Friday, April 17, 2009

Earth Magic

Brodie ran up the stairs, collapsed wearily onto his bed and ran a tired
hand down his face. He was glad that his mother was working and that none
of his brothers or sisters had plans to drop by. The last thing in the
world he wanted or needed now was his brothers and sisters hovering and
fussing over him. He hoped he didn't look as drained and as fucked up as he
felt.

Thank God, the first week was over. When he had reluctantly accepted the
scholarship, he had no idea how drastically his life would be altered by
transferring to another school. Weary and dispirited, he wished he could go
back in time and decline the scholarship as he had initially planned to do.

He had attended the neighborhood Catholic school, St. Mary's, all of his
life. His brothers and sisters and even his mother had gone there too. Why
did he have to be the one to get a scholarship to some bougie school he had
never even heard of?

Three and a half weeks before the end of the previous school year, he had
been summoned to Sister Mary Helen's office. She had shaken her head with
exasperation when he had entered her office, full of exuberance and awkward
as a clumsy puppy.

Sister Mary Helen moved a few of the piles of papers on her desk closer
towards her. Experience had taught her, that if something could be knocked
over or broken, somehow, some way, Brodie would succeed in doing so. She
hastily drank the last bit of coffee in her mug before it could be
mysteriously overturned.

She sometimes surmised that Brodie had a force field of excess energy
circulating around him. She never actually saw him knock anything over;
things just seemed to move around him. He had a presence, this boy did.

Brodie sat on the other side of Sister Mary Helen's desk, waiting to hear
of his latest transgression. For once, nothing sprang immediately to
mind. Sister Mary Helen gazed at him expectantly.

She didn't have that, 'you better tell me what you've done before I tell
you,' look on her face. Nor did she have that stern look of disapproval
that seemed to be permanently etched upon her harsh features. She actually
seemed to be happy about something.

She was all but twitching with whatever it was. After she told him, he
could see that Sister Mary Helen had been taken aback and dismayed by his
less than enthusiastic response.

"Brodie," she had scolded, "this is an excellent opportunity for you. You
must accept the scholarship. No one has ever declined since The Paris
School started this program with us and you are NOT going to be the first,"
she had finished sternly.

Expressionlessly, sapphire eyes veiled by long, copper lashes, Brodie had
said, "Ok, sister."

"I'm serious, Brodie. You're not going to get away with agreeing like you
usually do and then going ahead and doing what you want," she said
grumpily.

Old adversaries, the two stared at each other. The warning bell for the
next class rang. Brodie's aquamarine eyes held a stubborn defiance that had
almost caused Sister Mary Helen to tear her hair out on multiple occasions
over the years. She grit her teeth, counted to ten and waited until the
bell announcing the start of the next class rang, before continuing to
speak.

"You're the smart one, Brodie," she said. "None of your brothers and
sisters earned scholarships."

"My brothers and sisters are doing very well, Sister," Brodie said
defensively, eyes flashing. "Quinn is an accountant. Cullen and Niamh have
their own businesses. Mary Katherine, Niall and Dyllan are working with
Cullen."

Sister Mary Helen made an impatient sound and waved her hand
dismissively. "I am not maligning your family, Brodie. I am merely saying
that this is an opportunity that must not be missed. You are intelligent
and talented. The Paris School can provide you with contacts, equipment and
more vastly skilled teachers than St. Mary's can. I don't want you to let
this go."

"I want to stay here," Brodie said. "I have everything planned."

Sister Mary Helen peered at him over her glasses. He glared back.

She was mean, ornery and cantankerous. She had been his first grade
teacher. She had told bible stories with such vivid, joyous and passionate
fervor that for months, he had wanted to be crucified upside down for Jesus
Christ like St. Peter or to be a Christian facing the lions in the arena,
bravely dying for his faith. She had short, gray, straggly hair, an old
wrinkled face, and ugly brown spots on her hands. And he loved her.

"Look around you, Brodie," she said gruffly. He glanced around her office
obediently, not really seeing that the wooden floor, although spotless, was
sagging and rotting in places. The paint was peeling from the walls and two
of her file cabinet drawers wouldn't even close all of the way. The rest of
the school was in similar condition.

"Maybe I should discuss this with Cullen or your mother," Sister Mary Helen
said slyly.

As the daughter of a military man, she knew that she was unfairly bringing
out the big guns for a small skirmish, when a little handgun would probably
do. She mentally shrugged her shoulders. This was Brodie and this was the
opportunity of a lifetime.

After graduating from the Paris School, all of the previous scholarship
recipients had gone on to attend prestigious colleges and universities and
develop successful careers in the field of their choice. She wanted no less
for Brodie. She knew that his mother and oldest brother, Cullen, would be
in complete agreement with her.

Sister Mary Helen could tell that Brodie was weakening. By the time he left
her office, even though he hadn't given in completely, he had promised to
think it over. Tapping her thin lips with her forefinger, she said a quick
prayer before mentally reviewing the Rolodex in her head.

She pounded the ancient desk with her fist, muttered a brief prayer of
thanks and started dialing. Even if this didn't work, she would keep trying
until Brodie gave in. She could be just as obstinate as he.

************************************

Several days later, Brodie was called to Sister Mary Helen's office again.
When he arrived in her office, she waved him to a seat and continued
talking with her visitors. Brodie sat there in stunned silence.

Unsuccessfully, Sister Mary Helen tried to hide a smile of satisfaction
when she saw Brodie's initial reaction. This wasn't a big gun. This was a
nuclear warhead. She had decided that there was nothing wrong with using
all of the ammunition at her disposal.

Jake Valencia. Luke Owens. Shit. Brodie thought he was gonna explode. Jake
and Luke were legends. Jake was some kind of baby genius. He and his
partner had created a series of videos for Luke's band that had won award
after award for the incredible computer wizardry.

And Luke, Luke was the shit. Luke set the standard for what a musician
should be as far as Brodie was concerned. He and his band, Lynx, were all
about the music. They rarely did interviews. As a group, their one
statement was that their music could speak for itself.

Brodie attempted to look them over casually like this was an everyday
thing. The first thing he noticed was the silent communication between the
two of them. Several times while they were talking to Sister Mary Helen,
their eyes had met; they had smiled at each other and then resumed the
conversation without missing a beat.

Brodie recognized that look. His brothers all had it when they looked at
their partners. He wondered if he would ever find someone who would love
him that much. Doubtful, he thought with a mental shrug. It didn't matter
anyway. He had already found his true love: music.

Brodie struggled to remember the name of Jake's company. Dream Weavers or
something like that. Jake's partner, Grace, had done a spread in People
magazine a couple of months ago. Jake, like Luke kept a low profile. Brodie
remembered that Grace had been quoted poking fun at herself and saying that
unlike her partner, she loved the attention.

Sister Mary Helen figured that she had given Brodie enough time to collect
himself.

"Brodie, I want you to meet Jake Valencia and Luke Owens. They both
attended The Paris School and I thought you might want to talk with
them. Jake also grew up in the neighborhood and attended St. Mary's."

Jake stood up and reached out his hand. Brodie towered over him. They both
had the same thought as amber crystal eyes met aquamarine: 'amazing eyes.'
Both felt a sense of recognition. Jake could see that like him, Brodie was
of mixed heritage. He also knew that Brodie was the youngest of a very
large family, just like he was.

"Hey, Brodie," Jake said. "I knew your brother Cullen back in the day," he
added with a wide, reminiscent smile.

Luke snorted softly. Jake looked at him and grinned unrepentantly. They
shared a look that made it seem as if they were the only two people in the
room and then Jake turned back to Brodie. Brodie knew his brother Cullen
and his reputation very well and wasn't touching that one. He shook Jake's
hand, still shocked that he was meeting someone who was a legend in and out
of the neighborhood.

Sister Mary Helen left the three of them alone to chat. Jake and Luke spent
almost an hour talking with Brodie. According to Luke, the music program
alone was good enough reason for Brodie to attend the Paris School. Luke
said that the opportunities to intern with well-known musicians and connect
with them were innumerable. According to Jake, the education Brodie would
receive would be invaluable.

Jake, coming from the same background as Brodie, understood what the
experience would be like for him. He warned Brodie that it would be a shock
to his system but that it would be worth it.

"The four years will pass by in a blink of an eye," he encouraged. "You
won't regret it. And you never know what will happen. I met Luke there," he
said softly.

Then he added, "I'm not saying you'll meet the love of your life there, but
life is full of wonderful surprises that you never imagine could happen to
you."

Jake and Luke left after securing a promise from Brodie that he would
contact them if he needed anything.

When she returned to her office, Brodie and Sister Mary Helen once again
eyed one another across from her desk.

Reluctantly, Brodie said, "I'll go."

Gracious in victory, Sister Mary Helen didn't even smile. At least not on
the surface.

Brodie sat there for a second and then said, "Sister?"

She raised bushy gray brows in inquiry.

"When I come back to visit, you'll still be here, right?"

She had smiled then, looking at the youngest child of a family that she had
loved and watched over for so long. "Yes," she said gently, gravelly voice
quavering. "I'll be here."

************************************

Now, having spent the past week feeling like he was in some sort of
alternate universe, Brodie was wishing that he had refused to go. Besides
the two other scholarship students who had come from St. Mary's, he had
nothing in common with anyone at the Paris School. He knew Cutter and
Sinclair fairly well. They had been going to school together since
kindergarten and he considered them friends.

The worst part of the week had been dodging all of the instructors who
harassed him about putting his sax in his locker. They must be out of their
fucking minds. He had carried that sax, in his every waking moment, since
he was eight years old. His brother Cullen had busted ass to give it to him
for Christmas.

He hadn't even asked for it. Cullen knew that he had idolized Maceo Parker
and always saw him walking around pretending like he was Maceo. Everybody
else played air guitar. Brodie played air saxophone.

So, whenever an instructor had informed him that he needed to park his
'instrument' in his locker, he had looked at them expressionlessly, agreed
with them and kept moving. Friday was the first day none of them had
hassled him. Maybe they were getting it.

His mother didn't call him dense, stubborn and hardheaded for nothing. She
claimed that they were O'Brien traits and that he seemed to have gotten
them in greater quantities than the rest of his brothers and sisters. She
said it was probably because he was the youngest.

The second worst part of the week is that he had never seen people so... He
couldn't even find the words. The world they lived in was totally different
from the world he came from. Although Brodie was very aware that life for
him was much different than it had been for his brothers and sisters, until
he arrived at the Paris School, he had never before realized what a big
difference having money could make.

A few years had made a critical difference in the way he was able to live
and the lifestyle the rest of his family was able to leave behind.

There was a lot more money available to the family as Brodie was growing up
than there had been when his older siblings were younger. By the time he
came along, his mother had completed college and had advanced in her
job. By the time Brodie finished first grade, his oldest brother, Cullen
was able to get a full-time job instead of doing the part-time work he had
been doing under the table because he was underage.

They weren't rich, but they had moved out of their old neighborhood and
were pretty comfortable. His brothers and sisters made sure that Brodie
wanted for nothing. He could have attended a different school, but he
hadn't wanted to leave St. Mary's.

St. Mary's was located in the heart of an impoverished area. Most of the
students were there on a variety of scholarships and grants. Some were able
to attend the school because they belonged to the church and received a
discount on the tuition.

At St. Mary's survival meant a day-to-day struggle for many of the
students. At the Paris School, survival meant wearing the right clothes,
driving the right car and being seen with the right people. After
witnessing some of his classmates at St. Mary's end up homeless, it was
difficult for Brodie to see the value in the things that the students of
the Paris School viewed as critically important.

The other thing was, as much as it embarrassed him to admit it, he missed
St. Mary's. He had grown up there. He had attended St. Mary's since
kindergarten. He knew all of the students in his class and most of the kids
in the other classes as well.

He knew which of the cooks he could cajole into giving him a little extra
at lunch. He knew which toilets to avoid because they overflowed on a
regular basis. He knew which ones of the nuns he could persuade to let him
leave class just a little bit early so that he could run to the music room
and play his sax for a few minutes until next class started.

Although The Paris School was nominally a private Catholic school, in
actuality it was more like a secular private school.

There were no more uniforms and there were no nuns here. The school was a
beautiful, modern structure. It was cold and unfriendly. Not like
St. Mary's at all.

Sinclair hated it just as much as he did. Today, after school, she had been
on a low simmer when the three of them had caught the bus back to their
neighborhood. Her black eyes had flashed furiously as she related, "She
said that I didn't, 'act black.' What the mutha fuck does THAT mean? Does
it mean I don't roll my eyes and shake my head when I say something?"

Brodie couldn't help it, he had looked at her brother Cutter and when their
eyes met, they both snickered. Sinclair had looked at both of them with
disdain and said, "Idiots."

"Chill and live, baby girl," Cutt had said. "Just give it a chance. That
was one person. One broad out of...what...I don't know how many, but that
was one broad out of a whole bunch of people. Y'all know what? You two had
your minds made up that you would hate it before you even started the first
day."

Brodie had been shocked into silence and he thought that Sinclair had been
too. That was the most he had ever heard Cutt say at one time. Sinclair and
Cutt were twins and she was usually the spokesperson.

It wasn't the first time he had witnessed Cutt calming his volatile sister
down though. Sinclair was the first to admit she had a big 'ol chip on her
shoulder. Cutt was the only one who had the nerve to call her on it though.

Brodie was extremely grateful that he didn't have to endure attending the
Paris School for the next four years by himself. Having Cutter and Sinclair
there with him would at least make it tolerable. There was one more thing
that would keep him going: his Music Composition class.

It was awesome, incredible, off the hook, bangin'. Every time he was
reminded of yet another reason why he hated the school, he'd think about
the Music Composition class as the one positive amongst the negative. The
instructor was really cool too. The music program at the Paris School was
world renown.

Brodie sighed and rolled his shoulders. Thank God, the week was over, he
thought to himself again. He grabbed his sax, walked up to the attic and
started playing.

Once the mouthpiece touched his lips, his entire body relaxed and he closed
his eyes. He blew lightly and a sharp, lonely sound hung in the air. He
blew into the mouthpiece again, harder this time and sustained the note,
clear and achingly sweet.

His long, dexterous fingers lovingly manipulated the keys as he continued
to expel air into the mouthpiece. Light and sound permeated every cell of
his body and spilled over into the room. He was transported to another
universe.

Bliss.

**************************************

2


The air was warm, humid and fragrant with the scent of freshly mown
grass. The silver glitter of twinkling stars blanketed the night
sky. Cricket song and the soft rustle of nocturnal creatures traveling
through the night were the only sounds that interrupted the hushed calm of
their surroundings.

Jackson and his grandmother were in the 'backyard' as his Granny called
it. They were sitting in an old fashioned gazebo. His grandmother had
claimed a very small corner of the several acres of land located behind
Jackson's parent's large home. It was the only thing she had ever requested
from her daughter.

There were wild, colorful, blooming flowers all around them, courtesy of
his grandmother's green thumb. His Granny had created an enchanted hideaway
for the two of them. She lit a citronella candle and set the tray she had
been carrying down on a small table next to the porch swing.

Her hands, small and sure, deftly rolled a cigarette as Jackson watched
with his customary fascination. When she finished, she beckoned Jackson
towards her. "C'mere old man," she said. Jackson moved into the comforting
warmth of her petite frame. Even though she was in her sixties and he was
six years old going on seven, they were just about the same size.

She placed an arm across his shoulders and pulled him even closer. For a
few, serene, silent moments, they rocked on the porch swing. "This is our
church," she said in a low voice that remained dulcet as honey and crystal
clear despite decades of smoking.

"You know why?" she asked, rubbing her cheek gently across the top of
Jackson's head. He shook his head no.

"Because, this is all God's creation. Where we are, right now. This is
what's real and what's important. Not that big house over there.

Or all them cars your Mama and Daddy got. The real important things in life
can't be bought with money, old man, and that's a fact."

She took a sip from the tumbler full of golden amber liquid resting on the
table next to them then handed Jackson his glass. It held ice water with a
minute dollop of J.D. that he coaxed from her each evening. She lit her
cigarette and continued.

"You don't need a preacher or even the Good Book to tell you what's right
or wrong, old man," she said. She put a tiny hand over Jackson's heart,
"You will always know, right in here," she said. "Always listen to your
heart."

She tugged his hair and gently pulled his head back so that she could look
into his eyes.

"You hear me, old man?"

He nodded again, blue eyes solemn and earnest, absorbing her every word.

"Okay, let me find our place." She turned the pages of the book in her lap
rapidly. "Book of Ruth, right?" she asked.

She felt Jackson's head nodding in agreement at against her side, found
where they left off the previous evening, and started reading.

Jackson turned restlessly, tangling himself in the bed sheets and the film
in his head fast-forwarded.

"Grandma, your eyes are yellow," he had said.

She had looked at him and laughed skeptically, wondering what he was trying
to pull on her now. They were best friends and partners in crime, always
trying to get one over on each other. Her laughter had faded when he said
urgently, "Granny, go look in the mirror."

She had looked at the expression on his face and then walked silently into
the bathroom. When she came back out, identical blue eyes held similar
expressions of fear, which each had tried to conceal from the other. 'Death
comes in threes,' she had said to him two weeks before when his father's
uncle had died of a heart attack. A cousin of hers in South Carolina had
died two months prior to that. Jackson recalled her words with a sense of
foreboding.

"It's probably nothing," she said. "I'll pray on it."

"What about the doctor? Shouldn't you call him?" Jackson asked.

She snorted rudely. "Old man, doctors are for sick people. Your granny
ain't sick."

It had taken several weeks, but finally Jackson had persuaded her to go to
the doctor. He had stayed home from school so that he could accompany
her. She had driven them. So slowly that Jackson had teased her that he
might as well be driving.

She was admitted to the hospital directly from the doctor's office. Jackson
had whitened with fear when the nurse came out and asked him for his
parents' work numbers. Once he had given them to her, he had been too
stunned to ask the nurse what was going on before she quickly walked away.

He turned restlessly again. The bed sheets were damp with his
perspiration. He was beginning to cry in his sleep. When he awakened, he
had no awareness of his dreams, but felt hung over and like he hadn't slept
at all.

***********************************

The Ice Queen was in rare form when Jax entered the kitchen the next
morning. Her slanted, artic blue eyes surveyed Jax with disgust.

"I hate that outfit. Do I need to increase your allowance again? You look
like you've been shopping at Wal-Mart."

Jackson stood there without comment, knowing that if he let her get
whatever it was out of her system, she would leave him the fuck alone over
the next several weeks. He had known she was home the instant he had come
downstairs. The house felt different when she was there.

She had a face that would have been cute on someone else. Her hair was
black and iridescent as a crow's wing, cut ruthlessly short, her nose was
tilted slightly, she had perky, warm dimples that were rarely seen, and a
small pointed chin. Her ears were small and the tips formed a barely
noticeable point. On her, the face was harsh and scary.

The Good Fairy's evil twin. He hated that face. The worse part was, he
looked at it in the mirror every day, as infrequently as he possibly could.

He absently noted that his father was sitting at the table. He was hunched
behind his newspaper. Hiding as usual.

Jackson tuned back in just as his mother was winding down. Still silent, he
walked to the second floor to gather his books for school. He had about
ninety minutes before he needed to leave.

If he had known they were home and up so early, he would have stayed in his
room and grabbed something to eat at McDonald's later. He expelled a sigh
of relief as he closed his bedroom door and kissed the picture of his
grandmother that was resting on top of his dresser, as he always did
whenever he entered the room. He flicked a switch and the CD player came
on.

Linkin Park, good, that's exactly what he was in the mood for right now. He
walked over to his closet, pulled out a bottle and a glass, opened the mini
refrigerator in the corner, grabbed some ice and fixed himself a
drink. J.D. He sipped slowly, savoring the taste and the burn as it went
down.

This is it. Life. He snorted softly. He pulled out his journal and read
what he had written yesterday.

Let it go

I used to think that there was a logic to this thing but now I know I was
wrong hurt

hurt

is the only logical thing it exists and therefore it is for no reason
without end

He laughed to himself. He was no Shakespeare, that's for sure. He flipped
through the pages, skimming over previous entries, and a few moments later,
picked up a pen and started to write. As he listened to his favorite song
play, he doodled in his journal.

When it was over, there was a noisy burst of chaotic sound as he picked up
the stereo remote and flicked from one CD to the next to find something
that could fill the quiet, lonely room. He threw the remote onto the floor
next to him.

He jumped up and paced the length of his room back and forth, edgy with
nerves. Glancing at his watch and seeing that only a few minutes had
passed; he grabbed his portable CD player and put his headphones
on. Ignoring the drink he had prepared, he took a couple of fiery swigs
directly from the bottle. He left the house without saying anything to his
parents. They didn't notice.

Impatiently, Jackson circled the busy downtown Baltimore streets searching
for a parking space. After several unsuccessful attempts, he gave up and
parked at a garage. His stomach roiled and twisted with a sick feeling of
anticipation as he made his way towards the bus station. When he arrived
there, he walked swiftly towards the bathroom, like he had every right to
be there, not allowing himself to think about what he was doing.

He stood at the urinal farthest away from the door so that he could eye
newcomers as they arrived. Eventually, an attractive, rumpled guy about ten
years older than he came into the room. Jackson surveyed him casually but
thoroughly. He met the guy's eyes and gave him an unsmiling look of
approval.

Without checking to see if he was being followed, Jackson entered the
nearest stall. He waited anxiously, pants unzipped, cock primed and
ready. A finger appeared through one of several different size holes in the
wall and gestured at him.

Immediately, he stuffed his erect penis through the hole and inhaled
sharply when he felt warmth and heat surrounding the head. He held still,
permitting the guy to control the pace, enjoying the feel of the soft mouth
working so gently on him.

As the guy sucked him hungrily, making barely audible slurping sounds,
Jackson flipped through the catalogue of guys in his head and settled on a
new face he had seen in school this week. He was tall with a narrow face
and wide shoulders. Jackson wondered what kind of body was hidden beneath
his baggy clothes.

He had lustrous, copper colored hair; pulled away from his face into a
long, fat braid that hung down his back. He had the most amazing,
incredible, beautiful eyes Jackson had ever seen. A clear, Caribbean Sea,
blue green.

Jackson's cock hardened further as he imagined that face on the other side
of the wall, pleasuring him. He felt his balls tighten and draw up. So
close.

His breathing quickened and his hands clenched at his sides. He panted,
harsh, rapid, noisy gusts of air as the rush of pleasure engulfed him. He
came fast and hard. The guy swallowed eagerly, not letting go until he had
consumed every drop of the salty, gooey fluid.

Jackson backed away from the wall, stuffed his penis back into his pants
and zipped up. As always, he returned to his surroundings consumed with a
mixture of guilt and shame. He looked around, suddenly aware of the filthy,
sticky floor, graffiti laden walls and the pungent odor of stale urine.

He wondered if the few, sparse moments of pleasure and forgetfulness were
worth how he always felt afterwards. Sad. Lonely. Dirty. He tugged on the
sleeves of his shirt, glanced down at both wrists, and then left as quickly
as he arrived.

Now that he had found what he had been looking for, the walk back to his
car seemed to take forever. He felt conspicuous, as though everyone he
passed by knew what he had been doing. He put his headphones on, allowing
the cleansing, crystalline voice of Bjork to wash over him. When he reached
his car, he retrieved a bottle from beneath the seat and took a couple of
quick sips before he started off for school.

**************************************

That night, once more, Jackson slept restlessly. He woke up around two am,
looked at the clock and noticed the date. Four years to the day. He turned
over and fell back into restless slumber. In the morning, he had no memory
of awakening.

When he awoke, Jackson had an inexplicable feeling of apprehension. Both of
his parents were sitting at the table in a frigid silence when he entered
the kitchen. Shit.

He hated it when they were home. They both traveled frequently for business
and very often, he had the entire house to himself. He didn't miss either
one of them when they were gone.

When his grandmother was alive, she had loved to tell Jackson the romantic
story of how his parents had met. As he grew older, Jackson had realized
that she never told the story in front of his mother. As he grew older, he
had realized why.

His mother would have hated his grandmother's version of events. Hearing
Granny talk about how his mother had met his father in law school and how
the poor girl had fallen in love with the rich boy and married him would
have really pissed her off. His grandmother made it sound like a Cinderella
story. Jackson later understood that to Granny, it was.

Unfortunately, the story his grandmother told had no basis in reality as
far as he could tell. His parents seemed to hate one another. He often
wondered why they bothered to stay together.

When he arrived at the school parking lot, Jackson took another quick sip
from his flask, put his headphones on and entered the school with the rest
of the students. He was digging around in his locker; searching for the
books he needed for his first few classes, when his headphones were
abruptly snatched from his head. Fuck.

Jackson turned around, already knowing what he would see. And there they
were. Assholes. Skip, Marcus, Tracey and Danny. They had been tormenting
him off and on since first grade.

"Jacqueline, oh Jacqueline," Marcus sang in a saccharine falsetto.

"How's our girl doing today?" Danny asked.

Jackson regarded them coolly. He didn't respond, just looked on with weary
resignation as Tracey put his headphones on.

"What the hell are you listening to?" Tracey asked.

Jackson didn't answer. He stood there, quiet and insubstantial as a ghost,
watching dispassionately as they passed the headphones from one to the
other while ridiculing his choice in music. He knew they would only go so
far.

Since eighth grade, he had had one or the other of their cocks in his
mouth. He was pretty sure none of them knew about the others. He was also
pretty sure that they all wanted to keep it that way. Sooner or later, he
knew they would get tired of playing with him and move on to their next
victim.

"Hey, Jackson, what's up?"

Startled, Jackson turned to see the new boy speaking to him. They had never
spoken before. Although he had made a point of finding out who Brodie was,
he didn't think Brodie knew he was alive, much less knew his name.

Scenting fresh meat, the other four boys turned in unison to face Brodie.

"Well, if it isn't...." Marcus started to say, still speaking in falsetto
tones.

The look in Brodie's eyes stopped him mid-sentence.

Instantaneously, Brodie turned from prey into predator. His quiet demeanor
transformed into menace so quickly that even Marcus was taken
aback. Brodie's eyes were flat, hard and cold as a winter sea.

Taking in the scene at a glance, he snatched the headset off Skip's head
and the CD player out of his hands so rapidly that they were back in
Jackson's hands before Skip could utter a protest. The four boys slunk away
quietly and didn't start mumbling low threats until they were about ten
feet away.

Slightly bemused, Jackson smiled gratefully at Brodie. "Thanks."

Brodie nodded. He looked Jackson over quickly, fascinated. To Brodie,
Jackson looked like something out one of the children's books his mother
used to read to him when he was a little kid: a creature of Fairy. He was
small, with delicate, elfin features.

His eyes were a clear, pale blue surrounded by a dense fringe of long,
silky black lashes. His shoulder length hair and eyebrows were a thick,
dark, gleaming onyx. He held his body tensely, as though he was constantly
on the defense and prepared for danger to strike at any moment.

Equally fascinated, Jackson looked up at Brodie. They were so close
together that Jackson could see the sprinkling of small dark freckles
across Brodie's golden apricot skin. Brodie's eyes held a fierce,
concentrated intensity that belied the low-key profile he kept around
school. If he hadn't seen Brodie in action, he would have been as
intimidated by him as the four assholes who had just left.

Jackson was an observer. All last week his eyes had followed Brodie's every
movement. He had noticed how Brodie always had a quiet word with people he
saw sitting alone and away from anyone else. He had noticed how Brodie had
casually rescued other people from Skip, Marcus, Danny and Tracey without
anyone really being aware of what he was doing.

"Where's your first class?" Brodie asked.

When Jackson told him, Brodie said, "I'm headed in that way too. C'mon."

They started walking together. Jackson pulled up his sleeves and looked
down at both his wrists, somewhat anxiously, Brodie thought.

"We're not late," Brodie said reassuringly.

Jackson looked up at him and did not correct Brodie's assumption that he
had been checking the time. "Okay," he said.

When they parted ways, Brodie said, "I'll see you later."

"Okay," Jackson said.

In the few minutes that he had remaining before his class started, Jackson
listened to Linkin Park again; the volume on his headphones was turned up
as loud as he could get it. The music penetrated the wounded layers of his
soul, settled into all of the hurting places and took him away from there
until he could bear to return.

He kept thinking about Brodie all day. There was something about Brodie
that intrigued him and made him want to get to know Brodie better. He
laughed sardonically to himself. That was highly unlikely. The habits of
solitude were hard to break.

By the time he saw Brodie again, at the end of the day in their Music
Composition class, Jackson had concluded that Brodie was the kind of person
who felt sorry for people. Every person he had observed Brodie talking to
or rescuing were people that were considered losers. Is that how Brodie saw
him? Probably. He grimaced.

When he saw Jax enter the classroom, Brodie called out, "Hey Jax, what up?"

Jackson almost looked behind him. Jax?? Well, it was better than
Jacqueline. When Brodie motioned him over, Jax noticed the two people
sitting next to him. They were identical in feature except for gender.

They had to be twins. Even sitting down, it was obvious that they were
almost as tall if not taller than Brodie's six feet plus inches. They were
both the color of bittersweet chocolate with black, shining, almond shaped
eyes.

The girl's braided hair was parted on the side with a streak of gray in the
front. The guy had short dreads; the ones in the front were all gray. They
both had high, sharply carved cheekbones.

"This man here is, "Big Noise", also known as Cutt or Cutter. And this lady
here is "Sinful", also known as Sinclair."

Brodie flinched as Sinclair popped him on the arm with a fist. Jackson
looked at the three of them curiously. He hadn't known any of them for more
than a week, but even he could tell that Cutter was a man of few words.

Jax was pretty sure he had never heard Cutter speak more than three or four
words at a time. In Music Composition class, he made himself understood
with brief, succinct answers. Jax wasn't sure how someone like that ended
up being called "Big Noise."

"Alright, Dirty," Cutter said to Brodie, nodding his head in a manner that
was slightly threatening.

"Yeah, Dirty," Sinclair added. "This is Brodie," she said to Jackson with a
wicked grin that lit up her face and made it even more beautiful if that
were possible. "Also known as "Dirty Harry," she continued with a laugh.

Jackson looked at Brodie speculatively, 'Dirty Harry', he mused. Couldn't
figure that one out either. But Sinful was easy, he thought. Even he could
tell that Sinclair would be just about anyone's idea of a wet dream.

"Since we're conducting introductions," a voice behind Jackson said, "I'm
Christian."

Christian Jensen, compact, sturdy and as short as Jackson, walked up to
them and held his hand out to Sinclair. She looked at his hand as though it
held something poisonous. When she realized he was being sincere, she shook
his hand and gave him a reserved smile.

His round, hazel eyes stared into hers, entranced. Surprisingly, without
making comment, Sinclair tugged gently at their clasped hands. Christian's
fair skin revealed his embarrassed flush as he let her hand go.

Brodie and Cutt exchanged an amused glance. Guys reacted to Sinclair like
that all of the time. Sinclair hated it. She was not impressed with herself
or with the reaction. "They just want to fuck me," she'd say. "If they ever
had that reaction after they get to know me, then we got something to talk
about."

"You don't let them get to know you," Cutt had muttered once when he heard
her say that for the thousandth time. Sinclair had given him a withering
look and not said anything else.

Christian held out his hand to Brodie and Cutter. Mr. Baird walked into the
room as they were completing introductions.

"Glad to see that you're all getting acquainted," he said. "Because this is
it."

They looked at him with questioning expressions on their faces.

"I've just come from the office. Apparently, there has been some type of
misunderstanding. Did you all sign up for Music Composition or for Music
Comprehension?"

When they each stated that they were there for Music Composition, Mr. Baird
sighed with relief and grinned widely. "This may not be a bad thing," he
said. "We can get a lot more accomplished with a smaller class and there's
a couple of things I'd like to experiment with if you are all agreeable."

They nodded their heads in agreement. Mr. Baird rubbed his hands together
and said, "Okay, let's get started."

************************************

3

Later that day, Jax became consciously aware of the date. Since the first
anniversary, he tried not to notice. Four years to the day. His nonexistent
heart shattered all over again. Five weeks, two days, six hours and
seventeen minutes. He had painstakingly calculated the time it had taken
for him to lose everything in his life that mattered.

The day his grandmother had been diagnosed with the cancer that had ended
her life so abruptly was burned with brutal accuracy in his memory. His
mother had come to pick him up from the doctor's office, angry that she had
to pick him up and take him to school. When he had protested that he wanted
to go to the hospital with his grandmother, his mother had said, "You are
going to school. No arguments."

He had subsided with bitter fury. How could this... person have come from
his grandmother? Her mother was sick and all she was concerned about was
returning to work in time for a meeting.

The only time his grandmother had ever become upset with Jackson was when
he had made a disparaging comment about his mother. She had erupted
furiously, tiny body quivering with rage, "Ah don' evah wanna hear you
disrespectin' your mama like that again, Jackson," she had said.

"Nevah. I'm 'shamed of you." Her southern accent was more evident than
usual, thickened with anger.

Her eyes had welled with tears the instant his did. Her anger evaporated as
quickly as it had appeared.

"C'mere, old man," she said.

He had walked to her side hesitantly, hurt and embarrassed.

She guided him over to one of the many potted plants in her bedroom and
said, "Me and you is like these plants here. These 'ol plants, why, if I
was to forget to water them for a couple of days, maybe even a week, they
might not like it, but soon as they got some water, they'd be fine. That's
how me and you is, old man."

Taking his hand gently in hers, she walked him over to a small, fragile
plant with tiny pink blossoms. "Now your Mama, your mama is like this
plant. If I don't water this plant, if I don't take care of it right, it's
gonna wither up and never be the same. Probably die, most like."

She stopped speaking and stared down at the plant for a long time. Jackson
waited, serious blue eyes wide and trying to understand, until she began to
speak again.

Her pale blue eyes had darkened to midnight with painful memories. "Old
man, when me and your Mama lived in Tennessee, it wasn't like this life you
have here. There was times when we was hungry, times we did without."

His grandma's lips trembled and she pressed them together firmly. "And your
mama ain't never been the same." She stared into Jackson's eyes
intently. "You understand me?"

"Yes, ma'am," he had said, even though he wasn't entirely sure he did.

So, that terrible day, instead of expressing resentment, knowing that it
would upset his grandmother if he did so, he settled back into the seat and
didn't utter a word throughout the drive to school. He had spent the day
distracted, confused and attempting to conceal his sorrow.

Throughout that day, he had released his heartache in quick, unobtrusive
trips to the bathroom where he'd lean against the stall and sob into his
hands, stricken with anguish and fear. When he was able to regain control,
he'd splash his face with cold water and return to class. He shared his
grief with no one, and no one noticed the always quiet, small, twelve year
old boy whose world was caving in around him.

Today, over four years later, it had started all over again. He wasn't
twelve years old anymore, and a significant amount of time had
elapsed. Still, the pain was as raw and as fresh as if it had all just
happened.

***********************************

Brodie was glad that they were given ninety minutes for lunch. That was one
of the few things he liked about this school. The ninety minutes was
considered free time but they could not leave the school campus. He was
cool with that.

While exploring during his first week at the Paris School, Brodie had found
a small, dense grove of trees on the edge of the school grounds. It was
isolated and as far as he knew, no one came out here. This was one of the
ways he made it through each day. After three weeks, he still hated it here
but he was handling it; he could see no other choice.

Jake hadn't pulled any punches. He had been honest when he described how he
felt when he transferred from St. Mary's to The Paris School. Somehow,
knowing that Jake had been through what he was experiencing made it a
little easier for him to handle.

Brodie had felt so close to Jake. Even so, he would never take Jake up on
the offer of calling him and letting him know how things were going. Brodie
assumed that Jake had probably said that just to be nice.

Having Sinclair and Cutter there was pretty cool too. But they were so
close that even though he knew they didn't mean to, he felt excluded from
their little circle. He also would never complain to anyone in his
family. They had all been so excited when he had told them about the
scholarship. There was no way that he would do anything to disappoint them
or to have them worried about him.

He put the mouthpiece of the sax to his lips. With a soft exhalation of
air, he created a series of dark, moody tones that drifted into the air,
fell like teardrops and floated mistily away. Jax, sitting outside having a
forbidden smoke, heard and was compelled to follow the haunting, melancholy
sounds. He sat outside the thick wall of tall, green trees and listened.

Brodie was talking and Jax could understand the language. Here was someone
who was as alone as he. Jax finished another cigarette and left before
Brodie could find him there.

************************************

Brodie was pissed off with himself. He had missed the damn bus. He had
remained after class talking with Mr. Baird. They were over two months into
the first semester. Brodie had questions about the next assignment. It
would be a major portion of their grade.

Before they left, Cutter and Sinclair had reminded him that he had only
minutes to spare. When Mr. Baird mentioned Ronnie Laws and Donald Byrd,
Brodie had become more deeply engrossed in the conversation and lost track
of time. When he suddenly realized how late it was, he ran to the bus stop,
only to see the tail end of it as it rolled away.

He waited at the bus stop for awhile then decided to walk back to the music
room, hoping Mr. Baird would let him stay in there to wait the hour or so
until the next bus arrived. There was a small listening room in the back
that Mr. Baird said they were free to use whenever they liked. He just
wanted them to keep it clean and to remember to lock it when they were
done.

A faint whisper of sound had Brodie straining his ears the closer he got to
the classroom. The hair on the back of his neck stood on end when he
reached the door. There was an eerie, beautiful, unearthly sound: a pure,
very high, almost shrill note. It was so penetratingly clear that he could
hear it through the closed door. The note was held so long that it couldn't
be voice but he didn't recognize the instrument.

Brodie looked through the window. It was Jax. He had his headphones on, his
eyes were closed and his small, lithe body was fluidly dancing around the
room. He leapt and twirled as he sang, arms and legs moving in an
intricate, complex dance, like a shaman conducting a healing ritual.

His voice went so low and then so high that Brodie listened open mouthed,
stunned at his range. As far as he knew, Jax played the guitar. He had
never mentioned that he sang too.

Brodie walked into the room and put his sax to his lips. He played a few
notes softly, following unerringly along with the wordless melody Jax was
singing. Jax's eyes flew open. He whirled around and ripped his headphones
off, startled and a little scared until he realized it was Brodie.

Brodie nodded at him, too caught up in the music to stop playing. He jerked
his head again, insistently this time and Jackson sang a few, low,
tentative notes then louder as he saw Brodie smile around the mouthpiece of
his sax.

Jax closed his eyes and blew. Icy chills crawled across Brodie's skin as he
heard the desolate, soul-piercing wail. He followed Jax's lead, with the
lustrous, golden tones of the sax, sunshine in the meadow to Jax's glorious
wildflowers, in complete harmony.

They played together until Jax stopped singing and said to Brodie. "C'mere,
I wanna show you something." He stopped and tilted his head.

"You ever been back here?" he asked.

When Brodie shook his head no, Jax surprised both Brodie and himself by
grabbing Brodie by the hand and pulling him into the listening room.

"Dayum," Brodie said, looking around in amazement.

"Some awesome shit, right?" Jax asked.

The walls of the room were lined with CD's. All types of music: classical,
hip-hop, R&B, rock, alternative, country; it was all there. There was also
a wall covered with pictures of Mr. Baird with various well-known
musicians.

"Dayum, son, this is off the Richter," Brodie said.

"You know The Music Company?" Jax asked, naming a group that had been
extremely popular back in the day before they both had born but was still
well remembered and respected in the music industry.

Brodie nodded his head again.

"Mr. Baird was a founding member," Jax said. "He doesn't really talk about
it. Probably doesn't want to brag," Jax said.

That's probably why Jake told him he should check out Mr. Baird, Brodie
thought.

Brodie and Jax sat in the listening room for hours, talking about their
favorite music and playing songs for each other. Brodie looked at his watch
and said, "Shit."

"What?" Jax asked.

"I missed the fuckin bus AGAIN, the last bus," Brodie said.

"I'll give you a ride," Jax offered.

"Nah, man," Brodie said. "But thanks anyway. I'll call one of my brothers
and ask them to come get me."

Though Jax's face didn't show it, Brodie could tell he had hurt his
feelings a little bit.

"It's too far, man. I can't jam you up like that. I live in West
Baltimore. That's at least thirty-five minutes away."

"It's cool," Jax said, the tight band around his heart loosening. "I don't
have anything else to do."

"Okay," Brodie said, accepting reluctantly. "I hate to ask you to drive me
that far but I appreciate the hell out of it."

On the way to Brodie's house, Jax confessed to listening to him play at
lunchtime. Brodie said, "Oh yeah? I'm glad you told me. I thought there was
maybe a ghost or something there. I could feel a presence but I didn't see
anybody."

Jax smiled and said, "No, it was just me."

He gave Brodie a curious, sidelong glance. "Do you believe in ghosts and
stuff like that?"

"Yeah, I do," Brodie said. "One of my sisters has dreams that come true
sometimes. And my mother has worked in a nursing home for twenty something
years. She said sometimes she feels her patients who have died watching
over her."

"I wish I could believe that," Jax said softly. "My grandmother died around
four years ago. We were very close."

"She's watchin' out for you, man," Brodie said. "You can believe that."

Surprisingly comfortable discussing his beloved grandmother with someone
else, especially someone he really didn't know that well, Jax continued,
"Sometimes I think I hear her voice or feel her around me, then I think its
just my imagination. Or that I'm crazy."

Brodie laughed and said, "Well, my mother would be the first to admit to
being a little crazy, but I believe her. She said that the veil between
this world and the next is very thin. But then again, my mother believes in
fairies and brownies and I do too."

Jax gave Brodie another sidelong glance, not sure whether or not he was
serious and then decided it didn't matter. He kind of liked knowing someone
who wasn't afraid to say that they believed in fairies and brownies. And he
wanted to meet this woman who would be the first to admit to being a little
crazy.

When they arrived at Brodie's house, Jax was torn between hope and
fear. When Brodie invited him in, he ignored the fear and accepted
eagerly. Jax was not sure of what exactly was going on and he hated
that. But a voice he had thought sounded like his grandmother had told him
once that, 'life was a great adventure,' and he desperately wanted to
believe that.

He was lonely and he had no friends. He had halfway convinced himself that
he didn't want or need friends. When he met Brodie, he had to acknowledge
to himself that it was not true. He hoped that he was not one of Brodie's
charity cases. Some loser Brodie thought he had to take care of or
something. He really wanted to be Brodie's friend.

When they entered Brodie's house, Jax immediately fell in love with the
layout. "My brother Cullen hooked this up. He and his partner live on the
other side. My mother works nights so he put this side entrance in for me
so I won't wake her up. He set it up so she has everything she needs on the
first floor and I have like an apartment on the second floor."

Brodie's mother wasn't home so he showed Jackson around her apartment. It
was spotless, and had a warm, homey feel. Brodie said that his brother
Cullen had knocked down a wall and created a huge kitchen. His mother had
wanted to make sure that there was enough room for the entire family to fit
in comfortably.

Brodie showed Jax around his apartment and then into the attic. Jax looked
around in wonder; the walls were paneled and soundproofed, Brodie
explained. The attic was a combination music room and studio. Brodie had a
keyboard in there, a tenor sax, a flute and a violin.

"Do you play all of these?" Jax asked with amazement.

"Yeah," Brodie admitted, flushing as Jax gave him an admiring glance.

"Where did you get all of this stuff?" Jax asked.

"My brothers and sisters," Brodie said. "If I just look at something or
they even think I want something, they get it for me."

"How many brothers and sisters do you have?" Jax asked.

"Four brothers and two sisters," Brodie answered. "I'm the youngest."

He took Jax downstairs to his bedroom and they sat down side by side as
Brodie flipped through the pages of a photo album and showed Jax pictures
of his family. As Brodie pointed out various members by name, Jax was
reminded of the closeness he had shared with his grandmother. In just about
every photo, Brodie was cradled protectively in the arms of one of his
brothers or sisters and surrounded by the rest.

Gradually, Jax became aware of how close together they were
sitting. Brodie's jeans clad thigh was rubbing against his khakis and he
felt the warmth from Brodie's body heat. He looked down at Brodie's large
hands, long fingers and muscular arms. The hair on his arms was golden red
and so fine that Jax was aching to touch it to see if it was as soft as it
appeared to be.

As Brodie turned the pages of the photo album, his hands and arms held Jax
mesmerized. His skin was golden apricot and lightly freckled. Jax wondered
if Brodie had those cute freckles all over the rest of his body. He
wondered if Brodie's skin tasted as smooth and as creamy as it looked.

He felt himself hardening and gave Brodie a guilty sidelong look. God,
please don't let him see. His feelings of arousal were so strong, almost
overpowering; he was certain that Brodie could somehow detect how turned on
he was.

Brodie turned his head, distracted by Jax's quick movement. Their faces
were so close their noses brushed. Disconcerted, Jax leaned backward a
little. Could Brodie tell? Was he mad?

He searched Brodie's aquamarine eyes. They were guileless and innocent. Jax
sighed, relieved and disappointed. Brodie was soooo oblivious. Brodie
grinned at him and unable to resist, Jax smiled back.

Jax wondered if Brodie lived in the real world. He was such a combination
of tough guy and innocence. At the start of the school year, Jax had
chuckled to himself a couple of times when he first noticed the reactions
Brodie would get when he went to the rescue of people he thought were
lonely or picked on. The other kids were stunned; nothing like that had
ever happened in the Paris School. The school was so small that everybody
knew everybody.

The school held grades one through twelve. Most of the kids had been going
to school together since first grade. They were divided into groups that
had been in existence since first grade and those boundaries were never
crossed. At least not until Brodie arrived.

Once they realized he wasn't mocking them, the kids Brodie approached
welcomed his overtures. He moved in and out of the different groups with
ease. Doing his own thing.

The only ones he really couldn't tolerate was the four person jackal pack
that had been harassing Jax. They seemed to pick on any vulnerable person
they could find and they had obviously been doing it and getting away with
it for years. They gave Brodie a wide berth. After tangling with him a
couple of times and walking away with bruises, they opted to leave him the
hell alone.

Brodie leaned forward and gently pushed a lock of hair that had fallen into
Jax's face, behind his ear. Jax tried to hide a shiver of desire mixed with
discomfort. He wasn't accustomed to being touched so casually.

He noticed that Brodie's personal space was a lot smaller than his. He most
definitely would not have allowed someone else to get so close. He didn't
understand why he was so comfortable with Brodie's proximity.

To distract himself, Jax looked back down at the photo album. "How many
brothers and sisters did you say you have?"

Jax was looking at a picture of a boy Brodie had previously identified as
his brother Dyllan, holding a toddler Brodie on his lap, surrounded by two
other very young children. One was a girl with a smile as wide and as
bright as the sun and the other a cute Asian boy with a kitten face.

Brodie chuckled and said, "I have four brothers and two sisters but you may
as well say that Lacey and Kai are my sister and brother too. Not by blood,
by the heart."

As they continued to look through the photo album, Jax experienced a
renewed sense of loss. It had been several weeks since the fourth
anniversary of his grandmother's death. He still missed her so much.

She was the only family he had ever had. His grandmother had come to live
with his family right after he was born and she had raised him. He and his
grandmother had lived an existence separate from his parents, even though
they all lived in the same house.

Jax got up, walked over to his backpack and removed a silver flask. He
offered it to Brodie, "Want some?"

Brodie looked from the flask to Jax.

"You drink?" he asked.

Jax thought he heard disappointment in Brodie's voice.

"Just a little," he said. "You don't?"

"Nah, man. I don't mess around. Too many alcoholics in my family."

Jax didn't know what to say in response to that so he didn't say
anything. The mood in the room had changed. After another thirty minutes or
so Jax decided to go home.

For the couple of hours that he had been with Brodie, the constant
heaviness in his chest, that ever-present, uneasy feeling in his stomach,
had abated. The feelings returned as he shrugged into his coat and prepared
to leave.

Jax's raised sad blue eyes to Brodie's face and there was another brief,
awkward silence. Once again, he didn't know what to say. Brodie was the
first person he had met in a long time that he thought could possibly be a
friend.

Brodie smiled at him, a friendly, lazy grin, as he drew Jax forward and
buttoned his coat. He straightened the collar and very carefully brushed
back a lock of Jax's hair that had fallen forward onto his face. Jax didn't
move, feeling a mixture of wonder, uneasiness and relief beneath Brodie's
ministrations.

Since his grandmother had died, he had become very unused to being
touched. Maybe he hadn't fucked up after all. Maybe Brodie wasn't mad at
him.

Jax didn't know it, but Brodie didn't see anything unusual in what he was
doing at all. He was only doing to Jax what his brothers and sisters did
to him all the time. He was treating Jax like a little brother. Even though
Jax was older, that was how he was beginning to feel about him.

"Ok, now you're straight," he told Jax and stepped away from him.

"Be real careful driving," Brodie said at the door. "I'll see you in school
tomorrow."

" 'Kay," Jax said. When he reached his car, he leaned back in the seat. His
heart was suddenly lighter in his chest as he relived the feelings he had
experienced as Brodie had handled him so solicitously. He felt something
that he hadn't felt for a very long time: like there was someone in the
world who might care whether he lived or died.

***********************************

4

Over the next few months, Jax and Brodie began to spend most of their free
time together, drawn together by their love of music and a similarity in
viewpoint, despite their disparate backgrounds. Jax didn't have the
all-consuming love of music that Brodie did. For Jax, the music was
something he liked, another escape. For Brodie, it was his life. He had to
make music or die.

At lunchtime, they would go to the grove of trees on school grounds. Jax
would listen to Brodie play his sax while writing in his journal. Most of
the time, he was pretending to write in the journal while he watched Brodie
instead.

Unblinkingly, he'd stare at Brodie's long fingers lovingly polishing his
sax and wonder what it would be like to have those fingers caressing his
body as carefully as Brodie cared for his instrument. Brodie had owned it
for just about half of his life but he took such good care of it that it
appeared to be brand new.

He'd watch Brodie's full, finely molded lips form an oval around the
mouthpiece and imagine those lips on his, kissing their way down his body
and engulfing his cock. And Brodie's hair, that glorious hair, a thick,
shiny, plaited rope, hanging almost to his waist, gleaming like red gold in
the autumn sunlight. He envisioned himself, unbraiding all of that hair,
strand by strand, taking his time, rubbing its softness across his body,
burying his face in it.

Jax would look at Brodie, observing his fierce, controlled intensity, his
sensuality and focus, totally submerged into his music, and wonder what
would it be like to see that heat and sensuality released in physical
desire. What it would be like to have Brodie's long, muscular, naked body
rubbing against him skin to skin. Brodie inside of him fucking him slowly,
thoroughly, just like he did everything else. Brodie was a perfectionist in
all things; Jax knew that he would be an expert lover.

He'd speculate about Brodie and some of the girls that seemed to be
pursuing him. Brodie was nice and friendly to them all. He loved to dance
and would attend the school mixers, sometimes by himself and sometimes with
Jax. But he showed no particular interest in anyone.

Jax swore to himself everyday that he would not torment himself with this
impossible desire and endless speculation but every day he would end up
looking Brodie over hungrily, starving for him. Every day, by the end of
lunch period his cock would be hard, aching and dripping. It took
tremendous, impossible force of will to make it subside before it was time
to go back to class and to keep Brodie from noticing.

By the end of each day, Jax would be in agony. On the days he didn't give
Brodie a ride home, he would rush home and jerk off. Some days, he didn't
even remove his pants; all it took was a couple of hard squeezes to get him
off. At night, he would lay naked in his bed, penis stiff with need,
caressing and stroking himself slowly. He'd turn over and grind into the
mattress, rubbing his turgid length against the sheets repeatedly until
he'd cum frantically, groaning Brodie's name.

The fall weather had been unseasonably warm. Eventually, the cold forced
them inside to the school cafeteria for their lunch breaks. Cutter,
Sinclair and Christian joined them and it became routine for the five of
them to hang out together. By the time the first semester had ended, the
five of them were a close-knit group. Brodie started teasing Christian
about being the 'lost triplet.'

One of the special projects Mr. Baird had assigned them was due at the
close of the second semester. He had instructed them to compose a piece,
play it during class and to explain the thought process behind the
development of the piece.

They had anxiously played fragments of their compositions for each other
and as the due date approached, they were all nervous. Brodie was unnerved
by his feelings of trepidation. He had been playing musical instruments all
of his life. He had been in the band at St. Mary's, such as it was.

This was the first time he had worked with a musician of Mr. Baird's
caliber. This was the first time he had performed in front of people that
he now considered his best friends and whose opinion he valued and
respected.

He played for his family but they were supposed to say complimentary
things. He was the baby. Even if he had played like shit they would have
told him he sounded good.

Today was the day. Sinclair was startled and dismayed when Mr. Baird
selected her to go first. Then she shrugged and said, "Cool."

As she walked to the front of the room, Christian's hazel eyes followed
her, full of longing, admiring each confident, graceful sway of her supple
hips. She sat down, pulled the congas between her thighs, closed her eyes
and took a long, deep, cleansing breath. Her strong, calloused hands
stroked the drum with a tender caress. She made a couple of movements with
her hands that created a sound like trees, rustled by a gentle wind.

Then there was a rapid pounding, like running feet. As Sinclair played, her
hands told a story of heightening tension, fear and devastating loss. The
haunting, primal rhythm she ruthlessly pounded out seemed to be bursting
with horror and rage.

One by one, those listening closed their eyes, lost in the story she was
telling. Sinclair ended the story with a blazing fury of sound, her hands
moving faster than seemed possible. Perspiration gave her exotic face a
slight sheen that glistened against her deep, chocolate skin. The abrupt
silence, when she suddenly ceased playing, was disquieting.

Sinclair's voice was huskier than usual when she started speaking. "This is
Papa," she said, gesturing towards the congas. "I call him that because his
voice is deep and mellow but can be hard and stern when necessary." She
smiled faintly as they quietly laughed.

Sinclair swallowed and continued nervously, "I wrote part of this piece a
while ago. I had just read this book called Beloved. Oprah Winfrey made a
movie out of it, years after the book came out.

I was real disappointed that people didn't get the movie, because I had
this burning desire to talk to someone about the book. Cutt started it but
didn't finish because he said it was too dark. I guess the movie was too."

Her voice was trembling slightly as she said, "The book tells the story of
a runaway slave. She's captured running off with her children. When she
realizes that they're about to get caught, she kills one of the children, a
little girl. She probably would've killed them all if she had time. The
story tells of how the slave and the remaining children are haunted by the
death."

Sinclair blinked rapidly. "Sorry, if I'm rambling. I couldn't figure out a
way to summarize the book that would give it justice. That would show the
power and beauty of it. I'm a mother...."

Her voice trailed off and she struggled not to wince at the identically
shocked expressions on Jax and Christian's faces.

"I'm a mother and I could understand how this insane act of madness and
murder was an act of love and sanity."

Sinclair lost the battle with her tears. They overflowed and trickled down
her face. "I guess I'm like those people who feel like the Civil War
happened yesterday. Because every day of my life I remember that I come
from a people who were enslaved. It's like the memory of it is embedded
into my bones or something. Anyway, that's why I wrote the piece."

Mr. Baird was silent for a moment and then said, "Thank you, Sinclair. That
was a beautiful piece of work."

Sinclair flushed with pleasure and then sat down.

Jax was next. He played the guitar very competently and gave an excellent
presentation on the composition of his piece. Brodie was disappointed that
he didn't sing.

Cutter was third. He kept his eyes closed as he played, totally engrossed
in the music. He started the piece with a whispered chord of sound. He was
able to coax unbelievable sounds from the guitar. When Jax heard the first
incredible sound, his mouth dropped open and he turned to look at
Brodie. Brodie made a dramatic gesture with his hand and whispered to Jax,
"I give you Big Noise."

As Cutt's playing progressed, it became evident that his was a great
talent. His skill level was beyond his years but didn't match the sheer,
raw talent of his playing. When he was finished, he bowed low, said,
"That's some of the music playing around in my head," and sat down.

Unsurprised by Cutter's brevity, Mr. Baird hid a smile and thanked him.

Brodie was next. He played a song he had written for his brother Niall when
Niall was living on the street. Niall had been strung out but no matter
where he was or what he was doing, he would send his baby brother a note or
a postcard. Sometimes, it would just say 'Hi,' with a smiley face next to
it and be signed with a big N.

Somehow, Brodie was able to capture both Niall's playful spirit and the old
tears beneath his smile and incorporate them into the song, alongside the
deep love he had for his brother.

When he was finished, Sinclair briefly clasped his hand, as he walked by
her to get back into his seat and said, "You got it, baby."

Christian sat down at the piano and said, "First, I'm gonna play a small
part of the piece, by the Master, that was the inspiration for this song."

Brodie frowned. Jax saw his expression and then he gave Brodie what Brodie
thought of as "The Look." His blue eyes were wide, solemn as usual, a
little impatient and very intent, waiting for Brodie to catch up to where
he was. 'Think, Brodie, think.'

Ohhhh yeah. Thelonius Monk. Christian's idol. Brodie nodded at Jax to show
that he finally got it.

Christian started out playing Thelonius Monk and then gradually
transitioned into his own work. It started out melodic and almost
sugary. The kind of tune that loops around in your head for days, knocking
insistently until you sing it out.

His fingers flew adroitly over the keys, eliciting a brilliant cacophony of
sound that brought Brodie to his feet. Brodie stood, head back, eyes
closed, swaying, enthralled by what he was hearing. Unable to stop himself,
he brought his sax to his lips and added his voice to Christian's creation.

A few chords later, Sinclair joined in, setting the beat. She wasn't
attempting to rein them in; she contributed an untamed cadence that
complemented Christian's wild melody. Cutt walked over to the piano, next
to Christian and played a chord. Christian looked over at him, tossed his
sandy hair out of his eyes and grinned. Cutt coaxed sounds out of his
guitar that had Christian laughing with joy.

Jax threw his head back and howled, a low, mournful, aching lament. In
unison, the rest of them turned to look at him.

Damn.

They kept playing and Jax started chanting over the music.

Inside I am so full of tears That I could howl Like a dog And keep howling

His voice, bittersweet and poignant, soared over the music, blending with
it and enhancing the sound. Every now and then, the rest would look at him
in astonishment, disbelieving that such a small, slender body could contain
that extraordinary voice.

Step by step, Christian broke it down, slowed them all and brought them
back in. They looked at one another in stunned, dazed silence and then
turned to Mr. Baird.

"Well," he said, smiling and rubbing his hands together. "Looks like you
guys have some talking to do."

When the amazed silence continued, Mr. Baird said in exasperated tones, "Is
it just me? You guys don't think it's a cool kind of magic that the five of
you are in the same place, same time, making this kind of music?"

He looked at them over old-fashioned horn rimmed glasses. "I'm going out of
the room for a little bit. You guys take your time. If you need a late
pass, don't worry about it."

They looked at each other. Finally, Brodie cleared his throat and said, "I
don't want to be rich and famous."

Jax's laughter broke the tension. The rest of them joined in except for
Brodie.

"I'm serious," he protested.

"I know, that's what's funny and cool at the same time," Jax said.

"You know what? What about the name Cool Magic for the band?" Christian
asked.

"What band?" Cutt asked.

"Nah, not Cool Magic," Sinclair said. "What we just did wasn't cool. It was
hot."

"Fire Magic," Christian said.

"What band?" Cutt asked again.

"Earth Magic," Sinclair said. "I think we sounded...gritty...raw...deep
like earth."

"Yeah, I like that," Christian said.

"I think we're in a band, Cutt." Jax said.

Cutt reached into his pocket, retrieved an envelope and handed it to
Christian. "Check this out when you get home. Forgot to give it to you the
other day," he said.

"I don't want to be rich and famous," Brodie repeated.

"What do you want?" Jax asked.

"I want to make good music. I want to be in control." Brodie answered.

"Hold up everybody," Sinclair said. "I think we're all wired. Let's take a
deep breath and focus."

She looked at Cutt, smiled and said, "Keep up little brother."

What band?" he asked.

They all started laughing.

"Ok, what Brodie said," Sinclair said, then paused for a second to gather
her thoughts. "Is that where we all are? Good music and keeping control?"

The rest of them nodded.

"One thing," Cutt, always the peacemaker said, "Any beefs stay between the
people involved." They all nodded again.

Brodie said, "My mother always says, 'Settle it and squash it now.' Any
beefs get settled right away," he added.

"Cool," Jax said.

"We need to talk some more," Sinclair said. "Mr. Baird is right. This is
too cool to let go."

"Magic?" Cutt said, black eyes twinkling. "What band?"

"Earth Magic," Christian said, grinning at Cutt and enjoying his crazy
sense of humor.

"Can we do your house tonight, Brodie?" Sinclair asked.

"Yup" Brodie said.

"One more thing," Sinclair said. "I'm a mother and my son comes first,
before anything else."

"Agreed," Christian said.

"And no, I'm not married. And no, I'm not on welfare," Sinclair said
harshly.

Christian looked at her, lifted his right leg and kicked at the air in
Sinclair's direction. She looked at him through fierce, narrowed
eyes. "What the fuck is you doing?"

"Knocking the chip off your shoulder."

Jax and Brodie held their breath.

Cutter started laughing so hard that he had to grab onto a chair to
stabilize himself. Sinclair glared at him and then smiled unwillingly. "Go
on to your next class. Just go."

She turned her attention to Christian. Amazingly, she wasn't
angry. Christian hadn't expected her to be. He seemed to know her better
than any of them had suspected.

Cutter patted Christian on the back. "I love you, man."

"Am I officially adopted now?" Christian asked.

"Yeah."

"No."

Sinclair and Cutt responded simultaneously.

"Ok, which one of you said, 'No'?" Christian teased.

While the three of them playfully bickered back and forth, Jax made
arrangements with Brodie to give him a ride home.

**********************************

Sinclair and Cutt walked Christian to his class and proceeded on to
theirs. Before they entered the classroom, Sinclair placed a restraining
hand on Cutt's arm. When he halted she said, "You love Christian don't
you?"

Cutt had looked at her silently for a few moments, as if he were trying to
determine what to say and how to say it. He said quietly, "Not like you
do."

Sinclair put her hands over her ears. "Shut. Up. I don't..."

She stopped speaking when Cutt looked at her out of reproachful black eyes
and said, "This is me, baby girl."

"I don't WANT to love him," Sinclair said.

Cutt knew better than to comfort her.

"He's a good guy," Cutt said.

"I know," Sinclair said angrily. "I know."

********************************** 5

After school, when Brodie and Jax settled into Jax's car, he reached into
his backpack, grabbed his silver flask and took a couple of swallows.

"You shouldn't drink and drive," Brodie said.

Jax started the car without responding to Brodie's statement.

"Did you know you can become an alcoholic with your first drink or your
hundredth?" Brodie asked.

"You're just full of information aren't you, Brodie?" Jax asked.

"Yup," Brodie said.

"Don't you ever get tired of trying to save the world?" Jax asked, turning
in his seat to face Brodie.

"Yeah, I do," Brodie admitted. Heart racing, he leaned back and closed his
eyes. Finally, someone had seen through him.

Jax pulled out of his parking space and started the journey to Brodie's
house.

What just happened? He felt like he had just kicked Brodie in the
teeth. Brodie was always coming up with little tidbits related to drinking
and alcoholism and throwing them at him. Today, when he had explained why
he had written the piece, Brodie had mentioned that he had been inspired by
his brother Niall's struggle with alcoholism and drug addiction.

So, Jax knew that Brodie meant well, but damn, all he did was take a couple
of swallows every now and then. He wasn't an alcoholic and he didn't use
drugs.

After he parked the car, before Brodie could get out, Jax said, "Hey,
Brodie, wait a sec."

Feeling silly, Jax ventured hesitantly, "Look, I didn't mean to...hurt your
feelings."

"You didn't," Brodie said softly. "Let's go inside."

When the others arrived, Brodie showed them upstairs to his
studio. Christian was the only one who hadn't been there before.

"Wow, this is cool," Christian said, looking around the room. When he
observed the violin, keyboard and various other musical instruments lying
around, he asked Brodie if he played them all.

"Yeah," Brodie said.

"Mr. Baird is like that too," Jax said, his first words to Brodie since
they had left his car and entered Brodie's house. He and Brodie had sat
quietly in the studio until the others arrived.

Cutter was moving around the studio picking up things and putting them out
of reach, baby proofing the room. Sinclair was unable to find a babysitter
on such short notice, and had brought her son with her. He squirmed
restlessly in her arms, patting her face and saying, "Down, mama, get
down."

Sinclair's face was uncharacteristically soft as she smiled at him and
said, "Wait, Stevie. Uncle Cutt is getting the room ready for you."

"Unca Cutt," Stevie repeated. He wiggled impatiently, his round, baby face
revealing his desire to explore his surroundings. As soon as Sinclair set
Stevie down, he made a beeline for Christian, who was sitting on the
floor. Stevie put his face next to Christian's.

"Hi Stevie," Christian said. "I'm Christian."

"Uncle Christian," Cutt corrected.

"Ten," Stevie said. "Unca Ten."

"Yes," Christian said, pumping his fist. "Now I have a name too."

The others looked at him like he was crazy.

"Sinclair aka Sinful, Cutter aka Cutt or Big Noise, Jackson aka Jax, Brodie
aka Dirty and now..." after a significant pause, he continued, "Christian
aka Ten. Thanks, Stevie."

"Welcome," Stevie said. He moved restlessly in Christian's arms. When
Christian released him, Stevie stood up, turned around and backed up into
Christian's lap.

Christian was an only child and had never been around small children
before. He didn't know why Stevie had chosen his lap to sit in but he was
glad he did. Stevie cuddled into Christian's lap and Christian awkwardly
wrapped his arms around him. He looked up and found Sinclair's eyes
watching them.

He returned her searching look gravely, hazel eyes a little sad. He was
disappointed that Sinclair had concealed Stevie's existence from him but he
understood. Sinclair was guarded more carefully than a military
encampment. He had thought that they were becoming closer, had hoped that
she was beginning to trust him.

Sinclair tried to interpret what she saw in Christian's eyes. She saw
disappointment, yes, but not the disapproval that she had feared. Maybe
she was reading into it, but somehow, she thought that Christian was
disappointed, not because she had a child, but because she hadn't confided
in him.

She had never thought that she would become this close to someone other
than Cutt. She hadn't even been this close to Stevie's father. Christian
fit. When he was with Cutt and her, it wasn't like it usually was when
someone else was there: us and them. When the three of them were together,
strange as it sounded, they were a unit.

Still, since she was unaccustomed to explaining herself or even caring
enough to want to, Sinclair found herself at a loss. It was just a guess
anyway. She had no way of knowing what Christian was really thinking and
she had too much pride to ask him. She was never going to allow herself to
be hurt again.

She lowered her eyes, beginning to feel defensive. How did he do it? How
did he get to her like that? She took a deep breath, attempting to calm
herself down. She knew how unpredictable her temper was. It would be unfair
to unleash it at Christian just because she was feeling so vulnerable right
now.

In any case, she would not act like that in front of Stevie. She knew what
a bitch she could be. Stevie didn't and never would.

"Ok," she said. "Here we go. Let's talk. Cutt says keep our beefs to
ourselves. Brodie doesn't wanna be rich and famous and says we need to
settle beefs right away. My son comes first. Who else wants to add to the
wish list?" she asked.

"If we're gonna keep control and not be rich and famous that means we're
gonna be local and it means we'll be recording and distributing our music
ourselves. If nobody else wants it, I'll take the marketing piece,"
Christian said.

"You can have it," Jax said.

Everyone else agreed.

"We can talk to my brother Quinn about the money part," Brodie said, "and
any artwork we need, we can talk to Kai about."

Cutt surveyed the room with an expert eye and said, "We can get the
recording stuff one piece at a time," Cutt said. "Looks like you have most
of what we would need already. At least to start with."

"Cutt's been working with the choir of our church in the recording studio,"
Sinclair said. "He's been doing some producing, I think. I don't know
exactly what he does but he knows what he's doing."

Cutt nodded.

They talked over the next few hours, dividing up responsibilities and
sharing ideas.

As they were breaking up, Brodie said, "One more thing."

"What?" Sinclair asked.

"NO drugs or alcohol. If none of us get started, it will never be a
problem."

Sinclair and Cutter nodded in solemn accord. Christian nodded too, smiling
agreeably. Jax didn't say anything.

No one noticed but Brodie. He watched as Jax quickly unbuttoned the cuffs
of his shirt, looked at both wrists and just as quickly pulled them down
neatly in place and re-buttoned them. As Jax turned to leave, Brodie asked
him to stay.

Face pale and drawn, Jax agreed. He waited in the studio while Brodie
walked the others down the stairs. When Brodie returned to the studio, Jax
was sitting cross-legged on the floor, reclining against the paneled wall,
eyes closed. He looked small and defenseless.

"I'm not an alcoholic, Brodie," Jax said tonelessly.

"I've never said you were," Brodie replied. "But you drink," Brodie
said. "Why is that?" he asked.

Jax opened his eyes and responded tersely, "Because I feel like it."

"You drink all fucking day long," Brodie said. "And you get sick."

Jax flushed when Brodie referred to finding him behind the school throwing
up once and another time throwing up in the bathroom.

"Maybe you're not an alcoholic...yet...but you definitely have a
problem. And why do you do THAT?" Brodie asked in exasperated tones as Jax
avoided his eyes and unbuttoned his sleeves again unconsciously.

Jax's fingers froze on the buttons.

"What are you doing?" Brodie asked. "What are you looking at? Why do you do
that all of the time?"

As Brodie was talking, he was moving towards Jax. He knelt down next to him
and finished what Jax had started. After an initial attempt at resistance,
Jax sat passively, while Brodie unbuttoned one sleeve. When he saw what was
beneath, Brodie hesitated and then almost reluctantly unbuttoned the other.

Brodie had a sudden memory of the first time he had seen Jax do, what over
the past several months, he had come to realize was an unconscious and
automatic gesture, whenever Jax was upset or nervous. That first time,
Brodie had thought that Jax had forgotten which wrist his watch was on.

Glancing down at the deep gouges in Jax's wrists that were apparently
self-inflicted, Brodie had no idea of what he should say. He sat down on
the floor next to Jax and did what his mother or big brother Cullen did for
him when he was hurting. He pulled Jax into his arms, rocked him like he
was a baby and said, "I'm here now."

Jax felt like someone had yanked his intestines out and stomped on them.
He was ashamed that now Brodie knew he was so weak, such a coward. He was
angry that Brodie kept digging at him. Most of all though, securely
enfolded in the warmth of Brodie's arms, he felt safe; he hadn't felt that
way since he had lost his grandmother to cancer.

They stayed there like that, huddled on the floor until they were both
stiff and cramped. Jax had almost drifted off to sleep but Brodie's
grumbling stomach was noisy and his legs were beginning to hurt. He roused
himself grudgingly. Brodie's lean, lanky frame was surprisingly
comfortable.

Brodie tried to get Jax to stay over but Jax refused. He told Brodie that
he needed some time alone to think. On his way home, Jax automatically
reached for his flask. He put the flask down and picked it up several
times. If he drank it now, no one would know. He could start fresh
tomorrow.

He would know.

If he drank it now, it would mean that all of his denials that he had a
problem had been a lie. Jax picked up the flask, took the top off with one
hand, held it upside down and let the fluid drain out as he drove down the
highway. He felt a fleeting sense of relief and then an almost overwhelming
wave of despair.

Was it habit or a problem? He wasn't so sure. When he reached a stoplight,
he rolled up his sleeves and looked at his arms.

The first time he had tried to kill himself, no one even knew about it. The
slices had been so shallow that they had bled a little and then
stopped. Fear had overwhelmed the desolation and prevented him from going
any further.

He had been thirteen years old. His grandmother, the only person in the
world who had ever cared for him had died one year to the day earlier. His
heart and soul had died with her.

The second time, a week later, he had been more determined. He had sliced
and gouged at his wrists so viciously that he had left permanent scars. His
father, arriving home unexpectedly, had found him collapsed on the kitchen
floor and bleeding profusely.

The doctor, a friend of the family, had come to his house. He had
recommended counseling. Jax adamantly refused to go and after several
months passed with no further incidents, his parents seemed to forget all
about it.

Jax drove home at a snail's pace, distracted and overwhelmed with
memory. He was afraid to stop driving, afraid to stop moving. He picked up
his cell phone. "Brodie," he said haltingly.

"Jax, what's wrong?" Brodie asked.

"Brodie, I'm scared."

"Are you home?"

"No," Jax said.

"Where are you?" Brodie asked.

"I don't know," Jax said.

"Tell me what you see."

After Jax described his surroundings, Brodie said, "Ok, I know where you
are. I'm coming to get you."

Brodie kept Jax on the landline while he used his cell phone to call his
oldest brother, Cullen. When he finished speaking with Cullen, Brodie told
Jax he was on his way. He called Jax back on his cell phone as he walked
next door to the part of the house owned by his brother Cullen and his
partner Shannon. They were already in their garage waiting for Brodie in
Shannon's SUV.

"Thanks, guys." Brodie said. "I need one of you to drive Jax's car back
here, is that ok?" he asked.

"No problem, Baby," Cullen said.

"What's up, Shannon?" Brodie said.

"Hey, Baby," Shannon said, reaching over and tugged on Brodie's braid.

Brodie felt better immediately just being in their presence. He got in the
back seat of the vehicle. He could hear Jax breathing but he wasn't saying
anything.

"Jax, are you okay?"

"Yeah," Jax answered.

"I'm coming to get you," Brodie said.

"I know," Jax said.

"I shouldn't have let you leave," Brodie said.

There was a painful stillness.

"I tried to kill myself when I was 13, a year after my grandmother died.

Say something, Brodie," Jax said into the silence.

"I don't know what to say. It scares me when you say that. I don't want to
lose you," Brodie said. "I'm afraid you'll do it again."

"No, I won't," Jax said.

"I've figured it out, Jax," Brodie said. "You always look at your wrists
like that when something upsets you. You think about doing it again don't
you?"

"I don't mean to," Jax said, eyes closed, voice hushed, holding onto his
cell phone as if his life depended upon it.

"It's like once that became an option, it's always there when things get
bad. I know that I can just leave. Anytime I want. It helps me to deal."

"It can't ever get that bad. It won't ever get that bad." Brodie said. "I'm
here now. We're all here now. You're not alone anymore."

"No one's ever wanted me before. Other than my grandmother. One time, when
I was eight, at this big party..."

Jax was breathing rapidly. Brodie could hear harsh puffs of static as Jax
exhaled into the mouthpiece of the phone. He could barely understand Jax's
garbled, staccato speech.

"Jax," Brodie said firmly. "Slow down. Calm down."

Jax lit a cigarette with trembling hands. He smoked it halfway down and
then resumed where he left off, his voice as shaky as his hands, "My mother
introduced me to one of her friends, as 'this is the one I didn't want.' I
still don't know what she meant by that and I've always been afraid to ask.

She had dressed me up like I was a little toy. The first time she had paid
any attention to me in months. Took me out like I was a little trophy or a
show dog. When she was done with me, she threw me back to my
grandmother. It hurts Brodie.

It hurts. Not having anyone care about me. If I died tomorrow, I really
don't think anyone would notice."

Jax screamed quietly into the phone, "I can't cry. It hurts but I can't
even cry. I don't have a fucking heart. I'm just like her. I hate myself."

"You do have a heart. And you are NOT like her." Brodie spoke in a low,
intense voice, willing Jax to listen to him.

"What you are like is, my friend Jax," Brodie said fiercely. "Jax, the
little guy with the big voice. Jax, the snotty dude who gives me that duh
look when I don't pick up on something fast enough.

Jax, who writes songs that make my soul sing. Jax, who can sing a piece of
a phrase I have in my head when I tell him what I hear. Jax, who's smart
and funny. That's the Jax I know," Brodie said.

Brodie watched several miles pass by. With relief, he listened to the tempo
of Jax's breathing decrease.

"Brodie, did you mean that?" Jax asked.

"Yeah."

"Please hurry," Jax said.

"We're almost there," Brodie said.

"Wait a minute, how are you getting here?"

"Cullen," Brodie said.

"Your brother?"

"Yeah."

"Shit," Jax said, "First time I meet someone in your family is the day I
come unglued. Great."

"Nobody knows about this but me and you," Brodie said. "Chill. And the
radio's on now. I'm in the back and they can't even hear me. For all they
know, you've run out of gas or something. This is just between you and me."

Jax was silent. The air hummed between them.

"Jax?" Brodie said.

"Brodie, you're thinking so hard, I can actually hear you," Jax said.

"Go ahead and say it, Brodie," Jax said grimly. "I can tell that it's
killing you."

"Nah," Brodie said.

"Brodie," Jax said. "You've quoted me a million statistics on alcoholism
and drinking over the past several months. What's holding you back now?"

"Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem," Brodie said.

"I knew it. I swear to you, I knew it. I knew exactly what you were gonna
say, and exactly how you were gonna say it. Another one of your dumb
sayings. At least I've heard that one before, so I know you didn't make it
up all by yourself." Jax said.

"Feel better now?" he asked Brodie sardonically.

"Yeah, I do," Brodie said. "Thank you. But hey, don't call those dumb
sayings, I get them all from my mother, and she calls them trite truisms."

Jax gave a halfhearted laugh and Brodie asked, "Feeling a little better?"

"Yeah," Jax responded, "I am."

After awhile Jax asked, "You really paid attention to all that shit they
taught you in that little Catholic school of yours didn't you?"

Brodie laughed and said, "Hey, what can I say? A little brainwashing is a
good thing. We're here," he shouted, jumping out of the SUV before it came
to a complete stop.

Brodie introduced Shannon to Jax. Before he got into Jax's car, Cullen gave
Shannon a quick, loving kiss as Jax watched wide-eyed.

When they returned home, Cullen handed Jax's keys to Brodie and looked at
him quizzically, "You gonna be okay?"

"Yeah, everything's okay, Brodie said.

Cullen waited for Shannon to park the SUV, then grabbed him by the hand and
walked into their apartment.

When they reached Brodie's bedroom, Jax said, "Thanks, Brodie."

"For what?" Brodie asked.

"For not bailing on me when I fell apart."

Brodie looked at him and asked, "Wouldn't you have done that for me?"

"Yeah, I would," Jax replied.

"I know," Brodie said. "You're the first real friend I've ever had," he
said to Jax. "Now let's go to sleep."

*********************************

6

Jax didn't go to school the next day. He dropped Brodie off and went home,
after assuring Brodie that he would be okay and that he would call him if
he needed him. He needed to be alone. He needed to think. Yesterday,
talking with Brodie about his past and falling apart like that had been
devastating.

The third and final time he had tried to kill himself, he had been unable
to face cutting his wrists again. Instead, he had swallowed a bottle of his
mother's sleeping pills and drunk almost a fifth of Jack. He had thought
that he would just fall asleep and wake up dead.

He had drifted off in hazy increments, missing time, floating in and out of
reality, suspended in a warm, comfortable cocoon of drugs and
alcohol. After an indefinable length of time, he heard a voice just like
his grandmother's, sweet as honey, with an endearing southern twang and a
tiny, barely noticeable quiver saying:

"Jax."

"Jax."

He had roused slightly.

"You're dying."

The comfortable fog lifted just enough to allow a brief moment of
awareness.

"Jax, you're dying."

He had felt an overpowering surge of fear. He tried to return to his
previous somnolent state but the nagging voice and the fear that he
couldn't quite suppress wouldn't allow him to. In spite of the sleeping
pills and the alcohol, his heart was beating hurriedly, stimulated by the
adrenaline rush his fear engendered. In the space of those few minutes, he
realized that he did not really want to die. He wanted the pain to end but
he didn't want to die.

"Grandma, help me."

He crawled to his bathroom, leaned over the toilet, stuck his finger down
his throat and made himself throw up until he had emptied the contents of
his stomach and he was dry heaving convulsively. He lay on the bathroom
floor unable to move. Once again, fear gave him the momentum he needed. He
had laughed drowsily to himself.

It would be funny in a crazy way if he finally succeeded in killing himself
just when he had decided that he didn't want to die. He made himself get up
and soaked in a tub full of cold water. Afterwards, he had dragged himself
to the kitchen. He forced himself to eat something and drank coffee all
night long.

After that, he had an uneasy truce with life; although he didn't really
want to die, he also really didn't want to live.

Today, he decided that he was going to have to make some sort of genuine
peace with life.

He was alive. That was a fact. He didn't want to die. Also a fact. And now,
he no longer wanted to reside in the gray limbo that had been his existence
for the past four years.

By the end of the day, he was physically and emotionally drained. Brodie
showed up at his door around five in the evening, unexpected but
welcome. Jax greeted him with a wan smile.

"How'd you get here?"

"Niamh brought me. I was worried about you and you weren't answering your
cell."

Jax opened the door wider so Brodie could come in.

"I needed to think."

"I know," Brodie said. "I can understand."

Even though Brodie was only fourteen, he had a comforting strength
emanating from him that had nothing to do with his physical size. Jax was
glad he had come.

"Brodie," Jax said abruptly. "A lot has been going on."

"No shit," Brodie said.

"Are we friends Brodie?"

Brodie looked at Jax quizzically.

"I mean really. I don't want you to feel sorry for me. You're...nice."

"Jax," Brodie queried, "Why would I feel sorry for you?"

Brodie surveyed Jax from head to toe. Jax's silky black hair was expertly
and professionally cut. The clothes he was wearing were casual but made of
obviously expensive material and plainly tailored and designed to fit Jax's
slender frame. Jax had an air of confidence and sophistication that he
didn't even recognize.

Brodie said, "I mean, look at you. Look at your house, your car, your
clothes."

"None of that means anything."

"It does when you don't have it," Brodie said.

"But yeah, we're friends and no, I don't feel sorry for you. I wouldn't
have survived the past few months at the Paris School without you."

"You could have done that on your own," Jax said impatiently.

"You helped me get the right clothes so I would feel more comfortable
there. You took me to parties. You introduced me to people."

Jax made a dismissive gesture at Brodie's words.

Brodie looked at Jax and said, "I don't think you really understand how
much I hate it there. And how much I didn't want to go. I was fine where I
was. All of that shit really isn't important to me, truth be told. But
getting it right made life a lot easier for me.

You made it tolerable, more than tolerable," Brodie said. "I would have
hated it even more without you."

"But, you had Cutt and Sinclair," Jax argued.

"Yeah, me and Sinclair and Cutt were cool, but I was never really close to
them like Christian is. Never tight with them like me and you.

You're my best friend. I always feel like...I don't know. Like I have to be
perfect. Remember that day?"

Jax gave him an inquiring look out of tired blue eyes and said, "Sorry,
don't make me think too hard today. My brain cells are fried."

Brodie said, "The day you asked me didn't I get tired of saving the
world. I knew then that to you it didn't matter if I was perfect or
not. I'll never forget that."

Overcome with a burst of affection and the myriad of emotions he had been
experiencing over the past twenty-four hours, Jax moved in front of Brodie,
stood on tiptoe, pulled Brodie's head down and kissed him on the lips.

Brodie returned the kiss with an audible smack and then wrapped his arms
around Jax tenderly.

Jax froze with surprise. He had expected anything but that.

He leaned back in the circle of Brodie's enfolding arms to find Brodie
smiling down at him happily, blue green eyes full of warmth and
friendliness.

Oblivious.

In those moments, Jax finally realized that Brodie was never going to be
anything other than his best friend. The last tiny ember of hope burnt out.

Brodie loved him.

And that was enough.

It would have to be.

**********************************

They were rockin' tonight. They were all in the zone and it had been like
this all night long. Over the past four years, it rarely happened all at
once like this. Usually, one or the other of them would be in the zone and
pull the others in too. But tonight they were all in the same space at the
same time. When it occurred spontaneously like this, it was truly magical.

The crowd was on the same vibe. The five of them shared ecstatic grins,
high on the music they were creating and the energy from the audience. The
owner of the small but popular nightclub, Brent, gave them a nod, signaling
that they could slow down and take a break whenever they wanted.

At the end of the set, they went back stage and into the break room.

"Did you see that guy pushing his girlfriend around?" Brodie asked Jax.

"Yeah I did and Brodie, that's what Brent has bouncers for. If you want, we
can go tell him so that he can have them keep an eye on the guy," Jax
replied.

"They're too busy flirting with that table full of ladies."

"Let's tell him anyway," Jax said.

Brent received the information gratefully and told them that he would have
the bouncers check it out and stay on top of it if there was really a
problem. When they returned to the stage, Jax eyed Brodie worriedly. Brodie
was still trying to save the world whether the world wanted to be saved or
not.

Brodie began to play the intro to the next song, one of his favorites. He
and Jax had written it together. He tried to ignore the guy who had been
drunkenly arguing with his girlfriend all evening but it was hard. He
hated bullies. He hated men who used their strength to hurt people
physically weaker than they.

When he was around five or six years old, he had awakened in the middle of
the night thirsty and having to pee at the same time. He had heard noises
and walked down the stairs. As the youngest, he was used to spying around
to find out things he needed to know. He had peeped into the living room.

He saw his mother quietly struggling with some guy she had brought home
with her. Even at that age, he had known why Peggy was silent; she didn't
want to awaken and scare her kids.

Brodie dove onto the guy's back and screamed for help at the same time. The
guy dislodged him roughly and slammed Brodie onto the floor.

Cullen had come running up the basement stairs and gone berserk when he saw
his mother's bruised face and his youngest brother sprawled onto the
floor. He brutally pounded the guy, who was larger and much older, until
Peggy was begging him to stop. When Cullen didn't listen, Peggy had yelled,
"Go get Shannon."

Niall had run over to Shannon's house. Shannon, still half asleep, walked
up to Cullen and said, "Cullen, it's okay, everybody's okay."

Shannon's voice penetrated the haze of rage and fury driving Cullen and he
had finally stopped.

Niall and Quinn had dragged the guy outside. They left him half conscious
on the sidewalk several doors down.

"Cullen," Peggy had asked hesitantly, "What if....it's cold outside."

"Oh well," Cullen had said flatly. "I guess we'll just see a frozen, dead
body out there in the morning."

Niamh had bumped fists with Cullen as the rest of them had looked on
silently, still unsettled by what had occurred. "Now that's what I'm
talking about," she had said, as ruthless and unconcerned as Cullen.

That incident had an incredible impact on Brodie. He had been so terrified,
felt so helpless. It was part of their family folklore now and the others
laughed it off but at the time Brodie had been petrified.

He had promised himself that he would not ever stand by and watch someone
get hurt. He tried to shrug the childhood memory away but he wondered if
this couple had any children at home. If this asshole knew how...stop it
Brodie, he told himself. Stop making this your problem.

He continued playing. It wasn't obvious to anyone but the band that he was
slightly distracted. Jax had a bad feeling. He was watching the couple too
and saw how Brodie's eyes narrowed when the guy roughly grabbed his
girlfriend by the arm to keep her from getting up from the table.

Jax tried unsuccessfully to get Brent's attention. He eyed the bouncers
with frustration. They were huge, muscle bound and mean looking but just
like Brodie said, they seemed to spend more time flirting with women than
doing their job.

Jax heaved a relieved sigh when he saw the couple leave shortly before the
show ended. When they finished the last set, with the ease of long
practice, they quickly loaded Cutt's SUV with their equipment. Sinclair
left with Christian. Jax and Brodie walked around to the front where they
had parked.

As they walked around the corner, Jax stopped moving abruptly.

"Brodie," he said, full of an inexplicable dread.

Brodie absorbed the scene with one quick glance. The couple he had seen
earlier was fighting in the parking lot. The guy was trying to get his
girlfriend into his truck and she was pulling away from him. Jax grabbed
Brodie by the hand, filled with a premonition of disaster.

"Brodie let's go get help. We can go and get one of the bouncers," he said
insistently.

"You run get help. I'll try and get him to leave her alone," Brodie said.

Jax started to protest but realized that he would be wasting his
breath. Unwillingly, he left Brodie there and ran to grab one of the
bouncers.

Brodie walked over to the couple.

"Why don't you leave her alone?" he asked.

The guy looked at Brodie and snarled, "Mind your fucking business."

The girl looked at Brodie helplessly, continuing to resist, but afraid to
ask Brodie to help her.

"Just chill, man and leave her alone," Brodie said evenly. "Doesn't look
like she wants to go with you."

He edged closer.

Distracted, the guy released his hold on his girlfriend and turned to face
Brodie. Just as she was turning to get away, the guy reached for her again.

Brodie was never able to get what happened next straight in his mind. The
guy pulled a knife, shifted his weight and rotated towards the girl. Brodie
saw a flash of silver, caught in the glare of the streetlamp above them.

He jumped in front of the girl and just as the guy moved towards the space
where the girl was, instead of her, he found Brodie. Reflexively, Brodie
brought a knee up towards the guy's groin, chopped him on the back of the
neck and watched him go down.

Dimly, he heard running footsteps and Jax saying, "Over there."

Brodie had always thought that slow motion was a special effect, not
something that could occur in real life. As a part of him stood watching, a
detached observer, he found out differently. Time slowed until it hovered
just above the point of a complete halt. It was like an old time black and
white movie; the world was leached of color and he could see everything
around him occurring frame by frame.

He felt a sharp stinging sensation in his abdominal area. His chin drifted
towards his chest and he saw a black area spreading like spilled ink across
his favorite white shirt.

His body felt too heavy to remain standing; his knees buckled ever so
slowly. He hit the ground forcefully, weighted with the density of his
heavily muscled body. He crumpled onto his side, bones rattling painfully
as he landed onto the graveled pavement of the parking lot.

Although his vision and other senses had dimmed, his hearing was extremely
acute. The girl's sudden screams were excruciatingly hurtful to his
ears. Amazingly, beneath her shrill, siren like wails, Brodie could hear
Jax's voice, frantic and tense with fear.

"Brodie, Brodie, oh God, Brodie. Call 911," Jax yelled urgently. "Call
fucking 911. Now."

Brodie's vision grayed and blurred. He felt hands on his body and then
nothing.

He was gone.

Jax struggled to remain calm. Fighting panic, he ripped Brodie's shirt open
and saw a puncture wound violently gushing crimson streams of Brodie's
blood. He removed his shirt with trembling, inept fingers and used it to
apply pressure to Brodie's abdomen and staunch the rapid flow of blood. He
asked Brent to get a blanket while one of the bouncers guarded the
unconscious boyfriend.

The girlfriend was leaning up against the truck, sobbing noisily. Jax
wanted to tell her to shut the fuck up. But he was unwilling to do anything
that would remove his attention from Brodie. Brodie's breathing was
becoming slow and shallow. His lips were blue tinged and his golden apricot
skin was cold and gray.

Please, please, please.

Jax didn't know whom he was talking to; he wasn't even sure if God was
real. Grandma, if you can hear me, he implored desperately, please help
me. I can't lose Brodie. He knew it shouldn't be true, but it was: I cannot
live without him.

The paramedics quickly and efficiently placed Brodie on a gurney and
prepared him for transport to the hospital.

Jax told the police what he knew, then accepted Brent's offer of a ride to
the hospital. On the way, he called Sinclair and told her what happened. He
asked her to tell Brodie's mother. He did not want to give Peggy the news
over the phone.

Sinclair assured him that she would get over to Brodie's mom's house as
soon as possible and then meet him at the hospital. Jax's mind and will
were wholly directed towards Brodie. It was as if he thought it would keep
Brodie alive.

When Jax arrived at the hospital, he was surprised and relieved to see
Brodie's Mom and brother, Cullen there. Peggy, Brodie's mom, walked over to
Jax. When she brushed his hair away from his face, he fought to keep from
crying. The gesture was something Brodie had done a thousand times over the
years.

"Hey, honey," she said softly. "You ok?"

Jax nodded his head.

"Is Brodie alright? Have you seen him?" he asked.

"Derek is checking on him now," Peggy said.

Jax had forgotten that Derek, Niall's boyfriend, was an ER
physician. Shannon arrived, carrying cups of coffee for Cullen and Peggy.

"Shannon, would you mind staying here with mom?" Cullen asked. "Jax, wanna
come out to the truck with me? I have an extra shirt in my work bag."

Jax looked down at himself in surprise. He had forgotten that he had used
his shirt to staunch the blood. Brodie's blood.

He then did something he hadn't done for a very long time. He looked at his
wrists. And then he noticed the blood on his hands. With an amazed,
horrified detachment, he realized that he had held Brodie's lifeblood in
his hands.

Accompanied by Cullen, Jax walked out of the hospital in a daze. Cullen
gave him a bottle of antiseptic to use on his hands and helped him to put a
t-shirt on. When they returned to the waiting room, Brodie's entire family
was there. Christian, Cutt and Sinclair were there too.

To Jax, none of this seemed quite real. He looked at his hands
wonderingly. Brodie's blood on his hands. He couldn't seem to get over
that. He kept seeing Brodie collapsing to the ground over and over and over
again in a continuous loop. And then Brodie's blood spreading in a crimson
pool and then Brodie's blood on his hands.

He sprung up out of his chair, breathing rapidly. He started to run out of
the room when a hand grabbed the back of his shirt. "Whoa, where do you
think you're going?"

Niall put his arm around Jax's shoulders. Jax put his hands to his face. "I
can't..." he said, voice muffled, not finishing his statement when he
realized that he was talking to Brodie's brother.

"Can't what?" Niall asked gently.

"Nothing," Jax said hoarsely.

Niall carefully pulled Jax's hands away from his face. The look of quiet
desperation in Jax's eyes frightened him. He had seen that look too often
in his own mirror not to know what it meant.

"You're family," Niall said to Jax firmly, "and family sticks
together. You're staying here with us."

Peggy walked over to them. "C'mere baby," she said, holding out her arms.

Jax looked at her for a moment and then walked into her embrace. He held
himself stiffly at first and then; unable to resist the warmth emanating
from her, relaxed in her arms. Even after getting to know this family over
the past several years, he still hadn't become accustomed to the idea that
they cared about him and considered him one of them. It seemed to be too
good to be true.

"He's going to be fine," Peggy whispered soothingly into Jax's ear. "He's
young, he's strong and he has us."

Peggy led Jax over to the chairs where the rest of them were sitting. As he
looked at all of the O'Briens sitting side-by-side, Jax couldn't help but
notice their striking beauty. Tall, blond hair, blue eyed, skin color of
various hues.

Brodie was the only one with red hair, but his bone structure was the same
as his brothers' and sisters'. His features were like theirs fine, almost
angelic. They all had the same hard edge, even the cutest one, Niall and
the sweetest one, Mary Katherine.

Brodie's hard edge was due to O'Brien grit and stubbornness. The rest had
earned theirs, growing up in Baltimore next door to the projects. Brodie
had been sheltered from that.

The love they had for one another was clearly evident. Cullen and Shannon
were on the other side of Peg, keeping a watchful eye on her.

Derek was in and out periodically, giving them updates on Brodie's
condition and checking on Niall. Niamh and Niall were sitting close, hands
entwined. Quinn had his arm around Mary Katherine. Kai and Lacey sat on
each side of Dyllan, holding his hands.

The other members of Earth Magic were obviously just as anxious and
concerned. Sinclair sat between Cutter and Christian, face tight with
worry.

"Remember that time when he was around eleven and Brodie said he wasn't
going to talk for a week, that he was only gonna 'communicate by sax?'"
Peggy asked, interrupting the tense, unnatural silence.

"Yeah," Quinn said, worried blue eyes lighting with amusement.

Mary Katherine added, "Yeah, he said that if he couldn't make us understand
him, it meant he couldn't play for shit."

"What happened?" Jax asked.

"Believe it or not," Cullen said, "even at that age, that boy could
play. He made that sax talk."

Jax looked at Cullen with disbelief. Cullen nodded his head.

"Yeah, not talk so that you could distinguish the words. But somehow, you
could get what he meant. You've heard him play. You know what I mean." Mary
Katherine said.

Jax nodded.

He stood up and walked over to where Sinclair, Cutter and Christian were
sitting. He squatted down in front of them.

"Are you guys okay?" he asked.

They nodded. "What about you? Are YOU okay?" Sinclair asked. "You look like
shit," she added bluntly.

Jax smiled faintly. Time had not dulled Sinclair's forthrightness or her
loyalty to those she loved. Her dark eyes were shadowed with concern.

"I'm okay," Jax said.

Cutt looked at Peggy and said, "Did you know that even the nuns at
St. Mary's called Brodie The Enforcer?"

Peggy smiled and said, "No."

Jax looked at Cutter in inquiry.

"You know how Brodie used to keep those guys at the Paris School in check?"

Jax nodded.

"Well, St. Mary's was even smaller than the Paris school and Brodie had the
whole school in check. He got the name Dirty Harry because he was "The
Enforcer." Any time the older kids would pick on the littler ones or
anything like that, Brodie was there kicking ass."

Cutt started laughing, "One time, when I was in the office, I heard them
paging Brodie to the office, Sister Mary Helen, the principle, asked Sister
Bernadette, the Vice Principle, 'For heaven's sake, what in the world has
The Enforcer done now?' I all but died laughing. She would have died if she
had known I overheard."

The rest of them laughed.

"Well y'all don't know the rest of the story," Cullen said ruefully. "The
person you know as "The Enforcer" is my little brother who came home damn
near every day in first grade with bruises, loose teeth and a bloody nose
from trying to rescue and defend the rest of the school."

Cullen smiled, remembering the earnest look on Brodie's little freckled
face as he tried to explain why he HAD to defend people. "People aren't
supposed to hurt other people, right Cullen?" the six year old had asked.

Cullen had tried to reason with him but Brodie wasn't having it. Finally,
Cullen said to him what he had told the rest of his brothers and sisters
and Lacey when she had been not that much older than Brodie, "Ok, I'm gonna
teach you to fight. When I finish with you, no one will be able to kick
your ass but me."

Brodie lived in the principal's office, but he never got called to the
office for using the fighting skills Cullen had taught him against anyone
else, other than in self-defense or protecting someone else.

Cullen's fought back tears as he thought about the boy they all called "The
Baby." The youngest, the only one with the red hair the rest of them had
marveled over when Peggy had brought him home from the hospital. The one
they had each vowed to love and protect as he was passed from one of them
to the other and finally back to Peg.

They each had their special relationship with Brodie. Their mother had
raised them to love each other and look out for each other but Brodie was
special. He was "The Baby."

***********************************

7

Over the next few days, they worked out a schedule so they could take turns
staying at the hospital with Brodie. Somehow, they all ended up at the
hospital together anyway. Brodie had been unconscious for three days. He
had been taken off the ventilator on the second day and was breathing on
his own.

Jax was sitting next to Brodie and clasping his hand. Jax's face was pale
and drawn with fatigue and he had dark purple, bruised looking circles
beneath his eyes. His eyes were focused on Brodie intently, repeating his
efforts to will Brodie into wakefulness. Derek had explained that the fact
that Brodie was now breathing on his own was a good sign.

Softly Jax began to sing, "Try not to get worried. Try not to turn onto
problems that upset you. Don't you know everything's alright...."

Peggy's eyes widened. She had always heard Jax sing with the band but never
without accompaniment. She knew he was talented but didn't know he had the
voice of an angel. The sweet clarity of his singing brought her to her feet
and drew her closer.

She watched quietly as her youngest son's best friend sang to him with such
tender devotion. She backed away little by little, not wanting to disrupt
the intimacy or to embarrass Jax.

Brodie looked down at the boy lying in the bed and the boy sitting next to
him. They really weren't boys anymore. They were men now. He turned towards
the figure standing next to him for a few seconds and then back towards the
voice.

The voice soothed and healed. Brodie moved closer, lured by the love and
yearning audible in the voice. Jax stopped singing.

"Brodie. Please. Come back."

He pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes, and then lowered his
hands almost angrily. Crying would not bring Brodie back. He resumed
singing brokenly and after a few moments his voice gathered strength.

Brodie advanced even closer.

"Go back," she said. "He needs you and you need him. You ain't nowheres
near done yet," she said.

She had appeared next to him as he stood alone within the light. He
couldn't tell how long he had been there. She was suddenly there and it
felt as though she had always been there. There was something familiar
about her. She moved in front of him so that they stood face to face.

The glow dimmed and her features gained clarity. She allowed him to study
her features. He gazed at her with growing wonder, and then turned towards
Jax once again. He wanted to go back.

She smiled, a sweet and tender curving of her lips, and said, "When the
time is right, you'll remember. When you do, tell my little old man, that
when he sings, I hear him. Go on, it's okay."

She disappeared before he could answer.

"That's me," he thought with surprise as he continued to observe the two
men. And Jax. He was singing as though his life depended upon it.

Jax's voice sang Brodie home, soaring into the heavens, winding around his
heart and soul, awakening him, compelling him, and entreating him to
return. Between one second and the next Brodie was spiraling downwards and
into his body.

His eyes fluttered open, burning and watering from the harsh glare of the
overhead light. He managed to croak, "Jesus Christ Superstar," playing the
game of one-upmanship that he and Jax had started in high school, where
they would sing or play songs for each other and make the other one guess
the song.

Even though he had been staring intently at Brodie, Jax jumped when he
heard the raspy voice. Their eyes met and held for an eternity. Relief
warred with anger as Jax realized that Brodie was awake and alive. Instead
of the jubilation he expected to feel, there was a spurt of fury that he
quickly suppressed.

Brodie looked at Jax searchingly. There was a look on Jax's face he hadn't
seen in a very long time. Jax's eyes were shadowed with pain.

Three words hung suspended in the air between them.

"I'm here now."

A promise. A vow.

Jax stood up abruptly. "I'm going to get your mother and tell the nurses
you're awake."

He didn't look at Brodie.

Brodie struggled to speak. "Wait," he said hoarsely.

Jax raised weary, sky blue eyes to Brodie's.

The three words twisted in the air between them, unsaid but echoing in the
silence nevertheless.

Jax turned around to go. Brodie saw him do something he hadn't seen him do
for years. Jax looked down at his wrists.

"Jax," Brodie said hoarsely.

Jax stopped but wouldn't turn around.

Brodie forced the words past his swollen, aching, painful throat, "I need
you."

Jax walked out of the room.

************************************

Later in the morning, Sinclair rode with Christian to his house so that he
could pack a bag. The three of them had decided to spend the next several
days together at Sinclair and Cutter's home. Christian stopped halfway up
the stairs leading to his room.

"Hey, why don't you wait downstairs? I won't be long."

"I'll come with you and keep you company," Sinclair replied.

Christian sighed to himself.

When they entered his bedroom, Sinclair looked around curiously. She had
never been in Christian's room before. He had a bookshelf full of books
about various jazz musicians. She looked closer. Beloved by Toni Morrison
was mixed in with the rest. "Hey..." she started and then looked again.

There was a picture that looked like...it was... "This is me," she said
incredulously, holding up a picture frame that contained a picture of her
when she was a little girl and another more recent photo. She looked at
Christian. His fair skin was red. He met her eyes squarely.

Sinclair's heart beat frantically. "You love me, don't you?" she asked
accusingly.

Christian nodded his head. "Yeah, Sinclair, I do."

She looked at him and said, "I keep waiting for you to change and you
don't. You're always there, strong, steadfast, caring. I can't help but
love you," she said, wiping angrily at the tears on her face.

Christian held his breath, realizing that he would be thanking God for this
every day for the rest of his life because he hadn't a hope in hell that
Sinclair would ever lower her guard enough to let him in.

"You love me and I'm such a bitch. You never let me get away with that
though," she said with a tearful laugh.

He walked over to her and pulled her into his arms. The difference in their
heights became nonexistent; she never would have guessed, but in his arms
she felt protected and sheltered. And so loved.

"Wait a minute," Sinclair said with one of her mercurial shifts in mood, "I
said I was a bitch and you actually nodded your head at me, what's up with
that?"

"What's up with that? I love you just the way you are," Christian said
simply.

"And if nothing else, tonight showed the truth of that thing Brodie's
mother is always saying, 'tomorrow isn't promised to anyone'. That could be
you or me in that hospital bed."

"Christian, let's just stay here for awhile. Let's just stay here and be
quiet."

*************************************

Over the next few weeks, Brodie recovered rapidly. Other than going to
school, Jax never left his side. Brodie's family took turns staying with
him during the day. Cutter, Sinclair and Christian came over every day in
the evening.

As Brodie grew stronger and no longer required as much pain medication, he
began to realize that things were not right between Jax and him. He wasn't
sure how to bridge the distance between them. Jax helped him back and forth
to the bathroom, helped him to bathe and get dressed. Still, beneath all of
the intimacy was a distance that had never existed before.

One evening, after everyone else had left, as Jax was kneeling in front of
him, helping him to remove his shoes, Brodie ventured, in a still slightly
hoarse voice, "Jax, are you ever going to talk to me?"

Jax had looked at him and said curtly, "We talk."

"Not like we used to," Brodie said while reaching over to gently push a
silky lock of coal black hair back from Jax's forehead. Brodie's eyes were
intent and serious.

"I know you're mad at me," he said.

"No, I'm not," Jax protested.

"Yes, you are," Brodie insisted. "Jax," he said, "I know it was stupid and
maybe I should have handled it differently."

Jax gave Brodie "the look", blue eyes blazing with a rage he would not
admit to.

"Ok, maybe I shouldn't have gone charging in like that."

"You left me, Brodie," Jax said flatly.

"Not by my choice," Brodie said quickly. "Jax, I can't stand by and watch
someone get hurt like that. I promise, from now on I'll try not to go in
guns blazing but I will always have to do SOMETHING.

He took a deep breath.

"Jax, don't you know I will NEVER leave you?"

Jax's heart turned over in his chest.

"Don't make promises like that," he said shakily.

"Why not?" Brodie asked simply. "You don't think I'll keep my word?"

Jax looked at him. I believe you, he said to himself silently and that's
the problem. It was almost ironic. Anyone listening to their conversation
would probably assume that the two of them were lovers.

Brodie didn't seem to think that there was anything strange about the vow
of loyalty and devotion he had just made to his closest friend as though it
were the most natural thing in the world.

"I believe you," Jax said. He was still kneeling between Brodie's legs. As
usual, he was having a difficult time hiding his response to Brodie's
proximity. The past couple of weeks had been both heaven and hell.

"Good," Brodie said as if that settled things between them and Jax guessed
that it did. Ever since he had known Brodie, Brodie was always looking out
for someone else. It scared him but he didn't think that Brodie would ever
change. His kindness towards others was one of the things that he loved
about Brodie.

"Jax, would you sleep with me?" Brodie asked hesitantly. "I sleep better
whenever you're here. Sometimes I can't get that night out of my head."

Jax groaned inwardly. "Sure," he said.

After all, he was the one who had started it. When Brodie had first gotten
home from the hospital, Jax had been afraid to leave his side. He had
insisted on staying with him.

During the night, he'd put his hand on Brodie's chest to make sure that he
was breathing. As Brodie recovered, he said that Jax was his sleeping pill.
For Jax, it was one thing to sleep with a Brodie who was weak, recuperating
and in need of his care.

Now, although Brodie's recovery was not complete, sleeping with him was
totally different. And Brodie liked to cuddle. And he liked to touch Jax
and play with his hair. It was sweet torture for Jax because for Brodie it
was so obviously not sexual but for him, as hard as he tried for it not to
be, it was very sexual.

The more he was around all of the O'Brien's the better he was able to
understand Brodie. They were always hugging, kissing, touching and grooming
one another. Brodie was the sole reason Jax had become accustomed to being
touched after the death of his grandmother. Jax thought that Brodie
touching him was what had brought his starved soul back to life.

But sleeping with a living, breathing Brodie who wanted to cuddle was sweet
hell. He sighed. Brodie was still such a combination of tough guy and
little boy.

**********************************

Brodie had insisted on keeping as many of their club dates as they
could. So far, they had missed only one. He told them all that if it meant
he would have to play seated then he was more than willing to do so.

Tonight, they were doing a run through at Ed's. Cutter and Christian were
bringing in the last of the equipment and Sinclair was already seated and
playing the congas. She was playing a torrid, intricate rhythm that evoked
images of hot, sweaty bodies entwined together.

Brodie was seated and fingering the keys on his sax but wasn't planning on
actually playing until practice officially started. He used his abdominal
muscles when he played and it hurt like a bitch.

As Jax came out of the bathroom a voice called out to him.

"Hey."

Jax turned and looked at the guy who had spoken. He was tall, well built,
with green eyes and short brown hair. Jax stared at him blankly, obviously
trying to figure out who the guy was.

"You don't remember me?" the guy asked, disappointment evident.

"I remember you," he continued. "I haven't been able to get you out of my
head."

Jax looked at him then glanced quickly over at Brodie to see if he was
watching. He studied the guy closely. "Oh yeah," Jax said slowly.

A couple of months ago, lonely and feeling sorry for himself, he had hooked
up with this guy at a bar downtown. What the hell was he doing here?

"Name's Gary. I work here," he said, answering Jax's unspoken question.

Jax's eyes darted over to Brodie again.

"That your boyfriend?" Gary asked, reaching out to brush back the hair that
had fallen over Jax's left eye. Jax grabbed Gary's wrist in a surprisingly
strong grip.

"Don't."

Brodie had noticed Jax leave the room and he had noticed when Jax
returned. He was always aware of Jax. When he saw Jax stop to talk with
that guy, his protective instincts had been aroused.

Then he saw the guy reach out to Jax. Brodie stood up suddenly, overtaken
with rage, ignoring the sharp, agonizing pain in his abdomen from the
abrupt, rapid movement. No one touched Jax like that but him.

Jax snuck another quick glance at Brodie. His stomach lurched in fear at
the look in Brodie's eyes. If Brodie thought Jax were in trouble he'd be
over in seconds.

"Look," Jax whispered tensely. "We had a good time and now it's over."

"I don't want it to be over," Gary said bluntly.

Jax looked at him helplessly, heart pounding furiously as he tried to keep
his expression neutral. He didn't dare look at Brodie again.

"Looks like your boyfriend is getting pissed off." Gary held up his hands
and backed away.

Jax looked back at Brodie once more. As much as Brodie and he teased and
joked about Brodie's thick headedness and denseness, Brodie was by no means
stupid. They exchanged a long, unsmiling, mutually appraising glance that
made Jax's mouth go dry.

As the youngest in the O'Brien family, there were a lot of things everyone
thought Brodie was too young to see or hear. He had made a point of hearing
and seeing them even if he had to eavesdrop and sneak around to do so.

Once, when he was around thirteen or fourteen, he had overheard Cullen say
to his mother, "Brodie's not like us."

Before Brodie had time to get upset by Cullen's comment, his mother had
said darkly, "Don't worry. He's just a late bloomer. The O'Brien blood
always runs true.

Anyway," she added, "I'm glad it's taking a little longer. Hopefully he'll
have a little bit of sense before the hormones take over."

Cullen had laughed. "I think Niamh and me got it the worse."

Peggy had said, "I think you're right."

Brodie had pondered that conversation many times, not quite sure what they
meant.

Now he knew.

He looked at Jax and like a mummy rousing from centuries of dark, ancient
slumber, the wrappings fell away slowly.

With new eyes, he saw the sensual, feline grace. Now he could see the
extraordinary beauty of Jax's vivid, sky blue eyes, silky, coal black hair,
creamy, ivory skin, and small, slender, lithe body.

He was assaulted by memories of the past weeks. Jax's warm, sleek body, in
his bed, spooned against him. Touching Jax freely as though he had every
right do so. Combing his fingers through Jax's hair, Jax arching against
him in pleasurable response. Rubbing his face against the back of Jax's
neck, brushing his lips there and feeling fine tremors flow through Jax as
he reacted to the gentle touch.

Heat, desire and need whirled through Brodie with the force of a
tornado. If he hadn't been seated, it would have brought him to his
knees. Every cell in his body quaked beneath the weight of the white-hot
fire exploding through him.

Now he understood his need to have Jax's physical presence at his side.

Now he understood why he had reacted to that guy's attempt to lay hands on
Jax as though Jax was his personal property. There was a primitive, feral
part of him that believed it to be true.

Now he remembered and understood the way Jax would disappear sometimes. The
way some guys would look at Jax and the way Jax would look back. A million
signs and he had noticed none of them.

Jax moved towards Brodie in a daze, drowning in his sea green eyes. The
beat Sinclair was pounding out hummed in his blood, matching the frantic
tattoo of his heart. Frightened by the power of the feelings propelling him
towards Brodie, Jax tore his gaze away from him and lowered his head,
hiding behind the curtain of hair that cascaded across his face.

He lifted his head, almost shyly, and returned his eyes to Brodie's, trying
to decipher what he was seeing. He had thought he was over this wishing and
hoping bullshit long ago. Every now and then, it seemed to surface,
frustrating and irrepressible. He was fucking tired of it.

He would see what he wanted to see in a look or a touch. After everything
that had happened, he just couldn't deal with having to fight these
feelings again. Maybe he should have encouraged Gary instead of letting him
get away.

Despairingly, without looking at Brodie again, Jax walked up to the stage
and the rehearsal began.

Afterwards, Jax drove Brodie home. There was an awkward, uncomfortable
silence for the first couple of miles of the drive even with the music
playing. By the time they arrived at Brodie's house, they were both full of
nervous energy.

When they reached Brodie's apartment, Jax said hesitantly, "That guy..."

"Was he bothering you?" Brodie interrupted, walking up to Jax and pushing
the ever-present lock of hair away from his face. He slid his fingers
through Jax's glossy, lustrous hair, reveling in the silken texture against
his hands.

"No," Jax said, trying not to moan as Brodie's hands massaged his scalp and
brushed the sensitive skin on the back of his neck. His cock hardened in a
brutal rush. God, Brodie was killing him.

"Was that your boyfriend?" Brodie asked.

"No," Jax said again.

Brodie walked over to his bed and sat down, knees weak with relief. Jax sat
down next to him. Brodie grabbed Jax's hand and began to idly play with his
fingers. Jax shivered, sharp, heated tingles radiated from his hand to his
nipples, down his torso to his pulsing, aching penis. He watched Brodie's
fingers on his, enthralled by the slow, hypnotic caress.

"Jax," Brodie said quietly.

Jax raised heavy lidded eyes to meet Brodie's.

"Do you have a boyfriend?"

"No," Jax replied, just as softly.

Brodie sighed and shifted so that his head was in Jax's lap. Within
minutes he was asleep.

Jax wasn't sure if he was relieved or dismayed. He settled in next to
Brodie and within minutes he was asleep too.

*********************************

8

Practice the next day went much better. The day before, Brodie had tired
easily and needed to take a pain pill after the first hour. Jax had been
distracted by his encounter with Gary and his apprehension over Brodie's
reaction. The rest of them were still worried about Brodie.

Brodie's physical discomfort was subsiding and he had taken a pain pill
before they started practicing to take the edge off. When they were
finished practice, Jax took Brodie home and stayed over the next couple of
hours to talk about their plans and to play a song that he had been working
on so that Brodie could critique it. After he noticed Brodie yawning a
couple of times, he decided to leave.

Brodie stood up with him, so close that they were standing almost
toe-to-toe. He looked down at Jax and asked, "Are you sure you can't stay?"

It was difficult to resist but he knew he would not be able to withstand
another night in bed with Brodie.

Captivated by the heat in Brodie's sapphire gaze, Jax replied breathlessly,
"I need to get home."

Brodie's face revealed his disappointment so clearly that Jax was tempted
to change his mind and stay. Brodie put both hands on the side of Jax's
face and lovingly threaded his fingers through Jax's hair. He moved a
little closer. Jax swallowed.

"I, I need to take care of things at home," he said haltingly, unsure if
wishful thinking was making him think the unthinkable. If it had been
anyone else but Brodie...he pushed the thought away.

"Are you going to be able to pick me up in the morning?" Brodie asked.

Jax delayed answering, caught up in the feel of Brodie's hands moving in
his hair and brushing across his sensitive ears. He mentally shook
himself. "Ummm, yeah, I'll see you in the morning."

Reluctantly, he backed away from Brodie's caressing hands. Brodie walked
Jax to the door, hating to see him go. He had become so accustomed to Jax's
presence over the past couple of weeks that he started missing him within
moments of his departure.

An hour later, when Niall peeked his head into the room, Brodie was staring
dejectedly into space. "Damn, Baby, whatever it is, it can't be THAT bad."

Brodie gave Niall a half smile, not even attempting to pretend that
everything was ok like he would have in the past. He had always felt like
his brothers and sisters worried about him enough.

"Niall..."

Niall remained silent, allowing Brodie to gather his thoughts.

"How do you let someone knew you like them, that you want them?"

Niall looked at Brodie, completely taken by surprise. That was the last
thing he was expecting to hear.

"Well..." Niall started. He stopped, tilted his head and said. "You know
what? If we are going to have that kind of convo, then we need to take this
to an expert."

He grabbed Brodie by the hand and led his unresisting younger brother next
door to their eldest brother's house. Cullen answered the door and smiled
widely at them. "What's up?"

"It's time for 'The Talk.'

Where's Shannon?" Niall asked, looking around for his best friend.

"Shannon's gone to chill with his parents and what "Talk?"

"The Talk," Niall said meaningfully. He put his hands on Brodie's
shoulders,

"The Baby has some questions so I'm bringing him to you."

"Oh. THAT "talk." Cool," Cullen said. "Go in there and sit down. I'll be
right back."

Cullen returned to the living room with a cup of black coffee for Niall and
hot cocoa for Brodie.

"You know that I'm old enough for coffee now, right Cullen?" Brodie teased.

"You know you like that cocoa," Cullen said, "and I put marshmallows in it
just the way you like it. Be right back."

He returned with a shopping bag and a cup of coffee for himself. He settled
on the sofa with Brodie and Niall.

"I've been waiting for this moment," he said. "I worried about you for a
minute, but Ma kept telling me that you're a..."

"Late bloomer," Brodie said finishing Cullen's sentence. "Yeah, I know. To
be honest with you, my music had me caught up, you know? I've never really
thought about anything else."

Cullen pulled a couple of books out of the bag, The Joy of Sex and The Joy
of Gay Sex. "I wasn't sure which one you would need so I got both. There
was a very slight chance you wouldn't need either one, but since you're an
O'Brien, I kinda figured that you wouldn't end up being a priest."

Cullen and Niall laughed when Brodie grimaced and said, "Hell nah."

Nervously, Brodie selected the book he wanted and opened The Joy of Gay
Sex. As the three brothers poured over the pages, Brodie asked questions.

"Hold up for a sec," Cullen said, going back to a previous page. "Mmmmm,
looks like Shannon and I missed THIS page. I may need to borrow this," he
joked. The brothers started laughing.

When they reached the end of the book and Cullen reached into the bag
again, Brodie said, "Cullen."

Cullen turned towards him with an inquiring glance.

"I have never, not once, ever felt like I didn't have a father."

Cullen's cheeks filled with color and his heart melted in his chest.

When Niall said, "Me either," Cullen blinked rapidly to hide his tears. He
put his arm across his brothers' shoulders and hugged them.

"Shut up," he said gruffly.

*********************************

Brodie's feelings for Jax accelerated at a pace that he found a little
scary yet bittersweet. He was coming slowly, painfully to life. He felt
like he had been living life in a vacuum, consumed by his music.

Being so close to death had changed him in ways he couldn't clearly
define. He felt in many ways that he was just starting to live his
life. Just beginning to step into it. As though before, he had been half
alive.

He wanted Jax with an intensity that was vivid and painful. He saw Jax with
fresh, admiring eyes. And not just because of his new consciousness of
Jax's physical beauty. In spite of their different backgrounds, he had
always felt that by some lucky miracle, he and Jax were on the same vibe.

He still didn't know how to fully express what he was feeling to Jax. After
asking Niall and Cullen for suggestions, he had taken Jax out to dinner and
to the movies. When Jax had asked him what for, Brodie had told him it was
to show Jax how much he cared for him and to thank him for always being
there. Jax had blushed but not said anything else. They had an enjoyable
evening and that had been the end of it.

He had brought Jax flowers and before he could say anything, Jax had said
with exasperation, "Brodie, you don't have to do anything else to thank
me." Brodie had decided to leave it at that. It was becoming pretty clear
to him that Jax most likely didn't want him.

He knew he would get over it but right now, the realization was unbearably
hurtful. Even though this was the first time he had experienced these
feelings, this was no first crush. Maybe these feelings had been there all
along, simmering beneath the surface, the feelings of love and friendship
transforming into something more.

He started to withdraw from Jax, not because he loved him any less, but
just to regroup and to let scabs grow over wounds he didn't think would
ever heal. He may have been an O'Brien and a late bloomer to what his
mother called the O'Brien 'hot blood' but he knew that he was not going to
love or desire anyone else in this lifetime other than Jax.

Everyone except Jax attributed Brodie's change in temperament to his close
brush with death. Jax was afraid to believe what his every instinct was
telling him. There was no way that Brodie wanted him. No way at all.

********************************

Over the next few weeks, Brodie couldn't eat, couldn't sleep. He tried to
put up a front but such unhappiness in someone who was usually smiling and
happy was very evident.

After an interminable practice where he had to interact with Jax and the
others and pretend that everything was fine, finally, he was alone in his
bedroom and he could relax his guard a little.

He sat on the edge of his bed, grappling with his physical and emotional
discomfort. He wiped at his face furiously, angry with himself. He had
everything really, yet here he was, feeling sorry for himself and whining
because Jax didn't want him.

He thought about his brothers and sisters and how they had grown up, all of
the sacrifices they had made so that he wouldn't have it as rough as they
had. And he here was, crying like a little bitch because things weren't
going his way. Anything he wanted, he got, and he didn't even have to ask
for anything because, shit, to them he was still...

His inner dialogue was interrupted by Niall's voice asking his mother,
"What's up, Ma? Where's the Baby?"

Niall's words coincided with Brodie's continued thought... The Baby.

He hurriedly wiped his eyes and rehearsed a fake smile to try out on Niall.

Niall entered Brodie's room and turned the light on. "How come you're
sitting here in the dark?"

He walked over to the bed, sat down next to Brodie and put his arm across
his shoulders. "What's wrong?"

Brodie studied the carpeted floor as though there were something
interesting there. "He doesn't want me, Niall."

No need to ask who 'he' was. Niall had seen this coming for the longest
while.

"How do you know?"

"I can just tell," Brodie replied. "Why would he want me, anyway?" Brodie
burst out. "I'm just perpetratin."

Niall leaned back and looked at Brodie, dark blue eyes wide and
stunned. Where was this coming from? THIS, he hadn't seen coming.

"What the hell are you talking about, baby?" Niall asked.

"I'm not who y'all think I am, Niall. I'm not this perfect little brother
that you all see. The 'smart' one. The 'nice' one. I know what you all
think about me. None of it is true. All of the things that y'all do for
me. I don't deserve it. None of it."

Niall grabbed Brodie's chin and turned his little brother's head towards
his own so that they were facing one another.

"Brodie....where is all this coming from?" Niall asked helplessly, caught
off guard. "No one thinks that you are perfect. Trust me when I tell you,"
he added dryly.

Brodie smiled faintly when Niall smirked mischievously.

"I don't know, Niall. I've just got all of this...stuff...this crazy stuff
in my head. I am not smart like everybody thinks. I study," Brodie
confessed. "It doesn't come naturally."

"You know what, Brodie?" said Niall. "I want to welcome you to the real
world. EVERYBODY has doubts and fears and thoughts that they aren't worthy
or whatever."

He paused and said, "And none of us has ever done anything for you that we
didn't want to do. We love you. Love isn't about deserving something." He
reached over and lifted his baby brother, who was slightly taller and
heavier, onto his lap.

"First of all, I think we left your little ass in that Catholic school by
yourself for waaaay too long."

After Brodie chuckled, Niall continued, "Seriously, Baby, you've been
through an experience that would change ANYBODY and also change the way
they see themselves and their world. Give yourself a break, ok?" Niall
asked

Feeling a little silly, Brodie nodded.

"And give it time," Niall said. "Even if 'he' doesn't want you, there is
someone out there for you."

Brodie didn't tell Niall that he knew that there was no one else. No one
else for him but Jax. He relaxed in the comfort of his brother's arms.

He jumped, startled when he heard a familiar husky voice say, "Hey, no
fair, how come you get to hold the baby and keep him to yourself?"

Niamh walked into the room, blue eyes blazing with life and humor. The wild
child, the ruffest, tuffest of them all, except for maybe Cullen. She
tugged on Brodie's braid; shoved Niall unceremoniously out of the way and
smoothly lifted Brodie onto her lap.

"My turn," she said. She rubbed her face in Brodie's hair. "You smell good,
Baby. What's up?"

Before Brodie could answer, Dyllan strode into the room, stormy gray blue
eyes assessing Brodie carefully. He gave Brodie a quick kiss on the
cheek. Dyllan, who Brodie thought of as the 'real' youngest O'Brien. The
one who had to fight for everything he got. The recipient of all of the
hand me downs, and beat downs by his playful older brothers and sisters.

The one who found his soul mates by the age of seven. As territorial as
Dyllan was, not once had he excluded his baby brother from the relationship
he had with Lacey and Kai. Brodie was included and beloved by all
three. Brodie looked at Dyllan and smiled. When he was little, he hadn't
had to tag after the three of them; they took him wherever they were going
willingly.

Lacey and Kai were seconds behind Dyllan. "Our turn," Lacey said sweetly,
smiling at Niamh. Niamh, just like all of the O'Briens, a little bit in
love with Lacey, handed Brodie over peacefully. Brodie settled across the
three of them and cuddled into Lacey.

Mary Katherine and Quinn were next. When Cullen and Shannon arrived, it was
a free for all and everyone was fighting to be the next to hold the
baby. When Peggy arrived, wondering what all the noise was about, she shook
her head.

"Still fighting over the baby. All of you are loco," she said
laughing. "C'mon down, if I know my kids, I know y'all are hungry. I'll
order pizza."

By the end of the evening, stuffed with pizza and surrounded by love,
Brodie had decided that even if Jax didn't want him as a lover, they could
still be best friends.

It was enough.

It would have to be.

********************************

Incredible as it seemed, Brodie wanted him. Jax hugged that thought to
himself like a miser hoarding gold. He argued back and forth with himself.

Just when he'd convince himself that it was true, a little voice of doubt
would appear and he would start thinking that he was crazy to even consider
that Brodie desired him as anything other than a very good friend. He
battled with himself on a daily basis for a couple of weeks.

Finally, he saw how unhappy Brodie was and decided to do something. He
would do anything to take that look of sadness out of Brodie's eyes even if
it meant making a fool of himself. It probably had nothing to do with him
but maybe he could help Brodie with whatever it was.

Somehow, he never found the right time to say anything to Brodie. Every
time he started to broach the subject with Brodie, or to ask Brodie what
was wrong, his throat closed with fear. He just couldn't do it.

One night when they were onstage, enervated by the energy arcing between
the five of them, once again, Jax gave into impulse. The next song was one
he had written when he had first realized his feelings for Brodie. He had
written the words and Brodie and he had written the music together.

The music for the chorus of the song was an elaborate weave of his voice
and Brodie's sax. When they played this song, both relied heavily upon the
effortless communication between the two of them.

Jax's eyes were on Brodie's; watching him play and following the notes he
was playing with his voice and then the words he had written to express his
love:

In my soul...I wait for you...in my body I wait for you....In my heart I
wait for you

This world...a wasteland...without you

This longing...never to be denied...this desire I am unable to hide

If you were mine, I'd give you sunshine, song and moonlight

It's always you...always been you...always will be you...

All ways....always....All ways....always

Jax kept his eyes on Brodie's as he sang. Every time he sang the chorus, he
would look directly at Brodie, praying that Brodie would understand. He
could tell the instant when Brodie started realizing that Jax was singing
to him, about him. There was a gradually dawning awareness...me? Then, Jax
could see doubt rising...NO.

Jax looked at Brodie intently. Giving him the look. THINK.

Me? Brodie's eyes said.

Yes...you.

As he finished singing the last chorus, Jax looked at Brodie and riffed,
fine, delicate notes rising in the air, soaring through the room; light,
buoyant and full of love.

I want you I want you I really really want you

Brodie purred. The sax made a sensual, low, growling sound that had Jax's
toes curling in his shoes. Brodie let loose with a series of elated notes
that brought the listening audience to their feet as they watched him
submerge himself into the music, playing his joy.

Jax just stared, spellbound by Brodie, so intense, so passionate, the
fierce life of him shining.

When Brodie played the chorus once more, Jax joined in softly, voice
lowering gradually, yet crystal clear, until the song came to an end.

Brodie looked at Jax again, still not entirely certain that he
understood. Jax gave Brodie one of his rare smiles and nodded. Brodie wiped
his sweaty face of with one of the towels they kept onstage.

He avoided Jax as they were loading the equipment into Cutt's van. Jax was
giving him a ride home. Crazy as it seemed, he was afraid to be alone with
Jax.

The ride to Brodie's house was tense and silent. Feeling raw and on edge,
Jax didn't even turn the radio on. Brodie, turned inward, didn't notice.

*********************************

9

When they arrived at Brodie's house, Jax entered Brodie's bedroom feeling
like he had made a huge mistake. Brodie closed the door and leaned back
against it. His face was naked and vulnerable.

"Jax," he said hoarsely, and then stopped. He swallowed and started again.

"Maybe, I misunderstood."

"You didn't," Jax said.

"Jax."

Once again, Brodie stumbled for words. "You wrote that song over three
years ago."

He frowned in bewilderment.

Jax looked at him, blue gaze unwavering and patient, knowing that Brodie
needed this. "I know."

"Just now, I thought, maybe, that you were singing to me."

"I was." Jax answered.

"No, I mean, I thought that you were singing the words of that song to me."

Brodie's heart was beating so rapidly that its movement was visible through
the thin material of the t-shirt he was wearing.

"I was, Brodie," Jax said. "I wrote the song for you, about you. My
feelings for you."

"Jax, I know...I know... If I seem a little slow right now, it's because I
really need to make sure I understand. Because, if I come over there," he
warned, "once I start touching you, I don't think I'll be able to stop."

Jax shivered, minute, gossamer chills racing through his entire body. He
was hard and aching. He had been all night long. Being on the receiving end
of Brodie's relentless focus was slightly unnerving and incredibly
arousing.

Brodie continued, "Do you want me, Jax?"

Jax's feelings were communicated in the revealing, unguarded expression in
his eyes before he responded emphatically, "Yes. Oh. Yes."

Brodie walked over to him, narrowing the space between them so their bodies
were touching lightly. He looked down at Jax, into his always solemn blue
eyes. Deliberately, he brushed the hair away from Jax's face in a gesture
that he had repeated thousands of times over the span of years that he had
known Jax. Jax shivered again.

Brodie pressed a tender, hesitant kiss against Jax's temple. He grazed his
lips across Jax's face, delicately and carefully. Jax's eyes drifted shut,
weighted with desire. He whimpered when he felt the tip of Brodie's tongue
tracing the curve of his ear.

Grazing his lips delicately across Jax's smooth, ivory face, Brodie moved
his lips towards Jax's tender mouth. When he felt the soft velvet of Jax's
lips against his, his knees suddenly weakened in response. He kissed Jax
tentatively at first, disbelieving that what he had desired these many
weeks was now coming to pass.

Jax's quiet acceptance of his touch, lent Brodie confidence. He parted
Jax's lips with his, eagerly, hungrily. He gasped at the sensation and
pulled Jax closer. He began to kiss Jax heatedly, thrusting his fingers
into Jax's hair and holding his head in place so that he could plunder his
delicious mouth.

It was amazing. The way Jax's mouth felt against his. He couldn't get
enough. He couldn't stop. He just wanted to climb inside of Jax's mouth,
his body, his soul and devour him. Jax was returning his kiss, just as
desperately, trembling and shaking in Brodie's arms.

Brodie bit Jax's lower lip gently, and pulled away, resting his forehead on
Jax's. Jax groaned in protest. He buried his face into Brodie's chest,
struggling for control. He held his slim body tensely. Moments passed
before he became aware of Brodie's large hand soothingly stroking his
back. He shuddered within the circle of Brodie's arms, and then raised hazy
blue eyes to Brodie's beautiful face.

"I want you so much, Brodie," he whispered.

Fire and anticipation streaked through him and he shifted restlessly when
he felt Brodie's fingers at the top button of his shirt. Brodie removed
Jax's clothing the way he opened his Christmas presents, carefully, with a
sense of unfettered excitement and anticipation. He gazed into Jax's eyes
the entire time, as if he were afraid that Jax would regain his senses and
stop him at some point.

Instead, Jax stood passively beneath Brodie's ministrations. He was
inhaling and exhaling in measured increments, trying to maintain control of
a body that felt like it no longer belonged to him.

Brodie undressed them both at the same time and left the lights on; he
wanted to see everything. He left a trail of hot, moist kisses behind each
article of clothing he removed from Jax's smooth, lithe form. When they
were both naked, Brodie leaned down and brushed his lips against Jax's
mouth.

He laid a fiery trail of delicate kisses along Jax's jaw, on the tip of his
nose and across every surface of his face and neck. Then he took Jax's hand
and led him over to the bed.

Brodie leaned over Jax and pressed a gentle kiss against his soft, perfect
mouth. He stroked the smooth, hairless surfaces of Jax's chest and thighs
with his large hands. Jax arched his back and whimpered. Brodie deepened
the kiss languorously, rubbing his tongue tenderly against the inside of
Jax's mouth and entwining their tongues together. Jax was grinding against
him involuntarily.

Brodie trailed careful, hot, moist kisses across Jax's body, reveling in
the smooth, warm satin of Jax's flesh in his mouth. He groaned hoarsely as
he worked his way down Jax's body.

Jax's hands twisted in the sheets as Brodie's kisses traveled across his
skin. His body arched and contracted uncontrollably in response to the
intoxicating feel of Brodie's mouth against his flesh. Brodie worked his
way up and down Jax's body, avoiding his nipples and his cock.

He turned Jax over gently and starting at the back of his neck, planted
honey sweet kisses downwards over every visible surface until he reached
the soles of Jax's feet. And then he started all over again. Jax was
grinding his hard, aching penis into the bed.

"Stop that," Brodie chided huskily and turned Jax over so that he was once
again on his back.

Jax's body was quivering violently. Fine tremors that he couldn't control.
His bottom lip was held firmly between his teeth.

Brodie zeroed in right on Jax nipples, standing plump and erect with
arousal. When he took first one and then the other in between his teeth and
nibbled tenderly, Jax arched his back, curled his knees inward reflexively
and groaned helplessly. Brodie lifted his mouth and traced lazy curly cues
across the hard surface of Jax's abdomen with the tip of one finger. The
muscles there contracted and hardened.

He buried his hand in the fine black triangle of hair at Jax's crotch, and
then moved down so that he was in between Jax's open legs. He studied Jax's
penis and testicles. Pretty.

Jax's cock was a pale pink and cut. Six inches at the most and very
precisely made. The head was a round, rose-colored dome. It was wet and
smeared with precum. His balls were hard and firm within the smooth sack.

Brodie touched Jax's penis lightly at first, then began to squeeze and
stroke; caressing first the shaft and then rubbing his thumb across the
head, slipping and sliding in the juice being spilled there. Every muscle
in Jax's body tensed. "Brodie," he said brokenly.

Brodie removed his hand, raised it to his mouth and tasted the secretions
Jax's cock had left behind. Good. So good.

"You taste so good, Jax," he managed to say before he engulfed the tip of
Jax's cock into his mouth.

Jax cried out hoarsely and his hands went to Brodie's head, tangling in the
thick copper strands. Brodie lapped at the swollen glans, savoring the
taste of precum that oozed continuously from the slit in the center. He
opened his mouth wider and enveloped Jax's entire penis into its heated,
moist warmth.

"Oh, god," Jax groaned, twisting and writhing on the bed.

The taste of Jax's flesh in his mouth was addictive. The warmth, the silk
over steel hardness of his cock, his thick, sticky juice, the round globes
of his balls had a sweetness that Brodie couldn't get enough of. He lapped
and suckled at Jax's cock and balls until Jax was moaning continuously from
the agonizing, tortuous pleasure.

Brodie placed his hands under Jax's buttocks and raised his hips. Carefully
he lifted Jax's tender testicles with his nose and followed with his
tongue. He sucked at the thin line of flesh beneath Jax's balls leading to
his anus.

Then he rubbed the flat of his tongue across the nerve rich area of Jax's
asshole. The sensation of the rough surface of Brodie's tongue rubbing him
there was sharp, intense and immensely pleasurable; entreatingly, Jax
spread his legs wider and lifted his hips even higher. Brodie corkscrewed
his thick, long tongue down that narrow, aching passage. Jax went wild,
screaming hoarsely, thrusting his ass repeatedly towards Brodie's mouth,
and trying to get that tongue deeper and deeper inside.

Brodie lifted his face. Jax's chest was heaving and he had a thin layer of
sweat across his forehead. Brodie's eyes were heavy; his face was wet with
saliva and Jax's secretions. Jax had never seen a more exciting sight in
his life. He licked his lips. Without taking his eyes from Jax's, Brodie
grabbed lube and a condom from his bedside table.

He sheathed and lubed himself with an unexpected expertise. Patiently and
gingerly he inserted one finger at a time into Jax's anal canal, twisting
and turning them as Jax rocked on them sensuously. When Brodie inserted his
middle finger and started searching around, Jax stopped breathing. Brodie
found what he was looking for and rubbed the tip of his middle finger
across Jax's prostate over and over and over again, Jax took a long,
shuddering breath and opened his mouth on a silent scream.

Brodie's cock lurched wildly. He removed his fingers and lay on top of
Jax. He looked down into those ever-serious blue eyes. He had no words for
this.

Jax nodded his head and pulled Brodie's mouth down to his. Effortlessly,
Brodie lifted Jax's hips into his hands and slowly, incrementally inserted
his penis into Jax. Jax winced. Brodie was getting a funny feeling. He
broke their kiss and looked down at Jax. "I thought..."

Jax said, "Don't think..." and pulled Brodie's mouth onto his once more.

When Brodie seemed to hesitate, Jax grabbed his hips and attempted to guide
Brodie into him. Brodie, being Brodie wasn't budging. Reluctantly, he ended
their kiss. He looked into Jax's eyes.

"Everything...everything to you, Brodie," Jax said.

Brodie closed his eyes, overcome. He still had no words for this.

He continued to delicately push his cock into Jax. "Push down," he
whispered into Jax's ear. "Easy, yeah, like that. It's just me and you," he
groaned. "Just me and you," he said again.

Jax nodded his head in response. Brodie surged forward, then paused, surged
forward and paused until he was completely sheathed within Jax. He was
sweating with exertion.

He looked down at Jax, lying beneath him, blue eyes naked and open,
connected to him in so many ways and now this.

He found one word.

"Heaven," he said.

Three more.

"I love you," he said.

Jax smiled. A luminescent, curve of the lips that took Brodie's breath
away.

Unable to find his voice, Jax mouthed, Everything, everything to you.

Jax wrapped his arms and legs around Brodie. The force of his embrace
caused Brodie to collapse onto his chest and they both lost air at the
sensation of skin to skin. Brodie established a slow, rhythmic
stroking...in and out...in and out. Jax captured the rhythm and moved in
counterpoint. It felt...soooo good.

Brodie's thrusting was almost agonizingly slow. Lazy. Easy. Jax felt every
inch of Brodie's cock as it penetrated him. Pulling back, that slow, sweet,
aching burning. Returning to burrow inside of him, in excruciating
increments, replacing the unbearable emptiness that he experienced with
each withdrawal. A tidal wave of pleasure rippled through him and spread
outwards until his entire body was inundated with feeling as the head and
shaft of Brodie's thick, long penis grazed over his prostate.

Just when he thought Brodie could penetrate him no further, Brodie would
twist his hips in a tiny semi circle that drove him even deeper inside of
Jax's hungry flesh. The slow grind at the end of each inward stroke was
driving Jax senseless.

Jax was moaning and crying out, words garbled and meaningless. His arms
were stretched out on either side of him, fingers clenched and clawing at
the bed sheets as he raised and lowered his hips. They were both drenched
in sweat. Brodie's eyes were half closed, blazing, sapphire slits.

He rose onto his arms, looking down at his cock sliding in and out of
Jax. Unbearably aroused, his eyes closed again, aware that he was close to
cumming. He lowered himself onto Jax again; they both froze and a wave of
intense pleasure washed over them simultaneously at the glide of skin
against skin.

"Jax, I'm gonna cum," Brodie moaned.

Brodie put his arms beneath Jax, curled his hands around Jax's shoulders
and dug his toes into the bed for leverage. Jax wrapped his legs around
Brodie's back even tighter. Brodie licked at Jax's neck; his warm, humid
breath was loud and harsh in Jax's ear. Jax's hands clasped Brodie's firm,
muscular buttocks and pulled him in.

"Cum inside me, Brodie, I want you to cum in me, I want you to give it to
me, I need it, I need it, I need it."

At Jax's words, Brodie's balls contracted and his muscles drew so tight
that it was almost painful.

"Uuuuuungh."

He wrapped his arms around Jax and shuddered uncontrollably as cum was
violently expelled from his penis in rhythmic, pulsing jets of endless
pleasure.

His abdominal muscles were hot, hard, wet and steamy with perspiration,
repeatedly contracting and releasing against the sensitive underside of
Jax's penis, creating an agonizing friction. When Brodie gently grazed his
teeth across Jax's neck, the added stimulation triggered Jax's orgasm and
he came with long, hard, forceful spurts as his ejaculate was released.

Jax kept his legs wrapped around Brodie, unwilling to let him go. He could
still feel Brodie's cock, hard and throbbing within him. Brodie licked at
the sweat on Jax's neck.

"You taste so sweet," he said, voice muffled and face buried in the tender
area between Jax's neck and shoulder.

A trail of goose bumps rose across Jax's body. His cock was still hard too
and although Brodie had explored him from the top of his head to the tips
of his toes, he hadn't had the chance to do the same in return.

Reluctantly, he let his legs slide down so that they were on the outside of
Brodie's. He turned his head to the side and nuzzled at Brodie's face. "My
turn," he whispered.

He skimmed soft lips over every surface of Brodie's face and neck that he
could reach. And then, he did something that he had fantasized about for
years: he removed the elastic band at the tip of Brodie's tightly woven
braid and started to unbraid Brodie's hair. By the time he had finished, he
was breathless with hunger and need.

He buried his fingers in Brodie's silky, burnished copper strands and
combed his hair out so that it was a curtain of bronze satin lying over top
of the both of them. He grabbed a handful and rubbed it across his
face. "I've dreamed about this for so long," he said so softly that Brodie
almost didn't hear him.

"Can I...sit on top of you?" he asked Brodie shyly.

Brodie smiled at him and then shifted onto his back, bringing Jax with
him. Jax combed Brodie's hair out once again so that it was lying across
the pillow. It looked like a halo of copper and fire. Jax wiped the sweat
from Brodie's brow with careful fingers. He traced the fine lines of
Brodie's angelic features, across the red gold brows, the high cheekbones,
the strong curve of his jaw, the dimpled chin. His touch was tender and
worshipful and full of love.

Brodie looked up at him, still unable to believe that they were here, the
two of them together, like this. Jax continued his loving exploration of
Brodie first with his hands and then, disengaging from his place on
Brodie's lap, with his mouth. His lips traversed Brodie's golden apricot,
smooth skin, exploring every surface and crevice, savoring the taste of
Brodie, finally.

When he reached Brodie's cock, he licked from shaft to glans with leisurely
swipes of his tongue. He toyed with the small gathering of tissue on the
underside of the shaft, beneath the glans until Brodie was writhing and
twisting in heated response. He slid just the tip of the glans into his
mouth and lashed at it violently.

Brodie grasped Jax's head and pushed downward, not roughly, but forcefully
enough to make his need known. "Please, Jax," he begged.

Jax slid his mouth down until he could feel the tip of Brodie's penis at
the back of his throat. He opened his mouth wider and not entirely sure how
he was doing it, opened the back of his throat until Brodie's cock was
completely covered. He swallowed, massaging Brodie's cock with the muscles
of his throat.

Jax turned so that his cock was at Brodie's mouth. Brodie opened his mouth
and steered Jax by the hips, pulling him in until the head of Jax's cock
was nudging his tonsils. He groaned at the first taste of Jax's cock on the
surface of his tongue. So sweet. He couldn't get enough.

When he maneuvered Jax's hips so that he was fucking Jax's cock in and out
of his mouth, Jax tore his mouth from Brodie's cock and buried his face in
Brodie's thigh. He sucked at the tender skin on Brodie's leg until he
regained control, and then returned his attention to Brodie's cock.

Jax focused totally on Brodie's cock, licking and sucking earnestly,
wanting to give Brodie pleasure and craving the taste Brodie's cream.

He cupped Brodie's testicles in one hand as he slid his mouth up and down
on Brodie's cock. He scratched Brodie's balls lightly and then stroked the
area underneath. Brodie groaned, his balls drew up and Jax knew that he was
on the verge of release. He put a finger in his mouth alongside Brodie's
cock and moistened it liberally.

Delicately he scratched at Brodie's anal lips. When Brodie made a low,
encouraging sound, Jax inserted just the tip of his figure. Brodie made the
sound again, a little louder, and Jax gingerly inserted his entire
finger. His fingers weren't very long so he struggled to get it all the way
in an attempt to reach Brodie's prostate.

Brodie's reaction was so violent that initially Jax thought he had hurt
him. Brodie bucked his hips crazily, almost throwing Jax off of him. He
made a long, agonized sound then quickly moved Jax so that Jax's cock was
no longer in his mouth.

"Jaxxxxxx...." Brodie groaned. "That...that feels soooo
good. Don't...stop..."

Jax tried to push his finger in further. Brodie's back arched and his head
moved back and forth on the pillow. With one hand, Jax cupped Brodie's
balls and with the other, he began to forcefully move his finger in and out
of his ass.

Jax could tell that Brodie was right on the edge. He changed his position
so that he was in between Brodie's legs and looking up at him. The sight of
Jax's blue eyes looking up at him, inflamed with lust and seeing his cock
in Jax's luscious, scorching hot, wet mouth, made Brodie cum. He watched,
eyes half closed and heavy with desire as Jax's mouth rose and fell on his
cock. Jax kept his eyes riveted on Brodie's as he swallowed each and every
drop of savory cream.

Jax rose up onto his knees and started to fist his cock rapidly; knowing
that it wouldn't take much for him to cum. Brodie leaned up and stopped
him.

"C'mere," he said hoarsely while pulling Jax towards him so that Jax was
sitting on his chest facing him. He drew Jax's cock into his mouth and
grabbed his buttocks, moving his cock in and out of his mouth forcefully.

"I'm cumming, Brodie, I'm cumming," Jax gasped, panting for air, insensate
with pleasure as he came in Brodie's mouth. Brodie swallowed eagerly,
licking and sucking even after Jax had cum and he had licked him clean. He
couldn't get enough. Finally, Jax pulled away.

He collapsed at Brodie's side, moving eagerly into Brodie's arms as Brodie
drew him close. They shared a tender, loving kiss and fell asleep spooned
together.

The next morning, Jax jumped up with a start, "Shit, I'm gonna be late."

He had an early study group meeting that he had completely forgotten
about. Brodie didn't have to get there until later in the morning.

Jax showered and dressed hurriedly, leaving Brodie reluctantly.

A couple of hours later, Brodie sought Jax out in the Student Center. They
had very few classes together but they knew each other's schedules. On his
way to his to his eleven am class, when Jax had his break, Brodie would
often peek into the Center to make sure Jax was okay.

Today, he stood in the doorway of the wide entrance. Even in the crowd, his
eye unerringly found Jax without difficulty. Jax's head lifted immediately.

He turned his head towards the doorway and saw Brodie, tall, lean and
muscular, copper hair unbraided and flowing to his waist as Jax had
requested, and he fell in love, all over again.

Blue eyes met turquoise and the conversation began.

Remember? Brodie's eyes asked.

Yes.

Your cock...in my mouth...Brodie's eyes said.

Jax looked down, and pinched his nose, engulfed by a wave of lust and heat
so intense that he felt as though he would burst into flame. He knew that
everything he was feeling was revealed on his face. He shuddered violently,
hoping that no one noticed. He struggled to catch his breath then looked up
again.

Brodie's eyes were waiting for him.

Remember?

Yes.

My cock, inside of you.

Jax gasped. His cock was throbbing, aching, and so hard. He had been hard
off and on all morning, thinking about Brodie. Thinking about what had
happened between them last night. His minds eye was flooded with a series
of images that elicited a responsive shiver of desire.

He couldn't turn away from the eyes that pierced his soul. Mesmerized, he
stood up and walked towards Brodie, not noticing the people in his path,
walking around them as though they didn't exist. For him, they
didn't. Nothing and no one existed in this moment but Brodie and him.

When he reached Brodie's side, Brodie eyed him searchingly, making sure
that he was all right, and then turned around and started
walking. Following silently in Brodie's wake, Jax was hit with another
series of images. He made a low, strangled sound in the back of his throat.

Surreptitiously, he adjusted his cock, engorged and hurting in his jeans.
When they arrived at his car, after they were inside and the doors were
locked, he thanked God for tinted windows and pulled Brodie's mouth towards
his, groaning with need.

He held Brodie's face in his hands and devoured his mouth
voraciously. Brodie was feverishly returning the kiss and unbuttoning Jax's
shirt at the same time. He pinched Jax's nipples gently. Jax moaned into
Brodie's mouth then tore his lips away from Brodie's, "If we don't stop
now, you're going to have to fuck me right here."

"Let's go," Brodie said huskily.

Jax could never recall how they made it to his house. When they stopped at
the first red light, he had reached over and run a finger down the shaft of
Brodie's cock, swollen and raging hard in his pants. Brodie had grabbed his
wrist and said, "No."

When Jax's finger had continued the caress, after a few heart-stopping
seconds, Brodie had found the strength to lift Jax's hand. He resisted
Jax's attempts to touch him, continuing to hold a restraining grip on Jax's
wrist. He pressed his head back against the headrest and closed his eyes.

"I don't have any control left. If you touch me again," Brodie warned in a
low voice, "I won't be able to stop, and I WILL fuck you right here."

Fortuitously, the light turned green and Jax's attention returned to the
road, stomach quivering and cock throbbing because of Brodie's terse
words. The car must have driven and parked itself because Jax was not
consciously aware of anything except for his need to have Brodie inside of
him again.

Jax had the second floor of the house to himself and they used every bit of
it. Clothes were strewn everywhere from the stairs to Jax's bedroom. When
they reached the doorway, Brodie pulled Jax to him and rubbed his body
roughly against Jax's.

"I couldn't wait," he kept saying over and over again between fierce, earth
shattering kisses.

He licked Jax's ear and Jax's knees buckled. Brodie's hands around his
waist were the only things keeping him from melting to the floor. Regaining
sanity for a brief moment, Jax grabbed Brodie by the hand and led him to
the bed. He grabbed the lube from beneath a pillow and handed it to Brodie.

Jax flopped backwards onto the bed and grabbed Brodie's cock and demanded,
"Give it to me. Now."

Brodie looked at Jax out of sapphire eyes that were fierce and intent. He
took Jax at his word. With very little preliminaries, he spread Jax's legs,
got between them and thrust inward roughly.

They both groaned heatedly. Jax wrapped his legs around Brodie's back and
dug his heels into Brodie's buttocks. Brodie grabbed Jax by the waist and
thrust in and out like a battering ram while moving Jax up and down on his
cock rapidly.

Jax was gasping for air, insensate and out of control. His body was under
Brodie's command, moving wherever Brodie directed it. Controlled by the
insane pleasure Brodie was delivering.

Jax's cock pulsated between them, a dark, angry red from the chafing of
Brodie's sweat covered abdomen rubbing across it so roughly. Brodie rolled
over onto his back, never losing his hold on Jax's waist or the pace he had
established.

"You want me?"Brodie asked harshly, nostrils flaring.

"Yesssssss..." Jax hissed.

"You want me to fuck you?" Brodie asked.

"Yesssss..."

"Like this?" Brodie asked.

"Yes, yes...please fuck me, Brodie," Jax cried out.

"Oh god, just like this."

Brodie drove his cock upwards, lifting his hips and holding them still
while he pushed Jax downwards, impaling him on the stiff, aching pole. He
held Jax there for interminable moments, then lifted him and rocked him up
and down so that the sweet abrading of his prostate sent electric sparks
radiating through his ass and up and down his burning cock.

Brodie shifted so that Jax was beneath him again, and fucked into him,
thrusting in and out methodically and then doing that slow corkscrew grind
at the end of each in stroke that embedded his cock inside of Jax so that
they were joined completely. Jax's head was twisting back and forth on the
pillow, he was breathing through his mouth, his chest rising and falling
rapidly, heart racing.

"I'm going to cum," Jax said breathlessly.

Brodie wrenched his cock out of Jax's ass, and Jax keened mournfully,
"Noooo, don't stop, Brodie, not now."

Brodie turned Jax over and positioned him on all fours. He reached beneath
Jax and played with his cock, stroking him lightly and running his thumb
across the glans of his penis, collecting the precum and rubbing it all
over Jax's cock. He raised his hand to his face and licked off the excess
fluid.

Jax was rocking his hips back and forth in anticipation of feeling Brodie's
cock penetrating him once more. "Oh god, oh god, oh god. Please now,
Brodie, please now," Jax begged.

Brodie covered Jax's violently trembling body with his and rained soft,
delicate, butterfly kisses across Jax's back. Jax squirmed expectantly,
spreading his legs when he felt Brodie's fingers at his opening. Brodie
inserted several fingers, grinding them in and out until Jax was fucking
back greedily.

Unable to wait any longer, Brodie pushed his cock inside of Jax's sweet,
hungry asshole and groaned as he felt the tight, moist heat clutching at
his cock. He grasped Jax by the shoulders and used the pressure of his
hands to move Jax forwards and back, then he slid one of his hands down and
stroked Jax's chest, grabbing first one then the other nipple, twisting
them.

Lowering his hand and reaching down further, he grasped Jax's hard,
distended cock. His hand, slippery with sweat and precum, moved easily on
Jax's penis. Jax grunted and Brodie could tell that he was about to cum
again. He moved his hand away.

Jax moaned with frustration. Brodie lifted Jax's hips and bunched the
pillows up so that Jax was a little higher. In this position, when Brodie
fucked into him, Jax felt as though the tip of Brodie's penis was punching
down on his prostate with each cadenced, measured down stroke. As Brodie
increased the force and frequency of his strokes, Jax began to thrash
frantically beneath him.

Brodie's cock felt as though it was encased in liquid velvet. Jax's body
was beneath him, slender and wiry, his beautiful Jax, fucking him,
welcoming him into his body, into himself. Brodie's cock twitched, unable
to withstand the glorious, delicious heat of Jax's ass and the incredible
feeling of being inside of Jax.

He reached down and grasped Jax's cock again. This time, he stroked both of
them to completion. He synchronized his strokes on Jax's cock with the
swift insertion and removal of his cock inside of Jax's ass. Jax bucked and
rocked beneath him, completely in tune with Brodie's thrusts.

Brodie felt the sensation in his cock, build, build, crest and then flow
outward in searing bursts of heat and pleasure. He kept up his motions on
Jax's cock, and when the sensations reached their peak, leaned over and bit
Jax on his shoulder to keep from screaming. Jax lurched madly beneath him
and his cock jerked spasmodically in Brodie's hand, over and over until
Brodie was marveling at the strength of Jax's orgasm and the copious
amounts of viscous, thick cum he produced.

They froze in place for long moments afterward, locked in the glory of the
vivid pleasure they had given to one another. As they recovered, Brodie lay
on his back, pulled Jax on top of him and wrapped his arms around him. He
kissed the top of Jax's head and they both drifted off to sleep.

********************************

10

Jax awakened alone in the dark and disoriented. He sat up abruptly. It was
a dream. The whole thing had been a fucking dream. It had seemed so
real. He could even smell Brodie. Shit. Now he was really going crazy. He
could smell food.

The hall light turned on, and moments later, Brodie walked in the room
carrying a tray full of food. "You're awake," he said with a happy
smile. "I missed you. Thought you might be hungry when you woke up."

His smile faded at the look on Jax's face. "What's wrong?" he asked.

"I thought it was a dream," Jax confessed.

He brought his knees to his chest and wrapped his arms around them. He put
his forehead to his knees, hiding his face.

"You have no idea how much I've wanted this," he said, voice muffled.

Brodie put the tray down, walked over to the bed and sat down next to Jax.

"I think I may have an idea,"Brodie said, "because I wanted it pretty badly
too. Maybe not for as long, but you have no idea how I felt when I realized
I loved you."

Jax raised his head. "You love me?" he whispered, needing to hear Brodie
say it again and again.

Brodie raised his hand and gently brushed back a fallen lock of Jax's
hair. Jax turned his face into Brodie's hand and kissed the center
tenderly. Brodie shivered slightly in response.

"Yes," Brodie answered. "I love you. All ways. Always."

*********************************

Jax looked around with a bemused expression upon his face. How did he end
up here? The band was celebrating their partnership with a very, very small
record label, Milagro Records. They were expanding their horizons in a very
controlled way, in keeping with the plans the five of them had established
in high school.

There was a little person headed his way, Jaime, Luke and Jake's adopted
son. One of Jake's many nieces had become pregnant at a very young age and
had decided that Uncle Jakie and Uncle Luke would be perfect parents for
her unborn child.

He was a miniature Jake, but unlike Jake, looked like he was going to be
tall. He gravitated towards Jax, just like all little kids did and when
five-year-old Jaime reached Jax he requested and received a hug. He walked
back over to his parents who were observing him with identical smiles of
pride.

All of the beautiful O'Brien's were here, proud of Brodie's success and the
success of all of the band members, who they also regarded as part of their
extended family. At the moment, Dyllan and Kai were hovering solicitously
over Lacey, who was pregnant with the first baby of the family since
Brodie. She was incandescent with joy, surrounded by the people she loved
most in the world.

Christian and Sinclair were sitting at the table too. Stevie was with them,
seated on Christian's lap, even though he was tall like his mother and
uncle and dwarfed Christian, who had never grown much beyond high
school. He was probably too old to be sitting in Christian's lap, but not
as far as the two of them were concerned. Sinclair was holding their baby,
a 3-month-old girl; face soft with love and happiness. She was beautiful,
glowing with happiness, no longer the sullen, guarded girl of her teenage
years.

Cutter was in the corner speaking with the owner of the record
company. Niamh was chatting with Derek's sister. Quinn and Mary Katherine
were teasing Peggy. Cullen and Shannon were quietly talking with Derek and
Niall.

And then there was Brodie. Best friend and lover. As if he heard Jax's
thought, Brodie raised his head. As always, his eye unerringly found Jax.
He smiled at him, sapphire eyes glowing with a love Jax never tired of
seeing. In return, Jax's mouth lifted into the rare, precious smile that
always took Brodie's breath away.

Jax thought to himself, this was the real stuff. The important stuff, as
his grandmother had tried to explain to him so long ago.

This is what it's all about, love and family.

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