When Justin woke up, he enjoyed a few unexpected moments of bliss. However, no time was wasted in reality making an un-welcomed return and within a mere few seconds he experienced a blinding pain originating from the side of his forehead. Without thinking, Justin tried to force himself to his feet, he managed to prop himself unsteadily on one knee before falling back down to the ground.

He felt a pain so extreme that it made his vision blurry and his whole body shake. In response to this physically painful lesson, Justin took a few moments to compose himself, taking deep breaths, he slowly brought himself to his feet, supporting himself by leaning against a wall. For the first time he made an effort to analyse his surroundings. He scanned the small room with light blue walls, it was completely empty.

The windows had been boarded up with planks of wood, small jets of light pierced through gaps in the shoddy woodwork. This gave Justin the impression that it was daylight outside, a realization which carried the consequence of escape being nearly impossible for the time being. The only thing available to catch Justin's attention was a wooden door opposite the boarded up windows.

Instantly Justin recognized this door and he couldn't believe how foolish he'd been. Since Justin woke up, he'd been in his own house. That small room with blue walls and an oak wooden door is....used to be their family dining room. Justin was sure of it and now he realized that this provided him with a small advantage. If Justin could somehow get out of this room, he would know exactly where the nearest exit was and whereabouts in the town he was. For the first time Justin began to feel relieved and a sense of hope began to wash over him, he even felt somewhat empowered. Then it hit him, where was Max? Why had Justin been kept alive? Did Max enjoy that same luxury? Was living even a luxury, or was it a curse?

Justin succeeded in ridding himself of those questions which for now were not answerable. He slowly crept towards the door, he feared that it be opened from the other side at any moment. Besides, he still didn't feel to steady on his feet. Justin extended a trembling hand towards the door handle and gripped it loosely, with extreme care not to make a single sound he pulled the handle down slowly. Justin's heart raced as the handle gradually descended buy roughly an inch, then it jarred.

The door was locked. Justin felt all the hope and determination which he had built up leave his body in seconds. He released his grip from the door handle and threw back his head. He opened his eyes and looked up at the ceiling of the small room. It was in that moment that Justin once again realized his stupidity in this time of crisis. In the far corner of the room, in the corner of the ceiling, he spotted a square outline. This part of the house was an extension. It had been added to the original building a few months ago. Above the dining room in which Justin had been held captive, was a small loft, which Justin assumed had gone unnoticed by his captors.

Justin now raced back to the side of the room with the windows, he placed his fingers between the gaps in the wood through which the streams of light entered the room. In one quick motion he managed to pull himself up onto the window ledge. From this heightened position he was able to reach the door to the loft. Justin clung to the wooden boards with one hand and reached towards the trapdoor with his left hand, he gave it a shove and it lifted up, he strained and with one strong push he flipped the door so that it landed on the floor above, or the ceiling of this room.

His parents hadn't yet managed to have ladders installed in order to access this unused loft so Justin would have to find another, more original way up. He turned completely so that his back was to the window and gingerly balanced himself on the narrow ledge. With complete faith in himself, Justin jumped and his fingers barely connected with the ledge above him, he hung from the newly accessible hole in the ceiling for a few moments before managing to hoist his body upwards and into the loft.

He slid away from the whole in the floor which now looked down upon the dining room. Justin wasted no time in replacing the hatch which filled this hole. He fumbled around in the darkness for a few seconds before he finally found the light switch. There were some boxes up here but these weren't of any concern to Justin. He sat down on the floor and felt relieved in the knowledge that he'd be safe up here, even if only temporarily.

He needed to form some sort of plan, he couldn't stay up here forever. Justin tried to think strategically, to formulate a plan of action. However, unlike his best friend, Justin was unable to control his emotions, he couldn't help but wonder where Max was and what kind of condition he would be in.

Justin realized that the only way he could get to Max would be to first get out of this prison. He then turned his attention back to the few boxes which where scattered around the room. He rummaged through them and managed to find a torch and a pocket knife. He knew he would need to be resourceful and cunning if he wanted to survive. Suddenly Justin heard something below him, someone had entered the room.

This was it, if Justin didn't act now this opportunity would be gone. As quietly as he could he lifted the hatch again, reopening the gap between the loft and the dining room. He peered through this gap and saw a soldier facing the opposite way, with his back to Justin. The soldier didn't seem worried that the room was empty and Justin wasn't there. This made Justin believe the soldier didn't realize anyone had ever been put in this room.

Justin got down on his knees and began to back up towards the hole, he shimmied to the edge and began to lower himself down until he was at arms length, hanging from the ceiling, he let go and dropped to the ground as silently as possible. Despite his best efforts he simply couldn't deny physics and his feet impacting on the wooden floor resulted in a small thump. Instantly the soldier turned as Justin began to pull the knife from his pocket.

Both Justin and the soldier froze suddenly. Justin had intended to stab the enemy, but he found himself unable to do so. The problem was that Justin was not faced with a violent, aggressive, ruthless soldier with eyes full of hate which showed no remorse for the killing spree unleashed by his comrades. But rather a boy who looked far too young to be a soldier. He appeared to be roughly sixteen years of age, he had dark, tanned skin and brown eyes which were now streaming with tears.

His eyes were wide open and he was obviously terrified by this unexpected encounter. Justin came to his senses, some of them at least. He raised his arm quickly, extending the knife towards the terrified young soldier who now began to tremble and sob more violently. "Close the door." Commanded Justin. He was successful in projecting a strong and serious voice, he'd expected the tone to be shaky and betray him in trying to mask his fear. Instantly the soldier obeyed and closed the door.

Justin now returned the knife to his pocket and his stern facial expression became much friendlier. "What's your name?" Justin enquired. The boy was still nervous and obviously surprised by the sudden change in Justin's character but began to calm down a little bit. "My nameĀ¬ is David." Muttered the soldier. His voice was so soft and gentle that it was barely audible.

Justin began to feel a soft spot for the boy, but kept his guard up nevertheless. "Ok David. I need to ask you something, and I want you to really think about this. My friend is here somewhere, we were captured together. Where is he?"

For a few seconds David simply gazed at Justin with a bewildered look on his face, he took a few moments more to decide what to do. "Your friend, is in this building, he's in the room across the hall."

Justin smiled uncontrollably at how lucky he'd been. Max was right across the hall in a few moments they'd be reunited, it was all too good to be true. Justin walked past the adolescent soldier and made his way towards the door. At the last minute he turned back to face his unexpected ally and simply said, "Thank you." Justin smiled at the boy before stepping out of the room and into the hall.

He took a quick glance to the left and right to make sure that nobody was around before crossing the hall and opening the door to the room which used to be the study. Justin pushed the door open, he was so excited to see his best friend again. This room, like the dining room, had been robbed of all its furniture. The only thing to be seen in the room was a pool of blood in the middle of the floor. The hope and excitement rushed out of Justin's body, it was instantly replaced by a sense of dread and preoccupation.

He began to turn whilst asking, "Where is Max?" David was ready, he stood behind Justin and as he turned, David sent his fist flying into Justin's forehead. His knuckles connected with the same spot on which Justin had received a blow earlier. Instantly he felt the pain and fell to the ground, unable to see properly. He felt a flurry of sharp kicks being delivered to his abdomen. Justin found himself unable to contain his screams.

With each boot that connected with his ribs he screamed in agony, wishing Max was here to protect him. Justin was by himself here. As if Max were guiding Justin's body, Justin reached back and grabbed David's leg, just as he was about to land yet another kick on Justin's ribs. David, caught of guard, was sent flying to the ground, the back of his head coming into full contact with the wooden floor. Justin scrambled to his feet and felt the now all too familiar dizzy rush, a dizziness which was now accompanied by a blinding pain in his stomach which was already bruising from all the kicks.

Justin began to walk towards the door, he once again placed his hand on the wall to keep himself upright. He was stepping out the door when David leapt to his feet, placed both hands on the heavy oak door and swung it shut with all his might, catching Justin's arm in the process. Justin immediately screamed as he heart the crack of his arm breaking, it had been crushed by the force of the door. This was a new type of pain, and this one was too much for Justin.

He wasn't strong like Max. Max was a fighter, Justin a lover. Justin collapsed to the floor again, he wept in agony and despair and he knew that this time he wouldn't be able to fight his way back to his feet. David got down on his knees behind his victim and Justin could feel the traitor's hot breath on his neck. "Please Max, I need you." Justin whimpered. The last thing Justin heard before passing out was the sound of David undoing his belt buckle and letting out a devilish laugh. "Your little friend can't help you now."

The summer air outside was warm. The sun was beginning to set and with it another day was coming to an end. Justin opened his eyes and was confused to wake up in another new environment. This time he had no idea where he was. He slowly sat up and looked around, it was an open plain of grass, the woods were now behind him. There was a small lake up ahead. Justin climbed to his feet and was reminded of exactly what had occurred by the unforgiving sensation of pain in his shattered arm and his damaged ribs.

Justin managed to use his t shirt as a makeshift sling for his seriously broken arm. It left most of his upper body bare but it was a warm night and the air felt soothing against his bare skin. He started to walk towards the water. He used his good arm to undress himself he slowly submerged himself in the water and enjoyed the sensation of his worries being temporarily washed away.

Justin simply stood, letting the water gently lick at his naked body, Justin closed his eyes and tilted his head back. It was in that moment of complete relaxation that a last minute thought entered Justin's mind. He opened his eyes and dropped his head back to normal so that he was looking forward towards the woods. He slowly brought his hand to his mouth and parted his lips slightly, putting two fingers into his mouth. Justin blew gently and a whistle penetrated the otherwise silent twilight air. Justin whistled continuously until he was out of breath.

Then he stopped and waited in desperation for some sort of response. Nothing. Desperately Justin whistled again, and again, and again. He had no idea how long he'd been standing, naked in the lake. Finally, feeling defeated he gave up. Justin dropped his head and looked down at his reflection in the water. His eyes were red and swollen from crying and he looked more tired than he'd ever appeared.

Justin's lips were carved into a frown, he felt like it was impossible to smile, his lips simply couldn't form that joyful shape anymore. Slowly, he began to bend his knees until his head entered the water. Justin closed his eyes and began to count. He then opened his mouth and felt strangely relieved as water gushed in. Slowly, Justin began to fill up with a strange pressure until he felt he was about to explode.

Justin was choking now on the water and would drown in a couple of seconds. Justin simply kept counting, his death only a few digits away. Justin felt his life begin to slip away, a little bit at a time. He recalled his happiest memories. When he first met Max, their first sleepover, the first time Max touched Justin, their first hug, the first time Justin saw Max's naked body and finally their first kiss, just a day ago.

Justin even felt like he could hear Max's deep, masculine, sexy voice calling his name. At the last moment Justin was pulled up out of the water. In shock he opened his eyes and began to choke and cough uncontrollably. Justin's unexpected saviour stood opposite him. This saviour stood at 6ft tall, had chocolate brown eyes, an olive skin tone which was now laced with dark bruises and wavy dark brown hair. Justin collapsed into the body opposite his and closed his eyes.

He felt safe as he rested his read on his saviour's body, and even safer as he felt those familiar strong arms wrap around. Justin took in a deep breath, enjoying a familiar smell.

"Max, how did you find me?" Justin spoke softly and calmly now, he knew everything was going to be ok.

"I told you, whistle, and I'd come running". Justin just smiled at how he could always put his faith in Max.

"Did they hurt you?" Justin asked Max.

"Don't be an idiot. You know how tough I am. I took 'em all on and won." Max laughed, trying to put his friend at ease. Justin took a step back, breaking Max's hold on him. "I'm serious Max, are you hurt?" The smile now faded from Max's face and he displayed a much more serious expression, he seemed a little worried but tried to hide it, unsuccessfully.

"My back, that's all." Max put on a weak smile.

"Let me see, turn around, take of your shirt." Commanded Justin. Max didn't even try to argue and silently obeyed. He turned and slowly pulled his shirt over his head. Max's tanned back was normally perfectly smooth, flawless. Now it was coved in cuts and slashed and blood poured from so many open wounds that his back was drenched red. Justin gasped in horror. "Did they whip you?"

Max didn't turn back to face Justin but he didn't need to. Justin could hear him sobbing quietly. Justin had never seen Max cry. He'd always been so strong, indestructible.

Justin instructed Max to lie on his stomach near the lake and relax, Justin crouched next to his friend and gently, with water from the lake and his soft hands began to clean away the blood and clean the wounds. Justin was determined to heal the wounds of the boy he loved.

 

Jason Smyth

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