One of Us

by Richard Campbell

Chapter 14

After Peter pushed past him the Captain stood still wondering why he was there. He didn't connect it with Mark. Peter had done his work so well it hadn't occurred to him that it was Mark who held his interest rather than himself.

It was hardly surprising, therefore, that after following him into the study Peter's words didn't register. What left him feeling stunned and revolted was the sight of his son putting his arms around the handsome boy.

Kissing him!

The scales fell from his eyes and he knew why he disliked his son, accepted that he had always known. He was one of them! He'd come across many of them in the army and they'd received short shrift from him. Bloody homos! It was bad enough that his son was one but he was trying to seduce the Doran boy in front of his very eyes. It was what they always did!

He drew in his breath sharply and shouted, "Take your filthy hands off him, you, you…" In his revulsion he was unable to articulate the word. The rage he'd felt earlier had been joined by an equally powerful feeling of abhorrence.

"No," Mark said in a tone of utter indifference.

The word sobered the Captain, though his rage was merely tamped down and not diminished in any way. His first priority was to get Doran away from him and out of the house. Once he and his son were alone, they would see what they would see, he resolved, grimly contemplating his thick leather belt. He glanced at the other boy, understanding that he was too taken aback by the assault to do anything about it himself.

"Doran! Get away from that deviant!"

It was barked as an order and should have been obeyed instantly. But the young man was slow to react. Hardly surprising considering the loathsome position he found himself in, through no fault of his own.

He was aware that men occasionally turned to each other when there were no other outlets, it was a fact of service life to which most officers turned a blind eye. He though, had never shirked his duty, and after identifying the offenders had come down on them so heavily it had seldom happened again. Naturally it wasn't the case here, Doran was far too upstanding to indulge in anything of the kind. However, it was essential he understood how they used a young man's natural urges against him, so he would be on his guard in future.

Peter was about to speak when Mark said softly, "No, Pete," detached himself and faced his father. "I am not a deviant. I love Peter and he loves me, and there's nothing you can do about it. Also," he gulped slightly, "It's none of your business."

"It is very much my business," the Captain said in a dangerous voice. "Now that I know exactly what you are I'll deal with you accordingly. Don't think I'll permit a son of mine to go whoring around, wriggling your arse at every man you see. First, I'm going to get this lad away from you. You're not going to drag him down and turn him into something like yourself, you loathsome degenerate. He's an exceptional young man with a first class army career ahead of him and I will not stand by and do nothing while you ruin that. Then I'll concentrate on making a man out of you. Tell me, son," he went on, with a sort of terrifying geniality, "How long have you been on the game, eh? How long have you been offering your arse to anyone who wanted it? Did you get the money to buy those clothes by seducing the lads at school?"

Mark had gone white under his tan, the marks on his face contrasting vividly with his pale skin. His silence enraged the Captain further.

"Well you won't be doing that any more. There'll be no more fooling around with decent lads. Not that they would have anything to do with you if they could see you now. Shaking in your shoes! Snot running from your nose and pissing your pants. How you could be a son of mine I don't know, and even though the sight of you nauseates me, I'm going to keep you under my eye. You will come straight home from school and work in the house and garden when you've done your homework. You will be so tired when you get to bed you won't have the energy to think about your filthy habits. And don't think I don't know what you do in your bed because I've seen the results on the sheets you're too idle to wash. You won't have the strength to do that either by the time I'm finished with you!"

Mark, whose face had gone red at the last remark snarled, "Shut your dirty mouth!" with such venom in his voice that Peter looked at him in shock.

"You've got a very big mouth all of a sudden since you've been using it for things it wasn't meant to be used for. Do you charge for that as well? Have you been doing it to him," he sneered, indicating Peter, "And making him pay for it? Talked him into sticking it up your backside as well?"

"Shut the fuck up!" Mark yelled, his face scarlet with rage. "How dare you talk about Peter like that. You're the one with the dirty mind, so keep your foul thoughts to yourself!"

"Don't you use language like that to me or you'll feel my belt across your arse and you'll be too sore to even sit on it, let alone use it for anything else. Show some respect when you speak to your elders and betters."

"Older? Yes. Better? Never! You're not and you never will be. You've treated me like dirt all my life, trying to turn me into a bloody soldier like yourself, but that's finished. I wouldn't be seen dead in your fucking army and if you think you can keep me in this house all the time, you're the one who's got another think coming"

"Do you think I can't handle someone like you? I know exactly how to deal with you, my boy, and it will be my pleasure to do it. I'll turn you into a soldier or kill you in the process. And I don't much care which."

"No you bloody wouldn't. You've never cared about me except to clean and tidy up after you. You say I'm lazy? When did you ever lift a finger? You do nothing but leave everything to mother and me. As for being a deviant and a pervert and all the other things you've called me, let me tell you, father, I'm proud of what I am because it makes me different to you. And that's one of the best things I can think of…"

His voice trailed off and the expression that was so familiar to Peter, the look that meant he was puzzling something out, crossed his face. He was thinking so deeply the Captain's answering outburst went right over his head.

Astonished that he would go into one of his trances at a time like this, Peter wondered if he would ever get to know how his brain worked. Watching closely he saw the exact moment when Mark worked out whatever he was thinking about and his eyes snapped back into focus. The look on his face astounded Peter. This wasn't the boy he knew. This was a stranger. He looked, Peter thought, formidable.

Mark stared at his father, his expression changing to one that Peter was unable to interpret. He was simply thankful that Mark wasn't looking at him like that!

It was a minute or two before it registered on the Captain who was enjoying a tirade that had included virtually everything that Mark had ever done wrong in his entire life, and ended with his determination to put a stop to that all that bloody piano playing. Peter saw Mark flinch, then flinch again when his father added that he had known what he was ever since he'd caught him playing with his arse when he was two years old, and beaten him for it. Though, obviously not severely enough.

Mark's expression didn't change except, if anything, to intensify. He waited until the Captain ran out of breath then spoke.

"You never liked me but I wouldn't let myself admit it. You were my father and I believed that parents loved their children though everything you did and everything you said told me different. Even when I finally accepted how you felt about me, I made excuses for you because we're told to honour our parents. That's what the Church and the bible say. Honour thy father and thy mother. Pity it doesn't say honour thy children as well. Parents can do exactly what they like to their kids, even hate them, but kids have to honour them. No exceptions, no excuses."

"But I don't care about that because I've just realised there's something else. You've been going on and on about me being a whore and wanting cocks in my mouth and, and up my bum. But tell me, father, how would you know that if you hadn't wanted the same things yourself? That's what this is really about. It's about you being the same as me, except I can face what I am but you never could even though you've been a queer and a homo and a bumboy all your life. And there's something even worse, something that makes me want to vomit. Not only are you a filthy queer like I am, but you fancy Peter and want to have sex with him!"

Peter's mind was in turmoil. How he could have been so blind? It made too much sense for Mark to be wrong, and like Mark, he felt nauseated. He glanced at the Captain and was so appalled at the look on his face that he moved in front of Mark shouting, "Don't you touch him!"

The Captain, consumed by rage at Mark's lies, shook his head. It wasn't true. He wasn't the type. He wasn't one of them! He was married and had a son which proved he wasn't one of them! The thought of that son, the son he loathed and despised, making up such stories about him triggered a cold fury far more dangerous than his previous rage. How dare he talk so disrespectfully! Tell all those lies! It was the last time he would ever do so. When he was finished with him the repulsive creature would never talk like that again about anyone. Nor would he put his filthy hands on anyone, especially the Doran lad. He savoured the thought.


NO! Never in a thousand years would young Doran…


There was no mistake. He could see it now. It wasn't only his son, it was the other one too! It was Doran holding his son, not the other way round. It was Doran who, with an arm around his waist, was leading his son out of the house.

Suddenly he was at the front door and picking up his walking stick.

His vile son, and the equally vile Doran boy who had lied to him—and led him on!—were halfway to the gate.

"Come here, son," he called, in quiet, conversational voice, faintly tinged with insanity. "If I have to come and get you, you'll be sorry."

The boys ignored him. The fact that they didn't even acknowledge his presence, triggered it.

Like an unbearably bright light flooding his brain he felt an instant of overpowering rage then the catharsis of a clear, calm, and overwhelming certainty.

His son couldn't remain unpunished and neither could Doran who had deceived him, defied him, and would have to take his punishment, not like the man he'd thought he was but as he was in reality. Effeminate, weak and depraved. He raised the heavy walking stick, and for a large and heavy man, ran surprisingly lightly down the path.

The sound of his footsteps warned Peter but because he was concentrating on getting Mark away safely, he reacted too slowly. The man shoved him roughly out of the way, he would deal with him afterwards. Taken by surprise Peter tripped and fell heavily against the gate post, winding himself. Desperately straining to draw air into his lungs, he could barely see as Mark turned to help him.

With unholy joy in his heart, Captain Arthur Gordon, Mark Gordon's father, swung the heavy carved top of his walking stick at his son's head.

Had it reached its target it would have broken skin and bone, but Mark managed to duck and took a step back as his father struck at him again. Peter had just managed to regain his breath and haul himself to his feet when Arthur raised the stick a third time.

Not realising he was so close to the kerb, Mark took another step backwards. His foot sank an unexpected six inches and he reeled into the road, trying to maintain his balance.

The car came from nowhere.

There was a sickening thud as Mark cannoned into it and was hurled round by the force of the blow to fall in a limp, crumpled heap, half on the road and half on the pavement at his father's feet. The arm he had flung out to break his fall twitched then was still.

The vehicle didn't stop.

Arthur looked at him calmly. Right always triumphed. He had not needed to do anything. Dropping the stick he walked back to the house ignoring Peter who was stumbling towards Mark with terror in his heart. The sound as Mark collided with the car would remain in his memory and give him nightmares for years.

He knelt down, sick with relief when he saw that Mark's eyes were open, though glazed and unfocussed. Both legs and the arm that had protected his face were badly grazed and blood was beginning to soak his shirt. Not daring to move him in case of broken bones, Peter felt his hand. It was ice cold. Shock, he thought, I've got to get him covered up and warm, but I can't leave him lying here in case another car comes. There was no-one around who could stay with him while he got things organised.

Mark pulled his hand away, placed it on the ground and attempted to push himself up.

"Markie, keep still," Peter said urgently. "You might have broken bones."

"I haven't," he replied in a faint voice, "I'd know. Help me up."

"How do you know. Can you move your legs?"

"Don't be an ape, of course I can. Now help me."

"Keep still and I'll carry you. I can't leave you here in the street while I call an ambulance."

"I don't need a bloody ambulance," Mark snapped. Although Peter had lifted him as gently as he could, it hurt.

"Don't swear," Peter told him automatically as he carried him into the garden and placed him in the recovery position, out of view of the road. The last thing they needed was a nosy neighbour calling the police. "Will you be alright for a minute while I phone?"

"'Course I will. Don't fuss," Mark replied through his teeth. It was hurting more.

Peter looked at him, desperately worried but hoping that his crossness meant he wasn't injured too seriously. There was blood on his own hands now.

Seeing his anxious face, Mark forced a small smile. "Go on, I'll be alright."

Peter tried to smile back then ran into the house, picked up the receiver and dialled the clinic. It was answered immediately, they seldom had patients for the duty nurse to worry about. Rapidly he explained what had happened then waited while she notified a driver.

"They'll be with you in about ten minutes, Pete. Is the boy one of us?"

"Partly. Twice very recently."

"We'll count it as once then but it will certainly help if he's more badly injured than you think. Now, this is what I want you to do."

She gave him concise instructions before asking if she should contact Emily and Victor.

"Please, Mandy, also Sir James. He needs to know as soon as possible."

"I'll do it straight away. Pete. Try not to worry, it won't help the boy and it won't help you either. I want you to keep him calm and you can't do that if you're not calm yourself. Find something to cover him with, keep him warm and talk to him cheerfully. Keep him still and don't let him go to sleep. He needs to be awake to tell the medics what's wrong."

Peter ran up the stairs and pulled the cover off Mark's bed, leaving bloody fingerprints on the material, then bundled the single blanket under his arm and ran back to the gate. Mark was lying with his eyes closed, taking fast shallow breaths through his mouth. Peter folded the thin blanket lengthways and tucked it around him.

Mark's eyes opened. "What happened?" he asked in a puzzled voice.

Peter's heart missed a beat. "A car hit you," he replied, hoping that Mark would leave it at that.

"I don't remember. Is that why I'm hurting? May I have a pillow please?"

"No. You're to keep still until the ambulance comes, and not to talk."

"Why is an ambulance coming? Oh. Because of the car. Was I crossing the road? "

He broke off and his face changed. Feeling relieved in one way, but awful in another, Peter could see that the previous horrible minutes were coming back to him. He wanted so much to take him in his arms and cuddle him but all he could do was to take his hand.

"Stop it. Don't think about it. It's over and you're with me."

"Where is he?"

"Inside. He won't come out. The important thing is to get you to the clinic. We'll worry about everything else after that."

The stain on Mark's shirt was spreading but there was nothing he could do about it except to keep on holding his hand.

"Keep your eyes open. You're not allowed to go to sleep."

"Why? I'm tired and it's nice in the sun. Like the beach."

"It's not in the least like the beach and you're not allowed to go to sleep in case you've got concussion. The car hit you very hard."

"Is it badly dented?"

"I don't know, it didn't stop. Anyway I don't give a damn if the car is dented, it's you being dented I'm worried about. And don't laugh, you're not supposed to move."

Mark looked at him affectionately in spite of the pain. "You're being bossy."

"Not bossy enough as I can't seem to make you shut up. If you weren't hurt I'd sort you out, little boy. And don't think you can blackmail me either," he went on, noting the calculating look in Mark's eyes, "You're going to be better in no time so it won't get you anywhere. How do you feel, where does it hurt?"

"I don't know. All over, and I've got a really bad headache."

"Oh Christ, I wish there was something I could do to help."

"You do that by being with me. You will stay?" he asked in a small, anxious voice.

"For as long as you want me to."

"Then it's forever. I hope you can stand it."

"I can stand it. Now will you please stop bloody talking so much."

About to tell him not to swear, Mark found that it was too much effort and gave his hand what he thought was a powerful squeeze, but was, in fact, little more than a twitch.

It seemed a long time before an undistinguished vehicle drew up at the gate, though only a little longer than had been promised. Mark, who was expecting a dramatic arrival with flashing lights, siren sounding and uniformed medics, was disappointed, but there was no doubt about their competence. They gave him a rapid but extremely thorough examination, applied pressure to stop the bleeding and having decided that there was nothing broken, asked if he felt up to walking.

"We try not to look like an ambulance if we can help it, but we'll carry you if you can't manage."

"I thought I'd be on a stretcher and have all sorts of tubes stuck in me," Mark said wistfully, making them smile. "I think I can walk. I told Pete I was okay but he wouldn't listen. He's in a very bossy mood."

"It would be more discreet if you could but I know you're sore. Tell us if you can't manage."

"It's only a few steps," Peter encouraged, smiled as Mark muttered, bossy, then hobbled painfully through the gate.

It was a relief to lie down in the vehicle which was surprisingly comfortable and looked much more like he had expected in contrast to the anonymous exterior. They didn't strap him in, Peter and the female member of the team, who's name he was told but immediately forgot, supported him.

When they arrived at the clinic he got his wish (partially) when he was lifted onto a trolley and wheeled into the building. However, they smilingly refused to stick any tubes in him.

Inside he was met by quite a reception party. Peter would tell him later that as they didn't have many patients and the clinic concentrated principally on research, his arrival was something of an event and almost everyone in the building came down at one time or another to meet him and say hello. Feeling rather overwhelmed he asked shyly if Peter could stay with him while they prepared to x-ray a very nasty bump on his head. The doctor, who Peter addressed familiarly as Andrew, explained that it was probably the cause of his headache.

The ruined shirt was cut off then, to his embarrassment, they stripped him completely. But by the time they had stopped the bleeding from a deep cut on his lower back and side, put in several stitches to hold the edges of the wound together, then cleaned and disinfected his grazes he was feeling too sick, sore, and sorry for himself to worry about his nudity or anything else, apart from not disgracing himself by yelling his head off.

Despite his argument that nothing could make him any more sterile than he was already, Peter was firmly excluded while he was x-rayed, but was permitted to help settle him into a small cheerful room afterwards. By then Mark was desperately tired and had fallen asleep when Emily arrived a little later. After kissing him she told Peter in a soft whisper that Sir James was in Andrew's office and needed to talk to him.

"You'll stay with him won't you, Em? I don't want him to wake up alone in a strange place. He's not feeling too good."

"Of course I will, Pete."

Mark woke briefly, smiled muzzily at Emily when she kissed him, and told her that he was quite alright and didn't know why Pete was worrying. Peter gave his hand a tiny squeeze and ordered him to go back to sleep, promising that he'd be back soon.

Victor greeted him with a hug and Sir James shook his hand, then they sat down and looked expectantly at the doctor.

"You will be glad to know that there are no broken bones or fractures and nor do I think that Mark is concussed. However I want to keep an eye on him tonight. It's simply a precaution and nothing to worry about, but he is very sore and I don't want him moved again today. Unless something unforeseen happens, which I don't anticipate, you can take him home tomorrow. The cut is clean and will heal without scarring now that we have stitched it. Although it bled a lot, I'm sure it seemed an enormous amount to you, Peter, he didn't lose a great deal of blood and there is no need to do anything about it. There is a cut inside his mouth and he's grazed and badly bruised, but apart from the discomfort he is fine. From what you told Mandy, he is a very lucky boy and got off extremely lightly."

He paused, straightened the records he had been consulting, then looked at Peter. "There are two things, inconsistent with his other injuries. Some severe bruising on his face and that cut in his mouth. I imagine the two are connected?"

Quietly Peter told them what he knew, from the frightening moment when he was convinced that Mark was in danger, to the point at which the ambulance had arrived. "I don't know what happened before I got there because I haven't had a chance to talk to him. But his father must have hit him. Why else would he have been on the floor?"

"Obviously you must talk to him," said Sir James, "And I want photographs taken of his face. Arrange that please, Andrew, by tomorrow if possible. I hadn't intended to move quite so fast but I am concerned about his mother. Most importantly she must be told where he is and that he is safe. She may not wish to stay in the house after what happened. I will see her as soon as we have finished here and arrange somewhere for her to stay if that is what she wants. Andrew," he turned to the doctor, "Will Mark be affected by this mentally, in your opinion?"

"As you know, James, I'm not a psychiatrist and only met him for the first time this afternoon so it is difficult to judge. But off the top of my head, I would say that he will be alright. He needs to talk about it and I suggest that we encourage this as I think it would unwise if he were to bottle it up. I imagine he will want to talk to you in any case, Peter, which will be a good for him. Don't force it but if an opportunity occurs, encourage him to take it. Trust your instincts. Your own experiences will guide you in what to say to him."

"Thank you. I will only add that if you can find out, without upsetting him, precisely what occurred before you arrived on the scene so opportunely, Peter, it would be helpful. Now you will want to get back to him. We'll join you there in a few minutes."

Peter walked back to Mark's room, reminded of the time had spent in the clinic himself. He'd been in the same room too. He must remember to tell Mark that, it would please him.

Mark was still lying in the same position. His face was pale and he looked small, vulnerable, and very young in the high hospital bed. Peter felt his heart turn over with love as he looked at him then at Emily who was holding Mark's hand. He'd been so brave when he stood up to his father and although he had provoked the man and suffered for it, he was glad it had happened. Now they wouldn't have to wait any longer. Mark was his to take home, to protect, to love and to cherish, for as long as he lived.

His principal worries set at rest by Andrew, he changed places with Emily who left the room to join the discussion in Andrew's office.

Taking Mark's hand he began turning various plans over in his mind. Somehow they would have to convince him that as he belonged to them now, it was alright for them to buy clothes for him as well as anything else he needed. He foresaw that this was going to take some doing and was mentally reviewing his own finances when Emily, Victor and Sir James entered the room.

"Vic is going to take you home while I stay with Mark," Emily told him. "Don't argue, my dear, Andrew told us that he won't wake for several hours and you need a change of clothes and a rest. You can come back after you've had supper and spend the night here. Go on, love, you look worn out. I'll take care of him."

Reluctantly, but knowing that she was right, he touched Mark's face and left with the two men.

Mark was still heavily asleep though Peter thought he looked a little better when he returned some hours later. There was some colour in his cheeks though the mark where his father had struck him was livid. They had photographed it after he and Victor had left but not even the flash of the camera had disturbed him. Another bed had been brought into the room which he would push against Mark's later. If he so much as sighed during the night, he would be right there next to him.

After Emily left he sat at the small desk and began to devise a plan for Mark's education. With his help he had been getting on better at school but he would never be top of the class. Too much of his time and energy was spent on music. But he wasn't going to remain at the bottom either. His English was excellent, he spoke well and this was reflected in his writing, but apart from PE and games, both of which he loathed, his worst subject was maths. He was quick and accurate at simple arithmetic, better in fact than most of his contemporaries, but everything else was a closed book.

Working from early text books of his own which he had brought with him, Peter put together a scheme to take him right back to the beginning. The biggest problem would be holding his interest but he thought that with a judicious mixture of jokes, bossiness (as Mark would undoubtedly describe it, it seemed to have become his favourite word) and outright bribery, he should be able to keep him from getting too bored.

Conversational French was another essential if, as he hoped, they would be visiting France frequently. Vic had also mentioned that they should think about learning Dutch as a family project. Knowing that they would have to move within the next few years, it looked as if they were going to settle in Holland. I'd love to go back to the Grande Côte, he thought wistfully, and Markie would love it (except for the freezing sea!) but I suppose it's still too soon. Maybe in two or three years time people won't remember us, and by then I might even have talked him into taking off his clothes. It would be so satisfying if Mark had accepted his body sufficiently to feel at ease, neither worried nor ashamed at being naked. Watching in his mind's eye a delightfully unclothed Mark on the French beach, the cynosure of every desiring and envious eye, kept him happily occupied for half an hour until he came to himself with a start and returned to his plans.

Apart from maths, which he had taken care of, PE was going to be the biggest bugbear. Not only the physical side of it, he knew how apprehensive Mark was about breaking a finger or spraining his wrist, but there was the shower problem which had got worse rather than better while they'd been away. If he got an erection in the showers, and judging from what had happened at the campsite it was only too likely, he would be incredibly mortified at best, and the target of serious teen boy homophobia at worst. On balance, it would probably be better to get him out of PE altogether. But he couldn't do that on his own. He would have to enlist the aid of Em, Vic, and probably Sir James as well. Not mentioning erections of course, he thought with a grin, though they might well guess, but stressing the need to protect Mark's hands. If that doesn't work we'll just have to make the best of it. If I make sure he has absolutely nothing left in him on PE days it might do the trick. Making a virtue, or rather a pleasure, out of necessity!

Which led to another thought. I must ask if he'd like to have a sperm sample stored here. He will still be fertile and maybe one day we could use it for a baby of our own. It would have to be a boy though, I couldn't cope with a girl. I don't know anything about them or how they think. It would be wonderful to have a kid of our own but probably too complicated. We would have to infect him somehow when he was old enough and by then he would have realised that there was something very peculiar about his parents. Not only would they not get any older but his mother—and recalling how good he had been with Tom, Mark would make an excellent mother—would have a cock just like his father. In fact, his smile broadened at the thought, his mother would actually be his father! And what would that make me?

He looked round to see Mark watching him, got up quickly and came to the bed.

"How are you feeling?"


"Don't lie Markie. Tell the truth."

"Well if you must know, I'm feeling rotten."

"Yes, I do must know, and don't try to be brave 'cause I'm not impressed."

"I'm really thirsty."

"Lie still for a minute and I'll call Jean."


"Your personal, private nurse. I was told to call her as soon as you woke up."

"Will she put some tubes in me?" asked Mark hopefully.

Peter grinned. "No she won't. Stop being such a little pest."

Under normal circumstances Mark would have taken him up on that, but he felt too tired and unwell. Moving incautiously he found that his back had stiffened and the stabbing pain made him draw in his breath.

"Hello, Mark," the night nurse greeted him. "I'm Jean. I'm going to give you a quick check then we'll make you more comfortable. Open please."

She popped a thermometer under his tongue, took his pulse, shone a small torch into his eyes and asked him several questions.

Informed by Peter that Mark was terribly brave but also a terrible liar, she demanded the absolute truth—cross your heart and hope to die!—which made Mark smile.

Finally she wrote up his chart saying, "Well I can't find very much wrong with you," and smiled as he muttered 'Told you so' to Peter. "But I am going to give you some tablets to ease the aches and pains you say you don't have."

"Markie, please, don't hold back with me or the medical staff," Peter said after she left the room. "I know you were brought up to be tough, to be a man and never to make a fuss, but they have to know how you feel otherwise how can they tell if something is wrong? Don't be an idiot, okay? We all know how brave, courageous, bold, stalwart, fearless, dauntless, heroic, intrepid, valiant…"

"You forgot wonderful."

"…plucky and resolute you are," Peter went on, ignoring the interruption, "But don't put on a brave face with me, and never with the staff. Promise?"

"Will you admit I'm wonderful?"

"You're not only wonderful, you're also very cute. You're the greatest and I love you to bits. Now stop trying to blackmail me and do what you're told."

"That sounds like good advice," remarked Jean, as she came in bearing a plastic cup containing several pills.

"He's just being bossy," Mark told her, regarding them dubiously. "Do I have to take all of them? Can't I have some tubes in me instead?"

"He keeps going on and on about tubes and driving me mad," Peter groaned. "You couldn't put just one in him could you Jean, to give me a bit of peace? Preferably an enormous one so he's satisfied."

She laughed. "Sorry, Mark, no tubes. You'll just have to swallow them."

"You can take them with fruit juice, or with fruit juice, or with fruit juice," Peter remarked, eyeing the jugs on the bedside cabinet. "Or water I suppose."

"Fruit juice please," Mark decided as Jean helped him to sit up. "What are they for?"

"They'll help your headache, ease the pains and send you sleep," she replied, as Peter sat on the bed so Mark could lean on him.

"Make sure you take them all and don't drop any on the floor. I know all the tricks."

"So you should," Jean responded, "Considering you invented them."

"I might have known," Mark murmured in a long suffering voice. "Alright I'll take them. Stop bullying me."

"I'm not bullying you, just making you do what you're told. Can he have more to drink if he wants it?"

"Yes, as much as you like, Mark. If you need the toilet now, Pete can give you a hand while I make the bed. Do you feel like eating anything?"

"No thank you."

With their assistance he got out of bed and leaning heavily on Peter hobbled painfully to the bathroom.

He was tired and sleepy by the time he was settled again and after telling Peter to call her if he felt ill or uncomfortable, Jean left the room. Peter sat on the bed beside him and took his hand.

"Does she know about us?"

Peter nodded. "They all do. It's one of the reasons everyone is making such a fuss of you. I wouldn't dream of showing off, but everybody thinks I'm wonderful, which is true, and I think that you're wonderful, which is even truer so obviously, they think you're even wonderfuller!"

"If only I wasn't so tired."

"I know, and I think you should go to sleep. You can sort me out tomorrow."

"I can't just yet, I need to think some things out."

There was a long pause. Peter waited quietly.

"Pete, do I?"

"Do you what?"

"Do I do what he said, act like a whore? So often I want to touch you and I want you to touch me, is that being a whore?"

"No. I need you to touch me and I love it that you want me to touch you because it excites me and turns me on. We love each other which makes us want each other so we should try to turn each other on. Everyone who loves someone does it. The only difference between them and us is that we're both boys."

"That's another thing. Do I act like a girl?"

"No. I wouldn't love or want you if you did." He considered it for a minute. "Look, I'm a boy who's turned on by boys and only by boys. If you were a girl I'd probably like you but only as a friend. But because you're a boy and act like a boy you make me hard and wanting to have sex with you. You have never acted like a girl around me."

"You're so nice to me. Thank you."

"You don't have to thank me for telling you the truth."

"Why did he say it then?"

"You know, so much has happened I haven't had time to think about it. I'm certain you were right when you asked him if he'd wanted to do things himself, but even before that I think he fancied me. It was when he realised that I loved you that he got so awful and said anything he could think of to hurt you. Try to think of it as a bad dream. Once you wake up you don't remember much of it and know it wasn't real."

"I'll try. But Pete, he's going to make sure I never see you again."

"Not true. You're coming to live with us. It's all arranged."

For a moment, in spite of his weariness, Mark's wonderful smile crept over his face. Then it faded and his eyes filled with tears.

"Pete, it's so sweet of you to say that, but I can't. I can't leave my mother alone with him, not after what he did. If I'm not there he'll take it out on her instead. It will mean I only get to see you at school."

"I understand how you feel, but…"

"Don't make it harder for me. But as long as I see you at school I'll manage. If he sends me to a different school, though," he choked back a sob and tried to sit up. "I must phone my mother and tell her where I am."

"Sir James went to see her and told her that you're alright. You really have nothing to worry about except getting better. Please stop fighting the pills and go to sleep. In the morning we'll talk about it and do whatever you want to do. But not tonight is not the right time."

"I don't know why you put up with me."

"I don't put up with you, I just love you. Now stop thinking and go to sleep!"

"I'll try, but…"

"No, tries or buts. Just do it. Do you need a drink first?"

"No thank you. You'll stay with me for a bit?"

"I'm staying with you all night. If you wake up and need anything I'll be right here." Peter kissed him tenderly. "You'll feel better in the morning."

Mark allowed himself to relax and within minutes had drifted off. Peter waited until he was sure he was asleep then sat at the desk again to do some serious thinking. I should have anticipated how he'd feel about his mother. At the same time he can't go back, not after what that maniac tried to do. I wonder if she could be persuaded to leave him? But then she'd expect Mark to live with her and although it would be better, it's not what either of us want. At least James is working on it. I hope he comes up with some sort of answer because if he doesn't Markie won't leave her. He's made that clear.

He said goodnight to Jean, put on a pair of pyjamas for once, and pushed his bed up against Mark's. Mark was still very pale and breathing more heavily than usual but Jean had warned him to expect that.

He didn't sleep particularly well at first, waking every time Mark moved. Towards morning, they both slept more deeply which pleased Jean when she came to check on them. It was pleasant to have a patient to look after, even if it was only for a single night. An attractive boy despite his bruised face, she mused, glad Peter had finally found someone to love. Like everyone else, she was fond of him.

When her relief arrived they decided to let the boys sleep on. It was one of the nice things about working at the clinic, unlike a regular hospital there was no fixed routine.

Not surprisingly it was Mark who woke first because, as Peter would tell him later, he had done nothing but lie in bed while everyone ran around making a fuss of him. His first action was to check that Peter was still in the bed beside him, the next to check himself. To his surprise he felt quite good, with no headache and not too much discomfort from his various cuts, abrasions and contusions. I'm tired but much better, he thought happily, I really need the toilet though. He had reached the point of sitting on the edge of the bed when he heard Peter's voice.

"What are you doing?"

"Loo," he replied briefly, tried to turn and look at him but found that he couldn't. He was a lot more stiff than he'd thought.

"Why didn't you wake me?" Peter demanded, scrambling out of bed and coming round to help.

Mark blinked at the pyjamas. He hadn't known that Peter even possessed a pair, had never seen him wearing them, and wasn't sure he wanted to see them ever again.

"It's lucky I don't still have a headache," he remarked as he leant on Peter and shuffled to the bathroom.

"Well, of course it is."

"Because if I did, your pyjamas would have made it worse."

"My pyjamas? What's wrong with my pyjamas?"

Mark sighed. "If you don't know, I don't suppose you'd believe me if I told you."

Knowing perfectly well what he meant, Peter grinned and determined to buy the most outrageous pyjamas he could lay his hands on. Not that Mark would be wearing them for long, but it would be fun to see his face, and even more fun divesting him of them afterwards. "You have no taste," he remarked.

"Me?" spluttered Mark indignantly. "Look who's talking."

They were still arguing when they returned to the room to find Jean and Mandy making the beds.

Jean insisted, in spite of his spirited protests, that he return to bed. "You may be feeling absolutely fine but you're staying there until Andrew has seen you. And no, you can't have a shower because of the dressings. Now what would you like for breakfast?"

"That's right, spoil him rotten," complained Peter. "I notice I don't get asked what I want to eat."

"We know what you eat," Mandy told him crushingly. "You eat any rubbish at all. Like a goat."

Making a mental note to taunt Peter with this later, Mark confessed that he wasn't particularly hungry.

"How about some Complan then?" Mandy enquired, explaining that it was a milk based drink, full of vitamins, minerals, and everything else he needed.

Cautiously he agreed to try it.

Peter remarked officiously, "Better make it chocolate flavour. He likes that for some weird reason. Strawberry on the other hand…"

"If that's a hint that you want some as well, forget it. You will eat what you're given."

"People used to be so nice to me once. Now look at them. Fickle, that's what they are, fickle. Let them see a new face and they're all over it, forgetting their tried and trusted friends who are thrown on the rubbish heap, abandoned, ignored…"

"There was just one sensible word amongst all that drivel," Jean interrupted ruthlessly, "Only you didn't put it quite correctly. It's not 'tried' you should have said, but 'trying'. Very trying," she added as she left the room.

Peter smiled after her then turned to Mark. "You need to eat. I love your slim shape but I don't want you turning into a skeleton."

"It's too much of an effort, I'm still tired."

"Well stay awake for the Complan then I'll help you get washed and changed, and you can go back to sleep."

"What about school?"

"I'm staying with you until you're well enough to go back. Em will have let them know about me and Sir James will have arranged with your mother about you. He never forgets things like that. Markie," he went on after a pause, "I know that you're worried, I am too, but he is taking care of everything."

"What's he doing?"

"I'd be lying if I said I know because I don't. But I do know that you can safely leave it to him. We all do when things happen that we can't cope with."

Mark gave him a serious look. "Things are going to be much worse at home now and unless I'm there he'll turn on my mother. I can't let that happen. You do understand that, don't you."

"Yes, I understand because I was frightened yesterday as well. No," he said in answer to Mark's disbelieving expression, "Not for myself but because of what he might do to you. You need understand that I can't let you stay there."

"Then it's impossible. I have to stay, and you say I can't. The two things are, are incompatible."

"That's why I keep telling you to trust Sir James. He's used to doing the impossible. In fact he enjoys it. Please, please stop worrying and feeling scared. There's no need."

"It's hard not to feel scared, I'm such a coward."

"A coward? You? You're the bravest person I know. I couldn't believe the way you stood up to him yesterday, that's why I didn't interfere because I knew you didn't need any help. You were incredible and I'm so proud of you."

"Peter, I pissed my pants I was so scared," Mark said crudely. "That's one of the things he said, and it was true!"

"Mark Gordon, listen to me. Alright, so you pissed your pants. So fucking what? Did you curl up in a corner and cry? No you bloody didn't. In spite of it you stood up to him and gave back as good as you got. But if you want to be a feeble little boy and pretend you're a coward that's okay with me, like everything you do is okay with me. But I've got your number, kid, I know the truth and I don't bloody believe it. So put that in your pipe and smoke it!"

After an astonished silence Mark said, "You know I don't smoke."

Peter began to laugh. "I love you, Markie. Now stop! You're no more a coward than anyone else so shut up and forget it. That's an order by the way!"

"Yes, sir."

"That's better," replied Peter in a gratified voice. "I knew you couldn't be an idiot all the way through."

Mark glared but before he could tell the smirking Peter what he thought of him, Jean and Mandy returned. Between them they persuaded him to drink most of the Complan while Peter tucked into his own breakfast then demanded seconds. Contemplating the amount of toast and marmalade he had already consumed Jean sighed and muttering about boa constrictors left the room.

With his face washed and teeth cleaned, Mark was dozing when Andrew came to examine him and change his dressings. He was told he could get up later but was forbidden to return to school for a week and banned from sports for the remainder of the term.

"You're getting on very well," he concluded, "But it will take a little time before you're completely healed and I want you to be sensible. You can walk for exercise but no running until you can do it comfortably. We don't want you back here, please. Apart from that there are no problems and you have nothing to worry about."

He dismissed Mark's shy thanks adding that it made a change for them to have a real patient instead of a malingerer who ate them out of house and home. Peter looked at Mark reproachfully when he giggled, but was pleased to see him looking happier. He had a quick shower himself and was sitting on the bed talking to Mark when Sir James, Andrew, and a man he didn't know, entered the room.

After Sir James had greeted them and asked how Mark was, he introduced Dominic Munn who, it appeared, was a solicitor.

They took the boys through what had happened the previous day, starting when they originally entered the Gordon house. It was an ordeal for Mark who had tried not to think about it except in the most general terms. To repeat his father's words to a complete stranger wasn't easy, and he became more and more distraught as the story went on. But with Peter's support he was able to give them an accurate picture of what had taken place.

Having stood up to his father once, he could do it again. But how often? His father, as an adult and parent, had enormous power over him, power which he didn't think he had the strength to resist indefinitely. The thought of living with him until he turned eighteen was enough to make him feel sick. Now that the man knew his deepest secret, his venom and vicious self-righteous would know no bounds. The fact that he in turn knew what his father was would count for nothing because he was a child in an adult world. His father could, and would, do whatever he liked to him.

He glanced at the boy he loved, the boy from whom he would have to conceal what his life was like. He'd have to convince him that everything was alright because if he didn't, Peter might decide to take things into his own hands and if the police got involved—and knowing his father, they would!—the entire Group would be in danger. Peter had explained that the survival of the Group was more important than that of an individual so while they would do their best for him, their best might not be good enough. In that case they would be forced to…No! He could not, he would not, let it get to that point.

Don't cry, he told himself fiercely. Not a single tear. Keep your face calm and tell him you made a mistake. Tell that you're not sure, after what happened, that you really love him after all. Explain that you need time away from him so you can think things over and then, then, just never go back to him. It's the only thing to do. Start by saying you need to go home, that it would be better if no-one went with you because you're worried about your mother and need to talk to her. That's the first step to protect the people you love—Em, Vic, and most of all, Peter.

He was about to say the words that would separate him from everyone he loved, when Sir James spoke.

"Mark, I'm very sorry to tell you this, particularly when you're tired and upset, but you would have found out about it very soon."

Mark looked at him measuringly. Did Sir James know what he'd decided? It appeared that he did which was why there was that look of sympathy on his face. Although he feels sorry for me he knows it's best for everyone because once I'm out of the way they will be safe, and I can concentrate on protecting my mother, another reason to…

Suddenly things fell into place. He tried to strengthen his resolution. Peter, who had an arm around his shoulders, felt the change and glancing at his face, saw resigned fortitude.

"It's about my mother. She's ill."

"Yes, Mark. She has been ill for some time and it's serious."

Mark bit his lip and looked at his hand which Peter had taken comfortingly. He had never been especially close to her, not as close as he was to Emily, but she was his mother after all. He knew it was going to be bad.

"What is it?" he asked, when he could control his voice.

"It is a form of cancer," Andrew told him sadly. "There is nothing we can do except to make her comfortable, it has progressed too far. I'm afraid it won't be long."

"Mark, I want you to keep two things in mind," Sir James said gently. "The first thing is that when I spoke to her last night and told her that you have people who love you and want you, she is no longer worried about you. She has only kept going for as long as this because of you otherwise, I think, she would have given up weeks ago. She has given up now because she knows that you will be safe, taken care of, and greatly loved. Her life has not been a particularly happy one and she is content for it to end. The second thing to remember is that we will care for her here at the clinic. We seldom admit patients who don't belong to the Group, though we help in emergencies, but we are making an exception in her case, and we're doing it because of you. She will get better care here than she would anywhere else in the country. We have better facilities, better staff, and we don't have many patients so we are not over stretched. The patients we do have are not treated like patients, they are treated like family. We will look after her as if she was in her own home and you can be with her at any time, day or night."

Andrew spoke equally gently. "This would have happened in any case, and what occurred between you and your father has nothing to do with it. More important, it is because of you that she will come here, and for your sake as well as hers, we will take the greatest care of her and do whatever is needed. It is not given to many sons to be able to do something like this for a parent, Mark. Remember that when the time comes."

"Thank you."

They left him with Peter who took him into his arms and held him while he cried, as much for what he and his mother had never had, as for what was going to happen.

"Markie, it's not the answer that any of us wanted. You're going to feel guilty because it frees you to live with us, with me, and you're going to make yourself feel bad about it. But you mustn't. You really, really mustn't. These things happen. You heard what James said, she's happy that you're going to be with us, so please my darling, don't work yourself up."

"That's easy to say, but I feel awful."

"I know you do. I do as well. But please try not to, if not for yourself, do it for Em, and for Vic, and for me."

"Am I being selfish, just thinking about how I feel, and not caring about you?"

"No. It's natural for you to feel the way you do, and understandable. Just remember that we love you, and you're one of us."

"I'm not sure I deserve it."

"Markie, the Group have been watching you ever since they found out that I loved you. They always watch new people—they have to. You'd be astonished at the number of people who know all about you already and are dying to meet you. It's nothing to do with what Em or Vic or I have told them. They've made up their minds, on the evidence if you like, and the evidence is all in your favour."

"You are such a comfort, even when you make me cry."

"That's what I've always been. A comfort to little boys. Especially this little boy. Rather like a hot water bottle I suppose."

"You are an idiot sometimes," Mark said huskily.

"As long as it keeps you happy, I'll be whatever you want me to be."

"I want you to be exactly as you are."

"That's lucky, I won't have to work at it then."

"May I have a tissue please?"

"There's a box on the table."

"I want one of yours!"

Peter gave a sigh of mock resignation, then smiled. "What am I going to do with you, brat?" he asked, reaching into his pocket.

"Just love me, and never stop."

"I'll always do that. You're never going to escape from me little boy. You're going to be stuck with me for the rest of your life."

"That sounds so good. I want to be stuck with you and you stuck with me and you sticking me, whenever you feel like it. With this."

"You, are an abandoned boy and as a reward I'm going to stick you, as you put it in your vulgar way, just as soon as you're well enough."

"I am not vulgar," Mark exclaimed indignantly. "I was only asking!"

"You heard what Andrew said. No strenuous exercise."

Before Mark could argue, Sir James re-entered the room. He looked questioningly at Mark and appeared to be satisfied.

"Mark, I am going to see your father. Peter, I would like you to come with me and collect whatever Mark needs, clothes, music, school books and so on. I would prefer you to stay here, Mark, as I have no wish to be unnecessarily provocative. We will collect you when we are done as I understand that Andrew is happy for you to leave. Peter, I will meet you at the car after Mark has told you if there is anything else he would like you to fetch."

"I don't seem to have much choice," Mark remarked after Sir James had left the room.

"Not when he really gets his teeth into something," replied Peter cheerfully. "You don't mind, do you?"

"Not really. I just feel like a little boy doing what he's told, and don't say I am a little boy because I'm not."

"Of course you're not. Would I ever say something like that? You are rather little, cute but little, and a boy of course, which makes you a little boy. But I wouldn't dream of calling you a little boy even though it's true, I just call you little boy like a sort of pet name, same as I'd call a kitten or a puppy. Or a monkey come to think of it."

"Have you finished insulting me?" Mark asked in a dangerous voice that made Peter chuckle.

"I love it when you get fierce, you little animal, you!"

"More insults," Mark sighed. "Why can't I ever win an argument with you?"

"Because you're a little boy and I'm all grown up like. You can't compete."

"I'm not going to be sick and sore forever."

"I'm trembling with fear. In the meantime, what do you want me to collect?"

It wasn't a very long list. Peter kissed him goodbye, told him to behave, to be a good little boy and do everything he was told, left him struggling to find a suitable retort and trotted out to the waiting car.

In the driver's seat was a hefty young man whom he knew vaguely as Sam. Sir James asked if Mark was alright and having received his assurance, resumed a low voiced conversation with Dominic Munn. From the passenger seat next to Sam he couldn't hear what was said, but got the impression that it concerned something in the Captain's past.

The door was opened by Mark's mother who smiled at Peter but betrayed no surprise at the visit. She looked calm and more sure of herself than usual, but very unwell. Andrew had been right, he thought sadly, it wouldn't be long. He was about to offer her his arm when Sir James did so and led the way to the Captain's study with Dominic and Sam bringing up the rear. Peter watched them enter the room before going up the stairs, wondering what was going to be said but decided that it was probably better that neither he nor Mark ever knew.

He glanced around Mark's bedroom distastefully. It looked colder and more unwelcoming than ever. Mark hadn't been happy here, it had never been his own space, invaded as it had been by his father whenever the mood took him. I'm glad James wouldn't let him to come with us, he reflected, he won't ever have to see it again.

He picked out Mark's school clothes, rejecting virtually everything else except what he and his family had bought for him. He was looking forward to seeing his blushes at the new tight and well fitting clothes he planned to get for him. And he's going to have lots of fashionable casual clothes for a change as well he, thought happily, as he packed Mark's books and music into the suitcase Sir James had provided. The dirty clothes Mark had worn on holiday he returned to the boy's rucksack and after checking that he had everything, took them down to the hall. The poor kid had so few things of his own he thought angrily as he went into the sitting room and collected the music stored in the piano stool.

There were several photographs of the Captain on the mantelpiece, but only one of Mark's mother. He put it in with the music, along with the only two photographs of Mark could find. One had been taken at school with Mark, aged about ten, staring sulkily at the camera, the other when he must have been around seven. Even under the clothes that were too big for him Peter detected the slim, attractive creature he would become. The photographer had obviously caught him unawares because he was gazing into the distance with a small smile on his face and looked so appealing that Peter only just prevented himself from kissing the picture. I've missed so much of his life, he thought sadly, wishing that he had lots of pictures of him as a little boy. At least we've got him now, he told himself as waited in the hall, and we'll take lots and lots of photos, and from every angle.

It seemed a long time before the voices in the study stopped but in reality, only a little more than ten minutes before the door opened, and the four of them re-entered the hall. As soon as she passed through the door Mrs Gordon sagged visibly, as if she had only been keeping herself upright by a major effort of will. Instinctively he moved to her and tentatively put out an arm to support her.

"We will meet again soon, Mrs Gordon," Sir James said, taking her hand and holding it for a minute.

"Thank you," she replied, shaking hands with Dominic and Sam. "Peter, would you help me up the stairs please, if you don't mind."

"Take your time, Peter. Sam will wait for you here."

Peter opened his mouth to protest that there was no need for anyone to wait for him, but was silenced by a look.

It was not until they reached the bedroom and she was sitting on the edge of the bed that Prudence spoke. "Will you shut the door, please."

He did as he was asked then came back to her. Impulsively, upset at how ill she looked, he said, "Won't you come with us now, Mrs Gordon? You can stay with us. Em and Vic won't mind. In fact they'd be really pleased."

She smiled gently. "No, Peter, I won't do that but it was kind of you to offer. Sir James has been very good but I wanted to talk to you specially." She was quiet for a minute then said with a touch of awkwardness. "I know that you are fond of Mark and I know how good you and your family have been to him, but will you tell me please, how you really feel about him?"

He looked at her for a minute. He had no idea of how much she knew of Mark's nature and didn't want to hurt her.

"I would like the truth, please. I don't have time now for anything else."

"I love him so much," he said sincerely, making up his mind that she had the right to know. "Not just as a friend or even like a brother, but as a, a lover. He is all my life, and very nearly all that I live for. I mean to take care of him for as long as he wants me to which, I hope, will be for the rest of my life."

She nodded. "That would have worried me a great deal a few months ago. In fact it did worry me when I thought that you might be more than friends, but now…" she sighed.

"We will all look after him, Mrs Gordon. Not just me, but all of us. Emily and Victor, my adopted parents, love him as much as they love me. He's, well he's part of our family already."

"Sir James said something of the sort but I'm glad to hear it from you. Make him happy, please, it will make things easier for me."

"I promise you I will, but he'll tell you that himself. Please come to us, while there's still…" he broke off, aghast at what he had almost said.

"You are very kind and that makes me happy for Mark's sake, but no. I think it's better that he starts his new life on his own. I don't want to interfere with that. When he comes to see me, will you come as well, please, and be cheerful."

He nodded. "We laugh and joke and tease each other a lot. Friendly teasing I mean, not unkind."

She smiled quite broadly and he saw an echo of Mark's looks in her face.

"Please do that when you're with me. Don't be solemn. There's been too much of that in both our lives. Thank you, Peter, I'm glad I spoke to you and very glad that Mark will be with you. Now, Sir James will be waiting for you."

"There are two photos of him downstairs, may I take them with me?"

"Of course. I have others which you can have later. Bless you my dear."

Feeling a tightness in his throat, he gave her a gentle hug then left the room, shutting the door behind him. Neither of them said good bye.

Sam nodded when he reached the hall and escorted him to the car.

"Is everything alright with Mrs Gordon?" Sir James enquired.

"Yes thank you, sir. She asked me to come with Mark when he visits her. Will she be alright there, with him?" he asked worriedly.

Dominic nodded. "We have made sure of it. You need to understand that she considers her marriage vows both sacred and binding, and in spite of the way he has treated both Mark and herself, she will not abandon her husband."

"Your task will be to keep Mark on an even keel," Sir James said quietly. "I imagine he is feeling guilty about leaving her on her own, but it would be too dangerous for him to stay there and she understands that. I am relying on you to ensure that Mark accepts it as well. I will talk to him tomorrow, and of course Emily and Victor will be on hand, but the bulk of it will fall on you. If you don't mind a suggestion, I think you should encourage him to get back to his practice schedule at once, particularly while you are both off school. In fact increase it. The more you keep him occupied the less time he will have to brood. I also want you to get a suit for him, something discreet but of first class quality. I plan to have him play for one or two people who might be interested in taking him on as a pupil and it will give him confidence if he is looking his best. Nothing outrageous please, Peter. I'm sure I can rely on you for that," he added with gentle malice.

Peter grinned. It wasn't often that Sir James descended to teasing him. "I'll ask Em to help," he promised.

"She has excellent taste," agreed Sir James gravely, though with a distinct twinkle in his eye.

Mark was out of bed, though not dressed, when they got back to the clinic after dropping the solicitor at his office. They found him with Mandy and several of the clinic staff in the reception area. To Peter's pleasure it was clear that he had already become a general favourite. He was equally pleased to see that Mark was chatting with considerable animation.

His own entrance was greeted with groans of dismay and remarks, ranging from the suggestion of one of the technicians that everyone head for the hills, to audible asides that it was the end of a perfect morning, interspersed with promises to tell Mark about all the tricks Peter had got up to since they'd been landed with him at the clinic. Advising the giggling boy to ignore these ignoble slurs on his character, induced by the envy of people of little account with nothing better to do with their time than to defame and traduce him, he escorted Mark back to his room to dress and collect his belongings. Such as they were.

There he congratulated himself on producing a pair of old and outgrown shorts of his own which he had, fortunately, come across the previous day.

"You look very cute in them," he said giving Mark a kiss to prove it as soon as he had changed, "Much more than I ever did. Are you ready to go home or have you been so spoilt here that you don't want to leave?"

"Well," Mark said provocatively.

"Of course if you stay, you'll find you only get needles stuck in you. If you want anything else stuck in you…?"

Mark went pink but replied spiritedly, "Who's being vulgar now?"

"Vulgar?" responded Peter in an astonished voice. "What I said wasn't vulgar at all. You must have a terrible mind, what did you think I meant?"

Mark spluttered for a minute, going redder still, then laughed as he saw the look on Peter's face.

"I'm not going to fall for that," he said smiling. "Please take me home."

"That's a good little boy. Come and say goodbye and remember to say thank you."

Mark gave him a look.

There were several people still in the reception area, including Andrew, who waved away Mark's thanks.

"Just take things easy for a while so we that don't need to have you back before your next appointment."

Peter who was becoming more euphoric by the minute, remarked that he would keep him in order, and disdainfully ignored the expressions of sympathy for Mark that this evoked.

Once in the car Mark started to thank Sir James, but he too cut him short, and went on to talk to about music.

"We will have a talk when you are settled. In the meantime, I would be pleased if you concentrated on your practise as I have persuaded Emily to arrange another musical evening. I have a friend coming to visit me," he explained, "And I would very much like him hear you play. I have another suggestion as well. You may not be aware of it but Emily has a lovely soprano voice and it has always been a disappointment to me that she hasn't kept it in training. Perhaps you and Peter could talk her into singing for us. I suspect that if you offered to accompany her, she might agree and it would give us all a great deal of pleasure. What is your opinion, Peter?"

"I'm sure that between us we can persuade her. We'll start working on it straight away."

Sir James nodded. "I would like to see you developing your own somewhat neglected artistic talents, Peter. Your sporting prowess is well known to me but you also have a considerable talent for drawing which I would like to see you improve. May I suggest you start by doing a sketch of Mark for me? I am sure that as a subject you would find him inspiring. Peter has a tendency," he disclosed, "To belittle that talent, quite at odds to his usual attitude. I rely on you to, er, bully him into using it rather more frequently, my dear Mark."

Mark smiled, nodded, and mouthed 'just you wait' at Peter, who immediately assumed a hang dog expression.

"Sir James," he began, but was gently interrupted.

"I believe I suggested that you disregard my honorary title."

"It's not easy for me," confessed Mark diffidently, "But I will try to remember. Er, James, you have all been so good to me. No," he went on, taking his hand in his earnestness, "I mean it, and I wanted to ask if there was anything I could do for you, for all of you I mean, in return."

Sir James put his other hand on top of Mark's. Peter regarded it with something like awe. Sir James seldom indulged in physical expressions of affection. He might link arms with Emily, of whom he was extremely fond, but apart from that Peter had never seen him do anything more than shake someone's hand. In spite of the informality based on a certain perception of equality within the Group. He would have expected it to be a long time before Mark was invited to ignore the title when addressing him. He himself had never invited to do so. Happily storing it in his mind, and feeling very proud, he turned his attention back to what Sir James was saying.

"You don't owe us anything, Mark, not now and not in the future. But if you would like to contribute something, apart from your considerable musical talents, Andrew would be delighted if you would take part in the research that we do into our somewhat unique qualities. It won't involve more than allowing our researchers to examine you on a regular basis and to take blood and other samples, but it would be of particular interest because of your youth and the fact that you are in the very early stages of infection. We hope one day to understand the process, not only as a matter of science, but because it may be important for our survival. Peter is already involved but when he started taking part he was much further advanced. There is no need to decide immediately but if you would like to be involved it would be helpful if you started soon. Contact the clinic when you have thought about it and speak to Andrew. Peter has the number."

I'm so lucky, Mark thought gratefully, not comprehending the compliment Sir James had paid him and taking it only as a sign of affection. He would talk to Pete and they would go to the clinic together starting tomorrow. It would be nice to feel that he was giving something back for all the things they had done for him.

There were still many things to work out. He and Pete would have to be careful of the way they presented themselves to the outside world, but he knew that they would be okay now. The fact that they were living together with no need to say goodbye every night, meant that there would be less pressure. It would be wonderful to hold hands in public but until things changed, if they ever did, they would put up with it because once they were safely at home they could do whatever they liked. How many gay boys their age could say the same? he wondered.

When they reached the house Peter invited Sam and Sir James in. Mark would have liked to but didn't feel strongly enough yet that it was his home. Sir James, however, refused on the grounds that he had several things to do.

"Please give these papers to Emily and Victor, and tell them I will be in touch shortly. Now off you go. Peter, take good care of Mark and don't let him do too much for the next few days." Cutting short the boys' expressions of gratitude he signalled Sam to drive on.

They looked after the car for a minute then Peter picked up the cases, refusing to let Mark help until his 'wounds' had healed. "As soon as you're better you can be my slave," he went on, urging Mark to the door. "You can make the beds, clean the house, dig the garden, do my homework, carry my books to school, do the cooking, wash up afterwards, and I might even reward you sometimes."

"How?" Mark asked, sliding a hand into Peter's pocket for his latch key.

Peter waited until they were inside with the door safely shut, before putting down his burdens and taking Mark into his arms.

"By making sure that you get raped as many times a day as you want," he murmured breathlessly.

"That sounds worth it. Can we start now, please? I've been unraped for ever such a long time."

"Typical," responded Peter, guiding him towards the stairs. "You want the rewards before doing any of the work."

He stopped Mark outside the door to the spare bedroom.

"Will it hurt you if I pick you up?"

"Why? I'm okay you know. I've just walked up the stairs. It's a bit late to think about carrying me."

"I do wish you wouldn't argue with your elders and betters and just answer the question for a change."

"Well, I don't think so, but if you think you can talk to me like that…and why on earth do you want to do it anyway?"

Peter lifted him carefully. Mark put his arms around his neck.

"It's just something I want to do. Something traditional. Open the door please."

As Mark reached for the handle the penny dropped, and to Peter's amusement, he blushed charmingly.

"Peter Doran! You're not carrying me over the threshold, are you?"

"Actually I am. Why not? We're together now as if we were married." Gently he deposited Mark on the bed. "This is our bedroom now. We moved my things in yesterday but I didn't want to sleep here until you were with me. And now you are."

Mark who had been gazing at his face looked around the room. It was very different. The furniture had been re-arranged and Peter's hi-fi system and other possessions installed, giving it a familiar feel.

"There's not much of yours because you don't have very much yet, but there is Thread," Peter said, indicating the toy on the bedside table. "If you don't like the colour of the walls we can repaint them. This is your home now. You belong to us. The papers James gave us are those that your father signed giving you up. When you feel ready, Em and Vic will adopt you officially then you'll be ours legally. I say ours, but mainly mine. The only thing you will have to decide is if you want to change your surname to Doran like I did. But that's for later. In the meantime, whether you are Mark Gordon or Mark Doran you belong to me."

All Mark managed was, "Oh Pete," before he started to cry.

I'm going to stop doing this and being such a baby he told himself fiercely, but it didn't help and anyway Peter didn't seem to mind. In fact he looked rather weepy himself.

Peter held him until he'd cried himself out. then gently, they gave each other the gift of a simple, loving, and very sweet consummation.

There were problems and difficulties ahead but nothing that they couldn't overcome together. For the first time since he was old enough to know what it meant, Mark could look forward to life without the burden of an unwanted career hanging over him. He would be encouraged to develop his musical talent, and if the final result was a career rather less than he had dreamt of, he had made his choice. There would be no regrets.

They were talking quietly when they heard the front door open and the sound of cheerful voices in the hall. What a difference to how it was at home, Mark thought, then corrected himself. No, this is home. What I meant was, when I lived in my father's house.

"Come on," Peter said, getting off the bed. After checking that they both looked respectable he held out his hand.

His eyes slightly red from his earlier tears, but radiantly happy, Mark took it, and hand in hand, Peter and Mark Doran went downstairs to greet their parents.

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