When Shadows Pass

by Sean English

Chapter 33

All Roads Lead to the Future (Part II)

On the morning of departure, the family gathered in the glass-covered courtyard below, already having vacated their rooms in preparation for their next step in journeying home. Their luggage was turned over to the bellhop, who arrived promptly at the appointed time. As Simon looked at his watch, he grunted. "We've got, oh, about an hour or so before we should head out into the main lobby. Not exactly sure why they came for our baggage so early, but oh well. Are there any last-minute things you boys want to do, while you're here?"

"Yeah, I do," said Jason, surprising the others. Smiling, he pulled out his cell phone. "Do you guys think I could take a few pictures? You know, with all of us, as a family? I mean, I know we've already taken some this week, but I don't know that I got any of us like a family. Would that be okay?"

"I think that would be a splendid idea!" Natalie beamed. The rest of the family agreed, so they moved out into the tastefully maintained garden and proceeded to stand about in various places, letting the beauty of the surrounding plants and wildlife fill in for their backgrounds. They even engaged with one of the hotel personnel, and requested he take some group shots of all of them together, which he happily obliged. The boys also made time to get pictures of just the three of them, in various combinations: by themselves, or the two brothers, or all three together. Elliot insisted that Jason should get images of just the two of them, and then also of Jason and Derek together alone, making the rollout complete. Simon and Natalie both commented, amongst themselves, that this was something they sorely needed in their lives right now. Not only did it provide a means of updating their own family portraits, but it also drew their new charge closer into the intricate fiber of their household.

As they were winding down, they suddenly heard a voice calling out to them from a distance. Peering in the direction of the lobby, they saw Jason's assigned advocate, Mr. Dennison, walking toward them. When he arrived, he held out his hand to each of them in way of greeting. "I am happy to have found you as easily as I did! I was afraid you might have already left for the airport, and that would have been a more difficult place to find you, I think!"

"What can we do for you?" Simon asked the man pleasantly. "Is everything okay?"

"Oh yes, everything is absolutely fine. It's about that box, and its various papers you found and delivered to me on Tuesday evening, sir. There was a considerable amount of material to go through, and I admit up front that I haven't been able to get it all done yet. Still, I thought perhaps you might like to know what I have uncovered thus far." Mr. Dennison looked about and saw some benches nearby. "Do we have a little time for just a quick brief? Say, 15 minutes or so, maybe?"

Simon glanced at his watch. "I think we do. We're not scheduled to be in the lobby for another 20."

"Splendid! That should do nicely then, I think. Shall we?" Mr. Dennison asked, pointing the way.

The family walked over to an alcove, one that offered shelter and some privacy from the general area. Once there, they found a table and pulled up a few seats around before sitting down.

"First, I have a document I need the two of you to sign, Mr. and Mrs. Flavell, and then one which I believe Jason should also scribble his John Hancock on."

"What's this?" Simon asked as he accepted the paper being held out to him.

"Well, from what we can ascertain, Jason came to be in your care starting in September of last year, correct?" When Natalie nodded, he continued. "The boy was never adopted, nor was he formally discharged from the State of Tennessee. So, under our law, that makes him a continued ward of the State. That means, without all the legal mumbo-jumbo, we'll soon be approaching 8 months where he has been living with you, in your care, while still a ward of Tennessee. That type of arrangement is what we call Foster Care, and in such instances, the State provides a stipend for the care of the young boy or girl. I forget the exact amount, but I believe it is somewhere near the $600-per-month range. So, the State of Tennessee needs to back-pay you for that period."

"What! Did I hear you correctly?" Natalie exclaimed, her hand suddenly flying to her mouth.

Mr. Dennison grinned. "I think you did, yes. The paperwork will still require another week or two to sign off on everything, but yes. At some point in the near future I'll be getting in touch with the two of you, and we'll arrange an electronic transfer of funds, around $5,000, give or take a few dollars. These papers, you see, allow you to be legally accepted as foster parents within our State. Normally, you would have to live here, but there are exceptions made when foreign parties, such as families, are involved. So, once we get that into the system, you'll be officially Jason's foster parents. Of course, you understand, the funds will be equated to whatever the exchange rate is, between the U.S. Dollar and the British pound sterling. I assume we can do this, using the details you and I worked out earlier. If so, we'll get everything deposited directly to the account we established the other day?"

Simon previewed the text briefly then handed it to his wife. "Yes, sure. I guess everything is in order," he said, fishing for and procuring an ink pen from his pocket. Both parents signed the document before handing it back to Mr. Dennison.

"Excellent! Now, those funds are legally yours. You'll have to periodically report, in a general sense, how you dispense the amount in Jason's favor. Just write the bulk of it off as food and clothing, perhaps school supplies. It's more of a formality than anything else."

"How often? And how?" Natalie asked.

"It is generally done every three months or so, but for you up until this point, I have already taken care of it, and Judge Moore has signed off on it. So, after you get your initial deposit, only worry about any subsequent reports." Mr. Dennison sat back. "It's really just a form that needs filling out, and I'll make sure you get copies of it electronically when the time arises."

Simon looked on thoughtfully. "How long should we expect this to go on, if I may inquire?"

Mr. Dennison smiled at them. "Well, unless Jason is transferred under and into the British social services regime, or until he is formally adopted, this should hold with full binding from here on out. That means, each month following the original transfer, the State of Tennessee will be sending you funds for his well care and being." He let that sink in for a moment before he continued. "Do you have any other questions on this matter?"

Natalie shook her head no, though the others could easily tell she was still stunned by the news. Mr. Dennison then cleared his throat and pulled another envelope he was carrying, handing it over. "Here are two copies of Jason's birth certificate that I obtained from State records last week. I intended to give them to you the other evening, but I had accidentally left them behind on my desk. It also contains 3 copies of the death certificate for Jason's father. I had asked for more, but for some reason or another, I only received 3 initially." The man stopped and observed the surprise on Simon's face. "I am unsure of British law, sir, as to whether you will need the birth certificates for Jason or not, so they are not being provided for and specific reason, but more as a convenience. There is nothing to be concerned about, in that regard. I assure you. As to the death certificates, their reasoning will become clearer in short order."

Taking a deep breath, the man continued. "Now, as to the box, your suspicions were correct. I pinged Edward Jones and Associates early yesterday. They are a national investments firm, handling a large variety of portfolios for retirees, investors and the like. The length of time they have been in business is astounding, and they have fairly solid experience, historically speaking, of managing said funds for both individuals and businesses alike. I was able to determine that, based on the account data you found detailed in that box, that portfolio is one that was still very active and live. In fact, recent events in the investment market have also ballooned considerably, so the projections, dividends, and credits are doing rather comfortably. In fact, right now, Jason-" the man paused and turned his attention to the teenager, "right now, son, your parents left you with an investment portfolio, and it current has a present value assessed of a little over $1.1 million U.S. dollars."

Elliot, who had been holding his cell phone rather carelessly up to that point, suddenly dropped it to the ground. "What? Are you kidding?" He was immediately embarrassed at having spoken up, and out of turn.

Simon glanced at him, but then smiled, nodding as he returned his attention to the man. "My sentiments exactly, son. Are you serious, sir?"

"Ah, yes, indeed I am. That's not all, however - there is more you need to be aware of. Your brother's funeral was taken in hand by the local American Veteran's Military Chapter, which was a fully acceptable method at the time, given his circumstances and arrangements. However, it wasn't the American military he was discharged from, but instead it was the British. The Royal Navy, actually seem to take a strong interest in the welfare of their servicemen's children, at least those who wind up orphaned from their parents. They have a life insurance grant of sorts, although they term it differently, which was never filed for. I discovered this quite by accident, while investigating another document and making a few calls yesterday. I am in the process of getting those details sorted out now, as we speak. I should have information on it by the first of next week."

"My Lord!" Simon exclaimed.

Mr. Dennison sat back. "I know, this has to come as a broad surprise to you. But, believe it or not, there is also more news. For example, Ms. Ross, our perpetrator at large, and her group also overlooked other things, we think."

"Such as?" Natalie asked.

"Well, they emptied the main checking account, which as best as we can determine, contained something around $14,800 dollars, give or take some change. But they did not get to the secondary checking account in Jason's mother's name, nor the savings account that had been set up for him directly. Two phone calls yesterday, with the appropriate banking credentials, ascertained those facts very quickly. You see, evidently your brother was in an accident of some sort, and he collected a substantial amount of funds due to it after the fact, when it occurred. The bulk of those funds, it appears, are in Jason's savings account, and in his mother's checking account - which is also still active." The man lowered his voice. "From what I can tell in the preliminaries, both accounts total to around $147,000 U.S. dollars. The savings account is in Jason's legal name, and with a binding social security number that avoids any work that might otherwise be required, it is essentially his already. Jason and his father are also listed as secondary signees to the checking account, so with one of those certificates…"

"With one of these, he can claim his right to access the funds there," Simon mused, understanding.

"Or have the funds transferred, if he desires," Mr. Dennison agreed. "And you already saw the life insurance policy, I'm sure. One of the requirements for handing that in will also include a certificate, as well."

The entire Flavell family was stunned beyond words, not to say the least for Jason, as he digested the news. "How...?" he finally asked in a hoarse whisper.

Mr. Dennison smiled. "I can't explain all of it, to be honest. Don't worry about that right now, though. It will take me and my office probably 3 to 4 weeks to get this all sorted out. When we do, I think I may fancy a trip over to your lovely country for a brief visit. I'll fill you in on everything then, how does that sound?"

Just then Mr. Dennison looked at his watch and stood up. Simon and Natalie rose with him, with the boys following. Before the man could say anything, however, Natalie reached out and hugged his neck, surprising the advocate, but he accepted it all the same with a smile. "I-, we, don't know how to thank you, Mr., ah..." she stated.

"Dennison, and believe me, this is one of the few days I can truly say, without any reservation, that it's my pleasure." Mr. Dennison shook hands with Simon again, and then with all three boys. When he arrived at Jason, who was last, he held the youth's hand longer. "You are going to have quite a story to tell for years to come, young sir. Your children and grand-children will be blessed, I am sure, just having you still in their lives. You need not concern yourself with all this legal maneuvering. It's my job to watch after your interests now, at the expense of the State, I might add. But, if you'll permit, let me say something: this is a profession for me, pure and simple. On occasion, however, I get a very distinct pleasure bringing some level of happiness to individuals, such as yourself. Mind you, this does not happen often, so when it does, I consider myself among the blessed and fortunate to watch a wrong being made right. As the judge and others have already said, there are no real means of making this up to you. But we can certainly try, right? And we can certainly look out for down the road, too. I've known Judge Moore for a very long time, and there is not a more honorable man in the judicial system. He truly tries to take care of things when they aren't right. You'll be fine, son. You have not just his word, but mine as well behind that."

"T-Thank you, s-sir," Jason replied, caught up in the emotion of the moment.

Just then Simon looked at his watch. "Ah, peoples, we really should get going now so we catch our ride. Why don't you walk with us, sir?" They all began walking toward the hotel lobby, including Mr. Dennison, who chatted idly about various topics with all of them. He promised to keep Simon updated on any further progress in apprehending Ms. Ross, her husband, the old couple or other individuals involved but thus far still missing. They finally bade him farewell when they reached the front doors, just in time to turn and see Mr. Kline waiting for them with a wide smile. Jason felt relieved seeing their driver, as he had come to like him over their stay. His friendly openness had helped put the teen at ease on more than one occasion.

Perhaps, for this one exchange however, there was another reason he was pleased to see the man. It brought about the full realization that Jason felt, deep inside.

They were finally going home.

The family arrived, finding their home quiet and eerie-like in the throes of the evening sun, that was beginning to disappear in the western sky. Though tired from their journey, they were pleased to find nothing amiss. Unlike at the beginning of their trip, Jason had rebounded fully, and was able to both converse and keep up with his new family much better than during their first flight together. When he walked through the front door, behind the others, he stopped in the entrance and took a deep breath. Looking around slowly, he smiled widely. It had not been a mistake, nor a polite giving away to the others. Not since living with his father, had he come to accept a place, both in time and spirit, as he had now. The walls around them, the safety of the haven it provided, and the people that filled it – gave life a full meaning to him. This was now, truly, his home - and he was forever grateful for it.

That night, he and Elliot turned in, both undressing as usual, but only cuddling beneath the comforter on their bed. Elliot had fallen asleep almost immediately, sighing in the warmth and companionship of Jason's embrace. Jason, however, lay awake for some time, as different thoughts occurred. One reflection was on the boy he held, and how much he loved, and felt loved, by the soul in his arms. He thought about the events that started it all, measures that had brought him into this family. And then he thought, for a long time, about the events that had brought himself and Elliot together into this tightly woven fabric. When they had made love, even beyond the sex, Jason had felt a change within that fabric, as if it had been even more tightly sewn, sealing their fates together from here on out. That didn't scare him, surprisingly. Jason knew what he had done, what he had allowed, and how he had coaxed Elliot, ever so patiently, to give in and let Jason give him the last part of himself he could give. The last piece of trust to outweigh any other symbol of trust he had. Elliot had accepted it, and even late that night, Elliot had smothered him with the love and kisses, crying even in the happiness they had, together. That had been worth it all, to Jason. As he looked upon the back of Elliot's neck in the moonlight, he smiled again, before leaning in and giving it a soft kiss. Elliot stirred, but shifted and pushed himself harder back into Jason's embrace. A moment later, Jason could hear him whisper, "I love you, Jase."

Jason hugged his cousin one last time. "I love you, too." That final exchange quieted Jason's mind, and he fell into a peaceful slumber.

The Saturday afternoon sun was shining high outside, and for an early spring day, it was reasonably pleasant. Natalie had just sat down with her husband and picked up a book, having opened various windows and doors on both ends of the flat. Already, the air felt crisp and clear as it moved throughout the rooms. Earlier, all three boys had gone about visiting the game shop again, before moving on to Gunwharf Bay. Jason seemingly never tired of visiting there, being able to stand or sit along the docks and observe the sea and ocean as it swirled around them.

It was an unusual feeling this time, however, having spent the previous week in America. Having already compared his new life to the one before, Jason sensed the nostalgia that was brought on while revisiting his homeland. It reminded him, first hand and up close, what city life entailed, but he decided he liked it – at least in this seaside port. Jason had to adjust to the more compact style of living, as would be expected, but the trade-off was getting to live in a place full of wonder and adventure. That, and getting to have a pair of brothers help him experience it.

It was with these thoughts that, later that afternoon, Jason appeared in the doorway to the Flavells' living room. Before he spoke, he observed the two of them, together, side by side. His uncle's arm wrapped around Natalie's shoulder, and their closeness suggested the lifetime commitment each had made to the other was as solid as ever. He liked to think it was the same way his own parents had lived. So many kids didn't have the love and nurturing of a family as what he, Elliot and Derek had here. They had made their commitment to him, too, to become a part of it. Now, Jason decided, it was time for him to give something back, especially now that he had something he knew would help all of them.

"Uncle Simon? Aunt Natalie? Can I talk to you both for a minute?" Jason asked timidly, entering the front room.

As they both turned and looked upwards to face him, Jason entered and sat in a chair facing them. He hesitated, only to think through how he wanted to approach what was on his mind. These two adults were constantly reminding him he shouldn't worry about things beyond his control, and Jason truly understood that. He also got the fact, though, that these two both continually went out of their way in making a place for him here. Maybe it was true, that most teenagers didn't think about those things as much when it came to matters of money. It mattered to him though, because since his father passed away, he had become a burden. In some ways, it was acceptable, but now, in this case - it didn't have to be.

In the silence, Simon finally grunted as he pulled Natalie tighter into his side. "Sure, you can. What's up, buttercup?" Natalie glanced at him quickly before rolling her eyes. She said nothing though, as she snuggled in and turned her attention to Jason.

"Is something wrong?" Natalie asked, expressing her curiosity.

"No ma'am, honest. I- I just want to talk to you both about something, that's all," the teenager replied.

Simon nodded. "Okay, then, out with it. What's on your mind?"

Jason blushed. "I'm not... I mean, I want to tell you guys something, but I can't, like, figure out the best way to say it. I mean, I know I'm going to flub it up, but..." The teen sighed deeply. "I guess with all these things that have happened lately, I'm still a little screwy, being surprised and everything. I mean, sometimes I cry, and ... and..."

"Is that what this is about?" Natalie asked. "You need not worry with that, you know. I think we've all gone through some trying events this week. You, especially so. I don't think you're screwed up at all, as you say." She smiled at him. "You'll be fine, I think. I honestly believe that."

Simon nodded in agreement. "You've learned a lot, too. I mean, finally getting answers, and knowing people are going to be held accountable for all the wrong things that happened to you, son. That would bring a lot of closure, to me. Admittedly, we have to hope Ms. Ross and the rest of the parties involved are tracked down eventually. Think about it, though: they won't do this to anyone else again. You stopped that, Jason. Not us, you did. That's something to be proud of, I'd think."

Jason smiled, but slowly shook his head. "Thanks, I appreciate it, really, but... that's not why I'm here." He hesitated, looking from on to the other. "It's about all this money stuff. There's a lot of it, isn't there?"

Natalie sat back and focused on him. "Yes, there's probably going to be a sizeable windfall, when it all is said and done." Simon nodded beside her in agreement.

"I know," Jason replied, nodding. "Well, I've been thinking about some things, since Mr. Dennison came by the other day. See, the thing is..." He hesitated before shaking his head. "What I mean to say is, while I was growing up with my Dad, we never really had that much of anything. I mean, we never really needed a lot, like I've told you before. But the more I think about it now, I realize we also never really struggled or anything either. If we wanted to go out, or do things, I always just depended on Dad to know what we could or couldn't do. When I think about it now, though, we never had anything stop us, really, unless it was just time or something. Like, time away from school, you know, breaks or something. We never really had any money problems or anything, not that he ever shared with me. I guess now I know why. He just wasn't one to spend money to do it. That or, at least, he was saving it for something else."

Simon grunted and waved the teenager over to scoot over next to them. Once Jason complied, Simon regarded him with a kindly expression. "I would almost grant you, it might be both. I know when we were growing up, and in the latter years afterwards, our father was always an incessant saver. But he was also one who recognized that people didn't always need everything they wanted. He was a very modest man, by most accounts. He supplied what we needed as a family, and a little more to boot - but in the end, he was every bit a conservative. It sounds like he may have passed that trait on to my brother, more than anyone realized."

Jason listened and then nodded. "Yeah, I guess so." He peered off into space for the moment. "I think it's kind of like I am, too. I mean, I just want to survive, and you know, not be alone anymore. That's how I feel about it. I don't care about having stuff, as long as I've got you guys to help hold me up. I mean, this family – it means a lot to me right now. I don't want to lose it."

"You're not going to lose us. Those two barbarians upstairs would disown Simon and me, I think, if that ever happened!" Natalie said with a wide grin, glancing at her husband. "So, what is it then, Jason? What has got you thinking about all this?"

"Well," Jason replied, pausing briefly before he took a deep breath. "I want you guys to have some of it." Observing Natalie's immediate reaction, he hurried on. "I mean, hear me out, please? It's kind of like this: I know you guys struggle sometimes. Don't deny it, okay? Sometimes, I've seen the bills come in and everything, and then I know how much you've had to use your credit card, and then even more. Not that I tried to be nosy or anything, I just ... I just know, okay? From the little things I've seen and everything, and then up to this trip and all. I'm sure there is a lot of stuff I don't know about, too. Some of it's my fault, or at least because of me being here. Clothes, extra food-"

"But Jason, even that isn't so much it hurts us," Natalie intoned, crossing her arms. "Besides, you heard the advocate the other day. Tennessee is going to start sending us some money to help pay for all that, and more."

Jason smiled at her. "I know that, Aunt Natalie, honest. I'm really glad about it, too. But, let me finish, okay?" Jason pleaded. When Natalie nodded, he took another breath. "When everything is done, when you adopt me - if you're still going to and everything-"

"We are, that hasn't changed," Simon interrupted, making the statement firmly.

Jason looked at the eldest Flavell gratefully. "Well, that's going to cost some money, right? And there's other things, too. Derek is going to be old enough to drive before long, right? And then Elliot and I are going to be right behind him, too. So, be honest with me, okay? Wouldn't it help you guys out, if you didn't have to worry about some that stuff? And not just for me, but for all three of us - Derek and Elliot, and me?"

Natalie was bewildered, but she looked at her husband for support. "Are you going to help me out here?" she asked, half giggling as she saw Simon's astonishment matched her own.

Simon's cleared his throat. "I'm still uncertain where you're going with this. We've told you before, I don't make a bad quid. And besides, like your aunt has told you, there is nothing you do that puts us out on a limb, in any way. Sometimes I can't keep from repeating myself on this, son, but I will, again: these are things you should not worry about right now. I understand you do, as bewildering as it is in my opinion, but okay – I do understand your concern. But Jason? Don't worry with it. Just be a teen, enjoy life while you're still young. You'll be 15 this summer, and more than likely you and Elliot will be heading out to find part-time jobs soon enough as it is. Until then, enjoy life! Celebrate! Have some fun!"

"I know, Uncle Simon. Believe me, I hear you, and I know. But don't you see? Try, please, to understand what I'm saying. I don't need it, the money, I mean. You two, though, you guys do. That's what I'm trying to tell you! Even if not now, you will before long, anyway. So, let me help, please? " Jason shook his head, then laughed. "See, I told you I'd flub this up."

Natalie giggled. "I take it 'flub' is another American expression?" Her eyes twinkled as she reached out and took hold of the teen's hand. "You're not flubbing anything, Jason. Just relax, it's all good."

Jason held her hand a moment. "Well, I feel it's still hard to explain. I have another reason too, though, and an idea I'd like you two to at least consider, if nothing else."

"We're listening, Jason," Simon replied, gently.

"Well, the way I kind of see it, every time I get money, or make money or whatever, from the settlement stuff, it's only going to remind me that someone failed. Someone may have failed me, but I failed, too, because I let myself get drawn into it without speaking up or anything. It's just bad memories and everything, you know? I'd rather just go on and, like, forget about all of it, you know? I mean, I know I can't, not completely. It's something that happened to me, and I'll always know about it." Jason paused before going on. "But because of it, you're the ones responsible for me and everything, now. You see?"

"I do," Simon nodded. "There is more to it than just that, though. You have other money coming your way, too. Remember?"

"The money from my Mom and Dad, that's different," Jason acknowledged. "They were saving that for me, I guess. To go to college, or buy a house, you know, stuff like that. I get that." The teen suddenly laughed again. "I go numb thinking about that one sometimes, because I don't know what I would do with it anyway. Still, I get it, and to me that's different." He paused before going on. "Anyway, I was thinking. What if I keep that part of it, and... and let you guys have the other part." He saw the objections in their faces, so he hurriedly continued before they could speak. "Look, like I said, I don't need it, and... and... you guys have given me so much more than money could never buy anyway, you know?"

Silence ensued, and Jason suddenly felt tears developing. "I love you guys, and... and I love Elliot and Derek, too," he spoke, his voice breaking at the end. "I trust you, and I know you'll help me learn to be who I am and all that. I know I have a whole lot to learn, too. To me, being here is worth everything, with all of you helping me. But, if you're going to be around and guide me, and love me and take care of me and... all that.... then, why shouldn't you have a part of it, if not all of it? Why should you have to worry about how you're going to pay for something here or there, or where the money is coming from? Right? I overheard you two talking before this trip. I know you were worried about how you were going to pull it all off, taking all five of us together. I'm glad the State paid for most everything, but guys, if they hadn't…"

"Okay, we understand, Jason" Natalie replied, her own voice uncharacteristically soft. "It wouldn't have hurt us too bad, though, and we wanted to do it. We wanted to do it for you."

"I know," the teenager croaked. He turned to his uncle for help, however. "Don't you see what I'm saying though? It shouldn't have to hurt any now. You can have what you need, to really take care of everything, and take care of us, too."

"It's not the same, Jason. I mean, don't get me wrong," Simon stated simply, then paused. "We appreciate what you're conveying, but that money isn't ours, either. Rightfully? It's yours. And you never know, son - somewhere in life you may want to start a business, or do something similar. Who knows what you might want to do, hmm? When you do decide something, however, then you'll have that little nest egg sitting there. You might even want to take off on another grand adventure, perhaps see the world!"

The teen smiled though his tears. "I am. I'm on the grandest adventure of my life right now. I wish you guys could see that. I know, that's hard to hear from a kid almost 15-years old, but... given my life for the last year or so? I'd do it all again if I had to, just to know I would come back here, in another country, to a family where I felt loved and wanted."

Natalie gasped in alarm as she realized what he just said. "Jason, don't… don't say such things!"

"What? Aunt Natalie, I was raped, I know. But... before that, I was lost and ready to just check out, to get away from it all. And yeah, I had to suffer - but that wasn't the end for me. Don't you see? This is where I'm at, and I'm not at the end or even close to it! That's what you guys have given me! That's what Elliot has given me, it's what Derek gives me. I have a home, and ... and people who care." Studying her, he suddenly smiled. "I would give up everything I own, just to keep this."

Simon leaned in and pulled the teen into their arms, where he and Natalie both embraced him from either side. "You owe us nothing, Jason. We owe you, if nothing else, for helping to bring our family - my family - together even more." Glancing at Natalie, she smiled at him in return. "Listen, you're right. Derek is going to be going to university, I think, and you and Elliot are going to be up to your ears in being busy. You boys will be getting into things and wanting to go places, so there is no secret what's coming down the road. But son, these are all normal things of just growing up, and every family makes it through them, in some fashion or another."

"Exactly, Uncle Simon. That's my point. I'm not saying we'll change or anything, though I know some things change as we get older. I'm no dummy about that," Jason observed.

"Of course, you're not!" Natalie whispered as she listened.

"I'm just saying, you guys shouldn't have to worry about so much of it - for any of us," Jason continued. "You'll have other things to worry about, right? Like, keeping us out of trouble, making sure we don't get drunk, getting cars and teaching us how to drive - all that. Why should you have to worry about how you're going to afford it? I will have my own money to do things later, like what you said. I mean, I doubt I'll spend much of it anyway between now and when I get out on my own. It'll probably build it up even more, right? Isn't that the way savings and investments and stuff work?"

Simon grinned at him before glancing at Natalie. "See dear? Told you he was a smart one!" he intoned.

"We know what you're trying to say, and we appreciate it, we really do. But your uncle is right," Natalie tried to explain. "We couldn't take your money either, Jason. Almost for the same reasons you laid out to us. It's not our money, but it IS yours, whether you see it that way or not. Besides, if we had it, we'd be the ones feeling guilty." Seeing his questioning expression, she explained. "Think about it. We would be the ones, benefiting from something that didn't even happen to us. Some people thrive on taking advantage of that in the world, but not us. Not your uncle and me. What happened was to you, see? It was something inexplicably horrible, but it happened to you."

Jason grunted. "All they did was … uh … screw me, Aunt Natalie," Jason whispered, almost embarrassed.

Natalie sighed. "Yes, they had sex with you, I get it Jason, I really do. But don't forget all the abuse and neglect that lead up to it, either. That's why the money should be, and is, yours. Do you understand that?" There was a long silence that fell between them then, before Simon cleared his throat.

"Look, think about it this way, Jason. We understand your point, and it's as noble and as selfless as we've seen you give before. But now, in the years that come, you may change your mind. You never know what could happen, or what your future holds, right? There is no reason you should have to think about things like this right now. There is certainly no reason you need to make decisions like this right away, either." Simon considered the piercing blue eyes that met his in return. "You told me that you trusted me, remember? Then trust what I say now, when I tell you that everything will work out just fine. Remember those shadows we talked about? They're gone for the most part now, right? You have a long road ahead of you, and a very full and bright future. I hope you realize, too, it does not have to be here in England. There is no reason why, once you're of age, you can't go back to the States if you wanted to. It might make a few of us sad if you do, but Jason - you have a life to live, just like Elliot does, and Derek. I urge you, one more time, to please .... try to step back and let these things play out without worrying about them. Just enjoy being a teenager! Enjoy having some fun, enjoy exploring your life here in England, or Europe even!" He smiled. "Enjoy having two brothers who love you, and who think the world of you. They'll help you, and even go with you to the ends of the Earth if needed. You can't ask for more than that, you know? Just - live. Let us worry about these other facets. It's our job. It's my job, you know? Whether you believe it or not, I find a lot of pleasure and satisfaction in it, too. I LIKE being a father, and a husband!"

Jason tentatively began to smile. "And an uncle?"

"Especially an uncle!" Simon leaned forward a little and studied briefly. "Listen, what if we compromise, hmm? If it really means that much to you, if it will finally set your mind at ease, then let's consider this. What if we take, just for prosperity and everything, a small amount of what you're offering us, maybe just enough to kind of clear up everything Natalie and I have outstanding. Sort of like, get us back on our own feet with a fresh start. Maybe even take a little to help in your paperwork, to get you adopted, just like you suggested. Do you think that would satisfy you, once and for all? This feeling you have about costs and all that? I say, I am amazed without end in how you, as a teenager, continue to worry about such things!"

Jason's face fell slightly. "I guess, I mean ... I had nothing, Uncle Simon. When I was living with those people. They… they were always on at me about what it costs to keep me around and everything... and then, being on my own, with nothing..."

"Whoa, whoa, whoa - wait a minute!" Natalie interjected. "Jason, let's get something straight, honey. Those people were messing with you. From what you've told us, they didn't give you a damned thing because they either didn't want you there, or they wanted you to disappear, to get away and just leave it behind. They were meant to wear you down, physically and emotionally, and they did a damn near job of doing it, too!"

"She's right, Jason," Simon picked up. "And listen, I haven't seen you eat us out of house and home, I haven't felt any different about giving you a place to sleep, to shower, to stay warm or anything else. And even if I did, there would never be so much cost to it, that it affects us as a family. In fact, the ONLY thing I EVER hear about is this oatmeal you have grown to love!" He laughed as he said it, making the boy blush, but striking the right chord to quieten the mood.

"I... yes, sir," Jason finally replied, giggling.

Simon laughed again, then squeezed him warmly. "Listen. Just, be yourself, be mindful of things around you, but never give up your heart and how you feel. I predict you're going to grow up strong, and that you'll be a whole lot happier from here on out. And as to the money, you could keep everything in investments, just like you said. Even get some sent to you every month, or quarter or something, if you like. Kind of like an allowance, maybe. Then everybody wins. How would that sound?"

Jason thought about it for a few minutes, and then smiled at them both. "And you promise, you'll take some, and use it to catch up with everything, maybe even a little extra - I don't know, to travel or something? Maybe?"

Simon laughed again. "I travel enough as it is," he mused, but then nodded. "If you mean as a family, I'm sure we'll be in a much better position to do some of that, too. I wouldn't mind taking all of you to a few places I know about, maybe spending more time with you, too. We'll just have to see. Maybe your Aunt and I could let you boys get out some more on your own, too." He saw Natalie give him a piercing stare, then chuckled. "But only when you're old enough to do so, though." That seemed to appease her as Natalie nodded in agreement.

Jason grinned back, watching their exchange with relief. "Thanks. I really mean it. I love you guys, you know?"

"We love you, too. You do know, it'll be a while before some of this makes its way to you anyway, right? Probably as much as a year or so?"

Jason shrugged. "I don't care. Like I said, I really don't need anything, anyway. And besides, if I did, I'm supposed to be able to get into my savings money soon, right? And you said it yourself, there's quite a bit there. So, we all can have that if we need to. Not just me, but all you guys, too. Dad would have wanted me to share it with you, too, you know? If it helps, then yeah, you should get some of it."

Natalie hugged the boy. "Let's not jump on anything right now, okay? Like I told you before, that is your money, Jason - not ours." She kissed him on the side of his cheek, and then nuzzled him close. Jason did not resist, and she found it refreshing to see the change in their young charge. She was just as pleased when he returned her embrace.

"I'm just saying, Aunt Natalie. I'm just saying, that's all." He looked at them both. "You guys don't need to worry about me going and spending it on stuff, either. Like I said before, I have everything I need anyway, right here with the four of you." He then turned his head and kissed his aunt on the cheek. Once done, Jason rose from the sofa and was about to walk away, when Simon reached out and grabbed him. Rotating him around, he pulled the teenager down into his lap and embraced Jason fondly. "You really don't think you're going to walk away without letting me have one of these, too, do you?" he teased the boy. Jason then wrapped the man up and gave him a double helping.

"Just, if you guys ever get tired of me, don't make me have to go right away, okay?" Jason whispered, teasing the man.

"Stop thinking like that! It won't happen, trust me," Simon retorted, reaching down and swatting him on the butt.

Jason giggled. "That's what I am doing, right now, Uncle Simon. I'm trusting and loving you both!" As he spoke the last, Jason saw Natalie beaming on the sofa, winking at him. Eventually he let go of the man, who pushed him gently towards the hallway.

"Now, please, go be a boy. Just learn to have some fun, alright?"

"Sure," came the happiest reply the couple could remember ever hearing from him.

Simon pulled his wife back into his embrace again as they sat on the couch. "I sometimes don't know who was luckier: him finding us, or us finding him," the man mused.

Natalie sighed. "Me neither."

"Sheesh, did you stop up the plumbing or something down there? That was a long trip just to empty a bladder! " Elliot exclaimed as Jason entered the bedroom, finding the two brothers basically as he had left them.

"I agree, you've been gone, like, forever!" Derek added, looking up from the bed.

"Sorry guys, I needed to talk to your mom and dad about something," Jason replied nonchalantly.

"Everything okay?" Derek asked, as he handed the teen the dice. They had been playing another game of Monopoly since their return earlier that afternoon.

"Everything is super, really!" Jason replied, wrinkling his nose. "Hey now, wait a minute! When I left, I had 3 hotels setup over there!"

Elliot snickered. "Yeah, we know. Derek played for you and, ah, you got into some trouble."

Derek sighed. "Afraid so. This wimp racked up quite a bit of dough from both of us, while you were gone. He is poised to bankrupt me now, and from the looks of it, probably you, too."

Jason sighed, but grinned at them. "Oh well, serves me right, I guess." He looked up at the elder teen. "Want to just give it to him then?"

"Yeah, why not. I know where all of this is going, and it won't end well." Derek admitted, grudgingly. "Not for us, anyway."

"Hey, but guys... guys?" Elliot looked on as they collected their properties and money and handed them over to him. He sighed. "Aw man, what fun is that?"

Derek laughed at him. "What are you talking about? Considering you just won, I'd be pretty happy about it!"

Elliot conceded as Jason also laughed at him. "Okay, okay," he replied finally. "Help me get it all picked up, then?"

"Nope!" Jason declared. "Remember, it's your own rule you made - winner has to take the spoils and put everything away!"

"Hey now, I thought it was the loser who did that!" Elliot exclaimed.

Derek started putting things in order. "Yeah, but we aren't the losers. Not this time, anyway."

"Huh? What do you mean?" Elliot asked in confusion as he, too, started gathering the various cards and play money to clean up. All three of them eventually tidied up and pushed the game box back under the bed. They had been silent to this point, and Elliot's curiosity would not be satisfied. "So, you gonna tell me or what?"

Derek, closest to the door, reached his foot out and kicked it shut. With surprising quickness, he then sprang from his position, launching himself against Elliot. Pinning his younger brother to the floor with no hesitation, he started tickling him in his armpits and down the sides. "You're ... gonna ... be ... the ... loser! Because we're gonna get our revenge, right now!"

Elliot was already squirming. "Revenge? For what?"

Derek hesitated only slightly as he stared down and replied, "For all those times being a smart arse and beating us in this quirky game!"

Elliot laughed harder, as Jason looked on, grinning at the them both. At one point, Derek looked up. "Hey, get your arse over here, squeaker! We're going to skin this mouse and teach him a lesson or two about the price of winning all the time!" Jason could not resist then. While Derek held the youth and fought to keep him incapacitated, Jason had exceptional fun removing Elliot's shoes and socks. At Derek's bidding, he even unbuttoned Elliot's jeans and unzipped them, making his cousin laugh even harder while he twisted about in helplessness. As Jason slowly worked them down, he teased Elliot by grabbing his willy through his underwear. Instead of feigning with the expected reaction, Elliot instead began to instantly get an erection.

Fighting against Derek however, proved fruitless. The older teen worked his own legs around his, keeping him pinned down. Before Elliot knew it was happening, his t-shirt was up and gone, and in that same moment, Jason stripped his briefs off, leaving him totally naked again. "It's about time you had your turn at this!" Jason called out softly, thinking of the times these two had already done it to him.

"Damn straight it is!" Derek grinned, then started to grasp and tickle his brother again.

"Aww, c-come o-o-on guys! No f-fair!" Elliot blurted out between hysterical giggles.

Jason leaned in close. "Hey, I didn't complain any, remember? You're not allowed to, either!"

"Yeah, that's right, even if I do this!" Derek added, and then grabbed Elliot's erection and squeezed it. Elliot's face then changed, his cheeks pushed out by a mouthful of air. It was all he could do this time to keep from yelling. When he finally spoke, he did so in a hushed voice through gritted teeth.

"That's my dick you're grasping, you big doofus!" Elliot hissed.

"Yep, and a pretty nice fat one at that, I think!" Derrek whispered back, loud enough for just the three of them to hear. After tickling him a bit longer, Derek finally had sympathy for his brother. Sitting back and just holding him, he struggled catching his own breath during the break. Glancing at Jason, he smirked. "You want to do anything to him, before I let him go?" Glancing down at his little brother, he observed him closely. "You know, you're growing up more, I think. I don't think I ever remember you being this big before," he whispered.

Jason commented. "He has more pubes now, too, I think. You know, bushier. And I know his nuts are heavier."

Derek glanced down, then nodded. "Yep, I think you're right."

Elliot blushed, but was pleased at the attention. He finally spoke up while in his brother's arms. "Still not as much as you do, though."

Derek scoffed. "You'll get there, little bro. Trust me. You'll get there, and you'll get to some other things, too."

"Like what?"

Derek relaxed and sat back with a grin on his face. "You'll... well, you'll see."

When Derek offered nothing more, Jason whispered quietly. "Yeah, like what? He'll lose his virginity or something?"

The statement surprised Derek, who grinned even more before nodding. He didn't seemingly notice the subtle change in Elliot, who had held his breath just then.

"Oh yeah, he'll get some noogie, I promise, and probably a whole lot more," Derek whispered.

There was a pause before Elliot asked quietly, "What do you think? Boy or girl?"

"Honestly? Whichever you want, I guess," came Derek's ready reply.

"Like you?" Jason asked timidly. That caused another surprise reaction, which the older teen just grinned. He glanced down at his brother just then, who spoke up.

"I didn't say a word, bro. Honest!" Elliot exclaimed.

Derek nodded. "I believe you. I know I've kind of hinted at it before, too, so no worries." Looking directly toward Jason, he nodded. "Yeah, I've done it. I'm not afraid to tell you, Jase. Truth is, I've had it both ways, and with a girl, too." Letting go of his brother, Derek sat with his back to the bed. Elliot breathed deeply just then before he swiveled and placed his head upon his brothers' lap. Checking the proximity of Jason to them both, he then laid his legs across his cousin's, effectively keeping him tucked and close by. Jason couldn't help but grin, as he started playing with Elliot's still hard member while they talked.

Derek observed them both for a brief moment before he spoke again. When he did speak, one could tell he measured his words carefully. "So, yeah, I'm not the virgin anymore," he repeated, emphasizing his status yet again.

The revelation startled Elliot, as he finally realized what his brother had just admitted. "Wait, you... with a girl? You've fucked a girl? When?"

Derek grinned. "Tuesday night, doofus. In the States."

"Shit! Are you serious? Are you fucking serious?" Elliot hissed. Derek laughed, but nodded.

"Yes, I'm serious little bro. I wouldn't lie about something like that to you." Derek laughed again. "When we got back to the room Tuesday night, I thought for a while you guys were going to figure it out. I mean, I really did kind of smell. You know, down there," he added, indicating his groin.

"That's... that is so awesome," Elliot whispered. "And no, I didn't notice or smell anything. Did you Jase?" Jason shook his head.

Derek nodded at them both. "It wasn't planned, believe me. It just kind of happened and all."

Elliot spoke up again. "Will you... like, tell us? How was it and all?"

Derek grinned at him. "You really want all the details? I thought you weren't interested in girls that much!"

Elliot blushed. "Come on, bro! Don't pick on me right now..."

"Okay, okay. Honest, if I were in your shoes, I'd probably be asking the same thing," the elder teen relented.

"How did you meet her and everything?" Jason asked.

"Well, that one's easy. There was a bunch of these teens I found, around my age and all, at one of the pools. We horsed around a bit, playing volleyball, but in the water. They asked if I wanted to join them, and I said sure. Then one of the girls' kind of took an eye to me. We chatted and flirted around some, but not anything big. When everyone stopped and started getting out, after a bit she kind of attached herself to me at one end of the pool and begged me to stay. Then, when no one seemed like they were looking or paying attention, she gave me this lap dance, sort of, in the water and everything. That got me hard," Derek paused. "I mean, really hard. She felt it, or felt me anyway, and started getting more excited. Next thing I knew, she was pulling on my hand and leading me out. I had no idea exactly why, but then she practically dragged me back to one of those family bathroom thingies. You know, the kind where anyone can go inside." He smirked. "The light outside was out, so it was kind of dark. She just sneaked inside and ended up pulling me in with her."

"Wow," Jason finally uttered. "I told you, I've heard other stuff like that before, about girls over there."

Derek nodded and then laid his head back. "I know you did, but honest - not until we got to the bathroom did I begin to think about what she was wanting to do. And even then, I didn't expect her to go all the way; I just figured she wanted to get fingered or something. Maybe even just give me a blow, you know?"

Jason nodded, while Elliot spoke up quietly. "Wow!"

"Yeah, um, wow is right. For me anyway. So, bottom line, we ended up doing it - all the way. My first ever, just like that. With a girl."

Elliot sat up then, turning toward his brother and sitting Indian style, still naked, his dick stiff and rigid. "Go on, tell us the rest. Please? Fess up - what was it like?" he implored.

Derek considered for a moment. "We started to just kind of grope at each other for a bit. She was pushing her hands inside my trunks, and I was feeling her up, too. I mean, under her top, umm, like the swim bra or whatever they call it."

"Swim top, yeah," Jason offered, and Derek nodded.

"Then she was like, 'now, don't wait!' She pushed me over in front of the loo and pulled my swim trunks down. Then..." He blushed. "She took her bottoms off and before making me sit and … and then, she started to, like, climb on me, on top. My willy found its way into her, and she just sucked it up inside and started dancing on top of me, up and down and everything."

"Oh, ssshhiiiitttt!" Elliot hissed.

Derek grinned. "It's not like doing a guy, little bro. It's... wet, and very slippery. At least, it was with her." He saw Elliot hanging on every word, and then sighed. "Yeah, I know what you want to know, and the answer is yes. I did it all the way, I blew her inside and everything. She kept swearing at me to do it and all, so I did." He paused, thinking. "There's not really a lot to tell other than that, though. When I blew, she squealed and everything, and just sat on me hard for a few minutes. I played with her breasts for a bit, then she kissed me. You know, one of those deep, throaty kinds. Then she got off, pulled me up and pulled my swimmers back up for me. She put her bottoms back on and then went to the door and looked around and just left. Never saw her again after that."

"What about, you know, when you did it. What was that like?" Elliot whispered.

Derek lowered his voice, too. "It was like, really warm inside, I remember that. You know, hot and everything. Doing it with a guy isn't a lot different that way, though. It's warm inside for guys, too."

Elliot nodded, muttering, "Yeah, I know." It was then he suddenly realized what he had done, and this time it was Derek's turn to be surprised. Elliot turned a bright red.

"You've done it, haven't you? Really?" Derek asked.

Elliot froze with fear just then. "Me and my big, fucking mouth," he breathed in frustration.

Before he could contemplate it any further, however, Jason's arm draped around him. "Yeah, he's done it. With me."

Derek's jaw then dropped, but he quickly closed it in astonishment. "Seriously? Wow! I'm... I'm kind of surprised, but... yeah!" He grinned at his little brother. "Way to go little bro!" Turning to Jason, there was a change in his expression. "I mean, as long as, well. You were okay with it, right?"

"Yeah, don't worry. I wanted to do it, as long as it was with him," Jason added in a quiet voice while hugging Elliot. "I know what you're thinking, Big D. And to be honest? I kind of surprised myself some. But.... It was just one of those moments, you know? And I was okay with it. I wanted to do it."

Derek nodded. "I can understand that."

"I- I'm sorry, Jase, I..." Elliot looked deeply into his cousin's eyes. "I know I wasn't supposed to tell. I mean, we said we were going to tell you, but-"

"I told him I didn't want you to know right away, that's all," Jason explained. "But honest, I don't mind it. Like I've always said, you're both my brothers."

Elliot sighed with relief. They were silent for a moment, then Elliot grinned. "I can't believe it though. You did it! You actually-" He lowered his voice again. "You actually fucked a girl! Your virginity is now, like, gone completely, right?"

Derek grinned, but nodded. "I've topped, bottomed and went all the way around now, yeah."

Jason was curious. "Top? Bottom? What's that mean?"

Derek grinned at him and whispered. "When you top, you're the fucker. You know, you're taking your willy and doing it to someone. When you bottom, then you're the one getting it, getting laid and all. You know, being fucked."

Jason understood, then grinned. "Oh, okay... I get it now. So, I bottomed for Elliot." He grinned at Elliot as he held him snuggly.

Derek looked at his brother. "Okay, since I told you what it was like for me, now you have to do the same. What was it like for you two? And, has Jason topped for you?"

"No, he hasn't, but don't worry, I won't let him get off the hook that easy." Elliot hesitated, thinking it through. "You've already done it, you know, right?"

"Yeah, but I'm talking about you two. What was it like for you?"

Elliot thought about it for a few seconds. "Tight. Really tight. It took us a long time to really, like, do it."

Derek wrinkled his nose. "Really? Where did you do it?"

A mischievous grin cross Elliot's face. "Where? Well, see, Jason has this cute little hole, right in the middle of his arse, and-" He laughed, dodging the pillow thrown at him just then. "Okay! Okay!"

"Our bed, in Nashville," Jason answered for him. "Our last night."

Derek's face gained a look of understanding. "Ah, I thought the covers looked a little strange then!" He laughed, and then a peaceful expression crossed his face. "It's supposed to be tight though, bro. But, once you get inside, it's like, totally different from anything you've ever done, too. Right?"

Elliot nodded, and then Derek turned to Jason. "I guess it was kind of the same for you, too, right? I mean, I don't know how it would be, considering... you know..."

Jason grunted, but nodded. "Yeah, I know. It was... like he said, it just took a while. I mean, it hurt some at first, but it wasn't, you know, really bad or anything."

Derek nodded. "Given what happened to you, yeah. But that was over 6 months ago, so I would have thought, maybe, you'd be getting more back to normal and everything back there and all."

"I guess so, but truthfully, I have no idea," Jason acknowledged. He shrugged. "After the initial hurt and everything though, it wasn't like what happened to me before. This time, it was... I don't know, it's hard to describe."

"You knew what to expect, sort of, and you were prepared for it, I bet. The biggest difference though, was someone cared, and you loved him for it, right?" Derek wrinkled his nose. "I'm not trying to speak for you or anything, but for me, it wasn't like anything I ever expected. I let Justin do me, one of my mates. It took us a bit of time, too, but when he was inside, and I got used to him being there, for me it was like wow. I could feel all of him, slipping and sliding inside. Almost like someone giving you a massage, especially right at the tip when he would hit my spot and all. It just, well, it filled me up and everything. Same for you, too, right?"

"Exactly," Jason agreed. "It was a lot like that, yeah." He grinned at Derek. "I'm kind of surprised, you know. You telling us this and all."

"Why shouldn't I? I told you before, I got nothing to hide from you guys," Derek replied. "Even sex. I just, well, like Elliot I guess. I'm careful when it comes to that, because I know you were raped and everything."

Jason grunted. "Yeah, well, I know, but seriously? I think that's what makes me love you guys all the more. Because you let me in and everything, and don't hold anything back. You know, not treat me like an outsider."

"You never were an outsider, Jase," Elliot spoke up quietly. "You just always felt like you were."

"He's right. I think you know better now though, don't you?" Derek asked.

"Oh yeah, I do," Jason answered.

Derek leaned forward again. "You know, I envy you guys, really. Justin and me, we just did it for kicks and all, to see what it was like. He bottomed for me, too, and yeah, it wasn't bad. But honestly, there was no real feeling or anything in it. You know? You two, though... I bet it was different, wasn't it?"

"Yeah," Elliot piped up. "You already know. I mean, when we started just kind of goofing around that night, I wasn't even going for that. But Jase, he kind of, well, it was the thing we have between us Derek. Next thing I know, the end of my dick is like, right on him and everything, and he's pushing down on me. I started feeling like I was slipping inside and all. And... And Jase was like, he was-"

"I was wanting him to do it. I wanted to do something special for him," Jason whispered.

"Really? Why?" Derek inquired.

Jason thought about it. "You guys give me so much, and I love you for it, you know? I don't know, I just ... I wanted there to be no doubt anymore. No doubt for Elliot, or for me, about how much I trusted him. Or how much I trust you, for that matter. And that - yeah, it's sex, and it's being gay-ish and all that, but... honestly? I don't know of anything that says it any more than that. I mean, if I'm willing to give that up for you guys.... Does that even make sense?"

Derek smiled, then moved closer to Jason and hugged him tightly. "It makes perfect sense to me." He eyed his brother and then added, "Like I said, I envy you both." When he finally let go and sat back, his eyes were moistened. He was, however, very happy. "I think we all feel the same way. And just for the record, I would bottom for you two, any day, as long as it was with that feeling and all. You know? That's how much I love and trust you, too." His brow furrowed momentarily. "Hey, let me ask you something. You keep saying it took you a long time. What do you mean? What's a long time?"

The two younger boys looked at each other before Elliot shrugged. "I don't know. Umm, 20 minutes or so?" He giggled. "It's not like we were timing it or anything!"

Derek and Jason both laughed. "Duh!" Derek hissed, before sitting back again. "What did you guys use?"

Elliot frowned. "What do you mean, 'use'?"

"Well, did you suck him and get him wet, or use lotion, or vaseline, or anything?" Derek asked.

Both younger teens looked at each other first, then shook their heads simultaneously. Derek's eyes grew wide. "What? You've got to be kidding me! Nothing? You did it all, like, just natural and everything?" Derek whistled. "Wow! You guys really did do it that way?"

Elliot shrugged. "I didn't think about anything like that." He sat up straighter. "I didn't, I mean, you never told me you could use stuff or anything, you know?"

"Oh shit, yeah bro! Hang on for a minute!" Derek jumped quickly to his feet and left the room. Both Elliot and Jason stared after him in curiosity. When Jason noticed the door was still wide open, he nudged it part of the way with his foot, in deference to Elliot still sitting next to him in the buff. That thought caused Elliot to reach out and grab his underwear. "Maybe I should put these back on..."

Jason, however, stopped him. Taking them from his cousin's hand, he urged him to stretch back with a gentle push. "I stripped you, I should put you back together," he whispered, threading first the legs and then pulling them up.

Elliot looked amused as Jason went about his work. "I won't complain, but uh... you strip me lots of times without putting me back together, you know?"

"Shush," Jason admonished. "Bedtime doesn't count," he teased. When he brought the garment up to the Elliot's crotch, he hesitated. "You know, I think your brother is right. I think you are getting bigger down here." He cupped the youth's testicles in his palm as he looked up. "And I already noticed these things seem heavier and everything."

Elliot nodded. "It's because of you, I think." He lifted his butt, and after Jason finished pulling them up, Elliot wrapped his cousin in closer. "I mean, I get a lot more, ummm... attention than I ever had before. I think that does something to some people. Not that I'm complaining or anything," he added slyly.

Jason, however, looked doubtful. He said nothing more, however, because just then Derek returned. Closing the door completely, the older teen sat down beside them again. When he had their attention, Derek palmed a small tube and gave it to them. "Listen, I'm not telling you guys to do it anymore, okay? Messing around is one thing, but like Jase said once, you really need to trust the person you do it with. So, if you do decide to do it again, then use some of this." Seeing their curious looks, he lowered his voice almost to a whisper. "It's just vaseline, guys. You slide some on around your willy, and you can even push a little up in your arse, too, near the outside and all. It makes it a whole different experience, trust me - especially if you've never done it like that before. You slide in and out a whole lot easier and everything."

Elliot was in awe as he accepted it. "Seriously?" He stared at his brother closely. "So, you must have done it more than once, I guess?"

"Derek grinned. "A few times, yeah," was all he admitted.

Elliot shook his head. "Damn! I don't know what to say, bro."

Derek grinned. "Then don't say anything. Sometimes, just appreciating things is enough, you know?" He paused for a moment, then went on. "So, tomorrow's Sunday. Last day before school starts again. Any idea what you're going to get into?"

Jason shrugged his shoulders. "No plans that I know of. I was hoping, well..."

Elliot regarded him with curiosity. "Yeah?"

"Well, I was wondering if maybe, you know, we could go down to Gunwharf one more time. Not so much the stores or stuff this time, just... the harbor down there." Looking up, he remarked, "I like it there. I don't know why, but it just seems, I don't know, kind of peaceful."

Derek nodded. "Sounds like a fitting end to a fantastic week."

"Will you come, too?" Jason asked.

Derek smiled. "Honestly, you two have probably had enough fill of me for the week. Not that I'm trying to get away from you, but I was hoping to meet up with some of my mates."

Jason shook his head. "You'd never worry about that with me, you know." Looking first at Elliot, he turned to his older cousin. "I do understand, though. Sometimes we live in different worlds, outside of home here. But, just know, if you wanted, you could come, too."

"I know I could," Derek replied. "I'm not afraid to, either. You two can go do your thing, though. We'll have plenty of other times and chances coming up, too. Oh, and the guys are asking about you on the team again. I think I need to bring you back, or they're all going to de-ball me." He then surprised Jason by pulling him near. Their foreheads touched when he smiled and whispered. "You're a part of us now, you know that, right? All of us."

Jason nodded. "I honestly don't have to question it anymore. I know it, and I feel it." He reached out and tugged at Derek's hand, pulling it up inside his shirt and over his heart. Holding it there, he whispered back, "In here."

"Way to go, then." They remained that way for a moment before Derek pulled back. Rising to his feet, he made to leave. "You guys need something, let me know." Looking down at his younger brother, still clad in his underwear, he smirked. "You should have left him skinned for a while. That erection of his probably won't be going down for a bit!" With that he bumped fists with them both, and then was gone.

There was a brief silence between the two before Elliot grunted. "My erection is just fine for the moment, thank you very much," he hissed as he heard Derek retreating down the hallway. Looking back at Jason, he relaxed. "You know something? I'm happy for you, Jase. I'm really, really happy for you." He moved around in front of his cousin and stared deep into his eyes. "You're my brother, too, you know."

Jason smiled meekly. "I know, yeah. You're mine, too." He threaded his arms through the boy in front of him and held him warmly. "You did it."

"Hmm?" Elliot asked.

"You did it. From the very first night, you taught me how to trust you, and how to love again. No one will ever take that away from me. Or from us." Jason sighed happily. "You could hate me for the rest of my life, but I'll have that to remember, always."

"I will never hate you, Jase." Elliot returned the warm embrace even harder. "You know, you gave me something, too."

"What was that?" Jason whispered.

"You gave me this, Jase. And this is something I will remember, forever." Elliot nuzzled into Jason's neck and kissed it.

Jason giggled. "I don't know, Elliot. Forever is a long time, you know."

Elliot pulled back just far enough so he could see his cousin. He was smiling, which caused Jason to smile in return. "Do you think you will ever forget us?"

"No, I won't." Jason replied sharply. "Never."

"Then that's settled. Forever is a good thing, you know!" Elliot whispered. While they stared at each other again, Elliot's face suddenly lit up. "Um, I've got an idea! Ron wanted us to get with him after we got back, remember?"

Jason nodded, then realization set in. "You think he might go with us?"

"Never know unless we ask him, right?"

"Holy bat-crap, bat-boy!"

All three were sitting on a bench along the wharf, overlooking the bay. On the one side they were facing, they could see the Isle of Wight in the distance, a small island that sat separated from the mainland. Behind their left shoulder lay Hayling Island, a place they had heard much about, and were promised to visit soon. Simon had even hinted that perhaps they could all go biking around the island some weekend, when the weather improved. Jason looked between both masses of land and smiled, while letting Ron digest the news of their adventures in America.

He and Elliot had just spent the better part of the last hour, telling their best friend about what happened on their trip. As they progressed, there were times Ron would be astounded, often pausing his drink in mid-air, before returning it to his lap. The youth was fascinated about the hotel, the hearing and Jason's eventual trip to his old home-place. He even absent-mindedly started drinking from Jason's can when he ran out of his own. Jason noted it and smiled inwardly. To label this teen as their best friend was not a mistake. He had fully integrated his trust with them, and together they made a dynamic trio of sorts.

Although he didn't reveal everything about the financial news, Jason did tell their friend parts of it. Elliot, once again, let Jason control what portions of the story he wanted out, knowing this was one aspect he had no voice over. Jason had already told him that morning that it didn't matter, not with Ron anyway. Elliot, however, fully understood some things were just not meant to be out there, and that it should be Jason's decision to choose where the line was drawn. Elliot had already made one major slip of the tongue the day before, and he didn't want to jeopardize anything again. He was just thankful it was with their brother, instead of somebody else outside the family.

Ron, also respectful of what he was hearing, chose not to pry too deeply. He did, however, listen with keen interest. "So, it's like there was a gang or ring of people involved, then. And they got hold of your house and, and they sold it?"

"Yeah, pretty much," Jason replied.

Ron sat back in his seat then, contemplating what that meant. "Then, you really did like, lose everything. Didn't you?" He shook his head. "Sorry, not quite the way I meant that. What I do mean, though, is that it explains a lot about how you just showed up here, with so little and everything. It was because they took all of it from you. What they could, anyway."

"Yeah, I guess. I mean, they didn't get everything. We found some pictures and papers and stuff, so I have a few memory-like thingies left." Jason shrugged. "I mean, they're important and all, but... yeah."

Ron regarded him closely. "Listen, I think that's awesome. What I wouldn't give to know something about my real parents, you know? My birth mother and everything. I mean, I don't really want to get involved with their life or anything, but it would be nice to at least put a picture with a face. That's all." He grunted, then took another sip of Jason's drink. "Probably when you're older, those things will be more important to you."

"That's what Derek and I told him," Elliot interjected.

Ron nodded, then discovered he had finished the drink off. "Bollocks! What did I do, drink both yours and mine? Sorry mate, I didn't mean to do that at all!" he confessed, before tossing the cans in a nearby trash bin.

"It's okay," Jason responded. "We can get another one if we need to."

Ron grinned. "Thanks for sharing with me, too. I was pretty thirsty. If we do, I'll buy. I have a couple of quid on me."

Jason regarded him for a minute. "I wouldn't share with just anyone, you know. It's cool."

"Yeah, I wouldn't either. I guess since I saw you and Elliot do it, it... it just says something, that's all," Ron mused.

Elliot leaned in close. "It does say something, doofus." They all three giggled.

Ron then put his arms around each of them, pulling all three of them closer together. "You know something? I love you guys. Just uh, yeah. You're my best mates, more than I could ever ask for, really." He thought for a moment before turning his attention to Jason. "I honestly think it's amazing though. I mean, I'm sorry, man. I truly am, that everything happened to you the way it did. I have to admit though, in a weird way I guess, I'm also kind of glad some of it did, you know? It's like I told you once before. I'm only glad about the parts that brought you over here to us. If none of it had happened, then ... well ..."

"Then I'd never have met you, and we wouldn't have become best friends," Jason finished. He glanced at Elliot. "Outside of our family, I mean."

Elliot smiled at him. "I know what you meant, Jase. It's cool. I think he's my best friend, too." He wrinkled his nose. "Um, does that mean we have to cut him down the middle or something though? Might be kind of hard to share him otherwise..."

Jason giggled. "Yeah, otherwise you would only get one nut and I would get the other!" he teased, and then lowered his voice. "Not to mention, I don't think I'm interested in splitting his sausage into two halves, either."

Ron snorted, and all three boys began laughing out loud.

"You guys are something," their friend mused, but hugged them even closer. "I think there is enough of me to share with the both of you, you know? As long as you'll share with me, too." He grinned between them. "After all, who says my curiosity is finished yet, hmm?"

"I know mine isn't," Jason admitted shyly. They traded hugs in their brief moment, reaching out and adding Elliot, too. Afterwards, they sat in silence for a few moments, enjoying the sunshine. Ron stared off into the distance before he sighed.

"You okay?" Elliot asked.

The teen smiled. "Oh yeah! Everything is great, honest!" Seeing their expressions, he relented. "I was just thinking about something. Actually, about you, Jason. I was just thinking, you had a hard time with things in the beginning, but not so much anymore. I wonder if, like, I could have survived it like you did, if I had been in your shoes."

Jason smiled. "You've wondered about that before, too. Remember?" When their friend nodded sheepishly, Jason went on. "Yeah Ron, you would have been fine. Elliot would have, too. In fact, I bet you guys would have done a whole hell of a lot better than me."

"Why is that?" Ron asked, his eyebrow raised.

"Because... I don't know. You guys, you already knew about a lot of stuff I had to kind of learn about. I mean, the trust thing. You already knew how to trust, or what it took to really trust someone, on the inside. And how to let them trust you back." Jason smiled. "I didn't. Not really, anyway."

Ron sat up closer. "Jason, that doesn't mean me, or Elliot or ... any of us, would make it any better than you did. It just means you had reason to doubt yourself and everyone else in the world. Those fuckers - the people you stayed with, the jerks who-" He hesitated slightly, lowering his voice. "-raped you, and everyone else like them. They messed with you, man. But I think you had a lot more strength than you give yourself credit for. They tore you down, I understand that. But you still fought, you still kept going forward. For whatever reason, you kept living. That says something, bro. You just had to believe again. You know, believe in Elliot and whoever else convinced you not to be afraid anymore. Once you did that, then all we did was be there for you, to watch and listen when you needed us to."

"And to be patient with me," Jason added. He looked at Elliot. "Did he just call me 'bro'?" Elliot grinned and nodded, before Jason turned his gaze back to their friend. "Do you have any idea what that means to me? I was alone, until Elliot found me, and the rest of you guys. Now I have the best friends, and the best brothers, in the world."

"I'm glad," Ron said with a smile.

Jason nodded. "Me too, more than you'll ever know." He looked across the bay again. "Don't get me wrong, I'm not afraid or ashamed of what happened to me, honest. Things have changed, and they're still changing. Elliot's Dad said something to me once, about when life throws you a curve, it's just the shadows and everything we're going through. When they pass over though, everything is a lot brighter in the end. I think it's true, because right now? With you two? I know I'm a lot happier. I-" He paused, while watching a pair of seagulls' swoop down on to the water directly in front of them. "I couldn't do THAT without you guys being here, you know? I couldn't feel the way I do now."

Ron smiled. "You know, if we were not in public, I'd give you a full hug right here and now."

Jason scoffed and then looked around. He glanced at Elliot, who nodded at him. Before Ron knew what was happening, Jason climbed to his feet, pulling their friend up with him. "I don't give a fuck who thinks what, Ron. It's their problem, not ours," he whispered, as he gave the youth the best warm hug he could muster. He made sure to thread his arms on the inside, one of them getting caught up inside of Ron's shirt.

Ron nuzzled into the American's neck briefly, then looked over and smiled at Elliot. "I know I couldn't ask for anything more. His hugs, I mean."

"Oh, I know. He gives them, and they're so fucking awesome." Elliot stood and then joined them. For a long time, the three stood interlocked with one another, without a care in the world around them.

Eventually Jason let go, breaking the pack. Grinning at the other two, he spoke with a mischievous look in his eyes. "So, guys, when do you want to get together again? For a sleepover, I mean? Especially before we get too old to have them anymore?"

Elliot and Ron looked at each other, and then both grinned at Jason.

All three offered and bumped their fists together, their friendship now sealed between them. Jason laughed as he took one last glance toward the island. The shadows were passed now, they were gone.

He turned and put an arm around each of them, and they headed off down the boardwalk. Ron remarked, "Oh, I'm supposed to pass a message to you, Jase. Pops said for me to let you know, he's got more models for you to build for some people, when you're ready. I have this funny feeling…"

The sunshine lit his heart up again, as Jason hugged them both. He was feeling, truly, happy.

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