"Honestly, Mrs. Archer, I don't think this is a good idea," Jonas Goldman said doubtfully.

The woman currently pacing his office snorted elegantly. "Maybe it isn't," she conceded dryly, "But it's the only thing I can think of. My son has...well, I honestly don't know what to tell you about these sudden changes in his behavior. Last year he was a straight A student, on the Honor Roll, halfway to his Masters Degree. Clean as a whistle, not a party boy at all. Even I thought he was a little boring," she went on with a frustrated wave of her manicured hand. "But now I'd pay anything for the return of that other boy. His grades have slipped into Cs and Ds, half the time he doesn't go to class anymore, and when he DOES he's usually hung over or coming down from whatever drug du jour that he got high on the night before. The private detective I hired to follow him says that he goes to the clubs every night, and that he usually leaves with some indiscriminate male whose name he doesn't even know. I'm worried that he's having unprotected sex with them, that he'll end up with a venereal disease or something even worse. Now mind you," she went on, running a hand through her carefully coiffed hair, "If I thought he was just enjoying himself and this was his normal behavior, I'd say he was just being like any other spoiled rich boy who went away to college and cut loose. But this..." real fear crossed her face, although that wasn't easy since it was stiff from Botox treatments. "I'm afraid that he's trying to kill himself, just in a slow and roundabout way. And I want to know why he's doing it. Damn it, I want my son back!" her voice rang out through his office, and even she looked faintly surprised by her own vehemence.

"But if he won't acknowledge that he has a problem, and he won't come here on his own, there's very little that I can do for him," Jonas replied as gently as he could.

She whirled on him like a tiger. "I'll pay your exorbitant fees, and ten per cent more," she snarled. "And you do whatever it takes to fix my son. "

"Mrs. Archer," he sighed. But she held up her hand.

"I can make life...very hard for you, Mr. Goldman," she told him. "Believe me when I say this. All I'm asking is that you try. Please," she added in restrained desperation, her jaw visibly locked over some heavy emotion.

He rubbed at his forehead with one hand. "Very well. I'm not promising anything, you understand..."

"I know that. With Julian, I don't expect stellar results. Especially not now. He's always been stubborn, you know. He gets that from me," she went on proudly.

"But Mrs. Archer, if Julian doesn't want to see a therapist, how are you even going to get him to come in for his sessions?" Jonas asked carefully.

Her smile was brittle and hard. He felt the hairs try to rise on the back of his neck. "Oh, he'll come in," she replied with a steely glint in her eyes. "I'll see to that."

Jonas paced his office as he waited for his newest client, Julian Archer, to arrive. He wasn't happy at all about this whole arraignment. He helped people who wanted to be helped, not those who were forced to come in to see him by their parents. He doubted that there was anything that he could do for this young man, not if Julian wouldn't admit that he even had a problem. While the sudden, drastic changes in his behavior did signal something very wrong in his universe, a person had to be willing to work with the therapist to heal themselves. If Julian couldn't or wouldn't do that, there was nothing that he could do. These sessions would be futile.

He stopped in his pacing when he came to his desk. Reaching out, he picked up the photograph of himself and Chris at the beach in Maui. That had been their second anniversary; a tropical vacation where they could rest and relax together. His arms were around his lover's shoulders, hugging Chris to him. They were both smiling widely at the camera. The happiness in their faces was like a punch to the gut for him; after a moment, he laid the picture face down on his desktop and turned away.

Chris was gone. He kept telling himself that, and he knew that eventually it would sink in totally. Maybe in five or ten years...it had only been a year since a drunk driver had claimed the life of the person he'd loved more than his own, and the pain was still too fresh. Eventually Chris would fade into memory, a much loved ghost that would haunt the halls of his mind until the day he died. But now...the only way that he coped was by going to work. Helping others helped him. Besides, Chris had always said that this was his calling. His lover had always been extremely proud of him and the work he did. Being here always made him feel closer to Chris in some odd way, as though the other man's spirit was hovering in his office watching over him benevolently.

His lips quirked a little, wryly, at this sentimental thought. But just then, there was a knock at his door. "Come in," he called, and after a moment it swung open and a young man came striding into his office with his head high and a militant light in his eyes.

Julian Archer. Had to be. And a very unhappy young man at the moment, as Jonas could clearly see. His lips were curled in a visible sneer, and his brows were lowered over his eyes. He glared at Jonas. "You must be the shrink my mother is forcing me to see," he snarled.

"I'm Jonas Goldman," the therapist replied calmly. "Although 'shrink;' is not an accurate term in my case. I'm not a psychologist."

The younger man snorted. "So what good are you, then?" he asked snippily.

Jonas smiled serenely. "We'll see," he replied. "Would you please take a seat?" he pointed at one of the chairs across from his.

Julian stared at the chair, then at him. Jonas could clearly see him calculating whether he was going to do it or not. But finally he shrugged and walked over, plopping down in the chair in a graceless heap before turning that scalpel-like stare back on the therapist. Jonas picked up a notepad and a pencil and took his own seat, quietly sitting down and crossing one leg over the other. He moved slowly, taking his own sweet time, to see how Julian would react. The younger man glowered at him and drummed long fingers on the arm of his chair, but said nothing.

Jonas settled back in his chair. "Your mother told me a good bit about you when she came in to make your first appointment," he began.

Julian bared his teeth like an angry dog. "How could she do that? Mother doesn't know ANYTHING about me!" he spat furiously.

Jonas cocked his head to the side a little. "Doesn't she? Why not?" he asked.

"Because she never bothers to spend enough time with me to do so," Julian replied disdainfully. "She's always got better things to do – shopping, banging her latest boy toy, you name it. Her child never counted high on her list of important things to attend to. But don't worry, I'm used to it by now," he added with a careless wave of his hand.

"That's good," the therapist replied. "That you've come to terms with your mother's neglect. But apparently she's concerned enough this time that..."

"She blackmailed me into coming to see you," Julian interrupted him to say coldly. "And she's only concerned now because my behavior lately doesn't reflect well on HER. She's always been able to throw out little things like 'Julian's a straight A student, don't you know', or 'Julian's won a prestigious award', or what have you. She used to be able to wow her friends with those little snippets, but now she can't. So she has no use for me anymore. Not that she ever once said to ME: "Congratulations, Julian, I'm so proud of you," because that would never occur to her," he went on bitterly.

Jonas considered his words in silence for a moment. "You resent your mother? Is that why these changes have occurred in your behavior?"

Julian laughed harshly. "It's not that simple, I'm afraid. If I'd resented her behavior enough to change my ways so drastically, don't you think that I would have done it years ago? In high school, when I was in my rebellious teenage years?"

"You have a point," Jonas conceded. He looked the other man over, taking in Julian Archer's general appearance. The younger man had soft, wavy hair that had once been the color of ripe wheat, but now was streaked with bold slashes of some rather hideous dyes. One looked to be puce, another bilious green. The resentful eyes that glared at him from under strong, well-shaped brows were a striking grey-green. There was a ring piercing his left brow, a recent addition if he was any judge. The site was reddened and looked rather swollen. It seemed to be getting infected. The studs through his ears looked newer as well. His face was handsome underneath the scowl that twisted it, and the sullenly set mouth was full and rather pink. Julian was wearing a torn t-shirt with the logo of a death metal rock band on the front, and ripped black jeans that looked dirty. His bare arms were on display so that everyone could see the tattoos that graced both of his upper arms. One was a coiled serpent, the other a dragon with its wings spread. A far cry from a quiet, studious, intellectual young man.

Jonas tapped his pencil thoughtfully on his pad. Julian lounged back in his chair and scratched contemptuously at one cheek with one of his black painted fingernails. "Just out of curiosity, how did your mother manage to get you to come in and see me?" Jonas asked after a moment.

Julian's sneer deepened. "The bitch threatened to cut me off without a dime if I didn't come. With my grades, I'd never be able to get loans to finish paying for my degree. Besides, I have other...expenses, none of which Mother will pay for if I don't come in here to see you at least three times a week. I'd end up on the street in this economy if I tried to get a job to pay my own way."

"I see," the therapist replied softly. "And how do you feel about that?"

A shrug of the t-shirt clad shoulders. "How do you expect me to feel? Angry. Very, very angry. Totally pissed off. That's my major emotion at the moment."

Jonas felt rather weary. What could he do for this angry young man? Julian didn't want help. He'd been forced to come in. That was not a good basis for any kind of relationship between them, even a working one. Clearly the college student resented him and wouldn't listen to anything that he had to say. He considered his options, then began slowly: "Julian, we have a problem here. Your mother was not interested in listening when I tried to tell her that I didn't think that there was much that I could do for you if you weren't willing to cooperate. Moreover, we'll both be stuck in these futile sessions for who knows how long to come if you don't try to work with me at all. I'm simply asking for a little cooperation – enough so that you can improve a little, anyway. It would get her off both of our backs if that happened, since I told her outright that I wasn't at all sure that I could help you in any way. Even a little improvement on your part might be enough for her to cancel these sessions. So what do you say? Or do you really want to spend months looking at my face three times a week?"

Julian was silent, thinking over what he'd said. Then the younger man nodded. "Fine. You've got a point. I don't want to be stuck here forever. What do you want me to do?"

"Just talk to me a bit. Answer some of my questions at least," Jonas replied promptly.

Julian's eyes narrowed thoughtfully. "Okay. But I think I need a little quid pro quo," he said.

Jonas blinked. "What do you mean?"

Julian's lips lifted in a faint, cold smile. "If I tell you something personal about myself, you have to reciprocate. Tell me something personal about YOU."

"I'm not sure that's a good idea," Jonas remarked doubtfully.

The younger man folded his arms across his chest. "Fine. Then I guess we both sit here until Doomsday," he said.

The therapist wanted to groan and pull at his hair. 'Stubborn' was an understatement, he thought wryly to himself. "Very well," he said aloud. "But like you, I'll pick and choose which things that I want to answer."

"Fair enough," Julian replied with a shrug. "What do you want to know?"

"I'd like you to tell me something about your childhood," Jonas began. "For example...what about your father? You haven't mentioned him yet, I noticed."

Julian snorted in disgust. "That's because he's not worth mentioning," he sneered. Daddy Dearest is off on his fourth honeymoon right now. He goes through trophy wives like Chiclets. He barely talks to my mother except through a lawyer when she's trying to get her settlement increased periodically. And when he dumped her, he dumped me too. I haven't talked to him since I was nine or so. He seems to think that paying her alimony and child support for me was enough of a contribution without actually having to look at his son. My beloved mother was very bitter about that fact, of course; I heard about my father's perfidy often enough when I was growing up. Like she was ever there enough to be able to say anything," he went on scornfully. "I can tell you the birthdays and personal details about a dozen nannies, but not about my precious mother. And I don't think she'd remember my birthday, either, if it hadn't left her with stretch marks."

Jonas winced at the bitterness in his voice. "It's hard when our parents neglect us," he said aloud. "As hard as if they'd abused us."

Julian scowled at him. "What do you know about it?" he snapped.

Jonas sighed. "Well, you wanted quid pro quo. My father was a cold, distant workaholic who treated me like just another of his possessions. My mother was more interested in her clubs and watching television than she was in raising her son. I was an only child, too, and I grew up a latch key kid. And while the pain of that may not be as bad as a person experiences that has been hit or molested by their parents, it's bad enough. It leaves a hollow feeling inside of you, a space that never seems to be filled. You turn to anyone at all for affection in a desperate need to have someone actually care about you. Or am I wrong?"

Julian's mouth was set hard. "Maybe quid pro quo wasn't such a good idea," he said.

Jonas smiled crookedly. "Yes, but you insisted. So I'm afraid that I'll have to honor our bargain. Shall we continue?"

The younger man sighed and looked at the ceiling. "I can see that I'm going to regret every moment of the time I spend here," he said to it.

"Yes, well, at least you won't be able to say that you were bored," Jonas replied dryly.

"Very true. Then let's get on with it, Doc..."

"I'm not a psychologist, I told you," Jonas said patiently. "I'm a licensed therapist. You can just call me Jonas."

"Fine. Jonas. Let's get on with it; I do actually have classes to go to. Even if I don't bother to attend them most of the time anymore."

The therapist figuratively girded his loins. Julian Archer was going to be very difficult, he could see that. But at the same time, his instincts were telling him that he might be able to help this man after all. And he always trusted those instincts, because they'd served him well so far. He'd simply have to go slowly and carefully, as though he were negotiating a minefield. Which was a good enough analogy for this situation, anyway.

Jonas stared in frustration at the younger man currently occupying one of the guest chairs in his office. Julian Archer returned him look-for-look, a stubborn set to his mouth. This was their third session, and the college student had turned uncommunicative and mulish. Last time they'd talked about his childhood, and he'd recounted for the therapist all about what it was like living in his mother's big house pretty much alone. Coming home from school to the empty echo of his feet on the tile of the foyer, going into the kitchen to make himself a snack(because there was no one else to do it for him), then going upstairs to his bedroom to study diligently. He'd done that partly because he was bored, and partly because he just liked to learn. The only voices he'd heard were the ones on the TV set that he left on all the time just to hear another human voice.

But while they'd shared stories about their childhoods last time, today the younger man had flatly refused to discuss his college life with Jonas. He'd so far sat with his arms folded over his chest, letting the silence between them deepen. The therapist wondered what to do – his agreement with Julian didn't seem to extend to this part of the other man's life. How to get him to talk? He considered alternatives, but the truth was that if Julian simply wouldn't talk to him then there was nothing he could do to change that fact. People came to therapists to be helped, but since Julian had been blackmailed into coming here...

He sighed. "Julian, this is no good. If you won't talk to me, you might as well leave. This is futile."

The college student snorted. "I've been telling you that all along," he replied sardonically.

Jonas shook his head wearily. "Very well. I'll call and tell your mother that you're not being cooperative, and that she should consider trying to find you another therapist."

Silence. Julian had stiffened in his chair. He glowered at Jonas angrily, baring his teeth at the therapist. "That's dirty pool, Jonas," he spat.

"Is it? I told you the first time you came into my office that if you didn't help me to at least make some progress then I don't see any reason to continue these sessions. I'm not just going to sit here and look at you three times a week for months. Not when I have patients who really need and want my help. You're not only wasting my time, you're wasting theirs as well."

Julian looked faintly surprised at the command in Jonas's voice. He moved uneasily in his chair. "Fine," he said. "What do you want to know?"

The therapist took a deep breath. "You said that while you were aware of your sexual orientation in high school, you didn't have a boyfriend. What about in college?"

Julian's face closed up, going completely blank. "I don't have a boyfriend now," he replied woodenly. "Although I had one last year."

Jonas studied his face in concern. Had he touched on a nerve? "Did you break up?" he asked carefully.

"Yes." Julian said this single syllable emphatically, making it clear that he wasn't going to say anything else about the matter.

Jonas tapped his pencil on the pad in front of him contemplatively. "Do you enjoy your classes?" he asked.

"Yes. I've always liked school. It was much better being there than at home. I had friends and I got to learn new things. And going away to college meant that I didn't have to live with my mother anymore. A decided bonus for me." His voice was tinged with bitterness, the same emotion it contained whenever he talked about his mother.

"What about you?" he asked abruptly. "Did you like college?"

"Yes, I did," Jonas replied with a smile. "I really enjoyed it. And I met..." he trailed off, making Julian give him a narrow-eyed look.

"You met?" he demanded. "Who?"

Jonas sighed. He didn't really want to talk about Chris, but maybe it would help him feel a little better. Talking out your problems and pains really helped, as he well knew. "I met my future lover Chris," he said as steadily as he could. "We were taking the same class, and he drew funny pictures on his notebook and showed them to me to make me crack up during the boring lecture we were enduring."

Julian frowned a little. "And are you still with him?" he asked with a slight edge in his voice.

Jonas closed his eyes. "No. Chris was killed last year in a car accident."

Shocked silence. Then Julian spoke in a far gentler and kinder voice than any he had used so far in this office: "I'm sorry, Jonas. Really sorry. I shouldn't have asked you that."

"No, it's all right," the therapist replied, reopening his eyes. Julian was giving him a compassionate look, something he considered to be a good sign. If the younger man was paying attention to someone else's troubles rather than his own for a change, then he wasn't completely locked into his negative cycles. "I don't mind talking about Chris. He was the best thing that ever happened to me, and I treasure every day that I had with him."

Silence once again, as Julian digested what he'd just said. "I can't really imagine that," he said thoughtfully.

"What?"

The younger man shrugged. "Loving someone like that," he replied simply.

Jonas didn't know how to reply to this statement. After a moment he said carefully: "I take it you've never been in love before?"

"I thought I was," Julian replied in a clipped, cold voice. "But it turns out I was wrong. I guess I didn't have enough experience with it to know what real love is like."

Jonas winced slightly at his tone of voice. "So you blame your mother for your bad experience?"

Julian snorted. "I'd love to blame her, believe me. It would make my life easier. But once you're an adult you're responsible for everything you do and all the choices you make. So no, I try not to blame Mommy Dearest for my troubles. It would be pretty much a cop out if I did that."

He had strength. Jonas admired that. "It's not easy to come to that conclusion," he said aloud. "It IS easier to blame others for our troubles, but it's also wrong. It stunts our personal growth, always looking for a scapegoat."

"Personal growth, huh? I guess I'm a midget, then," Julian remarked dryly.

Jonas looked at him. "Why do you say that?"

Julian shrugged. "As my mother will tell you, I'm an out-of-control party boy. I do all of the things I'm not supposed to. Not a good example of personal growth, wouldn't you say?"

The therapist tilted his head a little. "Personal growth can come in many forms," he noted. "So I really can't say one way or the other."

"Uh huh. Being diplomatic, Jonas? Don't want to just tell me that I'm an asshole and get it over with?"

"Asshole isn't the word I'd use to describe you," Jonas replied gently.

"What then? Confused? Mixed-up? Crazy? A loser?"

"None of those, actually. You're not confused – clearly you're aware of just how destructive your behavior is. And you're not crazy either, although 'crazy' isn't a term we actually use. As for being a loser...by what standards do you judge yourself? Do you think that you're a loser? And if so, why?"

Julian sat back in his chair and folded his arms across his chest again in an eloquent gesture of 'keep out'. "Well, maybe because I am," he drawled. "And as for whose standards I use...those would be MINE. I think I'm a loser."

"I see," Jonas wrote on his pad for a moment. "Is it because you feel that you're letting people down? By acting this way?" he asked quietly.

An uneasy frown appeared on Julian's face. "No, of course not," he said a bit too quickly. "Who would I be letting down? My mother? My father? I don't care what either of them thinks of me."

'Don't you?' Jonas thought to himself. "If it isn't that you think that you're letting people down, why do you think that you're a loser for behaving in the way that you have lately?"

Julian scowled. "Does it matter?" he demanded somewhat petulantly.

Jonas cocked his head. "It clearly does to you," he pointed out gently.

A lifted lip and a cold look. "It doesn't matter to me at all," Julian said. "Nothing much matters."

"If I really believed that you meant that, I wouldn't have bothered to meet with you at all. I would have turned your mother down flat, no matter how much she threatened me. But it's clear to me that it DOES matter to you." Jonas insisted.

Julian sprang to his feet and did a restless turn around the office. "You don't know what you're talking about," he spat.

Jonas let him pace. He stayed silent, letting Julian stew. If there was one thing that he'd learned over the years, it was that people knew how to heal themselves if given a chance. He was only here to help that along, to facilitate it. All of it was really up to the young man currently prowling his office. If Julian wanted to help himself, he would. Otherwise, there was nothing that anyone would be able to do for him.

Julian had arrived at his desk. He paused, staring at the picture that Jonas had righted a few days ago. He stared at it. "Is this...Chris? The guy you talked about?" he asked abruptly.

"Yes, that's Chris and I at the beach," Jonas replied quietly.

Julian put out his hand, but didn't quite touch the picture with his fingers. "You both look happy," he said, sounding almost wistful.

"We were."

The younger man whirled away from his desk. "But it never lasts, does it?" he noted cynically. "One way or another."

"Maybe not," Jonas conceded, "But as I said I don't regret even a single moment of the time I had with Chris. And isn't a little bit of time with someone you love better than decades with someone you might care about, but don't really love?"

Julian glanced at him over his shoulder. "I don't know," he replied. "I've never had either. You tell me, Jonas."

"Well, I've never spent decades with someone I didn't really love, either," he said in faint amusement. "So I can't say. I just assume that it's better, I guess." His dark eyes twinkled behind the frames of his gold-rimmed glasses.

Julian snorted as he came back to his seat and plopped down in it again. "You know what they say about assumptions, don't you?" he asked.

Jonas laughed. "Yes. But I don't mind being an ass. There are worse things to be," he pointed out amiably.

"So are we almost done for today?" Julian asked.

"Almost. I wanted to ask you about your piercings and tattoos. Those are fairly new, aren't they?"

The college student reached up to idly play with the ring through his brow, which still looked rather infected. "Yeah, they are," he replied. "This is the newest one. But I'm not sure that I like it... I might take it out. AFTER I give Mom a coronary, of course."

Jonas felt his lips twitch. "I take it she was unhappy when she saw it?"

Julian grinned. "Unhappy isn't the right word. Livid would be more like it. Her face actually started to turn purple when I walked through the door sporting it. She could overlook most of the others, since they're hidden by my clothes. And anything that she doesn't have to look at is very rigorously ignored by my sweet mother. But she couldn't ignore this."

"Is that why you got them? To upset your mother?"

"We've had this conversation before. I don't do anything with that as my only intent. It's satisfying to piss her off, but it's not the be all and end all of my life."

"I take it you didn't have any piercings or tattoos up until the last year or so?" Jonas asked tactfully.

Julian eyed him. "No. But I was busy pretending to be a good boy up until then, so I wouldn't have done anything as shocking as getting a tattoo."

"Was it all a pretense?"

The younger man scowled again. "Sure. I was just being what everybody expected me to be. But now I'm free to truly express myself," he waved a hand negligently at himself.

"I see. Would you say that you're happy, Julian?" Jonas asked.

A stiffening of the other man's body. "What does that matter? Not everybody has to be happy all the time, do they?"

"Not all the time, no, but it should be one of our goals as human beings to try and be happy when we can," Jonas told him. "The Founding Fathers understood that – why do you think that it says 'Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness' on the Declaration of Independence? Because it's one of our most important needs. And while we can live without happiness, we can't live WELL."

"If you say so. My misery suits me just fine. So if that's it, Jonas, I'll get the hell out of here for now. It's been..." he paused as he rose to his feet. "Irritating. See you Monday," he flipped a hand at the therapist before leaving the office abruptly.

Jonas watched him go. Then he sighed, shaking his head as he made some notes on the pad. Julian Archer was as difficult as ever. But still...during the sessions when he was talking to Julian, he almost completely forgot about Chris. That hadn't t happened for a long time.

Julian was pacing his office again. Jonas waited patiently, his pen poised over the notepad he held in his hand. He'd learned patience with this particular patient over the last few weeks; Julian Archer was stubborn and decidedly uncommunicative. He didn't want to talk about whatever had traumatized him at all. And it was clear to the therapist that something HAD traumatized his patient, above and beyond his childhood neglect at the hands of his wealthy but indifferent parents. The radical changes in his behavior over the last year, as well as the way he acted during their sessions, told Jonas a great deal. He simply had to keep patiently and gently pushing until he could get Julian to open up to him about what had happened. If he ever could.

Julian paused in his latest bout of pacing, which had started because Jonas had asked him once more about his recent college life, and stood looking down out of the wide windows at the street below. "Do you ever think about jumping?" he said abruptly. "Out of these windows, I mean? It's high enough up that you probably wouldn't survive."

Jonas felt a chill go down his spine. He wrote: 'Clearly has thoughts about suicide often.' On the pad in front of him.

"Yes, I used to," he replied casually. "Just after Chris died. I'd stand there for hours, thinking about flinging myself out the window and joining him wherever he is. But two things stopped me – the first was that I knew that Chris would be furious at me for killing myself, and the second is the fact that I'm Jewish and he wasn't. I was afraid that we'd go to different places," he added wryly. "Although if God is supposed to be as loving as they say He is, I'll most certainly end up with Chris somewhere. But those thoughts passed as my grief subsided somewhat. Why? Do you ever think about killing yourself?"

Julian shot him a speaking glance over his shoulder. "Typical psycho question," he said scornfully. He'd taken to calling Jonas a 'psycho', short for psychologist, just to piss him off. He hadn't risen to the bait so far, however. He knew that this was just another attempt of his patient's to change the subject and divert attention from where he didn't want it to be. "Sure, I think about offing myself. Who doesn't?" his voice was casual, but an underlying tone told the therapist a good deal.

"Would you say that your thoughts about committing suicide have been more frequent lately?"

Julian scowled at him. "Maybe. Look, what does it matter? If I DON'T kill myself, why does it matter if I think about it a lot?"

Jonas sighed, laying the notepad on his lap. "Because frequent thoughts of suicide aren't exactly a sign of good mental health," he pointed out somewhat acerbically. Julian could get on his nerves, especially when he was being deliberately combative and irritating.

Julian shrugged. "Maybe. So I'm not in good mental health. In the long run, who cares? I don't," he went on with a wave of his hand.

"I think you do, actually," Jonas replied calmly. "You may pretend that you don't, but somewhere inside of you there's a person who wants to get healthy again. If there wasn't, you would have stopped coming to these sessions in spite of your mother's threats. Or you would have simply sat here and said nothing rather than make this deal with me. I think you want to get better, but you're also afraid that you won't."

"Ooo, good one, Freud," the college student said sardonically. "Any more nuggets of wisdom you have for me? Like if I keep believing in fairies Tinker Bell won't die?"

Jonas took a long breath rather than snap an angry reply to this baiting. He knew that Julian was doing it on purpose; to avoid talking about the subject they were currently on. "Actually, I don't think that fairies are a subset of Psychology," he said evenly. "So why don't you tell me why you broke up with your boyfriend?"

Julian glared at him, turning away from the window completely. "I told you I don't want to talk about him," he spat through rigid lips.

Jonas lifted a single dark brow. "Oh? I can talk about my dead boyfriend and my pain over losing him, but you can't talk about the boyfriend you broke up with? That hardly seems fair. Quid pro quo, remember?"

Julian bared his teeth at this reminder of their deal, the one that he'd brokered. "The difference is," he snarled, "That your precious Chris seems to have been a fucking saint, while Darryn was an asshole extraordinaire."

"Was he? In what way?" Jonas asked, prodding him some more.

"In every way," the younger man replied, folding his arms tightly over his chest. He made this defensive gesture every time that he talked about his ex-boyfriend, Jonas noted. That fact made him even more determined to find out all about this Darryn and what he might have done to contribute to Julian's current mental state.

"Oh? Was he abusive?" the therapist asked, his voice gentle and calm.

Julian moved restlessly. "Not exactly," he said reluctantly. "He didn't hit me, if that's what you're asking. But he had a nasty temper and an equally nasty mouth, and he used to turn both of them on me when he wasn't in a good mood. I got tired of being called names, that's why I gave him the boot."

There was far more to this story than that tiny statement, Jonas was sure of it. But he let it go for now. "What about your classes?" he said instead, changing the subject. "Are you finding it harder to concentrate lately?"

Julian laughed, a cracked sound. "Sure I am. It's not easy to concentrate when you're hung over or just coming down from whatever drug you took the night before. I'm afraid that's the real source of my slipping grades. Mommy may have a problem with that, but I suppose if she cuts me off I'll just become a male prostitute or maybe a stripper. There's good money in those professions, you know."

Jonas simply stared at Julian from behinds his gold-rimmed glasses silently, letting the younger man squirm a little. The therapist never responded to outrageous statements, they only encouraged the patient to do it again because the ploy had worked once. When Julian turned away rather than meet his eyes anymore, Jonas spoke at last: "Your mother voiced her concerns to me that you might be having unprotected sex with anonymous strangers. Don't you think that that's a dangerous behavior? Are you afraid of catching a disease or being hurt by the person you're sleeping with?"

Julian's shoulders rolled in an uncomfortable gesture. "What does it matter who I sleep with? Nothing matters," he said, staring out the window once more.

"It does matter. To you, to your mother, and to anyone else who cares about you. Surely you have friends who are worried about you? And you must know that your behavior is worrying them," Jonas pointed out gently.

Julian turned suddenly to look at him. The college student's long fingered hand ran over the front of his own shirt in a lascivious gesture. "What about you, Doc?" he purred. "Are you worried about me too?"

"Yes, I am," Jonas replied, keeping his tone of voice crisp and professional. He ignored a slight stirring of arousal as being inappropriate and not useful to the situation at all. He'd simply been too long without anybody since Chris died. He really needed to get laid...

"Ooo. I like the sound of that," Julian began to stalk toward him like a panther. "It's nice to have somebody worry about me. How can I show my appreciation, Doc?"

Jonas tensed as the younger man approached his chair and stood over him. He looked up into Julian's lidded eyes and said quietly: "You can tell me if your break-up with Darryn has anything to do with your subsequent behavior."

Julian stiffened. His sultry look changed to one of hard anger. "You just never give up, do you?" he said bitterly, turning away.

"It's my job not to," Jonas pointed out gently.

A snort. Julian flung himself back down into his chair. "Fuck. What if I said yes? That my break-up was so traumatic for me that I've spiraled downward into these self-destructive behaviors as a consequence?"

Jonas looked at him. "I'd say that you're being obstructive and sarcastic both," he replied. "Because there's something that you simply don't want to talk to me about. And it seems to concern your former boyfriend in some way."

Julian laughed coldly. "A man has to have SOME secrets," he remarked.

Jonas shook his head. "Not when those secrets are hurting him," he said. "Then those secrets are like an infected wound. They needed to be lanced or excised, then the infection can drain and the mind can heal. Otherwise they fester and kill the entire organism."

Julian took in a deep breath, his fingers spasming on the arms of his chair. "Let me ask you something," he said, and something in his voice made Jonas come to a mental 'point' as he waited for what was going to be an important question, "Have you ever trusted someone, maybe even loved them, and then they did something to you that totally shattered that trust and betrayed your love? How do you come back from that, Doc? Please tell me, because I'd really like to know."

Jonas picked over his reply very carefully. "It's very difficult when someone breaks your trust," he admitted slowly. "Especially someone you care about. It makes your judgment seem off, because you trusted that person in the first place. But we all make mistakes and bad judgment calls. I had a friend in college who I really liked right from the get go. We hung out together all the time, did everything together. It was really nice to have a close friend...until the day I overheard him telling some other guys that he only hung out with that 'skinny kike fag' because I was smart and he was pretty much having me do his homework for him. It was the only way he could pass, since he was a party boy and a stoner. That hurt more than I can say. I never spoke to him again, of course; but the pain was still very intense. And I felt like a total idiot for trusting him and befriending him. I should have seen what he was like, what he was really after. But truthfully...people who are very manipulative and are out to get something are often very canny about hiding who and what they really are. Everyone has been fooled by that kind of person at one time or another; it's nothing to be ashamed of. It doesn't mean that you're an idiot, it means that they're bad people for doing what they were doing in the first place."

"Bad people? Geez, what are you, five?" Julian asked scornfully, although his fingers were gripping the arms of the chair very tightly and his voice had a slight catch in it.

Jonas smiled wryly. "In some ways, I suppose I am," he conceded. "I'm a very simple person. While there are many shades of grey in this world, what it really comes down to is the fact that there are good people and bad people. They may fall into the spectrum of 'bad' or 'good', with varying degrees from saintly to demonic. But in the long run, they are one or the other. Good people may do bad things, but that doesn't make them bad people. And bad people may do good things – for their own purposes, of course – but that doesn't make them good. And one of the things that makes good people good in my book is that they're willing to give of themselves generously, to open their hearts to others. And many times the bad people take advantage of that trait and deliberately use or hurt the good people. But if they do that, they are to blame and in the wrong, not the good folks for caring in the first place. And it is they who will pay in the end, one way or the other. Karma will see to that."

Julian's eyebrows shot up. "A Jew who believes in karma?!" he exclaimed in disbelief.

Jonas's lips lifted slightly. "I believe in many things," he replied serenely. "Often without proof. Karma just seems to make sense to me, since I've seen more than one example of it in my work. It may seem that the bad people never get punished, but don't believe it. It might take a while, but eventually what you do will either reward you or come back to bite you in the ass."

Julian shook his head. "You're unbelievable," he muttered. "Totally gullible."

"I like to think of it as being optimistic," Jonas replied cheerfully. "Chris used to tease me about it, but I think he really liked my upbeat take on life. It was better than moping and being morose all the time, he used to say. That never served any purpose except to make the people around you feel the same way. So the unhappiness would spread outward in waves, like ripples on a pond. And eventually the whole world would catch your unhappiness. But it also works the opposite way – you can infect the entire Earth with your happiness and joy in life."

"You really believe that?" Julian demanded.

"Sure, why not? There are worse things to believe. And negative thinking can have a huge impact on the world around you, believe me. It really is like a disease. Or 'dis-ease', as it were. A lack of peace, calm, and enjoyment in life."

"But...how can you believe that when the person you loved the most is DEAD! Just randomly dead, for no reason?!"

Jonas sighed, his eyes a little saddened. "Chris's death had a purpose, everything does," he replied simply. "It wasn't random at all. And while it still hurts to be without him, I have all of my good memories to sustain me. I cherish them, and I always will. I know that each day it will get less hard, that life will get easier without him. That helps too. I can't give into despair for his sake as much as anything else. He wouldn't want that for me, because he loved me."

Julian looked stricken. His face was twisted with some internal strife, some battle taking place within him. "How can you...? How can...?" he gasped, beginning to rock a little.

Jonas leaned forward, his eyes concerned. "Julian? What is it?" he asked. He recognized the signals that were a prelude to some kind of break-down; he just wasn't sure what kind yet.

"I...can't...you..." Julian's fingernails scored at his face. Jonas leapt to his feet and hurried over to grab the younger man's hands and stop him from hurting himself. "Julian, talk to me!" he said urgently.

A cry rose up in Julian's throat, a sound that turned into a scream. It was a sound so full of pain and despair that it made the hair start to stand up on Jonas's neck. It was followed by another, then another, then another. Julian writhed under his staying hands, fighting invisible demons within himself. The therapist held onto his patient determinedly, knowing instinctively that if he let go now he'd lose Julian Archer for good.

Jonas put his hands on Julian's upper arms, holding the younger man as he cried out over the screams of anguish: "Julian! Julian! It's me, Jonas!"

But his touch had an electric effect on Julian. He screamed in terror and lunged off of the chair, falling on the floor and scrambling away on his ass. He threw his arms up into the air and cried: "Don't touch me! Don't touch me!"

Jonas stood where he was, not wanting to pursue Julian when he was in this state. Clearly the other man wasn't even aware of his presence right now, and would take any touch as a potential attack. He might even have a psychotic break if he was too scared. So while he spoke in a soothing tone of voice, he didn't move from his position by the chair. "Julian? Can you hear me?" he asked, trying to keep the desperate worry out of his voice. He mostly succeeded, although it wavered a little.

Julian had scooted up into a corner of the room and was cowering there with his arms over his head to protect himself. He was making little animal noises in the back of his throat, noises that made Jonas's stomach clench and his gut twist. "Julian," he began again. "It's me, Jonas. You're in my office, having a session. You're safe, Julian. I would never hurt you."

His soothing voice seemed to finally get through to the other man as little. Julian's arms came down enough that he could peer at the therapist over the top of them. The terror lurking in his eyes made Jonas's hurt heart to see it. "Jonas?" he croaked after a moment's tense silence.

"Yes, it's me. You're in my office, you're safe. I promise you, you're safe. Don't be afraid, Julian," Jonas crooned, as though he were speaking to a hurt little child. Although that's pretty much what he was doing at the moment, since Julian had reverted in his terror back to a much younger state of mind...

Julian slowly lowered his arms some more, blinking as his mind came back from whatever awful place that it had retreated to. He turned his head as though scanning the office for threats, but seeing none he took in a trembling breath and relaxed a bit. "Sorry about that," he rasped. "I just don't...like to be touched..."

Jonas sighed at this attempt of Julian's to act casual, as though something profound hadn't just happened. But he wasn't going to push the obviously mentally fragile young man any further today lest he drive Julian into snapping completely. He was walking a tightrope now; and he had to balance carefully. So all he said was: "All right. I think that we should end our session for today, if that's all right with you. I'll see you in a few days." He kept his voice neutral and even, and it seemed to relax Julian even further.

He stood slowly up on shaky legs. "Sure," he said, his attempts to act casual completely pathetic and heartbreaking, "I'll see you later, Doc," he waved a hand and made for the door, clearly glad to be out of Jonas's office.

Jonas watched him leave, then sighed again and rubbed at his forehead. 'Oh, Chris, what do I do here?" he thought wearily, remembering all of the good advice that his lover used to give him with his most troubled patients. 'He's in pain; something terrible has happened to him. But how can I get him to tell me what it was without driving him crazy?'

Jonas gave a lot of thought to what he was going to say to Julian in their next session, but he still felt horribly nervous when his patient walked through the door on Thursday afternoon. But Julian appeared to be rather cheerful for him, and plopped down in his chair with a wicked grin for the surprised therapist. "Hey, Doc, how's things?" he asked.

Jonas was completely taken aback. But as he studied Julian's handsome face, he realized that the other man was going to pretend very hard that what had happened on Tuesday hadn't actually happened at all. Maybe he thought that if he ignored it, it would go away. Unfortunately, Jonas couldn't let that happen. He needed to know what had been behind that reaction, or he couldn't help Julian heal. He decided to take a sledgehammer approach for once, although usually he'd have handled Julian with kid gloves after such an incident.

"Things are not great, Julian, since I'm worried about you," he said bluntly, his fingers tightening on his pen until it nearly snapped.

Julian lifted a haughty brow. "Me? Why?" he asked.

"Because my patients don't normally scream and go through fits, then act like I'm attacking them when I try to touch them," Jonas replied grimly. "So that was somewhat worrisome, I'm afraid."

Julian's face contracted. He tensed in his chair, his lips pulling back from his teeth a bit as his hands closed hard over the arms until the fingers turned white. "I don't know what you're talking about," he spat between his clenched teeth.

"Yes, you do," Jonas replied. "You know exactly what I'm talking about. I'm not going to sweep this under the rug, Julian, no matter how much you want me to. I can't. You're in pain and hurting because of something that happened to you. Whatever it is, it's festering away inside of you and making you sick. Not physically sick, but psychologically sick. I just want to help you, but I can't do that if you won't let me."

Julian stared at him. "Why do you care?" he snarled. "Why? I'm just another of your patients. You get paid to care; you don't get paid enough to put in the extra effort. So just leave it alone, Doc. Leave ME alone!" he nearly shouted this last, the cords in his neck tensing and standing out.

"No," Jonas replied calmly but implacably. "I won't. And as for why I care, it has nothing to do with your mother's money and everything to do with the fact that I see another human being in pain. I want to help, I NEED to help. As you have your demons, so do I. Maybe this is my form of drug, but it's a high I've never been able to come down from. It's just my nature, as Chris liked to tell me. So I'll keep pushing and pushing at you from now on until you tell me what happened to you, or you kill me out of sheer self-defense. To avoid a life sentence in prison, maybe it would be best if you left and didn't come back. Or you can tell me what I want to know, and save us all a lot of trouble."

Julian's mouth had dropped open, and he was staring at Jonas. The stubborn set of the therapist's chin must have told him a lot, as did the direct gaze. Jonas was serious about what he said; he had the option to get up and leave the office right now, and never return. Otherwise, he'd be hounded by Jonas until he cracked one way or the other. "You're crazy," he said flatly.

"Crazier than my patients," Jonas agreed with a cracked smile. "But you're still avoiding the issue. It's put up or shut up time, Julian. Either talk to me or get the hell out. Because I'm not interested in helping someone who doesn't want my help. That's like trying to clean up an addict who doesn't want to give up drugs. It's futile and heartbreaking for anyone stupid enough to try it."

"Wow," Julian said softly. "I've never seen this side of you before, Doc. I kinda like it."

Jonas blew air out through his nose in exasperation as Julian gave him a look that was a combination of admiring and leering. "Julian – for the last time..." he began.

"Yeah, yeah," Julian waved a hand at him. "Don't get your panties in a twist, Doc. Fine – you want to know what happened to me? I'll tell you. My boyfriend? The asshole? He..." Julian trailed off, clearly struggling with himself.

Jonas waited patiently. This was a pivotal point in their sessions. If Julian couldn't tell him now, he might never be able to tell Jonas what had happened to him. The younger man looked down, his mouth working. "He was always kind of controlling," he said in a strained voice. "But I sort of liked that, because at least he was paying attention to me. Unlike my parents. I thought it meant that he loved me." He laughed in a cracked sort of way, making Jonas's guts twist. "What an idiot I was. I trusted him. That is, until the day I came home and found him screwing somebody else in our bed. When I got angry and screamed at him, he hit me. Split my lip and bruised my cheekbone. I told him to get the hell out and never come back. He didn't like that, not at all. But when I threatened to call the cops to make him leave, he left. For awhile, anyway."

His whole body was so tense that Jonas expected him to break. The therapist remained silent, however; he knew that Julian needed to say whatever he had to say without any interruptions. "I was angry and hurt, and not just the bruise on my face. I packed up his stuff and threw it out into the hall. That made me feel a little better, anyway. I was going to call his cell the next day and tell him to come and get his shit. I never intended to see him again. I thought that I'd just cry a bit and get over him," Julian began tonelessly.

"But he still had a key to the door. It was late at night, like two a.m., when I woke up because somebody had come into the room. When I sat up, I saw that it was him and a couple of his loser friends. I'd never liked his friends, but I just thought that they were part and parcel of going out with him. I yelled at them, asking him why they'd come into the apartment and two in the morning. I had class at eight o'clock, didn't they know that?"

Julian stopped again, his mouth twisted. His eyes were haunted and full of old darkness. His fingers clenched and unclenched on the arms of the chair. "He...he...laughed at me. His voice was slurred, and I realized that he was high as a kite. His friends had scored him some meth. That's why I didn't like them, because they were nasty little druggies. I started to feel scared then, and I told him to get out or I'd call the cops. He said...that I'd used that threat once before already, and that it wasn't gonna work this time. That I couldn't call anybody if they didn't let me."

"I lunged for the phone, but he knocked it away. I was so scared that I wanted to piss myself. He looked crazy; his eyes were glittering from the drugs in the light from the lamp. I struggled, but he grabbed me by the hair and yanked me across the bed. I was screaming for help, but the walls of my apartment were fairly thick. And then he slapped a hand over my mouth and almost suffocated me. He told me that I was going to get what was coming to me for being such a bitch and for talking back to him and threatening him earlier. He slapped me upside the head so hard that I saw stars, and I was too dizzy to fight him anymore."

Julian's chest was heaving, and his breathing was harsh. Jonas wanted desperately to get up and go over to comfort the younger man, but he knew that was impossible. After Julian's reaction to a mere touch, he knew better than to try to hug his patient at this juncture. It would be a disaster. So he sat and waited as Julian continued in a voice that had gone flat and dull: "I kind of blacked out for awhile, and when I woke up, I felt pain. There was somebody on top of me, inside of me...I could hear him grunting as he fucked me. I finally realized that it was HIM. That he was fucking me without any lube or a condom, even though he'd slept around on me. I tried to push upward, to get him off of me, but he was too strong and my head was ringing. He said into my ear that this was what happened to mouthy whores. Then he pressed my face into the pillow and almost suffocated me again, and I had to fight then just so I could breathe. Finally he was done, and he pulled out. I thought that was it, until he laughed and said to someone that they should have a go at the bitch. That I was nice and tight, even if I was mouthy. I tried to fight then, so hard – I was trying to scream, but my mouth didn't seem to work right...and then one of his friends got on the bed and fucked me too. It hurt even more, because I was already torn and he was big. He was laughing too, telling my boyfriend how good it felt and that he should have shared this piece of ass with them sooner."

"Finally he was done, and I thought that that was it. But then the other one joined in the fun, and when he was done my boyfriend was ready for round two, and I don't remember how many times they..." he put a hand over his eyes and sat there trembling, a harsh keening noise falling from his lips.

"Did you ever report your rape to anyone, Julian?" Jonas asked gently after awhile.

"No. No, I didn't tell anyone. Mother wouldn't have cared except that it would have made her look bad, to have her fag son drag her through a rape trial. And I was in such bad shape afterward that I could barely walk for two days afterward. I could have called the police, and turned him in; but to go through the horror of a trial, in which I'd have to sit there and tell a jury who disapproved of my sexuality anyway how I was gangbanged by my boyfriend and his drug abusing asshole friends...men don't get raped, do they? Unless they're sissy boy fags, that is. And that's what we have coming to us, anyway, right? For taking it up the ass?" his voice was bitter.

Jonas sighed. Unfortunately, Julian had a point. American culture really wasn't geared toward the mentality that men could be raped too, which is why so few of them actually reported being raped even if they were homosexuals. Because many conservatives and Christians probably DID think that this was exactly what each and every 'fag' had coming to them. He could understand why Julian hadn't reported his rape, even though living with it in silence was killing him inside.

"What happened to your boyfriend?" he asked quietly after a moment.

Julian lowered his hand, and the stark pain in his eyes made Jonas want to weep for him. "Nothing," he said hoarsely. "At all. Not even guilt, if the bastard could have felt something like that – because he didn't remember it the next day. He called me up the morning after and tried to weasel me into taking him back. He sounded like a guy who'd been caught cheating on his boyfriend, not one who'd brought his friends over in the middle of the night to gang rape him. When I asked him if he remembered last night, I got a blank silence. Then he asked me what I was talking about. I then proceeded to tell him what he and his skeevy friends had done to me, and I also told him that if he ever came near me again that I'd kill him. My mother was rich; I could get away with murder. He yelled that I was lying, that he didn't believe me, then he hung up and I never heard from him again. He transferred schools, and that was that. He's probably dating some other poor slob who thinks that he's handsome and cool and the best thing that's ever happened to him."

Jonas spoke in as firm but gentle a voice as he could: "You may not think this now, Julian, but your confession is a breakthrough for you. The way to get an infected wound to heal is to lance it and let out all the pus. Otherwise it festers and kills you eventually. I know how hard it was for you to tell me all of this, but I'm glad that you did. Now, if you really want to, we can work together to start the healing process. What do you want, Julian?"

The younger man stared at him, his expression raw and more open than Jonas had ever seen it before. "I want..." he began hoarsely. "I want to be myself again. I can't stand this, the way I am. It's like there's an evil spirit riding me, making me act this way and do all of this stupid shit. And I can't stop myself. I don't want to stop myself, because when I'm doing it at least I don't have to think about what happened anymore. Please, Jonas...Please help me. Because I don't think that I'll last much longer this way."

"Of course I'll help you, Julian," the therapist vowed. "If there's any way, I'll help you. Because your life shouldn't have to end on that night."

"You know something? I actually do feel a little better," Julian admitted at the beginning of their next therapy session. "For telling you all that, I mean. I guess I never realized what not talking about it was actually doing to me. You were right, Jonas. It was like a festering wound. I've been sleeping better for the last few days," he confessed.

"That's wonderful," Jonas replied sincerely. "I'm very glad to hear that. You've taken your first big step toward healing, Julian. The road might be long and rocky, but you took the biggest step onto it already."

Julian laughed a little and shook his head. "You know, half of what you say sounds like a cliché," he remarked. "And yet somehow it's also very profound. How the hell do you do that?"

Jonas smiled a crooked smile and shrugged. "Chris used to tease me about that too," he said. "He always told me that I could open a Hallmark greeting card store if I decided to stop being a therapist. I guess the real truth is that the things I say might be clichés or sound very sappy, but the fact that I believe in what I say is what helps to make them profound as well. Or as profound as they can be, anyway," he added with a twinkle in his eyes.

Julian cocked his head. "You really do believe all of it, don't you? Whereas I have a hard time believing in much of anything at all. We're very different, you and me."

"I've always thought that people's differences are what make them special," Jonas mused. "And fascinating, as well. It's interesting to see how each individual person will react to the same situation. Have I mentioned that I like to people watch? It's a hobby of mine."

"So people are just like animals in a zoo to you?" Julian teased.

He chuckled. "I suppose so. We are all just animals anyway, just of a slightly higher order."

Julian's brow lifted. "Are Jews supposed to believe in evolution?" he asked.

"This one does. God, after all, works in mysterious ways. Evolution can be a part of his Creation. Religion and reason don't have to be mutually exclusive, no matter what many people seem to think. God is in science, if you look for Him."

"I think maybe I should start studying YOU," Julian said in fascination. "Because I've never met anybody quite like you before, Jonas."

He moved a little in his chair, uncomfortably. "Yes, I'm aware that I'm a bit of a freak," he conceded.

"I don't think that's a bad thing," Julian told him with a smile.

Jonas felt even more uncomfortable now, because he could feel something happening here. Something that shouldn't be happening, not at all. He was Julian Archer's therapist. While they might develop a close bond as therapist and patient, it shouldn't be more than that. But...dear God, he was starting to feel an attraction to Julian. Now that the sullen, closed-off man had all but disappeared, leaving behind a vulnerable young man who needed his help, the attraction was growing much stronger. He couldn't derail Julian's therapy for his own personal wishes, he just couldn't. Julian needed to get over the rapes he'd suffered through, and Jonas couldn't complicate things. If he did, he'd be forced to send Julian to someone else. It would be unethical for him to continue as Julian's therapist if he got involved with the younger man. He simply had to control himself, and never show Julian even a hint of that attraction.

All he said aloud was: "If you think you can handle it, we should talk some more about that night, Julian. But only if you feel up to it. Don't push yourself."

Julian shivered a little, but his jaw firmed up as well. "I'll talk about it," he declared vehemently. "I want to do this. I want to get better."

Jonas had to admire him for his courage. "All right," he said gently. "First of all, do you blame yourself for anything that happened that night? Do you feel that at least some of it was your fault?"

Julian flinched visibly. "Yes," he said hoarsely.

"Why?"

Julian hugged himself tightly. "B-Because...I dated that asshole. I s-shouldn't have..."

"No," Jonas said firmly. "None of what happened was your fault, Julian. When you've been a victim of violence, especially domestic violence, your first instinct is to blame yourself. But would you blame a child for being sexually molested or beaten by its parent?"

"No," Julian said, "Of course not."

"Then why do you believe that you're to blame for what Darryn did to you? Especially when you'd already thrown him out with the intention of never seeing him again. It is the abuser, the rapist, the molester who is always to blame totally for their actions; it is never the victim's. You are not at fault, Julian," he said intensely, meeting the younger man's eyes without wavering. "You must believe that. Darryn is responsible for what happened to you, completely and totally. You were not at fault in any way."

Julian looked away abruptly, his eyes bright with unshed tears. "You're right," he husked, reaching up to wipe at the moisture, "I can see that. It's just..."

"You want a way to explain what happened," Jonas said gently. "Why he did what he did. And it's easier for you to say that it must have been something that you did or said to set him off, but it's also wrong. He made the choice to hurt and rape you, and even saying that he was on drugs so he didn't know any better is not an excuse. The drugs would not have changed his behavior entirely, and he made the choice to take the drugs in the first place so what happened is still down to his decision to do that."

"Yes," Julian rubbed at the side of his face with his hand. "I can see that. It's just that there was this little voice inside of my head that kept pointing out that if I hadn't dumped him that never would have happened."

"Maybe, maybe not," Jonas replied quietly. "You yourself told me that Darryn was already verbally abusive to you. If you'd stayed with him he might have escalated his behaviors over time anyway. People who are abusers tend to do that – once they see that they can get away with a little, they gradually work up to more and more. As they say, give an inch and they take a mile."

Julian sighed. "I got into a relationship with Darryn because he charmed me completely," he said. "You were right – I was starved for affection and attention because of how distant my parents were. I thought that he loved me, and I didn't really know the difference one way or another. When he started to get abusive, I just thought that I'd done something to set him off. That I'd done something wrong. He used to tell me that it was my fault, and I believed him."

"Abusers will often do that to their victims, to keep them feeling helpless and off-balance," Jonas agreed. "If you think that it's your fault, you won't seek help or try to get away from the abuser. Psychological games are an abuser's stock-in-trade. It's all about maintaining control with them. Darryn was most likely furious that you'd taken his control of you away, that you'd displayed your backbone to him. That's why he 'punished' you. But you aren't anyone's slave, Julian. You're strong; you've proved that to me over the last few weeks. You're strong enough to overcome what happened to you, and prove just how weak Darryn actually was in the process."

"You have a lot of faith in me," Julian said. "I'm not sure that it isn't misplaced, though."

Jonas met his eyes again, his own stare steady. "It isn't misplaced," he replied quietly but firmly. "I know you can do this, Julian."

A trembling laugh. 'Well, I'm just glad that one of us thinks that," Julian said with a weak smile.

"Hopefully, by the time we're done, we'll BOTH think that," the therapist replied firmly.

After Julian has gone, Jonas went and sat at his desk. He picked up the picture of Chris, turning it over to look at the face of his lover. "Hey, Chris," he said softly. "I still miss you, guy. Every day, in every way. I keep expecting to turn around one day and see you standing there, grinning at me like you used to do. Telling me that it would be all right, that we should go to the spa over the weekend and relax so I'd be ready for Monday. I'd go by myself, but it just wouldn't be the same," he sighed, his fingers stroking the glass over the photo. "I'd love to talk to you about Julian, baby. He's just the kind of person that you'd urge me to help in any way that I could. Although maybe you wouldn't be so gung-ho about it if you'd figured out that I'm...oh hell, I'm kind of attracted to him. Okay, maybe more than 'kind of', actually. He's not like you at all, Chris...although maybe that's why. If he'd reminded me of you I wouldn't have been able to handle that. But he doesn't. He's just...himself. I don't know what to do, here," he sighed. "I can't get involved with a client, and it's too soon after you got killed anyway. Isn't it? What should I do, baby? I'm pretty confused right now," he ran a hand through his hair distractedly. "I guess I'll just keep doing the best I can, and try hard not to let him see anything. Best I can do for now, because he really needs my help. I'm not going to shuck him off on another therapist, not when he's at this vulnerable point."

He lifted the photo to his lips, kissing that beloved face. "Thanks for listening, lover," he told the man smiling out of the photo. "I really appreciate it." He set it back down on the desk, feeling a bit better even for just talking to a picture of Chris.

Julian walked into his office for their next appointment, and Jonas was surprised to see him wearing a button-up shirt and a pair of tan slacks. The ring through his eyebrow was gone, the hole healing. He spread his hands and smiled a little, ruefully. "The new me," he said. "Although it's more like the old me, actually. So what do you think?"

"You look nice," Jonas replied neutrally, ignoring a more visceral reaction. "How do you feel?"

"Better," Julian replied, taking his normal chair. "A bit, anyway. I still wake up at night in cold sweats, though. I keep thinking that they're in my room again..." he shuddered.

"It will take time for your natural fear to begin to recede," Jonas told him. "Healing is always slow, sometimes frustratingly slow, but it WILL happen. Just be patient."

"I can do that. Believe me, even feeling a little bit better is amazing. Every day I used to wake up and think about just offing myself, because I couldn't stand the way I was. Always afraid, and depressed, and angry...I felt like I was falling apart a little at a time. Sometimes I just wanted to start screaming and never stop. I don't know why I never slashed my wrists, but I just couldn't quite bring myself to do it..."

"Because you're strong," Jonas said. "Strong enough that you couldn't take the coward's way out even though you felt like you were falling apart."

Julian rolled his shoulders. "Maybe you should keep telling me that," he said with a crooked smile. "After a hundred years or so I might start to believe you."

"You already believe me," Jonas replied.

"Huh. Well, Mr. Know-It-All, what next?" Julian asked wryly.

"I thought we might talk about your childhood again today. I think it might be wise to tackle your trauma a bit at a time, in stages."

"Whatever you think is best, Jonas," Julian said humorously. "I'll follow your lead."

"That's nice to know," Jonas replied dryly.

"But the quid pro quo still stands, doesn't it?" Julian asked, surprising him.

"Err, yes. Of course," he said cautiously.

Julian chuckled. "Don't sound so worried, Jonas. It's just nice to meet someone who's been through something similar to what I did, that's all. In your childhood, I mean. It makes me feel less alone."

Jonas cleared his throat. "All right. I wanted to ask you about the summer your mother sent you to that camp. To 'get you off her hands'. You were thirteen, right?"

"Uh huh. That was an interesting summer," Julian remarked.

"In what way?"

"Would you believe it was the year that I got my first blow job? I already knew that I was gay, and there was this other boy at the camp. Pretty. He was pretty. And already kind of experienced, because he'd started to fool around with other boys at his school. He blew me in our cabin one day, and it was the most amazing experience of my entire life. I was a real cock hound after that. I did two things in high school – I studied, and I found guys willing to let me blow them or vice versa. I have very fond memories of summer camp."

Jonas's brows had flown up, and a little smile moved over his face. "I see. Not every boy has quite that kind of experience at camp. I certainly didn't."

"Did you ever go to summer camp?" Julian asked him curiously.

"I did. Band camp, actually," Jonas explained. "The place for uber geeks. I did a great deal of 'blowing' those summers, but only on a French horn."

"Poor thing. I can just see you – a string bean with dorky glasses, marching along in short blowing hard on your horn," Julian said impishly.

Jonas sighed. "Unfortunately, that's pretty close," he remarked ruefully. "I was never cool, I'm afraid."

"You could have been if you'd given out a few blow jobs," Julian remarked with a twinkle in his eyes.

"Now why didn't I ever think of that?" his voice was droll.

"So Mother's been on my back lately," Julian remarked in exasperation.

Jonas frowned as he looked up from his notepad. "About what?"

Julian shrugged. "She's happy that I'm acting more like myself, but she STILL wants to know what caused my aberrant behavior in the first place. I told her it's none of her business, but she won't give up. It's driving me nuts."

The therapist considered this. "She's worried about you," he pointed out gently.

His patient blew out a long breath. "So she's just started worrying about me NOW?! Where was she when I needed her, like during my entire childhood?!"

Jonas sighed. "I understand your wish not to tell her what happened to you, but if you don't tell her SOMETHING she's going to keep hounding you. You know that."

Julian made a frustrated movement with his elegant hands. "Of course I do! But what do I tell her? I just can't...about what really happened..." he turned his head away to conceal a sheen of tears.

"If you don't want to tell her the truth, you might have to lie," Jonas said quietly.

Julian's head whipped back around, and he stared at the therapist with his mouth hanging open. "Let me get this straight...you're actually advising me to LIE?!"

A nod. "Yes. In this case, yes. I can tell that you're afraid of how your mother would react to the truth, that she might say or do something hurtful to you. Based on her past behavior, that is not an unlikely scenario. And you simply don't need to go through that, not now when you're just beginning your recovery. So yes, I think you should make up a plausible lie for her."

Julian's mouth slowly closed. "Every time I come in here, you surprise me," he said. "I should be used to it by now, I guess. It's just that you kind of expect one thing when you go to see a Jewish therapist, and then you get something else entirely. A horse of a different color, definitely. That's what I get for making assumptions."

Jonas's lips lifted in a faint smile. "I've always enjoyed defying people's expectations of me," he remarked. "It's great fun, actually. They're always so shocked...it makes me laugh."

Julian grinned. "Well, at least you keep your patients on their toes," he said lightly. "Anyway, I'll mull over a good lie that I can sell to my mother. It'll have to be something that she'll buy, or she won't stop bugging me. In fact, it'll only get worse if she realized that I'm lying, because she'll be even more determined to find out what I'm hiding from her."

"Actually, the best lies always contain a grain of truth," Jonas told him. "You could tell her that you were devastated by the fact that Darryn has cheated on you, and that's why you began acting out."

Julian snorted. "That could work. She doesn't know me well enough to realize that I'd never fall completely apart just because I kicked a cheating boyfriend out of my life. Especially one that I only thought that I loved. I know now," he added with a sigh, "That I really have no idea what being in love is like. I know this would be painful for you," he went on, looking at Jonas soberly, "But could you...talk about Chris? Even if just a little bit? I can tell that you really loved him. If you don't want to, I'll understand. I don't want to cause you pain."

Jonas sucked in a deep breath as he felt his stomach muscles tighten. But all he said was: "No, that's all right. I like talking about Chris. It keeps his memory fresh inside my mind, and that's all for the good. I never want to forget him even though I had to let him go. What do you want to know?"

"Well," Julian looked uncomfortable as he thought this question over. "I mean – what did it feel like when you were with him? I just wonder what love feels like, so I'll know it if I ever start to feel it for myself."

Jonas considered this. "It's different for everybody," he pointed out seriously, "So the way you'll feel about someone you love won't be quite the same as the way I felt about Chris. But there are always some basic similarities as well. I think the most important part of it was that whenever I was around Chris I felt...happy. Completely and totally happy. Just touching him, or seeing his smile, or talking to him...it all made me happy. I think that's the basis of all forms of love, real love that is. That being with that other person makes you happy. And that you make them happy in return. It's as simple as that in the end. Of course you're going to fight once in awhile, or snap at each other when you're in a bad mood...but those are always just temporary problems at best. And it's good to fight or argue, as long as it doesn't turn ugly or mean-spirited. Chris and I used to argue about stupid things sometimes," he added with a wry, nostalgic smile. "Like who was more in the wrong – him for drinking milk out of the carton or me for leaving my orange peelings on the desk in my study and forgetting about them? But we always made up in the end, and that was the best part of any argument," he smiled as he said this, as he remembered the fantastic bouts of 'make-up' sex that he and Chris had had.

Julian studied his face. A wistful expression slid over his own face, and he sighed. "I pretty much knew that I wasn't in love with Darryn, or he with me," he said mournfully. "But what you just said proves it. I wasn't happy around him most of the time...I couldn't be, not when he was always yelling at me or belittling me in public. He was such an asshole. I should have seen that sooner."

"You had nothing to compare his behavior to," Jonas surprised him by pointing out. "Most of us base our behavior on what we see our parents do, but your parents were far too neglectful for you to be able to do that. You certainly didn't see any loving behaviors being exhibited by either of them. So you didn't know that the way Darryn treated you was wrong and not the way he should have treated you if he was really in love with you."

"That's makes sense," Julian said slowly. "Thanks, Jonas. Every time I start to get down on myself, you point something out that makes me feel better. And it's always something logical and sensible, so I have no way to refute your argument. You're pretty amazing."

Jonas shrugged. "It's what I do," he said with a twinkle in his eyes. "Besides, as far as I'm concerned the only thing you really did 'wrong' was to look for love and someone to love you –and that's never really wrong. Every human being wants to love and be loved. It's as great an imperative as eating, sleeping, and defecating."

Julian snorted at his last example, and grinned. It was a charming expression, and it made Jonas's breath catch and his body stir. He gulped as Julian remarked drolly: "So wanting to be in love is as natural to us as taking a shit? Good to know."

Jonas lifted his empty hand defensively. "Hey, it's only a natural bodily function. We've managed to turn it into something shameful and wrong, which is ridiculous. Our body has to excrete waste or it goes toxic. So, yes, it is as natural as our wanting to find love. Just coming from the other end," he teased, and felt a weird fluttering in his gut when Julian laughed openly.

"God, I don't think I've laughed like that since...that night," Julian said when he could speak again. "It feels weird, it's been so long. But good. Really, really good."

"I'm glad," Jonas told him sincerely. "Hopefully you'll be able to laugh a lot more from now on."

Julian's laughter haunted Jonas as he lay in bed that night. He was trying to read a book, but he finally lat it down on his lap and sighed. He rubbed under his glasses as he struggled with what he was feeling. This was SO not good! It wasn't just that he was starting to feel a sexual attraction to his patient – and that was bad enough, considering the fact that Julian was a rape victim – but even worse, he was starting to feel other things as well. He felt a chill go down his spine as he realized that being around Julian anymore made him feel much as he had whenever he was with Chris. Oh, hell! He couldn't be...falling in love with his patient? He took off his glasses and buried his face in his hands, groaning. He just didn't know what to do. He should recommend that Julian go to another therapist, but they were making such progress that he didn't want to derail it. He felt like a man caught between Scylla and Charybdis, and all he could do was wait to be smashed to bits by the churning tempest.

"Oh, Chris," he moaned aloud to the empty house. "What do I do? Please help me, because I'm really lost right now."

He didn't expect a response, so when he finally curled up in exhaustion and went to sleep; he was surprised to start dreaming about Chris. In the dream, his lover was sitting curled up in his favorite chair, his bare feet sticking out from under the too-long shirt he was wearing(it was one of Jonas's). He was smiling slightly as Jonas entered the room, and he cocked his head to the side in that familiar, beloved gesture of his. "Hey, lover," he purred. "How you doing?"

Jonas sighed. "Not so great," he replied.

Chris folded his arms over his knees, looking like a little boy as he set his chin on top of his arms and directed a keen look up at Jonas. "Tell me all about it," he urged.

So Jonas did. He told Chris about his sessions with Julian, and his newfound feelings for his patient. He explained to his dead lover why it was such a bad thing – that Julian needed him as therapist right now, not as a potential lover. That Julian was fragile emotionally, and didn't need his therapy derailed just because his therapist had gone off the deep end. That he'd have to recommend that Julian go to someone else if this got any worse, but that he feared that that would have a profound effect on his patient. Chris listened to all of this patiently, and at the end he chuffed out laughter as he shook his head a little.

"You always somehow manage to get yourself in trouble without me, don't you, lover?" he remarked in amusement.

"Yeah," Jonas groaned. "That's why I wish you were really here. But if you were, we wouldn't be having this conversation of course. Because I still love you, Chris. I always will."

That delightful smile that was the thing that had first attracted him to Chris in college spread over his dead lover's face. "Of course you do. But Jonas, I AM dead. This is just a dream. I'm a figment of your imagination now. You need to move on, baby. And you can't do that if you keep clinging to me and my memory. I don't want that for you – I can't stand the thought of you moping around alone for the rest of your days. If you'd been the one who died, do you think that you'd be happy if I never moved on? Of course you wouldn't be. I want what's best for you – and what's best for you now is for you to find somebody else to love. It sounds to me like this Julian guy might just be the person who can help you get over losing me. So I'm giving you my approval, Jonas. No matter what it takes, no matter what you have to do...you find a way to be with that guy. And be happy, lover. Really happy. Only think of me sometimes, and remember how good we were together, that's all I ask. "He rose lithely to his feet and walked over to where a dumbfounded Jonas stood. "Don't look so shocked," Chris chided him. "This is really your subconscious talking to you, after all. And you're a trained therapist, so you know what's really best for you whether you want to admit it consciously or not. So listen to what I'm saying, Jonas, and don't get all tangled up in worrying too much. Everything will work out in the end," he stood no tiptoe to kiss Jonas's slack mouth, smiling. When he drew away,

Jonas saw that he had started to become transparent. "Gotta go now, lover. Just remember what I said. Give Julian a kiss for me," he added with a merry wink, just before he faded out of the dream room altogether.

Jonas sat straight up in bed, his mind in turmoil. He blinked the fog out of his eyes as he thought about the dream he'd just had. Had that only been his subconscious talking to him? Why had Chris seemed so real, then? He rubbed a hand over his head. This was what he got for asking Chris to help him. His lover had always been like this in life, too – always poking and prodding at him whenever Chris thought that he was being dumb about something. Jonas groaned and rolled out of bed to take a hot shower, hoping that the water would soothe his aching muscles.

He thought about Julian as he lathered himself up with soap. He still didn't know what he was going to do, in spite of dream Chris's advice. Julian was still his patient; to try to take advantage of him in his fragile mental and emotional state would be both unethical and immoral. Jonas sighed and rolled his shoulders wearily as he let the hot water pound down on his head. There was still no good way out of this situation; he still didn't know what would be the best thing to do. For now, he'd just have to continue with their sessions and try to hide his growing feelings for his patient. It was the only thing he COULD do. But, oh God, it was going to be difficult...

Fortunately for him, his next session with Julian wasn't for two days after that. Jonas felt acute relief as he worked with his other patients and tried hard not to think about Julian, although that didn't work out very well for him. In idle moments, images of the younger man would pop into his head without his permission. This was very disconcerting, especially when he was in the midst of a therapy session with one of his other patients. He wanted to concentrate on them and their problems alone, but he was very much afraid that he wasn't giving them their money's worth because he was daydreaming like a smitten teenage boy.

Finally the day of the last session of the week with Julian arrived. Jonas was restless all morning, and caught his attention wandering more than once during his scheduled sessions. He kept glancing at the clock, willing it not to move so fast. But it was relentless, and soon enough it was time for Julian to arrive. He was pacing his office while he waited, muttering to himself and fiddling with his pen, a nervous habit he'd always had. He heard the door open, and turned to see Julian amble in. The younger man smiled in greeting, and Jonas felt his stomach clench. Julian was just so attractive when he smiled, showing off his even white teeth.

Jonas realized abruptly that he'd been standing there for who knew how long, just staring at Julian. The younger man was giving him a puzzled look. "Are you okay, Jonas?" he asked in concern.

He struggled to make his tongue work, since it seemed to have turned to leather in his mouth. "Yes," he said rather hoarsely. "I'm fine, Julian. Just a little off my game today, I guess. UI think I might be coming down with something."

"Oh, that's too bad. Did you want to cancel our session today?" Julian asked reluctantly.

What a wonderful out! But he couldn't do that to Julian, since the younger man was obviously looking forward to their session today. He looked so disappointed... Jonas pulled himself together. "No, we can have our session," he said soothingly. "I'm all right. Let's sit down."

Julian looked relieved, and Jonas sighed as he took his own seat. Somehow he'd get through today, and all of the days after that while Julian was his patient. He set his pen to paper and tried to put on as professional an expression as he possibly could. "How did it go with your mother?" he asked. "Did she accept your excuse?"

Julian's lips twitched. "Yes, she did. But then, I tried my hand at thespianism, beating my breast and wailing about how terrible it was to find out that Darryn had cheated on me. Since Mother's an old hand at being cheated on, she understood. But she now thinks that I'm a total wussy," he added with sparkling eyes, "Since I fell apart so drastically just because of that. I had to struggle not to laugh in her face when she was sympathizing with me."

Jonas chuckled. "I see. Well, your 'fragility' should keep her off your back for a bit," he replied.

"Yeah. Sweet freedom," Julian said, stretching his legs out in front of him. "So now I can concentrate on my therapy without worrying about her. I'm really looking forward to it."

Jonas wished that he could say the same – but unfortunately for him, his situation was a lot more complicated than his patient's

"Mother, I don't see why this is such a big deal," Julian said irritably. "I told you why I needed therapy; why do you have to keep going on about it?"

His parent tapped her foot ostentatiously on the tile floor of the large foyer of her mansion. She folded her arms over her breasts and leveled a cool stare at her only child. "It isn't Darryn cheating on you that bothers me," she snapped.

He looked puzzled. "Then what is this about?" he asked.

She sighed. "THIS is about your therapist," she replied tartly.

Julian was now completely baffled. "Jonas? What about him?"

She pointed a manicured finger at him accusingly. "Julian, you have the hots for that man. Admit it."

His mouth fell open as she gave him a gimlet stare. "Honestly, Mother, why do you believe that I have the hots for every man I come across?!" he spluttered in disbelief.

She snorted. "Jonas Goldman is NOT every man. He's a fairly attractive – in a nerdy way – gay man who is currently without a boyfriend. I had him checked out, of course, when I first debated hiring him to help you. I thought maybe being around one of your own kind would relax you, but now I think that was a huge mistake on my part."

Julian was flabbergasted. "My own kind?! And just because Jonas is gay, that doesn't mean that I have to fall for him."

She raised a plucked eyebrow significantly. "Did I say fall? Having the hots for someone and falling for them are two different things."

"I don't have the hots for him," Julian said angrily. "You're delusional, Mother."

"Speaking as someone who often has the hots for men, I know it when I see it," she retorted swiftly. "But you shouldn't be humping your therapist, that can't be good for your therapy."

Julian took in a deep breath and tried to bring himself back under control. Patiently he said, as though speaking to a small child: "Mother, I'm not going to sleep with Jonas. At all. Ever."

"Hah," she replied.

He wondered if killing her right now would be considered justifiable homicide. "I'm not going to sleep with him, Mother. Just because I'm gay, you think that I'll sleep with anything..."

"No, it's not just because you're gay. It's because you spent the last year screwing your way through half the gay men in this city," she retorted scathingly.

He flinched. He couldn't explain his promiscuous behavior without telling her about his rapes, and he couldn't bring himself to do that. He was sure that any reaction he got from her would be a hurtful one. "You yourself said that I was doing much better, acting more like myself," was all he said in a stiff voice. "So why would you assume that I'd sleep with Jonas?"

"Because you're a romantic, like it or not," she sniffed, taking him by surprise once again, "I don't know why, coming from me and your father. I'm a gold-digger I admit it, and your father is about as faithful as a dog in heat. But you...you've always had a big heart, Julian, ever since you were a little boy. You want to give that big heart to somebody, for them to sweep you off your feet. I'd say that's fine, but usually they only sweep you off your feet so that they can dump you in the gutter when they're done with you," her voice was thick with cynicism and world-weariness.

Julian didn't know what to say to this. That his parent had noticed something about him that was so significant – he'd thought that she never noticed ANYTHING about him because she never paid attention to him. His mother continued dryly: "You feel sorry for him because he lost his boyfriend tragically. You want to heal his heart and make it all better. I just don't want you to end up with another person who'll hurt you, that's all. Not so soon after that cheating piece of dirt."

She actually cared about him? This was turning out to be an extraordinary day. Julian frowned, running a hand through his (now shorter, neater, dye-free) hair. "I think you're getting way ahead of yourself, Mother. I like Jonas, I'll admit. He's a really nice guy, and he's been very helpful to me. But that doesn't mean that I intend to try to jump in the sack with him. Don't worry so much."

"Isn't that a mother's job?" she remarked. "And maybe I'm starting pretty late, but I still have the right to worry about my son. Julian, I don't want to go through another year like the last one," she said more softly, and the sudden lines in her face (despite the Botox) made her look older and wearier than normal. "I know I took you for granted and left you to the nannies to raise, but seeing you start to self-destruct...I was scared," she whispered, and he was shocked to see tears glimmering in her eyes, "I was scared that you'd..." she looked away, her whole body tense and stiff with her tightly held in emotions.

He found himself stepping forward and putting his arms around her, taking both her and him by surprise. "I'm sorry I scared you," he said softly. "But I was really falling apart. Thanks for making me go see Jonas, Mother; without him, I think I really might have done what you were afraid I would. Now I feel so much like my old self that those dark days seem like a distant memory. You did the right thing this time – and you saved my life."

She sobbed, putting her arms around him and holding him in a way she seldom had when he was a child. "I'm glad," she choked. "I'm so glad. I couldn't think what else to do..."

"I know," he soothed her. "I know. But I think I'll be all right now. And don't worry about me...even if I did end up in bed with Jonas, I know he wouldn't hurt me like Darryn did. He's a great guy, he really is. So don't worry anymore."

"I guess I won't," she sighed, pulling away at last and wiping futilely at her smearing mascara, "If you say I shouldn't. But just...promise me that you'll finish your therapy before you do anything, Julian. Please?"

He nodded as he fished out a handkerchief for her from his pocket. "Here, wipe your eyes. You don't want to look like Baby Jane, do you?" he teased her gently. "And I promise that I'll finish my therapy. I know how important this is." He continued solemnly.

She looked happier. "I know that if you promise you'll keep your word, Julian," she said in satisfaction. "Now, about those tattoos...you do know that there are places that will remove those with lasers?"

He sighed. "I am not getting rid of the tattoos, Mother," he told her firmly. "They're hidden under my clothes, so they won't compromise any job I get after I graduate. And I think I'll keep one or two of the piercings, also. Just none that you can see," he added as her face fell, "So that your society friends won't have to look at them."

"Well, all right. It's your life," she sighed.

"Yes, it is. As long as you remember that, we won't have many problems," Julian said calmly.

Later he sat in one of his classes taking noted, a small frown on his face. He was thinking about the conversation that he'd had with his mother this morning at her house. It had taken him aback that she thought that he had the hots for Jonas of all people! Not that he didn't like his therapist, of course. A lot. Jonas had saved his life, had pulled him back from the brink of destruction. But that didn't mean...he moved uneasily in his seat, his frown deepening.

Was it just...that he'd been so scarred by his traumatic experience that he couldn't recognize when he was actually attracted to someone anymore? Was that it? After all, the men he'd slept with since his rape had been merely a way for him to punish himself, not as something really pleasurable and nice. He couldn't remember any of their names, and few of their faces. They could have been anyone. Anyone at all.

He thought about Jonas. About the smiling dark eyes, surrounded by startlingly thick black lashes that some women would envy. About the way the man's black hair curled slightly, just begging for fingers to run through it. Or the high-cheekboned, rather aesthetic face with the impressive Jewish snozz right in the middle of it. Jonas wasn't amazingly handsome, but his face was interesting and attractive. And his personality was even more so. Julian was fascinated by the way his mind worked.

Curse his mother for bringing this up! Now he was starting to think too hard, always a bad thing. He never would have thought of this himself, but now that it had been put into his head he couldn't seem to STOP thinking about it! Julian twitched, wanting to groan. He so did not need this right now. His life was just starting to get back on track. He didn't want to derail it for any reason.

He tried to concentrate on what the professor's aide was saying, knowing he needed to get his grades up. He'd never get a great job with the low grades he had right now. He'd worry about this later – much later if he could help it.

But unfortunately for him, today was one of his days to see Jonas. And now he felt kind of nervous as he entered Jonas's office, something he'd never felt before. He might have been angry and uneasy when his mother had first forced him to come here, but never nervous. He spoke with the receptionist, a very nice older lady who smiled at him and called him by his first name. She directed him into Jonas's office with a wave and a smile. He went, feeling butterflies fluttering in the pit of his stomach. Inside, he saw Jonas sitting in his usual chair waiting for him. The therapist looked up with a smile of greeting, his eyes lighting up. Julian's guts clenched and his breath started to come short. 'Damn you, Mother!' his brain wailed loudly as Jonas said: "Hi, Julian. Sit down."

He did as told, sitting down in his normal chair. "Hi, Jonas," he said, glad that nothing was showing in his voice.

"It's a beautiful day, isn't it? The birds were singing in my rose bushes this morning," Jonas remarked. "Days like this always make me feel very hopeful, even though the world is so messed up sometimes."

"Yes, it's a beautiful day," Julian agreed, even though he hadn't noticed much about the weather since he'd been too busy obsessing over what his mother had said to him this morning. A new Ice Age could have been starting for all that he would have noticed.

"Anyway, I thought we could talk about something different today," Jonas said. "Specifically, the various men that you slept with after you were raped."

Oh, God, was the man psychic?! An appalled Julian thought in horror. The last topic that he wanted to talk about and Jonas had immediately brought it up today!

"Err...why do you want to talk about them?" he asked rather desperately.

"Does the topic bother you?" Jonas asked gently.

"Yes," he replied aloud, then thought: 'for reasons that you have no idea about'.

"Why does it bother you? Is it because you feel ashamed of sleeping with more than one man? Or because you feel that you were using them?"

"Yes to both," he said grimly. If they had to do this, then he wouldn't hold anything back. "Sleeping with a ton of men whose names I didn't even bother to find out makes me a slut. And I WAS just using them to punish myself, not because I gave a rat's ass about any of them."

"Presumably they were just using you as well, only for sex," Jonas noted quietly. "Did any of them attempt to get your name or telephone number either?"

"Well, no," he had to concede.

Jonas surprised him by chuckling. "And all men are sluts at one time or another," he said in amusement: "It's just how we're wired. There's nothing particularly wrong with that, unless you're doing something that you know is wrong like cheating on a partner or spouse, forcing someone to have sex with you, etc. Casual sex is not in itself something to be ashamed of, it's the circumstances surrounding it that make a difference."

"I suppose you're right," he said slowly. "How can you always make me feel better about everything?" he added, marveling once more at Jonas's ability to put things in perspective for him. Only this time, there was an added element to that thought...

"It's my job," Jonas said with a lopsided smile. "Besides, I think that if more people thought about things a bit more rationally, we'd have fewer ills in this world. Guilt and shame, combined with low self-esteem, are the true destroyers. We either punish ourselves or those around us, and either way people get hurt for very little reason. Sadly, the truly bad people like your ex-boyfriend NEVER feel any guilt about the things they do, it's just the good people who do and who punish themselves for it."

"I guess that's what separates us from them," Julian said wryly.

Jonas laughed, showing off good dental work. Julian's insides did some more twisting. "That's so true. How funny. Anyway, how is school going?"

"Better," he said, glad to get to a safer topic of conversation. He started to talk about some of his classes, while Jonas listened with interest and made the occasional comment or observation. The hour just flew by, and he found himself reluctant to leave when the session was done. As he rose from his chair, Jonas said: "I have to say that I'm really proud of you, Julian. You're making excellent progress. I'm sure you'll make a full recovery and that you'll do it because you're strong and you want it. I'll see you again in a few days."

Looking down into that warm dark gaze, Julian knew with sudden, utter clarity that he was hopelessly in love with this man. Dear God, was he screwed! "Thank you, Jonas," he said aloud, "That means a great deal to me coming from you." And it did, far more than it should. A dazed Julian left the therapist's office, wondering in silent desperation just what he was going to do now?

Jonas was worried about Julian. Over the last few weeks, his patient had become rather withdrawn again. He seemed uncomfortable being in Jonas's presence, and he wouldn't meet his eyes most of the time. When he tried to gently get out of Julian what was troubling him, the younger man clammed up and refused to discuss it. Jonas was very concerned, and he wondered if he shouldn't refer Julian to another therapist. If he wasn't going to work with Jonas or discuss his problems, what was the point of his coming here three times a week?

But he didn't want to. He really didn't. Getting to see Julian made him happy. Every time that the younger man walked into his office, his heart jumped and his stomach knotted inside of him. While it was somewhat torturous, it was such pleasant torture that he didn't want to stop it. But the truth was, Julian needed help. And if he wouldn't let Jonas help him, he needed to go to someone who COULD help him. His therapy needed to stay on track no matter what. So he resigned himself to telling Julian that he was going to recommend another therapist for him, no matter how much it hurt him. You did what was best for those you loved, no matter how much it might hurt you. Otherwise, you didn't really love them at all.

Jonas took a deep breath as Julian walked into his office. He smiled, his face feeling stretched tight by the gesture. "Hi, Julian. Please sit down," he said as he always did, waving at the chair that Julian always sat in.

The younger man took his seat, saying quietly: "Hi, Jonas. How are you?"

'Not that great,' Jonas thought with a mental sigh. But aloud all he said was: "I'm fine. Before we get started today, there's something 'd like to discuss with you, Julian."

"Sure. What is it?" Julian actually met his eyes for once, then looked away hurriedly again. This gesture only helped to strengthen Jonas's resolve.

"I've made up a list of therapists who I really think can help you," Jonas began. "I'd like you to look it over and pick one of them, because I really don't think that I can help you anymore."

Julian's head snapped up, his mouth open and his eyes wide with shock. "What?!" he yelped.

Jonas sighed aloud this time. "Julian, I really think that you need to change therapists. Lately you haven't been working with me at all. You won't talk about what's bothering you, you keep acting uneasy around me, and you won't even meet my eyes..."

"But...!" Julian began unhappily.

Jonas met his gaze. "Can you tell me what's wrong? What's bothering you?" he asked gently. "Because if you can't, I really think that you need to switch therapists. How can I help you if you won't let me? And doesn't that make these sessions pretty futile?" his voice was faintly chiding, and Julian flushed a little pink and dropped his eyes.

"I don't...know...if I can tell you," he whispered, his hands knotting together in his lap.

Jonas looked at his bent head. "I want to help you, Julian," he said softly. "But how can I if you won't let me? Perhaps another therapist could..."

"No!" Julian cried, his head coming up again. He glared at Jonas fiercely. "I don't want to go to anybody else! If you try to get rid of me, I'll stop going to therapy altogether, I swear!"

His vehemence took Jonas aback. His dark eyes searched Julian's flushed, angry face. "But why, Julian?" he asked in puzzlement. "Don't you want to get better?"

Julian rubbed at his face rather wildly with his hands. "Yes, I do," he choked out. "But I don't want to do it with anybody but you. Please, can't I stay?" the desperate plea in his voice made Jonas feel awful.

"Yes, you can stay," he sighed. "But I honestly don't see what good it will do. If you won't talk to me, how can I help you?"

Julian lowered his hands and met Jonas's eyes again. "I'll tell you," he said suddenly. "But you won't like it. Maybe you'll try to get rid of me again anyway. I..." he looked away, his face taut and his jaw set. "I just...discovered something lately."

"What? What is it, Julian?" Jonas asked, very concerned now.

Julian's eyes slid back to his face briefly. Then he jumped to his feet and walked toward the windows, standing with his back toward Jonas. He spoke in a flat, tight voice: "I don't know how else to say this, so I'm just going to. Jonas...I love you."

Startled silence fell over the office. Jonas gaped at Julian's turned back. Had he just said what he thought he'd said?! "What?" he said aloud, sure that his hearing had gone bad on him.

Julian sighed heavily. "I love you, Jonas," he repeated, still without turning around. "I really do. And I know what you're going to say – that its transference, or Florence Nightingale Syndrome, or some such bullshit as that. But it's not any of that. I didn't even know that I was attracted to you until my mother of all people said something to me, and then I had to really think about everything and I realized that...I was in love with you. You always said that I'd find out about real love someday, didn't you? Bet you never guessed that it would be with YOU," he voice was cracked as he tried for sarcasm.

Jonas was speechless. Here was a dream come true – Julian Archer admitting that he was in love with Jonas Goldman. But this was also a nightmare, since Julian was his patient, and younger than him, and just coming off a brutal rape...and he himself was just getting over the death of his lover. This couldn't have happened at a worse time for either of them, but when had love ever been reasonable or logical? It happened when it happened.

He cleared his throat. "Actually, Julian, I believe you," he began, wishing that he could give into his urges and jump up and down while cheering wildly. But instead he spoke in a controlled, calm voice.

Julian whirled around. "You do?!" he demanded, searching Jonas's face.

A nod. "Yes, I do. And I'm very flattered, but..."

"Yes, but," Julian said wearily."You probably have patients fall in love with you all the time. I'm just another fragile person looking for someone to latch onto. I get it, I really do..."

"Actually, I don't think that you do," Jonas replied. He mentally girded his loins as he met Julian's wary, unhappy gaze: "Because I'm in love with you too, Julian." He said quietly.

More shocked silence. Julian stood very still, as though he thought he were in a dream and that if he moved he'd wake up. He stared at Jonas desperately, his gaze searching the other man's face for any signs that Jonas was serious and meant what he'd said. Jonas stared back steadily, letting Julian see what he was feeling. No matter that this was probably wrong, and very bad timing, or any of the other concerns – he wasn't going to lie or hide anything from Julian. You just didn't do that to people that you loved, no matter how much trouble or pain it could cause you.

Julian finally pulled himself together enough to say in disbelief: "You're serious."

"Of course I am. Do you really think that I'd tell someone that I loved them when I didn't? Especially someone already grappling with a very traumatic experience?" Jonas said in faint indignation.

Julian shook his head slowly. "No, of course you wouldn't. I...I'm just having a hard time believing this," he said, awe in his voice. Then he paused, before saying slowly: "What now, Jonas?"

The therapist's shoulders lifted in a helpless shrug. "I don't know, Julian. I can't keep you as a patient if we decide to have some other kind of relationship, because that would be extremely unethical. I could lose my license and my practice. But you still need help, so I guess that the best thing to do is to continue with your therapy for now and worry about the rest later."

Julian looked unhappy. "How much longer are we going to continue with the therapy?" he asked.

"I don't know, it takes as long as it takes," Jonas replied, in near equally unhappy tones.

Julian reached up to rub at his forehead. "So let me get this straight – I have to come in here three times a week and talk to you, and do nothing else, for God only knows how long? And I can't touch you, or kiss you, or ANYTHING?"

Jonas felt his stomach muscles tighten at Julian's words. "I know it's going to be hard," he began apologetically.

"You can say that again," Julian replied dryly.

"But the only alternatives would be for you to go to another therapist as I suggested..."

"I don't want to do that," Julian said stubbornly.

Jonas sighed. "Or you can keep coming here every week until your therapy is through, and then we can discuss what we want to do about how we feel about each other. That's all the options that we have."

Julian looked mulish. "There's got to be a third one," he said. "What if...what If I wasn't your patient anymore, not officially anyway, but I still got therapy from you? How about that?"

Jonas looked surprised. "What do you mean? You want to stop being my patient and just have our therapy sessions unofficially?"

Julian nodded eagerly. "That's right. You wouldn't get paid anymore, of course; would that be okay? That way you wouldn't get in trouble because I wouldn't be a real client. That's how it works, right? You take money from me and have to treat me as a patient, but if you don't it's not quite the same?"

"Well, yes," Jonas began slowly. "If we just talked, as two friends might, it wouldn't be unethical...well, not really, anyway..." he said doubtfully.

Julian laughed, a light sound that made Jonas's toes curl. "As long as you won't lose your license, I'm not sure that I care about how ethical it might be," he said as he stepped toward Jonas. "I just want to be with you, Jonas. I want to take a hold of this thing and never let it go. You're the one that taught me that love is so wonderful, so precious, that once we have it we should never let it go no matter what. So technically this is your fault anyway," he added as he rounded Jonas's chair and held out his hand.

The therapist put his hand in Julian's as one in a dream, and found himself pulled to his feet. "I love you," Julian told him fiercely. "I can't help myself. It'd be different if you didn't love me, but you do. And that makes me so very happy..." his voice gave out as tears gathered in the corners of his eyes. Rather than trying to speak anymore, he leaned upward and closed his mouth over Jonas's. And as that gesture said more than words could anyway, it didn't matter that he couldn't seem to speak anymore...

Jonas sat in his chair and stared with dazed bemusement at the picture of Chris on his desk. He reached out to pick it up, looking at his smiling lover. "Chris," he began almost helplessly. "Julian says that he loves me. I want to believe that it's just him attaching himself to me because of his trauma, but I can't. Because I saw it in his eyes. He really does love me. And I love him. I'm sorry, Chris, but I do. This is wrong, but at this point I just don't want to be right. I hope you understand."

He set the picture back down, remembering the dream he'd had. Chris had told him in the dream to just go get Julian and be happy. But hadn't that just been his subconscious telling him what he wanted to hear in the guise of his dead lover? He rubbed at the side of his face a little, shaking his head. It didn't really matter one way or the other, because he was committed to Julian and whatever happened between them now no matter what. Chris had always said that when he gave his heart he gave it fully and without reserve – which is why he so seldom gave it to anybody. But now he'd given it to Julian Archer, and there was no going back. Even if he'd wanted to, which he didn't. Wrong as this might seem to be on the surface, his heart told him that it was right...And that was enough for him.

*****

"I really like this room," Julian commented to him.

"Thanks. Chris and I decorated it together. He said that he wanted me to have a space that reflected me," Jonas told him as he seated himself in a comfortable leather chair that Chris had picked out for him. "This feels rather strange, having a therapy session with you at my house. But it's the only way," he added, "Since you're not officially my patient anymore."

Julian nodded as he sat down in a chair across from Jonas. "I hope you don't mind...that you're not getting paid for this anymore," he said doubtfully.

Jonas shook his head. "I wouldn't want to take money from you anyway, not when I have personal feelings for you. That wouldn't just be unethical, it would be plain wrong. I can't be as objective as I was anymore, not where you're concerned."

"Oh, I don't know," Julian replied. "I think you've done a great job being objective, since you said that you'd been in love with me for weeks. Just because you've admitted that you love me doesn't change that fact. I firmly believe that you'll still be a good therapist for me, even though we're getting involved in a relationship. You want what's best for me, after all; and you want to help me get better. What more could I ask for, in either a therapist or a lover?"

Jonas looked rather embarrassed by this praise, which made Julian grin. "Maybe we should get started," he said, which made Julian snort a little.

"Whatever you say, Jonas," he said with a twinkle in his eyes.

Jonas showed Julian around his house afterward, and made them both some tea in the kitchen. As they sipped it, Julian directed a bold look his way. "So, Jonas...when are you going to fuck me?" he asked, making Jonas splutter and nearly choke on his mouthful of tea.

Julian came over and patted him on the back. "Sorry," he said contritely.

"No, it's just..." Jonas said breathlessly, "You took me by surprise. Are you sure that you're ready for that, Julian? I mean..."

Julian chuckled, looking amused. "Jonas, you forget that since the rape I've been slutting it up big time. I've slept with God knows how many men, so clearly I'm not put off by the idea of having sex."

Jonas frowned a bit. "Yes, I understand that. But with those men...you weren't committing anything. It was just empty sex so that you could forget for awhile what had happened to you. With us it would be much more. We'd be making love, and when you do that you grow closer than ever to each other. I'm just worried that you might find that closeness too much to bear, because it's never easy to let someone into yourself - especially after you've been traumatized by someone that you thought you loved."

His serious words made Julian grimace. "You're far too good at hitting the nail on the head, aren't you?" he told Jonas. "But then, I knew that from the first day. Listen, if I can handle being gang raped by my lousy ex-boyfriend and his skeevy pals, then I think that I can handle being with the person that I love more than anything. And doing this with you..." he began soberly, looking Jonas straight in the eye, "Would help those memories fade a little for me. So maybe you should just consider this as another part of my therapy?"

Jonas bit back a laugh. "I'm not a sex therapist, but..." he began with a crooked smile. "I'm always up for helping the person that I love in any way that I can."

Julian looked satisfied as he began to walk toward Jonas. "Good. Should we begin our therapy session now?" he asked in a sultry tone of voice.

Jonas felt his breath catch. Then Julian was sliding into his arms, and he felt so right there that he couldn't object in any way. Their mouths met in a long kiss, and Jonas found his hand lifting almost of its own volition to stroke the back of Julian's neck tenderly. The younger man was moaning softly, pressing himself against Jonas' body. They were almost of the same height, so they fit together easily. When their lips finally parted, he looked into Julian's sparkling eyes. "You sure can kiss, Jonas," he remarked.

He smiled slightly. "I had a lot of practice with Chris," he explained. "He loved to kiss."

"So do I," Julian bussed the end of his rather prominent nose, making him laugh a little.

Jonas looked around the kitchen. "Maybe we should go into the bedroom," he began.

Julian chuckled. "Okay. But someday soon, I want you and me to do it while leaning over the breakfast bar. Or maybe on the table," he said with a wicked light in his eyes.

Jonas' breath caught at the images his words conjured up. Julian caught up his hand and squeezed it. "Show me your bedroom," he told Jonas.

For some inexplicable reason, Jonas felt rather nervous when he led Julian into his bedroom. But the younger man clearly felt no such hesitancy, because he began to unbutton Jonas's shirt. He bared the therapist's chest and stomach, his eyes roving over the pale skin lightly furred with black hair leading in a trail down toward the waistband of his pants. He ran his fingers through the hair, which made Jonas' stomach shiver and tense a little. "I like this," Julian remarked. "A lot of guys don't like hair on their men, but to me a guy with no body hair isn't a man at all. Hmm, and it leads down to really nice places..." he added as his fingers began to worm under the waistband of the pants.

Jonas groaned as fingers found him and lightly stroked over him in the confined space under the pants. Julian's aggressiveness rather took him aback, but it didn't displease him at all. Still...he reached down to extract Julian's fingers for the moment. "I want to undress you too," he explained when Julian gave him a questioning look.

Julian nodded and stood still. Reverently, Jonas reached out and began to slide the short-sleeved shirt up Julian's body. The chest and stomach revealed weren't half as hairy as his torso was, and since the hair was lighter it didn't look as though Julian had much body hair at all. He contrasted the golden skin with his own pale tones, liking the contrast. Two dark-pink nipples practically begged him to lick and suck on them, and he pulled the shirt off and tossed it onto a chair nearby quickly.

Julian moaned a bit as long fingers began to undo the snap and zipper on the jeans he was wearing. Jonas took his time, not to tease Julian but because he enjoyed this ritual almost as much as what came after it. He loved to see new parts of Julian's body appear before his eyes, so he tugged the jeans down slowly. He saw the beginning of a froth of wheat-colored pubic hair, and his breath caught as he pulled the jeans down Julian's hips(along with his underwear) to reveal a nicely-shaped cock twitching rigidly between the younger man's thighs. Jonas knelt down and tugged the jeans down to the ground, and Julian stepped out of them.

Since he was already down there, Jonas turned his attention to the excited erection that Julian was sporting. He just looked at it for a moment, making Julian draw in a sharp breath and beg: "Jonas..." in a desperate voice.

Jonas reached out and curled his fingers around the elegant cock, hearing Julian gasp above his head. He extended his tongue to lick at the weeping tip of it, gathering up the precum. A low sound and fingers gripped at the top of his head almost painfully. He swirled his tongue around the slick head, then opened his mouth to take in more of it. Julian cried out as Jonas' hands cradled his hips to hold him in place as he began to suck.

"Jonas...oh, God..." Julian moaned. Jonas used his tongue to twine around the shaft of the cock in his mouth like a snake. He was thoroughly enjoying himself.

Julian began to rock his hips against Jonas' grip. He didn't mind; he let the cock push further down his throat, swallowing to overcome his gag reflex and breathing through his nose. He looked up into Julian's face as the younger man shuddered and panted for breath. The rosy flush on his cheeks entranced Jonas.

Julian bucked hard. "I'm coming!" he cried, and then Jonas got a salty-sweet spurt of liquid on his tongue, which he was happy to swallow. Julian slumped, breathing hard.

Jonas rose to his feet. He took off his pants and underwear, folding them and laying them next to Julian's shirt and jeans on the chair. By the time that he returned, Julian had recovered enough to smile at him. "That was great," he said. "Thanks."

Before Jonas could reply, Julian hungrily kissed him. Their bare skin slid together sensually, the hair on his chest stimulating Julian's skin. Jonas' hands settled on the younger man's lower back, cradling him as they made out. His erect cock rubbed against Julian's thighs. "I love you, Jonas," Julian said when they parted once more for air.

His hands reached up to cradle Julian's face. "And I love you, Julian. So much," he kissed his new lover's forehead and then his cheeks. Julian's eyes were bright with moisture when he finally pulled back.

"I never thought that something like this would happen to me," he said hoarsely. "That anyone would ever love me. After...everything that happened...I didn't think that I was worth loving."

"Of course you are. You're very special," Jonas told him gravely. "You're strong. You survived something horrific, something that would have broken a lot of people. And yet you didn't let it stop you from giving your heart to me, even though you might have been totally wary and mistrustful after your last boyfriend betrayed you. That takes courage. You're amazing, Julian."

"You make me feel amazing," Julian replied with a tremulous smile."And special, and all of those other things."

"I'm glad," Jonas said simply. "Because you are all of those things and more."

After that they ended up on the bed together, their mouths and hands making forays everywhere. They took their time, even though Jonas was all worked up. He wanted this to be for Julian more than anything else, to make his new lover feel as special as he was. He kissed and caressed every part of Julian that he could reach, taking pleasure in detailing that lovely golden skin as Julian tongued at his nipples like a kitten. It was a space out of time, and somewhere in the middle they ended up sixty-nining each other. He sucked hungrily at Julian's renewed cock, even as a warm mouth took him in with great skill and made him shiver with pleasure.

Jonas' fingers slid over the mounds of Julian's ass and found the puckered hole there. He was saddened to feel that the ring was deformed and thickened in places, most likely from the brutal assault. The rapists had used no lube, and Julian had said that he'd torn inside. He almost wanted to cry as his fingertips slid over it, even as his mouth continued to slide up and down Julian's cock.

He pulled away from Julian's erection. "Lay on your back," he told the younger man, who looked at him questioningly.

Julian did as he asked, lying on his back on the bed. Jonas took a deep breath, then moved between his thighs and spread them. "I can't take back what they did to you," he said softly, "Much as I wish to. But I CAN kiss it and make it better," he added on a more humorous note.

Julian started to ask him what he meant, but he lost his voice when Julian slid onto his stomach, spread his ass cheeks, and began to lick at that most secretive, intimate part of him. He shuddered, crying out, as Jonas' tongue lapped at him in long strokes. He'd been rimmed by other lovers, of course; but having Jonas do it made it feel better than all of those other times combined. Jonas licked at him with a tender, loving intensity that made him feel like his head was going to explode. Tears ran down his cheeks as he arched into those wonderful caresses, and gentle fingers probed him at the same time. Here, now, Julian Archer felt as though he could forget the horrors that had happened to him. Maybe not forever, but at least for this moment when he was with the man he loved...

"Jonas," he husked. "Please. I want you inside of me. Now," and he tugged at the black curls imperiously.

Jonas lifted his head. "Are you sure?" he asked quietly.

Julian nodded. "Yes, I am. Make love to me, Jonas."

His request made Jonas tear up a bit, too. He diverted briefly to get the things that they needed out of the drawer that he'd put them away in after Chris died. He returned with the bottle of lube and a condom package in his hands. The condoms had been a gag gift from their friends for Christmas two years ago; they glowed in the dark and had smiley faces on them. But they were all he had, since Chris and he hadn't needed to use condoms. But they'd do just the same, and he didn't want to have to go to a drug store to get more that weren't so ridiculous looking.

Julian's brows shot up when Jonas opened the condom package and he saw that it was bright lime green and had a smiley face on the end. Jonas shrugged helplessly. "They were a silly Christmas gift," he explained ruefully, "But they're real condoms, and I don't have any others."

Julian giggled. "Those'll do," he said. "But you know what? They should say 'thank you, come again' on them."

Jonas burst out laughing, and Julian began to giggle as well. "Oh, God," he gasped. He clutched at his ribs. "That was terrible."

Julian grinned. "Hey, you have to have some fun, right?" he said.

"That's true," he agreed, finally recovering. "Well, let me put this lime green horror on," he added, slipping it on over his penis. Julian's face was a picture as he fought not to laugh again.

Jonas shrugged and applied lube to the bright green surface of the condom. Julian sat up and wriggled closer to him. He spread his legs and draped them over Jonas's thighs. "There we are," he said. "Are you ready, bombardier?"

Jonas shook his head, his eyes twinkling. He reached down and guided himself to Julian's entrance. "Fire one," he murmured, making Julian huff with laughter as he began to push inside. But then he stopped, and it turned into a gasp of pleasure as Jonas slid smoothly into him.

"Oh, yeah," Julian moaned. "That's good. Right there."

Jonas sat up and put his arms on either side of Julian's body so that he could thrust. Julian's head went back, and he kissed his lover's neck as he began a slow, easy movement. Julian began to jink his hips, and they found a rhythm that they both liked. Julian nipped at his shoulder lightly. "That feels so good, Jonas," he moaned.

It felt really good to him as well. He bent his head and began to suck on one of Julian's nipples as he thrust, and the younger man cried out and arched his back. This was so perfect, so good...it felt like they'd been lovers for years, instead of two people making love for the very first time together. They rocked in unison, both of them moaning out their pleasure, for what seemed like forever. Finally, though, even such a very good thing had to come to an end. Julian shuddered, crying out; and his semen jetted out of him and fell on his and Jonas' stomachs in long streaks. The sight as well as the feel of him coming set Jonas off as well, and he pushed in deeply one last time as he filled the stupid lime green condom in a rush of semen.

They stilled, both panting and sweat soaked. Julian gasped: "That was...I've never felt anything like that before."

"That's what it's like when you really love each other," Jonas told him. "Chris and I were like this too. Its way more than just sex. Its true connection. I like to think of it as the coming together of two souls, not just two bodies."

"I like that," Julian replied. "So do you think that our...souls...can come together again sometime soon?"

Jonas laughed softly. "I don't see why not," he replied.

Jonas groaned softly as he thrust into the beautiful body splayed on top of his kitchen island, his hands gripping Julian's hips as he set a punishing pace. Apparently his lover appreciated it as well; he was gasping, his back arching as he thrust his ass backward to meet each push on Jonas' part. He admired the sweat sheening the younger man's skin as he swooped down to lay kisses on Julian's shoulders and the back of his neck.

Julian's fingers scrabbled at the wooden top of the island, and he threw his head back. "Ahh, Jesus!" he cried wildly. "I'm going to...come, Jonas!"

He released one hip so that he could reach around and help his lover out. Grabbing Julian's quivering cock, he stroked it steadily in time to his thrusts. The younger man gave forth a wordless cry of ecstasy, before painting the side of the island white as he shot out over Jonas' caressing hand. He flopped on top of the island, panting, as Jonas continued to thrust into him for a dozen more strokes before he found his own end in that hot, tight, convulsing space that milked his cock relentlessly. He fell on Julian's back, doing a fair amount of panting in his own right.

"Wow, that just gets better every time," Julian mumbled, not moving.

"Yes," Jonas agreed hoarsely. He rubbed his cheek against Julian's back, loving the feel of the sweat-slick skin.

Finally, reluctantly, he lifted himself away from his lover. They still had Julian's therapy session to do today, and he never shirked on that. No matter how tired he was from having sex with the young and active Julian, he intended to see this through. Julian's mental and emotional health were too important to him not to put forth his best effort. He sighed as he pulled the condom off and tied it up, walking over to discard it in the trash can. Julian propped his elbow on the top of the island and admired his lover's naked body, especially the back view. "Hey, Jonas?" he said.

"Yes?" The dark eyes turned his way as Jonas looked at him over his shoulder.

"Do you ever bottom? I like to top sometimes," Julian said.

"Oh? Yes, I do," Jonas replied. "I'm just used to being a top, because Chris loved bottoming and didn't like to top very often. But I used to switch hit in college, so just let me know whenever you want to be on top."

Julian walked over and slid his arms around Jonas. "You are awesome," he said, kissing his lover on the lips. "You know that? Really great. I love you."

"I love you too," Jonas replied, his hands sliding up and down Julian's back. "Very much. And I love being with you like this, but..."

"But we have to get dressed and retire to your study for my session," Julian finished for him. "I know. Is it bad of me to hope that I improve really quickly, so that we don't have to have those anymore? Then it'll just be sex all day every day."

Jonas smiled. "I'm glad you want to get better," he said humorously, "But please remember that I'm older than you. I doubt I could set that punishing a pace without wearing myself out."

"We could just cuddle then," Julian said, kissing the tip of his prominent nose. "As long as I get to grope you once in awhile, I'll be happy."

Jonas smiled. "That would be fine," he said.

Julian paused as a voice called his name. He turned to see his mother bearing down on him, and steeled himself for another conversation with her. She had a gimlet look in her eyes, and they seemed to be looking right through him. "What is it?" he asked as patiently as he could.

"Julian, why haven't I gotten any more bills from Mr. Goldman's office? Have you stopped going to therapy?" She asked suspiciously.

Oh, God. He'd been waiting for this moment ever since he'd stopped officially going to therapy a few weeks ago. "No, Mother, I haven't stopped going to my therapy sessions," he said.

"Then why hasn't he sent me a bill?" she asked suspiciously.

He took a deep breath. "Because he's not charging me for the sessions anymore," he said.

Her mouth opened a little, then she pointed a dramatic finger at him. "I knew it! You're screwing your therapist!" she cried.

He shrugged. "Yes. You predicted it, Mother. If anything, it's kind of your fault because you made me realize just how I feel about Jonas. I am in love with him, just like you said. And he loves me too. We're loves now."

"Is that wise?" she asked, studying his face anxiously. "You shouldn't mess up your therapy..."

"It's not messing up my therapy," He replied patiently. "If anything, I'm getting better faster because Jonas pushes me even harder now. He never stints on the tough questions or holds back, because he loves me and wants me to get well. I guess you could call it the best personal service possible. In many ways, "he added drolly.

She stared at him, then laughed a little. "Well, if you're sure I won't fight you on it. I just hope that he really loves you," she went on, sobering, "because I don't want you to get hurt again."

His face softened, and he stepped forward to hug her. "You don't have to worry about me," he said to her as he released her. "Because Jonas really does love me. I'm very happy," he said with a genuine, warm smile.

She looked relieved. "Oh, Julian, I'm glad. After that horrible last boyfriend of yours cheated on you..."

He steeled himself once again. "He didn't just cheat on me, Mother," he said quietly. "I think it's time for me to tell you what happened to me, why I started acting the way I did and why I needed therapy. Darryn...he..." he gulped, his hands fisting at his sides as he struggled to admit to the horror that he'd endured at his former boyfriend's hands. "He...and some drugged up friends of his...they came to my apartment one night about a year ago...and they raped me. All of them."

Her face twisted in shock and horror at his confession. One hand flew up to cover her mouth. "Oh, God, Julian," she whimpered. "Is it true? You were raped?"

He nodded, his throat closing up. He waited for her reaction, good or bad, to the news he'd never intended to tell her. At last she shocked him by coming over to him and throwing her arms around him tightly. "That son-of-a-bitch," she snarled as she clutched at him. "Is going to pay."

He hugged her back, even as he said thickly: "I don't want to go through a trial, Mother."

She shook her head against his chest. "Oh, no. I wouldn't put you through that, Julian. You've already been through enough. No, I'll find another way to make him suffer, you have my word on that. I don't have all of this money for nothing."

A laugh caught in his throat as she stepped back and looked up at him with bright eyes. "I'm so sorry that happened to you," she said. "And I'm really sorry that you didn't feel like you could tell me right away. But I understand – I haven't been a very good mother, have I?"

"No, but not everybody's cut out for it," he remarked as he patted her arm soothingly. "And at least you're trying, even if it's a little late. And thanks for not just saying that I deserved it. Because I'm a fa...homosexual," he said, changing in mid-word.

"That's because you didn't deserve it, even though you're a homosexual," she snapped. "No one deserves that...well, except for the rapists themselves. Like that Darryn," she said nastily, a dark look in her eyes.

He found himself smiling, even though there were tears in his eyes. "Anyway, Mother, I've got to go. I have another session with Jonas today."

She eyes him. "Is that what you're calling gay sex now? Sessions?" she asked archly.

He chuckled. "Not exactly, although that usually takes place before or after the real therapy sessions."

She laughed in spite of herself. "All right. Tell Jonas hi for me...and when you decide to move in with him, just give me some notice so that I'll be prepared."

He looked surprised. "Move in with him? We haven't discussed anything like that..."

She snorted. "Oh, please. Anyone who has it as bad as you do will be shacking up with the guy you love. It's inevitable. And probably sooner rather than later, which is why I'd like some notice. It'll be kind of lonely around here without you," she added.

He smiled and kissed her cheek. "I'm sure you'll survive, Mother. You can always have Antonio move in with you. He'll keep you 'company'."

She brightened up at this mention of her latest boy toy. "That's true," she conceded. "Off with you now, I'm sure you're dying to see you're therapist," she said, making shooing motions at him with her red-nailed hands.

"Thanks. I'll see you later," he left the house, not only eager to see Jonas once again but feeling lighter and happier for having confessed what had happened to him to his mother. Her reaction had helped to soothe some of the hurt inside of him, in the part that had feared that she'd be both unloving and even cruel when she found out about his rapes.

Later, as he lounged in Jonas' arms, Julian sighed in pleasure as he rested his head back against the therapist's naked chest. "Hey, Jonas? I didn't tell you earlier, but I told my mother what happened to me," he said.

"Oh? What did she say?" Jonas asked, concern in his voice.

"She said that she's going to make Darryn pay for what he did, as she doesn't have all of her money for nothing," he said with relish.

Jonas laughed, stirring his hair. "I see. A formidable woman, you're mother. I'm glad that she took the news so well. I know that you were worried about how she'd react."

"Yeah. She was much better than I ever expected her to be. I guess it just goes to show that you never can tell about a person, even when you've known them all your life."

"That's true. People constantly surprise me," Jonas said, kissing the top of his head.

"She said something else, too," Julian said after a moment's comfortable silence.

"What?"

"She said that when I moved in with you I should give her some notice," Julian said hesitantly. He craned his neck to see his lover's face as he said this.

Jonas blinked. "Move in with me?" he said slowly.

Julian felt his stomach twist into anxious knots. "Yes, but its okay if you don't want to..." he began hurriedly, "We can just go on like we have. I mean..."

"Julian, please shut up," Jonas said firmly, taking him by surprise. Then the therapist kissed him, effectively stealing any protests he might have. When he pulled his head back, Jonas smiled down into his eyes. "I'd love to move in with you," he said softly. "I can't think of anything I'd like better. But I think we should wait until your therapy is finished, so that there won't be any conflicts of interest. Besides, that will give us some more time to get to know each other better. We could start going on dates, that sort of thing. Then when you do move in with me, we'll both know that we're ready and it's right. Okay?"

Julian felt a wash of warmth, desire, and love race through him. He turned in Jonas' arms and draped his body over his lover's. "It's more than okay," he said softly, just before he kissed Jonas to seal the deal, "It's wonderful. And you're wonderful. I love you, Jonas Goldman." Then he kissed his therapist deeply, saying without words how happy he was, how great this moment was, and how much he had to be thankful for.

Five Months Later:

"That's the last of them," Julian said, putting down the box in Jonas' (now him and Jonas') kitchen.

"Great. We'll start unpacking in a little while. For now, though, I thought we'd celebrate. I bought some wine and ordered take-out. I've got some candles, we can have a romantic candlelit dinner," Jonas said as he stepped up behind Julian and put his arms around him.

Julian relaxed back into his hold. "Sounds great," he said, rubbing his body back against Jonas' to make the older man moan a bit. "And afterward, dessert..." he added, his fingers reaching behind him to lightly touch Jonas' hard cock.

"I like the sound of that," Jonas gasped. He kissed the side of Julian's neck lovingly. "I'm so glad to have you here," he confessed. "Making love during the daytime is great, but I also like sleeping with the man that I love. Cuddling together all night is one of the better parts of a relationship – like taking long hot baths together, and sharing the hot tub, and making dinner together..."

Julian smiled, turning around to face him. "I love the sound of all of that," he confessed, putting his arms around Jonas' neck. "I didn't always like to sleep with Darryn; he snored and he rolled on me. I hope that you don't do that?"

"Chris never complained about anything like that," Jonas assured him.

"Great. I'm sure that Darryn has someone to sleep with now, except that I'm also sure that he's not happy about that arrangement?"

Jonas burst out laughing. "Is it wrong that I like the thought of that?" he asked.

Julian shook his head. True to her word, his mother had made sure that Darryn at least was punished for his crime. Campus security at his new school had busted the student with enough meth in his possession to put him away for at least five years. He'd protested vociferously that the drugs weren't his and he had no idea how they'd gotten into his gym bag and Julian was absolutely sure that that was true. But no one listened, and Darryn was now doing time with a lot of convicts who were sure to think that he was quite attractive. Justice had been served, even if somewhat belatedly. And he'd never had to endure the horror of a trial.

Julian knew he had a lot to thank his mother for. He would never have thought that was possible, but if she hadn't made him go to therapy, he never would have met and fallen for Jonas Goldman. And if he hadn't, he probably would have been dead now from suicide or drugs or in a mental hospital because he'd finally lost it. Instead, he was happier than he could ever remember being in spite of the trauma of the gang rapes. And he knew just how to thank her, too. There was this exquisite pair of diamond earrings that he'd seen in a jeweler's store the other day when he'd been picking out a promise ring for Jonas (an article he intended to give his lover as a Christmas present). He'd buy them with the allowance that his father sent to him, and give them to her at Christmas. He just knew that she'd love them, greedy little gold-digger that she was. He could smile as he thought that now, without bitterness. His mother was as she was, and that was fine.

"Have I told you that I love you today?" he asked aloud.

Jonas smiled. "No, you're been remiss. I think that I should punish you."

Julian looked interested. "Oh? Are you going to spank me?" he purred as he pressed himself to Jonas' body.

The therapist shook his head. "Now why doesn't it shock me that that's the first thing that came into your mind?"

"Because I'm kinky, and you know that?" Julian said quasi-innocently.

"Yes, that's it. Anyway..." he stroked his fingers down Julian's cheek, "Welcome home, Julian."

He felt as though his heat couldn't quite contain all of the happiness that he was feeling right now. "I'm glad to be home at last, Jonas," he replied simply, and then their lips met in the best homecoming possible.

The End

 

Dextrousleftie

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