If you are offended by male/male relationships, or male/male sexual relationships, then you shouldn't be here in the first place. If this conduct is illegal in your area, you must EXIT NOW. This story is not to be copied or posted elsewhere without permission from the author. If you are interested in a story about gay teenage males, then please take your time and enjoy. Feedback/comments/suggestions and even complaints are welcome at DomLuka@aol.com

I dropped my head tiredly into my hands as I sat down on my bed. My thoughts and nerves were in turmoil as I wondered what was going on downstairs. I hated that I'd left Aiden there alone with his mother. Not that I would have been much help if I'd stayed. Aiden was to pissed off at me, for me to be any help. I probably couldn't help even if he wasn't mad at me, but still. I hated that he was dealing with this alone. It had been a while since Aiden showed up at our door, needing refuge, and as much as I loved having him with me, I didn't miss those days.

There was no doubt in my mind that he would be wanting to get away from his mother at some point tonight. My stomach was in knots wondering if he would. I hated to think that his anger towards me would keep him from coming over if he needed to. In fact, if I knew that it would, I'd leave just so he could come over. But now, all I could really do was wait.

Unfortunately I had no idea how long I'd be waiting. In the past it had taken him hours to deal with his mom when something like this happened. I just hoped that there would be no police sirens this time. Either way, I wasn't exactly expecting Aiden anytime soon, which is why I was shocked when he came walking into my bedroom no more than twenty minutes later with an overnight bag over his shoulder.

I was still sitting on my bed then, but as soon as I saw him I was on my feet, trying to read him, trying to figure out what he was thinking. He was definitely angry. I could see it in his eyes, and his rigid shoulders, but as he looked at me his face seemed impassive.

"Can I still stay here?" he asked flatly.

"You know you can," I frowned; practically insulted that he even thought he had to ask. "Aiden..."

"Don't. I'm not talking to you right now." I cut me off.

I opened my mouth to argue that but thought better of it when he narrowed his eyes on me. I retaliated with a disapproving look, but eventually gave in and sat down on my bed again, letting out the breath I'd been holding.

I watched as he silently dropped his bag in the corner, and then to my surprise, he started getting undressed. I couldn't help the way my eyes clung to him as more of his olive complexion was slowly revealed to me. Under normal circumstances I'd be doing more than watching. As it was, my hands were tingling to walk over there and touch him, but more than that, I wanted to go over there and hold him and tell him that I was there for him in any way he needed me. Because he was hurting.

Maybe all Aiden was allowing me to see right now was his anger, but there was hurt there, too. Reconciling with his mother had meant so much to him. His mom coming back had meant a lot to him, having a relationship with her meant a lot to him, and now that it seemed it wasn't working out I knew that he was hurt by the whole thing.

But what was worse, was that I'd hurt him too. It was unintentional, but I knew that I'd hurt him by not telling him what was happening in the first place, and it was too late to take it back now. I was sorry as hell, but I had no idea where to begin to fix this.

"I'm sorry, Aiden." I decided to try again. I didn't think it was possible for me to apologize enough at the moment. Unfortunately, when his shoulders stiffened and he paused for a moment I realized that it probably wasn't the right thing to. But, when he turned to face me a moment later some of the anger had vanished from his face.

I wasn't really sure what to expect from Aiden right now. My mind was sort of on autopilot, willing to give him whatever he wanted, so when he walked over to me and started lifting my shirt, I raised my arms so he could get it over my head, and as he reached for my belt buckle, I looked up at him questioningly.


"Just don't." he said quietly. "Please, right now...just don't."

I let out a breath, trying to respect his wishes as I kicked my shoes off and lifted my hips so he could relieve me of my pants. I wasn't sure what he was doing. It didn't occur to me that he'd want to go to bed because it was still early, and besides that, I don't think either of us could sleep at the moment. I decided to go along with it, though.

I took it upon myself to remove my socks, and I was just peeling off the second one when Aiden hit the lights. My eyes hardly had time to adjust to the dark before I felt his weight on the bed, and then his arms moving around me. I managed to pull the covers down before Aiden pulled me back and I moved onto my side, opening my arms to him as he moved against me, tangling his legs with mine as he placed his hand on my hip and gently rested his face against my neck.

Aiden took in a breath and as he slowly let it out I could feel him relaxing, and then there was silence. It was a painfully uncomfortable silence. I couldn't stand not talking to him, and I just couldn't seem to grasp the concept that we weren't allowed to talk, but apparently we were still allowed to cuddle. In some ways, I thought that having him scream at me would be better than this silence.

I wasn't sure what he wanted, either. He didn't want me to talk to him, but maybe he just wanted me to be there, with him. So I tried to stay calm. Aiden made it somewhat easier for me to relax when his fingers began to move up and down my back in a comforting gesture that would suggest that he wasn't entirely pissed off at me, so I found myself holding him tighter as I moved my hand up and started to stroke his hair and I leaned down and kissed the top of his head, which he didn't object to.

"Please talk to me," I whispered after several minutes of deafening silence.

Aiden didn't respond at first, but he did snuggle closer to me, and that was at least somewhat reassuring, and after he let the silence stretch, I finally heard his voice, so quietly that I had to strain to hear it.

"What did she say to you? What...exactly did she say to you?"

"Aiden," I sighed, "don't do this..."

"Just tell me Owen." He snapped. Some of the earlier tension had crept back into his voice, and I frowned.

I didn't like being put in this position. As furious as I was with Karen, I didn't want to say anything to Aiden that would potentially make things worse between them. I was definitely sorry that I neglected to tell Aiden when all of this had started, but now that he knew the truth, I didn't see the point of giving him details that could make the situation worse, or hurt Aiden even more.

Aiden must have sensed that I was upset by this because his body noticeably relaxed as he let out a breath and momentarily buried his face in my neck. I felt his lips lightly brush against my skin and when he pulled back, he tilted his head back and cupped the back of mine, guiding me down. I had just adjusted to the dark enough to make out his eyes as I took in a breath and let my forehead rest against his.

"Please tell me, Owen." He insisted. "I need to know what she said to you."

"It doesn't matter, Aiden."

"It matters to me."

"Why? She told me to stay away. Isn't that enough? Why do you want to make it worse?"

"I don't expect you to understand...but, I need to know what she said."

I frowned at the expectant, pleading look on his face. He wasn't playing fair. He knew that I wouldn't just say no.

"She said...you didn't need a distraction...like me." I relented. "That was the first time she warned me off."

"Meaning she didn't want you to distract me from her." He stated, sounding bitter.


"Every fucking time!" he suddenly snapped. "I always fucking fall for it. God Owen...I sat there getting pissed off at you because she acted all heartbroken because you didn't want to get to know her...now I know why you didn't... It wasn't fair for you to keep it from me."

"I know." I agreed. "And all I can do now is say I'm sorry. I didn't do it hurt you."

"I know you didn't...but you still lied to me."

"I didn't lie, I just..."

"Oh? You didn't lie? What would you call it then?" Aiden retorted. "Owen, you let me believe everything was fine. Keeping something like that from me is the same as lying. You saw what she was doing and you let me fall for it! Do you have any idea how stupid I feel? I didn't even see it Owen...how could you keep something like that from me? It was about us! How are we supposed to be together if we can't even tell each other the truth?"

"Aiden, there was more to it than that." I insisted, propping myself up on my elbow so I could see him better, and when that wasn't enough I reached for the light, making him blink when it came on. "I wasn't trying to lie to you. I was trying to keep you from getting hurt."

"What?" Aiden demanded, he started to sit up but I placed my hand gently on his chest and shifted to tangle my legs with his before he could. I didn't want him to get up because it seemed he'd have a better chance of staying calm if he was lying down. Aiden frowned at me but laid back against the pillows anyways, giving into my silent request. "Owen, you can't do that! You can't keep things from me just because you think I'll get my feelings hurt!"

"You were so happy when your mom came back," I replied, trying to explain, "and she took me by surprise that first night when we got back. I had no idea how to handle it."

"You should have told me."

"I'm not disagreeing with you, Aiden. I know I should have told you. I'm just trying to explain why I didn't...To be honest, I thought maybe if I gave your mom a chance, maybe she'd come around."

"But obviously she didn't." Aiden frowned.

"It's only been a few days," I pointed out.

"And she's denying that she said anything to you at all!" Aiden snapped, but even with his angry tone he shifted closer to me, as if he thought the shouting would scare me away.

"Aiden, you were so happy about getting along with her, I didn't want to ruin that for you."

"So...what? You decided to let my mom treat you like shit? You let this go on, while I kept bothering you to come over for dinner? You let me get frustrated with you for no good reason?" he asked incredulously.

"Well, it made more sense when I was actually doing it." I frowned. "Before I talked to Chris I just sort of figured it was me your mom didn't like. I was hoping if I gave her some time..."

"You talked to Chris about this?" he demanded.

"He sort of heard a conversation between your mom and me. But, yeah...and I talked to Ryan about it too." I admitted.

"But it didn't occur to you to talk to me?"

"Of course it did! I just didn't know how to tell you that your mom was being a..."

"Go ahead." He frowned. "Say it. It's not like it isn't true."

"Aiden...I'm sorry I didn't tell you. Just don't get mad at Ryan and Chris. They both told me to talk to you. I was the one who decided not to. I mean, I tried to tonight, but..."

"Owen, look..." he sat up, this time succeeding as he pulled me with him and leaned forward, resting his head against mine so that his mouth was against my ear. "I'm never going to say that it was okay for you to keep this from me. And if you were afraid to tell me, for whatever reason...then we have a problem. Don't think I don't trust you, because I do. And, if you didn't at least figure that out tonight, then...I don't know..."

"No, I figured that out." I stated. He did trust me. He believed me, not what Karen was saying, and knowing that, now I felt guilty for ever doubting him in the first place.

"Good, because we need to be honest with each other about these things, even if it means that someone's going to get their feelings hurt. I mean, don't you see how much worse this could have been? I mean, if she would have gotten her way we..." he sighed and pulled back to look at me. "When it comes to my mom, I can be kinda blind sometimes, Owen. She's been pulling this shit for so long that I don't know which way is up with her...that much is my fault. But this time I could have ended up...I don't want to lose you, Owe. Not even for her."

"Hey, I never planned on going anywhere."

"It doesn't matter." He stated. "You need to promise me, Owen. Swear that we'll be honest with each other about stuff like this. Promise me."

He stuck out his hand, like he wanted me to shake it, and if he didn't look so serious I might have been amused. I gave him a small smile and took his hand, but instead of shaking it I laced my fingers with his and leaned forward for a kiss.

Aiden sighed against my mouth as he moved his arm around my neck, pulling me with him as he sank back against the pillows and I pulled back just enough to say, "I promise."

"Good." He smiled. "And don't think I won't hold you to it."

"I'd expect nothing less."

Aiden turned into me and closed his eyes. It was like I could feel whatever tension was left leave him, and I was happy to see it. I was also happy to say that I wouldn't be breaking my promise to him anytime soon. The last few days had been hell, definitely an experience that I didn't want to relive.

"So," he said after a few minutes of peaceful silence, "you think your brothers will mind a more permanent houseguest?"

"You know they won't" I smiled, but then sobered, "except...there is one thing..."


"Well, your mom might have...mentioned evicting us, if I don't stay away from you. I know you said this building is yours, but you're not eighteen yet and..."

"I will be soon enough." Aiden said coldly. "But, I don't think she'd be stupid enough to try something like that...you should probably mention it to Tony and Chris, though."

"Yeah." I nodded, not really looking forward to that conversation.

"Hey," Aiden sighed, pulling me even closer to him. "Don't worry about her. If she wants to get rid of you guys, she'll be doing it to me too now."

"Aiden you could still work things out..."

"No. I'm done with her, Owen. I can't do this anymore...I say that all the time, you know, I can't do it. Well you know what? I'm starting to figure out that the only way I can make it stop is to stay away from her."

"Aiden, you don't have to... I mean, maybe given some time..."

Aiden gently placed the tips of his fingers against my mouth and I frowned against them. I really did feel terrible for him, that things weren't working out with his mom, and even if I thought it was probably best for him to keep some distance from Karen right now, I hated the idea that he was giving up on her.

"Don't, Owe." Aiden insisted. "It's the right thing to do. And don't think any of this is your fault, either." I lowered my eyes at that. The truth was I did feel somewhat responsible, probably because Karen had targeted me to be her problem with her son this time. "It has nothing to do with you, trust me."

I gave a small nod and let him wrap his arms around me and pull me close, until I felt like I was on top of him, not next to him.

"I'm sorry, Aiden." I whispered. Sorry, for not only my recent mistakes, but for those of his mother as well. Aiden's only response was to kiss my forehead, and I listened to his breathing and felt the rise and fall of his chest until his breaths evened out and he slowly fell asleep, and I joined him a few long hours later, after my eyes became to heavy to watch him sleep, safe in my bed, any longer.


"What's wrong?" Aiden asked, and I jumped a little when he moved his arm around me and pulled me closer to his side. I was still trying to get used to the whole public display of affection thing. But hey, I had only been out for one day, and I did relax rather quickly as I tore my eyes away from across the courtyard where all of Dennis's friends were gathered and I smiled at Aiden.

"Nothing." I insisted, while he gave me a measuring look and then raised an eyebrow at me.

"Will you stop thinking about Dennis?" he frowned.

Okay, I admit it. I had been thinking about Dennis, but that was only because there had been no sign of him all day, and knowing his family situation, I couldn't help worrying.

"Sorry." I sighed.

"Stop worrying. I'm sure everything's alright."

"I know." I nodded, although I was doubtful. I looked across the table where Reilly was sitting, picking at a rather questionable looking tuna sandwich.

"You haven't heard anything, have you, Reilly?"

"Huh?" he looked up, startled.

"Dennis." Aiden said, sounding annoyed. "Have you seen him today?"

"No, not today." Reilly replied after a moment, and then promptly went back to picking at his sandwich, but the way that his eyes seemed to be purposely avoiding us now had me studying him through narrowed eyes.

"When was the last time you saw him, Reilly?" I asked.

"Umm...last night." Reilly said nervously, and then quickly added, "I saw him walking his dog."

"He looked okay?" I asked.

"I guess." Reilly shrugged, looking at me somewhat suspiciously before he abruptly stood up. "I have to go. I have some homework before my next class."

He walked away before anyone could even say goodbye, leaving Aiden and I to curiously follow him with our eyes until he disappeared. I wondered what the sudden evasiveness Reilly was displaying was all about, but didn't have much time to think about it because Aiden elbowed me, bringing me back to reality.

"What's with you?" Aiden asked.

"Nothing." I insisted.

"Uh-huh." He frowned. "You've been out of it all day..." he lowered his voice some and looked at me with concern. "No one's giving you trouble, are they? I mean, since you're..."

"Out?" I finished for him. "Actually...that hasn't been so bad. I had to deal with a few assholes this morning, but it doesn't seem like anyone really wants to fight with me, so..."

"Yeah, but are you alright?" he asked.

I smiled at him and gave a small nod as I reached for his hand.

"Yeah." I said, "it turns out, I am. I have a pretty good support system, you know."

Aiden smiled at me and I closed my eyes and leaned into him as he placed a kiss on my temple, but when I looked at him again he was frowning at me again.

"What?" I asked.

"So... what's bothering you, is actually Dennis Gordon?"

"Sorry." I shrugged, knowing well enough that Aiden was getting somewhat sick of hearing about Dennis.

"Ever since that phone call." Aiden groaned. "You know, I get that the guy has problems, but if you don't stop thinking about him soon I'm gonna get jealous...of Dennis Gordon. Do you have any idea what it does to my sensitive ego, knowing that that creep is constantly floating around in my boyfriends head?"

"Shut up," I laughed, nudging his shoulder with mine. "You know it's not like that. I'm just worried. I know he's an asshole, but...I still want him to get out of that house."

"I know you do." Aiden sighed. "But you need to stop thinking about it. There's nothing you can do for him if he doesn't want help. You're just going to end up driving yourself crazy."

"I know." I nodded. "And I'm trying, it's just...I don't know, it's like I can't help worrying. I mean, why do you think he's not in school today? Yesterday in the bathroom Phil was sort of threatening him...do you have any idea what would happen if people started to suggest that Dennis is gay? I mean, I know it's far fetched but if something like that got back to his asshole parents..."

"Okay." Aiden interrupted. "Obviously, I'm not doing a very good job of distracting you."

Maybe that was a polite way of telling me to shut up, but I couldn't help but smile as he leaned forward and kissed me. I wasn't sure I'd ever get used to him doing that in a place where anyone could see us, and I'm sure several people were watching, but I closed my eyes and let everything else fade out, except for the feel of his lips on mine and his tongue gently entering my mouth. It didn't take very long before I was thoroughly distracted, and happy about it.


Aiden told me that he wanted to stay away from his mom for a while, but he'd said that before. I guess I didn't realize how serious he was until Thursday afternoon when I found myself helping him to move in with me.

At some point during the day, Aiden had called my brothers and talked to them about moving in, and now they were both there to help. All three of us were more than happy to have him, as far as anyone was concerned, he was family. I think we were all just a little surprised. In the past he'd been adamant about refusing to move in for real. I guess I was just glad that he was moving in with us and not talking about trying to get his own place...yet.

By the time we were finished moving him in, my room was cramped, to say the least. Tony had offered us his room, being the largest, but we'd refused. I guess you could say that I didn't mind being in a cramped space as long as Aiden was the one sharing it with me, and I kind of liked the idea of his clothes being next to mine in the closet, and the dresser too. I'd gotten rid of my dresser and we took the one from Aiden's room because it was bigger, and now we were sharing to conserve space so we could fit his desk in my...no, our room.

We only needed one bed as far as Aiden or I were concerned, but Tony and Chris insisted that we both have one so no one could accuse them of any wrongdoings, having two sexually active, attached-to-each-other teenagers under their roof, who shared a room.

The only problem was, there was no way we could fit two beds and still have room to walk. Chris came up with a solution, though, and the next thing I knew Aiden and I were standing in one very cramped bedroom looking at our new bunk-bed.

"So, do you want the top or bottom?" I smirked at him.

He laughed at me, getting my double meaning and then grabbed my arm, pulling me to him where I was greeted with his mouth dropping over mine. I kissed him back as I placed my hands on his waist moved backwards, until I fell onto the bottom bunk, the only one we would be using, and pulled him down over me. He pulled back smiling and I let my head drop on the mattress, wondering what he was thinking with that peaceful smile on his face.

"My mom's gonna come up here." He said, and I raised an eyebrow at him, confused about his happy tone.

"And that's a good thing?" I asked. We had moved Aiden out specifically while Karen wasn't there, because we didn't want to deal with any more trouble than necessary.

"I don't know." Aiden admitted. "Maybe. I want her to know that I don't live there anymore, you know?"

"I guess," I sighed, and lifted my hand to move a strand of hair out of his face. "But you know, you can still talk to her, Aiden."

"I know that I can. I just don't want to."

"Aiden..." I frowned.

"Look, Owe...it's gone on too long now. Everyone was right before. We need our distance from each other. She really went too far this time. It's like; I've spent what seems like the majority of my life being there for her. Every time she gets mad, every time she puked her guts out in the middle of the night, every single fucking time she's cried about how she needs me...I've been there. And I've let her walk all over me. And after all that, for her to try to take you away...I'm just not going to do it anymore. From now on, it's all on her. She can't blame me if she slips up and gets toasted because guess what? I won't be there."

I let out a breath, knowing that there wasn't much I could say to convince him to talk to his mother...if I was going to be honest, then the truth was that I didn't like the idea of him talking to his mother anyways. I just wanted him to be happy, whether or not he wanted a relationship with Karen.

"I'm glad you here." I said, deciding to tell him what I was feeling, rather than getting into a conversation about a woman that I'd rather forget altogether. "I love you."

"I love you." He smiled, leaning down to let his lips brush against my forehead. "And you know I'm glad to be here, too, right? But..."

"Don't. You just got here." I complained, wrapping my arms around him and pulling him closer. "Let me enjoy it for a while before you start talking about moving into your own place." Aiden just smiled at me and leaned down for another kiss. I opened as I felt his tongue brush against my lips, and I hissed in a breath against his mouth as his thigh shifted and pressed against my groin.

"You can enjoy it later, Owen, we need to talk to you guys."

I jumped at the sound of Tony's voice and Aiden rolled off of me as we quickly separated to see both of my brothers, smirking at our blushing faces from the opened door.

"I hate you both." I muttered, and they laughed as Aiden elbowed me.

"Come on." Chris smiled, "I'm gonna order dinner."

Aiden grabbed my hand and pulled me up, and we slowly followed my brothers out as I glanced at Aiden. He was looking at me expectantly and I knew why. I hadn't told Tony or Chris bout Karen threatening to evict us yet, and after talking to Aiden that morning we realized that she probably could do it if she wanted to. Our lease was almost up and after that she could give us a thirty-day notice if she wanted to, as long as she had control of the building.

When Aiden figured that out, he'd been understandably upset. He didn't want to feel responsible for it if it happened, but I'd convinced him that there was no way that anyone could blame him for it, considering that it was in no way his fault. But, he was still nervous about how my brothers would react.

"You all settled in, Aiden?" Tony asked as we reached the living room and everyone took a seat.

"Yeah." Aiden nodded, lacing his fingers with mine. "Um, thanks, you guys, for..."

"Hey, you know you're welcome here." Chris cut him off. "And we're all glad to have you...so long as you realize that no one's going to let you go anywhere any time soon."

Aiden opened his mouth to object to that but Tony cut him off.

"Relax Aiden, we know you're old enough to make your own decisions. It was definitely right for you to get away from your mom. It's been pretty obvious for a while that there's no way you guys can live together and try to prepare your relationship. I'll be telling Karen that too, as soon as she figures out your gone, so don't worry about her. You don't have to deal with it while you're here."

"Thanks." Aiden nodded, while I smiled at my brother.

"But Aiden," Tony said, becoming more serious, "while we do want you here, we don't want you here for just a few weeks. Yes, you'll be eighteen pretty soon, but you still have a year of school left, and it doesn't make any sense for you to have to take on the responsibility of your own place if it's not necessary."

"And it isn't." Chris stated. "I'm not going to beat around the bush here, Aiden. We'll tell you the same thing we told Owen when he started talking about being a burden on us...I don't care how old you are, we want you here at least until you graduate. And, before you start in about how you don't want to be trouble for us, don't bother. It's not a problem. Tony and me want you here, and I know Owen wants you here. We just want you to know that we didn't ask you to move in because we only thought it would be for a few weeks. If you can't live with your mom, then we want this situation to be permanent, or, at least until you're really ready to get your own place, after you finish school."

I looked over at Aiden. I definitely liked what my brothers were saying, but my boyfriend looked uncomfortable, so I squeezed his hand and turned my attention back to Chris and Tony.

"Can't he think about it?" I asked for Aiden. Of course, as soon as we were done here I'd be all over Aiden trying to convince him that Tony and Chris were right.

"Of course you can." Tony smiled at Aiden, "we just wanted you to know how we feel about it."

"Thanks, guys." Aiden nodded. "I just think...I need some time."

"That's okay." Chris nodded. "Now, do you guys want to tell us what happened last night?"

Aiden glanced at me before he told Tony and Chris about how he'd walked in on me and Karen last night during our argument. He also made a point to tell them just how pissed off he was that I'd kept my issues with Karen from him in the first place, and I got yet another lecture about honesty, this time from my brothers while Aiden sat there looking amused and satisfied that I was being properly chastised.

"What did your mom say after you sent Owen home?" Tony asked Aiden.

"You know her." Aiden shrugged. "She pretty much denied all of it and told me that Owen was just trying to get between us."

I looked at Aiden, ready to object, but the look he gave me told me that he already knew how I felt about it, so I just smiled at him and then leaned in closer, resting my shoulder against his.

"Owen..." Aiden said after a moment, "you should probably tell them what she said to you."

"What did she say?" Chris asked, with a hint of that protective tone in his voice.

"She sort of said that she'd evict us." I said slowly, waiting for one of my brothers to blow up.

"Sort of?" Tony frowned.

"She just mentioned it." I explained. "She said she'd do it to keep me away from Aiden. And now that he's living with us..."

"I don't think she'll do it." Aiden quickly added. "I mean...she sort of can, with the lease being up, but since I'm living with you guys I don't think she'd try it. If she did you know I'd move out in a second if my being here screwed things up for you guys."

"You're not going anywhere, Aiden." Tony said calmly. "No matter what happens, so don't worry about that."

I felt Aiden relax against me and I squeezed his hand, but then I noticed a look pass between my brothers. They were doing that silent communication thing again and they both looked a little nervous, and that was enough to make me nervous.

"What?" I demanded, and Tony and Chris both looked up at me, only to go right back to looking at each other before Chris finally nodded and Tony started talking.

"We were going to wait to tell you guys this, but I guess now seems appropriate, considering we might need to move anyways."

"What do you mean?" I frowned.

"First of all, Owen, I want you to know that no decisions are going to be made until we all sit down and discuss it as a family." Tony started. "It won't even be put to a vote, if someone doesn't like it then..."

"Oh, just tell them!" Chris blurted, and Tony shot him a look that clearly said, shut up.

"What's going on?" I asked as I glanced at Aiden, who looked as clueless as I was.

"I've been talking to Jake..." Tony started, and I couldn't help but smile at the blush that automatically colored his cheeks. "And, things have been going really good between us...I know it might seem a little soon, but you have to remember Jake and I were friends even before..."

"Oh Christ." Chris shook his head and then looked pointedly at me and Aiden. "Jake asked Tony to move in with him."

"Oh," was all I could think to say. This was unexpected.

"With him and Leo?" Aiden asked.

"No." Tony replied. "Leo and Ben have decided to move in together too. They're actually thinking about that building of yours, Aiden. Jake said he can have it all set up by the end of next month, if that's what you want."

"Wow." Aiden nodded. "I mean, I guess...it's sooner than I thought."

"Yeah." Tony smiled. "But Jake's good."

"And it's about damn time Leo and Ben moved in together too." Aiden smiled fondly. "Ben's mom drives Leo nuts whenever he goes over there."

"Are you going to do it?" I asked Tony, unable to keep the accusing tone out of my voice. "You're leaving?"

I know that it seemed ridiculous, but I was getting used to having both of my brothers around again. They were the only family I had. Now that I had Aiden with me too everything at home seemed so perfect. I guess you could say that I didn't like the idea that one of my brothers might be leaving, even if it was only a few blocks away.

"I don't know, Owen." Tony replied, calmly. "I'd like to think about it, but at the same time, I'm not sure I'm ready to leave you and Chris, and now Aiden too... if you're not comfortable with me moving in with Jake just yet..."

"Owen," Chris interrupted. "I know you're probably freaking out about this a little bit. But, it's not like Tony would be far, we're still a family, nothing will ever change that."

"I never said I was going to do it." Tony frowned at Chris.

"But you should be thinking about it." Chris stated. "Tony, it is going to be an adjustment. You and me...we've never been separated before, not once, and I know how you feel about moving out of here now that we have Owen back..." Chris paused and gave me a smile. "It's going to be a change...but, we're going to be fine. And you and Jake, you've got a good thing going. Tony, you shouldn't put you life on hold just because you're afraid we can't clean up after ourselves."

"You want him to leave?" I demanded, looking at Chris in disbelief. Sure what Chris said made sense, and I understood that I was being completely selfish, but I couldn't help it. All I could hear at the moment was that my brother was leaving, and I felt like I was close to panicking.

"No, I don't." Chris frowned at me. "And he's not leaving, Owen. He's just going to be living somewhere else. He sleeps over at Jake's half the time anyways, there isn't going to be that much of a difference."

"But..." I started to say, but I had absolutely nothing.

The truth was, ever since Aiden Knightly first came into my life, my brothers had been there less and less. They never once failed to be there for me when I needed them. But they'd been gone more than they had when I first came here...I'd been gone more.

When I moved in with them, it was constantly just the three of us. At least one of them was always there, ready to pick up the pieces if I needed to fall apart. They'd been there because I needed them then, and they knew it. They'd put so much of their lives on hold, just for me, just to be there for me.

But I wasn't the same kid as I'd been then. I had changed. Things around me had changed. I wasn't the same recluse that I'd been that first day of school when I sat down under that oak tree, or the same kid who'd come home after school and burried himself in schoolwork because he wanted nothing to do with the unreliable world around him.

But not the whole world had been unreliable. Tony and Chris were in no way unreliable, and because they'd been there for me I'd turned out...okay. Better than okay, even. I had friends. I had a family. I had a boyfriend who I was kissing at school where anyone could see it.

I had changed. I'd been changing, and now my situation was changing too. But, I guess deep down I knew that the one thing that would never change was the fact that my brothers would always be there for me. It didn't matter where we lived, if we were all under the same roof or even in the same country. I knew I had them, that they'd always be there if I asked them to be, and while I still needed both of them in many, many ways, I didn't need them like I had before.

"Do you want to do this, Tony?" I asked.

"Well, like I said, Owe, this is a family discussion. I won't be making any decisions without..."

"But do you want it?" I cut him off.

Tony stared at me for a long moment and then slowly nodded.

"I'm in love with Jake." He admitted, trying to remain as serious as possible but failing miserably when a silly lovesick grin made an appearance on his face. "I don't want to leave you guys, but I think I'm ready for this. Jake and I wanted all of you to move in with us, but..."

"It would get awfully crowded." Chris finished. "Besides, they'll need their space."

I just nodded, still staring at Tony, who was looking at me worriedly.

"Are you okay, Owen?" Tony asked me.

"Yeah...I guess. It's just...unexpected."

"So how do you feel about it?" Chris asked me.

"Well, I mean...I guess you won't be far, right?" I asked Tony.

"No." he smiled. "And, you'll probably see me around just as much as you do now. If that's not enough, I'll only be a phone call away."

"Or a block away." Chris smiled. "That's the other part of this, guys. Jake and Tony want to get their own place when..."

"If." Tony corrected him.

"If," Chris rolled his eyes, "they do this, then they'll want their own place."

"You're not planning to live at Jake's place?" Aiden asked Tony.

"Jake has some history in that house that he wants to leave behind." Tony explained. "If we move in together, we want to make everything new."

"So I'm buying the house." Chris grinned, causing Aiden and I to look at him.

"This is all still an if." Tony reminded us.

"You're buying Jake's house?" Aiden asked him.

"Why not?" Chris shrugged. "I mean, sure, at first I thought it would be kinda big if just me and Owen were going to be living there, but now with you around, Aiden...I think it's just what we need. The place could use some work, but I don't think it's anything we can't handle. I kind of like the idea of getting out of the apartment. The extra room definitely won't hurt."

"When would this happen?" I asked, still trying to take it all in. Even after everything that I'd been through, now that I finally felt settled in, moving seemed like a big step for me. I wasn't exactly sure how to react to it. It was weird enough thinking that Tony would be living somewhere else. I wasn't sure how I felt about me living somewhere else.

"Owen, we don't even know if it's going to happen." Tony stated. "We just thought we'd bring it up now because there's the possibility that we might have to move anyways. But, no decisions have been made yet. Like we said, this is a family decision. If you're not comfortable with it, we won't do it. Same goes for you, Aiden. I know it's going to be an adjustment for you not living with your mom, and you did just move in. We'd understand if you needed more time before making any more moves."

"You guys know I don't care." Aiden shrugged. "I mean, I'm just glad I have..."

"Family." Chris smiled at him, and then regarded me more seriously. "Owen?"

"I don't know." I replied after a moment. "It's just...I mean the idea of moving, I can get used to, but..." I looked at Tony and felt my straight face falter into a frown. "I'll miss you." I said quietly, and it only took my brother two seconds to cross the room, pull me up and away from Aiden and into a tight hug, which I didn't hesitate to return.

"Sorry, Tony." I mumbled into his chest, feeling somewhat ridiculous for getting emotional. I wasn't crying or anything, but at the moment I wouldn't be surprised if I started. It really was ridiculous of me. I mean, if he moved in with Jake I'd still see him as much, and not only that, but he'd be happy too.

"That's okay, Owen." Tony insisted when he pulled back and looked at me. "It's okay if you're not comfortable with this. That's why we're discussing it. And if you don't want to do it...then we won't. It's as simple as that."

"Why don't we all take some time to think about this," Chris suggested, "and in the meantime we'll talk to your mom, Aiden. I think we can persuade her that she's already caused enough trouble for the time being, and hopefully she won't try to start anymore anytime soon."

"Thanks." Aiden nodded.

There was a moment of silence in the room as everyone looked around, wondering if we were finished. I think we all had a lot to think about. I know I did.

"Didn't you say something about ordering dinner, Chris?" Tony asked. "Owe, why don't you and Aiden go make sure he's all unpacked and settled in?"

"Okay." I nodded, although it was unnecessary. Because we'd simply moved Aiden's things from one apartment to the other, there really wasn't much to unpack. But, even so, Aiden stood up and placed his hand on my back as I turned towards our room.

I looked towards Tony one more time before we moved into the hall. It was really strange, to think that it was possible that in a short time, he wouldn't be with us anymore, at least not in the way that I was used to.

It wasn't that I had a problem living with Chris. Both of my brothers meant a lot to me. They'd each supported me; they'd each been there for me in their own way. But I would miss Tony. I'd miss coming home to help him make dinner, and our talks, and the way that he could tell something was wrong just by looking at me. I guess it was possible to have all of these things with Tony even if we weren't living under the same roof. But, I I'd still miss the idea of having both of my brothers so close to me. It would definitely take some getting used to. I was still stressing over the idea when Aiden closed the bedroom door and turned to look at me.

"Wow," was all he said.

"I know." I nodded. "They've never...Tony and Chris have never been apart before. Moving here...I think this was the first time they ever lived somewhere without sharing the same room, and now..."

"And now one of them might be moving out."

"Yeah...when I first came here...I sort of got the idea that they'd never leave me again." I said quietly.

"No one's leaving you." Aiden smiled. And I knew he was right, but still, I really didn't know how to take this news. Call me selfish, but I wanted my family to stay together in every way possible, but I also wanted to be able to walk back out into the other room and tell Tony that he should move in with Jake because he had as much of a right to be happy as anyone. And when it came to my feelings about the situation, the latter won out. Now, I just had to say goodbye to my brother.

I took in a breath and turned my back on Aiden and stared at the new bed in the room, just because it was what happened to be in front of me. I guess not all moves were bad. Moving here with Tony and Chris had been the best thing that ever happened to me. It only got better today, when Aiden moved in with us, and maybe one more move would work out for the best too. I guess only time would tell. But, the way that Aiden's arms moved around me from behind in a silent promise that everything would work out just fine, was more than enough comfort for me at the moment.


I squeezed Aiden's hand tighter, almost in a protective gesture as I started dragging my feet. Aiden glanced over at me, wondering what the hold up was, but he hadn't seen what I saw yet, what was coming our way.

Adam looked as nervous as I felt, walking towards us as we headed for lunch. The last time I saw him was two days ago when I'd kissed Aiden at our table and came out to the whole school. I hadn't been able to read his reaction then, and I still couldn't now, and as he approached I tried to prepare myself for just about anything.

Aiden finally noticed Adam and we both came to a halt as my former young friend approached us, looking like he found something particularly interesting on his shoes.

"Owen...can we talk?" Adam asked as he reached us.

"You can talk now." I replied coldly. My attitude probably wasn't necessary, but I never knew what to expect with Adam, and I swear if he started spewing words like faggot or queer I wasn't sure I could handle it, not from him again.

Adam looked at Aiden nervously, and then back towards me. It was obvious that he wanted to talk alone, but as far as I was concerned anything he could say to me he could say to Aiden. But, apparently my boyfriend thought differently.

"Go ahead." Aiden insisted and I glared at him. He just let go of my hand and then gave me a reassuring kiss on the cheek, which Adam looked away from, his face turning red. "Take you're time, Owen. I'm gonna go find Reilly."

I just sighed and gave Aiden a small nod, even if I wasn't thrilled with the idea of being left alone with Adam, which became obvious once my boyfriend walked away.

"What do you want, Adam?" I frowned.

"I want to talk to you." He replied, matching the cold tone in my voice.

"Fine." I started walking, leaving him to follow. I had no intention of leaving school with him again. I wanted to stay close to Aiden, and besides that, I was still keeping my eye out for Dennis since he hadn't been in school again today.

Adam walked a step behind me in silence, and I could only wonder what he was thinking as we reached the courtyard. Aiden was already there with Reilly, and I was a little surprised to see him lifting his camera out of his bag. He hadn't used it at school for some time now, so when I saw him snap a picture of a few people walking by, who actually stopped to pose, I couldn't help smiling in his direction. Aiden spotted me and he smiled back, looking very satisfied with himself.

"Let's go over here." Adam suggested, tearing me away from Aiden and the urge to go over there and hug him. I waved to my boyfriend and Reilly and then followed Adam, surprised when he led me towards the oak tree, where Shane was sitting alone.

I didn't like this idea. Dealing with Adam was one thing, but I wasn't sure I was ready for two of them at once. That's why when Shane gave me a disgusted look as we approached I matched it with the most threatening one I could muster, practically challenging him with my eyes. Shane remained quiet as Adam and I sat down, but he did seem to edge away from me, moving behind Adam as we did.

"So what do you want?" I asked.

"You're gay." Adam said, no hint of a question in his voice.

"Of course he's a fucking faggot dumb ass!" Shane hissed. "He's fucking kissing Knightly in front of everyone." Shane looked at me and glared. "You're fucking disgusting!"

I narrowed my eyes on Shane, who inched his way even further behind Adam, but Adam surprised me as he turned back and gave Shane a shove.

"If you have a problem then go." Adam informed him. "I'm trying to talk to Owen."

"I'm not leaving you alone with him!" Shane insisted, and then lowered his voice as if I wouldn't hear it. "What if he tries something Adam? Like he did with Phil?"

"Don't worry Shane, I would never do something like that here." I smiled at him, while he regarded me suspiciously. "Too many witnesses. But don't be too worried, you're both on the list."

"The list?" Shane repeated.

"Yeah, you know the one," I shrugged, "of all the sweet young boys we want to join our side, and don't worry about Phil, we already got him. I mean, seriously, do you really think he'd stay with Janie? I'm so much prettier than she is. But you know, I have Aiden, so Phil's going to have to look into other options. I think he mentioned you at the last meeting. What do you think? Are you into football players, Shane?"

"You're fucking sick!" Shane screamed at me, but Adam started laughing. "Adam!"

"Just go, wait over there." Adam told him with a backwards wave of his hand. "I'll explain everything to you later."

"You shouldn't be hanging out with faggots!" Shane spat at him, but stormed off to wait at a nearby table anyways, looking our way suspiciously.

"So, what do you want to talk about?" I asked, turning my attention to Adam.

Adam let out a breath and just stared at me for a moment.

"I guess I just wanted to know when you decided..."

"I didn't decide anything, Adam. I don't have a choice when it comes to who I am."

"So you've always been..."

"Gay." I nodded.

"And you and Aiden..."

"We've been together since the school dance." I admitted.


"I would have told you, you know." I said after a long moment of silence. "You would have been the first I told...but after your sister outed Aiden..."

"I acted like a jerk."

"Yeah, you did." I agreed.

Adam just nodded.

"You know when you told me that stuff about your dad?" he asked quietly. "The reason why you moved here...was it because..."

"Yes." I frowned. "My parents didn't understand...they thought I was sick or something. So my dad...well..."

"I'm sorry that happened to you, Owen." He said, and I believed him.

"So am I."

"Did you ever...I mean...I was just wondering..."

"What, Adam?"

"I mean, did you ever think about me like..."

"No." I laughed, for some reason finding the question funny. "You're cute, Adam. But, I've pretty much only had eyes for Aiden since I first met him."

"Oh, okay." He nodded, sounding relieved.

"You know, I'm still the same person, Adam. Just because I go out with my boyfriend instead of my girlfriend...it doesn't make me a different person."

"I'm starting to get that." Adam nodded. "But..."

"What do you want, Adam?" I interrupted.

"I don't know." he shrugged. "The other day we were talking about getting together, hanging out even, but now...you had to change everything again."

"So in other words, you want to take it back. I mean, now that you know the truth about me...you want to keep your distance, right?"

"That's what you'd expect me to say, isn't it."

"Yes." I replied honestly.

Adam lowered his eyes for a moment, and I just stared at him, hoping that I really wasn't right, that lunch the other day had actually meant something, that the first friend I'd ever made here wasn't the same kind of bigot I'd run away from in the first place. But, when he finally looked up at me, he only confirmed what I'd been worried about in the first place and said, "You're right."

And it hurt like hell. It had hurt when I ended my friendship with him in the first place, but this was different. Before I had been disgusted with him, the way that his opinion of Aiden had changed overnight. But, I honestly thought that he was trying. Then again, a few days ago when we'd agreed to get together, he'd agreed to hang out with me, not Aiden.

But now it was me. I was the queer he didn't want anything to do with. I guess I was always, on some level, afraid of what Adam's reaction would be if he ever found out about me. I admit, that this wasn't as bad as his reaction to Aiden had been, so maybe he had grown as a person. But, it definitely didn't make the rejection hurt any less. The fact that he was saying that we couldn't go to lunch, couldn't try to hang out as friends, the way that normal people do, just because I was gay, it definitely fucking hurt.

"Owen, I don't hate you, it's just that...if people see us together, I don't want them to think..."

I blinked at him, and realized that I must have spaced out for a moment, replaying every single moment of our friendship, and during the process my face had been an opened book to my emotions. Damn it. I didn't want him to see what I was feeling. I didn't want him to know that what he was saying effected me.

It would have been so much easier to let him think that this didn't bother me, that I didn't care, that it was his loss. Unfortunately, it appeared to be too late for me to put on my brave face, and there was only one thing left that I could do, because I wasn't going to sit there and listen to his ridiculous excuses.

"Forget it, Adam," I stated, right before I stood up and walked away.


"I knew it would happen, deep down, I think."

I rolled over on the bottom bunk, so that I was on my side as I lazily held the phone to my ear and looked around the bedroom that had become a mix of me and Aiden. I liked it.

"But you were hoping that it would have worked out differently." Ben's voice responded, a statement, not a question.

"You know I did."

"I don't know, Owen. Don't you think you're rushing the situation?"

"What do you mean?" I frowned.

"Well think about it. Adam's a sweet kid but he does tend to be a little slow, don't you think? He was starting to come around with Aiden. At least, he was trying to understand why you would hang out with a queer, now he knows. Don't you think you should give him some time to get used to the idea that you and Aiden are... doing more than hanging out?"

"He says he doesn't hate me but we can't be friends because he's afraid someone will think he's gay too." I frowned. "It's fucked up, and I'm tired of giving him time."

"Yes, I can see that, you're very impatient, you know? But being impatient isn't going to help you right now."

"Then what do you suggest?"

"Give it time. And meet me in front of the theater in twenty minutes."


"What? You didn't think you we're getting out of our visit today just because you called me, did you? We're going to walk around the mall for a while, I think. That library's too stuffy. So get a move on. We'll have our talk, have a blast, and you can buy me ice cream."

"I don't..." I started to say, not really in the mood to go to the mall or to have another long session with Ben.

"Twenty minutes, don't be late." He cut me off and then hung up.

I sighed and dropped the phone, annoyed with myself and Ben. We were supposed to meet today, but after I got home from school I hadn't really been up for it. I much would have preferred an evening of cuddling with my boyfriend opposed to digging into my past and my feelings towards it, especially after the day that I had. But, something had happened just before I was about to tell Ben that I couldn't meet him.

He just had to ask me how my day was.

It wasn't just that he asked me, either. Ben had a way of making you get things out. In my case, he'd mentioned my recent coming out, and he'd demanded every detail of it. He even had a way of making me feel proud of myself for it, and I found myself telling him how good it felt to be able to be myself, how I loved that I didn't have to count the seconds when I dared to put a hand on my boyfriend where other people could see it, and I told him how great it was to see the incredulous look on Janie's face every time she saw me and Aiden together.

But then Ben wanted to talk about the down side of coming out. I started by telling him about the assholes who mostly just liked to voice their opinions, and how I'd wanted to take them all on the first day but Aiden wouldn't let me get into any fights. I told him how I was becoming comfortable using sarcastic remarks and the show no fear method when it came to protecting myself from hurtful comments or even the threats. And of course, all of my talking led directly up to what had happened with Adam, and the next thing I knew I was telling Ben all about it and how hurt I'd been by it.

All because he'd asked me how my day went. And even after that long conversation I still had to go meet him. Not that it was the end of the world. I was really beginning to like Ben. Yes, at the moment he was the alternative to a shrink, but he was also a friend. I really considered him that, a friend, especially after our first talk together.

I think it was the way that Ben could help me realize things about myself, help me dig out certain parts of my past that needed attention, and yet the very next minute he could be telling me about something either romantic or annoying that Leo did. He'd talk to me just like he would a friend, not just some guy in serious need of mental assistance. I really wouldn't mind hanging out with Ben at all...if I knew he wouldn't end up coaxing me into another emotional discharge.

The bedroom door opened, and closed behind Aiden and I gave him a lazy smile as he moved directly over to the bed. I rolled onto my back as he crawled over me and slowly lowered his weight over my body as I slid my hands up the back of his shirt and kissed his neck.

"I have to go meet Ben," I announced when he pulled back, and then I smiled at the pout on his face. "I couldn't get out of it."

"It's okay." Aiden sighed. "I think it's good you're talking to someone, Owe."

Aiden was regarding me with a thoughtful expression, and as I lifted my hand to push his hair back behind his shoulder I could feel a small smile creeping over my lips, realizing that his thoughtful expression looked more like a curious one.

"I'll tell you." I smiled at him. "If you want to know what I talk about with Ben, all you have to do is ask."

Aiden looked a little surprised, and honestly, I couldn't blame him. I hadn't exactly been forthcoming with all of my feelings, and there were still certain parts of my past that he knew nothing about. But, what I talked to Ben about, so far, I thought I'd feel comfortable telling Aiden any of it.

"You don't have to say that, Owen. It's okay that you feel comfortable talking to Ben, and I understand that you're not ready to talk about everything, with me."

"I'm not comfortable talking to Ben about everything." I admitted. "But I think...I think I'm getting better...and I mean it. If you ever want to know, I'll tell you. I think I'd like to."

"I'd like to hear it." He smiled, and I tightened my grip around him as he leaned down and I lifted my head to kiss him, pressing my tongue against his as he parted his lips and placed his hands on the backs of my knees, pulling my legs up so that he fell between them. I could feel the distinct bulge in his pants, pressing against my cock, which responded almost immediately. But, when Aiden deepened the kiss I gently pushed him back and rolled him off of me before he ended up guaranteeing that I'd stand Ben up.

"I have to go." I sighed. "Will you be here later?"

Aiden groaned and pulled me back to him, kissing me soundly and then he pushed me away again.

"Go." He smiled. "Just hurry back, or I might have to start without you," and to make his point he slid his hand down his stomach and moved his fingers along the outline of the erection slightly tenting his jeans.

I laughed and pushed his hand away from his pants, only to snap open the button and pull down the zipper myself. Aiden started to sit up, his eyes little wide as I suddenly hooked my fingers in his pants and unceremoniously pulled them down past his hips, glad that he wasn't wearing underwear at the moment because I didn't have time to bother with them as I watched his erection spring up against his stomach.

"Well, when you make threats like that..." I remarked, right before I lowered my head and took him in my mouth.

It seemed like it had been a while since I did this, even though it hadn't been that long, not really. Actually, it had been less than a week but it somehow seemed like a lot of time had passed since Aiden and I had started to explore new things. Now, as I felt the head of his cock move against my throat and his fingers tightening in my hair, I decided that I'd have to make a point to do this more often.

Aiden groaned as I moved my hand up, rolling his balls against my fingers as I moved my other hand to his hip, encouraging him to thrust upwards when I felt that he was holding back, and he readily complied. I didn't tease him, the way that I often liked to. I didn't really have time for that. There was no way I wanted to explain to Ben why I was late, so I brought Aiden right to the edge and gladly swallowed him down when he arched up and spent himself into my mouth.


"I'll miss him." I told Ben as I watched him lick the stream of pink ice cream dripping down his waffle cone from across the table. "Tony deserves to be happy too, and Jake's a great guy. I guess it's not like I'll never see my brother."

"You don't seem convinced."

"The idea will just take a while to get used to."

"I'm surprised Chris isn't putting up more of a fight." Ben commented.

"Yeah. It's weird. Chris and Tony have never been apart, but Chris is practically pushing him out the door...but I think he just wants Tony to be happy, you know? And you know Tony. He's so busy trying to take care of all of us that he'd never do this without a push."

"So he's decided to move in with Jake, then?"

"I'm not sure." I replied honestly. "We only started talking about it yesterday. I think Tony's waiting until he knows that...knows that, I'll be alright."

"Huh. So he's waiting for you to tell him it's okay?"

"Maybe." I muttered.

"Well, does he have your blessing if he decides to do this?"

"Of course. If that's what he wants."

"What do you want, though? Do you want him to move out?"

"No." I admitted. "But like I said, the idea's just going to take some getting used to. I mean, it's not like he's leaving us, leaving us. He'll still be around. I'll still have Chris too, and then with Aiden living with us, things definitely won't be lonely."

"How is Aiden? I hear his mom went psycho again."

I shook my head and raised an eyebrow at the casual way Ben said that.

"Where do you get all of this information?"

"You know I love the gossip." He smiled. "So how are things with Aiden? You guys aren't fighting? I was sure you'd end up with one pissed off boyfriend once Aiden figured out that his mother warned you off and you neglected to tell him about it."

I gave Ben an incredulous look as I wondered if he'd always know everything.

"He was pissed." I admitted. "But, we talked about it and now everything's great between us. It's not so great between Aiden and his mom, though. He..."

"Wait." Ben interrupted. "Go back to Aiden and you. You talked and...you've seen the error of your ways, no?"

"Yes. I have." I said shortly, feeling annoyed that everyone found it to be their personal responsibility to mention how I'd screwed up. "But, like I told Aiden, at the time I didn't think of it as lying to him. I was..."

"Trying to protect him." Ben nodded. "You aren't the first to make that mistake, Owen. Many of us can be blinded by those we love. You want to do everything you can to protect them, to make them happy...and you don't realize that the smallest omissions can do the exact thing that you try to prevent in the first place: hurt those you care about."

"You sound experienced." I remarked.

"Hmm." Ben smiled. "Lets just say that you and Leo are so alike in some ways that it's scary. That's why I can read you so well. I've had plenty of practice."

"Remind me to thank Leo later." I sarcastically retorted.

"I'll do that." Ben winked, and then proceeded to lick at his cone again. "I'm glad Aiden forgave you so quickly, though. He could probably use you right now, since things aren't so great with his mom."

"I'm glad he forgave me too." I sighed. "But you know, it wasn't just about trying to protect him, Ben. I was really hoping that Karen had changed. Aiden wanted her to. I wanted the same thing...for him. It would have meant so much to him but now...I don't know if he'll ever want to speak to her again."

"That bothers you?"

"A little." I admitted. "I was sort of hoping that it would work out for them. I mean, I know what it's like to have a mom who's...well, you know what kind of mother I had. I wanted it to turn out differently for Aiden."

"Had?" Ben asked.


"You said had. The kind of mother you had." He explained thoughtfully. "You don't think it's interesting that you speak about your mom in past tense? I mean, technically you still have a mother. She's questionable, but she's out there."

I pondered that for a moment. My parents were still out there. In fact, I thought about that more than I'd like to admit.

"They're not a part of my life anymore-my parents-and they never will be again."

They never will be again. Hearing myself say that out loud made it seem so...final. My parents were no longer a part of my life. They never would be again. It seemed wrong somehow. No more family portraits. No more family dinners...They were gone. They weren't even dead. They just weren't there anymore.

"Is that really true?" Ben asked, snapping me out of my thoughts. I looked across the table at him, not really understanding the question. He must have noticed, because he went on to explain. "Maybe they're not here, with you. But, they're still with you, in a way. Don't you think? I mean, if they weren't, do you think you would have reacted the way you did at Dennis's house?"

I was already starting to hate it when Ben was right. I really hated it this time. My parents weren't with me anymore. Some parts of that still saddened me. But no matter how upsetting it was to think of the reasons why they weren't there anymore, deep down I knew that it was for the best. I constantly told myself that I was so lucky that I'd escaped that life, that I'd escaped my parents.

But I'd only really escaped in the physical sense. In a way, my parents were still there, plaguing my very existence. They had been, and I'd known it. They were there the first day I met Aiden, when I got in that fight after hearing that stupid word. They were there on our camping trip when we met that family and I decided that I automatically didn't like the parents without a just reason for it. And when I'd met Ryan's mom, Angie Sader. They'd been there, too. It seemed like they were always there. I hadn't escaped anything, not really. I wasn't sure how to make it end. It wasn't over yet. It wouldn't be over until...well, I didn't know when it would be over. I wasn't even sure what to do to make it stop. It was entirely discouraging.

Ben was right, and I hated him for it. I hated that I knew what happened at Dennis's house would only be the beginning if I didn't start dealing with it, just like everyone kept telling me. But I had started to deal with it. Just talking to Ben was dealing with it. But, I wasn't sure if just talking about it was going to be enough. Not that I had any other options that I could see.

"Have you thought about facing them, Owen?" Ben suddenly asked, but my eyes had wandered away from him and across the food court.


"Not Dennis. You're parents."

"...is here." I finished, not really even hearing the last thing that Ben had said. I was too busy watching Dennis Gordon as he waited on an order by himself, looking entirely bored. But at least he looked healthy. He hadn't been in school for the last two days and seeing that he looked well enough, eased some of the worry that I'd been experiencing. In fact, I felt so relieved that I almost missed Ben's reaction when he turned and saw Dennis there.

It occurred to me that I'd never seen Dennis and Ben in such close proximity to each other. Maybe that's why I was surprised by Ben's reaction. And Ben's reaction, seemed to explain some of Leo's violent behavior the one time that I saw him and Dennis together.

Maybe I was just getting to know Ben, but, I did know him well enough to say that he was one of the most outgoing people I knew. Ben wasn't the type to try to fade into the background. He never apologized for who he was. He was loud, and blunt, and if Ben was in a room-you knew it. He just wasn't the shy type.

Until now.

Ben had spotted Dennis and it was like his whole body tensed up, but at the same time it looked like he wished he could just fade away, disappear. His eyes had taken on a distant, troubled look as he stared at Dennis, obviously wanting to look away, but for some reason unable to do it. I guess Ben seemed...afraid.

"Ben?" I said, pulling him out of his thoughts.

"Huh? Oh, sorry, Owen." He smiled sheepishly, turning back to me and shaking his head as if to clear it. "So do you ever think about it?"

"Think about what?"

"Facing your parents again."

I know he'd just asked me that question only moments before, but I'd been distracted then, and now the question seemed to take me off guard.

"What do you mean?" I frowned, "face them?" just the idea of facing my parents scared the hell out of me. But no one had ever really brought this up before. What exactly was Ben suggesting, anyway? Was he suggesting I see my parents again? I wasn't sure I wanted to know.

"You know," Ben replied. "Confront them. Don't tell me you haven't thought about it a thousand times before. You probably have a whole list of things you want to say to them."

"Well...yeah." I admitted. "But thinking about it and doing it isn't the same thing."

"But you do think about it?"

"All the time." I nodded. "Sometimes I play it out in my head, what would happen if I saw my parents on the street, what I'd say to them. When I play it out like that...I always walk away okay. I make them regret..."

"Do you ever think about calling them, for real?" Ben asked.

"No." was my immediate answer, although my attention had shifted again to where Dennis was bringing his order to a table, not far away from us, and I frowned at his company. I watched as Mrs. Gordon took the food from Dennis and then pointed him back to the restaurant, obviously demanding he go back for something he forgot. I found myself following Dennis with my eyes, even as I continued to answer Ben. "Chris said that I might want to call them some time." I admitted. "But, I honestly don't think that will happen. I just don't see what the point would be."

I watched as Dennis ran into a couple of kids from school, a few guys who usually hung out with his crowd. He seemed to approach them in his usual confident manner, but he kept looking over his shoulder to where his mother was, probably crossing his fingers that she would just forget about him for a few minutes.

"Maybe there wouldn't be an actual point. Except, maybe confronting them would simply give you the chance to say all of those things you want to say. Give you a chance for closure. Tell me what you'd say to them, given the chance."

I inwardly cringed when Mrs. Gordon spotted Dennis, and from the look on her face it seemed safe to say that she didn't approve of Dennis talking to his friends. She started to stand, from her table, and instinctively, I found myself doing the same thing, and it confused Ben.

"Owen?" he frowned, "Where are you going?"

That was a good question. I wasn't really sure where I was going. I just knew that Mrs. Gordon was heading angrily towards Dennis and I had the sudden desire to interrupt her. Maybe it was all of this talk about confrontation. Maybe I wasn't ready to confront my own parents, but maybe I could at least face Mrs. Gordon, as scary as she was. I really don't know what I was thinking. I think...I just didn't want to watch Dennis get hurt anymore.

"I have to talk to Dennis." I heard myself say, right before I started to walk towards him and his friends. It didn't really matter to me at the moment that Dennis had spotted me and was giving me a glare that clearly said stay away. All I could see was the panicked expression on his face when Mrs. Gordon's voice interrupted even the echoing noise of the food court.

"Dennis!" she called. "What's wrong with you? What did I say? What did I say? You're to get your lunch and come sit down! You don't listen worth a damn, do you? You worthless..."


I stopped and looked at Ben, who had grabbed my arm. He had a determined look on his face as he pulled me back, away from the scene where Mrs. Gordon was publicly humiliating her son, who appeared absolutely mortified.

"We're leaving." Ben stated. "Come on, Owen. Now."

I glanced back at Dennis, who was looking in my direction again, only now he was looking at Ben, and while it wasn't as obvious, I thought I saw the same fear in Dennis's face when he looked at Ben, that I had seen in Ben's expression, when he'd first spotted Dennis.

"I have to talk to him." I said stubbornly. "He's been missing school and obviously his parents are still..."

"Assholes, yes, I can see that." Ben stated. "But you're not going to accomplish anything if you go over there now."

I opened my mouth to argue again, but shut it when Ben hooked his arm through mine, a lot like the way Lacy did it, and pulled me along with him, and as we walked I began to realize that Ben had probably just saved me from a world of trouble, and Dennis too, considering I'd planned to walk up and talk to him right in front of his mother.

What the hell had I been thinking anyways? I mean, seriously, what the hell did I think I was going to do? Walk up to Dennis in front of the very irate Mrs. Gordon and say...what, exactly? Ask him where he's been for the last few days? Tell him I just wanted to make sure that he wasn't being locked in a basement and tortured? I would have come off as a lunatic. Dennis wasn't my friend. He didn't even like me. Not even a little bit. I was just the guy he could relate to. That didn't mean that he'd be happy about me interrupting his mother, in front of his friends. The fact that his mom was being a bitch was totally irrelevant.

Or was it Mrs. Gordon, who I'd been after? Honestly, I didn't know. I felt sort of like I did the first time Dennis and I had exchanged blows...completely lost. Maybe something had been triggered, because I had been watching the unfolding drama between the Gordons while I was simultaneously discussing my parents with Ben. I was sure that there had to be connection there somewhere.

And when did I go from being concerned about Dennis to wanting to use any force necessary to get him out of his situation? That was the bottom line: I wanted him out of that house and away from those people. I didn't think I'd ever be satisfied until I knew he was somewhere safe. It was a strange thought, that I felt so strongly about this, even if I couldn't stand the guy.

I wanted to talk to him. I wanted to talk to Dennis, if only one more time. I wanted to tell him how stupid he was for staying there. I wanted to get him out of that hell house he lived in, even if it meant taking him home with me. God, please let there be another way other than taking Dennis home with me. Aiden would kill me. But still, I needed to do something. Anything.

"What were you trying to do back there, Owen?" Ben's voice cut into my thoughts. I realized that we'd reached my truck, and Ben was pushing me into the driver's seat. Leo had dropped him off, and I was supposed to give him a ride back when we were finished, so it didn't really surprise me when he closed my door and walked around to the passenger side. It gave me time to think about his question, but even after he got in the car, I still had no answer for him.

"I don't know." I answered honestly.

"Well what were you planning to do?"

"I don't know." I stated, a little more firmly this time. "I need to talk to Dennis."


"I...because I do. His family is..."

"I am aware of Dennis's situation Owen. But why do you need to help him?"

I was becoming frustrated. Wasn't Ben listening?

"Because somebody has to!"

"He doesn't even want help."

"It doesn't fucking matter!" I shouted. "I need to..."

"But why you?" he cut me off.

"Because I have to."


"Because I owe him that much!"

"Owe him?" Ben responded, raising his voice as much as I had risen mine, only his was much more controlled, but I was surprised at how forceful even his soft voice could be. "You don't owe him anything! He's a bitch who's done nothing but make your life miserable ever since you met him. He wants to fight you every time you turn around and he treats your friends like shit, and that includes Aiden. Do you think for a second that he'd do anything for you if the situation were reversed?"

"No." was my immediate response. "But I'm not Dennis! I need..."

Damn it. What the hell was I arguing about? Everything Ben said was right. Asking myself why I felt the need to help Dennis was a good question. Ben had done it again. I could tell by the calm look on his face that he was waiting for me to figure something out. I wanted to scream at him. Why couldn't he just tell me what I was missing? It would save a lot of time.

"What? What do you need, Owen? Why is it so important for you to get involved with Dennis? If you could help him, what would it accomplish?"

"It would get him out of there."

"That's fine for Dennis," Ben shrugged, "but what would you get out of it?"

"It's just something I need to do."


If I knew the answer, I'd tell him already. But I didn't know why I needed to do this, it wasn't something I reasoned, it was something I simply felt.


"Just think about it for a second, Owen. Why do you feel like you need to do this?"

"Because no one was there for me!" I blurted. "No one was there to tell me to get out, but I knew, just like Dennis does...I knew what would happen and I was too much of a fucking pussy to do anything about it!"

"You knew?" Ben repeated. "Did you? You knew that your dad was going to beat the shit out of you? You knew how he was going to react when he found out? Violently? Did you really know that, Owen?

"No, but..."

"You didn't know."

"But I should have!" I shouted. "I knew what kind of people my parents were! I knew how they were going to react when they found out I was a fucking faggot! It was stupid of me to ever think that they would even try to understand just because the only person who knew the real me was fucking dead! I could have denied it when they asked and I was too stupid to even do that!"

"Is that why you didn't deny it?" Ben asked calmly. "Because you thought that they would try to understand you?"

I opened my mouth to yell at him some more. I think the yelling and the waves of anger I was feeling were the only things holding the tears back at the moment, but as I thought about Ben's question, and what Ben was asking, I snapped my jaw back and tried to remember.

I tried to remember that day, when I found out that Dan was gone. I tried to remember what was going through my head, up until that moment in the kitchen, after I told my parents the truth, up until the moment that something in my dad's eyes changed and I knew...I knew I was in trouble. I tried to remember what I'd been thinking all day, why I'd just break down the way that I did and confess everything but...

"No." I said softly. "I would have denied it but...I wasn't thinking." I shook my head and blinked back the sudden tears I could feel flooding my eyes, trying to hold onto what little composure I had left at this point. It was never easy for me to go back to that day. This time was no different, and I couldn't even stop my hands from shaking. "I just wasn't thinking...Dan was gone and I felt so...alone. I didn't know what to do, not even after I talked to Nicky. When my parents confronted me later...it just didn't seem like it mattered anymore. None of it mattered anymore. But I was still so...stupid. I should have predicted it. I should have..."

"Owen, did your parents ever hit you before then? Did your dad ever send you to the emergency room?"

"No, it was nothing like that, but I still should have..."

"They were abusive." Ben interrupted. "That's what they were, Owen. It doesn't have to be physical to be abuse. But at the same time ...it's unreasonable for you to blame yourself. Whether or not you should have known doesn't matter. What they did was wrong...But, if your parents never hit you like that before...why should you have expected them to react the way they did? You couldn't have seen it coming."

"Maybe." I nodded. "But it still happened."

"Yes, it did."

"And I didn't do anything about it."

"Is there something you think that you could have done?"

"I could have fucking fought back!" I snapped. "God damn it! I just stood there like a fucking pussy and took it like one!"

"Could you have stopped him?" I hated that Ben's voice was so calm, and I found myself practically screaming in a lame attempt to be angry enough for the both of us.

"I could have tried! But I didn't even fucking do that! I let him do it! I let him fucking beat the shit out of me! I might as well have asked for it because I was a worthless fucking pussy just like he said and I deserved everything I got!"

"You deserved it because you were gay?"

"No! Because I didn't fucking do anything about it, because I didn't fight back!"

"So why do you feel like you need to get involved with Dennis, Owen?"

The question took me off guard and deflated some of the anger rushing through me at the moment. I had forgotten we'd been talking about Dennis in the first place, but instead of wondering why Ben was suddenly changing the subject I focused on his question, which I now had an answer to.

"Because it's too late for me to fight for me, but it's not too late for me to fight for him."

And it was true. I felt like it was too late to fight for myself. I'd let my dad hurt me. I'd let his words get to me. I'd let my mother's impassiveness get to me. I don't know, maybe I'd deserved it. Maybe I really had wanted my dad to beat the gay out of me. Or, maybe I'd just wanted to feel something other than all of the pain I felt on the inside.

Emotionally, that had been the most painful day of my life. Losing Ben...even telling Nicky my biggest secret had been painful. Making that admission to Nicky...telling him I was gay...at the time, I'd felt like it was a betrayal of our friendship somehow. It had actually hurt to tell Nicky, even if at the time he did say that he'd always be my friend.

That day had been so long, and I'd been through so much that by the time I got around to facing my parents and their rejection, I was so low that there simply wasn't any fight left in me.

But despite all that, I think I'd always been ashamed that I didn't try harder, that I didn't stand up for myself, that I didn't fight back, that I didn't do something. I should have fought back. I probably would have lost, but at least it would have been something. By just taking it, by doing nothing, I felt like I'd made all of those things that my father said about me true.

I was a pussy. I was weak. I deserved everything that I got because I was a worthless faggot. But, what I was even more ashamed of, was that for a while, I'd believed all of that.

Unfortunately, by the time I was ready to fight back, by the time I was ready to stand up to the people who had done the most damage...it was too late. They were no longer in my life. They just haunted it.

As far as Dennis went...yes, I sympathized with him. Yes, I understood what he was going through. But, I think the reason why it seemed so important to me that Dennis get out of his house was because it wasn't too late to fight for him. It wasn't too late for him to get out. Maybe if I could be there for Dennis, if I could help him fight, it would be like really proving to myself that I was more than just a worthless faggot. Yes, maybe it would help Dennis too, but I'd be lying if I said that all of my reasoning for wanting to help him was completely selfless.

"Do you understand that it won't be enough?" Ben's voice startled me out of my thoughts, as did his hand, gently coming down over mine, but I turned my head and looked at him, ignoring the cold tears running down my face. "You can't just face Dennis's demons, Owen. You have to face yours too."

I let out a breath and let a long moment of silence pass before I turned my hand to lightly squeeze Ben's and I responded to him.

"You know," I said softly, "that was the closest thing to an epiphany that I've ever had...and then you have to go and say something like that."

Ben just chuckled and handed me a napkin from his pocket so I could wipe my face.

"That's my job, honey."

"So are you going to tell me to forget about Dennis's problems and worry about mine?"

"No." he smiled. "But, I am going to tell you something that I think you already know...you can't help him, Owen. Definitely not by yourself, and not if he doesn't want it. I think you've already done the best thing that you can for him; you let him know that you're there if he needs you. Now, it's up to Dennis."

"I guess." I sighed. I knew that Ben was right. There really wasn't anything else I could do at this point. Now, it was all up to Dennis. I only hoped that Dennis didn't make the same mistake that I made. I hoped that Dennis...would learn to fight back.

And I didn't mean physically, either. Sure, if I had it to do all over again, if I could face my father without being so afraid, then maybe I would do something to physically defend myself. But it was the mental aspect that really got to me. I wished that I would have stood up to him. I wished that I would have had the guts to say; I'm not just a worthless faggot. I'm better than that. I'm better than you.

"Are you okay to drive, Owen? We can continue this somewhere more comfortable if you want."

"Look Ben...I appreciate...I mean, I want to thank you, but..."

"Relax, Owen. We can quit for today. You want to go do something fun? Leo's home. I could call him...he could grab Aiden and maybe we could all go catch a movie or something."

"Actually..." I smiled, "that sounds good." It really did sound like a good idea. I wanted to see Aiden, anyways. After talking to Ben, I felt like I needed to see him. And like I said before, I really did like Ben. I thought it might be fun if we could all go do something together.

"I'll call Leo then." Ben grinned, and I watched as he pulled a cell phone out of his pocket, but suddenly, I stopped him.

"Hey, Ben...wait a second. Before you call Leo...can I ask you something?"

"Sure. What's up?" he asked.

"What happened between you and Dennis?" I asked bluntly.

I think I took Ben off guard with my question, because he looked away for a moment, and that haunted look seemed to make it's appearance on his face again.

"What do you mean?" he frowned.

"You don't have to tell me, Ben." I sighed. "I was just curious because of the way...that you looked at Dennis in there...and then the way that he looked at you..."

"You're a perceptive little shit, aren't you?" Ben remarked with a smile.

"I wouldn't say that." I laughed. "But I did notice. That, and Aiden mentioned something before, about you, and Leo...and Dennis. I was just curious about it. But, if you don't want to tell me..."

"Owen, it's not really something that..." he started, but then paused and studied me for a long minute. "It's not something I talk about. Not really, but...I'll tell you."

That was a relief, because my curiosity was definitely peaked. Unfortunately, The serious look on Ben's face was enough to tell me that what he had to say wasn't something that I was going to want to hear. He only made that fact clearer when he lifted the phone again and took in a deep breath.

"Let me call Leo first." He sighed. "If we're going to talk about this, I might need him."

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