Brian walked into the classroom timidly. He knew that the bullies would be harsh in this class but if he got there early enough, he would only have to endure them when class was over. They were never on time anyway, so it wasn't difficult to avoid them before class. He sighed heavily as he dropped his slight frame into the chair. The teacher looked up and nodded once to acknowledge him. Brian nodded back and opened his book to go over the chapter before class. He hadn't had time to at home, but that wasn't unusual.

Running a hand through his shoulder length, light blonde hair and focused his sharp green eyes, Brian struggled to shut out the thoughts of his stepfather. But that seemed impossible. Gary had been rougher than even he's ever been before and the bruises on Brian's legs would attest to that has anyone had a chance to see them. Gary resented being saddled with two teens and let them know it every chance he could. He was much larger than Brian and used his size to his advantage. And yet Brian put up with the abuse, which sometimes bordered on sexual when the older man was drunk, which was often since Brian's mother died after a long battle with lupus. Brian put up with it to keep Gary from turning his attention to Kevin, Brian's younger brother. Though Kevin was a year younger, he and Brian were in the same grade. Gary's abuse had been so brutal the previous year Brian was repeating his junior year in high school. And though he was a year older than most of his classmates, his slight size actually made him look younger.

And it made him the target of all of the school bullies as well. Brian cringed inwardly as Matt and his friends came laughing into the classroom. Brian looked away as Matt glanced over and smirked. Matt was the school jock and the star of almost every varsity team. His only shortfall was track, as he was too muscular and heavy to excel at it. But he was the quarterback on the football team and a heavy hitter on the baseball team. He was athletic in every way and knew it. With his sandy blonde hair and light blue eyes he was also the school's most sought-after heartthrob. Both girls and guys and stared after him as he sauntered through the halls. And he knew that, too.

Matt watched the nerdy kid shrink into his seat with satisfaction. It gave him a thrill to have that much power over someone. He glanced over at his friend Ryan and raised an eyebrow. Ryan grinned and tossed back his dark brown mane before settling into a seat directly behind the kid. What the hell was his name anyway? Matt shrugged to himself. It didn't matter, because HE didn't matter. Ryan chuckled as he started kicking the kid's chair, bringing the kid's head up with a start. Matt promptly plucked the kid's glasses off his nose and put them in his pocket before the teacher looked up and noticed what was happening.

"Mr. Trevors, you will stop kicking Brian's chair right now," the old man, Mr. Garner, grunted.

Ryan looked the picture of innocence as he brought his feet back under his desk and folded his hands. Matt shot the kid, Brian, a quelling glance to warn him not to ask the teacher to help him get back the glasses, but who knew how much the kid could see without them?

"Brian, where are your glasses?" Mr. Garner asked, eying Matt suspiciously.

"Th-the frame broke a s-second ago," the kid muttered.

Matt smiled again in satisfaction. Apparently the kid was learning his place. Mr. Garner still looked unconvinced but what could he do? He just turned back to the rest of the class and began the lesson.

Brian tried to keep up as best as he could without his glasses. But he couldn't see the blackboard and this was a science class, one of his best subjects. In fact, the only class he hadn't failed last year, which was why he was in a senior class. But he had to try to write as fast as Mr. Garner spoke to get the notes down and even then there was no guarantee that they'd be legible. He kept is eyes away from Matt who was undoubtedly enjoying this to no end.

When class was over, Brian looked up at Matt sadly, hoping he'd at least get his glasses back now. The other boy just smiled and put his hand in his pocket. The sudden snapping sound let Brian know that even if he did get them back, his glasses were now useless. He just picked up his books and walked out wordlessly. On his way to his locker he was grabbed, dragged into the bathroom and held with his face against the wall until the bell for the next class rang. Well, there went social studies. He knew he'd be indisposed for his last class of the day. At least he could go home and try to recover before Gary got home from work. He was jostled from his thoughts as he was whipped back around to face Matt and Ryan.

"Sorry, little fag," Matt sneered. "I know you hate missing classes, especially since you failed so badly last year. But I had to have some time with you."

"Yeah, you're that special," Ryan laughed. He was the one holding Brian in place against the wall. "What a waste of life."

Brian stared mutely back at them. He knew from experience that if said or did anything the beating would be worse. Besides, he could go outside of himself when it was over. He could relieve the pain when he got home. That was what his razor blade was for, anyway. He just tried to think of something else as they talked on. He had successfully tuned them out and was thinking about the last time he saw his mother. She was in the hospital and he knew she would be gone soon. He was 15 and scared. Gary had already told him and his brother that he had no intention of making life easy on them. He wanted to tell his mother, but she looked so weak and sad, he didn't want to add to it. She couldn't even say more than a few words to him.

"Are you even listening to me?" Matt yelled into his face, bringing him back to reality. Matt punctuated his question with a sharp jab to Brian's already bruised ribs and the smaller boy went down, wheezing.

"What the hell is wrong with you?" Matt demanded. "I didn't even hit you that hard."

"Man, maybe we better go," Ryan said stepping back. He didn't want to get in any major trouble over this kid. His college applications were already in and a suspension would kill his chances at his favorite schools.

"Go ahead," Matt growled. "I'll catch up."

Ryan nodded and darted out the door. Matt turned his attention back to the kid on the floor who was holding his belly and coughing. Matt sank to his knees and roughly pulled the boy's shirt up. The angry purple and black bruises covered the youth's torso.

"We didn't do these to you, kid," Matt said in a soft tone as he gently touched the hot skin. "Who did them?"

"What - do - you - care, - anyway?" Brian coughed out, spitting up some blood with his words.

Matt looked at his face sharply. He was right. Why did Matt care? He was going to hurt the kid anyway. Maybe he cared because this kid's misery was his business. Yeah. That was it. This was a territorial issue. He wanted to control the kid's pain and someone was encroaching on his territory.

"That's my business," Matt grunted. "Now, tell me who did it!"

Brian hauled himself up to his knees, then slowly to his feet. Matt went to help him but Brian turned his back on him. He put his hands against the wall and breathed in deeply. Then he let the air out slowly and repeated the process until his breathing was normal. Matt watched carefully and wondered how many times the kid had done this before. He knew he and his friends hadn't roughed him up enough to cause anything like this in the past, but the kid seemed used to it. Finally Brian scooped up his fallen books and painfully made his way to the door.

"Hey!" Matt yelled, quickly placing his palm against the door to keep it closed. "We're not done here!"

Brian looked at him blankly then nodded and put his books down. He turned back to Matt and held his arms at his sides waiting. Matt suddenly realized the kid was waiting for his beating.

"No, not that!" he huffed. "You've obviously been through enough as it is. I want to know who did that and when."

"Why?" Brian asked.

"So I can make them understand that I'm the only one who knocks you around," Matt explained impatiently.

"Why does that matter?"

"Because it does!"


"Because I freaking said so!" Matt was completely losing his patience now.

"Because you think of me as YOUR punching bag?"

"Yes!" Matt said, unapologetically.

"Well, you can't stop it, anyway," Brian shrugged. "It's no one you know."

Matt's fury was growing. He wanted to hit something, but it couldn't be the kid. Not in his present condition. Matt clenched his fists and narrowed his eyes at Brian ominously, but the kid didn't flinch. Like Matt thought before, Brian was used to it. His last two and a half years had been filled with nothing but pain and sadness. His only hope was that Kevin somehow get out of that house for good. That was what Brian was living for anyway.

"Is there anything else?" Brian asked in an emotionless voice.

Matt stared hard at the blonde kid in front of him. If that had come from almost anyone else, he would have said that it took guts. But he could see that in this kid's case, it didn't. The kid no longer felt anything brave. Someone had beaten it out of him already, and that someone wasn't Matt or Ryan. Matt was determined to find out who though.

"No," replied to the kid.

Brian leaned down painfully and picked up his books again. Matt stood back, not helping at all. He somehow knew it wouldn't be welcomed anyway. Brian then limped out of the bathroom, leaving Matt alone with his thoughts.

He ran through his memories, trying to remember what the kid was like before all of this happened. He vaguely remembered attending the same birthday parties on occasion and the kid seemed normal enough. They'd played games in gym class in elementary and middle school. He even called up a mental image of a skinny blonde kid laughingly trying to block him from scoring in a basketball game. But there weren't many memories, as high school had separated the herd into cliques. Brian became shier more quiet a couple of years ago. Matt assumed it was because he had settled into being classified as a nerdy brain, but there might have been more to it. It was around the time the kid's mother died. He remembered his girlfriend at the time mentioning it. She was a neighbor of theirs. She might know something about it.

Brian, meanwhile, hobbled out of the school and to the place he'd once called home. It was an empty shell to him now. He unlocked the door, bypassed the kitchen and went straight to his room. Sitting painfully on the bed, he noticed the sheet of notebook paper laid on his pillow and plucked it up. He read his brother's hastily scrawled handwriting quickly.


I found a place to stay, this time for good. I doubt he'll even come looking for me. You promised as soon as I was safe, you would remove yourself from his grasp. Please keep your promise and get out of there. Now!


Brian smiled at the periods Kevin always put at the end of their nicknames, like they were abbreviations. Kevin was safe. This was what Brian had been waiting for. He pulled out his razor blade from his desk drawer and removed his pants. Soon it would be over, but not yet. Brian would wait a day to be sure. He made the first slice and sat back to wait for the calmness to overtake him.

Matt knocked on Sherry's door and waited. Her lithe form appeared a minute later and she frowned when she saw him. Her red hair was caught up in a high

"What do you want?" she growled as she stood in front of the screen door to block him.

"I just want to ask you a few questions about a kid in school," Matt assured her. "I'm not here to cause trouble."

"You'd better not be," she said, finally opening the screen for him. "My brother's home from college this week and you're still on his 'to do' list."

Matt nodded and ducked into the hallway of the house. Sherry appeared to prefer to hold this conversation here, so he made no move to wander further inside.

"You remember that kid whose mother died a few years back?"

"When we were still together?" she asked. He nodded. "Yeah, Brian Canton. Why?"

"Something's bugging him," Matt shrugged. "I was just curious."

"Curious?" she sneered. "Or jealous that it isn't you?"

Now Matt remembered why he'd found her so annoying. She thought she knew everything.

"Look, I didn't come here to start a fight."

"I'm still not sure why you came here," Sherry shrugged. "But you're here." She sighed. "Look, Brian's having a rough enough time at home without you adding to it."

"What do you mean?"

"You really think I'm going to give you ammunition to use against him?" she looked incredulous. "No. His mom died a few years ago. His stepdad is an asshole. His father disappeared years before that and it looks to me like he's just trying to protect his younger brother from what he's got to go through. I don't know for sure," she said on another sigh, " but I think he's beaten on a daily basis."

Matt assimilated the information calmly. He shouldn't feel pity for the kid. It wasn't his fault Brian's life sucked so much. But he did add to it. He didn't know though. His often-absent conscious spoke up then, though, letting him know that excuse didn't hold up. When had he stopped caring about others? But he wouldn't let on to Sherry what he was thinking.

"How do you figure?"

"He's got a limp some days," Sherry reasoned. "And every so often, when he thinks no one is watching him, he cringes and rubs his stomach."

Images of the bruises darkened Matt's mind.

"I sometimes hear the asshole yelling at them, but they're two houses away, so not all the time."

"And no one else says anything?"

"Kind of compassionate, coming from YOU," Sherry quirked an eyebrow. "No one likes to get involved. You must know what that's like."

Matt didn't like the tone she was beginning to take and thought it might be best if he left now.

"Thanks," he nodded to her and turned to walk out.

"Wait," she pleaded, grabbing his arm. "Don't use this against him, Matt. He's got enough to worry about."

"He doesn't have to worry about me and the boys anymore," Matt muttered quietly turning to look down at her. "I didn't know he was that bad off. I know I'm an ass, Sherry, but I wouldn't have done that to him if I'd known."

"That's the thing, Matt," she replied. "You never take the time to consider the effect your actions will have on someone. Some things never change."

Matt frowned and left the house.

Gary came home earlier than usual and found Brian in his room, wiping up some blood from the floor. He assumed someone had gotten the kid at school and maybe gave him a bloody nose or something. He hoped so, as that meant he would be able to hit him in the face tonight. But when Brian turned around, he saw his face was untouched. Oh well. The stomach would just have to do.

"The guys at school find out what a fairy you are?" he goaded the boy cruelly. "Why the hell don't you just die already?"

Brian stood motionless near the bed. Gary hated that he couldn't get a rise out of the kid anymore. He was going to have to start on the other one soon, as the thrill was gone in Brian's case. Where was Kevin anyway? Ah, who really cares anyway? If they both ran away, or even just disappeared his life could go back to what it used to be. Damn Anne for leaving him her brats anyway. The insurance money had pretty much run out. Soon he'd have to sell the house so he could afford his drugs. He decided not to waste any more words on Brian and just started beating the hell out of him. Brian only grunted occasionally and wheezed when his ribs took a hit. Soon he was on the floor in a crumpled heap and Gary stood over him victoriously.

"There, that should hold you until tomorrow," he laughed and walked out grabbing his car keys from the counter.

When Brian heard him leave he finally broke down. He would never let the man see him cry. Not anymore. But now he could let it out. No, he wouldn't wait a day now. His brother's note said he was safe and that would have to be good enough. Brian just couldn't take the pain anymore. He pulled himself back onto the bed and reached into his drawer again for his savior, the blade.

Matt saw the scruffy man slam the door to a house two away from Sherry's and peel out of the driveway. He wasn't sure, but he had a feeling it was Brian's house. When the guy was out of sight, Matt ran over to the house and tried the front door. It was open. He made his way inside knowing he would probably find a beaten Brian somewhere. He prowled the rooms quietly until he heard the soft sobs from behind one of the closed doors. Opening it slightly, he peered in and what he saw shocked him.

Brian kneeled on the bed, naked but for a pair of boxer shorts. His very scrawny body bore the evidence of new bruises and his legs revealed one other detail. Razor blade cuts. Deliberate slices all over them. No wonder he wore long sweat pants in gym, even in the summer. The kid held a razor blade now, only this time to his wrist. Matt suddenly flew into action.

"NO!" he shouted as he tackled Brian from behind, knocking the wind out of him. He wrested the blade from him and threw it far from the bed.

"Get-off-of-me!" Brian wheezed.

What the hell was the deal with this asshole, anyway? He'd made it clear he didn't give a shit what happened to Brian.

"Not yet," Matt hissed into his ear, his breath warm on Brian's neck.

The smaller boy shuddered involuntarily then cringed waiting for Matt's revulsion and attack for it. It never came. The larger boy remained still on top of him, waiting for him calm down. Brian still couldn't fathom why he was suddenly there. This was supposed to be his chance to escape from Gary for good. Why did Matt have to ruin it? The tears started again and he just couldn't stop them.

Was the kid crying, Matt wondered? He was. Damn it! What was he supposed to do now? He hadn't thought of anything beyond getting the blade away from him. Slowly he sat back up and pulled Brian into arms. The kid was limp and he started bawling his eyes out.

"Why can't you just leave me alone?" he asked Matt angrily. "You said I was a waste of life anyway. Just let me do this!"

"I can't," Matt said calmly.


"I don't know yet," Matt admitted. "But I can't."

Brian's tears slowed to a trickle and he just stared out the window over Matt's shoulder. Matt rubbed Brian's back absently with one hand and tried to think of something other than the small body in his lap.

"Was that your stepfather?" he asked, hoping it didn't send Brian off into another bout of hysterics.

"Yeah," Brian whispered.

"Did he do all of those bruises I asked you about earlier?"


Matt nodded, mostly to himself.

"Where's your brother?"

At the question, Brian started and tried to sit up, but Matt wouldn't let go.

"Kevin's safe," Brian murmured restlessly. "He's finally safe."

The horror of the words set into Matt's head. Kevin, the brother, was obviously out of danger now. And Brian knew that. Which meant that Brian was planning to end his torment his own way. He'd only been living to protect Kevin. What else had been going on here?

"Shh," Matt cuddled Brian awkwardly, trying to calm him to get more answers. "It's okay. Yeah. Kevin's safe. What was threatening him?"

Brian assumed a far away look and Matt wasn't even sure if the other teen knew he was in the room.

"Gary was going to start taking him, too," Brian finally said in a small voice. "He said that's all we were good for anyway."

Matt's eyebrows shot up. Take them? He couldn't mean what it sounded like, could he? Yet the pain in Brian's far away gaze answered that question. He meant exactly that. Matt was beginning to feel like the biggest ass in high school for what he'd done to the kid.

"But now he's safe," Matt prodded gently.

Brian looked over at the desk and reached for the sheet of notepaper. He gave it to Matt and sat mutely in the other boy's lap. Matt scanned the page and he understood. He doubted Kevin knew how his brother had planned to escape though. He looked back into Brian's eyes and saw the broken soul staring back at him.

"I have to go," Brian explained. "I can't stay here anymore, Matt. It's no good. I'm dead inside." He touched his chest over his heart and looked down. "My mom's waiting for me."

Matt felt the tears try to force their way out of his eyes but he willed them back. Strong. He had to be strong right now. This kid needed strength, but not the kind he'd previously shown him. He needed the strength that his brother Kevin was getting from the person or people who had taken him in.

"You can't go," Matt said and Brian raised his eyes again. "I can't let you."


"No," Matt said firmly. "What we're going to do is pack all of the things you want to take with you now and put them in my car."



"I just told you what I have to do."

"And I just told you you're coming with me."

Brian stared mutinously back at Matt and struggled to get out of his hold. Matt pushed the other boy onto his back and stared back at him until the struggling ceased.

"You are coming with me," Matt said in a tone that allowed for no argument on the matter. "Kevin is safe and now it's time for you to be, too."

"I will be safe from him," Brian whined. "He can't get me there."

"He won't get you when you're with me."

"You don't know that."

"I do so know that," Matt said. "My house is in a gated community. You will be going to and from school with me at all times."

"Why?" Brian stared up at him warily.

"You're not dying," Matt replied.

"So, I'll be your prisoner instead," Brian cocked an eyebrow.

Matt smiled down at him and traced the boy's jaw with his index figure, eliciting another shiver from the smaller boy. This was the other reason he broke up with Sherry. He found himself looking at his friends more closely than his girlfriend. Not that he'd ever told her that.

"No," Brian said weakly.

"Shh," Matt soothed. "I wouldn't force anything on you. But I thought you needed to know."

"But you hate me."

"I never hated you," Matt smiled. "I never looked at you that way either. But that was before I knew you."

"And now you want me to come home with you?" Brian asked in shock. "Do your parents know?"

"That I'm gay?"

Brian nodded.

"Yeah," Matt shrugged. "My mom does. Dad's living on the East Coast, so I didn't think he'd need to know."

"Does anyone at school know?"

"No," Matt replied still gazing down into the sharp green eyes. Amazing how he'd never noticed those before.

"So why are you telling me?" Brian asked in confusion. Matt's blue gaze was beginning to unnerve him. Okay, more than he was already. "Isn't that dangerous, considering our history?"

"Could be," Matt shrugged. "But I figured it would be easier for you to come to terms with staying with me if we leveled the playing field."

"Ryan won't like this," Brian protested, his arguments growing weaker.

"Ryan won't be a problem for you anymore," Matt asserted. "And he'll accept what I decide to do."

Having nothing more to argue with, Brian finally just nodded and allowed himself to be helped up. He and Matt went through the room quickly and Brian dressed. They wanted to be out before Gary came home. Two hours later, Brian found himself looking around Matt's room curiously, wondering how he was going to cope with his sudden new life.

"It'll be fine," Matt assured him, pushing him down onto one of the twin beds and dropping onto his own heavily. "You'll see. I'll keep you safe."

Brian stared back at him dumbfounded. He hadn't planned on what he would do now. He hadn't planned on living through junior year.