When Shadows Pass

by Sean English

Chapter 28

When the Tides of Life Turn (Part II)

Little more was said about Jason's ordeal in the coming weeks. The next morning, Natalie met them in the kitchen, smiling at the teenager before giving him a deep, long embrace. She whispered something into Jason's ear, undetectable by the others in the room, before letting go. Whatever it was, it made Jason grin as he hugged her back.

The issue of Scott having to move, was now at the forefront of the boys' thoughts. As the term continued into its second week, the overall mood between them grew somber. Scott was sullen on most days, perking up at times, but withdrawn at others. When his friends gathered in first period on Tuesday morning, he made another surprise announcement. "Thursday is my last day, guys. Seems there's a moving company getting everything out tomorrow evening, and then prepping it to ship back to the States. I'll come in for my records Thursday morning, but that will be the end of it."

A silence fell upon the group until Ron spoke up. "Hey, then how about tomorrow night we all go for some pizza somewhere?" He turned to Scott. "Can you? Will that be okay?"

"Yeah, I think so. Where do we go?" Scott replied.

Ron thought briefly, before responding. "I don't know, maybe that buffet place that opened up a few months ago. Though anywhere is good, really. We'll just have a last hang-out together or something before you leave us for the land of … of whatever they call the States!" he quipped.

Scott smiled at that. "You got it! Just figure out where, so I can arrange it on my end." They each traded high-fives, just as their teacher arrived. When class was over, before heading out, Scott remarked to Jason, "I'm glad you guys are willing to get together. I'll try not to scruff it up with tissues or anything."

Jason giggled. "Doesn't matter if you do. Besides, some of us may not be that lucky." Scott blushed at hearing that, but it made him feel better inside. With a wave, he rolled away.

The following evening, the four boys, plus Derek and a few adults, gathered outside the designated restaurant when Scott's van drove up. Grinning widely, he alighted quickly with his mother, whom he introduced to the group before they all headed inside. Given the purpose at hand, Simon arranged for the group to use a party room situated in the rear of the diner. Although their group was small, the room isolated them from the rest of the restaurant floor. All those in attendance spent the next two hours chatting and hanging about with one another, having fun by telling various stories regarding Scott's time in the UK. Scott told the group he had also gotten his release forms from the school earlier that afternoon, so he showed the results to the guys. His grades had improved substantially in English, having achieved a low-to-mid 'B', compared to his days with Mrs. Crabtree. His other classes had also shown a marked improvement.

When the time arrived to part ways, however, Scott asked if he could see his three friends and Derek alone for a moment. The adults walked away, leaving the boys in the room. Scott turned toward his friends, observing them closely. From his pocket, he withdrew a mobile and handed it to Derek. "Would you, like, take a couple of pics of us? Please?"

Derek grinned as he accepted the device, and for the next 5 minutes, he granted the request. When finished, Scott thanked him, and before the older teenager walked away, he met the offered fist in midair.

Once Derek had left, Scott turned to his three remaining friends. Before he spoke, he motioned for them to come alongside close and, grasping both Elliot and Jason, surprised them by cautiously making his way onto his feet. Although initially wobbly, he became determinedly steady as he stood.

"I wanted to say thanks, guys. You two have done a lot for me," Scott stated, indicating Elliot and Jason. "You too, Ron. Even though I haven't gotten to know you more than for just a few weeks, I can tell a good guy when I see it. If you let them, these chaps will be the best friends you'll ever have, and that's saying something. I know they have for me." He smiled warmly, but it quickly became evident he was fighting an onset of emotion.

Elliot moved in front and embraced Scott fully, holding him but hugging tightly. "We'll miss you, you know. When you get settled, send us a text, okay? And if that doesn't work," Elliot added, before pushing something into Scott's front pocket, "here's an email address. Derek will get it to me."

When they separated, Jason took his turn. At that moment, neither could really find any words to speak. Scott was barely hanging on by then, and it showed in how close he pulled Jason into the hug. When they parted, both had moistened eyes that made each smile at the other. Ron even stepped up and gave the boy a hug, which also surprised Scott. "Hey, don't be afraid, it's okay," Ron told him. "I like hugs, too. Especially from good friends."

When they separated, however, Scott wiped his eyes and then smiled as he composed himself again. Jason, not wanting to leave anything unsaid, finally spoke up. "If you're ever back over here, let us know, okay?"

Scott nodded. "And if any of you blokes are ever in the States, you do the same for me, alright?"

They all agreed as they helped Scott return to his wheelchair. As a group, the three began making their way back to the front, where they found Derek just outside the door to their room. Smiling, the older teenager said nothing, feeling the emotion in the moment. What he did do though, was grab the back of Scott's wheelchair and popped a wheelie with it. The group moved together through the rest of the serving area, purposefully zig-zagging around tables and aisles with a flair, all the way to the entrance. Once there, with Elliot and Jason holding the double doors wide, Derek zoomed Scott outside where the adults were waiting. Everyone laughed at the silly antics, and surprisingly it cheered Scott up considerably. They traded fist bumps one last time, and Scott accepted the general well-wishes of Simon and Natalie. Then with a wide smile, he loaded himself into their van and, in short order, he and his mother were gone.

Derek leaned in close to the three remaining. "So, whose idea was it to get together tonight?" Both Elliot and Jason thumbed Ron as the culprit, who blushed but nodded. Derek raised his fist to bump the teen, which Ron met enthusiastically. "That was cool, you know?" Derek commented. "That was something he really appreciated."

Ron nodded. "I hope so. He's been depressed about this all week. It sucks he has to go, but maybe he'll find some new friends that will hang out with him, in their new place."

"I hope so, too," Jason mused.

They were about to separate when Ron held them back. "Hey guys, next Friday is a bank holiday, and I've got nothing going on Thursday night. Do you, like, want to come over again? We can play video games and do whatever, then maybe get up on Friday morning and go down to Gunwharf and mess around. What do you say?"

Elliot and Jason looked at each other, then to Simon and Natalie, who stood nearby. Simon cleared his throat. "It's alright with me, as long as your mother approves. I'll be in the States next week, anyway." Natalie glanced between them, but then nodded her assent.

Elliot grinned. "It's a deal, then!" Ron grinned in return before he and his mother separated to head home.

The boys were unusually silent as they walked along, making Simon pipe up after a short distance. "Living in the military has its advantages, mind you, but what you boys just witnessed tonight is one of the biggest disadvantages I know of."

"Moving around?" Jason asked, to which the eldest Flavell nodded.

"It's hard on families that live so far apart. The children, if there are any, usually have to grow up without getting to know their cousins or relatives. They get pulled about in different directions, all on a whim or short notice. Then, to top that, holidays get even rougher." Simon sighed, and a large breath of steam escaped into the air before them. "To be in that boy's position, I would imagine, is even harder than most. It cannot be easy for him finding many friends who will pay him much heed, especially being confined to that wheelchair. Unlike you boys did, anyway. Just so you know, I am proud of you. I honestly didn't know what to expect that weekend he came over, but I have come to appreciate that he's a pretty decent sort."

Jason and Elliot smiled at each other as they all turned the corner, finding their car waiting for them.

Later that night, a cold front brought a hard rain to the area, followed by an unexpected plunge in temperatures across the UK. Jason, having lived through such swings before, found it amusing to watch and listen to the rest of the family grumble. As they bore the brunt of the change in unexpected, almost comical ways, it would make him giggle just listening to them.

Jason did have to agree, however, that going to school was little fun when temperatures changed to the lower extremes. Walks became more of a jog through the streets, with little time spent in chatting. When the weekend finally arrived, Jason and Elliot enjoyed spending extra time under the covers of their bed, and then drawing off each other's warmth. The sky remained overcast throughout both days, although the rain was only sporadic. That is, until Sunday morning.

"Hey Jase, you awake?" Elliot whispered at his cousin in the early hours. A grunt sounded from behind him, so he set about poking Jason until he grunted again. "Look outside! It snowed last night!"

Jason wearily crawled and slipped over the top of Elliot's side before staring out the window. Outside, a blanket of snow, perhaps two inches or more, coated the scene below. Various vehicles along the sides of the street, were curtained with silvery-white sheets from front to back. The streets themselves, little traveled thus far that morning, were also covered with nature's icy white wonderland. The edges around their bedroom window were frost-covered, with intricate webs of ice and snow mixed together. There was little questioning the temperatures that awaited them outside at that moment.

"Wow, that is so cool!" Jason exclaimed softly. He had not seen snow like this for some time.

"Yeah, we don't get that much here. Not very often anyway," Elliot commented. "Man, I'm glad we don't have to go to school today! Can you imagine?"

Jason grunted. "Back in the States, they would have closed school if this much was dumped overnight."

Elliot was surprised. "Really? We don't usually do that here. I mean, most kids walk to school, or their parents take them, or something. It would be hard to, like, call classes off. Although, last year we did cancel school for a couple of days because it got really, really cold and we had ice everywhere. I think we got down to around 207 or 8 below, or something like that. You know, too cold to really be outside any."

"Huh? Oh-" Jason stopped, then continued. "Oh, not Fahrenheit, got you. What would that be, I wonder?" He studied for a second. "That would be, uh... somewhere around 15 or so, I think?" He scrunched his nose before laying his head on Elliot's chest. "It's too early to have to think that much!"

Elliot giggled at him. "Yeah, doofus, it should be about 17 or 18 degrees, to you. If you go inland, it gets colder, but here on the coast, that's still frigid. I think so, anyway. You still have trouble adjusting to our metrics and everything? I thought you mastered that before Christmas."

Jason shrugged "Sometimes, yeah." Since the cold snap, they both had reverted to wearing their t-shirts and briefs to bed again, and thus after a moment, Jason quietly slipped his arm around Elliot and pushed his hand up inside. Once there, he let it rest over Elliot's chest and felt for the heartbeat he knew was within. There they lay until both drifted back into a light slumber.

When Elliot opened his eyes again, he noted someone else had joined them. Sitting on the side of the bed, he saw Derek staring out at the winter wonderland. At first, the older teen just watched the scenery until Jason stirred. Then his attention fell downward and observed his little brother watching him. About that time, Jason grasped the elder teenager and pulled him down to join himself and Elliot. Elliot scooted closer to the wall to make extra room, and when Jason lifted the covers, Derek accepted the offer and slid into place next to them.

Propped on his elbow, Derek returned to watching outside. "It's really pretty, isn't it? I wish we could get more of them like they do up north." With his free arm, he cuddled up next to Jason, who had returned to snuggling with Elliot. Within minutes, the Flavell brothers could hear a light snore come from between them.

It made Derek smile at his brother. "I guess he's pretty happy and content," Derek whispered. "Has he said anything about talking with Dad?"

"Not really, but he does seem to be feeling better. You know, not weighed down or anything like he used to be," Elliot replied in a soft voice.

"Good, I'm glad," Derek mused. He watched as Jason continued to breathe deeply. "He sleeps better now, too, doesn't he?"

"Oh yeah, a lot better," Elliot whispered. "Especially since he talked to you that night."

"Dad left for the airport a little while ago," Derek continued after a moment. "He's going back to the States, again. He also said he was going to check into some of Jason's affairs some more while he's over there." He sighed. "I hope he learns something good."

"Like what?" Elliot asked curiously.

Derek shrugged. "I don't know. Like Dad said, something wasn't right before, and now to think they just dumped him over here? Like, to get rid of him, you know? It sounds like they just wanted to get him out of their way or something. I mean, it's not right. He needs something good to happen, something that can really put all this away, behind him and everything."

Elliot nodded as he leaned down to nuzzle the top of the Jason's head. "Yeah," he whispered.

"Something good did happen," came a surprising whisper from the teen cuddled between them. Without opening his eyes, Jason nuzzled Elliot even more and added, "I found the both of you."

Derek grinned. "Yeah, but technically, I think it is us who found you." He scooted closer still, enjoying the feeling of holding Jason so close. He was developing an appreciation for sharing a warmness not usually reserved for him.

"Doesn't matter to me," Jason replied, then started breathing deeply again.

Elliot looked up at his brother, who smiled in return. Nodding ever so slightly, he whispered, "I think he likes me." Within seconds, however, he received a pinch on his nipple, causing him to yelp. "Hey? What was that for?" he hissed.

"I love both of you, doofus!" Jason replied, then yawned and rolled over. He stared at Derek sleepily. "Don't you guys believe in ever sleeping late on a weekend?"

Derek moved underneath, drawing his cousin to lie directly alongside him. "Sure, we do," he whispered to Jason while nuzzling him. Jason raised a leg and draped it over Derek's before sighing contentedly. All three then drifted off again into a light doze.

Sometime later Derek awoke, startled to find a hand inserted in his boxers. Gathering his wits, he realized they had not changed positions from before, which made him curious. He was thoroughly surprised, however, when he found it was Jason who had pushed his hand down inside and was cupping his crotch. It made him grunt, but he smiled all the same at the realization this was, truly, a first. As the deep rhythmic breathing told him his cousin was still asleep, Derek didn't move or disturb him. He glanced over and saw Elliot was now closely holding his cousin from behind. The whole scene brought about a sense of calm within Derek. He lay back and, for a brief moment, wondered where they had developed all this from. Derek knew, however, that he was the lucky one. Not only had his little brother taught Jason to trust again, but he had taught his older brother to do so, too.

The snow remained over the next few days, as an Arctic chill moved through, keeping much of the southern coast in a below-normal state. Although the boys still had to attend school, Natalie eased their discomfort by driving them each morning, as well as picking them up in the afternoons. They enjoyed the weather intermittently, however, as they became willing participants in various snowball fights after school with other teens. The occupants of many flats along their routes also contributed in building of prized objects and sculptures in the snow – including forts, pets, families and more.

Other time spent outside of homework and projects was focused on Jason's model, which was coming along substantially better compared to the week before. He and Elliot had determined precisely how the hull should be assembled now, especially with the newly acquired lighting kit installed. Jason had cleverly arranged for the connecting power plug to reside inconspicuously in the base itself, all without having to cut into the hull of the ship. Although tedious at first, the boys arranged the wiring inside, and as the assembly progressed, the ship began taking on its overall shape. On Wednesday evening, they plugged in the power source for the first time, and the model lit up radiantly, allowing them to observe their efforts. When Elliot turned off the other lights in the room, leaving only that which filtered out from their work, both boys stood transfixed in awe. "Wow," Elliot cried out, loud enough that it brought Derek into the room.

"What are you shouting about in here?" Derek stopped when his eyes fell on the ship, widening in surprise. Moving closer, he whistled appreciatively. "I don't believe it! That is awesome work, guys!" He turned and rushed from the room, only to return a moment later with Natalie in tow. She looked amused at having been dragged by her son so quickly away from whatever she was doing, but when her eyes fell upon the working craft, she stopped to admire it.

"This is... astounding, boys!" Natalie declared softly, before leaning in. "And look at how the light reflects downward, in the direction of the deck! It's like – the light really is on the ship! Oh, and look – it originates from the inside!" She looked at Jason. "How did you get it to angle like that?"

"Well," Jason started, then nodded at Elliot. "It was really Elliot's idea. I mean, the LED's are kind of flat anyway, but he had the idea of using some aluminum foil inside the cabins. So, we put it on the ceilings, that way it let the LEDs reflect off it, instead of it shining directly out and everything. See? We used little toothpicks to mount the LEDs and then glued them so it would make the light more subdued and everything."

"It wasn't all my idea, now!" Elliot retorted. "I mean, Jase got a yellow highlighter, so the light wouldn't be so white looking and everything. You know, more like a lantern would shine, I think. And, he figured out how to diffuse the light, too. That way they wouldn't always be so bright. He's also the one who figured out how to get all the wiring to work inside, so the LEDs could be mounted right in the front and back of the ship, you know?" Elliot intoned.

Derek commented. "Look at the paint, Mum. It even looks like it's weathered and everything. Just like a boat would be, after being in the water a long time!"

Natalie nodded, deeply impressed. "You like doing this kind of work, don't you? No wonder Mr. Fulcrum has you building models and everything up at that place."

Jason was inwardly proud and pleased at seeing their reactions. "Yeah, kind of. I think so, anyway," he answered, Elliot nodding emphatically behind him.

"So, how much do you have left to do now?" Natalie asked, as she placed an arm around both their waists, giving them a hug.

"Well, we've already built the masts, and we've figured out most of the strings, flaps, sails and everything. Maybe, uh, another week or so to get it together?" Jason asked questioningly, looking at Elliot, who nodded in agreement. "That is, if we don't get too busy with school work, first."

"Well, it looks, how you do you say it? 'Cool!'" She gave them both a grin before letting go and then quietly exited the room. They could hear her, as she walked away. "Wait until your father hears about and sees this!"

Derek also grinned at them. "So, you guys going to Ron's tomorrow night, right?" When they nodded, he continued. "Why don't you see if you can snap a few pictures? That way, you can show it to them? You know, like a preview or something." He looked around, and spotted Elliot's phone charging nearby. "You can use your mobiles."

"Hey, that's a great idea!" Elliot declared. Crossing over, he retrieved the device from his desk, along with Jason's. At first, the lighting wasn't bright enough for the phones to work with, but Derek stepped in. With his help, they were able to use ancillary lighting from the lamps to get a few good shots from various angles. Derek's knowledge helped them highlight the work, and once they were done, he and Jason had a large quantity of snapshots to choose from. Jason gave Derek a high five and thanked him, which caused the older brother to grin before walking out.

On Thursday afternoon, as the boys made their way to the gym, Ron caught up with them in the hallway. "Hey! You guys ready for tonight?"

"Yep. We have to go home first, to take care of something and get our things, but yeah," Elliot replied.

Ron nodded. "That's cool. I didn't know if you'd be following me after gym or coming over later. Will you make it in time for dinner? Dad won't be cooking again, but Mum said if you were, she'd make some smoked sausages and cheese mac."

Jason looked at him curiously as they entered the dressing room. "You mean Mac'n'Cheese?" When Ron nodded, he grinned. "I haven't had that in, like, a long time. That would be super cool!"

"I agree, it's been a while. Sure, we can be there by 5:30 or so, if that's alright," Elliot offered.

"Perfect!" Ron declared as he hung his backpack on the wall before turning to his locker. All three boys began changing clothes as quickly as they could, and then headed out onto the gym floor. "Hey, has anyone been making snowmen and stuff on your street?"

"Some have, yeah. Why?" Jason asked.

Ron grinned slyly before lowering his voice. "Have they been, ah, normal?" Seeing their confusion, he huddled closely with them. "Yesterday, one of the houses down from us? They had one in their lot. It was kind of... uh, interesting. Somebody sculpted a boy and girl in the nude, making out."

Elliot laughed. "You're kidding us, right?"

"No, it's true! Anatomical and all! You might see it tonight if you watch for it coming in!" Ron declared.

Jason shook his head again, trying to keep from laughing. "There you go again..."

Ron was grinning. "Still surprising you, huh?"

"Yep," came the reply, followed by a friendly bump with their shoulders.

Elliot was also amused. "Hey, how do we know YOU didn't go down and... you know..."

Ron feigned surprise, but then laughed. "No way, because if I got caught, Pops would ground me until I'm an old man!" Then he whispered, "Besides, I'm not that brave! There's a lot of younger kids on our street!"

Jason was humbled by that thought. "Yeah, I definitely could understand that."

After changing, the trio walked out onto the gym floor and waited for their coach. Jason noticed several groups were gathered near one of the bulletin boards. Indicating it to the other two, the boys made their way over in curiosity. Once they arrived, they found the attention of the group was focused on a recent posting. Ron leaned in and read it aloud. "'Physical Fitness Jamboree, March 8th to 18th'. It has the schedule of classes listed, too. Looks like ours is the … yeah, the 9th and 17th, Tuesday and Wednesday."

"That's a big gap, isn't it? Why two days?" Jason wondered aloud.

"Well, one day will be indoors, the other will be outside down at the fields," Elliot replied. "There are so many of us, too, when you put all the classes together. They can't do them all at the same time."

"Hmm, makes sense," Jason replied before wrinkling his nose. "Hey, wait - that's the week before term break, right? Spring break?"

Ron studied briefly before speaking up. "Yeah, I think he's right. Break starts just before April this year. That's probably as good a time as any to do it, too. It'll be warmer outside – hopefully."

Just then the group heard the shrill of a whistle. Turning, everyone moved to gather together as the coach approached the boys collectively. After calling the roll, he looked at his crowd carefully. "Now, you already know outside is out of the question for today. To be honest, with tomorrow being a bank holiday, and this being the last period of the day, I'm feeling particularly lazy right now. So off with you, just don't sit around and do nothing. Volleyball nets are up, and basketball is in the corner. Other things are around as well. Whatever tickles your pickle, I don't care. Just - don't be lazy, and before you know it, you can head home for the weekend. Deal?"

The group replied with a resounding chorus. Although not exactly a free period, most liked having the freedom to choose their way for the time spent. Already several headed toward the empty volleyball court, which Elliot, Jason and Ron also joined. Although the group played with an even spirit, one could look about and see that they all chaffed, waiting for the sound of the bell that signaled the end of the period. Ron, his ankle much better than in his previous attempt, showed more enthusiasm than most. While making several key moves for his team, his enthusiasm seemed to catch on, and before long many of the other teens began exhibiting more of a competitive spirit.

When the bell finally rang, several boys were sweating from the exertion and exercise, including Ron. Heading back to the locker room, he looked up and made a comment to Elliot and Jason. "That was fun, I think." Once inside, he sat on the bench in an attempt to cool off. He noticed a couple of the other guys getting undressed and heading for the showers, so he looked at Elliot and Jason. "You guys want to go in for a minute?"

Elliot wrinkled his nose. "I dunno, we have to get our teeth cleaned before we can come over. I figured I would cool off on the walk home. How about you Jason?"

Jason started to answer, but then he and Elliot both happened to notice Ron's expression change to one of disappointment. "You okay?" Jason asked. Immediately Ron tried to turn away, but Jason spoke again. "Wait, I get it, I think. You got hot, so yeah, it makes sense. And," he continued, lowering his voice. "You don't want to be alone, right?"

Ron was both surprised and impressed. "Is it that obvious?" he stated in a hushed whisper, but Elliot moved closer before Jason could answer.

"No, it's not, and I'm sorry. I should have realized it. Yeah, I can use a shower, but it'll have to be quick. Come on, I'll go with you."

"Me too, if you want," Jason added, to which Ron smiled at him in relief. All three kicked off their shoes and grabbed their towels before walking toward the adjacent room. Once inside, they quickly went about stripping before getting under one of the warm sprays to rinse off. In short order, Ron was ready to walk out, but he waited for the other two - who were not far behind. As all three made their way to the benches and dry off, he made a remark. "Thanks guys, I owe you."

Both Jason and Elliot noted again how he spoke in that quiet voice of his, so that only the three could hear. Jason grinned at him as he was pulling his briefs up. "You don't owe us anything, honest."

Elliot added, "Ditto!"

"Well, thanks anyway. I know I feel a lot better now, thanks to you two. So, see you guys in a couple of hours, right?"

"You bet! We'll be there as soon as we can," Elliot acknowledged.

As they finished dressing, Ron again waited for them while they tied their shoes. Bumping fists, they separated before each headed out and away from the school in different directions. During the walk home, Jason remarked, "Wow, he really meant it."

"What?" Elliot asked.

"Remember when we did this, like the first time? He said he didn't mind taking showers so much, so long as someone was around that he was comfortable with," Jason explained. "He really meant it, I think."

"Yeah, I remember something like that," Elliot replied thoughtfully. "You think that's what happened today?"

Jason wrinkled his nose. "I don't know, it just... fits. You know?"

Elliot smiled. "Yeah. I think you might understand him even better than I do," he replied. He glanced over at the raised eyebrows that met him. "It's okay, I'm not jealous or anything, Jason. It just... it didn't hit me like that at first when he asked us about it. I guess I was in another world or something. Actually, I'm glad you put it together that quick." Elliot paused and smiled. "I'm thinking he likes us, you know?"

Jason rolled his eyes at the reference, but then bumped his cousin's shoulder as they hurried along. "I'm glad."

"Me too." They traveled a bit farther before Elliot added, "Too bad we didn't get to check him out some more, though," Elliot replied nonchalantly.

Jason laughed. "You just HAD to throw that out there, didn't you!" He shook his head. "Well, he didn't have an erection today, so I noticed THAT much." Elliot laughed. As they turned another corner, a thought hit Jason. "You know, we did say we had to be somewhere, too. So yeah - that was one of the quickest showers I think I've ever had, in a long time!"

Arriving at the Fulcrum household later that evening, they could hear a lot of noise coming from inside. Before they could even ring the doorbell, however, the door flew open and Ron stood waiting for them with a wide smile. "Cool! You made it!" He exclaimed, stepping back to let them enter before closing the door. Both Jason and Elliot pulled their heavy coats off and handed them to their friend, who quickly hung them on a nearby coat rack. As they settled in, Ron crossed the room and turned off the television, leaving a considerable silence in the void.

"Hey, what about our shoes? Do we, like, leave them on, or...?" Jason whispered to him as the youth turned around.

"Uh, nope, put them over there if you like," Ron replied, indicating a nook by the door. The boys saw several other shoes were present, so they quickly kicked theirs off and complied. As they finished, Ron's mother walked into the room.

"Ah, boys, hallo! You're just in time, I think!" she exclaimed.

"Sorry we couldn't get here any sooner, Mrs. Fulcrum," Elliot offered. "We were held up at the dentist's office, mostly because they were running behind."

"Ah, there are no worries, all is good. I just now finished with preparing everything. Are you hungry yet? What say you boys go wash your hands, hmm? I'll set us all a table."

They grinned at her and then followed Ron, who led them midway down the hall to the first-floor bathroom. Jason entered first, and promptly discovered the area in front of the sink to be quite small. Ron, however, squeezed in beside him and dragged Elliot in behind them both. Though crowded, each giggled at the other as they fought over the soap dish and the running water. Once cleaned though, Ron procured a hand towel from underneath the sink. Handing one end to the others, he retained the other for himself, where all three dried simultaneously. However, they didn't finish their task without a bit of horseplay, grabbing and pulling the towel away from one another's grip. In the close quarters, they bumped and fell into one another, laughing all the while. Jason smiled inwardly, thinking this was going to be a fun night, and he wasn't disappointed.

Entering the now familiar kitchen, instead of sitting at the Hibachi bar again, they all sat down at a smaller, circular glass table in the other corner. There, they found four settings already in place, along with two large bowls. Glancing inside, one looked to be comprised of homemade macaroni and cheese, which caused Elliot to voice his pleasure. The other was filled with thinly sliced, smoked sausages. A third, smaller bowl also accompanied the selections, and after observing its contents, Jason looked up at Mrs. Fulcrum with a puzzled expression. "What's in that one, ma'am?"

"It is a German dish. Kraut, or what some refer to as 'Saur Kraut'," the woman replied, as she sat down to join them. Upon hearing this, Elliot wrinkled his nose in obvious dislike, but said nothing for fear of offending their host. Jason, however, was curious. When they began passing the bowls around, the Kraut ended up in his hands at one point. He decidedly extracted a small portion and spooned it onto his plate.

Ron spoke up at that point. "Just so you know, it's not something people really like to eat by itself. You usually eat it with the sausages or something. You know, it's a dish that kind of adds to the other food you eat."

Jason nodded his understanding and then, after extracting generous helpings from the other bowls, he speared a sausage with his fork and took a cautious bite. Sampling the food, his eyebrows shot up. "Oh yeah, that's not bad at all! More, please!"

Elliot made a face. "Well, I'm glad you like it. That is one food I never could get used to. Plus, Mum and Dad don't care for it either."

Mrs. Fulcrum smiled at him. "Sometimes, it is in how you prepare the Kraut that makes the difference. For instance, if the Kraut is not washed with water beforehand, it has a very strong, very bitter flavor. I like to rinse and let it soak in water for, say, an hour or two first. It makes the dish totally different when cooked then, both in the taste and texture."

Listening, Elliot thought about that briefly, before ultimately turning to Jason. "Okay, hand it over here then, I'll try it, too." Accepting the bowl, Elliot initially placed an even smaller portion on his plate. Following Ron's advice, he combined it with some of his other food and, after sampling it, was surprisingly impressed. "Hey! You're right, that's not bad at all! This I can do!" he exclaimed, making the rest laugh as he spooned a more sizable portion onto his plate.

The four chatted for the next half hour over a wide range of topics, including their dishes. It turned out that, for many years, Mrs. Fulcrum had worked as a professional chef for one of London's now exquisite restaurants. Following Mr. Fulcrum's departure from the armed services, they had then decided to move and take residence in Portsmouth. Other topics focused on the boys. Mrs. Fulcrum was interested in both their school activities, and surprisingly in Simon and Natalie, too. She pleasantly queried them about what Elliot's parents did for a living, how long they had lived in the area, and more. The conversation was light, and the woman did not pry deeply beyond that of a normal curiosity. Recognizing that, Elliot responded the most, warming to the woman immensely. Even Jason learned a few details he had not been aware of before, and he made a mental note to ask Elliot about some of those tidbits at a later time.

Toward the end of the meal, Mrs. Fulcrum stepped over to her countertop and retrieved another German dish, which she presented to them as dessert: a custom, home-made cheesecake. The dish looked different to anything Jason had viewed before, which piqued his curiosity even further. Again, Mrs. Fulcrum enjoyed educating him on how cheesecakes were made differently in various parts of the world. This one, in particular, had little to no sugar, but was made with a delicate balance of the cream-cheese mixture to crust. As with the rest of dinner, it was delicious.

Soon discussion turned to the game shop, and to Jason's modeling work. After describing their current effort, he and Elliot brought out their mobile phones and showed the pictures they had made the previous evening. Both Ron and his mother were deeply impressed, and Ron admitted he could not wait to see it up close and in person. Jason offered that they might try and bring it with them to the game shop next week, which caused their friend to grin widely. Mrs. Fulcrum told her son to let her know if that happened, because if so, she might come down to view it as well. Both Jason and Elliot were pleased.

When dinner was over, the boys helped to clear the table, before being shooed away by the woman. "There is not much to do here boys, I will take care of this. Go now, be... boys!" They each grinned and thanked her.

Moving to the stairs, Elliot asked Ron, "I didn't think until just now, where's your sister at tonight?"

Ron shrugged as he led the way. "Out with her boyfriend somewhere, probably snogging – or worse." He laughed quietly, then added, "She is hardly ever here anymore. And Pops won't be in until late, probably around ten-ish or so. He likes to go down to the pub on Thursday nights, and play pool with some of his old service buddies."

"He was in the service? Navy or something?" Jason asked when they alighted at the top of the steps.

"Yeah, but he doesn't talk about it too much. He handled munitions storage at first, but then worked as a cook or something, on one of the cruisers." Seeing his guests stop short, he grunted. "Oh, yeah. You guys haven't been here before, have you? It's this way." They progressed down another hallway toward the rear of the flat, when he suddenly pulled up and pointed. The wall contained a large collage of pictures, but the one Ron pointed out was different. "That's him there."

Jason and Elliot both looked closer at the image of a much younger man, dressed in formal attire, standing in front of a solid background. The backdrop displayed an HM Navy shield but was otherwise devoid of anything else. Without question, they could see features that matched the man as they knew him now. The only real difference, aside from the obvious age, was the man in the photograph seemed noticeably thinner, and had considerably more hair. "Not bad," Elliot commented.

They then proceeded to follow Ron until reaching what was obviously his room. Like much of the household, the space was well-lit with various lamps, one from the wall and another on a nearby desk. The room itself was decently sized for the youth, compared to most British standards. Upon inspection, it was easy to see that at some point recently, the room had been remodeled and extended over the flat's new addition below. Its walls were painted hunter green in color and were covered with various pictures and posters. Elliot was surprised to find one that displayed the NFL Green Bay Packers team from the States. "You like the Packers? American Football?"

"Oh yeah! Me and Pop LOVE American Football! He's partial to the Cowboys, I think, and I like the Packers and Redskins mostly!"

Jason grinned while listening to the exchange, acknowledging his own growing appreciation of the sport. Ron and Elliot exchanged a few rapid-fire questions and answers over the next few minutes, all in discussion about the NFL. While they were engrossed, Jason looked around and saw several other unique aspects of the room, too. For one, extending from the wall opposite them was a low-profile, queen-sized bed, presently draped with a light-green and plaid comforter. Several various sized pillows were strewn atop. Looking up, he also saw a trio of windows nestled into the corner, two that opened directly to the back alley, and one that opened on the side facing the next row of housing. Each window was curtained in matching fabrics, creating pleasing shades that offset and complimented the walls. The carpet, another shade of sea-green and blue, was thick and soft to their feet as they entered. Other decor included shelves that circled the top of each wall around the room, much like Jason's own room back in the States. They contained a wide variety of books, games, movies and other paraphernalia not unlike those expected for a teenage boy. He smiled when he recognized a collection of stuffed animals, hanging from a net above Ron's bed in the corner. Upon looking closer, he saw several were both Disney and Warner Brothers based, as if Ron had taken his collection from movies and cartoon characters.

Perhaps the most notable feature though, was that since the room accommodated such ample space, the bed was situated off-center on the far side of the wall. The layout created a roomy expansion in the front, where several pillows and bean bags of varying colors rested in a semi-circular nest, as if inviting the boys to hop in. Ron observed his two friends taking in the surroundings and grinned at them sheepishly. As the teenager walked over and plopped down, he called out, "So, are you guys going to stand there and gape all night, or come on in?"

Elliot and Jason both moved simultaneously through the doorway, bumping each other in the process. Giggling, Jason stepped back and let Elliot through first, then followed his cousin inside. As they progressed farther into the room, however, one last surprise was revealed. Mounted to the wall, Ron had his own flat-paneled TV. Situated underneath was an entertainment stand, and upon closer inspection, they saw it contained a PS4 PlayStation. "Wow Ron, this is super nice!" Elliot mused approvingly as they sat down.

"Yeah," was all Jason could say, still taking it all in.

Ron simply shrugged. "Meh, it's nothing that special, honest. I mean, don't get me wrong - we're not rich or anything, but Pop does pretty good with the game shop - especially since he started shipping things internationally. There are a lot of people who seem to order stuff, from everywhere. Even in the States, I think. Seems we have stuff here in Europe that's not easy to find over there," he added matter-of-factly. Glancing at Jason, he added, "Even that model you built for those people, remember? Word got out about that, I think. He's had people calling from other places, interested in doing something similar." Jason was surprised, but then nodded in acknowledgement. Ron rolled back and onto his side to face them both more directly. "Well, there's that and, I think Mum and Pops inherited some money, too. Not a lot, but yeah, we do okay."

Jason could tell while observing their friend, that there was an uneasy awkwardness in his expression, and his voice was nothing short of an apologetic tone. "It's cool, you don't have to be embarrassed about it or anything, Ron," Jason said aloud, plopping down next to their friend. "I'm kind of glad for you, really."

"Yeah, I agree. I think it's kind of nice to be able to have stuff like this," Elliot added, falling into another bean bag close by. "We're, well, we don't have as much, or as big of a place, but meh… Mum and Dad do okay."

Ron smiled at them. "Thanks." It was a simple reply, but the voice had returned to its usual tone with a hint of relief.

"What about your sister?" Jason asked.

Ron looked at Jason and then shrugged again. "What about her? You mean, where does she stay and everything?" Seeing the nod, Ron grunted. "Like I said before, she is hardly here anymore. I think that's why Pop figured I would get more use out of this space for the next few years or more. When they redid the rooms and all again, I mean. That's why I'm back here. They only finished the new addition about a year or so ago." He nodded back toward the doorway. "As to what's-her-face, she still has her own room. It's just past the stairs, on the left. Mum and Pop have their own room up front, too, with their own bathroom and everything. Speaking of which," he mused as he shifted. "If you two need to go to the loo, it's the door right outside my room."

"That's cool," Jason responded.

"Yeah, it got remodeled some, too, though that was done before, after we moved in and everything. Only thing I don't like about it is there's no shower. It's just got a big tub instead. You know, like one of those garden tub thingy's, if you've ever seen one."

"Really?" Elliot inquired aloud. "I saw something called a garden tub once. You don't find those very much, I don't think. There almost as big as a jacuzzi, aren't they?"

"Some are, yeah, but ours doesn't have the jets or anything in them." Ron grunted. "That's another reason I kind of like the showers at school. You can kind of get in and out of them a lot quicker and everything, even if you do have to take part in the fashion show display." He added the last part with a wide grin, looking at the other two. Jason got the reference immediately and giggled.

Elliot, though, was puzzled. "Huh?"

"He means showing your birthday suit to everyone else. You know, being naked with the guys," Jason explained, surprised he actually understood something for once that his cousin seemed to not.

"OOhhhh..." Elliot said, grinning. "Not bad! I'm gonna have to remember that one," he mused, causing Jason to roll his eyes.

Ron giggled at their banter, then pulled his feet up close and was lost in thought for a moment. "Hey, I meant to ask, did you guys see the boy and girl snow figures up the street, when you were coming in tonight?"

"No, afraid not," Elliot replied. "It was already pretty dark outside. I watched for them, as best I could, but..." Jason also shook his head.

Ron grinned and then pulled a phone from his pocket. "Pops got me this the other day, especially after getting hurt at school. It's not as good as being up close, I know, but I snapped a few pics on the way home, just in case." After navigating the menus, he suddenly brought several pictures up to the display. Handing the device over to Elliot, he added, "Here, you'll see what I was talking about. Be warned though, its snow porn," he added slyly.

With Jason hovering over Elliot's shoulder, both observed a series of pictures that showed two white figures of snow, each with their heads touching the other. Moreover, someone had chiseled a set of lips and eyes in such a way to make it look like they were snogging. Jason smirked at the attention someone had put into the detail. "Sheesh, that had to take a long time to-" Jason stopped suddenly, as Elliot advanced to the next picture. Both did a double-take as their jaws dropped unexpectedly. The snow girl had a clearly defined set of breasts, each containing nipples that had been packed in tight. The boy, on one side, even had an arm extending up to cup one of them underneath. Then, the next picture was taken from the angle that showed the snow boy, with a firm penis standing out and touching the girl between her legs. Beneath, it was clear there were a set of testicles wedged in his base, too.

Jason was astounded at the attention to detail someone went through in creating the display. "I don't believe it!"

Ron laughed. "I'm telling you Jason, people in this country go all out sometimes and do the weirdest stuff. You'd be amazed at how devoted they'll get with some tasks!"

"Even... with kids around and everything? In public like that?" Jason asked, looking at their host incredulously.

Ron wrinkled his nose. "That's kind of touchy, I think. I mean, some blokes don't care, see. They teach their kids all about anatomy and everything up front, all while they're growing up. I mean, one of the guys at my old school, told me once his Dad started showing him all kind of pictures and videos since he was around 9 or so, complete with naked girls and guys both. He said his dad figured that, if he got it out of the way early enough, it might not make the kid want to deal with porn and stuff. You know, kind of get the curiosity out of him and stuff. Kind of weird, I know, but I guess it had some truth in it. He didn't show him the sex stuff until a couple years later, but by then, the guy said he didn't think so much of it. His Dad did the same thing about drinking, too. He let the kid have a beer one night when he was, like, 7 or 8 years old. Made him get sick from it, puking everywhere, I think. Ever since then, the guy said he never wanted to touch it again. Said the stuff was awful and everything."

"Wow," Elliot exclaimed as he listened, then shook his head. "Mum let me try some wine one night, just to taste it. It wasn't too bad, I admit, but…" He looked over at his cousin. "This last Christmas we got some eggnog, though."

Jason nodded. "Yeah, it was pretty nasty," he agreed. "Maybe it's not so strange of an idea at all."

"Yeah, there might be something to it, I agree," Ron replied. "Same with the guys and girls, too. He has seen so many girls and their tits and, you know, between their legs and everything. He just shrugs mostly when the other guys talk about it." Ron paused briefly, thinking. "You know, it's like he got desensitized or something. It's weird, but the more I've thought about it since, maybe it did something to him, you know?" He wrinkled his nose. "Anyway, I'm just saying, that's all. I figured you guys would get a kick out of those," he mused as Elliot handed the mobile back to their friend, grinning. "Even though they're snow people, whoever made them just added it all the extra stuff for show, I guess. Little kids won't understand it, but the older ones, well… They'll probably giggle and all, maybe point, whatever, but it doesn't really affect them or anything. That's why I think it's a touchy thing. Some parents or adults will wig out, of course, but most will just grunt and leave it alone."

A silence fell over them briefly, until Jason spoke up. "So, what kind of games have you got?" he asked, changing the subject.

Ron quickly rose and crossed to the entertainment center, extracting a basket from one of the shelves. "Umm, a little bit of everything I think. You guys ever heard of 'Ratchet and Klank'?" For the next couple of hours, all three became engrossed in that and other titles. For the most part, it was a mixture of both successes and failures all the way around. Ron and Elliot, however, clearly had the upper hand over Jason, who sincerely tried. The teen's motor skills had not yet developed to the gaming world, even with his time spent in the Flavell household.

Sometime afterwards, there was a knock on the door. After Ron called out, Mrs. Fulcrum entered with a tray of crisps and various dips, alongside sodas for each. "I had to guess what sort of colas you would like. I believe, at the party, we served you a Diet Coke, right?" Jason nodded as Mr. Fulcrum poked his head inside the door. He smiled and greeted them briefly, before disappearing.

Sometime later in the evening, Ron finally dropped his controller to the floor and stretched. "You guys interested in a movie or something else? I've got a few board games, or better yet maybe, we got some new discs of older movies I've yet to watch. I mean, me and Pops got them while we were in London a few weeks ago. Like Alien, Avatar..."

Jason leaned back. "Avatar might be pretty cool to watch. I remember seeing something about it, from somewhere on TV, I think."

"Then Avatar it is," Ron replied as he stood up. "However, I need to wiz first, so I'll be right back." He exited the room and disappeared, leaving Elliot and Jason alone. Neither spoke at first, until Elliot cleared his throat. "Pretty neat room, isn't it?" It wasn't as much of a question as it was a statement. Jason nodded in agreement, observing his cousin curiously. The mask Elliot wore across his features, however, betrayed nothing, so Jason let it drop. Instead, he rose to his feet and crossed over to inspect some of the books nearby.

"Wow, they're all classics! Like, Swiss Family Robinson, Robinson Crusoe, Treasure Island - you know, that kind of stuff! Some of it is American, too!" When Jason looked further down the row, he stopped with an even wider smile. "Not all though. Here's the Harry Potter series, too."

"Best damn series ever written, in my opinion," came a voice from the doorway as Ron returned. He closed the door securely. "I love Hogwarts and wizards and all that! Anyway, okay guys, we're it. Mum and Pop have retired, and I learned my sister is somewhere in London staying with friends tonight. So, nothing new there. Knowing her, she probably won't even be home until Saturday or Sunday. So, that means we won't be bothered anymore, at least until tomorrow. And since there's no school, we can stay up as long as we want, and get up in the morning pretty much whenever we're ready."

"That sounds cool," Jason spoke aloud.

Ron grinned at them, and then peeled off his shirt. "Yeah, I think so, too. So, movie, right?" When Elliot agreed, Ron crossed over and set up the desired disc in his PlayStation. Stepping back into the center of the area, he then loosened his belt and dropped his jeans to the floor. Stepping out, he moved his clothes over to a nearby corner, before turning and standing before them both in just his boxers. Ron noted Elliot's grin and blushed, but then just shrugged. "Like I said, no one is going to bother us the rest of the night. So, why not get comfortable, right?"

Elliot looked up at him. "Even if your dongle is hanging out the front?" he remarked mischievously. Ron glanced down suddenly. "Oops!" he hissed, then clearly blushed as he rearranged himself. Jason couldn't help but giggle, and before Ron suddenly dropped onto the bean bag, Jason bumped fists with him. Ron finally grinned. "Uh, seriously, didn't plan that one. Anyways, this is usually how I stay in here at night, when everyone turns in. Well ... this and a t-shirt, I guess," he explained.

There was a brief stretch of silence as they looked at one another, then Jason got to his feet and moved over next to Ron. "So, you're sure - no one will bother with us, right?" Ron nodded, so coming to a decision, Jason removed his shirt too, before sitting down next to the youth. Elliot decided to do the same, and within seconds both boys were sitting, with Ron arranged between them. As the movie started, Ron suddenly spoke up. "Hey, I should have asked, is the temp alright? Is it too warm in here for you guys?"

Elliot glanced at Jason before shrugging. "Okay with me, I think." Rolling onto his side, it was clear from his expression he had been contemplating something else. After briefly staring at Ron's boxers, he smiled at Jason and then, in quick succession, removed his own jeans as well before stretching out.

Ron giggled, seeing the pair of white briefs on display. As Ron giggled, Jason, not to be outdone, mimicked his cousin. Soon, all three were sitting in just their underwear. "You guys still like wearing briefs and all?" Ron inquired, curious.

Jason shrugged. "I don't know about him, but this is all I've ever really had. And yeah, I'm used to them and all."

"I've worn both, but mostly I kind of like briefs better," Elliot added. "I know Derek loves his boxers, those. Says they're all more, like, roomy and everything."

Ron laughed. "I think they are, too. Kind of funny, though. Boxers are all I've ever had since I got big enough to wear them. Mum just started buying them and everything when I outgrew my own briefs." He lay back with a smirk. "Plus, they're kind of more private, too. People can't really see much or anything, unless they're looking up your legs or something."

"Or, unless you hang your dongle out the peep holes," Elliot stated softly, then laughed as Ron blushed again. "I don't know, unless they oversized or something, you can't see anything inside the briefs, either."

Ron shook his head. "Uh, you sure about that? I mean, I've seen guys with thin material and all, and it's not hard to see their arse, or even parts of their fronts inside."

"Me, too," Jason remarked, surprising the other two. "I mean, in gym, in America anyway, when we changed clothes and stuff, I saw a lot of that, too. And… sometimes, guys would sit around you to pull their shorts on and everything, and they would have these gaps in their legs." He raised his eyebrows, then breathed deeply. "Still, meh, nothing to write home about."

Ron laughed. "Yeah, I know." As they settled again, he asked again, "So, is the temp okay and all? Oh, wait, Elliot answered already. Duh, sorry about that!"

"Temp is fine, Ron," Jason answered, grinning. "We - uh - we usually have it a lot cooler, anyway."

"Yeah, our room is on the opposite side of the flat, see. Away from the boiler and everything. So, we don't get as much warm air there, not like you do in here. But, this is nice. I mean, we don't have to get under the covers or anything, even like this," Elliot added, referring to their current state of dress.

Ron smiled and then pulled his knees up and wrapped them in his arms before resting his chin. "So, your room, it's in the front, near the street and all?" Seeing them nod, he understood. "That's really awesome, then." He sat there for a second, then lowered his voice. "Thanks for coming over, both of you. I'm kind of glad you're here with me, and sitting with me like this, too."

Jason noted the sudden change in their friend's demeanor. "You okay?"

Ron grinned at him. "Are you kidding? I'm way more than okay, guys. I'm feeling fucking fantastic!" Elliot giggled and then nodded as Jason grinned, looking on. Before long the American leaned in and gave his friend a brief one-armed hug. Ron grasped and returned the embrace, holding Jason for several seconds before they parted. "Thanks, but… what was that for?"

Jason shrugged. "I don't know, just kind of felt like saying thank you, too. For everything. I think we're glad to be here with you, too."

As the movie got underway, over the next hour all three moved about across the bean bags, craving attention with each other in subtle ways. Touching feet, legs, arms and more occurred freely, and for a time they were content hanging out as such. If anything, it solidified the growing friendship that had already been building.

It wasn't until later that Jason started feeling stiff. Stretching, he rolled onto his side away from the other two before rising to his knees and moving forward. Deciding he was going to sit Indian-style, he plopped backwards until he was propped up against their host. Elliot decidedly moved as well, switching sides and stretching out against Jason, leaving Ron sandwiched between them. It made their host laugh out loud. "You two trying to pin me in or something?"

"Of course," Jason whispered in response.

Elliot glanced back before reaching out and ensnaring Ron's lower legs. "What, you don't like being our prisoner?" he quipped.

Ron giggled in response but said nothing more. From their new layout, he was obviously taking in the sight of Jason beside him. Staring at the American's briefs, he remarked, "So, did you ever get your curiosity satisfied?" he asked quietly with a smile. Jason rolled his eyes, but said nothing at first, although it was clear he was beginning to blush. He glanced at Ron and saw the look of mischievousness that met him. Glancing further down, Jason also could not help noticing a distinct shape outlined in their friend's boxers. Surprisingly, Elliot rolled back so he could observe them both.

"Are you kidding? Today was the first time we've been in the showers since, well, start of term, right? And even then, we were kind of in a hurry, so..." Elliot offered in a hushed voice.

Leaving the statement hanging, Ron nodded in understanding. "Yeah, you guys said you had to go, so we kind of rushed everything, I know. Except for me, that is. I kind of, well, while I waited for you two to finish, I sort of…"

The other two laughed. Biting his lower lip, Ron then moved to get up. Crossing over to the door, he flipped the light switch off and plunged the room into almost total darkness. What illumination remained was delivered from the TV. Before returning, he did switch a small lamp on, located next to the bed, one that was not all that different from the one Elliot and Jason had next to theirs. Crawling up, he stretched out on the bed and, first offering and then grasping, helped to pull the other two teens up to join him. Once there, they each moved about, trying to get comfortable. Before long, however, they were involved in a game of mixing things up, using each other to prop in different ways, crawling one over the other, and more. Eventually Elliot lay lengthwise farthest from the TV, allowing Ron to lie back against his midsection as a prop. It surprised Elliot, but he found it pleasing all the same, especially when their host pulled Jason up so the American lay his head across Ron's stomach. There was a deep sigh of contentment that left him, as he smiled at them both eventually, the TV now long since forgotten. When he spoke, his voice was almost as soft as a whisper. "Guys, I've been thinking about something, but I don't want to do it unless you tell me that it's okay. Understand? You have to be honest with me, totally, and you have to be up front with me. Trust me, it won't hurt my feelings any if you don't want to, I promise. Its wicked, dirty even, well ... at least a little bit, but ..."

Elliot's perked up immediately. "Dirty? Wicked? Are you kidding? I'm in! What is it?"

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