When Shadows Pass

by Sean English

Epilogue

. . . 7 Y e a r s L a t e r . . .

"Are you sure he's supposed to be here?" Elliot asked curiously, as their vehicle came to a full stop. They had just pulled into the parking lot of a restaurant, populated with only a few other vehicles in places.

Jason put the gear into Park and shut the engine off. "Yeah. His Mom told us he would be here most all day, today."

A sleepy yawn sounded from the back seat. "What? Are we here, finally?" Ron asked, sitting up straighter. "Wow, that was a long drive, wasn't it?"

"Sure was. That accident out on Interstate 90 didn't help matters, either," Jason replied. Glancing at his watch, he grunted. "A little under 5 hours. Wow, no wonder I'm getting hungry!"

"Well, we still beat the dinner crowd, at least," Elliot exclaimed, opening his door. The other two exited the vehicle with him, and soon all three were observing the building. "So, he's a manager here, right?"

Jason nodded. "According to his Mom, he became the manager here a few months ago. He got on by pure luck, but then they found out he was good with people, so they tried him out as an assistant manager first, then promoted him again."

"That sounds pretty awesome, all things considered. So, what are we waiting for?" Ron asked, taking a few tentative steps forward. The other two laughed, and then each headed toward the entrance.

"You think he'll be surprised?" Elliot muttered quietly, reaching and opening the door for them.

Before Jason could answer, Ron butted in. "He'd better be! Especially after a drive like that! Sheesh!"

Walking in, they were greeted by the hostess. "Hello, guys! I'm Famous Cindy, and welcome to Famous Dave's! How many of you are there? Three?" she announced, smiling at the trio.

"Uh, yes ma'am," Jason replied.

"Well then, let's get you seated. If you'll follow me," she told them invitingly, walking into one of the side rooms which was sparsely filled with other early diners.

Cindy was about to set them at one of the tables, when Jason paused. "Uh, do you think we might find something a little not so open? Perhaps like one of those booths back there?" he asked, indicating a series of compartments toward the back. Cindy smiled and nodded, and within minutes they were all seated with menus. "Here you go, then. Your server should be with you in just a moment," she announced, and then disappeared.

Ron looked over the menu. "So, Famous Dave's, huh? Is this like a chain or something?"

"Yeah. The last time I checked, they had quite a few scattered around the States," Jason replied. "It's mostly American barbeque, but they have other things, too." Just then another young lady appeared.

"Good evening, boys! My name is Rose, and-"

"What? Not famous Rose?" Elliot interrupted, grinning at her. The girl stopped and gave him a sweet smile.

"Well, of course! Just most people around here already know me by that name!" Rose replied, merrily.

Jason laughed. "He's just messing with you, Rose! Don't pay him any attention," he commented. "Listen, before you take our orders, can we ask you something first? Do you have a Scott or Scotty Beaker working this evening?"

Rose turned to Jason and nodded. "Sure do! I think Scott is in the office in back. Would you like me to get him for you?"

"Please do, yes. We're old friends of his, and we wanted to surprise him tonight, if we could," Ron explained. "Don't tell him that though, just - see if he'll come out. Tell him you've got some irritated customers or something!"

Rose laughed and then nodded. "Sure thing. Can I go ahead and get you some drinks in the works?"

"Sure thing! I'll have an iced tea, please. Sweet, but no lemon please. And..." Jason hesitated, glancing quickly through the starters on the menu. "How about setting up an order of the BBQ Nachos? Uh, with pulled chicken?"

"I can absolutely do that!" Rose replied, pleased. Getting both Elliot's and Ron's drink order, she then disappeared.

"Wow, spending big tonight, bro?" Elliot teased.

Jason grimaced, before leaning in close. "Told you, I was getting hungry!" He grinned. "By the way guys, this is all on me tonight. Order anything you want, okay?" He glanced at Ron. "And yes, that means you can order dessert too, if you want it."

"Wow - you're on!" exclaimed their friend, immediately turning the menu over until he found the dessert choices near the back. Elliot couldn't help but laugh out loud, though he said nothing more. They all knew Ron had a passion for American desserts.

In hardly no time, Rose returned with their drinks and set them on the table. "Scott said to tell you he'd be out in just a minute, and your starter should be ready in about another seven-to-eight minutes or so. Would you like to wait, or go ahead and order your entrée now?"

Both Elliot and Ron looked at Jason, who just shrugged. "How about we wait, if that's okay. We might be here a while, especially when Scott gets out here," he hinted. Rose smiled and nodded, then walked away.

While they waited, they watched Ron look over the menu and then nod. "Well, not a lot of choices for dessert, but this Kahlúa Brownie sure sounds interesting."

Elliot glanced over, reading the description. "Why, because it has liquor in it?" he teased. Ron rolled his eyes and elbowed his friend, but before he could reply they each heard a thump suddenly coming from around the corner.

Jason was the first to see their friend, walking up using a pair of crutches. Dressed in slacks and a hunter green polo, he was quickly moving in their direction, but his head was turned looking off, conversing in low tones with someone beyond their sight. As he turned to look forward again, he approached the table. "Hello! What can I do..." he started, but then hesitated as he stared at the trio. "...for ... you..."

Grinning, Jason rose to his feet to stand in front of their host. "Hello, Scott." His voice was soft, but it held a musical ring as he watched the other man's expression change from curiosity to one of incredulity. "Remember us?" Jason teased. Putting out his hand, he added, "I'm Jason. Jason Mathews."

As their host stood speechless, Elliot and Ron both climbed to their feet beside the two. Scott finally recovered, breaking into his own grin. "Is it you? Is it REALLY you?" he whispered. Without waiting for an answer, he set his crutches up against the booth. Ignoring Jason's outstretched hand, Scott instead grabbed him into a huge, enthusiastic hug. "Oh my God! It is you!" His voice, filled with emotion, carried throughout the room as Jason returned the hug warmly. They held each other for a moment before parting. All three noted tears of happiness slowly falling down Scott's cheek as he turned and then grabbed Elliot, pulling him into an equally fierce embrace. Rocking the youth side-to-side, he started to laugh, then let go and grabbed Ron, doing the same.

Jason glanced around at the few customers already seated, who were looking on in both amusement and curiosity. He smiled at the crowd before he reached out and placed a hand on Scott's shoulder. As the young man let go of Ron, he quickly wiped his eyes on the back of his sleeve. A few of the servers were gathered now in the doorway to the kitchen, looking onward with big smiles of their own. Rose was at the forefront initially, nodding approvingly before ushering the others back inside.

Scott glanced at the three again, his mouth opening and closing twice without uttering a single sound. It made the trio of guests laugh quietly, as Ron turned and pulled an unused chair up to the end of their table. He didn't have to say anything, however, as Scott easily stepped to it and sat, as the others returned to their own seats. Settling in, Elliot remarked. "Uh, I think he did miss us, guys. What do you think?"

Scott swore under his breath, his voice finally finding its way back. "You gents have no idea! I think my heart just flat-out stopped beating when I saw you." He had to wipe at his eyes again, but the biggest, brightest smile could be seen underneath as he beamed at them.

"Did we surprise you THAT bad? Come on, it's not like we came back from the dead or anything!" Jason teased, but reaching out to grasp their friend's shoulder again. The teen they had all once known was still in there, and as Scott clamped his own hand on top of Jason's, he squeezed it in friendship.

"Screw that!" Scott replied, then looked on at the three of them. "I just - I just can't believe it!" he whispered. Overall Scott's face had not changed much in the last 7 years, though his hair was more professionally cut and styled now. The man was still comfortably sized, other than his arm muscles looked to be more developed. "How have you guys been doing? We haven't talked in forever, I think! At least four or five years, right? And I know I haven't seen you since... since I left the UK!"

"Yeah, something like that. We're doing pretty well, actually. How about you?" Elliot asked.

"Now that you're here, I'm doing fantastic at the moment!" Scott grinned as he looked around.

"So, how have you been? What happened to you there? We were exchanging emails and everything, but then it stopped," Elliot asked.

"Yeah, I know," Scott answered. "So, when we moved back to the States, we stayed in Enid for a couple of years, and then moved again. Sorry guys, but the movers lost my laptop then. That's why I never got back to you and all, because I lost all my contact info and everything. And since I didn't use one of the online sites or anything, you get the idea - I lost everything. Mom tried to find you a couple of times, I think, but somehow she couldn't come up with any of it, either." He looked up, his happiness bubbling to the surface. "God, you guys have grown, too! Look at you! I almost didn't recognize you at first!"

"Yeah? Well, you almost threw us for a loop, too!" Ron replied, his eyes twinkling. "Still got your canes, though - so that sort of helped!" They all laughed as he winked.

"Well, yeah, I still can't do as much without them," Scott replied good-naturedly.

"You looked like you were getting around on them pretty well there, though," Elliot casually remarked, causing Scott's eyes to light up.

"Yeah, I am! To tell you the truth though, I don't have to always use them for everything now. Thanks to the clinic here, and the Tae Kwon Do training! I've been going through this experimental therapy-thingy, and it has helped out a lot all the way around! I still don't have full control of my legs, but I've gotten most of the feeling back now, and I can even control my feet a whole lot better, too!"

"Really? That is awesome!" Jason replied.

Ron agreed. "Yeah, I agree. What's this clinic, though?"

Scott raised his eyebrows. "The Mayo Clinic? Have you not heard about them before?" Although Jason nodded, Scott saw puzzled expressions reflected on the other two faces. "It's like this national health organization and diagnostics center. They do a lot of research - and I do mean a LOT of it - on ailments, diseases, treatments, health foods. You name it, they get into it, big time! People come here from all over the country and Canada to get professional help on cases. You know, illnesses that other doctors or hospitals around the country can't solve." He paused and sat back in his chair. "It's here in Rochester, just down the road." He grinned at them widely again, before dropping his head and blushing.

"Hey! You okay over there?" Jason asked, looking onward.

Scott shook his head. "No! I still can't believe it, you guys showing up here! What the hell, how did you guys find me? I mean, what brought you here?"

"Well, isn't it obvious? We come to find you, buddy," Ron replied smartly, his eyes twinkling again.

"Yeah, but... how? How did you find me?" Scott asked again.

"Um, I'm the guilty one, I think," Jason replied. "A few weeks ago, I came across something that had your Dad's name on it, and your address where you lived when you moved to Enid. So, I called the general information desk there at the Air Force base, and one of the ladies put me through to someone who helped me track down where your Dad was currently stationed at."

"So, then we tried to get hold of him or your Mum, but nobody was answering the phone numbers we found. We started to think maybe we were on the wrong path and everything, or maybe you had moved again," Elliot picked up. "Until earlier this week, that is. We got a surprise ring from one of the numbers we left a message with, and it was your Mum! Jason and I talked to her for over an hour, I guess, just catching up and everything. She told us you lived here, and was managing this place. So, we decided to drive up here this afternoon and surprise you."

A look of amazement registered on Scott's face. "Really? So that's why she was so..." He laughed and shook his head. "Mum called me Wednesday night, asking if I was going to be here today. She was pretty insistent that I didn't duck out and go somewhere unplanned! I thought maybe she and Dad were going to come over or something, but not - this!"

Jason laughed. "Yeah, she called us back and told us you'd be here. We sort of just planned this on the spur of the moment, like Elliot said." He leaned forward. "So, really, how are you doing then? We haven't heard anything for a long time! And what's this about Tae Kwon Do?"

Scott laughed. "Yeah, it's true. I've got someone who started working with me about a year ago. I obviously couldn't do a lot of things, but he taught me a lot about balance, and how to capitalize the use of my muscles and everything where I can. Turns out he did a lot of physical rehab with guys for the Army for a while, so he had a lot of patience. So, truth is, I do a lot better now about getting around and everything." He looked at the group with a smug expression. "I can even take showers now, believe it or not! I mean, I can sit on a stool and manage things decently, sort of like-" He suddenly stopped, thinking and realizing Ron was with them.

Ron grinned at him, however. "No sweat, man. I know about it - these two told me about introducing you to the infamous shower a long time ago."

A look of relief cross Scott's face as others nodded. "Well, cool then."

"We thought that would be okay," Elliot explained in a low tone. "We weren't trying to spill secrets, but-"

"No, no - it's okay, honest." Scott grinned. Sighing, he looked back at Ron. "Sorry man, I don't mind, just - I wasn't sure, that's all. I know it can sound a little funny and everything to some people, but it's cool. These two showed me a lot of things that weekend I stayed with them and all. It's a part of why I grew so close to them, I think. Anyway, yeah, I can take showers now, all by myself."

"That sounds really awesome," Jason finally interjected.

"Yeah, it is. I'm telling you guys, it's a really different world for me now," Scott went on. "I'm doing great! So, after we left Enid, Dad was offered a position at Fort Mccoy, not too far from here. It's an Army training base, but the Pentagon or somebody decided to try a cross-services program, bringing in instructors from all the major branches, like the Marines, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard. It was a pilot program, but it worked out pretty nice. They told him if he wanted, they could keep him stationed there until he retired. Mum was all for that, as you can imagine!"

"That does sound pretty awesome," Ron interjected. "So, do they live close by, or what? Your parents, I mean."

"Well, I don't know what you'd call close, but it's about 90-minutes from here, just north of a place called Sparta, Wisconsin," Scott answered.

"Sparta?" Elliot asked, then glanced at Jason. "Didn't we pass that on the way in here?"

Jason nodded. "I think so, yeah. That's where they live? I didn't know we were that close to them, really."

"Yeah, they've been there almost 5 years now," Scott replied.

"So, how did YOU get out here? Was it because of the clinic place you were telling us about?" Ron asked.

"Sort of," Scott replied. "One of Dad's fellow instructors had some family that lived here. They got to talking about the clinic and everything, about always getting into research and everything. Turns out, the guy had a daughter that worked there, and before long we were invited to check it out. So, we drove over here one day." He paused. "That's how I found my way into one of their programs. I mean, it took me a while, but I got an appointment inside with some of their doctors, and they started telling us about things we'd never heard of before. I mean, don't get me wrong: my legs and everything have been dormant way too long, especially for me to ever hope of getting their full use back. But there were other therapies and things that they were able to do, to help me get feeling back into them again. They showed me ways I could keep from getting so lightheaded, too. When I conquered that, then I could stand up for longer periods of time and everything. I'm up and about now, which is far better than what I used to have to do! You remember, don't you? How I couldn't stand so long without getting dizzy?"

Elliot nodded. "Sure, we do. What did they do? I mean, did they give you medicines, or...?"

"Yeah, some of it was experimental steroids and everything. Some of it was therapy based, too, like conditioning my reflexes, stretching and everything. Believe it or not, it was kind of weird at first, because they put me on this table and would always start me off by flipping me upside down, for like a half-hour or so every day. Anyway, honest guys, it has been really great!" Scott smiled at them again before blushing. "And... I guess, I uh... well, I met someone while I was here, and..."

Jason laughed out loud. "Yeah, your Mom told us you had a girlfriend and all!"

Surprisingly, Scott shook his head. "Nope, not just a girlfriend," he announced mysteriously, then blushed again. "Not anymore, anyway. She's my fiancée, now. We're engaged to be married next Spring."

"Really? Oh my gosh!" Elliot exclaimed before trying to contain himself. "That is absolutely, totally awesome, Scott! Way to go, man - congrats!"

"You better believe it!" Jason added, as Ron also added his congratulations, too.

Scott looked up, beaming. "Thanks guys, that means a lot."

"So, don't just sit there - tell us about her!" Ron piped up.

Scott glanced around the table thoughtfully. "Well, her name is Melinda, and she is the daughter of an Army Master Sergeant. She's sweet, and thoughtful and caring, and... and..."

Jason laughed. "She sounds nice! I'm surprised, though. You can't seem to get away from the military, can you? I thought you'd be tired of it by now!" he teased.

Scott laughed. "Well, there's not a lot I could do about that one." He looked up and spread his hands wide. "We met, and then went on a few dates. Then she took me home for Thanksgiving one weekend, and I met her family and all. Turns out her uncle owns a chain of franchises here in the area, see? Different restaurants and all. While she and I dated, her uncle and I got to know each other better, and one weekend he asked me what I was going to do when I finished at the clinic, which was just a couple of weeks away. I told him I didn't know yet, that I was just trying to get through the therapy and all first. So, he asked me if I would like to work here as a greeter or host. It was the first offer I've ever had for a job, so I jumped at it."

"Wow, that's cool!" Elliot exclaimed.

"Yeah, but then it got even better. See, I was here about seven or eight months when, one night, we had this big storm here, and none of the other managers were coming in. Then, of all nights, we kind of had an incident, see? So, I stepped up and took over, sort of took care of things for everyone. He heard about it, and then the next thing I know, he promoted me to be assistant manager and all. That was last year. Now, I'm the unit manager here, mostly working evening shifts, but every other weekend we trade working a full day on Fridays and Saturday."

"I agree with Elliot, that sounds really cool, Scott," Ron remarked.

"Thanks," Scott replied. At that moment, Rose appeared carrying their appetizer. After setting it down in the middle of the table, she added a stack of saucers - including a fourth one for Scott. She spoke quietly to Scott, who nodded at something before she walked away.

Jason waved at the food. "Okay, dig in guys! You too, Scott!" Scott grinned and helped himself as the other guys pulled part of the nachos onto their plates.

"Have you guys ever been in one these places like this before?" Scott casually remarked.

"Not that I know of. We've seen them around, but..." Jason replied.

Before they could continue their conversation, however, Rose suddenly appeared again. "Do you boys want to order now? Or do you want to wait a while longer?" she asked sweetly.

Scott looked up to her and motioned. Bending down, they began conversing in a low tone beyond the hearing of the other three. Rose then suddenly grinned widely and nodded, before disappearing again. Turning back, Scott saw their curious expressions. "Dinner is on me guys, don't worry about it."

Jason hesitated. "We didn't come looking for a handout, Scott. We're perfectly capable of paying for our dinner."

Scott feigned an insulted expression. "So? I can, too, you know!" He suddenly grinned. "We have this kind of 'Feast for 2' thing here, that has a little bit of everything in it. I just told her to heap one of those up with some extras. Trust me, you get to sample almost everything, so I'm sure you'll find something to like." He looked at Jason closely. "Believe me, Jase. I want to do this, for all of you."

Jason laughed, then waved it away. "Okay, okay... Hey, did you say feast? Like, a sampling of everything?"

"Ruh roh, Shaggy," Ron started, mimicking one of Jason's favorite phrases. "Better get a collar on Elliot then, fast!"

They all laughed. Turning back, Jason saw Scott's confusion. "He just means Elliot tends to eat a lot at buffets and everything. Especially when there's a smorgasbord of food around."

Elliot blushed deeply but then shrugged it off good naturedly. "Hey, what can I say? I'm still a growing boy!"

Scott now laughed. "I think it's safe to say, no one is leaving here hungry tonight!" He sat back again. "So, tell me, how about you guys? Where did you roll in from?"

"Madison, Wisconsin," Ron replied. "We're attending University there."

Scott's eyes opened wide. "Really? Wow, that's... what, only five or six hours away, isn't it?"

"Right at four, I think," Elliot replied. "We got stuck in traffic though, about 45 miles out from here. Took us a little longer than we expected."

Jason nodded. "Yeah, then we had to backtrack twice. I think my directions got a little messed up."

"I'll say!" Elliot snorted. "I kept trying to convince him to use the GPS in his phone, but he wouldn't do it!"

"Well, the directions were not that hard, you know!" Jason quipped in return, laughing. "But yeah, he's right. Elliot finally looked it up, and we were only off a half-mile or so."

Scott grinned. "Cool. So, what did you guys major in? What year are you in?"

"Jason and Elliot there, both have bachelor's degrees in Math and Computer Science," Ron answered. "I have one more semester to go before I get a bachelors in Electrical Engineering."

"Holy cripes! Seriously? That is so awesome!" Scott exclaimed. "So, have you guys been here all along then?"

"Yeah. We finished regular school in Portsmouth, then came here to go to University," Jason explained. "Elliot got a scholarship, and I got a partial one, to the University of Wisconsin. So, I bought us a place to live while we were in college. Ron heard how much we liked it and all, so then he joined us and started the next semester. We've been here about 4 years now."

Scott did not miss the inference. Lowering his voice, he remarked. "You bought a house? You didn't rent or lease an apartment? Or live on campus, or...?"

It was Elliot who responded. "We tried to, honestly, but there wasn't anything really available. You see, we didn't get the scholarships until about 6-weeks or so before college started. That didn't give us a lot of time, so we had to move over here in a hurry. By then, most of the dorms and apartments were already taken by other students and everything. So, Jason's advisor suggested we look at some real estate, and Jason found this place. It's was a kind of patio home they called it, and we checked it out. Then he just made an offer to buy it."

"There was an old couple selling it, so they could move out to California," Jason finished. "We negotiated a little and then just bought it."

"Wow! That's pretty awesome, if you ask me! I have an apartment here now, but Melinda and I may try to get a house or something by the time we get married." Scott paused, thinking. "Hey, I just realized it. Madison? That's close enough I could come down some weekend, maybe! That is, if you're not going anywhere right away."

Elliot grinned. "Nope, no plans right now. Jason already has a job offer from the University, and is just waiting on confirmation. Me, I'm expecting one any day now, too, from Johnson Controls. So, I think we'll be around for a while, definitely."

Scott looked thoughtful, before lowering his voice again. "So, you bought this place, huh? You finally spent some of that money you told me about?"

Jason blushed, but nodded. "Yeah. We needed a place, and well, it just ... fitted."

Ron grunted. "Except for the neighbors, it's actually a pretty decent place, if you ask me."

"Neighbors?" Scott asked.

"What he means is, we're surrounded by old people. You know, mostly retired," Elliot quipped. Shrugging, he added, "Which is fine, really. They don't get in our way, and we stay out of theirs. Some of them are really nice, too. We don't have to worry about yard work, or mowing or maintenance or anything either, because it all gets taken care of."

Jason grunted, sitting back. "'Not worry' might be stretching it a little, though. I mean, we still have to pay the HOA group. That's like the homeowner's association and everything, see; they collect fees and take care of all the land maintenance, shrubs, yard - all that stuff is taken care of for us. It's not a bad place to live, really. It's quiet and tucked out of the way, mostly."

Scott grinned. "Well, I think it's cool." He watched as the others exchanged looks amongst themselves. "Okay, that's the third or fourth time you've done that. Am I missing something here?"

Jason laughed. "No, not really. It's all cool Scott, I promise." He observed the young man closely. "We're just happy we found you and all. I've been waiting to do this for a long, long time."

"He's not kidding, either. We've tried several times to track you down," Ron explained.

Scott shook his head. "I'm sorry guys, I really am. I just, I figured we'd had a falling out by now, you know?"

"In a way, we did," Jason agreed. "But we also promised you, we'd find you if we were ever in the States again. Remember?"

"Oh yeah, I remember. Believe me, I remember a lot of things, Jason." He sat, looking thoughtful again before continuing. "Do you remember what you told me that day, in the classroom at school? How I would find friendship, and love again? Even after having to lose it all so soon?" When Jason nodded, Scott blushed. "You know, it was really hard leaving you guys behind. Every night, I think I cried for over a month because I was missing you. It got better with the letters and emails between us afterwards, but still ... I figured I was done in."

Ron leaned forward. "We missed you, too. It wasn't the same after you left."

"Yeah, well, same for me. But you know something? Jason was right. Once I finally let myself feel again, I found this support group of other disabled teens, people that were my age and all, and it made a lot of difference afterwards," Scott explained.

"Hey, I remember something about that! You told us about them, I think, in one of your e-mails," Elliot intoned.

"Yeah, I did. They - they helped me, a lot. Even one of the guys, he was sort of like me, couldn't use his legs so good." Scott blushed again, before lowering his voice to an almost whisper. "He really helped me, you know?" He was looking at Elliot and Jason, and immediately both understood what he was trying to imply.

Elliot glanced around, and then leaned in closer. "Physically?" When Scott nodded, Elliot grinned widely and offered their friend a fist bump, which their friend met in mid-air.

"Sheesh, I haven't done that in like, forever!" Scott exclaimed as they held their connection a moment. Glancing at Jason, he saw the pleasant expression. "You were right, you know? I was being pretty hard on myself, but these guys, and that one especially, they taught me different."

"It's probably no different than what Elliot and Ron had to teach me," Jason remarked softly. "I had to learn to trust and love again." He offered his own fist bump, and then for good measure Ron joined in.

"Still, I don't know what I would have done without you guys, and that weekend we spent together," Scott replied, then immediately hesitated, looking at Ron.

Ron put him at ease, though. "Don't worry, I know what you're talking about. It's no different than things we've done, too. Still do sometimes, for that matter." He stated the last with a merriment that left little doubt the foursome understood each other.

"Really? Serious?" Scott asked incredulously, then laughed nervously. When no one answered, he glanced around expectantly. That was when Jason finally cleared his throat.

"Yeah, I don't mind telling you. Me and Elliot, we uh, we did something. We're like, uh..."

When he didn't finish, Scott glanced between them. "Like, a couple?"

In answer, Jason placed his left hand upon the table, and Elliot reached out with his own, placing it on top. Just then, Scott noticed the rings they each wore, small bands, but symbolically identical. As Scott reached up to touch them, Elliot grinned. "Yeah. A couple is a good way to put it. Not totally legal, because some things aren't yet recognized in all the States. But for me and Jase, though, we've agreed this is just as good."

"Wow!" Scott cried aloud softly. Looking up, he was happy. "You know what, guys? I think that's the best news I could have heard all year. I'm really glad for you!" He shook his head. "I don't know if I would have ever thought, you know, about you two that way, but - if there ever were two people who could do that, I'm so happy you could. I remember how you guys were so close before, and everything!""

"I know," Jason remarked. "It just, it's hard sometimes. We're still careful and everything, but we're not really afraid anymore." He glanced at Elliot. "I mean, we always told each other how we felt and everything, but some things just don't sink in for a while, especially with me. But then it finally did, and when I admitted and realized it for myself, Elliot did, too. And I told Elliot one night, and he told me he had been feeling that way, too. It turned out to be the sweetest thing we've ever done for each other. We've been inseparable ever since." He smiled. "I really do love him, and I know he loves me, too."

"Damn straight," Elliot whispered.

"I can understand that, completely," Scott answered. His eyes grew moist. "If it wouldn't make such a big scene, I'd grab you both right now and hug the stuffing out of you. I'm really, truly happy for you."

"Thanks, man," Elliot said.

Scott squeezed the two hands he held before sitting back and observing them. "So, can I ask you something, then?"

Elliot scoffed. "It doesn't matter how far, or how long, we've been apart Scott. We promised you once a long time ago that you could ask us anything. That hasn't changed, we promise."

"Yeah, you did. I remember," Scott mused. He first glanced at Ron, then turned back to Elliot. "I guess there's a lot of things I would or could ask, but I was just thinking about one right now, and that's about your parents, Elliot. Do they know?"

Elliot nodded. "Oh yeah, so does Derek. We told them last year." Before Scott could reply, he leaned forward. "I think, for a few minutes, they were both a little disappointed. Afterwards though, they really didn't care. The way they saw it, they knew they still had us, and we were no different than we'd ever been before, you know?"

Jason nodded. "Uncle Simon told me he had suspected it, especially after we upped and moved out so quickly together to come over here and everything. He just had a feeling, but he said he was at peace with it. He just wanted us both to be truly happy."

"Me, too," Scott replied. Glancing at Ron. "So, you're being quiet. Where do you fit in with this? Anywhere?"

Ron laughed, but shrugged his shoulders. "Me? I'm just the family butler!" he teased, until Elliot kicked him under the table. "Ow!" Then he laughed. "Seriously, I'm cool with it. Always have been. I don't identify with them that way, but I'm not exactly innocent either."

Elliot snorted. "He's not kidding. He goes around the place naked all the time."

Scott could not help but laugh. "That is so - so.... Cool!" He immediately glanced up. "I mean, not the you-being-naked part, err, not you ... argh! You know what I mean!"

"Yeah, I know," Ron laughed. "It's okay, though, honest. I don't mind it when they're around, and they don't mind me, either. We kind of, you know, we have a special enough bond, I think."

Jason cleared his throat. "We're still like brothers, Scott. We have been since before you left Portsmouth. We trust each other, and that has never changed. We love each other, too, in our own way and everything. Ron, he's - he's the best friend we've ever had growing up with, and a whole lot more. Just like you are."

Scott sat back, nodding. "I know, I remember that. I'm glad for you."

"Well, we're glad for you, too. It sounds like you didn't grow up as lonesome as you could have," Elliot added. "And look at this? You're managing a restaurant, one which looks like a cool, uh, country-ish place to be in, too!"

"You got that right, yeah." Scott looked around, grinning. "I have a good job, I make decent money, and I have a girlfriend I'm going to marry in about 8 months, too. Considering what I could have been doing, I think things are on the upswing for me." He laughed, then shook his head, leaning forward and sinking his face into his hands. "God, I can't believe you're here. It's almost like I never left! Hey, how long do you guys have? When are you planning to head back?"

"Well, I don't think we're going back tonight. We figured we'd hit a hotel somewhere around here and then head back in the morning," Jason answered, then nodded to Ron. "Ron has to be at work by 4:00 tomorrow, and Elliot and I are supposed to go to a football game tomorrow night."

"That's cool, but - you guys don't have to stay in a hotel. I actually have a pretty roomy apartment, with an extra bed. And a pretty good-sized couch, too!" Scott offered.

Jason glanced at his two companions. Elliot said nothing, obviously leaving the decision to him, but Ron shrugged. "I don't mind taking the couch for one night, if you want to."

Turning back to their friend, Jason nodded. "Okay, deal. As long as we can actually get a little sleep, and not stay up all night talking!" The other boys laughed, as Scott scooted the chair away from the table.

"Then, that's settled. Listen, I'll be back in a little bit. There are a couple of things I need to see to, plus I'll check on your dinner while I'm back there," Scott intoned, as he reached for his crutches. With a smile and a nod, the young man quickly moved away from the table and disappeared.

Ron grinned widely. "That's went pretty well, I think! He's the same Scott I remember, but he's also different."

"Oh yeah, he's a lot more grown up now, I think," Elliot replied.

"We're all a lot more grown up now, doofus!" Jason teased, then sat back. "It's good to see him though. We made the right call coming up here."

"I agree," Ron replied, thinking. "It didn't just benefit us, but him, too. Did you see when we hugged him?"

"Scott never cried before, yeah. Well, he did, once," Jason offered thoughtfully. Seeing their curious expressions, he explained. "The day he told us in school, that he was leaving. And I found him outside and brought him back in. He was pretty torn up for a while that day."

"Right, I remember you telling me that, now," Elliot sat back, understanding. "And don't forget the night we went out for pizza. He didn't exactly cry then, but..."

"Yeah, I remember," Ron mused.

They sat in silence for a time afterwards, relaxing and unwinding, until Scott appeared, making his way back to the table. He sat down again, heavily this time, but was grinning. "Food will be out in about two minutes or so! I hope you're hungry!"

Elliot grunted. "I'm sure it will be fine, Scott. We're hungry, but kind of tired, too."

Scott nodded. "I can understand that, really. Five hours on the road won't kill anyone, but it is a good drive I think."

"You're worth it though." Jason wrinkled his nose. "Uh, I know we said we would do this, but - are you sure it's alright to stay with you tonight? I mean, do you really have extra room and all?"

"Oh yeah, I have plenty, honest. Mum and Dad will come stay the night sometimes when they visit, so the extra room isn't that sparse." Scott laughed. "It actually has furniture and everything in it, including a real bed!"

The others laughed, too. "Well, it's not that, just ... just making sure, that's all Scott," Jason relented.

The young man leaned closer to Jason and lowered his voice. "Listen, trust me. None of you are imposing on me, okay? Besides, that's sort of why I was gone so long. One of the assistant managers is taking a break now, and when he comes back, he agreed to close for me tonight. So, after about 7:30 or so, I'll be free for the rest of the evening!"

"Cool!" Ron announced. "Do you live very far out?"

"Nope! About 2 miles up the road, really," Scott replied. "When we get out, it'll be dark though, so I can't show you around much. Maybe when you leave in the morning, we can take a kind of round route. It's not that there is a LOT to see, but it really is kind of pretty up here. Especially this time of year."

"That sounds pretty good then, yeah. I'd like that," Jason replied. Just then, their food arrived. As Rose approached, Scott began clearing a place on the table.

Ron whistled. "Are you kidding me?" The platter set down, taking up much of the table's surface! It had a built-in set of rollers in the bottom, allowing users to turn the platter in any direction. Inside, it was laden with all sorts of meats and side dishes.

Jason was also impressed. "Uh, Scott, you do know there's only the four of us... right?"

"So? You can have plenty of leftovers to take home, then," their host laughed. "Besides, I thought you said Elliot eats like a horse!"

"Hey, now!" Elliot grunted.


Later that evening, Jason and Scott lounged on the patio behind Scott's apartment. Both Ron and Elliot had retired earlier - Ron from much needed rest, and Elliot from overeating at dinner. They had arrived, with Scott only serving up an Alka-Seltzer to his friend before sending him off to bed. Jason and Ron both looked onward smirking, knowing fully well it would be weeks before they ever heard the end of it.

The evening air was cool, but with both wearing light jackets, they settled comfortably into a swing. They had been chatting for several minutes about different things, but then a silence ensued. As Jason looked about, only spotty lights were seen in the distance, the complex backing up to a huge, open field. Street noise was almost non-existent, and the only real sounds that broke through the evening air came from neighbors several doors down, enjoying a late-night cookout with friends.

Jason turned and saw their host relaxed, with a smile upon his face. "You okay over there?" he asked, teasing for the second time that night.

Scott nodded. "Oh yeah, I've not been better than this for a long time, Jase." He suddenly focused on his guest. "It's still okay to call you that, isn't it?"

Jason smiled. "Sure! Why wouldn't it be?"

"Okay, okay," Scott chided himself, then chuckled. "Sorry man, it's just... I wasn't sure..."

"It's been a long time, I know. But listen to me, I meant what I told you earlier, and you heard Elliot tell it to you, too: we all change, we know that, but there are some things that stay the same - forever." Jason shifted and turned so that he could face him. "You have our trust just as much as you did all those years ago, okay? At first, I admit I wasn't too sure about it, but once we saw you, and once you hugged us and everything? Yeah, Scott, ditto. I swear, it's all cool."

Scott sighed with relief. "I'm glad. I mean, I'm really fucking glad!" Jason giggled, causing Scott to blush again. Sitting back, he changed the subject. "So, aside from getting rich and all, how's it been the last few years?"

"It's been pretty good, actually. Being back in the States has been different again, but I think it's because we came so far north, you know?" Jason hesitated. "There's a big difference up here than where I grew up in Tennessee, but it's been a good difference. Down there, it always gets so hot and everything in the summer, but up here it's more pleasant. Plus, not so many allergies to deal with, which is a good thing for Elliot."

"He still has to fight them a lot?" Scott asked.

"Oh, yeah!" Jason scoffed. "We went back there for a week last year, just visiting around and stuff. From the moment we arrived, he caught a rough round of something. It's funny really, the first time we went, when I found out about those creeps and everything, it didn't faze him a bit. Every visit we've made back there since then, he always catches something. Then, after we get back home, away from there? It almost disappears completely. So yeah, allergies are a nightmare sometimes. Elliot has to be careful - at least during certain times of the year."

Scott nodded in understanding. "Do you go back, much? To your old home, I mean?"

Jason considered that. "No, not really. I mean, my home is gone, Scott. It was sold and most everything me and Dad had in it was lost. It's kind of nice to see the area again, but I have nothing there anymore. When we go, it's just to drive through to the mountains or so. It's not really my home anyway, you know? Portsmouth was my home afterwards. I know that's funny, because it sounds like I didn't have a home until I was 14 years old. In a way it is, though. Dad and I had something, but it's gone now."

"I'm sorry, Jase. I understand, though," Scott replied softly.

Jason looked up and grinned. "I know, I could get all mushy and everything over it, but I really don't. See, the way I look at it, everything happened for a reason. I get sad sometimes, but when I think of what I got afterwards. I wouldn't trade it, Scott. I honestly wouldn't trade any of it. I'd do it all over and again, if I had to."

"Well, I'm glad for that, at least," Scott mused. "Did you ever hear any about those people and everything? The one's who shitted with you in the first place?"

"Yeah," Jason answered. "They caught up with Ms. Ross and her husband, and that old couple that kept me, about five years ago. They were all living in Florida, in some retirement place on the coast and all. Turns out, they swindled not just me, but a lot of other kids over the years, too. Someone started suspecting something at one point, which was why Ms. Ross quit being a caseworker before she got caught. Somehow, when my case came along though, they couldn't resist going at it again."

"Are you serious?" Scott whispered.

Jason nodded. "Yeah, it's true. I'm not sure how they were tracked down and caught, but they're all doing time in some place, not far from Nashville." He grunted. "I'm supposed to go back down in a couple of weeks, even. It seems Ms. Ross has a parole board hearing coming up, and she and her lawyers are trying to get an early release for 'good behavior', as they call it."

"Whoa, no way! That soon?" Scott whistled, shaking his head.

"Yeah, I know. I couldn't believe it, either. They ran that scam for years, and she managed it all, screwing with over 40 people and wrecking their lives and everything. Most of those people were kids, too, just like me. Think about what that says, you know? She serves five years, and is trying to get out for good behavior? After she ruined their lives, she wants to pretend she can be good about it all now. Have you ever heard such a crock?" Jason shook his head. "I'm going down there. I'm going to stand in the room with that board, and when they ask for comments from the audience, I'm going to walk up and stare at that woman right in the eye. And, I'm going to ask her why should she get any special treatment, after fucking everything up for everybody else?"

"Good for you, Jase." Scott's voice was just above a whisper.

Jason shrugged. "It might not do a lot of good, you know, but I was invited to be there and speak my piece. I just - I can't understand how twisted up all this legal stuff can get sometimes, you know?"

Scott thought about that for a moment, then sighed. "It's the world we live in, man. Good or bad, we have to just take it in our stride, one day at a time." Scott paused. "What about those other two? The guys that raped you?"

Jason grunted. "Nope, never caught. Not that I know of, anyway. Honestly though, I've written them off. I mean, if I came across them today, and knew without a doubt it was them, I'd turn them in - if I didn't turn myself in first for killing them. But, it's gone Scott, they can't hurt me anymore." He looked up deeply into the eyes that met his. "I mean that. Right now, I have everything I could want. I have good friends, including you and Ron, and a job, and I have Elliot. And I'm not alone anymore. That means more to me than anything."

Scott smiled, then reached his arms out and embraced his friend. "Jase, I have to tell you something. Ever since you and Elliot filled me in on that stuff, I worried about you for a long time. And then, when I lost contact with you guys, I still worried. I always hoped it worked out for the better in the end, but I felt for you, honest. I always thought what happened between me and my cousin was one thing, but what happened to you - well..."

Jason nodded. "I know, Scott. I changed, though, and Elliot and his family helped me - a lot. Now? I'm nothing special, any more than the next guy, really. I mean, a lot of people have stories like mine, who didn't have as much support and love like I did. I'm just me, always have been, always will be."

"Huh," came a sound from the doorway. They both looked up to see Elliot alight from inside and cross over to a lawn chaise beside them. "He's way more special than he'll ever admit to, let me tell you that," he directed at Scott. "Jase brought down that whole damn network, you know. It was his case, and the details he provided, that drove the wedge into it and split it wide open. Then once the authorities got wind of it enough to understand, they roped them all in."

Scott turned back to Jason. "Really?

Jason blushed before answering. "I guess so. I mean, I don't know that I really did anything-"

"Stop it, right there," Elliot blurted out, more forcefully than intended. He looked hard at his companion before continuing in a softer tone. "I know what you're saying, and I understand how you feel, but remember something, bro: For everything that happened to you, you brought all of it into the open. If you hadn't - I mean, if you hadn't talked to me, and Derek and my Dad, they would still be out there now, doing it again, or living off the fat of the land, like Lords and so forth. You did do something, Jase. Don't discount that, please. Not for me, not for Scott - not for yourself."

Jason considered that, then nodded. "Okay, you win." He glanced up and smiled. "Just don't glorify it or anything, okay?"

Elliot shrugged. "I won't promise that, but seriously - who else would we tell this stuff to, anyway?"

Scott finally spoke up. "I don't care. I still think the fact you got them, it's just really awesome." He studied the two momentarily. "I know you two said you had jobs coming up. Does that mean you're planning to stay in the States long-term then?"

"We've talked about it," Jason answered. "We've kind of been torn both ways. I like England and Portsmouth and all, but Elliot likes it here. I think though, we both agree that we would be happier here, at least for a while. There's more room, and more opportunities and everything, I think."

Elliot nodded. "Yeah. I miss Derek, and Mum and Dad a lot, but we go back over at least once a year, usually around Christmas, and they usually come over for a week, too. Derek even gets to come over on support calls and things for his company, so anytime he's in the States we usually meet up somewhere for a while."

"I agree," Scott responded. "I think that's why I stayed here, too. I didn't mind living in Europe, but America has a lot more going for it, I think. At least in some ways. With Dad now settled, hopefully, we can build what's left of our family around here, too. And Melinda's family is almost all from Minnesota, so that helps a lot."

Jason grinned. "So, you two are hooked up tight, then. I'm really happy for you, you know."

"Thanks! I'm happy, too!" Scott smirked, then laughed out loud. "You know, I'd like to ask you two something, and trust me - I know this is totally out of the blue. Before tonight, I never even considered it, really, but..."

"What is it, then?" Elliot asked, sitting back and waiting.

"Well, Melinda and I have started making plans and everything, for next Spring, I mean. And she keeps asking me about who I want to be my best man, and groomsmen and all. I kept putting it off, because I really don't have anyone here I'm close enough to, you know?" Scott shifted in his seat, then leaned forward. "How about it guys? Before you showed up, I would have just picked some people to help out, but now that you're here, now that we've found each other again? Would you? Please? It would mean the world to me. Ron, too - if he will. And I'll pay for everything, all you have to do is just be here and all. What do you say?"

Jason smiled. "Honestly? Barring some catastrophe, we'll be here no matter what. Just for you."

Elliot nodded. "Ditto."

Scott let out a sigh of relief, before stepping from the swing and giving Elliot a hug. When he returned, he did the same once again for Jason. "That is awesome guys! That is so fucking awesome!"

Jason laughed, and when Scott slid back into his side, commented. "Forget about the paying part, too. We'll work all that out later. You'll just have to figure who gets to do what. Or, all three of us can be ushers if you like."

"NO!" Scott said, rather forcefully. "No, I-" He looked up, a sudden hesitation in his eyes. "That's something I guess I have to decide, I know, but..."

When he didn't continue, Elliot grinned at him. "What? Who's going to be the best man?" He lay back in the chair again. "Don't worry, Scott. We won't be jealous. Just choose who you feel you want to do whatever, it's okay."

Jason stared between the two of them. "Are you sure?" Seeing their nods, he sighed. "Well, at least right now, I want to wait a while. Both of you mean a lot to me, and I don't want to play one of you over the other. Or Ron, for that matter."

Jason scoffed. "Ron will only be an usher, I promise you."

Elliot snickered. "Yep, you can count on that. He's often said he's never going to get married in a church anyway - that whoever he finds, they'll just elope!" All three laughed, before he added. "It's all good, though. He knows how special it is to be there for others. He's always been there for me and Jase."

"He seemed like a good guy back then, and everything I've seen tonight says the same thing, to me," Scott remarked.

"He is," Jason replied. "Ron is one of us, and always will be. Even when he leaves to be out on his own - just like you will be, Scott. I mean, look at us - if you include Derek, which we do, we're like the five musketeers or something. We've each made a pact with each other. We'll never break that - no matter how many miles separate us. You come into our home, mine and Elliot's, you'll know you're safe and loved and cared for, no matter what."

Scott smiled. "You know something? I believe that. I believe it with my heart, too."

They fell to silence again and looked out across the fields. Light music and laughter drifted up from the neighbor's patio. Before long, Elliot yawned. "Uh, sorry guys if I broke anything up. I just, I wanted to ask if you had some Tylenol, or ibuprofen of some kind. I've got a bit of a headache to go with my stomach troubles, and well..."

Scott laughed. As he stood, Jason rose with him. "I think it might be good for us to get some sleep. We'll need to start back by 9 or so in the morning, I think."

Elliot climbed to his feet, but then stopped them both before they passed him. "Guys? I'm serious about this, Scott. Take all the time you want, but if you want Jase as your best man, please know it now: it won't bother me at all, okay?" He turned to his companion and smiled. "I know, he has this - effect on people, sometimes. And I know how it resonates out, too. Why do you think I'm in love with him so much, you know?"

Scott reached an arm around them both. "Don't worry, guys. I think I'm going to ask Melinda if I can't have two best men, anyway." He hugged them tightly, to which they embraced him too, one final time.

Jason whispered between them as they held tightly. "Anything you want Scott, we'll be there. We promise."


It was late one night that Elliot arrived home, exhausted as he quietly entered their bedroom. Having come in from traveling onsite that day, the road trip had been was particularly taxing in this instance. Though they had left the site just after seven, by the time his crew had stopped for dinner, made it back to the office, and then including his own drive from there to home, he had been on the road one-way nearly 6 hours.

Jason stirred, hearing him enter before glancing at the clock. "Late trip, I take it?" he asked softly, startling his companion who had just slipped out of his shoes.

"Meh, it was okay, I guess. Lots of stuff to learn, though." He wrinkled his nose as he pulled his socks free. "I don't know about this job, Jase. Sometimes it seems cool, but others, like tonight..." Elliot replied, before sighing. "I'll be back in a bit," he announced, before heading into their bathroom. Within seconds, Jason could hear the shower being engaged, and he distinctly listened as Elliot stripped and stepped inside.

In the weeks since their trip to Wisconsin, the three boys had returned to find things happening fast. By the Monday following, Jason had received confirmation to begin working at the University on staff. Initially he was to begin a new startup project and, of all things, also begin teaching a beginner's programming course. Although unexpected, he found the teaching work was quite fulfilling, and the project even more so because of the challenges involved.

Elliot, on the other hand, was called in for a second interview the next day before, he too, was offered a position. The difference now, however, was that as a part of his training, Elliot had to travel to various customer sites and learn about field operations. It was ideal, giving him a first-hand view of their systems and what they were built and used for. Not exactly the desk job he had hoped for, but it wasn't the worst either. For the first time, Elliot discovered travel had advantages and benefits he might not normally get to experience, such as staying overnight, dining, and more. It made him understand better what his father had done all those years when he was growing up. In some ways, Jason was envious of his companion's position, but he was still happy for him. Elliot just had to adjust, was all.

Jason rolled over onto his back when he heard the shower stop. He had yet to fall asleep that night, though it was well past the midnight hour. With various thoughts running through his head, he had waited for Elliot to come in. He watched in the dim lighting of the window, as the young man crossed the room, drying himself with a towel, before dropping it in a chair and climbing into the bed. As soon as he tried to snuggle up to Jason, however, the latter laughed and pulled away. "Hey, you're still wet!"

Elliot grunted, then flopped the covers back on his side, letting the room's coolness help dry him out. Jason could see the face, though, and knew his friend was disappointed. He pushed his own covers back and rolled over, snuggling up into Elliot's side as he wrapped an arm around him. "Sorry, bro. Come here," he whispered. Elliot slowly smiled and cuddled in closer.

"It's okay, just been a long day, that's all." Elliot sniffed once, then closed his eyes, feeling Jason nuzzle him in his neck. "All day long, I've just been wanting to get back home, just so I could be with you. Just so I could be with us," he whispered back. Jason then hugged him, before tracing his fingers along Elliot's chest. He tapped the skin lightly, feeling first the heartbeat that was still his favorite, something he had always sought out since they first met so many years before, and started down their path of intimacy. Tracing down, he circled the navel, along with the hairs that were now there, distinctly heading south. Threading his fingers through them, Jason laid his palm flat against the naked torso, and let it fall southward until he cupped the groin there with its softened member. He sighed, still loving the feel and warmth between them. "You know something? I was sort of waiting up for you, too."

Elliot looked down at him. "Really?"

"Yeah," Jason nodded. "Even after all these years bro, you're still like a tranquilizer to me. I love you so much, that when we're separated, it's just hard to fall asleep, hard to rest - everything." He glanced up into Elliot's eyes in the darkness. "I'll wake up sometimes and feel around, and if you're not here, it takes me a minute to realize where you are and everything, you know? It's like, when you're here, it's just - it just is." He stretched his neck up and kissed the lips that met him half-way.

"I love you, too. And it's hard for me, too, when I'm away. Not just now, but other times we've been separated, too. I always know when you're near, and when you aren't." Elliot sighed, rolling onto his side. It took little coaxing for the two to wrap each other up into a warm embrace. Elliot held his companion tightly, noting that he, too, wore no clothing just then, as their bodies came into full contact with one another. Neither sported or grew an erection, but there was a comfort in their embrace that belied description.

Jason held on, smiling, thinking about where they were and how far they had come. "Can you remember that night, the first time we made love? When we were in Tennessee, and-"

"We were leaving the next day to go home, yeah. I remember," Elliot whispered, nodding as he recalled that evening. "I remember being spellbound like, forever. I didn't know what I had ever done to deserve you, and what we did and all that. I felt so lucky and everything. Do you remember that?"

Jason pulled back and smiled. "Oh yeah, I remember everything about it, Elliot. And I remember telling you it's because you had me, and would always have me, as long as you wanted me." He paused, laying his head upon Elliot's chest. "You're not the lucky one, man. I am. It's like the night I proposed to you, I told you I would love you forever. I still do Elliot, not just on the outside, but inside, too. You are what makes me feel complete, you know? I can do a lot of things, but I know what I feel inside, and that it's the same as what you feel inside. It's ... it's just awesome."

Elliot smiled, too, his eyes tearing up. "You will always have me, Jase. I am never happier than when I am with you, holding you like this. Sex or no sex, just getting to hold you, or feel when you are holding me... and knowing you have my back. Always."

Jason stretched his neck up again, whispering. "I know, and I agree. But, um... maybe with some sex thrown in every once in a while, too. You know?" He saw the feeling was mutual between them, as he leaned in and kissed again, this time sharing so much more.

It was several minutes before they parted and pulled back, Jason once again laying his head upon Elliot's chest. Listening to the heartbeat beneath was as soothing as rain falling on a tin roof. "You know, don't worry about the travel stuff. Just enjoy it. They told you it was only for a couple of months anyway, right? Once you get your feet wet enough, you'll settle down."

Elliot sighed. "Yeah, I know. It should all get better right before the holidays. Which, by the way, have you had any thoughts about what we're going to do this year?"

"Oh yeah," Jason nodded. "I was thinking about asking our parents if they wanted to come over here this year, and if so I would buy their tickets as a Christmas present. If not, then yeah, we can fly over for a week. How does that sound?"

Elliot hugged him again. "Great, except for the 'you'll buy the tickets' part. Honest Jase, I want to start helping out more than I've been doing. You shouldn't have to buy all the big stuff anymore, you know?"

Jason shrugged. "Why? It's our money, Elliot, not just mine. I know, you still don't see it that way, but heck, what else am I going to spend it on, if not for us?"

"I know Jase, but..." Elliot's voice trailed off. It was true, he and Jason pretty much had been living off the interest in the investments and everything, and thanks to their Dad's advice, along with Jason's advocate, those investments had paid off handsomely - enough that matters of money were never a worry between them. "It's still your money, Jase. I know, you get your dividends and everything and all, but... I don't want to be the moocher, as you guys call it over here. I really want to share. I mean, I want to pay for stuff, too. And now that I have a real job-"

Once again, Jason pushed a finger onto Elliot's lips and hushed him. "Just promise me something. Promise me you love me. It's all that matters."

"I've never not loved you, Jase. You know that," Elliot whispered, hugging the body in his arms again. "I don't think there's very many of us who have ever not loved you, bro. Derek, Mum and Dad, even Ron."

"I was being rhetorical, you know," Jason whispered. "Oops! That reminds me, I've got to lay some money out for Ron in the morning. One of his textbooks and labs ended up costing him almost $300! He paid it, but I know he's got to be broke again."

Elliot nodded. "Yeah, he said something to me before I left the other day. He might need to ask for some help for a couple of weeks. Seems he didn't expect that one to hit him, I think."

Jason shrugged. "Doesn't matter, he's always come through for us. I think I've got some money in my wallet, I'll give it to him. It should tide him over for a while."

Elliot looked down into the eyes that met him back. "You see what I mean, Jase? You're always looking out for us, always helping and everything. We love you for it, but sometimes, well, sometimes we want to make it on our own, too. We know you love us in return, but bro - let us help, too. Let us do these things together, you know?" Elliot suddenly grunted. "But uh, yeah, maybe this time. Now that I think about it, I think I spent about all I had on me today, so I might not have much to add just this second."

Jason laughed softly. "Stop worrying about it, I've got it covered. Tomorrow's Friday anyway, so I only have a half day. How about you?"

Elliot shook his head. "I'm off, really. We were out so long today, since almost 6:30 this morning, boss man said we could take tomorrow off."

"That's great! We'll go out then, just the two of us. Okay?" Jason paused, before whispering. "And I'll make you a promise: I'll start letting you guys share, if you really want to. I mean, you've always helped out with other stuff, I know, but yeah, I'll do it."

"Especially Ron, bro. He always feels bad when he gets behind, and then feels like he isn't living up to his end of the bargain." Elliot hesitated. "You know, his heart is still just as pure as it was 7 years ago. And I know he loves you, too. I think he's afraid to show it so much now, though. I mean, since you and I are together and all that now, he kind of hesitates and, well, yeah - he's afraid he'll interfere with us or something."

"I know he is, yeah," Jason agreed. "What say we do something special for him this weekend. Are you game?"

"What have you got in mind?"

"Oh, I don't know. He still trusts us a lot, the way he runs around here naked sometimes. Maybe, uh, let's just strip him and hang him upside down in the shower or something. You know, something kind of kinky for a change," Jason mused. Looking up, he could make out the wide grin on Elliot's features.

"You still remember that?" he asked softly.

"Oh hell, yes! Who could forget yours and Derek's birthday present to me that year!" Jason scoffed. "It was actually kind of fun, though I definitely had to live with blue balls for an hour!"

"I'm game then, if you are," Elliot answered. "I don't care to get a little kinky with him, as long as you're okay with it. Besides, he needs a little attention every once in a while, I think. Although," Elliot hesitated, before grinning. "He might be a little heavy to hang up like that now, but..."

"Don't worry, we'll figure something out. It doesn't have to be the shower, just... we can get a little naughty and all with him. You know, just something to let him know we still trust him and everything, too. That's the whole point, right?"

Elliot answered by hugging him again. "That's another reason why I so love you much, you know. The way you think about other people, and just the way you... you give. Everything, sometimes."

Jason hugged back. "Only to people I love and trust, bro."

"I know, I know..."

They both lay there then, and within minutes fell asleep in each other's arms. In the few short years they had learned to be at peace with another, it was a part of their souls inside that stayed with them for many, many years to come.

I believe there is a part of us, entwined in one way or another, with the people we meet or carry on a conversation with. Whether it's physically or within our inner being - it's a part that lets us enjoy a very special freedom with each other. A freedom you can't buy, nor sell; it has no cost, but yet it's priceless. The supply is unlimited, because it's found deep within our soul, and we get to choose who we wrap it around, or embrace for ourselves. That's the meaning of trust, and it comes in all shapes and sizes.

There is another part of us, too. Someone once asked me a question: "Why do you love me?" It got me to thinking, can you truly label or define what love is? Sure, we can find reasons that give us cause for one another, but even then - isn't there something that lies underneath that? Something that stirs us inside, and when shared with the right people, that makes us want to spread our wings and fly away with them? I believe there is no single reason that makes love what it is, nor is there a true way of defining it. Even though we often try to find some definition, or some power that wraps it up and delivers it, as if in a bottle - we always fall short.

When things in life seem odd or so out of kilter at times, I find a lot of solace in the companionship of my friends. It makes me pause and think about what makes people do the things they do, or in this case, what makes them like me, or love me, and I love them back. That's when I think about people who go to climb Mount Everest, or travel with hopes of reaching the North or South pole. Even people who try to cross the tightrope between two skyscrapers, or jump on a bungee cord, deep into a canyon. Why? Why would they do that? The danger is real; there's no monetary or physical rewards for the journey, right? So, what drove them to do it in the first place? Why do something that, to some, is so foolish with all the dangers intact?

Then it hits me. I have this idea where I think people partly do it just because they can. They have a driving desire, or crave. Not for the publicity, or the bragging rights or what have you, but for something else. Something that drives them from the inside, because in the end it brings them happiness you can't just get otherwise. They do it because it creates a feeling so deep, so pure, that it masters their life in a totally different way. And having that mastery creates a peace on the inside.

I believe in my heart that love is no different. I think that's why we, as human beings, really can't define it. It defies description not because it is all encompassing, but because it isn't. We love someone because we can, and when we feel that love coming back to us, there's a bond and peace that is indescribable. Sometimes, I think Elliot is Jason's Mount Everest. Jason loves him so deeply, just because he can, and that made them both reach the top and plant their own flag of victory for each other. His willingness to be there for his brothers is a part of what makes him feel whole and safe. And when someone feels that wholesome, and feels that true spirit come from the inside - it becomes an indescribable power. Elliot loved Jason back for the same reason - because he just could. With that power, two people have a freedom with each other, and that freedom is made up of a love no one will ever, ever outgrow.

Yeah, I'm being gushy one last time, I know. This story, it's not perfect by any means. I mean, I'm only human - I'm not perfect in any way, but meh - this is my truly, honest attempt to share something with all of you. So, to everyone who has stuck with me until the end - all I can say, from the bottom of my heart, is just this: Find that pillow some night, and pull it up to your chest. Wrap your arms around it, and then close your eyes. For just an instant, for just a moment in time - try to imagine... that I'm right there, hugging you back.

Take care everyone - and thank you. :o)

-Sean

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