When Shadows Pass

by Sean English

Chapter 21

New Friends, New Horizons (Part I)

Scott's stay over the next couple of days was filled with a lot of laughter. Since his first night, the teen had changed, shedding the nervousness that followed him from home. Both Elliot and Jason felt their guest return to more of the person they knew from school. He had a fantastic sense of humor, while being totally carefree with his two newest friends. Some differences were evident, now that he had opened his feelings more toward Elliot and Jason, his life and dreams included. The three chatted about a wide variety of things, topics that included games, girls and even guys. It was also discovered that Scott was a die-hard NFL fan. An intense debate was sparked the next evening around the dinner table, between the Flavell men and their guest, and it continued for a better part of the night. Natalie and Jason just sat back with amused expressions, as the others jibed and collided with their various opinions and egos. When it came time to clear the dishes, it was Jason who quietly escaped and worked with his aunt to get everything out of the way.

"What, you don't like following American football with those buffoons in there?" Natalie teased him while loading the dishwasher.

Jason grinned. "I'm okay watching the games on TV, I admit. They can be kind of fun and interesting, but… that? In there?" he paused to wave his hand in the direction of the dining room. "Honestly? I couldn't tell you much of anything about one team or another. Except maybe where they are on the map, and maybe some of the team colors and symbols." He glanced back. "What those guys are doing in there is, well… it's out of my league!"

Natalie laughed heartily, and then gave Jason the last piece of pie from the plate. "That makes two of us, kiddo. Here, have a consolation prize!" Jason grinned and wasted no time in consuming it.

That night, however, Scott's demeanor changed as they each were readying for bed. For a brief spell, gone was the happy-go-lucky youth's enthusiasm, and was replaced by something else entirely. When Jason commented on it, Scott blushed and looked sheepishly at the other two. "Sorry guys, was just thinking." He sighed, but seeing Jason's interest, he nodded. "You know, my Mum will probably be here early in the morning, being a Saturday. So, I might not really get to thank you two, not much anyway. You know, for everything. These couple of days, they've been beyond great."

"You don't need to thank us," Elliot told him as he pulled his hoodie off. Scott however, shook his head and made his way over to the corner of the bed. Before sitting, he pushed his sweatpants down from his hips, letting them fall as far as possible. Jason helped the teen finish clearing them from his feet, and then Scott set his crutches aside and watched the other two as they finished undressing.

When Jason was clad in his usual t-shirt and briefs, he gave their guest a sly glance. "Uh, need your diaper, err… boxers changed?" he whispered with a grin, obviously teasing their friend.

Scott laughed, but shook his head. "No, not this time. Thanks for asking, though," he replied good-naturedly.

Elliot surprised them both by taking a flying leap and flopping in the middle of the bed. "Why? Why do you think we don't know how you feel? You don't owe us ANYTHING, Scott!"

"Yeah guys, I do," was the sharp reply, more abrasively than he intended. Shaking his head, Scott apologized. "I'm sorry, man, I didn't mean to snap. It's just, you two have made this whole thing feel so awesome for me. From the moment I walked in, it's been great. You... you let me be a part of your family for a little while. And... and you did... stuff. No, not THAT!" Scott smirked, after seeing Elliot grin wickedly. However, he did blush as he looked away. "Okay, yeah, that stuff too. But, guys... I mean, you never treated me any different from a real person. You know, a normal person and all. I can't tell you what that means to me."

Jason crossed over again and sat down beside their guest. "It's okay. Believe me, it was a lot of fun for us, too." He spoke softly. Elliot rolled up close to them, nodding in full agreement.

"Still, I... I just wanted to say it guys. Just ... thanks ... thank you both. I don't know any way I can show you, just... thanks." He raised a fist to the air, which Jason met. Scott expression, however, gave Jason the impression that there was more.

"We're friend's, right?" Jason asked. When Scott nodded, he continued. "So, we watch each other's back. You helped me overcome some of my fears and everything, in school. And you helped me know what it's like, to not be able to walk so good and stuff. I don't think I would have ever realized any of that without you being here."

Scott looked up. "You guys have helped me, too. You've showed me things I would-" he stopped, then blushed and grinned as he saw Elliot smirk again. "Okay, okay! Sheesh, Elliot - do you always have sex on the brain or something?" he hissed at the teen as he laughed.

Elliot surprised Scott, however, by pulling himself up on his other side. "Look at me, Scott. Do you see me with a boner or anything right now?" Indeed, his groin appeared quite normal, and for added effect, Elliot pulled his waistband out so the teen could glimpse inside. Scott giggled and shook his head, while Jason rolled his eyes. Elliot let the elastic snap back into place before adding, "See? I'm not ALWAYS horny, you know! So, no, I'm not sex crazy! Well, only just when you're around!" he teased. Seeing Scott blush even more, he grinned. "You're too gullible, man! Chill out!" he declared with a wink. Just then, he reached and pulled out Scott's own waistband, and peeked inside a few seconds before letting it snap back into place. "Besides, man, you've still got the fattest dick I've ever seen, so that's got to count for something, too! Right?"

Scott laughed out loud again. "Okay, okay, I get it!" It was clear he didn't exactly know how to take that remark, since it came out of the blue. Instead, he just decided to go with it, but not without shaking his head again. "You're not so bad, either." Sighing, he glanced between them both again. "Sorry, I guess... I don't know guys. You can probably tell, I'm not too good at sharing my feelings and everything. I just wanted to be serious for a minute, that's all. I wanted to try and tell you how much it all meant to me. I like, owe you guys a lot. I know you say I don't, but I do. I honestly feel like I do, I just don't know how I'll ever repay it."

Jason grunted. "We're not so good with feelings either, Scott. It's all cool, though, honest."

Scott turned to Jason. " You both helped me see something else, outside of my world I guess. And you know what? You did it without asking me for anything in return. That's the kind of thing that hits me the hardest, makes me like you guys so much more. If the stuff people do for me isn't out of pity and everything, then it's because they want something in return. You guys never asked me for anything that I know of." He turned his gaze back to Elliot. "Even the sex. You didn't threaten me, or ask me to keep it a secret, or anything. Not that I'm going to tell anyone, but … does that make sense? You gave me something without expecting anything in return. That might only be a little thing to you, but it's huge to me!"

Elliot nodded. "That's what friends are for, right? Look Scott, you want us to ask you for something? Then okay - I'm asking you to just be our friend. Not just Jason, not just me - but both of us." He paused for a second. "You want to talk about the sex stuff? You think that it's going to bother us or something? It won't. We didn't ask you anything because we knew we didn't have to. That's why we trust you, man. Think about THAT one for a minute!" Elliot paused, shifting himself around better. "We - me and Jase - we trust each other enough, and we both trusted you, too. I think you know that by now. Trust me, if Jase didn't want to begin doing what he did, with me, then it wouldn't have happened. We would have ended up just comparing your monster down there, I think. Then we might have just left it at that." Elliot said the last with another big smile, but this time Scott understood.

"I can believe that, trust me," the teen whispered.

"Then don't get so worked up about you owing us something. You don't need to give us payback, or any of that crap." Elliot smirked. "So, what if we did feel you up, jerk you off, gave you a blow job? Big deal! I mean, maybe we just wanted you to see and feel what it was like, and we weren't afraid to do it for you."

Scott blushed again. "I still, it was awesome and everything, but…"

"Look, I'll say it again: Jase and I are cousins, but we're more like brothers, too. We trust each other. You see it, you know it – I think you even feel it some, right?" The teen nodded, so Elliot smiled. "So, like I said, now we trust you, too. I'm glad we did it – everything! The games, the shower, the sex stuff, the fight over the better NFL teams!" Elliot stopped and whistled low at that point. "Man, you ought to be careful, though. Dad gets wrapped up in that one, big time!"

All three laughed, before Elliot lowered his voice. "But yeah, just goofing off, just being around you – I'm glad you were here, glad we did all of it. And guess what? When we get together again next time, we'll still do it, all of it, if you want to. We're not afraid of you, and you're not afraid of us, right? So there, you don't have to prove anything to us. Just be yourself. We liked you before you got here, and now we like you even more. Okay?"

"That goes for me too, Scott," Jason added. "We're glad you got to come. If we didn't, I think you would have known it pretty much before now."

Scott studied them both before relenting. "You guys are fucking awesome. There is no way in hells bells I could wish for any better friends than you two. I hope you know that, too. Thanks - for everything." Then only for the second time in his whole visit, he reached out and pulled them both up close in his arms. "You're right, I do trust you. For whatever its worth, I'll have your back, too." He squeezed gently as he hugged them. "Thanks for letting me hug you, too. It's, well, kind of weird, but it's really nice, too."

Jason grinned before he threaded his arms around the teen, followed by Elliot. They each gave their friend a warm embrace.

Scott held them each for a long time before letting go.

Following Scott's departure, both boys began spending time with Derek again, who had returned for a rare Saturday spent with his family. Having been gone the last few days, Derek brought both of his younger brothers up to date on his adventures in London, having gone with friends into the outskirts on New Year's Eve. Elliot listened to how Derek and his buddies had gotten into a bar, and ended up celebrating with "older" friends. Derek admitted that most people present celebrated by drinking the night away – a fact that made Jason feel uncomfortable. It's wasn't that he had anything against drinking, but having been brought up modestly against the idea of any alcohol, his view was somewhat restrained. He had observed its effects on the wrong sort, and it made him dislike the whole idea of getting what some called 'the buzz'. He realized, however, he was in the minority on this. Whatever the reason may be, it was a different culture, and everyone had their own individual right to do as they pleased. When Derek admitted to downing a few beers himself, Jason just smiled and let it go.

The rest of the weekend was spent, however, working on the model ship. It was a task that turned out to be much more complex than they had originally thought. Both boys had, at Simon's suggestion, pulled an older but sturdy table from storage, and set it up in their room next to their desk. The table was large enough to give them plenty of working space, and they found they could place several trays of parts around the edges. Derek found a mat which he gave them, one which helped create a non-skid surface. Simon also surprised them, procuring a hobby lamp with a spring-loaded arm and clamp that attached to the tabletop. Jason noted happily that it contained a magnifying lens encased within the center, thus giving them an excellent tool to perform more detailed work with.

With various parts and sheets pulled into sections, Jason began to painstakingly organize and build parts of the ship in stages. He discovered, at least in his mind, that some pieces and areas needed to be painted first, while others could wait. Elliot's interest in the project grew, too, and with Jason's permission, he patiently started to learn what things were, and how they were made to fit together. As they progressed, Elliot began to appreciate the allure of why his cousin liked assembling models so well. To mold and build it with your hands, in such a way you can see the results in all three dimensions, was a feat in itself. When successfully executed, the results gave one a lot of pride in seeing it assembled. Thankfully, seeing his cousin's genuine interest, Jason taught Elliot some of the things he had learned and observed. Things like how to determine order and flow, how to look for not just the outside appearance, but the inside parts, too. Elliot was rapidly falling in love with the whole concept, and it showed.

At one point, after working for several hours, Jason stopped and looked around. "Hey Elliot, do you know where that diagram disappeared to? You know, the big one with the overall layout?"

Glancing beside him, Elliot found and retrieved it from the floor. Handing it over, he watched Jason study it before raising both eyebrows. "Yeah! That could work," he heard him muse, mostly to himself. There was an element of excitement in his voice, too, which piqued Elliot's curiosity.

"What could?" Elliot asked.

Jason pointed to a section of the lower hull. "Well, if I'm right, there isn't anything that goes inside this. It's just a cavity, see? It should be hollow when we get done with it, and the decks and all. So, I was thinking, wouldn't it be awesome if we could fit some batteries in there? And then..." He grinned. "Oh, yeah! Remember at the game shop, those LED lights that were on the back counter? I bet we could wire them up in here, see? That would let us have some lighted portholes, maybe even light up the main cabin, too!" As he spoke, his eyes lit up even more. "You know, maybe we could even make the LEDs into something that looked like old lanterns. Then we can place or hang them around the ship!"

Elliot was stunned at the idea. As he looked it over, he remarked. "You mean, like light the model up from the inside? Are you serious? That would be... would be…"

"'Splendid', as your Dad would say. Yeah, I know," Jason intoned, excitedly.

Elliot studied the parts and considered the proposal. "You really think we could, like, do it?"

Jason looked back at the diagram and then nodded. "It would take some planning, because of the scale and everything. Part of it will also depend on how large those LEDs are, too. Still… yeah... I think we could do it!" Glancing at Elliot, he smiled. "Especially if you'll help me."

Elliot grinned. "Are you kidding? You bet I will!"

Jason studied the overall plan one last time. "I'll ask Mr. Fulcrum about the lights when we go back to the games next week. The only real puzzle will be in figuring out how to get the batteries in and out of here. You know, when they have to be replaced and everything. Maybe..." He looked closer, then nodded to himself. "Maybe we could rig up something on the bottom of the hull here, below this base mount. Something that we can remove easy enough to get them out and change them."

"You'd have to cut the hull though, right?" Elliot asked. "Would that weaken the model any?"

"I don't think so, because it wouldn't have to be that big of a cut. But yeah, if we do it in the seams here, and here," Jason mused, pointing, "maybe it won't really be all that noticeable, and the hull will still have plenty of plastic around it to give it support. Plus, look - we may only need to cut through on one side, not both. So, if we keep it on the back side of the model, then it won't be seen when it's on a shelf or whatever." He sat back and rubbed his eyes. "We'll see. First thing is to see what those lights will cost me, and then figure out how much power they're gonna need." He glanced at the clock, and then stretched. "I'm kind of getting tired now, anyway. I guess I better go get my shower. We do have school tomorrow, right?"

Elliot nodded. "Yeah. Uh, you do know, it won't be quite the same as last term, right? We're going into the second term of the year and everything, so they'll probably mix some of our classes up this time."

Jason had not thought about that. "Will they be new classes, or...?"

"Some will be, yeah. I mean, we're still stuck with language arts. You know, English Language and Literature, and they make us keep our maths. But some of the others could change. And we're not guaranteed even to be in the same classes, again. I mean, there are multiple maths and English and other classes for our grade."

Jason pondered for a moment and then nodded. "It's okay, I guess. It would be awesome if we could stay together again, but I know you have your life and I have my own and stuff." He smiled, thinking of something else. "Do you guys, like, get to sign up for your classes, or are they like, already assigned to you and everything?"

"Except for the first-year stuff, we get to sign up every spring and choose for the next year," Elliot explained. "In the beginning, the first year is laid out to meet a bunch of requirements and everything. Then each follow-on year has a few compulsory subjects, but we also get to pick what we're most interested in for others. Like, before we can graduate, we have to have had four terms of science. But that can be physics, or biology or chemistry – or others, too. And some classes have multiples, like Biology 1, 2 and 3." Elliot paused to catch his breath. "As to the rest, sometimes we know what we've got right away, because some classes are only taught at certain times. Gym is one, always late afternoon, or English. Most of those are early mornings. Other times, though, we have to wait and see how the scheduling works out. If too many people want to take Chemistry or something, they use some kind of lottery thing, I think."

"That's not all that different from the way it is in America," Jason observed.

"Yeah, I can understand that," Elliot replied, before he bit his lower lip. "I can tell you that I have another gym period this term, but I don't know what time or anything yet. I also know I'm supposed to have both maths and physics this term, too. I signed up for first-term Shop, but they had a lot of peeps who wanted to get in there, so I may not get it. As for my other two periods, I won't really know what I get until we show up in our classroom tomorrow morning. They'll hand out our timetables then."

"Do we still have the same beginning classroom we had before?" Jason asked.

"Yep, that doesn't change. Same room each year where we get started from." Elliot saw the faraway look on Jason's face, and noted the silence that followed. "You okay?"

Jason nodded. "Yeah, I'm fine. I just hope I get at least some classes with you again. It was really cool being able to do this together, you know? Study and all that."

"Yeah, I know. I bet we still get some classes together, at least. Maybe we'll even be in gym together, but who knows?"

"You just want to see my ass in the showers every day," Jason scoffed, and then ducked as Elliot threw a playful punch at him.

"Why should I care about that? The most I can do there is just SEE it, right? In here though, I get to see it AND touch it - every night!" Elliot retorted, but then grinned. "But, if you do get into gym, yeah. You probably will, and so that means you'll get to see a lot of other eye candy, too." Elliot sighed. "And then I'll lose you to the other guys then, probably."

Jason blushed, but then pulled Elliot in close so that they leaned against each other. "You won't lose me, I promise."

Elliot melted against him and relaxed. "Honest Jase, I'm not jealous. I hope we are in gym together, but if we're not... you know what I mean, right?" His cousin nodded, so he went on. "Anyways, up to this point, I know I've been with you through just about everything we've done. Tomorrow could make things different, I don't know. Just ... I don't know what's going to happen, okay? You have to promise me two things, though."

"Yeah? Okay, what?" Jason inquired.

"Well, for one, first promise me you'll try to be okay if we're separated. It means you'll be on your own and everything, but it's just school, see? Even if you do get classes that I don't, I can still help you get through them and everything, if you need. Derek can help you, too. And who knows, maybe even Scott will be in some of them, too."

"Okay, that's an easy one. What's number two?"

Elliot hesitated, then sighed. "Second, promise me you'll not forget about me, about us. Even if you do make new friends and stuff. Seriously, like I said, I won't be jealous if you do. Just - remember I'm here for you, too. You're MY best friend, and my cousin, and… and my brother. You always will be."

Jason nodded. "I know that, so yeah. I promise I'll be okay. I'm not worried about being here so much now. It's not like when I first got here, remember? Everything was new, and different. Now, it's not so bad, I guess because I'm getting more used to it now."

"Yeah, you were a newbie," Elliot agreed. "I know that, but you know something else? Neither of us are the same person we were then. I think we're both growing up some, and we've changed a little. I think that it's really cool for the most part, especially when I see how much you've started to believe again - in yourself, in me - all that."

"You guys have given me so much, how can I not believe in you?" Jason replied softly, then turned in his chair to face Elliot directly. "And I know I'm doing better, and yeah, things around us are beginning to be different and everything." He shook his head though. "Elliot, as to me and you, we still have us. I'm not going to forget about you any at all. We made a promise to each other, remember? In this room, no matter what else happens in a day, we can always come back here and find each other. Right?" Jason's eyes misted over with emotion, before he continued. "Seriously, you ought to know it, right? I hold onto that thought, and that feeling, every day now. No matter who visits us, or how crazy everything can get. In here, we can always find each other. And you know something else? You're mine. I'm not trading you for anyone else. If anybody asks me, I tell them the truth - you're my brother. I'm not sure how or what brothers are supposed to feel for one another or anything, but I don't care. I just know how I feel about you. You're inside me ... right here." He stated the last grasping Elliot's hand and pulling it up under his shirt, laying it across his heart.

Even Elliot could not help getting emotional. "You still know how to make me feel really good, you know?" He smiled. "Just ... don't let me lose it, okay? We keep telling that to each other, I know. It could still always happen, even if we don't mean for it to. Like, what happened to me and Derek. He's still awesome, but it hurt inside when I started losing him. Someday, maybe it wouldn't be so bad if me and you fall out some. Heck, maybe we can like, be more normal about stuff, too." Seeing Jason's curious expression, he whispered. "Our sex stuff, bro." Comprehension crossed Jason's face, so Elliot continued. "But right now, Jase? Please? It would kill me if I lost you so soon. If someone, like Scott, started to replace me-"

"Scott isn't going to replace you, trust me," Jason whispered. "I know, it would kill me, too," was the soft reply. "Don't worry about it, though. Before I got here, I was alone for a long time. I wouldn't want anyone to feel or have to go through what I did like that. I'm not alone anymore, I've got a family which cares about me, and a brother who cares about me even more. I'm not going to let you feel that way, not from me, ever."

Elliot reached out and embraced Jason tenderly, and each hung onto the other for a very long time. This moment had been in the making for days now, since Simon had told them all they were about to become a family of five. The joy and the surprise were one thing, but letting it sink in was another. "You know I love you, right? Of all the things we share and have between us, that one is above them all. I really, really love you," he whispered, burying his head in Jason's neck.

"Yeah, and you know I really love you, too." Jason pulled back eventually and smiled. "You know, too bad we can't go take our shower together again."

"Really? Why?" Elliot asked.

At first, Jason just stared toward the window, but when he spoke, he revealed another part of something he felt that Elliot had not yet realized. "Because, it's so much more personal when we do it together. I mean, it's like sharing something private when we get naked like that. Sharing our trust of each other and everything." Looking back into the eyes that contemplated his own, Jason added. "I get it, now. It's what you tried to teach me for a long time, but I get it now. It's kind of like love in a way, but not really a naughty kind. Not always, not for me. It's a good feeling on the inside, something I can't describe. I just feel like I'm giving you everything from me then, you know, by not holding anything back. You can see me on the outside, but you can also see me on the inside, too." He wrinkled his nose. "Remember that first time? The more I think about it, the more I think it's why it was so special. I let you inside of me, and it was just a whole different experience. It was me, and it was you, and it was… us."

Elliot nodded. "Yeah, I know. That feeling is the best of all. It's why I like it so much when we cuddle up at night. Naked or not, it's just us sharing something with each other that is so close. When I feel you, when I kiss you, when I hold you, or you hold onto me, it's like knowing you're not afraid. I'm letting you be a part of me and everything when we do it."

Jason nodded. "Yeah. And you know something else? Naked or not, it doesn't always make it sex, either." He smiled. "That's why I don't worry about our stuff any, Elliot. If we did stuff every hour of every night, I'd be worried then. But, we don't though, see? Sure, maybe when we get horny we do stuff, but we also do stuff for other reasons. And what we do, really, is we share. Right?"

Elliot smiled back. "Damn right we do! Yeah, I kind of feel that way, too." He sighed. "I think that's something Scott might have been hinting about. I think he felt like he had to give us something back and all, just so he could prove he'd share with us, too. I- What we did for him, that was just having fun and stuff, you know? But at the same time, it was for the right reason."

"Yeah," Jason nodded. "I think so, too." He wrinkled his nose. "I think I understood something else, though. Scott, he wanted to just not lose the closeness we built up while he was here. He got to see what that does on the inside, and when..." He paused for a second. "When he realized he was leaving it, he was really trying to figure out how to tell us, without being gay about it. He felt lonesome, and he was afraid of losing us once he was gone."

Elliot agreed. "He's not the touchy-feely sort of person like we are, I know that much. I mean, nothing like Derek and I grew up with. Mum made us not be afraid of each other. You know, to always respect one another. She would make us sit together, hug sometimes, all kinds of little things – until we just sort of started doing it on our own. That's not normal stuff for some families, and Scott – he had nobody to do or learn that with. Yeah, you're right, he was lonesome."

"Trust me, I know," Jason intoned. "I'm glad you and your brother are so open with stuff around each other, really. Especially around me, too. It even makes me jealous a little, but then I always remember you and I have each other now, too. But seeing him, and you? It's a new experience for me, but-" He smiled and leaned in to nuzzle Elliot. "It's an experience I would never trade away. For anything."

Elliot tilted and laid his head against the Jason. "Yeah, for us, it's awesome. Right now, it's our thing. You know, I was afraid to go too far with Scott, because once he left and went home, I was afraid it might hurt him too much. I was afraid he might get depressed, or lonesome, or something." He sighed.

Jason grunted. "I was afraid you might get jealous if I hugged him too much." He reared back so he could see Elliot's eyes. "Do you think he liked it, though? I mean, just being with us and everything?"

"Oh, hell yeah, he liked it! And you wouldn't have made me jealous, trust me," Elliot replied. He grunted. "In a way, I think he was just as much afraid of us, too. Like, getting attached, that sort of thing."

"You think so?" Jason asked.

"Yeah, probably." Elliot wrinkled his nose and pondered. "It's like, some peeps can be really touchy, feely kind of people, while others aren't. I guess if you don't grow up in a home where they hug a lot, then people kind of just get used to keeping to themselves. I've got friends that way - you can bump fists with them just fine, sometimes do the high-five, you know? But put a hand on them, or an arm around their shoulders, and they like freak out or something. They're not used to doing, well, like what we do, opening themselves up in someone else's space. It's like a barrier, and when you cross it, it's no longer their space, see."

"Wow," Jason mused, thinking about that.

"Yeah. That's when they back off and everything," Elliot continued. "I think Scott maybe fitted that, kind of. Forget the shower for a minute, because that kind of came about differently anyway. When he was around, unless we were helping to steady him, or get him out of bed or get around, how much did he really reach out to us any? Even though we told him we didn't mind or care, did he really reach out any? Oh, and don't forget, he also told us plenty. Outside of his Mum, he never got to grow up with people to interact with very much, right? Well, short of the embarrassing stuff he said he had to go through. He said it himself, his Dad is one of those macho types, like almost everyone is who's been in the services, so..."

"I get it, yeah. I kind of see what you mean," Jason replied, nodding.

"I think it's stupid, myself, but... I understand it. I think the macho creeps miss out on something, though. They're afraid of how it will look, you know, to other people. Or, maybe sometimes they're afraid the other person will take it for something different than what it is. Get a hug from a guy, and they might think 'Whoa! I'm not gay, don't do that!' You know, that kind of crap." Elliot stopped and looked thoughtful. "You know, one of my teachers talked about this once. It's how bumping fists, high fives, that sort of thing came about - even shaking hands. It's kind of like, a way people can express themselves to other people without, like, getting personal and stuff. Scott, he wasn't so much afraid of us, but I think he was like, being careful. He thought he knew us, and then he found out while he was here, that there's a lot more to us than what he thought he knew."

"I hope I didn't scare him too much, then," Jason mused, sighing.

"What? That first night? No way, Jase, we didn't scare him. His eyes were popping so much, I was afraid they were gonna fall out of this head!" Elliot exclaimed, then grinned. "Seriously, you didn't. Besides, if so, I'm just as guilty. I did it too, remember? And even if you hadn't, I probably would have gone down on him first anyway, so..."

Jason giggled. "Somehow, I kind of thought you might say that. He was... uh... a mouth full, wasn't he?"

"He wasn't so huge he was a freak or anything, but man oh man...!" Elliot smirked. "I've never seen one like his! I'm going to ask Derek about it sometime, too, and see what he says." They both laughed, then Elliot got serious again. "Does all that make sense, though? I know I'm kind of rambling, but I think Scott was seeing something, even feeling it for the first time, and it like, made him nervous, but in a good way. He might have wanted more, at least the night before he left, but he was still scared. I was, too... at least a little bit. I tried to make him more comfortable, but I think that scared him even more. That's why I didn't push too hard or anything. That's why I never tried to jerk him off again, too. To me, if he wants that, he kind of needs to tell us. You know, trust us enough to tell us or let us know."

"Yeah, it makes perfect sense to me," Jason replied, thinking. "It was kind of like me, until I came here, right?"

Elliot only smiled, lowering his voice to an almost whisper. "Yeah, but you were diff, bro. You were scared for different reasons. And I was scared, too, for you. I was an arse at first, trying to figure you out and everything. But when I realized a part of why you had so much stuff going through your head, well, I understood then. I wanted you to know I liked you, and that I wasn't some stuck up prick or anything. I wanted you to know you could trust me, and not be scared."

"I'm glad you did," Jason replied with the softest of whispers. He leaned in and kissed Elliot softly, then backed away and sighed. "Like I said, I wish you could come downstairs with me," he stated wistfully. Elliot, however, shook his head.

"Mum and Dad are here, and we don't have a cover or excuse, or anything, this time to get away with." Elliot smiled and grasped Jason's hand. "I wish I could, too, but I can't. But Jase? I don't have to go down and do that with you, just so I can feel you inside of me. You know that, right? I already feel it, even right now."

"Yeah, I know bro." He smiled ruefully, then sighed and got up. "I'll be back in a little bit. You going to take one tonight, too?" Seeing Elliot nod, he walked over to their chest and extracted a fresh set of night clothes for them both. Afterwards, he set Elliot's down on the corner of the bed before silently walking out of the room. Elliot sat back in the chair and stared at the diagram again, thinking about how cool it would be to add the lighting. He also wondered if anyone besides Jason would have ever thought about it that way.

Switching the desk lamp off, Elliot got to his feet and collected his clothes. As he began walking down the hallway, he saw Derek's bedroom door partially opened. In the distance, the faint sounds of the shower starting downstairs told him he would have a few minutes yet to go. Reaching the doorway, he glanced inside to find his brother already stretched out face down on his bed, naked. In addition, his brother had thrown an old t-shirt over his lamp, the result giving a subdued lighting effect in the room. It was something Derek liked doing on occasion, Elliot recalled, not unlike what he liked to do with his closet light. Elliot thought about sneaking in and jumping on his brother, but decided not to. He remained, staring briefly before starting to withdraw. He was stopped, however, when he heard his brother's voice break the silence. "What's up, buttercup?"

Hesitating, Elliot entered and sat down on the side of the bed. Derek turned his head to face Elliot with an amused expression. "Quit looking at my arse, will you? It might blind you, you know!"

"Nothing worth seeing though, is it?" Elliot teased, making Derek grunt.

"Mine is just as cute as yours is," Derek played along, then added "but yours may not be as cute as Jason's is." Looking up, he saw the grin he expected, so with a sigh he rolled over onto his back so he could relax. "You okay? Anything wrong?" he asked.

Elliot nodded, all the while staring down at his brother's softened groin. He reached out and touched the warm penis there, with no apparent purpose or reason. It was something Derek did not object to, but was surprised nevertheless. Observing him curiously, he waited for Elliot to respond.

"Nothing really bro, just … waiting for Jase to get out of the shower," Elliot spoke softly before sighing. He glanced up into the eyes that met his, before he whispered. "Thanks."

"For what?" Derek asked.

"For... letting me still do the little things like this," Elliot replied, nodding toward his brother's midsection. He cupped the whole area as he continued to move his fingers about, feeling the fullness of the whole package that filled the palm of his hand. "For still loving me, and trusting me. Even now."

Derek scratched his nose and then sat up. Pulling his younger brother closer, he embraced him. "You're my brother. I've always loved and trusted you. I'm not going to change that now," he whispered.

"Even though you're older?" Elliot asked.

"I've always been older, doofus!" Derek scoffed, then hugged his little brother warmly. "Yeah, even though I'm older. I don't care if you touch or play with me or anything, you know that. It never bothered us before, why should it bother me now? I got nothing to hide from you, or with squeaker." He paused and peered into the younger boy's eyes. "I know, we've been growing apart some, but that's just because we're on different levels now, that's all. You heard me, right? I still love you. That isn't going to change."

Elliot nodded. "I know. I mean, if I had to, I could do without this part," he stated, playfully giving Derek's willy a gentle squeeze. "But you just letting me still do it, it seems ... it means everything to me. I know you love me, but this still tells me you trust me." Just then a tear rolled down his cheek. "Can I ask you something, though?" Seeing Derek nod, he blurted out in a whisper. "Does this mean I'm gay?"

It was a question out of nowhere, and although it surprised Derek, he heard the mixture of fear, uncertainty, and frustration that escaped. He knew Elliot must be finding it more difficult to deal with that issue than he himself had, and Derek didn't blame him. The two had always been open about what little they did around each other, not caring about the ramifications of being gay or otherwise. They chose to just consider it as a part of being free with each other. Now, however, Derek sensed something had changed. Continuing to embrace his brother with the warmest hug he could muster, Derek swallowed him inside his arms. "Fuck no, Elliot," he whispered. "Maybe bi, but who knows? Kind of like me, I guess. Honestly, though, it doesn't really mean anything yet. I know, with some people it does. But guess what? It doesn't have to mean anything to you, or me, or even the squeaker, until you're ready for it to mean anything. Understand? You can decide all that stuff later. For now, we're just us, okay?" When he felt Elliot nod, he added. "How about you and Jase? Are you guys this close?" Elliot nodded again, burying his face into the boy's neck while blushing, causing Derek to smile. "You know what I think? I still think that's so awesome! Honest, it even makes me a bit jealous."

Elliot pulled back. "Why?"

"Because I miss it. I've told you before, I miss us. I know, it's goofy, but it's true. I get to thinking about how Jason gets to have all this right now, and all of you, and it just makes me sad sometimes." Seeing the incredulous look, Derek grinned. "Okay, I admitted it, I missed you. I miss our goofing around and just being together like we used to do. But I'm older now, and I have different responsibilities and all."

Derek grunted as he shifted to accommodate Elliot's weight better. "You know, believe it or not, I used to worry about you. When I wasn't around as much, I worried you would get lonesome and everything with me not being there."

"Really?" Elliot asked.

"Yeah. That's why I've been so glad that Jason came along. He gets to fill in, you know, be somebody there for you when I couldn't anymore. I think it's awesome you two are so close and all. Given everything that happened to him, he needed it. He needed to open himself to someone, and he needed to learn live again, with his heart. I suspect that's what has been making him get so much better." Derek smiled at him again. "You understand what I'm saying, right? You needed him, and he needed you, you know? Perfect match for mates, I think. I don't know all that happened to him, but whatever it was, he had to rebuild his life with somebody. That somebody is you, Elliot. You should be proud of that, you know?"

"I know Derek, and believe me, I am," Elliot replied softly, nuzzling into Derek once again. He thought about what Derek said. "You know, I can't tell you, bro, about… You know…"

"I know you can't," Derek relented. "Let me finish though. I don't know all what happened, but I know he was abused, probably molested pretty bad, right?" Elliot acknowledged this with a subtle nod. "Think about what that does to someone, Elliot. I mean, some people can bounce right back, say 'fuck with it all' and everything. You know, just shake it off and go on, maybe even laugh about it. But you know as well as I do, not everyone can do it that easy. The more I think about him, the more it seems to make sense. I mean, we all know Jason was alone for a long time, before whatever happened, right? Being lonely is one thing, but it's not always so much about being alone as it is feeling that no one cares. And if that was what he went through, and then he got abused, well … it could be enough to make anyone just want to give up, you know? With his Dad gone, and no family, Jase probably felt like he had no one to depend on anymore. I'm guessing his whole world got turned upside down." Derek paused. "See? I don't have to know what happened to him, Elliot, to understand what it had to have been like, at least part of the way."

Elliot looked deep into Derek's eyes and saw a love and understanding there. "You're pretty close to being right, bro. I'll tell you that much."

Derek smiled at him. "Remember what Dad said that night on Christmas Eve? He told Jason he wanted him to become one of us, so he wouldn't have to be alone anymore. I think Dad's pretty smart, really. He was seeing what you and I had been seeing for a long time. I think he really understood." Seeing Elliot nod, he nuzzled his brother. "It's not hard to see, Elliot. Jason's a cool guy, and I know you think of him that way and a lot more. I do, too. Don't you see? He needed that Elliot, he needed to learn to love again. He needed to not be afraid anymore. That's why I say he needed you, little brother. And you and I knew it was right because, well, look at him. He's stronger now, you know. Whatever he feels inside, he's bolder now and beginning to let himself come out of that shell of his. Not just around us, but others, too. Like Mum and Dad."

"Yeah, he is," Elliot admitted, thinking it through.

"You get it, right?" Derek asked again. "Maybe I'm not really jealous so much, as maybe I'm just sad. I mean, I don't have you to myself anymore, since I'm sharing you with him. But, guess what? I've come to love him, too. Every day, I think I understand better why you two are so close. I mean, between you and me, all the hugs and cuddling, and whatever else you guys get to do? Who wouldn't like that?"

Elliot nodded, whispering, "Yeah, but we cuddle almost every night."

"Well, is he complaining? Are you complaining?" Derek held Elliot close. "That doesn't make you gay, bro. Neither does having some fun and all. That's just normal guy stuff - maybe not for most guys, but then again, most guys don't have the special relationship you two have." He sighed. "That's the part I miss, little bro. I mean, I want to be there with you both, but I'm older and Jason doesn't see me the way he sees you. I get that, and I respect it. He's your best buddy, and I wouldn't want to take him away at all. That's why I'm so happy for you. Just don't forget, I'm here for you guys, too. Both of you. Whatever it takes, if it helps him heal and let all the other stuff go, I'll do it. You know I will."

Elliot just lay there in Derek's arms for a minute, before whispering. "How did you get to be so awesome?"

Derek cocked his head. "I've always been awesome, little bro. You are only now realizing it?" he replied with a grin. "Who else would let you sit in their lap while naked as a baby, and play with their hairy willy, all the while smothering you with hugs and love?" Elliot grinned again, then embraced his brother even tighter than before, this time making Derek grunt. "Go on, I know Mum and Dad are down there, so just go wait in the kitchen until he gets out. Tell him to stop by and see me, though, okay?" He pinched Elliot's butt, as he leaned in and did something else. So rare, it even shocked Elliot when he felt Derek kiss him on his neck. "Please don't forget me either, buddy. I love you, too. Always."

Elliot pulled back and stood up, leaning in and kissing his brother on the nose. "Never have, never will." Then he was gone.

Jason tapped on the door and, as it slowly opened inward, he beheld the sight of Derek sitting on his bed, still naked as before. This time however, the older teen had his back against the headrest along with his knees pulled up to his chest. Unsure whether he should enter or not, he hesitated, only to then see Derek wave him in. Jason obeyed, stepping inside and closing the door behind him. Derek patted the bed beside him, so Jason approached and started to sit on the corner. Derek saw the caution, however, and rolled his eyes. Hissing, he reproached him. "Get up here!" That made Jason grin, but then he did as he was told. Sliding in next to the older teen, Jason swung his legs up to stretch out beside him. Derek grunted. "Sheesh, you'd think you haven't been around a naked boy before!"

Jason snorted. "Well..."

"Don't answer that," Derek commented good-naturedly, before stretching his own legs out and leaning back. "So, how's it going? Ready for going back to school tomorrow?" he asked.

Jason hesitated. Trying to keep eye contact with the older brother was difficult, because at the angle they both lay, Derek's groin was totally exposed. "Uh, yeah, I guess..." was all Jason could muster, before he gulped. Staring at each other for a full half-minute, Jason finally gave in and started giggling. "Okay, did Elliot put you up to this?"

"Put me up to what?" Derek asked, smiling.

"This!" Jason exclaimed, pointing at Derek's privates.

Derek laughed out loud. "Nope! Honest, this is all my own doing. Besides, didn't you tell me? I thought you told us you were curious and everything?"

Jason nodded, then finally glanced down. "Yeah, I did, but... you know, we've never, I mean, you've never..."

"Sure, I did. The night I came back from the shower, remember? Or how about when we both gave Elliot a shower?" Derek smirked, then relented. "But yeah, I know I haven't skinned a whole lot with you guys..." He glanced off into space for a moment. "Okay, I'm going to confess something: yes, I planned you coming up here and catching me skinned. No big deal, really, but I wanted you to come in here." He peered back at Jason, studying him. "I also got to thinking about something, and I wanted to prove to you that I still trust you, just as much as I always have. Just as much as I trust my little brother, too."

Jason looked up at him. "I know you do, Big D. I believe it."

Derek wrinkled his nose before going on. "Elliot and I talked about something a little bit ago, and he said something to me, Jase. It made me think a little, about not just me and him, but me and you, too." He paused, and when he spoke again, his voice was soft. "I love my little brother, you know I do. I have no fear of him whatsoever. He can come in here, anytime, whether I'm naked or not, and I will not hesitate to sit beside him, to trust him, to hug him, to love him ... anything goes. Because before you came, that's who we were. He didn't have anyone but me for a long time, and yeah – I could be a pain, I guess, and so could he. But we had each other, and we have always watched each other's back, no matter what."

"I know you do," Jason responded, relaxing.

"But see, something happened to us, Jason. I started growing up and leaving him behind, and I know that. It wasn't something I planned, or even wanted to do. It just kind of happened, though, and it hurt him." Derek scratched his nose. "But I don't think he ever realized how much it hurt me, too. Especially when I realized how much I missed him. It's life, I know. Despite everything, he had his interests in things, and I had my own, you know? Some of those things we were together with, like me playing on the team. I remember, the first time I brought him to one of my games. For the most part, it was just me and him hanging out. His reaction, though, was almost as cool as yours was, you know? But … anyway, there were other things that separated us, too. I'm the physical one, he's the mental one. No, wait- That didn't come out right," Derek blushed.

Jason giggled. "It's okay, I think I understand."

"Yeah, okay… I mean, he's the bookworm, the brains. I'm more of the active, gotta-be-doing-stuff type," Derek tried to explain. "I don't think it's bad, mind you. That's just life, the way of things, I mean. It happens, and even when you're in the best of families, we all grow up and we all, well, we go our own way. Well, most of the time."

Jason nodded, listening to every word. "Yeah, I know."

Smiling, Derek reached out and grasped Jason's hand, who turned it over so they could lock fingers. Both loved the feeling it gave them. "I don't show that to you as much, Jase, and I'm sorry. I've always been used to just me and Elliot being around each other. He and I would do lots of little things, like lay naked together, or sneak a shower in together sometimes. Or even just sit like this, and talk some. Before you came, I never thought so much about it until I started missing it. Now that you're here though, I'm still adjusting to the fact I now have two baby brothers." He looked up. "I know that you both get me, on the inside. I just forget to tell you, though, how much you mean to me. I hope you know it, even feel it, too. I'm still here, and though I'm still his brother and I still love him - the same goes for you, too. I'm a brother here for you, and I love you, too. I just – I felt like I wanted to tell you that again tonight, to remind you, I guess."

Jason stared at the older teen before responding. "That night? When Elliot was in the hospital? You said you felt something, even before Elliot texted you. How did you know? How did you know to come and stay with me?" When Derek didn't answer right away, he pressed on. "You think you don't show me as much love and everything, but you do, Derek. It was the first night that, since I came here, I was feeling alone again. But then, you showed up. You didn't ask, you didn't wait, you just ... did it. You came in, you got in bed with me, and then you just held me. I didn't have to be alone anymore. How could you possibly know that I needed that, if you didn't know or trust me, too?" Jason shook his head. "I owe you both so much, sometimes it hurts. But you know what? When I first got here, I felt like all I could do for a while was cry - a lot. I only did it, or tried to do it, when Elliot was asleep. I didn't want you guys to know, but honest? I was pretty fucked up, Derek. No matter how good you guys were being to me, I was still scared. I was afraid to feel anything, and … and, that's just the way it was. But I don't have to be scared anymore, you know? No matter what we do, or how we feel about things, I know you and Elliot have my got back now. It took me a while to realize that, but... you just do."

Derek gently squeezed the hand he held. "You weren't fucked up, Jase. You just needed, I don't know, just needed to get your head on straight again, that's all. You needed someone like Elliot to help you feel again, I think. There is nothing wrong with that. I know you two had some issue in the beginning, but... man, look at you now. He loves you, he cares about you - and so do I."

"I know, I care about you guys too," Jason whispered.

Derek relaxed. "Then listen, I don't care where you find me, how you find me, when you find me, what I'm doing or not - okay? If you need me, I'll be here for you. That night you're talking about? Yeah, it was just a feeling I had. I don't know why, but something just kind of drew me in. I couldn't sleep either, thinking about stuff, and when I started thinking about the runt, I started thinking about you, too. Then suddenly, he's texting me and everything changed. That's why I came to check on you, and when I saw you tossing and turning all over the place, I ... just knew. I don't know how, I just did." His voice broke and he lowered it to almost a whisper. "Want to know what meant so much to me? It was when you didn't push me away, even though I spooned up to you and everything. You let me hold you, remember? I guess I just felt, well, that you needed someone. That's why I was there, Jase."

Derek shifted so he could gaze into Jason's eyes directly. "There's something else you may have not realized. You were there for me, too. I think I needed you that night just as much, though I didn't realize it until the next morning. I- I don't sleep that great, Jason. Not all the time, anyway. Some nights, my brain just won't let me stop thinking about stuff, and I get all worked up and everything. That night though, you let me hold you for the first time since you got here, and I mean really hold you. You let me feel like you were MY little brother then, and it made me feel so damn good inside I almost cried. I slept like a baby that night, I think." He pulled their hands, still clasped, up to his chest and held it. "That's when I knew it was right, about you being here, and about you being a part of our family. I already knew it before, see, but that night? It just clicked. We, you and me, we never really connected close before that night. Not like you and Elliot do." Derek suddenly sniffed and wiped at his eyes, before smiling at his cousin again. "Anyway, I'm just trying to tell you something I hope you already know. If you need me? Just - find me, Jase. If there is anything, anything at all I can do to help, just tell me. Please? Don't be... don't be afraid, okay? I know Elliot isn't, I just don't want you to be, either."

Jason gazed back, his own eyes moistening again. He could feel the sincerity and raw emotion pouring from Derek, and it moved him greatly. Glanced down at the hand holding his, Jason whispered. "I- I don't know what to say, Derek. At least, other than just thanks." He looked up. " I do love you, too, you know. I trust you, too, with my heart. I'm not afraid of you."

Derek smiled. "I never doubted it, and you know I love you - even if you are a yank!" It brought the expected smile.

"Sometimes, I don't know how I ever got so lucky with you guys, you know?" Jason glanced back at Derek again, all of him. "I mean, I was almost gone, I was willing to just die. I wanted to be out of it all, to just lay down and give up... " He sighed. "I'm so glad I didn't, though. Elliot and I were talking tonight, too. About how the little things seem to mean so much to both of us. The things that show how much we trust one another. And I guess, in a way, this is, too."

Again, Derek grinned, looking down at his nakedness. "What, sitting here like this? If that's all it takes Jase, then you can knock on my door anytime and just tell me to strip. Or better yet, I'll even let you skin me, if you want to." That made Jason shake his head and smirk, so Derek chuckled before continuing. "Okay, seriously, I know what you meant. I just had to throw that in, that's all," he teased. He leaned forward and spoke softly. "But Jason? You love my brother, and he loves you. And you two have found something inside of each other that you will have and live with forever. He's not going to hurt you, and neither am I. And you're right, it is the little things. Holding your hand, being naked, just… mushy stuff, I guess. It's things like this that help us not only to learn, but to remind us how much we trust one another. And love one another even more. I'm not that much older than you guys, but I know it. Understand?"

Jason smiled, tears escaping down his cheek. He started to reach out, but hesitated. Derek saw it and solved the problem by taking hold of the boy and pulling him into his lap, just like he had done Elliot only a short while earlier. Derek held Jason to his chest and nuzzled him, and the youth simply melted into his arms, feeling safe and content. They lay there for a bit until they heard the water downstairs turn off. Derek grunted. "That was a long shower for him. Knowing him, he probably did some bushwhacking, you think?" he teased, which made Jason giggle.

"He'd better not," he whispered, leaving Derek the impression that the night for the two wasn't quite over yet.

"Jase?" Derek whispered.

"Yeah?" Jason whispered back.

"Take care of Elliot, and he'll take care of you. And let me help take care of you both, okay?" Derek asked, hugging the boy again.

Jason thought of all kinds of context in that, but knew it wasn't meant in a sexual way at all. He glanced up into the eyes staring down at him. "Just once, Derek, just one time, I'm going to do something. Just from me to you..." he whispered, then leaned up and softly kissed the other teen on his lips. He lingered, and Derek did not pull away, instead offering his own soft kiss in return. They breathed each other in for a moment before parting, and Derek noticed how much Jason was smiling. Derek felt overjoyed at the complete surprise and happiness he felt. Jason had just offered him something no other boy had ever done, and he had offered it to him and him alone in that moment. Their touch was one born of a magic that passed between them. There are kisses that are simple and plain, but this was more than that. It was a message of the love and trust Jason had for him, and it did not go unnoticed. He began to get emotional yet again.

Before they were done, however, Derek received a second surprise. Without another word, Jason sat up and pulled out of his lap, before reaching out and gently grasping the softened sausage sitting on top of the teen's testicles. He run his fingers through the soft pubic hairs underneath, gently rolling the flesh within in his palm. It was a playful gesture, not meant to arouse or provoke Derek in any way - but it was just enough that, this time, Derek got the message. Jason, in his own way, implicitly trusted the teen in other ways, too. It was what he had hoped the youth would understand since first entering the room.

"See? I told you," Derek said softly. "Anytime, okay?"

Jason grinned at him and then stood up. As he left the room, he closed the door behind him.

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