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Peering Through Windows

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 But if someone like you
Found someone like me,
Then suddenly
Nothing would ever be the same.

 My heart would take wing,
And I'd feel so alive
If someone like you
Found me...

- Someone Like You, Jekyll & Hyde


He was wandering a lonely corridor, bare feet whispering over the cold floor. He kept walking and walking, but he never got anywhere. Where was he?

Stopping, Kyle looked around and all at once he could hear the music, the nocturnes; soft and faintly sweet, but so dark too, almost like rich, expensive chocolate. Obediently, he followed the music until he came to the basement door, but he couldn't bring himself to open it. The music was becoming unbearably loud now so he tried to cover his ears, but that didn't do a thing. If anything, the music became so loud that he was sure that it was playing right inside of his head instead of from some unseen force. Looking down at the white tiled floor, he gasped to see the red seeping out, bringing with it the stench of old coins, of despair, of utter fear and hopelessness. He whimpered, backing away.

"This isn't the truth," he whispered. "I've never been able to find the truth down there."

The red tide continued to flow from under the door and the nocturnes were cutting through his skull, drenching Kyle's brain as the blood (it had to be blood, right?) soaked his feet. He tried to run but he slipped, thudding to the floor when all of a sudden the music stopped, and the entire world became silent. Breathing a sigh of relief, Kyle tried to rise when he heard the footsteps behind the basement door, slowly ascending the staircase in discordant taps; drawing closer as he watched with growing fear. After a moment, the footsteps stopped but then there was a knock, a rap rap rap against the wood, and Kyle was sure that his heart was going to burst.

"Aren't you going to let me out, Kyle?" Craig's voice called out from behind the door. "Or are you going to leave me in here, along with everyone else?"

Kyle could only stare with bulging eyes at the door, his body giving off waves of acrid terror-tinged fear; sweat pooling on the floor along with the blood.

"Open the door, Kyle, or I will," Craig said, and then the doorknob began to twist slowly; back and forth, back and forth.

Frantically, Kyle tried to get to his feet but he kept slipping on the gore, until he was crying and desperately trying to crawl toward the door, but no matter what, he couldn't reach it.

"Wait, just wait," he pleaded. "I'll open the door, Craig; I'll open the -"

But the door was already swinging open of its own accord, and when Kyle looked up there was Craig, his head at a bizarre angle, his neck jutting like it had been broken in the fall. He stared down at Kyle with his calculating eyes.

"Can't say I didn't give you a chance," he murmured, smiling widely. "I've always given you too many chances, Kyle, but you already knew that."

"N-no, stay away," Kyle whispered, backing away now but not getting anywhere. "Stay away, Craig!"

"You belong to me," Craig said, beginning to walk toward him. "Now come and take your medicine like a good boy, then we can start again -"

"No! No!" Kyle screamed, covering his face with his hands. "No!"

------

Kyle tore awake with a shout which he quickly stifled behind his hand, hardly believing he'd made the mistake of yelling and running the risk of disturbing Craig's sleep. Frantically, he looked around, ready to appease his husband in anyway he could, reaching out a hand to lay it on his chest; placating him. His groping hand met dead air though, and he slowly realized he was alone.

"Where am I?" Kyle asked, looking around and feeling completely at a loss, aching body screaming at him; his thoughts a tangled whir. Slowly, it came back to him in muted remembrances that became painfully vivid as his mind woke up; he was in Kenny's bed after fleeing his home, and -

"Craig," he whispered, coming fully awake when he recalled what he'd done, how he'd pushed his husband down the basement stairs. Oh, God. What had he been thinking? Guilt, like a heavy tide, washed over him in crippling waves and before he could truly get his bearings, Kyle was scrambling up from the bed even though his wrecked body was imploring him to stay still and rest.

"I have to go help him," he said, trying to find a pair of shoes in Kenny's room. Vaguely, he wondered where Kenny was, and after a moment his eyes fell on Rose, who was sitting on the bedside table. Drifting a finger over the diary's cover, Kyle suddenly became aware of commotion outside, his eyes flitting to the window where dawn was breaking through the glass; golden and soft and new.

Slowly, he approached the window, the sound of shouts filtering through the early morning air, reaching his ears but indiscernible. Carefully he parted the blinds and peered out, and what he saw immediately made his heart start thumping, the last vestiges of sleep flying away like terrified birds. He could see Kenny as he stood on the doorstep, and at the curb was Craig, his black Jag blazing richly in the coming sun. He was dressed in his scrubs and his white lab coat and looking no worse for wear, which honestly amazed Kyle considering what he'd seen last night; Craig lying at the foot of the basement steps, hardly able to move. His sleek black hair was impeccably styled like always, but his face was covered with stubble, his eyes appearing wild and alive with rage.

Forgetting about the shoes, Kyle ran out of Kenny's room, down the hallway, and ripped the front door open; stepping out into the chilled morning, staring at Craig with wide, searching eyes.

"Kyle, what are you doing?" Kenny asked, staring down at him and quickly putting an arm around his shoulders. "You shouldn't be out here, you need to sleep."

"Craig," Kyle whispered, his eyes still trained on his husband; heart thumping painfully. "You're okay? I had a dream about you, I thought -"

He broke off, bottom lip trembling.

"Kyle, come home," Craig said, stepping away from his car and slowly making his way onto the sidewalk. "I couldn't sleep last night because I was so worried about you. I thought you might have gotten lost or...," he trailed off, raking a hand through his hair; studying Kyle with a stricken expression. "Just come home so we can talk about what happened, okay? Please?" He stopped, clutching at his side and wincing.

"You're hurt," Kyle said, ignoring how childish he sounded. Breaking away from Kenny, he came down the walkway on bare feet, the rough concrete scraping his skin.

"Kyle, come back here!" Kenny cried, but Kyle ignored him.

"Where does it hurt?" Kyle asked, approaching his husband and almost wanting to cry. Coming closer, he could see faint bruises on Craig's face, no doubt caused from falling down the stairs. His guilt was so profound in that moment that he could barely stand it. Just the sight of the discolored skin was enough to make him start crying, the tears leaking down his cheeks.

"I probably broke a couple ribs," Craig replied nonchalantly. "No big deal, honestly; I wrapped them, which is pretty much all you can do until they heal."

"I'm so sorry," Kyle whispered. "Oh, god, I'm so sorry!" Before he could really think about it, he flung his arms around Craig and hugged him, breathing in the scent of expensive cologne and his husband's body wash, the musk of oceans and wild things; Craig's clean, bewitching aroma. "I didn't mean to!"

"I know you didn't," Craig murmured, drawing Kyle close and running a hand through his curls, much like Kenny had done the night before; Kyle's head nestled softly in his lap. "It's okay, baby; I promise. I forgive you." Smiling, he pushed Kyle away slightly, brushing some of his hair from his face. "I can even forgive you for running to McCormick, even if something happened between you two."

Kyle froze, staring up at him with uncertainty.

"What are you talking about? Nothing happened between Kenny and I, Craig. He just gave me a place to stay."

"I'm sure he did, among other things, but like I said it doesn't matter. I'll give you a pass this time, okay?" Turning, Craig wrapped his arm around Kyle's shoulders and led him toward the waiting car, showing a surprising amount of strength considering the prior evening's ordeals. "Now, come on and get in the car. I'll take you home and then we'll come get your car tonight, right after we've had a chance to talk."

Not liking the sound of his words, of their hidden implications, Kyle dug his heels into the ground.

"We're just going to talk, right? I'm not going in the basement again. Remember?"

Craig became still for a moment, and then a slow, careful smile slid across his face. He glanced down at Kyle and he could tell that he was trying to be warm, inviting, but it came across as heavily manufactured.

"Of course I remember," Craig replied, hugging him close. "No basement, okay? I heard you loud and clear, now," he continued, nudging Kyle toward the car with a little more force, "get in the car, Kyle. I'm running late as it is and I know what's best for you, so -"

"Kyle, don't listen to him!" Kenny yelled, running up to them and taking a hold of Kyle's shirt, holding him back. "He's just telling you what you want to hear so he can get you to come home; that's all this is!"

"Oh, fuck off, Kenny," Craig snapped, tightening his hold on Kyle and yanking him away from his grasp. "Mind your own goddamned business for once in your life. Quit pushing your nose into our affairs and leave my husband alone. I know what's for his own good and you don't, so just back off already."

Quick unadulterated anger passed through Kyle when he heard the words 'for his own good' and without warning, he ripped himself out of Craig's arms. He glared at his husband and Kenny.

"Has anyone ever thought to ask me what I think is for my own good?" He asked, his hands clenching into fists at his sides. Tranquil winds ruffled his hair as he stared at Craig and Kenny, both of them appearing surprised at his sudden inquiry, though Kenny at least had the good sense to look guilty too; Craig just looked more and more peeved.

"Knock it off, Kyle," Craig said, sounding exasperated. "It's just a figure of speech so stop taking it so seriously. Besides, I always listen to you, you're the most important thing in the world -"

"I'm not a thing!" Kyle yelled, cutting him off. "I'm a person, and I don't think either one of you realizes that!"

Looking sheepish, Kenny rubbed the back of his neck, studying Kyle with worried eyes.

"Kyle, I'm sorry, that's not how I feel about you at all. I just want to help."

Kyle softened, smiling at him tenderly.

"I know, Kenny, and I appreciate it, but I need to make my own decisions, okay? Even if you don't agree with them, they're mine to make, right?"

Kenny nodded but Craig just looked increasingly agitated. Giving Kenny a snide look, he strode to his car and opened the door, pulling something out and then making his way back to Kyle. In his hand he clutched a perfect red rose, fairly shining in the orange light of the sun.

"It's our tradition," he murmured, holding it out to Kyle who took it, regarding the flower with growing remorse. "We have a whole life to live together. Don't throw it away because we had a fight. Be rational, please."

Kyle clutched the rose to his chest and sighed, slow tears beginning to fall down his cheeks. He caught a finger on a stray thorn and yelped, bringing his hand to his mouth; Craig stopped him, drawing Kyle's hand to his own mouth instead and kissing the blood away.

"I love you," he said, pressing Kyle's hand to his cheek. "You know I love you, even if I don't always know how to show you. Just come home and I promise things will change."

"Yeah, that's what they all say," Kenny said, coming over and looking at Craig with deep disdain. "Abusers always say things will change, don't they?" He glanced at the rose and rolled his eyes. "And they usually say it with flowers, too. How does it feel being a cliche, Craig? Is it everything you could hope for?"

"Don't talk to me about being a cliche, you trash," Craig seethed, his hand tightening around Kyle's until he squeaked. "Not when you've got this knight on a white horse crap down pat. What are you trying to do, anyway? Are you just waiting to catch Kyle in a vulnerable mood so you can swoop in and save the day? You just want to fuck him, let's be real here."

"You dirty son of a bitch!" Kenny yelled, stepping forward and catching Craig with a right cross against his cheek, knocking him aside; his hand relinquishing Kyle's. "Do you think you can just say whatever the fuck you want? Huh?!"

Craig smirked and wiped his mouth, smearing the red streak falling from his lips; almost laughing when he looked at his hand.

"Leave it to you to take a cheap shot," he said, shaking his head. "Fine, if you want to fucking dance, let's go."

"You better watch your ass, Craig," Kenny taunted him, bringing his fists up. "Unlike Kyle, I actually fight back."

"Keep my husband's name out of your filthy mouth," Craig snapped, advancing on him. "You're just pissed that I married him because you were too much of a chicken shit to make a move."

"Manipulated him is more like it," Kenny jeered, popping his neck. "That's all you know how to do. You definitely don't love him; quit fucking kidding yourself."

"Both of you need to stop," Kyle said, watching as the two men circled one another, tensed and ready. "This isn't going to solve anything!"

"Maybe not, but I've been wanting to lay into this asshole for years," Kenny said, grinning at him. "Now's my chance."

Quick as lightning, Craig took his chance while Kenny was distracted and landed a blow right on his temple, sending Kenny staggering and nearly falling; clutching his head and groaning.

"Craig, stop!" Kyle yelled, watching as his husband approached Kenny, who was still immobilized and unable to protect himself; hand clasped to the side of his head. "You made your point!"

"Shut up, Kyle!" Craig snapped, pulling his fist back and getting ready to strike. With a strangled yell, Kyle threw himself in front of Kenny at the last moment, taking the blow himself when his husband unleashed it, catching him on the shoulder blade and making him yelp with pain. He sounded like a whipped dog.

"Kyle!" Kenny said, catching him before he could fall and holding him close, glaring murderously at Craig. "Now look what you've done, you psycho! Like you haven't hurt him enough!"

"He knows I didn't mean to," Craig said, leaning forward and trying to put a hand on Kyle's shoulder; he recoiled, burrowing further into Kenny's arms. "Kyle, what are you doing? I just want to help!"

"You've done enough!" Kenny yelled. "Just get the hell out of here before I call the cops, Craig! They'll take one look at Kyle's face and your ass is going down to the station; don't fucking test me!"

"Kyle, Kyle listen to me, baby. I didn't mean it," Craig said, ignoring Kenny and looking into Kyle's eyes; begging him to understand. "Just come home with me and everything will be okay again. We'll talk things out, I'll -"

"Just go," Kyle whispered, turning his face away and hiding it in Kenny's shirt. "I don't want to see you right now. I need some time."

"You heard him. Get out of here," Kenny said. "Now."

Kyle watched Craig out of the corner of his eye as he backed away, face becoming hard and inscrutable as he stared at the pair huddled on Kenny's front lawn; the sun coming out in full force now and throwing its golden forks far as the eye could see. For a moment it looked like he was going to argue but then he sighed, running a hand through his mussed hair.

"Fine, I'll leave," he conceded. "But only because I have a case in less than an hour. I'll be back tonight, and then we'll talk, Kyle."

"That's what you think," Kenny muttered, hugging Kyle close and stroking his hair; trying to sooth him as the trembles broke through his body. "You aren't welcome here, Craig. Remember that."

"This is between my husband and I," Craig replied, almost sounding tired now. He began to stride toward his car. "So just mind your own fucking business. Kyle," he added, glancing over his shoulder for a moment. "Be ready, okay? You're coming home with me tonight, and we'll work things out. I promise."

******

"That fucking asshole is unbelievable, I swear to God," Kenny seethed while pushing his cup of coffee away, his entire demeanor radiating complete disgust. "Where the hell does he get his nerve, huh?"

Kyle just shook his head while he stared off into space, his trembling hands clutched around his own cup of coffee. They were sitting at the kitchen table as the morning crept up on them, its golden sunlight falling through the windows in droves now and illuminating the house; showcasing its simple decor and scrubbed cleanliness. It was a far cry from the disaster it had been when Kenny was a child, and Kyle took comfort in its modest design. His shoulder blade ached terribly where Craig had struck him, but Kyle tried to downplay it, not wanting to make a fuss after being so much trouble to his old friend.

"He just automatically assumes that you're going home with him tonight, can you believe that?" Kenny continued to rant, leaning back in his chair and slinging an arm over it; watching Kyle with narrowed eyes. "I tried to get rid of him before you woke up, but clearly I failed. I'm sorry."

Kyle snapped to attention at those words, and he stared at Kenny in disbelief.

"Kenny, don't apologize," he said. "You've already put yourself out for me so much. I should be apologizing to you!"

"There you go again," Kenny sighed, finally beginning to loosen up somewhat. "You're so hard on yourself, Kyle. In the first place, you aren't putting me out, at all, and in the second place, I want to help. You know this."

"But, still," Kyle replied, staring down at his hands and sniffling lightly. "To put you in the middle of so much drama; God, I'm so embarrassed I can barely stand it."

"What do you have to be embarrassed about? Craig's the one acting like a mental patient, not you." He sighed, rubbing his face a little; the raspy scratch of his stubble filling the quiet. "I'm not surprised he was able to figure out where you went, honestly; Craig was always pretty sharp, huh?"

"It's because of the diary," Kyle murmured, glancing at Kenny and suddenly feeling very shy. "He found it, Kenny; he read it. I mean, I'm not sure if he read all of it, but he read enough to know that you tried to," he shrugged, blushing. "Well, he knows that your intentions aren't exactly platonic, if you know what I mean."

"Great, just great," Kenny groaned, covering his face. "I'm pretty sure he was already out for my blood but now he's going to be even harder to deal with; I didn't think that was possible."

"How much of it did you read?" Kyle asked quietly, looking away quickly; suddenly unable to meet Kenny's eyes.

"Honestly, not a lot," Kenny replied, laying his hands on the table; studying them. "You'd only been sleeping for less than an hour when Craig showed up. I didn't get very far."

"Thank God," Kyle said before he could stop himself. Kenny glanced at him in surprise.

"Wait, hold up. What do you mean, 'thank God?' Don't you want me to read it, Kyle?"

Kyle shrugged and stood from the table, taking his empty coffee cup with him. Walking into the kitchen, he poured himself a little more from the pot. Then, without thinking, he automatically went to Kenny and poured more into his mug as well.

"I'll get the cream and sugar," he said, falling into his automatic habit of tending to Craig; making sure all of his needs were seen to without him asking. "Did you need anything else? Should I make breakfast? What do you want? God, I'm sorry, I should've already offered to -"

"Hey, calm down," Kenny said, staring at him with wide eyes. "What are you doing? You don't have to wait on me like this."

"God, Craig had to make his own breakfast this morning," Kyle murmured, hurriedly backtracking into the kitchen and replacing the coffee pot before going to the fridge to grab the cream. Frantically, he looked around the kitchen and retrieved the sugar. "He must've been so angry, Kenny. I always make breakfast for him, three eggs, scrambled, and turkey bacon. He likes it really crispy but if it's burned he -"

"Kyle, stop! Just stop!" Kenny practically shouted, covering his coffee mug with his hand when Kyle attempted to add cream. "Jesus Christ, does he have you working for him like a slave or something? Just sit down and relax!"

"A household can't work if it isn't run efficiently," Kyle replied, refusing to sit. That was something Craig had often said at the beginning of their marriage, when he was still establishing how things were going to be run; essentially training Kyle to obey and run their home in a very specific manner. At first, Kyle had balked, thinking that Craig would eventually loosen up and be willing to go with the flow of things, but he quickly learned that his husband had a tendency to micromanage even the smallest, most mundane details. He'd also learned very quickly that to disregard the rules was akin to asking for a correction.

"You sound like a robot," Kenny said, finally taking his hand away from his mug; quickly, Kyle dumped in the cream.

"How much sugar?" He asked, holding up the canister. "Craig takes two teaspoons, but -"

"Enough!" Kenny shouted, whisking the sugar away from Kyle. "I'm not Craig, Kyle, you don't have to do any of this!"

Kyle recoiled at his sudden outburst, backing away to the other side of the table. He watched Kenny carefully, fearful of any unexpected movements; protective instincts kicking in automatically.

"I-I'm sorry," he stammered. "I wasn't trying to annoy you. I just wanted to help."

Groaning, Kenny stood and started toward Kyle, who moved around the table; keeping himself just out of reach.

"Just stop," he pleaded, obviously guilty at frightening him. "I wasn't trying to startle you or be mean, okay? Stop acting like you're scared of me, I'm not going to hurt you!"

"I'm sorry," Kyle repeated, his eyes tearing up. Furiously, he scrubbed them away, despising how weak and foolish he looked; so afraid. "I'm sorry, I just don't know how to be any other way anymore. Just let me try to be different, okay? Just give me a chance."

Kenny stopped, staring at him with such an expression of sadness that it tore at Kyle's heart. Grasping the back of a chair, he lowered his head; messy blonde hair still matted from sleep.

"It's okay, Kyle," he murmured. "You be any way you feel comfortable, alright? I just didn't want you to think that I expect you to act a certain way. Just be yourself, that's all I want."

"You mean it?" Kyle asked, perking up a little. "So, I can make you breakfast?"

Kenny sighed, smiling slightly now but it still seemed sad. He nodded.

"Yeah, yeah, you can make breakfast if you want. If it'll make you happy."

"Great," Kyle smiled, almost feeling like pieces of a puzzle were clicking into place in his heart; making it so he could breathe a little easier. "What do you want? We usually keep it pretty simple at home but I've actually become a pretty good cook over the years." He paused, biting his lip as he looked down at his feet, bare against the shag carpet. "Not that I'm trying to brag or anything, of course."

"I know you aren't, and honestly that doesn't surprise me. You being able to cook, I mean," Kenny said, sitting back down heavily and picking up the red rose Craig had brought over. Kyle had retrieved it from the lawn before they'd made their way back into the house, laying it carefully on the table. "You can make whatever you want, dude. I'm not picky." He studied the rose for a moment as Kyle bustled into the kitchen, retrieving eggs and bacon from the fridge.

"What'd he mean when he said this was a tradition?" He asked.

Kyle glanced over his shoulder, arching a brow and watching as Kenny toyed with the rose.

"Craig likes to have a red rose on the breakfast table every morning," he replied simply. Turning away, he began to crack eggs into a bowl; readying to scramble them up, a pan already preheating on the stove. "I think it's kind of sweet, actually."

"It's hard to believe anything he does is sweet," Kenny muttered. "Did you need any help over there, by the way?"

"Of course not," Kyle scoffed, the very idea laughable. Craig only helped in very specific circumstances, usually after a punishment. "You just stay right there." Whisking the eggs, he found a thread of tenderness for his husband winding through him. Maybe it was because he'd appeared so apologetic and broken that morning, with the bruises on his face and the hopelessness in his voice as he'd pleaded for Kyle to just come home; he couldn't be sure. "Craig can be very sweet, Kenny. I don't want you to think he's all bad; that isn't the case."

"Right, I'm sure he's a regular fucking saint when he wants to be," Kenny replied, his usual stubbornness not dissipating at all.

Kyle sighed and focused on seasoning the eggs as they began to fluff into yellow mounds in the pan; choosing not to answer. He couldn't blame Kenny for not being receptive to giving Craig the benefit of the doubt; not after the things he'd seen, not after seeing the way Craig had lost control of himself that morning. He had no reason to be forgiving or compassionate, but still...he just didn't want to badmouth his husband. It's not like it made Kyle feel any better, and he'd been taught from childhood that his loyalty should be reserved for those not present. He was almost positive this mentality should apply to Craig more than anyone else in his life.

"Language, Kenny. You know better," Mrs. McCormick yawned, suddenly staggering into the kitchen in her robe and slippers; her hair around her shoulders. "What was all that hullabaloo I heard this morning, by the way?"

"That was Kyle's sweet, loving husband making a scene in our front yard," Kenny explained derisively. "He came to retrieve his property but I sent him packing."

"Ah, I see. I see," she said, sitting down at the table and smiling at Kyle when he brought her a cup of coffee. "Thank you, child. I take it black," she added when Kyle offered the cream and sugar to her. "I had a feeling something like that was going to happen."

"Well, he didn't disappoint." Kenny sat back and crossed his arms. "He said he's coming to collect tonight, almost like Kyle's a fucking piece of furniture he can move around however he wants. Can you believe that?"

"Watch your mouth, Kenny, and yes, yes I can. I'm not going to pass judgement, though," she said, sipping the coffee slowly. "It ain't my place to act like I know the whole story, I would think you'd be of the same mind."

"Are you kidding me?" Kenny asked incredulously. "Ma, the whole story is written all over Kyle's face!"

"Be kind, son," she chastised him. "We're talking about someone that Kyle probably still loves, so let's choose our words carefully."

"Eggs, Carol?" Kyle asked, coming over with the pan, fragrant steam drifting upward. "There's bacon, too."

"Please," she said, glancing at Kenny. "Go and fetch some plates, boy. I didn't raise you up to sit on your keister while someone else does all the work."

"Oh, no, that isn't necessary, I can do it," Kyle said, setting the pan down. Before he could turn away, Mrs. McCormick grabbed his hand and held on.

"I know you probably want to keep busy because it's what you're used to, but we're simple folk here," she said. "You've already done enough. Kenny can see to the rest, now sit. Keep me company."

For a moment, Kyle wanted to pull away and go about the mindless tasks he'd come to have a strange appreciation for, but he sat instead, waiting anxiously as Kenny grabbed plates and cutlery; the pan of bacon as well. Feeling beyond strange, he tried to get used to being served, almost having forgotten what it felt like. Other than Craig's special dinners after basement trips, he'd been cooking for and serving his husband for years. He watched Kenny out of the corner of his eye, smiling softly and feeling himself flush as he saw his friend moving around the kitchen. It was almost like they were playing house, aside from Kenny's mom being present as well, of course.

"This is lovely," Mrs. McCormick said after taking a bite of eggs. She smiled indulgently at Kyle. "You've a knack in the kitchen, I can tell."

"Yeah, because he's basically Craig's slave," Kenny groused, tucking into his own plate; a napkin stuffed in the collar of his t-shirt.

"That's enough, Kenny," his mother reprimanded him sharply, giving him a look. "Have some couth."

Kenny grunted, tearing into a piece of bacon. Kyle just picked at his own food, not really having an appetite; he was too worried and in too much pain.

"So, he's coming back tonight, you say?" Carol asked, taking a sip of coffee. "How do you feel about that, Kyle?"

Kyle started, unprepared for this question on a number of levels. He wasn't sure how he was supposed to feel. On the one hand he was utterly terrified of going home with Craig, but on the other he was nearly paralyzed at the prospect of being away from him, away from his routine. How was he supposed to cope with all of this? Unable to find the words, he just shrugged helplessly; looking down at his hands. Idly, he rubbed the back of the hand that had been torn by Craig's shoe, the skin a deep purplish blue. He swallowed a groan at the sudden, deep ache.

"Having a little time away isn't asking too much," Carol continued gently. "Everyone deserves a little space, don't you think?"

"Yeah, but Craig won't let him have space," Kenny said, tearing into his pile of eggs. "These are really good, Kyle. What'd you do to them?"

Kyle rested his face in his hand and looking at Kenny fondly as the eggs swiftly disappeared.

"Paprika and garlic salt, actually. That's how..." he trailed off, shame flooding him as Craig's name died on his tongue. "I'm glad you like them," he said instead while tucking a curl behind his ear nervously.

"You know, I bet your sister would be over the moon if you two paid her a visit," Carol said nonchalantly. "It's been a while since you stayed a spell with her, Kenny."

"Hey, that isn't a bad idea," Kenny agreed, glancing at Kyle. His cranky mood seemed to be eclipsed with growing enthusiasm. "What do you think, Kyle? Karen lives out in Grand Junction these days, in the desert."

"Grand Junction? That's kind of far, isn't it?" Kyle asked, reaching out and taking a hold of a napkin; he automatically began tearing it apart.

Kenny glanced down, watching as the napkin was slowly reduced to shreds, one eyebrow raised.

"It's about four hours away," he replied. "What do you think? Karen is out in the middle of nowhere with just the kids. Her husband's on the road most of the time."

"I just don't know," Kyle replied, continuing to tear the napkin into strips; it was unrecognizable at this point. "Craig would be so mad if I left without telling him where I was going."

"That's exactly why you need to go," Kenny said, his excitement momentarily hampered by irritation. "He's just going to keep coming over here and harassing you, Kyle; you know that. This way you'd have a chance to clear your head and get some perspective."

"It wouldn't hurt to get some clarity," Carol chimed in, polishing off the remainder of her eggs. "I wish I'd been able to do that when Kenny's daddy was still around; it would've saved us from a lot of painful times."

"Still," Kyle said, mindlessly rubbing at his aching shoulder blade while his brain went into overdrive; alternating between screaming at him to make a decision and reminding him that he needed to keep Craig happy at all costs. Finally, he shook his head, having reached his limit. "We'll do whatever you want," he whispered, glancing at Kenny. "I'm fine either way."

"Oh, come on, Kyle; don't shut down on me now," Kenny groaned, dropping his fork with a clatter. "I need you to work with me here."

"Don't you think I'm trying?!" Kyle burst out, pushing away from the table and standing up. "God, none of this is easy, Kenny! I told you, I'll do whatever you want! That's my answer so just accept it!"

Ignoring Kenny's shocked look and Mrs. McCormick's knowing expression, Kyle hurried away from the table and into the bathroom, slamming the door behind him. The violence of it reverberated through the walls, making the kitschy paintings of big-eyed children shiver against the wood paneling. Going to the mirror, he studied his reflection for a moment, caustic rage filling him as he regarded how awful he looked; even worse than several hours before. The sudden desire to scream and throw something overcame him, and he went to the toilet and sat, covering his face with shaky hands.

"Jesus Christ, why is this so fucking hard?!" He choked out before he began to sob.  All he wanted in that moment was to disappear to a place where these awful fears couldn't follow him; wanted to wake up from a nightmare that just wouldn't seem to end.

******

"You seriously didn't need to buy me all that stuff," Kyle said, glancing at the shopping bags littering the floor of Kenny's truck; filled to the brim with clothes and various sundries. "I swear, I'll pay you back every cent. I feel so stupid for leaving my wallet and phone behind when I ran out of the house."

"Oh, come off it," Kenny replied, rolling the window down and leaning out, sunglasses obscuring his eyes. After getting the go ahead from Kyle, he was smoking a cigarette; the fumes wafting out and fading away in the fragrant summer winds. "You don't owe me a damn thing, Kyle. Besides, you'd barely let me buy you anything and we can't have you running around naked, can we?"

"I guess not," Kyle replied, adjusting his own sunglasses on his face and watching the trees whip by; the traffic light at that time of day.

"I mean, I wouldn't mind it but I'm sure you'd have something to say," Kenny quipped, grinning at him playfully.

"Oh, please," Kyle said, flushing deeply but also faintly amused; his friend's perverted predilections practically a cornerstone of his personality. He also didn't want to admit that he was flattered, but with that feeling came shame; god, what if Craig could read his thoughts? 

"You brought your diary, right? I still need to read it," Kenny asked, switching gears. "I barely made it through the beginning before that dickhead showed up."

"Yeah, I brought it," Kyle sighed, nudging one of the bags. He turned to look out the window again, frowning.

"I pissed you off, didn't I?" Kenny asked, picking up on Kyle's silent signals once again. "Sorry."

"I just don't like hearing you badmouth Craig, Kenny," Kyle murmured. "You can understand that, right?"

"Honestly, no," Kenny replied. "I can't understand it, but I'll try to respect it. Is that fair?"

"Fair enough," Kyle said, slumping in his seat; wincing openly when his shoulder blade rubbed against the upholstery.

"You're hurting, aren't you?" Kenny asked, reaching into the center console and pulling out a bottle of Ibuprofen; he handed it to Kyle. "Here."

"Thanks," Kyle smiled, gratitude filling him. He opened the bottle and poured four pills into his hand. "I wish I'd remembered to bring my Tylenol-3s; they really help."

"Jesus, Tucker's turning you into a fucking pharmacy, man," Kenny commented, offering Kyle a bottle of water.

"I guess it suited his needs, more or less," Kyle conceded, swallowing the pills down. He offered the water to Kenny, who took it; tipping his head back and drinking deeply. "I mean, I have to admit that the Klonopin helps with my anxiety, and the Ambien helps me sleep, and the -"

"Yeah, but why do you have anxiety, Kyle? Why do you have trouble sleeping? That's the shit that concerns me."

"It's not like my issues just appeared overnight, Kenny, so who's to say what caused them?" Kyle asked, knowing he was being needlessly evasive but unable to stop himself. How could he be expected to open up so easily, it was almost like having his chest cut open and all of his secrets laid bare; his entire private life on display. It didn't help that what he had to disclose was so painful; so utterly unbelievable.

Silence descended over the truck as Kenny climbed a mountain, the sky impossibly blue and perfect, no clouds breaking up its endless plane. The air that flowed through the cab was sweet and cool, vague hints of autumn ushered in with the dying summer. They'd opted to take Kenny's clunker in lieu of Kyle's Lexus, mainly because they didn't want to deal with the fallout that Craig could create.

"What do you mean the car isn't in your name?" Kenny had asked, staring at Kyle when he'd told him.

"It was a gift," Kyle had said, looking away and burning with shame.

"Some fucking gift," Kenny had muttered, snatching up his keys.

Honestly, Kyle enjoyed traveling in Kenny's truck, the cab filled with little touches that filled him with a strange, tender whimsy: the little tree hanging from the rear view mirror, Burger King napkins in the glove box, a copy of Hustler behind the seat. Kenny had just laughed when Kyle pointed it out, disregarding his disapproving expression, and after a moment so had he, feeling suddenly carefree and fearless as they rolled out of South Park proper. He'd watched the weathered town sign disappear in the side mirror and had breathed a small sigh of relief, hoping against hope that some of the memories and worries would be left behind along with his husband.

"Can I ask you a question?" Kenny asked, breaking the quiet and rousing Kyle from a sluggish, reluctant cat nap; the sun making him feel slow and relaxed.

"Hmm?"

"You said something about a basement last night," Kenny said, carefully. "About not letting Tucker take you down there again. What were you talking about?"

Kyle could feel himself blanching at the question, heartbeat picking up and almost feeling like he was considering the dark descent into Hell, Craig broken and bleeding on the steps, waiting to pull him back into the nightmare; he shook his head, trying to rid himself of the chill. Suddenly the sun didn't feel quite so warm.

"I'll let Rose do the talking on that one," he murmured, turning his head and resting his cheek against the seat so he could study Kenny's profile. Somehow, he was becoming even more tan as they drove along, the sun pouring on him through the window and picking up pale streaks in his dirty blonde hair.

"Rose?"

Kyle nudged the bag again, smiling slowly.

"The diary. Her name is Rose."

Kenny was still for a moment and then he nodded, pulling out another cigarette and lighting it up; he took a long drag.

"I have a feeling I'm going to have a lot of questions for Rose," he said, blowing smoke out the window.

"Probably more questions than answers, sadly," Kyle yawned, some of his fear drifting away as he watched Kenny smoke; his other hand draped loosely on the wheel. He smiled despite himself.

"I can't believe how cute you are, by the way," Kenny suddenly said, voice casual but he looked out the window when he said it; the cheek facing Kyle turning faintly red. "I've never been able to get over it. I don't think I ever will."

"Is that so?"

"You named your diary Rose, Kyle. That's literally the cutest fucking thing I've ever heard of," Kenny grinned. "And I don't mean that in a condescending way, so don't take it like that, okay?"

"I won't, promise," Kyle said, looking away bashfully. A thought suddenly came to him, and he glanced back at Kenny quickly. "Your face, where Craig hit you, is it okay? Do you need some Ibuprofen, too?" He went to retrieve the bottle, but Kenny stopped him; placing his hand on Kyle's; squeezing softly.

"I'm fine, Kyle. I could put up with a lot worse if it was for your sake," he added, his hand still holding Kyle's; his skin so warm and comforting that Kyle suddenly had the crazy desire to press it against his aching cheek.

"You don't really mean that," he replied, delicately extricating himself from Kenny's grasp but hating to do so; sudden guilt flaring in his heart.

"You just wish I didn't mean it," Kenny murmured, taking another deep drag of his cigarette.

Feeling awkward, Kyle gestured toward the radio, wanting to fill up the ensuing silence with something, anything.

"What did you want to listen to? I'm open to anything."

"Why don't you choose?" Kenny asked, cocking a brow; his dark sunglasses showcasing Kyle's look of uncertainty.

"No, that's okay," Kyle said. "It's your truck, you choose. I promise I'll like anything you put on."

"Kyle," Kenny replied, softly, "it's okay, really. Just choose something. The world isn't going to come to an end if you do something for yourself."

"Well, if you're sure." Reluctantly, Kyle reached out, disgust registering in his brain to feel himself beginning to shake, but he gritted his teeth, willing himself to power through and overcome his hesitance. After all, Kenny was right, wasn't he? Choosing the music for himself and another person wasn't the end of the world; it didn't need to be such a struggle. Taking a deep breath, he flipped on the radio and immediately cringed when staticky classical music flooded the cab. Biting back a grimace, he quickly flipped it to another station, the melodic strains of The Eagles filling the air. He glanced at Kenny, grinning.

"What do you think?"

"I think it's perfect," Kenny smiled, reaching out and tousling Kyle's curls playfully.

*******

It was right around suppertime when they finally pulled up to Karen's modest little home, twilight having gathered at the edge of the world; the sun's rays dying away and the stars scattered far across the desert sky. The house, a rancher, was nestled in the sandy, arid drifts, hearty plants scattered hither and yon, antique farm equipment laid out on the lawn; 4-wheelers sitting off to the side of the house. All around the mesas sat on the horizon, enfolding Grand Junction in their red rocky embrace; standing monumental and majestic in the quiet evening. Climbing out of the truck, Kyle was reluctant to leave Kenny's side, the shopping bags clutched in his hands.

"How did your sister end up out here?" He asked, glancing up at Kenny who was slowly removing his sunglasses and hanging them on the collar of his shirt. Kyle hadn't removed his yet, shy about letting Kenny's family see his badly wounded face; shame washing through him.

"Oh, she fell in love with a country boy while going to the community college," Kenny grinned, putting an arm gently around Kyle's shoulders; guiding him. "They played it fast and loose, she got pregnant, and four kids later, well," he gestured to the house, "what you see is what you get. She's happy though, so that's all that matters to me."

"You've always been protective of her," Kyle said, allowing himself to be led to the front door, his new shoes stiff on his feet; cheap sneakers purchased with Kenny's money though he'd tried to protest.

"I'm protective of everyone I love," Kenny said, then he cleared his throat abruptly, glancing away and running a hand through his hair. "Anyway, she knows we're coming so don't be shy, okay? She was happy to hear you were paying a visit."

"Well, that's good, at least," Kyle replied, blushing and smiling stupidly for seemingly no reason at all; wanting to laugh at Kenny's awkwardness but managing to stifle the notion behind his hand. Covertly, he tried to hide behind Kenny as he rang the bell, both of them waiting. After a moment, a frenzy of footsteps could be heard on the other side of the door and then it was being wrenched open, a little girl standing there and staring up at them with wide, blue eyes.

"Mama!" The girl yelled, glancing over her shoulder. "Mama, Uncle Kenny and some weird looking man are at the door!"

Before too long, another little girl with long brown hair galloped up beside the other one, pushing her roughly.

"Tag! You're it, Vivvie!" She laughed, before turning to Kenny and Kyle as well. Squealing, she ran for Kenny and jumped on him. "Uncle Kenny!!" She glanced at Kyle curiously, pointing. "Who's that?"

"Sake's alive, children, can you at least pretend to have some home training?" A slim brown haired woman emerged, brushing her bangs out of her eyes and clothed in jean shorts and a tank top. Her eyes lit up when she saw her brother and Kyle. "Don't tell me you rang the bell, Kenny? You know you can just come on in, right?"

"I was trying to be polite," Kenny replied, carrying the little girl into the house with Kyle on his heels. "But your children had other plans," he teased.

"Oh, they're no better than a pack of mangy dogs," she laughed before looking around. "Speaking of which, Stella, where's Pongo? Didn't you let him in after he went potty?"

"No, mama. He ran off," Stella replied, still staring at Kyle. "What's wrong with your face?" She asked.

Kyle could feel himself blushing to beat the band when Karen reached out and swatted the little girl on the rump, making her squeal and dart away.

"Stop being rude and go on and get that dog," she ordered, pointing toward a set of sliding glass doors on the other side of a homey kitchen with copper pots and pans on the wall. "We don't want to lose him like the last one, do we?" She glanced at Kenny and Kyle, rolling her eyes. "I must've been crazy when I let the kids keep the darn thing, but it was so sad, you know."

"Oh?" Kenny asked, setting the little girl down.

"Oh, it was just the craziest thing, Kenny," Karen said, watching as the two little girls scampered out the door, calling for the dog. "Its owner got struck by lightning so Art brought him on home from the fields with him."

"Art's her husband," Kenny supplied, glancing at Kyle. Kyle just stared at Karen, hardly believing what he was being told.

"Arthur," Karen grinned, sitting down at the kitchen table and sighing. "He hauls water so he isn't here much, but he's got a tender heart. He took one look at that pitiful mutt and hauled him on home, so now he's my problem, along with -"

"Mama, mama," a little boy toddled into the kitchen, his pants around his ankles. "I need help wiping."

"Oh, lord alive, it never ends. Will you two excuse me, please?" Standing, she turned the little boy around. "Willie, you can't just come out here naked as a jaybird, honey; it isn't decent."

"Like the McCormicks have ever cared about being decent," Kenny laughed, turning to Kyle and shaking his head. "Are you tired yet?"

"I'm getting there," Kyle replied, still trying to get his bearings while adoring the tumult of a happy, rambunctious family; very much surprised that his anxiety wasn't cropping up yet. "I thought you said there were four kids?"

"Oh, there is," Kenny replied, sitting down at the table and popping off his shoes, instructing Kyle to do the same. He started throwing out names, listing them on his fingers. "Let's see, you met Stella and Vivien, of course she goes by Vivvie, and then the kiddo with his pants around his ankles was William but he goes by Willie, and then somewhere there's a baby, Maya."

"Cute names," Kyle said, sitting and trying to remember all the information being thrown at him.

"My sister fancies Tennessee Williams and -"

"Maya Angelou," Karen interrupted, coming back into the room with the little boy in tow, staring at Kenny and Kyle with wide eyes. "I just love her poetry. Go on and say hi, baby," she said, softly nudging Willie toward Kenny who opened his arms.

"I can understand Stella and William, but I don't recall a Vivien from any of Tennessee Williams' plays right off the top of my head," Kyle said, smiling fondly as the little boy allowed himself to be hugged and pulled onto Kenny's lap. "But it's been forever and a day since I read any of his stuff, so you can't go by me."

"No, you're right, Kyle," Karen said, warmly, sitting beside him. "Vivvie got her name from Vivien Leigh, because she played Blanche in -"

"A Streetcar Named Desire," Kyle grinned. "Okay, now I get it."

"You guys are losing me," Kenny said, leaning his head against Willie's. "Are they losing you, too?" He asked the child, who nodded solemnly.

"Oh, stop trying to act like a bumpkin," Karen teased him, winking at Kyle conspiratorially. "He's a lot smarter than he wants people to believe, the sneaky thing."

"You've got that right," Kyle agreed, leaning his head in his hand and watching Kenny out of the corner of his eye; happiness filling him up near to bursting. So this is what it felt like to be among a family free of discord; it made him think fondly of his childhood home.

"Kyle, honey, you don't need to wear those sunglasses in the house," Karen suddenly said, catching him off guard. He glanced at her, heart thumping terribly but her face awash in kind understanding. "No one's going to judge you here. Go on and take them off, okay?"

"Let him alone, Kar," Kenny said, defensively. "He'll take them off when he's good and ready."

"It's okay, Kenny," Kyle said, slowly removing the glasses and blinking against the overhead lights, everything coming into focus. Before anyone could say anything, the patio door slid open and the two little girls came back in, dragging a black and white dog with them.

"We found him, mama," Stella announced, petting the dog hard on his head, his tail wagging a mile a minute. "He left a big pile on the lawn, too." She glanced at Kyle. "Mama says dogs that have beagle blood always leave big piles."

"Is that a fact?" Kyle asked, waiting for the children to say something about the state of his face; surprisingly, no one said a word.

"Uh huh," Vivvie chimed in, petting the dog as well. "Mama said Pongo's dumb because he has a pointed head. Stupid dogs always have pointed heads, right, Mama?"

Karen covered her face, sighing softly.

"I guess if I said it it must be true. Now, could you two please get a plastic bag and clean up Pongo's pile? I don't want to step on it when I go out to water the sunflowers in the morning. Like last time."

"Yes, mama," they chirped, running into the kitchen and yanking open a bottom drawer. Stella pushed Vivvie out of the way. "I wanna get it! Mama said I could this time!"

"No, mama said I could!"

"I wanna come!" Willie crowed, sliding off of Kenny's lap and racing over to the girls.

"You can't, you're too little!" Stella yelled. "Mama, tell Willie he can't come!"

Sighing again, Karen stood and stalked over to the trio and grabbed a bag, closing the drawer.

"Willie, you can go with your sisters, just stay close to them, okay? Now all of you out so the adults can hear themselves think, you hear?"

"Yes, mama!" They all chorused, stampeding out of the kitchen and back through the patio doors.

"Lord preserve me," Karen said, looking at her guests with pure exhaustion registering on her face. "I never thought I was going to be in charge of a menagerie." She rubbed her eyes. "Did you two want something to drink? We have lemonade, beer, water -"

"A beer would be sublime," Kenny cut in, glancing at Kyle. "What do you think, man?"

Kyle nodded, rising from the table and timidly approaching Karen.

"Can I help?"

Karen glanced at him for a moment, her eyes darting to Kenny quickly. Smiling slowly, she pointed to a cupboard.

"Glasses are up there unless you don't mind just drinking from the bottle. Did you want anything to eat, too? You two must be famished."

"A snack would hit the spot," Kenny said, sitting back. "We grabbed some burgers on the way but that was awhile ago."

"Well, let me rustle up a little something," Karen said, opening the fridge and grabbing out a couple Bud Lights. "Kyle, if you check in that cupboard yonder there's some crackers and chips and stuff. Let me cut up some cheese, too."

"Sounds good," Kyle said, turning to the cupboard and yelping slightly when Pongo butted into his leg, demanding affection. He grinned, looking down. "Well, hello there."

"Watch it, if you're nice to that skunky old hound he'll be on you like white on rice for the rest of your stay," Karen said, pulling out a block of cheddar and throwing it on a cutting board. She looked at Kenny with questioning eyes. "How long are you two staying, Ken? I already fixed up the back room for you so you're welcome for as long as you like." She grinned at Kyle. "It'll be nice talking to another human being about something other than Spongebob and Pongo's piles." She rolled her eyes.

Kyle waited for Kenny to answer while grabbing out a box of Ritz crackers, faint threads of anxiety beginning to wind through his blood. He'd been having such a nice time that he hadn't stopped to think about returning to reality, to Craig.

"It's still up in the air," Kenny replied, smoothly. "You know I took a sabbatical from my job and mom's doing okay, so, really, we have some time on our hands. Right, Kyle?"

Kyle didn't say anything, quietly trying to open the crackers while making as little fuss as possible; the need to be unobtrusive all but ingrained in him at this point. All at once, he felt a hand come to rest gently on his shoulder, Karen smiling at him when he looked up.

"Just consider this your home, okay? To be honest, I've been wanting Kenny to bring you by. After all, he's always had such a huge cru-"

"Can it, Karen," Kenny interrupted, standing and grabbing a beer off the counter. He yanked the cap off and drank deeply, wiping his lips. "Why don't you go check on those three little monkeys outside and let Kyle and I finish up here, okay?"

Karen snorted, dropping the knife she'd been using to slice the cheese and brushing past Kenny, bumping him a little.

"You see?" She asked, glancing at Kyle. "He's here for less than half an hour and he's already lapsing into his big brother persona. Isn't that right, Kenny?"

"Yeah, that's it exactly," Kenny replied, rolling his eyes. "How'd you guess?"

"Some things never change," she said, sticking her tongue out and strolling to the patio doors. "You know, if you wanted a moment alone with Kyle you could've just told me."

"Get lost," Kenny said, blushing a bright red. "I'm not above giving you a Wet Willie, Karen."

"I'm sure you aren't," she laughed, opening the door and stepping out, winking at Kyle before moving out of sight.

"God, she knows exactly how to push my buttons," Kenny said, beginning to furiously hack at the block of cheddar; uneven strips falling onto the cutting board. Sighing, Kyle laid a hand on his arm, stopping him.

"Let me," he said. "You take your beer and go sit down."

"Thanks," Kenny replied, tucking one of Kyle's curls behind his ear. "I guess I'm a little grouchy. I always get like this after driving for awhile."

"I would've driven too, but I don't have my license," Kyle replied, quietly. "I'm sorry, Kenny."

"Kyle, can you do me a favor?" Kenny took a quick sip of beer, his legs stretched out in front of him as he lounged on the chair.

"Of course."

"Stop apologizing, okay? I already told you you don't need to do that."

"Oh, right. I'm so -" Kyle caught himself just in time and flushed, arranging the cheese and crackers on a plate in a pretty fan shape. He brought the plate over to the table and set it in front of Kenny. "I won't say I'm sorry anymore unless I have a legitimate need," he grinned. "Did you need anything else?"

"Yes, actually," Kenny replied, and before Kyle could respond he was pulling him onto his lap; wrapping an arm around Kyle's waist. "You need to relax, okay? Can you do that for me, too?"

For a moment Kyle allowed himself to sink into Kenny's side before vivid memories began to assault him, of being in this exact same position with Craig numerous times right before he became violent, lulling Kyle into a false sense of security before the onslaught began; dragging him to bed or the basement and -

"No, stop," Kyle breathed, seizing up and pushing away from Kenny, his breaths coming in short bursts. "Please, Kenny, please. I can't, I can't -"

"Kyle, calm down," Kenny said, eyes wide as he cupped Kyle's cheek, trying to talk him off the ledge. "I'm not going to hurt you. I promise, I won't -"

"L-let me go," Kyle cut in tremulously, abruptly standing from Kenny's lap and backing away until he hit the counter. He yelped, turning around, his eyes widening with fear when he looked back at Kenny and saw that he was slowly walking toward him; the last horrible night in the kitchen flooding his mind. Craig had approached him the same way, the basement door wide open and waiting to receive him. He cowered, throwing up his arms.

"Stop! Don't hurt me!" He shrieked.

"Kyle, please! Just calm down, it's me! I'm not going to do anything!" Kenny cried, reaching toward him and only serving to terrify Kyle more. Sinking to the floor, he covered his head with his hands, quick tears beginning to fall down his cheeks. In a back bedroom, a baby began to cry.

"What's going on? What's wrong?" Karen asked, pulling the patio door open and stepping into the kitchen, the three kids behind her and watching with large eyes. "Kyle, honey, are you okay?!"

"H-he'll be fine," Kenny said, waving her off. "Go look in on Maya, okay? I'll take care of Kyle. Where are we sleeping again?"

"The bedroom at the end of the hall on the right," Karen replied, herding her children in the direction of the back bedroom where the baby was continuing to wail. "Let me know if you need anything, okay?"

"Sure, sure," Kenny replied, kneeling next to Kyle but not touching him. "Kyle, please just listen to me, okay? No one's going to hurt you, I promise. I'm not going to hurt you. I'm sorry if I startled you, just..." his voice hitched slightly and he stopped, Kyle noticing him hurriedly raking a hand through his hair; attempting to control himself. "Just don't cry, please. I can't stand to hear you cry, it breaks my heart."

"I-I'm sorry," Kyle said, looking up at Kenny who appeared wavery in his tear-soaked state, but thankfully the fear was abating; his mind coming back to reality and assuring him that Craig was far away. "I don't know what happened, Kenny. Suddenly it felt like I was back with Craig, and he was leading me toward the basement, and I was just so scared. It seemed so real."

"I know, Kyle, I know," Kenny replied, grimly. "Do you think you can get up? Is it okay if I help you?"

Kyle nodded, his body continuing to tremble terribly. Slowly, with Kenny's help, he rose and shakily got to his feet.

"Here, why don't we go to our room for awhile, huh? We'll even bring the beer and snacks. What do you think?"

Feeling terribly childish, Kyle nodded again, allowing himself to be led out of the kitchen and down the hallway; Kenny's hand lingering softly on the small of his back, guiding him.

*****

"Are you sure you don't want to take a shower?" Kenny asked, coming into the room and toweling off his hair; shirtless and clad in his boxers. Blushing, Kyle quickly looked away, staring at the wall; he shook his head, pulling his legs closer to his chest, chin propped on his knees.

He could hear Kenny sigh behind him and then the sound of plastic bags being rooted through.

"Come on, why don't you change your clothes, at least," Kenny coaxed him. "I know you can't be comfortable in the ones you're wearing, not after traveling all day."

"Sure, okay. If you want me to," Kyle murmured, obediently standing and coming around the bed, waiting. Kenny stared at him, eyebrows raised.

"Am I in your way, or....?"

"Oh, right. I forgot," Kyle said, flushing and pulling a bag toward him. "It's just Craig always -"

He stopped, pulling out a shirt.

"Craig likes things a very specific way, including what I wear."

"Oh, gotcha," Kenny replied, watching as Kyle pulled out a pack of boxer briefs as well. "So, you were waiting for me to dress you?"

"Basically," Kyle murmured, feeling ridiculous. "Sorry, old habits die hard." He winced. "I didn't mean to say sorry, I'm so -" he shook his head. "I'll stop now."

"You aren't the one that should be saying sorry," Kenny said softly. He sat heavily on the bed and wrapped the towel around the back of his neck. Out of the corner of his eye, Kyle noticed tattoos on his chest as well, threads of black ink obscuring the sinewy muscles. Quickly, he looked away, hating himself for being so unfaithful; Craig would be livid if he knew.

"I know this is probably a dumb question, but did Craig ever, I don't know, explain why he acts the way he does? Like, I can remember him being kind of weird and abrupt in school, but his behavior nowadays is just," he stopped, shrugging helplessly, "it's fucking unforgivable, Kyle. How have you survived for so long?"

Kyle shook his head, slowly pulling his jeans off and already feeling his anxiety spiking again, what with Kenny being so close and watching every move he made.

"We never exactly talked about it, Kenny. It was kind of like the air you breathe, the way Craig is; it's just the state of things, you don't question what simply is, you know?" He paused, having stepped out of his jeans and slowly began folding them up. He thought about his back and chest and thighs, his countless scars and bruises. "Could you turn around while I finish, please? It isn't personal, I just -"

"No, I get it," Kenny replied, turning and picking up the TV remote on the bedside table. "I'll just turn something on, okay? I mean," he slapped a hand over his face. "I'll just see what's on."

"You do that," Kyle smirked, relaxing slightly. Quickly he slid off Kenny's too big boxers and tossed them in the hamper, his shirt following soon after. For the briefest of moments he caught his reflection in the mirror over the dresser and he cringed, the golden lamplight highlighting Craig's many cruelties; the scars crisscrossing his back along with the large bruise on his shoulder blade, the scars from cigarette burns littering his upper arms. Hating his body, he pulled on his clothes and tried to forget what he'd seen, promising himself that no one would ever see him naked; except for Craig, of course. It's not like he would be surprised by what he saw.

"There, that's better," Kyle said, pulling the t-shirt down over his boxer briefs, already beginning to feel slightly refreshed. Glancing at Kenny's back, his eyes widened to see even more tattoos and muscles, his mouth watering faintly. He shook his head. "You, uh, you really like tattoos, huh?"

Kenny turned to him, watching as Kyle wandered around the bed and came to sit beside him, stretching his legs out. He smirked, reaching out and running a finger over the 'C' on Kyle's ankle.

"I could say the same about you, even though I'm afraid to ask what the 'C' stands for."

"You already know," Kyle replied, rolling his eyes. "He has a 'K' on his arm, so don't think he fucking branded me or something."

"No, he's done way worse than that," Kenny said, reaching over and plucking up a beer bottle from the bedside table; he handed it to Kyle who took it gratefully. Picking up the plate of cheese and crackers, he placed it on the bed between them. "And, yes, to answer your question, I'm rather fond of tattoos. I like to get one whenever I visit a new place."

"They suit you," Kyle commented, nibbling on a piece of cheese and watching as Kenny flicked through the channels, finally stopping on an episode of the Twilight Zone. "Oh, I love this show," he said, settling deeper into the pillow and finally beginning to feel properly relaxed.

"Same," Kenny grinned, picking up a cracker and biting into it. He glanced at Kyle, almost appearing worried. "Are you okay? Did you need anything else?"

"Kenny, now it's your turn to relax," Kyle said, taking a sip of beer. "Everything's fine, I promise; I'm not going to have another meltdown. At least, not right now."

They were quiet for a moment, Rod Serling appearing on the screen and informing the viewer that they were about ready to descend into the nightmarish depths of the Twilight Zone. Feeling a little sad, Kyle remembered the way he and Craig had watched the same show so many years before; when their love affair began. He sighed.

"Do you think he's already figured out we're gone?" He asked, softly.

"Probably," Kenny said, setting his beer bottle down and scooting down, his head on the pillow. "Like I've said before, Craig isn't stupid. In a lot of ways he's just too fucking smart."

"Do you think he'll find us?"

"Who knows? I know ma won't tell him where we went, and if he tries to mess with her he's in for a world of surprise; she's a perfect shot and that house is filled with guns," Kenny said, grinning until he noticed the frown on Kyle's face. "Look, don't worry, Kyle. I'm pretty sure nothing's going to happen but if he figures out where we went I'll deal with it. I won't let him do anything to you."

"He's going to be so mad, Kenny," Kyle whispered, setting his beer bottle down too and stretching out beside Kenny, looking over at him. "I hate that I dragged you into all of this."

"You didn't drag me into anything," Kenny said, giving him a stern look. "I want you here with me, end of story." He glanced around. "Where's Rose?"

"In my bag on the floor."

"Good. I'm going to start reading as soon as you go to sleep tonight. Is that okay?"

Kyle was silent for a moment before he finally nodded.

"I know I already told you that you can read her, Kenny, just," he took a deep breath, collecting himself. "Just don't let it change your opinion of me, okay?"

"Never in a million years," Kenny replied, picking up the plate of snacks and moving it aside. Turning on his side, he watched Kyle with sleepy blue eyes. "Are you tired?"

"A little. I didn't sleep very well last night, I had a nightmare."

"You were really restless. I tried to help, but you talked in your sleep a lot, too; you sounded so afraid."

"Maybe it'll be better tonight," Kyle said, turning on his side as well and resting his cheek on his hand.

"I hope so. Kyle?"

"Hmm?"

"Did you want to put your head in my lap again? It seemed to help a little last night."

Kyle shook his head, smiling. Suddenly, he scooted closer, becoming timid.

"Would you hold me instead? I don't think I'll freak out or anything, and I totally understand if you don't want to."

Kenny smiled slowly and opened his arms, beckoning Kyle closer.

"Hush, get over here."

Wordlessly, Kyle turned so his back was to Kenny's chest, and with baited breath and a pounding heart he allowed himself to be pulled close, Kenny's arms winding around him and gently cradling him; he sighed softly. He waited for the fear to rise up and consume him, the guilt lancing through his blood and destroying everything; but they didn't come, his mind allowing him the luxury of fleeting comfort. Really, he just wanted to sink into Kenny's kindness and become lost, suddenly feeling like he'd been wandering for so long, his body broken and tired; his entire being crying out for respite.

"Thanks," he whispered.

"Shh, try to go to sleep," Kenny murmured, nuzzling his neck and holding him wonderfully close; his warmth engulfing Kyle and almost making him want to cry. "I'll be right here."

*******

He found himself in the lonely corridor again, wandering aimlessly but this time he didn't hear the nocturnes. No, instead he could hear someone crying, and he slowly walked in the direction of the sound, his heart becoming shredded by the lost and lonely noise. It almost sounded like the winter wind shrieking around the house when the night was unforgivably cold. On kitten feet, Kyle walked until he came to the basement door again, the sight of it immediately arresting him with deep fear; pervasive and all-consuming. The sobbing continued, calling to mind scared children calling out for their parents and begging for someone to save them from the monsters waiting in the slanted shadows; horrors seeping out from under the bed and crawling up the covers.

"Hello?" Kyle called out, not daring to come too close to the door. All at once, the crying stopped and then he heard footsteps on the other side; a pounding erupting as something banged on the wood. He recoiled, falling to the floor and cowering.

"No, no, please," he whimpered. "Please, not again. Craig, stay down there, okay? Just stay down there until I'm okay again."

The pounding came again, and then the doorknob started twisting slowly. Now Kyle was crying, his sobs even worse than the ones he heard before. Slowly, the door began to swing open and Kyle clutched at his head, screaming; screaming until his voice gave out, but then -

"Kyle, Kyle! Wake up! Wake up, baby." He opened his eyes and there was Kenny looking down at him, Kyle's head once again in his lap. Quickly, he sat up, looking around frantically.

"I heard crying. Someone was crying," Kyle said, suddenly terrified of the blue shadows flooding the unfamiliar room; a tiny light on the bedside table the only thing illuminating the small space. "Did you hear it, Kenny?"

"No, you were dreaming, Kyle. You were having a nightmare," Kenny assured him, but his voice didn't sound right; it sounded off. Kyle reached out to touch his cheek and was surprised to feel moisture there, his eyes skipping away and coming to rest on Rose; the diary sitting open at the foot of the bed.

"Kenny, are you -"

"Go back to sleep, Kyle," Kenny cut in, grabbing the diary and shutting it. He set it aside. "Here, lay your head down."

"But, Kenny, you were -"

"Please," Kenny said, quietly. "Just go back to sleep, okay? For me."

Wordlessly, Kyle obeyed and lay his head in Kenny's lap while slowly shutting his eyes, Kenny's gentle fingers caressing his curls and lulling him. Before too long, his heart stopped racing and he could feel himself tiptoeing toward the chasm in the ocean, the one he had to step over to fall back into sleep; the water swiftly swallowing him. Kenny held him close the whole time, his hands reassuring Kyle that he wasn't alone, that the basement was miles away; pushed back into the darkness where it belonged.