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How can I be enough?

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“Where’s Alexander?” he could hear the familiar voice of his case worker asking, accompanied by the sound of the front door to the group home being slammed shut at six o’clock that morning. Simply hearing the voice of Mr. Samuel made Alex want to forcefully smash his head against a wall. Not that that would help, probably just get him put on some kind of watch again, if he wasn’t on one still.

Some muffled voices followed by thundering footsteps through the house alerted him that Mr. Samuel was looking for him. He briefly considered hiding under the bunk bed he was sitting on or under a pile of blankets, but that wouldn’t get him very far. Besides, what placement could be worse than being stuck in a group home for any longer? And he was sure it was a new placement. Mr. Samuel never came to check in unless it was time to move houses. Again.

“Time to go Alexander,” Mr. Samuel said, his head sticking around the corner to the first floor bunkroom.

"Its Alex," he muttered, but Mr. Samuel said nothing in reply, so Alex assumed that correcting the man, yet again, on the fact that he preferred Alex over Alexander was just going to get ignored. Again. He added a chilled frown in the other man's direction for good measure.

“Go where?” Alex decided to snap back at Mr. Samuel after a few seconds of silence. And at a decibel level high enough he was sure Mr. Samuel could hear this time. He knew he could push his luck more with Mr. Samuel than he could with almost anyone else, and sometimes he liked to see how far he could go.

“Watch your mouth Alexander,” Mr. Samuel said, his full name bouncing around his head like a runaway rubber ball. He hated that the man insisted on always saying his full name. Perhaps it was due to the fact that he would quickly lose focus at any given moment.

Mr. Samuel then pulled out a black garbage bag from his pocket and shook it out before handing it over to Alex. If he didn’t know what was going to happen before, now he was certain. Yet another family, desperate for government funding, was ‘willing’ to take in a kid with special needs and he was going to be sent there for a month, maybe two before getting sent back to another group home when they realized they really couldn’t handle him.

“We’re heading to Virginia,” the drone of Mr. Samuels’ voice said over Alex’s thoughts as he started packing up his limited belongings into his ratty backpack and black garbage bag. Nothing more depressing than seeing your entire life being stuffed into a garbage bag.

“I had to pull a lot of strings to get you placed so far out of state, please don’t push your luck with this family,” Mr. Samuel said, pulling Alex’s tattered blue blanket from the bed and started to fold it. He didn’t like anyone touching his stuff, but couldn’t deny the fact that he wouldn’t have folded it himself. It would fit in his garbage bag with all of his notebooks better anyways.

“Pull strings my ass,” Alex muttered under his breath and considered it lucky that Mr. Samuel didn't seem to have heard it. And yeah, he’d heard that statement before. Really, who would want to have to put up with a kid with a significant physical disability combined with all the mental health issues that kept surfacing? The answer is no one. They always told the state that they could handle it. They never could. Who would want to deal with night terrors, various self destructive tendencies, terrible eyesight and the fact that neither of his legs could work without being encased in terribly bulky metal braces that made walking a chore?

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It would have been a long car ride for anyone whose legs weren’t trapped in mini personal jails. For Alex, it was a hellish six hours and twenty-six minutes. His braces dug into his skin through his ratty jeans, causing the joints and bones to ache. He was sure his left leg was so cramped he wasn’t sure if it had gone away or was just completely numb. Mr. Samuel didn’t stop nearly as often as Alex would have liked, but he also never requested a break. He deserved the pain.

Eventually, they turned from the I-81 onto US-60 and followed a ridiculously wooded highway towards...wherever they were going. Alex knew they were getting close because Mr. Samuel launched into his rant about behaviour.

“Try to make this placement last until you at least finish high school Alexander. We’ve almost exhausted the pool of accessible homes in your foster district. This family has taken in three other rough placements. Please try to make it work.”

Thankfully Samuel shut up just in time to watch as they entered a town. “Lexington VA” the sign read. Jackson University was in this town, Alex seemed to remember from some pamphlet he had found on the floor at his old school after a university fair. And yet, they seemed to just keep driving down the main street, never turning down any of the lanes or side streets. He kept silent though, knowing better than to question Mr. Samuel. Then, they drove out of Lexington and Alex felt his mood sour even more. He really wanted to live in a University town. So many libraries and places to meet intelligent people.

Not even ten minutes later, through even more trees, they turned down a much smaller, one lane, paved road. Now Alex, against his own conscious, was moderately intrigued as to what kind of wild-looking house and rich-ass family he would be placed with. No one lived in this area without money, power, or both. And what family in a position of power would be a part of the state foster system? Unless they were looking for publicity. Maybe he was just gonna be a fourth part of their little stunt.

They rounded one last bend before Alex could finally see the house.

And what a hell of a house it was too. It was a sprawling white wood bungalow which was also visually symmetrical from the front, a fact Alex noted with a smile. He suddenly wondered if the family had built the house or had just bought it. If they had built it, he thought they had a good eye. But as they got closer, he could see a wrought iron fence surrounding the house and Alex couldn’t help but wonder if it was to keep people in or out.

The gate to the fence was nothing special though, the only indication that it was a gate at all was the fact that the road led straight up to it. Mr. Samuel unlocked the drivers side door, yet didn’t disengage the child locks to the back door which Alex was sitting next to. He figured it was probably a good idea on Mr. Samuels’ part. The case worker then unlocked the fence gate and pressed a button so it would slide open. Once the car was inside, he repeated the action and they continued up to the plantation-era mansion. It just kept getting bigger and bigger.

The place was fucking huge.

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At least Mr. Samuel had the decency to open the door for Alex and grab his ugly grey crutches from the trunk of the car. After shouldering his backpack and slipping his wrists through the loops of the crutches that had just been handed to him, they started the march towards the door.

The house wasn’t sitting exactly on ground level, he noticed, but the way that they had landscaped the front of the house, it created a very drawn-out ramp to the front door. It seemed like the whole house was sloped that way, creating a surprisingly accessible house. Alex thanked his lucky stars that this house seemed to have nothing in the way of stairs.

At the front door, the nerves that had been building since the morning overwhelmed Alex’s curiosity and he hung back, waiting for Mr. Samuel to ring the doorbell. Once he did, not three seconds later the door swung open revealing an older lady with a pair of reading glasses balanced on her forehead. She was wearing an apron streaked with flour and her dark brown hair was piled on top of her head in a messy bun.

“Samuel!” she greeted him, her eyes brightening as she smiled, “it is so lovely to see you again!”

“Likewise Martha, though I always wish it was on better terms,” Mr. Samuel said and Alex wondered if he was being sincere or if he was just pretending to be nice around the lady. Either way, the difference was startling.

“Anyways,” Mr. Samuel said, “this is Alexander.”

“Martha Washington, nice to meet you young man. Lets go inside, I have a batch of cookies in the oven calling your name,” Ms. Washington said, motioning to come through the door. Somehow, the door didn’t have a lip of any kind on it, as if the door itself sat flush with the floor. But he didn’t put too much thought into it, simply grateful that he wouldn’t have to try to climb anything after that car ride.

“How about this Alexander,” Ms. Washington said, “You get your shoes off, no shoes in the house please, you too Samuel, and I’ll check the cookies. Then we can go drop your stuff off in your room?” Too tired and nervous to even try to say anything, Alex just stared at his feet and nodded.

“You can use the chair beside the closet,” Ms. Washington added before walking off in the direction of the kitchen, Mr. Samuel following behind her. Probably to talk about him, Alex figured. Whatever. What could he possibly tell her that wasn’t already in his file?

He sat on the chair gingerly, not wanting to scratch the wood coloured paint covering the rickety looking piece of furniture. It took an embarrassingly long amount of time to get his old ratty sneakers off, but once he did, it felt good to wiggle his toes around in freedom. He was glad that this was a “no shoes” type of house. After the accident, Alex hated wearing shoes and preferred to have his toes free.

Standing with the help of the chair and a crutch, he got his arms situated in their loops again before heading to the kitchen. Ms. Washington - though he didn’t know if she wanted him to call her that or not - and Mr. Samuel were standing at the counter. They probably had heard him coming and were both watching the door as he came through. He vaguely noticed that the door frame was considerably wider than the normal kind, but decided not to dwell on the fact that this house was a wonder of accessible architecture.

“Want to go see your room now? Will be good to get settled before the boys get home from school,” Ms. Washington said, not waiting for a response before walking out a different side of the kitchen down a hall.

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When Martha flicked a switch to a set of lights, Alex could see that the hardwood floor continued down the entire length of the hallway. The walls were painted a soft yellow and the light illuminated six doors, three on each side and each had a stenciled word in various shades of paint indicating the owner of the door. There was only one un-labeled door, on the right side at the very beginning of the hall and Ms. Washington pushed it open.

The room was painted plain white and the bed spread, blankets and curtains were navy blue. What really caught Alex’s eye was the desk adjacent to the bed. A desk, perfect for colonizing with his notebooks and scribbled thoughts.

“Do you like it?” Ms. Washington said, catching onto the fact that Alex had yet to move anywhere closer to the room. “We can always get new sheets if you want.”

“No thank you ma’am,” Alex replied, the first words he had spoken at the house. He didn’t need to inconvenience them anymore than they already were.

“Martha, please,” Ms. Washington - Martha - said, before turning to point to the other doors, “At the end of the hall is George and I’s room, beside is Laf’s and that's the washroom. On the other side is John’s, Herc’s and then yours. You’ll get to meet Laf and John around four, but Herc has basketball practice after school, so he’ll be home later. My husband, George, will be home with Herc whenever he picks him up.”

“Uh...thank you Martha,” Alex said, walking into the room and taking off his backpack. He had his back to the door and couldn’t see Martha’s sad look at the tattered bag. Mr. Samuel placed the garbage bag just inside the door.

“I should be going, long drive back to the city,” Mr. Samuel said before adding, “You have my number if you need anything Alex.”

And then he was gone and the house was empty except for Martha and Alex.

“Do you need anything from me? Any help of any kind?” Martha asked. Alex frowned and stared down at his bag. His legs ached and he really wanted to take off the braces and lay down for a little. But the last thing that he wanted was Martha’s help. He didn’t want her help, he didn’t want her pity. After the accident, Alex had prided himself on being as self-reliant as he could. The doctors said he would likely need help dressing and showering, standing and sitting for years. It had been two years and Alex could do everything they said he wouldn’t be able to do. He didn’t need Martha’s help.

“No thank you, I’m okay,” Alex said, not taking his eyes off of his backpack, not wanting to meet the eyes of Martha’s, knowing he’d only see pity and sadness. He didn’t want to see either of those, so he didn’t look.

“Alright, well, when you’re done, there’s cookies in the kitchen,” Martha said and Alex could see her slipper-covered feet walking out of the room. Once he was sure she was gone, Alex gently lowered himself down onto the bed and could feel the lack of comfort that the braces caused.

Shoving his stuff into the closet without unpacking it, Alex grabbed his crutches and headed to the kitchen. He could smell the wonderful scent of fresh baked cookies, something he hadn’t experienced in years. Made him think of home and wonder how often Martha baked the other boys cookies. Made him long for home and his own mother. But she was dead. He had no home. So why did he keep dwelling on it? Not like he could change the past or bring his mother back, so he had to think about the future. That was all he had now.

“May I have a cookie ma’am?” Alex said as he slowly made his way into the kitchen, being extra-specially careful on the wood floor that was everywhere. Martha was still in the kitchen, without her apron this time, but still cooking. It looked like she was preparing some dish with cheese in it, but he couldn’t be sure.

“Sure Alexander, but please, call me Martha,” Martha said, sliding the tray across the counter to him.

“Thank you Martha,” Alex said reaching out for a cookie. He ate a bite in silence before he opened his mouth again, “Martha?”

“Yes?” Martha said, turning around to face him, still stirring the pot on the stove.

“Could you call me Alex?” He asked softly, turning his face back towards the table, his thick glasses sliding down his nose on the sheen of fear-sweat.

“Of course Alex,” Martha replied, showing off her pearly whites in a massive grin before adding, “and you better grab a couple more cookies, John and Laf will be home anytime and those cookies will be gone before you know it.”

Chapter Text

Seconds later, there was the sound of crackling gravel on the road outside and it seemed to alert Martha to something.

“The boys are home,” Martha said with a smile and Alex felt his heart fall through his ribcage. What if these boys didn’t like him? Were they handicapped too? What if something he did triggered one of them? He didn’t know what their issues are, he didn’t know what to avoid. What if they weren’t handicapped? Then he’d just be a one man freak show again.

Then the door banged open so hard that Alex thought it may have been knocked loose off its hinges followed by a french-accented voice calling, “Mom, we’re home!”

“In the kitchen boys,” Martha replied as one boy skidded around the corner followed by a second, smaller boy.

The first boy had darker, more medium brown skin with his kinked brown hair piled up into a poof on the top of his head. Alex imagined that if he took it out of the poof it would form a lions mane, of sorts, around his head. He also wore a black band around his head, though, it didn’t look like a headband, nor did it look like it was meant to serve that purpose. It looked padded, as if it was meant to protect the important parts of his head if he was to fall.

The second boy had almost the same skin tone as Alex, though perhaps a little lighter. His cheeks were speckled with freckles and his long hair was tied by an elastic at the back of his neck. He wore darkened sunglasses and a pair of headphones over his head. Alex wondered if they were playing music or if they were noise cancelling. Regardless, the smaller boy seemed to know exactly where everything was, and if he was blind, he must have had an excellent memory.

But they both seemed to have completely stopped in their tracks, neither coming any further into the kitchen. Alex looked up from his second cookie and forced a smile.

“Boys, this is Alex,” Martha said, her hands moving as she spoke. Sign language. Alex picked up a few of the signs, but not all of them. Alex gave them a small wave.

"Alex, this is Laf and John,” Martha added. So, the boy with the poof of hair was Laf and the boy with the glasses was John. Cool. They seemed kinda neat, Alex supposed.

“Nice to meet you,” John said, his voice nasal, muffled and slurred. So he was the deaf one. Maybe. Or just hard of hearing.

"Mom, may we watch a movie?" The other boy, Laf, asked and signed, not skipping a beat.

"I suppose so, you'll have all of spring break to do homework anyways," Martha said, her hands following along. So, that was how it worked in this house. He wasn't sure if John could lip read, so Alex figured he better start trying to dig up some of his old ALS knowledge.

And spring break, well, Alex forgot that it was almost that time again. He hadn't been enrolled in a school since before Christmas break, due to his almost constant movement between group homes and foster placements. It was either going to be beautiful blessing or a curse to be stuck with the Washington family everyday for two weeks. It would be the deal breaker that could quite easily send him back to Mr. Samuel in New York.

"Put your bags away please, then you can start the movie. George will be home with Herc around 6:30," Martha added, Laf already running towards his room.

Alex noticed John look in his general direction before saying something to Martha in only sign language. It was much too fast for Alex to catch any of, and he had a feeling that John didn't want him to know what they were saying anyways.

They went back and forth maybe four times before John turned, shouldered his bag and slowly walked out of the room.

"Is John deaf?" Alex blurted out, before feeling instantly foolish. He knew he shouldn't go behind the other boys back like this, but he wanted to know.

"Mostly," Martha replied, "He can only hear the really high or really low frequencies, which are useless and headache inducing, thus the noise cancelling headphones. But don't worry, John can lip read. Please don't not talk to him because of that."

"I'm sorry for asking you," Alex said, "I know it's rude." Fascinating information, but rude nonetheless.

Judging by John’s ability to speak and the fact that he could still hear some things told Alex he likely wasn’t born deaf and either lost his hearing gradually or suddenly. Didn’t explain the glasses, but explained some of it."I'm glad you asked," Martha said, smiling again, "why don't you go run along and get started on that movie."

Chapter Text

It appeared that John and Laf had decided on what to watch already, perhaps even before they had gotten in the door, causing Alex to feel irrationally left out. He shook that thought out of his head in favour of thinking of another way to win the favour of the other two. That was one of the most important things he had learned from his time in the system. Other kids in the house could either be your best friends or worst enemies and you had to get on one side or the other fast. Because other kids were usually much easier to get on your side than adults.

“We got Big Hero 6 in the machine Alex, you ever watched it?” Laf asked, flopping himself backwards onto the chaise part of the couch. Alex noticed that he didn’t let his head contact the cushion, as if he was doing anything to protect that head of his.

"No, is it good?" Alex asked. He'd never really gotten an opportunity to watch movies as a kid. In the hospital, he'd caught up some, but then got behind again after beginning his ricochet through foster homes.

"It's the best," Laf replied, seeming to settle in more. John had taken over a spot too, so Alex figured he'd be okay to sit on the opposite side from Laf. He took off his crutches and leaned them against the side of the couch, hoping they wouldn't fall over and out of reach.

John, on the other hand, verbalized nothing at all after Alex walked in, but did say something in ALS to Laf to which he replied, “yeah, yeah, I’ll turn on the subtitles.”

Alex noted that Laf added nothing with his hands, simply pointing the remote he was holding at the screen and clicking it. It made Alex wonder how long John and Laf had been living in the same house, because he didn’t seem as natural at the whole, verbal and physical communication thing as Martha did.

John appeared to say something again, to which the only response he got back was Laf giving him the middle finger. That was one thing that Alex did catch and snickered behind his hand at the obviously brotherly interaction.

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Alex was certain that he didn't consciously made the decision to let his eyes slip shut, but suddenly, he felt one hand at his shoulder, gently shaking him awake. His first reaction was to physically fight off the hand, but remembered that wouldn’t get him far and instead just tensed. The hand quickly moved away as Alex opened his eyes. Then he saw nothing but blurred dim light.

His glasses.

They must have fallen off at some point while he was accidentally napping.

Well, now this was an awkward situation, Alex thought to himself as he started pawing at his face, pockets and in the folds of his sweater. If the glasses had fallen onto the floor, he couldn’t get down there to look for them, the range of mobility in his knees still wasn’t good enough. Then he’d have to ask someone to look for him. He was supposed to be able to be independent god dammit.

“Are you okay son?” the body which Alex assumed was connected to the hand from before asked. It wasn’t quite Laf’s voice and definitely not John’s. What was the name of the other kid? Herc? Maybe it was him.

Deciding to own up to his failure to avoid the consequences or someone potentially stepping on and breaking his precious glasses, Alex said, “I can’t find my glasses.”

“What color are they?” the voice said, followed by a blur of movement and the lights in the room slowly raising to full brightness, as if on some kind of dimmer switch. Huh, neat. Now the body of the voice, clad in black and white, was looking at the floor.

“Dark green,” Alex replied, feeling the nerves and edges of anxiety creeping into his subconscious like that one annoying acquaintance at school that just won’t go away.

“Ah, here we go,” the voice said, bending over to pick up the glasses. They were pressed into Alex’s hand. Thank goodness they were in one piece.

“Thick lenses you got there son,” the voice said. Why the hell did he keep calling him son?

“You know, I have reading glasses. Martha always tells me to wear them, but I can never seem to remember to do that,” the voice said before adding, “supper is ready in the kitchen, c’mon.”

“Can’t see nothing without my glasses,” Alex replied, softly, but audibly. He slid his glasses over his nose and was finally able to get his first look at the person who had given him his glasses back.

And holy fuck was that a big man. Not just because Alex was small for his age, no, this was just one big man. He had a similar skin tone as Laf and Martha, if not a tiny bit lighter, but he was bald and he was older. So not Herc. Herc was a kid, Alex assumed. Maybe this was the husband. He was wearing a white dress shirt and a pair of black dress pants. Likely the husband.

Then the bald man reached down to the floor level and picked up Alex’s crutches from where they had fallen. Extending them out to him, Alex took them, looped his arms in and got ready to push himself to standing.

“Need help?” the bald man asked. Alex just barely managed to stifle the glare. This man didn’t know, he was just trying to be helpful.

“No thanks,” Alex grunted out as he used the strong muscles in his abs and arms to hoist himself off the deceptively low couch.

“Looks like you got it covered,” the man said, leading the way out of the movie room and back towards the kitchen. The light was turned off with its same slow motion fade and suddenly it was dark again.

Chapter Text

The smells of cooking were heavenly as Alex trailed into the kitchen behind the bald man. He could see six spots at the table, though the head on one side was already occupied by a teenager whose size could rival that of the bald man.

Alex observed the scene for just a second, feeling like an outsider who managed to stumble in on what was obviously a very tight knit family. Well. He...kinda...was.

The boy who he assumed was Herc, stayed put at the table as Alex and the bald man walked in, but smiled. When he smiled, his eyes looked kind.

John was across the kitchen at the microwave, watching with what seemed to be great fascination at the numbers counting down on the display. Laf was helping Martha get a big tray of food from the oven and was likely where all that cheese was going.

Once she stood, having sent Laf on his way to the table with the dish, she asked, “did you have a good nap?”

Alex wasn’t sure if that was a trick question or not, so he said nothing and shrugged. He wasn’t sure if she was genuinely interested in whether or not his nap was good or not, or if she was scolding him for napping in the form of a question. Saying nothing was generally a better course of action than running his mouth, and sadly, running his mouth got him in more trouble than it was worth.

“I see you’ve met my husband George,” Martha continued. Well, he hadn’t met him officially, and the man seemed to have a look on his face that said, “I forgot to introduce myself.”

“And this is our third son Herc,” Martha finished, rounding the table and planting a kiss to the boy’s head. He was wearing a yellow beanie and Alex wondered what his hair looked like underneath. He bet it was similar to Laf’s, with the kinky coils. The boy made no move to come anywhere near Alex, George nor the kitchen which Alex didn’t mind. The less awkward handshakes the better.

“Boys, why don’t you go wash up for supper,” Martha prompted them, which Alex willingly followed. The uncomfortable silence in the kitchen was annoying. Alex had never been placed with such a well-established family unit like this before.

Sure, he’d gotten placed with multiple kids, but he was never the only foster child. Sometimes he was an only child, which wasn’t terrible, just lonely. Sometimes, it wouldn’t even be with two parents, just a single ‘parent’ looking for some extra income in the form of a government cheque.

He wondered what the motivation behind fostering another disabled child into a family such as this one was. They obviously weren’t in it for the extra money, if the size of their house was anything to go by. Because it was huge and in no way inexpensive. Alex had yet to see any evidence of political affiliation, so it likely wasn’t for the publicity. One nagging question at the back of his mind was the obvious university connection. There was extensive Jackson University stuff all over the house. He wondered if either Martha or George worked there, because that would explain all the junk everywhere.

Chapter Text

"So Alex, tell us a little about yourself, what do you like to do?” George said at the table. Alex was seated right beside him, Laf on his other side. Suddenly, all pairs of eyes but one - John's - turned in his direction and it was silent. Alex stared at his macaroni and cheese, studying it as if it was incredibly interesting.

How was he supposed to explain that his hobbies include correcting people's incorrect opinions on the internet and boxing. Heck, he couldn’t even box anymore. Sure he liked reading and school work, but that was pretty bland and uninteresting. But the Washingtons were still silent, awaiting his answer. Aside from John, who was not making eye contact with anyone and was seemingly ignoring everything that was happening at the table, they were all looking at his direction.

“I like to read,” Alex found himself blurting out once he realized that he hadn’t said anything in response to their question yet.

Yeah, reading was good, not his favorite, but it was fine. That was how he learned now days. He hadn’t been enrolled in a school for months, so he managed to find free books either through book drives or book sales. Or, in a few cases, what the homes he stayed in had in them. It always surprised Alex what fascinating books middle aged people kept in their homes.

“Well, I’m sure one of these days we can go to the University library and see what they have for you there,” Martha replied from across the table, her hands folded in front of her at her place.

“What kind of books do you like reading Alex?” George asked immediately after swallowing a mouthful of supper. Which, Alex noted, was quite delicious. Not quite as good as the stuff his abuela made back on the island, but pretty okay.

“History books, biographies, old textbooks. Anything I can find,” Alex explained, reaching out towards his plate and stabbing at a bunch of noodles to fill his fork and consequently his mouth.

Alex just wanted to melt into the wall and disappear. Not only was the chair incredibly uncomfortable against his legs and was hurting the skin under the braces, but it was high off the ground causing his legs to hang and hurt even more. He just wanted to go back to his room, take off his braces and go to sleep. It had been a long long day.

Alex watched as John said something to Martha before George answered, “boys, if you’re done, you can be excused. Go figure out who is showering tonight and in what order, yeah? And make sure you show Alex how to work the bathroom.”

“Okay,” Laf said, standing up slowly from the table, “thank you for dinner Mom.”

The boys all repeated a similar sentiment before getting ready to head away. That was when Alex noticed that Herc was in a wheelchair. He hadn’t seen the chair before because Herc had always been sitting at the table. Now the flat house and the extra wide doors started to make sense as he watched the oldest of the three glide from the kitchen.

“Alex, are you okay?” he heard Martha ask. That was when he realized that he had yet to move from the table after they had all been excused.

It was then that he wondered when he would get his meds. Mr. Samuel never gave them to him to take care of, probably didn’t trust him to keep them anymore, so he likely gave them to Martha and George. He always took his meds after supper, on a full stomach, so that they could have time to start working before bed so he could actually sleep. The pain in his destroyed legs and hips kept him up without the meds. Maybe this would be how it worked here. He behaves, he gets his meds. He misbehaves or does something wrong, nothing. It wasn’t like that hadn’t happened before. Now the question was, what had he done wrong at supper?

“Um, yeah,” Alex replied, wincing a little as he quickly stood from the table, “Um...thank you for supper.”

Chapter Text

Alex followed the boys down the hall towards the living space just before the bedroom hallway, every step painful and jarring. They all seemed to know what they were doing, but Alex was good at following, so that's what he did. The living room, where they had been watching Big Hero 6 earlier, looked quite different with all the lights on. Herc situated himself near the couch and the other two boys sat on the couch, John cross legged on a cushion and Laf reclined on the chaise again. Alex didn’t sit, his legs too sore to even try to sit or bend over.

“So, little Alex, do you want a shower tonight?” Laf asked, his hands cushioned behind his head. Alex frowned at the nickname. Sure he was little, he knew that, everyone told him that. But he really didn’t want one of the other kids he was supposed to be making friends with teasing him. And he really felt like Laf was teasing him. But talking back would get him in trouble. No doubt one of them would tattle if he said something in return.

What unnerved him more was just the sheer size of the other three kids. John wasn’t big, but big enough. Even though he kept his eyes covered, as far as Alex knew, he had complete use of his vision and Alex was down two limbs. Next up was Herc, and while he was wheelchair bound, was a huge kid. Alex made a mental note to simply not get too close to him under any circumstances. Last was Laf and aside from that band around his head - doing whatever it was that it was doing - was of the greatest concern to Alex. He was tall, he was in decent shape, if a little gangly, and he seemed fast. Alex wasn’t totally sure what he was going to do to keep out of Laf’s way, but he would have to come up with something fast.

“No thanks,” Alex said, looking at his feet, both of which were still crooked a little inward.

“Are you sure man? You look like you need a shower or something,” Herc said, spinning his wheelchair a little on the spot. Alex took one step back. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to shower, but after the day he had, the last thing he wanted to attempt was standing in a slippery basin without his braces. That was just an accident waiting to happen.

“Okay, well, more shower time for us,” Herc said, “though, Martha will make you shower tomorrow for sure. Just because it's the break doesn’t mean we get to forget showers and stuff.”

“Kay,” Alex muttered, not looking up from his feet. He assumed John said something, because the rest of the conversation continued in silence.

Alex knew this was going to be hard. The other three boys had a bond that he wouldn’t easily be able to join. The best he could hope for would be to wait it out, try not to fight or get sent back to New York and finally age out of the system. How hard would it be to last two years?

Alex closed the door to the room that had been given to him for the time being. He sighed and locked the door. Finally, some alone time. Settling himself down onto the bed, Alex felt some of the tension seeping out of his bones.

Once he could concentrate a little more without his eyes blurring or his head feeling spinny, he leaned over and started unclipping the brace to his left leg. That was the more damaged leg of his two. All the bones were still remaining and, while kept together with titanium plates, were all his own. That was what caused it to ache so much more than the other side. Yeah, the brace kept the joints stiff enough to walk on and support his weight, but it didn’t help the pain. Unbuckling the latches on the metal contraption, he slid his leg out and bent his knee slightly, followed by rolling his ankle.

Getting started on the other side, Alex rubbed the muscle of his calf once he got the brace unlatched. There was no bone left in his calf. When the hurricane came through and Alex got trapped, the bone in his calf was so damaged that he was sent to New York for experimental surgery. The bone was now entirely replaced with a titanium rod and his knee was metal. It was stiff and didn’t move like a knee should. So he had one knee that was too loose and the other was too stiff, which was why the braces and crutches were necessary.

Once his legs were free, Alex swung them onto his bed and laid down. There was no way he was going to be able to sleep tonight, but he could at least try. If he could hold still enough, maybe the pain would dull and he’d be able to at least get a nap in before the sun came up again. Then, he’d try harder tomorrow and maybe he’d get some pain meds.

Alex wondered if he acted up enough if they’d send him back to New York with Mr. Samuel. But then Mr. Samuel would get mad and he’d get sent back to a shitty group home. There was really no good solution.

Chapter Text

The wind kept picking up and that was when the crying started. Alex knew it wasn’t him. Maybe it was his mother and maybe it was his abuela, but then he heard something crash. It was loud, it was horrendously close. He felt the floor shake and suddenly the crying stopped. Then he could feel the rain just pouring down his face. It seemed to continue forever, the rain pelting down, the thunder crackling above his head. Then, he heard something else crash and suddenly the brick walls of the house came down and all Alex could feel was pain.

“Alex,” he could hear someone calling. He shook his head, trying to hide in the rubble. Trying to not be found. He didn’t deserve to be found.

“Alex, wake up,” someone said, and that was when he woke up. Right. He was dreaming. Well, not dreaming. Dreaming implied that he was imagining a reality that had never before existed. This was a nightmare.

“Alex, you’re here with us in Virginia,” a voice - Martha - said.

Wait. Why was she in his room? The door had a lock and Alex was absolutely certain that he had locked his door that evening. Then a hand, not Martha's hand, Alex didn’t think, was on his shoulder. Jerking away, Alex thought he let out a little yelp of some kind and sat up. The hand stayed.

“Calm down Alex, you’re safe,” another voice - George - said.

Maybe that was where the hand on his shoulder came from. Regardless, there were three things Alex really wanted to happen in this moment. For whoever was touching him to stop it, to find his glasses, and for Martha and George to get out of his room. Those were of utmost importance, everything else could wait.

"Don't touch me," Alex hissed, scooting further away, back towards his pillow and the headboard. The hand slowly disappeared and he felt the panic subside a little.

"It was just a nightmare," he heard Martha's voice say, "Its okay now."

"That's not true," Alex muttered. The room was then sent into silence. Aside from his own heavy breathing and the soft tinkling noise of something outside, no one made a sound.

"Can you tell us why that's not true?" Martha asked again after a pregnant pause.

"Cause it's not. I'm fine," Alex said and cursed himself for saying anything. Not only did he talk back but also woke up the whole household at whatever time of the night it was. At this rate, he would either be getting sent back with Mr. Samuel or never getting his meds. He'd cooked his own goose. Again.

“You’re shaking Alex, are you cold?” Martha asked.

“I’m fine,” Alex growled, knowing he was scowling. At least the room was still dark and they couldn’t see his face.

“Where are your glasses?” George’s voice said before hearing a little shuffling in the blurred darkness.

“They were on the desk,” Alex replied reluctantly. Maybe if he told them what they wanted to hear, they’d leave him alone and he could go back to having nightmares. Hopefully silently this time.

“Here,” George said again, pressing cold metal into his hand.

“Thanks,” Alex replied, unfolding the arms and pulling the glasses over his ears. Suddenly, he was able to see that Martha was leaning over the bed on one side and George was on the other side, by the window.

In the light coming from the hallway, Alex could see that there were a set of keys dangling from his doorknob. Well. That's how they got in. Kinda defeated the purpose of a lock.

“Are you gonna go back to bed?” Martha asked softly, not making any move to get closer, but not getting any farther away either.

“Yeah,” Alex lied. In reality, he likely wouldn’t sleep for the rest of the night. But he wanted them gone. He wanted to be left alone.

“We’re just down the hall if you need us,” Martha said before standing to leave. George said nothing and followed her out of the room.

Suddenly they were gone and Alex got his wish. He was alone.

But he didn’t want to be alone. He wanted to be at home. He wanted to be warm every month of the year, walk along the beach on his way home from school, watch telenovelas every afternoon with his mother and abuela. He wanted his family back.

Rolling over, ignoring the pain in his legs and hips, Alex mashed his face into the pillow and let out a few sobs.

He wanted to be loved again.

Chapter Text

Alex never fell asleep again that night and had spent probably close to an hour crying into his pillow before dragging himself out of bed and into the desk chair where he pulled out a notebook and a flashlight.

He just started writing. Whatever came to mind went into that notebook and soon the pain in his wrist from writing blocked out the pain from his legs.

The light of dawn through his open window finally provided him a better source of light and he turned off his flashlight, hoping to conserve its battery as much as he could. Mr. Samuel had given him two new mega-packs of AA batteries earlier that day, or was it yesterday? Regardless, he knew how fast he could burn through forty eight batteries.

Alex continued writing through the bleary vision that his eyes were giving him, trying to concentrate on the soothing words that he was scratching into the paper and nothing else.

Around seven, based on the clock on the desk, he heard someone's door open and then shut, followed by shuffling footsteps through the hall. Alex held his breath, trying to make as little noise as humanly possible. Judging by the noise, he figured that it wasn’t Herc, because his wheelchair wouldn’t have make distinct footsteps. It sounded like a pair of slippers with a roughed up bottom or a pair of extremely rough feet. Either way, it likely wasn’t Martha or John. John didn’t seem like the slipper wearing type. He tried to recall if he had seen either Laf or George wearing slippers yesterday and was unable to remember.

Nevertheless, it meant that someone was awake and meant that Alex maybe should get up and stop pretending to be asleep. But that meant getting into his braces and he just wasn’t physically ready for that. Of course, he could just go brace-less and hope that his left leg didn’t give out on him. That seemed like a risk Alex was willing to take. He needed to get the muscles in his legs to heal up a little before wearing the infernal metal jails again.

Deciding to put his faith in his destroyed limbs, Alex grabbed the crutches, got his arms set up and pushed himself to standing. One movement at a time, he made his way to the door and out into the hall. Once he was in the hall, he could hear the soft pattering movements of whomever was in the kitchen.

Making his way closer, Alex rounded the corner and could see George, in an orange bathrobe, plaid pants and slippers scooping coffee grounds into the coffee machine sitting on the kitchen counter while reading what looked like a newspaper that sat beside the machine.

In this light, George seemed a lot more friendly. It wasn’t like he was ever unfriendly towards Alex or any of the others in the house. But Alex knew just how quickly that could change and how appearances could be deceiving. Though, getting to observe George in a setting where he had no idea that he was being watched, Alex was able to get a better judge of his character. Like, just now, when he spilt coffee grounds onto his newspaper, missing the coffee machine by a mile, he didn’t swear or break something. Just shook his head at himself and started scooping the grounds into his cupped hand and throwing them away into the garbage before shaking off the paper and continuing.

Gathering the courage to make his presence known, Alex took a few more steps into the kitchen. He said nothing but just came slightly closer. George still seemed oblivious to his entrance and proceeded to program the machine to do what he wanted.

“G’morning,” Alex said quietly, his voice cracking a little at the end. George looked up with great speed and smiled once he made eye contact. Alex held eye contact for a few seconds before letting it go by looking at his toes. Eye contact was so hard sometimes.

“Good morning son,” George said, “I was just making coffee. Do you like coffee?”

“Yeah, I do,” Alex replied, nodding. He needed coffee if he was going to keep pulling all-nighters.

Though, same as yesterday, his “son” comment irked Alex. He was not his son. He never would be. He was just some lost cause that they were taking in for the time being. Though, he said nothing about it and just glared at his feet.

“Well, some should be ready in about five minutes,” George said, picking up and throwing his newspaper onto the kitchen table before walking towards the front of the house, “You said you like to read. Does that include the paper?”

“Sure,” Alex said. He’d read anything he could get his hands on. Information was information and without access to the internet, he had to get caught up on current events somehow.

“I have a bunch of older issues hanging out somewhere,” George muttered as he ducked through a doorway, continuing speaking as he disappeared out of sight, “I have yesterday’s here still.”

Then George was back and was handing the thick paper to Alex. Alex took it but then realized that holding it with one hand prevented him from going anywhere. Refusing to ask for help from George, he tucked the paper as high into his armpit as he could and got a hold on his right crutch again.

Though, the second he took his first step, the paper fell onto the ground with a soft splat.  Alex felt his blood run cold

Chapter Text

“I’m sorry,” Alex said immediately, once he realized that the slap of the falling newspaper was really loud in the still morning air of the house. That would get him scolded for sure.

“Its okay,” George said, picking up the paper before Alex could say anything more or even attempt to pick it up, “I always read the paper at the table while the rest of them get up.”

“” Alex said, not really understanding George’s version of sharing.

“Want to read the paper until the coffee is ready?” George asked, taking a seat at the table that he had had at supper the evening prior.

Taking George up on the offer, he sat in the same spot from dinner and ignored how the height of the table dragged on his too-short legs and caused them to ache. Maybe he should have worn his braces. At least then his battered knees wouldn’t have to take all the pressure all on their own. But no. He didn’t make that decision and would just have to live with it.

Alex took his day old paper and opened it on the table. Flipping straight to the politics section, he frowned at the newest headline. It seemed as if the president had decided to open his mouth and let yet another steaming pile of shit fall out of it. He huffed to himself as he continued reading the article. At some point of his way through the piece, he had let his head fall forward into his hands.

“Are you okay there son?” George asked. When Alex looked up, he saw that George was no longer reading his paper and was instead watching him.

“Kinda,” Alex said, before continuing, “I just can’t believe that this over stuffed cheeto is our president.”

“It is a tragedy what happened in El Paso and Dayton, if that is what you’re referring to,” George asked, looking at Alex with a look that he couldn’t quite read. Alex didn’t think it was malicious or had malicious intent, but he’d just never seen it on the face of adult before.

“Like, I kind of understand how he got elected. Based on the demographic of the states, it's like, seventy-two-percent-ish caucasian, right? So, if people voted only based on their race, it makes sense. But I really don’t think that that's all because then it would have been just as likely for Clinton to be elected,” Alex started and when George said nothing and did not interrupt him, Alex just kept going, “but what I don’t understand is how the man is just so incredibly contrary and can lie so easily. Who would want that for a president, regardless of race?"

"For example, Puerto Rico. The only reason I’m here is because of that damn hurricane, but the money that has supposedly gone to them is nowhere to be seen. And it wasn’t like the island was doing that well before Maria anyways. Puerto Rico is a territory, we’re part of the USA and people just don’t get that. Our own president doesn’t seem to understand that.”

Alex then sat in relative silence, panting as his lungs tried to catch up with his rant. But when George said nothing in addition, Alex knew he was done for. He had no idea if George shared his political views and had no time to test the waters before sharing his opinion yet. Sure, he got a more liberal vibe from Martha and Laf for sure - there was no way Laf was 100% straight - but he had yet to get a read off of John, Herc or George.

“You’re quite right,” George said, “I agree. So the next question is, how is it going to get fixed?”

Alex, taking that as his cue to continue, added on, “we have to be loud. Using Puerto Rico as an example again, it was people who managed to make the governor resign. They protested eleven nights straight, but they got what they wanted. I bet, if they put enough pressure on the government here, something similar could happen. Though it would have to be on an equally large scale, which wouldn’t be able to happen if the people aren’t on the side of the cause. To many ‘what-ifs.’”

“You like politics, yeah?” George asked. Alex smiled and nodded, looking back down at the table. He flipped through the paper again.

“I just like knowing what's going on and thinking that all these whackos are running our country. Could you imagine what would happen if, back in the day, they kept the whole “serve for life under good behavior?” Do you think that Obama would still be our president in that case?”

“Perhaps,” George said, the weird look on his face reappearing. He seemed to be deep in thought for a couple seconds before adding, “you know, none of the other boys like talking about politics.”

“Really? I thought at least John would like it. He seems like the politics type of guy,” Alex said, feeling his inhibitions from earlier in the day fading away to the easy conversation with George.

“More so activism,” George added before flipping the page on his newspaper. Just as he made that motion, there was a beeping noise from the coffee machine and the older man stood up to go deal with it.

“Milk or sugar in your coffee?” George asked after filling two mugs.

“Neither, thanks,” Alex replied.

“Makes my job easy,” George added, setting the two cups of black coffee down onto the table. Alex’s mug was a white one with a Jackson University logo on the side of it while George’s was neon green with yellow lettering that said, “Washington - best prof on the planet.”

After reading it, Alex exclaimed, “are you a professor?!”

“Military history mainly, some political science courses when they need me,” George replied and Alex could see in the way that the man talked about his job that he genuinely seemed to like it.

Maybe one day Alex would get to a bunch of courses like that. He could only hope.

Chapter Text

Alex wrapped his cold hands around the warmth of his coffee cup.

That was one thing he missed about the island. The warmth. He was never a big kid, never had enough meat on his bones, and it was easier to pretend that you had enough to eat when you weren’t simultaneously freezing cold all the time.

Though, Alex figured he likely wouldn’t go hungry in this household, judging by the absolutely massive stack of pancakes in the middle of the table. He had had two already and was absolutely stuffed, but he surely had watched John go through four or five already with Laf and Herc nearing eight each. Deciding to instead just sit back and watch the unofficial pancake eating match, Alex warmed his hands on his coffee and tried to not think about home.

“I think that long jump as a sport needs to evolve,” was the next thing Alex heard get said through a mouth of pancakes. It was Herc. He was waving his fork around, obviously trying to prove his point.

“Didn’t that sport have the same world record for, like, fifty years or something?” Laf added, his accent fading in and out with various words. Alex smiled at the ridiculous conversation. He missed talks like this.

John said something that caused Laf to smile, snort and say, “I highly doubt Usain Bolt would do the long jump.” Alex could only imagine what the statement John made was.

“I bet that if someone took a running leap and before they hit the ground, did a flip, they’d get an extra three feet out of it easily,” Herc said, stretching his arms out to the sides, illustrating three feet for everyone.

“Go be that man,” Laf muttered before shovelling what one would amount to easily half a pancake into his mouth.

Once the stack of pancakes ran out, Martha leaned forward on her elbows and announced, “boys, why don’t we get you your meds then you go get changed. Make sure whoever didn’t shower last night showers this morning.”

Laf and John stood from the table, Laf stretching and cracking his back, while Herc backed out and glided away. Alex stayed put, assuming she was referring to her real kids and not him. He surely didn’t deserve his meds. He’d mouthed off, refused help and had a night terror. There was no way any of that was good behavior. So he didn’t move. Though, he did watch as Martha climbed up onto a step stool to be head level with a cabinet Alex had never noticed before. It had a lock on it that was a combination, which Martha spun with ease. None of the other boys watched as she in-putted the combo.

Eventually, she opened the cabinet door above the flume hood of the stove, which was packed to overflowing with pill bottles. Right at the front, he could see a plastic bag with six very familiar bottles inside, along with a sheet of paper. His meds.

Martha took the bag out and said, “George, could you give these to Alex. Samuel has the info for each on the paper inside.”

George, who was hanging back near the coffee machine, stepped forward and took the accepted bag from Martha and turned to head back towards Alex. So, they didn’t think he’d behaved that poorly. Thank goodness. His bones and joints were killing him. All the sitting at the too-tall table didn’t help either, but regardless, twenty-four hours was a long time to go without real pain-relief.

George sat and unzipped the ziplock bag while Martha handed out meds to the other boys. Herc took the red glass of water off the counter top and downed his all in one go. Laf had a glass of orange juice and made over-dramatic shuddering actions accompanied by various muttered words with every individual pill he took. And John, well, that kid just dry-swallowed them. Alex couldn’t believe what he was seeing. He fucking dry-swallowed what was likely close to five pills. Jesus christ John was lucky he wasn’t dead.

“So...the sheet says that in the morning after food you need one of these,” George said, cross referencing the paper before taking a single orange colored pill out and placing it onto the table before doing the same with the rest of the bottles.

“Hmm, anything on the other side?” George muttered, flipping it over before muttering a soft, “shiiiiiiit,” to himself. Standing from the table, leaving Alex wondering what he could have possibly read, George walked over to where Martha was putting everything away again he showed her the paper from Mr. Samuel.

“Boys,” Martha said, addressing the other three, “could you go get changed?”

Once they were out of the room, Alex felt his stomach drop. What on earth had that paper said? What if it was something that made them change their minds about taking him in? The what ifs ran faster than Alex could keep up with.

“Alex, do you usually take a set of medications before going to bed?” Martha asked, sitting down at her original place at the table.

“Yeah,” Alex replied softly, figuring telling the truth was always better than lying, no matter what.

“Why didn’t you tell us we forgot last night?” Martha asked, her voice cracking and the sad look on her face getting sadder-looking.

“Did something wrong,” Alex muttered, focusing his eyes on the table, his voice barely audible.

“Pardon?” George asked and when Alex looked up he could see the anger on his face. Anger at Alex. He was gonna hit him, or worse, kick him out. They were in the middle of nowhere, he would have nowhere to go.

“Alex, have other families not given you your meds if you misbehaved?” Martha asked and Alex knew that they had both heard what he had said.

“Did you think that we were punishing you for something you did yesterday?” Alex just shook his head no, the mixed signals he was getting from the two adults in front of him too dangerous to say anything in response to them. He was waiting for something to happen. Something bad. Something violent. There was no way to avoid it, ultimately, but just sitting and waiting for them to snap was worse.

“Was that why you had a nightmare last night?” George asked.

“Yeah,” Alex thought, but didn’t say anything and didn’t make any head movements this time. Usually, his meds knocked him out and he was able to sleep most of the way through the night.

“Alex, if you tell us nothing we can’t help you,” Martha said, leaning forward across the table and reaching out to touch his arm. Alex leap back, hitting his back against the wall behind him, crashing his legs into the chair and pulling both his arms back towards himself. Both Martha and George looked at each other then back at him, both with concerned looks.

“Go get changed Alex,” George said, his voice growly, low and loud. Yelling but not yelling.

Alex didn’t think about the consequences of his actions and didn’t think about the fact that he had yet to have his morning dosages of medications, he just took the opportunity to get away from George as fast as humanly possible.

Chapter Text

Shuffling quickly down the hall, he saw Laf and John sitting in the room where they had watched the movie last night, and both were now changed.

Laf was wearing a light purple shirt with a v-neckline and skinny jeans that were certainly not meant for the male body. Once again, his hair was tied into its poof at the back of his head and the black padded band was keeping everything intact. John was wearing a white t-shirt with rainbow lettering that read “I’m more confused than a chameleon in a bag of Skittles” with a pair of burgundy khakis. His hair had yet to be tied back and was hanging unbrushed just past his shoulders.

Alex snickered at the saying even though he knew John wouldn’t have heard the noise he made. Then he looked down at the floor when he realized he had been looking at John for longer than would be considered strictly friendly.

He had come out once, at one foster home. Told the parents and other kids over dinner that he was bisexual, had the shit beaten out of him and sent away with Mr. Samuel the next day. He never considered sharing that part of him with anyone else, ever again.

And he knew it was a horrible, terrible idea to have a crush on someone he was supposed to be treating like a brother. That was just fucked up on so many different levels. So like everything, he just shoved the thoughts to the deep dark corners of his brain to think about at a later date. Or while he was trying to sleep. That was always a good time to think about the things he hated the most while he was waiting for the drugs to kick in.

“Herc is in the shower right now,” Laf said, not looking up from his phone, which was against his folded legs on the couch. John was just staring straight ahead, not on his phone, not doing anything. Alex turned and looked to see if anything was on the television, but it was just showing a blank screen. Maybe he had his eyes closed underneath those dark sunglasses. Weird, but okay.

“I assume that means I have to take a turn once he’s done,” Alex said, trying hard and failing a little to keep the snark out of his voice.

“Martha won’t let you get away without showering,” Laf said, finally putting his phone down. Alex didn’t look up from his feet and just shuffled a little, not knowing if he should stay to continue to talk or just leave now and wait until Herc got out of the shower to come back anywhere closer to the television room. Instead, he stayed put.

“You know, Martha and George are really good people,” Laf said, the tone of his voice changing from aloof to almost down to earth sounding. Alex scowled. He couldn’t afford to believe that. He couldn’t let his guard down, not even for a second.

“Its true,” Laf said, “I know you probably don’t trust them but they’ve never done anything to John or Herc.”

“So you know that for a fact?” Alex said, his voice taking on a harder edge to it. He knew that his accent was getting more defined this way, but he couldn’t find it in him to care. Anyone who made fun of his accent could go kindly fuck themselves.

“Never seen them be anything other than nice to John and Herc,” Laf countered. Alex knew there was no way he was going to win this debate with Laf when the kid seemed so set in his mind that he knew that Martha and George were good people.

“I’m going to go get ready to shower,” Alex said, not even waiting for a reply and simply continued down the hall to his room.

Alex opened the closet door and pulled out his garbage bag that he had just shoved in there the day before, looking for his clothes. He had a grand total of two pairs of pants, three shirts, two pairs of socks, two pairs of underwear and a hooded sweatshirt and they were all in the bag in front of him. Well, aside from the sweatpants and shirt he was wearing.  Alex dug through, looking for the shirt and jeans from the day before.

He had a system and it worked very well. The sweatpants and smaller shirt were used for sleeping in and the jeans and the other two shirts were used for day to day use. He usually alternated the shirts, three days at a time before bringing them into the shower with him to wash. Though, without using the shower last night, Alex realized that he was unable to wash a pair of underwear or socks and grumbled in frustration at himself for forgetting.

While he was angrily trying to decide which pair of underwear were less dirty, Alex heard a knock on the bedroom door. Throwing the underwear back into the bag, he placed his hand against the wall and used it as support as he moved towards the knocking. The crutches were sometimes just too far away.

“Yeah?” Alex said, opening the door just a crack. It was Herc, hair no longer hidden under the beanie, fully changed and showered, his kinked black hair still a tad damp.

“Your turn in the shower,” Herc said before adding, “I left the shower bench down. Martha left a towel on top of the toilet for you.”

Alex was about to protest that he was fully capable of showering on his own without having to sit on a bench like a cripple, but Herc just glided away before he could say anything.

The bathroom seemed pretty average, though cleaner than he expected in a household of teenage boys. The only things that were unique was the help wire that ran at about ankle height around the entire base of the washroom, the transfer bars by the toilet and the shower. Upon closer examination, the shower itself seemed highly modified. It was just a stall, though the opaque glass seemed like it could slide completely out of the way. There was a very shallow lip to the basin, likely to keep the water in and not cause any puddling, and the damned shower bench that Herc spoke of.

It took a few tries before Alex figured out how to turn the water on, but eventually he figured it out and started undressing. He turned away from the mirror, uninterested in seeing the scaring across his lower abdomen and legs, the way his stomach caved inwards, the way his ribs poked outwards. He ignored the way his eyes were shaded with dark rings and how his cheeks and jaw were so incredibly defined. He didn’t look down at his wrists, the lines there silvery white reminders of the fact that he was still alive. An unwelcome fact, most days.

But the shower was warm, the bench was surprisingly helpful, though he would deny his use of it to anyone who asked, and being able to wash off the layer of grime on his skin for the first time in days was welcome.

Chapter Text

Alex changed as quickly as he could manage without falling and hitting his head on the tiled floor, pulling on his grey shirt, jeans and brown sweater, the exact same outfit he wore the day before. Grabbing his crutches off the floor of the bathroom, Alex got himself situated before grabbing his stuff and towel before heading back to his room.

Closing the door to his bedroom, Alex dumped his pyjamas back into their bag and sat down on the bed to struggle back into his braces. He wasn’t sure what the day ahead of them entailed, but he had had enough time without the metal contraptions on to appreciate the support they did provide.

Before long, there was a knock on the door, though Alex was stuck at the moment, sitting on his bed with his braces half on.

“Just gimme a second,” Alex grunted, trying to get the clasps on his braces done up as quickly as he possibly could. But, of course, in his rush, he managed to get part of his jeans stuck in a clasp, his sock stuck on a velcro strap and just nearly missed the entrapment of his dick in the thigh part of the right brace.

Which led to even more grumbled cursing and whoever was outside his door opening it regardless and clearing their voice to announce their presence. Alex looked up quickly and stopped doing what he was doing, one leg braced up, the other in a state of disrepair.

It was George. Alex swallowed. The bald man was now dressed, wearing a plain red shirt and jeans. But he was holding a tissue in one cupped hand, a glass of water in the other.

“I’m sorry that I got cross with you,” George said, setting what he was holding down onto Alex’s desk, which was already covered in three different notebooks. From where he was still struggling to get his braces done up, Alex could see that in the tissue, George had his meds. All six little pills were nestled into the paper and were now on his desk, accompanied by a glass of water.

“Pardon?” Alex said, unsure if he had just heard George apologize to him or not. Adults didn’t apologize to kids. That just wasn’t how it worked.

“It's not your fault that you said nothing,” George said, which didn’t particularly answer his question, but at the same time basically did. George was apologizing. Alex wasn’t sure if this action was supposed to help gain his trust, but Alex could see right through it. Gain his trust now, tear him down later.

“Take your meds,” George said, “then Martha and I are going to bring the boys to the mall we would like you to come with us.”

Alex didn’t reply or say anything, just looked down and continued buckling his legs up.

“Good talk,” George muttered to himself before turning around and walking out of the room looking awkward.

Alex closed his eyes and looked up at the ceiling once he heard the door click closed. He didn’t believe in God anymore, there was no way that any God would let a series of events that Alex had gone through have happened. There was just no way. But in that moment, Alex wondered if his mother or his abuela were looking down on him from some after life, keeping him as safe as they could.

But, he didn’t want to risk them taking the meds from him, so Alex looked through the six that he was given and took four into the palm of his hand. The other two were his pain meds. Pain was a fact of life that he could deal with during the day so he wrapped the two little white tablets into the tissue before taking the remaining four with a big swig of water. The little tissue pouch was shoved into his pencil kit and tossed back into the garbage bag.  Hopefully he'd get some sleep tonight.

He could do this.

Chapter Text

One thing that always startled Alex, even after living in the states for two years, was the enormous spralling shopping malls. He just couldn’t comprehend the waste and extreme consumerism that they spawned and fueled.

Sitting in the back row of the handivan that the Washington’s owned, Alex watched in morbid fascination as they pulled into a handicapped parking spot. From the outside, he could already see fifteen name-brand stores and thousands of cars.

“What are you looking at mon ami?” Laf asked, turned around in his seat and now facing Alex with a grin on his face.

“Just how big this place is,” Alex replied. He remembered the Mall of San Juan that they visited on very rare occasions. He remembered walking slowly, hand in hand with his abuela through the mall, looking through the windows at the expensive clothing and jewelry, listening to soft music playing over the speaker system. Alex wondered if the mall was still standing now, after the hurricane and all.

“Have you been to a big mall like this?” Herc asked from his spot beside Alex, in his wheelchair, the chair strapped down to the floor of the van.

“Kinda. Never in New York. Sometimes back at home,” Alex said, his sentences choppy as he tried to take in the building in front of him.

They had parked outside a Target, and as George put the van into park, Alex started unbuckling his seatbelt after watching the other boys do the same. John and Laf climbed out the side doors while George did the ramp for the back of the van and got Herc free. Once Alex was out, all the doors were closed and locked, they headed towards the mall.

“So,” Martha begun, pulling out a piece of paper from her jacket pocket, “All of you boys need a haircut, you look shaggy.”

“But Mom,” Laf started to complain, his shoulders flopping forward dramatically and a pout forming on his face.

“No ‘but mom’s’ from you Gilbert Lafayette Washington, all of you need haircuts,” Martha replied as they marched through a mall entrance. Alex smiled. Lafayette. Such a perfect name for the bubbly and vibrant teen.

“Even you Alex, your hair at least needs a trim,” Martha said and Alex didn’t realize that the opportunity was getting extended towards him as well. He hadn’t had a haircut in close to three years and while he did brush it from time to time and keep it tied up with an elastic band the rest of the time, it was horrible and uncomfortable.

“Gonna cut it all off,” Alex muttered, focusing on putting one aching foot in front of the other.

“Good thing you came with us today then,” Martha said before turning back to her list and continuing, “Laf needs new shoes, those are much too small. John needs new glasses. Herc needs new basketball gloves. And Alex needs clothes, shoes and toiletries.”

Alex was about to protest before he heard George say quietly from beside him, “don’t protest it, we did this for all the boys after they came to live with us.”

Chapter Text

He had never actually been to a place that was specifically meant for cutting hair before. Back on the island, his mom would just sit him down on the back patio with a pair of scissors and cut it all off again once every three months. He had also never really let it get this long before.

Laf and Herc went first leaving John, George and Martha sitting in the waiting area. Alex wondered when the last time the boys had had haircuts. Herc’s wasn’t particularly long, though he did keep it under a hat all the time anyways it seemed. John and Laf’s hair was long, but not ratty like Alex’s.

John was sitting in silence again, staring straight in front of him at the wall while George and Martha were on their phones. Alex was fiddling with the top clip of his right brace, trying to keep his mind off all the intrusive thoughts at bay. He knew that the intrusive thoughts his brain kept throwing at him were called intrusive for a reason. Drink the barbicide. Steal the razor. Kick the wall. Not helpful thoughts by any means. Stuff he knew he shouldn’t act on.

As he clicked the clasp on and off, Alex looked around the shop before his eyes landed on Laf. He noticed that the boy wasn’t wearing his black headband and had his hair soaked down and pinned up to be trimmed. It was then that Alex could see what his poof of hair and black band normally hid. A massive crisscrossed network of scarring at the back of his head where it seemed that hair had refused to grow back. But with the ponytail and the black band, it wasn’t visible. Alex huffed out a breath through his nose and looked away, knowing Laf obviously kept that part of him hidden for a reason. He knew enough about nosy questions and decided that Laf would likely share that piece of info when he was ready.

Instead, his head did a full 180 degree turn and he looked at John. He wondered what John was thinking and why he spent so much time staring into space. Alex watched the boy with fascination. His hair, while not black, was a beautiful shade of chocolate brown with thick ringlets making it look puffy and soft. Alex wondered what color John’s eyes were, under those dark sunglasses. Freckles were gracefully splashed across his cheeks, nose and neck, disappearing into his shirt. And his arms, they were covered in freckles too, Alex noticed. I wonder if his abs are covered in freckles too Alex’s brain said and he had to shake his head to clear the image before his body responded accordingly.

Thankfully, Alex was saved from humiliation by Herc’s haircut finishing first. The lady that had been dealing with him held the wheelchair steady as the very muscled boy transferred himself from the hair cutting chair to the wheelchair. Herc thanked her and made his way towards the waiting room.

Snapping his fingers in front of John’s face, Herc asked, “who wants to go next?”

“Alex can,” John said, his voice nasally like it had been yesterday before turning to Martha and silently asking her something. Martha frowned and their conversation continued as Alex pushed himself to standing and walked towards the lady that had dealt with Herc.

“What would you like me to do to your hair Alex?” the lady - Abigail, according to her name tag - asked.

“Can you cut all of it off?” Alex asked quietly. He wanted it short again. It was so knotted and ugly right now, he just wanted it all gone. Besides, this could quite possibly be the last haircut he would get for years, may as well make the best of it.

“Perhaps I cut it down to two inches all around and then we just keep cutting it a little shorter until it is good for you?” Abigail suggested and Alex nodded in agreeance.

Soon, the chunks of dark brown hair started falling from his head and piling on the floor. Alex always found it incredible just how much hair he had that could be cut. Alex smirked at all the hair falling to the ground and dared to wonder if this house would be his chance at a normal childhood. He surely hadn’t had one since the hurricane.

Chapter Text

Once their hair had all been cut - close to only a half of an inch of Alex’s hair remained - Martha and George started to lead the boys towards the areas of the mall for clothing.

“Where would you like to start looking for clothes Alex?” Martha asked, turning towards him as they kept walking. Alex just looked at her, trying to keep his confusion off his face. He was getting new clothes? Ones that weren’t from Goodwill? He didn’t know what kind store he wanted to get clothes from. What stores did teenagers get clothes from? Alex had no idea.

Likely seeing his confused look, Laf suggested, “Why don’t we look at Old Navy? That place is pretty good.”

“Sounds like a plan,” George replied, “you game Alex?”

“You know, I really don’t need anything,” Alex said quietly, looking down at his feet as they shuffled through the mall. He already felt bad at not being able to go very fast, obviously a little slower than the rest of the Washington’s were used to. Each step was jarring and without his pain meds, he went a little slower, a little smoother to cushion his feet better. Didn’t really help that much, but it was worth a try.

“Alex, how many pairs of clothes do you have right now?” Martha asked, her feet stopping in her tracks and looking at Alex like she could see right through him. None of the other boys said anything, just stopped moving.

“My sweater, three shirts, two pants, two underwears, four socks and a pair of shoes,” Alex explained, “which is more than enough. I don’t need anything more, really.”

“Like hell you don’t,” George grumbled before turning about ninety degrees to where he was previously standing and proceeded to look at the roof and take a few deep breaths.

“Alex, that is nowhere near enough pairs of clothes. Besides, its almost summer time, your going to need some shorts and cooler shoes too,” Martha said before taking George’s hand and slowly beginning to walk. The boys started walking again and Alex followed, figuring she wasn’t going to take anymore arguing.

“It gets warm here in the summer,” John said, the second thing Alex had heard him say all day, turning his head to look at him. Or, at least Alex thought that John was looking at him. He couldn’t say for sure.

“It really does. Makes the pool feel really nice,” Herc added over his shoulder.

“Do you like to swim little Alex?” Laf asked, making his feet do a full 180 degree spin so he was walking backwards and now face to face with Alex and John.

“Haven’t swam since…-” Alex said, cutting himself off before he accidentally said, “the hurricane.” That just wasn’t something that they needed to know about. Besides, they probably knew from his file. That infernal thing included every little annoying detail of everything anyways.

“Well. George said that it's almost warm enough out to start using the pool, so if you want to join us when the time comes, you’re welcome to,” Herc said.

In total, he ended up with two packages of underwear and socks, four new shirts, two more pairs of pants, a jacket, a new sweater and a new pair of shoes. It wasn’t much but it easily doubled what he already had with him.

Though, what really surprised him was when they bought him a duffel bag and a new backpack, along with a new notebook, a package of pens and another package of batteries. It was something they certainly did not have to buy for him, and yet they did. Alex felt his heart swelling with some feeling he couldn’t put his finger on. He felt himself subconsciously feel more comfortable with the Washingtons’ than any other home prior to this one.

Chapter Text

It was arleady past lunch time before the Washington’s and Alex had finished getting everything they needed . Suggesting a food court lunch before driving the forty five minutes back to the house, Laf chattered the entire way about how good the Chinese food from this one place was. Alex smiled and listened as the bubbly french teen explained how the consistency of noodles made the biggest difference to any dish.

“I believe we all know what Laf is having for lunch,” George said as they entered the food court, “what do you boys want?”

“Subway,” Herc said without hesitation as John looked around the food court, seeming to be weighing his options.

“Pizza,” John signed. That was one of the signs Alex remembered from one of the group homes that he stayed at. There was a kid at that home that was deaf and had taught it to Alex one night when neither of them could sleep. It was the sign for the letter P followed by drawing a Z in the air.

“I’ll have pizza too,” Alex added on and wished he could have captured the image of the faces of the Washington’s as they turned to face him, realizing that he understood what John had said.

“Do you know sign language?” Laf asked, cocking his head to the side and planting his hands on his hips.

“Some. Just random words,” Alex replied while Laf simply signed what Alex assumed was what he had just said.

That was when John laughed. The first time Alex had heard him laugh. And the sound was beautiful. It gave Alex a slight in-put to how John’s voice must have sounded before he had had his hearing taken from him. It seemed as if it was the one noise that he made without thinking about and over-analyzing beforehand. And it was so uniquely John that Alex couldn’t help but smile.

They were sitting at a table in the food court, Alex with his slice of Hawaiian pizza in front of him and not really engaging in the conversation with the Washington’s. Instead, he was looking at his table mates. George and Martha were sharing a plate of poutine, not really saying very much, but speaking when one of the other boys said something specifically towards them.

Herc, John and Laf were busy discussing something from school. Something about one of their classmates. Sounded like one of their asshole classmates had been spouting some unfavorable opinion on something just before the break. It sounded like it had made Laf rather angry about it. In fact, whatever this classmate had done or said just the day before was causing Laf great stress as he kept getting more and more agitated than usual as the boys continued speaking.

Alex was watching, but not contributing as he saw Laf suddenly go very quiet. No one else seemed to notice that the most talkative kid at the table suddenly shut up.

Then his eyes rolled back in his head. That was when Martha and George lept from their seats and took charge of whatever was happening to Laf.

He had seen a seizure once before in his life, though Alex could barely remember it. It had been his cousin Peter, just before he died. The cousin had taken all of abuela's pills that he found in their house, ingested what he could, though instead of passing out and never waking up, suffered a seizure before he went unconscious. Alex remembered hearing a loud thud that came from the upstairs of the house and upon going to check on what it was, found his cousin, mostly dead, foaming at the mouth and so incredibly pale.

Alex tried to push the image out of his head, the image of Peter, slowly dying in a puddle of his own drool. The thoughts of guilt afterwards, the fact that no one had called 911 until Peter had been dead for several minutes.

So, yes, Laf was having a seizure, that was the only part of which Alex was certain of. Also simultaneously explaining the band on his head - in case he was to fall. Don’t want to hurt your head.

They laid him on the floor and moved the chairs out of the way, his muscles all contracting at what seemed like random. People surrounded then, John rushing off to who knows where and Herc ensuring the onlookers that his brother was fine and that no, no one needed to call an ambulance. Though, as soon as it started, Laf start coming down from the incident by increments.

Finally, all the shakes completely stopped and he pushed himself to sitting.

“Gilbert, do you remember where we are?” Martha asked, gently cradling Laf’s head.

“The mall...right?” Laf muttered. Alex just stood still and watched in shock.

Trying to stay in the moment. Concern for Laf had to trump his memories of Brian. Laf was his family now, as much as Alex hated to admit it.

Chapter Text

They loaded back into the van, Laf super exhausted from close to four minutes worth of seizing. Once George got Herc’s chair strapped down, he turned on the van, and they started their drive back to the house. Everyone was eerily quiet.

“I’m sorry for ruining the day,” Laf said from his seat. And with such a simple statement, Alex wondered for the first time exactly how old Laf was. He sounded so young, though was so tall and gangly it was deceiving.

“You didn’t ruin the day Laf,” Martha cut in quickly while the other boys hummed in agreement.

“Yeah yeah yeah, it's beyond my control,” Laf grumbled, crossing his arms and slumping in his seat.

“That's true Laf,” Herc said, leaning forward in his chair and gently massaged Laf’s shoulders from over the car seat. It was such a brotherly display of affection and Alex wondered if he’d end up staying with this family to break into the circle like that.

“If I’d listened to Maman and Papa the first time, I wouldn’t be like this,” Laf muttered. Alex had the sneaking suspicion that Laf wasn’t referring to Martha and George, and instead, his birth parents.

“The protests weren’t your fault honey,” Martha said turning around so that she was completely backwards in her seat, “you were only seven years old. You didn’t know any different.”

So. The fact that Laf had seizures and that massive scar on the back of his head was likely from these “protests.” Assuming that Laf was fifteen or sixteen, eight years ago Laf would have been seven or eight. Also, if Alex assumed that Laf was from France, due to his obvious French accent, it likely would line up with the incredibly violent protests against the upper-class in Paris. Perhaps that was what Martha was speaking about.

“Doesn’t change the fact that Maman and Papa are dead and my head is royally fucked up,” Laf said angrily, not quite yelling, but loud enough that one may consider it yelling.

“But the point is is that it isn’t your fault and that having a seizure today wasn’t your fault either,” George said from the driver's seat, never once taking his eyes off the road, voice slow and steady.

“My car accident, that was my fault, but you getting attacked as a seven-year-old, nowhere near your fault,” Herc said, which seemed to put an end to the conversation.

The rest of the car ride had been completed in silence. Sure George and Martha tried to make small talk to engage the boys, but as usual, John wasn’t paying attention and was just staring out the window. Laf spent the first little while after their argument muttering to himself and fiddling with his headband before settling down and doing something on his phone. Herc had pulled a puzzle book out of seemingly nowhere and was working on a crossword.

Early in life, before his father left, Alex had gone through a few pairs of glasses and instead of fixing them, he would be able to get a second pair. He had found that if he took the lenses from an old pair and held them a certain distance away from his face, it acted as a magnifying glass. It worked better with two pairs of lenses, but after his father left, he realized that pulling his glasses away from his face also magnified what he could see.

Pulling his glasses away from his face, Alex observed as Herc filled in an answer on the paper. And Herc had so many wrong answers. For what it was worth, he still managed to make all the butchered answers fit, so Alex gave him kudos for that. He still snickered a little at Herc’s answer for “the noise snakes make,” being four s’s shoved into the boxes.

“You okay Alex?” Herc asked quietly, leaning over from his seat into Alex’s personal space.

“You have a bunch of wrong answers,” Alex whispered.

“How many are wrong, do you think?” Herc whispered back, obviously being careful to not disturb Laf from where he was still fuming in his seat.

“A bunch,” Alex said, sliding his glasses onto his nose and turning to look forward again.

“Not gonna tell me and just lemme guess?” Herc whispered and scoffed afterwards. Alex instead just kept looking around the van.

That was when he noticed the red fabric bands on all the seatbelts. Well, not all of them. George and Martha had no red bands and neither did Alex. But using his glasses, Alex managed to “zoom in” on John’s red band.

“I’m deaf and sensory processing disorder,” it said. Huh. It was like a medical alert band, but for the van. Fascinating.

Leaning over to Herc again, Alex whispered, “are the red bands for car accidents?”

“Yeah, so the first responders know what is up if they have to rescue us in the case of a car accident,” Herc replied, pulling his band away from his shoulder to show Alex what he said.

“I’m a paraplegic.” Well, that was the easiest one for Alex to guess. He just wondered how it happened in the first place.

Chapter Text

“Alex, I need to head into the University to go check on some papers, would you like to come with me?” George asked once they were pulling up to the house.

Alex swallowed. As much as he wanted to go to the university, Alex saw the dangers in going. Being alone in the car with George, going anywhere alone with George. But, if he said no, then George would get mad at him saying no and then he’d likely never be allowed to go to the university again.

Though did George ever do anything that indicated that he’d do any of that to Alex? Or insinuate that he would do any of that? No, never.

“Sure,” Alex said quickly. Maybe if he could keep himself between the door and George, he wouldn’t have a terrible time. The university was full of cool people. Surely he could find someone nice to talk to.

George let Alex sit in the passenger seat, which really didn’t help the pressure weighing down on his busted knees, but he soon forgot about the pain as they drove closer and closer to the university. They drove up towards the main building and Alex tried to commit everything that he was seeing to memory.

The front of the building was beautiful. It looked like an old plantation building. Or perhaps a newer building built in the style of a plantation house. All the front pillars are painted white, with the rest of the building in brick and red-coloured paint. Behind the main building was the sprawling buildings that comprised the rest of the campus. From his sitting place in the van, Alex couldn’t see much of it, but what he saw made his eyes go huge. It was everything he had hoped to see and more.

“It’s pretty amazing, isn’t it?” George said as he parallel parked into a spot around the side of one of the buildings. It was a smaller brick building with a white domed roof on top of it.

“This shouldn’t take too long, just have to pick up some papers,” George said as he opened the door to the van. Alex followed, swinging his legs out of the vehicle and standing on the sidewalk. Getting his crutches ready to go, George waited and Alex smiled his thanks to the older man.

“Is your office in this building?” Alex asked.

“Yup, though I never lecture in here,” George said, “Of course that's how that has to work out, isn’t it?”

“Never convenient,” Alex agreed.

“When I’m done at my office, would you like to go to the bookstore?” George asked. Alex whipped his head around, now considerably lighter, and looked at George with wide eyes.

“Of course George,” Alex said, not trying very hard to mask his excitement. George’s office was pretty usual, from what Alex could tell. He had a bookshelf covered in books, a desk covered in papers and a couch with a blanket and a pillow on it. For all the time he seemed to spend at home with Martha and the boys, Alex could see that George had also turned this office into a second home of sorts.

On the walls were framed papers - George’s degrees, from what Alex could see - and a bunch of photographs. As George sat down behind his computer desk to look through one of his desk drawers, Alex forgot his pact to stay between George and the door and wandered closer to some of the frames. There were a few of the boys - Laf and John as younger kids, both with short hair and huge smiles on their faces, standing in the ocean with their pants rolled up to their knees - or one with a very young Laf holding a cat with a huge smile on his face - and another with all three of the boys, Herc sitting in a homemade box car with Laf and John standing on either side of it. Then there were a few of Martha and George. One appeared to be a wedding picture - that one George had hair in, Alex couldn’t picture George with hair - another seemed to be Martha and George standing on the beach, framed by the sunset, kissing in silhouette form. All the pictures really seemed to capture the life that Martha and George were living, and in its own way, Alex found that it was actually really appealing, the whole family and kids thing.

“Alright, let's head to the library,” George finally announced, stuffing a couple more groups of papers into his briefcase while standing up from his desk. Alex smiled and shuffled aside to let George lead the way to the library.

As they walked down the hall that they entered from, George asked, “when was the last time you were enrolled in school Alex?”

Alex swallowed hard. He hadn’t been expecting that question. Thinking back, it had been four placements ago, back in New York at PS115. That was when he’d been living with the Fields family and they’d sent him to school so they wouldn’t have to deal with him. Which was fine. Alex would rather learn that get stuck indoors at a home with people he didn’t know. But then he’d picked a fight within three days of being enrolled, had gotten suspended and was promptly sent on his way with Mr. Samuel. That had been late November, a little over a year into his time in the foster system, and now it was late March. He’d missed basically half of his tenth-grade year.

“November,” Alex replied and that was when George’s step faltered and he stopped for a second.

“So you’re telling me that you haven’t gone to school in four months?” George asked.

Alex shrugged and replied, “haven’t stayed with a family long enough since.”

“When we get home, I shall phone the boys’ school and get you enrolled to start after spring break. For a kid with your level of intelligence, you need to put it to good use,” George said, beginning to walk again.

Chapter Text

George offered to carry Alex’s two books on the walk from the garage to the house and Alex didn't object. After the newspaper snafu that morning, he didn’t want a repeat performance. While he wasn’t exactly thrilled to have someone holding onto his stuff for him, Alex couldn’t deny that the books were heavy and would be impossible to carry on his own.

Entering the house, George let out a loud, “honey, we’re home!” Alex flinched a little at the sound but otherwise made no mention that it was startling.

“I’ll go put these on your desk Alex, okay,” George said, toeing off his shoes before heading on his way.

“Okay. Thank you, George,” Alex said. It took Alex a little bit more time on the shoe removal process but did get both of his new runners off without toppling headfirst into the floor.

Once he was free from his feet jails, Alex followed his ears to the movie room area where he found the other boys sitting on the couch with Martha. Herc had taken the chaise part of the couch today, his wheelchair abandoned under the window. John was sitting on the floor, his headphones sitting on the ground beside him. Martha was sitting behind John, combing through his hair with her fingers, the elastic band that had been in John’s hair on her wrist. Laf was curled into the other side of the couch, his hair poof out of its ponytail as well, though subdued by the black band around his head like one of those rainbow headbands that hippies wore.

“Alex, how was the university? Did you like it?” Martha asked, not taking her hands out of John’s hair.

“It was really awesome! I got to see George’s office and then we went to the library and I found two books that look really good and George said that I could probably go to school!” Alex said, his excitement taking over as he got really animated.

“It sounds like you really had a good time,” Martha said before adding, “did George mention that I’m a prof as well?”

“He did not!” Alex exclaimed.

“Nursing,” Martha said, “not in history or poly-sci or anything like that, but still.”

“That's so cool Martha!” Alex exclaimed again, having a hard time keeping his vocal range in check.

“We’re watching Lord of the Rings,” John said, not turning to look at Alex nor had even acknowledged his presence before that very second.

“Never seen Lord of the Rings,” Alex said. Sure he’d heard about it, seemed like a pretty popular movie at some point but since it hadn’t been shown in school, he’d missed it.

“Come sit, I’ll fill you in,” Herc said, patting the couch cushion beside him. Alex shrugged and went to sit near - but not too close to - Herc. The couch was at just the right height and it made his knees feel almost weightless.

Once the movie - which Alex found himself enjoying immensely - finished, Martha stated that they needed to get supper started and that she wanted the boy’s help in the kitchen. So up they went, their little rag-tag group of boys, following their mother duck into the kitchen.

“Herc and John, can you peel some potatoes and carrots?” Martha requested before adding, “let me get you each a peeler.”

Moving over towards where Alex had decided to stand to wait for instructions, Alex noted that there was yet another drawer in the kitchen with a lock on it. Taking a step back, he watched as Martha opened it, the combo 34-12-2.

Alex usually found his math and memorization skills useless, though sometimes, they proved fruitful. Now, he knew the combo to this particular locked drawer.

The knife drawer.

Alex then remembered what Herc had said in the van earlier that day on the ride home from the mall.

My car accident, that was my fault, Herc had said.

He had heavily implied that he had decided to crash the car. Whether or not it had been before or during his time with the Washingtons, Alex wondered if the reason they kept the drawers locked was because of Herc. Because of what he might want to do to himself.

“Alrighty,” Martha muttered to herself, taking two black peelers and a knife out of the drawer before closing it and locking it again. She handed the two utensils over to Herc and John. The boys sat at the table with the garbage can and got to work.

“Laf, could you get some water ready for spaghetti?” Martha asked.

“Yup mom,” Laf said before scooting off to go the requested task. Alex just stood very still, contemplating the new knowledge that Martha had accidentally bestowed on him.

He knew that it would be bad, what he wanted to do. But that wouldn’t prevent it from happening. The only thing he had to make sure of, was that no one caught him. He couldn’t go back to a hospital. That wasn’t an option. Alex had had enough hospitals to last a life-time.

Chapter Text

Alex wasn’t nearly tired enough to fall asleep and he had elected not to take the pill that made him fall asleep. Even though there was a lock on his bedroom door, that particular pill made him so dead to the world that almost anything could happen to him while under the influence. Things had happened to him while under the influence. He didn’t trust the Washingtons enough. He didn’t like the fact that his door, while it had a lock, could be opened from the outside.

Only minutes later, the rain started pelting on the windows of the house and the noise rattled through Alex’s head. It brought out the thoughts that he worked so hard to keep at bay. Not just those of grief over the death of his cousin, his mother and abuela, the disappearance and assumed death of his brother. But the worse ones. The ones that came after.

Harris was a really tall, buff man. Alex wasn’t scared of him. Not yet. Harris just seemed like someone else who was going to tell him that he would get better, that he would recover and he had so much more life to live for.

For the first little while, he was the only one Alex believed when he said it. Harris said that they’d work on his ability to use his wrist again, to write again. And they did. Alex couldn’t believe that this man was the first one in his newly destroyed life to have made him a promise and to have kept to it. Harris had given him back his thoughts and his outlet. Harris had given him his mind back.

Then the doctors gave Harris the go-ahead to start working on his ankles, knees and hips. Sure, not all the casts were off yet, but he had the strength in his wrist back, he could use the bars for some exercise. Weeks of barely being able to pull himself out of the chair, followed by the pain of actual standing passed and Alex started to doubt Harris again.

He’d said that he knew Alex would be able to stand again. It was hard to believe him.

Casts started being removed, one by one, and replaced with braces. The first was the cast around his hip. It was glorious to have off. He could use a toilet properly, he could use his wheelchair properly and he could even roll over in bed on his own now.

T hat was when it first happened. The first time Harris touched him in a way that Alex now knew was a bad thing. That was something no adult should ever do to a kid. Alex knew that now. But he trusted Harris. He’d said it would help, that it’d make him feel better. Alex believed him.

And it did make him feel good. It did make him feel better until afterwards, he hurt more than he did before in places that he was pretty sure won’t supposed to hurt in that way. It kept happening and Alex never said no, because it was the first time in a long time that he felt more than numbness or pain, even if only for a few minutes.

The worst part? He liked it.

But as his bones and muscles got better and better, Harris got rougher and rougher. It was like he was realizing that the more he helped Alex heal, the more he could do to him.

Until one that one time that Harris was just a little too rough and Alex screamed like the hounds of hell were upon him. It hurt worse than the house collapsing on him, it hurt worse than being pulled out of the rubble. Suddenly his entire body was wracked with pain that he couldn’t escape no matter what he did.

That was when the nurses unlocked the door.

Alex never saw Harris after that. As far as he was aware, nothing happened to Harris. Why would it? Alex was a ward of the state. A child of the hospital. No one could press charges for him. He couldn’t press charges for himself. He was stuck with the knowledge that the man who’d raped him daily for almost six months was still out there somewhere.

And no one knew about it.

Alex climbed out of bed, ignoring the aching pain that shot through his legs. Without the support of his braces, he grabbed the crutches, hoping that none of the joints decided that it would be a good time to give up on him.

Heading out towards the kitchen, Alex tried to be as silent as possible. From what he understood, George was a light sleeper and he didn’t want to wake him up.

The first home Alex was placed with after he was released from the hospital was a group home. It was all boys ageing 10-17, placing Alex almost right in the middle. That was the home that he realized that his mouth gets him in trouble.

With injuries ranging from bruises and scrapes to black eyes, cuts and sprained joints, it didn’t take long for Alex to simply stop talking. He was already the runt of the litter. He was preyed on because he was latino. And he made an easy target because he could barely stand on his own two feet.

The man running the home couldn’t have given any less shits about the kids under his supervision and occasionally encouraged their behaviour.

That was the first time he tried to take his own life. He was garbage. He was unwanted. He had been beaten, he had been raped and he had been left for dead. No one wanted him and he was a burden on the system - a fact that he was constantly reminded of from almost anyone he cared to talk to. Heck, he even heard it on the news and from the president. No one cared about him. He was just a number and soon, he’d become a statistic.

Everyone he loved was dead. He might as well be too.

The house was still and quiet as Alex rounded the corner into the kitchen. He headed towards the drawer that he’d seen Martha open just the day before. It was a slow process of remembering exactly how to make his legs cooperate. A process that only reminded him of Harris. It reminded him of that man every time he tried to walk.

Alex got bounced from home to home before he ended up with the Jefferson’s. They seemed nice enough on the surface; a mom and a dad, both with stable jobs, and a handful of children. On the surface, they were friendly, never mean to Alex, never confrontational.

That year, he started school and shared a homeroom class with the cutest guy he’d seen in a while. He had the leading role in the school’s stage production and just was the coolest guy Alex had ever met. Suddenly, Alex realized that he liked guys. Before the hurricane, Alex had had a crush on a girl at school. So, he knew he liked girls.

After the whole “thing” - as Alex had started to refer to it - with Harris, he assumed that anytime he thought any guy was attractive, it was his brain trying to trick him in someway. Like one massive, messed up flashback.

Then he met Jonny G and Alex realized that maybe his brain wasn’t trying to screw with him. Maybe these feelings were coming from a real place.

There was a club at the school; the Gender and Sexuality Alliance Club, and Alex attended a few meetings, discovering the term “bisexual.” He liked labels. he liked knowing his place in the order of things. This new word, well, it defined his place. And he liked it.

So he told his foster family. He was sent to the ER for x-rays that night and then on his way to a new home with Mr. Samuel the next morning.

34 - 12 - 2 was the combo that Alex needed. He couldn’t forget. He never seemed to be able to forget anything.

It was hard to stay balanced. He needed both hands to make the lock work, but without his braces, Alex wouldn’t be able to stand without both hands on the crutches. But he figured it was worth a try. He could always try, fail, then go put his braces on and try again.

He could still remember the day he attempted to commit suicide the second time. It was on the year and a half anniversary of coming to the mainland.

The home he was at, no matter what he did, they didn’t seem to want to give up. He’d talked back, he’d screamed, fought, destroyed but no matter what, they just looked at him with a disappointed look on their faces before proceeding to ignore him.

Three months in and Alex had hit his breaking point. At school, they’d spent the day discussing the aftermath of Hurricane Maria and he just couldn’t take it anymore. He’d requested to go to the bathroom before walking right out the backdoor of the school. It wasn’t planned, he didn’t know exactly what he was going to do, but he wasn’t going back and he wasn’t going home.

He’d decided that taking the subway would probably be the quickest way to get the hell away from where he currently was, so he slowly took the steps down and waited on the platform. Sitting at a bench, Alex missed two north-bound trains while giving himself a break to just think.

Then he heard a song on the radio, playing over the speaker system. It wasn’t in English. It was in Spanish. It wasn’t Despacito (god how he hated that song), but it was listing city names. Cities in Puerto Rico.

Northbound train approaching, stand clear of the yellow line,” the voice over the speaker system said, cutting off the song.

Alex stood and slowly started hobbling towards the yellow line with no intention of stopping once he crossed it. A transit cop grabbed him by the sweatshirt and pulled him away from the edge with only milliseconds to save.

Resting his crutches on the countertop, Alex reached out for the lock. He spun the dial to the 34, made it back to the 12 and ended on the two. As silently as possible, he gave it a tug.

The locking mechanism gave but the shift in movement threw him off balance. Alex realized that he was falling, but too late to try to grab a hold of anything. Failing his arms wildly, he knocked his crutches over, the metal crashing to the floor. The lock, which he was no longer holding, swung back and hit the drawer.

Without the proper balance, Alex felt his head collide with the counter top at his back.

That was the last thing he remembered that night.

Chapter Text

She remembered down to the minute that Samuel phoned and asked if they had space for one more placement. It was probably close to four days ago by now. They hadn’t been actively in the foster system since they took in Hercules a little over a year and a half ago and hadn’t necessarily been looking to add any other children to their family. However, when Samuel sent them the file for a boy named Alexander Hamilton, Martha couldn't find it in herself hot to give the teen at least an opportunity.

Alexander Hamilton.

Quite a big name for such a small child. Solely judging on the picture, Martha would have guessed that he looked almost thirteen, though he was only a few months short of his sixteenth birthday.

Born in the Caribbean. His family was killed in Hurricane Maria, he was injured. Sent to the mainland for medical treatment. Partially disabled ever since.

Martha wasn’t sure when, specifically, they started specializing in children with disabilities. They started their wild ride in the foster system with Laf eight years ago. Back then, all they knew was that their godchild had just been injured in protests in France and his parents had been killed. It was incredibly saddening to receive the news of their friends passing followed by the news that their only child was in a French hospital with a severe head injury.

They had moved to France for six months to wait until Laf was healed enough to come overseas to their house. After another six months of fostering Laf, they adopted him. In that time, Laf’s brain injury had deteriorated into situational epilepsy. But it was something they could deal with. Due to his brain injury from the protests, Laf would have seizures due to lights changing colour or brightness too fast, standing too quickly, or his blood pressure spiking or dropping. But they learned how to deal with it. They adapted. Laf was their child, how could they not?

Two years after that, Laf’s American caseworker contacted them again to say that they had another boy with a brain injury that needed an emergency placement after being released from the hospital. She and George decided that it was as good a time as any to try to add another person to their ranks.

Later that week, a kid by the name of John Laurens with a shaved head and white bandage covering the back of his skull arrived at their door, squinting against the light of the evening sun. Scared and skittish, they figured out that the eleven-year-old was just trying to learn sign language after being deafened through a domestic violence-related brain injury. Martha and George hadn’t seen anything like it and couldn’t believe that someone could possibly do something so horrible to their own child that would cause such a serious injury.

So, they adapted again. The four of them went to American Sign Language courses at the University together and slowly but surely, verbal English and ASL were spoken side-by-side. They bought John high strength sunglasses to counteract the light that never seemed dark enough and noise-cancelling headphones for what useless sounds he could hear.

They were a family of four for three and a half years before Martha got another call from Samuel. Another placement, this time with a more serious disability. A 16-year-old boy, paralyzed from the waist down due to a suicide attempt after being in the foster system his whole life. He was yet to be released from the psychiatric ward of the hospital and wouldn't be until he was stable, but Samuel couldn't find a placement for him nor felt comfortable sending him to a group home.

Three weeks later, Samuel and Hercules arrived at their door. Hercules looked less than pleased to be showing up at their door and it took months before he adjusted completely. But once they figured out that he loved basketball and at least shared a common interest in the sport with George, there was something to connect with him. To break through that shell of misery.

But Alex seemed to be on a plane of his own. Aside from the obvious physical disability, he had a record of fighting, arguing and getting himself bounced out of foster homes in days. His file stated that in two and a half years, he had made his way through over twenty-five homes. There were two suicide attempts listed on his file, both having to do with other moving objects and there was a brief note that he had been sexually assaulted, though never officially confirmed.

George had commented upon reading his file that he was just like a stray dog that kept shitting its way through the neighbourhood trying to find its way home. That perhaps they could give him a fair crack at finding a home. Martha couldn't agree more. So they phoned Samuel and started the process of filling out foster forms.

Alex arrived on their doorstep three days later with his head hanging and leaning forward on two awkward-looking metal crutches that seemed like they were from the turn of the century with both his legs encased in the most bulky braces Martha had seen.