war games

by laurel

Notes: Follows: A Christmas wish, A new love, That's what friends are for, Popsicle toes, Twister, Tangled up in blue, The list, Jazz singer, Debut and Meet the neighbors.

Spoilers: Anything up to season eight and the series up to now.

Archive: Okay to WWOMB, anyone else just ask first.

"I need mood music," Alex grumbled. He pulled out the CD tower.

"I don't want to be late," Fox groused back.

Alex waved him away.

"What did you want?" John asked.

"It's for our war games."

"Huh? I thought you were playing paintball."


"Alex it's just a silly game," John pointed out.

"You know how competitive our rat gets." Fox smirked.

"What kind of music did you need?"

"The usual stuff I listen to."

"You're a little long in the tooth to be a teenager," John complained.

Alex gave him a look.

"Okay, okay, sorry, youngster let me help you pick something out."

John rolled his eyes at Fox, behind Alex's back. That meant Garbage, Limp whatever that band was called, Rage Against the Machine and other unlikely named bands. Give him the Stones or Linda Ronstadt any day.

"Hey, how about War? You know, it goes, 'war, good God y'all, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing. Say it again. Wuahh!'"

They both gave Fox a weird look like they didn't want to be seen with him.

"Or Kung-fu fighting. 'Everybody was kung-fu fighting, dit dit, dit dit, dit dit dit, they were all quick as lightning.'" He made some Jackie Chan moves.

Alex shook his head. John chose that moment to flip through their mutual CD collection. Fox's was the most eclectic, consisting of his beloved Elvis, among the electronic, Walter's was mostly jazz instrumentals and classic rock, John's was pretty much middle of the road soft and hard rock and Alex liked heavy metal punk rock. Interspersed was the odd classical or opera CD, mostly Alex's influence. A couple of country classics also found their way inside.

His nimble fingers whisked through the flat cases. Abba (he frowned and wondered whose that was) the Beatles (nearly their whole play list), Beck, CCR, Dvorak, Enya (yikes! How did that get in there?), Frankie goes to Hollywood (that was definitely Alex's, he liked going to the gay clubs and shaking his booty to the remixes of all the oldies like Madonna, Frankie and Pet Shop Boys), Garbage, Iggy Pop, Jackson five, k.d. Lang, Limp Bizkit, Moby, Mozart, Paul Simon, Rage against the Machine, Rolling Stones, Sade, Tom-Tom Club, U2, Velvet Underground, Violent Femmes. He started back at the beginning again.

"Hey, I've got the perfect one." Alex pulled out a mixed CD he'd burned. "All my favorites are here--Green Day, Rage against the machine 'Testify', Filter 'hey man, nice shot', Offspring, Papa Roach 'last resort', Limp Bizkit 'break stuff', Nirvana 'smells like teen spirit' The Ramones, Beastie Boys 'Sabotage', the Clash 'London calling'. This is the one. He plucked it out of its case. "Let's go play."

"Finally," Fox huffed.

"Good luck guys," John bade them farewell.

"I won't need luck," Alex smirked.

"You too," Fox shouted back.

They headed to the van. The kids came over at the first honk of the horn. Jack and Jason piled into the back, bouncing excitedly on the seats. Keisha barked at her departing owner. They picked up Jane and Elizabeth on the way.

Alex had the volume pumped up. The kids liked all the music he'd picked. He was a great hit with them, a cool but responsible adult. Of course, if their parents knew they were listening to nasty lyrics and loads of swearing they would think otherwise.

Everyone was properly outfitted at the paintball place in suits and protective goggles. It was just one play place inside a complex that also contained an arcade, climbing walls, roller skating rink, ice rink, a food court for all the hungry kids and a small theatre as well as a play ground and inside play space for the smaller kids.

"Let the war begin," Alex intoned ominously. Fox was the first target. The red splotch of paint offset his hazel eyes nicely.

Walter looked at the house in disgust. Their housekeeper was off this week on vacation to New Mexico. He couldn't understand how the house could disintegrate into such a complete mess in so short a time. He knew Alex was neat, always had been, sometimes the merest trace of him couldn't be discerned. John was equally as fussy as was Walter, but Fox was the total opposite. He couldn't have done this all by himself, could he?

He clucked at the little piles of moist and dry sunflower shells, the empty coke can that had attracted a happy line of ants that zipped in and out of the opening and the dog-eared piles of porn magazines that were covered by Architectural Digest, an F.B.I. training manual and Soldier of Fortune magazine.

He drowned the ants inside the can with childish glee and squashed a few escapees. One scurried under the microwave, too quick for his thumb. He lifted up the appliance, but the bastard had zipped along the counter, past the Italian tiles Alex had proudly installed, along the stove top and behind the toaster. He spied the ant too late. "Maybe I'll make some toast and fry you up in there," he muttered. He picked the toaster up and shook it. Nothing fell out except old bread crumbs and pieces of burnt Pop-Tarts. He missed seeing the brownish black speck moving quickly behind the fridge to safety.

"I will find you," he promised.

John tugged his shorts down. They kept riding up his ass. He felt so conspicuous in all white. Alex had insisted on coming with him to the shop to buy the tennis outfit. Alex had also very nearly gotten them arrested when they got a little too loud making out in the dressing room.

He stuck his hand into his pocket to pull out another fuzzy green ball. He whacked it hard with the racket and it sailed over the net. Tennis was harder than he thought but he was satisfied with the hard thumping sound. Baseball was much more fun--the hard smack of of the bat, the swirl of the abused ball through the air, the thump as it was caught in a well-worn glove, the race across the bases, the sweet slide home in a cloud of dust and kicked up bits of fresh grass.

Along with the game itself, he enjoyed munching on hot, greasy fries and hotdogs with the works (excepting ketchup-that just ruined the taste) but onions and hot mustard with a little relish worked just fine, all washed down with cold beer.

This country club, how-do-you-do shit was stifling. He couldn't curse when he missed the shot, he didn't understand the scoring yet and he grinned like an idiot when his partner Jesse shouted love. All he could think about when she called that was a sweaty foursome with his lovers, wrestling and fucking under the covers.

He lost of course. He'd played just a few times so it wasn't a surprise. They shook hands over the net. Jesse couldn't help but do a little victory dance around her custom-made racket. She laughed at John's expression.

"Sorry, I can't help it. Stephen always beats me so I feel vindicated."

"Well you are good. I'm glad I'm not playing your husband today though. The man's a menace. Maybe one day you'll beat him."

"One can only hope."

They showered and dressed, Jesse in a pair of navy slacks with a crisp white shirt tucked into them, her tan skin complemented by coral and blue beaded bracelets and a slim gold watch. Her sandals showed off her pedicure, a bright orange polish on her nails.

John had put on dressy tan slacks and a beige polo shirt with a striped green collar. He slipped on a pair of Italian loafers that cost too much but felt like he was walking on clouds. Little fluffy clouds with angels pushing up against his feet to urge him to walk farther.

They had lunch on the patio. Everything on the menu was over priced and of unsatisfying portions. He settled on a black forest ham sandwich on a croissant and a green salad, tossed with ripe tomatoes and goat's cheese. He hoped dessert would be of diet busting size.

Jesse ordered tuna on whole wheat and a cucumber and tomato salad. They shared a pitcher of iced tea.

The tables all around them were full. There were couples and foursomes, both young and old, but all cultivated and well dressed. Even those still dressed in tennis whites looked elegant. The women were tastefully bejeweled and many of their hairstyles still looked freshly blown out. Conversations ranged from current politics to the world's troubles at large, stock portfolios and investment tips, summer parties and shopping. He wasn't sure if Prada and Dolce and Gabana were fashion designers or the revolutionary leaders of troubled countries.

He turned his attention back to Jesse with an apologetic look. "Sorry, this place isn't my bag so to speak. It's all new to me."

"That's all right. Sometimes this place freaks me out too. I find myself wanting to tell someone I shop at Kmart and sewed my own kitchen curtains." She smiled impishly. "Once when I was talking to the matriarch of the Holden clan I wanted to scream 'blue light special' in her ear."

John joined in her laughter.

"Here she was rattling on about her household expenses, complaining how expensive everything was and I wanted to tell her to go to Kmart or Target. Christ, her house alone could hold a refugee camp's worth of people." She shook her head. "That woman is a clueless snob, through and through."

"Guess she forgot where she came from. Didn't her family immigrate from Europe during the war with practically nothing on their backs?"

Jesse snorted. "That's right. But don't remind her."

Their order arrived quickly and they both dug in hungrily. At least the sandwich was good.

"So tennis huh?" John asked in the lull of conversation.

"Me and Stephen always loved to play. It's just so exhilarating. Besides it was the only sport I was ever really good at. I'm not terribly graceful so ballet school was out and I'm not made to run like Jane. That girl is part gazelle I swear."

"She does love to run. I don't think I've ever seen her without her track shoes. Did Stephen play any sports in college?"

"He was in track mostly. He played volleyball too. But he was always a good sport even when his team lost. The only problem now is that he never loses!"

They both laughed. John refilled their glasses.

"I have to thank Alex again for taking the girls along. He's really great with kids."

"We were all surprised, him the most. The kids in the neighborhood think he's the best thing since the skateboard and he likes hanging out with them, but especially your girls and Jason and Jack."

"Those boys are adorable with a capital A. They have a fabulous family don't you think?"

"So do you. You've got a couple of great girls."

"They are pretty terrific."

"Jane is a heck of a long distance runner. You should hear the awe in Fox's voice when he talks about her. He can't keep up with her."

"She lives to run."

"And Elizabeth does well even with her disability."

"She's adjusted very well. Kids are so resilient. When the doctor told us they had to take her leg to save her life, she was the one who consoled us." Jesse smiled at the memory, her eyes filling with tears that she hastily wiped away.

"Kids are amazing."

Jesse's smile faltered. "Walter told us a little about your son," she said gently, not sure if she should continue on the subject. When he didn't protest she pressed on. "I can't even imagine losing a child especially at that age."

John put on a brave face but it didn't stay put for long. "Luke was the light of my life. He was an absolute joy. I don't mean that as a clich. It's like he swallowed liquid sunshine and he just radiated the light like an angel." He blushed at his eloquence. "I'm really not exaggerating. He never gave us a moment's heartache."

Jesse touched his hand where it lay on the table. "That's a lovely image. You and your wife divorced because of his death?"

"We tried hard to stay together but Luke's death was devastating to both of us. I buried myself in work and we drifted apart. We split up but we're still friendly. She knows about me and the guys and she's trying to accept it. It's hard on her but she's determined to stay friends. It helps that she thinks they're terrific and she sees how much they care for me and how happy I am."

"Then the split was at least amicable. What about her? Has she gotten remarried?"

"No, but she's dating this fellow Mike. He seems like a decent guy. I've met him a couple of times. He works for the police department as a liaison between the cops and civilians."

"She got a thing for policemen?"

John smiled. "She's not the only one."

All the kids were spattered with paint. Fox had several strategic spots on him-both butt cheeks as well as a pattern over his chest that resembled a melting heart, as if Salvador Dali had a hand in creating it.

Alex was unscathed. He grinned smugly and shoved off his pristine suit to everyone. He even made a show of blowing the end of his paint gun as if it were the real thing and smoke was dancing from its end victoriously.

"You did an amazing job," Jack said with the requisite amount of awe and hero-worship in his voice.

"That's why they paid me the big bucks kid."

They cleaned up and changed back into their own clothes.

Walter shook out all the contents of the poison box. There were cans of pesticide for the garden, poisons for slugs that went unused (Alex just used Fox's imported beer to kill them), spray paint, odd screws and nails, cans of Raid and ant traps, sticky fly paper, stubby candles and a flashlight that didn't work. He took out the Raid and ant traps. He was determined to kill the ant that had gotten away along with its brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and whatever other relatives that lived in the vicinity.

He set the traps at the doors and on the kitchen counter, sat at his table with the can of Raid held like a weapon in his hand, his finger on the trigger. Now all he had to do was wait. And he was a patient man.

Alex teased Fox mercilessly on the way home. Elizabeth gloated as she lorded her victory over his sister, who was only slightly less marked with paint.

They dropped the girls off at their house and the boys tumbled out of the car excitedly, ready to relay the day's events to their parents, when Alex pulled the van into his driveway.

They'd had a long day playing paintball, stopping to get cleaned up, then ate a lunch of hotdogs and fries followed by ice cream sundaes then by a trip to the arcade where dozens of quarters were fed into the hungry machines.

Alex made up for his teasing to a pouting Fox by giving him a big wet kiss in the front yard, in front of God, the neighbors and anyone else who cared to watch.

John pulled up in his car moments later. He joined the duo and they talked about their day. John had run some errands after tennis and lunch. He needed to unwind after the distressing conversation he'd had with Jesse about his son. The memories always made him happy but sad as well at all the lost years and the thought he would never see his son grow into a man.

He'd wandered from mall to hardware store in a daze, wondering how he'd gotten from point A to point B. At least he'd arrived in one piece.

Along the way, he'd gone over the details of his son's disappearance right up to the horrific discovery of his little body and come to the same conclusion as always. There was nothing he could have done to change the outcome.

His mood lifted considerably when he got home. Alex and Fox kissed him tenderly and hugged him as they helped bring his purchases inside.

They shouted out for Walter but the house was quiet. They put all the things away, the hardware items in the attached garage, the birthday gift for Jack in the master bedroom's closet, tube socks were rolled up and placed in a dresser drawer and John was quick to hide the box of thank-you chocolates and card that were intended for Jack's parents for the impromptu dinner party they'd thrown. He didn't want Alex getting at them first.

There was a strange hissing sound coming from the kitchen. It didn't sound like the tea kettle or any household appliance they knew of. Immediately adopting the pose of cautious cops searching for a criminal, they spread out and carefully approached the swinging door.

A cloud of spray enveloped them in its chemical embrace. They all coughed and put their hands over their mouths, at the same time backing away from the door.

They called out Walter's name again, alarmed now. It smelled like pesticide in the house.

"I'm in here," came his choked reply.

They rushed in again, trying in vain to ignore the sickly smell. Walter was pale and sweating, waving a spray can around. They pulled him out to safety. He coughed and stumbled as they grabbed him.

He pointed his finger at an ant that was running in a drunken manner across the tiled floor. "Ant, ant," he rasped.

Confusion made the crease between Alex's eyebrows dent. He stepped on the ant unceremoniously, squishing it to oblivion.

Walter sighed. "I wanted to do that," he complained.

They brought him quickly outside into the fresh summer air. John aired out the kitchen and put away the box with all manner of pesticide.

They got Walter to take some Dramamine for the nausea caused by inhaling the noxious fumes. He wouldn't look his lovers in the eye, but blustered about a dirty house over run with ants.

He fell asleep in the hammock in the back yard. Fox, John and Alex pulled up patio chairs to surround him and contemplated their lover's aggressive offensive over iced tea. It took all the willpower they possessed not to laugh. Walter slept like a baby, unaware of the giggles that escaped.

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