When Shadows Pass

by Sean English

Chapter 13

The World According To the Candy Man (Part I)

Jason and Elliot both awoke to the smell of sausages permeating its way throughout the flat. Relaxing in the stillness of the moment, Jason gazed out the window and noted the overcast skies. There appeared to be a steady rain falling, more profound than usual as it hit their window. Glancing behind him, he saw Elliot was watching the outside world, too. Elliot smiled at Jason sleepily, and then pulled himself up closer to hug his cousin more securely. They lay there for several minutes in the silence, enjoying the comfort of each other's company. The rain would have lulled them back to sleep, except for a soft rapping from their door. A few seconds later, a quiet voice called out. "Elliot? Jason? Are you two up yet?"

Elliot grinned before rolling over. He attempted to sit up on the side of the bed, and mostly succeeded - but not without a gentle push from his cousin. Making sure Jason was still covered, he then called out. "Yeah, Mum, we're awake. You can come in if you want."

The door slowly opened, and then Natalie entered bearing a tray of food. "Ah, good. I thought you two might want to sleep in late for a change, so I waited a while before bringing you up some breakfast," she stated cheerfully. Crossing the distance, she placed the tray on the corner of their bed.

"WOW! Are you kidding me? You're the best mother, EVER!" Elliot exclaimed as he cautiously slipped forward before standing up. He grasped her neck and shoulders before giving her a fierce embrace. The enthusiasm was so infectious, it caused Natalie to laugh.

"My, so that's what I have to do to get some special love and attention around here, huh?" she teased. Natalie noted how her son was holding on to her for added support, though not as heavily as he had the previous day. She did, however, gently lower him back down to the bedside, and smiled in amusement as he hastily covered himself back up. Natalie ignored her son's state of undress, but she could not help but glimpse the darkened bruises that covered his inner thighs. Simon had finally warned her about them the night before, so although she sighed, she tried to ignore them for the time being.

At first, Natalie had been upset that her family had so skillfully kept that little fact hidden from her. It wasn't the first time she had caught them downplaying events for her sake. Natalie had had several discussions with Simon about that very fact over the years, but in the end, his logic prevailed. Natalie was the type of mother that could easily smother her children, if not kept in check. Besides, Simon explained, there are some things boys like to believe, such as that they can have a level of privacy surround them. Things that included modesty, girls and sex. Although grudgingly, Natalie had accepted that fact, especially when looking at her own two sons. It was hard, but they were growing up fast, and it was time she began to let go of some of her fears and allow them to make decisions on their own. She was grateful for the level of maturity each had acquired at such early ages. If anyone had earned that right of privacy, through grace and example, it had to be Derek and Elliot. Both were, in many ways, wise beyond what their mere teenage years suggested. Both were responsible, young adults, and thankfully she did not have to remind herself of that fact too often.

The evening before, she had felt neglected. The changes with Elliot hit her harder this time than with Derek, and she voiced that aloud. With a loving arm embracing her, however, Simon reminded her that with Derek, she still had a younger son clinging to her, while her older son was growing up. With no one to follow-up with Elliot this time, all those little things were drying up and coming to a gradual end. It made a difference in how she felt, this time as a parent just simply growing older. She and Simon had sat for a while, reminiscing about the good times they had with both of their sons. That had cheered her up, but then Simon reminded her what Elliot had told her only recently: that Natalie was still the same loving mother, to them, as she was since the day they were born. It was a gesture she embraced, warming her heart again.

Such is the cycle of life, she thought, but for the moment she observed both young men in front of her and smiled. "There are sausages, eggs and toast here. Oh, and there is a little oatmeal you can share. I'm sorry boys, we were a bit low in that department, so I'll have to go to the store soon and stock up. Probably a few other things, too." She crossed her arms and glanced in Jason's direction with a smirk of amusement. "It seems someone here has taken a liking for rolled oats, of all things. At least, more so than the rest of the family." Jason blushed, but only nodded as he turned around and sat up, carefully keeping the blanket spread across himself.

"I'm sorry ma'am, I just... I guess I just like it. In America, we had some different flavors and stuff, but all of it was good."

"Really? Like, what kind?" Natalie asked.

Jason thought for a second. "Well, you could get instant packets that people fixed in microwaves, I think. There were apples and cinnamon, or walnut flavored, or strawberries and cream, or brown sugar, or-"

Natalie laughed. "Okay, I get it, now. I'm not so sure about the instant part, but…"

"Well, over there you could get one-minute versions, which is what Dad and I always got," Jason explained. "You fixed it on the stove and everything, but they didn't have to boil more than a minute or two and then it was ready. Or, you could get the kind that takes like, 15-20 minutes I guess. They were s a lot like what you fix here, for me. Honest, I think they're the best, too."

Natalie nodded. "That makes sense, then. Most of our grocers don't normally carry oatmeal, exactly, but ASDA seems to be bringing this in as of late." She ran her fingers through his hair briefly, before adding, "I'm just happy you like it well enough."

"Do, like, people in England just not care for it or something?" Jason asked, curious.

"I'm not sure about the answer to your question, though. I assume it must have some popularity, or we wouldn't find it at all. Mostly here, people like hot porridge for their breakfasts," Natalie replied.

Jason grunted. "Yeah, I've kind of figured that out. It's not horrible, I mean, but it's not the same, really."

"I agree, overall. Your rolled oats do seem to have a better flavor and texture to them," Natalie replied with a smile. She looked around briefly. "Are you boys planning anything extensive today? I think I heard this rain is supposed to clear out by mid-afternoon, but we're supposed to have a bitter cold front moving through again. That will probably bring the temperature down close to zero tonight." She glanced in Jason's direction. "That's Celsius, by the way. For you, I think that's around 32 degrees, Fahrenheit."

Jason nodded. "Yes ma'am, we've been covering that in our math class."

Natalie noted the sound of annoyance in his response. "Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to be ill-mannered then."

Jason shook his head. "No ma'am, it's not that. It's this whole Metric-Celsius thing. I mean, it's kind of hard to adapt to it."

A look of understanding crossed Natalie's face. "Oh, I get it. Yes, there are some differences I'm sure. I'm afraid I'm not very good going the other way, so you're going to be on your own for that one. All I can remember is 0 to us is 32 to you. Everything else is up for F-I-O!" When Natalie saw Jason's look of curiosity, she giggled. "That means Figure-It-Out!" Jason grinned before shaking his head, causing both Natalie and Elliot to laugh.

Natalie moved back to the door. "Well, eat up boys, and don't forget your physiotherapy, Elliot. You have to go back and see the doctor tomorrow afternoon, and I'm sure the man will be able to tell whether you've slacked off - or not. Otherwise, if you boys need anything, I'll be downstairs."

"Okay Mum... and thanks!" Elliot called out as Natalie closed the door behind her. Both boys then scrambled from under the covers and attacked the food. Elliot picked up the bowl of oatmeal and handed it to Jason. "Here, you can have it. I don't think I want any this morning."

"You sure?" Jason asked. Seeing Elliot nod, he proceeded to look for a spoon. Once the utensils were found, Jason pulled some sugar packets from the side of the tray and emptied their contents into the bowl, which already had a sizable amount of butter melting away inside. Thus sweetened, he started to scoop it up. "Mmmm, your Mom does this stuff the best!" Jason mumbled. It was the one food thus far that Natalie had mastered, making it taste as good as, or better, than what he had in the States. In no time, he finished the contents of the bowl, and then quickly speared one of the sausages with a fork. Holding one up in front of him, he observed it closely in detail, before smirking.

Elliot noticed and snorted. "Remind you of something?"

Jason grinned but didn't say anything, instead choosing to take a reasonably sized bite. Elliot laughed again and grabbed his groin in feigned indignation. "Bro! Don't eat me like that!" he hissed, but he could not keep the merriment out of his voice. In fact, the laughter escalated even more as he watched Jason afterwards. With a raised eyebrow and a sly look, Jason took another sizeable bite. This time, however, he was much more sensual in his quest by moving the sausage around his lips. Both were overcome in laughter, almost causing the tray to almost fall to the floor. Fortunately, Elliot caught it just in time.

They finished the food and then shared the single container of juice. This was another one of those little things Jason observed with a deep feeling of gratitude. He had never 'shared' glasses, sodas, or food of any sort while growing up, especially with his own father. Not that it had been frowned upon, but it was just the type of thing Jason's father never did. Coming here though, into this family, he watched Derek and Elliot share a lot of things from the beginning, and they in turn had started sharing with him. It was a totally new concept for Jason to experience. Jason likened it to the trust he was building with them, and inside it made him feel happy. When he, Elliot or Derek did things like this, it was personal.

Elliot got to his feet, shaky at first, but without any assistance. Crossing to their drawers, he rummaged inside until he pulled out two pair of matching, heavy sweats. Making his way back to the corner of the bed, he tossed one to Jason before sitting down and slowly donning his own pair. "Come on, I have to pee, and I really think I need you to go down the steps with me," Elliot said simply. Jason nodded, also beginning to experience a similar state of discomfort.

Jason picked up the tray of dishes while Elliot stood. Working together, the two slowly made their way out of the room and down the stairwell to the first floor. Elliot still had to lean on Jason heavily at first, especially while steadying his balance. As they continued moving, however, his steps became surer. Upon entering the kitchen, they found Natalie was cleaning up. She was about to speak, but was interrupted by the ringing of the telephone. After glancing at the caller ID, she answered it while moving into the hallway, passing them by. Jason sat the tray on the counter, and then guided his cousin into the bathroom. Barely getting the door closed in time, he turned behind him to discover Elliot had already made it to the toilet on his own. Sighing heavily, Elliot wasted no time in relieving himself. Jason grunted. "You weren't kidding, were you? Sheesh, that was fast!" he quipped, but quickly followed to stand by his cousin. Elliot was surprised, especially when he saw how easily Jason just walked up and 'did it'.

Jason glanced at him and shrugged. "What?"

"No more shyness?" Elliot asked.

"Nope," came the quick reply. Glancing again, Jason saw the grin that met him. Rolling his eyes, he added, "I know, I know... you told me so, right?"

Elliot snickered as he finished up, before moving to wash his hands. "Yep!" was the simple reply. Jason blushed momentarily as he finished, then flushed the toilet and joined his cousin. After washing and drying their hands, Jason once again guided them both back out into the kitchen. Natalie had not yet returned, so Jason stepped away long enough to rapidly sort their dishes and put the tray away. Once done, they both made their way back to their room.

Once inside, Jason picked up their clothes from the night before. Glancing about the room, he collected a few other odd garments before disappearing again. Moving quickly down the stairs, his intent was to sort them away into their respective hampers. As he was separating them, however, he was surprised to find a folded note lying between them. Flipping it over, he found their names 'To Elliot and Jason' written on the outside. He stopped and opened it. Inside was a simple message, and he smiled as he realized it was from Derek. Quickly finishing the sort, he returned to their room, smiling as he handed it over to Elliot. "'Don't forget - I still care about both of you, too!'," Elliot read aloud. He looked up. "See, I told you. He can be awesome, sometimes," he whispered.

The rest of the day crawled by slowly. Each sat down with their textbooks and tried, for a time, to work out portions of their homework. Neither wanted to fall behind, knowing it would make things more difficult to catch up later, but it was not easy. To be fair, both Elliot and Jason expended considerable effort on their assignments, but their attention spans were tested in more ways than one. With the dreary weather outside, and the quietness of their room enveloping them, time slipped by excruciatingly slow. Finally, after a couple of hours had passed, Elliot closed his book and exclaimed, "Enough!" Jason was just as relieved.

After putting their books and supplies away, both boys began to play cards again. As the afternoon dawned, Jason helped Elliot get through his exercises, something the youth was handling much better now than he had the day before. Before long, the sun did pop out as Natalie had surmised, and its rays brightened the room, and their moods, substantially.

Heading downstairs, they met Natalie once again in the kitchen. She had just finished constructing two grilled ham and cheese sandwiches. "There are crisps in the pantry, there on the second shelf," she indicated, another term Jason found difficult getting used to. This one, however, caused a great deal amusement the whole family could enjoy and debate over.

Jason discovered that 'crisps' were actually the American version of potato chips. Another term, 'fries', as it turned out, were known in the UK as 'chips.' Adding to Jason's amusement was the fact how crisps were labeled and flavored in the UK. Using interesting names, the UK used versions included 'Roast Chicken', 'Ham and Mustard', and 'Pickled Onion', among many others. When he looked in the pantry just then, however, he laughed as he pulled out a package. "Tomato Ketchup," he mused aloud, shaking his head.

Natalie looked up. "What was all that about?" she asked, amused.

"These potato chips, they're called 'Tomato Ketchup'. That's just … weird!" he exclaimed with a toothy grin. Natalie smirked at him, returning to finish her task. Nevertheless, Jason poured a generous quantity onto a paper towel for him and Elliot to share, before returning the bag. He and Natalie then proceeded to take the food to the front room, where they all sat down at the table.

While they ate, Natalie called out to them. "Are you two still going down to the game shop tonight?" When Elliot's eyes lit up, she threw both hands up to stop him. "Okay, okay, dumb question, I should have known better. Don't give me the third degree, for heaven's sake!" They all laughed before she continued. "I was just going to tell you, make sure you dress warmly, and then let me know when you're ready to go. I'll drive you down there, then afterwards your Dad will pick you up around 8-ish or so."

"That sounds great Mum, thanks!" Elliot replied enthusiastically. He looked at the clock. "Um, do you think maybe we could go a little early? I could catch up on some of the stuff I've missed maybe? Like, around 4:30 or 5:00?"

"I think that could work out," she replied, before rising and disappearing back down the hallway.

Elliot turned to Jason. "That's only a couple of hours out. What say we go ahead and get ready? When we go back up, I mean." Jason nodded in agreement.

The trip to the shop was uneventful, short of the fact it was bitterly cold outside. Natalie had remarked once again how unusual it was for that time of year, and especially for being as far south as they were. Jason, his curiosity piqued now since she had mentioned it before, inquired about it.

"Well, we're next to the bay see, and the ocean here brings most of our weather in from the West. You must go about 40 to 50 miles or so North, toward London, before any of the northern currents and jet streams bring the colder weather into the mainland. Same for snow. Because the coast here is so enveloped by the sea, the waters are warmer than around the rest of Great Britain. That means we don't usually get a lot of snow. You can go to London or Manchester, however, farther north, and it will be totally different. There, they aren't affected by the currents like we are. They'll have several inches of snow fall every year before the winter season is over." She paused. "What about where you lived in the States, Jason? Did you have a lot of snow there?"

Jason wrinkled his nose. "Not really. We got a couple of snowfalls every year, maybe even a good one sometimes. You know, every few years I guess. Mostly it just got cold and wet in the winter." His response seemed to satisfy her, and as they turned the corner, Jason saw they had arrived. Both he and Elliot bade her farewell, with the promise to be careful, and then entered the shop as she drove away.

The next few hours went by rapidly. Elliot had engaged with some of the guys, discovering what he had been missing out on, while Mr. Fulcrum, Ron's father and shop owner, pulled Jason aside. As they neared the work benches near the back, the man showed Jason some new Japanese models that had recently arrived. Again, in most cases, the models had no instructions, and those that did had no real step-by-step guides. Jason was amused at only finding artwork that showed what the finished product should resemble in stages. He commented on this fact with the older man, which drew a hearty laugh.

"Yes, yes … it is typical of some Chinese and Japanese makers to do this. I believe they make it, how do you say, challenging? Yes, challenging, on purpose. Trouble is, these bigger models, they have so many parts and so little labeling, people can make big time mistakes if they are not careful." Mr. Fulcrum went on and asked if Jason would like to take a stab at one. Jason enthusiastically nodded, so the man set him down at a work desk, and then cleared it, creating plenty of room. Looking the boxes over, he selected one and handed it the teen. "Here, this one should be interesting. No worries if you miss something, we just use it for practice, yes?" Jason grinned before nodding.

Diving right in, Jason found it was strange figuring out the various patterns and parts on the skids. With a little effort and organization, however, he started to build the model piece by piece, testing many of the parts before he applied the cement that would bond them together. Before long, it's shape started resembling the pictures found on the box cover.

Mr. Fulcrum walked by from time to time, very impressed with both the attentiveness and skill. He was most impressed with not only the ease Jason attacked his craft, but also the care he used with the smaller pieces. Before time was up that evening, Jason had almost completed the model, only pausing to allow the cement time to dry before putting on its final touches.

Mr. Fulcrum admired the finished result with a whistle. "This is remarkable! And you make it look so simple, too!"

Jason just shrugged, but inwardly was pleased with the praise. Just then, a sharp sound came from the front of the shop. As they both turned, Simon appeared in the doorway, shuddering as he quickly shut out the outside air. "Hallo!" he called out as Mr. Fulcrum approached, before extending his hand. As both clasped at each other, they began talking as if old friends.

It was only moments later that Ron appeared and approached Jason. "I think Dad really likes you. He was just over there chatting with us. Did he tell you he's thinking about having you rebuild one of the larger displays? The one with all the scale buildings and everything?"

"Really?" Jason lifted an eyebrow. "That does sound kind of cool!"

Ron nodded. "It's not an easy job, as there are a LOT of parts that go into it. He's been thinking about doing it for a long time, but just never really gets the time to undertake it." Ron bit his upper lip before continuing. "I guess he's just not really ever had anyone to help him do it, that's all. I've tried a couple of times, but I'm afraid I'm a mess with this stuff." Ron glanced up. "He does a lot of post order business, see, through the mail. Sending out kits, supplies and everything all over Europe. That's where the bulk of the business we have comes in. He loves the shop, too, but he can only spend so much time doing things as it is, especially when we make the most of our money through the catalog," he explained.

"I can understand that. Sure, I'd be happy to help you guys out," Jason remarked. "Uh, do you have an actual, like, printed catalog?"

Ron nodded. "Sure do! We're out now, but as soon as we get more in, I'll get one for you."

"Thanks, I'd like that, just to see and everything," Jason responded.

After a brief pause, Ron clapped him on the shoulder. "You think you and Elliot might want to go down for some pizza with us guys tonight? Afterwards, I mean?"

Jason hesitated, looking first at Simon and then Elliot, whom he saw packing up his supplies in the far corner. "Maybe some other time. I mean, sure, I'd really like to come, but Elliot … he's still recovering and everything. Besides, I think his Dad wants to get us home soon."

Ron followed his glance, and then nodded. "No sweat. There'll be other times you can come with us. I take it the bugger is doing okay, right? I mean, he's limping and all, but nothing looks too bad out of place other than those bruises. I heard about that Williams creep and what happened. It's really nothing but a bunch of codswallop, you know." Ron snorted. "That creep needs to have his own testicles cut off and fed to him, if you ask me." Shaking his head, the teen turned his attention back to Jason. "I'm just glad to see you both come in tonight, really."

Jason smiled and met the fist that was offered to him. "Thanks man, I really appreciate that. It's been kind of hard dealing with it. Well, for me anyway. It means a lot though, knowing not everyone believes in what they hear right off." It was the first time Jason had faced talking about it in the open, and Ron nodded in understanding.

"You should relax, mate. I mean, sure, some people are going to wig out like the buggers, they always do, but most kids wouldn't give a rat's arse whether anyone was gay or not. Not that any of us think you chaps are that way – gay, I mean. Just saying though, even if you were, most guys couldn't care less. You let people get a chance to know you, and you might be surprised how different we can be, compared to you lot across the pond." He laughed as Jason raised an eyebrow. "My aunt married a Yank from the States, see. So, I have a couple of cousins I get to see every so often. They tell me all sorts of crazy stories about things that go on over there!"

"I bet," Jason replied, warming up to the open friendliness that met him. Before they could continue however, Simon approached with Elliot by his side. "Ready to go?" he asked. He glanced at the model work on the bench, then nodded approvingly. As Mr. Fulcrum came up behind them, Simon reached for his wallet to pay for the evening's participation. The shop keeper, however, stopped him.

"On the house, Mr. Flavell. This one has well made up for the both, I think. At least, as far as I'm concerned. In fact, I may have to see if Jason here wants to maybe work for me a few hours a week. On the side, of course, putting this stuff together," he added, addressing Jason with a smile. "I need some models pictured in our catalog, so there is always a need, you see. If you're interested, of course."

Simon was the one who grinned, however, before cutting in. "You're kidding! No? What do you have to say about that, Jason?" he inquired, beaming at the teenager.

"Err, sure! If it's, like, alright with you guys," Jason replied.

Simon nodded. "I'm sure we could work something out. Besides, I'm sure Elliot would just itch for another excuse to get in here more often!"

"Who? Me?" Elliot declared innocently. They all laughed. Mr. Fulcrum stated that he and Jason could talk more about the job in the week to come. Thanking the man, Simon and the boys departed.

While driving home, Elliot and Jason told of their adventures that night to Simon. The man honestly tried to keep up, which was no easy task given Elliot's ability to chatter so rapidly. After a bit however, Simon finally gave in and just decided to listen, quietly amused. Jason recognized the change, and just sat back grinning as he, too, listened to Elliot ramble on. When they arrived back at the flat, they entered to find a hearty vegetable soup and sandwiches waiting for them. The conversation continued well into the next half-hour around the dinner table, with Natalie joining them and listening with her own smug expression.

Eventually Elliot gave up. "You guys are just humoring me, aren't you?" Elliot finally stated. Simon and Natalie looked at one another and just smiled, and Elliot let it drop, knowing his parents were beyond the point of no return. Both boys bid the couple goodnight before heading up to their room.

Passing by Derek's doorway, they saw the light on. Inside sat a freshly showered teen working away at his desk. "Oi, 'bout time you two blokes got back!" He motioned them inside and for Elliot to shut the door, with which the younger brother complied. "Games go good tonight, I take it?" They both sat down on the bed and took turns for the next 10 minutes, bringing Derek up to date. Derek grinned at hearing about the potential job for Jason. Beaming at the youth, he remarked, "See? Already finding ways to fit in! What did I tell you, hmm?"

Jason blushed, but only nodded in return. Derek sat back in his chair. "I've got some news myself. I just found out today that Mrs. Crap-apple is gone," he stated simply.

"Wh-what?!" Elliot exclaimed in astonishment. Jason, too, was stunned.

"Yep, she didn't show up today, so all her classes were covered by different teachers. One of the substitutes this afternoon was chatting with some girls though, and somehow let it slip that the old lady would not be coming back." Derek shook his head. "There's no official announcement, but some of the guys on the team said they also heard some rumors. Apparently, Mrs. Filch was giving her the riot act sometime yesterday afternoon."

"Wow, I never would have thought she'd leave," Elliot stated, more subdued. "What else happened today? Anything you know about?"

Derek nodded. "That nut that let in on you, Eric Williams. He's in the slammer over in Morehead, and word is he's going to be staying there for a good while. His social worker and some foster parent, or someone anyway, came to the school today and sat with Mrs. Filch for a long, long while. When they left, I happened to see them walking out - and let me tell you, they were not happy at all. Not sure what's going to go down on that end. Another one of the guys on the team said he heard that Eric got booked with charges. The magistrate refused to set a bail for him, too. So, he's going to be in there a good bit from the sound of it."

They all three sat in silence for a moment until Jason, in a subdued voice, spoke up. "Do we, like, need to worry about him or... or... anything?"

Derek shook his head. "He's in so much-" He hesitated before dropping his voice. "He's in so much deep shit right now, that even if he got set free, the system would swallow him up again. He would just be put in incarceration somewhere else. See, everybody knows he's needed to be locked up anyway, or at least sent to a psych ward or something. He has had major anger issues for years. Now, maybe he'll finally get some help. You know, learn how to deal with his anger and everything." He smiled. "One more thing, I think you'll both find interesting. The guys, the team - they all asked about you today, and I mean really asked and everything. They WANT you to come down to the game with me Saturday and hang out with us." He glanced at Jason. "That means both of you, too. I got to telling them about how you were living with us now, and how that sort of got things all messed up with Craphead to begin with. They all want to meet you, now - even coach wants you to come down. So, now you're both good to go for hanging out with us, as long as Mum and Dad say okay. Which, I'm sure, they will."

Elliot fell back onto the bed, a big smile crossing his face. "That's... that's awesome bro! I owe you one!" He quickly rolled over and got back to his feet, closing the space and launching himself to embrace his brother. Derek laughed, catching him awkwardly, but returning the hug just as warmly. Jason looked on, smiling at the scene and was again happy for them both. He watched as Elliot pulled back and whispered into his brother's ear. "Also, thanks for that note this morning, too. I think you almost made Jason cry again," Elliot teased. He glanced back with a sly expression, which made Jason scoff good-naturedly.

Derek smiled back. "You both deserved it. After last night, I honestly felt bad in a way all day, but I also felt really good, too. I'm lucky to have you two still here, you know? Still with me, too."

Jason responded by getting up and joining the other two in the embrace, whispering back, "No Derek, we're the lucky ones."

Jason quietly slipped out of bed the next morning, using as much care as possible to not disturb Elliot. As he quickly dressed, he dreaded having to go to school without his cousin, knowing that there were still unknown mysteries lying ahead that would need to be conquered. Not knowing how this day would unfold, he steeled his nerves and decided, no matter what, he would face it as best he could. As he closed the door though, he noticed Derek also coming from his own room. The teen waited until Jason joined him, and then the two made their way silently downstairs. Derek headed first to the bathroom while Jason sat down on the steps and donned his sneakers. When the older teen returned, Jason took his turn.

Entering the front room, neither had yet spoken to the other. The morning was quiet, a certain amount of ambient silence enveloping them. They found both Simon and Natalie sitting at the table and sipping coffee. A plate of scones and Danish pastries sat between them, and each of the boys reached for one as they sat on the other side of the table. Both adults were silently looking out the window into the gloomy street, enjoying their own quiet moment.

It was Simon who finally broke the silence. "Another bitter cold morning, gents," he observed, then nodded approvingly. "Ah, you did put on your sweat-shirts. I was just telling your Mum I hoped that you would. You're probably going to need them a good bit today."

Natalie began fussing at Derek, brushing lint from the boy's shoulders. "What do you do, keep your clothes in the floor up there?" she breathed, shaking her head before quitting. "One would think I don't take care of you boys at all, given the way you go out of this place sometimes!"

Derek grunted. "You know better than that, Mum."

Taking another drink of her coffee, Natalie continued. "Do you know what time you will be home tonight, dear?" she asked, addressing Simon, who promptly shook his head.

"Right now, no. Even though it's Friday, we have a group coming down from Manchester this afternoon. I guess it will depend on what time they all finish up."

Natalie nodded. "Well, give me a ring, and Elliot and I will try to have dinner ready for you guys." She heaved a sigh. "We've all eaten out so much this week, I sort of miss dining here at home - and I figure this is as good a day as any to fix a decent meal. Tomorrow will be spent outside again, with the game and all, I'm sure."

Simon agreed. "It would be nice to have a good home cooked meal for a change. If you want, Sunday I might even try to get the grill going and cook some chicken, or burgers, or both."

Natalie smiled approvingly. "That would be so lovely!"

Jason watched the exchange with keen interest, noting how easily they spoke with one another, especially given the early hour. He had never noticed this family dynamic before, at least not since coming to the UK. His early morning life was always comprised of just getting up on his own, grabbing some Pop-Tarts and then heading out to catch the school bus. Sometimes his Dad would get up to see him off, but more often than not the man had continued sleeping. It was another progressive notch in seeing the little things, within this family, that made up how well this household functioned.

All too soon, however, it came time for him and Derek to leave. Simon stood up. "Come on boys, there's no reason for you to suffer this weather on foot. I'll drop you by the school," he announced.

The ride was short and silent, with the only interruption coming at the end, when both boys thanked the man for the lift. At the entrance to the school, Derek halted and pulled Jason aside. "Listen squeaker, trust me - everything will be just fine today, you'll see. But if you need me, for ANY reason, you know where to find me, okay? You still have my class schedule I gave you the other day, right?" Natalie had made all three boys sit down and make out their schedules for each other. Just in case the need arose again, and they needed to find one another in a hurry.

Jason nodded. "Sure do. Thanks, D," he replied, using a new nickname that seemed fitting for the moment.

Derek grinned, "Anytime, squeaker!" He brought his fist up for the proverbial bump, then they both disappeared through the large double doors to begin their day.

From the moment Jason stopped at his locker, to the moment he entered his homeroom, Jason felt as if there was a different air in the school. Some of his peers were talking in groups - in the hallways, the stairwells, the classrooms and more. At first, Jason didn't pay a lot of attention, as they all carried on with the usual amount of laughter and other banter. As he neared homeroom, however, he keyed into the fact that most of the groups were more upbeat and talkative than usual. Part of the reason could be credited to it being a Friday, meaning the last day of the school week. Some of it could also be credited, too, to the game which was still scheduled for Saturday as planned - despite the forecast for more rain. Jason had learned that games were not as susceptible to weather conditions in the UK – most went on, rain or shine, storms or not.

Jason could sense something more, though. It was as if a kind of electricity was in the student body. As he passed various kids of all ages, some looked at him in the eyes, nodded and uncharacteristically smiled at him, too. Jason felt for certain, after the first few encounters, he was being marked out of the crowd. A few even greeted him as he passed by, which surprised Jason to no end as being so unexpected. At first it was unsettling, but the more and more Jason threaded his way through the crowd, the more he relaxed.

Once checked in, moving into first period class was no different. Moving down one of the classroom rows, he spotted Scott Beaker near the back. Thinking quickly, he decided to join the teen that day, especially since Elliot was at home. Upon arriving, the other boy raised and bumped fists, then indicated the empty seat next to him. Jason sat as instructed, but before he could even greet the teen properly, Scott leaned in and announced in a low voice, "Did you hear? Battle axe got the axe!"

Jason nodded. "Derek told us last night. Any news about why or...?"

Scott looked at the youth incredulously. "You're joking, right?" Seeing the genuine surprise that greeted him, he went on. "You're a celebrity now, you know? She rammed you and Flavell hard the other day, but you spooked her back. Next thing we heard was a rumor that the Headmistress got into it with her, and now Crab-whatever is gone!"

Jason sat back in his seat. "I- uh... huh? I'm a what? I didn't do anything! I mean-"

Scott shook his head. "That's not going to fly, dude. Piece of advice - I'd get used to it if I were you. No, you didn't do anything, except stand up to the woman. Don't you see, though? That's the whole point! Some of these teachers here, they're old fogies. You know, they're the sort that's all stiff and proper and everything. No one really stands up to them, mostly because those who do, get singled out and dumped on all the time. You and me both know what that's like, right?" he mused, before continuing. "But what you did was stand up to her and dish it back. Everyone in here saw it! And to top it off, you did it in a way that was cool! You did it on her level, like I told you the other day! She couldn't pull you out of class without it getting things ugly, see? She would have been putting herself in the middle of it, too, with no real way out for herself! So, that was, in a word, brilliant! Everyone now, well at least those of us in her classes and such, are celebrating!"

Jason wrinkled his nose. He studied briefly, but then shrugged. "Well, okay I guess, but... never mind."

Scott leaned closer, just as the substitute entered the doorway to the classroom. "Don't sweat it. She gave a LOT of people grief man, in ALL her classes. So now we have a new day, or at least a new week coming up, to see what changes. Right?" Jason nodded as the substitute began speaking, so they both sat back to pay attention.

Throughout the morning, Jason found that Scott had been right. As the day progressed, Jason noticed that people no longer avoided him as they had before. His peers were never a rude group to begin with, but when you're a nobody, or a stranger? Most kids have that tendency to work their way around and avoid you. Now, although he could have been imagining it, he didn't see that as much. It was kind of cool, he thought.

That night, Jason told Elliot about everything that happened that day. At one point, Elliot squealed. "Wow! That is so cool! I can't wait to see it all Monday! I wonder who they'll get to replace her? I hope whoever it is, they'll be more forgiving on the English stuff. Crap-Apple was always riding our arses if we didn't do things her way."

"Yeah, I know... So, how did today go with you and your Mom?" Jason asked.

Elliot shrugged. "It was okay, but I wish you had been here. She made me go through all that exercise crap again today with her, twice even. Then when we went to see the doc, he made me do them all again." He lowered his voice. "Then doc made me take my sweats off, and Mum got an eyeful of me. You know, down there. All my bruises and stuff. Not a good thing."

"She fussed a lot, then?" Jason asked.

Elliot shrugged again. "Well, not really. I mean, they don't look anywhere near as bad as they did earlier this week. And I can almost walk now without a limp, so that's a big plus. But compared to the rest of me, well, yeah..." He sighed. "On the way home, we had a long talk about it. I think she was just more disappointed I kept it all from her. I mean, you heard her the other night, right? I think she's gotten this idea in her head, you know, like she's afraid of losing me now."

"Really?" Jason replied, frowning. "How so, though?"

"I don't know, Jase. It's like... maybe she's afraid of losing me to you, and to the world and everything else. See, before you came and Derek was being such a dick-head..." Elliot paused, then lowered his voice. "Okay, not a dick-head, but you know what I mean. He did sort of leave out on me, before going his own way and stuff. Well, she tried to fill that gap a little. You know, be more of a friend to me, I guess. I didn't mind it too bad, I mean heck, we got to do stuff and everything more than before, right? Well, I think she kind of got used to that and … and …"

"I understand, Elliot" Jason replied, thinking. "I kind of messed that up for her then, by suddenly showing up, and now she doesn't have you to herself anymore."

Elliot looked hard at his cousin, measuring his words carefully. "No, Jase. It wasn't like that at all. You didn't mess up anything, bro. Don't go down that path, please? It's just… it's hard to explain. Mum was adapting to something that was going to happen anyway, just maybe not as soon or as fast as it did. None of that is because of you, though. I swear it." He sighed. "I admit, it was cool for a while, because I was kept from going insane, I guess. But, it just wasn't the same, you know? I mean, I love her and all, but sometimes…"

Jason nodded, understanding. "Yeah, it's different, I know." He reached out and grasped Elliot's hand. "I'm not going down any road Elliot, trust me. I know my coming here changed things, for all of you. I'll always know that, no matter what. But you guys – you really turned me around for the better." He paused briefly. "Insofar as your Mom …, yeah, I understand that, too. It is different having someone like that as a friend, knowing she's your mother first and foremost. Plus, you probably couldn't trust her like you do with me, either. Or do some of the things we do and talk about, just because she's not our age, and… and she's a girl."

"Exactly!" Elliot beamed, thankful that Jason understood what he was trying to say. He squeezed the hand holding his. "It's just because she's Mum, see? But she still misses that, and I don't really blame her. You're right though, it's just not the same." He smiled. "We talked it through some, though, and she seemed a lot happier by the time we got home." He wrinkled his nose before continuing. "We also talked about you some today, too. About how she saw it being a good change for us both. You know, you're being here now with all of us. She really likes you Jase, and she really likes how well we get along together and everything."

It took a minute to sink in, but when it did, Jason nodded. "Your Mom is cool Elliot. I'm glad you have her."

"WE have her Jase, not just me," Elliot corrected him. "Look, don't get me wrong. She isn't your Mum, and she will never replace her - I get that, honest. But come on, if nothing else, she's your Aunt, right? And she is a part of YOUR family now, just like you are a part of OUR family. Don't forget that, okay? She soaks up hugs and... and just being included in things, as much as you or I do, that's all." He grunted. "I have to remind myself sometimes, to do it every once in a while. You know, give her hugs and kisses and stuff. Just for the heck of it." He looked at his cousin timidly. "Not because I have to, but because I want to. It keeps her at peace, and heck - I kind of like it anyway! Like I said, I love her."

Jason smiled, moving to sit closer. "I know Elliot, I understand. I'm glad that you still have both your parents, honest." Jason didn't add that which was already obvious, thinking about how his parents were now gone. This moment was not about him, and Jason knew it. Slowly he pulled Elliot in and hugged him.

Elliot loved it. Laying his head on Jason's shoulder, he sighed. "Jase? Can I ask you something?"

"Sure," came the quick reply.

There was a span of silence before Elliot spoke again, his voice almost a whisper. "Do you think you'll ever, like, get tired of me or something?"

Surprised, Jason responded back just as softly. "No. Why would you ask me something like that?"

There was a longer pause this time before Elliot answered. "I don't know. I just... I had a lot of time to think about things today, and well, it just hit me I guess." He sighed again. "After everything that has happened this week? It just feels like it has kind of been different and all. Up until now, you and me kind of had each other just to ourselves, and now there are others kind of getting inside of us, too, and... and..."

"Are you getting jealous?" Jason asked, whispering. He hugged Elliot tighter. "No, you and me, we're like tied together now. Nothing is going to come between us like that. And besides, I don't think anyone has really come inside so much. Maybe your brother some, but - he was already sort of inside, wasn't he?"

Elliot smiled at that thought. "Yeah, he was."

It was Jason's turn to pause while reflecting on something Elliot said. "Remember what you told me once? About us, in this room, at the end of the day? It's just us, it's you and me. Everybody else, they are all out there," he motioned to the doorway. "But in here, they can't come. Unless we let them, anyway. In here, it's just you and me. We'll always have us, I think. We'll always have the things that are special between the two of us, and no one else." Jason smiled. "I'm kind of surprised at you, really. I'm usually the one with all the deep, mushy stuff in here. Not you."

Elliot blushed. "I'm sorry. I guess I was just having the pits today. You know, thinking too much and worrying about things. I know, I shouldn't worry about us any, but sometimes I still do. After as close as we got to each other the other night, on the inside, I- I sometimes get afraid I'm going to lose that. You know, lose that feeling inside, of how much I love you and trust you, and feeling you give it back to me. I mean, sometimes I think about where we would be, if I hadn't been so pushy and everything. You know, with wanting to take a shower together and stuff. Like, where would we really be right now if I hadn't done that. Does that make sense?"

"Yeah, it makes a lot of sense, and I think I already know the answer," Jason replied. He stared deep into the eyes that met his. "I'd be alone, Elliot, and I mean really alone. Not lonely, just… alone. And I'd still be scared, too, and worried, and... a lot more." Jason took a deep breath. "You didn't push me, Elliot. Okay, I know, but don't you see? I think I needed it, and I needed this. I needed to learn to trust again. If you hadn't, like, opened up to me and everything, I would be more fucked up, even worse than right now."

"But Jase, the sex stuff… Especially after what happened to you and everything…" Elliot whispered.

"What about it? I admit it - I had no idea guys could, or would, do some of the things we've done. But you know what? I don't care." Jason smiled again. "I honestly don't care, Elliot. I consider that the fun stuff, anyway, between you and me. It's everything else though, that makes me feel really good on the inside. And I don't think we could ever have had everything else between us, if you hadn't taught me how much I could trust again. In its own weird way, the naked part and all, you were right – it did teach me something." He reached out and gently grasped his cousin's hand. "It taught me how much you cared. No one has ever cared about me, since… you know… since my Dad died." Jason shook his head. "Elliot? Do you have any idea what it means to me, just to be able to hold you, or to feel you up close now? Or when you're holding me?"

"I think so, Jase," Elliot replied, whispering. "If it's anything like the stuff I feel sometimes, then yeah, I do. It's the best feeling in the whole world."

Jason nodded. "Yeah. Like even right now. I don't feel alone anymore. Honest? I don't want to worry about the sex stuff, because right or wrong, this is still us. As long as it stays that way, I don't care."

"This part will always be us, Jase. I promise that. Cross my heart," Elliot croaked.

"Me, too." Jason wrinkled his nose. "You know something else? Ever since I told you that stuff the other day, I've felt a lot different and everything. Better, I guess. I never thought it would be that way, but it is. Sometimes, I think I'm still screwed up, just not as bad as before." Jason lay back against the wall, pulling Elliot with him. "I mean it. I'd still be really fucked up now, Elliot. More than ever, especially if I didn't have you watching out for me and everything."

Elliot looked up at Jason. "I missed you today, Jase. I really, really missed you."

It was spoken so softly, and from the heart, that Jason leaned in. In that moment, he gave Elliot a soft kiss before nuzzling their noses together. He felt happy inside, knowing how much Elliot still cared about him. "I missed you, too. Besides, there is something else you can always count on, just you and me... Remember?" Jason leaned in and kissed Elliot again, ever so lightly, but every bit with feeling. Lingering long enough, each took the moment to breathe the other in. "I won't ever kiss another boy. Not like this, anyway. Ever. That's just you and me."

With those words, Elliot threaded his arms around his cousin and held him tightly. He held the teen for a long time, before finally pulling back. There was a different expression now, the moment having passed, as he stared intently at Jason. "So, you ready for tomorrow?"

"What? What's to be ready for?" Jason asked.

Elliot grinned. "We're hanging out with the team, remember?"

Jason wrinkled his nose again. "So? I mean, yeah, it's cool and everything, but..."

"Come on! You haven't forgotten what me and Derek told you already, have you? About, you know..." Elliot stopped, waiting expectantly. When he didn't get an answer, he whispered. "The showers and everything?"

Jason blushed. "No, I haven't forgotten, but... I mean come on, they don't know me Elliot. Like your brother said, they're going to want to know me first, right? They're not going to let me in there around them and stuff." He smiled though. "It WILL be cool to meet and hang out with them though, you know?"

Elliot grinned. "Well, okay, we'll see. I think you're over-thinking it some, but yeah, we'll see."

That made Jason grunt. "Your brother said to not expect anything," he reminded his cousin.

Elliot looked at him curiously. "So? That doesn't mean they'll throw you out and shut the door either, right?" Shaking his head, he lowered his voice. "Okay, I give. But, Jase? Just... promise me something. If something does happen? You know, if they let us in with them when they're in the showers and all? If it does happen, just don't forget about me, okay? I came first!" he snickered. Jason understood what he was implying, but good naturedly grabbed a pillow and threw it at him anyway for good measure. He stood up and began to pull off his sweat-shirt.

"Want to play some more cards again?" Jason asked, changing the subject.

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