Eight Years Later
Alex wanders around in a daze for…awhile. Days, ha. A daze of days… Ryan is his dad. His dad dad. His biological father.
Its not–its not 100%.
Technically, technically, it could be wrong. But the chances are far too slim for that. Alex fits too well with Ryan’s son.
Because he is.
He stares at the TV, not really processing what’s going on. He thinks its the news. He’s tucked up against the arm of the couch.
Ryan–his dad–his sitting against the other. He’s staring at Alex more than the TV. Alex pretends he doesn’t notice.
He doesn’t know how he feels.
When he was little, he dreamed that his real parents would find him one day. They’d say that they were so sorry for sending him away, and now they wanted him back and they would love him forever and take him home. The reality of that childish wish coming true is…its not great.
Alex read some story for english class once. Something about a Monkey’s Paw, and how the wishes it granted turned out really fucking awfully.
Yeah. Yeah that ‘careful what you wish for’ shit really has something to it.
Alex glances at Ryan from the corner of his eye.
Its–its weird. Being near his dad. His dad dad. He has a dad. Not a Foster Father, an actual one. He’s right there. Watching the news next to Alex.
He doesn’t know what to feel about this. That’s his dad, and apparently he’s spent Alex’s entire life looking for him. Trying to get him back. He didn’t–
On his darkest, loneliest nights, Alex kind of figured that his parents ditched him in the foster system because they could just tell he was going to be a shitty kid that nobody wanted.
But Ryan–Ryan never hated him. Never wanted to give him up. Its clear that whatever the fuck happened shattered him. Its been thirteen years. At one point, Ryan was a fucking lawyer, the kind who would challenge a corrupt politician. And now he’s…this.
A sad, broken man who thought that the best way to solve his problems was–apparently??–befriend some supersoldier assassin and get him to kidnap Alex.
Alex’s never been wanted in his life. He’s dreamed of it, wished for it.
Ryan gasps softly, sitting up and staring at the TV. “Nick,” he calls softly.
Alex tenses. He doesn’t want Nick anywhere near him, he’s wary after that stunt the big fucker pulled with the door. His opinions don’t really matter around here, though, so Nick comes out of wherever he was lurking and stands behind the couch.
“Took ‘em long enough,” he says.
What the fuck is he talking about?
Alex turns to the TV and finds himself staring at himself.
His face, his picture, from his foster care file, superimposed next to some blond lady with papers. She’s saying in that weird sympathetic-newscaster voice: “…The school bag of the missing child, Alexander Maxwell has been found by a pair of hikers along the river. Police are saying that it is likely he fell in on his way home from school, when the river was flooded. It is unlikely that he survived.”
Distantly, Alex hears Ryan sob.
Nick murmurs comfortingly, “its alright Ryan. He’s right here, remember? We’ve got him. He’s safe.”
They think he’s dead.
Everyone thinks he’s dead.
They’re not looking for him anymore.
“We can finally bring him home,” Nick says from a thousand miles away.
They pack. Quickly, efficiently, the process streamlined. Alex stares at the bags that pile unobtrusively by the door. Most of it is stuff from the room they put him in. The pictures, Henry, the clothes, the bedclothes, the books.
Ryan tells him quietly that he bought it all for Alex, so he’d feel at home. Alex shudders and looks away.
He has to get out of here. He has to tell someone that he’s alive. They aren’t looking for him. They gave up and now Ryan and Nick are going to take him away. Take him somewhere far away. Somewhere no one will ever find him.
He has to get out. He has to get out.
But his knee is still injured, and Nick and Ryan watch him constantly. He won’t make it two feet if he tries to bolt. He has to get a message out to someone, but there’s no way. They watch him, the windows are all locked–or in the case of the one in ‘his’ room, boarded over.
Alex can do nothing but think up hopeless plan after hopeless plan as Nick takes the bags and boxes out to the car. One by one, slowly eating away Alex’s chance, Alex’s time.
He’s running out of time.
If they were leaving in the morning, maybe Alex could stick his fingers down his throat and make himself throw up Nick’s pill–which he without fail hands to Alex every night and checks that he has swallowed it. They’re leaving right now though.
His hands shake. He breathes deeply. In for four, hold for seven, out for eight. The pile continues to dwindle, and Alex can do nothing.
Maybe he can scream for help when they go outside? But the car is in the garage, and the closest neighbor is still pretty far. This isn’t some fucking suburban neighborhood. Its that shitty half-rural type area where people still have acres of land.
He can’t run, he can’t fight, he can’t call for help.
He’s gonna fucking hide.
Shakily, Alex gets up from the couch where he’s been bunkered down and grabs his crutch.
“Where are you going Alex?” Ryan asks.
“Bathroom,” Alex croaks.
“Oh, good idea,” Ryan says, “we’ll be on the road for awhile. Nick doesn’t make many stops.”
Great. Good. That’s exactly what Alex wanted to hear.
“We’ll be done loading in just a little bit,” Ryan says, “don’t take too long.”
Alex limps down the hall. His options are pretty fucking limited which isn’t fucking ideal when he knows they’re going to look for him.
It occurs that this is probably a dumb idea. Nick has made it very clear that Alex will be staying with them. They aren’t just going to leave without him. Alex hesitates outside of the bathroom door.
If he hides, they are going to find him, and then they’ll be on their guard while they’re on the road. Ryan said Nick doesn’t make many stops, but that doesn’t mean he won’t make any.
Maybe its better to take that chance. Maybe Nick will stop somewhere with more people and Alex will be able to get away.
But maybe he won’t, and they’ll get all the way to whatever fucking place they’re taking him and Alex won’t ever have the chance to get away.
He wants to cry. He doesn’t know what to do. He wants to curl up in a ball and scream. He wants–he doesn’t know what he wants. Ryan–Nick–its all too confusing, too terrifying. A few days ago Alex was worrying about how pissed Walter was going to be about the math test he absolutely tanked.
Now he’s trying to debate if he’ll have a chance to escape from his mysterious biological father who fucking kidnapped him.
Its too much. Its all too fucking much. He’s just thirteen. He doesn’t know what to do.
But he has to do something.
He can’t wallow. He can’t be frozen. He has to do something. Even if it doesn’t work. He has to try. He’ll go down fighting.
He takes a deep breath. He will definitely be caught if he hides now, but there’s a chance of greater success if he waits for a real opportunity. Which means he has to accept this. He has to go quietly to the car and fucking hope and pray to all the god that he’ll have a chance.
He opens the bathroom door and goes in.
Nick is waiting for him in the hall when he gets out. Alex flinches back as soon as he opens the door and sees him.
“Easy kid,” Nick says, in that same stupid fucking calm tone of voice that he always uses. He’s got his hands folded in front of him, doing that stupid fucking secret service pose agian. “I was just checking on you.”
Alex looks at the floor. “I was just taking a piss.”
“Mhm,” Nick says, like he doesn’t believe Alex.
Yeah, hiding wouldn’t have fucking worked. Alex swallows back the fear. He’ll have another chance. He’ll get away. He will.
“Car’s packed,” Nick says, and ice floods Alex’s veins. “Let’s go.”
Nick steps aside, motioning for Alex to go ahead of him. Shakily, Alex grips his crutch tight and limps down the hall. This is probably going to be the last time he sees this town.
If–when, when–he escapes, the foster system is going to move him somewhere else. Maybe even a group home. Alex’s managed to avoid them so far, Walter was supposed to be his last chance.
He wonders if this counts as him blowing it. That seems a little fucking unfair, he thinks hysterically. He hesitates in front of the garage door. The car is waiting for him. The same one that took him. He wishes he’d fucking bolted the second he saw the damn thing.
Bile gathers in the back of his throat.
“Come on kid,” Nick says, “we’ve got a long way to go.”
Alex chokes back a whimper and puts his hand on the wall so he can get his crutch down the step into the garage. The air is noticeably colder. Winter is really setting in. Its November now.
His–his birthday. His real birthday is this month. It was the tenth when they took him. It must be the thirteenth or something by now, time has kind of blurred together.
They’re taking him home for his birthday.
Alex can’t choke back the sob this time.
“Oh Alex,” Ryan says softly, “its okay baby. You’re alright. We’re going home, that’s all.”
He approaches, his face full of open concern. Nobody’s cared if Alex was crying before but his–Ryan does. That’s weird. Everything is weird and terrifying. He’s shaking.
Nick is looming behind him. His skin feels too cold, he feels too aware of everything, but its all happening from too far away at the same time.
Ryan reaches for him and Alex jerks away, stumbling on his crutch. He holds out a desperate hand, trying to ward Ryan off. He doesn’t want them to touch him. He doesn’t want them near him. He wants to get the fuck away from them.
But what he wants doesn’t matter.
“Deep breath kid,” Nick murmurs, “Ryan, give him space.”
Ryan is wringing his hands together again. “I’m sorry Alex,” he murmurs, “I wasn’t thinking. Its okay sweetheart, its okay.”
No it isn’t. No it really fucking isn’t. Nothing is okay.
“Come on Alex,” Nick says, “In for four, remember?”
Alex shakes his head. He doesn’t want to calm down. As soon as he does he knows they’re going to make him go into the car. He doesn’t want to go in the car. He never wants to ride in another car in his fucking life.
“You can do it,” Ryan says softly, “I know you can do it Alex, just breathe, you’re alright. We’re finally going home, sweetheart.”
He can’t panic forever though. He wears himself out quickly, the only rest he’s been getting is when he’s drugged to sleep at night. He’s not at his best. It doesn’t take long for his tears to dry on his cheeks and his breaths to slow.
“Good job,” Nick murmurs, “you did good kid.”
Alex squeezes his eyes shut. At some point his legs folded and now he’s sitting on the cold concrete of the garage. He doesn’t want to get up. He’s too tired, and if he gets up, he’ll have to go into the car.
“Please,” he rasps quietly. “Please don’t–I don’t want to–”
“Shh,” Nick soothes, “nothing bad is gonna happen. You’re safe, Alex.”
“Oh baby,” Ryan says, he’s sitting on the concrete too, just in front of the car. “It’ll be alright. We aren’t going to hurt you, we’d never hurt you. We’re just going home. You’ll like it, your brother is there too. He’s been waiting for you for so long. And there’s the dogs, and wide open spaces, its beautiful Alex, we can go swim in the lake during summer, and we can get a christmas tree from right outside our door. I promise its a good place.”
Alex shuts his eyes and doesn’t answer. It sounds like they live in the middle of nowhere and have guard dogs that will chase him down if he tries to run.
Nick sighs. “Get up kid, we’ve got to get out of here if we want to make any headway before it gets dark.”
Slowly, he walks towards Alex. Alex tenses, scooting back, but there’s nowhere to go. His back hits the wall.
“Easy,” Nick murmurs, kneeling down just inside of arm’s reach. “I’m just gonna help you up, okay? Give me your hands.” He holds out his own, palms up, waiting.
Alex knows that he could just pick him up. Could just dump him in the car and lock him in. He’s done it before. He doesn’t want it to happen again. Slowly, shakily, he stretches out his arms and puts his hands in Nick’s.
His hands look fragile, pale and trembling, like ugly, naked baby birds. Nick gently closes his fingers around them and pulls Alex to his feet. He lets Alex lean on his arm while he grabs the crutch off the ground and gives it back to him.
Alex limps to the back seat.
“You want back here, or do you want shotgun?” Nick asks.
Alex blinks at him.
“You’re thirteen,” Nick shrugs, “you can ride up front if you want.”
Alex shakes his head.
He doesn’t want to sit next to Nick.
Nick nods, accepting that, and he opens the back seat for Alex. “You want help getting in?”
Alex shakes his head vehemently. He doesn’t fucking care how awkward it is to maneuver. He’s not getting help going into the fucking car. Not from Nick.
It isn’t easy, but they don’t rush him, at least. Nick takes his crutch and puts it in the floorboards for him while Alex reluctantly buckles his seatbelt.
The door shuts with ominous finality.
Alex flinches away from it and wraps his arms around his stomach. The door on the other side opens, and Alex reflexively turns.
He freezes when fucking Nick gets in the back seat with him. “What are you–”
“Ryan is driving,” Nick says. He doesn’t say: “I don’t trust you to behave,” but Alex hears it all the same.
He flinches again and looks down at his hands.
The driver’s door opens, and sure enough, Ryan gets in. “Everyone ready?” he asks.
“Yup,” Nick says simply.
Alex stays silent.
“We’ll be there before you know it,” Ryan says, like that’s supposed to be a comfort.
The car starts, and the doors lock, and they back out of the garage, and leave the house, the town, far behind them.
The ride is….boring. Alex gives up on keeping himself pressed into the door pretty quickly, Nick is–for now–keeping to his side of the car. Ryan keeps trying to start up conversations, or play road trip games but its hard to find all the letters of the alphabet when they’re staying on shitty backroads with no signs or other cars. Alex leans his head against the window and hopes the the rattling of the car over the shitty road will give him enough head trauma that he passes out.
“You know,” Nick says after maybe an hour, “Ryan packed you a travel bag, you’ve got books you could read.”
He motions down to a bag in the footwell. Alex kind of figured that was Nick’s fucking Assassin Gear or something.
“Can’t read in the car,” he mutters, “get motion sick.”
“Really?” Ryan asks, sounding…far too excited about that. “Your mother was the same way. She used to drive, and I’d read to her whenever we were on long trips.”
Part of Alex wants to snap at Ryan to shut the fuck up. But…Alex’s mom.
He had a mom too.
His mom is dead.
He doesn’t know how to feel about that. He knew growing up that there were really only two options, either she was dead or she hated him. Its…different knowing that she loved him, but she’s gone. He’ll never get to meet her.
What would she think of all of this? Would she have snapped like Ryan?
“Nick, why don’t you read for us,” Ryan says, “I could do with some entertainment too.”
Alex expects a resounding no. Nick is not the sort of guy Alex would pin as a book guy. Unless it was a book about like…guns, or how to interrogate someone.
But Nick grunts agreeably, “I’ve got a couple downloaded on my phone.”
“Ugh, no,” Ryan scoffs, “you’re the only one who likes those cheesy romances, what books does Alex have.”
Alex glances at Nick.
“I’m a man with depths, Alex,” Nick says.
Alex looks sharply away.
He shrinks into the door when Nick grabs the bag from by his feet. Henry is in the bag. The fucking cow. That’s his cow…it was his when he was a baby, before he was in the system.
He had a life, a family, before the system. That’s.. Alex doesn’t know how to come to terms with that. Doesn’t know if he ever can. What would his life have been like if Ryan hadn’t gone up against that politician?
Would Alex be some snotty rich kid? Oh god he probably would have been. He might even have gone by Alexander. Eugh.
He’d probably be in fucking tennis club or fucking…stocks club. Whatever the fuck it is rich kids do. And he’d get home from private school or some shit and he’d complain to his mom and dad about his day, and his older brother would…he doesn’t know. He’s never had an older brother.
Only he has. His whole life he’s had one, he just didn’t know it.
He has an older brother. He’s waiting for Alex wherever they’re going. Did Ryan and Nick kidnap him too? How are they keeping him there without Alex? Is he chained up in some freaky basement? Are they gonna put Alex in there too?
He takes a deep breath. No, he’s not gonna go in any freaky basement, because he’s getting out of here. He’ll tell the police about his brother, and hopefully they’ll be able to find him. Before he starves or some shit.
“What?” Alex asks, shaking out of his thoughts.
“I asked if you had a book you wanted to read,” Ryan says gently. “I tried to get stuff I thought you’d like.”
Which is…creepy, and weird. But also…a little bit less so? Now that Alex knows Ryan is his dad dad? Maybe?
He should know what books Alex likes, but he’s not seen Alex since he was a baby. He’s a stranger, but he’s also…he’s also what Alex dreamed of when he was little. His dad, come to save him from yet another terrible foster home.
“I don’t care,” Alex says quietly, “I’ve read them all before.”
“Which one was your favorite?” Ryan asks, and he’s so earnest that Alex can’t help but answer honestly.
“Uh. Percy Jackson.”
“Oh is that the one with greek mythology? Nick loves that stuff!” Ryan beams in the rearview mirror. “Read that one Nick.”
“I’m gettin’ it, I’m gettin’ it,” Nick says, fondly annoyed. Its–fucking weird. Its like they’re actually just…on a road trip. Instead of making a getaway after kidnapping Alex.
Its really fucking weird.
Surprisingly, Nick is pretty good at reading out loud. He doesn’t do full on voices, but he does change his intonation a bit with each character. He also stops every little bit to comment on actual greek mythology and how the book differs from it. Ryan has his own comments as well, he makes guesses about the plot, gasps when he’s surprised, laughs when there’s a joke.
Alex sits silently and listens to them and tries to figure out what the fuck this…means. He avoided them as much as he could at the house, didn’t talk to them, didn’t listen to them, didn’t look at them. Now he can’t really ignore them. There isn’t even five fucking feet between them.
Before long, they start asking him prompting questions, drawing him into the conversation. Alex tries to keep his answers short, but its–nobody’s ever been interested in something he liked before. No social worker wanted to know what he was reading. No foster parent would have given a shit about his thoughts on the characters. His answers get longer, but they’re clumsy, hesitant. He doesn’t know how to share his thoughts, he doesn’t know if he should.
Slowly, the sun slips towards the horizon. They’re only halfway through the book, with all the interruptions and side conversations that happen. Finally, Nick turns a page and sighs, “I can’t see anymore, how far are we from Chester, Ryan?”
“Probably another half an hour or so,” Ryan says.
Nick grunts and closes the book. He puts it back in the bag, but he pulls out something else. A ziploc baggie.
With pills in it.
The atmosphere in the car turns suffocatingly tense.
“Alex,” Nick says, “you need to take one of these.”
“No.” Alex presses against the door.
“Sweetheart,” Ryan says, his voice sad. “It’ll just help you sleep.”
“I don’t need help sleeping,” Alex says, watching Nick warily as he takes a pill out of the bag. His heart is racing, his breaths coming shorter. “I’m fine.”
“Alex,” Nick says again, calm but stern.
“Please,” Alex chokes out. “Please don’t.”
“Its alright kid,” Nick murmurs, “we’re just gonna stop at a motel for the night and we can’t have you getting any ideas. You’ll just go to sleep.”
“They’re different,” Alex says accusingly, “they’re different pills.”
“These are stronger,” Nick says calmly, “they’ll keep you out longer, that’s all.”
Alex shakes his head. His hand creeps towards the buckle, ready to push the button. It won’t do him much good, but it’ll be something. They’re going to a town, they’re stopping at a motel. That’s his chance. This is his chance.
And they know it.
Ryan is damningly silent from the front seat.
“Alex I don’t want to have to grab you,” Nick says, his voice far too calm for the threat he’s making. Alex whimpers. “I promised I would try not to do that again,” Nick says, still steady and calm, “I don’t want to break that promise, Alex. I don’t want to scare you, I don’t want to have to drug you.”
“I’ll be good,” Alex promises hastily. “I won’t say anything. I won’t try to run. I promise.”
“Nick…” Ryan hedges.
Nick is silent, searching Alex’s face. “You’re a fighter,” he says gently, “and you’re very smart, and I admire that about you, Alex. But it does mean that I don’t trust you.”
Alex curls up against the door. “If you don’t give me a chance then how do you know you can’t trust me?” He asks desperately.
Oh thank fuck he hesitates.
“He has a point,” Ryan says quietly from up front.
Yes, yes Alex does have a point. He could fucking hug Ryan right now.
Nick sighs, “not Chester,” he says, “we’re not testing that at Chester. But tomorrow night we’ll be in Leeside, we can try then.” Nick looks Alex in the eye, “take this tonight, and tomorrow we’ll go without, okay?”
Alex looks at the pill.
He knows he’ll be taking it one way or another. There’s no way he could get away from Nick in the back of the car. He takes a shaky breath and grabs the pill.
“Thank you,” Nick says quietly. “I’m sorry it has to be this way Alex, I really am.”
Alex stares down at the pill in his palm. Its a mottled brown, solid, instead of being a liquid gel thing like the others. “Can I have some water?”
“Yeah, of course, here,” Nick says.
A water bottle is rolled across the seat to him. Alex takes it and twists off the cap. He takes a deep breath and puts the pill on his tongue. He considers hiding it, but he knows Nick is going to check, and if he finds it, then Alex won’t be getting a drug-free night in Leeside.
He shuts his eyes and swallows the pill.
“Let me see,” Nick says, just like Alex knew he would.
Once he’s satisfied, he leans back out of Alex’s personal space. “Thank you,” he says again. “You did good Alex. Just close your eyes and go to sleep. We’ll read more tomorrow.”
Tears burn in the corners of Alex’s eyes, but he obeys. These drugs take longer to set in, he sits, curled uncomfortably against the door, his eyes shut, listening to the tires.
“Is he asleep?” Ryan asks softly.
“Probably,” Nick says.
Alex’s attention sharpens.
“I don’t like drugging him,” Ryan says, almost sharply, “he was having fun. He was talking to us.”
“I know,” Nick says, “I don’t like doing it any more than you do. Its going to make it hard for him to trust us, but what other options do we have? Cuff him to the bed? Let him try running and have to grab him again? That would be even more traumatic. If he behaves in Leeside, then we can hold off.”
They’re silent for a long moment, and Alex feels the drugs tugging him down to sleep.
“Is it always going to be like this?” Ryan asks softly. “Are we going to have to keep him prisoner for the rest of his life? How could he ever love us like that?”
“He’ll calm down,” Nick says gently. “He’s been through a lot, but we love him, he hasn’t had that before. Its only been a few days, Ryan, give him time.”
“I just don’t want him to hate me,” Ryan says, soft and choked.
Alex falls asleep before he hears Nick’s answer.
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