When Shadows Pass

by Sean English

Chapter 5

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

Saturday arrived in due haste, and for once the sun seemed to greet the early morning hours with a renewed spirit. Jason awoke and peered out the window, closing his eyes and soaking up the warmth against his face. Although he'd faced another rough night, this time the dreams were not as intense. He was able to keep them under control, and recover from them without too much effort. How long he lay there he did not know, but something about the morning had already improved his mood.

Hearing a yawn behind him, he turned and watched Elliot's struggle to wake up. Elliot slowly open his eyes and – once getting his bearings – ever so slightly pull away, inching toward his half of the bed. They had stayed up late the night before, playing another game of Monopoly, with Elliot once again emerging victorious from an early lead. Jason had almost caught him in both cash and real estate, but the luck of the dice turned against him. Both then fell into the bed afterwards, not realizing the lateness of the hour.

Since that morning only a few, short days before, Elliot had gone out of his way to avoid getting too close physically with his cousin. On this morning, noting that subtle change again, Jason muttered with annoyance, "Good grief!" Before Elliot knew what was happening, Jason pounced, pinning him underneath while tickling him. Using the weight of his body, Jason held Elliot in place for a solid minute, while Elliot squirmed and curled up, defenseless at the onslaught. In good measure, Jason intruded on various parts of Elliot's ribs and underarms, until both began laughing hard. The body contact was intense, with both boys in nothing but their t-shirts and underwear. It felt good to Jason, though, because it was something both personal and satisfying. He was giving his trust to Elliot in the way his cousin wanted to be trusted. He was also beginning to understand why Elliot craved it, because Jason liked it, too.

With Elliot pinned beneath him, Jason whispered, "Say 'uncle'."

Elliot, however, raised his head, trying to keep from laughing out loud. "S-S-Stop! Y-You're gonna m-make me p-pee!" he gasped.

Jason held on tightly, though. "I said say 'uncle'."

Elliot looked up into Jason's eyes and considered betraying the moment, but decided his bladder would punish him worse if he didn't first give it some much needed attention. Reluctantly, he nodded. "Okay... Okay... uncle. Now get off me you oaf! I bloody well don't want to soak the bed!"

Jason laughed and then let him up. Elliot quickly disappeared through the doorway, leaving the room in silence. Moments later, however, he reappeared. "Wow, I just barely made it!" he quipped, closing the door behind him.

Rolling his eyes, Jason let the snide remark pass. He had returned to looking out the window again. "Man, I wish it would stay this way a while. I wonder if it's very cold outside..."

Elliot crawled over and gazed out the window with him. "Nah, it might be cool for a little while, but I bet it warms up. It usually does by lunchtime." A knock then sounded at the door. "Who is it?" Elliot called, turning his head.

"It's your ancient, old man. May I come in boys? Are you decent?"

They looked at each other and quickly realized their state of undress. Scurrying out of the bed, Elliot pulled on a pair of sweats while Jason dove back under the covers. Assuring they were ready, Elliot then called out, "Sure Dad, come on in!"

Simon walked into the room smiling, glancing about. "Hmm, a little cool in here, isn't it?" He checked the heat register and noticed the closed duct. "You boys like it that way, or just too lazy to open up the vent over there?"

Jason shrugged in reply. "I guess we just kind of like it. I mean, we – or rather, I- I didn't have a lot of heat in my room at home." He unexpectedly giggled. "It always annoyed Dad. He said he couldn't understand it. He kept the rest of the house warm, though, like an oven. At least, in the winter."

The sudden onset of those memories caused Jason to pause, and Elliot and his father sensed his mood shift. Simon purposefully sat down on the side of the bed, indicating that Elliot should as well. Looking them over, he cleared his throat. "Well, I thought about something last night, and if you like, I thought we might be able to take a little trip today. If you're up to it, that is."

"Yeah? Where to, Dad?" Elliot asked.

"Well, I was thinking, perhaps we could introduce our newest family member here to some of England's sites. With your half-term holiday next week, you boys should have plenty of time to run around here, so maybe we could just get out and away from Portsmouth for the day. How about it, Jason? You think you might like to take a drive up to, say, Stonehenge?"

Jason's eyes went wide. "You mean – THE Stonehenge? The big rocks, in a circle, right? That's near here?" When Simon nodded, Jason became enthusiastic. "Would I? Are you kidding me? That would be AWESOME! You mean, it isn't that far away?"

Simon laughed. "Umm, I don't know – I think about an hour or so might put us there. I take it you know a little of the site then?

Jason nodded again. "We studied it some in school. That would be awesome, Mr. Flavell!"

Simon flinched, but smiled at the eagerness. "Well, they supposedly have a lot of mystery surrounding them, I'll grant you that. So then let's do it, the change of scenery might do us all some good – especially before Old Man Winter starts settling in. Perhaps afterwards, if we have time, we might come back by Portchester Castle as well, sort of show you another side of England."

Jason's eyes widened further. "A real castle? Wow! What are we waiting for!"

Elliot grinned at his Dad. "I think you've made a friend for life, Dad!" All laughed as Jason blushed, but then he continued. "I admit, it would be kind of cool to see them again."

Jason regarded him with curiously. "You've been there before, then?"

"Only once to Stonehenge, on a school trip, umm... a couple of years ago," Elliot explained. "We've been to the castle a bunch of times, though. They host Derek's football games in the courtyards sometimes. It's a pretty cool place to see and explore."

Simon stood. "Okay, that's settled then. You two get dressed and get downstairs, pronto. We'll leave in about 20 minutes. We might even stop off and introduce you to what we call a 'proper' English breakfast, hmm?" His eyes twinkled as he left the room. "I'll go see if your mother wants to come along."

Elliot rolled his eyes. "If she does, don't expect to be ready THAT quick!"

Simon smiled back at him, pausing in the doorway. "You're right. Better make it 40 minutes, then!"

For the first time since arriving in England, Jason stared in awe at the countryside whisking by as they raced along the motorway. Though it was not his first time traveling outside of the city, his last visit during the late hours hampered his ability to see. It was mid-morning and the sun had already burned away most traces of the earlier fog. Once they had turned onto the more formal country roads, the scenery became even more interesting. In its place, were clear and bright fields, with coves and colorful townships to greet them as they passed. Simon and Natalie rode up front, while he and Elliot stretched out in the back seats. Derek had declined the trip, opting for a day with his mates, as he called them. Elliot had frowned at his brother as they all walked out the door, showing his disappointment.

The countryside was not much different from where Jason had lived in the States. There seemed to be a lot more greenery here though, at least more than he expected for this time of year. Where he grew up, most grasses would be fading by now, and trees would be giving up their leaves in dazzling displays of brown, gold and red kaleidoscopes. Jason saw little to none of that.

Jason did note that the town layouts and architecture of the buildings were more compact. As he studied them, he wrinkled his nose and turned from the window. "Umm, can I ask you guys something? Probably kind of weird, but..."

Natalie turned and smiled at him. "Sure, you can! What's up?"

"Well, don't get me wrong, I kind of understand what you guys have told me before. About space being a premium and everything in some places, but – how come?" Jason asked. "I mean, out here there seems to be all kinds of room and everything, right? I thought maybe it was because England was like, overcrowded or something, but now...?"

Simon laughed. "Sharp observation, if I may say. You are correct though. Overall the UK is not as crowded as you might initially perceive. There are plenty of villages and open plains throughout the country, plenty of farmland and more for the most part – but I wouldn't say we have an overabundance of land. You see, many of our cities and townships were built from ages ago – most founded in centuries past, much older than the townships you have been used to in the States. People in our country still congregate around these places, because that is where you'll find our more abundant trade and manufacturing established."

"So, it's like, people live closer together because that's where the jobs are and stuff?" Jason questioned thoughtfully.

"You could look at it that way," Natalie answered. "Of course, it's much more than that, too. I don't think either Simon or I are qualified to try and explain English socialism, mind you. It's more," she paused, searching for the right words. "It's more cultural, too. People have just lived this way for hundreds of years. We sort of accept it as a part of our heritage. Kind of as a normal way of life, for us. Real estate is expensive here, too, so that has a significant impact as well. You'll find everyone makes use of space in very reserved ways, because they're used to it being that way."

Simon picked up from there. "Understand something else, too: where we live, things are a little tighter than you might find in other areas. At the same time, however, we have more room than say, some of the apartments or flats you'll find in downtown London. I guess if we wanted to, we could uproot as a family and move north of Havant and gain more room. It wouldn't be much more in cost, and it would even put me closer to where I work. To tell the truth however, Natalie and I like being next to the shorelines. There is a lot you can see and do within walking distance of home, and it gives the boys – including you – a vast playground to explore. We've just always liked it there, and we've never had to deal with it being overtly crowded."

Jason stared out the window for a moment. "You mean, until I came along."

Simon grunted, looking thoughtfully into his rearview mirror at Jason. "No, don't think like that. I admit, things have changed somewhat, but surely, you've seen in the last week alone how well we are all adapting. You are not crowding us out – and I doubt very much you'll ever impact us in that way. If you and Elliot can get along with your room, I think everything will be just fine. Also, Derek will most likely be moving out in a couple of years. At about the right time you two will want more privacy, I suspect, so we'll see."

Glancing over at Elliot and seeing him smile, Jason said, "I think we get along pretty cool."

"I'm happy to hear that," Natalie acknowledged after exchanging a glance with her husband. "Not meaning to change the topic, but how did you like breakfast this morning? Have you ever had anything like it before?"

Jason smirked. "It was good... well, mostly. I guess it was okay, just... different."

Simon asked, "How so?"

"Well, uh... your 'bacon' is more like, like ham I think. Our bacon is, or was, a lot saltier, and sliced in strips and everything. Oh, and the sausages were, well, they looked funny," Jason explained, blushing as he realized what he was saying.

Elliot giggled and fought to control himself. Simon and Natalie enjoyed a good chuckle themselves. "Well, the sausages are not flat like in the States, that's for sure. I've seen what passed as your idea of links though, and I must say I prefer our idea much better." Simon glanced at his wife. "Links in the states are really small and thin, about a third of the size of ours over here."

"Ah," Natalie replied. She gave Jason a serious stare. "Do I dare ask what you meant by looking funny...?"

Seeing Jason blush deeper, Elliot rolled over laughing. Simon, however, saved Jason at last. "You probably should let him off the hook on that one, dear," the man answered his wife. He winked at Jason. "We know, Jason. No worries. You're not the first to make that observation, and you certainly won't be the last."

Thoroughly embarrassed, it was some time before Jason spoke again. "I don't know, the stewed tomatoes were okay, but... mushrooms?"

Natalie responded this time. "That has been a tradition for centuries, I believe, although I must admit I agree with you there. I don't think mushrooms go well with eggs, either!"

They rode along in silence a few minutes before another thought struck Jason. "Um, can I ask about something else?"

Elliot snickered, but quieted immediately from the stern look he received from his mother. "Sure, what's on your mind Jason?" Natalie replied.

"Well, it's kind of personal, and I – I don't want to be rude, or ask something I shouldn't," Jason hesitated.

"It's okay," Simon spoke up. "If we can't or don't want to answer something, we'll tell you and we'll explain why. Otherwise, you need not be afraid to ask anything of us," he added. Jason stole a quick look at Elliot before casting his eyes down to his feet.

"Well, is it, like, costing you guys a lot of money to, you know, let me stay here and stuff?" The question caught them off guard, and silence fell between them. Jason hastily went on. "It's okay, I mean, maybe I shouldn't have said anything, and- "

"It is every bit a fair question, Jason. It's just not something I think we expected, that's all," Natalie interrupted. She smiled at him again. "I think that, from my experience, most teenagers don't think about such things typically." Simon nodded in agreement.

Jason shrugged. "Um, okay. Maybe not, but I can't help but think sometimes that, well – you had to go buy clothes for me and you've done all this other stuff and..."

"Jason," Simon began, his voice full of understanding. "You need not worry about things like this. I will not lie to you and say that you haven't changed the family equation somewhat. You have, but still, it isn't anything we can't handle. We considered these things long before we bought your plane ticket, so you could come over. Trust me: everything works out in the end." He laughed. "The worst I think we have to adjust for is instead of two ravenous teenage gullets to fill, we now have three!" He made sure Jason understood the intent. "It WAS supposed to be a joke, you know!"

Jason smiled, but thought about something Simon said. "You bought my ticket? You mean, my plane ticket from Tennessee? I thought the social services people did that!"

Simon shook his head. "It would have been fair if they had, I think, but no – they didn't pursue that particular expense."

Jason frowned. "Was it a lot? I mean... Maybe I could get a job and, and help out, or something, or -"

"Jason," Simon interrupted, more harshly than he intended. He sighed and took hold of Natalie's hand for support. "I'll say it again: you need not worry about such things. We are not the most well-to-do family you will find in England. I do, however, make a decent quid or two from my employer. It keeps us afloat for the most part, and that's all that really matters right now. Sometimes we make small adjustments here and there, but for the most part we live fairly comfortably."

"Yes sir, I understand." Jason looked up. "I'm glad for you then. Umm, do you like, get any money from the States or anything? I mean, like the foster care program or social services? You know, for me? They can help, right?"

Simon shook his head. "No, I'm sorry Jason, but it doesn't seem to work that way over here. At least not given the fact you aren't a citizen of the UK. And insofar as Tennessee, I think there must be something about you being out of the country that makes that ineffective."

Jason sighed. "Oh… I'm sorry guys, if there's anything I can do, just tell me, okay?"

Natalie frowned. "Yes, we know what you're implying. There isn't anything you need to worry about, hun. But tell me, why are you worried about this? We just told you everything will work out fine, and it will. There isn't one of us who isn't happy to have you here. You do know that, right? I think I can speak for us all – none of us have regretted it in the slightest. We did not bring you here because of an obligation – we brought you here because we wanted to. There is a difference, you know. Do you understand?" Seeing Jason nod, Natalie smiled and changed the subject. "Now, how about you – how do you like English life so far? I mean really, be honest about it – you won't hurt our feelings."

Jason's eyes lit up. "It's – well, kind of weird sometimes, you know. Strange-funny-weird, but I really like it, at least so far." He glanced at Elliot. "I couldn't have made it this far without Elliot, though. All of you, for that matter, but especially this geek – he's been great." Jason smiled as both parents laughed. It earned him a brief glance from Elliot, who stuck out his tongue. Jason could see, however, that his cousin was pleased.

Natalie smiled. "Then stop worrying about the kinds of things meant for us adults to ponder on, and enjoy the moment. Be a teenager, explore, have some fun growing up in this big crazy world we live in – and leave the rest to us. There will come a time, all too soon I'm afraid, where you'll have to change your perspectives, but now is not one of those moments. Let us worry about the things where money, food and shelter apply. We'll all be fine."

Jason sat in silence, continuing to watch the countryside. Memories still haunted him from not that long ago. Living with the old man and woman had created a lot of lies around him, and since losing his father, Jason had lived on next to nothing. The thoughts made him shudder, and he chastised himself for his momentary loss of control, discretely glancing about to see if anyone noticed. Thankfully, Simon and Natalie were looking forward, and Elliot was still staring out at the countryside on his side of the car. Jason was grateful, though, for the Flavell's. These people cared about him, and they were making him feel like he now had a real home. They were giving him a hope, at a time when he felt all hope had abandoned him.

Elliot sat in thought, wondering if there was more behind Jason's questions than was apparent. He knew, or rather felt, Jason was hiding something. Whatever it was, he knew it was hurting him, from the inside. Elliot just wished he could understand it, at least enough so he could try and help. Elliot, however, glanced at his cousin, and thought about how much they were becoming more than friends. His heart ached, but at the same time he understood. He just hoped his cousin understood how he felt, too.

Jason turned away from the window and saw Elliot watching him. In another surprise, Jason smiled and moved his knee to bump with Elliot's own. Elliot's heart skipped a beat, as he realized it was the first time his cousin ever did something like that on his own. That simple act conveyed a lot to Elliot. Maybe, just maybe, there could be something good developing between them after all. Elliot wanted Jason to know, more than anything, that he was there and wanted to help. Slowly, Elliot met Jason's fist midway between them and neither pulled away immediately. It was no longer a simple act of friendship. They were becoming something more.

Simon interrupted their moment. "Look boys, there it is at the top of that hill!" he exclaimed.

Looking out, Jason saw an incline ahead that opened into a vast fenced-in area. Stonehenge stood at the top of the hill – just like Jason had seen in pictures so long ago. He gasped when he saw it, the reality he was there hitting him in full force. This was real, not a picture in a book or postcard.

Simon maneuvered their car into a lot and parked. Each alighted and stood, stretching their legs. When Jason viewed the scenery across the roadway, he couldn't refrain any longer. "Wow!" he exclaimed. Elliot silently observed his cousin's reaction, finding his reactions much more interesting.

Jason noticed a tunnel which led beneath the road towards Stonehenge itself. Before he had any time to ponder, Natalie discretely appeared and handed both boys some money. "You two go ahead and have some fun." She pointed toward the tunnel. "If I remember right, you get your tickets down there and this should get you through the gate and give you a little extra if you like."

"You're not coming with us?" Jason asked.

Natalie laughed. "Oh no, dear! Simon and I have been here plenty of times over the years, and personally I think we would rather just take a nice long walk. You two enjoy yourselves though, we're in no hurry."

Simon slid up beside her. "Well, she may not be in any hurry, but I personally would not want to spend all day here, if you know what I mean." He winked at them. "Just go and enjoy yourselves. Oh, and here," Simon paused, pulling a small digital camera from his pocket. Handing it to the teenagers, he added, "Go make a few memories while you're at it."

Visitors were not allowed to walk directly amongst the stone structures, something of a safety rule that had developed over time. Instead, a walkway closely circled the exhibit. As Jason and Elliot worked their way around, Jason whistled. "You know, I've dreamed about these things, and this place, since I was a little kid. I can even remember my Dad telling me about it, and I can remember seeing it in comics and… and other books, too." Turning to Elliot, he added, "I never thought I would actually get to see it someday! At least, not like this!"

Elliot grinned at him. "Well now you have, so live it up. It's real." He sneezed quite loudly and then wiped at his eyes. "Where the bloody hell did THAT come from?" he exclaimed, more to himself than anyone else. Grunting, he asked, "Do you still have any of those tissues?"

"Afraid not, they're packed in my bag at home," Jason replied.

"Ah well, it's okay." Elliot offered Jason a sip of the soda he had bought. "You read comics, then?"

Although Jason hesitated at first, he accepted the offer. He had never shared a drink with anyone in his life, including his father. Although unintentional and harmless as it may have been perceived, it only further confirmed the bond growing between them. Passing it back, Jason wrinkled his nose. "Thanks. Yeah, I used to for a while. Dad would buy me a few every now and then. That is, until they started getting too expensive."

Elliot looked thoughtful. "Any in particular? Like, series, or…?"

"I read a lot of the Avenger's comics, and Spiderman," Jason replied. "They were fun, but…"


"Well, I didn't get them every month like that, so when you get some, then skip a month or two before you get them again, it was like breaking up the story, you know?" Jason explained. "There were gaps and everything in understanding what had happened."

Eliot nodded. "I've read some here, but we don't have a lot of them." They continued to slowly walk along the path, before he changed the subject. "You know, you did quite a job on Mum back there."

"Huh? What do you mean?" Jason asked, confused.

"All those feel-good things you said," Elliot explained. "She soaks that stuff up like a sponge sometimes."

Jason shrugged. "Um, okay, I guess. I mean, I wasn't trying to do anything like that, really."

Elliot nodded. "I know, no worries." He paused before asking, "Did you mean it, though? I mean, what you said about me? About us getting along and everything, even after I screwed up so royally the other night?"

"Well, yeah," Jason replied in surprise. "Besides, I told you, you didn't screw up. It was me El, just me being a piss-ant."

Elliot giggled, but shook his head. "Then it really is cool." He wrinkled his nose. "Mum is kind of funny about stuff sometimes, you know? But I'm telling you, I know she worries about you. I can see it when we're around her and everything. She's trying hard to be a friend for you, but she's also trying not to be too much of a hen, too. I mean, she's trying to watch out for us and everything, without it being so obvious, I think."

Jason nodded, blushing. "I almost put my foot in my mouth, though," he started, then added when he saw Elliot's raised eyebrow. "You know, the sausages thingy?"

Elliot exerted every bit of control he could muster not to laugh too much. "Man, THAT was fun watching you squirm!"

Jason grinned. "I just didn't think, at least, not quick enough. It... or they, just looked a lot like that guy we saw on TV the other day, you know?"

Elliot nodded, though he muttered, "They look funny, huh? Like what, boner sausages, or...?" He smirked. "She knew though, so did Dad. I mean, I made that mistake once, too."

"Really?" Jason asked curiously.

"Oh, yeah. I was maybe 6 or 7 or something, and Mom was making a comment once about something. I don't remember exactly how it came about, but there were breakfast sausages on the table and everything, and I said something like 'Yeah, they looked a lot like Derek's willy." This time it was Jason's turn to laugh.

"Are you serious?" Jason whistled when Elliot nodded. "MMaannnn... it must have been fun growing up in this family...!"

Elliot cuffed him on the arm. "Hey, now..." Both giggled.

What Jason said next, however, would be forever burned into Elliot's memory. "Is yours that way?" he whispered.

Elliot stopped, staring at his cousin in astonishment. Jason blushed deeply, then started to move on, but Elliot grasped him by the elbow and held him back. Within the stunned silence that ensued, Jason hung his head. "I'm sorry, Elliot. I'm not even sure where that came from, but I shouldn't have asked it. I'm… I'm sorry."

Elliot, however, moved close to his cousin. "No, no… don't. I – I was just surprised, that's all." He grinned as he saw his cousin raise his gaze again. "Yeah, I'm like that, too," Elliot admitted. "I told you before, you can ask me anything, Jason. Even that stuff, if you want. I don't care."

Jason peered deeply into the eyes that met his, then smiled. "Okay, but, I still shouldn't have asked."

Elliot grinned, then bumped shoulders with his cousin. "I'm glad you did," he whispered back, surprising Jason.

"Really? Why?"

"Because, silly. It shows how much I trust you, you know? And it shows me you're trusting me more, too." Elliot answered. Jason grinned, then stepped behind to catch up, bumping Elliot's shoulder in return.

They walked along for a short bit before Jason spoke again. "Seriously, I think both your parents are cool – in a creepy, weird, good sort of way." Elliot giggled, making Jason smile. "I mean, your Dad isn't loud or short tempered or ..."

Elliot observed his cousin briefly before replying. "Was your Dad like that?"

"No, Dad was actually really nice to me most of the time, and patient and... and... just like your Dad. You know?" Jason smiled wistfully, and Elliot nodded in understanding. He also caught the subtleness behind what his cousin didn't say, too. Someone in Jason's past was loud and short tempered. Elliot just didn't know whom, and Jason didn't offer any further explanation.

"Well, I haven't heard a lot from either one, but I can tell you what Mum said was true. We did sit down, as a family, and talked a lot about you, and what it would mean if you came to live with us." Elliot paused, then added, "They really are glad they brought you over here."

"And you?" Jason smiled as they exchanged that weird look between them again.

"Especially me. Look, we all like you Jason. They care – Mum, Dad and Derek – and you already know by now that I care, too – a lot. I mean, do you realize what you just now said a minute ago? You said those tissues were in your bag at 'home' – you didn't say 'house' or 'flat' or 'room' or anything else, you called it 'home'. I don't know, maybe that's weird, but I kind of liked it, you know? How can that not make any of us feel good?"

Jason studied him. "I admit, I am feeling better, about all of this. I'll tell you something too, just between you and me though, okay?" When Elliot nodded, he hesitated before lowering his voice. "I feel a lot better about us, too. I mean that."

Elliot was taken aback at Jason's forwardness. "Then you really do forgive me for the other night?"

Jason giggled. "No," he kidded. "How can you keep asking me that? Sheesh! Now you're gonna pay for that one, right when you least expect it, too!" Elliot rolled his eyes, but before he could respond, Jason stepped in front of his cousin and pretended to grasp the camera. Discretely he slipped an arm around his cousin's waist and hugged him. "You should know better, Elliot. I forgave you a long time ago. Besides, I told you..."

"Yeah, yeah, I know..." Elliot grinned, relieved. "Okay you, let's get a picture of you." Seeing an older couple walk by, however, he had an idea. "Excuse me, sir? Would you..."

The elderly man not only took one, but several photos for them. Jason was happy, especially when they started putting arms around each other. It really was like Simon had said – they were making memories...

The rest of the weekend passed agreeably for the teenagers, and as the new week began, both found themselves thoroughly enjoying the respite from classes. Being able to sleep later than usual, they stayed up until the early hours of most mornings throughout the week, talking, watching TV, and playing various games. Insofar as the video games, it was the personal battles between Derek and Elliot that garnered the most attention. Jason found them fun to watch, and even joined from time to time, but he didn't have the skills to compete with either brother, and he knew it.

During the days, Derek spent more time with them, taking them to other sites around Portsmouth. They visited the docks, the mall, and various markets. It opened Jason's eyes to a whole host of new elements, about English cultural he had not yet seen. They descended upon the naval yards, joining groups fortunate enough to get rare tours inside some of the vessels anchored there. Those included older-based merchant clipper ships, their masts ready to unfurl a multitude of sails, ready to launch as if from a pre-modern era. He explored and studied them in fascination, soaking up the lore as their guides educated them on all facets of sailing life.

They also ascended Spinnaker Tower, one of Portsmouth's highest viewpoint attractions. Taking many photos between them, they overlooked the city and harbor from the highest of platforms. Derek also showed Jason the Football Club, and explained the Pompey references they kept encountering as being their team of choice. He also spent some time trying to convey how the sport was so revered in England, and other parts of the world. It was one topic, however, Jason found hard to appreciate.

That week, however, was what Jason needed to get away and explore his new home. Time flew fast, and as Friday evening approached, Elliot and Jason were in their room once again, this time situated on their bed playing cards. It was early evening, but the day had been full, and both were tired. Their day winding down, they relaxed and listen to the radio, playing ghostly tunes.

Jason could easily hold his own, utilizing skills and strategies playing with cards against the brothers. This particular evening was no different, as Jason held the winning the hand as he had the previous three in a row. Elliot finally rolled his eyes and tossed his cards down. "Okay, that does it – enough! I've learned my lesson."

"What lesson is that?" Jason grinned.

"That you're as good at these things as I am with board games," Elliot replied smartly.

"Does that umm, maybe make us even then?" Jason laughed as he picked up the cards and started shuffling again.

Elliot fell back onto the bed and drew his shoulders back, flexing them before rolling onto his side. Facing Jason, he resigned. "It means – yeah, I guess so."

Jason nodded. "Sorry, but I do think playing card games are kind of fun sometimes. You guys ever hear of Yahtzee? That's a pretty good one, too, except you use dice."

Elliot rolled his eyes. "YYeeessss... it's not like we live in the dark ages, you know!" They both laughed before Elliot added, "You might be surprised, we have a lot of board games over here that come from America." A silence enveloped them both, as Jason finished shuffling the deck and put it aside. They sat for a few moments, regarding each other before Elliot stifled a yawn. "Um, you up for turning in for a change? I know it's not that late, but..."

Jason nodded. "Yeah, I know. I feel like we've walked a hundred miles this week already, so I am kind of tired. We can still talk some more if you want, but yeah..." They were both already dressed in their usual t-shirts and sweats, so as Jason crawled from the bed to put the cards away, he removed his outerwear, laying them in the floor. Elliot did the same, before killing the table lamp and plunging the room into darkness. The evening had turned cool once again, almost cold, but neither really complained. Climbing into the bed, both teens slid under the covers.

"I'm glad we still have two more days before school starts back up again," Elliot mused, trying to fill the silence.

Jason acknowledged him with a grunt. "Don't remind me. I think I'm finally getting use to the change in time over here."

"Well, it's only taken you a few weeks, right?" Elliot teased, causing Jason to reach over and poke his cousin in the ribs. "Ow! That hurt!" Elliot exclaimed. To return the favor, Elliot tried to avoid the arms he knew were waiting to block him. Instead, he aimed lower – but ended up poking his cousin much further down than he intended. In place of the expected abdomen, Elliot felt something unmistakable behind the cloth – something very spongy and soft.

"OOwwww! Damn!" Jason hissed softly, but then laughed at the startled expression that met him. Elliot froze as Jason lowered his voice and added, "Careful, an inch lower would not have been good! I've got family jewels in there just like you do, you know!"

Elliot settled back with relief, although his heart raced rapidly. When he spoke, his voice was nervous, almost panicky. "I'm sorry man, I didn't mean to, you know..."

Jason grinned at him as he shrugged. "Doesn't matter - I started it anyway." He moved his face closer to Elliot, and in the ambient light they could read each other's expression. "It's okay, I swear."

Elliot looked into the eyes searching his own. "I'm glad. Seriously, I'm always so – I don't know – afraid, you know? Ever since that night, I don't want to, like, do something that will make you mad, or..."

Jason pulled his pillow over and propped his head up so they remained close. "I know, but don't worry. You won't, not like that anyway. Like I tried to tell you, just stop worrying. It doesn't bother me, honest – not between you and me anyway."

Elliot could not tear his gaze away. "Can I ask you something then?" Seeing Jason nod, he continued. "What changed?"

Both lay in silence, holding each other's attention. Elliot waited patiently for Jason to respond, and when his cousin finally spoke, Elliot noted a softness in the richness of his cousin's voice. "I changed, Elliot. I just, I don't know... I guess just being here with you, and maybe feeling safer – I guess it's just me. Remember what I told you, when we were up at Stonehenge? About us? I just, I feel better about us, about you and me." He reached out and, finding Elliot's hand, gave it a tug. Both boys closed the gap with an embrace. Elliot snuggled up and nuzzled Jason's neck for what felt like an eternity. He didn't want to pull away - the warmth in their contact held something incredibly powerful and soothing. All Elliot wanted to do was envelop and wrap it around him.

The night of surprises wasn't over, though. Jason then closed the distance completely and moved such that their legs entwined with one another. Elliot was in disbelief at first, but as Jason drew him in, he latched onto his cousin outright. Although the bed was rather cool to the touch, as well as the room's temperature, the intimacy they now shared gripped them. Elliot closed his eyes as a small whimper escaped, surprising Jason but in a good way. Elliot relished the moment so completely that he almost cried in happiness. Jason responded in kind, showing no inhibitions while hugging Elliot as close as he could. It mattered not to him what parts of their bodies touched, or where, between them. To Jason, it was just perfect how well everything seemed to fit. More so, he could feel the raw emotion emanating from his cousin just then, and he couldn't deny what it was doing to him, on the inside, was something similar.

It was a moment neither could have predicted, but both found they wanted so desperately.

They lay for a long while, until Jason finally pulled back. As he stared into Elliot's eyes, he smiled. He hoped that maybe the message now was clear: he really wasn't afraid anymore. Elliot, fueled by the overwhelming emotion he felt, already had a tear slowly rolling down his cheek. Jason could detect a kindness, and ... something else.

It was Elliot, however, who broke the silence. "Thank you," he squeaked, his voice a hoarse whisper. Jason heard a sincerity and tenderness in it. In the darkness, he leaned in close and brought their foreheads to rest with one another.

"Don't thank me, Elliot. Just trust me: I liked it as much as you did, maybe even more." As if to emphasize the point, Jason threaded his arm around Elliot's waist and pulled him back in.

It was a few minutes later that Elliot received his last surprise of the evening. Jason finally pulled back completely and rolled over, facing the window. Elliot was sad that it all seemed it was coming to an end. There were no words that could describe how he felt inside, or the longing that had enveloped him. Jason had done something for him that was beyond his hopes, and it had stirred up emotions inside on how he felt about his cousin, too. He was contemplating this when Jason suddenly reached behind, and finding Elliot's hand, grasped it.

Before Elliot figured out what was happening, Jason silently scooted backwards until they both were neatly molded against the other. Settling in, Jason pulled Elliot's arm tightly around him, drawing them both close once again. He said nothing more for the rest of the night, as Elliot's hand first settled against his cousin's chest. After only a moment's hesitation though, Jason lifted his shirt enough so he could pull that same hand underneath. He closed his own eyes as Elliot found a new resting place, inconspicuously close to Jason's heart. Elliot had a hard moment then, trying to keep from openly crying and squeezing Jason in the happiness that engulfed him. It was one of the truest gestures of trust Jason had made yet, and it was one born of a friendship barreling deep between them. It left Elliot with a whole new set of feelings, emerging with their connection. He nestled in close, and then lay his head upon the pillow they now shared. He whispered yet again, "Oh my God, Jason… I wish you could know what this means to me."

In response, Jason squeezed Elliot's hand and held him closer. He already knew and understood why Elliot wanted this now, maybe even needed it. He understood because, for once, in all the time he had lived, he was feeling something, too. Something so comforting and secure, that right now he didn't care, because he just felt it had to be right. There was no denying that Jason was still nervous and uneasy about this, as he found it hard to relax at first. But listening and holding Elliot so close, changed that. Jason wanted Elliot to know there was something changed in their relationship, and that it was a good thing. There was a reason he felt as he did now, and Jason wasn't ashamed of it. Here, he felt safe, and here, he knew it was Elliot that was making him feel that way.

He knew it was Elliot making him feel whole again.

Elliot gradually drifted into a peaceful abyss, all the while holding Jason close. Each teen drew warmth from the other throughout the night. Although there had been a few rare moments with Derek before, Elliot had never had such a good feeling come over him like it did now. He had doubts, fears even, about how much Jason would like him, if any at all. Those worries melted away, now. Succumbing to a peaceful slumber, he nuzzled up to the back that met him, their bodies finding each other in ways better than anyone could hope for.

What Elliot did not realize though, was that it had taken Jason a long time to fall asleep. Jason could feel his cousin snuggled up tight, including Elliot's nether regions that met his butt. He even felt Elliot at one point begin to harden, and it was feeling that erection that made Jason sense his worst distress. As he breathed deeply to calm himself, Jason knew better. He knew it could happen, and even figured he would have done the same thing if they were reversed. Something still changed, however, as Jason slowly calmed his nerves and outwardly relaxed. Reminding himself to breathe and not flinch, it had a profound effect in helping himself regain control. As the tension evaporated, thankfully Elliot dozed off into an even rhythm, breathing steadily. Jason sighed with relief as, in the process, Elliot's erection returned to a softened state.

Jason's thoughts traveled everywhere for the next little while, from his feelings for Elliot, to their adventures of the week, and to his new 'family' life. His thoughts even returned to what he felt behind him, but long gone was that sense of dread. Jason loved sharing this connection, with the one person that made him feel wanted the most. He didn't care what the cost – he was going to conquer his fears and live in the moment. That thought was finally enough to settle his mind. He finally succumbed to the late-night hour, and peacefully dozed off.

Not unlike any other night, Jason dreamed. At first, they were not at all bad, but there were shadows hanging out on the edge of the darkness, wanting to invade his unconsciousness at a moments' notice. In the beginning, he resisted, laughing at them as he dreamed of him and Elliot laughing, playing and wrestling. The feeling of Elliot's groin behind him stirred from time to time, though. Although it was as innocent as one could have imagined, it somehow broke the rhythm inside Jason's subconscious state. Once broken, it wasn't long before the nightmares found their way back. When they arrived, they descended like an avalanche.

Sometime later in the night, Elliot was suddenly jarred awake. Initially, the grogginess left him questioning himself, whether the last few minutes of the evening had been nothing more than a dream. Elliot felt the body that was still snuggled up against him, however, and he could not help but smile. That is, until he noticed that something did not feel ... right. The body he held was tense and stretched, and it did not take him long to realize that Jason had broken out in a cold sweat, leaving a clammy and sticky feeling between the two. Alarmed, Elliot pushed himself up on an elbow to overlook the form of his cousin. Although it was still dark, he could see Jason's hair matted and wet from the sweat. Just then, he felt Jason shudder, then followed by low, wordless muttering. Elliot reached out and gently shook his cousin. "Jason? You okay?" he whispered.

In response, Jason became more agitated than before. At first, Elliot wrapped his arm around his cousin and held tighter, but eventually he had to pull back again. Peering down, he spoke again, only this time louder. "Hey, wake up man! You're having a bad dream!" Again, with no response, he started to shake Jason's more firmly.

After several attempts, along with a little louder prompting, Jason's finally opened his eyes. Elliot had turned on the bedside light in the meantime, and the sight that met him set his senses on high alert. Jason was breathing hard, and his eyes were wild and bulging. His skin was almost white, as if the teenager's very blood had drained from his face. And despite the covers and the warmth they shared together, he could feel the wet coldness between them as Jason suddenly shivered. Elliot attempted to wrap his cousin up again, and then assure him everything was okay. Instead, Jason shrank and backed away initially, clearly unfocussed and confused. "Hey, it's me... It's Elliot, Jase. It's okay, it's me…" Elliot repeated soothingly.

They lay there for several seconds until Jason finally relented and relaxed. He finally focused on his cousin hovering above him, and afterwards he loosened grasp from the arms that held him. Wiping his eyes with the edge of the covers, he stared ahead blankly. It was another full minute before Jason lay back, exhausted.

"Bad dream?" Elliot whispered. When he saw Jason nod, Elliot hesitantly reached out and touched his cousin again. This time, Jason did not pull away. "Want to tell me about it?" he asked, hopeful.

Jason, however, slowly shook his head. He could not speak, nor did he want to trust his voice to say anything. His right side was sore from having not moved for some time, so he rolled to his left, facing Elliot. His eyes were still wide, but the alarm in them had subsided as he began to relax.

Elliot watched him for a moment, and when he felt comfortable enough to do so, he turned the light off and lay back. "You sure?" he whispered.

Jason's only response was to slide up next to him again under the covers, though this time it was Jason who grasped Elliot and clung to him fiercely. As they latched together, Elliot relaxed and situated himself on his back. He tentatively tried to wrap his arm around Jason, both found it uncomfortable. Instead, he relented to just cuddling closer. In the ensuing silence, Elliot waited patiently. Several minutes passed, and he was about to speak again, but then he heard a deep rhythmic breathing develop beside him. He realized Jason had finally dozed off again.

Elliot tried to relax, but too many questions bounced to the forefront of his consciousness. Considering all that had just happened, he was now more worried than ever. He wondered if there had been other signs of the nightmares, other signs he might have missed before that night. Elliot was admittedly a heavy sleeper, so he knew it was not inconceivable that he could have overlooked it. Could he be unaware, though, of more important things going on? Could Jason have been going through this before, all along, without anybody else knowing it? Elliot chastised himself, feeling guilty. He wondered what he could or should do about it, too – and especially if he should tell his parents.

The rest of the night did not bode well for him.

Elliot stretched hard, tightening his limbs as his muscles extended to their fullest. There was a lot of worry and concern wound up inside him, and he did his best to push it away. Jason, he saw, was already awake and watching him in amusement as his t-shirt rose and exposed his lower belly. For some reason, Jason could not tear his eyes away. He had never had much of a voyeuristic nature before, but seeing Elliot now seemed, as if for the first time up close … interesting. Elliot noticed it, too. In the last few days there had been a lot of firsts, and this one was no exception. Elliot liked that Jason seemed to take an interest in him this way. He smiled to himself more than anything else, and as he gazed at Jason, he saw the wildness from the night before was now gone. Instead, Jason seemed at ease and relaxed. That made Elliot feel better - at least for the time being.

That morning neither spoke about the night before. Whether Jason remembered it or not, he gave no indication. When no explanation was offered, Elliot let it drop for the time being. Jason's memory of events was hazy at best, but he did vividly recall waking up and finding Elliot hovering beside him. However, he also recalled the feeling of warmth and security that had enveloped him just by the fact he was there. Jason soaked it up, pulling Elliot close again and rebinding the connection they were learning to share. So peaceful was the aurora that encompassed him, he had been able to fall back into a deep sleep, this time with the peace he so desperately needed.

The day had been spent as before, running about and visiting another part of the city. As they explored, Jason was introduced to more areas of a lifestyle he was rapidly adjusting to. When the afternoon arrived, the neared the port again and visited the naval shipyards. Everywhere they could access without cost, for they both had limited money with them, they explored. Then they crossed the short distance back to Spinnaker Tower again, in the heart of Gunwharf Quays. Jason likened the area as a major shopping center, like an outdoor American mall. When they ascended again, Jason was transfixed at the sight as he looked out in all directions, seeing parts of both land and sea once again in a new light. He eventually crossed over and plopped down on the floor, the translucent wall separating him from the outside world, but letting him see it clearly. Elliot was initially amused, but having been here already on several occasions, he could not deny there was a certain magic in the scene before them. Joining his cousin, they both sat and gazed in all directions.

It was some time before Jason finally blinked and glanced over to Elliot with a waning smile. "This is, well… it's awesome, Elliot! It may be the best part of this city I've seen, you know?" he whispered. Elliot nodded in agreement, and Jason made one last look around. "Thanks for bringing me here again, Elliot," he added.

Sighing, Jason rose to his feet again, extending a hand and pulling Elliot up with him. Walking away, they reached the elevator and entered. Elliot sensed a sadness develop, and knew then he would have to bring his cousin back here again, and soon. At the bottom, as they exited, Elliot decided to lighten the mood and thus led the way over to a nearby vendor. With what remained of his money, he bought two ice cream cones, handing one to Jason. His cousin smiled and thanked him, and with his disposition improving already, both boys decided to walk along the various boardwalks while enjoying their treat.

Afterwards they trailed back into the city, moving along to the soccer stadium and parks again. In some ways, the scenery was taking on a familiarity now that Jason identified with. He knew they were slowly, but steadily, making their way homeward. It was the latter part of the afternoon they finally arrived, meeting Derek as he was headed out. It turned out the older teenager had stopped by for a change of clothes, before planning to rejoin his mates for the evening. As Jason headed for the bathroom, Elliot asked Derek about their parents. Jason heard nothing more of the conversation until he returned, finding them still standing near the door. Derek smiled at him pleasantly, then began his exit. "See you later, squeaker!" he called out, and then was gone. In the short time Jason had begun living there, Derek had come to nickname their cousin, something Jason found both amusing and fun.

Elliot and Jason were alone again, and once Elliot had shed his jacket he crossed the room and collapsed on one of the two loveseats. "Wow! I think we walked another 50 miles today, or at least it seems like it!" he exclaimed. "By the way, Derek said Mum and Dad have gone out with some friends, so I think we're on our own for a good while. I'm sure they'll go out to dinner, too." Jason nodded as he walked over and sat down beside him. Both boys once again found themselves worn down from the days' activities, and although Elliot was used to the walking, Jason found himself still having to adjust. In some ways, they traveled considerable distances going about the city on foot, or by hopping a ride on one of the trains or busses when they were convenient. The ability to move about was actually easy, however, something that surprised Jason. He commented on that fact to Elliot.

"What? You mean getting around by ourselves?" Elliot inquired. When Jason nodded, Elliot looked thoughtful before shrugging. "There's places here you avoid going, but in most cases as long as you stay in the main routes and stuff, no one ever bothers you. It's safe, I mean. Mum and Dad trust us enough to go out if we're together. If we go by ourselves, that's - well, it's different. Derek can go out and do more, but then he's older and everything, and even he usually runs about with his mates and all. For us though, I think if we're together and stuff, then it's okay. Most of the time, anyway. Mum only gets real fussy if the weather is bad. We mostly just have to always have our mobiles with us, in case we need help or to ring someone."

"I think it's awesome, really. How long have you and Derek been doing it? Getting out on your own, I mean?" Jason asked.

Elliot shrugged. "I guess we started to get out when going to school and everything, on our own, since I was around 10 or so. Going other places, though, I guess Mum didn't let us out until I was around 12. It sometimes depends on where we're going. Like I said, if it's in the main routes and everything, where there's lots of people, it's generally okay. Like going to the game shop. In the spring and summer, they mostly let me go over there now unless it's raining. I don't get to come home on my own though, because it's so late. Mum or Dad one will come pick me up to get home."

Jason nodded. "That's kind of a long way, I guess."

"Yeah, it is. About 35 minutes or so. The whole trek is fun though, and it's in the main routes, so it's not too bad to go," Elliot explained. "You and me have walked a whole lot farther when we're going to Gunwharf."

As a silence fell, both boys kicked off their shoes, and eventually Elliot turned on one of the game systems, handing Jason a controller. Before long, with one stretched on the loveseat and the other in the floor in front, they both were laughing as they raced against the other.

Surprisingly, Jason didn't handle himself as badly as before, for in the weeks since his arrival, he had steadily made progress in learning how to control his characters in gameplay. Today, however, although they were having fun, Elliot could tell his cousin's heart just wasn't in it. So, after a while, Elliot finally laid his controller aside and watched Jason finish his round of the race, struggling to keep his car in play on the given track. There was a faraway expression upon Jason's face, further proof of the distraction that was ever present. After his car crashed, yet again, Jason finally lay his own controller down slowly. Sheepishly, he realized Elliot was watching him, and that made him blush as he realized he had been caught. "Sorry," he whispered.

"For what?" Elliot gathered his hands back behind his head and lay flat on the floor, looking up at his cousin with a keen expression.

At first, Jason couldn't answer. He was unsure what had caught him so off-guard to begin with, or why he was even now blushing. They had come so far beyond this point in their friendship now, especially after considering what had happened the night before. For some reason though, Jason was still hesitant and shy. He looked down and observed Elliot. The beltless jeans clung loosely around the waist, the yellow t-shirt that had pulled up and revealed his cousin's midsection around his navel and down. The white-clad socks, which were just then rubbing each other as if Elliot was trying to settle an itch within his toes. Jason's eyes even returned to the band of his cousin's briefs, clearly visible in the gap that had formed. For some reason, it had drawn his attention, but he could not figure or understand why. The light from the table lamp cast an eerie shadow about the room, but not without highlighting Elliot's figure in an inviting sort of way. Finally, he sighed and started shaking his head. "I don't know, really."

Elliot initially giggled, but then caught Jason's gaze in his own. "No, seriously – tell me," he implored.

Jason held the gaze for a long time before he finally shrugged. "I guess I was just looking at, you know, how skinny you are and everything."

Elliot scrunched up his nose. "Meh, I'm no different than you," he replied. Glancing at his own gut, he sucked his belly in, flexing the lower part of his abdomen before letting it go. "Besides, I'm not that skinny."

Jason scoffed, but not without seeing the increased gap created when Elliot sucked in his gut. Over half of his underwear was visible in those few, short seconds. Shaking his head to clear his thinking, he replied. "Huh? Of course, you are! There's … there's lots of differences between us." Seeing Elliot raise an eyebrow, Jason gathered his courage and did something unexpected. Jason slid down to the floor to sit cross-legged next to Elliot, forcing his cousin to move slightly in order to have enough room. Reaching out, Jason lightly touched Elliot's midsection. It was not an embrace, nor an exchange attributed so many times before that precluded their tickling or wrestling. This was an obvious attempt to purposefully touch Elliot, and to touch him in his bareness. "For starters," Jason continued, "your belly button. You have what we call an innie, while I've got an outie."

Elliot giggled and sucked in his gut again at the touch, but Jason did not withdraw his hand immediately. Elliot, already mesmerized by Jason's forwardness again, reached down and pulled his t-shirt up, revealing more. Thinking of Jason's remark, he extended his own hand and pulled the other's shirt up so he could observe for himself. Jason sat still, letting it happen, something Elliot noted absently before letting go. "Yeah, you're right on that one. I guess..." Elliot paused before he continued. "I guess I knew it, but just never thought of it any." Elliot grinned at his cousin before returning to his reclined position. "Okay, so Mr. Observant – what else?"

Jason laughed. "I don't know – lots of stuff I guess."

"Yeah, so... tell me," Elliot encouraged.

Somehow, it had become a game now. Realizing it, Jason smiled in amusement. "You really want to play this, don't you?" When Elliot nodded, Jason thought for a few seconds before he glanced down. This time, though, he renewed his intent along a different track. He hooked a finger into the waistband of Elliot's jeans and pulled them out so that the tummy underneath was exposed again. "Well, most of your jeans are always bigger on you. I kind of guessed maybe, uh, maybe you got some of Derek's hand-me-downs. Right?"

Elliot's nod confirmed that assessment. "I have several, yeah, but I also have some of my own. Those are the ones I save and wear mostly to school, though. I don't wear Derek's except around here, mostly."

Jason nodded and then let go. Elliot was so surprised at what his cousin even did, he was almost breathless. It was another, ever-so-slight gesture of intimacy and trust they were building. In the last few days, Jason had really opened to him from inside, and each time little things like this happened, Elliot's heart would do a flip.

Jason smiled at him, but then went on. "Um, what else? I don't know, um, I think maybe your ribs and everything – you know, like from the top of your tummy down – they show up a lot more than mine do. That's why I say you're skinny and all. I don't have any baby fat anymore, especially after… well, I just don't. But my stomach doesn't sink in, nor do my ribs show, like yours does."

"Yeah, I can understand that, Jase. What you have, it's just you, that's all," was Elliot's reply, his voice soft.

Jason giggled before tugging his own shirt up in front and looking down. It was the first time he looked at himself that way. "I guess you're right."

Elliot shrugged and reached out, tracing a fingertip along the edges of Jason's stomach. "So? I think you're fine just like that. Like I said, that's you." He watched Jason return his smile. Encouraged, Elliot took a deep breath. "Can I ask you something, Jase? I mean, really personal?" He saw Jason hesitate, but eventually nod. "What happened last night?" When Jason did not immediately answer, Elliot pressed on. "If you don't want to talk about it, okay - I understand, honest. It's just, I have to tell you – I was worried. I didn't know what to do, or..."

"I don't know Elliot," Jason interrupted, blushing deeply. "It's just – it's hard, that's all. I just – I don't really want to talk about it right now. Please?"

Elliot heard the pleading in the voice, and solemnly nodded. "Okay. I'm sorry, honest." He felt defeated, but he respected his cousin enough to back away. Trying to renew their previous track, he went on. "So, tell me, what else do you see different between you and me?" When Jason laughed, so did Elliot before adding, "Come on, you said lots of stuff, so spill it. I want to know what devious little things you think about in your head when you see me!"

Jason had that look of amusement about him again, before thankfully returned to his happier self. Elliot sighed inwardly with relief and waited. Hovering still, Jason reached out to Elliot's stomach again, but this time hesitated. As if seeking approval, he glanced up to see Elliot grin and nod at him. Encouraged, Jason lifted the hem of Elliot's t-shirt farther, and this time exposed a good portion of his chest. At first, Jason wrinkled his nose. "Um, maybe not so much more, I don't know." He studied for a few seconds. "I think your nipples are a little bigger than mine, though."

Elliot cracked up. "Sheesh!" They both giggled before Elliot finally looked into the Jason's eyes. "Anything else?"

Jason shook his head sheepishly. "No, I guess that's it. I mean, our skin is almost the same and everything, and, I don't know. You're right, we are a lot alike. I guess that's all."

Elliot nodded. "Was that so bad?" he whispered. Seeing Jason's confusion, he reached out and grasped his cousin's hand and pulled it closer. When Jason offered no resistance, Elliot held it up against his bare chest, just above his navel. "You know, I'm not going to bite you or anything because you touch me. I mean, I thought before last night, you would never do what you did. Or let me do what I did."

Jason blushed. "I have touched you before," was the weak reply, but Elliot shook his head.

"No, you haven't. Except for bumps and stuff every now and then, and of course the hugs we've had," Elliot explained. "I'm not saying it in a bad way, Jason. I'm just saying, I know it's a lot to ask of you sometimes, but – don't be afraid of me, please? I'm a human being just like you. I'm no different, you know? And when we're together and stuff, just you and me? You don't have to be afraid. Like last night! God, I wouldn't trade what we did for anything!" The genuine sincerity in his voice spoke volumes.

Jason stared down into the gaze that met him. He knew his cousin was trying to tell him something. "I know. I- I felt like that, too." He stilled himself, feeling only the rise and fall of the chest beneath him. Elliot let the hand go, and was happy Jason left it there several seconds before pulling back.

Finally, looking around the room, Jason's eyes eventually fell to the floor. "I'm not afraid of you Elliot – I promise. I know I keep saying that, but you have to understand, okay? I just – sometimes it's hard for me to let myself go, you know?" He sighed. "You're right. I'm not used to touching people or being touched – but last night I kind of, I don't know, I kind of just let my guard down some." He looked up, a lump building in his throat. "Last night, I needed you. I really needed you, and… well, you were there for me."

Elliot's heart skipped a beat. "I'm so glad Jase, I'm so fucking glad," he whispered.

Jason shrugged, smiling somewhat at the profanity. "Okay, okay... I'm glad, too." They both giggled before Jason lay down, stretched on his side, supporting his head on one hand as he overlooked Elliot up close. "You know, after my Mom passed away, it's just the way it always was for me. Dad wasn't really, like, a hugging kind of person or anything. I really didn't have anyone around, and well... you can imagine what it was like if you touched peeps at school. That's all I really had, just..."

"Yeah, you've told me, and I've kind of got the picture, too. Get too personal with peeps and they think you're gay or something, I know," Elliot mused. "Guys can do that over here, too. Not always gay stuff, but I've seen many guys get teased about having cooties or worse. They get shunned, and you can't help but feel sorry for some of them." A silence fell between them. "I'm telling you now, though – you never have to be afraid of that with me. I give you permission, anytime, okay?" He searched Jason's expression. "There's more though, isn't there? About touching, or being touched, or…?" he asked quietly.

Jason hesitated before nodding. "Yeah."

Elliot rolled to face his cousin. "I'm sorry, Jason. I know I said I wouldn't push you, but – tell me, please? What's so hard?" When Jason hesitated, he pressed on quietly. "Did something happen to you, before, or even now? Or over here, has someone done something? Did I do something wrong? Why won't you tell me? Are we still just… just strangers to you?" An edge of fear crept into his voice as he added, "Or is it me? Being a bugger, or just..."

Slowly Jason shook his head. "No, you didn't do anything Elliot, and yeah – everything is still strange sometimes, but it's not as bad for me anymore." He looked up. "I would think you'd know that by now, especially after last night when we like, held each other all night. Like I told you then, it was awesome for me, too."

Admonished, Elliot paused. "I do Jason, I'm sorry. It's just, I don't know – if you could have seen yourself this morning, you'd understand, that's all." He looked up at the ceiling. There was nothing more he could do, unless Jason opened a door for him to the inside.

Jason, however, was still afraid. "It – I admit, it was scary, yeah."

Elliot thought about it for a moment, before trying to find another opening. "So... did something happen then? Something um, somewhere else, maybe? In the States?" He held his breath, knowing that was as far as he dared push.

They both held each other's gaze, sitting in silence for a long time. When Jason finally answered, Elliot saw tears welling up in his eyes. "Please, don't Elliot – don't make me..." Jason begged softly, but he could not finish.

Elliot immediately closed the distance between them. Reaching out, he took hold of Jason's free hand. "I'm not going to make you do anything – you know me better than that by now. I wouldn't do anything like that to hurt you, cross my heart – but you've got to know, you've got to feel it between us." He paused, before lowering his voice even more. "You have to know I care, and that I just want to help. I want to be here for you, but I can't help any if you won't let me in. If you won't trust me."

"I – I do trust you," Jason squeaked.

Elliot's heart skipped another beat, but as he watched the pain and anguish in Jason's blue eyes, he started hurting, too. "Then... tell me. Jason, talk to me – let me help."

Tears now escaped and unabashedly ran down the side of Jason's cheek. He saw both the sincerity and compassion in Elliot that met him, and for the umpteenth time again, it made him feel stronger. What he really wanted to do, though, was just roll over and let Elliot hold him again. Jason knew, however, that would not solve anything. What was it about Elliot that drew him inside so close? More so, he asked himself: could he tell Elliot? Could he really tell him? What could he say that wouldn't make a mess of things already in motion? On the one hand, he didn't want to scare Elliot away from him, but the more he observed him, the tighter their connection grew. Could Jason tell him the truth, his secret?

Jason visibly quivered, the thought frightening him. He had never been brought up in a world of lies, deceits, or half-truths, and right now he had no desire to start. If there was one thing his father had endowed upon him, it was a heritage that supported what a man represents: his honor, and truth. Nothing else. As Jason stared into Elliot's eyes, he asked himself again: could he tell Elliot everything? Could he tell Elliot, what had been so bottled up inside all these months – even though his life had already changed, so drastically, for the better? A thought occurred to him.

"Why? Why is it so important for you to know?" Jason whispered.

This time it was Elliot's turn to hesitate. Why DID he really want to know? Why was it so important to him? He decided he was going to have to believe in himself, if he wanted Jason to trust him. He was going to have to show some level of how deep his own trust was in return.

"Because Jase, I tried to tell you the other day: you don't know what it was like before you got here. I mean, okay maybe some of it, but not all of it. I've always wanted someone I could hang out with my age, someone I could be with sometimes when I needed to talk or laugh or wrestle... or hug or... just not be lonesome, okay? You see what Derek is like, right? I mean, we're close – but it isn't the same anymore. He won't touch me like you just did. He and I used to could do things, and tell things to each other, but now... He's like, he's just gone all the time." Elliot paused, looking around. "It gets worse as he gets older, you know? I just feel... I don't know... I just felt alone. He has his mates, he has his team and his things he does and everything. Before you came along I really had nobody, and it hurt, inside."

Elliot looked down at the floor. "You know, when we heard about you coming, I first was afraid you might be some self-absorbed, stuck-up arsehole at first. I've met some Americans who can be pricks and all. I didn't know what to expect out of you, honestly. That night, when you came through the door the first time, remember? I had been waiting so hard that whole fucking day, scared and anxious and everything in between. I was so mad at Dad, too, because he wouldn't let me go with him to pick you up. Then, when you got here, it was like 'Whoa!', and I was ... I don't know, I was even more afraid. I mean, you could have been anything except what I had hoped for. You could have been a jerk, or some jock, or some creep, or a bully or... or... anything, really! And if you were, it would probably make everything worse. You could have been someone that would have made me even more miserable, you know?" Elliot took a deep breath. "But, guess what? You weren't. You walked through the door, and I saw we were so much alike, physically and everything, you know? And… and as I started watching you that night, I found out you were a lot like me in other ways, too. Don't you see? The guys at the games and at school and everywhere – I can't be close to any of them. Mostly because none of them want me to buddy up with anyway. Not to mention most would probably freak out on me in a heartbeat. Except for Derek, I haven't had anybody close for a long time, like ever."

Elliot shivered as his confession came out. He was on a roll though, and he wanted to get it out and into the open. "I don't know, Jason... I don't expect you to understand everything I have bundled up inside, okay? It's just a lot of mixed up feelings and emotions, and they go screwy sometimes. Crikey, it's weird and cool and scary and even shitty, you know? I feel like I'm the only one that goes through this stuff sometimes. I mean, I think I feel just as confused as you do, but at least I see you here. And… and shit, when we connect, like we did last night? Like even today, right now? It's like everything just clicks. Really, we click. You know we do, I've seen you feel it, too."

Jason nodded. "Yeah, I felt it, too."

Elliot took a deep breath, trying to keep his own emotions in check. "Jase, I look at you, and I see someone hurting inside. Believe it or not, it makes me hurt inside, too. I don't know what that says about me, and I really don't give a fuck, okay? After what I saw last night, it's even worse now, and it makes me … I don't know, it makes me care about you now more than before. And I'm going crazy sometimes just trying to figure out, how can I help? What can I do that will help you feel better and everything? And the only way I know how to help, though, is to try and just be here for you. Like I was last night, letting you feel me and know I'm here. Last night, you were wild Jase. At least until you realized it was me holding you. And that was me, letting you feel I was real, and not a dream or anything."

"I know," Jason whispered. "I remember it."

Elliot nodded. "It's like, when you're touching me just now, really reaching out and touching me, and not being afraid to. You know I'm here, and I want... I need to just tell you it's me, you know? And… and... believe it or not, I feel like I know you're there for me, too." A lump developed in Elliot's throat as another thought hit him, but he plowed on. "I mean, think about last night. What you did to me, what you did for me, was incredible. It makes me feel like we're so much closer now, and maybe because of that it makes me worry about you even more. I know I'm kind of rambling here, but crikes, does that at least make some sense?" he finished, gasping for breath as it had all come out so fast.

Jason nodded, tears still escaping down his cheeks. "Is that why you're so touchy-feely and stuff?"

Elliot sighed deeply as he pulled his hand away, feeling ashamed. Jason was immediately sorry he said it, knowing that something had just broken between them in that instant. He didn't want that though; he wanted Elliot to know he felt the same way. Slowly he moved his own hand forward until their fingertips touched again, a sign he hoped Elliot would understand. Elliot felt it and struggled before looking back up. "Remember that first, night? Remember how you told me later you were scared and how I helped you feel better and everything? I think about that a lot sometimes, and I can't help but feel good about it. Not because of what I did, or what you did, but because it just felt right, you know? Then it wasn't what, a few days later, we hugged each other and ... and ... Damn Jason, please try to understand me. It's like it was an answer to my prayers or something. I've hugged people before, but never like what we did, or why we did it. It felt so... good, so special and everything. Even today, I've felt like shouting inside and everything, and all because of last night! I know, it sounds stupid and so fucking corny, especially since it's between us guys and, and... you know, okay? I don't know why I do it, I just... it just feels good. And somehow, you and me, it feels like we've connected or something. In the right way, too, because that makes it even more special." He lowered his voice to a whisper, his tone almost one of surrender. "Mum told me something once. If something feels right, on the inside, don't worry about the rest. I mean, touchy, feely, whatever you want to call it... I can't explain it. I just know that, to me, it's right, so how can it be wrong, you know?" He pulled his hand away briefly and turned it up in a gesture of surrender. "If that makes it bad, or makes me seem bad in some way, then okay – you can label me queer, gay, whatever you want. Call me names, whatever. But that's me, Jase. I can't be somebody I'm not. Stupid or not, it's just me," he repeated.

Jason was openly crying, surprised to find that Elliot was feeling some of the things he had already been wondering about. "It doesn't sound stupid... it's not stupid at all." His resolve wavered, and for a second, he felt like his cousin was getting through to him in a way that no one else ever had.

Elliot met the other's gaze head on. "I care, okay? I won't deny that, ever." His own eyes watering, he plunged on. "I really, really care – and I don't like seeing you hurt so much, especially like you were this morning, or the other night, or any other time for that matter. And I do see it sometimes you know, even when you think I don't. And the only thing I can figure out, that might help, is to get you to talk – and even if it's not with me, then maybe you can talk to Mum or Dad, or Derek, or someone at school. Just somebody, anybody, you know? That's why Jason – it's because I care, I just wish you'd see that and let me in."

It was a full minute before Jason found his voice again. "I know you care Elliot, honest - but, you don't know what it was like. It was hard and shitty and scary and ... and..." Jason felt like he was grasping at straws, trying to find the right words. "Fuck," he groaned softly, agonizing over his inability to control himself.

Elliot moved forward again until their foreheads met. He held that for a moment before drawing back. He said nothing at first, wanting to embrace Jason with every fiber of his being, but at the same time he felt unsure. This was the farthest they had ever come, period. It was a tipping point, now or never. What else could he say? What else could he do? It was frustrating, because he had bared his soul now, putting everything out into the open. Elliot couldn't think of anything else that would convince Jason otherwise. He didn't want Jason to pull away, especially if there was a chance. To finally tear down that wall of his, Elliot hoped beyond hope, practically holding his breath. If they drew back now, the closeness would be turned away, and Jason might not ever succumb to the idea that there were people who cared and loved him. Right now, no one cared and loved him more than Elliot did. Elliot silently pleaded, caught up in the emotion of the moment. He felt helpless, his own heart racing as it grasped at straws. "Jason? Do you know now? Do you understand how I feel about you? Let me help bro... please?" He took hold of Jason's hand and placed it up under his own shirt again, over his heart, holding it there with his own. "This is me... trust me... please?"

Jason lay there, stunned. He had never been called a brother before, and it struck a hard chord inside his heart. Nobody had ever reached inside of him like this, and then pulled his feelings out into the open. Jason could feel Elliot's heartbeat underneath his fingertips, and it melted him in ways he could not explain. Leaning forward awkwardly at first, he closed the distance and felt Elliot do the same. Freeing his hand, they embraced again with Jason sobbing on Elliot's shoulder. He couldn't bring himself to speak, his voice caught in a gut-wrenching display of agony. He cried, and it was loud, but it was only Elliot there to hear him. Jason felt no shame, no reservation. Just the increasing bond they shared, and just the freedom to let it all go.

It was some time before he could regain control, but he somehow had let all the anguish out. Surprising himself, he was beginning to finally understand something else about the teen he held in his arms. He was feeling something on the inside, something that went beyond the bond of friendship. He finally drew back and nodded at his cousin, still saying nothing as he wiped at his eyes. Elliot's heart skipped yet another beat, as he held his breath. He smiled, but Jason could see that his cousin had been crying, too. When the silence lingered, Elliot slowly let his breath go as a new worry hit him.

"I'm sorry Jason, I didn't – I mean, if I went too far, I'm – I'm sorry," Elliot spoke softly.

Jason, however, quickly shook his head. "No, you didn't. Maybe – maybe it's time I grew up some more..." Observing his cousin, he had already made his decision. However, he smiled as a thought occurred to him. "You really called me a bro? Like, a brother?"

Elliot nodded. "You are. Maybe not by blood, but... you are. Always will be, if I have anything to say about it."

Jason sighed deeply. "If... I tell y-you Elliot, there is one thing you have to promise me in return, okay? You have to swear to me, it stays between us." Seeing a cloud of doubt cross Elliot's face, Jason pushed on quickly. "If you r-really care about this, about me, and if I'm going to tell you, I have to know all the way it stays between us. This is not stuff you go telling someone else about, not even Derek. You have to believe me on that, please. It's … bad, okay? So, if I tell you, it has to be us, just you and me. Understand?"

Elliot hesitated, but slowly nodded, hope building in his chest again. "You have my promise, Jason. I won't tell anyone."

Jason gazed for a long time before he closed his eyes. "What do you want to know?" There, he had said it. Jason finally let his guard down, and felt Elliot draw close to him again, this time noting the feel of the other boy's presence without even seeing him. For whatever reason, Jason drew so much comfort from it, and he secretly hoped he would never lose it. At least not now, not this night. In the cool room, they were sharing their warmth with each other again, but this time in more ways than one.

Elliot was unsure what he should say, but eventually he whispered. "I want to know anything you will tell me, honest. But I really want to know what happened to you, and everything that makes you hurt so bad inside. If you'll tell me."

Jason nodded in defeat. "I will. I'll tell you everything, Elliot. But… it might take a while."

"So? I don't care, no one is going to be home for hours – it's just you and me," Elliot declared. "And hell, Jase - if someone does show up? We'll go up to our room." He hesitated. "Jase?"

"Yeah?" Jason whispered, looking up again.

"Y-You know I love you, right? In a good way, you know." There, he had admitted what he thought he would never be able to tell his cousin. Once it was out, however, there was a weight that seemingly lifted as he came clean. His heart was on the line, and he just hoped Jason understood why.

Jason smiled and nodded. "Yeah, I know. I think I love you, too – all you guys, but especially you." He sniffed and then wiped his eyes with his fingers. "Okay... get ready Elliot... here goes."

He smiled and then took a deep breath...

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