The Guardians

By Rilbur

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You're all probably familiar with the standard drill: this story may contain sexual scenes -- including same-sex encounters -- rape scenes, cross-generation themes, abuse, and other nastiness. If reading such is illegal in your area, please do not continue. If you are under eighteen, please do not continue. This writing is copyrighted to the author and unauthorized reproduction is illegal. Readers are authorized to download and store the page for reading purposes. Readers are authorized to print one copy of this story for reading purposes. Any distribution of those copies is prohibited. Reproduction of this text for any purpose is strictly prohibited.

Legal stuff aside, this is not a standard Nifty story: sex is there, and it's a major element of the plot, but only insofar as sex is a major issue in life. And the sex scenes, in general, won't be in any sense 'detailed'. This story isn't intended to get your rocks off, but to be an enjoyable read in its own right, much as any published work might be. (In fact, you can find hardcopies on sale via Lulu, and E-Book versions are also available at )

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Chapter Twelve

They'd gathered together in an impromptu conference in a room apparently set aside for such things. "Mary is already on her way here, gentlemen," Lara announced. She'd changed into skin-tight leather that creaked slightly as she moved, but left her with complete freedom of movement and the ability to freeze a (straight) man in his tracks in a glance. "We've done our best to prepare, but this operation is going to be a hip-shot whether we like it or not."

"Gee, don't sound so happy Lara," Barney complained. "As powerful as we are, do you really think they can stop us?"

"No, I don't. But I am concerned for all the children who are stuck in the building. For all the women who live there. For the harm that might come to them if we screw up!" Barney shrank back and nodded, acknowledging the reprimand. "Alright, you aren't half as well prepared as I'd like, but we don't really have much of a choice. Everyone else has other jobs, and we just can't pull most of them out. You guys don't know it, Eric's death has our entire group in an uproar, and most of us are busy cleaning up messes that Eric was keeping stable, so we don't have a lot of backup available."

"Wait, what messes?" Jason asked.

"Well, the two that concern you right now is a whorehouse that forces unwilling women to sell their bodies, and a young man recovering from rape trauma on top of being tossed out of his home for being gay," Lara answered sharply.

"Hey!" Jason complained.

"Jason, most of what we do is need-to-know only, and it's need-to-know only for a reason. Generally confidentiality, it's not fair to a person if we let half the city know he was contemplating suicide or was nearly raped in the park because she was a little too drunk. Simply put, a lot of the projects Eric was working on fell apart, and dealing with them is almost as high a priority as finding who killed him."

"I didn't realize he was involved in that much!" Jason whispered, surprised at just how much Lara implied Eric had been doing.

"He juggled more projects than any ten other Guardians, and I still don't know how he did it," Lara admitted ruefully. "Thankfully, most of them aren't emergency things, they were the long-term 'adjustments' he specialized in, but enough of them are to keep us busy. We've got to keep a suicide watch on at least fifty people spread across half the city, and we only have about thirty Guardians, total."

"Suicide watch?" Jason's eyes bugged out.

"They were people like you after your parents kicked you out, Jason, people without hope. Eric gave them help, and gave them hope. But after he died... a lot of them blame themselves for not being there, or are just depressed enough without having him killed, or think of him as being their only hope for happiness," Lara explained sadly. "Without him, any of those situations could blow up at any moment. And other things are blowing up with monotonous regularity. People he was teaching no longer have a teacher, people he was helping are falling as they look for the support that's no longer there. One boy was getting ready to tell his parents about why he had refused to go to his uncle's for the summer, but now we might have to step in directly to deal with the child-raping bastard." Lara shook her head sadly, "And that is just a sample of what Eric was doing. He was the best of us, and now he's gone."

"Hey, wait a second!" Paul protested. "Did I just hear you right, or were you complaining about hitting a rapist?"

"Jason," Lara asked, "can you field that one?"

"I wish I couldn't," Jason said softly as he stood. "It's in the name, guys. We're Guardians, we protect. Ronan doesn't even like the idea of vigilante justice, and he has good reasons for that. What is good, what is right, what is wrong and what is evil? Ask a dozen people, get a dozen answers."

Paul and Barney looked about ready to protest, but Sam and Tommy quieted them with a touch of the arm and a shaken head.

"Hear me out," Jason begged as this byplay occurred. "Law and order is upheld by the police and the courts, to laws set by the consensus of the people as represented by the legislature." Jason shook his head sadly as he followed the logic Ronan had spelled out. "If we act against that law, we have no justification to insist others follow it. Good and evil, right and wrong, they are both debatable, framed by beliefs and opinions. We have no absolute justification for insisting our framework is better than another's. We believe it to be so, but we have no right to enforce that belief. So we must act within the law."

Jason's voice was stronger even as his tone dropped, voice displaying oratory skills few knew he had. "But we hold great power, power the legislature would surely include into the laws if they but knew we existed. We cannot share that knowledge for obvious reasons, yet we are obligated to use our powers!" Jason leaned forward, hands spread on the table as he looked at Paul and Barney. Tommy already knew this, and Sam and Lara were both Guardians and had had the mantra ingrained in their very bones. "We cannot act outside the law without removing it from the equation, good and evil are not agreed-upon absolutes, and thus we need a new mandate, a new guideline. Above all else, our duty is this:"

Jason, Lara, Sam, and Tommy thundered as one: "Guardians protect!"

Jason let his gaze face squarely his brother's until Paul looked away. "We act as individuals only from within the law, but within that framework in any manner we desire. We act as Guardians only to protect, not to right wrongs or judge the guilty. We cannot strike down a murderer unless we know he will kill again -- not suspect, but know. Within that limit we may act freely, we can probe his mind and know his every secret, but we may not act against him."

"When we know harm is to befall another person, we act as needed to prevent that harm. Regardless of our opinion of that person! If a child rapist were about to be lynched, it is our responsibility to protect him as surely as if he were an innocent man. Our mandate is not to judge," Jason cut of Barney's protest with an upraised hand, "but to protect!"

"It makes my stomach churn just as surely as it must make yours," Jason told them softly, "but Ronan, Lara, and others have spent years developing these rules, this philosophy. I couldn't poke a hole in it, and believe me I've tried over the last week or so."

"Jason isn't the best philosopher in the world, but he hit the high points quite ably," Lara said into the silence. "If either of you wishes to turn aside, now is the time."

"I... I'm not sure I agree with all of that," Paul said eventually, "but it seems to hold together. God, I wish it didn't, but..." he sat back shaking his head, leaving all eyes on Barney.

"I'm going to need time to parse that, to really get a hold of it," Barney followed quickly, "but for now I will hold to it."

"Good," Lara said into the silence. "Now, let's go ahead and make our plans..."

Jason breathed as calmly as he could as he watched his brother walk into the lion's den, completely unarmed. Letting his eyes drift unfocused, he extended a tendril of focus thought and pushed outward, following his brother with it. The mechanics escaped him, but somehow that tentacle of thought forced his auras to shift, extending along it's length to follow his target. However it worked, while he couldn't see his brother he could still watch over him.

"How long do we wait?" Barney asked, clearly unhappy. Neither of them had thought it out until Lara smacked them over the heads with it, but following Paul too closely was a recipe for failure. Following him to distantly would slow them down, but he probably didn't need the backup anyway. All he had to do was-

Jason blinked as realization hit him. Lara, he called silently, how many armed guards did you say were supposed to be here?

A few, no more than a dozen or so. Why? came back the answer. Wait... Jason could feel her sudden swift scan of the building. Shit, it's a trap! Paul, we've been made!

I know, came back the rock sure answer. A lot of men, with guns, are preparing to cut off my retreat. I don't think they know who they're fucking with. Don't move yet, the kid is in here and I want him!


"Fuck, I hate waiting," Barney swore absentmindedly as the trap closed around Paul.

"Agreed," Jason answered angrily. "Were you listening?"

"To what?" Barney asked.

Paul walked down the corridor, Mary at his side. She was nervous, and it showed, but hopefully that was explained by the strangeness of bringing her john for the night home to her son. Hopefully, anyway. Given the sheer number of men with guns, it probably didn't matter anyway. They'd been made somehow.

Paul kept completely confident and relaxed as he strolled down the hallway, arm linked with Mary's. Until a gentleman slipped around a corner and tried to slam the butt of a rifle into his face, anyway. That irked him. "Was there a reason for that?" he asked as he tossed the rifle aside.

"On the ground, now!" men shouted as they flooded into the hallway.

"Certainly," Paul said calmly as he followed their orders. The men searched him thoroughly before grabbing him and dragging him to another room. Mary was dragged elsewhere, kicking and screaming.

"Hello," a large man said around a glowing cigar, thick accent declaring his Russian origin. "Excuse the warm welcome, but I could take no chances."

"I can certainly understand not taking chances," Paul answered cheerfully as he sat down in the offered chair. "I trust Mary -- the woman who brought me here -- is going to be alright?"

"She's with her child. So long as you behave, neither will be harmed," the man assured Paul. "So, tell me, FBI? NSA?"

"Excuse me?" Paul asked.

"I was wondering who you worked for," the man answered around a puff of smoke. Taking a large drag on his cigar, he continued, "I know you don't work for cops, which leaves us short on options."

"I don't work for any government agency," Paul answered.

"Oh really, you expect me to believe you just walked in here on your own planning to... planning to do what, exactly?" the man asked. "Now, there are a few other groups you might belong to, but you're the wrong color for some, and dressed wrong for the others."

"Wrong color?" Paul asked, confused. "Wrong dress?" In an intuitive flash, Paul remembered the clothes Lara had been wearing earlier. "Do you by any chance refer to skin-tight black leather?"

The man froze, the smoke coming from his mouth reducing to a small, ongoing curl as even his breath stopped.

"It's a rather... conspicuous mode of dress for a 'covert' operation," Paul bluffed with a smile.

"Dammit, I told him this was a bad idea," the man muttered to himself. "Peabody, Williams, get the girl and her brat and get them here now, unharmed! Code Blackcoat!"

"Blackcoat?" Paul asked.

"An appropriate name for your group, you must admit," the man commented.

Paul's tongue seemed to stick to the roof of his mouth for a bare instant, body fighting as he tried to speak. For an eternal instant he hung poised before asking, "Why not use our name?"

The man sitting across from him paused for a bare second. "Your group goes to great efforts to be covert, as well you know. Or should, if you were who you claimed to be," he commented neutrally.

Paul decided the truth worked well. "I'm something of a... trainee. I only barely know that skin-tight black leather seems to be something of a uniform."

"A trainee. They sent a trainee," the man asked flatly. Paul stared him down, feeling almost sick to his stomach. He was in way over his head, and it wasn't like he could just whip out his cell and call Lara up!

He tried to remember how to think at her, but for the life of him he couldn't cut through the dry mouth, sweating palms, and nervous energy of raw fear to remember how to start a mental conversation. Respond, yes, start, no.

"If you're a trainee, I'm going to assume you have some way of contacting your... handler? Trainer?" the man asked eventually.

"There are ways, but..." Paul started before trailing off..

"But what?" the man asked angrily.

"But." Paul said flatly.

"I could make you talk," the man threatened, but Paul sensed something laying behind the words. He knew better than to try.

"Paul!" Mary exclaimed as she was brought into the room. Both she and a beautiful, blue-eyed boy no older than five were being 'guarded' by men with pistols to their heads. The boy just trembled in the arms of the man holding him, who looked rather... upset at this particular turn of events himself.

"Don't worry Mary, these gentlemen will be letting you go shortly, as a sign of good faith to further these... unexpected negotiations," Paul said imperially, staring into the eyes of the man the man he'd been talking to.

A rather long moment later the man gave orders in a foreign language, and his flunkies nodded sharply before leaving the room. Mary clutched her son tightly in relief as she took a nearby chair. "I'd like a gesture of good faith in return," the man asked.

"My name is Paul, and yours?" Paul asked.

"I am Konstantin Saratov, and I for my sins have been placed in charge of this location," Konstantin said grandly. "Now, about that return gesture?" he asked.

"What type of gesture would you be looking for?" Paul asked. Events were not going anything like they'd expected them to... not that they'd really talked much about what they'd expected. They'd been in too much of a hurry to get this off the ground to do enough talking.

"Your group has much resources, yes?" Konstantin's accent grew thicker as he shifted forward in his chair, mind clearly drifting.

"What are you after?" Paul asked bluntly.

"I, and most of my..." Konstantin struggled for a moment before continuing, "employees had no desire to be involved in this business. We were ordered to do so by men whom you do not seek to cross if you desire to remain breathing. Or for your family to..." Konstantin cut himself off and looked away, pained. Paul stared silently at the man, unsure of where he was going. "I have kept many records, records worth my head if my master were to discover them, yes? I would trade these for... protection. Rescue our families. We care not for ourselves, but rescue them. Protect them. For this, we will trade our lives. We will aid you in the recovery, and accept whatever price you choose to levy on us for our acts here and now. Including... if our families are safe, and cared for, our lives are fulfilled. Understand?"

Paul licked his lips. "I'm in over my head," he murmured to himself.

"Da, a trainee would be," Konstantin responded. "Take the woman, go. Come back when you have answer, or with one who can negotiate."

"And the other... women?" Paul asked softly.

"I must answer to my master, I am sorry," Konstantin said softly before looking away. "Go, quickly, before his men discover what has occurred here tonight."

"Jason," Barney asked tentatively.

"Yes?" Jason answered, attention elsewhere.

"What was the Arch like for you?" Barney spoke his question softly, almost reverently.

"The Arch?" Jason asked in surprise.

"Yeah... you guys said what me and Paul went through was unusual, I'm just wondering what a more... normal... exposure would be like?" Barney was almost begging.

"I can't... Barney, I..." Jason hesitated, unsure how to explain it. He hadn't spent a lot of time thinking about it himself. "Barney, I'm not like most Guardians."

"What do you mean?" Barney asked. "And stop avoiding the question!"

"I'm not avoiding the question it's just... I can't answer, I've never been exposed to the Arch!" Jason answered, frustrated.

"What? But how did... I thought..." Barney spluttered before growing angry. "That no good lying son-of-a-!"

"Shut. Up!" Jason growled furiously. "And never refer to Ronan in such a fashion in my presence again!"

"But he put me through that torture for no good-" Barney began.

"Shut up and listen before you judge!" Jason hissed angrily.

"Fine," Barney ground out after a moment.

"I'm not like the others, everyone else has been exposed to the Arch. I'm unique, different, a freak," Jason explained in a cross between anger and sorrow. "I'm different, totally unlike the rest of them in almost every way. My powers... sure, I'm similar, but a lot of what I do is different and they don't understand it."

"So how did you get your powers, then?" Barney asked. "What happened?"

"We don't know. We don't even know exactly when I got them!" Jason laughed a bitter little laugh. "For months now I've had these little flashes of insight, and now that I've had my powers fully 'unlocked', they've gotten around to telling me that those flashes are somehow magical in nature."

Barney stared for a few moments. "But... the things they said..."

"Barney, I'm a once-off. They have no clue how I came to be like this, and haven't really had time to think it through," Jason told him. "Maybe one day they'll figure things out, but for now Paul is leaving the building with Mary and her son in tow."

Barney blinked at the non sequitur before looking over the edge of the roof. "I don't see anyone."

"He'll be walking out the door in a minute," Jason told him.

"How can you tell?" Barney asked crossly. "I can't see a-" Barney cut off and Jason smothered a smile. Heeeeeeeere's Paully!

"Come on, we need to get moving," Jason ordered as he edged away from their lookout post. Covering Paul the rest of the way wasn't going to be as much fun as dealing with the rapist bastards down there, but Paul hadn't called for them to open up, so...

Lara, Paul is out and clear, Jason sent.

I noticed, and the building is swarming like someone kicked over their beehive, Lara answered. This should be an interesting story!

They got back to Ashley's safe, sound, and without any interference. "I've prepared a bedroom for the little one, if you want you've got the guest room right next to his," Ashley told Mary. "Or if you prefer to keep him closer, the bed in yours is a double. That way he won't wake up in the middle of the night to go looking for you."

"Thank you," Mary said with a tired smile. "If you'll show me the way, I think I'll go with the second option. We've been sleeping in the same room long enough that Danny probably will go looking for me if he wakes up."

"I thought they kept you apart?" Paul asked softly.

"Only if I didn't bring enough cash in. I was very careful to bring in as much as I could," Mary answered. "I'm tired, that bed you offered is sounding better by the second."

"Here, let me..." Ashley offered, reaching for the boy.

"No," Mary said sharply, twisting him out of reach.

"Mom?" the boy mumbled softly, lifting his head.

"Shh, go back to sleep honey," she said gently smiling at him.

"Okay," he answered, dropping his head back to her shoulder.

"I understand," Ashley said softly. "I'll show you to the room," she smiled as she lead Mary off. Jason and Paul smiled at the retreating pair as Tommy gestured for the rest of the group to follow him.

"OK Paul. now that we're a little bit safer, care to go over what happened?" Lara asked.

"Yeah, sure," Paul answered, a trifle distracted. "Give me a moment to get my thoughts in order."

"We don't have all night, but I suppose a minute or two wouldn't be too out of order," Ronan said as he walked in.

"Ronan!" Jason exclaimed, bounding out of his chair in excitement. "How are you doing?"

"I will be much happier when my powers are restored, but for the moment I will be fine," Ronan answered with a smile as he crossed the room to stand near Jason.

"What are you smiling at?" Jason asked Lara.

"Nothing!" she, Tommy, and Paul all answered together. Ronan and Jason shared a glance as they sat down next to each other.

"So, do I need to give you a second minute, or are you prepared to discuss tonight's events?" Ronan asked.

Paul took a deep, calming breath, then started running through what happened.

"They're familiar with our uniforms?" Ronan choked out.

"Um, well, yeah," Paul answered. "That's what it looks like."

"OK, stupid question time, but what do you mean by 'uniforms', Paul?" Ronan asked with deliberate evenness.

"The whole skin-tight black leather thing," Paul pointed at Lara and then Sam for an example.

"Not uniform," Lara laughed, "armor!"

"Armor?" Barney asked, confused. Sam drew a hidden knife and tossed it to Barney.

"Demonstration time," Sam explained. "You already know the basics of accessing your will, right?" he asked.

"Yeah..." Barney answered, looking at the knife with confusion in his eyes.

"Take your will, and run it through the blade. Feel it's edge, feel the blade, feel the hilt," Sam instructed. Tommy passed a similar blade to Jason, and Jason followed the instructions. After a few moments of fumbling to work out the differences between soulless knife and his ensouled blade, his will slipped into the knife.

It was exhilarating! He could feel the weapon in his hand, the striations in the metal, the burs in the sharpened end, the flaws in the wrapping around the hilt. And even as he felt them, he fixed those flaws. The edge grew smoother, sharper, the slight flaws in the metal of the blade worked themselves out. In mere moments the blade had changed, and while it would never be as good out of his hands as in it, Jason felt that many of these changes would last even if he withdrew his powers.

Sam's voice changed tone, and while Jason couldn't really hear the words he answered them and rose up out of the trance-like state he'd drifted into. "Now do you understand?" Sam asked with a slight smile. "You've done it with a weapon, but the exact same thing can be done with other things, like clothing. And of available materials, leather works really well for these things."

"Jericho thinks leather works the best because it used to be part of a living creature, as skin, but the rest of us don't worry to much about the whys and just use it," Lara added.

"I thought you guys were secret, so how did they know-" Jason broke off as he turned to face Ronan and realized he wasn't there.

"He had to make a phone call. And yes, we go to great lengths to keep secret, so them knowing about our 'uniform' is most disturbing," Lara answered.

"OK, so how did they find out?"" Paul asked.

"That," Lara commented sharply, "is the question of the hour."

"He's agreed to meet," Ronan told Lara as he walked back into the room. "But he wants Jason along."

"What?" Lara asked, nonplussed.

"It seems that Jason has impressed several of the cops Jin works with, and he'd like to meet our new protege," Ronan commented wryly.

"The better to steal you, my dear?" Lara quipped.

"He promised no poaching," Roan shook his head. "Before I could even ask!"

"How much could his word be worth, after that... that..." Lara broke off and took a deep breath.

"He didn't actually break his word, Lara," Ronan argued calmly. "After it was clear the split had occurred, whether we wanted to admit it or not, I released him and the others."

"They should have-" Lara started to counter.

"They may have obeyed, they may have stuck around, but in their hearts they were no longer ours," Ronan told her. "It was a travesty to keep them as long as we did, and it would have been a worse travesty to try and strip them of their powers." The oh-so-slight emphasis on the word try caused Lara to flinch as if she'd been slapped.

"Excuse me, but would someone care to explain this argument for the unenlightened?" Paul broke in.

"No!" Ronan and Lara snapped in stereo.

"I need to get home," Ronan said after a minute. "The rest of you should stay here tonight, Mary and the kids may want to see you."

"They're still there, aren't they?" Paul said.

"Who's still where?" Jason asked.

"You don't want to know before you have too," Lara answered angrily.

"He has a right to know," Ronan growled.

"Bastards," Lara mumbled to herself. "You can tell him if you want, I..." Lara stalked out of the room, shaking her head.

"Shortly after Lara left this afternoon, a group of people began gathering in front of the gym," Ronan told Jason. "As the crowd grew, they started pulling out signs and turned the gathering into a demonstration."

"A demonstration over what?" Jason asked, feeling chilled by where this seemed to be heading.

"You sure you want to know?" Ronan asked gently.

"I don't think I've got much of a choice but to find out, eventually," Jason said. "Hit me with it."

"They feel that your getting out on bail is an 'unholy perversion of God's Justice', and that's a quote by the way," Ronan said sadly.

Jason's eyes narrowed, "It's what?" he hissed angrily.

"You should mention the other half of the 'message'," Paul added angrily. "And just tell him who the bastards are. That'd kinda answer everything from the start."

"I was working my way there," Ronan explained, just a touch defensively.

"No, you were avoiding the topic as best as you possibly can," Paul disagreed. "But I'll leave you to it," Paul stalked out of the room.

"Excuse me," Tommy said as he darted out after him.

"What crawled up his butt?" Jason asked surprised.

"The demonstration was most upsetting," Ronan said, "and your brother took umbrage to their message on your behalf."

"That bit about the bail is hardly enough to make him react like that!" Jason protested. "So, what are you holding back?"

"The other 'half' of the message," Ronan grumbled, looking away. "Paul was right, I'm trying to avoid the subject."

"It can't be that bad!" Jason protested.

"They wish to make sure... they..." Ronan broke off with a growl of frustration and angrily paced around the room.

"I've seen you tackle difficult subjects before, Ronan, what's so hard now?" Jason asked, concerned.

"I have no choice but to allow it, but it is an insult to my honor and Eric's memory!"

"Allow what?" Jason insisted as Tommy wandered back in. "Hey Tommy."

Ronan stalked to the liquor cabinet in the corner of the room and stared at it's contents longingly for a fee moments. "What I would do for a drink, just one drink," he muttered.

"So pour one for yourself," Tommy told him.

"I can't," Ronan answered sadly.

"Oh come on, it's not that hard!" Tommy protested. "Here, let me show you how it's done. Brandy or whiskey?" Tommy elbowed Ronan aside and opened up the cabinet.

"I don't... please..." Ronan mumbled, staggering back with longing in his face. "Please, don't tempt me further," he begged.

"Tempt?" Tommy asked in confusion.

"Tommy," Jason growled, "I'm going to assume you didn't know, because otherwise I would kick your ass into next week. You just offered a drink to an alcoholic."

"I... what?" Tommy's gaze flickered between Ronan and Jason for a few moments before understanding flooded his face. "Oh shit, you're joking!" he protested. "Ronan, a drunkard? No way he's a lush!"

Jason didn't remember moving, but Tommy was pressed up against the wall, face pale in fear as Jason stood inches away. Jason didn't raise a hand or mutter a word, his speed and closeness alone were threat enough. Especially coupled with his glare.

"Say it with me, 'alcoholic', not 'lush' or drunkard," Jason ordered. "Alcoholic."

Tommy nodded convulsively, and Jason snarled out, "Say it! Alcoholic!"

"Alcoholic!" Tommy whimpered as Ronan's hand fell on Jason's shoulder.

"Enough!" Ronan commanded. "There is no point in threatening him!"

"But he-" Jason protested.

"Enough," Ronan repeated harshly. "The terms, though hardly endearing, are accurate enough. I am a drunkard, a lush, when I get alcohol into my system. One more is never enough for me."

"But-" Jason began.

"But nothing," Ronan said firmly. "Now I believe we were talking about the demonstration outside the gym."

"Those bastards, even for the RECC that's brazen," Tommy commented angrily, even as he sidled away from Jason.

"The who?" Jason screeched. "Ronan, is he serious?"

"I guess now it's obvious why I was slowly working my way into the subject," Ronan commented wryly.

"Shit, I'm sorry I thought-" Tommy began to apologize.

"Nothing to apologize for," Ronan interrupted.

"By RECC, we're talking about the Reformed Evangelical Church of Christ, right?" Jason checked.

"Yes," Ronan said sadly. "I take it you know of them?"

"They're only in the news every other week or so," Jason agreed. "Bastards."

"I'm going to assume you can figure out the rest of their message yourself," Ronan sighed.

"Yeah, trash of one form or another. What particular version of 'all fags go to hell' are they using this time?" Jason asked bitterly.

"They feel that Eric died because the two of you had a fight over some sexual perversion you were leading him into, and that you then attacked all the innocent bystanders who were witnesses to murder in an effort to cover up your crime," Ronan said, mouth twisting in disgust.

"God, what will they try next?" Jason complained. "Alright, I'm going to bed, I don't know if I can take much more of this complete and utter GOD DAMNED-FUCKING CRAP!" Jason's tone started out completely level and even, but the ending clause more than made up for it as his shout rattled the entire house.

"What the hell is going on?" Ashley demanded as she ran in moments later. "There are children in this house, and they are supposed to be sleeping!"

"Jason just discovered that the RECC is picketing the gym," Tommy took her by the shoulders and began to lead her out, "and he's understandably upset."

Jason panted in the middle of the room, desperately trying to control the sudden surge of pure rage that was coursing through his body.

"You OK?" Ronan asked gently.

"No," Jason forced out before collapsing into tears.

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