When Shadows Pass

Chapter 22 - New Friends, New Horizons (Part II)

By Sean E

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"Flavell, Elliot!"

As his name was called, Elliot moved to the front of the room to retrieve the handout awaiting him. As he started reading through the contents, his eyebrows rose high, piquing Jason's curiosity. Before he could say anything, however, he heard his own name called out, "Mathews, Jason!" While the room buzzed with chatter everywhere, Jason retrieved his own paperwork and stared at the printout.

"So, what classes did you get?" Elliot asked anxiously, suddenly popping up beside him. Jason lowered the paper so his cousin could see. "Holy-" Elliot started, then broke into a big smile. Pulling his own paper up and placing it side-by-side, Jason understood the context immediately. Both boys had identical schedules for all five periods of the day! "Thank you Mrs. Filch!" Elliot breathed in excitement. "She did it Jase! She kept us together!" Elliot looked up to see both surprise and gratitude greet him. "You know what? We may have to actually, like, really go and thank her this time!"

"Yeah," Jason replied. Reading through the list, he noticed an entry near the bottom. "Look, we even have gym at last period. I'm glad, that's gonna be awesome!"

"Hell, yeah!" Elliot whispered in response, reading the note there. "It doesn't start until Thursday, though. So, until then we'll actually get out of school earlier to go home." Seeing the raised eyebrow, he shrugged. "Derek says they changed the policy this term. When gym isn't in session for the last period, students can sign out and leave. Beats me, but I'm not complaining!"

"Me neither," Jason mused. Their homeroom teacher rapped for attention, breaking up the various conversations. She gave everyone a few last-minute instructions, and then dismissed them, telling everyone they could go ahead to find their first class.

The rest of the day passed quickly. They found and greeted Scott, who met them with a big, toothy grin. They discovered they each had the same classes for their first three periods, something that expressly excited the wheelchair-bound teen. In another surprise, Elliot and Jason also turned to discover a new, yet familiar face, hailing them from across the hall. As they were entering first period, Ron Fulcrum, their friend from the game shop, rushed up to them breathlessly. "Bullocks! It IS you! Hey guys, what's up?" he said, a lop-sided grin splitting his face from one ear to the other.

"Wow, hey stranger!" Jason replied, as he and Elliot both bumped fists with the teen. "What are you doing here?"

"Hey! I, uh, just transferred in this term! So, you blokes really go here, then?" When Elliot nodded, the toothy grin returned as the Ron squeaked. "That is so awesome! That is really... yeah, that is so effing awesome!" he repeated. Looking down at Scott, he stepped forward and stuck his hand out. "Hey, I'm Ron Fulcrum!"

Scott smiled and shook the hand in return. "Scotty Beaker, but everyone just calls me Scott." He indicated the other two standing there. "You know these guys?"

Ron laughed. "Yeah, guilty. We do a lot of gaming together. Well, that and some model building," he added, glancing at Jason.

Scott smiled. "My condolences, then." They all laughed at the dry humor, to which Jason playfully bumped into Scott's shoulder.

"Scott, Ron's Dad owns a role-playing, gaming shop with a lot of models and stuff, too. Here in Portsmouth. That's where we met up," Jason explained.

"Oh? That sounds kind of interesting," Scott replied.

"It is, trust me!" Elliot exclaimed, then withdrew his schedule card. "Hey Ron, what do your classes look like? Think we'll get together any besides this first period?"

"I don't know, let's see," Ron replied, pulling a similar schedule from between his books.

As it turned out, all four shared their first period and lunch periods together. Jason, Elliot and Ron also shared their last class of the day together in gym. Ron was beside himself. "This couldn't get much better, you know? I'm really glad to find you guys here!" he announced with enthusiasm. The boys all spoke briefly before the first bell announced that students needed to be in their rooms. The day was, Jason felt, starting out to be super.

By the end of fourth period, the boys met at the end of the parking lot, including Scott. He was waiting to be picked up any minute by his mother, while the other three were repacking their backpacks before heading home.

"So, you guys coming down to the game shop again tomorrow night? We're starting the Warhammer series back up, now that the holidays are over," Ron asked.

"That's the plan, yeah. Mum is bringing us while she heads to some bridge game or something," Elliot responded.

"That's cool. Your dad not coming?" Ron added, looking up.

"No, he left this afternoon to go back to the States for work. He said he might not get back until next week sometime," Elliot replied.

Scott whistled. "That's gonna be a bummer, then. Long trip, I mean, for him."

"Well, kind of yeah, but he's had to do it before," Elliot replied.

Just then a vehicle turned the corner and approached, followed by a short beep of the horn sounding. Turning, Scott waved. "Well, there's my ride. Cheers, mates! See you tomorrow, I guess!"

"You bet!" the others replied, watching as the side of the van opened and a ramp lowered. They watched Scott move himself inside and, once secured, the hatch closed and the vehicle moved away.

As it disappeared, a second van approached, and Ron also waved as them both. "Tomorrow, gents!"

"Yeah, tomorrow Ron!" Jason responded. They watched him move to meet the van, which was being driven by Mr. Fulcrum. He waved at the boys as Ron boarded, and then drove on. Within minutes, Elliot and Jason were left alone. Elliot turned to his cousin. "I've got this wicked idea, I think, if you want to hear." Seeing Jason nod, he elaborated. "Well, we could probably get over to Gunwharf from here without a lot of trouble. I mean, the station is only like 2 blocks over. Anyway, if we get down there, what if we maybe go see a movie? You know, I've been wanting to see the new Star Wars film that's out, right? I mean, we're out early here, so there's plenty of time and everything. We could go see it, and maybe get home by half-past six or so. What do you think?"

"I'm game. Will your Mum be okay with it?" Jason asked.

"I don't know, let's find out," Elliot replied. The next moment Elliot had his cell phone out and called Natalie, explaining why they got out early, and what they wanted to do. He stood there listening as she responded on the other end, then grinned. "That would be cool, Mum! Let's do it!" He remained on the line another moment, before saying goodbye and hanging up. "She's totally okay with it! In fact, she said when we got out, there is a Mexican restaurant right next to the theater. We can just go in, and she and Derek would meet us there for dinner!"

Jason was surprised. "You guys... you mean, you have Mexican restaurants here? I've not seen any that I can remember!"

"Sure! Maybe not like they do in America, but we have all kinds of places here. You just have to kind of know where to go and find them, that's all." Elliot glanced at his watch before shifting his backpack again. "Okay, let's get going. Help me remember, will you, to send Mum a text telling her what time the movie will be over."

"Okay. What about Derek?" Jason asked as they started walking.

"He told me this morning he's supposed to go out with one of his friends after school," Elliot replied. "He may not even get to meet us for dinner, depending how long he stays out before Mum leaves." Of all the things the world had to offer, in terms of entertainment, Jason's eyes were opened to yet another venue that afternoon. His Dad had never been keen on getting involved with any kind of science fiction, and as such, Jason was never privy to what the genre had to offer. It's not that Jason was ignorant, especially when it came to the various Star Wars and Star Trek worlds, but his knowledge was rather limited. Both on the way to the theater and at times during the movie, Elliot coached him on everything he could think of, trying to set the tone for the Rouge One storyline. For the first time seeing it, Jason sat spellbound at the special effects, the music, and the engulfing storyline that played out in front of him. When the movie was over, he sat in his seat while the credits rolled, grinning from ear to ear. Elliot laughed at him, the effect so pronounced, before finally getting his cousin to follow him and exit the theater.

They found the Mexican restaurant with ease, and inside they found both Natalie and Derek waiting for them. For the next 90 minutes, dinner became a free-for-all conversation about the highlights of the film. Even Derek was surprised, listening to Jason's excitement at one point, and he caught on quickly that Jason belonged to a unique group of people.

"Wait a minute... You mean, you've never watched any of them before? The Star Wars movies, I mean?" Derek asked Jason. Their cousin politely shook his head, and Derek whistled while looking at his brother. "What's up on Saturday? Anything? Want to make a marathon of it? We can't let him go through life like this!"

Elliot laughed and nodded. "You bet! Let's go for it" His enthusiasm was so infectious, Natalie leaned over to conspire with Jason. "If you haven't figured it out yet, it's a cardinal sin in our house, I think, not to have seen those movies at least 5 times by now."

"What? Are you kidding? How many are there...?" Jason asked.

"Six or seven, I think, ranging anywhere from 2 to 2-1/2 hours!"

Jason gulped. "You mean, 14 hours of... of..."

Natalie laughed. "Well, not in one day I think; you can split them up somewhat, maybe even start with one or two Friday night."

Later that night, both boys sat on their bed playing cards, having little to no homework for their first day back. Derek entered the room and plopped down beside them. Elliot snickered. "Sorry bro, no skinning in here tonight, at least not yet! That is, unless you want to play strip poker or something!"

Derek picked up the pillow and swung it at his brother good-naturedly, before turning around and sitting Indian style. He sat quietly, watching them as they played, a pleasant expression upon his features. When the hand finished, they dealt him in to make a three-way game. As he was looking over his cards, he spoke up. "So, I take it classes turned out okay for you two?"

Jason smiled. "Couldn't be better, I think. We have all 5 periods together, same rooms, everything."

Derek nodded. "Mum said she got a ring early this morning, talking with Mrs. Filch. Seems they arranged it beforehand and all."

"Really?" Jason thought about that briefly, then looked at Elliot. "After classes tomorrow, maybe we could stop by and let me thank her...?" It was a question, and Elliot simply nodded.

After playing a few more turns, Derek cleared his throat. "Uh, can I ask you two something, kind of personal? More for you Jason, but...?"

They paused their play at that point, both boys looking over at the older teen with curiosity. In a rare move, Derek blushed before taking a deep breath. "Jason, have you thought about, like, talking to someone yet? About what happened to you? I mean," he nodded to Elliot, "someone besides Elliot?"

Jason's eyes dropped back to his cards and he proceeded to play his next turn before he replied. "Some, yeah. I have thought about it. Why?"

"Well, you know we talked last night, and it's kind of been weighing on me all day today. And well..."

When Jason looked up again, he saw Derek's hesitation and ... something else. "Spill it. You ask me not to be afraid of you, so you have to do the same back for me. I promise, I won't bite your head off or anything."

Derek smiled. "I'm not trying to pry, honest, and I'm not trying to be all show and fancy pants. It's not like I got some degree in managing secrets or anything." He paused, thinking. "But... look, I'll tell you what I know, or what I think I know, and you can tell me to either butt out, or tell me if I'm close, okay?" Jason hesitated for only seconds before nodding, so Derek took another deep breath.

"Your Dad died, we all know that. We also know you were found in a park somewhere, near death or something, and it was only then that we - meaning all of us here - got word you even existed. I don't know how much time elapsed between those two events, but I can guess a part of what went on. You were abused, I think Elliot and I both know that. Given how you were when you arrived here, I can guess it must have been really bad, too." It was Elliot who nodded while Jason just stared at the older brother. "I know that whatever it was, it really scared you, like shitless, enough that it freaked you out. In fact, maybe because of it, the people in the States were just looking for somewhere to send you, like over here, so they wouldn't have to deal with it. Or, I should say, wouldn't have to deal with you."

He looked down and set his cards upon the bed. "That's all I know, Jase. Just, understand, Elliot hasn't told me anything, but there are some things I can probably guess reasonably close. The little hints, and... just getting to know you now, I guess. Like, I don't think it's a big step to figure out you were probably molested, and that it cut its way inside of you."

"Yeah..." Jason replied in a soft voice. "So, okay, what else do you want to know?" He paused for a moment. "You're right, I was raped and hung out to die. I probably should have died, too - I know I wanted it to happen." He looked at Elliot's pained reaction, but quietly shook his head. "It was just a weak moment bro, but yeah... at one point I wanted to just give it up." He turned his attention back to Derek. "But I didn't, and by some miracle, I'm here now, right?"

Derek nodded, but kept his attention focused on his cousin. "I guess, what I want to know is, was there anything else? That's what I'm asking for, squeaker. I know you've told Elliot, and that's awesome. If you don't want to tell me, that's okay, too. I promise, I won't push it - honest. I don't have to know everything. It's just, it really hit me today, and I got to thinking about you and, well... I got worried. It's kind of like I told you last night, you can trust me, you know? I have nothing to hide from you, ever." He smiled. "I'll even prove it by stripping down naked again, right here and now, if it'll help," he jested, to which Elliot smirked.

Jason looked away, but then shook his head. "Nah, you don't have to do that. Not now, anyway," he whispered.

Derek grinned, but turned somber again. "But... listen, I can't help but feel something is missing, that's all. And all day, I was thinking, you know, maybe it's about time you come clean with us, or at least with somebody. You don't need to carry it around with you forever, like some cheap baggage or anything."

"But... I don't. Elliot knows. I told him, everything," Jason whispered.

"I know you did," Derek replied, then leaned forward. "But Jason, don't put all that weight on him either. He will never admit it, but I know he worries about you. He worries about carrying that burden with him, too. He probably worries if he's doing you right or wrong by just keeping his promise. He may even be worrying about whether he should say something." Derek glanced at Elliot but saw his younger brother's face was expressionless. "He hasn't, though, and that shows how much he cares about you. But - think about it, please? Don't put that weight on him, Jason. If you care about him, don't make him carry that weight, by himself, especially if..."

"If...?" Jason whispered.

"If it's something he knows and feels should come out, because then he knows what is right and what isn't. To make him keep that kind of promise, it has to affect him." Derek hesitated before lowering his voice. "You know it would, right? I mean, put yourself in his shoes. How would it make you feel?"

Elliot's eyes were watering up, but he sat in silence, listening to Derek with his heart. Derek smiled at him before turning back. "I'll stop if you tell me to, Jason. I'll stop right now if you want, just give the word. Seriously, I don't want either of you getting mad at me, at least for trying, okay? I care, you both know that. But at least think about this: you telling him made you feel better, right?" Jason nodded slowly. "Well, the more people, the right people at least, who know about it? Wouldn't that make you feel even better, too? To get it out in the open, so that it's no longer such a big mystery you have to hide anymore?"

Jason stared down at the bedcovers for a long time, before he finally looked up again. "I guess so, but... it's hard Derek. I mean, I do trust you, just like I promised. It's just... it's... it's hard to let go."

"But letting go, that's what will make it better, right?" Derek stared at Jason, waiting for a response.

In the meantime, Elliot had quietly moved over next to Jason, and wrapped an arm around his side in support. "Remember what I told you?" he whispered. "You can't keep this all in, Jase. It's too big."

"Do you know how much..." Jason finally asked, looking up at them both, tears falling silently down his cheeks. "Both of you?"

The cards forgotten, Derek moved to sit in front of Jason and close in. "We know it's hard, but never forget we love you, too. So, help us, okay? Help us so we can help you. Help me to help you, please?" the older teen pleaded, his voice cracking with emotion. This was his appeal, to try and begin setting things right with all of them. Would Jason do it? He could only hold his breath and hope.

Jason sat for several minutes before sighing. Maybe it was time to start letting things go. He realized, just as Derek had explained, the weight he had allowed Elliot to carry really was unfair. He still hesitated though, because of his uncertainties and insecurities surrounding his life right then. Jason couldn't help but reflect on how things had changed over the last few months. It was that thought which caused him to realize something. He really wasn't the same person anymore. Insecurities or not, he had begun believing in himself now, just like they told him. And moreover, he had begun believing in this family more than ever before, too. To Derek's delight, the teen finally nodded. "What do you want to know?" he whispered.

"Everything. Everything you will tell me, at least," the older teen whispered back, and noted how it made the boy smile.

"That's exactly what Elliot said that night," he explained, still whispering. "You two really are a lot alike, you know?" He sniffed. "The night I finally gave in and told him, it took a while." The Flavell brothers glanced at one another with a knowing expression. Jason wiped at his eyes. "I won't hold anything back, Derek. I mean it, if you want to hear it, I'll tell you everything."

Derek nodded. "I do, Jase. I promise."

"Okay..." Jason finally relented. For the next hour or more, he finally let a third person inside his circle. With Elliot's help, he kept his promise and held nothing back. Derek sat quietly, listening intently as the story unfolded. He couldn't help but notice how Jason and Elliot held hands at times, as if Jason was drawing strength from him to describe the ordeal as he relived it. He even offered his show of affection to the teen, and Jason gratefully accepted it as he continued. Towards the end, Jason even reached out and grasped Derek's hand, too, holding it.

For Elliot's part, he admired how Derek could get Jason to relent and do this, without a great deal of convincing. It wasn't the long, drawn-out approach Elliot had gone through when getting Jason to listen to him. He still recognized, though, there was a huge difference in how far all three had come since that beginning. Jason told him of the talk he had with his brother the night before, and now it all just seemed to fit together. Elliot believed Derek when his brother said it hit him today, all day. He understood how that could get to you when you worry about something, especially when you worry about someone you loved - like the one sitting there with them now. It's like an inner voice of sorts, telling you when the right time had come, and it certainly seemed to be the right time now.

Although some of the more gruesome details were glossed over, Elliot was proud to hear Jason tell everything again, with as much vivid detail as he had before. Inside Elliot was also ecstatic, because now Jason was bringing Derek into this with them. That was a monumental feat all to itself.

When it was over, Derek sat there, doing something so rare that it even made Elliot take notice. The older teen was almost on the verge of tears. It was a rare emotion that Elliot had never seen from his brother, at least not that he could remember. As he listened, Elliot saw Derek's lip quiver at times. When they at last sat in silence, the older teen finally pulled his cousin into his lap and hugged him as completely and tightly as he could. They both shared something that moment, that passed through them without reservation. "Oh my God, Jase," was all he could say for a few minutes. He looked at Elliot, who nodded.

"See, I told you it was bad..."

Derek sat back and wiped at his eyes. "Shit, man, no wonder you said you were fucked up," he admitted, then shook his head. "I'm sorry, bad choice of words little bro... I'm sorry."

"I'm not," Jason replied, surprising them both. "I mean, yeah, it was bad, but look where it brought me? I think there must have been an angel or someone looking out for me in the end, you know?" Derek smiled, but remained silent for several minutes.

Elliot broke into their thoughts eventually. "So, Derek? What do we do?" he asked meekly, his voice just above a whisper.

Instead of Derek answering, however, it was Jason who surprised them both. "It's obvious, isn't it?" He wrinkled his nose, as he wiped at his eyes again. "I... I guess I need to grow up some more, and tell it to ... tell it to, someone, right? Like, maybe your Dad."

"Oh, my God! Really Jase? You'll do it?" exclaimed Elliot, drawing in his breath and holding it. He couldn't believe what he had just heard! The response was so profound, Jason turned toward him and smiled weakly.

"I promised you I would think about it, right? And yeah, I did," Jason whispered. "And ... okay. I will, guys. I'll tell your Dad. But ... you'll have to help me," he added, taking Elliot's hand again. "Just like you did tonight, you'll have to help me get through it." He turned to Derek as well. "You, too. I can't... I can't do it, not this way, not alone anymore."

"A whole fucking heard of creeps couldn't keep me away, if you want me there, Jase!" Elliot exclaimed, still beside himself with elation.

Derek smiled at him and nodded. "Ditto for me, too. You know, I didn't want you to tell me this so I could get you to talk with Dad, honest. I wanted to know because I was worried. And... because I cared. It's just... this stuff..."

Jason nodded, leaning his head on Derek's shoulder. "I know, Derek. It's okay."

"Well, I'll be with you anywhere you take me," Derek whispered back. He paused a second, then asked. "So, you think you really want to talk to Dad?"

Jason nodded. "I think I owe it to him, yeah. I mean, maybe your Mom too, someday, but... I don't want to like, tell her all this stuff, you know? Some of it, maybe, but..." The teen visibly shuddered.

"I double that," Derek responded, nodding. "I understand, and quite frankly, you're right. If, and when, she hears about it, she is going to freak out," Derek observed. "But, you understand, Dad won't be back until next week, right?"

"Yeah, I know, but that's okay." Jason looked up. "Guys, tell me something. I... I really need to ask something, and it's kind of off the wall. It has nothing so much to do with this, but..."

"Sure, what's up?" Derek prodded, encouraging him.

Jason struggled for a brief moment, before sighing. "You know, all this sex stuff we do and everything, and now my feelings and... and... our friendship. And how I feel about you two, and... and more..." The youth took a deep breath. "Those creeps messing with me, and, I don't know... It's just, do you think... do you think it's making be gay or anything? Do you think this stuff, it's making me that way?" He looked away for a moment. "I'm not so much worried about it, honest, just... before I came over here, this was all alien to me, you know? Now..."

Elliot let out a long breath, but Derek smiled at his younger brother. Putting a hand on Elliot's shoulder, Derek turned his attention to Jason. "Did you know your other brother here asked me that very question last night?" That surprised Jason, and as he looked over at Elliot, he saw him blushing deeply.

To his credit, however, Elliot did not shy away, but instead held his gaze with them both. "Yeah, I admit it, I did. Like you, Jase, I guess I don't worry so much about if it means I'm gay or bi, but I do think about it sometimes. And I worry about what I've done, or what I'm doing, to you and everything. Like I'm corrupting you or something, maybe."

Jason surprisingly giggled before turning and pulling his cousin into another hug. "You haven't done anything to me, doofus. Honest, it's just us anyway, right? It's how much I trust you both, remember?"

Derek waited until they parted, then reached out and grasped both their hands. Squeezing them gently, he rubbed his thumb between them. "Guys, tell me something: does it really matter? I mean, you two love each other, right?" Seeing them both nod, he continued. "And, you know I love you, too, right?" Again, they nodded. "So, what anyone else sees outside of our rooms then, let them figure it out. Screw it, it's their problem. Not yours, not mine, not ours."

Jason wasn't satisfied though. "Yeah, I know, but... does it?"

Derek thought about it for a second. "No, it doesn't. Being gay is like a commitment to something that is, kind of like more of a way of life. Get it? What you two do now, is give freely to each other because it's how close you've became. It's what I do for you, too - when you let me. It's curiosity, but a good kind, you know? There is nothing wrong with that, honest. Not in my book. And that's where you two should leave it. If you get interested in girls sometime, someday, then you know you're halfway there, right? And after you kind of get your curiosity satisfied," he added, giving Jason a grin, "then who knows? It might become more second nature to you, like it is to everyone else. "

"But, Derek... we do stuff..." Jason remarked, cautiously.

"So? I do stuff, too, more than you guys probably think I do. But me? I don't think I'm gay. I would chase girls, too, if they'd let me!" Letting that sink in, Derek asked again. "Like I said, though - does it really matter? If you are, or if you're bi, it doesn't matter, does it? Not to me, not to each other, and I know it wouldn't to Mum or Dad. At least, not eventually. They'd be surprised, I'm sure, but they're not homophobes or anything. So, again, does it really matter? Ask yourself that, because you're the only one who can decide it. Does it really matter?"

Jason thought about that long and hard before shaking his head. "No, not to me. How about you?" he asked Elliot, who just smiled at him.

"I've seen a lot more arses and dicks and balls than you have, Jase, but I don't necessarily want to go to bed or blow them. Well, not most anyways. I just want to do that with you," he admitted, blushing again. Derek laughed at him, then pulled his little brother over into his lap.

Derek said nothing, but their conversation from the night before now had come full circle. When they separated, Elliot sheepishly added. "Okay, maybe this nut case, too. Sometimes anyway, but..." They all laughed again, the mood becoming much less somber.

"I'd let you," Jason whispered, smiling at them both. "I'd never want to get between you."

"You won't," Derek promised. "Besides, we want you here, right in the middle with us. Right little bro?" Elliot nodded emphatically. "All three of us are brothers, you know? Our own little family."

Jason sighed with relief. "Thanks guys... for everything. That makes me feel a lot better. I know, it was a dumb question and everything, but..."

"It wasn't dumb, squeaker," Derek announced as he wrinkled his nose. "I've been through everything you guys are going through now, that's all. And there was a time I questioned everything, too." He looked deep into Elliot's eyes at that point. "I could be wrong, I admit, but... I don't really think I am. I know, we're a little different and everything around each other, but guess what? I don't think we're anything close to being screwed up. I can tell you, lots of families and peeps, some who you know of already, are screwed up a lot worse than this. And I do mean screwed up - because they don't have what we have." He turned to observe Jason. "They don't have what we have - trust, respect, and that stupid little thing called 'love'. Not really, anyway." He grinned at the last part, but the message was clear.

Jason grinned back at him. "Yeah, just a little thing, isn't it?" he jibbed back. "Thanks, Big D," he whispered.

Derek couldn't help it then, as he pulled Jason over into his lap again, hugging and kissing him on his cheek. Elliot had moved around and was hugging them both too, as best he could, and all three enjoyed their embrace with one another. After a time, Derek whispered. "Jase, just to be sure, okay? You want to tell Dad when he comes back, right?"

Jason nodded. "Yeah, I'll tell him, but - the more I think about it, we've got to get your Mom out of it, you know? I don't think I can bring myself to say this stuff in front of her."

"We will, little bro," Derek assured him. "You have my word on it, we will."

"Don't ever stop calling me that, okay?" He met the bigger boys' eyes. "At least, not for a while, okay?"

Derek wrapped him in tighter and pulled Elliot in with them.

- + - + - + -

When Simon returned to his hotel late that night, he found his cell phone blinking. It was not unusual, bearing in mind the number of contacts he had throughout the world, where some were often chasing him for information. He thought it strange though, at this odd hour, since he had not heard anything out of the mobile for most of the day. He grimaced however, as he realized the unit was still in silent mode, something he had set earlier while in a meeting. Looking sheepishly through the list of messages, there were probably 20 to 30 entries, but one in particular caught his attention. Navigating carefully, he selected the number of his oldest son, and read the text that followed with great interest.

[Dad, it's going to happen when you come home. Jason talked with me and Elliot tonight, and he's ready now. He'll talk to you, about what happened to him. Just thought you might want to know.]

The message was short and simple, but it spoke volumes. How it had come about, Simon didn't know, nor did he really care. Just the fact that they could finally move on, maybe advance to the bottom of this mystery, seemed to lift a weight from his shoulders, one that the elder Flavell didn't realize he carried. Just like he had told his wife many times, he knew the boys would break their cousin's shell eventually. He had every bit of faith in his sons, and he knew they would do it in a good way. Derek and Elliot both had hearts of gold, in different ways, but as pure as one could ever hope for. They had a bond between them, something Simon and Natalie had picked up on long before now. Simon smiled as he knew the two had accepted their newcomer, far more willingly than a lot of families would.

[You don't know how happy I am to hear that, son.]

Surprisingly, Simon got a reply almost right away.

[I do know though, because I'm happy, too. I love you Dad, I'm glad we have you, don't think we could live without you.]

That was the first time in a long, long while since Derek had ever said anything like that to the man. It immediately made Simon tear up. Thinking that whatever happened, it must have been really something for his elder son to get that emotional.

[I love you too, son, with all my heart. All of you.]

[ :o) Goodnight, Dad. :o) ]

[Goodnight, son.]

Simon thought about relaying the news to Natalie, but somehow felt like maybe he shouldn't. With him being an ocean away, he didn't want his wife to face that kind news alone. Besides, the message said, as he re-read it, that Jason would talk to him. Not Natalie, but him. He guessed there were some sordid details in their somewhere, perhaps things not particularly pleasant to bring up in her presence, so he understood it.

Now, he just hoped the rest of his trip could bring home some news to them in return...

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