One of Us

by Richard Campbell

Chapter 6

The following weekend while the boys were helping Emily add the final touches to her rockery and pond, she asked Mark if he would like to come on their camping trip. His face lit up so much she felt a lump in her throat.

He and Peter would be together for a whole week! Tripping over his words he stammered his thanks then burst into questions. Where were they going? How long would it take to get there? What did he need to bring? When were they going? How big was the tent? Should he bring food? What clothes would he need? Would…?

Touched and amused, Emily laughed. "Hold on, hold on. One question at a time, please."

"Sorry, Emily." He so excited he didn't even stumble over her name.

"All you need is a sleeping bag if you have one, and your clothes."

"I haven't, but I might be able to get one," Mark said dubiously, thinking that his father would prefer him to sleep on the ground with nothing at all to cover him. Like a soldier.

"That's okay, I've got two," Peter told him, "All you need are casual clothes, jeans, shorts, tshirts, stuff like that."

"Will it cost very much?" He was unsure if his father would be willing to pay for him to go.

In this he was quite wrong. The Captain would have bitterly resented anyone thinking that he couldn't pay his son's way. He was comparatively well off and not dependent upon his military pension, although his son had no idea of that and would never have dared to ask. He only knew that if he lost or tore any clothes he was called to account immediately so he never confessed to the loss of anything and simply made do until he could replace it out of his pocket money. It was one of the reasons he had so few possessions. What little money he managed to retain was spent on music. His mother helped out occasionally, on the unspoken understanding that he was discreet and nothing would come to his father's attention, but her financial aid was not something he could count on.

Guessing what was going through his mind Emily said easily, "Camping is very cheap and it won't cost any more if you're with us."

"The standard charge at campsites is for two adults and two children," explained Peter. "And we, er, both qualify as kids until we're sixteen. All you need is some spending money."

Mark wasn't sure if he could even manage that and wondered what he could go without to acquire some cash. Nothing came to mind, apart from school meals that were paid for out of his pocket money, but he rejected the notion of giving them up. They always ate together and Peter would insist on knowing why if he started skipping lunch. His next birthday was too far away to be of any financial use, and in any case, anything he received then was already earmarked for the solo part of the Chopin F minor piano concerto. He had managed to put a little of his weekly allowance towards it but the total didn't amount to much. Feeling a pang of regret at the thought of using the money for something else, but accepting that he couldn't have everything, he dismissed it from his mind. He could always get the music later.

Relieved of this worry he joined in the conversation, his excitement growing as they spoke. Not only because of being with Peter, but because he loved being with his family. It wasn't solely Emily and Victor's kindness either. They were fun to be with and he really enjoyed their jokes and gentle teasing. They treated him just as they did Peter and he found himself wishing that his own parents were the same as he began to comprehend what he had been deprived of over the years.

His father rarely spoke to him, criticism and commands apart, and his mother was so negative he wasn't sure what she thought of him at all. He imagined that she loved him but she didn't show it very often. He had wondered at times if he was the one at fault in some way, but the attitude of the Dorans was so different it was leading him to conclude that perhaps he wasn't as much to blame as he'd imagined.

They appeared to see something in him that his parents did not. And it wasn't only them. The people he'd met at the concert had seemed to accept him as an interesting person in his own right. Everyone had gone out of their way to talk to him, even praise him, and the string players, who were far better musicians than himself, had been particularly complimentary and treated him as an equal. If they could do it, why couldn't his parents do the same? Or didn't they really care about him at all? Well, if they didn't, there were other people now who did, he thought gratefully, and looked up to see everyone watching him.

"Sorry, I was thinking." Had someone asked him something?

Peter came closer, took his chin in his hand and looked into his eyes. "Sometimes you just go away from us, Markie. Are you alright?"

All three had seen the expression on his face.

"I'm sorry," he repeated, "I didn't mean to be rude. I was just thinking about something."

"That's why he's so surprised," remarked Victor affectionately. "Pete never thinks about anything."

Peter ignored him. "Are you sure you're alright?"

"I'm sure Pete. Thank you. I love you," he said in a soft whisper for Peter's ears alone, adding mentally, I love all of you.

He was completely still for a moment an arrested look on his face as he thought about it. It was perfectly true. He did love all of them. Not just Peter, but Emily and Victor as well.

"Markie, please don't go off into another trance. You worry me sometimes, you really do."

"There's no need, Pete. I'm okay."

They stared at each other for a minute then Peter relaxed, wishing that he knew what Mark had been thinking. Just when I decide I'm getting to know him he surprises me, he reflected.

The excitement of the forthcoming holiday buoyed Mark up and helped to keep his mind off something that was beginning to worry him. Although he denied it vigorously there was something wrong with Peter. It wasn't affecting their relationship, he was as loving as he had been before, even more so if that were possible, but his usual sunny nature was less in evidence.

One of the reasons he was so popular at school was his pleasant and easy going temperament. Mark couldn't ever recall him being cross, bad tempered or unkind, yet he seemed to be becoming impatient and also a little thoughtless. The signs were so small at first that he didn't pay any attention until one day Peter went off into a brown study and jumped when spoken to. Peter covered it up quickly but it made Mark think, and it was then that he realised how much he had changed. He tried to shut his eyes to it but once it had come to his attention he could see that Peter was getting worse rather than better.

He even wondered, for two bleak days, if Peter was getting tired of him and bored with his company, which led him to worry about something else. From the minute they'd met, Peter had always known when he himself was worried or upset and he fully expected him to ask what was troubling him. But he didn't, and that was a first in his experience. Fortunately for his peace of mind Peter was as passionate as ever and sought his company so eagerly he realised that the problem, whatever it was, had nothing to do with him. Maybe he was ill?

Studying him unobtrusively he decided that his friend looked a little pale having lost some of the tanned, healthy colour from his face. His clothes seemed to fit a little more loosely and he was less enthusiastic than he had been. Having become used to Peter's limitless energy it was strange, and a little frightening, to see him in a state bordering on listless. True, he would rouse himself and behave exactly as he had before, but it wasn't long before he slipped back into something approaching apathy. More and more anxious about it, he tackled Peter one afternoon when they were alone in the house.

With their homework and his practise done, Peter had dragged him upstairs to his bedroom and given him sufficient proof of his love to set Mark's mind at ease on that score, but there was something about him that was different, apart from the physical signs that he was already aware of. For some minutes, as they lay comfortably tangled together, he went over in his mind various schemes to persuade Peter to tell him what was wrong. Nothing he could think of seemed likely to induce Peter to confide in him if he didn't want to, so he simply asked, hoping that the satisfied languor they were both feeling would do the trick.

"There's nothing wrong with me," responded Peter quietly. "I've had a hard time recently, what with football, my other sports, and looking after you as well, so I'm a bit tired. I need a holiday that's all. I'll be fine when we get to the beach."

Then he changed the subject in the most effective way possible and it wasn't until Mark was in bed that night that he was able to examine what Peter had said. He wasn't convinced. When had Pete ever been tired, no matter what he did? It was something else. It had to be.

At school the following day he watched him, not in his usual worshipful fashion, but quite critically. What he saw confirmed that Peter had become more than a little moody. One minute he would be his usual cheerful and happy self, the next he would be on the verge of losing his temper. Mark noticed several puzzled glances directed at him when he became irritated by things that previously he wouldn't even have noticed.

For a several days he mulled over the situation, wondering if there was anything he could do, or whether it was better to leave it alone and hope that he would get over whatever it was that was affecting him. However, he realised that he would have to do something when his friend lost his temper with the sports master.

Peter had always got on well with the man. He was, without doubt, the most promising sportsman the school had ever seen, revelled in the training and had a huge amount of respect for the coach himself. But apparently, Mark wasn't there of course but he heard all about it afterwards, Peter had objected to doing some exercise or other which he claimed had been proved years ago to be ineffective. There was an argument about it and Peter's attitude, which would have passed virtually unnoticed in any other member of the team, provoked the coach into losing his temper. The man who had endured a hard day himself was taken aback by the normally well mannered and enthusiastic Peter's insolence. Extremely angry, he sent him off to change, threatening that he would be thrown off the team if he wasn't careful.

Both of them knew it wouldn't happen. Peter was far too valuable to be dropped over such a minor incident and by the following day they both regretted the disagreement.

But in the meantime, leaving the field and his bewildered team mates, the seething Peter didn't bother to shower and change but picked up his bag and marched into the music room. One look told Mark that something was seriously wrong but Peter's expression warned him not to enquire.

Meekly he allowed himself to be shepherded out of the building and they walked to Peter's house in virtual silence. A tentative attempt to find out what had happened was cut off so abruptly that his courage failed and he spent the remainder of the walk wondering what to do. There seemed to be only one thing he could offer so he followed his friend upstairs and watched while he changed. Waiting until Peter had angrily removed shirt and shorts, he chose an instant when he was off balance and pushed him down onto the bed. Peter, taken aback by this unexpected aggression, stared at him for a moment before his face relaxed and he made only a token attempt to stop Mark kissing his mouth before moving down his body alternately kissing and using his tongue. By the time Mark reached his navel he had lost all power to resist and allowed the smaller boy to remove his remaining clothing.

After that events took their usual course with the difference that Mark did all the work, if it could be called that, and when Peter tried to reciprocate was told to desist.

"It's my turn and you're going to relax and enjoy it."

"I'd enjoy it more if I touched you as well," his victim muttered.

"I don't care. I'm going to concentrate on you without being distracted."

"Do you think you can get away with this?" demanded Peter, muscles tensing.

"Yes. Now shut up and do what you're told for a change."

Peter stuck out his tongue, muttered, "Bossy boots," then yelped when he received a warning nip.

"Behave," Mark ordered, inhaling the exhilarating scent of his pubic hair, "Or I'll bite this thing right off."

Cowed, Peter gave him a small smile and resigned himself to whatever his companion wanted to do.

By the time that Mark, who knew his reactions well by then, had kept him on the edge of orgasm for several minutes, he was squirming and begging, all traces of anger driven from his mind. Exploiting this all too rare moment of power, Mark extracted a reluctant promise.

He was only just in time. As he was about to resume his ministrations Peter was so overcome by a graphic description of what the boy proposed to do to him that his reactions went into overdrive and triggered his climax before Mark had a chance to carry out any of his declared intentions. Before his astonished gaze, Peter's penis went out of control, lifted powerfully and after a few straining, ecstatic seconds, ejaculated all over his chest and belly.

Mark breathed an awed "Wow!" before turning to the pleasurable task of cleaning it all up with his tongue, then wriggled up to lie beside his panting victim. "That was good wasn't it," he murmured as he listened to Peter's thudding heart.

Peter nodded. "The best. Let me kiss you."

Obeying a sudden compulsion Mark opened his mouth slightly, feeling a thrill that made his pelvis jerk as Peter took advantage of his offer.

He was even more turned on when Peter whispered, "Markie, I can taste me in you."

"Can you," he asked with tiny gasp. "Is it, alright?"

"Not as good as yours. Nothing could be as nice as that, especially as it gets better all the time. But perhaps I'd better check, just to be sure?"

"I'd love that."

"I know you would, you're such a sexy kid."

"Less of the 'kid' Doran. That wasn't what you were calling me when you were whining and crawling and begging a minute ago."

Peter silenced him by covering his mouth with his own. Once he was sure that his young lover was satisfactorily subjugated he stripped him, then aware that Mark wasn't in the mood for prolonged teasing, took him into his mouth and in a few short seconds brought him to an equally satisfying conclusion.

Sleepily they argued over the merits of the taste of their own and each other's sperm then fell asleep.

Emily arrived half an hour later and thinking the house was empty, glanced into Peter's room as she passed. The boys were inextricably twined together. She considered shutting the door but decided that Mark would be highly embarrassed if he knew that she had seen him naked, even if it was only from the rear, so left it as it was, but made a mental note to remind Peter to close it in future. Not that he would care she thought with a smile, recalling the number of times she and Victor had seen him naked at the beach, but he needed to bear in mind that Mark was infinitely more modest. Quietly she changed into old clothes and went out into her garden.

It was really coming on. The rockery so carefully planted by Mark was thriving and she debated whether to add a few fish to the pond. Reluctantly she came to the conclusion that it was too small and began to turn over in her mind a plan to lead the water through a miniature stream to a larger pool. There was a slight slope to the ground so it would definitely be possible. She itched to put the design on paper but didn't want to collect Peter's sketch pad and risk waking the boys. She was a little concerned, Peter never slept in the afternoon.

She knew what was wrong. It had happened before and wasn't particularly serious, though it would become so if it went on too long and got out of Peter's control especially if, as seemed likely, the two boys remained in love.

She sighed a trifle enviously. They had such monumental difficulties to overcome but their joy in each other's company and the depth of their youthful love was an inspiration and something to treasure. As long as it didn't become obvious to anyone else, particularly at school. Teenagers were quick to pick up on anything out of the ordinary.

In point of fact, although nothing had been said, one or two of Peter's team mates were beginning to wonder. That it had gone no further than that was due to his popularity. Nobody wanted to think badly of him as he was liked and admired by virtually everyone, not only for his formidable skills at every type of sport, but for his personality as well. None of them would have dreamt of mentioning so un-macho a concept, but they approved of his good nature and there was a quiet, though unacknowledged, rivalry to be friends with him even amongst the older boys.

And this was part of the problem. Although perfectly willing to spend as much time as they wanted with anyone who took a fancy to him, he simply didn't have much time to spare. What wasn't taken up by his numerous sporting activities was spent with Mark, and it was beginning to be noticed.

Usually very sensitive to the feelings of others, in this instance Peter was curiously unaware of what was going on, as if his empathy had become so focussed on the object of his love that there was nothing left to alert him to the subtle currents emanating from anyone else. And that there was danger on the horizon was a distinct possibility. His peers admired him tremendously, but it remained to be seen whether that admiration would survive the discovery of his true relationship with Mark. Both of them had tried to behave as normally as possible, Peter, because he knew it made sense, and Mark, because he had always kept his own counsel. But their closeness was obvious to anyone who took the trouble to look and they were surrounded by crowds of very sharp eyed adolescents.

Upstairs, Peter had become hot and sweaty where he was in contact with Mark and woke him by gently stroking the back of his neck. If he'd thought that Mark had forgotten about his promise (viciously extracted under duress) the hope died instantly.

"I didn't notice any extraction under Durex, and talking of extraction…"

"No!" Peter snared his questing hand. "We've got homework to do and I need a shower. And since when did you start making bad puns?"

"Since I met you. You're a bad influence on me. Everyone says so."

"Who everyone?" demanded Peter rudely. "Just tell me one everyone. Go on, tell me one."

"Well there's, there's…"

"Little liar. There are no everyones at all. You can't think of a single one!"

"I could if I tried but I'm too sleepy." Mark stretched against him rather like a cat.

Peter held him tightly. It had been a very provocative movement.

"Not only are you a little liar, you're," he searched for an appropriate word, "You're abandoned!"

"You say the nicest things."

"And shameless!"


"And, and…lascivious!"

"Wow," Mark exclaimed in an awed voice. "You do come up with some weird words—it sounds absolutely awful! I love it if it means what I think it means."

"It means worse than you think it means."

Mark smiled happily. "When I do things like this you mean?"

"Exactly," Peter told him, breathing rather fast and catching his hand again. "But no, Markie. Shower."

"No to you too," said Mark, suddenly remembering. "First you've got to tell me what happened today, like you promised."

Trapped, Peter gave him a brief resume of the incident on the football field, making light of it and promising that he would apologise the following day.

"I was just tired," he offered.

"You're never tired."

"Yes I am. Often. I get worn out by you."

"Don't give me that," Mark said scornfully, "What I do gives you energy."

"That's for sure," Peter agreed, distracted, "I wonder if I could sell you. Bottle it and make a fortune. We could call it, er, Gordoran, the Energy Elixir."


"Sounds like a girl. How about Dorgoran? Dorgoran the Amazingly Effective Energy Elixir. I like it. All we need are a few hundred little brown bottles and we're in business. I could milk you six times a day. Let's see. Um, six bottles at ten pounds a bottle, I'll be rich!"

"Thank you. You'll be rich!" Mark's voice dripped sarcasm. "And what do I get out of it?"

"Oh you'll get pleasure out of taking care of manufacturing and production. You won't need anything else. Maybe I could milk you eight times a day," he went on, looking at Mark speculatively. "That would be, uh, five hundred and sixty pounds a week for a start, and I'm sure production would increase once you got into the swing of it. I'll probably end up with a hundred pounds a day. Minimum!"

"Do you know what you are?"

"Businessman? Entrepreneur? Speculator? Not much speculation in this business though, judging by the size of the assets. Anyone can see that it's not going to the sort of risky venture where the supply dries up."

"Actually," Mark told him in a dignified voice, "The word I was thinking of was, 'pig'."


"Or maybe rat."


Mark giggled. "You're an idiot, did you know that?"

Peter crossed his eyes and made gibbering noises.

"Stop it. Behave. Or else."

"Or else what?" Peter demanded in an interested voice.

"Or else, oh I don't know. Something. Stop making me laugh and be serious for a minute."

"I like making you laugh. You don't laugh enough."

"Yes I do. I'm always laughing when I'm with you. It's when I'm not with you that I don't have much to laugh about."

"That's why you have to make up for it when you are with me," Peter replied, getting off the bed and hauling him up.

In the shower, Peter proved once again that hand extraction worked admirably, mentioning that he had made up his mind not to swallow the production (as well as the profits!) on every occasion. It earned him a loving punch in the ribs and the reply that although he might not want to waste the production, Mark was determined to swallow up some other possible assets of the proposed venture. Which he did, to their mutual satisfaction.

When they came out into the garden a little later, Emily was pleased to see that Peter was looking better. Mark is good for him she thought as she kissed him, a habit she had adopted recently and one which Mark thoroughly enjoyed. He was continually surprised at how loving they were as a family, how often they touched and held each other. At first it had made him feel shy but now he was involved as well it didn't seem nearly as odd. Not only did he take pleasure in it, he was beginning reciprocate, though far too bashful to initiate anything except when he was on his own with Peter when he found it difficult to keep his hands to himself.

The three of them worked companionably for an hour or so. Emily and Mark weeding while Peter watered the flowers until he decided to go inside and bake a cake for tea. Mark was torn between going with him or staying where he was. Peter settled the matter by telling him that he didn't want him under his feet and getting in the way, then threatened him with the hose when it looked as if he was going to make an issue of it.

He turned the water off, straddled the kneeling boy and kissed the back of his neck.

"Pete," Emily said, a note of warning in her voice, "I don't think you should do that out here."

Mark looked at her.

"I don't mean that I mind," she reassured him, "But though we're quite far back from the road, anyone passing could see and it could lead to problems."

Thinking back to the scene in the park Mark had to agree and apologised, not realising that one of the problems she was thinking about had to do with something entirely different.

"I'm not blaming you. It wasn't your fault. It's scatterbrain here who should have thought first. I know, Pete," she went on, noting his expression, "I know exactly what you're going to say. If either of you was a girl no one would give it a thought and you could go a great deal further than a kiss before you raised any eyebrows. But you are both boys and although I agree it's not fair, you do have to live in the world as it is and not how you would like it to be. This is Britain, one of the most homophobic and discriminatory societies in the world, and if you do things like that in public you risk bringing ridicule and condemnation on yourselves, and possibly criminal proceedings as well."

She glanced at Mark's worried face and her own softened. "You are breaking the law, my dears," she went on quietly. "I don't imagine you would be prosecuted for just a kiss, but you both know that it has gone a lot further than that. While no-one knows about you nothing is likely to happen, but if people realise there's something more between you than friendship, they will remember things that they didn't think about at the time, and add them up. Then some Mary Whitehouse type might inform the police and we will all be in trouble, but especially you, Mark. It would be bad enough for Pete, Vic and myself, but you are the one who would suffer most."

"Why?" Mark asked in a small voice, sitting back on his heels. The vision she had provoked in his mind was horrifying.

"Several reasons. For one, your father. I don't imagine he would take it kindly."

His heart went cold at the thought.

"And for another, there's your age."

Mark looked at her rather helplessly. "But Pete…" he began.

Emily glanced at Peter who was standing rather rigidly next to Mark. He shook his head slightly.

"Pete is older than you are, so in that way he's at risk."

"Not so much, he's not sixteen yet."

She hesitated. "You're right of course, but he is older and because of that he could be accused of," she searched for a word, seducing seemed a little strong, "Of interfering with a boy younger than himself which is a serious offence under English law. But it's the effect it would have on you I'm more worried about. You have only got to think what would happen at school if they knew, and you would have to face it alone because the authorities would make sure that Pete wasn't allowed anywhere near you."

Mark's eyes filled. The thought of facing everyone at school was bad, but to do it without Peter!

Feeling that she had made the point sufficiently firmly, Emily went on. "I don't want you to worry about it too much, but I do want both of you to be more careful. You have become a little careless recently but nothing will go wrong provided you are discreet. We can protect you to some extent," she said, looking at his unhappy face, "All I'm asking is that you think before you act."

Mark nodded. It would be harder for Peter than for him because, unless they were completely alone, he never made the first move. It would definitely be up to him then to remind Pete if he forgot. Suddenly he felt rebellious. You saw boys and girls, a lot younger than they were, kissing and cuddling in public, doing whatever they liked, and nobody gave a damn. Why should it be different for them? It wasn't fair! But what, if anything, could they do about it? Nothing, was the short answer.

He was aware that there had been tentative suggestions to lower age of homosexual consent to eighteen, but even in the unlikely event that it happened, it still wouldn't help them. It would be would be nearly three years before he and Pete turned eighteen, and six before they were both twenty one. It seemed like a lifetime. Yet a boy who liked girls could get married when he was sixteen if both his parents agreed. It was discrimination! There was no other word for it!

He looked at Peter as he walked to the house. I'll talk to him later he decided, unhappy at the set look on his face. He and Emily continued with their weeding while he turned things over in his mind.

"Emily," he said quietly, "You don't really mind that Pete and I love each other, do you?"

"No. I don't mind at all and neither does Vic. You have been good for him you know."

Mark looked at her in surprise.

"We both love Pete very much," she replied, "But he does have his faults. You bring out the best in him."

He was confused. It had seemed, a minute ago, that she was blaming him for Pete kissing him, and now she was almost saying the opposite. He would never understand people. But that could wait. With Peter out of the way there was something more important to ask her.

"Is he sick?" he said abruptly.

"Why do you think that?"

"It's hard to explain. But he looks pale and he's not as, as, happy as he used to be. I don't mean that he's unhappy," he went on, puzzling it out, "It's just that he often seems impatient and he never used to be."

"Has something happened at school?"

"Yes. I made him tell me. It happened at football. He disagreed with the coach about something and was sent off. It's never happened before. Ever! And I've noticed that in class he sometimes argues with the teachers and even with his friends during break. Mostly it's not even about important stuff. But he wasn't like that before which is why I wondered if he wasn't well. He even said he was tired!" he added in such a shocked voice she had to smile.

"I know what you mean. He's a real bundle of energy. Vic calls him The Tornado sometimes."

Mark smiled. The description was perfect. He must remember it. "I'm not making something out of nothing am I?"

"No, my dear. I know exactly what you mean and both Vic and I have noticed that he isn't as well as he should be. But it's not something for you to worry about. He has, well I suppose you could call it an illness though it's not precisely that, and it's not very serious. But it makes him moody at times because he feels uncomfortable. There is very little that anyone can do about it, but he will get over it soon, I promise you."

"Isn't there anything he could take, like an aspirin or something?"

"No, I'm afraid not. It's just something that he has to live with. You can help by being patient with him when he's irritable, and being your usual loving self. That will do him more good than anything else. And if you could keep an eye on him at school, especially with his teachers, I would be really grateful. I don't want him getting into trouble. Just a reminder, if he looks as if he's about to lose his temper will do. I know he'll listen to you."

Mark felt a glow pass over him. Here at last was something he could do for Pete and his family, something which it seemed that only he could do. And he knew exactly how to go about it. It wouldn't be an easy but that didn't matter because Pete would take care that it never happened again. It didn't cross his mind that a few months previously he wouldn't even have considered such an action, let alone contemplated it without too much inward shrinking.

He had to put his plan into effect rather sooner than he'd anticipated when Peter fell foul of their maths teacher. He had apologised to the football coach, was back in favour and things had remained on an even keel for some days. But he still didn't look well. If anything, he seemed worse. He was developing dark circles under his eyes, and when Mark touched him, his muscles seemed loose and floppy. They were being more circumspect and Peter had made a point of spending more time playing football during the lunch break but didn't seem to get the same pleasure out of it.

Observing him, while pretending to read a book, Mark was convinced that he was not as fast as he used to be, and although he knew little more about the game than he had previously, even he could see that Peter had lost the flair that had made him such a pleasure to watch. His co-ordination was off, he fumbled the ball occasionally and appeared to lack stamina. When he collected Mark after training he looked tired. Previously he would have come bouncing into the room, rejuvenated by the exercise.

Mark was becoming more and more worried. Peter wouldn't admit that anything was wrong, and he had no-one with whom to discuss it. He tried consulting various encyclopaedias in the library but they were singularly unhelpful, and there was no medical one anyway.

Adding to his concern was a growing feeling that there was something that only he could do to help. When Peter held him in his arms he seemed to be wanting something. There was a sort of longing in his face, and a tension in his body, as if he wanted to ask Mark to give him something, or to do something for him. But he wouldn't ask, and nor would he explain what it was. He would only smile when Mark mentioned it and say that he gave him everything he needed. But Mark felt that this was untrue in spite of Peter's denials. Things had been going on in this unsatisfactory manner for some time when one afternoon, towards the end of maths, it happened.

Peter had been unusually restless that day, shifting in his seat and fidgeting with his ruler and books as if he didn't know what to do with his hands. Normally he enjoyed Maths, at which he was extremely good, was attentive, enthusiastic, and able to grasp new concepts so easily that he only had to be shown something once for it to become second nature. The remainder of the class, none of whom had any outstanding ability, were both impressed and pleased by his proficiency because it relieved them of a certain amount of pressure.

However, on this occasion he got one of the answers badly wrong. Asked to describe his reasoning, the teacher was as surprised as the rest of the class, he got resentfully to his feet and launched into a rather muddled explanation which even the partisan Mark could see didn't hold much water. The gist of it was that the problem given to them to solve had been incorrect, and rather stupid, in the first place. He didn't actually use the word stupid but the implication was plain and Mark's discreet touch on his leg was ignored as he admitted that he had changed one of the properties so that it made more sense.

Mark had no idea if Peter's version made better sense than the original and in any case it had no effect on the outcome. The teacher, with considerable scorn, tore a strip off Peter and ended by telling him that whether the original problem was correct or not made no difference. It was his task to work it out as given and not take it on himself to change it, even if he did think that he knew better than everyone else and was more clever than his teachers. Peter's face went red, and when he was finally permitted to resume his seat, he was seething.

At that moment, the already astounded class were stunned into total silence when Mark remarked, in a voice designed to be overheard, that Peter was quite right and he had done the same.

The maths master who had turned to the blackboard after putting Doran firmly in his place, swung round and found himself regarding the most mathematically incompetent boy in the entire school. It took all of Mark's will power to maintain his slouched attitude as the man glared at him. Had he realised how successful his ploy would be he might have chickened out entirely. To the ruffled master it was the final straw. He lost his temper completely, yelled at Mark to stand up, and had a go at him which lasted for several minutes. His face white, but forcing himself not to tremble by sheer will power, Mark faced him defiantly, sustained by his love for the boy beside him who was gaping in total disbelief in common with the rest of the class. All in all it was a relief to everyone when the tirade was cut short by the ringing of the bell.

They walked to Peter's house in an ominous silence.

When they arrived, Peter marched him up the stairs, hauled out Mark's maths book and stared at it furiously. The answer to the problem was, as usual, so wrong as to be ludicrous, nevertheless Mark had copied down the figures as given and done his best with them.

"Why did you lie about it?" he demanded angrily.

Mark looked at him steadily. "Because if you're going to get into trouble, I am too."

Peter's face went white, whether from rage, embarrassment or surprise, Mark had no idea. After a long minute he gripped Mark's arms. Mark stared back at him.

"I could kill you. There was no need for you to do that."

"Yes there was."

"No there wasn't. I can fight my own battles and I don't need your help," Peter shouted.

Mark flinched. "I know you can," he said in a small but determined voice, "But I'm going to fight with you whether you want me to or not."

Peter's grip eased a little. "You did it for me," he stated more quietly.

Mark nodded. "And I'm going to do it again. Every single time. If you're in trouble, I'm going to be in trouble. If you're sad, I'm going to be sad. If you're happy, I'm going to be happy. And it's no use arguing because you can't stop me," he added defiantly.

"Oh yes I can," Peter told him in a grim voice.

"You and whose army?"

"I don't need an army to handle you, little boy. I can do it with one hand tied behind my back."

"Show off."

"I'll show you off if you don't shut up. Don't you ever do that again!"

"Then you don't," exclaimed Mark angrily. "I mean it, Pete. The next time you're cheeky to one of the teachers or argue with them I'm going to do it too. And if you do it when I'm not there, like at football, when I hear about it I'll find the coach and shout at him as well."

Peter stared as he absorbed this. "You mean that, don't you."

"I don't only mean it, I'm promising."

"Why, Markie? You don't need to do it. Christ, I could feel you shaking this afternoon when old Einstein was shouting at you. Don't do that to me."

Mark made a small grimace. "I thought I'd managed not to shake. Seems I was wrong."

"I know when you're shaking, even when it's inside," Peter said more calmly. "Markie, don't do it again. Please! I don't need it and I hate it when you're in trouble, specially when you don't have to be. Promise me."

"I can't. I love you too much. Whatever you do, I'm going to do as well. When you're in trouble, I'm in trouble. It's as simple as that."

Peter let him go and paced about the room while Mark watched, hoping that this was going to work. It hadn't been easy, but one look at Peter's angry face after being told off had been enough. He was so well mannered and enthusiastic normally that, by contrast, it seemed worse if he misbehaved. He could easily get the reputation as a troublemaker if it occurred too often. I'm not going to let that happen, he told himself, especially when it's not his fault. He's just sick at the moment.

Peter stopped walking, looked at him steadily for a moment, then took him into his arms.

"Markie, I won't let them get to me," he said quietly, nuzzling his hair. "And, thank you," he added softly.

Mark relaxed. It had worked. Pete would remember the next time he was about to lose his temper. He wriggled his arms up between their bodies to that he could hold Peter's face. "I love you, even when you call me a little boy."

"I only do it when you act like one, and as that's most of the time…"

"I don't see you complaining."

Peter shook his head. "What's there to complain about? Even if you are a little boy, you're everything I've always wanted. And little or not, there's enough of you to satisfy me."

"And there's more than enough of you for me."

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