Childhood Nightmares
Childhood Nightmares


Disclaimer: I own no one, so don't sue me.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Major Alternate Universe here. In pasts and time periods. Carlos is
older in this story. WARNING: This story deals with child abuse, and may be
unsuitable for some readers. Proceed at you own discretion. Child abuse is a
serious reality, and the topic should not be taken lightly. This story is not meant to
offend anyone. Please, oh please R&R.

Childhood Nightmares

By: Jaimi

"You know for once, just once, I would love to hear that man admit that I was right," Carlos fumed to Trent as they pulled up to CD's.

"Good luck, Pal! Ryan seems like he's got a permanent stick up his- Alex! Walker! How are you?" Trent said, as they entered the bar and grill to find their friends by the jukebox.

Carlos doubled over laughing, and Trent elbowed him in the ribs.

"Ow," the Cuban protested, still laughing.

Walker and Alex looked at them strangely. "Did we miss something?" Walker asked, perplexed.

Trent shook his head, rolling his eyes. "Nah, I told Sandoval here a knock, knock joke and he just got it... Go figure."

Carlos guffawed in protest, punching Trent lightly in the arm.

Alex just nodded, with a smirk. "Okay then."

Walker chuckled. "So, you boys here for a social visit?"

"Of course."

"Well then, I guess I'm not good enough for y'all to come see at my bar," a deep voice boomed behind them. Carlos jumped, while Trent grinned.

"Hi'ya Butch! And of course you are. We just knew you were gonna be here."

Carlos raised his eyebrows. "We did?"

At Butch's look, Carlos lifted his hands in surrender. "Whoa! Just kidding big guy, of course we knew."

Trent chuckled, gently pushing his friend toward a large booth. He slid in next to him, while Alex and Walker sat across and Butch sat at the end.

"So, what did you say to him?" Trent asked Carlos after they ordered their drinks.

"Huh?"

"Ryan. What did you say to Ryan?"

"Oh yeah, that. Well... Let's not discuss that with the lovely lady present."

Alex quirked her eyebrows. "Troubles at the office, Carlos?"

Carlos groaned. "Yeah. This Detective thing is great, but Ryan is such a pain in the a-yow. That hurt," he cried, rubbing his arm where Trent had hit him.

Walker chuckled. "Use to Trent protecting you, rather than being the one to hurt you?"

They laughed, while Carlos rolled his eyes. "Yeah well, it hasn't always been that way."

The others raised their eyebrows. They knew that Trent and Carlos had been friends before they met up two years ago, but they didn't know their history, or how long they'd known each other.

"Really?" Alex asked, interested, as Jimmy sat down beside her and Walker and CD approached with drinks from the bar.

Trent nodded sheepishly. "Yeah... Really..."

"Really what?" Jimmy asked for both him and CD as CD pulled up a chair beside Butch.

Carlos grinned. "That it use to be me looking out for Trent, keeping his butt from being kicked all over the playground."

"Playground? How long have you two known each other?" Walker asked, wrapping an arm around Alex's shoulder.

Carlos chuckled, "A long time."

"How long?" Jimmy asked, sipping his beer.

Trent and Carlos looked at each other. Then Trent's face took on a look of concentration as he subtracted the years from how old they were when they met from how old they were now.

"Mmmmm, 23 years."

Jimmy almost choked on his drink. The others looked surprised.

"And you're still friends? Damn, I barely keep in contact with my buddies from high school...you guys must have been in-"

"Kindergarten," they said together with a laugh.

"So, you're both 28?"

Carlos shook his head. "Nope, I'm 29... If you must know, I failed kindergarten."

"You failed Kindergarten?" Butch asked incredulously. "I didn't think that was possible."

"Yeah well, leave it up to me to make it possible. I never went to class, and when I did, I just remember bad mouthing the teacher, and pushing the bigger kids around."

"Bigger kids?"

Carlos shrugged. "I didn't want to hurt the smaller ones, that wasn't fair."

Jimmy laughed in disbelief. "For real? Ha. It's so hard to imagine you as a bully. You're..."

"Nicer than I used to be, and you can thank Mr. Poster Boy for Nice People here," Carlos said, patting Trent on the shoulder.

"That's pretty wild Carlos. Someone as sweet and charming as you being so...bad. Do we thank Trent for that too?" Alex asked, smiling.

Trent laughed. "No, he's always been "sweet and charming" as you put it...just when he wants to be. He had my mother they day we met. He was so rude and mean to me, but he was all shy grins and perfect manners around my mother."

"Yeah well, your ma is a lot prettier than you."

Trent laughed. "Hey! Watch it Bro. That's my mother you're talking about, and she's practically your mother."

Carlos grinned. "Yeah she is, god help her."

"You were mean to Trent?" Walker asked, surprised.

Carlos chuckled. "Yeah. I was getting roughed up by some high school kids one evening when I was 6. Boy wonder here saw it and went running to the nearest traffic cop. When the cop left he was all concerned asking me if I was okay. We didn't know each other and he really had me thrown for a loop that he cared that much about a stranger. He was so naive. I offered to walk him home, but I was rude and condescending the whole time. By the time we reached his house though, he hadn't once been rude back. He was just so damn nice, I couldn't help but start to like him. Then I met his Mom and Dad, who were also so damn nice. Thunder drove me home that night, and well, from then on, I was looking out for Thunder's son everyday. Warding off the bullies, telling off that old Hag Ms. Beirsburth... Within a week he was my friend, my best friend. Been that way ever since. Though now he's saving my butt with all that fancy martial art stuff. I just used size and strength over the kids that bothered him...doesn't work as well anymore..."

"Trent was naive?" Jimmy asked, intrigued.

"Well, it seemed that way at the time. He came to me, preaching about how his Dad was gonna turn the neighborhood around. I suppose that much was true. Thunder did turn that neighbor hoodaround. But he had no street smarts what so ever. He was blind to how cruel the world was. The gangs, the thieves, the hookers..."

Trent nodded sadly. "Yeah. I really wanted to believe the world was good. The first years of my life I lived in a cozy little suburb in Virginia, completely sheltered."

"Then me, being the pessimist that I am-"

"Brought me to the reality, so that I could face it, deal with it, and then try to make it better."

"More like I shattered your happy little bubble, and tried to make you a miserable human like the rest of us...which proved impossible. No matter what, Trent's been able to see the bright side of things. You know it's funny that we get along so well, we're complete opposites. You're light, I'm dark. Blue eyes, brown eyes. Blonde hair, black hair. Optimist, pessimist. Nice guy, tough guy... And most importantly, I want all the women and all the women want you."

"Well then, I guess we balance each other out, now don't we?"

Carlos shook his head. "Nuh-uh, the women thing doesn't balance out. That just sucks. You don't even have to try."

The others laughed, while Trent rolled his eyes.

"Puh-lease! You completely charm every woman you come across."

"Yeah, then they see you..."

"No, then they see that you don't want commitment."

"Is that so much to ask for?"

Trent laughed. "Maybe not to you, but good luck finding a woman who's all for a fling...at least a half decent one."

"Are you saying I should resort to the street corner?"

"Well, if you're that desperate..."

"Watch it Malloy!" Carlos said, wrapping an arm around Trent's neck, ruffling his hair. "I'm still older, and bigger than you."

The others looked on in amusement. These two were great entertainment, everywhere from their jokes and their teasing each other, to their play fighting and crazy stories.

"Why were you so...bad?" Alex asked innocently, truly curious. Carlos was such a nice young man. Cocky and sarcastic, but respectful and sweet.

Carlos suddenly looked unsure, and nervous. Trent tried to look clueless, but the others weren't buying it. They were hiding something about their past...at least Carlos'.

"What? What is it?" Jimmy asked, not missing the look that passed between the two best friends.

"Nothing, I was just a bad kid. You try growing up and knowing what hookers were when you're 5 years old. Just a bad neighborhood...a bad place to grow up."

"Trent didn't do so bad..." Walker put in gently.

Carlos eyes darkened, not at Walker but just at the memory of his life as he said, "Yeah well, Trent has an amazing family..."

The others were about to question further but caught Trent's distraught look.

So did Carlos, and feeling uncomfortable, he got up. "Excuse me for a minute."

Once he was out of ear shot, Butch spoke up for all of them. "What was that all about?"

Trent sighed, memories flooding back. "Look... There...there's a lot you don't know about Carlos, and I don't know if it's my place to tell you, but..." Trent sighed again in frustration. He didn't know what to do. He hated keeping things from his friends, but his loyalty was always and would always be to Carlos. Would he want him to say anything?

"He just... He's not a bad guy-"

"We never suspected he was Trent. We like Carlos, he's a great guy... That's why it's so hard to believe he was such a bad kid." Walker put in for everyone.

"Considering what he's been through in his life, it's hard to believe he is such a great guy."

"What has he been through? We know about his brothers death..."

Trent laughed without humor. "I wish it was that simple. Look, I'm not gonna get in to detail because, quite frankly, I hate thinking about it. About what I could have done to stop it but never did," he sighed, pausing before continuing.

"Carlos' father left a few months before we met. He took Carlos' two older sisters with him, but left the two boys with their mother. His mother loved Hector, but...well... Carlos was... Carlos was an "accident", she never wanted him. Neither did his father. His Dad couldn't handle anymore children, said Carlos cost too much to look after, he caused too much trouble... That's when Carlos really started to fall apart.

"The last few months of school after his father left were what caused him to fail kindergarten. Then over the summer his mom remarried. Carlos was angry, but remained neutral around the house. Good thing I suppose, or I may never have met him. His step dad was abusive, to say the least.

"When I met Carlos in early September, he had two months worth of abuse. But I never knew... Not for another 6 months did I know about it. I mean, I should have put two and two together. He not only hated going home, he hated even the mention of his parents. He always had bumps, bruises and scrapes...but he was always tripping and falling. He was a klutz.

"He spent as much time as possible at my house...I thank god every day for my parents. They never turned him away. They actually set up the guest room for him. He spent the entire weekend at my house. But I never went to his house...he never asked me. I never would have gone, because I did have an eery feeling about his family. I learned why.

"One day, he had no choice but to go home and grab his notebook after school. I always walked with him. He started to pick up his grades after we met, since my father tutored him. Anyway, he told me to wait in the hallway. The place was a dump...it smelled of booze and cigar smoke. I heard voices. I saw his mother come into the hall, looking tired. She offered me a smile, then went on her way walking past a room where I heard a man shouting.

"Curiosity got the best of me and I crept down to peek through the door crack. To this day I still see it clear in my mind and it kills me to think about it. I saw a man, a huge burly man with tattoos all over his arms, a cigar in his mouth, a whiskey bottle in one hand and a fire poker in the other. I remember having to clamp a hand over my mouth as the man struck Carlos with the poker, right in his side. Carlos cried out, but he didn't cry. I could tell it hurt like hell, but his stubborn pride wouldn't let him. Then the man slapped him across the face, all the while yelling profanities at him. Then he stuck the end of the cigar on Carlos' collar bone. Carlos screamed and I jumped away, tears in my eyes. I ran back to the door, but I couldn't leave without Carlos..."

Flashback...

Trent raced back to the front door. Tears forming in his eyes. Why was that man hurting Carlos? Didn't his mother realize it? Didn't she hear the screams? Trent wanted to run, afraid for himself, but he refused to leave his best friend alone here. What could he do? Trent had always been clever. He opened the front door, ready to run, and turned back to face down the gall.

"CARLOS! Come on, we gotta go," he shouted at the top of his lungs, voice wavering slightly.

Not a moment later, a pale Carlos emerged from the room, notebook in one hand, the other hand clutching at his collar bone.

"Sorry," he whispered, before urging his friend out the door, shutting it tightly behind him.

They were walked in silence for several moments, before Trent couldn't take it anymore and burst out crying.

"Why did he hurt you Carlos? Are you all right?"

Carlos looked shocked, then angry.

"What did you see? Tell me Trent!"

"I saw- I saw him-him hurting you. Who was that Carlos? Why was he hurting you?" Carlos looked away, hugging himself as they had stopped by the park where they met months back.

"You never saw that Trent? Do you hear me? Never!"

"But-"

"No buts Trent. That was Leroy, my step dad, but he's nothing to me. So just forget about him, all right?!"

"But he hurt you Carlos... Does he always hurt you?"

"Look, it doesn't matter none, all right? Just forget about it. If you don't, I-I... Well you can forget about us being friends... Ever. I'll hate you forever if you ever say anything, got it?"

Trent was silent, tears slowly drying. He didn't want to lose Carlos, he was his best friend...his only friend. The other boys didn't want to get involved with the minister's son.

"Got it," he quietly agreed.

"Promise?"

"Promise."

End Flashback

Alex and the others looked shocked to say the least.

"Wh- What happened then?" Alex asked, voice wavering.

"You mean did I do anything to stop it? No, I was selfish. I was too afraid of losing Carlos as a friend, that I didn't stop to think of the possibility of losing him completely. It continued for years. After a while he would tell me briefly whatever would happen. Sometimes it got so bad, I just wanted to-to... God, I hated that man, and you know I never met him.

"A few times Carlos wouldn't be around for days at a time... He would tell me why later. He was thrown down the stairs, beaten almost unconscious... They took him to the hospital a few times. He busted his knee once. One time he suffered 2nd degree burns... Leroy poured boiling water on him. He got really sick once. Leroy had left him in a closet for days. Every time they took them to the hospital no one said anything about it. It was just that kind of place...

"The closet incident happened after Hector was killed. He was constantly with me. Never crying. He was so quiet, he never said a word. We just sat playing cards or swinging... The one person who actually acknowledged his presence in any other way than violence was his big brother... Carlos had really looked up to him.

"Anyway one day he didn't come over. Apparently his mother, who hadn't been sober since the shooting, had been taken to the hospital and Leroy demanded Carlos stay home to look after him. A week later, Mrs. Sandoval showed up with Carlos. He'd been brought in a couple days before her release. Neighbors had found him in the closet after finding Leroy passed out on the back step. Mrs. Sandoval was emotionless, but at the same time, I saw a glimmer of caring. She was leaving Carlos with us, because she knew she couldn't take care of him. She knew he didn't deserve the abuse. To bad she hadn't figured that out earlier, but she'd been so messed up. With Hector never being around, off with gangs before he was killed... She was in turmoil. You know she was pregnant at 14.

"Anyway, Carlos was really sick, but the hospital didn't have room for him. He stayed with us. A few weeks later, when he was better, Mrs. Sandoval filed to give up custody of Carlos. She wanted to start her life over. No kids, no worries. She had enough to worry about herself apparently.

"We were prepared to adopt him, but he had a living relative outside of town, his grandparents. They were a god send. We used to go to his grandfathers every once in a while since we had met. He was the only relative I had ever spoken to. He was a wonderful man, and Carlos' grandma was so sweet. I had already picked up a bit of Spanish from Carlos, but once he was adopted by his grandparents and we spent equal time at each others homes, being around his grandfather, I became just almost as fluent as them.

"I thought moving in with his grandparents, who adored him, that he would be fine, you know? I'd no longer have to be his keeper at school. Though it's true he looked after me when it came to bullies and such, I kept him from getting into trouble at school. Helped him with his school work and stuff Anyway, his grandparents helped, but they couldn't erase the years of horrid abuse he went through.

"When he was 13 he joined a gang. He never stopped being my best friend. We were still together whenever he wasn't with the gang, but he started cursing and drinking. He stopped coming to church with us.

"I was scared for him, but I could do nothing. My parents knew about his abuse, obviously after his mother left him with us, so they had become even more persistent in Carlos accompanying us to church. They knew something was wrong when he stopped showing up.

"My mom questioned me, but I refused to rat him out... As you know, I wasn't far behind. One Sunday, Carlos spent the day with me, our friend Jason and the new kid Adam. Well, you know what happened that day. Carlos consoled me when many shunned me. I looked up to my best friend who understood me so well... So, I did what he did, and joined a gang. I couldn't join the one he was in, I wasn't Hispanic. So, I joined another one. Little did I know at the time, it was a white supremacist gang. When Carlos found out, he flipped... I was angry. For months we didn't talk to each other, and I just got worse.

"I couldn't tell my parents and I didn't have my best friend to talk to. My parents found out however, when I came home drunk one night. My Dad knew about you, and well, long story short, you turned me back around. Then I was strong enough to help my friend... You never knew that did you Walker?"

"Trent, I didn't know any of this... Does Carlos' fear of heights have anything to do with the abuse?"

Trent's jaw tightened, and he nodded stiffly. "Yeah, you could say that... Anyway, Carlos wasn't happy anyway. I came across him in the hall in Junior High a few weeks after school began, he was already failing math..."

Flashback...

September 1987

Carlos slammed his fist into the wall by the bulletin board. Why did he bother?

"48% Geez Pal..."

Carlos spun around and couldn't help the swell of happiness at seeing his best friend. He hadn't seen him in months. He'd missed him so much.

He tried to remain cool. "Hey, what's up?"

Trent rolled his eyes. "I missed you too... You still mad at me?"

Carlos looked away. "I wasn't mad, I was concerned... You don't belong in a gang, especially not a racist one Hermano...you're too good for that... You still with them?"

Trent smiled, shaking his head. "No man, didn't you hear? My parents found out and sent me off to Karate school...now I can protect you," he paused. "I've missed you Bud. My parents have missed you too. Your grandfather says you haven't been the same. Is everything okay? You still with the gang from before?"

Carlos sighed. "Yeah, I am. I don't know why... It's stupid man, half of them got arrested the other day for dealing drugs in a school yard. I don't know if I want to be a part of that, but what else do I have? I sure as hell don't have the grades to make it anywhere in life."

Trent frowned. "Hey! Don't talk like that. You're gonna make it somewhere. You are my best friend after all. One day we'll both be doing something we love, chatting it up in some hometown bar about what crazy, stupid kids we were."

"With grades like these? I can't do this Trent, I'm thinking of dropping out..."

Trent's eyes widened. "And what? Stay with this gang, get arrested or possibly killed? I don't think so Pal. Come on, let's go."

"Where?"

"Home. We're gonna study for this math test coming up, and you're gonna think of a way to drop this gang, and remember who your real friends are."

Carlos looked at his friend seriously. "I never questioned that you were my real friend."

"Then why did you join?"

"Because I was angry, hurt, confused... I needed a way to vent. Graffiti, yelling and fighting offered that... Why did you join?"

"Cause I was angry, and I wanted to follow you."

"Angry at what? And why would you want to do what I do?"

"I was angry at you, for giving up a lot of things you claimed to believe in and at myself for what happened with-with Adam... And because. You're my best friend, no matter what I look up to you. I wanted to be as tough, and brave as you."

Carlos looked at his friend as they walked toward Trent's house. "Trent... I'm tough, maybe... But Leroy made me that way. I'd rather be anything but if it meant never having to go through what I did with him, and brave? You are quite mistaken my friend. I'm not brave, not at all. I'm a coward. I hide from my problems, afraid to face them. You, look at you. You made the same mistake but you had the courage to face it and make it right..."

"Yeah, thanks to my parents and my Sensai. You're making that decision right now, by yourself."

"No, I'm not."

Trent looked upset, afraid his friend would continue on with the gang.

Carlos smiled. "I meant not by myself. You're here. I wouldn't be doing this without you amigo."

"Sure you would, I just sped up the process." Trent said, slapping Carlos on the back. Mom! I'm home!" He called out as they climbed the porch steps of the Malloy's home. "Look who I found on the side of the road?"

Mrs. Malloy emerged and when she saw the gangly Cuban teen, her face broke into a brilliant smile and she gathered him in a tight hug. "Oh Carlos, we've missed your precious smile darling, come on in." She hurried ahead and the two friends smiled at each other. They were home.

End Flashback


Trent shrugged. "The rest is history really. We had tons of crazy adventures. Good times and bad in between. We could write a book...a whole series. After high school I went off to military college and he went off to become a cop. We stayed in touch for the most part, but after our careers began, it became harder and harder. We both had so much going on... Then well, you know, I came back. Carlos happened to be here. We caught up and it's like we'd never been apart.

"I'm still...bothered...by what happened with Adam and Carlos is still haunted by the horrors of his childhood. I guess we both hide what we feel though other than my hatred for guns and his fear of heights..."

"Trent... What happened that Carlos is so afraid of heights?" Alex asked, carefully.

Trent was silent for a moment, remembering his friend trembling in his arms that night...seemingly so long ago....

Flashback...

Summer 1984

11 year old Carlos gingerly opened a large window that looked far down into a dark alley. Its creak was louder than usual in the quiet night air. He carefully climbed from the window and balanced on the balcony. He glanced back through the window at his step father's drunken form, passed out on a lice ridden couch.

Leroy often dragged him to this place. Him and his buddies gambled, drank and laughed at Carlos as he stumbled about, bringing beers and such to the very large, very drunk men.

Carlos had had enough. He could no longer stand the beady black eyes of the men, gazing at him so pervertedly. He shivered as he remembered Rafael grabbing his arm, licking his dry, crusted lips at the fearful youth. He had even looked to Leroy for help, but the horrible man had just laughed saying, "Raffy here has quite a taste for little boys Carlitos...especially Spanish boys. Isn't that right Raffy ol' boy?"

Rafael responded by licking Carlos' cheek, causing the youth to pull away frantically from the offending man. He feared it would have continued had one of the other men not tried cheating, causing a brawl and initially causing the men to be in their current state, all passed out about the desolate room.

Now, Carlos attempted his escape. He knew where to go, it was just getting there that was the problem. Carlos was just about to jump down to the next ladder platform when a large, greasy hand grabbed him by the back of the neck.

"Where do you think you're going?" Leroy hollered, attempting to yank Carlos back inside, but Carlos was NOT going back in there. He flailed about, kicking and screaming.

He became even more panicked as Rafael appeared grabbing at his legs and laughing menacingly as he reached up caressing Carlos' tender young thigh.

"No!" Carlos shouted, placing a wild kick below his step father's belt.

That was a mistake. Enraged, the large man climbed out the window and bodily lifted the frightened boy over the railing of the balcony. Carlos screamed, fear engulfing him as he gazed down twenty stories. Leroy held him to far away from the building for any hope to land on a ladder platform.

Carlos fought back the tears that threatened to escape. He wouldn't let his last moments satisfy the horrid man before him. Instead, he closed his eyes, trembling and thought of Trent. Trent, Thunder and Trent's mother...and the baby... The baby that Katie had just found out about. Him and Carlos had been so excited, planning on how they were gonna teach the kid how to fish and how to ride a bike. Everything big brothers should teach little brothers.

He barely made out a scream as Leroy struck him hard, then let go, allowing the boy to begin his 20 story descent.

All of Thunder's teaching of God's mercy came in sudden focus as he somehow managed to twist and catch the ledge of a window a few stories down. He crawled up onto it, teetering on the edge. His bony fingers clutching desperately at the hard stone, turning white with strain.

He lay gasping, fear overwhelming as his eyes refused to leave the ground, 17 stories away. He wasn't sure how long he lay there, his body aching, his head pounding, his knees, elbows and hands becoming raw, blood seeping out of harsh scrape wounds. He knew he was going to die. He couldn't hang on much longer, and there was no way he could survive that far of a fall. This was it.

'Please God,' he thought. 'Just do one thing for me. Just take care of the Malloy's and my grandparents... please!'

He sighed, his strength diminishing. His grip loosened and he began to slip off the ledge. However, he suddenly found himself being pulled back. He screamed, fearing it was Rafael or Leroy, coming for him.

He was quickly pulled into a living room, and large black man set him down on a couch. A pretty black woman kneeled before him.

"Dear child, are you all right? What were you doing out there? Where are your parents?"

Carlos looked back and forth between the calm, caring gazes of the couple.

"I-I... I wanna go home."

The woman smiled gently. "Just tell me your phone number and I'll call your parents right away sweetie," she gently prodded, eyes locked with his. The woman was entranced by the young boy's dark chocolate brown eyes.

Carlos didn't hesitate in reciting the Malloy's phone number and telling her his name. Thunder in turn didn't question as the woman said they had his 'Son' Carlos. He immediately asked for their address and headed out the door.

That night, Carlos said nothing other than accepting a warm embrace from Trent's parents. They only knew where the couple had found him, not how he had ended up there.

Late in the night, as Carlos lay beside Trent's bed on the floor, for he had refused to be alone...though only admitting this to Trent, he woke from a nightmare. Leroy and Rafael, their evil faces laughing, hitting...touching... He was plunging through the air, the ground so far away...

He cried out, just loudly enough to wake his friend, who was by his side in an instant. In a fit of tears, Carlos confessed to his best friend what had happened. Trent sat holding his best friend in a protective hug, his own tears mixing with Carlos', wishing to god that one day, Carlos would be free of his step fathers abuse...forever...

End Flashback.


Alex wiped a tear from her eye. "My god Trent... How could Carlos not be...?"

"Messed up? Some psycho killer out for vengeance on the world?" Trent shrugged. "I don't know Alex, I really don't know. I guess he's just..."

"He's just got a good heart and a compassionate spirit that can't be broken," Walker finished for Trent, causing the younger man to nod in agreement.

Before another word was spoken, Carlos returned, looking apprehensive.

Carlos wasn't an idiot. He saw two things in his best friend. Relief, like a weight had been lifted from his shoulders, and guilt, like he'd just condemned a loved one to death. Carlos knew... He knew those looks and he knew his best friend. They were the same looks Carlos had when he had told the others why Trent refused to even touch a gun.

Trent had been carrying the weight of Carlos' past around for years, just as Carlos had. They were that close that they shared each other's pain but they needed to talk to other about it before it broke them down. Letting it out to the friends the two trusted the most had been a relief, but also came the guilt. Trent knew Carlos would know and he wasn't sure how he would take it. Truth was, Carlos didn't know how to take it. He wasn't angry at Trent...he understood. He was more worried about how their friends would take it. He didn't want their pity. He didn't want their over protectiveness. Cripes, he already had enough of that from Trent.

As he sat down, the table was quiet. Carlos sighed, rolling his eyes. These people had to loosen up, the past was the past. He had dealt with it...hadn't he?

"Listen guys, it's been 17 years. I'm over it, I'm not gonna break. So, I think it's safe for you to breathe."

The others looked surprised.

"How- How did you know we knew...that-?"

"That Trent had told you? Pshh. That's easy. I know the expressions on this guy's face like the back of my hand," Carlos said, pointing a thumb in Trent's direction as he took a sip of Trent's beer. His was all gone.

Trent had the grace to look even more guilty, but Carlos could tell he still felt better getting it out.

Carlos smiled at his friend. "Don't worry, I'm not gonna go ape shit on you. Just consider it payback for me telling them about the gun thing and we'll call it even."

"Carlos, the gun thing isn't quite the same..."

"That's funny, both events affected the outcome of our futures. I'd say it is."

Trent sighed. There was no use arguing with Carlos. The man still refused to fully accept the atrocity of what had happened to him as a kid. He always brushed it off as something minor, yet fretted over Trent's every suffering as a kid. Trent knew what had happened with Adam was a tragedy he'd never forget, but he also knew it was an accident. It happened once, he had been forgiven, and no one ever stopped loving him. Carlos would never forget what happened to him, but it hadn't only happened once and it was never an accident. His mother never gave him her forgiveness for something that wasn't even his fault...and he never felt love... Well he did from the Malloy's and eventually his grandparents, but not from the people who he needed it from the most...his parents. Carlos sighed, his head dropping into his hands.

"Carlos..." Butch began.

Carlos looked up, annoyance in his eyes, his voice tight. "Look. You people are my friends, and I love you for it. You treat me like all your other friends, with caring and respect. You've never given me special treatment for being the only Latino on the force, don't start giving me special treatment now that I'm the only child abuse case on the force. I'd prefer we kept the caring and respect in and leave the sympathetic, pitying looks at home, all right? If there is one thing I can't deal with, it's that. I don't need your pity, I just need your friendship... Okay?"

The others were quiet, looking back and forth at each other. Finally CD spoke up.

"We're sorry Carlos. The caring and respect is never gonna go away, but... But the sympathy and concern is an automatic. We're all friends here and when we learn of the suffering past, present or future of one of us, we naturally want to do everything we can to help. I'm sorry son, but the thought of you being...well...treated like that, of everything you went through... It makes my old heart ache cause you're a good lad. You don't and never did deserve that."

The others nodded in agreement. Trent watched his friend's expression warily, ready to jump in and calm his friend should this anger him. Carlos could be unpredictable like that sometimes, taking it the wrong way when someone wanted to help.

Carlos offered a small smile. "I know CD, but can things please not be any different than they were before. I like my life, I like my job and I like my friends just the way they are. Besides, Trent's over protectiveness is enough send me off my rocker."

Trent relaxed, rolling his eyes.

"You're never gonna change Sandoval..."

"Ah, you love me."

Trent grinned, shaking his head and squeezed his friend's shoulder. "That I do Pal...but you know the feeling is mutual."

"Well yeah, I love you too Pal..."

"Uh-huh, but that's not what I'm talking about."

The others all looked at Trent. "What were you talking about then?" Jimmy asked. Like the rest, he was still upset about the news of Carlos childhood, but willing to let it go for now.

"The off the rocker bit. Vise Versa pal, you drive me nuts."

The others laughed as Carlos' jaw dropped, then he chucked a handful of peanuts at his friend, starting an all out peanut war.

Things would be different in the hearts of the friends, but some things still never changed.

The End.

Jaimi Copyright@2001