He watches Rick’s hands as they move with a skill he will never fully comprehend. They’re long and slender, and as much as Morty wants them to cup his cheek, they never do. Instead, they’re clamping heavy metal cuff to his wrists. They burn his skin, slowly at first and then all at once.
It’s an experiment: testing alien restraints on human bodies. In this case, it’s Morty’s body. By the time Rick’s worked his way through testing each of the foreign devices, Morty is black and blue all over. He hurts, a combination of scorching and soreness. He’s not sure, but he thinks he lost consciousness twice somewhere along the way. He’s going to start crying soon. Ah geez, Rick’s going to think he’s such a baby.
But then Rick is there, rubbing a pinkish cream over his wrist where the skin is swollen and red. Those same long, slender fingers work the cream into the worst of the bruises and the relief from the pain is nearly immediate. Rick promises that this had purpose, that this will help in the future.
Morty sighs as the tension leaves his body, feeling weightless and new. He sincerely thanks Rick as if Rick wasn’t the one who cased the pain in the first place.
There are more days than not when Morty wishes Rick would hold him. He settles for a pat on the head or a quick verbal praise. They are trivial, insignificant words that flow out of Rick’s mouth like drunken spit, and Morty clings to them like priceless treasures.
When Rick says "good job, buddy" and "that's my boy", Morty can feel it in his soul. The words simultaneously fill him up and drain him. He accepts what he can get, but he needs more. He would literally kill to have Rick pull him into a hug and just hold him. Morty craves physically affection like water, but instead he laps at the attention Rick does give him like a dog lapping from a muddy puddle on the ground.
That night when he falls asleep, he dreams of the same thing he always does. A normal life.
He dreams of going to college, visiting home during holidays and school breaks. There are no aliens or other dimensions. There’s no galactic federation looking for him. He’s never murdered or stolen, never watched whole planets being destroyed. It’s just their family, Mom and Dad, Summer, Grandpa Rick. They’re all happy and normal, watching non-multidimensional television on the sofa with a non-super intelligent dog napping at their feet.
Morty doesn’t dare tell these dreams to anyone, especially Rick.
Rick still thinks Morty’s dreams are the same as his.
The less Rick gives, the more he gets back from Morty. Rick knows this.
He’s woken Morty up in the middle of the night more times than he can remember. He’s watched Morty murder and steal for him. He’s seen Morty bruised and beaten, stressed beyond his years. But the boy is always willing to join him again, for another crazy adventure.
If the relationship were with anyone other than his grandson, it’d be the perfect setup. But with Morty, Rick can’t help but feel guilty. The weight of it on his chest is crushing him and the only way to stop it is to drown himself in cheap vodka. Rick knows Morty would do anything to earn his approval, and Rick can’t resist an offer that sweet. It’s like drinking the best honeyed wine in the galaxy even though you know it is poison.
The thing is… All Ricks need a Morty, one of the many things he hides from his Morty. It’s one of the truths of all the universes. There’s no choice in the matter. Ricks can’t… Rick’s don’t make it without a Morty.
There’s no choice. Yet even if there were, Rick would still choose his Morty. The Mortiest of Mortys.
For the two of them, it’s never been about love. They both need and use each other. It’s the push and pull of a never ending, vicious cycle. Rick and Morty, forever.