Ten Years Later
He drifts. Voices wash over him, faint and unintelligible. He doesn’t try to figure out what they’re saying. They’re speaking in soft, gentle tones, and its…nice. Peaceful. Someone brushes the hair away from his forehead. Alex sighs and leans into the kindness. He sinks back down.
He is moved, his head and shoulders gently lifted. He whines, he’s tired, why can’t they just leave him alone?
“Ryan,” a deep voice says warningly.
“Just for a minute,” another voice replies. Alex’s head is settled on something firm and warm.
“You have to be careful, he’s gonna be scared,” the deep voice rumbles, “he doesn’t remember you.”
“I know, I know,” the softer voice replies sadly. “He’s–he’s grown up so much. I missed so much. I just–I just want my baby back.”
“You’ve got him,” the deep voice says, “he’ll understand eventually. We’ve just got to be careful with him.”
Alex doesn’t know what they’re talking about, but it probably isn’t anything important. He goes back to sleep.
“Alex,” the voice calls gently. “Alex sweetheart, are you hungry?”
Alex grumbles and squeezes his eyes shut tightly.
“I know you’re tired, you can keep sleeping if you want, we’ll save a plate for you.”
Alex sighs, he could keep sleeping, but most foster houses won’t keep back a plate for him, even if they say they will. He opens his eyes.
He….vaguely recognizes the guy hovering over him? It takes awhile for him to get familiar with new fosters, they switch out so often. He doesn’t really recognize the house either, but that’s not unexpected either.
The guy smiles at him. “Hey sunshine, you look so sleepy.”
He’s cooing like Alex is a little kid. Alex scowls at him.
The guy doesn’t seem to notice. “You’ve got bedhead,” he laughs softly, like Alex’s bedhead is something wondrous. He reaches up and brushes Alex’s hair back.
What the fuck?
Alex ducks away from his hand. “Fuck off,” he snaps. He shuts his mouth right after, but its too late. His mouth is fast, and that gets him in a lot of trouble. Damn it.
The guy…Ryan?…doesn’t get mad though. He lowers his hand quickly, leaning away from Alex. “Sorry,” he murmurs, “I just haven’t–you got my hair,” he says, a watery smile on his face.
What in the goddamn fuck does that mean?
Alex starts to sit up but his body quickly informs him that is a terrible idea. Aches spring up from all of his joints, but especially his knee. “Fuck,” he gasps.
“Oh,” Possibly-Ryan gasps. “Hold still, hold still sweetheart. Don’t move, where does it hurt.” He’s reaching for Alex, his hands fluttering on his shoulder, his arm, like birds trying to perch on a swaying wire.
Alex roughly shrugs him away, holding his arm close. There are cuts all down his forearms. What the fuck? He blinks down at them. He remembers…someone saying something about hydrogen peroxide? Something about a road.
He was…on his way home from school.
He was on his way home from school and a car pulled up next to him and–
“Ryan, back up a bit,” a new voice says. A deep voice. A familiar voice.
The big guy. The one who grabbed him when they were kidnapping him.
Alex sucks in a sharp breath. His eyes dart from Big Fucker to the weird weepy guy–Ryan–who is sitting, far too close. A strangled squeak escapes him and he shoves himself back against the couch. Fuck. fuck. Oh fuck. Oh god.
“Easy,” Ryan whispers, scooting back and holding up his hands. “Its okay Alex, I’m sorry. I’m sorry sweetie, I didn’t mean to scare you.”
He looks like he’s going to cry again.
“Breathe, Alex,” Nick commands. “You’re alright, we aren’t going to hurt you.”
Alex takes a shaking breath automatically. Oh god. Oh fuck. He was really hoping that this would be some kind of fucked up nightmare, not reality.
“Get–get away,” he croaks. “I’ll fucking–I’ll fucking kill you.”
Ryan makes a wounded noise and opens his mouth, but Nick speaks over him. “Alright Alex. We’ll stand back. Ryan, come on.” He pats Ryan’s shoulder and helps him to his feet, and they back up a few steps.
“Is this better?” Nick asks.
“I–no–yeah?” Alex sputters, utterly thrown off. What–what game is this?
“Okay, we’ll go a bit further back,” Nick says, and then they…do?
Alex stares at them, his chest heaving, his heart racing. What is this?
“Ryan, sit down,” Nick says, taking a seat in an armchair a comfortable distance away. Ryan sinks down into one beside him. He clenches his hands on the arms until his knuckles are white.
Nick, in contrast, looks utterly calm, his hands resting on his knees. “We’re not going to hurt you, Alex,” he says.
“Let–let me go,” Alex says.
Alex flinches, even though the word wasn’t said with any anger. Just calm, flat, simple denial. Like telling a little kid they can’t have a cookie.
“We’re going to have dinner,” Nick says, “do you want to sit at the table, or stay here?”
Alex studies his face, Ryan’s face. Ryan looks like he’s desperately holding himself back from–from something. Alex doesn’t know what. He looks queasy, or excited, or scared. He’s fucking weird.
Nick’s face is blank. He’s just waiting, utterly calm. Too calm. Alex doesn’t want to sit at the table with them. He doesn’t know what they’ll do. What if there’s fucking cuffs on the chairs or something?
But if he doesn’t go, will he get food?
He’s under no illusions that they won’t be controlling every crumb that passes his lips. He’s had foster houses like that before. The best way to make sure kids behave is to make sure there are consequences if they don’t. Hitting will get you reported, but nobody bats an eye if you say you send a kid to bed without dinner sometimes.
Nobody ever asks how many dinners, how often ‘sometimes’ is, how many meals besides dinner it is.
In those situations you have to make sure you eat when you can. No matter the cost.
Alex really doubts that he’ll be able to sneak any food from outside sources here. He shudders and looks down at his hands. They’re clenched into shaking fists.
“Table,” he says quietly.
“Alright,” Nick says. “I got you some crutches, and a brace for your knee. I’ll toss it to you.”
Alex watches warily as he gets up and grabs a weird tube of material off of a side table. There’s a pair of crutches leaning up against the wall beside it.
“Ready?” Nick asks.
Alex nods, and he tosses the sleeve at him. Its thick, with a hole through the middle.
“Put it on your bad knee,” Nick says, “you hyper extended it. This should help keep it steady.”
Alex looks over the fabric sleeve, but there’s no…he doesn’t know. Needles or bits of broken glass stuffed in it. It looks like a normal sort of knee brace. He leans forward and slips it over his foot, tugging it gingerly up his leg, flicking glances to Nick and Ryan every couple seconds.
They don’t move. Ryan is holding Nick’s hand now, so tightly that if it were a normal human their bones would probably be broken. Alex assumes that Nick’s are made of sterner stuff since he eats fucking tanks for breakfast or something.
Finally, Alex has the brace on. He turns carefully, setting his feet on the floor. The carpet is soft and thick.
There are band aids on the popped blisters. Alex shudders at the thought of them being near him in his sleep. His head shoots up when Nick moves, but he’s just reaching over to the wall and grabbing the crutch. “Here,” he says, holding it out from as far away as possible.
Alex still doesn’t trust it. He grabs it loosely, ready to let go if Nick tries to pull some bullshit like yanking him close with it. He doesn’t, he just waits until Alex has a good grip and lets go.
Alex stands, tucking the crutch under his arm. He bets they’ll take it away again as soon as possible, but its good to know that it exists. He’ll watch where they put it.
He’s walked on crutches before, so there isn’t much learning curve, its just a matter of remembering exactly how to do things and then he’s limping his way after Ryan and Nick.
The table is set, and there’s food laid out. A lot of food. A lot of food that smells really fucking good.
Alex’s stomach growls.
Ryan smiles at him as he sits down.
Alex looks down at the table. Its a round table, with only four chairs, so there’s not really any way to get away from Ryan and Nick, but Alex does his best.
Alex expects them to make his plate for him, limit what he gets, but everything is passed his way and nobody says a word if he dumps a lot of it on his plate. Its more than he can eat, but Alex doesn’t care. He intends to pack away all that he can.
The meal is largely silent. Ryan tries to start up conversation over and over again, but Alex stays quiet every time. Silently working his way through his plate. The food, he will begrudgingly admit, is good.
He doesn’t think any of it is drugged. Ryan and Nick eat out of the same dishes as him. He’s careful to take from the same area of the food as them all the same.
Its honestly not even the most stressful meal Alex has ever had in his life. Yeah its quiet, and yeah, they fucking kidnapped him, but there’s no tension. There’s no anger looming over the table like a thunder cloud.
Ryan looks fucking happy, aside from when his conversation starters flop.
He also watches Alex.
Alex keeps his eyes on the table as much as possible.
Finally, his stomach is stretched to its limits, and he knows that if he tries to force down even one more bite he is going to throw up. Again.
That would kind of go against the goal of getting as much food as possible, so Alex reluctantly sets down his fork.
“Can I get you anything else Alex?” Ryan asks.
Alex shakes his head.
“Was it good?”
“I’m glad,” Ryan says, sounding far too genuine and almost fucking choked up over Alex enjoying the food. What the fuck is with this guy?
Alex flinches when a hand appears in his field of vision.
“Just takin’ the dishes,” Nick says, and true to his word, he doesn’t touch Alex. He only takes the dishes.
Alex still watches his plate go anxiously. There’s still a bit of food on it. Food he’s not going to see again until they let him eat more.
Nick catches his eye. “If you’re hungry, just ask and we’ll get you something.”
Right. Alex definitely believes that. They’ll get him something when he asks, sure.
He’s not dumb enough to argue though, he just nods and looks down at the table. Dishes clatter and water runs. Alex looks up and finds Ryan, once again, watching him. He hunches his shoulders, pulling them up to his ears, as if he could hide.
“Sorry,” Ryan murmurs. “I’m just…” He takes a deep breath. “Sorry Alex. I’m not going to hurt you.”
Alex stares intensely at the table. Ryan is the weak link here. Nick is calm and terrifying, but Ryan is only a little bit taller than Alex, and he’s just about as skinny. He’s also crying all the time. Nick is the mastermind, Ryan is the henchman. He’s Alex’s best chance.
He draws in a shaking breath. “What–” he whispers, “what do you want with me?” His voice trembles and tears burn in the corners of his eyes. He’s terrified of the answer, but he has to know. He can’t stand not knowing.
“Oh, sweetheart,” Ryan says softly. “We’re not going to hurt you, or do anything bad. We’re just–” he sighs and puts a hand over his mouth, like he’s thinking, or trying to hold something in. He takes a deep breath. “I know you’re scared,” he says finally, “and confused. I–I don’t really know how to say this.” he laughs, a little self deprecatingly. “I practiced it a thousand times, but now that the moment is here…”
Alex has no fucking clue what that’s supposed to mean, but he doesn’t think its anything good. Why did Ryan practice saying something to him a thousand times?
Alex already knows that he was fucking–stalking him or something.
His dinner sits in a hard lump in his stomach. He swallows forcefully to keep it down.
“My last name is Case,” Ryan says.
Ryan sighs and runs a hand over his face. “I’m sorry. Let me try again. You–Do you know how long you’ve been in foster care?”
“All my life,” Alex says warily.
“Not all of it,” Ryan says in a choked whisper. “You were taken when you were two months old. You–Your last name is Case, too, Alex.”
Alex freezes. His heart, his mind, all of it stops. Ryan stares at him, his blue eyes watery, but intent. Focused. Determined. Like he’s willing Alex to believe him.
“No it isn’t,” Alex says, “My last name is Maxwell.”
“They changed it,” Ryan whispers, “so I couldn’t find you. But you’re my son. I swear Alex, you’re my son.”
Alright, Alex kind of already knew that Ryan was insane, but this is–this is a very specific flavor of insane. Delusional. Ryan thinks Alex is his missing kid, and what? There’s some fucking conspiracy to keep him away?
Alex has been in the foster system all his life. Those fuckers can’t even find a stapler most of the time, let alone do something like this. They’ve lost his fucking file more times than he can count. He’s had to remind a dozen different fosters that he’s allergic to fucking citrus and shit.
So Ryan is fucking insane, and he thinks Alex is his long lost son. That’s some fucking tellanova shit right there, but at least it means that he probably won’t kill Alex? Not while he plays Best Son Ever. At least the poor shit lost his son as a baby. Alex doesn’t have to try and figure out weird ass hobbies and shit.
“I can prove it,” Ryan says, “here, let me–” he starts to get up, but he hesitates by his chair. He looks at Alex, and then into the kitchen, where Nick is washing dishes. “Nick, I’m gonna go get pictures to show Alex.”
The water turns off.
Alex bites the inside of his lip to keep the frustration from showing on his face. Clearly they’re not going to let him be alone any time soon. That’s a fucking problem.
Nick lumbers out of the kitchen and sits back down at the table. Ryan darts off.
Just Alex and Nick now.
Alex keeps his eyes on the table. He can see Nick’s hands out of his peripheral vision, palm down on the wood. Silence descends on them.
If Ryan thinks Alex is his long lost son, then what is Nick’s stake in this? He’s the one in charge, is he operating under the same delusion as Ryan?
Surely not. He’s not as weepy as Ryan. That’s the sort of thing Alex would expect from someone being “reunited” with their “son” after thirteen years. Nick is too calm.
Alex almost wants to ask. Ryan answered him, why the fuck not? But he keeps his mouth shut in the end. He doesn’t want to set Nick off. He doesn’t want to attract his attention.
Alex flicks his eyes up to Nick’s face. He’s just looking at the opposite wall, apparently happy as a clam to sit there and do nothing, not even look at Alex.
Which is better than Ryan’s staring, but its still fucking weird.
Alex looks back down at the table. His good leg is bouncing, he realizes, and he can’t make it stop. The table is ever so slightly shaking with the movement.
He waits for Nick to snap, to demand Alex knock it off. He doesn’t. He just sits there.
And then Ryan bustles back in. Alex looks up as soon as he hears him coming. He’s got a bunch of photo frames in his hands, and an old looking stuffed cow.
He doesn’t go back to his chair. He grabs the one from beside Alex and scoots it closer. “Here,” he says, sounding some strange mix of excited and sad.
He sets the majority of the stack aside and holds a picture out to Alex. He’s closer than Alex would like, but if being Ryan’s ‘son’ is what’s keeping him alive, Alex isn’t going to pitch a fit about a few inches. He takes the frame. Its old, worn wood, the paint flaking off in multiple places.
There’s a couple in the photo. A woman in a wedding dress with brown eyes and curly brown hair standing next to Ryan.
“That’s–that’s me and your mother,” Ryan murmurs softly. “Her name was Toni. She was–she was a good mom. She loved you so much.”
He grabs another frame and Alex puts the one he’s holding on the table–carefully. He doesn’t want to set Ryan off or knock him out of this delusion by fucking with his stuff. He spoke about Toni in the past tense, Alex gets the feeling she didn’t go peacefully in her sleep.
“This is your brother,” Ryan says, “his name is Chris. He took after Toni in looks.”
The boy in the photo looks around four, maybe younger. He’s stuffed into a suit that looks just like Ryan’s, but Ryan is right, he looks a lot like Toni.
Alex wonders where Chris fits into the delusion. Did he get “taken” by CPS too? He hasn’t seen any signs of another kid around here.
Ryan hands him another photograph. In this one, Toni is in a hospital bed, looking exhausted but happy, and proud. There’s a baby in her arms, Chris is sitting next to her on the bed, looking at the baby with a beaming grin. Ryan is standing behind them, his hand on Toni’s shoulder.
“That’s you,” Ryan says, sounding really choked up now. “The day you were born. You–we were so happy.”
Alex can’t help a curl of sadness. Yeah, Ryan is fucking weird and definitely insane but clearly he loved his family. And clearly something fucking happened to them to turn him into…this.
Alex’s never liked pity, but he can’t help but feel a little bit for Ryan.
“You look like me,” Ryan says, and Alex looks up to find him staring again. Great. “But you have your mother’s nose.”
He lifts a hand and Alex sucks in a sharp breath, trying to keep it quiet. He’s going to have to let Ryan touch him, or the spell will be broken. And if the spell breaks–Alex doesn’t know what will happen.
He braces himself as Ryan’s hand gets closer. He makes himself keep looking Ryan in the eye, keep his face blank. Don’t flinch, don’t look scared.
Ryan pulls his hand back to his chest and looks away. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry Alex. Its okay. I won’t hurt you. I just–I wanted to–” He takes a shaking breath. “I just wanted to give you this.” His voice breaks and his hands tremble as he holds out the stuffed cow.
Its one of those things you get from some fancy company, the kind holding the embroidered hearts that you can write your own message for.
Alex D. Case.
Alex’s heart stops.
That’s–no that’s a coincidence. There’s got to be lots of kids in the foster care system with the first name Alex and a middle name that starts with a D. Who also have blond hair and blue eyes.
There’s tons of kids in the system.
Its a coincidence.
“His na–his name is Henry,” Ryan says as Alex’s hands reach up to touch the toy. The fur is soft in the way old, well loved toys are. “He was your favorite.”
Alex pulls the bear down into his lap and stares at it, willing the words to change.
Alex D. Case
November 16th, from the context, its a birthday. Its not Alex’s birthday. His birthday is in April. Oh thank fuck. A knot of anxiety unties in his heart. The absurd fear that Ryan wasn’t delusional slips away.
Its the wrong birthday.
Alex exhales shakily.
“Ryan,” Nick says, and Alex flinches hard. Fuck. He somehow managed to forget that fucker was here. Just sitting at the table, watching all of this go down, not saying a word.
“Why don’t you put the pictures away,” Nick says, “we don’t want to overwhelm him. Give him a bit of time to process.”
“Right,” Ryan says softly. “Right. Yeah. Sorry Alex. I just–I’ve been looking for you for so long. I know this is a lot. I know you’re scared. But you don’t need to be. You’re home now.” He smiles tremulously and wrings his hands again. Like he’s keeping himself from reaching out. “My little baby is home…Not so little anymore though, are you?”
He takes another deep breath. “Sorry, sorry, overwhelming. Here, I’ll take these back.” He reaches over and takes the pictures from the table, then stands up and hesitates. “Do you–do you want me to put Henry in your room for you?”
He holds out a hand, its shaking, just like the rest of him. He seems weirdly desperate for the toy, and Alex hands it over. “Yeah. um. Thank you.”
Ryan takes the toy and holds it close to his chest.
Then its just Alex and Nick.
Alex’s leg starts bouncing.
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