This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Chapter Nineteen

Absolution is not something a person can easily attain; it isn't something that can be given freely. Absolution must be earned, in the heart as well as in the mind. For some men it is impossible to earn the kind of forgiveness needed to move forward in their lives. They remain trapped within a single mistake, and exist within it for the rest of their days.

William Carter, son of Major David Carter, closed the book and stared out of the window at the gentle dusting of snow that fell. It seemed all it would do was snow for the remaining days until Christmas. He was again sitting in his customary spot in the library, a refuge from the rest of the school, putting the finishing touches on his english paper.

Completed and satisfied with it, he examined it, smiling at the emotion he had put into the paper. It had been a simple examination of a character in a dusty play, but Will had seen something personal in it; finding a resonance in it had allowed him to write about it, and what had been a simple assignment had gotten more complex as he had just lost himself in it.

He struggled to his feet and straightened his simple white shirt. For the first time since he had been "updated" as Lisa was fond of referring to his complete wardrobe overhaul, he had worn simple whites. It was a silent tribute to his cricket days, cool and relaxed. Most hadn't noticed, except for Coach Thorburn who remembered all too well Will's affinity with the game.

He tucked the pen away and gave a kind smile to Miss Harriet, the older lady who kept a careful watch over her precious books. She had originally been suspicious of Will's near constant presence in her domain, until she had found him wedged in a corner one day, knees tucked up to his chest, wrestling with a couple of reference books. She had given him the knowing smile of a kindred spirit and had left him be after that. Book mice were a strange breed.

Back out of the sanctity of the library and into the realm of the regular lunch time din, Will felt a little self conscious that he hadn't spent his lunch with Lisa, but she was off with Charlene and her Harridans ogling basketball players in the gym.

Will felt a little jealous of that; Andrew liked to spend time in the gym either playing or watching from the sidelines, a benevolent monarch ruling over his kingdom. But Will didn't belong there. He had never followed Andrew to the gym, it wasn't his place. Even though he knew Andrew would never have complained about it, Will still felt awkward about being too close to Andrew at school.

It was the last day of the school before the blessed relief of the break. Will was looking forward to not having to deal with the near constant looks he got from some of the students. What they didn't say to his face showed on theirs, and as he passed he often caught the word `faggot' thrown at his back. He had never realized how much that word had stung, he had used it himself, even gone so far as to refer to himself in his own thoughts as one. But now that it was hurled at him directly, he shied from it. It stung worse than one of his father's punches. But no one dared use it when Will was accompanied by one of his friends. Jared was someone no student wanted to anger, and Lisa was too valuable to one's social career to upset.

Word had spread quickly of Andrew's scuffle with Todd Gadreau, and no one dared to touch him directly. Cold shoulders he could deal with, he could even deal with the harsh words, but the prospect of being protected irritated him still. But he understood why Andrew was doing it, after all he was...

He stopped and considered that a moment, what exactly was he now? Most people just wrote it off as Andrew's pet project, that thin academic kid that needed to be looked after. No one had associated the two of them as anything more than passing friends. Andrew's mother had even invited him to join them for Christmas Eve, something he couldn't just pass up, it was a chance to spend the day with...

"Where do you think you're going?"

Will jumped; he had just been winding his way towards his locker, that quiet and disused corner of the school that he liked. He fumbled for a reply, "My locker."

Todd Gadreau was shorter than Will, but was broader. He was perfectly built for his role as a defenseman and as he blocked Will's path with two others from the Condors' defensive core, Will had a sudden respect for any opposing player who had to face them.

Todd remained silent for a moment, studying Will closely, and Will looked at the three of them. He knew the looks they were giving him, he had seen it a hundred times in his father's eyes. He was in trouble.

He made to step by them, as the two other defenders, Robbie Tomlins and Bruce Gautier, grabbed him by the arms.

"Just a minute Carter, you're not going anywhere." Todd's words were icy-cold and laced with dangerous intent.

"Let me go!" Will struggled against the two older and more athletic young men. They responded by forcing him up against the row of lockers

"No one here to save you this time Carter," Todd said, balling his hand into a fist as his face twisted into a sneer. He pulled his hand back ready to swing...

The crash caught them all by surprise, a fist impacting against a locker door rattling it on its hinges. And all eyes turned towards the young man leaning against the bank of lockers opposite them. His arms were folded in a casual way, and he flicked cigarette ash irreverently onto the floor.


"What do we have here?" he said, taking another long drag on his cigarette, "What, it takes three tough guys to beat up one queer?"

Todd swore rounding on the shop jock, "Fuck off; this doesn't concern you!"

Brody shrugged, "One-on-one, sure that doesn't concern me. Three-on-one, I call that a party..." he lifted his cigarette, "And we all know how much I like a party." He took a long drag again, his eyes glittering darkly.

Todd curled his lip, "Let him go." He commanded, and his two accomplices released Will.

Will straightened up, a smile playing across his lips, Todd was going to...

The fist connected squarely with his temple, Will felt it and staggered slightly but kept his footing. Surprised, Todd hauled off and punched him again, blinking as Will continued to stand before him.

Years of the fists, years of the backhands, years of learning to take a blow, counted. The Major was easily twice Todd's size, and definitely stronger. If he couldn't keep Will down, a high school bully sure couldn't. Will's own fist knotted as he hit back, catching Todd unprepared for the first blow.

Todd reeled, as one of his cronies balled up his own fists to step in. Brody came fully upright, sending his cigarette spinning down the hall as he stepped forward. Robbie lowered his hands and stepped back, letting the fight play out on even terms.

Will struck again, but Todd's hands swept his wide swing away as he punched with his other fist into Will's stomach trying to knock the wind out of Will. It would have worked, should have worked. Will felt the blow, swallowed against the pain as he swung again, the force of his own punch knocking Todd back a couple of steps.

Will swallowed as he gasped for breath, taking a step forward to follow through, but Todd raised his hands, "Enough," he said, as he rested a hand against the lockers.

The Englishman straightened up, and nodded, letting Todd's two friends help him up and help him back towards the stairs.


"You did what to who?" Lisa's voice raised an octave in complete shock.

Will gingerly touched his bruised temple, he was beginning to ache, and his vision swam a little. He must have looked a sight, sitting in the cafeteria, back to the wall, battered and bruised. Lisa was hovering over him in full mother hen mode once she had seen Brody help him to his seat.

Rumour was spreading quickly, the people who passed him looked at him with a mixture of respect and disbelief. And Will winced as he reapplied to his head the makeshift icepack made from ice wrapped in the coarse brown hand towels from the bathroom. He was getting a lot more attention than he felt he merited, and it unnerved him.

"Is it true?" Charlene swept up beside Lisa clutching her binder to her chest, looking eagerly about for confirmation to the latest gossip, "Did you really beat Todd Gadreau up?"

Will gave her a resigned shrug as he rubbed his bruised stomach. He felt like Todd had driven a truck over him and he simply wanted to curl up into a ball until the pain went away. But he wasn't going to get a chance, as more and more kids formed a semicircle behind Charlene and Lisa, all trying to get a peek at him in this state. Like any mob, they smelled blood and blood was exciting.

Will looked up at Lisa pleading for her to make them go away, but even as popular as she had become, she was completely powerless over a group this large. She shrugged helplessly at him and knelt to move the ice pack upwards a bit.

There was a murmur from the crowd as they parted to allow a very agitated Jared through; behind him sauntering at a casual pace, despite the anxious look in his eyes, was Andrew. As Jared began to fire off questions a mile-a-minute at Will, Andrew hung back beside Charlene, but he had a questioning look in his eyes that he directed towards Will.

Will looked down at Jared and lowered the ice pack, "It was nothing, honestly."

"Yeah, right," Jared said, pushing his raider's cap out of his eyes as he examined the nasty bruise on the side of Will's face, "You don't look okay."

"You should have seen the other guy," Will offered as a feeble joke.

"We did," Andrew said breaking his silence to a murmur of agreement from the ever-so-fickle mob who had only a few minutes before been sneering and talking behind his back. But then, when Andrew spoke they agreed with him. It was the sheer weight of his charisma that could sway them in ways no one else could.

He turned to them, "Alright, everyone back to their business; leave Carter alone." He gestured for them to leave, and as if by a royal decree they obeyed, filing from the cafeteria murmuring amongst themselves.

Charlene hung back, feeling that her newfound association with Lisa gave her the right to stay; popularity had its benefits after all. Andrew flatly ignored her as usual, kneeling down on the other side of Will from Jared and examining the injuries with open concern.

"You got into a fight with Todd Gadreau," he said evenly, aware that they weren't alone, but he allowed the worry to seep into his eyes.

Will shrugged, "He really needed to get something off his chest?" Will tried a feeble attempt at a joke.

"That son of a bitch," Jared shook his head, balling up his own fist in anger.

"It's sorted." Will said firmly, he didn't want it to go any further; it had already gone too far.

Jared eyed him suspiciously as he looked over at Andrew. Andrew in turn returned the look and Will leaned down, "I mean it, it's okay, it's sorted."

He stood; getting to his feet and feeling the dull ache in his stomach he rubbed it tenderly. He was going to feel that for a while. He picked up the crumpled paper he had been writing only half an hour before; it honestly felt like days before. Absolution came in many forms.

He waved off Jared's offer to help him with a friendly smile, "I'll be fine," he said taking a step and feeling a wave of nausea and dizziness sweep over him. He dropped the paper back down on the table as he leaned on it for support.

Andrew's arm encircled his waist, and that warm supporting grip helped him back to his feet. It was the closest they had been to each other in days and Will felt Andrew's strength holding him upright and he leaned in a bit allowing himself the support.

Jared moved to follow but Lisa caught his arm and motioned for him to join her over at the windows. Will didn't pay them much mind as he let Andrew help him down to his locker.

Once they were alone down by Will's locker Andrew turned Will to face him, "Are you sure you're okay?" he asked earnestly; without waiting for a reply he leaned in to examine the nasty bruise forming on Will's temple.

"I'm fine," Will said trying to push Andrew back a little, more from embarrassment over the sudden flurry of attention.

"I'll kick his ass if he touches you again," Andrew said his voice filled with determined sincerity as he reached out his other hand to encircle Will's waist gently.

Will shook his head again, what was it with everyone? He had successfully defended himself and it still didn't seem to matter. They still wanted to protect him, it was flattering and showed they cared. But Will still felt like he could protect himself, he had after all stood up to Todd Gadreau...

But one look into Andrew's concerned eyes and he melted. The love mixed with concern he saw reflected there couldn't be denied. Andrew was just trying to protect him from being hurt, just like Will would do if anyone even thought to hurt Andrew. He couldn't hold that against the boy who loved him. No matter how much he wanted to be independent, he just had to accept the fact that Andrew would look out for him.

He offered a lightly reassuring smile, "It's okay, you don't have to do that. I'm fine." He reached out a finger to lift Andrew's chin until he could see his eyes, "Honestly."

The gasp caused both to stiffen up and turn at the same time. Will's shoulders slumped in utter defeat as Charlene stood, almost in exactly the spot Greenwood had stood in a week before. She was clutching the english paper Will had forgotten on the table, and she looked obviously startled at the two of them so intimate: Will in Andrew's arms, his finger's lifting Andrew's chin slightly.

Andrews's eyes met hers in resignation, before she vanished like a startled rabbit up the stairs.

Chapter Twenty
December th

Will had wanted to say something, anything, but Andrew had flashed him an apologetic look before he raced after Charlene. Will slumped against his locker; he had known it would happen, he had tried to protect Andrew from it, they had even had a warning in the form of Mister Greenwood surprising them. But they had still been reckless, begging for exactly that situation.

Will glanced at his watch, there was still half an hour left to lunch and he knew it would be one of the longest half-hours of his life. He felt all the old tensions flooding back, despite his victory over Todd. It would be forgotten in light of this latest bulletin of gossip.

What should have been front-page news was now going to be buried as a much larger story broke. Charlene owed them nothing; she thrived on being the one in the know. And a bombshell like that would set her centre stage socially for the rest of the year. There would be no denying it, once she spread the news it would be taken as gospel despite all Andrew's protests and denials.

Will sighed as he slammed his locker closed in frustration. It was all so utterly pointless, and were it not for the fact that Andrew was still there, he would have left. Gone home and hid for the duration of the Christmas holidays. But he couldn't just abandon Andrew to the rumour mill; he owed it to him to stand by him just as Andrew had stood by him.

He emerged from the stairwell, returning to where he had left Jared and Lisa. They were both still talking when they saw him approach. The look of concern was mirrored on their faces when they read his face. They both realized something was terribly wrong.

"What is it?" Lisa asked, dashing to his side and insisting in helping him into a seat. She was back to fussing over him again.

He stared at her blankly for a moment, "She saw us."

Lisa gave him a strange look, not quite comprehending what he was saying, "Who saw you?"

"Charlene saw Andrew and I..." he stopped, realizing Jared was standing just behind Lisa, he looked up apologetically.

Jared digested the information a moment, and Will could see he was mulling over why someone seeing Andrew and Will would be a cause for concern. It was like turning on a light bulb; as soon as he realized the implications, Jared's eyes became as wide as dinner plates.

"I have to talk to her," Lisa said, and before he could stop her she too was gone.

Jared looked awkwardly like he wanted to be somewhere, anywhere else at that moment. Will felt a pang of sympathy for him, it was a lot to take in, to suddenly learn that his best friend and the guy he looked up to were... No, Will corrected, that wasn't the look; it was the look that said. `You both kept this from me, am I a total idiot?'

Will had to say something, "Jared I..."

Jared wasn't listening; he took off his ball cap and ran a hand through his hair. "Man, I knew there was something going on, I just... oh man..." he collapsed into the seat opposite Will and gave him one of those `dude!' looks.

Will nodded, "Yeah..."

The news wasn't out yet, he was still getting a mixture of looks from people who passed through the cafeteria, and some seemed impressed he had managed to stand up for himself. Some of the younger kids were even giving him looks of awe, appreciation for what he had managed to do. Still there were others who looked at him with thinly veiled disdain, but there were no vicious words thrown at his back now. Not for the moment at least.

Jared was still shaking his head, wrestling with the news and Will let him work through it. Glad to let his bruises rest, he sank into the chair and rubbed his tired eyes. He looked a right sight, but he wasn't about to let rumour do what Todd Gadreau's fists couldn't. He wasn't about to run away and give up.

"I'm sorry I couldn't tell you..." Will said with sincerity.

Jared shrugged, "You did, dude, I just wasn't listening." When Will frowned he shrugged, "My dad is always saying there is more to a conversation than words. The clues were right there in front of me, but because it was Andrew I just ignored them..." he sighed, "but it does explain why he is so protective over you."

"Yeah," Will said dryly, "well it's out now, and pretty soon everyone's going to know."

Jared looked over at a couple of freshmen who were staring in awe at Will; he turned back, "Well, look on the bright side, you're a hero for the time being."

Will stood up, "There's a saying, there is nothing as boring as yesterday's hero."

Jared patted his arm, "Yeah I'll remind you of that tomorrow," Jared grinned, "Doing anything for Christmas? My folks don't go in for the whole big day thing, but wanted to know if you were doing anything Boxing Day." He nudged Will, "Leftover turkey... and it's the start of the Junior National Tourney." He grinned, "Nothing says Canada like strapping on some skates, picking up a blade and hitting the ice..."

Will rolled his eyes, Canadians and their hockey rituals, "I'll be there, bud."

Jared grinned, "And no getting ideas, just `cause you're a puck bunny..."

Will started, "I am not!"

Jared leaned in with a grin, "You're dating a hockey player, dude, that makes you a puck bunny."


It was nearing the end of the day. And for Andrew that would be the defining moment. He had been unable to catch Charlene, which had given her a full two periods in the early afternoon on the last day of school before Christmas. He tensed as the last few minutes of Greenwood's English class trickled away. He was not so much nervous as he was anxious. He hated to feel anxious, but as usual he covered it with a thick layer of self-confidence.

There was a game that evening; they were being let off last period and the school was ferrying all the students down to the arena to watch the game. The last game of the year and everyone was supposed to be excited about it.

The bell rang and he stood, tucking his book under his arm as he stuck his hands into his pockets, exchanging a simple nod with Mister Greenwood as he left the auditorium and headed out to his car.

No one said anything to him, everything was quiet, and the big disaster he had expected hadn't happened yet. Anticipation was one thing, but when it proved anti-climatic...

He collected his equipment bag from the back of the car and walked through the doors into the lobby area of the arena. He could have avoided the game, feigned being sick, found a quiet place to hide and wait out the rest of the day. But that wouldn't be him. He couldn't simply let them beat him like that; show them that kind of fear and they would be all over him like rabid wolves on a wounded tiger.

This wounded tiger still had his claws.

He squared his shoulders and kept his eyes proud and high. Will's words were ringing in his ears from that first night in the car, `you're the Andrew Highmore...' and he wasn't about to let Will down. He made a silent statement as he surveyed the lobby, the students who were already there, their lowered whispers and stares that were directed towards him. They were expecting him to cower; they were expecting him to run.

He arched an eyebrow as he sauntered past them heading for the changing rooms, nodding to surprised faces that couldn't quite believe his defiant attitude. What did they expect - an apology from him? Well he wasn't about to give them that satisfaction.

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

The game was with another Ottawa Valley team, an old rivalry that had turned into a yearly final game tradition. The Condors against the Hillcrest Hawks was going to be a tough game, they didn't need distractions. Of all the days for the news to break.

He set his jaw; as he walked into the locker room, Jared was there strapping on his pads and he gave his team captain a supportive smile. But it was the only one. There were looks from some of his teammates that were a mixture of disappointment, disbelief and one or two looked at him as if he had died. They were waiting for something, anything from him by way of an explanation.

The tension in his locker room was thick; Todd hadn't bothered to show, expected after his embarrassment that lunch hour. But the others were watching him, some trying to keep themselves covered with towels awkwardly. So much for no distractions.

He changed in silence, strapping on his skates, thinking about what he could say to them, what kind of explanation did he owe to his own teammates? He was their captain, they needed him, but more importantly they needed to believe in him.

He stood up and picked up his stick and rested on it looking at each of his men. Did he just tell them? Did he lie? What did he owe them?

Jared stood up and pounded his pads with his goalie stick, "I'm with you Skip!" he said in a forceful way, "let's get `em."

There was a murmur of half-hearted agreement from the team, and they made their way out onto the ice. Jared hung back a moment to stare into Andrew's eyes, "we need you out there," he said as if reassuring himself that Andrew would still be himself on the ice.

Andrew nodded and emerged onto the ice for the pre-game warm-up.

There was a thrill to being on the ice, he was there to do battle; this wasn't going to be a typical game for him, this was where he proved he was still the same player he had been before. He wasn't going to be defined by who he loved; Will was an extension of him. He needed to prove himself all over again and the C on his chest suddenly felt very heavy.


Will was standing in the coffee shop area of the arena, wrapped up in a scarf and gloves holding onto a cup of coffee, drawing warmth through the thin styrofoam as he looked down from the large windows over the ice.

The players were taking their positions waiting for the puck to be dropped, and Will found he was nervous. He had chosen to stay in the coffee bar's windows, it let him watch without being down with the main crowds. He couldn't handle that at that moment; he still ached, and he was developing quite the black eye from his fight with Todd.

He held his breath as the puck fell.

It was clearly a competitive game, and the Condors had control of the puck early. The Hawks were a good team though; they seemed to learn fast, and saw that there was something wrong with the Condors line. It was as if teamwork had suddenly become non-existent; Andrew swept down the ice, but his team wasn't with him... And as he found himself alone facing the Hawks' defensive pair, Will winced as Andrew was checked into the boards.

"Relax," Brody said appearing beside him. He had his arm around Lisa who gave him a reassuring smile, "just remember `a un but'," he broke into French, his voice raising in pitch.

Will nodded and gripped the rail as he stared down at the ice. Despite his team, Andrew was skating like nothing was wrong. He pointed and directed his teammates as if he expected them to obey. And grudgingly Will could see they obeyed, but it was a struggle of wills, and it was as if Andrew was playing against his own team as well as the Hawks. Will noticed that Andrew was playing defensively, keeping the Hawks from scoring, but without his team he couldn't go on the offensive. Will was amazed at how effortless he made the game look, while Jared blocked every slap shot that got through.

It wasn't until the last few moments of the first period that Andrew burst into action, exploding from the bench on a line change to scoop up the puck from a sloppy Hawks pass. He deked the puck around, sweeping it from side to side as he moved with blinding speed. The slap shot was long, and from an unexpected angle.

The arena exploded into cheers as the red light lit up. A goal.

"Wow!" Will exclaimed in utter shock as the period ended.

"Un But!" Brody yelled dancing around behind them, "La Lumiere est rouge!"

Will shook his head in disbelief, "I can't believe it, how did he do that?" It had been blindingly fast, but there was no doubt it had been Andrew alone who had scored.

"It was a good goal," Lisa acknowledged, she touched his arm, "But they can't keep playing like they have been. That was a lucky goal..."

Will nodded, watching as the Condors made their way off of the ice heading for the locker rooms. He hesitantly looked towards the stairs that would take him down to the locker rooms.

Brody caught the look and shook his head, "He needs you up here, Dude. Down there, he has to do that himself."

Will looked down over the crowd of students who were leaning expectantly on their seats to watch their team, Andrew's team, playing for them. Will knew what Brody was saying, even though Andrew had nothing to prove to him. He sensed this was more important than just a game. This was Andrew's chance to prove something to everyone.

He realized he had begun to pace the length of the great windows, waiting for the next period to begin, Brody and Lisa giving him concerned looks. It was a feeling of futility that had seized him. There was nothing he could do, no way he could help and that made him angry.

He tensed as the two teams retook the ice, folding his hands into the small of his back. He looked over the two teams in the way his father had taught him to do. Read their body language, watch how they react to each other.

>From his vantage the Hawks were confident, they had seen a weakness in the Condors' team play, one they would exploit. The Condors were still disorganized, hanging back, listless.

He could hear his father's voice, adopting a lecturing tone, "It's about morale, lose that and you've lost."

>From the outset of the second period the Condors were in trouble; the Hawks pressed an offensive and the Condors crumbled under the pressure. Jared desperately tried to block a rapid succession of shots, Andrew powering to help him, but he was just too late.

The Hawks had tied the game.

"You gotta keep going!" Brody yelled at the glass in frustration, "Bullshit, total bullshit." He turned away in anger.

Andrew slid to a halt before the net, punching Jared's arm lightly with a gloved hand. It was a reassuring gesture, a show of solidarity to the rest of the team. But minutes later the Hawks were back on the offensive.

Will could see Brody was growing more and more agitated, his eyes staring intently at the ice, snorting in disgust every time the Hawks advanced. He mouthed silent encouragement, his hands balled and bouncing on the rail in front of him, as if by his will alone he could will the Condors to play better. He had a fierce competitive streak within him, he loved hockey and he was loyal to what he saw as his team.

He collapsed crestfallen when the ref blew the whistle, sending one of the Condors defensemen to the penalty box. On the powerplay, an already desperate home team was again in trouble. Andrew tried to rally his team, pointing and barking orders. Seconds later the Hawks were up another goal.

Coach Thorburn was up on his bench, bellowing and screaming at his team, pointing furiously at openings. If he could have taken the ice himself he would have, beating some sense into a team that had just fallen apart on him.

Will felt guilt welling up inside of him. This was his fault, if he weren't around this would never have happened. Andrew had control of his team, his team had believed in him. Now one scrawny Brit had managed to do what no other hockey team had managed, break the Condors. As the second period buzzer sounded, he could barely bring himself to watch them skate off the ice. Defeat had slumped all of their shoulders, even Andrew looked beaten.

Lisa was looking at him, and he met her eyes. He shared an emotion-filled look with her, and she knew he was blaming himself. She looked helplessly at Brody.

Brody shook his head, "Andrew has to grab that room and put it together," he said walking back to the coffee bar and ordering a couple of cups, resting his elbows on the bar and scrubbing his face with his hands.

Lisa glanced back at Will; he had resumed his pacing again. He was a nervous ball of guilt and anticipation waiting for the inevitable. She wanted to tell him that it wasn't his fault, but when Brody pushed a mug of coffee into her hands and nodded to Will, she understood. This wasn't something any of them could control. It was Andrew's fight, and they were just spectators.

She handed Will the mug of coffee and backed off. Just like Andrew had learned that day that he didn't have to fight Will's battles for him, Will had to learn the same thing about Andrew.

The teams taking the ice for the final period, Andrew did a lazy skate around the ref. Looking up at the window where Will stood, he lifted his stick in a salute then spun on his skates and set up to take the face off. Will felt his stomach clench, and the final period began.

The crowd was on their feet, as Andrew moved with incredible speed; he was a devil on skates, cutting low and around startled Hawks defensemen. He was up again, rushing on the net, giving everything he had. It was an almost inhuman effort, and the crowd collectively held their breath. Brody was up against the glass, pounding on it, screaming at Andrew to make the shot.

The shot sailed past the dumbfounded goalie to tickle the twine and tie the game again.

The crowd went insane, shouting and hollering, even Will felt himself getting into it, the coffee forgotten in his excitement of the moment.

Coach Thorburn called his Condors back at the bench, he was saying something to all of them, and he motioned to the C on Andrew's uniform. He reached out and slapped it with the flat of his palm, gesturing angrily as he turned his back on them, and they slowly skated out to centre ice.

And it was like a switch had been thrown.

"They're getting fired up," Brody observed, a smile appearing on his face for the first time since the game had begun.

The team was sweeping around, they were playing. They followed direction, they kept their positions and the Hawks were suddenly on the defensive as the Condors came at them. It was a game at last, no longer Andrew alone. They were the Condors and they were going to deal the Hawks a hard lesson.

When the final buzzer sounded, there was no longer any doubt, the final goal, scored by Robbie tipping off of a pass clinched the Condors a final, and decisive victory.

Chapter Twenty One

December th

It was the first time they had been together since the cat had escaped the proverbial bag. Will felt nervous, as he remained standing, back against the rail overlooking the now quiet ice rink. He had decided to hang back as the others rushed down to congratulate the team and participate in the merriment. He hadn't felt a part of it, being the one to nearly cost the team a game - an unforgivable sin in the minds of most Canadians.

But Andrew, equipment bag slung casually over one shoulder, his hair hanging damply over his forehead, had known exactly where to find him. It came with the territory of loving Will. Knowing when the younger man was going to be exuberant, and when he chose to be reserved. When he let himself relax, and when he chose to feel guilty.

He set the bag down on the floor of the small cafe/bar and laid his pair of sticks down on top of it. He had the same smug smile on his face that he had worn that first day in the library, the one that said `I'm Andrew Highmore and you can't do anything about it.' He kept his eyes on Will as he stepped around a couple of older men intent on shaking his hand and congratulating him. He was polite, but made it clear he wasn't about to stop for them.

He crossed the floor and reached out to pull Will against him.

Will was startled by the sudden display of public affection; the two men who had been trying to talk to Andrew were now staring in shock at the two of them. And Will leaned in to whisper; "You did that on purpose," in Andrew's ear.

Andrew, for his part, glanced over at the two startled men and flashed them an unrepentant smile, "Yep," he said, turning back.

"Oh, sorry, boys." Brody stated as he walked into the cafe, holding his hands up as if to apologize but the grin on his face said he was nowhere close to apologetic, "Lisa's cornered Jared and she sent me to find out if you two would like to get away from all this madness, catch a victory dinner... you know girls and their..." he stopped considering who he was talking to, "...ok well maybe you don't know girls, but they have this need to celebrate stuff like this. Or maybe you do know," he tossed them a wink, "Let me know, ladies..."

The corner of Andrew's mouth quirked a little at Brody's unique sense of humour, "Where are we going?"

Brody thumbed behind him, "Back to mine, with a slight detour to the Depanneur. I'll pick up something to eat and whatever."

Andrew hadn't let go of Will the entire time he was having his conversation with Brody; it was as if he were making a bold declaration that there was nowhere else he would rather be at that time. "Sure sounds good, I'll bring Carter with me." He sized him up, "I might as well get some use out of him as a baggage handler."

Brody chuckled, "Yeah, I use him as my own English butler at home; he cooks, he cleans it's great!"

Will flushed slightly under the teasing, "Hey... I..."

He felt Andrew chuckling, a soft vibration in his arms that were tightly wrapped around him as he pressed in close. And he stopped his blustering as he sighed in mock frustration, "Damn Canadians," he murmured.

He helped carry Andrew's equipment, fortunately not the kit bag that was easily as big as he was and probably weighed about the same. The battered Mustang had seen better days, and when Brody saw it he whistled.

"That's a nice car," he said as he glanced about to look for Lisa.

Andrew smiled again as he opened the trunk to wrestle his gear inside, "My father restored it; sometimes my mom used to complain he spent more time in the garage with this thing than he did with her..."

Will sensed Andrew tensing at the memory of his father, it was a subject that they just didn't talk about. But then they hadn't really had an opportunity to just talk about anything since the night in the car.

Brody, typically, didn't notice as he bent down to take a look at the twisted fender, "Banged her up pretty good, but nothing that can't be put right with a hammer and a bit of time." He stood up and patted the car's roof.

Fortunately Lisa joining them spared Andrew any more uncomfortable discussion on the subject, and Will jumped on the opportunity to start a new conversation. "No Jared?"

She seemed distant, "Oh, he's coming, he's just..." she looked behind her obviously troubled.

"Everything okay?" Will pressed in concern.

The sun had gone down and it was getting cold in the parking lot of the arena, most of the other students were piling onto their buses or already in their cars. He shivered, and immediately stopped as Andrew wrapped an arm over his shoulder protectively. It was a subconscious gesture, but it warmed Will to realize that Andrew was so relaxed.

Lisa turned back, "Yeah," she said, "Jared's just breaking up with Charlene. He didn't like what she did to you," she looked up at Andrew, "and so he's breaking up with her."

"Go, Captain Backbone." Brody said firmly, and realizing that Lisa was giving him an annoyed look, shrugged, "What?"

Andrew let go of Will as he closed the trunk of the car and stepped up, "I should go find him..."

Lisa shook her head, "No, you guys go, and Brody and I will wait for him. We'll catch you back at the house..."

Andrew stuck his hands into his pockets, "Alright," he nodded. "Tell you what, we'll swing past the store and pick up the stuff, that way we should all arrive at the same time."

Brody looked indecisive for a moment as he reached out to touch the Mustang's roof again. Seeing Andrew look puzzled he shrugged apologetically, "Hey, it's not just a car, it's a masterpiece, a work of art. Like a da Vinci, or the Parthenon or a Harley-Davidson."

Will blinked, looking at the car and looking back at Brody's overt display of emotion towards a piece of metal. He didn't quite understand; a car's a car, right? But the look of understanding that passed between Brody and Andrew said there was more to it than that. He didn't question it as he got into the passenger seat and closed the door.

As the car pulled into the LOEB grocery store parking lot, Will realized he had been staring thoughtfully out of the window the entire time. He started when Andrew nudged him, and he sheepishly grinned as he got out and followed Andrew into the store.

"You sure you're up to this?" Will asked as they collected a small cart, "You look knackered."

Andrew frowned at the Briticism, "Huh?" he asked with a smile. He was growing used to Will's strange word choices.

"Tired," Will corrected. "Sorry, I have to watch that..."

"Why?" Andrew looked at him puzzled as they passed through the produce section, "I like it, it's part of what makes you so... unique."

Will felt himself begin to blush; he was doing that a lot lately and he hated feeling like a girl, so he willed himself to remain centered. "Thanks, but you're dodging my question."

Andrew nodded, "Yep," he said with a patented grin as he held up a couple of pre-made pizzas, "Think these'll be good?"

"They should be," Will replied as he rested on the bar of the cart watching as Andrew put in two hearty looking pizzas and motioned for him to move on, "I haven't had a chance to say sorry yet..."

Andrew had the capacity to look in control no matter where he was. He was walking alongside the cart with a sense of direction, looking about him with eyes that seemed, at least to Will, to be watching everything without appearing too interested. His eyebrows raised at Will's sudden apology as he looked at him, "Don't be sorry, you have nothing to apologize for."

Will sighed, somehow that didn't make him feel better about being responsible for turning Andrew's life upside down. He said as much.

Andrew reached over the cart to add a couple of bottles of pop to his shopping list, "Look, you tried to warn me right at the beginning; if you want to get technical, Greenwood catching us should have warned me as well, but..." he leaned closer to Will, "I enjoy this too much..." he kissed Will gently.

Will was getting used to the startled gasps, and he looked over Andrew's shoulder as a mother quickly tried to push her seven year old boy away from them. The look of delight on the kid's face was priceless.

"Mommy," he said tugging on her arm, "you didn't tell me boys were allowed to kiss too..." His mother shot him a pained look, and Will surmised she would have a few sleepless nights of worry ahead of her after that comment.

Andrew rolled his eyes, "You realize one of these days I am actually going to be able to kiss you without being disturbed."

"The Canal," Will countered as he resumed pushing the cart. "We kissed there without getting caught."

"Great," Andrew murmured dryly, "I have to drive into Ottawa every time I want to kiss my boyfriend..."

The word was out really before he realized it, and Will nearly rammed the cart into a salsa display in shock. "Huh?" was all he could manage.

Andrew reached out a hand to steer the cart around the display, affixing Will with a look that said `uh...yeah!' as if it was something he had just taken for granted and expected Will to have done the same. When it dawned on him that Will hadn't he grinned lopsidedly.

"You... you really don't know what to think about us do you?" he asked, the perma-grin he was wearing broadened in delight, realizing that Will really was clueless about the whole dating issue.

Will shrugged, "Well, I mean I know that... well what I mean is..." he struggled to find the right words.

Andrew chuckled, "Yes, you're my boyfriend..."

"Cool! Mom, boys can be boyfriends with each other too!" the young kid's voice was in obvious awe as they rounded the corner and came face to face with the scandalized mother and her overly enthusiastic son. She flashed them a look that would curdle milk as she took a firm hold of her son's hand and had to drag him with her.

Will cocked his head following the woman's passage as she abandoned her trolley of groceries and made a direct line towards the store's exit. "I think you just converted another one," he said in an offhand comment.

Andrew followed his gaze as he laughed, "Well I have that affect on people it seems."

Will turned back to him, "So if I'm your boyfriend does that mean I get a second date?"

"I think you're getting ahead of yourself, Carter," Andrew replied as he guided the cart to the checkout line, "I mean, imagine what dating you will do to my reputation."

"Yeah," Will shot back, "I mean, imagine you a senior dating a lowly sophomore. People might not approve of the age difference."

"Oh I doubt that will bother them," Andrew replied, casually unloading the cart, "I think the fact that you're English will bother them more."

"Wow, do they ever hold a grudge!" Will commented with a grin, "Just `cause we mopped the floor with the French all those years ago, you'd think they'd be over it by now."

"Hey now," Andrew replied in mock annoyance, "I'm half-French you know."

"And I don't hold it against you," Will said as he smiled sweetly.

Andrew rolled his eyes, "My mother's gonna just love you." He shook his head as he reached up to pay the very amused clerk, who gave them a knowing look as he handed them their bags.

Chapter Twenty-Two
December th

Brody's worn pickup was already parked in the drive when the battered Mustang rolled to a stop behind it. Andrew made a move to open the door and get out, but Will stopped him with a gentle hand on his arm.

"We're alone," he said with a slight hint of red entering his cheeks.

Surprised, Andrew looked around the car at the deserted suburban street lit by orange street lamps and houses decorated with multicoloured Christmas lights. Will was right; they were alone, no teachers, nor nosey cheerleaders, vengeful pregnant girls or enthusiastic kids. Just a hockey player and an Englishman sitting in a car alone with each other.

"So," Andrew said, letting go of the handle of the door, "Does that mean I actually get to kiss you?"

"Nope," Will responded, his fingers brushing the golden letters on Andrew's sleeve, "Because if I kiss you I won't want to stop and the others are probably waiting for us inside."

"You know," Andrew said glancing around him, "I could always find a field and strand us again."

"Oh, this time can it be you with hypothermia?" Will screwed his nose up in distaste, "I don't fancy going through that again..."

Andrew's eyebrows rose in mock surprise, "Hmm, don't know about that one, I think I'm supposed to be the hero in this relationship."

Will blinked a couple of times, "'Scuse me? Do I look like a damsel in distress to you?"

Andrew chuckled, "Well, we'd have to buy you a dress... but you could probably pull it off if you shaved your legs or something..."

Will gave him a baleful glare; "Right, no kiss for you then..."

Andrew's face melted into a smile, "Aww, I didn't mean it..."

"Nope," Will replied, folding his arms resolutely and half turning his head away.

Andrew leaned across to him and brushed Will's shoulder with his hand, "I'm sorry..."

Will was desperately trying not to laugh, as he shrugged off Andrew's hand, "Nope, you think I'm a girl or something..."

Andrew playfully worked to pry Will's arms out of their folded position as Will fought to keep them crossed, and seconds later he succumbed to his giggles, allowing Andrew to pry his arms apart and lean in to kiss him on the cheek. At the last second Will turned his head and their lips met, and the warmth of that single gesture caused him to quiver.

Andrew drew back in surprise. "You okay?" he asked in concern.

Will smiled as he rested his head against Andrew's forehead, their noses touching. "I was waiting for the shocked gasp," he admitted with a sly grin.

"I never realized you were an exhibitionist, Carter," Andrew said, giving him a suspicious look.

"Oh really?" Will replied, "Didn't the fact that I always make you kiss me in public give it away?"

Andrew shrugged, "You just like to show off the fact that you're kissing me."

"Ah, the famous Highmore cockiness," Will said sagely, as he slipped out of Andrew's embrace and reached into the back of the car to grab the grocery bags. "Personally I think it's you who should be showing me off."

They climbed out of the car and trudged up the driveway towards the house, their footprints marking the fresh dusting of snow that had fallen sometime in the early evening. It was a crisp and cool night, not too cold but just enough to have an edge to it. Will shivered instinctively and Andrew wrapped an arm about him to pull him close as they climbed the steps and banged into the house.

Brody was standing by the stereo fiddling with the equalizer as loud down-tempo jazz poured out of the antiquated stereo. Brody insisted that music only sounded right when it was played on vinyl, that CD's just didn't have the same resonance.

Lisa was curled up into the chair, a large mug of what looked like hot cocoa in her hands and her legs pulled up close against her as she listened to Brody's lecture. She was remarkably patient with him, even though Will knew for a fact Lisa was a CD junkie.

They stopped into the hall, Will giving his friends a big smile as he lifted up the bag of groceries triumphantly, "Mission accomplished!" he stated loudly.

Brody glanced up at the clock, a bemused smile on his lips. "By the time, I'm guessing you took the scenic route around Andrew's tonsils,"

Will gaped at him, "Hey! I don't make wisecracks every time you're kissing Lisa." He shook his head as he marched into the kitchen and set the bags down on the countertop. He glanced apologetically at Andrew, who seemed completely un-fazed by Brody's gentle ribbing.

He paused in concern when he saw Jared walk to the fridge and take out another bottle; he nodded to Andrew and extended a beer to him. Andrew grinned and accepted, the advantage of being so close to Quebec where the legal drinking age was eighteen and nobody carded at a depanneur.

Will drank, had since he was a little whippersnapper on his granddad's knee sipping bitter poured by a master bartender and left to stand till it was just the right temperature. That smooth liquid that warmed the soul and gave such a thick, rich flavour... Canadian larger just wasn't the same and it just reminded him of what he missed about home.

To the Canadian boys who had never been blessed by the brewmaster's finest... they simply didn't know any better. And Will grinned to himself as he set about firing up the oven and unwrapping the pizzas.


The evening had worn into night, and it was climbing suspiciously close to being considered morning. To that group of friends splayed out around the living room talking about nothing and everything all at the same time, it was like no time had passed at all, they were so lost in their own conversations.

Jared gestured with his beer bottle, "I'd never have guessed..."

"That's `cause you ain't too bright," Brody quipped back.

Jared shot him a dirty look, and returned to motioning at Andrew who was on the floor propped up against the couch resting at Will's feet, an arm draped over his boyfriend's knee. "I mean you... of all people...not that there is anything wrong with that... but..."

Andrew nodded, "I get what you're saying." He shrugged, "I don't know; I can't explain it..." He glanced up at Will with those crystal-clear blue eyes.

"It's not something you just choose to be," Lisa stated sagely, as she settled into the crook of Brody's arm, "You just know."

Will screwed up his nose and shook his head, "I don't agree with that. I think it's more than just crossed wiring... I think explaining ... love as a genetic disorder is wrong. It's something... more than that."

"Carter's a romantic," Brody summed up with a grin, "or he's going all religious on us."

Will shrugged, "I wouldn't say that," he took off his glasses and rubbed them on the tail of his shirt taking a moment to yawn, "I just don't like thinking it's not... well normal."

Jared nodded, "My point exactly, what we think is okay, and what is socially acceptable..." He shook his head, "Don't take this the wrong way Carter, but Andrew -- why?"

Curious, Lisa leaned forward in her seat, and even Will found himself wondering at the question. Why would Andrew Highmore, Captain Amazing, school hero... why would he be gay? Why would he be so open about it...?

Andrew chewed on the question as he toyed with the label of his beer bottle, "My dad is part of it I guess." He became a bit quiet, "Like when we found the car, the Mustang, it was this pile of rust that had been sitting in a barn for years. We dragged that thing all the way home and my mum took one look at it and she asked him what it was supposed to be." Andrew's eyes sparkled at the memory, "My dad just said it didn't matter what it was, just that it was beautiful and it was his." He chuckled, "Mum thought he'd lost it and left him alone."

Brody grinned and nodded in understanding. Lisa and Will looked at each other, puzzled.

Andrew sighed, seeing that he was going to have to explain. "My dad took such a ribbing over that car, everyone who saw it thought he was insane, but he kept saying that it didn't matter, that they just didn't see what he saw."

Will folded his arms, "Great, I'm a hunk of rusty metal."

"Nope," Andrew said as he glanced up at him, "I saw something in you that I just had to have and to hell with what other people thought."

"Aww, that's so sweet," Brody made a gagging gesture.

Lisa elbowed him in the ribs, "How come you never say stuff like that to me?" she demanded petulantly.

"On that note," Brody said, suddenly looking like he wanted to escape, "I'm going to bed; I guess you guys are all staying here so make yourselves at home."

Lisa threw him a disgusted look, "Great, I have to sleep with you-"

"Hey," Brody responded the wry grin returning to his face, "I didn't make me this attractive..."

Jared sluggishly worked himself to his feet, swaying a little from the alcohol, "s'okay if I just...crash..."

Lisa grinned as she helped him up the stairs towards the guest's bedroom, Brody walking along behind muttering something about Ontario boys not being able to hold their liquor.

Once they had departed, Will stood up and looked towards the stairs. "Well, it is late and..."

Andrew had a faintly amused look on his face as he struggled to stand. "Bedroom?" he inquired, his voice quietening, and Will glanced at him. That wasn't a note of nervousness in his voice? The Andrew Highmore... nervous?

When they were both stretched out on the bed, both still fully-clothed, Will felt Andrew's hands wrap around him and draw him close. And Will smiled, running a hand along the sleeve of Andrew's plain cotton shirt.

"Mmmmm, nice..." Andrew murmured, a smile forming on his lips as his last reserve of energy gave out and he fell asleep.

Will blushed, taking off his glasses and putting them on the nightstand, snuggling into the crook of Andrew's arm as they had done in the car... and he too fell asleep.


Will awoke feeling Andrew's arms wrapped around him, and for the moment it took for him to realize he wasn't dreaming he was surprised. It was like being back in the car, except there was no sharp cold, or desperation. There was only the warmth of Andrew's body heat, and that all-too-familiar smell of cologne and a faint smell of perspiration.

He lay there a moment staring at the red digits of his alarm clock radio as it ticked steadily towards nine o'clock, just enjoying having Andrew there with him, basking in the memory of the intimacy they had finally been able to share.

Will turned over in the bed and saw Andrew, his chin propped up in his hand, those stunning blue eyes still red from sleep and filled with love as he watched Will look up at him.

"You look so peaceful when you're asleep," Andrew said, his voice raspy and dry, "except for all the snoring..."

"Hey!" Will said, blushing a bright shade of red from the tips of his toes to the roots of his hair, "I don't snore..."

"You do." Andrew said. Rolling his eyes back into his head he imitated a loud nasal snore.

Will hit him lightly on the shoulder, "Stop that! I do not!"

Andrew grinned and rubbed his arm, feigning injury, "Alright... alright so you don't snore..."

Will shook his head, "Damn right I don't... you on the other hand...!"

Andrew arched his eyebrow and put on his customary self-confident look, "Uh-huh... admit it, you liked it..."

Will blushed again, and he buried his face into the pillow to hide it. He felt as though he was grinning like a madman. Andrew waited a few moments then politely rolled him over onto his back, leaning across him to plant a kiss on his lips.

He drew back, a look of disgust twisting his face, "Eeew, morning breath!"

Will's jaw dropped open in shock, "What?" his eyes wide like saucers.

Andrew grinned at him, "I'm joking," he said as he leaned in to finish the kiss...

The bedroom door crashed open and they both jumped as Brody, in typical dramatic fashion bounded into the room.

"Hey boys!" He thumped a white book with broad gold letters on the front cover that looked suspiciously like a Holy Bible, against his other hand. "My dear grandmother said to me before she left this world," the bible punctuating each word as it stuck his hand, "that if yer gonna be laying with somebody, yer gonna be burying somebody..."

Will and Andrew stared at Brody in complete shock, not quite understanding what the raving Frenchman was on about.

"I've taken the liberty," Brody continued, a mad glint in his eye, "of contacting the Reverend Smith of the Anglican faith to be performing the upcoming nuptials..."

Will's jaw dropped open.

"Of course I will be giving Willy boy here away... and dear sweet Monica will make sure Andrew makes it to the church on time!"

Will began to laugh, as Andrew shrugged and wrapped his arm around him, "Morning Brody," Andrew said in his usual calm manner, the smile dancing in his eyes.

Lisa poked her head around the door, taking in the scene with a broad grin on her face, "Brody, I stole one of your shirts..."

Brody rounded on her, a strained look on his face, "Damn girl... that's one of my favourite shirts!" as if he realized that he would never see it again.

She gave him one of her sweetest smiles as she walked into the bedroom wearing the tee-shirt like a nightshirt over top of a pair of his boxers, as if to say `there is nothing you can do about it so don't even try.' She found the edge of the bed and stretched out, wrapping a long arm around Will as she snuggled in.

"I'll have my eggs over-easy," she said imperiously, ignoring the look of surprise on Brody's face.

"Scrambled for me," Andrew said, exchanging a grin with Lisa. "And I like my bacon crispy..."

Will gave Brody a sweet innocent grin, "Sunny-side-up, bacon juicy and lots of coffee..."

"Be happy to feed you my cookin'..." Brody said with a huge grin.

Lisa's face fell, and Will paled, both remembering how bad of a cook Brody actually was. Will looked at her and she at him, wondering which of them would have to rescue the breakfast from disaster.

"What's all the noise?" Jared said sleepily, struggling into the bedroom, his hair standing straight up in a perfectly-formed mess. He literally looked five minutes reheated from the grave.

Will and Lisa looked at each other and they turned to Jared with a broad smile between them, "Nothing... we just decided you're cooking us breakfast in bed."

"What-?" Jared murmured looking stunned.

"It's either you," Will said, "Or it's him." He pointed to Brody.

Jared murmured a curse, "Okay, okay I'm going..." He struggled to straighten out his sweatpants and adjust his teeshirt, when he stopped and looked at Will, Andrew and Lisa beaming at him from the bed. ", I am so in the wrong house..."

Brody shook his head, "When I let Will move in here, I didn't expect him to turn it into a den of evil; how many more people you gonna have in here at the same time?" He shook his head with a wry grin, "I'm gonna grab a smoke and a cup of coffee..."