"Charlie, are you still with us?" Dylan asked.
"Huh?" Charlie replied. "What?"
"You look like you're on another planet," Jesse said.
Jesse, Dylan, Kris and Charlie were seated at a booth in a local diner waiting for their orders to arrive.
"Sorry, I guess I'm just tired," Charlie sighed.
"Did you overdo it at the pool?" Dylan asked.
Charlie shook his head. "Not really. But Hunter showed up…"
Charlie nodded. "Yup and of course he wanted to race."
"Who's Hunter?" Kris asked.
"Hunter Langston," Dylan answered. "He's a senior and the captain of the swim team. Before Charlie got here last year he was the star of the swim team. He's a little full of himself."
"No," Charlie countered. "He's a lot full of himself. He's a big phony. He acts like he's my buddy and a great teammate and that he wants us to be friends all the time, but I know he's always out to see if he can beat me. So today he wanted to race…IM." He saw Kris's questioning look. "Individual Medley. Basically, you do all four strokes in one race. He wanted to do that, cuz my breaststroke is my worst and I don't usually do well at IM. I race them every meet so that I improve and to develop."
"And he beat you," Jesse said.
Charlie shook his head. "No, I smoked him. I beat him by six or seven lengths, it wasn't even close."
"That's good then, right?" Kris asked.
"Well, it felt good, but then he started making veiled accusations that I must be 'on' something to have improved that much."
"That shit!" Kris spat. "He can't take it that you beat him fair and square and now he's accusing you of cheating?"
"Charlie, don't let it get to you," Dylan said. "First of all, it was just a practice race, neither one of you are in mid-season form and we all know there is no way you are on performance-enhancing drugs. No offense, but if you were taking steroids, you'd have bulked up a little more than that," he gestured at Charlie's slender chest.
The boys all laughed.
"Besides, if Hunter pushes for any kind of drug test, he'd be shooting himself in the foot," Jesse said. "Everyone knows he and his cronies smoke dope."
Charlie grinned. "I know. It just bothers me to be accused of something like that."
"Just consider the source," Kris said wrapping his arm around Charlie shoulder.
"Well, speaking of 'ringers', we found out your roommate's one," Jesse said with a smile.
"What?" Charlie asked.
Kris blushed as Jesse continued.
"Dylan took Kris over to meet me at the arena and I gave him a little riding test so I could see where he was at for lessons. Seems Mr. Di Santo was holding out on us."
"I wasn't really," Kris protested.
"Is he good?" Charlie asked.
"Good?" Jesse replied. "He's better than half the guys on the team already. Plus, he's got dressage training that most of the guys don't. He had Jupe dancing all over that arena without any cues from me. He could probably win a training test tomorrow, probably a level A, too."
"You rode Jupiter?"
Kris nodded. "He's awesome. I thought you were exaggerating how big he was, but he's huge. I was a little nervous at first since it's been so long, but he was so mellow and everything just came back to me."
"Are you gonna join the team?" Charlie asked.
"I'm not sure," Kris said uneasily. "I'm not big on competition. I love riding and I'll definitely be doing the lessons with Jesse and practicing on my own when I can, but I just don't like the idea of competing."
"That's cool," Charlie said, reaching under the table and taking Kris's hand in his. "As long as you're doing something that makes you happy."
The waitress arrived with their meals and the four carried on a light conversation while they ate.
"Charlie, you never told me what your father does," Kris said when they had finished eating.
Charlie grimaced, while Dylan and Jesse smiled.
"Kris, you've never heard of the world famous Richard Song?" Jesse asked.
Kris thought for a moment. "Richard Song? Richard Song?" he repeated. "Wait, isn't he the big lawyer who just got Amber Smoke off on those DUI charges?"
Charlie nodded. "That's my dad, attorney to the stars."
"Wow! He's a big deal."
Charlie shrugged. "I guess so."
"So if your family's in Hollywood, how did you end up in school out here?"
"Well, when I was little, before my dad became the big deal he is now, we used to spend lots of time together. He came to all my meets, we went camping, on trips did lots of family stuff. Then he decided to open his own firm. His first big case was the Mason Dunn murder trial."
"I remember that," Kris said. "He was accused of killing that boy at his house."
Charlie nodded. "Mason was child star who grew up in Hollywood. When he was in his late teens he started getting into drugs, big time; a few years later after a party at his house, a body was found in his pool. The boy was fifteen and had been raped and beaten before being drowned in the pool. Mason was arrested almost immediately. He knew the boy and admitted to having had sex with him previously and he had no memory of the night's activities.
"Well, the only lawyer who would take the case was my father. Most of the big attorneys saw it as a no-win. In the end, my dad was able to get him acquitted by proving that he was too loaded on pills and booze to have been able to commit the crime. Eventually, the police found the man who had raped and killed the boy and he was convicted.
"After that case, my father's workload exploded and his firm became one of the biggest in Los Angeles. For the last few years, I've rarely seen him and I was in public school, which was becoming a hassle as my father became more famous. So when I was offered a place at Lancaster, I jumped at it. Most people on this coast don't know that much about my dad and those who do, don't often connect me to him."
"Do you get home to see your parents often?" Kris asked.
"I was home for a few weeks over the summer," Charlie replied. "My dad was buried, as usual, and my mom is on so many committees now that I was pretty much on my own. That's why I come back for summer school."
"And everybody thinks the rich kids have it easy," Kris said pulling Charlie close.
Charlie chuckled and melted into Kris's side.
"HOLY SHIT!!" Stevie cried as Benji and Oliver led him into the studio. "This is incredible!"
Benji grinned and nodded. "It's pretty cool, alright."
"Cool?" Stevie shook his head. "This place is amazing! The equipment and instruments are state of the art. This is probably a better set up than some of the record labels have."
"It is," Kai said over the intercom from the control booth. "That's why I do all my recording here, whether it's my projects or acts I'm producing. It gives me complete control and I know the equipment is in the best shape."
Alex left Dyson and Dave in the control booth with Kai and went into the studio.
"Are you guys ready to jam?" he asked as he took his place behind his drums.
"What's your poison, Stevie?" Benji asked with a smile.
Stevie looked at Alex at the drums, Oliver behind the piano and Benji holding his guitar. His eyes traveled over all the other instruments in the room until he saw what he was looking for.
He pointed. "May I?"
Benji nodded. "Sure, go ahead."
Stevie walked over and picked up the electric bass. He turned on the amp and strummed a few notes to check the volume. He smiled at the others.
"Ok, guys, tape's rolling, so go for it," Kai said over the intercom.
Alex counted off and for the next twenty minutes the four boys made music as is they had been together all their lives.
"Stevie's pretty good," Kai said to Dave.
Dave grinned. "He probably thinks he's died and gone to heaven today," he laughed. "It's so funny that he and I are even together."
"Why?" asked Kai.
"He's a cowboy and a musician and I can't ride or read a note of music and I'm a computer nerd and he can barely operate his iPhone."
Kai grinned. "Opposites attract isn't just a cliché," he said. "Having different interests can help to keep things interesting at home. Look at Damon and I; we've been together since we were fifteen and we've never had a ton of things in common. But we've always had the most important things: we love each other and we love our sons. In the end that's all that you really need to make things work."
"I do love him, that's for sure."
"I could see that from the moment I met you guys at the door this morning."
"Kai, do you tape all these sessions?" Dyson asked.
Kai nodded. "It started as a memory thing, just so I'd always have tapes of the twins playing, but as they got better, I started getting some inspirations from their playing. They've even gotten writing credit on some of my work."
"That's pretty cool."
The three looked up as the music wound down.
"That was pretty good, guys," Kai said over the mike. "Stevie, you're really talented."
"Thank you, sir," Stevie said with a slight blush. He turned to the others. "Hey, do you guys ever play 'regular' songs?"
Alex shrugged. "Sometimes. What do you have in mind?"
Stevie grabbed a microphone stand and microphone and switched the bass for an acoustic guitar.
"Do you know this one?" he asked.
He began to play and the other three immediately recognized the melody as OneRepublic's 'Counting Stars'.
Stevie sang and played and the others joined in playing with Benji singing back-up.
When they finished, the four could hear the applause coming from the control booth.
Dyson and Dave came into the studio.
"That was awesome, Babe," Dave said wrapping his arms around Stevie and kissing him deeply.
"It sure was," Kai said from the control booth. "You guys sound like you were meant to play together."
"Maybe we should start a rock band," Alex joked.
"Stevie's definitely got the voice to front one," Benji said.
"Thanks, but I was just following your lead," Stevie answered. "You guys are really good. It's been a while since I've been able to cut loose like this."
"We do it all the time," Alex said. "You're welcome to join in whenever you want."
"Hey, guys," Kai voice came from the booth. "Damon just called; dinner's just about ready, so we need to head up to the house."
"Pop, why don't you go ahead and take Stevie and Dave and we'll get everything taken care of here," Alex suggested.
Kai looked at Alex questioningly through the control room window.
"We need to talk to Benji and Oliver."
Kai nodded. "Sure, you guys just make it quick, ok?"
Kai popped his head into the studio and led Stevie and Dave out.
"So what's up?" Benji asked.
"What makes you think something is up?" Alex countered.
"A, subtlety has never been your strong suit," Benji laughed.
"Ok, Dice and I were talking earlier when we were working with Dave and we thought it might be, umm…."
"Helpful," Dyson interjected. "We thought given Dave's computer background that he might be an asset in helping us track the other Chosen. He's not just a hacker; he knows how to build 'em and break 'em, so we wouldn't have our equipment at the mercy of someone we didn't trust."
"But that would mean telling him, and Stevie, about us," Oliver said.
"Uh huh," Alex nodded.
"Dad's not gonna like that," Benji replied.
"Benji, like I told Alex, this is bigger than just your family," Dyson countered. "When it was just about you and Alex, then your dads could call the shots, but now it's about you two, Oliver, the other two chosen and even me. We are going to need allies and we are going to need to trust people."
"Are you sure we can trust them?" Oliver asked.
"I'm quite sure we can," Dyson replied. "We spent a good part of the day with Dave and he seems to be a very honest person who had a rather hard past. What about Stevie?"
"Same thing," Benji answered. "I didn't get any vibes from him that made me concerned; he was a genuinely nice guy and we had a good time."
"I think what we need to do to be sure is have Benji do a scan on them," Alex suggested.
"Alex! You know I don't like invading peoples' privacy like that."
"You did it to me," Dyson said.
Benji shook his head. "No, with you, I simply was feeling for deception. You were so stressed and emotional that it would have radiated off of you. What Alex is talking about with Dave and Stevie is deeper, more probing."
"I don't want you to look for secrets or anything," Alex said. "Just confirm that we can trust them."
Benji closed his eyes and inhaled deeply then exhaled. "Ok, I'll try, but I'm not going very deep."
Kris came back from the shower and found Charlie sitting quietly on his bed right where he had been when Kris had left thirty minutes earlier.
Kris shook his head. He grabbed a pair of bikini briefs from his dresser and dropped his towel to the floor. He stood naked in the middle of the floor and slowly pulled on the briefs trying to tease Charlie.
He walked over to the bed and dropped himself on it.
"Ok," he huffed. "What's up?"
"Huh? What do you mean?"
"Charlie, I just stood bare-ass naked in the middle of the room and gave you a show and you didn't even notice," Kris sighed. "Something has been bothering you since we met before dinner. I know we've only known each other a few days, but even Dylan and Jesse noticed how…off…you are. It's more than just the race with that other kid."
Charlie shook his head. "It's nothing, really."
Kris reached over and pulled Charlie to him. He wrapped his arms around the smaller boy and gently kissed his neck.
"Charlie, if we're going to be…whatever it is we're trying to be here…we need to be honest with each other. You're the first real friend I've had in ages and I think it's even more than that. You can tell me anything."
"Not this," Charlie sighed. "You'll think I'm nuts."
"I won't," Kris whispered. He took Charlie's face gently in his hand and looked him in the eyes. "I promise."
Charlie drew a deep breath, held it for a moment and exhaled. "What I said about the race with Hunter and me smoking him was true and he does think that I took something."
"Which is bullshit."
"Right, but after he went to the shower, I took some practice dives. After my last one, I was just floating in the pool getting ready to head to the locker room when I heard someone coming out. Thinking it was Hunter and I didn't want to see him, I dove under the water. I figured he'd look around, wouldn't see me and he'd leave."
"But he saw you and gave you more grief?"
Charlie shook his head. "No, he was with two of his buddies, Kent and Riley. They stood on the edge of the pool looking for me and waiting."
"And they couldn't see you?"
"I guess not. I was at the bottom of the pool against the wall, but they never made like they saw me," Charlie said. "But that's not the strangest thing. They were there for a while. My lungs should have been burning. But instead I felt fine. Like I didn't need to take a breath."
"Maybe it just felt longer than it actually was."
"No, it was a while. I also noticed that my hands were sticking to the wall."
"Yeah. You know how your hands prune in water?"
"Well, everyone thinks that's from the water, but it's actually a reaction of your body trying to make it easier for you to grip things in the water. In my case it was like I was Spider-Man and the pool wall was a skyscraper," Charlie explained. "I actually had to roll my hand to loosen the grip and move along the wall and I could see and hear the three of them perfectly well through the water. No distortion like there usually is."
"You're probably just used to being in the water and your senses are more attuned," Kris suggested.
"And then I discovered the strangest thing."
Charlie nodded. "When I looked at my hands and feet, there was skin between my fingers and toes. They were webbed."
"I told you that you wouldn't believe me."
"Charlie I believe you or at least I believe that's what you believe happened to you. But your hands looked normal in the restaurant."
"I know. After they finally left, I swam to the surface. When I came up for air, I didn't even feel out of breath--if anything I felt energized. I got out of the pool, grabbed my towel and ran for the locker room. When I went to unlock my locker, I noticed my hands were back to normal."
"Maybe it was a distortion in the water."
Charlie shook his head. "No, I know what happened. I just don't understand any of it."
"You showered after that before you met us, right?"
"And no webbing or anything strange?"
Charlie shook his head again. "No, nothing."
Kris pulled his arm from around Charlie and got up from the bed. He walked over to his side of the room.
Charlie sighed quietly and lay back on the bed. He knew he should have kept this all to himself. Now Kris thought he was nuts. So he'd be changing roommates again. He rolled over to face the wall.
"Hey, sit up," Kris said. "I want my spot back."
Charlie rolled over and looked up at Kris standing next to the bed grinning. He sat up and Kris sat back down on the bed.
"Did you think I left or something?" Kris asked.
"Well, yah," Charlie answered. "I figured you thought I was nuts and were gonna ask for a new roommate tomorrow."
Kris put his arm back around Charlie's shoulder and pulled the boy to him. "I told you to trust me," he said. "I believe that something happened to you. We just don't know what or why. So I went to get my phone."
"Yeah, I'm gonna set the alarm for five; we'll get up and head to the pool before anyone else gets there. We'll see if we can recreate what happened and get some answers for you."
Charlie looked into Kris's eyes; he could tell the boy was serious about helping him and believing him.
"Thank you," he said quietly.
"You don't have to thank me," Kris said.
"I wasn't. I was thanking whoever sent you to me."
"ABSOLUTELY NOT!!" Damon bellowed.
"Day, calm down," Kai said quietly. "You'll wake the whole house up."
After Dave and Stevie had left for the evening, Benji, Alex, Dyson and Oliver explained to Damon and Kai their plans to tell Dave and Stevie about their powers. Benji had scanned both boys and was sure that both could be trusted and did not present a danger.
The boys, led by Alex and Dyson, made a convincing argument for the usefulness of Dave's computer skills.
After a lively discussion, Damon and Kai had told the boys they would discuss it and give them an answer in the morning.
The boys had made plans to meet with Dave and Stevie and were going to talk to them then.
Once they had retired to their bedroom, Damon had started his rant.
"You can't think this is a good idea, Kai," he said in a more moderate tone.
"Actually, I do," Kai replied. "Look, it's like Dyson said, this is bigger than our family now. When it was just Benji and Alex we could call all the shots, but now it includes Oliver and Dyson and more people we don't even know. The boys need allies they can trust. Even if I didn't have Benji's scan to rely on, I'd still trust them. They are good kids who've had a rough time. Instead of becoming jaded and bitter they are making successes of themselves."
"Won't it look strange to all the sudden have two more boys, complete strangers, hanging around?"
"Not really. Stevie is incredibly talented; even if the guys hadn't wanted to let them in on their secrets, I still would have invited him to work with me. He's the protégé I've been looking for and Dave is part of the package, plus he and Dyson are computer geeks, so it won't look strange for them to hang out."
"I don't know. It still makes me nervous."
"That's your grandfather talking," Kai said. "He had you convinced that this all had to be kept a secret from the world and while I agree, they should keep their powers on the q.t., it doesn't hurt to have friends and allies."
"Why do I feel like we've switched sides?" Damon sighed, sitting on the bed.
Kai grinned and sat down next to his husband. "Because I've always felt like the outsider. I don't know what it's like to have the powers or to keep them a secret. But I know what it's like to know the secret and protect the ones you love. We won't always be there for them. They're getting older and they're going to go out into the world soon, they need these friends to help keep them safe."
"You're right," Damon consented. "I just get scared something's going to happen to them."
"There's safety in numbers," Kai reassured him. "Plus, the match-ups are good."
"Think about it. If someone were to come after Benji and Oliver, they would be the two least prepared to defend themselves, but you know they're gonna be hanging around with Stevie and he's a tough kid. Sweet and kind, soul of a musician, but he's from the school of hard knocks and I have no doubt he can defend himself and the boys. While Dyson and Alex are more physically prepared to defend themselves and they'll be with Davie, who's a…"
"Nerd." Damon chuckled.
Kai laughed and nodded. "I think he prefers 'geek'. He's a great kid, too, but I don't see him being all that physical in a fight. He's definitely going to be the brains of the operation."
"How can we be sure they're even going to accept all this?"
"Because ultimately, we're offering what they both crave the most: family and a sense of belonging," Kai said. "I talked to both at length after dinner and they told me about their lives. They've been through the ringer. All they really have is each other. Stevie never had any family except his father, who from what I can tell was pretty abusive, but Dave left behind nine siblings and his parents who couldn't accept the simple fact that he was gay. These boys aren't going to turn their backs on our boys; they are going to embrace them."
"I hope so," Damon said cautiously.
"I know so."
"Wow!" Kris exclaimed as he and Charlie entered the pool deck. "This is some setup."
"Best in the state," Charlie said with pride. "For years, Phillips Exeter had the best facilities, but a few years ago one of the alumni decided to make a big donation to upgrade everything."
Charlie toed off his sneakers and pulled off his t-shirt and shorts so that he was standing by the pool in a powder-blue speedo.
"That's nice too," Kris grinned as he stripped to reveal the black speedo he was wearing.
"Where did you get that?" Charlie squeaked.
Kris laughed. "The other day when we were at that sports store and you were taking forever to decide on suits, I saw this one and decided 'when in Rome.'"
Charlie smiled. "It suits you." He couldn't take his eyes off Kris's body. His pecs were tight and round and topped with light quarter-sized nipples. Charlie's eyes drifted down Kris's six-pack abs and stopped at the bulge in his swim suit. He shook his head and turned away as he felt his own suit start to shrink.
Charlie walked to the edge of the pool and dropped in.
Kris sat down on the side of the pool, his feet dangling in the water. "Ok, try going down to where you were yesterday and see how long you can stay under."
Charlie nodded and dove under the surface. He kicked his way down to the bottom of the deep end of the pool and pushed himself against the wall. After a while his lungs started to burn and he pushed off the wall and swam for the surface. When his head broke through he inhaled deeply.
"Didn't work, huh?" Kris asked.
"N-no," Charlie panted. "How long was I down there?"
"About 50 seconds," Kris replied. "Did you hear me counting off every ten seconds?"
Charlie shook his head.
"What about your hands?"
Charlie swam over to the wall and showed Kris his hands.
"Normal," Kris sighed as he shook his head.
"Maybe I am losing it," Charlie said as he pushed off the wall and kicked until he was back in the middle of the pool.
"No, you're not," Kris said emphatically. "What was different about yesterday and now?"
"I don't know," Charlie answered, feeling frustrated. "I was in the pool and I was wet and the guys came in."
Kris stood up and paced along the edge of the pool. "I got it!" he said with a smile.
Charlie looked at him curiously as the big blond dove into the pool and swam towards him.
Kris stopped in front of Charlie.
"So what is it?" Charlie asked anxiously.
"This," Kris said as he reached out and pushed Charlie under the water.
Charlie was caught off guard and struggled against Kris's strength. Kris took a deep breath and pushed Charlie farther under the water, holding the smaller boy down. He hoped he was right as he didn't want to kill his potential new boyfriend.
Kris looked at Charlie for any changes. He was still struggling against Kris's grip, his eyes were closed and bubbles were escaping from his mouth and nose. Kris knew he only had a few seconds before he would have to let Charlie go.
Charlie's eyes suddenly opened and Kris was shocked to see that they were entirely black. He felt a hand wrap around his wrist, when he looked he saw that Charlie fingers were not only webbed but they had lengthened and his nails were much longer.
"Charlie, are you ok?" Kris struggled to ask as he realized that the tables were turning and he might now be the one in danger.
As the thought crossed his mind, he felt himself being lifted by a huge wave of water. He could see Charlie floating under the water, his arms raised. The wave lifted Kris at least fifteen feet in the air and deposited him in the shallow end of the pool almost forty-five meters from where Charlie was.
Kris swam to the side and pulled himself from the pool. He ran to the other end.
"Charlie?!?!" he called from the side. He could see the smaller boy still floating in the middle of the pool. He held his breath, not sure what to do, but cautious about entering the water again. "Charlie, can you hear me?!?!"
Charlie could hear Kris calling him and he kicked towards the surface.
Kris watched in amazement as Charlie's lithe figure came flying out of the pool. He cleared the water by about ten feet and somersaulted and cleanly dove back in.
When Charlie's head broke the surface the second time, Kris's breathing finally returned to normal.
Charlie swam to the side of the pool and pulled himself out.
"Oh, shit, Kris, I'm sorry," he cried as he stood there. "I don't know what happened."
Kris grinned at him. "Hey, at least it worked."
"Why did you push me under?"
"I was thinking about yesterday and I thought that maybe your reaction was a defense mechanism, so I decided to see."
"I could have killed you."
Kris picked up his towel and wrapped it around his shivering roommate. "But you didn't and we proved you're not crazy. Of course, we don't know what you are."
"It was different than yesterday," Charlie said. "It was like I was watching everything, like I was being pushed out of my own body. I knew what was happening, but I couldn't control it or stop it."
"Well, yesterday you were just trying to hide and today you thought you were gonna drown. So maybe we pushed things a little too far today."
"I don't get it, what's happening to me?" Charlie asked nervously.
"I don't know," Kris said pulling him close. "But we're gonna figure it out."
Alex knocked on the apartment door. He, Benji, Oliver and Dyson had made plans to spend the day with Dave and Stevie at the beach. Since Dave and Stevie lived closer, Alex had offered to pick them up at their apartment.
"Hey, guys," Dave said with a smile when he opened the door. "C'mon in, we're almost ready."
He held the door open while the four younger boys entered the apartment.
"Stevie's just finishing getting dressed," he said. "Anyone want a drink?"
"No, thanks, we're good," Benji said.
"Cool apartment, Dave," Alex said looking around.
"Thanks. Mr. Titus, the man who owned the ranch Stevie grew up on, he insisted that we find something close to campus. We were looking at much smaller apartments, but he wanted us to find something that we would be happy with long term. It's three bedrooms, which is two more than we actually need; we keep one as a guest room and the third is half Stevie's music room and half my computer room."
"Yeah, it's way more than we need, but it's home now," Stevie laughed coming into the room. "Everyone all set to go?"
"Umm, can you guys sit down for a minute?" Alex asked. "We need to talk to you about something."
Dave and Stevie looked at each other and then sat on a couch opposite where the other four sat.
"Look, if you guys are coming out, your secret's safe with us," Stevie grinned.
"Well, in a way we kind of are," Benji said. "Just not in the way you think."
Alex and Benji looked at each other; Alex nodded for Benji to continue.
"Dave, you probably surmised that Dyson had a reason for all the computer equipment he bought and installed."
"I just assumed he was a hacker," Dave replied. "No harm, no foul. I mean I didn't set things up to help you rob a bank did I?"
"No, but Dice needs to locate some people," Alex explained. "We can't take a chance on someone we don't know or trust getting involved. We trust you guys and so we're taking a chance here."
"You guys are really confusing us," Stevie said. "What are you trying to tell us?"
"We need your help!"