"Cody?" Jesse asked. "Are you sure, Dylan? It's a pretty blurry picture." He looked closely at the picture of the boy he knew as Jamie. He was standing behind Erik, almost hiding. His head was turned so you could only see his profile. If he hadn't known it was ‘Jamie', he wasn't sure he would have recognized him. He didn't want to doubt Dylan, but he had been very sick and it had been a long time since he had last seen Cody.
Dylan nodded emphatically. "Jesse that face has haunted me for almost two years. I couldn't forget it if I wanted to. I know it's not the best picture. But I am positive that it's him."
Jesse wrapped his arms around Dylan.
Dylan was trembling with fear, rage and panic. He grabbed hold of Jesse like he was a life preserver.
"Dylan, if that's him, then we are going to get him," Jesse whispered. "But if it's not, we can't just accuse someone..."
"You don't believe me?" Dylan said almost inaudibly.
Jesse looked into Dylan's tear-filled eyes. He felt his own tears start to well. "Dylan, I believe that you see Cody in that picture. I also know that you have been very sick and that is not the best picture. I wish someone was at the ranch so they could take a better picture."
"Wait, there's no one there?"
"Well, Ace, Mattie, Spin, Dusty and Zak went to the movies and dinner. CJ and Danny went away for the weekend to where Danny used to live. Sarge was going out. The only person who might be around is Devon."
"What about Casey and Josh?"
"They were having a ‘date night' tonight," Jesse explained. "Since everyone was busy, Sarge let most of the guards have the night off. I don't know what happened, but for whatever reason, CJ and Sarge haven't been as gung-ho about the security in the past few weeks."
"We need to go over there."
"What?!" Jesse shook his head. "Dyl, you haven't been anywhere but the hospital and the doctor's office in the last six weeks."
"Jesse, I need to know and I need to make sure he doesn't hurt anyone else."
"What are you gonna do if it is him?"
"First I need to be sure, then we'll find the guards or call the police--but I have to know."
"Fine," Jesse sighed. He knew he wasn't going to win this argument and that Dylan needed this closure. "Get dressed."
Dylan smiled and hugged Jesse hard. He ran around the room grabbing clothes and quickly getting dressed.
The two boys grabbed their jackets and ran downstairs. Dylan left a quick note for his parents telling them that he and Jesse went to try out Jesse's new car.
The two walked out the front door and hopped into Jesse's Camaro.
Jesse backed out of the driveway and headed them towards the ranch.
Devon and TJ were just coming out of the private barn when Devon's phone rang.
Devon looked at the caller ID and answered, "Hey, Ace."
"Are you guys done?"
"Yep, we just finished. Why? Are you on your way back?"
"Uh huh, we're just leaving the restaurant. We should be there in about fifteen-twenty minutes."
"Ok, I'll see you then," Devon said as he disconnected.
He turned to TJ. "That was Ace. They're on their way back."
TJ nodded. "Ok, let me go back to the ranch house and change and then I can get out of here."
"I wish you could just stay and we could get this over with."
"I know, but it's been a fun afternoon and why ruin it with an inevitable argument," TJ said. "Ace is starting to warm up to the idea of us, let's give it a little more time; maybe if I see Dusty I can talk to him and try to clear the air."
"Do you really want to do that?" Devon asked.
TJ nodded. "We were friends once, more even; I know everything that's gone down has been my fault, but Dusty is the only one who actually knows what my parents are like, so if anyone can understand, it should be him."
"Are you sure?"
"I'm not sure of anything these days," TJ sighed. "I was rotten to him even before we broke up; I don't know if he'll forgive and forget or just give me a wide berth."
"Well, if they see you the way that I do, then maybe, just maybe, things will work out."
"I hope so, for your sake."
TJ shook his head. "No. I really don't have anything to lose except you if they won't accept me, but these guys are your family. I won't let you lose them just so we can be together. I love you, Dev, I really do and I can see us being together forever, but I won't be the reason you lose your friends."
Devon smiled. "Let's cross that bridge when we get to it. Right now, let's get you changed and on your way."
TJ wrapped his arm around Devon's waist as the two walked to the ranch house.
Devon saw Jamie and Erik talking in the main barn. He waved to them and the two boys waved back.
"Have a good ride?" Devon called.
"Sure did," Jamie answered, grinning. He had his hand on Erik's shoulder. Erik just nodded to Devon.
When they got to the ranch house, Devon sent TJ to his room to change while he went to his studio to put his sketch book and camera away.
When he finished in the studio, Devon went to sit in the kitchen to wait for TJ. Headlights came through the window making him jump to his feet.
He ran to the window and peeked out seeing Jesse's car pull in.
"What the hell is he doing here?" Devon said to himself.
He ran to his bedroom and knocked.
"I'm decent," TJ laughed as Devon walked in. "What's wrong?" he asked when he saw the look on Devon's face.
"We might have a problem," Devon answered. "Jesse just pulled in. Stay here, I need to see what he's doing."
Devon shut the bedroom door and walked out to where Jesse and Dylan were getting out of Jesse's car.
"Hey, guys," Devon greeted them. "Dylan? What are you doing out of bed?"
Jesse grabbed Dylan's hand and walked over to Devon.
"Dev, we need to go inside," Jesse said. "We need to tell you something, but not out here where someone can see Dyl."
Devon was confused, but he recognized the fear in Dylan's eyes and the seriousness of Jesse's tone.
"C'mon." Devon gestured to the boys to follow him into the house.
Once they were inside, Devon looked at the two boys. "Ok, so what's up?"
"Have you seen Jamie?" Jesse asked.
Devon nodded. "Sure, I saw him about ten-fifteen minutes ago at the main barn. Why?"
"Dev, I know you're always running around with your camera, do you have any pictures of Jamie?"
"Sure, I have pictures of everyone."
"We just need a really good clear picture of Jamie."
"Ok, but can you tell me why?"
"Dev, please...it's really important."
"Ok, wait right here."
Devon ran to his room and grabbed his laptop. He led the boys into the kitchen and had them sit at the table. He laid his laptop on the table and started sifting through pictures that he had uploaded.
After a few minutes, he smiled and turned the laptop around. "How's this?' he asked.
Dylan looked at the screen and saw a full face picture of a blond boy about eighteen or nineteen years old. Dylan paled visibly.
Jesse turned to him and whispered in his ear. "Are you sure?"
Dylan nodded. "Yes," he said almost inaudibly. "That's him."
Devon was getting more confused and concerned.
"That's who?" he asked. "What's going on? You guys are scaring me." "Dev, the only people who know what I have to tell you are Jesse, Zak and Danny," Dylan started. "About a year and a half ago, I was raped by a boy who used to ride at the same barn as me."
"Oh, Dylan." Devon felt tears start to fill his eyes as Dylan told him about Cody, the rape and his subsequent suicide attempt.
"Wait..." The realization hit Devon. "Are you trying to say that Jamie is Cody?"
Dylan nodded. "I'm positive."
"Oh, shit!!" Devon exclaimed, jumping up and knocking over his chair. "Erik's with him."
"We need to find them," Jesse said. "Are there any guards on duty?"
"Just the two in the bunkhouse," Devon answered. "Dad gave everyone the night off, cuz everyone's out for the night. Not even Casey and Josh are here."
"Then we need to find him ourselves," Dylan stated.
"Dylan, no," Jesse said.
"Jess, because I did nothing, Cody did it to Tanner. I'm not going to let it happen to someone else." Dylan was shaking with rage. "We have to stop him."
"We will," came a voice from the doorway.
Jesse and Dylan turned and were both shocked to see TJ standing there.
"TJ?!?" Jesse exclaimed. "What the hell are you doing here?!"
Devon stepped in front of TJ. "Guys, look, I was going to tell you all sooner or later--TJ is my boyfriend. I know you guys have a past with him and it's not good, but he is trying to change and make amends."
"Really?" Dylan asked.
TJ nodded. "I'm sorry about that night at the movie theatre. It's no excuse, but things suck at home and I was having a tough time accepting myself so I tried to make life as miserable as I could for others."
"And you succeeded," Jesse spit.
"Yes, I did," TJ nodded. "I'm not trying to excuse what I did or what I was like. But I do love Devon and I know how much he cares for you guys. He thinks of you guys as brothers and it would kill me if you turned your backs on him because of me."
Dylan looked at Devon. "Really?" he asked. "You really love him?"
Devon nodded. "I do, Dylan."
Dylan thought for a second. "Ok," he sighed. "I can't deal with this right now. We have to find Cody."
"Devon, you take Jesse and see if you can find the guards or call the cops," TJ instructed. "Dylan, come with me. We'll see if we can find this guy."
"No," said Jesse. "He's not going with you."
"Jesse..." Devon started.
TJ held his hand up to silence Devon. He looked at Jesse. "Jesse, I know you don't like me or trust me and you have every reason for that, but you do trust Devon." Jesse nodded. "I'm not going to let anything happen to Dylan. I don't want him out there alone and I don't want Devon or you out there alone. If I go with Dylan, I can protect him. I don't know Jamie or Cody or whatever his name is; I need Dylan to tell me it's him."
Jesse looked between Dylan, Devon and TJ.
"Jesse, we don't have a lot of time. We need to get to him before he figures out Dylan is here and knows who he is."
Dylan turned to Jesse and put his head on Jesse's shoulder. "Jess, it's ok. I need to do this and TJ's right, he's bigger and stronger if I need help. You and Devon go and get the guards and I'll go with TJ."
Jesse nodded. He hugged Dylan tight and walked over to TJ. He looked up at TJ. "If anything happens to him, you answer to me," he said. Then he walked out of the room, with Devon walking after him.
TJ led Dylan out of the ranch house and the two walked towards the barn. TJ tried to keep Dylan in the shadows so Cody would not see him coming. They didn't see anyone in the barnyard.
TJ stopped them in the entrance to the barn. He looked around. The lights were on, but it was very quiet.
TJ leaned down and whispered in Dylan's ear. "I want you to stay against the walls and stay behind me. Ok?"
The two boys crept along the hallway. TJ stopped every few feet and listened for any signs of life in the barn. Other than the occasional neigh of a horse things were quiet.
They had checked two of the corridors and were just starting down the third when they heard a muffled noise from the tack room in front of them.
TJ turned to Dylan and pressed his finger to his lips.
TJ crept up and listened at the door. "Stop whining!!" TJ heard a voice say sharply. "I know you want this."
"Jamie, stop!!" a second voice cried. "I'm not ready for this. Don't!!"
TJ tried to turn the door knob but it was locked. He turned to Dylan. "Stay here," he mouthed.
Dylan nodded again. He was too scared to speak.
TJ stepped back and threw his shoulder into the door. The door crashed open.
TJ looked into the room. He saw a tall blond boy standing over a small dark-haired Asian boy. Neither boy had anything on from the waist down.
"Get away from him!!" TJ ordered.
The blond boy turned around. "I don't know who you are, but you better get out of here before I get security. Me and Erik are just fooling around and it's none of your concern."
"It doesn't sound like you were just ‘fooling around' and Erik looks like he doesn't want to be here, so he's gonna come with me," TJ answered.
The blond boy started to say something, when he noticed a second boy standing in the doorway. He recognized the boy immediately. "Hey, Dylan," Cody said. "Long time, no see. Why don't you tell your friend here to back off."
"N-n-no, Cody," Dylan answered. "You're going to back off; I'm not gonna let you hurt Erik like you hurt me and Tanner."
"Hurt?" Cody laughed. "I didn't hurt you, I gave you the love you wanted. You and Tanner begged for it." He looked at TJ. "So, big guy, has he been telling you that I attacked him or raped him? He wanted it, begged for it. Cried for more," Cody teased as he stepped closer to Dylan.
TJ stepped between Cody and Dylan. "Don't take another step," TJ said with as much menace as he could manage.
Behind Cody, TJ could see Erik had moved over to a corner of the room and was huddled on the floor.
He nodded to Erik, trying to signal him to stay there.
Suddenly Cody lunged for Dylan. TJ reached out and grabbed Cody's arm and spun him around. Cody charged at TJ; TJ cocked his arm back and hit Cody in the face as hard as he could.
Cody's face stopped moving several seconds before the rest of his body. Blood came spurting from Cody's broken nose and splattered Dylan and TJ.
Cody tried to run for the door and TJ grabbed him and spun him around.
"TJ!!" they heard Devon call from inside the barn. "In here!!" TJ answered.
Devon and Jesse followed by two guards came to the doorway.
The two guards came into the room and took Cody from TJ.
"The police are on the way," the first guard said to Cody. "Seems there's a warrant for your arrest."
"What about by node?" Cody whined.
"Here," the other guard said as he picked up a pair of soiled underwear from the floor and used them to stem the bleeding.
Devon walked over to where Erik was still huddled in the corner of the tack room. He knelt down. "Hey, Erik. Are you ok?"
Erik nodded his head.
Erik shook his head. "No. He was trying to when those two showed up. I thought he was gonna..."
Devon helped Erik to his feet and shielded him so he could pull up his underwear and pants.
When Erik was dressed, Devon led him to where one of the guards was waiting. The other guard had taken Cody out to meet the police.
"The police are going to want a statement from you," the guard told Erik, who nodded. ‘You guys too," he said to TJ and Dylan.
Jesse was standing next to Dylan. Dylan was pale and starting to sweat. "Dyl, are you ok?"
Dylan looked at him. "I guess, I'm just a little woozy." As Dylan looked at Jesse his eyes rolled up in his head and he swooned.
"Dylan!!" Jesse cried.
TJ reached over and caught Dylan before he could hit the floor. TJ cradled Dylan in his arms. "I think he just passed out," he said to Jesse. "Let's bring him back to the ranch house, the police can talk to him there."
TJ walked out of the barn carrying Dylan. Jesse and Devon were stopped by one of the guards. TJ kept walking towards the ranch house.
As TJ approached the house, two cars drove up. The occupants of the cars spilled out and stood in front of the house. TJ looked around...Jesse and Devon were still at the barn and he was standing there carrying a semiconscious Dylan staring at the angry faces of Dusty, Zak, Mattie, Spin and Ace. He looked down and realized that he and Dylan both had Cody's blood on their clothes.
Dusty ran at TJ. "What the fuck are you doing here and what did you do to him?!?!" he thundered. "I swear, TJ, if you hurt him!!"
Ace reached out and grabbed Dusty.
"Ace, let me go!!" Dusty yelled. "This prick has finally done it."
Ace held Dusty tight. "Dusty, calm down," he said.
TJ looked at Dusty. "Look, Dusty, I know you don't like me, you have plenty of reasons to, but I swear, I didn't hurt Dylan."
Dusty sneered at him as he struggled against Ace's hold. "Then why is he bleeding?!?"
"It's not his blood," TJ said. "And before you ask, it's not mine either."
"Then whose is it?" Ace asked. "And where are Jesse and Devon?"
"They're coming," TJ answered. "They're up at the barn. And the blood is that kid's."
"What kid?" Dusty asked.
Dylan started to stir in TJ's arms. "Cody..." he mumbled.
"That's his name, Cody," TJ said.
Four sets of confused eyes looked at TJ and Dylan. One set of eyes, Zak's, widened in shock.
Zak stepped forward and walked over to where TJ still stood holding Dylan.
"Dylan, it's Zak. Can you hear me?"
"Mmm hmmm," Dylan mumbled.
"Cody was here?"
"Yes," Dylan nodded.
"Where is he now?"
"He's with the security guards," Jesse said as he and Devon walked up. They had Erik between them.
"Can someone please tell us what the hell is going on?" Mattie exclaimed.
Devon nodded. "Yes, but let's get Dylan up to your house. Jesse called and left a message for his parents telling them they were spending the night there."
TJ followed Jesse to his Camaro. Jesse opened the passenger door and TJ gently placed Dylan on the seat.
Jesse went to the driver's side and got in. He started the car and headed to the main house.
The rest of the boys got in Ace's, Zak's and TJ's cars and followed.
From his car, Ace called his father and told him that there was a situation at the ranch. Sarge told him he knew and was on the way, he would meet them at the main house in about thirty minutes.
When they got to the house, everyone spilled out of the cars. TJ went to Jesse's car and lifted Dylan out of the seat. Dylan was starting to come around, but he still seemed pretty weak, so TJ thought it best to carry him into the house.
Jesse led TJ up the stairs to his room. He had TJ lay Dylan on his bed.
Everyone else was in the doorway.
Jesse turned to his friends. "You guys might as well come in and make yourselves comfortable. I'm sure the police will be here soon."
"Police?!" exclaimed Spin. "Why are the police coming?"
Zak walked into the room. "Why doesn't everyone sit down and then Jesse and Devon...and TJ...can tell us what is going on."
Dusty walked over to Zak and looked at him. "You know who this Cody is, don't you?"
Zak nodded. "I do, but it wasn't for me to tell you."
Dusty nodded. He and Zak sat on the bed on one side of Dylan and Jesse sat on the other.
Mattie and Spin sat in an easy chair in the corner of the room. Devon and TJ sat on the edge of the bed while Erik and Ace just paced around the room.
"Dylan?" Zak asked. "Are you awake?"
"Sorta," Dylan answered sleepily.
"Is it ok, if I tell the guys?"
Dylan nodded. "Yes," he said. "It's over, anyways."
Zak inhaled and looked at Jesse. He knew the two of them would have to tell Dylan's story as Dylan was in no shape to do it.
Over the next few minutes, Zak told everyone who Cody was and what he had done to Dylan. By the time he finished, there was not a dry eye amongst the assembled boys. The boys sat in silence trying to absorb everything they were being told.
The doorbell rang, jarring the boys from their individual introspection.
Ace went out the bedroom door and started to head downstairs. Bridget was on her way up the stairs leading two men in business suits.
"Ace, these men are detectives," Bridget said. "They're here to see Dylan and Devon."
"Detectives, I'm Ace Evans. My father is the Ranch Manager and Head of Security here. He's on his way and I'm going to ask that you wait for him to get here before you question any of the boys involved."
"I'm Detective Ramirez and this is my partner, Detective Jacobs," one of the men said as they both flashed their badges. "Do you know how long it will be before your father gets here?"
"I'm here now, gentlemen," Sarge said as he came running up the stairs. "Sergeant Major Ernie Evans," he said as he held out his hand to the two detectives. "My guys called me right before Ace did and they filled me on the situation." He poked his head into Jesse's room. "Hey, guys. Why don't we clear the room out. I think the detectives are going to want to talk to Dylan, Jesse, Devon, TJ and Erik separately."
All the boys filed out of the room except Jesse and Dylan. Jesse steadfastly refused to leave Dylan's side.
Sarge turned to Detective Ramirez. "Why don't you start with Jesse and Dylan? Dylan's just recovering from a bout of meningitis and he needs his rest."
"Sure," Detective Ramirez nodded. He walked into the room and stood by the bed where Dylan and Jesse still sat. Sarge followed Detective Jacobs into the room and closed the door to give them privacy.
While Dylan and Jesse gave their statements. The rest of the boys went downstairs to the family room. As they all settled into chairs, Bridget came out of the kitchen with a tray.
"I've got some chips and some cookies for you boys," she said as she put the tray on the coffee table. "Anyone want water or sodas or juice?"
The boys responded with their ‘orders'. Mattie got up to help Bridget in the kitchen. After he and Bridget had returned with everyone's drinks, Zak spoke up.
"So, Devon," he started. "Do you want to fill in the rest of the story?"
Devon looked at TJ, who nodded. He then scanned the rest of the room. Everyone's eyes were on TJ and him. Ace and Spin had almost relieved looks on their faces, the rest still looked at TJ with scorn and confusion.
"Well, I met TJ in my art class on the first day of school. We started talking and we hit it off right away. By the end of that first class, I had asked him to model for me for my term art project. He agreed. The next day we stayed after and I did my first sketches. When I mentioned where I lived, TJ was...ah...concerned. We went out that afternoon and he told me about everything that he had done to you guys and others." He looked at Dusty. "Everything," he repeated. Devon continued, "We had a long discussion that day and several times since. I told him that I would not be with someone who treated people that way. We like each other, we wanted to try, but we didn't want to say anything until we knew if it would work. Why upset everyone if it didn't? I told Ace a couple of weeks ago. I wanted to test the waters with him. He was open but not exactly in love with the idea. He and I have talked a lot about it and he trusts my judgment." He looked at the boys in the room. "I know you guys probably think I'm nuts and you definitely have your reasons to distrust and dislike TJ, but he has genuinely tried to change and clean up his act."
"So what happened today?" Mattie asked.
"Ace helped me to get you guys away for the afternoon." He saw the looks on the boys' faces. "Don't blame him. I'm the one you need to be upset with. I wanted to do some pictures and sketches of TJ with Bullet and..."
Zak perked up. "You didn't..." he interrupted.
Devon grinned and shook his head. "No. TJ almost had a fit when he thought I was going to use Onyx, but I wouldn't even have tried that. I had him use Apollo, but he didn't ride him only posed with him. I tacked him and groomed him. TJ only rode Bullet and that's cuz I had Ace's permission."
"When I was getting the horses ready, I saw Jamie in the barn; he mentioned that he was taking Erik on a trail ride. I know they've gone together a few times, so I didn't think anything of it." Devon inhaled sharply. "TJ was changing in my room, after we had finished, when Jesse and Dylan got here. Dylan was a wreck and they asked me if I knew where Jamie was. I told them I thought he was on the trail with Erik. They asked if I had a picture of him, which I thought was strange, but they were both so stressed, I just went and got my laptop and pulled up a picture. When Dylan saw the picture, he told Jesse he was sure that it was this Cody kid. He told me what had happened to him. I was worried cuz Erik was with him. Dylan wanted to go look for Cody and help Erik."
TJ picked up the story. "I came out of the bedroom and I overheard Dylan telling Devon what had happened to him." He looked right at Dusty. "I know most of you guys don't want anything to do with me and I don't blame you. I know I've been a bully and mean and brutal to some of you. And all I can do is say I'm sorry, I really am. I know that doesn't mean a whole hell of a lot. Anyways, I heard Dylan telling Devon what had happened to him. I know I've done some rotten things the past few months, but to hear what that guy did to him...it made me boil. I told Dylan I would go with him to find that Cody kid. Jesse didn't want me to go with him, but I told Jesse nothing would happen to him and I meant it.
"So, Dylan and I went to the barn to look for Cody and Erik, and Jesse and Devon went to find the guards and call the police. We searched the barn. I made Dylan stay close to the walls so he wouldn't be seen. We heard Erik crying out in the tack room. Then we heard Cody's voice. I told Dylan to wait there and I busted the door down. Cody tried to tell me that he and Erik were doing something consensual. It was obvious they weren't. Then Cody saw Dylan in the doorway and started trying to tell me that Dylan was lying and that he had never hurt him. Then out of nowhere, Cody made a move towards Dylan. I grabbed him and pushed him away. He tried to rush me and I cold-cocked him. That's where the blood came from. Then Devon, Jesse and the guards showed up." Sarge came into the living room just then. "TJ, Erik...the detectives would like to talk to you now." TJ and Erik both got up and followed Sarge into the kitchen.
Jesse came into the living room and slumped on the couch next to Ace. Ace wrapped his arm around the younger boy.
"How ya doin', Jess?" Ace asked.
"Wiped out," Jesse replied. "Dylan finally fell asleep after the cops got through with us. He's so exhausted. I think this all took a lot out of him, but I know he's relieved to have gotten Cody and the fact that he was able to help Erik is gonna help him a lot, too." He looked at Devon. "I think TJ redeemed himself in Dylan's eyes."
"Really?" Devon asked excitedly.
"Zero to hero," Jesse nodded. "TJ kept his promise to protect Dylan and he kicked Cody's ass. Dyl was telling the cops and Sarge all about it."
The boys all just sat around waiting for the cops to finish with Erik and TJ. After about a half hour, the two boys came out of the kitchen followed by Sarge and the two detectives. TJ plopped down on a couch next to Devon and Erik just stood there looking lost. Zak motioned to Erik to sit with him and Dusty on a couch. Erik smiled shyly and sat down next to Zak.
Sarge followed the detectives to the doorway and spoke to them for a few minutes. When the detectives left, Sarge came back into the living room.
"Well, boys, it's been a long evening." He exhaled. "I'm proud of the way you boys took care of each other, but next time, you get the guards or you call the police...understand?" He was looking right at Devon and Jesse. Both boys nodded.
Sarge walked over to where TJ sat. He offered his hand to the teen. "TJ, I know you have your issues with some of these boys and that's something that you guys need to resolve, but I want to thank you for what you did tonight. It took a lot for you to go with Dylan and help him face his fears and take out that kid."
TJ stood up and shook Sarge's hand. "Thank you, Sir."
Sarge turned to Mattie. "And the next time your brother hires anyone without a background check...I quit."
Mattie nodded. "Believe me, Sarge; after this none of us are gonna let him forget that."
Zak was whispering to Dusty while the others were talking. Dusty was emphatically shaking his head and Zak was just as emphatically nodding.
Realizing he was losing the battle, Dusty stood up and walked over to TJ.
"I want to talk to you," he said to TJ. "Alone."
Devon looked at the two nervously. TJ stood up and looked at Devon. "It's ok, Dev," he said as he followed Dusty into the kitchen.
"Sit down," Dusty said gesturing towards the table.
TJ took a seat at the table and Dusty sat opposite him.
"What are you really doing, TJ?" Dusty asked.
"Exactly what I said," TJ answered. "Look, Dusty, I like Devon, probably love him, and I know he cares a lot about me. Don't ask me why on either case. I've never been attracted to a guy like him before and I sure don't understand what he sees in me, but somehow we ‘work'."
"So after everything you've done the past year or so, you expect me to just forgive and forget?"
"No. All I want is a chance. I'm not asking you to take me at my word; I just want the chance to prove myself. Like the chance Mr. Jones gave you."
Dusty jerked like he'd been slapped.
"I know what you were like before you came here, Dusty. I know about the trouble you got into, the people you hurt, both intentionally and unintentionally, but you got a chance to turn things around."
"So are you trying to threaten me into giving you a chance? Cuz I already told Zak all about my past."
TJ shook his head. "No, I'm not threatening you, I'm reminding you of who you were before and who you are now...I'm reminding you that you are that way because someone gave you a chance to prove that you could change, that you could improve yourself, that you could be worthy of someone's love."
Dusty sat and stared at TJ for a few minutes before he spoke. "I'm not making any promises, TJ. There's been a lot of stuff to just try to sweep it under the rug, but Devon deserves a chance to be happy. I'll give you the chance you're looking for, but I'm warning you. If you go back to your old ways or if you hurt any of my friends, there won't be a second chance. And just so you know, if you hurt Devon in anyway, it won't be me you have to answer to."
Dusty nodded and grinned. "And Sarge. And those guys know where to hide the bodies."
TJ chuckled. "I can imagine."
"So what are you telling your parents?" Dusty asked. "I know one of our problems was you not wanting to be out to them."
"I don't want to be, but the only way I can be with Devon is to be honest. So I guess before too long, I'm gonna have to talk to them," TJ sighed. "That was pretty much the agreement between me and Devon. He had to tell you guys and I had to tell my parents.
"What's so funny?"
"I'm trying to imagine what's going to get the worse reaction, you telling your parents you're gay or them meeting Devon, with the tattoos, earrings and hair."
"Oh, definitely Devon. I think they might be able to handle the gay thing, if I was bringing home a straight-laced football player or accountant type, but bringing home my little tattooed, pierced artist...mom's gonna shit a brick."
Both boys laughed loud and hard.
Devon and Zak peeked into the kitchen.
"All clear?" Devon asked quietly.
"All clear," Dusty nodded. He stood up and walked over to Devon. "I'm willing to give TJ a chance here, but it will take a bit for me to get used to all of this. So, it's probably best if things go slow right now."
Devon nodded. "Thanks, Dusty. We're just asking for a chance."
"Well, you've earned it and I guess after tonight, TJ earned at least a chance."
The four walked out into the living room.
"Erik, did you drive over?" Dusty asked.
"No, my parents dropped me off and Jamie...uhh...Cody, was going to drive me home," Erik answered.
"Well, it's getting late. If you want to stay over, you can give your parents a call. We've got a couple spare rooms on the third floor." Zak whispered in Dusty's ear. Dusty looked at Zak with raised eyebrows. Zak nodded. Dusty turned back to Erik. "Or, I guess you can stay with me and Zak if you want."
Erik nodded. "Actually, I think I'll head home if someone can give me a ride."
TJ stepped forward. "I need to get home. I can drop you on the way."
Erik nodded and stood up. He walked over to Jesse. "When Dylan wakes up, tell him thank you. If he and TJ hadn't shown up when they did, I'm not sure what would have happened to me."
Jesse nodded. "I think being able to help you, is really going to help him."
Erik followed TJ and Devon out to TJ's car.
Erik got in the passenger seat while Devon kissed TJ goodbye. TJ got behind the wheel and started the car up. Devon waved as the car headed down the drive.
Devon went back into the house.
Devon stood in the doorway of the living room. Jesse walked over to him. Jesse reached over and took Devon's hand. He led Devon over to where Ace sat on the couch. He reached his other hand out to Ace.
"Where are we going?" Ace asked with a grin.
Jesse grinned. "I think our two big brothers are going to camp out with me and Dyl tonight."
Ace and Devon let Jesse lead them up the stairs as the other boys watched.
"Uh, Jess?" Ace whispered. "You, uh, know that we're not gonna..."
Jesse laughed when he reached the top of the stairs. He turned to the two older boys. "Ace, I'm not looking for you to ravage us or anything. I want you guys to stay with us tonight. This was an important night for Dylan and you two are a big reason, so I want you guys to just come and stay with us."
"I get Devon," Ace said. "He and TJ were here. What did I do?"
Jesse shook his head. "Ace, you've been our big brother since you got here. You don't get what you mean to me and Dyl and what you being our friend has meant. You being there for Dylan is what gave him the confidence to storm over here and confront Cody. You helped give him that strength."
Jesse hugged both boys. "Now come on and let's go to bed."
Jesse led the two older boys into the bedroom. All three stripped down to their jockeys. Dylan was curled up asleep on the edge of the king-sized bed. Jesse spooned up against Dylan followed by Devon and then Ace.
In his sleep, the edges of Dylan's lips curled into a smile. For the first time in months he felt safe and secure.
He felt free.