There’s something tight in Joe’s face when they all step out of the hospital.
It fascinates Miya, honestly. These adults are all the same—they either act like the rest of the world doesn’t matter and they’re forever five years old, or all mature like they know the secrets of the world and nothing bugs them. Joe hadn’t even flinched as they watched the skateboard smacked Cherry squarely in the face. Hadn’t even said anything on their ride to the hospital as he cradled Cherry’s body in his arms. Just simple, short answers and explanations to the nurse once they arrived at the emergency room, though Miya could tell it took a lot of him to reliquish Cherry’s limp figure to the more capable hands.
Miya knows about adults though. And while he can’t really see through the veneer, he can tell when it gets thin enough.
“Come on, kid,” Shadow jostles him from his left. It’s three-thirty in the morning, he probably needs to open up shop in a few hours. “I’ll drop you home.”
Miya glances up at Joe—at the tension tugging his shoulders up, at the tight lines of his jaws, at the restlessly jingling motorcycle keys as it flits in-between Joe’s fingers, over and over. He wonders if this is anger, or if it’s more worry and fear for Cherry instead. He wonders if it’d be wise for them to leave Joe by himself.
A few weeks ago he wouldn’t have cared. Miya sighs, inwardly cursing Reki for reminding him that other people exist—that he’s not alone, even though Reki’s the one fucking missing all the time now. So much for the promise of staying, of never leaving.
“I can stay at the restaurant,” he offers, shoulders bunching because this is—well, he’s not used to this. He’s supposed to be the little shit, not the kid who worries. “Like, I don’t know, you’ve got a couch right? Somewhere?”
Joe blinks, then belatedly startles like he’s only just realized that Miya is talking to him. “What?”
Miya crosses his arms. “I don’t have school tomorrow.”
“Oh,” it sounds more like a confused breath than a word, and Miya counts exactly three seconds before Joe’s face settles into a smile. The veneer is back firmly, the role of an ‘adult’ slipping back on his shoulders. “Nah, I’d rather not have your parents screaming bloody murder at me the next morning.”
“They won’t mind if I say it’s skateboarding-related,” Miya mutters, foot kicking the pebbles under his sneakers. He knows a lot about putting on masks. He can fucking well tell when someone else is doing it, too.
Joe’s mask transform into one of a grin. It doesn’t fit very well with the lines of his jaw, Miya thinks. “I have no extra room, shush. Get him home safe, Shadow.”
“No need to tell me,” Shadow grumps, stomping away over to where his work car is parked. Miya stares at him, glances back at Joe in hesitation for a second and scowls when all he gets a push on the back, shooed away like a cat stepping up on the dining table.
“Fine,” he lifts his skateboard and starts after Shadow, pausing for a second to throw a look at Joe. “You two’ll be fine, right?”
The relaxed lines of Joe’s shoulders and the grin still stretching on his face is so obviously fake, Miya hates him a little for it.
“Don’t need a runt worrying over us. Go to bed, kid.”
God, Miya thinks as he turns away and follows Shadow to the florist’s car, he hates adults so much sometimes.
Shadow makes a pitiful sound every time he glances at the deep red stains on the backseat through the rearview mirror, but he never once complains. Miya thinks that tells more about how big his heart probably is, more than anything.
He swipes across the screen of his phone and opens his messages. Taps on Reki’s name, sees that he’s been left on read again.
He starts typing: Cherry is in the hospital, and then pauses, because maybe this isn’t something that Reki would care about. It’s not like they’re all friends. Are they? Probably not—they just happen to all hang out together for S, banded together against a common enemy, and accidentally went for a vacation together. That’s not friends. Or is it?
Miya should probably not care. He’s just a kid. Supposedly a shitty, cheeky one. Both Joe and Cherry would probably be fine.
He’s not worried, per se. But making sure an injured person is fine is probably basic human decency, right? He swipes back to his contacts, scrolls down until the end, and then makes a sound that draws Shadow’s attention away from the stained backseats. “What now?”
Miya starts, because he hadn’t expected that noise to escape either. “Nothing, uh. I just realized I don’t have Joe’s contact or anything.”
Shadow is silent for a moment, before he shrugs, and there, Miya recognizes the veneer he wears, too, even under all those makeups. “Well, I’m sure they’ll be fine. You shouldn’t worry too much about them.”
There’s a kid being unsaid hanging in the air between them. Miya’s phone blinks off, reflecting the displeased line of his mouth, because what does it fucking matter, that he’s a kid? It doesn’t change the fact that he’s still worried. It’s not like he could just turn it off, even if he wants to.
Goddamn adults and the times they choose to be one.
Even if he doesn’t have school, Miya still has to catch up with his school work, so he manages to pass the entire next day without making his way either to the hospital or Joe’s restaurant. He did go skating in the evening though, finding Shadow mock-terrorizing some new people by the parking lot, so he waits until Shadow’s amused enough before standing behind him and poke him on the back of his knees with his skateboard.
Shadow stumbles, just enough for the new people to scramble off, and enough for him to round back on Miya with a glare. “What do you want?!”
The yell is loud, but has no bite. Miya scuffles his shoes and holds his hand out. “Give me your phone.”
“Just,” Miya mumbles. “Wanted to know if you got any news.”
It takes about five seconds before Shadow drops the threatening act, shoulders relaxing and eyes softening. He pulls his phone out and unlocks it, places it on Miya’s hand before dropping to sit on the ground. “I’ve got nothing.”
Miya follows him, except he crouches instead because he doesn’t want his tail and pants dirtied just yet, and scrolls down the lines of messages in Shadow’s phone. After a moment, he passes it back and sighs.
Shadow gives him a slap on the back but doesn’t say anything.
Miya considers that an improvement from last night.
He holds on until the next day, and then sneaks out at 11 and makes his way to Joe’s restaurant.
The front door of the restaurant is locked, but the lights on the second floor is on, so Miya’s pretty sure Joe’s home. He considers pelting the windows with pebbles, maybe, because then maybe Joe would realize in time there’s a kid under his window waiting to be let in, but then he decides to hell with it. He’s supposed to be the shitty kid anyway, might as well live to that expectation.
So he rounds the building and go to the back door, and starts pounding at it.
It takes about half a minute before the lights in the restaurants blink on full-force, and another minute before he can hear hurried, heavy footsteps accompanying Joe’s familiar voice, a nice mix of confusion and harried, and Miya lets himself think good almost maliciously because this is the least Joe can put up with for not updating him on the situation for two full days. The door swings open, Joe appearing almost simultaneously that Miya almost punches him in the torso if he hadn’t pulled his fist quick enough.
“Yes, yes, what is i—what the fuck?” it’s fascinating, watching Joe’s expression flits quickly between confusion, irritation, realization, and then cycling back to confusion. “Miya?”
“Yo,” Miya opens his hanging fist into a light wave. Joe frowns, clearly displeased with the earlier ruckus that might just end up with him earning his neighbors’ complaints tomorrow, but Miya is a kid so he decides to not give a single fuck. “Let me in.”
Joe crosses his arms, biceps bunching. “It’s eleven.”
Miya stares at him. “I don’t know why you think that would make sense to me but okay?”
For a second, they both just stare at each other, and then Joe sighs, body unfurling to his full height as he pushes himself off the door and drop his arms back to his sides. “Fine, come in. Don’t make too much noise though, Kao—Cherry is asleep.”
Miya’s step halts just over the threshold, eyes widening. “He’s here?”
“Dumbass snuck out of the hospital, yeah. Want some snacks? I’ve got a few slices of cheese left over—“
“No, that’s—that’s okay,” Miya pushes the door closed behind him with the back of his foot and looks up to see Joe holding a platter of cheese anyway as he moves out to turn the lights in the restaurant back off, leaving only the hallway lights towards the stairs on. Miya shuffles forward to follow him. “He’s—okay?”
“Did you miss the sneaking out of hospital part?” Joe glances back at him, a curve on his lips, and it’s such a warm one that Miya feels like he can breathe a little easier. “He seems fine, right now. I’m taking him back to the hospital tomorrow.”
“You won’t if Cherry tells you not to, though,” Miya points out, and the curve on Joe’s lips transform into a laugh.
“Yeah, I probably won’t.”
They both reached the second floor—a one room studio with a couch and a TV, and a queen-sized bed tucked in the corner of the room. The toilet and what looks like a spacious bathroom combined with laundry room is just by the stairs. The TV is on, muted, one of those traveling and cooking shows that Miya’s mom likes to binge on weekends. By the bed is a wheelchair in Carla’s colors, which is enough for Miya to deduct that the figure under the heap of blankets is definitely Cherry.
Joe disappears into the laundry room after placing the cheese platter on the coffee table in front of the couch, so Miya makes his way straight towards the bed to peer at the figure buried in the blankets. Cherry is indeed there, deeply asleep, still paler than usual but his face is no longer twisted permanently in pain.
He looks like a mummy for Halloween.
Joe’s laugh resounds gently behind him. “I know right? That’s what I said too when he came in from the front door earlier.”
Oh, he’d said the mummy thing out loud. Miya turns around, sees Joe with two shirts in his hand and a soft, almost helpless look in his eyes. “I guess he’s fine then.”
“He’s been fine, I don’t know what you were worrying about,” Joe shrugs, then offers the shirts draped over his hand. “I’ve got nothing child-sized, so here’s the smallest I have. You told your parents?”
Miya takes the shirts. “I left a note.”
Joe groans. “Please call them now, I don’t want a police officer storming into my restaurant tomorrow.”
Miya goes into the bathroom to change into the smaller one of oversized shirts—expectedly it drops past his knees—and throws the other one along with his shirt and jacket into the laundry basket. If he feels like helping tomorrow, maybe he should help Joe with laundry before going back home. If he catches a bus from here, he should be able to get home and change to his uniforms before first period ends, and maybe he’ll make it to school before third period.
The lights are dimmed when he steps out of the bathroom. There are murmurs from the other end of the room—gentle whispers loud enough to echo in the otherwise completely silent house but quiet enough that Miya can only catch every other words. Joe, bent over the bed, hands moving to fix the blankets over Cherry’s figure, the lines of his body relaxed and honest under the purple lights emanating from the wheelchair, chuckling slightly as he presses his forehead against Cherry’s for a moment.
Miya averts his eyes and stares at the TV instead.
The murmurs finally drift into silence, and Joe straightens up. He closes the span of the room in five long steps and puts his hands on his hips, eyebrows raised at Miya. “Called your parents?”
“Texted them,” Miya says, and then yawns before he could catch himself. “Ugh.”
Joe makes an amused noise. “It’s past bedtime.”
“Mine is at three am,” Miya grumbles. “How do you think I keep up with my schoolwork?”
“Oookay,” Joe says, holds up his hands. “I’m going to ignore the fact that you’re like, ten—“
Miya’s eyes flash. “Thirteen.”
Joe makes a face. “Fine, thirteen, and you normally run on like four hours of sleep, sheesh kid, no wonder you’re short. But anyway, you don’t have your schoolwork here and I’ve had a really long day, so.” He points to the couch. “You did ask for the couch.”
Fair enough, Miya figures, so he shuffles along to the couch. Joe dumps a blanket on him once he settles on it, and Miya curls under it like a cat. He glances at the quiet figure in bed for the last time, and then looks up at Joe. “What about you?”
Joe looks down, puzzled. “What about me?”
“Where are you gonna sleep?”
“Aaahh...” Joe says, a hand scratching the back of his head, before dropping on Miya’s head and ruffling his hair fondly. “No need to worry about that. Go to sleep, kid.”
That was what Joe pretty much told him outside of the hospital two days ago, too. This time, though, his grin isn’t a mask and it doesn’t irritate Miya, so he supposes it’s fine.
He wakes up at five am to an unfamiliar ceiling, and confusedly sits up and stares at the bed.
It takes about a minute before his brain makes sense of what he’s seeing.
The lump on the bed under the heap of blankets isn’t of one figure—it’s two: Joe’s bulk a cushion between Cherry and the wall, his torso a personal pillow for Cherry’s head, their legs tangling together as the blankets ride up to their knees. Miya considers snapping a photo, perhaps, for future blackmail material if needed, but he’s too sleepy to remember where his phone is and anyway—
—anyway, maybe this is a secret not meant for the rest of the world.
He settles back down under his blankets, and falls asleep trying to figure out why exactly he isn’t surprised.