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

SF41c: Tempting Fate


* * * * * * *

Dade gritted his teeth as he bench pressed the hundred kilo bar above his chest. His arms tensing with the strain as he finished the last of his sets. He let out a staggered breath as he eased the bar back into place and sat up. With few people to talk to and little to occupy his time now besides karate and the odd chores around his house, he found himself working out even more than he usually did. It was also another way to let out much of the pent up frustration he had.

He always pushed himself till he hurt. A trait he shared with his brother Storm. It was a hurt he'd become used to and found somewhat addicting. He'd always been a physical person. He never considered himself as academically astute as Abby or Storm, so he tended to compensate with his sports activities. He'd excelled in every sport he played, save karate. That domain still belonged to his brother.

Working himself to exhaustion was also a way to distract himself from both the monotony of his days, and the turmoil inside him. Most of all, it was a weak distraction from the intense loneliness that consumed him. A distraction that was now over. Even though Dade knew if he went any further he'd end up hurting himself, he was tempted to continue. Better judgment prevailed as Dade threw his towel over his shoulder and left the basement gym to head upstairs.

As he stepped into the shower, and the hot water began to soothe his aching body, it all seemed to come flooding back. Marcel had still not returned as he said he would and Dade feared the worst. Feared that the object of his affections wouldn't even bother returning to Merlow before his imminent departure to Drake. It had been too long now. He hadn't spoken to Lucas since the day the pair shared a rather frank conversation. Storm hadn't called, which didn't surprise Dade since his brother was never much of a phone person. Yet as much as Dade needed his brother right now, he didn't want to disturb his brother's time away. And so his loneliness returned to claim him. He wondered whether today would change the constant presence of his empty state, or whether today would be the same as all the other days. Lonely and uninvolved. That was his life now. It seemed a lifetime since he'd come back. He didn't even bother remembering what day it was now. The date. Time. It all just rolled on in a monotonous drag.

He slumped down the shower wall and let the steady stream of water run over him. He held his feet and leaned forward as the droplets tapped a constant rhythm on his back. Closing his eyes, he tried to imagine the drops of water were actually fingers. Fingers that belonged to a hand. A hand he ached to feel running down his back. Massaging away all despairs and anxieties. He'd almost succeeded when his reverie was interrupted by the rare sound of the phone ringing.

Stepping out of the shower and wrapping a towel around his waist, he rushed for the phone. He almost didn't want to answer it, but figured this might be his only contact with anyone significant today. Little did he realize when he picked up the phone, just how significant that person would be.

"Hello ..."

* * * * * * *

Brad stood in front of his mirror, trying his best to decipher the reflection. His feet scrunched the carpet beneath him. He felt almost voyeuristic as he stood in his boxers and nothing else. Having played football or sports of some kind for most of his life, he had a naturally toned and buff build. And oddly enough, some people had even told him he was good looking. Yet his own humility had prevented him from pondering over the thought in any great detail. He never really had cause to ponder it before. No one had ever really taken an interest in him.

He ran his hands gently down over his chest and stomach, a quiver of excitement and trepidation rushing over him. He'd never looked at himself this way before. But he couldn't help trying to figure out what it was Josh found so appealing. He'd never considered himself much of a sexual being before, but as he stood in front of the mirror, the seeds of nervous curiosity and exploration were beginning to take hold.

He was almost in his final year of high school, yet he'd barely even been with a girl before. Even at the peak of his jock status, he never made it past second base. He was for all intents and purposes; a virgin of the highest order. It was a thought that never particularly bothered him. Until now.

Almost everyone he knew had much more experience than he'd ever had. Even Josh, who he knew was still a virgin, had seen a lot more intimacy than Brad ever had. That alone was not enough to make him feel inadequate or inexperienced. It was more the strange intimacy he shared with Josh. He had a power over Josh that he couldn't explain. And in turn, Josh's attraction towards him had an almost awakening effect on Brad's sexuality. Not in the sense that he found Josh appealing from a sexual point of view, but more from the fact that Josh made him feel like he was somehow capable of being attractive. It stirred feelings in Brad that he had rarely entertained.

Yet now, as he stood staring at himself in the mirror, he began to wonder what the touch of someone else's hand on his body would feel like. Even if Josh was that person, would it be so bad? Just to have that feeling. If he didn't get it soon, he felt like he would burst. His hormones demanded it as much as he did.

He was beginning to understand what it felt like to be wanted in ways he never imagined. More and more, he felt a growing need to fuel that want. Preseason training wouldn't begin for weeks, but Brad had already started weight and cardio training again now that his wrist had healed enough. He used his karate training with Marty Lee to add even more to his repertoire. Yet he didn't just do this for himself. He found himself wanting to be appealing to Josh even more. But why?

"It's not like it'll ever go anywhere." Brad sighed, "Sometimes I wish I liked guys."

At that comment, Brad surprised himself with a small laugh. The comment seemed ironic to say the least. Nobody he knew ever wanted to like guys. Except perhaps Dade. He seemed to want to like everyone. He also seemed to have the least problem with it.

"I wish I could be like that."

Once again, Brad smiled. He began to feel like an idiot, standing in front of the mirror now. His pondering of his sexual being had passed.

"What are you doing, faggot?" Billy smirked as he burst through Brad's door.

"Get out."

"Looking at yourself because nobody else will?" Billy laughed, "Man, I'm gonna get pussy before you do. Loser. Were you touching yourself or something? I knew you were queer."

"And what are you doing standing there looking at me? You must be queer."

"Am not!"

"Get out you little dweeb." Brad snapped as he shoved Billy towards the door.

"I'm telling pop on you!"

"What's going on here!?" Jeremiah asked as he stormed through the door, pushing Billy back towards Brad, "What's all this bloody noise for?"

Neither brother said a word. They both stood petrified. They both knew the wrath of their father. It was never a good idea to get on his bad side.

"Well? Somebody better say something."

"I was trying to get him out of my room, Pop. He just burst in here and he wouldn't get out."

"Is that what all this noise is about? You interrupted my paper for this? Billy, get to your damn room." Jeremiah simmered.

"But ..." Billy began to say before he silenced by a sharp slap across the face.

"I said get to your room."

Guilt began eating at Brad as Billy held his face in pain. Billy shot Brad a death glare before he obediently walked off to his room without another sound, leaving Brad alone with his father.

"I'm going to work. I'll be home late. Make sure dinner's ready."

"Yes, Pop."

Brad sighed in relief when his father left the room. He didn't hate his father. His father did the best he could. He was simply a member of the old school. If you step out of line, you accept the punishment. It was a difficult balancing act at times for Brad, but he managed. Before Brad had much more time to mull over his father, he heard the familiar tone of the phone ringing.


"Hey, Brad."

"Oh, hey."

"You ok?"

"Sure. I'm ok. What are you up to?"

"Nothing today. I'm helping my father out at work today. He said there's work for you today too, if you want."

"Yeah! Thanks, Josh!" Brad said excitedly, "What time shall I meet you?"

"I'll pick you up. Ten minutes enough time for you?"

"I'll get changed and see you in ten. Thanks, Josh. See you soon."

"Bye, Brad."

* * * * * * *

"This years North West Karate Regionals, sponsored by Ziggy, are being held for the first time ever in Merlow. Organizers are hoping the event will prove a success and show that the small town of Merlow is more than capable of holding such events. The recently built Merlow Superdome will be put to the test as people from Hamilton to White Swan flock to see this Saturday's tournament ..."

Marty Lee sat in the lounge watching the local news report. His mind now focused on the upcoming regionals. This could be his moment. By rights, he was Merlow's best chance of winning this year. And for Marty Lee, it was his best chance to make the nationals. His chance to show that he was the best.

He'd become used to being the lead at the dojo. Storm had been away for so long now, he was becoming used to being the person everyone came to. The person everyone respected. It also had the effect of making Marty Lee feel more responsible. Giving up the top position became a more difficult prospect with every week that passed.

"Nervous?" Ashley asked as she entered the lounge, "Not long now."

"No." Marty Lee said flatly.


An air of tension had come between the siblings of late. Ashley had outstayed her welcome as far as he was concerned. He didn't like her attitude. Particularly when it came to Lucas. And as annoyed as he was with her, he was becoming just as annoyed with Lucas. He expected Lucas to give Ashley her marching orders by now. Yet she was still here. Doing her best to play happy families with Lucas as much as she could without being overtly obvious.

"Hey, Guys." Lucas said with his usual smile as he walked past and headed straight to the kitchen.

Marty Lee shook his head in disappointment. Lucas was becoming more and more of a regular to the kitchen. The refrigerator in particular. And there was Ashley, catering to him again, instead of trying to dissuade him from his constant indulging in alcohol.

The body language between the two was becoming far too familiar for Marty Lee. This annoyed him for more than one reason. As warped as his moral code was to some people, he still believed Ashley's actions were wrong. She was lulling Lucas into her presence. He thought his sister should have more self respect than to go after a claimed man.

He also thought Lucas's naturally nice nature was getting the best of him. He was too nice to ask Ashley to leave. And he was either too naïve or worse to let her obvious advances go without reply. He hoped nothing was going on. He figured Lucas was too wrapped up in his own funk to get into anything with Ashley. He hoped so at least.

"I'm going out." Marty Lee said rather sharply, his eyes locked onto the former couple, "Don't do anything I wouldn't do, Ash."

"Who says you wouldn't?" Ashley replied as she followed Marty Lee to the front door.

Marty Lee turned back to face his sister. His eyes were pure and intent. No hint of misrepresentation or doubt in his eyes or voice.

"I do."

* * * * * * *

Dade stood in front of the dojo training dummy, assaulting it with a flurry of kicks and punches. His knuckles were raw from his constant smashing. His hands ached but he wouldn't stop. His anger ebbed out in every hit he struck. Sweat glistened over his skin. Fatigue was beginning to creep in but he held it at bay. He was still too angry to be tired.

"You could try hitting it harder."

"Fuck off." Dade snapped as he instantly recognized Marty Lee's voice.

"Maybe later."

Dade ignored Marty Lee as he continued hitting the dummy with combos. He could see Marty Lee out of the corner of his eye, just standing and watching Dade. This just served to aggravate Dade even more. He hit the bag even harder. His strikes a little less polished and intentional, and a little more furious.

"That's enough, Dade. Go home." Marty Lee said suddenly.

"Fuck you."

"We already tried that, didn't we?" Marty Lee said with the slightest smirk.

Dade's reaction was swift and sharp. And it was designed to wipe the smirk off Marty Lee's face. It worked. Dade backhanded Marty Lee with a roundhouse punch and sent his former tormentor to the ground.

"Be somewhere else." Dade snapped, "And stay the fuck out of my way."

Dade walked away and left Marty Lee on the ground still dazed. He grabbed his gear without bothering to change and headed straight for Storm's jeep. Something he was very grateful to have right now. It allowed Dade to make as quick an exit as possible, without having to deal with his attack on Marty Lee. In many ways, he felt his outburst at Marty Lee was long overdue. Yet there were many times when he didn't believe he could take Marty Lee on. Today, the thought never entered his mind. He felt that if Marty Lee did want to rumble, he could take him. Yet for now at least, he wouldn't have to find out who the best was between them.

Dade didn't check the rear view mirror to see if Marty Lee was following him. He was barely paying attention to where he was going. On instinct, he headed to the lakeside. Hoping that he could drown his anxiety in the cool waters.

It was not till he pulled up in the parking lot, that he realized just how raw his knuckles were. Dade simply gritted his teeth and pushed the pain aside.

With adrenaline and anger still rushing through his body, he made a bee line for the lake. He threw his clothes in a pile, but had barely made it to the water when he spied a surprising site. His curiosity piqued, he stepped closer. Closer to the two people who had piqued his interest. Lucas and Ashley. At first he wasn't sure whether it was actually them. When he realized it was them, it was the straw that broke the camel's back. The camel's back that kept his anger at bay.

Though they seemed to be arguing now, he could have sworn he witnessed a kiss. He didn't care that it was Lucas who seemed to be walking away from Ashley. He didn't care that Lucas seemed to want to get away from her. He didn't care that Lucas seemed furious. All he cared was that in his own mind, Lucas had broken his brother's trust.

"Lucas, what the fuck are you doing?" Dade yelled as he rushed up beside the distraught Sheridan.

Lucas didn't respond straight away. He seemed agitated as well as surprised. His movements jarred and distracted. Finally he answered Dade as he realized the gravity of the situation.

"It's not what you think it is, Dude. I swear." Lucas said sincerely.

Dade was fuming inside. He wanted to smash Lucas's head in. He didn't care anymore whether he lashed out. And as much repressed anger as he had for Marty Lee, he seemed to have more for Lucas. He'd always doubted Lucas. Never truly trusted him. But he had always hoped he'd be wrong. That Lucas would stand true. All he could think of was how Storm would handle Lucas cheating on him.

"Let me explain, Dude. You've got it all wrong." Lucas said anxiously, "It wasn't ..."

Dade wasn't interested in Lucas's excuses. Yet he had calmed himself enough to know that attacking Lucas would do him no favors. Even if he did cheat, he knew his brother would be pissed if Lucas was hurt. So Dade simply left Lucas standing.

"Dade!" Lucas yelled after him.

Dade felt Lucas's hand on his shoulder, trying to stop him. For some reason, this action made something inside Dade snap. He spun around, grabbing Lucas's hand at the same time. Dade used his free forearm and shoved it against Lucas's neck. The two ended up against the wall, with Lucas well and truly pinned by Dade.

"The only reason I don't knock your head off is because my brother loves you. But don't ever fucken touch me." Dade fumed.

"Get off him!" Ashley yelled as she tried to pull Dade off.

Dade was about to elbow Ashley out of instinct, before he realized who she was. As much as he despised her, he'd been raised well enough to know never to hit a woman. Her intervention had however given him enough pause to realize what he was doing. He let Lucas go and stepped back. Ashley tended to a still gasping Lucas.

"Is this what you do, Dade? Is this how you handle everything? I thought Marty Lee had a monopoly on that kind of behavior. Or do you get it from your father?" Ashley said with enough spite to make her intention obvious, "Your real father that is."

"What?" Dade asked in astonishment as he stepped away, "What are you talking about?"

"You think I don't know about you? You think everyone doesn't know about you by now? It's no wonder Storm doesn't want to come back. I couldn't look at you if you were my brother."

"But ..."

"How do you live with yourself? I'd rather die."

"Ash! That's enough!" Marty Lee said as he stepped up beside her, his nose still bloodied from Dade's punch.

"Dude, you told her?" Lucas asked Marty Lee as he still held his throat, "Ash, leave him alone. Dade, we can talk about this."

Lucas let out a cough, his windpipe still sore from Dade's surprising strength. He still stood bent over, leaning against the wall for support. He turned to Dade and could see the youngest Marcus stepping away slowly. Stepping away as if his world was falling apart inside.

Dade's head was still awash with confusion. He stepped backwards, not really paying attention to his movements. He was too shell shocked. Stunned. He began to zone out as Ashley's words rang through him, over and over.

"Dade, it's ok." Marty Lee said as he put his hand on Dade's shoulder.

"Get away." Dade said as he shook his head, "Get away from me."

Dade's eyes were still filled with confusion as he looked at the three people before him. Suddenly, he felt isolated. Cornered by the three people in the world he most despised. He felt vulnerable. Weak. Even devastated. He had to get away.

"Dade, wait!" Lucas yelled as Dade ran off.

"Leave him." Ashley said as she grabbed Lucas's arm, "He doesn't deserve your sympathy. Not after what he did to you."

"Get off me." Lucas snapped as he broke away and started off after Dade.

Marty Lee was left alone with his sister. Even though he'd just had his own run in with Dade, he still felt for the youngest Marcus. With a subdued look of disappointment and anger, he turned to his sister.

"What?" Ashley said defiantly.

"That was a low blow. Even for you."

"You're one to talk."

"Have you caused enough trouble yet? Or are you going to hang around and try and ruin things some more?"

"Go to hell." Ashley said as she began to walk away.

"One day. Right after you do." Marty Lee said as he grabbed her by the arm and stopped her in her tracks.

"What?" Ashley yelled in anger as she tried in vain to jerk away, "What do you want?"

"You're leaving Merlow. Now."

* * * * * * *

Lucas stepped inside his front door, angry and dejected. He tried to find Dade, but it was no use. He wasn't often someone prone to raw anger, but right now he was fuming. Not so much at Dade, but more at the situation. If anything, he was worried about the fiery Marcus. He knew how much Ashley's words would have hurt Dade. And none of this would have happened if she wasn't still around.

"Ash!" Lucas yelled angrily as he searched out her room to find it empty, "Ashley!"

Realizing he was alone, Lucas tried aimlessly to calm himself. But as his frustrations and anger overwhelmed him, he headed to the kitchen. He turned to the one thing that seemed to comfort him these days. He pulled a six pack out of the refrigerator and headed into the lounge. He cracked open the first can and drunk it down as if it would disappear unless he drank it all.

"Damn it." Lucas yelled in frustration as he threw the empty can across the room, "Damn it!"

Tears began to stream down his face as lay back in his chair. He couldn't help feeling angry at the whole situation. He just wanted it all to stop now. He wanted his baby home. He wanted to forget the past. He wanted Ashley out of his life. He wanted Dade to forgive him. He wanted Dade to trust him. And mostly, he wanted Dade to be ok.

He started on another can as he held back muffled sobs. He didn't know how much more he could take of this. He knew Dade would never listen to him. Only Storm could help him. Right now he felt that only Storm could help either of them. He wanted his baby back now. But even if he did come back now, would things be the same?

One can turned into another. And another. Until finally, he lost count.

* * * * * * *

"Storm?" Dade cried as he held his cell phone to his ear, "Storm, pick up."

Dade paced back and forth frantically. Hoping desperately that his brother would answer his own cell phone. Without realizing where he was going when he'd run away, he'd come to a place that held so many memories for him.

Reese Bridge.

His mind zoned out as he stared out over the railings. Of all places, why did he end up here? Why now? He'd been so preoccupied he didn't realize his phone was beeping to indicate no connection had been made. He closed his eyes in frustration as the day's events flashed through his mind. He still gripped his cell phone in his right hand, as if it might ring any minute now.

In a flash of anger, he opened his eyes and threw his cell phone over the rails. He watched it soar down into the rushing water below.

"That was stupid, Dade." Dade cursed himself.

Dade felt a rush of anxiety washing over him. He felt trapped in a moment that bordered on surreal. His hands gripped the railing as his senses ran on overload. The air, the smell, the sight, it all seemed to overwhelm him. Everything reminded him of how he felt the night he stood on this bridge and tempted fate. As low as he felt back then, he felt ten times lower now.

Last time he stood here, he was saved by his brother. He knew if he ever contemplated jumping again, there would be no one to catch him when he fell. This was it. If he really wanted to jump, he would have no better time than now.

As he leaned his head over the railings and gazed down at the rushing river below, he felt his body moving of it's own volition. It was all so tempting to just let it all go. To let himself go. To end all the pain and suffering he felt. The pain and suffering he felt he'd caused others.

Tears began to stream from his eyes as he stood on the edge of destiny. The only thing stopping him from sealing his fate was one final jump. He thought of his mother. His family. Mike. Sarah. Daniel Sr. Abby. Marcel. Storm. He thought of his life. Of the mistakes he'd made. Of everything he'd been through. Of the undeniable origin of his being. His true heritage.

He stepped off the railing with his right foot and closed his eyes. His arms outstretched as he leaned forward. This was it. Finally, he faced his demons and with one final move ...

He jumped straight down.

He plunged not even a meter, before he opened his eyes and kicked his hands back. He grabbed a support cable beneath the bridge and held onto it with all his might. Overcome by a strange sense of relief, Dade let out a mighty cry. Not a cry filled with pain, but one filled with a sense of letting go. A large dimpled smile broke out on his face as he still held on for dear life.

"I did it!" Dade cried as he felt his arms begin to strain, "I beat you, mother fucker!"

For someone who had nothing between himself and the raging waters below, Dade seemed strangely exhilarated. Butterflies still ran wild in his stomach as he felt the slightest hint of vertigo at the height. Yet it gave him an unnatural thrill as well. He began cross pulling himself along the cable towards the steep sloping bank ahead of him. His muscles tensed the further along he got, but he still couldn't help feeling more alive than he'd ever been. He'd beaten his own demons. And though it almost killed him, he couldn't have felt happier.

Times like this he was glad he was such a physical person, or he could have never pulled this stunt off. Indeed if anyone knew what he'd done, they'd all call him mad. He wouldn't blame them for thinking that. Now he'd never have to wonder whether or not he would have jumped. And in a sense, he felt his though he killed all the demons that plagued him. He'd let it all go. He hadn't felt this alive since he'd stumbled across his mother's diary so long ago.

Finally he felt ground beneath his feet, but continued along the cable till he felt secure enough in his grounding. He fell to the ground in a heap of exhaustion, yet felt strangely invigorated. With a huge smile on his face, he stood to his feet and thrust his fists into the air.

"I'm the man!" Dade yelled, "I'm the man!"

Taking a few moments to gather himself, he sat down and rubbed his arms. It was only now that he realized the gravity of his actions. Looking down the bank towards the river, he couldn't help but laugh. Laugh at his own stupidity. He felt dizzy at the thought of what he'd done. He'd almost killed himself.

"I'll never do that again." Dade said as he realized his hands were shaking.

He felt the rush of adrenaline begin to dissipate from his body. All that remained was a cautious and grateful sense of relief. This was his second chance at life and he fully intended on making the most of it.

A flicker from the bank's edge below brought Dade's thoughts back down to earth. Narrowing his eyes, he realized he was looking at his cell phone. He believed it a stroke of luck that his cell phone floated to the bank edge and managed to catch itself on a rock. With a sigh, he made the decision in his mind to go down and get it. Perhaps he could still get it repaired or replaced. All he had to do was get it and then he could leave Reese Bridge behind, once and for all.

He slid down on an angle, using one arm to steady himself against the steep incline of the bank. His body was tired from all his recent exertions, yet he still felt a natural high as well. The incline was a little too steep and fast for him and forced him to break his steady slide and move into a skip run. Luckily, he managed to grab hold of the boulder his cell phone was on before he plunged fully into the river. He still landed with an almighty splash, but was only submerged from the waist down. He picked up his cell phone with a smile and proceeded to pull himself up on the boulder. As he did so, the boulder lost it's setting and slipped down into the river, causing Dade to slide back as well. Dade quickly grabbed onto the bank but let out a sharp gasp as he felt the boulder thud over his right foot. Instinctively, he jerked his foot up, yet this caused the boulder to shift and trap Dade's foot beneath the water.

"Well that's just great." Dade said as he shook his head.

He wasn't in any pain or real discomfort. The water rushed along his waist and he was still well above water. Yet his foot was still trapped. The more he tried to jerk free, the more he realized just how trapped he was. His positioning was awkward, as he was stuck facing towards the bank and couldn't naturally bend down and try to dislodge the boulder.

"Ok, Dade. You're gonna have to try and figure this one out."

* * * * * * *

Josh was having a difficult time concentrating on his current task. His father had asked him to help here at the car yard today. Josh was more than pleased to help, as his father had been reluctant to ask him for any help this summer. It was the least Josh could do after his parent's had bought him a car. They'd insisted that Josh try to spend as much time as he could having fun. Today however, it was Josh's turn to help out.

Helping out was not the reason for Josh's lack of concentration. In fact the cause for his distraction, was none other than his best friend. Brad was helping out today as well. As Josh sat at his father's desk reconciling a seemingly endless array of accounts, Brad was outside. Washing cars outside to be precise.

Even Brad washing cars outside was not the cause for Josh's distraction. It was Brad washing cars outside in his jeans alone, with his shirt wrapped around his head. That was the cause for Josh's distraction. Just one of many.

Brad's behavior today had been odd to say the least. Ever since they'd met up today, Brad seemed a little off to Josh. Josh believed the two had finally found a comfortable level of familiarity in their friendship. He believed the lines were clearly defined once again. He'd closed himself to the possibility of anything happening with Brad, because Brad wasn't really interested.

Today however, Brad seemed to be more familiar than usual. At times, Josh almost believed Brad was flaunting himself to Josh. Even flirting, albeit mildly. Josh was certain his imagination wasn't getting away with him.

"Hey, Josh. I've finished outside." Brad said as he came into Collin Barrett's office, "You want me to do anything in here?"

"You boys go ahead and get out of here." Collin said as he walked in behind Brad, "Thanks for your help."

"I haven't finished here yet, Sir. There's still a lot left to do." Josh said, a little surprised by his father.

"I'll take care of it. If you want, you can both come back in tomorrow morning." Collin said as he put his hand on Josh's shoulder.

Josh knew the issue was closed with his father. Even if he wanted to do more, his father had made his decision. Reluctantly, Josh quickly tidied what papers he could on his father's desk, before he hopped up.

"Thank you, Son. Thank you, Bradley." Collin said with a nod.

"You're welcome, Sir." Josh and Brad said almost in unison.

Josh headed out towards his Cherokee, with Brad falling in behind. Just as Josh was about to unlock his front door, he looked up at the sky. The clouds were starting to turn a fearsome grey. The wind was also beginning to pick up, with leaves casting about around Josh's feet.

"There's a storm coming." Josh said ominously, "It looks like it'll be a bad one too."

"You're right about that. They never said anything about a storm on the radio."

"We've lived in Merlow all our lives. Storm's are part of the scenery."

"This one looks like it'll be a bad one. I always liked storms."

"Aren't you cold?" Josh asked as he motioned to Brad's chest, "Do you need a clean shirt?"

"I can wait till I get home to get changed."

"We can stop in at my place first. I'll make us something to eat. You must be starving by now."

"Sounds good." Brad smiled.

The pair jumped into Josh's car and made the short trip to the Barrett house. By the time they arrived, the wind had picked up incredibly. Rain bucketed down in a fierce torrent. The distance from where Josh had parked outside his house to the front door, was barely twenty meters. Yet by the time the pair reached the front door, both were completely saturated from the rain.

"It's going to be a stormy night in Merlow." Brad said as he began wiping himself down with his wet shirt, "That rain came out of nowhere."

"We're both drenched. It doesn't look like Carly bear and my mother are home."

"I hope they don't get caught in the rain." Brad said sincerely, "Do you have a towel?"

Josh was about to respond, but his eyes were getting the better of him. Brad had already started peeling the wet socks off his feet. And he almost looked as if he was ready to drop his pants as well. Which was never actually a problem for the two before Josh admitted how he felt to Brad. For obvious reasons however, Josh seemed to find the sight of Brad dripping wet in just his jeans, extremely attractive.

Josh wasn't sure how long he'd been staring at Brad. At this point in time, he didn't particularly care. Yet, just as he was about to refocus himself, Brad upped the ante on Josh's attention. He began unfastening the belt around his jeans. It seemed to all happen in slow motion for Josh. Brad's fingers sliding across the zipper of his jeans. The slow, methodical opening to reveal Brad's plain black boxers beneath. This was all a bit much for Josh. And by now he didn't really care if he was staring. Then in an instant, Brad had dropped his jeans and kicked them off at the doorway. Josh gulped as he took in all that Brad was showing. He even began to feel the old butterflies coming back to life in his stomach.

"Josh? Can I have a towel please?" Brad asked suddenly, shaking Josh from his ogling.

"Oh, uh, sure. Sorry." Josh said as he blushed an incredibly embarrassed crimson.

"I didn't want to walk over the carpet in all my wet clothes."

"Your feet are dry enough. Go ahead and run into the bathroom. I'm going to get changed into some dry clothes. If you want, you can have a shower and I'll have some of my clean clothes waiting for you when you get out."

"A hot shower would be great right now. Do you want to go first?"


"A nice hot shower will warm the cold out of you. I can wait till you're finished. Or we could always just hop in at the same time. Conserve water." Brad said in a manner that seemed oddly assured to Josh, "Like the old days."

"We were ten, Brad."


"It's different now. I'm different."

"Yeah, back then we didn't know our little men did anything except take a piss, right?"

Josh blushed again. Part of him was genuinely excited at the idea of sharing such an intimate space with Brad. Even if all they did was shower. Still, it seemed strange though. All of Brad's behavior seemed strange today.

"Come on, you're wet too." Brad said as he began loosening Josh's tie, "Hurry up. We'll catch cold standing around like this."

Josh had been naked around Brad many times. In the football changing rooms. In their own rooms. Many places. But they were both `guys' all those times. The settings were different. The attitudes were different. Awkward as this situation was however, Josh complied with Brad. He quickly stripped down to his boxers and piled his wet clothes on top of Brad's.

"We wouldn't want to get the carpet wet." Brad said as he grabbed Josh's hand.

Now Josh really had a problem. Even if he did step in the shower with Brad, his excitement was painfully obvious. And it was indeed literally painful. Josh was still a virgin and all this sexual tension he'd built up recently made every excitement a torture.

Before he knew what was happening, he was standing under the shower with Brad. It wasn't as big a deal as Josh thought it would be. Thankfully, boxers were still attached to bodies, and the hot water spray was a much appreciated relief. Josh focused his attention on himself, doing his best to ignore the person standing next to him. He even turned away from Brad to try and prevent his downstairs `excitement' from being noticed.

All his attempts went to hell when he felt Brad's hands upon his back. As if it was the most natural thing in the world, Brad started soaping up Josh's shoulders, arms and back. Josh didn't think he could take much more of this torture, when Brad turned him around and began soaping up his chest and abs. Still the look on Brad's face was one of nonchalance. As if this was all no big deal. To Josh it was the biggest deal. Even more so when he let out the smallest moan as Brad's fingers slid across his sensitive nipples.

"Ok, my turn." Brad said as he turned his back to Josh.

Josh figured he may as well give up trying to fight his urges. And Brad as well for that matter. From now on, he figured he would `just go with it', like Brad says so often. This was one of the most intimate experiences he'd ever shared with another male before. Strangely enough, most of his intimate experiences with males included Brad. The rest were almost exclusively Dade. Now though, he allowed himself to revel in this opportunity. He gently rubbed Brad's back, kneading in every muscle. Josh had always been good with his hands. He was the team's unofficial masseur. He knew he enjoyed his job for a reason.

He knew his movements were much more lingering than Brad's were. He simply didn't care anymore. His soaping was turning more into a massage. He rubbed Brad's strong shoulders. Ran his hands over Brad's biceps. His forearms. Everything he wanted to. Brad was allowing everything.

Josh had no idea what was going to happen. No idea where this road was taking him. He just knew he was going to take it now as far as he could. His hands were obviously working magic as Brad let out a small moan. Particularly when Josh's hands slid around Brad's sides and worked over his chest.

"Holy shit." Brad gasped as he began breathing heavily.

Josh knew he could end up being crucified for what he was about to do, but he was past the point of no return now. He leaned in closer behind Brad's neck, his breath hanging over his friend's coppery skin. His hands still roaming over the front of Brad's torso. Finally as if giving in to the obvious desire he felt, his lips met Brad's shoulder gently. Still, Brad did nothing to stop him. And so Josh kissed the back of Brad's neck now. All the while, Josh's hands were slowly pulling Brad back into an embrace.

Josh was experiencing a feeling he was hitherto unknown. Lust. The more he felt it, the more he wanted to just let all his doubts and fears go. Brad seemed to want this to happen. He'd led Josh into it. Yet still, Josh was cautious. His hands were still gentle and unassuming, yet probing and curious. They wandered down over Brad's abs, continuing on as Josh placed gentle kisses along Brad's shoulder. Brad let out an audible moan as Josh's hands lightly grazed over the front of his boxers and more importantly, the obvious erection he had. Still Brad said nothing and simply let Josh continue.

Josh's slow kisses moved down the nape of Brad's neck. This forced Josh to bring Brad back toward him in a tighter embrace. It was at this moment, with their bodies pressed so tightly together, that Josh was snapped back into reality. Brad jerked away suddenly and faced Josh, making sure there was a noticeable distance between them.

"Whoa, ok. I'm sorry." Brad said hurriedly, "I'm sorry."

"Oh geez." Josh said red faced, "I am so embarrassed."

"Don't be. That was ... that was great."

"Huh?" Josh said with obvious confusion.

"Was that all for me? Little Josh is all excited because of me?"

"He's not little."

"I know. I'm sorry, I just got a little freaked out when Little Josh met Brad's ass. Even if we were still wearing boxers. Oh man."

"I'm sorry, Brad. I thought ..." Josh said in frustration as he ran his hand through his hair.

Josh's eyes darted around the shower, trying to find answers that could not be seen. He felt confused, embarrassed, humiliated and ashamed. He'd never been this far with another guy. He never thought he'd be so daring. Yet here he was and it had all blown up in his face.

"You thought right, Josh. I ... I wanted that. Oh man, that was incredible."

"It was? But we didn't even do anything." Josh said in an almost angry tone, "I don't understand."

"You're the first person to ever touch me like that."

"What about when we went camping? When you kissed me."

"That was different. This was ... surreal. I can't believe how incredible that was."

"But ... wait a minute. I'm confused. You don't like guys like that. Why did you lead me on?" Josh asked exasperated.

"Because I wanted to be wanted. I wanted someone to touch me like that. I'm sorry I ruined it. `Little John' just reminded me tha..."

"That it was a guy touching you and not a girl?" Josh asked with a sudden realization, "That's why you didn't look at me when it was happening?"

"No, Josh. It wasn't like th..."

"I'm sorry." Josh said feeling both hurt and ashamed, "I'm sorry."

Josh stepped straight out of the shower and marched right back to his room. He slammed his door behind him and his stoic face tried in vain to mask the humiliation and shame he felt right now. He almost felt dirty. He clenched his fists as angry tears began to form in his eyes. Finally, as he heard Brad's footsteps in the hall, he snapped back into action. He wiped his eyes before he rushed to change into fresh clothes.

"Josh ..."

Josh heard Brad call out to him through the closed door, but he didn't answer. He finished changing his clothes and finally opened his bedroom door for Brad. Brad was still in his boxers, dripping wet. Josh made no eye contact with Brad at all.

"There's some clean clothes on my bed. Get changed and I'll take you home." Josh said as he walked straight past Brad.

"Josh, please. I'm sorry." Brad said as he tried to grab Josh's arm.

"I don't want your pity. And I don't want to be used as your imaginary fix." Josh said bitterly, "I'll wait for you outside. Don't say another word."

* * * * * * *

"Somebody help!" Dade yelled desperately.

What had seemed a fairly innocuous situation at first, was now a terrifying one. Rain fell from the sky in ceaseless torrents. A storm had rolled in and raised the level of the river dramatically. Cold ran through Dade's body, both from the rain and the river that soaked him. All his cries had gone unanswered. His foot was still trapped and his cell phone was dead. The more he screamed for help, the more futile it seemed to be. He was up to his neck in water now, and he felt himself beginning to succumb to the elements. If the cold didn't black him out first, the water would.

"Anyone!" Dade cried again, "Mom! Storm!"

His strength had all but gone now. He had long since given up trying to pull himself free. And now the water lapped over his head constantly. It was a struggle to simply stay above water. In his mind he played over the irony of it all. How he'd finally felt as though he'd shed his demons, only to have his second chance taken away now.

Slipping in and out of consciousness now, he couldn't tell what was real and what wasn't. For an instant, he imagined he was safe at home. Warm in his bed with his family all around. In another instant, he felt the sudden bitter cold of the wind, rain and surging river waters overwhelming him. His life flashed before his eyes and he felt the end coming as his body succumbed.

Gasping for air, he saw the familiar sight of his mother, June Marcus. Right there in front of him. She smiled down at him, and for some reason, this gave Dade peace. He stopped struggling against the current, the rain, the water that slipped into his mouth. He just stared up at his mother and finally stopped fighting. She reached her hand down to him, and he reached his own hand up to her. Except he didn't think he really was moving his hand. This was all in his mind. Yet as his eyes began to falter, he locked the image of his mother watching over him, deep into his mind. And he reached out for her anyway, safe in the knowledge that no matter what happened now, she would be with him. Or he would be with her.

"I've got you, Dade. I've got you." Said a voice that sounded at first like his mother, yet ended up sounding completely different.

In a flash, the image of June was gone. Instead, Dade found himself staring up at someone else completely. Her hand had been replaced by a hand that felt quite real. As real as Dade could process right now. He could barely feel his own body, let alone be certain of his surroundings. His mind was playing tricks on him. He still felt as though he was dreaming. The cold finally overwhelmed him and he fell to the darkness, letting his head fall beneath the water.

* * * * * * *