While we walked the boys through the forest I kept an eye on Matt and on Dylan. He was acting strange since our morning conversation. He avoided me. Which in and of itself was not unusual, if you take away the fact that since this trip started Dylan had not been avoiding me. I was concerned. Something was bothering him.

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But the boys were schooled in the woos of berries in probably the worst way possible. The know-it-alls who were James and John decided to disregard Trent’s words. He said with a very strict voice, “Do not eat the purple berries.” And he meant it. But he didn’t give them a reason. Dylan snickered and I rolled my eyes.

There are kids in every group who will do everything you say not to do. The purple berries weren’t poisonous. But they aren’t pleasant either. They made a big show of eating the purple berries.

First the purple berries stain your teeth when you eat them. If you can stomach swallowing after you start then you are in for a ride. The boys didn’t spit out the bitter berries they both swallowed. I know a few guys who would like that fact.

A few minutes later the boys declared triumph – nothing happened. The three of us all laughed. They would be in for it later.

And sure enough, while we all sat at camp eating our edible berries and leaves to augment our rations tonight those two boys were digging holes in the ground to cover the remains of their dinner which went right through them – repeatedly. Ex-lax has nothing on these berries. A few of the other boys wretched at the smell. Trent was having a good laugh. As were most of the other boys – all the ones not sitting around my bedroll. I had my team sitting here – all outcasts in their own right, and Nate and Chris. Matt sat at the edge of the little group between us and Dylan.

Timothy stopped by Matt and knelt down next to him and whispered something even I couldn’t hear. Matt never looked my way as he stood up and followed Timothy away. Unlike Matt, Timothy spared me a grin and it wasn’t a friendly one. The one look made my hackles rise. I waited a few seconds before I followed the pair of boys.

They were easy to follow, both of them traipsing through the forest underbrush making every possible noise. They stopped just the side of one of the large trees and I stopped when they did hiding behind my own tree and a veil.

There were no words, but I recognized the sound and I was about to leave when I heard Matt whispering to Timothy. “No. I don’t want to do this. We broke up. You dumped me.”

Timothy snickered. “He won’t like you. Come on, we can have fun still. You know you want to.”

Matt’s voice was weaker this time as he whispered, “No, I don’t want to do this.”

I closed my eyes remembering when Trees had thrown herself at me without warning. But this was different. I could hear Timothy forcing himself on Matt and Matt’s small protests. I pushed every ounce of my ability to the far reaches of my mind. Anger brought out the worst in people and I was no different. This was a boy, he was pissing me off but he wasn’t a monster – at least not yet.

I stepped from around my tree and walked quietly towards the boys. I wasn’t going to be anyone’s champion, but no one was going to be abused under my watch either. Matt’s continued protests were mingled with unwanted reactions his body couldn’t contain. When I rounded the large tree they were standing behind I saw Matt’s body pressed up against the three. Timothy’s hand was in his ex’s pants and his lips were sucking hard against Matt’s neck.

I cleared my throat and Matt’s eyes went wide when he saw me. Timothy on the other hand didn’t turn around to see. “You can have your turn, next. But he’s mine first.”

I frowned. It wasn’t uncommon for a boy or two to become the sexual conduit of a bunch of boys fantasy while they were all cooped up together for 30 days. I had enjoyed being that boy – but I was self deprecating nearly every day. And sex was something I used to make myself feel better. Matt was no such tool. I spoke in a low voice. I could feel the heat in it, but I didn’t raise my voice. “He’s no ones, and you will stop now. He said no.”

Timothy heard my voice and turned to look at me and glared at me. “He’s mine. You can’t stop me.” The overly eager boy rushed at me from his spot near Matt. I didn’t need my ability or need to be Venatori to beat this raging bull. I side stepped him with ease and he tripped and fell into the sticker bush full of blackberries head long.

I spared a glance for Matt as he slid down the tree trunk and curled up in a ball and I knew he was doing everything he could not to cry.

Another set of footsteps came into hearing and then Trent came into view. He asked, “What’s going on?”

I was about to say nothing, when Timothy crawled out of the bush crying. “He threw me in here when I tried to stop him from abusing Matt.”

I didn’t say anything, I must moved towards Matt who was still in a ball at the foot of the tree. I knelt down and asked, “You alright?”

He didn’t answer me, but he uncurled from his ball and leaned into me and I wrapped my arms around him. I looked up to Trent who was now standing over me, “Does this look like someone reacting to someone who just abused them?”

Timothy being the idiot that he is, chose that moment to pull me away from Matt and reaffirm that he had been the one attacking Matt. “Get away from him you monster.” Timothy yelled.

Matt pulled away from Timothy the moment his ex touched him and Trent took the offending boy by the shoulder and sighed. “I doubt, Nox would hurt Matt. He has rules Timothy. And number one is you don’t force anyone. Seems to be a rule you need to learn.”

I laughed. He wasn’t wrong. Trent looked down at me, “I got this one, you manage him alright?”

I nodded. I sat down against the tree that Matt had vacated when he’d pulled away from Timothy. Trent lead the other boy away and I could only hear every other word that came from Trent’s mouth. I really didn’t care what he said to him. There was only so much punishing we could do. We weren’t parents. And we were in the middle of nowhere. Timothy might get latrine duty – which would be a suitable punishment considering James and John’s current predicament.

Matt crawled over to me and curled up in my lap and leaned his entire body against mine. He cried and I let him. I wished someone had been her for me when shit hit the fan like this. I’m not talking Jace. Cause he did this for me on many occasions, just holding me when I cried. I knew all too well what this felt like, I had hated feeling alone my entire life. No one should feel that. So I let Matt cry until he’d fallen into a quiet and still slumber.

I carried him back to his bedroll. Which I had Nate move next to ours. Between Nate’s and mine. No one was going to get to Matt while I was lying there. I would deal with the morning when it came. I had a feeling my secret was going to be out.

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