The front door closed and a middle-aged man with a receding hairline and a small gut entered the house with a cup of coffee in each hand. He crossed a comfortable, well-used living room that had worn leather couches and hardwood floors. He paid little mind to the room as he crossed the space, ignoring its family photos and trophies that had been placed with care. Entering the kitchen he smiled at his husband, who gave him a vaguely amused look.
“Really? We can make coffee at home, Kevin,” said the other middle-aged man who stayed seated at the kitchen table as a cup was deposited in front of him. The other man, Kevin, placed a small kiss on his forehead.
“Yes, Tom, I know. But it tastes so much better when that guy down at our coffee shop makes it,” he said and grinned.
Tom shook his head and smiled. “I'm amazed you can still get crushes at your age, Mr. Buchanan.”
Placing an arm around Tom's shoulders Kevin replied, “That's not all I can still do, Mr. Buchanan. You know, at my age.”
“Yes, well, put that on hold. I've been on the phone with Sasha and he's headed down as we speak.”
Kevin sat down and sipped from his cup before replying. “What's the emergency?”
Tom sighed and opened the tab on his cup and sipped. He hummed in approval. “That boy does know how to make a good cuppa.” He sampled his coffee again and set the cup down. “You know, when we decided to be parents I wasn't sure what we were getting ourselves into. God knows I had moments where I questioned our intelligence for deciding to have kids.”
Kevin chuckled. “Is this about that time Bobby burned a hole in the living room carpet again?”
Tom let out a long suffering sigh and smiled at his husband. “He could have burnt the house down.”
“Or the time Sasha dropped your new camera into the lake?”
Tom narrowed his eyes. “Are you angling for a divorce at your age? I think the coffee guy is straight, you know,” he grumped.
Kevin smiled and covered Tom's hand with his own. “I think I'll stay with husband number one. Since you're lamenting parenthood, what's going on with Nik? And why is Sasha on his way home?”
Tom shifted in his chair and groused, “Because Sasha thinks he's Nik's parent. God knows the boy tells Sasha more than he does us. Don't you start with how kids need their secrets, either!”
Kevin laughed aloud. “Well, like it or not, they're going to have them. Does this have anything to do with Nik's off-the-wall attitude lately?”
“Mmm hmm,” Tom said and sipped again. “It seems like a few of the boys have heard some scraps of news and Sasha's gone all mama bear about it. At some point we'll have to remind him that we adopted Nik, not him.”
Kevin shook his head and wrapped his hands around his cup. “He's got his hands full with that little hellion, Micah. I don't know how he's got time to worry about Nik's problems and get his work done, too.”
“I asked,” Tom said sourly. “He responded by sending me a current copy of his grades.” He paused and raised his cup. “He'll make dean's list. I'm bursting with both pride and jealousy,” he said, chuckling before sipping again.
Kevin shook his head. “Bobby says that school in South Carolina wants to interview him for their gym coach – excuse me, athletic instructor position.” Kevin grinned and he and Tom shared a laugh. “He says that so smugly. Ah, well, he's successful and didn't get anyone pregnant. For a while I was afraid about April.”
Tom nodded. “Girl gave a new meaning to bedspread. Good thing I had the safe-sex talk with him.”
“You?” Kevin said letting his jaw drop open and the edges of his mouth curl up. “As I recall I was the one stuck in that uncomfortable position. You got the easy one.”
“Ugh,” Tom replied and laughed as he ran a hand through his hair. “Sasha was always so levelheaded. I'll admit, though, I didn't see him dating an athlete.”
“It's the uniform. Gets them every time.”
Tom snorted. “As I recall, your uniform was khakis and a polo shirt.”
“And you see? You fell for me. It's the uniform,” Kevin replied and laughed at Tom's put upon expression. “So if Bobby gets the job, we have a place to go on vacation, eh? Now if we can get Sasha and Alec to move to Hawaii....”
“Alec wants to be a poor social worker right here. Micah might change his tune, I guess. Did I tell you he got an in-school suspension?”
“What for now?”
“Well, according to Sasha, they have been watching old movies with Micah.”
“Wait, old like 70s or old to them, like, 90s?”
“Fair bit of both, I guess,” Tom replied. He stood and crossed the kitchen and opened a cabinet, pulling down a coffee cake. “Want a slice?”
“Coffee cake? You've been holding out on me! Sounds good. So what does an old movie have to do with Micah getting suspended?”
Tom pulled down small plates and cut up slices of the coffee cake. “Well, I guess he repeated one of the lines to a teacher.”
Kevin frowned. “Did he swear?”
“No. I'm not sure how but I guess he told one of his teachers that the teachers wife was the first to suggest the idea of asexual reproduction. Presumably she said this when the teacher was horny.”
Tom turned and looked at Kevin whose lips were quivering. They looked at each other for only a few moments before bursting out laughing.
“That kid. I'm almost afraid to meet him, just from the stories.”
Tom sat down, placing the plates on the table and sipped his coffee before responding. “Ever since Sash told us about the burn marks, I just can't hold anything against him. Don't get me wrong, I don't want to raise the kid, but I can't really hold anything against him.”
Kevin sobered. “Yeah. I can't imagine doing that to anyone. Well, maybe that orange....”
“Don't say his name. I will take away your coffee cake.”
“Okay, no politics,” Kevin conceded. “Still, you think Sash and Alec can go the distance with this boy?”
“People don't realize the way trauma affects people as they get older. Kids from the system...” Tom sighed. “They seem pretty devoted to him so far. It's so huge a responsibility and yet...I'm so proud of them.”
“And glad it wasn't us?”
“Yes. We have our own to worry about.”
“Right, so, what does Sash say is behind Nik's mood swings? I mean besides puberty, adolescence and general teenage angst?”
“The other thing we usually think it is,” Tom replied dryly. “Nathan.”
Kevin sighed. “Nate is a sweet kid, he really is. I guess we saw this coming, though.”
“Yeah.” Tom sighed. “Unfortunately, it seems that our Nik is completely infatuated with Nate's body. He likes Nate as a person but there's something about him that's Kryptonite to Nik.”
Kevin leaned back and spun his coffee cup in circles with the tips of his fingers. “If I were that age, Nate would be on my list. Who knows why some folks get hooked on that one person, though?”
“I thought it was my cooking,” Tom said and arched an eyebrow.
Kevin's gaze softened. “That and your heart. You had a pretty nice butt, too.”
“Slick. Anyway, it seems that Nik was trying to maneuver Nathan into being a sex toy more than a boyfriend.” Tom shook his head and cut a piece of coffee cake. As he chewed he looked thoughtfully at his husband. “I know Nik had some experience in the Romanian orphanages. Do you think we have the whole story?”
Kevin copied his husband and ate some of his coffee cake while he turned the question over in his mind. “I don't think we'll ever know it all. Certainly less than we know about Sash and Bobby.”
“Can you imagine having raised Alec? I'm surprised Doug and Alice aren't completely white-haired after that boy,” Tom said with a chuckle. He sighed wistfully and said, “Though he does make Sasha happy. Reminds me of us, once upon a time.”
“I didn't meet you until after college.”
Tom arched his eyebrow.
“Okay, not the point,” Kevin said and grinned widely, enjoying tweaking his husband. “So, why is Sash coming down about this?”
“He wants Nik to talk to us, and he thinks he can facilitate that.” Tom stuck his fork in the cake and laced his fingers together. “As much as it irks me, Sash is right. Nik will talk to him about things he hasn't with us because we're adults and he knows very well how adults have treated him in the past.”
“I hate paying for the mistakes of others,” Kevin grumbled.
“Much as we hate it, it'll haunt Nik for the rest of his life. I just...look,” Tom said in exasperation, “I know kids are horny. Hell, I still get horny.”
“Oh? Shall we—”
“Will you focus for a second?” Tom replied while smiling and rolling his eyes. Continuing more soberly, he said, “What we have to do is find a way to fix this idea that sex equates with love. He's become desperate for Nathan and, honestly, this time I really don't think Nate has any blame.”
“Well, why not? Last time Nate was kind of whoring his kisses around, right?”
“Right. Something is different this time, though. I guess – I hope – we'll find out more after Sash gets here.”
“Where is Nik anyway?”
“Lucien has him playing mechanic's assistant.”
“Oh. So, ah, when's he due back?”
Tom raised his eyebrow again seductively and the corner of his mouth lifted up. “A few hours. Alice said they were ordering a pizza.”
“And Sash will take a few hours. So...?”
Tom shook his head and smiled. “The coffee will get cold.”
Kevin stood and held his hand out to his husband. “We can make more.”
Tom and Kevin both emerged from the kitchen and into the living room at the sound of their middle child's voice.
“Sash! What a nice surprise!” Kevin said as he closed the distance.
“Hi, Alec,” Tom said as he hugged his son-in-law. Looking down he noted the boy behind them. “And is this the famous Micah?”
“Tell 'em it's infamous, Little Bit,” Alec stage whispered. Micah rolled his eyes.
“Hi. Sasha says I should call you grandpas just to see what you do. I still don't get why,” Micah said and both Tom and Kevin snapped their attention to Sasha.
“Alec is a bad influence,” Tom said as he turned and walked toward the kitchen. “I've been saying so for years. Sasha never said things like that before Alec. Coffee pot is full.”
“He's not wrong,” Micah said and laughed at Alec's expression. “What? You actually want to be called a good influence?”
“Nah. I like people to be honest with me,” Alec replied as he steered Micah toward the kitchen.
The group assembled around the table and coffee cups were filled, teasing ensued and proud parents admired their sons and tried not to be overly curious about the boy who'd turned their children's world upside down. Tom cut the rest of the coffee cake up and offered Micah a Coke.
“Oh, we try to watch the caffeine,” Sasha interjected.
Kevin eyed Sasha and turned to smile at Micah. “Micah, there is a phrase you should learn now. What happens at Grampas', stays at Grampas'. Make sure you tell my son that,” he said with a grin as he handed Micah the can, “if he complains about what happens here.”
“He can get a little hyper on that stuff,” Sasha said while smiling indulgently at Micah. “But I think he won't burn a hole in your carpet.”
“What?” Micah asked in confusion.
“He's talking about your uncle Bobby,” Kevin replied and sat down with the others. “How was your drive down?”
“Sash was a worrywart,” Alec said with a grin.
“My husband,” Sasha said with a tight smile, “thinks speed limit signs are more of a suggestion than a law.”
“No,” Alec said with an exaggerated shake of his head. “I said the roads were designed for higher speeds than the ones they post.”
“That's dumb. Why would you design something for high speed and then tell people to go slow?” Micah asked.
“Because, then they can give you tickets and make money,” Alec told him.
“Idiots,” Micah grumbled. “That's not fair.”
“Actually,” Tom said as he got Micah's attention. “Your dad is only half right.” He grinned a little seeing both Alec and Micah glance at each other at the use of the term 'dad'. “You see, at one point there was a big oil crisis and people were lined up for blocks to fill their cars with gas.”
“Why would you do that? Couldn't you just ride your dinosaur?” Sasha teased.
“And,” Tom said as he gave his son the evil eye. “One thing we did was to enact a fifty-five mile an hour speed limit.”
“What difference did that make?” Micah asked.
Kevin interjected, “A study claimed that cars were most efficient at that speed as far as fuel consumption goes. So, to save fuel, that speed limit was created.”
“But I see signs that say sixty-five all the time,” Micah replied.
“That's because we raised the limit once the last of the dinosaurs were retired,” Alec replied with a wink at Micah. Micah smiled slightly and looked at the two older men.
“You know, they don't look as old as you said they would.”
An awkward moment descended that had the older men looking at the younger before Micah snickered. “Got you back.”
“I'll get even, Little Bit,” Alec said with a grin and poked him in the side.
“I'll be watching you,” Tom said to Micah with a little smile. Discussion settled into daily life, how soon school would end and an update on everyone's daily lives. As they chatted and teased, both Tom and Kevin noted Micah and his reactions. He didn't have much to say, given the subjects, until his schooling came up. Both Sasha and Alec praised the progress he'd made, which caused him to blush slightly and mutter an uncomfortable 'thank you'. Clearly he didn't know how to handle a compliment yet. When they teased about his misadventures, he grew defensive and closed off.
Before long the front door opened and a young voice called out, “Papas! I am home!”
“In the kitchen, buddy,” Kevin replied.
“Well, Micah, the old guys here told me Lickety Splits, an ice cream stand, has opened up for the season. What do you think?”
“Duh,” Micah replied as he stood.
“He hasn't had dinner yet, Alec,” Sasha said in a tone of warning.
“Okay. I'll feed him,” Alec said and glanced at Micah. “Right after a triple scoop.”
“Yes!” Micah exulted.
“Sasha!” A teen with Sasha's features and slightly darker hair crossed the room and hugged his brother with unbridled joy. “You did not say you were going to visit! Is a nice surprise!”
Sasha beamed at his little brother, Nickolai. “You look great! And you've got so tall!” Sasha stood close to Nik so he could measure his growth against his own height.
“Jamie says I should play basketball. He invites me to join summer league team, if papas say is okay.”
“Hey, you forget I exist or what?” Alec asked as he prodded Nik. Nik laughed and danced out of reach before returning and hugging Alec.
“Hello, smart Alec. Is good to see you.”
“It's good to see you too, buddy. Hey, let me introduce you to Micah,” Alec said as he waved a hand toward the younger boy. Nik smiled and held his hand out and Micah shook it with a small smile of greeting.
“Is nice to meet you. Do you play basketball?” Nik asked.
“Not for a team or anything,” Micah replied. “Your accent is cool.”
Nik beamed. “Thank you.”
“Okay, well, I'm going to run Micah over to say hi to my folks. Text me, Sash?”
“Yes, as soon as we're done,” Sasha replied.
“What about the ice—” Micah began indignantly.
“Ixnay on the...uh, iream-ay. Oh, hush. Let's go, Little Bit.”
“You will come back? You are staying for weekend?” Nik asked, looking between Alec and Sasha.
“I'm sure, buddy. See you in a bit,” Alec replied and then departed with Micah, who was questioning him as they left about what the hell was up with the ixnay crap.
Nik sat down by Sasha. “Why you no...wait.” he swallowed and started again, “Why didn't you tell me you were coming. Is correct?”
Sasha smiled at him, “Yes, very good. Your English is improving,” he said encouragingly.
“I have been getting much practice,” Nik replied.
“Well, the reason I came to visit in kind of serious.” Sasha placed a hand on Nik's shoulder. “Nikki, I'd like to have an honest conversation with you and dads. I need you to be a little brave. Can you try for me?”
Nik looked around at the faces of his beloved brother and his papas. “I am in trouble?”
“No, sweetie,” Kevin said and patted Nik's hand. “Nik, maybe we should start this out being really basic so you know where we're coming from. Why do you have papas?”
“Because...because papas adopt Alexander. So, then, papas adopt me. Yes?” Nik said, his tone unsure and his speech halting.
“Not quite, Nik.” Tom looked at him kindly. “Yes, there is a connection because Sasha is your brother, but we adopted you because we love you. You're part of our family.”
Nik nodded. “Yes. I am Nickolai Buchanan. I love papas, too.” He looked about in confusion. “Why we talk about this?”
“Because we want you to remember that we love you,” Sasha said to him gently. “I know you had some hard times in Romania, after our mother and father died. There were adults who should have taken care of you and they...didn't do a very good job.”
“Yes,” Nik agreed slowly. “This is known.”
“Well, I'm thinking that you don't trust adults very well because of that,” Sasha told him.
Nik frowned in thought. It was hard to think of what he felt when he met an adult. He wasn't sure when he'd met a new adult recently so he could attempt to figure out if he felt mistrustful. He shook his head slowly, “I am not sure. The Fathers, I do not like those. They are mean.”
“Priests, you mean?” Kevin asked, for clarification.
“Yes,” Nik said with a sharp nod.
“Sweetie,” Sasha said, squeezing Nik's shoulder. “There is so much we don't know about you. Do you think we can talk about your past for a little while?”
“Why? Is past,” Nik stated.
“Because your past shapes who you are in the future,” Kevin told him. “For instance, you had bad experiences with priests. So, now, you don't trust priests. Does that mean all priests are bad?”
“Yes. No. Is complicated,” Nik replied uneasily.
“Yeah, it can be complicated,” Sasha said softly. “Can you tell me about Nate?”
Nik's face clouded and he folded his hands together. “Why?”
Sasha shifted in his chair and pulled Nik a bit so that they were looking more or less directly at each other. “The first time you and Nate were involved, you were unhappy with how he treated you.”
“Yes. It was mistake. Nathan explain.”
“I don't think you ever told me. Do you mind?”
Nik looked at Sasha and then his papas. Turning back to Sasha he said, “In front of papas?”
Sasha nodded. “Nik, papas didn't adopt you just because we're brothers. You're their son, now. They have to guide you and in order to do that, they need you to talk to them. So they know what's going on in your life. You should never, ever be embarrassed to go to papas or me for any reason. Understand?”
Nik looked at the three faces in turn, somewhat conflicted. “I understand your words. I am not sure...” he stopped speaking and shrugged.
“Niki,” Tom said gently. “Can you start with something easy? Like how did you get back together with Nathan?”
Nik looked at Sasha and then at Tom. “When Nathan's mama died. I went to funeral and we speak.”
“What did you talk about? He must have been very sad.” Sasha smiled at his brother encouragingly. Nik focused on him and nodded his head.
“Yes, he was very sad,” Nik confirmed in a soft voice. “It was strange. All of the people who come to tell Nathan they are sorry for him and they love him, all gone. Just Nathan and me in the room. Nathan...he tell me he is sorry for before. That he was not trying to hurt. I say maybe not time to talk about these things. Nathan say that we do not speak so much and it was only us – Nathan and me, so we should talk. Be friends. He explain how he was kissing so many people because he wasn't sure what kind of person he liked kissing best.”
“Did that make sense to you?” Kevin asked.
Nik looked to his papa and said, “Not right away. But Nathan tell—told—me that he was trying to find out and he was stupid. He say he sorry for hurting me.”
“Wow,” Tom said and leaned back in his chair and shared a look with his husband.
“What? Was this bad?” Nik asked in concern.
“No, not bad at all,” Kevin assured him.
“In fact,” Tom said, taking over, “I'm impressed. Nathan must think you are important for him to tell you something so personal.”
Nik frowned and glanced at all three faces in turn, plainly not understanding.
“Nik,” Kevin began, “talking about a person's sexuality can be a very private thing. We don't just go tell everyone what our orientation is. The fact that Nathan apologized and told you how confused he'd been himself shows a lot of trust in you. I think it means he values you.”
“Yes,” Nik said slowly. “I was think this as well.”
“Forgive me,” Sasha said and smiled as he placed a hand on his brother's shoulder. “It seems strange to talk about that at a funeral. Did you talk about anything else?”
“Yes. We talk about mothers and fathers.”
“You told him about your mother and father?” Tom asked.
Nik looked at him askance. “Yes.”
“What sort of stories? I don't think you've ever told me and I never met them,” Sasha asked.
Nik looked at him, his face warring with unspoken conflict.
“What's wrong?” Sasha asked.
Once more Nik looked around the room and everyone waited patiently.
“Is not wrong to talk of mother and father with papas?” he finally asked.
“Oh, sweetie, no!” Tom said as Kevin shook his head. “Honey, your parents gave birth to you and did their best to care for you until that accident. They are a part of your history and no one has a right to take that from you. Nobody.”
Nik looked relived and yet still anxious. “Is not...disrespectful?”
“No. I'd love to know more about your parents. You're so wonderful, they must have been great people,” Kevin told him.
Nik nodded slowly, as if dreaming. He turned to face Sasha and said, “I tell Nathan of how papa trick me. I tell him how we have no monies and we go to small river. Papa says to Niki to fish, but is only so he can make kisses with mother.”
“He tricked you?” Sasha asked with a smile.
“So, Nik,” Tom said and glanced at his husband. “If I want some kissing time with papa I should tell you to go fishing?”
Nik smiled shyly and laughed lightly. “Is okay. I was little boy, then. Now I understand the kisses.”
“What else did you talk about?” Sasha prodded.
“Nathan talks about his mother. She was kind lady,” Nik told him solemnly. “Nathan say he cannot sleep and I tell him I will help. I stay with him so he is not alone with thinkings about missing mother. He tell me he is worries, that he cannot date. He tells me he cares but is not in love.”
“And what did you say, baby?” Kevin asked.
Nik looked at him and then back at Sasha. “I tell him I am not in love. I tell him I understand I am the horny.”
A chuckle raced around the table and a smile trembled on the edge of Nik's mouth.
“So, what happened? You stayed over, right?”
Nik looked down. “Yes,” he whispered.
“Nik, did you and Nathan....?”
Nik looked up at Sasha, glanced at his papas and then back down before nodding. “We have the sex.”
Kevin put an arm around Nik and pulled him close. “It's okay, Nik. It's okay.” Nik sniffled and wiped at his eyes.
“Sweetie, is that...did you want that to happen? You were okay with...sex?” Tom asked calmly.
Nik looked down and only nodded in reply.
“What happened then? You stayed over a lot, didn't you?” Sasha asked.
Nik nodded. “I tell Nathan he is most beautiful boy. I....” He fell silent and looked with sudden fear at his papas.
“What?” Tom asked gently.
“You...are you sending me back? I have to go to orphanage?”
“What? No!” Tom and Kevin both protested and Sasha took his hand. Nik looked at Sasha who fixed his gaze to Nik. They stayed that way for a moment until Tom nudged Nik's gaze over to him and his husband.
“You're not going anywhere. Papas adopted you. This is your home, now.” Tom stared at his son hard and Kevin squeezed him in a one armed hug as they tried to reassure Nik.
“Nik,” Sasha said gently. “Papas are not like the priests or the social workers in Romania. Papas are like your mother and father were. They love you and they will care for you.”
Nik wiped his eyes and sniffled again while nodding. “Okay. Okay,” he whispered. “Is hard. I not think of this before but, when talk about sex and Nathan...I remember leaving for Sinaia. They say I am bad.”
Tom and Kevin looked at one another, communicating silently.
“You're not bad. You know you're not bad. Papas know you're not bad, Nik,” Sasha said firmly while rubbing his brother's forearm.
“Sweetie, let me change the subject a little.” Tom waited for Nik to meet his gaze before proceeding. “After you went into the orphanage I know you experienced – what did you call it? Hand sex? Is that right?”
Nik nodded. “One of older boys, he show me.”
“And then you got caught and sent away, right? To Sinaia?”
“Yes. Kale and Chase, they pretend to be reporters. Ask questions. I tell them of...why I live in Sinaia. I tell them I am bad.” Nik looked shaken revisiting the memory and Sasha pulled him up and into a hug. They stood that way for a moment, Sasha rubbing Nik's back and soothing away bad memories. As Sash leaned back he found Nik pulled from him and locked into a three way hug with Tom and Kevin, the men who'd stepped up not only to raise himself and his brother Bobby but to raise a teen they'd never known existed only because he'd needed someone to do so.
“You're very brave,” Tom told Nik as he leaned back and looked at the youth's face. “I saw the video. We still have it, you can see it if you want. We know that horrible man was hurting you.”
Nik's face clouded. “Father Gregory. He was not a nice man.”
“I wished I could have gotten one swing at that son of a bitch,” Kevin muttered. He wiped his mouth which morphed into rubbing his face and then he walked over to refill his coffee cup. He then brought the pot to the table and offered refills.
“I can make cocoa?” Nik asked and Kevin told him he'd make it for him.
“Nik, something about that video always bothered me. You weren't completely honest with Chase and Kale, were you?” Sasha looked at him steadily and, when Nik didn't reply, he continued. “I'd think if an older boy was...messing around with you, they'd have sent him away, too. Did that happen? Or did you leave a little bit out?”
Nik looked down. “I do not know them, then. I was scared I already tell them too many things.”
“I understand, Nik, believe me,” Sasha told him as he pushed Nik's chin back up. “You were right to be careful. Can you please tell me some of the things you left out?”
Nik, glanced around at the three faces once more and let out a long breath. “Father Gregory use flat piece of wood with holes in it. He spank three, four times every day. He say he knows we have bad thinkings. He will beat from us.” Nik looked away. “Sometimes, he say, spanking not enough. That we must not eat. We should pray. Sometimes he say we should pray for many meals. Sometimes...hit with other things.”
The moment was shattered by the sound of a breaking cup as Kevin dropped the mug of hot chocolate. “Jesus and...that sadistic bastard,” He growled and busied himself cleaning the mess.
Tom leaned forward and placed his hand over Nik's. “That will never happen to you again.”
Nik merely nodded.
“Unless I miss my mark entirely, I think Sasha wanted to know about this other boy – this older boy. Or, was he the only one?” Tom asked while keeping his hand over Nik's.
His youngest son looked at him apprehensively. “Why?” he croaked. “Why is want to know?”
“Sweetie,” Sasha said as he leaned into Nik's field of vision. “You know, your English gets worse when you get more stressed, do you know that?”
Nik eyed him. “So?”
“So relax. You're not in trouble. You want to know why we're asking? It's because when we learn things it sometimes becomes hard to unlearn them. Like how you feel guilty about what happened between you and other boys. But what you did, that's completely natural, even for straight boys. Lots of people experiment.” Sasha licked his lips. “I think what you learned in the orphanage is hurting you now. For example, your relationship with Nathan.”
Nik looked at him and his eyes watered and his lip began to tremble. Tom moved first and swept Nik up as he broke down in sobs. The men looked at each other in confusion, wondering just how horrible a thing they'd pressed him on. Sasha let his dads comfort his brother as he felt guilty about putting him in this state. Unfortunately, he felt like they had to go though with the conversation because Nik's past was hurting his present. That Nik just broke down only confirmed his fears.
Nik suddenly yelled and stomped his feet. He pulled away from his dads and he rounded on his brother. “Why? Why does orphanage take him? I lost him! I don't...” he slowed down and began to slump into his chair. He covered his face with his hands and screamed, one long lungful of pain and anger. Balling his fists he sat up straight with tears in his eyes and his face blotchy. “I don't know what to say.”
Sasha knelt on the floor in front of his brother and took his hands in his own, smoothing out the hard fists. He pressed them together and brought his brother's fingertips to his own lips and then held his hands to the side of his face. He didn't want to ask, his heart was breaking for Nik already. But it was as if a boil had been lanced and the puss that was festering in Nik's heart came pouring out.
“The boy I say, older boy. Vladimir. He was,” Nik shook his head and blew a raspberry. “No one. Father Dumitru in Bucharest, he think Vladimir is perfect. He jerk!”
“Vladimir is the boy you mentioned on the video, the one you said you got caught with?” Kevin asked.
“Yes. But, was not true. I mean, yes, had the...hand sex. But no caught with Vladimir.” Nik looked around bleakly, his eyes filling once more. In a whisper he said, “Was caught with Matei.” He looked up in misery. “I go to Sinaia. I do not know what happened to Matei.”
“I'm so, so sorry, sweetie,” Tom said in a soothing tone. The room fell into quiet murmurs as they tried to comfort Nikolai, and he slowly pulled himself together. Kevin got a box of tissues and set about trying to make a cup of cocoa for Nik. Tom suggested adjourning to the living room and he guided Nik out to the couch while Sasha grabbed their coffee cups. A few minutes later Kevin joined them and placed the warm cocoa in Niks' hands.
“Thank you, Papa,” Nik said softly.
“You're welcome, baby,” he said and kissed the top of Nik's head before he sat down, effectively sandwiching Nik between he and his husband. Sasha sat in the recliner adjacent to the couch, quietly sipping his coffee and studying Nik.
“Nickolai,” Sasha said softly. Nik lifted his gaze to meet his brother. “Did you care about Matei?”
Nik held still for a few beats and then nodded his head. “When I think of Matei I feel as I do when thinking of mother and father. I have the good memories but they still make me sad.”
“We call that bittersweet, Nik,” Tom told him as he continued to rub Nik's back. “Why don't you tell us about Matei?”
Nik pursed his lips and turned his cup in a circle within his hands. “Matei was troublemaker,” he said with a smile touching his lips. “Matei sneak into Father Dumitru's office, change holy wine for water. We drink when lights are off.”
“You stole holy wine? You better not tell your grandpa Wilson that!” Kevin burst out laughing.
Nik smiled. “I am bad with – which is Grandpa Wilson?”
“Magoo,” Sasha said with a laugh, recalling Alec's nickname for this particular grandparent.
“Ah, yes, Magoo. Alec never say, what is Magoo?”
“I'll show you sometime,” Sasha snickered.
“Grandpa Wilson adores you, stop making fun of him,” Tom said with a half smile and pointing at them both.
They chuckled and settled back a little bit into their chairs as some of the tension from earlier continued to drain away.
“Matei was bad boy, yes, but never get catch.”
“Yes, is what I say,” Nik replied. “Matei hate orphanage. He say his papa come for him. He take hat from church sisters, put on pole with flag.”
“He put a nuns habit on a flag pole?” Tom said with his jaw dropping.
“Yes! Father Dumitru like one bathroom – favorite, yes? Matei steal big boots and he sneak into bathroom. Bathroom like in store – has on wall and toilet with walls, yes?”
“A urinal and a toilet stall?”
“Yes, stall. Cannot see inside, yes?” Nik said and he started to laugh as he told them the story. “He put boots in front of toilet, look like someone sits, yes? Then put pants on boots, looks like pants from person sitting. Father Dumitru think person is in bathroom. He keep checking, no go to other bathroom because this is favorite bathroom.” Nik was giggling and the others were smiling at him as he tried to get the rest of the tale out.
“After breakfast, after lunch Father Dumitru is opening door to bathroom to check, but still see boots. Dinner comes and he is yelling 'get out of my bathroom! Pervert!'” Nik fell back on the couch laughing and his family joined him.
“My God, that sounds like something your husband would do, Sasha!” Kevin said through his laughter.
“It does! I can see him doing it now!” Sasha said through his laughter.
Nik's laughter tapered off and he sipped some of his cocoa. Solemnly he said, “Matei share bed after Vladimir go to work school. I teach Matei...” Nik paused and blushed a little. “Matei like. I try to kiss, once, but he say 'No, Niki. Kissing is for do to girls. The hand, the fun is for boys.'
“But Matei kiss. He say for practice.” He paused. Looking around the room he rolled his head back and left his gaze on the ceiling. “Matei is tan, like Nathan. Hair like Nathan. Body...like Nathan.” He swallowed hard.
“Ah. I understand, now,” Sasha said softly as he and his dads shared a moment of clarity. “Did you love Matei, Nik?”
Nik nodded slowly and let his head drop back to its normal resting position. “Nathan is beautiful, most beautiful. When I see Nathan first time I think is Matei. I am never calling Nathan Matei, not make stupid mistake. But...Matei did not love me. Nathan not love me.”
“Sweetheart,” Tom said as he placed his hand into Nik's hair and began to stroke the thick mop. “Nathan cares about you, but he's not Matei. You were expecting things of him because he reminded you of someone else. Matei...well, who knows? He must have cared. You were friends, right?”
Nik nodded and looked at Tom. “Matei is best friend in world. I wish to say goodbye or hello, something. I go to Sinaia, I do not know about Matei.”
After a moment of contemplative silence Sasha stood up and picked up the empty cups. “I'll just run these out to the kitchen. I should probably get Alec to pick me up – he promised his parents we'd have dinner with them but I have to make sure it gets cut short, otherwise we'll end up staying overnight.”
“Would that be so bad? Aren't you building a room in their basement?” Kevin asked.
“We are,” Sasha said from the kitchen. Emerging back into the room he said, “But that's really Alec and his dad's job. As far as I know there will be no bed down there until ours comes back home with us from Albany. In the meantime, there is the single bed in my old room here and the single bed in his old room at his house – what?” he asked as he looked at his dads as they shared a glance.
“Well,” Tom said apologetically. “I am doing more of the telecommuting than I used to. I needed a space so...your old room is an office. Sorry.”
Sasha chuckled. “Can't go home again, huh?”
“We'll get a bunk bed, you can shack up with Nik,” Kevin said with a laugh.
“We do sleepover?” Nik asked, his face brightening.
“Oh, sneaky, parents,” Sasha said with a grimace. “Let me talk to my husband. I don't like to leave him unsupervised with Micah. They get into so much trouble together.”
“I will take shower,” Nik announced as he left the room to drop his cup into the sink and then he bounded up the stairs to get cleaned up.
“I know that look. What are you planning?” Kevin asked his son as soon as Nik had cleared hearing range.
“Just some research, maybe,” Sasha said thoughtfully. “Mr. Preda was very helpful getting information about Nickolai, according to Chase and Kale. I could ask them to see if this Matei is all right. Maybe a Skype call or something would help Nik's emotions. When I started down this road to figure him out I had no idea he was projecting his affections for an old friend that was trapped in the same bad situation he was in.”
“Well, I think he genuinely cares for Nathan,” Tom said.
“I do, too,” Kevin said. “But it's based on his affection for someone that, apparently, is the spitting image. It also explains why Nate makes him so horny, besides the obvious. Jeez, I feel bad for all these kids.”
“Anyway, I just thought I'd ask Kale and Chase to reach out, see if they can get any information on this Matei kid. I'm sure Nik would like some resolution.” Sasha picked up his phone and started to text Alec.
“If you can, it'd be great if you camped out here tonight. We miss you, of course, but you've stirred up a bunch of crap with your brother. I'm sure he'd like to have you here, too.”
“Christ,” Sasha muttered. “See what I mean?” He turned his phone toward them to show Alec and Micah, apparently with ice cream on each other's clothes and a note that they were asked not to come back to the ice cream stand.
“Hmm,” Kevin mumbled as he took in the picture. “So, you think Alec is more to blame or Micah?”
“I'm staying here. Alec's mom can try to get that out of their clothes,” Sasha muttered.
“Well, give me a hand with dinner, dear? Seems we have a guest,” Tom asked his husband playfully.
“Lead on, MacDuff,” Kevin replied and they left Sasha in the living room berating his husband's lack of maturity via text. Once done he walked out onto the front porch and placed a call to Kale and explained the situation. Kale promised to reach out to their old contact in Romania and see what could be done.
That night he scrunched onto the couch with his dads and brother, a tight fit, and they watched scary movies until Nik was falling asleep. Sasha walked him upstairs and Nik perked up a little. Sasha hugged him, holding his brother close.
“I love you, Nickolai. I love you so much,” Sasha told him. Nik tightened his grip in response.
“Te iubesc, Alexandru,” Nik replied softly.
“Maybe tomorrow you could tell me more about our mother and father? Would that be all right?”
Nik nodded. “Yes, I tell you.” He paused. “You...miss them?”
“I never knew them. I miss the idea of them. I miss having a memory of them. I hope you can bring them to life for me,” Sasha told him.
Nik pulled away and climbed into bed tiredly. “Sasha?”
“Yes?” he asked, his hand hovering over the light switch.
“Do you think Matei...misses me?”
“He'd be a fool not to,” Sasha replied and smiled. “Did you say what Matei's last name was? I forgot.”
“Ionescu,” Nik replied. “Matei Ionescu. Goodnight, Alexandru.”
“Good night, Nickolai.” Armed with a name, he reached out to Kale to see what might be learned about Matei Ionescu, Nik's lost friend.
With plans to head back to Albany on Sunday, Sasha decided to take a walk around the old neighborhood with Nik. Sasha found it odd to walk around his old stomping grounds. It was familiar and yet different. He supposed it was because it was no longer truly home to him anymore. It couldn't be without his little family, Alec and Micah, though walking with his brother was a rare treat and brought a feeling of home all by itself.
“I am not sure I should try to talk to Nathan,” Nik admitted as they strolled. “Before I understood why he was...how he could be so important...I am having trouble saying,” Nik growled in frustration.
“I think you mean you understand why Nathan affected you so much. I mean, outside of the fact that he's so cute,” Sasha said in a teasing tone.
“Is true,” Nik nodded with a sad smile. “Nathan is beautiful. But I think, maybe, I think he so beautiful because he look like twin for Matei. Do you think this is true?”
Sasha nodded his head slowly. “I think it's likely. Have you tried to talk to Nathan since you guys fought?”
Nik nodded. “Yes. I am thinking I was not very smart, though. I was trying to...get back together? I should speak to him and be friends.”
“Nik, I think that would be very wise.”
When they arrived back at the Buchanan home they were met by Alec and Micah. Alec pulled Sasha aside and hugged him, taking the time to speak in a low voice so that Nik wouldn't hear.
“Kale was surprised, but he got right through. That Mr. Preda works fast. I guess he found Matei. It's Monday there so he's having the kid brought into his office but he wants to talk to your dads first. I'm worried Preda is going to try to get them to take on another kid.”
Sasha frowned and glanced at his parents. They weren't young anymore. Gray was showing through on their sideburns and one had a hairline that wasn't just retreating anymore. He hoped Matei was okay, but at the same time he couldn't help but be worried about what this Preda guy was up to.
Once inside Sasha suggested Nik show Micah a few games on the Xbox in the basement. Nik's eyes lit up and he started to list the games he had and Micah followed him down the narrow stairs with excitement gleaming in his eyes.
“So. What do we think Preda is up to?” Sasha asked without preamble.
“Hard to be sure,” Kevin said as he sat down and watched Tom set up the tablet for a Skype call. “My guess is the kid is in trouble of some kind. I have a sneaking feeling he's going to ask us to take the boy. I just don't know how we could manage that,” he said with a sigh.
“We have retirement planned out,” Tom said. “That's a consideration. We can't work forever and, frankly, I know I don't want to. On the other hand if this kid needs help how do we ever ask Nik to take our love for him seriously if we won't help with something so important to him? I mean the memory of this friend really has him twisted up and it landed him in Nathan's bed.”
“Well, we can drive ourselves insane with speculation,” Kevin replied. “Let's hear what Mr. Preda has to say and then let Nik speak to his friend. We can take it from there”
Sasha went to make coffee and Alec volunteered to go downstairs and make sure the boys didn't come up too soon. Ten minutes later Victor Preda, Chief of Staff to the president of Romania, connected to the call. Mr. Preda was dressed in a western style suit with a pale pink tie. His hair was well kept and showing more gray than he'd had when the Buchanans had last interacted with him. He smiled and spoke in flawless English.
“Hello Mr. and Mr. Buchanan. It's very nice to see you again.”
“Hello, Mr. Preda. You're looking well,” Tom replied and Kevin nodded and smiled.
“Thank you. How is Nickolai?”
“He's doing well, thank you,” Kevin replied. “He's making very good progress in school, made friends and seems happy, in general. However, he just told us about his friend and, well, it's made for some issues for him.”
“Losing friends is hard. Losing them when you have so much taken from you already is so much worse,” Mr. Preda agreed. “I have found Matei Ionescu. I want to speak to you about him before he arrives. I think he needs your help.”
Tom and Kevin looked at each other before reestablishing eye contact. “How do you mean?”
Mr. Preda's face settled into a light frown. “Matei is, by all accounts, a good boy and intelligent. Too intelligent. He rebels against the control of the orphanage and the things he must do without. Books, good clothes, preferred foods – it can be a long list. Children from orphanages have very high rates of drug use and prostitution once they leave the system. They have higher rates of imprisonment and a shorter average life span.”
Tom closed his eyes briefly and sighed. “What sort of rebelling is he doing?”
“Hmm. Some petty theft. He has been suspected of speaking to men who are interested in his youth in exchange for leu. Romanian dollars. If there is no intervention his future is bleak.”
Kevin sighed. “You have a plan?”
Mr. Preda brought his fingertips together and regarded them. “I understand your reluctance. In Romania we have many economic difficulties. Services to help orphans integrate and succeed in society are almost non-existent. I don't mean to place undue pressure on you, but being men of good conscience you cannot but desire to help.
“I was thinking that Matei needs to see that things can be different for him. That life does not have to be limited to the options he thinks he has now. I would propose a Visa so that he may visit with his friend and see life in America and the possibility of what can be.”
“There is no guarantee he'd respond that way,” Sasha interjected. “He may simply become angry and jealous.”
Mr. Preda's gaze shifted to Sasha. “You must be the former Alexandru Antonescu. You and Nickolai look...it is striking. But to your statement, yes, that is true. However, his path is a well known one should he be left as he is. One must take risks in order to have the hope of gains, Alexandru.”
The three men looked at each other. “I must be insane,” Tom muttered as he looked back at the screen.
“Nik says that Matei is something of a prankster. Has he gotten into trouble with the police? Is he violent?”
“No, no violence. Matei is clever, not a fighter.”
Once more silence descended on the room. Tom and Kevin looked at each other. “Is there much to discuss? It's for the summer.”
“Yeah, now. And what if we fall in love with this kid? Or what if things go horribly wrong?”
Sasha cleared his throat. “Alec and I will be in town. I feel responsible, I know we can lend a hand.”
Tom rubbed his nose. “Okay. Tentatively. We should talk about this some more but if there are no major problems...okay.”
Mr. Preda smiled. “I believe Matei is just outside of my office. Would you like to get Nickolai?”
Sasha stood and crossed the room. He wondered if it was possible to die from overextending the help you could give to people that were hurting. He called down for the boys to come up and, moments later, Nik and Micah appeared.
“Where's Alec?” Sasha asked with a frown.
“He's finishing my round,” Micah replied.
“Oh no he's not, I know that game,” Sasha growled and descended the stairs.
“Yes papas?” Nik asked as he entered the room. All eyes were drawn to the small screen when a young voice filled the room.
“Niki! Niki Antonescu!”
Nik's eyes widened as he stared at the tablet. Sasha and Alec stepped into the room behind him and were stunned at an undeniable likeness of Nathan Kennedy staring out of the screen from Bucharest, Romania.
“Matei? Matei!” Nik cried out and dropped to his knees at the table. The two boys began chattering in Romanian, clearly thrilled to see one another.
“I've seen Nik happy and excited, but this...we really do have to do this, don't we?” Tom asked his husband.
Kevin looked at Tom and grinned. “It's going to be a wild summer.” They approached the screen and waved. “Hello, Matei. We are Nik's papas. How would you like to come see Nik in the United States?”
Matei's eyes grew large and then grew yet again as his gaze darted from his old friend to the strangers in the room. Nik said something in Romanian and Matei reached out and touched the screen with his fingertips, his mouth moving slowly and lips trembling. With the same accented English as Nik, he finally spoke.
A week later Nik stood outside Cafe Perk Me Up and looked at Nate as he ordered a drink at the counter. While it had been Nik's idea to try and clear the air with Nate, to salvage something of their friendship, he hadn't expected Nate to agree to meet. As such he found his nerves were humming with anticipation and trepidation. With a deep breath he entered and walked to the table where Nate had just sat down with his drink.
“Hello, Nathan,” he said in a shaky voice. Nate looked up and began to rise from his seat.
“Hi, Nik,” he said with a nod. They both sat down and then a crushing silence descended. Nik was turning words over in his head, wanting to say the right thing, to explain so that Nate would understand and forgive him.
Nate cleared his throat. “So, Nik, you have something to get off your chest?”
Nik nodded slowly and then coughed. “I did not think you would agree to meet with me. I...am trying to find the right words.”
Nate pursed his lips slightly. “How about if you just spit them out and don't worry if they're pretty or not?”
Nik let out a breath and steadied himself. “First, I am sorry. I have been disrespectful and bad friend.”
Nate nodded. “I accept your apology.”
Nik blinked as his eyes misted and he wiped them with the back of his hand. “Second is I am now understanding I was unfair to you.” He hesitated before plunging on, “Nathan, please be assured. When I came to funeral for your mother I was not to try and get you for boyfriend. I am promising I only wanted to show respect, be friend.”
Nate looked away slightly. “I know, Nik. I thought we were both being honest and I'm not sorry for what we did, then. In fact I really appreciate that you were there for me. It's just things kind of got out of control.”
Nik looked relieved. “I am glad you understand. But...I am finding out that I was not honest with you. Do....do you remember when you tell me how you were confused? Before, when I wonder why we do not become boyfriends?”
Nate blushed slightly. “Yeah. I was having trouble figuring out who I was.”
“Exactly this,” Nik agreed. “I did not know...I was confused.”
“By me? What did I do?” Nate asked with a frown.
“No,” Nik said quickly, “Not you. Me. I confused by me.”
Nate's frown relaxed and he asked, “How were you confused?”
Nik sat back in his chair and smiled at Nate. “When I live in Romania, in orphanage, I have friend named Matei. He is...looks just like you. Twin.”
Nate sat still, staring at Nik.
“Nathan,” Nik said as he leaned forward. “You are very great person. I love you. But my...feelings are come from Matei. When I look at you, when we...do things,” he said with his face growing very red. “I am sometimes reminding of Matei.”
“Oh. Um, wow.” Nate wasn't sure what else to say. In a way he was relieved that perhaps he and Nik could salvage a friendship without the awkward parts of having been a quasi-couple. But a part of him was hurt that he'd been no more than a stand-in for someone from Nik's past. Coule their relationship have been any more of a train wreck?
“So....Nik, I'm just wondering....all the things you said to me, none of them were true? You were just thinking of Matei?”
“No, no, no,” Nik said and waved his hands. “What I say is true. But...influence? Let me show,” he said and pulled his phone out. Moments later he turned the screen toward Nate so he could see the young man on the screen. Nate gaped; it was almost like looking in a mirror.
“Matei and I,” Nik said very slowly, “were best friend to each other. We go through bad times together. Sasha think that maybe I see you and miss Matei, but not know this.”
Nate nodded thoughtfully. “So this guy, Matei, was he your boyfriend?”
Nik set the phone down with a look of disappointment. “No. Matei is straight. But he also does not mind fun with boys. He is going to come this summer, stay with Nik and papas. But, is not point.
“I am sorry. Sasha say, in way, I using you. I am very unhappy to hear this. To learn this. You are kind, and boy or girl will be lucky when you fall in love. I...was confused because I think I want you to love me, but maybe I want Matei to love me.” Nik gave a small shrug. “I still do not understand.”
Nate let out a breath. “Nik, I do love you. As a friend. We're family.”
Nik's eyes welled up. “Is true? You will still be my friend?”
“Of course I will,” Nate said and reached a hand across the table to be readily accepted by Nik. “I never wanted to hurt you. I did my best to be clear but I know all about being confused, Nik. It's like, my natural state. I'm not going to hold it against you. But listen,” he said and made sure Nik and he were looking at one another. “We won't be boyfriends. We're too different about some things. But I promise, I'll be your friend. Is that going to be enough for you?”
Nik nodded, sniffling. “Yes, please.”
Author's Note: I hope you enjoyed my story. ICYMI I'm hearing from less than 1% of my readers about what they think, what they thought was funny or what pissed them off in a story. I pay money to host my site and post stories that you are reading - sometimes supported by genrous readers. I dont ask/require that in exchange for my stories. So, now that you've read, please don't assume someone else will say what they thought, go to my message board and leave a note, even as a guest or hit the link up top and drop me a line. I did my job, reader, please do yours.