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The Talon House

What's the difference between me and you?

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What's The Difference Between Me And You?

Chapter 28 - by Nick

Nick was sure his father had lost his mind. It was December 31, 1999, and Jim was in a panic about Y2K. He had stockpiled fifty gallons of drinking water, more canned food than Nick had ever seen in one place in his life, and that included at the grocery store, and a whole box of flashlights and batteries. He also had a huge stack of charcoal and charcoal fluid for the grill.

But what really had Nick concerned was the long rope that was sitting on top of the dryer in the laundry room. He heard them arguing that morning when they thought he wasn't listening, and hearing the men talk the way they had was chilling.

"Son, I want you to listen to yourself," Big Nick said. "You aren't making any sense."

"I know what I'm doing," Jim snapped back. "Now, you're welcome to do this with us, or you don't have to. But I've already made up my mind about the boys and me."

"Jim, stop and think about it," Big Nick tried to reason, but Jim cut him off.

"I already have," he said testily. "I'm not going to be separated from my boy's. They need to be right here with me so I can protect them."

"How is tying a rope around them going to protect them, son?" Big Nick said, the frustration in his voice rising.

"I don't want us separated, dad," Jim countered. "It's just going to be around their waist's, anyway."

"So you think that if the three of you are connected at the waist, you can keep them safe?" Big Nick scoffed. "I think you've been thinking too much about this. You know, this is only going to happen once for them. The century isn't going to turn again for another hundred years. You're going to ruin it for them."

"You know what," Jim said in a frustrated tone, indicating to Nick that his dad was starting to realize that he was wrong. "Just drop it, dad. I don't feel like arguing about this with you anymore."

Sitting on the stairs, listening to the men argue, Nick tried to work out in his mind what event's could possibly unravel that would cause his dad to be involuntarily separated from him and James. The thoughts were too much for him, so he decided to try to put them out of his head. Still they lingered. Nick was scared of the thought that his dad's plan for the rope would even be necessary. Still, he trusted his dad's judgment enough to relax and do whatever he was told.

From where he was sitting on the stairs, Nick could hear the sound of James' bedroom door opening and his light footsteps walking across the hallway to the bathroom. He felt a little excited, knowing what they were about to do. The night before when Jim was sitting with them on the couch before bedtime, they talked about their plans for the backyard. Tom and Big Nick had already taken measurements of the back yard while Jim marked the places where he wanted the deck to go.

As they were going over their plans, Nick and James stated their desire for a tree house. For the most part, Nick felt like there was no chance his dad would acquiesce, but Jim was surprisingly receptive to the idea.

"I always wanted a tree house when I was a boy," Jim said as he ruefully looked at his father. "Someone wouldn't build one for me, though."

"Oh, you didn't need a tree house," Big Nick said impatiently. "I think you turned out just fine without one."

With that, Big Nick circled Jim sarcastically, looking him up and down as if he were inspecting his body for defects. With a grin, he nodded and gave his stamp of approval.

"Yep, you seemed to have come through it all okay," he said. "Two arms, two legs and a hard head."

With that, Nick and James started to laugh as Jim smiled at them. Nick wasn't used to seeing his dad on the receiving end of any type of verbal berating, but he seemed to take it in stride, so Nick just shrugged and brushed it off as nothing. This morning, though, his stomach was growling with hunger and his mind was on breakfast.

"I'm hungry daddy," Nick said, walking toward the kitchen. "I need a bowl of grits."

James made it to the bottom of the stairs and followed Nick to the kitchen, where they both climb up onto the breakfast nook and watched while Big Nick peeled a bag of large red potatoes and Jim took a box of Bisquick down and mixed it up with eggs and milk in a large bowl for pancake batter. In a separate bowl, he mixed a second batch of Bisquick and milk for biscuits.

It was early in the morning. James, Nick, Jim and Big Nick would have typically still been asleep, but since it was New Years Eve, Jim wanted everyone to come over early for a big breakfast. Nick knew that at any moment, Tom and Linda were going to be there. Lori was still upstairs in bed. One observation Nick had made was that she always slept in, and one time, he said so out loud. His dad scolded him loudly for it and sent him to his room for an hour in time out, prompting him to keep that kind of information to himself whenever he observed it.

The potatoes Big Nick peeled were dripping with water, having been washed well in the sink as soon as they came out of the bag. But he noticed that after they were cut, they were washed again, and he wondered how sensible that was. He didn't dare speak this fact out loud, though, instead choosing to keep it for a later date when he could ask his papu in private about the peculiar extra step he seemed to take.

Taking his eyes off of his papu for a moment, Nick noticed that his dad was letting James drop the dough on the baking sheet and he suddenly got insanely jealous. Despite the fact that his dad had already spoken to him about James needing extra attention, he had feelings of envy he felt were out of his control. In the preceding days, it seemed to Nick that his cousin was taking full advantage of Jim's concern for his well-being and using it to get his way.

"Can I pour the pancake batter?" Nick asked, hoping to intrude a little on the space he had been giving his dad and James.

"Sure buddy," Jim said, walking around the breakfast nook and running his hands through Nick's hair, pulling it back out of his face and planting a kiss on his lips. "I love you buddy."

"I love you too daddy," he said, beaming as his dad smiled at him. "Are we going to work on the tree house today?"

"Yes sir," Jim said, nodding affirmatively at his son. "We'll work on the plans in the garage today, and if there's enough time, we'll even start to work on the frame. It's going to be a nice one, I promise."

In the middle of what Jim was saying, the doorbell rang, but Lori answered it. Nick had no idea she had awaken, so he was little surprised to see her walk into the kitchen with Tom and Linda. She looked picture perfect to Nick, too. He hadn't heard the shower at all, but it was obvious to him that she had not only showered, but also dried and styled her hair. She had done her face as well, the smell of her makeup giving that fact away. Her light perfume helped accentuate her look as she walked through the kitchen like a goddess that everyone stopped to look at.

She walked up to Big Nick and gave him a peck on the cheek, then she went to the breakfast nook where Jim was standing and wrapped an arm around his waist, giving him a kiss on the lips as he enveloped her whole body with his large arm. Nick leaned forward and gave her a small hug, taking in the intoxicating scent of the woman his dad was with, and he wondered if maybe he didn't like girls just a little bit.

"Good morning Miss Lori," James said shyly from the other side of the breakfast nook, still dropping the dough onto the baking sheet.

"Good morning cutie," she said sweetly. "Are you making the biscuits?"

"Yes ma'am," James said with a huge smile, turning back to his work. Linda walked up to him and grabbed both of his cheeks, pulling him close for a kiss on the lips that made him blush outwardly as Nick giggled. As embarrassed as he seemed to be, though, James still dropped his fork and wrapped his arms around Linda's neck for a long hug as she whispered something into his ear that made him smile and nod. After breakfast, Jim sent Nick and James upstairs to get dressed for the weather. It was sunny outside, but the temperature was in the low twenties. While Nick was getting dressed, he head James' bedroom door open, so he peaked his head out to see what he was doing. When he saw him heading to the bathroom, he walked down the hallway and pushed his way past his cousin.

"I was here first," he said nastily to James, who was already in the door and about to close it when Nick had come in.

"No you weren't," James said defensively. "Get out, I have to go."

"You get out!" Nick yelled in reply. "I have to go too."

With that, Nick tried to force his cousin out the door, but James was too big for him. When he realized he wasn't going to be able to force him out, he reached up and grabbed him by the hair with both hands and pulled as hard as he could, yanking James' head from left to right, over and over until James was able to use his fingers to break Nick's grip. Once his grip was broken, Nick gave James a hard shove that knocked him back, through the door jam and into the hallway. Then he closed the door and locked it, smiling to himself as the sound of James' crying flowed into his ears like music.

Nick stood still in front of the mirror and smiled, completely satisfied with himself. He heard the crying get further away, telling him that James had most likely gone downstairs to tell on him, but in a small way, that was what he wanted. He knew he didn't really have to go to the bathroom at all, either. He just wanted to be mean to his cousin, and he knew he had succeeded. He heard two sets of footsteps coming back up the stairs, and nervously, he waited for his dad to knock at the door.

"Nick, open this door," Jim said impatiently as the knob moved back and forth, telling Nick that his dad was trying to come in but had found the door locked. "Open it!"

Nick unlocked the door and stepped out of the way as it swung open. On the other side, an obviously angry Jim was standing next to James, whose face was streaked with tears that were still running down his cheeks. Jim stepped in and looked around, his eyes focusing first on the unused toilet, then on Nick, who stood still and waited for his punishment.

Jim motioned for him to follow him out of the bathroom and James hurriedly ran inside and swung the door closed. Nick looked back at the bathroom door, which hadn't closed all the way, as they made their way to Jim's room. Once there, Jim closed the door and pointed to his bed. Nick followed his dad's command and sat cross-legged as his dad plopped down on the bed next to him.

"Now tell me what the hell you were thinking, boy," Jim said irritably as he cast an angry glare down on his son. Nick looked up at his dad and thought about his answer for a moment. It suddenly dawned on him that he had no idea what he was thinking. So, instead, he made something up.

"I had to go to the bathroom," Nick fibbed as his dad cut his eyes at him.

"Don't lie to me boy," Jim warned him quickly. "You didn't even go to the bathroom, so let's start over. Why did you pull James' hair and kick him out of the bathroom?"

"I just wanted to beat him up," Nick said, realizing that the truth was escaping his lips.

"Why son?" Jim asked, sounding exasperated at Nick's answer. Nick just shrugged his shoulders and answered truthfully again.

"I just felt like doing it," he said simply. Jim got up and walked to his closet, where his belt hung on the inside of the door. He walked back to the bed and sat down next to his son and sighed deeply before speaking.

"So let me get this straight," he said. "Just so we're clear. You felt like beating James up?" Nick sat still and nodded slowly, his fate becoming clear to him.

"What makes you think it's okay to beat anyone up?" Jim demanded in a calm voice that made Nick feel uneasy.

"Because sometimes I want to beat people up," Nick answered, once again being as honest with his dad as possible.

"Well son, sometimes I want to make you do all of James's chores," he said calmly. " And I want to take away your Christmas presents after I spank your a**, but that doesn't mean I go through with it. You need to use your head, son. When James is done in the bathroom, you're going to apologize to him, then you're going to do his chores for the next two weeks. If you don't, I'll give all of your Christmas presents to the church. Do you understand me?"

"Yes sir," Nick said ashamedly, looking up at his dad, who was still gripping his belt ominously in his hand and giving Nick a look that indicated he wasn't free and clear yet.

"We'll sit here and wait for him to finish," Jim said, folding the belt over and taking an end in each hand, letting his fists meet before pulling them apart forcefully, making the belt snap as he eyed his son and nodded slowly. James seemed to be taking forever, and the wait was causing Nick to have second thoughts about what he had done. He was still unclear as to whether or not Jim planned to whip him.

Finally, after an uneasy five minutes, the toilet flushed and Jim stood up, motioning Nick to stand and follow him out to the hallway. They walked past the bathroom door, where the sounds of hand washing could be heard over the running toilet. When James opened the door and came out, Jim and Nick were waiting for him in the hallway.

"You feel better buddy?" Jim asked, kneeling down and wrapping an arm around James' shoulder. James simply nodded with a sad look on his face as he laid his head down on Jim's shoulder and looked accusingly at Nick.

"I'm sorry James," Nick said, swallowing his pride to avoid the whipping he knew he's wind up enduring if he didn't apologize. "I won't do it again. I promise."

Instead of answering, James turned away from Nick and wrapped his arms around Jim for a hug. Nick knew his cousin was being difficult on purpose, but he bit his tongue and listened as James put on an act for Jim.

"I have a headache now," James complained as Jim wrapped his arms around him and gave Nick a disappointed look. Nick saw his cousin turn his head momentarily, and unbeknownst to Jim, he smiled triumphantly at Nick. A feeling of rage coursed through Nick's whole body, and he knew that the only thing that would make it go away would be to make James pay, but he knew if he did he'd be in trouble. Resigned to his defeat, Nick slumped his shoulders and walked to his room, closing the door so he could be alone.

A few minutes later, his bedroom door opened a little bit and Tom came in.

"Hey kiddo," he said with a smile, taking a seat at Nick's desk. "Are you okay?"

"No," Nick said bitterly, on the verge of tears. "I got in trouble because of James, and he made a face at me and my dad didn't see it."

"Oh he did?" Tom asked, sounding as if he was ready to take Nick's side. "Tell me everything."

"My dad made me say sorry to James," Nick whined, feeling tears welling up in his eyes. "Then he said I had to do all of his chores for two weeks. It's not fair."

"Do you think you might have done something to deserve that?" Tom asked, raising an eyebrow as Nick shook his head.

"James is being a brat," Nick said dejectedly. "He always gets his way and he never gets in trouble like I do."

"Are you sure about that, Nick?" Tom said knowingly. I seem to remember James being grounded for almost a month. You don't remember that?"

"But he deserved it," Nick pleaded. "He wasn't doing his homework and he beat Taylor up. Plus he ran away."

"You're right, he did deserve it," Tom agreed. "As a matter of fact, I think your dad is pretty fair with the two of you in terms of punishment. He doesn't play favorites."

"But James made a face at me," Nick sobbed loudly as his crying started to get out of control. He felt Tom's hand on his shoulder, massaging it for a moment before he felt himself being lifted onto his grandpa's lap.

"I'll tell you what, kiddo," Tom said as he lightly stroked Nick's long hair. "I'll keep an eye on James today. If I catch him doing anything mean to you when your dad's not watching, he'll be in trouble. Deal?"

Nick looked up at his grandpa and nodded his head, sniffling and trying to get a handle on his crying.

"I'll also have a talk with your dad about making sure James isn't manipulating him," Tom said, then he added, "That doesn't mean your dad isn't watching out for it, kiddo. But I'll talk to him just be on the safe side."

"Thanks Grandpa," Nick said, feeling a little better.

"You're welcome little buddy," Tom answered. "Are you ready to come downstairs with the rest of us?"

"Okay," Nick said as Tom scooted him off his lap and took his hand. Downstairs, everyone was talking and relaxing in the family room when Nick and his grandfather walked in. Tom took a seat next to Linda and lifted Nick onto his lap, hugging him tightly and making him feel warm, as his cousin watched from the floor with a nasty sneer as he petted Skalaki in front of the fireplace.

When the conversation moved to the subject of the back yard, everyone got up and walked onto the patio, prompting Jim to remind both boys to get their coats from the front hallway. Nick was reaching for his coat when James walked up from behind and intentionally bumped Nick out of the way, grabbing his own coat and at the same time, tossing Nick's coat about three feet away to the floor. Then, as Nick watched helplessly, James trampled over his coat as he walked back down the hallway and out the back door.

As tears welled up in Nick's eyes, he tried to wiped the footprints from the coat that James left with his shoes, but he couldn't get them off. Frustrated, he gave up, threw his jacket down and wailed loudly. Suddenly the back door opened and closed, and a worried looking Jim walked down the hallway.

"What's wrong, baby?" Jim asked as he knelt down and pulled Nick into a hug. Nick pointed to his coat and cried for a moment before he found his voice and spoke.

"James did that to my jacket," he cried somewhat hysterically, at his breaking point with James. "He pushed me and threw my jacket on the floor and stepped on it. I can't get the footprints off."

Jim looked at the coat on the floor and picked it up, looking closely at the shoe prints on the surface, then he kissed Nick gently on the end of his nose before he let go and stood up with the coat in his hands. He marched to the back door and opened it swiftly. Nick felt a draft of cold air hit him at the exact time he heard Jim's voice bellowing out for his cousin.

"James!" he heard his dad's voice boom. "Get in this house right now!"

Nick walked to the family room and watched as James cautiously approached Jim, who had a furious look on his face. As soon as James was inside, Jim yanked him by the arm and led him to the kitchen. Nick didn't follow, but he could clearly hear his dad's authoritative voice as he spoke.

"Why the f**k would you do this?" Jim exploded right off the bat.

"I don't know, dad," James cried, his voice shaky and his sniffling audible to Nick from the kitchen. "Well you better figure it out," Jim said more calmly, but still forcefully.

"I can't," James sobbed.

"This is f****** bullshit, James," Jim spat and Nick heard his coat hit the floor. "Are you going to pay for a new jacket?"

James didn't answer. Instead, his crying filled the house, and Nick knew he was paying for what he did. Nick wondered how hard Jim was going to be on his cousin, too. He knew he wouldn't be whipped for the simple fact that his dad was exploding with rage, and James had to know that too, Nick thought. When Jim spoke again, Nick knew his dad had reached a breaking point with James.

"You're f****** thirteen, James!" Jim shouted. "Nick's eight! You're too old to be doing this s**t to him! Leave him the f**k alone! Do you hear me?"

James sobbed loudly, once again not answering Jim's question. The shouting stopped and the only sound Nick could hear besides James' crying was the sound of Jim hanging his coat on the back of a chair at the table. Nick heard Jim pull another chair out and then he heard his dad say, "Come here, son."

Nick walked to the entrance of the kitchen, where he looked in and saw his dad sitting at the table hugging James, who looked pitiful. It was obvious to Nick that his dad had startled James so badly that he had stopped talking, and that maybe Jim had realized that he's gone too far with his shouting. Nick heard the back door open and watched as Tom walked by him and into the kitchen, taking a seat at the table next to Jim.

Nick took a seat on the couch and listened as Tom passed on what Nick had said to him upstairs. James tearfully denied it, but it was obvious to Nick that they weren't buying his story. They pressed him for the truth, but he wouldn't admit to what happened. Instead, he regaled the events of the morning, when Nick kicked him out of the bathroom and brutalized him in the process.

"Nick," Jim called out. "Come in here please."

Nick did as he was told, making his way across the cold kitchen floor to where his dad was sitting with James on his legs. Jealously, Nick lifted his arms for his grandpa to put him in his lap as he watched his dad hold onto James with one arm.

For what seemed like an eternity, Nick listened closely as his dad and his grandfather talked to them about their fighting and the lengths they were going to in order to inflict punishment on each other.

"Personally, I think the two of you are ready for school to start next week," Jim said. "God knows I am."

Nick knew his dad was probably right. He and James were together almost all the time, and they were starting to tire of each other's presence. It seemed like every time Nick turned around, James was there, hogging all of his dad's attention. He hadn't been able to enjoy any time alone with Jim in a long time, and he was irritated with James about that. But he also blamed Jim, who had been going out of his way to spend quality time with James.

"James, you'll do your own chores," Jim said matter-of-factly. "That means I want you to go out back today and clean up after your dog. Do you understand me?"

James looked up and nodded, looking almost fearful of the consequence if he protested. Nick heard the back door open and close, and in a rush, Skalaki scampered into the kitchen for some companionship and food. He was followed closely by Big Nick, Lori and Linda, who were rubbing their hands together and blowing into them.

Jim scooted James off of his lap and told him to feed the dog, who was whining at his feet. As James walked off with Skalaki on his heels, Jim held his arms out for Nick, who happily moved from his grandfather's lap to his dads. Once he was nestled comfortably in Jim's lap, Nick wrapped both of his arms around his dad and hugged him as tightly as he could.

"Are you okay sweetheart?" Jim asked him softly. Nick pouted and nodded, knowing he was putting on an act that his dad could see through. Jim simply tousled his hair and held him close while Nick soaked up the attention he was getting. For the next half hour, Nick quietly sat with his dad and listened as the adults sat at the table and talked about various things. One of the things they talked about was where to have the New Years Celebration. Jim said he thought it would be fine to have it at his place, but Tom and Linda were offering to host everyone as well. As the discussion carried on, they ultimately decided it was best to have it at Jim's so Nick and James could be home in case something happened.

Big Nick chastised Jim again for panicking about the turn of the century, telling him that he was putting too much into what everyone was saying about Y2K.

"Son, the odds of there ever being a terrorist bombing or some kind of attack on American soil in this day and age is highly unlikely," he lectured his son. "You really need to calm down."

"Maybe you're right dad," Jim said. "But I'd really feel better if we just stayed here and did this."

"That's fine, Jim," Linda said. "We can do it anyway you want us to."

A few moments later James walked into the house through the garage and came into the kitchen to report to Jim. Nick noticed his expression when he walked in and saw him sitting in Jim's lap.

"How far did you get buddy?" Jim asked him with a smile as James approached the table.

"I got all the dog poop off the grass," he answered. "Then I swept the patio and the garage."

"Good boy," Jim said affectionately, holding his free arm out to James, who was beaming proudly as he leaned into him for a hug and kiss. "Now go wash your hands."

With that, James ran to the hallway and into the bathroom to do what he was told as Nick repositioned his legs so James wouldn't be able to take any of his dad's lap.

As the evening approached, Jim told Nick and James to settle down and rest so they would be up for the New Year's celebration. Nick took his spot on the love seat with the remote control and James went up to his room to listen to music. Big Nick had gone next door to visit with Tom and Linda. Jim and Lori were working with his laptop in the kitchen on something. Nick got caught up watching The Rug Rats on Nickelodeon and didn't notice that his dad and Lori had come into the family room and were watching the cartoon with Nick until a commercial came on and he looked around the room. Lori looked tired and Jim had a look of deep reflection on his face.

Nick got up from his spot on the love seat and moved to the couch to sit with his dad and Lori, who both smiled at him when he crawled up to sit with them. Jim lifted Nick up and cradled him in his arms the way he did when he would rock him in the recliner. Nick smiled up at his dad, who was cooing down at him along with Lori.

For a brief moment, Nick pretended that Lori was his real mom, and that she had been there all along. The thought warmed his heart, especially when he watched his dad and Lori share a tender kiss and exchange 'I love you's. Nick let his dad hold him in his arms as the commercials ended and the show started again, and before he knew what was happening, he fell asleep.

When he woke up it was after eleven o' clock. James was holding a soda and the men had beers. Lori was sipping a wine cooler and Linda was sipping Coke from a glass with ice in it. There were trays of food on the coffee table and end tables, and the volume on the TV was up loudly. Nick got up and went to the bathroom to pee, then he came out and got himself a Coke from the refrigerator.

He noticed that someone had cooked egg rolls, his favorite Chinese food, so he helped himself to one and joined everyone.

"Ella tho," Big Nick said happily when he saw his grandson. "Did you have a good nap?"

Nick nodded and smiled shyly, noticing that everyone was watching him. He took a few more sips of his Coke and finished his egg roll before Jim took him upstairs to change into his pajama's. When his dad was finished changing him, they went back downstairs to join everyone with about five minutes to spare. Nick noticed that his dad seemed a little pensive, but that he wasn't panicking. As the clock on the television screen started to count down to midnight, everyone stood up and watched intently and followed the count excitedly out loud. Nick looked around, feeling a rush of energy that seemed to be moving around the room as his family prepared to welcome the new millennium.

At the stroke of midnight, everyone shouted "Happy New Year!" There were hugs all around the room, and Nick watched with a smile as Tom, Big Nick and Jim downed their beer's simultaneously after a toast. Jim knelt down and pulled Nick and James into a huge hug, standing up and lifting them both off of their feet.

"Happy New Year, boys," Jim said quietly at he hugged and kissed them both. "I love you guys so much."

"I love you too, dad," James said with a smile. "Happy New Year, Nick."

"Happy New Year James," Nick said softly. "I love you daddy. I love you too James."

Jim set them both down and made his way around the room, giving everyone hugs and wishing them a happy new year. As the night wore on, Nick settled down again on the couch with his cousin, who looked as tired as Nick felt. It didn't take long for James to fall asleep amidst all of the celebration, and Nick figured he wouldn't last much longer, either. Much to his surprise, though, he was still awake when Tom and Linda went home. He went with the adults to the front door and out onto the porch, where he watched his grandparents walk next door to their house.

When they went back inside, Jim sat down on the couch and gave James a gentle shake.

"Hey buddy," he said softly. "Are you ready to go to bed?" James sat up and nodded, so Jim stood up and reached down, taking hold of James under his arms and picking him up. Nick watched as Jim planted a kiss on James' cheek and pulled his head down to his shoulder.

"I love you sweet boy," Jim said as he turned to carry James upstairs to his room.

"I love you too daddy," James said sleepily as he wrapped his arms around Jim's neck and yawned. For a moment Nick wanted to be jealous. He didn't want Jim to love his cousin as much as he loved Nick, but he knew he was wrong to feel that way. James was finally getting the love and attention he had been robbed of when he was younger. Nick knew it, too. He also knew that Jim loved James more than he could say, but that he loved Nick more. He said so himself. So instead of being jealous, Nick decided to be thankful that his dad had enough love in him to share with James.

When Jim came back for him, Nick smiled and held his arms out. Jim scooped him up and gave him the same kiss on the cheek he had given James, then he told him he loved him.

"I love you too," Nick said, taking the time to notice how great it felt to get that attention from his dad. As they made their way up the stairs to the bathroom, Nick wondered how it made James feel to finally be safe.

He felt bad that he had spent so much time being jealous of James that he hadn't stopped to consider everything that had been happening over the past few weeks and how that was making James feel. He knew that the affection Jim was giving him was making up for years of not having any affection at all from his parents, and he had to stop and think about how never getting a hug or a kiss from his dad would make him feel. He knew for sure that he would hate not getting the attention from Jim that he was used to having, and he thought that it wasn't fair that his cousin had lived his whole life up to that point not knowing what it felt like to be loved by the two people he loved more than anyone in the world.

When they got to his room, Jim pulled the covers back for him and Nick got in, smiling up at his dad, who leaned down and gave him a kiss.

"I love you baby," Jim said as he pulled the covers up over Nick's chest. "I love you too daddy," Nick said as his dad smiled warmly down at him.

"Did you have a good time tonight?" Jim asked, and Nick looked up at him with a smile as he nodded sleepily. "Good. Happy New Year, son. Good night and sweet dreams."

"Good night daddy," Nick said as Jim handed him his Winnie the Pooh bear to cuddle with. Jim planted one more kiss on his forehead, then he got up and shut the light off, letting Nick drift off into a peaceful sleep.

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