Wearing the Inside Out
It's said that the media in our modern world never sleeps. They're not big on giving much down time either. Here's how the events that morning played out.
After we shared a simple breakfast of milk and Honey Nut Cheerios, half an orange each and toast, Jack hopped in the shower. He'd be going to live over at his brother's place for a few days until the police and federal agencies had a chance to gather their evidence. I had no clue what they'd do about his father's house after that. Part of me figured that maybe Jack and his brother would move in there, which would keep Jack close to me. Part of me thought once the feds did their thing, someone would knock the place down. I felt sort of torn either way. No matter the case, the story of the evil things going on in that house had come to a close.
At least that was the plan.
While Jack was showering, I cycled through the news on the television. I thought briefly about showering with him, getting to spend a little more naked time with him, but the idea of having one of the nurses walk in on us wasn't high on my list. Plus, I figured Jack might need some personal time to get his head together after last night. We'd woke up naked and still spooned. I know I loved it. I think he did as well. But I'm beginning to think that part of being a couple includes being still you and not just half of a whole.
Anyways, dumb guy philosophy aside, I watched the news and the reports from the local sources mentioned that four bodies were taken from the house. Three had been identified. All of them, under the age of 15. Two girls and a boy. Speculation went wild about if the boy was Ralphy Curak. However, a member of the coroner's office stated that the body of the male victim pulled out of those coolers was older and physically taller and more developed than Ralphy. The two girls were identified as missing kids from the nearby town of Lawrence, Massachusetts. The last body was not identified, not even by gender, which left my mind to wonder about the gruesome possibilities.
The TV reporter was about to cut to a breaking story when Jack opened the bathroom door, wearing only a towel. Some steam rolled out of the bathroom as he walked into the room, and part of me wondered if he'd somehow managed to do that on purpose. His mousy brown hair was darker, slicked back by moisture, but he'd already combed it, making me remember how he'd looked when we'd first met, nearly a month ago.
Was it only a month? I guess when you don't actually feel the Earth turning under you the shadows can surprise you when the sun goes down. Lot of changes in a month. A lot for me to think about.
I clicked the TV off, staring at him as he walked over to his fresh clothes. His brother had dropped some serious money on getting Jack new threads. I guess his sense of style was more at play here than Jack's. Which was probably for the best, since Jack would just choose the simplest, sturdiest most practical stuff. Hopefully some of his brother's fashion sense would wear off onto Jack. Green was definitely Jack's color; it brought out his eyes.
He glanced at the selection of books Mom had stuffed into the pack I'd brought. He restacked them, apparently having read them already, and looked into the backpack, selecting a granola bar. He read the ingredients list on the back while taking a seat with a pair of socks in his other hand. I grinned, and must have chuckled, because he looked up at me, his neutral expression in place.
"Just noticing that you tend to multi-task a lot."
"Oh. Yeah," he agreed, tossing the granola bar across the room to the little rolling table thing that all hospital rooms seem to have. It landed with a bit of over the top backspin, almost standing completely vertical as it came in contact with the table top, then just flopped backwards to rest, still in a perfect straight line to Jack. I noticed all of this, paid a lot attention to it before looking over to see Jack already tugging his socks on.
I had to blink a few times to get my head out of super-analysis mode. Clearly, there's more to this powers business than I'd first considered. I'd need to air that out with Jack later as well. I added it to the list.
"Paul?" he asked, an odd quaver to his voice catching my attention.
"I need to tell you something. About the things that are going to come to light about Father once the investigation digs deeper."
"Oh?" I was understandably worried hearing him talk like that. Jack had obviously thought about what he had to tell me. And considering the subject, and the news I'd seen about the bodies, I had a feeling what he had to tell me was very bad.
"It isn't good," he said, sitting. He seemed so small all of a sudden. I mean, I was bigger than him, physically, but it's like he shrank inwards some. As if in shame.
"Whatever it is, Toothpick, before you say anything, just know that…"
"Paul, let me say this first. Then you can decide if you still love me."
"I'll let you decide." He took a deep breath and then stared me straight in the eyes. "I could have stopped him."
"Uh, with what we went through to break his hold on you, I don't think so. I mean, we pretty much had to electrocute you to switch off his control."
"You don't understand. After the fifth abduction…"
"Fifth? They only found four bodies."
"Please let me finish, this is difficult enough."
"Okay, sorry. Continue."
"I could have called someone, or told a teacher or went to the police. I knew what he was doing. I saw. He made me record things for him, both on paper and… and in my own data banks."
"How'd he do that?"
"By making me watch as he operated on people. By making me…" and Jack's face went through a series of heart wrenching twists. I moved faster than it takes to tell, standing before him and sweeping his head against my chest, comforting him for a change as he started crying.
Jack almost never cries. He just has such control over his emotions, or over his expression of his emotions is more accurate. He bawled like a baby against my chest, the wetness from his shower only a close second to the tears that soaked into my shirt. I cradled my boyfriend's head against my chest, leaning over to rest my chin and neck over him as he held on, letting it out.
I hadn't thought about it more than the fact that his father had tried to keep us apart. But seeing him like that, feeling the desperation that he was holding onto me with, I suddenly had insights into what it must have been like for him, growing up in that house.
Imagine, if you will, being forced to watch brutality at a young age. Being programmed to not only accept it as normal, but to have it narrated to you as you watch horrible things happen. Imagine the fear you would have as a small child, knowing that not only could the things you see happen to other people happen to you, but that the person you rely on for everything in your life could choose at any time to do those things to you as well.
Imagine having your body used as raw materials for some crazy man's eternal youth formula, and that he has to siphon that material from those parts of your body that are most intimate. That you are only as valuable to the person who controls your life as a lab animal. An experiment.
Imagine knowing that the person you live with could routinely cause harm and even kill without having any moral qualms about it. Imagine being party to that, also knowing that if it came to saving his own hide, you'd be first on the chopping block.
Imagine the horror of that existence, multiplied by not only the sense of time that being partly a walking computer creates in you, but having those memories of other people's torture, mutilation, agony burned into memories that remain eternally vivid. Now imagine having to keep that all inside. Never having friends to talk with, to help you with the emotions. Imagine having to keep the secrets. Keeping to yourself and never doing things like other kids. All his life, my Jack was subjected to these things, these personal horrors. Controlled. Forced to fit someone elses mold.
It was several minutes before he calmed down. While his sobbing came to an end, his grasp on my waist remained tight. I let my hands roam over his bare back and shoulders, rubbing into his hair and on the side of his face as he regained control. Neither of us said anything. We didn't need to. And I didn't have to tell him I still loved him. He knew it.
A knock on the door gave us a brief warning before Jack's brother came in. I guess I've been calling him just "Jack's brother" this whole time. His name is Jerry. Since this whole thing happened, he's really stepped up for Jack. I shouldn't think so poorly of him.
He stepped into the room and closed the door. As he looked at the two of us, still embracing, Jack's face just barely pulled off my chest, he paused. It was like a dawning realization came over him.
"Boys," Jerry said in greeting, lifting a cup of Dunkin's to his lips. "Doctor has okayed you to come home, Jack. Until the police have concluded their investigations, you will live with me. Afterwards, we'll figure out what to do. I managed to get some of your things from the house. Understandably, it wasn't much, so we have some shopping to do."
"He can have some of my things," I offered.
"No offense, Carver," Jack said, his hands dropping from around my waist, "but that is not the way I'm going to get into your pants."
I completely felt the blood drain from my face. He'd just made a gay joke about us in front of his brother. While we were hugging, and he was wearing only a towel. And after what we'd done, what we'd said to each other last night…
"I should hope not," Jerry replied, without missing a beat. "He's at least two waist sizes bigger and about four inches taller than you." And he grinned. "Take it easy, Paul. I've known my little brother a lot longer than you. I'd have to be an idiot not to see how you affect him."
"Buh… buh…" was all I could say.
"Hey, he doesn't choose my chicks, I don't choose his boyfriend. Although, given the circumstances, he could have done a lot worse."
"Paul," Jack said, getting me to focus on him again. "You should get a shower."
I nodded. "You okay, Toothpick?"
"I will be okay. Thank you," he said, leaning his head back against my chest.
"Anytime," I said softly, scratching the top of his head through his hair, musing it slightly. I picked up a towel from the shelf beside the bathroom and went inside.
I took my time in the shower, reveling the endless hot water supply that hospitals have. I just washed and then let the water run. I can't say that what I did in that time was anything as fancy as thinking. Oh, I know what you might say. You might assume that there was a heavy internal dialogue about what things might happen now that I knew my boyfriend had been party to horrible things. Or that our interaction with police officials was far from over.
For the most part, I just kept thinking that my tiny problems paled by comparison with what Jack had called life. That as selfish as I had been at times, as much of a pussy as I'd been, Jack had been strong. Strong enough for both of us. How could I be anything less than strong for him? How could I not give him everything he'd given me?
When I came out of that shower, looking myself in the eye in the steamy mirror, I realized that I loved Jack more than I loved myself. That loving him was my life. He deserved so much better than me. Poor Jack. Strong Jack. My Jack. My awesome Jack.
He was dressed when I came out of the shower. I was dressed in the same clothes I'd went in there with, but Jack had on a crisp pair of new blue jeans, and a dark green dry weave shirt with diamonds of black material along the flanks under his arms. The shirt looked a size too big for him, but somehow it matched his "Jackness." His hair was drier and styled a bit. He grinned at me as I came out of the bathroom. I couldn't help but grin back. I stepped over to where he sat and kissed him on the forehead.
Of course, that had to happen while Mom and Aunty were also in the room, talking with Jerry. I got embarrassed for a moment, but then remembered what Mom had told me. Of how Mom and Aunty were going to have "a talk" with Jack's father so we could be friends, and more than friends. We were amazingly well supported in that room, Jack and me. Felt really good to not have to hide. Really good.
Which made me really appreciate my family. I mean, I can't imagine having to hide in plain sight, having to lie and deceive those I love about how I need the other kind of love. That would be just the worst kind of hell. I had to think that somewhere my Pops was also on the same side as my Mom and Aunt Sarah.
The doctor came in and ushered the rest of us out so he could give Jack the once over before releasing him. Jerry stayed in there and they apparently talked for a long time. Mom and Aunty had arranged for all the stuffed animals to go to the pediatric ward and asked the nurses to spread the flowers out as best they could. There was no way we could take all those flowers home. The other plants were going to be delivered to Jerry's house. Jack would appreciate the diversity he could add to his garden.
But before that, Aunty had taken pictures of the hundreds of gifts like that which people had sent in. She'd also selected a few balloons, a very nice combination of flowers in a wide glass vase and a large teddy bear wearing a Patriots jersey with a big "87" in white numbers blazed on the dark blue. There was also a stack of cards, drawn pictures, and letters. It was a bit overwhelming, even having seen a fraction of it before. Gotta love small towns pulling together.
Soon as we got into the hospital lobby, we were greeted by dozens of reporters, camera crews, security officers holding the mob back and well-wishers from the community who came to rubberneck at the spectacle. I had no idea we were a spectacle. Much less warranted this kind of response. A flurry of questions were sent our way before Jerry herded us back towards the elevator area, away from the front entrance.
"They must have followed me here," he said, as if to apologize.
From the front we could still hear the reporters screeching questions, trying to be heard above their own din. I could pick out a few and realized things had taken yet another weird twist. And an ominous one at that.
"Have you heard about the prison transport crash yet?" "What is your reaction to all the persons on the transport being found burned to death in the crash?" "What are your plans now that Dr. Stamos has been declared dead at the crash-site?"
Jack's face went slightly pale as these questions sailed at us. Jerry, Mom and Aunty quickly ducked us into a break room and closed the door. The smell of stale coffee and hospital antiseptics buffeted us as we found seats. Jack's brother quickly filled us in on the details. Apparently, I'd just missed the breaking news when Jack came out of the shower.
Stamos had been remanded over to Federal authorities. Five Federal Marshals and six Homeland Security agents had shown up to transport him to a maximum security facility in Virginia. They never made it.
About 25 miles down the Garden State Parkway, heading south, the armored car they were using to escort Stamos to his next prison cell flipped over a high concrete barrier. The heavy vehicle was doing well over 80 mph when it failed to make a turn and it tumbled end over end to a section of pavement below. The transport crashed nose first, and crumpled under its own weight. It exploded almost instantly. There were no survivors. Several news programs showed helicopter footage of the wreck. Must have been one epic crash. The transport vehicle had been crushed like a dropped egg, and was so badly burned that it looked like parts of it had melted. The concrete under it was scorched and had lines radiating from the impact spot.
Jack took the news stoically, but I could see the gears turning behind his eyes. Scenarios were playing out there, being analyzed, rejected or accepted and filed away for further study or evidence. I got the feeling that he didn't believe what he'd heard yet. Or at least that he didn't jump to the same conclusions everyone else did. I have to admit, I was skeptical myself. Stamos had remained free and under the radar since World War Two had ended, even managed to continue his vile work during that time. Was managing a simple prison break and faking his death beyond his capabilities?
And if he could do that, what kind of troubles could he still have in mind for Jack and me?
Then again, we could all be getting paranoid over nothing. If he was killed in the crash, so much the better. One less nut job in the world. One less threat for any kid to have to worry about. One less step for Jack to have to deal with. With Stamos dead, there would be no trial, the investigation would move faster and well…
He'd never have to face the man that had at once been his world, good and bad. Part of me was glad of that. Jack didn't need that pain.
Arrangements were made to ferret us out the back of the hospital, in an ambulance, no less. Sort of a reverse medical emergency. We wound up getting escorted directly to the hotel by the river. Aunty, ever the clever one, had rented out a suite until the media hub bub had a chance to die down. Apparently there were still reporters camped out in front of her place and someone's cooler head had decided we didn't need to put the family into a situation where lawyers might be involved. News people sometimes forget that there are human beings at the heart of their hot news story, and we didn't need one of the women in my life having to get jail time for assault.
The hotel set up was difficult. Jack and I shared a room, Aunty and Mom each had their own rooms and Jack's brother and his girlfriend had the fourth bedroom. It was awkward, because Jack and I were forced into close proximity, yet we had to keep from going back to that place we'd found in the hospital. I know I wanted to go back there, but I felt completely self-conscious about it. The hotel walls weren't exactly sound proof, as we learned with Jerry and his girlfriend that first night.
So, while we were together, expected to sleep together and all that, we couldn't do anything like we wanted to. Oddly, we were happy with that. Nights we got to spend naked and cuddled, teasing a bit, but no heavy stuff. Days, we got police protection until the feds concluded that Stamos had died in the crash. Mom and Aunty got to know Jack and Jerry better and we actually kissed in front of them. Not like a passion attack kiss, just a quick peck in passing or while holding each other watching TV. Aunty even got out the "such a cute couple," line. Otherwise, we were good. Even the blushing seemed to become less and less frequent.
We'd been heavily interviewed by the federal officers and local prosecutor. Investigations were hitting brick walls, mostly because without Stamos to question, a lot of material recovered made no sense. We did get a note from the family of one of the girls. They were grateful for the closure, even if enormously saddened by the fate of their daughter. Healing began there as well. Jack wrote a very profound note back, which left Aunty in tears and Mom gave him a mom hug, into which he just melted.
The doctor had Jack back in, a few days later. The cover was that he needed to check the stitches on the back of Jack's neck. The reality is a simple procedure was secretly done. At Jack's direction, Jerry had found a prototype wifi modem that Jack had built to replace the long wire one. It took up a fraction of the space left behind from the original one plus the space the explosive charge had taken and would tuck seamlessly behind a small metal plate in Jack's skull.
I know next to nothing about computers from the gear side, nor anything about the kind of medicine involved in what Stamos had done to Jack's body all these years. But Jack apparently knew his stuff and between him and his brother, they convinced Dr. Saunders to help with Jack's upgrade. Somehow, they also managed to keep that upgrade off the medical records. I can't imagine how that happened, but I DO imagine that some money changed hands.
And apparently, my boyfriend is "plug and play" adaptable! It took less than an hour, under local anesthetic and Jack was not only looking less lost, but seemed to be happier. Think of all the wifi hot spots around and the other wireless ways to access the internet. He now had access to all of that, and apparently could hack any of them. I asked him how he felt with the new receiver and he only replied, "reconnected," and grabbed my hand.
At night, Jack and I both had bad dreams. Usually not at the same time, but more than once we would wake up in a tangle of limbs, one of us clutching at the other in fear, confusion, anger. We comforted each other in those moments. We fought our demons together, finding that it was often the same demon, just from different angles. More of our bond. Not the terror or fear or all of that angsty psychology crap, but that we were together and there for each other.
We'd been in almost constant contact with Robby and Kenny. They'd done really well in the fencing meet up in Exeter, both getting into the medal rounds and coming back with some bling. Not gold, but definitely bling. Which apparently was suddenly the talk of the fencing world in New England, since Robby had basically come out of nowhere. Kenny also made a splash there, suddenly doing better in the tournament than he'd ever done before. I guess when you compete with and against your boyfriend you bring out the best in each other. I know Jack brings out… brought out… so much from me.
At any rate, our new buddies would be home that night and we'd arranged a meeting. Nothing too formal, just hanging out, going to the Cineplex over in Methuen and just getting to know each other. Jack said he wanted to see what the Jedi class was all about, but I felt he would join if I did. Which I wanted to do, but only if Jack wanted to as well. Somehow, I got the feeling we'd be joining. Heck, he'd taken to skating like a duck to a lake, he'd probably be beating my ass with a lightsaber in short order too. And liking it!
After a few days, the camera crews and interview requests and all that died down. Jerry handled much of it like a champ. He deflected most of the more personally invasive questions and kept asking that we have time to heal after the ordeal. I kinda grew to respect him more.
When we left the hotel, it was a pleasant Friday, sunny, just a few clouds drifting over the valley. Hard to believe what happened a few days ago. Also hard to believe that Jack and I would be separated at nights. We hadn't done anything more sexual than just holding and kissing and cuddling naked at night. I mean, we had come out to our families, but we weren't putting on shows. Still, I'd grown very accustomed to having him laying in my arms, spooned, at night. We fit together almost by design. We'd bonded.
We came downstairs to go home that day and were surprised to see three Canterbury police cruisers waiting with our taxi-van. No photographers or news cameras or reporters. I was looking forwards to getting back to my skateboard. Jack knew he had tons of work to do in his garden. Aunty was upset that she'd left dishes in the sink. A real stickler for keeping the kitchen spotless, my Aunt Sarah. We were all looking forwards to getting back to a routine. Mom had even been offered a job at the town library, courtesy of Robby's mom.
It's good to have friends.
So, we headed towards Jerry's place, since it was closest to the hotel. The city streets didn't seem to have any more traffic than normal. The drive over was surreal, though. I mean, first off, police escort, including Sergeant Ozzie. It was very quiet in the van as we drove under the commuter rail line into Boston. We turned up Essex Street towards the traffic circle with the horse statue. Jack's hand was gripped into mine tightly and I was having a hard time realizing that we'd be parting soon.
Okay, so we'd only be across the mill stream from each other, like less than 6 blocks away. It seemed like in the last week we'd become each others whole world all over again. I felt like that was coming to an end. You know, I pride myself on not being a blubbering idiot. I might not be the smartest guy in the room, and around Jack I know that's true, but I do have my sense of who I am. Like, before, I was the loner, the stony guy who could never be hurt. Now, holding hands, no, tightening my hold on Jack's hand, not just holding it, at that moment I was just a few spoken words away from losing my cool.
Jack smiled at me, bringing our combined hands up to his lips to plant a quick smoocher on my middle finger's knuckle. It was plain on his face that he was feeling it too. I resolved myself to not turning into a cry baby in front of my boyfriend. He needed me to be tough and strong for him. I'd let it out later when I was alone in my room or in the shower, so like, no one would see the tears.
Like I said, that was the plan.
Something caught my eye past Jack's face as he kissed my hand. Something flashed and I saw a face and motion beside the Store 24 on the other side of the bronze statue of Lafayette on horseback in the traffic circle. A face and a motion that all made my blood run completely cold.
It was Stamos, and he'd just lifted an assault rifle to his shoulder as we came around the right side of the horse's tail. Time seemed to slow for me and I felt my heart jump to action. I pushed Jack to the floor and covered him with my body, shouting for everyone to get down.
Shots rang out, and the first police cruiser in line took most of the spray. Sparks flew and glass shattered. The cop car didn't stop it's forward motion, and in fact crashed into two parked cars in front of the convenience store. More shots rang out as Mom and Aunty screamed in panic. The van lurched, glass spraying from the front of the van. We came to a complete stop to the sound of police hand guns discharging in single staccato shots while the rapid shots of Stamos' machine gun blasted out.
Jack and I looked at each other and risked a look over the edge of the car door. Stamos was reloading, standing in front of the second cop car, a prone figure bleeding profusely by the open driver side door. I looked to the taxi driver and he seemed to be holding his shoulder, a flow of blood seeping into the top and back of his shirt.
"Father…" Jack aspirated. Jerry opened the door on his side of the van, helping Aunty and his girlfriend out. Mom was slumped over in the front seat beside the driver. I couldn't see if she was hurt, but she wasn't moving.
I got more than mad.
I got out of the van, Jack getting out beside me. We stood side by side as Stamos finished reloading his weapon.
"Ah, Jack. Good boy. You kept my supply close."
He looked horrible. His clothes were ragged, burnt in places. He had a bullet proof vest on, with all sorts of military looking packs and belts and stuff, obviously things he'd taken from the federal agents who died in the crash he'd somehow escaped.
All my most recent nightmares were suddenly staring me down in real life. Again. Beside me, Jack reached out and took my hand, lacing our fingers. His nightmare was given flesh as well, now.
"Ah. Still clinging to the illusion, I see," Stamos said, taking a few steps our way. He had a visible limp, but seemed as strong as ever. It was weird seeing such a spindly, obviously older man walk with confidence in his limp. I guess there's something to be said about some people mistaking having a powerful weapon in hand for courage or confidence.
"Drop the weapon!" Ozzie sceamed from behind his cop car, way off to our right, his shotgun pointing over the hood of the car at Stamos. His vehicle was blocking traffic from up Winter Street, just past the bridge I'd tried to grind on that started all this in the first place. Right by where I'd face planted like a chump and Jack had saved not only my dignity, but my life.
"Sergeant," Stamos said, with great emphasis at how tired he apparently was at dealing with inferiors, "I have already wounded you, despite your impressive body armor. Don't force me to kill you as well."
"I said drop it, Stamos!"
"Oh, if you insist," Jack's Father said, twisting the rifle out and away from himself, making a show of it, and then releasing the weapon. He fell and in that moment time slowed for me. I saw it all, felt it happening and moved. It's hard to get it exactly right how this happened, so like, bear with me here.
First, as the weapon fell, Ozzie stood. I noticed there was a bloom of red that spread under his left arm, soaking his white shirt with blood. He kept Stamos under his shotgun the whole time. But, as the rifle fell, the good doctor had another plan. He pulled a pistol from behind his back and whipped it in Ozzie's direction. Three shots filled the square, as cars all around stopped, swerved away from the crashes. Chaos squared in the circle.
Three shots, one from Sergeant Ozzie, two from Stamos. All three were spot on target. Ozzie took two in the chest, spinning around. Stamos took the slug in the stomach, which knocked him to the ground, bending him in half. Jack and I dropped hands and dove behind the third cop car, which had braked to a halt between the statue and Stamos. The cop was still in the car, although his door was open. I could hear him wheezing heavily, even as he was calling in the attack on his police radio.
"Get down, boys!" the cop grunted. Jack moved around me and examined the cop's injuries. A bullet grazed the cop's head and glass fragments had scraped open small cuts along his face and neck. My boyfriend immediately went into paramedic mode, pulling off his shirt and using the fabric to apply pressure to the rip in the flesh of the middle-aged cop's forehead. I looked around and saw Mom still slumped in the front seat of the taxi van.
"I gotta check on Mom," I said to Jack.
He didn't take his attention from the cop, just nodded and said "Go." I turned to move and Jack brought me up short with a quick "Carver! Be careful."
I nodded and left the cover of the cop car, heading back towards the van.
"Not so fast, Master Carver," Stamos said from behind me. I heard some sort of weapon click-click sound, and stopped. I uncrouched, turning to face him. He looked surprisingly good for someone who'd just taken a slug to the gut. I couldn't see any more blood on him, but he did seem a bit shaken by the shotgun blast. Then again, he was wearing government agent body armor, so he probably wasn't as banged up as he would be in just normal clothes.
"You know you'll never get away with this," I said, fear and anger fighting inside me. "Too many people know what you are, what you've done. You can't get away."
"Oh, let me be the judge of that. They wont be firing away while I have a hostage." He had recovered the rifle and now held it on me. "Now, come over here, boy. I'd hate to have to wound you and drag you off, but I will."
"No," I said. I felt completely stupid saying it, but I did. What would you do?
"I am not asking, boy," he said with a snarl. A single shot smoked out of the assault rifle and I watched in terror as the shot sped past my head, the sound of breaking glass reaching me from behind a moment after. I didn't flinch, but I did turn my head to see where the shot had gone.
The right side mirror on the van, just a foot from my mother's slumped over head, was still dripping broken glass shards, an ugly dent punched into the metal casing of the mirror. The message was clear. If I didn't comply, he'd kill my Mom.
"You see, I have all the cards. Now, come here!"
"No," I replied again. Somewhere behind me, I could hear Aunt Sarah calling my name, her voice singing out over the chaos of traffic and bullets. In the distance, I could hear other police cars coming and fire trucks coming out of the station just up High Street, less than a mile away.
"I will kill her," Stamos intoned, as if he weren't a caged rat. "I have nothing to lose."
"You already lost everything," I said, moving his way, but not like a coward. I took slow deliberate steps. Something in his eyes changed seeing how I was moving slowly towards him.
"We've already played this out, boy. You'll lose again. Come quietly. No heroics, or I will kill her."
I was so focused on everything around me, suddenly. I saw someone from the Store 24 come out and check on the cop in the first car, two other people from inside the store helping a small child out of the back of one of the other cars. Across the square, at the used car lot, a trio of customers and salesmen were directing stopped cars into the lot, helping clear the streets some. Jerry was physically restraining Aunty and getting her to stay down behind the base of the statue. I saw Ozzie looking over to me from behind the tire of his cruiser, pushing an extra shotgun round into the bottom of the weapon, and cocking the slide.
He nodded to me. I made a show of balling up my fists. Stamos' face changed, focusing on me entirely. He could see how pissed I was, probably couldn't see how scared I was, though. Which is good, because the pissed gave him pause. He redirected the rifle towards me. I took steps around the nose of Ozzie's cruiser, steadily moving towards the mad scientist.
"You obviously are a miracle. You finally understand the gifts I gave you. I shall have to see what that truly means without your resistance," he said, grinning evilly.
And then he shifted his arm slightly, raising the gun a bit, keeping it in line with my chest. The rifle bucked under his hands, speeding three shots at me, aimed dead-on at my chest. Despite those horrible coke-bottle glasses, his aim was true.
But I didn't hold still for them. I quickly stepped to the right, bowing my body out of the way. The bullets soared past me, one ripping a hole in the flapping fabric of my shirt. Spinning out of that dodge, I came set, with my feet spread wide, my body tucked, square to where Stamos stood.
Yeah, I know. I just freaking dodged bullets, fired about eight yards away from me! And it made me more pissed!
"Impossible!" Stamos cried, shifting to put the rifle back on target to me. Ozzie stood up and tried to bring his shotgun around again, but Stamos simply pivoted the rifle and sprayed the hood of the car, aiming without looking. Ozzie ducked back behind the car, untouched by the burst.
"Whazamatter, Doc?" I asked, feeling hella cocky. "Thought you wanted to see my potential?"
In answer, he snapped the rifle up to his shoulder and fired off a carefully aimed shot at my head. As I saw his fingers tighten on the trigger, I dove forward, getting low, and somehow rolled across my shoulders. I'd dodged another bullet and had covered about half the distance between me and Stamos. I stood from the roll, natural as you please, and was off to his left. He swung my way, keeping the rifle up in the aiming position.
I didn't give him the option, however. I grabbed the gun barrel and twisted it so the finger in the trigger loop got caught. This made the gun fire off, the bullet grazing my hip, but I didn't care. I was fully done being scared of this lunatic. I was done letting him hurt people.
I was pretty much done with him. And as I wrenched the gun away from his hand, I heard his finger break, saw his gasp and was ready to smash him with the back end of the gun, like a baseball bat.
But Doc was a still quick. And he wasn't going down easy. He punched me with his left fist, right on the side of the jaw. It spun me around. I can admit, that punch really, really hurt. But I wasn't about to go down easy.
He twisted to kick me, but I grabbed his leg. Years of WWE watching came into play, and I used his leg to spin him about, so his back was facing me. I surged, grasped around his waist and lifted him bodily off the ground. As I reached the height I could lift him, I pulled with my stomach, chest, back, every muscle I could, and brought him back down, with my knee up under his ass, between his legs. Atomic dropped him!
He bounced off my knee, his tailbone suddenly very important to his hands. He'd let the assault rifle drop as he bowed out his back in pain. I was very tempted to go for the weapon, but Stamos had shown he had back up plans. Best to keep my hands free.
"Father!" Jack shouted suddenly, standing in front of the taxi, the wind whipping his hair up slightly. Stamos looked Jack squarely in the eyes, clearly shocked at seeing the boy so defiant. Hanging in Jack's hand, by his thigh, was a police taser pistol. It twitched in his paw as Jack felt years of abuse and emotion fill the moment.
"Oh, so it's come to this," Stamos said, spitting out blood. "Glass Tuna!" he shouted.
Jack stopped. His hands opened and the taser dropped to the ground. I saw his eyes actually go glassy, his body become rigid.
"Jack, you must kill Paul Carver. No mercy," Stamos said, calmly, with a smile. "Now!"
Jack leapt at me, his hands reaching out for my neck. I was stunned, and it took all my speed to dodge his raking fingers as he tried to attack me. I didn't want to hurt him, but it seemed he had no such compunctions about hurting me. At one point I grabbed his wrist, but that didn't help me any. He used that grip to draw me in closer, to reach for my face. His fingers were still those strong, supple digits he'd developed in his gardening. But now they were hooked into clawing strikes, aimed at my eyes.
His fingernails rasped my skin, scratching a lot deeper than I would have thought possible along my neck. I had to release him and hop back. Behind Jack, Stamos physically reset his finger bone and was recovering the rifle.
"Jack! C'mon, it's me! It's Paul! Snap out of it!" I called, trying to avoid his swinging arms. He actually growled at me, his face twisted. I ducked and stepped back, nearly tripping over the granite encased curb of the traffic circle. "C'mon, Toothpick! Fight it!"
Jerry suddenly was at my side, looking Jack in the eyes. "Jack! Green Horse!"
Jack halted his attack, having to stop and get his balance. He shook his head and looked up to Jerry. "Wha?"
"Jack, initiate protocol protect." A moment passed between the brothers as I watched. Then Jack's face turned furious.
"He used me?!"
"Yes," Jerry said. Nearby, Ozzie and Stamos traded gunfire, the police cruiser taking more shots.
"To attack Paul?"
"Yes," Jerry replied. I had my hand on my neck, over the scratch. I pulled my hand back and looked at the streaks of blood there.
"Paul, I'm so sorry."
"Toothpick, I know it wasn't you. I don't know what it was, but that wasn't you."
"I love you."
"You angry now?" I asked, leaning my head down to touch our foreheads together.
"Livid," he said.
"Good. Let's go kick his ass."
"After you," Jack said, rotating his neck forward to plant a quick peck on my lips.
"Jerry, get my mom out of there. We'll keep Stamos busy."
"What's the plan?" Jack said, peeking around the base of the statue at where Stamos was spraying with both the rifle and the pistol. The cars along the three streets leading to the traffic circle kept police cars and fire trucks from entering the square, but cops were rushing to the scene on foot. Still, Stamos seemed to have things in hand, for the moment.
"I dunno, I'm making this up as I go," I said, and bolted into the open. I felt more than saw Jack following me. I definitely saw Jerry edge around the statue's base towards the taxi, keeping under cover as he went.
"Stamos!" I shouted. I felt like I did when I blind parried Robby at Jedi class. My body was set, I was focused, my mind clear, and I was fully pissed off.
Stamos looked my way briefly, before smiling again. I closed my eyes for a moment and let the world flow into me.
Yeah, I know that sounds weird, but like, all my senses were focused, alert and feeding me information like I've never felt before. I could feel vibrations through my feet, even roughly triangulate where those vibrations came from based on how different the waves felt between my feet. I smelled things and felt the way the wind passed over my skin, through my hair. I knew every movement around me.
So when Jack came sailing at my head, fingers curved into claws again, I was able to side step with ease. I spun on my back foot and tumbled, landing on my butt to avoid Jack's swipes at my neck. He charged in again, his fingers hooking into the bullet hole in my shirt and ripping a larger hole. I pulled back hard, spinning Jack around so he was between me and Stamos. I got a double look at that moment that both chilled and delighted me.
Weird word, delight, for that situation, but it fits.
Chilled, because Stamos pulled off a double shot with both weapons, hitting Ozzie's body armor again, knocking him down, and the second shot put a pistol round in the thigh of another Canterbury cop who was coming to Ozzie's aid.
Delighted, because while I was trying to fend of Jack's crazed swipes at my body with his full wiry strength, I saw him look right into my eyes, and wink. We might not have a plan spoken aloud, but we were on the same page. Stamos assumed Jack was still his weapon. We knew otherwise.
We were about 6 yards away from Stamos and the incoming fire from cop pistols had ceased. Aunty was still calling my name from the safety of a brick block building near Essex Street. I saw Jerry pulling my mom out of the taxi, dragging her heels as he got her low and behind the cop car. I looked at Jack while he tried to launch himself at my neck, teeth first.
"Now!" Jack whispered harshly and I caught him in mid leap, and hurled him at the nearby cop car.
He was amazing! He tucked in midair and landed feet first, square to Stamos, bunched up like a bullfrog ready to pounce. I charged Stamos, making a full out attempt to bull rush him.
Stamos turned only to have Jack shoulder tackle him, leaping off the cop car like a cross between an Olympic swimmer leaving his mark and a NFL lineman charging off the line. The impact wasn't enough to topple Stamos, who obviously was way stronger than Jack, but it was enough to unbalance him. That was all the advantage I needed to slam into Stamos' legs with all my weight, speed and anger, catching his knees sideways as I dove into him.
He screamed in agony. Jack rolled to the side and started kicking Stamos in the head. I rolled up his body and kept hammering away at his right arm, trying to get the assault rifle away. Stamos had dropped the pistol in Jack's tackle.
I'd felt the fight go out of Stamos, his body going slack. Jack continued to slam his small foot into the mad man's head, over and over.
And yet again, over.
I rolled off Stamos and had to pull Jack off him. The look on Jack's face was difficult to describe. Anger, certainly, but there was such a visceral hatred there. Jack's normal calm, cool, collected, calculated expression was lost in the pain and anguish he was reliving, and letting out through his feet. As I pulled him away from Stamos, cops came up and restrained the unconscious bastard. I held Jack as he cried into my shoulder, turning to hold on tighter.
Yeah, he was a mess, but can you say you wouldn't be? He'd just been betrayed, used and assaulted by this man yet again. And he's watched people he loves get hurt by this guy, who we all thought was dead, I might add.
To say the least, I was glad we'd taken him down, but part of me wished we'd killed him when we did it. Not to say that I think so casually of killing, but this guy doesn't know how to take the "L." He keeps coming back. More importantly, he doesn't have limits. He'll kill, he'll use, he'll abuse, without any crisis of conscious. I am not a cold blooded killer. But I can see where someone needs to be.
Jack cried against my shoulder as Jerry came over to check on us. Aunty had Mom, who was just regaining consciousness. Ambulances and police swarmed the area and Stamos was hustled off to jail, after they stripped him of all clothes, making sure they got all possible weapons. He was still torpid when they hauled him off, and the cops weren't too gentle with him.
Back to the hospital. Surprisingly, my own injuries had just about completely healed by the time we got back to the ER. Not even a scab or scar where Jack had raked my neck. Jack himself had no serious injuries either and we were both cleared. Mom had a mild concussion from the crash and was going to stay overnight for observation. We sat together, Jack in my lap, beside Mom's bed. She was resting and the two of us were just snoozing beside her. There was a cop at the door, guarding. Jack put his Gronk teddy bear on the bed with mom, and in her sleep, she'd cuddled it. In that moment, we were safe again.
"Carver," Jack whispered against my neck, barely making sound at all. At this point, we'd had enough practice with pillow talk to know that we both had exceptional hearing, and could speak softly enough that others would have to be sitting in the chair with us to hear. "Yeah, Toothpick?"
"We have to end him."
"Out of our hands," I replied. I didn't want Stamos around, like period, but I didn't want his blood on my hands. Protecting the ones you love is one thing. I wasn't ready to be an executioner, no matter how badly that son of a bitch needed killing.
"You should have let me do it. Finish it, I mean."
"I know what you mean. I couldn't let you become the weapon he wanted you to be, Jack. I love you, ya crazy genius."
"I am what he made me to be," Jack said sadly.
"You were what he made you to be," I corrected, lifting his chin with my forefinger. "You are now what you choose to be. You are free."
"I'm scared, Pauly," he admitted. Had any other boy called me that, I'd have put his head through a wall. And it seems I'm strong enough to do just that.
The bathroom door creaked a bit in the near dark of the hospital room. I was about to rise and lash out at whoever had managed to sneak into the bathroom when I heard a familiar voice.
"You guys decent out there?"
"Ouch! Hey, watch those big feet, goat-pants!" Kenny's voice sang out. "Would you step through already? It's not easy keeping this thing open."
"Uhm, how is this possible?" Jack said, sliding to his feet. I stood up gingerly, feeling the pins and needles surge into my legs. Jack has a bony butt.
Robby and Kenny stepped into the room, a slight blue glow from behind them as they closed the bathroom door. Jack had a slightly bewildered look on his face. Oddly, he was about the same height as my two younger friends. Both of them had their "lightsabers" hanging off a belt loop of their jeans. They came up to me and bumped fists.
"Jack, these are the two that helped us. They rescued me so I could rescue you. And they're two pretty stand up dudes. This is Robby, and that's Kenny. They're a couple."
"Couple of what's is the question," Robby said, poking a paw out Jack's way. "Good to finally meet you, Jack."
"Likewise," Jack said, shaking the hand offered. Kenny came up and repeated the ritual. "I understand that you are supernatural?"
"Oh, have we got things to tell you," Kenny said. We got comfortable and began the trick of learning to be friends. Jack got back into my lap, listening with rapt attention to what we'd gone through in exposing and escaping Stamos. Jack seemed fascinated about the legends and powers my changeling friends had. Got to admit, it was something I wanted to learn more about as well.
We talked long into the night, while mom slept. The conversation swung many times, as good conversations do. Sometime around 4 AM, Robby and Kenny said their goodbyes, this time with hugs instead of handshakes. Jack seemed a little reluctant at first, but he's as much a sucker for a good hug as anyone.
"You were right about them," he said as Kenny knocked on the other side of the bathroom door, signaling that they'd done their weird magical escape trick. I opened the bathroom door to find a perfectly normal hospital room bathing facility, empty of any teenage presences.
"Yeah. Good friend material. I like them."
"I like you," I said, crossing to where Jack stood. Our eyes locked as I got to toes range with him. His hands went up to my shoulders, mine slipped into that comfortable place over his hips. We pulled in close and hugged for a while.
"I'm still scared," Jack whispered.
"Me too," I admitted.
"But I'm not afraid. The future is uncertain, but I don't fear it. Only what it would be like if I was still alone."
"Fat chance of that," I said, leading him back to the hospital chair. I maneuvered us back into a seated position, him reclining in my lap. "You're pretty much stuck with me."
"Oh good." And he leaned his forehead into my neck. "Paul?"
"Uhm, first, don't call me Jacky. Sounds girlish."
"Second, about that night, you know, when we did the couch thing all over again."
"Yes," I said, smiling.
"I want to again."
"No. Not now. But soon. When we're alone."
"Oh. I think I'd like that."
"I want you to be my first."
"Yes. First. And if possible, last and only."
"oh. OH! You mean first…"
"Light dawns on Marble Head," he chuckled softly. "Yes. While I did rough comparisons on Robby and Kenny while they were here… I could not find them compelling enough to want to do the things I envision us doing together."
"To be completely on the same page, you mean…"
"Sexually, yes," he said. "They are, well, cute. But I don't have the same feelings about them, or any other boys I have thought of, that I have when I think about you."
"Wow," I whispered leaning my chee k on the crown of his head. "You know what?"
"I feel the same about you, Toothpick."
"Good," he said, shrugging deeper against me.
"I kinda love you, ya know."
"I know." He wiggled his fingers into mine, lacing them and holding our combined hand to his chest. "Carver?"
"I love you."
"I love you, too."
"Will the two of you hush? I'm trying to enjoy these sedatives," Mom grumbled. We giggled a bit at that, but settled down, enjoying each-others warmth and skin.
And when the morning came, we left the hospital for home, looking to make a new start. We had each other, new friends, discovered crazy and unique things about ourselves, and had ended a generational evil that endangered our town. Not bad for a former military BRaT trying to find his place in a town he didn't know was already home. And with friends like Robby and Kenny, and an awesome boyfriend like Jack, you had to guess that there would be other adventures and trouble for us to get into.
But that, my friends, is another story.
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