We'd like to thank Melanie, as always, for her excellent beta job. Some day, we're going to figure out the proper use of commas. <sigh>

 

And we'd like to dedicate this story to M, R, and T, who are the inspiration for The Island Tops.  They provide us with love, support, guidance and encouragement, not only in our writing, but in our everyday lives, and we couldn't make it without them.

 

 

The Island: Garth, Dylan & Jamie

23 March 2001

 

"Is there anything else on the agenda?" Emerson asked before closing the meeting.

 

"We have a problem with one of the visiting tops and his brat," Ryan replied. "Dylan and Jamie Kent. They're 21 and 18, brothers, here on Judge Milecky's recommendation. Jamie came before him on an underage drinking charge."

 

"An incestuous relationship?" Pritchard, Director of Matches, raised an eyebrow.

 

"No, they're stepbrothers, Pritch," Jeffries, one of the Recruitment Directors, clarified. "Milecky was interested in them and did a little research. Dylan's father married Jamie's mother. Their parents threw them out of the house and cut off their support when they found them in bed together. Since then they've had a pretty rough time of it. He talked to them several times and then called me."

 

"Which is the Top?"

 

"That's the problem," Ryan replied. "Neither one of them is."

 

" But you just said--"

 

"They are under the impression that Dylan is a Top, and Milecky told them that we could help them establish a discipline relationship that would keep Jamie out of trouble. But when we tested them, they're both Brats. Dylan just has a lower rating."

 

"What are their ratings?" Hayes asked.

 

Ryan consulted his notes. "Dylan tested as a B3, although we're almost sure that isn't accurate. Hobbes feels that acting as a top for almost a year probably skewed the rating and he should be retested after he's had a chance to settle in. Jamie is a B6."

 

"Even if it's accurate, a B3 isn't low enough to consider him for top training," Emerson said. "They'll both need to go in with the orphans."

 

"I'll need to go over their profiles with Ryan," Hayes replied. "I don't know if I have a Temp Top available who can take both of them."

 

"Why would you need one?" Roberts entered the discussion. "Wouldn't it be better to separate them from the beginning?"

 

"I'm not sure we can do that," Ryan said. "They came here as a couple."

 

"But a couple implies one Top and one Brat," Pritchard objected. "That's our purpose here, to develop discipline relationships between Tops and Brats. How can you have one Brat top another?"

 

"But they're in a relationship," Ben spoke up in their defense. "You can't just ignore their relationship because they don't meet some arbitrary number on your scale."

 

"Maybe we can't ignore it because of the numbers, but I don't believe that we should foster incestuous relationships," Pritchard remained obstinate.

 

"They're not IN an incestuous relationship," Ben said hotly. "They're STEP brothers. And even if they were, you can't tell them their relationship is wrong just because it doesn't meet YOUR standards!"

 

"Ben," Ryan cautioned his Brat. "Calm down. Shouting doesn't help get your point across and Pritch has a very valid point."

 

"I think we need to ask the experts," Emerson decreed. He looked at their Psych Directors, Hobbes and Calvin, who were partners as well as co-directors of the Psych department.

 

"Cal?" Hobbes asked. "The Brats are more your specialty than mine."

 

"Logically," Calvin began, holding out his two hands as if weighing something, "we should separate them. It will be impossible to match them with Tops as long as they consider themselves a couple."

 

"Good!" Pritchard said heartily.

 

"I'm not finished yet," Calvin reproached him. "Logically, they should be separated, but on an emotional level, I agree with Ben. You can't just ignore their relationship. They've been together for several years, Dylan has always taken care of Jamie, and they're dependent on each other. In addition, they were told that the Island would be accepting of their relationship and help them nurture it. It would be devastating for both of them to be told that we don't think they belong together, and I don't think they'd be willing to stay with us under those terms."

 

"So what would you suggest?" Hobbes encouraged his partner.

 

"I think we need to put them together, and with a Temp Top who will be understanding of their feelings for one another. Then we can encourage them to make separate friends and become interested in the Visiting Tops. If they aren't genuinely attached, they'll form new relationships. If they are... well, if they are, we'll have to deal with that when the time comes."

 

"Hobbes?" Emerson looked automatically at the Top for verification of his Brat's opinion.

 

"I agree with Cal. If Ryan and Hayes want to schedule a meeting, we can go over the profiles and help pick out the best Temp Top for them."

 

"Any objections?" Emerson asked the other men seated at the table.

 

"I'm comfortable with it," Roberts said.

 

Most of the other directors nodded or murmured assent.

 

"I still don't like the idea," Pritchard commented with a shrug. "But I'm not in charge of the Brats."

 

"All right," Emerson said. "Ryan, Hayes, figure out the best cottage for them, and brief the Temp Top. Keep us posted on the situation. Meeting is adjourned."

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Later, Emerson, Ryan and Hayes sat around the table in Ryan’s office, eating lunch.

 

Biting into his sandwich, Emerson couldn’t help but sigh. “You know what we need in this place?”

 

Ryan looked up from spreading mayo on his own sandwich. “What to do we need, Em?”

 

Hayes chuckled from the other chair.

 

Ignoring the tone from his friend, he continued. “A pizza place. We need a good NY style pizza parlor.”

 

“We have pizza on the menu and the kitchen will make one up for you. All you have to do is ask,” Ryan said with a smile.

 

“Yeah and it’s not bad. In fact, I think it’s pretty good, and there is usually a brat with KP duty to bring it to your house so you don’t have to go get it.” Hayes said.

 

Emerson made a face. “Hayes, don’t take this the wrong way or anything, but you’re from Idaho. You don’t know anything about good pizza.”

 

He and Ryan burst into laughter and Hayes quickly joined in. “Shut up, both of you!” he ordered, still laughing.

 

Settling down to their lunch, they chatted about their partners and the various problems and activities taking place on The Island. As soon as the plates were cleared away, they pulled out their notes and got down to business.

 

“Okay, Em. I’ve studied both Dylan’s and Jamie’s test scores, their profiles and their conversations with Hobbes and Cal. Dylan had several meetings with Hobbes as an incoming Top before he was switched to Cal after his test scores came back.”

 

“I'm still very surprised that he tested a Brat,” Hayes said, taking a sip of coffee. “Those two boys have been basically on the streets for almost a year but Dylan has still managed to stay in college and keep Jamie in high school. He graduated in May, right?" He looked at the file for confirmation. "Dylan seemed to have everything under control until Jamie was picked up in that bar.”

 

“Yeah,” Emerson agreed with a nod.

 

“I think keeping it under control was weighing badly on Dylan, though,” Ryan said. “According to Herm, they are both underweight and suffering from malnutrition. Jamie has some scarring on his lungs that Herm thinks looks like pneumonia that wasn't treated properly, and Dylan was barely passing his college classes.”

 

“But they were managing,” Hayes said.

 

“They were, and I think they would have continued to. But,” he said, looking around the table, “I think we are in agreement that they will be better off with Tops than on their own. Right?”

 

The other two men nodded their agreement.

 

“And, based on Jamie’s conversations with Cal, he at least feels the same way,” Ryan said, reading skimming over the notes. “Dylan, I think, is going to be the hard one.”

 

“Hayes, do you think you have a Temp Top that can handle them both right now or should we split them up to different Temps or different cottages?” Emerson asked.

 

The other man nodded. “Ryan and I met with Hobbes and Cal earlier, and we all agreed that Scott, in 6A, would be a good pick for both of them.”

 

“I have mixed feelings about putting them with the same Temp, but at this point I don't see any other option,” Ryan said.

 

“What do Hobbes and Cal say about that?” Emerson asked.

 

“They have mixed feelings as well,” Hayes answered. "They don't think Dylan will stay if they're put in different cottages, and if he doesn't stay, Jamie won't either."

 

“However, there is some concern about Jamie respecting a TT’s authority if it goes against Dylan’s wishes. In addition, Dylan did not accept being told that he was a Brat very well, or the restrictions and discipline after they broke it to him and moved them to the Infirmary for their physicals and orientation,” Ryan said. “Herm actually called me in to handle him.”

 

“We are sure that Dylan is a Brat?” Emerson asked to Ryan.

 

The other man nodded. “Yes. There is no doubt in my mind.”

 

“Why not?” he asked.

 

“Because, when Herm called me in, I saw the true Dylan. He was mad, he was upset and he was reacting. He was scared to death and you could see that fear in his face before he hid it with anger. He wasn’t worried about Jamie. Jamie was talking to someone else in another room. Dylan wasn’t in...” Ryan paused, searching for the right words, “he wasn’t in Protective Top mode, he was in scared, spinning out Brat mode. His thoughts were almost purely on himself and what was going to be done to him. When I tried to calm him down, he behaved like any Brat would. He didn’t react like a Top and he didn’t respond when I approached him as a Top, but as soon as I started treating him like a Brat, he calmed down. He still wasn’t happy, but the tantrum stopped. ”

 

Hayes nodded, tapping the report from Cal sitting on the table. “I like the way Cal puts it in here. He says that Dylan has been forced to assume the role of Top for the last year for survival, and out of love for Jamie. That does not change the fact that he is a Brat, though, and the brat characteristics will come out more and more as he becomes more comfortable and secure. That's one reason they suggest that he be retested when he's more comfortable.”

 

Emerson nodded. “We’ve seen this before, and it’s always a tough situation. This one is doubly so by the introduction of Jamie and the complications of their relationship. You think that Scott can do a good job with him?”

 

Hayes nodded. “I think so. Looking at their profiles, and just anticipating what problems might come up, I think he’s the best. Right now he only has one Brat. His other Brat-” He flipped through his papers, “Rich - and his new partner left almost two months ago.”

 

"That still gives him three Brats, and two is optimum with the 6s," Emerson pointed out.

 

"We considered that," Ryan replied, "but Patrick is well settled and Dylan may be higher than a 3, but we don't think he's a 6. In addition, Andre, the TT that Scott's partnered with, has two Brats, but Tracy is promised and his partner will be here working with him for the next month and then taking him home. If we don't assign another Brat to Andre right away, he can give Scott a hand if he needs it.

 

 “Ryan, Calvin, and I have a meeting scheduled with Scott,” Hayes said, glancing at his watch, “in about 30 minutes. We’re including Hobbes, as well, since we'll need his help dealing with Dylan. That’s the one I’m most concerned about.”

 

Emerson nodded. “I agree. There are a lot of problems that might crop up. Jamie handling Dylan being punished. Dylan accepting orders and, when needed, discipline, from Scott. The fact that they are now equals, so to speak. Are we going to allow them to room together?” he asked the two men.

 

“I don’t think so,” Ryan said slowly. “They are going to be in the same cottage but I think they need separate bedrooms.”

 

“Hobbes agrees. Cal’s torn and can see both sides, but will support which ever way we decided,” Hayes added.

 

“This can turn into a major nightmare if it’s not handled correctly,” Emerson said pessimistically. “I hope that Scott’s up to it.”

 

“He is. He’s a good Top and he has a great read on Brats. And Cal, Ryan and I will be there for him, and, of course, Andre can help him with day to day stuff.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Scott looked up from the file he had been reading a moment before. “So Dylan and Jamie are both coming into our Cottage? Both on my side?” he asked.

 

“We think it would work out the best,” Cal said with a smile, and then added, “If you think that would work okay for Andre and yourself.”

 

Scott nodded, flipping through Dylan’s file again. “I think you’re right. They’ve been on their own for 18 months now? With this one,” he indicated Dylan’s file, “in charge.”

 

Ryan smiled at the younger Top. “I think in charge might be a bit of a stretch, at least according to our standards.”

 

“But according to theirs, he was,” Scott finished with a smile.

 

Cal nodded. “Yes. And they considered themselves a couple.”

 

Going back to Dylan’s test, Scott began to skim it again. Without looking up, he asked, “But they both willingly accepted coming to The Island and starting a discipline relationship? No jail time threats or anything if they didn’t?”

 

Shaking his head, Ryan answered. “No, nothing like that. Jamie wasn’t found with alcohol or drugs in his system. Judge Milecky just took a liking to the boy and became interested in them. He sniffed around some and got to know them both. He and his wife just became concerned and wanted to help them. Milecky initially approached us because he recognized Top behavior in Dylan. Even though they were not really using discipline, Jamie clearly defers to him and Dylan clearly was in charge of the relationship.”

 

Looking up from the file again, Scott raised an eyebrow. “It doesn’t look like Mr. Dylan took too kindly to being told he wasn’t a Top. Are you sure you’re making the right decision here?”

 

“Scott,” Cal began. “His tests clearly show he’s a Brat. Exactly how high, we don’t know. He’s testing right now as a 3 but I honestly don’t think that’s accurate.”

 

“I understand your concerns, and they are valid and the same ones we’ve been kicking around for several months, since they were first brought to our attention. They've been studied carefully since Dylan’s formal tests came back," Ryan said calmly, stepping into the discussion before the two other men started one of their famous debates. "We can only guess at why he initially tested as a Top, but when he was informed that he wasn’t a Top, he did not react like one. When he was told that The Island could not support his relationship with Jamie, he did not react like a Top. They had only been here a week, but the tight grasp he had on his emotions and actions had already slipped some.” Ryan sat down next to Scott, not wanting it to seem like he was lecturing. “Take their files home, come observe them at the infirmary, get to know them and think about it. But I think you’ll come to the same conclusion that we’ve come to, and Dylan and Jamie have too.”

 

“Dylan’s accepted this?” Scott asked.

 

“Yes,” Cal said simply, and then added, “Accepted might be a bit strong, but I think in his heart he knows this is right. I’ve seen a small change in him just in the short time he’s been here. And if he didn’t want it, if Jamie didn’t want it, they have vouchers for tickets home they can cash in at any time.”

 

Scott smiled slightly at the councilor, unable to resist teasing the smug Brat that still occasionally got on his nerves. “And go back to living on the streets. Not much of a choice there, Cal.”

 

Cal smiled back, trying not to take offense at the Top’s tone. “No, not on the street. Before they left Milecky assured them both that if they weren’t happy here, he and Annie would love to have them stay with them.” 

 

“Okay. This is going to be hard enough on everyone; I just want to make sure I’m not getting people who feel trapped here and this isn’t really a right fit.”

 

Ryan tapped him on the knee. “You know we don’t do that, Scott. Everyone has an out and can use it whenever they want….”

 

Scott laughed and tapped him back. “Yeah, but I also know you all, and the idea of two young men living out on the street and needing help might be enough to make you swallow whatever questions you might have.” He smiled at the two men, still laughing slightly. "What about Dylan's rating? You know I keep my 6s on pretty tight leashes, especially at first. Jamie's probably going to react well to it, but I don't know about Dylan. Cal, best guess, where do you think his rating is going to end up?"

 

Cal grimaced. "I really hate to make these kinds of guesses, especially in a situation like this. Based on interviews with both of them, Dylan had the role of Top for Jamie even before they left home, so over two years. Based on the fact that he's testing at a 3 now, I think it is possible that he could eventually settle out as a 6, but more likely a high 4 or low 5."

 

"A 4 isn't going to like the strict rules that Andre and I keep on the cottage," Scott observed.

 

"No, and traditionally, I don't think it would be a good match, but I think, and you agree, right Cal?" Ryan paused, waiting for confirmation from the councilor before continuing, "when Dylan is finally confronted with the reality of rules and discipline, for both him and Jamie, he's going to spike up before settling down to his natural rating. We see that happen all the time and we both agree that his spike has the potential to be much greater, needing a much firmer hand than what a T5 or 6 could give him. Since you're a T8, you should be a good match."

 

They continued talking and looking at the two files for another hour before Scott gathered it all up to take back with him. “I think you’re both right,” he said with a smile. “I can pick them up day after tomorrow. That gives me time to talk to Andre and then our brats.”

 

After the Temp Top left Ryan's office, Cal couldn't resist making a face. "He's a great Top, has a great way with his orphans and this innate sense on how to reach them, but, God," he said with a laugh, and making another face, "he gets on my nerves sometimes. He's so smug!"

 

Ryan chuckled. "Cal, you and Scott have had problems since he got here three years ago and got hit on the head by a book you threw at Hobbes during a tantrum."

 

Cal blushed. "I was having a bad day. And he didn't have to suggest to Hobbes that he obviously needed to keep me on a shorter leash with a sorer bottom! Then," he added, embarrassment turning to outrage, "when Hobbes made me go over and apologize, he kissed me on the forehead and told me not to worry about it, that I was a Brat and he *expected* me to throw things once in a while!"

 

The Top smiled at the outrage still present after all these years. "Well, Cal, he has a point. Throwing things does seem to be part of the over-stressed brat's repertoire."

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Dylan sat on the low terrace wall behind the infirmary, lost in thought as he waited to be picked up and taken to his new home. The last four months had passed by so fast that he hadn't had time to assimilate them. He had hoped that when Jamie finished high school they could both work enough hours to get them ahead financially. It had been almost impossible for him to work and support them while going to school, but he had been adamant that Jamie wasn't going to work as well. His senior year of high school was too important. Another year of college was out of the question for either one of them right now, but if they were both working, they could enroll in community college courses and maybe save enough for an apartment instead of the cheap motel they had been living in.

 

The news that Jamie had been arrested had thrown those plans into a tailspin as he tried to figure out where was he going to come up with money for bail when he didn't even have the weekly rent for their tiny motel room. Relief had followed his panic when the judge dropped the charges, then apprehension when he announced that he wanted to discuss their future. That initial conversation had slowly but surly developed into a friendship that Dylan had trusted. When the judge had told them he knew how to help their relationship and introduced them to Jeffries, Dylan had trusted his judgment. They had meet the other man and listened to him explain The Island and what it stood for. Some place deep in him, Dylan had felt a sense of rightness in what he was explaining. Immediately after Jamie's graduation, they were on a plane for The Island. It was then, he decided, that things first went downhill.

 

They had been shown a nice, clean cottage and met with the councilors. The next day, Jamie had gone with Cal, and he and Hobbes had sat down together to talk and for more formal tests. After they had both endured what seemed like days of tests and interviews, they had broken the news to him. He wasn't a "Top" as they put it. He was a Brat, just like Jamie. That had been a blow to him and the subsequent change in their freedom had been another one. No longer allowed to stay in a cottage alone, they had been moved to a special section in the infirmary with a list of rules and people there to make sure those rules were followed.

 

The change in location was not actually the most upsetting part about the whole thing, Dylan thought to himself, idly picking at the small pebbles on top of the wall. Before, he and Jamie were allowed to wander around the compound and the beach area whenever they wanted, they could get up when they wanted, and go to bed when they wanted. Now, they were not allowed off the infirmary grounds without someone with them, the lights were firmly shut off at 10 and firmly turned on at 7 the next morning.

 

All of it had become too much for him and one evening, after being denied permission to take a walk on the beach because of the rain, he had lost it. Even now, he blushed when he thought about the scene he had caused, swearing at the staff, and how he had broken down when Ryan had caught him and held him close until he couldn’t struggle anymore. And then held him even longer, whispering quietly and gently to him while he sobbed out all the frustration that had been building. He had been so thankful that Jamie had not been around to witness that display.

 

Jamie - the center of his universe. Just the thoought of him was enough to make Dylan's stomach clench right now. Their relationship and how to handle it was just another ball he was trying to juggle. He felt like they were undermining his authority with Jamie and trying to separate them, but he didn't know how to deal with it. If it was just himself he'd be gone in a heartbeat, but he couldn't do that to Jamie. He was so much better off here. He had a good place to sleep, enough food, decent clothing, all the things that Dylan had been struggling to provide for him.

 

Jamie had none of his wariness or suspicions about these people and their motives. He hadn't minded the tests and exams that seemed to pry into his every thought and feeling. He had enjoyed the orientation that explained what their new life was going to be like if they chose to stay, and was sublimely unworried about their future. That was something he trusted Dylan to take care of, as he had always trusted Dylan to take care of him. He was looking forward to being assigned to a cottage and getting to know the other Brats, with no doubts about making friends or fitting in.

 

"Hi, Dylan. My name's Scott. I'm going to be your Temp Top. Are you ready to go?"

 

Dylan, jerked out of his thoughts, looked up at the man standing in front of him. Scott was shorter then he had expected, only a couple of inches taller then he was, with dark brown hair that was probably barely regulation length, if the other staff members were any indication. Glasses with small brown frames surrounded his dark brown eyes, but did nothing to hide the warmth in them. Dylan felt an instant liking for him, a feeling that he immediately pushed away. He wasn't letting his guard down that easily again. "Do I have a choice?" he asked sullenly.

 

"No. Actually, you don't," the other man replied pleasantly with a small shrug. "So let's go. James is waiting for us out front."

 

"Jamie. He HATES being called James," Dylan informed him tightly, seizing the small chance to assert his knowledge and authority.

 

"All right, *Jamie* is waiting for us out front. Come on, Dylan." he said, holding out his hand to the younger man. The Temp Top kept his voice calm, and even and Dylan admired his self-control.

 

"I don't understand why you're doing this to us," he said resentfully as he jumped down from the wall, ignoring the hand, and carefully brushed the dirt from his new khaki shorts. "Why you don't think I can take care of Jamie? We were doing fine the way we were."

 

"I know it seems tough now, lots of changes," Scott sympathized, draping an arm around shoulders that instantly stiffened. "But give it a chance, Dylan, and remember this isn't anything personal. I've read your charts, and, between you and I, you weren't doing fine. You were coping, but you need help, and we can give you that help. I know that it seems like we're going about it the wrong way, but trust us, Dylan. Please? For Jamie's sake?" he added hating to play that card but knowing it would work.

 

"I will for now," Dylan compromised, shrugging free of the arm with a glare. "As long as it makes things better for Jamie."

 

"That's all we ask," Scott replied easily as they walked out front where Jamie was already waiting.

 

"I didn't bring a cart," the Temp Top explained. "It's a short walk and I've already placed the belongings you brought with you in your rooms. I wasn't sure what belonged to who, though, so you'll have to sort that out for yourselves."

 

"Our rooms? Plural?" Dylan asked, instantly suspicious. "Why do we need two rooms? We're a couple."

 

Jamie didn't say anything, simply moved closer to Dylan and waited for him to straighten everything out.

 

"I know you're a couple," Scott replied soothingly. "But the cottages aren't set up that way. Our bedrooms are really only big enough for one person. Why don't you give this a try? You're right next door to each other and you have unlimited access to each other's rooms. The only rule is that you sleep in your own bed at night. Two people in a twin bed is not conducive to good sleep."

 

Dylan sighed unhappily, seeing the logic and unable to find an argument to counter it, but still feeling like he was being manipulated.

 

"We're in Cottage 6A," Scott continued as they walked along. "I have one other Brat, Patrick. Andre, the other TT has two Brats right now, Carlos and Tracy. They're all on a field trip right now, but you'll meet them this evening. I think you'll like them. I looked over your files and you have several things in common with them. Carlos is working on the same college math requirements you are, Jamie. Maybe you can help each other with homework. "

 

Dylan followed along silently as Scott set Jamie at ease, admiring the older man's deft handling of them. Jamie was eagerly discussing basketball now, with Scott describing the facilities available and explaining what he had to do to be eligible to play. One more strand in the net holding them here, Dylan thought dismally.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Patrick tiptoed up the front steps and peeked into the living room window. Not seeing anyone, he eased open the screen door and cautiously made his way inside, then walked as quietly as possible toward his room, praying that he’d get there before Scott or Andre saw him.

 

“Hold it right there, young man,” a voice commanded firmly.

 

 Making a face and cursing silently, he turned around and smiled. “Hi, Scott.”

 

“Hi, Patrick,” the TT said with a faint smile. “What time is it, please?”

 

“Ummm, I’m not sure exactly. Right around 1:45.”

 

Raising an eyebrow, Scott Looked at him.

 

“Scott,” Patrick pleaded, trying not to sound guilty. “Come on, I am *barely* late. Give it a break. I’m here before nappy time.” His voice rose with frustration, and the cool, confident air he was hoping to pull off,disappeared under his Temp Top’s glare.

 

 “The rule of this cottage is that you’re here at 1:45, young man, and you know it,” Scott said sternly. “No,” he added sharply, holding up a hand when Patrick opened his mouth to argue. “The best thing you can do for yourself is to shut your mouth, turn around and go stand in the corner in my office and wait for me. I’ll be with you in a few minutes.” Not waiting to see if Patrick complied, he turned around and went back into the kitchen where the other brats were eating their snacks.

 

“It’s only a few minutes, Scott, not a major crime,” Dylan said softly, not looking at his Temp Top.

 

Scott glared at the Brat for a moment, then asked pointedly, “Do you have something you’d like to share, Dylan?”

 

Meeting his glare with a stubborn look, Dylan shook his head.

 

“Then stop mumbling, please, and finish eating.”

 

Carlos and Tracy quickly stifled their laughs as Andre turned his attention to them.

 

Fifteen minutes later, the cottage brats, save one, were in their rooms resting after a busy morning. Closing the door to Jamie’s room, Scott continued down the hall to his own set of rooms. Opening the door, he saw Patrick leaning against the wall, arms crossed.

 

“Stand up straight, young man, arms down,” he told him firmly.

 

Patrick straightened up with a sigh. “Scott, come on ….” he whined, hating how he sounded, but too frustrated and upset to change.

 

“Do you have permission to talk when you’re in the corner?”

 

Sighing again, the brat said softly, “No, sir.”

 

Getting two bottles of water from the small fridge, Scott sat down on the couch, putting the water on the side table. “All right, come here, please.”

 

Patrick turned around quickly, a frustrated and upset look on his face. Hesitating a moment until Scott held out his arm to him, he hurried forward and fell on the couch, leaning in close. “I’m sorry,” he said simply, voice muffled against Scott’s chest.

 

Scott rubbed the brat's back and kissed the top of his head, then handed him a bottle of water. “I know you are. But, you also know what time you’re supposed to be here. This isn’t the first time, Patrick.”

 

“I know, I just got caught up talking to Brent and Jason and they don’t have to be in their cottage until 2.” He finished the last part with a pout and an accusatory tone. “It’s not fair that we have to be here early.”

 

 “Did your contract say that things were always going to be fair?” Scott asked with a small smile, before turning serious again. "Our rules are always going to be more strict than Mark and Andrew's. You know that. They're 4s and you're 6s, and the 4s don't need the supervision and boundaries that you do. Now, let's talk about what happens when you break *my* rules."

 

 

"Wait up, guys!" Patrick called to Dylan and Jamie, running to catch up. "We can walk to Group together."

 

Jamie stopped on the path and waited, and Dylan sighed and stopped too. Sometimes Jamie's friendly attitude toward everyone could be a pain in the butt.

 

"How much trouble did you get into?" Jamie asked when Patrick caught up to them. "Are we allowed to ask that?"

 

"Sure," Patrick said easily. "It's not a big deal. I got a lecture on punctuality, plus I had to do lines and I lost my after-lunch free time for a week."

 

"Why do you put up with it?" Dylan asked unwillingly, interested in spite of himself. "Why do you let him push you around like that?"

 

"It isn't pushing me around," Patrick replied. "It's helping me out. If he just let me get away with it, I'd keep getting later and later until I was showing up for quiet time at bedtime. I do better when I have strict boundaries and consequences. "

 

"I hate them," Dylan said vehemently. "And I hate having all these arbitrary decisions being made for me without even being asked how I feel about it."

 

"You know what?" Patrick asked, looking at him in surprise. "You sound just like one of the 4s."

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

 Looking back over his shoulder, Dylan waved to Jamie, then jumped the low wall that marked the boundary of the compound and headed down the trail to the beach. He was taking a risk, going off by himself and without permission and this area had been placed off limits after a brat had almost drowned several years before. He wasn't planning on going into the water, though, and he needed some time to himself. That damn Jackson knew exactly where to aim his barbed remarks and never missed an opportunity. Dylan took several deep breaths, unclenching his fists and willing himself to relax. What Jackson thought didn't matter. None of their opinions mattered. The only person he cared about was Jamie. He perched on a boulder, hugging one knee, and looked out over the water, listening to the soft lap of the waves on the shore. As always, it soothed his jangled nerves and he gradually calmed down.

 

His thoughts drifted over the strange twists his life had taken. The present structure of his days both confined him and made him feel freer then he had in years. He didn't have the independence and freedom of movement he was used to and he rarely got to make a decision concerning himself and Jamie anymore. On the other hand, he wasn't running constantly from one worry to the next. He didn't have to figure out where their rent was coming from or if they had enough food to last until his meager paycheck arrived. He didn't have to worry about what Jamie was doing while he worked the graveyard shift, wondering if he was back in their room studying or out with friends getting into trouble.

 

He enjoyed the classes he was taking. Tuesday and Thursday mornings were "Brat" classes, a series of classes covering the general aspects of being in a discipline relationship. The classes were loosely connected and repeated continuously. A Brat simply started them when he arrived and finished when he had completed the full cycle. This week they were discussing the criteria for rating Brats and he was starting to understand the ratings system and see - reluctantly - that it made sense.

 

Monday, Wednesday and Friday were online college courses that would apply to his degree when he got home. It was so much easier to handle school when he had could focus all of his attention on learning, and he didn't have to be forced to study in the evening the way Jamie and the other brats did. In fact, Scott spent more time taking his books away and making him socialize than the other way around.

 

The threat - promise - of discipline from Scott if he stepped out of line filled him with dread, and he was determined to avoid it. He had received what Tracy had referred to as splats from Scott, for arguing, and it had convinced him that he did not want a full spanking from the man. The 4 or 5 hard swats the Temp Top had delivered on his shorts had brought tears to his eyes and stung for almost an hour.

 

Jamie was thriving, laughing and smiling more often now than he had since they moved out of the house, and that made Dylan smile and want to cry at the same time. Even now he could feel the prick of tears, thinking that soon Jamie wouldn't need him or even want him for protection or love.

 

A crunch of gravel on the path made him start guiltily, but whoever was there had already seen him. There was no point in running.

 

"Hi," a tall dark-haired man said as he came into view. "Nice day."

 

"Yeah, it is," Dylan agreed, assessing him. His dark hair was cut short and combed back from his face, and his healthy tan made it clear that he spent a lot of time outdoors. The younger man hadn't seen him around before; he must be one of the Visiting Tops that had arrived the day before.

 

"I haven't seen you around before. You must be one of the new staff people. I'm Garth Hunter." The man held out his hand.

 

"Un, yeah, I am. Dylan Kent." Dylan shook the offered hand, surreptitiously sliding his ID badge from his waistband to his pocket at the same time.

 

"I'm sorry, do you want to be alone?" Garth asked. "I didn't think of that before I barged in and started a conversation."

 

"No," Dylan replied, surprised to realize that it was true. "Pull up a rock and talk for a while," he added with a smile.

 

Garth sat down on another rock close by and gazed out over the water. "It's so pretty here. And quiet." He laughed. "I was looking for some place quiet."

 

"I know," Dylan said with a grimace. "The Island gets kind of noisy sometimes."

 

Garth smiled. "It does. I have no idea how you all stand it sometimes. It's ... it's amazing, though, so full of life. Have you been working here long?"

 

"I've only been here for about a month," Dylan hedged. "Is this your first visit?"

 

"Have you gotten used to the noise and energy level yet?" The older man laughed. "This is my third trip, but the first two were much shorter. The first one was the intro weekend and then the second one was just a long weekend, too. This time, I'm jumping in with both feet. I'm here two weeks, then a week back at home, followed by another two weeks here."

 

"It's fun sometimes, but I like to be by myself once in awhile, too. So you're here looking for a Brat?" Dylan probed discreetly, not sure how the man would react to personal questions from a stranger.

 

"Yes, I am, but I'm not in a real hurry. I'm enjoying the search," he said with a smile. "So what do you do here? You seem a little young to be a Temp Top."

 

"I'm not. I wouldn't have their job for anything. I do whatever they tell me to, mostly cleaning and landscaping." It wasn't quite a lie, Dylan thought. After all, he did help clean the cottage and weed its flower beds.

 

"Cleaning and gardening is honest work. Nothing to be ashamed of," the Top said firmly, then asked, "You don't think you'd like to be in charge of three or four brats?"

 

"No, I couldn’t even handle one brat without help." He was silent for a long moment, then, aware that Garth was looking at him oddly, changed the subject. "So, what do you do when you're not on The Island?"

 

"I'm an architect in Nashville. I'm working on a freelance project this summer. That's how I managed to have all this free time. I'm almost 32 and I figure it's time I settle down and find someone serious. I've been involved with discipline for about 8 years, but this is really the first time I've made a serious commitment to include it in my relationships full-time.” He smiled and then asked, “Why did you come here?"

 

"Someone back home strongly recommended it to me. He thought I'd enjoy it and it gives me some time to make some decisions about my life and what I want to do with it."

 

“What kind of decisions? Are you in college?” the older man asked.

 

“I was, and I’m taking some online courses now, but I really don’t know what I want to do.” He paused for a minute and then continued. “My life’s gone through a lot of changes lately. A relationship I thought would be forever, and that I can’t really imagine NOT having, ended…” he trailed off with a shrug, studying the waves in front of them to avoid Garth’s eyes.

 

“Well, I don’t know if this will be any consolation to you or not, but I’ve found that things usually do work out. Even changes we think will bring nothing but pain can turn out to be good ones in the end.” He smiled and then glanced at his watch and stood up reluctantly. "I'm sorry, Kent, I have to be going. I have a seminar starting in a few minutes. Maybe I'll see you back at the compound later?

 

"NO! Um... no," Dylan moderated his tone. "Uh, staff members aren't really supposed to mingle with the guests. But I'm usually on the beach around this time. Maybe I'll see you tomorrow?"

 

"Yeah, that would be great. I'll try to be here. Bye."

 

Dylan watched him walk away whistling, then ran back to the cottage, arriving out of breath about two minutes before the rest of the Brats were due back from their free time. He was lying on his bed with an open book when Scott stuck his head in the door.

 

"You all right, Dylan?" the TT asked, coming into the room and sitting on the edge of the bed, frowning slightly. "You look flushed."

 

"No, I'm all right," Dylan replied. "Just a little tired."

 

Scott felt the young man's forehead. "You don't feel too warm. You aren't upset about what Jackson said, are you? He didn't mean anything by it."

 

Dylan jerked away from the touch. "I know. I just wanted to get away from him before I said something I shouldn't."

 

"That's a good move," Scott said approvingly. "I'm glad you came back to the cottage and calmed down instead of blowing up at him.” Standing and giving the Brat’s hip a light swat, he added, “Come out and have a snack now, so you won't be hungry during quiet time."

 

Dylan followed him to the kitchen, burying his feeling of guilt over his deception. After all, he reasoned, it was all their fault that he couldn't tell them what he had done. If they weren't so anal about the Brats’ boundaries, he wouldn't have to lie about where he went during free time. And their attitude about Brats being chaperoned with any Visiting Top was positively Victorian. Conscience soothed, he loaded up with snacks and went to sit by himself, ignoring the noise the other Brats made as they celebrated beating the 5s at soccer.

 

"All right, guys, quiet time," Andre announced, snagging the olive that Tracy had just shot between the salt and pepper shaker goal posts. "You can replay the game later."

 

Dylan got up and went to his room obediently, his mind busy going over the conversation with Garth, savoring the feeling of being treated like an adult for a change.

 

"I hope he isn't coming down with something," Scott told Andre later. "Dylan has *never* laid down without some pointed remark about children and nap time."

 

"I wouldn't worry about it," Andre replied with a grin. "Just enjoy it while it lasts."

 

~~~~~~~~~~~

 

“This is so stupid," Dylan muttered to himself a week later, rolling over onto his side. “A nap. I’m 21 years old and they want me to take a nap like a little kid.” Closing his eyes, he tried to still his mind. Even though he would never admit it, it actually felt nice to lay there in a soft bed in the quiet cottage. There was a certain air of peace that filled the rooms during this time. It was always present, he mused, just sometimes drowned out by the TV in the evening. Or the chatter and laughter of the other brats as they got ready in the morning and were hurried out the door to begin the heavily structured day, kept on time by the two Tops of the cottage. He rolled over again and began to go over his latest conversation with Garth. It had become a habit for him to slip away during free time, waiting impatiently on the beach for Garth to arrive. They had so much in common. He could have spent hours talking with him instead of just the short time they had between his lunch and quiet time and Garth's Top seminars. And for the next few days he wouldn't even have that. Garth had gone home to take care of some business and wouldn't be back until Saturday.

 

He wished he didn't have to meet the Top under false pretenses, but the rules about Top/Brat interaction were very strict. They were chaperoned worse than Victorian maidens, he thought resentfully, and some part of him rebelled at Garth knowing that he was one of the Orphans, patiently waiting to be taken under some man's wing and given a good home. He wanted Garth to think of him as an equal, not as someone to be picked out like a puppy.

 

He'd never met a man quite like him, so easy to talk to and interested in what Dylan had to say. He didn't talk down to the younger man like Scott and Andre did, often without meaning to. Dylan was so afraid that that would change if Garth found out he was a Brat and he couldn't bear to have the older man look down on him or act as if he wasn't important anymore. No, it was better this way. He'd simply take all the time that he could get and savor every moment of it.

 

Absentmindedly, his hand strayed to his cotton-covered crotch and his fingers began to move in the well-known motion that he'd perfected over the years. The memory of his name on Garth's lips, of that deep, well-tenored voice, sent a rush of blood to his groan, hardening it quickly beneath his fingers. Raising up and slipping his shorts off, he threw the sheet back over himself. With his knees bent up and spread, the sheet hid all but the faintest hint of his hand and finger movements.

 

He smiled as he remembered how Garth looked this afternoon. He had been wearing khaki shorts and a navy blue shirt that made his eyes look like bottomless pools. The memory of the electric charge that had coursed through him hardened him further, his fingers now slick with precum as they slid up and down his cock, teasing his balls gently once in a while.

 

They had talked about nothing in particular this afternoon, but the happiness of simply spending time with Garth was enough to carry him through the day. Dylan grinned broadly, his left hand coming to his chest and beginning to tease a nipple while his right hand continued to stroke himself harder and faster. Closing his eyes, he imagined that it was Garth's hands on him, stroking him, bringing him to climax. Feeling that familiar tightening in his balls, he sped up the stroking, spreading the precum on himself to aid in the motion. Spreading his legs wider under the sheet, he closed his eyes tightly, concentrating on the waves of sensation and the fantasy that it was Garth's hands on him, not his own.

 

The wave of orgasm hit him hard, arching his back, breaking loose a moan and soft cry as his body trembled, toes clenching and twitching, back arching off the bed as his head was pressed hard into the pillow. Several long moments later, his right hand appeared from beneath the sheet, groping around for the washcloth he kept tucked between the mattresses. Wiping himself

clean, he allowed it to drop back on the floor, almost asleep already, crashing from the waves of sensations and hormones. Rolling over to his side, he curled up around his pillow with a sated

smile on his face. His last thought before falling asleep was how nice it would be to feel Garth curled up warm and large and firm behind him as they both slept off the effects of their love making.

 

"DYLAN!!"

 

The sound of Jamie's voice shattered the silence, causing him to jerk awake. Stumbling out of bed, he pulled on the shorts he had been wearing earlier and yanked open the door, rushing down the hall.

 

"DYLAN!" Jamie yelled again.

 

He ran down the hall and almost collided with Scott, who was standing just inside the doorway to the living room. "What's wrong?" he asked urgently, looking around for Jamie.

 

Scott turned around, catching the younger man before he ran into him. "Dylan, it's fine. Go back to your room, please. Everything is fine."

 

"Dylan! NO!" Jamie cried from near the front door. "Don't leave me. Please!"

 

Scott turned from Dylan back to Jamie. "Hush, Jamie. I told you to go into the office and wait for me there."

 

"What's going on?" Dylan asked again, inching his way into the room and toward Jamie.

 

Scott placed a hand on his shoulder, holding him back. "Jamie was going for a run, even though we've talked twice now about staying in his room during quiet time. Now Jamie and I are going to go into my office for a more hands-on discussion.”

 

“Dylan,” Jamie pleaded, his voice breaking. “Don’t let him. He's going to spank me and it's not fair. I wasn’t tired. I don’t want to take a nap. I want to go for a run. Please.”

 

Dylan fought against the restraining hand on his shoulder, his eyes flashing as he instantly rushed to Jamie's defense. “It’s a stupid rule, Scott. We shouldn’t have to take a nap if we don’t want to.” He jerked free and started toward Jamie.

 

Scott took a step forward and grabbed the other man’s upper arm. “Dylan. Stop,” he said in a tone that usually had Brats freezing.

 

“Don’t tell me to stop!” Dylan snapped back, his voice rising in anger, again jerking free of the grasp. “You stop! You can’t tell me what to do! This whole nap business is stupid! Jamie knows when he’s tired and when he isn't! You can’t just snap your fucking fingers--"

 

That was as far as he got before Scott reached out and grabbed his arm in an iron grip. Pulling him closer and turning him slightly, the Temp Top delivered two hard swats to the lightly-clad bottom. “Stop right now, Dylan. Turn around and go back to your room. This doesn’t concern you and isn’t any of your business.” he said sternly. Then, lowering his voice slightly, he added more gently, “I know this is hard, and I’ll come in and we can talk about it later, but right now you need to turn around and go back to your room.”

 

“This isn’t fair!” Jamie yelled, leaving his position by the door. “You can’t do this! Dylan is right! You can’t beat him just because he’s daring to tell the truth and stand up to you and these stupid rules!”

 

“Scott?” an uncertain voice asked from the doorway, “What’s going on?”

 

The Top groaned at the growing complexity of the situation. “Patrick, go back to your room. It’s fine.”

 

Patrick looked at the two other Brats. “Are you sure? What’s going on? Why is everyone yelling?”

 

“Patrick, come here, please,” Andre said firmly, motioning the young man toward him.Scott glanced over, surprised to see the other cottage Top standing the in the doorway to his wing.

 

As Patrick crossed the room toward Andre, Dylan again tried to jerk free. “Shit! Let me go! Everything is not fine here! You can't do this to us!“

 

Again his tirade was cut off by two sharp swats from Scott. “I have reached my limit with you and your mouth, little boy.” Walking him to the wall, he turned the Brat so that he was facing it. “Stand there and cool down. Don’t open your mouth again.”

 

Still seething, Dylan reluctantly did as he was told for the moment, determined that he wouldn't put up with this for any longer than it took to exchange their vouchers for plane tickets home.

 

“You,” Scott said, snapping his fingers and pointing at Jamie, “face that wall and close *your* mouth.”

 

Jamie trudged to the wall, stopping just short and looking back at Dylan.

 

“James, step forward and face the wall. Do not make me tell you again,” Scott barked. Looking for Patrick, he saw him with Andre and the other two brats of the cottage. All wore worried expressions, and the other TT had his hands full trying to hug, pat and comfort them all at one time.

 

It's all right," Andre reassured them soothingly. "Back to your rooms. Quiet time isn't over yet."

 

"But what's wrong?" Tracy questioned. "Why are they shouting?"

 

"Jamie is going to be spanked for the first time, and he's a little upset about it, that's all. You all remember your first time and how upset you got, don't you? He'll be fine. Now, back to your rooms before you all join him in the corner."

 

"But why is Dylan shouting?" Patrick persisted. "He isn't getting spanked too, is he?"

 

Andre sighed. "He's upset because Jamie is his brother. Now, back to your rooms. Patrick, why don’t you go lay down in my bed? I'll be there in just a minute."

 

They all trudged off, stealing glances at the other two men, worried about their cottage mates, and never liking it when another brat was in trouble.

 

Once they were gone, Andre went over to the other top. “Seems like you have your hands full. Need any help?” he asked quietly.

 

Rolling his eyes, Scott nodded. “Yeah. If you can keep an eye on Patrick, I’d appreciate it. And could you please give Ryan a call and ask him to come over?”

 

Dylan jerked his head around at Ryan’s name.

 

“Turn around, Dylan," Scott ordered sternly. "I'll let you know when you have permission to move.”

 

At the sound of Dylan's name, Jamie turned and looked at him and then at Scott, his face a mixture of fear, pain and confusion.

 

“The same goes for you, Jamie,” he ordered, before turning back to Andre, and continuing more softly. “I don’t think Dylan is going to handle Jamie being spanked very well, and I can't take care of both of them at the same time. And it looks like your hands are going to be full with the others.”

 

Andre shook his head. “No, he won't. I’ll call Ryan and explain to him what’s going on. If he can’t come, I’m sure Hayes can.” He punched Scott in the shoulder good naturedly as he turned around, adding, “Good luck. We’ll talk this evening, okay?”

 

Scott smiled at his friend. “Sounds good. Thanks.” Sitting down in one of the chairs in the living room, he studied the two men standing before him. Dylan's back was rigid with anger and Jamie's was bent in worry and fear. In the background, he could hear Andre’s low murmuring on the phone in the kitchen. He nodded when the other Top stuck his head in and flashed five fingers at him, and continued watching the Brats in front of him. A few minutes later, the sound of a cart pulling up in front of the cottage could be heard through the open windows.

 

“I'll be back in a minute. You two stay right there,” Scott said, getting up and walking outside. Shutting the door behind him and going down the path, he met Ryan out of earshot of the house.

 

After a short discussion, they entered the house together, and Ryan went immediately over to Dylan. "Hello, little one, it's good to see you again. I'm sorry it's under such stressful circumstances," he said softly.

 

"Let's go, Jamie," Scott said at the same time. "This has been put off long enough and has turned into enough of a production. It's not worth all the stress it's caused you or caused Dylan. You made the decision and now there are consequences that *you* need to deal with, not Dylan."

 

Jamie nodded and a stray tear slipped down his cheek. "I'm sorry. I just... I don't want to be spanked. I want Dylan."

 

"I understand," the Temp Top said, "but Dylan can't fix it this time. And if he tries, he's going to be in trouble too. You don't want that, do you?"

 

"N-no," Jamie said, brushing the tear from his cheek.

 

"That's my boy," Scott said approvingly. "Let's go in the office now, all right?"

 

Placing a hand on Dylan's back, Ryan said gently, "Come on, Dylan. Let's go for a walk while Jamie and Scott take care of this."

 

Dylan pulled back and dug in his heels. "No! Jamie needs me! I won't allow Scott to-"

 

"Dylan! Stop! Right now!" Ryan ordered. He lowered his voice and put his arm around the younger man's shoulders. "I know you want to protect him, but Jamie needs to accept the consequences of his actions. You aren't helping him by arguing like this."

 

"But I can't let him get hurt," Dylan whispered, his face twisted with frustration and unshed tears. "I can't."

 

"Scott is not going to hurt him. He's going to spank him."

 

"But--"

 

"No, little one," Ryan said, his voice gentle. Scott appeared a moment later without Jamie and handed the other Top a pair of shoes and a T-shirt before disappearing down the hall again. Passing them on to Dylan, Ryan watched him impassively as he quickly got dressed before taking his arm again and guiding the younger man out of the house. "There are no 'buts'. Those are the rules and you know it and so does Jamie. He is going to be spanked. He will be in pain and discomfort, but he will not be hurt," he explained calmly as they walked the paths.

 

Shutting the door behind him, Scott turned on the room's light.

 

Jamie had sat down in the chair across from the desk and was looking down at the floor.

 

Pulling the straight back chair from it's spot against the wall, the Top sat down and looked at the other man.  "All right Jamie, what's going on?  We dealt with this less than a week ago after you tried to leave during quiet time.  We talked, you said you understand and you wrote lines to remind you.  I guess that didn't make enough of an impression on you."  He paused as if waiting for Jamie to say something.  When he didn't, Scott sighed and motioned for the younger man to stand up and come to him.  "All right.  It seems a stronger impression is needed.  Off with your shorts and come here."

 

Standing up slowly, he undid the button and unzipped them.  Before pushing them down, he asked quietly, "Are you going to spank me?"

 

Long used to Brats and spanking them for the first time, Scott was not terribly surprised by the question.  "Yes.  I'm going to put you across my knees, lower your boxers and spank you with my hand."

 

Swallowing hard and blushing at the matter-of-factness of the answer, he pulled off his shorts, dropping them to the floor.  Stepping out of them, he moved slowly toward Scott.

 

"Pick them up please, Jamie, and fold them neatly and put them on the chair."

 

Picking them up, he placed them where Scott indicated.  "I don't want to be spanked." he said softly, still no closer to the Top then before.

 

"You aren't suppose to want to be spanked James. That's what makes it a punishment and a deterrent to misbehavior," he replied gently, knowing that the younger man was scared, but also knowing that the situation was not going to get easier by putting it off.  "Come here.  You're

making this harder on yourself then it has to be."

 

"It's going to hurt and I don't want to be hurt," he whimpered, starting to back up toward the door.

 

Seeing the situation rapidly disintegrating, Scott stood up quickly and reached out for Jamie, taking hold of his arm.  Forcing the younger man to look at him, he said firmly, "It's going to hurt but it's not going to kill or permanently hurt you. And," he said, forcing Jamie to walk

back to the chair with him heedless of the younger man's struggles, "there is nothing you can do about it now.  You've earned a spanking and I have a responsibility to punish you."  With that, he sat down and pulled the other man down and across his knees.

 

Immediately, Jamie began to struggle and cry, "Noooo, please Scott.  Don't.  I'm sorry.  Please!"

 

Ignoring the growing cries, Scott pulled down the underwear quickly, aided by Jamie's struggles.

 

"Noooooo! Stop!" Jamie cried again, gasping for breath and to the point of almost panic.

Lifting his hand and delivering a hard swat to the center of the now exposed bottom, Scott said firmly, "Stop, Jamie."

 

A second after impact, Jamie let a loud scream, fueled more by panic and fear then actual pain.  "NO!  STOP!  I want UP!"

 

Tightening his hold on the squirming body, Scott rubbed Jamie's back. "Breathe," he ordered. "Breathe." Lifting his hand again, he delivered two sharp swats, one to each check, "You do not leave your room without permission during quiet time,"  he said over Jamie's cries.  "Is that

understood?"

 

"YES!  Never again!  I swear!" the younger man cried, pushing himself up, desperate to get away.  "Please stop!"

 

"You've said that before, James, and you continued.  We still have a long way to go before we are going to stop." Lifting his hand again, Scott began to slowly but firmly spank him, stopping several times to check on him.  Finally, after landing five hard swats in rapid succession to signal the end of the spanking, he stopped and started rubbing the exposed back again, murmuring that it was over, and pulling his underwear back up.

 

Jamie slowly slid off Scott's lap, still crying, and buried his face into his leg.

 

"No, no," the Top said, drawing the other man up and half carried him over to the sofa up against the wall. "Come sit with me for awhile and let's calm down, little one.  It's over. Come and sit with me."  Sitting down, he arranged Jamie so he was laying on his side, his head resting

on Scott's arm on the sofa arm.  Spreading a blanket over the still crying figure, he began the long process of calming him down.

 

Fifteen minutes later, Jamie had tampered his crying off to just the occasional sniffle and hitched breath.  "You hurt me," he stated solemnly. "Please don't do it again."

 

Scott bit back a smile and brushed a stray tear off Jamie's check."Stay in your room during quiet time then."

 

 

"I've always taken care of him," Dylan murmured, even as he allowed himself to be escorted away. "From the time they moved in. Dad said he was my new brother, that I should take care of him, and I've always done my best."

 

Ryan sighed at the burden the misguided man had unwittingly placed on his son. "I'm sure you have, Dylan. But he needs to be responsible for his own actions now, and you need to learn how to let him do that."

 

"It's hard," the young man softly admitted.

 

"I know it is," Ryan replied. "But that's why we're here. Now, tell me how things are going with you. Mac says that you're doing very well with your English Lit class."

 

"It's good. I was a little behind on the reading at first, but I caught up."

 

He made an effort to put Jamie's plight out of his mind, and they walked along the path together, his halting conversation gradually becoming more enthusiastic as he described the class and the chat room discussions that went with it. Ryan didn't say much, content to observe him and reaffirm their original decision. He tried hard to be a top and take care of Jamie, but he was definitely a brat at heart.

 

They walked and talked for almost forty-five minutes before returning to the now quiet cottage.

 

"Go to your room, please. I'll be with you in a minute. I want to check in with Scott," Ryan said.

 

"No," Dylan objected. "I have to check on Jamie first."

 

The progress his walk and discussion with the younger man had made was evaporating rapidly and Ryan made an effort to keep it from totally disappearing. "Dylan," he said gently, "we talked about this. Remember? This isn't for you to worry about. This isn't on your shoulders. You just need to worry about you. Right?"

 

Dylan frowned. "But...he needs me," he whispered.

 

Ryan pulled him into a quick hug. "He does, little one, but he needs you as a brother and a friend, not as a Top or his disciplinarian. He needs to learn to lean on Scott."

 

"You'll check on him? Make sure he's okay?" Dylan asked reluctantly.

 

Ryan smiled. "Yes, and if you go to your room, I'll come and talk to you in just a minute." Turning him, he landed a light swat on his butt and gave him a push in the right direction. He watched the young man for a moment to be sure that he went into his room, then went the opposite way down the hall toward Scott's rooms. They were around a corner and through another door, allowing for additional privacy and when needed, sound dampening.  Knocking quietly on the door, he waited patiently for the other top to let him in.

 

A minute later Scott opened the door. Over his shoulder, Ryan could see Jamie stretched out on the couch, covered by a light blanket. "Hi," Scott said softly. "Where's Dylan? How's he doing?"

 

"I sent him to his room; he seems to be okay. He's concerned about his brother, though, and wants to see him as soon as he can. How's Jamie?"

 

"He's settled down. He was pretty upset and very scared, but we dealt with it and he received a firm spanking." Glancing back into the room, he continued, "What do you think about letting Dylan see him? I feel like I have to, but I don't want him upset again."

 

Ryan nodded. "I think you have to. Dylan needs to see him and know that he's okay, and I don't think he'll upset him. He does have Jamie's best interests at heart. How are you going to punish him for his involvement in the living room?"

 

"I was thinking about lines, but I want to keep a close eye on Jamie tonight without Dylan around to play tug of war over him. I think he can pull KP duty before and after dinner. I'll call the kitchen to make the arrangements."

 

"That sounds like a good idea to me. While we were walking, we talked about how making Jamie choose between him and you is unfair and will only cause problems. He feels a huge sense of responsibility toward his brother, and I think that logically he knows that Jamie needs a firm hand to keep him happy and healthy. Dylan is just… " Ryan paused, searching for the right words, "disappointed that he's not that person."

 

"That's what I've been getting, too," the Temp Top confirmed. "Let me get Jamie into his bed and then maybe you can bring Dylan in for a few minutes while I call the kitchen."

 

Ryan nodded. "Okay. Just knock on Dylan's door when you're ready."

 

A little while later, Dylan, accompanied by Ryan, opened the door to Jamie's room. The lights were turned off, but the sun coming through the two windows gave the room plenty of illumination. Scott was sitting on Jamie's bed, rubbing the younger man's back and talking quietly to him. "I'll be right back, Jamie. Dylan's here and he's going to visit with you for a few minutes. Then I'll come back and we can talk some more, all right?" Jamie nodded and sniffled slightly as Scott stood up. "I'll be back in about 10 minutes. Then I think we need to talk, right, Dylan?"

 

Dylan nodded silently but his eyes were fixed on Jamie.

 

Exchanging glances, the two tops left the room, shutting the door lightly behind them.

 

Dylan hesitated, not sure what to do to make it better and afraid anything he’d do would make it worse.

 

Jamie rolled over on his side and looked at his brother with a small smile and held out his hand. “Come here, D. I’m okay, but I really want to be close to you right now.”

 

Dylan frowned at the red eyes and tear-stained face and stumbled forward, tears filling his eyes. “I'm so sorry, Jamie,” he cried, sitting on the bed, leaning down and hugging him hard. “I should have done something, I should have stopped him.” His voice broke. “We’ll leave right now. This isn’t right.”

 

Jamie hugged him hard and buried his face in Dylan’s warm chest. Crying, they held each other for a long minute.

 

It was on the tip of Jamie’s tongue to beg Dylan to take them away. To agree that Scott was wrong, that they were all control freaks and had no right to force them to follow these rules, but he strengthened his resolve, even though shifting slightly in Dylan’s arms sent new waves of discomfort through him. “No, D, we can’t.” he whispered softly before he could change his mind.

 

Dylan pulled back in disbelief, “What do you mean we can’t? Of course we can. I was able to support you before, Jamie! And now that you’re out of school, you can get a job too and we’ll do even better!” His voice rose with frustration and a feeling of betrayal. “What did Scott tell you? Fuck him! We can leave whenever we want!” Jerking free, he stood up, fists clenched. “I’ll tell him exactly what I think of him telling you that I’m not fit to take care of you anymore!”

 

Sitting up, ignoring the pain in his butt, Jamie held out his arms. “Dylan! Please! It’s not like that at all!” He looked at his brother and then patted the bed next to him. “Please. Sit down with me.” When Dylan reluctantly sat down, the other man continued, “Scott didn’t say a word about you. He didn’t imply anything about you. It was okay, really.”

 

“He *spanked* you, Jamie!”

 

“I deserved it,” came the soft reply. “I knew the rules, we’d talked about it before and I still choose to try to sneak out. It's like Scott said. There are consequences to all actions, you just have to decide if the consequences are worth it.” Shifting and wincing before laying back down on his side with a sigh, he continued, “And trust me, it’s not worth it.”

 

“How badly did he spank you?” Dylan asked softly, looking at the floor.

 

Jamie shrugged. “I don’t know. It hurt pretty bad, it still hurts pretty bad, but I don’t think too bad, actually, compared to what the other guys have told me. And,” he hesitated, touching Dylan’s leg to make him look at him, “Scott was really great. We talked awhile and he made sure I was calm before he actually had me strip off my shorts and lay across his knees and he’s been sitting with me and holding me since then. He really cares about me, about all of us.”

 

Dylan made a face, shaking his head. "He's a control freak, he cares about his rules and his order and that's it!" Then swallowing his anger, seeing the distress on Jamie's face, he continued more calmly, "I'm glad he didn't hurt you."

 

Jamie gave a small smile. "He hurt my butt, but that was it." He sighed. "He hurt my butt, but he didn't get any more joy out of it then I did, D." Then, breaking eye contact with his brother, he added softly, "I want to stay here. I need to stay here. And I need this type of relationship."

 

As what Jamie said sunk in, Dylan's stomach clenched and he feared he was actually going to be sick.  Not since his father had looked him in the eye and kicked them both out onto the street had he felt so betrayed. "You mean," he finally managed to choke out, "you're okay with all of this and with what," he paused again, closing his eyes briefly and swallowing, "happened?"

 

Jamie nodded, unaware how his acceptance was effecting Dylan.

 

Scott knocked on the door as he opened it. "Dylan, come on. Time's up."

 

Almost grateful for the escape, he bent down and kissed Jamie, whispering, "I'm glad you're okay." Then standing up, refusing to look at Scott, he slipped out of the room.

 

"Dylan, your room please," Scott said firmly.

 

Stopping in the middle of the hall, Dylan bit back a sharp retort, nodding instead, and then disappeared into his room.

 

Scott looked back into Jamie's room. "I'm going to talk to Dylan for a few minutes. Are you okay by yourself? Or should I ask Andre to come in and sit with you for a few minutes?"

 

Jamie smiled. "I'm okay. Please take care of Dylan and don't be mad at him. He's always been there to fight for me. You can't really blame him for doing what he's always done and what was always expected of him."

 

Scott smiled back. "Jamie, I'm not mad at Dylan, I understand where he's coming from." Then he added sternly, "but he has to understand where I'm coming from, too. Without that understanding from him, life is going to get very difficult and painful quickly."

 

Jamie made a face before nodding and laying back down, face buried in his arms.

 

Standing in the doorway for another moment, Scott sighed, then shut the door behind him and walked down the hall to Dylan's room. Knocking on the door, he waited for Dylan to ask him to come in.

 

Inside the room, Dylan glared at the closed door. If he could have locked it, he would have but none of the doors in this cottage had locks. After what he thought was an appropriate amount of time to make Scott wait, he casually said, "Come in," before turning back to his book.

 

Knowing he was being tested and refusing to rise to the bait, the Top stepped in and sat at the foot of the bed where Dylan was stretched out. "Put the book down, please, Dylan, we need to talk."

 

"No, we don't," the younger man said, trying to sound bored. "I talked to Jamie, he's fine with what happened. He doesn't have a problem with you beating him, and he made it clear he doesn't want my help, in spite of screaming for it less than two hours ago. So there's not much left to say." He rolled over on his side, his back to Scott, still holding his book.

 

Leaning across him, Scott snatched the book out of Dylan's hand, closed it and swatted him sharply across the bottom, saying, "Sit up, Dylan. You might not think there's anything left to say, but I disagree."

 

Yelping at the swat, he jerked upright, glaring at the TT. Folding his arms, he scooted across the bed, and leaned into the corner at the head. "Fine, oh Lord and Master, speak and enlighten the poor, dumb Brat with your words of wisdom."

 

"Nope, we're not going to do that, young man. I'm not going to sit here and lecture you." Getting up from the bed, he yanked Dylan up as well. Still holding him by the arm, Scott walked the resisting form over to the easy chair in the corner.

 

"No," Dylan said, pulling back hard, trying to break free. "I don't want to sit with you."

 

"Tough," Scott replied simply, sitting down and forcing Dylan down on top of him. Wrapping his arms around him tightly, he said softly, "We've done this before, D. You know how it works."

 

"I hate you. I hate it here. I want to go."

 

"I'm sorry to hear tha,t Dylan, because I love you. And I want you to be happy. I know you're not right now, and I can understand that. But I do want you to be happy and settled. It's probably too soon to expect that, but it makes me sad to think of you actually hating it here."

 

"Well, that's not going to happen and you're just going to have to deal with it, Scott." The name came out like a curse, harsh and accusatory.

 

"Why isn't that going to happen?" he asked softly.

 

"Because you've taken Jamie away from me," he said and then immediately clamped his mouth shut and turned away.

 

"How are we taking Jamie away from you? He still loves you, he still needs his brother and wants you to be in his life." When Dylan didn't answer, Scott continued. "You know what he said to me before I came in here?"

 

Dylan gave a half shrug but remained silent.

 

"He told me not to be angry at you. That you were just doing what you've always done, taking care of him. Coming when he calls for you and helping to fight his battles. But, you can't do that against me, Dylan," Scott said softly, releasing one arm and rubbing Dylan's back. "I'm not the enemy, I'm not going to hurt him. And, if you interfere with my business with him, you are going to get in trouble."

 

"Fine," Dylan replied simply, voice cold and calm.

 

Sighing to himself, the Top knew that the wall was not going to be cracked this time. The pain and the hurt were still too fresh and raw. "Okay. As long as you're clear on this. If you interfere again, I'm going to spank you over it."

 

"Fine."

 

"All right." Sliding Dylan off his lap, Scott stood up and took the young man's hand. "Come with me, please."

 

"Where are we going?" he asked, his voice wary.

 

"You do know better than to interfere, and there is the matter of this afternoon's performance in the living room to deal with. So, we're going into my office where I'm going to wash your mouth out for your language and then I'm going to walk you to the kitchen where you're going to help make dinner, serve it and clean up."

 

"Fine."

 

"No, it's not 'fine' Dylan," Scott said, leading him down the hall. As he opened his door and motioned the younger man in, he continued, "But, I am bound and determined to see that things get fine as quickly as possible." Flipping on the lights in the room, he turned and pulled Dylan into a tight hug, kissing and then brushing back his hair. "Trust me little one," he said softly, ignoring Dylan's attempt to pull away. "I know what I'm doing. I've been through the settling in of eight brats, and it's rough right now. But if you give up some of this pride and hurt and do it my way for a while, you'll be much happier."

 

"Fine," Dylan repeated in a voice that clearly said he thought Scott was dreaming, still trying to pull out of the embrace.

 

Kissing him again, Scott smiled at him. "Okay, don't believe me, but you will." Then, turning him around and landing a hard swat to his bottom, he said, "Go wait for me in the corner in the bathroom. I need to get your soap out of the refrigerator." He watched Dylan disappear into the bathroom, then went to the small refrigerator and pulled out a box. Inside were 4 rounds of

soap, each with an embedded stick with a name on it. Taking out the fresh bar with Dylan's name, the Top walked into the bathroom.

 

Dylan glanced over his shoulder, making eye contact for a brief second before turning back around with a small shudder.

 

"Turn around for me, Dylan," Scott said gently and calmly, turning on the water. "Have you ever had your mouth washed out before?"

 

The brat shook his head, keeping his eyes fixed on the bar in Scott's hand.

 

Scott nodded as he put the soap under the water. "Okay. I'm wetting it down to make it easier on your mouth. Your tongue and cheeks won't stick to it this way. It's all natural and there's nothing in here that's going to hurt you," he explained, shutting off the water and shaking the stick to get the excess water off. "Now, open your mouth for me. I'm going to put it in and then have you bite down and close your mouth, then turn back into the corner. I'll tell you when you can turn back around."

 

Steeling himself and quickly replacing the fear with defiance, Dylan repeated his new mantra."Fine."

 

Sighing to himself, Scott quickly put the soap in and turned the Brat back into the corner. "Put your hands down, young man, and stop moving," he barked a few moments later, as the disgusting taste and bitterness of the soap broke though Dylan's defensive attitude. Ninety seconds later, he said softly, "All right, turn around, Dylan." 

 

Dylan jerked around, eyes lowered and fists clenched with emotion. Opening his mouth at Scott's command, he couldn't resist a hard shudder and a half sob as the soap was removed.

 

Scott put the soap on the edge of the sink and looked down at him with love, wiping the stray tears, he said softly, "It's okay, D, rinse your mouth out."

 

Five minutes later, Scott opened the front door of the cottage and motioned him out. As they walked up the path toward the kitchen, he draped an arm around the thinner shoulders, ignoring the tension in them at the touch. "I've talked to the kitchen and you'll be helping to serve dinner and clean up afterwards. Either Andre or I will pick you up when you're done. You won't be allowed to leave until one of us is there."

 

"Okay."

 

Happy to have gotten a different response, Scott continued. "It'll be okay, Dylan. One of the TT's-in-training will be in charge and chances are there will be a couple other guys working with you. It's not hard, but you need to listen to the staff and the TT and do what they say."

 

"I will," Dylan said softly, not looking at Scott.

 

Seeing another Top dropping off one his orphans up the path, Scott stopped, wanting a bit more privacy with Dylan. Pulling him into a hard hug, he kissed him. "Dylan, it's going to be okay. Don't be embarrassed about this; there isn't a brat on this rock that hasn't spent hours doing KP Duty in the kitchen. We all take turns at lunch and everyone gets it as a punishment."

 

The Brat nodded, fighting the urge to relax into the hug and sob out the frustration and hurt that was building inside.

 

"Okay," Scott said, kissing him again, then pulling back slightly. He continued up the path and knocked on the side door of the kitchen. When Ward, a TT-in-training appeared at the door, he smiled and said, "Here you go, I've got a kitchen helper for you."

 

"Great," Ward said with a returning smile, and then held out his hand to Dylan. "Hi. I'm Ward. I don't think I've had you in a class yet."

 

Before turning to go back to the cottage, Scott smiled and kissed Dylan one more time, unable to resist brushing back his hair. "It'll be okay, Dylan. We'll pick you up soon."

 

"Fine," Dylan replied softly, the walls firmly back in place.

 

Three hours later, Ward, the Temp Top in charge of KP, came up behind Dylan and patted him on the back. "Okay, Dylan, Scott's here to pick you up. You can go as soon as you're finished what you're doing."

 

Dylan looked up from the drinks table that he was wiping down. "Okay, thanks," he softly replied.

 

Ward nodded, and then glanced at the other two brats still sweeping before he went back to where the Temp Tops waited. "He should be done in just a few minutes, Scott."

 

"Did it go okay? We did a private dinner tonight at the cottage so we didn't get a chance to check on him."

 

"It went fine. He was quiet and well behaved; did what he was told the whole time." Ward chuckled. "I wish they were all that good."

 

"Good, I'm glad," Scott said as Dylan joined them. "I brought the umbrella. It's really coming down out there."

 

Dylan looked out in surprise. "It wasn't raining during dinner."

 

"It just started a little while ago," Scott replied, opening the big golf umbrella as they stepped outside. They walked silently down the path for a few minutes, then, when they were almost to the cottage, Scott reached out and gently rubbed Dylan's back. "I'm very proud of you for tonight. I know it's hard and I know you were embarrassed, but you got through it and you did a really good job."

 

Dylan shrugged off the sympathetic hand. "I'm glad I finally measured up at something," he said roughly. Jerking away from Scott, he ran the rest of the way to the cottage, not caring that he was getting soaked.

 

"Dylan! Wait!"

 

He froze, his hand on the door, before turning back to Scott. "What now?" he asked, not bothering to keep the hostility out of his voice. "I just want to be alone for a while. Is that so wrong?"

 

"No, that's not so wrong," Scott told him evenly. "But your attitude needs some work. Go ahead to your room and change clothes. I'll bring you something to eat in a few minutes."

 

"I'm not hungry," Dylan said shortly, as he hurried through the empty living room and down the hall to his bedroom. He stopped outside Jamie's room out of habit, hesitated for a moment with his hand on the knob, then went on to his own. He just couldn't deal with any more tonight.

 

He was standing by the window, dressed in a robe and looking out at the rain, when Scott knocked on the door, then entered, carrying a plate.

 

"I SAID I'm not hungry!" Dylan spit angrily, furious at the lack of privacy and constant supervision.

 

Scott put the plate down on the desk and pulled out the chair. "Sit down, Dylan," he said calmly. "It's late and you need to eat."

 

"I said NO! God, now I can't even decide if I'm hungry or not?? What's next? You'll start telling me whether I have to go to the bathroom or not?"

 

Scott frowned. "Do not take that tone of voice with me, young man. The taste of your dinner is not going to be improved by soap, and if I hear that tone again, that's where we're heading. I'm not going to tell you again. Sit down and you will eat. You don't decide, I do, and I've decided. Now *sit*."

 

Dylan glared at him, then flung himself into the chair. "FINE! I'm SITTING! I'll EAT. Now leave me alone, okay?"

 

"No. Not okay." Scott sat down on the bed. "I'm not going anywhere until that soup and at least half of the sandwich are gone."

 

Dylan took a bite of the sandwich, ostentatiously chewing and swallowing. "God, why can't you just leave me *alone*?"

 

His tone was half-angry and half-desperate, and Scott got up and stood behind him, gently rubbing his shoulders. "Because that's not how we handle things here. You're not alone and we'll get through this together."

 

Dylan choked back a sob and hurriedly finished the soup and as much sandwich as he could manage.

 

"Okay, I ate. *Please* can I be alone now?"

 

Scott sighed. "All right, if you're sure you don't want to come into the living room with everyone else. Call me if you need anything."

 

"Fat chance," Dylan muttered under his breath.

 

"I'll be in to check on you later." Scott overlooked the comment and kissed him gently on top of the head, ignoring the automatic flinch.

 

Out of the corner of his eye, Dylan watched the Top walk out of the room, closing the door behind him. Pulling up his knees, he crossed his arms and rested them and his head on his knees, staring out the window at the rain. Sharp gusts of wind shook the trees and sent sheets of rain against the cottages and the window. He shivered and felt tears prickling his eyes again, and a half sob escaped from him. The sound of the rain covered the sound of his crying, as the tears that had been building all day finally broke free. Rocking slightly, still curled up tightly, he ached for something, someone. The longing to be the one wrapped in warm, comforting arms instead of always having to be the strong one that did the comforting, filled him with fear at his weakness, but also a desperate desire. “Oh, Garth,” he whispered, willing the Top to appear at his window like some fairy tale knight to the rescue, “please come. I don’t want to do this by myself anymore. I can’t do this by myself anymore.” But the knight never appeared.

 

Scott looked in a couple of hours later, and found him still sitting there, still curled up, but sound asleep. Going over to him, he brushed back the hair from the sleeping face and frowned at the dried tear marks. “Come on, babe, let’s get you into bed,” the TT whispered softly, shaking him partially awake and then lifting him into his arms. Carrying him over to the bed, he laid him down and pulled the covers over him.

 

Dylan smiled slightly in his sleep as he snuggled down under the covers. “I knew you'd come,” he murmured.

 

“I'll always come," Scott whispered. "Sleep well, little one. Tomorrow will be better, I promise."

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Andre stood by the hot griddle in jeans and a Henley, bare feet sticking out from the slightly fraying hems. The CD player was on, filling the kitchen with soft Celtic music, and the Top was humming along with the melody.  A light sniffling sound and the shuffle of feet made him turn around with a smile. "Good morning, Trace," he said cheerfully.

 

Tracy shuffled over to the table and sat down hard, resting his head on his hands, eyes closed.

 

Abandoning his cooking for a minute, Andre walked over and hugged the brat, kissing the top of his head. "Good morning, Tracy," he said again with a smile.

 

Wrapping his arms around his top hard, and hanging on, he murmured, "Morning."

 

Ruffling the brown head at his waist, Andre asked softly, "Did you sleep well?"

 

"Yeah, just not long enough," he said with a small laugh, letting go.

 

Kissing him again, Andre laughed, and returned to his griddle. Pouring another ladle of batter on the hot metal surface, he said, "I know the perfect way to wake you up."

 

"What?" the brat asked, less then enthusiastically.

 

"Take out the garbage for me, please. It didn't get taken out after dinner last night and it's full," Andre said, flipping the pancakes and checking the browning sausage links.

 

Groaning and muttering about how he was being punished for getting up early, Tracy went out the back door, bag in hand.

 

Smiling at the performance, Andre continued to cook breakfast, one of the Sunday morning rituals that he didn't have time for the rest of the week.

 

Just as Tracy returned from his chore, Carlos and Patrick came into the kitchen. They were dressed in robes, pj bottoms and t-shirts, hair still mussed from sleep.

 

"Morning boys," Andre said cheerfully as he gave them each a hug and kiss, smoothing out the wild hair. "Get some plates, please, and set the table for me."

 

"Why doesn't Tracy have to help?" Carlos grumbled, getting plates out of the cupboard.

 

"Because he already got roped into taking out the garbage," Tracy said, laughing and sticking his tongue out at his cottage mate.

 

The music was quickly drowned out by their laughter and chatter as Patrick put out the syrup and butter before sitting down in his normal spot.

 

Snapping his finger, the Top shook his head. "Nope, Patrick, don't sit down yet. Go see if Scott is with Jamie and Dylan. Breakfast is ready and I will not have these wonderful pancakes ruined by people being tardy." He laughed and then raised an eyebrow at Patrick. "But don't bother him if his office door is shut. Just come back and we'll eat."

 

Saluting sharply, Patrick smiled and then disappeared into the family room and toward Scott's side of the cottage. A few minutes later, Jamie, Patrick and Scott came into the kitchen. Sniffling a little and looking pale, Jamie sat down next to Scott's place, eyes downcast.

 

Patrick gave a half shrug at Tracy and Carlos' questioning looks before sitting down and drinking his already poured juice.

 

Andre looked up, his eyes meeting Scott's. Handing a platter of meat to the other Top, he said, "Put this on the table for me, please."

 

Scott put them in the middle of the table and then sat down as Andre joined them, carrying a plate of pancakes.

 

"Should I hold some of these out and keep them warm for Dylan?" he asked, putting the plate down, glancing over the table one last time before sitting down himself.

 

"No, Mr. Dylan has decided not to join us this morning. He'll eat after you all have left, and I'll make him something then," Scott replied, then changed the subject. "Patrick, Jamie is interested in going to the beach with your group this morning. Will you see that he gets there okay?"

 

The quiet and tense atmosphere quickly vanished as the activities for the day were discussed.

 

Twenty minutes later, the brats, still chuckling, all went back to their rooms to get dressed, leaving the two Tops alone in the kitchen.

 

"So, want to talk about it?" Andre asked. "Where is Dylan?"

 

"Still in the corner of my office," Scott said with a frown. "I told him he could come out whenever he was ready to join us."

 

"You need to do something, Scott; this sulk has gone on long enough. The incident with Jamie was Wednesday. It's Sunday now, and he's still barely speaking to anyone."

 

"I know. I kept hoping that he'd get out of it himself, but it's not working. You know, we were making progress until Jamie got in trouble. He was curling up with me in the evenings and accepting that without too much fuss. He was talking and seemed to be enjoying his classes. Settling in." Leaning against the counter, towel and glass in hand, he looked at his friend. "He was settling in, right? I'm not kidding myself here, am I?"

 

"No, you're not. He was. I could see it, especially in the evening. He was enjoying spending time as part of the group. He might have made a face every time you held him or when we'd kiss him, but I think he was really eating it up inside. The walls were starting to crack a little."

 

"And now, they're back, strong as ever."

 

"No, Scott, I don't think so. I think they're back, but you've put some major cracks in them. I don't think he'd be able to rebuild them so soon."

 

"I'll talk to Cal about it again today," Scott said. "Maybe he'll have some ideas."

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Dylan scanned the beach again, searching for a tall, familiar form. Damn it, why did they have to let all these Brats roam around the beach on Sunday mornings? He'd had a hell of a time convincing Scott he needed to alone for a while, now he had to deal with all of these brats in his way. He finally saw Garth strolling along the near the water and gave a soft whistle to attract his attention.

 

"Hi, Kent," Garth said, coming over to him with a smile. "How's it going?"

 

"Fine," Dylan replied. "I'm not really supposed to be on the beach when the brats are. Do you think we could walk a little way?"

 

"Sure." Garth followed him down the beach, away from the brats. "Is something wrong?"

 

"No," Dylan said, then hesitated. "Well, yeah, but I don't think it's something you can help with. I think it's just something I have to work out for myself."

 

"Try me," Garth invited, touched by his young friend's obvious unhappiness. "Sometimes sharing a problem helps, even if it doesn't give you an answer."

 

"All right." While Dylan didn't think there was anything that Garth could do, the urge to unburden himself was too strong to resist. He thought for a few minutes, then began. "I have this friend. He's a brat, but I've gotten to know him pretty well. You know how the Brats have a quiet time every afternoon, when they're supposed to take a nap like 2 year olds?"

 

Garth nodded noncommittally, ignoring the bitter tone for the moment.

 

"Well, my friend didn't feel like taking a nap so he tried to go for a run. He got spanked for it."

 

"And...?" Garth prompted when Dylan didn't continue.

 

"Isn't that enough?" Dylan asked in surprise. "I just don't understand the mentality of this place. Why shouldn't he go for a walk if he wants to? I get so *sick* of hearing these Tops on their power trips ordering around the Brats and I hate the whole idea of all these poor, little Orphan Brats that are so helpless and pathetic that they can't make a move - make a decision - with the guidance of some oh-so-perfect Top guiding every footstep."

 

Once he got started it all poured out, all of the anger and the frustration that had been building over the past few weeks . "I understand why the Tops want to do it," he concluded bitterly, "but why do the Brats put up with it?"

 

"Do you think I'm here on a power trip?" Garth asked quietly when he was sure that Dylan was done.

 

"You?" Dylan asked. "No! Of course not! But..." he paused uncomfortably.

 

"Being a Top has nothing to do with superiority and Brats are anything but inferior. It has to do with attitude, and personality. It has to do with some people needing to nurture and care for others and others needing the love and guidance - and discipline - that they have to offerr."

 

"Yeah, right," Dylan said skeptically. "Is that you or are you quoting from the Handbook?"

 

"Let's sit down over there," Garth said, "and let me try again."

 

They sat on a narrow strip of sand and stared out over the water while Garth tried to think of an analogy that Dylan would understand.

 

"Okay," he said after a few minutes. "It's like pineapples and oranges."

 

"Shouldn't that be apples and oranges?" Dylan laughed, for what seemed like the first time in days.

 

"Work with me here," Garth admonished him with a grin. "I prefer pineapples."

 

"Okay. How is it like pineapples and oranges?"

 

"Are oranges superior to pineapples?"

 

"Well, I like them better."

 

"You're *supposed* to be working with me here," Garth replied with a mock frown.

"Oh. Sorry," Dylan grinned. "No. Oranges are not superior to pineapples."

 

"Do pineapples depend on oranges to make them taste good?"

 

"No."

 

"No," Garth agreed. "Pineapples are an excellent fruit all on their own. They're sweet, juicy and nutritious. They're great in salads and desserts, they're used to add flavor to a number of dishes, including the sweet & sour pork we had for dinner last night, and it's often used as a symbol of friendship and hospitality."

 

"You should go to work for the pineapple board," Dylan said admiringly.

 

"Hush!" Garth told him with a smile. "Let me make my point here."

 

Dylan placed his hand over his mouth as Garth continued.

 

"Now, since I don't want *somebody* telling me I should go to work for the citrus board, can we just stipulate that the same thing is true about oranges?"

 

Dylan nodded obediently, hand still over his mouth.

 

"Good. So we're agreed that each fruit is perfect by itself?"

 

Dylan nodded again.

 

"Good. Now think about the juice we had for breakfast this morning - the orange-pineapple juice. Even though orange juice and pineapple juice are both excellent on their own, combining them makes them even better. It brings out the best in both of them. Are you with me here?"

 

"You're saying that Tops and Brats bring out the best in each other?" Dylan guessed.

 

"Good boy," Garth praised with a smile. "Tops and Brats are like oranges and pineapples. They're both perfectly capable of living happy, productive lives all on their own, and many of them do. But when you put them together, you have something special. The Tops have someone to love and nurture and care for, and the Brats have someone to give them the guidance and security that they need to meet their full potential."

 

"But-" Dylan started to object, then fell silent.

 

"No, tell me what you think," Garth urged.

 

"I can see what you're saying in principle, but it doesn't work that way in real life. I don't see any loving and nurturing, I see the Temp Tops giving arbitrary commands, with punishment if the Brats dare to think for themselves."

 

"Is your friend one of the higher-rated Brats?" Garth asked thoughtfully.

 

"He's a 6. What difference does that make?"

 

"And do you know how the rating system works?" Garth asked, ignoring the impatient tone.

 

"A little bit. It's how they separate the Tops from the Brats."

 

"That's not all there is to it, though. The numbers are also reflective of the different personalities of the Brats. Brats with lower numbers are usually more independent and they prefer less structure, or firm structure but only in certain areas. The Brats with higher numbers have a harder time making wise decisions and they need more rules and more boundaries. So your friend is probably comfortable with those 'arbitrary' decisions, even if you aren't."

 

"He doesn't seem to mind them," Dylan admitted reluctantly.

 

"Then, as long as he's happy with them, you need to accept that it's what he wants and needs, not demand that he give it up because it makes you uncomfortable."

 

"But so many of the rules don't make sense!" Dylan protested. "They're just *arbitrary*. There's no reason for them."

 

"They might not make sense to you, but there's always a reason for them," Garth patiently explained. "Being a Temp Top is a hard job, and not one that I'd want to have. They're usually dealing with more than one Brat and the Brats are usually just learning what a discipline relationship is all about. It's not easy to help them find the balance that they need, and while the rules they make won't fit everyone perfectly, they're needed to provide structure for all of the Brats in the Cottage. If the Temp Top made different rules for each Brat, there would be anger and resentment, and ultimately chaos. When your friend has his own Top, they'll negotiate and make rules just for themselves, that make sense for both of them."

 

"I didn't know that," Dylan admitted reluctantly. "I thought that the Top made the rules and the Brat had to follow them or else."

 

"No, the orange juice mixes with the pineapple and the flavors blend together. One doesn't take over, or overwhelm the other one," Garth replied with a grin. "It's a symbiotic relationship, not a parasitic one."

 

"Great. First we're- they're fruits, now they're bugs," Dylan said with a laugh.

 

"Feel better?" Garth asked, giving him a brief hug.

 

"Yeah," Dylan replied, hugging him back. "Thanks."

 

"No problem."

 

They sat quietly for a few minutes, looking out at the water, each absorbed in their own thoughts.

 

"I have to get going," Garth said at last. "I have to get some things done before the barbeque this afternoon."

 

"Shit!" Dylan jumped up. "I need to get back too!"

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

"Dylan, are you coming to the barbeque?" Scott asked.

 

"No, I need to read this before class tomorrow," Dylan replied, curling up on the sofa with his Lit book. "Can you bring something back for me?"

 

"You sure?" Scott asked, sitting down next to him and brushing his hair back, feeling absurdly pleased when Dylan didn't flinch away. "We need to set up an appointment with the barber for you, young man.

 

"It isn't any longer than yours," Dylan said with a shy grin.

 

"Point," Scott smiled. "Now, why don't you come to the barbeque? We'll be back in time for you to finish your Lit before bedtime."

 

"I'd really rather not go," Dylan said. "Unless I have to. I don't want to be around people right now."

 

Scott sighed, but gave in, unwilling to push and risk the progress they seemed to have made. "All right," he replied. "I'll bring a plate for you later. Join us if you change your mind."

 

"I will." The way he settled down with his book made it clear that he had no intention of changing it, though.

 

When Dylan was sure that the TT was gone he dropped his book and stretched restlessly. He would have liked to go to the barbeque. He wanted to see Garth in public, to be seen with him. He hated having to hide their friendship this way, but what else could he do? Garth would be so

disappointed, so angry with him for his deception. He paced back and forth worriedly. Not only would he be in more trouble than he could deal with, so would Garth. They'd never believe that Garth hadn't known he was a Brat and Garth could be kicked off the Island for taking advantage of him. As if Garth would. He gave a short, bitter laugh. They should be more worried about him taking advantage of Garth. Every time he saw him in those faded jeans, he wanted to throw himself at him and beg him to----

 

"Dylan?" A hesitant voice interrupted his thoughts.

 

"Jamie," he said with a quick, embarrassed smile, holding out his arms toward his brother. "Why aren't you at the barbeque with the others?"

 

"I wanted to be with you." Jamie stepped into the arms that opened readily for him, laying his head trustingly on Dylan's shoulder. "It seems like we never have time together anymore."

 

Dylan felt a flash of guilt. He'd been spending all of his free time with Garth, never even thinking that Jamie might want to be with him. "I know, babe," he said regretfully. "But you seem happy with your new friends."

 

"I am," Jamie replied. "But sometimes I just want to be with you."

 

"I want to be with you, too," Dylan said, sitting on the couch and drawing Jamie down beside him.

 

“Do you?” Jamie asked with a happy smile, “I wasn’t sure. I know you haven't been happy here, and I was so worried that you were staying just for me.” He paused to kiss him, before innocently asking, “You’re not, are you? You want to stay here as much as I do, right?”

 

Dylan leaned in and delivered a long, hard kissing before pulling back with a smile. “I’m not staying here just for you, Jamiebaby,” he said using his private nickname to distract his lover from the hopefully not-too-obvious lie.

 

They kissed again, with hands starting to explore territory that almost seemed new after the long separation. Pulling back, Jamie dropped his eyes, hand still rubbing Dylan’s crotch through his jeans. “Looks like you might want to go some place more comfortable," he chuckled, "and maybe I can help you take care of this.”

 

Twenty minutes later, wrapped in a tangled mess of sweat-dampened sheets, a blanket and Dylan’s arms tight around him, Jamie smiled lazily. “That was amazing, Dylan love,” he murmured, eyes gently drifting closed. “Amazing.”

 

Dylan kissed the sweaty brow, smiling as he softly said, “Yeah, it was.” Lying spooned behind Jamie, he tried to enjoy the afterglow of their lovemaking, but instead of falling into the peaceful sated sleep like Jamie, his mind was racing. Closing his eyes, he replayed the scene in his mind, hoping to capture the peace and satisfaction that usually accompanied their coupling. Jamie, as usual, had preferred to make love face-to-face. It was an awkward position for Dylan, though. He had to struggle to keep his balance, his arms trembling under the strain of supporting both his weight and that of Jamie’s legs.

 

Suddenly, the scene in his mind changed. He was on the bottom now. Garth was balanced above him, his strong arms steady and easily able to support his weight over the smaller body beneath him. Garth was easing into the tight, lubed passage, going slowly so as not to cause pain, delivering small, delicate nibbles and deep kisses to block out the inevitable pain of such actions. Dylan’s buttocks clenched and he squirmed a little at the thought, wondering what it would feel like to be slowly impaled like that, filled and stretched like he’d never been before. Jamie had no interest in topping, so Dylan had never bottomed. The idea of experiencing the mixture of pain and pleasure he saw on Jamie’s face each time they made love made him both smile and blush. Garth would be gentle with him, he decided. Strong and slow and gentle, not minding that Dylan was a virgin, and a willing teacher of the pleasures of lovemaking.

 

Pulling Jamie closer, Dylan kissed him, suddenly feeling as if he was betraying his lover. What they had was good, he thought, and he should be happy with it. How could he even think about being with another man when he had Jamie? He felt like a real bastard, but he couldn’t shake that image of Garth, the hunger to experience what Jamie enjoyed so much. Finally, with the warmth and weight of Jamie in his arms and the pictures of Garth in his mind, he fell into a restless sleep.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Dylan waved at Jamie, then stepped over the low wall and quickly made his way to the rock on the beach where he usually met Garth. He knew Garth wouldn't be there at this time of day, but he needed the peace and quiet to think.

 

What in hell was he going to do? He loved Jamie so much, but his thoughts were turning more and more to Garth. Jamie needed him to love him and take care of him, but he needed Garth for the same thing. How could he turn his back on Jamie and still expect Garth to love him? And even if he could, even if they found another Top for Jamie, which would break Dylan's heart, would Garth even want him when he found out that everything about Dylan was a lie?

 

There was a crunch of gravel and he turned quickly, half-expecting to see Garth, but it was only Ben.

 

"You know, if I'd been a Top, you wouldn't be sitting comfortably for much longer," he said, sitting down next to Dylan.

 

"I know," the other Brat replied, picking up a handful of pebbles and idly tossing them as he spoke. "But sometimes I have to get away."

 

"I know what you mean," Ben said sympathetically. "This place gets to me, too, once in a while. "Want to talk about it?"

 

"I don't know." Dylan tossed another handful of pebbles. "Do you think it's possible to be in love with two people at once?"

 

"I don't know." Ben was startled by the question. "I've never really thought about it. Why?"

 

"I love Jamie, but I feel like he's slipping away from me," he began slowly. "And even though that hurts so bad, maybe it is for the best. Maybe part of loving him means knowing I can't give him everything he needs or take care of him the way he needs to be taken care of and letting him be free to find someone who can." He tossed more pebbles. "And... you swear you won't repeat what I tell you? To *anyone*?"

 

"Sure, Dylan. You know that."

 

"I think I'm falling in love with someone else. It's nothing like what I feel for Jamie, but it's.... I think about him all the time," he said with a rush. "I've never known anyone like him. It's..." He struggled for the words to express his feelings. "We talk the whole time I'm with him, and he listens to me. He really listens, he doesn't just pretend. And he's interested in what I have to say..."

 

"Not just in lecturing you or showing off what he knows?" Ben asked knowingly.

 

"Right. Exactly. And even when we disagree, when he thinks I'm wrong, he takes the time to explain it to me."

 

"He doesn't laugh at you or make you feel inferior or stupid." Ben smiled. "He makes you feel like the most important person in the world."

 

"Yeah. Exactly. He makes me feel safe, secure... cared for. It's the total opposite of what I feel with Jamie, but they both feel so right. I love them both so much, in such different ways. How could I ever choose between them?" He dropped the last handful of pebbles and stood up. "God, listen to me. I sound like some kind of sap. Forget I said anything, okay?"

 

"No, you don't sound like a sap," Ben reassured him with a smile. "You sound like someone in love. So tell me more. Who is the man? Does he return your feelings?"

 

Dylan sighed and looked at his feet. "I can't tell you that. I've done something really stupid and I have to figure out how to fix it before I say any more. I shouldn't have told you this much. God, look at the time!" he added as he glanced at his watch. "I need to get back before Scott starts looking for me!"

 

He took off down the path that led back to the cottages, leaving Ben to follow more slowly, worrying over what Dylan had told him. Who was the mystery man that Dylan was in love with? It couldn't be one of the Tops, not as fast as gossip spread on The Island. Someone would have seen them together and commented on it by now. Could it be one of the TT's? If so, the most likely candidates would be Scott and Andre. He frowned as he turned onto the path leading home. He hoped Dylan wasn't setting himself up for another disappointment or getting himself involved in something that would lead to major trouble.

 

He debated briefly about confiding in Ryan, but decided against it. He'd promised Dylan he wouldn't say anything and he didn't want to betray that confidence or get him in trouble for no reason. He'd watch, he decided, and see if he could figure out who the man was. If it looked like Dylan was getting in over his head, he'd tell someone. Otherwise, he'd stay out of it.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Dylan hurried up to the main quad alone. Jamie and a couple of the other brats were heading over to the pool to swim with Andre, but he wanted some time alone. Hoping to be able to lose himself in the library until dinner, he walked quickly toward the low building that housed the library.

 

“Hey! Dylan!” a voice shouted at him.

 

Glancing around, he made a face. Just what he needed.

 

Jackson ran over to him with a smug grin on his face. “Whatcha up to?” he asked casually.

 

“Nothing. I was heading over to the library for a while.” Giving the troublesome Brat a smile, he turned and started to walk away.

 

“I saw you this afternoon.”

 

Dylan turned back quickly and stared at him. “Yeah? So? I’m sure you saw me, we’re confined to the same 2 square miles, it would be a bit hard to avoid someone.” Then, smiling sweetly, he added, “We could give it a try, though. I’m up for it.”

 

 “I bet you are. Sneaking off to the beach, I bet you were up then, too.” Smirking when he saw a faint blush rise on Dylan’s checks he continued, “So, were you actually meeting someone or just going some place private to jerk off while you thought about him? Does Jamie know that you’re cheating on him? Guess you really aren’t a Top, are ---“ His comments were cut off as a hard punch staggered him back a couple of steps.

 

Dylan glared at him. “Mind your own fucking business, Jackson.”

 

“You fuck off, D-Boy! You’ve been puttin’ on airs since you came here. You’re not better then the rest of us, worse even! You’re cheating on someone you supposedly love!”

 

Seeing red, and heedless of the growing attention their shouting was attracting from the other Brats, Dylan charged him.  He tackled the other Brat hard, sending them both crashing into the ground.

 

Brats from all over the quad rushed to the site of the commotion, forming a circle around the punching, pulling, kicking fighters. It was hard to tell who was winning but most in the circle didn’t care. The excitement was in the fight, the outcome was secondary.

 

“MOVE!” A loud voice cut through their shouts. Two TTs pushed their way through the crowd, followed by the visiting top they had been chatting with. They had all witnessed the argument and had started moving the moment the first punch was thrown.

 

The crowded parted immediately, but still hung around to watch the next act of the drama.

 

“Jackson! Dylan! STOP!” Andrew barked, reaching down and grabbing Dylan’s raised fist. Jerking him up, he pushed him toward Ward. Then jerking Jackson up, he held fast to him while the younger man struggled and lunged toward his opponent.

 

“Let go! He hit me!” he yelled, managing to get an arm free for a moment before it was quickly captured and held tight.

 

“Shut up, Jackson,” Andrew said, his voice raised and hard. “I don’t care who started it or who did what. It’s over now.”

 

Dylan stood glaring at the other brat, shaking from adrenaline, but otherwise still. “You’re such a fucking bastard, Jackson. If you had just kept your fucking---“ He yelped as Ward delivered a hard swat to his butt.

 

“Enough, little boy. You’re already in enough trouble,” the TT announced.

 

“Let’s go, we’re not standing around here all day.” Andrew marched Jackson up the path toward the detention center.

 

Deprived of their fun, everyone else began to scatter, talking about the fight.

 

Ward watched them for a moment, then said to Dylan, “All right, let’s go. Scott’s going to be overjoyed to get this call.”

 

“Fuck you. Fuck this whole fucking place,” Dylan said angrily.

 

Shaking his head, the Top continued to escort Dylan up the path. “One more foul word from you, little boy, and I’ll have security wash your mouth out.”

 

After a cursory check for injuries, Dylan was checked into the Detention Center and put in a corner the opposite side from Jackson. Ten minutes later, the door to the Center opened and two very annoyed Tops came in.

 

Walking over to the corner where Dylan stood, Scott touched his shoulder gently. “All right Dylan, come on.” He clicked his tongue as he touched the bruise forming on Dylan's cheek and gave the brat a small smile. “It’s okay, we’ll get this cleaned up at home.”

 

In the opposite corner, Brad frowned at his Brat. “Totally unacceptable, Jackson. Third time in a month I’ve had to pick you up.”

 

Dylan frowned but quietly stood next to Scott as he read over the witnessing Tops' reports, sighed, and then signed the release paperwork. As they were walking out the door, he glanced back and saw Jackson crying softly on his Top’s shoulder.

 

“Come on Dylan, let’s go,” Scott said calmly, and then glanced back to see what his brat was looking at.  “It’s okay. He’s in as much trouble as you are, but no one is going to be killed.” He glanced over at Dylan as they walked back to the cottage. “Want to tell me about it?”

 

“No.”

 

They continued along in silence for another moment before Scott reached out and wrapped an arm around the brat’s shoulders. “Okay, but you’re going to have to tell me sooner or later.” Waiting another beat, he said softly, slowing their walk a little. “You’ll feel better.”

 

“Jackson is such an asshole,” be blurted, and then glanced at Scott to see how he reacted to the outburst and language. Not seeing a negative reaction he continued, “I was just walking along, trying to get to the library and he came up and started bugging me.”

 

“How was he bugging you?”

 

“Just saying stuff. Stuff about me, stuff about Jamie.”

 

“And that’s when you punched him? The witnesses said you threw the first punch.”

 

Dylan nodded. “Yeah.” He bowed his head a little and seemed to deflate. “I’m sorry, Scott,” he said softly.

 

The Top squeezed his shoulders gently, then leaned over and kissed him. “I know and we’ll deal with it.” As they started up the stairs to the cottage, he continued, a bit more sternly, “Go on into my bathroom, please. I want to clean these scrapes. While I’m getting ice for that cheek, go ahead and kick off your shoes and jeans.”

 

Swallowing hard, Dylan couldn’t stop a small shudder from going through him. “Am I going to get spanked?”

 

“Yes,” Scott said evenly, “but first I’m going to clean up your cuts and scrapes.” Kissing him again and stroking his hair, he turned him around and gave him a gentle push in the general direction of his room. “Go on now. Nothing is going to be gained by putting this off.”

 

Head bowed, Dylan walked slowly toward the hall and, giving the Top one last look, disappeared in the direction of the TT's room.

 

A couple of minutes later, Scott came into his room and shut the door behind him. The light from the bathroom shone through the open door and Dylan’s jeans and shoes were lying in a neat pile on the couch. Carrying a small soft ice gel pack wrapped in a towel, he entered the bathroom. Dylan was sitting, arms wrapped around his stomach on the closed seat of the toilet. The fear that flashed through his eyes for a minute as he looked up startled Scott. Steeling himself, he smiled down at the Brat. “It’s going to be okay, Dylan. I promise you.”

 

“Okay.”

 

Scott handed him the ice pack. “Here, go ahead and hold this on your cheek, please. Let’s see if we can keep some of the color and swelling down.” Getting the well-stocked first-aid kit out of the cupboard, he continued, “Nothing looks too bad, though. I don’t think you need to go the infirmary. Does anything in particular hurt? Any teeth feel loose?” Ten minutes later, putting the last Band-Aid on what looked like a fingernail scrape along his neck, he patted Dylan’s knee. “Okay, little one, I think we’re done here.”

 

Dylan looked up and silently nodded.

 

Not wanting to push too hard and knowing how scared the younger man must be, Scott continued calmly and matter-of-factly, “Now, I need you to go wait in the corner for me. You know the penalty for fighting here, regardless of the reason.”

 

Not trusting his voice, Dylan blinked back the rapidly forming tears and then stood up and walked quickly out of the bathroom.

 

Scott quickly cleaned up the bathroom, and then, getting a paper cup from the holder, filled it with cold water and carried it into the sitting area. He glanced at the figure huddled in the corner, pulled the chair out from the wall and, placing the cup behind him, sat down. “All right, Dylan, come here, please.”

 

“Please Scott, don’t,” he said, as he turned around and started slowly walking forward. “I’m sorry.”

 

“I know you are, but fighting is not allowed. If you have a problem with someone, you need to learn to settle it some other way.” Dylan stopped just short of him and he held out his hand. “Come on, let’s get this over with.”

 

Not coming any closer, but rocking slightly from side to side, Dylan shook his head. “Please don’t.”

 

In a well-practiced move, Scott stood up slightly and then pulled Dylan toward him and over his lap in one smooth motion. “It’s the consequence to fighting, young man.” Dylan immediately began to squirm and wiggle, and he tightened his hold and began to rub the young man's back. “Shhhh, we’re not going to start until you stop and calm down a bit.” The struggling slowed and under his hand, the Top could feel Dylan’s back rise and lower as he took a couple of deep breaths. Continuing to rub, Scott encouraged him gently, “That’s right. In and out. It’s going to hurt, but you’ll get through it. Deep breaths.”

 

“I’m sorry. Please don’t.”

 

Scott didn’t answer but quickly lowered Dylan’s shorts, which sent the Brat into a fresh wave of squirming and whimpering. “It’s okay, Dylan, cry all you want, there’s no one here but us.” Lifting his hand, he delivered a hard, stinging swat to the upturned bottom, leaving a red splotch on the pale flesh.

 

Twenty minutes later, Scott sat in the cool darkness of his sitting area, holding Dylan tightly and whispering comforting words to the still sobbing young man in his arms. One hand rubbed the damp and shaking back while the other rested on the still hot, cotton-covered butt. “That’s right Dylan, let it all out. It’s okay,” he murmured, laying small kisses on the sweaty forehead and wet hairline. Gradually, the sobbing faded down to sniffles and an occasional deep breath. Sitting up a bit straighter, making Dylan sit up as well, Scott reached over and picked up the cup of water. “Here, little one, drink this for me. Slowly... slowly,” he cautioned as the younger man gulped at the water, spilling some on his shirt. Scott took the cup from him when he was finished and pulled him close again. “You think maybe you’d like to lie down on your bed for a while?”

 

“I’m sorry,” Dylan whispered, starting to slide off his Top’s lap. “I didn’t mean to go on so much.”

 

Scott caught him and pulled him back into a hug. “No, that’s not what I meant. You didn’t cause any problems and you didn’t go on too much. We can sit here as long as you want, or I can sit with you in your room, if you’d be more comfortable. We have the whole afternoon. No one’s going to be back for a while and neither one of us have to be anywhere.”

 

“Okay,” he said taking a deep breath and laying his head back down on Scott’s shoulder, “my bed might be good.” Then in a quiet and embarrassed voice, he added, “I’m really sore.”

 

“I bet you are. Other than your butt, how do you feel?”

 

Dylan was quiet for a long moment before answering. “Better.”

 

“Good. You’ve had a rough couple of days.”

 

“Yeah,” he answered with a sigh. “I’m sorry I’ve been so difficult.”

 

Kissing him again and patting his butt gently, Scott smiled. “It’s okay. I didn’t take it personally and you’ve had a harder time adjusting then most of the guys here. You’re very special, Dylan. You’re strong and you’re smart and the time you spent taking care of Jamie and living on your own has given you a sense of responsibility that most people never get.” Scott paused for a moment, giving his words time to sink in before continuing, “I feel honored to have you in my cottage, and to help you in any way I can to adjust and find a Top that’s going to recognize how special you are.” 

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Dylan lay in the lounger at the side of the cottage, his mind busy in yet another attempt to find a way out of his dilemma. Jamie's window was open behind him and he could hear the younger man whistling softly to himself as he moved around his room, getting ready to go the movie with the other Brats. There was a sharp rap on the door frame, then Tracy's voice.

 

"Ready to go, Jamie?"

 

"Just about," Jamie replied. "I have to find my ID and let Dylan know I'm leaving."

 

"Isn't he going with us?" Carlos asked, joining the hunt for the elusive ID.

 

"No," Jamie replied. "He said he has a headache. Try under the bed. Maybe I lost it when I was laying down this afternoon."

 

Dylan missed Carlos' reply, muffled as if it came from under the bed, but Tracy's was crystal clear.

 

"So are you going to abandon us for Garth again tonight?"

 

"No!" Jamie said half-laughingly. "And I didn't abandon you last time. You all walked off and left me, remember?"

 

"And you never even saw us leave," Carlos laughed, his voice clear again. "Your ID isn't under the bed, just a lot of other crap. Where else should I look?"

 

"Help me move the dresser and look behind it," Tracy requested. "When are you going to tell Dylan about Garth, Jamie?"

 

"I'm not." Jamie's 'oomph' was accompanied by the sound of the dresser sliding across the floor. "There's nothing to tell him."

 

"Oh, come on, Jamie," Carlos protested, his voice still coming from the vicinity of the bed. "You're interested in him and you know it!"

 

"So what if I am? That doesn't mean he's interested in me. And even if he was, I can't do that to Dylan."

 

"Do what to Dylan?" Tracy asked. "Would you get up, Carlos? You're supposed to be looking, not laying down."

 

"Dylan needs me," Jamie said. "How can I tell him that I'm interested in somebody else? I'm not going to hurt him like that."

 

"So what are you going to do?" Tracy asked. "Stay an orphan for the rest of your life? Would you get UP, Carlos? We need to find his ID before we miss the movie!"

 

"I have his ID," Carlos said smugly. "It was between the bed and the wall, which is where I was looking when you so unjustly accused me of laying around."

 

Their conversation faded as they left the room, but Dylan had heard enough.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

"Jamie?" Dylan whispered as he sneaked into the younger man's room. "Are you awake?"

 

"Dylan?" Jamie whispered back. "What are you doing in here? Lights out was half an hour ago."

 

"I know. I didn't think Scott was ever going to go to his room. Let me in bed. I need to talk to you."

 

Jamie lifted the sheet and Dylan slipped in next to him. "What's up?"

 

Dylan took a deep breath. He had thought about this all evening and it was the only thing to do, but, God, how it hurt. "I overheard your conversation with Carlos and Tracy this evening."

 

"Dylan, let me explain," Jamie began, pleading for understanding. "It isn't what you think."

 

"It's okay, Jamie," Dylan reassured him. "Just tell me the truth. Are you really interested in Garth?"

 

"Yeah," Jamie confessed, "I am. But it doesn't matter. He isn't really interested in me, and you-"

 

Dylan put his fingers over Jamie's mouth. "Shhh, it's all right. It's really good, as a matter of fact."

 

"You don't mind?" Jamie pushed Dylan's hand away to ask incredulously.

 

"Yes, I mind, in a way," Dylan told him. "But it solves a problem for me, too." He took another deep breath. "I want to leave The Island, Jamie. I don't fit in here, not the way you do. I didn't tell you before, because--"

 

They both jumped and blinked as the door suddenly opened, flooding the room with light from the hall.

 

"Uh-oh," Jamie said, looking at Scott standing in the doorway, arms folded across his chest.

 

"I was under the impression that we went to bed almost an hour ago," he said mildly. "In our *own* beds. Did someone change the rules while I wasn't looking?"

 

"No, Scott," Dylan said meekly as he got out of bed. "I was just leaving." He hurried across the room, turning sideways as he sidled out the door in a vain attempt to protect his butt from the swat Scott aimed at it.

 

"And stay there," Scott ordered as Dylan entered his own room. "I don't want to have to come in here again."

 

~~~~~~~~~~


Dylan sat on his favorite rock and looked out over the water. The darkening clouds off in the distance and the churning surf around the rocks indicated an approaching storm - something that suited his mood perfectly. He glanced at his watch and frowned. Garth was late today.

 

/Oh, please, God, make him show up,/ he thought. He didn't think he'd have the courage to do this a second time. He picked up a handful of pebbles and tossed them idly at the water as he mentally went over his 'farewell' speech again.

 

A few minutes later, he heard the crunch of gravel on the path. /Thank you, God,/ he thought gratefully, then /Oh, NO!/ as he turned and saw who was walking with Garth. Wild ideas of running flashed through his mind, but his legs were frozen in place, and he sat motionless as Garth and Emerson approached.

 

"Hello, Kent," Garth said, then paused and added, "It *is* Kent, isn't it?"

 

"Not exactly," Emerson said coldly before Dylan could speak, or even think of anything to say. "Is this the 'staff member' you were telling me about?"

 

"Yes, it is. I take it that he isn't a staff member after all?"

 

"No, he isn't a staff member. This is Dylan Kent, one of our newest Brats. He isn't even through his orientation period yet."

 

"I should have known," the Visiting Top said, punching his fist into his other palm. "I thought he had the personality of a brat - that's why I wanted to talk to you aboutt him - but it never occurred to me that he was already an Orphan. I can't believe I was that blind!"

 

"Garth, please, I can explain!" Dylan finally found his voice. He leaped to his feet and started toward the Visiting Top, but Emerson stepped between them.

 

"Be quiet, Dylan," Emerson ordered. "Save your explanations for your Temp Top. I'm sure he'll be interested in them." He pulled out his radio and called security to arrange a pick up, then turned back to Garth. "Why don't you head back to your cottage? I don't have to tell you that the Board isn't going to be pleased to hear about this."

 

"NO!" Dylan shouted as he grabbed Emerson's arm, clutching it tightly. "You *can't* blame him! I won't let you! He didn't know I was a brat! I swear it!"

 

"Be quiet, Dylan," Emerson ordered again as he pried the brat's fingers off of his arm. "I'm not going to tell you again." He turned the brat around and, swatting him firmly several times, marched him back to the rock. "Now, SIT until security gets here."

 

"Emerson, do you have to be so harsh with him? He's already pretty upset," Garth asked, stepping in to defend him as Dylan dissolved into tears, "and I'm sure he didn't mean any harm."

 

He should have thought about that earlier," Emerson told him sternly.

 

"Good God!" Garth exploded, jerking up and squaring off against Emerson. "He's almost hysterical and all you can say is that he should have thought about it earlier?

 

Neither backing down nor escalating the challenge, the older Top looked at him for a moment, then calmly asked, "What would you have me do, Hunter? I have a Brat who deliberately went out of bounds and then took advantage of a Visiting Top's ignorance and continued to willfully break the rules for over a month. You might not have been aware he was an Orphan and therefore not allowed to be here or be alone with you, but Dylan certainly knew the rules, as well as the consequences for breaking them."  He paused again, allowing his words to sink in. "If you were in my situation Mr. Hunter, how would you handle this situation?"

 

Security arrived before Garth could reply and Dylan allowed the two guards to pull him to his feet, too dazed and overwhelmed to protest. He meekly stumbled along between them for a short distance, then pulled away, turning back to face the men on the beach.

 

"I'm sorry, Garth. I'm *so* sorry," he cried. "I didn't mean for this to happen. I swear I never meant to let it go this far. I just didn't know how to stop it." Then, so softly and plaintively that they almost missed it, "I only wanted to say good bye."

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Scott mentally berated himself as he hurried up the path to the Detention Center. "Way to go, Scott. How could you have missed this one? I'm going to kill him. Then I'm going to kill his brother and anyone that was involved in this little caper." He jerked open the door to the Detention Center, and glanced around for his waywardBbrat . "Okay, did Andre get him already?" he asked Martin, the guard on the desk.

           

Martin shook his head and sighed. "No such luck. Ryan is with him."

 

The door of one of the private rooms, or cells, as the Brats called them, opened, and Ryan stepped out. "Scott," he called and motioned for him to come over. "We're in here." He glanced back into the small room, then shut the door behind him. "Emerson called me. I'm assuming he's talked to you?"

 

Scott made a face. "He and Hayes both did, briefly. They're saving the true reaming for later."

 

Ryan patted him on the shoulder with a smile. "Buck up, old man, I don't think you did anything too bad or missed much. According to your brat in there," he indicated the closed door, "it seems like they were pretty careful and really didn't give you anything to catch."

 

Scott dismissed it with a wave of his hand. "I'll deal with that later. How's Dylan doing?"

 

"He's doing a little better now. Martin called me because he was making himself sick with his crying. I've been holding him and listening to his side of the story, and assuring him that we wouldn't blame you or Garth or Jamie."

 

"I don't know about that, Ryan," the TT said. "It seems to me that any Visiting Top who's been around here any length of time should have picked up on Dylan being a brat. And, as for Jamie, he had to know what was going on. They had me convinced that they were together almost every afternoon."

 

"We'll get to the bottom of it, trust me." Ryan thought for a minute and then continued. "Right now, I think we need to get him back to your cottage and settled. He's worn out and still too shaky to punish right now. We'll interview Jamie after quiet time."

 

"Okay, sounds good to me," Scott said, his voice weary. He closed his eyes for a brief moment, then took a deep breath and nodded. "Okay, let me go deal with him, and then we can get started on working this mess out."

 

Scott perched on the corner of his desk and looked at Dylan, who was curled up in the corner of the sofa. "Do we need to talk about this anymore, Dylan, or has it been talked about enough?"

 

Dylan shuddered and then shook his head. "Please, Scott. Can't we just drop it? I've already decided to leave The Island." His voice was rough and hoarse from hours of crying.

 

"No. I'm sorry Dylan, but it doesn't work that way. If it did, every brat on The Island would decide to leave anytime he was going to be punished. We'll talk about you going home tomorrow, but that doesn't change what's going to happen tonight." Standing up with a determined look on his face, he walked over to his desk and pulled out a rounded paddle. Walking back to Dylan, he held out his hand. "Come on, let's get this over. It's been a rough day for you already and it's not going to get any better until we're done."

 

Curled up even tighter, Dylan shook his head again. "Please, Scott. I've already said I'm sorry. I didn't mean for anything like this to happen. This isn't the right place for me. I don't want this. Please don't do this to me."

 

Ignoring the pleas, the Top reached down and pulled him up from the couch. Leading him the few steps to where the straightback chair sat ready, he sat down, still holding on to Dylan's arm. "Come on, Dylan." He put the paddle on the floor against the chair leg and patted the Brat's arm. "It'll be okay. We need to get this over with. Dragging it out like this isn't helping at all."

 

"No, Scott! There isn't any need for this! Please! I'm leaving. I don't want this!"

 

Scott blocked out his cries and gently pulled him over his lap. Turning up the end of the t-shirt Dylan wore, he lowered his boxers and laid a warm hand on the exposed flesh. "Dylan, you might not have meant for this to have started, you might not have meant for it to go as far as it did ---"

 

"I didn't! I swear!" Dylan cried, squirming and trying to break free.

 

"But that doesn't matter," Scott continued over the cries, and, adjusting his hold so that Dylan was pinned tightly against him. "You knew what you were doing and you knew it was against the rules." He lifted his hand and steeled himself to the task at hand, then began to deliver a rapid but thorough spanking, quickly turning the skin pink and warm.

 

Dylan cried out at the first contact of hand on flesh, struggled briefly, and then, finding that escape was not possible, seemed to deflate, lying limp across Scott's lap, sobbing and gasping for breath.

 

Scott, stopped briefly to check on him, gently rubbing his back. "It's okay, Dylan. Take deep breaths for me, please." He continued to comfort the distraught young man as he slowly calmed down and seemed less on the verge of hysterics, then picked up the paddle and, without warning, brought it down sharply. The effect was electric on Dylan. Jerking forward, he cried out and then burst into loud sobs as the paddling continued.

 

A few moments later, Scott dropped the paddle back onto the floor and pulled Dylan in tightly against him. "Shhhh, it's okay. It's over with, we're done."

 

Dylan instinctively twisted toward Scott and comfort as he continued to sob. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean for this to happen. I've screwed everything up so badly."

 

Sliding him off his lap, the Top gently moved him back to the couch. He sat down and quickly, but with great care not to bump the extremely sore bottom, tucked Dylan in with a blanket and pillow, resting the Brat's head on his lap. Brushing back the damp hair and kissing his forehead he whisper softly, "It's okay, little one, cry all you want to. It's over with and I've got you."

 

"I want to go home," Dylan sobbed.

 

"Shhh, I know. We'll talk about it and work it out," Scott murmured softly, aware that even as Dylan said that, he turned into the Top and clung to him.

 

Later that evening, after the Brats were in bed and after Dylan had fallen into an exhausted sleep, Scott made his way quietly out to the back patio of the cottage. Carrying two bottles of lemonade, he walked across the lawn to the swing.

 

“Hi,” a voice said in the darkness. “Got him settled?”

 

"Hi, Andre," he said with a deep sigh as he sat down next to the other man, handing him a bottle. “He’s asleep, finally. I went ahead and gave him some Tylenol about 45 minutes ago and that seemed to calm him down enough to take the edge off.” Laying his head back, he sighed again

and held one of the cool bottles of juice to his forehead.

 

“Headache?”

 

“Yeah, but not too bad. Just stress, I think.”

 

Andre smiled and nodded in the darkness. “Yeah, probably,” he said encouragingly.

 

“I hate doing it sometimes.”

 

“I know. It’s hard. Especially when it’s not just mischief or just being brats - when it’s basically a small thing that got out of hand and got much bigger than they expected,” he said, starting the swing moving with his feet.

 

Scott gave a small, ironic laugh. “But that’s the problem. They don’t stop to think about how one small action can ripple and quickly get beyond their control.” He paused again, sipping his drink. “He shouldn’t have been on the beach in the first place. Meeting this Visiting Top and getting into that mess was a complication of that.”

 

“So what’s going to happen next?”

 

“I’ve got a meeting with Hayes and Ryan, and maybe Emerson, in the morning,” he said, making a face. “I have some explaining to do,” he added in a perfect imitation of Hayes' slight Irish accent.

 

“You didn’t do anything wrong, Scott. Don’t worry about it,” the other Top said, patting his back comfortingly.

 

“I don’t know. We’ll see. I’m sure there’s something I missed that could have prevented all this, or at least caught it quicker.”

 

“Maybe, maybe not.”

 

The two men sat in silence for a while, the only sound the slight creak of the swing and the occasional sounds of drinking.

 

Scott broke the silence first, “Dylan wants to go home,” he stated flatly.

 

Silence first. "Dylan

 

“He told you that tonight? This is the first I’ve heard of it.”

 

“Yeah, in my office, before he got paddled. He told me it was a waste of time since he was leaving anyway.”

 

“Oh,” Andre said almost dismissively, “they all use that defense. You know that.”

 

“I know, but Dylan has been so up and down. I feel like I’m constantly a half a step behind him. I just want him to be happy here, to get settled and to find someone that will make him happy.” The Top sighed. “I don’t know. I think I’ve failed with this one.”

 

Closing the empty bottle, Andre set it on the ground and then reached over, took Scott’s, and did the same thing. “Come here, Scott,” he said firmly, pulling him into a hug and kissing him, “you haven’t failed anyone. He’s tough. He acts like a Top sometimes, other times, he’s all

Brat and, other times, he’s so hidden behind a wall that you have no clue what’s going on with him.”

 

“I don’t know,” Scott repeated, hugging his friend tightly, “he’s struggling so hard and just when I think I’ve broken through those walls, something happens and they’re back up.”

 

 “I know, but I also know you. You’re not going to give up on him and you’re going to be there each and every time those walls crack to force your way in and get to him.”

 

“I hope so.”

 

“I know so.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

"Good morning, Dylan. How are you feeling?" Scott asked as he came into the darkened room, carrying a glass of juice.

 

A low groan and mumble came from the bed. "Go 'way!"

 

"No, I'm not going to go away," Scott replied, sitting down on the edge of the bed and turning on the bedside lamp. "Come on, sit up and drink this juice. It will make you feel better."

 

Starting to sit up, he stopped and groaned again, rolling back over onto his stomach. "It hurts," he moaned.

 

Scott put the glass on the nightstand. "Let me take a look," he ordered as he pulled back the sheet and lowered Dylan's boxers for a quick inspection. "No, it looks fine,” he said with a small pat on the skin before pulling them back up.  He laughed at Dylan's incredulous expression, "All right, it doesn't look fine, but it looks normal for the morning after a paddling. No bruises or marks, just red.  Now sit up - or at least roll onto your side - and drink your juice. Jamie is waiting tto see you and Garth has called several times to see how you're doing."

 

"Do I have to talk to them?" Dylan asked hesitantly.

 

"You don't have to talk to Garth, but I think you need to see Jamie for a few minutes. He's very worried about you."

 

"I know, but--"

 

"What's wrong, Dylan?" Scott asked compassionately when Dylan did not continue. "Are you embarrassed? You shouldn't be. You aren't the first Brat who's ever been paddled, and I can guarantee that you won't be the last. I’d be surprised if you were the only one who spanked last night, even."

 

"No, it isn't that," Dylan replied in a low voice. "Can you hand me my wallet?"

 

Scott, mystified, got Dylan's wallet from the dresser and handed it to him.

 

Dylan fumbled it opened, pulled out a piece of carefully folded paper and handed it to Scott. "There's my voucher. How soon can I leave."

 

"Dylan, are you sure?" Scott asked surprised. "I know this past week has been rough. Why don't you wait and--"

 

"No." Dylan shook his head adamantly. "I already told Jamie I was leaving, before the whole mess yesterday. Now, how long before the next plane?"

 

"It's not quite that easy," Scott said slowly. "I can turn the voucher in for you, but the staff has to make arrangements for the actual ticket, and you have to go through an exit interview with Cal first.  It's going to take a few days."

 

"Why??" Dylan cried, struggling to sit up. "You said that if I didn't like it here I could leave! Why won't you let me go??"  His voice rose in frustration and he seemed close to tears again.

 

"Shhh. Calm down, Dylan," Scott said, rubbing his hand over Dylan's back. "No one said you can't go. I just said that it takes a little time. I'll get things started and see if we can put a rush on them if you want, but you probably aren't going to be comfortable enough to travel for a couple of days anyway."

 

Aware of the pain that was radiating from his butt just from sitting up in bed, Dylan reluctantly acknowledged the Top's point. "But I want to leave as soon as I can. I don't want to drag this out any longer."

 

"I call Cal and set up your interview right now," Scott promised. "Do you think you can talk to Jamie for a few minutes while I do that?"

 

"I guess." Dylan was reluctant but habit took over. If Jamie needed him, he'd better pull himself together and take care of it. "Wait," he added as Scott started toward the door. "Does he know who I've been meeting?"

 

"Not that I know of. The Brats have all heard the rumors about you secretly meeting a Visiting Top, but I think the Board has managed to keep Garth's name out of it. Why?"

 

Dylan shrugged. "No reason, I guess." He closed his eyes and half-listened as Scott walked out of his room, closing the door softly behind him.  A minute or so later, he heard the door slowly open again and quiet footsteps coming toward his bed.  Opening his eyes, he smiled up at his brother."Hi."

 

"Hi," Jamie said softly, hesitating at the foot of his bed.

 

"Hi," Dylan repeated, "come on, I'm okay."

 

"Are you?" Jamie asked, his voice quivered.

 

He nodded and patted his bed. 

 

Seconds later, Jamie threw himself on the bed, roughly bumping against Dylan as he burrowed his head under his brother's arm.

 

Biting back a gasp, Dylan moved gently away from Jamie's flailing legs. "Watch it please," he whispered.

 

"Oh Dyl!" Jamie cried, hugging him tightly, "I'm sorry.  I was just so upset.  You have no idea how hard it was last night!"  Tears started streaming down his face, "It hurt me so much to hear you crying and Scott wouldn't let me see you then and I know you were upset," he said, his voice rising higher and higher.

 

Biting back a sharp retort of *YES*, he knew exactly how much it hurt and how hard it was, he sighed and smiled.  "I'm sorry Jamie," he said softly, rolling over on his side and kissing him.

 

"But you're okay now?"

 

"Yes, I'm okay," Dylan repeated.  Then after a moment, "Jamie, remember the other day when I told you that I wanted to leave The Island?"

 

The younger man nodded. "Yeah, but that's stupid, you can't leave."

 

"It's not stupid," he said harshly and then softened his tone when he saw the hurt look on Jamie's face. "It's something that I need to do.  Something I need to do for myself."

 

"You're leaving me!" Jamie wailed, jarring Dylan again.

 

Closing his eyes briefly against the pain, Dylan continued, "I'm not leaving you Jamie.  I need to leave The Island for awhile, but I'll keep in touch with you."

 

"I'll go too," Jamie declared.

 

"No, don't be silly.  I want you to stay here. You like it here, you belong here.  I don't."

 

Jamie bit his lip, struggling with this new dilemma. "I do like it here. I like Scott and Andre and everyone else.  Will you come back?  If I stay here, will you come back?  Like in a couple of weeks?"

 

Grasping at the easy out for both of them, Dylan nodded. "Of course.  If you're here, it will be a great reason for me to come back. I won't be gone long, and you'll be so busy, you'll barely miss me.  They'll probably give Scott a new Brat so you won't be the new kid on the block anymore."

 

"Yeah." Jamie smiled, the clouds lifting from his face.

 

A group of brats went by outside the cottage, their chattering breaking the silence.

 

"It's almost class time," Dylan said softly.

 

"Are you going to class?"

 

"No, I'm going to stay here today, talk to Scott some more."  Then, reading the desire on his brother's face, he nudged him. "But you better get going, you don't want to be late."

 

Jamie hesitated for a brief moment, then nodded and smiled. "Yeah, I don't want to be late. And if I hurry, I can walk up with Tracy and Carlos.  You'll be here when I get back?"

 

"Yes. I promise I won't leave without saying good-bye."

 

Jamie nodded and smiled again. "Okay.  Have a good morning and I'll try to come by and see you after lunch."

 

"Okay, I'll see you then," Dylan answered softly.  He watched the young Brat bounce out the door, then rolled back onto his stomach, burrowing his face in his pillow and soaking it with his tears.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

"I don't want to talk, I don't want to be told why I'm wrong or convinced that this is what I need, I just want OUT!" Dylan cried.

 

Cal looked at the disheveled, red-eyed Brat standing in front of him. He was obviously miserable, a far cry from the folk hero the Brats were already making of him. This wasn't someone who's ill-conceived prank had gotten out of hand, this was a vulnerable young man, pushed to his limit and close to cracking under the strain.

 

"All right, Dylan," he said gently. "I understand that-"

 

"When we came here they said that all I had to do was give them the voucher if I wanted to leave, but when I gave it to Scott he said I have to talk to you first. I don't want to talk, I just want to go HOME!"

 

Cal sighed. Hobbes had wanted to conduct this exit interview, sure that Dylan would respond better to a Top, but Cal had insisted that he do it. Dylan had been his responsibility, he had somehow missed the signs that the young man was so desperate, and he felt a strong need to see this through. Now he was wondering if he should have had Hobbes sit in. Calming hysterical Brats was not one of his strong points.

 

"And you can go home, Dylan," he said soothingly. "Nobody is going to keep you from leaving. But we have a procedure that we have to follow and the first step is for you to talk to me. We need to know how we failed you, so we don't make the same mistakes again."

 

"If I talk to you, I can leave?" Dylan asked suspiciously.

 

"Yes."

 

"Today?"

 

"I don't know about today, but as soon as we can make the arrangements. Now, sit down, please. The sooner we get started, the sooner you can go."

 

Dylan sat, perching on the edge of the chair as if he was going to take flight at any moment.

 

"Good," Cal said, taking a deep breath. Maybe they could get through this. "Now, I need to ask you a few questions and it's very important that you answer them as honestly as possible."

 

"All right," Dylan agreed, nervously running his hand through his already tousled hair.

 

"First, did Garth know that you're a brat when he was meeting you on the beach?"

 

"No, of course not!" he cried indignantly.

 

"Did you have any meetings other than the ones at the beach? Did he seek you out in any way, or encourage you to sneak away to meet him or to do anything other than talk with him?"

 

"NO!" Dylan leapt to his feet in outrage. "He didn't do anything wrong! It was all my idea. I'm the one that pursued him! All he did was talk to me when he saw me on the beach. You can't blame him for this. It was all my fault!"

 

"All right, Dylan, all right. Calm down. I believe you. But I had to ask." He waited until Dylan was calm again before continuing. "Next question. Where was Scott during all this? How were you able to escape his supervision so easily?"

 

"It wasn't Scott's fault," Dylan replied in a low voice. "The only time I met Garth was during free time, when we're allowed to be on our own, and Jamie-" his voice cracked and he paused, swallowing hard.

 

"Take your time, Dylan." He got the young man a glass of water and waited while he took a sip before continuing.

 

"Jamie and I made him think that we were... together. Making love. He didn't check on us then. He was trying to give us some privacy."

 

"All right. Now let's talk about you, Dylan. Why did you feel it was necessary to sneak away to meet Garth? You could have seen him at any of the Island functions. Were you ashamed to be seen with him? Or maybe thought he would be ashamed to be seen with you?"

 

"No, not at all," Dylan said wretchedly. "We met by accident on the beach and he assumed that I was staff and I didn't correct him. I thought it wouldn't matter just for that one time and I wanted someone to see *me*, as a *person*, not just another orphan brat. And then I wanted to tell him, but I couldn't figure out how."

 

"Then why are you refusing to see him now?" Cal asked quietly. "Scott says you want nothing to do with him."

 

"Because of Jamie." The tears started again. "He's interested in Garth and I think Garth is probably attracted to him, too. I can't compete with Jamie. He needs someone like Garth so much."

 

"But what about what Dylan needs?" Cal asked gently.

 

An hour later, Cal felt like he'd been through a wringer, but Dylan was still adamant. Garth belonged to Jamie and he wanted to leave The Island as soon as possible.

 

"Okay, here's the situation," Cal told him. "I understand your need to get away, but I don't feel comfortable just putting you on a plane with no place to go and no plan for what you're going to do after you get there. Do you have someone you could stay with for a while? I know you're estranged from your parents, but what about friends or relatives?"

 

Dylan gave a brief shake of his head. "No one."

 

"What about Judge Milecky?"

 

"NO!"

 

"Easy, Dylan. It was just a question." He thought for a minute. "All right, here's what I'd like to do. The Island frequently has Orphans who want to return to the 'real world', usually for school or a career. When they do, we try to foster them out, place them with an Island couple who will look after them and provide a home and some boundaries for them. Kind of like a Temp Temp Top, for lack of a better description. I'd like to place you with one of these couples-" he held up his hand as Dylan started to protest. "Hear me out, please. I'd like you to stay with one of these couples for a while, just to provide you a safe haven while you figure out what you want to do next."

 

"And I can't leave unless I agree to that?" Dylan asked forlornly.

 

"Of course you can, Dylan. You're not a prisoner here. But it would make everyone here feel better if you would go along with it. We feel badly that we weren't able to make you happy and we'd like to know that you have a safe place to stay while you decide what to do with your life."

 

After another few minutes of discussion, Dylan reluctantly agreed to the suggestion.

 

"I'll talk to Ryan about it and get things started," Cal promised. He stood and pulled Dylan into a hug. "It's going to be all right, Dylan. I promise."

 

Two days later, Dylan was on his way to a couple in Dallas.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Dylan shifted the two plastic bags of groceries to one hand and dug in his pocket for the key to his motel room. Unable to reach the key, he sighed and smacked the door sharply with his palm just above the lock, then pushed it open and entered the shabby little room. Dropping the groceries onto the desk, he sat on the bed with a groan and pulled his heavy boots off.

He'd been working as a day laborer for the past two weeks, waiting in a parking lot with the other itinerant labor for the chance of a few hours work. He'd been pretty lucky, being hired often enough to pay for his motel room and keep his larder stocked with the basics. He'd had his first real break today. His back and shoulders ached from the strain of shoveling heavy concrete rubble all day but the boss had noticed his hard work and told him to come back the next day. If he could keep the job for the rest of the week he'd have enough money for the next two weeks' rent, plus a little extra to put away for a rainy day. Then he had been under budget at the grocery store, so he'd splurged and spent the leftover money at McDonald's.

 

He felt slightly guilty about that, but there had been a ninety-nine cent special on Big Macs, so it hadn't
taken too much out of his budget, he reasoned. And he didn't mind drinking water all week to pay for the super-sized fries and coke. With another groan he got up and started putting his groceries on the shelf. Instant oatmeal had been on sale so he'd eat that all week instead of
cold cereal. He didn't have a way to keep milk, but he wouldn't miss it if he added the packets of sugar he'd taken from McDonald's. Two loaves of day old bread, the economy size jar of peanut butter, also on sale, apples and bananas from the discount bin, and ten packages of ramen. Not too bad, he thought. Not quite up to The Island standards, but he'd get by.

He lay down on the bed, his mood turning darker at the thought of The Island. Maybe he should have used the extra money at an internet cafe, sending another email to Jamie, instead of on his stomach. He tried to send one a week, letting Jamie know that he was safe and happy, but it was hard. He was happy for Jamie, happy that he was being taken care of and that he had Garth, but it still hurt so much that it was difficult to write to him. Maybe it would become easier over time. Or maybe he would reach the point where he could cut the contact altogether.

He pounded on the thin pillow and stuffed it under his head, staring at the ceiling broodingly. If only he had told Garth that he was an orphan, maybe Garth would have chosen him instead of- NO! He wasn't going to go there. Garth was Jamie's, he wouldn't - *couldn't* - compete with his little brother. He was doing fine on his own. Maybe it wasn't up to The Island standards - definitely not up to The Island standards, he thought as he heard a door slam and a high-pitched giggle from the room next to his - but he'd like to see any of the TT's do any better.

 

There was a thump and metallic screech as someone next door landed heavily on the bed and the cheap frame protested. With a heavy sigh, he got up, stripped off his dirty work clothes, and started the shower. Sammi, he'd found, was very enthusiastic about her work and he really didn't want to hear-- Right on cue there was a breathy moan, followed by another irritating giggle.

 

He got into the shower quickly. If he was lucky, she'd finish with her customer and be back out on the street before the meager supply of hot water ran out. As he stood under the stream of water, his mind went back to those first weeks away from The Island.

 

He had tried to live with the couple that Ryan had picked out for him, but he couldn't. It wasn't that they were a bad couple - quite the opposite. Bart was a 45-year-old English professor and Adam, 7 years younger, was an executive at a software company. They were both friendly and easy to get along with and very open about their relationship. And they seemed still madly in love with each other. They had welcomed him and tried to make him feel at home. He was given his own room with a private bathroom and a small list of household chores, but he hadn’t minded the chores. His first evening in their house, Bart had sat down him in the office and patiently explained the house rules to him.

 

 “They’re pretty simple and straightforward, Dylan,” he said calmly. “Call if you’re going to be late, pick up after yourself, do your chores and mind me. While you’re here, Adam and I want you to feel comfortable enough to ask us anything.”

 

"Yes, sir.”

 

“When Ryan called us about fostering you for a while, he filled us in a little about what happened on The Island and I want you to know that we understand what you’re going through. Adam and I have had our share of bumpy roads and troubles, but it’s worked out and this will too.”

 

“Yes, sir,” Dylan said softly. “I’ll be good, I promise. I’ve caused enough problems for people. I won’t do it here, I promise.”

 

Bart smiled at him. “I know, Dylan, and we’re very happy to have you here. We fostered another orphan a couple of years ago, and it was a great experience for all three of us. I think this will turn out just as well.” He smiled again, then reached over and patted the young man's knee. “And, another rule for you. When you’re not in trouble, don’t call me ‘sir’; it makes me feel like I’m at work. My name’s Bart.”

 

Dylan looked up and smiled shyly. “Okay, thanks.”

 

Standing up, the Top put out his hand and pulled him up. “Okay, young man, why don’t you go on upstairs and get ready for bed. It’s almost 10 and you have the same hours here that you did on The Island.”

 

“Yeah, I am kind of tired.” He started to walk out, then stopped, turned back and shyly said, “Thanks for taking me in, Bart. I really appreciate you and Adam doing this for me.”

  

Bart pulled the smaller man into a warm hug. “No, little one, it’s our pleasure. We just want you to get settled and be happy, and we’re going to love having you share our home, for however long you want.”

 

The next couple of weeks had fallen into a comfortable pattern of getting ready for school, helping around the house and getting settled into a new house and environment for Dylan. Bart and Adam made a conscious effort to make sure he was included in their lives and routine. He had tried to stay to himself at first, disappearing to his room as soon as they came home, not wishing to intrude on their time any more then necessary. Bart had quickly put a stop to that and slowly began to make him feel more at home. Seeing the easy way that Adam dealt with his rules helped immensely. If he had not known about their relationship, he never would have guessed that they used discipline at all. Until that last night.

 

Looking out the window at the rain for the third time in five minutes, Bart frowned. “All right, Dylan. Let’s sit down and eat. Adam is obviously running late this evening.”

 

Dylan glanced at the clock and saw that it was well past the hour when Adam typically got home. He started to say something, to ask if Bart thought everything was all right, then saw the look on the older man’s face. “Yes, sir,” he said quietly, getting the casserole from the oven and setting it on the table.

 

Bart had just finished dishing out the chicken and noodle mixture when the headlights of the car flashed through the windows from the driveway and, a second later, the garage door opened.

 

“Thank God,” Bart muttered to himself, taking a deep breath.

 

The connecting door burst open, and Adam came into the kitchen, taking off his coat, and hanging it by the door. “I am so sorry I’m late. I got caught up with a project at work and then as I was leaving, I suddenly had a flash of what was going on with the Golden Project and then with this rain, traffic was a nightmare and---“

 

Bart had gotten up when the door had opened. Now he leaned over and kissed his partner, stroking his cheek gently. “Hush, Adam. Let’s sit down and eat before it gets cold. We’ll talk about this later.”

 

Adam nodded, hugging him hard. “I’m sorry, love,” he said softly.

 

“Later," Bart repeated. "Let’s eat.”

 

Dylan had sat still and quiet in his seat, not wishing to remind them that he was there as he watched in fascination. Bart had not gotten mad or even upset. Unlike Scott’s scowl or frown of disappointment and anger that his routine had been disrupted, Bart seem to take the tardiness in stride. He hadn’t sent Adam immediately to their room or to the office as punishment. Punishing him for being late seemed the last thing on his mind as the Top casually picked up the empty plate from Adam’s spot and filled it.

 

Their conversation picked up normally as they all discussed their day and the upcoming week.

 

“MacBeth opened up at the Shakespeare Tavern a couple of weekends ago,” Bart said as they did the cleanup after dinner. “Didn’t you say that’s on your syllabus for your English Lit class this term, Dylan?”

 

“Yeah, it is.” He looked up and smiled back when he saw Bart smiling at him. A small happy rush went through him that the Top had remembered his class like that.

 

“Why don’t I see if I can get tickets, then?” Adam asked.

 

He went upstairs to his room at his normal time now, around nine. It was too early for bed but he knew that they deserved some time alone and Bart was actually pretty strict about him being *in* bed at 10, and not just getting ready for it. After changing into his pj's, he realized that he had left his book downstairs.

 

Opening the door, he listened for a moment. He didn't hear the TV on downstairs anymore and he decided that they had turned in for the night already. As he crossed the hall, going past the darkened living room, voices from the office caught his attention. The door was shut tightly but the light came through from underneath.

 

"All right, young man," he heard Bart ask in a calm, but stern voice, “shall we discuss this evening?" His stomach clenched, but he still couldn't help stopping in the hall to listen to their conversation.

 

“Bart, please, don’t,” Adam whimpered, his voice thick already with tears. “It was an accident.”

 

Dylan jumped slightly at the sound of two rapid paddle strokes, and winced at Adam’s cry.

 

“We are way past excuses, Adam. We’ve talked about this numerous times. I told you last month when we found ourselves in this same position that there were no excuses that I would accept for you working late. And,” Bart delivered a series of hard swats throughout his lecture, punctuating this last point with several quick ones in a row, “especially not for you working late and not calling.”

 

The only response Dylan could hear from Adam was crying and an occasional yelp or cry when the paddle hit a particularly sore area or landed especially hard.

 

“I know, I should have called,” Adam finally sobbed out, his butt on fire from Bart’s lecture, “but I knew if I called, you’d say no and make me come home.”

 

“And this alternative is so much better? I promise you, that when we’re done tonight, you won’t consider it. I will not allow your work to disrupt our relationship. You work from 8-5, you call if you think you need to work late and ask permission, and if you are running late because of traffic or an emergency, you call and let me know it. Do you have any idea how worried I was about you?” He continued to bring the paddle down in a steady, hard rhythm, punctuating his points and feelings.

“I’m sorry. I swear I’ll remember from now on. Please! Stop!”

 

Outside in the hall, Dylan wrapped his arms around his stomach, a cold sweat coming over him as he listened to Adam’s cries and pleas as the paddling continued. Finally, unable to listen anymore, he made his way as quickly and silently as possible back to his room. Throwing himself on the bed, turning out the light and burrowing under the covers, he laid there in the dark. Once in a while, he could faintly hear a cry of pain and distress, and twenty minutes later, he heard someone coming up the stairs. Bart’s deep voice rumbled comfortably and Dylan heard Adam still sniffling.

 

“I’m going to have to put you down for a minute, love, while I get the door open,” Bart said gently as he set Adam down on his feet.

 

“I’m sorry,” Adam replied, his voice cracking again from emotion and pain.

 

“Shhh, it’s all right, love. Come on, let’s get you tucked into bed, and you’ll feel better in the morning.”

 

Dylan heard the door open and then shut again a moment later. From inside the bedroom, he heard Adam crying softly again. Water ran in their bedroom and the toilet flushed and then Adam’s cries tapered off and there was silence.

 

The next morning, he walked quietly down the stairs. Unsure of the mood of either man, he cautiously peeked into the room and was shocked to see nothing more than the normal morning routine. “Morning,” he murmured softly, sliding into the bench at the table.

 

Adam turned around and smiled at him. “Hi, Dylan. Sleep well?”

 

“Dylan, please get the juice for everyone,” Bart asked from his spot by the stove.

 

He did as he was asked, studying them from the corner of his eye. Except for a slight stiffness in Adam’s movements, slightly red eyes, and the fact that he was sticking very close to Bart, Dylan didn’t see any difference in the other brat.

 

There was no anger, no resentment, and, if anything, they seemed closer this morning than last night. Bart seemed to be very protective and was hovering over Adam as much as Adam was snuggling up to him. "Go sit down, love," Dylan heard Bart softly tell Adam, giving him a small kiss and rubbing his back.

 

Adam looked at the chair and then, with a sigh and careful movements, sat down with a wince. He looked up and caught Dylan’s eye. With a small smile and shrug, he said, “Not that big of a deal. We’ve talked about my hours enough that I knew what was going to happen.” His voice cracked slightly and he chewed his bottom lip a little.

 

Bart leaned down and kissed him again. “It’s okay, baby, we’re working on it. And, you are learning.”

 

Adam gave his partner a small smile, as he nodded and sniffled once. “Yeah.”

 

Dylan gave them both a tight smile, trying to choke down the lump that had formed in his throat. He barely listened to them carry on a normal morning conversation, nodding when it seemed that someone was talking directly to him, but paying little attention to what they were saying. In his mind, he could see Garth gently kissing him and rubbing his back after such a session. The love and acceptance that they seemed to share set his stomach in knots.

 

That afternoon, while Adam, forced to take the day off, napped upstairs, and Bart was at work, he ran away. Unable to stand the might-have-beens with Garth that were flooding his thoughts, he wrote a short, simple note saying he would rather be alone and asking them not to look for him. Then, picking up his bag, he walked away.

 

An icy waterfall interrupted his train of thought as the hot water ran out, and he rinsed quickly and got out of the shower and dried off. Wrapping one of the thin, thread-bare towels around his waist and resolutely not thinking about the warm, thick towels on the Island, he walked into the other room, still drying his hair, and stopped dead as he saw Garth sitting in the room's only chair.

 

"What are you doing here?" he blurted. "How did you find me? How did you get in?"

 

"I think the question should be 'What are you doing here?'" Garth replied dryly. "I know The Island staff picked a slightly higher class place for you to stay. And as for the other two questions, I've been showing your picture at every cheap motel and homeless shelter for the past week, and I popped the lock, the same way you did earlier. What the HELL were you thinking??"

 

Dylan flushed. "There's nothing wrong with this motel-" he began defensively.

 

"Not if you like renting your room by the hour," Garth interrupted, wincing at the unmistakable sounds still coming from the room next door. "Get dressed and let's get out of here. We can spend the night at my hotel, and leave for The Island first thing in the morning. I already spoke to them, and they're sending the plane for us."

 

"No," Dylan said, digging his feet in.

 

"No, little boy?" Garth asked, raising an eyebrow.

 

"No," he repeated, anger rapidly overwhelming the burst of joy he'd felt on seeing Garth. " I'm not going anywhere with you, especially not back to The Island. What gives you the right to just walk in here and start giving me orders?"

 

"Look around you!" Garth gestured angrily. "You're living in a fleabag motel with prostitutes on one side of you and drug dealers on the other, and you probably haven't had a decent meal since you left Bart's! If that stunt on The Island didn't prove that you need a Top, this sure does!"

 

"So your solution is to haul the poor helpless baby back to The Island and find him another Top to take care of him? Well, fuck off. Take yourself back to The Island and back to Jamie! I don't need you to feel sorry for me and I don't need some damn Top willing to take your discards!"

 

"Is that what you think?" Garth asked incredulously. "That I've come to take you back and hand you over to another Top? If that's your opinion of me, no wonder you didn't want to see me on The Island!"

 

"It wasn't like that-" Dylan started to protest, but Garth shouted over top of him.

 

"Do you have any IDEA how hard it was to make them let me come after you, little boy? Or how much time I've spent in front of the Board for you? First I had to convince them that I was *stupid* enough to take you at face value when you said you were staff, and then I had to convince them that I'm capable of handling two brats in spite of being that stupid! If it hadn't been for Ryan and Cal backing me up, I'd STILL be there talking!"

 

"Two brats?" Dylan asked in a daze. "I don't understand. You want both of us?"

 

"Of course I want both of you! I LOVE both of you!"

 

"How can you love both of us?" Dylan asked weakly.

 

"The same way you can love both of us, and Jamie can love both of us. Do you *know* how worried he is about you??"

 

Dylan swallowed. "I've been sending him emails. I thought he'd be better off with you. Without me screwing everything up."

 

"Well, he isn't! He hasn't done anything but worry about you for the past month. Nobody's done anything but worry about you for the past month. It was bad enough when you took off without saying goodbye to anyone on The Island, but then you topped it by disappearing from Bart's and Adam's! How do you think we felt, not knowing where you were or if you were safe? Not to mention Bart and Adam, wondering what the hell they'd done, where they'd failed you. You have a lot to answer for, little boy!"

 

"And I suppose you're the one who's going to make me answer for it?" Dylan asked angrily. "Not hardly! You aren't my Top. You don't have any authority over me and you never did."

 

Before he knew what was happening, Dylan found himself facedown over Garth's lap, the flimsy protection of his towel a thing of the past.

 

"NO!" he cried out as the first hard swat connected, leaving a bright red mark on the pale flesh. "You can't!"

 

"No," Garth agreed roughly. "I can't. But *only* because I'm not officially your Top yet, and I've been ordered to let Scott handle this. And I'm warning you now, if you keep up with that tone and attitude, I'll forget all about those orders and you'll be standing all the way back to The Island."

 

"I'm sorry," Dylan said, strangling back a half-sob. "I just-- I didn't mean-- I just--" It was growing harder to hold back the welter of tangled emotions - joy, relief, anger, guilt, sorrow.

 

"Shhh, it's all right." Garth reacted to the lost and forlorn tone, pulling the young man upright on his lap. "You scared the hell out of us, babe." He brushed Dylan's hair back, petting and soothing him.

 

"I'm sorry, I just--" Dylan sniffled, then gave in to the tears, letting out all of the anger and frustration and fears that he'd kept bottled up for so long. Finally, after an eternity of crying, when he was exhausted, his nose stuffed up until he couldn't breathe, and Garth's shoulder soaked with tears, the sobs tapered off. He lay quietly with his head on Garth's shoulder, hiccuping occasionally as the older man patted him and murmured wordless reassurances. It felt so good, so right, and he drifted contentedly into sleep.

 

"What happens next?" he asked some time later. Garth had moved them at some point and he was lying on the bed, covered by the light blanket, his head resting on the Top's chest.

 

"Now we pack up your stuff and take you back to my hotel," Garth replied, "where we can get a decent night's sleep." He winced as he tried to shift position on the thin, lumpy mattress. "Then tomorrow we fly back to The Island."

 

Dylan tensed. "No, I don't want to go back there."

 

Garth swatted him lightly. "I didn't ask your opinion, little boy. You have to go back and face people sometime. It might as well be now."

 

"What will happen to me?" Dylan asked in a small voice.

 

"Well, first you have to face the wrath of Scott," Garth informed him, patting his butt firmly, then cupping his hand possessively around one cheek. "He wanted to come after you himself, but I promised him I wouldn't kill you before he got a chance at you."

 

Dylan swallowed audibly. "Did he get in much trouble?"

 

"Well, it wasn't pleasant for him, but I think he'll survive. But--" Garth kissed him on the nose, "I think you'd better be on your best behavior for a while. After you're settled back in, Cal and Hobbes want to spend some time with you and retest you. They're pretty sure that you're a 4, or possibly a 5, although after this latest trick, they might up that to a 7 or 8," he said mock sternly.

 

"I'm sorry," Dylan said contritely, twining his body more tightly around Garth's.

 

"After that," Garth paused to enjoy the feeling of the lithe body wrapped around his, "you're going to finish your orientation period, and then, if you're still willing, the Board has agreed to allow the three of us to become promised. It isn't going to be easy; threesomes aren't that common, and they've set a lot of conditions for us. But we'll be together, and they're going to work with us."

 

"As long as Jamie-" Dylan began.

 

"No," Garth said firmly. "That's the first thing we're going to work on. Jamie is not the focus of this relationship and we are not going to automatically put his needs above everyone else's."

 

Dylan worried his lower lip, unsure what to say.

 

"No," Garth repeated, placing his finger over Dylan's mouth. "I know that it's a habit for you, Dylan, but it's one that we're going to break. Your needs are just as important as Jamie's are, and you need to realize that. We'll have to set up some rules about that, and we'll have to figure out how to set more stringent boundaries for Jamie without smothering you. Scott and one of the TTs for the 4s will probably be able to help us out with that. Then we're going to have to..."

 

Garth continued to think out loud, enumerating the many things they were going to have to take care of, but Dylan didn't hear the words, just the comforting rumble in the chest that his head rested on. He didn't have to worry about it, anyway. For the first time in a long time, he didn't feel the weight of responsibility on his shoulders, and the relief was overwhelming. And things had worked out better than he had ever dreamed possible, he thought sleepily. He had Garth and he had Jamie and all was right with his world.

 

Garth came to the end of his list, looked down, and dropped a light kiss on the head of the sleeping young man. He sighed philosophically as he reached out and turned off the light. The bed would probably give him a heck of a backache, but that was a small price to pay for the joy he held in his arms.

 

The End

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