Author's Note

Hey guys, before you start reading there are a few quick things to go over.

First, the first few chapters are going to jump around age-wise. It starts out with a four-year-old's POV and will jump to a twelve-year-old after that, and will do so until the two main characters are finally at the age which they fall in love with each other. It will always jump forward, never backward, so it shouldn't be too hard to follow.

Second, there will be two POV's in this story. It'll bounce back and forth between the two main characters but it will be obvious who's point of view you're reading.

Third, there are certain warnings that we have to get out of the way. Throughout this story you're going to find a m/m relationship, the occasional sex scene, drug and alcohol use, extreme language and violence. If you are uncomfortable with any of these things, we recommend that you do not proceed.

Last but not least, many thanks to our wonder beta, 0Tabby, for her patience and abilities.

Thanks for your time! Leave a comment if you'd like - we'd certainly appreciate it.

"But I don't want to be grounded!"

Four-year-old, heavily spoiled Axton had never been disciplined. He didn't even know the meaning of the word. His father's attempt to ground him was not going over well. Not when he was used to being left in the care of the hired help while his parents went traipsing off about the world, whatever traipsing meant. Axton had heard Jeffrey and Gertrude say it a lot, though. Ax barely knew the man looming above him, spewing out nonsense about grounding him.

"You shouldn't have acted so childishly in the restaurant, then," Daniel said. His face held no pity, no hint of kidding around. He looked very serious, with the corners of his mouth turned down in a frown and his eyes narrowed. Daniel didn't appreciate being embarrassed and, as he'd said multiple times on the way home, that was exactly what Axton had done to him.

At such a young age, acting childishly in a nice restaurant had come naturally to Ax, especially when the waitress had given him crayons to play with like he was a baby. He hadn't meant to embarrass anyone and act like a "hellion," whatever that was. All he'd wanted was to have an adult menu like his parents.

"But Dad!" The whine in his voice turned his father's eyes into small slits, which stopped him short. Ax didn't like it when his dad was mad. His father was scary when his face turned red and that big, thick vein popped out in his forehead. Axton's eyes widened as he thought about it. His dad didn't look like that now, but all warning signs pointed to it happening soon.

"Axton, don't test me right now."

"What's two plus two?" Axton asked, despite the warning tone that had come from his father. He looked up at him with a smug little smirk. Making his father mad hadn't been his original goal. He'd wanted to avoid it, but the opportunity had been there and Axton was, above all else, a brat.

"Axton…" Daniel's cocked eyebrow and his deep, rumbling voice only egged the child on further. Since he usually had no one around telling him what to do, getting mouthy came naturally to him.

"Well, if you don't know, then maybe you should be grounded for being stupid," Axton spat.

A sudden smack to the side of his face was something he was completely unprepared for. Daniel's hand had collided with his cheek, Ax's head turning to the side from the force of it. He dropped to the floor immediately, face screwing up more out of shock than anything else. There was a red mark that his tiny hand hovered over, afraid to touch it and make it worse. Before long he was crying – screaming, really.

"Stop it," his father said, disgusted. The words were sharp and angry.

"But you hit me!" Ax was blubbering and his words were hard to make out. He didn't look up as he wailed. He didn't want to see the face of the maniac who was beating him up. This was the worst day of his life. His father was grounding him and he hit him and Gertrude hadn't even given him his favorite pancakes this morning. Axton didn't want to see any of them ever again for the rest of his life.

"I'll do it again if you don't quit," Daniel snapped, stepping forward toward his son.

Axton continued to sit on the floor, tears streaming down his red face. His cheek stung and burned from the contact, but he was more upset over the fact that his father had struck him. It had never happened before.

"Daniel, stop. He's upset and you know he gets sick when he's upset."

His mother's soft voice made Axton lift his head. He got up from the floor, running for her, his small feet thudding against the hardwood floor rapidly. He ran straight into her legs and buried his face in her pants, crying until she picked him up. It felt so much better to be in his mom's arms. She would protect him from this ogre. She had to.

"Don't cry, sweetheart," Tamara murmured to her son, pressing her lips against his hair gently. She rocked him slightly in her arms, her eyes on her husband.

"Put him down, Tamara." Daniel's voice was commanding. He left no room for argument. "He needs to learn respect. This is ridiculous."

"Go away, Dad," Axton mumbled into his mother's shirt, avoiding the wet spots he'd made with his tears. He felt much braver when she was holding him. His father wouldn't come near him while he was in the safety of his mom's embrace.

"Honey, don't talk to your father like that," Tamara said, her soft words spoken only just loud enough to be heard.

"But he's mean," Ax countered, much louder than his mother. "He's mean and big and he yells at me and he hit me!" He had wanted to add ugly, but he wasn't quite that brave yet. Not even his mother could keep him safe if he made his dad that mad.

"Do you know why you got into trouble?" Her gentle tones were making the body-wracking sobs subside. It didn't hurt that she was rubbing his back at the same time.

"Because he doesn't like me."

"For Christ's sake," Daniel muttered.


"It's absurd, Tamara," he said sternly. "The boy is four years old and he's acting like a baby. I've had enough of it."

"He's a child," she argued. "He's never been hit before. You surprised him, scared him a little."

Axton looked up at his mother, now smiling slightly. He'd been right to run to her. She was so much better than his dad. Daniel started walking toward the two of them and Ax, hearing his footsteps, clung tighter to his mother. His heart pounded in his chest. In his mind, Daniel was a monster and the monster was coming to get him. Soon there were hands wrapping around his middle and Ax grabbed at his mother, fingers tangling in her hair. She hissed in pain and he immediately felt guilty, releasing the death grip he had on the strands. Despite being terrified, he didn't want to hurt his mom. Whatever he had been expecting after that, being set on the floor hadn't been it. He waited for the blow, waited for the yelling, waited for anything, but nothing came. Confused, Axton looked up. In his confusion, he'd even stopped crying. The room was completely silent.

"Better." Daniel stepped toward him, bending down the smallest bit. "Next time, you do not cry. You're not a baby anymore, Axton. You don't cry."

"But you hit me," Axton said in a small voice.

"I hit you for being a smartass."

"What's a smartass?" Ax watched his father breathe and watched his face slowly turn red. His mother covered her mouth, but he swore he saw her smiling. What was so funny? He was just asking a question.

"You're trying my patience, Axton," Daniel warned once more.

"But I'm not trying anything!" Ax was beyond frustrated. This whole ordeal was too much for him to comprehend. He'd been smacked for being a smartass, but he had thought he'd gotten smacked for being bad at the restaurant when he hadn't even been bad. He'd simply told the lady to take his food back because it was gross, but not to eat it because she'd eaten enough already. She was a very big lady. Now he was trying his dad's patience, and he didn't even know what that meant!

"I'm done. Go to your room. I don't want to see you for the rest of the night."

Ax looked up at his father in terror. He had to spend all night in his room? Was that what being grounded was? Now he really didn't want to be grounded. What was he supposed to do in his room all night? Axton wanted to go outside. He wanted to go play. His dad couldn't send him to his room until tomorrow! It wasn't fair. "I don't want to!"

"Go. Now," Daniel said, raising his voice while he pointed toward the stairs. Once again, he held no hint of joking. This time, in fact, he was angrier than Ax had ever seen him.

"But it's boring in my room!" Axton was on the verge of tears again. How could his dad be so mean, and how could his mom just let him be mean? It didn't matter that he would be more than happy to spend time in his room any other day. Now he had to go to his room and it was very different.

"Listen to your father, Axton."


"Don't make me tell you again, boy."

"You're being mean, Dad," he whined.

Standing up from the floor, Ax pouted in his parents' direction. He was used to getting his way. Whatever he wanted, it was given to him without a fuss. This new thing his parents wanted to try simply wasn't acceptable. "I'm not going," Axton said defiantly, crossing his arms over his chest, lips pursed. "I don't want to."

"If you don't turn around and get your ass upstairs, I'll drag you into your room by your hair."

His dad's threat was weighted and Ax knew that he meant it. It didn't sound very nice. Narrowing his eyes in his father's direction, he spun on his heel and stomped toward his bedroom. Every stair he took, he made sure to stamp harder. His parents were fooling themselves if they thought that was the end of it.

Axton could hear them talking behind him to each other, but he didn't stop to eavesdrop as he usually did. He didn't plan on ever seeing them again so it didn't matter what they were talking about. He was getting out of here and away from them. He'd go live with someone else. Someone who was nice to their kids and didn't smack them or ground them or threaten to pull their hair, and his parents would miss him when he was gone.

As soon as he was in his room and had successfully slammed his door as hard as he possibly could, he was packing his little bag. There were some things that were more important than others. He didn't need clothes. His new family would buy him all the clothes he needed. Axton did throw a few pairs of socks in his bag, though. If the pair he was wearing got wet, he wanted to change them. Wet socks were gross and made his toes cold. Ax hated having cold, wet feet.

He packed his favorite stuffed giraffe – the one his dad said he wasn't supposed to sleep with anymore. He packed his pillow – it was his favorite and he knew his new family wouldn't have one just like it. The last things he packed were his flashlight, his Nintendo game console, and his favorite games. His new family would buy them for him, but Axton didn't want to wait once he got there.

Finally, he took a look around his room and pulled his bag onto his back. This was it. He was running away. He was running away from his mean parents who didn't love him and he would find parents who did. Quietly, he crept out of his room and back down the stairs. His parents' voices were no longer in the foyer and he didn't think they would catch him.

With slow, silent footsteps, he moved for the door. It creaked when he opened it and he stopped, waiting for his parents to come running. His breaths were coming in uneven, shallow gasps. Axton had never run away before. It was exhilarating. He was already thinking about running away from his next family just because it was fun. Within minutes he was outside, running down his driveway as fast as his legs would carry him. His chest felt ready to burst open, his legs burning from exertion, but he couldn't stop. If he stopped, he would get caught. It wasn't until he reached the other side of the gates (which he'd slipped through expertly) that he finally stopped and looked around him, panting heavily. Since he wasn't allowed to cross the street, he would have to find a new family that was close to his old one.

Now that he was looking, he realized he should have taken the time to plan this before jumping right into it. Axton felt like he should have waited and watched the neighbors. Or maybe he should have used his super-cool spy kit to find good potential new parents. He could have staked them out like in all the good movies. Damn. (That was something he heard his mom say sometimes.) Now he felt unprepared for this running away business. Where was he supposed to go? He didn't know any of these people and they weren't going to invite him to live with them when they didn't know him! What he needed was a place to stay until he could figure out who his new family would be.

The park was around the corner. He could go there and sleep in the crawl tunnel. It worked perfectly since it had peek holes and he could watch everyone else without them watching him. With his newfound plan, he turned to walk down the sidewalk, pushing the white sleeves of his undershirt up his arms. Axton thought he would look good to any parents. He was wearing brand new clothes. Over his white long-sleeve shirt, he had a brand-new T-shirt, and he was wearing his best pair of jeans. Even his shoes were still white.

He was also incredibly handsome, as his mother always told him. Apparently he took after her with his dark hair, dark eyes, and darker skin tone. He didn't look like his dad, so there were no ugly genes in him. What parents wouldn't want him?

Just in case his ex-parents were already looking for him, Axton hunched down beside a bush once he got to the park and peeked around it. His heart was thudding painfully in his chest again, but he saw no sign of the people he was running from. Taking a deep breath, he stood as tall as he could and walked into the park, eyes glancing around him for any policeman that might be out looking for him. In the movies, cops were called and they always found the kid. He had to be smarter than they were if he wanted to get away with this.

The park was fairly empty, much to his dismay. There were a few girls on the swings with their mom, but Axton didn't want sisters. He didn't really want any siblings, but thought a brother might be okay. Boys were way better than girls. He continued his sweep while he walked, always keeping in mind to stand tall and look good. Parents weren't going to take him if he had a hunchback. Across the yard, he saw another little boy who looked his age and, after a moment of consideration, started toward him.

"Is your mom nice?" He asked the question bluntly as soon as he was standing in front of his target. This was all business for him. Axton needed fast answers if he didn't want to spend the night in the crawl tunnel. The boy looked up at him but he didn't say anything quickly enough for Ax. "Do you like your dad? Are your parents nice?"

He sighed when it seemed like the boy wasn't going to answer him. Leave it to him to pick out the one kid in the whole park who couldn't talk. Maybe there was something wrong with him. Axton didn't want a freak as a brother. If he was going to have a brother, he had to be cool. He had to play video games well, had to like playing outside, and always had to give Ax whatever he wanted. Those were the rules.


He could talk! Ignoring the dull tone, he grinned. "Because I ran away from home and I need a new place to live," he explained quickly. "My dad punched me in the face, so I'm not going to live there anymore. Now are your parents nice or not? I need to know."

"You can't live with me," the boy responded.

"Why not? If you needed a place to stay because your dad got mad and smacked you, I would let you live with me!" Axton was indignant, though even as he said it, he knew it was a lie. He most certainly would not have a sibling if he had a choice in the matter. Then he had to share his stuff. The only reason he was even considering a brother now was because he had to. There were no other options.

"I thought you said he punched you in the face," he responded, clearly unimpressed.

"Well, no. He didn't," Ax amended. "But he did smack me, and that's just as bad. But why can't I live with you?"


Who did this kid think he was? Axton got what Axton wanted and he wanted a new family. This boy wasn't allowed to shove him away.

"I'll let you play Nintendo." Video games were one of the only things that kept Ax sitting still for any great length of time. He absolutely loved them. He was very happy he'd chosen to bring his system with him. No kid could say no to Nintendo.

"You can't move into my house," the boy said.

"Why not?" Axton was bewildered. It was never this hard, making new people like him. He didn't like this boy, and he was sure once he became a part of the family, he would convince his parents to make this kid go away. He wasn't being very nice.

"Because I ran away too. God," he said, irritated. "Do you ever stop talking?"

Well, this was a different matter entirely now! If this boy had run away, too, they could be runaways together! Ax didn't want to sleep in the dark crawl tunnel by himself. Without being asked, he dropped his bag off of his back and turned to sit next to his new friend. Axton wasn't giving him the option of being a friend. They were going to stick together whether this kid liked it or not.

"Are your parents mean, too?" he asked the boy.


Ax frowned and looked down at his shoes. Making conversation with his runaway buddy was not very easy. It looked like he would be the talker out of the two. Any deals that needed to be made, he would make them. His new friend would just glare silently and crack his knuckles to look scary. He looked over at the other boy after a minute. "So why did you run away then?"

"Some dishes broke."

He was having a hard time understanding. The boy ran away because dishes broke? Kitchen dishes? Like plates, bowls, glasses? That didn't make any sense at all! "Couldn't you just get more…?"


"I don't get it," Axton complained. "And what's your name? If we're running away together, we should know each other." It sounded like a decent plan, at least. Then he would have something to call his scary friend by when they were making their street deals.

"We're not running away together," he said, tone void of all emotion.

Ax was frustrated, confused, hungry, and this boy wasn't being helpful at all. It made him want to cry, but he kept hearing his ex-dad in his head. "You're not a baby anymore, Axton. You don't cry." So, though his nose burned a little and his breathing was doing funny things, he wouldn't cry. He would be just as strong as the runaway beside him. After all, he wasn't crying. He was perfectly calm.

"Can I just sit here still? I don't have anywhere else to go." Even he could tell he was whining a little bit. The boy finally looked over at him and Axton looked back at the ground. Now he felt stupid because every second he felt closer to crying. Running away was hard. This kid wasn't making it any easier by acting like it was the simplest thing in the world.

"Yeah, I don't care. I'm Toby."

"I'm Axton," he said quietly. Apparently Toby was going to make an effort now. It didn't matter that it was probably only because he felt bad for him. Ax looked up at his probably-not-runaway-friend Toby. It seemed to him that this Toby didn't like to talk very much, and since Axton didn't want to sit by himself, he would be quiet. At least his new friend wasn't ugly. Or blond. Toby had darker hair than he did, but Ax was glad to see that he still had darker skin of the two of them.

"You're what?" Toby asked.

He looked confused. Axton didn't understand why. What was he confused about? He'd been thinking so much about his new friend that wasn't ugly that he'd actually forgotten what they were talking about. It only took him a second to remember that Toby had introduced himself and that he'd done the same. "I'm Axton. Like, my name is Axton? You told me yours. I thought we were trading."

"What's an Axton?" There was a slight smile on Toby's face, amused but also a bit unsure. It looked as though he expected to find out this was a joke.

"It's . . . my name?" It felt like a game of questions. Axton knew his own name, but he felt confused and suddenly wondered if it was a weird name. He didn't understand what was funny about it. No one else had ever smiled like that when he introduced himself. Usually when he introduced himself, people just thought he was adorable.

"Your name is Axton?"


"Okay…" Toby said slowly.

"Well, Carl calls me Ax – he's the gardener – but my old parents didn't like it," he explained. Carl was Axton's favorite of the entire staff. Jeffrey was nice to him, and Gertrude tried to be nice sometimes, but Carl was always nice. "So you can call me Ax if you want. Instead of Axton."



What was he supposed to do now? He wanted to question Toby more about the confusing broken dishes and why he would run away from home because of them. Suddenly, he felt very stupid. Now he knew why Toby had run away. If he broke dishes at home, he would have to run away. Breaking things was bad. "So you broke the dishes? Is that why you had to run away?" He asked.

"No, my mom broke them," Toby answered, short and terse as though he didn't want to talk about it. The expression on his face said just that, with his averted eyes and clenched jaw.

Toby's mom breaking the dishes didn't fit into Axton's theory at all. If Toby's mom broke dishes, then Toby's mom should be the one running away. It was all very confusing and so for now, he decided to drop it. Especially because Toby wouldn't even look at him while he was asking questions about it. Ax didn't want to put Toby off before they'd really had a chance to become best friends.

"You know you can't actually just pick a new family to live with," Toby said, changing the subject and looking over at Ax. He seemed to be amused by the boy sitting next to him.

Ax was startled by the fact that Toby had spoken, and then he was unhappy with what was said. He couldn't pick a new family? But his family was mean! He wanted a new one! He had to find a new one since he'd already run away from his old one. "Why not?"

"I don't know. You just can't." Toby shrugged, not bothered.

Was this true? Had Toby tried this before or something? This would ruin his entire plan. If he couldn't pick a new family, then he had to go back home. If he had to go back home, his old mom and dad would be very mad at him for running away. They were probably really worried right now. "This is bad news, Toby," he muttered, head shaking slowly as he kicked at the dirt below his feet. "If I can't pick new ones, my parents will be really mad that I ran away."

"They probably don't know yet." Toby sounded certain and remained rather disinterested in the whole conversation.

"I'm their only kid," Axton said, affronted. "Of course they know I ran away. They're probably crying." Now he felt bad. Ax didn't want his mom to cry, even if she had been mean at the end. At least she was nice before that. And it wasn't like he saw his dad very often. He could probably deal with them.

"I don't think I can run away with you, Toby," he added, very serious. This whole idea had been blown up into little bits. There was no way he could run away if he didn't have anywhere else to run but the park. "But since I'm going back home, you can come with me if you want. I can get Gertrude to make us food and we can play Nintendo. I have games for it."

Toby was the first friend Axton had. His parents had set up play dates with other children before, but the other kids had been boring. Ax liked making his own friends. Toby was already way better than the stuck up snobs his parents wanted him to be friends with. Toby wasn't pointing out the dirt scuff on his otherwise very white shoes or the wrinkles in his shirt. Toby seemed like he was awesome.

Toby seemed to be contemplating Axton's offer and, finally, he shrugged and stood up. "It's better than sitting in the park again."

Again? Axton's detective side was kicking in and he found himself wondering how often Toby ran away and stayed in the park. Ax had only done it for one day and it was too much. Running away wasn't as much fun as he hoped it would be. It was really hard. Standing up from his spot, Ax started walking back toward the way he came with Toby beside him. Ax already liked him a whole lot. Toby was nice to him when the whole world was just mean.

The only problem was getting him inside without his parents knowing. Ax didn't want to answer questions about where he'd met Toby and why he'd run away. He was also supposedly "grounded," and, though he wasn't sure, he thought that meant he couldn't have any friends to play with for a while.

Toby wasn't sure he wanted Gertrude to make him anything. When Ax said the woman's name, an image of a hunched cripple flashed through his mind with shaking hands, her skin thin and wrinkled with yellow fingernails. The thought of a woman like that handling anything he was to ingest was enough to turn him off food for the day. Nevertheless, he followed Ax down the sidewalk, taking a last lingering glance toward the bright, yellow, plastic slide. A Nintendo system sounded more entertaining than a swing set or rusting monkey bars.

Though he wasn't sure what he was expecting, the gates before the large house Ax was slowing down in front of hadn't been it. Toby took a few hesitant steps back, the size of the home in the distance making him feel small. It was a surprise to see how different Ax's place of residence was compared to his own. He had been expecting a single family home with glass wind chimes near the front door, archways and big flowered plants lining the path, often unkempt until his mother had the desire to trim their fat leaves; he expected something much like his own. This house was sharp, the lines clean, and Toby was certain every blade of grass was the same length.

Before he had the chance to take in the yard any longer, Ax was slipping his small frame through the iron gates. Toby hadn't moved from the pavement and instead watched, wiggling his toes in his shoes. The chance that he might get punished made him afraid to follow; his own mother's answer to leaving the house was enough to keep Toby cautious. Upon hearing Ax's story about his mean parents, however, he was even more unsure he wanted to follow. With a small sigh, he took a step forward and gripped the gate with small hands, looking at Ax through the other side.

"What are you waiting for, Toby?" Ax whined impatiently, stepping back toward the gate. He gave it a small shake and it rattled. Toby could feel it as though Ax was shaking him by the shoulders.

"I'm worried my mom will come looking for me at the park."

"You're running away. It doesn't matter."

Toby argued with himself. He felt little like he needed to follow Ax through the gate, but the better part of him wanted to cross over and get his hands on the Nintendo controller. Only one of his friends owned a Nintendo and he only got the opportunity to play the games a few times at most. If nothing else, he rationed that the game would make time fly by faster, thus allowing him to return home sooner. The ceramic cups and plates would be picked off the vinyl flooring by then and swept away.

Without another thought, Toby pushed himself through the gate and forced a tight grin in Ax's direction, though he was unsure if the other even caught it. Axton was already making his way up the pathway, hunched over and stooped low, stepping lightly on his toes. Toby followed suit, bending close enough to smell the groomed, plotted plants that lined the edge. Humidity was setting in and the back of his neck was damp, making him pine for the inside of a home or storefront where air conditioning would blast. The dark hair at the nape grew moist and started to curl gently behind his ear and Toby wiped his hand across the area, sweat sliding off and transferring to his arm. Making a face, he wiped the excess off on his T-shirt.

"Now what?" Toby asked while inhaling a deep breath, pressing his back against a decorative column before the front door, glancing at the bottom of a balcony over their heads.

"Just hold on," he said, glancing around the porch and swinging his body dramatically toward the front door, bending down to peer through the key hole.

Toby watched with an eyebrow cocked. "There's no way you can see anything through-"

Ax gave Toby a sharp, pointed look and held a demanding index finger to his lips. Toby couldn't help but take this business as serious; the expression on Ax's face read that compliance was necessary and now that he was standing near the front door, he rationed that it was too late to turn around and leave. Cutting his eyes in Ax's direction, he kept his mouth shut, waiting patiently for something to happen.

It was another few long seconds before Ax made his move. When he did, it was quick. The door was pushed opened and, to Toby's surprise, Ax dropped to his hands and knees. He watched as Ax crawled inside the house, leaving the door parted. Standing awkwardly, he inched slowly toward the door before Ax's head popped around the corner, his eyes glaring. He mouthed the words 'come on' and Toby could hear the attitude behind them, despite no sound emitting from Ax's throat.

Mocking Ax's carefulness and urgency, Toby stepped up to the door frame and glanced inside. He felt a tug at his pant leg and gave a grunt, looking down at Ax. Toby gave a defiant shake of his head, refusing to drop down to all fours. Ax frowned and tugged harder, pointing at the floor sharply with his other hand.

"Get down," he whispered harshly. "We're sneaking. They still don't know I ran away, Toby."

The urgency in Axton's voice was hard to ignore. Toby found it hard to concentrate on what Ax was actually saying. All he knew was that he did not want to crawl into this house on all fours. "I don't want to," he whispered back. "What if your parents see us?"

"They won't if we're sneaky. Trust me. I do this all the time."

Still a bit reluctant but having run out of excuses, Toby finally rolled his eyes and sighed heavily before getting down onto his own knees and following behind Ax into the house. Once inside, he had to look around as Axton closed the door softly. The inside was bigger than the outside. Hiding in here would be easy. He almost couldn't pay attention to the ridiculous way Ax was tiptoeing across the room, back hunched over.

"What are you doing?" The whisper seemed to echo and Toby clamped his mouth shut. He wasn't so sure he should have come inside. As it was a little too late to run back home, though, he stood up and made to follow Ax but he stopped short at the hand that was held up. Axton appeared to be listening for noises, which made Toby start listening for them.

"I think . . ." Ax paused and dropped, putting his ear to the floor. He waved Toby on emphatically from his lying down position before popping back up. "Go, go, go," he urged. "The stairs! Go!"

The excitement was so obvious that Toby could do nothing but "go." He made a beeline for the stairs Ax had mentioned and stopped on the second step, unsure. He didn't even know where he was going! With his heart pounding in his chest, he inwardly cursed this new kid for making him so nervous. They could get into so much trouble if Axton's mean parents caught them. Toby didn't want to face his mean parents. He was already avoiding his own mom. One was enough.

"Follow me."

They were the next instructions on this seemingly never ending list, but Toby found he felt more comfortable as they ascended the stairs, backs pressed against the wall to avoid detection. He was sure that once they were upstairs in Axton's room, this would be a lot less scary. They'd play Nintendo and he'd get out before anyone ever knew he was here. He'd get home before his mother went looking for him. Everything would be just fine.

But he'd really underestimated just how far away Ax's room could possibly be. It felt like they'd been on these stairs forever. "Ax, are we even close to your room?"

"Shh!" Axton's eyes darted around, watching for any sign of his parents. It made Toby anxious. "We're almost there. Don't give us up now. Just keep following. And keep your head down!"

He felt scolded and the entire rest of the way to Ax's room was spent glaring at the back of his head. Axton could not tell him what to do. Toby wasn't sure if he liked this kid yet, especially with his weird name. He was waiting to make his decision after they played Nintendo.

It was relieving when he no longer had to duck or slide along the wall. They were heading down a hallway and since Axton was walking regularly, Toby figured it was safe for him to do so as well. When finally Ax stopped at a door, Toby was able to grin. They'd made it. They were home free.

"This is the bathroom-"

"Ax! I don't care about the bathroom! We're going to get caught!"

"Okay, jeeze. I was just saying it's here," Axton responded, quite displeased with Toby's obvious disinterest in his own personal bathroom. "Bathrooms are important, Toby."

"So is my life, Axton." He was probably exaggerating, but Toby really didn't want to get caught sneaking around Ax's house. More than likely Axton's parents would call his mom and then he'd be in trouble by everyone. "Where's your room?"

"Oh, it's right there," he said, pointing at the door beside the bathroom door.

Toby didn't wait for him. He twisted the doorknob and opened it himself, stepping inside. Ax had just put him through a very intense and terrifying experience. Toby didn't care if he was being a little rude. He wanted to get out of the rest of the house and into the comfort of Ax's room so he would be hidden. "I get it. You have a bathroom if I need to use it. Can we just play now?"

Ax's wide, happy grin implied that he'd forgotten the original point of coming here and Toby wanted to kick him in the shin. He'd almost been caught sneaking into this place to play this game! Axton needed to keep his head straight. He stepped aside while Ax ran in, kicking the door closed behind him, and stood there a bit awkwardly. Ax was flopping onto his bed, grabbing for a remote control. Toby couldn't believe he had a television that big in his room, and he got a game system, too! He wasn't sure whether to be angry and envious or just become best friends with this kid for the perks, which, as he looked around, there were quite a few of.

He was already eyeing the big, plushy beanbag chair to sit in while they played video games, and the amount of space in here was crazy. They could play almost anything. They could play hide and seek in just this one room! Toby found himself a bit curious. There was a large toy box located on the other side of the room, but he didn't want to appear too eager. If Ax had a T.V. and a game system in his room, his toys were probably awesome, too. He did look forward to opening that box up soon.

"Come on, Toby! Sit down already!" Axton was visibly excited, already turning on his game system and unraveling the controllers.

Toby couldn't help but be excited himself. The Nintendo looked to be in pristine condition. He wondered if it was new or if it was just that well taken care of. Maybe all the toys in here were that nice. Maybe everything in this house was that nice. If only they didn't have some old bat named Gertrude making food, Toby was sure he would want to spend quite a bit of time here. It was decided. Best friends. They were definitely going to be best friends.