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He sucked. Teej knew it, Teej's Mom knew it, Teej's Dad knew it. The whole town knew it.

 

“Hey, Dex,” Teej was sitting next to him on the ward, looking pale and sad, like he had done ever since they'd arrived in this damn place. “It's okay, we'll get outta here soon.”

 

“I'll never get out,” Dexter said. “They'll let you out, 'cause you're not crazy. Me? I'm staying here.”

 

“You're not crazy,” Teej said, in a resigned tone of voice. “We just feel that way 'cause...” he winced. “Like the doctor says, it's withdrawal.”

 

“Yeah? Well, it fucking sucks.”

 

“I know.” Teej stared at the wall. “But if we got brains, we only have to do it once.”

 

Dexter had already done it a few times. Couldn't quite remember how many, but this was definitely the worst. “Whatever,” he said. “You can do it once, then. I'm fucked up. They let me outta here, I'm just gonna screw up again. And again, and maybe again. And then I'll die.”

 

“You won't die,” Teej looked at him, frightened. “You don't gotta die.”

 

Dexter shut his eyes, leant his head against the wall. “Everyone dies, Teej,” he said. “It's kinda cool, when you think about it. At least one day it stops.”

 

When he looked up, Teej was crying. “Hey... I'm sorry. I didn't mean to... Teej, I'm sorry.”

 

“Yeah, I know.” Teej stood up, wiping his face. “Look, I gotta go lie down. I'll see you later.”

 

Sure, they'd see each other later. It was a goldfish bowl. They couldn't get away from each other. Dexter clenched his fists, hard, so his nails cut nice little crescents in the meat of his hands. He'd stopped chewing his nails, because they didn't have anything else sharp in here. He never thought the day would come when he didn't want to see Teej.

 

The next time they saw each other was at group therapy. Some of the others spoke up, but Teej kept his head down, and didn't make a sound. Dexter stared blankly at the wall, and just grunted when asked to talk.

 

Afterward they walked together to the canteen, and sat at the plastic tables, on their plastic chairs, with plastic plates, and spoons and no knives, and ate mashed potato and grey fibrous bite sized chunks that might have been bits of carpet, or might have been meat. You couldn't really tell from the taste. As for the peas, they were horrible. He might never eat peas again.

 

Teej pushed his plate away with a sigh. “I can't eat this crap.”

 

No wonder they were both losing weight. “I can't either,” he said. Even if he hadn't been feeling sick, this slop would have made him wanna puke. “I think they're doing it on purpose,” he scowled, and Teej actually laughed, like he thought he was joking. He didn't get it, Dexter thought. These guys really were out to get them.

 

The next day when Teej's mother arrived, she asked to speak to Teej alone, before Dexter joined them. You see, Dexter thought. They've got to her. Now that she was acting funny, it wouldn't be long before they'd poisoned Teej against him too. Of course, when he went through to see her she stood up and hugged him, and pretended everything was okay. And Dexter was really good at pretending. He smiled, and listened, and talked a little bit, like he was okay. But he knew.

 

“What did your Mom want to talk to you about?” Teej was quiet for a moment, and Dexter went cold. Not Teej too... not already... Then Teej sighed. “My Dad's moving out.”

 

“Oh.” That got through. It wasn't all about him, after all... “Oh, fuck. I'm sorry.” Actually, it was about him. This was his fault.

 

“It's just fucking bullshit, that's all.” Teej scuffed his feet on the worn carpet. “They told my parents a bunch of stuff, and it's not true, and they argued about what to do, and my Dad moved out. And it's this fucking place, and it's the cops, and Mom and Dad just don't get it.”

 

Dexter felt a flutter of relief. They hadn't got to Teej yet. Teej knew there was a plot. He was still on his side. He grabbed his hand, and squeezed. Teej stared at him, and pulled his hand back.

 

“You know we can't do that here,” he said.

 

“I was just holding your hand.”

 

“They keep asking me about you,” Teej turned his head away, and sucked in his lip. “We gotta be careful.”

 

Dexter stared at him. “You know, they keep asking me about you too.”

 

“Yeah?” Teej turned, folded his arms across his chest, looked suspiciously up and down the ward. “What they been asking?”

 

“Do we do it together, when did we start, did anyone take pictures...”

 

“Oh, fuck.” Teej shook his head. “They been asking me the same stuff. I think 'cause we both got the...” His voice went dry, and Dexter managed to smile.

 

“'Cause they found us in a whore house, and we both got the clap.”

 

“Keep your voice down,” Teej blushed. “Jesus.”

 

“So,” Dexter said, when he'd stopped laughing. Boy, he'd needed a laugh. “What do you say? When they ask you about us?”

 

“I tell 'em not to be such fucking pervs and mind their own damned business.”

 

Dexter laughed again. “Cool,” he said. “I just play dumb and pretend I don't hear them.”

 

“Fuck,” Teej said, and started cackling himself. After he'd stopped though, he was shaking. He stared at Dexter despairingly. “We're never getting out.”

 

About a week later, the cops turned up again. This one was a lady cop, and she wasn't in uniform, and she looked nice, but he knew not to trust her. There was a camera behind that big mirror, he knew it. And that wasn't him being paranoid, because if you got up close enough you could just about see through the glass. They must think he was stupid. He was feeling stupid too, even more than usual, because they'd stuck something in his arm when he freaked out. But what the hell did they expect him to do? She was a fucking cop.

 

“So,” she said, smiling. “I see your friends call you Dexter. What can I call you?”

 

“Sam,” he said letting the angry buzz push him through the sedative cloud. “Or Peter. Or Luke. Or whatever the fuck you like. I don't care.”

 

There was a long silence, as she looked at him. Then she sighed. “None of those are your actual name,” she pointed out.

 

“I know that,” he said. “And I do know my name, I just don't like it. I'm a junky, not an idiot.” He smiled at the look on her face, then lay back a bit, and shut his eyes. “Call me Dexter,” he conceded, relaxing into the drug haze. It wasn't the same as what he'd been taking, but it was better than nothing. A nice warm tug, like the tide going out, if he had ever seen the sea.

 

“Okay, Dexter,” she said, gently. “Is there anything you want to tell me about?”

 

“Why? You got everything you need to know in there. You probably got pictures.”

 

“Pictures? Why do you say that?”

 

“Does it matter?”

 

There was a silence, and he wanted to open his eyes to see what she was doing, but he kinda couldn't give a damn. The silence lasted so long, he almost fell asleep.

 

“Did you know we recovered pictures from your father's house?”

 

Jesus. Damn. His eyes snapped open, and he surged forward, tried to get to his feet. The orderly grabbed him, and pulled him back down, and he struggled. “Kid,” the guy said, “calm down, or we'll have to tie you down.”

 

Dexter slumped, and started crying. No point fighting the guy, no point fighting anybody. You could never make them stop.

 

The cop leant forward, looking concerned. “Are you all right, Dexter?”

 

“Do I look all right?”

 

“You look upset. Do you want to talk about it?”

 

He stared at her, confused. “I thought... I thought we'd got all the photos,” he said, realising as he said it that he was dumb. That he was fucking dumb, because he'd just confirmed it, and maybe she'd been lying about the photos.

 

“Who's 'we',” she asked. “Do you mean you, and your friend TJ?”

 

And again, like an idiot, he nodded.

 

“Dexter,” she said, “I need you to know, it's not your fault.” He said nothing. “You do know that, don't you? It's not your fault.”

 

“Fuck off,” he said. He didn't want to hear that from her. Teej already forgave him. He blinked. He realised he'd said the last bit out loud.

 

“Teej has forgiven you? What for?”

 

He tried to stand up again, but the orderly put a hand on his shoulder, more gently this time. Dexter felt his knees turn to rubber, and sank back on the chair. He wasn't gonna say another damn word.
...

 

Next time he saw Teej was in another interview room. They were both so frantic they didn't even think about the mirrored wall. Teej was already in there, white as a sheet, and the minute Dexter walked in the door he rushed up to him, and hugged him, and started to cry. Dexter patted his back, and made silly comfortable noises, like Teej's Mom did when he was little, and she'd cuddled him, and made him feel better. “It'll be all right,” he said, even though it was the biggest lie he'd ever told. Eventually Teej stopped crying, and pulled back, blowing his nose on his sleeve. Christ, Teej hadn't done that since he was a kid... his Mom woulda had a cow.

 

“They found the pictures,” Teej blurted out, as soon as he could talk. “I thought we'd burned 'em all.”

 

“Yeah,” Dexter sat down on the couch. At least the seats in here were comfy. He patted the cushion next to him, and Teej flopped onto it, then turned his head onto his shoulder, and curled up into a ball. Dexter put his arm around him, and Teej sank sideways onto his lap, knees to his chest, hands over his eyes, facing out. “I'm sorry,” Dexter said, and cleared his throat. “Was it just pictures of me, or did they find the ones of us together?”

 

“They found 'em, yes.” They both groaned at the same time. “Swimming,” Teej continued, “that's all it was, swimming. You wouldn't think they'd get so fucking freaked.”

 

Yeah... that's right. Those pictures had been important to Dexter for so long that sometimes he forgot they were just a bunch of pictures of two boys swimming in the lake.

 

“Hey, it's all right,” he said, to reassure his friend. “The only bad ones are me, you're not in trouble.”

 

“It's not fair,” Teej said, “that you're in trouble, and I'm not.”

 

“Don't worry about it.”

 

Teej stopped shaking, and Dexter carried on soothing his back. After a couple of minutes Teej uncovered his face, looked up at him, and smiled, an actual happy smile, that one which looked like a light bulb. “Hey,” he said. “I just realised. We're in here all by ourselves.”

 

“Oh yeah?” Dexter's dick sprang up to attention, like a soldier saluting the flag. The thing had been bothering him for weeks, except for times when they made him take something to put him to sleep. Teej musta felt it, because he shuffled round to face Dexter's body, and started rubbing him through the fabric of his trousers.

 

“Does that feel good,” Teej asked. “'Cause I gotta say...”

 

The door swung open, and Teej lurched into a sitting position, banging the top of his head on Dexter's chin on the way up.

 

“Shit,” Dexter curled up defensively. He was a fucking idiot... he hadn't even thought that they'd be watching.

 

Next to him Teej had started to keen. It suddenly hit Dexter that since they'd been in this place they'd both been behaving more and more like kids than teenagers... if they didn't get out of here soon they'd turn into babies, only with permanent hard-ons. And now that they'd seen him and Teej together, they were never getting out.

 

“I'm sorry, I'm sorry,” Teej was crying, with his arms wrapped round his head. Dexter realised his friend was being dragged away, and... He was suddenly furious. He threw himself to his feet, yelling Teej's name, and flew straight at the orderly, punching him in the face. And even though it went worse from there, he wasn't sorry. Not sorry at all.

 

Later on, when he was getting better, the doctor told him that he'd suffered a psychotic break... a setback. Because apparently he and Teej were there in the first place because they'd both broken at the same time, whatever that meant. Which was why they weren't in prison for drugs, or assaulting police officers... not that this place wasn't a prison. Dexter scowled at the woman. “What do you expect? Most people woulda broke. A buncha cops kicked down the front door.”

 

“Don't you trust the police?”

 

Dexter leant forward, and with cool deliberation, banged his head on the desk.

 

“Don't do that, son,” she said. He sat back up, and gave her a filthy smile. She had really nice tits.

 

“I'm not your son.”

 

He'd done it with women a few times when he was a kid. He could actually count the women on one hand... literally. Only five of them. Of course, when he was a kid, he couldn't do anything with his dick, so it had been all fingers and tongue, but the women seemed to really like that. One of them had been pregnant, and she let him suck her milk, which he woulda enjoyed more if she hadn't been wanking herself at the same time. Fuck, he hadn't thought of that in years... how old had he been then? Musta been young, because when she stroked his dick it didn't do much of anything. It stood up, which she liked, but he couldn't even remember if it tingled. At least she'd been gentle.

 

His first real time with a woman was when he and Teej ran away together. That woman with all the good drugs had loved them. It started off when she caught them blowing each other, and sat down to watch. So, when they'd finished, Dexter showed Teej what to do to a woman's cunt, and she'd moaned and wriggled so much that they both got hard again. Then Teej started licking her out, so she let him go first, then she took Dexter. After he'd finished he was so grateful that he went down on her again, until his whole face was sticky and wet, and he was nearly, but not quite, hard. Which hurt, so he ignored it. Then she wanted to see Teej fuck Dexter, and Teej said no. She actually laughed at him, because Teej didn't just say no, he got upset and started crying, which wasn't very manly. But Dexter got it, because he knew Teej was thinking about the photographs. And he was glad, because he really didn't like getting fucked.

 

When Teej calmed down he said that he wouldn't fuck Dexter, ever, but that when Dexter was hard, he could do him instead. That is if Dexter wanted. And at the time Dexter was so wrung out that he said no. The woman was pleased with them anyway, and promised to help them out if they'd help her out. She said they were naturals, and she'd get them good jobs, and she'd fix them up with whatever they wanted. Which sounded like a good idea at the time. So they got stoned, and fell asleep. Later though, when they'd woken up, and she'd given them some blow to get them in the mood, he got really hard again, just thinking about it. He'd been putting his fingers up Teej's ass for a couple of weeks, since they got here, and he knew Teej was ready for it, because he'd come sometimes without even touching himself, just from having Dexter's fingers in him. And, nobody had ever let Dexter fuck them up the ass before, so he really wanted to know what all the fuss was about.

 

He couldn't remember the woman's name, but she was something else. She'd helped him slick Teej up, and got real excited when Teej made noises. Then she'd helped Dexter push his dick in. At first Dexter wanted to stop, because he was scared he was hurting Teej, but she told him not to be such a pussy. And even though Teej was crying he kept shoving his ass up, and telling him not to stop. It was only after Dexter came that he realised he used to do the same thing, and then the woman was laughing her head off, because Teej and Dexter were both crying, and Dexter kept saying he was sorry, and she seemed to think it was the funniest thing in the world.

 

It was okay though. He couldn't have hurt Teej that much, because he asked him to do it again. Next time he did Teej that way, the woman was really inspired, because she had Teej in her cunt at the same time Dexter was in his ass. Dexter almost wanted to know what that felt like, to have so much going on at both ends, 'cause it looked like Teej was dying. But he didn't want to know enough that he'd let anyone back in his ass, so he just grunted and hefted on top of Teej until all three of them had come. When they rolled Teej out from between them he just lay there like a spent rag, and Dexter lay down beside him, with his head on his shoulder, and fell asleep.

 

After that, the woman said Teej deserved to know what ass felt like, so she slid herself down on his cock, then she opened her legs out and leant backward, carefully positioning herself to let Dexter in. And that was just about the best thing he'd ever felt, because he could feel Teej through the back wall of her cunt, and he didn't know who he was fucking. She was so damned slippery inside. He had her breasts pressed up against his chest, and her arms clenched around him grasping his ass, but Teej had one hand in his hair. Dexter was looking over her shoulder, and Teej was looking right back at him, and his eyes weren't blue any more, they were black. And he looked like... looked like a painted angel in the church, or a drunk slut, his lips pouty and red, like he was a fucking whore who couldn't help putting out. He heard himself saying it, and it sounded like his Dad, and he hated his voice for saying those words, but every time Teej's cock nudged his and he felt themselves slide against each other through the woman's slippery skin it felt like... he couldn't think of a word. There wasn't a word for it, but when he came he thought he was gonna die.

 

The doctor was looking at him from across the desk, and she really did have lovely tits.

 

“You're smiling,” she said. “What are you smiling at?”

 

“You,” he said. “You know, you're really sexy.”

 

“Young man,” she said, “that's not appropriate.”

 

“You sure? I'm really good at it. We could do it here...”

 

“Stop that now,” she said, but at least she said it kindly. “Now, if you remember, I was asking you about the police. Why don't you trust them?”

 

He sat back. “'Cause I'm not a fucking moron.” He sulked for a moment, then smiled. “Did I ever tell you I've done a few police men?” Of course, he hadn't told her anything, but what the hell. She wanted to talk about sex, and he felt like she deserved to be shocked.

 

“How old were you?”

 

“Er... dunno.”

 

“Do you remember any of their names?”

 

“Oh yeah, right.” He laughed. “Like they're gonna tell me their names.” He scratched his head and yawned.

 

“Your friend's mother tells me that she and her husband informed the police when you were nine, because they were worried about you. Do you remember anything about that?”

 

“Oh, yeah. There was a cop with red hair. He fixed it for my father so the whole thing went away.”

 

“Do you know why he did that?”

 

“I think he liked me,” Dexter shrugged. “I didn't like him much. Didn't like any of them, but he wasn't the worst.”

 

“What did he do to you?”

 

“Nothing.”

 

“Nothing?”

 

“Nah, I did it to him. He let me use my hand.”

 

“And you were nine?”

 

“Musta been, if it's when Teej's Dad phoned the cops.”

 

“Do you remember why he called the cops?”

 

Dexter felt his mouth dry up, remembering what a fool he'd been. “I don't wanna talk about it.”

 

“That's all right. What do you want to talk about?”

 

“Nothing. I'm done.”

 

And for the rest of the session he shut up, shut off his brain, and shut her out entirely.

 

After another few weeks they let Teej visit. Supervised of course. Dexter was angry, and didn't want to talk him at first, because it wasn't fair that they let Teej out before they let him out.

 

“Who you gotta blow to get outta here,” he asked, eventually, not caring that the social worker in the corner flinched.

 

“They just let me out because they thought I was getting better.”

 

“Yeah? You don't look better.” Actually, Teej looked pretty bad for someone who was supposed to be getting better. He had black shadows under his eyes. “You been getting any sleep?”

 

“Not much. You?”

 

“Oh, yeah. This place is great. They got more drugs than a whore house.” Teej winced then, and Dexter kicked himself. “Hey, I'm sorry, I shouldn'ta said that.” He reached over the table, and patted Teej's hand. Teej glanced nervously at the social worker, but turned his hand over, caught Dexter's, and squeezed. “What's going on,” Dexter asked, trying to be nice again.

 

“They got my blood results back,” Teej said. “I'm clear. I mean, I had to take some antibiotics, but it's cleared up. And there's nothing... you know. Nothing serious.”

 

“Yeah? Good.”

 

“You?”

 

“Yeah. I don't got Aids at least.” Which, when he thought about it, was a miracle. “And I stopped taking antibiotics for the other stuff last week. So, all clear.”

 

“Good...” Teej looked at their conjoined hands, and smiled. “We were lucky.”

 

“Right,” he said. “Lucky.” He lifted his other hand, and patted Teej's cheek. Then, who cared what the social worker thought, he leant across and kissed Teej, softly on the lips. “I'm sorry,” he said. “I didn't wanna hurt you.”

 

“You didn't hurt me.”

 

“Liar. You think your Mom's ever gonna forgive me?” He didn't ask about Teej's Dad, because he reckoned he already knew the answer.

 

“Yeah,” Teej said. “I mean, she's been told we shouldn't live in the same house, and I think they're gonna put you in foster care. But... Mrs Murphy said you could move in with her, if you help her with her chores. She's getting on a bit, and she doesn't want to go into a home. So, you know. Maybe we'll be lucky.” Teej didn't sound like he believed it, and Dexter didn't either, but it was a nice daydream.

 

“Mrs Murphy trusts me?”

 

“We all trust you,” Teej said, valiantly.

 

“What does Mrs Murphy know about all this anyway?” Dexter couldn't believe that the poor old lady would trust him if she knew.

 

“She knows that you were raped,” Teej said, tightly, and Dexter gasped, and sat back. He'd never even thought that word about himself. “It's true, Dex,” Teej continued, squeezing his hand. “Like I said, it wasn't your fault.”

 

“We weren't being raped when we ran off together,” Dexter pointed out. Teej glanced again at the social worker, and lowered his voice.

 

“No,” he said. “We were being groomed as whores.”

 

Dexter let go of Teej's hand, and covered his face. He... he'd known that. Or he would have done, if he'd ever allowed himself to think. Shit. He'd let it happen. Not only that, he'd let it happen to his friend. “Fuck,” he said, “sorry.”

 

“Dex,” Teej continued, carefully, “I'm really sorry, but they got other pictures of us...”

 

“What, from my Dad's place?”

 

“No. All that stuff with Estelle. And, er, what we did to each other. You know. When she watched.”

 

That was her name. Estelle. Like it mattered. “You're... you're kidding.”

 

“No. And,” Teej looked sick. “Apparently, they were filming us.”

 

“Oh. God. Just shoot me now.”

 

“It's all right, everyone's been arrested. But...”

 

“But what?” He wasn't sure how this could get worse, but he knew, from experience, that it could.

 

“But, we're gonna have to testify.”

 

“I'm not doing that.” Dexter scraped his chair back, but didn't stand. “I'm just not gonna stand up in a room full of strangers and tell them that stuff...”

 

“We don't have to. It'll be like a private interview, and when they show the video in court they'll block out our faces...”

 

“Oh, God.” Dexter bent over his knees and wrapped his arms over his head. “I wanna die.”

 

“I'm sorry... I'm really sorry. It'll be all right.”

 

“Don't tell me it's gonna be all right. I'm too old to lie to.”

 

“Time's up,” said the social worker.

 

“Please,” Teej slid his hands across the table, grasped Dexter's sleeve. “Just five more minutes?”

 

The social worker looked very sympathetic, but shook her head. “No, I'm sorry. We're gonna need the room.”

 

Eventually, of course, they did let Dexter out. He'd completely missed graduation, but that was okay. He would never have passed his exams anyway. He was sad about Teej though. He woulda gone to college, if it wasn't for him.

 

Foster care wasn't so bad. The couple who were fostering him didn't bother him too much, though they did make him take an antidepressant every morning, which he hated, and a sleeping tablet at night, which he liked. He was allowed to see Teej, although his Mom was always in the room these days. Dexter called her Mrs Burke the first time he saw her again, and she looked like she'd been slapped. Then she kissed his cheek, and said, “Mom. Don't ever forget that,” and he hugged her, and Teej cried, and left the room for a minute.

 

It wasn't so bad, not really. And Teej said that when the snow came his Mom was even going to allow them to go skiing together, so long as they could find someone to keep an eye on them.

 

And even though the court thing was awful, and he hated all the counselling and shit, and even though people did whisper behind their hands, he could just about stand it. Because, in the end, he and Teej had survived.