In the week that followed, Zeke barely let Tyler out of his sight. Tyler took it well, despite being embarrassed and ashamed of himself. Being close by all the time helped Zeke to establish what was triggering Tyler’s eating disorder. For the most part, Tyler would accept food when it was offered to him or at the normal times of breakfast, lunch and dinner he would habitually eat the meals but there were a few times when he seemed more emotional, that he would reject food or claim to not be hungry.
One occasion was when they were watching the news. It took a while for Zeke to find out what had caused Tyler to shut down, there hadn’t been any stories in particular that were distressing. It was only after the news had ended that Tyler brought up what was bothering him.
“The world keeps moving. They don’t even mention my family anymore. The guy is still out there, but no one cares anymore.” Tyler stated after rejecting dinner. To cheer him up, Zeke had told him about the work that he was putting in to find this guy. The call had been able to be traced, but of course it hadn’t turned up anything conclusive. It was a public location, he was literally hiding in plain sight, protected by the sheer amount of civilians that would be in danger if a confrontation took place. There was footage of him on security cameras just walking the halls in the shopping mall. He was a danger to everyone he passed and yet no one batted an eye as he moved among them. Unaware of what he was capable of and had done. Of course the news wasn’t positive still, but the fact someone was still watching and trying to work out how to make the move to take him down, was reassuring to Tyler, and just made him feel even more deeply for Zeke.
Despite now being clearly aware that Tyler had feelings for him that were beyond appreciation, Zeke didn’t particularly tone down the attention he gave to Tyler, in fact he leaned into it a bit. Not to be malicious but because he knew that Tyler had incentive to impress him. If Zeke happened to catch Tyler getting changed or dressed, he would comment positively on his appearance, pointing out how much better he looked now that he wasn’t entirely skin and bones. After a week, Tyler was improving already. It would still be a fair way to go but he was gaining weight and looking healthier. He also had more energy and was generally in a better mood. No doubt the anti-depressants worked better now too, having the bonus of nutrients making it to Tyler’s brain and helping his body function correctly. No more hallucinations and less paranoia too.
“I’m so proud of you Tyler.” Zeke says as Tyler lifts his shirt up to show Zeke how he looked after a week of being more healthy. “You still look pale though.” Zeke frowns and lets go of Tyler. Zeke had no idea how much Tyler was suffering still, but Tyler did feel as though Zeke deserved some credit for how he was handling the disordered eating. He wasn’t just focusing on the eating side of it, but showing concern in how Tyler was feeling emotionally and mentally too. He was attentive, though still missing a huge part of the problem.
“I’m so proud of me too. It’s hard though. I still don’t want to eat. I still feel like I should be starving. But I’m getting better at letting that go and forgiving myself for eating.” Tyler sighs and puts his shirt down. It wasn’t entirely true; he wasn’t forgiving himself for eating. His upper arms were harshly slashed and Zeke was out often enough now that his workplace was secure again, to give Tyler time to waste at the mercy of himself playing with the blade that he’d stolen from the kitchen and kept hidden in the drawer Zeke had cleared out for Tyler’s clothes.
Tyler wanted to stop; he really did. But sometimes the pain was just too much to bare internally and he felt as though it was the only option, to open his skin and let it out, to make I physical so it made sense to be hurting. On more than one occasion when Zeke was at work, Tyler would find himself coming to, having passed out in the shower with blood all down his arms, almost not even remembering cutting himself. He tried to make a rule, that every time he cut, he would have to last more days between cutting again than he did last time. It was the only way he could try to challenge his brain into finding reasons not to do it, but somehow his body would just go into autopilot if his emotions boiled over and he’d not be able to stop himself. He may have been becoming nutritionally healthier, but he was a mess other than that and every minute alone was a mental challenge to just survive until Zeke got back and could be accountable for him.
Zeke is driving home in the early hours of the morning, it’d been a long night already and he had a bad feeling that something wasn’t quite right. He couldn’t shake the feeling that Tyler was in danger and drives just over the speed limit in the hope he’d get home to find Tyler asleep safe and sound. Adrenaline had kicked in for seemingly no reason, though he was almost never wrong about his intuition so he doesn’t waste any time doubting himself. As soon as he gets home, he heads straight in to find Tyler asleep as predicted in bed. He looked beautifully peaceful, but it brought no closure to the building feeling of unease.
“Tyler wake up.” Zeke orders and shakes him gently. “Tyler. Get up.” He says a little harsher. Tyler rolls over and mumbles something then yawns and stretches his arms out before rolling over and going back to sleep. “Tyler. Get up. Now.” Zeke says urgently. Tyler sits up, still half asleep and watches as Zeke throws two suitcases on the bed. “You need to pack. Essential things first ok? We may not have much time to pack.”
“What’s going on?” Tyler asks confused, rubbing his eyes as he slowly pulls himself from the bed with a groan, he had no idea what was going on.
“I don’t know yet but we need to be prepared.” Zeke replies, grabbing a handful of clothes and dumping them in the suitcase. He pauses, listening intently to the silence around them.
“Where are we going?” Tyler asks as he throws most of his clothes in his suit case in a heap, but Zeke wasn’t listening to his question, he was creeping forward to the window behind the bed. He stands right at the side and pulls the curtain just slightly to peak outside. In the faint light cast through the room from the street light outside, Tyler watches Zeke count on his fingers before pulling back from the window and swiftly moving back to Tyler.
“There are people outside and I really don’t know what’s going to happen so just pack, please.” replies. “I’ll be right back, do not go near the windows and be absolutely silent. I’m just going to see if we can get out.” Zeke tells him and disappears from the room without any hesitation. Zeke walks towards the back door to check if they could get out that way but stops as he hears the lock of the back door click. Zeke slips back into the bedroom and finds Tyler hurriedly closing his suitcase.
“I haven’t packed any toiletries yet.” Tyler says and takes a step towards the bathroom. Zeke stops him and faces towards the door.
“We don’t have time. I need you to be silent and listen ok?” Zeke whispers. Tyler nods as Zeke puts his hands on the confused boy’s shoulders, looking into his eyes earnestly and turning him around so Tyler’s back is to the bedroom door. “You need to do everything I say and don’t question it. Ok?” He whispers urgently then looks past Tyler who just nods nervously. “Good, you’re going to have to be very brave Tyler, keep looking at me.” Zeke orders. Tyler nervously looks at Zeke, he was freaking out on the inside but doing his best to put on some kind of resilient front.
“I’m so scared.” Tyler admits quietly.
“Tyler. You need to trust me. Hold me close.” Zeke whispers back. Tyler wraps his arms around Zeke closing the gap between them. Zeke puts one of his hands behind Tyler’s head and kisses his forehead then forces Tyler to lean against ’s chest, stopping him from seeing anything. He then cover’s Tyler’s ear with his hand and raises his other hand pointing it towards the doorway and waiting. Tyler could feel Zeke’s heart racing, he had no idea what was going on behind him until he feels Zeke’s arm tense and hears a thump. Zeke strokes Tyler’s hair gently and lets go of him, Tyler’s eyes follow along Zeke’s arm to the gun in his hand, then he looks past and sees a man’s body in the doorway.
“Are we...?” Tyler starts asking but Zeke presses his finger to his lips quickly to silence him, then shakes his head. He grabs his suit case and signals Tyler to do the same and follow him. Tyler picks up his suit case and hesitates as he moves towards the person on the ground. Zeke takes the gun off the man on the ground, he quickly checks the barrel for bullets and then passes it to Tyler.
“Watch the doorway and kill if necessary.” He instructs casually. Though his heart was racing and his head was throbbing with panic, Tyler takes the gun and nods, fixing it on the doorway as Zeke grabs the first unfortunate intruder and drags him back into the bedroom and searches his pockets quickly. He then rips off the man’s shirt and undoes the bullet proof vest that the man was wearing. He stands up and hands it to Tyler then points his own gun at the door. “Put it on. Fast as you can.” Zeke urges and pushes Tyler behind him out of view.
“Ok.” Tyler says and turns to put it on, he pulls his shirt off and struggles to get the vest done up, he doesn’t get a chance to put his shirt back on before Zeke cocks his head to hint at Tyler to follow him.
“Stay close.” Zeke orders and starts slowly moving towards the door. He leads Tyler into the hallway and across to the front door with a suitcase in one hand and his gun in the other. Zeke peeks out the window then back at Tyler and fakes a smile. He didn’t want to tell Tyler of the real trouble they were in, he wanted Tyler to have hope and knew that if he knew how much danger they were in, he was likely to crumble under pressure. The door was being guarded and there was no way they could get out the front, and no way to kill the men guarding it without bringing more attention to themselves. Zeke quickly heads back up the hallway, slipping into his office quickly and opening a safe, pulling out another gun and holding it out for Tyler.
“Swap guns. This tranquilizes them not kills them. You’d probably be a lot more comfortable knowing that you won’t kill anyone.” Zeke says quietly. Tyler nods and hands his gun in exchange for the tranquilizer. Zeke stuffs a few bullets in the pockets in Tyler’s pants and again gives him a fake smile before leaving the room again.
“Why aren’t we going out the front?” Tyler asks in a nervous whisper.
“We can’t. Duck.” Zeke demands. Tyler frowns and ducks as Zeke shoots behind him. A man behind Tyler drops to the ground shrieking in agony as he clutches his shoulder. “Great. A screamer.” Zeke mutters and runs to the latest victim to knock him out with a harsh punch. The room goes silent and Tyler stands up trembling in fear. Zeke quickly searches the new victim and pulls off the bullet proof vest to protect himself when he hears a bang and looks up to see someone collapse in front of him, twitching. He turns to Tyler and nods when he sees the gun in Tyler’s hand raised and Tyler’s hand shaking. Tyler keeps the gun pointed at the doorway, glancing at Zeke for a second.
“Go. I’ve got you covered.” Tyler tells him in a loud whisper.
“Wow, look at you holding a gun. Not a bad look.” Zeke smiles impressed, hoping his comment would give Tyler the confidence to continue being brave. Tyler was amazed at how quickly Zeke put on the vest, he’d obviously had a lot of practice putting on this kind of gear because it barely took more than a few seconds, although it was hard to tell because time felt like it was standing still in the crisp silence of the night. Zeke stands up and grabs his bags, he turns and jerks his head for Tyler to follow him. They reach the kitchen when the back door starts to slowly open, so they both duck out of view. Tyler cowers back against the oven, protected from the immediate line of sight by the table and chairs between him and the door.
Zeke stands by the doorway, waiting. Tyler couldn’t hear footsteps at all, the only sound was the blood rushing through his ears with a wave of fear sweeping through his body and sending him cold. While Zeke is distracted, Tyler becomes aware of a light breeze suddenly coming in from above the stove so he glances up and sees the window slowly opening. His fight or flight reflex has him turning on all the burner elements on the stove. Tyler hears a thump in the doorway of the kitchen and Zeke finally turns to see him and wave him over. Tyler stays low to the ground and as quiet while he rushes again to be with Zeke. Zeke signals Tyler to follow him into the lounge room, he then proceeds to drag the body with him. Tyler doesn’t question it, just goes with him and waits for instruction.
“When I say go, you need to run to the backdoor and wait for me.” Zeke orders quietly. Tyler nods and looks towards the back door, it wasn’t far to run but he knew there must have been a reason behind coming here first. “And be ready to shoot.” Zeke adds then scares the hell out of Tyler when he kicks the glass out of the window in the lounge room, waits a moment then throws the body out the window. “Go!” He yells over the rip of bullets. Tyler runs to the back door and peeks through the window to see if it was clear.
“There’s no one out there.” Tyler says when Zeke joins him a moment later.
“It’s going to start getting light soon.” Zeke mutters. “We’ll be easier to find.” He states as he takes a deep breath as he opens the door and steps out into the vulnerability of outside. As soon as Tyler is outside he hears a gut wrenching scream come from below the kitchen window. Zeke looks at Tyler confused but they had no time to talk.
“IT’S NOT HIM! FIND HIM!” A voice shouts from where the body had been thrown out the window on the other side of the house.
“There’s no one this side.” Tyler whispers but before they can have even a glimmer of hope, a round of shots ring out quickly followed by a loud bang.
“Fuck.” Zeke curses as he makes his way along the side of the house, gun at the ready, only to see the billowing smoke tunneling into the dawn sky. “There goes the car.” He mutters.
“Now what?” Tyler asks, clearly losing hope and about to break down. The window between Tyler and Zeke opens slowly and a gun protrudes out, but unaware that they were after two people, not just Zeke, Tyler has the advantage. He crouches and slips under the hand, firing at it with a satisfying gasp of surprise coming from both the victim and from Zeke who turns to see what he’d just been saved from. Zeke was staring at Tyler confused and concerned. “What’s the plan?” Tyler asks quickly.
“You need to run. Just run. Don’t look back just go. They don’t need you.” Zeke orders.
“No. I’m staying with you.” Tyler replies.
“I told you to do what I say and don’t question it. Go.” Zeke reminds him in a harsh whisper.
“And I said I had you covered. I’m staying with you.” Tyler argues. “I’m not safe on my own.”
“You’re not safe with me either! They are after me not you. Run.” Zeke grits his teeth, getting frustrated with Tyler for arguing with him and not just doing what he asked.
“I’d rather be not safe with you than be not safe on my own. I’ll take my chances. What’s the plan?” Tyler asks again urgently as he hears voices coming from behind them, any moment now they would be found, cornered from both sides of the house.
“You could die.” Zeke retorts.
“My whole family is dead. Everyone I knew thinks I’m dead. I have nothing to live for so what difference does it make? If we have to die, we shouldn’t have to die alone.” Tyler snaps. Zeke takes a deep breath and bites his lip then looks away from Tyler.
“Tyler, I hate you. You’re nothing to me. I’m sick of you. You’re so damn needy and pathetic that I can’t stand you, that’s why I started leaving you alone all the time. I hoped you’d leave sooner but you seemed to think that if you stayed I’d fall for you. I like making you think I care about you when really, I don’t. I have been lying to you this whole time, you’re not safe, I’m not who I said I am. You’re just a naive, scared kid that wanted to believe it all so badly. It’s been a game to me, having you here. Playing with your feelings. Game is over now.” Tyler looks at Zeke in disbelief, tears stinging his eyes, though he tries desperately not to show how much it hurt him to hear Zeke talk like that.
“Then you won’t care if I die.” Tyler mumbles and drops his suit case at Zeke’s feet. He turns and runs towards the front of the house taking Zeke by surprise.
“Tyler. Don’t go that way.” Zeke hisses desperately as he watches Tyler run straight into danger.