Logan groans and rolls over. Reluctantly, he opens his eyes. “Still can’t sleep?” he asks.
Ryan shakes his head, tears in his eyes.
Which means Logan isn’t sleeping either. He sighs and climbs out of bed, doing his best not to wake Takato. Hopefully at least someone will be able to last the night.
They go into the main room. Logan sits on the couch and Ryan immediately climbs up and moves in close to him. “I’m so tired,” the boy sobs.
“I know, I know.” His teachers have commented on how much he struggles to focus in class, how he just sits with his dead down, too tired to work. His eyes look sunken and bruised, the bags under his eyes dark.
Logan yawns--he has been up with his brother on and off for the last few days, and is pretty exhausted himself, but at least he’s been managing some sleep. Knowing how much worse it must be for the boy is the only thing that kept him from completely losing his temper.
“Want to put on one of your audiobooks?” he asks, closing his eyes.
Ryan whimpers and shakes his head.
“You like your books,” Logan says. “Maybe it will relax you.”
“I can’t listen.”
“That’s because you’re tired.” He tries to think. They had run through all their ideas on the second day. Now, they mostly just try to kill time until the morning and hope for a miracle in the meantime.
“Can you sing? Like you used to?”
He opens his eyes and looks down at Ryan. It’s been awhile since he’s heard that request. He used to sing when they were both little, but then when their mom died and their dad’s abuse doubled and tripled, he hadn’t found much use for singing. Then he’d had his son, Micah, and they’d run away to be on his own, and he met Takato and his daughter, Lilly, and brother, Thomas. He’d been living on the streets at that point, and Takato had just given him everything, and he had forgotten what it was like to be loved. Then Takato’s father had a stroke, his now-boyfriend had tentatively suggested moving in together, starting a family with their siblings and children--it would give his older parents a break and Logan would have a home again, not to mention be around the man he’d grown to love. They’d been living all together for two years now. He’d started singing again, because how was he supposed to hold all the happiness inside?
It’s been awhile now, he realizes, since he last sang. “What do you want me to sing?”
“I don’t know…”
He leans his head back and closes his eyes.
“Don’t sleep!” Ryan explains, practically pouncing on him to wake him up.
“Ow! Okay, okay.” He opens his eyes again, making a point of staring at his brother while he starts to sing softly. He goes through the lullabies their mother used to sing to them, then some jazz and rock. For hours. He almost falls asleep himself a couple times, but Ryan is quick to wake him with a panicked cry.
He must fall asleep at some point, though, because he starts to rouse, hearing waking noises, despite Takato’s whispered efforts to quiet the other kids. He sighs, and shifts, opening his eyes. He glances over next to him, and could cry with relief seeing his brother out like a light. He debates whether he can extricate himself without waking the boy up, or if it isn’t worth trying. He’ll stay here all day if it meant keeping the kid asleep.
Takato notices him waking up, and nods at Ryan. “Couldn’t sleep?”
“Again.” As it has been more often than not for the past couple months.
He starts to move, slowly, but his caution proves unnecessary—his little brother doesn’t stir, as though all he’s making up for all the restless nights.
“He has to get up for school, anyway,” Takato points out.
“He only just got to sleep, he can miss it today.” As Takato starts to protest, he says, “It’s been about a week without any sleep at all. Trust me--I’m the one who’s been up with him the whole time.”
Takato frowns in concern. “That’s...not normal.”
Logan sighs in exasperation. “This again?” Takato has been pressing him to take Ryan to the doctor. Besides the insomnia, there’s been increased hyperactivity, a drop in grades, some social issues that his normally outgoing brother has never had a problem with before. And, of course, the ever-present anxiety that has been his constant companion since childhood. “It’s insomnia. Extreme, yeah, but not that unusual.”
“He can’t focus in class, or do his work here. And four days, of absolutely no sleep? That’s gotta be rough. That’s not even counting all the trouble for the last month. It’s a real problem.”
He can’t argue that. “Okay,” he allows. “I’ll see about setting up an appointment. And I’ll get something at the drugstore to see if that helps.”
Takato nods. It’s a compromise he can handle. “I’ll get the others to school, and let them know he’ll be out today.”
When Logan gets back from work, Ryan is still sleeping, even after Takato apparently moved him to the bedroom. He ends up sleeping straight through until early the next morning.
And then the cycle begins again.
“Any homework today?” Takato asks.
“No…” his word is unconvincing even to himself.
“No, there’s not, or no, you don’t remember?”
“Are you using the planner?” His forgetfulness had gotten so bad that Takato had bought him a small notebook to write his assignments in as soon as they were given to help him remember what he had to do. Of the four kids, all younger, he’s become the most disorganized. Even Lilly, six years younger, is more on top of her homework.
Ryan looks at his backpack uncertainly.
Takato lifts it to the table and opens it, Ryan hovering nearby as though he doesn’t even know what was inside it himself. His hands flutter by his sides, a nervous habit he seems to have picked up recently.
Takato pulls out his notebook and flips through it. “Your handwriting’s a mess,” he teases lightly. “Okay, we’ve got that project still to work on--you didn’t write your math pages again.”
“Sorry,” he apologizes with a wince.
“Okay.” Takato keeps digging through the bag, looking for a hint of the assignment. “Mmm...we need a better system here. It’s been over a month since school started back up again, we need to get back into the swing of things here.” He frowns at a piece of paper he’d pulled out. “There’s a social studies project--Ryan, this was due last week! Why didn’t Logan or I see this?”
Ryan stares at it as though it’s a strange creature ready to attack him. “I didn’t--” he says softly. His eyes flick to Takato pleadingly.
Takato sighs. “Ryan, you need to do a better job at keeping track of this. It’s a new year. I know middle school is harder, but we’ve been losing our focus since you started, and with high school just around the corner, we really need to get focused here. Can you try harder now?”
He shakes his head, then nods.
“No? Or yes?”
He nods slowly.
Takato smiles. “All right. Let me look at this, maybe we can get something together and see if the teacher will give you some points, at least. Sound good?”
“Yes,” Ryan says quickly. “Can I go listen to my recordings?”
“School work first, okay?”
He nods again and runs to his room. He doesn’t want Takato to see him lose control. He’s already trying harder than he even thought possible, and it isn’t good enough. He doesn’t know what else he could do.
“Ryan, it doesn’t have to be perfect,” Logan tells him impatiently. He’s been working on a paper for the last hour and has barely written a paragraph because he has to keep going back and making each letter perfectly straight, each word perfectly chosen. The other kids have already finished their homework, even Thomas, only a couple years younger, and Micah, doing work two grades above his age.
“Yes, it does,” Ryan grinds out, hyper-focused on the work he’s doing.
“They can read it fine--”
Ryan crumples up the paper, making a sound of disapproval, and grabs another sheet.
“Hey.” Logan takes the paper, flattening it out and examining it. “This is fine, Ryan.”
“No,” he says simply. He has started rocking slightly, unconsciously.
Logan puts a hand on his shoulder, and Ryan flinches hard, sending the pencil skittering across the page. He blinks in surprise, then crumples up that paper as well.
“No,” Ryan snaps, surprising Logan. Then the teenager pushes back and put his head in his hands, arms shaking. “I can’t do it,” he says, voice trembling with effort.
“It’s okay,” Logan says, putting an arm around his shoulders comfortingly.
“Don’t!” Ryan shouts, pulling away.
“Don’t what?” Logan asks in confusion.
“I don’t know!” Ryan shouts desperately.
Logan watches him with a frown, unsure what he should do. He knows teenagers are supposed to have crazy mood swings, but isn’t it a little early for that? Especially this extreme?
Ryan takes several deep breaths, then lifts his head and goes back to his work. “It’s never good enough,” he murmurs.
“Hey.” Logan starts to reach out to him again, then hesitates. “Um,” he says awkwardly. “Why don’t you take a break? You can listen to a chapter or two of your recording, then come back and we’ll work on this some more.” At the young teenager’s hesitation, he offers, “I’ll look over this paragraph, and see what we can do with it, okay? I bet together, we really can make it perfect.”
This seems satisfactory. Ryan nods and leaps up from the table. Logan watches him take off to his room. He has to do anything he could to keep the anxiety from becoming too much. He’s failed tests and worked himself up to nonverbal panic attacks because of this anxiety. It got better when they left their dad, and even more so when they met Takato and his family, but sometimes, between his dyslexia and extreme perfectionism, it seems like they’ll never get away from it.
No, he thinks in determination. We will. We have to.
Logan is working at the garage, so it falls to Takato—an illustrator with flexible hours, splitting time between work at home and the office—to go to the parent-teacher meetings at Ryan’s school. Last year, all the kids had good results--the worst had been Micah getting too smart for the teacher, and as far as problems went, there were worse ones. Ryan himself had been a teacher’s favorite--kind, inquisitive, helpful. There had been some concerns when the anxiety started to interfere, but even then, they had been rushing to help.
This year, same teachers. Different experience.
“He forgets his homework more often than not,” is a common complaint. Takato has noticed that, too. It doesn’t seem a day could go by without him forgetting something, and asking him about homework usually results in a blank look. He had chalked it up to the stress of starting school again, but it’s been months now. A few teachers are willing to touch base with Takato or Logan to help, but they’re the exception.
“Disruptive in class” is a surprising one. Ryan loves to learn and is one of the most gentle kids Takato knows, so to hear of him shouting out in class, even rarely, is shocking.
“Withdrawal,” “unwilling to participate in class,” is almost as bad. Ryan loves learning and listens to his science audiobooks for hours on end, enraptured. He’s always the first to raise his hand with an eager question.
The worst comes when his English teacher suggests remedial classes. “He’s not keeping up,” she emphasizes. “He’ll only fail, and at worst, will drag the rest of the class down.”
“I know English is his worst subject,” Takato says. “He’s dyslexic. But that bad? I thought his writing was all right, at least.”
The teacher raises an eyebrow and pulls out several sheets of paper. In handwriting that grows increasingly worse are short paragraphs of run-on sentences, interspersed with nonsense. The last one ends in the middle of a sentence.
He didn’t lied--normally the boy’s writing is much better. This is reminiscent of a grade-schooler’s. He’s sat with Ryan, helping with homework, listened to the frustration of trying to make everything perfect. He can’t believe what he’s seeing now.
“Perhaps just for English,” the teacher suggests, “perhaps just for the year, to give him time to catch up.” She hesitates. “Although, perhaps you should get him tested, just to be sure there’s not an underlying issue.”
Logan hates the teacher when Takato tells him. “He’s dyslexic!” he exclaims in exasperation. “That’s the issue!”
“There were problems with all the teachers,” Takato points out. “I don’t know. Maybe there is something wrong.”
“There’s nothing wrong,” Logan returns heatedly.
“Then the testing shouldn’t be a problem, right?”
Logan shakes his head in disgust, but gives in.
Ryan has been tested several times during his school years. In the middle of elementary, he’d been diagnosed with dyslexia. Last year, he’d had some school problems and had been tested again, only to realize that he was just anxious, not necessarily disabled. He’s always been just about average, if not above, above grade level in math and science, at grade level on history, and barely at level in reading. He’s a bright, curious, hard-working kid that any school would jump to have.
The current picture is entirely different. They’d expected some delay--the anxiety had been so bad by the end of last year, his teachers had wanted to hold him back, anyway. Even considering that, though, now he’s ranking as just below average, barely on level in science, his best subject, one below in math and history, and a full three levels below in reading.
“This can’t be right,” Logan mutters, staring in disbelief at the results.
“What happened?” Takato asks Ryan gently. “Did you get anxious during the tests?”
Ryan nodded, twisting his hands. (When had that become a thing, anyway?) “I didn’t have time to get it right,” he explains, voice tight, “and the questions kept twisting.”
“What do you mean?”
He looks frustrated by his inability to explain. “I got to the end and the beginning ran away, and I couldn’t find it.” (Takato flashes on those English sheets--this sounds like something that would cause papers like that.) “I’m sorry,” he adds in a small voice.
“It’s okay,” Logan reassures him. “It’s probably my fault for not helping you more.”
“Maybe this will be good,” Takato says, positive as always. “It will be less stressful, and then you’ll catch up easily. You’ll see, next year will be just like normal.” And yet, a strange sense of disquiet fills him.
They’re both getting frustrated. Takato knows that Ryan knows this stuff--the reading worksheets are basic stuff that he’s done before. Yes, he’s struggling more than ever, at a lower reading level than he was even last year, but that shouldn’t take away from all he’s learned. Besides, Takato admits with an inward sigh, it’s probably too simple even for where he’s at now. Lilly could probably do this work, and she’s only in the third grade.
“Come on, Ryan, we’ve read over this twice now. You know the answers,” Takato says, patience beginning to wane.
“I don’t,” Ryan insists.
“Okay, we’ll let’s start again. The first question is asking about something in the beginning. Let’s just read the first paragraph and see if we can find the answer.”
Ryan stares at the paragraph so hard, he could burn a hole in the paper. “’Emma hung the st-st--” he makes a sound of frustration and rocks violently, shaking his chair and the table.
“Hey, that’s enough of that,” Takato says firmly, putting a hand on his shoulder to still him. “Sound it out. You’ve already done it twice, remember?”
Ryan shakes his head slowly. “S. T. Re. A. Mers.” He looked blank, unable to put the syllables together into a word, a basic one that he had learned long ago. Surely dyslexia couldn’t explain this?
“Streamers. See, like stream, remember?”
“Stop saying that,” Ryan says angrily.
“Okay. Let’s keep going.”
“‘She was. Too. Di--’”
“Disappointed. That’s what we need to know. So pay attention to the next part.”
“Disappointed. It was. Her. Bi--’” He frowns in confusion, fingers touching each letter of the next word.
“You know this--”
“Don’t!” Ryan slaps a hand to Takato’s mouth, making the man blink in surprise. He expects Ryan to apologize, to ask if he’s okay--he never strikes out at anyone, even at his most upset--but the boy doesn’t even seem to realize what he’s done.
“Um, okay,” Takato says, shaken. They’re both getting frazzled, he thinks. “I’ll read this, and you-- tell me the answer, how’s that sound. ‘She was disappointed. It was her birthday, and no one had said happy birthday. They were too busy planning a party for Mr. Stinton, the custodian.’” He taps the question, question one, where they have been stuck for almost an hour. “So, why is she disappointed?”
Ryan stares at the paper, gaze flicking all over it. “Because she got wet?” he asks uncertainly.
Takato frowns. “Wet?”
“The--no, streamers aren’t like a stream. There’s no water. Ryan, we just--”
“I don’t know!” the child screams suddenly, tearing the papers violently and throwing them to the floor.
There is a moment of shocked silence from them both. Then Ryan puts his head on the table and starts to take shuddering breaths. Takato can just barely hear him murmuring, “Don’t know don’t know don’t know,” over and over under his breath.
He slowly reaches out a hand to rub Ryan’s back. “It’s okay,” he says shakily. “We’ve been working for awhile, we’re both tired. Let’s take a break, and I’ll tape these up, and we’ll try again later.”
“Logan,” Takato says emphatically, “he hit me. And he tore up his papers.”
“Like you said, he was probably tired and frustrated. You were, and you’re not the one struggling.”
“That’s another thing--these were simple worksheets. Lilly could have figured them out, and she’s six years younger. Yes, I know that they said he’s fallen behind, and his dyslexia doesn’t help, but six years. He should know the answers.”
Logan frowns. “Well, maybe he was just frustrated because he was bored, then.”
“No. You should have heard him. He really didn’t know. More than that, we would read it several times and keep running into the same problems, like he couldn’t remember what we had just gone over. The worksheet was a page long, that should not be a problem.”
Logan sighs in frustration. “Why are you so insistent there’s something wrong? He’s already got enough people saying that. Somebody has to believe he can do it.”
Takato shakes his head. “You sit with him some time. Don’t do it for him, either, just pay attention to how he acts. I’m telling you, something is really wrong.” He pauses, taking a breath. “I’m sorry,” he says, voice softening. “It’s just--I’m really getting worried about him. I’m not trying to be negative, but something is not right.”
“He’s fine,” Logan says emphatically. Before Takato can say another word, he stands and strides out of the room, studiously avoiding his eyes.
Takato sighs. He knows something’s truly wrong, but he doesn’t know how to convince Logan of this. The other man just doesn’t want to believe it, and who could blame him? This is his brother they’re talking about, after all. Still, he can’t understand why Logan wasn’t taking the recent changes more seriously. He understood wanting things to be okay, but if they weren’t, he needed to accept that and do what he could to fix it. Denial would only make everything worse.
“Daddy?” Lilly said, and he looked up to see her standing in the doorway. She looked at him in concern. “You okay?”
He forced a smile for his daughter. “Yeah, I’m fine,” he lied.
She smiled, completely accepting his words without a second thought, and ran forward to grab his hand. “We’re all watching TV,” she told him. “You should come and watch, too. Everybody together.”
He let her lead him into the living area. While the others watched the show, he watched Ryan, sitting on the floor by Logan, leaning against his brother’s legs. Every so often, he would make some small motion of his hands, a twist of his wrist, a flicking away, but other than that, he betrayed no sign of any kind of anxiety. He even smiled and laughed at the program.
Takato shook his head. Maybe he was taking things too seriously after all.
Ryan rocks in his seat. He can’t stop it. It feels like anxiety, moving through his body, but different. The anxiety sucks, and he hates it, but he knows it. Or maybe it is the same old anxiety, and he’s the one who’s different.
Logan said he was growing up. When his voice started breaking and his muscles started aching, he said it was because he was going through puberty, getting older. Does that mean that all adults are like this? He doesn’t see Takato unable to sit still, or Logan unable to focus on his college work. Is something wrong with him that he can’t do it?
His teacher touches his shoulder, and he jumps at the sharp flare of pain in his brain. “Focus, Ryan,” she tells him sternly.
He looks at the worksheets in front of him. He remembers these things, he knows he does. Once his eyes decide to work instead of twisting the letters around, he can see nouns and adverbs, and he knows he knows it. But then he starts reading, and he can’t remember what he’s supposed to look for, and by the time he finds out, he’s forgotten what he’s just read. His mind can’t hold it all, especially while he’s just trying not to fall apart at the same time.
“Ryan, sit still,” his teacher warns.
“Shut up!” he shouts at her angrily, rage bubbling up inside him and boiling over. He clenches his hands, and leaps to his feet, ready to take a swing at her. He stops himself just in time. His hands shake as his eyes widen, and he clasps his hands close to his chest in an attempt to control them, to regain some kind of control of his own body. Sorry, he thinks, but he can’t get it out of his mouth. Sorry, sorry, I don’t know...
The room is silent in shock at his outburst. “Ryan, go to the principal’s office right now,” the teacher tells him.
He nods, and he can’t get out of the room fast enough.
They call Logan, then Takato. He can’t look at Takato as they drive back.
“You yelled at the teacher?” Takato asks. “Why?”
“I don’t know,” he replies softly.
“You must know. You don’t just yell at people for no reason, especially you.”
“She told me to sit still.”
Takato waits, certain there must be more. “That’s it?”
Ryan nods, not looking at him.
He doesn’t know how to react to that. It’s one problem on top of many, and it’s getting to be too much. He sighs. “Okay. Well, that’s not okay. You know that.”
“Stop telling me what I know!” Ryan cries out, putting his head in his hands.
That does it. Takato pulls over and turns to look at him. “Ryan,” he says gently, “is something going on that you want to talk about?”
Ryan shakes his head.
“Are you sure? Because between school, and the shouting, and acting out, it sure looks like it is.” He reaches over to touch his shoulder, and the teenager flinches away.
“I’m okay,” he says softly. It sounds like his voice is coming from a long distance away.
Takato just looks at him. “Are you getting anxious?” he asks. “We can go to the doctor, see if maybe they have some suggestions. Maybe they can help. It’s okay if there is something wrong, you know.”
He nods. “I don’t--it’s not--” He wants so badly to tell him, but he can’t. He can’t explain what even he doesn’t understand.
He shakes his head. “I just want it to be….” he whispers. He wants it to be okay. He’s worried that it’s never going to be.
It’s a peaceful afternoon, Takato entertaining Lilly while Thomas is at his afterschool activities and Micah and Ryan are playing video games.
And then it all crashes down.
There’s a crash, and Micah starts shouting angrily. Takato runs into the room. “What’s going on?”
Micah points at the older boy. “Ryan threw the controller--he almost broke the system!”
Ryan seems oblivious to the exchange, staring intently at the screen. Takato stops at the expression on his face, an almost demonic look of anger, hate, and distress. Takato breathes his name, then says it again, louder.
The boy blinks, the expression eases, and he looks at Takato with eyes wide in fear. “What’s wrong?” Takato asks. He can’t imagine what’s caused such a feeling in the child in the last few minutes, as they were simply playing a video game.
“He threw the controller!” Micah repeats. “He can’t play anymore!”
“I’m sorry,” Ryan says quietly. He seems stunned, as though he can’t believe what just happened. What did just happened?
“It’s okay,” Takato reassures him.
“No, it’s not!” Micah shouts.
“Well, no, it’s not,” Takato agrees. “But why don’t you tell me why you did it?”
Ryan tilts his head and looks at the screen again. “I--nothing,” he says, withdrawing into himself.
“It’s okay. Just tell me what happened. I promise I won’t be mad.”
Ryan shakes his head, fists clench tightly, as though he’s hanging onto something for dear life. “It’s nothing. I--I just got mad at the game.”
Takato lets out a breath. He didn’t think this was the truth, but it’s clear he isn’t going to get anything further from him. “Okay. Well, you shouldn’t throw things. You know that. You’re going to have to be grounded from playing video games for a week.”
“I don’t want to play any more,” he says in a small voice. He looks over at Micah. “Sorry for throwing it,” he says.
Micah hesitates, uncertain whether he wanted to hold onto his anger or not. Finally, he relents. “It’s okay,” he says. “Just don’t do it again, okay?”
Ryan nods and gives them a weak smile.
“Logan!” Ryan demanded, dropping his CD player down insistently. “Listen! You have to listen!”
“Okay, okay,” Logan said in amusement, setting aside his work. It’s not the first time he’s done this--Ryan loves learning and sharing his newest facts and will often run in to share his excitement over some new thing he’s learned, expounding upon it with eyes lift up in joyous wonder. His voice sounds different now, almost worried, almost manic, but it’s surely the same cause.
Logan listens as the recording talks about a civil war battle, not the usual topic of excitement, but not unheard of. Ryan watches him intently for a reaction. “Yeah, that’s pretty cool,” he says when Ryan stops it.
“What is?” Ryan presses, rocking on his heels in anxiety. “What did you hear?”
Logan frowns. “Um, the battle he was talking about. Right? That was interesting.”
Ryan looks stricken for a moment, shocked disappointment that quickly flashes away. “Yeah,” he says softly, looking at the player. He reaches for it slowly, as though expecting it to bite, then without another word, carries it back into his room.
“What are you doing?”
Ryan doesn’t hear the voice at first. The others are getting so loud, and there’s an itch under his skin that won’t go away, prompting him to constant motion. When he notices Logan, he all but jumps, feeling afraid at being caught. “Nothing,” he says softly.
Logan smiles uncertainly. “Talking to yourself?” he asks.
Ryan nods slowly. It sounds better than the truth.
Logan’s eyes go to his hands, and he tries so hard to keep them still, dropping them to his side for all of ten seconds. But it hurts to be still, even more than it hurts to have to keep moving all the time, and his fingers move, then his hands, before he’s even noticed.
“You okay?” Logan asks in concern.
Ryan smiles and nods. He looks past Logan, listening to the voices that drown him out for a moment. “No, I--” he starts to reply, but stops himself.
Logan tilts his head questioningly. “You’re not okay?”
“I wasn’t--I mean--” He shakes his head. He’s trying to focus on Logan, see just Logan, hear just Logan, and it shouldn’t be so hard, this is his brother, his family, but it is, it’s so hard to concentrate on anything anymore, especially what’s real.
“Ryan?” Logan puts a hand on his shoulder, and it’s like a knife in his brain. He does jump this time, yanking away with a cry of “Don’t touch me!”
Logan looks shocked by the harsh exclamation. He slowly drops his hand.
“Sorry,” Ryan says, looking away. He hates himself, hates, hates, hates.
“You know I’m here for you, right?” Logan says quietly. “If you ever need to talk or anything.”
There is a long pause. “Okay,” Logan says. And leaves.
He doesn’t know what’s wrong with him. There’s emotions bubbling up inside of him, and even though it’s the last thing he wants, he can’t stop it. He puts his head down on the desk and tries to stifle the laughter.
“Is something funny, Ryan?” his teacher demands.
“No,” he says, shaking his head. He lasts all of two seconds before it comes up, worse than before, erupting from him in a burst of hysterical laughter. Shut up, he tells himself, but it only makes it worse. He’s aware of his classmates looking at him, and he wants to die because he can’t stop.
“Why don’t you just go share your little joke with the principal?”
He smiles as he walks past her, past the class, and it hurts, but he can’t stop. What is wrong with him?
He’s playing basketball in gym and sees the other player, and for a moment, he loses all control. He hears the voices screaming enemy, and he is completely lost to them. He sees an enemy, someone who must be fought, must be destroyed. He launches himself at the other boy, tackling him to the ground before anyone knows what’s going on.
He’s dimly aware of the shouts, then a hand on his shoulder that sends a spark of pain in his mind worse than the punch that was returned to him (that he only realized later when he saw the bruise). It wakes him, and he falls back, hands up.
He can’t even defend himself. He attacked the boy, he wanted to kill him. Takato, and later Logan, talks to him, trying desperately to understand, and he just sits there silently. He’s grounded, and it’s not enough. He hates himself.
“Something’s not right!”
“I’m sorry my brother’s not perfect like yours!”
“That’s not what I’m saying!”
Suddenly, Ryan shouts out, covering his ears, “Stop it! It’s noisy enough without you arguing!”
They stop and look at him. “What do you mean, it’s noisy enough?” Logan asks.
Ryan looked up at him with wide eyes. “I didn’t mean…” he starts softly, seeming frightened to have spoken.
Logan goes to his side and puts a hand on his shoulder. Ryan winces and stiffens, forcing himself to stay still. Logan pretends not to notice. “It’s okay,” he says gently. “What’s up? You can tell us.”
Ryan hesitates. “The monsters. I think it’s monsters, anyway. I just hear them, I can’t see them.”
Ryan nodded. “They talk to me in video games, in the audio books.”
Logan remembers him coming into the room, demanding he listen to one of the recordings, and looking disappointed when Logan couldn’t seem to give him the response he wanted. A chill runs through him. “Can you hear them right now?”
“Yeah. Pretty much all the time.” He looks at the ground shyly. “But I know most people don’t. So I think something’s just wrong with me, and I try to ignore them.” He frowns. “But they get really loud sometimes…”
Logan shook his head mutely. “What do they say?”
Ryan hesitated, wincing. He starts to rock on his heels anxiously. “They say I need to destroy everyone, that they’re enemies and will hurt me. I tried to explain that that’s not true, that I know they’re my friends and stuff, but the voices keep talking. I just ignore it now. Mostly.”
Logan didn’t know what to make of all this. He looked over at Takato, who was watching him, and nodded. “Okay,” he said softly.
“What are you doing, Ryan?”
Logan looked over to Ryan twisting his hands and looking intense, as though he were listening to something. He blinked and looked up at the sudden attention. “Nothing,” he said in a small voice.
The doctor nodded, looking thoughtful. “Why don’t we step outside a moment,” he suggested to Logan.
In the hall, he told him, “I’m seeing some signs that are a little alarming. I’d like him to see a specialist, a child psychologist, just to make sure. He--”
“Make sure of what?” Logan demanded, alarmed. He had expected a quick check, maybe some pills to help him sleep, but mostly a clean bill of health. Not “alarming signs” and “child psychiatrist.”
“I don’t want to say anything just yet. Better not to get you alarmed and have it turn out to be--”
“Too late,” Logan said angrily. “You said alarming signs. There’s obviously something. Tell me. What?”
The doctor hesitated, then relented. “Childhood bipolar disorder is very rare, so I’m sure it’s something--”
“Bipol--he’s not crazy!”
“Probably not,” the doctor agreed. “That’s why I didn’t want to say anything. As unusual as it is, I’m sure it’s likely something more common, stress or a learning disability, for example. That’s why I want a specialist to take a look.”
“But--why would you even think that?”
“Severe sleep disturbance is usually the first clue. Some of his school problems, inappropriate affect, hearing voices. Like I said, it’s probably something else, but best to double-check. It’s much more treatable in the early stages, if it comes to that.”
“It won’t. He’s not.” He couldn’t stand the doctor’s look of pity, turning away and going back into the room without another word.
“Let’s go, Ryan.”
The boy doesn’t respond, eyes fixated on something else.
“Hey, Ryan, come on.” There is an edge to his voice that he doesn’t like. The doctor’s words have crawled under his skin like an infestation.
Ryan blinks and looks over at him. “We’re done?” he asks, surprised, jumping down from the table.
“Yeah.” He tries to keep the irritation from his voice.
“’Kay.” He seems perfectly normal right now, happy and complacent as though he always has been. No one knows what they’re talking about, Logan thinks.
The doctor enters the room and hands Logan a slip of paper. “A prescription for some medicine to help him sleep. Severe insomnia can be hazardous to one’s health, and could be the cause of it all, so absolutely try those first. Start with half a dose, since he’s still a child, and if that doesn’t work, go ahead and bump it up to a full one.” He hands him another paper. “And that’s the information I mentioned before. I do recommend looking into it, just to be safe.”
“Thanks,” Logan says curtly, pushing past him to leave. He shoves the prescription into one pocket to fill on the way home, and the other into another pocket to determinedly forget about.
Takato hears a sound and goes into the other room, and is shocked at what he finds. Ryan is on the floor with his player, but instead of quietly listening to his tapes like he would normally be, he is smashing the discs of one of his audio books, and another one is in pieces on the floor around him.
“Ryan!” he shouts, but the boy doesn’t react, so absorbed in his destruction. Takato drops next to him and pulls the remains of the disc from his hands. He doesn’t know why he bothers, it’s already long past gone, but he doesn’t think in the moment. “Hey!”
Ryan looks up at him, and his eyes are clouded with anger and fear, making Takato’s anger shift quickly to worry. “What’s wrong?” he asks in a breath.
Ryan blinks, and clenches and unclenches his hands for a moment before speaking. “They--they--they--” he stammers. While the anger is gone from his face, the fear is still disturbingly present.
“They who? The voices? What is it?” Takato asks gently.
Ryan stops and shakes his head. “Nothing,” he says softly.
“Ryan. I know you don’t do stuff like this for no reason. If you want to just explain it to me, I want to listen. I want to help.”
He shakes his head again. “I can’t,” he says, voice firm and distraught. “I don’t--I can’t.”
Takato waits a moment, giving him a chance to change his mind. He sighs. “Okay, well, then I have to assume there isn’t a good reason and you have to be grounded. If you change your mind, though, you can always talk to me, okay?” He puts a hand on Ryan’s shoulder, but the boy winces and moves out from under his hand. “I promise I won’t be mad or anything.”
“Okay,” Ryan says absently, gaze slipping away.
Takato shows the pieces to Logan when he gets back, defiantly asking him to deny the physical evidence before him.
Logan takes the pieces from him and turns them over in his hands, visibly shaken though he tries not to show it.
It’s already loud enough.
I hear them all the time. But I know most people don’t. So I think it’s just something wrong with me.
He’s silent for so long, that Takato starts to get worried.
“I mean,” he starts, “maybe it’s nothing serious, just--”
“It’s not--” Logan sighs and shakes his head. “I can come up with a thousand excuses, but then I just need another, and…” He drops his hands and takes a deep breath. “I don’t know. I still don’t think it’s...that. But I’ll see if we can get him to another doctor who can figure it out. To be honest, I’m starting to get worried, too.”
“Logan! Logan!” Ryan is calling loudly. Logan drags himself up as Takato shifts.
“What’s wrong?” Takato asks sleepily.
“I got it,” Logan tells him. “Ryan, shh, you’ll wake everyone up.”
“I need medicine,” he says, voice disturbingly panicked.
“Okay, okay, be quiet,” Logan urges, making his way to the bathroom. He thinks--insomnia itself isn’t so bad, and a sleepless night or two won’t kill him. He mentally counts the days. Three--no, four. Okay, no wonder he was practically in tears from exhaustion. When he did insomnia, he did it well.
He shakes out one of Ryan’s sleeping pills, the boy staring at him desperately. He quickly grabs the medicine and swallows it. “When can I sleep?” he asks.
“Give it a few minutes to work.”
Ryan rocks on his heels uncertainly. “Not working, not working,” he says.
“It will, just give it a few minutes. Come on.” He takes him in to the living room, and they sit together on the couch, Ryan still rocking. “Calm down. It’ll be okay.”
But twenty minutes later, he’s still not sleeping, and he’s demanding more. Logan tells him he’ll check; the instructions say to only take once per night, but it also says that the dosage can be doubled if ineffective, so he shakes out another one.
As the time passes, they’re both starting to get desperate. Logan starts singing, but even that’s not helping. After almost an hour and a half, Ryan is shaking his head and sobbingly demanding more, please, he wants to sleep, please. The desperation in his voice is too much for Logan. He looks for any sign that a third dose will be okay--and doesn’t get it. He looks at the side effects, trying to weigh the risks. Some are pretty severe. He hesitates.
A cry choked by sobs comes from the other room. “Logan, please, help!”
That does it. One night won’t kill him, and he’ll talk to the doctor later.
Ryan doesn’t wait, but snatches the pill from his hand and swallows. Logan prays that that will be enough, because he wasn’t even sure about this, he definitely can’t go any higher. He puts an arm around his brother and resumes singing. Please work, please work, please work…
Next thing he knows, it’s morning, and Ryan is collapse against him in sleep. He breathes a sigh of relief. Thank god. He’ll probably be out of it for the rest of the day, though--the medication said to take it only if you had seven to eight hours to sleep, and it was at least three when they finally got to sleep, a little less than four hours ago. He debates whether to wake him or just let him miss yet another day of school.
But Ryan is stirring, sighing, and opening his eyes. By the time the others are awake, he’s up and running with no signs of tiredness. He’ll probably crash later, Logan thinks to himself.
“What happened?” Logan asks when he arrives at the school to pick him up. He kneels by Ryan to examine the black eye the boy is sporting.
“I got in a fight,” he says in a tired voice.
“Why?” Logan asks in exasperation. It seems like it’s one thing after another anymore, and he has no idea why. This is the third time he or Takato has had to pick him up in the past two weeks. He doesn’t understand what has happened to turn his sweet little brother into this problem child.
“I had to.”
“You did not. You don’t have to fight--you have to not!”
“I did,” Ryan says. His eyes flick up to Logan’s, a flash of pleading, before dropping away into blandness again. “You don’t understand.”
“Ryan.” Logan sighs in frustration. “Okay. No video games--”
“I can’t,” Ryan says simply. “I threw Micah’s controller.”
That throws Logan. “Okay,” he says after a moment. “Then no recordings--”
“Except for schoolwork,” Ryan finishes. “I forgot about a project and got a bad grade. I can’t go out with friends. Can’t go to my science club. Can’t watch TV.”
Logan listens to the list of punishments. “We’ve told you all this?” he asks quietly. “Why?”
Ryan shrugs. He looks down at his hands twisting in his lap and clenches them into fists.
“What is going on with you, Ryan?” he demands desperately.
Ryan just looks at him, unable to answer.
The voices are loud.
He puts his head on his desk, covering it with his hands. The teacher speaks to him, but her voice blends in with the others. Probably telling him to stop. That’s all anyone ever tells him now. Don’t they realize that he would if he could? But he has to. But he can’t.
He shakes his head and twists to try to bury his head further. But the voices he’s hearing aren’t coming from outside his ears.
“Shut up!” he shouts, flying up. “Shutupshutupshutup!”
The entire class stops and turns to look at him in astonishment. The voices swam around him, wrapping him up like heavy chains. The teacher says something to him, dragging him down and choking him. He screams in despair and lashes out, kicking his desk over. Nearby students shout and leap up. It’s too much--the voices, the feelings, of rage and fear and sorrow, all of it weigh upon him and he grimaces, putting his hands on his head to try to stop the explosion.
“Ryan!” the teacher’s angry voice echoes in his ears. “That is enough. Go to the principal’s office, right this minute. You are done for the day.”
Okay, he thinks, just let me out.
No, he thinks, I’ll be good I’ll be good.
It’s okay, he thinks. Just keep it together. You’re okay.
He picks up his bag, every movement controlled and deliberate, his thoughts solely on lifting the bag. Taking one step. Taking another. Don’t look at anyone, that’s too much, don’t, focus.
He makes it halfway to the office, and starts thinking of how disappointed Logan will be, and how it’s not fair that he’s trying so hard and just getting worse and no one knows and no one can know how can they not hear so loud but no one but too much but it hurts whywhywhy
The rage boils up again and he screams and throws his bag into the wall. Done. DONE.
“Taylor, call for you.”
Logan sighs, wondering what’s going on now. Usually, Takato gets the call first--he can do his illustrations at home, so he’s usually the one free. Ryan has been having so many problems lately, though, some of them bad, that there have been times that he gets a call at the garage where he works, as well, since he is the legal guardian.
He wipes his hands on a rag, leaving the car he is working on, to answer the phone. His supervisor gives him a mildly disapproving look. He’s a good worker, so they’ll overlook a lot, but he knows that the frequent calls are starting to push the limits.
“Logan Taylor,” he answers.
All thoughts of disappointed irritation are gone when he hears the news. Ryan’s teacher had apparently sent him to the principal’s office that morning. He never showed up, never went to any of his classes. He had his school things on the floor in the hallway.
“Why did it take several hours to call?” he demands. Ryan’s still a minor, they should have noticed something and called Logan immediately.
They give him some bullshit about having other students to take care of, and Ryan is a problem child so his disobedience should not be surprising, he’s probably just skipping--they sugarcoat the words, of course, but Logan hears the meaning. He hangs up on them at that point.
He stares out the window a moment. It’s rainy. Ryan’s only thirteen. He’s missing. Where could he be?
“I have to leave,” he tells his supervisor, already grabbing his jacket to go out into the rain. As his supervisor starts to protest, he snaps, “My brother is missing.”
His supervisor blinks in surprise. “What do you mean?”
“I mean he disappeared from school several hours ago and they just now thought to call me and who knows where he is by now.” Even he can hear the panic in his voice, and he pauses to take a deep breath. Panicking will not help right now.
“Do you want to call the police?” The man actually seems concerned about him.
“I don’t--yeah, I probably should, thanks. And my partner, I should let him know.” Since he apparently can’t trust the school to.
Takato offers to deal with the police while Logan goes out to start looking for his brother. One relief for him, because he knows he would not be able to deal with that, and Takato’s calmer and more of a people person, anyway. He’s not sure how much good he’ll be, on foot and bus, but he needs to do something.
Logan finally finds him a dozen miles from the school, walking in a blank state, soaked from the rain he is apparently oblivious to. “Ryan!” he shouts, running up to him. “What the hell?! The school called and said you disrupted the class, and then you just disappeared! I’ve been looking for hours! What’s--” he stops with a start when he sees the child’s face. His eyes are distant and blank, as though he doesn’t even see Logan. He puts his hands on Ryan’s shoulders and shakes him. “Hey, Ryan!”
Ryan finally focuses on him. “Ry…” He grimaces and twists his head.
“What’s wrong, Ryan? Talk to me.” He rubs Ryan’s shoulders absently.
“Stop!” Ryan yanks away, voice tensed in pain, eyes squeezed shut.
“Stop what? Are you okay? Ryan....”
“Logan,” the child said. “Hurts--loud--much--can’t--then--”
“Slow down. Come on, I--” he started to reach out again.
Ryan pulled back and shook his head, head in his hands. “No,” he moaned.
The boy looked up, eyes wide in a look of absolute terror. “Logan,” he gasped. “Help. Something’s wrong.”
“What is it? Talk to me, okay.” He takes Ryan’s hand, but he pulls away, shaking his head.
“Can’t,” he moans. “It hurts.”
“Touching hurts, and the voices are loud, and I didn’t know what to do--” he screams and stamps his feet in frustration, shoving at Logan.
“Whoa, what’s going on?” Logan is officially freaking out.
“Shut up!” Ryan screams, and starts hitting himself in the head.
“Ryan!” He grabs Ryan’s hands to stop him, but that only makes the child scream again, and wrench his arms away while kicking at Logan. He looks at Logan with wild eyes, eyes of a stranger, and he snarls as he leaps to attack him. Logan doesn’t know what to do, to stop him, to not hurt him, and just holds his arms up in defense as Ryan begins to hit him. Then he shakes his head and pushes past him to run.
Logan reacts, ignoring his bruised arms as he chases after the boy, catching and holding him as he screams and struggles. “Hurts enemy bad destroy,” he gasps.
“Enemy? I’m not--” his breath leaves him as Ryan drives an elbow into his stomach, forcing him to release him. He realizes he’s hearing sirens, and it occurs to him the sight they must be, a child and adult outside fighting and screaming in the rain. “Ryan!” he shouts, running after the boy, catching him, and this time, he will not let go. Ryan screams, voice already growing hoarse from the force, and collapses against him, sobbing.
“Hurts hurts hurts,” Ryan sobs.
Logan pulls him to the ground with him, wrapping his whole body around the strange child struggling against him. “It’s okay, it’s okay, I’m here,” he offers helplessly.
The police arrive to find them that way, and that only sets Ryan off again. He struggles against Logan’s hold, breaks out and launches himself at an officer, striking out at him as though in a desperate attempt for survival.
“Does he have a disability or mental condition?” one of the officers asks him.
It suddenly flashes on Logan, so bright it makes him gasp. “Bipolar disorder,” he breathes. “I mean, they suggested, the doctors, but it hasn’t been--it’s not--”
The other officer has Ryan pinned to the ground, still struggling and screaming and sobbing. “Don’t hurt him,” Logan says, starting for him.
“Bipolar,” the first officer tells the second. “Let’s call--”
“Logan!” Ryan calls for him desperately.
Logan is immediately kneeling next to him. “I’m right here,” he says, “it’s okay. You’re going to be fine.”
Ryan looks at him, and Logan is ready to shove the officer away, but he reluctantly lets him up, ready to jump into the struggle again. But Ryan is done--he pulls his knees in to his chest and holds his head in his hands, murmuring to himself. Logan doesn’t know if he should risk touching him or not, so he just keeps saying I’m here it’s okay I’m here it’s okay.
“I need help, Logan,” he says in a quiet voice.
One of the officers puts a hand on Logan’s shoulder. “I’ve seen this a couple of times,” he says. “Psychotic break. You need to take him to the psychiatric hospital before he hurts someone else or himself.”
Logan starts to protest that he would never hurt anyone, but there is so much he never would have expected, and the words die in his throat.
“We can give you an escort, or we can take him, or we can call an ambulance,” the officer continues.
“I don’t drive,” Logan confesses. “But I need to go with him.”
The officer nods and pulls out his radio to call an ambulance. When it arrives, Ryan is shaking and his words have deteriorated to meaningless ramblings. When he hears the sirens, he is on his feet and before Logan can stop him, he is leaping at an officer, kicking and swinging at him.
The medics analyze the scene immediately, and before Logan can react, the two officers are holding Ryan still while a medic injects him with a sedative. In several minutes, he is falling limp, eyes fluttering and words slurring. Logan climbs into the ambulance after him, holding his hand as they ride.
“’S’okay, Logan,” he says sleepily. “It’ll end now, all I want, okay, end it all.”
Once they get to the hospital, Logan has to pull away, and Ryan puts up a small fight at that, but he’s just too tired to do much. Logan feels numb as he fills out paperwork and calls Takato, and waits.
Takato finds Logan at the hospital, sitting with his head in his hands. “Logan,” he gasps, going to sit next to him. “What happened? Is everything okay?”
“Bipolar,” Logan says flatly. “Maybe schizophrenic. He really is.” He lifts his head, eyes wet with tears. The sight makes Takato gasp. Had he ever seen Logan cry? He takes a deep breath. “I mean, they have to observe him awhile before they can be sure, but…they say he had a psychotic episode. He started yelling in class and flipped a desk. The teacher told him to go to the principal and he walked out of the school. I found him thirteen miles from the school, he’d just kept walking. He wouldn’t let me touch him, and he starting talking nonsense. And then--” he swallows, trying to summon the strength to keep going. “He asked me to help him. He broke down. “He--he was so--” He takes a shuddering breath and puts his head in his hands again.
Takato rubs his back in a weak attempt at comfort. “It’s okay. It’ll be okay.”
“They want to keep him here for awhile so they can figure out a diagnosis and work out some medication.” His voice grows thick with sobs. “I didn’t believe it, I didn’t want to believe it. If I had, maybe he would have been okay. They could have given--” He shakes his head. “I--”
“No,” Takato says firmly. “It’s not your fault. He’ll be okay. They’ll figure out what’s going on, and then they’ll give him some medicine, and everything will be fine. You’ll see.”