know it. She's watching over me. I really believe that. She's my guardian angel. Might sound stupid but ..."

"It doesn't sound stupid. And I know why you guys are getting married now. You don't have to explain yourself to me. I think it's an awesome move. We'll all be there. It'll be an awesome day."

"A good day to leave Merlow on. Just in case."

"Sarah ..."

"Sorry, Baby. Enough about me. How's everything going with our spunky?"

"Really good. He doesn't push me but he doesn't tip toe all the time either. He just has the right balance. I was a bit worried that things with Dade would be different. That's why I was afraid to get back with him but he's just been awesome. He takes care of me but he doesn't baby me all the time. He makes me happy."

"Ok all six of us are together. Let's just freeze time right now before anything goes wrong." Sarah said rolling her eyes. "Fate has a way of picking on us."

"The other night was good though. With Storm. Everyone was there. It'd be nice to do that again before you guys leave and we all start blowing with the wind."

"I didn't tell you? We are. I'm not having a hen's night. Mike's not having a stag night. All six of us are going out to dinner the night before our wedding and we're all gonna crash at June's house."

"Why'd you say that?" Marcel asked curiously.

"Just ... I dunno. Whose house do we call it now? Storm's not there. June's not there. Dade's house? The Marcus house?"

"Pack HQ." Marcel said with a smile. "Whatever works. So we're all crashing together on the last night, are we?"

"You bet we are. I might ask Claire if she wants to come. Maybe Josh. He's real fond of Mike. Maybe Brad."


"Yeah, I love him. He's a little sweetheart now."

"He's almost like he was when he and Storm were friends before. He's changed a lot. I quite like him too."

"We'll see what happens though. But I'd like to have something that night just be for us six. For our pack. Maybe we should ..." Sarah began saying before she felt her phone vibrate. "Hold on, Babe. I've got a text message."

Marcel noted the change in demeanor on Sarah's face as she read the message on her cell phone. He waited with a growing sense of anxiety for her to say something. With a look of worry, her eyes rose and turned to meet Marcel's.

"We need to go." Sarah said bluntly. "We need to go now."


* * * * * *


"Carl, I can't believe you called them." I said shaking my head as I saw Sarah and Marcel enter the waiting room.

"I'm not here to take your orders, Kind Sir. If you have any complaints, check them in with the `I don't give a damn' secretary." Carl said with a cheeky smile. "You were in there for a while, I was getting worried. I wanted to let somebody know in case something was wrong. I knew Sarah would be near her cell phone so I sent her a text."

"Storm? Are you ok?" Sarah asked as she greeted me with a stern look of concern on her face.

Kinda reminds me of Mom, the way she's looking at me. Marcel's not far behind and shakes hands with Carl before he stands next to Sarah.

"I'm fine. I didn't know Carl contacted you. I wouldn't have let him. There's nothing to worry about. Really."

"Don't push me, Daniel. If you had it your way, you wouldn't have contacted us at all. What if something happened like last time?"

She called me Daniel while she's angry. That reminds me of Mom too. Makes me smile. And that just seems to piss Sarah off more.

"What's so funny?"

"Nothing, Sarah. I didn't want to worry you. Everything's ok. Just my stupid ulcer wants to make my life interesting. They're running some tests now. Haslan's gonna call me if there's anything else I need to know about but otherwise I have to come back in on Monday. He's booking me in for surgery. I knew this was coming."

"Where's your surgery? General State?" Sarah asked curiously. "Where you were last time?"

"They can't do it here. I was going to go to General State but I asked if I could get it done in Saran City while I'm up with you guys if that's ok."

"Hey, that's awesome." Sarah smiled. "Well not awesome but if you have to get it done, at least you can get it done by us. You can't drive up now though. It's too long a drive for you. You'll have to fly."

"I guess so."

"Marcel, what are you doing?" Sarah asked as she realized Marcel was busy talking on the phone. "You have to do that now?"

"Storm, when are you booked in for surgery?" Marcel asked as he covered his the receiver of his phone.

"Monday week. Two days after Mike and Sarah leave."

"Ok, I'm coming with you." Marcel said before he quickly finished his conversation. "I just booked our tickets. We fly out on Sunday week."


"You came with me to Drake. I'm coming with you to Saran City."

"Hold on, I'll just pull some cash out of my fat wallet here so I can come too." Carl said sarcastically. "Oh wait, I don't have a fat wallet. My name's not Marcel or Marty Lee."

"Shut up, Carl." I said prodding him, knowing money was always a sensitive spot for Marcel.

"I'm just kidding, Marcel. Don't mind me, I just wish I could do that. I'd come too."

"Well if you really want to, we can work something out." Marcel said completely serious.

"That's ok. Thanks for the offer anyway." Carl said with a genuine smile. "Don't mean to tease. Except Storm of course. I love to tease him."

"You can't come, Marcel. Who's going to look after ... you know?"

"Dade!" Carl said almost trying not to scream. "Who's going to look after Dade? That's what you meant to say. I know more than you think. And I can check in on Dade."

"No it's ok." Marcel said flatly. "Dade and Lucas are coming with us. I booked four tickets. School will be on break anyway."

"You can't do that, Marcel. None of you have to come. I'll be ok. Mike will be there."

"Hey! I'll be there too!" Sarah said annoyed.

"You'll be playing sickie like me. And even if no one else was there, I'd still be ok. Saran City is too far for everyone to just up and leave. I have a reason to go. I was going there anyway. I'll be ok by myself. I don't need babysitters. And besides all that, it's way too expensive. No, cancel the tickets, Marcel. I'm going by myself. I was going on my own anyway, nothing's changed."

"You're still a stubborn shit when you want to be." Marcel said annoyed. "But you can just bite me. You know that whole thing we were talking about before? We do what the other needs, not what they always want. I'm coming. You don't like it, you deal with it."

"I sense tension in the family unit." Carl said in a stupid robot voice. "Dysfunction, dysfunction."

"Shut up, Carl." I said as I punched him in the arm lightly.

"Marcel's right though." Carl said in a more serious tone as he turned to Marcel and Sarah. "Storm got pissed at me for bringing him in. I don't care. He had to come in. It was what he needed."

"Of course Marcel's right. I told him that."

"Thank you, Carl." Sarah said with a grateful smile. "We appreciate that. If Mr. Hero had it his way, he'd come in on the way to the morgue."

"So what did Haslan say? Is it just your ulcer playing up?" Marcel asked intently. "You're going in for athroscopic surgery again?"

"More than that. I get the deluxe cut and paste. How groovy am I? Probably my own fault."

"Was it because of what happened at Drake?"

"I think that had something to do with it but apparently my last surgery wasn't completely successful and that's why I had a relapse. But even if I didn't, I'm stuck with this for life, I think."

"Fuck." Marcel said angrily to himself as he turned away. "I shouldn't have let you come."

"It's ok, Bud. Really. I'm gonna be ok. Don't stress. I'm fine. It'll all be fine."

"So what are you waiting around for?" Sarah asked curiously.

"My prescription. Haslan's gonna call me tonight if anything else is up. But I'm fine really. We'll leave as soon as your wedding's over. I'll fly up on Sunday, I'll probably beat you and Mike there."

"We'll probably beat them there." Marcel said firmly. "I'm coming. I can be just as stubborn as you."

"We'll talk about it later. Thanks for coming though you two. And thanks for bringing me, Carl. I know I'm not the easiest person in the world." I said sincerely as I smiled at him.

"You're welcome."

"Let's just hope they hurry up with the prescription. I wanna get out of here. I gotta pick something up from town."

"What's in town?" Sarah asked inquisitively.

"Just a little surprise for my baby ..."


* * * * * *


"Keep your eyes closed." I said as I helped Lucas climb up into the treehouse.

"Dude, I know I've been up here a lot but my eyes are usually open."

I helped him into the tree house, making sure he kept his eyes closed. I'd set glass covered candles all around with a picnic mat in the center. One candle sit in the middle of it, with a bottle of white wine for Lucas and grape juice for me. A small blue box with a box on top sat in front of Lucas. There were a few other things, food for my hunky spunky and me and a futon, just in case I get lucky.

"Okay, you can open your eyes now." I said with a smile as Lucas slowly opened his eyes.

"Dude, what are we doing here?" Lucas asked with a smile as he saw how I'd dressed up the tree house. "Aren't we a bit old for this place?"

"This tree house ... this is where you gave me something that always meant the world to me." I said with a smile as I held my necklace.

"Dude, you'll never lose that will you?" Lucas asked as he brushed his fingers across it.

"Never. And I don't think I'll ever give it back to you. Even if the worst happened to us, this is mine now. You told me it was for your first love. I believe you meant that. So I'll never give it up. No matter what happens to us."

"Dude, why are you talking like this?" Lucas asked with anxiety in his eyes. "You're not leaving me, are you?"

"I'm going away, but I'm not leaving you. We can talk about all that later. Don't worry. I just want this moment with you. Nothing else matters." I said with a broad smile. "It's about time I gave you something in return to show how much you mean to me too."

"What, Dude?" Lucas asked excitedly, like a kid who was about to open a Christmas present.

"This is for you." I said as I handed Lucas the blue box.

"What is it, Dude?"

"Open it."

"Dude, I feel like I already have the best present." Lucas said with a doe eyed sigh. "But I still want this one too."

"Don't get sappy on me." I said with a shy smile. "Open it."


Lucas carefully pulled the lid off to find two tiny silk bags inside. Each with one of our names on them. Beneath them lay an envelope with Lucas' name on it. Obviously, Lucas doesn't have my sense of impatience. He seemed content to just wow at the silk bags. Now if that were me, I would've ripped the lid off the box and emptied the goods out already. But not my baby, there's no rushing him when he's trying to savor a moment.

"Dude, these are so cool."

"Lucas, hurry up and look already." I said shaking my head as I smiled at him. "You're so slow."

"Dude, I'm savoring. You know me. I'm just enjoying this. Don't rush me."

"Sorry, Baby. Next time you get me something though, don't expect me to be the same. You know how I am."

"I know, Dude." Lucas said as he finally slipped his fingers inside his bag and pulled out what was inside. "Whoa!"

I so love this about my baby. I don't know whether it's because he's easy to please or because I just manage to please him. I like to think it's the latter. Right now though, I just can't help but feel happy as I see his face look completely blown away. Blown away by such a small thing.

It was a necklace. A necklace with both our initials etched in. It wasn't a dolphin though, this one was the japanese kanji character for `love as one' with characters for mine and Lucas' name as part of it. Sensei had helped me come up with the best kanji. The necklace itself was silver like the one Lucas had given to me but with etched with a few diamonds to sparkle just that little bit. He's worth it. He is so worth it and more.

"Dude ..." Lucas said overwhelmed with the hint of watery eyes. "I don't know what to say."

"Here." I said as I took it gently from his hand. "Let me."

I raised it up and slipped it around his neck ever so lovingly. My fingers playing gently on his neck as I smiled at him. He let out a sigh as I pulled away and looked at him wearing it.

"It means, love as one. I think that's what you've made me do, Lucas. I never thought it would happen. But you've changed my life in the best way. Now you have the necklace and in the other bag is a ring for me. It's the same. I wear the ring, you wear the necklace. But they're two halves of a whole. That's what you are to me." I said trying not to let myself get too emotional. "You gave me your necklace so long ago and now it's my turn to finally give you mine. You kept the ring to match the necklace you gave me, and I keep the ring for the necklace I give you. So now I think we pretty much match up. What do you think?"

"I think I'm gonna cry." Lucas said with a small laugh as his eyes let a few tears slip. "Whoa. This is surreal, Dude. I think I am gonna cry. I don't know what to say."

"You can open the envelope now if you want."

"Phewf." Lucas said as he picked up the envelope and read the note in it.

`I don't quite know the words to say,
Perhaps they'll come another day,
I only know this much is true,
That day will come because of you.'

"Oh fuck, Dude. What the hell did I do? What the hell did I do to get all this, Dude? Oh man." Lucas said as he took a deep breath. "Fuck it, I am gonna cry and I don't care. You make me so happy, Storm."

"Thank you for being my everything." I say with slight tears in my eyes as I lean forward and give Lucas the sweetest of angel kisses. "For never giving up on me."

"You don't have to keep going. I've melted already."

"Cool." I say in a cheeky tone. "Does that mean I get lucky tonight?"

"Dude, you are so getting lucky."


* * * * * *

* To Be Continued *

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