When Shadows Pass

by Sean English

Chapter 9

The Quiet Before The Storm (Part I)

"So, how did things go today?"

Not getting an immediate response, Natalie looked up from her magazine at the young man who had just walked through the door. From his expression, she instantly knew something was amiss. "What is it Jason? Is something wrong? What happened?"

Unsure of himself, Jason regarded the petite woman before responding. "Umm, I don't think so, but I couldn't find Elliot after school. At least, I couldn't find him down at the gym where we usually meet up. I waited for a bit, but..." Glancing around, he inquired, "He hasn't already come back here, has he?"

Natalie paused, frowning. "No, I've been here most of the afternoon, and I haven't seen either him. I believe Derek had team practice after school, so Elliot might have gone with him." She frowned even deeper. "Of course, that would not really make sense either. At least, not without letting you or anyone else know about it."

Jason stood in the awkward silence, while Natalie marked her page and closed the magazine. Rising to her feet, she reached for a nearby phone. "Let's see if he has his mobile on him. Which reminds me, I think we should really be considering one for you too, just to keep for times like this. That way you have a way to reach out, in case you need to get hold of somebody," she added. She then dialed Elliot's number. Within seconds, they both could hear ringing coming from the handset, but after several rings went unanswered, Natalie disconnected. She waited about 15 seconds and then dialed the line again. "That's something you should remember," she explained. "Whenever someone dials twice in a row like this, it means its important. If you're just calling us and we don't answer and it can wait, then let it go. But if it's important, hang up and call again. That's our signal." Jason nodded while they waited. Again, the connection completed and rings could be heard again, unanswered. Just as she was about to terminate the call, however, the other end picked up. Jason could not make out the words, but he did detect a muffled voice on the line. From Natalie's expression of relief, he presumed it was Elliot.

Natalie's listened before she nodded, more for Jason's benefit. After a moment, she spoke quietly into the receiver. "Okay sweetheart, as long as you're safe it's okay. We'll see you when you get home." Hanging up, she turned toward Jason with a puzzled look. "He's alright, but it seems he's serving detention for some reason. He probably won't be home for another hour or so." She hesitated, wrinkling her nose. "That's unlike him though, to not call and let us know ahead of time." She closely scrutinized the young teenager in front of her. "Do you have any idea what it's all about?"

Jason was unsure exactly what to say, especially knowing how the morning had started off. "Umm, well, we both had something happen this morning in English. Not horrible, but honest - I'd rather Elliot tell you, because I don't know all the details anyway."

For several seconds they stood in silence, Natalie regarding Jason. As the silence lingered, he finally grimaced and set his backpack on the floor. "Umm, can I like, uh - you know..." he asked sheepishly, pointing toward the back door. Natalie finally smiled, understanding.

"Sure kiddo, it's alright." With that she waved him through. As Jason disappeared down the hallway, he could feel her eyes upon him the whole way until he was out of sight.

After finally being released from detention, Elliot walked briskly towards home. He was annoyed to no end, and as he trekked along, he found it difficult to calm himself. The evening air was borderline cold, and as he moved, he could see each breath he made steam away in the breeze. The daylight was beginning to wan, and the lack of sunshine invited a stiff breeze across the bay, adding to his discomfort. Compared to less than a week before, the weather was now drastically changed. He made a mental note that he and Jason would have to find heavier coats to use from now on. Cooler temperatures definitely lay ahead now, as fall was arriving in the UK.

As Elliot rounded several bends, the overcast skies did nothing to improve his mood. Granted he had been in detention before, but rarely did he ever have to stay after hours like this. Top that with a new monitor, who refused to be reasonable about letting any of them make calls out, only added to his annoyance. It was perhaps the most humiliating aspect of about having to be late that annoyed him the most. Almost as bad as his English teacher's attitude that morning.

He pushed onward, picking up the pace. Focusing on his route, Elliot was oblivious to everything going on around him. All he wanted was to get home and get out of the cold. So preoccupied was he in his thoughts, upon rounding a bend, he didn't hear the voice that called out to him. It wasn't until he turned the next corner that he heard steps running up from behind. As Elliot glanced back, he slowed when he recognized Derek practically upon him. "Will you wait up? Crikey!" the older boy exclaimed. Pausing only a second to catch his breath, he looked upon his younger brother. "What's got your panties all in a wad? You look like you're on some bloody warpath or something!"

Elliot gazed at his brother with narrowed eyes. Finally, shaking his head he looked away. "Nothing," he offered rather weakly. He immediately regretted it, however, as he Derek cross his arms.

"Nuh uh, not buying it butt-head," Derek replied in a matter-of-fact tone. Looking around, he noticed Elliot was alone. "So, where's our new squeaker at?"

"Home, I hope," Elliot replied before looking up. After taking a deep breath, he relented. "I just got out of detention, okay? Crap-Ass-Apple shoved her tit-fucked nose at everyone this morning, including Jason."

Derek frowned. "Whoa! Three curses in one sentence? That must have been really bad!" He wrinkled his nose. "Besides, you guys took on Crap-Apple? Blimey, I've warned you about her. What the hell happened this time?"

"I- I didn't do anything, really. She just... she..." Elliot began, but then fell silent.

Derek could see frustration building up, and knew he needed to do something. Looking around, he saw a stone bench nearby. Taking his brother by the elbow, he gently guided him over to it. "Here, sit for a minute," he intoned. They were in the narrow courtyard outside of an abandoned flat. The building did shield them from the chilling breeze, so it wasn't as bad there for the moment. Straddling the bench, Derek pulled up even close to his brother. "Okay, out with it. What's this all about? What happened?"

Elliot sat in silence for a full minute before he finally responded. "This morning, Crap-Ass started giving Jason a hard time, and I sort of stood up for him. Then she came after me and I got the axe for it. I mean, it was stupid stuff, you know? He got the lowest grade on that report we were all working on so much last week, remember? And she had to gloat about it in front of the whole class."

"You stood up for ... Jason?" Derek asked with curiosity, causing Elliot to look up at him briefly.

"No, it's not like that, not what you're thinking anyway. She was on his case, like she has been ever since he started. But this morning, he got the lowest grade, and she made some stupid comment, about how it should have been an easy assignment and all. I was like, 'What the hell, how is that fair?' You know, shit like that. So, she called me out on it, even after some of the other kids agreed with me. All because of that fucking Shakespeare book..."

Derek wrinkled his nose. "Wait a minute, THAT book? You guys have been reading that thing for weeks, haven't you? Yeah, I remember when I had to go through that stupid thing, too. It was murder!" He sat back and crossed his arms again. "Didn't Jason just get started like, halfway through it or something?"

"Something like that, yeah," Elliot replied.

Derek was puzzled. "I don't get it then."

Elliot sighed. "I didn't either, not really. She was practically mutilating him. You know, giving him shit for not doing as well as the rest of the class and everything. Right in front of everybody, too. He was like, surprised and everything, but he didn't say anything at all. Then she - she made that stupid comment and... Well - you know me. I have enough trouble keeping my mouth shut as it is, especially when she is being an ass about something." He paused only briefly. "It's not all just this morning Derek. I mean, she has been out to get him ever since he showed up in class the first day. She constantly corrects his English. Every other word out of his mouth, she makes this big doodle of it in front of the class. 'That isn't correct', 'How awful, say it correctly!', 'Do you not know any proper English at all?' - stuff like that. She does it all the time, and not just while correcting him. She makes the whole class laugh at him by playing silly word games and everything, where he always gets the brunt of it. It's embarrassing, because he'll do it one way, she'll correct him, then he'll do it again how she wants it, and she gets all over his case again - telling him it's wrong! Even though he just tried following what she wanted him to do and all! She's doesn't let up!" Elliot sighed. "He's got enough to deal with as it is, getting use to us over here. It's not like I'm siding up with him, honest. It's just, well, to anyone that's just so unfair!"

Derek grunted in agreement. "I think I get the idea now."

Elliot let out another long sigh, still attempting to calm down. "So anyway, I spoke up, and she starts pratting on me about grandstanding. I mean, she asks me something and I'm answering her damn question, see. But then she calls it grandstanding, I guess because she didn't like my answer or something. So, the next thing I know, she sticks my arse in detention for the rest of the whole flipping, fucking day!"

"Whoa little bro! Calm down, okay? I mean," Derek paused and smiled. He was not used to hearing Elliot swear as heatedly. It was good to let him vent his frustrations, but he needed to get himself in check. "Just take it easy. At least, don't let Mum and Dad hear you swearing like that, or you'll get double-dosed when you get home!" He leaned in closer. "I'm sorry though, but I know you. Even that doesn't sound like something worth getting THAT worked up about. So, you got detention, big deal! That's not anything new in our book." Indeed, he recalled a few times they both had paid a visit to the monitoring hall before.

Elliot turned to him, clearly trying to control his emotions. "You think not? Well, what about being singled out as being gay, in front of the whole class? Fucking battle-axe tried to insinuate we were queers, especially after I left the room!"

"No shit? Are you serious?" Derek asked, shocked. "No way! No fucking way!"

"Yeah," Elliot nodded. "Kira Grossman was in detention with me this afternoon. She told me that after I left, Crap-Head tried to let on like me and Jason must be gay or something. Something about how we're hanging out all the time and everything. So, Crap-Ass called me a girl, or some kind of shit like that, and made like we must be a couple." Elliot suddenly relaxed though and grinned. "I heard Jason got her back good, though."

Derek had to hold his sides from laughter when Elliot explained. "Bollocks, he didn't? He did? Oh shit, oh shit.... that was PERFECT!" The laughter was so infectious, even Elliot had to join him. The tension suddenly seemed to seep out, and Derek noticed his brother was finally beginning to relax. "Damn bro, I guess you've had a pretty full day then."

Elliot sighed deeply. "Yeah, I guess. Sorry Derek, I didn't mean to take it out on you. I just, I really wish I could go over to wherever she lives, and give her a gigantic kick between the legs, you know? Probably wouldn't do much good, but..."

Derek shook his head, grinning. "Well, if she had balls maybe, but I don't think that's where you'd really want to kick her anyway." He made a face. "That is one image I could do without, honestly."

Elliot had to laugh, agreeing. "Yeah, I know." After another moment, he sighed again and stood up. "It's getting cold, come on. I'm okay now, I promise. Thanks."

Derek nodded and stood with him. "Yeah, I'm sure you're going to have to explain this to Mum and Dad. Just um, try and do us all a favor and not lose your head. You know, keep your cool. If you use a potty mouth like that with them, they'll likely ground us all for the rest of the month!" Elliot nodded knowingly, and they made their way back onto the street and headed north.

They had just entered through the front door and pulled off their jackets when Natalie arrived from the hallway. "Ah, you're home finally! What a ghastly afternoon this has turned into! Is it getting colder out there?"

Derek nodded as he kicked his shoes off. "Oh yeah, definitely!" Trying to sound cheerful, he took a tentative sniff of the air before raising his eyebrows. "What's that? Smells like pizza!" At that moment, Simon appeared behind her, carrying 2 large flat boxes.

"Hallo boys, just in time! Come grab a seat before these get cold!" Simon encouraged. Natalie turned back to the hallway and called for Jason to come down and join them. Gathering around the table, the Flavell brothers each admired the orange soda Natalie poured into tall glasses.

"What's the occasion?" Derek asked. The sound of distant thumping on the stairs announced Jason was on his way. "Someone's birthday we forget? Somebody got a promotion? Oh, no, wait - let me guess - Mum won the lottery!"

They all laughed before Simon looked his son in the eye. "Do we have to have a reason to enjoy a good pizza on occasion?"

Elliot looked up at his Dad as Jason entered and sat down in the seat next to him. "On a Monday night? Yeah... Well, maybe..."

Natalie giggled. "Shush, and just enjoy it." She cheerily withdrew a slice into her plate and passed the first box around the table. The slices were unusually large, and Jason had to work a bit to extract one onto his plate. After testing the dough, he cut off a piece and sampled it. Immediately, Jason noted a distinct difference in the taste from their past efforts. A look of curiosity crossed his features, and Simon, observing him the whole time, laughed.

"What do you think, hmm? Better than American standards?" Simon asked.

Jason grinned. "This is great! It's not like other pizza's we've had, though. It's more - I don't know, it has a kind of smokey flavor or something, I think."

"It's not your typical fare," Natalie replied, nodding in agreement. "There is a place, near where Simon works, where they use an old-fashioned wood oven to bake them. He brings one in and surprises us on occasion."

"I think they are better than most pizza pies around," Simon declared. "A little fattening, but we can do with a few guilty sins every so often, on occasion." Natalie gave him a reproachful eye but ended up in agreement.

They all ate in silence for a short time before Natalie turned to her youngest son. "So, when do we get to hear about your adventures today? Must have been pretty exciting stuff to land you in detention."

Her delivery was pleasant enough, but Elliot could tell there was a subtle edge in her voice. Meeting her gaze across the table, Elliot suddenly felt himself blushing in embarrassment. Reaching out, he took a sip of soda first before he explained. "Sorry about not calling Mum, but Mr. Reister was the monitor this afternoon. He has this stupid quirk about not letting students using mobiles or anything, even after school. One of the other guys in there tried to call home and like, you know, tell someone they were gonna be late, but Reister shut him down right off and took his mobile from him."

"Ah," Natalie's replied in an understanding voice. "He's the new guy, right? Yeah, I've heard some say he is a bit prickly at that!" Elliot's eyebrows shot up at that, and his mother grunted at him. "What? Never heard that word before?"

"Not from you, Mum," Elliot replied good naturedly, shaking his head. This caused Simon to laugh out loud.

"Just because we don't make it a habit to use, ah, colorful language, doesn't mean we're ignorant of it. And you two-" At first, Simon was staring at the two brothers, but hesitated when he realized there was now a third member of their family. "Excuse me, you three would do good to remember that. A wise person once said colorful language does not make a man, but often shows his ignorance in instead."

Derek screwed up his face. "Huh? Where did THAT come from?"

"Yeah, you suddenly getting philosophical on us Dad?" Elliot added.

Simon just grinned while helping himself to another slice of pizza, before putting on an obvious look of mock hurt and disbelief. "What is this? You think your old man can't be an educated tortoise on occasion?" They all laughed, with Simon joining in. "Um, to tell you the truth, actually no. It is something your wise old philosophical goat just came up with."

That brought another round of giggles from everyone, but afterwards Simon turned serious. "Still, you boys should learn to heed it. I know cursing and swearing is rampant all over the world, and heaven knows only what you hear in that school of yours. But remember, it does not befit a person to show their ignorance in the face of others. You will be much better men in the long run, the sooner you realize and learn to manage your choice of words in conversation."

They fell silent in consideration, until Natalie cleared her throat. "Right you are, dear." Turning to Elliot, she asked, "So, did Mr. Reister give you much issue with answering me then?"

Elliot shook his head. "Not really. At first, he told me to 'turn that damn thing off!' ... His words Mum, not mine!" Elliot grinned. "But I told him it was coming from you, and that since it was twice in a row, it might be important. He just looked up and said to get it over with and quick."

"Humph, sounds like he is prickly, then," Natalie replied, then nodded. "Well, go on then. You still haven't told us, though, what trouble steered you astray today in the first place."

Elliot grimaced and fidgeted in his chair before answering. "Not really anything Earth-shattering, Mum. Crap-Apple was being a pain with somebody this morning, and I just made a comment that she wasn't being fair about it. And then, I don't know, she must have been on PMS or something. Next thing I know she's sending me to detention."

"If I remember right, her name is Crabtree, and you should address her as Mrs. Crabtree," Natalie admonished. Both she and Simon exchanged glances, before an eerie silence fell over the group. Both adults knew there had to be something more, but the general rule of thumb was to gauge each situation independently. Both trusted their children to handle their own problems to a certain level. Neither of the brothers were strangers to breaking rules on occasion, subjecting themselves or their friends to general gags or horseplay. At times, such adventures resulted in detention - at least when they were caught. 'Heaven only knows how many times they didn't get caught,' Natalie thought to herself.

"Sorry Mum, yeah, Mrs. Crabtree," was Elliot's meek reply.

"So, nothing too serious then, right?" she asked, guardedly.

Elliot nodded as he helped himself to a second slice of the pizza. He didn't avoid her gaze, something he knew would immediately set off her suspicion flags if he wasn't careful. Elliot did, however, answer her directly. "For the most part, yeah Mum. It was just stupid stuff."

Natalie studied her son for a moment, thinking back to some of those past incidents. It seemed the boys had always been open in discussing most of their pranks or problems. It was obvious here, however, that none of the three really wanted to pursue this conversation. Glancing between them, she had little doubt the older brother or their new charge had more knowledge. The fact the other two boys avoided her gaze, and held their silence, said something else as well. She thought about it briefly. Maybe this was one of those times to let them deal with it themselves. Assuming, of course, there was indeed anything to be dealt with. Surely, Natalie reasoned, Derek would speak up if it was serious or consequential. Her gaze fell upon her oldest directly, but Derek offered nothing in return other than a smile. Seeing that, she relented. Nodding slightly to Simon, she indicated her willingness to let it alone. Simon's returning smile acknowledged that he agreed. She grunted and finally spoke again.

"Well okay. But you have to admit it's a little unusual. Of course, I doubt your PMS diagnosis bears much weight," Natalie mused, then muttered, "but at her age, who knows, right? I rather think it wouldn't matter."

Simon sputtered and gasped, heartily laughing as everyone else joined in. "My word!" he exclaimed, as all three boys grinned. Although surprised, it was nothing in comparison to how the boys felt at that moment.

They were just relieved that the issue was being dropped!

"Thanks guys, I owe you one - both of you."

All three boys were sitting on Derek's bed, having finally excused themselves from the table. Although the conversation turned to more pleasant things, there was a restlessness each experienced while waiting to finish their dinner.

Upon arriving upstairs, Derek had beckoned them inside his room and closed the door. Turning the lamp on, he plopped himself down with his back against the wall, waiting for the other two to join him. Jason noted the room had been rearranged by now, and the new arrangements didn't make the space seem as cramped.

"No sweat," Jason replied, sitting cross-legged on the nearest corner of the bed. "It's not like we lied to them or anything, right?"

"No," Derek interjected. "But Dad and Mum knew something was up. You could tell by looking at them."

Elliot nodded. "I know, but this - this is my problem. I don't want them getting mixed up in it if I can help it."

"Wrong," Jason intoned. "It's our problem, not just yours. She was coming after me, not you, remember? Anyway, it's over for now." He sighed, glancing at Derek. "I guess he's told you what happened?" Seeing the older brother nod, he settled back. "I just wish you hadn't spent the day like that is all, Elliot."

Elliot grunted. "One day is bad enough, yeah. I'll have to tell you how the next two go when they're over, though." Seeing the look of surprise on their faces, Elliot lowered his voice. "Crap-ass came to see me after first period, and we got into it again. Before I knew it, the witch wrote me up for two more days," he explained, dejectedly.

"Blimey, no shit?" Derek hissed. "What the hell? Wow little bro, no wonder you were so worked up coming home!"

Jason was just as surprised, especially after hearing Derek's remark. "Huh?"

"I caught up with him as he was walking home. You should have seen him, he was on a warpath," Derek explained.

"Oh." Jason was dumbfounded, but let it go for the time being. "So, how did you get into it with her again?" he asked.

Elliot shrugged. "I don't even know anymore. I mean, does it really matter?" He paused. "I was still mad from being booted out of class in the first place. Still, it wasn't so bad - at least not until she came in afterwards. She asked me whether I learned anything from my lesson, which made no sense either, see? So, I - I just, you know, I couldn't let it go. I said something back, like 'Did she learn to not ask stupid questions she didn't want the answer to?' Something like that, anyway..."

Thinking back to that morning, Jason suddenly found his voice and giggled before catching himself. Blushing, he spoke up. "Yeah, you should have seen her face this morning, Derek - she was as red as a ripe tomato."

Derek nodded. "I've seen her get worked up before." Pausing, he scrutinized his younger brother closely. "Okay, I don't blame you wanting to keep that from Mum, but if she finds out..."

Elliot shook his head. "I know, but don't. Please, I think I can handle it for now. Jason and I have almost the same schedule, so if he can bring me my homework and stuff, I'll manage. I can work and keep up, by myself, while I'm in there. We don't have any tests or anything coming up this week, right? Not that I know of, anyway." The last was directed at Jason, who nodded in agreement. "Then it's settled, okay? I'll be fine. I just hope..."

"Hope what?" Jason asked.

Elliot and Derek exchanged looks before Elliot turned back and shrugged. "I just hope her big mouth doesn't make problems or anything for you. You know, trying to say we were gay or something."

Jason wrinkled his nose. "What? Why? And why are you so worried about just me, what about you? You're the one she called a girl and everything!" He shook his head. "It's stupid, and really, I don't care what anyone thinks. If they're fucking crazy enough to spread that kind of crap, because she was ... you know, being a bitch about it..."

Jason had spoken the last louder than intended, causing Derek suddenly to put a finger to his lips. "Not too loud, okay?" He grinned. "Stay with us man, we'll have you swearing like a dock worker!" Seeing Jason shake his head, Derek just laughed and then pulled a pillow up, propping it behind him. "Personally, I wouldn't worry about that part any. Most peeps won't give her the time of day."

"I know that's what you guys keep telling me, but ... I don't know. Back home..." Jason stopped, then corrected himself. "Sorry, back in the States, something like that? All it takes is one guy who just wants to make trouble, then it falls like a stack of dominos. No matter where it comes from, or how it gets started. It doesn't even matter if it's true or not, because once they start to spread, well, you know. It can get ugly. Really ugly, and fast."

Elliot was about to reply, but Derek interrupted. "This isn't the States, though. I admit, things CAN happen here and get out of hand, but we're a lot more tolerant when it comes to sex stuff. More than your dweebs are, anyway." He saw Jason smile at that. "What?"

"You guys and your labels." Jason laughed. "Elliot was calling me a prude the other day."

Derek snorted. "Well, a lot of Americans ARE prudes, I think. It wouldn't surprise me if they're afraid to look at their own arse in the mirror. I wouldn't be surprised if they're even afraid to wash their own family jewels!" That brought a fresh round of giggles and snorts, making Derek grin before adding, "It also wouldn't surprise me if they saw themselves in a mirror with their willy hanging between their legs, and then go all cockeyed screwy and faint!" He had the two younger boys laughing hard by now. Shaking his head, he glanced at the clock beside the bed before suddenly sitting up. "Which reminds me, I better get a shower. I want to watch the new Top Gear episode tonight!" With that, Derek's guests watched in silence as he peeled his polo over his head. Climbing from the bed, he rummaged through a nearby drawer for clothes. After an exhaustive search, however, he stepped back and frowned. "Mum must have not done laundry today. Or else she's still got it downstairs." Shrugging, he simply crossed the floor to his door and left the room without another word.

Elliot watched as Jason admired Derek with curiosity. "Damn Jase, what have I done to you?" he whispered, grinning.

Confused at first, Jason quickly realized what Elliot was referring to. At first, he blushed, but then finally laughed and threw a pillow at his cousin. "Sheesh man, are you always so... so, crazy sex-minded?" he hissed.

"Only with you," Elliot responded with another whisper, and then launched himself at the Jason. A ferocious wrestling match broke out between the two, lasting for the next several minutes. Their emotions had been running on a roller coaster for much of the day, so both welcomed the distraction. As the tension slowly ebbed away, the two found a great deal of solace in sharing each other's company again. Away from the distractions of the world, here they were safe, and free to be themselves. It wasn't until Elliot pinned his cousin on his back, that he paused and looked down into the eyes that met his own. He wondered to himself, once again, how he got to be so lucky to have Jason there, with them. The newcomer was now a part of their lives, and all for the better.

Settling in, Jason relaxed. Studying his cousin, he realized he still had a lot to learn about English culture. The events of the day, however, drove home a now much harder reality showing how much their friendship had solidified. When he spoke, Jason's voice was filled with empathy. "I really am sorry Elliot. About this morning, I mean. I wish you had just let it go."

Elliot shook his head. "No fucking way, man. She had no right, and you know it."

Jason completely surrendered to Elliot. "Maybe, but she's a teacher. You're not supposed to backtalk them any, you know?" He sighed. "Do you think she knows? You know, about us, about me living here? About me?"

"Huh?" Elliot asked, confused. He slowly pulled back to let Jason stretch out, before regaining a seat on his cousin's lower abdomen. "What do you mean?"

"Well, remember that kid in the wheelchair from this morning, Scott? He's also in last period with me. You know, the funny history class. Anyway, we got to talking a about what happened today. Somehow, it came out that you and me were related and everything. You know, that I came over from the States to live with you guys. He got this funny look then - you should have seen his face."

"How so?" Elliot asked.

Jason thought about it briefly. "It was like this light-bulb clicked on or something. I mean, he didn't know we were family and stuff, and he made this comment about how that explains a lot. When I asked him about it, he said he noticed how we had been hanging out a lot together. Nothing bad or anything, not like anything more than just good friends, that sort of thing. But until I told him that, he hadn't realized I was living with you guys. So, I got to thinking - and I kind of wondered about it. Unless you guys said something, I mean..." He sighed. "It's another one of those things that's hard to explain. I know when I started there, no one ever really introduced me as being a part of your family or anything. You know, I'm a Mathews and you're a Flavell, right? Does that make sense? Do kids know we live together or anything? Because if they don't, after Craptree's stunt this morning, they might not add it up right. They might think we really are, uh... you know..."

Comprehension dawned upon Elliot as a big smile crossed his face. "Bollocks man, you hit it! That HAS to be it! I don't believe it ... crap! I think you really hit it! How could I have been such an eff-ing idiot!" They stared at each other for a few seconds before Elliot nodded and went on. "Fuck, and if she doesn't know it, then she sees us hanging out and everything so much, maybe she does think we're being lovey-dovey or something." He shook his head. "I've been an absolute idiot Jase, for not seeing that!"

Jason nodded but studied off in the distance somewhere. "Not an idiot, but yeah, maybe. Do you think we really hung out THAT much together? I mean, I don't see us doing anything different than any other bunch of guys, you know? It's not like we hold hands or... or..."

Elliot nodded. "I know, bro. And it really is fucking stupid. Lots of guys do what we do, hang with their mates and everything. There is NOTHING weird about what we do at all, trust me. She - she just, I don't know, she just decided to pick on us. Pick on you, I mean, and it is so fucking unfair, you know?" He sat back and crossed his arms. " She decided to dump on you this morning - that's all. Seriously, we don't do anything even close to being gay-ish. You're a new kid, you're from the States, most people would understand if a good friend came along to help you out and everything. Fuck that stuff, though." Just then, he leaned forward, propping his arms on each side as he hovered over Jason. "Sure, we hang out a lot, but hell, I don't care. I need a good friend, no matter what anyone else thinks. Especially Crab-Ass! You understand, right? She has been doing that pretty much from the beginning when you joined the class." He shook his head. "She probably got tired of giving that wheelchair kid all the flak. "

"You think so?" Jason asked hesitantly.

Elliot lay back somewhat and grinned again. "So, you really told her she was getting old and going blind? This morning, after I left?" Jason blushed, making Elliot grin even wider. "No, I mean it. That was flipping awesome! Kira told me you said something about, umm, let me think. Something like if she couldn't tell me from a girl, she had to be getting old and blind or something like that! Right?" Jason nodded, causing Elliot to laugh. "It's a wonder the old hag didn't stick you in detention with me!"

Jason shrugged. "I wouldn't have cared. At least I would have known you were okay."

Elliot lay down upon Jason's chest. Propping his chin upon crossed arms, he spoke softly. "Really? You worried about me? All day?" Although Jason remained silent, his expression betrayed the unspoken answer. "Don't do that - don't worry about me, Jase. It'll take a whole lot more than Crap-Ass to really get me down. Like I told you before, she had no right to single you out and treat you like shit this morning. Especially in front of the whole class."

"I- I guess I just, I don't know... everything is so weird right now, you know? I feel like, inside I'm still just confused and everything about stuff here, again."

A thought occurred, and Elliot gazed at him with a look of concern. "What, about us? I mean, about the other night?" he whispered.

Jason shook his head. "No. I promised you, nothing about us bothered me, and still doesn't. It won't, I swear." He sighed deeply. "I don't know Elliot, it's like - okay, like you said: I'm the new kid. I know that, but remember what I told you, about what happened to me and everything? That and how I came over because I wanted to just, like, start over? To kind of put myself back together and everything?" His whole demeanor deflated just then as his cousin nodded. "It's just that, everywhere I go and stuff, it seems ... hard. Really hard to do that. Stuff keeps happening, and... and..."

Elliot thought about that for a moment. "Answer me something: Are you happy here, with us? With me?"

"Yes." There was no hesitation in Jason's reply. The answer came with a conviction that left no lingering doubt.

"Then stop being so hard on yourself and give it some time. You'll be great, you're cool and you're my best friend. Not that much has really happened, you know? Even if it had, so what? Peeps just have to get to know you, that's all - and that isn't going to happen overnight. Besides, I'm not going to let anything happen to you, at least not until you get your head screwed on straight." He smiled. "Not that it isn't already there, just saying."

"That goes double for me." The voice came from the doorway just as Derek stepped in and closed it behind him. Wrapped with only a towel about his waist, Derek turned to face them while attempting to dry his hair with another towel in hand. "Sorry guys, I didn't mean to eavesdrop there, but I couldn't help hear that last little bit." Elliot grinned and offered his fist mid-air, which his older brother met and bumped.

"I mean it though, someone gives you trouble, let us know, okay?" Derek went on as he sat down beside them. In a rare moment, he leaned in closer to Jason with a kind expression. "I won't pretend to know what is going on with you, but Elliot is right. Being with us only a month or so has been cool, but it'll take longer than that to get used to everything around here. It may even take longer for people to get used to you, too. Some peeps, its quick, and others it just takes a while, that's all. Just be yourself - and be patient. All is good, trust us." He began to dry the back of his head with more vigor. "I'll tell you something else, too. No one is going to mess with my little brothers, not without messing with me. I do mean you both, too. You have to know that by now, Jason. We care, even if you are a Yank!" Derek was grinning, and the mood was infectious as the other two giggled quietly.

"Yeah, I know," Jason replied. "Thanks though. I mean it guys, it means a lot to me. I'll try, I promise."

Derek looked over the bed. "You two really made a mess, I see. Sheesh, if you're going to have sex, the least you could do is make out in your own bed!"

Elliot laughed and grabbed the pillow, throwing it hard at his older brother. Derek grinned and started attacking Elliot in return. Within seconds the two were in a pillow fight, each slamming the other from the sides and overhead with vigor. Jason, still half-pinned beneath Elliot's weight, could do very little. That is, until the other two suddenly began wrestling. At that point, though Jason's participation was minimal at first, it became a three-for-all struggle as it progressed. The two junior teenagers ganged up against the older, more muscular brother, and it proved to be quite a matchup.

The struggle between the three continued for several minutes, until Derek's towel began to loosen. Attempting to keep it from falling loose, he grabbed at it whenever he could. Jason already noticed the towel was slipping, exposing parts of his backside underneath. Although he would let up briefly, Elliot would just renew his intensity again, and encourage Jason to help him. The older teenager paid no heed, devoting himself to fighting off the hysterical fits that made him vulnerable to the two.

Eventually the towel worked its way completely loose. Derek obviously decided then to preserve what modesty he could by changing his tactics. With Jason pinned behind him, he tried to wrap Elliot in closer so he could attack his younger brother's ribs and armpits. Elliot showed no mercy, however. Recognizing what was happening, he twisted instead until he had wrapped Derek and pinned his brother as a sandwich between himself and Jason. Although bigger in size and strength, Derek was outmatched in this round, truly incapacitated, so he finally gave in and lay limp.

Elliot, now victorious, finally slowed and took in his brother's plight. Just as he seemed to be ready to quit, he suddenly grabbed at the towel and yanked it clearly away. Derek, seeing the devious glint in his younger brother's eyes, tried to double over briefly to hide himself. With Jason pinning his arms underneath, and Elliot still fixating the teen's legs beneath him, Derek new he was outclassed. He lay there laughing, uttering a few choice expletives under his breath, but finally relaxing into the body beneath him, causing Jason to grunt. Contemplating his situation, with a massive effort Derek finally stretched out fully. Finding Jason's arms along his sides, Derek pulled them up and around him, holding them firmly about his chest.

Jason took pity on him and offered no resistance. He was surprised at how it felt, holding the bigger teen in his arms. It was strange, yet nice, being in such proximity regardless of Derek's nakedness. As he lay there, he felt Derek move and swing his legs out from under himself. Using them as a pivot, the older boy warded off his little brother this time, capturing him instead by wrapping him up. It was no battle, however, as Elliot had stopped his antics. Giving Jason a knowing glance, with a smug expression, he lay there in the quiet stillness, as each tried to regain their breath.

When Derek realized the other two were no longer pursuing the inevitable, he spoke. "Okay you creeps, no fair - two against one!" The words were soft, filled with amusement as he lay back against Jason. Wiggling slightly, Derek shifted into a more comfortable position. Jason was just contemplating again what it felt like holding him, when Derek surprised him by gently squeezing and holding his arms more affectionately. Jason returned it with a warm hug, breathing in Derek's fresh scent. Laying his cheek upon the back of Derek's shoulders, he closed his eyes. It was different holding the bigger brother in comparison to Elliot, but it was still awesome. The fact that Derek was naked didn't matter to Jason, and also apparently not to either of the brothers.

Derek lay there in silence for a moment, his breathing returning to normal. In due course, he decided to lift his head up, where he found Elliot smiling at him. Derek grunted, but looked around again before he spoke. "Hey bro, go see if Mum put any of my boxers in with you two. She said she laid everything on the bed this morning."

Elliot grimaced, not really wanting to break the moment. He was getting the full view of his naked brother just then, something he hadn't been privileged to in quite some time. Sighing, however, he finally rose from the bed and left the room. "Don't go anywhere," he called back, which caused Derek to scoff.

"Yeah, right..."

Jason listened as Elliot walked away until there was once again silence. Still holding the bigger teen, however, he sighed and started to let go. Derek surprised him again, though, by holding the arms in place. "You don't have to stop," he said quietly.

Jason giggled behind him. "Y-you're naked, you know."

Derek turned his head until he could address the boy holding him. "No shit, Sherlock!" He laughed with a devious grin, but then hugged the arms again as he turned forward again. "Guilty as charged, but I don't care. Just um, don't go telling anyone."

Jason hugged him again. "Yeah, but what if I care?"

"Do you?"

"Not really," he replied after a few seconds. "It's kind of weird though. I mean, in a funny sort of way. But it's cool, too."

Just then, Elliot returned carrying a stack of folded boxers. "What's weird? And yeah, Mum dumped some of your stuff on our bed."

Derek eyed his brother amusingly. "Jason thinks it's weird, him holding a naked boy in his lap." He lowered his voice even further. "I don't know, maybe I should be careful - you think he might grow a boner and rape me or something?" He snickered but then turned his head again. "Seriously, though, it's cool. I don't mind it."

"Thanks," Jason whispered into Derek's ear. "Honest, I kind of like it you trust me, too." Derek nodded, and then dropped his hands to the bedside. Stretching his legs again, he was beyond worrying about preserving his modesty. Grabbing a pair of shorts from the stack, he tossed them to his brother. "Pay the price El. You have to put them on me now."

"Aw maaannnnn..." Elliot replied good-naturedly as he caught the pair. "Maybe you ought to let Jason do it," he said mischievously, but Derek shook his head no.

"Nope, you stripped me, you got to dress me." Elliot shrugged and proceeded to thread first one, then both feet through the garment and pulling them up to his brother's thighs. "Lift," he commanded with a whisper. Jason watched, but then grunted as the shift in weight contracted over him. From behind his vantage point, Derek elevated his midsection just enough so Elliot could finish the job. Jason couldn't see anything in front, but he could feel the change as Derek's backside was now girthed. In the process, Elliot took his time and seemed to be enjoying it - something that did not escape Jason's notice.

Elliot returned to sitting next to them both, giving Jason a smug look. "See, I told you he wouldn't care."

Jason blushed as Derek addressed his brother bemusedly. "Wouldn't care about what?" When Elliot didn't respond, Derek repeated the query. "Well?"

"You know... you, around us," Elliot finally replied, after grinning crazily. "Being skinned."

Derek scoffed. "You two are crazy, you know that?" He finally sat up and pulled away finally, releasing Jason from beneath. Jason shifted so he could prop up against the wall as Derek turned to face him. "Is that it? Are you a prude or something?" Jason sheepishly shook his head, causing Derek to smile. "Then the butthead's right. I mean, I don't strip around just anyone, you know, or let anyone just skin me. But you're family now, so no sweat. I mean it, you're okay, so it's cool."

Jason stared back, a lump forming in his throat. "That's what Elliot keeps telling me," he finally croaked. "He keeps saying we're like bro's now."

"Well, he's right," Derek replied, smiling as he scratched his nose. "In the end, it's just us, and honestly, I don't care."

Jason could only nod, afraid if he tried to speak his voice might give away. Elliot thought he observed something else though. Moving over, he sat quietly next to his cousin. "Hey, you okay?" he asked. "What's going on inside that head of yours?"

Jason glanced at them both before smiling and turning his gaze to the floor. "I guess it's just... After all that talk between us, you know, about trust and everything? I guess I just thought it was only you and me, you know? But now it's not. Derek, he's a part of it too... I mean, I just never expected it." He felt dumb for admitting it, but at the same time, he didn't feel as embarrassed as he thought he would be. He looked up to see Derek still smiling at him.

"So, what? Does that mean you don't want me around or something?" Derek asked softly, teasing him.

"Heck no!" Jason exclaimed. "It's not like that at all! It's just ... you're sitting here and giving me the same feelings, the same trust thing, like Elliot does. But you and me, we... how do I explain it? We..."

"You and Derek haven't spent that much time together and stuff, is that it?" Elliot offered.

Jason nodded gratefully. "Yeah. I mean, in a way it's cool I guess. It's just, I don't know, something I never really experienced before." He looked at Derek with a sheepish smile. "I've never had anyone that trusts me like that, and not know me as much, I guess."

"Why? Trust you how?" Derek asked. Looking down at himself clad in his boxers, he suddenly understood. "Oh, that way. Trust me Jason, I got nothing any different than you two do"

Elliot, on the other hand, shook his head emphatically. "Wrong, bro - you're a lot bigger."

Derek shrugged. "So? Okay, maybe some, but only because I'm older. It's still nothing to sneeze at. Right Jason?"

Jason turned red. "I- I really wouldn't, uh, know..."

Noticing Derek's look of confusion, Elliot piped up. "Oh, that's right, you wouldn't know." Elliot gave his brother an all-knowing look. "He hasn't seen you. You know, down there. And he was behind you the whole time we were skinning you just now."

Derek, however, was even more confused. "No way! Wait a minute, you guys were just picking on me last week, remember? Downstairs, the shower, the night both of you came in while..." He stopped, a lop-sided grin forming on his face. He briefly looked away and cleared his throat. Now it was his turn to blush.

Elliot shook his head though. "Sorry bro, it might have been a fine show, but um, I think Jase was too shy to look," he intoned quietly. "Besides, you had the glass all steamed up by the time we got in there, remember?"

Derek grinned. "I did, didn't I?" It was more of a statement than a question as Derek acknowledged. "Damn! And to think I had a good woody to boot!" He turned back to Jason with his lopsided grin again. "Okay, why was that? Why were you afraid?" he asked. Receiving no reply, he glanced back to Elliot, looking for an answer. Receiving none, a devious exchange briefly passed between them that Jason missed. Derek hesitated for only a few seconds, before he reached a decision.

Without another word, Derek scooted again until his back was against the headboard. Stretched out before them, he placed both of his legs across their laps. After shifting to get more comfortable, in one quick motion he pulled the waistband of his boxers out and down, exposing everything his groin had to offer up close and in its entirety. "Okay girls, feast your eyes all you want then," he spoke quietly. Although he tried to be nonchalant about it, he was secretly pleased to get the attention.

Jason was shocked at the bold move, but when Elliot giggled beside him, his own face split into a lopsided grin. He couldn't avoid it this time, as he sheepishly stared down at Derek. Now scrutinizing the almost 16-year old personal package, from only inches away, he looked onward with interest. Seeing the change, Derek decidedly went a step further and, lifting his butt, hooked his thumbs underneath and he pushed the garment completely down to his thighs. He had no inhibitions exposing himself to the two, something which awed Jason from the start. Derek tucked his hands behind his head and watched. Both boys were staring down at him, one in amusement, and the other in obvious surprise and wonder. Knowing he and Elliot had been through this before, more than once, he concentrated more on watching Jason.

Except for under his arms, most of Derek's upper body seemed mostly hairless outside his pubic region. Jason noted, for the first time, how well-defined Derek's chest appeared. It was taut, with the outline of his rib cage just poking out from underneath. Derek's navel, also an innie, had more profoundly fine hairs surrounding it than his own or Elliot's. Those hairs remained in a tight trail down to his waistline, but then gradually thickened as they trailed south into some of the bushiest, darkest pubes Jason could imagine. They gathered like a bed, cradling the base of Derek's huge, thick and uncircumcised penis. Surprisingly, Derek was not in a fully erect state just then, but it was stiffened enough that it lay upward along the center of Derek's belly, extending toward his navel.

Fascinated, Jason once again marveled at the skin that extended up and over the end. Elliot had been right in saying his brother seemed to have more than himself. Jason could not explain why that aspect seemed to fascinate him as much as it did. Ever since he had the opportunity to see Elliot up close, there was a certain curiosity about it that struck him. Jason's penis was different, and for whatever reason, he had just assumed the rest of boy-hood kind was much the same way. He thought it was so cool how the foreskin made that helmet to cover and protect the sensitive area underneath. Finding out there was a distinct difference like this, though, was something else entirely. Begrudgingly, he admitted to himself had never contemplated this in his life, until that night with Elliot in the shower.

When the silence lingered on, Jason made a quiet observation. "You were right Elliot, it does sort of look like one of those sausages."

Derek scoffed in surprise, and then started to laugh while giving Elliot a knowing look. "You told him, huh?" Shaking his head, he lay there and allowed them both to observe him. He was amused at the mesmerized attention he was getting, even from his younger brother.

Elliot gave Derek a sheepish grin again, before leaning closer to Jason. "You can probably touch him, too. If you wanted to," he whispered. Derek overheard and nodded, but Jason - his attention finally broken, looked sheepishly at them both.

"Thanks, but uh, I don't think..." Derek nodded again however, and Jason considered it. Encouraged, he slowly reached out and gently grasped the tip at first, lifting it away from the belly underneath. He could tell its mass was thicker and heavier, even different from the touch - but was still just as soft and warm as what he had come to expect. He didn't play, nor did he do the things he had been curious about with Elliot. What he did do, after glancing at the teen one more time, was gently pull back on the skin. That resulted in revealing a shiny, slick head underneath as it peeked out at them from inside. Holding it for a few seconds, he slowly let the skin slip back up into place. As the skin gradually retreated to its original position on it's own, Jason smiled. "Wow, that is ssoooo cool!" He glanced up at Derek. "Thanks," he whispered, blushing deeply.

Once again, Derek shrugged as if it was no big deal. He had enjoyed it, more than he probably should have. Watching Jason, however, he recognized the curiosity and interest that, he himself, had went through at that age. Finally, upon getting a nod from Elliot, he pulled his boxers back up. "So okay, see? Maybe I am bigger, but so will you guys too, in a couple more years." Grinning, he teased Jason. "So, now you've looked and seen me up close. How do I measure up with you blokes across the pond?"

Jason shrugged, still blushing. "I don't know; I haven't seen that many naked peeps before."

Elliot grunted and rolled his eyes. "What he really means is, he hasn't seen ANY naked guys before. I think you and I are his first, bro."

Derek's eyes grew wide. "Bollocks! No way! Are you serious? No wonder you Americans are such prudes then!"

"I'm not a prude! I wish you guys would quit saying that!" Jason hissed, obviously annoyed but giggling all the same time.

"Sorry man, I didn't mean that quite the way it sounded," Derek apologized. "Over here though, it's different. You'll find out soon enough, especially once you get started in gym. Don't get me wrong, guys over here can be modest if they want. Some are, but even most of those peeps give up attempted modesty sometimes, especially after a game. The urinals, the gym showers, you know - stuff like that. The more you're around it, the less of a surprise it'll be in the end."

Elliot suddenly interrupted them with a sneeze. Annoyed, Derek handed him a tissue before he continued. "Anyway, you'll see. Over here, after gym lots of guys shower, and after teams practice and everything, they do it then, too. No one thinks too much of it, though some guys will get shy sometimes - especially if there are any adults around, or strangers. Like, if when new kids show up. Even then, in gym it doesn't really matter so much."

"Oh," Jason replied, looking thoughtful for a moment. "Okay, then I guess if its normal stuff and everything, I'll get used to it."

Derek nodded. "Trust me. When it comes to you, no one will think anything about it. If you don't let on like it's a big deal or anything, it'll be cool. I mean it, Elliot and I know this. You'll be okay."

"Like I told you Jason," Elliot added, "peeps are going to see you, but you're going to see them, too. I know for you that'll seem different, but it's really no big deal." Derek nodded in agreement.

Jason studied, glancing between them. "Yeah, but what if I-" He stuttered, then dropped his voice to almost a whisper. "What if I get a boner? You know, an erection? Won't they think, like, I'm gay or something?"

Elliot giggled. "NNoooo...."

It was Derek, however, who grinned and explained. "It doesn't matter, you'll see. A lot of us get that way. I spring one every so often, and I'll bet Elliot does, too." Elliot nodded in agreement as Derek continued. "It's natural and everything, see? And just so you know, guys who do get boners do get teased sometimes, but it's all good-natured fun. And like Elliot said, they'll see you and who knows? They may pop a boner or two themselves, and you'll get to see them, too. Everyone knows it, practically everyone does it at some time or another, so - honest, it's no big deal."

Jason considered. "You're sure? They won't think you're gay or anything, like that?"

"Is that what you're afraid of?" Derek asked, before shaking his head. "If that's what Americans make such a deal over, then they are just being stupid. The answer is, here in the UK? No, we don't think that way. Honestly, unless you go over and try to mess around with someone or something, it really doesn't matter. I mean, guys do goof around sometimes, but they don't really try to, you know, 'do things.' Not things that are, like, having sex. It's more like, I don't know, just goofing off."

"How so? Jason asked.

"They might take a towel and like, snap it at your arse," Elliot chimed in. "Or, and this happens a lot sometimes in the locker rooms, they'll pants you - like pull your underwear down from behind and everything, catch you off guard. Just goofy stuff. It's not meant to make you mad or anything, just - it's teasing you, like that I guess. Does that make sense?"

"It's not sex stuff, but it is clowning around," Derek finished. "If you're around me much, then you'll see. The guys on the team, they horse around a lot sometimes."

Jason contemplated this new piece of information, realizing it wasn't as bad as he had feared. In its own weird way, it even made sense to him. As he was running through his thought, he nodded. "Okay, I can understand that."

Derek eyed him closely. Deciding to probe a little further, he spoke again in a hushed tone. "So, can I maybe ask you something then, for a change?" Seeing Jason nod, he continued. "Just be honest with me, okay? I mean, I promise - I won't care, no matter how you answer me, but just tell us. Are you, like, interested in guys? You know, just curious?" When he noted Jason's hesitation, Derek hastily went on. "Listen, it doesn't make you gay, or anything like that. Not unless you make a big deal out of it."

"Really?" Jason replied, his voice just above a whisper.

"Really. I mean seriously, it's okay to be curious. That's what I always tell runt here anyway," he intoned, glancing at Elliot with a smile. "It's the truth, though. It really is okay to be curious, especially if you've never been around stuff like we have all our life. You're coming into the game a little later than most guys, but meh, there is nothing wrong with that. You can be curious all you want, but you do have to sort of respect the guys and everything. Remember, if they don't think you've got an eye for them, then they won't think anything weird untoward you. They'll be cool with you and everything."

Jason contemplated as he searched within himself. He really didn't think of himself as being gay, but he could not deny that he was developing feelings towards Elliot. Without question, some of those feelings elicited some very stark and exacting images. Looking across at his younger cousin, he wondered if Elliot, too, was feeling anything like he was lately. "Okay, I guess so," Jason finally answered after a long pause. "I'll admit it, before I came here - okay, maybe I was a kind of prude. I didn't mean to be, but..." He sighed. "I don't know, sex stuff just, it wasn't anything I had to worry with, even in school or anywhere. I ha-had... other things to worry about more. I guess, both before and after my Dad died. But since getting here?" He hesitated, before deciding to stayed the course. "I guess if I'm going to be honest and everything, then yeah, I am kind of curious. I've never seen or touched anyone before, and it's... it's kind of interesting to see I'm, like, kind of normal and everything."

Elliot giggled. "Trust me Jase, you're as normal as we are."

Jason grinned. "You two, you're like, the best. Especially with how open you are with me and everything."

Derek lay back against the wall again and smiled. "It's cool. Honest, there's nothing wrong with that, trust me."

Jason shook his head after a moment though. "I do trust you - both of you - but it's just hard, you know? I don't even know if I trust myself right now. I'm... confused sometimes. I guess, maybe still scared, too."

Elliot placed a hand on Jason's knee. "You don't have to worry about it, Jase. After what you've been through, no one would blame you." He saw Derek lift an eyebrow at that remark, and Elliot ever so slightly shook his head in warning. Derek understood then it was not the time to pursue it. He wondered, however, if Elliot had finally uncovered what they all had been so worried about. When Derek smiled in acknowledgement, Elliot gratefully turned back to his cousin. "As for us, you and me? You're my best friend, something we've already talked about. You know how I feel, right? And Derek? He can be a jerk-wad sometimes, but I promise you, I trust him with my life. Just as much as I trust you."

Hearing that surprised Derek and moved him deeply. He was beginning to see that the two younger boys really did care about each other, in ways beyond mere friendship. He saw something else too: without a doubt, Jason was still having issues with something that needed to be carefully handled. Observing how tender Elliot was handling him, it convinced Derek that his younger brother did indeed find out something. Exactly how much, however, he had no idea. Derek would have to trust Elliot to know how deep or serious it was, and to speak up if he needed help.

Reflecting, Derek smiled inwardly. He also knew Elliot could be overly sentimental at times, but there was a strong core inside his brother's heart. Elliot was as normal of a teen as anyone would find in most cases, but like anyone, he needed someone to be there occasionally to figure things out, or just listen. Derek had tried his best to be that someone, when he could, but he wistfully acknowledged that lately it wasn't the same.

As Derik observed Jason again, he resolved himself to do better for both his brother and their newfound cousin. He acknowledged that they might not be as close altogether as he and Elliot once were, but it made little difference. With their age and lifestyle setting them apart, Derek knew it would not be easy. He knew though that, in this short chat amongst themselves, added with the events of the day and evening, Derek had to be that big brother. He found he had a renewed spirit, wanting to be that big brother again, and for now, he considered that a good thing.

Reaching out, he grasped Jason's hand. He held it not in a caressing way, but one conveying friendship and more as he gently squeezed. "I'll be here. Should you ever need or want anything from me, just find me. And if I'm not here, well, Mum & Dad are getting you a mobile soon I think, so you'll still find me if you need me."

Jason glanced up in surprise. "Really?"

Derek smiled back. "Really. As long as Dad can arrange it. Um, don't let on you know about it though, okay? I think they want to surprise you." Jason nodded.

"Mobiles aren't so big around here, but since we're off on our own so much, Mum & Dad insist on being able to stay in touch with us. They also wanted us to have something in case we get in trouble, like today. Just uh, don't have it out during school," Elliot explained, to which Jason nodded again in acknowledgement. "That can get a bit prickly, as Mum calls it. Oh, and don't have it out around the dinner table, either."

"Yeah. Oh, and Mum will go ballistic if you get into texting a lot, too," Derek added. "It's the thing, we know, with all the other kids and stuff. Mum and Dad made it part of the deal, though, when they got ours." He wrinkled his nose. "Dad worries about us losing ourselves as a family - a lot. So, they kind of take some of this new stuff a lot slower than other parents." Glancing at Elliot, he added. "We kind of understand it, too. We've seen a lot happen."

Elliot agreed. "Yeah. We just kind of, you know, use them as we need to, for now anyway."

"I probably do more than any of us, since my mates are always conversing back and forth. Still, it's no big deal if you're just careful, that's all." Derek let that hang in the air for a moment, and then cleared his throat. "Tell you what, back to this other stuff. Why don't you both come hang out with me and the team on Saturday? It's the last game of the year until spring, and we're playing North Havant. They're a particularly nasty lot this year, but we've been practicing hard, so it should at least be interesting." He paused, giving the two a knowing look. "I'll be honest. I don't know how much you will get to stick close with us and everything. Don't think of that badly though, okay? It's just because the guys don't really know you yet. At least, not like they do Elliot anyway. He has been with me and the team a few times, so it's different with him. It won't matter to us, though, if you come along. Heck, they already know a little about you."

"How so?" Jason asked.

Derek shrugged. "Just from general stuff I've told them, about you coming to live with us and everything." He smiled. "I think it would just be cool if you sort of hang out for a while. You'll get to know them, and they'll get to know you. Plus, it'll give you something different to do, being at the game and everything. Have you ever played football? Not the American version, I mean our football."

Jason shook his head, but then considered the offer. When he replied, there was an element of enthusiasm Derek heard clearly. "Well, sure! I mean, I would like to come! You know, just for the heck of it." He paused. "But, um, do you think they would want me hanging out with them? I mean, me being from America and everything..." he asked timidly.

Elliot rolled his eyes at this, but it was Derek who grunted. "Don't sell yourself short, Jason. As far as I've seen, you're a pretty cool guy! Like I said, people just need to get to know you, that's all. I know, sometimes guys can be pricks and dicks. Most of the time though, they're okay. You hanging out with me and Elliot like this will be a big plus. We'll even go a little early before the game, if we can. I'll introduce you to the coach and stuff. Then who knows? Maybe you guys can stick around behind the scenes with us later."

"He means we might get to go back into the locker room and stuff, with him," Elliot explained, the wisp of a grin cutting his features.

Jason wrinkled his nose. "Really? I mean... they would let us come in and ... and hang out in there? Like that?"

Derek nodded. "Most likely. Like I said, I can't guarantee you anything, you understand that, right?" Jason nodded, so he went on. "I think so, though. I mean, the coaches don't like opening the doors to anyone but the players, but they don't usually care if our brothers tag along. Like I said - Elliot's already been down there with me a few times, so they know him. You just have to kind of hang out and let them get to know you, too. Let them get used to you being around. When they get used to you, then yeah, it won't be such a big deal." He lowered his voice. "Just um, remember what I said though. If you two do get in, and some of us get to the showers or anything - if you're curious and stuff..." He let the thought speak for itself as he grinned. "Look, just remember to not go in expecting anything. If you don't make a big deal out of it, neither will they. Like I said before, I promise you'll get to see all kinds of dudes soon. If not with my team, then definitely when you start gym next year."

Jason blushed, but he did not attempt to hide it. It was Elliot who giggled. "What do you think, Derek? Will that tall kid will be in there? Sean something... you know?"

Derek grinned. "Oh yeah, he'll be there." he replied, shaking his head.

Jason watched the exchange between the two, his curiosity piqued. "Am I missing something here?"

Derek scoffed. "Sean Hester is like, the tallest 16-year old in the UK. I mean, he's a little over two meters tall - I think." Quickly doing some calculations in his head, he added, "That's about 6-foot 7-inches or something to you. Maybe a little more, I'm not sure. Anyway, he's skinny and scrawny as crap, too, especially for someone who just turned 16, too."

Jason only partially understood. "Wow. Okay..."

Elliot giggled. "Just wait, you'll see Jason. At least, maybe you'll see."

Jason wasn't really getting it. "Huh?"

Derek giggled as well. "If you're really curious," Derek inserted, "let's just say he would be one lad to check out." Derek cupped his fingers together over his groin and pulled away, spreading the fingers as he pulled away. "That dude is hung - big-time! And I don't mean just a little, either!"

Elliot laughed. "Yeah, he's really big!"

Jason finally understood. "Oh," was all he said, his thoughts racing.

Elliot spoke up. "Yeah. And remember what I said about before about red heads? He's one of them. So, remember that if... you know..."

Derek laughed as Jason's eyebrows rose sharply. "I wish I could raise my eyebrows like you two do!" He grinned, then lowered his voice again. "A lot of blokes used to accuse Sean of using dye in his crotch. You know, so his hairs and bush would match his head and all. He's always denied it though, says they're natural and everything."

"OOOhhhhhh, uh, ... crap! Seriously? So, he has, uh, red hairs? Red pubes?" Jason tried to picture that image in his head, before failing miserably. His expression caused the other two to break out laughing.

"It's rare," Derek acknowledged. "You won't find very many peeps like that at all, trust me. But they ARE out there, though." He wrinkled his nose and then sighed. "And some blond ones, too. You'll see. All right you guys, I have some homework to do, and a show I want to watch in about an hour. And I really don't want to spend my evening being some object of attention for you blokes to fantasize and wank over!" He saw Jason blush again, so before getting up, Derek reached out toward him. Pulling Jason over gently, he wrapped his arms around him. The American resisted at first, unsure of what was happening, until Derek embraced him as fully and warmly as Elliot had now done so many times. Derek nuzzled Jason in the crook of his neck and held him. Jason noted the tenderness there, and it melted his hesitation instantly as he relaxed and returned the embrace. In its own way, it seemed special and... complete.

Speaking softly, Derek reassured him. "Remember what we told you. Don't let the creeps get to you, and everything will be okay. Crabtree is just an arse and a bitch, and everyone in the school knows it, too. Me and El, we'll watch your back, okay? You ought to know that by now. You're a part of us - ALL of us." Elliot added his hand onto Jason's back, rubbing it in a comforting manner.

It wasn't just the words, but the way they were delivered that made a huge impact on how Jason was feeling at that moment. A lump developed in his throat. "Yeah, but you guys, y-you're a part of m-me, too. Thanks," he finally stuttered.

Elliot looked on, smiling.

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