Crowded inside their secret gang hut in the middle of the woods, they watched the images flicker and change as Ness wound the handle and swapped over the frames. The opposite wall wasn't a great surface for the job, the rough wood distorted the image and they had spent all day blacking out the windows with various heavy curtains and blankets they scrounged from the tips, but it felt special to have the showing in their own private place. King was on guard at the door - even if someone found the hut, they wouldn't be brave enough to argue with a huge white dog who Ness swore could talk to him in his mind.
The other boys had been worried he wouldn't come back to the club, maybe not even bother coming home, not when he was used to big responsibilities like saving the world, even more work than most grown-ups had to put up with, and going on fabulous adventures where he stayed in swanky hotels in seaside paradises on the other side of the world. Capone - so called because he always wore that stupid Al Capone hat that was too big for him and slipped over his eyes - had even theorised that Ness would travel into space next, along with his new inventor friend who was cooler than all of them combined. Tracy, Ness' sister who wasn't really allowed in the club but who the boys let in anyway because she gave them a discount at Escargo Express, had scoffed and explained that Ness had a girlfriend now and wouldn't hang around with other single boys any more. Capone had looked particularly upset at that.
All his old friends had been relieved when Ness turned up again with a photo reel to share with them and a beat-up old bicycle to let them all have a go on before he took it back to the rental place. He even had postcards from Peaceful Rest Valley for everyone, explaining about the creepy cult as he passed them around, and he let Capone have his Exit Mouse so he wouldn't keep getting lost when his hat slipped over his eyes. When the smaller boy asked him if he was going to stay, he smiled and explained that he still had school to catch up with and his mum and sister who would be upset if he didn't come back, and of course he had to pass his exams and get a steady job to impress Paula.
Picky started coming round more often after that. His brother was missing, he explained, which was worrying them all but at least it meant he didn't have to spend all day keeping Pokey from doing anything too awful while defending himself from the constant bullying attempts. When Ness asked whether he missed his brother, he laughed and explained that he was more worried about what the idiot was up to next.
Okay, so maybe he was a little scared for his brother as well as scared of him. Ness admitted that he missed Pokey too. He didn't miss the things he did but he wished there was a world where they could all just hang out like normal kids, where whatever had happened to Pokey to make him the way he was had never happened. Picky had replied that he didn't think there was a big trauma or he was possessed by a demon or anything, he had just reacted badly to the normal stresses of their life, the way their parents could be weird sometimes, and had made some bad decisions.
By then it was raining and King had randomly decided to run inside, barking like mad, and shake water all over the projector, so they had better things to think about than Picky's weird brother who nobody really wanted to talk about.
"Um... I don't suppose you've got any more pictures of Prince Poo?" asked Capone, blushing.