..The follow up to Controlled Burn, and I think I've finally managed to master the fine art of chapterizing, many thanks to Tikatue, Boomercat, Darkhelmet and Opal Girl; good friends, all. Once again, it is AU, the same story, continued. The characters are not mine, but I love them, in whatever form they take.



Alan Tracy slumped against the passenger door of his mother's powder blue Cadillac Escalade, staring resolutely out the side window at a crawling interstate. He had earphones on, and wore a sullen, defiant expression. It was his first Monday back since Easter vacation, he was going to school, and the morning had been one long, continuous, pitched battle.

His mother was just about in tears, trying hard to win back even a glimpse of the sunny, chubby blond boy she remembered, but Alan wasn't having any.

"Sweetie," his mother pled, steering with one hand as she reached out to touch his shoulder, "please, let's try to make it a good day. All you have to do is sit in class, click through the lessons and type up a report or two. Please, Baby..., just do what they tell you?"

Alan jerked away from her touch, seething inside.

'Just do what they tell you...!' He repeated to himself, savagely; like it was ever that easy...! He was fourteen years old, in the ninth grade by the grace of God and his father's wealth. He hated school; was no good at it, got almost physically ill at the sight of a disc or keyboard. Only on the speak-type could he write, and then he got low marks for synonym and grammatical errors. His teachers were condescending, his parents confused, and his grades abysmal. Only one person seemed to understand what grinding torture these classes were for Alan, and tried to help out..., but he wasn't here. Mom was.

Now they were nearing the school, about to make the last turn off the freeway that would bring him back to prison. His stomach muscles clenching, Alan turned up the volume on hisMP3 player, drowning out his mother's words.

Gennine Rivers, once Gennine Tracy, gripped the big steering wheel white-knuckle tight. She drove automatically, unseeingly, forcing the Escalade's on-board computer guidance system to take over repeatedly. Like her son, she was blonde, and beautiful. Her features were more classical, though; more ice-queen than Dutch-boy. Alan, despite his gelled hair and surly attitude, had the cherubic face and sea-blue eyes of a Botticelli angel. Her beautiful son, still and always.

If only she could find a way to reach him...! Something that would crack through that angry shell and release her boy... A happy thought came to her, suddenly, and Gennine bounced excitedly in her leather seat. Reaching over, she tapped her son's slumping shoulder.

"Alan...? Baby...?" He scowled, pretended not to hear her. Gennine pressed on. "Sweetie, what if we invite Gordon to come stay with us again, after the Olympics? He could have the guest room, and the two of you could spend the summer together."

Alan turned off the CD player and gave his mother a cautious, sideways look.

"You mean it?" He asked, finally. "You want me to call him tonight? Last time, you said two of us were more than you could handle."

Gennine gave him a tentative, hopeful little smile.

"Well, Sweetie-pie, I know you think he hangs the moon and polishes the stars... and it would be nice for you to have some time together, after everything that's happened... So, sure; after school today, give your brother a call."

Alan grinned, and for a moment Gennine went back eight years, to a time when it was newly just the two of them, and he'd been her sole comfort.

"Yeah! Okay. ...And, hey, Mom? How 'bout tickets to a few of his events? The swim meets are gonna be held in Astoria. It's not that far, if I fly, and they don't cost much. I could take TinTin!"

For that smile, Gennine would have sold her soul.

"Why not? Use my credit card. Get a ticket for me, too. Just one. Something he's sure to win. Competition makes me nervous."

Alan rolled his eyes in pretended disgust, playfully ruffling her hair.

"Wimp! You want the 400 meter I M, then. That one's locked up, Mom; guaranteed gold."

"It'd better be...," she replied primly, "or I'll spend the whole race with my eyes covered, like I did at your cousin's ballet recital."

"Yeah, but that's different. Let's face it, Mom, Trudy stinks. Gordon doesn't..., at swimming, anyway. He's a crappy skate boarder, though. Wait 'll you see him try that backward pool slide trick of mine!"

His mother made a face, saying,

"At this point, Sweetie, the less I hear of your plans, the better. Just don't call me from prison, or the hospital!"

Gennine and her son laughed together as they hadn't done in years, making elaborate plans for the big visit all the way to Alan's school.