Standard Disclaimer:

This is not a standard Nifty story: there may be sex in this story, but only insofar as it shows up in real life, and I'm goign to try and take a closed-door approach to it. This is not a porno story, it's intended as a serious novel. That said, I still need to provide certain disclaimer's if I'm going to post on Nifty:

You're all probably familiar with the standard drill: this story may contain sexually charged scenes including same-gender pairings, abuse, incest, rape, and more. If reading such is illegal in your area, please do not continue.

I have my own website, and am also hosted at other sites, including and Redemption, and Guardians before it, are not my only stories! If you drop by my website, it tends to be the most comprehensive source of stories for your reading pleasure, but you will occasionally discover stories that haven't reached it -- such as Unexpected Reactions at

Remember, please, that e-mail is an author's only payment -- please do pay! My address is, and I look forward to hearing from you. I respond to all e-mail recieved.

The dark creature glanced around, unwilling to be seen so early in the game. It had it's duties to do, and being seen was not one of them. Not yet.

Hands that had once been human reached out and slipped open the window, a slight trickle of dark power unlatching the lock and countering the alarms. Slipping through, the creature drifted on light feet to the sleeping man's bed and leaned over. Mouth over the man's ear, it began to whisper dark secrets and evil words, the beginning of a spell that would destroy a child who might threaten the Master's plans.

"Kids, I'm back!" Da called from the door. "Groceries!"

Sighing, Jer paused the game and gestured 'you first' to Billy. Billy led the way out to the front door where they both stopped cold. "Ah come on!" Billy complained before running to the open car door. Jer followed, swiftly grabbing a bunch of bags without checking what was inside before running back in to get out of the rain.

The three of them working together quickly cleared the car of the grocery load, and Jer and Billy wordlessly started putting stuff away as Da checked the recipe book again. Jer idled over and took a glance at the recipe, and starting whooping and hollering.

"What is it?" Billy asked.

"Mac and cheese! The good kind!" Jer exclaimed at the top of his voice before resuming his celebration.

"Oh, yum!" Billy agreed, and joined in the impromptu victory dance.

"Kids, get the groceries away!" Da snapped with a grin, waited a second, then added "Tonight, you guys get to make it." Shaking his head at their whoops of joy, he put his head back down into the book and continued to copy out the ingredient list to a scratch sheet of paper. Jer darted out to turn off the console and TV, then he and Billy shifted to the business of putting the groceries away. At a warning glance from Da, Jer dragged Billy over to the sink to wash their hands before making dinner.

Jer quickly skipped ahead and placed a pot of water on the stove with the heat set to high. Da shook his head and sighed exaggeratedly, "Forget the salt, Jer?"

"Doh!" Jer exclaimed, and quickly added a palm-full of the substance.

"Good, now we can let that come to a boil before we add the macaroni in it. Billy, get a half cup of milk, two tablespoons of flour, and a teaspoon of salt and mix them in the gravy shaker," Da ordered, tossing the device in question to him. None of them knew the 'correct' name for the device, it was just 'the gravy shaker'. It was a plastic 'glass' capable of holding a few cups of liquid, with a raised-top lid and a little wheel thingey that went between the lid and the cup. Shake things in it, and the wheel thingey would stir the contents to an even mixture -- just like a wire whisk might, but a lot more fun to use!

"Jer, I see you're already getting the macaroni out, measure out 16 ounces please," Da ordered, as he watched Billy carefully measure the ingredients he'd been ordered to mix. Jer rattled around in a couple of cupboards before Da finally sighed and walked over to show him where the measuring scale was.

"Got the milk done yet, Billy?" Da asked as Jer carefully measured out the 16 ounces.

"Just about, Mr. Young!" Billy answered as Jer motioned for Da to check the amount.

"Looks good, now we wait for the pot to boil," Da told him before he went and checked with Billy again. "Okay, I think that's stirred enough, Billy," he smiled down. "Now, put a pot on the stove and add another 3 cups of milk to it."

"Already done!" Jer grinned as he placed the pot on the stove and turned on the heat.

"I see a certain someone read my list ahead of me..." Da growled with a grin.

"Ayup!" Jer grinned back as Billy dumped his mixture into the pot and used a nearby spoon to start stirring.

"Okay, Billy keep stirring that milk so it doesn't scald, call me if you think it's hot enough," Da ordered. "Jer, start shredding!"

Jer grabbed the cheese shredder and the block of sharp cheddar and started working away to get the 3 cups he needed. Da kept a watchful eye on both of them until Billy called him over.

"That's about right," Da commented as he shook the hot milk from his finger. "Turn it off and set the timer for 10 minutes," he told Billy. "Jer, your water is boiling!"

Jer grabbed the macaroni he'd measured earlier and dumped it into the water before returning to the task of shredding cheese, a task he was now assisted in by Billy. They soon had the needed cheese assembled, though the constant interruptions of going to stir their respective pots slowed them down somewhat.

"Okay, long enough," Da said as he canceled the timer. "Jer, start adding the cheese to the sauce, slowly this time."

Jer carefully took a handful of cheese and shook it out into the pot, stirring constantly. Da nodded and encouraged him, "Not quite that slow, but pretty good Jer-Jer."

Jer grinned at the endearment as he grabbed another handful to dump in once the current one had finished melting. At this point, it still didn't take long to melt, though as he got more and more cheese in it would take longer and longer to finish.

"Mr. Young, is it time to check the macaroni yet?" Billy asked eagerly.

"Sure, Billy, pull one out and try it," Da laughed. "Don't think it's gonna be done yet, but it's always a good idea to check early."

"Cool!" Billy said as he carefully used the stirring spoon to pull a noodle out of the hot liquid. "Bleh, not done!" he complained.

"Yeah, well, you asked!" Da teased him. "Go shred some extra cheese to sprinkle on the top, I'll stir for a while," he told Billy.

"Okay!" Billy grinned. Reaching over, he grabbed a few handful's of Jer's rapidly diminishing cheese supply and dumped it on a plate.

"Hey doofus!" Jer complained, "that's my cheese!"

"Not anymore, go shred your own!" Billy jibed.

"I already did, give it back!" Jer countered.

Da, meanwhile, grabbed a plate he'd hidden earlier and switched it for the plate Billy was no longer watching. Reaching around, he handed Jer back his cheese, even as he complimented Billy, "Wow, you shredded that extra cheese pretty fast!"

"Huh?" Billy blinked, nonplussed, before turning and seeing the extra plate. "How did-" he began, before whirling to face Da. "Mr. Young!" he complained.

"What?" Da was not very good at looking innocent, and his effort left the duo in tears as they laughed uproariously. "Hey, what's so funny?" Da asked in a dumb tone.

"You!" Billy and Jer told him.

"Jinx!" Jer called first.

"Ah man!" Billy laughed.

"Da, the sauce is ready!" Jer announced proudly.

"Alright, set it aside for a moment then, and come check the macaroni," Da ordered. Swiftly drawing three noodles out of the pot, he gave one to each of the boys and kept the third for himself. "What do you guys think?"

"Just about right," Billy decided.

"Maybe a little under-done," Jer countered quickly.

"Well, make a decision you two," Da told them. "The water's still boiling!"

"Jer's right, it's a little under-done," Billy conceded.

"Boo-yah!" Jer exclaimed.

Da smiled and shook his head, "You two comedians crack me up, you know that, right?" They grinned at him evilly in response. "Alright then, Jer get the strainer set out, and Billy get the casserole dish."

They quickly obeyed as Da reached up to the high shelves and grabbed the prepared back of cracker crumbs left over after the last time they'd made this meal. "Hm, I'm not sure this is gonna be enough crumbs," he complained. "Hey, Billy!" he snapped, "Bigger dish!"

Billy looked at the dish in his hands, the very small dish that couldn't possibly fit a quarter of what they'd made, and blushed. "S-s-sorry Mr. Young!" he apologized as he went back for one the right size.

"Billy, no need to stress about it!" Da told him and shook his head. It was a rather strange mistake, but stupid things happened. "What happened, was your mind on your new guuuurlfriend?"

Billy stumbled and would have dropped the dish if Da hadn't caught him, and it. "Wh-wh-what makes y-y-y-you ask th-that?"

"Well, I'm a parent, and I notice things," Da laughed. "I've also had a dick for the last forty-five years, and I recognize a tent when I see one!"

Billy blushed even redder and dropped his hands to cover the area in question for a moment. Shaking his head and moaning, he turned and ran from the room.

"What the hell was that about?" Da aske, confused.

"No clue," Jer admitted in surprise as he dumped the noodles in the strainer.

"I think I'd better go see if he'll talk," Da decided. "You remember the rest, right?"

"Add the noodles to the sauce, spread both of them into the casserole dish, sprinkle cheese, top with crumbs, and then dot with butter," Jer recited from memory.

"Sounds about right," Da agreed. "But don't you want to add some spam?"

Jer thought about it for a moment and shook his head. "Not tonight, Da. Billy doesn't like it."

"Oh... Forgot that. Oh well. Anyway, here's another pack of saltines, you're going to need to crush some more up for the crumbs," he tossed the saltines to Jer before leaving the room.

"Da, wait, shouldn't I-" Jer began.

Da paused at the door and turned to face his son. "I made this mistake. It's my job to address it, and odds are good it's not something he's gonna want to talk to you about anyway, or he wouldn't have run from the room like that."

"Da," Jer said exasperatedly, "If he doesn't want to talk to me about it, what makes you think he'll talk to you?"

"Nothing," Da admitted. "But I have to try. I made the mistake, it's my responsibility -- my duty -- to see to it."

Jer shook his head and went back to work. Duty and honor were two subjects on which his Da had absolutely no give, and invoking them was the death knell to reasonable discussion on the subject at hand. Jer quickly had the noodles added to the sauce, and spread the resulting mess out over the casserole dish. It was the work of a few moments to spread the shredded cheese over the top, and not much longer to cover it in cracker crumbs. Dotting the top with a quarter of a bar of butter took slightly longer, but he had it ready for the oven in a few short minutes.

Which left him at loose ends and very, very curious. Still, Da would kill him if he tried to sneak around and eavesdrop, but maybe if he was very, very quiet... No, not worth it. The last time he'd tried something like that... Jer shivered. "Some things, you just don't do, Jer!" Da bellowed in his memory before tanning his rear end, and following it up with a month of room grounding.

No, not worth it. However curious he was.

But dammit, what the hell was going on upstairs? He could almost, almost hear them talking, sounded like Da was shouting through some kind of door, and Billy... he couldn't make out Billy's replies at all, except as pauses in Da's conversation. Eventually even that went away, and the slight shiver of the house suggested the door had gotten closed a little harder than it should have been. Then... nothing. An oppressive silence that urged him upstairs, to find the right door and place an ear on it.

Not worth it!

"Gah!" Jer grunted in lieu of a frustrated scream.

Eventually, Da came back, Billy tucked under one of his arms. "Jer, I made a deal with Billy. The events of earlier didn't take place -- understand?"

"What?" Jer asked.

"He didn't grab the wrong dish, I didn't make any remarks about why, and he most definitely didn't leave this room in a huff," Da stated flatly. "And I want your word on that, no talking about it, no bringing it up in conversation, no pressuring him on why. It never happened."

"But Da-" Jer began.

"Your word!" Da bellowed.

"Please Jer?" Billy begged.

Jer dropped his head. "If Billy brings it up?" he asked softly.

"Then, and only then, you can talk about it," Da conceded. "But afterwards, same rules apply, unless Billy asks otherwise."

"Alright, my word," Jer agreed. "Never happened, no dish, no blushing, no tenting, and-"

"Jer!" Billy moaned, struggling to break free of Da's arm, even as Da's other arm came up and slapped Jer.

"That's enough young man!" Da bellowed. "This is a subject on which no games will be played, understand!"

Jer rubbed his cheek and tried to hide his tears. "I was just trying to make sure that I had it right!" he got out without breaking down into tears.

Da took a deep breath, as Billy stopped struggling against the arm holding him close. "Jer-Jer, I'm sorry," he apologized, holding his other arm out. "Billy is... very upset, and I guess it got to me too. I thought you were trying to throw it up in his face one last time before... well, with all the games you two play, I guess it just seemed like you were teasing him again."

"I-" Jer began as he snuggled in under offered arm. "Maybe I was, but that wasn't what I was trying to do."

"It's a habit, I know..." Da muttered. "Derick and I..."

"Who?" Jer asked.

"Never mind that!" Da snapped. A moment latter he added softly, "God, I don't even know why I mentioned it, it's been so long..." He trailed off and looked away, staring at a wall as if seeing something in it.

"The oven is preheated to three-fifty Da, should we put the mac and cheese in?" Jer finally broke the silence.

"Oh, ah," Da stammered for a second. "Yeah, please do. Billy, you want to do it?"

"Sure Mr. Young," Billy answered quietly. This time, when he pulled himself out from the arms of the older man, Da let him go.

"Go back to your games, boys," Da told them. "I'll cook the veggies, carrots okay with you?"

"Sure Da," Jer answered as Billy left the room. "I'm going... I'm not going to talk about what didn't happen, but..." Jer trailed off, unsure of how to say it.

"Go be his friend," Da agreed, pushing him towards the door. "I'll holler if I need you... or if I don't."

"Thank you," Jer said as he left. Finding Billy already starting to sift through the available games, he sat down and watched.

"What?" Billy asked, pausing in his perusal.

"Nothing," Jer said with a small smile. "Just thinking about how much I like you, man."

Billy blushed and quickly went back to his work, while Jer watched on and made the occasional snide comment. Billy, occasionally, would shoot his mouth off in return, but for the most part remained quiet even as they settled in to play the game he'd chosen. Neither of them mentioned the event earlier; neither had to. And though their words were far from the topic, they both understood exactly what the other was saying:

"Yes, you're still my friend."

"Boys! Dinner!" Da hollered from the other room.

"Coming!" Jer shouted back as he turned off the console, mere moments before ignominious defeat could claim him.

"Hey, I was winning, snot-rag!" Billy complained as he sprinted after Jer, controller tossed aside and forgotten.

"Boys!" Da hollered as they ran for the table, pointing at the sink again.

"Daaaaa!" Jer complained, as he obeyed. Sticking his hands under the stream, he got an evil look in his eye as Billy walked up. After soaping and rinsing off, rather than grabbing for a towel he flicked his hands at his best friend, splattering him from head to toe.

"Jer!" Billy shouted in surprise. Laughing, he returned the favor.

"Boys!" Da shouted in an effort to control the situation.

"But Mr. Young, he started it!" Billy complained with a grin.

"And I'm ending it," Da growled. "Grab a towel, and dry yourselves. And the area."

"Yes Da," Jer sighed as he complied, grabbing the towel hanging over the sink. Billy quickly grabbed another towel from the nearby drawer and helped Jer clean up the spilled water, both of them grinning at each other. Jer lead the way to the clothes hamper in the hallway and tossed in his towel, not expecting Billy to take advantage of his turned back to snap the towel at him.

"Ouch!" Jer exclaimed, grabbing hold of his backside as Billy ran away laughing, towel already tossed in the hamper. "I'm going to get you Billy!" Jer shouted as he gave chase.

Da, anticipating the next few moments, was waiting by the door as they ran in and grabbed both of them by the neck. "Now now, boys," he scolded them lightly. "I'm sure you have better things to do than kill each other. Dinner is going to get cold soon, after all!"

The smell of the mac and cheese was permeating the room at this point, and as soon as the smell of it hit their noses, the two boys froze. Da laughed and jokingly told them, "No drooling boys!" as he shoved them at the table.

Dinner, as expected, was delicious. The two boys inhaled it, quickly demolishing enough of the mac and cheese to feed three normal persons each. The carrots received a less hearty response, but food was food and Da's stern instructions held sway. Besides, while they'd never admit it they both liked carrots. Strange, how things like carrots and broccoli oh-so-often ended up on the table over things like peas and corn.

Soon dinner was demolished, and after they'd cleared the table under Da's watchful eye they ran back to their video games to pass some time. Billy carefully didn't mention his parents, and Jer followed suit, though he had to wonder what was going on that they were taking this long to come get him.

Soon the doorbell rang, and before Jer or Billy could react Da shouted that he had it, so they kept playing their games. The voices in the entry way were pitched low as the adults conversed, until...

"You did what?!" Billy's father shouted angrily. "You can not be fucking serious!"

They started and glanced over their shoulders in surprise, then turned back to their game. "We'll find out what that means sure enough, I'm sure," Jer commented.

"Yeah, and it probably won't be good," Billy complained.

"Yeah, well, it's not like-" Jer started.

"What?!" Da shouted in shock.

Jer paused the game and stared at Billy. Da raised his voice often enough, but never like that. He could be angry, surprised, startled, but this was something else. He wasn't raising his voice out of anger, he wasn't shouting in surprise or as a reaction to something unexpected; the tone conveyed sheer disbelief.

The voices were sharper now, louder, but neither of them could actually make anything out. "What the hell is going on out there?" Billy asked in a near-whisper.

"I dunno, but it can't be good!" Jer replied.

"I've never heard your dad sound like that!" Billy said softly.

"Same here," Jer said, slightly afraid. "And I'm not sure I want to know what made it happen..."

"Tell me about it! You aren't the one likely to be on the receiving end of it," Billy responded shakily. "Shit, your Da wouldn't blink an eye if they were going to simply ground me, or even if they wanted to take a belt to my but!"

"Yeah, he'd probably offer to help with that," Jer complained bitterly. "He doesn't do it often, but when he thinks I've earned it..."

"Yeah, I know! I've been there, remember?" Billy pointed out.

"Billy!" Mrs. Edwards shouted, "We're leaving. Get out here, now!"

Billy glanced at Jer and shrugged. "See ya!"

"Alrighty, man," Jer said as he walked Billy to the front door.

"There you are," Mr. Edwards sneered angrily. "Get over here."

Billy walked over to his dad, Mr. Young shifting slightly to be out of his way.

"You idiot!" Mr. Edwards snapped. Jer didn't even see Da move, but when Mr. Edwards moved to slap Billy Da's arm was just there, gripping his arm at the wrist with his hand just inches from Billy's face.

"Not in my house. I've made my feelings clear," Da ordered harshly. "You may do as you like in your own home, within reason, but not in mine. My roof, my rules."

"We've had this discussion before, Jack," Mrs. Edwards scolded her husband. "Just as Jer is under our rules, and protection, at our house, here Billy is under Jeremy's."

Mr. Edwards clenched his jaw and bowed his head. "You're right. I'm..." he struggled for a moment with the words before finishing, "sorry, Jeremy."

"Go," Da ordered flatly, releasing Mr. Edwards' arm with a snapping motion.

"Come, Billy," Mr. Edwards ordered, grabbing him by the arm and dragging him off.

"Later Billy," Jer cried out.

Billy wasn't given a chance to respond as his father dragged him off roughly. Once Mrs. Edwards scuttled clear, Da slammed the door shut with a muted snarl, muttering under his breath.

"Jer, turn the game off and go to your room," he ordered eventually.

Recognizing the imminent signs of an adult temper tantrum, Jer, figuratively speaking, ran like hell for cover. Turning the console and TV off, he hurriedly cleaned up the mess and then quickly headed upstairs while Da paced in the kitchen, slamming each foot down with weighted, metronomic precision. Eight steps, then a quick about face, forming a perfect ten step rhythm, heels pounding on the floor in his anger.

"Holy shit," Jer swore softly. The last time Da had done that...

Was directly before the trial of the drunk driver who had killed his mother. Specifically, the night the drunk driver had 'mysteriously' died, having decided to imbibe ten bottles of whiskey in less than an hour before passing out for reasons the coroner hadn't cared to guess.

At six years old, Jer had been young, not stupid. And when Da had left that night, he'd been carrying the guns that, even now, were locked away, ready to use, in Da's gun safe. He'd never said a word to a single living soul, not even Billy, about his strong guess as to the drunk's reasons for drinking that much after having killed his sixth victim.

Jer heard about it when he watched the news, curled up against Da's side. Or, rather, when he curled up against Da's side while Da watched the news. When asked, Da's only words on the subject had chilled Jer to the bone even then: "The fool killed six others with his drinking, it's only fitting it finally killed him instead."

Swallowing convulsively, Jer got his ass into his room quick as hell and started pacing as well. Thoughts ran around and around his head, drumming to the regular, driving beat of Da's pacing. Da had killed man, in cold blood, for having murdered Mom. Probably put a gun to his head and made him drink those bottles, or sat in a chair nearby with the gun at hand, or any of a dozen other scenarios that Jer could come up with on a seconds notice.

But why was he that angry now? What could Billy's parents have possibly done-

Were they planning to kill Billy?! For a moment Jer froze, bile rising, before he decided that was impossible. Da would have torn them limb from limb if he even thought... Hell, Mrs. Edwards was fiercely protective of her son, she wouldn't stand for it. Mr. Edwards... as ready as he always was with a belt, there wasn't a chance in hell of him actually hurting Billy. So what the fucking hell could be going on?

Jer's thoughts tore around him in a frenzy until the sudden break shook him out of it.

Da wasn't pacing anymore.

And Jer couldn't stand it, couldn't take another moment of not knowing. Taking a deep breath, he walked to his door and place a hand on the knob, and opened the door. "Da!" he called out as he, deliberately noisy, moved towards the stairs.

"I told you to go to your room!" Da snapped from the kitchen.

"I need to talk," Jer shouted back, clunking down the stairs.

"About?" Da asked, snapping the second syllable.

"What has you so angry," Jer told Da as he entered the kitchen.

"That..." Da ground his teeth for a few moments before he could finish. "That is none of your business," carefully speaking each word with great deliberation.

"Da, I'm scared," Jer told him. "That pacing thing..."

"I... don't do it often," Da agreed.

"The last time you did it was the night before... that drunk driver..." Jer couldn't continue, his throat locked on the words. He sat at the table across from where his Da was sitting, glass in hand and filled with a dark red liquid.

"Drunk driv-?" Da began. "Oh. Him." He raised the glass to his lips and sipped, lightly.

"Yeah," Jer answered. "Him."

"What about him?" Da asked.

"The last time you paced... like you were... well, it was the night..." Jer couldn't force himself to say it.

"I... remember," Da told Jer. "It... I was so angry..."

"You killed him," Jer whispered, nearly in tears as he dropped his head.

"What?" Da asked, surprised. "What the hell are you- Oh God..."

"You took your guns, all of them, and... It was the very night that..." Jer stammered.

"Jer, look me in the eyes," Da ordered. Jer stared into the table's surface, unable to raise his voice. "Jeremy Dereck Young," Da said softly, "Look at me." Da's last word did the trick, as he begged, "Please."

"Jeremy Dereck Young, son of my flesh, blood of my blood, I swear to you on your mother's grave: I did not kill that... man," Da said solemnly as tears fell from his eyes. "I took the guns to Jack's house and left them there because I didn't trust myself not to... but I didn't do it myself. I swear by all that is holy, Jer. I swear."

"But... it was that night, and you said the next day, and..." Jer began, tears falling down his face.

"I swear to you, my son, it is true!" Da repeated, voice harsh.

"But then... All these years... I thought..." Jer broke down and sobbed.

"Oh Jer, oh my Jer-Jer, come here, oh Jer-Jer," Da sobbed out, turning his chair from the table. Jer tumbled out of his chair and ran around the table, jumping into Da's lap and clutching hard.

For years they'd hid their pain from each other, each afraid of re-opening wounds they thought the other had closed.

Safe in his father's arms, for the first time in years Jeremy let himself remember, not bits and pieces, but... everything.

Jer didn't understand why the cops were here tonight. He'd been in his room, trying to sleep when the policemen had arrived. He'd heard them ring the doorbell, but he wanted to be a good boy, and good boys didn't get up out of bed when they were supposed to be sleeping. That was naughty. And boys on the naughty list got coal in their stockings instead of presents under the tree. And Chistmas was only two weeks away!

Then he heard something he'd never heard before. Something he'd never dreamed of hearing.

"No, oh God, no!" his daddy screamed. Jer didn't recognize the voice. It wasn't until later that he understood that the damned soul's cry had been born from his daddy's throat. That it was the herald of doom and the shattering of his life.

For tonight he was simply a scared little boy who started crying, frightened by the noise. For tonight, he was simply a frightened boy whose daddy desperately tried to comfort him. And who got worse when his daddy explained that his mommy wasn't coming home. "I want my mommy!" Jer demanded with the surety of youth that such a demand would be, must be, could not help but be, answered.

"Jer, I'm sorry, mommy's... mommy isn't coming home," his daddy sobbed as an officer walked in the room.

"Mommy! Get me my mommy!" Jer screamed at the officer, clutching to his daddy for dear life. "I want my mommy!"

The officer sat down on the bed, brushing her hair back with one hand as she did so. "Kid, I'm so sorry. I would if I could, but I can't. Your mommy has gone... gone to be with God and all his angels in heaven. I can't bring her back, no one can."

Jer screamed and started to thrash, striking out at anything and everything he could. His daddy just held him tight through all this until they cried themselves to sleep.

Things were never the same after that. Jer and Daddy just weren't whole without Mommy to complete the triad. And soon, Jer discovered the depth of his Daddy's despair.

Daddy was stumbling around in the kitchen, making dinner and drinking from his special soda cans that Jer couldn't touch. Things hadn't been the same for the last two months, and Jer couldn't seem to stop crying some days. Other days he just couldn't get out of bed without being forced. Still others he pulled a mask over his sense of self and hid, pretending to be fine. No one was fooled -- but they didn't press the issue, understanding he was just trying to find a way back to 'normalcy'.

Of course, at home he never bothered with the mask. He just sat in a corner somewhere, knees up to his chest. Crying, staring into space, or just having fallen asleep in that strange, comfort-seeking position.

Not a lot of comfort to be found in his father, anymore. He was buying that strange green soda -- Heineken -- a lot these days. And he wasn't nice when he drank it.

"Stop your sniveling, boy! You lost..." his daddy cried out from the kitchen. "You lost a mother... I lost everything... Everything!"

For months this kept up. No contact, no love shared between them, simply two souls so lost in pain and anguish they couldn't find each other anymore. Which didn't keep others from finding them...

A loud knocking at the door insisted someone pay it some heed, distracting Jer from his misery. Looking across the room at the door, he considered getting up to answer it. "Daddy, door," He said listlessly.

His daddy thumped across the house, snarling on the way, "Couldn't get it yourself, could you!" Opening the locks on the door, Daddy was completely unprepared when the door was thrown open from the other side, sending him flying. Jer stared as a strange man walked into the house, staring down at his father with a disgusted look.

The man looked over at Jer, and his face softened. "Hey, little guy. Head on up to your room. My br- Your father and I need to have a little talk. You don't need to hear this. Don't worry, every thing's gonna be okay."

Jer didn't know the man. He was tall, broad of shoulder, and should have scared him out of his wits. But... he looked sorta like daddy, like a younger daddy. And he promised Jer everything would be alright.

Jer scampered up to his room, staying well away from the confrontation at the door as the stranger kneeled down beside his drunken father. "Jer, Jer, Jer-Jer-Jer..." he repeated the name sadly. "What am I going to do with you?" Jer couldn't hear the rest of the conversation, but thought it strange that the stranger was addressing Daddy by Jer's name!

Then the voices downstairs raised to the level that Jer could hear them through his closed door as the stranger shouted, "Jeremy Derick Young, you are a disgrace to this family! I know you had problems with Dad -- hell, in case you forgot, I suffered because of those lies you spou-"

"Lies, you no good thankless-" There was a loud thud sound, as if someone had fallen to the floor, and Daddy cut off suddenly.

Jer opened his door and peeked down the stairs at the confrontation -- he just had to know what was going on.

"Listen to me very closely, Jeremy, because no matter what our differences I'm here to help you. You are betraying your wife's memory, you are killing Cheryl a second time over, by what you're doing to your son. Get help -- get it now. One of your friends called me in, dug through who knows how many layers of history to find me, to see if I could help, but his next call is going to be straight to social services. If you don't get your fat ass in gear and help your son through this, you are going to loose him. Either to grief, or to the system. Either way, you'll never be able to live with yourself."

"Your choice, asshole. And I won't be coming to pick up the pieces, either way." The stranger walked out the door.

Jer's dad scrambled up off his hands and knees and stumbled to the door, screaming, "Go to fucking Hell Derick! I tried to protect you and you stabbed me in the fucking back, and you dare come tell me how to live my life!"

Jer never met that stranger again. But he frequently said a prayer for the strange man, who shared Jer's middle name, and had saved them. Because of him, Jer had found his Daddy again. Because of the love and kindness that stranger had shown in giving his Daddy a good swift kick in the rear, Jer found his Da, and Daddy his Jer-Jer.

Jer, sobbing, tried to make sense of things. For the longest time he'd thought Da had done it, but if he hadn't... If he hadn't killed the stupid drunk who had killed not only Mom but five other people over the years...

"Da, if you didn't do it..."

"I didn't, Son," Da told him softly. Jer looked up, head still against Da's chest as Da bent over to kiss him on the forehead. "After I found out about his sixth victim, that after the court had taken his license from him yet he still found a way to kill another person..." Da swallowed, trying to fight back tears. "I was so angry," he said softly. "I didn't trust myself, I asked Jack if he'd hold the guns for me for a while, just in case... it didn't mean much, I could do it bare handed, but..."

"You gave the guns to Mr. Edwards?" Jer asked softly.

"Yeah, Jer-Jer, I did. You remember how his attic locks up? We stuck them in a chest up there, locked the chest, buried it under some other crap, and then locked the door, just in case. No way to get at them in a hurry, without having to think through... without..." Da forced back a few tears.

"You hid them away, where you couldn't get at them," Jer commented. "But, you wouldn't... I mean, you always keep them ready..."

"I know, but this once I didn't trust myself. I let Jack hide all of them in that chest... well, all but one. He insisted on keeping it in another place, his own secret hiding spot, 'just in ca-'" Da's eyes shot wide open.

"Oh my fucking God!" he swore. "Just in case. Just in case my God-damned ASS!"

"What?" Jer jerked away from Da, startled.

"Nothing, nothing," Da told him. "Oh God, I can't believe... And I didn't see it?"

"Da? What is it?"

"I... forget about it Jer, don't even think about it, please. Oh God I hope I'm wrong, I hope to hell I'm wrong," Da shook his head in shock.

Jer didn't get it. Da had hidden the guns away with Mr. Edwards, hidden them all away so he couldn't use them, locking all of them up...

All of them up but one.

One single gun that Mr. Edwards had kept himself.

Not Da.

It hadn't been Da.

It had never been Da.

Mr. Edwards had done it.

Mr. Edwards, not Da, had killed the no-good son of a bitch who'd killed Mom.

"Oh my God," Jer swore softly.

"Don't take the Lord's name-" Da began. "Hell of a thing for me to say at this time of all times," he commented softly. "It's not like I haven't been doing it left right and center for the last few..." Da shook his head. "You figured it out, huh?"

"Yeah," Jer agreed softly.

"Don't... I mean, legally we should, but..." Da began.

"I never told Billy when I thought it was you," Jer pointed out. "Not Billy, not you, not anyone."

"Alright. I'll... God, if we're right... We could be wrong, there wasn't any evidence even back then..."

"It doesn't matter," Jer said. "Whatever happened... you said it yourself, remember? After it killed six others, his alcohol finally killed him."

"Yeah, I did," Da commented. "Because Jack came up with the idea the night before, and I thought it ironic that his idea had become reality. God, what an idiot I was."

"No, not an idiot, in pain," Jer said. "The same pain we've been ever since... Since..." Jer dashed away a few tears and didn't finish. "So, why were you so angry tonight?"

Da stiffened, and shook his head. "I... whatever else may be going on Jer, I... Some things I just can't..." Da licked his lips. "I cannot discuss certain things with you. It would be... at best, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on Jack and Elly's parenting approach, understand?"

"I..." Jer started, then thought a moment. "Yeah, I think so."

"Okay then. Some words were said tonight that shouldn't have been, and all three of us lost our tempers," Da told him. "All of us were very angry, very upset. It has nothing to do with you or Billy, though I'm afraid a lot of it is going to spill over onto you two."

"Okay, Da, I understand."

"Good," Da said. With a sigh he shook his head. "You're going to find out soon enough, so I might as well tell you upfront. Billy has been grounded for the next three months. Full room grounding, not just house."

"What?!" Jer shouted, shocked. A month of room detention, being 'locked' inside your room with nothing to keep you company but schoolwork and books, was unthinkably harsh. Three months of it was... was...

"Yeah. I know," Da agreed. "It's one step short of torture, and completely in excess of reason."

"It's... beyond absurd!" Jer shouted.

"I know," Da repeated, flinching away from Jer. "And be a little quieter kiddo, I wasn't completely deaf, but you're making a good start on getting me there!"

"Sorry, Da," Jer flopped back against Da's chest. "You going to let this stand?"

Da half laughed. "I don't think I have a choice. Jack was... beyond incensed. I don't know why."

Jer, yawned, feeling himself nodding off towards sleep. "He's never been like this before, has he?"

"Well, no, not really," Da agreed. "He's always been one to get a hair up his a-" Da bit back the rest of his sentence. "I mean, he's always been one to get exceptionally upset over something for no reason, but never quite like this."

Jer, yawning, tried to make sense of it but just relaxed into Da. The sudden outpouring of emotion had left him completely exhausted, hours before he would normally go to bed.

"Your all tuckered out, aren't you kiddo?" Da commented, shifting around to hold his son up. "Time for bed, Jer-Jer."

"Ok, Da," Jer agreed softly. Something about the situation seemed like it would almost make sense, if only he could...

As Da was stripping his clothes off, he found the two pieces. But it wasn't until Da had tucked him into bed that he connected them.

"Da?" he asked, on the edge of sleep. "Billy was breaking the rules to do the right thing... was killing..." Jer yawned, and couldn't finish the sentence.