Walls - Chapter 9

Taylor padded down the hallway, his feet, only in socks, were chilled by the cold tiles. Stopping at Zac's door, he knocked once, then let himself in. Diana and Zac were both sitting up on his bed looking at a book. Taylor saw it was one of Zac's favorites, The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe. Taylor smiled remembering how Zac used to drive his mom insane until she agreed to read it aloud to him at bedtime. He remember how he and Isaac would groan and pull their pillows over their heads, sick of hearing the same story over and over, but Zac would sit and listen, enthralled with the tale. Isaac and Taylor used to makes jokes at the way their brother sat, completely still, eyes wide while Diana read to him. Taylor sighed, as he shook the memory away, wishing for an instant that they could be back home, and he would gladly listen to the story again a million times for that matter if it meant that things would be better. But as his vision cleared, there he was standing in a hospital gown, that on most wouldn't cover half their body, but hung on his thin frame like a drape, and socks, his hair a ratty mess, his eyes puffy and red, IV tube running into his hand, his body weak and sore, and his mind a jumble of emotions as he stared at his brother, who was in his mother's arms, listening intently as she read from the book.

"Mom," Taylor whispered, sorry he had to interrupt. But Isaac needed his mother and that couldn't wait.

"Taylor, you should be in bed," Diana said, as she looked at her son who was supporting himself by leaning against the door frame.

"Ike's sick. He needs you. He's still in my room."

Diana gave him a surprised look. "Ike's sick? What's the matter?"

"He's got another headache. Really bad one. It's making him sick." Taylor gave his mother an urgent look.

"Oh no, not again." Diana hurriedly got up and set the book on Zac's table... "Taylor, you get back to bed," she said as she made her way out of the room.

Taylor looked up at Zac, who was staring at his brother intently. Taylor couldn't read his younger brother's face. Zac was looking at Taylor in a curious way, almost as if his brother was an oddity that he was seeing for the first time and didn't quite know what to make of him. Their eyes locked, and for a moment an unspoken challenge was made... Who would look away first? Finally Taylor knew that if something wasn't said soon, he would burst.

"They served me that yucky soup too," Taylor said, just as Zac opened his mouth and began to speak.

Taylor gave a nervous chuckle. "You go first," he offered.

"Is Ike ok?" Zac asked again.

Taylor sighed, his laughter fading. "I hope so. Those stupid headaches he gets are so bad. Mom will help him though."

"Yeah," Zac said quietly. He picked up the spoon that lay in his soup bowl, and absently stirred at the film that settled on top of the creamy substance. Making a disgusted face, he set the spoon down and sighed. "This food sucks. I just want... What was that?" Zac looked over at Taylor, who's head was hung.

Taylor glanced up and repeated himself. "I said, I'm sorry," he whispered.

Zac's eyes took his brother in. From across the room he could see the bloodshot eyes, the black and blue bags underneath, how his arm shook as it held him up against the door. He looked away, afraid to see his brother like this. Taylor looked like an old man. "I know," Zac whispered back.

"I never meant for things to get like this. I never meant to hurt anyone, especially not you Zac. I love you. I hate myself for what I've done to you, to us."

"Taylor, I..." Zac trailed off. He didn't really know what to say. A part of him wanted to believe his brother, wanted this so badly it hurt. But another part, just a small part, wasn't sure if he could ever trust Taylor again. He just couldn't comprehend how someone who said they loved him, could hurt him so badly. Zac wasn't angry anymore. That rage had left him the instant his fist had last connected with Taylor's head. But he was sad. Sad that things were probably never going to be the same ever again. They might make up and go back to hanging out, having fun. But that knowledge that Taylor had hurt him would still be there, lingering, and Zac knew that no matter what, he would never be able to let that go.

"Zac, I love you. I... Zac you don't have to be afraid. It wasn't..." He broke off, his eyes pleading with Zac. He didn't know what to say. He was just so tired. He leaned his head against the doorframe, and shut his eyes for a minute. He knew he should leave, but he needed to catch his breath first.

Zac saw Taylor shut his eyes and slump against the door. For a moment, afraid, he thought he'd just passed out there. He sat forward, worried. "Tay!" Taylor opened his eyes. "Sorry. I'm gonna go now." he stepped away from the door, and immediately grabbed for the wall, dizzy. He laughed a little, this was crazy. He was too tired to breath. He jumped a little when a hand took his arm. He looked down and saw Zac, holding more than a little of his weight, looking worriedly at him. "Tay, you better sit down. Are you really supposed to be up walking around? You look really gross..." Taylor snorted. "Thanks, so do you. No I'm not." He let himself be led across the room, and was more than a little surprised when Zac gestured to him to sit on the bed. He did as he was told, too dizzy and tired to argue, and Zac climbed up next to him. He was staring into Taylor's face with an intensity that made Taylor distinctly uncomfortable. He backed up a little. "Zac, what? Stop it..."

Zac looked down, suddenly feeling shy, and awkward. He had so much he wanted to say, but he didn't know where to start. He sighed, and glanced up at his brother, who was fiddling around with the tubing in his hand. He watched Taylor pinch the tubing and his eyes widened when he saw some of his brothers blood back up into the clear channel. Taylor let it go, and watched it disappear, and then did it again. Zac's eyes lit up. "Cool! Tay, that's like, so gross! Does it hurt?" Taylor laughed, "No, it doesn't. I get bored, you know..." Zac was staring intently at Taylor's hand. "Do that again. How high up the tube can you get it to go?" Taylor smiled. "I got it all the way up to here..." He indicated a spot halfway up his arm, "Before I got caught and yelled at, once. They don't like it much..." "It won't hurt you, will it?" Taylor shook his head. "No I don't think so."

They fell silent again, each of them searching himself for the right words. They weren't fooling themselves with the small talk. They each knew they were putting it off.

Taylor had been avoiding really looking at Zac, but now he made himself focus. He had done it, after all. Looking at Zac, he again felt that huge ache settle into his soul. How could Zac even stand to sit near him? He took inventory of what he'd done, feeling his spirits sink lower every second. Zac's face was very nearly unrecognizable. Both eyes were black, and one was swollen nearly shut. His whole face was swollen really, and riddled with little cuts, and raw looking spots where the skin was gone. His lip was split, and puffy. Looking closer, Taylor saw livid marks on the boys neck that appeared to have been made by fingers, and felt horror flood through him, "Oh my God, did I have him by the throat?" He let his gaze wander to the boys arms and saw more handprints, where he'd been literally shaking him... He looked up into Zac's eyes, his question unspoken, but instantly understood.

Zac gazed back at him for a moment, and then pulled up the top of his pajamas so Taylor could see the rest.

Taylor sighed bitterly, seeing the rainbow of bruises on his brothers body. Worse than that was the bandaging circling the boys chest. He glanced up, questioning, and Zac nodded solemnly, and pulled his top back down. "You busted a couple ribs, Tay." Taylor nodded. He could feel himself getting ready to cry again, and desperately wanted not to. He didn't speak. He couldn't. Not yet.

Zac waited. He didn't know what would happen now, but Taylor was here, and now Tay knew. He watched his brother fighting tears, and felt his own starting. He didn't care, he'd cried so much over the last day or two that he barely noticed. He cared more about what Taylor was thinking. He didn't want to admit it, but part of him was still afraid Tay would just go off and start pounding on him again. He wondered if he'd ever stop feeling that. He was still thinking along those lines when Taylor's hand came at him.

Taylor froze when he saw Zachary suddenly flinch away from the hand he'd reached out. He pulled his arm back, and this time he couldn't blink away the tears. They spilled over, and he let them. He hadn't been going to hit him, he'd just wanted to touch him. He shook his head, and when he spoke, his voice was thick, "Zac, no, I... I wasn't gonna hurt you. Zac..." He stopped, not knowing what to say. He knew he couldn't make Zac trust him.

Zac nodded. He knew. He'd just been startled. But it had gone far enough. He sat forward, and firmly took his brother's arms. He looked directly into Taylor's eyes, refusing to look away, and finally voiced the question everyone had been holding in. He asked it calmly this time, not in the grip of hysteria, and this time he expected an answer.

"Tay, why? Why'd you do this?"

Taylor felt trapped by Zac's stare. He couldn't look away.

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Diana didn't really notice that Taylor hadn't come back.

She'd had all she could do to get Isaac up off of the bathroom floor and back into bed. He hadn't meant to be unco-operative, he was simply in too much pain to really respond. Worry for him, and an ensuing fight with a nurse over using the spare bed, "You know you're not putting anyone in here anyway, what does it matter?" had diverted her attention from the delayed arrival of her second son. Further argument with medical staff over getting something for Ike's migraine had further eaten up her attention. She was disgusted with them. The poor kid was in so much pain he couldn't even speak coherently, and they had asked her if she had a Tylenol in her purse she could give him. She'd insisted that someone come in and look at him, and even then they resisted doing anything about it. Her frustration over their lack of action had been mediated somewhat by the look on the woman's face when Isaac had suddenly thrown up on her feet. Proud of him, and biting her lip to keep from laughing, she'd whispered "Go Ike, good job," gently poking him in the arm. He'd smiled faintly and mumbled back "Well y' do what you have to." Now, with Isaac sleeping off the compazine they'd given him, as well as the headache, she sat back and propped her feet up on Taylor's bed. It took a few minutes for it to sink in that his bed was empty. Empty? Where could he have gone? It came to her then that she had left him in Zac's room... She jumped to her feet, "Oh no..." on her lips, and took off down the hall to see what sort of eruption had occurred in her absence.

She stopped just outside Zac's door. Walker was standing there, gazing pensively into the room. He waved her over, and pointed. She looked in, expecting the worst, and was nearly knocked off her feet. Taylor and Zachary were sound asleep, their arms wrapped around one another, cheeks pressed together. Both faces were tearstained, but both boys were sleeping peacefully. She glanced at Walker, who looked as baffled as she felt. He pulled her a little ways out of the doorway, not wanting to wake them. "I don't want to leave him in there alone with Zac. But I don't want to move him either." He shrugged helplessly .

She nodded. "Want to stay in here, or with Ike?" It disturbed her that neither of them trusted Taylor alone with Zac, but there it was. She knew her husband would choose to go sit with Isaac. He was so furious with both Taylor and Zachary that he could barely see straight. As she had known, he started off down the hall, turning once to ask, "Why does someone need to sit with Ike?" She pointed to her forehead, and his face fell. "Okay. I'm going. Is he over the worst of it?" She nodded, and went into Zac's room. She lightly brushed errant strands of hair out of her sleeping children's faces, and with a guilty glance out the door, stretched out on the extra bed. Within minutes, all in the room were dreaming.