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Viral Times

by Rob Warr

Chapter 1

This story is a work of fiction. The characters and events are purely fictional, and any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. However, there is a real virus, and a real threat to our planet, and everyone needs to do their part to make sure this isn't the end of mankind. While there is no graphic sex in this story, it may allude to such sexual matters that young teens experience, such as erections and masturbation, and sexual experimentation between brothers. This work of fiction is property of the author Rob Warr and should not be reproduced or reposted without his express consent. © Rob Warr 2020.

I welcome all comments, email me at

It was the worst plague mankind had seen since the dark ages, and despite all our modern techniques and knowledge, in the end we were our own worst enemy. Sure, at first most of the population followed the guidelines set down by the government, such as isolating and avoiding large gatherings, but eventually they became restless and complacent and they went back to their old lives./p>

At first there was no noticeable spike in infections or deaths, then in one week the death toll went from 30,000 in the US to 500,000. Hospitals were overwhelmed, and many health care workers were among the dead. The virus played no favorites, and the rich and the poor, the educated, and the uneducated suffered the same fate.

By the end of the first year the death toll was around a million and a half in the US, but the good news was, the worst seemed to be over. Scientists had finally discovered a vaccine to stop the infection, and a number of drugs to slow down the virus and keep those infected alive while their bodies battled the virus.

Only the very sick and frail were at risk now, and for that reason many older people succumbed to the virus, leaving behind children with no parents and no family. Those children, some as young as 10 or 11 were now among the homeless, and organizations who usually dealt with such individuals were overwhelmed to the point that only the youngest children were able to get help.

Hordes of teens, and tweens, suddenly found themselves living from hand to mouth, sleeping in parks, on street corners, in doorways in the cities, and many of them fell victim to individuals who had no compassion for others and only sought their own survival.

It was this world that Dan Chandler lived in now, but fortunately he was not one of those who was either homeless or in danger from the virus that had devastated his fellow man. For Dan lived far from the city in a house built partly beneath the ground and surrounded by a ten foot tall fence topped with razor wire. He had not one, but two natural gas driven generators that he alternated to save wear and tear on them, and he had his own water sanitizing system, as well as an oversize septic tank for waste. He had two large freezers stocked with frozen meat and other foods, canned and boxed goods in the pantry, as well as a vegetable garden out back that provided fresh vegetables during the warm months, and what was left over he canned and stored in a basement store room.

He was self sufficient in most ways, but despite the amount of preparation he had done, he now found himself needing a few basics, such as paper goods and hygiene items. He'd waited as long as he felt he could, and with the latest statistics showing there had been no new reported cases of the virus for weeks now, he decided this was the time to venture into town.

Wearing a protective breathing mask and nitrile gloves he backed his 4-wheel drive Jeep out of the three car garage and headed to the front gate. Once there, he activated the electric gate and drove through. The gate closed automatically as his vehicle passed the detector built into the brick wall that framed the entrance, but he looked back just to assure himself that his castle was once again secure.

The drive into town was without incident. He noted there were a few cars sharing the road, but nothing like there would have been a year ago. Mankind would eventually get back to business as usual, but for now life was at a snail's pace and everyone was cautious.

Most businesses had reopened, but few customers seemed to be stirring this time of day, and for that Dan was grateful. He didn't think of himself as paranoid, no, just cautious, and there was no need to take chances. He'd survived this long, and he hoped to survive long enough to see things get back to normal, or at least as normal as the new conditions allowed.

At the supermarket he found he was trembling as he pulled into a parking space. He checked the weapon he had strapped to his shoulder and hoped he wouldn't need it, but these were desperate times and there were desperate people out there.

He finally worked up enough nerve to open the door and a cool breeze wafted in. It was late May and the temperature was in the mid 80's and the air felt good against his skin. He could smell fresh mown grass and flowers, and he dismissed any fears that other less pleasant things might be riding the wind currents and reaching his nostrils. His mask would protect him, but once home he would have to go through a thorough decontamination.

He was relieved to find an armed guard standing at the door as he entered and he relaxed some. There were no more than a dozen shoppers in the store, and most of them seemed to be in a hurry, wheeling their carts around and literally throwing items into them before moving on.

Dan grabbed a cart and used the provided wipes to clean the handle and top of the basket, then headed off to the first aisle of the store. This aisle held fresh produce, and though not as full as it might have been before all this madness, there was a good selection of items, and Dan picked up some onions, potatoes, bananas, and several other varieties of fruit. His own garden furnished most of his needs but onions and potatoes would keep, and the bananas would be a treat and if they became too ripe Dan would use them to make banana bread or muffins.

Next was the produce department, and Dan was pleased to see there was milk and fresh eggs. He grabbed two gallons of milk and three 18 count cartons of eggs, as per the limits, and then added some stick margarine and sour cream for cooking.

He skipped the frozen food section since he had plenty of things in his two freezers, and instead headed to the meat department. There was a fair selection there, and he picked up some hamburger and chicken, but decided nothing else looked that appetizing.

He found the paper aisle and added two 12 packs of tissue paper and four rolls of paper towels, as well as 4 boxes of facial tissues and some hygiene wipes. By the time he arrived at checkouts he had a basket full of goods, some he hadn't planned on buying, but as things turned out, those items would come in handy later.

He paid in cash, using some of the money he had stashed in the wall safe back at home, and pushed his basket out to the Jeep to unload it.

"Can I help you load your groceries sir?" an adolescent voice said from behind him.

Dan spun around to see a disheveled boy of about 15 or so looking at him pleadingly. Dan had always had a soft spot for kids, and this one looked hungry, dirty, and desperate. But there was of course the danger of him being a carrier of the virus, and his touching the groceries would not be a good thing.

"I can handle them just fine, but you look like you could use a good meal," Dan said digging in his pocket and producing a twenty, "take this and have lunch on me."

"I..." the boy sputtered, "I can help," he said sounding unsure of Dan's offer, "I don't beg, I work for my money."

"Look, son," Dan said gently, "I understand that, but with the virus and all, I just don't want anyone touching my stuff."

"OH," the kid said looking dejected, "I been the clinic...and I ain't got nothing. I'm healthy, just hungry."

Dan had heard that testing was not only free, but mandatory, and he supposed the kid was safe enough, and well...he could always disinfect when he got home."

"Okay, but if you're gonna help me, we should at least know each others name, "I'm Dan," Dan said giving the usual nod and folded hands greeting that had become the norm since the virus first appeared.

"I'm Cody," the kid said returning the greeting.

"You on your own bud?" Dan said making conversation as he unlocked the Jeep's rear hatch.

"My folks died in the first wave and I moved in with my grands, but a month ago they got it and died too. Since then I been on my own."

"Ouch, how old are you son?"

"15, almost 16," he laughed bitterly, "but won't be no birthday party this year."

"I'm sorry," Dan offered, "things are awful right now and there are a lot of kids like you out there, right?"

"Yeah, and a lot of bad guys too. Some kids gettin' raped, and beat up, and even killed. It's hard man," he said, his voice trembling as he began to help load the groceries into the Jeep.

It was at that moment that Dan made a decision that would change both of their lives forever, but even as he spoke Dan was surprised at how easy that decision had been.

"Come home with me then."

"Uh, I'm not like that mister," the boy said looking worried.

"Like what?" Dan asked innocently, then it suddenly dawned on him and he laughed, "Oh,, no...I didn't mean that way. I just meant, well...I live alone in a big house outside of town and there's plenty of food, and it's safe and..."

"Why me?" the boy asked sounding almost amused.

"Why not you? You're the first person I've even talked to for the last year, and your story touched me. I have a soft spot for kids, and despite you being on your own and almost 16, you're a kid too."

"I've seen things..." he said looking horrified.

"All the more reason to come with me. If you don't like it there I promise I'll bring you back and I'll give you enough money to make it for a while."

"I can't," the kid said looking tragic again, "I can't leave Jace."

"Jace, who's Jace, a friend?"

The boy shook his head, "My...Jace is brother."

"You have a brother? How old is he?"

"12, he's over that dumpster watching us. I told him to stay put in case you got mad or something and tried to hit me like some guys do."

"Well, I wouldn't want to split up a family," Dan said smiling in the direction of the tow-headed boy staring at them with a worried look. Then waving the boy over he said to Cody, "He can come too, the more the merrier."

"He's only 12 mister, he don't know about that stuff...if we go you gotta promise, you won't do it with him, only me."

"Cody, son...I'm not looking to pick you up for sex. I just want to help you. Please, trust me, sex is the last thing on my mind."

"Well...I don't know..."

"Then let's let Jace decide, how about that? At least give him a vote. There's two of you against one of me, so you have the advantage."

Jace had begun to move their way, and when Cody gave him the go ahead wave he bounded over looking like a puppy chasing a stick.

"Hi Jace, I'm Dan," Dan said, using the non-contact greeting he'd used with Cody.

"Uh hi," the boy said not bothering with the gesture, but adding a little wave with his grubby paw.

"He wants us to come home with him Jace," Cody quickly explained.

"How come?" Jace asked innocently.

"Dunno. Why?" Cody replied, then turned to Dan to ask for an explanation./p>

Dan sighed, "I don't know exactly. I mean, look at it like this. If it was you standing here, knowing you had plenty of food and a safe place to live, and two homeless, hungry boys came along, what would you do?"

Cody looked thoughtful then nodded, "I guess I see what ya' mean. Jace, what do you say?"

"Is their food?"

"Lots of food, and running water, a room of your own, and...I even have a swimming pool out back."

"Can we go Cody?" the boy pleaded.

Cody sighed, "If he kills us, he kills us..."

"I'm not going to kill you," Dan laughed, "I hope that was a joke. No, you're serious aren't you?" Dan added looking concerned, "Boys, I would never hurt a child intentionally. I just want to help you, and...well, I've been sort of lonely, and I thought maybe we could keep each other company."

"Can we Cody?" Jace begged again.

"Sure, why not. We'd probably die here anyway."

"No one is going to die. I...uh, I assume Jace has been tested too?"

"Yeah, we both have. We're clean, what about you?"

"Yeah, I did the home test just last week. I'm squeaky clean."/p>

If Cody seemed a bit reluctant as he climbed in the Jeep, Jace was just the opposite. He was still young enough to have that child-like wonder that a new adventure brought, and he was bubbling over with enthusiasm./p>

"Where is your house?" Jace asked peering over the seat.

"Buckle up please," Dan reminded him, "I want you to make it there in one piece." he chuckled.

"Oh, yeah...right. I forgot. It's been a long time since I been in a car. This one is nice. I like it Dan," Jace said grinning.

"Are you rich?" Cody asked, with a hint of disgust in his voice.

"Rich enough," Dan said, not explaining more, "I can afford to take care of both of you if that's what you mean."

"Do you have any kids of your own?" Jace wondered.

"No, I'm afraid not. I've lived a pretty lonely life actually. After college I moved to the mountains and did my writing from there, then a few years ago I moved back here. When I saw what was going on with the virus I decided to protect myself and I had my house built far from everyone and I hunkered down. Today is the first time I've been away for almost six months."

"Wow, is your house big?" Jace asked in awe.

"Big enough," Dan said sounding amused. He liked Jace's innocent child-like demeanor and he was hoping it would be contagious, and that Cody would soon come around. It was important that Cody feel good about things if this was to work. "You and Cody will have your own rooms, or you can share one. There are four bedrooms all together and three bathrooms."

"Wow, why so many bathrooms?" Jace asked.

"Well, it's a two story, so there's one downstairs, and then there's the master bath off my bedroom, and a third bath between two of the bedrooms. It also has a door to the hallway so it can be used by occupants in all three of the bedrooms, you'll see when we get there."

"Cool, can we share a room Cody?" the boy said turning to his brother.

"Yeah, I want you with me so I don't have to worry about where you are at night," Cody said, looking at Dan suspiciously.

Dan laughed, "Jace, your big brother is worried I might try to molest you. Are you worried about that too?"

"Are you going to?" Jace asked innocently.

"No, of course not. I don't have any interest in you that way."

"Okay, then I'm not worried," Jace said easily.

"We'll see," Cody huffed, crossing his arms and slumping back in the seat./p>

The drive took about thirty minutes, and when Dan pulled onto the paved road that led to the compound, both boys stared out the window with excitement, but for different reasons.

"What is this place?" Cody asked with horror, "is it a prison or something. Are we gonna' be prisoners here?"

"Not a prison, a sanctuary," Dan explained, "the fence is to keep people out, not in. If you want to go at any time, I will take you back to town, just like I promised, and give you money enough to live on for awhile."

"It's scary, but cool," Jace said, summing it up nicely.

As the gate opened Cody had this sudden urge to demand Dan take them back to town, but one glance at Jace calmed him down and he relaxed some. However, he was by no means fully convinced that Dan was on the up and up.

As the gate closed behind them, Cody felt that churning in his stomach and the doubts returned, but it was too late now. They were inside the fence, and if things turned bad, there would be no way out.

However, when they finally emerged from the tree cover and caught a glimpse of the house, Cody began to relax again. It wasn't a prison after all, not even a old dilapidated mansion with a dungeon. No, it was a bright and new looking two story Victorian house with a porch that wrapped around one side and disappeared along the side of the house. On the other side a three car garage adjoined the house, and Cody watched in awe as one of the doors rolled up to reveal there were two other vehicles inside.

One of the vehicles was a shiny red Mustang convertible, and the other a new looking Ford pickup. Surely serial killers and child molesters didn't have such cool vehicles, Cody mused. Maybe Dan was just a nice guy after all, and maybe, just maybe, he and Jace had found a home at last.

"Wow," Jace said in awe, "cool...a convertible. Is it yours?"

"Course it's his silly," Cody laughed, "all this is his, right Dan?"

"Yep, and now it's yours too," Dan said cheerfully, "but no driving till you have a license," he teased.

"I'm almost old enough," Cody said, "I even got my learner's permit. My gramps took me to get it, before...before, you know?"

"Well, we'll have to get you some driving time then. Next time we go to town I'll let you drive, how's that sound?"

"Really, cool...way cool," Cody said easing up at last./p>

"Come on, before we unload the groceries I want us to get decontaminated."

"What's that mean?" Jace said, wrinkling his cute nose.

"It means cleaning off any germs we might have picked up in town. We'll stash our clothes in a bin, and I'll wash them later, then we'll shower with special soap and dress in clean clothes."

"But, well...we don't have any clean clothes," Cody reminded him.

"No problem, I am prepared for just such an occurrence," Dan chuckled, "I have some drawstring pants and tees that will fit you well enough till I can wash your clothes. Then next trip to town we'll get you some more clothes. I should have thought of that earlier, but I wanted to get these groceries home before the cold stuff spoiled. Come on, this way."

"The downstairs bath was just off the mudroom, which was entered from the garage. Once inside, Dan removed his shoes and told the boys to do so as well. Opening the washing machine lid he tossed in his socks and the boys' socks soon joined them. When Dan removed his shirt Cody took a step back and grabbed Jace and sheltered him.

"I knew it," he hissed.

"What? Oh, did you think we were going to get clean? We have to get naked first, then shower. I'm sorry I don't have a more private place to do it, but remember, up until today it was just me. I promise I won't stare or perv on you, if you'll promise the same," he chuckled.

Jace giggled, and began undressing without further thought," Come on Cody, the quicker we get this over, the quicker we can see the house and maybe get some food."

His little brother's hunger quickly changed Cody's mind, and though he waited till the last second to discard his worn and holey briefs, he eventually stood before the two naked, blushing profusely. Dan, good at his word, did not stare, and instead led the two boys down the hall to the bathroom.

"You two go first, you can wash each others backs. Use this soap and this soft sponge then toss the sponge in there," he said pointing at a trash can near the vanity. I'll lay out your clothes and some towels for you while you're showering. Wash your hair too, there is shampoo in the caddy."

While the boys showered, Dan puttered around the bathroom, dragging out towels for the boys and arranging deodorant and talc on the vanity and breaking out new toothbrushes for the boys.

"We're done," Cody said eventually from behind the shower curtain.

"Okay, I have towels for you guys, come on out."

"Uh, can you turn your head?" Cody said sounding embarrassed./p>

What Dan didn't know was that while showering, Cody had popped a boner, and he didn't want Dan to think he was a pervert or interested in him that way. It didn't worry him that Jace saw his state of arousal, after all, they were brothers and there were few secrets between them.

"Sure, as soon as you're out I'll take your place and you can get dressed while I'm showering. I hung your clothes on the back of the door. I know they're a little big, but they'll do for now."

With his back to the shower, Dan waited while Cody wrapped himself up in a towel.

"Okay, you can take your shower now," Cody said, eying Dan suspiciously.

"Thanks, I won't be long. I'm not really dirty, just want to get the germs off."

"Cody's gotta boner, that's why he's so shy," Jace giggled.

"You little jerk," Cody exploded, "do not."

Dan laughed, "Well, if you did have a boner, it's no big deal. You're a teenage boy, and teenage boys are hard more than they're soft."

"Yeah, and even 12 year old boys get em'," Jace assured him.

Dan laughed, "And that's okay too. It's no big deal guys. If we're gonna live together we got to get used to each other and not be so worried about stuff."

"You just want to see my boner," Cody groused.

"If I'd wanted to see it I wouldn't have kept my back to you like I promised," Dan reminded him, "Cody," he sighed, "when are you gonna give me a break?"

"Yeah Cody, be nice," Jace warned, "Dan is nice, you should be too."

"You just don't understand..." Cody said softly.

"Are you dressed yet?" Dan asked eventually.

"Yep, what should we do now?" Cody asked, trying to sound more friendly and not mess things up for him and Jace.

"Turn your backs," Dan chuckled, "I'm comin' out."

Jace giggled, "Do you have a boner too?"

"Nope, not this time, but I don't want Cody to think I'm trying to show off my sexy body."

Cody moaned, "OH man, that's funny."

"Why? Cause I'm not sexy, or is that a dis?"

"Sorry," Cody said shrugging.

Dan dried off and dressed quickly, and as he was brushing his hair back he noticed the two staring at him in the mirror. He smiled and winked and Jace laughed.

"Come on guys, I'm going to slip on some shoes and go get the groceries. I don't have shoes for you guys yet so I'll give you socks, but I want you to meet me at the door and carry them to the kitchen and not come out into the garage."/p>

It only took a few trips to get all the groceries unloaded, and once Dan joined the boys in the kitchen he enlisted their help in putting things away. However, once the perishables were stowed, he told the boys to sit down at the breakfast bar and he began fixing them something to eat.

"How about sandwiches and chips for now?" Dan said, "I'll cook something special up for supper, but I know you guys must be hungry and I don't want you to have to wait right now."

"That's fine," Cody said softly, "Uh, thanks."

"What kind of sandwiches?" Jace asked bright eyed, "got any peanut butter and jelly ones?"

Dan laughed, wasn't that just like a kid? "Sure do buddy, grape or strawberry jelly?"

"Um, I don't know, you decide."

"How about one of each, that way you can decide which you like best?"

"Okay," Jace said smiling, "thanks Dan."

"How about you Cody, want PBJ or would you rather have turkey, ham, and cheese?"

"Turkey, ham, and cheese please," Cody said politely. He was beginning to loosen up some, and he was starting to think that Dan was really a good guy after all, and maybe he shouldn't be giving him so much shit.

Since he hadn't eaten since breakfast, Dan decided to join the boys for lunch and fixed a plate of sandwiches, knowing full well that the boys would consume most of them. He dug out two kinds of chips and placed them on the breakfast bar, then proceeded to get drinks for the boys and himself.

"I have soda, milk, tea, or juice guys, what will it be?"

"Juice please," Cody said, surprising Dan.

"Milk for me please," Jace said smiling, "it goes good with PBJ's."

Dan opted for iced tea for himself, and once he had everyone's drink ready he settled down by the boys and they began to eat.

"Umm...yummy," Jace said taking a bite of the sandwich with strawberry preserves and peanut butter./p>

Dan had cut the sandwiches diagonally to make them easier to eat, and next Jace took a bite of one with grape jelly, "Umm...yummy too. I like both of em'."

"Well, that's good news. If we ever run out of one kind of jelly we'll have the other," Dan chuckled, "how's your sandwich Cody?"

"Good, really good," Cody said after he'd chewed and swallowed a big bite. It had been a while since he'd had anything this good, and he was grateful to Dan for providing it, even if he wasn't quite convinced there wasn't a catch.

"After we finish our lunch I'll give you boys a tour of the place, including the grounds."

"Grounds?" Jace asked, looking up at Dan./p>

There was a dab of jelly on the boys cute face, and Dan reached over and wiped it off with his napkin before replying. "I meant the outside, I decided if I was going to be stuck here I wanted a nice place to spend time outside, so I had a sort of park constructed. There is even a bathroom out there in case I felt the need to pee and didn't want to walk all the way back to the house. There's a nice trail for walking or biking, and some exercise equipment in a little sand covered spot near the bathroom. Oh, and there's a gazebo too, for just sitting and thinking."

"A gazebo is one of those funny shaped things with a roof, right Dan?" Cody said surprising Dan with his sudden friendliness, "Me and Jace slept in one of those in a park one time."

"Yes, that's exactly right Cody...and it even has electricity and lighting built in."

"Cool," Jace said wiping a milk mustache off with the back of his hand, "what about the pool? You said you had a pool."

"It's just off the family room. You can't see it from here, but when we're done I'll show you."

"Cool. I think I'm gonna like it here," Jace laughed, and Cody smiled for a change.

Dan took this opportunity to give both boys a good looking over. He hadn't done so yet because he didn't want them to feel uncomfortable, but now that Cody had loosened up some he thought this was a good time. His first impressions of Cody were accurate, he decided, he was a cute boy with light brown hair and hazel eyes, and when he wasn't frowning his smile lit up a room. He had a serious look to him most of the time, but Dan understood why. After all, he was the oldest and in charge, and he felt responsible for his younger brother. Dan had a great deal of respect for the boy because of that, and he was glad he could shoulder some of that responsibility now, that is if Cody would allow it.

Cody's body was slim, but not skinny, Dan noted, and there was some muscle definition in his chest and arms which would no doubt increase as the boy grew, and began to eat, and exercise regularly. If Dan had been interested in boys, Cody would have certainly peaked that interest, but as it was, Dan's only interest in the boy was to help him, and perhaps become his friend.

Jace was about a foot shorter than his brother, with golden blond hair and grey blue eyes that sparkled with mischief and joy, despite his situation. He was cute to the point of being almost pretty, and Dan could see why Cody was so protective of him. In this world gone crazy, a cute innocent boy like Cody could be in great danger if he encountered the wrong sort of man.

Jace was more filled out than Cody, and Dan wondered if Cody hadn't sacrificed some of his own food to make sure his little brother didn't go hungry. That thought caused a lump in Dan's throat, and he looked away for a moment to regain his composure.

"So, I was wonderin'," Cody said suddenly, "uh, if I'm not bein' nosy, how old are you?"

"No, you're not being nosy. You have a right to know. I'm 40, just turned the big four oh in March."

"You don't look that old," Cody said sizing the man up for the first time, "you look younger, like 30 maybe."

"Well, thanks. I try to exercise and eat fairly sensibly, but you know? I do love my junk food," Dan chuckled.

"So, how come you never got married?" Cody continued, trying to learn as much as possible without offending the man.

"Well, long story made short, I just never found anyone I could stand living with," Dan chuckled, "I guess I'm sort of a loner. That's why isolating from the virus hasn't bothered me that much."

"But then you met us..."

"Yeah, hadn't planned on that," Dan laughed.

"So, you'll probably get tired of us and take us back pretty soon..."

"No, I'm sure that won't happen," Dan said, and he was quite sure he was right. The boys had already begun to get under his skin and into his heart, and he was actually looking forward to their company.

"Cody..." Jace said giving his brother a sad smile, "why do you have to test everyone?"

Cody looked as if he'd been slapped, and then he dropped his head and said softly, "I'm sorry. I'm being a total prick and you've been nothing but nice to us. I just don't want Jace to get hurt, that's all."

"Cody..." Jace repeated laying his head on his brother's shoulder, "I won't, I just know it. Dan is a good guy. He won't hurt us."

"He's right son," Dan said reaching across to touch the boy's hand. At first Cody stiffened, but then he relaxed and let Dan comfort him, "I'm here to help you in any way I can. All I ask is, you give it a chance. If you don't want to stay I'll take you back."

"Please Cody?" Jace begged.

"Okay, I never said I didn't want to stay and I'll shut up about stuff," Cody said looking into Dan's eyes.

Dan smiled, "Cool. Now let's finish our lunch so we can go exploring."

The boys ate their fill, but since there was the promise of more food later they didn't overdo. Both boys insisted on helping to clear and clean, and Dan smiled at their enthusiasm as they went about their tasks. When everything was put away, Dan took them on a tour of the house, starting with the downstairs.

"This is the living room, or parlor."/p>

"How come there's no TV?" Jace asked looking around.

"Because this room is for visiting, or in my case, for just thinking without any interruptions. There are plenty of TV's other places, you'll see."

Next was Dan's office/library which was opposite the parlor and had French doors opening onto the wide porch that wrapped around three sides of the house.

"I do my writing here and send my stuff in over satellite internet. Sometimes I open the doors and let the fresh air in while I write and it helps me think."

"Wow, look at all these books," Jace said as he browsed the bookcases, "Have you read all of them?"

"Not all, but most of them I guess. I like reading, and try to read for about an hour every night before bed."

Next was the family room, and here Jace excitedly pointed out a large flat screen TV on one wall, "Wow, that's a big TV."

"It also has a gaming system hooked to it, but I'll admit I hardly use it. Maybe you boys will get some use out of it."

"Cool," Cody said examining the game console and checking out the shelf filled with games of all sorts.

"You've already seen the kitchen, mud room and bath, so that's pretty much the downstairs. I'm sorry I don't have proper shoes for you guys, but I'm sure you won't mind going barefooted," he chuckled. Just leave the socks by the door.

"Why can't we wear the shoes we came in with?" Cody wanted to know?

"Because they may be contaminated. I plan on tossing them, but I'll buy you guys some new ones tomorrow when we go back into town."

"Okay, that's cool. I actually like going barefoot in the summer."

"Me too," Jace said, quickly stripping off his socks to reveal his small smooth feet.

"And out these doors," Dan said as he led them to the double French doors leading outside, "is the back porch and the Jacuzzi, and down the steps is the pool."

Both boys gasped in awe as they caught site of the pool, which glistened with blue water. The pool was rectangular, 30 feet by 12, and with a maximum depth of 7 feet and was 2 feet deep at the shallow end. There was no diving board due to the shallow depth, but there was a slide, as well as a ladder on both sides of the pool.

"It's heated, so we can swim most any time of year, and there's a pool house out there with a shower and toilet and places to change. There are swimsuits there of all sizes. I bought them when I first built the place, but then things went to Hell fast and I never had any visitors."

"Wow, can we swim now?"

"How about we finish the tour and then we can all three take a dip and cool off?"

"Okay, are we gonna see the grounds now?"

"If you'd like, but I thought I'd show you your room first and the upstairs."

"Let's do that," Cody suggested, "We can see the rest later."

"Okay," Jace quickly agreed.

Dan led the boys back inside and up a wide carpeted stairway and into a hall lined with doors on either side./p>

"My bedroom is the one at the end. Come on I'll show you. It overlooks the backyard and I even have a small balcony. Sometimes I sit out there and watch the sun set."

"Oh man, this place is huge," Cody said once they were inside Dan's bedroom./p>

Besides a huge four post bed there was a massive chest of drawers, a dresser, a desk with a computer, and more bookcases filled with books. There was also a 40" flat screen TV on the wall facing the end of the bed, and below it a bookcase filled with DVD's.

"Wow, you could live in here," Jace said in awe.

"Some days I did just that. I'd go down and get food and bring it up, then lay in bed and watch movies or surf the web." What Dan didn't say was that those were his darkest days. The ones where he wondered if surviving was even worthwhile if he was all alone. For despite proclaiming himself the perfect isolationist, he still had days when the loneliness gnawed at him like a rabid beast.

"What's in there?" Jace asked pointing to an ornate pocket door set in one wall.

"That's the master bath," Dan said leading the way, "there's a walk in shower big enough for four, a sunken tub with jets, and a bidet and urinal," Dan blushed, thinking how extravagant all this was, and how it must sound to the boys, boys who had nothing.

"What's a bid...a, what you said?" Jace asked.

"It's a butt washer," Cody said grinning.

"Huh uh," Jace said, looking at Dan, and then Cody to see if he could get a straight answer.

"That's as good a description as any," Dan laughed, "Come on, I'll show you." Dan led the boy into an enclosure that held a regular toilet and a bidet, as well as a pedestal sink, and proceeded to demonstrate how the bidet shot a stream of water up to cleanse the behind and Jace laughed.

"I bet that tickles. Can I try it sometime?"

"Sure, just let me know when you feel the need," Dan chuckled.

"So, where's our room gonna be?" Cody asked at last.

"Come on, I'll show you," Dan said, leading the two back out into the hall and toward the opposite end, "I had the other bedrooms located as far from the master bedroom as I could with the master bath in between to block even more noise. Both these bedrooms are the same size, but both are decorated differently. You can choose which you like best," Dan said leading the boys into the closest bedroom, which was done up in blues and creams with dark oak furniture.

"Oh wow, is this really our room?" Jace said looking around./p>

In addition to a queen size bed, there was a dresser, chest, desk (though bare), and a 40" TV mounted on the wall across from the foot of the bed. French doors led out onto a small balcony which overlooked the pool, and the sun shone in brightly warming up the room.

"Through there is the bathroom, and beyond it the other bedroom like this one. It's done up in green and peach with lighter colored furniture. There's another bedroom across the hall, but right now it's bare. I never bothered to furnish it."

"I like this one," Jace insisted, even though he hadn't seen the other bedroom, "it's closer to Dan, in case we get scared," he said, then lowered his head as if in shame.

"You got me if you get scared," Cody said softly.

"I know, but Dan is big and strong..."

"There's nothing here to be scared of buddy," Dan said soothingly, "but I'm here if you need me, anytime...okay?"

"I guess we'll sleep here then," Cody agreed.

"Okay, I'll show you the bath and then we can check out the rest of the grounds."

"Wow, there's even a urinal?" Cody said as he checked out the bathroom and the enclosure that held the toilet and urinal."

"I guess as a guy I just appreciate having a urinal, and I suppose I might've gotten carried away when I decided to include one in this bath."

"So, since there's a urinal, does that mean you were planning on only guys staying here?" Cody asked looking thoughtful.

"Well, maybe. I don't know for sure. I mean, it's not like I know any women who would trust themselves out here alone with a stud like me," Dan joked.

"Uh huh. So you didn't have a girlfriend or wife?"

"Nope, like I said, I just never found anyone I thought I could live with."

"How about us, can you live with us?"

"I think I can, if you'll quit busting my balls every chance you get," Dan chuckled.

"Sorry, I guess I'm just nosy, that's all."

"It's fine. So what do you boys think? Do you like it?"

"Its awesome," Jace said bubbling over with enthusiasm.

"Good, now how about we go downstairs and I'll show you around outside?"

It was hard for Jace to pass up the pool, but once he saw what lay ahead he put the desire to test the water on hold while he oohed and ahed at the magnificence of the outdoor space. He was especially interested in the exercise area, and he stopped there to check things out before they went on.

"I need to pee," Cody said suddenly, "you need to go Jace?"

"Okay," Jace said dropping down from the parallel bar he had been hanging onto, "You need to go Dan?"

"No, I'm good," Dan said, "you boys go ahead and I'll wait out here."

Dan sat down on a bench near the exercise area and took a moment to breathe in the fresh air and contemplate all that had happened, and what lay ahead. He was surprised at how easily he seemed to be accepting the boys' presence, and in fact found himself looking forward to spending time with them. He smiled when he thought about how sweet and accepting Jace was, and even though Cody seemed to be giving him a hard time at every turn, he was sure that at some point he could win him over too.

"Wow," Jace exclaimed as he came skipping out of the toilet, "it's so clean in there."

"That's because until today no one but me had ever used it. You didn't poop on the walls did you?" Dan teased.

Jace giggled, and Dan loved the sound of the young boys voice, "No silly. I just peed and then washed my hands. I like the hand dryer, it will blow you away," he said grinning.

"Yeah, I didn't want to have to stock paper towels so I decided to go with the dryer."

Cody joined them next, but he was much less enthusiastic than his brother, "All this, just for you?" he smirked.

"And you guys now," Dan said easily.

Cody rolled his eyes, "But you only just met us..."

"And I thank God, or Karma, or whoever, that I did. You are such a sweet trusting boy," Dan said sarcastically.

"I get it, I'm a dick," Cody said, and Jace giggled.

"Sometimes," Dan agreed, "come on, I want to show you guys the bike trail. It's not far, and I think you're gonna like it."

Cody was quiet as they walked along, but Jace jabbered away the whole time and Dan enjoyed his youthful exuberance, wishing that Cody shared some of it. When they reached the beginning of the bike trail, Jace ran on ahead and soon disappeared over a hill.

Cody seemed to perk up some then, and ran on ahead to join his brother. When Dan topped the hill he saw both boys just starting up the next rise./p>

"Zoom zoom," Jace said as he pretended to ride a bike up the hill. Even Cody was laughing as he followed his brother and Dan smiled. The boy might just get in touch with his inner child after all.

"I have two bikes," Dan said as he topped the second hill, "and we'll get another for Jace. The spare one I have should be fine for you Cody."

"Cool," Jace said, "hear that Cody, we can ride bikes here."

"Yeah, sounds fun?" Cody said, sounding upbeat for a change.

"Let's start back," Dan suggested, "the trails go on for a mile or so and you'll see the rest soon enough once we get Jace a bike."

The walk back took much less time than the trip out, but they were hot and sweaty as they finally neared the house.

"Let's grab a drink and cool off a bit. We can shower the sweat off in the pool house and put on our swim suits before we hit the pool."

"So you can see us naked again," Cody smirked.

That was it, the final straw, and even though Dan knew he was overreacting he gave the boy a hateful look and stomped off to the kitchen without speaking. He dug drinks out of the fridge for them, but it was several minutes before either boy appeared, mainly because Jace was reading Cody the riot act, and then it was only Cody./p>

"Cody, I love you and you're my big bro, but you gotta quit being mean to Dan. He's a good guy and he only wants to help us, and if you don't stop it he might not want us to stay here. Please Cody, just try to be nice," Jace said near tears.

"I'm sorry. You're right," Cody said trying to analyze his own feelings. Was he really convinced Dan was up to no good, or was it simply that he didn't want anyone else taking care of Jace? Jace was right about one thing though, if he didn't stop busting Dan's balls they were likely to wind up back on the street again, and the thought of that sent shivers up his spine.

"I'll go talk to him, wait here."/p>

"Gatorade okay?" Dan said handing a bottle to Cody.

"Yeah, fine. I wanted to talk to you if it's okay," the young teen said meekly.

"Sure, I told you I'm here for you guys anytime you need me, and I meant it."

"I'm sorry," Cody said sighing, "I don't know why I keep dissing you. I'm really sorry."

"I accept your apology. It takes a man to admit he's wrong and make amends. Look, Cody, I know this is tough on you, giving up control and power to someone else," Dan said, hitting the nail right on the head, "but I only want to help. Together we can do a better job of taking care of Jace, and in the process I can take care of you, and you can take care of me. We can help each other, that's what families do."

"A family," Cody laughed softly, "it's been awhile since I had one of those."

"And you deserve to have one now. We all do. Won't you give me a chance to show you how good it can be?"

Cody nodded, unable to speak at the moment.

"Good, now let's go find Jace, he must be dying of thirst by now," Dan chuckled.

Dan allowed the boys to go to the pool house alone to shower and get changed, and when they were done he took his turn. He figured Jace would be safe enough with Cody nearby, but he made sure both boys could swim before he left them.

When he returned, both boys were splashing about and laughing, and it was the first time he'd seen Cody actually act happy. He smiled as he slipped into the cool blue water, hoping the Cody had meant what he'd said earlier, and that he was finally loosening up some.

The three swam for about an hour before Dan finally suggested they take a break and get something to drink. Jace was disappointed that he couldn't swim longer, but he didn't want to be like Cody who was always giving Dan trouble.

With their drinks in hand, they stretched out on lounge chairs and let the warm afternoon sun dry them off. It felt good, so good that soon the inevitable happened and the two boys dozed off. Dan smiled when he peered over at two sleeping boys and his heart went out to them. He supposed it must've been hard for the boys to get a good night's sleep out there on the streets, and he chastised himself for not suggesting that they take a nap earlier.

He dozed a bit himself and when he finally stirred it was to the sound of laughing and splashing. His eyes flickered open to see the two boys having a splash fight a few feet away in the shallow end of the pool and he smiled.

"Sorry guys, guess I dozed off," Dan said yawning and stretching.

"It's okay, we took a nap too." Jace said grinning, "and now we're ready to play some more."

"I see," Dan said. "Will you guys be okay if I go in for a while and take care of some business?"

"Sure," Cody said, actually smiling for a change, "I got this Dan."

Dan almost warned the boys to be careful when they were in the deep end, but he bit his tongue. After observing them earlier, it was obvious both boys were strong swimmers, and he knew Cody wouldn't let anything happen to Jace.

"Great, if you need me I'll be in my office."

Dan showered and changed upstairs then headed down to the office and opened the French doors to let in the fresh air. It was still warm out, but there was a nice breeze, and he had a desk top fan to facilitate things. He opened his computer and pulled up his bank account and noted that his balance was several thousand dollars richer than the day before. He'd sent a short story to his publishing company and he supposed that was an advance on the royalties./p>

He paid a few bills online, then sent money to several of his favorite charities, most of which were directly aimed at helping families and kids. Thinking of the two boys out back in the pool, he doubled his usual gift, then logged off his computer.

He sat there for a long time staring at the screensaver as the bubbles bounced across the screen, but suddenly a soft adolescent voice brought him out of his stupor.

"Uh, Dan...we're got tired of swimming and we showered and put those other clothes back on," Jace said stating the obvious.

"Oh, sorry it took me so long," Dan said, "are you boys hungry yet?"

"Sorta," Jace said shyly./p>

"Where's Cody?"

"He's upstairs, he had to poop," Jace giggled.

"Oh, well...we all do that," Dan laughed.

"Let's go out to the kitchen and grab a snack."

By the time Dan had their snack prepared, Cody joined them, looking a bit sheepish and flushed. Dan wondered if the boy did more than poop. Being a teen he might have felt the need to relieve some other bodily function, namely his aching balls.

"Hungry buddy?"

"A little, swimming burns off a lot of calories I guess."

"Yes, it does. It's really good for you too. I'm glad to see both of you are such good swimmers."

"We learned at the Y," Jace said taking a bite of his banana.

"Oh, the Y is a great...was, a great place," Dan said, then frowned when he thought that because of the virus, the Y had fallen down just like all the other institutions that brought people together.

"That was when mom and dad were still alive," Jace said looking sad.

"Well, I'm glad you learned to swim, because that pool out there was just going to waste till you guys came along."

Cody could think of a million comebacks for that, but he was trying to keep his word to Jace, and to Dan, and give things a chance. So far Dan had been nothing but nice to them, and he knew he had no reason to act the way he did. Except, maybe Dan had said it best when he suggested that it was hard for Cody to give up some of the control he had. He'd been taking care of Jace for as long as he could remember, even way back when they'd still had parents. Then when his parents had died and they'd moved in with his grandparents, he'd had to do even more. His grandparents were old and on a fixed income and he had to pitch in to help out and make sure things worked for them. Jace had always been emotionally immature and he'd always needed Cody to watch out for him. Now here was this total stranger stepping in and taking control. It was hard letting go, but for Jace's sake, and his own, he had to give up some control, and that wasn't going to be easy.

Munching on an apple, Cody looked Dan over and decided he liked what he saw. He was a handsome guy, and despite being 40, he looked much younger, and had a nice body. Cody had been having some disturbing feelings lately, and though he was battling them, he was starting to feel like it was hopeless. Even though it had been a while since he'd been at school, or had any close association with more than a couple of boys at once, he'd begun to notice them, and for that matter men, in a whole lot different way.

He knew being gay wasn't really that big a deal these days, but he didn't want to be gay, and he tried fighting it for a while, and hoping that he'd start to notice girls the way he noticed boys, but he was beginning to doubt that would ever happen. Sure, he knew which girls were pretty, or which ones had a nice body, but they just didn't turn him on like guys did. He supposed if he ever found himself naked with a girl that he could probably enjoy himself, but it would be more like masturbation than sex. He wanted to like the person he had sex with, and be turned on by them, and girls just didn't do that for him.

"Penny for your thoughts bud," Dan said bringing Cody out of his funk, "you looked a million miles away just now."

"Oh, sorry," he said blushing, "just thinking, that's all."

"You're okay with things, right?"

"Oh yeah, worries there. I was wondering though..."

"What's that bud?"

"'s none of my business, but..."

"What?" Dan chuckled, "what is it that you'd like to know?"

"Nothing, never mind," Cody said releasing the breath he hadn't been aware he was holding till just then.

"Well, I have no secrets. I'm an open book, so anything you want to know...just ask. If not now, then when you're ready."

"Okay," Cody said mulling that over. Did he dare ask the question that was on his mind and risk offending Dan and upsetting his little brother? "Do you think we could maybe talk in private sometime?"

"Any time," Dan said easily.

"Okay, thanks. I'll think about it, okay?"

"Sure. Well, now that I'm thinking about it, there is one secret I've kept from you guys, but after we finish our snack I'll reveal that one thing, and I think you will really like it."

Cody was worried about what that secret might be, but like most boys he was also curious, and eager to find out what Dan wanted to tell them. He kept quiet however and ate his snack, but Jace was relentless in trying to get Dan to disclose his secret right away.

Once the snack was put away and the mess cleaned up Dan gave the boys a smile and said, "Follow me."

He led them to a door in the short hall near the mud room that they hadn't noticed upon their arrival. It was locked, which surprised and worried Cody, and as Dan unlocked the door he stepped back a few feet, gathering Jace into a protective hold.

"What's in there?" he asked worriedly, "Why is it locked?"

"It's not the torture chamber you've been fearing," Dan chuckled, "just the opposite, down there, in the basement, is the game room. I built it thinking that someday, after all this crap is over with I might actually have some friends to share it with."/p>

The sad look on Dan's face eased some of Cody's worries and he actually felt sorry for the man./p>

"But now," Dan said brightening up some, "I have two of the most fun loving guys in the universe to share it with. I'd almost forgotten about it until today. And now..." he said, opening the door wide and gesturing to a flight of carpeted stairs, "I give you...the Fun Zone."

"Awesome," Jace said as he peered down the stairs, "can we go Cody?"

"Yeah, I guess," Cody said reluctantly, "I guess at some point I gotta start trusting you."

"Thank you, I appreciate the confidence you've placed in me," Dan chuckled, "Well, come on," he said starting down the stairs, the boys close on his heels.

The stairway took a 90 degree turn halfway down and at that point they were able to glimpse through the railing some of what lay below. Jace's eyes grew wide and his mouth flew open as he caught a glimpse of what lay below and he took the lead, taking the stairs two at a time.

By the time Dan and Cody arrived at the bottom of the steps Jace was shifting excitedly from foot to foot, raring to go and explore, but reluctant to do so till the other two arrived.

"Can we look around?" Jace asked in a high pitched voice that broke, causing Dan to smile.

"Of course buddy, look around, play some games, have fun. That's what this place is all about."

Cody was almost as excited as his younger brother, but he tried to keep from showing it as he wandered around checking things out, Dan close by watching the boys with wonder. When he'd built this place and equipped it, he'd never expected his guests would be so young or enthusiastic. Their excitement and sense of wonder was contagious, and Dan found himself smiling so widely that his face hurt.

"A pool table," Cody said picking up a pool cue, "Wow, do you play Dan?"

"Yeah, I'm not a pro, but I do all right, how about you?"

"Yeah, I used to play at the Y, and my friend Joe had a table in his garage."

"Look Cody," Jace said excitedly, "there's an air hockey machine, wanna play?"

"Sure," Cody said smiling at his brother, then turning to Dan he added, "maybe later we can play some pool."

"You got it bud," Dan said as he followed Cody to where his little brother stood with his paddle in his hand, ready for some fun.

Dan watched as the two battled it out, and the sound of laughter and their innocent sparring brought a smile to his face. He was fast getting attached to the two, especially Jace who was a little teddy bear, and so cute it hurt. Cody was another matter though, and a tough nut to crack, but well worth the effort, Dan decided. He admired Cody's loyalty to his brother and was patiently trying to get to know the boy better and win him over. It was a slow battle, but he felt like he was making headway for a change. He understood the boy, because once he had been just like him, and if his suspicions were true, they were alike in more ways than one.

The boys battled it out for about fifteen minutes till Jace declared he had won, and he quickly challenged Dan to a match.

"Yeah, show us how it's done," Cody said handing his paddle to Dan, "I bet you're good at this game, cause it's full of air, just like you," he laughed.

"Was that a joke?" Dan laughed, "Wow, you're loosening up some, aren't you?"

"Yeah, I guess I am. How could I not in a place like this?"

"Well, I hope eventually you'll come to think of this place as home and think of me as a friend," Dan said, taking his place on the other side of the table.

"Just a friend?" Cody said, causing Dan to frown.

"What else? Big brother maybe, but not dad," Dan chuckled, "I'm too young to have a kid your age."

"Huh uh, you'd have when I was born. That's not too young," Cody laughed.

"I swear, I didn't know your mom," Dan teased, "it wasn't me."

"I know that," Cody said looking solemn, "I looked just like my dad," he added sadly.

"I'm sorry buddy, that was not cool of me to tease about being your dad," Dan said sincerely.

"It's cool, I started it. You can't worry about what you say around me all the time. We need to be able to say things and not make each other mad or sad, but if we do we can work it out," he said, sounding far older than his 15 years.

"I agree," Dan said nodding, and inadvertently letting Jace score a point, "Oops."

"Keep talking to him Cody," Jace giggled, "so's I can win."

"Why you little," Dan laughed, "teaming up on me, huh?"

Jace giggled harder and even Cody found that amusing.

Dan liked to think that he didn't let Jace win, but seeing the boy's happy smiling face when he won, was worth it if he did./p>

"What's over there?" Jace asked noticing a closed door on one wall.

"It's a bathroom. Didn't want to have to walk all the way upstairs to pee," Dan explained.

"So...there's really four bathrooms here then," Jace said looking thoughtful, "wow, that's the most bathrooms I ever saw in a house."

"Yeah, well...that way we can all poop at once," Dan teased.

Jace giggled, "Yeah, if we get diarrhea."

"Well, let's hope that doesn't happen," Dan chuckled, "I'll try not to poison us when I cook."

In addition to the pool table and air hockey table, there was a Foosball table, several upright arcade games, as well as a large flat screen TV with two gaming consoles attached. There were a few games down here, as well as the ones upstairs, and Dan figured it would be years before the boys went through them all. There was also a small kitchen with a microwave, electric cook top, and a fridge, as well as a sink./p>

"Wow, this is so cool. I could live down here," Jace said plopping down on the large comfy sofa in front of the big screen TV.

"Well, if you don't mind sleeping on the couch," Dan teased.

"You're not sleeping down here," Cody said stiffly, "you're sleeping with me, like always."

"I know," Jace said frowning, "I was just joking."

Dan wondered about that. Why was Cody so insistent on keeping the boy with him as much as possible. Did he still mistrust him and think he was going to molest the boy? Or were they closer than he'd first thought, and perhaps intimate. He knew it wasn't uncommon for brothers to form intimate relationships, and though he personally didn't think there was anything wrong with two brothers messing around, becoming too close could inhibit their other social interactions. Of course right now there was no danger of the boys missing any opportunities to form friendships, since they were being isolated for the most part. Still he worried that Jace might be the one to suffer if there was something going on between the two.

Dan let the boys explore and play games, and even shot a game of pool with Cody before hunger finally drove them back upstairs. Dan had put three nice steaks out to marinate earlier and he planned on grilling them on the built-in gas grill on the back porch. While he waited for the charcoals to heat up, he washed and dried three baking potatoes and put them in the convection oven to bake. The convection oven could do what a conventional oven did in a fraction of the time, and by the time the steaks were done the potatoes would be ready./p>

Dan enlisted the help of the boys to put a salad together while he grilled the steaks. When the boys had the salad prepared and in the fridge they joined Dan on the back porch, practically drooling as they inhaled the sumptuous aroma of cooking steak.

"Can we eat out here?" Jace said noticing the umbrella table and chairs near the pool.

"I think that's a great idea. Why don't you guys set the table while I finish up here?"

The boys quickly found plates and silverware, including steak knives, and set the table in no time flat. Dan made a few suggestions, such as bringing out the salt and pepper shakers, salad dressing, and butter, but he was pleased at the boys self reliance and initiative.

The boys were quiet for a few minutes as they took there first few bites of the tender steak, and it was Cody who spoke first.

"This is really good. Do you eat like this all the time?"

"Not always, I fix simpler meals too, like spaghetti, soup and sandwiches, and sometimes I just have breakfast for supper."

"That sounds good," Jace agreed, "I like bacon."

"Me too buddy," Dan said smiling, "I'm glad to see you guys are eating your salad too. You need to eat fruits and vegetables to stay healthy."

"I love salad," Jace said spearing some lettuce to prove his point, then popping it into his mouth.

"And fruit," Cody said, "I really like apples and bananas. Our folks taught us to eat healthy stuff, and so did our grands."

"Yeah, but granny liked to bake cookies," Jace said softly, "and they were the best cookies in the whole world."

"Yeah, they were pretty good," Cody agreed, "I miss them a lot," he muttered, but Dan didn't think he meant the cookies.

"Don't be sad Cody," Jace said touching his older brother gently, "they're in Heaven with mom and dad and now we got a new home here with Dan."

"Yeah, I know," Cody said managing a smile.

The rest of the table talk was more upbeat, and by the time they'd finished their meal everyone was in good spirits. After cleaning up the mess and loading the dishwasher, Dan suggested they watch some TV, and the boys eagerly agreed.

Although Dan had satellite TV and internet, most of the time he preferred to watch movies on DVD and he suggested the boys pick one out for them to watch. After some debate the two boys picked a Transformer movie and Dan heartily agreed that it was a good choice./p>

Halfway through, he paused the movie and fixed microwave popcorn and sodas for them, and when he sat back down the boys scooted together to share a bowl of popcorn, while Dan ate from his own smaller bowl. Despite the fact that the sofa was rather roomy, Jace had parked his behind within a few inches of Dan and slowly but surely had moved till they were touching.

Dan didn't mind, in fact he welcomed the boy's trusting advances. He knew boys Jace's age needed to feel secure and loved, and though Cody provided much of those assurances, he needed an adult to lean on as well. He was beginning to have very strong feelings for the younger brother, almost parental in nature, and even though he'd never actually been a dad, he supposed those feelings were instinctual. Cody was a different matter though. His feelings for Cody were less intense and more reserved, but he liked the boy a great deal, and was committed to taking care of both him and Jace, even if Cody wasn't always that cooperative.

When the popcorn was gone and their sodas drained, Jace cuddled even closer to Dan, going as far as to lay his head on his shoulder. Cody noticed his younger brother's actions and at first was overcome with jealousy. After all, he was the one who should be comforting him, just as he'd been doing almost all their lives, and Dan was a stranger, a stranger that Cody still wasn't sure about.

He stewed for a few minutes about whether he should say anything or just let it go, and he finally decided he'd wait and have a long talk with Jace later, when they were alone. He scooted closer to his brother, hoping he'd direct his attention his way, and he did to some extent, but he kept close contact to Dan as well, that way he felt doubly secure.

Eventually Cody forgot about his distress and enjoyed the movie, and by the time it had ended he was in a pleasant mood.

"Well, guys...feel free to stay up as long as you want, but this old guy is heading off to bed."

"I'm ready too," Cody said yawning, and Jace looked sleepy as well.

"Okay, but will you come say goodnight?" Jace almost pleaded.

Dan smiled, "Yeah, why don't you guys go on up and brush your teeth and get into bed, and I'll stop by and tuck you in," he chuckled.

"I'm 15," Cody said shaking his head in dismay, but he was smiling as well, "I don't need tucking in."

"Well, I'll tuck Jace in then," Dan chuckled.

"Yeah, tuck me in," Jace agreed, "Uh, Dan we don't have toothbrushes, do we?"

"Yep, in the drawer on the left there are several packs of new toothbrushes, just pick a color and remember which one is yours. There's toothpaste in the holder by the sink. There is also deodorant in the medicine cabinet for your stinky pits," Dan teased.

"I don't stink," Jace said sniffing at his pits and making a face, "but Cody does," he added giggling.

"He's a man, we men stink," Dan chuckled, and Cody smiled. He liked being considered a man instead of a boy, even if it was only a joke.

"Okay, off you go," Dan said standing and offering Jace a hand up./p>

The boy sprang to his feet and immediately wrapped Dan in a big hug. Dan was surprised at first, but he soon recovered and wrapped his arms around the boy and held him close.

Looking up, Jace smiled at Dan and then pulled away and ran off towards the stairs. Cody stood looking at Dan for a moment, unsure whether to speak or not, but finally decided it could wait, and he turned and joined his brother.

Dan could feel the resentment and jealousy emanating from Cody, but he felt torn by his feelings. He certainly wasn't going to push Jace away and make him feel bad just because of Cody's insecurities, but he didn't want to hurt Cody either. At some point they would have to talk about this, but right now what they all needed was a good night's sleep.

He went about the place, locking up the house and setting the alarm then got a drink of filtered water from the pitcher he kept in the fridge. He was just closing the door when Cody appeared around the corner.

"Oh, something wrong?" Dan said momentarily startled by the boy's presence.

"Naw, Jace had to poop. I told him I was coming down to use the bathroom down here. I wanted to talk with you for a minute if it's okay."

"Well, of course it is. Want something to drink?"

"Naw, I'm okay," the boy said looking nervous. Earlier he'd known exactly what he wanted to say to Dan, but now that the moment was here, he was at a loss for words. What was worse, his feelings seemed silly now and he felt like he was wrong to think those things about his brother and Dan.

"Is it about Jace snuggling up to me?" Dan asked gently.

Cody blushed but nodded, "He's always come to me when he felt scared or alone or whatever..."

Dan smiled, "Let's sit for a minute," he said leading Cody to the parlor and to the small cozy sofa there.

"I know it's crazy to feel this way..." Cody began, sounding distressed.

"No, it's not. It's how you feel, and you're entitled to your feelings, but maybe with my help you can work through those feelings and figure out what's really going on."

"Like what. Do you think I'm crazy or something?" Cody asked, looking distraught.

"No, not at all. I think you're a very intelligent and resourceful boy, and I'm very impressed and very proud of how you've taken care of Jace and yourself."

"I didn't do so good toward the end," he muttered, "if you hadn't come along I don't know what might've happened to us."

"You'd have thought of something, that's for sure," Dan assured him, "but isn't this better? Can't you ease up a little and give some of the responsibility to me? I know you love Jace and you want what's best for him, but at the same time you want him all to yourself, am I right?"

The boy blushed and looked at Dan with worry in his eyes, "What do you mean?"

"You guys are a little closer than most brothers, aren't you?"

"Well...we had to be. We've been on our own so long..."

"And in that process of surviving and taking care of one another you've grown very close, closer than brothers, closer than even friends, am I right?"

"What are you saying?" Cody asked, looking panicky now.

"Relax, I'm not saying it's a bad thing. It's not unusual for brothers to find themselves, intimate, especially when they're thrown together in impossible situations like yours. I'm not trying to take Jace away from you if that's what you're afraid of. I am beginning to have some very strong feelings for him, and for you, but they're good feelings, not creepy ones," Dan laughed, "sort of like a big bro I guess. I want to take care of you both, but you're going to have to ease up if that's going to happen. I can't compete with you for your brother's feelings, and I won't try, but you can't keep him from feeling the way he does. He looks up to me as someone who is kind, and loving, and protective, and that's what I want to be for him, and for you."/p>

"I just don't want him getting hurt," Cody began, then looking defeated he added, "I guess it's silly to feel this way. You've been nice to us and I got no reason to think you're gonna hurt us. I love Jace a lot, and if anything ever happened to him...I don't know what I'd do."

"All the more reason to trust me and let me help the both of you. We can be happy here, the three of us, and when things settle down out there in the world we'll move back into the city if you want, and you can go back to school and have friends and live a normal life."

"I don't know, it's crazy out there. I feel safe here, even if I don't act like it sometimes. I just want to be happy and not have to worry so much. It's hard being in charge," he laughed sadly.

"Yeah, I know. So let me take on some of the responsibility and relax for awhile. Enjoy life, and stop worrying about every little thing. And as far as you and Jace go, what goes on between you is your business. I don't need to know, and neither does anyone else, but all I ask is...that you make sure it's what Jace wants too."

"I know. I would never do anything to hurt him," Cody said with tears in his eyes.

"Then it's all cool. Are we good? Do we understand each other now?"

"Yeah, thanks," the teen said wiping at his eyes, "can I...can I give you a hug?" he added, looking small and frail all of a sudden.

"Absolutely, any time. I never turn down hugs. Well, at least not from people I know don't have the virus," he chuckled.

He stood and Cody hugged him briefly, almost awkwardly, but Dan decided it was a big step for the boy and he was hopeful that things would start to change for the better now.

By the time he made it upstairs to the boys' room the two were in bed with the covers loosely pulled up around them. Jace was grinning and Cody had a sheepish smile on his face.

"Well guys I don't know about you, but I am so ready for a good night's sleep. We have a busy day ahead of us tomorrow and I want to get an early start."

"Cool," Jace said as Dan pulled the covers up around his neck.

Then at the last minute Dan bent down and kissed the boy on the forehead. He didn't plan on it, nor was it anything he'd ever thought about, but it seemed the most natural thing in the world despite that. He half expected Cody to be looking daggers at him, but instead the teen was smiling warmly, his eyes sparkling with good will.

"Hey, how about me?" Cody said grinning, "aren't you gonna tuck me in too?"

Dan didn't dare mention that earlier he'd insisted that 15 year olds didn't need tucking in, instead he went around the bed and repeated his performance with Jace, including the kiss on the forehead. He noted that Jace was smiling warmly and looked very happy to see the two getting along so well, and Dan gave him a wink.

"Good night guys, sleep tight. Oh, and if you need anything you know where to find me. I'm a light sleeper so a knock on the door will rouse me."

"We'll be fine, right Jace?" Cody assured him, "but thanks, thanks for everything."

"You're welcome buddy. Goodnight guys."

"Night," the two boys echoed as Dan headed for the door.

Once he was gone, Jace turned to his brother and hugged him gently, "Thanks for being nice to Dan. It's gonna be good living here, you'll see."

"I know," Cody said giving his brother a kiss on the cheek."

"I love you Cody," the younger boy said sleepily.

"I love you too. Now, snuggle up and go to sleep."

Jace did, and soon they were both sleeping soundly.

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