Chapter 21

Dan, not at all comfortable about it, led Isaac into the house. He wished the kid would back off, so he could go get CC, but Ike was just sticking to him like glue.
He spotted a woman in the van, who could only be Taylor's mother. The resemblance between them was uncanny.
Sighing, and hoping things weren't all about to explode again, he stopped in the living room. "Wait here for a minute, okay?" He moved into the kitchen, and Isaac, pointedly ignoring his request, followed.
He came around the corner, eyes taking in Taylor, face scratched and bleeding, eyes red, one hand held out to a man with a first aid kit, a hand so swollen and gashed it was barely recognizable as a hand.
Eyes wide, he also took in a woman, in much the same condition. Deduction coming into play, his fear, frustration and anger exploded out of him.
"God! What did you people do to him?!?!" He reached across the table, grabbing his brother's hand away from CC, "Who did this?? What the fuck is going on in here??!!!"
Amanda, startled at the intrusion, backed as far away as she could, a small whimper escaping her, and Taylor jumped up immediately.
"Ike get out!! Just get out! You don't have any idea what's going on!"
The swear from his brother had scared him. He'd seen Ike lose his temper only once, and it had been preceded by a word like that. He didn't want anyone else to get hurt. Isaac, undaunted, advanced.
"Tell me then!!! Where the fuck did you think you were going?!?!?! Do you have any idea what you've done to us??!!!" His face was livid, eyes flashing.
"Ike!!!" Taylor could see Amanda's eyes going vague, and knew he had to get Ike out of there. He stepped between them, putting himself squarely in his brother's space. "You get out! You're not helping!" He shoved Isaac out of the kitchen and back into the living room. "You can't do this, you can't go off on these people. You don't understand. Just go home, I'm okay, just go!"
"Yeah, sure, right, and you're coming with me..."
His hand on Taylor's arm was roughly torn away.
"No! I'm not going with you. Just go, Ike, just go!"
Isaac grabbed his face, hard. "You can't do this Taylor, you can't do this to us!"
"You let me go! You shouldn't even be here!!" Taylor pulled away from him, and stormed back into the kitchen. "Are you okay, Mandy?"
She nodded. "I'm fine."
"You don't look fine. Ike! Will you get out!" He was furious seeing his brother standing there again.
"No, not without you. She did this to you, didn't she? And you're standing there worrying about her? Taylor, what's wrong with you?"
Another knock on the door took their attention. Taylor wasn't surprised to hear his mother's voice.
Sighing, he looked imploringly at CC, who nodded, and got up.
"Danny, can you bandage up his hand? Put 4 or 6 of those strips on the bad cut."
He bypassed Isaac, knowing he'd get nowhere with the boy, and went to Diana.
"Mrs. Hanson? My name's CC. Yes, Taylor is here, and he's fine. Would you like to sit down? We need to talk."

Dan finished bandaging Taylor's hand, and nodded his satisfaction. "How's it feel?"

Taylor smiled a little. "Like a really big cut with a Band-Aid on it. It hurts like hell."
Daniel snorted, approving the snip of humor. "Sorry, best I could do. Mandy, do you have any Tylenol I could give him?"
She nodded, gesturing at the kitchen cupboard. "Taylor, you don't know how sorry I am. I had no idea that was going to happen."
He shook his head. "It's okay, I got my licks in, when I first got here. Looks to me like we're pretty even."
She shook her head, visibly upset. "Taylor, I would have cheerfully gutted you, you have no idea."
He paled slightly at that. "Mandy, what exactly happened?"
She sighed. "I was sort of dreaming. I thought you were somebody else. You don't know how sorry I am. Here I was trying to help you, and look what I did."
He reached for her hand. "It's not your fault, it's okay." He nodded thanks to Dan, who'd handed him five Tylenol, and a glass of water. "That's a lot of pills, isn't it?"
"It's a lot of cuts. And it'll knock back that headache."
Taylor's eyebrows went up at that. "How'd you know I have a headache?"
"It shows." Daniel sighed, his attention now going to Amanda. "You sure you're okay? That hasn't happened to you in a LONG time."
She nodded. "Yeah, I'm fine. When all is said and done, it was just a nightmare." "Pretty scary, Mandy, that you could have killed someone."
"I know it is. Taylor, I should go talk to your mother."
"What about?" He listened to the mumur of voices in the next room. "He sounds like he's got it under control."
She shook her head. "No, about you. About this..." she tapped the bandaged hand. "I should at least explain, apologize"
Taylor's eyes went huge, and his expression horrified. "NO!!! Amanda are you nuts? The last thing in the world you want to tell her is how you nearly killed me!"
"Taylor, she's going to want to know what happened. Better it should come from me, than someone else."
"Amanda." He got up, and got close to her. "She doesn't need to hear it at all. Trust me on this one. You do not want to tell that lady out there, about any of this. And if you're smart, you wont tell Ike either."
"Taylor, don't lie to them. Never do that. They love you, they'll want to know how you got hurt. You'll have to tell them."
"Fine, then I will tell them. You will not."
She eyed him, crossing her arms. "Oh really? Listen here, little boy, I already kicked your ass once, I can do it again. Don't think you can tell me what to do."
Daniel was grinning. This was the Mandy he knew. "He's right, though, Mandy, don't get into it with them, you're all unraveled."
Taylor nodded. "And there are two of us, and only one of you. We will sit on you, don't even doubt it."
Conceding defeat, she grinned, and sat back. Dan got up. "Mind if I put on some coffee, Mandy? I think this may just be a really long day."

Taylor lay, hands laced behind his head, in his own bed, in his own room, staring up at his own ceiling. His leave-taking from Amanda's had gone well, all things considered. His family had given him little choice but to go with them, and immediately, but there had been no obvious hostility. His mother had thanked Amanda profusely for taking him in.

"Thank God," he thought, "she doesn't know Amanda almost killed me."
He'd gone out with Isaac, waiting for what seemed an eternity in the van, while his mother talked with Amanda, and CC. She'd come out, a determined look he didn't at all like on her face. She'd remained completely silent the whole ride home, speaking only curtly, when they pulled into the driveway.
"Go on up to your room."
He'd done as she asked. Something about her tone brooked no argument. He'd been up there less than an hour, when blue lights flashing in the window caught his attention.
Jumping up and looking out, he saw the media circus being treated to a live presentation of "cops". At least six cruisers lined the street, lights flashing, officers at the ready. As he watched, they systematically ran off every last individual. Cracking the window, the words "private property" "trespassing" and "harassment" drifted in on the wind. In very little time, the crowd had dispersed, and for the first time in weeks, the area at the end of the drive was clear. He was turning away from the window, when a huge van turned in.
Double taking, he recognized CC behind the wheel, confusion now replacing the glee he'd felt seeing the press run off. As he watched, the van was parked, and the man who'd rescued both him, and Amanda, approached the back door.
He started out the door, freezing when he remembered he'd been sent up here. When his mother said "go to your room" you went, and you stayed, until she told you you could come out again. Frustrated, hoping someone would tell him what was going on, he waited.

"Don't you guys think, if you're gonna talk about Tay, he should be down here?" Zac's face displayed his unease. "This just isn't fair. We're down here having a family meeting, with this guy who's not in the family, about Tay, who is in the family, but this guy is here and Tay isn't."

The man called CC smiled. "Zac, you're absolutely right. Why don't you go get him? If that's alright..."
At the nod from his father, Zac got up, warily keeping his eyes on the stranger, and backed out of the room.
CC was pleased. He'd deliberately started a conversation about Taylor, wondering if anyone in the family would remark on his absence, or would move to defend or include him. He waited now, until Taylor trailed Zac into the room, and sat down.
He'd nodded briefly at CC, before settling with the same haunted expression the rest of his family wore. CC had studied their actions and reactions, sensing their caution, their suspicion, the air they gave off of people waiting for an attack.
This was a family falling apart. People so traumatized by events that they had no idea who to trust, who to depend on, where to turn. They'd been given wrong information, wrong advice, and no recourses. No referrals had been made, to get help for either them, or for Taylor.
They'd simply been left to simmer in their own broth, and the result was boilover. They hadn't even been able to rid themselves of the crowds of people congregating around their house, on their own. They'd been rendered helpless and ineffective, unable to make the decisions to act on any aspect of their situation.
He'd seen it before. Now, the question was, could he help them?

.

Chapter 22

From his spot on the floor, Isaac watched his brother's sleep. His mind whirling, knowing he wouldn't be able to fall asleep, he'd curled up on a bean bag, and taken out his journal. Instead of writing in it, however, he'd fallen into staring at Taylor and Zac.
Long into the night, the man, who called himself CC, had talked to them. He'd told them so much, so much that finally made sense. A huge weight seemed to have been lifted from Isaac's shoulders, and he found himself relieved of the terrible ambivalence that had hit him every time he looked at Taylor.
It had been awful, looking at someone he loved, and feeling so much hatred, so much resentment, mixed in with it. Looking at the people at the end of the drive, and feeling it was all Taylor's fault. Looking at his shattered career and thinking it was all Taylor's fault. Looking at Taylor and feeling so sorry for him, loving him so much, but at the same time hating him for what he was doing to the family.
CC's words tonight rang in his mind.
"You have to stop seeing him a an object, a burden. He's a human being, and we humans, we tend to react to things. He got himself into a nasty situation, but it wasn't intentional. People, human beings, screw up. He's just as entitled as any of us... He didn't get himself that prescription for an addictive drug, people he loved and trusted got it for him. Think about the message. Here's a pill to make everything alright. And it's okay to take it. In fact, we want you to take it. Now here are his friends, offering him more pills. On an intellectual level, he knew he shouldn't take them, but on an emotional level, it was easy to trick himself into justifying it. If these pills are okay, so are these. So it was stupid. Everyone does stupid things. Taylor, you don't deny that it was absolutely moronic, do you?"

Taylor had laughed at that, amazingly. "No, no I don't. Are you trying to make a point, CC?"
CC too, had laughed. "I think I am. I'm going to talk about you like you're not here, so sorry." He'd leaned forward then, his eyes boring into each of them in turn. "You people are in crisis. You have a kid with a huge problem. A really, really huge, mind boggling, life destroying problem. Yet you bury your heads in the sand and pretend that, because you pulled him home, and watched him finish withdrawal, because he's not any longer IN the situation, it's all okay. You're all sitting around wondering why, if it's all over, is he still acting so damn strange? You're all so angry at him, for not just jumping back into things as if nothing had ever happened. You've been told to let him alone, and things will all work out. I'm very sorry, but that's like trying to say that two Aspirins for the aches, and a nice coat of makeup to improve your color, will cure the pneumonia that's killing you! You've eradicated a symptom, that's all you've done. Things look okay on the surface, but inside, everything's coming apart. And it's not just Taylor. You all are so blown away that you can't even scrape up the motivation to call the cops, to get rid of the idiots standing around in your yard! You're looking at every single obstacle in your path as something else to ignore, and hope it goes away. How far down that road do you think you can go?"
Isaac thought about it, now. They'd all known all that, why had it taken a stranger to point it out, and make them look at it?

Gazing at Taylor, he tried to apply CC's words to the situation.
"You're going to have to help him, and help each other. You can't just sit around and wait for it to fix itself. He's trying to cope, and he's in way over his head. He doesn't have a chance in hell of making it on his own, yet you're all sitting here watching him drown, and going down with him. Now take away all of the gloss, all of the veils you've all thrown over everything, and really look at your situation. Don't shy away from it, it's yours, and you all own it. Not just Taylor. Yes, he got himself into it, but he didn't mean to. And he needs your help to get himself out of it. He's not a bad kid, and he's not hopeless. I've met one hell of a lot of kids that I knew I was wasting my time on. This kid, he is not one of them. But it's too much for him to handle on his own... How much more effective, if you all pick up part of this load, rather than watch one kid fold up under it, while you all stand around feeling helpless?"
His words had stung, and stung badly, but he'd mediated them almost immediately. "You are very strong people. This boy, all by himself, is managing to survive, and that's a testament to his strength. You're all still together. Proof of yours. It would have been very easy to just send him somewhere, I'm assuming that option was presented to you? You chose to keep him with you. A lot of families wouldn't have, not after the violence. I have to assume that you want him to get through this. So you're going to have to help him. You're going to have to make him do what needs to be done, whether he likes it or not. You're going to have to stop worrying about upsetting him, and stop worrying about rocking his boat, and just do what you have to do. If he won't get up, drag him out of bed. If he won't eat, make him sit there until he does. If you know he's not fine, and he says he is, ignore his words and go with what you know. Don't let him tell you to leave him alone, don't let him withdraw. And don't let things escalate to the point where you're beating the hell out of each other, in your frustration, again."
Isaac had been annoyed, angered, that this man was yelling at them this way, but he'd held his tongue, and CC had gone on to offer advice, and solutions, and all kinds of strategies to get them through it. By the time he'd finally left, promising to come back the next day, Isaac had the absurd impression that they'd acquired a guardian angel. Now, watching his brother sleep, he felt, ironically, like thanking him, for finding these people to help them.


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

"Hey, get up. What're you doing?" Taylor felt the kick on his foot, and rolled over, coming face to face with Daniel. "Huh? What're you doing here?" He stretched, and dug his fingers into the carpet, still half asleep.
"Taylor! We told you we were picking you up at 1:00 PM. It's now 1:15 PM. What're you doing crashed on the floor? You don't even have clean clothes on for God sake. Get up!"
Taylor scowled at him. "I don't wanna go anywhere, Dan, and could you stop kicking me?!"
Dan stopped the light tapping on Taylor's foot, and sighing in exasperation, turned and headed out the door.
Taylor's eyes closed, and he'd started to drift off again, when another voice disturbed his slumber.
"NO WAY! Up you get, you said you were going, and going you are. Now get your butt into a shower, and into some clothes. I don't have time to run around playing games, I came out here to get you, I took time away from people who probably needed it more than you do, so get moving." Taylor had barely opened his eyes when a hand grabbed the front of his shirt, and literally hauled him to his feet. "On your way."
"CC..."
"No... don't even bother arguing. Get going."
Taylor glanced at the doorway, where his mother was standing, and gestured at CC.
"You hear him?" She nodded. "Yes I do, I told you an hour ago to go get dressed. Is it my fault you ignored me?"
He stared at her, amazed that she was taking someone else's side, and she laughed a little. "Tay, you told him you'd go, and to come get you. He's right. If you changed your mind, you should have called him. Now go get dressed."
Feeling very picked on, and wanting very much to smack CC, Taylor stomped his way up the stairs. Moving to the end of the steps, CC called up. "Hey Tay?"
"What."
"Change those clothes too, they're the same ones you had on two days ago. And don't tell me your mom just washed them either, she's standing right here!"
"Shut up!"
Diana bristled at the rudeness, but CC only chuckled. Shaking his head he turned to Diana. "Why'd you let him get away with that hanging around sleeping all day, not washing or changing stuff? You let him do that, you're not helping him any."
She looked away from his gaze, dropping her eyes, and he gently tipped her face up to his. "Diana, I know it's hard. You don't want to ride him because you want things as easy as possible for him. But it doesn't work. It didn't work once, and it won't work again. Don't be afraid of him. And don't be afraid you'll hurt him. He needs these limits. He needs these boundaries. And he wants them. He's feeling he's in free fall, he wants that security. No matter how much he may complain." He let her go, then, turning to call up the stairs. "Hurry up! My time is not cheap!!!"
The muttered response was unintelligible, and Diana was glad. She had a feeling it was something that she'd have had to hit him for. She looked at CC.
"He's fifteen, CC, I can't very well pick him up and put him in the shower, if he doesn't want to go."
"Sure you can. And Diana, don't be afraid that if you make him mad, he'll run out and use. He won't."
"He has."
"Not because you made him mad. Because he was scared. You keep him in line, he'll feel better, and so will you. Trust me." He broke off then, seeing Taylor stomping down the stairs. Taylor brushed past both of them, and, still stomping and muttering, headed out the door.
CC smiled and followed him out the door. "Tay, you know, if you lose the attitude, you may just like what you see."
"Yeah, maybe. I'm just tired, CC, y'know?"
"Well..." CC's imperturbable logic went into play. "If you're tired, sleep at night. Now get in the van."


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

"Well." CC pulled the van into a huge drive, that rambled it's way around a sprawling complex of buildings, snuggled up against heavy woods. A huge yard off to one side, sprinkled with enticing, large and mysterious objects dominated the view. "This is the place."
"What place?" Taylor was less than enthused. They'd stuck him in the back of the van, and while gorgeously appointed with plush seats, thick carpeting, and real wood windowsills, a van was still a vehicle, and the back seat, however comfortable, was still the back seat, and his stomach was churning. He wanted out, and pretty damned soon.

CC noticed Taylor's paler, and the breathy quality to his voice. He knew the long ride had gotten to him. Still, if Taylor wanted to switch places with Dan, and ride up front, he could simply say so. He hadn't mentioned not feeling well. CC smiled to himself. The rules of Taylor's game dictated that someone notice, ask, and make an offer. CC didn't play that game. Taylor would learn. Manipulation got little result, around here.
"This, Taylor, is Livingston Center. This is where I work, and where Danny lives. We'd like to show you around."

Taylor glanced at Dan, his interest picking up. "You live here? Is it a school?"
Danny nodded, "Among other things. It's so many things all in one." The excitement in his voice was evident. He turned sideways, to face Taylor. "This place is so awesome, you can't even imagine. We wanted you to see it, so you'd know some of what's possible. Mandy lived here for a while, too." He grinned. "She didn't want to leave, CC had to kick her out."
Taylor's smile was faint. He was afraid he knew where this was going.
CC pulled the van around the back of the building, parked, and sat for a moment, gazing out over the huge yard, with it's complex constructions of iron, wood, and rope. Knots and groups of kids stood on, milled about, and climbed on various contraptions. For all their appearance of idleness, he knew those groups were actively engaged, and highly organized entities. He smiled approvingly, letting his eyes rove the property. Site of so many miracles. He always had a hard time looking away from it.
Sighing at his own sentimentality, he shut of the van and climbed out, gesturing the boys to follow him. They'd taken about six steps beyond the gate, when Taylor finally spoke up.
"Guys hang on, could I sit down someplace for a minute?"
Daniel glanced at him sharply, for the first time noticing how pale he was. "Yeah, sure, what's wrong?"
Taylor pointed to the van. "Riding. Just a couple minutes?"
Danny nodded, and led him over to a sunny spot along side the fence, plopping down onto the grass, and stretching out in the warmth of the sun.
"Fine with me, Taylor, I'll take any excuse." CC snorted. "The boys part gecco. Ever need to find him, look for the first sunny rock. Taylor, if the ride was making you sick, you should have said something."
Tay nodded, not really feeling as if talking were a good idea, and put his head down on his arms, waiting for the nausea to pass. The sun was warm on his back, offsetting the colder wind that had sprung up days ago. It was pleasant, and as he started to feel better, a peaceful, dozy state crept up on him.
"What a study in contrasts" CC thought, watching the two boys. Of an age, it was their only similarity, Danny as dark as Taylor was fair, Taylor gangly and thin, tall, all sharp points and angles, Danny slight, deceptively soft, seemingly with no edges to him at all. The sunlight vanished into Dan, making little headway against blue black hair and permanently sun darkened skin. That same sunlight illuminated Taylor, glinting off blond hair and fair skin, a splash of bright next to Danny's shadow.

"Their personalities" he thought "are as diverse as their looks." Taylor mobile and volatile, apt to detonate on a moments notice, shifting moods with the blink of an eye, Danny, relentlessly calm, solidly reliable, his mood changes fleeting and with reason. "If these two become friends, what incredible things we'll have happening. Not to mention the fireworks."
Grinning at the thought, he reached out and shook Danny, who appeared to be dozing.
"Come on, lizard boy, lets get moving."
Cracking an eye, "Lizard boy?", Danny climbed to his feet, and reached a hand down to Taylor, who still looked a bit like something the cat dragged in.
"Come on, take a look around, you'll feel better in a few minutes."
They'd begun to walk out into the yard when a shadow detached itself from the edge of the woods, and ran toward them. The shadow, as it got nearer, resolved itself into the shape of a young girl.
"Danny!" Her voice carried across the lawn, faintly frantic, and Taylor saw CC roll his eyes.
"What now? Dan, you can't leave for five minutes."
Dan's eyes, also heavenward, matched CC's.
"DANNY!"
"Yeah, stop shouting, I'm right here."
He made a face at Taylor, who knew enough to stifle his grin, as the girl pounded up to them, out of breath.
"Danny, hurry up, Jose's up the tree, he says he won't come down until you're there. He's been up there all morning."
CC laughed. "What if he hadn't come back until nightfall? Would Jose still be up there?"
She nodded. "I seriously think so." Noticing Taylor, she stuck her hand out. "I'm Robin."
Face wary, he shook her hand. "Taylor."
"You joining us?" Her expression was so open, her voice so welcoming, that for a moment he wished he could have answered yes.
Sighing, he shook his head. "No, I don't even know why I'm here, so I don't think so."
Laughing, she nodded understanding. "Been there. Done that. Now, if you'll excuse me, we have a kid stuck up a tree. Danny, come on, can you get him to come down, please?"
Dan glanced at CC, who nodded. Shrugging apologetically at Taylor, "What can I say? Duty calls..." Dan ran off into the woods with Robin, leaving Taylor thoroughly confused, and powerfully interested.
He turned to CC, eyebrows somewhere up above his head, "Up a tree?"
CC nodded. "It happens. They want to try out the course, get up there, discover that they aren't ready, and panic."
"Aren't ready for what?"
"Oh, to jump."
Taylor's eyes were huge. "Jump?"
"Jump."
"Out of a tree?"
"Yes, out of a tree."
"Oh." He thought about it for a minute. "Is it very high up?"
CC shook his head, "Nah, only about 60 feet."
"60 feet?!"
"Yep."
Looking baffled, Taylor shook his head. "There's a reason you want this person to jump, from 60 feet up, out of a tree?"
CC nodded, eyes sparkling. "There's a reason for everything we do here."
Taylor appeared to chew on that for a moment, before grinning, "Okay! You win! You got me! I want to see this place!"
Smiling at the enthusiasm in his voice, CC pointed toward the woods. "Well, we might as well start with getting Jose, out of the tree."
Taylor shook his head. "Out of the tree. Of course. Get the kid out of the tree."


.

Chapter 23

Amanda stared at the canvas in front of her.
The idea had come to her this morning, in the kitchen, at the coffeepot, no less. Pouring water into the back of the machine, she'd flashed back to filling a basin with warm water, to repair a broken boy on her couch. Smiling, pausing in her task, she reflected on how very much on her mind he'd been, since his departure. This boy had touched her in ways she hadn't thought possible.

She'd finished making her coffee, and sat down at her table, mug in hand, thoughts drifting with the steam. So many ghosts he'd stirred up, so many demons she'd thought exorcised. It had been years since she'd thought about it all, and she hadn't let her mind anywhere near Michael since his death. It wasn't a bad thing, she now thought, to be made to look at those things.
The nightmare, and her attack on poor Taylor, had shown her that there were still battles being fought, issues she needed to deal with. Pushing them down, obviously, given the evidence of a boy's fright, and a stitched up hand, hadn't worked at all. She'd called CC to talk to Taylor, maybe she should get together with him for herself. God knew it had been ages since they'd really spent any time together. CC was good for her, he always had been, even if being around him WAS like being hit by a freight train. Maybe, she'd thought with a laugh, he could even tell her how to get Taylor the hell off her mind. He'd been in there so much, her mind flashing on everything that had happened, from the time he'd careened onto her front lawn, to the time he'd walked, subdued yet somehow almost serene, out her front door.
Sighing, and getting up to refill her mug, she'd reflected on what appeared to be a growing obsession. She just couldn't get the child out of her head. She'd laughed at her next thought, that if she didn't find some way to express all of the emotions he'd generated, she was likely to become a ravening Hanson fan.
Heading back to her chair, feeling a bit guilty that she was doing nothing but woolgather, her eyes lit on her paintbox. Brows knit, an idea forming in the back of her mind, she stared at it.
"Uh oh" she thought. "Inspiration is about to hit." She knew the feeling. Her stubborn muse would never let her see an idea all at once, it would come to her as she painted. The urge to paint now replacing everything else, she plunked the mug ungraciously down on the table, and headed down the hall. God forbid she should have to go buy a canvas, she was sure she had one left, and by God, she'd better.
Laughing at herself, the mental comment "You're so obsessive" flashing through her mind, she triumphantly hauled out a last blank screen. Now, as she sat staring at it, the seed of idea that had taken root began to grow.
"Okay." This time she spoke out loud. Talking to herself was a habit she had no intention of breaking. "Here we go."

An observer would have perhaps been frightened at the intensity the girl, cross legged on the floor, was displaying.

Eyes boring into her work, now flashing humor, now filling with tears, as memory and emotion flowed from her soul onto the canvas, face reflecting a million conflictions. Blond whisps escaped the headband, intended to keep them out of her eyes, going unnoticed in her concentration.
She'd long since thrown down her brushes, working this one with her hands, and her cheeks, nose and forehead were smeared with paint. Music pulsed around her, its energy somehow her own, her thoughts flying onto the canvas with the flow of the music. Her hands took on a life of their own, as her heart directed.
A million thoughts, all fighting for expression, she saw them in front of her. A car, careening wildly down the road, and a frightened, violent child struggling for escape. A burden, best left to someone else, a problem, a source of anger, her fist connecting with a face already bruised from a mother's hands. A dark room, moonlight the only illumination, and a boy's face as he listened to another's story... Flashes of blond hair in headlights, catlike eyes filled with grief and anger. Winces of pain, and memories of suppleness, a boy climbing over the back of the couch, grinning. A glimpse of the boy who cared enough to take a chance on a girl with a knife, rather than run out the door. The boy who pushed his brother out so a stranger wouldn't be frightened. She saw him broken and bleeding and crying, tearing at the windows trying to get out. Then laughing, holding his hand out, threatening to sit on her if she moved.
All these moments she saw and brought them out on the canvas. Time ceased to exist, and the girl let her soul speak.

Hours later, Amanda sat back, leaning on her palms, eyeing her work. The incredible rush of emotion had faded, everything transferred onto the canvas in front of her. Her eyes roaved the unfinished painting.

She could slow down now, she could make it into what she wanted. No rushing, now. She leaned back into her work, eyes calm now, quiet.
She smiled as her finger shaded his cheek bone. It was as if she were not touching the canvas but comforting him again. There were no bruises on this face. Her apology for having hit him. His face, without bruise or mark. Her eyes roamed the canvas again. She could see him in there, everything he'd shown her, from the first time she saw him on the lawn, to the last images of him with Isaac in the car. He looked so sad, yet at peace somehow. Had that haunted serenity been imagined? She didn't think so. She'd shown him as much as he'd shown her. Her fingers worked slowly, effortlessly, shading, defining, and she saw the look she was trying to capture. Had it really been there? The look of someone who's suddenly stepped away from the brink, who's seen the drop in front of them just in time.
She thought it had. She loved the look, she'd never seen it in Michael, but she'd seen it in Taylor. The look of calm in eyes that had been filled with desperation. No longer scared or broken, a world that had been crashing down, suddenly diverted. She'd seen it only briefly, but she loved it.
She paused at his hand and gave it a slight scrape of her thumb to lighten it. She wondered how his hand was, if it still hurt. She wondered if she'd ever see him again, this boy who'd somehow fastened himself to her heart. Would he make it? Sitting back, gazing at the painting, close to complete, in front of her, her spirit suddenly felt light. Her voice, now the only sound in the room, rang with faith. "He'll make it."


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

Well. He was gone, and Diana felt guilty pleasure. God knew, she loved him, and while he'd been missing, the grief in her had been overwhelming. But now, knowing he was safe, the respite was welcome. He brought a tension into the house. Sighing, sipping her coffee, she listened to the silence. The kids, for once, seemed to know to leave her to her reflections.
CC'd had so much to say to them, so many suggestions... He'd been heaven sent, he had to have been. Just his ability to get Taylor to respond was amazing. If she'd been the only one, this morning, telling the boy to get up and go, she'd have argued herself blue, and chances are he'd still be lying on the floor in three day old clothes. For whatever reason, he responded to CC.
"Maybe," she thought smiling, "it's self defense. CC certainly is overpowering. He probably feels he has to do what he says, or just be mowed over." Thinking back to the night CC had spent with them, her brow furrowed. There was still something bothering her. Her mind drifted back.

CC and Taylor, alone finally, in the kitchen, their voices filtering, muffled and faint, into the living room. Hearing Taylor's tone pick up in intensity, and feeling not the least bit guilty, Diana had quietly moved to the doorway, listening. What had followed was an exercise if frustration.
"Yeah, but CC, she's not okay! That's not okay, that stuff happening."
"Taylor, she is. It's not something new for her. She's fine. She still feels bad about it though, she wants to talk to your mom"
"I know, but she doesn't have to."
"Responsibility, Taylor."
"Right. She had no idea she was doing it. No harms done. There's no reason..."
Just as she felt on the verge of understanding what they were talking about, Isaac spoke from behind her. "What are you doing?"

Diana had jumped, yelped, then frantically listened to make sure she hadn't been heard. She smiled as she remembered scrambling to come up with an excuse as to why she was standing in the hallway outside of the kitchen, ear pressed to the door. Isaac didn't even wait for an excuse, he knew he caught her and that was it. Waving away her excuses with a grin, he'd shoved her back into the living room.
"Damn him, when did he get so smart?" she thought. It had amused him terribly, and she'd gone back to sit on the couch, feeling more than a little sheepish, and extremely frustrated.

Now, that frustration returned. Something had happened between her son, and that girl. She didn't know what, but something, and it bothered her. She'd seen that the girl had been crying, that day in the house. CC had refused to let her into he kitchen, where Taylor, the girl, Amanda, and another boy had been, and Taylor had bodily thrown Isaac from the room, but she'd caught a glimpse of blond hair, and tears. Something had been going on. She'd seen blood on the floor, and on the kitchen doorjamb, and Taylor's voice had had a hysterical note she hadn't much cared for. Still, just hearing his voice had been the biggest relief of her life. Yes, he'd been yelling, but he was alive. A very short time later he'd been in the van with her, on his way home, and she'd been given several suggestions and promises. Things were okay, or as okay as could be expected, but still, that nagging suspicion that something important had happened, something that was being hidden from her, still lingered.

Sighing, feeling a bit disgruntled, and thinking it was much too quiet, suddenly, she got up to check on her brood. This much silence was never to be trusted.

She knew Isaac was napping, he'd complained of a headache earlier, and was sleeping off the painkiller he'd taken. The rest, though, could only be up to no good.
As she started up the stairs, she was rewarded with a loud crash...
Nodding, "I knew it was too good to last." she headed for the source...

Isaac too had heard the crash... In fact, he was the crash... He had tried getting out of bed while still a little groggy, not noticing his foot, tangled in the bedsheet... The tumble from his bunk, to the floor, had been a long one, and for a second he thought he'd gone right through the floor.

He was laughing hysterically, hopping on one foot trying to disentangle himself, when Diana finally made it up the stairs. She was about to turn the corner into the boys' room when Mackenzie popped his head out of his room.
"It wasn't me. I didn't do it."
Nodding, seeing her eldest son in the predicament he was in, she laughed. "I see that, Mackie." She turned into Isaac's room, making a fortuitous grab, just as he finally lost his battle with the sheet, saving him from a nasty collision with the bottom of the top bunk. "Isaac, for heaven sake." She was smiling. "How do you manage these things? You didn't hurt yourself did you?" He was nearly laughing too hard to answer her. Holding her shoulder while he untied his feet, he managed to gasp out, "No, no, I'm fine. Humiliated, but fine."
He grinned at her now, finally managing to stand upright. "I think the bed won, though."
Diana was happy to hear him laughing. A few days ago, he would have been cursing and yelling about this.
Mackenzie's voice suddenly piped up from the doorway. "Told you it wasn't me."

She turned to speak to him, and found herself face to face with Isaac's shoulder.
"You know," she remarked, standing on tiptoe in a futile attempt to see past him. "It would be easier to yell at him if you weren't so damn tall."
Snickering, he stepped aside, just in time to see Mackie run, giggling, back down the hall. "Ah, well, sorry mom, he got away."
He headed past her, down the stairs, and she trailed him, feeling good. There was hope in her today, that things would finally work out.
There was laughter in the house again, and it was good.

.

Chapter 24

Daniel looked at Taylor, and burst into laughter. "Taylor, your face is so screwed up, you look like a demented owl! What's wrong?"
Taylor scowled, deepening the V his brows had made, between his eyes, the inspiration for Dan's comment. He flung himself onto the ground, decidedly sulky. "Quit it. I don't get any of this."
Dan plopped down onto the grass, next to him, assuming his usual languid sprawl. Eyeing Taylor, he swallowed his laughter. Taylor did look just like an owl, but he could see that his humor wouldn't find a receptive audience.
"Tay, tell me what you don't understand."
Sighing, Taylor shook his head. None of this meant anything. He'd wandered the grounds for hours, seeing people in trees, and people in valleys, people building huge constructions, people painting murals on walls, inside and outside he'd seen dozens of busy, focused, and very involved groups, all completely devoted to whatever they were doing. He'd seen groups sitting and talking, and solitary beings writing quietly in journals. He couldn't deny that everyone looked occupied, but the point eluded him.
Now, sitting on the grass, tired, hungry, and frustrated, his numbed mind refused to make any meaning out of the group before him. There were perhaps six individuals, of varying shapes and sizes, all talking at once. In front of them was a wooden wall, a shallow pit, and various pieces of rope, wood, and iron. Evidentially, the goal was to get over the wall, without touching the ground, without falling in the pit, using the various scraps available to them.
He watched them struggle for a while, marveling at the uselessness of it all.
"I just don't get it, Danny, why don't they just walk around that hole and jump over?" "Because the rules say they can't."
"But why? I mean look, that girl?"
He pointed a girl who'd fallen off the rope at least half a dozen times. An attempt to ride with someone else had also failed, landing her in the shallow pit of leaves. Laughing, she'd get up each time, brush herself off, and huddle with the others, presumably to plan another attempt.
"She's trying to swing over that, she's died like, six times, if they fall in that hole, they're dead, right? Obviously she can't do it, so why..." He shook his head. "Why waste all this time?"
"Taylor."
He stopped, arrested by the exasperated tone in Daniel's voice. Flinching a little, he glanced sideways at the other boy. He knew he was missing something.

"The goal is to find a way, by co-operation, to get everyone across, even the ones who can't do it on their own. They'll work, together, until they figure it out." He eyed Taylor intently. The dubious look on his face said it all. Ah well, it took time. 'You're missing the whole point, aren't you?"
Taylor looked away. He was tired, and beginning to be bored, as well as frustrated. He knew that he was supposed to be noticing something, here, but all he was seeing was a lot of people working very hard, for no discernable reason.

"Well what's all this got to do with me? I mean, why am I here?"
Dan stretched out on his back, arm thrown over his eyes, to block the sun.
"We just thought you might like to see it. I live here, and I think it's a pretty cool place. But if you don't get it, you don't get it. It's no big deal." He stayed quiet for a moment, then, reluctantly, loath to give up his spot in the sun, climbed to his feet, and beckoned to Taylor. "Come on, you've seen what there is to see, lets go find CC."
As they walked away, a sudden silence sprang up behind them, as most of the participants at the obstacle field suddenly went quiet.
Taylor turned, and saw several sets of eyes, and various expressions, all trained on him. Eyes narrowing, a breath of anger stirring in him, he took a step back toward them. Dan's hand on his arm stopped him.
"It's okay, they're just curious about you. Let's go." His voice was warm, and his face held a hint of amusement. "Subtle, they are not. Now lets go find CC. With CC comes dinner, and I'm starving."
Taylor followed him, shooting the occasional suspicious glance back over his shoulder. The majority of the group had turned their attention back to their task, but one girl separated herself from them, jogging to catch up to the two boys.
"Danny! Dan, wait up!"

He stopped and turned, grinning. "Hey Ruby. You're not supposed to run out on them. Had enough?"
Ruby, the girl who'd had so much trouble finding her way over the barricade, laughed, a laugh that rang throughout the compound, and lit up her entire face. "Baby, they need a break from me. I was wondering about your friend here."
Her face, open and friendly, turned to Taylor, seemingly undismayed by his look of open suspicion and hostility. Daniel nodded, and gave Taylor a little shove, moving him slightly closer to the girl, and her wonderful grin. She smiled, wider if possible, and stuck out a hand.

"Hi, my names Ruby. You're Taylor, aren't you?"
His gaze, uneasy, flicked to Dan, and then quickly around, as if searching for help. Seeing no way out, he settled his eyes on her again, unsure, and very uncomfortable... "I... yeah. Hi."

She took the half offered hand, and gripped it warmly. "Taylor, I have to tell you, I love your music. Gotten me through a lot of tough times. I'm real sorry about all the trouble you've been having. Are you going to be staying with us?"
He shook his head, more nervous now that he'd gotten a good look at her, and realized that she was in fact not a young girl, as he'd first thought, but a grown woman, and one who seemed to know all about him. His nerves began to fire as he attempted to answer her.
"I... I don't know why I'm here."

"Well..." She turned to Daniel, her hand still enfolding Taylor's. "Dan, this poor boy looks about to have a breakdown." She toned down her manner a little, looking back into Taylor's eyes. "Don't let it scare you. It's a good place here. You'll find a welcome." He shook his head again. "Why would I be staying?"
Now it was her turn to look puzzled. "Well, if you're not staying, why are you watching?"
His face closed up, at that. He didn't know, and he didn't know how to answer her. His walls went up, as he saw the friendly warmth in her eyes replaced by cold suspicion. Now her eyes narrowed, and she took a step back, dropping his hand. "This had better not be some 'Famous Rock Star mixing with the rabble for publicity' bullshit, because man, that rots!"
The contempt in her voice burned, she may as well have been holding a flame to him. He shook his head frantically. "No, no, I don't even know!" He turned to Dan, who, he was alarmed to see, wasn't doing anything about the situation.

Ruby advanced on him, slowly backing him against the fence.
"Well, Mr. Rock and Roll Star, if that's what your game is, you can forget it! None of us here are gonna go for that media, heartwarming, human interest SHIT! We all have better things to do! So you can take your lily white, golden boy ass the hell out of here!" Her finger was relentlessly poking his chest as she shouted, shoving him backward.

He came up against the fence, now, and, having no choice but to defend himself, he stepped into her space, grabbing the hand that was shoving him. "I'm not here for any media shit!" He hadn't meant to shout, somehow it had just come out. He was tired, edgy, and his head ached. Before he'd had any chance to think, his temper broke free. "I don't know why I'm here! I don't even want to be here!" He stepped closer, now forcing her to take a step away. "You can just step back outta my face! I don't care about this place, and I don't care about any of you! I'm sure as fuck not here with the goddamn newspaper! I don't even want to be here! THEY brought me here, and if I'm lookin' at you, it's 'cause they said I had to, not 'cause I like lookin' at you're face!"

His hand squeezed hers, white-knuckled, and her face reflected pain. Two sets of eyes blazed into each other, neither willing to back down. Small bones in her hand had begun to grind, when a slight, dark, and very gentle hand pressed down on theirs, and a soft voice broke in. "That's enough."

The very quietness of Danny's voice brought them up short. Two sets of eyes, chocolate brown and ice blue, stared into his. Those same eyes flicked to each other, and Taylor slowly relaxed his grip on Ruby's hand.

Rubbing at it, eyes flashing, she backed away. Dan's calm gaze took in both of them.
"Have some temper, guys, really." He gave Taylor a gentle nudge, a step or two further from Ruby, and reached for her hand. "Is your hand okay?"
She nodded, scowling at Taylor. "It's sore though. Pretty boy here is stronger than he looks."
Taylor snorted and turned away. "Daniel, let's just go, okay? I've really had enough."
Ruby, unable to resist another jibe, stepped closer. "What's the matter? The dregs here more than you can take?"
Daniel chided her gently. "Ruby, come on, you know how you felt when you first saw this place. You didn't know what was going on, either. Why you being so mean, now?"
"Mean? You think I'm being mean? He didn't deny being here to stare."
Daniel understood her reaction. Feeling on display was never easy, and he knew that Taylor's professional status probably made it even worse, the horrible feeling of being judged, and found inferior, by someone you looked up to. His soul ached, knowing, how hurt she must feel, friendly, open Ruby, to be saying these things, how wrong she was yet unable to tell her for fear of invading Taylor's privacy... He wished Taylor would just say something.
Glancing at him, he was alarmed to see the other boy shivering violently, face pale. Whether with reaction, or cold, he didn't know. Shaking his head, knowing it was past time to get Taylor out of here, he motioned Ruby back toward her group.
"Why don't you go on back, we'll talk later."
She nodded, still scowling, and turned her attention to Taylor. Something in the boy's face, and Daniel's protective attitude toward him, was making her uneasy. She suspected she'd misjudged, and lashed out at him unfairly. Swallowing her anger, along with her opinions, she tried to smooth it over.
"Taylor, if I'm wrong about you, I'm sorry." She started back toward her people, paused, and turned back to the boys. "If you are going to join us here, you'll..."
He broke in, rejecting her offer of truce, tone petulant. "I already told you I'm not going to. I don't like it here. I don't like any of this."
She smiled, slightly, and reached out to touch his arm, a gesture she intended to be comforting. His reaction was completely unexpected. His head flashed up, eyes blazing, as he flung her hand off of his arm. He backed up so quickly that for a moment Daniel doubted his own senses, questioning whether Ruby's gentle touch had in fact been a blow.
Startled, Ruby jumped back, eyes filled with confusion, yet ironically, a bitter understanding. Nodding a farewell at Daniel, she started back to her people.
He watched her move dejectedly back into the group, feeling badly for her. When he looked again toward Taylor, the boy was already halfway back to the main building.

.

Chapter 25

"I don't want to wait! I want to go home!" Taylor brushed off Daniel's restraining arm, and continued storming down the corridor, ignoring the insistent nattering from behind him. CC's office. Where was it? If he could find CC, he could go home. It never occurred to him to ask Danny where CC was. Exhaustion, confusion, the fear that this was all a trick to keep him here, the pounding head, from not eating, and the knowledge that if he ate he'd be sick, the people looking at him, the feeling of being judged, and too many memories of too many strangers, it all crowded in on him, distorting his ability to reason, and coherent thought fragmented. The small dark voice of irrationality, a constant untold whisper, had begun to shout, drowning out anything like sense. He felt trapped, hunted, and he had to get out. Repeatedly shoving Daniel's hands away from him, he stalked, wild eyed, through the halls of an alien territory.
"Taylor, you can't just go running around in here!! Will you wait please??" Daniel trotted after him, frustration and worry stamped across his fine features. He saw the frantic look in the other boy's eyes, knew that all was far from alright with Taylor, and knew he had to help him, but first he had to catch him, and it looked doubtful. Sighing, he finally caught up to him, as Taylor hit the dead end that was the stairwell... "Taylor!! Will you stop?! You're being ridiculous! CC's office is right down there, but you have to stop this!" He reached for Taylor's hand, softening his tone. "Tay, you have to calm down. It's okay. I'm gonna take you to CC, and he's gonna take you home. But you have to stop this."

Taylor whirled on him, fury flashing from his eyes. "How?! How?! Why are you people doing this to me?!" He shook free of Dan's grasp, eyes darting around the confined space at the end of the hall. "You can't keep me here, you know you can't!"
Daniel, seeing that reasoning would be impossible, reached for Taylor again, one hand gently taking his arm, the other slipping up to the back of his neck, his intent to sooth, and lead him the few steps up the hall to the haven of CC's space. He was unprepared for the grip on his wrist, fingers digging into thin bones. He looked up, startled and in pain, into eyes lacking any shred of rationality. Before he could blink, he'd been pinned to the wall, hands immobile, Taylor's weight, slight though it was, enough to trap him there.

Taylor struggled to keep some sort of control, to fight down the horrifying urge to bite the boys face, to overpower the blink of insanity on the edge of his mind. Daniel's image was warping, mutating into someone else, someone he couldn't think about and not lose what was left of his senses... He had to get out. He had to get away. That hand, under his hair... Too angry, too panicked, to notice the frozen fear on the other boy's face, or the fact that he'd nearly stopped breathing, he shoved him, now unresisting, brutally hard into the wall, on hand gripping the fabric of the boy's collar. "You don't touch me!" His voice, a raw scream, rang throughout the halls. "You don't ever touch me! Now let me go!!"
His words, and his breath, cut off suddenly, as strong arms seized him from behind, and he was spun around to stare into steady eyes. "THAT is enough. You calm down." The voice was firm, devoid of any emotion, calm and cool. "It's all okay, whatever you think is going on, you're wrong." The words flowed over him, a senseless babble, but the tone began to mediate the overwhelming need to run, and humming muscles began to relax. Then grip on him tightened, and he found himself suddenly surrounded by those arms, picked up off his feet. Panic increased a hundredfold, and he struggled, almost fighting free, a shriek of almost animal terror ripping out of him.
CC, knowing that whatever the boy was seeing, it wasn't him, tightened his grip still more, and slipped into what he called his 'Sooth and croon'. Mindless, meaningless reassurance, spoken barely on the edge of hearing. He let words flow out of him, over the young boy in his arms. He'd made it most of the way to his destination, when Taylor, who's struggles had begun to taper off, suddenly flared into fury again, nails ripping across CC's face, teeth sinking deep into his arm.

CC grit his teeth and held on, his words cut cleanly off, biting back a cry of pain. Six more steps had him through the door. He quickly let the boy down, moving to block the door in case he bolted, hand pressed over his bleeding arm. "You stay here." His voice was strained. "You don't move. I'll be back, It's all going to be okay, I'll take you home. But you stay. Right. There." He quickly stepped back into the hallway, resisting the urge to lock the door behind him. He knew that Taylor, senses hyperactive, keyed and sensitive, would hear the snick of the bolt turning, and panic all the more.

Keeping one eye on the door, he hurried to Daniel, who, had slid down the wall, to crouch on the floor, head hidden in arms. CC knelt by the boy, hands stroking gently at hair, arms, back, voice soft. He understood what was happening here, he'd never dreamed that Taylor had such violence left in him, never dreamed that he could do this to Daniel. He sat with the boy until help, in the form of Elaine, mother to the world and savior to many, called for at the first sound of Taylor's screaming, arrived, wrapping her large arms around the boy, and signaling CC. "You go take care of the other one, I've got Danny boy, here." She lifted him effortlessly, and CC was relieved to see the boy's arms loop around her neck. Good. He was responding. Nodding grimly at her, he turned down the hall, wondering what kind of a mess he was going to find with Taylor.

CC stared at the shivering boy, crouched in the darkest corner of the infirmary. He didn't approach, he wasn't going to touch him. Not yet. He'd wait and let some of the panic fade, first.

Instinct screamed contact, yet years of experience spoke time. Let him be, let him calm down, physical touch, no matter how comfortingly intended, would only exacerbate the situation. He felt his voice would do much the same, and so he waited, fifteen minutes, half an hour, silently watching.
Something had triggered this, God alone knew what, and a solution had yet to present itself. Nobody had said anything about any kind of post traumatic syndrome, and as far as he knew, aside from the stress of a lifestyle change, and the accidental addiction he'd suffered, there was nothing in his past to indicate anything like this. Of course, what had happened between him and Zac was traumatic, but CC thought this went deeper. Taylor was experiencing some sort of flashback. Whatever it was, it was nasty, bringing out a violence clearly beyond the boy's control.
Sighing, watching the child shiver, he glanced at the clock. An hour. If Taylor hadn't come down any by now, he wasn't going to. Knowing he couldn't simply stand and watch any longer, he stepped lightly to the supply closet, pulling down a flannel blanket. Ruefully eyeing his bitten arm, a deep double gash that had only just stopped bleeding, he moved tentatively into the boy's reach, and gently wrapped the blanket around the quaking form... He stepped away quickly, alert for reaction. The anticipated violence never came.
Taylor reached up, pulled the edge of the blanket to his chest, uncurled himself, and finally looked up into CC's eyes. The wildness had gone, replaced with confusion, and a glazed, drifted focus.
CC nodded at him, and spoke softly. "Mind if I sit down?"
Taylor shook his head, and CC, ignoring his jittering nerves, slowly lowered himself to the floor, next to the boy. Careful not to make contact, he was surprised when Taylor reached out, pulling him in next to him. CC could feel the trembling, and knew immediately that this was not a typical situation. The boy was terrified. Trusting that touch was what Taylor was seeking, CC slipped an arm around his shoulders, tenseness fading as Taylor leaned into him.
"Want to tell me what happened, Tay?" His voice held no accusation, no anger, and Taylor knew he had nothing to fear from him.
Shaking his head, eyes wide, voice shaking, he looked up at CC, bewilderment filling his eyes. "I... I don't know. I don't even know what happened."
"Do you remember?"
Taylor nodded. "I do, but not like it was me, more like I watched it. CC..." His voice stepped up a notch, panic beginning to infiltrate. "CC, I don't know what happened! I don't know why I did that!"
CC nodded, and climbed to his feet. "That..." He offered a hand up to the boy, and pulled him to his feet "is what we're going to have to find out." He let go of Taylor's hand, watching as he swayed, trying to find balance. "You okay? What's wrong?"
Taylor shook his head, holding the wall. "Dizzy. I don't know." He looked up with misery filled eyes. "Am I just crazy, CC? Is that all it is?"
CC shook his head, face serious. "No, Taylor. You are definitely not crazy. But something is going on, and we're going to find out what it is, now come on. I'll take you home."