by AKM Miles

an excerpt

Chapter One

"Do ya see 'eem?" The whisper seemed awfully loud in the darkness behind the big old house.

"Shhhh, Gommy. You have to be really quiet. Are you sure you saw someone out here? It wasn't just in your mind?" Dillon asked softly.

"I swear it, Dill, really. He was just huge, and he was way back there by that broken fence thing." Gom pointed out toward the back of the big empty yard. Dillon looked out there, but saw nothing unusual. The grass was sparse in the summer heat of middle Texas. It grew a little thicker at the back where the old log was pushed up against the falling down fence. "He was just standing so still, like a statue. He never moved at all. I was too scared to do anything fer a minute." Bless his heart, Gom was scared a lot.

"That's okay, Gom."

"Then I heard you and I knew I'd be okay. You gonna go see if he's out there?" Gommy, short for Montgomery-which was way too big a name for the tyke-had very big eyes and they were perfectly round. He worshipped Dillon with a single-minded passion.

"Nah. Not tonight, Gom. If he tries anything, we'll be ready. But thanks for letting me know. Good eye, buddy. We'll keep watch and see if he's up to something. A big guy, huh?" Dillon ruffled Gom's hair.

"Huge, Dill. He had muscles ever'where and he was wearin' those clothes like the soldiers wear so nobody can see 'em. But I did!" There was pride in that little voice. Dillon liked hearing that.

"Camouflage. Okay, well, let's go in. I'm sure the others are hungry. We'll get everyone settled, and maybe Tommy'll sing for us. That always calms everyone down. If not, I'll make up a story or two. How's that?"

They left the tiny back porch, little more than rickety steps, and headed back in. Dillon Kramer had found out early on that his ability to create stories and relate them with whatever feeling was called for at the time was a great way to settle the young boys in his care. But, man, that Tommy could sing like an angel. That worked, too. If all of them were upset about the strange man, it might take both him and Tommy tonight.

* * *

Outside, Soldier stood motionless at the side of the house, only a few feet from the two as they went back in. He liked the one called Dill. He was obviously the leader of the group inside. He was a pretty thing, too. Soldier felt himself getting hard and refused to move at all. He would not. He knew how to be silent and still. He'd been in Special Ops and he could get in and out of almost anywhere without being seen.

He must be losing his edge. He'd been invisible for so long, he was surprised the little one had seen him. Soldier was alone-very alone. He didn't have friends, or enemies, for that matter. He was just a man who'd gone to war for his country and come back after too many years, damaged. Soldier was damaged in his heart and his soul as much as his body. He was thirty-three, was very tall, very large, and very, very strong. He kept his head shaved so he didn't have to worry about seeing anyone to get it cut. He didn't like most people, didn't like them around him.

God, how long had it been? It was bad enough that he'd chosen to be alone, to avoid being with anyone. But he was gay. Well, he'd be in a gay relationship if he had a chance to be in any. Suffice it to say that if he was going to have sex, it would be with someone like the pretty man who lived in that interesting house. Soldier wondered how old the man was, what his story was, if he would be... Soldier shook his head, finally moving away from the door. This wasn't like him. He didn't wonder about people, care about people. Not in a long time.

He turned to leave, pausing when he could have sworn he heard an angel singing. There was the most haunting sound coming from the house. Standing still, he let the sounds wash over him. Goose bumps rose on his arms. He couldn't help it; he edged back and listened until the sounds died down. He was strangely touched by the song and the beauty of the voice. He thought he knew who was singing, Tommy, Dill had said. Whoever it was had a true gift. He left with a little lighter step.

* * *

Inside the house with the blacked-out windows, Dill was getting the "troops" ready for bed. They had eaten dry cereal again, and even though it was getting old, none complained. He did a head count, got to six and went looking for Gommy. Dill found him looking out the back door, with it just barely cracked.

"Gom, you know better. No lights. Come away from there." He didn't yell. No one yelled at Gommy. He was little and sweet and often lost in another world. He'd been special to Dillon since he'd first shown up.

"I'm sorry, Dill. I just wanted to see if the man was out there. I won't do it again. Are you mad?" Gommy had shown that he could handle anything but disappointing Dill.

"No, silly. Come on, it's time for bed." Dillon made sure the door was locked and bolted securely. He felt Gom take his hand and smiled inside, letting the boy keep it as they went up the rickety stairs, keeping close to the wall so they wouldn't fall through the rotten parts.


"Yeah, Gom?

"Can I sleep with you tonight? I promise I'll lay real still and I'll try not to pee and I... I... I... don't know what's wrong..." Gom started to tear up and Dill was afraid he was going to go into one of his all night crying things, and Dill hated those.

"Hey. Gom, it's okay. You can bunk with me tonight. If you get my bed wet, we'll just move to the floor. No problem. I don't think you'll pee tonight. You might drown me in tears, though. Come here, you." He reached down and picked up the little boy and swung him around and had him laughing before long.

"Shhhhhh. Don't be so happy. You know they'll all want to sleep in here, then. Are you ready to go to sleep? Do you think you can?" Dillon knew that Gom never slept through the night. For an eight-year-old, that was strange. Granted, Gom was the tiniest eight-year-old that Dillon had ever seen. Both his behavior and size were more those of a five-year-old. Dillon figured he ought to start training Gom to help him since the boy didn't sleep anyway. He thought about it. Gom would benefit from having something to make him feel special, needed. A good idea came to mind and he put it to Gom.


"Yeah, Dill?"

"I need you to sleep really hard tonight 'cause I been thinking about you being my special helper. I need to get you up with me to help get things started in the morning." Gom looked like Dill was offering him a million dollars.

"If it works out, then maybe we can do it for good. You'll be my second in command. Would you like that?" Dillon knew the boy would. He couldn't help but notice the way Gom idolized him.

"Really?" Gom's eyes were so wide, it looked like his eyebrows were going to climb right into his hair.

"Of course. You want to help me? If you do, I want you to know you have to get enough sleep. This is a big responsibility. You see I haven't asked anyone else, don't you?"

Gom nodded his head so hard his hair flopped on his forehead.

"So, you have to promise to start eating more and sleeping when you should if you're going to be able to keep up with me." He waited for the expected promise, which, of course, came readily.

"I promise. Come on, let's get to bed. I'll be real still and sleep really hard. I can't wait for tomorrow to get here." Gom said, adoring eyes gazing up at him. "I love you, Dill. You know that, right? It's okay?"

"Sure, I do. Of course it's okay. I love all y'all, too. Let's get to sleep now." Dill smiled as Gom lay down and pretended to be sleeping already. He just hoped Gom got a little sleep for real. Gom was a little too... little.

Dillon was very small himself, but he was strong. He'd always been small, and he'd taken some hard knocks for it. The fact that he was also unusually pretty, had made his life even harder.

He had learned to run really fast at a young age and he'd learned to fight later. The one time he wasn't fast enough had been when he was fourteen. He'd been raped, beaten, cut badly, and left for dead.

He'd been gay-bashed and nearly killed before he'd even known he was gay. How ironic. The men who had attacked him were never caught. All he had been able to remember were the taunts and name-calling. An old man had found him half under a dumpster in a back alley.

Since he'd been alone already and had no money, the doctors at the hospital had done the best they could for him, without anything special. They'd sewn him up, patched him up, got him well enough to leave, and showed him the door. He didn't blame them; he couldn't have paid. Dillon didn't come from an area where people had health insurance... or paychecks, for that matter. Growing up as poor as he had, seeing what poverty and ignorance did to people made him want to be different. Dillon had worked hard to get out of the ugly part of Dallas. By hitchhiking, he'd made his way to this small town called Parkington, between Dallas and Abilene. It was a nice town, growing all the time. He didn't know a lot of people here, but his scars and his past didn't seem to matter much, as he mostly stayed hidden with his charges.

He was fine with it. He truly didn't care. The scars on his face didn't seem to bother the boys he worked with. It had happened eleven years ago. He was twenty-five now and was pretty happy doing what he was doing.

What was he doing? Dillon had fallen into being the leader of a group of boys that needed a home. For one reason or another, these boys had left or been thrown out of their previous lives. They had come to him through his friend Daniel at the local shelter, and he'd taken them in and suddenly he had a house full of needy boys, all looking to him for food, shelter, guidance, help, love; basically, all their needs. Daniel had helped him when he'd shown up here, and Dillon had worked around the shelter since. Now he was paid a small stipend and had been given this house to use for these kids. Daniel had gone to bat for him and made it happen. It was part of Social Services, yet not one with a high public profile.

Dillon spent his time finding ways to get food, money for first aid, and all the things he needed to keep a house going with seven boys... all hungry, all the time. The little he got from the shelter paid utility bills and some of their needs. The house was set up for these boys, but wasn't quite under the regular scope of the Social Services Department They were in a special arrangement, set up and supervised by Daniel. They were just lucky, Daniel had told him more than once, that there were a couple of caring, understanding social workers in the department that worked with Daniel and allowed them to continue as they were until they could get a better set-up here. Dillon had applied for a foster parent license, but hadn't heard yet. Daniel was helping with that, too.

Until they were in a more legitimate situation Dillon made sure that the boys were secluded here. That worked well for them, since they were all coming from places where they didn't feel safe, so the steps he went to in order to keep them hidden fit right in with their need to feel secure. It was like a game to them, which worked to Dillon's advantage. They weren't strictly illegal in what they were doing, but it didn't bear close scrutiny.

Dillon figured that since this wasn't his house, it might be a problem in getting the necessary approval. He didn't even know how they'd gotten the house, he just knew it was falling down around them. It had only the most basic amenities, but they made do. The boys were just happy to be safe and Dillon was just glad to be able to help them.

Dillon thought about the treat he had for the boys tomorrow morning. He'd scored three big boxes of pancake mix and a huge jar of maple syrup. After some civic group had held a pancake breakfast as a fundraiser, he'd asked for the items, and they had gladly given them to him. They'd told him what he would need to make them and he had just enough to make it work. Dillon thought Gom would enjoy helping with the surprise.

Before he dropped off to sleep, Dillon wondered about the man Gom thought he'd seen. Maybe Gom had seen someone. Dillon decided he would have to be extra careful and aware for the next little while. They couldn't afford to be turned in and separated. He knew the situation wasn't up to speed here yet, and he didn't want some bigwig over Daniel's head to come swooping in and say they couldn't continue as they were. So far, they let Daniel oversee this house as well as the shelter and it was working well. If they were scrutinized too closely, well, who knew what would happen to some of the little guys?

Dillon smiled a little as Gom scooted over and settled against him. If Gom needed to be close to sleep, Dillon could provide the heat necessary. No problem. He wrapped his arm around the sleeping boy and nodded off himself.

* * *

Outside, Soldier drew the light cover over himself as he kept watch on the house. He'd decided to stay around and see what was really going on in there. He was interested in the two he'd seen. After listening to them, he wondered how many more there were. Wanting to be left alone, Soldier hadn't even checked in with the people who were responsible for the house. Were Dill and the boys just squatting, or had they made arrangements to stay in the house? He didn't really care either way.

Soldier never really slept, not completely. He'd gotten used to being aware all the time in the service, and then after he finally got off the meds, he refused anything to make him sleep. He didn't like-actually, couldn't stand-to feel vulnerable. So he kept watch, and had for the last few days.

Soldier was very interested. It was the first thing he could say that about in the last year and a half. Since he'd been watching, he'd only seen the one called Dill leave the house. Tonight was the first time he'd seen anyone else from inside at all. Interesting. If there were more, Dill was doing a good job of keeping them hidden. Was it for their safety? Soldier wondered again what the hell was going on here.

Still, that was a good-looking man. He was maybe a little small, probably five-foot-eight or so. Dill had really pretty, thick hair that seemed to want to curl. Soldier wondered what it would feel like. He wondered, too, what color Dill's eyes were. He liked people's eyes. Or he used to, anyway. But still... it was all very interesting.