I have no excuse. But I came back and that's what matters, right? :D

SnekkySnek: ummm that means everything. Thank you so so much! *virtual hugssss*

Selizabethharrisburg: I'm so sorry about the wait! I pray it's worth it! I really hope the next update will be sooner.

Dani3434: I didn't know I was going to make it Bill/Darcy until I was writing it. It was mostly just me trying something new but I liked it. I'm glad you liked the chapter! Thank you so so much!

jamlord24601: yeah, I feel bad too, but it had to happen. I'm so glad you like this story! Thank you so much!

doubleenvelope: Lol, one of the best lines! Thank you!

The French Waffle: ... I am honored. Thank you so much for reading this story!

Les Phansie: I wanna be writing more in this universe. It's one of my favorites. I'm glad you like it! Thank you!

The Morningstar: I'm so glad you like it! Thank you so much!

Ms. Fanfic: Yes! I've written down your request and I would love to write it, thank you so so much! I hope your parents let you get an account soon!

queenlmno: I know! It's very sad, but I'm glad you like this story! Thank you so much!

Child-of-Hermes245: They'll definitely need therapy. I might incorporate that into the next chapter, we'll see. I'm glad you like this story! Thank you so much!

TheSaltyAlmond: Yes! So sorry for the wait! I'm glad you like the story! Thank you so much!

Trekkiehood: Lol, It's okay. I totally get it. I hope you like this next chapter! Thank you so much!

So, small TW: Mentions of precious sexual assault. / nothing graphic, just one or two small mentions.


Please enjoy!

It was dark. It had been a long time since Race was left alone in the dark.

He should be grateful. He should feel special, but that very word made him feel sick. Special. It was what he'd been told several times before. He was special after he'd been ripped from the arms of his brother and taken in by a man he could remember every inch of. He'd been special that first night when he'd been given new clothes that he did not like. He'd been special after that man had told them they were going to "play a game."

He didn't want to be special.

He wanted to be normal.

He curled up at the head of his new bed, his back pressed up against the wall and his knees pulled to his chest, his chin resting on top of them. It was a twin bed. His own twin bed. It felt empty. He wasn't in a tangle of limbs. He wasn't fighting for a blanket.

He was alone.

The room was warm and quiet and full of new furniture. A comfy looking chair in the corner to his right. A desk and an old laptop against the wall to his left. His own bathroom just through a door beside that. There was a television in the corner beside the window. It was set up with an Xbox. Race had never played. Some of the other boys who he'd met in the system had. But they weren't here.

It was just the first night. Maybe it would get better. But all the kid knew was, he couldn't sleep.

Mr. Kloppman was taking him to buy new clothes tomorrow.

He didn't want to be special. Not again.

Things came flashing back through his mind in an instant. He didn't want to do it all again. It was like he could feel the hands all over him again. His breaths were trembling as he closed his eyes and saw himself being dragged backwards. He could feel lips on his skin. He just wanted to get out.

The boy looked over towards the bathroom. He bit his lip and then glanced back towards his door. He fisted a hand at his eyes and then slid off his bed. His bare feet hit the floor and he dragged them from the carpet to the cool tile of the other room. His ankle was still sore. His side too. He was supposed to use the crutches against the wall. But he didn't. Instead, he limped forward, only vaguely aware of the cast around his arm, still wrapped up in plastic wrap from the night before.

Jack had done it for him.

He reached the edge of the next room. He turned the light on and pressed the door shut behind him.

He felt nauseous.

His hands were shaking as he pulled himself to the shower. Turning the thing on, he made sure the water was hot. Really hot. When it was nothing less than steaming, he crawled in, clothes on and all.

And he let the scalding hot water drench him.

He just wanted to get the feeling of the hands off of him. He could still feel them crawling down his back, fingering around his neck.

He closed his eyes tight as he tried to imagine Jack's calming voice. Crutchie's warm smile.

The water hit his back hard. But he could hardly feel it.

He didn't want to think anymore.

He just wanted Jack.

"It's okay, Anthony… I promise I won't hurt you…"

"It'll be our little secret…"

"Shhhhhh… quiet, little one… we wouldn't want anyone to hear us…"

The boy didn't know how long he sat there as the memories kept replaying over in his head. He was only vaguely aware of the fact that his breaths were broken and uneven. That he had quiet tears and breathy sobs escaping him as the steam filled up the bathroom.

It had barely been one night.

The child let himself fall apart beneath the hot water. He was gripping at his soaked hair tightly.

His body felt heavy. The air was getting thicker. He was getting tired as the warmth blanketed around him.

He didn't hear the knock at the door. He didn't hear his own name called in a quiet panic. He was too busy listening to the horrible memories that played over and over again in his head. He failed to hear anything.

Not until the curtain of the shower was pulled back.

Race flinched. But he didn't look up. Not even as the water was turned off and he was left a trembling mess in the tub. "Anthony? Can you hear me, buddy?" The boy's heart dropped. This is when Mr. Kloppman realized he was getting more than he bargained for. This is when Mr. Kloppman realized that there was no helping Race. That it was too much trouble for such a pathetic kid. "Hey… kid, talk to me," the man pleaded.

Still, Anthony did not reply.

"Okay… you don't wanna talk, that's okay," the man sighed. Out of the corner of his eye he could see his new guardian run a tired hand over his eyes as he squatted down beside the tub. "I'll talk, if ya want…" he decided. He stood and backed away, leaning against the counter top behind him. "I was having trouble sleeping tonight, like you. Probably not for the same reasons, but I was awake, nonetheless…" His words were so calm and just the right amount of quiet for the time of night that Race found himself wondering if he was imagining it.

Here he was, sitting in a bathtub in his clothes, soaking wet, trembling almost violently as horrific memories plagued his mind and this man was acting like it was the most normal thing in the world.

"I was thinking about the stars," the teacher sighed, looking up at the ceiling like he could see them now. "When I was your age, I lived in a little town in Alaska. You could just walk outside and see the stars up in the sky in the winter." He looked back down at his new foster son. The boy was still shivering, though his grasp on his own curly locks was loosening, even if only slightly. He was definitely listening. "It was so green out there… people say they could never live there. Where I lived, in the summer, the sun just… doesn't set. It's like the days are never ending. It's beautiful… confusing for some, but… that was how I lived."

Silence remained. So the man continued speaking. "I loved the sun when I was young. Looking back, I miss it. But the second I could, I got out of there. I went anywhere that I could with any money I could get my hands on." A laugh escaped him at the old memories. Not one full of humor. More one of reminiscing and fondness. "Chicago, Hawaii, Texas, Mexico, Italy, Germany, Greece… its amazing the kind of beautiful things you find even when you're not looking for them…" Especially then.

The child sniffled, only glancing over at him for a split second before he cleared his throat, shakily and hesitantly. "I-I've never been out of New York," he squeaked, his voice so quiet sounding as though he was just on the verge of sobs, though none escaped him.

Giving a small scoff, the man smiled. "You've never seen the stars, have you?" Kloppman asked, careful not to move from his spot. Anthony only barely shook his head. "It's a shame. But you're only fifteen. You've still got time, kid… maybe one day we can get your brothers and drive up north a bit, watch the stars for a night or two…"

Taking a trembling breath, the boy let out an airy hum in agreement. The small sound was enough to remind him that he was still there. Still sitting like an idiot in the tub, dripping wet.

The thing was, he'd almost forgotten why. Just for a moment.

But he let out a small sob and peaked up at the man who'd taken him in. His teacher offered him a sad smile, but slowly stepped towards him, lowering himself to the boy's level and keeping his gaze steadily on Race's own. "It's okay, Anthony… lemme help you out of there—" He tried to reach for the child's arm.

"Please don't…" he asked, knowing he couldn't handle the contact, but also coming to the realization that he definitely did not want to be alone. "I… I'm sorry—"

"You have nothing to apologize for, kid. Nothing," the man stressed, taking his hand back and biting his lip. Kloppman had known this would be hard, but he'd be damned if he ever gave up on this precious boy. "Hey… I'll grab you some dry clothes, okay?"

Race nodded, still refusing to stand.

The man disappeared. And the child's heart clenched tightly the entire time he was gone, almost as if he were afraid that the monsters were going to grab him the second his foster father turned his back. Maybe that was exactly what he was afraid of. He just didn't want to admit it.

The door creaked slightly as his guardian returned, a fresh pair of sweats in his arms. The man set them beside the tub and smiled at the boy. "I'll wait right outside. Is that alright?"

The slight nod that the boy gave him was enough. So Kloppman retreated back out into his foster son's room and shut the door behind him.

And for a long moment, Race didn't move. Because what if this man was just like… what if this man was waiting for him to…

He felt nauseous all over again.

He wanted Jack. He wanted his brothers. He'd take Snyder over this panic any day. He knew what was coming. He knew what this man wanted from him in return for staying in his house and eating the food he provided and taking up the space on this earth that he took up.

He didn't want to do it again.

But he knew he had to move. He knew things would only get worse if he didn't.

Wiping at his nose, the boy began peeling the soaked fabric from his body. He kept his eye steadily on the door as he moved fast and spastically after that. Just to make sure the door wouldn't open suddenly when he wasn't expecting it. He stood to his feet, forgetting that he'd been injured merely days before. He hissed when he put pressure on his ankle again.

If the man heard him, he didn't say anything.

He continued on, waiting for the moment when everything would start to fall apart all over again. When nothing happened, Race breathed a sigh of relief, though his breaths were still shaky and shallow at best. But he folded up the wet clothes, holding them over the tub as he did so, before shyly making his way towards the door, using the wall as support as to not hurt himself again, unsure of what to do next.

Mr. Kloppman was sitting on the chain inside the room, simply waiting for him to re-emerge. A kind smile spread on his face when he saw the boy. "Hey, Anthony… you feeling any better?" The boy didn't answer. He just lowered his head in shame and stood in the doorway, embarrassed. Kloppman stood. He walked towards the boy, warning himself against trying to touch the kid. "You wanna talk about it?" Race shook his head and sniffled. The man nodded and sighed a bit. "Okay… you don't have to. Is there anything I can do?"

The child really froze at that. Half of him wished his legs would just take off running. The other half of him wanted to finally be able to just sleep at night or trust someone again.

It seemed as though neither were an option.

He shrugged and bit at his lip, his eyes still glued to the floor. "I'm… 'm sorry…" he apologized again. For making the man get up. For soaking the perfectly nice pajamas this man had provided. For being an inconvenience. For being the pathetic shell of a person he was.

His teacher seemed a bit upset at his apology. At least, from what the boy could tell. He waited for a scolding that didn't come. Instead, a gentle and cautious hand beneath his chin forced his eyes up. The child gasped a bit at the concept before his eyes met much wiser ones. "Kid… nothing you've done was wrong. Do you understand that?"

There was sincerity in the man's gaze. And Race's heart tightened for some reason. A reason he didn't understand. He tried to keep himself steady. But he couldn't help the few tears that trailed down his cheeks when he tried to say yes.

Because he didn't.

He should be getting punished for this. He was being stupid. Snyder would've punished him for this.

But this man just cautiously reached to brush the confused tears off of Anthony's cheeks. "It's okay, bud… let me help you get back to your bed, okay?"

The boy didn't get much of a chance to reply as an arm wrapped around his back and he was leaning on his new guardian, allowing himself to be led back to the soft mattress that he was supposed to sleep on all by himself.

Once he was there, Race sat on the edge of the bed, wiping at his face as the tears fell faster. Kloppman's arm left him. And he felt a twinge of something. Something that he still couldn't place. The man ran a few fingers through his damp hair. Race shuddered only a bit. The man took his hand back immediately as the boy's discomfort showed.

"I'm sorry," the man smiled, unoffended by this. "Alright… I'll let you get some rest. Just… if you need anything, you know where I'll be, alright?"

Race nodded. He looked up as the man turned to leave. And he found himself thinking something he was sure he'd never thought before.

He didn't want this man to leave him alone.

"Mr... Mr. Kloppman?" he called in a breath, reaching to fist at his nose with his good hand. He barely glanced up enough to see his guardian turn back towards him. "C-could you… c-can you tell me more about the stars?" His own voice shook at the request. He could feel his brain beginning to turn faster and faster. He should be running. He should be finding his brothers. "Just for a few minutes…"

The man let a genuine, happy grin take over his face before he nodded and slowly walked back over to the chair. "As long as you're comfortable, Anthony, I'd love to…"

Race curled back up at the top of his bed. He backed away as the man leaned toward him.

But he found himself listening to the teacher's gentle voice as he drifted off calmly to darkness where no monsters were waiting to grab at him.

For this one night, maybe things would be alright.

There was a knock at the door. It was small and quiet and gentle. But it did not stop Crutchie from bolting upright. His heart was racing in his chest.

"Chris? Are you awake?"

The voice was as small as the knock. But Crutchie froze. He blinked himself awake quick. But he didn't know what to say. He decided on a very small, "y-yeah…" before the door was slowly pushed open. It didn't creak. Not even a small noise.

Nothing in this house was out of place. Darcy had put everything away for him. The boy hadn't missed the look on his face when he'd seen for the second time that day how little he had with him.

His whole life fit inside one backpack with plenty of room to spare. He'd never minded that. They may have had few clothes, no childhood treasures and nothing to really call their own. But they'd had each other. Jack had promised that it would be okay. He'd promised they would stay together.

It wasn't Jack's fault. But Crutchie was still upset.

Bill poked his head in. The boy tried to wipe the horror off of his face. Judging by the way Bill smiled at him, he guessed he wasn't quite successful. "Hey, uh… you okay?" It was clear the young man didn't really know what to say, much less do.

The truth was, Crutchie didn't either.

"I… I was just about to start breakfast…" Bill stated, when he figured that out, slipping a bit further into the room. "Are you hungry?"

Too scared to say anything else, the boy nodded his head. Looking back, he wasn't sure he'd said more than a couple words since he'd gotten here. They'd said this house was small. But it was bigger than any house Crutchie had ever been in before. It had two guest rooms, one of which they'd called his. His own room.

He wasn't sure he'd ever had his own room before.

He couldn't recall having his own bed.

Then again, there were a lot of things growing up that Crutchie couldn't remember at all.

"Well, we have a lot of options. Eggs, pancakes, waffles, smoothies, bacon, cereal, French toast… what sounds good?" The words flowed out of the man like he said them everyday. Like this was at least somewhat normal, though he still looked a bit uncomfortable.

The child's eyes widened a bit. He couldn't recall a morning where he'd eaten a proper breakfast. Not since they'd stayed with Medda when they were young.

Breakfast at Snyder's had been few and far between. At most, he'd been offered a piece of fruit. Jack would often give up food for him. But he'd couldn't remember the last time he'd even been offered so much. A room, a home, a breakfast. All he could do was stare, too scared to choose one of those options. The man still had an unsure smile on his face. "Okay… how about this, I let Darcy pick, because he loves to pick, and I can show you how to make whatever he decides," Bill suggested.

Crutchie swallowed and let himself nod again. Bill's smile fell just a little. The child could practically feel his disappointment. Him and Bill had yet to have a conversation without Darcy's help. It wasn't that the boy didn't like him. Bill was nice. Darcy had been kind to Crutchie from the second he'd met him. Bill had been even more so. He liked Bill.

He didn't like being away from his brothers.

"Okay, why don't you get dressed and meet me in the kitchen?" the young man suggested.

Crutchie tried to smile. It was small and quick. But he could see Bill's eyes brighten just a bit before the man nodded and shoved his hands in the pockets of his jeans, quietly walking back out the door and letting it shut behind him.

The boy watched the man leave.

He felt his heart sink in his chest. Jack always talked to the grown ups. Crutchie had never been good at that. The last thing he wanted to do was make these people feel like he was ungrateful, like he didn't want to be with them. They'd taken him in, knowing what he'd done and where he'd come from. They'd offered up their home to him, knowing he had baggage.

But he had no idea what to say to them.

They were supposed to go shopping for furniture today. Apparently, this room needed a touch of uniqueness, a dash of him. But the kid wasn't sure he knew what that meant. Bill said he'd help him figure out what he liked.

Crutchie just wished Jack was there to put an arm around him.

"I don't know, Darce… He'll hardly talk to me—" Bill tried as he pulled out ingredients for the pancakes his fiancé requested.

"Sweetheart, this is new for all of us. He's still adjusting. We all just have to give it a little time." Sometimes it was crazy how Darcy could so easily calm him down. He always seemed to know what to say. "Look, we'll start slow. Just breakfast for now. Then we can go furniture shopping. I know how much you love that. We've got Chris to ourselves for a whole week. We'll figure this out…"

"What if we can't?" the other man asked, a faint feeling of guilt bubbling in his stomach as he whispered that to his future husband. He'd wanted a family for so long. He'd wanted to raise a kid for so long. But he didn't know if he was ready. He didn't know if he'd be good enough. "Darcy… I know you see something in this kid… and you deal with a lot of troubled people everyday. I have no idea how to even begin to understand what Chris has been through."

With a small smile, Darcy walked up behind his fiancé, wrapping his arms around the other man's middle and giving him a kiss on the shoulder. "Hey… no one says you have to understand, Billy… and… if you really think this will be too much, we can always figure something out. But right now? All you have to do is be here and make sure he knows that we're here for him," Darcy stated, letting Bill lean into him. "If it's really too much, we can talk about that, okay?"

Bill let himself smile. He knew deep down that there was no way he'd ever let that kid go back into the system. But hearing Darcy say those words gave him peace of mind. He turned just enough for Darcy to press his lips against his own.

That was when they heard Chirs's crutch clicking against the floor. Bill's heart ached for the small boy. The kid ran a hand through his messy hair and limped over to them, offering them both the best smile he could manage. "Hey, Crutchie," Darcy greeted easily. "You sleep okay?"

The boy looked between both of the men for a moment and shrugged. "I guess…" he sighed, wincing inwardly at himself when he heard how terrified he sounded. He cleared his throat, lowering his head as he bit his lip. "It's… weird… I ain't neva' had my own room before…" He didn't know what else he could say. He didn't know if he was sharing too much or too little. He just didn't know what to do.

Melting a bit for the boy, Bill reached to squeeze Darcy's hand. "I can't imagine what that feels like, Chris… but… we're only right down the hall if you ever need us, okay?"

Only glancing up slightly, the boy nodded. Though his heart felt a little lighter at the man's words. "What… what are we makin'?"

Smile only widening, Bill nodded him over to the counter. "Darcy requested pancakes, which means sausage and bacon too," he explained, grabbing a bowl out from the shelf above him. "Now, I don't know what kind you like, so you may just have to try them all. We've got bananas, chocolate chips, blueberries…"

The man rambled on. And Crutchie found himself getting lost in his words for a moment, allowing Bill to gently place a hand on his back as he introduced the kid to what he described as a secret recipe.

Darcy felt his heart tighten in his chest. He watched his man and the new boy in the house. Bill was so excited about everything and Crutchie was working so hard to try and keep and keep up with him. He found himself unable to refrain from pulling out his phone and snapping a quick picture of the two.

One that just so happened to catch the boy's smile as Bill joked about something Darcy hadn't heard.

It didn't matter. The smile was enough.

That smile was perfect.

"A week? You can't be serious!"

"A week isn't a lifetime, Jack. It's just so you can all get settled—"

"May, we ain't been without each other for four years! You can't just separate us like this n' not let us see 'r talk to each other f'r—"

"Kelly. Sit. Down."

Jack did. He hadn't meant to. It was like his body just moved without his brain pausing to think. Somewhere deep down, Jack knew this man wouldn't hurt him. But his shoulders tensed. He couldn't help it.

The man noticed and softened at the sight immediately. He sighed as he made his way closer to the couch where the boy was now sitting, slowly lowering his head down into his hands to try and calm himself. The man slowly sat himself down on the coffee table in front of the kid.

It was clear that Jack didn't want to talk. Not really. There wasn't much May could say to make him feel better about this.

He'd known this boy for four years. He knew how hard this was going to be on him. For four years, the only hope Jack had was that when he turned eighteen, he was leaving and he was taking his little brothers with him. He was going to be the hero that they'd deserved for so long.

And now that had been taken away from him.

"Jack… I understand that this… it's gonna be hard…" the police chief sighed, not wanting to touch the boy, not sure it would be welcome. The kid shook his head, almost looking up to say something. But May stopped him. "No, just listen for a minute, okay?" Jack lowered his head back down. So May sighed. "You love your brothers more than anything. I know that, Jack. You know I know that," he stressed. He resisted the urge to run a hand through the boy's hair. "I know you don't want to be without them. But right now, it's important for you all to learn how to function without each other… it's important, bud."

The words felt heavy. But they were true.

Jack didn't like them. He didn't argue. He didn't storm away. He just sat, knowing that whatever he said wouldn't matter. It never seemed to matter.

"Jackie, c'mon, kid," May sighed. "It's only a week to get settled in. If something happens, you'll be the first to know. But they're both in good hands."

"I don't know them…" Jack admitted, his voice low and quiet, as if he was afraid to talk. "Crutch n' Racer don't know them."

"That's why we're giving it a week, bud," May assured, finally just letting himself run a hand over Jack's hair. The boy only flinched for a moment before leaning into the calm, kind touch. "Truth be told, your new social worker wanted it to be longer. But I know better than that," he smiled. The boy was already pressed into the corner of the couch. But that didn't stop him from curling up even more. He hid his face in his arms and sniffled. Something in May's chest tightened. The kid had bags under his eyes. He'd hardly slept.

Last night, May wasn't sure he'd slept a wink. He'd knocked on the boy's door to find him sitting in the middle of his bed, sketchpad in his lap and broken pencil gripped tightly in his hand. May hadn't wanted to address it. Jack looked almost unaffected. Like he did things like that everyday. Every night.

"Hey… how about we do something today? Just us…" the man suggested. "We have some things to do. You definitely need more clothes, some new sheets, and I need to grab some groceries, but we can go to lunch… anywhere you want to go."

Those green eyes peeked out at him, still guarded behind messy brown hair and long eyelashes. He saw a look on his new guardian's face that he could only identify as hope. And suddenly he felt guilty. But he didn't know if he could do this. "I… I just need ta know they're okay…"

To his surprise, May's small smile never disappeared. He didn't understand why this man wasn't so disappointed in him. He wouldn't be surprised if this man got sick of him fast. Jack was pathetic. He knew that. But it was always easier to face the world when there were two boys at his side, looking at him like he was invincible, despite everything he'd been through. Despite everything they'd all been through.

Now Jack was on his own. And so were his brothers. And he didn't know if he could go through that again.

Not after everything that had happened last time.

With a small sigh, May blinked, thinking about it for a moment before scooting closer to him. "How about I make you a deal?" he offered. Jack blinked up at him, a small pout on his face that May wasn't sure he even knew he wore on his lips. "You make it through one week without running away to find your brothers, and after dinner next Friday, you can all stay here together. All weekend."

For a moment, the boy didn't react. But he bit his cheek and rubbed at his eyes. "I promised them that this wouldn't happen…" he said, his voice breaking as soft as it was. "I promised them that I was going to get them out of there—"

"And you did everything you could do…" May stood and sat on the couch beside his new foster son. He sighed, almost reaching out for the kid before he stopped himself. He shook his head, almost scooting away.

But that was before Jack turned and leaned against May's chest, wrapping his arms around the man's middle and curling into his side. "Why do I feel so horrible?"

Looking down at the child, the man carefully and cautiously wrapped his arms around him. "It's because your heart's too big for your chest… you can't take on everything by yourself, kid. Sometimes… you just have to let other people help you carry some of the weight. That's why I'm here," he promised, leaning his cheek down on Jack's thick brown hair. "That's why Mr. Kloppman and Bill and Darcy and Miss Medda are here."

Jack listened to the man. May had never done anything to hurt him. May had never lied to him. May had only ever tried to help. So he believed him.

Letting the words sink in, Jack just melted further into the man. He let the man run fingers through his hair. The silence was somewhat comforting. But there was that lingering thought in the back of the kid's mind. Maybe it was all just a trick or some kind of odd dream. He was bound to get hurt eventually.

Things always ended like that.

But for once in his life, he allowed himself that moment. One small moment that was there for comfort and reassurance.

He let himself have that moment. Because it might end soon.

But then again… maybe the next moment wouldn't be so bad.

I love this story. I always have.

I hope you guys do too.

So, part of me is looking for a way to find the end of this story. Another part of me never wants it to end. But for some reason it takes me so long to write.

So we'll see.

As always, thanks for reading! Make sure to tell me what you liked, what you didn't, what you'd change or what you'd improve by leaving me a review! Love ya, kiddos!