When Shadows Pass

by Sean English

Chapter 4

Not All Roads Lead to the Same Place (Part I)

His first day of school over, Jason sighed with relief when the last bell rang throughout the halls. It called an end to a day that had been guided with mixed feelings. As had been agreed beforehand, he made his way towards the front of the school before choosing a hallway that led south towards the gymnasium. Fighting a steady flow of students moving in both directions, he threaded himself between the mass of bodies until he reached a set of double doors. There he entered and, after finding a seat on one of the nearby benches, he waited to meet the brothers.

It wasn't long before he spotted Derek entering from the opposite side of the gym, and Elliot close behind him. Both looked somewhat disheveled, apparently returning from outside with a host of other students who were in a similar state. They both saw and waved at him before they hurriedly disappeared into what Elliot assumed was their locker rooms. Some students alighted from the room, either already changed or carrying what appeared to be their street clothes and books. At first Jason thought that was strange, but then realized with it being the last period of the day, maybe it wasn't so strange after all.

Although he had not been outside for the afternoon yet, he knew there was a gusty wind blowing from the northeast. Just the mere thought of it sent a chill through him. Ever since his arrival in England, he noticed how everything was damp and cooler than the climates he had grew up in. Although the air seemed fresher or cleaner, he attributed that fact to being right on the ocean. Whether that added to the seeming dampness or not, it certainly gave the climate a different feel. The gym sheltered students from those elements, but there was an unmistakable note that many of the guys wore long-sleeved t-shirts with their shorts, as if to combat the clammy air. At that moment, it made Jason pull his jacket around him tighter as he watched the other kids. He marveled that it didn't seem to affect them that much. 'They must just be used to it,' he thought to himself.

Roughly ten minutes later, both brothers reappeared suddenly, fully dressed and both sporting their usual backpacks. Elliot also seemed to be carrying his shoes as they made their way over to Jason, where the younger of the brothers dumped his belongings on one side of the seat. Plopping down on Jason's other side, he proceeded to don his shoes as he asked, "So, how was Mrs. Farther's history class?"

Before Jason could answer, Derek snickered. "What? You have old lady 'Farters' class? They cast you in with that lot?"

Even Jason had to grin at the play on words before he shrugged his shoulders. In a twist of characteristic replies, he struck a pose and spoke, mimicking the elderly lady. "'Why class, l believes we have a Yankee with us this afternoon!'"

This brought more snickering and giggles from the two brothers. "She actually called you that?" asked Elliot.

"Afraid so, but she was nice enough about it. She explained afterwards they had just began discussing the 'War with the Colonies', as she called it. I said something like, 'Oh, you mean the Revolutionary War?' She gave me this look and I, uh, don't think it went over very well with her..." he concluded, his face reddening. This time both brothers broke out with hilarious fits of laughter, which did not subside until after Elliot finally tied his last shoelace. Pulling on his jacket, the three of them stood to make their way outside.

Derek was the first to finally speak up. "Okay, lesson number one about the UK and us Britons. The war with the colonies has a different perspective over here than what you guys probably learned. I know, mostly because I took an American history course last year, and we had one of those teacher exchange ladies who was actually pretty good teaching it. From what she taught, you guys look at the war as a revolution of sorts, independence I think. But we British sort of saw it as nothing more than a rebellion against the monarchy. I know that doesn't seem like much, but over here, well, our economy was failing, and the King had stretched our resources as a nation too thin. We had almost nothing to rebuild on for a long time. Too many wars, not enough breathing room to rebuild the land, the people and all. So, there was that and some battle or something prior to that, it might have been something to do with the colonies, but I don't remember. In the end, England needed new revenue, and we thought, or at least the King thought, the colonies ought to help pay for some of the burden of having to maintain them." The older teen stopped and took a short breath before continuing. "So, the King see, he started all these programs and taxes and everything to which you guys rebelled against. Of course, you know how it turned out. We failed and you won. We had to rebuild our economy through other means, which took a couple of decades before we had a handle on it again. So, over here you won't get a lot of sympathy on that subject. Don't get me wrong, I think most of us sort of understand now why you blokes did it. The English though, sort of look on it with a frown, because in another way, you brought more hardship on us in the end. I have a book if you want to read about it sometime."

Jason shook his head. "Thanks, but, I'm not very good at history, I probably would never understand it."

Derek raised an eyebrow. "You might be surprised. Believe me, I'm a lot like you describe - I'm not good with history at all really. Too many people, and dates and places and events that don't really do anything for me. This book though, it was one I was able to get through the most of. It's written differently than most other history books, you know; sort of from a funny perspective I guess, and it really doesn't preach at you or throw that bunch of dates and names and junk. I mean, some of them are there, yeah, just enough so you get an idea of the timeline and all, but it's really not that dry like a lot of its kind are. Anyway, we kept it when I got done with the class. It's on the shelf by Dad's recliner, I think, if you're ever interested." He concluded before glancing at his brother. "You two can make it home I think. I'm supposed to meet up with my mates in a bit. If I hurry I might catch them before they take off. Okay?"

Elliot nodded. "Sure, see you later tonight," he replied as Derek waved and set off in a different direction. Turning to Jason he asked, "You ready to go home now?"

"Sure, I guess..." They started out walking up the street. "So, what did you guys do in gym today?"

Elliot grunted. "Nothing really – we were supposed to play dodge ball, but our coach got called away for about half the class before we even got started. We're not allowed to play without him or another coach present, so we spent most of the period just hanging around. When he did get back, we had to share the field with another class."

"How come you can't play without him there?"

Elliot glanced over and grinned wickedly. "Seriously? Let's just say, umm, it gets a little aggressive sometimes, and they tell us we have to have adults around to make sure we play fair. Not that it does any good, because EVERYONE generally figures out how to get around it in one way or another, or cheat, but..."

Jason laughed. "Okay, I see. Well, sorry you had to wait then. I guess that sounds pretty sucky."

Elliot shrugged his shoulders. "Gym is gym. It usually is sucky anyway, to be quite honest. Most of the time we have to play outside and we end up getting sweaty or sometimes muddy and cold. And when we do team sports, half the kids knock you around or like I said, cheat even. Oh – and, of course, THEY never get caught!" He laughed. "If YOU try to pay any of it back, of course YOU'RE the one who does get caught and the coach comes down on you. At least, that's what happens to me sometimes."

Jason thought about that before wrinkling his nose. "Um, I guess you don't have any choice, right? You have to take gym?" he asked nonchalantly.

Elliot looked over at his friend. "There are some exceptions but yeah, generally all kids have to have gym class every year, except for their last. Even then, its optional, meaning you still can take it if you want to. Most schools will schedule gyms courses during the last two periods of the day, because that's when it's the warmest outside. I mean, even in summer our mornings here can be cool, but by the afternoon it's a lot nicer." He sniffed and then rummaged his pockets for a tissue. "Bloody nose, I HATE it when it does this to me."


"Allergies. I think I'm the only kid in the whole bloody school who has them, and no one can really understand why!"

"Ah," Elliot replied and then suddenly remembered something. He stopped and opened the outside pocket of his pack where he found a portable packet of tissues stuffed inside. He extracted one and handed it to his friend. "Here, I think your Mom put these in here."

"Way to go Mum!" the boy exclaimed as he proceeded to blow his nose before wadding the tissue into a tight ball. "She's goofy about stuff like this sometimes, but every so often I have to admit I love her for it." At the entrance to a nearby park was a set of trash cans, so Elliot trotted across the street and disposed of it before returning. They continued walking up the hill. "So, how did you like the rest of it? School, I mean?"

Jason wrinkled his nose. "It was okay I guess. I think the hardest part I had was in understanding everyone. I mean, don't take it wrong, but some of you guys really do talk funny sometimes, some more than others."

Elliot grinned. "Oh, you mean our properness, accent and all?" he replied, exaggerating the tone and inflection in his words.

Jason cuffed him on the arm as he replied, "But, of course!" They both laughed before Jason continued. "Math I think is going to be boring. You guys are doing stuff I did last year already, and English – wow!"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, I thought I was pretty good in English, but you heard Ms. What's-her-name, she couldn't keep from correcting almost every other word that came out of my mouth!"

Elliot shrugged his shoulders. "She gets cranky like that sometime, but I know lots of kids who do way worse than you did today." He glanced up at his friend. "So, you think it'll be okay?"

"I guess so. I mean, I used to be pretty good in school except for history and social studies and stuff – too much reading I guess, I don't know. Today's stuff didn't really seem all that hard or anything."

Elliot smiled. "Cool. Most of the guys seemed to like you well enough today, too. Even Angie Parkington – did you see how she kept turning around and batting her eyes at you?"

Jason rolled his eyes. "Yeah, I noticed."

The response amused Elliot. "Well, just so you know, she's ummm... She's kind of loose with a lot of guys, if you know what I mean."

"Loose?" When Elliot raised his eyebrows a couple of times in succession, Jason got the message. "OOhhhh... LOOSE... got ya." He wrinkled his nose. "You're goofy sometimes, you know?"

Elliot laughed. "Look who's talking here, I could say the same thing about you!" he smirked, then playfully punched the American before continuing. "I know I am, but meh, that's just me. Take me or leave me, I can't be anyone different."

Jason grinned and met the knuckles offered in mid-air, the UK version of the American 'high-five'. "Honest? I don't think I would have it any other way."

It was late in the evening before Natalie found herself finally alone and away from the boys. Simon had left early that day on a business trip that would consume most of his week. Although neither were very appreciative of the timing, both realized that now, more than ever, Simon would have to be more tolerable of his duties. Especially now that they had an extra teenager to feed and clothe. Natalie was debating whether she should call her husband, unsure if she should take the chance of interrupting wherever he may be at that moment. However, as she wrestled with the thought, her cell phone suddenly rang. Upon answering it, she immediately sighed with relief.

"Hello, dear! How is everyone tonight?" Simon's cheery voice greeted her.

"Oh, we're all fine," she exclaimed, but not without being able to hide the flood of rushed relief. Simon noted it immediately from the other end of the connection.

"Is everything okay? Why do you seem out of breath all of a sudden?" he asked.

"Oh, it's nothing. I was just sitting here debating whether to ring you and you startled me, that's all." It was a weak excuse if nothing more, but her husband seemed to accept it satisfactorily for the moment.

"How did the first day of school go today for Jason?"

Natalie had been expecting this. "For the most part, it went smoothly. We both went this morning and met with Mrs. Filch first thing."

"Mrs. Filch? Is she still there? I figured she would have retired long by now!" the voice on the other end exclaimed.

"I know what you mean. I know she is up there in years but somehow, she still hangs on. I get the impression she doesn't really want to give it up, really. I mean, you should have heard her today, she really seemed to enjoy what she was doing. It is pretty obvious she really cares about her students, too." Natalie paused and then carefully broached what was on her mind. "Simon, she showed me something today, something that really caught me off guard. It was a note from the American group where Jason transferred in from."

"Oh? What was it about?"

Hesitating, she collected her thoughts. "Well, it was from a medical that was filed, apparently after he was found in that park over there and before he returned to school. At least, that is what I surmised, because of the date. It was early October, I believe."

"What does it say?" He noted the awkward pause, then implored. "Is there something wrong? What does the note say?"

Natalie sighed deeply. "It's just, well... Remember how we suspected he had been abused? It seems there was a lot more truth to that than we thought."

Simon was silent for a few seconds before he prodded gently. "How badly?"

"Pretty bad. I mean, he was... he was..." Natalie could not bring herself to say it, and her eyes became moist to the point she had to sigh yet again in order to calm down. "Damn, I thought I could be more in control of myself than this. It's just hard when you realize something is going on, or rather something had happened, and then find out it was worse than you initially thought."

Simon was nodding on the other end. "Yes, I understand. Was he molested? That's it, isn't it?" he asked quietly, trying to spare his wife the sordid details of having to voice something that was obviously upsetting her.

Natalie on the other hand wasn't going to give in to her fears. "It's worse than that Simon. It appears he was sodomized AND raped, and rather brutally at best! According to the note, the affair was rather ruthless and vicious. There was a note from one of the doctors, suggesting that Jason would need some time to recover before he re-entered into any kind of strenuous activity. There was also a note that he would probably need some counseling and therapy."

Simon whistled. "And to think this was never mentioned. Somehow, I'm not surprised. Is that it? Are there any other details?"

Natalie shook her head as if her husband was sitting beside her. "No, nothing else really. Like you, I'm not that surprised either. Mrs. Filch did set it up so that he wouldn't have to take gym for a while, probably because of this."

"I understand. Does Jason know about this?"

"No dear, we were alone when she gave this to me. In fact, the whole time she was conversing with us, she was really pleasant and thoughtful about how she should handle him. She played everything down, like putting him in a history class so he wouldn't be suspicious – and she did a bloody good job with it. I don't think he suspected a thing. She also told us we should get him a medical in the upcoming weeks."

"That's good. I expected we would have to do that. Did Jason have any reaction to the medical? Was he in there then?"

"He was, and he didn't even blink, as far as I could tell. I suppose he expected it was going to have to happen sooner or later." Natalie sighed. "What do we do? I mean, is there anything we should do for him? He seems so sweet, but – like the other night, like I told you, I could tell there was something there, something hidden, something... not right."

"Hold on sweetheart," Simon interjected, pausing to quickly evaluate the sequence of events in his mind before he inquired. "Answer me this: is there anything you've seen out of him that would make you think he's a danger to himself, in any way?"

Natalie considered the question before slowly shaking her head. "No, I can't say that I have. He and Elliot are getting along better than I ever expected, and so quick as well. I think he seems to be overly anxious to prove himself here, to all of us."

"Okay, and has anything happened to make you think we wouldn't want to keep him any more than when he first arrived?"

"Are you kidding me? That's stupid Simon – of course not! I don't think there is any amount of money in the world that would make me want to put him out the front door! He's a sweet child, like I said – a troubled teenager to be sure, but..."

"Then we don't do anything right now." He could hear the sharp intake of her breath as an objection began, so he hastily continued before his wife could interrupt. "Look, first off, I am sure he would not have been allowed out of the States if they felt he had any serious instability of sorts. As bad as the system is over there, or anywhere else in the world, there are just some things these agencies are especially mindful of, and this is one of them. As far as the medical goes, it sounds like Mrs. Filch was trying to do us a favor in an unobtrusive way, which is good. It would be good to have him checked out for any long-term problems - but we don't have to do that right away. Maybe we could even wait a few months, you know, give him some time to get settled in here first."

He collected his thoughts before continuing. "The more I think about it, the more I am certain. Right now, I think Jason just needs more space than anything – some time to sort himself out. He's 14, on the cusp of adulthood, but he's been over a rough road, with little to no stability around him in Lord knows how long. I can only imagine about the home in which he grew up, but from what he told us - and what we've seen - I think my step-brother brought him up in a very loving environment. Think about it, sweetheart: he lost his father, and then went into a foster care system where he was everything BUT cared for. Aside from losing everything at that point, he then ends up on the streets for God knows how long, and he almost died from being ill cared for in the end. He went from the stability of everything he had known in life, and the safety of a loving home, into a totally unstable opposite. It was, for all practical terms, unsafe as hell from the sounds of it. Who wouldn't have dark shadows following them from that, especially at his age? And if he was raped, then–" Simon paused again to reflect for a moment. "Well, look at him now. He's certainly adjusted to whatever it could have done to him. Maybe not emotionally, who knows, but certainly in interacting with us or with people. He doesn't shirk or shy away, and he's obviously doing well sleeping with Elliot, so that is saying something, right? I'm not suggesting that what happened to him doesn't leave some baggage. He may have something that will need help eventually, but it affects some people more than others, you know? It may be that he is just learning to deal with a harsher reality in our world, and he just needs some time to get himself back together. Either way, I think we should give him a little time, and just be watchful of things, you know?" He paused, thinking aloud. "I wonder if anyone even addressed it with him..."

Natalie nodded. "The note says when he was queried about it all, relentlessly, but - he precluded to having no knowledge of it. I find that hard to believe, but it says he remembered nothing. The doctor did note though that he felt Jason was hiding something nonetheless. His comment was that he pushed as far as he felt he dared, but the youth was unsolvable at that point. I guess that means stubborn..."

Simon frowned. "Yeah, probably. Maybe he just didn't trust anyone in the system anymore. If that's the case, then I can understand it. I find it extremely disappointing no one felt they should pass that little tidbit on to us. Especially before now." He grunted before sighing. "In my honest opinion, right now we're probably providing him stability again, as close to what he had before all of this went down. And he may be realizing that in some small way, and will keep realizing it for a while to come. Once he believes in it though, then we'll see something more positive come from all of this."

"Do you really think it's that simple?" Natalie asked her husband after a long silence, her voice full of doubt but also tinged with a ray of hope.

"No, it never is," Simon replied. "But for right now we do know he needs to search himself out, and I think as he gets more relaxed and comfortable with the four of us and with being here, he'll let his guard down. If there are things there he has to deal with, then the first stage will be the need of having people around who care about him. He'll find it with us, he'll see it and it will do wonders for him. Having people care, about helping the lad believe in himself again - that may be the key to all of this. That's where he'll need us the most, and that's where we can help him the most."

Natalie was beginning to see her husband's logic. "Do you think it will ever come out?"

"Yes, I do. Maybe not to us directly, but I suspect the boys will learn far more than anyone else."

"Is it safe? For our boys to deal with this stuff, with him? Do you think?" she asked uncertainly.

Simon smiled on the other end of the connection. "Sure it is, dear. Even for Elliot. He has one hell of a level head about him to be so young as it is. As to Jason, he and Elliot are developing one hell of an attachment to each other already, too. For once, I'm quite glad. Our son has always been riding a back burner compared to his older brother, and with all the messiness put aside, I think he and Jason may be just what the other needs right now. So yes, I think somewhere down the line the mystery surrounding our young Jason Mathews will come to light. Elliot understands these things, parts of which are probably more so than you or I. He'll be fine. When Jason's ready to face it, he'll have a friend to face it with. And eventually, then we'll all face it with him together."

Natalie actually smiled, and when she spoke there was a trace of relief in her voice. "It's times like these I am ever more thankful to have married you – at least, you know what I mean."

Simon chuckled. "Four days – the kid has been with us four days, and already we love him to death, don't we."

Natalie cracked up. "Bloody right, we do!" She pondered. "Do you think we should tell the boys about this?"

Simon hesitate before answering. "No, not right now. That's a touchy point, I know. If they knew, they might lean towards being extra careful. I know, around him maybe we need to be - but I think that's the point. This needs to be worked out between them naturally, through their own devices. If they know up front, Jason might catch on that something is up. Right now, I think it would be better to not take that step. Like I said, hopefully Jason will open up to one of us on his own terms, and that's the key I think."

Natalie silently nodded. "Okay, I'll trust you on that." She changed the subject. "Did you get the email off today?"

"Yes, I actually did, but I checked just before I called you and there was no response yet. I suspect it will be a few days before we hear anything to tell the truth. They are notoriously slow about these things it seems, or so I'm told."

Natalie again nodded. "I know what you mean..."

The next few days were uneventful inside the Flavell household. The newly arrived American began to fall into a normal routine with the rest of the family, which included attending school and returning home with Elliot in the afternoons. The week had turned bitterly cold, which was unusual for the time of year, and as such their outdoor activities were limited. Elliot had hoped to be able to take Jason around the various nearby ports, and across the city to show more of where they lived. The only excursion they made however, was on Tuesday afternoon when they both stopped by the game shop again. There they learned the shop was closing early that evening, due to a family illness, and thus there would be no group games that night. Although somewhat disappointed, the balance of the week found Elliot and Jason spending more time together chatting, doing homework, playing various games and watching television.

Jason was amused at how British TV differed from American broadcasts. Although much of the content was cultured within the UK, he saw some series broadcast that originated in the States as well. Finding some material was commercial free, and discovering that late evenings the standards were less stringent with their content had been an eye opener. One evening he and Elliot had come across a sex education program, where men were depicted completely nude, including the display of their genitals. Stunned, Jason at first thought they had happened across an exception of sorts, perhaps even a porn channel or something. But as he observed briefly, he saw the show was focusing more on the types of problems men had as they aged. It appeared to be every bit as normal TV as any other educational program in the end.

While the show continued to display and discuss the various aspects of male anatomy in all its detail, he eventually whistled. Elliot, who had been sitting next to him and flipping through the available channels with the remote, noticed his friend's look of astonishment. "What's wrong with you?" he asked in amusement. He had purposefully paused on the channel so he could gauge the American's reaction.

Returning the other's glance, Jason sat back in bewilderment. "You guys actually, like, have this stuff on public TV? Just broadcast it and everything? Where anyone can see ... you know ... this?" When Elliot nodded, he grunted and shook his head incredulously. "Wow! Do they show both men and women, you know, naked and stuff?"

"Yeah, usually only late at night though, like after nine or ten o'clock. We don't have censorship here like you blokes do."

"Shit!" Jason muttered under his breath. He continued to stare for another minute or so before he looked sheepishly at Elliot. "Um, you can change the channel if you want."

Elliot laughed out loud, but replied in a subdued voice, "You sure? I don't know, your eyes were pretty glued to this, I think!"

Jason picked up a cushion and threw it at the kid, but grinned afterwards while clearly showing his embarrassment. "I just, I dunno, it's just not something I expected, that's all."

Elliot moved over closer, pulling up next to his friend. "I kind of figured that," he replied as he complied and changed the channel. Finding nothing else on, he shut the TV off and they sat there together for a moment before he cleared his throat. "Um, can I ask you something?"


"Well, did seeing those guys and stuff, like, really bother you or anything?"

Jason shrugged his shoulders. "Meh, not really. I mean, I didn't mind it any, if that's what you're asking. I just was, well, surprised I guess. In a way, I think it's cool." He grinned, but lowered his voice. "No, not so much the old man's funny looking dick or anything, mind you, just – I don't know. I think it's cool you guys can broadcast stuff like that. We could never do that stuff back home unless it was on paid cable or something." He wrinkled his nose again. "Um, I guess kids over here get their sex education early... right? I mean, if they want. It's probably not too hard to stay up and find a show when their parents aren't around or watching, or something like that."

Elliot surprisingly rolled his eyes, but relented. "Yeah, mostly I guess. Derek and I used to sneak down here a long time ago and watch stuff. I don't think Mum or Dad ever knew, or at least they never seemed to catch us. Or if they did they didn't seem to care about it." He paused. "Sometimes it's not so cool though, like when parents actually allow their kids to watch stuff on purpose, and then sit with you while its on." He paused before he added, "I know Mum did."

Jason's eyes went wide in amazement. "Huh? Are you kidding?"

Elliot shook his head. "Nope, it's for real. When Derek was 14, she found some TV stuff that showed all the stages of pregnancy, all the way from the girl getting pregnant down to the baby being delivered. She wanted him to watch it, so he would, you know, 'get educated' I guess. It went through all the birth control and everything, even showed how a guy and a girl do, you know, 'it'. And then, after THEY watched it together, Mum decided it was time I probably should see it, too."

Jason whistled. "Man, that's hard to believe." He glanced up into Elliot's impassive expression. "You had to watch it, showing everything and... and... while she sat next to you and everything? How old were you, like, 12 or something?" When his friend nodded, he whistled again. "Wow! Yeah, I bet that was hard to do."

"No kidding," Elliot rolled his eyes in response. "It's one thing to watch stuff like that where people are, you know, naked and showing everything – but it's another thing when you have to watch it sitting next to your Mum!" He shook his head. "I was almost sick to my stomach for a week, too. I mean, well, you know..."

Jason, however, was curious. "How come?"

Elliot studied his expression, then grinned and shook his head. "Um, it was just gross, that's all. It was one of these big ladies with big tits and, I don't know, giving birth and everything – they showed it all and well, it might be okay for some people, but it wasn't so much for me. I mean, I handled it okay and everything, but having to sit beside Mum? While she is watching ME? Ugh!" He laughed. "The worst of it all though, was when it was over. Mum sat me down at the table and asked if I had any questions. I was thinking like 'Shit!'"

"Oh crap, I would have died," muttered Jason.

"I did die! I was like, 'MMMuummmm!!!' She wouldn't let me get away though until she had 'the talk', you know? She kept telling me she knew what hormones and everything was like for teens, but she thought I was mature enough to understand it all. She went through all the things about sex though - well, for the most part anyway. I mean, I was sitting there miserable the whole flipping time. That's the kind of talk you're supposed to have with your Dad, right? Not your Mum! In some ways it was humiliating!"

Jason mulled over that for a moment before he sheepishly admitted to the other boy, "That's one discussion my Dad never had with me, thankfully. I found out a lot of stuff, uh, other ways though..."

Elliot studied him for a second. "School, I guess?" When Jason nodded slowly, he nonchalantly accepted it. "Well, then you were lucky I guess, because over here, I've heard lots of kids tell about their parents doing it – you know, Mum's and girls, Dad's and guys. And most of the time, they talk about how embarrassed, or hard it was and everything." He sighed. "So, can I ask you something else? Like, have you ever seen porn or anything on TV or the internet? Or, you know?"

Jason sadly shook his head. "Honest? Not really... I mean, maybe some little stuff, mostly on the web, and mostly just by accident, too. We never had a computer at home though, and the school computers were pretty secure against that kind of stuff."

Elliot nodded. "Don't knock it, it's cool. I know some other guys who've said the same thing. I don't think it's a big deal."

"Really? I mean..."

"Yah, I know, it sounds weird – especially coming from me. I guess if you're into porn and everything its different, but not all of us are. At least, I'm not yet anyway. I know - I bet you think I have sex on the brain a lot sometimes, especially the way I say stuff around you. But honestly? I don't. I mean, I know what a girl looks like all over now, or at least a big woman anyway. I admit it was kind of, maybe a little interesting, but..." He shrugged his shoulders. "Mum was there so I didn't dare think about anything that would pop a boner, if you know what I mean."

"For sure!" Jason agreed, laughing at the thought, and at how easily Elliot just said it in front of him.

The Briton grinned. "Only thing else I've ever been fortunate to see was this one-time last year, our class was at this rally for school, and there was a girl, year six or so I guess, who had her shirt pulled up all the way in front by another girl, a preschooler. They were just playing around and the little girl was sitting on her lap and everything, and just out of the blue she did it. She wasn't being mean or anything, you know how kids are sometimes. She just like, grabbed the shirt and pulled it all the way up. The older girl wasn't wearing any kind of bra or anything, so her whole front was just flashed to everyone around her, tits and all. I was just a couple feet away, you know, in the right place at the right time I guess. There wasn't really that much to see, though. Her breasts were only just beginning to grow, you know, so she was mostly flat chested. My eyes though, were just in the right place at the right time." He smiled as the memory came back to him. "That girl, she saw me looking at her, but she didn't care. Afterwards she just stuck her tongue out at me and then went back to playing with the little girl."

Jason nodded thoughtfully as an eerie silence fell between them. Sinking back into the couch, he noted Elliot had subtly moved even closer with him so that they were now side by side. He was amused, more so because, it seemed as their time with each other progressed, so did little things such as this. He didn't want to hurt Elliot's feelings, because he had already come to the conclusion his friend enjoyed the closeness more than most guys seemed to. Moreover though, to be truthful, Jason was suddenly finding that he liked it, too.

After a bit Elliot started knocking his knees together. In turn it caused the two of them to do the same. Jason was readying a comment when the other boy stopped as suddenly as he had started. "You want to do anything else right now?" Glancing at the clock on the wall he saw it was twenty minutes past ten. "I don't know, maybe we should start heading upstairs. Mum will be back in about a half hour or so. We should be in bed before long, or she'll give us grief."

Jason nodded in agreement. "Yeah, I guess so."

Elliot slowly got to his feet and offered the other boy a hand up, which Jason gladly welcomed. Moving towards the stairs, Elliot casually glanced back. "I should probably get a shower, too. I haven't had one since Monday, and Mum gets sort of picky about that stuff, too."

Jason giggled. "Yeah, I heard her getting after you this morning." He shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know what the big deal is though. I mean, if it was hot and we were sweaty or stuff, I could understand it... but right now though? I mean, what are we going to do to get dirty? It's not like we're playing in sports like your brother!"

"I know," Elliot agreed. "Derek IS different though, I guess cause he's older. He DOES sweat a lot!" At the top of the stairs, they turned and entered their bedroom, where Elliot promptly moved to their dresser and removed a pair of briefs from the drawer. Nonchalantly, he called out to the other. "I won't take long, and then you can take one if you want – unless you want to join me."

Jason laughed out loud at how carefree his friend had made the offer sound. "You got to be kidding..." He stopped when there was no response and saw the grin that met him. "Um, you were kidding... right?"

In reply, Elliot just shrugged his shoulders. "It's no big deal."

Jason thought about it for a few seconds then shook his head. "That's the second or third time you've done that though." He stood up and walked over to stand in front of the boy. Looking into his eyes, he searched for some reason, some idea of where it was coming from. "You – you'd really, like... want to do that? Just like that?"

Slowly Elliot nodded as he shut the drawer and made ready to leave. "Derek and I used to take showers together some, and besides – I don't know, like I told you, I trust you and stuff."

Jason's hesitation was eventually too long, because Elliot sighed and made to leave the room. "Just forget it, like I said, it's no big deal." As he left however, Jason noted the slump in his friend's shoulders and the disappointment that was apparent. It confused him, but Jason couldn't really reason out why. 'Why did I hesitate?' he berated himself. If he didn't really want to do it, why couldn't he just politely decline and let that be the end of it?

Shaking his head hard, he tried to clear the cobwebs spinning inside. Slowly he crossed over and climbed into the bed, settling into the far corner and pulling his knees up to his chest. There he sat for a long time trying to think about what had just happened, and why he had reacted as he did. It wasn't something normal as far as he could tell, but again he had not lived a normal life insofar as other kids his age. Isolated and alone, maybe it WAS a part of something kids did – but just never talked about with anyone. For all he knew, maybe doing these things, showers, baths, whatever – maybe it was something normal in a family.

If so, it still wasn't normal for him. At the same time though, he thought about Elliot and what the kid meant to him. There was no question that Elliot was a vital part of his life now. He thought about what it would have been like without him these past few days, and it made him shiver. The night he arrived had a mixture of surprises and unpleasant memories. Aside from the front he put up, he recalled how scared and nervous he actually had felt inside. That was when Elliot reached out though, and calmed him down. From that moment on Jason had lay in surprised awe – and he knew then there something good about the other kid.

So, what was it? Why was he feeling so confused? What was behind Elliot's motives, seemingly innocent hints and suggestions? Was he gay? He doubted it - though he had nothing to base that on. Closing his eyes, he told himself over and over to calm down and took deep, steady breaths. For some reason though, he could not let it go. He was feeling scared again, even though he knew he really had no reason to. Finally answering himself, he knew he wasn't afraid of Elliot, or so he thought; but the idea of getting into a shower with the youth made him feel, well, uneasy.

Sighing, he took another deep breath and let it out slowly. He began feeling remorseful as the realization dawned on him. These people had nothing to do with what happened to him in the States - why did he have to react that way? They had been together for almost a week now, and there was nothing that Elliot or his family had done to make him feel so edgy or unsafe. In the end, he felt miserable and unsure of himself once again, and was at a loss about what he could to do about it. He looked up to the chest of drawers and almost rose to grab a pair of shorts and go downstairs, right then, and join the youth.

Another part of him, however, would not let him.

And the conflict that was created within as he struggled, made him feel more unsure of himself even more. He slowly began to cry.

Elliot turned the water off and listened to the quiet that followed. In the stillness he heard the telltale dripping associated with the showerhead clearing itself of the last remnants of water. He stood there and closed his eyes, fighting back the sudden feelings that refused to abate. He had gone too far, had tried to make light of something that definitely was anything but, and he knew it.

His hair wet and matted to his head, he stood still for a moment. A tear escaped the corner of his eye to mingle with the rest of the water falling down his cheeks. He felt awful, as if a heavy burden had settled upon his shoulders. The American was right: he had played the shower card too many times, and he could only feel like the other kid must think him either thick or an idiot.

Steeling himself, he turned and exited the shower, grabbing a nearby towel before sitting on the toilet. He used it to steady himself as he dried off slowly, but he couldn't wipe away the shame he was feeling. Had Elliot just ruined something between them? Inside, it hurt. He wanted more than anything for Jason to just like him, for who he was. He admitted to himself that maybe things were not as normal as usual. But he didn't want to let whatever was inside of him changing, scare away his true best chance of having someone he could hang out and be with. Moreover, he wanted the other kid to just see that he, Elliot, was not afraid to be with him. Was that so bad?

In some way it must have been, but Elliot could not figure out why. He remembered how his Dad had warned both brothers about how some things would be soundly different between their two cultures. Combine that with the fact that Jason had some mysterious past that troubled him, added to the mystery. No one knew what had happened, so that meant they had to be cautious about certain things. He got that, really, but... this? In a way, he felt he must have touched some sacred ground, but the way their relationship had been building, he had thought nothing of it – until now.

He sighed and slowly pulled on his briefs and t-shirt, before wrapping the towel around his waist. In some ways, he felt like he wanted to cry. He knew though, it would not help the situation right now for either of them. As he left the bathroom, he heard the front door lock turning in the distance, so he hurried and ascended the stairs before his mother would find him in his shaken state. Just before he reached his room, he paused one last time to take a deep breath. He didn't know what to expect, but he was resolute to whatever his fate might be. Quietly entering, he closed the door to the darkness that met him and looked about. At first, he did not see the figure that was still propped up in the corner of the bed, but when he did, Elliot dropped the towel and walked over. "Hey, um, you okay?" he asked quietly, but his voice was full of uncertainty. Fear for himself, and fear for the unknown.

Jason looked up as if startled, coming out of a deep thought as he observed his friend standing there. If there had been enough light in the room, Elliot would have seen the reddened eyes that met him. As fate had it, however, that detail was hidden. The youth sat stiffly though, as if afraid to move. It made Elliot suddenly feel worse as he felt the tension in the air. The younger of the Flavell brothers just stood there for a moment, but eventually he saw Jason nod. As he debated whether to climb into the bed, he was about to apologize. He never got the chance though, because just then Jason slowly crawled from the bed and moved to their chest in silence. Withdrawing his own set of briefs and t-shirt, he left the room without a word. Elliot collapsed onto the bed feeling heartbroken.

And it scared him.

The next morning, both boys were awakened by the persistent buzzing of their alarm clock. Elliot groaned as he rolled over and hit the snooze button, and then fell back as he slowly started to wake up. The events of the night before returned immediately, and in no time, he was awake agonizing again over what he could do to make things right. He felt Jason shift in the bed beside him, so he dared a glance over in the ambient light. There he saw his friend, too, was awake and staring back at him. Rather weakly, Elliot opened his mouth twice, but words escaped him until finally he sighed before surrendering. "Um, morning..."

Jason simply nodded, watching the other boy intently. He knew he should say something, knew he still wanted to apologize for his own part. The night though, had been ravaged with fitful dreams that would not stop. No matter how many times he woke up and turned over, attempting to just let them go, they still returned. His feelings were still in a flux of confusion for the moment, and he was unsure what he should say or even feel. When he returned from the shower the night before much the same way as Elliot, he couldn't bring himself to try and talk it out. Instead he simply crawled over the boy as usual and wrapped himself under the covers, hugging the wall as close as he could. He knew he wasn't thinking clearly, and it scared him to think that if he had tried to say anything – anything at all – it would sound stupid and meaningless.

The dreams were another matter. They had eluded him from the moment since he arrived in England – dreams which had been displaced for so long he had almost forgotten them. While being here with Elliot, he had been able to rest and finally find some level of peace. He felt he owed that blessing to the teen lying beside him, because until that first night no one else had ever been able to make him feel that way. He didn't know why, but Elliot's presence had an uncanny effect on him. He didn't understand it, but he was very grateful for it.

Elliot sighed, bringing his friend out of the trance of his thoughts. When he spoke, he collected his wits about him. He wanted desperately to undo the damage of the night before. "Jase, please, just... hit me, or yell at me or something, okay? I'm sorry, I really didn't mean it to be like that," he whispered. He wanted to add more, but couldn't find the words, unsure of how his friend was going to react.

Jason lay there in the stillness for a moment before he spoke, but when he did, Elliot could barely hear him. "Forget it; it's okay."

Hearing that gave Elliot a little hope and courage. "No, it's not okay. I think you took me the wrong way, but it doesn't matter – it was my fault Jason, all mine. I didn't mean to make you mad at me or upset or... anything. I'm really sorry." He paused for a moment. "I would never hurt you, or make you feel like, I don't know – like you did last night. You have to believe me," he implored.

"I do, believe you, I mean," was the hushed reply. Jason was silent again for what seem like an eternity before he finally spoke again. "Can I ask you something?"

Startled, Elliot nodded. "You can ask me anything, honest."

"Will you tell me the truth?"

"I will ALWAYS tell you the truth - cross my heart," he added, hoping the other boy would believe him.

Another long pause. "Just tell me – are you trying to get me naked for some weirdo reason, or... you know...?"

Elliot froze. He had already played a version of this out in his mind the night before, hoping he would not have to worry about it. Having it brought up between them now, however, especially by the boy lying next to him, brought it to reality. Elliot sighed. He was going to have to tell the truth; he just hoped his new friend would accept it.

"Not really, I mean, yeah, but not for what you're probably thinking," Elliot replied meekly.

Another long pause, and then Jason responded. "How do you know what I'm thinking?"

"Because of the way you said it, the way you asked me. You probably think I'm some kind of pervert or something."

Jason smiled, a hint of relief edging its way into his voice. "Okay, then, so 'fess up... why? Why do you hint at it so much and ... and everything?"

Elliot looked deep into the eyes that he knew were there staring back into his own, and in the ambient light he could see a trace of the smile that met him. In the darkness, it gave him courage, so taking a deep breath, he tried to explain. "It's hard, you know? I just... I want to help, Jason. I want you to know I trust you. I want you to trust me, and I ... I just want to help. I know that's weird, but… I want to be friends, and I want…" He stopped, knowing the words were rambling and becoming repetitive. He rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling as he sighed in frustration. "What the hell, it doesn't matter..." he finally stated, closing his eyes.

There was another long pause. "Yes, it does. It matters to me." Jason hesitated and then spoke softly, encouraging Elliot to continue. "Besides, we're more than just friends, I think you know that by now. So... tell me."

Elliot opened his eyes again. "Please don't be mad at me, I don't think I could take it, okay? In fact, I know I can't take it."

"Why?" Curiosity was heavily veiled in the query.

"Because, just because..." Elliot hesitated. "Last night, I was so scared I destroyed everything between us, between you and me. I don't think I could take that anymore, because ... you're my best friend right now, maybe the only one I've got, or ever had."

Jason scoffed. "I don't believe that. You're cool, you're funny, and you're fun to be around... even if you do talk weird sometimes." Jason had meant the last as a joke, trying to lighten the mood somewhat. He succeeded, because when Elliot turned again to meet his gaze, both boys could sense a break in the tension. A tear slowly escaped Elliot, however, but it was not a tear born of sadness. Instead, it was one of hope.

After a moment, tentatively Elliot reached out until he found Jason's fingers under the cover. "Do you know what it's like to be alone?"

"Yeah, I think I do," Jason replied matter-of-factly, but not without sincerity.

"Then, try to imagine what it's like living in a house, with a brother who is into nothing but sports. Or a Mum and Dad who work or are gone a lot. I mean, Dad makes a lot of trips for the company he works for, and Mum, she spends a lot of time in her volunteer circles and stuff. Anyway, add that to a bunch of guys who see you as the weird kid – one who plays role playing games and other stuff like that – stuff they have utterly no understanding or interest in. Some are okay with it, but a lot look at you weird and all that sort."

"That's not the same," Jason offered, his voice just above a whisper now.

"No, you're right – it isn't the same. In some ways, it's worse." He noticed Jason didn't pull away when their fingertips connected – a sign that once again gave him encouragement. He was trying to think about how to press on when the alarm went off again. Reluctantly, he rolled over and this time shut it off before rolling back. He sat up and looked down at the figure in the dark. "It's worse because it makes you feel like you're out in a field somewhere, with a whole crowd of people, but no one is watching you. And you want them to, you know, at least notice you sometimes – but it gets harder and harder." He sighed. "Anyhow, we have to get up. But Jason – can I ask you something? Are we good? I mean, I'm sorry. I wish I could take it all back, I wish I could learn to keep my mouth shut sometimes. I wish I wasn't so driven by my hormones sometimes. I wish... I wish..." He was crying now. "I'm sorry Jase, I'm really, really sorry."

Jason slowly rose from under the covers, before twisting himself around to straddle his British cousin from the side. Using the strength in his legs, he pulled the two of them closer together than ever before. "Yeah, I told you, forget it." Seeing and feeling Elliot's shoulders slump even more, his voice dropped to that of just above a whisper. "You haven't destroyed anything with me, honest. We haven't lost anything between us. Look, I promise, I'm okay. Last night was just as much my fault, too. I reacted badly, and I didn't mean to. I told you before, I'm not afraid of being naked around you – at least I don't think I am. You say it's to help me? Seriously? Well – okay, I'll take your word for it I guess. But man, honest, I'm sorry too... I just, if you knew the weird shit I've been through, well – maybe you'd understand. You just have to give me some time, that's all. I really need more time. I've got way too much going on in my head right now. I think you know that. I don't see how you couldn't possibly know that."

Elliot digested that before responding, his voice once more a whisper as he nodded. "Jase?"


Closing his eyes, he leaned in toward his cousin, their foreheads touching, sharing a closeness and warmth that belied description. "I promise – no more."

Of all the reactions his friend could have had, Elliot was surprised to hear him utter a muffled giggle. "Wrong – you will, but I don't care, honest. Maybe one of these nights I might even give in, who knows." He was grinning widely at that, enough this time to make Elliot scoff.

"Don't kid around with me about stuff like that, okay? I'm serious, I just - I don't know, it's not like I'm trying to do stuff, or rape you or anything like that. I mean, I- I'm sorry, I just..." More tears fell from his cheek, this time dropping to Jason's leg, still snuggly wrapped around him just then.

"I know that Elliot – honest, I do. And who says I wasn't serious? Besides, just... let it go. Just right now, I got a lot of shit in my head tearing me up, okay? Just don't make me go somewhere I'm not ready to go. I don't know if I can ever go where... well, I just don't."

Elliot thought about that for a moment. "I won't, but you have to promise me something. Promise me you know you can talk to me, about anything, okay? I'm not afraid of you, your past or anything – just, if you feel like it, just – you know..."

Jason nodded. He started to reach out, to take hold of his friend and embrace him again, but a light clicked on in the hallway, and it spilled through the crack under the door. They both knew they were pushing their time, so instead Jason placed his lips as close to Elliot's ear as he could. "I know, and thanks, I promise." A few seconds passed as they stared at each other before Jason pulled away and, unwrapping himself, scooted up to the side of the bed. The moment was gone and they got to their feet. Elliot gave Jason a hand, which was gladly accepted. As they pulled clothes together from the closet, Jason thought over what Elliot had told him. It left him feeling much better inside, and that in turn caused him to smile inwardly. He felt uncharacteristically lite on his feet once again, and the more he watched the other teen as they both dressed, he saw Elliot looking just as relieved. While they both tied their shoes, Jason also felt something else tied between them - and it made him feel... happy.

It was the first time, since coming here, that he had finally let go, and felt... loved.

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