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Chapter 2: Childish Plans

“Your house is pretty shabby, Ryan.” The taunting of the little boy was already annoying Ryan to his breaking point. For just having been in a life-threatening situation, he seemed to be rather chipper and snarky instead of the fearful boy he was a few minutes ago.

Though Ryan would have to agree with his observation. His house, if it could even be called that, was simply an apartment identical to all his neighbours. The door itself was mildly sturdy, the wood chipping and splintering off in places. When they went inside, the smell of musty walls and carpets greeted them with a stench that a full can of Febreeze couldn’t even cover. On the bright side, Ryan felt that his arrangement of furniture slightly compensated for the absurd smell. Though the actual sofa and chairs were nothing special, they tied the room together quite well.

A black, wooden dining table that could at most fit two people, two tall chairs, one of which was oddly dusty, and a surprisingly spacious kitchen that was kept as clean as it would get. The living room, while only containing a dark, low coffee table, a leather sofa, and a small flat-screen TV, was fairly cozy and inviting.

Ryan took his tight shoes off, feeling his feet and stretching his toes out in relief. Mark followed his lead, removing the scruffy and tattered running shoes that he had on. The socks he wore, Ryan noticed, had various holes and were filthy.

This caused Ryan to finally come aware of Mark’s entire appearance. His snowy shirt was a size too big for him, and dirty as well. The baggy jeans crumpled into a big heap at his ankles, just barely not covering his toes.

“What?” Mark had noticed his stare.

“Nothing. How long have you been wearing those clothes?”

“A couple days,” Mark said shiftily. “What’s wrong with that?” Ryan chuckled a little.

“You can wear something of mine for now. I can’t guarantee it’ll fit, but you can go have a shower and wash off all that dirt.” Mark was looking at Ryan with an air of distrust. Ryan continued, “I’ll make something for us to eat in the meantime. You’re safe now, okay?”

Mark still looked resilient, but quickly scampered off to the bathroom, which wasn’t too far from the entrance. As Ryan went to his room to change into something more casual, he heard the shower water begin to run. He threw his suit on his bed, loosening his tie, and put on a pair of sweatpants. Now that was more like it.

As he pulled on a white tank top he glanced at his torn up suit. There was no hope in resurrecting that shameless heap of clothing. He sighed, ultimately tossing the suit in the garbage when he came into the kitchen. It filled a good chunk of the trash, but it was nowhere near full, and he wasn’t feeling energetic enough to take it out, anyway.

Opening the fridge, Ryan took out some eggs and cheese. Cracking the eggs over a frying pan and slowly turning the heat up, he set to slicing up small squares of cheese. The eggs fried quickly, and Ryan quickly scrambled them, adding in the small squares of cheese as he went. The eggs were just about done, only a minute or two until delicious results. Though he felt as though he was forgetting something.

“Ryan,” Mark’s voice called. Ryan turned off the stove and set the frying pan on a different burner, walking over to the bathroom.

“What’s up?” Ryan saw Mark talking through the crack of the door.

“Can you go grab me some clothes? I’m finished.” That’s what he was forgetting.

“Sure. I’ll be right back.” And so he briskly went to his room, looking for the smallest things he had. They were going to be huge on him, but Ryan brought back a pair of jeans that were tight on him, and a black T-shirt.

“They probably won’t fit,” he apologized. “But I’m sure we can tweak their size.” Mark thanked him quickly, grabbing the clothes and instantly shutting the door.

Ryan went back to the kitchen, splitting the eggs and grabbing two plates from the rack of clean dishes he was neglecting on putting away. The eggs steamed nicely, and Ryan was glad they were even still warm after all.

Within seconds, Mark emerged from the bathroom, his dirty clothes in his arms and just about everything drooping down on him.

“Where do I put ’em?” His small, blue eyes barely appeared over the bundle.

“Just in my laundry basket. It’s in the room beside the TV - you can’t miss it.” He nodded, trudging along and lifting up his pants every few steps. Ryan pondered briefly on whether or not he had any extra belts laying around. He was sure that there was something. Before sitting down, he opened his small fridge and pulled out a container of ketchup. He didn’t know about Mark, but he loved ketchup on his eggs. Most other people found him a little odd for mixing such things, though.

Mark waddled into the kitchen, climbing into the seat across from Ryan. Ryan passed him a plate of eggs and a fork, mixing in his own ketchup.

“You have ketchup on your eggs?” Mark raised an eyebrow.

“Yeah,” Ryan agreed. “It’s good.”

Mark hesitated.

“Can I try some?” he warily asked.

“Of course. Do you want me to do it?”

“N-No! I can do it!” Mark insisted, taking the ketchup bottle and squirting some on his eggs. Ryan watched him with a slight bit of amusement. Mark was very much trying to be independent. Ryan respected that, but as an adult, knew that he could only go so far as a child. Mark mixed in the ketchup and took a bite.

“It’s good,” he sounded amazed.

Ryan laughed. “You sound surprised. A lot of people like ketchup on their eggs as kids. Guess I’m not quite a grown-up just yet.” Mark smiled, his slightly crooked teeth showing. Ryan noted that it was the first time he had ever seen him do such a thing. It really lit up his entire face; the freckles and dimples more pronounced, his eyes sparkling as if they actually had a hint of life within them.

“How old are you, Mark?” Ryan asked. Mark scratched his head, which was full of bright, auburn hair that was beginning to grow a little long.

“I’m nine and three-quarters!” He announced proudly. “How old are you, Ryan?”

“A little more than I’d like to admit,” he chuckled softly. “I’m twenty-seven now.”

“You’re so old,” Mark giggled.

“Hey, one day you’ll be older!” Ryan countered.

"Ew, no way. I’m gonna be a kid for the rest of my life!”

“If only,” Ryan muttered to himself. He scooped up his last bite of eggs, exhaling happily. Mark finished up his meal in record time, as well.

“So, what do you say we shorten up those pants of yours?” Ryan suggested.

“They keep falling down, that’s all,” Mark protested. “It’s fine, really.”

“Trust me, they aren’t of much use to me anymore.” Ryan got up from his seat at the table, grabbing both of their plates and placing them in the sink. He would deal with them later. Opening some of the drawers, he searched until he found what he was looking for - a pair of scissors.

“Make sure you hold ’em away from me,” Mark said. Ryan breathed out a laugh. He supposed he did have to set some sort of example for the kid. He turned the scissors so that they were not facing in front of him and knelt down to where Mark was sitting. He started snipping around where Mark’s ankle was, taking off almost half of the pant leg. On Ryan, they would now be awkwardly tight shorts.

He cut the other leg off, and told Mark to stand up. The legs came only partway on the floor now. Ryan figured it would be enough for now. Mark would be growing, anyway.

“I guess you need a belt, too?” Kneeling down, Ryan was only a little shorter than Mark, so he was able to look him squarely in the eyes. Mark nodded, his expression neutral, but his eyes confused and perplexed. Ryan quickly popped into his room and grabbed a black belt. He came back out with it, allowing Mark to put it on himself.

“I don’t think there’s too much we can do about the shirt, unless we cut some of the bottom part off. What do you think?”

“It’s okay,” Mark had gone oddly quiet. Ryan frowned, getting up and returning the scissors to their home. He was about to ask Mark if he would like to watch TV, but Mark spoke first. “Why are you doing this?”

It was such a genuine question that Ryan was unsure how to answer.

“W-What do you mean?” It had admittedly taken him by complete surprise.

“Those other guys...they only wanted to hurt me. They said they were going to really hurt me. I’ve heard it from a lot of other people, too. ‘Stop that or I’m going to smack you upside the head!’ and ‘Get out of here!.’ I hear it all the time from other adults. Why do you want to help me?” Mark’s words broke Ryan’s heart. To think that so many other people turned a blind eye to him without mercy was cruel.

“Mark,” Ryan began. “There are a lot of bad people in this world, unfortunately. Think of the world as one big peach tree. All the people that ever tried to hurt you are just rotten peaches. There are a lot more people who are kind, though. They’re the fruit that’s freshly picked off the tree. The really good, juicy ones. The reason that I want to help you? ...I don’t really know, either.”

Ryan paused, clearing his throat.

“But I do know that the sight of those men trying to harm you sickened me to the very core of my being. I felt that I couldn’t just stand there and watch it all happen. I couldn’t let them hurt you, kill you. I didn’t know how to fight. I didn’t know that I had this kind of power. All I knew was that I had to do everything in my power to save you. It’s very difficult to explain...but do you understand?”

Mark was staring at him with wide eyes, captivated by his story. He nodded.

“I want to help people, too,” he said. “I’ve taken food from other people to help the other kids I see on the street, but they always end up leaving me behind anyway. I didn’t think that it was worth it to help anyone anymore.” He stared at the ground, the light lost from his eyes.

“Hey,” Ryan placed a hand on Mark’s head. “They just didn’t know how nice of a person you really are. Never stop helping people, okay?” Mark nodded, a smile returning to his face.

“Can we watch TV?” he asked.

“Sure,” Ryan smiled.

“Who’s this?” Rita asked, astounded the next morning as Ryan and Mark stopped into her coffeehouse.

“I’m Markus - but call me Mark!” Mark introduced himself.

“Oh really?” Rita looked at him skeptically, as if she saw something Ryan didn’t.

“There was an...incident yesterday, so he’s staying with me, now, I suppose. I’ll tell you about it later, okay?”

“You’d better use a hell of a lot of detail to explain this one. How are you going to bring this up to your boss? The hours you have now are less than ideal for raising a kid.”

“I’m not raising him, I-I think,” Ryan flushed. “I’m just taking care of him until we can figure something out.

“You want to get rid of me?” Mark asked quietly.

“What? Of course not, you’re a cool guy!” Ryan assured him. “But I don’t know if I’ll be allowed to take care of you.”

Rita made a noise of agreement. “He’s right. For one, the courts have to know that you’d be taking care of a minor, and two, your boss needs to know. It’s gonna be tough, trying to explain this to him on such short notice. I dunno if he’ll be lenient on the hours he has you on, Ryan.”

“Then I’ll quit,” Ryan found himself saying. Rita almost dropped his drink, placing the French Vanilla on the counter to avoid another close spillage.

“You’ll what?" She was taken aback.

“I’ll quit,” Ryan repeated. “It’s like you said, Rita, I need a change. And if the boss won’t move my hours into something reasonable, then I’ll get a new job.”

“Ryan, I was making a suggestion to think about, not to act on right this second!" Rita exclaimed. “This is career suicide, what you’re doing! You have no back-up plan-”

“There’s always something-” Ryan protested.

“Minimum-wage fast-food jobs will only get you so far-” Rita countered.

“I’ll figure it out!” Ryan shouted, breathless and angered. He could feel the eyes of the people in the coffeeshop digging into his back like drills. Rita sighed, putting her hands to her face.

“Ryan, please. I want to look out for you. You’re a great guy. Don’t make the biggest mistake of your life, please." Ryan said nothing. He had only thought of quitting on a whim, but suddenly it seemed like the right thing to do. He knew he wasn’t going to get anywhere where he was. He knew that doing the same, mundane tasks over and over again would turn him into the same, grueling, cruel beasts that already occupied most of the world already.

He didn’t want to be like them.

He grabbed Rita’s hand. “Rita. I have a back-up plan. Trust me on this. There is something I can do...I just don’t have it completely figured out yet, alright? I...I’m sorry for yelling. It was rude of me, especially in your store.”

Rita sighed again, lifting her head. She freed her hands from Ryan’s shaky grasp and poked the buttons on her till.

“One French Vanilla and a hot chocolate, three even. You’d better be right about this. I’ll kill you if you’re not.” Ryan breathed out a sigh of relief, plopping the coin on the counter and giving a Rita a real smile.

“Thank you,” and he truly, truly meant it.

The inescapable building was fast approaching the pair as they made their way through the bustling city. It was tall, industrial, and identical to all the other skyscrapers that dominated the skies.

Now more than ever Ryan felt the pressure of his choices beginning to weigh down on him. Did he really have the guts to up and quit the job that kept food on his table? What would he do if he was going to ever plan on rais- looking after a kid?

But he couldn’t go back on his word. That’s right - once he’d said something aloud, it was for certain. It wasn’t the best way to live, mind, but Ryan hated going back on his word.

He briefly thought of Mark, who was sticking close to his thigh to avoid the oncoming traffic of bodies. Ryan still wasn’t quite sure when he officially agreed to take care of him, but it just seemed to have suddenly...happened. Not that he was complaining; he had a certain fondness for the boy. Was it when he went to save him? Was it when he invited him into his home and offered Mark a place of solace? Ryan couldn’t be quite sure, but simply letting him go would go against everything he’d fought for thus far.

Ryan and Mark stood in front of the sliding doors. The secrets that were held within would soon be revealed, Ryan knew, for one way or another, his life was going to change. The doors slid open gracefully, and Ryan held Mark close as they ventured inside.

He doesn’t know I’m looking. He doesn’t know I’ve been watching him ever since the glow. That’s simply ravishing. I want it. I need it. I will do anything to obtain it. But first, I must devise something...yes, a plan of sorts. One to lure him away from that small one...and then we will strike.

A/N: Another chapter - complete! This story keeps getting more and more interesting the more I write it. Is that a threat I smell? All you readers can do is eagerly wait for the next chapter, as will I. Thanks for all the support!

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