Chapter 1

Diana tiptoed down the stairs. The house was finally quiet. It was about time. She headed for the coffeemaker, thinking ruefully about her first night back home.
She hadn't been home half an hour, with the little ones, before Jessie had begun complaining that she didn't feel good. After a few hours of trying to unpack, and settle them all in, while being forced to listen to Jessie whine, she'd finally checked her temperature, found it to be up a little, and sent her off to bed, dosed up on Tylenol. She'd thought briefly about dosing up the other two, on general principles. She was beat. She'd wanted to sleep.

As she went about her morning business, she laughed a little to herself. She should have known it would happen. Sleep was only an option on a tentative basis anyway, with six kids, but she'd really been hoping for some last night. The last few weeks had been pretty rough.
Never mind though, small children with the flu don't care how tired you are. She'd only just begun to doze when the sound of one of them crying had awakened her. She'd discovered all three of her children awake, and miserable. She'd spent the night cooling them down, rubbing backs, telling stories, and generally trying to distract her achy, coughing, feverish brood from how they felt, so they, and she, could go back to sleep. By the time they'd all finally drifted off, it was time for her to get up. Walker and the boys would be back this afternoon, and she really wanted to get as much done as possible before they were here, and underfoot.
Coffee in hand, she wandered her house, just looking at it. They'd been gone forever it seemed. She felt a little guilty, but she was glad to be back. Glad the whole thing had been cut short. She wished with all her heart it had happened a different way, but she was absurdly grateful to be back home. She'd always believed that things happened for a reason. Maybe this respite just had to be. God knew nothing but a crisis would have derailed this train they were on.
She settled onto the couch, fully intending to relax with her cup for only a few minutes. She was asleep in seconds.

"Mom, wake up! Mom!! Wake up!"
A hand was shaking her, and urgent voice in her ear.
Fighting the urge to snap "Get lost!", she sat up and tried to look as if she were functioning. "What is it Jess, Av.. oh whoever you are, what is it?"

She shook her head. They were all blending into one group face. She peered at the child standing in front of her.
Avery. It was Avery.
She was almost sure of it.
The little girl giggled. "You're not awake, are you?"
"Yes I am."
"Good, 'cause Mackie just threw up in the hallway. We tried to catch him, 'cause Jessie wanted to give him a bath, but he got away."
Diana's eyebrows went up. "Tried to catch him? Catch him? You were chasing him? Don't do that..." She hauled herself off the couch and went in search of her youngest son. "Wouldn't you know," she thought, "The one who starts puking has to be the one who will just do it where he stands. This day is going so well."
One captured and bathed Mackie, and one scrubbed carpet later, Diana again took a stab at sitting down. She didn't really have any hope it would last. Jessie was seriously complaining that her ears hurt, and Diana was expecting to have to go to the doctor sometime soon. Avie didn't seem to know enough to slow down, and was running around the house, sniffing, hacking, and whining. Diana had begun to have ungracious thoughts about just opening the front door on one of her run throughs, and locking it behind her. Mack was just miserable and clingy. She'd resigned herself to wearing him for the rest of the day, and had settled him on the couch in front of the TV, so he could see her. She sighed, wishing for just half an hour to nap. God knew she was going to need it.
Walker had called her from the plane. For some reason, he'd felt in necessary to give her the lowdown on how terribly his trip home was going. He'd told her Taylor had been sick 100% of the trip. The car had been bad enough, the plane was just about killing him. She bit back the "Well you might have given him some Dramamine." comment that was on the tip of her tongue. He didn't need to know how much easier it could have been. Added to that, he'd told her, Zac was a basket case. Couldn't get comfortable, couldn't take Tay's being sick at all, he was just coming unglued. Top it off, the only one of them who wasn't sick, and was acting human, had gotten disgusted with all of them, and gone to sit by himself. Walker had laughed when he told her.
"DIana, he just finally looked up, slammed down his book, told us "You people suck!", and got up and went and sat in the back of the plane." She'd sympathized with him, and made all of the appropriate noises, and finally he'd ended the call.
She thought about what he'd said, and applauded Ike. She knew how he felt. "You people suck" wandered through her mind. She liked that. It just said what it had to.
She wondered briefly what her kids here would think, if she just hollered it out, and went to her room. Smiling a little at the thought, she stretched out with Mackie, and dozed off on the Disney channel.

.

Chapter 2

Isaac gently moved his mother's feet and curled up on the end of the couch. He smiled a little when she simply stretched them out in his lap again. He didn't mind. Maybe it would help him warm up. He'd wrapped himself up in a quilt, and still he was cold. Sore throat started too, and it was damn near impossible to breathe through his nose. Figured. He'd felt a little off all day, pretty much since they'd hit the airport, and so had Zac, he knew. He hadn't said much about it, seeing how tightly wound his dad was getting over the other two. He'd really hoped that if he ignored it, it would just go away. Now seeing that all the kids at home had the flu, he'd resigned himself to the inevitable.
He almost had to laugh. All the strain, all of the tension and anxiety of the last few weeks, and he'd held out fine. Now, home not yet an hour, he was already sick. He figured he was pretty well set up though, he'd gotten his quilt, his juice, and had a roll of toilet paper spindled over his thumb. Barring a crisis, he had no reason to get up, not even for a tissue.
He looked around, marveling at the contentment he felt at being here. He'd missed home. The peace he was feeling, looking around him now, couldn't be disturbed, even by the flu. He took in his sleeping mother, and baby brother. It was better for them here. She'd looked so tired the last few weeks. Maybe this was all for the best.
He let his gaze wander to Tay, asleep on the floor in front of the TV. That was his spot. He never sat on a chair if the spot in front of the TV was free. Nice to see him there again. Sad that it had happened this way, but still... he smiled a little, and let himself drift off.

Taylor's fingers played absently with the nap of the carpet. He'd staggered into the house, flung himself, belly down on the living room rug, in front of the TV, and refused to move again. Thank God, everything was finally holding still. He hadn't even been able to focus on the TV, his head had been spinning so badly. He'd dozed off, and the dizziness had passed while he slept. He felt better now, and was seriously thinking that he'd like to go get a pillow, if only it didn't involve the climb up the stairs. He was beat. He rolled over onto his back, and his eyes lit on Isaac.

He stretched out a leg, and poked his brother with a toe.
"Hey."

Ike jumped, he had been dozing, "Hey. You're up! You feeling better?"

Taylor sat up, carefully. Moving too fast screwed up his eyes.
"Yeah, I think so. You look like you aren't though. What's wrong?" Isaac, he thought, looked like hell.
Isaac snorted, and waved a hand around. "The air is contaminated. Unless you stop breathing, you're next."

Taylor stared blankly at him. He was having trouble connecting. "Ike?"
Isaac raised his eyebrows. "Yes?"
"What are you talking about?"
Ike sighed. He knew Tay couldn't help it, but he just never *got* anything anymore. It was beginning to be a major irritant. Taylor's wit had always been so sharp, he'd always been quick to get just about any joke, and grasp any situation, however subtle. Now, if it wasn't spelled out in front of him, in big black letters, he just didn't understand.

"I just mean everyone's sick, Tay. The little kids all have the flu, I know Zac was fixing to get sick, that's why he was so damn whiney all day, and my head's about to drop off. We should have known, it always happens the second we slow down for a minute."
Taylor made a face and shifted his gaze to his mother.
She looked really tired, even in sleep, he hoped she was alright. "Is she sick too, Ike?"
Ike shrugged. "Don't know. She was asleep when I got here. Dad threatened my life if I woke her up."
Taylor scowled, and scooted over to lean his back against the couch. He wanted to get up but things were jumping around alarmingly. He scowled, then leaned his head back, against Isaac, who patted his shoulder comfortingly.

"What's the matter, Tay? Why you looking so ticked off?"
Taylor shrugged a little. "My head feels really weird. Things are like... blinking."
Isaac nodded. He'd heard it before, Tay had been complaining about this for a day or so. God knew it had to be irritating.
"Don't worry, Tay, you know they told you it would go away."
Taylor shook his head. "No, Ike, this is different. I can't describe it. But I don't like it."
He muttered to himself for a moment, and then climbed to his feet. "I'm freezing, I'm gonna go get a blanket. IF I can get up the stairs. You want anything, while I'm up?"
Ike laughed. "NO, you'll have all you can do to get yourself up and down them in one piece."
Taylor shot him a look that let Ike know how amusing he found that comment, and cuffed him lightly. "You shut up, you couldn't do any better..."
Ike laughed, and waved him away. "Yeah, good luck. If I hear a crash, I'll be sure to go pick you up." Taylor's gaze rested on his brother for a moment. He thought Ike was trying to be funny, but whatever he'd said, had flown out of his mind already.
Sighing, he headed for the stairs, holding on to the wall for support. Things still flickered maddenly, just on the edge of his sightline. He wished he knew when he could expect that "effect" to go away. It was making it very difficult to get around. He made his way down the hall, eyes lingering on familiar objects.
God, he'd missed home. He was so glad to be back. Why was he back? He paused for a moment, unable for the most fleeting of seconds, to remember where he'd been, what he'd been doing, or why he felt he'd been gone from here. He stood, fingers lightly brushing the wall, waiting for memory to return. He'd already learned not to force it. A moment later, recall.
His eyes filled with tears, as he thought about all that had happened. He didn't know what he was going to do, to fix this. It was all such a mess. Swiping at his eyes, he changed course, now heading for the bathroom, to find something to wipe his eyes and blow his nose with.
Dust motes floating on a beam of sunlight, captured his attention, and he stood, lost in their golden dance.

A slight tug at his hand broke Taylor's trance. He sniffed loudly and looked down into the face of a young girl, her already pink cheeks flushed to near scarlett.

"Whatcha looking at Tay?" she questioned, her hands dropping limply down to her sides.
"Huh?" For the life of him he couldn't place her. Her thoughtful eyes searched his confused blue ones for just a moment.
"I just asked what you were staring at. You've been standing there forever."


He giggled at her, the effort of trying to retrieve her name almost painful. He felt anger building, how could he not know her? His eyes found the sunlight again, the glow pulling him away from her, and the issue at hand, as well as his anger, faded away. Exasperated, she yanked on his sleeve. "Taylor!!" Her voice was sharp. "Cut it out, it's creepy!"
Annoyed, he turned on her, "Look..."
And then it came to him.

Jessica. That was it. A rush of relief flooded through Taylor and he had to hold back the urge to shout her name. Giddy now, having remembered who she was, he knelt down to her level. "Sorry, Jess. I'm spacey. I know. I'll try to stop it."

She nodded. "Where were you going?"
He thought for a minute. "Upstairs, I think."
She eyed him critically, hands on hips, and then shook her head.
"I don't know, I don't think you'll make it on your own. Come on." Sighing, she held out her hand to him. Amused that she would think he needed to be led, yet bitterly aware that she was probably correct, he took his sister's hand, and let himself be led upstairs.

.

Chapter 3

Taylor stood at the bottom of the stairs, gazing wistfully towards the top.
Jess tugged at his hand, impatient with him.
"Come on Tay, it's just ten stairs, not Mt. Everest. Up and down, simple as that."
He looked down at her, wondering if she had any idea. He shook his head, and sighed.
"Jess, ten steps is a mountain. Trust me."
Again her hands hit her hips. "Well, you'd better try, if you can't get upstairs, how are you gonna sleep?"
"On the couch. I always liked it better anyway." He looked up the stairs again, then down into her eyes, and nodded. "Okay. But I make no promises."
Slowly he started negotiating the first step. As he climbed up, his head spun, and he nearly toppled backwards. "Well, crap." He muttered aloud. He glanced up, sighing almost pitifully and then began to again ascend the stairs in the only way he could see fit to get him to the top with the guarantee that he wouldn't fall and kill himself... on all fours, ignoring the persistent giggling coming from his sister.
He paused, at the top, sitting on the landing, wondering if climbing back upright was such a good idea. The way his head was spinning, he could see himself going right back to the bottom of the stairs, in a heap. Deciding that a compromise was the best solution, he crawled a few feet away from the landing, and hauled himself to his feet. He looked at Jess, who was sticking, limpet like, to his side.
"I'll make it now, Jess, okay? Thanks..."
She looked doubtful, but nodded, "If you really think so. Yell if you need help." She wandered off to her own room, hoping that her brother wouldn't get weird and start staring at dust again.
Taylor pulled himself along the wall, toward his room. Whatever he'd come up here for, was now a distant memory. All he wanted was to throw himself into bed and sleep for a year. As he dragged himself through the bedroom door, he heard the unmistakable sound of an IM ding, coming from his computer. Zac was sitting, back towards the door, at the computer desk.

"Whatcha doing Zac?" Taylor asked, from his position in the doorway
.
Zac jumped, startled, then groaned as pain seared through him. His ribs ached abominably. "Nothing, just online 'cause I can't sleep. I'm too sore. I can't breath. I keep coughing. I feel like I'm gonna throw up."
"Gee Zac, anything else? You trying for a world record?" Taylor staggered across the room to the computer, his elbows resting on the desk.

Zac, somewhat annoyed at the lack of sympathy for his misery, turned away from the monitor and gave Taylor a look, somewhat crossed between a "What do you want" and a "What the hell are you doing" glare.

"Think you could get off the desk? It's a little hard to type, with your elbows on the keyboard."
Taylor shrugged. "Got to hold myself up with something."
Zac rolled his eyes.

"Whatever," he muttered, and turned his attention back to the keyboard. Unfortunately for him, Taylor showed no signs of moving.


"Who you talking to? And why are you using my screen name? You didn't read my mail did you?" Suddenly Taylor, who had been in a semi decent mood before, felt himself growing irritated.
"No loser, I didn't read your stupid mail. I just used your name 'cause it was the first one that came up, geez. Excuse me."
Zac's sarcasm hit a nerve. "Well, next time use your own damn screen name. That's what it's there for." Taylor used the desk to haul himself the rest of the way up, and walked, somewhat dazed by the rush of dizziness that swept over him, towards his bed.

"What's the big deal? Afraid one of your little online girlfriends will like me better than you?" Zac smirked.

"I don't have any online girlfriends..." Taylor cut himself off. Zac snotty tone was just too much for him. "Why am I even answering you? Just get off my name, and get on your own." He turned to get his blanket off the bed, thought better of it, and flopped down onto it instead.


Zac stared at him for a minute. He was just too pissed off. He really didn't know why, but the urge to just whip something at Taylor was almost too much for him.
It was Taylor's fault they were back home. It was Taylor's fault the band was ended. For all he knew it was Taylor's fault he had the flu. And it was definitely Taylor's fault that he couldn't move without something hurting. He'd had all he could take of his brother's face, after the nightmare trip home.
He knew he was being unfair, but he really didn't care. He'd been so happy. Stopping and going home wasn't something he'd ever wanted to do. He knew it wasn't really Taylor's fault, but exhaustion, trauma and illness had all combined to sap his patience, and turn his usually sunny disposition, sour and gloomy.


"Aren't you going back downstairs?" he asked, in an exasperated tone.
Taylor cracked open an eye. "In a minute. Resting up for the journey back down. Got a problem with it?"
Scowling, and restraining himself, from giving the smartass comment that had risen to his lips, Zac turned back to the screen. He typed in a response to Tay's friend, who he'd neglected to inform of his identity, and found himself pondering the name his brother was using. He didn't like it.

Glancing back at Tay, he saw that his brother's eyes were closed. Good. He quickly signed off, and onto their dad's name, glancing again at Tay, to see if he'd noticed the log on tone. Nope. Still just lying there. He keyed into their screen-names, pulled up Tay's, and, smirking for all he was worth, reached for the "delete" key. Just as he was about to press it, he paused. Glancing at Tay, who now appeared to be sound asleep, he thought back to the last time he'd messed with his stuff. Sure, he thought this was funny, and a few months ago, would have done it with not even a second thought, but the persistent ache in his side was a grim reminder, that this was not his Taylor. This was not the Taylor he could play with. This Taylor was potentially dangerous. Sighing, he exited the screen, and logged back on, this time to his own name. He surfed for a while, his sights finally landing on a game with the unlikely name of "Slap a Spice Girl." Within minutes, he was thoroughly engrossed, forgetting his flu, forgetting his ribs, and ignoring the nagging cough that nothing seemed to get rid of.

Taylor was very nearly dozing, when he heard Zac's muffled laugh, followed by a burst of coughing. Somehow he didn't like the sound of either. He opened his eyes, and peered in Zac's direction, but he couldn't make out what the kid was doing. He was hacking his head off, though, and it was annoying. He stared absently at him for a while, lacking the energy to get up and see what was going on. A renewed burst of giggles from Zac got him motivated.

"He's having way too much fun for a sick kid, and he's on my name..." he thought. "He's humiliating me, I'm sure..." sighing, he dragged himself out of bed, and headed for Zac. He'd just about reached him, when Zac suddenly doubled over, coughing violently. Taylor grabbed him just as he was about to fall out of the chair.

Zac had never even seen it coming. He was so engrossed in his little game, that he had forgotten his flu, and forgotten that Tay was even in the room. His nagging cough had barely penetrated his consciousness. When it suddenly went from a barely noticed irritant, to a debilitating attack, he wasn't ready for it, and it nearly threw him onto the floor. He couldn't stop coughing to take a breath, and his face began to go an alarming dusky purple. He didn't notice that Taylor had caught him, he didn't realize anything beyond his panicky struggle to breathe. His nails dug into Taylor's arm, bringing thin blood. Taylor winced, but he didn't let go.

He was getting scared now. He didn't know if it was possible to cough yourself to death, but he was afraid Zac might just be about to test it. He tightened his hold on him, pulling him in close to his body. He didn't realize that instinct was making him do it, pull him in to feel his breathing, he just knew he couldn't let him go. He was scared. When Zac's color started to darken to gray, he knew they were in trouble.
He hollered the first name that came to his mind.
"IKE!!!"

Ike was arguing with his mother. She'd suggested to him what he considered the dumbest thing he'd ever heard. He was losing the argument, and was considerably less than pleased about it, when he heard Taylor's yell. Hearing the panic in it, he was on his feet and up the stairs in an instant. Diana on his heels. He burst into the room to find a terrified Taylor, arms wrapped tight around Zac, who appeared to be choking to death. He hadn't taken a step when the coughing spell suddenly let up. Zac sagged in Taylor's arms, gasping for breath, eyes streaming.
He was shaking all over, and Taylor was afraid if he let him go, he'd fall.
More than a little shaken, he shot Ike a 'help me' look, and Ike nodded, taking Zac away from him, and leading him to Tay's bed. Taylor, feeling about as shook up as Zac, sank down into the nearest chair. The thought that, no matter where they were, home, on the road, they were still just falling apart, wouldn't leave his mind. He watched Zac struggling to catch his breath, and couldn't help wondering when, or if, things would finally be back to normal.


.

Chapter 4 

Isaac was scowling. He'd been home less than half a day, and he was already sitting in a doctor's waiting room. He didn't know why he'd had to come. His dad had said he could use a hand, and had asked him to come along, but so far all he'd done was sit and vainly attempt to focus his burning eyes on whatever year old magazine was close at hand.
Why they had to be here now, was a mystery. His mom had decided that Jessie and her earache, along with Zac and his cough, needed a doctor. Evidentially the doctor had agreed, and here they were. Jess had been seen, diagnosed, and prescripted within half an hour, now they were waiting for their dad to finish talking with the doctor about Zac.
He sighed, and gave up on the magazine, flinging it in the general direction of the table. He glanced at Jess, who was hobnobbing with a small group of children in the toy corner.
"Great," he thought. "They've got them a little germ swap going on over there. Wonderful. Like we need more than we already have." Seeing that she was at least safely occupied, he sat back and closed his eyes.
"Ike are you okay?" Jessie's voice penetrated the fog that was surrounding him, and Isaac focused bleary eyes on her face.

"Yeah, I'm fine. Why?"
Jessie giggled, "You looked like you were falling asleep. Were you?" He shifted his weight, trying to get comfortable, everything was starting to ache. "Were you?"
His head was buzzing unpleasantly and starting to spin.
"Really getting sick, oh yeah..." floated through his head.
"Ike!! Were you?!"
The repetitive question, he'd been ignoring suddenly snapped his patience.
"Jessie, what?! Will you go away please?! God!!! NO!! I wasn't asleep!"

She scowled at him, ready to come back with a dig of her own, but he dropped his head into his hands, and she heard him groan softly. Her irritation was suddenly replaced with worry.
"Ike? Ike I'm sorry. Are you okay? Really?"
She shook him a little, and he looked up at her.
"Yeah Jess, I'm getting sick though. I'm sorry I yelled at you."
She nodded, not really caring if he'd yelled at her. He did it all the time.
"Ike, what's the matter?"
He shook his head. "Nothing Jess, it's okay, getting the flu, that's all. Where in hell is Dad? And Zac? What are we waiting for?"

Jessie shrugged. "I don't know. You better stay awake." She went back to her little circle of friends in the toy corner. Isaac watched her, vaguely amused. How she managed to make friends everywhere she went was beyond him.


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

Some sound woke her. She lay in the dark for a few minutes, trying to figure out what was out of place. Hearing nothing unusual, she was about to dismiss it and go back to sleep, when it suddenly hit her.
The TV. She was hearing the TV, at... she turned to the clock on the nightstand... 3:00 AM? Who on earth was up watching TV at this hour?
She slipped out of bed as quietly as she could, pulled on a robe, and tiptoed downstairs. She was pretty sure she knew who she'd find.

Taylor heard someone coming. He knew it would be her. Somehow, she always knew when to come around, and when to keep back. She always knew when to listen. He wished he'd realized sooner, that the times she came around, were the times he needed to listen to her, too. He smiled a little when he felt her hand brush against his hair, and slid over so she could sit with him, pulling up the edge of his blanket to share it with her.
As soon as she settled, he moved closer, leaning his head on her shoulder. She slipped an arm around him, surprised and pleased at the affection.

"What's the matter, baby, " she asked softly, "Why can't you sleep?"
He sighed, and shook his head a little. "I don't know, I'm all achy, and my head's all stuffed up. Can't get comfortable. Zac's coughing his brains out, and Ike's throwing up. It's too noisy in there. And besides..." again the bitter sigh, "I wouldn't be able to sleep anyway. y'know..."
She nodded. She knew. "That's going to go away, Tay, you know that. Just hang on."
He nodded. They'd told him to be patient. It wasn't easy. He snuggled closer to her, absurdly close to tears. It had been so long since he'd felt like anyone even liked him. His head was just all screwed up.
Diana felt him trembling a little, heard his breathing become ragged, and knew he was crying. She didn't say anything, he'd talk if he wanted to. She didn't want to push him. It had been too long since he'd been this open with her, she didn't want to bring his walls up. She held him a little tighter, and kissed his hair. She half expected him to pull away, but instead his arm came up around her, holding on tight.

She felt tears in her own eyes when she felt his fingers twirling a lock of her hair. Sweet nostalgia. He'd done that when he was little, climbed into her lap, put his head on her shoulder, and twined his little fingers around her hair, until he fell asleep. She had treasured such moments then, and she clung to them even more now. He was nearly fifteen. These moments wouldn't come often. She held him close, hoping he'd talk to her, and tell her what he was feeling, but also content to let him take what he needed from her.
Taylor wasn't sure why he was crying, and he really didn't care. It was enough that she was holding him, that she loved him. That she wasn't criticizing, or judging, or watching him. That right now she didn't care if he was sitting up straight, or if his clothes were neat, or his hair brushed, or his demeanor acceptable.

He wasn't onstage, he had nothing to prove, and she wasn't asking anything of him. Her arms were around him, and her hand, stroking his hair, felt good. Soothing. Right now he could just be.
As warmth and sleepiness crept in, his tears tapered off, and he began to drift.


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

Isaac was not happy. He'd finally fallen asleep, after what just may have been the most miserable night of his life, and some twit had decided to leave the TV on, to wake him up again. He'd gone to bed early, feeling too nasty to want to be around people. He'd woken up after about half an hour, because he couldn't breathe, and had spent hours tossing and turning, trying to find a comfortable position for all of his aches. He was freezing, sweating, and thoroughly fed up with the whole thing.
Added to that was Zac, who just couldn't breathe. He'd come home from the doctor's office with enough medications to sink a rather large ship, but still couldn't manage to lie down without falling into a coughing fit. He was fine while he sat up, but, as he whined fairly continuously to Isaac, he couldn't sleep unless he was lying down. Ike felt for him, but right now just wished he'd shut up.
Just when he'd thought it couldn't get any worse, his stomach had started acting up. He'd fought it for a while, not wanting to be sick, but finally decided, he'd get more rest if he just got it over with.
Bad idea. Once he'd started throwing up, he couldn't stop. Now not only was he awake, he was awake sitting on a cold floor. He'd started swearing after two hours, and finally fed up beyond endurance, had flat out refused to let it happen again. He'd fight it till it killed him, but he was going to bed. End of discussion. He'd managed to outstubborn his recalcitrant body, swallowing half a bottle of Nyquil and grimly forcing it to stay put.
He'd finally, finally fallen asleep, and now the TV was on. He tried to ignore it and go back to sleep, but periodic bloodcurdling screams, wafting up the stairs, were making it a real challenge. Sighing, and wondering how much of him would self destruct when he stood up, he climbed out of bed, and started downstairs to shut the damn thing off. He held onto the walls, going down the hall, feeling very much as if he were made of jello. Every muscle in his body ached, and he dearly wanted to squish whoever had left the TV on, forcing him to take this hike.

Isaac stumbled into the living room, and stopped in the doorway when he saw his mother and Taylor asleep on the sofa. "Oh, well now isn't that sweet," he thought bitterly. "I'm up there puking my guts out, and they're watching the Love Boat."

Grimacing at the stiffness in his legs he limped his way over towards the TV set. For a moment he stood, mesmerized at the movement on the TV screen. Shaking his head, he broke his trance.
Suddenly a thought crept into his mind. Grabbing the remote control that had been discarded on the coffee table, he held his finger poised above the volume button. "Should I?" For a moment Isaac considered just flipping the TV off and going back to bed, to salvage what was left of the night. Diana and Taylor looked so peaceful, wrapped in each others arms the he felt just a small stab of guilt. However, his guilt was overridden by a horrible, yet unrestrainable desire to make them as miserable as he was. His finger deftly pressed the up arrow next to the word VOLUME. He watched the marks on the television rise to about mid screen. Then he removed his finger and checked the two sleeping beauties reactions. Nothing. Frowning, and creasing his brow, he pushed the button again. Still no reaction. Finally he just slammed his finger on the remote and watched the volume marks go to the end of the screen. The sound was almost deafening. His mother jumped. Her abrupt movement caused Taylor, who was laying half on top of her, to fall off the sofa and he landed in a crumpled heap on the floor.

"What the..." Taylor didn't move for a moment, still a little stunned from his tumble.

"IKE! TURN THAT DOWN!"
Isaac snickered, and flipped the TV off. "Oops, sorry. In the dark all these dang buttons look alike."
"Why the heck... OWW!" Taylor, who had begun to sit up, grabbed his head where he had banged it on the coffee table. Rubbing his sore cranium, and muttering under his breath, he moved away from the table and stood. "Thanks a lot mom. Appreciate it," Taylor said sarcastically.
"I'm sorry. I wasn't really expecting to be woken up by a blaring TV at," she glanced at the iridescent face of her watch, "4:30 in the morning."
"Gee... what a coincidence. Neither was I!" Isaac snapped.
Diana looked both puzzled and annoyed "What are you talking about?"
Ike gestured to the TV. "That. You guys are so inconsiderate. I'm dying up there, all I want to do is go to sleep, and you have the TV down here blasting away..."
Taylor snorted. "Blasting, right, I was like, sound asleep in front of it. What've you got, dog hearing or something?" He was still rubbing the knot on his head, from his impact with the coffee table. Diana laughed in spite of herself, earning an evil glare from her eldest son.

"I'm glad you think it's so damned funny!"
Her brows knit at that. "Watch it, pal, don't even use that with me. Just go to bed."
Isaac bristled. "I was in bed. Finally. I've only been up all night..."
Taylor cut him off. "You guys want to fight, go for it. I'm so outta here." He wandered toward the stairs, still worrying at the bump on his head. He turned when he reached the stairs, a smile playing on his lips. "Hey mom, remind me never to fall asleep with you. Too dangerous..."
She held her hands up, palms out... "Nope, nope, don't go there. Not my fault. If someone hadn't scared me to death, I wouldn't have jumped up like that." She was trying to make light of it, but she was irritated. There had been no need of it.


She watched Tay go off to bed, and turned to Ike.
"So maybe you'd like to tell me what that was all about?"
He grunted a non answer at her, shrugged his shoulders and plopped himself down on the couch.
She wasn't having it. "No way, what was that all about? Do you realize he could have been hurt? Or I could have?"
He jumped back to his feet. "Oh get real. I turned the TV up, I didn't drive a car through he front window. Don't be so melodramatic." He started to turn to go back upstairs, but her temper had finally snapped, and she grabbed his arm and spun him around.
"Look..." she hissed. "I don't know what your problem is, but this was totally uncalled for. I don't appreciate being scared awake like that, and I don't appreciate the attitude. You're being a real jerk, Isaac, plain and simple."
He took a step into her space, and she found herself stepping back. He looked furious. For just a second the thought "Holy God, is he gonna hit me?" flashed through her head, but a moment later it was gone. His hands, clenched into fists, remained at his side.
"You know, I'm not the only one." He snapped. "You knew there were..."
"What did I know?! For heaven sake Ike I was asleep!!"
"Oh, well I'm glad you were! I sure as hell..."
She jumped in suddenly, cutting him off. "Y'know Ike, I don't even know what we're fighting about. This is about the dumbest thing I've ever heard, on both our parts. You're about ready to start swinging on me, over the TV being on! And I'm about ready to get violent with you too! Enough already!"
She reached over and switched off the television in question, and the light.
"Come on then, and get to bed, while it's still possible."
He stood there, waiting for her to turn off the rest of the lights, and as she walked past him to the stairs, he grabbed her arm. "You know, I wouldn't have hit you."
She looked skeptical. "Oh yeah? Well, lets say I'm not willing to test you. Not when we're all tired, stressed, and sick. And Ike, if I'd realized you were sick up there..."
He waved off her explanation. "Forget it. See you later. Good night." He slammed into his room and all but fell into bed, no small feat as he had to climb up to it. To his frustration, both Taylor and Zac were out like lights. Struggling to get comfortable, he'd finally started to doze, when his father's alarm clock went off.

.

Chapter 5

Isaac eyed his brother, somewhat critically, from his spot across the room. He wondered how many more days Tay was planning to sleep and then hang out in, those clothes. If he'd counted right, he was on day four. Kind of gross, when he thought about it. It had been about that long since he'd gone near the shower, too, and Isaac was less and less thrilled about sharing a room with him. He'd mentioned it to him earlier, and gotten no response other than a somewhat stupid giggle, and a snort. Now he watched him, wondering what, if anything, was going on in his brother's head. He didn't want Taylor to see him staring, he'd already had his head bitten off once today, when Tay had noticed he was being studied. He couldn't seem to help it though, something just wasn't right... sighing, he headed into the kitchen. He'd wanted to talk to his mom about this for a few days, and he'd finally gotten up the nerve. He found her sitting at the table, coffee cup in hand, gazing out the window.

Zac and about a dozen friends were careening around the backyard. Looked like fun. Too bad they couldn't leave the yard. The media crush that had surrounded them at the hospital had followed them home. Leaving the yard was a challenge at best. Zac's friends didn't care, if he couldn't come to them, they were coming to him. The whole time he'd been laid up waiting for his ribs to heal, and getting over the flu, there had been a steady stream of them trouping through the house. Now that he was feeling better, he was still housebound my circumstance. They didn't seem to mind. The woods out back spread far enough that they had plenty of space to get up to no good. Trust Zac to make the most out of every situation. Especially impressive, at least from Isaac's point of view, was Zac's dogged determination to be happy. He, of all of them, felt their loss most keenly. He avoided radio and MTV like plague, not wanting to hear, hear about, or even think about, the band. Isaac let his mind drift back to a few nights ago.

Zac had come in looking mopey and down, had shot Tay, asleep on the floor, an utter death look, and gone stomping up the stairs. Isaac, concerned at open hostility from Zac, had followed, to find his little brother storming around the room, red faced and furious.
His well meant, and innocent query, "Zac, what's the matter?" had brought Zac at him, and he'd taken a quick step back, for a moment wondering if he were about to get clobbered. Instead, Zac had brushed by him, yanked open the bedroom door and gestured wildly down the stairs.
"HIM!!! HE is the matter!! Do you have any idea what I'm going through, Ike?? Do you?!?!"
Ike sat down on the bed. "Tell me, Zac. What's going on that's making you so mad?"
"Well one, nobody wants to talk to me. Oh, those guys..." He'd gestured out the window to where his friends played football, in the road. "They're fine. But nobody else. I saw Andy and Eric today, the twins? They told me that they're not allowed to talk to any of us, anymore. Lizzie's mom told me that she's really sorry, but I'm not allowed at her house anymore, after all of this with Taylor. And you have no idea what I have to hear. You never go anywhere, you don't hear it."
"Where do you go, Zac? How do you get by them?"
"Yeah, them..." Zac's expression darkened. "I go through the woods. It doesn't always work. Everywhere I go I have to hear about Taylor, and how awful he is, and how awful IT is, and how sad it is that our career had to end like that, because of HIM! I hate him, Ike, I really do... I didn't want to stop. I can't stand it, Ike, it's like... if I hear our songs on the radio, I want to just lay down and die. I miss it so much... And I hate my own brother."
His voice had dropped, and Isaac had seen tears in his little brother's eyes.
"You don't hate him, Zac. You're just mad at him. Maybe you should tell him, though."
Zac had looked at him as if he were crazy. "I can't tell him that!! Don't you think he feels bad enough? No, and don't you say anything either. He doesn't need to know about this."
Ike had smiled then. Maybe Zac hated him, but not so much that he wasn't worried about him. Zac then took both of his brother's hands, and had stared straight into his eyes.
"Ike, promise me, promise, that you won't say anything. Not to Tay, and not to mom and dad. Nobody."
Isaac had nodded, and seeing how close to falling apart Zac was, had quietly left the room, knowing he'd want to be alone.


Now, watching his brother and his friends, he had to think that maybe, just maybe, for all Zac's fury and hurt, this was better. He was dissatisfied, maybe, but at least he had some time just to be.
Ike felt bad though, that the bikes, and blades, and skateboards were collecting dust, but they had to wait until some of it died down. It was too crazy to go anywhere yet. At least anywhere that didn't involve a trek through the woods.
Feeling a little bit jailed in his own house, and frustrated with the other inmates, he plopped down at the table next to his mother, and reached out for her hand.
Diana smiled. Ike had always been touchy with her, and she'd always liked it. She squeezed his hand back, and reached out to brush his hair out of his eyes.

"Look at you, you look like a sheepdog. You're going to have to cut that soon."
He grinned, and shook his head. "Nope, I'm going for the record." His smile faded. "Mom, I need to talk to you. Is it okay?"
Giving him a puzzled frown, she nodded. "Of course, why would you even ask?" Sighing, he leaned back, tipping his chair against the counter behind him.
"Well it's about Tay, and I know you haven't really wanted to talk about him."
She sighed, resignedly, and toed his chair back down onto four legs. "Don't do that, you'll fall over. Okay. What is it you want to talk to me about, about Tay...? No, wait a minute." She got up and refilled her cup, flashed him a dubious look, and then eyed the cup in her hand. "Whaddaya think, Ike? Is this gonna get me through, or do I need a good stiff shot of whiskey in it?"
He laughed, knowing she'd do no such thing. "Whatever it takes, mom, really."
She shrugged and sat back down. "It was a thought, anyway... Okay, honey, what's on your mind?"
He looked down, idly tracing a finger along the pattern in the table cloth. He wasn't sure where to start. She waited, knowing he'd remain silent until he'd sorted out his words. Isaac, her careful one. Never one to just blurt out whatever was on his mind, as Taylor and Zachary were so apt to do. She waited with him, listening to the sounds of the children in the yard, wafting through the open windows.

Ike was thinking hard. He didn't want to make her angry, and he didn't want to hurt her feelings with what he was about to say. He knew she was aware of the situation, and he didn't want her to feel he was criticizing her. Finally, knowing there was no diplomatic way, he took a deep breath, and just plunged in.
"Mom, how long are you gonna let him just lay around not doing anything? He won't go anywhere but from bed to the couch, he won't move, he won't go out, he won't talk to anyone, he won't even take a shower or change clothes. Have you looked at him lately?"

She nodded. She knew. "What is it you'd like me to do about it, Ike? Can you tell me that?" Her words were short, but she wasn't angry, he could tell. She was really asking him.
He shook his head. "I don't know. But you have to do something. He's been in the same clothes for like, four days! He's sleeping in them for heavens sake. Don't even try to sit next to him, I mean it." He paused for a minute. "Actually, I lie, he's going to bed in them. He's not sleeping. He's up most all night every night. Only time he sleeps is when he dozes off in front of the TV... mom, he's really down, and nobody's doing anything about it!" He was getting upset now, could hear himself starting to raise his voice, and cut himself off. He didn't want to sit here yelling at her. It wasn't her fault. But someone had to do something. Frustrated beyond belief, he dropped his head into his hands, unable to continue.
Diana watched him. She understood his frustration. She'd talked to Taylor, over and over, and it always went the same way. He'd look at her with a vaguely confused air, nod once in a while, and drift back to the TV. There were times she thought he wasn't even really aware that she was there. That she was simply an annoying noise in the background.

She looked at Isaac, with his head in his hands, and sighed. He was right. This had gone far enough. She reached out and patted his shoulder. "Ok, Ike, I'll go talk to him. But don't expect miracles. You know what they told us. To let him alone and let him recover."
He nodded. "I know, but he's not recovering. He's avoiding the world. Mom, it's almost worse than... just talk to him?"
She nodded, gave his hand a squeeze, and headed into the living room to talk to Taylor.
She stood in the doorway, watching him, for a minute of two. Ike was right, he looked like hell, pale and thin, huge black circles under his eyes, hair matted and tangled, clothes that definitely looked slept in. She shook her head. This was absurd. She quietly walked over to him, and gently tapped his legs.

"Gimme some room, honey, I want to talk to you."
He curled his legs up, making space for her to sit down, but his eyes never left the TV.
She tried again. "Tay, look at me."
He did, for just a moment, but his eyes slid away again almost immediately.
She slid closer, noticing for the first time that the sweet, soapy fragrance she associated with him, was gone, replaced by something acrid, and faintly sour. Frowning, she reached out and pushed the tangled hair from his eye. "Sweetie, look at me. I need to know what's going on now."
He shrugged a little. "Nothings going on. Why do you think something's going on?"
She continued stroking his hair, hoping to keep him relaxed. The one emotion they'd seen from him, lately, the only break from this complete apathy, was anger.
"Well Tay, look at you. You look terrible. You're not wanting to get up, or go out with your friends, you don't seem to want to do anything at all... that's not like you. Can you tell me what's wrong?"
He looked at her blankly. "No, nothing's wrong." His eyes flicked back to the TV, and she deliberately put herself in his way, blocking his view.
"Tay, please. Talk to me. Tell me what's wrong?"
He sighed."Mom, I guess I'm just tired. And I don't really feel good. Besides, where can I go with all those people out there?" He slid down a little lower, and closed his eyes. "I'll get up and do something tomorrow. I'm just tired."
She knew he wasn't telling her anything, she knew it went way beyond tiredness.
"Tay, it's more than that, and we both know it." She spoke gently, "Now will you please tell me what's making you like this? What can we do to make it better for you?"
He shrugged again, refusing eye contact. "Nothing, I'm okay. I'm just tired."
Diana sighed. She knew it had nothing to do with "tired", although she didn't doubt his energy level was nonexistent. Taylor had never been unkempt, he'd never been apathetic. She had her suspicions about what the problem was, but she'd been warned not to bring anything up. To just "let him recover". She was about sick of it though, she could completely relate to what Isaac was feeling. Well, enough was enough. She wouldn't bring up anything upsetting, but he did need to clean up. There was just no reason to let this go on.
She stood up, taking his hands, and tugging. "C'mon Tay, you need to get up now. It's been way too long since you showered or changed, and I'm betting it will make you feel a lot better."
He yanked his hands back, scowling. "Mom, I don't feel like taking a shower, okay? I just want to sort of chill here for a while."
She sighed, unsure how tough to get with him. "Tay, sweetheart, it will make you feel a world better, just come get cleaned up. Come on now..." She continued trying to gently prod him, but he remained stubbornly fixed on the TV.

Listening from the next room, Isaac just couldn't take it anymore. He could hear her in there, tiptoeing around it all, and he'd had enough. Anger overpowering good sense, he stood up quickly, knocking over his chair in the process and stormed into the living room. If Tay wouldn't listen to his mother, by God, he'd listen to him.

"I can't take it anymore!" Practically shoving his mother out of the way, Isaac got right in Taylor's face, leaning over him. He crinkled his nose and made a disgusted face.

"YOU STINK! Do you realize that? You are completely disgusting me! All of us! You haven't showered in days, let alone even bothered to change your clothes and it is really really sickening! Me and Zac have to share a room with you and we can barely sleep 'cause the room is starting to reek from you! " He paused, maybe waiting for a reply. Getting none, he went on, louder. "You won't get up, you won't go out, you won't talk to anyone, you just lay here and mope! No matter what I say, or what I do, you just ignore me and lay there! You don't want to leave the house then fine! I am sick of begging you to go out! I don't care anymore! But if you are just gonna sit here all day and do nothing, then the least you can do is shower and change before you stink the whole damn house out!!"

Taylor just stared, baffled. He only barely understood what Ike was screaming at him, let alone WHY Ike was screaming at him. What had he done? He was staying out of everyone's way, and being quiet. He wasn't doing anything wrong. What was Ike yelling at him for?

Isaac having had about enough of Taylor's befuddled stare, had pulled him up off the couch, and onto his feet, by the front of his shirt, and was now dragging him down the hallway towards the bathroom.

Diana was trailing behind. She couldn't decide if she should intervene and tell Ike to lay off, or just let him do what he had to do. His outburst had taken her by surprise, and she knew she ought to stop it, but some small voice, deep inside, was telling her to leave it alone. Ike wouldn't hurt him, and maybe they'd all been pussyfooting around too much. She knew it was more frustration and fear motivating her elder son, that he wasn't really angry at Tay, so much as worried to death about him. She wished he'd picked a less violent way of showing it, but had to admit that her method hadn't done much. At least this had Taylor up and moving, if not under his own steam. Deciding to just let Ike be, she only prayed that this was a wake up call for Taylor, and that it wouldn't lead to bloodshed.

Isaac pulled a struggling Taylor roughly into the bathroom, and while still holding his brother in a death grip, he threw the shower stall door open and blasted the cold water. He turned and shoved Taylor into the stall and pushed him down under the freezing cold blast. Taylor screamed and tried to get up, but Isaac held him on the ground screaming just as loud right back in Taylor's face. It took little effort to hold him there, for all his yelling, Taylor didn't have much force behind his resistance.

Isaac finally let go of Taylor and stepped out of the shower, hair dripping, clothes soaked. He cracked a smile and said in a sickly sweet voice, "There, now was that so hard? While your in there, try soap." Then, he slammed the shower stall door shut, and stomped out of the bathroom, leaving Taylor writhing in the cold shower. Sputtering, wiping his eyes and spitting water, he fumbled for the knob and managed to shut the water off. He sat there for a minute, unable to believe that Ike had just done this to him.
Climbing to his feet, Taylor ripped the shower stall open and stepped out, eyes wide, a look of utter murder on his face. "How could you let him do that to me!??" He shouted at his mother.
Before Diana could even answer, he had shoved by her, and headed for his bedroom.


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