The pain was immense. In his nineteen years of age, he'd never felt anything like it––and maybe that was what terrified him the most. It was violation at its finest, this pain, an invading agony like no other.

It made its roots low in his valley and swore never to let go. He would feel it inside him every minute of every day for the rest of his life. Never mind whether he spoke out or kept quiet; it would always be there, a festering cavity in his most intimate self.

Elisha wept. For how long, he didn't know. He only knew he did and that Maddox, bless the man, remained by him through all of it, holding him and stroking his hair.

Eventually, his sobbing tapered off into the deep inhalations of slumber.


The squealing protest of tires announced Topher's arrival moments before the Lieutenant Colonel's vehicle came into view, thick clouds of rancid exhaust trailing behind its tailgate in wispy pursuit.

With a mixture of apprehension and relief, Maddox held a sedate Elisha close and watched his best friend's old truck pull up to the curb. It had barely jerked to a halt when the door opened and Topher jumped out, pausing only to wrestle himself past the frame of the car door.

Ever since he'd gotten his growth spurt at seventeen, Maddox had told him time and time again that he needed to upgrade, and for good reason, as it simply was no longer big enough to accommodate the broad span of his friend's shoulders.

Shit, but the man was built like a bear. And now that Maddox thought about it, he acted like one, too. His face, though, somehow managed to appear [at least] moderately human, comprising a chiseled bone structure, big brown eyes, and a mess of wild, curly hair. Since Topher never did anything with it beyond the ordinary scrub in the shower for fear of being called "girlish", it was always a mess and now was no exception; tangled strands held captive by a stray wind as the Lieutenant Colonel jogged over to where Maddox and Elisha sat.

Seeing Elisha's crumpled form, Topher's worried expression intensified tenfold, shifting to allow room for faint skepticism. He glanced at Maddox, clearly at a loss.

It was only then that Maddox recalled the one detail he'd left out in his call. His damsel in distress wasn't a damsel at all, but a waif. A very male waif. On the heels of this belated recollection came another realization: Maddox had never told Topher that he was gay. And they'd been best friends for nearly a decade.

"Is this––her?" Topher asked haltingly, his dark brows raised.

Maddox nodded, steeling himself for one of the dramatic outbursts his friend was famous for. He watched closely as Topher wound up, cycling through an array of different emotions: shock, anger, and disbelief just a few of the most prominent ones. Finally, his features settled on a weird mixture of the three, brown eyes narrowing to dangerous slits––

The loud wailing of sirens took up in the distance, demanding both their attention. Immediately, the Colonel in Maddox stamped to the surface once more, ready to take charge of the situation. Topher snapped to attention, his military training responding to the change in Maddox.

"Did you bring the blankets? The clothes?" he asked, climbing to his feet. As he rose, he hauled Elisha up with him, affixing the ravaged waif firmly against his side, relieved when said waif did little more than tighten his arms around Maddox's throat.

Topher nodded. "Brought the whiskey, too. S'all in the truck, Colonel, sir."

The cops pulled up. Elisha shivered, and he automatically tightened his arms around him. "Get the blankets," he ordered. When Topher had gone, Maddox swallowed a ragged sigh and muttered darkly under his breath, watching the policemen as they began filing out of their cars and taking stock of the situation.

One of them cut a path away from the rest, heading straight for him and Elisha. His warm brown eyes met Maddox's unyielding green, sympathetic but professional, and Maddox resisted the urge to sigh for a second time.

It was going to be a long night.


The concept of time evaded Elisha. He didn't know what time it was or how much time had passed; he only knew that it was fast approaching midnight and his surroundings were very much alive, filled with men in blue, carrying out the necessary procedures.

At one point, someone had lifted him from Maddox's arms and wrapped a blanket around him. He thought it might've been Maddox's friend or maybe one of the EMTs who had given him a soda; regardless, however, Elisha hadn't allowed himself to relax until Maddox's arms had closed around him again.

And then there was the pain. It remained constant within him, indifferent to the change taking place around him. He wanted it gone, but he didn't think there was a medicine for rape-induced trauma.

The bitch of it was that he hadn't even been raped, not really. The guy had just knocked him around a little, was all. That's all, he told himself. You're fine. Nothing's wrong, you're just tired.

The sooner you get some sleep, he continued, the sooner you can go back to the way things used to be.

And so Elisha sang himself to sleep, to the lullaby of being okay [and] just a little bruised.

He slept for about as long as he'd spent crying earlier, drifting in and out of consciousness. Occasionally, he would wake to take halfhearted sips of grape soda. Maddox held the can for him and every now and then, he would order Eli to take a drink, saying something about how the caffeine would help with the shock.

What shock? He was fine. Absolutely fine, and if he hadn't been out of sorts from them damn exhaust fumes, he would've told the man as much. He was fine ..

Sing louder to drown out the words–––

Someone was shaking him. Voices. Maddox. Maddox's voice, soft and sweet, talking to him; the soldier's heavy hand on his shoulder, jostling him gently. Slowly, Elisha stirred awake, blinking against bright, whirling lights. "Baby, wake up," Maddox was saying. "S'time to answer some questions."

Oddly enough, it wasn't a matter of finding the words to respond, it was finding out where the hell his tongue had gone to. Goddamn it––oh, wait, there it lay. Right in his mouth, the weight of it heavy and clumsy. Elisha would've laughed at how ridiculous the entire thing was, except what with his body feeling like it did at the moment, laughter right now would undoubtedly hurt like a real son of a bitch.

"Don't wanna," he finally said, words thick, probably slurring 'cause of exhaustion. "M'sleepy. Go way."

He tried to nestle back into the blankets and Maddox's warmth, but the soldier wasn't having it. He gathered Elisha up and set him on his knee, in such a way that Elisha had to either hold himself up or risk toppling uselessly onto the pavement.

"Eli, baby, c'mon. I can't hold them off anymore. They need––" Maddox paused, snagging his gaze and holding it in such a way that they might as well have been holding hands. Jesus, the man's eyes. Looking into them, those liquid pools of emerald, Elisha could almost pretend that he was somewhere else––no, that they were somewhere else. A place where trauma and pain weren't allowed, where everyone smiled and was happy. Together.

Quit dreaming, he scolded himself. Hadn't he given up thoughts like that a long time ago?

"They need to know what happened," Maddox finished, pulling Elisha out of himself.

Nothing happened, he wanted to say. I'm fine. But he knew better than to say that in front of Maddox, so instead he mumbled, "I don't want to talk about it."

Out of the corner of his eye, he could see how the police officer's face hardened at that. So far, Elisha hadn't paid him any mind but now he turned so that he could give him his full attention. The police officer was a little man, maybe five foot six, if Elisha had to guess.

He was taller than Elisha, but Elisha had long ago come to terms with his diminutive height. Besides, the fact that Mr. ... uh––Elisha squinted at the name tag the man wore and identified him as Officer Ramirez––Ramirez was at least a good nine inches shorter than Maddox was more than sastisfying. Anyway, his olive skin and dark eyes were a statement that testified to a Hispanic heritage; the set of his features hinted at homophobia, however, and Elisha tensed, his lip twitching in anticipation of a sneer. The effer was gonna say something, he just knew it––

"You don't have to," Officer Ramirez was already writing something down on his little pad. "We can just––"

"Yeah, actually, I do," Elisha interjected. He all but bared his teeth at the officer, a startling display of ferocity that belied the show of exhaustion he'd put on until this point. "You think I don't know how this works? What those two assholes––" Both Officer Ramirez and Maddox caught their breath when he lashed out with his foot, kicking at the side of the nearby police cruiser. His tormentors sat inside, handcuffed and strapped in. "––were thinking when they singled me out?"

He wasn't really exhausted, not at all. It was just easier to sleep than to deal with the bullshit of reality.

Before either Officer Ramirez or Maddox could say otherwise, Elisha drew himself up, took a deep breath, and began spitting out the words. "So I was at Indy's, the strip club down the street. That's the beginning."

Officer Ramirez held up a hand, interrupting. "Were you with anyone? Also, pardon my ignorance, but I'm not familiar with .. Indy's?"

"Indigo's," Maddox supplied smoothly. "We call it Indy's for short."

At Ramirez's nod, Elisha continued. "I wasn't with anyone, at least not at first. But then I met him—" he gestured at Maddox "—and we danced and talked."

"Did you have plans to go home together?" Ramirez shifted on his feet, as if the idea bothered him.

Maddox glanced at Elisha, something dark flickering in his gaze. "He disappeared before I could ask. One minute we were having a great time and next thing I know, he's out the door."

"Any particular reason why? You weren't interested in the Colonel, Leslie?"

Elisha flinched at the use of his last name. "If you really wanna know, I was damn interested, Officer. I just had other priorities, like getting home and ready for work in the morning."

Home. Work. Priorities. He suppressed the urge to bark a harsh laugh at the bald-faced lies spewing from his lips. He hadn't had a place to call home since he'd been thirteen; work wasn't work at all but instead an easy breeze and his priorities mainly consisted of not getting caught and staying alive.

To avoid further interruptions, he went on hurriedly, no longer taking pains to pause. "I had barely gotten out the door when they jumped me. Walked me away from the club and shoved me into the alley. Pushed me down a—and started tearing at my .. at my clothes."

His throat constricted painfully and he smiled, a feeble smile but evidence of his gratitude nonetheless, when Maddox put the soda to his lips once more. The man's hand, warm and heavy, rubbed circles into his shoulders. "You don't have to—"

"They tried to rape me. The biggest of them, the one with the lazy eye, only just managed .. penetration—" Desperate for the talking to be over, Elisha pushed past the memories invoked by the word and forged on, breathlessly. "—when Maddox showed up. I covered my eyes, I didn't want to see, but I could hear .. hear the sound of his hands around their throats. Ending them."

"You heard the Colonel murdering Keston?" Ramirez asked.

"Murder?" Elisha's voice was made shrill, incredulous and disbelieving and indignant all at once. "If you want to put it that way, I guess you could, but hear me when I say this, Officer, I am glad Maddox did what he did. That man was a monster and he did a service to us all in murdering him, as you put it. This way no one else will have to suffer at his hands."

"If Maddox hadn't come when he had," he went on, "I would undoubtedly be in worse shape than I already am, 'cause the other two would've gotten to have their way with me as well. As it is, I'm going to do everything in my power as the offended party to make sure they rot in prison."

His voice had gone cold by the end of his tirade—frigid, really—and he met Officer Ramirez's stunned eyes without flinching. "Are we done here, Officer?"

"Well, I .. I still have to have a word with Lynch and—"

Elisha cut him off. "Later. Right now, Colonel Lynch is going to take me home. He'll be staying with me for the rest of the night, so you'll have to wait to continue your investigation in the morning."


Damned if anything could take the fire outta you, boy, Maddox wanted to say but he bit his tongue, instead nodding to Ramirez as the officer grudgingly bade them a good night and stepped away to rejoin his team.

But when Elisha looked up at him, a weary smirk curling his bruised lips, he couldn't help himself from laughing and shaking his head.

"You're amazing," was all he could say, as he buried his face in the curve of the boy's shoulder and hugged him close. Breathing him in, holding him tighter and tighter, especially as the youth's smirk went sour and he dissolved once more into tears.

Maddox simply held him, weathering him through one of the first storms of many to come, no doubt. Around them, the scene was in the late stages of being processed, the majority of the police having returned to the precinct; a growling rumble said Topher had startled the truck up and Maddox was about to tuck the exhausted Elisha into his friend's backseat when a Mercedes Benz pulled up directly behind them, blocking their exit.

"You've gotta be shittin' me," Topher growled. Fists clenched, he stalked off to confront the lackwit driver and Maddox, settled comfortably with Elisha on his lap, watched him go.

The Benz's doors opened, admitting a blond-haired and blue-eyed fellow of average height and weight. Another cop, Maddox guessed, watching how he approached the others. Off-duty, though, from the way his cheeks were flushed and his cropped hair stuck up in unruly tufts.

On his heels was a civilian, interestingly enough. A nephew? Younger brother? They sure looked alike, sharing the same blue eyes and blond hair. Except the civilian was built—and dressed—much like a dancer, his lithe, slinking figurine outfitted in tattered jeans and a snug blouse, long arms sleeved in musical bangles. He was five foot two if he was an inch and to Maddox's eye, he looked just as disheveled as his cop companion.

The pieces fell together easily enough then. Not likely to be related, then. Unless the cop was one kinky son of a bitch. The smaller blond didn't even look legal, all feminine angles and smooth skin.

Kinky or not, however, the cop proved unimpressed when intercepted by Topher—and made the dire mistake of assuming he was a civilian, as many others had before him.

Oh, you're in for some shit now, Maddox thought with savage satisfaction. Topher wasn't just a Marine—he was a proud member of Force Recon and therefore, woe betide the man who referred to him as just anything. Maddox continued to observe, tamping down on the increasing want for a cigarette as he cradled Elisha, who was dozing in his arms.

He meant to watch the pending action between his Lieutenant Colonel and the officer, but it soon became evident that the skimpily dressed blond would warrant equal amounts of attention. He was practically bouncing in his stilettos, but there was nothing enthusiastic about his energy. Instead he seemed frazzled and bent, almost frenzied with anxiety, his mouth contorted in a shout.

It was only when the kid lunged at Topher, though, that Maddox nudged the door open using his foot and tuned into the conversation.

"—where is he?!" the boy was screaming, ignoring the cops' attempts to pull him away. "Please, I need to know—I need him to be okay—"

Not phased in the least, Topher simply grabbed the kid's wrists and held them over his blond head.

"Shut the fuck up and listen to me for a moment!" he shouted. "Your friend is okay. He's okay. He's with my friend Maddox, right over there, but—"

Don't go over there, he'd probably been about to say, but it was too late. In an impressive display of strength, the blond wrenched his wrists from Topher's grasp and headed towards Maddox at a sprint, ignoring his companion's shout after him.

"Damn it, Wren!"

Maddox tried to slam the door shut, but he was too slow, the kid called Wren was already there, wedging a foot in the way and shimmying through. He'd gotten just close enough to touch when Topher caught up with him, grabbing ahold of the back of his shirt and hauling him roughly back.

Maddox winced at the sound of the kid being slammed up against the truckbed.

"Listen here, you little shit—"

"Please, you don't understand, he's my best friend—"

Against Maddox's chest, Elisha stirred. He rubbed at his eyes, squinting in the dark interior of the truck. "Wren?"

"Sha!" cried Wren and helpless to stand in the way now that Elisha was awake, Maddox opened the door so the two could be reunited.


"When I heard your name on Brant's radio—"


"—I swear I stopped breathing, I didn't want to believe it, I was so scared—"

"I'm fine, Wren."

"—dunno what I'd do if I lost you, Sha—

"I said I'm okay!" Elisha shouted. His voice was unnecessarily loud in the truck's interior; Wren flinched visibly and then drew himself up, glossy lips peeling back from his teeth in a snarl.

"Elisha, you were raped."

"I didn't. Wasn't. Those guys just knocked me around a little. I'm fine."

"There's blood on the inside of your legs," Wren pointed out.

Growing more uncomfortable by the second, wishing his best friend would just leave it alone, Elisha clamped his legs shut and glared at the blond. "So? It's not mine."

"You're a shit liar, Sha," Wren snapped. "If it isn't yours, then whose is it?"

Elisha didn't answer. Couldn't.

"Admit it. You were raped. That guy fucked you, didn't listen when you said stop—"

Shut up, Wren.

"—didn't even use lube, so it hurt like hell when he pushed inside. Burned, didn't it? I bet you cried—"

He had. But Wren didn't need to know he was right.

"—by the second thrust, it felt like you were being torn apart. By the third, you must've wanted to die. After the fourth, you'd convinced yourself that you weren't there anymore, that you were just a bystander watching it happen to someone else. Am I right?"

Again, Elisha didn't answer. Instead he shook his head, eyes squeezed shut against the truth of his friend's words. It played over and over again in his mind, the awful violation of his person. He couldn't help it: he started to sob, a hand flying to his mouth as bile rose up at the back of his throat, threatening to push its way out through his tightly compressed lips in a spew.

Wren had dropped his voice to a low murmur. "It didn't happen to someone else, Elisha."

And it was those words, perhaps more than anything, that finally pierced his defenses. He had been raped.

Raped. I was raped.

"Oh n-no—"

In an instant, he'd flipped the locks and scrambled out the door, nearly tripping over his own feet as he bolted for the bushes, a pile of leaves, anything, because he was going to be really, really sick.

Of course there were no bushes or leaves, so he just ended up falling to his knees and emptying his stomach on the pavement. "A-aah-hhhnnggg—" The pained noise came out of its own accord and when he was sure he'd puked out everything but his intestines and spleen, he rolled away from the mess and curled into a ball, sobbing with new emotion.

IwasrapedIwasrapedIwasrapedohmyGodIwasrapednonononononooo ...

Elisha was only dimly aware of arms wrapping around him, pulling him into a lap comprised of bare legs and hairless skin. Wren. How .. how had he known?

A horrible suspicion dawned then, and even in the thick of his own aftermath, he still somehow managed to weep enough for the both of them, for what they had lost and what pain was still to come. Oh, God, rape victims had to go to the hospital, didn't they?

Panic sparked along his nerves and he grabbed at his friend's collar, babbling and pleading. Not the hospital, no, no. "Wren, Wren, please don't let them take me to the hospital please I can't go back please Wren—"

"You know I'll be there with you every step of the way, Sha."

That's not what I asked! Elisha panicked, hearing the resigned intent in his friend's voice. Flailing his arms, he tried to surge to his feet, to run, but Maddox's hands were on him the moment he managed to stand, calloused fingers closing around his wrists like bands of steel. No, no, no ..


A/N: Sorry this took so long, guys. Originally, this chapter was supposed to include the aftermath, Elisha meeting Topher, Wren's debut and the hospital visit. But I couldn't stand the thought of leaving my fans salivating any longer. So, here ya'll go!

Next Chapter: Why is Elisha so scared of hospitals? Was Wren raped? Why can't Topher stop staring at Wren's ass?