II. A Shoulder to Cry On

"Chris, we need to talk. Right now." Nightingale's cool and passive voice came from behind him as a hand pulled him away from his track.

"What is it, Nightingale?" Christopher looked pale; rather, he was pale.

"You've been avoiding our minds for a week."

How typical of Nightingale, always straight to the point.

"I have not."

"Fine. Let me rephrase," Rickey took over and translated Nightingale's eloquent and concise language into the everyday lingo. "You've been avoiding us for an entire week. What Nightingale and me really want to know is – what in the hell is bothering you?"

"It is 'Nightingale and I', not me." Automatically, Christopher corrected Rickey's abuse of grammar and then answered Rickey's question. "Nothing is bothering me."

"Liar." Gray serious pupils stared into his black, uncertain orbs.

"Well then, let me rephrase. Nothing is bothering me enough for me to tell you. Is that good enough?" With that, Christopher began to walk away. His books were suddenly unbearably heavy.

Suddenly, Rickey reached out quickly and yanked Chris back by the back of his collar, slamming him again the wall.

Christopher's books fell to the ground.

Nightingale said nothing.

With his hand on Christopher's shirt, Rickey nailed Christopher to the wall as if he were a bully.

The pale boy flinched and grimaced visibly.

"You're not going anywhere until you start talking, Chris. Whatever the crap is wrong, it's been bothering you ever since you were in that hospital."

"Before that."

"Shut up, Nightingale."

Nightingale rolled his eyes and pulled Rickey away from Christopher while giving Rickey a sarcastic look. "Come on, Rickey, don't be so cliché."

Christopher squatted down on the floor and picked up his books quickly, trying to block out the horrifying flashbacks ignited by Rickey's single touch. The suffocating space between Rickey and him. Rickey had been too close, just like he had, and Christopher wasn't about to live those dreaded moments again.

"Christopher?" Nightingale's cool voice penetrated softly through Chris' thoughts when he touched Christopher's arm.

Instinctively, Christopher pulled back and almost scattering his books again.

"Chris, can't we just talk?" Knowing that his pale friend wouldn't be persuaded by force or ruthless actions, Nightingale held impatient Rickey back and tried to sooth Christopher. "Words aren't weapons, you know. We're not gonna do anything to you because of whatever you said."

Black worried eyes were still fixed on the ground as Christopher quietly acquiesced. "Okay."

"Be quiet." A brutal hand slammed him against the wall and the cruel command sneered into his face.

The hand let go of his mouth when he uttered no sound and the owner of the hand smirked.

It was Trage.

"Sh-h …" Muttering under his breath, Trage gazed into his black eyes with a strange sort of emotion, an emotion he had never seen before.

An emotion that he would never forget.

Then, to his surprise and fright, Trage leaned forward and pressed his cold lips against his.

Eyes closed, Trage did not see the horror that passed through Christopher's eyes or the tears that ran down his cheeks as Trage continued to kiss him.

He had tried to push Trage away when he felt Trage's tongue forcing its way into his mouth and to his terrifying dismay, Trage had pushed harder him against the wall, grabbing his arms to restrain him.

There was no one around.

For the first time in his life, he had been in such fear that he had no idea of what to do.

For the first time, he panicked.

For the first time, he felt absolute terror when cold, alien hands touched the skin of his back.

He felt Trage press him against the rough wall and felt the hot body of Trage smother against him, leaving him no space to breathe or move.

He felt his heart beat frantically and he felt Trage's heart beating so closely to him.

And when his mind had been shocked into numb emptiness, Trage pulled back, leaving him crying softly to himself and trying to convince his now shredded innocence that whatever that had happened was not real.

Of course it was.

Trage had come back over the week to prove that it was.

Each time, Christopher was left crying and confused. Why? He had never seen this happen to other people before. He saw his father kiss his mother lovingly sometimes, but never his brother on the mouth. His human mind and innate instinct told him it was wrong. And he was petrified at what Trage was enjoying so much.

Nothing had been as terrifying as that.

And then, another accident happened.

"You mean where we found you?" Rickey was quiet now, hushed silent with shock and awkwardness.

Christopher nodded, hugging himself as his gaze remained on the ground.

The three were seated on the steps of the back of the school. Nightingale and Rickey had dragged Christopher out when Christopher had tried to walk away. Now, there was a heavy silence between the boys until Rickey got up from his seat and sat down besides the huddled boy.

Nightingale followed.

"It must have been really hard to just say all that, huh." Hesitating slightly, Rickey put his hand on Christopher's arched back and comforted his small friend.

Christopher grimaced again and looked down at the gray stone that made up the stairs they were sitting on. It was.

"It's okay, Chris, to be scared." Nightingale's passive voice rested on Christopher's chest. "It's okay to cry."

And the key unlocked the deepest drawer of fear that Christopher had contained all the confusion, all the pain, all the un-cried tears, all the feelings he had forbid himself to express.

Christopher bit his lip as tears ran down his cheeks and he trembled in control. He tried, he tried so hard not to cry, but it was so hard, it was so unbearably painful. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry …"

"Stupid Chris. There's nothing to be sorry about." Nightingale ruffled Christopher's raven head as Rickey reached over and gave him a bear hug.

It's all right to cry.

And realizing that, Christopher cried. He cried without the towering fear that someone might find him, that someone might punish him, that someone might harm him for crying.

Now, now it was safe. It was safe to cry in front of Nightingale and Rickey. It was comforting.

"Better?" After Christopher had stopped crying, Rickey pulled back and inquired as the small boy wiped away his tears quickly.

"Why are you in such a rush?" Nightingale smiled mischievously and grabbed Christopher's pale hand. "You're leaving out another good chance to cry again."

Christopher gave Nightingale a faint smile, a grateful one. "I think … that was enough."

"It's okay, Chris. We all cry sometimes. Right, Rickey?" Nightingale ruffled Christopher's head again and met eyes with Rickey.

"Nuh-uh. I've never cried. I'm a man."

Throwing his friend a skeptic look, Nightingale shot back playfully. "Right, Rickey. That's what you say when no needles are waving in front of your face."

The silly grin faded from Rickey's face and was replaced by a frown and a pout. "That's different, Night. Needles are gro-oss."

Christopher laughed.

"That was nice to hear. I haven't heard that in a long while." Rickey goofed and gave Christopher another bear hug while standing up abruptly.

"Put me down, Rickey! Put me down now!"

"Aw, Chris! You so cute!" Rickey growled and spun around.

"It's 'you are' not 'you so'. Put me down!"

"Okay, okay. Jeez." Carefully, Rickey set Christopher down and scratched the back of his head.

The small boy straightened his shirt and mumbled softly. "By the way, I am not cute."

"Yeah you are." Both Nightingale and Rickey replied at the same time.

Christopher made a face and caused his tall friends to laugh.

Just then, when Christopher was about to question Rickey about needles, the bell rang.

Rickey groaned loudly. "Aw man! I have math next! That ain't fair!"

"Chill, Rickey, math is okay." Nightingale got up and punched Rickey lightly on the shoulder.

Miserably, Rickey grumbled and dragged his forgotten backpack onto his shoulder. "That's what you say. Math sucks. Right, Chris?" He turned to his short, trusty ally and poked him playfully.

Christopher flinched. "Actually, I agree with Nightingale."

"What? The world is brainwashed by the evilness of math!" Rickey slouched down and put on a face of doom. Then, he straightened up again. "You're gonna need to work on not flinching, Chris."

Christopher made a face and sulked. "I am working on it, Rickey, but it is difficult."

Nightingale put his hand on Christopher's slender shoulder and smiled. "We know, Chris, we know."

It's all right to cry … when you have a shoulder to cry on.

Because that's what makes you stronger.