A/N: I have a million things I want to say, but can't seem to think of one. This is the last chapter of Another Reason, a story I started on March 13th, 2011, and ended on March 13th, 2012. What a year. I can't believe I was able to write something so long. (I mean, have you SEEN the word count?) I know for a fact that without all the support I recieved, I wouldn't have been able to finish this, let alone get past chapter 2. I can't thank you guys enough. Thank you to the readers, and double thank you to the reviewers. You guys were a huge help. I've made a lot of great friends along the way, and I am eternally grateful to those who helped me out when I got stuck (you know who you are!). It's been a long journey. I think this story has many morals, and I'm hoping you'll take some of them to heart. Now it's time to wrap things up.
I definitely plan on writing more fics in the future, so if you enjoyed "Another Reason" and want to read more by me, subscribe to my author alert. I'll be posting more stories soon. Once again, thank you to everyone for sticking with this incredibly long story and being patient with my sometimes ridicuously slow updates. I'll say it again: I honestly could not have done it without you.
Warnings: None :)
When Kendall strode into apartment 2J, he was not at all surprised by the sight before him.
He sauntered past his mother, busy in the kitchen, and greeted her brightly. The table was set for dinner, and the smell of tater tots and corndogs made his stomach rumble. Or, at least, he thought it was his stomach. It could have been the floor-shaking explosions resonating from the living room.
"Carlos, stop shooting me! I'm on your team!" shouted Logan, angrily smashing the buttons on his gaming controller.
"Relax, I'm just friendly firing you."
"A friendly fire means you're betraying your own teammate! It's not actually friendly!"
"So I'm not getting bonus points?"
James hopped onto the orange cushion beside Katie and grinned victoriously. "Boo-yah! Only one more kill and we win!" Too engrossed in the game to bother sharing a high-five, the two continued rapidly moving joysticks and squeezing trigger buttons.
"Carlos, cut it out!" Logan cried, one hand leaving his controller to smack the Latino's helmet-protected head.
"What? I didn't even do anything this time," he defended. The television monitor rattled as a burst of smoke, fire and shrapnel erupted on screen. A message popped up declaring Team One as the winners.
"Yes!" Katie pumped a fist into the air. "That's three matches in a row."
"Undefeated champs!" boasted James.
While the two began a victory dance atop the cushions of the couch, Logan twirled around to Carlos. "You just threw a grenade into our own base," he scolded. Scowling, he dropped the controller onto the coffee table next to the boys' snacks and crossed his arms. "That is the last time we ever play on the same team."
"Hey," Carlos protested, also abandoning his controller, "my grenade wouldn't have mattered if you hadn't planted so many landmines outside the door!"
"Those were to prevent the enemy from entering from the east side, which we wouldn't have even needed if you hadn't blasted a hole in the wall. Obviously you can't tell the difference between regular bullets and explosive rounds. You know what explosive rounds do, Carlos? They explode!" He jabbed a finger at Carlos's chest. "If you want a good offense, then you need a good defense."
"But our defenses just got us killed."
"Because you threw a grenade!"
Yep. It was another typical day in the crib.
Kendall had already started walking forward, anticipating the fight that was about to begin. Sure enough, Carlos roared and launched himself at Logan, successfully tackling him to the floor. Katie kept a cautious distance on the couch while James rolled his eyes and jumped down to help Kendall pry the two apart.
"Guys, guys!" Kendall cried as he and James snatched the back of Carlos's shirt. "Chill!"
Shouts of protest spilled from Carlos's mouth as he desperately fought to keep his hold on Logan's shoulders. Before Kendall and James had completely pulled the helmeted boy away, Logan recovered from the momentary shock of being tackled and thrust a leg upwards, hitting Carlos in the thigh. Carlos lost his balance, causing Kendall and James to stumble forward, and the three collided into the side of the coffee table.
Everyone froze when a glass of juice tipped and splashed against James's new pair of jeans.
The scuffle was instantly forgotten as the two boys on the ground scrambled to their feet, eyes wide. Kendall took an automatic step backwards as James stared in shock at the purple mess staining the denim, because ruining any article of clothing belonging to James Diamond could quite possibly result in death. Or worse.
"Um." Carlos pointed a finger. "Logan did it!" He bolted for the safety of the swirly slide, clambering on hands and knees all the way up the snaking yellow tube, leaving Logan and Kendall alone to fend for themselves.
James's face flushed red. "DO YOU REALIZE WHAT YOU'VE JUST DONE?"
Kendall cringed. Logan ducked behind him.
"Dude, relax," said Katie, finally rising from the couch. She stepped over the spreading puddle of grape Kool-Aid, unconcerned, to stand near her brother. "I'm sure if you chuck your pants in the wash right away they'll be fine."
"It's not that simple!" James shot back. He yelped and shook his sopping leg like a dog. "Do you know how many stain sticks I'll have to use on this, if it even comes out at all?" His eyes bulged wide as a more frightening thought occurred to him. "What if it stains my skin? I can't walk around with a purple leg! People will think I have some sort of disease! No one will want to be near me! I'll get kicked out of the band and go bankrupt and have to live in a cardboard box on the side of the freeway forever being known as Purple Legged Diamond—"
"James, chill," said Kendall, holding up his hands. "A little bit of juice isn't going to stain your skin."
"At least not permanently," Logan added.
Kendall shot him a glare.
"Ah!" screamed James. He pushed past the three and sprinted into the bathroom, leaving a trail of Kool-Aid drops behind him. The door slammed shut. Then his muffled voice was heard from the other side. "I need to take a shower! Kendall, let me use some of your soap!"
Right. The numerous soap bars he'd collected from Carlos over the course of his hospital stay. Kendall appreciated the thought, but sixteen bars later he was sick of smelling like various flowers and summer breezes.
"No way!" Carlos called down to James, peeking out from the top of Swirly. "Those are Kendall's soaps. You can't just use his gifts."
James opened the door just a crack to answer. "Kendall can share! He's starting to become a soap hoarder, anyway." Then it slammed shut again.
"It's okay, Carlos," Kendall assured. He left Logan and his sister in the living room and began making his way to the hall. "While the soaps are awesome, you did give me a ton. I don't think I'll be able to use them all. You wouldn't want them gathering dust, would you?"
The thought of the poor little soaps being alone in Kendall's dresser drawer was obviously enough convincing for Carlos. As Kendall rounded the corner, he noticed Carlos toss his body down the slide and pop out at the bottom while Mrs. Knight wearily located a mop to clean the juice spill.
Chuckling to himself, Kendall flipped on the light to his bedroom as he entered. He could hear the dull, distant voices of the guys speaking in the other room. He stopped. Closed his eyes. Listened. Though he'd been home for quite some time now, the sound of their bickering had yet to annoy him. Frankly, he didn't think it ever would again.
He was back to being Normal Kendall. Well, sort of. Normal was relative. The Kendall from several months ago was still different from the Kendall now, but the Kendall now felt pretty darn comfortable. Yeah, the occasional nightmare would still plague him and yeah, sometimes he noticed the guys act a little strangely. But they were steadily working through it, and today seemed to have made the most progress.
It wasn't like they couldn't talk about what had happened. Though, Kendall noticed, discussions about the awful events were becoming less frequent by the day. His family wasn't completely cleansed of horrors. Katie crawled into his bed at night more often than she used to, Mrs. Knight had formed a new routine of kissing him every morning when he woke and every night before he went to bed, and the other day at the park James had freaked out when he saw a chipmunk dart across the lawn. But Dr. Connell had been a huge help to everyone. Especially Carlos. It'd taken him only a week of camping out on bedroom floors before he was able to sleep alone in his room again.
But there were also the wounds that couldn't heal.
As Kendall approached his dresser to locate the soaps, his reflection caught his eye. He paused and turned, staring at the mirror hanging on the wall. When he'd first retuned home, he hadn't recognized himself. Now he saw his old self gazing back at him with bright, lively green eyes.
Until he lifted his shirt, that is.
Kendall slowly stepped forward, pushing up his sleeves. The scars marring his skin were a harrowing reminder of what he had been through. The line slicing across his left arm was pink and knotted, occasionally a bit painful to the touch, depending on the day. He constantly wore long sleeves since arriving back home, therefore only catching a glimpse of his bare arms when he showered or dressed himself.
The rope burns on his wrists had faded decently. While Kendall had been in the hospital, the burns had left behind tiny clusters of scabs that itched like crazy as they healed. Logan had duct-taped oven mitts to Kendall's hands to prevent him from scratching at the wounds. Kendall complained oven mitts were a common treatment for chickenpox and shouldn't have to wear them, but Logan was insistent. Kendall had been teased mercilessly from James and Carlos over the floral pattern of the gloves, and had felt like a helpless little kid under the attentive supervision of Dr. Mitchell.
It had been a long stay.
He ran a ginger finger over a barely visible cut above his eyebrow. The scars would always be there, and so would the horrific memories of the ordeal he had experienced. Over time, the scars would fade from sight and hide themselves, only to be rediscovered when a finger brushed over the spot and felt the tiny ridge of elevated skin. Just like his memories would eventually stop distracting him and interfering with his everyday life. Kendall still found himself tossing and turning in his bed some nights, not being able to rest until he poked his head into James's room to make sure he was still there. The occurrences were less frequent now, but not completely gone.
No, the scars would never go away. But they would fade, and Kendall figured that was good enough.
He forced himself to smile into the mirror. Then he pulled himself away from the reflection and finally reached his dresser. The top drawer had been cleared of socks and undergarments to make room for the pile of multicolored soaps he'd accumulated over his hospital stay. How the gift shop managed to stay in stock, Kendall would never know. The small bars ranged from a creamy white to bright pink in color, and were scented anywhere from Cinnamon to Fresh Laundry to totally strange ones like Leather Jacket. Jo seemed to like that one, though.
Kendall began to sort through the collection, already knowing which one to give to James. He couldn't imagine rubbing something called Dr. Feelgood onto his skin. The little white bar had a sharp, spicy scent to it that actually didn't smell too bad. It was sure to attract attention, and therefore was perfect for James.
Smirking to himself, Kendall grabbed the bar and made his way back to the main room of 2J. Immediately he noticed Logan and Carlos rolling on the floor, nothing but a tangle of flailing limbs, while Mrs. Knight attempted to pull them apart and Katie sat at the kitchen table, laughing. Kendall sighed, ignoring his arguing friends for now, and pounded his fist against the bathroom door. The sound of running water could be heard on the other side. "James, I got your soap."
"Door's open," he called.
"…I don't really want to come in, James."
"Don't worry, I have my clothes on."
Kendall hesitantly twisted the knob and pushed the door open. He made a face. "You shower with your clothes on?"
James parted the curtain. "I do when I've been assaulted with liquids!"
"Shut up," he muttered, sticking out a hand. "Just hand me the soap before I turn purple."
Kendall stepped into the foggy bathroom and passed his friend the bar. James quickly ducked back into the shower, some stray drops of water flicking onto Kendall's face as he whipped his head around. Kendall wiped them away with the sleeve of his shirt. "Have you forgotten the time you were orange? You weren't so concerned about it then."
"I looked good and you know it. Besides, it wasn't orange, it was mangerine."
Shaking his head, Kendall let James get back to his shower. He raised his eyebrows when he saw his mother on the floor, yanking on Carlos's shoulders to prevent the Latino from killing the boy pinned beneath him. "Boys, stop it!" she cried, narrowly dodging a foot to the face. "I am not afraid to ground you!"
The threat made Carlos stop immediately, because, Kendall knew, a grounding for Carlos was absolute torture. He could hardly stand being in one place for more than a few hours, so to be locked inside the apartment all day while the rest of his friends were outside enjoying eighty-five degree weather was the worst kind of punishment.
Mrs. Knight aided Logan to his feet, who straightened his collar and smoothed out his disheveled hair. The two boys shot a couple glares to each other, but were interrupted when Mrs. Knight's phone rang.
"I am going to answer that," she said, pointing a stern finger towards each of them, "and you two are going to stay at least ten feet away from each other. Understand?"
"Yes, Mrs. Knight," they responded in unison, hanging their heads.
"Good." She walked past Kendall, who fought back an amused smirk, and to her purse on the counter. When she checked the caller ID, her body stiffened.
"Mom, who is it?" asked Kendall, noticing the change in her demeanor.
The phone continued ringing in her hands. She cleared her throat. "It's Officer McNair." Taking a deep breath, she pressed a button with her thumb and held the device to her ear. "Hello?"
From the corner of his eye, Kendall saw Carlos, Logan and Katie all whip their heads to him. He felt his skin go pale, felt his breath hitch in his throat. His eyes never left his mother as she cupped a hand over the receiver to talk quietly with the officer.
Carlos raced through the kitchen and opened the bathroom door. He said something to James, who responded with a few cross words before he understood what Carlos was trying to explain. James then immediately stepped out of the bathroom, fully clothed and soaking wet.
Kendall inhaled through his nose and blew the air out through his mouth, attempting to calm his racing heart. Logan noticed and placed a hand on his shoulder, but Kendall barely felt it. He was desperate to know the officer's news. Considering Mrs. Knight had yet to relax her tense muscles, Kendall assumed it was bad.
Finally she ended the call and turned to Katie and the boys, who had gone completely still. A large puddle had formed around James as the warm shower water continued rolling off his body, but no one seemed to care.
Mrs. Knight licked her lips as she examined all the expectant faces. "McNair was calling to tell us that, ah…" She slowly dropped her phone back into her purse, stalling for time. "…That a date has finally been set for the trial."
Once again, every head in the room turned towards Kendall.
He needed a moment to think. Finally breaking eye contact from his mother, Kendall shrugged away from Logan and walked slowly towards the kitchen counter. He gripped the overhanging edge so tight that his knuckles turned white. He closed his eyes, pondering. A couple shivers ran down his spine as the pictures in his mind turned to frightening memories. Yeah, Normal Kendall still had his moments. He remembered every one of Chris's punches. Every shadow that crossed the man's face. Every word he spoke. Every time the pistol winked.
But that's all the thoughts were. Memories.
Mrs. Knight said his name, pulling Kendall from his recollections. He rotated back around. They stared at him, waiting for him to speak, waiting for a decision. Kendall took a long look at everyone. They were the reason why he'd left, the reason he'd returned, and the reason he was Kendall Knight. They were everything.
"Alright," he finally answered, voice quiet but casual.
"Alright?" Logan echoed. He crinkled his brow. "You know you're going to have to testify, right?"
"Yeah, I know."
James, still dripping on the kitchen floor, spoke slowly. "And you're… okay with that?"
"Why wouldn't I be?"
"You'll be in the same room with them," Logan pointed out, referring to Kendall's former captors. He lowered his voice, speaking cautiously. "With… him."
Kendall shrugged his shoulders. The guys were allowed to be scared. Kendall was allowed to be scared. But that didn't mean he would be. Chris had lost. Kendall won. And Chris needed to see it with his own eyes.
Besides. Kendall didn't fear Chris. He feared the Chris from his memories. There was, he'd discovered, a significant difference between the two.
Confidently, Kendall reminded, "He can't hurt me."
Five simultaneous grins lit up the room. Kendall could sense the relief his words had caused. The air seemed a little lighter, as well as his chest. For some reason an almost overwhelming sense of comfort flooded his body, making his heart flutter and his eyes sting. The looks they gave him were so hopeful, so optimistic. He hadn't seen their faces like that in a long time.
As Mrs. Knight clapped her hands together and declared dinner was ready, James proclaimed something about blow-drying his body and promptly locked himself in the bathroom. Logan and Carlos sat at opposite sides of the table and waited patiently for James to finish.
Kendall found a seat beside his sister and watched hungrily as Mrs. Knight removed the tray from the oven. All the while he couldn't shake the fluffy feeling from his chest. He felt protected and secure, like invisible arms were wrapped around him in a warm embrace. When James emerged from the bathroom ten minutes later—somehow looking like he'd just stepped out of a salon—and sat at the table, Kendall couldn't contain his thoughts anymore.
"Listen," he told his family. They instantly gave him their full attention; he figured he must have sounded pretty serious. Kendall cleared his throat. "Um, so, this is probably going to sound really girly," he started, suddenly feeling a little awkward, "but I have to admit that I'm really glad I have such an awesome family."
He received a simultaneous "Aww," from Mrs. Knight and Katie, whose love he never had to question.
"And I'm glad I have such an awesome big brother," his sister said.
"And an awesome son," added Mrs. Knight, smiling warmly.
Happy he finally got what he wanted to say off his chest, Kendall raised his glass of juice to his lips to take a drink.
"Aw," gushed Carlos, "Kendall loves us."
Kendall choked on his drink. Logan reached over to give him an unconcerned smack on the upper back, which actually made the situation worse. "Come again?" he managed when he finally got a breath.
Carlos grinned cheekily while half a corndog hung out of his mouth. "Kendall loves us! Kendall loves us!" he taunted.
Heat rushed to Kendall's cheeks. "I didn't say that!" he cried, mortified.
"Yeah, but that's what you meant."
"No it wasn't!"
"Yeah," argued Logan, not bothering to look up from his dinner, "it totally was."
"Definitely," agreed James, equally indifferent.
"You guys are twisting my words!" Kendall defended. His tone became more firm. "I said you were awesome. That's it."
There was a long pause as Kendall allowed the words to sink in. He ignored the subtle smirk curving Katie's lips and his mom's slight eye roll and prepared to get back to his dinner before it went cold.
"You still love us, though."
Crying out, Kendall lunged out of his chair and tackled Carlos to the ground, corndogs and tater tots flying into the air like confetti. He heard a snicker from Katie and a sigh from Mrs. Knight, and two annoyed groans from James and Logan as they abandoned their meals to break up the playful fight. Kendall got the upper hand and trapped Carlos underneath him, because no one teased Kendall for loving his friends.
…Even if it was true.
It seemed as though the guys always knew when he was lying. Before he'd been admitted to the hospital, he'd tried to convince them he was fine, but they'd seen right through his façade. They were the ones who'd told him it was okay to feel like he did. They were the ones who'd promised things would get better. And Big Time Rush did not break promises.
They were stronger than him. And they certainly didn't need him protecting them like an older brother would do for his younger siblings.
At least, not all the time.
He realized that instead of screaming, Carlos was giggling like a child, especially when Logan tried to intervene and ended up tripping on his shoelace and getting sucked into the scuffle. Not wanting to be left out, James flung himself atop the pile, effectively crushing Kendall.
Soon their sides ached from laughter, and Kendall could barely catch his breath around his loud guffaws. This was exactly how things used to be. He remembered all the times they'd laughed themselves sick, and all the times they'd wrestled like they wanted to hurt each other—even though they knew they'd never actually do it.
It scared him, sometimes, when he realized how close he'd been to never doing this again.
Thankful his mother seemed to understand his need to goof off, Kendall rolled away from the pile, panting hard. The guys followed, a few chuckles still escaping them. Kendall had never experienced a more contented feeling as he did when he pulled himself to his feet. He loved that he had to deal with James's melodramatic episodes. He loved that he had to pull Carlos and Logan away from each other. And most of all, he loved that he could love.
He was ready to get back to the table when Carlos, beaming, bounced forward and wrapped his arms firmly around Kendall's middle. For a moment Kendall thought another round of wrestling was about to begin, but then realized Carlos had simply trapped him in a spontaneous hug. Carlos was good at those.
Kendall's body relaxed in the hold. He was slightly surprised when Logan and James stepped forward to place brotherly hands on his back.
They stood there for a while, silent. When they finally pulled away, something wet slipped from Kendall's eye. He quickly wiped the unexpected tear away, hoping the guys hadn't noticed.
But, of course, they had.
"You okay?" asked Logan.
Kendall looked into each pair of concerned eyes. "Yeah," he replied, smiling. "I'm fine."
And this time, he meant it.