Death Wish Part 2

Over the next three days, Logan and Charlie spent a lot of time together, but both remained guarded when it came to personal information about their shared father, or their lives while growing up. They talked about video games, television, movies, books, school, and surfing. Through those topics they got to know each other's personalities and found they liked each other.

On the fourth day during breakfast, Logan saw the sun through the blinds and sighed. Charlie looked over and said, "What?"

"It's a beautiful summer day, and I can't surf."

Spencer rolled his eyes and said, "It's only been a week."

Charlie said sympathetically, "Missing a week of summer is like having three extra weeks of school."

Grinning, Logan said, "That's right."

"Hopefully Keith will find something soon," Spencer said.

"How long did your longest safehouse detail last?" Logan was almost afraid to hear the answer.

"Two months."

Logan groaned. "There's no way I can stay cooped up for two months. Just no way."

Chuckling Spencer said, "Don't worry kid, it's not going to take Keith that long on this case. It'll be a month tops."

"A month?" Logan shook his head, and frowned at his plate.

Charlie put a consoling hand on Logan's shoulder. "Better a month cooped up here, then having no month at all."

Both men could tell by Logan's unchanged expression that he was sill doubtful. Spencer said, "Better a month here then at the other safehouse right?"

Logan didn't have to think about that one. "God, yes."

Wanting to get Logan out of his slump, Charlie asked, "What would make it better?"

"Alcohol."

Taking his hand off Logan's shoulder, Charlie shook his head. They'd had this conversation before, so Charlie didn't feel the need to sugar coat his statement. "You're not twenty one, and you don't drink responsibly."

Logan's eyebrows went up in surprise.

Spencer added, "No drinking for any of us while this is a safehouse. We need to keep our wits about us."

With a sour glare, Logan said, "Okay then, how about letting me use the computer to surf the internet for a while. I promise not to check my email, or log onto any sites I belong to."

Charlie looked to Spencer and said, 'It's okay with me, if it's okay with you."

Scrutinizing Logan, Spencer said, "Only if you leave the door open, and don't get pissy when I come in to check on you every few minutes."

"Fine." Logan gave Spencer his most charming smile, which usually made strangers trust him. It only made Spencer more wary.

Logan got onto the internet, and opened multiple windows, minimizing each one as he went. He checked the open door to make sure neither Charlie or Spencer could see him, and then went to Charlie's documents. He searched them for anything that looked like a book title. The first one he opened said, 'Chapter 1'. He checked the doorway again, and then made sure his mouse was ready to bring up one of the internet sites in an instant, before turning back to start reading.

Half an hour later, Logan was so caught up in the story, that he didn't hear Charlie walk into the room until it was too late. He caught movement out of the corner of his eye, and immediately clicked on an internet site before turning to look behind him. The look on Charlie's face made his stomach twist. It was the same look his father would give him before a slap, kick, or punch.

"I trusted you, and you're reading my book?"

"Charlie, I…" He didn't have any excuses. He knew he was in the wrong. "I'm sorry."

Charlie took a step towards him, his hands balled into fists.

From early childhood, Logan had learned to read people's body language, and his fight or flight reaction responded automatically to Charlie. He leaned further away from the older man, and checked his escape route.

"You're sorry! You betray my trust after four days, and you're sorry?"

Logan's mouth was dry, and he started sweating. His voice was barely audible when he said; "I just wanted to see it."

Charlie reached a hand towards the mouse, but Logan read it as a hand coming towards his head. He ducked, pushed past his brother, and ran towards the bedroom door. Charlie froze in place, trying to figure out what Logan was doing.

Spencer had heard the yelling, and was already standing at the bedroom door when Logan tried to push past him. Spencer grabbed Logan around the waist, and held him in place while he struggled. Logan tried to shove his way out of Spencer's grip, the adrenaline pumping through his body, helping him not to notice the pain of his ribs as he twisted. Spencer got a better grip on him and said, "Calm down, you're going to hurt yourself."

Realizing that he was trapped, Logan stilled.

The two brothers made eye contact. Charlie saw terror on Logan's face, and realized he'd handled things the wrong way. In the six years he'd been a teacher, he'd learned that the best way to get through to a teenager was to stay calm and rational, no matter how emotional they got. He'd been caught off guard for a moment because of their family ties, and let his anger get the better of him. But now he was able to put his experience with teens to work.

In a level voice, he said, "I'm sorry I yelled. We can sit down and talk this out."

Logan's terror receded, at hearing those strange words come out of this man that looked like his father. He realized he'd overreacted. Not trusting his voice, he gave Charlie a short nod.

"Why don't we go sit on the couch," Charlie said.

Spencer said, "You gonna try to bolt if I let you go?"

Logan shook his head no.

Once he was released, Logan had to stifle a groan, and put a hand on the side of his chest, where his fractured rib was protesting.

Charlie said, "If you don't mind Spencer, I'd like to talk to Logan alone for a few minutes."

"I don't know if that's such a good idea. The kid has a tendency to run off."

"It's not going to be a problem," Charlie said.

Spencer glared at Logan and pointed a finger at his chest. "You run off again, and I'm going to make good on my promise."

Logan glared back, and found his voice. "Yeah? You'll have to catch me first."

"Don't test me, kid. You won't like the results."

Not liking Spencer's threatening stance, Charlie wondered if Logan's fear was because of him. He stepped into Spencer's personal space to force his attention towards him. "I'd like to talk to my brother alone."

Spencer stalked off to the spare bedroom.

Charlie and Logan regarded each other for a few seconds, and then Charlie moved towards the couch, hoping Logan would follow.

Watching Charlie's back as he walked to the couch, Logan cursed himself for being stupid enough to get caught. With a sigh, he followed Charlie, and sat as far away from him as possible on the couch.

Once he had eye contact, Charlie said, "Tell me why you did it."

Logan looked over at the opposite wall and said, "I wanted to read what you'd written." His eyes darted back to Charlie's face for a millisecond. Not seeing any anger, he added, "I wanted to get to know you better."

Charlie sighed, "I'm sorry."

"You're sorry?" Logan didn't understand.

"I'm sorry that I haven't had the courage to tell you about my relationship with our father, and I'm sorry that I haven't let you read some of my writing before now."

Logan had no idea what to say. He'd done something blatantly wrong, and Charlie was apologizing to him. "You don't need to apologize, I do. I went behind your back. Betrayed your trust."

Charlie shook his head. "I shouldn't have said that. I mean sure it's an invasion of privacy, and it was wrong of you, but I can understand why you did it."

"You can?" Logan wasn't sure what to make of the man sitting next to him. His father would have had him black and blue by now, his mother would have been pouring herself another shot, and Trina would be screaming at the top of her lungs. But his older brother wasn't doing any of those things. Logan knew he should be ashamed of what he'd done, but mostly he just felt relieved and somewhat awed that Charlie was being so understanding.

"I can, and once I tell you about me and Aaron, maybe you'll understand why I overreacted just now."

"Okay."

Charlie stared a point above Logan's shoulder and said, "I've always known that Aaron Echolls was my father. I used to see him five or six times a year when I was growing up. Sometimes he'd come to the house, or meet me and mom at the park, or take us out to lunch."

Logan couldn't believe that his father had never told him he had an older brother. He wondered if his mother even knew.

Making eye contact, Charlie said, "I remember the day you were born. Dad called to tell me I had a brother. I begged him to bring you over so I could meet you, but I had to wait until you were about a month old. That year he had a lull between movies, so I actually got to see you quite a few times. We took you to the park together a few times when you were first walking."

"So all this time, you've known about me?"

Charlie nodded. "I met Trina once right after she was adopted, but I was never that interested in her. Probably because Dad was such a small part of my life, and because she wasn't actually a blood relative."

Feeling cheated out of having an older brother, Logan said, "I don't understand. Why haven't I ever heard about you? What happened?"

"Our father disowned me. The last time I saw him, I was fourteen, and you were two and a half. We were going to take you to a park, but he'd just been in a big movie, so we couldn't be seen in public. But he came over to my grandmother's house, and brought you along. My mom and grandma went to see a movie, so we could have time to visit."

When Charlie trailed off, Logan said, "And?"

"I told him I had a crush on one of my teachers, Mr. Sanders."

After a short pause, Logan said, "Mr. Sanders?"

"Yes. I'm gay, and if you have a problem with it, I'll call Keith, and he can find you another safe house."

Logan shook his head. Growing up, Logan had heard all kinds of derogatory remarks about gay people from his father. Being in the movie industry, Aaron worked with quite a few openly gay people behind the scenes, and while he was always friendly to their faces, Logan knew the horrible things he said about them behind their backs. He'd always been ashamed of his father in those moments, but then there were so many reasons to be ashamed of his father, that it didn't stand out.

"Let me get this straight. Our father disowned you because you're gay?"

"He grabbed the front of my shirt, hauled me up so we were nose to nose, and said, 'No son of mine is going to be a fucking faggot. You can get yourself a girlfriend, and I'll forget this conversation ever happened, or I wash my hands of you.'"

Logan shook his head. It sounded exactly like something his father would do.

Lost in his own memories, Charlie continued, "I was terrified. There's no other word for it. Sheer terror."

Logan nodded, knowing exactly what that moment would have felt like.

"Luckily for me, both my mom and my grandmother already knew, and they were very accepting, which was even more rare seventeen years ago then it is today. So like an idiot, I thought my father would be just as accepting when I told him. I'd like to say that Aaron's opinion didn't matter, and that he wasn't a big influence in my life, but that wouldn't be true. I whispered the words; 'I can't just turn it off.'"

"What did he do?"

"Shoved me back onto the couch, and picked you up so suddenly that it made you cry. He told me that he'd cut off my child support and make my mom's life hell if I ever came out as openly gay in public. I never saw him, or you, again."

The room grew silent. After an awkward pause, Logan said gently, "I've always known that Dad was a bastard, but I had no idea he was capable of actually disowning his own son."

"He'd always been so nice to me before that day. It… well it really messed me up for a long time."

"I'm sorry."

Charlie shook his head. "It's not your fault. I'm sorry that I missed out on watching you grow up, and I'm sorry that I didn't call you back as soon as you called me the first time. I was worried you'd react the same way he had. And at that time, I was still with Brian, so there'd be no hiding it from you."

"Brian?"

"We were together for four years before the press started hounding me. It got too hard to keep our relationship quiet after that."

"Wait, you mean you're still in the closet?"

"Yes."

"But why? I mean, even if Dad weren't dead, screw him, he's a bigot. Just for the record, I don't have the same views as our father."

With a smile, Charlie said, "I'm glad to hear you're more open minded. But it has less to do with our father, and more to do with my life. I've worked so hard to hide it for so many years, I don't know how I'd even start to come out. My friends, and all the people I work with have no idea."

Logan sympathized. He knew how hard it was to live a lie. To go to school with bruises, and tell his gushing teachers all about how wonderful his father was. "You shouldn't have to hide who you are. So the first three months would suck. After that things would be so much better for you, it would be worth it."

Having had this exact conversation with his mother more times than he could count, Charlie changed the subject. "I'll keep that in mind, but for now I think we should talk about you reading my book."

Blushing, Logan looked away.

Charlie said, "I'll give you a printed copy, and you can tell me what you think of it once you're done reading it."

Logan's eyes snapped back to his brother's. "You mean it?"

"Yeah." Charlie stood up, and headed to his bedroom, and Logan trailed behind.

Charlie pulled a large manuscript out of his desk drawer, and handed it to his brother. Instead of taking it, Logan said, "Are you sure?"

"I'm sure."

Taking it, Logan said, "Thanks."

"You bet."

Shaking his head, Logan said, "No, really, thank you. It was wrong of me to go behind your back, and instead of being angry, you're giving it to me."

Charlie clapped Logan's shoulder and said, "I should have let you read it the first time you asked."

Getting choked up, Logan couldn't help but wonder how much better his childhood would have been, if he'd had Charlie around as an older brother.

# # #

That night, Keith called, and asked for Logan. "Hey Mr. Mars, please tell me you have good news."

"I do. Veronica is working with the FBI to take down Gory."

Logan lost his smile. "What?"

"While Veronica was in the middle of her internship, she decided it would be a good idea to go through their database to see if they had any dirt on Gory."

Logan groaned in dismay.

"She got caught, but instead of kicking her out, they're working with her to try and get him arrested."

Not liking that idea at all, Logan said, "She can't. What if she gets hurt trying to help me? I couldn't live with that."

Keith sighed. "Well I don't like it anymore then you do, but once Veronica makes up her mind about something, there's no stopping her."

"Didn't you teach her any kind of self preservation?" Logan snapped.

"Hey, watch your tone!"

"She can't work on this case, while I sit here in a safe house and twiddle my thumbs!"

Understanding Logan's worry, Keith said, "She went over the whole plan with me, and she shouldn't be in any actual danger. She gave them all the information she had, and they're sending in an undercover agent to get close to Gory. They hope to have enough to convict him in a week or less."

"Mr. Mars, you should know Veronica better then that. Something will go wrong, and she'll be right in the middle of it when things get ugly."

"She promised me that she'd be careful."

Logan rolled his eyes, and thought Keith didn't know his daughter as well as he thought he did. "Well as long as she promised, everything should be fine."

Having had enough lip from the kid, Keith said, "Put Spencer on the phone."

"He's asleep."

"Okay, then put Charlie on."

Disgusted with the situation, Logan shoved the phone towards Charlie and said, "It's for you."

Charlie put his ear to the phone and said, "What's wrong?"

Logan's simply couldn't let Veronica do it without talking to her first. He glanced at the clock. It was eight o'clock in the evening, and Spencer usually got up around ten o'clock for the night shift. He looked over at Charlie, and then to the front door. Charlie was listening to Keith intently, and when Logan took a step backwards towards the front door, Charlie didn't notice.

Logan made it to the front door without calling attention to himself. He tried to open it quietly, but as soon as he undid the deadbolt, Charlie looked over at him. Logan saw confusion on his brother's face. He threw the door open, and ran out into the fading daylight.

"Logan! Wait!" Charlie yelled.

Logan ran for all he was worth, darting off the sidewalk and into someone's backyard as soon as he got around the corner. He wandered through back yards, until he found one with a tree house. He climbed up, and settled down to wait a few hours. Even with a head start, he doubted he could out run Spencer, and no way was he letting that gorilla catch him.

When Charlie realized Logan wasn't going to stop, he dropped the phone and ran to Spencer's door. He opened it without knocking. "Spencer, wake up! Logan just took off."

Once he saw Spencer was jumping out of bed, and grabbing his jeans off the floor, Charlie ran back to the phone. "Keith?"

Keith said, "I heard, I'm on my way." He hung up on Charlie, and called Veronica.

Spencer ran out the door, and ran down the street, looking in all directions for Logan. Charlie ran outside as well, and went the opposite direction, trying and failing to catch a glimpse of Logan's retreating form.

# # #

Logan stretched out his cramped legs, and looked at his watch. It had been difficult to stay put for the last two hours, when all he wanted to do was get Veronica on the phone, but he knew better then to move before it got completely dark. He climbed down, and made his way out to the street, keeping to other people's yards as much as possible. Half an hour later, he made it to a gas station with a pay phone.

He put in some quarters, and dialed her cell phone.

She answered on the first ring, "Hello?"

"Hey."

"Logan?"

He leaned his head against the glass, and closed his eyes. Just hearing her voice made him ache. "I miss you," he whispered.

She'd been waiting for his call, and her fingers were in the middle of dialing her father's number on the land line, but her fingers stilled at that confession. "Logan…" she didn't know what else to say, but hung up the other phone.

"I know it's not fair of me to say that, and I know it's my fault we're not together, but I can't help it. I love you, and I miss you, and I don't want you anywhere near Gory."

Hating herself, she picked the second phone back up, and started dialing. "I'm not going to be in any danger."

"Liar."

She smiled at the affection he put into that one word. "I'm not going to be anywhere near Gory or his thugs. I simply briefed the guy they're sending in."

"And?"

Her smile grew. "And nothing. Where are you? You're supposed to be in a safe house."

Logan sighed, and turned so his back was against the glass. "Promise me you won't put yourself in danger."

"I'll promise, if you tell me where you are."

Logan knew she was going to rat him out to her father as soon as he hung up, and didn't want the conversation to end. He said, "Did your father tell you I'm with Charlie?"

"Yeah," she said softly, knowing how much it meant to Logan to have contact with his brother. "How's it going?"

He barked out a bitter laugh, "Really well until a couple of hours ago."

"I promise, okay? I promise not to put myself in danger."

"Not even if something goes wrong, and you're the only one who can bring the guy down, okay?"

"Not even if I'm the only one who can bring him down."

He took a deep breath, and said, "I couldn't take if it you got hurt because of me."

"I couldn't take it if you got killed, so why don't you tell me where you are."

Opening his eyes, Logan said, "The Shell gas station on Maple street, about a mile from Charlie's."

"Promise me you'll stay there, and let my dad help you."

He sighed, knowing the conversation was over, but not wanting it to be. "I promise."

"Be safe."

"You too."

He heard the click, and knew Keith or Spencer would be there in a few seconds to pick him up. He hung up, and walked into the gas station's convenience store. He grabbed a six pack of beer, and got his fake ID out, but the guy sold it to him without even asking for it. Logan took it to the curb, and chugged the first one. He'd gotten halfway through the second before Keith's car pulled up alongside the curb.

Logan held up his beer in a toast, and gave Keith a grin through the car window. Keith shook his head and leaned across the car to open the passenger side door. Logan finished off the beer, and belched. Keith said, "I got a call saying there was a self destructive jackass in need of a ride. Have you seen anyone matching that description?"

Logan put the empty can down. "I haven't, but I'll let you know if I do."

Getting serious, Keith said quietly, "I appreciate you looking out for Veronica, but she's not the one in danger here, and your lack of self preservation is astounding."

"She's more important then I could ever be, Mr. Mars, and you know it."

"Get in the car, Logan."

Not wanting to deal with Spencer or his promises, he asked, "Where's Spencer?"

"On his way back to Charlie's house. He's been driving the streets looking for you."

"I want a different bodyguard. I can pay."

Surprised, Keith said, "It's not a question of money. I need someone I can trust. That someone is Spencer."

"I want someone else."

"Why?"

"He threatened to hit me if I ran off again."

Keith shook his head. "Remember what I said about your lack of self preservation?"

"I'm serious."

"So am I."

The two faced off for a few seconds. Keith sighed and said, "I'll talk to him, okay? The longer you sit out here, the greater your chance of being seen. We can talk about it at Charlie's."

Reluctantly, Logan got in, and put his four remaining beers on the floor of Keith's car.

# # #

Logan could see Charlie standing on the porch leaning out over the railing, trying to see who's car was coming up the street in the darkness. As they pulled up, Charlie rushed down the porch steps to meet them at the curb.

That familiar cold dread washed over Logan, as he watched the older man stride purposely towards the car. He swallowed a couple of times, trying to keep his beer down, and forced himself not to follow his instincts and lock the car door. He'd locked himself in the car once when his father had been after him, and would never follow through with that instinct again.

Charlie opened the passenger side door, and Logan pushed his upper body back against the car's seat, eyeing his older brother warily.

When Logan didn't get out, Charlie squatted down so they could be eye to eye. Getting into Logan's personal space, Charlie put a hand on his shoulder and said, "Are you hurt?"

"Hurt?" Logan could see worry on Charlie's face, he just wasn't sure why it was there. The only time his father would show concern was when the cameras were rolling, and he doubted Charlie would be putting on a show for Keith.

"Did they get to you? Do you need help getting to the house?"

Not knowing what to say, Logan simply shook his head no.

Keith got out of the car and said, "We're likely to draw attention out here. We need to get in the house."

Charlie stood and backed up a step. Logan found the willpower to undo his seatbelt, and step out of the car, forgetting his beer on the floor. The second he was standing, Charlie pulled him into an unexpected hug.

Logan tensed, and held his breath.

"I was so afraid that they'd gotten to you," Charlie whispered, and tightened his grip. "You were gone for so long."

It took a few milliseconds, but soon Logan was able to breathe again, and was struck with the thought that Charlie smelled nothing like Aaron. He tentatively put his arms around Charlie's back. His eyes filled with unshed tears of relief mixed with guilt. "I'm sorry."

"I'm just glad you're okay."

Keith was happy to see that his instincts about Charlie had been correct. He put a hand on Charlie's shoulder and said, "We need to get inside."

"Right," Charlie said, and let go.

Logan immediately let go as well. Charlie put an arm around his shoulders and led him into the house.

Once they were inside, Keith said, "I need to make a couple of calls. Can I use the spare bedroom?"

"Of course," Charlie said.

Logan said, "Tell Veronica I kept my promise. Now she has to keep hers."

Keith wasn't sure if he wanted to strangle the kid, or give him a hug, too. "I'll tell her."

Once Keith was in the spare bedroom with the door shut, an awkward silence settled between the brothers.

Charlie was the first to speak. "I thought I'd never see you again."

Unsure of what to say, Logan stuck his hands in his pockets.

Before he had a chance to respond, Charlie continued. "It made me realized how much I'd miss you. I know you've only been staying here with me for a few days, but getting to know you now, has brought up all those old memories and feelings. I was so excited to have a brother, and you were so tiny, I wanted to protect you from the world. When we'd take you to the park, Dad would want me to sit with him and talk while you played, but I'd follow you around instead, to make sure you didn't get hurt. And when you ran out of here tonight…" Charlie shook his head.

Logan couldn't speak. He was waiting for Charlie's worry to turn into anger.

Charlie made sure they had eye contact and said, "I was afraid I'd never get the chance to tell you how happy I am we've gotten to know each other again after all these years. I know this may sound sudden to you, but once this whole thing with Gory is over, I want you to consider moving in with me, for a year or two, while you go to school."

"Move in?" Logan asked with dazed confusion.

"Just something for you to think about. I know you're in college, and out on your own for the first time in your life, so I understand if you don't want to. But I want you to know you're not alone in the world. Both of your parents are gone, but you still have me. I want you to think of my house, as the place you come home to for the holidays, or even when you just need someone to talk to."

Logan couldn't believe his ears. He'd just done something stupid, and instead of being angry, Charlie was offering him a home. "I don't know what to say."

"You don't have to decide right now, just think about it."

"Okay."

After a short pause, Charlie said quietly, "Running out of here like you did…"

"Was stupid." Logan finished for him. "I know."

Charlie shook his head. "Well it was a bad decision. Why didn't you just talk to me about it? You didn't have to put yourself in danger. I could have bought you a disposable cell phone to call Veronica."

"I don't know."

"You don't know?" Charlie asked, getting upset all over again, at the thought of his baby brother out on the street with Gory gunning for him.

Logan heard the anger in Charlie's tone, and tensed up. He'd almost let himself believe the anger wasn't going to be coming. "I didn't think anyone would listen to me."

Charlie put a hand on Logan's shoulder, and gave it a gentle squeeze. "I would have."

"Okay," Logan said, feeling close to tears.

Charlie let his hand drop and said, "I'm going to make some hot chocolate. You want some?"

"No thanks." Logan remembered the beer he'd left in Keith's car. He desperately wanted to down the rest of it, but knew exactly what Charlie thought of his drinking.

As soon as Charlie's back was turned, Logan headed to the front door. Once Charlie turned the water on to fill the kettle, Logan eased the door open, only to find Spencer standing on the other side.

"Spencer?"

Spencer advanced on Logan, shutting the door behind him.

Logan walked backwards until his butt hit the back of the couch. "I had to call Veronica."

"You didn't have to run away to do it."

Logan shook his head and opened his mouth, but Spencer wasn't in the mood to listen. He grabbed Logan's right arm, twisted it behind his back, and bent him face down over the back of the couch.

Logan quietly whimpered, "Fuck," and then clamped his mouth shut.

Spencer kept the kid down with one hand, and yanked his own belt off with the other.

Hearing the familiar sound, Logan closed his eyes, and forced himself to take shallow quick breaths through his nose.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Charlie demanded from the kitchen.

"Keeping a promise," Spencer said.

The belt whistled through the air, before landing with a loud thwack against Logan's jeans. Logan had been belted plenty of times, and kept himself perfectly still and quiet.

Momentarily frozen in confusion, Charlie said, "Promise?"

Surprised by Logan's lack of reaction to the first swat, Spencer started whipping him in earnest, and raised his voice to be heard over the noise. "I told him if he ran off again under my watch, things were going to get ugly between us." By the time the sentence was out of his mouth, he'd already given Logan six licks.

Logan tried to keep his muscles relaxed, but Spencer was whipping faster then his father usually did, and he found himself tensing up.

In the spare bedroom, Keith heard distinct smacking sounds coming from the living room, and quickly told Veronica he'd call her back. He rushed to the living room to stop Spencer, but found he was too late.

Charlie's confusion changed to fury while Spencer was explaining, and before Spencer could land the belt a seventh time, Charlie had grabbed his swinging arm with both of his hands. Charlie blocked Logan's body by stepping in between him and Spencer.

Logan tensed up even more, when the swats suddenly stopped, anticipating something worse. He opened his eyes, and craned his neck back to see what was happening.

Charlie let go of Spencer's arm, and shoved him. Spencer stumbled back a couple of steps, letting go of Logan's arm. With calm authority, Charlie said, "If you ever hit my brother again, I'll have you charged with assault."

Shocked, Logan pushed himself to a standing position, and turned so he was facing Charlie's back.

Spencer's glare moved back and forth between the two brothers as he shouted, "If he keeps running off, he'll be dead before this assignment is over! I'm trying to protect him!"

"Whipping him like that will make him more likely to run off again!" Charlie yelled.

Logan's eyes went wide with shock. Hearing those words come out of Charlie's mouth brought up all kinds of emotions.

"Well doing nothing wasn't working!" Spencer pointed at Logan with the belt, and said, "He was opening the front door to leave again when I got here!"

"Probably because he was afraid of you!" Charlie said.

Before things could escalate, Keith stepped in and put a hand on Spencer's shoulder. "Let's go for a walk."

"I give up!" Spencer tossed his belt onto the floor, and stormed out of the house with Keith on his heels.

Once they were alone, Charlie turned to see Logan standing behind him, less then two feet away. Charlie raised his arm to put a hand on Logan's shoulder, saw him flinch, and froze. With that flinch, everything fell into place in Charlie's mind.

The terror on Logan's face when he'd been discovered reading Charlie's book. The struggle to escape that day. Running away tonight without asking anyone for help. The hesitation to get out of the car when he arrived home. The silence while being whipped. Calling his father a bastard even though he was dead, and saying he didn't miss him with conviction. It all added up to abuse. He couldn't believe he hadn't realized it before now. During college, he'd spent a few months volunteering for child services, and Logan's behavior mirrored that of some of the children he'd seen.

Keeping his movements slow, Charlie put his hand on Logan's shoulder and said, "Are you alright?"

Logan wanted to say yes, but nothing would come out of his mouth. No one had ever stood up for him like that before. His mom had forced his father to stop hurting him three separate times while he was growing up. But never during a formal whipping, and never when he'd clearly done something to deserve it, like he had tonight. Tears filled his eyes, and his vision blurred. He whispered, "I'm sorry."

Charlie gently pulled him into a hug and said, "It's okay, I'm not mad."

Sagging with relief at those words and the hug, Logan held onto Charlie for support. He broke down into tears, and tried to explain himself at the same time. "I… w… wasn't trying to leave."

Rubbing his hand up and down Logan's back, Charlie said, "Alright, I believe you."

"I… I wanted…"

Interrupting, Charlie said gently, "Hey, give yourself a few minutes here. I'm not going anywhere, and later we can sit and talk about it."

Logan let his forehead rest on Charlie's shoulder, and shook his head, thinking Charlie wouldn't be happy to hear that the reason he wanted to go outside was to get his beer.

"I'm not going to let anyone hurt you," Charlie said, trying to remember everything he'd learned from the people he'd met at child services. "I'm not going to get angry, no matter what you say or do."

Logan shook his head again, too lost in his tears to think straight.

Charlie stopped trying to convince him, knowing trust would take time, and just held him. It didn't take Logan long to get a hold of himself, and once he did, he realized he'd been crying on Charlie's shoulder. He was completely ashamed to have broken down over the kind of whipping he would have received when he was seven.

Letting go of Charlie, Logan stepped back and wiped at his face. He sniffed and muttered, "Sorry, I don't know what's wrong with me. The stress of being cooped up must be getting to me."

"What were you trying to tell me earlier?"

Unable to make eye contact, Logan said, "I wasn't trying to leave when Spencer showed up. I was trying to go get my beer out of Keith's car." Logan darted a glance at Charlie's face, trying to gage his reaction.

"I see." Charlie nodded. The drinking made more sense to him now, and decided not to comment on it. Instead he said, "Spencer had no right to hit you."

Logan made eye contact, and Charlie could see how nervous he was. He pointedly added, "No one has the right to hit you like that."

Logan realized that Charlie knew, and blushed with shame. Staring at the floor, he whispered, "Dad thought he did."

"He was wrong."

Wiping at fresh tears, Logan said, "When that asshole reporter, Norman, showed up, I thought he was you. I poured my guts out to him, and the whole time he just wanted to use me to get a fucking story."

Hating himself for not calling Logan back in the first place, Charlie said, "I'm sorry. Sorry I wasn't there to listen to you the first time around, but I'm here now, and I want to hear about it."

Logan shrugged, not knowing what to say.

"When was the last time he hit you?"

"The last big one was a couple of years ago. Thank God for prison huh?"

"You wanna tell me about it?"

"My friends and I were paying bums to beat each other up, and then betting on who would win." Logan paused to see Charlie's reaction.

Charlie nodded, and waited to hear the rest.

"A video of it leaked onto the internet, and I knew I'd be in for it when I got home, Dad hated bad press. So I stayed out until two in the morning, trying to avoid him. But he was there waiting. And I would have understood, you know. It was a shitty thing for me to do, and I would have deserved it. But he didn't. He forced me to go work in a soup kitchen for a day with him, while the press was there. Dad always thought the best remedy for bad press was good press. But on the way there…"

Logan shook his head. "There was this bum who'd refused to fight for me, because he had too much integrity. Like he'd rather go hungry, than sell himself out for me. Dad had zero integrity. He signed up for movies that he knew were bad, selling himself out to the highest bidder for money we didn't even need. And then he expected me to go smile for the camera and tell everyone I was a bonehead kid, while he was a wonderful father. I couldn't stand it, so once we got there, I smiled and told the press he was going to donate half a million to the homeless shelter. I knew he'd beat the shit out of me when we got home, but it was worth it to see the look on his face."

"What happened when you got home?"

"He was eerily quiet the whole ride home, and when we pulled up to the house he ordered me to get a belt. Mom met us at the door, with a drink in her hand, and a glare on her face. They both were fond of money. I got the belt, met him in his office, and took off my shirt. He whipped my back until he felt better I guess. I couldn't move very well the next day, so I took a day off school. Had bruises for a week and a half."

Charlie had hated Aaron for years, and he hadn't thought it possible to hate him even more, but he'd been wrong. "That's horrible."

Logan shrugged. "It's not like I was innocent. I embarrassed him in public, and lost him a shit load of money."

There were so many things wrong with that statement Charlie didn't know where to start. "The punishment was much too severe to fit the crime, and it was given by someone who didn't deserve respect. That makes it abuse."

Logan stared at the floor for a few seconds. During his childhood he'd tried to tell people it was abuse, but they never believed him. After an awkward pause, Logan said, "Thanks for stepping in tonight."

"I'm our older brother, it's my job to protect you. Has Spencer hit you before?"

"No."

"Thank goodness for that. We'll get a new bodyguard."

Logan snorted.

"What?"

"I tried telling Keith I wanted a new bodyguard before coming back here, because I knew what he was planning to do. Keith said he trusts Spencer."

"Well I don't, and he's not staying with us."

Surprised by the conviction in Charlie's voice, Logan said, "It's almost eleven o'clock. I kind of doubt Keith is going to be able to find someone else tonight."

"Hey, what happened to Mr. Mars?" Both brothers turned to see Keith coming in the front door, and shutting it behind him.

"Sorry," Logan said, nervously watching the front door for Spencer. "I didn't see you there."

"Where's Spencer?" Charlie asked.

"Gone. He's taking my car, and going to a hotel for the night. I'll stay here tonight, and then tomorrow, we'll talk about where to go from here."

"Thanks Mr. Mars," Logan said, surprised that Keith would stay himself.

"Are you okay?" he asked, with genuine concern.

Logan tried to put on a smile, but couldn't quite pull it off. "I'm fine."

Not believing it for a second, Keith said, "Right." He turned to Charlie and said, "I've got to call Veronica back. Can I use the spare room again?"

"Sure."

Keith picked the belt up off the floor on his way to the spare room, to put with Spencer's other things. As Keith was leaving, Logan realized he would tell Veronica what had happened. He opened his mouth to ask him not to, but then closed it again. He doubted Keith would keep something like that from Veronica even if he asked, and Veronica was one of the few people who did know what his father had done.

When the door to the bedroom shut, Charlie said, "What?"

"Just thinking about Veronica."

"Now that your beer is on its way to a hotel room, did you want to reconsider the hot chocolate?"

"Sure." Logan followed Charlie into the kitchen.

# # #

Keith wasn't able to find a new bodyguard, and decided to take Spencer's place, staying at Charlie's until this assignment was done. He slept during the day, so he could be up for the night shift, leaving Charlie and Logan their days free to continue getting to know each other.

During lunch, four days after the incident with Spencer, Logan said, "When this is all over, you should call Brian."

Charlie choked on his ham sandwich. After taking a drink of water, he said, "What are you talking about?"

"Well, you told me that when he broke things off, he said he still loved you right?"

"Yes, but…"

Logan held up a hand. "Just hear me out. You still love him right?"

"It's not that simple."

"Yes or no."

"Yes."

"And the reason he broke it off, is because he didn't want to keep hiding the relationship?"

Charlie nodded.

"So cowboy up, give him a call, and stop hiding."

Charlie sighed, "It's not that easy, Logan. You may have grown up with cameras around, but I hate hearing other people talk about me on television."

"Lame excuse. Dad was the star, and he's dead. Even if the press hounds you for a day or two, it won't last for long."

"Brian might be seeing someone else by now."

Logan shook his head. "You're an idiot."

"Hey!" Charlie sounded more hurt then offended.

"If I could get another chance with Veronica, I'd do whatever it took. Love isn't that easy to find. When you're lucky enough to have it, you should do everything in your power to keep it."

Charlie thought Logan was much to young to think love was hard to find. He smiled and said, "Who's the older brother here? I'm supposed to be giving you advice, not the other way around."

Logan smirked. "Trina always did say I was an annoying little brother. If you want to play it that way, I can bug you about it every day until you call."

Losing his smile Charlie said, "You can bug me all you want, I'm not going to call until I'm ready."

"You told me yourself that sometimes you think things to death, and then regret not acting on them. Like not calling me back that first time."

"And you told me that you act without thinking things through, and then regret it."

The two sat in silence for a few seconds, facing off. Then Logan said with a smile, "And that's why you should use the best parts of both of our methods. Take the time to think about it now, so you'll be ready to take action and call him when this is over."

Charlie rolled his eyes and said, "Eat your sandwich."

# # #

That evening, the three men were sitting around the kitchen table playing poker. Logan said, "I call."

Before Keith could respond, his cell phone rang. He looked at the caller and smiled before answering. "Hi, sweetheart."

Charlie got up to get a soda, while they waited for Keith to get off the phone. Coming back to the table, he saw Logan's expression, and wondered what was wrong. He hadn't heard Keith say anything other then 'yes', but Logan appeared to be in pain. When Charlie sat down, he saw nothing but a smile on Keith's face. Keith said, "A ninety-nine? Really?"

Logan smiled too, even though he kept his eyes on his poker chips.

"I'm so proud I could burst."

Logan grimaced, and muttered, "Bathroom break."

Charlie waited outside the bathroom door. When Logan came out, Charlie said, "What's wrong?"

Surprised, Logan said, "Nothing."

"I saw your face. It's not nothing. Thinking about Veronica?"

Logan leaned against the doorframe. "Kind of." He looked over at Keith's smiling face and said, "I see how close they are, and on the one hand, I'm happy for her, because I love her, and seeing her happy makes me happy. But on the other hand, I'm…" He looked back at Charlie. "I'm jealous of the bond they have."

Charlie pulled Logan into a hug. Logan's voice was muffled by Charlie's chest. "Come on Dude, we talked about this."

Rubbing a hand up and down the kid's back, Charlie murmured, "Yeah we did, and I didn't agree."

Logan sighed, wrapping his arms around Charlie, and thinking back to the first day Keith had slept there.

#

They were sitting side by side on the couch, and Logan finished his current story with, "I still puke when I smell pears."

Moving slow enough not to startle the kid, Charlie pulled him into a hug.

"Um… what gives? I just told you I didn't need a hug after every story."

"I think you do."

With a huff, Logan said, "It's kind of making me uncomfortable."

Charlie let him go, but kept his hands on his shoulders. "Why, because I'm gay?"

"What? No!" Logan said, surprised and hurt that Charlie would think that of him.

"Then why?"

Logan looked down and thought about it. "Because it makes it harder to block out my feelings."

Charlie pulled him back into the hug and said, "You're telling me these horror stories with detachment, like they happened to someone else. But they happened to you. You should have feelings about it."

"I don't want to break down every time I tell you something."

"I'm sure you don't want to, but maybe you need to. Dad was wrong to treat you the way he did, and keeping all that anger, pain, and sorrow inside, isn't going to help you get past it."

Logan felt his throat tightening. "Fuck," he said with dismay, his voice cracking.

Patting the kid's back, Charlie could hear the tears start. He said, "Shoving those pears down you throat was unforgivable. You were a helpless little kid, and he tortured you to get rid of his own anger. Most kids try to peek at the Christmas gifts, it doesn't make you a bad person, it just makes you normal."

#

Logan felt his eyes start to fill again now, and shook his head. Breaking down in front of Keith was not on his list of things to do. He let go of Charlie and whispered, "Not in front of other people, okay?"

"Okay." Charlie let go, too.

Once Keith was off the phone, they resumed their game.

Three hours later, Charlie folded and said, "That's it for me. I'm going to bed." He stood, but stayed by the table when Keith's phone rang.

Keith frowned, and answered, "Veronica?"

Worried, Logan fiddled with the hem of his sleeve, while waiting to hear what was wrong.

After a short, one sided, conversation, Keith smiled and said, "That's the best news I've heard in a while. Yeah, I'll tell him. Good night, Sweetheart."

Keith turned to Logan and said, "Gory is in custody."

"What?" Logan couldn't quite believe it was true.

"They followed him, and caught him up at his father's cabin. Not just Gory, but his father and uncle too. There was a body in the bathroom, and Veronica is certain that they'll find more bodies buried out in their property. Gory is going to have bigger things to worry about then you."

Grinning, Charlie clapped Logan on the back.

Staying serious, Logan turned to Keith, "So it's all over?"

"That's right," Keith said with a smile.

Logan turned to Charlie and saw his grin. Charlie said, "No more protective custody."

A smile was slow to form on Logan's face, but it grew into a huge grin. He jumped up, and grabbed Charlie in a hug.

Chuckling, Charlie said, "And, no more being cooped up in the house while the sun is shining."

"That's right!" Logan said. He let go and turned to Keith. He held out his hand to shake and said, "Thank you for everything, Mr. Mars."

Keith stood up, grabbed Logan's hand, and surprised the kid by pulling him into a quick one-armed hug as well. "Anytime, Logan."

Keith let go and said to Charlie, "I'll go pack up my stuff and call Spencer to come pick me up."

"It's late, you can stay the night if you want."

"Thanks, but I'd rather go home."

Charlie nodded in understanding, and Keith went to the spare bedroom to pack.

Too happy and excited to be still, Logan said, "We should go out and celebrate!"

"Sounds good. What do you want to do?"

"There's this great bar over on…" Logan saw Charlie's frown, and frowned himself. "Or not."

"I teach for a private school. If pictures came out of me drinking at a bar with my nineteen-year-old brother, I wouldn't have a job come fall."

"Right. I hadn't even thought of it from that perspective, I was just thinking that you didn't want me to drink."

Charlie chose his words carefully, "Drinking is a coping mechanism. I don't like you doing it, but I understand why you would. Especially since it was your mother's coping mechanism of choice."

Logan's frowned deepened. "All my friends drink at parties. It's not a coping mechanism, it's normal teenage behavior."

Not wanting to start an argument, Charlie said, "We could go to a late night movie." He checked his watch and said, "Or we could go bowling. There's this place Brian and I used to go that stays open until one."

"You guys went out in public together?"

"Sure, we went out all the time as 'friends'.

"Oh."

"Or, we could go to an all night diner for some dessert, and talk about what happens now."

"What happens now?" Logan asked, wishing he didn't feel as nervous as he did. Had Charlie changed his mind about that offer to move in?

"You're a free man. I want you to move in with me, but I'll understand if you don't want to."

With a smile, Logan said, "I do want to move in. We should go to the diner and talk."