By SFWriter
Copyright 1998 -- 2013, All rights reserved.

SF40b: Small Miracles

* * * * * * *

Dawn crept slowly over Merlow. Pulling back the dark veil of night with its awakening rays. The insects of the night gave way to the gentle chirp of sparrows. The air was still cold and crisp, but already it was obvious today was going to be yet another beautiful Merlow day.

Yet one soul cared little for the natural beauty that surrounded him. The breaking of dawn had no effect on his somber mood. He cast a lonely shadow as he sat beside a grave that was now well and truly covered with new shoots of grass. Dade Marcus.

He sat with his head resting on his knees, staring blankly at his mother's grave. His eyes were filled with a lost and lonely gaze. He rubbed his arms occasionally, succumbing to the chilly air. Yet even when night had fully given way to day, he didn't move. All around him, Merlow was coming to life, but for him, it didn't even seem to exist.

He stared at the grave, as if his eyes expected his mother to wake up at any moment. As if she would suddenly come back and tell him everything was going to be ok. And then reality would hit him. He would realize she would never come back. He would remember why she would never come back. And he would tell himself that he was responsible for all the bad things his family had been through since his mother's death.

Still the sun shone down on him, trying to break his cool demeanor with it's warming rays. It did not succeed.

* * * * * * *

The morning sun crept into Lucas's bedroom, causing him to stir in his sleep. His hand instinctively moved across the bed, trying to find something that wasn't there. After a few motions, his eyes opened and cast themselves upon the empty space in his bed. His mind reeled with memories that seemed so distant now. Doubts began to overwhelm him as he wondered whether he'd ever share his bed again with the one he loved. The one he truly believed was meant for him. Daniel `Storm' Phelan Marcus.

With a tired sigh he sat up on the edge of his bed. He looked down at his feet while he absentmindedly reached for the photo on his bedside cabinet. He held the photo in his hands, his eyes trying to avoid the image inside the frame. His eyes failed him as he soon found himself staring at the image of himself and his mate. A photo taken when a relationship with Storm was just a dream. A time when their friendship was all Lucas thought he'd ever have.

His fingers brushed across the face of his mate, a half smile creeping across Lucas's strawberry lips. A smile that soon dissipated as he put the photo back in it's place.

Energy seemed to flee from Lucas's body as he trudged into the shower. As the water ran down over his body, he wished he had the house to himself right now. He didn't have the energy to be a host or to be responsible for anyone else. Didn't look forward to getting out of the shower and facing his houseguests.

As he stepped out of the shower and returned to his bedroom, he seemed to find himself inundated by constant reminders of his mate. Reminders that only served to deepen his depression and sense of loss. This was the furthest he'd ever been away from his mate since he'd moved to Merlow. Even when they'd split up, he always knew his mate was around. But now ... Saran City seemed so far away and for some reason he couldn't shake the feeling that perhaps his mate might not return. As much as he believed in their love, he wasn't sure whether Merlow was where his mate wanted or needed to be right now.

Before his emotions began to overwhelm him, he left his bedroom and decided to front up to the rest of the world. More specifically, his houseguests. Sure enough, they were both already up and the smell of pancakes filled the house.

"Hey, Lukey." Ashley said as she greeted Lucas with a hug, "Are you ok?"

"I'm fine, Ash." Lucas said with a feigned smile, "Thanks for coming back to look after Marty Lee."

"He's my brother. It should be me thanking you for giving him a real home for once. By the sounds of things, I'm not sure he deserved it. Did you, Marty?"

"Whatever you say, Ash. Morning, Lucas."

"Morning, Marty." Lucas said as he patted Marty Lee on the back and gave him a small smile, "Thanks for taking care of the place. I notice you added a few things but I'm glad you didn't go overboard buying things for the house."

Marty Lee responded with a small sincere smile of his own. The smile was small but it did little to hide his joy at having Lucas back. Lucas could tell that Marty Lee had taken to living in his house with a fervor. He still had his edgy aloofness, but his demeanor was definitely more relaxed and he seemed genuinely happier. He was starting to blossom, and all it took was the right environment.

"He really thinks highly of you, Lukey. He's happy here with you." Ashley said as she watched Marty Lee prepare Lucas's breakfast, "Thank you for doing this."

Ashley's hand seemed to absentmindedly find it's way to the small of Lucas's back. She rubbed her hand there in what Lucas took as a purely affectionate gesture. His spirits actually lifted seeing his house filled with a bit of life. It wasn't till he noticed the quick raised eyebrow that Marty Lee threw his sister, that he came back down to earth. He suddenly became aware of the close proximity he shared with Ashley. Her head resting on his shoulder as the two of them watched Marty Lee. Her hand around his waist.

It was a familiar sensation and Lucas didn't think the gesture meant anything untoward, however he soon politely distanced himself. He took his seat at the table while Ashley excused herself from the room, leaving Marty Lee and himself alone. Lucas began to eat his breakfast while Marty Lee sat and watched, almost like a dutiful child would their parent's. It was somewhat unsettling for Lucas, as he had become used to the Merlow Marty Lee. The hard, nasty, sharp, terror inducing Marty Lee. The Marty Lee that seemed so much older than his actual age. The Marty Lee who seemed to carry himself like he was older than Lucas at times, and not as young as Dade like his true age. That Marty Lee still sat before him now, but there were shades of the other Marty Lee. The one Lucas knew before Merlow. The one he was rather fond of and had taken to like a surrogate brother of sorts. Only time would tell whether Marty Lee would find a balance between the two or revert back to his nastier side.

"You wanted to talk to me about the living arrangements?" Marty Lee spoke finally with a nervous anticipation.

"It can wait, Marty."

"That's the third time you've called me Marty since you got back."

"You keep count, Dude?" Lucas asked with an amused smile.

"Well ..."

"You're doing ok. And besides, we're becoming friends again, aren't we?"

Marty Lee responded with a bigger than average smile. His obvious appreciation of Lucas's statement beaming through. Yet still he remained slightly nervous about Lucas's plans for him here. Lucas seemed to pick up on this and gave Marty Lee a warm smile.

"Oh, and about the living arrangements, Dude. Let's make it permanent."

* * * * * * *

"Morning Princess." Carl said with a sincere smile as he stood at Claire's doorway, "You feeling ok? You look a little peaky."

"Well thanks." Claire smirked as she rubbed the sleep out of her eyes and sat up on her bed, "I think maybe I had a bit too much fun last night."

"Not as much as I would have liked!"

"You mean we didn't? I thought ..."

"Well ... we could have, but ... it's better that we didn't. I think I want you a little more sober if we ever go that far."

"Thank you for being such a gentleman."

"Call me old fashioned but I'd like our first time to be ... special. Don't let that one out at school, I'll never hear the end of it."

"Isn't that what the girl's supposed to say?"

Carl just shrugged with his usual cheery smile before he bounced onto the bed next to Claire. He brushed his hand along her cheek affectionately before he surprised her with a quick kiss.

For some reason that Carl couldn't work out, Claire seemed uncomfortable. Her eyes averted his and the smile faded from her face. He gave her hand a squeeze and smiled at her quizzically. She feigned a smile back at him before she finally spoke.

"You know that I'm ... I'm not a virgin, Carl." Claire said with a look of disappointment on her face.

"You see that face right there. That's the difference between guys and girls. When guys say they aren't virgins, it's usually with a grin bigger than Texas. But you look like your cat died or something. Why the long face, Princess?"

"I didn't mean for it to happen. Not the way it did. I think I would've liked it better if my first time was with you. I know how much you care about me."

"It's none of my business what you did before we were together. I'm just glad you're mine now. But if you don't mind me asking, who was the lucky son of a gun? And why is it such a bad thing? You didn't care about this guy? It was a guy wasn't it?" Carl smirked, "Because I have no problem at all thinking about you ... I mean if you were with another girl. That wouldn't be a problem at all."

"Behave. And it was a guy. I only swing one way. And I cared about him, he just ... I don't think he cared the same. I know he didn't. It was Dade."

"Oh." Carl shrugged, "For a minute I was kinda hoping it was Josh. I like Josh. I know he cared about you a lot."

"And you think I'm just another girl on Dade's laid list?"

"No. And I don't think he'd call you just another girl either. I'd rather not say anything. I guess I'm not really surprised. There aren't many girls around here who could resist Dade." Carl said with a resigned sigh, "He's the one they all want."

"I'm sorry. I just wanted you to know. If we plan on being serious ... and I'd like to be ..." Claire beamed hopefully, "I think it's important that we're honest with each other. No secrets."

"I'm not angry or anything. I don't have a right to be. I just ... don't think Dade deserved you that way. He doesn't care about you like ..."

"Like you?"

"Yeah. Not to mention the fact that he's a damn hard act to follow. From what I've heard, he makes people melt in all the best ways."

Claire's face blushed a deep red. It was obvious to Carl that Dade had made a lasting impression on her. He wasn't surprised in the least. But he couldn't help feeling a little envious that Dade managed to have his way with Claire in the time they were together.

Carl had no want to make Claire feel ashamed for uncomfortable for what she'd done. As much as he would have liked to have been with her first, he wasn't. And it wasn't in him to feel bummed for more than a few moments. A grin soon passed over his face as he stared intently into Claire's eyes.

"I take it you melted too. Now you do realize that I'm a virgin. He's got a lot of experience on me. I'm a bit nervous now. But you know what they say. Practice makes perfect!"

Claire appreciated the way Carl reacted to her confession. He always knew just how to make her feel better. Always treated her like a princess. It was just another on a long list of reasons why she was becoming more and more grateful that they were together.

"You know something, Carl Bentley?" Claire said with an adoring smile.

"What, Princess?"

"I think I love you too."

* * * * * * *

"Ok, what are we doing?" Brad asked inquisitively.

Brad's eyes were covered by Josh's hands so he couldn't tell where exactly they were going or what they were doing. All Brad knew is they were trekking off on one of Josh's bush walks again. Finally when Josh removed his hands from Brad's eyes, he realized where exactly they were.

"I don't get it." Brad said with a puzzled expression on his face.

He stood on the north lake forest track, high on a ridge overlooking Lake Herren and Merlow in the distance. The view was familiar to Brad but he couldn't figure out whether he'd been to this place with Josh before. All he knew was the view was stunning.

"I know you get into your drawing and stuff now. I thought this might be a good spot for you to do some."

"But I didn't bring any of my sketch pads. Or my art gear."

"Well ... maybe those will help." Josh said as he pointed to the assorted gear spread out on the ground.

Almost everything Brad wanted was right before him. All the oil, sketch pencils, pastels, pads and charcoals that Brad always wanted but could never quite afford. He couldn't believe it. And even after his look of amazement had gone, he couldn't help feeling a little uncomfortable.

"Uhh ... Josh, you shouldn't have." Brad said scratching his head, "You didn't have to do this."

"Brad, I don't want to make you feel awkward or anything. I just wanted to say thank you somehow for being there for me. I don't know what to say. Don't feel uncomfortable about it. It's the least I could do. Will you take it?"

"Josh ... I appreciate it and everything but I wish you didn't. It's too much. I don't think I can take it. What'll my Dad say when I walk through the door with all of this?"

"I don't know. Just tell him the truth. Tell him you helped me out and I wanted to pay you back. Please, Brad?"

"I don't know. I'm not sure, Josh. It's just too much. I could never afford this. And you don't have to buy me things. I'm your friend because I'm your friend. I probably still owe you for the hard time I gave you ages ago."

"That's ancient history, Brad." Josh said with a dejected sigh, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable. I just ... I'll take them back. Sorry, Brad."

"Josh, I don't know what to say. I just don't want you to think that you have to do things like this for me. I'll always be your friend, Josh. No matter what."

"All the more reason then for you to let me say thank you in my own way. Please?"

"Ok. Wow, thank you. Thanks, Josh." Brad said as he gave Josh an unexpected hug.

Brad had meant the gesture in a purely sincere manner. Yet as he held Josh in a tight hug with their bare chests pressed together, he soon found the situation rather awkward. Obviously Josh felt uncomfortable by the way his face began turning a little red. Brad let go with a nervous smile and looked down at the art gear that Josh had given him. A thought popped into his head and he brimmed a smile at a still awkward Josh.

"Sorry, I didn't mean to make you feel uncomfortable, Josh." Brad said as he sat down on the ground and pulled a sketch pad onto his lap, "But I might as well get some use out of this stuff. Sit down right there. I want to draw you."

"Me? But you already did that before."

"Not with this stuff I didn't. My first piece is going to be for you anyway. Come on. Don't be shy. You're a great looking guy."

"Not to you." Josh said with a coy smile as he sat down, "But I guess I won't hold that against you."

"That's what I like to hear." Brad grinned, "You should let that side out more often. Now stay still. Maybe if I keep looking at you long enough like this, I'll turn."

"Yeah, right. I think I just saw a pig fly."

"Funny ... I think I did too."

* * * * * * *

Carl stood in line, waiting to buy lunch for Claire and himself. Her odd request for a cheese, bacon and banana focaccia could only be fulfilled at Café Orry. He made his purchase and headed back to his car, when a familiar figure caught his attention. Only a few hundred meters away, Dade Marcus sat under an oak tree. He seemed to do little except stare out over the lake.

The lakeside was fairly busy today so it was easy for the pair to miss each other. Normally, Carl's first instinct would have been to yell out. However, the tiny seed of jealousy and resentment began creeping into Carl's mind. He resented that Dade had been Claire's first. He knew Dade could have just about any girl he wanted, and Claire may well have been just another notch on his belt.

For an instant, Carl turned to keep walking to his car. For some reason though, he couldn't shake Dade's image out of his head. His solitary figure seemed so lost and despondent, almost empty. Then he remembered how much Dade had been through since his mother had died and felt pangs of guilt rush over his body.

He turned back face Dade when he found the tree suddenly standing alone. Dade was gone. Carl looked around but Dade had disappeared amongst the masses of people enjoying the lakeside activities.

"That wasn't very nice, Carl." Carl said to himself as he headed back to his car, "I'll just have to catch up with you again, Dade."

* * * * * * *

Brad walked into his room and threw his gear on his desk. He wiped the sweat off his brow as he fell down onto his bed. It'd been a hard day of hiking with Josh. He figured he'd try to get a little bit of a relax in before he got ready for karate. He'd barely managed a breather before his father walked in with his usual look of disdain.

"Where'd all this fancy shit come from, Boy?" Jeremiah Sisto asked as he pointed towards his son's desk.

"Uhh ... Josh gave it to me, Pop." Brad replied as he sat straight up.

"Are you lying to me, Boy? Did you steal it?"

"I didn't. Josh gave it to me because I helped him out with a few things." Brad insisted.

"Alright then. But next time that boy's around here I'm gonna ask him if you're telling the truth. You better hope you are."

"Yes, Pop. Uhh, Pop, can I make a phone call to Saran City? I wanna see how Storm's doing."

"Why do you wanna call him for?"

"Just to see how he's doing. Make sure he's getting better."

"Probably got aids like all the rest of em faggots." Jeremiah said as he shook his head in disappointment, "Used to be such a good kid too."

Brad's eyes almost fell out of their sockets. His father was never shy of speaking his mind, but he couldn't believe how ignorant he sounded right now. It made Brad's blood boil but the fear of his father soon brought it back to a simmer.

"Make it quick. You better not end up like him, Son. Two o' those homos are enough for this town."

"Thank goodness not everyone here thinks like you." Brad mumbled under his breath.

"What'd you say, Boy?"

"Nothing, Pop. I'll be quick."

"Good. Then you and that lazy brother of yours get in there and make dinner."

"I've got training tonight down at the dojo."

"Well at least you're doing something good with your time. Ok, make your phone call and help your brother peel the spuds. He can do the rest after that."

"Yes, Pop." Brad said as his father left his room.

Brad sat there in disbelief. The way his father felt scared him. His ignorance was terrifying. He could only imagine now how Josh must feel. Brad may have been annoyed at his father, but at least he wasn't on the receiving ends of his views. It was no wonder Josh had no intention of ever coming out. With people like Jeremiah Sisto out there, who would want to?

Brad picked up his phone and began dialing in Storm's cell phone number. They hadn't spoken for a while and Brad wanted to make sure his bud was doing ok. But the more the phone rang, the more Brad believed he'd miss out on talking to his friend.

"Hello?" Answered a voice that sounded a bit too female like for Storm.


"Sorry, he's not in. What's the point of him having a mobile if he doesn't take it with him, aye?" A somewhat familiar voice asked, "Who can I say called?"

"Uhh ... Brad."

"Brad? Brad, is that you? I didn't recognize your voice!"

"Sarah?" Brad asked in surprise, "Sarah, is that you?"

"The one and only! How the hell are you?"

"Whoa, Sarah! This is a wicked surprise. How are you doing?"

"I'm doing great, Brad. Besides being totally homesick. I miss all you guys so much. Tell me the truth now, does that place just suck without me?"

"Sure it does, Sarah." Brad said with a smile, "It hasn't been the same since all of you left. Are you doing ok though?"

"I'm doing ok. Mike is taking great care of me."

"Does he like it there?"

"Oh hell no. He hates it. He wants to come home too. He's not a big city boy, my husband."

"How's the married life?"

"Strange. Makes me feel old."

"But your health is doing ok?"

"My hair isn't falling out if that means anything." Sarah laughed, "I'm really good, Brad. Seriously. I'm doing great."

"That's excellent news, Sarah. I'm so happy to hear that. You think you'll ever come back to Merlow?"

"I hope so, Brad. I really wish I could come back for school. It's weird, you know. Before I got married and left, I thought I was just killing time. I wasn't doing so good, you know? Now I'm married and I'm here in Saran City and I just want to hurry up and get better so I can come home and rule over my boys again. But being here has really helped. I've got some good people taking care of me here, Brad."

"You sound good, Sarah. You know I'm rooting for you. Everyone is. I see Claire now and then and she always talks about you."

"I've spoken to her a few times. I think she wants to come up for a holiday sometime. You know, you're more than welcome to come too. You have a bed here anytime."

"Wow. Thank you. I don't think I'll be able to take you up on that offer, but I appreciate it anyway. I've barely been out of Merlow my whole life. I doubt I'd get as far as Saran City."

"How is everything going for you though? You having a good holiday?"

"It's ok. Kinda quiet."

"Storm won't be back till late tonight. He's gone out with Carey to check out a few things."

"He's coming back, isn't he?"

"I think so. If he doesn't, then Lucas and Dade must be moving here too. He won't leave them behind. So don't worry, I'm sure he'll be back. But ... I think he could actually do well here. If Lucas and Dade were here of course. He's settled in more than me and Mike did. I think he's had a good break here too. It's been really good for him. You never know, Mike and I might move back to Merlow before he does!"

"Wow, I hope he does come back soon. Uhh ... you think ... maybe, I could keep in touch? Can I have your ph..."

"Oh for sure. I meant to give you a call and give it to you, but since you beat me. It's 368 555 0156. You should call sometime. Mike would love to hear from an old Merlow boy. He really is going nuts up here. He says the air isn't the same here. It isn't as pure he thinks. He doesn't like the city. He misses his lake. He misses his team. He's dreading the thought of the team going out there without him next season. My poor husband, he's only here because of me."

"I'm sure he wouldn't want to be anywhere else though. Your guys wedding was really beautiful."

"You know, we married so young because we didn't want to waste time if ... you know, I started pushing up daisies. But now I feel ... it's hard to explain, I just feel like I'm going to be around another five, ten years at least."

"Well that's how you should feel." Brad said excitedly, "I don't think it matters that you got married so young. I'll bet my life savings that you guys last. You didn't just get married because you weren't sure how long you had. You got married because you loved each other. It's just a bonus now that you feel so optimistic. You guys deserve to grow old together."

"I think the treatments have helped a lot. I guess being away from Merlow has as well. I don't worry as much about trying to keep up appearances, you know? I can just concentrate on getting better. It's the same for Storm. Funny thing is, he seems better than ever. He only had a days rest before he was back to training and working out with Mike. He's trying really hard to be ready for the regionals. Plus he really does miss his baby. He needs a strawberry fix. He doesn't say it, but you know how he is. It's easy to tell. Anyway, you're calling from home, right?"


"Well we better shut this conversation down then. I don't want your bill running away. Was there anything in particular you wanted me to tell Storm?"

"Just tell him I called, please." Brad said as he bit his lip, knowing he wanted to say more, "Hopefully I'll talk to him or see him soon."

"Thanks for calling, Brad. It was great talking to you."

"You too, Sarah. Take care ok and say hi to Mike for me."

"Ok. Bye, Brad."

"Bye, Sarah."

Brad hung his phone up with a huge smile on his face. He hadn't expected to talk to Sarah but he was certainly glad he had. He really did think Merlow wasn't the same without the newlyweds. Maybe they'd get a miracle and get to come home like they hoped. Just maybe.

* * * * * * *

Marty Lee stood at the front of the dojo leading his class in a kata set. He stood with a surprising smile on his face. He was pleased with the way things were progressing for him in Merlow now. Even his students seemed to notice his more jovial spirit. His students. As much as he had an unusual loyalty towards the former top gun of the dojo, Daniel Marcus, he was thoroughly enjoying his new position of power. The students had grown to accept him as their new go-to man. The leader of the class. Perhaps this would be one perk of the so called Storm remaining absent.

As he signaled the class to break off into their training groups, he noticed the presence of a certain student. He was somewhat surprised by the student's rather quiet return to the dojo. For the student was none other than the brother of the former top gun here at Takada-Kai Dojo. Dade Marcus.

"Dade." Marty Lee called as he motioned for Dade to come over.

With an inauspicious and barely noticeable nod, Dade approached Marty Lee. Marty Lee's attempt to greet Dade with a smile met with little response. Dade held the somber and uninterested tone of a vegetarian presented with a prime rib steak. Marty Lee realized Dade was in little mood to be congenial, least of all with him.

"Welcome back, Dade. How are you doing?"

"Fine." Dade said as if biting his lip to hold back what he really wanted to say.

It was obvious to Marty Lee that Dade was only affording him the respect he would give any person in charge of the dojo. Probably less considering that person was Marty Lee. The long simmering tension between the two had yet to completely dissipate. One thing he knew about Dade by now was his ability to hold people to deeds long past. Lucas was a prime example.

"You don't have to be here, Dade. I'll understand if you want to take a few classes off."

"I've missed enough classes." Dade said in a tone strong enough to end the current train of conversation, "Is there anything else?"

"Very well. I'm sure Wendell will be glad to have some help with the juniors. Let me know if you need anything."

"I don't." Dade said sharply as he walked away.

"Nice to have you back, Dade." Marty Lee said under his breath.

"Not your biggest fan, is he?" Ashley said with a smile as she approached her brother, "And he's not the only one."

"You should have seen them all before. This is actually progress." Marty Lee smirked as he monitored the class, "It's not easy filling in for someone who's been around as long as Storm has. He's been part of this dojo most of his life. How about you? What do you think of my new dojo?"

"Well ... I think you were tougher before you came to Merlow. But your sensei seems nice enough. He seems sincere too."

"He has a daughter, but I actually think he was hoping Storm would take over for him when he started stepping back from teaching."

"He still might. Plenty of time for that. I don't think it would be for a few years before anything like that happened. Besides, you don't think Storm's coming back?"

"Do you?"

"I don't know." Ashley said with a slightest smile, "He might not. Maybe he likes Sarah City."

"Apparently, this is the longest time he's ever spent away from the dojo for ten years. People are starting to wonder. But I know he'll come back."

"Why do you say that?"

"Lucas, of course. And that guy over there." Marty Lee said motioning towards Dade, "And the fact that he wouldn't want me taking his place here. Anyone but me."

"Can't say I blame him, little brother. Why haven't you ever challenged him?"

"Who says I haven't?"

"He's still number one around here. You've never beaten him. That's why I think you were tougher before you came here. You never did like being second best."

"Neither does he. Perhaps at the regionals we'll meet. If he comes back for those. Besides, second best around here isn't a bad thing. Sensei is an excellent teacher. You'd be surprised how many good students there are here."

"Well, no matter what I think about your ranking since you moved here, I definitely think this was a great move for you. You're still a bad monkey, but I think you're growing up. It's good to see." Ashley said as she smiled at her brother.

"Listen, Ash. I don't want to sound ungrateful for you being here, but do you know when you might be heading back to Hamilton?"

"Sick of me already?"

"Of course not. I just ... think it might be best. So you can get back on with your life."

"I suppose I should be getting ready for college. It's a shame Lucas isn't going to college too."

"Well, he got messed up as much as you. He was a good student, I guess when you got sent away it affected him. That's probably why he's a year behind."

"Well, I bet Storm's not complaining."

"Is that jealousy I hear?"

"Of course not. I don't have anything to be jealous of."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Nothing. I'll meet you at home. I'm leaving early. I want to make a nice dinner."

"I'll bet. Sure." Marty Lee said with a curt nod.

He watched Ashley leave with a serious look on his face. It was becoming more and more obvious now how she felt and just what her intentions may be. There was a time when he knew what she was thinking, but the time spent apart had weakened the bond they once shared. Now he almost wished she would leave. Things had only just begun to come right for him and Lucas had offered him a permanent home. He didn't want Ashley to ruin that for him. And maybe, just maybe, he was actually concerned about how she might affect other people too. People he'd once wronged, but was now set on gaining redemption from. Storm, Dade and especially Lucas. He could never feel right with himself though until all the cards were on the table. The sins of the past weighed on him more than ever now. He felt ... guilt. If Lucas knew just what he'd done, would he still have offered him a home?

"It's time I told you just what kind of person I really am, Lucas." Marty Lee said with an anxious sigh, "Then we'll see whether you still want me around."

* * * * * * *

Dade sat on his bed, plucking the strings of the guitar his brother had bought him just before he left Merlow. That seemed like an age ago now. It was odd not having his brother around. Even when they were at odds with each other, at least he was still around. So many thoughts flooded his mind as he tried constructing a melody in his head. He often thought of himself as standing in his brother's shadow. Now that his brother wasn't around, it was almost as if some security blanket had been taken away from him. He was still struggling to adjust to life without his mother. Then Mike and now Storm. He couldn't quite be certain whether his brother would in fact return to Merlow or decide that a new start in Saran City was in order.


"Lucas? What are you doing here?" Dade asked in surprise, almost jumping off his bed.

"Hope you don't mind, Dude." Lucas said with his typical open smile, "I let myself in. You didn't answer when I knocked. I wanted to make sure you were ok."

"I'm ok. I didn't hear you knock."

"That was nice of him, don't you think?" Lucas said as he motioned towards the guitar.

"More than I deserved. But that's Storm for you." Dade sighed, "You can screw him over again and again, and he'll still have your back."

"Don't get down on yourself, Dade. You know what they say, the past is right where it belongs. In the past. The only thing you can do about it, is learn."

"Who said that?"

"Not quite sure. Maybe me!"

"What can I do for you, Lucas?" Dade said as he slipped a t-shirt on and headed for the door, "Come on downstairs, I'll make you a hot drink."

"Thanks, Dude. I actually just wanted to know if you were doing anything for dinner tonight?"

"You mean besides eating it?"

"You know what I mean, Dude." Lucas smiled as he followed Dade into the kitchen, "I was hoping you'd come over for dinner tonight."

"No thanks, Lucas. I'd rather stay home."

"You sure? This place seems so big for one person. Why don't you come and stay at my place for a while?"

"I have to get used to it. This is how it's going to be. Me and this house with the occasional visits from Dad and Abby. I'm getting used to it."

"But you seem so lonely, Dude. I'm worried about you."

"I'm not a baby." Dade sighed, "Not anymore."

Dade served Lucas's hot chocolate up and sat down on a stool next to him. For a while the pair sat in an odd silence. Not an uncomfortable one, just a strange one. Lucas not really knowing what to say to make Dade feel better, and Dade not really wanting to say anything.

"I wish you'd come over sometimes." Lucas said with a sigh, "Can I ask you a question?"


"Is it just because of Marty Lee and Ashley? Or even if they weren't around, would you still not come?"

"We're hanging now aren't we?"

"I guess so."

"Come on, Lucas. You know how it is with me and you. The only thing you and I have in common really is Storm. When he's not around, there isn't much left to talk about with us, is there?"

Lucas stared at his hot chocolate with a look of dejection on his face. It seemed no matter how much he tried, Dade kept him at a distance. Yet he couldn't help thinking that maybe Dade was right. He didn't want to believe it, but Dade sure seemed to.

"I'm not saying that to be nasty." Dade sighed, "But it's the truth. I guess there's still football and school. But since we're on holiday."

"We used to get along a lot better, Dade. I want us to be closer. Out of everyone in the pack, me and you get on the least."

"It's you and I."


"You and I. Some people get anal if you don't say it right."

"I'm not one of em, Dude. Me and you get on the least. I don't want it to be that way anymore. Especially now. And it's not just because Storm's not here. Even if he was still here, I'd still want us to be closer. But it is because he's not here that I worry about you more. We're the only ones left. It's just us two here now. I know I've done things you don't like. I know I've said things I shouldn't have. But don't you think it's about time I maybe got a `get out of jail free' card?"

"Then can I say something?"

"Anything, Dude."

"This shit between us all started when you first walked out on Storm for Ashley. I've never trusted you completely since then. I don't think you love him as much as you should or as much as you say you do. And as annoying and frustrating as he is sometimes, I don't think you love him as much as he loves you. Maybe I'm wrong. I just don't trust you, Lucas. That's why I don't want us to be close. You disappointed me when you left the way you did. I don't think he should have taken you back but that's just my opinion. What you said to me as well, it hurt me but I couldn't really care less what you say to me. I get more upset when you hurt my brother. The trouble is, Lucas ... I like you. You're a nice guy. I like the way you are with my brother. But you have so much power over him, you don't realize. You weren't here when you left last time. If you do it to him again with her, you'll kill him. Maybe not literally, but you'll kill him inside. I don't want to see that happen. And I think it could as long as she's still here. Don't tempt fate, Lucas. She should be gone by now. I'm sorry if I've upset you. I really am. Because ..." Dade sighed with an awkward breath, "No matter what you think, I do care. I may be an asshole, but that's a brother's prerogative. I do actually care about you."

"I know you do, Dude." Lucas half smiled, "And don't be sorry. I guess I can kinda understand where you're coming from, Dude. Thanks for being honest."

"You're welcome. And don't get me wrong, I know I'm not perfect either. I've made some big mistakes. So don't think I'm getting all high and mighty. I just want what's best for my brother. And for you as well. It doesn't matter what I say. At the end of the day it's up to you and Storm."

"It's hard to figure out what to do. She did me a favor by coming here. I just think it would be rude if I kicked her out now that I don't need her to look after Marty Lee."

"If I can take care of myself, Marty Lee sure as hell can. He doesn't need a babysitter. He's no baby."

"I had to make sure he was watched out for. He was my responsibility, Dude."

"I guess that kinda makes me my own responsibility then, aye?" Dade said with empty eyes.

Dade shook his head in an attempt to shake the emotion he was beginning to feel. He didn't feel like falling apart in front of Lucas. All he really wanted was for Lucas to leave. As much as he hated being alone, Lucas wasn't the top of his list to spend time with.

"Dude, will you please come and stay with me for a little while at least? Please, Dade?"

"I don't want to." Dade said vehemently, "You've got too many overstayers. I'd feel like the third wheel and I'm sick of feeling like that. No. I'll stay here."

"What about when Ashley's gone and Storm comes back? You're still going to stay here on your own?"

"I guess so. You think he'll be coming back anytime soon? I don't think he will. Who'd wanna come back to Merlow after what he's been through? He's better off there. You should move to Saran City with him. He'll only be coming back for you. And maybe to try and win the regionals again."

"And for you too, Dude. You're still his baby brother. You know that. He just needs some time to recover."

"You think I could still be called his brother? After what Mom went through? Don't you think he looks at me different now?"

"I hope not, Dude. That would be kinda weird. Kinky, but still weird." Lucas smirked.

"Wow, a joke." Dade said dryly, "And a bad one too."

"Family is more than just blood, Dade. And you guys still have plenty of that anyway. Don't think about it so much. I know it still eats you up but blaming yourself or hating yourself won't make your life better. And it won't change anything that's happened. Past in the past, Dade. It's not your fault."

"Can you go now please?" Dade asked suddenly.

"Dude?" Lucas said in surprise, "Did I say something?"

"No. I just ... think I want to be alone for a while."

"Oh. Sure, Dude."

The look of disappointment was obvious on Lucas's face. This whole visit had gone completely the opposite way than he wanted. He stood up and Dade followed him out.

"Hey, Lucas." Dade said as Lucas held the front door open.

"Yeah, Dude?"

"Thanks for coming. I appreciate it." Dade said as he extended his hand to Lucas, "And thanks for caring."

"Sure, Dude." Lucas said with dejection still etched on his face.

The two shook hands before Lucas left with a feigned smile. Dade closed the front door and leaned back against it. He sighed again as he surveyed his surroundings.

"Just you and me again, House."

* * * * * * *

"How's Dade doing?" Ashley asked as she sat eating dinner with Marty Lee and Lucas.

"He's ... doing his best." Lucas said with a feigned smile, "I asked him over, but ..."

"Must be hard for him. Isn't anyone staying with him?"

"Abby's supposed to come back and forth. She calls. Dade can look after himself. But I don't like the idea of him being on his own either. Not now. He just doesn't seem to want anyone there. Or I should say, he doesn't want me there."

"At least you tried, Lucas." Ashley said sincerely, "Good on you for trying."

"I think Daniel Sr. will be back for a few days next week. Maybe he'll take Dade with him for a while. I don't think he should be on his own." Lucas sighed.

"And I bet he won't come here while any Miller's are in the house, right?"

"He wouldn't come anyway. I don't think he's ever been over here the entire time I've known him."

"Dade's the same age as Marty Lee, right?"

"Roundabout. He's not far off Storm. Less than a year."

"Wow, his Mom had them close together."

"Yeah ..." Lucas said with a heavy sigh as he contemplated what June went through when Dade was conceived, "She did."

"Storm seems so much older than him. But they're practically the same age. Has he called today? Storm?"

"No ... he hasn't. But he's never been much of a phone person. And he kinda sucks at keeping in touch."

"Oh ..." Ashley said sympathetically as she rubbed Lucas's back, "That must be hard on you. I know you don't like being apart from the person you're with."

Some people may call Lucas naïve, but he certainly didn't miss the meaning behind Ashley's comment. She wasn't just referring to himself and Storm. She was referring to herself and him. And she was right. He hated being apart from her as well. When she was sent away, he was devastated. A feeling not unlike the one he had right now. Only now that feeling belonged to Storm. Still though, her comment managed to stir up some long dormant feelings.

"You're right, Ash. I don't." Lucas said as a mixture of emotions rushed over him, "I'm done. Thanks for dinner, it was great. I'll start washing up."

"Yeah, Ash. Dinner's great." Marty Lee said with just a hint of cynicism, "Who's for dessert? I mean, what's for dessert?"

"Don't start, little brother."

"Could you be anymore obvious? Leave him alone. He doesn't want you."

"Could you be anymore obvious?" Ashley said in annoyance, "Mind your own business."

"I live here. This is my business."

"And whose brother are you exactly?"

"Go to bed. I'll clean up." Marty Lee said in as authoritative a manner as he could muster without raising his voice.

Ashley was surprised by Marty Lee's sudden bluntness. Yet Marty Lee continued to stare her down. She was his older sister, but right now he felt like they were on opposing teams. But it was more because of something he could see, that Ashley couldn't. Lucas standing at the kitchen sink, trying to look busy but was obviously upset. His eyes were watery and his face sullen. Marty Lee didn't want his sister to see Lucas like that. Perhaps he was thinking the worst, but he could only see Ashley trying to take advantage of the situation.

"Fine, Marty Lee. I'll just say goodnight to Lucas."


"Why not?"

"Ash, please. Just leave it alone. He doesn't need your `support'."

"I haven't done anything wrong." Ashley said indignantly, "Nothing at all. I'll let you have your way tonight, Marty Lee. But we're going to finish this another time."

"Another time then. Goodnight, Ash."

Ashley didn't respond. She stormed out of the dining room and headed straight for her bedroom. Marty Lee breathed a small sigh of relief. He turned his attention towards the kitchen again as he began clearing the table away. Lucas was still standing at the kitchen sink, but now a slight trail of silent tears was evident. He'd wipe them away nonchalantly, letting out the odd sniffle, but still his mood was obvious.

"Lucas? It's ok, I'll finish clearing up."

"It's ok, Dude. I'm sorry. Just ... everything's crap right now. It wouldn't be so bad if Dade would just give me a break. I just want to help."

"You don't have to explain anything to me. Get some sleep or go sit down or something."

"Feel like having a drink with me, Marty Lee?" Lucas asked as he pulled a six pack of beer from the fridge, "We can finish clearing up in the morning."

"I'm ok, thanks. I'll finish up in here. You go ahead and sit down."

"Don't tell Storm." Lucas said as he wiped some stray tears from his cheek, "You know he hates it when I drink. Especially at home."

Marty Lee watched as Lucas made his way into the lounge. He knew it wasn't his place to say anything, but he'd learnt his lesson with Dade. Drinking never helped a situation. Marty Lee knew Lucas was always partial to a beer, especially when he was depressed. But he had his fears that Lucas was becoming a little too dependent on his choice of release.

"You know, I've tried my best to get Dade to trust me. I'm the closest thing to family that he has here, and he won't even come over."

"Maybe it's me and Ash." Marty Lee said as he continued washing the dishes.

"It's not just you. I don't know, Dude. These Marcus boys are hard ones to figure out. I just worry about Dade. But most of all, I miss my baby. I really miss my baby. And he doesn't call. He's always been terrible at keeping in touch. But I'm his boyfriend, he should call me. And he's never there when I call. Listen to me, Marty Lee. I don't mean to lay all my problems on you."

"It's ok, Lucas. Anything I can do to help."

"You know, you really have changed. You're a little more Marty and a little less Lee. If you know what I mean. I'm glad you're here. This is your home now."

Again, Marty Lee felt pangs of guilt washing over him. Lucas had been nothing but kind to him since he was assaulted. And here Marty Lee was, lying to him. Or at the very least, holding back things he probably shouldn't. Sure, Lucas may kick him out. Storm may find out and want his ass kicked halfway to Spain. But his conscience seemed to get the better of him lately and all he wanted, was to be honest with Lucas. Now more than ever.

* * * * * * *

Dade sat once again at the bottom of the stairs. Alone in his depressed funk. Lucas's visit didn't help him any. If anything, it made him feel worse than he already did. He hated being alone. Hated feeling responsible for everything that had happened. Hated blaming himself for this house being empty. He was even beginning to hate this house and everything it represented. Or everything it used to represent.

Everywhere he looked would remind him of what he didn't have anymore. He would sit at the bottom of the stairs, just staring at the door. Hoping that he would hear a knock. Hoping that he might open the door and his mother would be standing there, ready to bring the world back to life. But she wouldn't.

Everyone was gone now. June, Storm, Mike, Sarah, Marcel. Everyone he ever really loved. There was no one left now to walk through that door and tell him everything would be ok.

With a frustrated and angry sigh, he turned and walked up the stairs. Every step seemed to be heavier as his mind became inundated with thoughts or memories. And every memory only served to frustrate and anger him even more.

As he turned to his bedroom door, he stopped to look at his mother's old room. He knew nothing had been changed since she died. As if it waited for her to come back. Dade stepped towards June's old doorway and opened it slowly.

"Mom ..." Dade cried to himself as he stood at June's doorway, "I'm so sorry. I wish you could come home and make everything better. But you can't and it's all my fault. I'm so sorry, Mom. I'm so sorry."

He studied her room as memories flashed through his head. Every item in the room triggered a memory. A memory of his mother. He stepped inside the room towards the nightstand where some of June's clothing still lay folded. Her work clothes that she no doubt had ready for work, and she never had the chance to wear. He placed them lovingly into her wardrobe, as tears streamed softly down his face.

He remembered the day he found out about the truth about his conception. Much like now, he was trying to be helpful. Cleaning his mother's room while she was watching Storm in hospital. Remembered stumbling across June's fallen diary. That's when it all started for Dade. That's when everything started going downhill.

"I wish I'd never known." Dade cried as he shook his head in frustration, "Even then you might still be here."

Yet once again as Dade stood in his mother's wardrobe, he found something else that caught his attention. An old photo album that June kept. Dade pulled the photo album out and placed it on the bed. He opened the pages to find old photos of his family from years long past. A smile managed to break Dade's eternal somberness as brushed his hand across the pages. Notes written on every page for almost every photo. It was a catalogue of the Marcus children. Abby first, from a baby to her graduation. Storm, from when he still liked being called Daniel as a baby, right up to the last time he won the regionals as Storm. All those years covered in extraordinary detail. Every event. Every little nuance that every child had. It was all there. All with notes lovingly scrawled by June. Dade could feel her affection for her family through those pages. Even Mike was in there. Pictures of him and Storm playing little league. Yet even as Dade studied all these pages with a surprising amount of joy, he held off turning to the final section. Dade knew that this album was not meant for his eyes. Or anyone's eyes. June was saving it for when they'd all grown up. When everyone had passed eighteen. She almost finished it. When Dade turned eighteen, the book would have been complete. This thought served to temper his brief joy with stark reality. Finally however, he turned to the last section. The section saved just for Dade.

Dade choked back a sob as he caught the title of his section. Above a photo of him only a few hours old, the words `My Miracle' was boldly emblazoned. Dade knew now just how important those words were. As he flipped through the pages of his section, seeing his life unfold before his eyes, he couldn't help smiling. His early life had been incredible. Even when his parents divorced, June made sure her boys were happy and secure.

"Life was good." Dade said to himself.

It wasn't till he reached the last few pages of his section, that his face began to fall somber again. When the photos started looking a lot more like the Dade of today than the Dade of yesteryear. And Dade did not like the Dade of today. Yet still, the warm loving notes from June under each photo made him forget his inner hatred.

As he reached the final page, he came across an envelope with his name on it. Curiously, Dade picked it up. Dade couldn't tell how old the letter was, but he knew it was June's handwriting. Perhaps this too was something he was not supposed to see until a certain time. It didn't matter now though. This book would never be completed.

Dade opened the envelope and pulled the letter out. The date on the letter indicated it was written only a few months after he was born. Yet it was still written to him. With an anxious sigh, Dade began to read the letter his mother had written to him a lifetime ago.

To my darling Dade,

I write this letter both for you and for me. I don't know whether you will ever read it, but regardless, I need to know I've written it. I pray that you never need read this letter and you never learn the truth of your heritage. But if there is one thing I have learned in my life so far, it is that the truth must find expression, no matter how difficult that may be. If I have given this letter to you, hopefully many years from now when you are a young man, ready to face the world, I hope it will not change the way you feel about your family or yourself, Son.

As I look upon you now, sleeping soundly in your crib, I wonder what your life will bring you. I wonder what your first word will be. I wonder what will inspire you and fill you with joy. I wonder what kind of a man you will become. When I look at you, I see nothing but promise. If you read this, you know already the nature of your conception. It means nothing to me. You are my son and when I look at you, all I see is my son. Never ever feel ashamed of who you are or where you come from. You come from a home with two parent's who love and adore you. Your father will always be your father. Never turn him away or shy from his dedication to you. Even now he waits for you to wake, anxious to hold his new son in his arms.

I have spent the first months of your life wondering how this will all affect you in the future. I dread the day when you learn the truth, Dade. I only hope it comes at a time in your life when you're strong enough to face it.

I don't know what kind of woman I'll be like. I don't know what kind of a mother I will be. I don't know what life will have brought our family, but I do know one thing without any doubt, Dade. You are my son and I love you with every ounce of love a mother could ever have for her child. There is nothing in the world that will ever change the way I feel about you. You are not responsible or could ever control what happened to me, and I never ever want you to feel like a lesser person because of it.

You have an older brother right now who is just starting to crawl, yet he seems to watch over you like a hawk. I know in the years to come, the two of you will be of great support to one another. You have been and always will be a part of this family. Never ever forget that, Dade. You are my miracle and I am so thankful you came into my life. Remember to appreciate everything you have, even when it may not seem like much. Remember to always make your love known to those who have meaning in your life. And always remember, that you are your own person, Dade Paul Marcus. Enjoy your life, Son. It is a gift. I love you with all my heart, Sweetheart,


By the time Dade reached the end of the letter, his face was a complete wash of tears. Yet he couldn't help smiling. It was as if his mother had come from the grave to tell him what he needed to hear. It was as if she was right here with him. Yet there was still more. A second letter that was much more recent. But Dade couldn't bring himself to open it. He was too busy feeling overwhelmed with joy and a sense of release.

"Thank you, Mom." Dade cried as he kissed the letter and held it close to his chest, "Thank you."

* * * * * * *