Chapter 1 --------------------

Jett was sitting in the living room of the penthouse suite that he shared with Dylan reading a book. A nasty storm was raging outside. The power had already been knocked out twice, but had returned both times. Lighting flashed, illuminating the room with a slightly blue-tinted glow; thunder boomed shortly after.

Suddenly, there was a knock at the door.

"I'll get it!" Dylan called as he ran from his room to the front door.

'Who would be out in this mess?' Jett wondered as he glanced up from his book. Thunder boomed as if to punctuate his thought.

"Oh, my God!" Dylan exclaimed.

Fearing the worst, Jett set his book down on the arm of the chair and bolted through the house, heading to the front door.

"Dylan, what's the matt--" Jett cut himself off upon seeing the boy at the door.

He was soaking wet, rain water dripping from his shivering body onto the carpeting in the hall. His auburn hair was wild and hanging in his face, shadowing his heavy-lidded brown eyes. His clothes were tattered and torn in many places, and it was clear that he had been beaten or roughed up where ever it was he came from.

"Jesus Christ..." Jett whispered.

"C-can I p-please have some f-food and wa-water...?" The boy's voice was soft and a little hoarse, as if he'd been screaming earlier. He looked as though he was ready to pass out.

"Dylan, get some blankets and towels." Jett said, giving his room mate a slight glare. Just then, the boy's knees buckled and Jett barely caught him before he hit the floor.

As Dylan ran off to get the towels and blankets, Jett easily held the boy in his arms. After closing the door with a backward shove of his foot, he carried him over to the couch, were he sat down with the boy still in his arms. "Where are those blankets and towels, Dylan?!" Jett demanded.

Jett was snapping at Dylan more so than usual today for some reason. He supposed it was from nerves. Seeing a boy in this condition had brought back some horrible memories for Jett, and the rapid beating of his heart that his near-panic brought caused him to have a short temper.

"Right here, Jett!" Dylan said as he tossed him a towel. He draped the blankets over the back of the couch as Jett wrapped the towel over the boy's shoulders. The boy gave him a weak smile before his brown eyes rolled into the back of his head and he passed out in his arms.

"We gotta get these wet clothes off of him," Dylan mumbled, "or he'll get sick or something."

"Alright," Jett said, "get some clothes from my room. There should be a long-sleeved shirt and a pair of sweats in one of my drawers."

Dylan nodded once, then walked off into Jett's room.

Jett looked to the boy in his arms, then got to work on stripping him after laying him down on the couch.  When he pulled off the boy's shirt, his heart must have skipped a beat from what he saw.

The boy was well built and had obviously tried to keep in shape. His chest and upper abdomen were covered in dark purple bruises that looked horrible on his fair skin. Around his neck were more dark purple marks, giving Jett the idea that maybe someone had tried to strangle him. On his shoulders were red marks that looked something like a road-burn or a rug-burn, and his back was covered in what looked like whip lashes, or something similar that, and seemed to be in the healing process. This told Jett that he probably received them a while ago.

Jett brought his hands and started to unfasten the boy's pants, cringing at the thought of what marks may be there. When Jett removed the boy's pants, his hips had purple marks. Wondering what those could have been from, he placed his hand over the mark about an inch from the boy's skin. The marks were clearly from someone's hand, having nearly matched the size of Jett's hand. The boy's knees had red marks that were similar to the ones on his shoulders.

'It's all too familiar...' Jett thought.

He sighed softly and shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts. He grabbed the towel Dylan had tossed him and began to dry the boy off, minding the wounds.

When Dylan returned, Jett had dried the boy and was ready to dress him, a task that he quickly completed with Dylan's help. Jett then grabbed one of the blankets draped over the back of the couch and covered the boy with it, standing from the couch after he did so.

"He's a rather attractive young man..." Jett said, almost as an afterthought to the whole ordeal.

"If you say so, dude." Dylan said with a shrug. "You know I'm not like that."

Jett smirked slightly in spite of himself. "That's because you've yet to be with me." He laughed a bit, though it sounded forced. Seeing the marks on the kid's body really unnerved him.

Dylan smirked and rolled his gray eyes. "Right..." He ran a hand through his raven-black hair with a soft sigh.

Thoughtfully, Jett allowed his cat-green eyes to wander the boy's form. "How old do you think he is?"

"Younger than us, that's for sure." Looking to the boy, Dylan cocked his head to the side. "Probably way younger."

"Care to give me an age?" Jett asked, running a hand through his dirty-blonde hair.

Dylan shrugged. "Fifteen, maybe sixteen? Sixteen, I'd say."

Jett rolled his eyes and gave Dylan a look. "That's not 'way younger' than us! It's only about three years, give or take a few months."

Shaking his head, Dylan gave him a look. "Doesn't matter, Jett. You screw him, you get charged with statutory rape."

Jett gave him a grin, trying to lighten his own mood. "What if he complies?"

Closing one eye, Dylan glanced up to the ceiling. "Eh...you plan on seducing the kid?"

Jett innocently smiled, green eyes glittering a bit. "Me? Never!"

Dylan smirked. "Right, Jett..."

"But seriously," Jett said, giving up on the joking, "I don't plan on doing something like that. I'm just wondering where he got all those marks from."

Dylan nodded slightly, arms folding across his chest in a thoughtful manner. "Yeah, I saw 'em too. I'd love for it to be from a school yard fight or a mugging, but something in the back of my mind is just screaming 'parents.'  We should call Kevin."

Jett shook his head. "For all we know, it may as well have been a school yard fight or a mugging. Let's talk to the kid first."

"Sounds like a plan."

"Alright. I'll stay with him until he comes around," Jett said, taking a seat in the chair near the couch.

"Okay, ya horny bastard. Just don't molest him."

Jett rolled his eyes, his tone sarcastic. "Ha ha. Very funny, Dylan."

Dylan chuckled a bit, then walked off. Jett didn't know where he went, probably into his room, but he didn't really care. He leaned back in the chair and returned to his reading.

~*~

The next thing Jett knew, he was startled awake by someone placing a hand on his thigh. His eyes snapped open and he suddenly sat upright, just in time to see the boy snatch his hand back.

Jett looked to the boy. 'He's awake...' he thought, 'and I must have dozed off or something.'  He gave the boy a warm smile. "Hi, there."

Dylan's voice was heard from the kitchen. "Is he awake?"

"Yeah," Jett called back.

The boy looked as though he was ready to pass out again. "Wh-who are you...?"

"I'm Jett. Jett Redford," Jett said. "But you shouldn't use your strength to ask questions just yet."

Dylan walked out from the kitchen wearing a red apron with what seemed to be a penguin fiesta on it. His mittens had the same design, and between his hands was a breakfast tray. On it was a steaming bowl of home-made chicken soup. A smile crossed his face as he carried it over to the couch. "Yeah, you should focus on getting well."

As Dylan approached him, the boy sat up and tensed. He looked as though he was ready to bolt.

"No no no no," Jett said, leaning forward. "Relax. We're not going to hurt you."

Dylan set the tray down on front of the boy. "Yeah. We'll take care of you."

The boy looked down to the bowl of soup. "Thank you..."

A cheerful smile crossed Dylan's face. "No problem. Eat up!" He sat on the arm of the chair Jett was sitting in.

As soon as he's given permission, the boy grabbed the spoon and ate, doing so almost animalistically. It was painfully obvious to Jett that the boy hadn't eaten in a while, and the blonde winced slightly at the memories this observation sparked.

The boy soon cleaned his bowl, and when he did, Dylan offered, "Would you like some more?"

The boy nodded. "Yes, please."

Dylan took the bowl back into the kitchen to refill it.

The boy sighed softly and leaned back against the pillows behind him. His brown eyes closed, and he seemed to be relaxing a bit.

"Feeling better, I hope?" Jett asked, a small smile playing upon his lips.

The boy nodded again.

"Do you have a name?" Jett asked. He leaned back in his chair, crossing his legs. He propped his elbow against the arm of the chair and rested his head in his hand.

"Zach. Zach Ashton," The boy said, brown eyes meeting Jett's green.

Jett nodded slightly. "Age?"

Zach winced a bit, placing a hand over his stomach. "Sixteen."

A concerned look crossed Jett's face. He sat forward in his chair, looking ready to spring to Zach's aid. "Are you alright?"

Zach doubled over slightly, biting his bottom lip. He said nothing.

"Zach?"

"I...should be fine..." It was obvious that he was still in pain.

"Hm..." Zach's words didn't reassure Jett in the least, though he did seem to relax.

Dylan soon returned with the bowl of soup. He placed it on the tray, then sat down on the arm of Jett's chair again.

"Thanks," Zach said softly.

"No problem," Dylan said, cheerful smile still in place.

Jett looked to Dylan and gestured to Zach. "Dylan, this is Zach Ashton." He then looked to Zach. "Zach, this is my room mate, Dylan Gray."

Dylan gave the red-head a small wave. "Nice to meet ya. You're welcome to stay as long as you'd like."

Zach nodded slightly, a small smile on his face. "Thank you. It's nice to meet you as well." He then picked up his spoon and began eating, a little more slowly than last time.

"Are you feeling well enough to tell us a bit about yourself?" Jett asked with a slightly cocked eyebrow.

Zach hesitated a moment before responding. "I suppose so..."

There was an awkward silence that hung in the room for a few moments. Jett and Dylan glanced to each other, green eyes meeting gray for a moment before Jett spoke.

"Why did you come here, Zach?"

Zach's brown eyes seemed distant and his voice was soft when he responded. "...ran away from home..."

"Why?" Dylan asked, his voice politely imploring.

"...couldn't take it anymore..."

Jett shot a worried look to Dylan, then looked back to Zach. He was worried about this. It seemed as though Jett's fears were being confirmed: Zach was being beaten by his parents. The blonde bit his lip for a moment, then continued. "Take what?"

"...the torment..." Zach's voice was barely above a whisper, and both Jett and Dylan would have missed it entirely if they hadn't been looking for a response.

Darkness crept into Dylan's gray eyes as he gazed at Zach. "What torment, Zach?"

Tears stung Zach's eyes. His gaze was lowered to the tray in his lap, and he began to tremble, tremors running through his body. "...the torment..."

Seriously concerned and clearly showing it in his expression, Jett moved from his seat in the chair to kneel beside the couch, ducking into Zach's view. "Zach, tell me. What torment?"

Zach looked to Jett, brown eyes desperately meeting green. "You have to help me...I...I can't go back. They'll kill me!" He began to openly cry, tears falling from his eyes. Without really knowing it, he leaned into Jett's chest, his tears dampening Jett's shirt, and he wrapped his arms around the blonde.

Jett's eyes widened slightly, shocked, then he looked to Dylan for help. His room mate gave him a slight shrug. He sighed softly and wrapped his arms around Zach, 'shh'ing him and comforting him, trying to calm him down.

"You can't let them find me...you have to help me..." Zach's voice cracked a bit as he pleaded with Jett.

"Don't worry," came Jett's quiet reassurance, "we won't let anyone hurt you..."

Dylan gave Jett a slight glare, which the blonde caught, then walked off into the kitchen.

Taking the hint that Dylan wanted to speak with him, Jett gently pushed Zach from him, just enough so that he could meet his gaze. "Zach, everything will be okay. I won't let anyone hurt you."

"No...you don't understand..." Zach wiped his eyes on the sleeve of his shirt.

"Explain it to me when I get back, alright?"

Zach's eyes widened, fear shooting up his spine. "You're...leaving me...?" He was beyond all rational thought; the dread, the feeling of impending doom about going home or being left alone pushed him over the edge.

"Not for long," Jett said. "I'll be in the kitchen," He gestured to it. "Right over there, if you need me."

Looking over Jett's shoulder, Zach saw the doorway leading to the kitchen. He bit his lip nervously.

"Okay?"

Zach nodded slightly, then settled back down on the couch, snuggling into the blankets and pillows.

Seeing that Zach was settling down, Jett moved the breakfast tray onto the coffee table, then stood. He gave Zach a warm smile, then walked off into the kitchen.

"Jesus...took you long enough..." Dylan said in a hushed, but still irritated voice.

"Dylan, the poor kid was upset! I had to calm him down somewhat before I walked away," Jett said with a slight glare.

Dylan gave him a look. "Right." He then sighed softly and pinched the bridge of his nose. "We need to get Kevin."

Jett shook his head. "We can't just yet. Getting the police involved this soon can do more harm to him than good." He leaned against one of the counters, his arms folded across his chest.

"If we don't get the police, *we'll* be in trouble. The kid has been abused, obviously by his parents if he ran away. We have to get the cops. Those bastards belong behind bars!"

"I agree with you completely on that last statement--"

"Then we'll call Kevin!" Dylan said, cutting Jett off. He grabbed the phone off the hook on the wall and began dialing Kevin's number.

With almost inhuman speed, Jett snatched the phone from Dylan and hung it up. "NO!" He snapped, then sighed softly and repeated more calmly, "No."

"Jett, you *know* we have to call the cops! So, let's just do it now and get it over with!" He reached for the phone again.

Jett's hand shot out and grabbed Dylan's wrist. "I told him we wouldn't let anyone hurt him. The police will return him to his parents, where he'll be hurt again." His voice was dangerously calm and his eyes seemed to glow with his anger.

"You don't know that for sure," Dylan said, knowing not to push his room mate when he was like this.

"I do!" Jett said, shoving Dylan away slightly. "It happened to me!"

Dylan's gray eyes widened slightly, not exactly believing what he heard. "...what...?"

Jett sighed and lowered his head slightly, causing his dirty-blonde, just-below-the-chin hair to fall in his face. "You heard me. Anyway," he looked up, his eyes normal once more. "All I want is for him to stay for a...a week...or so."

Dylan was a little more understanding, so he easily complied. "Alright. One week, then we tell Kevin about this."

Jett nodded slightly, his expression showing his appreciation. "Alright."

Dylan nodded as well. "Alright. Now, he can't very well continue sleeping on the couch. It'll only aggravate his wounds..."

"Yeah, I know. I'll sleep on the couch. He can have my room."

"Um..." Dylan shrugged slightly. "...whatever you want, man."

"I suppose I should go get him settled?" Jett asked.

"Sure, why not?"

"Alright," Jett then left the kitchen and went back out into the living room.

Upon seeing Jett return, Zach sat up, a worried look on his face. "I'm...causing problems for you and Dylan...aren't I?"

Jett shook his head slightly, his hair falling in his face again. "You're not."

"But I heard—"

"It wasn't over you, Zach. Don't worry about it." Jett gave him a reassuring smile.

There was a troubled look on Zach's face, but he said nothing to push the matter farther.

"Since you're a guest, I can't let you sleep on the couch," Jett said, "You can have my room."

Zach's eyes widened slightly. "No no. The couch is fine. I don't want to intrude. It's bad enough that I'm inconveniencing you already by just being here."

Jett smirked and made a dismissive gesture with his hand. "Poppycock! You're no inconvenience. Come on, mate. Let me show you around a bit." For the first time, Zach noticed that Jett had a British accent, much like his own.

Zach sat up, then got off the couch, a slight smile on his face. "Alright."

Jett gestured behind himself to the kitchen. "The kitchen's over there, complete with everything a kitchen should have. Help yourself to whatever you'd like. The table is also over there, where we, well, eat." He shrugged a bit, then walked down a hall on the far end of the living room. "Down here is where my room and office are. My room has its own bathroom, so feel free to use it."

Zach followed quietly, looking around at the rather lavish home as he did so.

Jett stopped at the first room down the hall and opened the door. "This is my office. If I'm not eating or sleeping, this is where I can most likely be found."

"You have a business?" Zach asked, seeing the large computer desk with the rather expensive looking computer.

Jett's office seemed to have had everything. For the computer, the desk took up an entire corner of the room, complete with printer, scanner, digital camera, everything a computer could be compatible with. There were book shelves lining the walls and there was a comfortable looking love seat in the corner. In front of the love seat was a small coffee table that was littered with magazines and on the other side of the room, on the far wall, there was a small entertainment unit which held a medium sized TV.

"Not a business, but college requires about the same stuff, give or take an item or two," Jett said with a shrug.

"College? How old are you?" Zach asked with a slightly questioning expression.

"Nineteen. Twenty in a few months or so." Jett smiled. "Anyway, that's my office. Down here is my room." He walked the rest of the way down the hall and opened the door at the end.

Zach followed Jett and entered the room after him. Upon seeing the bedroom, Zach's eyes widened. "Wow..."

In it was a king sized bed, complete with a bunch of black with red trim feather pillows and black and red silk sheets set in a cherry oak furniture. Across the room from the bed was an entertainment system with a TV (larger than the one in the office), a stereo with nearly two four-foot-tall speakers, and racks and racks of CDs. In the corner was another computer, still expensive but not as much as the one in the office was. This computer desk only seemed to be covered in strategy guides, game boxes and controllers. To his left, Zach could see the hall that led to the bathroom and the mirror-door closets on both sides.

"And this is where you'll be staying," Jett said. A slight smile crossed his face when he saw Zach's amazement.

"Jett...I...I can't stay here..." Zach stammered, still looking around the room in complete awe.

"And why not?" Jett asked, cocking an eyebrow to his guest slightly.

"It's too...too..."

"Too what?"

"...too fancy..." Zach smiled slightly, looking down, embarrassed. "I don't deserve this. The couch will be fine."

Jett rolled his eyes. "You're too humble, Zach. Don't worry about it. This is your room as long as you're staying here. Just expect me to be passing through every now and then. I do still have my stuff in here." He smirked.

Zach looked to Jett, brown eyes meeting green, and smiled. "Thank you."

Jett felt himself blush. "Ah, don't mention it." He made a dismissive gesture.

"No, really Jett. Thank you."

Jett paused a moment before answering, Zach's sincerity touching him. "Your welcome." A slight smile crossed his face. He then glanced to the green digital clock on the night stand by his bed. "It's late and you seemed pretty weak earlier. Why don't you turn in for the night? You need your rest."

Zach nodded slightly, then seemed to want to either do or say something more, but decided against it. "Good night, Jett. Thanks again." He then turned and walked over to the bed.

"Like I said, Zach, you're more than welcome. G'night, mate." Jett waited until Zach was settled in the bed before leaving, turning off the light as he did so.