Do Over

Chapter 25


There was nothing like a pissed off Master Chief to work miracles, I reflected as I watched Sean climb down from the back seat of an F-14, talking excitedly with the pilot. In the last few months, Sean had shot up two inches and now stood at five-seven, and the pudginess of the summer was long gone as evidenced by the tight flight suit he wore.

"Get them loaded into the van when they're changed." Master Chief Cole said as he walked away from the flight line, his khakis crisp in the light morning wind. He was heading to the nearby building where the base photographer had disappeared to make sure we would get copies of all the pictures. All of us had worn our NJROTC uniforms here, but I was the only one still wearing mine, with everyone else in flight suits.

We were at the Naval Air Station south of our hometown, and twelve of the thirty members of the NJROTC had just gotten their first flight in a navy fighter. Brian was among them, but I'd given up my place so Sean would be able to go. It had been worth it just to hear his description of his dad's face going green with envy.

Back on the first day of school, Sean hadn't shown up at the first NJROTC meeting. He'd made it to campus a half-hour before school started, but thirty minutes after the first NJROTC meeting. Master Chief Cole had seen him walk with hunched shoulders onto campus and left me in charge of that first meeting, which was mostly administrative stuff he'd already gone over with me as his Cadet-Chief.

Cole had taken Sean into his office, and the two hadn't appeared again until it was time for classes to start. As we were getting dressed for practice, one of the Varsity team mentioned seeing Coach Cole leaving dressed in his Navy khakis. When we got on the field, Coach Mueller announced Coach Cole had some personal business to take care of and wouldn't be at practice. He didn't look happy, but then again he never did.

The next morning, Sean had shown up at the NJROTC meeting, wearing a big smile. Master Chief Cole had just nodded at him and told him to line up with the rest of the guys. That morning we had twenty-eight people show up, eight more than the day before. We'd put up flyers on the school's boards, and an announcement had been made that we'd be holding meetings every day this week. Those that had been there the day before were dismissed after roll call, while Cole watched me go over the administrative stuff again, making sure I had the paperwork, medical exam forms and all that was necessary. Four guys had mentioned they were going to back out because they didn't have money for the medical exam, but I'd taken the money from my wallet and given it to them.

At lunch, we got the story first-hand from Sean on what had happened the day before.

After the Saturday move-in, Cole had driven Sean home and talked with Sean's mother about wanting the boy in his NJROTC. She had been ecstatic at a Navy Master Chief bringing her 'lost little boy' home and telling her this, and excited about the prospect of Sean getting put 'straight.' Cole hadn't argued with her; just let her assume that was what was going on. Sean even tried to hide his enthusiasm slightly, only commenting that he'd like to be able do something besides just school.

Sean's dad had readily agreed, as well. In fact, Sean said his dad had been nicer to him than he'd been in months. That was until the Sunday before school started, when they'd gone to church without Sean and come back extremely upset. It seems their pastor, good old Dr. Mills, had told them that Brian and I were running some kind of perverted form of a real NJROTC and that it was a fake club, not recognized by the Department of the Navy like they were supposed to be. Sean's dad had been furious, grounding him to his room with no exceptions and tearing up all the signed permission forms.

Monday morning, a devastated Sean had cried on the Master Chief's shoulders while the man held him in a fatherly hug, and told him things would be alright. Then, he'd told Sean to meet him at his office after school. Sean had protested he was supposed to go straight home, and Chief Cole had assured him they would be going home. They did, and Master Chief Cole sat there in his khakis, with more than five rows of ribbons, including the Silver Star, and his SEAL trident gleaming on his chest. Mrs. Rule had been... uncomfortable but wasn't going to slam the door in his face. Instead, they sat at the kitchen table calmly talking about all the things he had planned for the squad with Sean sitting there just staring at them.

Then, a little after five thirty, Mr. Rule had come home and the Master Chief had told the man he wanted to talk to him outside. Sean said he thought his dad almost pissed his pants right there. The two men went into the back yard and Sean had heard nothing that the Master Chief had said, but he could see his father's face change from pale to flushed, back to pale again and he could see his dad's hand shaking.

A lot of Chiefs like to yell, and Cole wasn't adverse to doing that at all. They yell over everything, both good and bad, and you can usually hear them coming a mile away. Unless you're in big trouble, or have done something very good, or there's something majorly wrong. If a chief takes you aside and chews you out at a voice where everyone can hear, you know you messed up, but not that bad and he's making you an object lesson for the others. If he takes you in his office, shuts the door and talks so low you can barely him yourself, you better shape up or you'll be up before the Captain explaining why you didn't, and the Captain will likely be sentencing you to extra duty, restriction to the ship, docking your pay, or even reducing you in rank. That's how Chief Cole reamed out Mr. Rule, and before he left that day he had all of Sean's forms signed.

The line of cadets making their way towards me brought me back to the present. I reminded the guys as they went inside the pilot changing rooms to get all the gear stowed properly and to meet back at the van. Brian gave me a real quick hug, whispering that I could add 'flight suit' to our growing list, and then headed inside while I was left wondering how the hell I was going to get a real one of those for our closet. Master Chief Cole appeared at that moment and nodded with his head for me to follow him towards the van.

"You know, I have to thank you again for getting this done." Cole told me in a low, firm voice as we walked. "I just couldn't swing it with my contacts."

"Hell, Master Chief, you've gotten us out once a month to firing ranges, we got to go to sea on that Destroyer for a day last month, and you've kept the parents off all our backs when the article hit the press." I said with a smile. "The least I could do was to call the President and ask a favor. I figured I owe you one after what you said in that article."

"You don't owe me anything for that article." Cole said with a frown.

"Besides," I added quickly. "What good are friends in high places if you can't use them? Reagan won four more years, and after that he won't be President no more. If I don't ask him for one or two things right now, I might never get the chance again."

"You have a point there, Cadet-Chief." He said and I'd wished for a moment he wouldn't call me that. I didn't like the idea of me being a chief, even a cadet version. It seemed almost...sacrilegious, like I was impersonating a priest or something. "Think you can get another round approved in the Spring? Make this a semester thing?"

"I'll certainly try." I agreed. "If we've been doing it for four years by the time Reagan leaves office, the base commander will probably be so use to it he just will keep it going and count it as a 'public relations' stunt that might even get him a few pilots in a few years."

"Damn, you are a salesman." He said to me with a wide grin. "Pitch it like that and you can probably sell the base commander on it without having to go to the President. Now, did you see Rule's face when he got down from the cockpit?"

"Yeah, he's going to be a pilot." I said comfortably certain of that.

"Oh, you know it?" He asked, referring to my memories of a future life.

"Not from that, just from his face." I said. "He's got 20/10 vision in both eyes, he's the right height and weight, he's not color blind, he's not stupid, and he's got quick reflexes. He doesn't have good hand/eye coordination, is still a little clumsy, but that's because he never played sports. That can be worked out of him, built on until it's good. He's got all the basics, just needs a little shaping over the next few years, a congressional sponsor from the house and senate, and as many other recommendations as he can get, and he'll make Annapolis, and then go on to flight school. I bet he ends up in an F-18."

"I'll take that bet, I say F-14's. One buck." Cole countered, holding out his hand. I shook it and smiled evilly, making him think I knew something certain about the future. He didn't change his mind though. "Now, it's just up to us to get him physically perfect for being a fighter pilot."

"You mean it's up to you, Master Chief." I countered and he frowned at me.

"If you haven't figured it out yet, David, you're being far denser than you have any right being." He said firmly and I let my shoulders droop. So he'd been doing certain things on purpose. "I know you say you want to enjoy your second childhood, and for years you did. It's over now, Jones, grow up and accept that fact. You're lucky in that you still get to be a kid at times. In your classes, around school, and on the football field you're having fun just like everyone else your age."

"I don't think you know what kids really think of classes." I quipped defensively, trying to change the subject. I should have known better than to even try.

"Poor attempt at changing the subject there, David." He frowned. "General O'Keefe told me what he said to you in Berlin, and he's absolutely right. You're going to end up involved in government for the rest of your life, whether you want to or not. You may not end up in uniform, or being an officer like you could be, but you'll carry the weight and responsibility of an officer. It's a chief's job to make sure young officers are properly prepared for when they're Admirals, and you're no exception."

"Don't tell me all this is just to prepare me for the future." I muttered a little angrily and he actually laughed softly.

"It's part of the picture, Mr. Jones." He told me as he laughed. "But you're not all of it either. I did want to start an NJROTC group on campus. The Navy's been my life for twenty years, and I wanted a part of it with me in retirement. It keeps me on reserve status without having to do bullshit duties, and I get to shape and train young men who might end up being a credit to their country, like Rule and like you and Breckenridge and the others. You're just one part of the picture."

"That's a relief." I said honestly and he frowned again.

"You really don't like thinking you're special, do you?" He asked me in an honest question.

"No, I don't." I answered just as honestly. "Special means I get special attention, and not the good kind. It's 'special' as in another country risks going to war just to get their hands on me. It means I have Secret Service agents watching my every move twenty-four hours a day and I can barely take a shit without having it planned out first. Special means that every time I do something, half the government knows about it, and carefully weighs it for importance, and it means that they expect miracles of me when sometimes I can't fucking provide them!"

"Ah, having trouble with your 'work' right now?" He asked me with a knowing grin. I debated on what to tell him. He was cleared to know about me, yet not cleared for any specifics, but I desperately needed someone to talk to about it besides Brian and the guys at NSA and CIA. Brian was very sympathetic and supportive, and that helped, but it didn't move me forward on the problem. NSA and CIA were very knowledgeable on the subject matter, but they couldn't understand why an answer didn't just pop into my head.

"Yeah, now that the election's over, we're getting ready for the Arms Summit." I said softly, making sure no one was around. "Everyone's convinced that it's something to do with that as to why they tried to get me in Berlin, and they tried that kidnapping idea that the FBI disrupted last month. What the fuck it is they're scared I know, I have no idea though. I mean we suspected their silos were in poor repair and I gave the assessment I remembered from the 1990's disarmament program where we found them full of water and many of the missiles inoperable. They're fixing that problem though, we can see that plain as day. There has to be something more, something I don't remember or never knew, and it's driving me crazy trying to figure out what it is."

"Are you sure there's something there or not?" Cole asked me calmly and I stared at him for a very long moment.

"There has to be something there or they wouldn't be so insistent on getting rid of me." I said softly. "We've rolled up a bunch of spy rings they had in our agencies in the last few months, but they've still got to have good HUMINT."

"Jones, there's about eighty people who know about you in government." Cole reminded me. "Of those eighty, less than half see anything you do work on. Everything you do is compartmentalized and you've just told me more in these last few minutes than I knew for sure. Don't get me wrong, I'd figured out most of it already, but I didn't know anything specific, and to be honest I still don't. Any spy they have highly placed enough to get that kind of information probably didn't survive your review of the agency lists. They might be scared just because you're here and they don't know what you're telling the government. It might have nothing to do with their ICBM weapons."

"Yeah, it's not like their warheads don't..." I said and my voice dropped off suddenly, remembering one of those internet rumors that had been so fantastical no one had really believed them. I wracked my brain, trying to remember as much as I could, and dug out my ever-present notebook from my back pocket. I was scribbling furiously into it when I noticed the Master Chief was chuckling.

"I see maybe something's occurred to you." He said wryly.

"Master Chief, you just earned yourself another medal, even if they never can give it to you in your public file." I said with a wide grin. "You just put to sleep all the complaining about O'Keefe clearing you for Paradox as well."

"You figured out what was so damn important?" Cole asked me with some interest.

"Yeah, and it's a doozy." I answered him honestly. "Anything more than that, I cannot say. I don't even know who the President will want told on it, it's that hot. When we get back to town, drop me off at the farm first, I need to make a phone call."

"You got it." He said with a smile just as Brian led about half the guys out of the locker room and towards us. Ten minutes later the van was loaded and we were headed off the base. Our first stop was McDonald's for lunch before the drive home. I paced impatiently and decided to take a walk to where the Secret Service agents were sitting in their car, snacking on their Big Macs.

"I need you guys to put a radio call in for relay back to Washington." I told Chris and Jeanie as I leaned into the window. Jeanie raised her eyebrow in surprise. "Tell them we'll be home in about two hours and twenty minutes. When we get home, I'm going to be picking up the phone and unless he's really busy, I'd like to talk to the President directly on the secure line."

"Um, it's that important?" Chris asked with a frown.

"Yeah, it's that important and I don't want to go through channels." I said. "Try to make it sound as unobtrusive as you can, but make sure he knows I'm calling."

"Okay, check with us before you guys leave the restaurant." Jeanie said and I nodded before heading back inside. Brian knew I was on to something here and looked at me with an expression of mixed curiosity and pensiveness. I just shook my head as I tore into my quarter pounder. Before we left, while the Master Chief was loading the van I talked to the agents in the car who said that the President had a free ten minutes at the time I would be home and that he was expecting a 'thank you' call for the rides in the jets. I nodded, trotted back to the van and climbed inside, reminding the Master Chief we had exactly two hours and five minutes to get home. He nodded in understanding and we took off.

"Mr. President, thanks for arranging the flights." I said into the secure phone exactly two hours later.

"You're welcome, Davey, now why are you really calling?" President Reagan said with a wry chuckle.

"I think I figured out what the hell the Soviets are trying to hide." I said with a firm grin he couldn't see. "It's kind of hot stuff, and I don't really know who you want to see it."

"Tell me the basics and we'll go from there." President Reagan ordered and I took a deep breath.

"In the original 1990's there were several rumors floating around the Internet after the disarmament treaty with the Russian Federation." I began. "I didn't place much stock in them since the Internet was always being flooded with wild rumors, but a couple of them make good sense now and they did have some corroboration."

"Go on." He told me after I paused for a moment.

"Mr. President, I believe that a good part of the Russian nuclear program is pure maskirova. It's a fašade they are putting up." I said. "Their missiles have more Multiple Independent Re-entry Vehicles than ours do. Each MIRV is supposed to have a nuclear warhead capable of destroying another city. Each ICBM can carry sixteen or more MIRV and we concentrate a lot on controlling the number of MIRV warheads per missile. Well, the Russians have been cheating. Even with their number of breeder reactors, they can't produce enough fissible material for all those warheads. Only about half their counted warheads actually have enough material to split the atom and start the chain reaction resulting in a nuclear explosion. The rest are just 'dirty bombs' that spread radioactive material over an area. It's messy, people will die from it and we'd have to clean it up, but the city will still be there and most of the people will live. That's the first thing and that's a main reason why they'll want to cut the number of missiles but keep the same number of MIRV per remaining missile."

"So they can take the fissible material from the other warheads and combine them in the remaining missiles to make fully operational nuclear warheads." He stated in an almost disbelieving tone. "But cutting production, they save themselves millions, and still end up with more working warheads than they have now, thereby increasing the real threat to us."

"Exactly Mr. President, and when combined with the second thing I remembered, it makes a big deal." I said firmly. "Mr. President, the Russians made a very big mistake when they programmed the re-entry computers on their warheads. They stole the plans for it from us in the 1960's. The big mistake though was they didn't calculate the differences between the English measurement system we use and the Metric system they use. NASA made the same mistake with a Mars Probe and the thing crashed to the ground in a spectacular failure. Mr. President, they have to redo all the re-entry computations on all their warheads, and it's a task that will take years because each missile fires from a different location, goes through a different orbit, and hits a different target. You can't just apply a 'patch' and fix all the calculations. The rumor was there was some sort of mathematical problem I didn't understand that kept on messing up their calculation conversions when they tried to fix them. They can shoot the missile, and it will hit a target. Whether its San Francisco, Washington, Ontario, Mexico City, or some point in between they just won't know."

"I don't know if that's good news or bad news." President Reagan said in a soft voice. The line was silent for a few minutes. "Okay, write it all up with as much detail as you can, and any possible corroboration we might be able to find. Send it to me marked 'President's Eyes Only.' I'll discuss it with Cap and a few other people directly and we'll parcel it out from top to bottom instead of the normal way. Good work, Davey."

"Thank you, Mr. President." I said as I hung up the phone. Thank god it was Saturday and I had the rest of the day and most of Sunday to get it done. Brian would be a little upset, but he'd get over it since he knew I'd be spending the rest of the weekend locked in Dyadya's study, typing away.

At least I had a connection to the 'Internet' as it existed today. Long before there was a world wide web based on graphical interfaces, the network was text based and required knowledge of a series of commands not too dissimilar from Unix or DOS. It'd taken me a month to remember them correctly and regain proficiency in using them, but I'd managed that. The available sources of information was far smaller than they would be even in ten years, but thanks to a high-level security clearance and what was there, I came up with several possible ways to corroborate my ideas, and put them in my report.

I'd missed dinner by the time that was done and emerged from the study to find Tyatya frowning at me. In Russian, she told me there was a plate for me in the microwave and I reheated it quickly before taking it back into the study with me. She wouldn't ask what I was working on, but would know it was important.

It was about ten p.m. when Thomas Castillo opened the door to the study and came inside. He managed to drag me away from the report I was writing to discuss some of the matters associated with the security detail. It was nothing important, just routine stuff but when he was done he mentioned that Brian had been here for two hours and was sitting in the living room. I knew he did it on purpose and decided he was right. I put all the materials into the safe after he left and went outside to spend some time with Brian. Brian was very happy about that, and when I came back from the bathroom around eleven, I was surprised he wasn't there.

"He went to look in the barn for something." Dyadya said in English, and he had a knowing smile on his face. The smile was contagious and I made my way outside to the barn with one of my own across my face. I climbed the hayloft and there Brian was standing, dressed like a firefighter. My smile widened at the sight.

"I heard there was a hot guy in here that needed cooling off." Brian said to me as I licked my lips.

It was around one in the morning that we made our way back into the house, hand in hand, and smiling. Brian was back into his regular clothes, having stuffed the firefighting gear into a very large bag he'd retrieve before he left. I was whistling softly under my breath as we made our way up into the very quiet house and into my bedroom where we slept in each other's arms.

Sunday, I finished up the report by the early evening, having made four drafts and re-written them. I typed up the final version on the computer, after disconnecting it physically from the network, and on a word processor that had been rendered incapable of saving anything to any disk. After I'd printed it out, checked for typos, and was sure it was ready to go, I turned off the computer for a minute, reconnected it to the network and rebooted it, as the security regulations required. The report was stamped "Top Secret: President's Eyes Only" on each page and put into the appropriate security folder. Then I put it in the security bag and made a note to Dyadya on his safe to make sure I gave him my documents before he went to work on Monday.

It was more and more amazing as I thought about it. The Russians could put a manned spacecraft down on dry land with no problems and high accuracy. Yet, they'd used stolen data from the U.S. and messed up their entire ICBM delivery system - IF, that is, I was correct in what I was thinking.

I spent the rest of the evening visiting with Mom and Jenny at their apartment, and the three of us went out to dinner. It was a decent evening and Mom was actually dating a new guy I had not yet met. Both Jenny and Mom liked him though, so Mom was insisting I meet him sometime soon as well. Before I went back home, I suggested that maybe Mom could invite him to the Thanksgiving Dinner we were having at the farm. She agreed, and then frowned when I asked her for the guy's name, phone number and address. She didn't like the idea of the Secret Service checking out her new boyfriend, but if I was going to be meeting him, they'd have to do that.

Then again, I did like the idea. I'd remembered some of the men Mom dated after Dad and sometimes she had very, very bad judgment about men. If this guy was anything like them, he'd be out on his ass so fast he wouldn't know which way was up. If he wasn't, well we'd cross that bridge when we came to it.

Monday morning was drill morning, and as with every drill morning we raised the flag at school with full ceremony. That meant we marched with our company flag, the U.S. flag, and ceremonial rifles (welded so they couldn't shoot at all, but they looked good). Then we marched back to the gym where we put the rifles and flag away and sat down in front of the Master Chief, forming a half-circle on the floor, while he started another lecture on shipboard damage control. Wednesday, he promised, we'd have a video that would show just why what he was saying was important.

I remembered the video from boot camp. It was the Forrestal Fire. During Vietnam, a missile on an F-4 had gone off while the plane was still on deck, launching and hitting a parked aircraft. The resulting fire had severely damaged the carrier, killed dozens and injured hundreds. The ship, the largest in the fleet, had been so severely damaged it was in the yards for years. A major cause of the severity of the damage was crappy damage control efforts. The crew had been unprepared, and had not responded as they should have to the fire and damage, and thus many had died and many more injured while the ship was nearly lost, all because of one ten-pound warhead.

The most chilling scene of the video, for me, was a crewmember running into the flames with a 30 pound extinguisher in an attempt to rescue a pilot trapped in the cockpit of his plane. The flames ate him alive on the video, all recorded by the carrier's flight operation cameras and preserved to drive home lessons on damage control to young sailors. I don't think most of the guys in the squad were going to enjoy it nearly as much as they thought they were, but I wasn't going to ruin the shock value of the video. It could suddenly make how to don firefighting gear and how to fix a ruptured pipe seem extremely important.

This was also the last week of football for us. Both the J.V. and Varsity team had gone undefeated while Coach Halpern's winning streak had finally been snapped after six years with one loss (the score had been 14-13). A third of the freshman team had quit as he punished them with an intense workout after that loss, but they still went on to win the Regional Championship as the Varsity was preparing to do this Friday.

As a result of the loss of football, Master Chief Cole had been discussing offering a 'volunteer' physical training session after school, three days a week for the NJROTC. While about twenty of the thirty members were indeed football players, there were ten more who were not. Of those ten, none worked out regularly except for Sean, who Cole had dragged to football practices and set him to work as an equipment manager after he'd joined the team (sans gear) during the calisthenics portion of practice. We did some minor work out as a group in the morning, but he wanted more.

That Friday, the big game happened, and we crushed our challengers, once again Oakdale High. Brian and I counted for eight sacks, a damn good number considering we were on Varsity. The final score was 6-0, and nearly every play seemed like it was the most important play of the game.

At the beginning of the season, the Varsity team, most of whom had known Jay, the anti-gay senior from the year before, had been lukewarm to Brian and I joining them. The showers had been somewhat uncomfortable for a few weeks, but once the first game happened, we were just members of the team. Certainly we didn't form any close friendships on the team, but most of our friends who were now on J.V. were our good friends anyway. Next year, we'd be juniors and all of our closest friends would end up on Varsity with us as slots on the team opened up from the graduating seniors. Certainly the closest of them: Brandon, Trevor, and Reynolds would be there.

After the game, Brian and I celebrated in the locker room with the team, and we packed our gear carefully into the storage lockers. We were supposed to leave our game uniforms there, so the coaches could send them out for cleaning and shelve them until next year, but we took ours home and ran up into the barn. Seeing each other create havoc during the game had gotten our blood boiling, and we weren't done hitting, this time on each other.

Coach Mueller smiled sickly when we brought clean, laundered uniforms back on Monday. Our pads and other gear we'd bought ourselves, getting very expensive sets that fit our bodies perfectly. We were both pretty damn certain we'd be getting the same numbers next year.

Thanksgiving dinner was...interesting. The guy Mom brought, Jeff Jarvis, was about her age, with light-brown hair and a crooked smile. He was a 'cowboy' or liked to think of himself that way, and was as polite as he could be. We didn't talk alone, or just 'man-to-man', but from what the Secret Service had dug up on him, nothing beyond speeding and parking tickets, I was open-minded enough to give him a chance before I decked him.

The day after Thanksgiving, our Secret Service agents drove Brian and me up to San Francisco. It had been nearly two months since we'd visited Dr. Grayson's patients and he'd been glad to hear us call. We were to stay overnight in a hotel this time, instead of heading right home, and he was going to take us to some dinner party he'd been invited to. He hinted we'd be very surprised when we got to the hospital, and he was very, very right.

"What the hell happened here?" I asked as we came to a stop near the nurse's station. The wing that was used for AIDS patients was still painted warmly and had a friendly feel to it, but where there had been one nurse's station, there was now two, and a new sign hung on the hallway saying "Oncology Ward" pointing off to the right.

"We only have half the number of patients we use to have here." Charla, the head nurse said with a broad smile. "You boys have been letting yourself fall behind. Doc Grayson should be along shortly, he's actually reopening his private practice instead of spending every hour of the day here."

"Have things gotten that good?" Brian asked with some surprise.

"Not necessarily, but they are getting better every day." Doctor Grayson's voice said from behind us and we turned, both smiling to shake his hands. "It's good to see you boys."

"It's good to see you too, Doc." I said.

"Well, to answer Brian's question, we're still seeing about the same number of new cases, but they're not continuing to grow like they were." Grayson said in that quick, clipped manner that we'd come to expect from him. "The new drugs are really working, and we're only seeing patients here that wait too long to come in, and require in-hospital treatment. About half of them are surviving to go back to their lives. Most of those who aren't going to make it, or who the drugs aren't working for are choosing to use one of the new hospices that have opened up. They're choosing to die in a setting other than that of a hospital, and they're getting more visitors than we've seen in the past. How about I introduce you to some of those here?"

"Sure, doc." Brian said as we took in what he was saying.

The 'dinner' that night was a fund-raiser for AIDS research and was just about as exciting as any other that we had gone to in the past. The only good thing was that we got to meet Robin Williams, who proved to be a very funny man in person, just as he was on stage or screen. The party lasted well into the night and we got back to the Hyatt Regency at eleven p.m. Fortunately, the two additional agents who had made the trip had gotten the hotel rooms so all we had to do was put our key into the lock and go inside.

The drive home was nothing special, but when we pulled into the Rush farm's driveway, I spotted a small blue pickup that I was very familiar with. I turned to the agents and gave them a death glare, but they just shrugged, muttering he wasn't armed and wasn't a security threat. They did however escort me inside, where I saw my dad sitting at the kitchen table and talking to Dyadya. He stood up when he heard us come in, smiled at me, or tried to, ignored Brian and barely glanced at Chris and Jeanie, the agents that had followed us inside.

"Hi, son." He said to me after a moment's silence between us. I was taller than him now, and much more in-shape. His gut was smaller than the last time I'd seen him, but it still hung over his belt. He was dressed in jeans and one of those colorful 'western' style shirts that I hated and he now wore a full beard that was just starting to get streaks of gray in it.

"Hello, Father." I said formally. "I'm surprised to see you here."

"I...I thought that maybe we could talk." He said slowly, with a little uncertainty tingeing his voice. I thought about it, I could just kick him out, but I saw the look on Dyadya's face and let out a sigh.

"Brian, if you don't mind..." I said to my boyfriend who just shook his head, giving me a reassuring smile.

"Go talk to him." Brian said softly and I sighed before looking back at my dad.

"Let's go for a walk." I told him, and led the way outside. He had to hurry to catch up, and I set a course down towards the cherry orchard.

"Who was that guy and girl you came in with?" Dad asked me as we walked, obviously trying to find a starting point.

"They are two agents of the United States Secret Service." I answered sarcastically. "They're there because some good god-fearing Christians want to kill me. I'm just lucky I've got a friend who decided to not let them succeed."

"That's uncalled for." Dad said sharply. "Not all Christians want to kill homosexuals and you know that. A lot of us want to help them..."

"I've seen what you pass off as help, old man." I said sharply. "Teaching kids to hate what they are, to hate the way God made them and strive to be different just to make the preacher happy, isn't my idea of help. It's torture, any way you dress it up with fancy, nice-sounding terms. If this is what you came to talk about, leave now before you really piss me off."

" isn't what I wanted to talk about." Dad said softly, a trace of defensiveness clear in his voice. "I wanted to see if... if maybe we could reach some point of reconciliation between us. Your grandma, your Aunt Bev, your cousin Bryan all miss you and I do to. We'd like to see you once in a while."

"Dad, you're the one who drove a wedge between us the size of the Grand Canyon, and I've only gotten more stubborn since that 'discussion' with your pastor and Mary Lou present." I warned him. "If you haven't noticed, Dad, I'm living a pretty damn good life right now and I don't know why I should let the negative crap you've always seemed to bring over the last year back into my life."

"You're living in sin, son, and the devil's going to reward you for that." He said sternly and I just shook my head as we reached the edge of the grove. I stopped there and stared at him for several long minutes.

"Maybe you're the one who is wrong, Dad." I said firmly. "Maybe I'm being rewarded by God for doing good things. You can believe what you want to believe, Dad, but I know I'm doing good with my life and that's what is important to me."

"You have no idea how sad I am to hear you say that, son." He said and as he moved his arm out to put it on my shoulder, I felt an instinctive desire to reach into my pocket and push my panic button. Nothing happened when he put his hand on my shoulder though, except I felt dirty.

"Davey, I'm sorry son, but if you won't change your ways your little world you've built around yourself is going to come crashing down." He said in a low voice, full of warning but no direct malice. "God has declared a holy war for all Christians in this country, and where you are now, you are his enemy. I want you to know though, when you change your mind we will still welcome you with open arms and give you the help you need."

"Leave now, father." I said sternly, shaking his hand off of my shoulder with a glare. He just looked at me sadly and turned to head back to his truck. When he was gone, I returned to the house and walked inside. Brian was still standing near the entrance, looking worried and he winced when he saw the anger on my face. Thomas Castillo had shown up while I was talking to Dad and he looked concerned as well.

"Mr. Castillo, I think maybe a few of your people should go to some churches tomorrow." I told him in a tightly controlled voice. "Dad was quite clear that something was going on and you're better able to assess how dangerous it might be for me.

"I'll do that." He said softly. "Do you want to have him stopped if he comes here again?"

"No, he's not going to attack me or anything." I said softly but firmly. Brian just wrapped me in a hug and took me up to my room. It looked like although I had a lot to be thankful for, rough times weren't too far away.


As with all my stories, E provides immeasurable input, grammar checking, and all those other lovely editing thingies that make the story so much better!

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