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Such A Strange Shape

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Mom always just told me that I was sick. That I was so sick that if I ever left my room, even for two whole seconds, all the germs and bad things would get into me and I would die.

But I’ve been out in the world for two whole hours now, and I haven’t even gotten sick yet.

There’s a bandage on my hand from something that a person told me was called a burn. I didn’t like the burn, it was red and sore and I thought it was what the beginning of dying felt like, but now there’s a bandage on it and it doesn’t hurt like dying anymore.

There’s lots of people everywhere, and they’re all really, really big. There was the person in the yellow suit and the helmet who found me in my room when the door was hot and it smelt really bad. Then there were more of them outside, and even though I was screaming because I couldn’t see their faces and I thought they were monsters, they brought me to a little box on wheels where there was another person, a lady this time, and she had dark brown hair and green eyes and she put the bandage on my hand, and then I thought she was nice but then she put a needle in my hand and now I don’t think she’s so nice anymore.

“Sweetie, do you have a name?” She asked, probably for the 14th time while I looked away from her and pretended not to hear her. “The fireman said the room you were in was locked. How long have you been in there?”

I didn’t look at her. I just looked down at my hand and the bandage and ran my finger along the unusual texture. Everything was new and loud and confusing and I didn’t like it. I wanted to go back to my room. I was sick. I was so, so sick and now that I was out, I was going to die. I was sick and I was going to die.

“Hey, hey, take a deep breath, it’s alright sweetie.” She put a hand on my shoulder.

I screamed at the touch and leapt away from her. She immediately went wide-eyed and held her hands up. “Sorry!”

“I-I’m sick.” I stammered, clutching my bandaged hand to my chest. “A-And I’m not allowed out because then all the germs will find me and I’ll die.”

She seemed surprised, maybe because they were the first words I’d said, and even though she looked a little confused, she agreed. “Okay, so you’re sick. I’m a doctor, I’m a person that helps sick people. So, I can help you get better. How long have you been sick?”

I bit my lip. “Forever.”

“Is that why you were in the room upstairs?” She questioned, sounding more nervous. “Because you’re sick?”

I nodded.

“H-How long have you been in that room, sweetheart?”

She looked very scared and very sad, and I looked back down at my socks. “Forever.”

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Mom always just told me that I was sick. That I was so sick that if I ever left my room, even for two whole seconds, all the germs and bad things would get into me and I would die.

But I’ve been out in the world for two whole days now and I’m not dying yet.

It turns out there’s a lot of different people in the world, more than I ever thought there was going to be. I don’t like them.

There was the lady who bandaged my hand, but then she closed the doors to her weird box on wheels, and then there when the doors opened again we were somewhere completely different. She told me this was called a hospital. She told me that this was the place that they made sick people better, so they didn’t have to live in rooms like mine. I didn’t know what she meant, but I nodded and went in anyway.

There’s so many people in the hospital. When they walked me in, I screamed a whole lot because it was very crowded and very bright and I didn’t really understand everything. People were rushing back and forward and talking very loudly, and then some alarm went off and I screamed again and tried to run.

I didn’t really know where I was running. Not that it mattered, a bunch of people grabbed me before I even made it to the end of the corridor. Then they took me to a big room, with a bed and a window and I curled up in the corner and cried.

There’s been more people since then. They come in through the door to the room and try to talk to me. Some of them try to touch me but stop when I scream. The only person I think I do like is the one that brings food. He’s nice.

I haven’t seen the lady from the first weird box on wheels again, and I guess that means that I haven’t talked to anyone in the hospital. I haven’t used the bed yet, it’s too tall and has a weird box with buttons and wires and I don’t like it. I took the pillow and the blanket, and put them in the corner that I’ve made my own. It’s near the window. I like the window a whole lot.

The man with the food likes the window too. He came in and sat down beside my blanket, and held out another one of those weird water bottles. I took it though, and took a few slow gulps.

“Thought you might be needing some more.” He smiled warmly. “It’s been a few hours since your last.”

I looked around him, maybe for another tray of food. Last time he’d brought something he’d called pancakes. Pancakes with cream and some weird little red things called strawberries. I didn’t want to eat them at first, but then he had a bite and showed that it wouldn’t kill me, so I ate it. And it was very nice.

“Almost lunch time.” He noticed. “But hey, it’s been over 24 hours since you got here, and you haven’t had any sleep, so I’m thinking that might be a good idea? The bed is nice and soft, much better than the floor.”

When I pulled the blanket up a little higher, he frowned. “Okay, maybe not the bed then. But maybe some sleep would be good for you, yeah?”

I shook my head, and he didn’t argue, just nodded. “That’s okay, I bet this is all pretty scary, huh? All these new places and people?”

“Y-Yeah…”

He smiled. “Yeah, yeah it is. Hey, this might be a little less scary if we’re not strangers anymore, right? My name is Dr Wentz, I’m 44 years old, and I work here at the hospital, taking care of sick people and helping them get better.”

“I-I’m sick…”

“You’re sick?” He seemed interested. “Well, that’s why you’re at the hospital. This is where people like me help sick people get better.”

“O-Okay.” I told him.

“Do you want to get better?” He offered.

“Yeah.”

Then he smiled. “Awesome. So, before I can help you get better, you need to wear one of these special bracelets, like this.” He passed me a weird little thin thing with some words printed on it, before showing me one around his own hand. “Mine has my name and my birthday and how old I am on it. Once we get you one of these, we can help you get better.”

I tried to eat it. It didn’t taste very nice. Food man laughed a little and gently pulled it out of my mouth. “Okay, so, I can get you one of these for your own arm so I can help you get better, but I need to know those things to put on it first. What’s your name?”

When I didn’t respond, he seemed a little confused but didn’t say anything. “Okay, do you know how old you are?”

I shook my head. Mom stopped counting after I turned 7.

“Do you know when your birthday is?” He tried.

“No…”

“That’s alright, we can find that out later.” He assured me, stretching his legs out. “So… when you’re at home, what do people call you? Like, when I’m at home, my kids call me Dad, and my wife calls me Peter. What do people call you?”

“Nothing.” I mumbled.

“Sorry? You gotta speak a little louder than that, buddy.”

“Nothing. They don’t call me nothing.” I told him sharply.

“Oh.” He looked sad for a moment, but then smiled again. “Well, I’m not gonna call you nothing, so let’s give you a name so I know what to call you. Do you know any names that you think you might like to be called?”

He didn’t seem discouraged when I shook my head, and pulled a tiny little piece of metal out of his pocket. He spent a while pressing his fingers to it, but then smiled up at me. “I’m gonna read you a bunch of names, and you tell me which one you like. And then that one can be yours. Sound good?”

“Alright…”

“So, there’s Oliver, James, Thomas, Liam, Mason, Samuel, Alexander, Daniel, Patrick, Finn-“

“T-That one.”

“What, Finn?”

I shook my head.

“Patrick?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay, awesome.” He smiled. “It’s nice to meet you, Patrick.”

I didn't understood what he meant by that, but I smiled at him, and he smiled back. It was nice for a moment, and then he got up to leave. So I screamed.

That freaked him out a whole lot, and he stumbled over as he tried to get up. “Sorry, sorry Patrick. I just gotta go get you a bracelet, yeah? So I can help you get better.”

I shook my head. “D-Don’t leave.”

“You want some lunch, don’t you?” He asked. “I can’t go and get you some lunch if I can’t leave. But I’ll be right back, and I’ll bring lunch and a bracelet. Is that alright?”

“Pancakes?”

He smiled at that. “I’ll see what I can do. But if you want Pancakes, you gotta sit up on the bed for me.”

I had to think about that offer, but ended up shaking my head. “T-Too tall.”

“The bed is?” He wandered over and picked up the metal thing with the buttons on it, before, what the hell, the bed started making a weird noise and getting shorter.

Food Man was pretty surprised by my panic, and flinched when I threw the water bottle at the bed in self-defence. I didn’t understand how he wasn’t freaking out from the monster that he wanted me to lie on, and continued screaming in terror until it stopped making noise and Food Man ran to my side.

“Patrick, Patrick, buddy, it’s just the machine! It’s not gonna hurt you, it’s not alive, it’s just adjustable, okay?!”

M-Monster!” I choked out.

“It’s not a monster, Patrick.” He tried to convince. “It’s just a mechanical bed. You know what mechanical means?”

I shook my head.

“Right. Uh… it’s… do you know how a clock works?”

I didn’t even know what a clock was, so once again I shook my head.

“Okay.” He breathed. “It’s… it’s like magic. It’s not alive, but we use the remote, here, to change it so it can be more comfortable for those who are gonna lie on it. So when you said that it needed to be shorter, I pushed the down button, see? And it got a little shorter. You can make it taller, or put the back of it up so it can be a chair, and lots of different things. You wanna try?”

No, I really didn’t want to try. I liked Food Man, and I liked pancakes, though, so I inched my way over the floor and studied the thing he called the remote. I almost screamed again when I pushed the down button and it started growling again, but Food Man put his hand on my shoulder and assured me that it was just the machined doing what it was meant to do, and it wasn’t trying to be scary.

I found it scary anyway. Everything about this was scary. I wanted to go home. I was sick and pretty soon I was probably going to die and I just wanted to go home.

“Patrick? Hey, what’s wrong?” Food man asked, picking the pillows up off the floor and placing them on the bed. “It’s okay, we’re gonna help you.”

“I-I’m SICK!” I cried out, digging my fingers into my scalp. “I-I LEFT AND NOW I’M GOING TO DIE!

Part of me wanted Food Man to leave while I curled up back in my corner and cried, but I was also glad that he didn’t. He did pull out his weird thin piece of metal and talked few nonsense words into it while holding it against his cheek, but then tucked it away and forced a smile at me. “I know this is super scary, Patrick, and I just want you to know you’re doing really, really well. And my friend, he’s really nice, he’s gonna bring up some pancakes and a new bed that’s a little less scary, and then maybe you can get some sleep, yeah?”

I shook my head at the thought of yet another person. “T-They have germs.”

“You wanna know what’s super special about the hospital, Patrick?” Food Man offered. “Everything is super clean. So there’s no nasty germs, and that way, even if you are sick, you’re not gonna die. Everyone who comes in is gonna be clean, and we’re just here to help you out.”

I thought about that for a moment, and Food Man smiled before sitting down next to me. “I know this is super scary, but I want you to know you’re doing a really good job of being brave.”

“I-I’m not allowed to leave.” I told him, wiping my nose on the back of my hand. “Because I’m sick.”

“The hospital is where we help sick people get better. And we’re gonna help you get better too, alright? You were allowed to leave, this time. And you were very brave for doing so.” Food Man told me. “You just have to keep being brave for a little bit longer, and then we’ll have pancakes. Sound good?”

I nodded in response to pancakes. I didn’t want to tell him that I didn’t know what bravery was. Hopefully it was a good thing, and hopefully they’d let me go home soon.

I’d been in the world for two days now, and I didn’t really like it all that much.

Chapter Text

People who live in the world know a lot of words. I don’t know a lot of them, and that makes things hard because I want to understand what people are saying all the time. But I don’t. And that sucks.

I have been learning though. I know that this place is called the hospital, this thing on my hand is a cast and the place outside the window is called the city. The tiny little moving things I can see down low are called cars, and apparently they’re much bigger up close. The things in the sky are called planes and apparently they’re even bigger up close. Food Man says that more than 100 people can fit in a plane, and then the person who drives the plane is called the pilot and they drive the plane from city to city.

Pancakes come on a plate and you eat them with a knife and a fork. The place where the pancakes are cooked is called the kitchen and the person who makes them is called the chef. Then there’s lots of other foods too. Like lasagne, and soup, and eggs and tacos. I don’t like the tacos though. They were too spicy.

Food man says that’s okay though, and I don’t have to like everything. I just made him write down the name for it on my piece of paper, so I had it for later.

I talk to other people now too. The lady who comes in and changes the bandage on my hand, her name is Kasey, and she sounds a bit different to everyone else. Food Man says that’s because she has an accent, because she’s from a different country. He tried to tell me about different countries but then I got confused and cried, so he stopped. He did promise he’d tell me later though, when I understood a bit more.

Then there’s Melody, and she’s apparently a doctor, but all she does is come in and talk to me. She asks a lot about Mom, and about home. She’s the one who told me that home was gone now, and that made me cry too.

For a while I was hoping this was just a dream and I’d wake up back in my bedroom, but it’s starting to seem like that’s not the case.

But my favourite person, other than Food Man, is Tyler, who brings books and lets me read. Food Man was very surprised when I told him I could read. I’ve only ever read two books, but I liked them. The Dictionary and Algebra Volume 1 were their names. A lot of the new words I’ve learned are things I’ve read in the dictionary but never saw. So now I have my own book, and Tyler writes the word in for me, and draws a little picture of it so I know.

I called it the Picture-Nary. I told Food Man that and he laughed for a long time, and told me it was very clever. I liked that.

They got me some new clothes. They’re called pyjamas and they’re sleeping clothes, which is weird because I wear them all the time, not only when I’m sleeping. But they’re very soft and I like them, especially because they have a pattern of little creatures on them. Food Man told me they’re bats and they’re a symbol of a superhero called BatMan who likes to help people, and is very brave, like I am.

I told Food Man I’d like to help people one day. He just smiled and told me that I might.

Even though everything is getting less scary, there’s still lots and lots of scary things and I freak out every time. I didn’t like the heart rate monitor, and they had to take that off because I kept trying to bite it apart. Then Food Man had something called a watch and it made a very loud sound, and then I screamed and tried to run away.

I try to run away a lot. I don’t really ever get very far. Normally I don’t even get out of the room before Food Man has his arm around me and quietly explains what it is that upset me and why it does what it does. Then normally I cry under the blanket, and Food Man stays in the chair next to the bed.

But the biggest and scariest thing they brought me was shoes. I liked the socks that they brought when I asked for some socks, but then they brought shoes and I didn’t like them at all. Food Man helped me put them on, but then I couldn’t feel the floor anymore and I couldn’t walk right and fell over on the floor. And then I couldn’t get them off and had a really, really, really big freak out because these monsters had eaten my feet.

Food Man says he’ll find better shoes for me another time, so I can go outside. I told him I never want to put on shoes again. Shoes are way too scary. I don’t ever want to go outside if it means I have to wear shoes.

Food Man has been telling me a whole lot about the outside recently. About plants and animals and streets and cars and buses and all sorts of things. He said that one day soon I was gonna get to leave the hospital and go to the outside, to see all these things for myself. He didn’t seem happy when I told him that I didn’t want to, because I was sick and I couldn’t.

“Patrick…” He sighed. “Okay, let’s have a little chat.”

At that, I screamed and tried to run out of the room. I didn’t like little chats. Mom did little chats. I never wanted another little chat again. They hurt a whole lot and I cried out as Tyler and Food Man grabbed me before I could make it out the door.

“Shhh. Shhhh. I’m sorry. No little chats, no little chats.” Food Man assured. “Shhh.”

“N-No more ever!” I cried.

“No more ever, that’s right.” He told me. “Never, ever.”

Eventually they convinced me to get back in bed, and I only agreed when I was one million percent certain that they weren’t going to give me another little chat. But I think what they tried to say instead was much worse.

“Patrick, look, um…” Food Man thought about his words for a little while. “You know how here, in the hospital, the other doctors and I help sick people get better?”

I nodded. That was all they’d been telling me for the past week.
“Well, the thing is, we have to look at what type of sick people are, to figure out how to help them. So we had a little look at you, and the thing is Patrick, you’re zero types of sick. You’re… not sick.”

“I-I’m sick…”

“No, buddy, you’re not.” Food Man squeezed my good hand and smiled at me. “You’re okay. So you don’t have to stay in the hospital, you can go outside and see things and live, yeah?”

I shook my head in disbelief. “I’m sick and I’m g-going to die!

“You’re not going to die, Patrick, you’re not sick.” Tyler was the next one to try and convince me of these things.

“I-I am!” I started crying. “I-I’m SICK!”

Food Man didn’t argue when I got upset. He just stayed with me and rubbed my back and didn’t try to lie to me but saying that I wasn’t sick. Sometimes Food Man was good like that.

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The next big scary thing they brought was called a television, but everyone just calls it a Tee Vee. I didn’t really understand it at first, and it only got worse then they turned it on.

They stopped giving me water in bottles with lids after I smashed the Tee Vee.

I didn’t mean to, I just got scared. But Food Man understood, and then we had to have a very long chat before they brought another Tee Vee for us. He had to explain exactly how it worked, and what it did, and that the pictures were going to move and I didn’t have to be scared because it was meant to do that. And the moving things on the Tee Vee were actually just pictures of real places and real things, and one day soon he’d take me to see them.

I didn’t scream when they turned the new Tee Vee on, even though I really, really wanted to. Instead I just squeezed Food Man’s hand as tight as I could, and flinched every time the things on the Tee Vee moved.

“So, you see there, that’s called a jungle, yeah? And those things are trees.” Food Man tried to explain. I just turned away from the Tee Vee and buried my head in the pillow so it couldn’t see me.

Food Man just chuckled and told me we’d work on watching the Tee Vee again some other time.

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Food Man always left when the light coming through the window disappeared. Then it was normally just me and some other food man, but I didn’t like them nearly as much.

But tonight it was just me, for the first time since I got to the hospital. I liked that a lot more than I liked people.

People are scary and you never know what they want to do to you. When you’re alone, you don’t have to deal with any of that.

But after about an hour of being alone, I noticed the Tee Vee in the corner. Even though Food Man wasn’t here, he had said that it wasn’t alive and it wasn’t going to hurt me. And there was nobody else around to tell me not to turn it on.

I pushed a couple of buttons on the side, feeling them spring back after I pushed them in, which tickled a little and made me laugh. They were very springy, and I made sure to feel each one, until I found the one that made a bit of a funny clicking noise as I poked it, and then it made the Tee Vee light up.

At least when you’re alone, nobody can hear you scream. I tried not to scream for long though, thinking about what Food Man said. It’s not alive. They’re just pictures of real things. It’s not going to hurt you, Patrick.

Clutching one of the pillows from the bed to use as an emergency shield, I sat down in front of the Tee Vee and watched the lights and the colours change. There were noises, too, voices coming from the two flat people on the front of it. I poked them a few times to see if they noticed, but all I felt was glass, and they just carried on talking.

“And to a new development in the Stump case, where 6 days ago a child was discovered having been kept in isolation for their entire lives. Police have concluded the investigation and have confirmed to the media that this is indeed a case of arson. The child is still receiving medical care for non-life threatening injuries.”

Then the people disappeared. It was the house. The house that I saw from the weird box thing on wheels with the lady who put the first bandage on my hand. How did the Tee Vee get that house? That wasn’t their house! How did they steal it?!

“H-Hey! T-That’s mine!” I tapped the glass angrily. “G-Give it back!”

And then it changed again. That’s my bedroom. It wasn’t the same as I knew it to be, it was kinda grey, and covered in this grey dust, and a lot of my stuff was missing. But it had my bed and my mattress and my bookshelf and my bathtub and that was my room. How did they steal my room?!

“H-HEY!” I screamed, tapping harder. “T-THAT’S MINE!”

When they didn’t give it back straight away, I screamed in anger and smashed my fist against the stupid Tee Vee. “GIVE ME MY ROOM BACK! THAT’S MY ROOM!”

The glass shattered and I dug through it, looking for my room. But it wasn’t there. All there was now was lots of broken glass, and the Tee Vee had stopped making lights and colours and sound. I… I broke it again.

Food Man was gonna be mad.

Chapter Text

Food Man was mad that the Tee Vee was broken, but he wasn’t mad at me for it. When he came in the next day, I cried and cried and told him I was sorry and that I didn’t mean it, and that I didn’t need any little chats. Food Man just walked over and held my good hand and asked how long it had been since I hurt it.

When I told him it was back when the window was dark, he was very mad. But not at me. He used little metal things to pull the bits of Tee Vee out of my hand, and then gently bandaged it up.

It felt weird having both my hands in bandages, but Food Man stopped me when I tried to take them off. “You’re hurt, Patrick. The bandages have to stay on so that your hands can heal.”

“B-But I don’t like them.”

“I know, buddy.” He sighed. “Just, leave them be for now. We’ll take them off when your hands are better, yeah?”

“Yeah…”

Then he smiled at me. “I brought you something today, Patrick. And it’s gonna be pretty exciting.”

I immediately paled when he said that. He said the same thing with the first Tee Vee, and that didn’t go down pretty well.

“I d-didn’t wanna break it!” I told him again, holding a pillow up as a shield. “I-It stole my bedroom!”

“What?”

“It had m-my bedroom!” I cried. “I g-got mad at it!”

“Wait, Patrick, who let you watch the news?”

“I just wanted t-to play with the buttons! I didn’t mean to turn it on at all!”
“One second.” He murmured, pulling his weird piece of metal out and touching it for a while, before holding it to his ear. “Hi, yeah, you were on Room 449 last night, correct? Yeah. So why the hell has Patrick cut his hand on glass like, 8 hours ago, and how the hell did he end up watching the news?!”

I zoned out after that. Whenever Food Man was talking to his weird piece of metal, he wasn’t talking to me. It had taken a few times to realise that, but I knew now. He always spoke different to the piece of metal, but I didn’t mind. He was nicer to me, anyway.

When he finally did put the piece of metal away, he sighed. “Sorry about that, Patrick. You weren’t meant to be left alone last night.”

“Oh.”

“But hey, it’s alright, don’t worry about it.” He smiled. “So, back to the exciting things.” He placed a box on the bed. “This is for you.”

I poked at it, wondering if it was going to do something, before gently feeling the texture with the tips of my fingers that weren’t in bandages. It was kinda like the pages of the dictionary, which was very nice.

“Thank you.” I put it beside me.

Food Man blinked, before he relaxed and laughed slightly. “Sorry, should’ve clarified. This one’s a present, yeah? So you gotta rip the paper off the box, and there’s something inside the paper that’s for you.”

“Well that’s just silly.” I informed him, bringing it back. “Why would there be paper on it if it needs to come straight back off?”

“Because people do it when it’s a surprise, so they don’t know what’s underneath it.”

“But it’s already a surprise.” The thought was baffling. “I didn’t know you were bringing it, and so it’s a surprise.”

Food Man laughed. “You’ve got me there.”

He had to help me a little, the bandages on my hand made it a little bit hard, but I pulled the paper off and opened the box underneath. Inside were some clothes, and some other weird things that I didn’t know the names of.

“So what here do you know?” Food Man laid everything out on the bed in front of me.

“Shirt.” I pointed to the shirt, before biting my lip nervously. “A-And skirt?”

“Not skirt, shorts.” Food Man corrected. “They’re just pants, but a little shorter, yeah?”

“Yeah…”

“And here we’ve got a hat, and some sunglasses.” Food Man handed me an oddly shaped piece of plastic, before tugging a piece of clothing material with a firm bit at the front onto my head. “They’re to protect you from the sun.”

I spent the next few seconds trying to shake the hat off, before huffing in frustration and looking down at the plastic. Food Man took a nervous breath as he took them off me. “Alrighty, so these are gonna make everything look a little darker. It’s okay, they’re meant to do that. Do you understand?”

I didn’t, but I nodded.

I did understand when he pushed them onto my eyes, and the whole world plunged into eternal darkness. Food Man quickly put his hand over my mouth before I could scream, and reminded me. “They’re meant to do that, Patrick, it’s alright, they’re not hurting you.”

“I don’t, I d-don’t like it!” I cried.

“Okay, okay, that’s alright.” He pulled them off. “Better?”

It took many minutes of forced breathing, but eventually I nodded. “B-Better.”
“Okay, good.” He smiled, before taking a nervous breath. “Now, I know you don’t like shoes-“

I didn’t even let him finish before I pulled my legs up to my chest. “No.

“These aren’t shoes though.” He explained nervously. “They’re called sandals.”

I shook my head wildly. I wanted nothing to do with sandals, whether they were shoes or not.

They didn’t look like shoes, though. The shoes Food Man brought last time were like a little foot tunnel that closed off at one end. These were just a piece of… rubber? Was that the word? With some straps coming out of it.

“They don’t eat your feet, Patrick. You can still see your feet through the sandals, yeah? So they’re a little less scary than shoes.”

“N-No thank you…” I mumbled into my knees.

“Okay. Patrick, we’re gonna go outside today, yeah?” He placed a picture on the bed. “This is where we’re going. It’s just a nice little spot of grass outside the children’s ward, and we’re gonna go and eat our breakfast down there. How’s that sound?”

Immediately I shook my head. This photo didn’t look real to me, it was like the pictures in Algebra Volume One. Almost real but not quite. It wasn’t safe. My bedroom was safe. This room was safe, mostly. I didn’t need anywhere else.

“I organised special pancakes for us and everything.” Food Man tried to convince. “And we just need to leave the room for a little while because it’s gotten a little dirty and some people are gonna come in and clean it up.”

“D-Dirty? It c-can’t be dirty! You told me the hospital was c-clean!” I panicked.

“I know, I know, that’s not what I meant.” Food Man soothed. “I just meant, tidy, yeah? Like change the sheets on the bed and check that there’s no more glass on the floor. It’s clean, Patrick.”

When I didn’t respond, he put a hand on mine. “You’re not sick, Patrick.”

I covered my ears and hummed to tune him out. He was lying. I was sick, and I couldn’t leave the room for more than two seconds or I would die. That was the only way that anything ever worked.

“Patrick! Patrick, buddy, c’mon, you’re okay, it’s alright.” Food Man gently rubbed circles on my back. “Don’t worry, it’s alright.”

“I’m sick!” I cried.

“Yeah, you’ve said.” Food Man sighed. “Let me make a few calls, I’ll be back, okay?”

I just turned away from him.

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Food Man didn’t come back for a while, but that was okay because Tyler was here and he was very nice. He made me a bath, but I wouldn’t get in the first one because the water was warm. And that was very scary, and I tried to run away again, so Tyler got rid of the warm water and replaced it with normal cold water. Like baths should be.

And then there were the new clothes that Food Man brought. The shorts were very weird, but I didn’t hate them. I could see my legs while having pants on, which was nice. I thought the shirt was going to be a normal shirt, but it had something called buttons on it, which Tyler had to do up because I didn’t know how, and my hands were still in bandages and that made it hard to learn.

“Looking good, Patrick.” Tyler smiled, combing my hair. He asked if he could put it in a ponytail, but I shook my head. Last time he’d done that I didn’t know what it was and I thought someone was pulling on my hair for all the time until he took it back out. Instead he just gently teased the knots out with the comb this time, and then shoved the hat back on my head when he was done.

At first I didn’t like it and tried to shake it off, but then I realised that it kept my hair off my face and that made it a lot better. That made it okay, and I didn’t try to take it off after that.

I liked the batman socks that Tyler brought me. They were very colourful and I never wanted to take them off.

When Food Man came back, he smiled at me. “Ready to go outside?”

“N-No…”

“So, hey, listen, I’ve got this thing here, yeah?” He pulled out a piece of fabric with two elastic loops on the sides. “This is called a mask. And doctors like me use it in the hospital when we don’t want any germs to go into us. So what this will do is keep all the germs out of you when we go outside, so that way you don’t get sick.”

It felt weird on my face, and the elastic pulled on my ears a little, but it wasn’t awful. It meant that nothing could get into my nose hole or my mouth hole, and that was good. Very hesitantly, I nodded.

Awesome, Patrick. That’s awesome.” Food Man seemed very happy, and gestured for me to sit on the chair. I did as he asked, but quickly pulled my feet away when he grabbed the sandals.

“N-No thank you…”

“Patrick… please just trust me with this one?” Food Man pleaded. “You know I never want to hurt you. I wouldn’t give you anything that would hurt you. Please?”

Food Man had to talk to me for ages before I’d let him put the sandals on me. He started to take my BatMan socks off at first, and then I told him that I wasn’t wearing them at all. Then he got into a fight with Tyler about whether I could wear my socks with the sandals, but eventually Food Man won, and the sandals went over the socks.

They were weird, that was for sure. It was like having little bits of floor strapped to your feet, but these little bits of floor were much softer. I spent a while wriggling my toes into the bits of floor, and Food Man just smiled and rubbed something called SunBlock into my arms.

“So you never left your bedroom, ever?” He asked mindlessly.

“No.” I mumbled.

“And there was no window in there?”

I shook my head.

He smiled, adjusting my hat. “I think you’re gonna like this then.”

Food Man held my hand, which was very strange but I didn’t hate it, as we walked out of my room. There were a lot more people out here, and there were a lot of very bright lights, but the sunglasses made them a little less bright so it was okay. I just thought about the mask and how it was gonna keep me safe from the germs. Not gonna die not gonna die not gonna die.

I didn’t like the elevator. A lot of Food Man’s friends met up with us, and then all of a sudden we were all in a cupboard and the doors moved on their own and the floor was shaking. I didn’t get in trouble for screaming though, Food Man just held my hand and put his arm over my shoulder until the weird doors were open again and I was free.

“Maybe the elevator wasn’t a good choice.” One of the friends said.

Food Man shook his head. “He’s already doing much better than I thought he would.”

If that meant curling up on the floor and crying because this was so much new stuff and I didn’t like it, then I guess I was doing much better than he thought I would.

“We’re nearly there, buddy, c’mon, you’re doing really good.” Food Man coaxed me to my feet. “Nearly there.”

“I w-wanna g-go back!”

“Patrick, if you want to go back, you’re going to have to go in the elevator again.”

I think that was the only reason I kept going. I stayed close to Food Man as we walked past all the different people. Some of them were wearing different colours, and some of them were different colours. Some of them wore masks like mine (they must be sick too) and some of them wore hats like mine. It was weird.

Finally, we reached a door, and Food Man bent down in front of me. He took a very long deep breath, before looking up at me. “God, I hope you forgive me for this.”

I didn’t have time to react before he reached up and took my mask off.

I couldn’t hear him that well over the screams, but that didn’t mean he didn’t try. “Patrick, buddy, it’s alright, you don’t need it. You’re not sick. Shhhhh.”

When I ran out of breath, Food Man jumped at the silence. “Hey, hey, your Mom said that if you ever left, for more than 2 seconds, you’d die, right?”

“I-I’m dead…”

“No, Patrick, you’re not.” He smiled. “If your Mom was right, then you would already be dead. But you’re not. You’re still here with me, in the hospital, and that’s because you’re not sick, yeah?”

“Y-Yeah…”

They let me sit in the corner for a while until I stopped shaking, which was nice of them considering that they’d just taken my mask and tried to kill me. But then again, I wasn’t sick. Then my stomach started getting all fluttery and I looked up at Food Man. “W-Why did Mom say I w-was sick if I wasn’t?”

None of the other people spoke for a second. Then Food Man took a deep breath, and helped me up. “We don’t know, Patrick, but we’re trying to find out.”

I was going to ask more, but then Food Man opened the door. And it was beautiful.

Food Man was holding his piece of metal up, but that didn’t matter as I took a few steps out. The first few were hard, stepping on the grey floor, but then it stopped and there was green and they were just lots and lots of tiny little specks of green that cronched under my sandals.

“Grass.” Food Man explained as I bent down to touch it. “It’s a plant. Keep going, Patrick, you’re nearly in the sun.”

How do I even explain the sun? It was soft and smooth and it made my skin look very nice and it was warm and sparkly and it was nothing short of amazing. Food Man chuckled when I tried to grab it, and explained I couldn’t. But that didn’t matter, because it was so lovely and I never wanted to lose it.

I walked around for a while, before giggling and rolling around in the grass while the sun made everything feel lovely still. And then one of Food Man’s friends had pancakes and we got to eat them while sitting in the sun.

The sun was my new favourite thing ever. Better than the bed, better than the blanket, better than socks and much better than the Tee Vee. If shoes and the elevator were the price to pay for coming to sit out in the sun, then I’d do it a million times over.

Chapter Text

Pete

My father was not an angry person. He was a mellow man, and a bit of a pushover to be honest, but he was generally pretty kind and easy-going.

But when someone sold the video of the kid he was taking care of at the hospital to some media company for 5 grand, he was angrier than I’d ever seen him in my life.
It might have been easier if they video of the kid hadn’t gone viral, and hadn’t generated so much media attention, but with everything going on with the case and the arson and the attempted murder and all, there was no way that it wasn’t going to be an internet sensation.

And that made family dinners a little awkward.

“Look, have you tried talking to him about it?” Mom offered, putting her hand on Dad’s when he angrily stabbed his fork into his steak.

“Dale, he’s never even seen a clock before, he’s not going to understand a viral video.” He mumbled in response.

“Look, it’ll wash over. It was just a cute clip of the kid seeing the sun. In a few days, nobody will remember it.” I shrugged. “Also, what’s with the hair? He looks like a girl.”

“He’s spent his entire life in a room that was 6 feet by 8 feet.” Dad told me gravely. “He’s got bigger things to worry about than a haircut.”

“I’m just saying.” I shrugged. “You couldn’t even put it up or something?”

“That terrifies him. We tried.” Dad sighed. “He thought someone was grabbing him.”

I frowned. “Well, good luck with that then.”

“There’s just so much happening and it’s a nightmare.” Dad sighed. “On one hand I’ve got neuroscience who want to run a brain scan, then I’ve got the hospital who want him out because he’s not sick and he doesn’t need to be there, then I’ve got the police who want to sit down and interview him, and then there’s media now who want to come in and film interviews, not to mention the CPA who need to figure out how we’re going to deal with him, and now we’ve got this stupid video to deal with as well!”

“How much of this does he know?”

“None! And even if I tried to explain it, he’d probably just freak out again. I tried to explain that there’s lots of different countries and he had a panic attack. He’s a fine line, and I’m just trying to get everyone to take things slowly with him. Because it’s all too fast at the moment and he’s not coping that well.”

“Poor baby.” Mom murmured.

Dad sighed once again. “Sorry, sorry, no work talk at dinner.”

Mom just rubbed his shoulder affectionately. “So, Pete, both your brother and your sister are coming home from college for the summer!”

“Really?” I groaned. Whenever we were all together, Mom demanded we do ‘family stuff’, like 100% of the time. Whenever they were away I had free reign of the neighborhood, and I really didn’t want to give that up for the entirety of summer break.

“Yes, Pete, really.” She frowned. “You haven’t seen them since Christmas.”

“I know, I know, it’ll be good to see them. I was just making plans with Joe and Andy. We were going camping.”

“I’m sure you can still go camping.” Dad told me, looking at Mom.

“Awesome.” I quickly finished what was left on my plate, and put it in the dishwasher before Mom could change her mind.

 

Patrick

The windowsill was my new favourite place to sit.

I loved outside more, but Food Man only took me outside sometimes, so the windowsill was the next best option. I could sit on the windowsill and look outside at all the buildings and clouds and cars and signs.

The sun that came in through the window was nowhere as nice as the sun from outside, but it was the nicest thing I had in this room, so it had to do. I made sure to stay in it for as long as I could, before it went away. I always got sad when it went away.

But other than the sun, there were still lots and lots of new things that I was getting used to. Food Man had brought me something called a clock and explained what the different times were. I now knew that there were mornings and afternoons and night and that there were 24 hours in a day.

At first I didn’t like it at all, but now it’s good because it means that I know when things are going to happen. And when Food Man comes at 8 o’clock, he explains what times everything else will be happening, which makes it a lot easier to understand.

“So, Patrick, there’s going to be a new person coming to see us at 2 o’clock, yeah?” Food Man answered.

I nodded mindlessly, paying more attention to the bedsheets. They’d been changed again yesterday, and now they were purple. I liked the purple more than the blue. It was much prettier, and they were softer too.

“This is important, Patrick.” Food Man pulled the loose sheet away from my hands. “They’re coming to talk to you about where you’re gonna live.”

“Here?” I frowned.

“You see, buddy, this is the hospital. The hospital is for making sick people better. And you’re not sick, so we have to find somewhere else where you can live.”

Immediately I shook my head. “Here.

“I know it’s scary, Patrick, but it’ll be alright. The new place isn’t going to be anything like your old one, and there’s going to be other people, and you’ll be allowed to go wherever you want in the house.”

“B-But you won’t be there!” I panicked.

That took Food Man by surprise, and he blinked a few times, before smiling. “No matter what happens, I’ll make sure I come and see you, okay?”

“But you won’t be there every day!” I clutched his hand. “Y-You need to be there from 8am t-to 7pm or, or I don’t, I…”

“Someone’s learning their clock.” He smiled, before sighing. “We’ll see how things go, yeah? The people you go to live with might even be nicer than me.”

Nobody is nicer than you.” I told him.

He didn’t say anything for a few moments after that, before smiling a sad smile at me, and gently tucking some hair behind my ear. “I’ll see what I can do.”

---------

I didn’t like the optometrist, but I did like the glasses that they gave me.

They were a bit like sunglasses, but they were very clear and I could see straight through them. And they made it easier to see things that were very far away, which was very exciting. I could see out the window from the bed, and I loved it.

Sometimes they slipped down my nose, and I got mad whenever they got a smudge on them, but I liked being able to see things better. Food Man even got me another pair of sunglasses, but these ones make it easier to see things too.

They made it easier to see all the little lines at the corners of Food Man’s eyes when he smiled and told me that I was gonna get to leave the hospital tomorrow.

“Outside?” I asked, taking no note of the other lady in the room.

“No, for forever.” Food Man told me. “You’re gonna come and live with me, at my house.”

“But this is your house.” I tilted my head in confusion.

Food Man chuckled and handed me a photo. “This is my house, this is where we’re going to go tomorrow. When I’m not here, this is where I am.”

I traced my fingers over the outline of Food Man’s house. It was very pretty, and had lots of windows. And I could see some grass, and a tree, so it looked like a very nice place. I nodded and passed the photo back in approval.

“Awesome.” He smiled. “But there’s gonna be some other people who live there too, okay? This is my family, and they’re gonna be your family too for a little while.”

The next photo had Food Man and some other people in it. There was another lady who he had his arm around, and then there were three smaller people, 2 boys and one girl.

“So that’s my wife, and her name is Dale.” Food Man explained, pointing at the women. “And these are my kids. Hillary is the oldest, and then that’s Andrew there, and that’s Pete.”

I pointed to the one he called Pete, who was a lot shorter than everyone else in the photo. “Small.”

“Pete’s the youngest. He’s 14.” Food Man explained. “I think you’re probably around that.”

“14.” I mumbled, before pointing to the other ones. “How old are they?”

“Hillary is 19 and Andrew is 21.”

“Can I be 21?”

Food Man chuckled. “Not quite, buddy. Your age is how long it’s been since you were born. Remember when we were talking about years?”

I nodded. The subject had made me dizzy. Time had so many different names, and keeping track of them all was confusing.

“So it’s been 14 years since Pete was born.”

“How many years since I was born?”

“Um, well, we don’t actually know that, Patrick.” Food Man explained nervously. “But you’re going through puberty and about the right height, so we think you’re about 13 or 14.”

“Oh.”

“We’ll find out soon, don’t worry.” He assured me. “But that’s all okay? You’re okay with coming and living at my house?”

I nodded nervously, grabbing the sheet back and fiddling with it. “Can we go outside now?”

Food Man smiled. “Sure, Patrick. Just let me have a little chat with Elisa outside while you get ready, and we’ll go.”

The Elisa lady smiled and waved at me. I hid under my blanket until she left with Food Man.

I was getting good at getting reading to go outside. The bandage on the hand that the Tee Vee had hurt was gone now, so I could do the buttons on the shirt up and pull the shorts on and put on the sunblock and the sunglasses and the sandals. By the time the door opened, I was already ready, and quickly stepped outside into the hallway.

The corridors were always scary, but I learned that as long as I held Food Man’s hand and stayed close to him, then nothing bad would happen. Same in the elevator, which shook and rattled a little more than normal today.

But the scary was all worth it for the chance to go out in the sun again. Today, Food Man took me to a new spot, one where there was a tree. And it was low enough so I could touch it.

I loved the tree. The branches were like the beam in the room at home, so I could hold onto it and lift my legs up and hang for a little bit, until I fell back onto the grass. And although Food Man ran over to help me because he thought I was hurt, I just laughed and did it again and again and again, because it was fun, and there was so much space.

Back at home, I didn’t even think that space like this was real. And now I have all of it, right in front of me.

Chapter Text

Pete

I wasn’t surprised when Mom and Dad sat me, Andrew and Hillary down at the kitchen table and told me that the kid that Dad had been looking after at the hospital was going to stay here for a while. I mean, Dad’s been at work every day for 3 weeks to be with this kid, and he’s not the kind of guy who can spend a lot of time around something without getting attached to it.

There were a lot more things about him that I didn’t expect though. Dad was very meticulous when explaining things, and he just seemed, well, desperate. Desperate that we took things slow, at least for the first couple of weeks, because the kid had essentially had 3 weeks of world experience for 14 years on the planet and really didn’t understand how things worked.

“His name is Patrick.” Dad explained, drumming his fingers on the table. “Well, that’s what we’re calling him. His mother is being uncooperative, and any documents that might have led to any history were destroyed in the house fire. He told us he didn’t have a name, and well, I read him a list and he told me he liked that one. So that’s what we’re calling him.”

“How the hell can he not have a name?”

“I don’t know, Pete. We don’t know a lot of details about his life up to now. The police are waiting for him to, um, adjust a little more before they conduct their interview.”

“It should be fine, Dad.” Hillary told him.

“He’s just, he’s just adjusting.” Dad told us. “He won’t make eye contact when talking to you, he doesn’t understand body language, or facial expressions, really. He’s curious, but everything is terrifying to him, and he’s probably never seen 99% of the things in this house. So we’re just taking things slowly for now, and I’m going to need everyone’s help.”

“We’ve got this, Dad. Don’t worry.” Andrew assured him. “When’s he coming?”

“Tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow?!” I shrieked. “That’s a hell of a lot of notice!”

“The hospital just needed him out, Pete.” Mom frowned. “But we should probably mention that he’s sharing your room.”

--------

I was fine with Dad’s little science project coming to stay with us, but I was not pleased that it was in my room. Especially since now Mom and Dad were assembling a new bed and a new closet and a new nightstand on the wall next to the window, and it really cluttered up the space.

“Why can’t he stay in Andrew’s room?” I groaned, watching them from my bed.

“Because you’re about the same age and this room is the biggest.” Mom rebutted quickly, passing Dad some screws.

“Who even says we’re the same age? You don’t know when he was born. He could be like, 30, or something.”

“He’s definitely not 30, Pete.”

Okay, that was a push. “Well, he’s probably closer to Andrew’s age anyway. You don’t know. He’s not a tree you can cut open to see how old they are.”

“I think the top team of doctors in the state would be more certified to make a judgement than you, Pete.” Dad sighed. “He’s your age, and he’s staying here, okay?”

“He better not snore.” I muttered, growing frustrated at the situation and heading out of the house. I could chill at Joe’s until later.

 

 

Patrick

Leaving the hospital meant a whole bunch of new things that I was going to experience, starting with the clothes.

I had to pack my outside clothes and the pyjamas into something called a backpack, and Food Man brought me clothes to wear to what he called home. The sweater was very comfortable and I liked it a lot, but the jeans were weird and felt weird on my legs. He tried to convince me to wear shoes again, but I had to draw the line somewhere. Shoes were just too far. I just kept my BatMan socks and sandals on, because they were much safer.

I met Dale in the morning when Food Man brought pancakes and then she brought me a new hat, which was very nice of her. I was a bit nervous at first, because she was new, and new people were scary, but she was almost as nice as Food Man, so I liked her.

I had to put all my things away in the backpack, and Food Man carried it when he took my hand and we left the hospital room. It was a very long walk, and I was very tired by the end of it, but I still had enough energy to scream when the glass door moved without anyone touching it.

It scared Dale a little when I screamed, but Food Man quickly pulled me outside before explaining that much like everything else, it was meant to do that, and it was automatic.

I had come to realise recently that even if something was meant to do something scary, that still didn’t mean that I liked it. I spent a while on the grey ground outside the scary doors, and it was only when I was starting to calm down that I felt a stab on my leg and lots of little moving black things.

“Patrick! Buddy! It’s just an ant bite, it’s alright!” Food Man grabbed my arm when I tried to run. “It’s okay, it’s okay, they didn’t wanna hurt you, you just sat on their home, yeah?”

We stood there for a while, and when I didn’t calm down, Food Man gently put his arms around me and squeezed gently. And even though it was super weird, I didn’t hate it.

“Shhhh.” He whispered. “No more ants. We’re nearly at the car.”

“W-What’s this called?” I asked quietly, leaning in to the gesture.

Food Man chuckled softly. “A hug. Do you like it?”

“Uh huh.” I mumbled, feeling the blood rush to my cheeks.

“I thought you might.” He smiled, pulling away. “C’mon, let’s go find the car.”

The mysterious car was a lot like the box on wheels that I was in before the hospital. Food Man had to help me get in to the back seat, and there was a really weird thing called a seat belt that I’d never seen before either.

Food Man did try and point out things out the window, but my favourite thing about the car was the sun roof. It was big and open and let all the sun into the car, and onto my jeans and sweater and hat. Then the wind blew my hair around, and it blew into Food Man’s face, and that just made me laugh.

The car was fun, and I liked it, until it got very slow and there were people everywhere. Faces pressed to windows, flashes of bright light that made me jump and cry, and it wasn’t long before Food Man had pulled the hood on the sweater over my head and told all the faces things like “Show some bloody respect!”

And then came the run. Food Man had to pull me out of the car as fast as he could, and then were people everywhere. Some of them grabbed my sweater, some of them touched my hand, and I screamed every time. Food Man and Dale just put their arms around me, and tried to run to a door on the outside of the home.

And then we were inside. Both of my sandals had fallen off when the people were around me, and I just crumbled to the floor and cried while Dale and Food Man pulled long bits of clothes over the windows.

“Who the hell tipped off the TV station?!” Food Man asked, seemingly very upset.

“I don’t know!” Dale replied in the same manner, twisting the locks on the door.

I didn’t like the noise the locks made, and that made me cry more, but I don’t think Food Man or Dale noticed.

“They’re all gone now, Patrick.” Food Man’s voice was soft as he sat down beside me. “It’s just us.”

“S-Sandals.” I sniffled, wiping my nose on my sleeve.

“Oh? Oh, that’s alright. We’ll get you more sandals.” He assured. “Hey, we made it home.”

That was when I looked up, and almost felt dizzy thanks to the sheer number of things there were to look at. Some things I knew, most things I didn’t, and in alarm I grabbed Food Man’s hand.

He just chuckled softly, and helped me to my feet. “Wanna have a look?”

Food Man followed me around while I nervously wandered around, and he told me the word for things as I touched them or looked at them. Things like Table, Candle, Phone, Laptop, and my personal new favourite, couch.

“It’s like bed.” I told him, sitting down on it. “But only for sitting.”

“Yeah, that’s about it.” He laughed.

Then there was Tee Vee, but I already knew that one, and kitchen bench, chair, stool and fruit. There were so many words for so many new things, and I was starting to feel really scared that I wouldn’t remember them all. Food Man was spending a long time to tell them to me, and I didn’t wanna make him sad.

“So, um, that’s a mug, and that’s a glass.” He explained. “And they’re both cups. Hey, is everything okay Patrick? You look sad.”

“There’s so many t-things.” I mumbled, looking down at my socks.

“I know, it’s pretty scary, huh?” Food Man always seemed to understand these things. “Don’t worry if you don’t know them all today, or if you forget. There’s no rush, just take your time.”

“Hopefully your time is fast, because I want my room back.” Another set of feet appeared beside mine, and I quickly looked up.

Pete.” Food Man said, in a not-very-happy tone.

“People kept showing up this morning and bringing like, gifts or whatever for him.” Pete told his father. “I put them in the spare room.”

“I told you not to accept anything!”

“I didn’t! They dropped it on the doorstep and ran! It was weird, actually.” Pete shrugged.

“You’re bigger than you were in the photo.” I told him. I thought Pete was going to be small, but he was bigger than me and a bit scarier than I thought he’d be.

He looked at me for a moment, before discarding what I’d said and turning to Food Man. “I’m going to Andy’s.”

“No, you’re not.” Food Man told him.

“Why not?”

“Because Patrick’s here now, and it’s his first day home so we’re all going to help him feel welcome.”

“Oh come on, that’s not fair!” He sounded sad. “It’s fine if you wanna raise science experiments, but you can’t use that as an excuse to take my life away from me!”

“It’s one afternoon, and you will be here.” Food Man told him.

Pete huffed in frustration and turned to me. I grabbed Food Man’s hand, because he looked a little scary, but he didn’t say anything. Just looked at my face, huffed again, and left the room.

“Sorry about that, Patrick.” Food Man apologised.

“Where’s he going?” I asked.

“Probably back to his room.”

At that, I tensed. “We need to help him!”

“Oh?” It took Food Man a moment, before he looked sad. “Right. Okay, Patrick, so there’s no locks on the bedroom doors. Everyone is allowed to go in and out of their bedrooms as much as they want. It’s very different to your old room.”

“Why would he want to go back to his room when he could be outside?” Was my next question, turning to the window.

Food Man laughed again when I said that. “I’m not sure, Patrick.”

Chapter Text

Pete

Having Patrick in the house was much alike introducing a new puppy to the space. He wandered around, picking things up, sniffling them, and Dad followed him around to pull things out of his mouth when he tried to eat them.

And even though I told myself I really didn’t care, this kid wasn’t my problem, I ended up watching them from afar from the better part of the afternoon. His reactions to things were just, pure. And most of the time, pretty fucking funny.

He looked pretty weird, wearing his jeans tucked into his batman socks and those big goofy glasses that he kept pushing up because they didn’t sit on his nose right. Not to mention he had this enormous head of hair that he kept tame under the hat Mom bought the other day.

Dad had mentioned that the kid had never had a haircut, but to see it in real life was pretty funny. It was practically a cape.

Everything he did was new, and it was really quite funny to watch him take his socks off and dig his toes into the carpet, giggling all the while. And then he ran back and forward for a while, before falling over in a heap of laughter, because “the floor tickles my feet, Food Man!”

He was very clear in announcing the things that he did and did not enjoy. He loved the paintings and spent ages looking over every inch of them, and feeling the texture of the paint under his finger, and more than that he loved the cabinet in the corner of the lounge room. His mind was blown when Dad opened the cupboard door, revealing a messy jumble of old scrapbooks. Nothing special.

“It’s a secret place!” He exclaimed gleefully, taking to opening all the doors and closing them again. Then opening them again and closing them again. I laughed for a while, watching him entertain himself, until he accidently smacked himself in the face with one of the cupboard doors and cried for a while.

I laughed a bit too loudly at that, and Dad glared at me. I just shrugged at him. It wasn’t my fault that he was pretty fucking hilarious to watch.

Patrick hated the mirror. Dad didn’t even notice at first, but then Patrick caught a glimpse of his reflection and screamed like someone was trying to murder him.

“That one’s called a mirror, Patrick.” Dad tried to explain, putting his arm around the kid to comfort him. “It reflects things, see? There’s me, and that’s you!”

Patrick didn’t seem to take that response on board, and flicked his gaze between the mirror and Dad, before growling at his reflection as if it was another person that Dad had his arm around.

“Woah, woah, Patrick, buddy!” Dad pulled him away. “It’s just us. There’s nobody else here.”

“I-It’s got you!” Patrick cried, going back to the mirror with an arm raised. Dad quickly pulled him back, probably because that mirror was Mom’s birthday present last year and cost a small fortune, and Patrick looked like he was totally ready to smash it.

“It doesn’t have me, it’s just a reflection, yeah? Like a photo.” Dad tried to explain. “See, when I lift my arm, the mirror does the same thing because it’s not real, it’s just a reflection.”

Patrick just shook his head and looked away. “It’s scary, I d-don’t like it.”

“That’s alright.” Dad sighed softly, patting his shoulder. “C’mon, let’s go look at something else.”

--------

After many failed attempts of teaching Patrick to climb the stairs, he was finally on the second floor, and being introduced to my our bedroom.

I laid on my bed, pretending to be interested in my twitter feed as Dad put his bag down on the new bed and explained that this bed was for him, and this side of the room was his for all his things and for him to hang out.

He spent a while looking around, mostly analysing the door to check that there were no locks on it, and how the handle worked. Then he spent a while with the window, pressing his face against it and pointing out the things he saw.

I was starting to wonder how Dad had the patience to answer all his stupid questions. They’d been going at this for hours, and I’d only spent 10 minutes listening to him tell Patrick what things were as he picked them up. They weren’t even like, interesting things.

“That’s a deodorant stick, that’s a- no, no, don’t eat that!” Dad quickly pulled my soccer medal out of his mouth. “What’s the rule about food?”

Patrick looked very guilty and diverted his eye contact. “I-It comes on a plate…”

“Okay, good. Just remember that, okay?”

“Okay…” He mumbled.

Dad looked at me. “I might give you two a little bit of time to chat, yeah?”

I immediately put my iPad down and sat up to oppose, but Dad just told me to ”Be nice” and then walked straight out. The kid was staring at me, wided-eyed and curious, but also mildly terrified? Then he caught me looking at him, and quickly retreated to his bed, running his finger gently across the soft blanket Mom had bought.

“So, uh, I’m, uh, Pete.” I scratched the back of my head. How were you even meant to talk to people who had had nearly no contact with humanity?

“Food Man showed me a photo.” He said quietly, touching the top of my desk chair but jumping slightly when it moved. “You’re bigger than I thought you were gonna be.”

“You know Food Man has a name, right?”

“Dr Wentz.” He nodded. “But he’s Food Man.”

“Right…” I shrugged. “I saw a video of you before you came, as well.”

“Video?” He questioned.

“I mean, yeah, it went pretty viral.” I flopped back on my bed and grabbed my iPad, and sure enough, it was still number one on trending on YouTube. He watched me curiously as I turned the volume up, and stared at the screen for a split second.

Then he panicked, threw my iPad as hard as he could against the floor, and fell backwards in a fit of tears.

I didn’t need to look at the screen to know it was smashed, but I did anyway. And he certainly did a number on it, with stripes of flashing pink running across the screen that was shattered into thousands of tiny pieces.

He didn’t fight me when I grabbed his wrist and dragged him to Dad’s office, and shoved my iPad down on the desk angrily. “Your little science experiment broke my iPad.”

Patrick’s eyes filled with tears. “I-I-“

Dad took one look at the iPad and sighed, but didn’t get mad. “I’ll sort it out, Pete. I’ll deal with it. Go help your Mom with dinner.”

With a huff I stormed out, ignoring Dad just comforting the kid who had damaged my property.

--------

Patrick had the table manners of a horse.

Dinner started with introductions to Andrew and Hillary, and he seemed okay during that, but when he sat down between Dad and I at the table, he started getting very nervous. He held Dad’s hand for comfort, and did reach out for mine, but I pulled away.

I wasn’t gonna be best buddies with the guy who’d deliberately smashed my iPad less than an hour earlier.

Mom had made an alfredo, and Patrick spent a while sniffing it, and then sat in silence while watching everyone else eat it. He probably would’ve sat like that for hours unless Dad stespped in. “Everything okay?”

“The rule, right?” He asked hesitantly. “It’s, it’s not a plate…”

Dad laughed. “That’s right, yeah. But this one’s okay to eat. Bowls are okay to eat out of too.”

He held the fork in the wrong hand and stabbed at the pasta for a little while, until he watched Mom twirl her fork around, and then adopted that technique. He got it everywhere, all over his face, his shirt, the table and even in his hair, but was very proud of himself when he finished the bowl.

He was confused when Mom passed him a napkin. Dad ended up taking it and wiping his face clean, and his hands, and his shirt, but gave up when it got to the hair. “Use the shampoo tonight, and give it a good clean, yeah?”

“Yeah.” Patrick nodded, tucking a strand back behind his ear.

---------

I was settled down on my bed, writing away in my journal with some new lyric ideas when Patrick hesitantly tapped my shoulder.

“Yes?” I responded, not looking up from my notebook.

“I, I can’t find the bath…” He mumbled. “It’s not in the bathroom, a-and, and I just wanna clean.”

My first thought when he told me that was thank god this kid has a sense of hygiene. Secondly, I brushed him off. “We don’t have a bath. Go use the shower.”

When he was silent for a few minutes, I groaned and rolled over. “You know what a shower is, right?”

“I-, I, um, I-…”

I groaned again and wandered to the bathroom, opening the shower screen and gesturing at it vaguely. “Shower. Turn the tap on and water falls on you. The soap and shampoo is just there.”

Patrick just stared at me blankly. I patted him on the shoulder as I left. “Go kill em, Tiger.”

It was about 5 minutes later that he returned to my bedroom, tapping my shoulder nervously. “I can’t find the soap…”

“I literally showed you where it was!” I groaned, getting back and dragging him to the bathroom. “See, there on the shelf!”

He made a shape with his fingers.

“We don’t have a bar of soap. We have liquid soap.” I pulled the bottle down and demonstrated the pump. “Does the same thing. It literally says soap on it, Patrick.”

“Oh.” He took the bottle when I handed it to him, and I went back to my notebook.

Bed was welcoming, and certain I’d seen the last of the weirdo, I got right back into my poem. And then sure enough, 5 minutes later, there was another tap on the shoulder.

“Oh for crying out loud!” I exclaimed in frustration. “What is it this time?!”

“I, I c-couldn’t turn it on…” He whispered.

I can’t believe I’m doing this. I opened my cupboard and threw him a pair of swimming trunks. “Put this on. No, not on top of your jeans! Jesus!”

I went to put my own swimming trunks on, and when I came back, he had successfully completed the task. “What’s this for?”

“I’m gonna teach you to fucking shower, that’s what.” I huffed. “Come on.”

The shower was fairly large, and Patrick stood on the far wall while I turned the shower on and let the water run to a gentle warmth on my hand. “Alright, come here.”

He was all wide-eyed, and terrified, and shook his head in fear.

“It’s just water, kid.” I told him. “Like a bath, but standing up.”

I sprayed the water at him a little. He screamed bloody murder and grabbed his arm where I sprayed. “HOT!”

“It’s just warm, Patrick.” I tested the water again. This wasn’t hot. This was like, lukewarm. “Not hot.”

“Make it cold.” He tried to tell me.

“No, we’re not having a cold shower.” I huffed. “Come here, it’s not that bad.”

He stood tensed and eyes down as I sprayed him with water, making sure to get it all through his hair. I chuckled softly. “They didn’t starve you, did they?”

“What?” He mumbled.

“I mean, you’re not exactly skinny, kid.” I shrugged. “Hand out, soap time.”

He seemed interested in the soap when I pumped a little out, and he spent a while just staring at it and sniffing it when I soaped myself up. Although I had to run and pull his hand away when he tried to eat it. “I know it’s apple scented, but not food, okay?! It doesn’t taste good.”

He froze, like he’d been caught doing something bad, and just nodded and got to soaping.

The shampoo was a whole other can of worms. For starters, the kid’s hair was enormous. And so I’m pretty sure I gave him like half a bottle as I squirted it out onto his scalp. He just stared at me in confusion for most of it, and really didn’t know what I meant when I made the gesture to lather it up.

Please tell me you’ve washed your hair before.”

“I, I use the soap, a-and I do it under the bath water…”

“Well, this is special soap, for hair.” I explained, putting a little on my own hand and lathering it up in my own hair. “It foams up when you rub it in.”

He was still staring at me when I finished washing the shampoo off, and I groaned. “Hands to your hair, yeah? And just like, do like, this…”

I probably demonstrated for about half a second, before he started smiling. Then I pulled my hands away and quickly washed them off. “I’m not washing your fucking hair for you, kid.”

He spent the next 10 minutes lathering the shampoo up silently in the corner. He seemed a little disheartened thanks to my rejection, but I think I made up for that by holding the shower head up while he washed it all out.

“Well, that’s pretty much it.” I turned the water off and threw him a towel. “That’s a shower.”

“I like baths more.” He told me.

“Yeah, yeah. The swimming trunks can go in the laundry basket, just there.” I put my own towel around me to get changed in my room. “Please make yourself decent.”

He just stared blankly at me as I left.

---------

My sleep schedule was pretty bad during the summer, but this kid’s was on another level.

When he was yawning at about 8, Dad tucked him in and he seemed to sleep, but then he was back up at 10:30 with his weird fucking BatMan pyjamas.

“Couldn’t sleep?” Dad asked with a kind smile.

“Woke up.” Patrick shrugged, holding out his bandaged hand. “A-And it hurts a lot.”

If I was smart, I wouldn’t have watched Dad change the dressing. But I wasn’t smart, and almost threw up. “What the hell is that!?”

“Burn.” Patrick shrugged, watching Dad gently apply the layer of gauze.

“Pete, can you just grab the aspirin from the cupboard, please?” Dad glared at me.
I did, but didn’t stop the questions.

“Where’d you even burn your hand that bad!?”

“Bedroom.” Patrick said plainly. “And the fire.”

Dad just finished bandaging it up and gave him the pill. “Now, you just put this one on your tongue, and then wash it down with the water, yeah? I don’t have any of the syrup they had in the hospital.”

Patrick tried to bite into it like an m&m. Clearly that went well, and Dad then spent the next half hour comforting his tears and giving him more water to clear the taste out.

“Alright, c’mon, it’s been a very big day, I think it’s bedtime for both of you.” Dad sighed. “C’mon, upstairs.”

“What? It’s summer!” I defended.

“It’s one day.”

Fine.

The lights were out, the blankets were tucked, and I was drifting off to sleep when another body tried to crawl up beside me.

Patrick?! Patrick, what the fuck?!” I asked sleepily. “Dude, this is a twin bed! Two of us aren’t gonna fucking fit!”

He didn’t say anything, just clenched his eyes closed. Probably with the whole ideal of ‘I can’t see you, you can’t see me’ type of thing.

I shoved him with my elbow. “Get out of my bed, dude!”

“P-Please…”

“Fucking hell. You teach a guy to shower… no homo, alright?!”

“I, um, I…”

I rolled over so I wasn’t facing him. “Go to sleep, Patrick.”

He didn’t respond.

Chapter Text

Patrick

Food Man’s home was now my favourite place to be ever.

Even though yesterday was very scary, and there were so many things that I didn’t like, there were lots of fun things too. Like the carpet, and the cupboards and the couch.

I think the best thing about Food Man’s house is that I’m allowed to go wherever I want to, and there’s so many rooms that it’s lots of fun to go walking and find new places. I think I’ve found them all, but it’s exciting to think that there might be even more to discover.

Food Man’s family is very nice. Dale and Andrew and Hillary are all super nice to me and explain things to me when I don’t get them. Pete is sometimes like that, but sometimes he gets upset and I get worried that he’ll be mad. I don’t know if I like him yet, but I like the room that I live in with him and I like his hair a lot.

Not to mention he didn’t kick me out of his bed when I couldn’t sleep. Every time I closed my eyes I thought I was back with Mom and that was super scary, but when I was lying with Pete I could feel him next to me and didn’t think that.

I don’t know how long he’ll let me sleep in his bed though. He didn’t seem very happy when he woke me up and said I wasn’t allowed to hug him in bed, because apparently that was weird and I was weird and then he just huffed and went downstairs.

But downstairs was fun. Food Man made me a drink called a hot chocolate and it was very nice, even if I cried at first because it was hot and hot things were scary. But then it cooled down, and it was amazing, and he didn’t even mind when I asked for more, and I got to drink 3 whole cups of it.

But then I got sick and then I wasn’t allowed any more.

There were no pancakes for breakfast, sadly, but something called waffles which were a weird shape. They tasted amazing though, so it was okay. But not as good as pancakes.

We sat at the chair on the tables like we did last night for breakfast, and Food Man kept trying to wipe the syrup off my face with the napkin. I didn’t get any in my hair though, so that was alright.

“Andy and Joe are coming over today.” Pete announced, clearing the dishes

“No, they are not.” Food Man frowned.

“Yes, they are.” Pete spat back. “They’ve been coming over today for weeks. You knew about this!”

“Well, you guys are going to have to hang out outside the house.” Food Man took a nervous breath. “The police are visiting to do Patrick’s interview, and we’re going to be in your room.”

“What?! No, you can’t take my room!” Pete huffed. “They can interview fine in the living room!”

“Pete, this isn’t negotiable.” Food Man told him sternly. “You can hang out with your friends, that’s fine, but not in the house.”

He turned to me. “Why can’t you just go to the police station like a normal person?!”

“I, um…”

“Pete, do you think this is easy for him?!” Food Man started to get mad. “Show some respect!”

“Why should I when you don’t respect my rights to my own fucking bedroom!?”

“Language!”

“Oh fuck you!” Pete yelled, slamming the cupboard door and storming out of the room.

Even though Food Man called me back, I followed Pete all the way up the stairs and to the bedroom. He was lying on his bed, his little piece of metal in his hands, and glared at me when I hesitantly opened the door.

“Go away, weirdo.”

I just sat down on my own bed, and fiddled with the edge of the bandage on my hand. “Why did you yell at Food Man?”

“I yelled at fucking food man because he thinks that he can say my friends can come over weeks ago and then it gets to the actual day and then says they can’t come anymore. He loves you more than me. You’re his little project, and besides, you’re like, all up in him and give him hugs and shit.”

“Hugs are good though…” I mumbled.

“Yeah, yeah, whatever.” Pete rolled over, holding his piece of metal closer to his face. “You’ll probably get your karma in the interview.”

“What’s an in-inter, intervow?”

Interview.” He corrected. “Look, the cops are coming to ask you shit about your Mom and how she abused you or whatever. Sounds like a hell of a good time. You have fun with that.”

Immediately I shook my head. “I, I don’t wanna about talk Mom. She’s gone now and I’m not dead and I’m not sick.”

“Hey, I got no control over it. I’m just getting kicked out of my bedroom.” Pete shrugged carelessly.

“I’m not sick!”

“Yeah, cool. Good for you.” Pete sighed. “C’mon, let me at least pretend I’ve got the room to myself for half an hour before I get kicked to the curb.”

-------

The police were very weird.

The wore something called uniforms and had so many weird things with them. Food Man shook their hands and offered them something called tea and coffee, which they declined, and then they asked to set up somewhere “Where he’d be comfortable, and we’re unlikely to be uninterrupted.”

Pete had to go to the lounge room and we ended up in the bedroom, the police on Pete’s bed and Food Man and I on my bed. I nervously thumbed over the soft blanket, and ended up trying to hide under it, until Food Man pulled it off my head.

“Hi Patrick! How are you today?” One of them – the girl one – smiled at me.

Bad.” I muttered.

“Oh no! Why’s that?”

“Because you’re here and you wanna talk about Mom and that’s not fair.” I huffed at her, something I’d learned from Pete. “She’s gone and I don’t wanna talk about her.”

The boy one was the next one to speak, and he made a lot more sense. “See, Patrick, Your Mom isn’t actually gone yet. She’s in a little bit of trouble, but we need to know a lot more about how she treated you before she’s gone forever. And the only person who can tell us those things is you. So if you want her to be gone, and never to come back, then you need to talk to us a little about those things.”

Before I had a chance to respond, the lady had put a photo down in front of me. “Do you recognise this?”

“Bedroom.” I whispered, before shaking my head. “It’s different.”

“It got a bit burnt in the fire.” She explained. “But that’s your room?”

I nodded, and traced my finger over the bed frame. “That’s bed, and t-that’s the bathtub, and there’s the beam and t-there’s the vent and, and the d-door, and yeah…”

She nodded. “Did you ever go to any other rooms in your house?”

I shook my head. “Too sick…”

“What do you mean by that, Patrick?”

“M-Mom said I couldn’t leave the room because I was sick.” I bit my lip nervously, but continued when Food Man held my good hand. “A-And then she said if I left then I was, I was gonna die because there were germs and they’d get into me and kill me. B-But it was all a lie!”

The lady nodded sympathetically while the man wrote something down. “How often did you see your Mom?”

“She, she brought food, um… often?” I bit my lip again. “Not super often, but um, yeah…”

“Once a day, twice a day, three times a day?”

“I, I didn’t know what days were.” I muttered.

Thankfully they didn’t dwell on that. “What kind of food did she give you?”

“Sandwiches.” It didn’t take more than a second. “Three, cut into triangles. And a cup of milk.”

“Every single time?”

I nodded. “It used to be two but then I got bigger and needed three.”

“Did your Mom ever talk to you, when she brought food?”

I clenched my eyes closed and hummed softly.

“Patrick?” Food Man was the next to speak. That sucked. I could ignore the police people, but I could never ignore Food Man.

“That I was s-sick, a-and sometimes she’d, she’d, she’d want to have a lit, little c-chat…”

“And what was a little chat?”

Immediately I flinched, and clenched my eyes closed. That wasn’t something I wanted to talk about.

“Patrick?” The girl asked.

I shook my head. “No.

“Patrick, buddy, it’s important you let us know what happened.” Food Man took my hand again. “What’s a little chat?”

She’d always enter the room quietly, letting the door close, before the locks went *click* and it was just the two of us. Then she’d sit on the edge of the bed and trace her hand down my body. “It’s time we had a little chat.”

And then I was there again. And then the walls were closing in and “Let’s have a little chat” and I was screaming and pulling and yelling and “Let’s have a little chat” and the walls were closing in. Then there was “No, Patrick! Patrick! Not the bandages!” But the walls were closing in and I was back and Mom was there and “Let’s have a little chat”

I tried to fight the hands and screamed and pulled more and then scratched and scratched and scratched while the walls closed in and Mom was there and there was no sun and no hospital and no Food Man and no BatMan socks and no sandals and no Pete. There was only Mom and “It’s time we had another little chat.”

“Patrick! Patrick, stop! You’re bleeding!”

“NO CHATS! NO CHATS!” I screamed, pulling on my hair and scratching my arms and yelling and kicking and trying to get out.

And then there was a hug, and everything went still. Food Man’s hugs were very good, and he held me very tightly until everything left my head and it was okay, because I was here, in the new room, and Food Man was here, and everything was okay.

“Okay, okay, good.” Food Man murmured, before turning to the police people. “I think that’s enough for today.”

Thankfully they didn’t argue.

Food Man seemed mostly interested in my hand, which he quickly pressed the bandages to, to try and stop the blood from covering the bed even more than it already was. But that didn’t really matter all that much.

“O-Outside.” I told him. “I need to.”

“We’ll go outside soon, buddy, we just gotta clean this up first.” He told me, not looking up from my hand.

That wasn’t fair. I was told I was allowed to go wherever I wanted in this house. So I got up from the bed, pulled my arm away from Food Man, and ran.

 

 

Pete

After being kicked out of my own house, Joe, Andy and I were lying around the backyard, just talking about the weirdo that had somehow entered my life.

“Does he even know that he’s famous?” Joe asked.

I shook my head. “He doesn’t even know what the internet is. He knows nothing. I literally had to show him how to shower.”

“Well, like, it’s understandable considering where he grew up.” Andy shrugged. “It’s not his fault that he doesn’t know anything.”

“I’m just mad he broke my iPad.” I huffed.

Andy was about to say something else wise when the kid appeared on the other side of the glass door. He seemed pretty panicked, trying to push it open and all. I was about to walk over and demonstrate you needed to slide it, when he pushed his fist straight through the glass, shattering the door.

Then I saw the blood. It was oozing from his burnt hand, which was missing it’s bandages, and covered his shirt and his pants and it was all through his hair.
He stumbled over when he landed on the grass, but quickly pulled himself up and ran to us. He threw his two bloody arms around me in the weirdest hug I’d ever gotten, and buried his face in the crook of my neck while he started sobbing.

I mean, sure, that was one way to be forward?

I couldn’t find the strength to push him off though, and awkwardly patted his back. “Interview wasn’t very fun, huh?”

He didn’t respond. Both Joe and Andy were staring at me with looks that I could only interpret as what the fuck?

“So, um, this is Joe, and this is Andy…” I introduced nervously, the kid still squeezing the life out of me and sobbing into my shoulder. “Guys, this is, uh, Patrick, I guess.”

He pulled away, thank god, and looked over them, before giving a very hesitant wave with his non-bleeding hand.

As far as first impressions go, this was certainly one to be remembered. But as always, Andy was good and kind and waved back. “Nice to meet you.”

Dad came running over, after analyzing the whole door situation, and rushed to talk. “Patrick! There you are buddy!”

Patrick looked down at his hand that was still oozing blood. “It h-hurts, Food Man…”

“It looks like it does.” He nodded in agreement. “Do you wanna come with me, and I’ll see if I can fix it up a little so it hurts less?”

He nodded, and was about to leave, when he looked at me. “Will y-you come?”

“Come?” Watch this kid’s gross hand be cleaned and given more painkillers? Yeah, no thanks. “I gotta stay here with Joe and Andy so they don’t get lonely. But when it’s clean, you can come back and we can all sit out here.”

He looked so destroyed as he hung his head and walked inside with Dad. I ignored Andy’s lecture on how heartless that was, and sat waiting for him to come back. He didn’t.

Chapter Text

Pete

I didn’t see Patrick again for the rest of the afternoon, and both Andy and Joe went home without a proper introduction. He never came back from getting his hand fixed, and when I went back inside to watch TV, he wasn’t hanging around there either.

I only saw him again when it got to dinner time. He’d showered, thank the lord, and was now clean of the blood that had coated him only a few hours previous. His hand was bundled back in thick bandages, and Hillary had braided his hair to keep it from going in his food.

He didn’t say anything when he sat down next to me, just looked down at his lap until Mom gave him a plate of roast. Then she took it back and cut it up into bite-sized pieces for him, and returned it.

I could have made fun of him if I wanted, but I kept quiet. He looked too solemn already.

Well, I kept quiet for the first 5 minutes of dinner until the silence was getting unsettling.

“So….” I tried to force some conversation. “Interview went well?”

No.” Patrick growled through a mouthful of food.

“Patrick, honey, don’t talk with your mouth full.” Mom corrected, before glaring at me.

Patrick didn’t talk again for the rest of the meal, and ate quietly, only missing his mouth with the fork a couple of times. My siblings filled the air with useless conversation about how college was going, until Andrew decided that it would be good to discuss my decision not to join the soccer team again this year.

And once again, all the old arguments were reinvigorated, and it was me against my family.

“You were all-state last year, Pete!” Andrew tried to reason. “And you’re on track to be captain this year! Soccer players actually earn a hell of a lot of money, you know?”

“I just don’t want to do it, okay?!” I huffed. “I want to focus on music and I can’t be at soccer training 6 nights a week and also be able to focus on my band.”

“The band was just a summer thing though!” Dad told me. “You’re not throwing away your future over something like this!”

“What would you know?! It’s not your future!”

“Don’t you speak to your father like that!” Mom snapped.

“He’s not treating me with any respect, so why would I?!”

Our yelling was interrupted by a guttural scream from Patrick, who had pressed his hands to his ears and had ended up in a fit of tears. If it had been one octave higher, I wouldn’t have been surprised if it had smashed all the glasses on the table.

Silence immediately took over the table, and we all stared at the weirdo in alarm. Patrick took a few staggered breaths with his eyes clenched, and when he opened them to the entire family staring at him with a mix of worried and startled expressions, he abandoned dinner and sprinted out of the room.

Dad went to go after him, but Mom grabbed his hand. “Give him a moment to collect himself. He’s overwhelmed.”

“Obviously!”

“Exactly. Give him a few minutes of silence, then check up on him, okay?”

Hillary and I cleared the plates in silence.

---------

It had clearly been a very long and hard day for the weirdo, and by the time I headed upstairs to crash for the night, he was still sitting up on his bed with Dad, talking about god knows what. He went quiet as I walked in though, and pulled his knees to his chest.

“It’s getting pretty late.” Dad told him, pulling the blanket down. “I think it might be time for bed.”

Patrick didn’t argue and Dad tucked him in before leaving. But when I came back from the bathroom, he was sitting on the edge of my bed, staring down at his lap.

“Nope.” I told him flatly, pointing to the bed on the other side of the room. “I was nice last night because it was your first, but you’re in your own bed tonight.”

“P-Please?”

“And wake up with your arms around me like last night? No, Patrick. You can sleep in your own bed. I’m literally just across the room, you don’t need to be in my bubble.”

He seemed to be pondering the meaning of what I’d just said, and I groaned, pulling the blanket out from under him. “Get off my fucking bed, Patrick!”

I probably wouldn’t have said anything else if he didn’t look so damn destroyed as he wiped his nose on his sleeve and got up from my bed, fixing the blankets and trotting over to the far corner.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake. C’mon, get back here.”

He didn’t need to be asked twice. There was no doubt that the bed was squishy, and he squished himself as far against the wall as he could so that I wasn’t hanging half off the bed. Then he just looked at me, with those big curious eyes as he watched my face only centimetres from his own.

I wasn’t sure what I was expecting as the next gesture, but I certainly wasn’t expecting for him to lean forward and lick my cheek.

“PATRICK! EW!” I scrambled to wipe the saliva away. “Dude, what the fuck!?

He panicked and quickly bolted upright, eyes wide and terrified. “Did I h-hurt you?!”

I pointed at his bed. “Go.”

“I-I’m sorry! I saw y-you do it to Dale when she said g-goodnight, and I, I, I just-“

“Dale’s my fucking mother, Patrick!” I snapped angrily, tossing the blanket off both of us and getting out of bed. “And I kissed her, lightly, not whatever the fuck that was!”

“I’m s-sorry!”

I pointed at his bed for what felt like the millionth time. “Go, Patrick.”

Satisfied I’d finally gotten rid of the weirdo, I settled back down to sleep. With the bed to myself, I could spread out a little, and was settling right down into my favourite position when the silence was broken with quiet sobs from the other side of the room.

I tried to ignore it, but after a good 30 minutes of tossing and turning, I realised there was no point. With a sigh, I flicked the lamp on. “Alright, c’mon kid, you got another chance, just come here and please be quiet.”

No response.

“Patrick, c’mon, I’m sorry I yelled, you can come back.”

Again, no response.

I swore internally as I dragged my feet across the floor and poked his shoulder from outside the blanket cocoon he’d wrapped himself in. He flinched a little, but didn’t respond.

“C’mon, kid, I’m sorry, okay?” I sighed. “Please.”

“I-I’m fine.” He very clearly lied.

“Alright, shuffle over.”

“What?”

I pushed him to the side a little and flopped onto the bed beside him. His bed wasn’t any bigger than my own, but once again we forced ourselves to fit. He didn’t turn around, nor stop crying, but I guess that was alright. If he wasn’t pushing me out of the bed, then clearly I wasn’t the one he was crying about.

Which left the question; why was he crying?

“Hey, hey, it’s alright.” I tried to pretend to be Dad. “I’m here now, kid. Everything’s alright.”

“N-No.” He sniffled. “It’s not.”

It probably would have been good if I had something to say in response to that. I didn’t.

 

 

Patrick

Food Man made pancakes for breakfast. I had planned to spend the day sitting outside in the grass and in the sun, but the thought of pancakes was enough to bring me inside for a little while.

I didn’t want to sit at the table though. Last time that happened everyone started yelling and I didn’t like it at all. Instead, I watched everyone else eat their pancakes from my spot in the living room, and ignored Food Man’s invitations to come and sit with them.

I waited until everyone else was gone from the table before I crept up and sat next to Food Man. The pancakes were a little cold, but they were still super delicious, so that didn’t matter.

Nothing would ever be better than pancakes.

“So, Patrick, we’re gonna go somewhere new today, yeah?” Food Man started a conversation with the words I wanted to hear least right now.

I just shook my head. “It’s better here.”

“I know you like it here, and we’ll come straight back here when we’re done, okay?” He assured me. “We’re gonna go to somewhere called the mall, because you have 3 sets of clothes and you’re on the third and you need more.”

I was gonna tell him that I did have more, back in old bedroom, but I decided against it when I remembered that I never wanted to ever wear those clothes again.

“You can’t take him anywhere like that, Dad.” Pete told him, wandering through the kitchen. “At least stop at a barber shop on the way.”

“His appearance is the least of your worries, Mr Eyeliner.” Food Man told him.

You’re not the one that had to clean out the shower drain this morning.” Pete rebutted quickly. “He’s like, shedding. Everywhere. It’s all through our room, and the bathroom, and you don’t even wanna look at the vacuum filter.”

Pete.

“P-Please don’t yell…” I mumbled.

Food Man sighed at that. “We’re not yelling, buddy. Pete, we’re going to the mall in an hour. We’ll get your iPad fixed while we’re there.”

----------

After a very, very long conversation with Food Man about what ‘money’ was, and how we were gonna use it to buy clothes, he sent me upstairs to get changed and ‘get ready to go’. I didn’t know what that meant, but that was okay. I knew what ‘get changed’ meant, so hopefully that was enough.

I had only just finished doing up the buttons on the weird shirt before Pete grabbed my hand and dragged me to the bathroom, where he’d gotten one of the seats from the kitchen.

“What?” I asked.

“This, my friend, is an intervention.” He smiled, gesturing for me to sit on the stool.

I didn’t like the stool, it made me face straight into the thing that food man had called a mirror, and I wasn’t a huge fan of that. There were two Pete’s now, one behind me and one in front of me, and there was another person in the mirror too, staring straight at me.

“Still getting used to your reflection, huh?” Pete asked, grabbing a pair of scissors. “So I’m gonna cut your hair so it’s short like mine, cool?”

I didn’t even have a chance to react before he was hacking at my braid, and huffing in frustration when it was hard. And then in one final snip, it was gone.

“This thing is heavy, kid.” Pete threw it onto my lap, continuing to snip away while I felt the weight of my long hair in my hands. There was so much of it, but I’d been in a place where I didn’t have a Pete to cut it for a very long time.

So I guess that was a good thing. But I didn’t like the way my head felt without it, and I kept shaking it back and forth as Pete snipped more stuff away. That was, until Dale walked in and gasped in shock. “PETE!”

I immediately pressed my hands to my ears. I hated the shouting, and Food Man’s family did so much of it.

“It was time for an intervention.” Pete smiled proudly.

“Oh, Patrick, sweetheart…” Dale combed her fingers through my hair, before taking the scissors from Pete. “I’ll… salvage what I can…”

“My haircutting skills are amazing, thank you very much.” Pete huffed.

“This is two inches long on one side and five on the other.”

“He doesn’t sit still!”

I sat and watched the weirdo in the mirror while Dale went around and gently snipped away. She was a lot nicer to my head than Pete was, and held my head still whenever I went to shake my hair out.

“Don’t give him bangs, Mom!” Pete whined.

“Well, you didn’t really leave me much of a choice.” She murmured. “Okay, okay, I think that’s… okay.”

The weird kid in the mirror had short hair now. It was swept slightly to the side, and neatly trimmed around the ears and the back. He put a hat on when I put a hat on, and I smiled at him because he looked a lot better with short hair.

“I like your hair now. Second Dale did a good job.” I told him.

Pete laughed. I couldn’t figure out why.

Chapter Text

Patrick

Last time I’d been in the car, I’d spent the entire time looking up at the sunroof and giggling when the wind blew my hair into Food Man’s face and he made a funny noise and it was very fun. This time, the car didn’t have a sunroof, and this time I didn’t have long hair to blow into Food Man’s face.

This time I was sitting in a small seat in the middle, between Hillary and Pete while Food Man and Dale sat in the front seat of the car. Andrew wasn’t coming with us, because Food Man said that he needed to stay in the house while some people came to fix the door that had been broken yesterday.

The seat belt was tight across my lap and my chest, and I kept trying to pull it away while we drove. Food Man pointed to a few things that were outside the car windows, but I wasn’t listening. I was more focused on this weird black strip that was trying to choke me to focus on anything else.

I decided that I didn’t like the car. It made a very weird noise, and the middle seat was too small and Pete and Hillary were tapping away at their little pieces of metal and my hair felt weird and the seat wasn’t comfortable and I didn’t like it at all.

Eventually Hillary put away her little piece of metal and smiled at me. “What’s wrong?”

“I just, I don’t like the car.” I mumbled, fiddling with my bandage until she pulled my hand away.

“Awww, well, we’re nearly there.” She assured. “You’re gonna get some more clothes?”

I nodded.

“What kind of clothes do you wanna get?”

I thought about that for a while. “Shirts.”

“Yeah? That’s good.”

“And pants.” I told her.

“Good choice.” She chuckled. “And shoes too?”

I shook my head quickly. “No shoes. I don’t like shoes.”

“Ah. Yeah, that’s alright. The socks and sandals look is working for you.”

Pete glared at her when she said that. I just wriggled my toes against the new pair of sandals and really hoped that I’d never have to wear shoes.

“And you’ve never been shopping before, huh?”

I shook my head.

“Well, that’s exciting!” She smiled and gently nudged my shoulder with her own. “Shopping is one of my favourite things. I’d do it every day if I had the money.”

“Actually, speaking of money…” Food Man spoke from the front. “Here.”

He gave a piece of paper to Pete, 5 pieces of paper to me, and one piece of paper to Hillary. All of them were green, with different words and different pictures on them. They didn’t smell very nice, or feel very nice for that matter, but Pete’s eyes went wide when he saw that I had them.

“Why does he get that much?!”

“They’re just to look at during the car ride, Pete.” Food Man sighed. “So Patrick, that’s what money looks like.”

Money. Food Man had briefly explained the concept to me back at home. Little pieces of paper that represented the number of dollars that they were worth. And then you could use the dollars to buy things from the store, like trading. And because the store had clothes and wanted money, and because we had money and wanted clothes, then we were gonna go in and swap them.

It was weird. Little pieces of paper were stupid things to want. If I had clothes and wanted to swap them for something, I’d just swap them for pancakes.

I gave Food Man the money back when the car stopped, and scrambled to get out because I still really didn’t like it. The place we were in had lots and lots of other cars in it, and boxes painted on the ground for them to stop in. I was about to wander off and have a look when Food Man grabbed my hand. “Stay with me, yeah?”

“Yeah.” I looked down at my feet.

There were lots of people in the mall, and it was so bright and noisy that I wanted to cry. I didn’t though. I just held Food Man’s hand very tightly and picked at my bandages. I’d never seen so many people in my life, not even in the hospital where I thought there were more people than was even possible.

They all walked very quickly, some of them pushing metal cages on wheels, and some of them pulling along little people by the hand. Some of them looked at me, and stared, but most of them didn’t even notice as they pushed past everyone else to go to somewhere else. I tried to hide behind Food Man, and hide from all these people.

“You’re okay, Patrick.” Food Man squeezed my hand comfortingly. “They’re just here for the same reasons we are.”

“I d-don’t like it!” I cried.

“Okay, okay, let’s go somewhere a little quieter, okay?”

It was great in theory, but when ‘going somewhere a little quieter’ meant pushing through crowds of people, and feeling their arms brush mine and them all being so close and there just being so many of them, it was the worst thing ever. All I could hear was the noise and I hated the touching and in a frantic last resort, I pressed my hands to my ears and screamed.

Turns out that it’s actually a really good way to get people away from you.

“Patrick!” Food Man immediately wrapped me in a hug. “Shhhh. Shhhh. It’s okay. It’s okay.”

The hug made it a little better, and I cried for a little bit because everyone was looking at me and there were just so many of them and I hated it. Food Man just kept telling me it was okay, and I was safe, and nobody was gonna hurt me and I was okay. I didn’t feel okay.

“I w-wanna go home.” I sniffled.

“Soon, buddy.” He assured me. “We just gotta go this way for a little bit first, yeah? But I’m here, and Dale and Pete and Hillary, and we’re all gonna make sure you’re okay and we won’t let anything bad happen. Is that okay?”

“O-Okay…”

He smiled at me and fixed my hat. I just looked down at the floor as we walked out of that spot and into another place that had a lot less people in it.

I reached for Pete’s hand to hold as well as we walked. He just pulled away.

 

 

Pete

Shopping with Dad and Patrick wasn’t exactly my idea of a good time.

Mom and Hillary had gone to shop for women’s clothes, so now I was following Dad and Patrick around Old Navy as Patrick mostly looked like he was going to cry again and Dad just kept trying to show him things and ask him if he liked them.

I recommended we go to Hot Topic instead. Dad just glared at me.

It was clear the kid was not enjoying himself. The 3 meltdowns he’d had so far since leaving the house was living proof of that, not to mention that he was asking every few minutes if it was time to go home yet. Every single time, Dad would just remind him that he needed to get some new clothes, and then they could go home. Then he’d suggest another item of clothing, and Patrick would just shake his head and go back to looking like this shopping trip was torturing him.

And to be honest, it probably was. For a kid who was terrified of crowds, being in the mall was the greatest nightmare known to him. He actually got so startled that he fell over when the shop assistant asked him if he needed any help finding something.

“We’re right.” I told her with a tight-lipped smile as Patrick started crying once again.

I was starting to think that we were gonna come away from this shopping trip with nothing, when Patrick found the mushroom hoodie. Both Dad and I stared at him as he picked it up, but it was the first smile we’d gotten from him since we’d left the house, so Dad just smiled back. “That one, huh?”

“Mushrooms.” He smiled. “Like in the dinner!”

“Yeah, like in the dinner.” Dad chuckled and sorted through the rack, before grabbing his size. “Alright. We’ve got one thing. Let’s find some more.”

It was smooth sailing after that. Patrick just said yes to practically everything, holding the mushroom hoodie tightly in his arms. He ended up wanting just t-shirts and sweatpants, essentially, but Dad did make him get another pair of jeans and a couple of nice shirts.

He seemed to really like the cardigan that Dad picked up. I wasn’t one to go around judging people’s fashion choices, but this kid seemed to have the fashion sense of an old man. I didn’t say anything though. Dad would be mad.

He seemed to relax a little, and didn’t even freak out when Dad made him hand the cashier the money for the clothes. Then he told her that it was silly that she wanted pieces of paper for them, when she could ask for pancakes instead. Dad apologised, but she just laughed and told him that she was going to use the pieces of paper to swap for pancakes on her lunch break. That made him smile.

We met up with Mom and Hillary in the food court, Patrick proudly sporting his new hoodie and excitedly telling them it had mushrooms on it. “Just like the dinner!”

“Yeah! Very cool.” Hillary chuckled. “Much cooler than my hoodies.”

It seemed all the meltdowns were over as we sat and ate burgers, Patrick happily making conversation about his new clothes, and proudly telling Mom he’d handed over the money and ‘his new friend’ was going to buy pancakes with it.

“That’s awesome, sweetheart.” She smiled warmly.

He didn’t oppose when I suggested we head to the music store, and Dad agreed that a walk to the other end of the mall would be good, so off we went. He kept reaching for my hand, but I just put my hands in my hoodie pockets instead. He had Dad’s hand to hold anyway.

When we reached the music store, there was my baby. Sitting up on the guitar rack, sleek in black and red, the precision bass was everything my heart desired. He was beautiful, and sounded like an angel, and was something my father did not agree with.

“You’ve already got a bass guitar, Pete.” He sighed as Patrick studied the display keyboard.

“But I don’t have this one.” I gently kissed the fretboard. “It’s a beast, Dad.”

“It’s also $700, and I’m assuming you don’t have that kind of money.”

I poked my tongue out at him and gently put it back. But not after sending a few snapchats to Joe and Andy with love heart emoji’s around it, because it was truly beautiful and it was going to be an amazing part of our band one day. Once we were famous and could afford all the amazing guitars we wanted.

Before we left, Patrick pointed at a rack of stuffed animals in the toy store, and Dad made us all go in there to look. He mostly just wandered around quietly and looked at things, and then nodded and we started to head out. Unfortunately, nobody noticed he’d tucked a toy llama under his arm until we walked through the security gates.

Then the alarm went off and Patrick screamed and the security guard came running up to us. And in alarm, Patrick made a run for it, toy still in his hand.

It was the shortest chase I’d ever seen in my life, but I had to admit, it was pretty funny, even if Mom and Dad didn’t think so. He didn’t get more than 15 feet away before the security guard grabbed him and snatched the toy away. Then he screamed again, I wasn’t sure if it was the touching or the snatching, and curled up on the linoleum floor in a fit of terrified tears.

Then the manager came out to presumably ban us from his store, but Mom was always good at dealing with people and had to carefully explain Patrick’s backstory, and apologised for the theft. Then the manager and the security guard both looked very sad, and when Dad finally managed to bring back a very teary Patrick, it was all just hugs and apologies from both parties involved.

Dad paid for the toy, and finally we got to go home. Patrick cried quietly the entire drive. I doubted we’d be going back to the mall anytime soon.

Chapter Text

Pete

After the whole ‘Patrick freaks out at the mall’ experience, Dad decided that what the kid really needed was a very strong routine to get him adjusted to, well, life.

He’d gotten a big clock for the kitchen and made Patrick a little chart, so that way he had a little bit of structure to his day, and that would have been great if it meant I wasn’t getting up at 7am during the summer.

It was no secret I loved my sleep ins. Normally during summer, I wouldn’t roll out of bed until 3 in the afternoon and I’d stay up all night on the PlayStation. Now Dad had me accompanying him on family walks with the weirdo at 8am, and I was not pleased in the slightest.

There was no doubt that Patrick wasn’t looking forward to it, though. The night Dad had made the chart and explained he’d start each day with a walk around the neighbourhood (Of which Patrick had excitedly asked “outside?!” and then Dad had nodded), he was ecstatic and I couldn’t get him to sleep.

I swatted him with the pillow. “Stop squirming! It’s like 2am! Some of us need to sleep before Dad gets us up at fucking dawn.”

“I’m not tired.” He mumbled, wiggling his toes.

I pushed him out of the bed and onto the floor. “Well, I am!”

He grunted slightly when he hit the floor, but didn’t protest. He just grabbed his llama out from beside me (it literally hadn’t left his side since we’d gotten home from the mall), and headed out of the room. I probably should have paid more attention, but it was 2am, and I was trying to sleep.

It was 3am when the screams woke me back up.

Dad was already in the living room by the time I’d bolted down there, and had a chance to survey the scene. The TV was shattered, glass all over the floorboards, and Patrick was screaming bloody murder. His bloody bandages lay in the wreckage, and both of his arms were bleeding, partly from the glass, and partly due to the incredible long and deep scratch marks down both of them.

Even though Dad was meant to be the one who knew how to deal with this, I could tell he was pretty freaked out as well as he held Patrick’s arms away from each other to stop him from hurting himself more. “Patrick, Patrick, buddy! It’s alright, c’mon, shhhhh.”

He didn’t settle. But he did look up and see me, and then launched himself into my arms. With the sobs still racking his body, and the blood dripping steady down his hands and onto the carpet, he cried into the crook of my neck and squeezed me tight.

And even though I wasn’t one for personal touch, I had to admit that the kid did give a really good hug. And with Dad watching, trying to make gestures for me to calm him down, I reluctantly reciprocated the gesture with a “Shhhhh. It’s alright, kid. You’re alright.”

“I b-broke it!” He cried.

“Well, yeah…” Dad glared at me. “But that’s okay. Don’t worry about that. The TV can be fixed, it’s all good.”

“I d-didn’t want t-to!”

“That’s okay buddy, we understand.” Dad told him as he pulled away from my hug. “Saw something a bit scary?”

He nodded and looked down at the bloody mess of his arms. “M-Mom…”

“Was she on the TV?” I asked. Well, that was a stupid question. The case of ‘The Cupboard Kid’ was the hottest topic on TV at the moment, with the stations bringing up new evidence and showing that same video footage of her every few hours. Patrick just nodded quietly, and wiped his nose on his shoulder.

“Let’s clean your hand up, okay?” Dad told him gently. “And you know Patrick, if the TV’s got your Mom, that means she can’t get to you. You’re never, ever, ever gonna see her again, and you’re never going back home, yeah?”

“Y-yeah.” He mumbled, heading to the bathroom where Dad kept the first aid kit.

Dad looked at me once we were alone, and then down at the carnage. “What happened? He woke up?”

“Too excited about the walk to sleep. I got shitty and kicked him out of bed.” I mumbled, scratching the back of my neck awkwardly. “Probably should have paid more attention.”

Dad nodded, before shaking his head. “He’s not your responsibility. But thank you for calming him down. Next time he can’t sleep though, just wake me up instead. He likes to test new things alone, and it usually ends up like this…”

I sighed. “Right. I’m going back to bed.”

I was nearly at the stairs when I heard a whimper from a bloody-armed cinnamon blonde, and I turned around to find him looking at me. “C-Can you s-stay? Please?”

I really didn’t want to, bloody arms and stuff was Dad’s job, not mine, but there was something about the vulnerability and the fear in those big blue eyes. With a soft sigh I turned around, and nodded. “Yeah, yeah, that’s alright. I’ll stay.”

-----------

We did end up taking Patrick on his anticipated walk around the neighbourhood. It didn’t last very long, we got about 5 houses down the street before he saw a squirrel and freaked out and we had to go home.

I’d come to learn that Patrick’s panic attacks were terrifying. Not only were there the full-body screams (How such a loud noise came from such a small person would forever confuse me), he was prone to scratching himself so hard that he bled, and more often than not managed to destroy the bandaging holding his hand together. More often than not, it seemed, a freak out would end in a bloody mess and even more bandaging.

Patrick wasn’t a fan of the bandages, but he also really didn’t seem to understand that if he didn’t scratch his arms, then he wouldn’t need them in the first place. Dad had taken to putting one of those wrist-brace thingies on his hands, overtop of the dressings, so he wouldn’t be able to get them off. It seemed a little extreme, but not when I learned why.

“That’s a third degree burn, Pete.” He told me. “And because of his limited interactions with the world, he essentially has no immune system. We gave him his shots at the hospital, but if that hand gets infected, he’s not going to be able to fight it off and he’s going to end up losing that hand.”

We didn’t tell Patrick that. It was mostly on a need-to-know basis.

He seemed to respond well to his schedule though, and even though I spent the day on the couch in the other room playing video games, I could see him at the table with Dad, doing random lessons and all that. They were relatively unconventional (Today Dad was going through a book called ‘animals of North America’ after the whole squirrel incident), he seemed to be taking it fairly well and with a smile on his face.

If I were to admit it, I might even call it cute. But I wasn’t going to admit it, and turned my attention back to my game.

 

 

 

 

Patrick

I hate bandages.

I hate them a whole lot. But they’re everywhere. They’re on my hands and on my arms and there’s one on my leg and a little sticky one on my nose. I hate them and I don’t want them on me. They’re gross.

Food Man says I have to have them. He says that they’re important because I’m hurt and they stop the germs from going in to where it was bleeding. He says that if I keep the bandages on, then everything will get better and my hand will stop hurting and everything will get fixed.

But every night when he takes the bandages off and puts new ones on, it doesn’t look any different. It’s still red and sticky and gross, with a little bit of yellow stuff on the burn. If the bandages were helping it get better, then why doesn’t it look any better? It looks even more gross now.

Food Man says that’s because I pulled the bandage off and scratched at it. I think he’s telling lies.

Mom said that if I ever left my room, then the germs would get into me and I would die. Food Man says that if the bandages come off, then the germs will get into me and I’ll get sick. Food Man is just like Mom, and because Mom was a liar, then Food Man must be a liar as well.

I felt bad when I thought about that though, because Mom was very mean and didn’t show me new things and wouldn’t ever let me go anywhere, whereas Food Man is very nice. He teaches me about animals and we takes me for walks and makes very good food. And he doesn’t give any little chats, which makes him a million times better than Mom.

But the things he says about the bandages are stupid. He’s being just like Mom was and I don’t like it. I asked Pete when we were in bed if Food Man ever lied.

Pete scoffed when I asked. “He lies all the time.”

“All the time?”

“He promised I could go camping this summer, but those plans got canned. Then he promised I could have friends over, but we had to go outside. He promised I could make my own choices, but he’s trying to force me to join the soccer team again this year even though I don’t want to. He’s a huge liar.”

I frowned. “Okay.”

“What, you think he’s lying to you?”

“I don’t know.” I told him honestly.

“He lied about your Mom.” Pete rolled over and looked at me. “She’s not in the TV.”

Immediately I tensed, and shook my head. “N-No, no, I don’t, I can’t- No!”

“Shhh.” He pressed a finger to my lips. “Don’t freak out. She’s not anywhere near us. She’s in jail, yeah? Waiting for her trial. She didn’t get bail. So she can’t get to you.”

When I didn’t calm down, Pete sighed. “Okay, so, jail. Jail is like… a little room, yeah? And she’s locked up there with all the other women who do bad things. So she can’t ever get out, and that means she can’t get to you.”

“She’s in bedroom?” I asked nervously.

Pete blinked, before twisting his mouth around slightly. “Um… kinda. She’s in jail. It’s kinda like your old room, but she has to share it with other bad people and… yeah.”

“But she’s not sick.”

“She’s sick in the head, kid. What she did to you was wrong, so she’s in trouble and has to stay away from the rest of people.”

I lay in silence for a few moments, thinking about what that meant. “Pete?”

“Yeah?”

“Am I sick in the head?”

“What? No, no, you’re not.” He told me. “There’s nothing wrong with you. Your Mom was just a bad person and locked you up for no reason.”

“Oh.”

“Look, just try and get some sleep, yeah?” Pete yawned. “Too much big talk for late at night.”

I pulled my llama close to me and laid back until I heard Pete start to snore. Then I snuck out of the room, and picked at the braces on my hands until they were free. Finally, I unwound all the bandages that made my hands feel weird, and snuggled back into bed with Pete.

Chapter Text

Patrick

Food Man wasn’t happy that I took the bandages off.

In fact, nobody was happy that I took the bandages off. Pete had screamed when he’d woken up and I was touching some of this clothes while my bad hand was bleeding a little bit. Then Dale had come in and tried to tell me to stop, and then started freaking out because my bandages were gone. Then Food Man came in, and then he was upset and was trying to pull me downstairs to put new ones back on.

The room fell quiet when I screamed “you’re being just like Mom!” at him.

“Patrick, sweetheart, we just don’t want your hand to get infected, okay?” Dale offered quietly after a few moments of silence. “We’re not trying to be your Mom. We just don’t want you to get sick.”

“Mom s-said that if I left my room then I’d get s-sick and die.” I clutched my bag hand to my chest and backed myself into the corner of Pete’s bedroom. “Y-You say that if I take the bandages off I’d get sick and I-I’ll die.”

Food Man sighed. “Patrick, buddy…”

“She lied!” I yelled. “And you’re saying the same thing so you’re lying too!”

“Is this what you meant last night?!” Pete sounded angry, and I pressed myself further against the wall.

“What?” Food Man asked.

Pete rubbed his eyes. “He was asking random crap about whether you lied or not, and then about his Mom and if he was sick in the head? It was, I was tired okay?! Patrick, he wouldn’t lie about this. He’s a fucking doctor.”

“Language.” Dale corrected.

I shook my head. “You said Mom lied, so how do I know that you’re not lying?!”

“I haven’t ever lied to you before, Patrick.” Food Man took a slow step forward, and I flinched. “I know that you, um, don’t really have any other points of reference, but, um, I guess you’re just going to have to trust me. Do you think I would want to hurt you?”

I bit my lip. Sometimes he did things that were very scary. Like shoes. And Tee Vee. And Mall. I didn’t like any of those things. Sometimes he apologised, sometimes he laughed a little, but most times if something was scary or hurting me then he just took it away. So… did he want to hurt me? Probably not.

Mom did sometimes. But Food Man never had any little chats, or stood on my toes, or scratched me, or smashed bottles on the floor so I couldn’t walk on it. He was nice like that.

“No…” I mumbled.

“That’s right, buddy.” Food Man smiled warmly. “And I just wanna do everything I can so that your hand gets better, so it’s back to how you remember it, yeah? Cause it’s all burned and blistered and yucky at the moment, so I just wanna keep it in the bandages until it’s better. Does that sound okay?”

“I, I don’t like the bandages.” I scowled.

“I know, they’re not very nice.” He told me. “How about, I put them on for now, and then today we’ll go back to the hospital and get something a little better for it? Just a brace, no more thick bandages.”

When I didn’t respond, he came over and sat beside me. “Does it hurt a little bit?”

“A lot a bit.” I corrected, wincing as I tried to close it into a fist.

“Can you trust me for today?” He offered. “Just today. We’ll go to the hospital and get a new dressing for it, and then tomorrow if it’s not better, I’ll see what else I can do. I’ll try and get it to stop hurting for you.”

I growled at him whenever it hurt while he was putting clean bandages back on. Food Man didn’t seem to notice, but Pete almost jumped out of his skin when he heard.

“Dude, what the fuck was that?!” He yelled.

I flinched slightly and looked back down at my hand. Food Man sighed. “Pete, please.”

“It’s creepy, don’t do that.” He muttered. “If you wanna be normal, like, that’s not a normal thing to do.”

“I’m normal.” I told him.

He scoffed, and jabbed a finger into my chest. “You, are anything but normal, kid.”

He didn’t stay when I asked him to this time.

 

 

Pete

When Dad came back without a weirdo in tow, I was a little surprised. “Gave him to the freakshow?”

He scowled at me. “He was crying out for your support this morning, Pete. And last night. What on earth have you been teaching him!?”

“What he wants to know.” Was my response, texting Joe and Andy to come over. “Where is he, anyway?”

“With his psychiatrist. And you do not give him a hard time about that.” Dad informed me gravely. “He needs to trust this doctor, and you’re a pretty big influence on him, so just don’t you dare make fun of it.”

“How shallow do you think I am?!” I snapped.

“Considering you asked me if I gave him to the freakshow when I walked in…” Dad frowned. “But honestly, Pete, he’s a sponge at this point in time. He’s like a toddler. Anything he’s taught in this critical period will stick to him. So I’m asking for your help, here. You could make or break him, Pete.”

“I don’t kick him out when he crawls into my bed every night.” I huffed, still texting. “I think that’s more than enough of an input.”

Dad ended up getting frustrated and walked away. That worked out better for me, especially when Joe and Andy came over. He didn’t bother us once as we sat up in my room and I played a couple of bass lines I’d been working on for them.

“I really need to get a better one.” I sighed, tossing the instrument onto the bed. “This was fine when I was like, 6, but Walmart instruments really suck.”

“It’s gonna have to do until we start playing paid shows.” Joe spun around on my desk chair. “I keep asking Dad for a spot at the country club on Saturday night, but he won’t listen.”

I groaned. “He needs to hear us play so he knows how good we are.”

“I don’t think a country club is the right place for a metal band.” Andy said quietly. “And until we find someone who can actually sing, we can’t play softer stuff there.”

“Nobody’s actually gonna hire us to play shows until we get some instruments that play like, decent music.” I sighed. “We’re stuck in a loop.”

“How else can we make money fast?” Joe asked.

“I’m not mowing any fucking lawns.” I added quickly. “Do any of you wanna sell your playstations?”

“Why don’t you sell your playstation?” Andy folded his arms.

“Because we need to keep one to play on.” I told him.

“We’re not selling the playstation.” Joe told me firmly. “We just need like, internet fame or something. Youtubers make big dollars.”

“We don’t have any viral videos, Joe.” Andy sighed.

Then I smiled. “But I know somebody who does.”

-------

When Patrick got home, I dragged him upstairs quickly to the make-shift setup I’d made. Andy, Joe and I had angled the desk so it was facing the plain wall as a backdrop, and Joe had run home and brought his video camera over.

“W-What’s going on?” Patrick asked timidly, clutching his llama close to his chest.

“We’re gonna give you a new thing, and make a video of it.” I smiled. “Because people are gonna give us money for that.”

“To buy clothes?”

“To buy guitars.”

“Oh.”

“I still don’t think this is fair, Pete.” Andy said from the doorframe. “We’re taking advantage of him.”

“He’s already got a viral video. We probably only need to make one or two, and we’ll have the exposure we need.” I explained.

“That doesn’t make it right…”

I turned to the weirdo. “You’re cool with this, right?”

He nodded.

“See, look!” I smiled at Andy. “He’s cool. And we’re not gonna like, terrify him or anything. It’s fine.”

Andy just huffed in frustration and looked out the window.

Joe started filming, and I placed the jack-in-a-box on the table. “Alrighty, welcome to Patrick Reacts, episode one. Go ahead, Patrick. Twist the handle.”

 

 

Patrick

I hated the Jack-In-The-Box. I hated the way it sprung up and scared me. I hated that Pete and his friend Joe laughed at me when it did, and I hated that the only person who helped me up when I fell off the chair was Andy.

“Not cool, guys!” He yelled at them, before turning to me. “Are you okay?”

“I d-don’t like that.” I huffed, wiping my nose.

“Yeah, that’s understandable. These guys are being jerks.” He pulled me to my feet. “C’mon, lets-“

“What’s a jerk?” I interrupted.

“A jerk? Um… just a person who’s not nice to other people.”

“Isn’t… isn’t that just a mean person?”

“There’s lots of words for it, yeah.” Andy shrugged. “Do you wanna go outside? Let’s leave these idiots to be.”

“Idiot?”

He took my good hand in my own, and didn’t pull away like Pete did when I ran back to grab Frosty. In fact, he was really nice about it, and complimented him when we sat out on the grass in the sun. “Cool llama.”

“He’s frosty.” I explained with a smile. “We went to the mall.”

“Yeah, Pete said.” Andy stretched his legs out and leaned back on his hands. “I’m not a huge fan of the mall, myself. Too many people.”

“I don’t like people!” I smiled, grabbing his hand excitedly. “That’s, that’s a thing we both do!”

Andy just smiled. “Yeah, I guess so.”

“There’s so many of them.” I laid down in the grass and looked up at the sky. “Did you know that? There’s so many people and I didn’t know at all.”

“How many did you think there were?” Andy asked.

“Um…” I had to think about it. “4.”

“Huh.” Was his response. “There’s a lot more than 4.”

“Four… hundred?” I asked.

“More.”

“Five hundred?”

“Try 7 billion.”

“BILLION?!”

He laughed, but it wasn’t mean. “Yeah.”

“Have you met them all?” I asked.

“No, no. It’s impossible to meet them all.” He chuckled.

“Oh.” I fiddled with my shirt. “I’m gonna do it.”

“You’re gonna meet all the people?”

“But only the nice ones.” I corrected.

Andy nodded. “That’s cool. Making lots of friends.”

“Do you wanna be my friend?” I glanced over at him. He seemed nice. I wanted him to be my friend. My first friend.

He smiled at that. “I’d love to be your friend, Patrick.”

I giggled and hugged him tightly. “You’re my first friend, you know?”

“Aww. I’m honored.” He gently patted my back. “Pete’s not a friend?”

“He’s a jerk.”

Andy shrugged. “He can act like one sometimes, but there’s a part of him that wants to be your friend. I think you should ask him.”

“Which part of him?” I blurted out.

“Sorry?”
“His hand, or his foot, or his face, um…”

Andy laughed again. “Like a part of his personality. He likes to pretend that he’s tough and cool, but he likes you a lot. Joe too. We could all be friends.”

“Really?”

He nodded. “Really.”

“That’s…. I like that.”

“I like that too, Patrick. Let me know when you’re gonna ask. Friends are always there for each other.”

I hugged Andy again. He was the bestest friend ever.

Chapter Text

Patrick

There were so many words for bad people.

There was jerk, which was what Pete was. Then there was idiot, who was a bad person who didn’t know a lot of things. Idiots were stupid, which also meant that people didn’t know many things. But stupid people weren’t as bad as idiots. Idiots were mean as well as stupid. Then there were also words like moron, nitwit, and weirdo.

Then there was sick-in-the-head. Pete had used it to explain why Mom was in jail. She wasn’t sick at all. I didn’t understand for the life of me why she was locked up in bedroom when she wasn’t sick.

I didn’t understand why I was locked up in bedroom when I wasn’t sick either.

It didn’t make sense that I was in bedroom when she was the one that was sick. The entire point of bedroom was to keep the sick people away from bad germs so they didn’t die. If she was sick, then she would already be dead from going out in the world all the time. But I’d gotten sick when I went out in the world, my hand had been hurt a whole lot because the germs had gotten to it. So I realised Food Man had made a mistake.

I didn’t tell Food Man first. I didn’t even tell Andy. I snuck upstairs and sat down next to Pete while he fiddled with a piece of plastic while looking at the Tee Vee.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Playstation.” He muttered, not looking away from the Tee Vee. “I’m busy.”

“It doesn’t look very fun.” I told him.

“It’s very fun.” He explained. “See, the people on the screen? I gotta run around and kill them all, and the person who kills the most people wins.”

He was not pleased when I yanked the piece of plastic out of his hand and smashed it against the floor. “No!

“PATRICK!” He yelled angrily. “WHAT THE FUCK!?”

“No killing people!” I shoved him in the chest angrily. “That’s bad. You’re a jerk!

“What, Andy’s been teaching you words, huh!?” He picked the piece of plastic back up and touched it for a while, before groaning and shoving it at my chest. “You broke it, you freak!”

“You were trying to kill people!” I defended, throwing it on the couch.

“They’re not real people, Patrick!” He yelled, pointing at the Tee Vee. “Look! They’re all fucking cartoons! It’s all just a game! It’s not fucking real!”

“It’s… that’s not a nice game to play!” I fumbled for a response.

“You owe me a new controller.” He scowled. “Weirdo.”

“I’m… I’m not a weirdo.” I growled at him. “I’m just sick.”

“Yeah, sick in the head, for sure.” Pete shoved me in the chest, before storming out of the room.

---------

It was at dinner that I thought it was a good time to tell everyone that I had to go.

“I’m leaving.” I told them through a mouthful of pasta.

“Patrick, sweetheart, don’t talk with your mouth full.” Dale put her fork down. “And what do you mean?”

After quickly swallowing my food, I smiled. “I’m going to jail.”

Food Man choked a little on his food, before turning to me. “Jail?

“Uh huh.” I nodded, fiddling with my cutlery. “Pete said that Mom’s there because she’s sick in the head. But she’s not sick. If she was sick, then she would have been sick a long time ago because she went out in the world all the time. So I think there’s been a mistake, because I’m the sick one. So I should be in jail.”

Dale sighed softly. “Patrick, sweetheart…”

I put bad hand on the table. “The germs got in to me and I got sick when I left bedroom, so I’m sick. Pete even said I’m sick in the head! So I need to go back to bedroom. Or jail. I’m not sure which one.”

“Pete?” Food Man sounded a little angry.

“He broke my fucking playstation! I just got angry!” Pete huffed. “I didn’t think he’d take it like that!”

“Patrick, you’re not sick, sweetie.” Dale told me. “The burn is just from the fire, and your Mom is in a lot of trouble. She’s not in jail because she’s sick. She’s in jail because she’s bad.”

“B-But why would they lock people up in little rooms if they aren’t sick!?” I asked, tugging my hat down further onto my head. “That’s not n-nice! It’s not nice to be in a little room! Not nice!”

“Take a deep breath, buddy.” Food Man took my good hand into his own.

I pulled away from him. “That’s, that’s not fair! Bad people shouldn’t, nobody should have to be stuck in bedroom if they aren’t sick! I’m sick, Food Man! I’m SICK!”

“No, you’re not.” Food Man lied.

“I AM!” I screamed at him, getting up from the chair and backing away from the table. “I n-need to go back! I’M GOING TO DIE!”

Food Man started to get up as well. “Shhhh. Patrick, it’s okay, you’re not sick, you’re not gonna die. You’re healthy and you’re safe, yeah?”

I shook my head at him one final time, then turned and ran.

 

 

Pete

After a frantic half-hour search of the house, trying to find the kid, I heard sniffles coming from Mom and Dad’s wardobe. And sure enough, when I knocked gently and pushed the door open, there he was. Face red and puffy from the tears, his glasses off, and curled up in the corner between Dad’s suits and Mom’s shoe rack.

He flinched when I walked in, holding his arms up as a shield. “N-No little chats. I don’t w-want any today.”

“Yeah, that’s fine.” I sighed, throwing his llama onto the floor beside him. “Mom and Dad are freaking out. This is a hell of a hiding spot.”

He just sniffled and looked down at the floor. “It’s…. it’s…”

“6 feet by 8 feet.” I realised.

He didn’t seem to comprehend what those measurements meant, but understood that I realised why he’d picked this room. No windows in here, it was the same dimensions, and just a single lightbulb on the ceiling to keep it illuminated.

I closed the door behind us and plopped myself down next to him. “Sorry about dinner. I didn’t mean to call you sick in the head. I just got mad.”

“But, but you were killing people.” He looked at me briefly, before turning away, like he was a little afraid I’d kill him too.

“It’s just Fortnite.” I sighed. “Look, it’s just a video game, yeah? I don’t like killing people. It’s a game I play with my friends, and we just have a good time together. Nobody gets hurt. But you broke the controller, so I can’t play with my friends anymore. So I got a bit mad at you.”

“Friends?” He echoed, his voice laced with confusion. “There, there wasn’t anyone else here.”

“We… had a phone call over the internet. All the other characters in the game are like, other people at their own homes. The game like, connects everyone together. So that way we can play together, even when we’re not together.”

“That’s….” he thought about a word for a while. “Funky.”

“Funky?” I chuckled slightly.

“Yeah.” He nodded. “I like that word.”

“It’s an interesting one.” I chuckled. “Anyway, why are you hiding in the closet?’

He went shy again. “I’m… I’m sick…”

I sighed and stretched my legs out. “You’re not sick, Patrick.”

“Sick in the head?”

“No, not even sick in the head.”

He was silent, before shaking his head at me. “You’re lying.”

“I’m not lying. This isn’t something I’d ever lie about.” I assured him. “What did your Mom tell you about being sick?”

He bit his lip. “That, that if I ever left, for t-two seconds, then I’d just, die.”

“Well, look, you’ve been out in the world for like, what, a month? That’s a hell of a lot longer than two seconds. And you haven’t died. So obviously she was lying to you.”

“But s-she was gonna make me better. That’s w-what she said.”

“What?” I asked. “What did she do?”

Patrick bit his lip again, and looked down at his lap. “T-There were lots of things.”

“Like what?”

He shook his head. “I, I don’t wanna talk about it.”

“Patrick, what are you talking about?” I pushed.

He went silent and shuffled a little away from me. I frowned, but did notice how uncomfortable he looked. I wasn’t sure if it was the topic of conversation, or if it was the fact that I was in his personable space bubble, but I didn’t push any more into that. I just went for a… safer route.

“Have you told Dad about that?” I asked.

He shook his head. “Food Man doesn’t know.”

“Have you told anyone?”

“No.” He mumbled.

“Dad wouldn’t be mad. He’d be understanding.” I tried. “’Cause, the court case is coming up soon, and yeah, they need all the evidence they can, and it’d like, probably be good to talk to someone. Don’t you have a therapist now?”

He blinked.

“The guy you went to see after Dad got you a new hand brace?”

“Oh.” Patrick breathed a sigh of relief. “That’s just, that’s Dr Urie.”

“He’s probably one to talk to about… that.” I tried to explain. “He can probably like, help you or whatever. I don’t know how therapy works.”

Patrick shook his head. “I don’t… I don’t wanna to talk to him about that. I don’t ever want to talk about that.”

I sighed. “It’s not about whether or not you want to talk about it. It’s like, getting better.”

“But only sick people need to get better!” He cried out suddenly, and I jumped in alarm. “You LIED!

“No, no, I didn’t lie.” I shushed him. “You’re not sick. You’re just, sad. Right? Because the new world is very scary and thinking about your old place makes you scared too.”

He growled, one of the most terrifying things about him. “Stop.

“Stop what?”

“Reading my mind!”

I laughed slightly at that. “I’m not reading your mind, kid. Look, am I right?”

He tightened his lips, before sighing and pulling his knees to his chin. “Y-Yeah.”

“Well, there you go.” I explained. “Talking to that guy is gonna like, help you, so everything doesn’t scare you as much and it doesn’t make you as sad to think about the place you used to live. He’s like, trained to do that.”

“Oh.”

“So yeah.” I gently tapped his knee with my own. “That’s kinda what I meant.”

We sat in silence for a few moments while Patrick thought about what I’d said. Then he shuffled back to me and rested his head on my shoulder. “How long is Mom gonna be in jail?”

“Considering she tried to murder you, I’d say a pretty long time.”

At that, he jumped off and stared at me, eyes wide in shock. “What?”

It took me a moment. “Nobody told you that?”

He shook his head. “She, she…”

“She lit the fire, Patrick.” I explained awkwardly, wondering why I had to be the one to break the news. “She, um, she wanted you to die. That’s why there was a fire. She was trying to kill you.”

I took him back to Dad to help him through that meltdown.

 

 

 

Patrick

Food Man wouldn’t let me put the bed in the wardrobe. He said I had to stay with Pete, and that it wasn’t good for me to stay in a little room like my old little room.

It wasn’t my favourite but it wasn’t super bad. Even though Pete was a jerk, he was a nice jerk sometimes. Sometimes, even though I’d broken his video game, he let me sit beside him when he was playing with another one and watch him play. I was learning the names for them too.

I liked Super Mario Brothers a lot more than I liked Call of Duty.

Sometimes he asked me questions about Mom. I didn’t mind most of them, because Pete wasn’t like Food Man or Dr Urie and didn’t write things down or ask me how it made me feel. He just asked things to know them, and that was okay. I didn’t mind telling him things.

He didn’t mind when I snuck into his bed in the middle of the night either. He didn’t even mind when I fell asleep beside him. He’d even stopped making fun of Frosty.

He was about to go to sleep when I asked him.

“Pete?” I whispered.

“Mmm?” He mumbled, not really paying much attention.

“Do you wanna be my friend?”

He rolled over to face me when I said that, before smiling. “Yeah. I’ll be your friend.”

“Okay, good.” I smiled.

There were a few more moments of silence before I leaned in close and nervously pressed my lips to his cheek. “D-Did I do it right that time?”

He blinked a few times, rubbing at his cheek with the side of his hand. Then he looked at me, and sighed. But not a sad sigh. Like a… confused sigh, but also a little bit of a happy sigh. It was hard to read.

“Yeah, that was right.” He chuckled. “You got it.”

I smiled at him. He just pulled my glasses off and put them on the nightstand. “Goodnight, kid.”

I never did get a kiss back that night.

Chapter Text

Pete

It seemed once I told the kid that I was okay with being his friend, he never wanted to leave me alone.

He followed me everywhere. When I was playing video games, he’d sit on the couch beside me and watch the game. Naturally, that sucked because it meant that I had to play G-rated stuff. But no matter how many times I hinted that it would be better if he went and sat somewhere else, he didn’t seem to want to take it up.

“You’re my friend.” He told me. “Friends are there for friends.”

I sighed. “Right.”

When I was lying on my bed, flicking through twitter, he was lying on his own bed and reading one of the books that Dad had given him. When I was getting myself a drink downstairs, he’d always follow me down and get himself some water. When I was showering, he was sitting outside the bathroom door.

I understood that yeah, this kid had no experience with friendships, but I didn’t really know how to tell him to leave me the fuck alone for a little while. It was funny for the first few hours, but it had been almost 48 hours since I’d had some alone time and I was craving some time to recharge my social battery.

“So…” I mumbled, not looking up from the screen as I played through Super Mario Brothers for what felt like the millionth time. “When are you… going to see that doctor dude again?”

“I dunno.” He replied.

“You wanna maybe go ask Dad about that?”

“No.”

I frowned. “Why?”

“Because if I have to go to him then that mean I have to go away from you.” He told me. “And then I’d have to wear shoes and go in the car…”

I groaned. “Patrick, dude.”

He tilted his head in confusion. “What’s wrong?”

“Look, I know that we’re friends, right?” I paused the game and turned to him. “Friends are there for each other, but that doesn’t mean that we have to be together like all the time. You’re still friends with Andy, and he’s not around all the time, yeah?”

“Yeah…”

I sighed. “I need some down time. Look kid, gimme a couple of hours by myself and then like, I don’t know, we’ll play another game or something. But I need a break from, like, this.” I gestured between the two of us.

“You want a break from being friends?”

“No, I just-“ I groaned in frustration. “I need a break from all people. Sometimes, people are like, introverts, yeah?”

“In, in-to-, into-what?”

“Introvert.” I corrected. “People who like to be alone a lot. And when they’re not alone for a very long time then they get annoyed. So like, go spend some time with Dad or something, and I’ll be back soon.”

“But we’re still friends?”

Not for much longer if you keep this up. “Yes, we’re still friends.”

He bit his lip, lost in thought. “Okay…”

“Good.” I threw the remote onto the couch and patted him on the shoulder as I left the room. “I’ll come find you later.”

 

 

 

Patrick

Pete had taken the bedroom, and he needed to be in there because he was an introvert, so I sat down in front of the big glass windows to read the book that Food Man gave me.

I loved the big glass windows. They were huge. It started at the floor and went all the way to the ceiling, and they let all the sun in to the room as well. I could sit out here and wiggle my toes into the carpet and also be in the sun. It was the most perfect place in the whole house.

I was only a few sentences in to the book (It was very weird so far, but that was to be expected from a book called Green Eggs and Ham) when I heard something. It wasn’t like people talking, or the sound of Pete’s video games, or even like the whoosh of the car driving or the crackle of the fire. This was a lovely sound, like what pancakes would sound like if they were a sound. And quickly abandoning my spot and my book, I got up to find where it was coming from.

It wasn’t the kitchen, or the bedroom, or the bathroom. It wasn’t coming from Pete’s room, or Food Man’s office either.

“Hey Patrick.” He smiled, looking up from his little TV on the table. “What’s up?”

“The sound!” I tried to make a gesture to explain what it sounded like. “It’s, I need to find it!”

He laughed slightly. “Hillary’s just doing some piano practice. It’s nothing to be scared of.”

“Where?”

“She’s down in the living room, but do you wanna stay here for a bit? We need to have a talk ab-“

I ignored him and quickly rushed back down the stairs to where Hillary was sitting. There was a stool, and there was a big thing against the walls with rows and rows of white blocks and black blocks, and she was pushing them down with her fingers and the sound was coming out. I stood there in silence, watching her push the blocks and make the noise until she finished and turned around. “Oh, hey Patrick.”

“N-Noise.” I managed to force out.

“You liked it?” Her cheeks went a little bit pink.

I nodded. A whole lot. I really liked it. It was the best sound that I’d ever heard, ever.

She smiled, and looked back at the thing she was touching. “Have you ever seen a piano before?”

“No…”

She shuffled over on the stool and patted a spot beside her. “Do you wanna have a try?”

I eagerly sat down and watched her fingers as she put them down on 3 of the blocks, making another lovely sound. “So, each of the keys plays a different note.”

“There’s lots of them.”

She laughed. “Yeah. There’s lots of them so we can play lots of different songs. See, we can play songs on the high keys, like this…” She tapped a couple of keys so they made little noises. “Or, we can play the low notes down here like this. And then the rest of these are all somewhere in the middle.”

“That’s really, that’s really cool!” I grinned.

She nodded. “You can play them, if you want.”

It scared me when I pushed the first one down and it made a noise, but Hillary caught me before I fell off the chair. The next one was a little less scary, and then when it wasn’t scary anymore, I pushed down every single one of the keys and listened to the noise they made.

“So if you put your hands, just here, like this.” She gently placed my finger on the ones in the middle. “You can use all the fingers together to play a song, like the one I was playing before.”

“Can you teach me?” I asked.

She smiled. “Of course.”

She taught me simple songs first. One called hot cross buns and one called Mary Had A Little Lamb. When I asked for more, she taught me Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and then once called Somewhere Over The Rainbow. Then we had to take a break because it was time for lunch, but afterwards I asked her for more songs.

“You’re picking this up really quickly.” She chuckled, shaking her head in disbelief as we sat back down. “You wanna try Ode to Joy?”

That was my favourite one so far. I had to use both hands at the same time, and at first it was a little bit tricky, but then I got it and it was very exciting.

“I love this.” I told Hillary. “I love this so much.”

She laughed. “I’ll get Dad to put you into piano lessons then. You’re doing really well. I never picked you as a music type, but you really have the ear for it.”

I nodded eagerly at the possibility of learning more songs, and Hillary went and got me a book of lines and dots with sticks. “Here, this was my first piano book.”

“What, what do you do with it?”

“Well, you read it.” She put it up on the piano. “See, all the notes on the page mean notes on the piano. So see, that one is a C, so you play a C. There’s lots of information about how to read it in the front.”

“And new songs?” I asked hopefully.

“And new songs.” She smiled.

I clutched the book close to me and smiled. “Thank you.”

“That’s alright, buddy.” She chuckled. “Glad you’re enjoying it.”

 

 

 

Pete

I’m not sure where I expected to find Patrick after I’d finished watching my YouTube feed and twitter had become boring. I checked the lounge, thinking he might be waiting for me to come back and play video games, but he wasn’t there. I checked the spot in front of the window where he liked to sit, but he wasn’t there either.

I thought the person who was playing Fur Elise on the piano was Hillary. Then I looked again, and had to take a third take. “Patrick?”

He lifted his fingers off the piano keys and turned around. “Pete!”

“Since when do you play the piano?”

“Since… 10:37am.” He giggled, clearly pleased with himself. “Hillary showed me! And it’s the best thing ever.”

“But you’re like… good.” I shook my head in disbelief. There was no way that this kid had learned this much piano in 3 hours.

He laughed again, and pulled a songbook down. “Look at all the dots and the lines! They’re like, instructions. Instructions to make songs!”

“I know what music is.” I huffed. “A hell of a lot more than you. I’m in a band.”

“What’s a band?”

I squeezed my hand into a fist in frustration. “It’s just, a group of people who play instruments together.”

“Instruments?”

“Yes, Patrick, instruments.”

He opened his mouth to say something, then closed it again. He looked pretty lost for a moment, and I scoffed at him. “You had a dictionary, didn’t you?”

“I, I, um…”

“What does instruments mean, Patrick?” I cooed in a sickly sweet tone.

“A-A mechanical tool or implement, especially one used for delicate or precision work.” He regurgitated, before looking down at his feet in what I presumed to be embarrassment. “Or, or um… a contrivance or apparatus for producing musical sounds.”

“And there you go.” I patted him on the shoulder.

“Why are you being a jerk?!” He cried out sharply. “You were my friend before and now you’re being mean again and I don’t like it!”

“Well, this is what happen when you smother your friends, Patrick! Nobody wants to be around you all the fucking time okay!? Explaining stupid things gets tiring! And you’re clingy as hell! You’re fine in like, brief intervals, but god can you just shut up?!”

He pressed his hands to his ears and looked up at me fearfully. “N-No shouting…”

I groaned. “You’re so fucking weird!

“No, no I’m not…”

“Yes, yes you are!” I snapped. “Go run to Dad. I’m going to Joe’s house.”

That was the first night we didn’t sleep in the same bed.

Chapter Text

Pete

I felt bad.

It had probably been the worst night for the kid since he’d gotten here. I actively avoided him for hours, but his cries could he heard through the entire house. When I went to bed at 12, he was still awaking and sobbing in the bed across the room. At about 1, Dad came in to talk to him and he was probably in the room for a good hour, to no avail. By 3am, Patrick had gotten out of bed and went for a walk through the house. I fell asleep at that point.

When I woke up, he was downstairs with Dad, bags under his eyes from lack of sleep, and a look of what I’d describe as terror when he saw me.

“Morning, Patrick.” I breathed, handing his stupid toy to him. “You, uh, left this in my bed.”

He took it, eyeing me off before snatching it out of my hand with all his strength, and clutching it tightly to his chest. It wasn’t until Dad gently nudged him with his elbow that he swallowed nervously. “T-Thank you.”

“It’s fine.” I sat down at the table beside him. “I’m sorry I yelled at you, yesterday. That wasn’t uncool. I’m a bit of a jerk.”

“Yeah.” He nodded in agreement.

Part of me was a little offended that he agreed just like that when I’d like, shared my bed for a full week. But I forced it to the back of my mind and remembered I was essentially dealing with a toddler here. “So, uh, even if I’m a jerk sometimes, do you still wanna be my friend?”

Then I got a smile. A big one, it took over his whole face, his eyes crinkling at the edges and he giggled. “Yeah.”

“Okay, cool.” I chuckled slowly, breathing an internal sigh of relief. “Sounds good.”

 

 

Patrick

After breakfast of cereal, and after Pete and I had become friends again, we were sitting up in the bedroom together. Pete was touching his little piece of metal on one side of his bed, and I was lying on the other side of his bed reading a book about different kinds of dogs.

It was a fun book. There were lots of different types of dogs, and each page had a picture of a new one. Some of them had long floofy hair, others had short hair, and then there were weird ones with curly hair. But I liked them all and I wanted all of them. But I couldn’t have all of them. I just had to learn about them and then Food Man said he was gonna take me to a place called the dog park where there were lots of them and I could play with them.

I was reading about the miniature poodle when Pete stood up, stretched, and wandered over to the cupboard where he kept all his clothes.

“What are you doing?” I asked, glancing up from my book.

“I’m going out, kid.” He told me, pulling a pair of shoes out and digging his feet into them, before turning to the mirror and adjusting his hair so it sat the way he liked it over his forehead. “Band practice. I’ll be back later.”

Band. People who played instruments together. I played an instrument now, too! “Can I come?”

“Uh…. I dunno. You’ll have to ask Dad.” Pete turned away from me and shoved a couple of things into his backpack. “Don’t you have to finish reading your book so Dad can take you to the dog park after you go see your doctor?”

I shrugged. “I wanna come with you. Who’s in your band?”

“Just like, Joe and Andy and stuff.” He seemed uninterested.

“Andy’s my friend!” I blurted out excitedly. “I want to go!”

“Talk to Dad.” Was all Pete said.

So I did. I slammed by book closed and ran to Food Man’s office, before running in and sitting down. “Can I go?!”

“Woah, woah, slow down.” He chuckled softly. “Go where?”

“Pete’s going to see Andy and I, I want to go!” I rushed. “Because it’s band practice and a band is a group of people who play instruments, and I play an instrument now!”

Pete appeared in the doorway. “Doesn’t he have to go see his doctor this afternoon, Dad?”

“Yes, but that’s at 3, and it’s only 10.” Food Man told him, before smiling at me. “If you wanna go, then Pete can take you.”

I grinned. Pete groaned. “Alright, fine.”

“You have to be back by 2.” Food Man told him. “And call me if there’s any trouble.”

“But I was gonna stay till 5!”

“Then you bring him back at 2 and you go back.” Food Man spoke a lot more firmly to Pete than he did to me. “This will be good for you. For both of you.”

Pete huffed. “C’mon kid, you’re not going anywhere dressed like that.”

Pete dragged me back to our bedroom and made me sit on his bed while he went through my cupboard, holding things up, before tossing them on the floor. He threw me my pair of jeans, and then a plain red t-shirt. I stared at them, before looking up at him in confusion.

“Get changed.” He told me. “I’m not taking you to Joe’s house while you’re wearing sweatpants.”

“Why?” I tilted my head. “They’re comfortable.”

“And make you like like you’re an 80 year old man.”

“Is that bad?”

“That’s very bad. Just get changed.”

I didn’t like jeans. They felt weird and they were weird on my legs and I didn’t like them at all. Pete sighed when I came back from getting changed though, and rubbed the side of his head. “Dude.

“What?” I looked down over my clothes. This was what he wanted, right?

“Untuck the jeans from your socks.”

I shook my head. “I don’t want to.”

“I’m not taking you anywhere if you’re keeping them tucked in. And you’re not wearing socks and sandals to Joe’s house. You’re going to wear shoes, or I’m not taking you.”

I shook my head dramatically. “No shoes. No shoes.”

“Then you’re not coming.” He picked his bag up. “See you later.”

 

 

 

Pete

I think Dad was more amazed than anyone that I managed to convince Patrick to put his shoes on. They’d been sitting in his cupboard since he got here, and even though he was shaking a little and stumbling around with them on, he was wearing them, and he wasn’t having a breakdown.

I had to admit though, it was a little bit hilarious. It was kind of like one of those videos where they put shoes on a dog and they stumble around and lift their legs up because they’re not used to it.

It wasn’t a long walk to Joe’s house, he only lived up the street, but I made sure to keep the kid close to me in case he like, had a meltdown or something. He did scream in surprise when he spotted a bird, but other than that it was a pretty gentle walk. I made him carry my guitar case, so that provided a good distraction anyway.

We got to his front door and I grabbed the kid by the shoulders. “Just, promise me you’ll try to at least pretend to be normal?”

He nodded timidly, and I pressed the doorbell.

That was when I realised that maybe taking the kid out by myself was not a good idea. He screamed louder than the doorbell itself, and stumbled over in alarm. Holding his arms up as a shield, he shook his head again and again and again and then pressed his hands to his ears and screamed.

Joe was as confused as I was when he opened the door. “What the fuck?”

“Patrick, kid, it’s just the doorbell.” I sighed.

He didn’t stop. He sat there with his hands on his ears, screaming and crying and pulling at his hair and scratching at his arms. I hesitated on what to do. I could lean down and like, restrain him, but I had a feeling that that wouldn’t really help him at this point in time.

It wasn’t until Andy’s Mom dropped him off that anything actually was done. Andy came running over, and threw his arms in the air. “What are you doing?! He needs help, you jerks!”

“Well, I don’t know what to do!” I huffed.

Patrick glanced up from his hands as Andy gently sat down beside him and put an arm around his shoulders. “Hey, Patrick. It’s okay, it’s okay, I’m here now, don’t worry.”

Joe and I made uncertain eye contact, but Andy was actually decent. Within a few minutes, the kid’s sobs had been reduced to nothing more than some sniffles, and Andy gave a menacing glare to Joe and I.

“Do you wanna go home, kid?” I asked, burying my hands in my pockets. “Your arms are like, bleeding.”

 

Andy took Patrick’s hand. “I’ll take him, Pete. I don’t trust you.”

“I, I wanna, I wanna stay.” Patrick mumbled, looking down at his lap.

“Dude, you had like, a fit because I rung the doorbell.” I shook my head. “Go home.”

“It was just because I d-don’t like doorbells.” He pulled himself up and stood next to me. “I wanna come to band practice.”

I groaned. “Patrick…”

“That’s fine buddy, you can stay.” Andy smiled at him. “C’mon, let’s go to the basement. Joe’s got lots of instruments down there, and it’s pretty fun.”

The look on his face as we walked into Joe’s house was pretty similar to the one he wore when he first came home from the hospital. Partly he was overwhelmed, partly he was curious, but mostly he was terrified and clutched Andy’s hand tightly. I led the way with Joe down the stairs, and put my guitar case down before flopping onto the sofa he had furnishing the space.

“So… welcome to the basement, I guess.” Joe shrugged awkwardly, trying to avoid eye contact.

“Don’t put anything in your mouth.” I added quickly. “Look but don’t touch.”

He nodded silently and walked around, eyeing off the drum kit and Joe’s guitar wall, before spotting the electric keyboard. “Piano.”

“Yep.” Andy smiled. “Do you play?”

“Hillary taught me yesterday.” He giggled, before looking at me. “Can I touch it?”

“You gotta turn it on, first, but yeah.”

When Andy turned it on, he pressed his fingers to the keys, and off he went. He played song, after song, after song. Joe did raise his eyebrows at me, and I shrugged awkwardly in reply. I had no idea how he’d gotten so good in such a short amount of time. It was freaky as hell.

After an hour of playing video games, I groaned. “Patrick, dude, you gotta stop so the rest of us can actually get to practicing!”

He froze and quickly pulled his hands away. “S-Sorry…”

“Aww, buddy, don’t stress.” Andy chuckled, seeing how he looked a little upset. “You ever worn headphones before?”

Patrick shook his head, and clenched his eyes closed when Andy put them on his ears. “I d-don’t like it…”

“Don’t worry, it’s just little speakers that go over your ears. So you can hear what you play on piano, but we can’t. Sound okay?”

“O-Okay…”

Once Andy had plugged them in, he smiled warmly. “Give it a try, Patrick.”

It didn’t take long. Soon enough, he was settled in the corner of the room, and wasn’t even taking note of what we were doing as the guys and I got to practicing our own songs. It was quite easy to forget he was even there, and that gave me all the more opportunity to get down to composing with Joe and Andy.

It was no secret that I loved band practice, but the fact that I got to spend time with my friends down in the basement, doing something I loved more than anything in the world, it was priceless to me. I wouldn’t give it up for anything.

Chapter Text

Patrick

I didn’t like it when Food Man took me to see Dr Urie.

Dr Urie lived in a big room, bigger than old bedroom, but it didn’t have any beds in it. The floor was made of tree, but there was a big fluffy thing called a rug on the floor in the empty space. Then there was a big desk, and it had a little Tee Vee on it. There were lots of bookshelves in the room, but the books were very long and didn’t look very fun to read.

Sometimes we’d sit at the desk and he would ask me questions and I’d talk to him. Sometimes, when I got a bit scared, we sat in front of the window while we talked. Sometimes we’d sit on the rug and he’d give me toys and things to play with. Food Man took me to his room for 2 hours every day, and I didn’t really like it.

Today we were sitting on the rug, and Dr Urie had a whole box of something he called lego. He showed me how they fit together and how to build things, and now he was sitting beside me on the rug while I made things.

“So how are you today, Patrick?” He asked, stretching his legs out on the rug and watching my hands as I tried to force a blue brick and a green brick to go together.

“Bad.” I muttered.

He wrote something down in a little notebook that he liked to write things in. “Why are you bad?”

I scowled at him and turned away. I didn’t want to talk to him. Yesterday he tried to make me talk about Mom and then about little chats and I hated that more than anything. So now he wasn’t my friend anymore, because when I asked Food Man what it meant to be a good friend, he said that it was about being kind. I didn’t think that making me think about Mom was very kind, so now I wasn’t his friend anymore.

“Patrick?”

“You’re not my friend anymore.” I growled at him. “Friends don’t make me talk about Mom.”

“What about Pete?” He asked. “You told me that you had a chat about your Mom with Pete, and you tell me that he’s your friend.”

“But I, I told him because I wanted to.” I huffed. “And he didn’t keep asking questions like you do.”

He nodded for a while, thinking about what I’d said, before writing something else down and looking back up at me. “What kind of things do you think it’s okay to tell Pete?”

“Everything.”

“Everything?”

“I mean, not everything.” I bit my lip. “He’s very good and I like him but I don’t… I don’t tell him everything about Mom ‘cause it’s scary and it might scare him.”

“Does it scare you?”

I nodded.

“What kind of things are the scariest things to think about?”

“Um…” I clicked some more of the bricks together. “Little chats.”

“Yeah?”

“And, and when she said that it was gonna make me better.”

Dr Urie nodded. “They’re some pretty scary things to think about. How do you feel when you think about them?”

I scratched my arm. “Really bad.”

“Do you feel worried, or angry?”

Scared.” I told him. “That’s why I don’t like the world. Everything is just too scary and it’s not very nice.”

He looked at me when I said that. “You don’t like the world?”

I shook my head. “Only Food Man’s house. And Joe’s house. And the dog park. That’s it. Everything else is too scary and I don’t want it.”

He wrote more things down and I finished pressing the bricks together, before placing the building down on the rug. “It’s a dictionary.”

“I like the colours.” He smiled, putting his notebook down and grabbing some bricks for himself. “Let’s build something big together. What’s something big that you wanna build?”

It didn’t take very long to decide. “Outside.”

“Well, we can’t build all of outside.” He chuckled. “What about we build a tree? How does that sound?”

I nodded, and grabbed more bricks to help build it.

We spent the rest of the time building the tree. Dr Urie let me decide how I wanted to build it for the first few times, but told me other ways to make it better when it kept falling over and I kept freaking out. It was only when Food Man walked in to come and get me that he noticed my arm was bleeding again. “Patrick!”

“Involuntary coping mechanism.” Dr Urie told him quickly. “I’ve got a bandage, but let’s talk about the tree first.”

I didn’t understand what that meant, but quickly pulled my arm back from Food Man and looked at the tree we’d made. It was tall now, and stood up straight, and had lots of different colours in it and was very pretty. I liked it a lot.

“That’s pretty cool, buddy.” Food Man smiled, looking at it. “Did you build it?”

“Dr Urie helped make it stand up.” I told him. “But we built it together and it was fun.”

Food Man helped us take it apart when it was time to go. We put all the bricks back into the box, but I grabbed the dictionary that I built and shoved it into my pocket quickly.

Food Man blinked a couple of times, then stared at me. “Put it back, Patrick. That’s stealing. Remember, we had a talk about this at the mall?”

I shook my head, clutching it tightly in my fist.

“Do you want to take it home to show Pete?” Dr Urie asked, eyeing me carefully.

“Uh, Um…. Yeah…”

“That’s okay, as long as you remember to bring it back tomorrow.”

I nodded, despite having no intention of doing what he asked.

 

 

 

Pete

The real question was how we didn’t notice earlier.

It all started when we took Patrick out for dinner for the first time. Dad had mentioned he wasn’t really feeling great after the last therapy session, so apparently, we had to go to the house of pancakes to cheer him up.

It did work. Even though he had several panic attacks (one when he walked in and was greeted by a server, one when he dropped his stupid llama toy on the floor, and one when he was so overwhelmed by all the different types of pancakes he could order), when food finally came, he was so excited and happy, and it was pretty cute.

I think that’s why nobody noticed when he shoved his pockets with the plastic cutlery and maple syrup sachets.

It didn’t take long before it was normal for Patrick to walk around with his hands in his pockets. I noticed occasionally he’d pick up things like pen lids, or occasionally take apples from the fruit bowl upstairs to eat, but it didn’t really start to be a cause for concern until the two of us were out grocery shopping with Mom.

I was watching him as Mom was weighing up whether it was better to buy plain flour or wholemeal flour. He wandered through the baking isle, looking at all the different cake mixes, until he got to the sprinkles. He then looked at all of them, before grabbing a small cylinder, and shoving it into his pocket before quickly walking back over to Mom as if nothing had happened.

After that, I kept an eye on him through the rest of the store. He grabbed a single sachet of pancake mix, a bar of chocolate, a small tube of toothpaste and a glittery bouncy ball. I expected him to add it to the cart at some point, but when we were at the checkouts and he was just staring down at the floor, I tapped Mom on the shoulder.

“You don’t need an itunes card, Pete.” She said without even turning around.

“No, no, not that.” I told her. “Patrick’s um, like, stealing things. His pockets are full.”

She blinked a few times in confusion, before furrowing her brows and looking at Patrick. “Honey, do you have anything in your pockets?”

Patrick immediately paled. “N-No.”

I folded my arms. “I watched you pick them up, dude.”

“Honey,” Mom took a deep breath and bent down in front of the weirdo. “If you want anything from the store, we have to pay for it, okay? You can still have it, we just have to put it up here and let the lady scan it. You can have it straight back after.”

 

“I don’t, I don’t have anything.” He mumbled, looking back down at his sandals.

“Liar.” I scowled, shoving my hand into his pocket and taking the tube of sprinkles. “Look, Mom. He’s stealing.”

Patrick cried when Mom took his things from him and paid for them. In fact, he cried for the entire car ride home, until Mom took the shopping inside. Then he tipped all the bags out, found his things, and shoved them back into his pockets before disappearing upstairs.

It was a few days later that I noticed how his bedspread was starting to look a little… chunky. I waited until he disappeared to the bathroom before wandering over to investigate.
He hadn’t gone to a lot of effort to hide it, and there were hundreds of random objects on the mattress when I pulled the sheets back. There was stuff from when we went out for pancakes, random stones and pine cones that he must have grabbed from the backyard, and the stuff from when we went to do the groceries. Then there were plastic wrappers from things he’d eaten, and random catalogs that he must have taken from the kitchen.

I picked up one of the rocks and thumbed over it, before I was tackled to the floor. “T-THAT’S MINE!”

I grabbed his arms and tried to wrestle him off me, but he was surprisingly strong and held me pinned to the floor as he snatched the rock from my hand, and pulled the sheets back over his bed. “You don’t get to touch!

“PATRICK!” I pushed his arm off my chest. “What the fuck?!

He frowned and shoved me away from the bed. “These are my things. Not yours. You gotta get your own things.”

“Dude, that’s not things, that’s like, garbage.” I spat. “And don’t fucking touch me. This is MY room.”

“They’re my things.” He huffed.

I glared at him. “Do you want me to tell Dad?”

Immediately the colour drained from his face, and quickly sat down on top of the bed protectively. “T-They’re mine, Pete…”

“Yeah, that’s great, but don’t you dare ever fucking touch me again, okay?! You ever do anything like that again, and you’re out. Not just out of my bed, but like, this entire family, you hear me!? No more of this room, no more Mom or Dad. They don’t want anybody who’s violent. So you touch me again, not only will I tell Dad about this garbage, he’ll kick you out. Got it!?”

“I-I-I-“ He fumbled for words, eyes wide in terror. “O-Okay.”

“Good.” I seethed.

Chapter Text

Pete

I did keep my part and kept quiet about Patrick’s growing collection of junk. He added to it every day, shoving things in his drawers, but mostly under his duvet.

There was no logical explanation for the things he was grabbing. One day it would be a particularly nice stone that was smooth to the touch and nice to run your finger across, and then the next it would be nickel from Dad’s jar of coins, and then after that it would be a lollipop stick. But they were all the same to him, and if he ever caught me trying to look, then he’d snarl at me and hide it so I couldn’t see it anymore.

I was concerned, sure, but I also liked to keep my word. It was only when our room started to smell that I decided to raise a discussion.

“Hey, kid, look, I know you’re like, proud of your collection, but something over there really, really, smells.” I nudged him with my elbow gently. “Look, I won’t tell Dad about the rest of the stuff, but you gotta get rid of the smell. It’s bad.”

“There’s no smell.” He mumbled, ignoring me and not looking up from his book.

“Um, yes, there is.” I corrected. “And if you don’t fix it, I’ll get Dad.”

“It doesn’t smell!” He defended again, slamming his book closed. “You’re lying!

“I’m not fucking lying!” I snapped angrily. “Fix it, or I’ll tell Dad, okay?!”

He huffed in frustration at me, and went back to his book.

--------------

Another few days went by, with the smell getting progressively worse.

Occasionally when Dad would come in to tell us to go to bed or whatever, he’d seem to notice and his nose would wrinkle up slightly, and he’d suggest it might be good to open a window or something.

The window was already open. It had been open all week.

I kept asking the weirdo to do something about it, and even though he didn’t, I didn’t go through with my threats. That was, until he got out of bed in the middle of the night.

My bed was against the wall. Patrick normally spent the night curled up between the wall and me, and I always let my leg hang off the side of the bed so we’d both fit. So naturally, when he got out of bed at 3:04am, he woke me up as he tried to manoeuvre around me.

Dude.” I whispered sleepily, swatting at him with my hand. “Go back to sleep.”

He ignored me, pulling a pair of socks on, and disappearing out of the room.

I assumed he went to the bathroom or something, and laid back in silence, waiting for him to return after a few minutes, as I’d have to move so we could get back into our usual position without becoming Olympic gymnasts.

He ended up returning about a half hour later, his hands full of something or other. The lights were off, so he didn’t notice me looking, but I did see him drop it into his pyjama drawer. Then, he glanced around, closed the door, and quickly ran back out.

This time, I did follow him. But not too closely.

I checked the usual places where he liked to hang out. The bathroom. The upstairs lounge room. The downstairs lounge room. The basement. Mom and Dad’s closet. On the outside deck. Nope.

Instead, he was in the kitchen. I assumed he was grabbing something to drink, but when I peeked around the corner to check what he was up to, I did not expect him to be sorting through the trash can.

He’d pulled it out from under the sink, and had tipped all the trash over the kitchen floor, and was sifting through it on his hands and knees, collecting a pile of things to the side. I watched him for about 5 minutes, before taking a deep breath and walking over. “Patrick, what the fuck are you doing?!”

Like a deer caught in headlights, he scrambled to his feet and pressed himself back against the wall. After an awkward stare down for a couple of seconds, I glanced down at his pile. “Dude, this is trash.”

“Don’t touch.” He growled warningly when I took a step closer to it.

“This is gross, dude.” I muttered, kicking an empty can away. “Like, I get you like stuff, but this isn’t… normal.”

“Yes it is.”

“No.” I told him. “It’s really not. C’mon, help me clean this up and we’ll go back to bed.”

“I don’t want to.” He huffed. “It’s mine.”

“No, it’s garbage, Patrick.” I rubbed eyes in frustration. “Do I need to go get Dad, or are you going to clean this crap up?”

Dad was never a huge fan of being woken up in the middle of the night, but when I explained that the kid was sorting through the garbage in the kitchen at 3am and got angry whenever I went to touch it, he rushed downstairs to see the situation.

Patrick was a little more lenient with Dad than he was with me. He let Dad sweep the rest of the trash back into the trash can, but wouldn’t let him near his beloved pile of crap.

He shoved as much as he could into his pockets, and bundled the rest in his arms. “It’s mine.”

Dad seemed confused. “Patrick, buddy, it’s just trash. They’re wrappers and bits of waste that we don’t need anymore. That’s why they were in the trash can.”

“I don’t care.” He huffed. “It’s, it’s mine.”

Dad sighed. “Okay, okay, look, it’s 4 in the morning, let’s just talk about this tomorrow, yeah? Back to bed. C’mon.”

He walked us back upstairs, and Patrick emptied his pockets into his pyjama drawer, before sitting back on the edge of my bed. Dad sighed, and presumably going to tuck Patrick back in, pulled his duvet down.

Patrick screamed.

Dad was surprised to see the pile of junk under there, but I think he was more surprised at the scream that came from the kid as he ran over and pushed him away. “Mine!

“Patrick, buddy, what’s this?” Dad pulled the blanket further down, staring at the pile of candy wrappers, pinecones and random things he’d taken from around the house.

“T-They’re mine!” He yelled, grabbing Dad’s hand and trying to pull him away from the bed, to no avail.

“Patrick…” Dad sighed, sorting through the junk and grabbing an empty chip packet. “Oh, buddy…”

“If you can figure out where the smell is coming from, that’d be great.” I mumbled, climbing back into my own bed. “Because something over there smells, really bad.”

“No! It doesn’t!” Patrick’s eyes were glassy with tears and he snatched the chip packet back from Dad.

Patrick continued to sob and yank on Dad’s arm as he poked around, looking for the source of the odor. It took a few moments, but eventually when he opened the kid’s sock drawer, he gagged and a smell ten times worse than the one we’d been living in was released into the air.

“NO!” Patrick yelped, trying to pull Dad away.

“Patrick, jesus!” I yelled when I saw. “You can’t like, keep rotting food in the fucking bedroom, okay?!”

“I-It’s m-mine!” He cried, switching between trying to pull Dad away and scratching his arms. “N-No!”

“We have to,” Dad paused to gag again. “Patrick, it’s rotting. I know why you’re trying to keep the food, buddy, but when it goes smelly and mouldy, then you can’t eat it anymore or it will make you sick, yeah? So we gotta get of it.”

Patrick screamed bloody murder as Dad carried the drawer outside to dispose of the offending objects. He chased him, tugging at his shirt, and sobbing that it was his, and that Dad couldn’t take it. And when that didn’t work, he tried turning to bribery.

“I-I, I can g-give you a little talk!” He cried, continuing to pull at his shirt. “A-And you can make me better if you w-want! And, and I’ll go a-away! I’ll go b-back to old bedroom! I will!”

“What?” Dad turned around at that and shoved the smelly drawer at me. “Patrick, we don’t want you to do any of those things, okay? We just need to get rid of this, because it smells, and it’s going to make you and Pete sick. Okay?”

“They’re m-mine!” He sobbed, scratching his arm. “P-Please don’t take them, Food Man!”

“I’m sorry buddy, but it’s just to keep you safe, yeah?”

“I’ll, I c-can do anything!” He cried. “Anything! I’ll s-stop being weird and I can, I can do l-little talks and I can-“

Dad cut him off. “Patrick, shhhh. It’s okay. I don’t want you to do anything. No little talks. We just gotta get rid of it.”

Dad had to draw the line when Patrick tried to pull his pants down.

 

 

Patrick

They took it all. They took everything.

Food Man and Dale and Dr Urie and Pete and everyone. They came into my room in the morning and they went through my bed and my drawers and they took everything. They put it all in a big black trash bag, and took it away.

They took all the blankets off the bed, and all the clothes out of the drawers, and then took the drawers away so the clothes are just on the shelves. The only thing they let me keep was Frosty, and I spent all morning crying on the bed without blankets because I was sad.

They took everything.

Food Man said he was sorry but that wasn’t true. If he was sorry then he wouldn’t have taken my stuff away. He knew I liked it a whole lot, and then he took it away anyway. He took it even when he knew I was gonna be mad if he did, and then wanted me to be okay with him taking it.

He tried to be nice. He made pancakes for breakfast and tried to get me to come downstairs to eat with everyone else but I didn’t want to. I didn’t even eat the pancakes he brought up to bedroom. I just threw them out the window and got mad at him.

He sent lots of people up to see me. Dale came upstairs with another plate of pancakes after I got rid of the first one and tried to convince me to eat them, but I didn’t say anything to her because she wasn’t my friend anymore. Hillary was still my friend, but I didn’t want to go back downstairs to learn another piano song with her because that was what Food Man wanted, and he was definitely not my friend right now.

Even Andrew came upstairs and offered to play video games. I didn’t talk to him either.

Pete came in and out of the room a couple of times but didn’t really say anything. He just laid on his own bed with his little tee vee and tapped away at it. He did glance up at me a few times, but looked away when I cried again.

It was stupid how nobody understood. They’d all be mad if I took everything they loved away from them.

I didn’t like them very much at all anymore.

 

 

 

Pete

Even though the kid had been very upset and very angry all day, he still crawled into bed beside me when it reached about 11.

“Pete?” he whispered hesitantly.

“Yeah?” I mumbled sleepily.

“I, I…” he bit his lip nervously. “I don’t wanna be in the world anymore.”

“What?” I rolled over to face him. “Kid, c’mon. You can’t just say things like that.”

He sniffled. “But it’s t-true.”

“No, it’s not.” I told him. “You think it is because Dad took all the stuff you were hoarding away. But it’s not. You’re telling me that you’d rather live in a room that’s 6 feet by 8 feet because Dad took some stuff away?”

He nodded.

“Fucking hell.” I mumbled, wondering how I got slapped with ‘cheer up with weirdo’. “Look kid, the world is beautiful, right? It’s fucking beautiful. There’s so much great stuff and it’s like, huge.”

He shook his head. “It’s not beautiful. Just scary.”

I groaned and swatted for my iPad, before bringing it to life where we could both see it. I glanced at his face, before going to youtube and searching up some videos of puppies.

At first it scared him, and he tried to hide behind the blanket, but after a while he was just watching the videos with a content smile on his face. He laughed at the right moments, and his eyes went wide with awe when we watched videos of people doing stunts.

He snuggled right up to me, resting his head on my chest and watching anything and everything. I showed him all sorts of animals, landscapes, people. We watched everything from motorbike stunts, to a video on how to make Japanese cheesecake. We listened to music, watched short films, and funny sketches.

We probably stayed up for hours, until he fell asleep on my chest. I didn’t push him off this time.

Chapter Text

Pete

For a few days, I ended up being ‘communicator’ of sorts.

Patrick wouldn’t talk to Dad, or Mom, or his therapist dude after they took his hoarding stash away. The only person he’d really talk to was me, and so it came to the point where I was passing messages between them.

“Patrick, dude, Dad wants to know if you’ll go and see that other doctor. Tyler?”

Patrick scowled down at the lego he was playing with. “I’m not doing anything for Food Man.”

“This isn’t about him, kid. This is about you, and the fact that your hand is gonna get infected if somebody doesn’t clean it soon.” I dug my hands into my pockets. “And are you seriously still on about this? Kid, they did what they had to do, okay? I know you didn’t like, wanna give all your crap up, but come on.”

He didn’t respond. I sighed and went back downstairs to Dad. “He won’t do it because he doesn’t want to do anything for you.”

Dad sighed. “Right.”

“Can you like, fix this, or something?” I asked. “Because I’ve got better things to do than ran between you two all day. He’s mad because you took his stuff. Can’t you just give it back? I mean, yeah, sure, it was just trash, but like, if it would fix things, then can’t you? I know you haven’t thrown it out yet.”

“Pete, giving him back his things would only hurt him more.” Dad sighed, sitting down at the kitchen table. “His behaviour tells us more about his state of mind than anything he could have told us. The hoarding… shows that things aren’t good.”

“We always knew that things weren’t good.” I stated, thinking back to the scars down the kid’s arms from his scratching.

“Well, yes, but more so now.” Dad sighed. “The food hoarding is a sign of food insecurity. So that’s a trust issue. Plus, it tells us that he’s had times growing up that he’s been deprived of food, and so when he has access to all of it, he’s stashing it away to save it for times when it’s gone. It’s a survival instinct.”

“Right…”

“And that’s why he was so emotional when we took the drawer of rotting food away.” He explained. “That was his security blanket, it gave him the peace of mind that he’d be okay if the family suddenly rejected him and stopped giving him food. So that tells us that his mother did occasionally give him affection, but he’s been learned that it’s never forever, and the people who are kind to him will always turn against him.”

“What about the rest of the crap?”

“Well, it was his attempt at trying to understand the world and get a little bit of control over it.” Dad sighed. “He’s never seen any of these things before. He doesn’t understand any of it, and it’s incredibly overwhelming, so he’s trying to feel a little more in control. If he’s got things tucked up in his bedroom, and food away for when he needs it, then it gives him a little bit of a safety net in case everything got taken away.”

“So essentially, he thinks we’re all two-faced liars who are going to take everything he loves away. And you proved that by taking his crap.”

Dad sighed. “Yes, to the first part. That’s all he knows.”

“The second part is true, too.” I frowned. “So what if he needs a little security blanket? It’s fine.”

“It won’t be fine when it gets so bad that you can’t see the floor in your room anymore.” He responded. “Look, the best course of action is to treat the source of the problem and help him understand why he’s doing these things, and then how to stop. We caught it at the start, so now we just need to help him before it gets a lot worse.”

“That doesn’t answer my question.” I folded my arms. “Fix your relationship because I’m over being the messenger.”

Dad nodded. “We’ll start that tomorrow. We’re going to the zoo.”

“I was going to go to Andy’s place!”

“Pete, please.”

I huffed. “You owe me.”

 

 

 

Patrick

I hated the car now. I hated the car almost as much as I hated that Food Man took all my stuff away. When we were in the car, I couldn’t get away from any of them and we were stuck. And it was awful.

Pete had given me a little book about the place we were going today. The zoo. Not that I’d tell Food Man, but it looked very cool. There were loads and loads of animals that lived there, and they all looked pretty cool. I wanted to go and see them. It just wasn’t fair that Food Man and Dale had to take us.

Pete got to sit in the front seat, and Dale was in the seat with the wheel, which meant that Food Man was sitting beside me. I tried to ignore him and looked out the window, but that just made me dizzy and I sat hugging frosty tightly and starting down at my sandals.

I growled at Food Man when he went to pick up the zoo book off the floor, but he took it anyway and flicked through it, looking at the pictures. When he caught me looking, he smiled. “Which one do you want to go see?”

I growled again and looked away.

He kept looking through it though, for some reason, and after a while I grew annoyed. “That’s mine.

“No, it’s from the library.” Food Man said, pointing to a sticker on the front of it. “And I borrowed it from the library, so it’s mine for a little bit until I give it back. But you can have a look if you’d like to. Would you like a look?”

“Yes.” I mumbled.

He smiled and handed it over to me. I flicked through it again, looking at all the photos, spending a long time on the giraffe page because it was a pretty fun page.

“Giraffes, huh?” Food Man smiled. “That’s pretty cool. I like them too.”

“I don’t.” I spat at him.

“Awww. Are you sure? They’re pretty cool, and they’re super tall as well. Much taller than me.”

I shook my head. “That’s impossible.”

Food Man laughed. “How about we go have a look at some today? They’re even taller than the car. It’s really cool. They use their long necks to reach the leaves on the top of the trees.”

I had to sit in silence for a few minutes while thinking about that, because it was so big I couldn’t even picture it. That meant a giraffe wouldn’t even fit in old bedroom, and I had wanted to take one of them home.

Maybe I could keep it in the backyard? But under a blanket so Food Man wouldn’t see it and take it away. That might work…

Food Man chuckled. “Did you see the llama page? There’s gonna be real llama’s there, big ones. Like frosty, but alive.”

I clutched Frosty tighter and flinched in case Food Man tried to take him too. He couldn’t take Frosty away. But he didn’t seem to want to, and sat on his side of the car until I reluctantly handed him the book to show the page.

The pictures looked very different than Frosty, but they also looked very fluffy and I wanted one. Maybe I could keep it in the backyard under the blanket with the giraffe. That would be very nice.

When we got to the zoo, Food Man made us stand in a very long line, before he gave some money papers to a lady in a little glass booth (She freaked out when I tried to break the glass and let her out so she didn’t have to be stuck in a tiny little bedroom), before we went in. There were lots, and lots of people, and even though I was still mad at Food Man, I clutched his hand tightly.

“What do you want to go and see first, Patrick?” Food Man asked with a kind smile.

“U-Um, I, I just, I…”

“Do you wanna just go for a walk for a while to an area that’s a little less busy?”

Dale suggested.

I nodded.

--------

We walked everywhere. The Zoo was bigger than anyplace I had ever been ever, and I’d been to the mall. Pete had let me take lots of photos with his little piece of metal, and that was very fun. He even took some with me in them.

My favourite was the one that Dale took that had both me and Pete in the photo, with the giraffe. That was a very cool one and I wanted it, but it only existed inside the tiny piece of metal.

I was having a very good day, and Frosty was too, until we had to get lunch. The place where there was lunch was very, very, full, and I didn’t like it in the slightest. Food Man held my hand tightly, but there were just so many people and they kept touching when we walked past and I didn’t like it at all.

So when Food Man accidently let go of my hand, I ran.

I wasn’t really sure where I was going, but I wasn’t staying where all those people were. I kept running until there was no more people, and then sat down on the ground because it was okay now. I was hungry, but I was okay.

When I felt a little better, I got up and looked around for a while. There weren’t any people here, but there was a fun sign with lots of different animal names and pictures on it. I ended up choosing to go to llamas, and headed that way.

I got a bit nervous when there were lots of people at the llamas, but I didn’t freak out until I saw a lady with a pink dress and red hair. And when she turned around, she noticed me looking at her. “Is everything okay?”

That’s when I screamed. Loudly. So loudly that I fell over and screamed again and tried to back as far away from her as I could. Then there were more people, who all turned and looked, and then I screamed again because there were so many of them, and then even more came, and then I scratched and scratched and scratched until somebody grabbed my arms.

And when it was the lady in the pink dress with the red hair, I screamed louder than ever, and ran. Away from the lady, away from the people, and away from everything. I ran and ran and ran and ran and ran. I hoped, eventually to a place where none of this was real and everything was okay again.

 

 

 

Pete

“You lost him?!”

“No, I asked you to watch him!”

“No, I told you that I was going to get some food, and you were going to watch him!”

“He’s been latched to your hand since we got here! It’s not my fault he’s gone!”

Dad shook his head. “Look, it doesn’t matter who lost him. We need to find him, and fast.”

“Can’t we just tell security we’ve lost our toddler?” I asked. “That’d probably be fastest.”

Dad sighed. “Pete, you look around the food court. Dale, go to security. I’m going to check the surrounding exhibits. He can’t have gone too far.”

Clearly, he must have gone far. I spent a while wandering around the food court in circles, looking for the weirdo, but a kid wearing his jeans tucked into his socks was nowhere to be seen. I texted Dad and asked if I could come and join him, but he didn’t reply. Mom did, but she just said to stay in the food court in case he came back.

It was pretty boring, to be honest. I went and got some ice cream after a while, as a bit of a distraction. Even though I wouldn’t admit it to Dad, I was getting pretty worried about the kid. It had been at least an hour since he’d disappeared, and considering he could hardly cope when he saw a bird fly by, I couldn’t even imagine the trouble he could get into in a place like this.

He’d had a rough few days, anyway. This wasn’t fair on the kid. He was having such a good time, too.

The relief when Mom found me and said that they’d found him was a great feeling, although I did try to hide it. We met up with him and Dad in the first aid room near the entrance.

I think the first thing I noticed was the lollipop in his mouth. Then I noticed the bandages. They went all up his arms, right up to under his t-shirt sleeves. His t-shirt itself had been replaced by a tourist-y one from the gift shop, and his other shirt sat a bloody mess on the bed he was sitting on. I visibly winced at the possibility of what happened.

“Patrick!” Mom cupped his face in her hands, before hugging him tightly. “Oh, honey, you’re okay! I was so worried!

“I…” Patrick bit his lip nervously. “I, I’m okay…”

“Yeah, you’re okay now.” I sat up on the bed beside him, gently running a hand over the bandages. “What did you do?”

He pulled away from me and scowled. Dad glared at me to shut up, but he did speak. “I just, I got scared.”

“That’s okay.” I assured him. “Look, I’m glad you’re back, kid. You really scared us there.”

I wasn’t sure what I was expecting when I said that. Probably a smile or something, or maybe an apology. But not a fucking kiss, that came straight onto my lips without any warning whatsoever.

I think Mom and Dad were as surprised as I was, and Patrick looked down at his lap. “D-Did I do it wrong?”

“Um, well, I mean, no…” I stammered. “This just… this isn’t the place for that, okay? We’re not meant to kiss.”

He blinked a few times. “Why?”

“Because, like, we don’t like, um…” I started, before Dad cut me off.

“That’s something you can talk about with Dr Urie tomorrow, yeah? It’s a bit like when we had the talk about why it’s not okay to lick people.”

Patrick nodded solemnly, before tugging his hat down further on his head. “Can we go look at the giraffes again?”

“If you want to.” Dad nodded, taking the kid’s bandaged hand in his own. “But you can’t take one home.”

“Not even a little one?”

“Not even a little one.”

He pouted, but nodded. “What about a llama? A real-life Frosty?”

Dad chuckled. “No, buddy. This is the home of all the animals, yeah? They like it here, because there’s lots of other animals and humans that love them and take care of them. They wanna stay here, so we can’t take them home.”

He nodded and reached for my hand as we left. I let him take it this time.

Mom got him another toy llama and a toy giraffe from the gift shop before we went home.

Chapter Text

Patrick

It was only when I got back to Dr Urie’s office, the day after we went to the zoo, that I learned that Food Man and Dr Urie and Dale hadn’t thrown out all my things.

When I walked in the door, they were all over the rug, every single thing that I had grabbed and added to my collection. It was all there. I didn’t even say goodbye to Food Man, I just ran over and quickly shoved as much of it as I could into my pockets. Then when they were full, into my pants, into my socks, and under my hat.

“Woah, woah, Patrick!” Food Man took my hat off and gently swept everything back onto the rug. “We’re having a chat about this today. Relax, buddy.”

I shook him off and snatched my hat back. This wasn’t his stuff. This was my stuff.

Dr Urie sat down beside me on the rug. “So I’m guessing you recognise these?”

“They’re mine.” I muttered at him, continuing to shove as much as I could into my hoodie sleeves to take back.

“I know they’re yours.” He said, and I paused for a split second. “You spent a long time collecting it all, right?”

“Um…”

“So, I’m not going to touch them. Because they’re yours, not mine. I just had to take care of them for a couple of days because they were taking up your bed. And it’s not okay for them to take up your bed, because you have to sleep there.”

“But I don’t sleep there.” I huffed at him.

He didn’t seem to take a whole of lot notice of that, and just watched as I tried to put some more things into my socks. “What we’re going to do today is have a bit of a chat about why you take these things, and then we’ll have a look at letting you have some of them back, okay?”

“I’m taking all of them.” I told him.

“Well, before you do, let’s talk about it.” Dr Urie said. “Which one would you say is your absolute favourite?”

“Frosty.” I didn’t even need to think about it.

“Frosty doesn’t count.” He explained. “So anything that Food Man or Dale bought you at the mall, and anything you don’t need hide because someone has given it to you, those things don’t count. The only things that do count are the ones that you grabbed yourself.”

After thinking about that for a while, I had to empty everything out of my pockets so I could decide. It took me a very, very long time, but I ended up choosing a pine cone because it was a weird shape and felt weird to touch. It was my favourite.

“Okay, cool.” He smiled. “Which one’s your second favourite?”

I blinked. “But, but I…”

He chuckled. “So, what we’re doing is we’re putting them in order from your favourite to your least favourite. Do you think that you can do that?”

“They’re, they’re all important!” I cried.

Food Man took my hand. “You can do it, buddy.”

It took a very long time, and both Food Man and Dr Urie watched me as I had to change the order 28 times because it wasn’t perfect. But when it was done, all the things were in a line, stretching from behind Dr Urie’s desk, all the way back to the rug.

It was then that Dr Urie handed me a box, about the same size as the one that my new pair of shoes came in, but it was all clear and you could see through it. I went to find a spot in the line to put it, when he called me back. “So, Patrick, this is your stuff box. You can put your things in this box, but only what fits. Anything that doesn’t fit in the box isn’t allowed to go home.”

“B-But, but it’s small!” I told him.

He nodded, and took it back from me before grabbing a pen. “So there’s a couple of rules to this, okay?”

“I, I d-don’t want to leave anything!” I cried, “It’s mine!”

Dr Urie started by writing Patrick’s Box on the top of it. “When you take it home, you’re the only person allowed to open it up. So Food Man can pick the box up and look through it, but he’s not allowed to open it or touch it. Nobody is allowed to open it and touch your stuff except you. Does that sound good?”

I scowled at him. It would sound good if the box was bigger and could fit everything in it, but this box was way too small.

“Patrick, if you don’t want the box, then you’re not allowed to take any of it home.” Food Man told me. “So I think you should talk to Dr Urie about it.”

He explained all the rules for it. Like no food, nothing from the trash can, and nothing taken from anyone else. Then there was the fact that Food Man was allowed to look through it every night (but not open it), to see if I’d broken the rules. And if the rules were broken, then I wasn’t allowed to have the box anymore.

“And you can only have what fits inside it.” Dr Urie said when he gave it back to me. “if it doesn’t fit, then it’s not allowed inside, or you have to get rid of something else inside so there’s room. And anything that’s found that doesn’t fit in the box is gonna be taken away, alright?”

I crammed as much as I could into the box, and I cried when Food Man had to take me home and I had to leave half of the stuff there. It didn’t want to be there. It wanted to come home and be in the box, and be with me. It probably missed me already. It wasn’t fair.

Pete raised his eyebrows when I ran into bedroom with my box and cried on my bed for a little while. “What happened to you?”

I didn’t respond to him. He got to keep all his stuff. It wasn’t fair.

 

 

 

Pete

I was kinda relieved that we were called down to the lounge room after dinner. I mean, Patrick’s cries were okay to put up with for maybe 10 minutes, but it had literally been all afternoon and I was getting pretty sick of it.

You’d think that giving him some of his stuff back would make him happy. It clearly did not. He’d been clutching this new box to his chest and sobbing into it for hours, and any break from it seemed like a good one.

Mom had the entire family sit down on the couch, including Andrew and Hillary, and explained that there was going to be another member of the family joining us very soon.

At first I thought that meant that Grandma was visiting again, or maybe Uncle Joseph, or something like that. But when the front door opened and Dad walked in with a fucking dog in his arms, I was about as surprised as everyone else.

It was a little fluffy thing, and it wriggled in Dad’s arms in excitement, it’s little tail wagging. I was too busy watching the thing to notice Patrick grab my hand in alarm, and only really started to pay attention when he squeezed tightly in terror.

“It’s just a puppy, kid.” I chuckled, before turning to Dad. “You got us a puppy!?”

“The psychology team recommended a service dog for Patrick.” He managed while trying not to drop the thing as it squirmed in his arms. “So I put a case a few days ago, and I got news today that it got approved.”

My face fell immediately. “So it’s Patrick’s dog then.”

Patrick immediately shook his head and brought his knees to his chin. “I, I don’t… I don’t want it.”

I huffed. It didn’t matter than I had been the one who had been begging Mom and Dad to get a dog since I was like, 5. As soon as this kid enters the house, Dad’s pretty much got his wallet out ready to buy 6,000.

Dad sat down on the floor and gently set the puppy free, and it spent a while pacing the living room and smelling everything. It liked Mom’s long nails and seemed to settle in her lap while she scratched behind it’s ear.

“Patrick, come over here sweetie.” Mom tried. “He’s just little, he won’t hurt you.”

Patrick shook his head, and went to scratch his bandages before Dad quickly took his hand. “Do you remember when we went to the dog park and you saw all the different dogs? This is just one of them.”

He was very hesitant when Dad tried to make him pet the thing, and screamed loudly when it sniffed him. At that point, I rolled my eyes and took it into my arms.

It was an adorable little thing really, a golden retriever, and licked my face and let out little excited whimpers as I let it run all over me. I was having a great time, until it abandoned me when Dad whistled it over.

He got the puppy to sit, and gave it gentle scratches while trying to coax Patrick to at least touch it. Eventually he did manage to touch some of it’s fur, and I watched his facial expression change instantly.

“Soft…”

“Yeah, that’s right.” Dad chuckled. “He’s yours, buddy. It’s okay.”

Patrick spent the rest of the night watching it from behind corners, and hiding whenever it looked at him. It mostly just walked around and sniffed at things, and Mom got a little mad when it peed on the rug. Patrick just mostly seemed scared of it.

Sure, you could say I was a little miffed at him. He’d gotten the one thing I’d been asking for for years, and he didn’t even want it in the first place. I was very annoyed at Dad, but the fact that Patrick didn’t even appreciate it was annoying me more.

That was, until I went to find him to tell him I was going to bed.

He was hiding in Mom and Dad’s cupboard, and the dog was up there too. Pressed right back into the corner, Patrick was gently patting its fur and taking very nervous breaths.

“I’m, I’m Patrick…” He mumbled nervously. “You’re very soft.”

When the dog didn’t respond, he tapped it on the nose. “Do you have a name, or do you want to pick one?” he paused a moment. “I don’t know how names work. I don’t know anyone else who got to pick their name.”

After a few more minutes, he laid down on the floor and let the puppy crawl up onto his stomach. “It’s okay if you don’t want to talk to new people. New people are super scary, and I don’t like them. But, but you’ll like Food Man and Pete. And Andrew and Hillary and Dale. They’re nice most of the time. And this home is much bigger than bedroom, so you’re gonna like that too.”

It was at this point I decided to film the interaction.

“Was your Mom mean to you too?” He asked it, gently giving it a belly rub. “Because my Mom was. But it’s good, ‘cause there’s no meanness here. And if your Mom ever comes back, I’ll yell at her and she’ll have to go away. I’m good at scaring people. I scared the lady at the zoo, and Dale says I scare her sometimes. But I don’t wanna scare Dale, because I like her. I hope I don’t scare you. You’re little and I’m a less little so maybe. But I won’t be mean to you. You don’t have to do any more little talks. I don’t either. That’s why it’s good here. You’re gonna like it.”

He watched it for a while, probably expecting a response, but didn’t stop when he didn’t get one.

“It’s not nice to not be called anything, so I… I’ll call you something until Food Man lets you pick your own name. I picked Patrick. I dunno what you wanna pick, but you can’t pick Patrick, because that’s my name. And don’t pick Pete, because that’s Pete and Food Man’s name. You can be, um…” He stroked it a few more times, before smiling. “Your fur is like a pancake so you can be Pancake until you pick something you want.”

He giggled for a while, clearly pleased with his choice. “That’s funny. Pancakes are super nice, and I’ll ask Food Man to make some tomorrow so you can try some. Food Man’s favourite food is ice cream, but pancakes are better than ice cream so that’s a better name. Can you think if my name was Ice Cream? That would be funny. But it’s not. It’s Patrick.”

“Patrick, c’mon kid. It’s time for bed.” I tucked my phone back into my pocket. “It’s late.”

“Oh, okay.” He nodded, standing up and looking back down at the dog. “Do you wanna come to bed too? It’s late and Pete says I have to go to bed now.”

I sighed, and gently scooped it up into my arms. “So, you named him, huh?”

“Pancake.”

I rolled my eyes playfully. “Course. Pancake can sleep in his bed in our room. Sound okay?”

“But… what if he wants to sleep with us?”

“He wouldn’t fit in the bed with us.”

“You don’t know that…”

“Patrick, we don’t fit in our bed.” I told him, putting the puppy down in the dog basket.

“Just tonight?” He pleaded.

I groaned. “Just tonight.”

The puppy wiggled right up between us, and kept licking my face when I was trying to sleep. Eventually, Patrick managed to get it to settle down on his side, and only started talking to it again when he thought I was asleep.

“Your kisses tickle.” He giggled softly. “Pete says it’s wrong when I kiss him like that, but he’s wrong because it’s how you do it, so it must be right. I like your kisses. You’re very nice.”

I nudged him with my elbow. “Go to sleep, or I’m kicking you both out of my bed.”

“But Pancake is giving goodnight kisses!”

“Just sleep.”

“Fine.”

Chapter Text

Patrick

I liked Pancake a whole lot.

He was pretty funny, and very soft. He liked to lie at my feet, and on my lap, and sometimes kiss my face. He liked to run around and chase a ball, and he didn’t mind when I liked to sit up and talk to him. He didn’t tell Food Man or Pete or Dale the things I told him, and he would cuddle up to me when I got sad. He was the best.

Sometimes he liked to pee on the rug in the living room. Dale didn’t like that. She got mad at him when he did that. I just told her that it wasn’t his fault – he didn’t know what a toilet was. Then she got sad when I told her that I used to not know what a toilet was, but somebody showed me and now I knew. Somebody just had to show Pancake.

He didn’t really understand the toilet when I tried to explain to him how it worked, but that was okay. He didn’t need to get everything right all the time. He was the best, even if he didn’t quite understand it.

He got to come everywhere with us, and that was very fun. Every morning, Food Man and I went to a special dog school where we taught him to do different things, like sit and stay and shake and it was very fun. He got to come when we went to see Dr Urie, and he even got to come to the mall that other time we went back.

He never did choose another name. But that was okay. Pancake was a good name for him.

Even though I thought Pete didn’t like him at first, Pete liked him now. He used to not want Pancake to sleep in the bed with us, but now he sleep at our feet and kept them warm at night so we didn’t have to wear socks to bed. We still technically didn’t fit, but that didn’t matter. It was better when all of us were there, so that way we could protect each other if something bad happened.

The first time something bad happened, I thought it was the worst thing ever. I was back in bedroom with Mom and she wanted a little chat, but not with me, she wanted a little chat with Pete and then Pete was in bedroom and then I screamed because she was going to hurt him and that was very very very not fair. But then all of a sudden I was back in Pete’s bedroom and Pete was sitting up in bed and he looked very frightened, and Pancake had crawled onto my lap but I was still screaming because it was so scary.

“Hey, hey, it’s okay kid, it was just a nightmare.” Pete grabbed my arms. “Shhhh. You’re okay.”

I looked around frantically, trying to comprehend how I’d gotten here when I was with Mom just then. Pancake leaned up and licked my cheek, and I trailed my fingers through his fur while I cried.

“There we go.” Pete sighed. “It was just like, a nightmare. It wasn’t real.”

“It w-was!” I cried. “It w-was so real and I was, I was there Pete! A-And you w-were and M-Mom and I!”

“Hey, hey, shhhh.” He gently rubbed my back. “It wasn’t real. You’re not there, and I’m not there, and we’re just at home. It was just a bad dream. Okay?”

I cried for a few minutes, cuddling Pancake while Pete sat with me. Eventually, after thinking about what he’d said, I turned to him. “W-What’s a dream?”

“A dream?” He blinked a couple of times. “You know what a dream is. It’s like, when you’re sleeping and you see like, things happen in your head. It’s not real, though.”

When Pete saw the confusion on my face, he looked very alarmed. “Have you never had a dream before?”

“I…. I don’t… I don’t think so…”

“Oh.” He looked down at his lap. “Well, like, that was a nightmare. It’s a dream, but it’s a bad dream that’s kinda scary. Everyone gets nightmares sometimes. But there’s good dreams, too. You just need to have one of those.”

I wiped my nose on my sleeve. “How do you get one?”

“Well, you don’t like…. They kinda just happen. You don’t get to choose what they are or when you get one. You just get them sometimes.”

“S-So the nightmare might c-come back?”

“I don’t know, kid.”

“I don’t… I don’t wanna sleep then…”

Pete sighed. “It probably won’t come back tonight. It’s late, yeah? And look, if it does come back, then I’m here. You’re better off going to sleep because nightmares are always worse when you haven’t slept in a while.”

Pete didn’t like it when I cuddled him to sleep. He said it was weird, and sometimes he said that if I kept doing that, then he was gonna make me sleep in my own bed. But tonight he didn’t mind when I put my arm around him and rested my head on his shoulder. It was warm like that, and Pancake slept between us too. He was about to go back to sleep, when I asked.

“Pete?”

He grunted slightly. “Yeah?”

“D-Do, do I ever have to go back to bedroom?”

“No, kid. You live here now.”

“Okay, good.” I snuggled further into him. “Do I live here forever?”

“Uh huh.” He mumbled. “Just go to sleep.”

The nightmare didn’t come back. I think Pete scared it away.

 

 

 

Pete

Andy: Are we still on for camping next weekend?

Andy: Mom says we can camp in our backyard. It’s big enough and we can camp at the far corner so we can’t even see the house. It’s not the woods like we wanted but we might actually be allowed to do it if we have it at mine.

Joe: My parents are cool with whatever. Pete?

I groaned. This camping thing was a nightmare. It was the one and only thing that I had really wanted to do this summer. It had already been pushed back 3 times, not to mention that we weren’t allowed to camp in the forest anymore.

Pete: I’ll have to talk to Dad but he’s dealing with another Patrick meltdown rn so I’m gonna have to get back to you on that one.

Andy: :(

Andy: Is he okay?

Pete: Patrick?

Andy: Yeah

Pete: Idk I think so. You never know with him. Sometimes he gets like really bad flashbacks, other time he just freaks out coz Mom turned the vacuum cleaner on and he’s never seen one of those before

Joe: Awwww

Pete: It’s not as cute as you think it is.

Andy: Does he want to come camping?

Pete: no.

Andy: Did you ask?

Pete: Look, I’m sure he’d love it, but he’s not like, a normal teenager. I don’t wanna be responsible for if he goes bloody arms in your backyard.

Joe: Bloody arms?

Pete: Long story

Andy: It might convince your Dad. And my Mom’s obsessed with him for some reason. He’s more than welcome to come.

Pete: Fine. I’ll ask.

When I heard the cries stop, I headed downstairs and interrupted whatever important chat Dad and Patrick were having by flopping onto the couch. “Hi.”

“Hi.” Dad frowned. “Is everything okay?”

“Is camping cool for next weekend?” I asked. “We’re gonna have it at Andy’s house. 2 nights. Friday and Saturday. Joe’s got a tent, and yeah. Cool?”

“Yes, that’s fine.” He nodded. “Look, Patrick and I were in the middle of some-“

“Andy wants to know if Patrick wants to come, actually.” I turned to the kid. “You wanna come camping?”

“Camping?” He repeated.

“Yeah.” I nodded. “Like, we sleep outside under the stars, and it’s gonna be at Andy’s house, and yeah.”

“C-Can I bring Pancake?” he asked, putting a hand on the dog sleeping on his lap.

“I… I’ll have to ask Andy. But I think so?”

Patrick looked to Dad next. “Can I go? With Pete? To the sleeping outside?”

Dad bit his lip. “Patrick, buddy, we’ve got appointments on the Friday, and it’s gonna be a long way from home…”

“But, but Pete will be there!” He tried to convince. “He’s good at scaring nightmares away!”

Dad seemed confused for a moment, but decided not to inquire into that at this point in time. “If everything goes okay this week, then you can go, yeah? But you have to go to all the appointments. Not just the ones you want to go to.”

Patrick thought about that for a while, before nodding. “Okay. And then I can go to the sleeping outside?”

“Then you can go to the sleeping outside.”

“Camping.” I corrected.

Patrick just giggled. “Okay.”

Chapter Text

Pete

I wasn’t too worried about taking the weirdo camping for the most part. Sure, I knew there might be a couple of freak outs, but I was well-accustomed to those now and knew that generally a hug was all he needed to settle down. And besides, Andy was there, and Joe, and we’d be able to take care of him pretty well.

And Patrick seemed pretty excited. He was counting down the days until he got to ‘do the sleeping outside!’ and kept the photos of camping stuff that Dad had given him in his pocket. I’d never seen him looking forward to something as much as this, and it was pretty funny, I had to admit.

We went to the store to get supplies for the trip, and although Patrick was disheartened when I told him we couldn’t make pancakes while camping, he was almost bursting with excitement when I explained the concept of a s'more. Even Mom and Dad noticed how happy this trip was making him, and then gave us a little more money to get even more snacks.

It was going to be a great trip. Even if it was just 3 days in Andy’s backyard.
When the day finally rolled around, Dad drove us to Andy’s place because he wanted to have talk to Andy’s Mom about Patrick before the trip, which made sense. Patrick, having grown quite a distaste for the car, sat with his knees to his chest and his gaze fixated out the window.

“Excited?” I asked him, looking up from my phone. “I told Andy we’re on our way. He’s already setting up the campsite with Joe.”

“Tent?”

“Uh huh.” I showed him the snapchat that Joe sent me. “See, there.”

“Are all of you going to fit in the one tent?” Dad asked from the front seat.

“I think so.” I shrugged. “If not we can just sleep under the stars. That’s probably what we’ll end up doing anyway.”

“The sleeping outside?” Patrick asked, and I laughed.

“Yeah, kid. The sleeping outside.”

------------

Andy lived on a huge property on the outskirts of town, and it was by far my favourite house of all my friends. Not only was it big, it was wild, and he had things like old cars and stuff all through the untamed grass. Every time I ventured into his backyard, it was almost like a new adventure, and I loved it.

Andy came up to meet us on his back porch after Dad’s very long introduction with Patrick and Andy’s Mom, and we headed down to our spot down the back corner of Andy’s backyard. It was quite a walk from the house, but that was good because it meant that it was more like real camping. I didn’t even realise Patrick was holding my hand until we reached the actual spot and he tugged on it urgently.

“What?” I turned to him. “We’re here. This is it. The sleeping outside, yeah?”

His face morphed into something resembling terror, and he tightened his grip on my hand again, before pointing. “Fire.

“Ohhhh.” Realisation hit. “I… didn’t think about that. Uh… yeah. There’s a fire. We kinda like, need it to cook and stuff. Like an outdoor oven? I don’t know.”

“What’s wrong?” Andy asked, realising we’d stopped following him.

“Patrick’s just had, uh, some bad experiences with fire.” I tried to explain. “So, uh, look kid. Fire isn’t always bad. As long as you don’t touch it, or get too close, then you’re fine.”

“I-It’s fire.” He whispered, eyes wide. “I, I don’t wanna…”

I pulled him forward. “Look, there’s rocks here, and it’s in this little fireplace, so it’s not gonna spread. As long as you don’t touch it, it’s fine. You don’t have to be scared of it.”

He didn’t seem convinced, and flinched every time it flickered. I noticed him thumbing over the bandages on his burnt hand, and sighed. “Alright. Why don’t… why don’t you just go set up our sleeping bags in the tent and then, yeah.”

The kid took the liberty and was pretty eager to get away from the fire. I grabbed one of the camping chairs that Andy had sat up and flopped into it after grabbing a pepsi from Joe’s cooler. “Well, this is it, I guess. Pretty cool.”

Joe smiled and sat down in the chair beside me, offering some doritos from the bag he was eating from. “I brought my guitar so we can write some music tonight, too.”

“Awesome.” I grinned. “This is gonna be the best weekend of the summer, I know it.”

 

 

Patrick.

Stupid fire.

The sleeping outside was going to be the most fun thing ever, but then the fire had to come and now it wasn’t fun anymore. Now I was hiding in the tent because the fire was outside and that made it not very fun at all.

Pete and Joe and Andy were talking about something called school and something about summer but I didn’t listen to them because it didn’t sound like a very fun thing to think about and I hated it. The only thing I could do was sit in this tiny little tent and listen to the voices and try and remember that I wasn’t back in bedroom and I was allowed to move whenever I wanted.

I was still sitting in the back corner when Pete opened the flap and stepped inside the tent. “Hey, kid.”

I didn’t look up at him. He promised that the sleeping outside was gonna be fun but then he let the fire come too and that wasn’t very nice of him. He was a jerk and I didn’t want to talk to jerks.

“You wanna come out and join us?” He offered. “Andy’s about to get started on cooking dinner and like, we’ve got a chair for you and stuff.”

I shook my head.

Pete sighed. “Is this still about the fire?”

“You told me that sleeping outside was going to be fun.” I scowled at him, bringing my knees to my chest.

“Patrick, it is fun. We’re all having fun out here. I know you’re scared, but trust me kid, I’m not gonna let you get burnt again, okay? As long as you don’t touch the fire, then you’re going to be fine.”

When I didn’t say anything, he sat down beside me. “Look, kid, trust me on this one, okay? I’m not going to let you burn yourself again. You can move your chair behind mine, so I’ll be between you and the fire, and then it won’t get you. Okay?”

“It won’t bite me?”

He laughed, but nodded. “It won’t bite you.”

It was darker outside now, because it was night time, but that was okay because the fire made light as well as heat. Pete moved a chair behind his and Andy’s, and I sat down quickly because the fire was moving and it was making noises and I was very scared of it.

“Hey, there you are.” Andy smiled. “I was wondering where you got to.”
“Hiding from the fire.” I mumbled, trying to avoid looking at it in case it remembered me.

“Oh. Well, don’t worry buddy, it’s not gonna hurt you if you don’t touch it.”

I didn’t respond to him. It probably wanted to hurt me already. I didn’t like the look of it, all orange and moving and all the scary noises it made. Every time it made a little crackling noise I got scared.

Pete chuckled and gently patted my shoulder “It’s not going to hurt you. I won’t let it hurt you, okay?”

“O-Okay.” I mumbled, clutching frosty tighter.

Joe made something called Hot Dogs for dinner, and it was very good and I liked it a lot. Andy and Joe and Pete talked a lot. They talked about that school thing and something about eighth grade and then about girls for a little while. Pete talked a lot about this one named Ashlee and Andy seemed to like one called Meredith. I didn’t really understand what they all meant, and I just sat down and held Frosty close.

After a while, Pete and Joe grabbed a bag of something they called marshmallows and started holding them on the actual fire.

“P-Pete…” I mumbled nervously.

“We’re making something called a s’more, yeah?” Pete smiled widely. “You’re gonna love it, it’s like-“

“Don’t b-burn yourself…”

“Awww.” Andy chuckled, patting my shoulder. “Don’t worry. Pete’s an expert at s’mores. Don’t worry.”

“B-But, but if it bites him, t-then he’s g-gonna need bandages and t-they’re not nice and…” I fiddled with the bandage on my bad hand. “A-And it hurts and then it spits yellow s-stuff and Food Man h-has to take you to see the special hand d-doctor and I…”

The fire went super big when Joe’s marshmallow fell off the stick. I screamed loudly and backed into Andy, before trying to pull Pete away from it before it bit him too.

“Patrick!” Pete shoved me away. “Chill! I know what I’m doing, okay? I’m not gonna burn myself. Relax.”

How on earth did he expect me to relax when there was evil fire right there and he was super close to it!?

“Yours is nearly done, anyway.” Pete sighed, turning his stick. “C’mon, you’re gonna like this.”

“Maybe you eat that one, Pete.” Andy squeezed my hand. “Let’s go sit in the tent for a bit, this is stressing you out.”

I nodded, mostly because I was eager to get away from the fire, but also paused. “D-Do you want one of the things that Pete’s making?”

“Um… no, no, that’s alright. I’m vegan.”

“Vegan?”

Andy chuckled and nodded. “I don’t eat anything that’s made from animal products, or meat. You know how meat is made from dead animals, right?”

“No….”

“Oh…. Well, uh, like, I don’t think it’s right for things to die for me to eat. So I don’t eat any meat.”

“They die?”

“Well, yeah…. People keep animals and grow them up so they can kill them and eat them. The marshmallows are made from, uh, ground up animals bones, and yeah, I don’t like it.”

I shook my head frantically, because that was so bad. “B-But they didn’t want to die!”

“I know, I know.”

“So why do people kill them?!” I asked, clutching Frosty tighter. I thought about the giraffes that we saw at the zoo, and thought about killing them and eating them and then I wanted to throw up. That was the most awful thing ever.

“Because some people think they taste good. Just, if you don’t want to eat it, then don’t eat it.” Pete sighed. “Tell Mom you don’t want to and she’ll stop giving you meat.”

Stop giving you meat? “I’VE EATEN DEAD THINGS?!”

Andy hugged me for a long time because I was very scared and felt very sick, and then I kept thinking about the animals, and if Pancake was gone, and if someone ate Pancake, and then it was just awful. Pete didn’t eat the marshmallow when I got upset, and put it in the fire because it made me sad.

After a while, Pete got something called sleeping bags and we had to get rid of the chairs and lie on the ground in them because they were like little beds that we could sleep outside in. Most of the fire had gone away after marshmallows, and it was getting darker and time to go to bed. Pete did tell me back at the house that I wasn’t allowed to sleep with him when we were doing the sleeping outside, but it was very scary and I don’t think he minded when I curled up into him.

 

 

Pete

I had expected Joe and Andy to make fun of me when Patrick fell asleep on my lap, but thankfully they didn’t. I think they understood as much as I did that he’d had a bit of a long day, and the tear stains left on his face while he slept were more than evidence of that.

“So, what’s the big deal with the fire?” Joe asked after about 20 minutes of silence between the three of us as we stared at the coals.

“He’s, uh, got a third degree burn on his hand.” I explained, running my own hand through his hair as he slept. “When his Mom like, tried to burn the place down, he’d never seen flames before and I think he tried to touch them? I don’t really know. He’s a bit hard to get information out of.”

Andy winced. “Some people don’t deserve children.”

“Yeah.” I sighed. “But sometimes they get them anyway and the world ends up with Patrick.”

“Mmmm.” Joe murmured. “How’s he going with like, adjusting to the world?”

“Well, not great to be honest.” I sighed. “There’s the hoarding, and the scratching, and the flashbacks, and yeah. He’s telling me all the time that he doesn’t like the world and that he wants to go back.”

“What? Back to being trapped in a tiny bedroom?” Andy asked, clearly alarmed.

I shrugged. “I don’t think he wants to go back to his Mom, I just think he’s overwhelmed. And y’know, that’s fair, but there’s not really anything we can do to help him.”

“I’m sure we can.” Andy tried. “We’ve just gotta show him that the world is like, good, and not terrifying like he thinks it is. Give him some happiness.”

“I’m sure he’d love that.” I had to smile. “He never stops talking about you, you know? Because you were the first one, other than Dad, who ever really like, was nice to him and took the time to understand him, and yeah. He’d probably trade you for me in a heartbeat.”

“Well, you were a jerk to him for a while-“

“We all make mistakes, Andy.”

“I know, I know. But the fact he’s cuddled up to you shows you two clearly have something between you. He trusts you. Don’t break it.”

I nodded and gently brushed Patrick’s hair out of his eyes. “Wouldn’t dream of it.”

Chapter Text

Patrick

The sun woke me up.

When we were sleeping outside, there were no walls or curtains or windows or ceilings, and so when the sun came up to say hello, it woke me up. It hadn’t woken Pete, Andy or Joe yet, just me, and so I got up and looked around.

The fire was gone now, which made me happy, but there wasn’t a whole lot else around. There was the tent, that had all our bags in it, and there was something Pete had called a cooler, but when I opened the cooler all I found was little metal cylinders. Pete had been drinking something out of one last night, but I couldn’t find any holes in the one I had, so that wasn’t very fun. But it was still a fun thing to find, so I put it in my bag because I liked it.

There were other fun things around if you knew where to look. There were little black rocks in the spot where the fire was, and if you rubbed it, then it left black stuff all over your hands. I thought that was very fun, and I coloured all the bandages in black before I remembered that Food Man told me not to get my bandages dirty while we were doing the sleeping outside because that was very, very bad and if it got through the bandages to the burn or the scratches then I could get sick.

I tried lots of things to get the black stuff off the bandages after I remembered that, because then I was scared because I was gonna get sick. I tried to brush it off with my good hand, but that didn’t really work, and I think it made it worse because my good hand was covered in black dust too. And then I was getting scared because the black dust wasn’t gonna come off, and then Food Man was gonna be so, so mad, and then he was going to send me back to Bedroom and maybe have a Little Chat and I was so, so scared. I was sick. I was so, so sick and I was going to die.

I tried to wash the black dust off with water, but then all the bandages got heavy and droopy and wet, and then when I tried to fix it, they just got looser and my arm was stinging and then they fell off.

“Don’t take the bandages off, Patrick.” Food Man said, tucking the end of it under another bit. “I know you don’t like them, and I know they’re a little bit itchy sometimes, but they’re very important, yeah? If you take them off, especially in a dirty place, some germs might get into the cut or the burn, and it could make you really sick and you might have to go back to the hospital for a little while. But we don’t want that to happen, because me, and Pete, and Dale and Hillary and Andrew want you here with us.”

Nobody liked it when I scratched my arms. Pete didn’t like it, he said that it was weird and I shouldn’t ever do it ever because it freaked him out. Food Man didn’t like it because he said that it was bad when I hurt myself and that made him sad. Same with Dale. I didn’t like it because it hurt, bad, but when I got really scared and started freaking out a little bit, sometimes I didn’t even realise I was doing it until I was screaming because it hurt and someone else was there.

 

 

 

Pete

Patrick’s screams woke me up.

My first thought was he’s having a nightmare, but then I realised he wasn’t next to me and his screams weren’t right next to my face. Then I realised I was on the ground, and the sun had only just come up, and we weren’t in my room. Then I saw Andy and Joe both having awoken to the screaming as well, and we only needed to make eye contact for half a second before we scrambled to find the kid.

I found him first. Huddled behind the tent, clutching his arms and - oh god Patrick, not your bandages - the blood oozing through his badly burned fingers. I hesitated for a moment in front of the situation, but then reminded myself that Dad wasn’t here, nor was any other adult, and in this moment I was pretty much the person who knew the most about the kid and how to help him.

“Patrick!” I ran foward and pulled his hands apart first, trying not to think about the bloody mess I was touching. “Kid! Please!”

He wrestled with me, and tried to get away, but I guess you don’t get a lot of arm strength from living in a bedroom all your life because he really couldn’t put up much of a fight against me. His tears didn’t stop, and he cried out in pain when I accidently squeezed his arm a little tight on where he’d been scratching it. And as awful as that made me feel, watching him wretch over in agony, I didn’t let him go because if he got those arms in the dirt, then that was going to end in a trip to the hospital to get them disinfected.

“P-PETE!” He cried.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry kid, I’m trying to help!” I loosened my grip a little but still kept his wrists in a tight hold. “You’re hurting yourself!”

“I-I-, Food M-Man is g-gonna send me away c-cause I’m s-sick Pete! I took the bandages off, and n-now I’m sick and I’m gonna, I’m gonna die!

“Kid, you’re not going to die.” I tried, yanking him up from the floor. “Y-You’re bleeding, but we’ll, we’ll go back to Andy’s house and get new bandages. Dad’s not gonna send you away.”

He didn’t seem to believe me, but had stopped pulling against my grip, so I hesitantly let him go and pulled him into a hug. Patrick’s hugs were normally bone-crushingly tight and made it difficult to breathe, but today he just crumbled into my arms and cried into my shoulder.

“Y-You said sleeping outside was g-gonna be fun Pete!” he sobbed. “Y-You said t-that it was g-gonna be the best w-weekend I’d e-ever had but I hate it.”

“I know, I know, I’m sorry.” I mumbled. “It was just a bit much to push on you. You’re not ready for this kinda stuff yet. Hell, you hardly cope at home. I shouldn’t have brought you. I’m sorry.”

“T-The fire, a-and then there were dead things, Pete! A-And, and t-then everything was s-scary and the s-sun woke me up a-and, and then I touched the black rocks and they put stuff all over everything and F-Food Man said not to get the b-bandages d-dirty, and, a-and-”

“I know, I know, shhh.” I soothed. “You’re okay. We’re gonna get new bandages and it’s gonna be fine. I’ll call Dad and he’ll come and get you. Go home and see Pancake, yeah? That’ll be much better.”

I felt him nod into my shoulder, and I slowly released the hug, taking his good hand in my own and ignoring the blood stains on my own shirt.

Andy just looked worried, and Joe looked quite freaked out as I led the kid back to our main camp and grabbed his backpack. “We’re, uh, gonna need some new bandages. Do you have a first aid kit back at the house?”

It was a long walk back, the kid crying for most of it, but I tried not to focus on that and just held his hand tightly instead. Andy rummaged through some bathroom cabinets, and found a first aid kit, but then came the realisation that I really didn’t know how to apply it.

“F-Food Man does the twisty thing…” Patrick mumbled, going to scratch again before I quickly pulled his hand away.

“Yeah, I know the twisty thing, I just… I don’t know. I’ll call Dad and he can do it.”

Dad must have been expecting the call, because there aren’t a lot of people who answer their phones right away at 5:30 in the morning. “Hey, Pete. How’s everything?”

“Uh, not great? There’s been an arms incident, and the kid kinda needs you…”

“I’m coming now.” I breathed a sigh of relief. “Can you put him on?”

“Put him on?” I looked at the kid. “And give him my phone? No way.”

Pete.

I groaned and held my phone out to the kid. “Don’t drop it, okay?!”

“O-Okay…”

He looked at it for a few moments, and then back up at me, before hesitantly holding it to his ear. Then he blinked, and his eyes went wide as saucers. “FOOD MAN?! WHY ARE YOU IN THE LITTLE PIECE OF METAL!?”

It was mean to laugh, but sometimes I couldn’t help it, and Joe and Andy couldn’t really either. Patrick didn’t really notice our giggles, but I did add a hand to the phone to add a layer of protection if he tried to break it.

There were a few moments of silence, presumably Dad explaining to the kid that he wasn’t trapped in my phone. Patrick cried again, unsuprisingly, when Dad asked about the bandages, and once again had to be convinced that he wasn’t being sent back to his bedroom because he’d taken them off, and that he wasn’t sick, and wasn’t going to die.

But Dad said all those things before he got here. And once he got here, and saw the state of Patrick’s arms, he quickly changed his pace. “We’re gonna have to go back to the hospital, buddy….”

Patrick paled. “I-I’m sick…

“No, no, you’re not sick. You just need stitches.” Dad quickly put the bandage back on and pulled his jacket sleeve down to cover it. “Pete, do you have his things?”

“Yeah.” I passed his backpack over. “I think that was it.”

Dad dug through it. “Where’s his llama?”

“FROSTY!” Patrick almost stumbled over in shock, and Dad had to grab him before he actually fell. “I-I-I-”

“I’ll go get it, kid, don’t freak out.” I assured him quickly.

It was a 20 minute round trip, back to the campsite, but the look on the kid’s face as I returned the thing was priceless, and made it all worth it. Bringing him on this trip hadn’t been fun for him, and I assumed getting stitches wasn’t going to be very fun either. He deserved a smile. It was the least I could do.

Chapter Text

Pete

Camping was okay once the kid left. Andy, Joe and I just did the stuff that we had originally planned to do before the kid even came into the scene, and tried to focus on making the last night one to remember.

We had lots of fun, finally getting around to making smores and all that, plus we all got to sit around the fire well into the morning, coming up with guitar riffs and song lyrics for our band. But I kept my phone close as well, waiting for updates from Dad.

The first one came through at about 3 in the afternoon. Just finished up at the hospital. 11 stitches on the right arm and 14 on the left. Met with the hand surgeon to discuss skin graft for the burn. Thankfully nothing’s infected.

Andy noticed me wincing. “What’s up?”

“Patrick had to get 25 stitches.”

“Oh, jesus…”

I nodded before texting Dad back. How’s he holding up?

A few minutes passed until I got a response. It’s been a long day. We’re having pancakes for dinner and then we’re going to see the psychiatry team tomorrow morning before coming to get you. We’re just going to have a quiet night. He wanted me to tell you not to burn yourself and to be safe around the fire.

I will, tell him not to worry and that I’ll be home to see him tomorrow.

Trust me, he’s looking forward to it. Just don’t mention his arm braces. He’s self-conscious about them already.

---------------

I think the bone-crushingly tight hug that I was subjected to as soon as I walked in the front door was about the welcome home I was expecting from the kid. “PETE!”

“Hi, kid.” I mumbled, putting up with his ‘hug’ for about half a second before gently peeling him off me. “Miss me, huh?”

“Uh huh.” He nodded, burying his hands in his hoodie pockets despite it being 90 degrees out. “I h-had to sleep in your bed without y-you last night, and it was awful.

“Well, I’m home now kid.” I forced a smile, heading upstairs to take a long-needed shower.

The kid hung around me like a bad smell for most of the night. He waited for me to shower, and then sat on the foot of my bed while I recconnected with my twitter feed. He didn’t even read a book or anything. Just sat there and traced his fingers over the pattern on my bedsheets.

“Can I help you?” I asked after about 10 minutes. “Do you want something from me?”

No.” He mumbled, pulling his fingers back into his lap.

“Cause you’re like, hanging around.” I shrugged. “And Dad mentioned you’d had a rough couple of days. Look, I’ll do something with you if you want. Video games?”

“No.” He scowled, not looking up at me. “I just, I just want to sit with you.”

“Okay, okay, that’s fine dude, whatever.” I shrugged, going back to my iPad. “You’re good. Do whatever you want.But are you sure you don’t want to like, at least talk about it?”

This time he did look at me, but only for a split second before looking away. “F-Food Man wouldn’t let me s-sit by myself and t-that was okay b-because I didn’t w-want to be alone but, b-but then A-Andrew and Hillary were y-yelling downstairs and I d-didn’t like it and I don’t like b-being down there. Everyone yells and I don’t l-like it.”

“That’s chill. Fair enough.” I shrugged, stretching my legs out. “Dad just wants you to hang around someone else to make sure you don’t pop your stitches, huh?”

At the mention of the word ‘stitches’, he pounced backwards and clutched his arms to his chest protectively. “N-No more.”

“What? No, kid. I’m not going to give you any more stitches. Who the fuck do you think I am?” I asked, watching his odd behavior. “You didn’t have a good time in the emergency room, I take it?”

He did end up sitting back down on the bed, but right on the end to avoid me for some reason. “Too many people.”

“Yeah, that’s generally how they work.” I chuckled awkwardly, thinking back to last time I went to the ER after spraining my ankle in a soccer game. “Lots of people, lots of waiting. Not the most fun thing in the world.”

“No.” He mumbled.

He ended up just sitting silently on the end of my bed until dinner, and then he refused to sit at the dinner table with the rest of us, using the excuse that it was too loud. Dad tried to coax him over multiple times during the meal, but he just sat himself down by the window and hugged his knees to his chest, watching us from afar.

I could understand now why Dad seemed so worried about the kid. What made the kid ‘Patrick’ was his goofy smile whenever he learned something new, and his curiosity. Both of those things were nowhere in sight, and he nearly burst into tears again when Mom offered to make him something else for dinner, considering he didn’t want to try the casserole she made.

Dad sighed. “C’mon buddy, you gotta have some dinner, yeah? I didn’t make you eat lunch, but you’ve gotta eat something now.”

“I d-don’t wanna eat.” He mumbled, scooting away from Dad when he sat down beside him. “I don’t like it.”

“What if I made some pancakes, huh sweetheart?” Mom tried. “You just have to eat something.”

He seemed to consider that for a few moments, before biting his lip. “Do, do pancakes have dead things in them?”

“What?” Dad asked quickly.

I groaned. “He’s been talking to Andy.”

“I-I’m gonna be that thing!” Patrick tried to explain, with little luck. “Where you don’t e-eat the things with dead things in them. The, uh, the uh…. Vagina.”

Andrew spat out his water from across the room, and I fell to hysterics as Dad’s eyes widened and he quickly tried to explain that that was not the word for it. “Vegetarian.”

Vegetarian.” Patrick twisted his mouth around the word. “But, but Andy’s, Andy’s not that word, he’s a different one.”

“He’s vegan.” I corrected when I managed to stop laughing over the vagina incident. “So, uh, he doesn’t eat milk and eggs and stuff. So milk and eggs and that kinda stuff isn’t dead things, it’s just like, it comes from animals that are alive. Vegetarians just don’t eat meat.”

“I, I… I, uh, I…” Patrick was clearly overwhelmed, and looked around at Mom and Dad before curling in on himself. “I…”

“Pancakes don’t have any dead things in them, sweetheart.” Mom jumped in to the rescue. “And I can make them without milk and eggs if you want. Would that be okay?”

Patrick didn’t pull his head out from his knees, nor give a response to Mom, but she went to making them anyway. I left the kid to Dad for a while, mostly because it seemed the number of people around him was pretty overwhelming, and I needed to catch up on fortnite.

It was late at night when the kid snuck in to join me on the couch in the second loungeroom. He snuck in in his stupid BatMan pyjamas and sat right down the other corner of the couch, refusing to make eye contact and, from what I seemed to understand, didn’t really want me to know he was there. Which was fair enough, I wasn’t really in the mood for another chat with him about why people found pretending to kill each other fun.

I was quite enjoying our mutal-silence, until the kid started crying again. And as much as I wanted to pretend I didn’t notice it, I didn’t have the excuse of being in the middle of a battle, and sighed as I turned to face him. “What’s wrong?”

He didn’t respond to me at first, trying to cover himself with one of the cushions and hopefully thinking that I couldn’t see him. It really didn’t work, and with a sigh I tossed my controller to the side, and went and sat beside him, pulling that stupid cushion off. “C’mon. What’s up?”’

Everything.” He mumbled tearfully, looking down at his blue pieces of plastic strapped to his forearms. They must be the arm braces Dad was talking about.

“That’s not true.” I told him. “I mean, look, yeah, the arm things are a little rough. But they’re just to keep you safe, yeah? So you don’t hurt yourself any more. But everything’s not bad. Mom made you vegan pancakes, didn’t she? That would’ve been good.”

“I didn’t like them.” He responded, picking at his fingernails. “They were gross. I’m, I’m not gonna be what Andy is. Just gonna be the one that doesn’t eat the dead t-things. The, the va… vegetarian one.”

“Yeah, that’s alright.” I assured him. “Sounds good.”

He went to scratch again, a habit of his, only for his fingers to find the hard plastic and he cried out in frustration. “I d-don’t like it, Pete!”

“I know, I know.” I sighed. “Look, kid. I know they’re not a lot of fun. But they’re there because you keep hurting yourself, and Dad, and Mom, and me, and all the other doctors and stuff, we don’t like it when you hurt yourself. Cause it hurts, yeah? And we don’t like it when you’re hurt. So they’re just trying to help you, because they really, really care about you. And I know you… uh… haven’t really got a whole lot of experience with that, but it’s a good thing. I mean, how would you feel if I was scratching myself so hard that I bled? And making myself hurt?”

Immediately, he went wide-eyed, and grabbed my hand in alarm. “Don’t.”

“Yeah, yeah, don’t worry, I don’t. I’m just saying. When you get sad when you think about that, that’s how the rest of us feel when you hurt yourself. So I know the plastic things kinda suck, but they’re there to help you so you don’t hurt anymore. Okay?”

“About me?

“Yeah, kid.” I sighed. “About you.”

The concept did seem to confuse him, and he fell to silence as he thought about it. I sighed again and shook his hand off. “Look, kid, you look like a mess. Did you get any sleep last night?”

“I… um…”

“Yeah. There you go. Let’s… turn this off and go jump into bed, yeah? You need sleep. And food. Did you eat anything?”

“Food M-Man made normal pancakes, a-and, and they were good…”

“Okay, okay, good.” I breathed, flicking the TV off and getting up from my spot. “Go say goodnight to Dad and we’ll crash for the night. You really look like you need it.”

I’d fought with Joe yesterday about me ‘growing a soft spot’ for the weirdo, but when I let him cuddle up to me again, I guess I couldn’t really deny it anymore.

Chapter Text

Patrick

Pete said that the world was the very best place to live ever. Whenever I got sad and scared and told him that I didn’t like it anymore, he got very upset and he tried to show me good things on the pad. And the good things were very cool, and I liked watching the videos when I felt sad, but they weren’t real. They were just videos on the pad, and they weren’t a part of the world. The real world had way too many scary things and I didn’t like it anymore.

Food Man said that the world was good as well, but I didn’t believe him. Sometimes he told me that we were going to see something new and exciting, but what he took me to was almost always scary. Like the mall, and the zoo, and the movies. We had to leave the movies because I got super scared when it got dark and the screen was super big, because I screamed and you’re not allowed to scream at the movies.

They said they weren’t lying, but I didn’t believe them. Food Man’s house was okay, there weren’t a lot of scary things there, but I still didn’t like the vacuum cleaner and the microwave. Pancake was good at protecting me from them though. He barked loudly whenever Dale had the vacuum cleaner to scare it away. He was the best friend ever. But maybe not as good as Pete. Pete was pretty good too.

After the movies, Food Man said I didn’t have to go and do new things until I was ready, which was good. I learned more songs on the piano that Hillary taught me, and I helped Pete play video games by sitting in the corner of the room. I didn’t really know how that helped him win, but he said that it did so I sat in there a lot with Pancake.

Dale said Pancake wasn’t allowed to sit on the couch with us, but he did it anyway when she wasn’t around, and it was very funny. He was fun to cuddle with too.

I didn’t have to leave Food Man’s house for a whole week and it was the best thing ever. I got to spend Monday all the way to Sunday just not doing anything scary. Pete would go out for a little bit every day so he could play music with Joe, but that was okay because I didn’t want to go to Joe’s house again. The piano at Food Man’s house was better anyway, and I spent all time Pete was away playing new songs.

Until Thursday. On Thursday I was playing but bad hand was hurting a little bit so I had to stop playing songs. I read books with Food Man instead.

Bad hand was hurting a lot by Saturday. I didn’t let Food Man touch it, and didn’t remind him to change the bandages, and I think he forgot about them because he didn’t ask. But it was hurting more and more, and was starting to smell a bit bad, even after the shower. It was super weird, but I didn’t say anything. If Food Man knew, then he was gonna wanna go back to see Tyler at the hospital again, and I really didn’t want to go to anywhere scary ever again.

 

 

Pete

I knew that Patrick had been a bit out of sorts, but I didn’t expect him to fall asleep on the couch while we were playing video games on Saturday afternoon. I mean, the kid had slept in till 9, and the fact that he’d passed out at like, 6, was a bit weird, but I let it slide. Dad had made him do handwriting practice all morning (Patrick could read pretty well, apparently his asshole of mother did let him have a dictionary and a math textbook, but the kid had never seen a pencil or a pen before and now Dad was trying to teach him how to write his own words), so I assumed he must’ve been tired.

At about 9 I woke him up, and made him move to our own bed, which he really didn’t like but moved anyway. He fell asleep like he always did, cuddled up to me with his dog at the foot of the bed. I had to pull his glasses off after he’d crashed with them on.

It was about 4 in the morning when he woke me up. “P-Pete…”

At first I swatted him away. “Go back to sleep, kid. It’s the middle of the fucking night.”

“I, I don’t, I don’t feel good…” He mumbled woozily, tugging at my arm.

I groaned as I opened my eyes, but immediately stopped my complaining when I noticed his complexion. The kid had always been pale, but this was another level. Not to mention he was absolutely drenched in sweat, with loose strands of hair clinging to his forehead as he fought to keep his eyes open. “Oh shit.

“P-Pete…” He mumbled again, clumsily throwing his arms around me in a very weak attempt at a hug. “I…”

“Shit, kid.” I placed a hand on his forehead before pulling away quickly. “You’re burning. C’mon, we gotta go see Dad.”

I had to drag him to Dad’s room as he woozily plodded along beside me, and I chose not to focus on the fact that he was clutching his bandaged hand to his chest. Dad acted like I did when I tried to wake him up, but when he heard Patrick cry out in pain, he was up in an instant.

Patrick sobbed and tried to shake Dad off when Dad went to unwrap his hand, and screamed in agony as the layers of bandages came off. Dad didn’t say the words that sealed Patrick’s fate, but did quickly bundle the hand back up and pulled Patrick to his feet. “Alright buddy, we gotta go to the hospital, okay?”

“Is it infected?” I asked nervously.

“It’s been infected for days.” Dad rushed, hurrying back to our room and forcing some shoes on the kid’s feet as he laid on my bed and groaned in pain, clutching his stomach. He threw another set of clothes for the kid and his llama in a bag, and then we were in the car as Dad sped to the emergency room.

I was hesitant when Dad made the kid sit with a bucket on his lap, but in the end I was glad for the precaution, considering he used it about 5 times on the way to the hospital.

I knew nothing about hospitals, and how they worked, but I did know how to keep the kid calm in a room full of people and strange noises. Dad focused on making phone calls and talking to reception people, and I just focused on letting the kid rest his head on my shoulder with his toy tucked under his arm while his breathing was still way too fast.

“I, I wanna g-go home…” He whispered in a panic, when a baby in the corner started crying.

“Soon, kid.” I put my arm around his waist and pulled him closer. “You’re just like, super sick. Dad’ll sort you out a quiet room soon. Don’t worry.”

“A-Am I gonna die?”

“No, no, you’re not gonna die. Dad’ll sort this out. You’ll probably be fine in a few hours. Don’t worry.”

-------------

I learned a lot of medical terms that day.

I already knew infection, but I didn’t know sepsis, severe sepsis, septic shock and then gangrene. Dad and a bunch of other doctors talked about phalanges, metacarpals, carpals and ligaments. But I didn’t really care about the words. I cared about the kid on the hospital bed in the intensive care unit with 2 drips in his arm, crying out in pain as Dad tried to get him to eat some ice cream to hopefully bring his fever down.

It was utterly terrifying.

He was burning at 107, and was shivering. He cried when Dad wouldn’t let him have a blanket, and then again when Dad made him take his shirt off because he was still dangerously hot. Mom came in when hospital visiting hours opened, and took over the ice-cream feeding as Dad went to consult his team.

I stayed with him, listening to every cry of pain as the doctors tried to clean his hand, and every tearful refusal of the spoon on his lips as Mom tried to get him to eat more ice cream. And whenever he wasn’t crying for one of those two reasons, he was crying because he was sick and he was terrified that someone was gonna send him back to live with his Mom.

At about lunchtime, Mom and I were kicked out of the room because his condition was too bad for visitors. I couldn’t tell which was worse, sitting in Patrick’s ICU room and listening to his cries, or sitting downstairs in the hospital cafe with Mom without any clue as to what was going on.

Chapter Text

Patrick

I thought the first time I was in the hospital wasn’t very fun, but the second time I was in the hospital was 10 billion times worse.

I didn’t like it at all. It was cold, all the time, and Food Man kept lying and saying that I was way too hot, and he wouldn’t let me have a blanket. And then, sometimes, he even made me take a bath in super cold water, because he said that I was way too hot. And that wasn’t fair because I was already cold, and it was like the baths that Mom used to make me take, and because of that I got super scared and hated them so much.

Everything was awful in the hospital. They put little needles in my arms, and little tubes in my nose, but I didn’t pay much attention to them because everything hurt. I slept a lot because my arms and legs hurt to move, but that just made them hurt more when I woke up. And Food Man kept trying to make me eat ice cream, but it made my head hurt so I kept trying to say no. But my mouth didn’t work right and it didn’t sound right and everything just hurt so I cried.

I cried a lot in the hospital. The hospital was a good place to cry.

I was still crying when Food Man laid a wet towel over my forehead and held my good hand. “Hey, Patrick. How’re you feeling buddy?”

Bad.” I told him. “Bad, bad, bad. The baddest. The baddest ever!

“I know, I know.” He apologised, adjusting the towel when it fell on my eyes. “Your hand is making you a bit sick, yeah?”

Bad hand wasn’t looking too good. It used to smell a little bit, but now it smelled a lot and it was a little bit brown and there was yellow stuff and it was gross.

“M-Make it better!” I cried, because it hurt again.

Food Man sighed softly. “We tried, buddy. We tried so hard. We can’t make it better. Y’know how we were keeping the bandages on so the bad germs wouldn’t get in?”

“Y-Yeah…”

“Yeah. They got in. And that’s what’s made it all icky, and then because your hand is icky, it’s making all of you feel super bad. And the only way to stop the bad germs from going into more parts of you is to, um, take the icky parts away. Do you understand?”

“S-Stop the i-icky parts from being icky?”

“No, no…” Food Man took a deep breath and gently ran his finger around my arm. “So, all of this is icky. And it’s making you sick. So, we have to cut all of this bit away, here, yeah? And then once that’s off, then you’ll stop feeling so super bad and you’ll get better and we can go home. See Pete and Pancake again, yeah?”

“Y-YOU’RE GONNA T-TAKE ALL OF BAD H-HAND AWAY!” I cried, trying to push him away with not a lot of luck. “T-That’s not f-fair! It’s, it’s my hand! D-Don’t take it!”

“I’m sorry buddy, I’m sorry.” Food Man hugged me, and I squeezed back even though it hurt. “We tried everything else. We really did.”

I cried again. The hospital was a good place to cry.

 

 

Pete

I wasn’t allowed to see Patrick anymore in the ICU. Apparently the new hospital policy was that kids weren’t allowed into ICU rooms, even if the kid they wanted to see was crying out for them and my Dad worked at the hospital. No amount of pleading and begging was going to change any policies, and I wasn’t allowed to see the kid until he was out of intensive care.

So I only got updates, and no visits. Dad would text me every time his fever spiked again, every time he was on a breathing tube, and every time he was concious enough to form a thought. Which wasn’t very often, but every time it happened he asked for me. Which killed me, every time.

I did the next best thing, which was send videos of myself offering support to the kid to Dad, who would play them for him when he was awake. I sent him photos of his dog too, who was also apparently missed a whole lot.

It went both ways. The dog gave me that stupid look when I got into bed every night, as if to ask where Patrick was. I felt stupid, scratching his ears and explaining to a dog that the kid was in the hospital, but I didn’t complain when Pancake slept in the spot that Patrick usually occupied. I think it was comforting for both of us.

I worried a lot. I made the mistake of googling what ‘sepsis’ was and spent the whole first day of eighth grade stressing about the statistics. Septic shock has close to a 50 percent mortality rate. Gangrene can be fatal for patients with decreased immunity.

Needless to say, I didn’t spend a lot of time paying attention in class.

---------------

The first time I was allowed to see the kid was recovery period after the surgery.

Dad even let me have a day off school, which was actually quite astounding considering he normally didn’t let me have a day off unless I was burning a fever or was throwing up. And even though I was desperate to see the kid, I was nervous. A lot had happened in the 3 weeks we’d been separated. I’d started eighth grade, I’d written a new song, and I’d gotten a haircut.

And Patrick had lost his fucking hand.

“Just because he’s out of ICU doesn’t mean that he’s better, Pete.” Dad blabbered, almost sounding a little nervous, as we wandered down the hospital corridors to the children’s ward. “It’s only been 3 days. He’s, um, still getting over the shock, he’s still battling the sepsis, and, uh, yeah. He’s still burning a fever, he’s still on anti-biotics, just, take it easy on him, yeah? He’s not doing great.”

“Yeah.” I murmured in agreement. “Don’t worry. I got this.”

I was lying. I didn’t have this in the slightest.

I heard him before I saw him, stepping into the hospital room with the curtain separating us. His cries were as heartbreaking as when I’d last heard them, and I dropped my backpack in the corner and took a deep breath, before finally building up the courage to shuffle around the corner and smile at the kid.

He looked a mess, there was no lie about that. He had 2 IV’s going, and little oxygen tubes in his nose, and his hair was spiked up everywhere like he hadn’t brushed it in days. Which he probably hadn’t. There was no colour to his skin, and I think he’d lost some weight since last time I’d seen him. His cheekbones seemed a little more prominent, his eyes a little more sunken in to his head. But there was no doubting the light in his eyes and that big, stupid smile that overpowered his tears when he saw me. “PETE!”

I couldn’t hold back my own smile. “Hey, kid.”

We shared a hug. It wasn’t as tight as Patrick’s normal ones, partly because he was still a bit under the weather and Dad reminded him not to tug on his IV’s, but it was still sweet as he buried his face in my neck. “I, I missed you.”

“I missed you too, kid.” I assured him, gently patting his back as he continued with his weird as fuck way of showing affection. “I’m glad you’re feeling better.”

He licked my cheek again, Patrick and his fucking licking, but I just sighed and didn’t correct him this time. He was just, happy to see me. And since the bloody dog started licking people, he’d just taught himself that that was how people said hello. It was very wrong, but the kid had probably been through the worst 3 days in his life, so I let it slide this time and just gently pulled away from his hug. “So, um, how’s the hospital? They treating you good and stuff?”

His smile vanished as quickly as it came. “No.

“No?” I frowned slightly, and sat myself cross-legged on the end of his bed. “They’re not treating you well?”

Patrick went to adjust his nose tubes, but Dad gently pulled his hand away. “It’s just been a long couple of weeks.”

“Yeah, I… heard…”

When the kid caught me glancing at where his arm went under the blanket, he changed immediately, bringing his knees up and looking away. Like he was embarrassed, almost. I frowned.

“Kid… I, uh, know what happened… you, uh, like, uh, don’t have to be embarrassed or whatever….” Fuck, when did I become an adult? Dammit, he’s gonna cry again. Change the subject, change the subject!

I forced a smile and gently ‘booped’ his nose. “I’ve got something for you! Andy and I went to the mall to do our school shopping, and we got you something!”

“School?”

“Don’t worry, I didn’t get you like, pens or anything.” I chuckled, retrieving my backpack from where I dropped it. I had to tip out like, 8 pages of incomplete math homework and an english essay I was meant to finish, but I found the other llama and handed it over with a smile. “So, turns out that Frosty was like, one of two. This was the other one.”

Patrick was known to make a lot of noises, mostly grunting and growling and snarling. But when I presented the toy, his eyes went wide in awe, he squealed in what I could only describe as pure delight. Even Dad had to giggle when he clutched it to his chest and smiled at me. “I love him.”

I chuckled. “Glad to hear it, kid. I’ll let Andy know you like it. He picked it.”

Patrick giggled and nodded, before turning to Dad. “Can, can the new friend have a bracelet too?”

I glanced at the other toy, and sure enough, it had a hospital band wrapped around the middle with Frosty printed on it, matching the one on Patrick’s hand. Aww.

“Sure buddy. You gotta give the new one a name first, though.”

He sat with his arms around both the llama toys while he thought about it. “Um… tea. But, but like the tea that the lady gave me this morning. I didn’t like it, but then she put lots of milk in it, and then it was nice and I liked it then. So, so, Tea with Lots of Milk.”

Dad was about as confused as I was, but laughed and nodded. “Okay, okay, I’ll go get that printed up. I’ll be back.”

Patrick went very quiet once Dad left, running his hand over the blanket before very, very nervously lifting his right arm out from under it. “T-They took my hand, Pete...”

I had promised myself before I went in, that I was going to be strong when it came to Patrick’s hand. He was the one who gonna have to live with this, and I just needed to assure him that it was totally normal, and I wasn’t gonna treat him any different, or act funny, or anything. But they hadn’t just taken his hand, they’d taken his entire forearm, almost up to his elbow, and I visibly winced. “Oh, fuck, kid. That sucks.

“It’s, it’s good they took bad hand, not good hand.” He mumbled uncomfortably, his other hand shaking slightly as he spoke. “But, but I don’t like it.”

“Yeah, that’s understandable.” I nodded. “Hey, kid, just, don’t worry too much about it, okay? It fucking sucks, that’s for sure, but like, Dad and Mom and I, we’ll like, help you out and stuff, and god, I don’t know. There’s lots of other people who had to lose their bad hand’s too, you know? You’re not the only one. And look, nothing’s different between us. ‘Cause, y’know, um, if they hadn’t taken your hand, then you probably would have like, died or something, and I know I’m a jerk sometimes, but I like having you around, and like, I’d rather you be here without a bad hand than like, dead…. Look, what I’m trying to say is, I still love you, kid. No matter what.”

He cried when he hugged me. I wasn’t sure why at first, but when I was at home that night, I realised. That was the first time, in his entire fucking life, that anyone told the kid they loved him.

Chapter Text

Pete

So it really turns out there’s a lot of things you can’t do with one hand.

Patrick came home about a week and a half after the surgery, which was good for him considering he was getting pretty homesick. But I think that wa77s down to the fact that he thought everything would go away once he got home, and everything would go back to how it was. Or, in simpler terms, he’d get his hand back and everything would be normal again.

Coming home made everything real for the kid. He had to come to terms with the fact that he was gonna have one hand for the rest of his life, and that was pretty daunting to think about.

That explained his anxiety as he walked through the front door for the first time in nearly a month, hiding behind Dad and clutching his llama toys so tightly that the eyes were bulging out. And even though he’d been asking to see his dog seemingly every day since he went into hospital, he nearly passed out as Pancake excitedly ran over.

Dad had to be the one to intitate the reunion, gently taking the toys from Patrick and putting them on the coffee table. “It looks like Pancake’s missed you too, buddy.”

“I…..I…”

“C’mon buddy, give him a pat. He’s missed you.”

Patrick did manage a smile when the dog licked his face, but he went very silent when Pancake sniffed at his arm for a few moments. But the good thing about dogs is they don’t dwell on that kind of stuff, and went back to welcoming his owner home with a plethora of kisses.

Patrick stuck to Dad for most of the day, and I ended up sticking to them as well. Patrick, still quite seriously ill, really wasn’t up for much so we ended up lying on the couch together watching Pixar movies. Which was all well and good, until he got up to go to the bathroom. Not that there was anything wrong with that, the problem was that he didn’t come back.

I assumed he’d gone back to bed, he was almost falling asleep while we watched Finding Nemo. Dad must’ve assumed the same thing, because neither of us got up to check on him until the movie was over. But when Dad muted the speakers when the credits began to roll, we heard the faintest of cries coming from upstairs.

Didn’t take more than a second. We made alarmed eye contact, then bolted upstairs as fast as we could.

I checked the usual spots, but Patrick wasn’t in my room, nor was he in Dad’s closet. I was checking behind the door when I was interrupted by “PATRICK, NOT YOUR FACE!” coming from what sounded like the bathroom.

I was met by quite the scene when I got there. I had made a quiet joke to Dad about how we wouldn’t have to deal with Patrick’s scratching any more now that he’d lost his hand, but we weren’t out of the woods yet. Actually, I’d probably say we were further into them, judging by the fact that Dad was pressing toilet paper to Patrick’s cheek to try and stop the bleeding while Patrick sat bawling his eyes out. And then I noticed the puddles on the floor and then… oh my god he wet his pants.

“I c-can’t d-do the button!” He sobbed, pulling at the button on his jeans. “I-I’m s-sorry Food M-Man! I, I d-didn’t want to!”

“Shhhh.” Dad soothed, still trying to clean the kid’s face. “It’s okay, it’s okay, I’m not mad, we’re not mad.”

“I, I d-don’t like i-it!” He cried.

“I know, I know. Let me put a band-aid on your face and then we’ll get you some dry clothes without nasty buttons, yeah?”

“T-That’s not w-what I meant.” He mumbled tearfully, looking down at the floor to avoid eye contact.

Dad sighed sadly, and finished drying the blood from the scratches. “I know buddy, I’m sorry.”

------------

The button on his jeans was the tip of the iceburg. They hadn’t just taken Patrick’s hand, they’d taken his dominant hand. Even though I hadn’t thought of that as much of a problem at the start, it was becoming apparent that it was a big deal.

My heart broke for the kid every time he reached for something with a hand that was no longer there, and I had to watch from afar as he broke down as he realised that he couldn’t turn the pages of the book he was trying to read without lifting his hand and the thing flopping closed in front of him. Mom had to cut his dinner up for him, and he missed his mouth with the fork on practically every second bite.

But I think the hardest thing to watch was after dinner, when he approached the piano in the living room and sat down in front of it. He tried at first, playing a chord with his left hand, but then tried melodies and ended up in tears as he realised that it just wasn’t going to work with one hand. He needed two hands for pretty much any instrument, and one just wasn’t going to work.

I’d avoided doing the comforting for most of the afternoon, mostly because I didn’t really think there was anything I could say that could possibly make this better. But when he cried into the piano keys, I couldn’t not intervene. “Hey, kid…”

Don’t.” He growled from underneath his tears.

I hesitantly lifted my hand off his shoulder. “Kid, look…”

“D-Don’t!” He snapped, fumbling to get off the piano stool. “I k-know. I can’t b-be a part of your b-band anymore b-because bands a-are groups of people t-that play instruments together, a-and I,” He choked back another sob as he gestured wildly at the piano, “I can’t d-do it!”

Now was not the time to break the news that I had never considered him a part of the band. “That’s not what I was gonna say, Patrick.” I tried to say gently, before trying to figure out what I was gonna say next. “Look, bands… there’s lots of other things you can do when you’re in our band. Like, uh, you can, uh... “

“N-Nothing!” He cried. “There’s nothing. I c-can do nothing!”

“No, no, kid, c’mon, there’s heaps of things!” I tried, taking a step towards him. “We’ll find something, I promise.”

He just tearfully shook his head at me, and ran off.

As always, when Patrick got overwhelmed, you’d find him hiding in Mom and Dad’s closet, normally hiding against the back wall with his dog. Today was no different, but I figured he probably didn’t want to talk to me so I just sat outside and listened to his tears of frustration.

“I c-can do nothing, Pancake!” He cried. “No reading a-and no piano and no eating a-and no bathroom and no getting dressed and nothing! A-And Food Man says it’s okay b-but it’s not! And I c-can’t be in Pete’s b-band because I can’t d-do an instrument anymore and, a-and it’s not fair! A-And, and I can’t read the b-books so I can’t go to s-school like Food Man s-said, because at s-school you have to read a-and, and I c-can’t do it!”

“I-If, if I had, I had d-done the little t-talk with M-Mom t-then, then she, she would’ve… t-there would be n-no fire, a-and, and I’d still be in b-bedroom but t-then there’d be no b-burn and no bandages and no, no sickness and, and I’d have m-my hand!” He growled in frustration, presumably at himself. “J-Just a, just a slut, a-and, and that’s, t-that’s all.”

Who the fuck taught him that word? Even I don’t use that word around him. Wait, fuck, does that mean he already knew it? Did his mother teach him that word?

“But I’m not, I’m not my o-other name anymore. I got to c-choose. I’m Patrick.” He mumbled. “Patrick, Patrick, Patrick. B-But, but Patrick was b-better when he had two hands, Pancake! N-now I c-can do n-nothing ever!”

S-Sluts don’t g-get to say no!” Patrick cried. “B-But I did and I, I, I was b-bad and then the f-fire and, a-and then my hand, P-Pancake! I t-thought s-she lied when she said that i-if I was bad then, t-then she was gonna m-make everything I did b-bad, b-but she was w-waiting for me to g-get happy and then she m-made it all bad b-because I’m sick and I’m not allowed to leave b-because I’ll die!

I nervously knocked on the door. “Hey, kid…”

He immediately went wide-eyed and put his arms around the dog. “What?”

“I, uh… it’s late…” I scratched the back of my head. “C’mon, bedtime.”

“I don’t, want to.” He mumbled.

“I know, but it’s late and you’re still sick, and yeah. C’mon.”

He didn’t even try to get changed for bed, and just decided the sweatpants and shirt he was currently wearing was fine to sleep in. I didn’t say anything about that, but I did say something when he climbed into the bed that usually went unoccupied.

“Don’t wanna sleep with me tonight?” I asked, trying not to sound hurt.

No.

“That’s… that’s alright.” I sighed, assuming he needed some space after those… slightly disturbing self-conversations. “You want Frosty and Tea?”

He didn’t respond at first, but I wandered over. “C’mon, they’ll be lonely without you.”

He ended up taking Tea, but pressed Frosty back into my hands. “You, you have him. So, so you’re not lonely either, c-cause Food Man says, he says that the sickness, other people can get it and, and I don’t want you to have one hand so, so you have to sleep away from me so you don’t get it. But Frosty doesn’t have it, so, so he can keep you company.”

“Aww. Okay, okay, I’ll do that.” I tucked the toy under my arm, before sighing and sitting on the edge of his bed. “Look, kid. I know you’re struggling right now, but everything isn’t gonna feel this bad forever. It can only get better from here, yeah? And there’s… some things you’re probably not going to be able to do again, but there’s a lot of things you’ll learn. And, listen, um… talk to Dad and your therapist dude about… stuff. Okay?”

He seemed puzzled, but nodded.

“Okay, cool.” I got up and headed over to my own bed. “Night, kid. Try and get some sleep.”

I think he thought I was asleep, but I heard his whispers as he tried to soothe himself to sleep. “I’m Patrick. Patrick, Patrick, Patrick…

Chapter Text

Pete

I began to see a different side to Patrick.

I saw him struggle with everyday tasks, I saw him break down in tears every time he saw the piano, and I saw him suffering with the awful realization that he was different now, and nothing would ever go back to how it was. But I saw something that nobody else did, which was what concerned me the most. I saw Patrick get up in the middle of the night to cry to his dog, and I heard all those self-conversations that I’m pretty sure Dad knew nothing about.

I thought the whole ‘slut’ thing was bad, but I was hearing worse when it was in the middle of the night. I listened to him call himself a ‘worthless cock-sucking whore’ at one point, and I was really starting to stress about how I was gonna have to talk to him about this. This wasn’t sadness about his hand, this was fucking trauma or some shit, and the longer I let it go on, the more I was contributing to the problem.

But I couldn’t let him know I was listening, either. I thought about the first week he was here and Andrew overheard him talking to himself in the bathroom and approached him about it. Patrick had avoided him like the plague since, and I don’t think they’ve ever had a full conversation.

So, I blamed it on the dog.

He was watching me play video games like normal, and I switched the game off before turning to him. “So, hey, uh… listen… I was talking to Pancake…”

“Talk to Pancake?” the kid looked baffled, and looked down at the dog he was petting. “B-But Pancake doesn’t talk…”

“He does, sometimes. Uh, to me. I speak dog language?” I winced at the absurdity of it, but the kid actually seemed to feed off my lies.

Dog language?”

“Yeah. You know how Dad was telling you about how people speak all different languages? Yeah, um, dogs speak dog language, and I learned it… at school.”

Oh.” He thought about that for a moment. “So, so you can talk to Pancake?’

“Yeah. I, uh, I was talking to him an-”

“Can you tell him that, that he’s the best?” Patrick interrupted, putting his arms around his dog in a cuddle. “And that I love him. And he’s the best friend, ever. And, and then tell him that it’s okay that he doesn’t understand how to use the toilet because Food Man says that dogs don’t have to understand that. And then tell him, tell him that he’s got pretty eyes. Oh! And, tell him I’m sorry that I stood on his foot yesterday because it was an accident and I hurt him and I felt so bad and-”

Kid.” I had to interrupt this time. “Look, Pancake and I… uh… he told me that you’re saying some bad things about yourself late at night, and we’re a little bit worried about you.”

The conversation stopped right there, and the kid quickly closed his mouth and looked away from me. “No.

“Pancake wouldn’t lie, Patrick.” I tried. “He, uh, told me you were calling yourself, uh, a slut. Patrick, do you know what that is?”

He refused to speak for a few minutes, but didn’t run off like I was half-expecting him to. Then I noticed he was shaking, and I shuffled over the couch to hold his hand. “Do you know?”

“It, i-it means, me.” He mumbled eventually, looking in the other direction.

“No, it doesn’t.” I corrected nervously. “Um… look, kid. Was it in the dictionary? Do you know what it means?”

“No…”

I sighed. “Right. Of course you don’t. So, um… a slut is… a person who likes to have a lot of sex…”

“Oh.” He played with his lower lip. “What’s sex?”

Oh jesus. “Kid, I’m not having ‘the chat’ with you. I’m just… you’re not a slut. Okay?”

He was quiet for a bit, before looking at my hands, and then back at his. “C-Can I touch?”

“I mean, sure?”

He was nervous, still visibly shaking, as he fiddled with my fingers and pushed my hands into probably the most obscene gesture my hands had ever formed. “Is, is that it?”

“Is what?” I asked, despite already knowing the answer.

“T-The sex.”

I gulped. “Um… yeah…”

“Oh, o-okay.” He quickly pulled away from me, reverting back to silence.

I tried to fight the realisations as they formed in my mind. He knew that. How did he know that? Well, he’d have to have learnt it from somebody. He sure as hell didn’t learn it from me or Dad, and I really doubted he learned it at the hospital. Which left one culprit, and I felt ill. So did Patrick, judging by the beads of sweat running down his forehead.

“Do, do you have to like it?” He broke the silence after a good 10 minutes. “To be the slut?”

“Jesus Christ, kid.” I muttered. “You didn’t like it?”

No.” He mumbled.

“Well, then you’re not a slut.” I assured him, taking his shaking hand back into my own. “Okay? Or a whore, or tramp, or a hooker, or any of those other words. They all mean the same thing, and you’re not one of them.”

“Because they like it.” He finished my sentence, and I winced. “They like it and I don’t.”

“I, uh, if that’s how you wanna put it, then sure.”

“Okay.” He nodded. “But, but why do they not get to say no?”

What?

“They don’t get to say no…” Patrick explained slowly, his eyes dotted with confusion as he watched my facial expressions. “They, they have to say yes to everything because, that’s what they do.”

“Oh, Patrick…

He looked so innocently confused at why I didn’t have the answer he was looking for. I just didn’t know how to explain to the kid that everyone got to say no, and who told you that you weren’t allowed to say no?

“Kid… I…” I had to stop and wipe my nose. “Fucking hell. Have, have you talked to Dad about all this stuff?”

“No…”

“Your therapist dude?”

He shook his head.

“Jesus… look, you, you need to do that. I can’t, I can’t deal with this, Patrick. I just… Okay, come on.”

He seemed to sense what I meant, and shook his head. “I don’t wanna talk to Food Man!”

“Kid, please.” I almost begged. “You have to. I can’t do this.”

“So I am!” His demeanor changed in an instant. “I don’t get to say no, so I am one!”

“No, no, Patrick, that’s not what I meant!” I dragged my hands down my face in frustration.

“Yes it is!” He countered, stumbling to his feet and going to leave. “I-I’m, I don’t g-get to say no, and, and that makes me a slut.”

I grabbed him by the wrist and pulled him to Dad’s office. He did not enjoy being pulled anywhere, and tried to fight against me, but I was stronger and twisted the lock on the door once we were inside.

A part of me forgot that Patrick really didn’t like the sound of locks. He was mildly upset, but as soon as I twisted it and the dull, metallic thud echoed through the room, he screamed.

Dad, who just mostly looked confused, turned to me. “What’s going on, Pete?”

“I’ve, uh, Pancake told me about how, uh, Patrick’s been waking up a lot in the middle of the night and talking to him. And he’s been using some bad words when referring to himself and I…” I made the gesture again. “He showed me this and he thinks that he’s a slut, and just, I can’t fucking deal with this.”

The kid was crying in the corner, but I ignored it as I tried to explain everything to Dad. “So, I, uh, explained what slut actually meant, because he thought that it meant him, and then he said that he wasn’t a slut because he didn’t like it, and I’m, I…”

“Patrick, buddy…” Dad gulped nervously. “Come here. Let’s talk about this.”

Patrick, who was now pulling at his hair while he cried, shook his head and curled further into the corner. “I-I lied, I lied!

“It really didn’t seem like lying to me, kid.” I muttered. “Look, I’m sorry, but I just, I can’t deal with this…”

“That’s alright, Pete.” Dad assured, watching the kid’s hair pulling ventures carefully to make sure they didn’t escalate into anything worse. “I’ll look after it.”

Patrick screamed for a second time when I had to unlock the door to get out. I just left quickly and ended up walking down the street to get to Joe’s house to take my mind off things. God knows I needed to.

 

 

 

Patrick

I didn’t want to tell Food Man anything. I didn’t want to tell anyone anything, but I told Pancake sometimes because I thought that he wouldn’t tell anyone. But he did and then he told Pete and then Pete told Food Man and now I was upset because Food Man made me sit in his computer room with him and he asked questions.

I don’t like questions. Especially when they’re about things that I don’t wanna talk about.

Food Man wasn’t mean about it, but I still didn’t like talking about it. He told me things like it wasn’t my fault and that I did nothing wrong. He didn’t yell at me or hit me or lock the door like Pete did. He just told me that it was okay, and that he loved me, and that everything was going to be okay now.

He said that it didn’t matter if people were sluts or whores, and that everyone got to say no if they didn’t like it. He said that because my Mom didn’t listen when I said no, that meant that she was bad and had to stay in jail.

“B-But, you don’t listen when I say no…”

Food Man seemed confused. “When?”

“Like, like when you made me go to hospital. And, and when I didn’t want to go and see Tyler, you didn’t wanna listen and you made me go even when I said no.”

“Patrick, um…” He paused for a second. “Sometimes there are things that we have to do, like go to the hospital and do the chores, and see the other doctors. Because those things, even though they’re not very nice, we have to do them because they help you, and we want to keep you safe and healthy. If someone ever wants you to do something that will hurt you, like a little chat, then you can say no and they can’t make you do it. And if they do, then that’s very, very wrong, and they’ll be in a lot of trouble for it. Do you understand?”

“But… what about when Pete dragged me?” I asked nervously. “I, that hurt and I didn’t like it, and I said no but he did it anyway, but I don’t want him to go to jail because he’s my friend…”

“Pete didn’t mean to hurt you, buddy. He was trying to help you, because he was scared, and these sorts of things are very scary to a lot of people.” Food Man explained. “He’s not going to jail.”

“So, so it’s okay if people don’t mean it?”

“Um…”

“B-Because in the hospital, people touched bad hand before they took it away, and I didn’t like that, and it hurt, but they did it even when I did say no…”

“They’re doctors.” Food Man explained. “If someone hurts you, in a ‘little chat’ way, then that’s what I mean. Do you understand?”

I hesitantly nodded. “So no more little chats?”

“No more little chats.” He nodded. “Ever.”

“Okay.” I nodded.

“And you’re not a slut.” he told me. “Or a whore. Or any of those other words. Just Patrick.”

I shuffled around in my seat and hung my head. “I, I lied, Food Man…”

He frowned slightly. “What did you lie about?”

“Name.” I mumbled, not looking at him. “Because, because when I was at the hospital for the first time and you asked what people called me, I said nothing but that was a lie because people did call me something, I just didn’t remember it then, a-and I didn’t want to say anything because I like Patrick more, and, and yeah…”

Food Man nodded in understanding. “That’s okay, that’s okay. What’s your name, buddy?”

I pulled at my lower lip. “Retard…

Food Man didn’t say anything at first. He sighed softly, put his pen down on the things that he’d been writing, and looked at me sadly. “Patrick, buddy, Retard isn’t a name…”

“But, but it’s my name…”

“No, it’s not.” He tried to explain. “It’s… it’s a bad word. It’s a word that means people who, um… aren’t very smart. It’s not your name.”

“So I can stay Patrick?” I asked nervously.

“Yes, buddy. You’re Patrick.”

“Even though Patrick had two hands and I only have one now?”

Food Man nodded. “You’re not a different person now, buddy. You’re still you, even without the hand.”

“Okay, good…” I breathed. “And Pancake stays Pancake? Even though he speaks dog language to Pete sometimes?”

Food Man laughed. “Yes, Pancake stays Pancake.”

“Good. And, and Mom never comes back and there’s no more little chats ever?”

“That’s right.” Food Man assured. “And you never have to go back to bedroom. You get to stay here forever.”

That was the best thing to hear. Ever. I didn't like having one hand but if it meant that I never had to go back to Mom, then it was okay.

Chapter Text

Pete

I don’t think Patrick was ever going to like having one hand, but he was starting to get used to it, I guess. He was adjusting, and I was seeing more of his old self now, which was nice. I missed his smile. He wasn’t Patrick without it.

It was always nice to see him giggle when he finally got something right, like when he finally figured out how to do the buttons on his shirt up with one hand, or when he was able to put the velcro shoes Dad got him on by himself. It was, sweet, really. Seeing him back up to his old tricks.

And even though there were the nightly tears of frustration, overall, he was doing a lot better. And it was really, really good to see.

He seemed to be taking quite the interest in school, of all things. He would practically be waiting at the door for me for when I got home, which I guess was a plus of living within walking distance of school. And sometimes when Joe and Andy came home with me to hang out for a bit, he’d ask us questions on practically every aspect of what we’d done in the day. Joe was a little impatient with it, as was I to be honest, but Andy would sit and tell him all the details about math class, and to him it seemed to be the most interesting thing in the world.

And for some reason, he loved math most of all. Specifically algebra, it seemed, as he sat pouring over Andy’s math notebook while the rest of us played mariokart.

“You know that you’re being super weird, right kid?” I asked, glancing down after crossing the finish line in 1st. “Looking through math notebooks isn’t fun.

“It’s super fun.” He rebutted quickly. “And you don’t get to say otherwise because it’s my fun thing. And-” his eyes lit up excitedly as he reached the bottom of the page. “Fractions!

“Ugh.” I mumbled, while Andy couldn’t help but laugh.

“I love fractions.” He giggled, rolling onto the floor and pulling the notebook to his chest. “Can I have?”

“I gotta keep that one, I gotta hand my homework in, sorry.” Andy apologised. “But I can photocopy some pages from it tonight if you want?”

“Photocopy?”

“So, uh, like, I’ll scan, uh, take a photo of it? And then put it on another page. And you can have that page.”

Patrick nodded eagerly. “I’d love them.”

Andy had to laugh again as he shoved his math book back in his schoolbag. “I’ll bring them tomorrow.”

Patrick looked so excited that he was almost going to explode. I didn’t really understand it, math had never once brought me joy, but hey, everyone has their hobbies?

---------------

Dinner was fine, I guess. Mom made us all vegetarian lasagne, and Patrick was making less of a mess than usual, which was good. Dad was making quiet conversation about the weather, until he brought up the topic.

“So, Pete, soccer tryouts are on Friday. That’s exciting.”

I huffed. “We’ve been over this. I’m not playing soccer this year. I’m focusing on the band, Dad.”

“The band is fine, Pete, it’s important for you to have a hobby. But you were all-state. This could be what gets you into college. It could open so many doors for you. The band is fine, but you need to be focusing on your future as well. If nothing more, as a plan B.”

“I don’t need a plan B.” I muttered. “The band is going to be forever. It’s not some stupid project, we’ve almost got an album written, and we’re working on finding our first show, and it’s-”

“The band doesn’t even have a singer, Pete.”

“We’re working on that!” I snapped. “I’m not playing soccer this year. I don’t want to. All the kids on the team are assholes and I don’t want to do it anymore. I’m focusing on music, with the people that actually care about me.”

“Pete, your team loves you. You’re on track to be captain this year and everything.” Mom tried to convince.

“I’m not playing!” I snapped. “It doesn’t matter what you say! I’m not playing! I don’t want to play! It’s not fair! You can’t make me do anything!”

“D-Don’t shout…” Patrick mumbled, shuffling away from me on his chair.

“I’m not shouting at you, kid.” I sighed. “This is like… they’re trying to make me do something that I don’t want to do and they’re not taking no for an answer.”

“L-Like a little talk?” He whispered quietly.

“No, kid.” I exhaled, slumping my shoulders. “Just like, sport. Look, it’s fine. I’m not playing. That’s that.”

The table was very quiet after that, and Patrick didn’t touch the rest of his food. When he started to get upset, Dad tried to change the subject to try and distract him. “So, we’re going to meet with the prosthetist tomorrow. That’s going to be exciting.”

“Oh?” I smiled, and playfully nudged the kid with my elbow. “You’re gonna get a new hand!”

“A new hand?”

“Not a real one.” Dad quickly jumped in. “It’s gonna be, um, like a pretend one. And you can use it to do lots of things. It’s going to be pretty cool. We’re gonna go and see a man about it tomorrow.”

“I, I don’t know…” Patrick seemed pretty hesitant, and pulled away from the table. “I don’t, I don’t want a pretend one…”

“I think you’ll really like it, once you get used to it.” Dad tried. “And we’re not getting a new one tomorrow. Just going to talk to the man about some options. Does that sound alright?”

He was very, very hesitant, but nodded.

---------

Dad and Patrick always started their day by walking me to school. Although at first I was very hesitant to the idea, I didn’t need my Daddy dropping me off every day, it was the only chance really that the kid had to go for a walk outside considering how many specialists he was seeing at this point. And he loved seeing everyone walking into the school building at the beginning of the day. Plus, he brought his dog. That was always good.

Today was no different really, Patrick plodding along beside me on the walk to school, chattering about the birds and how they were being very extra loud today, but not bad loud, they’re good loud.

“Do you have math today?” Patrick asked after he finished the bird conversation.

“Uhhhh, I think so? In the morning, yeah. I think so.”

“Can you bring me some math home?” He asked. “Fractions. I like the fractions the most.”

“I… don’t know if you have time for fractions, kid.” I frowned. “I thought Dad and you were doing computer lessons tonight.”

“B-But, but for after….”

I sighed. “Maybe. Don’t count on it. I don’t get a lot of extra sheets on fractions.”

“Oh, okay…”

“Look, I’m sure Dad can find you something on the internet.” I sighed, pausing for a hug goodbye on the corner before the school turn. “Good luck at the prosthetist today, kid. Don’t be scared of it, okay? I’ll see you this afternoon.”

“Okay…” He hugged me tightly, squishing his face into my neck until I pulled away. “Do, do good at school…”

“I will.” I assured him, giving a final goodbye wave before heading into the building to meet up with my friends.

School had never been my thing. I wasn’t one to particularly put in a lot of effort, nor did I really focus in my classes, instead choosing to doodle and write random poetry lines in the margins of my notebooks. But I did get to see my friends at school, which was the only thing that made my ancient history class tolerable on a Monday morning.

Andy and Joe were taking notes on Alexander the Great while I was staring out the classroom window into the hallway. It was the same view as always, the grey floors, the rows of lockers, and wait, what’s that on the floor? It’s a fucking llama. Damn, like Patrick’s. Must be a popular choice. That’s kind of weird.

“Mr Wentz! Are you listening?”

“Yes, sir.” I stammered, quickly turning my attention back to the whiteboard.

-------

I did end up picking the llama thing up off the floor when ancient history ended and Joe, Andy and I were headed to math class. Sure enough, it was the same one that Patrick had, and I shoved it in my bag for later. Maybe it would be good to hold onto if he ever lost the one he had. Then he’d have a replacement and it would probably save me a good meltdown and a half.

I was listening to Joe talk about the new guitar he was getting for his birthday when all of a sudden, someone grabbed my hand. And in the eighth grade, holding hands with strangers is not something you do, especially when it’s me. And my “WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING?!” would probably would have been better for after I had turned to see who was touching me.

But I couldn’t say I expected to see a cinnamon-blonde with oversized glasses, a mushroom hoodie and one hand, staring back at me in pure terror, with tears brimming his eyes.

Patrick?!

“I-I’m s-sorry!” He fumbled, taking a step backwards.

“Kid, what the fuck are you doing here?!” I rushed over to him. “You can’t be here! Does Dad know you’re here?! What are you doing?!”

“I-I…” He tried to blink back his tears. “I, wanted to s-see Andy for, for the photocopies and, fractions and, and…”

“Jesus fucking christ.” I muttered. “Okay, okay. We’ll, I’ll call Dad. We gotta go to the office. Don’t you have an appointment!?”

“Uh, uh…”

“Jesus…”

“Pete, we’re gonna be late to math…” Andy frowned. “Mr Dun is gonna give us a Friday detention if we’re late again…”

“Well, what are we meant to do?!” I gestured at the kid. “We gotta deal with him! He’s meant to be at the prosthetist right now, not sneaking around the middle school!”

“Let’s take him to math.” Joe suggested. “And deal with that at lunch. He’ll be fine, we’ll just say he’s a new kid and that’s why he’s not on the roll yet.”

“Math?” Patrick asked, trying (and failing) to contain his excitement.

I groaned. “Yeah. Come on.”

I made the kid sit between Andy and I once we got to the math room, and I shoved my history notebook and a pen in front of him to make it look like he belonged. Which he clearly did not, considering he was studying the posters on the walls with such intense excitement you would’ve thought he’d been given a lifetime supply of pancakes.

“Look!” He whispered loudly, tugging on my shoulder. “T-There’s, that one’s on multiplication!”

“I know, kid.” I shushed. “Just be quiet. Don’t say anything until lunchtime. Got it?”

“Okay…” He mumbled, looking at the groups of people as they came in.

I was thankful nobody else tried to talk to him as they took their seats, and I just focused on making sure the kid didn’t make a disruption. We just needed to lay low for one period, and then I’d send him home. School was not the place for Patrick. Not even math class, judging by how he was tugging at Andy’s arm now to point out the fractions poster.

“Peter! Andrew! I see we have a new student with us today!” Mr Dun smiled, speaking in that teacher-voice that made everyone shut up and turn to see the kid. Patrick grabbed my hand under the desk.

“Uh, yeah…” Andy tried to remain calm. “This is Patrick. He started today. He’s, uh, Pete’s exchange student.”

“That’s great to here. We love having different cultures.” Mr Dun seemed genuinely interested, and oh god Andy, why’d you say that? “Where exactly are you from, Patrick?”

“Bedroom…” Patrick mumbled uncertainly, looking to me for justification.

Half the class just started laughing, and Patrick, oh Patrick, just looked so innocently confused as to why what he said was so funny. To be honest, I was proud of him. I probably would have cried if I was in his position, but he didn’t. Just looked down at the desk and pretended that everything was fine.

Thankfully, Mr Dun didn’t say on that topic for long. He got to talking about functions and then distributed worksheets, seemingly intending to hand us ours last.

“Sorry about, um, before…” I chuckled awkwardly while Patrick read over the worksheet. “Patrick, uh, he’s, uh, he’s my foster brother. He’s new. And pretty clueless.”

“Pete, there’s a fraction!” He giggled, before turning to Mr Dun. “I love fractions.”

“Fractions are pretty great.” Mr Dun laughed, giving Patrick a confused but amused smile. “So, is today your first day?”

“Uh huh.” He nodded, grabbing the pen I’d lent him and clicking it against the desk. “First day of school ever. I’ve never been to a school before. But that’s okay, because I’m here now, and Andy used to let me look at his fractions when he came home with Pete. And that was good. But now, I get to be here, and do all the fractions!”

I groaned. “Kid, you’re not doing yourself any favours.”

I think Mr Dun was starting to get the impression that Patrick was a bit new to the world. “So, if you’ve never been to school before, how do you know about fractions?”

“Algebra volume one!” He giggled excitedly. “That’s the best book. Better than dictionary. I learned all about fractions back in bedroom.”

Oh god, there was no point in trying to protect him now. “So, um… Patrick’s, um, he’s the cupboard kid.” I explained to my math teacher, referring to the nickname that he’d been given by the media when his case was front-page news.

Mr Dun was pretty shocked, but quickly tried to hide it when Patrick got visibly nervous. “Right, that’s alright. Well, I’m glad you’ve joined us. Let me know if you need some help, these can be some pretty tricky fractions.”

“No they’re not.” He said quickly, pointing at the first fraction on the page. “X is 23.5.”

Mr Dun paused, before looking at Andy’s book and then my book, but neither of us were up to that question yet. “Did… did you do that one in your head?”

“Uh huh.” He giggled, before pointing at another one. “X is 32.53 in this one.”

“You’re right.” Mr Dun smiled at the kid. “These ones might be a bit easy for you. Why don’t you come up to my desk and we’ll see if we can find some really good fractions for you to do?”

So much for not saying anything and laying low until lunch.

I kept an eye on the kid while I was working on my own worksheet, and his excitement at all the worksheets and booklets that Mr Dun was giving him. I also noticed a couple of other kids staring at his missing hand, and tried to refrain myself from throwing eraser chunks at them. But the kid didn’t notice the stares, he was too busy with advanced math books to be worried about it.

When the bell finally rang for lunch, we waited for everyone else to clear out before approaching Patrick and our math teacher. Patrick, still clearly having the time of his life, hugged all the materials he’d been given to his chest. “Thank you!”

“That’s okay, I’m glad you like them.” Mr Dun smiled. “Now, have you given any thought to maybe joining the mathletes team? We’ve got a competition coming up next Friday, and I’d really love to have you on board.”

“Mathletes?” Patrick questioned, before I stepped in.

“Look, sorry sir, um, Patrick can’t be a part of anything. He’s not a student here. He snuck in and he’s going home now.” I said firmly. “He wasn’t meant to be here at all but he found us in the hallway and we didn’t want to be late, but it’s time for Patrick to go home now.”

“Aww.” Patrick mumbled. “Can, can I come back?”

“No.” I told him. “C’mon, we gotta go call Dad. He’s probably worried sick. You can’t, like, run off like that, kid.”

“Why aren’t you enrolled?” Mr Dun seemed confused, looking over Patrick. “Well, I mean, I understand the reasoning but you’re well ahead of your classmates in math. I think you’d really flourish in school.”

“I really doubt that.” I told him, grabbing Patrick’s hand. “C’mon, we gotta go, kid.”

Mr Dun stood up. “Here. Let me talk to your father. I’ll take you to the office.”

There were a lot of things I didn’t expect to happen that day. I didn’t expect for Patrick to show up at school, I didn’t expect him to be able to do algebra in his head, and I really didn’t expect Dad to come in end up in a meeting with the principal and my math teacher about Patrick.

And I really didn’t expect Patrick to come out with a huge smile and bounce over to me to announce that he was officially enrolled in the eighth grade.

Chapter Text

Pete

Patrick had built his idea of what ‘school’ was up in his head. From whenever he talked to me about it, he seemed to think that this place was going to be the best thing in the world. He talked excitedly about all the math classes he was gonna go to, and about being able to spend all day with me, Joe and Andy.

His excitement only grew when Dad took him school shopping. He’d walk around the house with his new school bag filled with books on his back, giggling excitedly when somebody asked him about it. Then he’d talk to them for as long as they’d allow about all the things he was gonna learn and do once he got to school.

In reality, his school experience was a lot less then he’d built it up to be. It was some kind of home school program that Dad had worked out with the school, which essentially meant that he was going 2 days a week so he could still attend all his specialist appointments. Which was still a hell of a lot. There was the psychiatrist, the physio, the hand specialist, the prosthetist, the developmental specialist, the pediatrician, the linguist, and the list just went on. I didn’t really understand why he needed so many, especially when he was so hesitant to go to any of them, but Dad just said they were important so he went.

I think that might have been another reason he was so excited for school. He’d get to be at school and wouldn’t have to go to any of the appointment. An he was so excited that I didn’t really have the heart to tell him otherwise.

It was only the night before his first day, when we were tucked up in my bed, that I turned to him. “Look, Patrick, kid… I know you’re excited for tomorrow, but I just need to explain things. Kids… other kids aren’t always nice. A lot of the can be really, really mean. There’s lots of jerks. And you’re… a little bit different from them, and a lot of people don’t like people who are different.”

He looked at me in confusion. “Different? B-Because of hand?”

“Yeah.” I breathed. “That and… that and because of bedroom. And what happened to you. And I’m not saying that people are going to be jerks about it, I’m just saying that they might. You’re… a little famous, kid. But not in a good way. So everybody knows already that you were in bedroom.”

“They know?” Patrick shrieked in alarm, going to push away from me before I put an arm around him to soothe him.

“Yeah.” I told him in a gentle tone. “They do.”

How?

“You were on the TV.” I explained uncertainly. “A very long time ago. Before you came to live here, back when you were in the hospital for the first time. Because what happened to you is very rare, and there’s nobody else who had been through it. So it was news, and everyone watched it and they learned about you.”

“Oh.” He mumbled, biting his bottom lip nervously. “A-And people are gonna be jerks about it?”

“No, no. They might try, but Andy and Joe and I are gonna look after you and stuff. We’re not going to be with you all the time though, so look, if anyone is a jerk to you when you’re alone, you gotta tell the jerk that you’re Pete Wentz’s Brother, and he’s going to fuck you up.

“You’re Pete Wentz’s-”

“No, no.” I corrected quickly. “I’m Pete Wentz brother, and he’s gonna fuck you up.”

“I’m Pete Wentz brother, and he’s gonna…” Patrick shook his head and bit at his lip again. “That’s a bad word and, and I’m not allowed to say bad words…”

“Um….” I thought about it. “Say, I’m Pete Wentz’s brother, and he’s gonna get you.”

“I’m Pete Wentz’s brother, and he’s gonna get you.” Patrick repeated, looking at me nervously.

“Uh huh.” I tried to smile encouragingly. “And then, you come to me and you tell me what they look like and what their name was, and then I’ll… go make them stop being a jerk.”

He thought about that for a while, before nodding slowly. “O-Okay.”

“Cool.” I assured him, gently rubbing his back as he cuddled up to me. “But don’t be scared, okay? Just be you. You’re gonna make all the friends and learn math and stuff, right?”

“Yeah.” He mumbled. “Math. But I don’t want to be friends with jerks.”

“You don’t have to be. Only a really, really small number of people are jerks, okay? You’ll be fine.”

“Okay…”

“It’ll be fine kid. Sleep well.”

“N-Night…”

--------------

I think Dad was more worried about the kid than I was, and it was actually very funny watching him stress over Patrick’s first day at school. He made Patrick run through his timetable, and then double-checked that he had his lunch and his books and everything he needed for the day. It was sort-of like how nervous he was when I started first grade, and to be honest, it was pretty adorable.

“Dad, he’s fine.” I assured, pulling Patrick to my side. “I’ll look after him. He’s totally got this.”

“I’ve totally got this.” Patrick repeated, squeezing my hand for comfort. “Totally.

Dad sighed to himself, and nodded. “You’ve got this, buddy. But you know that if it’s too much, and if you don’t like it, you go to the office and I’ll come and get you. Okay?”

Patrick nodded, but I quickly changed the subject. “C’mon, let’s just go. Enough standing around. We’re gonna be late.”

I hoped my talk last night hadn’t been too much for the kid, considering how quiet he was as we walked to school that morning. Dad tried to make conversation, but he was more nervous than the kid was, so I ended up taking over by filling Patrick in on what we were learning in history class. Patrick didn’t even ask any questions.

But he perked up as we reached the corner where I normally left and Dad and Patrick headed home. The kid gave Dad a very tight goodbye hug, before taking my hand. Dad tried to suggest walking the kid in, but I quickly shut him up and sent him home. This kid was the definition of social suicide, and he didn’t need it made worse by Dad literally walking him into the school building.

He was shaking slightly as we approached the building, but I didn’t let go of his hand and gently ran my thumb over the back of his palm as we walked into the corridors. We’d planned to be here early, but it was a bit late for that plan now, and I just focused on keeping the kid close to me as hundreds of others bustled to get their books ready for class.

“P-Pete…” He mumbled uncomfortable, dodging one kid who raced past and accidentally brushed him on the shoulder. “I don’t, I don’t like all the people…

“I know kid.” I sighed. “Look, stay close to me. We’re nearly at homeroom. You’re okay, they’re all just here to get to their own homerooms. Don’t stress about it, okay?”

“Okay…” he mumbled, clutching my hand tighter.

He seemed to cheer up when he sat with Andy in homeroom and talked to him about all his new books that he had for school today. When our homeroom teacher gave him his planner, Andy helped him copy his timetable over, and that was sort-of sweet.

He settled in right away, but that might have been down to the fact that our homeroom teacher didn’t make him introduce himself, or really even acknowledge him really. I think that was for the best. He listened attentively to the morning notices, and then spent the rest of the homeroom period writing his name on all the sports where it had to go on his new planner, in absolutely atrocious handwriting.

And his good mood was infectious, all through homeroom and all through math. I think I actually enjoyed math for the first time in my life, watching Patrick excitedly raise his hand to answer questions when Mr Dun asked for feedback. Hell, this kid knew more about the math I was doing than I did. It was a weird feeling. I was… proud of him. Proud of how he was taking this in his stride.

The good mood lasted until the end of class, when Patrick went to follow us to english. Now, not to brag or anything, but I was good at english. I was in the top class. Patrick, who barely knew basic sentence structures for the first week that I knew him, wasn’t in my class. His class was a good 10 minute walk away from mine. But that didn’t mean he understood when I tried to explain that he couldn’t come to join Andy, Joe and I in our next class.

“You’re in a different class, kid.” I sighed, grabbing his timetable to check where he had to go. “You’re in Ms William’s class, in 306, yeah?”

“I don’t want to be with her…” His eyes were wide with fear. “I wanna stay with you.

“Kid, this is middle school, you can’t stay with me all the time.” I sighed, looking around the corridor for anyone I knew to be in Ms William’s class.

Andy beat me to it. “Meredith!”

She seemed a little confused, but wandered over. “What’s going on?”

“You’re in Ms William’s class, right?” I asked, and she nodded. “This is Patrick, he’s knew and kinda needs someone to show him the way.”

Patrick was staring at her hair as she turned to him. “Yeah, that’s cool. I’ll show you the way. Hey, you’re the cupboard kid, aren’t you?”

“Is your hair green because you didn’t wash it?” He blurted out. “B-Because Food Man says that, he says that if you don’t wash your hair then it goes green because it gets dirty a-and I didn’t want green hair, but you have green-”

“Kid, shut up!” I quickly shoved a hand over his mouth before giving an apologetic look to Meredith. “Uh, yeah. He is. Sorry about him.”

Thankfully, she laughed. “No, no, it’s not green because I didn’t wash it. It’s green because I dyed it green, with dye. I want it to be green.”

When he didn’t seem to believe her, she bent down. “It’s okay, you can touch it if you want.”

“Is, is hair dye like paint?” Patrick asked, nervously patting her hair.

“Kinda.” She smiled warmly. “But we gotta head to english or we’re gonna be late.”

I gave the kid a goodbye hug, and watched him take Meredith’s hand instead. She was surprised, but didn’t pull away thankfully and just smiled at him. I tried not to show my nerves. “Um… can you just, keep an eye on him for me? I’ll come and find him at lunch.”

“No problems.” She assured. “Bye.”

I ended up being late for english anyway, considering I had to watch Patrick and Meredith walk down the corridor and out of sight. I hoped he’d be okay without me. But maybe I was scared of the opposite as well.

-------------

I wasn’t sure where Patrick was once it got to lunch. I kept scanning the cafeteria, looking for the weirdo in the mushroom hoodie, but he was nowhere to be seen. I was getting quite stressed, to be honest, running around and trying to find him. There was just this pit of worry and dread swirling around in my stomach. Had something happened in english? Where was he?

I spotted Meredith, and stormed over to ask where the hell my Patrick was, but paused when I was a few feet from the table. I hadn’t been able to see Patrick because he was surrounded by… girls. Somehow, this kid was sitting at a table, surrounded by like 7 girls, who were hanging off every word he said while he ate his lunch.

And he wasn’t stressed about the large group of people. He was sitting back in his chair, like he did when he was relaxed, and laughing. Laughing and having a good time.

I stood afar for a while, watching them while different thoughts rushed through my head. One, this kid did it! Little Patrick, who had the social skills of a hermit, had made himself at home with a group of girls. Two, how the fuck did this kid have better game than I did? I’d been trying to get with Meagan for years, and now he had her hanging off every word he spoke.

So I gathered Andy and Joe, and we joined their table.

Patrick waved excitedly when he saw us. “Pete!”

“Hey, kid.” I breathed, giving him a smile. “Made some friends, huh?”

“Uh huh.” He giggled, and all the girls giggled with him. “We, we’re all in the same english class!”

“Pretty cool.” Andy smiled. “It went well then?”

Patrick nodded, taking another bite of the wrap Mom had packed him for lunch. “We’re doing story writing. I’m not very good at it, but that’s okay. I’m better at math. My story wasn’t very good.”

None of the girls in Patrick’s posse seemed to want to disagree, so I just shrugged and made a mental note to ask him more about that at home.

I mostly sat quietly during the lunch break, listening to Patrick tell the girls about all the things that he’d been up to. Like going to the zoo, going to the mall to get schoolbooks, and then he probably talked about how much he loved his dog for about 15 minutes.

Eventually, when lunch was over and everyone was getting up, he giggled and turned to me. “You never said there were nice people at school!”

“Well, I just, I wasn’t sure if you’d find them.” I scratched the back of my neck awkwardly. “But you did.”

“I did.” He grinned, pulling his schoolbag back onto his back. “I love them.”

“Awesome, kid. I’m glad.” I tried to make myself believe my words. “They’re in your history class too, which is what you’ve got next. I’ll… I’ll see you in homeroom, okay?”

He didn’t even say goodbye, just ran off to join his new friends. I tried to force myself to be happy for him, and headed to my own class.

Chapter Text

Patrick

School was awesome. When I got to go, that was.

Pete was lucky. He got to go to school every single day. I only got to go on Monday’s and Thursday’s, but it was okay because as long as I got to go, then I was happy. On the days that I didn’t get to go, I wasn’t so happy, but I was happier than I would if I wasn’t ever allowed to go to school.

I got to do all the classes, and all of them were very fun. All my new friends were in my classes too. I was making new friends every day, and it was awesome. One day I was gonna be friends with everyone in the school. That would be super awesome.

Pete said to watch out for jerks, but I hadn’t seen any jerks yet. There were a few people who said that they didn’t want to be my friend, but they weren’t that scary. School was the best place to be, ever.

Except for history class. I didn’t like history class.

At first, I thought history class was very fun. We learned all about different stories of people, and the things they did to change the world, and lots of my friends were in the class. But as I went to more and more of them, it got lots less fun. Because even though every story started out being nice, everyone always died at the end. And most of the time, the dying was in a super bad way. Like when someone killed another person, or bad people killed good people.

A lot of the time I wasn’t allowed to be in history class because everyone dying made me really sad and I cried sometimes. The history teacher didn’t like that, he made me sit outside because I was doing something called ‘disrupting others’. I didn’t even know what that meant. All I knew was that it meant I had to sit in the hallway when I got too sad or too overwhelmed.

I spent a lot of time in the hallway, and not just during history class. During science I was out in the hallway a lot too, because chemistry was very scary and I freaked out a lot. And english, as well, because we had to study a book for the assignment and it was a very, very big book and it was hard to read, and sometimes Mrs William asked me to read out loud for everyone and I couldn’t understand it, and I cried.

Actually… on a second thought, school wasn’t very fun. I liked math class, and art class, and music class, but everything else was bad. And I spent a lot of time in the hallway, which sucked because the hallways weren’t a fun place to be. At first, sometimes the teachers would let me have a friend in the hallway when I got upset, but then they stopped when I was out in the hallway every day.

Food Man had told me when I started school that I wasn’t allowed to bring Frosty and Tea with me. He said that they might get lost, or dirty, and it was safer for them at home. But I broke the rule and brought them anyway because being out in the hallway made me sad, and it was always better to be sad with my best friends then with nobody at all.

Mondays at school were always better than Thursdays at school. On Mondays, there were two math lessons, and no history class. On Thursday, there was only one math class, and two history classes. And today was Thursday, so I just tried to stay with my friends as we walked in the door to history class. Pete wasn’t in my history class, but Joe was, and Meredith was, so I sat between them and got my notebook out.

“You’ll be okay in this one.” Meredith assured, getting her own notebook out. “You’re gonna be fine.”

“Are, are people gonna die in this one?” I asked nervously.

“I don’t know, buddy.” She shrugged. “But you don’t have to be scared.”

I didn’t say anything back to her, just squeezed Frosty’s hand inside of my backpack until the lesson started.

I liked a lot of people at school, but my history teacher, Mr Gaskarth, was not very nice. He didn’t like me very much, and got frustrated when I asked questions. He stopped letting me ask them because he said I asked too many. I didn’t understand that. Pete and Food Man told me that the best way to learn something that I didn’t know was to ask. But not in history class, it seemed.

“So, who here has heard of the plague?” He started, and most of the class raised their hands. In fact, everyone raised their hands, except me, but Food Man had told me at home that that was okay.

He changed what was on the powerpoint slide, and everyone started writing down what was on there now, so I did the same. Mr Gaskarth read it anyway, even though we were all writing it down.”The Black Death, also known as the Great Plague, the Black Plague, or the Plague, was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 75 to 200 million people in Eurasia and peaking in Europe from 1347 to 1351.”

I put my hand up.

Mr Gaskarth sighed, like he always did when I put my hand up. “Patrick?”

“What’s, what’s a pandemic?” I asked, because I didn’t know. That word wasn’t in the dictionary. Or maybe it was on the page that was missing between padlock and parquet. Either way, I didn’t know it, and it seemed important.

“It’s the name given to a disease that is transmitted across multiple continents.” He told me, before going back to what he was saying.

I raised my hand again. “Like, like sickness? And what’s continence?”

Half the class giggled, and Mr Gaskarth sighed. “Patrick, any questions you have can be addressed outside of class time, alright?”

“O-Okay…” I mumbled, looking back down at my book.

Meredith was nice. She gently rubbed my shoulder. “A continent is like, a group of countries that are all on the same bit of land. So like, Africa is a continent, and North America, but the United States is a country.”

I smiled at Meredith. I think she taught me more things than Mr Gaskarth did. She’d be a good teacher. I wish she taught history instead.

“The bubonic plague originated in rats, brought to Europe along the silk road.” Mr Gaskarth said, changing the powerpoint again. “The first outbreak was in Sicily in October, 1347. From Italy, the disease spread northwest across Europe, striking France, Spain, Portugal and England by June 1348, then turned and spread east through Germany and Scandinavia from 1348 to 1350. It was introduced in Norway in 1349 when a ship landed at Askøy, then spread to Bjørgvin (modern Bergen) and Iceland.”

I was still very confused, but I didn’t want another detention like Mr Gaskarth had given me that one time for asking questions when he told me to stop. “Meredith?”

“Yeah?” She asked, finishing writing her sentence then looking up at me.

“What’s… everything he’s saying?”

She giggled and shook her head, but pulled my book over. “So the plague… it’s a really bad disease and it killed a lot of people. So the way that the first people got the disease was from rat bites, and then the sick people made other people sick, and then it spread to lots of different countries, yeah?”

“Why did they get it?”

“Well, I mean, they just went outside the house.” She shrugged. “People… people were sharing the disease because they didn’t know what it was. Like, when they went to get some food, or went to see their friends, sometimes they got the disease and they got sick.”

“Oh.” I bit my lip nervously. “So, so if they were sick, then they had to stay in bedroom? So they didn’t get the disease from the people with the plague?”

“I, uh.. Yeah?” She nodded. “You okay, buddy?”

I’m sick I’m sick I’m sick I’m sick I’m sick I’m sick I’m sick

“Mr Stump, Miss Allen, I do hope you’re getting some work done over there.” Mr Gaskarth frowned.

“Well, somebody has to teach him!” She accused. “He’s in this class to learn, and you’re not letting him learn anything because you won’t answer his questions!”

I didn’t like the shouting. I didn’t like anything. Back when bad hand was still on my arm, I could cover both my ears when the shouting got too loud. But now, I could only cover one and I tried not to cry. I’m sick I’m sick I’m sick

The shouting got worse. Mr Gaskarth was yelling at Meredith because she was talking to him in a way that wasn’t very nice. Everything was so loud, the shouting and the tapping and the whispers and the scratch scratch of the chairs on the floor and the hum of the projector and it was so much and I didn’t like it at all.

“Kid?” Joe whispered, into the ear that I couldn’t press closed. “You good?”

And then Mom was there, and the classroom faded away and it was me and her and she was there and she had a bottle and she said it was medicine because I was sick and the door was locked and the room was clean. “Here,” She said, pouring some into a little cup. “This is going to make you better.”

And then I screamed, and pushed her away. And then I opened my eyes, and everyone in the classroom was staring at me, because I’d just pushed the desk to the floor and the water bottle had spilled and my pens were everywhere but I didn’t care at all because my eyes were watery and I couldn’t breathe and Mom was there any everything was noisy.

I didn’t pick the desk up, or my pens up, or even grab my bag. I just screamed again, threw my glasses on the ground, covered my one ear, and ran.

 

 

 

Pete

I liked visits from friends in class, but when Joe knocked on the door of my history class, I knew something was up.

My teacher glanced at him. “Can I help you, Mr Trohman?”

“Mr Gaskarth needs Pete, Miss.” He puffed, handing her a crumpled piece of paper. “It’s urgent.”

“We’re in the middle of a quiz.” She frowned. “Is it that urgent?”

“It’s Patrick, isn’t it?” I shoved my pen into my bag and quickly excused myself from that quiz. “What happened?”

“Just hurry.” She sighed, going back to her pile of marking.

Joe practically pulled me down the hall as we left, and I struggled to keep up without breaking into a run. “What happened?! Where is he?!”

“He, uh, he’s locked himself in the art supplies cupboard.” Joe puffed, walking faster than I was. “There was an incident.”

“Right.” I sighed, picking up my pace. “C’mon.”

The closet was very crowded around the door, with Meredith being the one doing the knocking and coaxing. But she stepped away as soon as I got there, and I realised I had all the responsibilities here. I shushed the crowd, and gently tapped my knuckles against the wood. “Patrick? Kid? It’s Pete…”

No response. Just continued crying from behind the door.

“Kid, can you reach up and unlock the door for me?” I asked, trying to sound gentle. “I can’t help you if I can’t get in.”

“I, I c-can’t leave.” He cried, and I winced. “I can’t.”

“That’s alright, I’m not gonna make you leave.” I assured. “There’s a lock on your side of the door, yeah? When you went in, you locked it. I’m not gonna make you come out. I’m just gonna come in. But you gotta unlock the door for me.”

“But I’m, I’m sick Pete….” He sobbed quietly. “A-And, and all the germs will get in and, and I’ll die.”

“I won’t let any germs in.” I tried to promise. “Just unlock the door. Just me. Nobody else, and no germs.”

There was silence for a few minutes. I tried to shoo a lot of the kids away, but most of them ignored me and continued whispering rumours back and forth. Did they not understand the need for privacy in a situation like this!?

I had almost given up when there was the tiniest click of the lock, and a wave of relief rushed through me. I slipped inside, to the blackened room where Patrick sat curled up on the floor.

“Hey, kid…” I breathed. “Rough day, huh?”

He didn’t say anything, just buried his face in his knees. I felt around for where I knew the light switch to be, and brought light to a horrible massacre.

There was no hiding it. Patrick’s hair was red and bloody, but what was unmistakable was the giant bald patch on top of it, bleeding due to the fact that a rather huge chunk had been torn out. And judging by the fact that the kid’s knuckles were white as he tightly clenched his fingers around a handful of cinnamon-blonde, this was a home job.

“Oh, Patrick…” I breathed. “Kid…”

He looked up at me (where were his glasses? I’d never seen him without them), and then quickly looked away. “I, I, I can’t go out because I’m not in bedroom and I’m sick and dead and, and I…”

“Shhhh.” I shushed, sitting down beside him and gently attempting to uncurl his fingers. “You’re not sick, and you’re not dead. You’re okay, kid.”

“B-But, but the plague…”

“The plague? Kid, the plague died out 700 years ago.” I assured him. “If the plague was still around, then we’d all be at home. There’s no plague. Is that why you freaked out in history?”

“M-Mom was there…” He sniffled, wiping his nose on his shoulder.

I sighed. “Flashback, huh?”

“Yeah…”

“Well, it’s all alright now. Don’t worry, kid. I’ve got you.” I tried to play with his hair as he rested his head on my shoulder, attempting to find a ‘comb over’ that would hide the patch. It really didn’t work.

“I-I’m sorry.” Patrick whispered. “Food Man cut my nails last night, a-and I couldn’t scratch and I…”

“It’s… it’s okay, kid. It’s not your fault.” I sighed, nervously rubbing my finger over the brim of my fedora. It had taken me an entire month of saving my allowance to buy this hat. It was nice, but I guess it had never really suited me that much.

“Don’t you dare get blood on this.” I mumbled, taking it off my head and pressing it down on Patrick’s. “Okay?”

He didn’t seem to understand, but I just gently pulled him to his feet. “We’ll go to the office, and then Dad will come and get you, okay? No more school today.”

“I don’t, I don’t ever want to come back…”

“No, no, you love school.” I corrected. “But it’s been a bad day. C’mon, let’s go home. Where’s your glasses?”

“I, I, uh…” He looked down. “I don’t know…”

“Okay, okay, that’s fine. Stay close to me then, yeah? You’re pretty blind without them, aren’t you?”

My point was proven when he reached for the door handle and missed it by about 4 inches. I just held his hand and opened the door slowly, not saying a word to anyone as I quickly pulled him past the crowd.

He didn’t say a word to any of the people at the office, or even to Joe when he brought his bag, and a very broken pair of glasses up. He just rested his cheek on my shoulder and looked down at his lap until Dad showed up.

“I’m never coming back.” He whispered, tugging my hat more firmly down onto his head.

Dad seemed as surprised as I was, but hugged him tightly. “Let’s just go home, for now.”

He licked my cheek before he left with Dad, and Joe just stared at me as I watched them leave. “What the fuck is that?”

“He, uh, he thinks it’s kissing.” I explained with a soft shrug. “He learned it from the dog. I correct him on it most of the time, but sometimes he just needs someone to cut him a bit of slack, you know?”

“Dude, I get he’s special, but the licking is a bit far…”

“Just leave him be.” I sighed, grabbing my own bag. “We gotta get to class.”

Chapter Text

Patrick

I didn’t want to school after Mr Gaskarth was mean to me in history. Teachers made it not fun anymore. I liked learning and I liked friends but I didn’t like a lot of the things that we learnt because it made me sad, or because I didn’t know what anybody was talking about.

Even math got bad. I was really, really good at algebra but then when we had to do something called geometry I didn’t know anything. Pete and everyone else were so much better than me at it and I stopped even liking math class.

And my hair. I didn’t mean to rip it out but I did and now it was weird. Pete let me wear his hat a lot, which was nice because it hid it, but I still didn’t like it. Nobody else ripped out their hair when they got sad. I was just weird, like Pete used to say. None of my friends did the things I did when I got sad, and none of them got sick or only had one hand or lived in bedroom. It was just me. I was weird.

Pete said I should go to school, but I didn’t want to and Food Man said I didn’t have to, so I didn’t. I didn’t have my glasses either, and that was awful because I couldn’t see anything. Well, I could see some things, when they were near me, but I couldn’t tell how far away things were and I kept walking into things and it wasn’t very nice. I wasn’t gonna go back to school until my hair grew back and my glasses were back. They were the only things that would make it okay.

But everything wasn’t okay. My glasses were gone and my hair was bad and the nightmares kept coming every single night and I hated it.

I didn’t tell anyone, but I think Pete knew anyway. I was helping him play video games when he pushed the pause button and looked at me and sighed. “Kid…”

“I didn’t make you lose that time! I didn’t say anything distracting!” I fumbled.

“No, no, you didn’t make me lose.” He sighed and put the controller down. “Look, what’s going on? You’re not… you.”

“I’m Patrick.” Patrick, Patrick, Patrick.

“Yes, you’re Patrick, but you’re also, like, acting really withdrawn and I’m worried about you. All your friends want you to come back to school, they ask me every day how you’re going.” He put his hands together and sighed for a third time. “What’s going on with you?”

I pulled my hat further down on my head. “I… I...don’t want to go back to school...”

“You’ve said that, but you haven’t said why.”

“Because, because, I get sad.” I mumbled, looking away from Pete. “Because everyone dies in history and there were dead things when we had to do the cutting open thing in science, and, and I can’t read right and I’m just weird.”

Pete thought about that, before moving and sitting beside me. “You’re not dumb, Patrick. Nobody thinks that you’re dumb because you don’t know what they’re teaching at school.”

“I…”

“Look, you’re a little weird, kid, but when I say it, I mean it in a good way.” Pete managed a small smile. “Like, a lot of the things you do are, kinda only done by you, but that’s good. You’re different, but it’s better that way. People who are just like everyone else are no fun. After all, without you, who’s gonna give me all those hugs, right?”

“Food Man?”

“No, his hugs aren’t as good as yours, kid.” Pete smiled. “Look, it’s late, and you woke up like 4 times last night, so we should probably crash. I mean, tomorrow you get your new glasses, and then you’re gonna get your new hand, too. I know it feels like the world is against you sometimes, but honestly, you’re doing great.”

“Great?”

“Yeah, I mean, look at how far you’ve come, kid. It’s been what, 3 months since you were freed? You’ve made all these friends, you learnt the names of so many things, I mean, you actually know to look at people when they talk to you now. Plus, like, you can write and your speaking has improved so much, kid. And you’re not freaking out at every new thing, and you’re not scared of the TV anymore. Like, considering everything, you’ve done so well.”

“B-But nobody else had to do those things…”

“This isn’t about anyone else.” He told me firmly. “This is about you. And you’re doing so, so great. Y’know, when Dad first met you, he came home that night and he was super worried, because you weren’t talking to anyone and you wouldn’t get on the bed and you wouldn’t eat any food, and he was really stressed that you wouldn’t ever learn to live in the world like other people. But you did, kid. You beat everyone’s expectations of you. And tomorrow, you’ll do it even more. I know that you really freaked out last time Dad took you to a hand appointment, but just, promise me you’ll try, kay?”

“Okay…” I mumbled.

“C’mon, give me a hug and then we’ll go to bed.” Pete held his arms out.

Food Man gave good hugs, and Pancake did too. But nobody gave hugs as good as Pete.

 

 

 

Pete

I came home to an tornado after school the next day.

Dad had given me a warning text, that all had not gone down well at the prosthetist today, but I hadn’t expected my room to be so destroyed as the kid spun in circles and frantically yanked at the plastic strapped to his arm. He’d clearly spent the better part of the afternoon doing this, judging my the fact that my bedsheets were all over the floor, joined by the contents of my desk, and all of Patrick’s stuff was there too. Everything in my closet had been pulled from it’s hangers, and I was really starting to regret inviting Joe and Andy over this afternoon.

“Hey, Patrick…” I broke the awkward silence, and he stopped his spinning for a moment. “Rough day?”

“G-Get it off, Pete!” He cried, tugging at the plastic once again, only for it to spring back into place by the elastic straps. “PLEASE!”

I quickly pulled his hand away, because I knew how much that thing cost, and I really didn’t want him to break it. “Hey, hey, relax. It’s not hurting you, is it?”

“It’s, I-It’s WEIRD!” He sobbed, letting his shoulders slump as I held his hand. “I d-don’t like it a-and Food Man w-won’t take it off, a-and, a-and I…”

“Well, look, if it’s not hurting you…” I mumbled uncertainly, stepping over the piles of stuff to sit down on my bare mattress. “Hey, look, it’s exciting, kid. You wanna show me what it can do?”

It was a distraction technique. I knew what it could do. It was essentially a practice hand, considering that Patrick had a lot of other factors compared to most people who lost hands. Dad’s plan was eventually to get him one of those cool robot ones, but apparently they took like 3 months of training to use correctly, and Patrick really wasn’t ready for that level of technology on his arm just yet. So he was wearing a very simple one, with fingers that had little joints you could bend to do what you wanted, and hold whatever. This was to just get him used to the idea of another hand, and used to the weight, so he’d be a little more... accepting of whatever came next.

Patrick pushed his new glasses up as he sat next to me in silence, letting me play with his new hand while he clutched his llamas to his chest. “It’s weird, Pete.”

“You’ll get used to it?” I tried not to sound cold, considering that I wasn’t considering removing it. “You can do so many things again, you know? And you can use it to hold things, and poke people.”

I probably should have expected the poke to the face I got after saying that, but luckily, Joe just laughed. “Hey, do you still have that guitar that you never learned to play?”

“I think it’s in my cupboard?”

Joe shuffled through the stuff, finding both the guitar and one of my picks, before sitting down next to Patrick and shoving the instrument on his lap. It took a few goes, to get the pick to stick to the plastic, but a bit of duct-tape never hurt. Patrick looked very, very confused, but at least he wasn’t crying anymore.

“Do you remember when you couldn’t play piano anymore?” Joe asked, looking quite shy. “Pete said you were upset about it…”

Patrick nodded, and looked down at his lap. “Yeah…”

Joe smiled. “Well, look, I mean, this isn’t a piano, and you’re never gonna like, shred, but you got a hand that can strum now, so you can learn some guitar. Music skills are transferable, aren’t they?”

I shrugged, but couldn’t help but manage a small smile as Joe gently placed Patrick’s fingers on the fret board and explained where on the strings to press down. And his little giggle as he played an E minor for the first time was so incredibly cute.

Andy and I eventually went to play Fortnite, considering this had turned into a guitar lesson. But when Andy left, and as I stood outside my bedroom and listened to Patrick play a very shaky beginner guitar tune, my heart swelled. He might not believe it himself, but he really was doing great.

Chapter Text

Pete

For a while, everything was great.

Patrick got better. Everything wise. He got used to his new hand, and then as soon as he was starting to get the hang of the guitar, his headspace improved too. He started eating dinner with us again, and then somehow Andy managed to convince him to go back to school. The panic attacks were still there, but daily rather than hourly. And he hadn’t pulled out any of his hair for at least 2 weeks. He was happy. Really, really, genuinely happy.

And that made me happy too. Soon enough, he was a part of band practices, but playing alongside us now instead of sitting in the corner. He went along to the school’s weird mathletes thing, and Dad looked so damn proud when he came home with a neck full of medals. Patrick had found his home, and everything was perfect.

Until it wasn’t.

It was late on a Monday night, and I had slipped out of bed to grab a late night glass of water, when I saw Mom and Dad sitting at the kitchen table, with quite stressed looks on their faces as they focused on the papers they had in front of them. I grabbed my glass and wandered in, pulling a chair out to join them. “What’s going on?”

Dad looked at me, the bags under his eyes showing in the late night, before turning to Mom and then back to me. “We’re in a custody battle, Pete.”

“What? Over Patrick?” It took me a moment. “Who else wants custody of Patrick? Why- Why is anyone challenging you? He only just got settled!”

“It’s all just a bit of a mess.” He mumbled, looking down at his papers. “Just a mess of provisional carer agreements and I just-”

“They found his father, Pete.” Mom interrupted with a sigh. “They did a DNA analysis at the hospital when he was first there, and they only just got the results back. David Stump has been in prison since Patrick was 3 months old.”

“So, did, did he know about what his Mom did?”

Mom sighed and shook her head. “He was as horrified as everyone else. He’s in jail for insurance fraud, not any violent crimes. Patricia told him that his son drowned. That’s what she told everyone. Turns out Patrick has a death certificate, and that’s why nobody ever went looking for him.”

“Well, if he’s in prison, then what’s the problem? He can’t take custody in prison, right?”

“No, he can’t.” Dad sighed. “But he’s a citizen of California, which means that the state of Illinois has to hand Patrick’s case to the state of California.”

“But, but Patrick was found in Illinois.”

“Yes, but his mother has lost any rights to custody. And David Stump only has 5 years left of his sentence then he’ll be set free, and will resume custody of his son.” Mom explained nervously. “So Patrick is being moved. Well, we’re trying to stop that, but still.”

“They’re going to take him!?”

“Shh!” Dad shushed me. “Don’t wake him up!”

I lowered my tone, but not my panic. “What are you going to do!? They can’t just take him, he’s in school and he’s got friends now and he’s learning guitar, and he’s finally happy, Dad. What can we do?”

Dad sighed. “So, our best option at this moment is to apply for out-of-state care once the case is transferred, but we’ll be begging for an exception because that’s only allowed for blood relatives. Then if that doesn’t work, it’s inter-state adoption, but that can take months…”

“How long have you known?!”

“2 weeks.” Mom explained nervously. “We just, we’re trying to keep it away from Patrick. He doesn’t need anything else on his plate right now. We’ll tell him tomorrow, about his Dad, and a bit of a watered down version so he doesn’t worry.”

“Tomorrow?”

“The new social worker is coming up, to look at the house and make a decision.” Dad said, flicking through his papers. “And I think he’s going to take Patrick out for dinner to have a talk to him.”

“Oh, god…”

“He’ll be fine.” Mom said hopefully, although her unease was clearly visible. “This will all turn out fine.”

 

 

Patrick

I liked Tuesday’s the most, because Tuesday’s were pancake mornings. Tuesdays used to be school mornings too, but now that Wednesday was a school morning, Tuesdays were just pancake mornings. But that was okay. I liked it better that way. It meant I didn’t have to worry about eating too many pancakes that my tummy hurt, because if it did I was at home and not at school. So I was eating lots and lots of them when Food Man and Dale wanted to have a conversation.

“But it’s pancake morning!” I told them.

“Kid, you’ve had eight.” Pete snorted. “Chill. This is important, okay?”

Important. Uh oh. Important things were never good things. Whenever Food Man or Dale or Pete wanted to talk about important things, they were always bad. Like Mom or the police or my hand or sickness or anything like that. Important things were scary.

“Don’t be nervous, sweetheart.” Dale said gently, pulling my hand away from where I’d unknowingly grabbed my hair. “This isn’t anything scary, I promise.”

“But, but important things are always scary…”

Food Man smiled at me. “So, you know how I’m Pete’s Dad? And Andrew and Hillary’s Dad too?”

“Yeah…”

“Well, I was talking to Elisa, and she found your Dad, Patrick.” He smiled.

“Oh.” I bit down on my lip. “Is, is it you?”

“No, no, it’s not me.” He said. “His name is David Stump. And he’s your Dad.”

When I didn’t say anything, Food Man just kept talking. “So, Elisa had a talk to your Dad, and we learned a lot of things. You’re actually 13, one year younger than Pete, and your birthday is on the 22nd of April.”

“Birthday.” I repeated uncertainly.

“Uh huh. The day that you were born.” Food Man smiled, holding my hand even though I was getting a bit nervous. “And we found out that you do have a name.”

I pulled my hand away from him quickly when he said that. “I’m Patrick!

“Shh. I know, you’re Patrick. I’m not saying that you’re not.” He assured. “But when you were born, your name was Vaughn.”

I shook my head straight away. “N-No…”

“Nobody is going to call you that if you don’t like it.” Food Man assured me. “You’re still Patrick.”

“I’m Patrick.”

“That’s right. You’re always going to be Patrick.” He said. “But because your Dad lives in another state, Elisa isn’t going to be your caseworker anymore. You’re going to get a new caseworker, and he’s going to come here this afternoon to say hello.”

“Why, why isn’t my Dad coming?”

“Because your Dad is in jail.”

“With Mom?!”

“No, not with your Mom. In a different jail because he didn’t do the same things she did.” Dale explained. “Do you remember when we had to talk about taking things from the store without giving them money for it?”

“Did, did he do the taking?” I asked nervously, thinking about all the times I did the taking.

“A long, long time ago, he did.” She nodded. “When you were only 3 months old. He didn’t know about your Mom, or your bedroom. Your Mom told him that you died.”

“But I didn’t die…”

“That’s right.” She nodded.

I still didn’t feel good. “Am I gonna go to jail? Because I did the taking?”

She shook her head. “We went back to the store, remember? And paid for the things once we learned that it was wrong to take them.”

“But, but the other time!” I panicked. “I don’t want to go back to bedroom for doing the taking!”

“Patrick, what other time?” Food Man asked, looking confused.

“At the m-mall, and then at school, and I, I just-”

“You stole from the school?” Pete pushed. “What? When?”

“I…” I gulped nervously, because everyone was looking at me now, but in a not-nice way and I didn’t like it at all.

“You’re not in trouble, Patrick.” Food Man told me, but he wasn’t smiling so I didn’t believe him. “Can you show me what you took from the school? You’re not going to jail, but we have to give it back.”

I frantically shook my head. “It’s mine, Food Man!”

“Patrick, buddy, if you took it from the school, then it’s not yours. And that’s stealing.” He looked at me, before looking very worried. “Buddy, are you, hoarding things again?”

I didn’t want to sit here anymore. So I didn’t. I shook Dale’s hand off mine and ran upstairs as fast as I could, before hiding under the bed with the stuff. They weren’t allowed to take it again. Nobody was allowed to take it. Ever.

 

 

Pete

Dad still made me go to school, so I wasn’t there when Dad got rid of all the junk under Patrick’s bed. All I knew was that there was another man downstairs when I got home, presumably Patrick’s new social worker, and Patrick was hiding under the blankets on my bed.

“Hey, kid.” I breathed, tossing my bag onto my desk chair and pulling the blankets down. “How’d you go?”

He sniffled and pulled his llamas closer to his chest, while I chose to ignore the new bald spot on his head. “Food Man took everything.”

“Yeah.” I sighed, sitting down beside him. “Kid, you know you can’t steal stuff, right?”

He didn’t say anything at first, just looked at me with this absolutely goddamn desperate look. “I, I don’t want to, I just, I…”

I sighed. “You can’t help it. That’s.. That’s okay. Look, uh… how’s the new caseworker? He nice?”

Patrick shook his head. “He called me Vaughn.”

“Well, that’s, he didn’t know that you wanted to be called Patrick. You just gotta correct him, I guess.” I answered uncomfortably. “Look, kid. It’ll be fine. I’m sure he’ll be better once he gets your name right?”

Patrick’s bottom lip quivered, and I sighed again, gently rubbing his shoulder. “Do you want to come and help me play some video games?”

“D-Do we have to play the killing ones?” He whispered.

“No, no. You can pick whatever one you want to play.” I assured.

“Will Food Man be there?”

“No?”

“Good.” Patrick mumbled, sitting up. “Because I’m not his friend because he took all my stuff and that wasn’t very nice of him.”

I opened my mouth, before quickly closing it again. He couldn’t be doing this whole thing again, especially not now. “Kid, you know that stealing is bad, right?”

He furrowed his eyebrows. “Yeah…”

“Then you know that Dad had to give the stuff back. He’s not being mean, he’d do the same thing if someone else took your things. He loves you a lot, you know?”

“But he took my things, Pete!” Patrick started to get upset again. “He k-knew that I loved them and that they were special and he still took them!”

“He apologized though, right?”

“But he didn’t give it back.” Patrick sniffled. “So I’m not his friend.”

And that was the moment that I knew we were fucked.

Chapter Text

Patrick

I didn’t understand a lot of things.

Pete was one of those things. In particular, how he was playing video games today. Pete normally said that video games were the most important things ever, and it’s very important you stay quiet while I’m playing so I don’t get distracted and lose. But today, he wasn’t even trying to win. He was making the character walk around in circles, and then looking at me, and then back at the screen.

Maybe it was my fault. He let me pick the game and I picked a bad one that wasn’t fun to play. Bad, stupid, ugly slut.

“Just, just say good things at dinner, okay kid?” Pete told me, walking the character into the lava. “Like, about all the fun things we do here. And then talk about all your friends, and uh, your math thing that you keep doing. Make sure he knows how smart you are, got it?”

I didn’t say anything back to him, because I didn’t want to go to dinner anywhere. With anyone.

Pete pressed pause on the game and turned to me. “Kid, are you even listening? This is important.”

“No dinner.” I mumbled, turning away from him.

Pete sighed. “Kid, you don’t have a choice. I know that it’s not great timing, but please. He’s gonna ask about what it’s like to live here and you gotta tell him that you like it here. Okay?”

I grunted at him. “Food Man?”

“No, it’s your new social worker dude. He’s taking you out. The guy who got your name wrong?”

That was worse. “No.

“You don’t get to say no to this one.” Pete told me.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing, retard?! You don’t get to fucking say no to me, slut! What do you think you’re going to get out of pushing me away, huh fucker?”

“Everyone has the right to say no, Patrick. I know that not everyone has given you that right, but that’s why your Mom is in jail. Because she did the wrong thing. You’re allowed to say no, I promise.”

“You’ve done this a million times before and you’re not going to stop now because you think you’re stronger than me! Can you ever do anything right? You’re just a fucking whore and you can’t even do that.”

“You didn’t do anything wrong. You’re not a whore, or a slut, or any of those words. You’re just Patrick.”

“Fucking retard. Anyone would have thought you’d understand what to do by now!”

“Hey, hey, don’t do that.” Pete said softly, uncurling my fingers from where I’d grabbed my hair. “Dinner won’t be that bad. I’m sure this guy is going to be fine once you get talking to him.”

I didn’t agree.

---------------

I didn’t understand why I had to go to the dinner. It was stupid. There was going to be dinner at Food Man’s house, but Travie and I had to go and get dinner somewhere else.

I didn’t like it. I didn’t like Travie, but I also really didn’t like his car. I didn’t like Food Man’s car in general, but this car was worse. It was a lot smaller, and smelled weird, and the radio was very loud and it was very, very bumpy. I wanted to go home.

“What are some good chicago stations?” Travie asked, pushing buttons on the car that made the noise change, and my head dizzy.

I didn’t understand what that meant. I didn’t understand what any of this meant. I didn’t know what chicago stations were. I didn’t know that you could change the noise in the car by pushing buttons. “I, I just want to go home.

“After dinner.” He responded. “Peter said that you were a big fan of pancakes, so we’ll go get those for dinner. Sound good?”

I didn’t say anything back to him, I just closed my eyes and hoped that we’d be out of the car soon. This car was the worst place to be, ever.

When we got to the pancake restaurant, I was a bit glad because I’d been to this one before and I knew that it was okay. But I didn’t like Travie still, when he pointed to Frosty and Tea. “I think we should leave those ones in the car, Vaughn.”

Patrick, Patrick, Patrick. “They wouldn’t like that. Your car scares them.” I mumbled.

“They’ll be safer in the car. That way you won’t lose them inside.” He opened his car door. “They’ll be here when we’re finished.”

I growled at him when he tried to grab them. And not a soft one, like I do sometimes when I don’t want to scare Pete or Food Man or Dale. I growled loudly. He didn’t try to take them again after that, and just closed his car so we could go inside.

We had to sit at one of the tables where we were looking at each other, and that wasn’t very nice. I just held Frosty and Tea super close and looked down at my lap. Travie looked through the menu, but then he put it down and opened a folder with a lot of words in it. “So, Vaughn, uh, I guess we really haven’t gotten off to the best start. I’m your new social worker, and this is just to get to know each other, I guess.”

Patrick.” I mumbled.

“Sorry? What was that?”

“I’m Patrick.” I told him, still not looking up from my lap. “That’s my name. Not the other one.”

Travie looked at me, and then picked up a pen, before writing something down. “Okay. You understand that that’s not your real name, right? I know that you’ve been living under it since, uh, your case was filed, but legally your name is Vaughn, so a lot of people are going to call you that.”

“But, but that’s not my name…”

“It’s not what people call you at the moment, but it’s your name.” He said, pouring the water from the jug into the two glasses on the table. Anyway, let’s move on. Peter says you’ve been going to school.

I nodded. “To do the learning.”

He smiled. “And are you doing well at school?”

“I like math.”

“Yeah? That’s good. Are you doing well in math? Keeping up with the class?”

“I’m better than everyone else at math.” I said. “But only math. I’m very stupid at everything else.”

“Stupid at everything else?” He seemed to find that funny. It wasn’t funny. It was mean. Maybe he was the bully that Pete warned me about.

“You have to be a good at reading to be good at everything else and I’m not good at reading.” I mumbled nervously. “I like it but I’m very stupid at it.”

“Right. Okay.” He wrote more things down on the paper. “Do you like school?”

“Just math. And lunch. That’s all.”

I was glad when the lady brought the pancakes. I was normally nervous when they brought them but I was already nervous so it was just normal. I had my pancakes now so everything was okay. I didn’t need to answer any more questions because I could say I was too busy eating pancakes to answer.

I pushed the plate against Travie’s, but then he just looked confused and pushed it back towards me. “Those ones are for you to eat.”

“Yeah.” I agreed, pushing it back. There was a word that Food Man used, but I couldn’t remember it. I needed, I needed him to break it up into little pieces so I could use the fork because I didn’t bring the pretend hand. I just, what’s that word?

Whatever it was, Travie was doing it to his own pancakes now, making them smaller and eating them. I pushed my plate against his for a third time, before gesturing at what he was doing in the hope he’d understand.

“Yeah, you eat them.” He seemed confused, and pushed my plate back towards me again. “I thought you liked pancakes?”

I wanted to cry. I didn’t though. I just sat there and watched Travie eat his own pancakes while mine sat in front of me. They smelled really good. And looked good too. I wanted to eat them so much.

“So, uh, Patrick…” Travie swallowed the pancake he had in his mouth and looked down at his folder. “Let’s talk about your Mom. You stopped living with her about 4 months ago, correct?”

I clenched my teeth and shook my head. “No.

“Not 4 months? How long ago then?” His pen hovered over the paper.

“I, I don’t want to talk about Mom…” I whispered, closing my eyes and hugging Frosty and Tea tighter.

He asked questions but I didn’t listen. I sat there with my eyes closed and tried to think about giraffes instead.

“Does it make you upset to think about?” He asked, when I didn’t answer any of his other questions.

“Uh huh.” I grumbled. “Don’t ask any more.”

Travie sighed. “Okay. Let’s talk about Peter then. Do you like living with him and his family?”

I nodded, before trying to push my pancakes towards him again. He was really stupid at this. He just sighed again, and shook his head before pushing it back. “I’m not eating your pancakes.”

“They’re mine!” I tried to tell him, pointing at his plate with the little pancake pieces on it, and then back at mine.

“No, these ones are mine.” He pulled his own plate closer, before pushing mine back to me. “And those are yours. Are you not hungry?”

“I’m hungry!” I nodded. “I’m really hungry!”

“Okay, that’s good…” He seemed confused. “So, here’s your food. You just have to eat it.”

I wanted to cry. I wanted to go home to Pete and lie in his bed again and cry. That was the only thing I wanted to do, other than eat the pancakes.

Travie only asked weird questions. He asked about how much time I spent with Food Man (A lot), and if Pete was ever mean to me (Sometimes, but we were best friends so it didn’t matter). I told him all sorts of things, like about when we went to the mall and I got scared, and then I told him about the zoo. But he got very funny when I mentioned the taking.

“You stole?”

“No, I, I just did the taking of things.” I told him. “Because I do it sometimes. I don’t know why. Food Man and Dr Urie don’t like it, and Pete doesn’t like it because sometimes it makes our room smell bad. But I don’t do the taking of food anymore. Just stuff. But Food Man took all my stuff away today, so I’m not happy at him.”

“Taking of things is stealing.” He seemed very unhappy. “That’s a very big deal.”

“But, but I don’t have to go back to bedroom, right?” I asked nervously, because Travie looked scary now. “Because, because Food Man said that my Dad had to go to the jail because he did the taking, and, and I don’t want to go back…”

“Uh, so, uh…” Travie thought about it. “Patrick, let’s, um, we need to have a little chat about your Dad, and how he-”

I screamed.

Everyone at every other table turned to look at us. Look at me. But I didn’t care because Travie wanted a little chat and I wasn’t okay and I screamed again, before turning and running.

“Vaughn! Patrick!” Travie was chasing me. “Stop!”

“NO CHATS! NO CHATS!” I screamed, before I made the mistake of looking over my shoulder, because then I fell. And I fell on good arm, and good arm was hurting so bad, but it wasn’t as bad as when Travie was there and he grabbed me.

“Patrick, kid, shut up!” He whispered, quite loudly. “I just wanted to chat with you. That’s all.”

I think I did what anybody would do if somebody wanted to have a little chat with them. I screamed, and kicked and threw my arms out and tried to get away. And I wasn’t winning until the bottom of my shoe went into Travie’s face and he let go of me as he started getting upset.

I ran away as fast as I could. There weren’t a lot of hiding places, but there was a door with the picture of a person in a dress on the front, and I ran in there. And then I hid in one of the little rooms and locked the door, so that nobody could ever have a little chat with me, ever.

Well, at least not ever again.

Chapter Text

Patrick

I sat in the toilet room for a long time. It was so small, smaller than old bedroom, and there was no bathtub or anything which made it a not nice place. But it was safe in here, behind the locked door. There was no Travie, and no Mom. There were only a few women who I could see through the little gap in the door, but I didn’t talk to them. I just cried, because I was scared and I wanted to go home.

I tried to close my eyes and pretend I was at home, curled up on the couch in my pyjamas and helping Pete play video games while Pancake slept on my lap. And even though it was nice when I imagined that, every time I opened my eyes, I was still hiding in the bathroom from Travie at the pancake restaurant.

I was almost about to give up when I heard a voice that I was quite familiar with. “Patrick? Buddy, are you in here?”

“F-Food Man!?”

Food Man gave very good hugs, and this hug was especially good because Food Man was the first good thing since I had to leave the house. He was safe, and he would keep me safe.

“Hey, hey, it’s okay. I’ve got you, I’ve got you.” He said gently when I started crying. “What happened?”

“He, h-he wanted a little chat, Food Man!” I cried. “I was t-telling him about the taking and, and then, and t-then I said that I d-didn’t want to go to jail like my Dad d-did for doing the taking and then he s-said that we needed to have a little chat, a-and I!”

“Ah.” He breathed, before nodding. “Okay. Listen, buddy, he didn’t want a little chat with you, okay?”

“B-But-”

“Listen, uh, what you call a ‘little chat’, nobody else calls it that. Only you and me and Pete understand what you mean when you say that. To everybody else, a little chat just means a conversation, okay?”

“No…”

“Do you remember when you were in the hospital for the first time and I accidently told you that we needed to have a little chat? I didn’t mean what you thought I did, because it’s only you who calls it that. That’s okay, but it just means that Travie didn’t want to hurt you. He just wanted to have a conversation.”

I bit my lip. “B-But, but I still, I was still s-scared…”

“I know, buddy. It’s pretty scary to think about.” He hugged me again, before frowning slightly. “What did you do to your hand?”

“I…” I winced as he held it, because it hurt, a lot. “T-Travie was chasing me a-and I tripped a-and, and yeah…”

“Okay…” He felt it over, and then I yanked it out of his hands because he was making it hurt so much and I felt like I was gonna cry again.

“I-is…” I bit my lip again because I felt very scared now. “Is it g-going to be taken like bad hand now?”

“Oh, no, no, not that.” Food Man quickly assured. “We’ll have a look at it when we get home. We just have to go back out and see Travie again first, okay?”

No.

“He didn’t mean to make you scared, Patrick.” Food Man assured me. “He just wants to see that you’re okay.”

“Will…. Will you protect me?”

Food Man smiled. “Of course, buddy.”

I hated leaving the bathroom. The bathroom was safe, and it was even safer when Food Man was in the bathroom. Now we were outside the bathroom, and even though Food Man was safe, the world wasn’t, and I was scared all over again. Especially when we saw Travie, who was sitting with a white napkin and holding it to his nose. His nose was making blood, like mine used to when Mom got mad.

I hid behind Food Man and closed my eyes. It was better when I closed my eyes. I could be anywhere. Like right now, I was on a giraffe and we were at the zoo, and Pete and Frosty and Tea and Food Man were there and-

“Patrick?”

Good things never lasted long.

Food Man looked at me. “Can you say sorry to Travie for hurting his nose?”

“Did, Did I hurt his nose?” I whispered, because that was a bad, bad, bad thing to do.

“Hey, hey, you’re okay.” Food Man put his arm around me. “If you say sorry then it’s okay. Can you say sorry?”

I said a very big sorry. In fact, I think it was the biggest sorry that I ever did. I got sad, and then I remembered that when I hurt my arm, Dale said that she ‘kissed it better’ so I licked Travie’s nose so it would get better.

Travie just stared at me. “Um…”

“Sorry!” Food Man quickly pulled me back. “He, uh, Patrick, you remember when we were with Dr Urie, and we talked about how we don’t lick people?”

“But, but that was licking in a bad way! I was trying to kiss it better, like Dale did when I hurt my arm!”

Food Man rubbed the side of his head, and looked a little bit tired. “Okay, okay. Thank you… for trying that. It’s just not okay to do that to other people when you don’t ask first, okay? Especially on their face.”

Travie wiped some more of his blood away and stood up. “Is his hand okay?”

Food Man sighed. “It’s swollen now. We’ll head to the ER, but he’s got a pretty high pain tolerance. Was he okay during dinner?”

Travie looked at me, and then back at Food Man. “He wouldn’t eat.”

“Really?” Food Man frowned. “He’s, he loves pancakes. Are you sure?”

“He, uh, he kept pushing it towards me.” Travie shrugged. “I couldn’t understand what he meant. And then he kept pointing to my food, even though we ordered the same thing.”

Food Man was silent for a moment, before looking at Travie in a very different way to before. “So, he just kept pushing it towards you, and wouldn’t eat it?”

Travie nodded.

“Did he seem upset?”

“Well, yeah…”

Food Man looked a little bit angry now. “Look at him. Give it one second of actual thought. Why would he be pushing his plate towards you?”

Travie seemed confused. He looked at me, and then back up at Food Man. “I’m not following you…”

He actually wasn’t following anyone. We were standing in the middle of the pancake restaurant, not moving at all.

“He wanted you to cut up his damn food for him.” Food Man glared at Travie in a not-nice way, but that was good because Travie was a not-nice person. “The kid has one hand. He can’t do it on his own.”

Travie blinked, and then looked at me, and then at bad hand, and then back at Food Man. “He could have just told me that...”

“He’s got the lingual skills of a 5 year old!” Food Man seemed quite mad now, but not at me. “He was telling you, in the only way he knew how! Did you even read his file? All the information is there!”

When Travie didn’t say anything, Food Man just glared at him. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

 

 

Pete

Patrick finally arrived home at 1 in the morning, with a purple cast on his hand and tears on his face as he crawled into bed beside me. “Pete?”

“Hey, kid.” I mumbled sleepily, shuffling over to make more room for him. “How was dinner?”

“Bad.” He mumbled, resting his head on the pillow next to mine. “I got scared.”

“I figured.”

He rolled onto his back and looked up at the ceiling. “I did a bad thing to a bad person, so is it good?”

“What?”

He bit his lip. “Travie, he was scary, a-and then I got scared and I hurt his nose. But that’s bad, because my nose used to get hurted a lot, and I know that it’s really bad. So I felt bad, but Travie was bad to me, and Food Man says he was bad because he wouldn’t cut my pancakes up and I just… I don’t know.”

“Slow down,” I sighed. “How the fuck did you manage to hurt his nose? Did you punch him or something?”

Patrick shifted around uncomfortably. “I kicked him.”

“Damn...”

“But he was mean! But I was also mean!” He fumbled. “I, I didn’t want to hurt him, but I did, a-and I’m gonna be just like Mom, Pete…”

“No, kid. You’re not going to be like your Mom.” I quickly assured him. “You made a mistake. That’s okay. I make so many mistakes. Don’t stress about it, alright? Did you apologise?”

He nodded. “I tried to kiss it better, but he didn’t like that…”

I had to try not to laugh as I imagined what that looked like. “That’s okay. He probably doesn’t mind. He knows that he scared you, right? So it’s all good. Don’t worry about it kid, just get some sleep.”

“Will you scare the nightmares away tonight?”

“Of course, kid. Night.”

------------------

I didn’t see Mom and Dad for most of the next day, it was just them and Travie in Dad’s office upstairs, with the door locked and some serious discussions taking place. I guess that was fine, it just meant I had to listen to Patrick complain about his cast for the whole day, and we just played video games.

It was the day after that worried me.

It was a Friday, and Friday was usually waffle day, but Mom had made pancakes again. And both of my parents seemed very happy, to a suspicious level. And then, out of nowhere, they handed Patrick a present. Wrapped up with a bow and everything. That wasn’t normal.

Patrick didn’t seem to notice that something was off, he was just overjoyed with the instant camera, and ran around taking random photos and letting them print out the bottom.

“Look, Food Man!” He giggled, shoving the picture of me in front of Dad’s face. “It, it made a little Pete!”

Dad laughed. “Yeah, it did. Hey, why don’t you go and get ready, and then we’ll take the new camera to the Zoo to get some super cool photos?”

And once again, his eyes lit up with excitement. “Really?!”

“Really.” Dad grinned.

Patrick disappeared up the stairs, and I turned to Dad. “What are you doing?”

“He’s flying to California tomorrow, Pete. Please, just help me make his last day with us a good one.”

Chapter Text

Patrick

Today was a good day. Actually, it was the best day. There were pancakes, and then Food Man gave me something called a camera, and it was making lots and lots of little pictures. I got to take photos of everything, and I was taking lots of photos of Pancake when Food Man said that we got to go to the Zoo again.

And that was even better. It was even more fun at the zoo when you got to go for the second time, because you already knew everything so it wasn’t as scary. And I didn’t see any scary people. And I took photos of all the animals, and Food Man took some of me in them, with Pete too.

I still wasn’t allowed to take any of the animals home with me, but Food Man bought me a backpack that looked like a giraffe so that was okay.

The only bad thing about the day was that my hand was still in the purple cast, but that was okay because Food Man and Pete were there and they helped me when I couldn’t do things. It ended up being quite a lot of things, but it was okay because Pete was always there. Like when I couldn’t do the zipper up on the mushroom hoodie or open the doors to the petting zoo area.

Food Man and Dale looked like they were having a good time, but Pete was being weird. He was still smiling, but he wasn’t smiling with all of his face. Just his mouth. It was a little bit weird, and I was going to ask him about it, but Food Man said that he was fine so I didn’t. I didn’t know why he wouldn’t be happy, we were at the very best place in the whole entire world, and there were so many cool things to see and take photos of.

I only realised why he was so sad when Food Man made me sit down at the kitchen table with him and Dale after dinner. He tried to tell Pete to sit down for the conversation too, but Pete shook his head and said that he “couldn’t watch this” and walked away. That was weird.

“No, no, Patrick, you have to be here for this.” Food Man sighed.

“But, But I don’t want to watch this either…”

Food Man sighed again. “Pete.”

Pete sighed, and looked down at the floor. “Kid, just, sit down.”

“Will you stay?” I asked, becoming quite confused. Everyone looked so sad. We’d just had the best day ever but now everyone looked so sad.

Pete looked very, very sad when I said that, but nodded. “Yeah, kid. I’ll stay.”

 

Pete

The kid just sat there, while Dad painfully tried to explain the legalities of it. He didn’t show any emotion when Dad said that he had to move, and still none when Dad tried to explain that we weren’t allowed to move with him – he was moving to another home with another family in California because that was how his case had to be handled.

“Patrick, buddy, do you understand?” Dad asked with a pained expression.

“I’m going to California.” He mumbled, looking at me in confusion.

“Yeah.” Dad breathed.

“With Travie.”

“That’s right.”

Patrick bit his lip, before nodding. “That’s, that’s okay. Just as long as he doesn’t want a little talk again, because that was scary. What kind of food do they make at the California?”

Mom sighed. “Honey, listen. California isn’t a restaurant. It’s a place, and it’s a very, very long way away from us. And Travie’s going to take you there, and he’s going to find you another family to live with that’s not us.”

“Oh.”

There were a few moments of silence over the table.

“But, but I don’t want to do that….” Patrick looked up at Dad, and then at me. “It’s better here.

“I know, buddy.” Dad said nervously. “We don’t want you to go either.”

“Then why are you making me?” He asked, getting a little bit fidgety. “I don’t want to leave but I don’t get to say no to that and-”

“It wasn’t us, Patrick. We’re not making you leave. Travie is making you leave, because your Dad lives in California and he wants to be able to see you.” Dad tried. “And we’ll call you on the phone, all the time, and we can come and visit in the summer if you’d like. We’ll stay in touch.”

“I don’t want to leave, Food Man!” Patrick panicked, grabbing my hand tightly. “I want to stay here, and, and keep going to school with Pete and go to the Zoo sometimes and have pancakes and, and I don’t want to go anywhere with Travie! He, he calls me the wrong thing and he doesn’t do the right thing to the pancakes when I wanted him to, and, and I hate him, Food Man!”

“I know, I know buddy. I’m sorry.” Dad sighed. “I tried everything I could but Travie says you’re not allowed to stay here any longer.”

“B-But WHY?!” Patrick cried. “Why are t-they trying to make me leave?!”

“Because of stupid reasons.” Dad mumbled, before turning back to the kid. “Because your Dad really loves you and he wants to see you. And he’s not allowed to leave California, because he’s in jail, so you have to got to California to be with him.”

“I d-don’t want to be with him!” Patrick cried, before grabbing Dad’s hand tightly. “Y-You can be my Dad! And, and then I can stay here and Pete can be my brother, a-and then, and then you can be my Dad! I don’t want to go to anyone else!”

I think that was the moment that broke Dad. I saw it snap in his eyes as he tried to wipe a stray tear away. He didn’t say anything else, but got out of his chair and wrapped Patrick in a teary hug. Patrick didn’t stop his crying and his pleading, but there was literally nothing that Dad could say to him to make it any better. Because there was nothing that any of us could do anymore.

There were no smiles anywhere in the house that night. Patrick eventually settled down after his first freak out, but then as soon as Mom and Dad started to pack his stuff up into a suitcase to take to his new place, it all started up again. I just sat on my bed and tried not to get too emotional myself as I watched Patrick desperately tug on Dad’s arm to stop him from putting his clothes into the bag.

Dad wasn’t taking it very well either, trying to keep himself together while getting the job done, at the same time as fighting against Patrick’s clutches to do it. He just kept telling the kid that he was sorry, but it really wasn’t making a difference.

I think it got to a point where it all ended up being a bit too much for Patrick. He gave up on crying to Dad and just turned and ran out of the room. And sure enough, I found him curled up in the smallest corner of Mom and Dad’s closet, hiding behind the chest of drawers. With his eyes clenched closed and while he screamed, he got as good of a grip on his hair as his cast would allow, and pulled.

“PATRICK!” I panicked, running over and quickly pulling his hand away. It was too late now, the blood was already flowing freely from his scalp, but I just clutched his arm to stop him from pulling any more. He fought against my grasp, but I just went from a hand hold to a full-on very tight hug.

“Kid, kid, stop!” I tried, attempting to hold him as still as I could. Which to be fair, really wasn’t very still, but he really wasn’t working with me. And as soon as he screamed out that he didn’t want me to make him better, I realised why.

“Patrick, kid, please!” I tried. “It’s Pete. It’s just me, kid. Your Mom’s not here, it’s just me. Calm down, settle down, you’re okay. It’s alright. Pete’s here.”

“P-Pete?”

“Uh huh, it’s me kid.” I whispered gently. “You’re okay. Everything’s okay, just take a deep breath. You’re fine.”

“I-I…” He looked down at his hand. “I…”

“You had a bit of freak out.” I tried to explain, gently brushing the clumps of bloody cinnamon-blonde off his fingertips. “But it’s okay. You’re okay now.”

That was quickly juxtaposed by the drip of blood that ran down from the top of his head down onto his forehead.

Patrick cried again while Dad cleaned up the top of his head, mostly quoting a conversation that they’d had previously about why he shouldn’t pull his hair out. “I d-didn’t mean it Food Man! I’m s-sorry! You don’t have to make me g-go away, I-I’ll, I’ll stop doing it! I’m s-sorry! It’s b-bad and I shouldn’t do it b-but I d-did and I’m just bad but, but I’ll be good if you l-let me stay! I promise, Food Man! Promise promise!”

“You’re always good, Buddy.” Dad told him quietly, applying a very big band-aid to the area that was bleeding. “You didn’t do anything wrong. I know this is scary.”

“Last time they were going to make me go somewhere e-else, you made them let me come here!” Patrick attempted, taking Dad’s hand. “You need to do the talking to them a-again!”
Dad sighed and bent down in front of him. “Buddy, last time, they let you come with me because they didn’t know how smart you were. They thought that you were too scared of the world, and you wouldn’t be able to live anywhere because you’d always be too scared of everything. But you weren’t scared of me, so that’s why they let you come. So I could teach you how the world isn’t that scary, and how you can learn to live in it, like Pete and Dale and I do. And the reason that they’re making you leave is because you’re doing so well, buddy. You’re so good at Math, and you learned how to not be scared of so many things, and you’re just so smart. And that means that when you go to your new home, it’s going to be a bit scary at first, but you’re so strong and so smart that you’ll be able to live there and have a good time and make all sorts of new friends. You’re gonna get to go to a new school, and you’re going to have so much fun. I know it’s scary right now, because Pete and Dale and I can’t be there when you are scared, but we’ll be there in the summer, and whenever it gets a bit scary you can use the phone and call us. And Pancake’s gonna be there too, to help you when you get scared. You’re just doing so great, buddy. That’s why you have to go to California.”

------------

Patrick didn’t sleep that night, which generally meant that I didn’t sleep either. He’d go from lying in silence, to crying to himself again until Pancake gave him enough kisses to feel better, to asking me if I could hide him somewhere so he could stay. I didn’t have a lot of luck with any of them.

I did my bit. I showed him videos of all the cool things that happened in California, and showed him photos of beaches and waves and cute guys with their shirts off, but he wasn’t really all that interested. Because, as he put it, “Nothing would ever be as good as here”.

It was a very, very long night.

In the morning, Mom finished packing his suitcase, and Dad packed him a carry on for the plane consisting of Frosty, Tea, a book about giraffes and his photos of us all. Then we all ended up in the kitchen for our final pancake breakfast together. Mom went all out, letting us put ice cream on the pancakes, but it didn’t really seem to matter to Patrick, who sat in his chair literally trembling with anxiety.

“You’re going to get to go on a plane today, buddy.” Dad tried to smile at him. “That’s pretty cool. You’re gonna get to fly.”

“I don’t, I d-don’t want to…”

“It’ll be super fun.” I added, squeezing his fingertips. “You can get the window seat, and then you can be above the clouds and look at them below you. It’s pretty cool. You get to be in the sky.”

It didn’t appear to be helping. In fact, I’d probably say it was stressing him out a little more, so I just went back to eating ice-cream pancakes in silence.

Travie showed up at about 9, and talked to Dad for the better part of an hour before he announced it was time to go, or else they were going to miss their flight. Mom helped load the car up with Patrick’s bags, and Dad and I just tried to console an inconsolable Patrick, who did not want to get in that car.

“I’m, I want to s-stay with Food Man!” He cried when Travie tried to coax him into the back seat. “He’s, he’s gonna be my new Dad! So I d-don’t have to go anywhere!”

“Peter’s not your Dad, V-, Patrick.” Travie told him. “We’re going to go and see your real Dad. It’s going to be a lot better in California, I promise.”

Dad sighed and gently wiped Patrick’s tears away with his thumb. “You’re going to be fine, buddy. I’ll call you on the phone as soon as you get there, okay? But until then, Pancake’s here, he’s going to look after you on the plane, okay? Can you be strong for me today? I’ll come and visit very soon.”

“I-I’m, I’m scared, Food Man!”

“I know, I know. But it’s just like everything else that’s new in the world. It’s only scary for a little bit, and then it’s okay. It’s going to be okay, you just gotta believe me. I wouldn’t lie to you.”

Patrick was only just nodding and being a little bit accepting, when fucking Travie stepped into the conversation. “I’m, uh, I’m not taking the dog.”

“What? Yes, you are.” Dad straightened up. “Pancake is a professionally licenced service dog, you can’t not take him.”

“He’s not a seeing eye dog, Peter.” Travie frowned. “He doesn’t have a seat on the plane, he’s not coming with us. I understand that Patrick had benefited from him, but we can’t justify the maintenance costs of bringing the dog with us.”

Dad thumbed through his wallet and shoved Pancake’s ID into Travie’s face. “He’s going with you. You’re going to have to sort that out with the airline. You’re putting him through enough trauma as is. Don’t make him lose his dog too.”

“Some group homes have a therapy dog.” Travie pushed the ID card back at Dad. “I’m sorry, Peter. I’m not taking him.”

I watched Patrick lose it for the second time, and I had to watch Dad essentially force him into the back seat of the car after giving everyone a goodbye hug. He licked me, actually several times, while giving me the tightest hug he could conjure while sobbing.

So I did the only thing that was reasonable. I licked him back, on his right cheek, and told him that I loved him.

And then, just like that, Travie’s car drove away, and Pancake licked my hand while I stood there and watched until I couldn’t see it anymore.