Monopoly wasn't Eddie's favorite game in the world, but the way Hector's eyes were drawn to it decided him. It wasn't all bad, either, the game took a while to finish, helping to seal them away from adult interference for a while. If Hector's parents wanted him to become Hector's friend, they weren't likely to interrupt, and every moment Eddie could spend with Hector was a weapon aimed at their hearts.
He wasn't crass and direct about it. He didn't try to dig any more tunnels under the bulwark of Hector's brainwashing. He didn't need to. He just had to be Hector's friend. Being friendly was as deadly a weapon as possible under the circumstances, and as time passed and Hector relaxed a little it became rather enjoyable. Hidden under his stiff exterior was a clever wit, and while Hector wouldn't use that wit against anyone, yet, he could still crack some rather funny jokes about what a wheelbarrow and a top hat had in common.
Eddie wound up feeling rather guilty about all of it. Hector obviously didn't have many -- if any -- friends, and he licked up the slightest hint of affection, much less the genuine friendship Eddie was, unwillingly, beginning to feel for him.
But the game couldn't last forever, as the adults were already preparing for dinner. Eddie grinned at the opportunities that lay ahead. Galen had pointed out that while being rude and disrespectful was likely to get him in trouble, laying verbal traps was relatively safe. Better still, it represented the the kind of passive aggression that could be used to further his ultimate goals. He had to keep them convinced that their programming efforts were gaining ground right up until the last second, and then his trap would close. According to Galen, that could cause them considerable damage properly handled. It might not handle his list in and of itself, but it would be a good, strong down payment on the principal.
"I'll help you set the table," Eddie offered as they were called downstairs.
"Thank you," Hector smiled, making Eddie feel worse about his deceitful plans. Eddie kept the fact that his plans were aimed at Hector's parents, who had deliberately courted this fight themselves, forefront in his mind. Hector didn't deserve what was happening to him, but it was his parent's fault, not Eddie's, that he was dead center in this particular battle.
Hector gave Eddie a quick rundown on where everything in the kitchen could be found, from water glasses to steak knives, clearly never once thinking that Eddie might have an ulterior motive to his learning. Eddie's eyes danced here and there, noting things that Hector never thought to mention. From the medicines stored in the same cabinet as the spices and spare condiments to the cooking knives stored safely in a knife block, Eddie took in every possible resource and weapon. "Steaks, yum," Eddie commented as Mr. Cook came in from the back porch.
"I'm glad you approve," Mr. Cook commented, voice taut. Eddie almost licked his lips at the obvious tension in the room. The more he could split Mr. and Mrs. Cook, the more damage he could do here.
Eddie grinned from ear to ear as he sat down. Before anyone else could lead them into prayer he bowed his head over his plate. "Thank you Lord, for these the gifts of They bounty. May they nourish our body as the Holy Spirit nourishes our souls. May your bounty overflow to all the faithful, and may everyone gather the rewards they so richly deserve, most especially Mr. Cook and Dr. Riddle."
"It's nice to see you coming around, Edward," Mr. Cook commented, taken by surprise by Eddie's sudden piety.
"Who said anything about me changing my mind?" Eddie commented as he grabbed a steak.
"You certainly didn't seem too happy about me or Doctor Riddle earlier," Cook pointed out.
"Of course I'm not happy," Eddie deflected the comment. Cook had to ask the questions and push Eddie into a corner.
"Then you are a very good Christian indeed to wish rewards unto us anyways," Cook declared. Eddie artfully let loose a slight giggle, as if he couldn't help it, as he sliced into his steak. "And what is so funny?"
"Dear," Mrs. Cook complained. "could you stop digging the whole deeper?"
"What is that supposed to mean?" Mr. Cook complained.
"He asked for you to receive your just rewards," she sighed. "That doesn't necessarily mean he's sending you well-wishes."
Mr. Cook frowned. "You eat at our table and dare wish us ill?"
"I simply wished for the Lord to reward you appropriately," Eddie commented disingenuously. "If you've done well in the world, then he should provide you good rewards. If you haven't, then that's between you and him. I will leave the judgments to him."
Mr. Cook glared, but obviously realized that Eddie was sprinkling conversational landmines for all he was worth, and backed down. "So, Hector, did you study your verses like you were supposed to?"
"Yes sir," Hector nodded respectfully. Eddie toyed with trying to disrupt the conversation further, but instead turned to Mrs. Cook.
"How do you and your husband prepare your steaks? I can taste the hickory smoke, but there's something else I can't quite place. Tastes quite good," he asked.
Mrs. Cook smiled. "My husband grills over hickory smoke, as you mentioned. I let the steaks sit in a lemon and garlic marinade for twenty-four hours, could that be what you're tasting?"
"Quite possibly," Eddie nodded. "I don't think I've ever heard of using lemons in a marinade before though."
"If you're not careful, it'll make the meat taste sour," she agreed. "You want the lemon to be strong enough to taste, but not strong enough to overpower."
Eddie nodded, filing the cooking advice away for further reference. "Garlic, I think," he tried another piece. "I'm sure you used other spices, but I can't taste them. Probably the usual suspects, thyme, or maybe parsley?" he guessed.
She smiled. "You are observant, aren't you? Yes, there almost have to be other spices in the mix, but my recipe books aren't yours to plunder for just one compliment."
"Perhaps, instead of raiding your recipe books, I'll be given the chance to trade recipe ideas," he commented. "My Dad and Pop insisted I learn how to cook, said it was a vital life skill. I know a few recipes by heart, and if I can get someone back home to send me a few e-mails, I have more than one recipe noted down on the home computer."
Eddie didn't allow a single bit of mirth to cross his face at his oh-so-nonchalant reference to having two fathers. The reaction was everything he could have hoped for. "That is not a suitable subject for dinner conversation," Mr. Cook ordered.
"I'm sorry," Eddie apologized abjectly. "I didn't realize cooking was off limits."
"Don't play games with me young man," Mr. Cook snarled. "You know damned well cooking isn't what I meant?"
Eddie cocked his head curiously. "I'm afraid I don't... sir." His slight pause didn't quite turn the honorific into an insult. The emphasis he placed on the word did, though. "If it wasn't cooking, then was it perhaps referring to the trumped up charges that have been levied against my family?" Eddie knew that throwing down the gauntlet like this wasn't the smartest of moves, but he had to make it clear he wasn't cowed in the slightest, yet. The harder he staked out his initial position, the more he could give without really compromising anything. He just had to be clever about staking it out in as respectful a manner as possible.
"You dare call that abomination a family?!" Mr. Cook roared. "Those two are unclean, they deserve all they receive! Monsters, both of them! They perverted themselves and you!"
"They loved me, fed me, clothed me, protected me, raised me," Eddie let his own anger fill his voice, but where Mr. Cook grew louder and shouted, he dropped his own voice, letting it shrink until it filled the room with cool, disdainful rage. "We love each other, aid each other, and will never turn upon another. What else is family?"
>I leave you alone for five minutes,< Galen complained, <and you start World War III! Did you forget some small, unimportant thing like our plan?>
<This is our plan,> Eddie retorted as Mr. Cook gaped at him in surprise. <Now stop jiggling my elbow!>
"Get out," Mr. Cook hissed. "Go to your room. Now!"
Eddie rose slowly to his feet. For all his youth, serene calm infused his manner and made him seem the adult, facing down a spiteful child. "Very well," he inclined his head gently to Mrs. Cook. "Thank you for what promised to be a very good dinner, ma'am."
"You're welcome," she nodded back, annoyed but forced -- clearly against her wishes -- to respond to politeness with politeness.
Eddie turned to Hector and nodded his head again, "And thank you for your pleasant company this evening." Turning, he left the room.
<You clever son of a bitch,> Galen laughed. <Not a one of them has the slightest clue what that fight was really about!>
Eddie grinned as he made his way to his room. <Did it work?>
Eddie felt Galen's attention wander for a moment. <Mr. and Mrs. Cook are going at it hammer and tongs with each other, not even noticing Hector,> Galen confirmed gleefully. <Neither one of them is even thinking about their son right now. Mr. Cook is convinced that they have to beat you into submission with brute force, while Mrs. Cook has finally begun to realize that you get more flies with honey than vinegar. Took her long enough.>
<Time to plan the next move,> Eddie commented as he slipped into his room. <Any advice?>
<The only counsel I can give you now is patience. Your blows have been well struck, and it is not yet time to move onward.> Galen reluctantly admitted. <Other events must yet occur before you progress further, or other plans may yet come unhinged.>
<Other plans?> Eddie smiled. <You didn't mention any other plans!>
<No I didn't, and I probably shouldn't have mentioned them> Galen 'shrugged', a sensation Eddie somehow felt rather than saw. <The only problem is, if I hadn't you would have kept pressing on. Hector's personal trials must not come to their fruition yet; if you try you will be stopped.> Galen's voice grew grimmer as he continued, and Eddie had no doubt that being 'stopped' would not be pleasant.
<By who?> Eddie demanded. <Tell me something -- give me anything! At least let me plan my next attack! Or maybe we can work on a defense!>
Silence answered him. Eddie wrapped himself in the blankets on his bed to ward off the sudden chill.
Solitary confinement wasn't pleasant, but Frank had endured worse over the years. His building had been bombed, his husband raped, his son nearly killed before his eyes. His friends slaughtered-
Frank shook his head and focused as a leg began to cramp. It was a distraction. Everything was a distraction. That was the good thing about solitary confinement. Locked in with no human contact, with nothing to distract him from himself. The judge had done him a favor, had he known it. Forced to face himself for the first time since he'd quit-
A sudden, stabbing pain in his eye anounced that he'd gone further than was reasonable, but he wasn't ready to give in. Not yet. He'd quit. Quit what?
"Are you certain?" Ronan asked him. Certain about what? Frank wanted to howl. Bits and pieces, fragments of memories and facts, but nothing whole. He knew Ronan. He'd kept secrets. But what secret? There was something there, hidden from even himself, and he needed to know! He was in danger, and he-
Frank bolted to his feet and turned to face the door. Danger. He was in danger. Somehow that was important. Vital, even. It was a key that he could turn if he dared. The only problem was that he wasn't supposed to turn it. He needed to stay here and let his lawyer act. If he broke out, it would only make problems worse. He had to wait. Wait for someone to answer his call. Why was it taking so long for someone to come help him?
A muffled clank at the door announced the guards. "Come on," one of them ordered. "You have a visitor."
Frank frowned as he let himself be cuffed. He'd been on the verge of remembering something important! John was a good lawyer, but damn if he didn't have a bad sense of timing sometimes. The guards kept a firm hold on Frank as they led him out of the room. The facility wasn't exactly a supermax security prison, but the guards were treating him as if it were anyway. They were afraid of him.
For some reason, that made him smile. They should be afraid of him. They should be, because... because...
Frank still hadn't quite placed his finger on the reason why before they reached the visitors section. It was right there at the edges of his mind, plain as day. He could see it, feel it, touch it, taste it. It was there. He just couldn't quite say it, even to himself. But the misdirection, the fog of indecision and uncertainty that kept him away from it, was fading. Days of solitary confinement, of hurling himself against it's power had weakened it.
The guards shoved him into a cubicle and slammed the door shut behind him. "Thanks," he commented at the door, just gushing with pleasant sincerity, then turned to face his visitor. "Who-" he began to ask.
The man held up a single finger, and the question died half spoken. "I'm afraid that I'm the one whose going to be asking questions here," the man shrugged. "Who are you?"
"Frank Terrance," Frank answered as he sat down. "Who are-"
"Ah-ah-ah," the stranger wagged his finger at Frank. "Now that we've established the easy part, your name, who are you? Not your name, that's just what others call you. Who are you?" Frank felt the question, the subtle emphasis, dig into his mind.
"Frank Wallace," his mouth moved, but Frank wasn't speaking. And then a word rose to the top of his mind and exploded outward. An impossible word. An absurd word. Surely he'd remember-
And then, suddenly, he did.
Tim hovered over the lawyer, wondering what he should do now. The attack had finally broken, and the lawyer just 'felt' safe to him. More than that, his father's trick about simply going to a place worked just as well for people, once you had a feel for them. After spending hours defending the man's mind, Tim knew that mind as well as he knew the backs of his hands. If anyone touched the lawyer, Tim would know, and be there in an instant. Space and time just didn't mean as much in this strange otherspace, leaving him free to take off. Except he didn't have anywhere to go.
He'd tried jumping over to watch his son, but something else was there already. He couldn't define what that thing was, only that it was powerful, large, and had politely informed him that he'd have to wait his turn. He'd almost tried to shove in anyways, but he'd sensed, dimly, that if he'd tried to co-exist with that creature it would have destroyed him. Not deliberately, but it's simple nature and power made it impossible for Tim to get to close and escape. Like a black hole consuming everything in it's path, he'd have been drawn ever closer to the core of the creature until he could never escape, his own will and purpose submerged into it's own.
Frank was in his solitary confinement cell, and Tim couldn't go there either. It wasn't that something else was there already, it was Frank that was the problem. Whatever he was doing, it created a stress in the otherspace that Tim found painful. It was like looking down and seeing your arm bent at a right angle where there wasn't a joint. Even if you didn't feel any pain from the injury itself, the trauma of simply seeing your arm bent in such an unnatural place was painful in and of itself. At first it wasn't that bad, but as time passed the stress had grown, both expanding and becoming more focused until Tim felt it from miles away, and the pain from being up close was unbearable.
Then the tension snapped. Time and space didn't mean the same thing in this otherspace, but thankfully they still held some meaning. That was all that saved him as the very fabric of reality shuddered under the impossible impact of what had happened to Frank.
But while he was saved from the direct impact, the link between him and Frank, the bonds of love and the oaths of marriage, carried something else. In this otherspace, distance meant nothing to that bond. He was there, and the sudden surge of memory dragged him into it, until now was then and past was present...
Edward Marcus Harris sat crying at the table, waiting for his former boyfriend to kill him with his bare hands. He deserved it, really. He wanted it. It would be better than... better than...
Timmy knew Eddie -- had known him sense birth. They'd been best friends since the day they were born, went through school never more than a shout away from the other. Even in High School they'd stuck together, and now that they were in college, they were getting ready to admit to their parents about their real relationship. And he could read Eddie like a book right now.
"Eddie, I love you," Timmy told his best friend. "I can't... we can't do anything, I know. Not without condoms. But I love you, nonetheless."
Eddie looked up, shocked. This was the second time in his life he'd stared death in the face -- third, in a sense -- and again he received a last second reprieve. "But, after all we've done, everything... We've spent so much time kissing!"
"And that's all we've done! We've... barely even rounded second base!" Timmy pointed out. "I'm not sure, but I don't think... I need to look it up, but you can't pass AIDS through saliva. Blood, semen, yes. Even livers, obviously enough. Not saliva."
"But I... I sprayed..." Eddie objected.
"Skin. Intact skin," Timmy told Eddie forcefully.
"Still!" Eddie was in tears. "I've killed you too, and-"
"No!" Timmy cut him off. "I'll get tested -- regularly -- but no, you didn't. The tests will be just in case."
Eddie looked down into his hands again, and whispered "Timmy, I love you," before he broke down into deep, body-wracking sobs.
"Eddie, listen to me," Timmy shook his friend. "This isn't ten years ago, there are medicines, things they can do -- you can still live for years!" Eddie shook his head, tears still falling and he shook and sobbed. "I know, you don't have medical insurance, but there are ways -- projects, programs, charities! Don't just give up, that's suicide!"
Eddie froze under Timmy's comforting hands and pulled his head up. "Suicide?" he whispered, shocked, as a new light rose in his eyes.
"Yes, that's exactly what it would be," Timmy told his friend. They'd talked, in the past. Eddie's mother...
Neither one could tolerate -- neither one would tolerate -- the mere idea of suicide. Not after that mess.
"I... Oh Timmy..." Eddie started sobbing again.
"Now, as for the short term, we both have the money we were saving up and some financial aid -- I'm sure the doctor gave you a prescription, yes?"
Eddie nodded, "I didn't fill it."
"Duh, you were too busy moping!" Timmy joked in an effort to cheer Eddie up. "Come on, let's go handle that before your Dad gets home."
"Alright, just let me clean up a little..." Eddie wandered off to his room while Timmy cleaned up the glass he'd dropped when he'd heard the news.
When Timmy got home that night, he just crawled into bed without explaining anything to his parents. "Long night out," he said before vanishing. They were busy planning things for tomorrow, and didn't pay much attention. He wasn't so lucky the next morning, when he got home from classes.
He was moping around the house, and eventually his mother cornered him.
"Timmy, what is wrong, honey?" his mother asked. Only being a mother, she wasn't asking for the information.
"I don't want to talk about it Mom, not right now," Timmy forced out.
"Timmy, if you talk you'll feel better," she cajoled him. "You know that. Now, what is it?" She put a hand around his shoulder and pulled him tight, like he was a little child, and somewhere deep inside something snapped and he let her pull him in to cuddle.
"Oh Mom, oh Mom..." he started before breaking down into tears. He'd put on a brave face for Eddie, but now... Eventually his tears faded and he pulled away. "It's bad," he told her. "It's really, really bad."
"What is it?" she asked patiently.
"Eddie..." he got out before his voice failed.
"What happened?" she asked.
"His transplant... his liver... it..." Timmy stopped and took a deep, shuddering breath.
"Oh no, it's failing?" his mother exclaimed. "Oh, honey, I'm so sorry!"
"No, it's not failing," Timmy cried out, "if it were simply failing we could try again -- I don't have the flu this time, I could give him mine. Oh God I wish I'd given him mine a year ago, flu or no flu!"
Timmy broke down into tears again and his mother held him close. "What happened Timmy, what's wrong?"
"I... Oh, Mom... The person who gave him the transplant came up with AIDS, so they screened Eddie and..." Timmy broke down in tears.
"Oh, no, the poor boy!" his mother exclaimed in shock.
"Now he's got a death sentence, and there's nothing anyone can do, and I might be infected too, and there's nothing anyone can do..." Timmy rambled on in complete breakdown, one step short of hysteria.
His mother started screeching at him and a single ringing slap interrupted his mention that at least they hadn't rounded third yet, and he paled as he realized what he'd been saying in his near-hysteria.
Unfortunately silence wasn't enough of a defense as his mother began ranting. His ears were still ringing, and mind still scattered, but he caught the gist of her words as she rambled on. He was unclean, a fool, a gay pervert and doomed to die. He'd rot in Hell for his actions and she couldn't tolerate her son in that position. Slowly his ears cleared, but even as he understood more of what she said she grew more and more incoherent, rambling about people he'd never heard of, until finally she started hitting him. He'd had no idea how strong she was, and as he felt the darkness descend, he grabbed hold of it and pulled it between him and the pain.
He woke up the next morning with vague memories of what had happened. Memories of pain, and the certainty of his mother's rejection filled him, and he started sobbing until a nurse injected something into his IV. Soon the emotional pain was as numbed as the physical pain of cracked ribs and a concussion. He wasn't sure how long it was before he came to again, but a doctor explained the situation to him. He was free to leave in the evening, so long as he went straight home and stayed there for another twenty-four hours of bed-rest. He had a minor concussion and needed to rest -- no exercise, of any sort.
The doctor's meaningful glance at another problematic part of his body made Timmy blush. "I know it won't be fun, but I need you to take exercising that particular muscle out of your schedule for at least a week, Son," the doctor ordered. "I know it sucks -- if you'll pardon the pun -- but you really shouldn't be playing games with your heart rate and blood pressure. Any exercise is bad, and that particular one would be worse because of the way everything just 'happens' at the end. Thankfully, from the looks of things you won't miss a few days worth of workouts."
By now Timmy was beet red, and the doctor laughed as he finished his instructions. "Doc, do you do that with all your patients?" he heard a nurse ask as the Doctor left. The doctor whispered a reply, but Timmy couldn't quite catch whatever it was that made the nurse laugh. But he blushed even harder when he realized one of the words sounded like 'cute'.
The doctor had been hitting on him! How did he know? Who had he told?
Dad! What if Dad knew? Mom had probably already told him! Oh crap! As bad as Mom had been, how bad was Dad gonna be?
The night passed without word from his father, and Timmy quickly worked himself into a nearly hysteric panic, earning himself another sedative. In the morning, his father called ahead and told the hospital he was coming in.
Timmy was less than happy, when his father finally showed up. Not one word, all night long, and now he shows up. Timmy had stoked his anger to a fine rage, preparing for the knock-out fight he was expecting. And then a haggard scarecrow of a man, doing a fine imitation of his father, staggered into the room and began to speak.
"Tim... Timmy," he began in near tears. "Oh, Timmy, its your mother." His father paused for a few moments, while Timmy's stomach began to drop. His anger stood true for a few moments before he grew impatient.
"What happened, Dad? Why didn't you show like you promised?" he asked harshly.
"Your mother..." his father began. "Your mother was very upset. She was nearly hysteric, ranting on about God only knows what. Oh God I wish I'd stopped her, but she had made up her mind." His father took a deep breath and continued, "She decided she needed to go see her parents. She packed her stuff and took the car. I didn't... She..." his father broke off and looked away. "According to the police, she hit an ice patch and spun out of control."
"Is she..." Timmy started, but read the truth in his father's haunted eyes. "Oh Dad... Dad!" unable to continue, he broke down and started sobbing.
If the funeral had been like a foretaste of Hell, the empty, meaningless Christmas that followed it was the real thing. Timmy and his dad spent the weeks trying to heal, but nothing really seemed to happen.
Then came the thing Timmy was dreading. "Son, I've left you your space, but..." Dad sighed. "What happened? Why did she go off like that?"
"Dad-" Timmy began.
"I know, you don't want to tell me," Dad broke in. "I understand that. But I need to know! Don't you understand? She was my wife!"
"Dad, please... she... please don't ask!" Timmy begged. Dad's eyes just bored into him and Timmy sighed. Timmy could have cursed. He wasn't ready for this, not now! He wanted to wait... wait until he'd had his degree, until he'd been safe, economically.
"I'm..." Timmy's mouth refused to form the words, and he took a deep breath to regain control. "Dad, I'm gay," he forced out. Just like he'd expected, the words took a few long seconds to register. Dad hadn't been expecting it, and Timmy hadn't lain any groundwork.
Then came the reaction that Timmy, for all his obsession with running every possible scenario through to make sure he was ready for everything, hadn't expected. No expression of hurt passing across Dad's face, no statements of disbelief, nothing that could possibly be considered 'normal'.
A simple uppercut, driven by nearly three hundred pounds of muscle, sent Timmy spinning away in a haze of agony. Timmy couldn't even remember how to move before two feet planted themselves beside him. Two massive, powerful hands grasped him and lifted, and Timmy cowered, expecting more violence.
What he got was almost worse as he was contemptuously tossed over his father's shoulder, dragged out to the front door, and then dropped. He'd just barely managed to remember how to stand up when a pile of books dropped itself on top of him. Then clothes. Then his computer was carelessly dropped beside him, the monitor cracking as it was dropped, the case itself rattling down but hopefully intact. Soon the entire contents of his room, the entirety of his life, was piled on top of him, pinning him to the floor.
The pain in his head was growing as a man stood beside him and sighed. The tall, dark haired man knelt down and smiled at Timmy as he placed a hand on his shoulder. "You'll be fine," he said softly, dark green eyes whispering promises of protection as his nasal voice reverberated through Timmy's skull. "I know it hurts, but it'll pass, I promise..."
And with that promise, Timmy felt the darkness wash over him and claim him.
A month in the hospital, his mouth wired shut, had been an incredible agony. But eventually, Timmy knew, he would have to leave; and that was worse. After his jaws were freed from the excruciating agony of the wires, he was told he needed to stay another couple of days to make sure he was properly healed, 'just in case'.
When he expressed concerns over how he'd pay, or where he'd go afterwords, the nurses just smiled at him. "Payment was handled, as for where you'll go, we'll see," he was told once.
He could just see it now, they'd wheel him out in one of those little wheel chairs they insist on using. They'd get all the way to the front door before tipping it up and shoving him out, leaving him sprawled out on the ground in front of the hospital, laughing at the 'little fag'.
Timmy was broken out of his reverie by clothes being tossed in his face. "What the hell?" he swore, as he grabbed the clothes.
"Here I was thinking you'd be eager to get out of here," an amused man laughed. Timmy didn't recognize him, but his heart skipped a beat as for a moment he sensed something. Green eyes, a merry laugh, and the wind riffling through the dark blond hair; a stern look; a moment of sorrow as black leather was tossed aside; a moment of joy as a child was held up into the air, giggling; death's scythe in sweep of a leg. Then the moment passed, and the stranger was simply a stranger again. Timmy put the moment of deja vu -- if that's what it was -- aside and forgot about it. "Do I know you?" he asked, almost wincing at the cliched nature of the question.
"My name is Frank. Franklin Wallace, to be specific," Frank smiled. "I heard a bit about your situation, and I figured you could use a place to stay."
"And you just decided to offer?" Timmy asked, incredulous.
"Well..." Frank drew the word out, green eyes flashing with laughter. "Let's just say that a little bird asked me to take care of you."
"A little bird?" Timmy asked.
"You'll meet him sooner or later," Frank assured him. "I... owe him quite a bit myself, and he asked me to pay it forward, to you."
"Pay it Forward? Wasn't that-" Timmy began.
"A movie? Yes. But the concept fits," Frank shrugged.
"Well, I guess I'm hardly in a position to say no, but-" Timmy began.
"No buts," Frank broke in. "The friend in question was very insistent, and you are hardly in a position to say no."
Timmy's eyes narrowed. "I'd still like some questions answered, like what I owe for your generosity!"
Frank smiled. "And I'm more than willing to answer questions and concerns, I just won't take 'no' for an answer!"
Timmy laughed, and looked down at the clothes he was holding. Blinking, he lifted them up.
"The same friend who got me involved has been handling your affairs while you were incapacitated, including keeping your belongings safe," Frank reassured him.
Timmy felt tears rise in his eyes as he looked at the shirt. It wasn't simply the fact that it was his shirt, that his belongings were safe. This was his favorite shirt. And it most assuredly hadn't been in his closet at home when things went down.
"Eddie," Timmy whispered.
"He's had a rather rough month of his own," Frank told him. "His parents have been fighting him tooth and nail over coming to visit you since you've been in the hospital. Hearing you were gay was bad enough; hearing that he was your boyfriend triggered a rather predictable battle royale. His mother-"
"Step-mother," Timmy corrected him bitterly.
"Apologies. His step-mother has been particularly nasty, and is about to discover that a person can only be pushed so far," Frank said grimly. "And by 'about to discover', I mean that half of Eddie's belongings are already moved into the room you two will be sharing at my place. He's busy moving the other half before she gets home."
"Eddie is there?!" Timmy shouted, jumping to his feet.
"And the sooner you get dressed, the sooner we can go see him," Frank added with a smile.
Timmy rapidly started dressing himself.
The stinging pinpricks of the mist struck every exposed inch of skin mercilessly, a biting pain that couldn't distract Timmy from his inner anguish. Tears seemed to freeze in his eyes before they could fall, making him weep even harder than grief alone would have allowed.
"The Lord bless him and keep him, the Lord make his face to shine upon him and be gracious unto him and give him peace. Amen," the pastor finished.
Timmy rose on trembling knees and stumbled over to the grave. Reaching out, he touched the coffin with one numb hand and bowed his head. "Farewell," he whispered before placing a single white rose on top and walking away.
"Timmy-" Frank started.
"Not now," Timmy said numbly. "I need... I don't know what I need, but it doesn't include talking to you. Not right now."
"You need to talk, to someone!" Frank insisted.
"No, no I..." Timmy broke off. Closing his eyes, he broke. "I loved him, Frank. I loved him!"
"I know," Frank said, just as sad. "He should have had years to live, and it's all my fault-" Frank broke off.
"It wasn't your fault," Timmy told him. "The doctor's have never seen anything like it before, have no clue why the meds suddenly stopped working, but there was nothing you could have done to stop it."
Frank looked away, eyes haunted. "Perhaps. Still, you need to talk to someone."
"I'm going shopping," Timmy said, changing the subject.
"Excuse me?" Frank said, taken aback by the non sequitor.
"I'm going Christmas shopping," Timmy said slowly. "I need to get something for Dad."
"You haven't tried to contact him in months!" Frank exclaimed. "Why the sudden... wait, what are you thinking?"
"Right now, I need my Dad's arms around me," Timmy cried, "and I'll pay any price to get them! Even if I have to go through one of those stupid conversion therapy things, I need him!"
"Don't be an idiot!" Frank tried to change Timmy's mind, but Timmy just walked away. Sensing defeat, Frank just watched in horror as Timmy walked off.
Timmy almost stopped walking when he heard Frank yell angrily at someone "I quit," but he didn't.
"Are you alright?" Frank asked, concerned, when he saw Timmy's black eye.
"The bastard hit me!" Timmy swore, stalking in. His emotions had been far too whipsawed lately, and he felt he was ready to break, but he wasn't quite there yet. He was, somehow, holding himself together. Barely.
"Do you need to see a doctor?" Frank asked.
Timmy blinked and turned around. Frank was standing by the door, concerned. But... something was... off.
"Are you alright?" Timmy asked.
"Excuse me?" Frank asked, blinking.
"Sorry," Timmy shook his head. "It's just... you seem different."
Frank sighed. "I think it was the funeral," he admitted. "Seeing Eddie die... knowing there was nothing I could do to stop it, but feeling like I should be able to," he shrugged. "It made me look at things different. It made me look at you different."
"Me?" Timmy shook his head. "Oh no, don't you even-"
"No," Frank shook his head, cutting Timmy off. "Not like that. It's just..." He sighed. "You and Eddie were an item, and frankly you were always there for him. At times, it almost made me jealous. I wished I could have had someone who felt that way about me."
"OK, don't get me wrong Frank, but you're not my type," Timmy shuddered at the very thought.
"For the second time, that's not where I'm going," Frank snapped angrily. "Honestly, I've been too much of a parent to both you and Eddie to even-"
"Parent?" Timmy complained. "You're what, five years older than me, if that?"
Frank waved that off. "Who exactly helped keep you off the street after your father kicked you out?" he asked, irritated. "Who helped you find that job when financial aid ran dry? Oh, and while we're at it, who let your rent slide until your finances were back in order?"
"I paid you back for the rent!" Timmy shouted. "And you had nothing to do with that job!"
Frank raised an eyebrow. Timmy's voice rose as he grew angry, but Frank's dropped and grew chill. "Do you really think you got in on your good looks alone? Maybe if you'd slept your way into the position you could think that-"
"Enough," a firm voice ordered. Timmy whirled and saw one of Frank's friends at the door.
"Stay out of this Ronan!" Frank whirled and snapped. "I don't need you dogging my every step!"
"Don't you?" Ronan asked, almost amused. "Edward is less than a day in the ground and his two best friends are inches from killing each other."
Frank spluttered for a moment, then shoved his way past Ronan and out the door. Ronan shook his head then turned and faced Timmy. "What happened to your eye?"
"I don't want to talk about it," Timmy turned to go to his room.
Somehow Ronan got in front of him, and his hand lifted Timmy's chin until their gazes met. "Don't close your mind or your heart," Ronan told him sadly. "Edward wouldn't want that."
"How would you know what Eddie wanted?" Timmy shook himself free.
"Anyone who saw the two of you together could see the love in your eyes," Ronan told him. "Ask yourself, if it were you that died, what would you want Edward to do?"
Timmy looked down at his feet, knowing the answer but unwilling to voice it. In the bare moment before he could look back up and argue, Ronan had vanished, closing the door behind him.
In a flash of understanding, Tim realized that his memories were wrong. That wasn't what happened...
But memory eluded him. Even as he tried to clutch at the memory, it faded away, leaving nothing but the certainty that somehow, his memory was wrong.
Timmy stumbled out of the hotel bed and into the restroom, just barely reaching the toilet before his dinner came up. Gasping, he stumbled over to the sink and rinsed his face as best he could. His hands shook as he tried to clean up, and he could barely stand. Stumbling out of the restroom, he collapsed into his bed, kicking away the damp covers.
Eventually the sound of the hinges on the second bed penetrated his shaking and shivering, and he looked over. Through the dim light of the room, he could see Frank thrashing around violently. "You OK Frank?" Timmy asked, dragging himself out of his own bed. Not receiving a reply, he hit the night light to see better.
Frank's face was blue, and he was coughing up what looked like vomit as he shook. "Oh shit!" Timmy swore, reaching over to move Frank onto his side. Fumbling around, he grabbed the phone from the nightstand and dialed 911.
The next few hours were a blur, but he remembered very clearly when the doctors finally told them what their 'illness' was: copious quantities of GHB, probably slipped into their beers earlier that evening.
Frank, other than suffering from a dangerous overdose, was fine. Tim, after examination, still bore a few marks suggesting anal penetration. The doctor's weren't sure with what, since whatever it was was too thin to be phallic in nature, but something had definitely been inserted, and there were signs of some minor burns on the inside.
Tim slammed the door behind himself, to angry to wait the moment or two it would have taken to let him literally slam it in Frank's face. The apartment seemed too small for the two of them suddenly, despite the copious room for three it used to provide for them. There was, however, a solution for that.
He had enough money to stay a few nights at a motel, and first and last month's rent for an apartment... somewhere. Anywhere.
Son of a bitch.
"Tim, wait!" Frank bellowed as he pushed into the living room. "Damn it, just give me a minute-"
Tim whirled around, furious. "Give you a minute?" he hissed. "Give you another minute, you mean? After the one you wasted on my sperm doner?"
"He is your father," Frank pleaded him. "He got down on his knees and begged your forgiveness!"
"My forgiveness?" Tim couldn't believe the sheer audacity of the statement. "Do you remember what he did to me? The black eye, the shattered jaw, kicking me out of the apartment," Tim shook his head as he slowly listed off each item as if testing for a reaction. "Any of this ringing a bell?"
Frank took a deep breath, and backed away a few steps before continuing. "He's been an emotional wreck since your mother died, and you know it as well as I do," Frank pointed out. "He's trying to make up for it."
Tim recognized what Frank was trying to do. He just didn't care. "He can make up for it by jumping out the nearest window, preferably one high enough to kill."
"Tim!" Frank gasped.
"Fuck him!" Tim turned away. "And fuck you too if you're going to take his side!"
"Frank, get out of the room," a strange voice ordered.
"Bonds we shared, and bonds we have," the stranger recited. "Guarded well, and guarded true. Guardian thou art not. Leave."
Frank's spine straightened explosively, and he walked out of the room without saying another word.
But that wasn't how it happened! They'd argued, they'd fought, Tim had agreed to give him another day... no stranger had shown up!
"Your father made a mistake, and begged your forgiveness," the stranger told Tim.
No, that was the next day. His friend... his friend... Tim couldn't remember which of his friends had told him that, but it had been someone he'd known!
"Let he who is without sin throw the first stone," the stranger continued. "Have you made no mistakes? No errors you would give anything to take back? Give him a chance, Timothy, give him a chance!"
That wasn't what happened, but it was. The contradiction was almost enough to break the hold of whatever was happening to Tim, but the event was already fading. Memory flowed onward...
"Excuse me, Frank Wallace?" a pleasant young man asked. Tim and Frank turned around, frowning.
"What do you want?" Frank asked, annoyed. The timing was about as bad as it could be. They were busy packing to get the hell out of town. They didn't know what was going down, but they knew they needed to be elsewhere. Now.
"You are served," the man handed over sheaf of papers and walked away without another word.
"What?" Frank gaped, shocked. Opening the papers, he began to swear. "This is bullshit. Complete and utter bullshit!"
"What?" Tim asked.
"A paternity suit," Frank shook his head in disbelief. "Some bitch is hitting me with a paternity suit!"
"That's right," a woman commented behind them, her voice rich with amusement. "Come, meet your son, Frank."
Tim and Frank turned around, still slightly in shock. "Son?" Frank shook his head. "I don't believe it."
"Thankfully, Tim, you don't have to believe it," the woman smiled, trying to hand the baby to Tim.
"Um," Tim commented as she practically shoved the child into his arms, "lady, that's Frank, I'm Tim."
Her jaw dropped for a moment. "Oh no, you told me your name was Frank right before you slept with me!" she shook her head. "You're Frank Wallace, I'm not going to be tricked like that!"
"Would you care to see some ID?" Frank snapped, pulling his driver's license out. "Lady, who the hell are you and what the hell makes you think you can get away with slapping a paternity suit on a gay man?"
"He performed quite well in bed a year ago," she smiled, taking the license. "Nice bluff," she commented before looking down at the card in her hand. It slipped out of her grasp as she shook her head. "No, no no," she moaned. "Dammit!"
Frank picked his card up and smiled. "A year ago, you say?"
Tim looked at him, confused. "What does a year ago have to... do..."
"You remember the convention?" Frank commented, amusement battling with scarcely controlled rage in his voice.
"GHB, and traces that suggested rape," Tim agreed, turning a glare on the woman.
"What do you want to bet those burns were from her extracting sperm?" the rage was stronger now. "From the wrong man," the laughter started to break through. "I don't know whether to kill her or just laugh. She's after my money, tried to have a baby by me, and gets you as the father instead!"
"And I barely have a penny to my name at this point," Tim agreed.
"Fuck you both," the woman swore, snatching the baby away from Tim. "I'll get my money!"
"Stop," Frank ordered before she'd gotten ten paces. "Wait." The flat tone of his voice as he ordered her around penetrated, and she turned to face him.
"No child deserves to be raised by a harridan like that," Frank commented to Tim.
"Especially since her only concern is the money he can make her," Tim agreed grimly.
"You want him?" Frank asked.
Tim swallowed. "He's my son," he managed to say. "Flesh of my flesh, blood of my blood. Assuming we can trust her."
Frank nodded. "You leaving town anytime soon, lady?"
She frowned as she juggled the baby around to her other arm. "Can't afford to," she admitted. "I was going to wait a few more months before hitting you with the suit, but I'm broke and can't get a job." The tacit admission of her plan went unremarked as Frank nodded.
"The three of us are going to drive to your home," Frank ordered. "You are going to gather up all the babies things, and I'm going to call a lawyer friend of mine. He'll whip together a document signing over all parental rights to Tim here in return for certain considerations. To whit, a bus ticket out of here and a check for fifty thousand dollars."
"Fifty thousand dollars?" Tim exclaimed. "Can you afford-"
"Shut up," Frank cut him off. "Yes, I can afford it."
"One hundred thousand," the woman raised her chin.
"Fifty thousand," Frank repeated firmly, "and we promise not to seek to press charges for your assault last year. Or rape, or whatever they might decide to call it."
She considered that for a moment, then nodded. "You have a car?"
Time and memory flew past in a blur. Events from the past unfolded anew as Tim watched his life unfold around him. And then the moment broke as past merged with present, and he found himself hurtling through the empty otherspace he'd been consigned to.
"What. The. Hell?" Tim complained.