The two figures descended together in silence, the smaller one coming to a stop some ten or so feet above the grassy ground of the park, before the larger one finally allowed herself to let go, falling the short distance to the soft earth and opting to simply collapse there rather than bother trying to catch herself.
Neither one of them spoke for a time, James gazing at the ground, too lost in his own thoughts to really know what to say while his companion took a number of long, deep breaths against the floor. In the end, it was Tasha who broke the silence.
“That. Fucking. SUCKED.” She said loudly, emphasizing every word with all the energy she seemed able to muster. “Word of advice: Never do something that’ll wind up getting you tied to a chair, kay, bud? It’s really not fun.” Tasha opened her eyes at that, craning her neck slightly to shoot the boy a grin. He didn’t reply. He didn’t really know what to say. “Oi,” she murmured. “What’s up, little guy? You doing okay?”
“I… I dunno.” He said honestly, glancing across at her. “I’m… Kinda waiting for myself to freak out.”
“It’ll happen,” Tasha laughed. “Don’t worry. You’ll be on your way home, and it’ll hit you like a train, all at once. You’ll start shaking your hands and going ‘Holy shit, what did I just do!?’ and then you’ll calm yourself down a bit, and you’ll start feeling either really hungry, or like, super extra horny.”
James snorted at that.
“Why horny?” He asked, chuckling. “I think maybe that’s just a you thing.”
“Maybe,” Tasha shrugged, grinning. “Or maybe you’ll get home and start jacking like craz-” James didn’t hear the rest of that sentence, because he had already brought his hands up to cover his ears. She scowled at him, then very deliberately raised a hand in front of her, clenched her fingers into a fist, and started moving it from side to side.
“… You are the grossest person alive and I hate you.” James said, hands still pressed to his ears. Tasha stuck out her tongue. “… Whatever,” he grumbled, lowering one hand from his ear to his pocket and tugging free a small cylindrical wad bound up with a rubber band. “I figure you can’t really go home right now and you’re gonna be kinda weak for a couple days, so I bought this along for you.” He tossed it down towards her and she caught it, fumbling it slightly in her still stiff hands. “The money you gave me last night. Figured you could pay me back later or something, you know?”
Tasha glanced down at the money for a moment, then back up at him, and nodded, her expression slightly pained.
“Thanks, man,” she sighed. “Guess beggars can’t really be choosers, huh?”
James nodded, relieved. He’d been expecting that to be a bit more of a struggle.
“Don’t get me wrong, though. I’m paying you back for this, you hear me? Oh, gimme your number. I’ll buy a phone tomorrow and call you and Casper with it, kay?” She frowned suddenly. “Actually, can you call him now? The little guy went and did something really stupid trying to save me earlier. I wanna make sure he’s okay.”
James nodded, digging out his phone and quickly tapping in the number and calling it, pausing brieflly to read out his number for the older girl. It only rang for a few seconds before Casper answered, his voice oddly croaky.
“Hey, man. Good to hear from you. Did you do it?”
“Yeah,” James replied, trying not to use any names in case, god forbid, someone was listening. “I did it. We’re fine. You okay? You don’t sound too good.”
“Y-yeah,” came the reply, accompanied by what James thought might have been a sniffle. “I’m fine. Look… I kinda ran away from home… I’m gonna smash my phone after this. Not sure if they can follow it. Just wanted to make sure everything was okay with you guys first, you know?”
James was silent for a few moments, unsure how he was even supposed to react to something like that. He glanced down at Tasha, who was looking up at him, clearly curious. He gave her a half hearted thumbs up, before eventually settling for the basics.
“We’re fine,” he murmured. “I Promise.” He hesitated for a moment, then added: “ Is… is this cuz of your dad? Did he try to hurt you ag-”
“I don’t wanna talk about it,” Casper cut him off. “Look, I’m fine, okay? Just… Can I ask you something weird?”
“Uh, sure?” Said James, caught a little back footed. “What’s up?”
“That… the thing… The thing that made you get… You know…” Casper was silent for a time on the other end of the line, before he finally let all the words tumble out at once. “Was it your parents? Did they do something bad?”
“What?” James asked, disgusted, his tone earning him a confused look from Tasha, which he ignored. “No! Of course not! They had nothing to do with it!”
“Good,” came the reply almost immediately, the tone probably intended to be soothing, but missing the mark a tad. “I didn’t think they had. They’ve been too worried about you since it happened. I just… I needed to make sure.”
James considered that for a time, his disgust slowly beginning to fade, before something in the way Casper had spoken clicked in his head.
“… Is that why he hit you?” He asked, his voice very quiet.
“… Yeah,” Casper replied eventually, making a sound that James thought could have been an attempt at clearing his nose. “Yeah, it is. I… I just wanted to make sure your parents didn’t… You know.”
“No,” James replied, almost immediately. “They didn’t do anything. It…” He faltered for a moment, having to steel himself a little to say the words out loud. “It was a stranger in a bathroom… and he wasn’t hitting me.” In the corner of his eye, he saw Tasha curse under her breath at his words. He closed his eyes. It hurt less to admit than he had thought it would, but it still wasn’t fun.
“… Yeah,” the other boy muttered evenly. “That’s what I figured. Sorry.”
James opened his mouth to reassure the other boy, however empty the words might be, but the line was dead. Casper had already hung up. He let out a frustrated little sigh as he returned his phone to his pocket. He turned to Tasha.
“He ran away from home cuz his parents are dicks,” he said, making no effort to keep the bitterness from his voice. “He says he’s fine.”
Tasha nodded, her face set.
“Right,” she murmured. “When you see him again, figure out a way to bring him over to me. I can take care of him.”
James simply nodded, not looking at her as he turned to leave.
“Oi,” she called after him, pulling him briefly to a halt. “You’re not weak, okay?” The statement confused him, and he glanced back at her. She had pulled herself to her feet, apparently ignoring the pain in her limbs. She was looking up at him, her expression hard, almost angry. Her fingers were clenched into fists by her sides, the muscles in her arms standing out against the strain. “What you told us doesn’t change things, you got that? You saved my ass tonight, and that makes you strong. Whatever else that asshole did to you, you’re strong, like me. Don’t you forget it.”
James wouldn’t have expected the words to strike him as hard as they did, hitting him like a punch in the gut. He gazed down at her for a moment, feeling something crack inside him, and refused to let it show. He willed his face to remain controlled, forcing it into a hard, set scowl, just the same as hers, before he finally nodded.
“Yeah. Thanks.” Without another word, he left, rising into the skies and out of her sight.
He made his way home at full speed, trying to let the exhilarating feeling of being up in the air distract him for a time. It worked, if only a little. Whatever bitterness there was to the past few minutes, at least it was done with now. Tasha’s words had helped, surprisingly enough. As he traveled, he waited for the panic of the last hour to hit him, just as she’d said it would, but for some reason, it never came. When he arrived back in his room, he was calm; not happy, but calm.
He went downstairs, found his parents, and gave them a hug, his eyes determinedly dry.
That night, for the first time, the nightmares did not come for him. That night, he slept soundly.