When Shadows Pass

Chapter 16 ... Growing Up Is Hard; Otherwise Everyone Would Do It... (Part I)

By Sean E

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In the following weeks, The Flavell household returned to a somewhat normalized routine. Each day brought new experiences in one form or another. Halloween was upon them, and Jason was both surprised to find it no less enjoyed than what was traditional in America. If anything, it was more flamboyantly treated in the UK. On Hallows Eve, as the British liked to call it, both children and adults dressed up - and not just in the simplest of costumes. Many people dressed extravagantly, treating the evening quite seriously. Many attended parties of every nature and size, some thrown by individuals, others thrown by businesses, too. If anything topped the experience, it was the use of fireworks that evening, something Americans usually reserved for the July 4th holidays.

On Halloween night, Simon dressed as a vampire, complete with full make-up, costume and fangs. His already naturally black hair was slicked down to a shine, and a purposefully powdered face added an eerie effect to his overall appearance. Jason shuddered involuntarily upon seeing it, thinking his uncle was totally creepy. Staying home from work that day, Simon also spent the afternoon and evening playing the role to its fullest. He and Natalie spent considerable time in the kitchen, fashioning a bowl of a red, gel-like liquid filled with candies resembling human eyes. When trick-or-treaters came to call, many hastily veered away upon seeing them.

Natalie dressed in a simpler, effective costume as a nurse. Her white outfit included the universal red cross-like badge, and she borrowed a stethoscope from Simon's sister, as well as a hat. Jason admired her, thinking she could easily have passed as one of the nurses during Elliot's care at the hospital. Derek dressed as a pirate, and was disguised so well that, unbeknownst to his parents, he sneaked outside and circled around to their front door. When Simon answered the ring, he and Natalie both passed him off as just a local teen. That is, until he walked inside and revealed himself, stunning them speechless. About that time, Elliot also appeared, wrapped in shrouds and mimicking a mummy once back from the dead. He had dressed shirtless underneath, and on the exposed skin in places, he had Jason help apply discolored gels and paints. The result gave the youngest Flavell brother an even creepier appearance.

Even Jason originally planned to participate, planning for an evening dressed in black and carrying a bible. However, the afternoon before, he began feeling physically strange. After starting with a rough cough, followed by much sniffling from a runny nose, his condition rapidly deteriorated. To the family's dismay, he had a full-blown cold that had seeped into his upper-chest by Halloween morning. Although the weather had improved somewhat in the last week, there was still the characteristic dampness that shrouded England. Living along the coast did not help, and in fact seemed to intensify the conditions that was finally extracting their toll on the Flavell's new charge. Jason was miserable, and thus as the evening approached, he refrained from joining the festivities. He did still move about the flat somewhat, watching and helping the others as best he could.

The next day, Natalie kept Jason home from school. The motherly figure did it as a precaution, in case his condition deteriorated even further. Jason was deeply grateful, as his head was clogged, and his senses severely hampered. He slept late that morning, having had a fitful night before, mostly because Natalie had made Elliot sleep on the couch. Initially her son protested, but Jason eventually laid a hand upon his cousin's shoulder, and convinced him it was for the better. His absence, combined with the congestion in his chest, made the night long and tedious.

Jason did eventually venture downstairs that morning, and after a trip to the 'loo', he found the pretty woman seated in the front room. Upon seeing him enter, she smiled warmly, beckoning him to come sit with her. "Good morning, little one," she greeted him.

Glancing at her, he half-smiled. "Morning," he mumbled hoarsely.

"Feeling any better, kiddo?" she asked.

"Maybe a little, I don't know," Jason replied, shrugging.

"I've got some oatmeal on the stove. That is, if you want to try and eat a little," she offered, to which Jason nodded. Readily rising, she turned and disappeared, only to return moments later with a steaming bowl of the hot cereal, along with some buttered toast. Setting it down in his lap, she poured him some juice and remarked, "That's the last of it again, I'm afraid. I'll go out this afternoon though, and get some more. I'll also see if I can find you some more of those throat lozenges. Maybe get us all some more juice, too."

Jason looked up at her gratefully. "Thank you, ma'am. Could I... you know, could I have some ibuprofen, too? You know, something for this headache?"

Natalie sat down beside him again as he stirred the butter in his oatmeal. Using the spoon, he tested the mixture, and was pleased to find it already sweetened. As he took his first few mouthfuls, Natalie commented, ruffling her hand through his hair. "You poor thing, I know you feel miserable. Of course, you can. I think I have some upstairs. I'll go look for it in a few minutes." Jason glanced up and smiled grimly, then returned to his breakfast. Natalie looked at him closer. "I know that you like it, but do Americans eat a lot of this back in the States?"

Jason thought about that for a few seconds before taking his next spoonful. "I don't know, honestly. Dad and I used to have either this or cold cereal in the mornings. Sometimes, if I was late getting ready for school, I would have Pop Tarts instead." He looked up at her again. "Do you guys, like, have those here?"

Natalie nodded. "Yes, I've seen them. They come in different varieties, I think. What flavors do you like most? Maybe I can pick up a box for you today."

"Any, really. I'm not too crazy about the ones with peanut butter, or marshmallows, but all the fruit ones, or chocolate, or brown sugar... all of those are good. Just, I don't know how much they cost though, so if... you know..."

Natalie smiled at him again. "Well, we've told you before, don't worry about those things. If we can do it, I'll be happy to see what I can find," she replied, her voice soothing him.

Jason nodded in acknowledgement. Eventually he changed the subject. "Um, can I ask you about something else?"

"Sure thing, what is it?" Natalie responded, relaxing beside him.

Jason had to think for a minute. "Well, um, it's November now and, we always had this, like, Thanksgiving holiday and everything. But... I don't see it any here, like in the calendars or anything."

Natalie nodded. "That's right. Thanksgiving is mostly an American and Canadian holiday, I think. Here, we never really observe it, although there are some other Christian holidays in November that we do practice." She paused, reflecting. "Come to think of it, I guess you know about Christmas here, too? We generally celebrate Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and the day after, something we call Boxing Day."

"Boxing day?" Jason asked, curious.

"Mm hmm. See, Christmas around here is kind of, well, for some families it can get excessive. So, they use Boxing Day to recover somewhat. I think, in the beginning, it's origin comes from aristocracy where one's servants were given the day off. Like, if you had a maid, she was given a 'Christmas box of goodies' to take home to the family. Still, we keep the day and use for other things. Some people go shopping, like to the after-Christmas sales and so forth. Some people just go to the parks and hang out. It's intended as a day to rest, you see? It has other meanings, too - like giving presents to staff or people outside the family, or more. I think the bottom line, though, is it's an extra day to people use in a variety of ways," she added with another smile.

"How long do you keep things up before putting them away?" Jason asked quietly.

"Well, we usually start a few days before Christmas Eve, then wait until sometime between Christmas and the New Years' holiday. Some people play out the full 12-days of Christmas thing, which we've been known to do before. To tell the truth, however, it can get somewhat hectic once everyone returns to school and work, so we try to break a little breathing room in between," Natalie replied thoughtfully.

Jason thought long and hard, and Natalie noticed the smile had left his face. Unsure, she watched him and waited patiently. His expression was well masked, but she detected something else there, too. Perhaps it was disappointment? She wasn't sure, but when Jason remained silent, she prompted him. "Is something wrong, Jason?"

Looking up, Jason finally smiled and just shook his head. "No ma'am, it's okay, really. I was just wondering, that's all." Just then, he unexpectedly sneezed and Natalie passed him a fresh tissue. He glanced at her again afterwards, with watery eyes. "I think... I think I'd better go back upstairs now. Maybe I can try to sleep this off or something, before you guys catch it, too."

Natalie nodded. "I won't disagree with that one bit. Rest will do a body good, especially for these kinds of ailments. I'll go look for the pain medication and then bring it to you. Just so you know though, I'm planning to leave and drive to the store in a short bit. I shouldn't be gone more than an hour or so." Eyeballing the clock, she added, "I'm guess I should be back by around half past 12, unless I run into a bit of traffic."

"It's fine, ma'am. I'll be okay, I... I..." Jason sneezed again, and then wiped at his eyes. "I'll be fine, I promise," he finally finished. The teen put an arm around her and squeezed gently, while Natalie reached and collected his bowl. Without another word, he rose and then silently disappeared back into the hallway. Natalie watched as he left, but her internal radar was sensing she had missed something here, perhaps something important.

Whatever it was, as she climbed to her feet, she knew it had gone unresolved.

- + - + - + - + -

"Wow! Guys, come look at this!"

Ron had called out excitedly as he passed Jason's workbench. After three days of fighting his cold and living in misery, Jason had finally recuperated enough to rejoin the living world. It was one of the gaming evenings, and tagging along with Elliot was especially beneficial, as it helped him shake off his feeling of cabin fever. He needed to get out, and there was no better way or place to do that than at the shop. Arriving, he set about working on a pair of models again, using the workbench Ron's father had set up for him. It felt good to at least be back and doing something functional again.

They had been there for quite some time already, when Ron happened to saunter over and check on him. As Ron exclaimed, he was looking at a model of the HMS Illustrious, a British warship that Jason had commenced working on two weeks before. Mr. Fulcrum had recently been contacted by a family, who explained their aging grandfather had initially served on the Illustrious when it was first commissioned. He had been badly injured, however, during the Falkland's war, and forced to retire early. The family wanted to have a model of the ship assembled and painted to give the man, in hopes of cheering him up and commemorating his service. Mr. Fulcrum had asked if Jason wanted to take on the project, which made the teenager grin widely. With painstaking detail, he had been carefully putting it together in sections, and now those sections were coming together as a whole.

"Hey, that looks pretty cool!" one of the boys exclaimed, bending closer to study the results. "Look at the paint, it looks like it's actually weathered down and everything!" He pointed to the end of the turrets. "Hey, these even look like they've been discharged! That's pretty awesome work!"

Another teen nodded nearby, adding, "Look at the figures of the people, too!" Those gathered murmured appreciatively.

Jason both smiled and blushed at the praise. "Um, thanks guys. Uh... yeah..." he replied meekly.

Mr. Fulcrum walked by at that moment. "I think we have the makings of a professional modeler here, what do you say boys?" All agreed heartily. After a moment, the boys resumed their game. Elliot lingered just long enough to bump fists with his cousin, before rejoining them. Jason looked at the clock and saw they had about another half hour remaining before Simon would be picking them up. Turning to the shop keeper, he commented. "I think I can finish this and get some of the packaging ready for you, sir. But, um, you really shouldn't try to wrap it until the paint dries. And then, these 3 pieces should come together, like this..." Jason showed the man how the parts should fit, to which Ron's father nodded in understanding.

"How long do you suggest I wait?" asked the middle-aged man.

Jason pondered, then shrugged. "Maybe overnight for the three. I've already painted everything, so putting the hull in place should be the last step. If you do that in the morning, then, maybe 3 or 4 hours?" The man nodded, then reached out and slipped something into Jason's hand. "What's this?" Jason asked, as he started to inspect the contents, but the shop keeper held Jason's hand tightly together.

"It's just a little something for all the work you've been doing for us, that's all. To be truthful, I really don't want the other boys to see this right now, if that is okay with you." Mr. Fulcrum smiled, as he explained. "Not that it's a bad thing, not by any means. I just don't want anyone to feel, how you say, left out."

Jason looked down at his hand, then replied. "Oh, okay. But... just keep it sir, you don't have to pay me or anything for this stuff. I mean, I kind of just like doing it. It gives me something to ... you know, something different to do. Especially when Elliot comes to play and everything."

However, Mr. Fulcrum shook his head. "No, no. Sometimes I can accept boys working for free, but this - this is a special job, a paid job. The family this goes to? They are going to see this, and they are going to be very grateful to have it. You have done very well, young sir. Especially given the time and attention you have put into it here. And for getting it done so quickly, too!" He looked squarely at Jason. "It is true, I cannot hire you as an employee, not even part-time until you are at least 15. It would create a mountain of paperwork to set it up, otherwise. But... jobs like this? There is no reason I can't slip a little bit here and there. You understand, right? And... above all, I want to do it." He beamed and smiled as he picked up one of the sections. "The boys were right, this is exceptional work here. You SHOULD be recognized for it." At that, he released Jason's hand before walking away. Jason stared after him as he retreated, unable to object any further, before putting the money in his pocket.

When Simon collected the boys, he grinned widely as Elliot and Jason both filled him in on their evening's adventures. Elliot was especially exuberant that night, having achieved something monumental in his Warhammer series. However, neither Simon nor Jason could comprehend the significance of it. As they listened, each exchanged perplexed glances at one another. Elliot finally laughed when they turned into their street towards home. "You guys are just humoring me, aren't you?"

Jason only smiled as Simon responded. "Does it matter? You enjoyed it! I know it, and I'm sure your mother is about to find out as well!"

Elliot shook his head, however. "Nope, she won't understand it either," he replied solemnly, then his eyes lit up. "But Derek will!" he exclaimed. When they alighted from the car, Elliot started running ahead to find his brother. Simon laughed heartily and, putting an arm around Jason's shoulders, they began walking up the sidewalk. "And you had a decent evening as well, I take it? Did you finish that model you were working on?"

"Yes, sir," he replied, then remembered his exchange with the shop keeper. Reaching in, he pulled out what turned out to be 40 in English notes. Simon noticed it as well.

"Oh my, that is quite a bit of change to be packing around there. Did Mr. Fulcrum give that to you?"

"Uh, yes sir. He said it was for helping out around the shop with all the models and stuff."

Simon was genuinely pleased. "Well, jolly good then! I had hoped he might give you a little something for your efforts!"

Jason walked along a short distance, and then offered it to the man. Surprised, Simon halted and stared at the teenager. "What...? I say, 'no' son! That is yours to keep, you earned it! Put it back in your pocket!"

Jason was adamant, though. "No, sir. I mean, you guys do a lot for me as it is, and... and, I know nothing over here is cheap. And besides, I want you to take it. I want to help out, and... and..."

Simon stood stunned. Seeing the intensity in the teenager's face, he looked about before guiding Jason towards a bench only a few feet away. There they sat, and Simon observed the youth in the dim light. "Jason..." he started, then hesitated, looking deep into his eyes. "I wish you could understand. You need not worry about these things. You are not breaking my bank, or even coming close to it. Honestly, your concern is admirable for someone of your age, but - you are a part of this family now. If Natalie and I could not afford to have you here, we would not have reached out in the beginning, and let everything transpire as it did." He paused. "Please, just relax. Don't worry about such things. When you do this, it... well, it makes me feel inadequate, like perhaps I'm incapable of providing for all of us, to tell you the truth. And there is nothing further from that reality." Simon smiled at the last, but saw the troubled expression that still greeted him. "Is that it, though, or is there something else?"

Jason studied, and then just shrugged. Putting the money away, he spoke again. "I don't guess so, sir. I just... I want to help out, that's all." Simon watched Jason, unsure whether to push the topic any further. When he saw a waning smile return to meet his own, he decided it would suffice for the time being. "Honestly, Jason. Just be a teenager for now. Enjoy life and freedom for a while. You've both earned and deserve it, I think. Let me worry about matters of money for all of us," he reiterated. He put his arm around the teen again, but this time Simon hugged him close. "Now, I admit it's not that cold out here, but I AM getting a little chilly sitting here. What say we go in and find some of that soup Natalie had on the stove before we left, hmm?"

- + - + - + - + -

"Is everything okay?" Elliot asked later, after the two retired to their room. "I saw you talking with Dad," he explained.

Jason nodded. "Yeah, it's okay, I just... I just wanted to ask him about this." He pulled the money from his pocket.

Elliot whistled. "Wow! Where did you get that?"

"Mr. Fulcrum gave it to me tonight," Jason replied. "He said it was for all the modeling and painting I've been doing."

Elliot nodded in appreciation. "Hey, that's really cool!"

Jason scrunched his nose. "I guess, if you say so." His demeanor, however, told a different story, and Elliot called him out on it.

"You don't think it is? How come?" he asked.

Jason stared at his cousin, hesitating briefly before answering. "Don't get me wrong, okay? I understand, but... I've never had money like this, of my own, especially this much. Not really. I tried to give this to your Dad, you know, to help out with everything, for me being here and stuff... but he wouldn't take it."

Elliot frowned. "Your Dad didn't give you an allowance or anything?"

Jason plopped down on the side of the bed, before responding. "Well... I made a little money helping people with stuff, like mowing yards, that kind of thing. But he always took the money I made and put in into savings for me. At the bank and all, I mean. He told me if I needed stuff, then he'd always just go get it, but I should save everything for a while. Dad always told me it would go a long way in helping me get a car when I was old enough."

"Really? So, you never...?" Elliot asked, sitting next to his cousin.

Staring off into space, Jason commented. "If I wanted or needed something, he always took care of it. Like a candy bar, or some ice cream or anything. He would just hand me a couple of dollars, you know? Sometimes, if I wanted a book, like a magazine or something, he would just get that, too. So, no ... I never really did anything much with money, not when he did things like that. That's how we got along and stuff." He looked at Elliot. "I guess I just figured that's the way it was everywhere else."

"Oh," Elliot replied. He thought about something Jason said. "What happened to your savings? Do you know? Did you have very much in it?"

Jason shook his head. "No idea, really. Dad just always took care of it. I kind of figured it's long gone by now, you know?"

Elliot made a mental note to discuss that with his father later. "Well, just so you know, Derek and I get a weekly allowance. It's not a lot, but it helps me pay for my game nights and stuff, at least. Lately Mum and Dad have been falling behind. Don't worry with it, though, they do that sometimes. Especially when Dad has to pay for insurance or something big. He catches us up within a month or so, so it's no big deal, really." He looked at Jason. "I don't know, but I kind of figure you're going to get an allowance, too."

"Really?" Jason paused, then shook his head. "I don't need it. I really don't want it. I mean, I have everything I need here, just like it is, you know? And ... and besides, I tried to tell him outside. I WANT to help and everything. I know it has to cost more with me being here, and-"

Elliot put his arm around Jason's shoulders and pulled him close. "Dad does pretty good as far as most parents do, Jase. He's an Engineer Tech, I think that's his title. He's really good at what he does, and his company takes care of him, and he takes care of us. So, yeah, don't get so worked up about it. Besides, you're not costing us that much. I know you think you are, but I really doubt it - unless it's all being eaten up in oatmeal!" he teased.

Jason rolled his eyes. "Puhhlleeaasse! You've got to admit, it's better than... that..."

"Porridge?" Elliot asked, grinning widely. He wrinkled his nose before nodding. "You win that one. Porridge isn't that bad, it's just another hot cereal, but it's a mush. It takes some getting used to, I know, and even I don't like it very much. But yeah, I admit, I think I like your oatmeal a LOT better." He grunted. "So, are you okay? Honest?"

Jason lay back on the bed. "I guess so, yeah."

Elliot leaned back with him. "What are you going to do with it? The money, I mean? Do you know yet?"

Jason thought for a moment. "Can I ask you something?" He blushed. "Okay, okay, I know. Dumb question to start a question... Anyway, do you guys, like, celebrate Christmas and stuff? Like we did? You know, Christmas trees and presents and everything?"

Elliot nodded. "I think so. I mean, those things we do, yeah."

Jason smiled. "Then I might try to do some Christmas shopping with it then."

"That's not a bad idea, come to think of it. Plus, it's still early, you might end up making more before you have to spend it, too." They both stared at the ceiling, before Elliot continued. "Jase, my turn. Can I, like, ask you something else?"

"Yeah?" Jason whispered.

Elliot hesitated. "Are you okay? I mean, have I done anything or..."

Jason turned to stare at his cousin. "No, not that I know of. Why?"

Elliot glanced away before replying. "I dunno, you just seem more down again lately. I thought maybe I had done something again, or..." He turned and closed the distance between them. "Plus, it's like, been forever since we, you know..."

Jason grinned at him briefly, then spoke softly. "You haven't done anything. I'm good bro, I promise. I'm just thinking about a lot of stuff again that's all. Honestly? I've been really tired lately, too, but..." Quietly, he leaned in and gave Elliot a soft kiss on his lips before nuzzling their noses together. "Don't worry, okay? I still love us all the same. Nothing has changed. I promise."

Elliot seemed happy with that answer. It wasn't quite what he expected, but he relished what it meant to him. He whispered into the space between them. "I know I haven't told you for a while, but... I still love you, you know. Just don't forget that."

Jason smiled back. "And I love you, too." With that he sat up and started to undress. "Come on, I'll cuddle you tonight, if you want me to."

Elliot, wearing a button shirt for a change, nearly tore them off while trying to unlatch them. "You don't have to ask me twice!" he exclaimed, making Jason giggle. Both stood and within seconds had stripped to their underwear. Jason reached for a t-shirt but Elliot stopped him. "You don't have to," he whispered, but the American shook his head.

"I know I don't, but... honestly, my back has been kind of getting sticky and stuff lately. And, I don't know bro, it's just more comfortable when I wear one." He looked at Elliot, pleading. "Please don't take that the wrong way. I'm not rejecting you, or hiding from you or anything, and-"

Elliot stopped him. "WAIT, it's okay! THAT much I can understand! It's why Derek wears t-shirts a lot, too. He gets the same way, laying on his back and everything." He shrugged. "Even I do, too, but usually only in the summer time, though. I think. Anyway, it's okay, I understand."

Jason smiled and closed the distance again, but this time he threaded his arms in and around his cousin. Holding him close with their chests laid bare, he could feel that warmness shared between then again. Jason leaned back and kissed Elliot ever so softly. He also pushed his hands inside Elliot's underwear, gently grasping his cousin's buttocks and holding them. He didn't knead or massage, but instead held them while they embraced. He enjoyed the feeling once again, of something so personal and special, that belonged between them. After a few seconds Elliot whimpered and responded by doing the same. Within seconds, however, Elliot pulled away from the kiss. "You know, I didn't say that stuff, just so you would..." he whispered.

"I know, Elliot, I know," was the soft reply before Jason leaned in and locked their lips again. This time, Jason gently probed with his tongue, and Elliot gave him all the access he wanted inside. For a few minutes, standing there, they both kissed deeply. Their mid-sections began to grind with each other, reacting with a familiar achiness that extended into a pair of rapidly forming erections. As they rubbed against each other, Jason's t-shirt was dropped to the floor, and he guided Elliot back toward the bed. Once there they carefully lay down, without breaking the pace of their embrace or the intensity of their kiss. Once stretched out, Jason stopped briefly to reach up and shut off the lamp. The room plunged into darkness with only the moonlight illuminating their presence.

Jason next reached down and pushed off both their briefs, hooking them at the same time, and removing them from their feet. Returning to stretch out on top of Elliot, he fitted himself snugly between his cousin's legs. Elliot used them to pull his cousin in, locking them together in a gentle, yet firm grip. They both pressed and grabbed at each other all over, clinging as closely as their bodies would allow. Occasional whimpers would escape them both, as they swallowed and clung to the parts of themselves that gave in to the other. For an instant, Jason did feel guilty, as he realized what Elliot had said was true. He had been so preoccupied, and ignoring his best friend, for far too long. He missed their companionship, and their shared trust now reinvigorated it.

Jason made up for it though, because just then he was giving everything he had of himself. He felt their nakedness from head to toe in a familiar way, but this time he felt both his own and Elliot's eagerness as a passion coming together. Their groins fought for attention, the friction constant as their throbbing members struggled to press against each other. They rolled to their sides, a lust building as they kissed again, harder. Just when Jason thought he might lose control, Elliot surprised him by pulling away and moving down to engulf his rod. In less than a minute, Jason did let go, allowing himself to enjoy the moment to its fullest. He curled his toes in ecstasy, moaning softly until he was spent. When he opened his eyes afterwards, he realized Elliot had turned around, thus placing his own throbbing member mere inches away from Jason's head. Jason grabbed his cousin by the waist and pulled himself close, breathing in his scent. In no time, he nuzzled in and around Elliot's testicles and hardened shaft, tracing the pulsing rod to its tip, before taking Elliot inside as his cousin had done to him. He found Elliot's essence to be stronger than ever, as he proceeded to work his way up and down. He breathed it in deeply, finding it something he liked. Moving off to the tip, Jason used his tongue as he had learned to do before, and with little effort, he worked his way inside the skin and onto the sensitive glans underneath.

Elliot both gasped and whimpered, not lasting even half the time his cousin had held out. As Jason made reparation, he was rewarded with quick, long streams of cum in return. He tasted and swallowed each spurge, freely feeling each contraction and throb that pulsed from inside. He listened to Elliot moan, and the breathing that was coming in short gasps told Jason he had done right. By giving in to the moment, he knew this was something they both needed. They shared themselves again from a need of love and trust, and Jason could not have been happier.

Coming down from their highs, both boys ended up facing the other again, smiles greeting them each warmly. In the moonlight, Elliot kissed Jason once again before finally breaking the silence. "That was awesome, Jase," he whispered, and Jason nodded in return. "God, that was so - fucking - awesome!"

"See? I still love you, too," Jason replied, smiling at him.

Elliot swallowed the lump in his throat. "I'm glad." He paused. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to doubt you or anything, but..."

"But, like you said," Jason interrupted him. "I've been kind of diff lately, and I know it. Just a lot of stuff going on, that's all."

Elliot nodded. "Anything you want to talk about?" he asked, hoping. His cousin, however, shook his head.

"Not now. Honest, I'm okay. I'm just really happy we still have each other, all the way and everything." Jason leaned in and gave Elliot a soft kiss again. "Right now, I just want to cuddle some more. If you'll let me."

"Okay," Elliot whispered back. Standing up, he pulled the blanket back for them both. Jason observed him as he stood illuminated by the moonlight, naked but serene. His cousin started to get back in, but stopped suddenly as a thought occurred to him. "Ruh roh, Shaggy. Sorry, I forgot," he said, lowering his voice to that of a well-known cartoon character. "I'll get your t-shirt," he whispered, looking around for it.

Jason stopped him, however. "Forget it, I'll start wearing it again tomorrow night," he whispered. Tugging on Elliot gently, his cousin complied and slid back under the covers. To Elliot's surprise, Jason positioned himself behind, spooning Elliot snugly. With an arm draped over him, Elliot felt himself warmly embraced. Jason knew he didn't do this often, certainly not as much as Elliot held him on so many nights before. The American was taking another step here in their world, and as he spooned in and snuggled, Elliot's naked body fitted with his own. Jason could feel his groin cuddle up into Elliot's butt, could feel his willy rubbing in the middle. Thankfully, however, that was all it did. Breathing a deep sigh of contentment, Jason mumbled, "I'm so glad this doesn't bother you any."

Elliot, surprised by the gesture, just lay there with his eyes closed, taking it all in. After a moment, he pushed back harder before laying his arm atop Jason's. "You will never bother me by touching me that way, Jase. Remember? I trust you, too," he whispered. Jason squeezed him just then, and Elliot thought he detected a faint whimper escape his cousin.

Nothing more was said between them. Elliot hoped his cousin understood that, despite the revelations made weeks earlier, this was alright with him. He liked their nakedness, and he liked their finding each other so perfectly together just then. It created a level of comfort between them, and it made Elliot feel very good, inside.

And there, the two lay for the rest of the night, in a deep, peaceful sleep.

- + - + - + - + -

Most of November slipped by swiftly for the entire Flavell household. All three boys were buckling down, preparing for end-of-term exams. It was nothing new to Jason, having lived through something similar while in America. Although at times he struggled with certain concepts, he was performing admirably in his classes, and much better now in English itself. As he worked through school and began to adjust, he thought English schools took a little too much for granted in some ways. It caused him to backtrack and study some topics, such as literature, language and culture, in a deeper context than common. In areas of mathematics and science, however, he had few to no problems at all.

It helped, albeit unexpectedly, when Jason's teachers began allowing him leniency in these matters. Many of his assignments and reports were returned, generally with substantial amounts of highlighting - most of the time focused on incorrect spellings or phrases. Although he tried to use care, they still found much to point out and mark over. However, rather than penalize him, most tried to help him by entering corrections immediately, and this helped him to gradually improve. Recognizing his improvement, they felt he earned his assessments, and for that Jason was grateful.

Jason's one crowning moment, however, came during English and Grammar one morning. Their new teacher praised him, in front of the class, when he offered insights into the book, 'The Lord of the Flies', with a report they had just completed. Some of his thoughts differed from that of his classmates, and a whole period had been dedicated to looking at how someone from the outside, could provide a fresh perspective. At first, Jason blushed at the attention, but as they progressed, he saw the positive response other teens were having. With their teacher's encouragement, his peers approached the topic with a renewed spirit. Hearing those reports pleased both Mrs. Filch and the Flavells immensely.

The month had not quite left Jason, however, without one last surprise. On the last Sunday, he and Elliot awakened to detect a strange odor drifting throughout the flat. It had already been a fitful night for Jason, writhing and turning more than usual in recent weeks. Even with Elliot there to help settle him, Jason still found simple rest escaped him. When he first caught the aroma, he noticed that Elliot was wide awake beside him, staring at the ceiling. "Do you smell that?" Jason whispered sleepily. When he saw his cousin nod, he continued. "Any idea what it is?"

Elliot turned to face him. "I think... I'm not sure, but I think it might be a turkey in the oven."

Jason was surprised. Momentarily pulling himself together, he slowly rose on his elbows in curiosity. "Do you think we can go and find out?" Elliot smiled before grasping his cousin's hand. Climbing from the bed, they both found their sweats nearby, which they donned before heading out of the door, down the stairs and toward the kitchen.

Natalie heard them coming, however, and was waiting for them at the entrance. "Hold on boys," she spoke, a spot of a merriment about her. "Back up you go. Go use our bathroom for a change, if you need to go."

"But, Mum, what-" Elliot began. He was immediately hushed, however.

"Don't ask questions right now, just go do as I say. And afterwards, make sure you change into some decent clothes. That goes for you, too, Derek," she added, as the older teenager slowly descended his way behind them. Seeing their puzzled looks, she laughed and shook her head. "Look, just ... change clothes and all, then go greet your father in the front room. Oh, and here!" She presented a few pastries to them, each wrapped in a paper towel. "Munch on these. Lunch will be ready at about half-past eleven, so don't go ruining your appetite before then!" With that, Natalie waited until the boys had returned to the second floor, before turning back into the kitchen.

At the top of the stairs, all three boys turned left toward Simon and Natalie's bedroom. Jason had never been in this part of the flat, but once through the door, he smiled. The room that greeted them was spacious, with four sunlit portals arranged across the rear ceiling. Natural light poured in from outside, lighting up every corner of the brightly decorated room. As Jason continued following the brothers, they crossed toward an open doorway on the other side. He couldn't help but note how thick-cushioned carpet met their bare feet, their toes sinking deep. It was a different style and make, but its texture was soft and relaxing.

Once inside, Jason saw a different bathroom layout compared to the one downstairs. In one corner stood an overly large tub which could easily accommodate two people. Next to it, a separate toilet, followed by a wash basin rounded off the dressing area. On the opposite wall, a door concealed a narrow linen closet. Though the room was not cramped, it only allowed one person at a time to visit the loo, so Jason waited patiently as the two Flavell brothers took their turns, before following in like manner.

"This room isn't bad," Jason remarked, after flushing and returning to the bedroom, where both brothers stood waiting.

Derek nodded. "It's their room. They kind of like to keep it private for themselves," he remarked. Jason nodded as he looked over a rather large bed and other various pieces of furniture.

"Yeah, we don't come in here very much, unless they tell us to," Elliot added. "Like right now. Mum must be doing something pretty secret downstairs if she didn't want us to go through the kitchen."

Elliot and Jason returned to their room, with Derek following behind - but not before stopping off and grabbing some of his own clothes. "Okay if I hang with you guys a bit?" he asked nonchalantly, as he started to shuck out of his t-shirt in favor of a plush pullover.

Jason just shrugged, as Elliot had already started rummaging through their own closet. Before long, all three had redressed before making their way downstairs again. The boys noted that Natalie had hung a bedsheet across the kitchen doorway in their absence. It aroused their curiosity even more, and each wondered what was going on behind it. Minding their instructions, however, they instead turned and entered the living room. There they found Simon sitting on the sofa, reading one of the morning newspapers.

"Ah, come in boys, come on in," Simon waved to them, smiling widely. Derek threw a thumb in the direction of the kitchen, but Simon shook his head. "You'll see soon enough. Right now, why don't you lot turn on the TV, or perhaps play something for a bit."

All three boys were indeed puzzled by now. Only rarely did Simon make it a point to suggest they play a game. Generally, the eldest Flavell frowned on how much gaming was already done in the household, so this was an uncharacteristic offer. "Come on, Dad, can't you tell us anything?" Elliot begged as they plopped down.

Simon smiled. "Nope, afraid not, son. Your mother would flog me, I think. Just be patient, it won't be long, now."

Obediently, the boys found a racing game, and for the next ninety minutes or so, they preoccupied themselves as best they could. The aroma coming from down the hall was heavy, and it wasn't long until Jason had to agree that it did, indeed, suggest it was the aroma of roasted turkey.

At last, Natalie appeared in the doorway and waved for each - including Simon - to follow her. Finally sensing they were going to get an answer, the boys quickly rose and followed. Once they reached the makeshift curtain, however, the slender woman stopped them. "Wait here," she commanded, before disappearing behind it. The boys stood in puzzlement, until she quickly returned carrying plates, silverware, and various dishes of food. As she handed over the various dishes, she instructed the boys how to carry them and arrange them on the table. When it came Simon's turn, as he was last in line, she waited until the boys were out of sight before motioning him inside.

The boys observed the bowls of both mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes, along with other varying vegetables as they were being carried and placed. When Simon appeared, however, each let out a gasp. In his hands, the man carried a large platter occupied by a golden roasted turkey. As he carefully set it in the middle of the table, there were grins to be seen all around. Natalie hastily appeared behind him, with more bowls to add to their dinner. Jason noted happily that stuffing and gravy were among them.

Jason looked on in amazement. When both adults finally turned to the boys, they were smiling warmly. Natalie crossed over to stand in front of the American teen, where she grasped him by the hand. Guiding him to one of the chairs, she bade him to sit before speaking. "Jason, remember when you asked me about Thanksgiving a while back? Well, Simon and I got to talking about it. Mind you, I doubt this is going to taste like the foods you were used to back in the States. We decided to try though, and we wanted to make it something special. You see, this dinner, it's for you. Well, it's for all of us to share, too, but we wanted to surprise you."

Simon took over. "We wanted to show you how much we appreciate your being here with us. Even though you're here in a strange land, it doesn't mean you're among strangers. You don't have to leave everything behind, son. This might not be a British holiday, but it doesn't mean we can't have a holiday just among ourselves. Not in the least."

Tears slowly made their way down Jason's cheeks as he smiled. A lump had formed in his throat, and he had to swallow before he could speak. "I- I don't know what to s-say," he whispered, amazed at all the effort they had made. The food that sat before them was truly reminiscent of a family Thanksgiving meal. After a moment, he looked up at the man standing over them and smiled. "You never cease to surprise me sometimes," he replied, then looked at the Natalie, too. "You, too. I don't - I don't know what to say to all of this." He spread his hands, taking it all in. In every sense of the word, it looked perfect. "Just... thank you."

Natalie scoffed. "Well, maybe you can decide that after we all sit down and try it out." She motioned for the others to sit while she and Simon took their place at the head of the table. "I hope it's close, though, and tastes well enough to what you remember. I'll say, it took me a little digging around on the internet. Seems almost everyone has unique takes on what you Americans typically prize in a traditional Thanksgiving meal." She smiled. "I did, however, find some articles from the more southern country cuisine area, though. Simon talked with one of his fellow engineers over in the States, too, and got a few pointers. That's what I tried to follow, really."

Simon grinned. "I'm also afraid it took me some time to round up everything she required, and not let you boys in on it!" Shaking his head, he added, "That was the hardest part, I think!"

"Where did you keep the turkey at, Dad?" Elliot asked as he situated himself.

"Ella kept it for us. Which speaking, by the way, she rang. She said her and Trish would be over in an hour or so. We're supposed to, ah, make sure we save her a drumstick, I think!" Simon replied good naturedly, chuckling all the same. "Or two. She always did like the dark meat best!"

Jason admired the prize dish. "I'm glad you guys, like, have turkey over here and all."

Simon snorted. "We're not that backward when it comes to somethings, mind you! I can tell you, however, you will find a lot more pheasant, duck and other fowl here, I think - but we also enjoy turkey quite a bit, too."

Jason just stared at the whole table. His face lit up at the wonder of it all, and his smile practically stretched from ear to ear. The others saw a level of happiness in him they had not observed for a while. Natalie saw the effect, and she returned his smile in satisfaction. She had wanted to surprise Jason, and she had succeeded. Clearing her throat, she wasn't quite ready to turn the family loose on the meal just yet. "Now, I don't know about people across the pond, but this is what I would call one of those special family meals. So, I think it would be excellent if we went around the table, and just told of something we're personally grateful for this year."

Simon nodded and took her hand. "Fabulous idea, dear. Why don't I go first? Now let's see, what can I mention here?" He looked at his sons and smiled. "I am thankful for another year of seeing our sons growing up. I am grateful to have watched them continue becoming fine, young men. I am thankful for our newest member of the family, too, and I hope that he finds a peace he can embrace all the while living with us. Embrace, that is, for a long, long time to come."

There was a brief silence, when Natalie cleared her throat again. "I, too, am grateful for this year and everything it has brought us - the love, the camaraderie, the friendships far and abroad, and the one sitting at this table with us right now."

Jason's eyes were welling up again. Being next in line, he prepared to speak, but Derek cut in just then. "I'm grateful for my family, for our love, and for having a safe place to call home. And I'm grateful for my new brother, and hope he knows he can always count on me - if and whenever he needs me."

"And I'm grateful, too," Elliot picked up, not giving Jason a chance to speak, yet. "I'm thankful for Jason, for being my new brother, and for all of us being able to laugh, and play, and just be together. And I'm grateful for my Mum and Dad, for without you I don't know where I'd be right now. Or any of us, for that matter."

Jason could not hold back the emotion he was feeling, as tears happily fell freely down his cheeks. For a bit he could not speak, and the others just smiled patiently, giving him a moment. Finally, he sniffed and wiped at his eyes before speaking up. "Me, too, guys. I'm grateful for no longer feeling alone. And I'm grateful that there are people here, who want me for who I am, and who let me stay. People that... that aren't afraid to put up with me." He smiled. "I love all of you. I hope you know that."

The words were simple, nothing elegant, but delivered in a way that was felt by all four of the Flavell clan. Both Derek and Elliot smiled, because they knew why it was so important to him. Elliot got up from his chair and moved behind Jason, wrapping his arms around his cousin from behind. He gave him a simple hug, one which Jason returned by grasping the arms and holding them briefly in place. Nothing was said as the others watched, but there was a general understanding amongst them, and once again Natalie and Simon noted the bond the two shared together. Before he returned to his seat, he also stopped behind Natalie's chair and did the same thing, which seemed to please her, too.

Simon silently watched as all three boys bumped fists with each other, thinking about those simple words. He realized his hunch had been right: the boy had gone from feeling worthless to feeling something more positive. Maybe, as time passed, Jason would begin to truly believe he was there to stay. As he reflected on it, Simon recalled what Natalie had just discussed with him only a few short nights ago. They noted that Jason never complained, never put himself in anyone's way. Whenever there were chores, or tasks to be done within the household, Jason was among the first either volunteering, or just outright getting it done. The teenager never had to be told anything twice, if he was told at all, and Simon began to guess there was a reason for that. No teenager he had ever encountered in his lifetime, had the quiet dependable disposition quite like this one did. This teen, Simon was sure by now, had lived through a truly harrowing time, and perhaps even a good part of his life, in ways that most would never experience.

Simon could also see something else. With the three boys under the roof now, he could embrace how much more deeply entrenched they were with one another. From that, he saw his nephew growing even further. Where he was once that uncertain and unsure individual at first, Jason was now much more confident and steadier than before. Witnessing this exchange, Simon saw what he had hoped would happen, all along, come to pass. It vindicated his worries in a positive light, because in his eyes, the young man was healing.

That - in his book - was a very good thing.

Natalie sniffed, also moved by the simple words Jason offered, but she didn't dwell on them. She was afraid if she did, she would start bawling. Instead, recognizing the moment for what it was, she decided this needed to be more uplifting. So, gently grasping the hands nearest to her own, she waited for the others to follow suit. In that moment, at her prodding, Simon did something for this brood that was extremely rare. He asked for a blessing on the food, giving a simple prayer to keep his family of five, safe. They each felt the sincerity, and they were all silently proud of the man who sat at the head of their table.

As they were passing bowls around, Jason's eyes grew larger as he sampled them. "This is fantastic, ma'am! They taste really, really good!"

"As good as 'back home'?" Natalie teased.

"Oh yes, although some are a little different. Like these - what are they?" Jason asked, pointing to a particular bowl. Natalie identified them as sweet potatoes.

"I found that parts of America seem to refer to them as yams, or candied yams, but they are all basically the same," she explained. "They're just fixed a different way, I think."

Jason raised his eyebrows. "Okay, I've heard of them, but I don't think I've had them before! Or, if I have, I don't remember them. They are REALLY good!"

Natalie beamed. "Well, good then! Maybe I can learn a few American dishes to make after all!" She glanced around. "Is there anything you know of that I missed here?"

Jason thought for a few seconds while everyone turned their attention to him. He looked around before he shrugged. "Not really, I think it's all great! If there is anything missing, I think it would only be cran-"

"-berry sauce!" Natalie exclaimed, finishing his sentence while jumping up from the table. "I KNEW I was forgetting something!" she called out, disappearing toward the kitchen. Returning in scarcely more than a minute, she sat a small dish of the sliced, jellied sauce down next to the boys. "There!" she stated smartly before returning to her chair. All four men laughed alongside with her. "Let me tell you something, boys," she continued. "I think THAT was the hardest one of all to get hold of! It seems we have more liking for a cranberry relish over here than we do the jellied version!" They laughed again as she sat back and mused. "But, really, we should credit Ella for that one. She is the one who ended up finding it!"

The rest of the meal passed slowly, each one taking their time to enjoy it. Jason claimed it was better than any he had eaten, and he complimented Natalie several times. Simon's sister arrived later, as promised, and as she joined them, she too praised her sister-in-law for an exceptional effort. Jason had met Simon's sister a couple of times by now, but this was the first he had spent any significant time with her. He found her to have a wonderful sense of humor and wit, one that matched Simon himself. Trish, her daughter, was also a shy, but well behaved young girl for her age.

When it was time to wind down and withdraw, Jason stood and began to grab various dishes, intending to clear the table. As Derek and Elliot also rose to assist, Natalie stopped them. "No, this is my treat, for each of you today. Ella, Trish, Simon and I will take care of this, boys. You go on and do whatever you do for Sunday afternoons. Besides - it's going to take some skill figuring out how we store and keep these leftovers for the next few days!" She looked at what was left of the turkey. "Except for THAT! I think we picked it mostly clean, didn't we?" She stretched her neck. "Ah, there's still some left though. Anyhow, I'll figure out something. Now ... shoo!"

Her insistence was infectious, so each of the boys placed their items back onto the table. As they made to leave the room, however, Jason walked around the table to where Natalie sat. He silently motioned for her to stand up, which she obliged. From there, he threaded his arms around and hugged her warmly. "Thank you, mum. It was the very best, ever!" he whispered. He kissed her cheek and hugged her a second time, and then separated. Before heading upstairs, he passed by Ella and Trish both, and did the same, giving them both a warm hug.

Natalie put her hand up to her cheek, watching in amazement as the boy disappeared. Although Elliot followed his cousin out, it was Derek who stayed behind just long enough so he, too, could softly address her. "You did good, Mum. You did really, really good." Even Simon was moved by the scene, feeling the emotion and heartfelt message that his oldest son left with her. Derek smiled at his father likewise, before following the other two down the hallway. Looking up to his wife, he and Ella both smiled at her.

She stared at the now empty hallway. "He called me 'Mum'," she absently reflected. Looking at her husband, she added. "Did you hear that?"

Simon stood and put an arm around her. "Yes dear, I did." He followed her gaze toward the empty hallway before returning to her and grasping her by the hand. "I guess we know, now."

Natalie nodded. "Oh, yes."

Ella sat back, a knowing look upon her features. "So, when are you going to do it?"

- + - + - + - + -

Jason stretched out on the bed, feeling overstuffed and somewhat miserable. From the looks of things, Elliot was in no better shape, either. In no time, however, Derek appeared carrying three paper cups and a bottle of seltzer, which he opened and dropped two tablets into each. "Okay gents, you guys ate as much as I did. Better take this - bottoms up - or we're going to regret it later!"

Elliot, who accepted his cup from the corner of the bed, moaned. "I'm already regretting it!" he quipped before drinking the anti-gaseous remedy. He screwed up his face and gasped, but said nothing as Jason watched before downing his own. Unlike the younger of the brothers, however, he couldn't do it all at once.

"Ewwwww... that stuff tastes awful!" he smarted, after finishing and handing the now empty cup back to Derek.

"Ought to do some good then. Ever hear of good-tasting medicine being any good for you?" Derek quipped. The older teen then collected Elliot's offered cup before dropping them into a corner wastebasket. He then decided to join them, stretching out on their bed with closed eyes. While the other two looked on in amusement, he opened one eye to observe them in return. Then grabbing Elliot, he dragged him into the bed with him, who in turn grasped Jason. Before long, all three were wrapped up with one another in the cool room.

Light snoring could be heard from them all.

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