Nov. 17th, 2009 11:49 pm
backdrifter: I won NaNoWriMo 2009! (nanowrimo 2009)
[personal profile] backdrifter
His fever was coming down the next day, but not enough that Ryan could go back to school, and so Mrs. Allen was called in again to park herself on the couch and rarely move. Peter came too, but he sat himself at his grandmother's feet and hardly moved, as well. Ryan was mostly left to himself. The problem with this was that lately, Ryan didn't trust himself with himself. It wasn't that the presence of other people deterred the furniture from twisting in the corner of his eye—and sometimes when he was staring directly at them—or from the ceiling telling him that he was a mistake somebody made, but when other people were in the room during these events he felt like he had an anchor. Alone, he frequently fell through the TV screen and out into a black nothingness, to watch the furniture take up residence in his place.

So he forced himself to sleep.

Ryan was generally a lucid dreamer, able to run when he saw monsters, or fight when he needed to. In some dreams, he was even capable of flight, taking off in a single leap and doing loop-de-loops in an airless blue sky. (He usually found himself on the floor in the morning.) Today, it seemed, that was not to be the case.

Mrs. Allen was gone, and so was Peter. Instead, Ryan sat on the couch by himself, the TV on and generating white noise without the cable box being on as well. He watched the furniture warily, but it stayed meek and still, just as he supposed furniture should, and always had until recently.

It was the TV that rebelled, stretching itself out unevenly in each of its four corners, trying to keep a rectangular shape. It mostly succeeded, and was now the size of the wall it had been pushed against. The other electronics that had been around it—the stereo and speakers, the Nintendo, the phone—had been smashed in the TV's growth, plastic and metal pieces strewn like a bomb site. It exploded into static, hurting Ryan's ears, and then a freezing hand with a molten core of a palm touched his shoulder to slide behind his head and curl around the opposite shoulder. Ryan jumped, and then tried to pull away when he looked and saw it was Not-Victor. Not-Victor was shirtless, his jeans stolen from Victor and open. Not-Victor's mouth wounds had also scabbed over, and when he smiled, the dried blood crackled on his cheeks.

Ryan prepared to run away, just like in most of his other dreams, and found he was rooted to the couch. The most he was able to do was lean away from Not-Victor, but Not-Victor could easily move closer, making it a pointless action. Not-Victor produced a remote from thin air, and then he looked at the giant TV as he pressed a button. Ryan found he couldn't
not look.

On the enormous screen was a bird's eye view of Ryan and Victor together, Victor sweaty as his eyelids fluttered. All that could be see of Ryan was the top of his back, and the back of his head as Victor ran a hand over it. Ryan on the couch tried to sink into the couch, tried to shrink, anything to get away from the image, but Not-Victor's control of the dream was almost absolute. The light that reflected on both their faces was painfully brilliant and golden, nothing but olive skin and brown skin against each other, black hair both curly and straight, black eyes bright with desire. Ryan on the couch screamed, and Victor inside the TV screamed with him, the Ryan on top of him making choking noises.

"Ryan," Not-Victor wheezed next to him, "Ryan, don't you love your Victor?"

"Go away," Ryan whimpered. Not-Victor caressed his cheek, kissed him upon it, and Ryan could smell blood and something else on his breath. "Go away, go away..." Not-Victor put a too-big hand on Ryan's crotch, dipped his thumb inside Ryan's pants, and his other hand went somewhere outside the scope of Ryan's vision. He could imagine where. Every cell of his body cried out when he no longer could. All he wanted was to wake up, to escape this, please, please, please—

"I love you, Ryan," the being next to him whispered directly into his ear, and he'd transformed into Victor, lips warm on his neck.

Ryan awoke crying into his pillow, and he didn't even bother to look up, to question the transition. There was no escape left, whether he was awake or asleep; Not-Victor was everywhere with an army of inanimate objects that were no longer inanimate. There was nothing he would ever be able to do to get away.

He came out of his room shuffling and quiet, watching the living room from his doorway. Mrs. Allen was nearly finished with whatever she was crocheting, and Peter was lost in whatever program was on TV. He took a step backward, and he fell out of the TV screen that was always waiting behind him. It wasn't like it mattered; Mrs. Allen never noticed him, and Peter would (rightfully) have nothing to do with him now. He didn't have to be there.

The black void made him cold, made him really feel his fever, and he sat down cross-legged on whatever was serving as a floor to breathe onto his hands and rub them together. He watched the screen almost unblinkingly for two hours before Peter seemed to look around and finally notice...what? What could Peter be looking at now that Ryan wasn't there anymore? Did he see a TV sitting where Ryan had once stood, a window into the world Ryan now inhabited? Or was there nothing? It was eerie the way Peter, who could never seem to look at something for longer than half a second, seemed to be looking him directly in the eyes.

It was when Ryan felt icicles forming in his hair that he thought he might like to step back into the TV. It was no simple task, though, as he came to realize when he walked up to it and found that the bottom of the screen was a good five feet above his head. He didn't remember falling that distance. When he'd jumped back, he remembered going down a couple inches at most. He tried jumping, but he felt heavier than he ever had, and he barely got his toes off the supposed floor. When he came back down, the TV screen had risen another five feet.

He ran back, shouting for Peter—every time he'd come back from this place, somebody had pulled him back in. There was rime in the hairs of his eyebrows now, and his shouts came out shivering, his teeth clacking in the back of his mouth. Peter had no reason to help him, but Mrs. Allen would never hear him. He begged for Peter to come get him, even as his fingers turned blue in this world lit only by the TV screen that only got farther and farther away. Peter who couldn't understand anything, Peter whom he'd deemed subhuman, please Peter, come get me, Peter, help me, Peter, help me, please, Peter, please.

Swollen fingers touched the top of his head, and when Ryan's head jerked up, he was sitting in the doorway of his bedroom, right where he'd jumped back. Peter stood above him, looking as displeased as someone with only partial control of their movements and expressions could look. Peter made a yowling noise that may have been his idea of speech, and then he shambled back off to the living room, leaving Ryan on the floor.

If Ryan had felt wary of TVs before, he completely distrusted them now. He got to his feet and hid under his blankets.

The next day he was feeling better, but fortunately for him it was Saturday. Besides no school, Saturday meant freedom to play video games, to watch loud animated movies, to wrestle his brothers without being told to settle down (much). Ryan had never appreciated his brothers so much. They were so normal it was infectious, and although he still had very little tolerance for Kenny, he and Danny spent a good two hours playing the new Nintendo 64 that their father had finally bought them. There were only two controllers, and Kenny's complete inability to steer Bowser on his tiny go-kart drove his older brothers insane, so he was excluded, whining and fuming, from most of the gaming.

Ryan ignored that fact that sometimes the prongs of the new controller—awkward for adult hands, alright for his—sometimes turned prehensile, wrapping grey plastic appendages around his palms and tickling his fingers. The one over his left hand was always considerably colder than its opposite. He ignored the fact that the lamp by the couch was telling him to give up, that there was a reason he never came in anything better than third place, even against computer-controlled opponents. Right now he was normal, he was a normal boy with normal brothers in a normal apartment playing normal games on a normal couch, normal normal normal normal. Conforming to the norm. Normative. He needed to be normal.

Finally, Ryan got tired of losing, and despite Danny complaining that he was a better adversary than Kenny, Ryan handed the controller over to his excited little brother. Danny's reaction was to pull the plug on the second player controller, tear Mario Kart from the system, and slam in Star Fox instead, informing Kenny it was a single player game. Kenny whined for him to put Mario Kart back in, but Danny ignored him, and neither parent cared to mediate on a Saturday. "Do a barrel roll!" Peppy Hare that looked like a donkey instructed Danny, and Kenny stomped his feet and screeched that it was no fair.

Ryan walked off into the hallway, also ignoring the viscous quality the walls had taken on. Today was Saturday, and it was relaxing, it was good to be with his brothers and bother them and be bothered by his brothers. Bother brother bother normal normal normal.

He couldn't think about normal anymore when Not-Victor appeared in the hallway, blocking his path to the kitchen.

Not-Victor didn't look happy. His fists were clenched at either side of his hips, and his shark's teeth were clenched. There were sloppy stitches in his face now, keeping it together. He barely resembled Victor anymore.

"Ryan," the thing called Not-Victor hissed, and Ryan took off, barreling toward him to duck under the thing's arm. Not-Victor grasped at him, but he seemed clumsy, his sharpened fingernails just scratching the back of Ryan's neck. Ryan slid into the kitchen and crashed into a stool, upsetting it, which only elicited a Keep it down! from his father in the living room. Don't run in the apartment! his mother added.

"Ryan, Ryan, Ryan," Not-Victor said, cracking his neck as he stepped into the kitchen with long legs. His clothes didn't seem to fit anymore, too small and choking his entire body. "Don't forget me, Ryan, think about me, Ryan." He leaned down to stretch an arm out toward Ryan, and Ryan scrabbled to get up, succeeding only in whacking his head against the oven door. It was Maya this time that told him to stop banging around.

"I love you, Ryan," Not-Victor growled, and Ryan ducked to get away from being hugged tight to the thing's skinny body. "Come back here!"

Ryan pulled himself up at last, and he yanked a long kitchen knife from its holder on the counter, the holder itself falling on its side. His eyes were wide, his chest rising and falling rapidly as he tried to steady himself against the edge of the counter.

Not-Victor's eyes narrowed as he looked at the knife. "What're you gonna do with that?" he scoffed, and when he grinned, the stitches on his face began to snap. "Come here, Ryan. Victor loves you."

"Go away," Ryan whispered, his mantra whenever Not-Victor made his appearance. "Go away, go away. Go away!"

"I love you too much to go away," Not-Victor said, and a claw-like hand came for him, elongated, distorted. Ryan struck out with the knife, the metal flashing under the globe light on the kitchen ceiling, and Not-Victor roared inhumanly, snatching back his hand. Dark blood coursed down Not-Victor's arm as he held it, and his face transformed into something out of a horror movie. Every stitch snapped, and his mouth became a neverending cavern of triangular, sharp teeth. His eyes lost their white outline, becoming black orbs in his head.

Not-Victor lurched forward again, and this time Ryan struck with purpose, slashing across where he thought Not-Victor's chest would end up. He guessed right; Not-Victor screamed until Ryan thought his own eardrums would burst, and he fell to the floor, the oddly-colored blood burbling out of his midsection like toxic waste.

"Ryan," Not-Victor wailed, wrapping his bleeding hand around Ryan's ankle. Ryan shrieked, twisted to stab the attached arm, and when the knife sank into its flesh Not-Victor made a noise like a car crashing, all metal groaning and snapping, all things crunching and snapping in ways they weren't meant to. He released Ryan, the fingers going limp, and Ryan fell hard to his knees next to Not-Victor's thrashing body. Ryan brought the knife down again, panicking, and this time he hit Not-Victor in the gut, the knife burying itself to the hilt. When Not-Victor tried to get away, Ryan couldn't keep a steady grip on the knife, and it tore down his stomach, opening him up.

Steam rose from Not-Victor's insides and the blood was everywhere, on the floor, on Ryan's hands, arms, shirt. Not-Victor struggled to sit upright, but all it did was make the blood rush out ever faster, and Ryan thought he might throw up. He certainly felt the bile in the back of his throat.

"Oh, God, Ryan, please, I love you," Not-Victor said, and black blood spewed from between his lips as he spoke, his somewhat human face contorted with pain. "Please, it hurts, please don't do this..." He tried to touch Ryan's arm, and Ryan pulled the knife all the way down to Not-Victor's groin. Not-Victor shrieked, and when he forced himself onto his side his intestines fell out to coil on Ryan's lap and around his legs, hot and red and slimy. The stench of Not-Victor's raw bowels mixing with the now ever-present smell of blood rose to hit him in the face, and Ryan did throw up then. The imagery of his vomit—mostly white from the milk he'd had with his cereal that morning—mixing with Not-Victor's insides only made him feel worse, made him dry-heave even as he couldn't look away.

He pulled the knife from Not-Victor's body, and as he wiped his bloody sleeve over his eyes to leave him with a red raccoon's mask—he hadn't even noticed until then he'd been crying, hard—a hand grabbed his other wrist. This one didn't feel like Not-Victor's though, and when he looked, it was Victor lying on the floor with his innards exposed, blood leaking from the mouth set in his otherwise whole face.

"Don't, Ryan," Victor beseeched him, human and pathetic, even as Ryan began to sob at the sight. "Oh, God, it hurts so much! Oh, God, oh, Jesus, what've you done to me, Ryan, oh, ohhhh God!" A second wave of blood escaped Victor's mouth, pooling under his face, and Ryan screamed as he struck again with the knife. He pulled the blade across Victor's neck, the skin tearing even as it resisted, and then he slammed it back in for good measure, pinning Victor to the floor by the back of his trachea. And then Ryan bent in half, clutching at himself as he cried.

"Ryan," a new voice said, booming and rich, and Ryan looked up. Standing over him was what looked like a copy of himself, only with more European features—the lips and nose thinned, the eyes bright electric blue. Behind him the globe light on the ceiling haloed him, and Ryan held up a hand to shield his eyes. "Don't be afraid." The new being held out a hand, human-looking and intact. "I'm here now."

"Who're you?" Ryan asked in a small voice, even as he placed his filthy hand in the clean one being offered.

"I am Sol," the being said, his blue eyes locking with Ryan's, steady and sure. "And you'll never have to be afraid again, because I will protect you from everything." The words I will protect you echoed badly in Ryan's head, because he'd heard that one before, and—

"I will protect you," Sol repeated, and he covered Ryan's hand with his other one. "From everything." And Ryan could feel he meant it. "I am Sol."

"Oh, my God!" his mother shouted, running to Ryan's side. "Oh my God, what is this? Ryan, what're you—did you throw up? Is that my good knife?" Sol disappeared as she fell next to him, and she pulled Ryan around to face her by the shoulders. Ryan barely registered her shocked face past the tears that made his vision bleary. He was covered in Not-Victor's (Victor's?) blood, and his own vomit was on the knees of his pants and a little bit on his shirtfront. He held up his red hands, and though Sol's appearance had stilled his crying, the fear in his mother's eyes made him cry anew, so hard it shook him. His mother pressed him against her own body, hugging him fiercely.

"What happened, Ryan, what're you doing in here alone?" she asked as she rocked them both, rubbing his back. There was a tinge of desperation to her voice. "You were just in the living room, you were playing with your brothers... What happened? Why did you—" She pushed at the hair on the side of her head. "Baby, what's wrong? What's wrong?" She held him at arm's length, and he couldn't stop crying long enough to form a coherent sentence, but if she couldn't see the corpse on the floor, she would never figure it out. "Oh, God, please don't be, please don't—baby, please, tell me what's wrong!" She hugged him again. "Tell me what's wrong, please, baby!"

She never received an answer, though, and in the end she changed Ryan into clean pajamas and put him to bed, though it was the middle of the day. Her husband asked what was wrong, and she shook her head, saying something that Ryan barely heard about her worst fears coming true.

A doctor's appointment was scheduled for the next week for Ryan. Doctor Zimmerman was on vacation this week, the receptionist told them, but Ryan was given the first slot on Monday morning, even though it meant he had to miss class again.

Until then, it was business as usual, his mother said, and she told him that he should try not to think about Monday morning. He wasn't even sure what he was going for, and he could see in her face that she was worrying ten times worse than he was.

The death of Not-Victor brought a certain peace to Ryan's existence that week. No matter how much Victor could scare him with the words he said and the way he moved and where his hands went, there was never a drop of malice in it. Even when the desks ran away from his, taking his classmates with them, he relaxed, knowing Not-Victor wasn't behind him. Instead, he had Sol, a shining light in the dark void Ryan had never been able to escape on his own.

On Wednesday, Ryan linked hands with Sol, and they jumped off the edge of the TV screen into the black space together. Instead of panic, Ryan felt safe, and Sol—his head shining as if he really did have a halo—guided him through the darkness to another TV. The TV showed another child's life, not too unlike his own, though the hands that invaded the territory of this child's body were meaty rather than bony. Ryan looked away, but Sol gently turned his face back, and Ryan saw the owner of the hands bodily thrown into a jail cell, where presumably he would be alone for the rest of his life. Ryan bit his lip, because it wasn't that he wanted anything bad to happen to Victor, just for Victor to stop—and the TV screen changed. The man was released from the cell, and he went down on one knee in front of the child that just happened to be there, asking forgiveness, promising he would never do it again. The child nodded, and the man rose to walk away, true to his word.

On Thursday, when the chatty lamp began to act up again, telling Ryan that he was terrible at anything he tried, Sol stroked two fingers across its metal mouth, and the mouth disappeared. The lamp made muffled, angry noises, and Sol breathed on it with a shhh sound, silencing it. He smiled over his shoulder at Ryan, the lamplight behind him lighting the edges of his hair like fire, and Ryan succumbed to the feelings of warmth and safety Sol provided him.

On Friday, Sol disappeared at the sight of Victor, and Ryan suddenly felt cold and tense. For the past week, Victor had not picked him up—Maya had, grumbling the entire time—and now he was back from wherever he'd gone off to. In his hand he held a white Zabar's bag, and on his face he wore a smile under unsmiling eyes. When he walked toward Ryan, Ryan noticed his gait was funny and bowlegged, and when he bent to hug Ryan tightly, it felt like he was trying to press something out of himself. "Hey, kid. Sorry I haven't been around in a couple days."

"Maya picked me up," Ryan said into Victor's shoulder, muffled by the wool of his coat. "It wasn't so bad." Victor ended the hug, still holding him at arm's length, and Ryan studied him. He looked exhausted.

It was so strange to think, sometimes, that out of everybody, this was the person with which Ryan felt the deepest connection. Victor who made him try to escape his own body, Victor who made him feel ill with the things he did, Victor who made him know things he'd never wanted to know, not ever. Victor covered in bruises, Victor crying, Victor gone for days without explanation past the injuries Ryan always saw later on his body. He looped his arms around Victor's, hands curling to touch the inside of Victor's elbows, and Ryan looked, just looked into Victor's eyes. Victor held it for what felt like not quite a long time, and then he looked away, but when he hugged Ryan again, Ryan knew he'd gotten the message.

"You're a sweet kid, you know that?" came Victor's voice from behind Ryan's head. "It's almost like you know what, um," and Victor laughed a little, bitterly and to himself, "what's going on in my head."

Victor took a knish out of the white paper bag, and he passed the bag to Ryan. "Come on, let's get home."

Nobody was home when they arrived, as usual, and Ryan sighed as he pulled off his boots by the door, though not loudly enough for Victor to hear. Victor, shoeless and coatless, was standing in the middle of the living room, eyes unfocused. When Ryan, also now coatless, reached his side and touched his arm, he snapped back to the present with a little shake of his head, and he looked down at Ryan. "Sorry, Ryan."

"It's okay," Ryan murmured.

"It's been really, um, really bad, lately," Victor said, voice tremulous. One of his legs jiggled nervously, and his hand on the opposite side of his body echoed the movement. "That's why I've been gone, why I couldn't pick you up, it's..." Victor slapped the shaking hand flat on his face, pressing his thumb and pinky under his cheekbones. "I can't stand it anymore, Ryan, I swear to God, I'm gonna just..." But he didn't finish that sentence, either. He walked into Ryan's bedroom, and Ryan followed to find him lying on the bed, back facing the doorway. He climbed on next to him from the other side, and when he face to face with Victor, Victor pushed the hair away from his face gently. His eyes were soft and watery, as they often were when they were alone.

"Come here," Victor whispered, and he kissed Ryan first on the forehead, then the nose, and then gentler still on the lips. "Fuck this day, fuck this whole week, you always make everything better, Ryan, oh, Ryan..." Ryan held still at first, but when Victor tugged at the hem of his t-shirt, he lifted his arms, and the fabric slid up under him and over his head.

"This whole week," Victor said again, "this whole week has been so goddamn bad, I'm gonna run away. No," he corrected himself, "I'd run away if it weren't for you. You keep me here, you keep me where I need to be, Ryan."

Nothing Victor was saying made any sense to Ryan. The only thing he could comprehend was the feeling of Victor's lips on the skin of his chest, of Victor's thumb dragging down his ribcage and then caressing the soft abdomen below it. "I need you, Ryan." He kissed Ryan everywhere, from the crown of his head to his belly button. "I love you, Ryan." Ryan said nothing.

"I love you, Ryan." He said it again. Victor sat up, presumably going into one of his little guilt trips where he talked about how wrong everything he was doing was, only to return to it. Instead, he pulled off his own shirt, flinging it almost angrily into the corner. He stood now, and he shucked off his jeans with the hole in the knee, standing in his underwear, which didn't take long to get off, either. Ryan looked away immediately, unable to handle what he saw on the back of Victor's legs, and then Victor was behind him on the bed, pressing them waist to waist. He kissed the back of Ryan's neck and shoulders now, and Ryan wished, somewhere inside him, that Victor would just get to it already.

But Victor held him like that for a good ten minutes before changing positions, and he wiped furiously at his eyes when he did. Ryan's pants came off now, the Batman printed briefs that seemed so stupid to Ryan now. He looked up at the popcorn ceiling, tried to focus on the shadows in the nooks and crannies of it, but it was difficult when Victor's mouth had descended below his waist. Nooks and crannies nooks and crannies nooks and crannies—

What he never quite understood, especially because Victor barely spoke after it happened, was when Victor brought an explosive feeling about in him, from the bottom of his toes up to the roof of his mouth. It was too much at once, and to watch Victor wallow about in his guilt and self-pity when it was over was upsetting. And though he understood it even less, he knew how to make that feeling come about in Victor, too. When he did, the ringing in his ears was deafening, becoming more of a roar than a ring, and to watch Victor's face, he always felt he'd hurt him somehow.

Post-explosion, Victor was sitting at the foot of the bed now, knees drawn up so his arms could make a circle around them, hands clasped. Ryan waited for Victor to say he was sorry, to say he shouldn't have done that, that what he'd done was wrong. That nobody should ever do that to him. It didn't come, though, and the still air in the room felt even heavier.

"Ryan," Victor finally croaked, "when I said I loved you." Victor swallowed, looked anywhere but at Ryan. "When I said that... I meant it. You're the best thing in my life, and I—" He swallowed again, hard. "Without you, I think I might—" Tonight was not a night for VIctor to finish sentences. "Fuck, everything in my life besides you is just so fucking retarded," he finally said, and his voice cracked. He rarely cursed in Ryan's presence.

"Don't ever leave me, Ryan, please," he said, and he turned now to crawl back up the bed, lying beside Ryan. "I know I'm asking a lot, with everything that happens, but please, please don't ever go away."

The feeling that Ryan often experienced—that Victor was the child in this situation, desperate for reassurance and comfort—flowed over him now, and he scooted closer, until he was pressed skin to skin with Victor. He threw an arm over Victor's torso, put his cheek to Victor's ribs, breathing evenly as he tried to express, without words, his forgiveness. That he would do as Victor asked, that he would never leave, never go away. Victor turned to hug him back, and then Victor was kissing him again, mouth to mouth, tongue invading and teeth clacking.

"What the fuck—!" The door slammed against the wall, hard enough to leave a dent, though the door had been open to begin with. When Victor and Ryan looked at the same time, Maya stood in the doorway, looking completely livid. Her fists were balled so tight they'd lost their color, and her eyes were so wide there was a ring of white around her dark irises.

"You motherfucker!" she shrieked, and she ran at the bed, jumping onto the corner in her sneakers and aiming for Victor. Victor, alarmed, threw himself off the bed and flattened himself against the wall, leaving Ryan cold and nude on the bed. Maya jumped off the bed now, clearly meaning to dropkick him, and VIctor launched himself off the wall to dash out of the room.

Maya collected Ryan in her arms, touching his hair and his cheeks and his forehead, telling him ad nauseam that it was going to be alright, that Victor wasn't going to do anything to him ever again, that he'd never see Victor again. And in the doorway, Ryan now saw, stood Sol, the brightness of the hallway light in comparison to the dimness of his bedroom illuminating his entire figure. "I told you I would protect you," Sol said, his smooth voice cutting through the noise of Maya's babbling. "I told you, didn't I?"

Maya ran now into the hallway, armed with a pillow that she hurled at Victor. Victor had managed to grab his pants in the melee, and while Maya had been trying to comfort Ryan, he'd managed to get them on and get at least one shoe on a foot. The pillow smacked Victor in the face, even as he made an attempt for the other shoe.

"You motherfucker! You fucking pervert, you fucking faggot pedophile pervert motherfucker!" Maya screamed, actually foaming at the mouth, spittle everywhere as she cursed him out. "Fucking touching my baby brother, and we fucking trusted you! We fucking trusted you to watch him and keep him safe and you're fucking him! You fucking faggot, you fucking pervert, don't you ever come around here ever again!"

Kenny and Danny stood by the door, frozen and wide-eyed at the sight of their sister screaming profanities at the babysitter. Ryan came out of his room, holding Victor's discarded shirt—the only thing covering him—to try to say that Victor didn't need to go, that he forgave him, but there was no getting in a word sideway with Maya yelling.

"Ryan! Get back in your room!" Maya commanded, but Ryan was just as frozen as his brothers. Victor got a chance to completely shove on his second shoe, and then he was reaching for his coat to slip it on over his shirtless upper body.

"Don't you ever come near my family again," Maya said, low and warning now, and then she pelted across the living room to slam into Victor, knocking them both against the wall. She held him there by the collar of his unzipped coat in a surprisingly strong grip. "Do you fucking hear me, Victor Nasri? If you ever come near my family ever a-fucking-gain, I will fuck you up like you never even knew you could be fucked up. I will fucking end you, Victor Nasri, I will rip your motherfucking pedophile balls off and then I will slit your pervert faggot throat, you fucking understand me?"

Victor nodded, slow and afraid, and Maya released him with a violent gesture. "Go. Get out." When Victor didn't move, still in shock, she shouted. "Get out!" She pointed at the door, and Victor raced out.

She slammed the door behind him, locking every lock and then sliding down the door, shaking visibly.

"Oh, God, Ryan," she moaned, and she got up slowly to return to him and pull him close in an embrace. "Oh, God, I can't believe he was doing that to you, and none of us ever fucking knew..." She looked at him. "How long was it? How long was he doing that to you?" When Ryan didn't answer her, she brushed the front of his hair over the top of his head, looking even more worried. "Answer me!"

"A while, I dunno," Ryan muttered, unable to look her in the eye. "It's okay, Maya, it's—"

"No!" she said, giving his shoulders a shake. "No, it's not okay! What he did to you is never okay, nobody has permission to touch you if you don't say so!" When Ryan tried to tell her it wasn't quite like that, she shook him again. "Never, do you understand? You're—you're just a little boy, Ryan, you're only nine, nobody should do that to you! Not ever! Listen." She held his face now, a hand to each cheek. "Everything he did to you, everything he said to you, is completely wrong. Everything." She shook him one more time for emphasis. "Everything."

He looked over her shoulder now to see his brothers. Kenny had already retreated to his and Danny's room, probably not understanding any of what had just happened, but Danny stood watching Ryan with horror in his eyes. He looked at the door Victor had exited through, and then at Ryan again, and then he came over to Ryan and Maya. He added his arms to the embrace, and he muttered into Ryan's hair that Victor deserved to die, and if Maya didn't kill him if he came back, then he, Danny Kamizaki, would finish the job, and then do it again just to make sure.

And behind everybody, Sol stood as a beam of light with blue eyes. "You're safe now, Ryan."

Maya told both their parents of Victor's crimes against Ryan, and though she never stopped apologizing for not calling the cops, they hugged her and told her she'd done what she thought was right, and what really mattered was her brother's safety. The whole episode seemed to have flown over Kenny's head, but Danny understood well enough that someone had done wrong by his little brother, even before his parents fully explained to him what had been done to Ryan.

Victor was nowhere to be found. Jack reported that Victor had run away from home. Jack got as far as "This entire time, it turned out that..." and then they both noticed Ryan standing in the doorway, waiting to hear just what had been going on this entire time. Maya gave him a pitying look, Jack's face enigmatic, and she got up to close the door.

Doctor Zimmerman wasn't satisfied with what he found during the checkup that Monday. He scheduled further appointments for Ryan, involving what the doctor called an MRI scan and what Ryan experienced as a giant metal tub clanking around his entire body, mostly around his head. He was sent to another doctor, a woman named Doctor Sobel who didn't look like a doctor as she sat opposite him in a brown armchair and jotted notes. Doctor Sobel asked him what felt like an endless barrage of questions, then told him to talk without any questions at all, and then she shipped him off to Doctor Schumacher, who did look like a doctor, except he was behind a desk instead of seeing him in an exam room.

Doctor Schumacher had a long talk with his parents behind closed doors, and by the end of the week, Ryan was the proud new owner of a little orange cylinder full of pills and labeled with his name. Childhood-onset schizophrenia, Doctor Schumacher said, triggered by the recent trauma in Ryan's life, and both Doctors Sobel and Zimmerman agreed. They said his life would never be the same, that the boy his parents had raised would never quite return, but that with medication, support and a therapist, he might be able to lead a semblance of a normal life.

INTERVIEWER: What happened with Victor, in the end?
SUBJECT: He ran away. I didn't know why then, but I remember I felt abandoned. I thought he'd left me.
INTERVIEWER: Well, he certainly did leave.
SUBJECT: I know why now, though, and I don't... I don't blame him.
INTERVIEWER: What happened to you after Victor ran away?
SUBJECT: That was when I was diagnosed. I thought my life was over.
INTERVIEWER: Why was that?
SUBJECT: Well, the medication shut out Sol, though I didn't understand why until the psychiatrist completely explained it to me, and even then I only understood half of it.
INTERVIEWER: Sol? Who was Sol?
SUBJECT: Sol was... Sol was Sol. He was there to protect me, from everything and everybody.
INTERVIEWER: Might that not have been a line appropriated from Victor's repertoire?
SUBJECT: Maybe, but it felt different when Sol said it. There wasn't this desperation to it when he said it.
INTERVIEWER: I want to talk more about Sol sometime, Ryan. I am fascinated by you. (papers rustling, chair scraping) Unfortunately, our time is up. I will see you in a week.
SUBJECT: What—an hour?
INTERVIEWER: Unfortunately, Marcy won't allow me anything more than that, yes. But an hour is better than nothing, wouldn't you agree? (more papers rustling, heavy zipper zipping) Forgive me if I've said this already, Ryan, but it pleases me to see you responding so well to treatment. You may be finally up to get out of here, if you keep up this kind of progress. I only hope my work with you aids that endeavor, rather than triggering something in you.
SUBJECT: Get out of Marcy...?
INTERVIEWER: That's right. Now, I must be off. Goodbye, Ryan. Keep up the good work.
SUBJECT: What good work?

12 - 12 - 10
DECEMBER 12 2010
4:59 PM
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