Cyrus was silent for the first 40 steps or so, waiting until we were truly alone and weaving our way in between the trees of the forest surrounding the clearing. The strange thing is, even though I verbally hesitated to admit that I would follow was surprisingly easy to walk by his side as he led me off to God knows where. It always was. His level of confidence added to your own. He hardly seemed afraid of anything, and something about that compelled you to trust him completely. Even when I knew damn well that it was a mistake to believe that he had my best interests in mind.

Finally, after walking a bit further, I asked him, "So....are we walking home now, or what? What is this?"

He smiled. "Feeling anxious, are we?"

"No. I just kinda like to know where I'm going before I get there."

"You have no idea how truly profound that statement is for us all, when placed in a philosophical context." He grinned.


"Forget it. Walk with me. Tell me what you're thinking about."

I didn't get it. I didn't know what he was 'reaching' for. "Is this of those 'last hour of your life' things...or...?"

"It's whatever you want it to be, Wesley. This isn't a test, it's a conversation." Cyrus playfully butted my shoulder with his, and it inspired a slight smirk of my own. "You've been quiet for most of the afternoon. There must be something on your mind."

I paused momentarily, but decided to tell him the truth. "I just...feel different today, you know? I don't feel like myself. I guess I'm kinda wondering whether to 'thank' you or 'blame' you for that."

"Why not both?" He answered. Then added, "You've been embraced, Wesley. Exposed to a truth that has been hidden behind smoke and mirrors your whole life for the sake of control. It takes time to adjust."

"Smoke and mirrors, huh?"

"Exactly. The world you live in is constantly trying to blanket you and everyone else under the same rules. Attempting to make things simple and easy, guiding your choices, manipulating your wants and needs, so they can keep you under control. Leaving only a small percentage of rebels to step out of line from time to time. Your society is trying to get you to willingly submit on a daily basis. To deny your natural instincts and feelings, forcing you to bite your tongue, even when you want to scream. But it doesn't always work. Not on those of us who pay attention. Those of us who dream. Those of us who analyze. People like me. To us...their persuit of a predictable and easily categorized populous is as pointless as trying to get everyone on the planet to fit into the same sized shoe. It simply isn't possible. People are made to be different."

"Yeah, but that's just the way it is. I mean, there has to be some kind of 'law' that everybody abides by, right? I mean, what are you gonna do?" I asked.

"You leave their boundaries," He said matter-of-factly, "You break society down to its smaller parts. You find your own truth, and a small collection of people who are willing to accept that truth. Not everybody in the whole world is going to agree, but who says they HAVE to? You don't have to live to entertain people who can never understand you or see your point of view. You don't have to accept anybody...just the ones you want with you. Just the ones who are comfortable with the message you bring them." He told me. The flare of green in his dark hazel eyes was hypnotic, and seemed to glow, even in broad daylight. "It's impossible to force the whole world to live under your specific view of the way things should be. But a small pack of like minded individuals can be a very powerful thing indeed. There is no stronger bond, or a more balanced sense of justice, loyalty, love, and protection...than you will with a unified cluster of people who were given a free and 'fair' option. A small society that understands and embraces who they are, not who they SHOULD be for the sake of marching along with the majority. A community that has the freedom to exist as though they truly mattered. Without being forced to sacrifice any part of themselves."

"I suppose that our little community of ten people counts as its own culture too then, huh?" I joked.

"Why not?" He replied. "How different is that from the U.S. breaking away from Great Britain? Or the South seceeding from the union? Or the Amish setting up a private farm community on the outskirts of town? How is it different from the 'gay' section of a major city, or an exclusive country club for playing golf? It's a break from a generalized level of control from people who don't share your interests. You find what works for you, what is most in tune with your beliefs and practices, and you create a private paradise with others who share your point of view. You're free. No judgement. No challenges. No holding back."

"Sounds lovely." I said with a sarcastic grin. He really did take this stuff seriously sometimes. "So we just settle in and build a campfire, roasting marshmellows without anybody looking over our shoulders."

His grin got considerably wider. "If that's the extent of what you wish to do, sure. But...with the kind of freedom I'm talking about...I'd hope that you would come up with activities that were a little more 'ambitious' than that."

"Oh, I see. You mean, like, virgin sacrifices, cannibalism, and seven hour orgies under the moonlight? Right?"

"Hahaha! Yes, Wesley...I think you might actually be getting the hang of this." Cyrus threw his arm around me, hugging me close. His affection could be such a welcome reward for speaking your mind. For being yourself. I've never experienced a friendship that was so....'open' before. "You can feel yourself unwinding inside, can't you? That undeniable nudge at your senses, compelling you to reach out further than the comfortable position that you're used to." Cyrus closed his eyes, feeling a shiver as he enjoyed my experience with me. "Every step that you take towards the truth feeds us. Makes us stronger. You were a very wise choice indeed."

I don't think I'll ever understand his fascination with me, and maybe I'm not supposed to. But if he was pleased, then I was pleased. "Gee, I think he likes me." I smiled.

"Indeed, I do." He replied.

"I suppose that I'd be one hundred percent welcome if I could just get Scout to hop on the Wesley bandwagon."

"Hehehe, chances of that happening are slim." He told me.

"I figured as much."

"Don't take it personally. Scout doesn't like anyone who competes for my attention. He's possessive, envious, self centered at times...and he has no problem indulging in those emotions because he is so young. His love for me is a selfish one, that is his position. That is his 'purpose'."

"His purpose?"

"Yes. Every one of us has a specific 'place'. A reason to be a part of the pack. Different personalities offer different perspectives. When combined, we all gather focus, insight, strength, awareness. Each one of us is unique, and every new addition to the group provides us with another angle. Another added dimension to our circle. The various energies create a strong center, something that brings them all together, and we all benefit from it."

"So...I take it that Scout's purpose is to hate me then?"

"His purpose is to love me. He only hates situations that keep him away from me. Scout is my personal guardian. His jealousy may seem out of place among the others, but it serves its purpose well. And his innocence allows him to comprehend possibilities that the rest of us cannot see. He never had them 'brainwashed' out of him, so his mind remains open on great many things. You will find no greater devotion than you will in the eyes of a child. His unrestricted love for me is the purest that I know."

"I noticed." I said. "To be honest, I'm surprised that he even allowed you out of his sight long enough to come out here with me in the first place."

"He didn't." Cyrus smiled. "He's watching from the edge of the clearing." I turned around, but Cyrus told me, "Don't bother looking. You won't find him with your eyes. But, trust me....he's there."

Ok, that's somewhat creepy. "So...everyone has a position? 'I' have a position?"

"Of course you do. A very special position, in fact. That's why I chose you. Your energy is unique. It's useful. It is unlike anything I've ever felt before, and I wanted you with us."

"Energy, energy. Why do you keep saying 'energy'? What IS it with you and energy?" I giggled.

"It's your aura, Wesley. Your very essence. It is an internal glow that you can't hide from those who are able to bear witness to it. It stands out on its own, but it's stronger when embraced by the rest of us. By sharing it, we fill in the gaps that we previously didn't have access to. That's why our positions are so important. Do you understand?"

"Hehehe, no!"

He let out a hearty chuckle. "Then I suppose it's something that you will have to experience for yourself. But, believe me...when you are in the presence of a useful'll know it." Cyrus and I walked forward, crossing a small stream by walking over a fallen tree, and he offered a hand to help me down. " for the others, you'll get used to their energies as well. It always takes some time to adjust, and there may be some clashing here and there from conflicting vibrations, but you'll get the full effect soon enough. Once you learn about the others."

"I'll have to take your word for it." I said, still wondering if this was a crafty part of Cyrus' little mind game or not.

"Now....Sebastian, he is the seducer. The manipulator of emotions. His immaculate beauty intrigues and enchants everyone around him. Male, female, straight, doesn't matter. Hw uses his allure like a weapon. It's also a very deceptive shield for him, as most people are too busy staring in awe to recognize his true intentions. He's able to easily pry his way into the hearts, minds, and souls, of people in a way that the rest of us cannot. He is the most strategic pawn we have on the chessboard, constantly setting us up to move into position, and get us wherever we need to be."

"I can kinda see that." I have to admit, the thought of it reminded me what a sucker I had been from day one. I had fallen hook, line, and sinker, for him, and continued to be his ragdoll even AFTER I knew better. But...the sex was still HOT! So who am I to complain?

"Kriegar was one of our first additions. And despite his heavy drinking and staggered sway, he has a very important role in all we do. He is our...." He stopped for a moment, and with a wicked grin, said, "...problem solver."

"Meaning what?" I asked.

"Let's just say that he's the first one to step up when we have issues that need to be taken care of." He answered. "He is the slightly off balanced nexus between being fearless and being foolish. His inhibitions are zero. His level of sympathy is zero. And mercy? He'd burst into laughter at the mere mention of it. He is our enforcer. You piss him off...chances are it'll be the last mistake you ever make." He led me through the woods, around the trees, and for a moment, I thought that I heard something in the distnce behind us. I looked back, and still didn't see anything, but I believe that Scout really was following us, afterall. I couldn't see him...but it was like...I could 'sense' his eyes on us as Cyrus talked. "Next to join was Kristin. Females have a very strong energy indeed. Stronger than any males'. It flows through us all like lightning, gives us speed, sight, increases our senses. Her intuition and perception is able to work its way through any obstacle that stands in our path. Her passions and desires remain barely visible most of the time, occassionally flaring up in random bursts of sexual expression, but her presence among us is undeniably strong. She probes the world around us, and locates enemies with ease." He told me, as I tried to mentally take notes and absorb it all at once. "John Boy, naturally, is another important piece of the puzzle. His blindness is hardly a handicap, as I'm sure you've noticed."

"That's the understatement of the year."

"His other senses are able to reach out much further than ours can. They can pinpoint targets that we can't see with our eyes. He can easily pierce through the illusion, and see a level of truth that none of the others can comprehend. He's not deceived by a beguiling smile, or any rehearsed body language..." Cyrus grinned at me, "...Nor is he fooled by a sudden fireworks display on the beach." Referring to the night that I ran off from them. I started to speak, but he continued on. "Then...our most recent addition to the group...Dexter."

I snickered to myself. "THIS, I've gotta hear!"

"Hehehe, laugh all you want, but Dex is a much more dangerous animal that you might want to believe. It seems 'crazy' to the rest of us, but Dex has the ability to think in many different dimensions at once. He can sift through a million different thoughts so quickly that it would make your head spin. He has almost no impulse control whatsoever, so 'thought' and 'deed' are carried out instantaneously without hesitation. It makes him extremely fast. He can stop his thought process on a dime, and change strategies in a split second. His frenzied actions and unpredictable movements can be a very good energy to have on your side. However...keeping it from spinning out of control has proven itself to be...quite a 'challenge' at times."

"I'll bet." I grinned.

"Plus...he's funny as hell." Cyrus added without blinking. "That brings us to Shank and Razor. Where Kriegar can be sent out as a lone wolf, and Scout protects the center...the twins serve as guardians for the entire pack. They protect everything, inside and out. Together, they are in tune with all that goes on around us, and all that goes on inside our circle. If one of us were to suddenly, say, 'get out of line', it's their job to 'fix' it. That's their purpose. Their synchronized efforts are in place to protect us, even from ourselves."

"But...they're, like...the same though, right?" I asked.

"Not exactly. They're very different in every possible way except for appearance, actually. Razor, for example, is much more verbal than his brother. He likes to instigate, to draw out emotion where he can see it clearly and use it to his advantage. He takes great joy in pushing buttons and testing ones pride, aggression is his favorite 'candy'. His unwaivering obsession with fire seems to fit his attitudes pretty well, to be honest. We work to keep his pyromaniacal acts under control, but it takes a watchful eye. If it weren't for John Boy's senses, he would have burned the house down ten times over by now." I noticed that Cyrus seemed to be leading me in a circle, and we were almost heading back to the clearing where we started. But we were still far enough out to have some...'privacy'. Except for the hidden brat trailing us in the distance. "Shank, on the other hand, is very internal. He stays quiet most of the time. With him, it's what he doesn't say that is most dangerous. He'll silently watch on for hours if need be...thinking....meditating...patiently waiting for the precise moment to act where no mistakes can be made. It's in his stare. Cold. Calculating. If you end up on his bad side, he'll not only fix the problem...but he's gonna make sure that it hurts." He said. "Shank does have one lone obsession, however. Death. He enjoys it. Appreciates its finality and its beauty. But the rest of us aren't really too fond of having him bring dead animals into the house, so we try to keep that appreciation to a minimum when we can."

Cyrus seemed to stop there, and I had to ask. "Well....?"

"Well, what?"

"I guess that just leaves you and me, right? So...give me the scoop, already."

His sinister smile was almost paralyzing at first glance, but it seemed to bring with it a feeling of power. Not just for him, but for me as well. "Let's just say that you and I are sitting at opposite ends of a very big table."

"What the fuck does THAT mean?" I giggled.

"It means that you'll find your place soon. And that's when mine will be revealed to you." He said. "For now, just think of me as a giant battery. You all generate your own energy, and you give it to me. In turn, I mix it all together and feed it back to my children. As the nucleus, I keep us strong. For as long as you follow me, you will never be without your spiritual nourishment."

"Choosing a leader?" I said.

"Choosing to be led." He replied.

We made our way back to the clearing, where the others saw us walking out of the woods, Cyrus' arm over my shoulder. They watched us closely, hardly blinking at all. It wasn't envy that they displayed on their faces, it was more a feeling of learned 'patience'. As though they were simply waiting for their turn to be in Cyrus' good graces, once I had been pushed aside. Which I'm sure was bound to happen soner or later. But...argh! Something about being with him was so exhilirating! To have them watch. To make them see. I was being showered with our leader's love and approval, and they weren't. Not at that particular moment. And it made me feel...better.

John Boy was the first to speak. "The roads are empty. I haven't heard a car pass this way in either direction for quite some time."

"Good to hear." Cyrus replied, and just as I was getting used to his embrace, I felt a strong nudge and a push at the bottom of my ribs. I looked down to see Scout's blond head squeeze in between us. He WAS following us the whole time. And as he hugged Cyrus tight to him, I felt myself being literally shoved away by his free hand. He didn't even bother to look at me as I was suddenly 'disconnected' from them, he simply held Cyrus close and snuggled his boyish face up against his chest as though he hadn't seen him in years. I didn't protest, even though the urge to violently push him down and take my spot back bubbled up inside me for a moment or two. But...instead I calmed down...and I let it go.

Which I guess was for the best...because it was only seconds later that I noticed something out of the left corner of my eye. It was Shank...perched up on the top of a picnic table nearby...and he was watching me. His dark green eyes had fixed themselves on me something fierce, and there was an almost invisible smirk on his thin lips as his gaze absorbed me completely. He didn't say a word, he simply waited there...focused on me. It was just as Cyrus said. Silent...steady...deadly. The coldness of his stare showered a sensation of ice down my backside, and I knw that it was wise for me to back off.

Then...looking over to my right, I saw Razor leaning back up against a tree, with his foot up and one of his thumbs in his pockets. His grin was beyond visible, and he WANTED me to know that he was watching. His grin spread out from ear to ear with its wicked tilt, and as always, they were in the perfect position to box the rest of us in on both sides at all times. Razor lit a match up in front of his face, and gave me a wink, as he quickly blew the flame out and tossed it over his shoulder. He was waiting for me to do it. Almost daring me to do it. And just before I looked away from him, he blew me a kiss.

Did they know? Could the sense how I felt inside? Were they aware of the fact that I wanted to shove Scout down into the dirt and take my place at Cyrus' side? I think they did. And as I looked back and forth between them, finally seeing their differences despite the fact that they basically shared one mind...I knew that they wouldn't hesitate to rip me apart the second that I made a move. Chances are, I wouldn't even get my hands on the kid before they were there, stomping me flat into the ground below. I could tell by the way they stared at me. There was something so 'evil' behind the eyes of the twins...even when they were smiling.

"I think we should get back to town before sunset. I've got 'plans' for tonight." Cyrus grinned, looking in my direction. Anything was welcome in comparison to the stares of the creepy duo. "But, first things first. We need those chains." I saw him look around for a moment. "Where is Dex?" We all turned to see him in the center of the clearing, holding something in his arms. "Dexter?" Cyrus asked slowly. "What have you got there?"

"A bunny." He giggled, and opened himself up a bit for us to see a small brown rabbit in his arms. He was petting it sooooo softy...and it seemed happy and harmless enough...but after what he did with the paint can in the midtown store...I couldn't help but tense up.

"Dex? I need you to put it down, alright? It's time for us to go." Cyrus chose his words carefully, and the tension in my shoulders increased. "Put it down now, ok?"

"Let it GO, Dexter! Jesus!" Kriegar yelled.

"I'M NOT GONNA HURT IT!!!!" Dexter screamed back, and the rabbit got agitated as his emotions began to shift. "I'm just PETTING it!!!"

Cyrus put his hand up to keep Kriegar from escalating the situation. "Nobody's saying you're gonna hurt it, Dex. We just need you to put it back where you found it so we can leave." Cyrus told him, his voice a bit more commanding than before, but still gentle enough to not aggravate him.

"It's so fuzzy." He grinned, and tried to hold onto it as it began to kick and try to get away from him. " still, little guy. Hehehe....c'mon....STOP it! *STILL*!!!" Dex gnashed his teeth a bit, and angrily tightened his grip the animal to hold it in place. Shit....

I felt a tremble in my stomach, but managed to speak anyway. "Dex? Dude...Cyrus is right. We can come back and get it later, ok? Just...just let it go. He can run around and...get all that energy out of his system...and when you come back...he'll be still for you." I told him. Dexter looked up at me. His head slightly cocked to one side.

"You think I'm gonna hurt him, don't ya?" He asked quietly.

"No. No...not you. You wouldn' wouldn't wanna hurt your new little bunny friend, would you?"

"Of course not." He said, with a grin. "He's soft."

"Right. Right. He's soft." I couldn't believe that he was actually 'listening' to me at that moment. "So....put the...'soft' bunny down, and let's go have us some more fun. Alright? You wanna have fun with us, don't ya, Dexter?"

He watched me for a second, as though he were trying to analyze my motivations. Like he was confused by his own feelings. He even squinted his eyes a bit, as if his suspicions were justified. "Hmmmmm.....I dunno. I wanna take him with us."

"You can't take him with us, Dex. But...but you can come see him later. We can all come see him...if you just....let him go." He didn't move at first, but I could see his trust slowly pushing its way past his doubt.

He looked over at Cyrus, and then back at me....and then at Cyrus again. And finally, after what seemed like a VERY long uncomfortable silence, Dexter bent down on one knee, and let the rabbit out of his grasp. I've never seen an animal haul ass as fast as that rabbit did once his legs touched the ground. "OK! Where we goin'???" Dex said happily, and began to practically skip his way over to me when he looked over my shoulder and saw the expression on Cyrus' face. It was enough to frighten us both.

Cyrus' eyes could burn a hole right through you. His scowl could tear your confidence to shreds in an instant. And the fact that his anger was directed at the two of us, it was almost enough to make our wobbling knees collapse. It wasn't so much that Dexter didn't instantly follow his order that upset him. It was the unheard of idea that he could follow the suggestion of another in his presence. That he would listen to me over him. Dex stopped in his tracks, his big innocent eyes suddenly being weighed down to his shoes as his head drooped a little, and his bottom lip pushed out into a childish pout. Cyrus simply stared him down, and then looked over at me with the same level of contempt. I'm not sure what made me do it...but my every instinct was screaming for me to bow my head. Almost as an act of begging his forgiveness for my actions. And I did just that. I lowered my head until my chin touched my chest, and waited for the silence to pass.

Cyrus forced us to stand before him for a short period of time, letting it sink in, and then...he said, "Get in the truck. Both of you. Now." And we waited until he walked passed us to get into the driver's seat before we made a move. I fucked up. I TOTALLY fucked up! And now he's mad at me, isn't he? I shouldn't have said anything. I should have let Cyrus handle it his way instead of opening my big fucking mouth. STUPID!!!

Everyone climbed onto the back of the truck, and Scout happily took his position at our leader's side, sticking his tongue out at me and grinning to himself as Cyrus shut me out and closed the door. I took my place in the back where I was before, and plopped down on the old tire as he started p the truck and angrily sped off from the forest clearing, blaring the music as loud as it would go.

What did I do wrong? I thought I was doing it for him. I was doing it to please Cyrus. He's my.....'father'....why would I want to hurt him? Or disobey him? We rode silently in the back of that truck, and Dexter curled himself up at my side. He had the uncanny ability to never dwell on anything for more than a few seconds at a time. It was a talent I wish I had. Because my lingering thoughts were all over the place at that moment. And my only concern was getting into Cyrus' good graces again. It seriously WORRIED me! Me! 'Mr. No Peer Pressure'! 'Mr. I'm My Own Person'! Suddenly, his attention was all I wanted. All I craved. All I had to survive off of. nd I couldn't figure out why.'s getting so hard to think. So think. As the truck found its way to the open road again, I felt an itch under my skin. All over my body. And scratching my arms and legs only made it burn. So I left it alone, but I knew that something was wrong. Seriously wrong.