Like a River

~ Note from the Balladeer: Dixie is Daisy's jeep and Maudine is the Dukes' mule.

He stared at the sunset from the hood of the General Lee. The engine had cooled enough that he hardly noticed its warmth; in fact his attention was more taken by the sharp bite of the air of the approaching nightfall. Early spring, and the nights were still cool enough for discouraging long nocturnal forays. He regretted that part of the winter season, that he could not spend the long dark hours staring at the sky and thinking... musing... wishing. Just another few weeks, though, and he'd have the freedom back.

For now he had to make do with watching the sun set, knowing soon he would return home. Bo rubbed his hands over his face. He didn't like this not wanting to go home-- even though he'd been spending many of his nights like this since he was fifteen. The others expected it of him, no longer asked him what he did or what he thought about. It no longer seemed like something remarkable.. and that had never hurt worse. Usually after a few nights he'd either find his answers or know who to ask; tonight, as for all the nights the last three months, he still had no answers.

The crows called as they headed for home, reminding him that he too would soon have to go. Have to go... he repeated the phrase in his mind. He knew he might have to go, to solve his problems. He wouldn't come any closer to solving them by sitting here in the night no matter how many hours of darkness he had. He hated the idea of leaving-- he'd promised, after all, he and Luke had, to stay on the farm. But somehow he knew that leaving might be his only answer.

The trees framing the fields before him were turning black in the fading sunlight. He watched them without seeing them, scenes such as these long since memorised. It hadn't helped, only gave him the assurance that he had tried *something*. Tried to find an answer before acting on a decision he didn't want to make-- a decision he'd fought against ever since he had first discovered the questions. These images before him reminded him of all the times he'd reached the end of his musings and gone home, happier and content with his lot in life.

But this was no mere adolescent's trial, which had always been solved by Uncle Jesse, or Luke, or Daisy... older than he or wiser, they'd always been there for him to help him understand and support him when he couldn't find the answers himself. They'd always helped him... and that made it harder to admit he had to leave them.

He rubbed his face again, trying not to cry; he didn't have time for his eyes to clear before getting home. Clenching his jaw, he told himself that there was no point in grieving for it-- if it was what he had to do, then it was what he'd do. They wouldn't understand, but he consoled himself with the knowledge that *if* he told them, they would. They'd even agree his decision was right. Of course if he could tell them then he wouldn't have to leave.

He didn't realise he'd struck the General's hood until the sound of bending metal reached him. A fox dashed away, startled by the noise; Bo ignored it. It was time for him to go. He slid off the hood and heard twigs crunch under his boots-- he wondered if he'd ever hear that noise again, for he knew not only that he must go, but where. With a silent farewell to the woods which had tried so well to raise him, he climbed into his car and drove away.

~~~~~

A week later Luke was putting the last touches on the newly-repaired fence, wiping sweat from his face and wishing someone would happen by with a cold beer or lemonade. Grinning to himself for his optimistic foolishness, he bent over to gather his tools and toss them in the back of Uncle Jesse's truck. For a moment he was struck by the realisation that the thing still ran-- a testament more to his and his cousin's mechanical skills than anything else. It wasn't quite older than Daisy, but close enough that they ought to think seriously about buying a new one.

Truck, that is, not Daisy.

Luke threw the leftover wire in the back, and took a last look at the fence, making sure he hadn't missed any places needing repair. Satisfied, he hopped in the cab and headed away, thinking that the Boar's Nest might just be closer than the house.

Didn't matter, though, since he didn't have any money. Maybe when that lazy cousin of his got back from his supply run to Cartersville they could pool their spare change and go get a real beer. Bo had left yesterday, and was due back tomorrow morning-- using his time no doubt to spend his spare change in a real bar, Luke mused. Spinning the wheel to avoid a few chickens as he pulled into the yard, Luke figured it was just as well he'd headed for home; at least they had the cheap stuff in the fridge.

He nodded to Daisy as he headed for the porch door, but stopped when he saw her face. "What's wrong?" He was by her side in a moment, stepping around some crates of stuff he hadn't seen when he'd left that morning.

She just held out a piece of paper. Luke took it and read quickly-- immediately recognising Bo's scrawled handwriting.

Dear Uncle Jesse, Luke, Daisy-

I know you're probably not going to like what I've got to say, and for that I apologise. I've sent the supplies back with Martin, as I won't be coming back to Hazzard for awhile. There's things I need to do, that I just can't get done there. And no, I'm not in any sort of trouble. I just need to deal with this on my own, and I know if y'all knew what it was you'd just try and help and believe me, this'll be easier without help. Sounds kinda hard to believe, but just please trust me. I don't know how long I'll be gone, but I promise to write again and let you know. I'm not staying here in Cartersville, just so you know. I'm heading down to Atlanta-- so please just give me a few weeks to take care of this and hopefully everything will turn out just fine.

Thanks for everything, I love y'all very much,

Bo

Luke read the letter twice before looking up at Daisy. "Has Uncle Jesse seen this?"

She shook her head. "He took Dixie to town, he won't be back for a while." She pointed to the boxes at her feet. "Martin Claybourne dropped this stuff off on his way to Dalton. I asked him about Bo, but he said he didn't know anything. He seemed to think Bo was just taking a few days in Cartersville-- he didn't say anything about any problems, or going to Atlanta. Luke, what's wrong? What's Bo doing?"

"I don't know, Daisy. I wish I did."

~~~~~

The lights were, as they had been every night all week, too dim to see any details. Bo didn't really mind, since he was certain that he still blushed everytime he stepped inside IBT's. A carefully stored memory from a friend of a friend, telling him about the place to go 'if you're ever in town' -- a place for people like him. He moved towards the bar, ignoring for now the glances and tables full of men sitting with each other. The openness of their... behaviours still bothered him even as he found himself relaxing.

The bar had shown him something very important about himself. No matter how he'd felt when he'd taken a girl out someplace in the woods around Hazzard, it was nothing compared to the feelings he got simply being here. Despite the fact that he had never, even when playing around with that friend of a friend years ago, gone as far with a man as he'd gone with a woman, he knew. Knew that what he wanted was right here, dancing and drinking and feeling no shame about the appetites that brought them here.

Getting a bottle of beer, Bo turned and looked around. Faces greeted him, some he recognised from nights before, some he didn't. Some smiled in greeting, others frankly leered. He tried not to grin at any of them, not ready yet to give what he knew would be interpreted as an invitation. He didn't know a lot about the life he was seeing now, but he knew he wasn't quite ready to participate.

He didn't think about what was holding him back.

~~~~~

"What do you think is wrong?"

"I don't know... I've been thinking about it ever since we got his letter, and I can't think of a thing!" Luke shook his head in exasperation.

Daisy put her hand on his arm, understanding, feeling the same frustration. "He didn't say *anything*?"

"I've told you, if he did I don't have a clue what it'd be. In the last two weeks he hasn't done or said anything unusual. Well, not unusual for Bo anyways."

"Maybe something happened a while back and he's just been sittin' on it for awhile?" Uncle Jesse suggested. They were all sitting around the kitchen table, trying to figure out just what had made Bo decide to leave.

"Nothing's happened that would warrant this. I know it hasn't-- Bo wouldn't just... not talk about something that was bothering him. He'd tell one of us... he always has."

Gently, Jesse said, "Well apparently there *is* something he didn't want to talk about. I guess we'll just have to trust that he can handle it on his own.. or come to us if he needs help."

Luke shook his head. "You know Bo... he's stubborn. If he thinks he's better off handling it alone, he will... or get himself killed trying."

Daisy stared at him. "You don't think it's that serious?"

"No, I don't," Luke quickly calmed her down. "I just mean... well you know what I mean. He always hated it when he had to come to one of us to help him solve his problems..even when there was no way he could solve it on his own."

"But he always did, eventually," Jesse pointed out. "He's never tried to keep us from helping, when it came down to it... he's never done *anything* like this before. I just don't understand... what in the world could be wrong?" Jesse let some of his own frustration show, finally.

None of them had an answer for that. After a minute, Jesse stood up. "Well, all this sitting around jawin' ain't getting anything done. We've still got a farm to run, and until Bo decides to call, or write, or come home, we can't do very much to help him."

Reluctantly, Luke stood as well. "You're right. I just wish..." he broke off, knowing there was nothing he could say that the others didn't already know.

"He'll call. I know he will." Daisy smiled at them both but Luke could tell that she wasn't entirely convinced. He returned her smile anyway, and followed her out to the barn to take care of their small herd of two- and four-legged dependents.

~~~~~

Bo drove slowly back to Justine's apartment. She'd offered him use of a room while he was in town-- another friend of a friend, who understood that sometimes a person had to leave hearth and home. He'd promised to pay her rent as soon as he found a job, but other than the occasional one-day gig he hadn't been able to find anything.

He felt terrible, looking for a steady job in Atlanta. So far the best thing he'd found was the offer to repair a few cars-- clunkers, really-- in exchange for the use of one for a while. He couldn't bring himself to buy a car; it was too much like saying he had no plans to go home. He didn't, but he didn't like admitting it. He didn't know if it meant he wasn't ever going home, or if he just couldn't think about doing so.

He'd been gone nearly two weeks, and other than a short letter telling them he was ok, he hadn't talked to his family at all. He knew they were worried, but as he'd put no return address on the envelope he didn't have to worry about them talking to him-- asking difficult questions.

Sighing, he pulled into the underground garage and headed for a visitor's spot. Being here was almost as bad as being home; he'd only traded one set of problems for another. Here, he didn't have to worry about whether he'd ever find anyone else like himself-- he'd seen dozens of faces, night after night, all eager and willing to show just how like him they were. He didn't have to worry about his cousins or uncle or friends knowing how he felt, or what they'd say; he didn't have to ask himself how he could live in a place like Hazzard, knowing what he knew and feeling what he felt.

Instead he worried about getting a job, infringing upon Justine's hospitality (though she swore he was welcome to stay, he felt badly about staying as long as he had), worrying his family by being gone, and mostly whether he was doing the right thing. True, in some ways it was easier, being here in Atlanta where almost nobody knew who he was. But he missed his home, and the thing he'd been running from most of all had come right with him, making him lie awake at night and turn away from friendly strangers in the bars.

During the last week he'd finally got up the courage to go with someone into the back rooms-- keeping strictly with hand jobs and oral sex-- and he'd found that his attraction to women had nothing to compare. There was something he just couldn't define, about knowing it was a man holding onto him, breathing heavily in his ear, whispering in beer-coated words of crudities and delights. He found himself wanting, there in the dark away from the music and crowds, to grab the man close and hold him tight. The one time he'd tried, though, he'd discovered something else he'd been looking for... or rather, someone. The stranger wasn't who he needed, and he'd let go as if scalded; the man had just grinned and asked him back to the bar for a drink.

Bo hadn't been able to go into the back rooms since then; not possible to see the face he dreaded needing, and unable to forget and find any need for another. Instead he drank his beer, danced until exhausted, and crawled back to Justine's and prayed for sleep. Tonight had been no exception, and he had a terrible feeling that something had to break soon, or he wasn't going to make it.

He cried himself to sleep just before dawn.

~~~~~

Luke was the only one home when the phone rang. Jesse and Daisy had gone to town, dropping the truck off at Cooter's for a little mechanical magic only he could provide. He jumped over the couch and scooped the receiver up before realising how tense he was-- it *might* be Bo, after all.

"Hello?"

"Hello... is this the Duke residence?" A woman's voice, nobody he knew.

Luke felt his stomach drop; something had happened, something awful... "Uh, yes, yes this is Luke Duke. How can I help you?" He forced himself to speak normally, though he squeezed his eyes shut. Please, lord, don't let it be Bo...

"Oh, good... I was hoping... anyway, my name's Justine. I don't think you'd know me, I'm a friend of Russ Kramer's."

"Oh, yeah. I know Russ." He'd played football for Capitol City's high school team, the same years Luke had. Luke grinned, relieved. It wasn't about Bo. "How is he?"

"Oh, he's fine. Look, I didn't call about him, though. I called about your cousin, Bo."

The pit in his stomach was back, like Maudine had kicked him through. "What's wrong?" He gripped the phone tight and prayed again.

"Well, I don't know what I should tell you... I mean, it's not my business and if he hasn't told y'all I don't think I ought to, either. But I know he hasn't been calling home, or writing... and..." she sighed, and then spoke quickly and carefully. "But he's not doing too well. He's not sleeping or eating, and I think... whatever brought him to Atlanta, it isn't getting any better. I hope I'm doing the right thing, Russ always said you Dukes stuck together like glue. I'm hoping you can help him."

"Just tell me where he is, and I'll come get him and bring him home. We can deal with whatever's wrong right here."

There was no reply for a moment, then, "I don't know... did he tell you anything about why he left?"

"No, he didn't. Do you know what's wrong?" Luke tried to hold himself back from demanding answers she was trying to hint at.

"Yeah... and... well it's the sort of thing that lots of folks don't deal with too well. I mean, you might want to help him but... you might... blame him for it."

"I don't understand. Has he done something?"

"No. But you might not agree."

"What do you mean?"

"He hasn't done anything wrong. But y'all might think what he's done *is* wrong."

Luke thought about that, then nodded slowly. "It's something that some folks think is wrong, and others don't?" There were a lot of things like that-- but none which the Dukes didn't all agree on. Luke still felt confused.

"Yeah. And I don't know... Bo may think it is. That may be why he's havin' such a hard time. But it *isn't* wrong, and... well, *somebody* has to help him."

"Justine, no matter what Bo has or hasn't done, I don't care-- what's important to me is that he's all right. I know he's done some wild things, I have too. None of that matters, he's my cousin and I care about him-- I always will. Please, let me know... I gotta help him if I can."

"Ok... if I'm wrong, though, please don't... say anything. Just let him go, ok?"

He didn't understand, but he agreed. "I will. Where is he?"

She gave him her address, and said she hadn't, and wouldn't, say anything to Bo about the call. Luke promised to be there that night, and hung up. Then he called Cooter's, hoping to catch Daisy and Uncle Jesse.

~~~~~

Bo walked away from the loaner, parked in its now-usual visitors' spot. The underground garage felt as weird as it had the first time he'd walked through it-- there was something unnatural about being surrounded by steel and concrete and not a bit of the outside visible. It was probably one of the reasons he hated being here, but it wasn't anything he could change.

Running a hand across his stomach, he thought about the beers he'd downed that evening. Only two, but already he was wishing he hadn't had any. What with not keeping much food down, and not getting much sleep, staying out drinking was probably not the best thing to do. He couldn't just hang around Justine's, though, so he'd gone. Danced, talked, pretended to laugh at the friendly jokes and over-friendly propositions. Now he was headed up to the fourteenth floor of a building taller than he'd even been in before he came to the city, feeling worse than ever.

The elevator dinged its arrival, and the doors slid open. Bo shuddered, and stepped inside. Staring up as the elevator moved, he imagined for a moment that he could see stars above him.

When he finally reached Justine's door and stepped inside, he felt ready to collapse on the sofa, and to heck with pulling it out and making up the bed. He tossed his keys and wallet on the small table inside the door, and then froze.

"God, you look terrible." Luke was coming over, his expression angry and afraid and concerned, grabbing him by the arm and pulling him farther into the room, looking him over.

"How did you find me?" The relief and joy he felt at seeing his cousin terrified him. He wanted to wrench his arm away and leave, run someplace where his cousin couldn't follow.

Luke looked up at him, and instead of running Bo found himself moving forward and dropping his head on the comforting shoulder, shaking as Luke held onto him. He barely heard as Justine excused herself, as he cried in his cousin's arms. Everything around him seemed to stop, as the wall inside finally broke and everything that had been trapped, broke free.

Several minutes later he realised he could hear Luke's voice, speaking softly, whispering gentle entreaties he hadn't heard in what seemed like ages. Bo started to tighten the embrace, and he felt Luke respond, holding him tighter, when it hit him where he was and whom he was holding and he dropped his arms as if shot. He stepped away and refused to look over at his cousin.

"Bo... please tell me what's wrong?"

He wanted to shake his head and let it go, but he knew Luke was too stubborn by far, for that. "I don't wanna talk about it, Luke. You shouldn'ta come." His voice broke as he said the last, knowing it was untrue, knowing that it wasn't. "How'd you know where to find me?" He hated the plaintive note in his voice, but couldn't change it.

"Justine called the farm. She's real worried about you, she said you needed help... she thought you needed your family." Luke sounded calm, like he was coaxing a frightened pup. He didn't try to move closer, as if knowing Bo would spook.

Bo whirled on him, eyes wide. "Jesse and Daisy're here?"

"No..." Luke shook his head, obviously confused by Bo's fear. "They stayed home. Uncle Jesse said for me to call, if we needed them. They can be here in a couple hours."

Bo slowly shook his head. "No. I don't want... I don't need any of you." He whispered it, trying to convince Luke as well as himself. He bit his lip as he saw the wince of pain that crossed his cousin's face.

"Bo... please let me help. You were glad enough to see me when you walked in. How can you say now you don't want me here?"

"I can't..." He looked away, cursing himself for starting to cry again. He wanted nothing more than to be here, watching Luke and listening to him, letting him take over and solve all his problems and take him home where everything would be fine. "You don't understand."

"Then tell me. Tell me what's goin' on, Bo." When Bo said nothing, he continued pleading. "There's never been anything you couldn't tell me, before. I don't understand why you have to start hiding things from me now. I wanna help-- I *will* help, if you'll just tell me what's wrong."

Bo finally looked at him. "I can't. You might... think I'm wrong. You might tell me to stop.... You might leave me here." He turned away again, fighting the instinct that said to trust, as he'd trusted all his life.

"Stop what? Bo, what are you doing?" Bo just shook his head. The accusation in Luke's voice vanished as quickly as it'd arisen, replaced by confusion, pain, stubborness. "Bo, what... why would I decide to leave you here? Why would... you're the one who decided to come out here, why would you be afraid of me agreeing that you oughtta stay?"

Hanging his head because he knew he was too close to saying it all, Bo answered, "Because it'd mean you didn't want me to come home."

Luke stepped forward in a flash, grabbing onto Bo's shoulder. "There is *nothin'* that would make me not want you to come home. Do you understand? Nothing. I don't care if you've killed someone, taken bribes from Boss Hogg, or... or... broken any of the hundreds of rules Uncle Jesse's told us never to break. And Jesse and Daisy feel the same way. There's nothin' you can do that would make us turn against you. You are *family* and you know as well as I do what that means. At least I thought you did." The accusation in his voice was back.

Bo felt nauseated, hearing the sincerity in Luke's assertions and still so afraid that he'd be proved wrong. It was bad enough hurting himself with his inability to handle what he'd found out; hurting Luke this way was unbearable. The only way to make things right was to tell him and take whatever came. Like a man, like Uncle Jesse had taught them. He looked down at the floor and made his decision.

He wanted to push himself closer into what might be the last hug he ever got from his cousin, but knew that it might make it worse-- if Luke got disgusted, refused to be near him, he wouldn't be able to stand the flinch and stepping away when he did hear what was wrong. He couldn't stand the break of contact when he told, so he made sure there was nothing to break. He walked away, across the room, and spoke towards the wall.

"I... Luke I'm..." He stopped, hearing Luke step closer and needing to say the words before he got too close. "I left because I didn't think y'all could deal with the fact that I... I want..." He hugged himself, grabbing the sleeves of his shirt and pulling in, not knowing what it was he was trying to do but no longer able to prevent it from happening.

"What do you want?" The question was gentle, and he hated hearing it. Luke was less than a foot behind him.

How could he say what he really wanted? There was no way. He took a deep breath. "I left home because I didn't want to tell y'all that I'm queer."

Silence. Bo tensed, waiting for the footsteps away, the door slamming shut, the years of never hearing from his family again. Or maybe Luke would yell first, scream at him for being so stupid-- doing something so utterly wrong, maybe trying to make him promise to stop in return for going home. The nausea surged, and he was glad he hadn't eaten; he'd have thrown up for sure if he had.

He jumped a mile when Luke put a hand on his arm; he spun around, jaw quivering and not at all certain he was prepared for losing his family for good. His heart stopped when Luke just reached over and pulled him close for another hug. He couldn't make himself move.

"Bo..." It sounded like Luke's usual 'you're such an idiot' voice. Then it changed and he asked carefully, "Is that all?"

"I... yeah, I guess so." Bo didn't understand what had prompted the question.

Luke frowned at him, leaning back so he could look into Bo's eyes and asked again, cautiously, "Is there... someone in particular that brought you to Atlanta?"

Bo started to shake his head, then realised what his cousin was asking. "No, I haven't got a boyfriend. I just..." he hung his head, unable to say the other reason he had left. How do you tell someone you were running away from loving him?

"So you just ran off, because you were afraid we wouldn't accept how you feel?"

"Yeah..."

"Does this mean you'll come home now?"

That brought his head up fast, staring at Luke, wondering if it could possibly mean what it sounded like. "You... you want me to come home?"

Luke actually smiled. "Well I don't care that you're homosexual. I don't think Uncle Jesse or Daisy will care either. So you got no reason not to come home... right?"

"You sure they won't... Neither of them's ever said anything about it. How can you know they won't throw me back out?" It was the one thing he knew he couldn't accept. Hearing the words he could now only imagine, would destroy him.

Luke tightened his grip on Bo's arms. "Because they love you, just like I do. Family is more important than anything, Jesse taught us that from the time we could crawl. Even *if* they thought it was wrong-- and I don't think they will-- they wouldn't want you to leave. Bo... I grew up in the same house you did, and I never thought it was wrong. Don't you think that if Uncle Jesse thought it was, he'd have taught us? Just like he did for everything else he believes is wrong?"

For a few minutes Bo said nothing, just tried to absorb what Luke had said. He wanted so badly to believe, but was afraid of what believing might lead to. "I can't go home and find out... if Jesse throws me out I couldn't... I can't take that, Luke. Hearin' him say for me to leave and not ever come back..."

"That's why you left? So you wouldn't be there for him to throw out?"

"Yeah."

"I just told you, he won't. He wouldn't ever throw any of us out of the house, or out of the family. With all the trouble we've ever got into, all he's ever done is yelled and made us do extra chores for a month, or pay for what it was we destroyed. He's never asked us to leave."

"This is a lot bigger than knocking down a barn with the General Lee."

"I know. But it won't matter. Come on, let's go home. Please, Bo."

Bo started to answer, say that he needed time to make sure it was the right thing to do, when he realised that Luke was scared. Scared that he wouldn't come home? It occurred to him that his family must have missed him as much as he'd missed them. He nodded, and almost smiled in response to the heartened grin Luke gave him.

"I guess I should get packed."

Luke laughed. "It's nearly one in the morning, Bo. I think after the sun comes up will be soon enough."

"Oh... yeah, I guess so." Bo found himself grinning. He felt happier than he had for weeks, the fears and worries disappearing like the moonlight at dawn.

They reappeared in force when he realised he and Luke would have to share the sofabed. As they spread the sheets out, Bo tried not to meet Luke's gaze, thinking that he probably wouldn't sleep again tonight what with trying not to embarrass himself.

Luke took ahold of his wrist. "Bo..."

"What?" He wanted to jump away, the touch of Luke's hand around his wrist making him feel warm.

"Relax, all right? It doesn't change anything."

Bo forced himself to nod. It did, but that was something he *couldn't* tell his cousin. It was enough he could go home, and be nearby. Luke gave him a measuring look, then nodded and finished putting the blankets across the bed. Bo casually started to strip, and reached over to turn off the lamp before his cousin could get all his clothes off. They'd both seen it all before, which was why he didn't want to see it tonight. He lay down, facing away from Luke's side of the bed.

"Bo... it's all right. Trust me."

"I..." He swallowed, and tried again. "I do." He tried to keep from shaking.

There was silence for a bit, and Bo figured Luke was trying to decide whether to believe him or push more questions on him, or more answers. Finally he said, "Ok... First thing we do when we get you home is fatten you back up. You've lost a lot of weight."

Bo waited, unsure that he wanted to say it, then whispered, "I haven't been eating a lot lately."

"I figured as much." The soft, sleepy voice was a comfort Bo hadn't realised he'd missed. "Go to sleep, Bo."

Bo didn't answer, lying as still as he could, and he heard when his cousin fell asleep. His breathing deepened and evened out, until Bo heard the rhythm he'd heard almost every night of his life. He'd missed the sounds of home here in Atlanta, but he'd only thought of things like the singing of the crickets, and the owls, and other creatures that rustled around at night. It hadn't occurred to him that this sound was the one he missed most, for he'd never realised til now that he'd heard it. He closed his eyes and dozed fitfully, huddled against the edge of the bed, facing the wall and listening to Luke sleep.

~~~~~

The next morning Bo opened his eyes feeling almost as bad as he had every other morning since he'd arrived in Atlanta. His body was tense, and he knew that if he even tried thinking of food he'd throw up again. He briefly squeezed his eyes shut and prayed that this would end, soon, in any possible way just as long as it *ended*. A hand touched his shoulder.

"Bo? Justine's got breakfast about ready. Do you want a shower?"

Slowly he looked up at his cousin. He was surprised when Luke suddenly crouched down beside the sofabed, a seriously worried expression on his face. Bo tried to say that he wasn't hungry.

Luke took ahold of Bo's arm, holding it lightly. "Bo... everything's goona be ok. I swear... you got *nothin'* to be afraid of. Jesse and Daisy are gonna be fine about this, I promise you."

"I know... I mean... I wanna believe you, Luke. I'm just... scared."

"You wanna call 'em? That way you can find out before we go back--"

"So I can stay here if I have to?"

"Well, that and you wouldn't have to spend the entire trip back worrying yourself sick."

Bo thought about it, and realised that now that he was committed to telling his family, there was no reason not to do it right away. He pushed himself into a sitting position, nodding his agreement. Luke picked up the phone and started to hand it to him, then stopped.

"Bo, do you want me to...?"

"No, I'll," he swallowed, continued, "I'll do it." He dialed the number quickly and then listened to the ringing. His fist clenched around the phone; he almost wished no one would answer. Luke sat next to him, one arm draped across his shoulders. Bo would have been grateful for the support if he hadn't been... so close.

Jesse answered, sounding out of breath. "Duke Farm."

"Unc...Uncle Jesse?"

"Bo! Are you all right? Did Luke find you? Where..." Bo smiled; it was better than grimacing at the pain as he heard the relief in his uncle's voice. He'd hurt more than himself by running, he knew that now. "Do you need us to come up there to Atlanta?"

"No, no it's all right. We're... me and Luke are comin' home. This morning. We'll be back by lunchtime."

"Thank God... Bo, what's wrong? Are you in trouble?"

"No, sir. I'm not in trouble. I just..." He looked over at Luke, and received a nod of encouragement. "I just had to leave because I thought there was something y'all... couldn't live with. Luke says that ain't so."

Jesse's voice was calm, so reassuring that for a moment Bo forgot why he'd ever been afraid of losing his uncle's love. "Bo, whatever it is, it don't make one bit of difference. You come home, and we'll deal with it together. As a family."

Bo shut his eyes. "Yes, sir. It's just..."

"What is it, Bo?" Still calm, still undemanding.

"I need to tell you now, so I know... if I should come home or not." His voice broke again, and only exhaustion kept him from crying again.

"All right, then. Tell me what it is."

"I... I... Luke said he didn't care, that he figures y'all won't either but..." Luke whispered for him to go on, giving Bo's arm another gentle squeeze. It was making it difficult for Bo to concentrate. "I left because I didn't want to tell y'all that I'm homosexual." He didn't know why the word itself was so hard to say. It was as if whoever invented it, did so knowing that it wasn't something that should just roll off your tongue like poetry, but rather stick to your throat and jab you on its way out.

For a moment there was silence on the phone line, and Bo could feel his stomach turning over. Then, "Is that the only reason you left?"

"Yes, sir." He waited for the verdict.

"Then you just come on home, Bo. That ain't no reason for you to go runnin' off."

He wanted to scream as he let go the breath he'd been holding. Jesse had sounded just as calm as Luke had, acting almost as if Bo had been overreacting to something that truly didn't matter. His voice shook a bit as he said again, "Yes, sir."

He could hear Uncle Jesse smiling. "Now everything's going to be fine, Bo. You tell that friend of yours how much I appreciate her lookin' after you and be sure and invite her to come out and stay with us if ever she's a mind to." The reminders were so normal, as if Bo had simply gone to Atlanta for completely non-traumatic reasons. "And Bo... if you need to bring someone out here with you, you go right ahead."

He couldn't say anything at first, jaw gaping and Luke looking at him with that 'I knew it' smirk. "That won't be necessary, Uncle Jesse. Me and Luke'll... we'll be home shortly."

"All right. Er, you wanna talk to Daisy?"

"No, you... you tell her. We gotta get going." He *didn't* want to go through the conversation again, even if guaranteed a good reception.

"I will. Is Luke there?"

"Yes, sir," and he handed the phone off to Luke. He didn't stay to listen in, instead going to take a shower and try to reconstruct his world along the new lines it was showing him. It wasn't long before he found himself relaxing into the same lines he'd felt before, where he knew his family loved him and would stand beside him no matter what. The restoration of that ever-important balance made him feel that he might just be able to eat some breakfast that morning.

~~~~~

They were halfway from Atlanta to Hazzard when Bo said, "Stop the car."

"What?" Luke looked over at him, and didn't slow down.

"I said, stop the car!"

Luke pulled over, along a lonely looking road that turned away from the highway. "You gonna be sick again?" Justine had told Luke about Bo's inability to keep food down. He brought the General to a quick stop, and turned to face his cousin.

Bo stared straight ahead. "I can't..." His voice was barely a whisper.

"Can't what?" Luke prompted, when Bo said nothing more.

"I can't do this. Luke I'm sorry I can't..." He found himself crying again, and, cursing himself under his breath, got out of the car and started walking away. He heard the scrape of denim against metal, and soon Luke's hand was tugging on his arm. He cursed again the desire he had to keep that hand there.

"Can't go home? Bo, you *heard* what Uncle Jesse said! You don't think he was lyin' do you?"

Bo stared at the ground, glad to see dirt and grass instead of grey concrete. "No. I know he was tellin' the truth. But that ain't what..." He clenched his jaw shut, knowing there was no way in hell he was going to say it.

"What else are you running from?"

Bo shook his head, silently pleading with his cousin not to ask, not to push because somehow, all his life, Luke had always been able to push his way into Bo's heart and mind, seeing and hearing things that no one else ever bothered to look for. Somehow Luke always found out, and Bo knew that if he asked again he'd find this out too. Nothing good could come of it, and he prayed that Luke would not to ask.

The hurt was obvious, harder to bear than it had been that morning when Luke had asked these questions the first time. "Bo, what is it? Why can't you trust us?"

He hated himself for that one, for making his family believe he didn't trust them... and for not trusting them, for being forced into something he couldn't live with and hurting those he loved in trying to live with it. "I'm sorry, Luke, I really am... It has nothing to do with--" he wanted to say 'you' but that was a lie, and if he said it Luke would know. But he'd said the first of it after realising he cuoldn't hurt Luke. Maybe he'd have to say this, too.

After telling Luke and then Jesse about being queer, he'd still felt terrified. But deciding to say this, he felt relief. Maybe because telling meant showing Luke how he felt, and treating him the way he ought to be. He loved his cousin and respected him, and knew now that he couldn't hurt him-- and not telling him was hurting.

Luke asked again why he was still running. He stayed back, giving Bo the space he needed-- whether to feel safe or alone, it helped him talk.

Bo turned partway towards his cousin, and gave him the truth he deserved. "Because it hurts too much being here."

"What? Being where?" It was obvious Luke hadn't a clue what Bo was talking about.

Bo took a deep breath. "Being with you." Funny, it didn't seem quite so scary now.

"Me? What's that got to do..." Luke trailed off, and then stayed quiet for a bit. He had his 'thinking things over' look, and Bo knew he'd just about figured it out.

"You. Because I love you and I don't just mean because you're family." He faced him squarely now, not afraid of what his cousin would do. If Luke left him standing here, well he had a place to go back to in Atlanta. It wouldn't be running like before, because his family would still love him; it'd just be too difficult for Luke to live with him. He could accept that, because it had been hell on *him*, enough to make him run to a city he hated and a lifestyle that gave him nothing of what he needed.

But Luke was looking at him with a decidedly odd expression. "You mean you're in love with me?" he asked carefully. Bo nodded. Luke shook his head, and smiled. "You *are* a mess, you know that? You ran off because you didn't want to tell us... me, how you felt, and it turns out it's just this!"

"You... you don't mind?" He almost couldn't ask it. This was more than he'd ever thought Luke was capable of giving him.

"Of course I don't mind! Bo, for the love of..." Luke sighed in frustration, and Bo watched as he searched for a way to express what an idiot his cousin was being. Luke stepped forward, and spoke as if explaining something incredibly complex. "Bo... do you realise that if you'd said anything about this to me back when... how long have you felt like this, anyways?"

Bo shrugged sheepishly. "Long as I can remember. Since you was thirteen and you told me about the first girl you kissed. I just didn't know til recent what it meant, what I'd felt."

Luke said seriously, "I don't know that I woulda been ok with it then, but... I can tell you that if you'd told me any time in the last six years I would have done just exactly this."

Bo started to ask if he meant saying he didn't mind, when his cousin stepped much closer. His mouth was, he discovered, in just the right position-- open. Because Luke had stepped right up to him and taken ahold of his face and kissed him. Deeply. It took Bo a second to put his arms where they belonged, around Luke, and start returning the totally unexpected embrace.

It was better than he'd imagined; Luke tasted pretty good.

They broke off, and Bo found himself panting. "Luke?" His voice had risen a notch, a true sign of his confusion.

His cousin grinned. "I learned a lot of things when I left the farm. One of them was that making love to a man can feel just as good as with a woman."

Bo frowned at him, but didn't let go. "Are you just doing this 'cause I--"

"No," Luke interupted, shaking his head. "I'm doing it because... because I love you, too. And because if this is what you want, I've got no reasons not to give it to you."

He just stared. "Luke, you... you don't mean that..."

Luke laughed. "You think I'm making some huge sacrifice to keep you happy? Bo..." He leaned forward, brushing his groin against his cousin's. Bo's eyes grew wider as he felt the erection Luke was pushing against him. "You *don't* think I can fake *that*, do you?"

It took Bo a moment to regain his composure. "Well if you can... I know where you can make a lot of people very happy."

With a smile Luke stopped kidding. "I don't want to make a lot of people happy. You're the one I care about. You're all that matters."

"Oh...." He watched Luke's face, and he saw what he'd always seen, only now understanding just what it really was. Luke loved him. Loved him, wanted him in all the ways Bo had been wanting Luke, loving him in ways he thought couldn't happen, ways that had made him face being alone and despairing rather than risk asking for and losing for certain.

Hesitantly Bo leaned forward, wanting another kiss-- proof that Luke's words were true, and not some convoluted attempt to relieve his anxiety and stress. The force with which his kiss was accepted and returned told him it was nothing convoluted. He felt Luke's hands on his back now, holding him close as his tongue pressed gently against his own, stroking up and down feeling every part of his mouth. Bo returned the exploration, glad now that he'd been told enough times that he was a very good kisser to believe it.

He pushed himself closer against Luke's body, wanting to rub his own erection against the one pressed now against his hip, needing to grab what he'd never dreamed would be offered. Luke let him, pulling him closer, demonstrating to his disbelieving cousin that this *was* real, and he meant every bit of it. Then, with a gasp, he pushed Bo away and stammered, "We'd best either cool down or find us a shady spot."

It took Bo a second to figure out what he'd heard, then he grinned. "I vote for a shady spot. You take a look 'round, I'll get the blanket from the General's trunk."

It didn't take long for Luke to locate a suitable spot-- the wilds of Georgia were full of such shady spots, ideal for uninterrupted shenanigans. They spread the blanket out, and began undressing-- skinny dipping and sharing a room had made them easy with it. Bo stopped as he got his shirt off, and watched as Luke removed his own. He'd seen Luke before a thousand times, knew exactly what he looked like. He watched anyway, and found it very hard to breathe.

Luke smiled at him and continued undressing. When his boots and socks were off and he made to unfasten his jeans, Bo stopped him. "Let me?"

"You catch up with me, first."

With a grin Bo removed his boots and belt, seeing how Luke watched him-- just exactly the same way as he'd watched Luke. Then he moved forward again and took hold of Luke's jeans, and unzipped them. His fingers trailed over his cousin's body, and he shivered. He glanced up. "I can really...?"

"Bo... what's it gonna take to convince you?"

"Sorry," Bo went back to his job of removing Luke's jeans... slowly, enjoying the way he could touch him, rub his hands over his skin both bared and clothed. There was really no doubt that Luke meant what he'd said, but being given the world on a platter made Bo paranoid, and he decided to take this as slowly as he could.

"Get on with it!"

He jerked his head up at the snap, then grinned as he realised what was frustrating Luke now. He gave Luke's groin another quick feel, and pulled the jeans the rest of the way off. Luke pounced then, dragging Bo down to the ground and removing his jeans in seconds. Pushing him back, Luke lay down on top of him, kissing him again and digging his fingers into Bo's arms.

Now, pushing himself against his cousin, he could tell they were both in earnest-- and earnestly desperate for the last bits of clothing to be removed so they could do this for the first time as properly as they could. Bo reached down and found a waistband, and tugged downwards. Luke's hand joined his, pulling until their erections were pushed together, skin to skin, and Luke's mouth on his made Bo need to scream just as loudly as he could.

One hand grabbed them both, moving rapidly up and down as they wrestled with their hands, their tongues-- their feet left out of the fray only by the entrapment of underwear still around their legs. Bo heard a moan, then felt Luke biting his lip and all of a sudden he was pushing himself down onto Bo, hand moving faster as he started to come. Bo held onto him, holding him close, and whatever his intentions had been became null and void as his own orgasm overcame him.

Bo opened his eyes to find Luke staring at him, breathing just as hard and fast as he was. They stared, saying nothing, then Luke smiled and Bo felt himself shake.

"I love you," Luke whispered, and then he leaned forward for a kiss on the cheek.

Bo nuzzled his neck, then his face as Luke leaned back again. "Thanks."

Luke blinked in surprise. "Thanks? For making--"

"For comin' after me. For not... well it'd sound silly under the circumstances to say for not havin' a problem with the way I feel. I guess I'm saying thanks... for loving me." He stared up at his cousin, content to stay as they were forever, as long as the sun shone down on them and no traffic drove too nearby.

"Bo... there's no way I couldn't love you. You know that."

"I do now," he whispered, and kissed Luke again.

A while later Bo closed his eyes, letting his arms fall to rest on the ground, hands still touching Luke's sides. After a moment he heard his cousin's... his lover's, voice soft and regretfully wide-awake. "Come on, let's get home. You need sleep and some homecookin'."

Bo gave him a sleepy smile and didn't open his eyes. "We could just stay here for awhile... take a nap and do this again."

With obvious affection, Luke agreed, "We could do that." Quietly he added, "But Jesse and Daisy are expecting us. It wouldn't be right to worry them--"

Bo opened his eyes. "Any more than I already have. You're right. We'd best be goin'."

Luke stroked Bo's cheek, not moving to let him up. "It's gonna be fine, Bo. You know that." It was half a question.

Bo nodded. "I know. Luke... I wanna go home."

Luke smiled. "Then let's go home."

~~~~~

Daisy and Jesse were standing outside when they drove up, both of them reaching the passenger side door before Bo could get more than halfway out. He couldn't tell if they were hugging him or trying to help him out or both, but he didn't care. He'd missed them too much, and he returned their embraces energetically. They were repeating the assurances Luke and Jesse had already given him, making him believe that they just might be true.

He let them take him inside, and listened with a smile to the promises of a huge farm-style dinner. He felt Luke's hand briefly on his back, fingers brushing his ribs as he teased him about the food in Atlanta. Bo knew he was blushing all the way to his boots, and he took his bag from his cousin's hand and headed for his room. He tossed it on his bed to unpack.

"Bo?"

He glanced over and saw Luke had closed the door. His heart beat a little faster-- surely Luke wasn't going to... "Yeah?"

Luke had a concerned expression on his face. "You ok?"

Bo shrugged. "Yeah." his voice dropped. "I just... even though you like how I feel about you, if Uncle Jesse finds out...." The reality of his situation hit him, and he was afraid all over again. This wasn't something he could do; he tensed, ready for a moment to start running again.

"Hey, Bo, it's gonna be all right. Trust me, ok?" Luke stepped forward and put his hands on his cousin's arms, rubbing them lightly. Bo looked at him for a moment, remembering how *well* he trusted his cousin. Luke smiled. "Have I ever steered you wrong?"

With a small, happy grin Bo answered, "No."

"Well ok, then. Let's go set the table before Daisy starts yellin-"

"Bo! Luke! You gonna come in here and get the table set?" Daisy's voice came through the door.

With matching smiles, they stepped away from each other and headed out of the room. Daisy gave him another one-armed hug as he walked by; Bo returned it hard, unable to let her go. The smile she gave him reminded him how much he'd always depended on her for; he was ashamed that he'd ever doubted her. He opened his mouth to apologise.

"Come on, Bo, I've made some peach cobbler for dessert. But you ain't gettin' any until you've cleared your plate of supper." She already knew what he wanted to say.

"Yes, ma'am." He let her direct him towards the table, apologies left unsaid.

He found he had to say them when Uncle Jesse completed Grace.

"Lord, we thank you for the bounty before us, to celebrate Bo's return home. Thank you for looking out for him while he was gone, and thank you for bringin' him back home safe and sound. For all you've given us, we thank you. All we ask is that you give us one another, whenever we're in need. Amen."

Bo kept his head down a moment longer, then looked up tearfully at his uncle. "Uncle Jesse, I'm sorry--"

"Now, Bo, we've been through all that." He reached over and squeezed Bo's hand. "You did what you thought you had to do. But now you know you don't have to go nowheres, there's no need to keep draggin' it up. You're home, that's all that matters."

"Yes, sir," he whispered, unable to say more. He took the platter that Luke was holding out for him, and they ate.

~~~~~

That night Bo fell into his bed, feeling the exhaustion he'd been living with for weeks. For the first time since he'd left home he felt as if he might finally be able to sleep away that exhaustion. Bo listened to the sounds of the crickets outside; behind him he heard his cousin undressing. It occurred to him to ask Luke what they were going to do, if anything-- although the walls were thin and he was too tired to move, he couldn't pass up the chance to hold his cousin close. Before he could summon the energy to roll over and pose the question, he realised he was waking up. Morning.

Luke grinned at him. "You know you ain't moved an inch from where you landed?" He was by the dresser, looking for clean shorts.

Bo wearily pushed himself away from the mattress. "I didn't know I was *that* tired. I'm sorry, Luke, I meant to talk with you last night--"

"It's all right," Luke walked over to sit on the edge of the bed and ruffled Bo's hair. "I imagine you ain't been sleepin' too well lately."

"Yeah." He looked down. "I'm sorry..."

"Bo," Luke's voice had the sound of infinite patience. It was a sound Bo heard often, from him. "You can stop apologising. It's over and done with. Forgotten. Nobody's mad at you so you got no reason to keep saying you're sorry."

He nodded, knowing Luke was right but still feeling uncertain. Or maybe he was just still scared. Luke pulled him forward, and he let his head rest on Luke's shoulder as his cousin embraced him.

"Luke, I love you."

"I love you, too. Now come on- we got chores to do... *you've* got chores to do; I've been doing yours *and* mine for nearly--"

He cringed. "Sorry 'bout that--"

"I told you to stop doing that!" Luke put his hand on Bo's face, and kissed him to soften the scolding. Then he went to find a clean shirt, threatening his cousin as he went. "Bo, if you apologise one more time, for anything, for one whole week I'll... I'll dump you in the creek."

Bo grinned, remembering the threat they'd used on each other as kids. He didn't say anything, willing to be reassured. Now he could safely distract himself by watching Luke get dressed. Luke knew everything would be all right, and Bo knew his cousin wouldn't lie to him. That meant he could go ahead and do-- or try to do, whatever he wanted and when he started straying over the line Luke would pull him back. He thought of yesterday, and knew what he wanted, thin walls or no. He leaned back onto one elbow and stared at Luke.

Shirt buttoned, Luke looked up at him and stopped. "Bo... we haven't got time for that."

"Yeah, we do." He held out a hand. After a moment of looking exasperated, Luke stepped over and took it, letting Bo pull him down for a kiss. When Bo began to run his hands underneath Luke's shirt he pulled back.

"We ain't got time, Bo."

Bo kissed him again, moving his hands to rest on Luke's hips, pulling him gently forward. Luke held onto his shoulders, neither pushing nor pulling. Bo licked the inside of Luke's mouth, inside the lower lip, and suddenly he was being pushed back to lie on the bed. He grinned as his cousin took over.

He felt the weight of Luke's body pressing onto him, and he hurried to pull the blanket out from between them. It caught, trapped between their hips, and Bo tried to nudge Luke upwards. Luke slid up along Bo's body, laughing as the blanket remained trapped. He began nuzzling Bo's neck, leaving his cousin to worry with the bedclothes.

"Luke, would you--" Bo was frustrated, he wanted this done properly-- not properly 'in bed' but properly naked, lying against each other, able to feel his lover's skin on his as they made love. And Luke seemed content to go on without him. "Luke..."

"Ain't you got that yet?" Luke teased him, and pushed himself away long enough for Bo to snatch the blanket away. "What's this?" he asked in surprise.

"What's what?" Bo stopped his eager grab for Luke and lay still.

Luke smiled at his frown and explained, "You were all-fired eager to get the blanket out of the way and you've still got your pajamas on!

Bo grinned. "Oh yeah..." he grabbed the waistband and began pulling them down, enjoying the way Luke watched him.

A knock on the door froze them both.

"Uh, yeah?" Luke called out.

Daisy's voice replied almost hesitantly, "You two going to get up this morning?"

"Yeah! Yeah, we'll be right out, Daisy." Luke whispered to Bo as he levered himself up, "I told you we didn't have time."

"Then why'd you let me start?" Bo whispered back. Luke just shook his head and began readjusting his shirt. Bo pushed himself off the bed and headed over to the dresser, leaving his pajamas in a crumpled pile on the bed. As he walked past, Luke reached out from behind and hugged him.

"I love you."

"I love you, too, Luke. But I guess we'd better get to work."

"I hate to say I told you so."

Bo gave his cousin a quizzical look and grinned. "No, you don't."

"You're right, I don't." Luke grinned and zipped his jeans, leaving the room before Bo could respond.

~~~~~

The chickens didn't seem to realise he'd been gone. They came to be fed just like every other morning, more concerned with the seed than with who was tossing it down. It was one reason he'd always enjoyed this chore-- the creatures were too undemanding in general to care about anything, as long as the seed was spread widely enough to avoid scwabbles. Bo made sure to toss it widely, and laughed at how easily he could make them happy.

"Bo," Luke came around from the yard with a shovel. Bo looked up, wondering which of his cousin's chores he'd be saddled with next. Instead of handing the shovel over, though, Luke sat down and motioned for Bo to join him. "I know you're not going to like this, but... I hope you'll trust that I did the right thing. There's really nothing to worry over."

"What're you talkin' about?" He wondered if he could get away with scooting closer and putting his hand on his cousin's leg. Where were Daisy and Jesse?

"I talked to Uncle Jesse. I know you didn't want to tell him, but I didn't want to try an' lie to him-- not like he was very surprised, anyways. But I thought he should know, and I--"

"What'd you tell him?" Bo interrupted Luke's drawn-out explanation of whatever it was he was talking about.

Luke looked him in the eye, and said quietly, "I told him--"

Bo was on his feet and glaring down at Luke, hands clenched. "Luke if you say that you told him about you and me... tell me you didn't."

"Bo... there's no need to get angry. He said he didn't--"

"You did... you told him? You..." Bo stumbled away, turning from his cousin and unable to hear anymore. He knew... Luke had told, and now Uncle Jesse knew. The shock hit him suddenly, and he fell onto his knees, one hand barely catching at a bale of hay, trying to find support.

"Bo? Bo!"

He dimly heard his cousin coming closer, then he leaned forward and began throwing up. He'd been so hungry at breakfast, enjoying his food after so long of barely stomaching even beer and toast. He sincerely regretted that now, as it all came back up. He felt Luke's hands holding him around the waist. His body shook, and he hung his head as dry heaves took over.

"Come on, Bo, it's all right. I've got you, it's all right." Luke's voice was right behind him, low and calming. Bo wanted to scream-- that the one he needed was the one who'd done this to him. He let Luke pull him back and he sat awkwardly, half on his boot heels and half on Luke's legs. "I'm sorry, Bo, I'm sorry." Luke pressed his forehead against the back of Bo's head, arms set loose around him.

Bo opened his mouth to ask him why he'd done it when he was interrupted.

"Bo! What's wrong? Luke, what happened?" Uncle Jesse was behind them now. Bo squeezed his eyes shut. He didn't try to move as Luke answered.

"I don't know, Uncle Jesse. He hasn't said." Luke's voice dropped as he continued, "I told him you and I'd talked, and then he just... he got mad, then upset, then...."

"Bo?" Jesse had come around the other side; Bo opened his eyes and saw him down on one knee beside them. "Come on, let's take you inside."

"Uncle Jesse I'm sorry." Bo looked up at him, so afraid of what would happen next that he could barely feel his fear, or the one still holding him.

"Sorry?" Jesse leaned back in surprise. "For what?"

Bo shook his head. "I'm sorry,' he whispered again.

"Bo, come here," Jesse tugged at his arm, and with Luke's help got Bo standing. They moved over to the front of the house, and Jesse sat down on a bench. Luke kept his hands on Bo, holding him steady and guiding him to sit on the hood of the General Lee.

"Bo... what has got you so scared of us?"

"It's not..." Bo stopped, and realised that was exactly what it was. Terrified of his own family, convinced they would turn on him despite all their assurances to the contrary.

"Bo, why don't you believe us?" Luke was sitting beside him, one hand on his arm but otherwise keeping a distance apart.

Dropping his head, staring at the edge of the General's bumper, Bo tried to understand why he was so sure his family would turn on him. After years of knowing they would stand by him through anything, why did he suddenly believe otherwise? Surely they wouldn't turn on him, without warning, without more reason than... Suddenly it dawned on him. Hesitantly he asked, "Uncle Jesse, do you remember Mason Richards?"

"Mason... sure, I remember. June and Walter Catopey's nephew. He moved down here right before your last year of high school."

Luke asked, "I don't remember... did I ever meet him?" Luke had been in the Marines Bo's last two years of high school.

"No." Jesse answered, when it became clear Bo wouldn't. "Mason killed himself right before graduation. He and Bo were pretty good friends."

"Oh, right. You told me about him. What does he have to do with this, Bo?" Luke asked, encouraging Bo to explain.

Without looking up, Bo asked. "Did anybody ever tell you why his folks sent him down here?"

"No," was Luke's answer.

Jesse said, "I'd heard that he got into some trouble up home in Illinois, so his folks sent him here to live with his aunt and uncle. Keep him out of trouble. I never did hear what sort of trouble it was."

Bo spoke quietly. "I knew. His folks sent him down here after they caught him making out with another boy."

~~~~~

Even now the words failed to say what had happened, what it had been like. Sitting in the woods past nightfall, flashlights turned off so they could see the stars, he and Mason had spent so many nights together, talking. Mason was the new kid and shunned by most of the boys who were content to spend their time with friends and relatives they'd known since birth. Only Bo, recently robbed of his life's companion, felt moved to approach the newcomer. At first they had nothing to bring them together except desperation-- it was each other or no one.

As the summer ended, though, they discovered a genuine liking for each other. It had never been sexual, and though it might have been odd under the circumstances-- both being that way inclined, neither had felt more than friendship for the other. One night under the safety of the stars and trees Mason had explained why he'd been sent away.

"Mom found me in the garage with Robert. He and I had been friends about two years and we... discovered we liked the same things. Other boys, I mean."

Bo hadn't been upset by the revelation, didn't know enough about it to suspect it might be wrong. Besides which, he'd been in love with Luke for so long by then that hearing about kissing another boy sounded perfectly okay. Mason had been encouraged by this acceptance, and he continued.

"We decided that we'd get in some experience before... trying to get dates with someone else. So whenever we could, we'd sneak off and make out. It was... kinda weird, 'cause I liked it, but I didn't want to... you know, make it with him. He was just a friend. He felt the same way, but we were both pretty desperate. Didn't want to get beat up by asking the wrong guy, you know?"

Bo had been confused by that. "Why would someone beat you up for askin'? I can understand if you tried somethin'... Mary Lou's real good at that, haulin' off at the guys who don't back off." He'd grinned, remembering how close he'd come once or twice before learning how to convince her to say yes.

Mason had shrugged. "Guys get upset... like just asking is offensive. Believe me, it was safer sticking with each other. At least it was until my mom found us." He'd punched the dirt before him, remembering. "We weren't even serious about it! Just, kissing and stuff, and she... goes crazy. Hauls me up and drags me to my room, sent Robert home, called my dad...he went pretty wild. Hit me a few times."

He'd stared off, into the darkness. Bo'd waited patiently, still confused. Then Mason continued. "I never thought... dad had always been telling me, all my life, that no matter what happened we'd be a family. No matter what I did or how I did it, I'd have my family to depend on. He'd..." Mason had begun crying, "he'd be there for me when I needed it. He never hit me before, not like he meant it."

Mason went silent, taking deep breaths as if trying to get hiimself back under control. Bo had gripped his friend's arm, and said nothing. "They sent me here-- guess they thought the country would be 'pure' and free of evil influences. I don't know... they just sent me off, didn't want me around anymore."

"I'm glad you're around. I'd be pretty lonely without you."

Mason had smiled at him for that, one of the few times he ever smiled.

They hadn't said any more about it that night, but once in a while Mason would describe his aunt and uncle's reaction to the "incident" or how his parents had refused his requests to come home. Once or twice he talked about the two weeks before he'd moved to Georgia and the things his father had said and done. Bo would end up holding his friend as he'd cry, lost and confused; he couldn't understand how anyone's family could do such a thing.

Four times during the nine months that Mason was in Hazzard, Bo stopped him from killing himself. Twice he discovered it only after the fact, that he'd provided timely comfort and friendship that eased away the despairing need. Once, he came upon his friend at the spot they'd staked as their own, holding a gun in his hand. Bo had talked Mason out of it that time, making promises and offers that he never doubted filling. He'd sworn to be everything his friend needed, stand by him and help him do anything possible to let him realise life was worth living. Mason turned some of the offers down-- too scared to accept, but grateful enough to let Bo throw the gun in Miller Pond. Bo had taken him home to the Duke Farm, trying for as many days as he could manage to give Mason something more like family.

~~~~~

"Is that why you brought him here that weekend? Bo... why didn't you ever tell me?" Jesse asked in surprise.

Bo looked up at his uncle. "I couldn't. I promised Mason I wouldn't tell anyone-- he'd had too many people want to get rid of him once they knew. The only way I could get him to stay was promise not to tell. I thought... I thought it'd be enough."

"Bo..." Whatever chastisement he might have made died away. It was too late to change anything, and by rights young Bo had done a great deal to help his friend. It wasn't be his fault it had ultimately failed and there was no reason now to pursue it.

~~~~~

A month after going back to the Catopey's-- explanations had not even been asked for-- Mason had succeeded in shooting himself. He had left no note, and no one who knew was saying why. Bo still wondered if he was the only one who *did* know; his parents might have, if they hadn't washed their hands of the entire problem the summer before. Bo had been true to his promise and never said a word, until now. The pain and shock of Mason's death-- and so much of his life, was driving him away from telling his own family the truth.

When he had explained why Mason had died, he waited.

~~~~~

Luke's hand came around his shoulders. "Bo, I'm sorry. I had no idea. But listen to me...this isn't like it was for Mason. We love you... we're not going to send you away, we're not going to tell you to change who you are. Bo," Luke reached over and pulled his chin around to look at him. "Lord, Bo, we could never hurt you. Not like that; never like that."

Jesse came over, and put a hand on Bo's knee. "You're a part of our family, and you're gonna stay that way. You've never done anything to make me regret that, and you never can. I'm sorry for Mason, I truly am. But don't let what happened to him scare you-- it's not gonna happen here."

"I'm sorry, Uncle Jesse, Luke... I didn't think... I didn't realise that's what was scarin' me. I just knew... somehow I knew that if you found out, I'd lose everything."

"Bo...." Luke pulled him into an embrace.

Softly, Jesse asked, "And now you know that that ain't true?"

"Yessir." Bo discovered that he believed it, and was relieved to find that the fear he felt was Mason's own, kept inside his only surviving friend. "I never told anyone...." He turned his face towards Luke, resting against his chest.

"We understand, Bo," Luke said. "It's gonna be all right."

They sat quietly for a moment, then Jesse spoke to Luke. "I'm gonna get Maudine's stall cleaned out. You two boys head out to the north fields and see about gettin' 'em tilled for planting."

"Yes, sir," Luke answered, still holding onto Bo. Bo didn't try to say anything, nor move until Luke nudged him. "Come on, Bo. We can talk while we work."

Bo rubbed a hand over his face, and then frowned. "What else do we need to talk about?"

Luke scooted off the car, and smiled at Bo. "Anything. It's been weeks since I talked to you. I miss it." He held a hand out, and Bo took it. "Maybe you can tell me about that IBT's place Justine was telling me about."

Bo blushed, and looked away. "Justine's got a big mouth."

Luke laughed, and headed out to the fields. Bo followed.