Author’s Note: Finally catching up on my chapter backlog. Yaaaaaay.
Okay, this week, I am once more linking to the story collab being hosted by Revfitz. This time around, we have Angel, by Megajoule. Now that all of that’s been said, on with the chapter!
James grumbled something, buried his face in his pillow, and let out a snore.
Something cold prodded the back of his skull, pushing his head a fraction of an inch to the side and forcing him just a little more awake. Then, his barely conscious mind registered the voice.
“Heeey! Get up. I want pancakes.”
“Noooo,” he mumbled, his voice muffled by the pillow still wedged against his face. “Go away, Bex. I wanna sleep.”
For a few seconds, the world was quiet, and for once, he thought it might have worked. Then he felt himself being prodded again.
“Lemme sleep!” He groaned, irritated, finally turning his head towards his sister and forcing his eyes open. “I’m tired!”
“But I want pancakes!” Bex whined, frowning down at him in that way that told him a fight was imminent if he failed to comply. “If you don’t make em, then I’ll do it!”
He gazed up at her for a moment, then sighed.
“… Worst sister.”
He pushed himself upright, his arms aching slightly as he moved, then glanced down.
“… Can you at least go outside while I get dressed?”
At that, Bex grinned, hopped her way out of his room, and closed the door.
James yawned, then rubbed his eyes. How early was it? He checked his clock.
Five twenty five?
“Beeeeex,” he whined. “It’s not even six yet. TV time doesn’t start for an hour!”
“Pancakes.” The girl replied through the door. “Now!”
James rolled his eyes. Then, without really thinking about it, pulled himself into the air. It was easier than going to the effort of standing up on his own. Still rubbing his knuckles against his eyelids, he floated to his closet, taking a moment to orient himself so he was upright, and grabbed the first pair of pajama pants that caught his eye. He pulled them on and stretched, before checking himself briefly in the mirror.
His marks were showing.
James raised a finger to his cheek, curious. He hadn’t taken the skin patch off, had he? Then, he remembered last night, and the momentary loss of his body. He grabbed himself a fresh one, then regretfully lowered himself to his feet, before mooching over to the bedroom door and stepping out to greet his sister.
She was grinning. Of course she was grinning. She loved Saturday mornings. It was her favorite time of the week. It bugged him. He couldn’t wait for her to be his age, and actually need sleep like a real person. He reached out, placed a finger against the smaller girl’s head, and flicked her in the temple, ignoring the outraged squeak he got in response.
“No going in my room, remember?” He muttered by way of explanation before stomping past her towards the stairs.
“Says you!” She whispered after him, way too loud.
“Says Mom,” He replied, a touch quieter. “Now shush. You’re gonna wake the big people.”
“Too late,” Came a groan from the doorway across the landing. “James. Much coffee. Soon, please.”
“I hate Saturdays,” he grumbled, before calling back. “Yes, Dad.”
“Thank you,” The voice called back with a yawn. “And tell Bex no TV till she’s made her bed.”
James looked at his sister, one eyebrow raised. She scowled at him, turning on her heel and stalking off in the direction of her room. He snickered after her, before making his way down the stairs towards the kitchen.
He set some water boiling on the stove, before opening up the fridge and digging around inside it for a minute or so until he had all the ingredients he needed. Eggs, flour, milk, butter… whisk? He checked the baking drawer for the whisk. Then he checked the utensil drawer, just in case it had been put in the wrong place. Nope. No whisk. Upstairs, he heard a door slam, followed by the stomping of a tiny pair of feet down the stairs.
“I’m gonna check it’s done before you get any pancakes.” He called into the hallway. Bex didn’t dignify the words with a response as she stomped off towards the TV room. He shook his head with a sigh.
His continued search for a whisk was disrupted by the sound of the water boiling on the stove, so he put his mixing bowl down and made his parents their morning coffee. So much work. Being the older one sucked.
As the coffee brewed, he thought of Tasha. He hoped she was okay. She should be fine, he reasoned. After all, the last he’d seen of her, she’d already been launching that lightning guy into a tree. He doubted the fight could have lasted much longer after that. Still, though, who was that guy?
The coffee made, he stifled another yawn, before carefully making his way upstairs with the two cups held carefully aloft. He found himself spilling it from time to time.
“Mom, Dad,” he called through the crack in the doorway. “Coffee.”
“Thanks, kiddo,” came his father’s voice, sounding a little more awake now than it had been. “Come on in.”
James nudged the door open with his foot, then sidled his way inside, ready to avert his eyes at a moment’s notice lest he be faced with the terrible fate of catching one of his parents changing. His caution, however, turned out to be unneeded. Peter lay in the bed, a large shirt draped over his form and the covers pulled up around his waist, a book balanced on his lap. Sarah’s place in the bed was empty; a fact that probably had to do with the sounds of the shower running in the room’s en-suite.
“Can we get Bex to sleep longer on weekends?” he asked, moving forward to place one of the mugs on his mother’s side table, before moving the second across to his father. “I wanted to sleep in today.”
“Heh,” Peter chuckled. “I got used to it after a while.” He took the coffee gratefully and took a sip. “You were just the same at her age. All cuddles and story times and never turning off. You just have to muscle your way through it, I’m afraid. Sorry.” He gave his son a wink.
James scowled at that.
“Easy for you to say,” he grumbled, turning back towards the door. “You’re not the ones she asks for pancakes every time.”
That earned the boy a genuine laugh from his father.
“Then learn to say no.” Peter chuckled. He took another long slurp of his coffee, then his tone grew more serious. “So. I wanted to talk to you about that friend of yours. Casper.”
James stopped mid-stride, his hand on the door handle. Something in his father’s tone made it clear this was more than just asking about a new friend. Had they made an error somewhere? Slipped up on something?
“… What about him?” He asked, doing his best to keep his tone level.
“He ran away from home two nights ago.” Peter murmured. “His parents are terrified.”
“… Maybe they shouldn’t have been hurting him, then.” James muttered bitterly. He regretted the words even as he spoke them, trying to figure out whether that was something he’d been allowed to let slip or not. He couldn’t bring himself not to say them, though. They were the truth.
Behind him, he heard his father take another sip of his coffee.
“So you know about that, do you?”
“… Yeah. He told me.”
“… Did he tell you he was running away?”
James hesitated for a long time at that, then sighed.
“Only after he did it. He said he was gonna break his phone afterwards. Didn’t want to be followed.” He chanced a glance back to his dad. Peter was gazing at him over the rim of his cup; calm, unblinking.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” There was no accusation in the words, but still, James felt blamed. He had his answer ready, though. Again, he went with the truth.
“Why should I have?” He asked. “I mean, the school was probably gonna tell you anyway, so it’s not like I knew anything you didn’t.”
Peter nodded at that, conceding the point.
“Fair,” he murmured. “But sometimes, we have more information about things than we think we do. For example, now that we know he spoke to you last, we know he might try to speak to you again. That means we have a chance for an adult to talk to him and make sure he’s safe.” He took another slow sip of his coffee, then continued. “Give me your phone, James.”
“… I don’t want to.”
“… I don’t want Casper to go back there.” James wanted to look away from his father then. He didn’t, though. This was too important. It mattered. Even so, it hurt to see the sorrow flash momentarily across the older man’s face.
“James,” Peter sighed, setting his coffee down on the side table and climbing to his feet. “You know me. I’m your father. I’ve been your father for twelve years. Less than one month ago, I saw someone hurt my son, and the sight of it nearly broke me. Do you really think I’d send your friend back to someone who hurts him against his will?” He took a step forward.
“… No.” James admitted. He wished he could think of a counter to that, but he couldn’t. The words made him feel small. Now, even more than before, he wanted to look away. He forced himself to hold the man’s gaze. He wasn’t sure why.
“And do you know how to make sure he has everything he needs?” Peter asked. “Clean clothes, somewhere to sleep, food that won’t make him sick?” He took another few steps forward, already halfway towards his son. James couldn’t look at him any more. He dropped his gaze to the floor.
“Then I’d like to borrow your phone, please.” In the periphery of his vision, he saw the older man’s pajama clad legs step into view. Peter extended a hand level with James’ chest; palm up, waiting.
In all his life, he couldn’t remember ever feeling smaller than when he dipped his hand into his hoodie pocket and pulled out his phone. His father plucked it from his hand, then, in a much quieter tone, murmured:
“… Are you angry at me?” He asked, still not looking at his father.
“No,” replied Peter in that same quiet, sad voice. “Honestly? I’m mostly proud. You were trying to keep your friend safe, even from me. That’s very brave.” James didn’t move as the older man pulled him into a hug. “I’m just sad because you thought you couldn’t trust me.”
“I’m sorry.” He mumbled, ashamed.
“Don’t be,” the arms around his shoulders gave him a squeeze. “Love you, buddy.”
“… Yeah,” James muttered, raising his arms to return the hug. “Love you too.”
“Good,” Peter let him go. “Now, go make your sister some pancakes before she starts complaining, kay?”
A part of him wanted to return his father’s teasing, but he honestly couldn’t find the words. He turned around, stepped back out onto the landing, and took a deep breath.
Then, he went downstairs and made his sister pancakes.