WARNING: Implied Slash - Don't read if you don't feel comfortable with it!

All dead leaves around him, the sky covered in tick, dark clouds, ice cold northern wind brining winter to what was summer only hours ago.

It is getting difficult putting one foot in front of the other. His body is tired, his legs heavy, his head light, his eyes seeing only vague pictures of that moment while tears run silently down his face. He has to hurry. It has to end where he had started it, if only for a moment.
Unable to walk any further, he collapses right on the spot where it happened.
From far away someone calls his name: AJ, where are you?
Who is that? Nick? But his mind and heart don’t care as he drifts to a few hours earlier.

Autumn in Kevin and Nick’s cabin. Brian had arrived with Leighanne and Baylee. That boy was wonderful. They had all played with him until it was time for his nap. Brian and Leighanne decided to rest up as well.
Nick and Kevin has disappeared. Since those 2 had opened up to each other, they made up time.

So Howie and AJ went for a walk in the woods. They were so comfortable together while walking. Howie was humming a tune he’d been working on. AJ kicking leaves about. That soon lead to wildly running through the leaves and trees, fooling around like kids, rolling on the ground. Until they lay exhausted next to each other.
The sun shone on their faces and as AJ turned to Howie, his breath caught at the beauty lying next to him. Howie’s whole body seemed to be bathing in an aura of light!
And he did what he wanted to do for so many years. He leaned over and kissed Howie on the lips. First scared and gentle but as he felt Howie respond, he deepened the kiss, tasting Howie like he had never done before.

And then the shock, Howie’s eyes flying open and jumping up.

AJ jumping to his knees.
“Howie,. . . . .” pleading eyes.
But Howie’s shaking his head, turning and running off.
AJ could kick himself. He had to talk to Howie. Feeling heavy he slowly made his way back to the cabin.
When he finally got there, AJ stopped dead in his tracks at the sight of one missing car, Howie’s.

AJ doesn’t remember how long he stared at the empty spot. But when the ice cold wind picked up, he walked in the cabin. Opening the door, the freezing cold wind seemed to rush in in front of him, making everything feel cold and dead.
He sits on the settee. Even the fire place has gone out.
“AJ?” Nick rushes down, putting on a t-shirt.
“Age, why is it so cold out here?”
AJ still doesn’t reply.
“Who left in such a hurry?”
Nick sits next to AJ and sees his distraught face.
“AJ? What happened?”
But his pain is so overwhelming, it even hurt to breath.
“AJ, is it Howie?” Nick asks gently after a while.
AJ just nods.
“Did you tell him?”
Startled AJ looks at Nick.
“Did you tell him you love him?”
How did Nick know?
“Kev and I have seen you two together. We see how you both feel when you do stuff. There is a spark between you. Take it from me. I know” and Nick quickly looked up the stairs for a moment.
“I kissed him” AJ whispered.
“And he ran away from me.”
“I’m sure there is more to it” Nick hopes he sounds more sure than he feels.
AJ shakes his head.
“No”
Then he gets up and goes up the stairs to his room.

Nick feels sorry. He tries Howie’s mobile but reception is bad in some parts. He can’t get through. He’ll try again later.

Some hours later.

“Guys, time for dinner” Leighanne calls them all down.
As Brian settles Baylee in his chair, the door is opened. Howie walks in again.
Kevin is just coming down the stairs as he sees Howie taking his coat off.
“Nick, he’s back!”
Nick suddenly appears on top of the stairs.
“No, he’s gone!”
Kevin is puzzled.
“No, Howie’s back” Kevin repeats.
And while Nick rushes down. . . .
“But AJ’s gone and I found this!”
Nick opens his hand that holds an empty bottle of pain killers.
Brian joins them.
“How’s your Dad, Howie?”
“Your Dad?” Nick asks.
“He’s fine. Half way to town he calls me himself to say Mum only panicked and no need for me to come back. So I turned back.”
“Why did you not tell AJ?” Nick is upset.
“I left a note!” Howie is thoroughly confused.
“Yeah, found it on the floor a while ago. Must have been blown there when the door opened.” Brian showed the note.
“Oh, no.” Nick throws his hands in the air.
“Nick, what’s wrong? What’s this bottle got to do with AJ?” Howie is getting worried now.
Nick doesn’t know how to tell Howie.
“AJ thought you ran away from him after what happened.”
“What happened?” Brian and Kevin ask in unison.
“I ran back to the cabin. But as I said, Mum called and with the operation, I just wrote a note saying I’d be back soon, and I left.”
“Well, AJ didn’t see the note”
Kevin and Brian look from Nick to Howie but no explanation is forthcoming yet.
“The bottle . . . . when did you see him last?” Howie nearly yells.
“About 2 hours ago. He went up to his room”
“We have to find him . . . now!”
Howie wanted to rush out again.
“Stop! Jackets. It is freezing cold out there.” Leighanne also pushed a blanket in Howie’s hands.
“You’ll find him, dear,” she said reassuringly.
All 4 run out in the bitter cold wind.
“Where are we going?” Kevin asks.
Howie thinks for a moment.
“Where it happened.”
“Where what happened?” Kevin stopped him.
“This can wait until we find AJ.”
Howie pulls his arm away from Kevin and starts running.
“AJ, where are you?” nick shouts but there is no reply. It is getting dark now. They have to find him soon.

Suddenly Nick sees a figure, half covered in leaves.
“Howie, here he is!”
Howie rushes post Nick, dropping on his knees next to AJ’s cold body.
“AJ, wake up.” But there is no reply.
Kevin and Brian see how Howie gently caresses AJ’s cold features.
“We have to get him back. Give me that blanket, Howie” Kevin interrupts the scene.
Howie just sits and stares at his friend. Why would he do this and here of all places?

“Howie, snap out of it” Kevin pushes him out of the way and starts lifting AJ of the cold ground.
“Come on, AJ. Wake up!”
Kevin keeps talking to AJ but his response is very limited. Being only skin over bone, he is very under cooled.
Once wrapped in the blanket, Kevin picks up AJ and starts walking back to the cabin, Brian right behind him.
Nick notices Howie is still standing there, stunned. Taking his friend in a bear hug he starts walking him to the cabin as well.

Leighanne has moved the settee closer to the fire that is now roaring.
Kevin pushes open the door and walks straight to the fire place. With Leighanne’s help it does not take long for AJ to be settled under warm blankets.
Everyone is quietly sitting down.
“Now, what happened?” Kevin finally asks calmly.
Howie can’t take his eyes of AJ, all wrapped up, lips still blue.
So he told them of their walk in the woods, ending:
“I must have dosed off in the sun. I know I was dreaming of AJ again and then I kissed him. I thought it was in my dream but when I opened my eyes, I was actually kissing him. And I’m sure he must have freaked out! I could not tell him. I didn’t want to loose his friendship!.”
Howie drops his head in his hands.
“So you finally kissed him” Kevin simply states.
“Actually, Kev. AJ kissed Howie . . . . finally.” Nick corrected him.
Howie looks up.
“Yes, Sweet D. You may have been dreaming about this but AJ finally did some thing.”
“Did he?” Howie says in a near whisper.
And then, as if it just dawned on him:
“What are you two talking about ‘finally’?”
Nick and Kevin smile at each other.
“Cause it was high time!”
“Did we learn nothing from these 2, seeing them struggle for years?” a shaky voice says from underneath the blanket.
Howie rushes to AJ’s side and drops on his knees next to the settee, gently caressing AJ’s face.
“I kissed you and you ran away.” AJ finally says.
“I . . . I thought I’d kissed you and you’d be mad” Howie whispers.
“How could I. I love you.”
Howie can but smile and gently kiss him.
“How you feeling?” Brian finally asks.
“Cold . . . and hot” AJ says smiling, looking into Howie’s chocolate brown eyes.
“But the tablets . . . “ Howie seems to remember.
“Trust Kev and Nick to have a nearly empty bottle of painkillers. I’ve had more, before . . . . “

“You up to eating something AJ? I’ll get you your plate there” Leighanne offers.
“Thanks!”
They all get to the table for dinner. Leighanne prepares AJ’s plate. Howie’s there to take it to him.
“Told you he’d be ok, Sweety.” She smiles as she gives him two plates. Howie smiles shyly.
“Go and sit with him”
Howie gives her a quick kiss on the cheek and then hurries back to AJ.

Dinner is a welcome warmer after their little adventure.

When Nick helps to clear the dishes and goes to the settee, he finds AJ and Howie fast asleep, snuggled together under the blanket.

He smiles, looking up at Kevin who just happens to be looking at him at that same moment.

The end.

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