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1 yr ago
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All my recent RP's are in PM's so if any of my old writing pals are checking out my page make sure to hit me up 'cause I'm still here!
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IM BAAAAAAACK!!!!!!
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I have this problem where I don't even remember what I'm typing seconds after I've typed the words? I literally always have to go back and read my own post afterwards to know what the hell's going on.
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I love having my laptop on its last leg while I have to fill out job applications ʘ‿ʘ it's just ʘ‿ʘ so...great ʘ‿ʘ🔫

Bio

Hey guys! I'm Aces Away, you can call me Ace or Aces!

I was a member of Roleplayerguild before that crash or whatever where all our stuff was erased. I've been RPing since I was like...I think about 13 or so. I'm 23 currently.

Most Recent Posts

In Edenridge 10 days ago Forum: Casual Roleplay
TIMESTAMP: Monday at 12 PM


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Allegra glanced down at her phone impatiently while she waited in a booth with her children. She was dressed nicer than her friend had ever seen her, and was even putting on healthy weight alongside Mordechai; she was wearing a lightweight, black mini-summer dress with white flower designs thrown across it like polkadots. She had silver bangles on her wrists that matched the chains around her neck and the hoops in her ears. She had her right leg flung over her left knee, exposing her black cut out heels to the diner as a whole.

The street walker was very used to the cryptic texts she got from her friend- in the form of an unknown sender, of course- and Dollys 12 was probably the easiest text from her that she'd ever had to decipher given that a quick Google search showed a diner by that name in town. When she packed everything up in New York, she hadn't even told the other woman where she'd gone, planning on sending a similarly vague text once they had settled down in their own place, but moving in with the James family instead of some random apartment changed that. Still it looks like the dangerous blonde found her in yet another city without even trying. So now, with Chai in her lap and Viva excitedly drinking her chocolate milkshake, Allegra waited for the clock to strike noon and for the other woman to arrive punctually as always.

Usually, Anya tried to dress to impress, with business casual. That was her token wear. Always ready to get something done and look classy while doing it. Unfortunately from the time Hyde left the library to the fire she had to put out, and the reprimanding she got from the librarian, she had no time whatsoever. Instead she quickly washed last night’s job off and threw on more casual wear. A style she wore when she knew she had time to relax. Jumper pants, a tee, and sneaks. Something the kids would love, she was sure. Her hair was in a messy bun and there was a hop in her step, purely from exhaustion. There was no sleep for the wicked.

When she stood in front of Dolly’s, the Basilisk stood there and moved her neck in circles, going round and round, slowly. She had back to back to back jobs and now it was all catching up with her. She was only human after all and even people like Anya Kamensky needed sleep. As a habit and precaution she searched her surroundings before making her way inside, causing the doorbell to sound.

She looked at the man behind the bar, gave him knowing eyes and a nod. It didn’t take long for her to find her friend with her children. Hooking her thumbs in her pants pocket, she strolled to the table. The corner of her mouth slid upward and her eyes sparkled, which she hoped would ease her resting bitch face, especially to the little ones, “So you come see the place your jew from?” Her eyes went from the older woman to the children, “They get so big, crazy.”

"'Course ya knew where he was from," a light scoff and shake of the head followed that statement, but no surprise showed on her face. "And y'know, I'm pretty sure he ain't just my jew, especially in this town. But I came to get him sober," Allegra amended with an eye roll, pushing the milkahake further onto the table and standing up to get herself and Chai out of Viva's way once the girl recognized the other woman at the table. With an excited, "Auntie Bass!" Viva threw herself at the blonde while Allegra settled back down in the booth with her son. "Or, y'know, sober-ish. He can't deal with all the shit this town has piled up while he's still fucked up on H. You helped me with my shit, it's high time I passed on the favor right?"

Because Allegra was all types of messed up the first time she met Bassy, under the influence of her pimp Leo and whatever he was pumping through her system at the time. At fifteen years old she didn't think much when, after a little heart to heart on a swing set in the middle of the night, the blonde with eyes caged like her own handed over a burner cell and told her to call if she needed help. By the time she really needed that phone call she was barely 16, pregnant, and bruised in a Longwood alleyway with Leo's corpse weighing her down, but Bassy came through despite the months in between. The woman gave her a stack of cash and pointed Allegra in a good direction, and she was even there for the birth of Viva, allowing Allegra to grasp her hand through the painful hours with no outward reaction to the vice-like grip that had been grinding the bones of her hand. It had been Bassy's kindness and sudden existence in her life that had left Allegra so open to a corner partner when a certain scarred and burdened Southie had wandered into her turf with dead eyes and visible ribs.

Holding Viva in her arms, Anya gave a genuine, warm smile at the little girl, even softening her razor-sharp eyes. Brushing her nose against her’s, Basilisk gave a heartfelt compliment, “I see you, Kukolka. You still pretty girl. So pretty.” Taking a seat across Allegra, the woman's shoulders eased. Basilisk, someone that could kill everyone in this diner without batting an eye, kept the child in her embrace. She was calm and at peace. She was in family mode.

There was an obvious hold children had over the Basilisk that made her come across more human than a weapon. Kids were innocent and still saw magic. Children knew so much and spoke what was on their mind and heart. No restraints. They knew that love was not an emotion, it was behavior. Children were treasures. If she could, she would protect every single child. A protector wasn’t something she had but she certainly could be for them.

In her safe haven, Anya felt at home. Even if Hyde liked to stalk her, this was still a place she called her own and now she shared it with Jade. “I get where you come from. Family for me lives here too. I try to work job and spend time with my brothers. I worry, though. Little brother is not like you and me… he too good to live in dark.”

After speaking, the Russian woman noticed something new. She noticed the change in Allegra, not only with the determination written on her face that felt deeper than just Decky’s issues but the clothing. Very becoming of her. Raising her eyebrows, the Basilisk praised Allegra, her friend, while talking to sweet little Viva, her little doll, “Your mama is so pretty. You think she pretty? I know I think she pretty.”

Allegra saw the once over and grinned brightly at the praise from Anya, all but glowing as she said, “Thanks Bassy, the airport lost my clothes so the James’ family gave me a lot of their older daughter’s stuff. She had a good style, and I’ve never had clothes this nice,” She played with the hem of the dress, feeling the fabric between her fingers and thinking about how sad it was that so many siblings in this town were now the only children of their line. It had been rough, watching Sly and Poppy bring out Max’s old clothes when everyone realized there would be no retrieving Allegra’s luggage, and their faces told entire stories as they left her alone to look through the outfits. She couldn't even begin to express how grateful she was for their kindness. She thought of some of the people she knows in this town and her smile lessened. “Anyway, I know a few of those people stuck in the dark when they deserve better. The problem is usually that they don't know it. Sometimes we need 'em in the dark with us, though, because we can't be with 'em in the light," the smile was sad now as she looked at her daughter in her friend's lap and then her son in her own. "Hopefully, these little brats’ll grow up aware of the dark but not get stuck in it. Being a good parent is a step in that direction."

Chai pat his hands against his mother's arms as she held him close, the young boy currently wide-eyed enamored with the shiny, reflective surface of the napkin dispenser and unaware of the weight of the conversation. Viva was staring at Allegra’s face and sitting very still in Anya's comforting hold, head cocked to the side as she saw the sad look she couldn't yet understand in her mother’s eyes. She tilted her head back until it hit her Aunty Bass' chest and she was staring upwards at the blonde.

"I didn't know you had brothers from here, what are the odds," Allegra added after a moment of silence, looking back up and across the table at the other woman. "Talk about the web of fate, huh?"

The mention of trapping those meant for the light, keeping them close for their safety caused Anya’s heart to grow heavy. She was trained to not feel but ever since she started having weekly ‘coincidental’ dates with Jade, she was learning that she still had a heart. That she wasn’t just a killing machine. Part of her wished that people like her, like Allegra, like Hyde were only lost in a dark place. But the Basilisk knew better, the dark place was part of who they were.

When Viva glanced up at her, Anya kissed her forehead while pensively stewing at Legs’ words. The waiter did come and Legs ordered a shortstack with fruit on the side to split with her kids while Anya shook her head, not hungry. She had her breakfast hours ago and now if she was being honest with herself, all she wanted was sleep but she would not be getting that anytime soon. After this, she had a job for the Fallen Angels to run. Being the enforcer for the MC definitely kept her busy, on top of her already busy schedule. One could say that the Basilisk did not know the concept of what a vacation was.

When the waiter left, Bassy bounced her legs to distract Viva from the gravity of the conversation and finally responded, but going back to an earlier statement Allegra had said, “You with good people. They hurt. A lot. The James but they strong like bull.” Absentmindedly, Anya found herself running her fingers through her Kukolka’s hair before asking, “You good? Why you here I get, but I want you to take care yourself. This place, my home, is not like where you come from. It’s not like many places. OK?”

Allegra sent Anya a smirk, teasing her with a small, “Aw, Bassy, you do care!” before it became a more genuine smile. She was always honest with Bassy. “I’ll be ok, we may have lived through different tragedies in our lives but I feel like I’ve really found my people. Aside from you and the other girls at the diner back in Brownsville I’ve never had people, I kinda like it. But Mordechai needs more. He’s got us, he’s got Poppy, Mika, and Jade,” She listed, twirling her fork around in her fingers while they waited for the food to be delivered. “But he needs all his brothers and sisters. He’s gonna go back to the Serpents soon, I know that, and I’ll be damned if I let him go alone. I’m not gonna let him get lost again, and if that means cuttin' off the balls of every friend that offers him a needle then so be it. I kept him away from them when he was gettin’ sober but I’m not gonna keep him locked down forever. He’s back here for good, so I’m just gonna stop him from makin’ some of the same mistakes he did before, like leavin’ his friends and family out of things as though it actually protected them,” An eyeroll followed that statement as Poppy came to mind. “Or shootin’ up when he can’t handle shit,” She looked down at her own track marked scarring on the inside of her arms and shrugged. “I definitely keep busy, but I think it’s good for all of us. What about you? I know you’re always busy, but are ya doin’ good?”

The lethal woman didn’t answer that question. Not right away at least. The Basilisk sat there listening to this woman (who she met as a girl) realizing that she went out of her way to meet up with her, shortly after finding out she was in town. Bassy thought of their time in New York and the lengths she went to get Allegra out of her horrible situation, even going out of her way to aid her during the birth of Viva.

Oh how she’s grown since the last time she saw her.

Against all adversaries, the young woman that was Allegra Cardenas pulled through it all and now was considered a pillar. A force to be reckoned with, a compass for the lost souls, and a beautiful spirit that feels the empty hearts of those that don’t realize what they need. She’s full of drive and ambition for her kids’ futures and for their father, who she still loved even if not in the textbook way. To show for it? A testimony of her journey; Legs had two beautiful children. They were her strength incarnated.

“Anya,” the mysterious enigma who went by both the Basilisk and Jane, formally introduced herself. In the clutter that was her employer’s demands, her older brother’s scorn, and the unamused facial expression of Ivan Zima -- the man she blamed for the death of her mother, her birth father that didn’t give a damn for the prostitute he knocked up -- Anya saw Jade. She saw Mika. And she saw Allegra.

You’re losing your touch. The Devil’s voice echoed in her head. With her arms wrapped around Viva like a comfort doll, Bassy let his voice get buried with all the things that brought her joy. All the people that made her smile. “Anya Kamensky,” she stated, soft enough so that only Allegra could hear but clear enough so Legs knew the value of this gesture.

Allegra let the shock color her features as she heard a new name be given to her. The woman who had simply introduced herself as Basilisk going on four years ago was finally gifting Allegra the knowledge of her real name, and the younger woman couldn't even begin to express the level of warmth and happiness that crashed over her at the gesture. She smiled so brightly you could barely see her eyes and nodded to the other woman, also understanding that this was not a name to be used lightly. Reaching across the table and holding her hand out for the other woman to take, Allegra spoke back in a tone just as soft as the one that had delivered the name.

"Nice to truly see ya, Anya," she tilted her head and her smile softened. Not letting go of the question she'd posed before Anya's reveal, she then asked, "Now, how are ya doin'?"

Bashful and shy, Anya took a moment to look away from Allegra, as she grabbed onto the other woman’s hand now finding comfort in two things. Viva and Allegra’s hand. She made sure her other arm and hand was holding onto the little girl on her lap. To say this was foreign territory for Anya was an understatement.

Chemistry wasn’t something she had with many, which meant she didn’t get intimate, close, and affectionate with anyone. She could still have sex if the job permitted her to do so, but this was different. There was something very real with holding Allegra’s hand and she wondered if this would be a similar feeling if she held Jade’s.

Feeling anything but numbness wasn’t something she was used to though it wasn’t necessarily something she disliked either. Clearing her throat, she brought her attention back to the caring soul in front of her and answered her question, finally, “I used to not care. Not worry. Now I do those things and more. I think I like a person but I… what that saying go? A fish… out the water. It's like my little brother. He too good to live in the dark and all I know is the dark. It’s… confusing. I don’t know if I like to feel.” Temptation was in the form of a blonde bombshell and Anya knew the closer she got to her, the more dangerous things would become to her. But there was part of her who felt like she could protect her better by being right at her side. Was that her being selfish? She didn’t know.

"From what I know of this town, even the most innocent have ta at least learn ta live with the dark. It's everywhere here, Mordechai was talkin' about how most people here believe in bloodline curses or some shit, but I think it's just that y'all got a very potent concentration of shitty situations in such a small area," she rolled her eyes as she thought of the father of her children, and everything she knew about the lives of him and his loved ones. "But tryin'a keep them completely out of it? Learn from Mordechai, Jade, an' Poppy...it just ends up hurtin' them some other way down the line, it ain't worth it. And hey, welcome to emotional connections! Imma let you in on a little secret; no one likes their feelings when they can't understand 'em. No one likes bein' confused, it's just that it's a little more dangerous for you than most. Usually handling feelin's and emotions is somethin' a parent is supposed to teach a child when they're young but as you well know not all of us get that privilege," She squeezed her friend's hand here, giving her friend every bit of her attention that wasn't already on making sure Chai was secured in her lap. "I figured it out with a lot of trial 'n' error and a hell of a lot of support from all the girls back in Brownsville. I made use of free resources where I could, but a lotta it's just leanin' on the people you've learned to trust seein' ya vulnerable."

She thought about that dark night in the alley, weak and hiding under a tarp all bloody and shaking and waiting for her blonde savior to come swooping in to tell her what to do. Anya had been her first touchpoint to kindness and sympathy since Allegra was eleven years old and given away to Leo to pay off her father's debts to him. Coming down from a high he'd kept her on for five years, shivering and tired and then looking up into those jade green eyes, Allegra had let the Basilisk see how shattered she was, all her broken pieces laid out bare on the sludge covered alley ground, meeting the gaze with her hollow brown eyes. She always knew she could pick herself back up and put herself together, she just needed someone to hand her that first piece, and Anya had been that person. Allegra was happy to finally have a chance to return the favor.

"Lean on me, find me when you're confused and we can figure it out together. Talk ta your bro or your little crush," she winked, letting the other woman know she was just teasing. "Isn't the best way to protect people by bein' at their side?"

“Yes,” Anya answered, and followed up by giving Viva another kiss on her head. She was learning that she might not be as invincible as her guardian wanted her to be. She had at least a handful of people she cared about and that was enough weaknesses for someone to take her down if they wanted to. “I will say this, you live here from now on, you believe in curses and ghosts. Trust in me. Edenridge not like any other place.” It really wasn’t and those that came from the outside either immersed themselves in the many webs of the town or got eaten by the spider.

Unfortunately for the two friends, Anya’s phone began to vibrate which caused her to release Legs’ hand, take it out of her pants pocket and glance at who was calling her. When she saw the number, the Basilisk’s emotions completely vanished from her face, turning her back to the cold bitch she trained herself to be. “I go now,” she stood up, with Viva in her arms, making her way to Allegra and offering the little girl back, “Sorry I don’t stay but work calls.” There were some things she could not fight like her work. That wasn’t a bridge she could cross yet. Not while there were many things left for her to do.

"Stay alive, Bassy," Allegra replied to the woman as she received her older child, knowing that to tell the blonde to stay safe would be absolutely ridiculous. She settled Viva down next to her and held onto her arm as the girl pouted and attempted to follow her aunt, who was headed to the door and speaking rapid-fire Russian into her phone. "Not now baby, Auntie Bass has ta go back to work."

The waiter came back just as Viva had calmed down again, setting the plate in front of the mother and her child before heading to the next table. She popped a grape into her daughter's mouth and then held a slice of strawberry up to Chai's for him to nibble on while she began cutting up the shortstack with a fork. When she had felt her friend's presence disappear completely, she allowed her shoulders to sag a bit as she stared at her plate and contemplated Anya's parting words. Sure, she believed in things that weren't easily explained, but she has a habit of taking the most rational approach or explaination first before defaulting to anything metaphysical. Still…if it had her Bassy worried enough to warn her, she'd keep her mind as open as needed.

"Curses and ghosts huh? As if this town didn't already have a shitton of demons ta deal with…"


In Edenridge 22 days ago Forum: Casual Roleplay
Introducing Francis "Demo" Dawson, Molotov and TNT's adoptive father
Timestamp: During Recipe for Disaster

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Francis Dawson, while leaned back against his kitchen counter with a large cup of coffee in his hand, stared across the space before him and through the open door of his oldest son’s bedroom. Said son was halfway to the floor, most of his body hanging off the bed, and the only thing keeping him from meeting the ground was the fact that his best friend had collapsed into the bed with him when they got home and effectively trapped Ollie’s left limbs beneath all his dead weight. He worried about both his boys, but while recently Chase had been on a steady rise with a few fall offs it was like Oliver had stopped trying completely, on a constant spiraling race to drink himself out of a liver before he reached his mid-twenties. And much like it had been since almost the moment they had met, Callum was on a slow slide down with him. Francis sipped at his coffee and thought about the fact that his own choices when he was young ruined the life of one child and was dragging another few down with him for good measure. Callum’s relationship with Dolce was being threatened because of their latest antics, and the ex-serpent couldn’t help but blame himself for it all, despite knowing he was just as much a victim of circumstance as the rest of them. Every part of this town was cursed in its own way, every person being slowly dragged down by their own demons and delusions.

He was supposed to be a responsible adult for these kids and he let them turn into alcoholics before they even legally could be. At least Brandi and Jackson Branson have the excuse of being out of town on jobs a shitton, which had left much of Callum’s childhood in the hands of those they trusted such as the Bookers, the Britesons and Kraeters, and the Dawsons themselves. Sometimes, when the world feels so heavy on his shoulders, he wonders about just how devastatingly crushing the weight had to be for all their kids and he feels aged well beyond his thirty seven years.

Oliver finally plummeting to the floor temporarily brought him out of his thoughts and he focused back on the scene to see that Callum had rolled over in his sleep, leaving his friend’s now freed limbs to follow him to the floor. The noise had caused the lighter blonde to wake up as well, so Francis took this time to set his mug down and pull two of the glass mason jars that they used as cups down from the cabinets. Filling them up with water from the tap, he opened the cabinet to the left of the sink and pulled out the box of alka seltzer tablets. He dropped one in each glass and waited for the two sleeping beauties to stumble into the kitchen, going back to his coffee and checking his phone for the time and any messages from his sober son.

Chase, TNT, whatever you wanted to call him, wasn’t so much someone he failed and was trying to do right by as he was someone who had been failed by everyone else before him and little Conan had been brought into the Dawson family. Francis and Fiona had brought the Warren brothers into their home at the behest of Oliver, who had seen something in the two boys that told the other child they needed the same safety and security he was getting. The two adults had agreed, and soon they had a full house for the first time since buying the damn thing- aside from Coldhands bringing Jade over every now and then, of course, but there had never been anything constant. They were aware that they were in over their heads before they even started, but Edenridge didn’t exactly have an active network of foster or adoptive parents, especially not ones willing to try their damndest at raising severely scarred and discarded children. Hell, the first couple of months were just finding out about and then avoiding or slowly dismantling most of the triggers the Warren boys had, and after that came the bonding and the teaching of their old trade.

It wasn’t meant to be training to become Serpents, it was just something that the two adults knew how to do and how to teach. Fire and Demolitions to the Dawson parents was the same as showing your kids how to bake or how to fix a car- which, well, as a mechanic Francis also taught his kids shit about cars, but the point remains. It was during these times that Fiona took to calling their kids Sparky while Francis started referring to them as his Little Firecrackers, and the two of them believed that that was probably the first time either Warren boy had heard a proper term of endearment, judging by their nonplussed reactions as Oliver smiled bright as a sunny day beside them. It had been such a good year together, and Francis remembers how happy he had been as he held his wife while their sons worked with duds and diagrams to figure out proper wiring; how warm he’d felt as he’d kissed her in the light of the fire the first time their kids threw a molotov cocktail, safe in a zone of Phil’s junkyard that he’d specifically created for the Serpents, his wife laughing against his lips as her niece sat on a scrapped out car hood and yelled backhanded encouragements; how scared and confused he was as he caught her when her coughing got so bad she couldn’t catch her breath and her legs gave out. It had been the day she was trying to give them a present: personalized and engraved zippo lighters to celebrate how much they’d learned and all the time they spent together. They had all been at her hospital bedside when she took her last breath, all the family that Fiona loved, and Francis had had to restrain and carry out an exploding Chase while Oliver grabbed Conan by one hand and Charlie Taylor with the other and followed after with Jade finishing the chain, tears streaming down all their faces. He didn’t even want to think about how he would have handled that without his soul brother, Fiona’s blood brother, there as well. Charlie Taylor was and still is Francis' best friend and brother, and his and Jade's continued presence in their lives after the loss of Fiona kept Francis from hitting rock bottom and failing his children even more.

“Pop, you ok?”

Francis looked down a little into the concerned eyes of his awake and freshly showered son, the younger man in his personal space but not touching him yet. The mechanic realized he had zoned out completely while staring at Chase’s profile picture in his phone, his coffee had gone cold in his other hand and the boys had already grabbed the jars of fizzing water he’d left for them on the counter. He set everything on the counter and opened his arms for the blonde, enveloping him in a bear hug and resting his chin atop his son’s head as soon as he’d stepped into the embrace. They still had time before they had to head out.

“I’m alright Ollie, I was just thinkin’ about y’all and got lost in thought,” He said when they parted and Oliver went to sit at the table to sip at his drink. “Cal in the shower?”

“Yeah, I got first dibs since he dropped me outta my own bed,” Ollie grinned, as if he’d won something important. It was the little things in life, he supposed. “He should be out soon, you were zonin’ for a while.”

“Right…” He replied, thinking of their guest’s situation. “And are he and Dolce gonna be able to keep their cool? This is about Chase right now, and gettin’ to know someone he’s chosen, this is important,” he stressed, watching his son shift in his seat. "Jade's already MIA so far, I was plannin' on checkin' up on her after all this if she still doesn't reply to any of our texts."

“Jade's fallen off before, but a month is a pretty long time, even for her," the blonde agreed, feeling worry for his cousin, who'd been ghosting damn near everyone since the confrontation at Carlisle house. "And I dunno, Dutch was really pissed at him about us bein’ at the Doc’s place last night,” Ollie grumbled, looking up to his father. “But they know they’re supposed to behave.”

“That’s a vague order,” He grumbled back, sipping at his cold coffee with a determination to finish it. “I guess we’ll handle it like we always do.”

“Right,” Oliver agreed with a sigh, dropping his head into his arms where they rested on the table. “Christ Pop, I’m tired.” Francis knew his son well enough to know the young man wasn’t talking about physical exhaustion, and not for the time he wished he could give the blonde a new life to thrive in. To give both his remaining sons that chance. No more deaths, no more traumas, no more losing themselves piece by crumbling piece.

“Me too, Ollie, me too.”

“Y’all havin’ a heart ta heart in here?” Callum asked as he entered the kitchen, clad in the clothes he’d been keeping in one of Olivers drawers for years and rubbing the water out of his hair with Oliver’s towel. He perked up at the sight of Francis’ coffee. “Got any left?”

Francis looked from his mug to the excited blonde before him and sighed before turning around to pop the cup in the microwave for a minute. Callum dropped into the seat next to Oliver while they waited for the microwave to beep. When it did, Francis took the mug out and poured the once more steaming coffee into his dented thermos. As he walked by the two boys, he let the thermos lightly thump against a distracted Callum’s head, prompting the debt collector to grab the thermos and rub at the sore spot while Oliver laughed next to him.

“Take this ya little brat,” Francis said, grabbing the keys to his 1985 Dodge Ram Prospector and heading to the front door. “And take it on the road, we gotta get to the picnic at Lyon’s.”

“Yessir.” Callum called, standing up and pulling Oliver with him. Together, they all made their way out to the truck and got on the road. The roughhousing between the two started almost immediately, and Francis had just knocked their heads together to get them to stop when his phone dings with a new message.

“It’s from Prof,” Oliver said after reaching across Callum and grabbing his father’s phone. He quoted out the message to his father as the older man continued to drive, ’Prep didn’t go as planned, may need to 86 the picnic and find somewhere else. Wings everywhere. TNT close to exploding.’..Yeesh, we haven’t even gotten there yet,” he commented as his father pressed further on the gas, their backs sinking into the torn leather with the sudden force. Unlike his brother’s sudden decrease in speed when he hit the breaks this morning, Oliver felt none of the sudden panic at Francis’ rapid acceleration. The only worry in his chest at the moment was for that of his brother. And, well… “Has this Tiffany girl seen him go off yet?”

“Probably not,” Francis answered distractedly, now focused on getting to his emotionally fragile son. Well, the other one. “We’ll cross that bridge later. Text him back that we’re a couple minutes out.”

Hold on Little Firecracker, I’m comin’.


Timestamp: Same time as Paint the Silence > Shields & Chains
FT: Gavriel Phillips-Shomer & Niles Sinclair


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Rye had woken up on the wrong side of the bed earlier in the morning, reaching out to JP like clockwork the way he always did when they slept in the same bed. Unlike their usual routine, the spot beside him was already made and had gone cold long before Rye came back to the waking world. Once more, the anxious man was left feeling off balance and like he was missing cues that the rest of the world could follow with ease. The coming turn of the weather had his shoulder aching something fierce, and waking without his lover at his side was another nail in his mood’s coffin. The final nail was the long list of notifications on his phone alerting him to the events that transpired while he had slept soundly against JP’s chest.

From Handsome Ransom:
Bro
Y do none of u Doctors’ kids care abt blood
R yall ok???
Oh
And I’m gonna have to tell Creed n Jokes so I’m telling u for ur half
Puff went to see Niles I guess?
We met his sisters n Autumn says things must not have gone right
She also said ur his only friend rn
Which is fuckin sad but whatevs
I know we don’t talk much anymore but I thought u needed to know


From Oh You Got Jokes Huh?:
Hey, any chance you can keep an eye out for Puff when you hang with Sinclair? We haven’t heard from her too much and Ran just told me she saw him recently.
Hope ur doin good

Rye sighed and scrolled to the next batch of messages, seeing it was from Niles’ younger sister Carrie and wondering if he would get more information.

From Care Bear:
ur friends
Ransom n the 2 bros.
Rlly only talked 2 Ransom since the 2 got issues
tho, tnt did save me i’ll give him dat
and tov is a drunk, bet he’s a fun time
anyways, none of dat matters
c niles please, he up 2 some shit
It’s Autie btw *kissy face*

What followed was a wall of text explaining Autumn’s part in getting Natalia into the Sinclair house and everything wrong with the relationship between her older brother and one Cece Cleary. Every sentence had him wanting to sink further into JP’s pillow, but his duty as a friend had him standing up and opening the door to the hall. His family’s noise downstairs helped him feel a little more centered as he shuffled to his own room to grab a change of clothes before claiming the shower. Once out, he took his sour mood and left the house with a kiss on the cheek to his mothers and less pep in his step than usual. One of his mothers, Robyn, tried to stop him after the goodbye kiss to inform him of a change to come but as she called out for him, the door shut, separating parent from child.

Gameplan:
See JP at MSM
See Niles
Chew Niles Out

Unfortunately for his mental list, MSM was busier than expected, and with his current train of thought Rye didn't have time to wait around for the line to die down to talk to JP about his leaving this morning. Heart heavy and cheeks feeling hot with toxic emotion, he left the store and headed over to Scott Street without even being noticed amidst the crowd by his lover.

Gameplan:
See JP at MSM
See Niles
Chew Niles out

Arriving at the Sinclair house twenty minutes later, Rye turned the volume in his earbuds down to a background level and knocked quickly on the door to the large house, face devoid of emotion as he stared at the pristine white wood that separated him from his wayward friend.

Niles wouldn’t answer the door. Having gotten home not too long ago, like an hour or so from Boston, he was decompressing in the attic. In his right hand he twirled a drumstick and waited for Good Times Bad Times by Led Zeppelin to blast in his headset. Unbeknownst to him, his best friend had just arrived at his front door. The attic window was open because yes a storm was coming but it was humid as hell.

He lifted his foot off the hi-hat, opening and closing it, opening and closing it, and in a matter of seconds he was in rhythm to the song. The drum was the heart-energy of a song and it was the one thing that brought comfort to the doctor’s son. The musical vibrations taught his brain how to flow and be peaceful. He had a raging mind and it seemed as of late he needed his drums more than usual.

For the night, he was able to not think about his women problems but now that he was home he needed to keep himself busy. It wasn’t like anyone was home. It was just him and his solitude. As the music filled the air without effort, his mind jumped between Natalia and Caitlin.

Man, he sucked.

His mother would hate seeing the man he was becoming but he couldn’t help himself. There was something about getting a rise from girls, especially girls that were into him. He liked pushing their buttons and seeing what they would do next. Caitlin was turning out to be kind of a bore. Such a good girl, still in love with her ex. Both the living and dead one. He knew she lost someone, she called the person a friend, but the way her eyes lit up he knew there was something more. He just didn’t have a face or name. Natalia, though? She still thought about him. After all these years… and that made him smile. He still got it. The best she ever had.

From Care Bear:
oh, use spare key
we not home
dolly’s was callin’ us

Rye sighed at the new texts and kicked the doormat over a couple inches to reveal the Sinclair’s spare key. Once he fully took his headphones out, he realized Niles must have been on his drums in the attic and wouldn’t have heard his knocking anyways. Content with his friend’s beat filling in for his own music, the younger man climbed the stairs to the attic and stopped in the doorway to let the other finish out his song, arms crossed and leaning lightly against the doorframe as the vibrations tingled along his skin. He took the moment of obliviousness his friend was in to examine him closely.

The burn scar all along his left shoulder and back had healed rather well, all things considered. The damn thing reminds him of hospital nights in stiff chairs waiting for his friend to heal from an injury Rye could never have saved him from in the first place. The curly haired man was well aware that many of his insecurities come from failing friends, but being aware of a complex and falling victim to it were two very different things. He’s gotten past the fact that he wasn’t there for Niles that night until the other boy was already hospitalized, and he knew the other man held no grudge against Rye as they had spoken earnestly during those hospital nights. Likewise, Rye knew that there were scars beneath Niles’ shorts that he couldn’t have helped avoid either. Or the metal plate in his skull. Or all the damn broken bones. The past was the past and each time Niles got a new scar all Rye could do was promise to be there for him in his hospital room and to be better. For next time.

For every next time.

He could handle more hospital stays if it meant not forever losing another person he cared about.

As his friend finished the song, Rye clapped steadily to gather his attention, keeping his eyes on the other man’s face and lips before he held up Niles’ discarded shirt in case the man wanted to cover up.

“Good Times Bad Times?” He guessed, not crossing the threshold into Niles’ space until the man acknowledged him.

Gameplan:
See JP at MSM
See Niles
Chew Niles Out

“Yeah,” Not even surprised at this point, everyone seemed to be using the spare key nowadays, Niles grabbed his shirt and threw it on, leaving his drumsticks on his drum set. “It’s been a minute, Rye.” The doctor’s son stood up and closed the distance between him and his friend, opening his arms, “Mind a sweaty hug? If not, I’m all yours.”

Gameplan:
See JP at MSM
See Niles
Hug Niles
Chew Niles Out

Damn him, offering hugs right off the bat. Priorities straightened out, Rye threw himself around the taller man and squeezed him so tight his shoulder strained and forced out a quiet whine of pain. Most of it from the physical pain, some of it the pain of being separated from one he loved for so long. Text really could never be enough for someone as tactile as him. When Niles whispered a soft, “Missed you, buddy,” against the top of his head, hot tears sprung to his eyes which he quickly and pettily rubbed off against his friend’s sweaty chest. Pulling back, he smiled brightly at Niles before replying.

“You could’ve answered a few more texts if you missed me so much,” He replied, just enough scolding in his tone to keep it playful. For now. “I’m sorry I’ve been so busy since returning.”

“Ey, you got a life,” Niles shrugged, stepping back and giving his friend space. “I’m a shitty friend, I know. I’ve never been good at texting.” Stepping back a bit more and dropping down, Niles found himself slouched on the futon, arms wide, and gestured with his eyes for Rye to sit next to him. “This was an unexpected visit. I’m going to assume you’re mad at me about something so what’s up?”

Gameplan:
See JP at MSM
See Niles
Hug Niles
Cuddle With Niles
Talk To Niles
Chew Niles Out

“Well you’re not wrong,” Rye scoffed wetly, following his friend and turning around to flop onto the futon with his back against Niles’ arm and shoulder, tilting his head back onto his shoulder to stare up at the slowly rotating ceiling fan. “I’ve seen your pictures of you and Caitlin Cleary on JP’s Insta,” Rye, unlike most of his Northside peers, didn’t use any social media aside from what he glanced over his step brother’s shoulder on slow and lazy nights. That and the rare occasions where JP genuinely believes Rye needs to hear certain gossip. “And I’ve got to say that she’s a surprise. Seems your sisters agree enough to call me in as reinforcement. I was content to let you realize you were being a creep liking all of Natalia’s posts, but then she deactivated. I was going to wait for you to text me about your girlfriend, but then that got fast tracked by your sisters.” Rye sighed and closed his eyes, laying out his facts with nothing but a level tone and honest air. “What’s going on in your mind right now, man?”

“What do you mean?” Pulling his arm from under Rye bringing it to his lap, Niles fixed his gaze on the boy beside him with narrowed eyes. “Is it the fact that I got a cute little redhead as a girlfriend that weirds you out or that I started trolling Natalia after she broke into my room, went on my bed, and yelled at me for trying to get myself out there? It’s funny really.” The annoyance washed over Niles’ face. Once again, he was getting confronted about stupid shit when he just wanted to relax.

He crossed his arms, in defensive mode now. “You come in and instead of being like hey, Niles, how’s school been treating you? Hey, Niles, you look fuckin’ good. I see you’ve been to the gym. Nah, I don’t get that. It’s hey, Niles, why the fuck are you dating this girl and talking to Natalia? I don’t see where I’m in the wrong when Caitlin and I have gotten close the past year. She understands how it feels to lose someone close and Natalia’s butthurt I went public.”

She understands how it feels to lose someone close Intended as a barb or not, Rye found himself narrowing his eyes at the comment. That’s a stupid reasoning in his mind, as damn near every person in Edenridge has lost someone close to them, including Rye and over half of their year. And his wording, the defensive goading… Rye mentally sighed and thought, I hate when he gets like this.

He tried to center himself, making sure there was no snap in his tone when he said, “Look, I texted you all those questions, I complimented your rockin’ physique in our last video call. I’m not going to play this game where you talk like just enough of a dick to rile someone up and then thrive on the aftermath. I love you and I’m trying to check up on your mental health and status. That includes your other relationships just like it always fucking has,” the smaller man turned to meet Niles’ eyes. “When people text me because they’re worried about you, that means it’s time to really worry, or at least clear out the dirt surrounding whatever gem you’ve actually found. You know I’m not here trying to break you down, so don’t throw your walls up against me.”

Sighing deeply, Niles’ deadpan expression never turned away from Rye. In the past six hours he was doing fine mentally but now that someone was bringing it up, he was getting frustrated. He didn’t want his first hang with his best friend to be about his mental health. Unlatching his crossed arms, he pressed his fingers against his temples before answering, “What do you want me to say, dude? Thanks to this you’ve confirmed my theory that Autumn was the one to tell Natalia where to find me. Thanks to this I know none of my sisters and best friend care that I’ve finally gained the courage to ask someone out instead of fuck them and move on. I get it, she’s not Natalia. You’ve never liked Natalia anyways. But really, I’m just trying to live in the moment for once and Caitlin helps with that.” At this point, Niles was picking at his fingernail skin, no longer looking at Rye. Fidgeting and trying to contain himself from saying or doing something stupid.

Rye watched Niles fidget and gently covered his hands with his own, allowing Niles to grab them to fiddle with so that he would stop picking at his skin, a technique the larger man had often used on Rye himself. He wouldn’t deny feeling a pang in his heart at hearing Niles say he thought Rye didn’t care, but he was well aware he’s been caught up in his anxieties and the Belmontes and JP. He’d been neglecting checking up on his more mentally vulnerable friend and that was something he would have to swallow and work through. Today was the start of that. But the other thing…

“I never hated Natalia, she hated me,” Rye corrected, not even upset over the admittance. The twin of his best friend has never quite warmed to Rye’s attitude, which Jokes had personally found odd given he and Rye share a large repertoire of puns and one-liners and the Serpent was most certainly well liked by the woman. “I was looking out for you both when I gave you an outside perspective on your relationship. But something I really remember from all of that? She really didn’t like Caitlin Cleary,” Rye tapped his friend on his palms to drive the point. “I’m not saying that you don’t get to be happy, and I’m not saying you don’t get to live in the moment. But do you feel like you can trust her, are you comfortable enough to be the real you with her? Are you really happy right now? GTBT Isn’t usually one of your ‘Chill Vibes’ songs.”

Niles would always know, no matter his mood, that Gavriel Shomer’s words alway come from a place of deep feeling. This is the man that would do both of their homework assignments together with the shitty little hospital lamp, showing Niles that even when he was lost at sea there was still someone there willing to be his lighthouse. Their friendship had never been anything sexual, or even complicated; they are brutally honest with each other but they can also spend an entire day together and barely speak at all. Most people’s social batteries drain, but Gavriel and Niles could always gravitate towards each other and recharge in each other’s comfortable presensces.

Easing up a bit, turning his hands over to tightly hold the other boy’s smaller hands, Niles stayed silent. Bouncing his right leg up and down, he took the next couple of seconds to think about what he would say. And there, finally, Rye broke through to him. Past the barrier and straight to the Niles he knew and loved. “When am I ever happy?”

His dark gaze focused on the snare drum as his leg continued to bob with his erratic thoughts. “She cut me out, like I meant nothing. Like what we’ve been through meant nothing. All I did was stop the sex. I couldn’t do it anymore.” Letting go of Rye’s hands, Niles gritted his teeth, “You saw me. I was dragging her down. The moment we weren’t a thing? She becomes popular and senior year, crowned queen-fucking-bee.”

Leaning back on the couch once more, he closed his eyes, admitting his ill intentions, “At first, Caitlin wasn’t meant to be a good thing. It was something I knew Natalia would notice, and look at that?” He opened his eyes, his attention going straight to the ceiling fan. “She came straight to me.” He shook his head, in disbelief. Their last interaction being a lucid dream in his mind.

“But I started to care…” He acknowledged. “Cailtin is so fucking sweet, it’s sickening. I do not deserve her. But she gave me the time of day. She saw me. And her pain, I get it everyone has lost someone but what I saw? She didn’t hide it. She didn’t pretend. She loved someone so deeply and it shines through her very being.” Turning his head to Rye, he gave a half smile, “I guess I fell for the fantasy of her and her grief. How well she handles it. How she can still focus on others more than herself. How unbothered she seems. But then on our first date, Mikhail fucking ruined it. Like he did with sleeping with Natalia.”

Huffing out another sigh, blowing his curls up, Niles grumbled, “Serves me right, I guess? For not being honest.”

“It wasn’t a matter of holding her back, and you sure as hell aren’t nothing, Niles,” Gavriel insisted strongly, dropping his now free hand to Niles’ knee to steady its rapid pace. “But if you started any part of your relationship with Caitlin under false pretenses then nothing will ever feel real. I don’t know what Mika was doing busting into your date with Caitlin, but maybe see the red flags for what they are and end this gently. You can love the idea of a person, but if you start dating them then you’ll resent all the pieces of them that aren’t how you thought they’d be and that’s not fair to either of you.” He took a deep breath and made sure his friend was looking at him before he continued. He wanted him to see the sincerity and love when he said his next piece. They’d talked about his dating life and overall relationships before, so it wasn’t a line that hasn’t been trodden all over before.

“Dude, you know I love you and you know I hate seeing you upset, but you're still in the process of healing. You can't keep tearing the scabs without consequences. Think about what you're doing for a damn moment from the perspective of anyone else. Her being the first girl you go public with? You're being toxic to yourself, to Cece, to Nat and I guess Mika now too. I don’t know if he’s just being extra protective of Natalia right now, but I do know that I’ve seen him fighting and I do not want to see his anger any more directed at you than it already is. If anything with this goes wrong-” Rye’s breath hitched, his grip on the other man’s knee tightening as tears gathered at the edges of his vision. He’d been doing a lot of crying lately, he thought absently as he kept his distressed gaze on his friend. “If anything goes wrong with this, I-I don’t know how many more times I can handle sleeping next to you in a hospital bed,” his voice broke at the end he looked away, face burning. He could honestly barely stand hospitals as is. Visiting his mom, sure; helping her with first aid on a random serpent in the Gardenview kitchen, no problem, but sitting on a chair waiting to hear if a loved one would survive, or wake up, or waking up in a bed himself? He hasn’t been immune to that crippling anxiety since the day he got shot.

Bye bye thoughts of being a volunteer nurse to stay close to his mom. At least on official papers.

“And I don’t expect you to,” Niles affirmed, all the while pulling his pain stricken friend into a comforting embrace once more. Back in the position of how they started before he got triggered. “I might not seem like I’m in a better place, but I am. Maybe not out of the self loathing habit… but unless I get in an accident or piss someone off, the only time you should be seeing me at the hospital is if I’m helping my dad and your mom out. I’m a certified phlebotomist now so I’ll help with blood work occasionally and any administrative backlog. Gotta’ keep myself busy somehow.” With all this talking of feelings, Niles could feel the exhaustion was over him.

Leaning his head against the side of Rye’s head, he shut his eyes and whispered, “Sorry for worrying you.” He didn’t know if he’d heed his friend’s advice of Caitlin, since they only started dating, but he would think about it. Rye was right to say she didn’t deserve to deal with his damage. No one did. Not even Gavriel. Yet here he was being there for him like the good ol’ days.

"I'm your best friend Niles," the curly haired man answered back quietly, tightly gripping the arm that was now back over his shoulder and like he was afraid it would disappear. Like JP this morning. Like Decky after the shooting. Like his father when he came out. Something about him seemed to eventually push away everyone he loved and sought approval from, and he didn't know how to stop it from happening. "I exist to worry about you, love you, and occasionally knock your head back into place," he sniffed, putting more pressure on the connection between their heads for emphasis. Trying to cover a yawn that would reveal his own battles with exhaustion, he closed his eyes and tried to stay in the moment instead of the past. There are still plenty of mistakes to make and fix, instead of focusing on the ones that never can be. Relaxing once more against his friend, Rye mumbled out, "You know it's because I love you, right? You deserve to be really happy, not play at it in public."

“Happiness,” Niles lightly chuckled, feeling his body ease, the weight of his demons lifting off his shoulders, just for a moment, as sleep beckoned him. “What a foreign concept…”

As Niles grew heavier against him, Rye tried not to sigh in agreement. Softly, he held Niles head in place and settled lower against his shoulder so that when he replaced his head, the taller man was rested atop of Rye's instead of against his side. With a small yawn and a grip still on Niles' arm, he let his own eyelids close and put his earbuds back in to cover the ringing silence.

"You c'n learn foreign languages, why not concepts?" He whispered out, only half joking.

Gameplan:
Forget Everything Else
Show Niles He’s Loved
Be With Niles

@LovelyComplex & @Aces Away

TIMESTAMP || After “I Need You" with Jade/Poppy (Monday Morning)
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________

Immediately after her phone call with Jade, Penelope grabbed one of Charlie’s books for the trip, On the Road by Kerouac, a slingshot with ammunition, and a prepared zip lock bag of snacks from Rhonda. Slipping it into her backpack, she returned to the window. While poking her head out to re-evaluate the distance, she glanced at her wrist watch. It was approaching 10:30 AM and the summer heat invited cold drinks, air conditioning, and music.

Maybe this trip wouldn’t be dangerous and the reservation would have all three. Part of her was debating grabbing her father’s gun but she decided against it. For all she knew, this was a red herring. For all she knew, Mitena was safe and unaware of someone threatening her life. For all she knew, this was all a practical joke and Charlie did not have a secret sister.

Plus!

Mordechai was coming with her, whether he liked it or not. He could be the muscle and she could shoot rocks at those that dared to start anything violent. Right in their fucking eye. Yeah. She could do that. She didn’t need a gun. She was one hell of a shot.

Briefly closing her eyes, Penelope soaked in the sunlight, bringing joy to her skin. This was the moment of truth. How hard was this actually? She watched Charlie do this everyday when he still cared about her. It couldn’t possibly be that hard. Thankfully, Allegra left the window cracked open, so all Pops had to do was… reach… for… it… and…

Partly inside Charlie’s room, partly on the outside, she leaned her arms forward to try and grab the window. Barely reaching it, she found herself in an awkward lean and if she slipped, she’d go timber. Pushing herself back up, realizing she would have to bring the window up a smidge more, the James girl huffed in mild frustration.

Take 2.

With her bag now tightened on her back, she climbed out the narrow window, looked at the ground - woah - and realized she was actually pretty high up. She needed to stop overthinking though. Poppy feared nothing. Not even death itself. She got this. How hard could this possibly be?

Not overthinking her next steps, Poppy took a daring leap and grabbed onto the stool, ramming right into her family’s house. Ouchhhhh. That fucking hurt. Still, no pain, no gain. If Charlie could do this, so could she.

Now lift.

Lift, Poppy, lift.

She needed to push the window up a bit. Using her arm strength and her feet to hold herself up, as if she was climbing the monkey bars, she utilized her right hand to push the lower sash of the window.

Fuck. This was a workout.

Sweating now, realizing Charlie’s jacket might be too heavy for this weather, Penelope saw Allegra from the otherside, shocked and amused with a curious Viva in her arms. “Hey, you’re dressed,” A callback for all the times that Charlie pointed out how Pops didn’t care how she looked through her window and how some pervert would throw her in the back of their van, “No creeps gonna’ snatch youuuuu.” Her arms were feeling the burn and her stomach ached. “Okay. Focus, Pops. You’re almost there.”

Pushing her way through the window, she stopped in her tracks when the window wouldn’t let her any further because of her backpack. “Fuckkkkkkk.”

Take 3.

While hanging, Pops took her backpack off and tossed it in the bedroom. Now she should fit. Officially, finally, and thankfully, Penelope plunged into the bedroom through the small window, not so gracefully went over the ledge, and found herself crumpled on the floor, face first, ass up in the air. Thank goodness she was wearing shorts under her dress.

With all the energy she could muster, she did a forward roll that would make all the Clovers ostracize her. Also good thing she was not a cheerleader. “Holy hell, he did that all the goddamn time. What the shit.”

"I'll give ya a ten outta ten for effort, but the execution needs a little work," Allegra spoke up in a fond and teasing tone. "That little scorpion dive at the end had ta hurt a bit."

“I’m okay…” Penelope struggled to get up, burying the pain from the fall.

"From experience, havin' tried ta follow him through that window before, it's a pain in the ass," Mordechai joined in from the opening of the bathroom, toothbrush hanging out of his mouth as he spoke. Sober but still plagued by nightmares and guilt, Mordechai was leaning against the doorframe as he brushed his teeth. While his muscle mass and weight had improved, his mental state had only really met him halfway, and dark bags under tired eyes betrayed that fact as he stared at one of his best friends trying to get herself up off the ground. "Y'know this is becomin' a habit, why don't I just build a bridge between the windows for ya?" He offered, only half joking. He could definitely use the distraction between being sober and almost being something of a family man. Somehow.

The Ex-Serpent had been woken up at five in the morning when Chai had started crying, startling his father out of another spiraling nightmare and prompting him to stay awake until the infant had fallen into his own blissful slumber, safe in his father's hold. The lucky little fuck. Mordechai hoped his son would be dreaming of nothing but rainbows and sunshine for as long as possible. He hoped the kid never touched anything stronger than some weed, never got the taste for anything that kills you as much as it makes you finally feel alive. He never went back to sleep, holding his son and staring at the face of innocence the same way he had as a child holding his sleeping baby brother. They looked almost the same, except Chai had a more olive complexion as opposed to Danny's pale and gray tone. Chai also shared the same deep brown irises as his parents, whereas Danny had always had the same pale, piercing gaze as Benjamin Boaz. But everything else was there, and every early morning Mordechai spent alone with his son had him desperate to do more. To not fail him like he'd failed Danny.

He'd been thinking about his Serpents lately, and about how with everything he did wrong for Danny, giving him that family wasn't it. Every Serpent that came across Danny Boaz had practically adopted the boy on sight, and Mordechai's crew took special care with the boy to make sure he felt safe and included of course, but also happy and carefree. Something that the two Boaz boys hadn't had any chance of being before. And while he knew it made sense to stay away and get his head a little straighter while he got sober…well, he was sober now, and he really missed his brothers and sisters in the Serpents. Loathe as he is to admit it after his breakdown over a month ago, he misses ReyRey too. As fucked up as everyone was, they were still Family to him, damned how ReyRey felt back. If that meant sucking up his feelings a bit then so be it. He just knew he needed all of them in his life too.

Realizing he'd fallen into his own thoughts, Mordechai shook his head and brought himself back to the present, moving forward and holding a hand out to Poppy in case she needed a little extra help. Just in case she’d said something, he threw in a, "Sorry, I zoned out, didn't catch anythin' ya just said."

Not refusing the assistance, Poppy grabbed onto her best friend’s hand and was pulled up into a standing position, sweat trailing down her forehead. “Thanks,” She grinned at Mordechai before looking over at Allegra, “I’ll fucking take that score. Like shit. That’s not easy,” She wanted to say never again but knowing her dumbass she would indeed try again.

Letting go of Mordechai’s hand, Poppy grabbed her bag and took a seat on her old bed. “I didn’t say much, yet.” Intensely, Penelope gave her friend a look that warned him that what she had to say may not be something he wanted to hear, but she needed him and she hoped he’d stay and listen. Instead of going into her explanation, the James girl looked up and stared at her glow in the dark stars on the ceiling. She thought about how she’d go about telling him, how blunt she should be, “Just… finish up, and I’ll tell you why I’m here.”

Mordechai nodded and went back to the bathroom, finishing brushing his teeth and rinsing it all out with mouthwash before returning to the room with a guarded air, having caught on to Poppy's serious undertones. He crossed over to the bed and grabbed his worn out Docs, shoving his feet into them before focusing on tying his laces instead of looking Poppy in the eye.

"So where're we goin'," He asked without any more hesitation, tying the first boot off and reaching for the other's laces. He'd seen her backpack, and contrary to popular belief he was far from stupid. Allegra sat next to him and set Viva down between them, eyes clocking Chai in his crib before settling on Poppy over the man’s back so she wasn't just staring and talking to the top of Mordechai's head. "And what for?"

Drumming her fingers on her thighs, Poppy absentmindedly motorboarded her lips. When she was finished procrastinating, she looked at Allegra, who met her gaze briefly, and then at Mordechai who was putting on his shoes, “Blue Hill Reservation… someone’s in trouble.” And by someone, she meant Charlie’s sister that no one knew existed but baby steps. She could ease into it before dropping that bomb.

Mordechai sighed and looked up to his side at that, gaze curious and assessing as it caught on to Poppy's form. She was definitely holding things back, easing him into the information like she feared it would harm him in some way, but still determined to get him to be a part of it. How silly. Regardless of how he felt, if Poppy needed him then he would be there for her. Throwing a hand through his hair to push it out of his face, Mordechai dropped his elbows on his knees and clapped his hands together in front of himself, turning to fully face her and matching Poppy's gaze to show her he was ready for what she had to say. Or at least, he couldn't be more ready than he currently was. He didn't need to waste his words with Poppy, the two of them meeting each other's gazes- when they could meet people's eyes at all- could usually get a large portion of the message through. Sometimes no words were needed, and he couldn't help but love that connection.

Biting her bottom lip, looking away from him, the sadness creeping up like it did when she talked to Jade, Penelope focused her attention on her shoes. “Charlie has a sister…” Everytime she said it outloud the more it hurt. Gritting her teeth, she glanced back at Mordechai, the pain written all over her face, “I don’t care if he never told me but now these fucking letters are threatening her life. She has nothing to do with this town, Mordechai. Why drag someone into all this bullshit? I… I don’t want to have another regret.”

Lips shaking, Poppy brought her attention back to the floor, “And maybe, maybe part of me feels like I need to meet her. For closure. It’s selfish, really, but maybe Charlie…” Her right leg bounced as she talked, “Maybe Charlie told her something…”

"So we're testin' my sobriety that early," Mordechai said humorlessly as he processed Poppy's words, knowing it wouldn't really get any laughs. "Jesus we should have a club for the living half of dead siblin-" a slap across the back of his head stopped the dark thought from finishing as Mordechai threw an irritable glare at Allegra. The younger woman didn't look up from her intense gaze on her phone, and if Mordechai didn't know her incredible ability to multitask he could almost believe she'd fully checked out of the conversation. Viva giggled between the two and stood up on the bed, throwing herself over Mordechai's back and shoulder.

"Y'know mama don' like you all cloudy-"

"Gloomy, baby girl, not cloudy," her mother cut in, eyes still glued to her screen. "Daddy Mordechai needs to learn that some thoughts need to stay in your head. Otherwise, he could really hurt someone's feelings for no reason."

"Thank ya both," Mordechai responded, voice dry as a desert. He leaned forward until Viva tumbled over his shoulder and he caught her as she fell, shrieking in delight at the playful action from her usually tired and sore father. He deposited her back on her spot between her parents. "I was just sayin'-"

"Nothin' morbid," Allegra cut in again, laying back across the bed and tapping away at her keyboard. She allowed a narrow eyed glare to slide across Mordechai's profile as he rolled his eyes before returning to her task. "Continue."

"Right. Pops, ya know ya got me already. I'm sick of these fuckin' letters and I'm sick of all the goddamn secrets in the town, but it looks like we're all destined ta play in a mystery game until this sick fuck is taken care of. If playin' along means keepin' you and others that need it safe, then I guess there are worse roles ta follow, ok?" Mordechai grit out, clenching and unclenching his fists as he spoke. Of course they would keep getting roped back in, of course this sick fuck hadn't had enough heartache and trauma. What a coward's move, bringing in someone who has no presence in Edenridge, exposing her to the town's toxic miasma of corruption that eventually replaces the oxygen in your lungs and marks you as its own until you can't stay away.

Of course he would be one of the ones to bring it out of town to her first. Just like a good dealer.

Allegra shoved at his arm blindly and pointed to Poppy's distressed state, command clear despite the quick movement.

Comfort her, dumbass.

Mordechai straightened up with a sigh and shifted towards Poppy, pulling her into his chest and wrapping his arms around her, settling his chin on her head the way he only ever did with her and Danny. He held her tight against the world trying to tear her apart heartbreak by heartbreak, and he took deep breaths so that she could hear a steady heartbeat through his chest.

"When do we leave," he asked softly, "and who do we know that has a car ta lend? Blue Hill ain't the closest."

Leaning into his hold, Penelope deeply sighed and sat there in his blanket of warmth. When he asked the question, she laughed. “Natalia Belmonte, I imagine.” There it was. Another secret revealed. Charlie knew the Queen Bee of their year. Wrapping her arms around his thin frame, she tightly held onto him and buried her face into his chest, “Turns out we got ourselves another stop. Once Jade gets here, we’re going to Scott Street.”

Mordechai's face screwed up in confusion at that proclamation, not a clue in his mind on why the hell Natalia Belmonte would be a part of the crew. Not pulling away at all, and trying not to think about just how much this was calming his nerve-tight muscles, he spoke up with a wary, "I mean I can probably ask Mika for his truck, I dunno why we've gotta go ta Puff for this…though I guess I haven't seen her since her, Creed and Jokes broke up and then the night at the school and Carlisle," he mumbled into her hair. "Or is this another somethin' I don't know?"

"There's a lot of that with you, ain't there?" Allegra threw in cheekily from her spot across the bed, Viva laying across her stomach. Mordechai rolled his eyes heavenward and studiously ignored her lightening of the mood in favor of Poppy's reply.

“Puff?” Penelope pulled away from Mordechai. The disbelief washed over her before she stood up, putting space in between her and her friend. “It all makes sense now.” She walked to the window and looked into Charlie’s room. “That’s how Charlie knows her, huh?” The sinking feeling sat in her gut and her throat felt like it was closing up. She would never be good enough for the serpents. Everyone knew everyone and now come to find out, they trusted a Belmonte before they trusted her.

No matter!

Penelope wasn’t going to let this get her down. It didn’t matter if both her and her sister struggled to fit in. Both seeking validation and acceptance in different areas of the town. No, that didn’t matter. What mattered was that Charlie’s sister was in trouble. “Rhonda asked us to take her. Turns out she was friends with Charlie. You too, I guess.” She kept her green gaze toward the outside, forcing herself to bury her emotions at yet another shock. “If Natalia was close to Charlie, then I’m sure she wouldn't have a problem driving us. So. We’re going to Scott Street first.”

"Close? I mean she's been around since I got outta Juvie because'a Mika and then the guys but Hard Times and I barely talked ta her outside of Serpent parties and drug transactions," Mordechai assured, realizing he had done something to upset Poppy but unable to pinpoint what it was. It was one of the reasons he had barely reacted to Natalia's presence that night in front of Francis Callahan's locker. They knew each other, but they were barely on the edges of each other's circles, Decky always caught up with Sonny, or one of the hang around girls that littered the Serpent's hangouts. Puff likewise had always been with one of her own three snakes and didn't ever seem to find much need to branch out to the rest of the crew outside of the occasional quick banter. He turned to Allegra for help, face desperate as he watched her take in the scene with her keen insight. The older woman in the room sighed and removed her daughter from her stomach before standing up and moving to Poppy at the window. She draped her arms around Poppy's shoulders from behind, clasping her hands together in front of the other woman's chest as she hugged her from behind, lips right by her ear as she whispered to her.

"He doesn't understand how left out ya feel, Angel. I remember askin' him why you were never in his Serpent stories and he just went quiet like his fuckin' brain broke," she chuckled quietly, the vibration against Poppy's back a grounding sensation. "It won't be like this for much longer sweetie, I promise." She knocked the side of her head against the fairer woman's, half a step ahead of Mordechai's thought process whether he knew it or not. She'd seen him staring longingly at his pictures of his old crew, a raw want on his face that made his future intentions clear whether he had figured them out yet or not. And Allegra would be damned if she let Poppy go forward without as much of the Southies at her back as possible. She was determined to bulldoze her way through the dynamic and forge a new one that included the Street Angel of the Southside.

“It seems no one understood me,” Poppy’s voice broke in response. “Not even Charlie.” She didn't know if she should be happy that Allegra wanted to help or sad that it’s gotten this far that none of her best friends saw her desperately wanting a family like they had. It sucked living in a town where the person that understood you better than most, better than your own parents, was the English teacher. Nothing against her ma and dad either. Her dad was always working and her mom had never been the same since Max died. But for those closest to her, Charlie, Mordechai, and Jade… they really sucked at looking beyond themselves. “Thanks, Legs. I’m glad you’re here.”

Once again, Penelope buried the sadness, let her embrace with Allegra last a moment longer, and proceeded to demand with an annoyed undertone, “Did I stutter, Mordechai?” No longer in Allegra’s grasp, she grabbed her backpack and threw it over her shoulder, “Rhonda said they were close. Looks like she saw more than us and she’s fucking blind.” Poppy’s stare was sharp after she said that. She needed to have answers. The questions kept piling up and quite frankly, it was pissing her off. After giving the two little ones hugs and kisses, Pops dismissed herself, “I’ll send you updates throughout the day, Legs. I’m heading down, Jade should be here soon,” and from there Poppy had left her old bedroom for the platonic lovers and parents to talk.

Mordechai stared after Poppy, gut twisting at the hurt and edge that had coated her voice when she responded to him. He stumbled a bit when Legs shoved him towards the closet and high shelves where he kept most of his weapons out of the children's reach and sight. He turned to the affectionately violent woman, flinching as he caught the disappointed glare she was leveling him with.

"What did I do?" He asked his fellow streetwalker desperately. He had managed to really upset Poppy in his attempt to comfort her, and had gotten a taste of the girl's venom for the first time since she brought him back to himself at the gym that night.

"Ya really are a bovo, Ken," Allegra sighed with a shake of her head, crossing to the bed to grab Viva and set her down next to her now awake little brother in his crib."How many Serpents does Poppy know?"

"What? All of 'em. My crew, at least…" he stumbled out, brow creasing as his confusion continued. "Most of us did visitation together in Juvie, and Sonny was with Danny an' I since before I even met Pops, Jade, and Hard Times-"

"I'm not askin' how many she's met," Allegra cut him off with another aggravated sigh before muttering quietly to herself, "Estoy así de cerca…" she walked up to Mordechai and grabbed his face in her hands, forcing him to look down into her eyes as she told him seriously. "She didn't become friends with them just because they were your friends already. Based on your stories and everythin' I've seen of Poppy since gettin' here, that girl has been sidelined in damn near every part of her life, includin' bein' left outta anythin' Serpent, and you and her other two best friends were the worst culprits of it. Those Serpents are your family, yeah? Why couldn't they be hers too?"

Mordechai tried to keep Allegra's gaze, but found himself glancing off to the side in shame, unable to move from her grasp. Had it really been like that? He and Charlie had agreed before the other boy had even joined the Serpents that Poppy be kept away from it, hoping to keep her away from the type of circumstances that usually create more serpents and drag the unwilling into the endless pit. Danny had been different, right? The safest place for him was by the Serpents' sides because going home to their parents was never an option. But…even after he and Danny moved Northside with Beau and then the Lancasters before Mordechai found them a small apartment; even after he and Charlie found her after that fight in highschool, disheveled and bloody faced but triumphant; even after people like Natalia Belmonte and Gavriel Shomer- a Northie and an Outsider- started spending their days in Serpent territory…Poppy was still being closeted away by her three closest friends.

"We were tryin'-"

"If you say 'to protect her', Mordechai Oren Boaz, I swear ta god I'll smother that stupid thought outta you in your sleep," Allegra's nails dug into the sides of his face as she pulled him down closer and forced him to meet her gaze once again. "Her dad used ta be a Serpent! She grew up with all of ya! She lives in the Southside and is smarter than almost all'a you fucks, with a wild streak a mile wide if ya stoked her fire a bit. Instead all you idiots were doin' was stiflin' her, and now she's findin' out your reasons behind leavin' her out were bullshit because a random friend or fuckbuddy from the Northside can apparently waltz their way into a snake den without any issue! Ya showed me the video, remember? Even ReyRey acknowledged her roots, but y'all were too busy tryin'a keep her innocent when she wasn't ta begin with!"

Mordechai pulled away roughly and began packing his weapons onto different parts of his person, not letting Allegra see the angry tears in his eyes. His arms were itching like crazy, and despite knowing it was all in his head Mordechai couldn't help but scratch and rub at his forearm to ground himself, fingers running along the raised scarring of his track marks. He took a deep breath as he started into the back of the closet, closing his eyes and trying to find his verbal footing. Allegra waited patiently behind him while Viva distracted her baby brother in the crib.

"We were all just kids playin' at adults, Legs," he said brokenly. "None of us knew what we were doin', none of us were ready for any of it. And honestly? I never wanted to risk Pops bein' around to see any punishments Charlie and I received," he thought back to the morning after getting out of Juvie, staying on his hands and knees while glaring intently at the bloody and cracked concrete beneath him while his crew was forced to land lash after lash on his back. He had thought at the time it was because of the bad Vouch in general, but now he knew ReyRey was being personally vindictive about it. He remembered refusing to see Poppy that day, and not seeing either her or Jade until he could move just fine on his own. Until he could be strong enough to protect them again. He gripped the knife Sonny had given him all those years ago tightly in his fist before pocketing it. "We were tryin'a be shields, not chains."

Allegra stared at Mordechai's back, his slumped stance, and she heard the defeat in his tone that told her she'd gotten through to him, that she could back off on the rage because he was receptive, truly receptive, now.

"Well," She said softly, walking up to hug him from behind and put her forehead between his shoulder blades while he shook silently. "You're all adults now, and it's time ya fix some'a the things ya broke as children. There's no changin' the past but we can all learn from it to fix up the present a bit, yeah?"

"Yeah," Mordechai whispered, turning his head to stare at his beautiful children's smiling faces. "Yeah, I guess we can."

Poppy wasn't going to be left out of anything anymore, even if it made him weak in front of her. If she got hurt he'd just have to rain unholy hell upon whoever did it and comfort her after, because if he was bringing her in it was going to be no holds barred; he couldn't half-ass secrets anymore.



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Ransom quickly jumped out, taking a second to steady himself before he flung open the passenger side and coaxed Molotov out of the car and straight into the convenience store and all the way into the bathrooms in the back. He kicked open the men’s room door and dropped his pale best friend to his knees in front of the toilet just seconds before Molotov couldn’t hold it back anymore. Sighing, Ransom pulled one of Dutchess’ hair ties out of his back pocket and began gently pulling Tov’s hair back to tie it up.

“Jesus Ollie, ya really know how ta end a conversation,” He mumbled out, running his hand through his hair while he leaned back against the stall wall, rubbing soothing circles into the quivering man’s back.

“H-ha, d-don’t I know it,” he huffed out unsteadily as he stared, eyes glossy and glazed, into the dirtied toilet water before losing his stomach again. “Wasn’ his fault, triggered him first.”

“I know,” Ransom soothed, no judgment in his tone. “Chase has ‘is own shit ta sort through, we shoulda thought about that before teasin’ ‘im but-”

“But we’re drunk,” Tov huffed before rolling his eyes. “Or at least we were, this was pretty soberin’.”

“Usually that’s just ya makin’ room for more,” Ransom laughed humorlessly. “Ya gonna be ok?”

“‘Course,” Tov answered, raising his gaze to follow his friend as he stood and held a hand out to him for the second time that night. Unlike last time where it had been playful and teasing, the hand grasping his was solid and supportive, lifting him to his feet in a single strong pull. “Always am.” Not even deigning to give that bulllshit lie a response, Ransom pulled Molotov out of the stall and over to the sink to wash the wavy haired boy’s sweaty and tearstained face with the chemically scented soap and rough paper towels.

“Gonna talk ‘bout it?”

“Not unless I gotta.”

“So no.”

“No. Not tonight.”

“Okay.”

No longer on the phone with Peach, TNT waited for his tank to fill up completely. Gas was getting stupid expensive but his many jobs needed the fuel. The city prices were gradually trickling in and Chase hated it. Working many odd jobs and delivering for R2 on the side would only get him so far. He needed to think about where he was heading. He’d be twenty one in December and he was still stuck making shit money. That’s part of the reason why he couldn’t leave the serpents. R2 paid better than any other employer he had. It sucked, but a boy’s got to do what a boy’s got to do.

Wait, since when did he care about the future? Furrowing his eyebrows at the thought, he let a simpler one intrude as he annoyingly growled, “Tov better get me a fucking Red Bull.” He did not have a problem. How could he? Red Bull wasn’t liquor or hard drugs or weed for that matter. It was just energy. Chase needed Red Bull because it gave him wings. Helped him conquer his long ass day. Fly like an angel or some shit. He loved that shit and it was the one thing he refused to give up. It wasn’t an addiction. It was a necessity.

His attention was ripped away from his desire for caffeine to a dark haired girl pushing a man away from the distance. They were at the payphone on the right side of the building. The only payphone Edenridge had. This was the same guy that got out of that nice black mustang on the other side of the gas tank Chase was in not too long ago. The same guy that looked like an absolute fucker.

“I said no, creep! I don’t even know you.” The young girl stepped back, searching for an exit or a route to run. There was clear regret written all over her face.

The older man, probably twice her age, maliciously chuckled, “I’m just saying a pretty little thing such as yourself shouldn’t be out here alone. Let me take you home.”

Then he touched her.

“Get off of me!”

And at that moment, TNT’s eyes glazed over.

"We gotta get him some fuckin' Red Bull," Molotov said to Ransom as they walked out of the bathroom together several minutes later. "I told him I would get him a Red Bull."

"Might as well just get 'im a twelve pack with how he goes through 'em," Ransom huffed as he led his woozy friend to the right aisle with a supportive arm gripped tight around his shoulders. They only had one twelve pack left, so the two blondes quickly grabbed it along with a couple ho-hos and a bag of chips before heading to the register.

TNT opened his trunk, taking out his handy dandy wrench, before slamming it shut. Shuffling to the black mustang, he placed the wrench inside his hoodie pocket and went into his jacket to pull out a switchblade. His face was drained from all emotion and he had the coldest of stares. He sliced into the back tire of the mustang puncturing it, which caused the air to leave it fast. As if he was on auto-pilot, he strolled to the side view mirror, running the knife on the side of the car, ruining the new paint job. When he reached the mirror he kicked it in, breaking it off the car.

“Hey isn’t that your car?” The girl pulled her wrist back, her heart racing.

“You’re just trying to distract me so you can get—”

TNT pocketed his knife (now closed) and took out his wrench, slamming it into the headlights.

“HEY WHAT THE FUCK?!” The guy came rushing to the boy destroying his expensive wheels. “WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING?” The guy was quick to turn the southie around to slam him in the face with his hard right hook. There was no response from TNT, so instead, the foreigner continued to bash into the serpent’s face with his brawny knuckles. When he let out enough steam, holding TNT by the collar, he watched in horror as the serpent kid looked at him with hollow eyes.

Spitting the blood out of his mouth to the side, TNT let his soulless gaze pierce the heart of the older man.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?”

With no hesitation, TNT slammed the wrench against the man’s jaw before proceeding to crush his skull with it and cleaning the mustang with the man’s bloody face.

The girl approached the scene and instead of horror, her eyes widened in confusion. This was one way to save her. Were all the serpents like this?

As the other two serpents walked obliviously out of the store with their items, laughing at the last thing Molotov had said, the sight across the parking lot had them freezing before breaking into a dead run to get to their wayward brother.

At this point, TNT was on top of the now unconscious man, letting all his past traumas out into this ass beating. Serves him right for hurting a girl that was barely legal.

The girl tried her best to talk to the boy who got lost in his brutal violence, “Hey… I think you’re good… um… you can stop now…”

"TNT, stop!" Molotov demanded as he barrelled into his brother, grabbing him around the waist from behind and dragging him off the bloodied man. Ransom immediately knelt down over the downed man, checking for a pulse before sighing in relief and wiping away at the spot he'd touched with his sleeve.

"He'll live, let's get the fuck outta here," Ransom declared detachedly, looking to the girl who's arm was already bruising in a very distinct pattern and analyzing the situation quickly. "Tov, get 'im in the back seat an' bring 'im back ta us, now," the suddenly very alert Molotov nodded, hefting his smaller brother up in his grasp and carrying him back to the car effortlessly against his flailing. He turned to the harassed girl and questioned, "You, can ya drive? Are ya sober?"

“Ah yes, and yes,” The young girl didn’t expect her night to end up like this. All she did was sneak out of her house to talk to her ex boyfriend. They fought. He left her stranded. She forgot her phone in his car. So she ended up walking to this gas station to call her brother. Unfortunately, she didn’t get a chance because she was about to get pulled in some random man’s car and likely raped. This was a lot for her to think about but there wasn’t any time right now. She had to focus on getting her saviors out of here. Quickly, she scanned across the street to notice Sly James (or who the boys know as Rocky) exiting the police station and looking at the ruckus from where he stood. Not knowing any of the familial bonds that the cop had with these kids, the girl squealed, “There’s a cop! We gotta’ go.”

Ransom tossed Chase's keys to the young girl, which had dropped in the scramble, and took off running for the car alongside her. He dashed around to the pump to rip it out of the tank and replace it, slamming the lid closed before looking back across the parking lot to lock eyes with Rocky James. His face went pale and he quickly ducked into the back with the other two men, helping Tov wrestle the bloody wrench out of TNT’s grasp while the girl in the driver’s seat peeled out of the lot.

“TNT, Chase! Stop bro, it’s us!” Tov growled in his brother’s ear as he tangled his limbs with his own. “It’s okay!”

As the girl sped off, her heart racing, but oddly excited with all the thrill, she wondered if it was a good time to ask where they wanted her to take them. To the hospital? To the park? To the middle of nowhere? While she was known for being quite the vocal lass, she decided against it. Sometimes silence was the best form of communication. Before she realized it, she was driving on the route she knew verbatim, since it was something she took everyday during the school year with her sister. Her home was safe and she hoped they didn’t mind. Maybe she should treat them to some of her sister’s pies… What was it she made? Banoffee and Mississippi Mud Pie. God, her sister was so talented. She was jealous. She couldn’t bake for shit.

There was so much shaking inside of Tov’s arms. Chase’s grip on the wrench didn’t loosen. He was like a raging bull being held down, roughly elbowing his brother’s stomach and trying to pull his weapon back from his oppressor. His eyes came back to the present when the girl in the front seat decided to play music and the first song that came on from his phone was Crazy Train by Ozzy Osborne. The loudness caused her to jump so she lowered the volume down a bit. It was at that instant his grip started to ease and his body relaxed.

Registering his surroundings, no longer holding the wrench, he looked from Ransom then to Molotov. Where was he? His face was inches away from his brother’s. A little too close for comfort. “Uh… we good? What happened?”

Molotov relaxed his grip on Chase as Ransom finally got the wrench out of his grass, then both men collapsed like marionettes with their strings cut. “You fucking blew up again man, all your dynamite at once,” He answered, out of breath from the struggle. Ransom nodded before running his hand through his dirty blonde hair and cursing when he remembered there was blood on it from his fight for the wrench. Tov grimaced in sympathy before bringing his attention back to his brother. “Full blackout.”

Sensing that the brothers needed their privacy, Ransom crawled over the center console and into the passenger seat. He told the girl driving, “Let’s get ya home, we’ll figure the rest after yer safe,” before turning the volume up a little louder to give Molotov and TNT some semblance of privacy.

“C’mere,” Tov demanded gently, instinctively licking the cuff of his sleeve and taking it to his brother’s face to clear it of some of the blood, a classic Papa Demo move he’d picked up over the years. “You okay?”

“Yeah?” Adjusting himself, not even feeling pain even if his lip was busted and he looked like shit, TNT explained, “I was just getting gas, dude. I don’t remember shit. Why? Did I kill someone?” It started to dawn on Chase what had just transpired as he looked at his fists and his bloody wrench. “Ah fuck, I did, didn’t I?” Shit. He had just started getting happy and he was going straight to jail, wasn’t he? What the fuck was wrong with him?

His numb state turned into panic as he started to hit his head in anger. Why was he already ruining his life? He was doing so good too. He had already tuned Tov and the music out, focusing on his own self mutilation.

The girl glanced over to the boy that sat next to her and she nodded to his instructions, already on it. They turned on the next light and found themselves right on Scott Street. “If you guys want… you can get yourself cleaned up at my place? Eat some pie?”

“Yer offerin’ pie at 4am ta three guys that just ran away from a crime scene?” Ransom asked with a laugh, already a master at pretending not to be aware of private moments. “I mean I’m not gonna say no, an’ I know Tov’s stomach’s empty.”

“He’s not dead, but you beat the everlovin’ fuck outta him with your wrench,” Tov revealed. “He deserved it,” he whispered to his brother, holding his gaze. “Look at her arm.”

Stopping his vicious assault to himself, Chase peered over to see the girl driving. She looked familiar now that he had a good look at her. He noticed her bruised arm, the kind of arm that got held tightly and wasn’t given a choice in the matter. The kind of arm that was a screaming red flag of domestic abuse. The kind of arm that didn’t deserve to be touched like that. “I get it… but still. I have to do better, Ollie. I can’t just keep doing this shit.”

His mind immediately thought of Tiffannie and wanting to be better for her. How would she ever want to date a scum like him? Leaning back in his seat, he reached in his jacket, the same pocket that had his knife and searched for the photo. When he couldn’t find it, he tried to stay calm as he patted the seat. Tiff would get sad if he lost it already. Did he drop it at the gas station? God he hoped not.

His eyes trailed to the ground and there it was, by his feet. He took a deep sigh of relief. Leaning over, he grabbed it and handed it to his brother, “She wants to have lunch with the family. Don’t plan shit for 12.” The picture was of this bubbly blonde dressed in pink making a goofy face with her glossy lips puckered up, her arms wrapped around the awkward serpent, squishing her cheek against his, leaving no space between them. TNT had the shyest of smiles but he looked happy.

“Shit, man,” Tov laughed lightly as he looked at the photo. “She’s adorable. Looks about as soft as you can get.” To anyone else, it may have sounded like a backhanded compliment, but Tov trusted TNT to understand genuine praise when he heard it. Molotov liked the look he saw in his brother’s eyes, both in the photo and while the bloodied man stared at it. Soft is okay when you need it. When you’re nothing but rough, you need someone to show you that you don’t always have to be, someone to guide you into the light and hold your hand while you squint against the foreign sun. This girl looked like sunshine personified and Chase reflected her glow like the moon.

“Tell me about it,” Chase chuckled in response, gingerly taking the photo back and putting it in his wallet. “When we first met, I made her fucking cry.”

“Of course you did,” Tov laughed lightly. “I can’t wait to meet her.”



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Rye was sitting in the school cafeteria with everyone he cared about, their blurred faces open in a laughter that he couldn't hear as he struggled to focus on the person closest to him. Their lips seem to disappear as he goes to read them and the world is ringing like a dutiful alarm clock. The unintelligible conversation around him fades out as a hand grasps his shirt collar to get his attention. All the smudged out faces turn to the scene as he himself looks down the arm to its owner, the seconds dragging on like the world had been set at half speed. Ringing filled the stony silence as his heart thundered in his ears. An empty face of pale skin against curly brown hair tilted his head questioningly at him, and Rye felt his scream stick in his throat and begin to choke him slowly.

"You got off pretty easy, all things considered," the thing pretending to be Danny Boaz spoke with no mouth. He jerked away and lost his balance, and for what felt like an eternity, Gavriel fell backwards off the bench and onto the ground, Danny's hand still clenched tightly at his collar.
"Just a bum shoulder after all that? You let me go in the first place. Followed behind me."

I didn't, Rye wanted to say. You snuck past me. I was trying to grab you back! But there was another burning hand on his person and his head painstakingly turned to who he instinctively knew to be Decky Boaz. The blood was streaming from his temple and thigh as he knelt down to get close to Gavriel's terrified face.

"I told ya ta look after 'im, look what you've done," the faceless man accused, and Rye's viewpoint was forcibly swung back around to see young Danny on the ground, body limp and lifeless. Instead of being empty, the bullet hole contained a blood-red eye that stared into his soul and questioned his every action. He tried again to take a breath. When was the last time Rye had breathed? Who can hold their breath this long without-? "I trusted you with one'a the most precious things in my life, and ya got 'im killed. What kinda person are you?"

Rye tried again to defend himself but the vice like grip on his throat wouldn't let up. He choked on his words and they all fell short before they could form as the rest of the table of familiar-but-blank faces watched. One by one as he reached to them for help, the people surrounding him were shot down, and suddenly Gavriel was on his hands and knees, coughing up blood covered letters from a journal he'd never seen and one more gunshot rang out in the heaving silence, bringing the action to a standstill as the small man remained in his bowed position at the feet of Decky Boaz and the body of Danny, his shoulder now bloody and arm limp at his side. Charlie Decker’s disembodied laughter began echoing through the room, and Rye had almost forgotten that chilling, dead tone until just then.

He looked up just in time for Danny's cold eyes to settle on him as the boy's blurry face finally came into focus, just as it did on that actual day in the cafeteria. The lifeless body opened its mouth wide in order to scream and a noise like the world's loudest TV static emitted from his lips as it reached towards him, intent on dragging him down with it into the melting floor-

~

Gavriel awoke flailing, his voice already cracking as he screamed and tears streaming down his face. The blank faces were still surrounding him as the distraught man tore at the bedsheets constricting his movement, breath coming in short and erratic.

Instinctively, a shirtless boy beside Gavriel lifted himself up. Groggily, he pulled Rye up from his lying position, through all the flailing and force, and tightly wrapped him into his arms. Hushing the intrusive thoughts and whispering “It’s going to be okay,” like clockwork, the boy restricted Rye from moving, embracing and protecting him from whatever bad dream he had just had.

Whether Rye remembered it or not, he had crept down the hall, locked the door behind him, and crawled into Jericho’s bed at 3 in the morning. This has happened more often than not in the past month than it had before Gavriel left to take care of his Savta. Holding Rye close, his fingers wiping the tears away from his lover’s face, JP repeated a mantra that seemed to work on his delicate bellflower of a step brother, especially with all the information he was aware of thus far about Rye’s trauma and grief, “It’s not your fault… it’s not your fault… it’s not your fault…”

When the hyperventilating gradually slowed down, JP lifted Rye’s chin up and affectionately brushed his lips against his lover’s, “I’m here, Sprinkles,” he breathed, inches away. Fixated on the emotions seeping out of Rye’s painstricken eyes, JP carefully watched him, never once looking away from the boy that needed him. He made sure to keep him close. Make him feel safe. Loved.

The best thing about JP was his gift of making people feel like they were the only person that mattered in a room, like they belonged. He saw them, listened to them, and made them feel special. Worthy to be alive. He treated them with human decency and inspired them to want to live life to the fullest. His spirit spoke volumes and Rye got the best of it all. Whenever he stressed about the little things. Whenever he was sad over the big things. Whenever he couldn’t carry the weight of the world by himself. Whenever he needed someone to love him. Always, there was JP at his side. Ready to take care of him.

His constant, his rock, his anchor. There are plenty of ways that Gavriel could describe the man holding him. He’d known JP for almost the entire time he’d lived in Edenridge, and while they never had labels on it, they’ve had their own relationship for just as long. Rye loved JP in a way that he didn’t know was possible before the other man entered his life, and he didn’t mean in some cheesy romcom way either; JP somehow managed to get past all of Rye’s defenses just to be there for him, something not even his own mother could always do. Something so simple as the use of a silly nickname falling off of JP’s lips as he kissed him had Rye calming down from his horror-filled state as he all but collapsed against the musical prodigy. With his breath evened out and his heart rate kicking at just above average, Rye swallowed dryly and looked around his room to prove that all the faces in the shadows were just that. Shadows.

Only to realize he had once again found himself in JP’s room next door.

“I woke you up again,” Rye both acknowledged and deflected with a cracked voice, watching as the hallway light under the door disappeared as whoever had woken up to come check on him- one of their mothers, most likely- realized he was not in his own room and returned to bed. Annoyed with himself, he half-joked, “How do I even keep ending up in your room? You should lock your door.”

Because he was doing good. He swears he was doing good! He had three months of self reflection away from Edenridge, and had grown out of sleepwalking to JP’s room almost six month before even that. Yet since he returned it’s been a common occurrence once more. He wasn’t happy with his backsliding, even though he was aware it was bound to happen, especially returning to a place of high stress. There’s only so many times you can say it’s okay to relapse on something before you don’t even believe yourself.

Luckily for him, JP has never made a habit of kicking him out of bed, even over the course of Rye and Danny’s game in highschool when the smaller boy had been keeping neck and neck with the Belmonte boy. Rye considered himself to be extremely lucky to have such a caring and non-judgemental lover, and he relied on JP like he relied on his own breath to keep him going. Rye couldn’t even imagine having lived in Edenridge if JP weren’t in it, keeping him sure footed in his times of turmoil such as tonight.

“It was the cafeteria again,” He admitted quietly, finally taking his eyes off of his lover’s lips and meeting his dark hickory gaze. Self loathing entered his tone as he reached up and tightly gripped the hand wiping away his tears, his own hand shaking as he did so. Dream Danny and Decky’s words were swirling in his brain and he couldn’t seem to turn it off. “And it was my fault, no matter what I try to say in my dreams. No matter what I tell myself. I was supposed to keep him safe.”

“The fuck you were,” JP bluntly corrected, still holding his step brother in his embrace but now with a strained expression. Rarely in public did Jericho curse and rarely in public did he act anything but carefree, lax, and amiable. For Rye, he was okay with showing more than just this Edenridge local that had his life together. This Edenridge local that no one had a problem with. This Edenridge local that just wanted to play music and vibe. Feeling exasperated, but keeping it to himself, JP wondered when the day would come when his words didn’t fall on deaf ears (metaphorically speaking since Rye had tinnitus).

Clearing his headspace to focus on the boy that couldn’t live without him, JP calmly asked, reeling back his annoyance, “So you had the power to predict Charlie Decker was going to shoot up the school and take something important away from one of his childhood friends? One of your friends?” He emphasized the last question before continuing, “So you knew he was gonna’ come in that day, straight into that cafeteria and traumatize you and everyone else in that room? You were totally prepared for that, right?”

At this point, Jericho loosened his grip on his lover and glanced over at the clock, noticing it was 4:30 AM. Great. He wasn’t going back to sleep. Once he was up, he was up. Laying back down on his pillow, his hands behind his head, he stared up at the ceiling. If he was coming off as harsh and rude, he didn’t mean it but this last month had been the same thing over and over and not once did Rye ask about him and maybe it was getting to him. Maybe he was frustrated that things still hadn’t changed between them, after all these years.

Rye stared after JP as the other man lied back down, confusion on his features at his unusual reaction. The mantra was similar to all the other times JP had reassured him but his tone had changed, as well as his actions, and Rye wasn’t sure what to do about that. Typically, the older boy would keep him in his arms while he talked him down from his night terrors and the irrational thought that always came with it. For him to flop down and go silent, staring up at the ceiling like he hadn’t just bulldozed through a process that typically took several minutes left Rye unsure and suddenly a bit insecure, a feeling he is extremely used to if it were with anyone else but the other man in the bed.

“I- n…no of course not I…I j-just-” He stumbled over his words, face feeling hot as the ringing in his ears filled the void of silence after he cut himself off. He dropped his gaze away from JP’s face before he started making up expressions to fill the shadows that disappearing from the moonlit window had cast onto it. It was just his anxiety getting the better of him, just like it always did, it had to be. The dream had him discombobulated and he was just being sensitive, he had to just be being sensitive because if JP, the one person in the whole world who had never shown annoyance at him, was getting sick of him…he didn’t even know what to expect from that. He was scared of whatever outcome there would be, that’s for sure. Shamefaced, he turned away from JP.

“Sorry, I’ll just go back to my room, I was being stupid,” He said, his voice small and shakey. He threw his legs over the side of the bed and stood up, taking a moment at the side of the bed to steady himself. “Goodnight.”

“No, you won’t and no you aren’t. Get back over here.” JP didn’t reach for Rye, not one to grab anyone’s wrists unless they were into it, but instead used commanding words. “The last thing we need is you being alone in your room. Just lay here with me.” JP adjusted his position, turning on his side and opening the covers. “Please.”

Rye stayed at the edge of the bed for a long moment, fidgeting with his own nails as he looked at the dark door several feet away that led into a shadow hallway and then to his dark, silent room. He didn’t want to go, he wanted to slide right back into bed and rest his head on JP’s chest and fall asleep to his heartbeat, and the sound of his fan in his room was always a poor substitute to blocking out the noise. A cool breeze brushed across his bare chest and he looked back to a similarly undressed JP and the comforter that he held aloft, waiting for Rye to return.

“Ok,” He relented, slipping back under the covers and doing exactly what he had been thinking a moment before, slinging an arm over JP’s bare stomach and putting his head to his lover’s chest, ear right over his heart. He gave a light squeeze as the blanket fell around them, clenching his eyes against tears he shouldn’t be having and the feeling that something was wrong wrong wrong. And then, once again like clockwork, he whispered out, “I’m sorry.”

“No, I’m sorry,” JP breathed before kissing Rye’s head. “I shouldn’t have gone at you like that. I’m just tired. I won’t let it happen again.” There he was locking up his own feelings, compartmentalizing his thoughts, and focusing on Rye’s needs. This was how things were supposed to be for them. Rye cried, JP held him. Rye ranted, JP listened. Rye wanted to feel loved, JP loved. Jericho knew what he was getting himself into the moment they met and fell so hard for one another. If Rye begged him to come, he would in a heartbeat. He was just tired. Really tired. “I’m sorry,” He whispered once more, making sure his hold on his lover never loosened. That Rye felt wanted. “For everything.”

“You don’t have to apologize,” Rye sighed out, already feeling safer again in his lover’s hold. “You didn’t do anything wrong, I’m just a mess.”

“You’re my mess.”

Rye smiled tiredly, the exhaustion was already starting to creep up on him as if he’d had no sleep at all, and he knew he’d probably fall back asleep in the next few minutes like he always does. When he wakes up, JP will be there still, already awake and watching him. Like always. “You gonna get some sleep too?”

Nuzzling his face against Rye’s hair, JP lied behind a smile, “Yeah, of course. Like always.” Relaxing his body, but still keeping Rye in his arms, to show his lover that he was seemingly falling asleep, Jericho drawled, “Sleep. I’m going nowhere.”

And just like clockwork, Gavriel did fall asleep and Jericho found himself staring at the door, stuck in his own thoughts while trailing his fingers on Rye’s bare back. Waiting. Waiting for the sun to rise so that he can watch his lover wake up and smile.


@Aces Away , @metanoia, @LovelyComplex
Timestamp: The Sunday right after the Allison (Friday) Scene




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Arriving at the James house was as uneventful as it can get when you throw three powder kegs into a truck together. Mordechai was thankful for the moment of silence he had gotten while Mika was collecting Allegra and the kids from the airport, because he knew he wasn't going to be getting anymore now that his family was here.

"I'll go knock," Mordechai offered as he handed Chai over to Mika and slowly dropped out of the truck, holding onto the door until he knew he had his feet under him. Once he was balanced, he made his way to the front door and knocked with a shaky hand before stepping back and running his nails along his arm anxiously.

Mika wasn’t far behind as he held Chai in his arms, making sure he was secure before he hopped out of his truck and slammed the door shut. Under normal circumstances, which was typically being anywhere but the southside, he would put his alarm on. It was just the normal habitual thing he had about him in regards to his truck.

He stayed near it for a few moments, waiting for Allegra to get herself ready as he watched from the curb as Boa took those first steps and knocked on Poppy’s door. “Ya about ready?” He asked Allegra, holding a surprisingly well-behaved Chai close to his vest. The infant immediately grabbed at one of his buttons and began fumbling with it happily.

"Oh I'm sorry Badger, did you wanna put all the stuff Viva pulled out of my purse back in it?" Allegra drawled from where she was half twisted under the seat and reaching for the last of the errant objects. "By all means, you get on your hands and knees for once. God knows work alone has had me do it more than enough ta fill several lifetimes." Viva laughed at her mother's predicament from her seat, still strapped in with the seatbelt and playing with a tube of Allegra's lipgloss. "Gimme that ya lil' demon in disguise," the woman retrieved her make-up and opened the cap, dabbing the slightest bit onto her fingertip before rubbing it onto her daughter's lips so there was just the vaguest bit of sparkle. Viva cheered gleefully and Allegra took that moment of reprieve to untangle the toddler's hands from the seatbelt and unclasp it, helping her out of her seat and out of the truck before following after. "There ya go, now she's happy and she'll be quiet while she tries to figure out what flavor the lipgloss is."

Penelope was upstairs, having cleared out most of her room in terms of clothes and items, placing them in boxes and pushing them in the hallway. She left the boxes in the hallway for her parents to help her transport them (she was WEAK). The last box she was carrying out was that of Charlie’s things, including the manuscript that had been laying dormant in her bottom desk drawer. Penelope was moving out of her bedroom, so she could live. This was a start on her healing journey.

Victoria was planning to stop at Rhonda’s later on today to see if Poppy could stay with her while they had a full house. Penelope had woken up at 3 AM, after her visit to Charlie’s gravestone, and when she did she saw her parents going hard in spring cleaning. They were maneuvering throughout the house, straightening up, packing Maxine’s things (finally), and bringing out nursery and kid furniture from the attic that picked up dust. It had been years since they touched Max’s belongings but with the prospect of Mordechai and his family bringing life to the house once more, they were ready to turn over a new leaf. They were motivated to move forward.

When there was knocking on the door, Sylvester James called out, “Got it,” His wife was in Maxine’s room setting up the kids’ room and Sly had just finished getting ready for his workday. Penelope’s hair was wet as she rushed out of the shower to get ready and be presentable for Allegra and company. She was nervous because of how she came off on the phone call but she was also excited because she… liked her. Not like a crush kind of like. She thought she was a perfect companion for Mordechai, which is why once she gathered herself at the park she called her parents and made the proposition. Initially, they were surprised because one, they didn’t know Mordechai was back in town and two, they didn’t know he had a family. Even with that being said, they would never refuse family and Decky was family.

With his police wear on, Sly cracked his neck before opening the door. His body and muscles were a testament of all the adversity he overcame. All the hardship he faced everyday to protect the town. His journey, despite all the violence that surrounded him and that he experienced, led him to this point in life. A pillar in a town of broken things. He took in the punches, he took in the pain, and he absorbed all the hurt. In the end, he came out ten times stronger and his purpose was solidified each and every day. He was meant to help people. He was meant to take all the bad he felt and turn into something good. That was Sylvester “Rocky” James. A rock. Impossible to change and very much needed.

“Oh hey! What a crowd.” He glanced through the small army in front of his house. First, he started with Mordechai, the one standing in front of him, “Look at you, kid. Skinny as ever. You bet your ass Vicky is going to put some meat on you.” The older man chuckled, giving a relaxed smile. His eyes were surrounded by dark circles from the back to back to back long shifts, “It’s good to see you, Mordechai. Penelope, I caught her smiling today. I bet that’s because of you.” After ruffling Decky’s hair, Sly stepped out and glanced over to Mika, “And you, try to say hi from time to time, yeah? You’re a good kid, Mikhail. Hope you’re getting yourself in minimal trouble.”

“You know me. Trouble always finds me for some reason,” Mika laughed, feeling weirdly comfortable as the legendary Sylvester James in his cop uniform acted as casual as ever.

His welcoming gaze went from Mika to the children, Chai and Viva, “Oh man, are these the little rascals?” After giving Viva a friendly wave, like the big teddy bear he was, he looked at Allegra to warn her, “Vicky is going to smother them with love and kisses and all my money. Just fyi. She’s already set up a room for them. And damn.” His attention went back to Chai before lightly patting Mordechai’s back, “Look at you! That’s a mini you if I ever saw one.”

Finally, the veteran police officer, ex serpent (his tattoo visible on his arm), observed Allegra. There was nothing but kindness, gratefulness, and excitement in his face. His kids were entering a new chapter in their grief journey. This had to be a sign for better days. “You must be Allegra, it’s nice to meet you.” Adjusting himself so he was facing her, without entering her personal space, Sly chuckled, “Penelope has told me so much about you already. I haven’t seen her run around this house in… well. A while. Which reminds me! I have to leave but here,” Sly pulled out his wallet and took out a couple hundred dollars, “For you and the family. It’s our welcome to Edenridge gift. You’re doing us a favor by being here and looking out for these troublemakers,” Sly joked and gestured toward Decky and Mika before his upbeat, sleep deprived self complimented, “And your kids and their smiles, that’s exactly what this house needs.”

Allegra was barely keeping the shock from entering her face as Sly placed the money in her hand, completely unfamiliar with this sort of transaction and struck momentarily speechless as her mind processed the whirlwind introduction of Sylvester James into her life. She noticed more than either men she arrived with probably thought, and she was very aware that the man in front of her was both incredibly dangerous and incredibly kind. Mordechai had mentioned to her once when talking about Poppy that the girl’s father was a Serpent-turned-cop and that he always seemed to know more than he let on. Seeing as how he avoided getting in her space or towering over her without having ever met her, she finally began to understand what her friend had meant. He was adaptive and observant, and quick to put those observations into actions. She was observant too, and her eyes flickered from the cash still in her upheld hand to his blatantly tattooed arm to the dark bags under his eyes. Yes, this was a man she could see herself getting along with, trusting, without anything untoward happening to her. Before Mordechi and Mika, Allegra wasn’t even sure if that sort of man existed, but it seemed like Southside Edenridge contained more than its reputation should allow.

Mordechai himself had frozen at the rush of affection from the older man, having almost forgotten how tactile he could be. He had always been a lot like Phil was when Mordechai used to hang around, and then eventually work at, Phil’s Junkyard and Garage. Maybe it had been the way that both older men maintained an open air about them while still being able to be authoritative and stern when needed- so unlike his father, unlike even ReyRey who still got physical with him if he felt it was needed- that always left Mordechai feeling more safe to be soft when under their gaze. Hell, if he had the energy for it he wasn’t sure if he would have laughed or cried when Sly had commented on Chai’s likeness. He hasn’t felt like smiling much since he got back home and discovered everything happening, but the cop’s comments were threatening to bring one out of him. It also hadn’t slipped his notice that Sly used his full name, and he had a feeling Poppy may have told her parents about his new-to-them trigger. This family…

“We can’t keep that,” He spoke up nervously before the man could leave, ignoring the way Allegra’s incredulous gaze snapped to him. “You’re already lettin’ Allegra an’ the kids stay here, we can’t just take your money too-”

“Speak for yourself, Ken,” Allegra broke in, ignoring his glare at her use of their corner names in front of the officer. “I left my jobs ta get here and I know your ass doesn’t have anything lined up yet, and won’t until you’re all better,” She purposefully kept her gaze on his arm until he nervously covered it with his hand. Point made. “I am more than happy ta oh so graciously accept this until we can settle. Thanks a ton, Mr. James, I know we’re imposin’ and everythin’ happened super fast so it means a lot that you and your family are willin’ ta put up with us.” She pocketed the bills before smiling at the older man. “Some of that money is goin’ into pampering your daughter anyways, I believe I promised her a spa day over the phone.”

Mika was all but a silent observer, watching the interactions between Mr. James, who lived up to his name of being a classic case of don’t judge your cop by his uniform. He had a sly mouth, no doubt living up to his name, but someone that Mika always found comfort in being around. Even if his visits haven’t been as frequent as of late, it was still reassuring every time he did. “Ah, come for the Boa, stay for the spa. Sounds like a great deal to me!” Allegra rolled her eyes good naturedly, not even turning to face him.

“I like this one,” Sly gave a hearty laugh before his walkie talkie started going off: Calling all units. A 211 at 435 Main. Back-up needed. Sighing to himself, another day to face the demons in the streets, another night praying he’ll come home to his girls, Sly gave his regards, preparing to join the fight with his brothers-in-arms. “Welcome to Edenridge, Allegra.The place where the game never ends.” His statement was ambiguous, hinting at wisdom beyond the younger generation’s years. Sly knew too much and because of that, he had sworn to protect his town until there was no more fire in him. Until he knew there was someone he trusted he could pass the baton to. Monsters lurked in every corner and it was his job to take them down.

As Mr. James jogged to his patrol car, Victoria came to the door with a timid smile, “So glad you all could make it.” Opening the door wider, she held it and gestured for them to enter, “Come, come in please.” While Sly gave off the aura of a shield, Victoria’s dark gaze was that of emotional warfare and her presence, although motherly, was like a poisonous scorpion stinger. The way she stood was welcoming, yet guarded. She held herself in a way that signaled she protected what was hers at all cost. Victoria James wasn’t as warm as her better half nor was she pretending to be. She was a survivor and a fighter. That’s all she ever could be.

The older woman stood there scanning those in front of her, especially the new face, coming to her own conclusion in split seconds. Victoria was a pretty woman, thin and stern, and although her demeanor emitted a razor’s edge, she tried her best to drop the worry and let fate lead the way. Her daughter saw something in each of these kids that waited on the porch of her house. Whether it was because they were used goods that needed some love or she saw potential in their futures, Penelope believed in these three and wanted to see them succeed.

Sometimes it is best to trust the process and let fate decide who comes into Poppy’s life and chooses to stay. Eventually all things are connected but Vicky didn’t want another Charlie. There was so much hope and trust that was placed on that boy and in the end, he caused so much suffering for the people Victoria loved. Vicky loved Rhonda. Rhonda says she’s made peace. That may be true but that doesn’t change her son abandoned her. Left her in this world by herself to figure it out alone, just like her husband did.

Vicky’s youngest daughter? Penelope. Her Poppy. Loved him to the point that she barely could survive without him. They were so codependent on each other, it’s remarkable that Poppy was still alive to this day. When he did what he did it absolutely crippled her child. Yet somehow by the strength of her father, Poppy was still standing.

There was a time Vicky didn’t hold such harsh views on the boy who massacred so many innocent lives at Edenridge High but after Maxine passed away… it became harder and harder for her to see what good he did for her daughter, for his mother. And then, he shot up the school. To say Vicky held spite was an understatement but some things were better left unsaid, out of fear of causing unnecessary damage. She wanted to trust Poppy’s friends, she really did, that’s part of the reason why she agreed with letting them stay here.

This was her safe place, her home, and only those deserving would last in it. Vicky saw the threads of life tied together, when loosened or tightened it had a surprising impact. So, she allowed them to stay close, tangling them deeper into her family's lives. She wasn’t going to leave them hanging, no. She was going to knot them tightly together, entangled with her dear Penelope, so she knew the moment they showed signs of weakness and treachery, she’d cut them. That was what mothers were supposed to do. Protect their child at all costs.

“Hey guys!” Poppy with her wet hair, one of Charlie’s big shirts, and sweatpants, stood behind her mother, excited to see all her friends. Mordechai smiled and returned her greeting quietly. “We’ve worked pretty hard in preparing the house, right, ma?”

“Oh yes, I was able to bring out furniture I don’t seem to have the strength to give away,” Victoria nodded, not realizing she had drifted for a moment. In her wandering, she missed Allegra’s analytic gaze as the young woman picked up on the energy that the others seem to have missed from Victoria.

“Mhm. Mordechai and Allegra, you’ll be staying in my room! The babies will have Max’s. They’re connected by a bathroom so it should be pretty convenient. I’ll be next door with Rhonda,” Penelope explained. Decky could explain to Legs later that Rhonda was Charlie’s mom. Allegra herself was mouthing ’two rooms?’ to her partner who shrugged back anxiously, also not expecting that much space.

“And if you need more space, like for hobbies or what not, I’d need help cleaning up the attic a little bit but that can be used for whatever.” Victoria offered, not knowing if the couple did anything for fun that didn’t revolve around the streets and crime. As the two James women talked, they led the way upstairs to show the two lover-like friends and their babies their room for however long they needed it, leaving Mika behind to make himself at home.

The two dark haired wayward spirits followed behind the women, Allegra taking a snoozing Cha from Mika and handing himi over to Mordechai while she herself swung her giggling daughter up and onto her hip as they moved forward, into the next chapter of their lives.

Had Mika the energy, he might’ve followed the women, Boa, and children. Had Mika any energy to spare, he might’ve done more than find a comfortable spot on the couch near the arm rest and casually splay his body longways on the couch. It didn’t matter to him whether or not it was stiff or one of those couches where his body would sink into the form-fitting cushion, Mikhail Zima was utterly exhausted. For the past few hours, he had been running on fumes. That music he played for Boa wasn’t just because he wanted to ‘torture’ him but it fueled his fumes. And him punching that tsa guy wasn’t because he wanted to…well, it was, but it had to do with his fumes running high.

Everything Mika did up until this point was his near empty tank running on whatever emergency fuel he had to spare. But the moment he came to a stop in front of the James’ house and helped Allegra and just stood there, doing everything that he could to remain on his feet, Mika could feel it. Typically he refused to allow himself to be so vulnerable in a home he had minimal time spent in, but there was something more than familiar about Poppy’s place. Maybe it was the closeness he and Poppy had in high school or it was the fact that he knew Boa would be here, as well as the kids. Or maybe it was Sly’s subtle urging of him to come around more often. Whatever it was, Mika didn’t feel like he needed to be on his guard one bit.

He felt safe here.

As he smiled and his head resting on his arm, Mika was out. He hadn’t the energy to take off his shoes nor his jacket or anything. He was in a peaceful sleep and out like a motherfucking light.


@Aces Away & @LovelyComplex
Timestamp: First Friday after the events at serpent house, two days after Mama Always Said





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Between his hangout session with Danny and Marco on Sunday and his lunch with his mom on Wednesday, as well as spending plenty of time with JP at MSM Rye was beginning to feel settled at home once more. He’d talked to Niles through text but still hadn’t had a chance to reach out to his friend any further. Regardless, with the news he got from Danny and his list of loved ones including others affected by it, his next stop was Elisa D’Amiano. After a quick text exchange the day prior Rye waltzed up to the home of one of Danny’s older sisters on Friday afternoon, nearly a week after he’d returned home. He had bought a beautiful bouquet of Irises and asked Vannessa at Hummingbird Creations to wrap it in purple tissue paper. The door was left open, so Rye pulled open the screen door and slid inside, making sure to greet Nyx as the black and white feline twisted between his legs. He made his way to the kitchen and greeted Elisa enthusiastically.

“Elisa, sis! You have no idea how refreshing it is to see such a beautiful face,” He complimented as he pulled her into a tight hug. “I’m surrounded by them of course, but none compare to you.”

“You’re energetic,” Elisa gave an affectionate and sympathetic smile toward her brother’s best friend, holding him in a way where it felt tight, yet tender. Only moments ago she had kissed her husband who soon after took off to enjoy himself at the bar. She got time to herself and him as well. There was nothing but trust in their relationship and both enjoyed their time apart just as much as they enjoyed their time together. Before Gavriel had entered her Victorian house her husband so graciously worked on to make it into her preferred aesthetic, she had visited her two boys sleeping soundlessly.

Nothing compared to a mother’s love and Elisabetta knew she would die for these two. Come rain, come shine, they were her world. It’s funny when she thinks about it. Growing up, she wasn’t that great with kids. Or well, she was a kid herself. The last time she babysat was when she was twelve and she almost got two kids arrested. In her defense, the kids were simply a grade below her so… the age difference was a poor judgment call on the parents. She remembered they were feuding with this dumb girl across the street so she thought it was only fair to egg her house. Things escalated where the father brought a bat out and they ran away, then she made a lie to cover their tails. Unfortunately lying and saying they were walking the dog was not a bulletproof plan, seeing how they prank called the house thirty seven times in the past hour.

After that, she swore to never babysit again.

This incident was only three years after her and her family moved to Edenridge and not only was her father not happy with her but she gained a reputation as an anarchist. It also didn’t help that she was the token goth chick of all Northside. An outcast who acted like she didn’t care what anyone said about her. A rebel without a cause. A scary bitch in black. Thinking about that and how now she was a mother who would bring out the worst of herself all to protect her two little boys… it was funny really. How life worked in mysterious ways. How life made her so maternal, so aware, so paranoid for their futures. Releasing Rye, having absentmindedly ran her hand in his hair, thinking of the day Damon would grow to be someone with similar fluffy hair, Elisa grabbed the flowers away from him and took a leisurely sniff, “They’re very pretty. Thank you.” With a serene gaze of acceptance and acknowledgement, Elisa began maneuvering around her kitchen to find a vase. As she did so, she firmly asked, “Hungry? I’ve made lasagna. Thirsty? We have plenty of juice and teas.” Placing the flowers in a china vase, she glanced back at Rye and insisted, “Please, get comfy. It’s been awhile, Gavriel.”

“I will never say no to your lasagna,” Rye answered with a grin as he hopped onto the maroon velvet barstool to lean his elbows onto the black marble countertop. “Do you have grape juice? We ran out last night and I would kill for a glass.” He began tapping his fingers on the marble before he realized what he was doing and pulled his hands into his lap. “How have you been? It was hard finding time to video chat these past couple months, I’ve missed our little chats.”

Instead of answering whether or not she had grape juice, Elisa grabbed it from the fridge and poured him a glass. If there was one thing she always stocked up on it was an assortment of juices, from store bought to fruit/vegetables she juiced and put in glass storage containers. “I’ve been okay. I don’t get much of a break since I’ve been assigned to teach summer classes.” Whether kids didn’t want to stay back or they were attending class for college prep reasons, it was her job to push them to their greatness. To see that they succeed. Placing his glass in front of him, she smiled, “I missed our chats too, but I’m glad you focused on family. Family comes first.” With that, she went on to move around her kitchen and get Rye a plate of lasagna.

"Yeah, it does, but you guys are part of my family too, you know?" He responded, hands immediately wrapping around the cool glass and fingers running lines through the condensation. It was a sentiment he had shared with her many times, even before their shared experience in the cafeteria, having created a large found family on his own instead of sticking with the small one he'd grown up with, and even larger than the blended one he'd ended up in. "Especially you and Danny, you've done so much for me. I'm sorry that I didn't check in on you sooner after finding out about Momma B, but I didn't know how to approach it and I wanted to make sure you had enough free time to really talk if you needed to. Have you…been talking to anyone about it? Or do you want to?"

They've talked about many things, including -albeit shortly- their shared trauma, but Rye was well aware this was a newer territory for them both and he was never good at tip-toeing around issues. If she wanted him to drop the topic he would, but at least now she was aware that he was in on the secret and that she could lean on his shoulder if she needed.

Stopping for a moment as she placed a piece of lasagna on a plate, Elisa whispered, “So you know.” With her back facing Rye, the third Belmonte daughter frowned. If Rye knew, it was only a matter of time the whole town would know and that was something her father didn’t want. He didn’t want them to remember the image of Silvia with her cancer. He didn’t want people to see how the heart of the family was failing. He didn’t want the people of Edenridge to see a lot of things. Clearing her throat, she went back to making Rye’s plate. Once she was done, she placed the knife down and brought it to her company. “I have my husband, silly. Of course I have someone to talk to.” As soon as he was given food, she walked to the other side of the island and leaned on it. “It isn’t your job to check on me, Gavriel. You need to focus on yourself, hun’.”

“You’re starting to sound like my ma,” Gavriel laughed, turning the fork over in his hands. “I had three months to focus on myself while I was helping my savta, she’s super laid back and independent so she refused to take up a lot of my time. Gave me plenty of time to think about myself and those I love and how I want to show them. That includes you and the rest of your family, but it was always mostly you, Danny, and Momma B.” He leaned across the counter as an upbeat hip hop song played out from his dangling earbuds between them. He dropped a hand onto her wrist and gave it a gentle squeeze and a small smile. “First rule of Emergency Medics Anonymous: ‘We’re here for each other no matter what’, right?”

“Right,” Elisabetta answered before following up with a correction, You,” She placed her free hand on top of his and began, “are like me. We wouldn’t have connected as well as we did if we weren’t kindred spirits. You’re playful and witty when you feel safe. That's a side of me my husband hasn’t seen in a while, but it’s there. Once you make up your mind on someone, you close off. Though, you might be a bit nicer than me. You have the best dry humor which only the cleverest of people have.” Removing her hand from Rye, Elisa gave a smug look, missing the days in highschool where she was a goth bitch who joked too much. “Trust me when I say you’re more like me than you realize.”

Mrs. D’Amiano clasped her hands together redirecting the focus on herself, trying to answer his question from earlier, “Well! How am I? A million dollar question right there.” She wryly laughed before darkly adding, “You know the only people without problems are those in cemeteries? I’d love for someone to say that at my funeral.”

Gavriel took the on the spot character assessment well, knowing Elisa had a very good read on him just as he had on her. Leaning back once she'd released his hands, he listened intently to her closing statement and immediately fell back into dark humor while he really processed what she said. "I mean I can start taking notes for the eulogy now if you want," he stated facetiously, miming writing something on a notepad as though his fork was the pencil. "'Elisa would like you all to know you can go screw yourselves, as she is somehow managing to have worries beyond the grave as well. That's life…and death I guess.' Does something like that sound like what you were goin' for?" He casually flipped the fork around his finger one more time before grasping it and taking a bite of his lasagna. He almost groaned at how good it tasted but restrained himself due to the intensity that the conversation held beneath the quips.

“Ooooh. I love that. You should make that a profession,” Elisa chuckled, honestly not really caring about what goes on her stone. She didn’t even care if she was buried, turned to ash, or her body went missing. Why would she care? She’d be dead. The only thing she would care about is her family doing what they need to do to come to terms with her death and keep pushing on. Absentmindedly, she started biting her nails. A nasty habit of hers she was, to this day, trying to break.

"For real though, this is a lot to be dealing with and I understand if you don't want to go any further into detail, I just want you to remember that you have more than one person in life to lean on for a reason. I'm more than willing to lend you what's left of my listening ability." Because Elisa and Gavriel went through hell together and not only survived, but teamed up to keep others alive as well. Elisa would check on Rye in the hallways during senior year on the days that he even made it into school, and once Rye graduated and had begun to settle again, they had started to meet up on the regular and talk through their shared trauma together. Rye had once deprecatingly called them Emergency Medics Anonymous during a coffee date and the little nickname had stuck between the two. Rye would do anything for Elisa to make her feel better, and he would never regret it.

Withdrawing her finger tips from her mouth, Elisa quietly observed Rye with those harsh and strikingly vibrant hazel eyes. While the colors were the softest brown infused with green, like the forest during springtime, they still held wisdom and strength beyond her years. “I never did tell you…” She straightened her posture, no longer leaning on the table, and went to get a piece of tissue from one of her counters. “Prior to that day,” She returned to the island this time beside her brother’s best friend, “I was diagnosed with postpartum depression.”

As she brought up something most of her siblings didn’t know, aside from Cat, she subconsciously started ripping the tissue into small pieces, letting it fall where it fell. “Only a month or so from that day I had given birth to my sweet, little Vince. I almost lost him.” Her gaze grew distant as she continued to tear into the paper. "Honestly, that day, I prayed I’d be the one shot dead by Decker. The emotions I was feeling were worse than death to be honest.” Dread and guilt emitted off of her, as if she was still leaving through the worst years of her life.

“Seeing little Danny Boaz…” She paused as her mind drifted in and out of a memory and Rye froze at the boy's name. Once she was able to muster the words to express her deeply rooted emotions, she explained, “I buried my grief and focused on the lives that didn’t deserve this tragic ending.” Stopping her actions, she brought her attention to Rye, finally dropping the strength. Her demeanor was small and her expression was that of sadness like raindrops on a grave. “My mom? She doesn’t deserve a slow death. She’s such an amazing human being,” Elisa admitted with a shattered heart. “I guess God thinks she’s too good for this world, but why put her through so much pain? I hate seeing my family falling apart but what I hate more is the fact that such a good woman is dying like this.”

Rye rolled his shoulders as he worked his way through his own emotions brought up by the conversation, eyes following the turn of Elisa's lips and the scrunching of her eyebrows. His own heart broke for the woman that he'd come to see as an older sister figure over the years and he pushed his plate to the side in order to lean onto the counter while facing Elisa fully so she could read him. His shoulder ached as he stretched it but he didn’t acknowledge it with anything more than a twitch of his lips. He had asked for her honest feelings and she trusted him with them. He hadn’t known anything about her depression, or the reason behind the empty look in her eyes that day they collaborated on the cafeteria floor; he couldn’t even see clearly at the time through the haze of shock and adrenaline. And to know that she had almost lost little Vince as well? All the new information lately was having him wonder how he’d missed so much with the people he deemed family.

He wasn’t the most religious, the Belmonte family already knew this, he doesn’t even go to Gardenview anymore because of the ghost of one Boaz and the shadow cast by the other. He doesn’t pretend to know much about what catholics believed either, but in times like these he wished he had accompanied the Belmontes to their church every now and then as a teen so he could speak from a place of better knowledge.

“I don’t think your God is trying to make Momma B. suffer, Lis’. She’s amazing, and incredibly strong. It’s a legend of a woman that can raise that many kids, and she put her foot down a lot. I don’t know anyone that could really tell her what to do, do you think even God could tell her when it’s her time to go,” he joked gently. “Because I’ve never met anyone that would dare rush her.” He searched Elisabetta’s face for any sign that she was understanding what he was saying or if it just seemed like a ramble. “She’s going to hold on for as long as she can to make sure her family is okay, even if it hurts her while she’s doing it. Love hurts. A lot. Maybe to her every bit of pain is worth it for the last moments she gets with all of you. To me, that means she's just as strong now as she ever was.”

He looked away then, fidgeting at his fingers and feeling as though he may have overstepped, spoken on something he shouldn’t have when he was just trying to find a small light in the darkest part of his loved ones’ lives.

“Keep that image of her forever in your heart,” Elisabetta gave Rye a weak smile, picturing her mother in the current state that she was in. On top of her mother’s demeanor changing, Silvia was tired, so very exhausted. Brushing the tissue pieces into her hand, the ones she ripped, Elisa stood up and went to the garbage. As she walked to her destination, she asked a rhetorical question, “Wouldn’t that make us the selfish ones? Too afraid to let her go?” Once the tissues were in the garbage, she shuffled to her counter against the wall and leaned her bottom against it, so that she was standing but still facing Rye. Staring off into the distance, she explained with her modulated voice, her thoughts going on in the moment, “All things fade. Flesh, stone, the stars in the sky, the past and our memories. Everything surrenders to time, including our spirits. I worry for my family but I also want my mom to rest. I want everyone to give their goodbyes while they still can. I want them to tell her it’s okay. We’re going to be okay. And thank you. Thank you for everything you’ve done for us. That, however, might be too much to ask for.”

He shifted in his seat, following Elisa’s words while forcing his own tears back. He was here to be there for her, he couldn’t start bawling now just because her words tugged at his heartstrings. For a math teacher, Elisa always did have a way with words.

“My ma always says that it’s the parent’s burden to know what your children can’t or won’t say when it comes down to it. I can’t really speak on that since I don’t have any kids of my own, but after-” He cleared his throat, leg jiggling up and down on the stool. “When I was in the hospital, I wasn’t doing well. I got angry before the rest of the emotions hit. I yelled at her a lot, tried pushing her and everyone else that visited away. I broke down crying once everything really hit and I realized what happened and what I was doing. Ma just smiled and said she already knew I didn’t mean it, that I needed to get it out and that that’s what she was there for. ‘Parents take the blows and roll with them because we’re there to be the wall. Whether you’re screaming at us or crying against us, we stay strong because we know it’s all coming from a place of love, whether you know it or not’,” he quoted her, tapping the countertop. “You can’t make your siblings do anything they aren’t ready to do. If they can’t get past themselves to say goodbye then that’s on them and it’s something that they’re going to have to carry. I’m not saying that what you want is too much to ask for as you think, I’m just saying that maybe Momma B. already knows what you all feel like you can’t say. Most people don’t give moms enough credit, as I’m sure you know by this point.”

He ended it on a bit of a joke, as he felt himself getting choked up and needed to fix that immediately before his words lost meaning. He wanted Elisa to know what his mother always made sure he knew: good mothers can know you better than you know yourself, and you may never be the wiser.

“Beautifully said, Gavriel,” Elisa complimented before approaching him and bringing him into a tender, warm, and heartfelt embrace, “You’re such a good son and I know for a fact your mother loves you with all her heart. Our love for our children is like nothing else in the world. I fell in love with my boys before I even met them.” She released her medical partner-in-crime, reminiscing of the days she cherished, the days that kept her going like fuel. She gracefully and humbly smiled, “No matter how exhausted I am, no matter how hard my day gets, my love for them keeps me going. There is no law, no pity, and no map to parenting. All that I am and I hope to be, I owe it all to my mother. Deep down, like you said, I know that’s what I am to my kids. I’m just mom. And they’ll love me for it. No matter the stages of life they live through. No matter the disagreements and fights that will inevitably happen because they’re simply growing up. I’m just mom. Being a mother is something fierce.”

As the boy stared at her with adoration, Elisa playfully pinched his cheek, “Your lasagna is getting cold.” This was enough emotion to last her a lifetime, but she was glad Rye visited her. She didn’t have many people check on her so it meant a lot to be noticed, to be seen. Elisabetta D’Amiano was a high functioning woman who never came across bothered or unwell. Though her medical records would argue otherwise. She was good at masking that all up and focusing on her family instead of herself. Moments like these truly helped her see she was only human and that from time to time she needed someone to talk to feel whole again.

She’d successfully brought the conversation to a close and even initiated their hug, so he had simply hugged her back fiercely until she pulled back and pinched his cheek, a move that reminded him so much of his mother that it left him feeling warm inside. He hoped that meant she got everything she needed from their interaction and he truly helped ease her mind a bit. Rye turned back to his food, not wanting to be rude and let it get cold as Elisa had said. In this moment, he felt like he had done enough. As he took a bite of the lasagna he hummed appreciatively, swallowing his mouthful before smiling at Elisa.

“Delicious as always,” He complimented before going back to his meal and letting the comfortable silence be taken over by the music still playing from his dangling earbuds.



Featuring Gavriel and Avigail Phillips-Shomer
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Timestamp: The First Wednesday After The Events At Serpent House

“You’ve been anxious lately,” Avigail commented to her son as they sat on the bench outside Main Street Sound. She had made a mini picnic to share on her lunch break with her two sons but JP had gotten unexpectedly busy inside the store and told them to go ahead without him, so they had left a sandwich behind for him and gotten out of the way before settling down in their current seats. “Are you doing alright?”

“As alright as I can be,” Rye answered honestly as he took a bite out of his sandwich, pulling his earbuds out and taking his time to chew slowly and swallow his food before continuing. “I mean, the letters? It’s messed up, but I was gone for most of it. I read them, and I’m definitely not going to be genuinely good for a while as you’ve already seen from my nightmare last night. But I have my family to lean on. Momma Belmonte? What am I supposed to do with that but accept it, you know? It’s completely out of my control and I was gone for most of that too. All I can do is be here now for everyone that needs me, to help where I can and take control where I’m able. If I can crack jokes and make someone smile and maybe forget how hellish their life is for a moment, I’m gonna.”

Avigail watched as her son picked at the crust of his sandwich, tossing the crumbled bits to the ground for the pigeons to pick up. She was rarely conflicted about having moved to Edenridge as a whole, but everything that has happened to her son has had her revisiting that choice more than she’d like to admit. She’d watched her son blossom, wither, and start to grow again in this community and she would be lying if she said it didn’t warm and break her heart in equal measure. Luckily, with the weekly therapy and the time away from the town, Rye had been slowly getting healthier again, recovering right along with his savta whether he knew it or not. These recent road bumps will simply be another small setback that will further his growth once dealt with. She was sure of it. She had to be.

That doesn’t mean she doesn’t need to worry about him while the setbacks occur.

“You being gone wasn’t your fault, that was out of your control and no one expected this to happen. I seem to remember you telling Danny exactly that when he came back from camp,” She pointed out, reaching out to still her son's fidgeting hands and lead the sandwich to his mouth where it belongs. Rye allowed the direction with an accepting eye roll, used to his mother bulldozing through his anxious habits to make sure he ate properly. "Remember to take time for yourself, Bubbe, I’d never tell you not to help someone but you can't be there for those you love if you wear yourself too thin."

"I know I know, I promise to be true to my own health and stay aware of my own energy levels and all that. But seriously Ma, there are a lot of people hurting right now that are going to need support and I'm actually in a place to give it again, I think," Rye leaned against his mother's side as he wiped the crumbs off his hand and onto the ground, knowing she was only worrying for his well being and loving her all the more for it. “I’m not the best listener, but I can be there for people, you know? I’m not going to develop some savior complex and burn myself out, I’m just trying to help those I love see things a little clearer. You raised me right and you raised me well, now I'm going to spread that good energy.”

They sat there in mutual silence for a moment as his mother processed his words and finished her own sandwich. She studied her son, so proud of the beautiful and strong-willed man he had become while silently lamenting what pushed him to such a point in the first place. You never really knew what you were going to get with him sometimes now. She was ashamed to admit it- even to herself- but without Robyn, JP, and the rest of their little family Avigail doesn’t know if she would have been able to bring her son back from the depths. She was amazing, but she was still just one woman, and the trauma this town creates cannot be healed by a single person. Sometimes even the physical wounds take more than just her own two steady hands.

“You’ve grown so much. And I am so proud of you and everything you’ve done,” Avigail said seriously, putting her arms around her son and dropping her cheek to the top of his head as she squeezed him tight. She then started loudly kissing his head while rocking him back and forth playfully. “My baby is a grown man now! What am I going to do once you don’t need me anymore!” she bemoaned dramatically while her son laughed and flailed along with the routine.

“You’ll still have Winnie and Mallory to harass if you really think I’ve aged out!” He laughed out as he untangled himself from his mother’s grasp. “Winnie’s not even a full eighteen yet and Mal’s only sixteen.” he scoffed.

“Don’t say that like you’re so much older,” Avigail scolded teasingly with an exaggerated eye roll. Her mission was accomplished, though, as her son was grinning again. “You can still see a pediatrician at your age, so I still get to fuss over you as much as humanly possible.”

“I don’t think that’s a real rule, but I’m gonna let it slide,” Gavriel joked as he stood up from the bench after checking his phone, turning around to reach his hand out to her. “Only because your lunch break is over and I’d hate to send you off after you just lost an argument.”

“Oof, the cheek on you, I don’t know where you get it,” Avigail accepted her son’s offered hand and rose from the bench as well with his help.

“Yeah, because how on earth could we pinpoint the biggest parental influence in my life,” Rye deadpanned. “It really must be Momma, right? She’s a well of dry humor and sarcasm.”

“Oy vey,” His mother rolled her eyes good naturedly, showing exactly where he got that move from. “Okay you brat. I’m going to leave before you decide to take back my win too. I can feel the mischief pouring off of you right now,” Avigail laughed. “Remember to take care of yourself, and I’ll see you and JP at home tonight for family game night.” She gave him a kiss before picking up her little cooler- a gift from Gavriel of course- and heading back the way she had come. “Love you!”

“Love you too, don’t accept any drugs from strangers! Only people you know!” Rye called after his mother, who raised her hand in a peace sign but otherwise did not turn around. “By god I love that woman.” He looked into the window of MSM and saw that the chaos from earlier had completely disappeared while he and his mother had their lunch, so he happily bounded back into the shop and hopped onto the counter to further harass his favorite person.
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