Christopher wasn't prepared when he found Mark, Reficul, Rosie, and Sedah waiting for him in the shabby living room of apartment number forty four, sixth floor.
He wasn't prepared when he found them all waiting for him to come home.
And they were worried.
Oh my god, Chris, where is blazes were you?!
Calm down, Rosie. Christopher, where were you? School was out two hours ago.
We thought something happened again.
Shut up, Moronhead. Don't jinx it.
Like you're one to say, Crap.
You guys! Quit arguing.
Moronhead and Crap were the nicknames of his older brothers, Reficul and Sedah, respectively; Christopher never used them and neither did his siblings actually ever use them so blatantly until today. What was going on?
Christopher? I, well, all of us, think it's time to have a talk with you.
Mark had been so calm and worried at the same time.
But, I … I am j-just f-f-f-fine…
He had protested and tried to shrug off his older siblings worried expressions.
Chris, we all know that's not true. And after what Mark and Rosie pieced together for us, well, we really need to talk about some things all of us wanted to tell you before.
Sedah was so hesitant in speaking, seeming to be sifting through his dictionary for the right words to use.
Christopher did not understand and he did not want to.
Chris, about you taking all the blows from … dad, and you not being able to eat anything – we all know about it.
Moronhead had paused before addressing their father.
Chris sat on the ground, stunned, shocked, hurt, and incredulous. This could not be happening. It just – could not.
And well, we've been talking about it for a while with the school counselors and Mark has been talking with social worker and well –
Rosie had stopped, unable to finish the sentence that would break Christopher.
We've decided that maybe, maybe it was time we tried to live in a place not near our father.
Mark had bluntly finished Rosie's thought and they all looked at Christopher with worry. They all knew about their unspoken promise. Regardless of what had happened to them, they had always relied on each other to survive, to live through the next day bearing the pain.
They could not part.
But their father was a ruthless and brutal tyrant, torturing each of them in his own drunken and sick way; they wanted to pull away, to somehow find another shelter, but that would mean separating. That would mean going to foster homes and breaking up with the others.
No foster family was willing to take in so many kids at once.
It was unthinkable.
And so, the Shade siblings had tried their best to bear with their father and work out the torn wounds in this empty shell called home. But, they were tired, they were weary, and they were out of ideas and hope.
"Christopher?" Mark's soft question shook Christopher back from reverie and the small child looked up and met the black gazes of his older brothers and sister.
Mark sighed. It was hard to make this decision. "Well, it's only temporary. For now. We'll see if it works out. And if it doesn't, well, we can always start over from this point."
"B-but – "
"We'll still go to the same school, Chris. We'll just live in different places." Sedah added quickly. They could all see that the small child didn't like the idea at all.
"Pretend we're all going on camps, Chris. It's like we're all going to be exchange families for a few weeks." Rosie tried to alleviate the graveness of truth, but they all knew what Christopher was thinking.
"…" Christopher looked at the dirty, ashen floor. He knew his siblings meant well, but he just could not deal with the thought of leaving the main support of his life. He couldn't live without seeing his siblings at home with him. Already, he felt utterly alone.
"Chris, we don't want to see you get hurt anymore. And, and, and" Rosie swallowed thickly, "It just isn't fair!"
"We all see, Chris." Reficul spoke up quietly, reminding Christopher of Nightingale's passive and calming voice. "We all see when you get hurt, when you feel so lonely. We see the bruises from father, from bullies, from all the things that hurt you. But we can't always be there for you. We can't always watch you. We only have that amount of power to protect you. And it isn't enough. It never is."
Christopher snapped his gaze to Moronhead. He had never heard his brother speak with so many feelings for him, so much self-directed anger and frustration. He lowered his head.
"Christopher, about Trage –"
The small child stiffened at the mention of that name. So that was why.