When Shadows Pass

by Sean English

Chapter 27

When the Tides of Life Turn (Part I)

When Jason awakened the next morning, he thought it strange to see how much light poured in through their window from the outside world. Although groggy, shaking away the cobwebs allowed his senses to gradually sharpen. Rolling over, he was surprised to find the usual space where Elliot lay presently vacated. Glancing about the room, he saw his cousin was nowhere in sight. Initially he thought little of it, but it wasn't long before he realized that something seemed wrong. It finally dawned on him that their room was significantly colder than usual. At least, more so than what he and Elliot were used to.

Twisting around, he discovered their digital clock was off, a blank display greeting him. A growing suspicion began to form and, after testing the lamp next to it, he confirmed the electricity was off. It was either that, or the circuit for their room had been tripped sometime during the night while they all slept.

The door opened just then with a loud thump, startling Jason briefly. He turned and saw Elliot quickly enter, carrying two steaming mugs of what appeared to be a hot beverage. Closing the door behind him with his foot, his cousin hurriedly handed one to Jason. "Here, bro. Careful though, it's hot," Elliot said simply, while setting the other mug next to their clock. Crawling back under the covers, Jason tested his drink and then smiled appreciatively. Most chocolates seemed to be highly regarded in England, as compared to their American counterparts. He sniffed the hot coca once more, then took a tentative sip.

Elliot retrieved his own mug and began to sip its contents, too. "C-c-cold d-downstairs!" he declared, shivering.

Jason simply nodded and started to move closer to him, but then recoiled quickly as Elliot's bare feet rubbed up against him. "Yikes!" he exclaimed, "You're freezing! No wonder!" He slowly returned to lying alongside, using care to adjust to the cold skin of Elliot's legs before committing himself fully. There they lay, with Jason sharing the strength of his own body heat to help Elliot warm up. Seeing Elliot's look of gratitude, Jason took another sip before commenting further. "I take it the power is out, or something. Right?"

"Yeah, it went out sometime early this morning," Elliot replied. "Dad said he called it in, but was told a transformer was blown, and that the whole neighborhood might be out for a few today. I presumed he meant hours."

Jason turned and stared out the window. "So, your Dad is back then." His remark caused Elliot to turn and observe him.

"Yeah, he's back and up, getting dressed now." Elliot wrinkled his nose before taking another sip. "We're supposed to get dressed, too, and go downstairs in a bit. I think he plans to take us out for breakfast, although it might be more like lunch, given how late it's getting."

"Really? What time is it?" Jason asked after glancing at his wrist, then realizing his watch lay across the room on the desk.

"It's almost 10:00 now," Elliot replied.

"Wow! Did we really sleep that late?" Jason asked, astonished.

"Yeah. I think all that hibachi food last night made me extra sleepy or something," Elliot quipped.

"You think? Are you sure it isn't because we were up until almost 2 this morning?" Jason asked, smiling.

"That might have helped the cause, too," Elliot smirked.

A silence fell between them as they finished the contents of their mugs. Each was lost in their own thoughts, but for very different reasons. Elliot was silently reliving the events of the night before, both with Ron and then talking with Jason afterwards. In some ways, he felt troubled, knowing that while Jason seemed to be regaining his self-assuredness and confidence again, Elliot appeared to be doing just the opposite. There was no hiding the fact that he had been lonesome, too, in the days leading up to Jason's arrival. After last night, however, he could see now that his feelings must have run deeper than he first thought. Now, watching Jason as he began interacting with their friends as easily as he did, Elliot began feeling uncertain about things. He wanted to believe a part of it was just jealousy, because he was sharing his cousin now on the outside of their little world. Elliot hoped that's all it was, because otherwise he felt confused and unsure about why he reacted the way he did. It left him feeling uneasy, and guilty.

It was their heart-to-heart afterwards, however, that made everything so much brighter again. Elliot could not help but smile to himself, because it assured him their bond was still there, and ever more at the forefront between them. As he glanced at Jason just now, Elliot realized how much he really did love him. He also realized just how much he needed Jason in his life right now. He could share his best friend easily enough, though – just so long as he didn't lose him.

Jason, on the other hand, was entertaining other thoughts. Once again, apprehension was gradually building within him, as he thought about what lay ahead next. There was no hiding anymore, no more keeping this history of his to himself. That he had already laid it out, twice now for the brothers, was one thing. He had come to trust them on his level, and that always felt better than having to shoulder it himself. He knew Derek and Elliot now understood why he felt the way he did, and that was comforting. After today, however, that would change.

Telling his uncle was going to be a whole new ball game, now. Jason knew the eldest Flavell already suspected, or could guess, a large part of what went on. He doubted either Derek or Elliot gave up any details to anyone, but there were some characteristics of his life, in the recent months leading up to his arrival, that just, well, fitted. What bothered Jason, however, wasn't so much the tale itself, but what he feared others would think of him now, afterwards. Like the story Ron had told of himself, Jason feared that once people learned certain things, their view of him would drastically change. He had connected to that during the night before, listening to Ron's account of it more than anything else. It brought into sharp focus why Ron had felt so ostracized. Could, or would, a similar set of circumstances happen with him, now? And if so, with whom? His aunt and uncle? He thought briefly about all the people he had encountered since his father's death. Jason had felt used, betrayed, and even worthless at times - all of which, he was sure, that was the intention 'those people' had towards him. Though his and Ron's details differed, their circumstances were not all that far apart when it came to the people around them. How were people going to feel about Jason, once they knew the truth, as ugly as it was?

Jason sighed deeply just then, trying to steel himself against the rising tide of emotions he felt. Fear or not, he had made a promise, and had made it at a time he knew he needed to be open about his feelings. He was just going to have to trust Simon now, more than ever before. In fact, he knew he was going to have to start trusting everyone his tale touched from now on. Especially if it was ever going to help him heal from the inside. His fears aside, Jason loved this family. He loved their dedication to one other, their support and unconditional love they practiced and lived by. There were so many families that didn't come close to practicing what this family did for one another. He knew that from experience, and from just observing them at a distance. Jason also appreciated the Flavells' acceptance and love of him in return. Considering the months his life was like, before he made it to the UK, Jason had lost all hope of ever truly surviving in the end. That was then, however; this was now. Now he had a home, and a whole lot more. He was going to have to begin letting the bad go, and let their love fill its place. Here, in this country, in this household even, he was blessed. He could see it around him, but more importantly, he could feel it.

And that was what gave him courage.

He glanced over at Elliot and saw his cousin was smiling at him. He returned it weakly as he turned back to his mug. Finishing the last drop of his cocoa, Jason finally climbed from the bed to start his day. He rummaged through their closet and found warm sweatshirts and jeans for them both. They continued doing that for each other, as a normal part of their mornings, and it didn't go unnoticed how much they were intertwined with one another at that level. Whoever reached the closet or chests first, would take care of pulling clothes for them both. Whether consciously or not, it was another link in the chain, exposing how close the two had become. Neither ever complained about the choices one made over one another, either.

After finding pairs of thick thermal socks, Jason then tossed the ensemble to Elliot, who caught them and, begrudgingly, crawled out to join him. Both dressed for the day in silence, with Elliot even bumping shoulders with Jason at one point. Together they stood close as always, but as they neared the end of their quest, Jason reached out and hugged his cousin from the side. Elliot was slow to catch on, but eventually he saw his cousin's demeanor and understood. Wisely, he chose to leave Jason alone in the silence, other than returning the gesture with a short, supporting embrace. "It'll be good, bro. You'll see," he finally whispered, to which Jason only nodded. Together, with their shoes in hand, they left their room quietly and headed downstairs.

Derek was already sitting on the sofa and tying his own shoelaces as they entered. "Hey, hey! You guys finally got up?" The older boy wrinkled his nose before continuing. "I think Dad wants to go up to Netley, then over to the Royal Park afterwards. You know, show Jason some places he hasn't been yet."

Jason only nodded, before sitting down in silence. Donning first one, and then the other of his shoes, he was oblivious to the older teen. Derek recognized that his cousin was overly preoccupied, and sat in deep thought, trying to determine what, if anything, might help for the moment.

When Elliot finished tying his shoelaces, he moved over next to Jason and placed an arm around him again. "Hey, come on, Jase... it'll be okay," he whispered. "I know, you're nervous and everything, but seriously, it'll be okay. I promise."

"He's right, Jason," Derek chimed in, adding his own hushed whisper from across the space. "Don't worry about this, okay? It'll be cool."

Jason felt an incredible dread descend upon him just then. "I- I don't know guys. I mean... I just don't know if I can go through with this or not. Honest, I know I promised, but..."

"Yes, you can," Elliot reassured him. "Derek and I are going to be with you, every step of the way, and we'll help you. That is, if you want us to. If you want us to be there, I mean."

Jason turned his eyes upon his cousin, and with a steady, serious tone, responded. "Try and leave me, Elliot, and I'll never forgive you," he said simply. Seeing Derek rise and standing close, Jason also turned his gaze upward. "That goes for you, too, Big D," he added, which made Derek smile. Sighing, Jason finally shrugged and dropped his eyes. "I'll be okay guys, just... just, help me get through this, okay? It's… it's hard right now. I- I'm scared."

In response, Elliot gave his cousin the best hug he could muster. Jason partially fell over into his cousin's lap, closing his eyes while trying to relax. Before any of the three could speak again, however, Simon entered the room with his own pair of shoes in hand, and with a bright smile. "Oi! You're up, and almost ready it seems! Good show, boys!" The man was unusually cheerful, Jason thought, as he sat back up. The elder Flavell smiled at them as he sat down and set about getting his own shoes pulled on. The man engaged in idle chit-chat for a moment or so, and Jason noted how he treated them all three equally in this manner, not favoring any one individual over another. It was another of those little things, but sometimes the little things were what set Jason's mind at ease.

When Simon finished, he turned to their new charge. "Say, I told the boys, there is a place on our way up towards Southhampton, in a little town called Netley. I know of two cafés there, right on the boardwalk, that would do us proud serving either Italian, or some of the best fish and chips you'll find. I think by the time we get up there, it will be more of a lunching hour anyway, eh? Then afterwards, there is one of the best open-air parks in the country nearby, with another castle to boot. We could all take a stroll through there, if you're up to it. Shouldn't take us too long, either. By the time we get back, they will hopefully have restored power by then. What do you say, are you game?"

Jason nodded nervously, swallowing a big lump that had been building in his throat. It did not go unnoticed by the older man. "Are you okay? Is there something wrong, son?" Simon asked with some concern.

Jason dropped his eyes to the floor and shook his head. "No sir, I'm okay."

Glancing at the other two boys, Simon could tell something was out of place. Standing, he crossed over and slowly dropped to one knee in front of Jason. Seeing he had the boy's attention, he spoke softly. "Now, we can't have any of that, can we?" Simon smiled. "You're nervous, I take it, because you've learned we need to talk a bit. Is that it?" When Jason nodded, Simon continued in a soft, reassuring tone. "Well, then listen to me. I grant you, I do think there are some things we really should talk about. You have an aura of mystery about you, and I am sure it is probably about things that aren't very peachy. But heed, I've learned some interesting details this week while I was in the States. I'm kind of hoping you can help shed some light on a few parts here and there, that's all. But if there is anything that goes beyond that point, I'll leave it all up to you. I mean that, son. You don't have to talk to me at all, you know. It might be disappointing, but then ... then I'll understand." Simon leaned in close and put both hands upon the teen's knees. "But be that as it may, you need not fear me, Jason. I promise you, there is nothing you need to be afraid of."

Jason looked up and searched the man's eyes closely, studying him before he responded. "No, sir. I promised these guys, and I keep my promises. I try to, anyway. I'm gonna... I'm gonna tell you everything, but... what if I tell you something you don't like? About..." He drew a deep breath. "About me," he whispered.

"About you?" Simon repeated, and seeing the nod in return, he understood. "There is nothing you can tell me that is going to change my view or opinion of you. Besides, these two," he paused indicating the two other boys close by. "These two will be there, they won't leave you."

"I- I don't know, Uncle Simon. Some of this... it's pretty bad," Jason replied whispering, still unconvinced.

Simon glanced first at Elliot, and then to his older son. Derek nodded, ever so slightly in agreement. Turning his attention back to Jason, Simon was puzzled. "Why would that matter? Why do you think that would matter to me?"

Jason shrugged. "I don't know, I guess I just... I'm just afraid you might, like, want to send me back or something." The words stunned the older man.

"What in the world? My stars, Jason, is that what you are really afraid of?" Simon, surprisingly, chuckled merrily, a note of relief in his voice. "Tell me something, do you think that is even possible?" He grunted as he straightened his back. "No Jason, that is not something that will happen. Besides, don't you think these two would tar and feather me in the stocks? Why, they'd never forgive me! More so, they would probably run away with you, too, before you ever set 10 feet outside that door!" In a softer voice, but still with a kindness that was exceptional, he added, "Trust ME, for a change, hmm? It will be alright, son, I promise. I don't think there is anything you could tell me that is the doom and gloom of the Earth. I doubt you could tell me anything that would make me, or make us, like and love you any less."

Jason looked deeply at the older man and saw the sincerity that met him. With a grim smile, he finally nodded and wiped at a tear escaping down his cheek. That change was enough for Simon. He rose to his feet then and addressed the three, the merry lilt in his voice returning. "Alright you hoodlums, I'm getting hungry!"

"What about Mum?" Elliot asked as he stood. He had reached out and grasped Jason by the hand, dragging his cousin up with him.

"She and Ella have gone shopping. Mind you, not an easy task to arrange, at best!" The boys grinned, so Simon continued. "However, they should be gone a good part of the day, I'm afraid." He shooed them toward the door. "I just hope the bank account can stand it..."

They all laughed. "Let's go!" Simon exclaimed, grabbing his coat. "Last one in the auto is a Moose's Caboose!"

Later that day, Jason kept his promise. After eating and walking about the grounds of the castle, they all found a nice view of the bay nearby. There sat an older, weather-beaten picnic table, with ample room for them to gather as they sat down. The glen was sheltered, so most of the wind was routed away from them. In addition, a spot of sunshine helped to warm and brighten Jason's mood considerably. With Elliot sitting beside him, holding Jason's hand beneath the table and offering his own words of encouragement, Jason did it. He told his story once again, completely, to only the third person in his life. Simon was a man who had accepted the teenager into his family as one of their own, and Jason knew he not only needed to tell this to him, but he owed it to him. There was something Jason found liberating when, after starting shyly, he grew more confident in watching Simon's reactions. There were times Simon would pause him, to extract some small detail, or to clear up some obscure moment. For the most part they sat, however, as Jason unfolded everything that had happened since his father's death. Simon, wisely, sat both patiently and attentively, with the barest of minimal interruptions.

Without a doubt, in his mind Simon began to fathom why certain things came into focus the way they did. Inwardly, he was aghast, never realizing before now the burden this young man had carried for so long. There were times that Simon sat in stunned disbelief, while other times in sheer amazement. Although he had tried to keep a straight face, it was a struggle to manage his composure and prevent him showing the outrage he felt bubbling up inside. The abuse, the neglect, and the senseless realities Jason had endured, all were frightening enough even as an adult, let alone a young teen of 14 to live through.

At other times, Simon wanted to reach out and embrace his nephew. He wanted to do something, anything, that let the boy know there were still good people in the world, people who cared. He refrained, however, because he felt that this time they were spending, needed to belong to Jason and to him alone. No matter how many times the teen may have already told this, it was a part of his healing inside. Laying it out again and again, would make it a little bit easier each time.

Simon also noted one other thing of importance: his two other sons unequivocally supported Jason through all of it. Derek, in his boldness, had draped an arm around his cousin and held him secure, giving him a part of his own strength. Elliot sat on the other side, and although Simon couldn't see it, he surmised the two were probably holding hands. There was a great power in those gestures, one that only came from total acceptance. Jason was stoic at times, but weakened at others, and Simon imagined the support from his brothers-at-hand were what gave the teenager the strength to keep going. He would take deep breaths, and then start letting it all roll again, trying to paint the picture for Simon as accurately as possible. Simon was amazed, too, at how well the teenager maintained his composure.

Jason was to also be given credit for his ability to articulate so well. The teen described things as he felt them, in his eyes and from his memories, with excruciating detail. His language was also respectful most of the time, with only a few forays into colorful territory, especially when his emotions started to overwhelm him. Simon ignored that, however, if for no other purpose than he wanted the teenager to feel completely free in front of the adult. He wanted Jason to tell the story as he felt it, and there were times that the language painted imagery in a more stark and primary manner. Simon also had another reason, too. Letting Jason tell his side, in the way he wanted to bring it out, let the anger work its way out, too. In Simon's eyes, no matter how salty that might be, he considered it a good thing.

When they neared the end of the tale, Jason told of how he came to be in the hospital with no real recollection of how or when he arrived. He included that, somehow, he was told the Flavells had been found, and the next thing he really knew, was that a few days later he was on a plane, bound for England. Simon quizzed him gently on these particular details, but Jason could provide little more. He simply could not recall anything.

Afterwards, Simon sighed and sat back, trying to contemplate it all again. Short of the stiff breeze around them, the weather was surprisingly warm for the morning, unlike the seasonable exceptions they had already experienced that week. While the four sat in silence, they could hear seagulls in the distance, cawing wildly into the wind. For the most part, the castle grounds were empty of people.

Between the four, each held their silence for some time, listening to the nature around them. It was Derek, however, who finally cleared his throat and spoke up, interrupting their thoughts. "So, what do you think, Dad?"

The question brought Simon out of his reverie. He smiled and removed his glasses, taking a handkerchief from his pocket and proceeding to clean them. Simon didn't look at the boys directly for a moment, contemplating his next move as carefully as he dared. When he did speak, he looked directly into Jason's eyes and held them with his own. "First of all, I believe you. Do not let anything I say, or anyone else, make you think otherwise. Understand that now and keep it inside of you. Okay?"

Those words had the desired effect, as a seemingly heavy load lifted from Jason's shoulders. "T-Thanks, Uncle Simon," he replied softly, a wistful smile beginning to appear.

Reaching out, Simon clasped the teenager on his shoulder. "I know that wasn't easy, but believe me, it does explain a lot of what I already suspected. But I… I had no idea Jason, no idea at all, it was as bad as that. Trust me, if I had known, if I had suspected that much trauma and hardship, I would have never waited until now to get into this. We would have spoken a lot sooner, and you would have perhaps already put a big part of this behind you. So, forgive me, son. I'm truly sorry,"

"It's o-okay, Uncle Simon. I mean, I didn't... I wasn't ready, you know? I was scared," Jason answered, his voice barely above a whisper.

Simon nodded in understanding. "You were scared, and you had every right to be. Add that to the fact you were coming here as a stranger into a strange land, and then having to restart your life over again with even more strangers, at that." He shook his head. "I am quite proud of you, actually. To say the least, I'm amazed at how well you did just that. How well you have adjusted to life here, with all of us. And living with that behind you, on top of this? It's extraordinary!" He held Jason's gaze again. "Hear me now, son - nothing has changed between us. You're still as much a part of this family as you were before. That includes before you even awoke this morning. You're still a part of us, and we're still a part of you, and that isn't going to change."

Jason smiled, but it was Elliot who spoke up. "See Jase? I told you!"

Simon chuckled, giving Elliot a side glance. "Yes, I suspect you and Derek have told him a good many things, son. Sometimes, however..." He paused with a thoughtful expression. "Sometimes, people can be told things, but believing them just takes a lot longer, hmm?" He was again watching Jason, but as the smile grew wider, Simon knew it had hit home.

Jason rose from his seat and walked around the table, practically throwing himself into Simon's arms as he embraced him. The older adult held him warmly, chuckling all the same, but rubbing the youth's back and sides as he held him in his arms. It was a special moment to Jason, more so to feel the safety of being in the arms of his uncle, than even that of the two brothers. This had been a big step, but now Jason felt an extreme amount of relief inside. He had finally opened himself to someone on a whole different level than his own. Someone who would finally understand - everything. It made him feel ... happy.

After a moment, Simon sat the youth down beside him. "Now, boys, we have some things we need to decide and do here." Looking at Jason, he explained. "I'll need you to tell me portions of these events again, Jason - but really, just some key points. I need to make some notes, maybe even record parts of it. Do you think you could do that, with me?"

"Yes, sir," Jason responded without hesitation.

Simon smiled at him. "I'll say it again: you did absolutely fine, son. I'm really proud of you, don't forget that." He expanded his attention to include all three of them. "Now, there are some things I can tell you about this week, but I'm going to warn you – I won't tell you everything that has transpired. Not that I don't think you could handle it, nor do I think you're not mature enough to deal with it. It's not that at all. Instead, it's because..." He paused, searching for the words he wanted to use. "Because you are going to probably get questioned by people again, Jason, before this is completely said and done. I don't think it would serve any purpose if you have certain knowledge of events beforehand, hmm?"

Jason was puzzled. "Huh?"

Simon laughed. "Yeah, 'Huh' is right. I am probably doing a piss-poor job here. Look, I'm asking you to just trust me on a few things. We'll see how the other details play out later, but eventually you're going to know the full story. All of you will. As for now though, let me tell you this: the system in America? The one where you supposedly arrived from? It is all, for lack of a better expression, truly 'fucked up'." The man noticed Elliot's startled expression, and chuckled. "I dare say, you know your old man is not immune to his own expressions of colorful metaphors!" That remark made Derek scoff as he sat up straighter, listening closely.

Simon studied for a moment. "Whether it's just an embodiment of the process, or if someone simply took advantage of you, I don't know. I strongly suspect the latter, but there is no real, hard evidence that supports it right now. I do know this, however: once I get some of these details back across the pond, there will be some people I met who are going to want to find and talk with you."

Jason was still confused. "Find me? I don't understand..."

"It's simple, Jason. I suspect there has been some foul play in this. The thing is, I don't know how much, or how deep, or with whom. Understand? If I taint you with certain knowledge of what I found out, without any evidence to back it up, then I could be accused of coaching you in your responses. I'd rather not do that. When the authorities come forward and question you up front, I think it will be better that way. Does that make sense?"

Jason nodded, but it was Elliot who spoke up. "Can you tell us anything then, Dad?"

Simon shrugged. "Of course, there is a little here and there. For example, I'm sure you all three realize by now, the amount of neglect that Jason experienced was outside of anything considered as being 'normal'. For example, being denied any of your belongings, or the right to return to your house? That borderlines a severe breach of protocol all to itself. Although you are a minor, there are certain aspects under the law that you are supposedly protected by. In your case, however, it seems nothing was protected at all."

Simon sighed. "So, there is that. Other pieces of this puzzle are also well outside the norm, too. Another example: what happened to your homestead? And where are your medical records? Why has no one bothered to follow-up or check on you since you arrived here? Those are the types of things that create mystery, I'm afraid. While I was over there this week, I talked with some people - good people, mind you son - that want to get answers to all of this, and more."

Jason moved to sit beside his uncle, silently thinking about the implications. "S-so... I'll have to do this ... again ..."

Simon smiled at Jason while continuing to wrap an arm around him firmly. "Yes, but not without some help, and not without me by your side, this time." He looked at the two brothers. "Most likely these two will be there, too," he added, causing Derek and Elliot to both grin. "Mind you, some of the more gruesome details we can probably gloss over, but you know something?" When he had the teen's full attention, he leaned in and spoke softer. "This - being here with me, telling me all of this - is probably one of the bravest things I've seen you do yet. And Jason? I have seen you do several brave things in these last few months." He saw the look of doubt spread across the youth. "No? You don't think so? I do... Tell me, can you imagine what most teenagers your age would feel and do, if they had to be uprooted like you just were? How most youths would probably feel worn down, and given so little faith left in humanity, would give up? Or in human nature? I've said it before, I'll say it again: how about flying across the Atlantic to begin a new life, with a bunch of strangers, in a land as different as ours?"

Simon watched as it sunk in. "You have hit obstacles, son, and overcome them with flying colors. You have woven your way into the very fabric of our being, and then continued to win out all the way around. You're even beginning to understand what it means to be a Briton, without giving up your own heritage. You're adapting yourself into life here, without even thinking or worrying about where you are at, or where you will have to go. Am I not speaking the truth here, boys?"

Derek spoke up. "It's true Dad, every word of it. Jase has fitted in with everything here on his own, without needing all that much help from us."

"He's our cousin, but he's also our brother," Elliot added, grinning. "Yeah, I know, sounds weird, but ... he is. He's our family."

"And that doesn't mean step-brother, either," Derek added. "We have to remind him of that sometimes, though. Elliot and me, we don't see him that way at all."

Simon chuckled. "No, it's not weird at all, boys. There is a close attachment you've all made to one another. I'm not one to deny having seen or felt it. There is absolutely nothing wrong with any of that, and I encourage you to continue not being afraid to trust each other." He looked down into Jason's questioning eyes. "I've seen you shed tears, and I know many people frown on that sort of thing in our gender. It becomes a matter of masculinity, you see, especially in a society where one believes that shedding tears is a general sign of weakness. That's why most men don't do it. The why is simple: they believe they must always exhibit this sense of certainty around them. To display any raw emotion, without seeming to be in control of oneself, to them is a cardinal sin. It's a persona, an ego of sorts, and it is not without deep fault."

He cleared his throat and then began addressing all three boys again. "I don't buy any of that codswallop, and neither should you. You do have to learn to have confidence in yourself, but you'll always screw up somewhere on the road of life. Even at my age, I am humble enough to admit that I make mistakes, too. Big ones, even. Adults are not all knowing or wise, you know. We struggle with our own uncertainties, the same as you or anyone else your age. It is a given, so expect it, and as you get older, then embrace it. That's how you learn, that's how you believe and build confidence in yourself, and that's how you will make better decisions as you go forward in life. That, boys, is how you survive in this crazy world of ours."

His voice turned somber just then. "But hear this now, too. If, and when, the system breaks you down every so often, then... just let it all out. Because, sometimes, that's simply the best medicine. It lets you heal something from the inside, in that part of you which the outside world can't touch. That part, it's your soul – the binding fabric that makes you who you are. Crying does happen, even to the best of us. Just simply let it out, and then when you get done, take a deep breath. Pick yourself up and start working your way out of whatever your crisis might be. I guarantee you, the aftermath will always be much clearer and cleaner than ever before." Simon sat back to pause briefly, but he kept his arm around Jason for good measure. "That goes for feelings about your fellow man, as well. There is nothing wrong in accepting, and believing, you have a new brother in this family. I know and feel it, just as strongly as you do. I mean, I certainly have strong feelings about the fact that I now have another son! Do you think that sounds any weirder, as you put it, than you are having feelings about someone else you care for, close to your heart, as a brother?"

Elliot grinned. "I sure don't, sir!"

"And well you shouldn't! And for goodness sake, boys, will you three please stop with this 'sir', crap? Shit!" The sudden exclamation, and hearty laughter that followed, caught the boys off guard. All three giggled alongside him. "I am far too old to be reminded of it every day, time and again! No matter what your mother says!" Simon declared, as Elliot rose and moved around the table. He ensnared and hugged his father from behind, while Derek joined them on Simon's free side. The feeling made Simon feel especially proud.

"Doesn't matter Dad, we still love you, no matter how old you get," Derek breathed. It was a moment before Simon could continue.

"You know, you're all growing up, and doing it way too fast for your mother and me. We still could not be prouder of you, though - all of you. Life is an adventure, boys! Just be careful as you go about finding your way, that's all." Simon turned again to Jason who, through his silence, had acquired a smile of understanding. "To you, I want to say two more things directly, and I will say them now, while it is just the four of us here." Elliot and Derek sat down on either side of them before the man continued.

"For one, about these things that have happened to you. You seem to have adjusted well, at least to a certain point, but I want you to remember something. You'll never forget them, Jason. I'm sorry, but that is a cold, hard fact of life. Those memories, and that action will always be a part of your life, but it will be a part of your past while you're growing up, well into your adult years." Simon paused, choosing his words carefully. "They were not pleasant, and the scars they left behind will always be on your heart, and in your mind. That is a certainty, son, and there is nothing anyone can ever do that will vanquish them from your soul."

"I know that, Uncle Simon. It's okay," Jason replied, his voice still soft.

Simon cleared his throat again as he sat forward. "Good, but know this, too: if you want to grow beyond them, especially considering those two who raped you, you need to understand that you have a choice. Listen to me, Jason. You can either stew in the misery they created for you, wallowing in it for the rest of your life. Or ... you can say 'fuck it!'. Yes," he paused, hearing Elliot gasp again. "Yes, I dropped the F-bomb again, and I meant it. I'm not immune to the ways of the phrase son, given its carefree use by some people. But there are times it has a place, at least in the right circumstances. Personally, if it will help any of you, and not just Jason, to realize how serious I am right now, then let me finish what I think qualifies here." He turned to the American again. "Just understand, Jason, if you hold on to these memories and such, if you keep them inside and wallow around in that miserable experience - it will forever dominate you. I know this because I have met people who simply cannot live to forgive and let things pass. You will go through life in the shadows, giving power to those responsible. Why? Because it is, effectively, a part of you over which you have lost control. It will make your misery grow beyond reproach, especially the longer you hold on to them. Worse still is, if you do, it will also make you second guess everything and everyone around you. And if you do that, you will miss out on a lot of the beautiful things life has for us all."

"Don't misunderstand me: what they did to you was WRONG, and they should be hunted down and made to atone for it," Simon continued, firmly. "But... son... you don't know what that outcome will ever be. Their capture may never happen, and you may never come upon them or see them again in your lifetime. That is something you must come to terms with. Considering it's a time long past now, where those two are in life, now, is inconsequential. Do you see? They are now a wandering part of your past, and they have no bearing upon you any further. So, that is why I say this to you: if you'll learn to not let that experience have power over you, and if you'll learn to just acknowledge that it happened, then you can go on with living. I think you'll find a lot of wonderful things in life are yet to come. That includes relationships, friends, kids, family, co-workers - even the little things, like sex."

Simon sat back and started laughing hard at the serious expressions he saw on both his sons' faces. "I wish you two could see yourselves right now," he breathed aloud. When he finally quieted, he reached for them both and pulled them close. "I do not say much of what I see, although I know a part of what must be happening between you. It's okay though, because I trust you boys, implicitly. I honestly, truthfully trust you. I know, I've never talked about sex and everything like most fathers do, mostly because your blasted mother beat me to it! But just as well, I also haven't done it because I know, or rather felt, you didn't need it. Believe it or not, I was once your age, and I had friends, and we... well, let's just say your dear old Dad isn't as innocent as you'd probably like to believe. But I know what it was like, sex on the brain, hormones going crazy, and more. Just remember - I trust you, and I love you. You have always been far more mature about these things than I believe most adults would encounter. You will not always know and understand what that means, but know this much at least: there is a promise I will keep until the day I leave this Earth. It is a promise I make to all three of you, without any hesitation. If you ever need me, for any reason, just come find me. Please! I implore you, do not hesitate. You might find I'm not as weirded out, as you call it, about certain things as most parents would be. Okay?"

A silence fell between them, the boys solemnly taking to heart what the man was telling them. They also understood, just as much, about what he was also not telling them. Simon studied their faces and let that sink in for a moment, before he turned to Jason again.

"Alright, as for number two, I want you to remember something else, Jason. I am a firm believer you will come out of this on a high note. No matter what you may feel inside, everything is going to get better from here on out. But son, promise me you will think on this last bit a while, because it is just as important to me as everything else I tell you. I'll get you some help, without hesitation, if you want or need it. If you need some professional therapy, or if talking to a counselor will help you in any way, just say the word. I mean that. Another note, too: you'd probably wonder about the four of us, I know, given as little as we go to church. Just know that we do believe in God, we believe in Christianity, and we do from time to time make it to Sunday services. So, I will say to you, if that is something that will help you in any way, perhaps talking with a Bishop, a minister or someone else within the church, again – all you have to do is let me know."

"I will also help you in any other way that you feel you might need, with only the condition being that you have to speak up. Please don't wait for me to guess about it - I am truly hopeless about such things. I have always trusted and believed that these boys will tell me when things are not right, when they need my advice, or need guidance towards things that happen in our world. Thus far, in our family dynamic, that has always worked out. I believe it will be the same for you, too, in the same way. You just - just have to be willing, and you must trust me. I mean that, you know - don't be afraid. I told you this morning, you have nothing to fear from me. If you come to me with a problem or event or issue, I promise you, I will listen and understand it in the best way I can, with my heart. You see, it is not just my duty, nor is it just my place in our household. It is my place in life, Jason. Every family has their own dynamic, to use that term again. In ours, I am not here because I have to be, and I think all three of you would realize that by now. I am here by choice, period. I WANT to be here! That includes being here for Natalie, for Derek, for Elliot - and for you, too. I want to be your friend, but also be your uncle. And when the need arises, if you'll let me, I want to be the person you can trust to always listen to you, and to always hear you out. And I will, unquestionably, always try to do that first and foremost. Not because I must, but because I love you."

Simon cleared his throat again, switching gears. "Having said all that, however, I think you've already had a lot of help, and in the right way, too. Whether these two knew what they were doing was a good deed or not, it doesn't matter. You do realize, I hope, that what they've done says something extraordinary. To have people in your own generation, someone you can relate to, but also relate to you? That's magical. What's even more magical is when they understand you well enough to know when things are not right. That is what you call true friendship. The brotherhood you three have developed with one another, well, it's all any parent could ever ask for." The man smiled again. "Just remember, you get to make life what you want it to be, and though we live in a strange world, it's not all truly bad. Be cautions, or careful, but also don't be afraid to reach for it. Life, I mean. Seize it, grasp it, make it your adventure! Be amazed and astounded, and have happiness surround you. There are good people in this world - some nasty ones, too - but mostly good people, who are just as eager to make life as fulfilling for themselves as you do. I promise you, good people means good friends, and... good brothers, too."

Simon stopped there, feeling totally spent at deriving words of wisdom he hoped they would take to heart. Jason, once again with moist eyes and an expression of awe, moved closer and hugged the man, whispering into his ear, "Thank you."

Simon closed his own eyes. "You're welcome, son. Just remember, it will all be alright. I truly believe I can make that promise, because I can feel it just as much as the rest of you do. You'll get through this just fine." He held the boy for a moment longer then pulled away, addressing the group. "Uh, there is perhaps, one more thing I should mention here, boys," he added, sheepishly.

"What's that, Dad?" Elliot asked.

"Say nothing of this to your mother. Let me handle that end of it, hmm? I think she will be okay with most of it, but I also think it needs to be, ah, filtered down a tad. At least initially, hmm? What do you think?"

"Sure thing, Dad," Derek replied, to which all three nodded in unison.

Upon returning home, they discovered the power had been restored. Simon made to engage the boiler again, while the boys took their turns in the loo. Once completed, Elliot and Derek headed upstairs, leaving Simon and Jason in the front room to talk some more. Sitting with pad and pen, Simon began to query Jason on specifics of his ordeal. He made careful notes, while rebuilding part of the timeline with greater detail. After the better part of an hour, Simon finally sat back in his chair and stretched. Smiling, he told Jason that would do for the time being.

Before standing to leave, Jason hesitated. "Uncle Simon?"

"Hmmm?" Simon replied looking up.

"Thanks, for today," Jason said simply. His disposition seemed much lighter to Simon, as if a darkened cloud had been lifted. The eldest Flavell sat back and regarded the teenager.

"No, thank you, son." Simon paused and pulled off his glasses, laying them atop the pad. "You know Jason, I meant what I said. If you'll just think about it a bit, all these things which have happened to you, they are but shadows of your past. When the shadows pass though, the light always comes back into your day, and into your heart. You'll be ever the stronger for it in the end. Just watch, you'll see."

Jason rose from his seat and came around the corner of the table, standing next to Simon's chair. "My days are already a lot brighter, and it's because of all of you. From you and Natalie, accepting me like you did, to Derek being the big brother I never had. And to Elliot, for being... I don't know how to describe him, he's just a lot more, I think. But all of you, I... I owe you a lot. I don't know what I can do or say anymore, just ... thanks." He then leaned down and embraced the man yet again, hugging him warmly, and Simon returned the gesture.

When they parted, Jason headed upstairs and found Elliot in their room. Derek was already sitting corner on the corner of the bed, his legs stretched out before him. Looking away from the window, he grinned when he saw Jason enter. "There you are!" the older teen exclaimed pleasantly. Elliot bolted from the other end and stood immediately in front his cousin.

"So, all done?" Elliot asked quietly, to which Jason grinned and nodded. He accepted another warm embrace, and surprisingly one from Derek as well, who also rose to join them.

"See? Not a piece of cake, I know, but still..." Derek offered.

Jason nodded. "Yeah, I know. Thanks guys. Thanks for the hugs, too."

"What are you thanking us for? You did the hard part!" Elliot retorted.

Derek shook his head. "You know, the more I hear this stuff, the more astounded I get about it all." He observed his cousin closely. "You did super, though. You know that, right?" Without waiting for a reply, he backed away and looked at his watch. "It's only 4:30? Seems like it ought to be a lot later than that!"

Jason shrugged, as Elliot quipped. "Yeah, I know. But still, it took a while."

"Your Dad asked a lot of questions, too, and that took some time to get through," Jason added.

"Anything in particular?" Derek asked.

Jason shook his head. "Not really. Just, I don't know, looking for more details on parts of it, mostly. He made a lot of notes."

"Did he say what he was going to do next?" Elliot inquired.

Jason shook his head. "He just thanked me when we got done, and then said that was enough for now." Jason wrinkled his nose. "Did you say 4:30? What time does the game shop close?"

"I think around 5:30 or 6:00. Why?" Elliot asked.

"Well, we ran out of glue the other night, remember? I was wondering, maybe we could go get some?" Jason paused, and then blushed. "That is, if either of you have a couple of extra dollars… Err, excuse me, a couple of pounds I could use. Until I get paid again, I mean."

Derek smiled. "I have a five-note you can use." He looked outside. "We wouldn't be able to get there and back before dark, though. It's already getting dusk outside. Maybe Dad would run you two over for a quick minute."

Elliot was out the door and racing downstairs before Jason could even reply, making Derek laugh. Jason glanced up. "You don't want to go with us?"

"I do, but I just got off the mobile with one of my mates. Seems they're getting together to hang out in a bit, so I thought I might go chill with them."

Jason nodded, then spoke quietly. "Derek? I owe you. You know that, right?"

Derek snorted. "Five quid? Nothing to sneeze about, honest."

"No," Jason shook his head. "Not the money, although yeah, I'll pay that back. But, I mean for today. You gave up your day with your friends, to be with me. You could have been out doing your own stuff. I won't forget that."

Derek shrugged. "I don't regret it. I would do it for you anytime you needed me to, trust me. Believe it or not, you and Elliot have helped me out quite a bit as of late, giving me back something I was sure I'd lost. With Elliot, anyway. That is something I won't forget, not for a long time." He lowered his voice. "Trust me, I get just as much out of this as you guys do. And I believed Dad, when he said everything is going to get better now. It will, you'll see."

Jason nodded. "It already has Big D."

Before they could continue, Elliot rushed back into the room. "Dad said he would take us over, but only if we get down there quick enough! He also said he would loan you some money, so you don't have to sponge off of Derek." He glanced between the two, then waved his arms. "Well? Come on, what are we waiting for? Let's get going!" he urged excitedly.

Jason laughed at the eagerness, and then bumped fists with Derek as they parted ways.

When they entered the shop, they were surprised to find both Ron and his father arriving as well, each carrying several boxes from a small truck parked outside. Both the boys and Simon each grabbed boxes as well, and then helped get the lot safely inside. Several had already been brought in and stacked near the counter, so they each deposited their own cargo with it. Another trip out and back completed the task, and Ron's father quickly took off to move the truck away from normal traffic.

"Hey guys, good to see you again!" Ron declared, fist bumping the boys and then shaking the eldest Flavell's hand. "What, a whole 20 hours or something, right?" Ron intoned, grinning at Elliot.

"Yeah, something like that," Elliot replied good-naturedly.

"Oh, and a happy birthday is due you, too, I believe," Simon declared, grinning.

"Thank you, sir!" Ron replied, then addressed the three collectively. "So, what's up? What brings you down here this late in the day, on a Saturday evening?"

"I need some more modeling glue," Jason spoke up. "We ran out at home, and we can't really get any further on our model without it."

Ron nodded and walked over to one of the display shelves, scooping up a couple of bottles. "Why don't you take two then, in case you run out again."

Jason grinned but shook his head. "Uh, not this time, Ron. I mean, I'm borrowing money as it is to just get one bottle."

Just then, a booming voice directly behind them jolted them unexpectedly. "Give him both bottles, son." Ron's father had quietly appeared behind them, grinning widely.

From a distance, Simon even laughed. "I think you spooked them on that one!"

Jason was laughing by then. "Sorry sir, I- we didn't hear you come back in!" He turned to Ron. "One will do though, for now."

Ron's father, however, wasn't having it. "The bottles are only two quid apiece, so it is not like you're robbing me, or breaking the bank. Besides, I still owe you some back pay, I think. Go ahead, take the two and quit arguing."

Ron had already put them in a bag and was handing them over. Jason blushed, but accepted it gracefully. "Thank you, sir. I really appreciate it. But... you don't owe me anything, honest."

"We will have this discussion another time, perhaps," the older man admonished. "How goes the model anyway? Coming along?"

"Yes, sir! At least some, anyway. We were pretty busy this week with school and everything, so we haven't made a lot of progress, yet," Jason explained.

"And the lighting kit? Does it appear it will work?" Mr. Fulcrum asked.

"I think so," Jason answered.

Elliot interrupted just then. "The only thing we're having to figure out now, is the battery box. We were having trouble with it, because it's kind of, well... big."

"Hmm…" Mr. Fulcrum studied for a minute. "Yes, but you know, you could use an external transformer. No? You see, all you'd have to do, I think, is maybe fix a small plug onto the LED unit." He walked behind the counter and rummaged inside a box filled with miscellaneous parts. Just as he was about to put it back, he stopped. "Ah, this might do it! You need about 3 amps, I think, for that kit you got from us. This one..." he paused, extracting a unit and looking it over. Reaching out, he found a magnifying glass that let him read the label. "Ahh! Perfect! This is 2.95 amps, it should work nicely! Just be sure to match positive and earth couplings on the output. Like this, See?" He handed the unit to Jason, indicating the different wires by their color.

"Yeah, this... could work, but uh... We would need a plug..."

Ron, once again, was already at his side with the very plug that was needed to match it. Grinning from ear to ear, he smirked. "You mean, like this one?" The all watched as Ron mated the ends together perfectly.

Jason once again looked up at the shop owner. "Thank you, sir," he said quietly, which the older man just nodded. Simon then interrupted their reverie.

"All done then? We really should get going." Simon stuck out his hand and shook those of both the shop owner and his son. "You've been good to Jason, and it hasn't gone unnoticed. I deeply appreciate it."

Mr. Fulcrum just waved it off. "He does much here for us, too. No need, but we are appreciative as well."

With that, the three left.

Later that evening, both Jason and Elliot were focused attentively on their task at hand. This time, they were bringing more parts of the ship together than before. Experimenting with where and how to insert the plug for the transformer supply, they both were deeply involved in making sure it wouldn't interfere elsewhere with their plans. Finally, Jason was all smiles at one point. It was the first time Elliot could remember seeing his cousin be so relaxed. It surprised him too when he caught Jason humming a tune under his breath.

"Feeling good?" Elliot asked, to which Jason simply grinned. It was a few minutes later, however, before he answered.

"You know? I owe you, too. For today. I haven't said thank you, yet," Jason observed.

"You don't have to. There's nothing to thank me for, bro. I told you, you'd make it, didn't I? And now that you did..." Elliot replied.

"Yeah, everything seems so much - brighter now." Jason hesitated, then sat back. "You know, like, I don't feel so weighed down anymore."

"I can see that," Elliot replied, sitting back in his chair as well. "I really do, Jase. I can tell a difference in you, for sure." That caused Jason to turn and look at him, studying for a few seconds before glancing at the clock. He put the cap back onto the bottle of glue, before rubbing his eyes.

"That's enough for tonight, I think. This stuff needs to set for a while before we do much more to it." Standing up, Jason took the model part Elliot was holding, and set it gently on the desk. With both hands, he grasped and gently pulled Elliot to his feet. "Come on, I've got to wiz before we go to bed."

Nodding thoughtfully, Elliot followed his cousin out of their room. They saw a light on in Simon and Natalie's room, before they made their way quietly downstairs and into the kitchen. Jason grabbed Elliot's hand and pulled him along as they entered the bathroom where, once inside, he quietly closed the door. Dragging Elliot with him, they approached the toilet where they stopped and, first Jason, and then Elliot in like manner, unzipped their jeans and proceeded to let long streams find their path into the bowl.

"It's funny, Elliot," Jason whispered. "This is really where it all began, remember?" Looking up, he grinned at his cousin. "This is where you started to teach me how to trust you."

"It's a wonder you didn't weird out on me," Elliot replied softly, as they were finishing up. Jason, however, shook his head.

"It was... well, it was different, I know. I honestly didn't know what to think at first, but - you did it. You got me to break out of my shell with this stuff." Jason looked over at the shower. "And that day we caught Derek in there, that did it even more."

"Yeah, I remember," Elliot said as they worked putting everything away and flushing the loo. "You should have seen how big your eyes got, then."

"I can imagine, yeah," was the only reply. They rinsed their hands and brushed their teeth before exiting the room. In the kitchen, both obtained a drink of water, using the same glass, before heading back upstairs. Once they reached their room, Jason closed their door and sat down on the corner of their bed. After Elliot observed him briefly, he moved over and sat with him.

"What's up?" Elliot asked.

Jason stared off into space for a moment before answering. "You. You're what's up, for a change."


Jason smiled at him then. "Just thinking about stuff again. You said it perfectly last night, you know? We've been through so much together, and we've had so many ups and downs already. We're only 14 years old-"

"Hey, now! Almost 15, you know! We both have birthdays coming up in a few months!" Elliot exclaimed.

"Okay, okay! Almost 15 then, but ... it's like we've had this whole lifetime behind us already. It just sometimes seems like we're so much older. Does that make sense?" Jason mused.

"Yeah, in a way it does. We've only known each other for like, 6 months or so, but here we are. It seems like a lot longer than that," Elliot agreed.

"Exactly," Jason responded softly. "The truth? I- I don't know if I could have done it without you," he added after a moment. "I mean, I've never been good with talking about myself or my feelings and everything. At least, not before, not when I was in America. Since I've arrived here though, you've really gotten me to open up and stuff." He turned toward his cousin. "I meant that in a good way, Elliot. After everything that happened to me, it's like you said that first night, remember? When you convinced me to finally tell you everything? You told me I needed to talk about it, to get it out and everything. And you were right. I think, as it turns out, you were right about a lot of things."

"I remember, Jase. At least parts of it," Elliot whispered.

There was a silence then, as Jason stared at the floor before continuing. "Elliot, I meant what I said last night. And after today, after talking to your Dad, it made me realize it even more. I owe you, not just the little things, but for everything. You're the reason I made it, bro. You're the reason I'm here tonight. It's you who stuck by me from the beginning, never telling anyone anything. Yet at the same time, it was you who helped me get there. You know, get to where I needed to be, before today." He sighed deeply. "There is no way I can say thank you, not that it will ever equal what you've done. Not for me, anyway. I-" Jason paused again while looking around. "I mean, I've been trying to think all day, what can I do? What can I say, you know? It's like, I've already said so much, I can't help but think it would be nothing more than a broken record." He giggled. "Do you realize how much we talk? Or rather, how much you have to listen to me?"

Elliot scooted up close. "Don't you think I know how you feel? Don't you think I feel it, too? I mean, you talk about that, but don't you know you're everything to me, too?" He sighed and took hold of Jason's hand and held it. "Do you love me?"

"Without question," Jason whispered.

"Do you know that I love you, too?" Elliot asked.

Jason smiled and nodded. "Yeah, I know it. I feel it, too."

"Then why do you have to try and say anything then? I'm glad. I mean it, I'm really proud of you for talking to my Dad today. I saw the change in you when we were leaving the park, and after we got home. You want to talk about the night we did that stuff back then? What about the night you finally let your guard down, and we took that shower, together? And what about all the other times, ever since we started stripping each other naked? And cuddling up? You did it, or let me do it, without being shy. We did it, Jase. Without being afraid of one another, with what we might see or even touch! Maybe that's kind of stupid for some people, but it was and still is EVERYTHING for me. You trusted me then, and you still trust me now. Get it?" Elliot leaned in and nuzzled their noses together. "I feel it, I really do. I've just tried to give you everything I have of me, and guess what? You didn't reject me or push me away. You didn't get tired of me. You even let me love you, and you loved me right back. See, Jase? We give everything to each other, what more could we want?"

Jason studied for a minute before squeezing Elliot's hand. "Well, almost everything. There is one thing I know of, one thing I've never given to you. Of me, I mean."

Elliot was puzzled for a moment. "Like...what?"

Jason did not answer right away, staring off into space while deep into his own thoughts. Elliot sat in curiosity until suddenly, he understood. "You mean sex, don't you? Like, all the way stuff." When Jason turned back to him, there was an understanding in his eyes. Elliot spoke up ever so softly. "You keep hinting at it, I know, but Jase? You never, ever have to give me that, bro. Honest. What we do now? Just when we lie here and hold each other and stuff? It's real, it's not a fantasy or anything. It's just us, and that's plenty okay with me. Because I feel you then, I know you love me then."

Jason stared at his cousin for a long time. Elliot, afraid of breaking the moment, sat patiently and waited. There was clearly a battle Jason was fighting inside. It was a conflict that had reared its ugly head before, but without a winner. Jason wanted to talk about this, needed to even. Why, he wasn't sure. What he did know, however, was that certain feelings and uncertainties dissipated away every time he was in Elliot's presence. When he did speak, it was in a voice just above a whisper. "Can I ask you something? And will you honestly tell me the truth?"

Elliot nodded. "Always, bro. I have nothing to hide from you."

"Have you, like, ever wanted to? With me? Go all the way?" Jason whispered.

Now it was Elliot's turn to pause and stare back. Searching within himself, he was the one now unsure. Looking into those eyes though, he was not going to lie about it. "Sometimes, yeah. I mean, okay, I admit it - I've been curious. But Jase, it's usually like that, only when we're really horny and everything, and... I don't know..." He squeezed the hand that he still held. "I'm almost afraid it will do something to us, and I don't want to lose us, you know?"

Jason nodded. "Have you ever done it before? Even with Derek?"

Elliot shook his head. "No, I'm a 100% virgin, bro. At least, as far as with anyone else." He blushed. "Besides, if I did it with someone, I confess - it would only be with you. Not that I haven't like..."

When he didn't continue, Jason could sense something else was there. "Okay, fess up, what do you mean?"

Elliot blushed. "Well I've, umm, done some things, you know, just to see what it might feel like." Seeing the curious look meeting his gaze, he explained. "I've like, pushed a cucumber up inside me, part of the way, you know... that kind of stuff."

Jason giggled and then laughed out loud. "Seriously?" he sputtered, a wave of relief flooding over him.

Elliot blushed deeper just then, which Jason found to be really cute. "Yeah, I admit it, don't chop my balls off or anything, okay? I… I kind of wanted to know how it was and everything. You know, what it's like and all." Jason giggled even more, but Elliot was glad his cousin's mood seemed to brighten. "I do know Derek has done it before, though."

That brought a surprised reaction. Jason stopped and looked at him incredulously. "No way!" he whispered, which made Elliot smile.

"Remember what he said that night? He's done way more than you might think? Well, yeah, I know a part of it." Elliot wrinkled his nose. "It's not my place to say though, okay? So please, don't ask me the details. I'm sure you can ask him though, if you want to. Just ... I will tell you, he's not exactly a virgin on a lot of fronts."

"Wow, I didn't even think about that," Jason replied softly. He looked up into Elliot's eyes. "Thanks, bro."

"For what?" Elliot asked.

"For being honest with me. And I'm like you, if I ever did it, I think I'd only want to do it with you." He stared deep into Elliot's eyes. "You'd still do it though, knowing... well, knowing what happened to me and all? That those creeps, they… they already got up inside me and everything?"

Elliot looked surprised at the question. "Of course I would, Jase! Why would you ask that? Why would you feel that way?" Getting no immediate reply, he leaned in and kissed Jason softly on his lips. "I don't care about that Jase, honest. It was a long time ago, and right now? You're here with me, okay? And I'm here with you? And yes, absolutely, I would do it with you sometime, if... if everything was right, and okay and stuff. Honest! And besides, it's a two-way street bro. You know that, right? It's not just me with you, it's you with me, too!" He smiled and lowered his voice to a whisper. "You would do it to me, too. I wouldn't let you say no. That way, I could give you a part of me, too."

Jason smiled as a tear lost itself upon his cheek. He hugged his cousin warmly. "Elliot? If you ever do, I mean, if we ever do it, um... you think we can, you know, do it for the same reasons we do everything else? Because we just trust each other? Because… we love each other?"

A whimper escaped Elliot as he embraced the other teen harder. "I would never do it for any other reason, Jase. Never, no matter how horny I get!" They held each other for a moment before Elliot pulled back. "But you have to know something else, too. One reason I never think about this part very much, with you and stuff, is because I would never want to hurt you. I wouldn't want to... like... make those memories come back and hurt you. You understand that, right?"

Surprisingly, Jason smiled at him. "You wouldn't. Maybe at one time it might have messed with me, but ... now? It wouldn't anymore, I promise. It's why I said if we ever do it, like, we do it because we trust each other. That's what makes the difference for me, Elliot. Those creeps, they didn't care about me, they just wanted to use me. You know, use the weak kid to fuck their rocks off and everything, and shoot their jizz up my ass. They didn't care - but you do. You do care about me, and I care about you, too. You know why? Because you're my brother. Okay, step-bro-"

"No," Elliot interrupted him. "Stop saying that. Even if we didn't adopt you, I would still feel like you're my brother anyway! So that's what we are, we're brothers. Okay?"

Jason smiled again. "Okay. But see, you care, and well... there's also something else, because of this..." He leaned in and kissed Elliot back, softly on the lips. "You let me do that with you, in here, almost anytime I want. And for some reason, it lives inside of me. It's wrong, I know, but it's not THAT wrong - at least it doesn't feel that way. Understand?"

Elliot smiled at first, then leaned in to reciprocate the kiss, but instead he opened his lips and shared his tongue with the one he met in return. He cupped Jason's face gently with his free hand, and for a few moments they shared that level of intimacy that had become their own.

Eventually Elliot parted and stood, pulling his cousin up with him. He walked over and shut off the bedside lamp, plunging their room into mostly darkness. When he made his way back to stand in front of Jason, he methodically undressed both his cousin and himself, until they stood in the room completely naked with one another. Before pulling on him however, Elliot did something he had never taken the time to enjoy before. He brought his hands up and softly played his fingertips across Jason's chest and down his sides, feeling the youth in front of him. The light that seeped in from the outside, gave Elliot all the details he needed as he caressed from one place to the next. Their room, being at its' usual coolness, was ignored by both as Jason stood, seemingly without a care in the world. Elliot recalled when the American had done something similar to him all those months ago, and understanding what that meant, he gingerly felt everywhere he could reach with his hands. His fingers lightly floated over each of the little crevices and curves that shaped Jason's body in front. When he finally traced his touch from the youth's naval southward and settled upon Jason's groin, he used special care there. Gently tugging on the erection that stood hard and rigid in the palm of his hand, he brought the two together. As they embraced, they clung to each other for the next few minutes, neither getting enough of their closeness. The warmness they shared as they kissed again, left them feeling very happy. It was during this that Elliot, again, whispered into Jason's ear. "I would never do it for any other reason than this, Jase. Never. Because this? It's us. It has always been just us."

Jason buried his face into Elliot's neck, but whispered back. "I know bro, I know." To emphasize his point, he grasped Elliot by his buttocks, and pressed the two of them together, relishing the feel of his cousin's groin mixed with his own. Elliot reciprocated as they stood there, before finally pulling back.

Elliot gently guided them both over to the bed and pulled the covers back. Jason let go and climbed in with Elliot following behind him, where once the covers were pulled up, both cuddled together for a bit. Elliot, snuggling into the other youth's shoulder, brought his hand up to his friend's lower belly and just lay it there. He noted the erection below had begun to soften somewhat, which surprised him. Looking deeply into the eyes that were staring back, he whispered. "Is this okay? For tonight?"

"Always," Jason replied with a whisper. "We can do as little, or as much as you want. I'll always be okay with it, with you."

"Then, if you'll let me Jase, I just want to hold you. I mean, really hold you tonight." A silence fell between them, but eventually Elliot stirred and looked back up again. "Jase?"


"I don't know about you, but I feel really happy right now," Elliot whispered.

Jason rolled over and pulled Elliot up close, letting him spoon from behind. Holding his cousin's arm around him, he whispered back. "I do, too."

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