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Long Time Gone

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Steve pulls his old green Volvo station wagon into the parking lot of the LA park. As he unfolds himself from the seat to stand, he can’t help smiling to himself at the feel of the sun on his face. It was a great idea to start coming to the park to play, he thinks as he grabs his guitar case from the backseat. Summer is in full swing, but it isn’t too hot for the threadbare t-shirt and jeans he’s wearing.

He finds a seat underneath the shade of a tall oak tree, pushing his sunglasses up into his blonde wavy hair as he drops his notebook and pencil on the grass before sitting with his case in his lap. All of life seems to happen in this park, young lovers and old lovers, families with children and dogs, walkers and joggers and skateboarders, and him, an almost-seventeen year old heading for his senior year of high school.

So much had changed in three years, he had changed. As a freshman he had been so unsure of everything, so unsure of himself. He had always known he was gay but to tell people, to tell everyone…it didn’t matter that he was certain his parents would love him anyway, there was that seed of doubt that gnawed at him until it seemed to be all that he could think about. He had felt like everyone already knew, that it was like written on his forehead or something. Of course, it sort of was, well, not that he was gay, but certainly that he was uncomfortable, that he was hiding.

He ended up blurting it out in the middle of dinner, in between “have some more broccoli, honey” and “pass the rolls” there was “I’m gay.” His parents were stunned, of course, at the nonsequitor if not at the content of the announcement. Then his mom’s slack mouth turned up in a little smile, as if she was actually proud of him, proud that he had finally said it. His dad seemed a little uncomfortable, which hurt, no matter how typical that reaction probably was. He tried really and Steve knew that and could now appreciate the effort, but Steve’s dad was never going to take the delight that his mom seemed to when asking if Steve found such-and-such actor attractive. Actually his mom was weirdly cool about it.

Steve lost some friends, endured some teasing and name calling. At the time, it had felt like the end of the world, but with time, Steve realized that all teenagers experienced that, gay or straight, popular or nerd, or anywhere in between, high school was tough for everybody. Mostly because teenagers were uncomfortable with themselves and just took it out on everybody else.

But now Steve feels like he’s finally comfortable in his own skin. And it seems that that’s the key to being comfortable with somebody else. After some awkward teenage dates and some fumbling encounters in his car, Steve is dating Misha Collins. His fingers stroke idly over the strings of his guitar as Steve thinks of Misha’s laughing blue eyes, pixie-ish looks, cutting sarcasm.

Steve had met Misha through Jensen, one of Steve’s best friends. He had probably gone to school with Misha his whole life, but because of the size of the schools, had never really spoken to the guy. Through Jensen though, they kept ending up at the same things and then Misha asked him out.

Misha’s really hot, and kooky and stares off into space a lot thinking about God knows what, but they hit it off when they really spent some time together. With every other guy, it was one step forward and two steps back, Steve was nervous, afraid of being caught, uncomfortable going further. But with Misha, Steve feels plenty comfortable getting physical.

And, though they’ve only been dating two months, Misha is definitely agreeable to going further than hurried handjobs and fumbling blowjobs. Misha doesn’t have a car but he told Steve outright that the stationwagon was the perfect car for having sex. And then Misha had waggled his eyebrows playfully and made Steve laugh.

Now going further is all that Steve can think about. He hates to be a teenage horndog cliché, but he’s ready and he wants. He wants to know what sex feels like. Unfortunately, Misha’s job at the coffeeshop is scheduling him exactly opposite of Steve’s own work schedule at the record store so they have no time to be together at all, much less be together like that. Steve sighs and turns his attention more fully to the guitar in his lap.

Out of the corner of his eye, though, Steve notices a familiar figure moving closer to lie in a patch of sunlight nearby. Steve’s never actually met this guy who seems to strategically place himself around Steve whenever Steve’s there with his guitar, but it’s actually really flattering.

It’s easy to tell that the teen is homeless, probably a runaway. His clothes, too-large jeans and a green t-shirt saying ‘Turtle’ are threadbare but not in the comfortable way that Steve’s are. The guy seems to be making an effort to keep them and himself clean, but he and the clothes are dirty anyway.

Despite all that Steve has to admit the guy is attractive. He has a strong jaw but full lips, large eyes so blue that Steve can see the color from here, standing out in the guy’s tan face beneath short chestnut colored hair. Steve’s spent lots of time wondering about him, wondering why he’s on the streets, wondering how difficult it is to be there, wondering if the guy’s looks add to his difficulties. The guy only looks as old as Steve himself if not younger.

Steve is settling in to play a song that he’s been working on for a while when he notices the guy getting up like someone lit a fire underneath him. He looks around in time to see a group of three other teenagers coming up. It’s not a surprise to see the faces of all four boys tight in anger. He can hear raised voices but can’t determine what the fight is about.

Despite that it doesn’t involve Steve in the slightest, he sets his guitar gently aside. He doesn’t know the guy but Steve has seen him around enough to feel compelled to get up. Steve is surprised when the pretty guy is the one to throw the first punch. The guy is smaller than his opponents but he’s all bravado, using his extended arm to then pull the one in front forward and down on the ground. He’s on top in a heartbeat, beating his opponent soundly for a moment until the other two catch onto what’s happening.

The balance shifts then, the greater number of his opponents working against him as Steve knew it would. The pretty one is pulled off of his target and surrounded by flailing limbs punching and pulling. The guy on the ground and Steve stand up at the same time. Steve has no idea what he’ll do when he gets over there but…

Steve never finds out how he’d be in a fight. Even as he’s approaching, the teens keep looking around, presumably for the cops that are always in the park for moments just like this. The fight ends quickly as they dump the pretty one on the ground and run off.

With the immediate danger now past, Steve slows his steps, asking himself what he thinks he’s doing. Nevertheless, he can’t prevent his feet from carrying him forward in concern for the other teen. Slowly the injured teen rises to his hands and knees, spitting a few times into the grass though Steve can’t see if it’s blood.

After that the teen hastily gets to his feet, taking a few stumbling steps forward before finding his balance and breaking into a run, never looking behind him at Steve whose hand is raised and mouth open. Any words he had thought to say die in his throat and Steve feels a little disappointed.

Christian is irritated as he slows his running, entering a more densely forested area of the park where the homeless have set up a sort of tent city. Wiping his bleeding lip on the sleeve of his t-shirt, he’s practically shuddering with impotent rage.

Those fuckers, he thinks. He’s been on the streets of LA for almost two years and those guys think that they can push him around. Just because he doesn’t hang out in a group or gang, preferring instead to be by himself, to look after himself.

And it doesn’t matter that it had been three against one, that he was smaller than any of his opponents, the fact that he’d been unable to defend himself, that he’d been at the mercy of others itches under his skin, eating his control, his peace of mind. He feels humiliated. He wants to throw something, he needs to hit someone, he just…

“Hey boy! You lookin’ for something?”

Spinning around, Christian almost falls over at the unexpected intrusion into his thoughts. He hasn’t been paying attention to his surroundings and is surprised to spin around and see that he has walked past three men sitting on a dirty sleeping bag. Still, one look at the one man who has spoken, who is now standing and walking toward him and Christian knows exactly what the ‘something’ is that the man is offering.

Christian’s body softens immediately, his stance widening into a more inviting pose. He doesn’t need to say anything, the man is as well-versed in these subtle interactions as Christian himself. With a simple tip of the man’s head at a more secluded direction, Christian is leading the way, shuddering now with anticipation.

He’s only taken a few steps into the underbrush when a large hand settles on his upper back between his shoulder blades, pushing him down to his knees on the grass and dirt. But Christian doesn’t feel the rocks cutting into his palms or the bruises blooming on his face as his whole attention is on the large hands at his belt.

“Come on, man,” Christian says in a hoarse whisper. His answer is a throaty laugh as the man roughly pulls his jeans down over his hips.

“So it’s like that, boy?” the man asks and Christian hates the smugness that he can hear in the man’s voice. He just wants the guy to hurry the hell up.

His wish is granted when two wet fingers are plunged callously into his ass. He can’t help the groan that escapes his open mouth, but he can still hear the guy laughing. It doesn’t matter though, not when the fingers are slipping out and something bigger and blunter is pressing insistently inside.

Christian is pressing his hips back just as insistently, enjoying the painful burning of being breached, that fire that feels like it could consume his whole body. He drops to his elbows, resting his forehead on his left arm as his right is already reaching towards his leaking dick. The guy behind him is pushing up his t-shirt with one hand and Christian wants to shove off the touch but then the guy starts thrusting fast and hard.

Jerking his dick just as fast, Christian concentrates entirely on reaching his orgasm, blocking out the feel of the man’s hand on his back, the man’s hips and balls hitting his ass, the sound of the man panting and grunting behind him. He wants to cum, wants that release, needs it…

“Unh, uh-huh,” Christian bites his lip hard to stifle any further noises as he stiffens, jerking his hips erratically in the grasp of large hands, fingers pressing into soft skin. Making noises of appreciation, the man grips tighter, pulls Christian in hard, thrusting deep, too deep as Christian whimpers even as he’s spilling hot over his hand and onto the ground.

Christian is panting in the aftermath. It’s not until the man starts to pull out that he realizes they didn’t use a condom. The man’s softening cock slides out wetly, trails of cum dripping out of Christian and running down his thighs. Fuck, Christian thinks. He knows better, knows to use protection but he just doesn’t think, just lets the guy do whatever.

The guy’s hand is still hot and heavy on his bare back as Christian looks down at his own hands. They’re filthy with dirt and cum and blood, filthy just like he is.

And then Christian is pushing the guy off, away. “Get off, man.”

When the man chuckles this time, saying, “Don’t be like that, baby,” in a teasing voice, Christian flushes red with shame. He can’t help shoving an elbow at the guy torso before he’s attempting to stand up with his pants around his ankles. Yanking them up angrily over his cum-streaked thighs, Christian tries not to look at the man that he just let fuck him.

And he doesn’t look back as he walks gracelessly away. He’s sore from the friction, walking with a wide stance as if bowlegged, and he can feel the man’s wetness between his asscheeks with every step he takes. He makes his way to the public bathrooms in the park, stiff with the knowledge that everyone can see how filthy he is, that everyone knows what he tries to hide.

Stepping up the sink, he’s grateful to find the bathroom empty. Christian starts by washing his hands. There isn’t a whole lot he can do about his clothes right then, but he has a couple extras in the backpack he keeps hidden. Still he can’t help swiping at the stains on his t-shirt angrily before wetting a couple of paper towels and taking them into a stall.

Steve enters the front door of his house feeling a little out of sorts. After his audience had run off, he really hadn’t been able to play anything. He’s still worrying over the other teen even though he doesn’t even know the guy.

Setting his guitar case by the door to his room, he meanders into the kitchen where he can hear his mom moving about, the whistle of the teakettle.

She doesn’t disappoint, smiling as she sees him. “Hey honey, I was just making some tea. Did you want some?”

Steve can’t help smiling and shaking his head even as he answers, “Sure,” and sits down at the table. He’s not surprised when a plate of his favorite peanut butter cookies appears in front of him either. But when he takes a cookie, he only picks at it, still thinking over the events of the afternoon.

“Spill it.” Steve’s face jerks up instantly at the change in his mom’s tone of voice. “I can see that you want to talk about something so talk.”

Sheepish that his mom still knows him so well, Steve sets the cookie down and sighs. “There’s this guy…”

His mom’s snorted laughter makes him stop and roll his eyes. Yeah, the guy is hot but that’s not why Steve is upset. Really, it’s weird that his mom is so concerned about his love life. “Mo-om, not like that. Jesus…”

“Watch your mouth.”

“Sorry. It’s this homeless teen in the park who always listens to me play on Sundays. I…”

“You feel sorry for him and want to help,” his mom finishes matter of fact. “My little bleeding heart…”

It’s Steve who snorts this time. “We all know where I get it from,” he says teasingly. His mom was a hippie back in the seventies during college, and even though she’s now a house-wife with a cooking blog, her bleeding heart ways never wore off.

His mom’s smile is a little sad, and she’s silent for a minute. “You can’t just expect to fix things for this boy…”

“I know, mom…” Steve whines, hating when she acts like he’s a little kid, like he doesn’t know that he can’t just fix this guy’s life.

“But,” she continues past his interruption. “If you want to help, do it. Just be aware that he may not be all that accepting at first.”

Steve nods gravely at the responsibility and picks up the cookie again. He still can’t seem to actually eat it though.

“Stop staring at it and eat, Steven. Don’t start thinking that you should feel bad for everything that you have and he doesn’t. It won’t do either of you any good. You were lucky enough to be born into a loving family that feeds you and keeps a roof over your head. You should be thankful for those things and not waste them.”

With an indulgent grin, Steve bites into the cookie that his mom is so worked up over. But she still keeps talking, “And you haven’t wasted it. You get good grades, practice your music, are responsible at your job…”

“Thanks, mom, I get it.”

He sips his tea then and listens to his mom talk about her latest recipe creation to be posted on her blog. Eventually he goes into his room and plays Halo on his Xbox 360 until his dad returns home from playing golf for dinner.

Christian emerges from the bathroom as the sky is darkening, the sun making its descent toward the horizon. He hurries as much as he can back toward the more secluded section of the park, the wooded section that the cops don’t pay any attention to.

He’s still limping as he makes his way past the other homeless persons who make their home there, young and old, but Christian doesn’t speak to any of them. After two years of living as one of them, Christian’s silence is certainly not because he feels superior to any of them. He just doesn’t want to make friends, make connections, doesn’t want to have to explain himself to anyone, doesn’t want to care about anyone but himself. He’s only just turned seventeen years old on June 27, but Christian is too intimately aware of losing a person that he loves.

** Chris is 8 years old, a small boy with longish chestnut hair and big blue eyes that are trained on his momma sitting on a small couch across the room from him. She’s dressed in a long black skirt and black blouse, black like all the other women sitting around her, like all the people in Chris’s house. And she’s crying, her face is all crinkled up and she’s holding a tissue in front of her, grasping with both hands.

Chris is sitting on his uncle’s lap, his momma’s brother. He’s wearing a black suit himself, stiff and uncomfortable. He can feel his older sister, Jenny shifting in her nice dress as she sits beside them. His uncle is trying to get his attention but Chris isn’t paying any attention. His Dad is dead. He thinks of the sight of his Dad in the hospital, barely recognizable as the big, strong man Chris had known, the man who had taught him to play little league baseball. He doesn’t really understand what it means when they say that his Daddy’s in heaven, but he knows that Dad’s not coming back.

His uncle’s wife hands a plate of food each to him and his sister. He doesn’t want to eat, wants to chuck the food away and start screaming and crying like a toddler. He doesn’t. He wants to be good for his mama. She doesn’t need to deal with him now, not when she’s already so upset. So he holds the plate in his lap and sits more quietly and still than he’s ever managed before.**

He remembers when his family moved from Texas to Oklahoma. It was a sweltering hot day the summer that Christian turned 6 years old and Jenny was 10. He and Jenny were both sad to say goodbye to their friends, but still a little excited to see their new home. Norman, Oklahoma was only three hours away, but it felt like they were moving to a different world.

He remembers his Dad, tall and dark and strong as he watched the movers pack up the last of their things into the moving van, and he remembers the blessed coolness of the air conditioning when they all finally piled in the car to make the journey themselves. Jenny groaned when their Dad’s old country music came over the speakers, Johnny Cash and Hank Williams Jr., newer artists like Alabama, and even Southern rock from the Allman Brothers and the Marshall Tucker Band. Christian had smiled though, and sang along with his mama’s voice, catching his Dad’s dark eyes in the rearview mirror and seeing the love and affection there.

Even when his Dad was busy getting settled into his job after the move, he made time to take Christian to the park with a baseball and a couple of gloves to practice for Little League. His Dad bought them all turquoise necklaces to celebrate his mama’s Cherokee heritage. He barbecued in their new backyard, teaching Christian how to do it just right so the meat was crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside while Jenny showed their momma what she learned in her new dance class, prancing about on bare feet in the soft grass. Christian remembers how his momma looked in the dying sunlight, gazing over at Daddy with that soft look on her face like she had eyes only for him even with two kids running around her legs.

But all of those happy memories are overshadowed by the memories of his Dad’s death. They were sitting at the round dinner table waiting, watching momma become more and more upset by Dad’s absence. Christian had seen his mama cry before and, even when it was just because of a commercial on tv it always hurt deep in his gut to watch, but when he watched her take that telephone call…He can’t express even now how he felt when he watched her fall apart. He wanted so much to help, to comfort, to do something, but he and Jenny had just sat the kitchen table stunned and confused, too naïve to even conceive of what car wreck really meant.

After that people started to come, Daddy’s family, momma’s brother. It was like his momma was constantly surrounded by a protective cocoon of people, who also kept Christian and Jenny out, kept them busy. All he had wanted to do was to curl up in his momma’s lap and cling to her like the world was ending, like she could make everything better again like she always had before. But instead, everything was stiff and formal, being shepherded around to the hospital and the church by relatives. Nothing would ever be the same.**

Christian shakes away those thoughts forcefully, telling himself that there’s no changing the past. There’s no changing that hollow emptiness in his chest when he thinks of his Dad and his mama and his sister. He’ll never stop wanting to just curl up on his momma’s lap and soak in her comfort, never stop wishing to see his Dad one more time, never stop worrying for his sister and hoping she’s happy. But it’s not going to happen.

His movements are stiff as he grabs his worn backpack out of its hiding place in the hollow of a dead tree trunk. He remembers when he first got to LA and found the spot, how he wanted to wedge himself in that tiny space, just hide from everyone when it felt like the whole world was out to get him.

He learned the hard way that out here, he has to look out for himself at all times. Though there is a camaraderie amongst the people here, it’s simply a matter of survival and people will take from him whatever they can even if he thinks them friends.

Now he keeps his stuff, what’s left of what he had originally brought with him as hidden as he can make it when he isn’t actually carrying it with him. He still has a couple pairs of jeans and boxers and a few t-shirts in his backpack. The sleeping bag that he had brought had been stolen, but he’s managed to find an old dirty one. Fortunately it never gets that cold in LA because Christian refuses to sleep inside the bag, only uses it to keep himself off the cold hard ground. Still it gets cold enough in the winter when he is sleeping outside in a t-shirt. And it gets hot enough in the summer.

He changes, out in the open against the now sapphire sky. There’s no one around but he hates it anyway so he pulls on the other t-shirt as quickly as possible. Changing makes him feel exposed and vulnerable, not just because anyone could see but because he doesn’t like to be naked even when he’s alone. He likes the protection of his clothes.

Stuffing the dirty clothes into the front of the pack to wash at some point, Christian goes ahead and pulls out the sleeping bag from the trunk too. It’s dark but it’s not actually late and he hasn’t eaten for hours, but he doesn’t feel like going out of the park to the streets and alleys of LA, not even to dumpster dive behind the Chinese place where the woman knows him.

Instead he spreads out the sleeping bag over the ground. He picks this place because of the rocky ground that makes it unattractive to most. He just wants to be left alone.


Steve gets up the next morning and heads over to the Perks coffee-shop where Misha works. He himself doesn’t have to work until the afternoon and he has plans for the day.

He intentionally gets to the coffee-shop just before the lunch rush and after the morning rush. The manager doesn’t like it when the employees hang out with their friends, but if it’s slow…

The first person that he meets going through the door is Jensen Ackles who’s cleaning the empty mugs from a front table. Jensen had moved from Richardson, TX in both his and Steve’s sophomore year. They bonded first over the guitar, but Jensen was the first person that Steve was close to who was openly gay. Jensen was a great inspiration and support system when Steve came out himself that year.

“Hey Jens, where’s Misha?”

“Awww, it’s so sweet of you to come see me at work, Steve. Really, I didn’t know you cared…”

“Please,” Misha says, coming up behind Jensen and taking a coffee cup to look like he’s helping. “Like Jared hasn’t developed a caffeine addiction with the amount of time he spends here just to see you. I’m gonna start slipping him decaf because he definitely does not need caffeine…”

Steve grins at the light blush that creeps up Jensen’s face at the mention of Jared Padalecki. Jared is in the grade below them and moved from San Antonio, TX at the beginning of summer. They’ve been dating practically since Jared’s first day.

Steve isn’t blind to the fact that Jensen is hot. Steve is used to Jensen dating and hooking up a lot, and telling Steve about it in excruciating detail, but Jared is the first guy that Jensen really seems interested in for more than a couple of dates and some fun. It’s sweet, really, the way that Jensen has suddenly turned shy about it, but none of them can resist teasing Jensen.

“Oh, shut up,” Jensen says, turning away with an expression part glare and part sheepish smile which only Jensen could pull off.

Leaving Steve with Misha. They can’t touch or kiss at Misha’s work, but they’re both wearing stupidly happy grins as they walk back over to the register.

“The iced chai tea?” Misha asks with a look towards the office.

Steve nods, unwilling to admit that his own high-priced beverage consumption has skyrocketed with Misha working here. “So how was the morning rush?”

“A-mazing,” Misha replies with a smug smile. “Seriously. I thought that Jensen was going to throw a mug at this one man’s head when he kept complaining about the weight of his cappuccino…”

Steve laughs in spite of himself because it’s all too easy to imagine Jensen actually throwing something hard at one of the customers. “Any chance you’ll be off this weekend? Jason was talking about having a party…?”

Misha’s smile drops into a scowl. “I’ll have to see if anyone will switch with me.”

Steve nods in understanding as he takes his drink from Emily, the girl assigned as barista that day. He gives her a smile but she’s in college and doesn’t talk much to them.

Turning back to Misha behind the counter, they’re both silent for a moment, but Steve takes the time to just sip his drink and look at Misha. He really hopes Misha can switch with somebody and come to the party because looking is only increasing Steve’s want.

The silence lingers just long enough to become distinctly uncomfortable and Steve releases the straw from his lips. They both begin to speak though Steve didn’t really know what he was going to say, so he just motions for Misha to continue.

“Who cares about the weight of their drink anyway? I mean, I know that cappuccino is supposed to be light and everything, but it’s like Einstein’s theory of relativity, it’s only light in comparison to other drinks. It’s like this book I read…”

Misha takes advanced mathematics and physics courses and Steve does not so Steve is only partially listening since he doesn’t know anything about cappuccino either and the only word he understands is Einstein. Steve likes that Misha’s smart and even that he’s kooky, but often he just has nothing to add to the conversation.

They chat until customers start arriving again, and then Steve says goodbye to Misha and Jensen and gets back in his car for his second errand.

Steve has seen the teen from the park hanging out on the streets before as he was driving past, so Steve drives around a little looking for him. It’s not like the guy is hanging out in gang territory or anything so it doesn’t take too long to find him.

When Steve does spot the guy, he doesn’t immediately park his car. Instead he parks at a nearby restaurant that he’s been to before and picks up an order to go. Steve figures that food is a pretty good peace offering in this case, even if he’s not trying to find the way to the guy’s heart through his stomach.

Picking a big sandwich with a side of fries, he walks over to where he saw the guy sitting. The guy has changed, is now wearing a dark grey-blue Von Dutch t-shirt, and now he has darkening bruises along one side of his jaw and a split lip. The injuries don’t seem to diminish his hotness at all.

Christian scowls and looks away as he sees the blonde musician from the park approach. He thinks it figures that he wouldn’t be that lucky when the hippie kid stops right in front of him.

“Hey,” Steve starts, feeling a little awkward as he tucks long blonde strands behind his ears with his free hand.

The guy doesn’t make it any easier as he looks up at Steve from his seat on the sidewalk with a lopsided scowl on his face. “What?” the guy says caustically.

Christian can tell that his attitude is throwing the guy off but not enough for the hippie to walk away. “Look, I’ve seen you in the park…”

“So? It’s a public park. Anyone can be there, even people like me,” Christian cuts the blonde guy off.

Steve’s mouth falls open in shock at the attitude of this guy that has prevented him from getting out a single complete thought. “I know. I-I brought you a sandwich,” he tries dumbly, opening the Styrofoam box so the guy can see the food.

Christian can’t help looking into the box, certainly can’t help the way that his mouth waters at what he sees, bacon and cheese and mayonnaise…Still he tears his eyes away. Normally Christian isn’t above begging, isn’t above dumpster diving to keep from starving, isn’t above much really. But to take charity from this kid suddenly irks him, this kid who comes from his nice family and nice home, with his long hair and collection of jewelry looking at him with those pitying blue eyes. This kid reminds him of everything that he’ll never be, never have, reminds him how far from normal he is.

Besides, the hippie is offering him a sandwich like he can’t be trusted with money, like he might spend it on drugs. “I don’t want it,” he says even though it pains him.

Steve is dumbfounded now. Sure, lots of adolescents are skinny, growing upwards before they have had time to fill out, but this kid looks haggard, muted and drawn as well as skinny. The kid has got to be hungry.

“If you want a charity case, there are plenty around,” the guy says dismissively.

“But I bought it for you,” Steve tries, still holding out the box like an ass. He just can’t figure out what this guy’s problem is.

“Fine,” Christian says, his irritation rising. He snatches the box out of the blonde’s hands, closing the lid so that he doesn’t have to look at it anymore. “Happy? You can go now.”

Steve watches as the kid whose name Steve never even got, gets clumsily to his feet as if there are more bruises hidden underneath his t-shirt. Steve doesn’t know what he could say to stop the guy from walking away, he doesn’t even know if he wants to stop the guy at this point. So he turns around and walks back to his car.

Despite that Christian hadn’t wanted to take the sandwich, he’s protective of it as he walks into the park, deep into the most secluded sections. But as he sits down against a tree, he doesn’t open the box, doesn’t wolf the food down. He suddenly feels ashamed at how hungry he is, like he is less than human like all those business people think who pass him on the street.

He’s brought out of his own personal pity party by the sound of giggling. He recognizes the sound, knows who’s making it before a little girl with brown hair and eyes pops out of the underbrush, followed closely by her older brother. The girl, Liz, runs straight at Christian upon seeing him, hopping into his lap and begging the teen to protect her even as she laughs.

Liz is seven and her brother Daniel is nine and Christian has known them the four months that they’ve been on the streets. They’re dirty and their hair is unbrushed, but it’s still better than what they’re hiding from. Their mother, Mary is in her late twenties but looks much older. It was years of abuse that caused her to finally leave the man she still calls husband before he laid a hand on one of their kids. But, predictably, the women’s shelter is full.

Daniel plops down on the dirt right beside them, no longer interested in chasing his sister now that Christian is there. Without a second thought, Christian opens the box and hands the boy half the sandwich. “Now you have to share this, ok? C’mon, where’s your momma?” he says as he stands, dislodging Liz who’s more interested in the sandwich now.

Mary isn’t far away, is in fact walking towards the three of them and Christian extends the rest of the box to her.

“Oh, Christian, don’t do that,” she scolds in typical motherly fashion. “You’re so skinny, you need to eat it yourself.”

Christian just smiles, big and wide, “You should’ve seen what I’ve already eaten. This hippie kid was feeling generous.” He shrugs disarmingly even as Mary clucks her tongue at him, before reluctantly taking the box that he pushes at her again.

He averts his eyes as she looks at him long and hard before she sits on the grass, letting her kids reach inside the box for the fries. Christian has to move away then, feels suddenly like he’s intruding on an intimate moment.

Finding a nice piece of grass and sunshine, he lies down, tired as he always seems to be nowadays though he hasn’t exercised in two years. Sometimes he feels uncomfortable around Mary because she reminds him of his own mother. He hates to even imagine his own momma in this kind of situation, his mama who always tries so hard to take care of everyone and everything.

After his Dad’s death, things were hard. The extended family went home, leaving just the three of them trying to readjust. Christian had lain in his bed at night with the light still on, curled on his side and trying not to let the sobs out that built in his chest. He learned from his momma, heard her crying through the thin walls, those tears she didn’t want them to have to watch. In the mornings, she still sent them to school with a kiss, but it felt different, controlled.

They didn’t really have time to get used to being a threesome though, because his momma had to get a job to cover their bills. At the time, she’d laughed with shadows in her eyes and said that being a homemaker apparently wasn’t good experience when re-entering the workforce. At eight, Christian hadn’t understood what that meant, all he knew was that he felt like he was suffocating and didn’t know what to do about it, didn’t want to hurt his momma by showing his own pain or talking about Daddy.

His momma ended up working endless hours at a diner in town as a waitress. He and Jenny ended up there a few times, eating French fries and watching their mama hide her sadness and exhaustion behind a smile and a ‘can I get you anything else?’ Most of the time though, Jenny and he were left at home by themselves.

Most of the time, their momma would pick them up after school, though sometimes, they would have to wait at school for a couple hours. There wasn’t really money for a babysitter, but it was fine because they were plenty old enough for microwaveable meals. Momma’s schedule was often last-minute so it was hard to her to have something ready for them to eat.

Christian had always been a friendly and popular kid, even when they had moved, but suddenly there was no one to pick him up from Little League, no money to pay for things like that. Suddenly, he found himself sitting alone most nights, not wanting to go to his friends’ houses every night and pretend to be happy. Jenny, on the other hand, couldn’t seem to stand being in that empty house and was always going over to a friend’s house and leaving Christian there. It had seemed like all the laughter had just dried up. Before they had spent time together, eaten dinner together, done homework and watched tv and played board games at night, went to the park on the weekends, but afterward…afterward, they were all separate, each trying to deal with or cover up their grief in their own way.

It was in those dark hours that Christian discovered the guitar. It wasn’t like he hadn’t played before, his cousin Brandon had taught him how to read the sheet music and form the chords, but it was when he discovered how much music meant to him. That was when he discovered how music could soothe him, allow him to let out his pain, discovered how music could lift his spirits. He used to sit and play those old songs his Daddy used to love and cry then because he was alone.

Christian hates the fact that he abandoned his momma. Jenny was nineteen when he left, a sophomore at OU on a dance scholarship and living on campus, but he just up and left his momma. The guilt of that just joins with all the other guilt he feels and sits heavy in his chest almost all the time. He still believes she’s better off without him, though he hopes that she still has some to look after her.

He doesn’t want to think of the hippie kid, but that’s where his mind inevitably goes. He’s listened to lots of people playing guitars in the park, but most of them are posers who just think that playing the guitar makes them look cool. The blonde is really good, though, and sometimes he even plays old country songs, songs that remind Christian of his home in a bittersweet way.

It has nothing at all to do with the way the hippie seems to glow in the sunlight, blonde and golden and perfect and unattainable. Christian knows that he won’t be able to stay away when the hippie plays, not when he has so few things to look forward to, but next Sunday, he’ll make sure to stay out of sight.

By the time Steve is storming in his house, he has moved past stunned and perplexed and into just plain pissed.

“What is his problem?” The question is voiced out loud as Steve enters the kitchen, not that he really expects his mom to have the answer. Mostly he just wants to get his frustration out. “I’m trying to be nice and he just threw it in my face!”


“What?” The seemingly nonsensical question halts Steve’s tirade. “No, not literally, mom. But he was a dick before he finally took the sandwich.”

With those words, Steve slumps down into his seat at the kitchen table where there is already a vegetable curry waiting. His mom always wants to make him a nutritious lunch before he goes to work because she knows that he’ll eat hamburgers with his friends for dinner.

She sighs before joining him at the table. “I told you it wouldn’t be easy. You hurt his pride…”

“What pride? I’ve seen him begging on the street.”

“Yes, but you’re his age. It probably bothers him more that you have money to spend when he doesn’t.”

And just like that, Steve deflates, his anger quenched by sympathy and concern. Angry at himself now, he puts his elbows on the table. “Mom, why do you think he’s out there?”

It’s the question that he doesn’t want to think about but can’t escape from. And his mom looks none too pleased at speculating. “Honey, children can sometimes fall through the cracks. Not everyone’s parents can afford to take care of them…”

“And sometimes they’re running away from something,” Steve cut in. It’s that possibility that makes him determined to try again to reach the other teen.

He tries to eat then and his mom distracts him by asking who he’s working with tonight. It works because Steve’s working with Jason Southard who’s been his friend practically since kindergarten and who shares his love of music and the guitar. They’re only half-joking when they talk about forming a band.

Without even realizing it, Steve’s finished his lunch and then he’s headed to the record store for the evening shift. It’s Monday so they’re not likely to be real busy.

In fact, he and Jason spend most of the time simply picking out songs to play over the store’s stereo and arguing about the artists.

“Dude, you have got to be kidding me with this choice…” Jason’s talking when the bell over the door sounds and Steve looks over in time to see Misha walking in the door with Jensen and Jared.

It’s embarrassing how Steve immediately stops listening to Jason and is instead smiling ridiculously at his boyfriend. But Misha is smiling just as wide as he approaches the counter and leans on it with his elbows. He’s leaning so far over the counter that he’s within kissing distance of Steve which has Steve’s mind immediately thinking of doing just that.

“So how’re things?” Misha says.

The manager is never there and there are no customers anyway, so instead of answering the question, Steve’s smile morphs into a smirk and he’s rounding the counter and grabbing Misha’s wrist.

“Come on,” he says and he’s so excited that he almost giggles. He leads Misha to the door of a stockroom, catching Jason’s thumbs-up signal as he ushers his boyfriend inside. Steve’s still trying to close the door when Misha pulls him in with a long arm, pulling Steve so close Steve’s neck is in the crook of Misha’s elbow.

Steve figures he’ll just hope the door is closed as his hands go to Misha’s waist. Because of their excitement, the kiss is fumbling at first as they try to find a rhythm, try to figure out who’s leading this dance. But then Misha’s tongue slips into Steve’s mouth and Steve stops trying to control anything. Misha’s tongue is thick and hot as it pushes in too far before pulling back to tangle with Steve’s own. Regardless of any fumbling, Steve can’t help the slight jerk of his hips seeking friction against Misha’s thigh.

It’s when Steve’s back hits the door, stumbling against Misha’s weight as the taller teen tries to get closer that Steve remembers why this is a bad idea. He can feel the outline of Misha’s hard dick pushing against the stiffness of the other teen’s jeans against his stomach, but still Steve pushes against Misha’s chest to separate them.

Fortunately Misha catches on immediately and they separate, Misha’s hands moving from Steve’s body to lie flat on the door on either side of Steve’s face to hold them apart. He wishes that they could do more, that they could do anything, but he very well knows that they can’t. He’s just hoping that eventually they will.

Steve pushes himself off the door causing Misha to take a step back so they don’t resume their earlier closeness. But as the brunette’s hands drop from their place on the wall, Misha grasps each of Steve’s own hands. It’s sweet and adorable and makes Steve’s heart swell and his face hot.

So like the sap he is, Steve lifts up one of their joined hands so that he can press a moist kiss to the top of Misha’s knuckles. And he doesn’t feel even a little bit stupid for it when Misha smiles brighter and moves closer, pressing his kiss to Steve’s forehead.

When it’s safe to walk out of the storeroom, Steve averts his eyes from Jensen’s mocking gaze but he doesn’t drop Misha’s hand. He figures he has it coming after all the times he’s teased Jensen about Jared. And then Jensen speaks.

“Did you have fun in the closet, Misha? Because I have to take you and Sasquatch here home.”

Steve looks up in time to see Jensen shaking his head at Jared who is engrossed in telling some story to Jason resulting in both of them flailing their exceptionally longs arms as they gesture wildly. Steve also doesn’t miss the way that Jensen’s face radiates affection even while he’s punching Jared in the arm and dragging the taller teen away.

It’s sweet because Jensen doesn’t wear his emotions that openly, so it’s significant that he can’t seem to hide his feelings about Jared. Misha pulls Steve’s hand to get his attention and then Misha’s lips are gently pressing on his own. It’s short and sweet and no more than straight couples would do in public but…still, it’s in public, in full view of Steve’s friends.

And Steve really, really likes it, particularly when he looks up to only see affectionately exasperated faces around them. That level of acceptance just shows Steve exactly how lucky he is and how far he’s come.

With a last squeeze of fingers, Jensen takes Misha and Jared home. Steve and Jason get burgers for dinner as expected and Steve only has a momentary thought of a skinny, blue-eyed teen as he eats it.

It isn’t until Friday that Steve has time to try and find the homeless teen again. He’s had the day shift since Monday and isn’t quite stupid enough to be looking around after dark. But on Friday he doesn’t have to work until the afternoon and he’s determined to win this guy over for reasons he can’t even explain to himself. There’s just something about the guy.

And he’s got a different idea this time. He’s still not entirely sure why the food didn’t work considering that the guy actually looks malnourished, but whatever. Steve does know that the guy is interested in the guitar, so that’s what he brings this time as a peace offering.

He drives around again, but doesn’t see the guy on any of the major streets. Steve debates going to the park, but he knows that the homeless are usually in the alleys so he decides to get out and check before driving to the park. Slinging the guitar case over his back, the strap crossing over his chest, Steve heads down the nearest alleyway that he can see people in.

It’s a sunny day, right before noon, but still walking back there makes Steve uncomfortable, not necessarily about his own safety but more because he feels so out of place. He feels rude for just being there in his nice clothes amidst these people’s desolation.

Christian is scowling as he turns into the next alleyway but not at anything in particular until he catches sight of the hippie in the same alleyway. He can’t fucking believe that this kid is here, no doubt looking for him again. He has no idea what would make the hippie this persistent.

But what he really can’t believe is the fact that the stupid kid has his guitar with him, a precious instrument and one that can easily be hocked for hundreds of dollars. In fact, even as Christian is standing there stunned, he can see a couple of guys getting ready to make a move for it.

“Hey, hippie!” He yells to get the other teen’s attention even as he breaks out into a run. The idiot fucking smiles at seeing him but Christian just grabs the nearest arm, pulling them out of the alley.

The smile falls from Steve’s face at the brutal grasp on his elbow, but he doesn’t even get words out of his mouth before the guy is yanking him. They’re practically running, and Steve almost falls twice before they get back to the main street.

As soon as they’re among more suburban pedestrians, Steve’s arm is being released with a harsh push away from the guy. “Wha…?”

“What the fuck did you think you were doing? You don’t belong down here!”

Steve’s own anger bubbles up in response to the guy’s heated tone. “What is your fucking problem?! I can go wherever I damn well please!”

“That guitar was almost stolen right off your back!” the guy yells.

Steve huffs indignantly. “How would you know? You just came running around the corner.”

“They’re desperate. Hell, I woulda stolen it.”

Their voices had softened to a normal level though the adrenaline still floods their systems. “But you didn’t.” It’s half a statement and half a question.

Steve watches as the guy’s blue eyes slide away as if he’s embarrassed, embarrassed that he admitted something like that to Steve. “Yeah, well, then I couldn’t listen to you play it.”

Steve can’t possibly stop the small smile that curves the edges of his lips even though he desperately tries. “Yeah?”

It suddenly doesn’t matter how obnoxious this guy has been, Steve feels like he’s just won something. “So I guess I’ll see you in the park this Sunday then. Same time.” For once, he’s got the upper hand and Steve wants to leave while he still has it. So with a last smile, he turns back to his car.

Christian can’t believe the smug, satisfied smile on the hippie’s face. He can’t believe he let the hippie get to him like that, get to him enough that he said something stupid and honest.

Turning away from watching the other teen walk away, Christian’s face is set again in a scowl as he makes his way toward the park. But this time the scowl has a reason.

He doesn’t want or need this teen’s sudden interest in his life. He still can’t understand it anyway. There has to be a reason, the hippie has to want something.

But it doesn’t matter, because Christian doesn’t need anyone’s concern. His vision is blurry with unshed tears as he drops to the ground with his back against a tree in a deserted section of the park. He remembers how pathetic he had been after his Dad’s death, how needy for affection and attention. He doesn’t want to go back to that.

**Christian’s nine years old and just beginning the fourth grade. He’s still small, still has shaggy longish brown hair and big blue eyes, and his Daddy’s been gone for more than a year.

He still misses his Dad. He misses his momma too, even as he waits for her to pick them up from school. Jenny’s waiting out front, but Christian walks over to the school gym. He wants to watch some of the sports teams practice, particularly the wrestling team. He can’t join a team himself, his momma can’t pick him up afterwards, but he can’t help wanting to watch.

He’s standing off to the side, trying to be inconspicuous when a large warm hand lands on his back. Looking up, he sees it’s the high school wrestling coach, Mr. Morgan. The man is practically a saint in this town, winning championships, getting kids into college on scholarship, and being ‘a pillar of the community’ his mom says.

Mr. Morgan is clean-shaven with dark, tousled hair and intense dark eyes, and he’s looking down on Christian with a pleased smile. “W-what’re you doing here?” Christian stutters out.

“Checking out the up-and-coming talent. Are you on a team?”

“No,” Christian shakes his head, feeling suddenly insignificant.

“Well, why not?” Mr. Morgan asks with a concerned frown. “You look like you’re a good athlete.”

Christian’s smile at the compliment is small as he shrugs, explaining, “My momma can’t pick me up, you know, after practice.”

“Maybe I can help,” Mr. Morgan’s smiling again, wide with lots of white teeth. “After all, we need the best on the team if we’re going to keep winning championships for years to come.”

Mr. Morgan escorts Christian back out front to wait and then he and Christian’s momma talk. Christian hears “I’ll take him home, no problem”, and “don’t worry about any additional costs, Mrs. Kane”, but what Christian mostly focuses on is the hand still between his shoulder blades. It feels like his Daddy’s hand did, the weight of it, the warmth, the pride in gaining the man’s esteem and regard, in pleasing Mr. Morgan.**

Feeling desolate and alone, Christian falls to his side in the dirt underneath the tree his legs immediately curling inward. He doesn’t want to want, doesn’t want to need. He tries to be self-sufficient, tries to accept being alone because it’s better for him, better for everyone. He tries to be in control now, because even though it’s not great and he’s hungry and dirty and lonely, it’s better. And he doesn’t want some punk-ass hippie kid intruding on his solitude.

Saturday, Steve can’t wait for the party. Jason’s parents are divorced and he lives with his dad who goes out of town a lot on business. Jason has these get-togethers fairly frequently so it’s really not that exciting except that Misha is going to be there, having managed to find someone to cover his night shift at the coffee-shop.

It’s Jason’s day off at the record store completely and Steve works the shift with Will Amend, whom he doesn’t know all that well, but the kid is nice. Will is quiet which isn’t a bad thing; Steve thinks that they just need more time to get to know one another. But Steve knows that Will is a bassist and so before long they’re talking about music and bands.

Will’s coming to the party too, but he isn’t nearly as excited as Steve is. The shift can’t end soon enough for Steve’s taste, but eventually it does and he’s racing home. He showers and dresses, nice jeans and a pale blue and green button down, open at the neck to reveal an assortment of necklaces. His mom starts ragging on him the instant he leaves his room.

“Ooh, Steven has a hot date,” she whispers loudly to his dad who simply grunts before turning to look. Steve crosses his arms over his chest uncomfortably which just encourages his dad to join in on the fun.

“Yeah? This Misha kid again? Must be serious,” his father muses before taking his seat at the table. “When’s your curfew?”

“Da-ad,” Steve whines. Steve has never had a curfew. His mom mostly believes in trusting him until he proves himself untrustworthy. But every once in a while, his dad suddenly takes an interest in enforcing one, but is mostly ignored.

His mom tsks and comes forward to straighten his collar. “Just remember that you can call us no matter what, ok?”

Steve knows what she means, they’ve had the talk often enough. His mother believes that the trust thing applies to alcohol as well. In fact, she believes that teens should drink before the age of 21 so that they learn how to handle alcohol while there’s still someone to look out for them, so it won’t be this secret, forbidden thing.

Steve simply nods and moves out of reach of her hands to grab his wallet and keys. “Ok, well, I’m off.”

“Have fun and be safe!” his mom calls after him like she does every time.

Steve manages a wave as he hops into the driver’s seat, eager to go pick Misha up. Misha lives further away from town, pretty much in the opposite direction of Jason’s house, but obviously Steve doesn’t mind, just turn the radio up on the Stones playing “Sympathy for the Devil”.

He doesn’t even turn the car off at Misha’s house, has barely put the car in park when Misha is coming out the door. Steve has met Misha’s parents before, has had dinner with them so he figures it’s not rude if he doesn’t go inside to speak to them.

Besides Misha is already in the car with him and Steve can smell his cologne, something with hints of mint. “Hey,” he says for lack of anything else.

Misha returns the greeting and then plays with his radio dial until it lands on the classical station before Steve has even pulled the car out of the drive. The silence between them slowly edges toward awkward as Misha settles back in his seat and Steve can’t help darting his eyes between the road and his companion as he scrambles for something witty to say.

Misha actually hasn’t been to one of Jason’s get-togethers, since he only met Jason through Steve. “So Jensen and Jared are coming?” Steve asks, needlessly. He talks to Jensen practically every day, if not on the phone then playing Halo online together or playing basketball with Jared and Jason. Misha isn’t really into sports.

“Oh, yeah, they’ve got this whole phone tree thing to confuse their parents as to where they are.”

Steve nods. Jared obviously can’t ask his parents to stay over at Jensen’s house, and Jensen has used Steve’s parents as a link in the phone tree before. “So where do your parents think you’re staying?”

“At Jason’s.”

Steve frowns. “Do they not know that his dad is out of town?”

“Yeah, they know because I told them. I said there was gonna be a little party tonight, but I promised not to get in the car with anyone who had been drinking or smoking.” Misha says it so matter-of-factly, like everyone’s so honest with their parents.

“So they’re ok with you spending the night at some random guy’s house and drinking and smoking?” Steve has to ask.


Ok then, Steve thinks. Even his parents aren’t that laid back, they like to know the teen and the teen’s parents at least. And Steve hasn’t spoken to his parents about smoking weed, though he’s pretty sure his mom knows he sometimes does. Firstly because his mom seems to know everything that he does, and secondly, because Steve knows that he’s not as great as he thinks he is at covering it up. His mom knows what pot smells like.

Course that’s why Steve thinks she hasn’t said anything. She’d probably feel hypocritical to tell him not to smoke pot when she did at his age, that’s just how she thinks. Still, Steve is pretty sure that she’s not about to condone it…

“So did you bring your guitar?” Misha’s question brings Steve out of his own musings.

“Yeah, I did. It’s in the back.”

“Cool. I don’t think I’ve heard you and Jason play together.”

Steve can’t help frowning a little. “Well, we’ll have to see…” he obfuscates. Steve can’t put his finger on exactly why he’s bothered by the idea of playing especially for Misha. He should be glad that Misha wants to listen to him because usually Steve feels that Misha doesn’t actually have much interest in music. Instead, Steve can’t help thinking of the homeless guy, can’t help thinking that the music is wasted on Misha when the homeless guy seems to crave it despite himself.

Jensen calls Steve’s cell and they stop on the way to pick up some pizzas. Steve pays knowing that Jason has probably already taken up a collection for it. And then they’re pulling up into Jason’s driveway.

Steve just opens the front door and walks right in, knowing that Jason won’t get up to answer if he knocks. Misha carries the pizzas in after him as they enter to Jason yelling, “Hey, pizzas! And you’re just in time for power hour!”

Taking the pizzas from Misha, Steve grins as he carries them into the living room where Jason and others are sitting around the tv. As he had suspected, there’s money for the pizzas underneath a beer can. Jason, of course, knows a couple people who are actually twenty-one who supply him with alcohol. Jason’s just like that.

Looking around though, it appears the only people participating in power hour are Jason and his newest girlfriend Stephanie who’s leaning on him and giggling like she’s already had too much, Mike, Tom, and Chad who’s currently having a hard time refilling his shot glass with beer. Everyone else seems to just be holding cups of what is probably rum and coke, if he had to guess.

Steve shoots a questioning glance at Misha who shakes his head and then says, “I’ll just have a drink.” Grinning in agreement, Steve leads the way back towards the kitchen just as Jared who’s sitting on the floor between Jensen’s knees gets his hands on the remote.

The kitchen appears to be where all the girls are hiding, including Sandy, Danneel, and Sophia whom Steve also met through Jensen, and a few girls Steve doesn’t know but who are probably friends of Stephanie. Sophia notices Steve entering the kitchen first.

“Come for a drink?” she asks, even though she’s already grabbing two more red plastic cups and filling them with ice. Turns out he was right, it is light rum and Coke tonight.

“Yep, and if you girls want some pizza, you should probably get it now before they eat it all.” The girls he doesn’t know clear out then, though Steve doesn’t know if it’s to get pizza or just because the kitchen is getting crowded.

Or the scathing look that Danneel sends after them.

He decides that’s not something he needs to know. “So how’re things?” he asks no one in particular as he passes the first drink to Misha over Sandy’s head who’s attached herself to Misha’s side.

“Great!” Sandy pipes up as she lets go of Misha with one hand at least so she can reach her drink on the counter. However, Steve doesn’t miss Danneel’s eye roll or how Sophia turns away which is a sure sign that Sandy has hooked up with another loser that will no doubt end badly in the near future. Sandy has the worst taste in guys.

Again Steve decides that discretion is the better part of valour and instead of following up on Sandy’s comment, asks Danneel and Sophia, “So, how’s the clothing business?” They both work in a store at the mall, while Sandy works as a waitress at a pretty good restaurant.

Fortunately they recognize it as the distraction it is. “It’s riveting as always,” Danneel replies. Then with a huff, she takes his arm in hers and says, “Let’s go see if the pizza’s gone yet.”

The pizza isn’t gone which Steve is thankful for particularly because Sophia makes a really strong drink. Stephanie is now on the floor with her friends and Jared is smushed into the same chair as Jensen and Mike somehow got control of the remote. They’re watching some animal discovery show which Steve figures will probably either feature mating habits or disgusting bugs, possibly both, or the host will eat the disgusting bugs.

Misha is being pulled over to the one free armchair so that Sandy can pretty much sit on him. He’s giving her this overly-serious look like he’s trying too hard to convince her that he’s interested in what she’s saying. Then again, maybe he is interested in her ramblings for all Steve knows.

With a shrug at their separation, Steve grabs a couple slices of pizza for Jensen and Jared as well as himself before sitting on the floor with Danneel in front of the chair Jensen and Jared are sitting in.

“So…” Steve starts, knowing that it won’t take much of an opening on his part to get Danneel talking.

“So Sandy’s known this loser named Gerald for a week now, a week and, of course, he’s the love of her life like every other loser. But she wouldn’t attract such losers if she A) didn’t dress and act like such a slut and B) wasn’t such a fag hag.” Her rant finished at least momentarily, Danneel takes a bite of cheese pizza.

Jensen has maneuvered so that now he’s sitting in front of Jared and he leans slightly to pat Danneel on the head patronizingly. “Awww, I thought you liked being my fag hag?”

Danneel scowls good-naturedly as Jared comes to Sandy’s defense, even though there’s not much point. Jared knows as well as Steve that Danneel’s not actually being a bitch, in fact, she likes Sandy. Danneel is just opinionated and sometimes doesn’t have a lot of patience for other people’s stupidity. Steve can understand that particularly because sometimes people’s stupidity is the result of too much babying and he’s glad he can always count on Danneel to tell it to him the way it is.

“She’s not a slut…”

“She just dresses like one,” Danneel cuts in.

Steve doesn’t know Sandy that well, but he can’t help adding his two cents. “I think she’s just desperate for affection, you know.”

“Yeah but she’s not helping herself. Sex isn’t affection and Misha isn’t going to suddenly turn straight,” Danneel adds.

“Well, I hope not,” Steve says with a little laugh.

Danneel smiles then, patting his knee. “Awww she’s stealing your boyfriend, isn’t she? You could go interrupt them.”

Steve glances over at Misha and Sandy again before shaking his head. He’s perfectly fine chatting with his friends and letting Misha do whatever. “Nah, she undoubtedly needs him more than I do right now.”

Danneel snorts, saying, “Well, you must not need him very much because all she needs is a warm body.”

Steve can see Jared gearing up to defend Sandy again, but Jared doesn’t get a chance as their conversation is interrupted by the swish of legs behind Steve’s back. Mike and Tom are heading for the basement door where the ping-pong table is. “Awww, you two need to be alone?” Danneel says in an overly saccharine, overly loud voice.

“Yeah,” Jason chimes in from the couch. “Where’s Jamie?”

“Dude,” Tom says with a squished up face, “we’re not actually attached at the hip.” He pushes Mike down the stairs before the shorter teen can respond to that remark.

That doesn’t, however, prevent Chad from yelling out, “I thought she had a leash around your dick!” The comment makes all the girls groan while the guys try to hide their smirks. Sophia, who is sitting right next to Chad, smacks him, of course.

Will chooses that moment to arrive, and he looks kind of dumbfounded at the situation. Sophia takes pity on him, giving him her seat on the couch and getting him a drink. Steve kinda thinks that she likes how sweet he is, or maybe she just wants to make Chad jealous, or maybe she’s just being a nice hostess for all Steve knows.

He thinks not when she comes back and squishes into the tiny space beside Will and the arm of the couch. Will still looks pretty flustered.

About one hour and one drink later, Misha is suddenly squatting down behind Steve. “You need a drink refill?” Misha asks.

Steve looks down into his cup and finishes off the last of it. “Yep.”

Misha smiles and extends a hand to help him off the floor. But as they make their way behind the couch, they’re no longer headed toward the kitchen but into a guest bedroom.

Christian is wandering around in the alleys on Saturday night. Normally he wouldn’t, would stick to his hiding places in the park, but he’s saved up a little money and he really needs a drink. He needs to drown all those memories that have been rising up to choke him.

What he’s looking for isn’t hard to find, not around here. Soon he’s rounding a corner to find a group of homeless people, young and old, male and female gathered around for one reason, a cache of alcohol. Most of the people here know one another, but Christian only knows them by their faces not their names since he doesn’t make a habit out of getting to know too many of his fellow homeless persons. But Christian can’t pass for twenty-one and doesn’t know anyone to get him a fake ID, not that it would be believed anyway.

Fortunately, money is money and his pretty face doesn’t hurt, and Christian’s fairly sure that he’s probably fucked one of these guys before. He ought to take the liquor back to the park with him, ought to get out of here before he’s tempted to do something even dumber than buying alcohol with his precious little money, but he can already see the eyes of at least one man on his body. He feels both ashamed and proud under that lustful gaze, and he knows he won’t be able to say no once the guy makes a move.

When he wraps his lips around the bottle to take that first burning sip, Christian knows it won’t be long now.


Misha’s hands are already grasping Steve’s waist as they enter the bedroom and Steve can’t contain his giggle. This is what he’s been waiting all night for, hell, days for and Steve knows exactly how he wants this to go.

But Misha’s hands are warm and sweaty on his cheeks, stroking his unruly hair back from his face to reach his lips. Misha’s not wasting time, his tongue immediately diving into Steve’s giggling mouth, licking in again and again in a parody of sex.

Not that they’re about to have sex in Jason’s guest bedroom, Steve’s not quite that desperate to take the plunge. It does goad Steve into maneuvering them around so that Misha’s back is against a wall, any wall. Misha seems to just wrap his long body entirely around Steve, but he gets the message when Steve squeezes his hands between them to get to Misha’s belt.

Then Misha’s hands drop to squeeze Steve’s biceps as Steve undoes the belt and then the button and finally lowers the zipper. Steve’s eyes dart up to see his boyfriend’s face, blue eyes gone wide in anticipation of what they both know is coming. The jeans fall some under the weight of the belt and Misha shimmies to get them to fall farther down his thighs, but Steve is already cupping Misha’s erection through his baby blue boxers, the cotton sliding roughly over sensitive skin making Misha groan.

Carefully, Steve stretches the waistband of the boxers to fit over the other teen’s cock before he slides down to his knees, taking the boxers and jeans with him to the ground. He grips Misha’s cock with his right hand, thumb swirling over the precum at the tip as Misha jerks his hips. Steve licks once, twice over the head before he’s taking it in his mouth and slowly sliding his lips down only a little before coming back up.

Steve had never imagined how hot this would be to do, the feel of silky skin on his tongue, the feel of Misha’s sac in his other hand, the smell of Misha’s arousal, the feel of a gentle hand in his hair, the sound of Misha above him. He’s not all that good, can’t fit in much more than the head and his jaw soon gets tired but he’s determined to finish.

Soon the man is leading Christian by the hand farther back into the alleyway, enticing him with more alcohol like Christian could say no particularly after the alcohol he’s already consumed. He’s feeling warm and reckless, pleased when the man stops and leans against a wall, cupping Christian’s cheek, telling him, “God, you’re pretty.”

Flushed with praise, he goes willingly when the hand turns to a pressure on his shoulder. “Good. You’re a good boy, aren’t you?”

The man’s hand is large and rough, unyielding as it scrabbles in Christian’s short hair before landing on the back of his neck. But Christian doesn’t need the force either; he’s only too willing to open his mouth for the cock that invades it, only too willing to soak up the praise that follows.

“God, that’s…that’s g-great, boy. Fuck, your mouth, mmm, just like t-that,” the man pants as Christian’s mouth doesn’t falter even as he unzips his own jeans to take out his hard cock, stroking it in time with the hard thrusts down his throat.

The man cums before he does, but Christian knows what to do, knows to swallow it all before his hand is speeding up on his own cock, stripping it faster until he’s spilling onto the brick wall and on the wrapper for a bag of Cheetos.

The large rough hand is still on him, ruffling his hair like he’s a beloved pet and with the return of blood to his brain Christian’s shame returns as well. He wipes his hand on his already filthy jeans before he stands, taking the can of beer from the man’s hand. He finishes it before he even makes it out of the alley on his way back to the park.

Steve has a tough time opening his own jeans while keeping up his rhythm, so he finishes Misha with his cock barely out of his fly. Misha’s orgasm catches him unaware too and he chokes on the bitterness of it before he thinks to spit into his now empty cup. But Misha is right there, dropping to his knees beside Steve even with his pants still around his ankles.

Misha’s tongue is in his mouth again and Misha’s hand is with his own on his cock and it’s not long after that that Steve is cumming over their conjoined hands.

Just in time for there to be a fist banging on the door as Jason shouts, “You better not be fucking in there.” Steve giggles again, leaning his face into Misha’s shoulder.

They clean up in the guest bathroom and then head back out to the living room. Half the guests are gone, but Jensen is squished between the back of the couch and his giant boyfriend. Steve and Misha end up making a sort of nest of cushions and blankets on the floor, and they fall asleep with Steve’s face on Misha’s shoulder while Misha cuddles Steve like he’s Misha’s own life-size teddy bear.

Steve wakes up the next morning to the still obnoxious sound of Jason’s girlfriend giggling again in the kitchen. He didn’t drink enough the night before to have a headache, but his mouth tastes like something died in it and he’s feeling pretty sweaty squished up against another person like this. But despite all of that, he’s feeling pretty awesome.

Misha’s waking up too, and they smile sweet and awkward at each other as they both try to sit up without crushing the other. Jensen and Jared are still asleep as they make trips to the bathroom and say goodbyes to Jason and his mussed-looking girlfriend. The trip to drop Misha back at his house is quiet again, but it’s less awkward because they’re both tired.

It’s still morning when Steve gets back to his own house and so he says hello to his parents, has a shower and goes back to bed for a while. It seems only moments later that his mom is calling him to lunch with a smile that’s warm and knowing. Steve really wishes she would stop that. Couldn’t she just pretend to be oblivious like most parents?

It isn’t until later that thoughts of the homeless guy filter into his Misha-and-sex-soaked brain, when he’s picking up his guitar and car keys. He hesitates for a moment, sobering at the thought of how every meeting was like a test, a trial in a gauntlet. Maybe he’s just being stubborn to keep trying, but maybe it’s the vulnerability that is just barely visible behind the bravado. Either way he heads out the door without further thought.

Christian has picked out the perfect spot. The hippie always sits in the shade of the same tree, good grass, roots to lean on, so Christian has chosen the worst place to sit that’s still in listening distance of that tree. He’s sitting on rocks and pine needles, but he doesn’t think that the hippie will see him.

Except that the hippie doesn’t head immediately for his favorite tree and instead, heads straight for where Christian is sitting, hiding. He looks away with a scowl as the other teen approaches to stand over him.

“Hey,” the hippie says before he’s looking down and trying to find a place to sit that’s not full of rocks and pine needles.

Steve sits thinking that the guy’s scowl is edging dangerously close to a pout before the guy speaks. “This isn’t a very comfortable place to sit. You should go back to where you normally play.”

Steve smiles to know that he’s getting to the other teen. “Nah, if this is where you want to sit…I’m fine here.”

Godammit Christian thinks. They can either sit here and both be uncomfortable or move, but it seems as if the hippie isn’t going to leave him alone. “Fine,” he growls as he gets up.

Christian doesn’t look back as he leads the way to the hippie’s usual spot since he’s certain the hippie’s wearing a smug expression. He waits to sit, though, until the other teen has taken his usual spot against the tree.

Steve knows that the guy was trying to hide from him but couldn’t resist showing up. He also notices that the guy sits as far away from him as possible while still being in the shade, but he doesn’t comment. He’s still amazed the guy hasn’t just run away yet, particularly since the guy is sitting with his arms around his knees like he’s protecting himself despite the belligerent expression on his pretty face.

Busying himself with tuning his guitar, Steve tries to sound as casual as possible when he asks, “So what’s your name?”

He doesn’t have to look up to see the scowl is back on those full lips. He can hear it when the guy answers, “Why do you care? We’re not friends.”

The answer stings a little because that’s exactly where Steve is trying to get to with this guy, but he only shrugs, replying, “It’s just so that I don’t have to say, ‘hey you’.”

The guy fidgets a minute, obviously uncomfortable with revealing that information, but eventually he answers, “Christian.”

“Well, Chris…”

“Christian,” the guy corrects in a harsh tone.

Wow, Steve thinks. “What? Chris is too pedestrian for you?”

This, Christian thinks, this is exactly why he doesn’t talk to people, doesn’t make friends. He’s not about to explain that Chris reminds him of a husky, deep voice, a coercive, affectionate tone…

Steve thinks that maybe the name thing is more than just the guy being asinine when Christian turns away, leaning his cheek on one of his knees as his arms tighten seemingly unconsciously.

“Well, I’m Steve, Steven, Stevie, I’ll answer to any of them…”

“Hippie?” Christian asks a little spunk back in his voice.

Steve frowns despite himself, but he’s determined not to let this guy piss him off today. “Sure,” he says. Why not, he thinks.

“Any requests?” he asks, but Christian just gives a quick shake of the head as he’s busying himself with plucking strands of grass. Steve only has to think a minute before he begins “Norwegian Wood” by the Beatles.

It’s a song that he knows like the back of his hand, chosen because Steve is more interested in watching Christian who seems to have relaxed marginally at the first notes, probably thankful to have the conversation come to an end. In fact, then Christian is moving to lie down on his back in the sunshine, which coincidentally is even further from where Steve is sitting.

And suddenly Steve can’t help his eyes from roving over the other teen’s form. Christian’s lying with his knees bent and swaying a little, and the arm nearest to Steve is bent underneath Christian’s head which causes his t-shirt to come up enough to show a sliver of tanned stomach. The guy is even more beautiful close enough, particularly his face which is turned toward Steve and is now relaxed as Christian rests his cheek on his own bicep.

Long dark lashes lift minutely and Steve flicks his eyes away, just in time to see that he’s not the only one admiring the way Christian looks in the sunlight. A guy in his early twenties probably, old enough to know better, has slowed his pace beside them. Steve sees the moment that Christian notices the attention as Christian’s lips and thighs part. The guy takes one step forward before he notices Steve glaring at him warningly.

Christian doesn’t seem the least bit disappointed to see the guy go though, as one leg simply drops to the ground and he licks plump lips. Steve thinks that even as deliberately seductive as Christian’s move was, it was also seemingly unconscious, as if it were simply how Christian had learned to react to older men. He wonders whether Christian learned it on the streets or whether that’s why Christian is on the streets.

Steve swallows hard then, fucks up a couple of chords which draws a speculative look from Christian. He decides then to play something that requires a little more concentration, something he wrote himself a little while back.

Christian’s eyes though half-lidded stay on Steve while he begins the new song. The hippie seems completely entranced by the music with his head bowed a little so that some of the front pieces of blonde waves fall forward. He’s concentrating but seemingly not on remembering the chords but on attempting to stroke more than notes from the strings and he’s got this adorable little wrinkle between his eyebrows.

Steve is the kind of guy that Christian doesn’t deserve to touch, barely deserves to look at. Christian knows he’s been nothing but an asshole, has actually been trying to be obnoxious and rude, but this guy just takes his shit in stride. The hippie blows up but doesn’t blow Christian off. Christian just doesn’t get it.

Steve begins to softly sing the words to “I’ve Learned to Love”. He can feel Christian’s blue eyes on him though he doesn’t look up, can feel the intensity of that gaze. Without having to ask, Steve knows that Christian is a musician, knows that Christian loves the music as much as Jason, as much as Steve himself.

Christian rolls to face Steve more as the song draws to a close. “Did you write that?” he asks with a frown.

“Yeah,” Steve answers suddenly self-conscious to have played one of his own songs in front of the other teen.

The choke in Christian’s voice is barely detectable as Christian says, “It was beautiful, really great.” He’s being honest again but he just can’t help himself, because it was good. It was a good in a way that makes Christian ache for things he can’t have, things he gave up.

Steve’s smile is beautiful and wide as he ducks his head, flushing under the simple but meaningful praise. “Do you play?”

Christian frowns and looks away again, in that uncomfortable way that Steve is beginning to recognize when the homeless teen doesn’t want to answer. “No,” Christian says.

Steve frowns then. He can’t quite believe it, can’t reconcile Christian’s intense passion for the music with a person who can’t play. But then again, Steve realizes that he didn’t ask if Christian could. Steve is becoming aware that it’s all the little things, the things left unsaid that matter when it comes to this guy. For some reason, that just makes Steve all the more determined to get to know him, to be worthy of this guy’s trust.

Now it’s Christian who can feel the intensity of blue eyes on him. The comfort of playing the guitar is just one of many things he left behind two years ago, one of the many comforts that he doesn’t deserve. Now he’s not sure what would come out if he picked up the instrument, opened his mouth to sing. He can’t even sing to himself nowadays because most of the time he’s hiding, trying to be quiet.

For once, Steve decides not to push, doesn’t want to push Christian away when they’re finally on speaking terms. He simply moves into another song, “Dixie on My Mind” by Hank Williams, Jr.

Christian obviously knows the song, that’s clear to Steve as he watches sneaker clad feet moving to the rhythm. Steve doesn’t even think before he’s saying, “Come on, sing along.”

Christian’s eyes widen before he’s scowling again. “No.” He certainly doesn’t want an audience if he were to ever sing again, and he doesn’t want to sing in front of this guy. He’s already feeling too exposed in front of the hippie because he can’t just walk away. In some ridiculous way, he wants Steve to like him which means that Steve can’t know him.

“Come on. Nobody here cares if you can’t carry a tune…” Steve is smiling as he attempts to cajole the other teen into joining in, having a little fun, but he stops as Christian abruptly sits up like he’s going to bolt. Ceasing the motion of his fingers, Steve backpedals, “Hey, it’s fine. I’ll stop asking.”

He watches the muscles of Christian’s jaw work for a breath-stealing moment, before Steve picks the song back up, hoping that the music will be more of an enticement than his words. It seems to work as Christian stays though he continues to sit up instead of lying back down.

Steve kinda feels like an organ grinder’s monkey for a minute as he tries to cater to his small audience’s whims. It’s only that flash of vulnerability hidden by defensiveness that keeps Steve seated, that calms him with the insight that this teen isn’t just fucking with him.

Seamlessly, Steve moves into the Marshall Tucker Band’s “Fire on the Mountain” next. He doesn’t want to give Christian a moment of peace in which to run away. His curiosity aches within him, questions decay on his tongue, foul and bitter. He wants to know everything about this guy, he realizes. He doesn’t know if it’s because Christian is beautiful or wounded or mysterious or intense or tough and rough-edged. Maybe it’s Steve’s own bleeding heart and knack for picking up strays or his curiosity or his own devotion to the music. It’s probably everything together.

And suddenly he can’t just sit there strumming the guitar and his mouth opens again though he’ll probably regret it. “Where are you from? Originally, I mean, I can tell that accent didn’t come from around here.”

Hot blue eyes flash a look at him before Christian is looking away as if he doesn’t deign to answer. But Steve knows by the quicksilver shifting of Christian’s jaw again that there’s a reason Christian doesn’t want to answer that specific question.

“Look, I’m not gonna tell social services or something. Wouldn’t be much to go on anyway.”

Christian’s eyes drop to his own knees, he wrings his hands for a moment as if unconsciously trying to wipe something off of them. “Oklahoma,” he finally speaks in a rough voice. “I’m from Oklahoma.”

He darts his eyes up long enough to see that Steve is smiling at the admission, but he can’t tell yet whether it was a mistake. This guy’s peacefulness and quiet warmth and goddamn stubbornness have just worn Christian down again.

He almost said Texas. It’s the state that he was born in, the state that most of his memories of his father take place in, but it felt like a lie. And, for whatever reason, he can’t seem to lie to this hippie kid, can only obfuscate and conceal.

It’s Oklahoma where he did most of his growing up, where the major events of his life occurred, where his father died and he met Jeff and started wrestling. Oklahoma is where his father’s family is from, where Christian’s heritage lies, his Cherokee and rural Midwestern roots. He runs a hand through his short hair absently. He used to think of growing it long, of braiding it maybe, but now he keeps it short for cleanliness. He used to wear jewelry, turquoise and silver necklaces, leather bracelets, used to think of getting his ears pierced, a tattoo when he turned eighteen…

Now he just exists, just survives, day to day, month to month, for two years. He looks just like every other homeless kid out here, is just like every other homeless kid, pathetic and desperate and desolate, mean and mangy.

He ducks his head, covers by rubbing his cheek against the shoulder of his t-shirt, wringing his hands again futilely and instinctively. He doesn’t know what Steve thinks of his weird behavior, can’t imagine what Steve sees that keeps the hippie coming back.

Christian looks up when the music stops to see Steve’s sheepish smile. Steve just noticed that he’d been there an hour, the usual amount of time he spends playing in the park on Sundays, and he promised his mom he’d be back to help clean out a closet or something.

“I have to go,” he says in explanation. “I promised to help my mom…” Steve doesn’t know whether he should have avoided mentioning his family when Christian is already looking away as if he’s totally uninterested in what Steve does.

And it’s frustrating, and annoying, and Steve doesn’t want to wait a whole week to see Christian again. It’s stupid, he knows, and he’s pushing again, but he just can’t help trying.

“What are you doing Tuesday afternoon?” he asks.

Christian looks at him like he’s stupid and the sentiment may be accurate so Steve explains. “I don’t have to go to work til five that day and I thought we could meet again at like two…”

Steve’s brain furiously works for any reason that they should meet again, for anything that the two of them could do together, that Christian would agree to. “I’m working on a new song,” he blurts out. “It’s not…it wasn’t ready to be played today, but I thought on Tuesday…I could try it and maybe, you’d, ya know, want to hear it?” God, he knows he sounds like a moron.

Christian is looking at him sideways, out of the corner of his eye and through a fringe of lashes, the gaze assessing, considering. Christian knows he shouldn’t say yes. It’s bad enough that they practically have a standing Sunday date, there’s no reason, no excuse to meet the kid another time.

But he wants to, and it’s exactly what Christian has been afraid of, because he’s been there before. He’s known longing like this, wanting to be seen, to be known and appreciated and cared about, craved affection and praise and attention.

But then again, what exactly is he protecting, Christian asks himself. If Steve wants him, the hippie can skip all these games. Getting fucked again isn’t really going to change things for Christian. He isn’t going to be any worse off as long as Steve doesn’t call the cops, and if Steve keeps playing…well, then Christian could actually get something out of this deal.

He tries not to give any of those emotions away as he gruffly says, “Sure. Ain’t like I got anything better to do.” Then Christian stands, immediately walking back towards his usual section of the park without a look back. He wants to be the one to leave this time, no matter how childish it is.

But despite Christian’s abrupt exit, Steve’s smiling victoriously as he lays his guitar in its case.

Christian really doesn’t have much to do during the days. The best dumpster diving takes place outside restaurants at night, so mostly during the days he maybe sits on a busy street, hoping that somebody will think him pitiful enough to give him some change. And he’s normally pretty tired so he doesn’t wander far afield usually, but Monday finds him out walking around. He keeps his eyes mostly down, not wanting to meet people’s stares at him for being around normal people.

He knows he shouldn’t, but he’s been thinking about Steve, thinking about meeting the hippie tomorrow and how flustered Steve seemed when he asked. Hell, Christian figures the hippie has got to be a virgin the way he’s been sniffing around like he doesn’t know that he could just ask and Christian would spread his legs. Christian tries not to get his hopes up, tries not to imagine that Steve really wants his opinion on the song.

Looking up, Christian is just in time to see people coming out of the karate studio up ahead. The sign says Tang So Do or something like that, but Christian is more interested in watching the little brunette boy coming out after a woman who has to be his mom. The boy is wearing the white uniform and looking up in adoration at the karate master whose hand is on the boy’s back as he speaks over the boy’s head to the mother while holding open the glass door.

They’re all smiling but Christian finds himself wondering what emotions are behind those smiles, what needs, what secrets, what motivation the instructor has for that affectionate touch to the boy.

** Chris is still nine years old with shaggy hair and big blue eyes, and he’s spent the last two weeks attending wrestling practice. It’s been awesome. He’s pushed himself on each and every thing that’s been asked of him. He’s run faster than the other boys, done more push-ups and crunches, practiced the moves while the other boys were getting water. He wants to show Mr. Morgan, Jeff, that he deserves this, that he’s worth Jeff’s time and attention.

Most days he also attends varsity practice sitting beside Jeff if his momma can’t pick him up after Middle School practice. But tonight his momma had called to say she couldn’t pick him up after varsity practice either. Jeff could have just dropped him off at home, he’s spent tons of time at home either alone or with Jenny, but Jeff insisted on feeding Chris dinner at his house.

Now Chris is sitting on Jeff’s couch drinking his Coke after finishing his fast food hamburger and fries. Michael Weatherly is also there on the couch with him. Michael’s a sophomore and probably the best on the wrestling team at the moment, and they’re watching “Die Hard”.

Chris watches as Jeff affectionately ruffles Michael’s hair as the man takes their plates into the kitchen. For two weeks, he’s also been watching them, jealous of their relationship. He wants to be as good as Michael, wants Jeff to be as proud of him, wants Jeff to touch him with as much affection.

He puts his cup down on the coffee table as Jeff comes back in the room, but the man doesn’t sit back in his recliner. Instead, Jeff sits down on the coffee table facing the two boys on the couch. Out of the corner of his eye, Chris can see Michael straightening up against the couch cushion. Chris sits up more himself hoping that Jeff will know he’s paying attention.

Jeff smiles at his eagerness reaching out a hand to affectionately pet Chris’s face, running a thumb over Chris’s lips that makes Chris feel weird like Jeff shouldn’t have done it. But then Jeff says, “Chris, I think you’re very special and you’ve got real potential for wrestling just like Michael here. You know I started training Michael in Middle School.”

Jeff turns his head then to smile at Michael. “I take care of him and he takes care of me.” Chris watches in confusion as Michael nods at that and then Michael is leaning forward, reaching a hand inside the v of Jeff’s legs.

Christian doesn’t understand what’s going on even as Michael is unbuttoning and then unzipping the Jeff’s khakis, taking out Jeff’s penis right in front of where Chris is sitting. Jeff’s penis is thick and red, jutting out from the man’s crotch. It seems menacing to Chris, threatening, and he doesn’t know what to do. He’s scared and confused as Jeff’s huge hands reach toward Chris’s own pants.

Chris’s breath leaves him abruptly in whimpering wail as the hands make contact, hot as they pull his shorts and underwear down to Chris’s bony knees. His legs make an aborted attempted to pull into his body, to shield himself. Jeff makes a shushing noise as he takes Chris’s small limp penis in his huge, hot hands, saying, “I just want to make you feel good. Let me make you feel good,” as he’s pulling and stroking. Chris is shaking, gripping the couch cushions under him with a white-knuckled grip, and there’s a sinking, cramping feeling in his belly.

A large hand covers his own small one and Chris jerks, looks over to find it’s Michael rubbing his thumb over Chris’s knuckles. “Shhh,” Michael whispers. “It gets better, just relax.” But Chris can’t relax because his penis is stiffening, feeling like it does sometimes when he plays with it, but his mama always says not to…

Chris doesn’t realize he’s crying until Jeff’s wiping a calloused thumb over his wet cheek. Big blue eyes look into Jeff’s dark ones pleadingly, but Jeff just kisses his forehead, says, “You’re beautiful. My beautiful, special boy and I’m gonna take care of you just like I do Michael. Just relax and be a good boy…”**

Christian’s running back towards the park before he even registers having moved his feet.

This Monday Steve is working the afternoon shift at the record store and it’s just as dead as every other Monday. Will has actually taken to reading the latest issue of Time magazine, and Steve is mostly just bored out of his skull. At least until his phone rings.

“Hey,” Steve answers, knowing it’s Misha and slightly embarrassed at how his voice immediately became soft and intimate.

“Hey. You at work?”

“Yeah, so I’m guessing you’re not,” Steve chuckles a little thinking how amazing it is that their schedules are exactly opposite like this.

“Yeah,” Misha draws the word out, making Steve think that the other teen is smiling. “I just got off.”

“Any chance you’re stopping by to see me today?”

“Uhh, sorry, I can’t today. But…I have the early morning shift on Wednesday.”

The pout that had only begun to form on Steve’s face transforms into a smile. He had told Misha his work schedule previously and he doesn’t work until the evening on Wednesday. It means they’re both free in the middle of the day.

“So you want to do something? Maybe go to lunch somewhere?”

Misha laughs low and affectionate. “That’s what I was thinking. We could go to the Venus Pie Pizzeria.”

Steve should have figured that Misha would choose that place. Misha loves it because it’s just as quirky as he is. “Sure. Do you need a ride or…?”

“I can be there at But I’d need a ride home.”

“One is good, and I can definitely give you a ride home before I have to be at the store.”

“Cool, cool. Well, I guess I’ll see you then.”

“You can’t entertain me for a few more minutes? It’s been really slow today.”

“It’s slow every Monday, unlike the coffeeshop that’s busy, well, everyday. Sorry, but I have to go help my dad.”

“Ok,” Steve answers making sure that his exaggerated pout can be heard in his voice.


Steve sighs as he presses the red button to hang up. Man, this sucks, he thinks.

Tuesday, Christian’s fidgety like he knows he shouldn’t be. It’s just that he doesn’t have anything else to break up the monotony of his days, he tells himself even though he knows that it’s more than that. He knows that he’s getting too involved.

He makes sure that he eats something so he won’t be so tired since he knows that the hippie will want to talk. And Christian doesn’t know what else Steve will want to do, but he wants to be ready. He even puts on clean clothes. Well, he puts on clothes that are as clean as he can make them in the park’s public bathroom with handsoap. And really that should have been a clue that this is a huge mistake.

Still he manages to wait until 2 to make his way down to where he knows Steve will be. As he walks over there though, Steve is not sitting. In fact, he’s still got his guitar case on his back.

Steve had worked that whole morning to get the song ready to be heard by Christian, so his face breaks out in a relieved smile as the homeless teen gets close. “Hey,” Steve says. “Thought I was gonna have to go find you.”

Christian’s stomach absolutely does not give a nervous flutter at the hippie’s words, or at least that’s what he tells himself. As they sit, both in the shade this time, Christian can’t help but notice that this time Steve is wearing a black tank top that hugs the other teen’s body in a decidedly distracting way. He thinks that maybe they’ll be doing that something else after all.

But the outline of Steve’s pecs isn’t all that the tank exposes. Christian also notices that Steve has a tattoo on the outside of his right shoulder.

The direction of Christian’s gaze doesn’t go unnoticed by Steve who pauses in the middle of opening his guitar case. “You like it?” he asks.

Christian’s eyes jerk away from the mark on pale perfect skin guiltily, looking at the grass as if that’s where he’s been looking the whole time. “What?” he asks, because he’s pretty sure Steve’s not asking about the song since the guitar hasn’t even left its case yet.

“My tattoo,” Steve explains with a laugh. He shifts a little so that his shoulder is pointing more towards Christian and contorts himself a little so he can look down at it at the same time. “It’s a nautical star.”

Christian’s brows contract in confusion but he doesn’t ask. So Steve explains anyway. “It represents finding your direction in life, like how sailors used the North Star to navigate.”

“I didn’t think that you were eighteen?” Christian blurts out. He’s really trying not to ask questions, trying not to care about this kid and his tattoo and his perfect fucking life.

Steve laughs again even though he can tell that Christian feels uncomfortable asking questions, prying into his life. “I’m not. I’ll be seventeen in August, but my mom signed the waiver to let me get it after I came out.”

“You’re gay?” Christian asks softly, with real interest.

“Yeah,” Steve says firmly, making eye contact. He’s certainly not going to be ashamed of the fact now, and he’s pretty certain that Christian is gay too. It could even be the explanation for why Christian is on the streets.

Steve watches as Christian’s eyes drop back to the grass that his hands are playing with, as Christian nods once slowly. He’s not overly surprised that Christian didn’t proclaim his own homosexuality just because Steve did, nor is he surprised that his statement seems to have gotten Christian thinking.

And Christian is thinking, thinking about his sexuality as he really hasn’t for the last two years. He hasn’t thought about his sexuality because his sex life hasn’t really been a choice, it just sort of happens. He has slept with girls before, ok two girls before leaving Oklahoma, but nowadays it doesn’t even feel like an issue. Besides it’s not as if anyone he’d want to actually date would want to date him, would want to be with him longer than the time it takes to get off.

Christian is also thinking that it’s weird that Steve is being so open with him, some guy Steve barely knows. He almost misses the hippie asking him a question. “Have you ever thought of getting a tattoo?”

“Yeah, maybe.” He replies, noncommittally.

“So what kinda thing have you thought about getting?”

Christian shrugs again, but he can feel Steve waiting for an answer, an honest answer. And for some reason, he feels compelled to give one because it seems like Steve honestly cares. “Like a Cherokee design, maybe.”

“Yeah?” Steve asks, genuinely interested. “Do you have Cherokee heritage or…?”

“Yeah,” Christian says, becoming slightly more relaxed at Steve’s interest. But still it’s like he doesn’t know how much to say, doesn’t really know how to act in a normal social situation if he’s not trying to be an asshole.

But it doesn’t seem to bother Steve who has gotten used to prompting the other teen. “So like a dream-catcher or something?”

Christian can’t help his surprised laugh, but he ducks his eyes away as Steve smiles at him in response. “Dream-catchers aren’t Cherokee. And the peace-wheel and pow-wows are from plains Indians.”

“Oh,” Steve says still smiling because Christian wasn’t being malicious or snide in laughing but actually telling Steve something, something about Christian himself. “So what would you get?”

And even though he’s embarrassed that Steve will think it’s stupid, Christian can’t help actually telling Steve, can’t resist Steve’s attention. “I was thinking about an animal scene. My great-grandfather was in wolf clan for warriors so I was thinking maybe a wolf howling at the moon…and maybe an eagle too.”

Christian shrugs again like it’s nothing, like it doesn’t mean anything even though Steve knows that this is the most intimate thing that Christian has said so far. And it is important. “So the tattoo would remind you of your family, of where you came from?”

Christian nods a little. His family, his heritage is important to him and his self-imposed exile pains him. He remembers hearing about how the Cherokee tribes would gather each morning at the nearest river or stream. They would enter the water and pray to the seven directions, the four cardinal points, the sky, the earth, and the center or spirit. And the water would wash away whatever separated a person from his family and community and the Creator. Now Christian only wishes it would be that easy that burned bridges could be washed away like that.

“And to remind me of what’s important,” Christian says. “It’s not getting ahead at your job or having stuff, but the Cherokee are about harmony and balance, work and play, war and peace, nature and us. Everybody was equal and everybody had a place and a duty,” Christian breaks off knowing that he does sound stupid now, pretending to be wise and shit when there’s no balance in his life now. He has no place or duty and he’s in no danger of him being caught up in materialism when he doesn’t have anything.

Steve is thinking that he likes how Christian describes it, not like an interesting concept but like the real beliefs of a people that exist. He was born too late to be a hippie, but he is certainly fascinated with the ideals of peace and harmony. He’s thinking that he’d like to know more when Christian redirects, “So what about this song?”

“Yeah, ok,” Steve says, accepting the change in direction for Christian’s benefit. He gets out the guitar and sets about tuning it, but he still thinks a moment about what he knows about Cherokee history. The only thing that he remembers is the Trail of Tears, that the Cherokee ended up in Oklahoma because of a forced migration and he has to wonder again if Christian’s own migration from his home was forced.

But he’s not going to push, so he simply balances the guitar on his lap and opens his notebook to his newest song, “Ballad of a Denim Boy and Grey Girl”. “So here’s the tune…” he says as he begins to play, concentrating for a moment because the song is new. “Actually, I started with this lick,” he plays, talking about the song as he would with Jason or Jensen.

Steve begins the song again, this time softly singing the lyrics as well. He gets to the second verse and then stops because the line there still doesn’t feel right. “Ugh, I just…here, look. This line in the second verse just doesn’t sound right, do you…?”

He turns the notebook around so that Christian can see it only just catching the other teen’s surprised expression before Christian is schooling his features into blankness and looking down at the paper. Christian can’t believe that Steve is actually asking him how to fix the song. Steve barely knows him and has no reason to believe that Christian knows anything about music.

And Christian knows that he should probably just push the paper back at the hippie, but his fingers are practically itching now, wanting to reach for the pencil, for the guitar, wanting to…Practically without meaning to, Christian’s eyes are looking over the notes and the lyrics. “How about if you change ‘the moon is almost gone’ to ‘the sky is almost blue’ and then change these words…”

Christian’s heart is in his throat as Steve turns the paper back around, reading over the change he’s suggested. “That’s,” Steve plays the lick again, still looking at the paper and thinking. “Yeah, I think…”

Steve doesn’t bother getting out a full sentence, simply begins with the chorus and then plays and sings the second verse again. “God, yeah, that’s it, man. You totally fixed it.” He’s already starting the song over.

But Christian is mentally stomping on the happiness that the praise engenders. He knows exactly where this road leads and it doesn’t matter how nice Steve is, how laid-back or funny or interesting or sincere, how goddamn caring. Christian can’t start caring about anyone else’s opinion, can’t become dependent on anyone else like before, because he’ll only be hurt in the end. Because Christian can’t forget that he’s just a homeless charity case, a fucked up kid better at fucking than writing songs. If Steve knew anything about him…

“So how’s the song?” Steve asks, knowing nothing of Christian’s inner turmoil.

“It’s good, yeah.”

Steve can easily read that something has changed and he doubts it has anything to do with whether or not his song is good. So he begins Eric Clapton’s “I Shot the Sheriff”, hoping to lift the mood again.

But though Steve can tell that Christian knows and is enjoying the song, it doesn’t help whatever’s bringing Christian down. And he now knows that Christian has to have been a musician which means that presumably at one point, Christian had access to an instrument probably a guitar. That doesn’t exactly clear up the mystery of the guy but Steve does know a helluva lot more about Christian now than last Sunday.

So he plays a couple more songs before he has to pack up and leave in order to be at work by five. Christian looks just dejected as he closes the guitar case, and Steve wants to stay, wants to say something, to comfort the guy someway, somehow. But Christian is already turning away from him, curling into the tree trunk and running thin fingers through the blades of grass again. Steve just leaves then, feeling like his comfort wouldn’t be accepted and certainly isn’t expected.

Christian stays there a while, watching as the sky darkens and the people begin to leave the park, before he makes his own way back to the secluded section. On the way though, Liz and Daniel find him.

“Chris, Chris,” they chorus. They push each other as they jostle for position, but Christian steps in, putting his arm around Liz before she starts screaming or crying. “Can we go to the playground?” she asks instead.

Christian hesitates before answering. He knows that Mary doesn’t take them to the park because she’s too afraid that she or the kids will be recognized. She’s been so terrorized that she thinks her bastard husband has spies everywhere and who’s to say he doesn’t.

But he’s taken them before, at night. He figures that even though LA is never pitch-black the cover of darkness is pretty safe, and if their father or the cops are there, he can be a distraction while the kids scamper into the bushes. So he says yes.

“Ok, fine. C’mon, but remember to stay near me or we won’t ever go again,” Christian says. He knows his harsh words aren’t heard, though. The kids stopped listening as soon as Christian agreed.

Liz is still young enough that she wants a piggy back ride to the playground and that’s the real reason that Christian agreed. Because they’re kids. They’re two kids who got dealt a shitty card in life, but they deserve to be kids and play on the playground even if they have to do it in the middle of the night.

Daniel runs immediately toward the monkey bars, but Liz, of course, wants to be pushed on the swings. It’s a mindless activity to push her over and over even as she demands to be pushed higher, and he’s been in a contemplative mood since seeing Steve that afternoon, or really ever since meeting the hippie. So he’s not surprised that watching the brunette boy crawling around reminds him of himself at that age.

** Chris is nine years old and he’s been on the wrestling team a month now, a month that Jeff has been proudly patting him on the back and swiping an affectionate hand through his shaggy hair, that Jeff has been touching him down there.

It’s Saturday and his plan for the day is to watch morning cartoons with the sound turned low since his momma is still sleeping from a late shift at the diner. He isn’t expecting the knock on the door to be Jeff.

Chris’s throat constricts at the thought of Jeff being there, at the thought that Jeff is going to want to touch him some more, but Jeff just asks if he has a baseball glove. Chris hasn’t touched his baseball stuff since his Dad died, it’s just been sitting on the shelf, but Jeff takes him to the park to throw a ball around.

They throw the ball back and forth, the rhythm soothing in its familiarity. He doesn’t realize he’s crying until Jeff is hurrying over with a concerned look on his face. When Jeff swings Chris up into his arms, Chris really lets loose, sobbing into Jeff’s shirt for the Dad he lost, the family he lost. Jeff comforts him with soothing words and gentle hands, comforts him the way that Chris has been aching for since his momma first got that phone call.

Jeff fills in all those gaps in Chris’s life. Jeff encourages Chris and asks about his day, plays with him and teaches him, comforts him. Jeff pays attention to him like no one seems to do anymore.**

“Chris, Chris!”

Christian opens eyes he doesn’t remember clenching shut to find that he’s stopped pushing Liz and that Daniel is calling him over. Breathing in a long, noisy breath, Christian wipes a shaking hand over his face before stopping Liz’s swing. Then they head over to the boy while Christian tries to make his smile believable.

It’s not as if this is anything new, like Christian doesn’t see Jeff’s face every time he looks around, feels Jeff’s hands on him every time he fucks, hears Jeff’s voice in his ear. He’s spent the last two years trying not to think of Jeff, but he figures that it would take two lifetimes to forget. Sometimes he still wants Jeff, still wants Jeff’s comfort, Jeff’s attention, and that makes him feel even worse.

But these kids don’t have anything to do with that, don’t deserve to have that darken their fun particularly since he’s the only one out here for them to play with besides each other.

“Hey, Chris, watch!” Daniel cries, just loud enough for Christian to consider telling the boy to keep his voice down but doesn’t. He watches as the boy jumps to grab the monkey bars then swings his legs over a bar and lets go with his hands. Christian sticks an arm out as Daniel begins to swing until the boys hand reach a bar behind him, but Daniel doesn’t catch the bar the first time and Christian’s hands are already making contact.

“Whoa there, sport. I do not want to explain to your mama how you broke your neck.” Meanwhile Liz has begun jumping up and down, poking him with her pointed little fingers, “Chris, lift me up. Chris…”

Wednesday, Steve is still excited about his new song. He can’t wait to play it for Jensen and Jason.

He’s also excited about his date with Misha. They didn’t exactly do a lot of talking at the party and Steve feels like it’s been forever since they were able to just hang out.

Steve is parking his car when he gets a text message from Misha, Got us a table in back left from the door. Smiling at the thoughtfulness, Steve pulls open the swinging door and tells the hostess that he’s meeting someone.

As he nears their table, he considers giving Misha a kiss in greeting, even on the cheek, but he’s not quite that comfortable yet. So he settles for a big smile and grasping Misha’s hand that’s lying on top of the table.

“Hey, how was the morning shift?” Steve first asks.

Misha shifts in his chair a minute but doesn’t let go of Steve’s hand. “It was fine. Busy as always. Katie really needed to switch shifts so that’s how I got off for lunch with you.”

“Lucky for me,” Steve says sappily and Misha smiles back at him.

“Yeah, though it’s too bad you have to go into work later.”

“Yeah,” Steve agrees.

They order two Cokes and a large pizza to share. Steve lets Misha pick the toppings even though he doesn’t really like banana peppers, he figures he can just pick them off.

“So my dad and I started making this new dining table,” Misha begins. Steve tries to follow, really he does, but he has no idea about different styles of tables or different types of tools to make tables. But he knows that Misha and his Dad love to do this kind of thing when Misha’s Dad has time. Misha’s Dad is some kind of high-powered businessman, and Steve didn’t think that people like that had free time, but whatever.

But when Misha somehow manages to connect making his own furniture to string theory and, somehow, Buddhism fits into it all, Steve can’t help zoning out.

The pizza comes and Misha is still talking in between bites of food, until Misha asks him, “So what’ve you been up to besides working?”

Steve almost misses the question which would have given away the fact that Steve wasn’t listening, but still he hesitates before answering. Misha basically knows as much about music as Steve knows about string theory or building furniture. The guy listens to classical more as a back ground noises that helps him ‘concentrate’, and Steve doesn’t want to bore Misha just because he’s excited about his new song.

So instead he tells Misha about the new recipes he worked on with his mom for her blog. Everybody likes food, after all.

Misha is at least able to follow that choice of topic and even says, “You’ll have to make that one for me sometime.”

Steve smiles though for some reason it’s not as broad as before, “Yeah, I’ll have to do that.”

Then Misha’s checking his watch and saying that he ought to get going. Steve snatches the check as soon as it hits the table which only causes Misha to smirk and shake his head.

But as they’re waiting for the change, Misha asks, “So this Sunday…Did you want to come over to my house for lunch?”

Misha is uncharacteristically serious when asking and Steve knows why, or thinks he does. Sunday is apparently a pretty special day for Misha’s family, they go to temple or whatever one calls a Buddhist place of worship or meditation or whatever, and then they have lunch and do stuff as a family. So it’s a big deal for Steve to be invited.

But it would mean that Steve would have to miss his Sunday date with Christian. And, even though, it’s a big deal to spend Sunday with Misha, if Steve had to find Christian and tell the homeless teen that he has to miss this Sunday in the park…Steve is pretty sure Christian would never forgive him. As much as he likes Misha, Steve is unwilling to lose Christian, unwilling to hurt Christian like that.

“Sorry, but I can’t this Sunday. I already promised my mom that I’d go with her to this cooking demonstration thing and it’s only this Sunday…” Steve trails off as he’s suddenly aware that he’s half-babbling as he tries to make his lie as believable as possible.

“Hey, it’s ok,” Misha says comfortingly. “Next time.”

Steve smiles at that, though he’s not sure that he’ll ever have a Sunday free again now that he’s making progress with Christian. And he doesn’t know what to think about that.

Steve takes his change and leaves a good tip, and then they’re walking to his car. Misha changes the radio station immediately, and Steve doesn’t protest even though Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” was on.

He figures it’s just something they’ll have to agree to disagree on. They don’t have to have everything in common and Misha seems to enjoy seeing Steve actually play his guitar though Steve doesn’t know why since Misha doesn’t like his kind of music…

Maybe Misha is silent on the ride, thinking about how Steve rejected his invitation this Sunday. But whatever the reason, neither of them break the silence between them on the drive to Misha’s house. In fact, Steve’s kinda quiet the rest of the day, enough so that Will is actually trying to create conversation between them. Steve decides that he likes the guy when Will puts on Jimi Hendrix.

Wednesday finds Christian panhandling on the streets of LA. He hates doing it as much as he knows the people passing him by do. But it’s the only way he can make money that he uses to buy toothpaste and toothbrushes, a bar of soap, a flashlight and batteries to replace the one that was stolen from him when he had first arrived in LA.

But today, he’s only panhandling for a couple dollars, enough to buy a bag of chips and maybe a candy bar at the gas station because he’s starving. So he sits with his back against the wall of some high rise business building holding a cup with a few coins in it. He doesn’t look any of the people passing by in the eye, for his own benefit as well as theirs. Instead his gaze hovers somewhere around chests and shoulders as he tries to look as pathetic as he knows he is.

With the monotony, it’s no surprise that his mind wanders a little.

** Chris is nine years old and he’s been on the wrestling team for two months when things between him and Jeff change a little, when he finds himself naked and on his knees, his tiny trembling thighs straddling Jeff’s khaki-clad leg as Jeff sits on the couch in his living room. Chris’s tiny hands clench Jeff’s shoulders through the polo the man is wearing as he buries his wet face in the cloth beside his right hand.

One of Jeff’s huge hot hands rubs soothing circles on his back, but Jeff’s other hand is…is in his butthole, rubbing inside him. It hurts, the friction despite the sticky stuff Jeff used, the cramping in his belly when the fingers press deep inside.

Chris resists sobbing uncontrollably, but he can’t stop the tears that run down his cheeks in twos and threes or the whines of pain that feel forced out by Jeff’s rubbing. And sometimes Jeff rubs against something inside, something that feels like pleasure but is too intense, making Chris cry out. Every time Jeff touches that spot, Chris can’t decide whether it makes things worse or better.

And through it all is Jeff’s voice. “It’s ok, baby. You’ve just got to get used to it like Michael did. I just want to make you feel good, Chris. Don’t you want to be a good boy and make me happy?”

Chris nods against Jeff’s shirt, ashamed of his tears. He does want to make Jeff happy, so he wipes his face with one hand and then sits up a little, trying to hold still and be good.

“Good, Chris, that’s it. Just relax, baby.” Jeff coos as the hand leaves Chris’s back to swipe at the leftover tears on Chris’s cheeks. “Such a beautiful boy, so good…”**

Christian wipes a hand over his face and through the short spikes of his hair, disgusted at where his thoughts had inevitably gone. Looking into his cup, he decides that he got enough and gets up off the ground stiffly.

He heads immediately toward a nearby gas station which is the only place he feels comfortable shopping at. Gas stations don’t exactly carry anything that his momma would have considered nutritious, but Christian makes do. He buys a bag of Doritos and a Snickers bar, before heading back to the park with his purchases.

Hiding the candy bar in his hidden backpack to save for later, he finds a nice patch of sunshine to eat the chips in. It’s quiet until the inevitable happens.

Christian can’t help tensing his muscles as someone reaches for chips but he relaxes as he looks over to see it was just Daniel. He’s just tipping the bag towards the kid when Mary appears holding Liz’s hand and a pair of scissors.

“Daniel! Did you ask Chris if you could have some?” she snaps obviously frustrated about something. The boy just looks at her sheepishly, a handful of chips on its way to his mouth.

“It’s fine, Mary. Really,” Christian assures her as he then tips the bag towards Liz who releases her momma’s hand to grab some. Again Christian thinks how nutritious chips aren’t for kids not eating a whole lot else, but he knows beggars can’t be choosers. And beggars are exactly what they are.

Mary sighs, still irritated obviously, and Christian finally figures out why as he looks at her two kids again. She’s been giving them haircuts, it looks like.

“Anyway, I was actually looking for you. Did you want me to cut your hair again?” she asks him. Christian just nods as he’s eating his own handful.

He’s wiping his hands on his jeans as he feels her hands in his hair. He has to swallow hard at the pleasurable sensation before he tilts his head back. It feels wonderful, but it’s more than just a pleasurable physical sensation that has him blinking back the sudden wetness in his blue eyes. To be touched affectionately, with no pain, no other expectations, is a luxury that Christian can’t help but be moved by. It makes him miss his own momma something fierce.

Mary seems to understand, drawing it out longer than Christian knows is necessary. And when she’s done, saying, “There. You look even more handsome now,” her tiny hand lingering on the back of his neck.

Christian forces a smile and thanks her as she finally moves away, resists the urge to put his own hand on his suddenly exposed-feeling neck. The kids seem to be finished eating so he gives Mary the rest of the bag, claiming that he’s full when really his stomach is tied up in knots now. Liz has taken to mapping his palm with a tiny finger as it lies on his thigh as Daniel asks, “Who do you think would win in a fight, Batman or Spiderman?”

It’s Friday night and Steve is back at Jason’s house. It’s not a party, and Jason’s dad is actually home. It’s just a little get-together among friends. They’re in the basement, where there’s a ping-pong table and another tv, some couches. But mostly they’re down there so they can play their guitars without disturbing Jason’s dad.

Jensen is sitting on one couch with Will across from Steve and Jason sitting on another couch. Seeing Jensen alone, Steve just can’t resist, “Where’s Jared, Jens? Did you manage to unhook yourself from the giant or is he coming later?”

Jensen flips him off, saying, “Fuck you, man.” But they can all see that Jensen is blushing and that only fans the flame.

“Wow, he must be incredible between the sheets,” Jason comments. “Sucks like a hoover, gives it to ya like a jackhammer…?”

Blushing deeper, Jensen turns his face away which can only mean one thing: they’re not having sex yet. The fact surprises Steve considering what Jensen has told him of his relationships in the past, but then again, Jensen has also been surprisingly tightlipped about his relationship with Jared. Usually Jensen would have told Steve exactly how long Jared’s dick was by this point in a relationship.

“Oh my God, you’re like in love with him!” Steve exclaims, only to duck as Jensen throws a pillow at his head. He lifts his head only to continue, “What you’re waiting til you two are married?”

“Shut up, Steve. Why don’t you tell us how Misha is in the sack since you and he snuck off to the bathroom last Friday in full view of everybody?”

“It wasn’t the bathroom, and Misha and I aren’t attached at the hip.” The words come out a little more bitter than Steve really meant them, and Jensen picks up on it immediately.

“Trouble in paradise, man?” Jensen says it lightly but Steve knows that Jensen is more than willing to listen if he wants to talk.

“No,” Steve says perhaps a little too vehemently. “We don’t have to agree on everything. We don’t have to be like you, JaredandJensen.” He shrugs.

Jensen doesn’t take offense, just nods. Steve is grateful when Jensen turns his attention to his guitar for a minute. Will, who had been studiously not contributing to their conversation, joins in.

Unfortunately for Will, that gains him Jason’s attention. “So, Will, you were pretty cozy with Sophia last Friday…?”

Will’s fingers stutter on the strings, pulling a god-awful sound out of the instrument and blushes. Jason smirks and finally lets the conversation die.

Steve’s fingers begin the melody to his new song almost unconsciously and Jensen notices that too. “Hey, is that that new song you were working on?”

Steve’s smile is shy as he answers. “Yeah, I had some help on the part that was giving me problems.”

Jensen’s full lips pull downward in a confused frown and Jason bumps Steve’s shoulder. “From who?” Jensen asks.

“Just a friend. Nobody you know.”

And, really, Steve knew that that answer would just make Jensen more curious. “Somebody we don’t know? Where’d you meet this friend?”

Steve shrugs, but he can feel the blush heating his cheeks and he doesn’t even know why he would be blushing. “A guy I met in the park.”

“And how old is this mystery guy?” Jensen pushes.

“Like our age, I think.”

“You think? And he doesn’t go to our school?” Jensen interrogates.

“Wait, is this guy the reason there’s trouble with Misha?” Jason suddenly interjects.

Steve rolls his eyes. “There is no trouble between me and Misha. He’s just a guy I met in the park who’s also into music. Now do you wanna hear the song or not?”

Jensen raises his hands in surrender and Jason snickers, but Steve ignores them in favor of beginning the song.

They’re all impressed by the end and Will is already trying to fit his bass into the chorus. “So what part did the guy help you with?” Jensen asks.

Steve is too happy and proud to worry about Jensen mentioning the mysterious ‘guy’ again. “The second verse. I really like it now.”

“Yeah, I liked it too. The whole thing is really great, man.”

“Soon we’re gonna have enough for a set,” Jason says excitedly. “And then we’re gonna have to find a drummer.”

“And a singer,” Steve adds. He likes singing, but he knows that he’s not a singer, not right for the frontman for a band. He’s tried to convince Jensen to do it, but the guy won’t budge. He’s more into being the leading man in the drama club.

They play some more, things each of them has written as well as covers to some of their favorites, eat more pizza and end up watching some truly terrible movie on the SciFy channel about giant bugs. And when Steve leaves, Jason parting words are, “Hey, you could bring this mystery guy with you next time, if he’s as good as you say.”

Steve just shrugs. He’d love to bring Christian, but somehow he doubts Christian would agree.

It’s Friday night, sometime after midnight, but Christian is awake and moving around in the dark. He grabs his toothbrush, toothpaste, bar of soap and his flashlight, but he doesn’t turn the flashlight on, not yet. Christian knows the path to the park’s bathroom by heart by now.

About every second or third day, Christian washes himself as best he can out of the bathroom sink. Once a week, he washes his extra clothes and spends the next day guarding them as they dry in the sun on some short bushes.

He always does this in the middle of the night because the cops don’t like homeless people washing in the public restrooms. Christian doesn’t like to do it either.

Inside the bathroom, he turns on the flashlight and sets it on the other sink between the faucet and the tiled wall. With a deep breath, Christian takes off his shirt, slinging it over the wall of the nearest stall.

Every sound makes Christian flinch and look over his shoulder at the door. Still he needs to be clean, so he unzips his pants and toes off his shoes. He doesn’t have socks anymore and the tile floor is cool on his bare feet but not unpleasant. He slings the jeans over the stall too.

He washes his face first, and then sticks his head under the faucet to wet his hair. He uses the bar soap for his hair too and tries not to get the soap in his eyes. Grabbing a handful of paper towels, he dries his face. He had brought a towel with him from Oklahoma but doesn’t have it now.

After that it’s an odd combination of wet and dry papertowels and still more startled glances over his shoulder. He rubs the bar of soap on some wet papertowels, and then runs them over his skin. He doesn’t use too much soap because it’s too hard to rinse using more wet papertowels or just splashing water over himself. Lowering his boxers, he runs the papertowels over his groin and ass and inner thighs quickly before pulling the shorts back up.

He’s gotten water all over the bathroom by the time he’s done. Christian is actually surprised that the cops haven’t staked out this place yet to find who’s making the mess, but he supposes that it might be dry by morning.

By the time he’s putting his clothes back on, he’s not totally dry, not totally clean either. A lot of homeless people don’t bother, but his momma’s voice in his head makes sure that he at least makes an attempt.

He can’t help but notice the bruises on his legs as he pulls up his jeans. He usually has some bruises nowadays, from walking through the underbrush or bumping into things he’s too tired to avoid or from taking some guy’s cock on his hands and knees. But he was used to bruises long before he ran away from home.

** Chris is ten now. His hair is cut short because Jeff wanted it that way, but he still has big blue eyes.

He shifts in his seat as he sits down at a desk in second period history, his butthole is red and irritated as he sits and walks and wrestles. He nods at the guy that sits down on his right. Wrestling has made him popular both because he’s Jeff’s new favorite and he’s good. People have started to notice.

That fact is proven as he glances to his left to see Susie smiling at him. “Hey,” he says.

She smiles wider, tosses her long brown hair over her shoulder, and says a soft, “Hey,” in return. Chris looks away then as the teacher enters, but he can’t help glancing back at Susie to see that she’s still looking at him.

It’s obvious she likes him. Chris wonders in a vague sickening way if she thinks he’s beautiful, wonders what it would be like to cover her naked body with his own and press inside. Jeff says that’s what you do if you like someone. He wonders if it would make her feel good or not.

Class has barely begun when Chris raises his hand to go to the bathroom. The teacher tsks at him when she sees that his raised arm has bruises on it, five fingerprints ringing his bicep.

“Wrestling is such a brutal sport,” she says as she lets him go.

But the bruises aren’t from wrestling, they’re from Jeff and there are more underneath his jeans. Sometimes Chris can’t help trying to squirm away from the painful impalement. Sometimes Jeff just holds him too tight.

But Chris never really fights back, never attempts to use any of the wrestling moves he’s learned to get away. He never threatens to tell on Jeff, never threatens to quit the wrestling team. Even though he’s still uncomfortable with what Jeff does to him down there in private, Chris loves wrestling, loves the competition, loves the team, loves having an outlet for his frustration and aggression.

It’s not just him anymore either. Shortly after that first time, Jeff spoke to the owner of the restaurant Chris’s momma works at. Everybody knows and respects Jeff, and now Jeff’s momma gets better shifts so she can spend more time at home with Jenny while Chris is at wrestling practice. And Jeff sponsored Jenny for a dance scholarship at a prestigious dance school that they could never have afforded otherwise. Jenny will probably get a scholarship to OU when she graduates in two years too.

In the end though, Chris loves Jeff. He still feels proud when Jeff praises him on the wrestling mat or in Jeff’s bedroom. His heart still swells when Jeff pets him affectionately, when Jeff ruffles his hair during practice, when Jeff hugs him close even when they’re naked and Jeff’s sweaty and panting. Chris tries to like it when Jeff touches his penis, strokes inside his butthole with finger or penis, because Jeff’s just trying to pleasure Chris, just showing Chris that Jeff loves him. And Chris tries his best to be worthy so that Jeff won’t leave him.

Entering the bathroom, Chris just goes inside a stall and closes the lid. He sits down on the toilet lid and puts his head down between his knees. He feels nauseous, feels like he’s had a hard rock inside his stomach for a year now, but he can’t throw up all the time or he’ll never make weight. So he breathes slowly through his nose, concentrates on breathing.**

Christian dresses quickly, shoves his feet back in his worn-out shoes, brushes his teeth and makes his way back to his backpack. He’s used to hiding, used to feeling like nobody cared enough to really look, to see him.

Sunday, Steve is conflicted as he gets ready to go to the park. He loves music. Misha loves…other things. But how much does it matter, he wonders. Christian loves music…but Christian is completely unavailable for many reasons. Those same reasons are why Steve should not think about how hot Christian is, particularly when Christian is being petulant with that pouty lower lip and curling top lip.

Steve sighs and rubs his face. He shouldn’t be including Christian in his thoughts at all. It’s not an either or situation, either he can have Misha or Christian, it’s just about whether Steve thinks Misha and he have enough in common to be dating.

Irritated with himself, he grabs his guitar and heads to his car. At the park, he heads to his favorite spot and sees Christian is already there, waiting with his hands in his pockets and looking uncomfortable which comes off as irritated.

“Hey dude,” Steve says, trying for casual as he slaps his hand down on Christian’s shoulder. Christian doesn’t react casually though, flinching away and rounding on Steve with panic in his wide blue eyes.

“Whoa, hey, sorry,” Steve says hurriedly, not wanting the other teen to bolt. Christian just nods and looks away but Steve can see the guy’s chest moving with fast breaths.

“Sorry,” Steve says again, but this time Christian glares at him so he drops it and drops to the ground. He can think of too many reasons why the homeless teen would flinch at being touched, none of them good.

Christian waves away the second apology with an aggravated hand. He hates that he probably looks like a pussy to this guy now, flinching when Steve touched him, but it was unexpected, he reasons. He sits down too, a little closer than usual just to show the hippie that he’s not afraid. He even tries to think of something to say, but comes up blank.

“So I played that new song for some of my friends,” Steve begins as he gets out his guitar. “They really liked it, and they all thought that it sounded a lot better after you fixed it.”

“You told them about me?” Christian asks suspiciously.

“Yeah,” Steve treads carefully. “I just said a new friend that I met in the park helped me with the second verse.”

Christian frowns but can’t decide whether he’s upset about that or not. If Steve is telling the truth then he didn’t mention anything about Christian being Steve’s charity case, so maybe it’s ok. He doesn’t bother saying that they’re not friends. Steve can think whatever he wants in that pretty little head.

Steve’s hands move immediately into playing “Ballad of Denim Boy and Grey Girl”, just playing not singing. He’s almost surprised when Christian says, “It’s a good song.”

Steve looks up to see Christian biting his lip as if he hadn’t meant to say that, to give Steve an honest compliment. Again.

He smiles. His fingers finish his own song and begin moving immediately into another by the Beatles. “Hey, do you know the name of this song?”

Christian cocks his head a little at the strangeness of the question, but within a few seconds he says, “Taxman. Beatles.”

Steve smiles again. “Yep. How about…” Steve plays another easy one.

“Ring of Fire by Johnny Cash,” Christian retorts, getting into the game despite himself.

The next one takes Christian a little longer before he says, “That Summer. Garth Brooks.”

Steve laughs at Christian’s enthusiasm stilling his hands for a second. “Hey,” Christian says. “Can you play “Western Skies by Chris Ledoux?”

“Sure,” Steve says, pleasantly surprised that Christian actually asked him for something even as simple as a song. Christian’s feet move as Steve plays and sings the request.

When it ends, Steve can tell that Christian is going to ask for another song and he’s not disappointed. “Do you know “Simple Man” by Lynyrd Skynyrd?”

Steve lowers his brows. “I know a lot of Skynyrd songs, but I’m not sure of all their names. How does it go?”

“Oh, you know,” Christian says because Steve has got to know it. The hippie seems to know everything else. “And be a simple kind of man, or be something you love and understand…” Christian sings.

Steve smiles then. He just can’t help himself. He’s ready for Christian to be pissed at him for the trick, and is shocked when Christian laughs and smiles, smiles. Hardly believing his eyes, he stares at the genuine smile on Christian’s face, a smile that lights up the teen’s whole countenance. Steve thinks that Christian looks irresistible when he smiles like that.

“You fucker,” Christian says with a laugh. Steve had totally played him and Christian had to respect the guy for that. He had gotten so caught up, it was like he had forgotten himself…or remembered himself, remembered who he was without all of his memories clogging his brains.

Steve starts the song from the beginning, “Come on. Sing it from the top.”

And Christian does, he sings, “Momma told me, when I was young…” And it’s freeing and happy and he doesn’t think at all, he just sings.

Steve meant to sing along, but now he finds himself awestruck again, this time by the sound of the guy’s voice. Christian’s voice is powerful and expressive, with just that hint of twang. Christian makes the song sound intimate, like it’s a story between friends.

Christian knows that Steve is listening to his voice. He’s been complimented often enough on it to not be surprised, but he gives the hippie a knowing, challenging look that jumpstarts Steve into singing along. Steve’s voice is completely different than his own, Christian knows. Steve has a low raspy voice and yet it fits in easily.

When that song ends, Steve’s ready. “I know you know this one…”

Christian laughs again as he recognizes the tune. It’s “I Shoulda Been a Cowboy” by Toby Keith. He can’t not sing along, not now, not when he feels happy for the first time in a long time. Steve just makes things so easy. It takes Christian effort to resist the pull from those serene blue eyes and laughing lips and he just doesn’t have the energy.

“My mama loves that song.” Christian surprises himself by saying the words. They just came out, like all of a sudden he could think of her, talk about her to Steve without all of the guilt and fear and shame that he normally feels.

And Steve doesn’t make a big deal out of it, just shakes his hair out of his eyes and says, “Yeah?” like he’s looking for confirmation but doesn’t expect an answer. “My mom loves this one.”

“Tiny Dancer. Elton John,” Christian says, recognizing the song, and Steve smiles and nods. All of a sudden Christian has the urge to touch Steve, like he could absorb Steve’s calm, caring nature through skin to skin contact, like touching Steve would crystallize this moment so that Christian could feel like this forever.

Christian’s hand twitches against his own leg, but he can’t reach out, can’t make himself that vulnerable yet. Yet, Christian thinks, like one day it’ll be possible. Christian isn’t even disappointed that he can’t, because he gets caught back up in the song, in Steve’s voice, in staring at Steve’s beauty. And it’s enough for now, without touching.

They sing Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire” and the Doobie Brothers’ “Black Water”, and they howl Eric Clapton’s “Laila” to the darkening sky. And Steve is simply amazed at how easy it is, how underneath their superficial differences, underneath Christian’s defensiveness, they have this shared history of music that they heard as children, a shared love, shared passion and emotion.

And Christian is still smiling and he’s still beautiful as he tips his face up to look at the sun dipping under the tree line.

“I guess you should be going.” Christian’s words surprise Steve out of his gazing at the vulnerable line of Christian’s throat. The words also take some of the wind out of both their sails, because they both know that Christian’s right.

“Yeah, I guess I should.” Steve doesn’t get up though, he doesn’t want to leave yet. He wants to stay, wants to take Christian with him, feed him a good meal, give him a soft clean bed to sleep in, he just plain wants…

But it’s like Christian knows what he’s thinking as Christian turns his face away, showing Steve his sculpted profile and lips thin with stress. Christian doesn’t want Steve to ask, doesn’t want Steve to ruin their perfect afternoon by reminding them both that Christian’s homeless, doesn’t want to have to tell Steve ‘no’.

Steve ducks his own face away, hoping he can hide his own disappointment that way, before he straightens and puts away his guitar. Christian stands when he does and to Steve’s constant surprise, the homeless teen gives him a small smile as goodbye.

But Steve can’t just leave, “Hey, I…Wednesday, do you wanna meet…?” He’s too flustered, too desperate to come up with any kind of excuse to see Christian again.

“Yeah, two right?” Christian says like it’s always been that easy between them.

“Yeah.” Steve hesitates only a second longer looking at Christian before he turns away. It takes effort not to look back on the way to his car.


When Steve re-enters his house, he’s even more conflicted than when he left. He’s practically in a daze as he drops his guitar case outside of his bedroom door and heads into the kitchen. His dad had to go out of town on business so it’s just his mom who greets him there.

“Hey, hon. Did you just get back from the park?”

“Yeah,” he says simply as he sits.

“So things must be going well with this homeless boy?” she prompts further.

Steve turns stricken eyes on her. He doesn’t even know what to say. Does he tell her how Christian’s smile is there behind his eyelids every time he blinks? Does he tell her how the last time he masturbated he pictured Christian on his back in the sunshine with parted lips and thighs?

“It is. He’s…he knows all the same songs and he sings…” Steve can’t help the smile that forms when he thinks of Christian singing, when he thinks of how much fun they both had. “He’s got a great voice.”

“That’s great. Do you know his name yet?”

“Yeah. It’s Christian from Oklahoma.” His smile abruptly fades as he wonders again why Christian is on the streets, what made him travel so far from his home? Steve sees again those panicked blue eyes when he had touched the other teen unexpectedly this afternoon.

“Mom, I just…” He still doesn’t know what to say.

His mom sighs as she puts the last of dinner on the table and then sits. “Steve, I know you want to help this boy, want to just sweep in and make everything better, but that’s not the way this is going to work. Firstly because you can only help as much as Christian will accept.”

“I know but he’s…”

“Adorable like a lost puppy you just want to take home with you?” she deadpans.

Steve’s mouth is still open as he starts to laugh. “Yeah, I guess, though I dare you to say that to him.”

“Defensive, huh?”

Steve snorts. “Yeah. But I think he’s scared, he acts…” Steve shakes his head in frustration at his own inability to find the words to explain and then tucks the loose strands behind his ears again. “But today he was fun, he was…I like him,” Steve finally admits.

He’s afraid to even look up to see the look on her face. He knows, knows it’s pretty much the worst idea ever, and then there’s Misha…

But his mom is obnoxiously silent until he looks up. Her face is serious as she finally speaks, “Maybe he’s the love of your life, I don’t know, but I do know he’s not in a place right now where he can make that kind of decision, where he can love you back. And it may be a long time before he’s ready.”

That, frankly, was not what Steve had expected her to say. He had expected outright condemnation. “But Misha,” he blurts.

“Misha is something you need to decide independently of Christian. And you need to decide it soon before someone gets hurt.” Her voice is firm, but not harsh because Steve knows that she’s right, again.

The rest of dinner is fairly silent.

Steve shuts himself in his room after dinner with his cell phone. Lying on his bed, he quickly scrolls through his cell phone to find Jensen’s number.

Unfortunately as the phone is ringing, Steve realizes he doesn’t know what to say, how to explain his predicament any more than he did at dinner with his mom.

“Hey Steve,” Jensen answers.

Steve kinda loves caller ID. “Hey, what’s up, man?”

“Not a thing. How ‘bout you?”

“Nothing,” he says hesitating before speaking again. This is awkward. Even though Jensen is his best friend, they don’t generally sit around and talk about their feelings and relationships. “Listen, I wanted to ask, I…shit, what’s different about Jared?”

“What?” Jensen replies in exasperated, friendly annoyance. “Listen, you fucker, you’ve gotta get some new material, because this joke’s gettin’ old…”

“No, Jens, look…I really want to know.”

Jensen’s silent a minute, but Steve can hear rustling like the other teen is getting more comfortable. “Is this about Misha?”

Now it’s Steve’s turn to shift uncomfortably. “Yeah…I just…we don’t have a lot in common.” He feels stupid even saying it.

He feels more stupid when Jensen laughs, saying, “We’re in high school, man. How much do you need to have in common?”

“I don’t know,” he answers sullenly.

“This is about the guy in the park, isn’t it?”

“No,” Steve says because it isn’t, but it kinda is. “Just, what’s different about Jared?”

Jensen sighs and there’s rustling again. “It’s not that Jay and I have everything in common just because we both moved here from Texas or anything. I mean, you have to have common interests and shit, but we’re not that similar personality-wise, I guess.” Jensen pauses and huffs, apparently also having some problems expressing himself.

“Look, it’s more how you feel when you two are together. Like when I’m with Jared, I feel…comfortable and happy, like I can be myself, I guess. He’s interested in me even if he’s not interested in everything I’m interested in. It’s like I like who I am with him.”

Steve frowns, possibly more confused now. “I-I think that I’m comfortable with Misha. I just don’t understand the things that he’s interested in and don’t want to bore him with talking about music if he doesn’t care.”

“Would you even be worrying about this if there weren’t this other guy?”

“Yeah, I mean, it bothers me when I’m excited about a new song and I don’t even tell Misha about it. Besides it’s not about the guy in the park. The guy in the park is…unavailable.”

“But he makes you feel dissatisfied with Misha? Like there’s something better.”

Thinking about Christian’s similar taste and enthusiasm for music, Steve answers, “Yes.” But then he changes his mind, blurting, “No,” when he thinks about how difficult it had been to get to that point with Christian. Steve certainly hadn’t felt comfortable at the beginning. Then again even when the guy was being an ass, he had been fascinating to Steve, drawing him in like a moth to a flame.

But it’s like Jensen said, Steve actually is fairly similar personality wise to Misha, he thinks. They’re both laid-back and chill. Christian is the opposite of chill. He’s tense and volatile, passionate, but Steve felt totally natural with him tonight. Misha’s smile never caused him to feel the way he felt tonight, never made him want to do anything to keep it there.

Steve stalls a minute, tries to make his next words a complete thought. “It’s not fair to Misha if I’m thinking about the other guy.”

“So if this other guy weren’t unavailable, you’d choose him over Misha?”

The moment of silence that Steve needs to answer that question is answer enough.

Jensen blows out a breath. “Well, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t have some fun with Misha if this other guy is really as unavailable as you say he is. But then if this guy suddenly becomes available and you drop Misha like a hot potato…”

Steve sighs. It’s not that he doesn’t like Misha, he does. They just aren’t meant for each other, he supposes. And maybe that wouldn’t matter so much if there were no Christian, but it’s true whether or not Christian is in the picture.

“Oh God, I’m gonna have to break up with Misha,” Steve moans. He’s never broken up with someone before. He’s never had anything serious enough to break up before. “I’m gonna see the guy in the park again on Wednesday and I don’t want to have this hanging over my head then.”

“Ugh, yeah,” Jensen commiserates, because no matter how much Jensen played the field before Jared, Steve knows he would never be with two guys at once. “Sooo…if you’re really sure, then you should probably just do it. What’s your work schedule? Because I know Misha has the morning shift with me tomorrow, and I was gonna give him a ride, but if you could…”

“Dammit,” Steve interrupts. He is supposed to be at work at the time that they get off from the coffee-shop morning shift tomorrow. “I’m supposed to work, but, you’re right, I need to just get it over with. If I could convince Jason to switch with me…But what will I say?”

Jensen humphs. “Dude, I don’t know. Tell him you don’t have that much in common or just tell him there’s someone else or tell him you’re dying.”

Steve laughs in spite of himself. “I’m gonna try not to lie just to get out of dating him.”

“Yeah,” Jensen snorts, “you will have to see him again. So when I get there at the crack of dawn tomorrow, I’ll just tell him that I’m doing something with Jared and that you’ll take him home.”

Taking a deep breath to calm the dread swirling in his stomach, Steve agrees. After he hangs up with Jensen, he prepares to call Jason and beg.

Christian wakes Monday morning on his dirty sleeping bag having had a good night’s sleep. Well, what constituted a good night now-a-days. It had been pretty difficult to get used to sleeping on the hard, uneven ground and it had been years before that since he had really slept well. But last night hadn’t been too hot or too cold. He hadn’t woken up at every random sound last night or with any nightmares.

Still, as consciousness returns he becomes very aware of a rock somewhere under his left kidney. With a groan, he rolls over onto his back to look up at the trees above him. It’s a nice view and some days, he actually enjoys waking up here. The sentiment doesn’t usually last long.

But this morning, Christian finds himself actually singing as he rolls up his mattress and then walks over to where he hides it. His steps falter as he notices he’s singing “Simple Man” again. For two years he’d been trying not to think about his past, not to think about anything that might remind him of his past like singing, particularly singing those old songs.

With Steve though…with Steve, he remembers that not all of those memories are horrible. He feels natural. He feels like a person, like someone he wants to be rather than who he actually is.

But Christian stops singing because he knows it’s not going to change anything. It’s not going to change the past, not going to suddenly make certain portions of his past easier to think about, not going to stop his past from intruding on his present. He’s not suddenly going to become someone that might be worthy of Steve, someone that’s worth more than a fuck.

He’s on his way to the park’s bathroom when he sees Daniel and Liz up ahead. They haven’t seen him and he takes a second to watch them. It looks like Liz has fallen over a tree limb and Daniel is kneeling beside her, turning her to sit down so he can look at her knee and, hopefully, keep her from crying. He can’t help smiling to himself at the scene.

Christian is the baby of his family and he used to act like it. He grew up being the center of attention, always saying, “Watch this” and scaring his momma half to death while his Daddy just laughed that deep rumble of affection. Jenny mostly egged him on instead of patched him up, but she could be protective too. Except Christian became the more protective one…

** Chris is ten and in the fifth grade and the best wrestler in his Middle School and still Jeff’s favorite. He walks outside after school with all the swagger that he thinks he should have even though most of the time he feels helpless and needy.
David Boreanaz walks beside him on their way to the gym for wrestling practice. David is his best friend, even though David is in sixth grade, but David is on the wrestling team with him.

But even though Chris likes David, he can’t help flinching away instinctively with fear and shame when David lays a friendly hand on his shoulder as they walk. It’s something David never mentions, but David never stops trying to touch him and maybe that’s part of why Chris likes him.

As they step outside, Chris spots his sister, Jenny immediately. Jenny’s 14 and in the eighth grade and she doesn’t normally talk to Chris at school. His heart stutters as he sees a boy her age ‘sneak’ up behind her and grab her around the waist. A second later it becomes clear, he’s just tickling her, but Chris is already moving across the lawn.

“Hey,” Chris shouts, twisting the guy’s arm behind his back as Chris drags him away from Jenny. “Leave her alone.”

Both Jenny and David are pulling at Chris’s arms as he lets the guy go with a glare, and a harder push than was necessary. Jenny’s right there smacking his arm.

“Why’d you do that, freak?! Jesus, Chris, just stay away from me!”

Chris hangs his head at her words. It’s not the first time that he’s over-reacted and intervened. He just…he can’t help it that he worries. Anything could happen to her, anybody could hurt her. What if…what if someone touched her when she didn’t want it? She can’t trust these stupid, pimply boys.**

It doesn’t help that he was right. People weren’t to be trusted. No matter how nice, how caring Steve seemed it wouldn’t last. Steve would abandon Christian whenever it was convenient, probably after he had spread his legs.

Steve is about to freak the fuck out as he pulls his car into the parking lot at Perks. He really doesn’t want to do this, doesn’t want to have to look Misha in the eye and possibly hurt the other teen. He wants to change his mind, except then he thinks of Christian’s face and remembers why he has to do this. He can’t have them both, and he can’t give Christian up.

Taking a deep breath, he gets out of the car and heads to the entrance, pasting a smile on his face right before Jensen and Jared and Misha come outside. Misha heads towards him immediately, saying, “Thanks for the ride. I’d hate to ruin Jensen’s fun.”

Jensen shoots Steve a significant look, nodding his head slightly in what’s probably supposed to be encouragement as he ushers Jared over to where his car is parked. Misha hops right into the passenger side of Steve’s Volvo. He starts talking as soon as Steve shuts the door. “Really, this is great, but didn’t you have to work right now?”

Misha always remembers his schedule, always cares about important dates if Steve tells the other teen about them. It’s sweet and considerate, and this is really not going well, Steve thinks. But as much as Misha remembers the important things, he doesn’t share those things that are important to Steve. A fact which is proven as Steve turns on the car and Misha’s long-fingered hand is there, changing the station.

“Yeah, there’s actually a reason I wanted to pick you up today…”

Steve chances a glance over at Misha whose face shows nothing but mild curiosity. Misha isn’t expecting Steve to say anything bad, and why would he? There’s been no sign of anything wrong between them, because Steve didn’t say anything about his damn musical interests, didn’t say anything about the fact that they barely have anything to say to each other.

But sitting here in the car with Misha waiting for him to say something, Steve feels like an ass, and he literally can’t talk or breathe for a second. He just really doesn’t want to have to do this.

When Misha’s expression starts to turn to concerned, Steve blurts out, “I think we should break up.”

Steve is staring at the road ahead as he elaborates. “I just, I don’t think that we have that much in common.”

Misha is silent, totally and completely silent and when Steve looks over Misha is staring at his hands in his lap.

“Misha…?” Steve asks quietly.

“Yeah, I mean if you don’t want to date any more then that’s that.”

That wasn’t the answer that Steve was hoping for but then again, Steve really can’t think of a way that this could have gone well. “I-I don’t know anything about furniture or physics or Buddhism, and you don’t know anything about my kind of music.”

“We don’t have to have everything in common, and we could teach each other.”

“I know. But you’ll never love music the way that I do, and I’ll never be a Buddhist.”

Steve catches Misha nodding. Steve doesn’t say how he just wants to talk about writing a new song with someone who’s as enthusiastic as he is. He can’t teach Misha to have passion for something. So they’re quiet for the eight minutes that it takes to pull up to Misha’s house. And Steve’s miserable.

As he pulls in the drive he wants to say something, ask if Misha’s mad at him, say that they can still be friends. It all sounds stupid and trite in his head, though. So he just watches with a sorrowful expression as Misha climbs out of the passenger car.

Misha ducks his head back in though, saying, “Still friends, right?”

Steve is stupid with relief, a warm, real smile lighting his face. “Yeah, I’d really like to be.”

“Ok then,” Misha says and then shuts the door. Steve can’t help watching the other teen walk up the steps and into the house.

Wednesday can’t come fast enough for Steve. He knows it shouldn’t make a difference, but now that he’s not with Misha, there’s an extra anticipation in his meeting with Christian. Not to mention how easily Christian had accepted the invitation, how much fun they’d had together last Sunday.

God, Steve had this irrepressible desire to just reach out and touch Christian today. And he knows he shouldn’t, shouldn’t even think it. He thinks, really, that he should feel guiltier over ending things with Misha but he doesn’t in the face of seeing Christian again.

And when he shows up at the park and sees Christian waiting and Christian smiles and then ducks his head when he recognizes Steve…Yeah, he’s done.

Christian allows the smile to pull up his lips. Just because he doesn’t trust Steve, doesn’t mean he can’t enjoy the hippie’s company. It doesn’t mean anything, Christian tells himself. He’s not involved and he wouldn’t have given a damn if Steve hadn’t shown up.

The fucking joyful smile on Steve’s face though…Christian can’t help looking away for a moment because there’s no way that smile’s meant for him. He can’t help looking back a second later either, just because he loves that look on Steve’s face even if it doesn’t mean anything.

“Hey,” Steve says and it’s awkward. It’s funny because of all of the time that Steve has spent chasing this guy around, and now that he’s caught Christian, Steve’s self-conscious just standing here. He figures sitting is a good idea.

“Have any song requests?” Steve asks, feeling like a total tool. Christian shakes his head, but there’s a ghost of a smile curving his lips as he sits too. Steve isn’t surprised that Christian would have reverted a little, but he can tell that he hasn’t lost all the ground he gained.

Christian just waits as Steve tunes the guitar, messing with the grass underneath his fingers. He doesn’t really know how to act. They’re not friends, not really, not when Christian is homeless and pathetic. He doesn’t want to presume anything, but he wishes that he could think of something to say, something so his attitude doesn’t just scare Steve away because he’s gotten used to this.

He’s just as much at a loss as he’s been every other time he’s tried to think of something to say around Steve. It’s embarrassing, like pretty much everything else about him, and he can barely look at Steve. And yet, Christian can’t help darting glances up at the other teen, to see Steve’s fingers moving gracefully along the strings, to see the wide open v of the shirt Steve’s wearing, to see how Steve’s hair lightly curls around Steve’s face, and finally, to see the contented, adoring expression on Steve’s face. Steve loves the music, lives inside the music, is the music, and Christian longs to feel that way again.

Steve carefully keeps his head down as he tunes the guitar, not wanting to put Christian on the spot. But he lifts his head as he begins to play an old song, something he thinks will lift the mood, put a smile back on Christian’s face.

He’s not expecting for Christian to look at him quizzically as he sings. “You don’t know this one?” he asks with surprise.

Christian can feel his face heating as he looks back towards the ground and shakes his head, suddenly feeling like he’s ruined everything. He almost expects Steve to laugh at him.

And Steve does laugh but not at him. “It’s a really old song. My mom listens to it, and there are hand motions…”

Christian can’t resist looking up at Steve then. “Hand motions…?”

“Yeah, with the chorus,” Steve feels like a fool, but if it makes Christian happy, he’ll gladly do it. He puts his guitar down on the ground beside them and begins to sing the chorus a cappella. “Running Bear loved little White Dove, with a love big as the sky…” he sings while making stupid hand motions from the seventies if not earlier.

Christian starts to laugh when Steve puts his hands over his heart for the second time in the classic dramatic gesture of fairy tale love. “What the fuck is that?”

“Dude, it’s the hand motions. My mom always does them in the car when this song comes on the oldies station.” Steve is smiling as he answers because Christian is still chuckling. “Don’t blame me, I didn’t make them or anything.”

“But you do them…with your mom…in the car.”

Christian can’t help ragging on the other guy a little, especially since he can see the amusement shining through the embarrassment on Steve’s face. Jesus, he’s barely sat down and Steve is making him laugh, making him smile, making him feel like a real person.

He’s just opening his mouth to say something else when he hears a shout, “Hey hobo! He’s not giving you money!”

The smile vanishes immediately because Christian knows that whoever it is that’s yelling is speaking to him. Steve made him forget, but this guy walking up with short blonde hair and squinty eyes only had to take one look at him to know that he’s not good enough to be hanging out with the hippie.

It takes Steve a moment to realize that Chad is there in the park, walking towards him with Jason, Jensen, Jared, Tom, and Mike following behind. It takes him another minute to realize what Chad said.

By the time that he’s figured everything out, Christian is already yelling back, “Fuck you, man! I’ll do whatever I want.”

Steve darts his hand out to grab Christian’s wrist without thinking as Christian shifts as if to run. He softens it to simply lay a hand on Christian’s forearm immediately, though.

“Guys,” he speaks up before anyone else can escalate this fight. “This is a friend. Christian, this is Chad, Jason, Jensen, Jared, Tom, and Mike.”

Christian’s stiff and tense, hating the way the other teens are still standing, looking down on him like he’s as pathetic as he is, like he’s not a real person. Steve may have introduced him as a friend, but there’s no way that these guys will overlook the fact that he’s homeless, a charity case. There’s no way that he can sit here and make polite conversation with them staring at him like he’s dirt.

“I’ve gotta go, Steve,” Christian says, shrugging off Steve’s hand gently and standing. He can’t help giving the group an angry once-over with his eyes. These people are Steve’s real friends. They occupy a space in Steve’s life that he’ll never see. He manages not to run away back to his hiding place.

“Dude, you’re such a pushover,” Chad says as he sits.

“Chad, shut up,” Jensen says with real annoyance in his voice. “It’s not his fault that he’s on the streets.”

“He’d be better off in foster care,” Tom ventures his opinion cautiously.

“How do you know he’s not running away from foster care?” Jensen snaps.

“Or what if it’s his parents he’s running from and the system would just send him back,” Jason interjects.

Chad’s rolling his eyes, but Mike takes up his cause. “Look at him, he’s like starving. He’s not exactly better off on the streets where anything could happen to him.”

“Guys,” Steve says again. “It’s his choice.”

It seems like they all shuffle uncomfortably then, and Steve thinks that the discussion is about to start back up so he asks, “What are all of you doing here anyway? How’d you find me?”

“Oh, yeah,” Jason says and holds up a Frisbee. “The bathroom at the store was flooding so I got the afternoon off and thought I’d get some people together to play. Your mom said you’d be here already. I was gonna call but then you were right here.”

“Oh,” Steve says but his mind is still on Christian, on the expression on the homeless teen’s face before he left. Christian looked ashamed, defensive but wounded. “Listen, guys, I’m gonna…” he gestures awkwardly in the direction that Christian had gone. “I gotta find him.”

He knows that they’re all watching him quizzically as he leaves, not understanding why he’s chasing down this homeless guy. There’s being nice, and there’s giving to the less fortunate, and then there’s how Steve feels about Christian.

However, Steve is now realizing that he has no idea where Christian goes when he heads to this section of the park. And after stumbling through some dense brush, he’s even more thankful he left his guitar behind with his friends.

It’s like a city back there, a city of tents hidden from the eyes of most of the city of LA. Steve finds himself weaving his way around people sitting on sleeping bags and coming out of tents, homeless people just sitting around talking, sleeping, eating, drinking, living. He feels like an explorer in an unnamed land.

And, again, he feels so awkward, it’s not even funny. Everyone just stares at him like he doesn’t belong, like he’s a threat. Steve is about to turn tail and leave when he sees the back of Christian’s head, heading away from the rest of the homeless people.

Christian is actually heading closer to the edge of the park and Steve thinks maybe Christian is actually heading into the city, but, instead, Christian stops and sits down with his back against a tree. Steve still can’t see the other teen’s face, but his body language says dejected loud and clear.

“Christian,” Steve calls out to announce himself instead of sneaking up on the guy. He’s not surprised when Christian looks up with a surprised expression and then looks away with an aggravated one.

“Godammit, son. Leave me the hell alone.” Christian says. What the fuck is Steve doing following him when his friends are out there waiting? Why is Steve so fucking stubborn?

Steve has the nerve to laugh a little before saying, “I just can’t seem to do that.”

“No shit,” Christian says irritably. “The question is why?”

Sitting down beside Christian close, but hopefully not too close, Steve shrugs, “I like hanging out with you, singing all those old songs. Plus you fixed my lyrics.”

Christian shakes his head a little, because he knows that’s not the reason. “Listen, I know you’re trying to be nice to me and all, but you can go back to your friends.”

Lifting his head just in time to see Steve opening his mouth, Christian knows that the hippie is going to deny it so he cuts Steve off. “Not every runaway has a sob story they need saving from.”

It’s not a lie, particularly because Christian didn’t say anything about himself. But Steve looks dubious at best so he continues, “See the girl over there?”

Steve looks in the direction of Christian’s vague hand gesture to see a short girl with brown shoulder-length hair. She’s just average looking, a little plump, a little plain. She’s packing stuff in a backpack and talking with a teenage boy who’s long and lanky.

“She’s a nice girl from a nice family who ran away from home only because her parents disapproved of her boyfriend.” Christian knows this because he had overheard them talking once.

Steve looks over at her again, notices how her boyfriend definitely looks the type to set mothers on edge, but then he turns back to Christian. He almost misses it when Christian says quietly, “But him…his dad definitely beat the shit out of him.”

Shaking his head, Steve doesn’t know what this is supposed to prove, talking about other people like Christian doesn’t act like a wounded animal or a seductive siren half the time. But when he looks back at Christian, the guy’s pasted a plastic smile on his full lips.

“I just ran away to Hollywood, man. Mama always said ‘follow your dreams’.”

Christian looks down again then, unable to hold the lie. Yeah, his mama did always say that and that’s why he ran straight to LA. It was always his dream to be an actor, a musician, a performer. But it obviously wasn’t a fairy tale. He couldn’t get a job having no contact information, no address, no phone number, no references. Even McDonald’s would take one look at him and call Child Protective Services. Even when he turns eighteen, he’s got no future with no high school diploma, no experience, and still no contact information. Not like acting agencies are going to knock down his door when he looks like a bum.

And maybe he doesn’t deserve anything but a life on the streets, only having whatever people are willing to give, spreading his legs for any guy that looks at him. Because that’s what he is, right? A filthy whore. Hell, some guys even call him that while they’re fucking him.

Steve doesn’t know what to say, but he knows enough not to push Christian on this or call the guy a liar. So he changes the subject. “My friends, they’re not…well, Chad’s an ass, but you should hang out with them, with us sometime.”

Christian’s smile is self-deprecating as he hangs his head. He’s not even going to dignify that with an answer. Steve’s friends aren’t going to suddenly accept Christian and, if they did, it would just be because Steve told them not to make a scene. And what would they possibly do together? Christian can’t go to the movies or to a restaurant, certainly can’t go over to any of their houses…hell, if they played Frisbee, he’d probably pass out or something. No thanks.

It’s getting dark around them and Steve knows that he should go but he doesn’t want to this time either for a different reason. Christian looks defensive, like he’s raised all his walls against Steve, but Christian’s blue eyes still give him away. He looks miserable.

“Just go,” Christian says, his voice an odd mixture of command and pleading. He doesn’t want Steve sitting here staring at him, acting like things can be different than they are. Yeah, Steve cares now but he’ll eventually lose interest and then where will Christian be? Even more dejected and lonely, that’s where.

Steve nods and stands, unable to think of anything else to do. “Sunday,” he says, an instruction and a plea. Slowly he walks to the edge of the park and then back to his car.

Christian gets up too, hurries around the edge of where the other homeless people camp to get around where he normally keeps to himself. He hasn’t even sat down though, when Daniel and Liz come crashing through the underbrush.

“Chris! Chris!” they cry as they launch themselves at him, and it’s just like every other day except something isn’t right. The kids are too frantic, their voices uncharacteristically high-pitched even for little kids.

“Hey,” he says in a calm voice as he reaches down to put soothing hands on each of their backs, pulling them into him. “What’s going on?”

“Mommy, she…” Liz begins but breaks off with a sob, falling into Christian’s leg.

“Daddy’s here,” Daniel says simply, but he too is gripping onto Christian’s arm, wanting comfort.

Christian immediately straightens, pulling the two kids firmly into the underbrush. “Where?” he asks. And then, “Stay here,” he orders before charging off at a jog in the direction the kids indicated.

Leaves flap in his face as he jogs through the foliage without care until he stops at the sight before him. Mary’s husband is big, taller than Christian, bigger than Christian, and he’s currently standing over her form slumped on the ground.

Christian’s eyes search the area, looking for a stick, a rock…a beer bottle is lying underneath a nearby tree. He doesn’t think, he simply moves, grabbing for the bottle with one hand even as he’s continuing towards the broken tableau in front of him.

His left hand grabs the man’s thick, muscular shoulder as his right brings the bottle down hard. It breaks, shattering green-colored glass over Christian’s hand and over the man’s dark blonde hair, but Christian doesn’t wait, immediately turning the guy over with his left hand as the man falls, stunned. Christian straddles him, punches the man once, twice, three times before the guy lies still on the grass.

Panting and shaking, and, fuck, Christian kinda wants to throw up as the adrenaline is still flooding his weakened system. He falls forward a little before using the man’s chest to push himself off onto the grass. Despite his own discomfort, he first crawls over to where Mary lies on her side, eyes closed, unmoving.

“Mary,” he calls out. Then he taps her cheek, and when she still doesn’t move, he starts to panic again. If he called out for help would anyone come? Would someone take advantage of this situation? Of her defenselessness?

Steve, he thinks suddenly, and he’s up and sprinting before he can think too hard about whether Steve will already have left. His legs and lungs burn with disuse, but he keeps running, faster, knowing that Steve is his only hope of getting Mary desperately needed medical attention.

His legs turn to jello as he spies Steve getting into the driver’s seat of a stationwagon. He hears the car start right before his shins slam into the front bumper as he falls on the hood.

At another time, Steve’s startled face would be funny, but Christian can’t breathe and everything hurts and Mary and two little kids are depending on him. His hands claw at the green paintjob as Steve opens the door and gets out. “What the fuck…”

“Hospital,” Christian gets out. “I need…take…someone to the…hospital. Please.”

Steve doesn’t know what the fuck to think or do as Christian slowly straightens up. He looks like hell, pale and ashen in the streetlight, panting hard with wide terrified eyes. He nods deliberately and then only follows as Christian takes off trying to run again.

Steve keeps pace easily, but he can see that Christian is struggling to keep going. Whatever’s happening, it’s serious enough to have Christian on the edge of exhaustion and still pushing. Steve gets another fright when two kids pop out of nowhere and practically knock Christian down.

It’s a boy and a girl and they obviously know Christian, are pulling on him with small hands and pleading with him with tear-stained faces. Steve doesn’t ask, not even when Christian pushes the kids at him. “Stay here,” Christian says.

Christian runs off, glad that he can do this part himself even though he’s not sure that he’s capable of it. Both Mary and her jackass husband are still on the ground as he approaches.

“Mary, come on,” he says though he’s not surprised when she still doesn’t stir. He hopes it was just a hit on the head, a concussion or something and nothing more serious. He tries to be careful as he cradles her upper body against his chest before shifting her over his shoulder in something like a fireman’s carry. Something like a fireman’s carry except that Mary is sliding down his front as he struggles to carry her.

His muscles scream and burn, but he does it because he has to. As he makes his way back though, Steve immediately tries to help take some of her weight.

Steve moves past the two crying children to help Christian, distantly hearing the children crying harder at the sight of the woman on Christian’s shoulders. He has no idea what’s going on, but this woman clearly needs help. As he helps to shift some of her weight to himself though, he notices Christian’s knuckles are bleeding like he’s been in a fight.

“I didn’t do it,” Christian gasps out, sounding like he’s going to pass out himself any second. “I didn’t hurt her. Please just help us.”

Steve is too dumbfounded to answer. Of course, he didn’t think that Christian could have done this, but then there are children tripping up his steps as they grab at the woman now being held between them. Unfortunately, neither teen is able to do anything to comfort the children as they struggle to simply get the woman to the car.

The walk seems to take too long, too long for her and too long for Christian who hasn’t stopped panting, but eventually Steve is unlocking the back doors. Christian climbs in first, semi-dragging the woman along the seat with him as Steve fumbles to help. The kids try to climb in right after, but Steve stops them, even as he looks to Christian for instructions.

“Guys, I need you to sit in the front seat, ok? Your momma’s not feeling well now and she needs to lie down.”

Steve is still in wonder at the whole situation, at the fact that these kids who’re crying for their mommy are listening to Christian. But he doesn’t have time to wonder at whether this changes all his assumptions about Christian’s past, though it’s obvious that the woman is not Christian’s mother and the kids aren’t Christian’s either. Instead he concentrates on driving quickly but safely to the hospital and calling his own mother to come help.

“Shhh, she’s gonna be fine, guys,” Christian says softly, two terrified faces peering at him from around the front seat. He prays that he’s not lying to them. “She’s just resting so she can get better.”

With Mary’s weight pinning him down, Christian’s still struggling for breath and feeling a little dizzy from his exertion. And he’s scared and worried and overwhelmed. He can hear Steve on his cell phone, but Christian can’t think about who Steve is calling right now. There’s too much on his lap, literally.

Still, he feels a fresh bolt of fear when Steve actually pulls up at the hospital, and can’t help shooting a worried look at the two kids. There’s no time, though, as Steve leans in to help pull Mary out of the car and carry her in the front doors. Mary is taken from them immediately since she’s unconscious and rushed away.

But then there are questions, about Mary’s medical history and family, about what had happened. Liz and Daniel cling to him, depending on him and he just feels like he’s being drowned and his legs are still shaking.

As soon as the questions stop though, Steve is there. Christian had practically forgotten about the other teen, but now Steve’s ushering him to sit down with a barely there hand on his back. Liz climbs onto his lap and Daniel looks like he wants to but instead sits in the chair next to Christian and clings to Christian’s hand.

Steve sits down on the other side, amazed at this new aspect of Christian that has children clinging to him. It kinda dashes his view of the guy as a complete loner, because Christian obviously knows and cares about this woman and her kids. Christian still looks pale and wan, nervous and twitchy, scared and worried. Christian’s still breathing in short pants like he can’t catch his breath.

Steve really wants to clasp Christian’s other hand in his own. In the end, he settles for trailing his fingertips down Christian’s bare forearm, just wanting to let the other teen know that he’s there.

He’s not expecting the reaction, for Christian to turn to him with wet miserable eyes, looking like he’d start sobbing if he let himself.

“Christian?” Steve turns in his chair to more face the other teen. “What’s wrong?”

Christian snorts but it comes out almost like a sob. “Everything,” he manages before he’s turning his face away, hiding behind the little girl’s brown hair.

“Hey,” Steve says, his hand still gently rubbing Christian’s arm that lays on the arm rest between them. “You’ve got to tell me what’s going on here at the very least.”

“Her husband,” Christian starts with a glare that softens as he tries to protect the children in his arms from his anger. When he starts again, his voice is tired. “She had finally run away from him with the kids four months ago even though there was a waiting list at the women’s shelter, but he…he found her tonight.”

“And you found her afterward?” Steve prompted.

Christian nods, saying, “Found them. He’s still lying in the park for all I know.”

Oh shit, Steve thinks, that explains Christian’s knuckles. He wonders if Christian is hurt at all on top of his exhaustion. He looks up, away from Christian for a moment, hoping that his mom is hurrying. Because he does not know how to handle this.

And yet Christian doesn’t seem terribly upset by the fact that it was obviously him that left the man lying there. Tears begin to fill Christian’s blue eyes only when he looks down at the little girl in his lap again.

“Hey, maybe it’s for the best. Maybe she can file charges and really begin a new life. I know you’re worried about the kids, but I’m sure they’ll be fine in foster care for just a little while until she’s better.” Steve has no idea if what he’s saying is complete bullshit, but he has to say something to wipe that anguished look off of Christian’s face.

Christian attempts to wipe his face discretely, saying in a rough voice, “No, I know. She couldn’t raise them on the street forever, that’s no kinda life.” But as soon as he gets the words out, he looks like he’s even closer to crying than before.

“So what’s wrong? I’m sure she’ll be fine,” Steve says.

Christian simply shook his head, too embarrassed to admit that he’s scared for himself when Mary could be seriously hurt, when there are two kids clinging to him for support who may have lost their mother. All he says is, “When the social worker comes…”

Steve doesn’t get it. “When the social worker comes, we’ll have to let the kids go, Christian.” Steve says the words softly, confident that Christian’s tears are for his own grief at possibly losing contact with these kids who obviously mean a lot to him.

But Christian shakes his head sadly, seeming resigned and yet terrified at the same time. “No,” he chokes out. “I’ll have to go, too.”

“What?” Steve asks before his brain has really caught up. And then it hits him. Christian is underage. Christian is a runaway. Christian is going to be taken away by social services and he looks terrified. “Christian…? What…?”

The sound Christian makes then is definitely a sob but Christian’s face is turned away again. Managing to swallow any other sounds, Christian ruffles Daniel’s hair trying to concentrate on comforting the boy. He hates himself because he’s already contemplating how he can sneak out, because he can’t go back. He can’t face his momma, his sister, Jeff.

Steve gathers his thoughts while watching Christian a moment, before he speaks. “Maybe it’ll be best for you too.”

Christian’s head pops up at that remark and Steve is dumbfounded by how stricken Christian looks at the mere suggestion. “I can’t,” he says simply. He looks down at the kids with anguish in his eyes, “I can’t go back.”

It’s another piece of the puzzle that Steve’s been trying to put together but there’s still a black hole in the middle that’s the picture of what Christian’s running away from. What can’t Christian go back to?

But in the end it doesn’t matter, and it’s not the right time to ask with Christian broken open and practically in tears. In the end, the only thing that matters is that Christian is determined to leave. And for whatever reason that Steve can’t even articulate, Steve is going to help him. He can’t not.

He looks up to see his mom entering through the double sliding doors, finally. “Listen,” Steve says and he can’t resist squeezing Christian’s arm briefly. “I think I can help, just wait for a minute. Don’t leave yet.”

Steve’s mom looks harried and her face breaks into relief when she sees him. She even brings him into a tight quick hug despite that he had assured her on the phone that he was perfectly fine. “What is going on?” she asks sharply.

“Uhhh,” for a second, Steve has no idea how to explain what he barely understands. He gestures to Christian sitting in the plastic hospital chair with the two children. “Christian, he…This woman who was hiding from her abusive husband with her two kids…The husband found them and Christian defended her.”

“You weren’t involved were you?” It’s almost soothing, that he’s her first concern.

“No, mom. I only helped get her to the hospital after everything.”

She nods and then goes to move past him towards Christian. “Mom, wait, listen. Social Services will probably come for the kids…and for Christian.”

Her expression softens immediately as her eyes looks over Christian and the children again. “Maybe it’s for the best, Steven.”

Steve hates that she’s saying words he said himself not too long ago. “He’s scared. He’s gonna leave before social services get here anyway, I just thought…you could stay with the kids and maybe-maybe I could take him to our house?”

It’s a question and his face shows all of his earnest pleading. His mom’s face is tight as she answers, “Taking him in is not going to solve all of his problems.” But her face softens again and she sighs before continuing. “If he’s going to leave anyway…but if anyone decides to press charges or the police get involved at all, I’m going to have to tell them where he is.”

Steve nods frantically but she’s already moving. He catches up in time to introduce them. “Christian, this is my mom.”

Christian manages a small, fake smile and says, “Nice to meet you, ma’am.” He wants to be polite but he can’t quite bring himself to look her in the eye, can’t bear to see that parental concern and disappointment. And his hands are too busy to shake her hand.

She doesn’t seem put off, though, as she bends over at the waist and says, “And who are these two?”

He’s roused a little more by the interest in the kids. “This is Liz, and Daniel.”

“My mom’s gonna stay with them,” Steve puts in. Despite that Christian’s head pops up with relief and surprise, Steve thinks that he probably should have let his mom handle it when the little girls starts wailing and clutching at Christian’s loose t-shirt.

Christian’s heart plummets at Liz’s distress and he doesn’t think that he could possibly feel lower than he does in that moment. As his hand moves to soothe her, he glances over at Daniel and sees that the boy looks like he wants to crawl over the arm rest to cling to something more than Christian’s arm.

But then Daniel looks up at him with big brown eyes and asks, “You’re hiding too?”

And Christian doesn’t want to tell the boy yes, not this boy who already knows too much of the horrors of the world. Christian wants to lie and tell this boy that things will always be ok, that adults always know what to do. But he can’t lie, not to Daniel, not after everything, and he selfishly wants Daniel to understand why he has to leave.

“Yes,” he says and Daniel nods because he understands and then the boy begins trying to detach his sister. It takes awhile perhaps because Christian is not helping as much as he could, and he can feel Steve and his mom watching, watching but not helping which he’s grateful for.

Eventually, though, Liz is sitting in Daniel’s lap and they both look so damn wretched that Christian doesn’t think that he can leave. Steve is there, though, touching his shoulder in what he supposes is encouragement. Christian stands and Steve’s mom immediately takes his seat. But the kids aren’t looking at her as she tries to get their attention. They’re watching him as he leaves.

Steve puts a supportive arm loose around his shoulders as he finally turns away, but Christian shrugs the gesture off. He can’t handle comfort, doesn’t deserve it. He does however, allow Steve to awkwardly herd him towards the car. It’s strange, climbing into the passenger seat after all this time on the streets, but Christian knew as soon as he stood up that there was no way that he was going to be able to make it all the way back to the park, to his safe place.

Steve watches as Christian seemingly melts into the comfortable seat of his Volvo. He had been counting on Christian’s exhaustion to leave him docile after the rush of adrenaline. Christian doesn’t even notice they’re not heading toward the park until they’ve turned onto the first neighborhood street.

Rousing himself with a grimace of protesting muscles, Christian says roughly, “Where are we going?”

“To my house,” Steve says simply. He licks his lips and tries to explain when Christian glares at him. “Just…just please. You’re exhausted, and who knows if that guy is still out there.” When Christian’s glare doesn’t lessen, he tries another tactic. “Don’t you want to know what happens? If Mary’s gonna be ok?”

Christian practically deflates, looking exhausted and vulnerable and hurt and petulant. And Steve is suddenly aware that he’s crossed that line where he can’t be at all rational about what’s going on. That this guy, this teen who had at first been aggressive and defensive and obnoxious is loved by little kids, cares about them over his own safety is amazing. It’s almost too much to believe, too much to take in that even though Christian has nothing, he still cares for others. Steve thinks his heart can’t possibly swell any more.

Christian’s practically shaking as he enters the front door behind the hippie. He wonders how something so ordinary can be so frightening. Steve’s house is like millions of others, a living room with couch and tv and coffeetable, kitchen with a table and chairs, closed doors, a little clutter, nothing to get upset about. It’s familiar and yet so foreign that Christian feels completely out of place, feels too dirty to touch anything.

Steve’s not surprised to see Christian visibly upset at entering the house. The signs are pointing to the idea that Christian once had a home and ran away. How else did Christian learn the manners that he used with Steve’s mom? The question is still who or what is he running from?

Steve wants to reach a hand out to the other teen again but he doesn’t want to force anything that Christian is uncomfortable with so he doesn’t, he doesn’t know what to do.

“Are you hungry? I could make something or we could just have a snack…?”

Christian just shakes his head. He doesn’t want to intrude, doesn’t want to take anything more from Steve when he already owes the other teen so much for helping him. Besides, his stomach couldn’t hold anything in right now anyhow.

Nodding, Steve feels at a loss. His big plan was to get Christian into the house, to take the opportunity to take care of the guy a little. He just doesn’t know how to actually accomplish that.

“Come on,” he says, leading them into the guest bedroom that like Steve’s room has its own bathroom. He leads Christian to the bathroom door. “There are towels and shampoo and stuff inside and I’ll…let me get you some night clothes.”

Christian is still standing there looking lost when Steve returns with a pair of sweatpants and another t-shirt, too lost to fight perhaps. “Listen, just at least stay the night. Take a shower, sleep, and tomorrow we’ll have breakfast and my mom will tell us what happened at the hospital.”

Steve wants at least that, wants that little bit of time to have Christian near him, to get to know more about this infuriatingly wonderful guy that he may be falling too hard for. He knows he’s being selfish more than anything else. Maybe this will just makes things worse for Christian but he wants to be near the guy for just a little while longer.

He waits for Christian’s nod before retreating to his own bedroom, to his own shower and bed.

Christian moves numbly into the bathroom with the clothes in his hands. He’s too tired and off-balance to protest even though he doesn’t want to be here. His hand trembles as he reaches for the knob to turn on the water. Maybe he cries a little at the initial feel of hot water on his sore, exhausted muscles, at the amazing and long missed feel of a shower, but the tears are lost in the shower of water. The shampoo is a brand he doesn’t recognize, something fruity that reminds him that this isn’t his, that he doesn’t belong here, that he’s taking something he doesn’t deserve. But the bar of soap is blue and white swirls and smells like rain, just like the kind his mama used to buy. He wonders if she still does.

He hasn’t missed home, missed his mama and his sister and his Dad like this in a long time, since the beginning. It feels like he’ll walk out of the shower and find his old room, open the door and see his mama there. But he was too scared to return, too scared to face everything that he had left behind because it wouldn’t be the happy homecoming, there would be anger and humiliation and blame.
He just wants to be cared for, cared about for a minute. He can’t help it when his thoughts turn to Jeff, to the way Jeff was always there for him, to the way Jeff would comfort and console him, to the feel of huge hands spreading him open.

Climbing out of the shower and into the clothes, clothes that smell clean and nothing like what he’s grown used to, Christian just wants to give something to Steve in return for his kindness, wants to show the other teen how appreciative he is. He wants to give Steve a little affection.

Steve steps out of the shower and gets into his own sweats and t-shirt before climbing into bed. He can’t sleep though, doesn’t even try. He can’t possibly imagine what Christian is feeling right now, but tries to imagine what his house would look like compared to the streets, to that tent city in the park.

He’s not even surprised when his door opens. It’s not surprising that Christian can’t sleep either and Christian must have seen the light on. Getting out of bed, Steve feels like he’s drawn to Christian, to the lost vulnerability, the steeled strength, the tentative hope, and even the resignation that all play in those blues eyes.

Christian moves forward as Steve approaches. Not wasting any time, he reaches out a hand to curl around the back of the blonde’s neck, pulling Steve into a kiss. It’s a little questioning, but Christian is confidently taking the lead as he turns them to push Steve into the wall beside the door. It’s nothing like any kiss that Steve has ever had. It’s better as Christian’s full lips move over his in gentle passion and Christian’s tongue sweeps through Steve’s mouth.

Confident in his abilities in this if nothing else, Christian trails wet kisses over to Steve’s earlobe. His hot breath causes the other teen to shiver, as he whispers, “I wanna make you feel good, let me,” before he takes the lobe and silver earring into his mouth, sucking lightly and laving it with his tongue. His hands push up underneath Steve’s t-shirt even as his mouth moves down to nip the sensitive skin underneath.

Steve’s mouth falls open on a soft moan and his hands suddenly come into action grabbing at Christian’s back. Jesus Christ, it feels good. This isn’t exactly what he had planned but he wants Christian and he likes Christian and he feels comfortable with Christian despite everything. It feels right as Christian pulls off his t-shirt, hands seemingly knowing just where to touch to have Steve moaning again.

Christian’s efforts stop for a moment as Steve attempts to pull off Christian’s own shirt. He hesitates for just a second before raising his arms, unable to deny Steve. It’s been a long time since he was naked for this, and though he’s comfortable giving Steve pleasure, having Steve’s hands on his bare chest and back has his skin crawling. But he has plenty of experience shaking off those feelings and he redoubles his efforts on Steve’s chest.

His thumbs drift purposefully over Steve’s nipples, a dark rose in Steve’s pale chest, before his hands slide around the small of Steve’s back, pulling Steve off the wall and into him. Steve lifts a hand to cradle his cheek that has Christian flinching away, but he covers by turning them around and pushing Steve gently down on the bed. With practiced ease, Christian pulls Steve’s sweatpants over the other teen’s erection, pulling off both pants and boxers in one smooth move. Standing up, Christian knows that he has to remove his own pants for the next part of this.

Steve feels his brain stutter as he lies on the bed and watches Christian peel off the loose sweatpants. He’s glad that Christian is taking the lead as his brain is only saying, ‘Beautiful’. Then Christian is putting his knee on the bed between thighs Steve doesn’t remember spreading. Christian is the one that says, “Beautiful, Steve, you’re so beautiful, so good,” before those plush lips are back on Steve’s skin.

Steve’s thighs and lips part without thought as Christian situates him on the pillows with firm hands while lips and tongue and teeth tease his nipple. He can’t think, simply feels, feels his body arching up into the stimulation, feels soft tan skin underneath his fingers as they wander over Christian, feels his hips moving desperately. His fingers sink into Christian’s ass a little when the other teen pulls away.

Pride overrides the sense of his shame when Christian sits back to look at how affected Steve is. It’s enough, it’s enough for him to give this to Steve who has been so sweet and caring, so nice to him. Christian spits in his palm twice before rubbing it along Steve’s length.

It isn’t until Christian lets go of Steve’s dick and reaches behind himself that Steve catches on to what Christian is doing. “Wait,” he sputters, trying to sit up without success, before figuring out to pull Christian down on top of him and roll the other teen over so that Steve can reach the bedside drawer. He pulls out the bottle of lube and condom that he had long ago bought when he thought it was Misha he’d be experiencing this with.

Thoughts of Misha don’t make him feel guilty at all right then, because this is as perfect a first time as Steve can imagine. Christian is so amazing, so much more than Steve would ever have thought to hope for. Surreptitiously, Steve checks the expiration date on the condom before he places it on the bed.

Christian has gotten comfy, no more uncomfortable now that Steve wants to be on top. It’s certainly the position he has most experience with, being on the bottom, underneath someone. He tilts his hips and spreads his thighs as Steve fumbles with the bottle of lube. It’s almost sweet that Steve is nervous.

Steve manages to crack open the plastic surrounding the bottle’s pop-top, but then spills half of it over his hand and the sheets. He figures too much is better than too little though, and leans down on his left hand placed beside Christian’s shoulder as he reaches between Christian’s cheeks. Steve is the one that bites his lip and whimpers as his finger sinks into the tight heat, Christian’s hands running soothing over his biceps.

“Good, more,” Christian murmurs in a rough voice that Steve likes the sound of. Steve likes the flush on Christian’s face, the panting breath and tiny groans and cries that erupt from full, pink, slick lips as Steve moves to two fingers, the way that Christian’s hips move minutely with Steve’s rhythm. He likes it best when his question fingers rub against Christian’s prostate, causing Christian to jerk, cry out sharply, and bear down.

Christian can’t help the way he reacts to the stimulation on his prostate, the way his hips jerk into Steve’s hand. He’s as conflicted about that spot now as when Jeff first touched it. The pleasure is undeniable and makes him forget what’s happening, but it makes him feel helpless and out of control.

“Come on,” Christian says as soon as he has breath again. He grabs the condom and is ripping it open before Steve has even pulled his fingers out. Steve’s cock is flushed pink and jumps in his hands when he rolls the condom on.

Christian pulls at Steve’s sides as he lies back down but Steve seems just as eager, positioning his cock as Christian rolls his knees into his chest.

“Jesus fuck,” Steve moans as the head pops in. He finds himself curling forward, leaning on top of Christian to rest his forehand on a tan shoulder, not noticing how Christian turns his face away from the intimate touch. It’s Christian’s hands on his back that force him to slide further into Christian’s tight heat.

Slowly Steve set up a rhythm, enjoying too much the feel of Christian’s bare skin sliding against his own. He turns his face into the soft skin of Christian’s neck, sighs wetly into it when he feels Christian’s legs wrap around his waist.

Christian tilts his head back as he feels teeth nipping along his jaw. “You’re doing so good…you’re so beautiful, Steve.” He wants this to be good for Steve, but he can’t help pulling Steve in hard on the next thrust. He wants to cum, wants Steve to cum…

Getting more up on his elbows for deeper penetration, Steve begins thrusting harder in response to Christian’s unspoken challenge. God, he’s gonna cum already, particularly as he watches Christian’s tan hand reaching for his thick purple cock. Snapping his hips harder, Steve tosses his hair out of his face so he can see.

Christian comes with broken little, “oh, oh, OH,” noises even as Steve’s thrusts are rocking his whole body on the bed. A moment later, Steve’s coming himself with a long, drawn-out moan and grinding his hips into Christian’s ass even as he drops onto his elbows in exhaustion.

Their chests are both sweat-slicked and heaving against each other for a moment, before Steve pushes himself up with a groan as he grabs the condom and pulls out. His legs feel weak as he heads to the bathroom with the used condom, but he can’t keep the smile off his face.

He returns with a damp washcloth to see Christian sitting up on the side of his bed, looking uncomfortable. “Hey,” he says soothingly handing the washcloth to Christian who takes it with a sheepish expression.

Christian feels a little embarrassed now, now that he’s shown his true colors. Jeff used to like to cuddle afterwards, but Christian
hasn’t done that since he left home. He admits to himself that he Steve to hold him, wants to be stroked, comforted now that he’s performed, even if it’s a lie, even if it’s just because he let Steve fuck him.

Steve takes the cloth away when Christian has wiped his stomach and then he settles in the bed behind Christian and pulls the other teen to lie down beside him. “Stay,” he whispers as he wraps his arms around Christian’s thin body.

Slowly, Christian relaxes in the hold, succumbing to the illusion of being loved and cared for with no ulterior motive. It won’t last, he knows, the hippie is probably just buttering him up to have another go at his ass, but it feels good all the same.