H&C: 02) Circumstantially Hurt

Chapter 14: Across the Coals

Xander responded to the telepathic summons from the professor and made his way to the MedLab.

He walked in to find Scott lying on the bed.

"The professor said you were ready for 'the talk'." Xander said as he grabbed a wheelchair and brought it to the side of the bed.

"I don't think anyone could be ready for this talk." Scott said as he struggled off the bed with Xander's help.

"Just do what you've got to do and get it over with. If it helps you to know this, I understand. I was engaged to be married and broke up with my bride on our wedding day." Xander said, remembering that horrible day.

"You left her at the altar?" Scott asked in confirmation.

"Yeah, and I didn't even have a former lover come back from the dead to make me do it, just a little glimpse of my future." Xander said, reliving the pain.

"I don't know why, but it does help me to know that, thanks Xander." Scott said as they left the MedLab.

* * * * *

Xander opened the door and pushed Scott into the room. He remembered that the children would be coming up to bring their presents in a little while, so he locked the door to be sure that they wouldn't be interrupted.

"Hi." Scott said, not knowing where to begin.

"Hi." Andrew said in response.

"I'm sorry I did that to you Andrew." Scott said as humiliation flooded through him.

"Did what? I need to know what it is that you're sorry for." Andrew said calmly.

"I left you. I broke up with you and went back to Jean." Scott said, mortified at the words coming out of his mouth.

"Why did you do it?" Andrew asked, still not betraying his emotions.

"I don't know." Scott mumbled.

"Wrong answer. Try again." Andrew said with hardness in his voice.

"I guess I did it because she was the center of my life for so long, and I hurt for so long, that I thought that all the pain would go away if I went back to her." Scott said with a shaking voice.

"Did it work?" Andrew asked with a hint of caring.

Scott shook his head and looked down at his folded hands.

Andrew could see that something had happened beyond what he expected. Scott wasn't just nervous or embarrassed, he was devastated.

"Scott, I'm going to tell you this, and I hope it makes it easier for you." Andrew said in prelude. "Alan and I are going to become life partners. It hurt me when you left me to go back to Jean, but I'm okay. I know that things can't go back to the way they were between us, I think you know that too, but if there is any way to salvage something of our friendship, I'm willing to try."

Scott looked up in shock as he realized that Andrew was telling the truth. Andrew had moved on and was willing to forgive him.

"I... I don't know how." Scott said in a low, lost voice.

{Come here.} Andrew said in a soft whisper.

Scott got out of his wheelchair and made his way to the bed with Xander's help.

Andrew sat up in the bed and pulled Scott to sit beside him.

Scott felt the arms come around him and hold him tight.

"Scott. Tell me what happened. I can't help if you don't tell me." Andrew said as he held Scott tight.

"She left me. She said that she wasn't in love with me and would never be in love with me." Scott said as he began to cry openly.

Andrew was stunned and realized what was about to happen.

Andrew pulled away and turned Scott to face him.

"Scott. Look at me." Andrew commanded.

"Scott, I know this hurts. You hurt me, and Jean hurt you. Now it's time to heal. Tell me, are you really sorry for the way you broke up with me?" Andrew asked seriously.

"Yes, I can't believe I could do that to you." Scott said as tears began to fall from under his glasses again.

"Then there is something you can do to make it up to me." Andrew said and waited for Scott to collect himself.

"What?" Scott asked and wiped the tears from his face.

"Promise me that you won't date anyone for one year." Andrew said strongly.

"What?" Scott asked, not understanding the statement.

"Promise me that you won't date anyone for one year. Not even handholding in the park, nothing for one full year from today. If you promise me that, I'll forgive you for how you hurt me and do whatever I can to fix our friendship." Andrew said solidly.

"I... I don't understand why, but I promise. No dates of any kind for one full year from today." Scott promised.

Andrew could hear the sincerity of the vow and pulled Scott back into the hug for a moment before saying, "I think your brother has something to say."

Scott pulled back from Andrew and looked at Alan, giving his full attention.

"You're a dick." Alan said flatly.

"Logan noticed that too." Scott said absently.

"You're still my brother and I love you. But if I ever hear about you doing something like that again, I'm gonna kick your ass." Alan said seriously.

"And I'll deserve it." Scott said honestly.

"So, are we all good now?" Xander asked the group.

"Yeah, I think so." Andrew answered for everyone.

"Why don't you want me to date?" Scott asked shyly.

"When did you start dating Jean?" Andrew asked in response.

"When we were about sixteen." Scott answered in confusion.

"And you've never been 'unattached' since then, right?" Andrew asked, trying to lead Scott to figure it out for himself.

"No, except when I thought Jean was dead." Scott said, the pain of that time flooding back through him again.

"Then you need to know what it's like to be Scott, the single, individual person before you become Scott, part of a couple again. You are a great guy, but when you're part of a couple, you seem to close everyone else out of your life but your partner. Take this year to be you. Do what you want. Make decisions for yourself. You don't have to be alone; Alan and I will be here to support you..."

"...And me." Xander chimed in.

"And Xander. And I bet a lot of other people will be there for you if you let them." Andrew said in a pleading voice.

"And remember that you have a brother here who can relate to just about anything in your life... except that stupid stunt of breaking up with Andrew... I have no idea what you were thinking there..." Alan trailed off, shaking his head.

"And you know that I've pulled a stupid stunt or two myself, so if my insights can be any help, I'm here for you too." Xander said honestly.

"And I'm here to be honest with you and tell you when I think you're being a jackass. I mean, what are friends for?" Andrew said with a smile.

"Thanks guys. I don't know how I'm going to do this being single thing. I mean, you're right, I've always been part of a couple, so I guess it's time for me to be a single and figure out who I really am." Scott said, feeling much better.

"And when you figure it out, I hope you like the person that you are as much as we do." Andrew said fondly.

"Enough mushy stuff, tell me some more about your commitment ceremony." Scott said as he made his way back to the wheelchair.

* * * * *

Tara and Dawn sat in the clean dining room, exhausted. Both felt overfilled with joy at the way the day had worked out.

They had started by gathering the children and outlining the plan for them. It had been Clarissa who mentioned that Alan should have a special day too. Dawn had been unsure about that, because she didn't want to detract from Andrew's special day. But after Tara's repeated assurances and later Orroro's, Dawn finally conceded that Alan probably needed this as much as Andrew.

After that the party took on a life of its own. Getting Xander's help had been the next obstacle, but that turned out to be as easy as asking. He was at least as excited by the idea as the children.

"Is it always like this when you respect the natural order? I mean, everything just felt so right." Tara asked with disbelief.

"No, every time is different. Sometimes you just get a feeling of peace because you know that the world is working just a little bit better because of you. Sometimes you feel renewed respect for the natural order. Every now and then you feel sad because you have to stand by and allow death or injustice to occur so the natural order can resolve the situation." Dawn finished sadly.

"How do you mean?"

"Imagine that you foresaw a purse snatching, your first instinct might be to stop the crime. But by doing that, the criminal is left to pursue another victim. If you allow the crime to happen, you can work to bring the criminal to justice, thereby preventing greater heartache. So you end up doing a service to the natural order." Dawn explained.

"Why is the first victim less important than the second?" Tara asked, truly trying to understand.

"No one has greater importance than another. But if our criminal is allowed to continue, there won't just be a second victim. There will most likely be a large number of them..."

"...Which puts stress on the natural order, causing a counter force to develop, like vigilantes or rogue cops." Tara interrupted with excitement.

Dawn smiled and said, "That's exactly right. Now you see the bigger picture."

"But I still don't understand how our party served the natural order." Tara said quietly.

"Let's look at the end result." Dawn suggested.

Tara nodded.

"How do you think Andrew feels now?"

"Special, loved, wanted, like he belongs."

"How do you think he would be feeling if we did nothing?"

"Like he and Alan were alone in the world, depressed, questioning his worth."

"What about Alan?"

"The same I think."

"What about the children?"

"They were worried, bored, separated from each other, feeling powerless. But now they feel like they helped. They saw Andrew and Alan feeling better because of what they did. They were busy and united, and they were rewarded by the appreciation of Andrew and Alan."

"What about Orroro and Peter?"

"They would feel better about the guys, and the kids, and themselves, I suppose."

"Beyond that, the level of tension has gone down dramatically. They were able to do something to make things better and after being able to do nothing for so long, they jumped at the chance to do something."

"So, things are less tense, people are happier, more united, and that means they will be more productive to contribute to the well-being of the community, which is the institute." Tara said as she figured it out.

"Yes, and if things are running smoothly, then the natural order is being served and there isn't anything for us to do. We just step in and fix things when they mess up." Dawn said simply.

"So, we are like maintenance workers for the natural order?" Tara asked, not sure if she liked the sound of that.

"More like custodians of the universe. We try to encourage order or at least minimize the damage of chaos."

"Custodians of the Universe, I feel like I should be wearing a uniform... and maybe pushing a vacuum cleaner." Tara said with a smile.

"It's a life of service, but you've had a taste of the up-side and the down-side, what do you think?" Dawn asked, hoping that Tara wanted to continue.

"I think that I would like to live my life like this. I can't think of anything more satisfying than making the world a better place for everyone around me." Tara said with a big joyous smile.

"I need to talk to you about something... and I don't really know how to say it." Dawn said in a worried tone.

"Just tell me Dawn. I'm not as fragile as I look." Tara said with a smile.

"I know. Alright, here it is, we are from different worlds... literally. But I enjoy your company and I don't want to leave. I need to know how you feel." Dawn said with uncharacteristic hesitance.

Tara looked at Dawn's nervous movements and heard the anxiety in her voice. She took a step closer and raised her hand to Dawn's cheek. With a feather-light touch, she trailed her fingertips down Dawn's face and came to rest at the edge of her jaw. {Like this.} Tara whispered and leaned in for a gentle kiss.

Dawn was shocked for an instant, then let herself fall into the sensation of the kiss. Her mind was whirling with the sensation and without knowing it, she summoned her magic vision.

She could see her aura blending with Tara's to form a symbiosis of souls. If she understood what she was seeing, this meant that when they were combined, their power was augmented. She could see the interplay of forces and understood that they energized each other and inspired each other.

She looked around her and could see Tara's protection spell and the seven symbols. She saw herself as the point of 'Tara's air' and smiled. She looked to her own protection spell and saw 'Dawn's water', the wet and voluptuous form of Tara.

"You are my water." Dawn finally said.

"And you are my air." Tara immediately responded.

Dawn pulled Tara close and held her. They stood in silence, sharing the moment and feeling the fusion of their elements and souls.

* * * * *

"Where are you staying tonight Scott?" Xander asked.

"I guess I'll be staying in MedLab until I get a bed back in my bedroom." Scott said simply.

"No need for that. You can sleep here tonight. I promise that I'll keep my hands to myself." Xander said with his innocent look firmly in place.

"Are you sure? I mean, it won't be any problem for me to sleep in MedLab and I don't want to inconvenience you." Scott said with humility.

"You can ask your brother, I tend to be a self-involved asshole, if it was a problem for me, I wouldn't have offered." Xander said bluntly.

"He's right my brother, get in that bed and relax. I think we're all about ready for some sleep." Alan said as he lay back in his bed.

There was a knock on the door and Xander got up to answer it.

As expected, there was a parade of children carrying gifts. They had obviously split the load so every child in the mansion could carry something and visit.

Scott sat in wonder as the children brought gift after gift to the two men in the bed, then stood aside and waited quietly.

"Thank you, everyone." Andrew said shyly.

"Did you enjoy your party?" Artie asked impatiently.

"It was the best party I've ever had." Alan answered honestly.

"Me too." Andrew threw in, letting the truth of it show on his face.

"Ms. Munroe said you would be tired, so we can't stay. Can we come to visit tomorrow?" Artie asked bravely.

"Of course, you can Artie, how would you like to help me read my Star Wars books?" Andrew asked with a smile.

"Help you? How?" Artie asked, confused.

"I was thinking that anyone who wanted to could come up here tomorrow and we could take turns reading my new Star Wars books out loud. That way everyone can enjoy them with me." Andrew said with excitement.

Smiles of agreement ran through the crowd of children and Artie finally said, "That sounds like fun. We'll see you tomorrow."

The group of children funneled out of the room and left the adults sitting in silence.

"What was that all about? What party?" Scott finally asked.

"It was a 'We know your boyfriend dumped you and we love you.' party organized by Dawn and Tara." Alan said fondly.

"Really?" Scott said, impressed by the caring action.

"Really, see all the presents, they decorated and made our favorite meals... did you eat?" Andrew finished with concern.

"I didn't remember to." Scott said as he lay back on the bed.

Silence filled the room. Scott finally raised his head and looked at the other bed to see the disapproving looks coming from Andrew and his brother, he turned to his side to see the same look coming from Xander.

"I guess this means I'm going to go get something to eat now." Scott said, resigned to his fate.

"Jubilee will be here in a moment. I'm not restricted from telepathy and already told on you." Xander said with a smile.

"Brat." Scott said, feeling a well of emotion bubbling up within himself at the caring demonstrated by these men who had every reason to despise him.

"That reminds me, do you still have my pillow?" Xander asked the other bed's occupants casually.

Xander received a pillow in the face as a response.

"Thanks." He said in a voice filled with sarcasm.

Then he turned and whopped Scott with the pillow.

There was a knock on the door and Xander climbed over Scott to answer it.

"Dinner for Scott and a snack for everyone else." Jubilee announced as she entered the room pushing the food cart.

Everyone settled in and enjoyed their food.