Hank was nonverbal after the abuse from his grandfather, and needed someone who wouldn’t force him to talk. His new foster family runs a café where they‘ve hired him under the table, so his mouth gets plenty of exercise anyway!
Drew flipped the page, reading over the notes on the next one. He glanced at the clock and started typing.
Charlie was really struggling in PE, but his foster dad tells me he’s bent over the pommel horse every day now. He must be getting so familiar with the equipment and I think he’ll start making friends any day now!
He really wanted to get this done soon, but he still had a lot of notes to go through and he wasn’t sure he had time for all of them. There were still a few minutes, though.
Xander’s anxiety used to be so bad he’d get overwhelmed and break down in tears at least once a day. Now he never worries about anything, including feeding and changing himself, and he seems so much happier!
Just as he hit that last exclamation point, the clock told him it was three o’clock, and the baby monitor went off, just like it always did. He heard sniffling and then soft crying, and he sighed, saving his work and getting up. He’d have to finish later tonight. He really needed to make a comprehensive database of all the boys their foster service was helping, so that it was easy to deal with any issues that might arise. He’d already found one boy who’d slipped through the cracks, but fortunately that Mads guy had been happy to make him not Drew’s problem.
Running all this was a lot of work. Drew didn’t have any idea how Lyren had ever done it by himself. It must have been so hard. He’d been working so hard, and Drew had never known, just happily sitting there, bugging him, being a burden, when he could have been useful.
You are useful, Lyren’s voice echoed in Drew’s mind. A reminder of some programming, something Lyren had put in Drew so he wouldn’t feel bad about himself. And it worked, making Drew smile, making Drew feel like Lyren was still here with him. It didn’t matter that he knew it was just a programme. It was still real. Lyren had made it real, like he’d made so many things real for so many people, always starting with Drew.
Nobody had ever loved Drew like Lyren did, and nobody ever would again. And now that was gone.
Drew went into the room he’d converted into a nursery, where Lyren was sitting up in bed, working up to a full-on cry now. “Hey,” he said, coming over and sitting on the bed with him. “You’re awake.”
“Uh-huh,” Lyren agreed, leaning down and letting Drew cradle him. He had no conception that he was bigger than Drew, not anymore. “I had a bad dream,” he said, and he started sobbing.
Lyren was prone to nightmares ever since Robby had reprogrammed him. Little asshole. All Lyren had planned to do was give him some part-time programming that a friend would appreciate, and he’d acted like Lyren was trying to kill him. He’d broken free of all his programming and turned the new programme back on Lyren. “It’s okay,” Drew said, rocking Lyren back and forth. “It was just a dream, sweetie.”
“B-b-but it was so scary!” Lyren cried, clinging to Drew’s shirt. “Y-you were there, and you turned into a big scary bee and chased me everywhere!”
Drew sighed. He told himself it could be worse. He told himself that every day. Lyren could be dead. Or he could have mentally regressed to an even younger age. At least he was toilet trained. Mostly. “It’s okay,” he promised. “I’m not scary. And remember what I told you about bees?”
Lyren sniffed, getting snot on Drew’s shirt. “Th-they’re our friends. They, they make flowers grow so we can have food. And they work really hard, so we should be nice to them.”
Word for word. Drew smiled, petting Lyren’s hair. “Good boy,” he said. “And anyway, there aren’t any of them in the house.”
“Okay.” Lyren didn’t sound totally sure, but he never did, and that hurt Drew so much. He’d always sounded so sure of everything before. His voice had always been so calming, reassuring. Now it was a broken, small thing that couldn’t convince anyone but Drew to do anything but let him have one more bedtime story.
“You want to go downstairs and have a snack?” Drew asked. “There are animal crackers.”
Lyren thought about it for a second, snuggling Drew harder. “Are there giraffes?”
“Yeah, I think there are some giraffes.”
“Okay,” Lyren said quietly. He let go of Drew, and Drew pulled him to his feet, taking a second to wipe his face with a tissue from the box by the bed. He held Lyren’s hand as they walked out of the room.
“Can you go down the stairs like a big boy?” Drew asked Lyren. Lyren always wanted to sit down and slide down the stairs on his bum.
“Will you hold my hand?” Lyren asked, looking leery as he watched the stairs. He’d fallen down them the other day.
“I will always hold your hand, Lyren, you know that.”
Lyren nodded, clenching Drew’s hand tight as they went down the stairs together. They made it without incident, and went into the kitchen. “Do you still have to do your work, Daddy?” Lyren asked.
Drew’s heart clenched. He didn’t know if Lyren actually thought Drew was his father or that was just what the programming had him call whoever was taking care of him. “Yeah, I do.” He still had so much to do, a lot of it left over from yesterday. And he had to do it alone.
“Okay.” Lyren sounded despondent. His eyes were filling with tears again.
“What’s wrong?” Drew asked, wiping the tears away as Lyren sat at the table. “Lyren, don’t cry.” He knew it came out as a plea, but that was what it was.
“I just wanted to play outside,” Lyren sniffed. “But you’re always doing work.”
He sounded so fucking sad and that made Drew want to cry too. But he couldn’t. Because if he started to cry, Lyren would get upset. “Okay,” he whispered, going to the cupboard to get the animal crackers. “We’ll play outside when you’re done your snack. Just don’t cry anymore, okay?” He’d stay up late tonight to finish everything. That was when he wanted to do more research into the programming Lyren had had embedded in him, to see if he could reverse it. There had to be a way, but nothing he’d tried so far had worked. But he’d do that after. He could lose one night of sleep.
“Yay!” Lyren held his arms high in the air, and when Drew came over with the box of animal crackers, he surprised him with a hug. “I love you, Daddy.”
Drew squeezed his eyes shut, willing himself not to cry. “I love you too, Lyren. I love you so much.” He pulled back, rocking a little, looking at Lyren’s smiling, open face. “Can I have a kiss?”
Lyren nodded enthusiastically, and he kissed Lyren. It was sloppy, his mouth open, but it was a kiss, and Drew let it go on for a good while, just enjoying contact. He undid the button on Lyren’s pants, too, just so it would be open when they started playing outside.
When he was done kissing Lyren, Lyren dove onto the animal crackers like he hadn’t eaten in weeks, still managing to set aside every giraffe for later. Drew just sat there and watched him, looking for any hint of the man he loved. He was in there somewhere. He had to be.
Drew would get him back. He had to.