by Grasshopper

Chapter 9

He had the dream again. Rolling across his bed to look out into the night, Wes rubbed the sleep from his eyes with knuckled fingers.

In the dream, different each time, yet always the same, he was lost, his vision blurred and his memory hazy. Afraid to take a step, his arms outstretched, he could feel things, moving things, around his feet. Calling, calling, he knew he was about to fall, sometimes pushed off a steep cliff, sometimes plunging from the railing of a bridge, sometimes onto the tracks of a roaring freight train. Always the same, yet always different.

The light would come, intense and blinding, ripping the mists from his eyes. Sometimes the wind would bring the light, other times the sound of a child laughing. Sometimes it came with the hush of his mother's voice:

""Baby's fishing for a dream, fishing near and far.
His line a silver moonbeam is, his bait a silver star.
Sail, baby, sail, Out upon that sea,
Only don't forget to sail back again to me."

"Take my hand," she would whisper, slipping her fingers into his, pulling him into the light. "This is your path, Wesley. Use your eyes, Baby Boy. Your special eyes." He felt his mother's hand slip away. Why didn't she stay? Why did he always have to be alone? "Mother!" he called.

The wind brought her voice once more. "Sail, Wesley, sail. This is your path. The path is right there. Find me. Find the path. Use your eyes."

He could hear a voice far off in the mists calling his name. It was Cole.

Cole was calling and the sound of a baby's cry. Wes would always wake up with tears streaming down his face.

Callie had been riding her chestnut mare, Firefly, out on the bluffs and had just come into the cave out of the cold. There was a small fire burning, so she flopped down beside Wes, snuggling up close. "Warm me up, Wes. Brrrr!"

"Okay, Superman or Spiderman?" Cole called out.

"Superman, Peter Parker would fold."

"Blade or Wolverine?"

Wes thought for a second, "I wanna say Blade right off, but you know, Wolverine has those claws and he might be able to ..... Nah, all that blood would just set Blade off. I gotta say Blade."

Callie laughed, "Brittany or Paris Hilton?"

Cole snorted, "Jeez, Brittany's got like fifty pounds on that stick girl. She'd break her like a twig." He chuckled as Callie swatted him.

"You or Wes?"

"Me definitely," he snorted, "Look at Wes, all skinny and no muscles." He shoved Wes' muscled calf with the toe of his boot.

"Ha, you and who else?" Wes taunted. "I could tie your arms around your boney butt in about three seconds, pretty boy."

Anyone who ever looked at the two friends was stunned by the difference in their appearance. Where Wes was six feet two inches, Cole had stopped growing at five foot ten. Wes had the build of a fullback, broad shoulders, taut muscles, while Cole was slender and wiry, his days after school spent riding fence waiting for Wes as he worked long tough hours at the silos.

First reaction, Wes was rough to Cole's smooth, but when they were together, it was as if one complimented the other, filling in the empty spaces. Callie was blind to their connection, seeing only what she wanted to see and all she wanted to see was Wes.

Grabbing Wes by the arm, Cole twisted him onto his back to the floor of the cave. Pinning Wes down, Cole crowed, "I'm so good!"

Wes, a gleam in his eye, laughed and effortlessly flipped Cole over, straddling him and settling down to sit on Cole's hips. "Who's good?" he laughed.

Cole began to squirm. "Get off me, you big dork." The wiggling, the rubbing. Wes felt his dick go hard and heat begin to radiate from deep in his belly. Shit! Callie! Rolling off quickly, he conjured up Father's face. It was trick he'd figured out back a couple of years if Cole touched him at school. Nothing killed the feeling faster than Father's ugly eyes.

Back when Wes was thirteen and Cole had kissed him for the first time at their secret pond, it had been scary, like wrong and bad, until they had talked about it and decided that apart, they were nothing, together, they were solid. It was scary. It wasn't what their world would accept, but it was what would happen.

They had talked about Callie. What to do. She had her sights set on Wes and it hadn't gone away over the years. She had flirted with him since they were eleven and now, at seventeen, she dated all the boys at school, but Wes knew she still wanted him. How to tell her he wanted Cole?

Callie was Cole in a girl's body. When Wes was younger, he'd figured he'd marry Callie and Cole would be his brother and they'd all live together up here in their cabin by the cave. He knew that was stupid now. He only wanted Cole to touch him that way, only wanted Cole to kiss him and comfort him. Callie just wasn't Cole.

It had been hard for Wes to accept at first, this feeling about Cole, thinking that it was all his fault. That maybe he was broken because of Father. That maybe he was hurting Cole. He had tried to ignore his feelings, but Cole had never let him.

He knew, just by looking into Cole's eyes, that the nights in their own beds were spent thinking about each other. Running their hands over their bodies, touching here, stroking there, all they could see were each other's eyes, all they could feel were each other's hands and tongues and mouths. Sticky, wet dreams. The dreams always felt so real.

Rolling off Cole quickly as Callie still laughed; Wes knocked his head against the low cave ceiling. The biggest problem right now, besides having to get off Cole and get his body to behave, was Callie.

Wes thought about the dream again. The mists and his mother's voice, the dreams that left him shaken and disturbed. His mother singing to him, the sound of Cole's voice somewhere off in the distance lost to him, and that baby's cry. Just thinking about it always made him want to reach out his hand, so real was the feeling that if he could just find Cole in the mists, he could find what he was searching for.

"Penny for your thoughts, Wesley Straihan," Callie teased, standing up and shaking out her long blonde hair.

"You wouldn't wanna know," Wes muttered. He had never told either of them, even Cole, who thought he knew Wes' every move, about the pit or the basement or the beatings. Those were all secrets that no one ever needed to know. All they knew was that Father was cruel and Mother was gone. Callie sure didn't need to know how excited Wes had just gotten wrestling with her brother. Too many thoughts in his head as usual.

"Come ride with me, handsome." Wes heard the invitation for much more than a ride in her voice.

"Nah, I gotta get home. Mercy's alone."

"I'll walk you," Cole said, never questioning Wes' devotion to his sister.

"You always have to go home," Callie whined. "When are you gonna stop worrying about Mercy. She's like eighteen now."

Wesley looked at her, disappointment thick in his eyes. "Never, Callie, she's my sister. I would think you'd understand that."

As Callie rode off in a huff, Cole rubbed Wes' shoulders. "She didn't mean to be rotten, Wes. You know Callie. She's just used to getting what she wants."

The tingling from Cole's fingers on his back made Wes close his eyes and sink back against Cole's chest. Arms wrapped around him, Wes rolled his head to one side to ask for Cole's kiss on his neck. Turning in his arms, Wes spoke against Cole's lips, "I worry so much about us. I worry about Callie and how this will all work out."

"I'm the worrywart," Cole smiled, planting small light kisses along Wes' jawline. "Let me do the fretting."

They walked together as far as the Harrelson's pasture where, if they stood on the top railing of the old wooden fence, they could see the roof of the Straihan house, smoke churning out of the chimney. "You're awful quiet today," Cole said, holding Wes' hand.

"Sorry, I guess being around Callie, her thinking I'm gonna start liking her and me crazy for you, is kinda making me nuts."

"It'll be okay. You'll see. She'll go off to college and find a ton of cute guys to flirt with."

"And you?" Wes asked, his eyes wide and scared.

"Me? I only have one guy I flirt with and he's standing right here." Smiling, they shared a soft kiss.

Wes turned his eyes toward home. "I guess I better get going. I need to check on Mercy. She gets quieter every day. I'm gonna have money one day and I'm gonna have her leg fixed and we're gonna live in a beautiful house with flowers and cats and dogs and she's gonna laugh just like Callie does, free and easy."

"You will, Wes. You'll do all those things." Cole stared at the wind tossing the branches of an old cottonwood tree. "We'll do them together. I promise."

"See ya, Cole," Wes said softly as he dropped off the rail fence and started across the pasture at a run.

"See ya, Wes." Cole watched Wes until he climbed the opposite fence and disappeared from view. He felt that familiar clutch in his heart that he had everytime Wes disappeared from his sight. Now he would worry. Now he wouldn't know how Wes was until tomorrow. Always tomorrow.

He knew life at that house must be as close to hell as it could get. Wes always told him that things were fine, not to worry. That was stupid. All he did was wait to see Wes every day, the next day and the next, to be sure he was okay. Life, for Cole, was waiting for Wesley.

"Cole," Callie called as she reined Firefly to a quick stop beside her brother. "Wesley left without saying goodbye," she pouted.

"Callie, leave him alone about Mercy. You have no business interfering with them."

"I'll do what I want," she muttered. "Wesley belongs to me."

Cole sighed, "Don't start that. You know he's got a lot of stuff going on in his life. And he doesn't need your stupid girl crap messing him up."

"Stupid girl crap?" I love Wesley. I'm going to marry him. You wait and see. He'll figure it out soon. I can wait until he's ready."

Callie didn't know that the next few weeks would turn their lives upside down in so many ways. There would be heartache and confusion, and a rending of the heart.

Five days later, the weatherman called for heavy snow and blizzard-like conditions. Everyone was hunkering down to wait out the storm. Schools were called and shopkeepers hung out 'Closed' signs.

Wes ran across the fields, his lungs burning, heading for the cave. He had to see Cole before the storm. He knew Cole would come to the cave. Grabbing up wood from the pile they'd made last summer, he shivered, teeth chattering, until the small blaze began to warm the small opening in the side of the mountain. Huddled in his jacket and heavy boots, he waited, sitting as close to the fire as he could.

Cole was looking up at the thick scudding gray clouds, praying they held off for a few more hours, just until he could see Wes and make sure he got home okay. Riding Whistler, he was headed toward the cave.

Callie watched from the window of the big house. Where was Cole going? It looked like he was heading toward the cave, but he would have told her. If he was going to see Wes, he would have told her. She wanted to see Wes too. Frowning, she whirled and headed to her room to put on warmer clothes.

Cole reined Whistler up at the mouth of the cave and slid down as his boots disappeared into the building snow. He could smell the fire and feel Wes.

"You're crazy, you know," he said, as he crouched down to get into the cave. "What the hell are you doing out here. It's gonna be a real fucker."

Wes smiled his silent smile. No point in either of them answering the obvious. Cole flopped down close to Wes and held his hands out to the fire. "We can't stay here long. The snow will build pretty quick."

"Then," Wes said, his voice strangling in emotion, "Put some more logs on that fire and come here." He began to unzip his jacket. Cole reached for more wood and the fire blazed up, dancing shadows on the walls.

Laying their jackets down on an old blanket, they tried to get close with clothes still on, but needed to feel skin. Needed to feel pulse and blood racing. Peeling off jeans, feeling the heat of the fire on one side and the freezing air on the other, Cole slipped down between Wes' legs and took him in his mouth. Tasting, sucking, licking the tip, the slit, tasting the juice.

The heat from their bodies, the heat from the flames; the flames turning orange, then gold, then red. Wes' hips bucking as Cole loved him. Hips rising to meet a wet hungry mouth.

Pulling away, Cole groaned, Wes pulled at him and Cole rolled onto his back and opened his legs. Spread them wide and held out his arms. Wes leaned in to kiss him, tongues tangling, tasting of each other, naked bodies, sweat-sheened, shadows rising and falling on the earthen walls.

As Wes pressed into Cole's spread body, as Cole cried out in pleasure, as their fingers locked together in a way that spoke to old love, familiar love, a shadow stood in the cave entrance. Blue eyes watched in shock and horror. Wesley! Cole! She couldn't look, but she couldn't look away.

Finally, as she heard the sounds of release, she crammed her mittened hands over her ears and ran to find Firefly's reins. Pushing her horse to full gallop through the heavy snow, Callie felt the first stirrings of a jealous hate. "How could they do this to me?" "Hate you", she repeated over and over. "Hate you both!"

The fire dying back, jeans pulled back on, Cole lay in Wes' arms, propped against the cave wall. They watched the shadows dance on the far wall. "I have something for you," Cole said softly. Reaching into his shirt pocket, he pulled out a bracelet. "I ordered the beads specially. Each one stands for protection and courage and wisdom." Wes held out his arm and Cole slipped it over his hand to settle on his wrist. "This violet one is an amethyst, the black ones are obsidian and onyx, the golden brown is tiger's eye, the orange is amber, the red orange is carnelian, the funny green one with red spots is bloodstone and the fiery orange is fire opal. These last ones, the shiny gray, are hematite. They stand for love."

Wes let his fingers play over the beads, rolling them over and over. "I'll never take it off. I love it. I love you." They kissed once more, the fire dying into embers.

Standing in the cave entrance, arms around each other, Cole sighed, "We've almost made it through. Just a few more weeks. I want to spend my life with you. Wherever we need to go, whatever we need to do."

Wes stared out into the coming storm. "Will we? I'm afraid to hope for too much."

And Cole made another promise. One that would become near impossible to keep. "Yes, we will. I promise, Wes."

Wes ran in the back door, the warmth of the kitchen slamming against the bitter cold of his cheeks and nose. Cole had brought him home on Whistler, riding right in front of the storm. He expected to find Mercy in the kitchen starting supper, but the oven was cold and she was nowhere to be found. Walking quickly down the hallway and taking the stairs three by three, he tapped on her closed door. "Mercy?"

"Come in," he heard her frightened voice. Cracking the door, Wes poked his head in and saw Mercy sitting in her rocking chair, the chair still as if girl and chair were frozen. Hurrying over to her, he knelt down and took her hands in his. Cold, colder than his.

"What?" he asked, trying to read her eyes.

"Father just told me. Father ......," her words seemed to choke her.

"What, Mercy? What did Father say?" Wes felt the anger begin to burn. Nothing Father ever said was good.

"Oh, Wes," she sighed, the sound lost and full of pain. "Karl Jr.'s coming back. He got out of prison. He'll be coming back here."

Shit! Wes sat onto the floor beside the rocker as if his knees could no longer hold him. They had hoped to be gone, long gone, before Karl Jr. came home. Wes had two more months of high school left and then they could leave. Mercy wouldn't leave without him and he knew they'd have to go so far away that Father could never find them. He'd saved all the money he'd earned at the silos except what father had taken out. He had his share of the penny money. But, he hadn't reckoned on Karl Jr. getting out years earlier than the five he was supposed to serve.

Older now, Wesley had figured out, from the terrified look in Mercy's eyes whenever Karl Jr.'s name came up, that he had been hurting her. Wes had never asked, wishing she would confide in him, but letting her have her dignity. He felt the anger, the rage billow up inside him; rage at the life they had been forced to live and the cruelty of his family. "Damn it, Mother, we needed you so much," he whispered. "How could you have left us here?"

"When did he get out?"

"Father said that he met with the parole board and he has had perfect behavior. Apparently, he found Jesus in prison. They turned him loose last week. Father says he will redeem Karl Jr.'s soul when he comes home."

"That would be a miracle from hell," Wes growled out. "Well, we've got to make a move. We can't stay here, Mercy. You can't stay here."

She darted her frightened eyes to her brother. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"It's okay. Shhh. He won't hurt you again. I swear that to you."

Mercy closed her eyes, the shame overwhelming her. She had never wanted Wes to know. Was her face that easy to read?

Wes had known this day was coming, but he'd sure not planned on it being before he finished school. He had been sure they'd have all of the five years of his brother's sentence. How had he managed to have perfect behavior?

Wes had never told Cole that he might have to just disappear one day; that he and Mercy might just be gone. He loved Cole with everything in him, but running and hiding wasn't a life he wanted to share with someone he loved. Cole didn't deserve to be involved in this mess. It was Wes' family and he'd have to take care of it alone. Like he always had. He fingered the bracelet Cole had just given him and remembered the love they had just shared by the fire. Why couldn't life just be that simple? He trusted Cole and Mercy and Callie with everything that was important to him. They'd never let him down.

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