Michael could hear Jason's crying from down the hall It wasn't the sort of purposefully projected wailing Jason was known to use when he wanted their mother to know he was laying on the floor, beating his fists into the carpet. No matter how long Michael had been away, he could tell that much.

Without saying anything, Michael came into the bedroom and knelt beside his little brother. Jason peered side ways slowly then threw himself into his arms dramatically.

"You came!" He cried.

"You thought I wouldn't come?"

"Mom said you wouldn't."

Sure, she said he wouldn't come in hopes that it was true. She would love nothing more than to guilt him with missing his older brother's funeral. This wasn't something to burden Jason with though, he had enough baggage of his own, even at 11.

"You crying because of this?" Michael asked, tugging at the hem of the dress Jason had on.

Nodding, Jason's eyes brimmed with tears again. "Mom said I have to wear it. Then when I cried she got mad and said that I was more upset about the dress then I am about Alex. That isn't it, its just so embarrassing-" Jason insisted, but Michael cut him off by patting him on the back.

"I know, don't worry about it. Mom's a bitch." As soon as he said it, Michael knew he shouldn't have. He shouldn't curse around Jason. He also shouldn't put their mom down. Jason was still young enough to have some respect for her and despite everything, Michael didn't want to be the one to finally break that last bit of connection the two of them had, even if she didn't deserve it.

As if she heard her title, their mother walked into the room. "Were you going to tell me you arrived?" She asked Michael, then turned to Jason. "Are you still crying over that damn dress?"

"Leave him alone. He doesn't want to wear it, you shouldn't make him." Michael said, getting to his feet.

"I don't care what SHE wants to wear Michael. SHE is going to wear a dress to her brothers funeral out of respect." She then turned to Jason and waved toward the door. "Jennifer, get down stairs, we need to leave soon."

It was a year ago Jason demanded to be called as such and wouldn't answer to his birth name, but Michael was the only one that complied. Eventually the punishment for disobeying became too much and he began answering to Jennifer again within the family.

He didn't get a chance to leave the room before their mother began talking about him as if he wasn't there. Michael felt for him, because she would still do it to him at times, and he was 21.

"Why do you have to indulge her? The psychiatrist said not to or she'll start thinking she really is a boy."

"People will say anything if you pay them enough." Michael said. "How many shrinks did you go through before you got that diagnosis?"

"Were you not going to tell me you got here?" She asked, back tracking. "Did you unpack already?"

It was hard not to laugh. "I'm not living here. I got an apartment."

Her face got hard at that. "And why wont you be living here?" She demanded.

Michael looked around the room filled with doll houses, dolls, stuffed animals and the general princess in pink decor not even a real girl Jason's age would have appreciated. "I don't know. It seems like the sort of place a guy would wake up castrated in."

Her eyes filled with glassy pools of fake emotion. "Do you really have to do this now? Your brother just died for Christ's sake."

"What part was for Christ's sake? Getting HIV or killing himself?"

Michael's mother ground her porcelain veneers. "Shut your God damned fucking mouth. I don't want to hear shit out of you at the funeral, so don't embarrass me."

With that she left to march down the stairs. Michael sifted through the closet, finding a change of clothes for Jason, and headed down when he was sure the coast was clear.

The funeral went as Michael thought it would. There were more business acquaintances than there was family and friends. No one, certainly, that Alex would have hung around with in his spare time. The service was sweet and fake, and out of respect for the dead, the family, or the situation in general, no one mentioned the fact that Alex had killed himself after he had found out he had contracted AIDS from sharing needles with one of his junkie friends. The speakers only talked about how missed he would be and what a staple he had become in the family business.

It was a little intimidating, seeing as Michael had returned home to take his place as that staple. Or it would have been, had Michael believed a word of it. Alex certainly was all they said and more, at one point. The dutiful son with outstanding grades, sales man like personality, and lovely women on his arm as evidence of what a fine male specimen he was.

But, that was the Alex that had his act together. The one that died was none of those things. He was the guy that would steal things from the house to hawk for drug money, and was brought up on rape charges their father had to throw a lot of money at to make disappear.

Who cares if you spent one night a little less comfortably then you would have liked? Look how well that one incident could pay off.

What was more despicable? The rape? The bribe? Or that the bitch actually took the money? Michael had to wonder if when the money ran out if she would try to get raped again.

Once the body was in the ground and the festivities were about to begin, Michael told his father he would be giving Jason a ride home. They instead changed out of the costumes they had worn to appease their mother into jeans and shirts and went to lunch.

"Are you really going to be staying?" Jason asked looking up at his older brother as nonchalant as possible.

"I'm not going to be living with you guys, but I'm going to be working with Dad, so ya, I'll be here. I'm living just a little ways from you."

"I'm glad." Jason said quietly. "I've missed you."

"I've only been gone a year." Michael said.

"It was a long time."

And to Jason, it was, Michael knew that. At his age everything seemed dragged out to a painfully slow pace. It must have been even worse for Jason though. Michael had Alex to take their parent's attention when he was young. Nothing was really expected of him as long as Alex was fulfilling his prodigy role, but then, nothing much was accepted of Michael anyway Jason was alone most of the time, and was being brow beaten into becoming the little girl their mother always wanted.

"Why did Alex kill himself?" Jason asked suddenly.

Michael shook his head. "I don't know why Alex did anything he did. I've never wanted to kill myself so I can't say why he would, but I assume its because he just didn't want to wait to die slowly."

"Because he had AIDS?" Jason asked and when Michael nodded, he went on with a cautious look on his face. "Was Alex gay? Cory at school said only gay people get AIDS."

"Alex was a lot of things, but gay wasn't one of them. You can get AIDS a lot of ways." Michael explained, not really wanting to go into it more then he needed to.

Jason nodded, poking at his food a bit before looking back up. Michael could feel another question coming from the look on Jason's face. He always looked so nervous when he would ask a question, as if he asked the wrong one, he would loose your respect or love somehow. It was annoying to think that Jason still might think he would love him less for saying the wrong thing, but at the same time it reminded him to be patient when it wasn't always so easy.

"I don't have AIDS do I?" Jason finally asked.

"Of course not." Michael sputtered. "Why would you think that?"

"Some kids at school say I'm gay, and so I have AIDS."

At the moment, Michael wasn't sure what he looked like, but by the panicked look on Jason's face he could imagine it was threatening. "Don't listen to what other people tell you." He said as slowly and calmly as possible. "Not in respect to what or who you are. Only you have a say over that."

Jason nodded and Michael could feel his heel pound against the floor, sending vibrations through the whole booth. Normally, he would have kicked him to make him stop, but it seemed like it would take the validity away from the speech he just made.

"How is school?" He asked instead.

"It's alright. I won an Earth Day art contest at school and got a gift certificate." Jason said proudly.

"Really? How much was it for?"

A little embarrassment covered the pride. "Just 20." He admitted.

"That's more then I ever got for drawing a picture. Think what you could get for 10 of them."

Jason laughed. "We could only do one. The teacher said I should try the art classes at the Boys and Girls Club. I kinda want to go." He said, and the kinda obviously meant he really wanted to but a but was coming soon. "But I don't want to have mom take me. Every time she takes me somewhere she makes me dress up."

"When's the class?" Michael asked.

"Saturdays at one o'clock."

"I'll take you during my lunch break and pick you up after work." Michael offered.

"That would be so cool! Thank you Michael! I'm so glad you are home!" Jason cheered.

"So am I."