"Something wrong?" Jeremy asked.
"It's my brother."
"What?" Jeremy replied as he walked over to Xander, giving him a hug.
"He got into an argument with Jack and took off."
"Things still aren't smooth between Peter and your stepfather, huh?"
"Apparently. And mom's freaking."
"That’s understandable. Anything we can do?"
"Just call if we hear from him, which is highly doubtful."
Jeremy and Xander looked at each other as the doorbell chimed.
"I'll get it," Xander said as he walked over to the door. Upon opening, he found his brother, Peter, on the steps.
"Hey bro. How's it hanging?" Peter asked.
"Fine. Come in, come in," Xander said, opening the door.
"Thanks. Didn't mean to just show up unannounced, but I needed a place to crash. You don't mind, do you?" he asked, putting his gym bag on the floor.
"What happened? Mom called, she's worried."
"Just Jackass. He can't seem to get it that I'm not three, nor his. Hi, Jeremy."
Jeremy walked in, holding out his hand for a shake. "Hey. How are you?"
"He can stay with us, right?" Xander asked without thinking.
Jeremy swallowed, unsettled for a moment with the position he was just put in. "Peter, why don't you call your mother first, she's obviously worried about you, then we'll sort this out."
"No, that's okay-" Peter tried, as he was gently pushed towards the kitchen by Jeremy.
"Just call, tell her you're not dead, and we'll discuss you staying here." Jeremy's tone was very matter-of-fact, but no less meaningful. Peter went over to the phone and dialed, Jeremy letting the door close for privacy.
"You're going to let him stay, aren't you?" Xander asked as Jeremy ushered him back into the living room.
"Sweetheart, that's really not our call to make. He's still a minor, and he belongs at home," Jeremy said as he settled on the couch, pulling Xander down next to him.
"But he's having problems with Jackahh- with Jack. We can't just send him back."
"Xander this isn't our problem to solve. Peter is seventeen, if-"
"And he will be eighteen in three months. Besides it's winter break, it's not like he has classes or anything."
"Let's wait and see."
Xander turned and looked out the window, muttering under his breath. "If it was YOUR family..." Xander trailed off.
"If it was MY family it would be NO different," Jeremy replied.
"Geez, what is it with you and that dog hearing?"
Before Jeremy could reply, Peter emerged from the kitchen.
"What did mom say?"
"I don't know, it was hard to hear over Jackass shouting in the fucking background."
"Peter please, there are other words in the English language, use them," Jeremy said calmly.
Peter rolled his eyes and maintained eye contact with Xander.
"Anyway, I told her I was crashing here. She agreed the night would be good for me to clear my head. It ain't my damn head that needs clearing."
"It's never easy blending families. It takes time, and work from all sides. It also takes communication. You-"
"Jeremy, I know. I am not the one with the problem, it's Jackass. He-"
"A good place to start would probably be with his name," Jeremy offered.
"He treats me like one of his children," Peter continued, not acknowledging Jeremy's comment.
"That's a good thing, isn't it?" Jeremy asked.
"Probably not, since his daughter is twelve and his son is fourteen," Xander chimed in.
"Exactly. I am expected to follow the same rules. I mean PUHLEASE! I'm fricken eighteen years old."
"Almost," Xander reminded him.
"A couple months doesn't mean I should have a 10 pm curfew. I mean bloody hell, the rest of the guys are out until at least 11."
"What guys?" Jeremy asked.
"His teammates. I remember the days of high school hockey."
"Oh how wonderful that his almightiness still recalls the depths from where he came," Peter said, with less than subtle sarcasm.
"Hey, that sweet talk isn't going to get you anywhere bro," Xander replied.
Jeremy decided to step in before things got nasty.
"Alright, then it's agreed you will stay with us the night and work on taking things one step at a time."
"Thanks, but I need to crash here longer than that. I just can't even fathom the idea of-"
"One day a time. Okay?" Jeremy insisted.
"If you would rather I went somewhere else, I can."
Xander looked at Jeremy, his eyes large and pleading.
"I said no such thing. Of course you are welcome here," Jeremy replied.
Peter cracked a smile.
"How about we get some dinner? Since neither of you have games tomorrow, how about some pizza?"
"Yeah!" Xander said, jumping up. Pizza was a rare treat. "Let's go order it," he said to Peter, who followed him into the kitchen.
Jeremy laid his head back on the couch, sighing. He knew Peter was at a very tough age. Not only were the teenage years hard in their own right, he'd had to deal with his mother's new husband, and a half brother and sister moving in with him. On top of that, he was getting a lot of pressure about hockey. Scouts made it very hard to think straight about collegiate hockey when they were waving thousands, and sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars in the player's faces. Peter was as good, if not better, than Xander had been at eighteen. And Jeremy knew that a few years in college would not only set a person on a good track for life after hockey, it also gave most players an additional few years to hone their skills so they could grab a larger starting salary. It was just that few players could resist the big dollars right away, and the scouts were very good at playing on the player's fears of injury before a contract was signed, leaving them little chance to earn a dollar from the game they loved.
This was going to be quite the tricky situation to work on in the next few days. Trying to steer Peter in the proper direction, without steering him away. And having a third person in the house that was not to be privy to their actual living arrangements. He was going to have to talk with Xander, and soon.
"Pizza's ordered," Xander said as he entered the living room again. "I got it from the new place, two larges. That should be enough, don't you think?"
"If it's not, then we have a problem," Jeremy said, laughing. "Why don't you show Peter to his room?" Jeremy suggested, getting up.
"Okay. Come on, bro," Xander said, grabbing his bag and heading upstairs, followed by Peter.
The pizza was delivered less than an hour later, and all three men ate a healthy amount, finding that the new pizza place was definitely going to be the one to call the next time they ordered. After dinner, they played a few games of cards, then settled in to watch some television. At ten, Jeremy got up.
"Think I'll turn in now. Anyone else?"
"Nah," Peter said. "This movie that's starting is good."
"I'll watch that with him. Goodnight," Xander said.
"Why don't you come upstairs and get ready for bed so it's less noise later? I've got an early shift tomorrow."
"In a minute," Xander said.
Jeremy headed upstairs to get ready for bed himself, hoping that Xander would follow soon. Ten minutes later, Xander did appear.
Jeremy closed the bedroom door, then sat down on the bed. "Come here, please," he said to Xander before he got to the bathroom door.
"What?" Xander asked suspiciously as he stopped.
"I'd like a few words with you. Come here," he said a little more sternly, indicating the bed.
Xander walked over slowly, wondering what was up.
"This situation with your brother is a sticky one. He belongs at home -"
"But you said -"
"I said he could stay. But we're not going to be the excuse Peter is looking for NOT to go back home. It is in the best interests of EVERYONE that Peter learn to accept Jack, if he can't find a way to love him. I know that he doesn't take the place of your father, for either of you, but he is the man your mother married, choosing to spend the rest of her life with. That IS her decision to make, and don't you think she deserves to be happy?"
"Yeah, but if Jack is treating Peter so badly, how can he stay?"
"You're seeing things through Peter's eyes. Don't you think Peter's view of him is a little skewed?"
"No!" Xander said, immediately defending his brother.
"We've spent some time with Jack. What do you think of him?"
"He's...he's an alright guy, I suppose," Xander said.
"It's very obvious that he cares deeply for your mother. He's made every effort to help you feel at home when you've visited, without trying to take your father's place. He's got a lot to live up to in your father, and I think he's doing a damned fine job of it."
"But the curfew..." Xander said, reaching at straws.
"He's a busy teenager, sweetheart. Ten is what I'd do in his place as well. His schoolwork
Xander looked at the floor, feeling like he was abandoning his brother's side, but Jeremy made it all seem okay.
"Look. I'm not saying Peter's a bad kid. He's just confused with everything going on, and we, ESPECIALLY you, need to keep an open mind, and NOT just continue to feed his desire to find everything wrong with Jack. Our ultimate goal is to try to get them reconciled, not separated. Okay?"
Xander hugged Jeremy tightly, loving him even more for being so...understandable.
"Thanks. I'll try to remember that."
"Good," Jeremy said letting go. "And remember something else. You're not getting a free ride while he's here. If you want our relationship to remain between us, then you need to pick up on the subtle signals a LOT better than you're used to."
"Jer, you wouldn't!" Xander said quickly.
"If you make it necessary - yes," Jeremy said, with a strong look at Xander.
Xander held the gaze for only a moment, knowing there was truth in what he said. "Yes, sir," he said quietly.
"That means tonight. Upstairs no later than midnight, and try to get your brother up here as well. I'd do it, save for the fact that I'll be asleep," Jeremy said, kissing Xander.
"That may be a problem, but I'll try," Xander said, heading into the bathroom to brush his teeth. Jeremy slid under the covers and before Xander had finished in the bathroom, he was asleep. Xander crept over to the bed and kissed Jeremy on the forehead. He smiled and returned to Peter downstairs.
"You two weren't doing it were you?" Peter said, with a tint of wiggins.
"NO! Geez!" Xander replied, in shock.
"Well you were gone long enough."
Xander blushed slightly, and sat down to watch the movie. When the movie concluded at a quarter to midnight, he stretched and stood up.
"You aren't going to sleep already, are you?" Peter asked.
"I was thinking about it, as should you."
"I...I’m just not in the mood to sleep. Stay up with me for a bit?"
"I think it would be best if we went up to bed. We can pow wow tomorrow."
"Why? Are you going to get spanked if you aren't in bed by midnight?" Peter replied with a chuckle.
Xander flushed again. "No! Just some of us need to maintain a proper schedule. Any good player would know that."
"Ah yes, the 'X-Man' hath spoken."
"Does 'Peter the Great' have a complaint with that?"
"Yes, I do. I'll go up when I'm ready."
"Fine, suit yourself. Just don't blame me when you miss breakfast," he said, already on his way up the stairs.
Peter wanted to stay up later, but it was lonely being the only one awake, especially when he wasn't in his own home. He turned the television off and headed upstairs within thirty minutes, falling asleep quickly.
Xander woke up when he heard the shower start for Jeremy and sat up. Jeremy finished up fifteen minutes later, surprised to see Xander awake.
"Did I wake you?"
"No. Just woke up."
"You don't need to get up. You were up late last night."
"That’s okay. I can catch a nap later if I need it. Wanted to eat with you."
"Then let's get started, shall we?"
Xander trailed Jeremy downstairs and leaned against him for a long hug while Jeremy started some eggs.
"What time did Peter get to bed?"
"I dunno. He didn't come with me at midnight."
"Think we should wake him for breakfast?"
"No. I told him if he didn't come upstairs, he'd miss it."
Jeremy thought on that for a moment, and decided that may be one way to get Peter to bed on time. He wasn't incapable of fixing his owns meals anyway.
"Get the bacon out and get that microwaved?"
"Alright." Within five minutes they had breakfast on the table.
"You're out at 4 today, right?" Xander asked, in between bites.
"Yes. Are we still going to do some shopping then?"
"Should we ask Peter if he would like to go?"
"Ask me if I would like to go where?" Peter asked as he entered the kitchen, still a bit groggy.
"Hey, you're up early," Xander said. "Sleep well?"
Peter shrugged. "I guess."
"What time did you finally go to bed?" Jeremy asked.
"Not long after Alex," Peter replied, scanning the table.
"Didn't expect you up so early. Would you like me to make you something?" Jeremy offered as he started to rise.
"No, I'm not hungry. Too early."
"Have some juice then," Jeremy replied, grabbing a glass and pouring some from the pitcher.
Peter accepted the glass and stared at it as he swirled it around. He declined the act of actually drinking it, due to the amount of pulp in it. Instead, he sat down and watched the two lovers finish their meal.
"Xander, try to get your mother over here today so you three can discuss the situation. If you would prefer, we can wait until this evening, after I get home."
"What about me? Don't I get a say in this?" Peter snapped.
"You'll get your say when your mother is here," Jeremy replied firmly, giving a look at Xander.
"Jeremy is right, Pete. You need to discuss things through."
"Take his side, won't you?" Peter said, storming from the kitchen.
"Let him go," Jeremy said when Xander started to get up. "Let him cool off and wake up, then spend some time with him. Just try to call your mother before lunch and see what she wants to do, okay?"
"Alright," Xander said, getting up to put his dish in the dishwasher.
Jeremy finished up his meal, and kissing Xander, he left for work. Xander cleaned up the kitchen, then went in search of his brother, finding him on the couch and watching television.
"Anything good on?"
"No. Just the usual crap."
"Look, I'm sorry about earlier," Xander said.
"It's okay," Peter replied, noncommittally.
Xander wasn't quite sure what to do with his brother. Knowing that he needed to at least work on things with mom, if not Jack, he decided to just call.
"I'm going upstairs for a shower," he said, leaving the room. When he got to the bedroom, he shut the door and picked up the phone, dialing home. He cringed when his half sister - he still had trouble thinking of her that way - answered the phone.
"Hi, Kelly. It's Alex. Can I speak to my mom?"
Kelly had a serious crush on her half brother. "Hiiiii, Alex.,” she droned.
Kelly laughed and sat down. "Hi Alex."
"Yes, yes, yes, we've been through this. Is mom around?"
"Where is she?"
"She went shopping with Ricky."
"And you didn't go?"
Kelly wasn't about to admit she'd been told she couldn't for mouthing off the day before. "No. Who wants to shop with Rick anyways?"
"Do you know when she'll return?"
"Will you tell her I called?"
"Yes. Or I could just talk to you while you wait."
"Thanks, but I've got a few things to do. I'll talk to you later, okay?"
"Okay. Bye Alex."
"Bye," Xander said as he hung up the phone. "Guess if mom's too busy for us right now, then I'll find something else to do," Xander said as he stepped into the shower. He didn't really want to push his brother anyway. When he was through with the shower, he dried off and dressed, rejoining his brother downstairs. He sat down on the couch and stared at the television quietly, waiting for his brother to speak first. Soon a half hour had passed, and still no one spoke. Xander knew he would need to break the ice.
"I see you were the Athlete of the Week in our paper this week," Xander said enthusiastically.
"Yeah. Finally something YOU hadn't done first!" Peter replied with a tint of jealousy.
Xander started to reply, but didn't want to have an argument.
"Christmas shopping all done?" Xander asked instead.
"Jeremy and I are going later today, but I want to go shopping for him sometime. Perhaps you would like to go with me?"
"No. I am going over to Nick's house this afternoon, going to hit the rink."
"I thought you didn't have practice today?"
"The difference is, Jeremy and I thought it best if you stay with me today."
"Oh. So Jeremy is lord and keeper of the home?"
"WHAT is your problem?" Xander asked.
"My problem? You know what my problem is? It's EVERYONE trying to tell me what I can and can not do. I'm eighteen years old!"
"You're still SEVENTEEN, and you need structure and discipline in your life."
"Discipline? What like being spanked and grounded?"
Xander involuntarily flushed. "NO! Any good athlete knows, if you don’t have discipline at home, you won't have it in the game. In your case on the ice!"
"Did you read that in the handbook?"
"Are you always this bitter?"
Before Peter could snap back, the phone rang.
Xander picked it up. "Hello?"
"Hi dear. How is Peter?"
Xander walked away, towards the kitchen. "Just about to get his aaa..butt kicked. He's impossible, mom."
"He's just having a hard time right now. It's just a stage and he should come through the other side, I hope, unscathed. I was hoping he'd have calmed down from yesterday, but he's not?"
"Not exactly. What happened?"
"Peter stayed out past curfew the night before last, and Jack called him on it."
"He's not exactly a child, mom."
"No, he's not. But he's still a minor, and he's still living with us and subject to the same rules that you lived by."
"But Jack -"
"Jack is his stepfather, and entitled to make those rules. There isn't any good reason that Peter should be out after ten, and that's our decision to make."
"I guess so. What should we do?" Xander was just about to sit down at the kitchen table when he heard the door slam. He got up to see Peter driving away from the front of the house.
"I talked with Jack, and decided we can give him a day or two of space, if that's alright with you and Jeremy. Maybe you two can talk some sense into him."
"That's good, because he just left. I'll have to check with Jer, but I'm sure it'd be okay for him to stay a while."
"Okay dear. Ooops, lunch is boiling on the stove. I'll talk to you soon. Love you."
"Love you too mom."
Xander hung up the phone. He walked into the living room, looking for a note.
"Just up and leave why don't you?" Xander sighed. He plopped down on the couch and nodded off.
Peter drove quickly to the rink. Looking at the clock as he drove into the lot, he realized he was actually a few minutes late. As he had expected, Nick was already there, and appeared to be the only one present. He parked his car and got out, getting his stick and skates from the trunk and walked into the rink.
"You're late!" Nick exclaimed as he caught a glimpse of Peter.
Nick skated over to the rink entrance.
"Only fifteen minutes. I couldn't shake my brother," Peter replied.
"You're LATE!" Nick reiterated.
Nick smiled. "Lace up. I hope you are in the zone."
Peter laced up his skates as Nick continued to skate around stretching. Peter entered the ice and skated around a couple of laps as well.
"So what was that about your brother? You mean Ricky?" Nick asked.
"Oh, X-man! Is he back home?"
"No, I told you I was at wit's end. I'm staying with Alex and his boyfriend," Peter replied, rolling his eyes on the "boyfriend" comment.
"Don't you like his boyfriend?" Nick asked quietly.
"He's fine, decent guy. I just don't want to witness any queer shit first hand," Peter replied as he continued stretching.
Nick blushed slightly. "Alright, warm up is over. Let's see what you got!"
Peter and Nick spent the next thirty minutes taking shots on goal, taking turns on the same shots and keeping track of who was ahead. By the end of their allotted time, Peter was ahead by five shots.
"I beat you, ya pussy!" Peter said as they skated over to the exit, sitting down to take off their skates and put on their tennis shoes. When they had their shoes on, with a silent look to each other they entered the dressing rooms. Locking the door behind them, they quickly checked to make sure no one else was around.
Nick put his bag down on one of the benches and pulled out the paddle. He not so eagerly handed it over to the grinning Peter.
"Drop 'em and bend over. You need to shoot better than that."
Nick quickly dropped his jeans and underwear and bent over, putting his hands flat on the bench, hoping it would be over quickly.
Peter lined up and took his first swing, catching Nick flat across both cheeks. The sound was deafening, and Nick gulped hard on the pain. He stiffened for the second swat, which landed a moment later. He grimaced hard, groaning. Peter took three more solid swats, leaving red welts across Nick's backside. Nick stood up and pulled his pants back into place, taking a moment to swallow the lump of tears in his throat. When the worst of the sting was gone, he spoke.
"I'm sure I'll beat you next time."
"Don't bet on it," Peter said, handing the paddle over to Nick, and turning to get his stuff.
"Just a minute. We have a penalty to deliver for being late. One swat for every two minutes, which makes eight the way we do things.”
Peter groaned, but put his bag back down. After a long look to see if Nick was going to cut him a break, he walked over into position and dropped his pants, bending over. He scrunched up his face and couldn't suppress the groan as Nick swung with authority. On the sixth swat, Peter couldn't help but stand up, rubbing furiously to lessen the sting. He bent back over and took the last two swats, his hands alternating rubbing out the sting and wiping the tears from his eyes. It was only with a will of iron that he kept from sobbing for the first fifteen seconds after the last swat landed.
Nick gave him the time he needed to compose himself, watching out of the corner of his eye. Peter may not have been gay, but Nick was taking his time to appreciate the gorgeous red butt in front of him.
Peter finally stopped rubbing and reached for his underwear. As he was pulling them up, he caught Nick turning away quickly.
"Were you checking out my ass dude?" Peter asked.
Nick flushed slightly. "I was...admiring my handy work! Lit your ass up but good."
"Tell me about it!" Peter replied, as he carefully pulled up his jeans.
Nick looked at the paddle. "Who knew staying after class would come in so handy?" Nick asked as he placed the paddle in his bag.
"Should have submitted that for a grade, that's quality craftsmanship!"
"Well that remains to be seen. Let's see if you can get your ass here on time tomorrow."
"Oh, I WILL!" Peter replied with a smile as he grabbed his bag.
Peter unlocked the door and exited the locker room. They walked out of the rink and to their cars.
"Hey, good luck with your sit. And I mean that in BOTH senses." Nick replied with a chuckle. "Tomorrow at noon?"
"I will be here."
"We will see."
They got into their cars and drove off.
"I don't know. I guess he could have gone to the rink," Xander said, as he continued to speak on the phone. "Ok...I will be...see you in a bit....Love you too."
Xander hung up the phone as the door bell rang. He quickly walked to the front door and opened it, finding Peter on the other side.
"You can't tell me where you're going?" Xander barked.
"I DID! Told you I was going to the rink."
Xander stepped aside to let Peter in.
"No, you said you might go."
"And I DID!"
"In the future, could you at least tell me before you go?" Xander asked.
"Sorry, I will." Peter replied in a civil tone. "Would it be alright with you if I shower?"
"Yeah, you can use the guest bath, right at the top of the stairs."
Peter nodded and quickly headed upstairs. Xander walked into the living room and sat down on the couch.
"It's no wonder mom was so eager to let him stay a couple more days."
He picked up the remote and changed the channel. As he passed a Snuggles commercial, he groaned.
"No towels in the bathroom!" Xander got up and walked to the laundry room. Opening the dryer, he pulled out a large bath towel and walked upstairs. When Xander went to knock on the door, he realized that it wasn't shut tight. Through the crack in the door, Xander could see his brother's reflection in the mirror, which was directly across from the glassed shower doors. He opened his mouth to speak, but as Peter turned around, Xander fell silent. Then his eyes bulged and he did a double take as he opened the door.
"What the hell happened to you?!" he said loudly as he opened the door.
Peter turned quickly, shock crossing his face. "What are you doing barging in here?! Can't a guy take a shower in peace?"
"I was bringing you a towel!" Xander said heatedly as he held it up. Peter snatched it from him, quickly pulling it around his waist.
"It doesn't give you the right to just barge in! I'm not one of you," Peter added.
"What the hell does that mean 'one of you?!'" Xander said, his color rising.
Peter saw his brother's face and the telltale signs of his rising fury and decided he didn't need a fight right now, particularly as he was naked and still sore.
"Look, I'm sorry. I didn't mean that," he said more quietly.
"Then what the hell did you mean?"
"Nothing. Can't I just please get a shower?"
"Not until you tell me what the hell happened to your ass," Xander said, still furious.
Peter was embarrassed to death. He hadn't expected to be seen, and he had no clue how to explain anything. He wasn't about to let his brother know that he participated in corporal punishment as if he enjoyed it. "It's none of your damned business! Now, will you just get the fuck out of here?!"
"It's Jack, isn't it? Jack's abusing you, THAT'S why you don't want to go home!" Xander said, light dawning.
Peter's mouth dropped open for a moment, too shocked to respond. He'd had his problems with Jack, but Jack had been nothing if not kind and caring, with him or his own kids. He found himself in the strange position of defending the man who was the reason he was at Xander's in the first place.
"He is NOT! Don't you think I'd have moved out if he was? Or defended myself?"
"No! People who abuse do more than just bruise you, they can get in your head and make it seem like it's your fault and not theirs! That's it!"
Neither boy had heard Jeremy come home, nor did they hear him climb the stairs towards the loud voices. They both jumped when he spoke.
"What's going on here?"
Xander turned first, more used to the tone and what it meant than Peter. "I think -"
"Shut UP!" Peter yelled. "You have no idea! Just shut the hell UP!"
"I'm not -" His sentence was interrupted by a firm hand on his shoulder.
"It looks like Peter's in the middle of getting a shower. Let's leave him to that, shall we?" Jeremy said, guiding Xander to the stairs by his shoulder.
"But you -"
"Downstairs," Jeremy said firmly, pulling the bathroom door to after nodding at Peter.
Xander thumped down the first two stairs before the pressure on his shoulder increased enough to send him the message that that wasn't acceptable behavior. He went more quietly, waiting until he got into the kitchen to try speaking again. He was interrupted yet again.
"You, young man, can have a seat. I don't want to hear another word."
"You know the rules. Quiet, please, or I'll find a quiet room and spank you."
Xander winced, crossing his arms, his lip going out in a huge pout. He fell silent. The last thing in the world he wanted was to cross swords with Jeremy when Peter was in the house. He had time to get the truth out.
Jeremy looked long at Xander, and when he was satisfied he was settled and quiet, headed upstairs to get changed and freshen up. When he returned downstairs, he took a bottled water from the fridge and drank deeply, draining the container quickly. Just as he tossed that in the recycle bin, Peter came downstairs.
Peter wasn't quite sure what his reception was going to be. He was certain Xander had already told Jeremy and that he was going to have to defend Jack again.
Xander straightened up in his chair when he heard Peter coming downstairs, doing his best to look nonchalant.
"Have a seat," Jeremy said, indicating a chair.
Peter slid into the chair, automatically responding to the firm tone. It took all his willpower not to wince when he made contact with the hard wood.
"That sounded like an argument I heard when I got home. Want to talk about it?" Jeremy asked Peter.
Peter looked back to the table top.
"Jack's abusing him," Xander said bluntly.
Peter's head snapped back up, his color rising, his hand slamming on the table.
"You ASS! I TOLD you he's not!" he spluttered.
"And I told -"
"That's ENOUGH. We're all grown men here, and we can settle this discussion without raising our voices or resorting to name calling," Jeremy said very firmly as he placed his hands on the end of the table and took long looks at the two brothers. He was somewhat pleased to see Peter respond as Xander did.
"I'm sorry," Peter said, settling back in his chair, contrite.
Xander settled somewhat as well, though he was no less vehement in his words. "He still has welts from Jack. That's why he's here."
Jeremy was shocked, but held that emotion in check, turning to Peter. "Is that true?"
Peter blushed, but fought down his anger. "It's NOT true. What happened is NONE of your business, but I can assure you, Jack has nothing to do with it."
Jeremy gauged Peter's words to be true as eye contact was not broken.
"You can't just -" Xander began.
"Alex. Peter has said it's not Jack. And since it IS none of our business, then we'll leave it at that."
"Won't we?" Jeremy said, giving Xander his patented
Xander visibly deflated in the chair, knowing this battle was lost, though the war would continue.
"And you know that you can talk to either, or both, of us, if you need to," Jeremy said to Peter.
Peter relaxed as well. "Yes. Thanks."
"Good. Xander and I needed to get some shopping done. Care to come along?"
"Yeah. I wanted to see if they've got the new Chesney CD in stock yet," Peter said, getting up.
Xander attempted to speak again, but was promptly cut off by an icy glare from Jeremy. Xander steamed silently as he put on his shoes and got his coat, following Jeremy and Peter out five minutes later.
Jeremy headed over to the large mall, the traffic a lot more heavy with Christmas shoppers. Peter sat in the back seat, silently wincing each time Jeremy hit a pot hole. Xander stared out the passenger window, his fury growing. Jeremy lucked out with an empty parking lot close to the entrance. Jeremy decided to try Target first, entering the store in silence.
"I'm going to check out the music," Peter said, heading in that direction.
"Ok, just meet us up front in..." Jeremy said as he looked at the lines. "Thirty minutes."
Peter nodded and took off. Xander pushed the cart as Jeremy led the way.
"I can't believe you are being so cavalier about this!"
"What?" Jeremy asked, looking at alarm clocks.
"What?! The fact that Jack is ABUSING my brother!" Xander snapped.
Jeremy turned his attention back to his younger lover.
"Keep your voice down, we are in a public place. And stop saying that word."
"Peter said it wasn't," Jeremy replied, as he steered the front end of the cart out of the main aisle.
"He's just protecting the f-bastard!"
"Damnit Jeremy! Listen to me-"
"Enough. If I felt for one second Peter was in any danger, I would be all over this. But I believed him when he said it wasn't Jack. And it is NOT any of our business."
"It IS my business!" Xander replied as he lifted the cart slightly and slammed it down. "His ass was blistered!"
"And unless you would like me to take you to the restroom and do the same to you, you will cool it," Jeremy replied through gritted teeth. "Now quit the swearing and let's get what we came for."
"Damnit Jeremy, why-"
"That is IT. You and I will have a little quiet time when we get home, clean up that mouth of yours."
Xander was ready to bite back with a barrage of quips, until he saw Jeremy's glare. Xander swallowed hard, and followed Jeremy through the store, not speaking another word. They met Peter at the front and checked out, continuing through the mall. Peter sensed something was amiss but didn't inquire. They continued their journey through three more stores, endless crowds and one hundred twenty minutes. But their lists were complete, and Jeremy drove home. The ride home was just as quiet as the one down. Jeremy soon pulled into the garage and popped the automatic trunk.
Xander got out first, and grabbed a bag or two.
"Xander, please take those upstairs and wait for me. I will be up shortly to help put them away," Jeremy replied firmly with large eyes.
Xander flushed and hurried inside, certain his brother knew he would be punished.
"I’m going to head over to Nick's, see if he wants to catch a movie or something," Peter said, heading down the driveway.
"Peter, you come inside. You aren't going anywhere, at least without a good dinner."
Peter opened his mouth, but the idea of something substantial DID sound enticing. He sighed, but went inside. Jeremy grabbed the rest of the bags and followed.
"In the fridge in the right hand crisper there are some vegetables. If you would please, start chopping those up. I have to help Xander upstairs, but I should be down in a couple of minutes."
Peter looked at Jeremy, but agreed. "Diced?"
"You be the judge," Jeremy replied as he headed upstairs.
Xander was in the bedroom, pacing back and forth. Wondering if Jeremy would really live up to his promise. The wait was over when Jeremy entered the room and shut the door behind himself. He placed the bags on the bed, and walked directly into the adjoining bathroom. He turned on the light, turned the water on warm, and grabbed the bar of Ivory soap from the dish. He ran it under the water and lathered it up.
"Alexander please remove your shirt and come in here." Jeremy said softly but firmly.
"Jer I’m sorry. PLEASE don't do this." Xander replied, inching closer to the bathroom.
"Now please," Jeremy said implacably.
Since Xander didn't want a bigger scene than what he expected, he stripped his shirt off, tossing it on the bed and went to the bathroom door. The look he got from Jeremy made him walk in and over to the sink.
Jeremy turned off the water, turning to Xander.
"I realize that your love for your brother is what's driving you. But that does not mean you ignore me when I tell you that's enough. Your brother is a strong boy, just like you were. He can handle himself well enough that if Jack actually did try to harm him, he'd find himself quickly without an adversary. Aside from the fact that Peter can handle himself physically, your mother would not put up with anyone that would harm her boys. She's a very strong woman, you know that better than I do."
Xander stopped a moment to think about that. His mother was strong, and smart, and Peter was too. If it was Jack, then he'd fooled them both. He trusted Jeremy, but he wasn't quite ready yet to believe it was someone other than Jack.
"I don't expect to be talked to in the manner you did in the store, much less be cursed at. Is that clear?"
"Yes, sir," Xander said slowly, hating the lecture but at the same time, not wanting it to stop.
Xander swallowed hard, then slowly opened his mouth, closing his eyes.
Jeremy pushed the bar in. "Close please." He guided Xander over to the corner. "I suggest you use this time to think through proper behavior, and proper words to use. You're to stay here until I return."
Xander nodded, fighting back the water in his eyes that threatened to fall down his cheeks, and listened as Jeremy opened and closed the bedroom door. He fought hard against the urge to cry, knowing that would only make it impossible to breathe.
Jeremy went downstairs and joined Peter.
"Xander not coming down?" Peter asked, slightly confused.
"He had some stuff he wanted to wrap up," Jeremy replied as he walked to the refrigerator.
"Oh. I am going to go up and-"
"NO. I would like to speak with you while Xander is out of the room."
"Okayyyy." Peter replied nervously, afraid Jeremy was about to make a pass at him.
Jeremy pulled out some beef and began to chop it while looking at Peter.
"Xander loves you a lot. And he sees a lot of himself in you, as do I."
"Hey Jeremy, I think you-"
"Please, let me finish. I don't know what he saw today, and I don't want to know. As you said, it is no one's business but your own. I pride myself on knowing if someone is being truthful with me. Honesty is one quality I demand in people I associate with."
Jeremy stopped slicing and stared more intently at Peter.
"Jeremy I SWEAR that-"
Jeremy raised his hand and silenced Peter.
"Everything about you, your voice, your body language, your tone, assured me that you were being truthful."
"I was." Peter replied quietly.
"You also proved, that when push comes to shove, you value Jack."
Peter's eyes widened.
"You may not approve his rules, you may not acknowledge him as a father. BUT you do care about him, and about what people think of him."
Peter stared at the floor, trying to come to terms with what Jeremy had just said.
"You are welcome to stay here a couple of nights, but you belong at home. With your mom....and Jack. You just need to remember, whatever rules they set up, they only have your best interest at heart." Jeremy waited a moment. "It takes a big man to face up to his mistakes, as I think running from home was. But I also think you're the kind of man that can handle the consequences, and learn from his mistakes."
Peter was unable to speak. He simply nodded. Jeremy put his hand on Peter's shoulder and gently rubbed it before picking up the knife and continuing the work on the beef. Peter finished off the last of the vegetables.
"What else can I do?" Peter asked, not finding any other words.
"Get the pan out from that cabinet there, and put in two tablespoons of butter. Then take out four cloves of garlic and press them. That's in the drawer over there."
Peter did as he was asked, and Jeremy dumped the meat in the pan. "If you'll stir that, I'll go see if Xander needs any help."
Jeremy headed upstairs, closing the bedroom door behind him. When he got to the bathroom he spoke. "Alright, you can take it out."
Xander took the distance in two steps to the sink and spit the bar out, then proceeded to spit several times. Jeremy poured him a glass of water and handed it to him.
Xander continued trying to flush the disgusting taste from his mouth, with little luck. When he drained the glass, Jeremy took it from him.
Xander spit twice more, then reluctantly stood up. Jeremy had a wet cloth ready and wiped his face clean, then the couple dribbles on his chest. "I hope that serves to remind you of your manners. I don't expect to speak to you again about this as long as your brother remains in this house. Is that clear?"
Xander nodded, then managed a quiet "yes, sir."
"Get your shirt, dinner's on and you can set the table."
"Can't I just stay up here?"
"No. Your brother would begin to wonder. Come on," he said, hugging him and pushing him out of the bathroom.
With everyone helping for dinner, it was finished quickly. Xander softened up, and Peter was more vocal than he'd been since he'd arrived. Jeremy sat back and enjoyed seeing the brothers getting along so well.
"Will you two do the cleanup while I head outside to change the oil in the truck?" Jeremy asked as he put his fork down.
"Sure," Xander said, almost in unison with Peter.
"The Bobsey twins?" Jeremy took his plate over to the sink, still chuckling, and headed outside to give the two brothers some private time to chat. He knew, even without giving it any thought, that the two of them washing dishes together would be a good way to remember the past.
"I call dibs on washing," Peter said, getting up. Xander groaned, as the person drying was also the person responsible for putting up leftovers and he hated that.
"You ALWAYS wash," Xander grumbled as he stood up.
"You're just slow," Peter joked.
"No, it's because your dainty hands always fit into mom's washing gloves better than mine," Xander shot back. He had to dodge a sharp snap of the gloves, and dropped a glass in the process.
"HEY! Watch it you ass," Xander said, putting the dishes on the counter and going to get the broom and dustpan.
"Sorry," Peter said, starting the water into the sink.
"It's okay. Only a glass. Just don't back up, okay?"
Xander worked on cleaning up the broken dish.
"Remember when we broke four of mom's fine china plates? The ones that cost $50 a piece?"
"Oh my God, yes," Peter said. "Boy was she
"I know. I think we might have been okay for breaking them if she hadn't just finished asking us to quit horsing around."
"That was the first time she laid into me with that paddle she kept on the fridge. She had me hopping in no time and I didn't sit the rest of the night, not to mention finding school the next day almost impossible to sit through," Peter said, laughing.
"Heck yeah! She cleared you from the kitchen, then laid into me. I got the full lecture too, being the older, more responsible one. I sure didn't want to be responsible for breaking any more plates!"
Peter was laughing hard by that time. "The next time we ate off those plates, I remember you carrying them one at a time to me, and putting them as far back on the counter as you could get."
"Do you blame me?" Xander replied, laughing as he dumped the rest of the glass into the trash.
The two spent a few minutes in companionable silence as they started the washing process.
"Mom was always pretty fair when it came to that, wasn't she?" Peter said.
"Yeah, I guess she was," Xander said, thoughtfully. His tone changed. "Unlike Jack."
"You left right before Jack proposed. You don't know him."
"I know he's abusing you."
Peter turned from the sink, water dripping off his gloves. "Jack is NOT abusing me. He's never laid a hand on me, though I can tell you sometimes I deserved to have my ass kicked. Do you think mom would let something like that continue? Do you?"
"She may not know."
"Damnit Alex, give it a rest. What you saw is not what it seems. It's....I mean I..... No. It's none of your business right now. You just got to trust me on this. Jack's a good man, and I'm going home tomorrow." While Peter was talking, he was gesturing and a large blob of bubbles left his hand and fell to the floor.
Xander was watching his brother steadily. He'd seen a slight blush when Peter had tried to say something about what must have been a consensual spanking, if in fact it wasn't Jack. Knowing he wasn't comfortable talking about Jeremy and himself, he decided not to press. Instead, he started laughing at the picture his brother made.
"What?" Peter said indignantly.
That only made Xander laugh harder, and his laugh was infectious. Pretty soon, Peter couldn't help but laugh too.
"What's so funny?" Jeremy said, walking back in when he heard the ruckus from the driveway.
Xander and Peter both finally gained control of themselves, then lost it again when Xander said 'Nothing."
"Alright then," Jeremy said, going back outside with a smile on his face.
"Peter!" his mom said, hugging her son tightly. Peter held her tightly for a moment, before stepping back. "I'm sorry."
"It's Jack you need to apologize to."
"I know. Where is he?"
"Out back, trying to fix the basketball goal."
Peter headed for the back kitchen door, over to the garage where Jack was working. Jack turned when he heard the door shut, and stood up. When Peter got close enough, he held out his hand. "I'm sorry."
Jack took the proffered hand and pulled him into a hug, causing his mother to smile from the kitchen window.