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 Twenty-Three

December 24th

Christmas mass was a unique event in that small town, it was the one religious event where the whole town crowded into that old church. The religious and agnostic alike attended that service. It had been decided a long time ago that the mass be held jointly in the same church, both Anglicans and Catholics sharing in one larger and common show of faith.

It was Father Fitzpatrick's turn that year to host the ceremony, and perform it in a traditional Catholic fashion. No one seemed to mind; in small towns across North America the divide that tore places like Northern Ireland apart were meaningless in the face of the spirit of celebration.

It was still early, and the choir was beginning to set up for the late night performance. A tradition that went back to when the church had first been founded, the choir always performed a set of hymns and carols before the mass started.

Andrew was standing at the back of the church, his mother had insisted he wear his suit and he felt so adult, waiting for... waiting for the man he loved to join him and his family for the first time. It was a little scary; his mother didn't know, and at some point he would have to tell her. But that was not something you just spilled out over Christmas dinner in between conversations about Uncle Ronnie's new pool and requests to pass the peas. No, that was a Thanksgiving conversation definitely, so that gave him nearly a year to avoid the issue.

When Will arrived, in the company of an ever-vigilant Brody, who kept one hand on his shoulder steering the frightened rabbit who looked set to bolt if given a chance. Andrew couldn't help but give him a reassuring smile; Will was a timid creature when he was uncertain of himself. Yet in some moments, he had the determination of a bull.

Andrew took a step forward to say hello, but was cut off by Majella dragging a protesting Arthur along with her. She was fussing over Will's appearance, straightening a collar that didn't need straightening and adjusting his tie. And again Andrew smiled as the look on Will's face changed to one of aggravation at all the fuss he was being subjected to.

"You will sit with us," Will's strong-willed French aunt said firmly to him, as if she were making a declaration.

"Actually," Andrew said, stepping around her, "He was invited to join my mother and me." He smiled, "But I'm sure my mother wouldn't object if you wanted to join us."

He took small delight in the sudden shift in Majella from overconfidence to hesitance as she glanced to where Micheline was standing with the choir warming up for their performance.

"No, no," Arthur said shaking his head firmly, "we shouldn't intrude." The last part was firmly directed towards his wife, who looked set to protest until she saw the finality in Arthur's eyes. She reluctantly agreed with him and the pair of them left. Brody had vanished somewhere as well leaving Will and Andrew alone at the back of the church.

Will gave a shy smile, looking slightly uncomfortable as if trying to see into the darkened corners of the church without fully stepping into it. And Andrew followed his gaze. The church was filling fast, and there were several kids from their school sitting with their parents. The looks they were getting told him that the rumour was spreading fast.

A few of the stares and murmurs were from adults as well.

"Looks like we're making an impression," Andrew said, sticking his hands into his pockets defiantly.

"I could just go..." Will said, turning back to the door and freezing, his eyes wide.

Andrew knew who it would be before he turned around. The Major standing stock still in the entrance to the Church, decked out in his uniform with his peaked cap tucked under his arm. Behind him his wife holding onto little Lucy's hand.

There was a tense moment, the Major's eyes travelling first over Will, and then over Andrew. They stopped, weighing and considering heavily; there was no doubt in Andrew's mind, the Major knew exactly the who, what, when, where, how and why of it all.

The seconds dragged by, as that heavy brow furrowed and those eyes darkened with barely controlled anger. And Andrew felt Will tensing up behind him, as if he was about to bolt, and run for his life.

Andrew wasn't about to let that happen. "I had hoped to avoid this, we both did," he said, stepping in front of Will protectively, his shoulders back and a vivid current of electricity that hadn't been there a moment before hummed in the air. Andrew was as resolute as old oak. "You are going to leave us be, you are going to take your seat, and you are going to have a Merry Christmas..."

The Major appeared on the verge of an apoplexy, the vein in his forehead throbbed as he turned varying shades of red till finally settling into a deep purple. He opened his mouth to speak, but before he could, Lucy slipped out of his wife's hands and dashed to wrap her short arms around Will's legs.

"Happy Christmas, Willy..." she said in a tiny voice that was so filled with emotion that everyone's eyes were dragged to her.

Will's eyes welled with tears, as he knelt down to wrap his own arms around her. The Major and his wife looked on in frustration, both realizing they were in public and the entire town was watching them. Andrew could see the rage seething in the Major's eyes and he rested a hand protectively on Will shoulder.

Will looked up at him; Andrew looked like a knight at the end of his prayer vigil, ready to take up a shining sword, a gleaming shield. And his desire to run away withered; no matter what happened, he would be all right.

Whether the Major liked it or not.

But before the Major could say anything they all heard it: crescendoing over the rest like the trumpet of Gabriel, like the magic voice of Orpheus in Hades--Brody. Will forgot all about the major. Will forgot about everything.

When a knight won his spurs, in the stories of old, He was gentle and brave, he was gallant and bold; With a shield on his arm and a lance in his hand For God and for valour he rode through the land.

Absolute perfect pitch without vibrato his voice was hollow and pure and huge and it slowly filled with passion.

No charger have I, and no sword by my side, Yet still to adventure and battles I ride, Though back into storyland giants have fled, And the knights are no more and the dragons are dead.

It went on and on, fell in a cascade of notes, then sailed back up, soprano parts delivered with all the power of a grown man's lungs and diaphragm. It was the voice of God calling the world into creation, the primeval dawn, and Will's jaw hung open.

Let faith be my shield and let joy be my steed 'Gainst the dragons of anger, the ogres of greed; And let me set free, with the sword of my youth, >From the castle of darkness the power of the truth

Brody came to an end at last as Will released Lucy and she was swept back up into her mother's arms. The Major flashed a look of utter hatred at them, but it was half-hearted after the shock of the performance as he guided his new family past them to take their seats amidst a jostling crowd of applause and "bravos!"

In shock the two boys stared at their friend in wonder and utter disbelief until Father Fitzpatrick took the microphone, "That was beautiful; Brody's grandmother, as you all know, passed away this year after losing her fight with cancer. She directed our choir tirelessly for over forty years, and it was our pleasure to allow her grandson to sing her favourite hymn on this holiest of nights..."

The power of words.


Will was strangely quiet and introspective riding beside Andrew; it was something he just did when he was on car rides. Sit and stare out of the window and think. Things would only get harder from here, and he knew it. It was no longer just a whisper in a hallway, no longer an insult thrown at his back, it was a very real part of his life and he had to accept that.

"My mum's going to be in bed when we get back home," Andrew was saying, trying to rouse Will out of his introspection. But I know she wants you to stay the night...

"Do you think that's a good idea..." Will asked, feeling the soft cashmere of his jacket sleeve as he rested his face against it. "After tonight everyone is going to know..."

"You don't know my mum." Andrew said firmly, shaking his head, "People don't gossip to her, they know better. Though she deserves to know..." he swallowed, no doubt wondering how he was going to broach the subject with her.

"Should we tell her..." Will asked quietly.

"It would be one hell of a Christmas present," Andrew flashed him a decidedly wicked smile, "Happy Christmas, I'm gay..."

"You're probably right." Will replied, suddenly dreading the prospect of spending the night at the Highmore's. Maybe if he feigned an illness... or just asked to go home. Close his eyes and hide under the covers and the whole mess would just go away. But that would mean losing the one thing that meant the world to him... and as he sat there thinking, he knew that he couldn't lose Andrew.

"Don't worry about it," Andrew said, reaching out to lay a hand on Will's. "You're going to have a good time, and she doesn't bite..."

"...hard... often... strangers..." Will finished for him, offering him a shy smile. Andrew grinned in return as the Mustang pulled into his driveway and rolled to a stop behind his mother's car.

Will swallowed and followed him into the house. It was a converted trailer, one that had long ago been set onto a foundation and several extensions had been built onto it giving it more room. It had the feel of a bungalow to Will, roomy and comfortable but all on one level.

Though the furniture was a little worn, it had more of a used look to it, and everything seemed to invite him in. The table sitting beside a large set of patio doors had a floral centrepiece in the middle of it, and there were photographs hanging on the walls of a happy family.

He stopped beside one, and blinked a couple of times, looking back over at Andrew, "You look just like your dad..."

Andrew came over to the pictures, squinting his eyes a bit. "I guess I do," he said, not entirely sounding convinced. But to Will the resemblance was almost shocking, showing Will a glimpse into an alternate Andrew, one who had never met him, one who had gotten married, had a kid... lived a happy life...

"Hey..." Andrew said, wrapping his arms around Will. "You okay?" he asked warmly, and Will felt the warmth of Andrew's love steady him before he plunged down that road of self-doubt and loathing.

"I'm okay," he replied quietly.

"Mmhmm," Andrew said suspiciously, guiding Will, while still keeping him wrapped up in his arms, down the hall and into the last room at the end of the hall. And Will looked about at the comfortable den, with its books and a large TV tucked into the corner.

"Retro-seventies..." Andrew said with a huge smile as he looked about the room, collapsing into the sofa dragging Will down with him. As if he didn't want to let Will go now that he had a hold of him. Will wasn't objecting.

"Strangely suits you," Will replied nose to nose with Andrew.

Andrew shook his head, "Nope, you're the old fashioned one. If I had my way this would all be gutted and turned into a loft or something. Throw in a pool table..."

Will glanced again at the room, "Awfully small pool table," he remarked, but before he could continue Andrew kissed him lightly on the lips.

"Shut up, Carter," he said with a smile.

Will leaned back and arched an eyebrow, "What if I don't want to?" he stated firmly.

Andrew leaned in and kissed him again, this time gently tugging on the lower lip with his teeth as he playfully settled back onto the couch, "If you don't, I won't kiss you."

"Well," Will said casting a look towards the door, "considering your mother is just up the hall I think I should jolly well keep talking..." He had an Andrew firmly attached to his lips again, and he sighed in frustration, relaxing into the kiss and picked up right where he left off when Andrew released him, "...because the last thing I want is..." another kiss, " have her walk in here..." he was smothered again, and his shoulders sagged defeatedly, "...fine... you win..."

Andrew flashed that cool-calm-and-collected smile as he rolled off of the couch, leaving Will to peer over the edge of it at a completely composed and innocent-looking hockey player... well, that was what one would have looked like if there were any innocent hockey players.

Will blinked a couple of times, "Huh?"

Andrew smiled his usual collected smile, as he lifted the remote and clicked on the television, "want to watch a movie?" he asked raising an eyebrow suggestively.

Will continued to look puzzled, "Umm okay..."

Andrew stretched out alongside the couch and flipped the channel till he came across something Christmassy and he left it. It was a particularly old film that really wasn't that interesting, but they watched it reach its overly sentimental conclusion. Movies on Christmas Eve, Christmas morning by now, were like that, trying to convey a message of hope.

However, neither of them were paying it any attention, they were both looking at each other with a nervous anticipation. Seeing the hope they both shared.

"Are you going to join me down here, or do I have to go get you?" Andrew said, finally sitting upright.

"Your mother..." Will reminded, and Andrew considered it a moment before shrugging and reaching out to pull a reluctant Will down onto him.

"She's asleep," he whispered in a low, husky voice, cradling the younger man in his arms, "for now I just want to kiss you..."

Their lips met again as they kissed. Will loved the texture of those lips. The slight coarseness of Andrew's face. The intensity of the kiss heightened their arousal, each battling for supremacy with their tongues. Will leaned back, his legs straddling Andrew's chest and he looked down on the man he loved. It still felt strange, but they were so far beyond a juvenile notion of sexuality at that point. In the face of the feelings Will experienced at that moment, all his doubts before seemed so trivial.

Andrew looked up at him, his head resting on the floor with his sandy blonde hair splayed out around it, that coolly confident look in his eyes, "Say it."

Will chuckled, "Say what?" he replied coyly.

"I love you." Andrew said with a smile.

"I know." Will replied and leaned in to kiss him again. Two words that meant more to him, and conveyed more than `I love you' ever could. For the first time in his life he was loved unconditionally, and he knew it.

Andrew smiled, "Bastard," he teased as he sighed contentedly, reaching up to untuck Will's shirt from his belted trousers.

Will looked down, wondering if he should stop him, but felt that electric thrill leap through him as Andrew's fingers found skin. He gasped, every instinct wanted him to giggle and his eyes went wide.

"You're ticklish?" Andrew said, his eyes suddenly lighting up, "I didn't know that..."

Will licked his lips and took a deep breath, "I can control it," he said reassuringly, more for his own benefit than for Andrew's.

Andrew's smile became wider as smiled up at Will, "I am going to have to test that theory..."

Chapter Twenty-Four

December 25th

Will was thirsty, it was sometime ridiculously early in the morning, and he needed a drink. It was that kind of bone-dry that left the mouth feeling like it was gummy and slimy. He hated that feeling, and he decided to venture out of the den to go get a drink of water.

He first had to extricate himself from the cocooning embrace Andrew had wrapped him up in. It was the third night they had ever spent together, and so it was the third night in his life that he had felt so completely safe. The way Andrew just shielded him made him feel stronger, and he knew he would be a stronger person for it.

He slipped out of Andrew's arms, watching as the young Canadian rolled over muttering to himself, pulling the blanket they had both shared on the floor of the den closer about him. It was a cold morning, so he reluctantly pulled his trousers on and grabbed Andrew's cotton shirt, his own being some where out of reach.

It was a size too big for him and so it hung loosely on him and was noticeably not his own, but he was only running to get a glass of water from the kitchen. It was too early for anyone to catch him, he'd be fine.

He nosed out of the den, taking a moment to look at Andrew's mother's door, closed thankfully. And he padded down the hall in bare feet trying to pull on the sleeves to Andrew's shirt to keep his hands free.

The kitchen was dark, daylight only beginning to poke itself over the field that backed onto Andrew's house. The sun was beginning to turn the pitch-blackness outside into a lighter shade of blue and grey, and the house was deathly silent. He fumbled around for a light switch so that he could see where he was going. It felt awkward to be wandering around a strange house in the dark.

His fingers found the switch and as the light clicked on he jumped, realizing he wasn't alone.

The pinch-nosed woman sitting wrapped up in a pink flannel robe, her hands wrapped around a steaming cup of coffee and her eyes locked on the sunrise, scared the living hell out of him. He had met Andrew's mother briefly the morning after the car crash in the police station, but they had exchanged no more than passing familiarities. To suddenly come face to face with her...

She turned her head towards him, a piercing gaze that swept from the top of his head to his bare toes and back up again. He felt like he was under a microscope, being examined for some kind of bizarre experiment. The awkward silence passing between them was thick, and Will realized it was settling into a ball at the pit of his stomach.

He had expected the first words out of her mouth to be, "Hello, how are you?" or "I'm Andrew's mother, nice to meet you..." even a "Good morning," would have been nice.

No, Micheline wasn't that kind of woman.

"So you're the one that's been sleeping with my son..." The observation hung like an icicle in the dim Canadian morning. Ready to fall at a moment's notice. The ball of tension settling inside Will became a cold, hard knot of panic.

He glanced behind him up the hall, as if he could summon Andrew to rescue him. The urge to just bolt was strong. Too many years of his father's abuse, too many strong memories of the fights, the constant futility of trying to exist in the face of people who felt he didn't have a right to be there.

He swallowed, looking nervous. He must have been white as a sheet.

She opened her mouth to speak again, and Will was certain of his own impending doom; he expected a "Get out of my house," or "My son is not gay..." even a "Sit down and have a cup of coffee..."

Micheline wasn't that kind of woman.

"So was he good?" she asked, stirring sugar into her coffee cup, dropping that bombshell as if she were discussing the weather outside. Completely un-fazed by the implications of what she asked.

Will's mouth moved, trying to form words... he wanted to die right there, shrivel up and just vanish. Be anywhere else, do anything else. Instead he just stood there in dumbstruck shock.

"Oh, do stop standing there like a wet fish," Micheline muttered, lifting her cup to her lips and tasting the rich liquid. "I wasn't born yesterday. I know my son, I know that he has been running around here the last few weeks with a love-struck look on his face. You stay the night, his room is empty when I get up and you come padding down the hall in a shirt I bought him for his last birthday..." she arched a perfectly sculpted eyebrow expressively, "I reached a conclusion, and by the floundering expression on your face, I take it I made the correct one."

Will tried to recover his composure, thinking of about a half-dozen lies he could fire off, but they all sounded so weak in his mind. Andrew's mother would see right through them. There was no other choice but to just accept the fact that he was, to use a colourful metaphor, up shit creek and forgotten to bring a paddle.

"Good morning," he managed, falling back on his British composure to save him. There were rules of conduct for every situation, and when everything else failed hiding behind a mask of formality often gave him refuge. Most Canadians didn't know how to handle British rigid formality.

Did I forget to mention Micheline wasn't that kind of woman?

"Sit down," she intoned, like a queen bidding a subject to sit. Matching his formality with a commanding presence, she knew all too well how to deal with false British bravado. "Would you like a cup of coffee?"

Will nodded as he sat down, "Thank you..."

Micheline looked over at a cupboard in the kitchen, "The cups are up there."

Will, who had just sat down, found himself back on his feet and he had the sinking suspicion Micheline loved every moment of his discomfort. He selected a heavy-looking mug, something decidedly masculine, and he sat back down at the table, reaching across to pick up the carafe.

"You look like your father," Micheline observed, changing tacks on him, and Will felt for sure he saw the boom swinging about to knock him overboard.

"I'm not my father," Will replied, knowing all to well the implications of her observation.

"Andrew," her eyes softened, "is very much like his father; I've had eighteen years to know my son, and before that I was married for five to his father. They share the same facial expressions, the same look in their eyes." She looked across the table at Will, "How long?"

Will took a heavy breath, "How long for what?" he asked, preferring to play dumb, it seemed safer.

Micheline's eyes hardened again, she knew full well he was playing stupid, and he got the impression it wouldn't work with her. She could see the intelligence in his eyes, and she knew when a man was trying to be something he was not.

That look convinced Will to abandon his ploy, and be honest, "Since the car, if you mean feelings. If you mean a relationship, that took a little longer."

Her eyes relaxed, "It has to be hard," she stated, her voice losing some of its edge. "When I met Andrew's father, we were going to school in a small town in New Brunswick; I went to the French high school and he went to the English one." She seemed to become distant, remembering, "I can remember when I told my father that I was dating an English boy..." she shook her head, "He was angry, swore that he would take that boy out to the woods and beat him till he forgot all about me... Andrew's father wouldn't put up with that... Highmore men can be remarkably stubborn, especially when they are in love..."

Will rubbed his chin as he picked up his coffee mug, "I've noticed that, what happened?"

Micheline gave him an amused smile, "We used to have secret rendezvous and I must have told a hundred lies to my parents as to where I was going... just so I could meet him." She focused back on Will, "I felt that we would get away with it, and it wasn't until my mother stopped me one day and told me she knew what was going on that I realized she had known all along."

Will was getting the dual meaning, "And so did she put a stop to it?"

Micheline chewed her lip thoughtfully studying the young British man seated across from her, "She told me to stop going down the drain pipe and just use the back door instead."

Will couldn't help but chuckle over the image of that imperious woman seated in her pink flannel robe, shimmying down a drainpipe in the middle of the night. "Well I haven't had to do that."

"No," Micheline said quietly, "But I know the Major didn't react well when he found out."

Will looked down at the table and nodded, "He went ballistic."

There was a look in Micheline's eye, something that said she was delighted by that news. Will looked up and caught a glimpse of it, but it was gone too fast for him to be sure, "I think he was just looking for an excuse..."

As they sat together, the sun finally raised itself from its long slumber and cast golden light across the snow-covered field, banishing the last remnants of night. It was Christmas morning at last.

"Well, my son is in love," she said at last as if reaching a decision, "and I know nothing I could possibly say will shift a bull-headed Highmore once they have set their mind on something." Micheline gave him a very predatory smile, making her look almost hawkish, "Besides, if it gives the Major a stroke, so much the better."


Andrew awoke feeling the slight chill of Christmas morning and he turned over to look for Will, surprised and momentarily disorientated when he didn't find him. He sat up and rubbed his eyes, trying to find that happy balance between awake and asleep that would let him function until he could take a shower.

Will was nowhere to be seen, and Andrew realized that he would have to find him. Given half a chance, Will was probably running as fast as he could for Brody's place before he met...

There was the sound of talking coming from the kitchen, and Andrew rolled his eyes, only Will would manage to wake up first, and would end up falling into his mother's clutches. As nice as Will was, he just wasn't a match for Micheline Highmore. She was probably getting ready to serve him up for breakfast by now. Or at the very least lightly toasting him for lunch.

He got up and began to pull on his clothes, discovering to his frustration that he couldn't find his shirt. He had found Will's behind the couch where it had been thrown at some point during the...

Andrew smiled as he wandered out of the den and ducked into his room, grabbing a shirt from his wardrobe and slipping it on. He took a moment to comb his hair down and fix his collar; he didn't want to make his mother suspicious. He didn't want to think about what her reaction would be.

He stuck his hands into his pockets and walked back into the hall, the voices in the kitchen were talking in a low conspiratory fashion, and when he sauntered out of the hall they stopped entirely.

He was surprised to see Will sitting at the table drinking coffee with his mother and the two looking completely relaxed from their conversation. It was such a stark contrast to the normal morning ritual in which his mother would be staring out to watch the dawn. In fact his mother seemed not to notice the morning through the patio doors beside her. In fact she looked more like her normal self.

He glanced at Will who looked pleased to see him, wrapped up in the missing shirt that made him look so small. Will just seemed destined to wear Andrew's clothes. "Morning, Carter..." he started.

His mother gave him a look over the rim of her coffee mug, and he stopped short of finishing the sentence. She was smiling!

"I was just discussing china patterns with young William here," she said lightly, "I was thinking something modern but he wants a more traditional Wedgwood pattern."

"China patterns?" Andrew asked, his shoulders slumping as a confused look entered his eyes and he looked to Will for some kind of explanation.

"Well," Will said simply, "apparently if you make an honest boy out of me, your mother offered to help pick out the china."

It was the first time Will had ever seen Andrew's calm demeanour crack. The look of shock, surprise and confusion on his face was hilarious. And his mother smiled at her son.

"Well, I'd rather know you were both safe and comfortable and doing things under this roof; the back seat of that mustang can be uncomfortable..."

"MOM!!!" Andrew's face screwed up in a scandalized look, as if he had a mental picture implanted in his head. It would take him weeks of scrubbing the back seat until he felt comfortable again in the car.

She gave him a surprised look, "What? You didn't think I'd let your father restore that gas-guzzling pollution maker without getting something in return..."

Andrew reached up to cover his ears, "Oh god... I'm... I don't need to know!"

She looked down the table at Will, "The boy brings someone home, and he thinks I won't notice. Then when I so much as mention sex he covers his ears and wants to hide." She shook her head as she stood up, "Well since I know have two teenage boys in my house this morning, I had better start putting together something for breakfast, no doubt you're hungry."

She walked into the main kitchen and began to rattle pots and pans preparing to cook something warm and hearty for both of them. Andrew stared after her in amazement wondering at the fact that no matter how long he knew her, she still surprised him. It was strange; he could see how his father had fallen in love with her.

He glanced at Will as he sat down, the two boys sharing the-morning-after-the night-before look. If he was glowing half as much as Will was, there was no possible way they could have kept it a secret from his mother.

As if reading his thoughts, Will leaned in and whispered, "She knew before I got up," as if wanting to reassure him that he hadn't given it away.

Andrew shrugged, "Mom's quick, she knows things." He looked over at Will, "Can I be daring?"

"Huh?" Will inquired, but before he could ask Andrew what he meant, he had been kissed.

Micheline shook her head watching them; it was going to be an adjustment but then what wasn't? At least Andrew had the common sense not to bring home a cheerleader. She gave them both a disparaging look and tsked, "Am I going to have to get the hose?" she asked, breaking eggs into the pan.

Andrew drew back, "Maybe," he said cheerfully over his shoulder.

Will wondered if he had just fallen into an alternate dimension where this was a perfectly normal morning breakfast conversation. He shook his head and crossed his arms, wondering when or if he was going to wake up. He finally decided that if he was dreaming, he loved every second of it.

Chapter Twenty-Five

March 20th 2004

It was a cold and damp day in Halisham England; the rain had started sometime early in the morning, and the grey sky seemed to match the feelings the day shared with the people clustered around the freshly-turned earth. It wasn't a day for celebration; it was a day for mourning. Not to mourn that which had been lost, but to mourn instead that which never was.

Time had done little to heal most wounds, and the two halves of a shattered family stood on opposite sides of the simple stone. The rain came down more steadily now. Unity through sorrow; for William Carter, it was just another bitter regret of a past he could never reconcile.

There had never been a chance for that, and as the rain plastered the hair to his head he stared down at the earth and wondered if there had been any more that he could have done. But after ten years, there really had been nothing. He had tried, and every time that hand had been extended it had been slapped away.

He should have been bitter, but there was no room inside for that. There was only the sadness of understanding why the man under that fresh sod could never accept him for who he was. There was no room in the Major's army for him.

Andrew stood beside him, a constant presence in his life; they had their rough patches -- all relationships went through them -- but his knight had stood beside him through the past ten years, sheltering and protecting him, and showering him with the love he had never been able to get from his family.

Ordinarily in a moment like that he would let Andrew comfort him, draw strength from the rock in his life; but right there and then it was the final time he would face the Major, and he had to do it standing alone. Andrew, as always, respected his stubborn need to be independent.

His eyes travelled up to his sister, a vibrant young woman now nearly fourteen, wearing a beautiful black dress. She looked at her mother whose eyes narrowed at him. Some bitterness never died. But Lucy wasn't about to let that poison her love for her brother, as she slipped from her mother's side and went round to him.

He pulled her against him, staring down at the stone, feeling her drawing strength from him. Two survivors of their own war, but there had been casualties along the way; pride and confidence had fallen early in the struggle. But there was no doubt now; they were both free.

Major David Carter had died a hero to his country, leading his men into Basra to liberate it from a dictator's grasp. There was so much debate over the right to do so, that people had over looked the individual acts of heroism that brought the best out in people. The Major had died a hero, saving his men from an ambush; fighting for another country to gain the freedoms he had dedicated his life to protecting.

The irony wasn't lost on William Carter, his son. Even though the stubborn old man would never have admitted it, those freedoms of equality had had fought to bring to other people extended to his own family. In a way, in death, he was the hero he had never been in life.

William finally turned away, as Andrew came forward to embrace him, and the tears Will had steadfastly refused to cry finally came forth at that point. Holding onto the two people that loved him unconditionally, returning that love to them.