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Broken Mirrors

Chapter Text

When you're at the end of the road
And you lost all sense of control
And your thoughts have taken their toll,
When your mind breaks the spirit of your soul,
Your faith walks on broken glass
And the hangover doesn't pass.
Nothing's ever built to last.
You're in ruins.

- 21 Guns - Billie Joe Armstrong

Chapter 13: Ruins

 

Although no one inside the restaurant, except for Scotty, had identified the individual who'd just made good his escape on a classic Harley, there was one other person nearby who had seen and noticed.

Having just been deposited - with not the slightest nuance of respect for his person - on the sidewalk outside the front door of Café 429, Marcus Richter was looking around frantically, hoping against hope that his less-than-dignified ejection would not merit unflattering photos that might wind up on the front page of some third-rate tabloid. It was sheer luck that he happened to be looking in the exact right direction at the exact right moment to spot the face as the dark helmet was removed. Though some small part of him - exceedingly small - could not deny that it was a face that sparked more than a flame of jealousy, another part - by far the most dominant in his mind - was instantly flooded with blind rage and vicious hatred, for this was the face of a man who had cost him dearly. And never mind that most of that cost had been strictly a product of his own imagination.

Marcus had spent a lifetime finding people to blame for his own misadventures and failures; this would be no exception.

And he realized immediately what had to be done to exact appropriate revenge, since he had long dreamed of such an opportunity and already made arrangements for just such an occasion. He was jumping into his car and hitting a pre-programmed number on his phone before the motorcycle was out of sight, and he felt a surge of smug satisfaction as the call was answered on the second ring. Of course, putting himself in the position to make the necessary contacts with the kind of people needed in this situation had required him to don a persona that he'd found slightly distasteful, but he'd decided finally that the end would certainly justify the means. As a proud member of the gay community - verbally, at least - he'd long rejected the Neanderthal points of view of some of his father's ultra-conservative extended family, but he'd never seen any need to flaunt his choices; closets might not be places in which he enjoyed loitering, especially given his physical assets, but, in certain company, they were a far safer option than out-and-proud exposure. In addition, he'd also realized that contacts made in such deeply shadowed places might prove useful if he ever got the opportunity to wreak revenge on those who'd injured him - one in particular.

The opportunity, it seemed, was at hand.

He grinned as he realized that this all involved one random stroke of luck. The route taken by the speeding cyclist would take him to the junction with Los Robles Avenue just a few blocks away, if he was headed toward one of the major highways, which seemed likely. Although Marcus didn't know the intimate details - the family had been tightlipped about the disappearance of their prodigal son - he had managed to glean enough information to figure out that Kevin Walker had definitely left the city when he'd run away from his old life, so it was logical to assume that he would be racing back to his hidden lair, to lick his new wounds.

And new wounds there definitely were. Though his glimpse of Walker's face had been brief, it had still been enough to allow him to read the devastation written there.

And why not? His husband - his beloved Scotty - had been caught in the act, hadn't he? More or less. Any fool with half a brain would have seen the undeniable family resemblance between the man and the little boy held in his arms, and Kevin Walker might deserve many less-than-flattering labels, but a fool he most definitely was not.

Marcus felt a shiver of anticipation touch his spine as he was struck by the notion that Karma was a true bitch, as Mr. Walker was about to learn, for it just so happened that the Busted Flush Diner was located less than a block away from a busy corner of Los Robles Avenue, just a couple of streets before its intersection with the Foothill Freeway, which was - most likely - Walker's destination. The place was a combination diner/pool hall owned and run by old pals of Marcus's father and, being part and parcel of a section of town that was more blue collar and less posh than the setting of Café 429, it catered to a less refined crowd. Less refined - and more hardcore. It was, in fact, the favored hangout of a group known, locally, as the Low Riders, a group that included a number of Richter family members and old friends, but specifically did not include any who might be counted among Marcus's current inner circle.

Another stroke of luck for his current purpose.

In addition, on any ordinary Thursday, the diner would be almost deserted at this early hour of the day, but this, of course, was no ordinary Thursday. This was one of the big holidays, and many members of the Riders would be spending the day with their best buddies. The Busted Flush did not, of course, do traditional turkey and trimmings, but it did do the kind of barbeque that appealed to those who referred to themselves as "men's men" - and there was absolutely nothing ambiguous about that term. No one ever misunderstood it, deliberately or otherwise, and if anyone did make that mistake, they quickly and violently learned the error of their ways.

Marcus Richter's call was answered immediately, and the conversation that followed lasted only fifteen seconds. Not much was said, but not much was needed to set a plan in motion that had been brewing in the young waiter/actor's mind ever since his humiliation at the hands of the Walker family.

His grin grew wider as he spotted the object of his interest just a block away, headed, as expected, toward the freeway. Two minutes later, he had more reasons to smile as several bikers pulled out of a side street and closed in behind him, obviously waiting for his signal.

He considered his options and decided to bide his time for a bit, trusting that the opportunity would present itself at the right moment. He could not have known how right - and how wrong - he would prove to be.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Too long. Too long, too long, too long.

Scotty would have given anything to dislodge those two words from his mind, but the term just kept repeating in his head as he raced out of the restaurant, having taken only time enough to deposit Daniel in Kitty's lap, ignoring her confusion as well as her demands for an explanation, and grab his car keys before moving away at full sprint.

He had to find Kevin, had to catch up and find some way to stop him, even if every fiber of his being kept insisting that it was taking too long, that he'd never reach him in time.

But he kept going, simply because . . . what else was there to do?

What if this was his last chance? What if that one quick, agonized glimpse was the last time he'd ever be allowed to see that face? What if . . .

There was no point in exploring that possibility, because . . . because he could not fail now. He must find Kevin, no matter what.

Some small scrap of conscience nagged at him, some small regret that he had not taken time to inform the family - especially Nora - of the identity of the man he'd seen staring at him through the window. He doubted they'd ever forgive him for running away without a word, but none of that mattered now. Nothing mattered now, except completing his mission.

He remembered then that he had spoken, just one word as he'd spotted that beautiful, beloved face. Just one word as he'd simultaneously seen and understood the expression in those incredible, blue eyes.

"Kevin," he'd whispered, as he'd watched his husband's heart shatter and crumble to dust.

He thought perhaps Michelle had heard and realized what had happened, but he wasn't sure. And even if she had understood, she might choose to keep her observations to herself. It was hardly likely that the Walkers would be grateful for her contribution to their puzzled conversation.

But he couldn't worry about that now. It didn't matter. Nothing else mattered, and he was struck by a bolt of sheer terror as he realized how true that statement was. Kevin mattered, and, without him, there was nothing else in his life that would make up for his loss.

Scotty pulled out into traffic, ignoring the screeching brakes and furious horn-blowing of the BMW he almost clipped in the process, and accelerated down the street, weaving in and out of traffic, driving too fast, too recklessly. He knew it was dangerous, knew he needed to slow down, but found, ultimately, that he couldn't.

Not as long as those two words continued to reverberate in his mind.

Too long.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Kevin Walker was extraordinarily grateful for the protection offered by the helmet, both literal and figurative. It shielded him from the sharp chill of the wind and the glare of sunlight, of course, but it also turned aside the curiosity of any onlookers who might wonder why the cyclist was moving erratically and hunched so tightly over the mass of the big bike.

It was serving its purpose extremely well. Unfortunately, it could not accomplish everything that he might need done. It could not, for example, wash away the tears that insisted on rising in his eyes; it could not clear his vision like wipers on a windshield. Above all, it could not allow him to unsee what he'd seen.

There was no longer any way to avoid the truth; he had seen it for himself.

Scotty had a son - a living, breathing, beautiful, perfect son. With Michelle. Kevin had understood everything in an epiphany contained in a fraction of a second. He had not, of course, wasted any time or effort in studying the face of the woman who had given birth to that exquisite little boy. In all honesty, he couldn't have cared less about what she was thinking or feeling. In point of fact, he was fairly certain that he'd rather not know. But there was no way he could avoid the undeniable truth of the look in Scotty's eyes as he'd gazed into the face of his exquisite baby boy. There had been nothing but adoration in those much-loved blue eyes, and Kevin could not even summon up a small trace of jealousy in response. He understood why Scotty felt as he did; understood and approved and knew that - given even the smallest opportunity - he would have felt the same.

He could not blame Scotty for how he felt. If, as it appeared, the cost of having that precious child in his life was turning away from the man who had once been so important to him, then . . .

Kevin leaned to his right abruptly and veered sharply into a cross street, neither noticing nor caring that his sudden turn had created a quick eruption of chaos in the roadway behind him. It didn't matter, because he had suddenly realized that he could not complete his mad dash toward the freeway, that he needed a few moments of silence in a place away from prying eyes and pointing fingers. He needed . . .

In point of fact, he didn't know exactly what he needed; he only knew that he had to get away, to find a place where he could go to ground for a little while, where he could just stand still and be consumed by the desolation rising within him.

It was either that or simply put his foot down, going ever faster and faster and faster until he found a convenient stone wall to aim for, and . . . he couldn't do that. Not for himself. If he were only thinking of himself, he was pretty sure that was exactly what he'd do. The only thing he wanted at that moment was an end to the pain raging deep within him. Oblivion sounded more and more like a haven, an end to his torment. But he knew what such an act would do to the people he loved. He knew what it would do to his mother and his sisters and his brothers, but - most of all - he knew what it would do to Scotty.

It had been there in his face when he'd looked up to see Kevin staring at him and his son.

Perhaps there would be grief. He still believed that Scotty had loved him - once. Only not enough, perhaps.

No. There might be some degree of grief, but it would be nothing compared to the guilt that Scotty would endure, and that, Kevin simply could not allow. Whatever their union might have meant to his husband, Kevin knew one thing for certain: Scotty was the love of his life, the man who owned his heart, permanently and forever. There would be no other, no matter how many willing bodies he might be able to fuck his way through. He was fairly certain that there would always be an ample supply of such bodies. That had never been a problem. But the number and variety would never change the fundamental truth. No one would ever replace Scotty. Thus, he must contend with what could not be changed: no matter how much he wanted to put an end to this agony raging inside him, he could not inflict that kind of damage on the man he would always love.

He had to find another way.

He raced through the streets of the city, paying little attention to what was around him, noting only that the traffic was thinning, and the jumbled landscape of urban commercial developments was gradually shifting, giving way first to blocks of apartment buildings and residential suburbs and finally to more pastoral vistas of brilliant green meadows and hillsides. It might be autumn, but this was still southern California, and it would never be anything less than bursting with the promise of spring's renewal. Unless, of course, the drought that had arisen in recent years continued or grew worse. Then . . . well, that didn't bear thinking about, which was all right since he wasn't really capable of thinking about much of anything right now except the images that refused to be banished from his mind.

Scotty and the looks in his eyes - first when he'd gazed into the face of his son, and then, when he'd looked up and . . .

Kevin didn't much want to focus on that image, didn't really want to know what it was he'd seen on that beloved face in that frozen, endless moment.

He pressed down on the throttle and moved ever faster, roaring through bright sunshine and past landscaped fields.

When he came to the T-junction that marked end of the road he'd followed and gazed across at the carefully tended grounds of the facility spread out before him, he almost smiled. He was pretty sure he hadn't deliberately selected this location, but it would do, at least as well as any other. It would even give him something he had not realized he needed: someone to talk to as he vented the turmoil within him. Even though he was pretty sure he would receive no response, and that if, by some miraculous intervention, he did get an answer, it would not be anything he wanted to hear.

But any port in a hurricane was preferable to the violence of the open sea, and the cataclysmic emotions writhing within him certainly qualified as a major storm.

This would do nicely. It was quiet, private, and isolated, and - on this major holiday - it would probably be virtually deserted.

Even better.

He revved the motor on the big Harley and raced down the curved drive between perfectly coifed banks of rhododendrons arranged before a row of massive ironwoods, and pulled into the corner of a vast parking area, which was dappled with pale sunlight as a sporadic breeze ruffled the foliage of a nearby cluster of California pepper trees. The lot, he noted with appropriate gratitude, was completely empty except for a couple of maintenance vehicles near a small, discreetly landscaped storage building.

As he killed the motor and its intense rumble dissolved into silence except for the drone of distant traffic, he spent a moment wondering if it was somehow blasphemous to have come roaring into such an enclave of serenity, but then he reasoned that it didn't really matter since there appeared to be no one around to notice.

It had been a long time since he'd been here, and he almost smiled as he realized that the individual who would be the object of his visit would probably not recognize him in his current attire. He had probably never come here in anything less formal than a suit and tie. In his old life - the one that now seemed so alien to him - it would have seemed inappropriate to visit this place in casual garb.

Now - well, it hardly mattered now, did it? He was not that person any more. With a small sigh, he removed his helmet and gloves and left them with the bike, as he made his way through the small pedestrian gate at the rear of the parking area.

He walked in silence, noting that the caretakers had done their usual stellar job in keeping the walkways completely free of the customary detritus of autumn. No scattering of dead leaves would be tolerated in this bastion of spotless tranquility, and no stray weed would be allowed to spoil the perfection of the landscaping. One did not come here and expect to find anything less than perfect order.

Rank, after all, still had its privileges.

His destination was near the center of the vast grounds, just a few yards away from the small, stone-edged body of water that glistened blue and pristine in the sunlight.

It was all perfectly maintained, of course. Anything else would be unthinkable.

Kevin stood for a moment after reaching his goal, lost in memory and contemplation. Then he did something he had never done before. He sank to his knees and rested his forehead against the massive slab of marble that marked the final resting place of William Walker.

"Hey, Dad," he whispered. Then he waited, almost as if he expected an answer, which, was, of course, the ultimate expression of foolishness. His father had seldom had much to say to him - on a personal basis - when he was among the living; why would that change now? Kevin knew the unavoidable truth about William's feelings for him. The elder Walker had loved his son, as every good Catholic father loved his child - as much as he could at least - but he had never learned to accept him, never managed to set aside his disappointment.

His middle son was homosexual, and William Walker had never found it in his heart to forgive that betrayal, although he had tried. Late in his life, he had even made some effort to communicate, to tear down the wall that he himself had built between them, but, in the end, it had been too little, too late.

Kevin had dealt with it, as he'd dealt with everything in his life. He had stood tall and accepted what he could not change. But now . . . could he do it again? Could he live with doing what he knew he should?

After a brief silence, Kevin continued, "This is irony with a capital I, isn't it? That I should wind up here - with you - when I finally realize that I've got no place else to go. Especially when I know what you'd say to me, if you could say anything. Something along the lines of 'Man up, Kid. Do the right thing, and walk away. Let everyone else get on with their lives, without having to deal with your crap.' Right, Dad?"

A flutter of wings drew his eyes to the water where a dark swan had settled in to feed, as he heard a multi-pitched roar from the direction of the street. Apparently he wasn't the only biker out for a midday ride.

He turned then and settled with his back against the headstone and lost himself in a study of the ripples that disturbed the lake's surface as he sank into memory, ignoring everything else around him.

So many memories of beautiful moments, of himself wrapped in Scotty's arms, of the smile in which he could have lost himself forever, of the future they might have built together, of all that had been. Of all that could be no more.

There weren't many things that Kevin knew with perfect certainty, but there was one about which there could be no doubts. He would never see anything more beautiful than the sight of his husband looking down into the face of his son. He knew that much . . . and he knew one thing more. He could never again allow himself to give in to temptation; he could never see it again.

"That's the final truth, isn't it?" he whispered. He didn't bother to pretend that he was speaking to anyone. His father wasn't listening - and wouldn't have raised any objection even if he had been. "I need to go. For him. For both of them, and for them all."

He rose then and turned to look down once more. To say a last good-bye. "Sorry, Dad. I shouldn't be here. And I won't come again."

"Well, that's right enough, little darlin'," said a rough voice from behind him, under a burst of ugly laughter, as hard, calloused hands grabbed his shoulders and jerked him off his feet. "You'll never get the chance, Faggot."

"What the . . ." He would not be able to finish the question.

He would have fought back. That was a given. 'Faggot' or not, Kevin Walker was no coward, and, like every homosexual man, he'd been forced to defend himself quite a few times in his life, even in the somewhat rarefied atmosphere inhabited by members of his social set. Thus, he would have fought - if he'd been given half a chance. But he wasn't. Even as he tried to turn, hands curling to be ready for battle, he only had time to glimpse one familiar face beneath a mop of brassy curls before he was pummeled by multiple hard fists smashing into his face and his torso and belly, while boot-clad feet slammed into his lower body, his legs, and his crotch.

He didn't get an opportunity to see much, as the first blow from a massive fist wearing a heavy signet ring impacted on his forehead, and blood erupted immediately and filled his eyes, even as he felt ribs crack under the onslaught, and his legs gave way beneath him with bones shattered, dropping him to the hard earth as the vicious blows continued and intensified in frenzied fury.

Finally, there was a brief pause as the leader of the group - a broad, bearded, middle-aged man with badly-stained teeth, who smelt of beer and old sweat - knelt on one knee and wrapped his fist in Kevin's jacket to jerk him up and snarl into his face. "You got anything to say, Queer? Wanna beg fer mercy? Wanna offer to suck my cock?"

Kevin could not see the man's face. There was only the bright scarlet of blood, bitter and coppery in his mouth, and the darkness at the edge of his vision. But he managed to open his mouth and whisper two words.

"Fuck - you!"

After that, there wasn't much more time, as the beating resumed. Indeed, Kevin only managed one complete thought before the darkness closed in upon him.

I'm going to die here. Scotty, I'm so sor . . .

It went on for a while before the attackers - all seven of them - grew bored. It was no fun when the object of their mindless rage was limp and unresponsive.

Marcus Richter grew increasingly frustrated - and slightly sick to his stomach even as he vented his resentment with kicks to the victim's back and shoulders, while retaining sufficient control to make sure he extracted Walker's wallet from his pocket in the (correct) assumption that it would yield a fair amount of cash. Still, it was not working out exactly as he'd expected. He had long dreamed of this day, but he had never been so intimately involved in something so intense, so he was not prepared for the reality of it. There was so much blood, and Walker . . . Walker had not behaved as Richter had hoped. He had not begged for his life, had not tried to bargain with his attackers.

He'd been ready to fight; that much had been obvious. But, in the end, he'd gone down under the deluge of fists and booted feet without offering any sign of surrender. He had been beaten, but he had never yielded.

Richter found that his revenge was not nearly so sweet as he'd anticipated. Instead, it left a bitter taste in his mouth.

After a while, muttering their disappointment in not being successful in their attempts to vent all their hatred, they left Kevin Walker there, draped across his father's grave, with blood - Christmas ribbon bright - pooling crimson against white marble.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The murmur of conversation in Café 429 continued unabated as the guests expressed their appreciation for the efforts of the staff. The crowd did not begin to thin until late afternoon when the patrons of the charity - the social elite and the celebrities - were first to depart, having generously pledged their continued support. Most had been even more generous than they'd planned, since Nora Walker, in her best fundraiser mode, was almost impossible to resist. They left with full bellies - many fuller than usual, since the food had been spectacularly good and the desserts too tempting to resist. All expressed gratitude for being included in the celebration as well as rueful acknowledgement that they'd probably eaten too much.

Nora stood near the entrance and spoke with each of them as they made their exits, and if her smile was slightly tremulous, slightly less bright than normal, few noticed, and those who did - who knew her well - chose not to comment, understanding that some things were not meant to be discussed in such a public forum.

The remaining diners - the individuals for whom this meal was much more than just another holiday celebration - lingered longer and ate more. For some of them, this might be the only meal they would have today. Or tomorrow for that matter. So they stayed, and filled their plates and savored the warmth of the room and the kindness of those around them and the wonderful aromas of the feast. And then they filled their plates again, and when they could eat no more without risking sickness, they were surprised and delighted to find that wait staff had passed by and deposited stacks of go-boxes on their tables.

So perhaps this would not be their only meal today.

They didn't say much, beyond murmurs of thanks, but they all turned to gaze at the petite woman standing near the doorway, and what they could not express in words was there to read in their eyes. From the tall, angular old Viet Nam veteran with scars on his face and neck, to the youngest of the children - a little Latino girl with huge, dark eyes who walked with a decided limp; from the harried mother of three, with haggard face and work-roughened hands, to the young, black teen-ager, with shoulder blades as sharp as knives and shadows of fear in his dark eyes - all looked at Nora Walker and spoke their gratitude without ever actually saying a word.

And Nora noticed, even though she had something else on her mind. Something huge and frightening and dark.

She did not know where Scotty had gone, or why, but she was certain of one thing. Whatever it was that had sent her son-in-law racing out of the restaurant without a word of explanation, it had something to do with Kevin. Nothing else made any sense at all. But what could it be? What had he seen or heard or . . .

She wasn't alone in her pondering. The only section of the room that was unnaturally quiet was the large table in the back corner where the Walker clan had gathered. They had talked for a while, expressing their worries. They had gone silent as they'd seen Michelle McGregor make her exit after denying any knowledge of the reason for Scotty's abrupt departure, and then, with Kitty commenting first, they'd all agreed that they did not believe her. She had known; it had been there in her eyes; it had been proven by the fact that she did not make a fuss over being denied more time with Daniel, but she had refused to share it.

Thus, though reluctantly, they had all reached the same conclusion and allowed themselves to speak the name that they almost never spoke any more, because the speaking was too painful.

Kevin. It must all come back to Kevin.

What had he done?

When four hours had passed, and Scotty had not reappeared, nor answered repeated calls to his cell phone, Kitty sighed. Evan and Daniel had grown increasingly grumpy and resentful, tiring from the long day, and she knew she had delayed as long as she could. She had not been idle during those hours, having dispatched members of her security team to scout the area and see if they could learn anything, but to no avail. Scotty had vanished, and no one knew why.

"Uncle Saul," she said finally, rising from the table, and realizing that she couldn't remember whether she had eaten or not, "do you have keys to the apartment? The boys . . ."

"I'll take them upstairs, Aunt Kitty." That was Paige, who was looking a bit tired herself. She had worked hard throughout the day, sharing the responsibilities for the managing the charitable effort, but it had come at a cost, especially after Scotty's departure. "Come on, Cooper. You can help me get the boys settled, and then we'll find a good movie to watch."

Cooper, more than ready to get away from the table, was nonetheless entirely aware of his uncle's taste in films. "It better not be Breakfast at Tiffany's," he muttered.

"Not to worry," said a weary voice from the doorway to the kitchen. "Got Merlin on Netflix."

"Scotty!" It was Nora who saw him first, even though she was all the way across the restaurant, and her voice was as sharp as a freshly-honed blade, causing everyone in the room to pause and look up at her. There was no mistaking the note of panic in that single word.

She was across the room and engulfing him in her arms before anyone else had time to react at all.

"Scotty, what in the world were you thinking? What did you . . ."

"I'm sorry," he murmured, barely loud enough for her to hear. "I should have told you. I should have, but . . . I thought I'd be quick enough. I thought . . ."

When he fell silent, and felt himself immediately engulfed by the arms of the entire Walker family, he went to his knees, with Nora and Justin following him down, refusing to let him go, but it was Kitty who knelt before him and braced his face with her hands, simultaneously brushing away the tears that were welling in his eyes.

"What happened, Scotty? What did you see that . . ."

"Not what," he whispered. "Who? And you don't really have to ask, do you? Don't you know?"

"Paige," said Nora suddenly, firmly, "take the boys upstairs. Someone will be up shortly."

"But . . ." Paige had never argued with her grandmother in her life, but she was unwilling to be dismissed from this conversation.

"Paige," interrupted Sarah, "go. Now. I'll be up in a minute. I promise."

The group waited in silence, as the children made their way to the stairs. At the same time, the crowd in the restaurant, realizing that what was happening among the Walkers was not something for public consumption - no matter how curious everyone might be - resumed their soft buzz of conversation, and Nora - perceptive as always - wondered briefly if her highborn society acquaintances would have been as courteous.

"You saw Kevin," Kitty breathed finally, barely able to form the words. "Didn't you?"

Scotty nodded.

"Where? What was he . . ."

"Across the street," Scotty replied. "He was just standing there. Watching." His breath was suddenly harsh, halting. "Watching me holding our little boy, and talking to Michelle."

Everyone paused and spent a moment thinking about what he'd said, about what Kevin had seen . . . and about how he must have interpreted it.

"Oh, my God!" That was Sarah, barely able to speak around the solid mass of pain in her chest. "He must have . . . Oh, my God!"

"Where did he go, Scotty?" Justin's voice was firm, and it was obvious that he was suppressing his own dismay over what his brother might have thought or felt.

"He . . . he was on a motorcycle, and he just . . . He tore out of that lot like a bat out of hell. But I thought . . . I thought I could catch him. I . . . I don't even remember how I managed to get through the traffic, but I did. I made it to the freeway faster than I ever have before, but . . . I couldn't find him. I didn't know which way to go, so I just . . . I tried every direction. I looked everywhere." He looked up then, directly into Nora's eyes. "He was just gone. I drove and drove and finally, I parked at a spot near the freeway entrance ramp, thinking that I'd see him if he went by. But he didn't. He never came, Nora."

He closed his eyes then, new tears beading his lashes. "He was just gone. My God, Nora. The look in his eyes. I'll never forget the look in his eyes, like . . . like he was watching the end of the world. Jesus Christ, what have I done?"

"Scotty," said Nora, infinitely gentle despite the heaviness in her own heart, "you've done nothing wrong. He just . . . he doesn't understand. If he did, if he knew . . ."

"Don't you get it, Nora? He thinks I've moved on. He thinks that Michelle and I did this to him."

"No. He doesn't. He wouldn't."

"You didn't see his face." There was absolute certainty in Scotty's voice. And absolute hopelessness.

"You were gone so long, we were worried that something happened to you," said Saul, still reeling from the emotional trauma of realizing how close Kevin had been - and how far he was now.

Scotty nodded. "When I finally got to the point of realizing that there was no point in waiting, I got blocked in by a swarm of police cars and an ambulance. Something bad must have happened up Fair Oaks Avenue. It took forever to get out of the traffic jam and back here.

"I'm sorry I worried you all. I just couldn't . . . I couldn't take the time to tell you, and then . . . then I didn't know how to face you."

He turned then to face Nora directly. "He's gone, Nora, and this time . . . this time, I don't think he's coming back."

"No!" It was Kitty that spoke, her voice filled with determination. "I won't accept that. You said he was on a motorcycle. What kind of bike? Did you see a license plate?"

But Scotty was shaking his head. "It was too fast. By the time, I realized what he was doing, he was already gone. I couldn't . . ."

"Then we'll have to do some digging," she replied. "There are traffic cameras all over the place these days, so there have to be pictures. We just have to find them."

"How?" demanded Sarah. "I mean we can't just walk into police headquarters, and demand . . ."

Kitty's smile was cold. "Who says we can't?"

"Probably, the law does," Justin replied calmly, "but I doubt that's going to stop you."

"Damned straight," said Kitty, and Scotty, still lost in a world of hurt, tried to believe, tried to find some cause for hope in her determination. Tried . . . and failed.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

It was late in the day, and the sea was awash with streaks of molten copper when Chad Barry walked out onto his deck and allowed himself a moment of contemplation.

It had been a lovely holiday. His family had driven down from Bakersfield to spend the day. His mother had insisted on bringing her traditional Thanksgiving meal, and he had not protested too much. He was an international film star and an icon of sophistication, but every man needed comfort food occasionally. Especially when the family had gone through an extremely rough patch on the occasion of the famous actor son's exposure as homosexual.

Both Wayne and Elaine Barry had always been liberal in their politics and social views, but being intellectual supporters of gay rights was entirely different from dealing with a son's outing. They had been shocked at first, and then angry - not because of his sexual orientation but because he had hidden it from them. They'd felt deceived and betrayed.

It had taken a couple of years to mend the rift, and his brother, Jacob, had still not totally forgiven him.

Nevertheless, it had been a good day. Jacob had brought his wife, Melissa, and their twins, Rachel and Rhonda, and the sprawling, ultra-modern beach house had rung with the joyful voices of happy children - a sound that Chad thought he might just enjoy getting used to.

He had never spared much thought about having children, but now . . .

He wondered why the notion of having children made him think about Kevin. And then he smiled as he realized that, today, almost everything made him think of Kevin.

He was not surprised that he had not heard from his old friend. He was pretty sure that, whatever Kevin had encountered when he'd gone to the restaurant owned by his old flame, it had not been pretty. It would be entirely typical of Kevin to nurse his wounds in private. Chad might wish that it were different, but in his heart, he knew the truth. He might want Kevin to turn to him; indeed, he might want much more than that. But it would never be. He had had a chance once, of gaining something that would have been more precious than he could imagine, but he had blown it. It was only now, when it was much too late, that he realized what he had lost.

He would never have what he wanted, but, if Kevin ever needed him, he had only to ask. He could only hope that he would be able to provide whatever his old friend might need.

His family had departed just as the sun approached the horizon, and he had poured out a hefty portion of cognac, anticipating a quiet night and debating whether or not he wanted to spend it alone.

He was still debating when his cell phone rang, and he smiled as he noted the identity of the caller.

Hope, it seemed, never completely died.

"Hey, Baby," he purred as he thumbed the device. "You okay?"

"Good evening, Sir," said an unfamiliar male voice. Unfamiliar and somehow very formal. "May I ask who I'm speaking to?"

Chad felt his breath catch in his chest. "Not until you tell me who you are, and why you're calling on Kevin's phone."

"Of course, Sir. This is Sgt. Huval, of the Pasadena Police Dept. I'm afraid there's been an incident. And you are?"

"This is Chad Barry. What kind of incident? Is Kevin all right?"

"Sorry, Mr. Barry. I'm calling from the emergency department of Huntington Hospital. We have an injured man here, with no identification on him. We're running his fingerprints and checking with his phone service carrier as we speak, but your number is the only local number on his cell phone, so we thought you might . . ."

"I'm on my way," Chad replied, racing toward the garage.

"Could you give me his name, Mr. Barry?'

Chad hesitated. "It's complicated," he said finally. "I'll tell you when I get there. But what happened, and how is he?"

The policeman hesitated. "I can't give out any details, Sir. I'm not a doctor, and they haven't given us any official report on his condition. But, if I were you, I'd hurry."

Chad didn't need to be told twice.

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Scotty sat in the shadows of the private dining room and told himself that he needed to get up. He needed to move, to get busy, to take care of the thousands of details involved in getting things ready for the next day.

He needed to do something, in order to bring an end to what he was sure would always be remembered as the longest day of his life.

The staff was still clearing up in the kitchen and cleaning the main dining room, but they had all avoided disturbing him, even though there was still work to be done. None of them knew exactly what had happened to him today, but they all seemed to sense that it was something he needed to cope with in private.

The Walkers had departed finally, reluctantly. None of them had wanted to leave him, but he had been adamant in his insistence that he needed time alone. Kitty had agreed to take Daniel home with her, even though one part of Scotty's mind suggested that he might need his son's presence as a comfort against the despair rising within him. But another part - the dominant part - had realized that it would be selfish to keep the child with him in such a dark hour. The baby would not understand his father's sadness, but he might very well sense that something was wrong. Best to spare him that.

He sat looking at the bottle of single malt whiskey that sat - unopened - in front of him. He had been studying it for some time, debating. He didn't drink often, and almost never to excess. But if anyone had ever had sufficient cause for seeking oblivion in a bottle, surely this was such a case.

He reached out to grab the bottle, and picked up a shot glass . . . and his cell phone rang.

He looked at the screen and saw that no caller identity was shown.

He would just ignore it. He didn't want to talk to anyone anyway.

Anyone except . . .

He looked at the phone again and tried not to allow himself to acknowledge the tiny glimmer of hope that sparked in his mind. Surely it was not possible. He should just ignore it. But what if . . .

"Hello." His response was barely audible.

"You better come to Huntington Hospital," said a brusque, vaguely familiar voice. "Better come right now."

Scotty stood quickly, his heart suddenly thumping in his chest. "Who is this, and why should I . . ."

"It's Chad Barry. And if you ever loved him, even a little bit, you better hurry. You might not have much time."

Scotty didn't argue, didn't question further; there was no need. Barry's voice said it all.

As he ran for the door, a stray thought bolted through his mind. One should never assume that he had endured the worst thing that could happen.

There was always the possibility of something more, something too horrible to bear. He raced to the car, praying with every fiber of his being that he was not about to face the one thing he knew he could not survive.

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It was a holiday, which meant that many people were not at work. Which meant that many of those were celebrating, and that a large percentage of the celebrants were drinking to enhance their enjoyment of the day.

Which, of course, meant that emergency rooms across the country were busier than usual, even on a day which was traditionally devoted to family gatherings.

The parking lot was crowded; the emergency waiting room was even more crowded as Scotty raced through the doors and headed for the front desk.

There was a line. Of course, there was.

Luckily - or not, depending on how you looked at it - he didn't have to wait his turn. Chad Barry was standing in an adjacent hallway, obviously waiting for him, and the look on his face only served to intensify the fear that was gnawing away in Scotty's belly.

"Where is he?"

Barry shook his head. "Not here. Come with me."

"I have to call his family. I have to . . ."

Barry hustled him up a nearby escalator and down a hallway into a restricted area, where machines beeped and flashed and hummed, where medical staff scurried about, and a nurse at the central desk spoke into a handset while motioning for them to proceed.

"Already done. The cops took care of that. They're on their way, probably with a police escort, if Kitty has anything to say about it."

Scotty jerked to a halt, suddenly rigid and unable to take another step. "Tell me," he said, his voice rough and harsh. "What happened? Where is he?"

The actor took a deep breath. "Somebody tried to kill him, and . . . there's no knowing whether or not they succeeded. He's in a coma, and the doctors are not saying much. Maybe they'll tell you, since you are - technically - his husband."

"How did you find out?"

"The cops called me. My number was on his cell."

Scotty stared at him and had no trouble identifying the loathing in his eyes. "You knew. You knew he was coming. Why didn't you . . ."

"Let's get something straight, Boytoy," snapped Barry. "I didn't do this for you. For all I care, you and your little girlfriend can rot in hell and deserve every minute of it. You betrayed him; you gave up something that most of us would give everything for, so I don't give a damn that you might want to be at his bedside now. But he would. He'd want you here, so I called you. Even though he may never know, he still has the right . . . "

Scotty felt something break inside him as the realization hit him. "You told him. You told him about Daniel. That's why . . ."

"Didn't he have the right to know?" There was not the slightest hint of apology in the man's tone.

Scotty stiffened and felt his hands clench into fists. "He had a right to know the truth - a truth you don't have a clue about. This . . ." He had to stop to swallow the rage rising within him. "This is your doing. You should have asked me. And now . . ."

"Now what?" the actor demanded. "I don't know what happened. I only know he was going to see you, to find out the truth. He left this morning, on his way to you, and then this."

"He stayed with you?"

Barry's eyes were filled with ice. "What? You think you have the right to be jealous? Well, fuck you, you little hypocrite. Apparently, his vows still mean something to him, even if yours don't.

"He slept in my house, and then he left. The next thing I know is the cops are calling to tell me they found him beaten and bleeding out on his father's grave, and nobody saw a damned thing. Hell, if some young woman hadn't just lost her husband two days ago and wanted to put flowers on his grave for the holiday, it's a pretty good bet that no one would have found him until tomorrow, and then all this would be a moot point. So you want to blame me, you go ahead. But for now, you get your ass in there and be there for him for whatever time he might have left."

He paused then and took a deep, shuddering breath. "Third cubicle on the right. The doctor's with him now, and I . . ." He hesitated, suddenly remembering the other people in Kevin's life, the ones who had been there for him when no one else was, to help him build a new place for himself. "I have some calls to make."

Scotty stood for a moment, frozen with fear, knowing he had to move, knowing he couldn't. But then he did, because he had no choice.

He paused in front of the glass door and forced himself to look, to see what lay before him.

It was a typical ICU cubicle, filled with technology, crowded with monitors and gauges surrounding a state-of-the-art hospital bed. A tall dark-haired doctor, possibly Middle Eastern or Indian by the look of him, was checking vitals and making notes on an electronic pad, as a young nurse worked at cleaning and replacing a bandage on her patient's forehead . But neither of them drew his eyes. It was the figure in the bed who demanded his attention, who took away his breath, who broke his heart.

He was recognizable, but only just. Face distorted and torn, partially covered in bandages, only the hair was virtually unchanged, except for a swath above the left temple which had been cut away to allow stitches. Scotty wondered briefly if he would have been able to recognize Kevin if only the hair were visible. Then he allowed himself a small smile. Of course, he would.

Taking a deep breath, he opened the sliding door and stepped inside.

"How is my husband?" he asked, not allowing any chance for the doctor to evade his question.

The physician, who was, at second glance, younger than he'd first appeared, regarded the new arrival with sympathy. "Good evening, Mr.?"

"Wandell."

"Mr. Wandell, I'm Dr. Nanda."

"How is my husband?" Scotty was not in the mood to be 'handled'.

"I'm afraid his condition is critical. He has suffered massive trauma, including a ruptured spleen, several broken bones, skull fracture and concussion. In addition, he lost a lot of blood. As you can see, he's comatose, and we've done everything we can, for now. We performed emergency surgery to repair as much damage as possible, stop the internal bleeding, and relieve the pressure on the brain. We're still running tests. We'll have to do more scans to determine if there is further damage that we've missed." He paused for a moment to consult his notes. "I wish I could give you better news, but the truth is that we simply don't know enough yet to give you any assurances."

Scotty closed his eyes and tried to absorb what he was hearing. "Can I touch him?"

"Of course." It was the nurse who spoke. She moved aside then, and gestured toward the small stool that sat beside the bed.

Scotty moved forward slowly, and stood for a moment gazing down at the face of the man who had been the possessor of his heart for as long as he could remember. "Will he hear me if I talk to him?" he asked.

The doctor sighed. "No one knows for sure. Some think so; others doubt it. But it can't do any harm, and it may offer some comfort."

He did not specify who would be comforted - speaker or listener - but it was hardly necessary for him to do so.

"Can I stay with him?"

"For a while," said the nurse, even though it was technically a violation of the visitor's rules. "If you could give us the names of his regular physicians so we could request his medical history, it would be helpful."

"Of course," Scotty answered absently. "His mother is on her way here. She'll probably know more about that than I do." His smile was bittersweet. "Mothers usually do, don't they?"

"I'll get the forms," she replied and made her exit.

"When will we know?" Scotty asked, not sure he wanted to know but certain that he had to ask anyway.

"Hard to say," answered Dr. Nanda. "Probably twenty-four to forty-eight hours. But it could be longer."

With infinite gentleness, Scotty leaned forward and threaded his fingers through thick dark curls above Kevin's right ear. "Or it could be less," he whispered. "They don't know you, Love. They don't know how tough you are, or how hard you can fight, or how you can stand against the world when you need to. But I know. And I know this. For now and forever, you're my heart. No matter what you think you've learned, no matter how hurt you've been, you must know this. I can't live without you. No matter what else is in my life, you are what makes living worthwhile, so please, Kevin. Please, don't leave me. I need you more than you can ever know."

He sank to his knees then, wrapping his hands around Kevin's left one, which was the only one not swathed in bandages.

"Please."

Touched despite a determination to maintain a professional demeanor, the doctor left the room.

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TBC