By ACFan
Portions contributed by Slash

Copyright 2003 by ACFan

Dedicated to the memory of Justin Case 1956-2003

We will all miss you Justin, but your kind words and support will never be forgotten. 04/13/2003

Authors note: I wish to express my extreme gratitude to slash for his numerous contributions to this story -- they added the final touches to make this all come together. Also thanks to Art, BillW, and Jay for their assistance in editing, proofreading, and generally helping me out of a rut occasionally.Thanks to "Z", Karla, and the rest of the Library members for your support when I started this.
A HUGE thanks to Comicality for his support of all of us aspiring writers!

This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.


Send comments and suggestions (flames ignored) to:AC Fan

Part I:The Gathering
Chapter Six

Terri looked up as she heard the boys coming into the dining room, and was unable to suppress her smile when she saw them. Each had the arm closest to the other draped over the other's back, with the hand firmly anchored on the shoulder. In Cory's right hand was what looked to her like a picture frame, and judging by the grip he had on it - it meant a lot to him.

"Morning Mom!" The boys chimed.

"Good morning guys. How did you sleep last night?"

The boys looked at each other, and then replied in chorus; "GREAT!!!!"

Cory giggled, and then turned to Sean. "Bro, you wanna cook breakfast again?"

"Sure, let me get the cereal and the milk." He replied with a grin.

As Sean went off to retrieve the breakfast necessities, Cory walked up alongside Terri, shyly asking, "Mom? Do you mind looking at something?"

"Sure Cory, whatcha got?"

"Sean made a surprise for me, and I need to show it off."

Cory handed the picture to his mom, and then waited expectantly to see her reaction. Sean saw him handing it to her, and quietly emptied his hands of cereal and milk, also waiting to see her reaction.

Terri smiled, and a few tears of obvious joy trickled down her face. It was certain that she re-read the poem about twenty times, but the last time she finished out loud. "... 'If only, you'll be mine, I'll be with you, until the end of time.'" Terri looked up at the boys. "Cory, that is the most wonderful gift I have ever seen anyone get - and you are worth every bit of it. Sean, that is the most beautiful thing you have ever written, I'm proud of you!"

She carefully set the picture on the table so it would be safe, then smiled. "Come here boys - group hug time!" As the hug broke off, she looked over at Cory. "I know you are going to want to put this where you can see it, but try to find a spot where the sun is not shining on it directly, that way it won't fade. And Sean, if you still have this stored on your computer, could you make a copy on a CD that I can put in the safe, in case anything ever happens to that?"

Sean was still in shock, he had figured she would like it but did not expect the intense reaction. All he was able to do was nod his head.

Cory retrieved the picture from his mom; "I'll be right back, I'm going to put this up so it does not get hurt accidentally."

Terri turned to Sean. "Put the milk and cereal away, Sean, I'm going to make us all some French toast and sausage for breakfast. How's that sound to you?"

Instead of answering, Sean all but flew back to the kitchen with the milk and cereal; there was no way he was going to pass up French toast - no matter if it was breakfast, lunch, or dinner!

Cory came back into the dining room, and was surprised to see nobody there. He heard sounds coming from the kitchen, so he headed in that direction and was pleased to see Sean mixing something in a bowl. "Whatcha doing, bro?"

"Mixing up the batter for French toast, Mom decided we needed hot food!"

"Mom, is there anything I can do?"

Terri looked over from the stove where she was pre-heating the griddles. "Why don't you get the sausage out and make the patties?"

"Great - sausage patties coming right up!" he exclaimed with glee. After getting out the bulk sausage, and laying out the waxed paper on the counter, he started making the patties.

The griddles were ready, so Terri turned around to see how many patties were done. Her timing was perfect, and what she saw brought pain, then joy, to her heart. Cory was working on the 5th patty, when suddenly he paled slightly, frowned, and a single tear ran down his face. Almost immediately, his mood shifted, he grinned, and then broke out in a fit of giggles.

Before Terri could say anything, Sean spoke up. "What's so funny, dufus?"

Cory then broke out into a full laughing fit, and Terri knew there would be no answer until it was over. Amazingly, in his fit of laughter, Cory was managing to finish the patties, so she started cooking breakfast while waiting for him to come back to earth.

When he had finally managed to settle down to an occasional chuckle, Cory filled everyone in. "Sean, remember when Mikey, you, and I used to sneak down to make an early breakfast?"

"Yeah ...'

"Well, I just remembered it myself, and, (*giggle*), I also remembered, (*giggle*), how he always ragged on you, and insisted that I make the patties, (*giggle**giggle*), because YOU WERE TOO WEAK TO PACK THEM AND THEY ALWAYS WOULD FALL APART!!!!" At that Cory deteriorated into another fit of laughter.

A smile crept across Sean's face as he walked over to Cory and wrapped his arms around him. Not a word was said, but they all knew an important event had just occurred; Cory was starting to remember good times without slipping into depression.

The mood during the meal was light-hearted, as the three of them bantered back and forth between bites. Terri noticed there was a distinctive difference in the way the boys responded to each other, they seemed to be bonded even closer than they had ever been before Mike's death.

Once the meal was finished, the boys proceeded to clear the dishes. (Obviously, there was no food left; two teenagers definitely ensured that!) Just as Sean started the dishwasher, the doorbell rang.

"Well, that eliminates all of our friends!" Cory chuckled, "None of them have figured out how to push a button yet!"

Sean had to laugh; as funny as it was, it was true; everyone they knew knocked instead of ringing the doorbell.

Sean walked out of the kitchen towards the foyer, and spotted Dan standing there with his mom and two boys he had never seen. One looked to be just a little bit younger than Sean was, while the other could be no more than 9 years old.

Just then, Cory walked out of the kitchen.

"CORY!!!!!!" screamed the younger kid, who immediately launched himself across the room and almost tackled Cory.

Sean instinctively went to pry the child off of his brother, when he felt a small hand on his shoulder. The other kid was standing there, and shook his head with a smile on his face.

"Don't worry - they are OK. I'm JJ, and that 8 year old tornado over there is Kyle."

Sean looked back over towards the other two. Cuddled up in Cory's arms, Sean saw a very contented little boy. He was about 4 ft 3, with wavy shoulder length deep brown hair. Just then Kyle turned his face, and Sean saw his almond shaped brown eyes, and the thin nose centered in the slender angelic face. Despite the obvious joy Kyle was feeling, Sean noticed a hidden pain in his features, a pain he had learned to recognize all too well in the last year with Cory. Sure that Cory was safe, Sean turned back to JJ.

Sean had to admit JJ was cute; the combination of collar length wavy strawberry blond hair, slim but not scrawny build, and an angelic face punctuated with an aquiline nose and full lips, was to die for! Sean then looked JJ in the eyes, and was immediately captivated; the glistening hazel eyes drew him in, and he had a feeling that they both shared something in common that few others did. The feelings did not arouse Sean, but he immediately felt as if JJ was a part of him, almost a brother. Sean managed to break the gaze, and was greeted by a look of wonder and acceptance on JJ's face. "What grade you in, JJ?"

"Sixth - I just turned 12."

Just then Dan walked up to them. "Shit," he chuckled to himself, "you could bake a potato with the energy from all the gaydar going off right now!" He then spoke up: "Boys, do you think you can coax the two leeches over there into the living room - I've got quite a bit to fill you all in about."

That evoked giggles from JJ and Sean, while drawing embarrassed glances from Cory and Kyle. Cory picked up Kyle into his arms, and the 5 of them headed toward the living room. As they were walking, Kyle spoke up for the first time.

"You must be Sean." Kyle said shyly. "Thanks for taking care of Cory, he is my bestest friend! He told me about you, can you be my friend too?"

The procession stopped as if they had hit a brick wall. Dan, JJ, and Cory waited expectantly for Sean's reply; they were all in shock, this was the most outgoing thing that any of them had ever seen Kyle do. They also knew this might be an important turning point for Kyle; for with as little as he had let each of them know about what went on inside his head, all three knew that his little ego was easily shattered.

Sean looked into Kyle's eyes, and his heart broke when he saw the longing, insecurity, and pain that they reflected. He walked over to Cory and Kyle, lifted Kyle's arms and moved them to his shoulders, then took Kyle into his arms.

"Kyle, little buddy, I will be your friend forever if you will let me." As he saw the smile appear on Kyle's face, he turned his head up and gave Kyle a quick kiss on the forehead.

The other three breathed unconscious sighs of relief, then finished going into the living room. When Sean walked in behind the rest carrying Kyle, Terri's jaw hit the floor.

Dan chuckled; "Terri, lets just say that your son's charm has struck again. His instinctive grasp of what to do when put in an emotional situation with another person impresses and amazes me!"

Terri gave Dan a confused look.

Dan pulled her off to the side, and started explaining in a low voice. "Kyle is extremely insecure and fragile, the only two friends he had were Cory and JJ. On the way in here, he managed to ask Sean if he would be his friend. Honestly, it shocked me, usually he won't even speak to anyone else unless spoken to first, but Sean had not even said a word to him yet. Instead of reacting like you would expect a 13 year old to do when asked that by an 8 year old, he took it seriously and not only said yes, but he did it in a way that let Kyle know he was serious."

Terri nodded her head in understanding, and then quietly motioned Dan to look behind him.

Dan looked around, and it was his turn to have his jaw hit the floor. The 3 oldest boys had managed to squeeze into the overstuffed leather chair, Sean in the middle, Cory on his left, and JJ on his right. Kyle had climbed onto their laps, stretched out over all three, with his head laying at the juncture of Sean and Cory's shoulders. "Dang it, where is a camera when you need it?" Dan quipped.

"Look in the tape cabinet." Cory replied. "My drawer, it's the middle one, wrapped up in a bag in the back." A look of shock crossed Cory's face as he realized what he just said. "HOLY SHIT!!! I put that in there before we went to the mall!! I had hidden it there so that ... so that... SHIT... so that Mikey could take pictures of us when we got back without you knowing Sean!! I JUST REMEMBERED MORE!!! Sean, umm, I hate to ask, but..."

Sean cut Cory off. "It has been put up since that day, now I think we can finally enjoy it the way we planned. Congrats, bro - you don't... well I guess you DO know how long I have waited for you to ask me that!

Everyone was smiling except JJ, who looked totally lost. Kyle noticed it first, and was so happy for Cory that he blurted out "Something bad happened to Cory a year ago, and he can't remember stuff. It's so cool; he just remembered something while I was here!"

Terri retrieved the digital camera, and then started to go to the study to get fresh batteries for it. As she neared the door, Sean called out.

"Mom... Could you do me a HUGE favor?"

"What's that, Sean?"

"Could you NOT look at what's on the camera already, PLEASE?"

Terri looked at her son's blushing face, and decided she probably did NOT want to know what pictures were on the camera. "OK, but you need to empty it later tonight so nobody forgets and looks."

By the time she returned, the boys had settled back in, and she was able to get the picture. None of them realized it at the time, but that picture would prove to be a prophecy.

Terri and Dan sat on the love seat, and Dan began talking.

"OK, now that you guys are done fooling around, I've got a few things to update you all on. Some of you know different parts of what I'm going to say, but we all need to be on the same page here, so I'm going to cover all of it. First off, Sharon sends her regards; she came down with a migraine this morning, and decided it was best to stay home while we got everything settled. Secondly, I received a call from the Judge confirming that Cory is fully released - you have your son back for good Terri."

Terri smiled, and Sean and Cory both gave a happy "YES!!!" Sean noticed the confused look on Kyle's face.

"What's up, little buddy?"

"When did Cory get adopted? He never told me." Kyle replied.

"He has been my brother for a long time, bud. He just did not remember it."

"OK, I understand now." Kyle replied as his face relaxed.

Cory reached around with his free arm and gave Kyle a half-hug, which brought the smile back to Kyle's face.

Dan made a mental note that Kyle had smiled more since they arrived here than he had seen him smile in the last 3 months total. He hoped that what he was about to say next would make it a more permanent fixture on that cute little face.

"OK. My next announcement concerns Kyle." Dan smiled at the youngest member of the pile in the chair. "As most of you either know, or have guessed by now, Kyle was one of my other patients in the home. After it was shut down, which by the way looks to be permanent, a few case workers from Social Services were called in for emergency placements. Kyle's case worker was one of those called in. In a couple minutes, you will understand why that is important. You see, for the last few months, I have been fighting with the home over adopting Kyle; I had approvals from everywhere else but there, and Social Services could not sign off until they either had the home's approval, or could prove it was refusal with malice."

"When Social Services went to pull everyone's records, they found out there were two sets of records being kept on each patient; one that the doctors used, and another that was used for Social Services and insurance charges. The files were coded so that the right one was given to the right people, so as soon as they were balanced against the records that Social Services had, your case worker had all the information he needed to generate an approval for the adoption. The only thing we were missing was the supervisors' countersignature, but after a phone call, the Judge was assured that if we completed the process last night, he would have the required signature this morning. Sharon already knows, but on the way here I picked up the paperwork." Dan paused for effect: "As of 8am this morning, Kyle, you are no longer Kyle Hodges; you are my SON, Kyle Calvin Richardson!"

As Terri leaned over to give Dan a hug of congratulations, the chair exploded into a mass hug for Kyle. Dan gave them a couple minutes, then went over and dug out Kyle.

When he was finally able to see his new son's face, his heart melted. Kyle had the biggest grin that Dan had ever seen, and still had tears of joy running down his face. "I have one question... May I have a hug, SON?"

Kyle managed to get one word out as he threw himself around Dan's neck: "DADDY!!!!"

It took fifteen minutes before Kyle pulled back from Dan, and another ten for JJ to finish welcoming his new brother.

After everyone was settled back in, Dan continued. "I made some arrangements for a tutor, if it's OK with you Terri. Both Kyle and Cory need time to make adjustments to the sudden changes they just went through, and with Cory getting the memory flashbacks as fast as he is, it's better that he not be in a public school if a bad one hits him. I believe the best support for both boys is sitting next to them right now - their brothers, so I have made arrangements for all four boys to be tutored at the same time. I figure that way they can help each other adjust. Would it be OK for them to be home-schooled by the tutor here, Terri? That way if Cory needs to go off to recover, he will have a familiar place to go to."

"I think it's a great idea, I was worried about Cory at school anyway." Terri replied. "Also, you are right, this would be the best place, and Cory can go to either his or Sean's room if needed."

"What about Soccer?" Sean asked.

"You will still be considered a student at the school, and your coach should have no problems with you still being there. We will finalize everything tomorrow; so it looks like you guys get an extra day this weekend."

That satisfied Cory, but just as Dan was getting ready to ask if anyone had any questions, Dan's cell phone rang.