Okay, so you know how I wasn't sure if the inspiration would stay after the crazy six year hiatus. I think my muse likes to contradict me :) Longer this time, hopefully you will enjoy!

Nothingness Part 20

It was Tuesday, the 18th of May. My sleep was blissfully nightmare free, thanks to the generous dose of painkillers I received just before the lights went out. When I woke up the usual morning rush of nurses passing out breakfasts and tea had begun. Soon I had a choice of cereal and toast in front of me, and a few little sachets of jam and butter. I felt a little hungry for once and awkwardly spread myself some jam with my left hand. It tasted nice, so I nibbled at it, but kept my eyes fixed down. I was trying to discreetly listen to my parents. They were murmuring to each other just outside the door. I didn't know if it was anything important, but it looked suspicious, like they had caught wind of something. I thought to myself that maybe they just needed some space out of my room. Maybe they were talking about May and how she was doing, but my gut told me something was going on.

The head consultant started doing his rounds. I heard his deep voice chatting to another patient, and heard him greet the nurses. Both my parents straightened and their whispering increased. I frowned at them, a niggling dread starting to grow in my chest. My dad smiled at me through the door's window, trying to reassure me nothing was wrong as they met up with the consultant. They had a few quiet words, before they all came in. I watched them warily.

"Good morning Jace," the consultant greeted, giving me a small smile. He was the guy that had been evaluating me each day. I hadn't taken much notice of him, sort of chucking him into the same group as the nurses, just a background noise I didn't have the energy to pay attention to. I hadn't felt quite able to process their names and faces.

"Hi," I replied quietly. My left hand sought out something to fiddle with, and I gripped the small tea spoon that came with my breakfast.

"I'm hoping to send you home today," he began, picking up my hospital notes at the end of my bed. He flicked through the clipboard, eyes scanning with a quickness telling of his experience. "You've been making a great recovery, though I'd still class you as slightly underweight, but nothing some good home cooking wouldn't solve."

"Are you sure I'm ready to go home?" I asked, twisting my spoon around. "I mean what about my cast, or the stitches, or my ribs?" My mum and dad exchanged looks, seeing right through me. My dad opened his mouth, probably to tell me I'd be better off at home, but the consultant beat him to it.

"Your local hospital will be able to remove the cast when needed, and the stiches," he said, still glued to my notes. "Your ribs will take time, but I'd recommend no strenuous lifting or exercise for a couple of months. Your neck's swelling has reduced nicely and you're healing up just fine." He looked up and sent me a kind smile. "No need to hang about here when you'd be much more comfortable at home."

I felt my eyes crease up, burning at the word 'home' but I couldn't say anything and chose to look back down at my spoon. I had to go at some point, I realised that. I couldn't just take up residency at the hospital; they needed the space for new patients, but going home meant facing everyone. Being in Leeds hospital was so removed from it all, like a safe haven. Would I heal up better at home despite the whole ordeal of it? No doubt extended family members would show up, and then there were my friends, and on top of that there was May. What about the lounge? Would it look the same? What had they done with all the damage? How could I step back into the place I'd spent months in terror, waiting for him to make his move, hoping he wouldn't. I had to face it, but I was scared.

"Right, yeah…" I mumbled. "I guess if I'm better." The consultant nodded, pleased.

"I can have you discharged by this afternoon," he said, encouraging me with his ignorant, kind eyes. Even though he knew my circumstances, he probably didn't know about the lounge or what had happened there. I bit my lip in frustration, because even if I told him, it wouldn't change anything. I had to go home. It's not like I had anywhere else to go. I couldn't stay. There was no need to keep me in.

"Thank you," I managed to say, choking a little on the sudden lump in my throat. I looked over at my mum and dad and was only met with sadness. I was well enough to go home. It was supposed to be a good thing, but I couldn't see it that way. I felt lost and I wanted to cry, but instead I twisted the little spoon, wishing I could bend it in half and make it resemble how my insides felt.

Mum had bought me new clothes and shoes, so I went to change in the hospital bathroom. She went for my usual size, so the jeans were a little loose, and the soft flannel shirt was baggy, but even so once I was dressed I looked better, like a real person. My shoe size hadn't changed though thankfully. After I was done I just stared at myself, not quite recognising the stranger staring back at me. My neck was still a mottled mess of reds and fading green bruises, ringed with the beginnings of yellow. My eyes looked a little sunken and dull, and my skin was sallow, but still, it was an improvement. I was clearly healing… my exterior at least. My mental state I felt unsure of. My mind felt like a cracked window, hundreds of sharp glass fragments scraping against each other, one small tap away from shattering.

The plain white cast was bulky and heavy against my side, a weighty lump sticking out the end of my sleeve. The stiches across my chest and arms itched every time the shirt brushed against them, at least the lightweight material of my hospital gown spared me that discomfort. I sighed heavily, trying to relax my shoulders, but nothing could shake off the heavy dread. I hoped May would stay with Sophie. I hoped it would be quiet…

"I'm going to make you those salmon and spinach omelettes as soon as we get in," gushed my mum as we walked down the hospital corridors. "Plenty of goodness in that." I nodded numbly, shuffling along with them, wary of all the people around. I shuddered at the noise, at the amount of people. Any one of them could be Talon and jump out, and rip my Dad's firm grip on my shoulder. I decided that if I kept my head down no one would see me, not even Talon if he'd somehow escaped and come after me. I knew logically he hadn't, but every footstep sounded like it could have been his. Every male laugh I heard made me twitch.

I was shaking by the time we reached the lift and I was grateful Dad kept his hand on my shoulder. Its weight reminded me that I was there with them… safe; no flying fists or screams. I trembled, but I stayed grounded. Mum carried on talking, saying how she was going to get a small television set up in my room, so I wouldn't be bored stiff in the next few weeks resting up. It was all so surreal, and I felt like I was teetering on some bizarre crossing of realities. My ears kept picking up everything, my hands were clammy with nervousness and if it weren't for my Dad I knew my chest would have started tightening. I was scared that if I looked up that I would see Talon, but Dad's hand and Mum's excited chatter about home just left me feeling totally disorientated. This was the first time I'd been out in public since Talon, and not in a hospital room closed off from the world. Re-entering back into the real world was not something I thought would rattle me so much. Going home, seeing May, yes, those were dread-worthy things, but the simple act of walking with my parents down a hallway? I was a shaking mess in only a few minutes; that's all it took, a few measly minutes. Nothing was the same anymore. The world seemed big and daunting now, with anything just around the corner.

What was around the corner was so much worse. I never even thought about it. I never saw it coming. We were walking towards the carpark, my mum and dad on either side of me, both of them talking to me, trying to keep me distracted, even telling me to look how overcast it was, joking how the sun hadn't stood a chance. They were doing pretty well, constantly reminding me of their presence, staving off the panic wriggling under the service of my skin. This was broken by a man jumping in front of us in the street. He came out of nowhere and I flinched, stopping dead. Suddenly I saw a camera and was blinded by a strong flash.

"Mr and Mrs Anderson," he said excitedly, shoving a voice recorder at us. "What can you tell us about Talon Kenneth? Is it true he'll put on trial for attempted murder?" I choked as soon as I heard Talon's name and 'attempted murder', my mind jolting back to that hotel room, feeling the knife, feeling his nails digging into my neck. I felt my body tip sideways, like I was pushed off balance; nausea swirled in the pit of my naval. My mum gripped my arm and crowded around me, just as my father stepped forward and blocked me from view.

"You have some nerve," he bit out. "You know as well as I do that you cannot harass or take pictures of him. He's under sixteen."

"I'm asking you Mr Anderson, not him," retorted the man without hesitation. "Besides, the whole country knows who he is. That man hunt and releasing his picture saw to that."

"Leave now before I call the police," my dad said, his voice like steel. "You have no legal right!" I heard the man huff.

"Yeah, until his birthday in June," he muttered, then I heard the sound of quick footsteps, signalling he was leaving. The threat of the police had scared him enough to back off.

Seconds passed in silence, my face was buried in my mum's shoulder, my eyes frozen wide. It had been a reporter; a reporter! I couldn't process it. A reporter had just jumped out at us and snapped our picture.

"Jace, it's okay," I heard my mum say, but it sounded really far away. I stepped back from her and stared up at her, my chest feeling like all the muscles had crisscrossed into a tight mesh. I rubbed it, trying to stop it tightening. My mum looked like she wanted to cry.

"He's gone Jace," my dad said, and that hand went to my shoulder again, rubbing soothingly. I was breathing harshly and looked at him, trying to reel it in by getting answers.

"Has this happened before?" I rasped. My dad looked reluctant to me the truth. In the end he just nodded.

"It doesn't matter, they know they aren't allowed," he said, looking angry. "It shouldn't happen in your presence. Those are the rules. That's why there aren't reporters swarming us." He gave my mum a quick smile, before turning me gently and carrying on. "Let's get you to the car. Then we can have a nice drive- you get to pick the music." I nodded, feeling lost and struggling to comprehend what had just happened.

They loaded up the boot with my hospital things, the toothbrush they bought me, the wash bag, the book I didn't get round to reading; just little essentials. I felt funny about sitting backseat, remembering those terrifying car journeys when I was drugged and bound, and how Talon's face flickered orange in the corner of my vision as we drove past the glow of streetlights. So I asked to sit upfront. I didn't say why and I was relieved when they didn't ask. Mum sat in the back seat instead, and soon Dad had put the car in reverse and we were making our way out of the hospital car park. I looked behind at it as we pulled onto the main road, looking at the place I'd been give refuge and watching it slip away.

"So what music?" my Dad prompted me, snapping me out of my morbid thoughts. He pointed to the dashboard and I started searching through the options, finally deciding on Dad's compilation CD of the eighties. I wanted something they'd enjoy to, and at the same something easy for me to listen to. I didn't want anything dark or sad. I wanted to be distracted. Also with the upbeat music maybe we wouldn't talk beyond complaining about Mum's singing. It'd be like we were going for a fun day out; not taking me home back to a life that wasn't mine anymore.

I fell asleep somewhere between Whitney Houston and Bon Jovi, about two hours into the journey. When I woke the music was off and the sky was darkening. I looked to my right and my dad was gently touching my arm.

"We're home," he said, unbuckling my seatbelt to save me struggling with my right hand. I stared at him, feeling my heart throb.

"I don't want to go in," I croaked. I whipped my head around and saw my mum was already at the front door getting her keys ready. That door led to the lounge, the open floor front room where Talon had… My breath shuddered in my body. Dad made his way to my side of the car and gripped my hand.

"It'll be okay," he whispered into my ear, leaning forward and wrapping an arm round my shoulders. "It doesn't look like it used to. But if you want, we can go straight upstairs. Your mum is going to go get a television from that twenty-four hour supermarket. I felt my eyes well up; shame and embarrassment making me bow my head.

"I'm sorry," I said, hot messy tears splashing down my cheeks. "I'm sorry…" He shook me slightly.

"You have nothing to be sorry for," he whispered fiercely, squeezing me. "Come on now, we'll go straight upstairs- one thing at a time." I nodded jerkily and got out the car, and he tucked me under his arm as he led us back to the house, with me still crying. I couldn't stop. I was scared of everything, and it broke me to be scared of the house I'd grown up in. This was my family home, the place I used to feel safe, but now it was Talon's. Everything somehow belonged to him now. He defined and stained all the aspects of my life and now I had to walk back into it.

My mum stroked my face at the doorway, calling me her sweetheart. She wiped away at my constant stream of tears. She looked so damn kind and warm and it just made me cry harder. I was such a mess; my emotions were whirling sporadically in nonsensical ways inside of me, conflicted, lost and terrified. It was a relief to not be in pain, and be with my parents, but then I couldn't see how they could still love me, how we would ever be the same people. What if everyone tried to go back to normal and make me pretend? I didn't want to make them sad, but I was broken, but I knew they saw me as something they could fix, logical schemes filling their heads up with hope. God, I was lucky they even stuck by me, but I couldn't stop thinking about how they felt. I was exhausted.

I didn't want to look at it, the room where the true horror had begun, but I couldn't help it. I looked for him, looked to see if the scene would still be playing over and over, like the room was haunted… But the lounge looked nothing like how it did. The familiar three piece suite was gone, and a new corner set and two-seater took its place, but it was rearranged, the TV set was in a different place. The whole layout had been switched around making it look much different. The carpet was new, the curtains were new, everything was changed and I could smell fresh paint.

"I had my friend Jim do some redecorating," my dad said softly, his arm still securing me next to his side. I nodded numbly.

"It looks so different," I said. We walked further in and I saw new lamps replacing the ones Talon and I had smashed. They'd replaced them with several free standing tall ones, and they lit up the corners, not allowing any shadows in. It used to be a very cosy front room, with knickknacks and stuff everywhere, but now it was open, airy and light, modern and so very different. They had even taken down some of their wall art, like they had removed anything I would have seen during the event. No, it didn't erase what had happened, but it helped. It helped me stand in the family room without everything screaming in my face. I was stunned, and shaken, touched beyond words.

"You didn't have to…" I stuttered out. Dad chuckled.

"Let's go to your room shall we?" he said, sounding pleased. My mum gave me a watery smile and then we were trudging upstairs.

My bed was made, and the mess of clothes and books on the floor had been tidied up, but other than that it was the same. I was silent as I walked in, looking around feeling nothing, my parents behind me watching. I glanced at my music posters: The Who, AC/DC, Passion Pit, Sigur Ros, Blink 182. Then there was my collage of photos of Ben, Hugh and I, showing happy grins and silly antics. My shelf of figurines above my desk was still pristine and orderly, with Optimus Prime centre and upfront, and on my desk were some of my school exercise books and the subscription glasses I barely used. It was my bedroom, my personality and likes splashed in front of me, years of bits and bobs, even the small lion teddy I'd had since I was about two was sat on my window shelf, missing its eye and looking out onto the back garden, guarding the room. It was mine, yet somehow, it felt like looking into someone else's room.

"I'm going to get that omelette mix ready while your mum goes buy the tele," announced my Dad, breaking the silence. I turned to him, hollow and tired. The whole day had sucked the little energy I'd had and then some. I nodded at them both and sank down slowly to perch at the end of my bed, the muscles in my thighs feeling numb. I felt them both hovering in the doorway, undecided if they should leave me alone or not, but then I think they thought it best that I had a moment to myself to process. After they were gone my whole body sagged. My fists open, revealing nail marks on my palms. I stared down at them and breathed deeply, shaking slightly, and wondered if this was going to be a permanent thing, the shaking. Then I heard Mum leave for the shop.

I could hear Dad clanking and getting started downstairs as I got up to look at my figurines. They were a bit mismatched, with characters from multiple comics or cartoons. I'd been amassing them since I was about five, starting with Batman, then the X-Men, then Marvel heroes, then anime models and it just carried on. I used to save my pocket money up for them. It was childish keeping them, but I hadn't care, they'd been my best toys growing up, and what they represented had meant a lot to me. I got up, my thighs trembling, and went over to them. I wanted to look at them; maybe I'd feel more like myself, more at home. So I stood in front of the shelf and let my eyes pass over them, my mind flipping back through years of memories, back to what I'd admired about my heroes, back when I wanted to make a difference in the world and believed that good would triumph…

I was stupid, a dumb weak little child. I had been naïve and stupid and so clueless. I'd always looked for the good in people. I was the nice guy, I let people walk all over me and push me around. Looking at my childhood heroes reminded me of how idealistic I was, how easily manipulated, how vulnerable… If I hadn't been so stupid, maybe I would have told my parents about Talon, if I hadn't been so worried about May's feelings, maybe I would have happily broken her fantasy romance with Talon up and saved myself. But no, I was a good-hearted stupid child, weak and pathetic. If I hadn't been that way, none of it would have happened, and standing before me in neat little rows were the reminders of everything that had been wrong with me. I didn't know how I had enough energy left to be angry, but it was burning my veins, my arms itching to lash out.

I bared my teeth and swept my left arm over the shelf, crying out in frustration. I hated myself. I hated what I'd become, hated what I'd let happen. It was going in circles around my head, that it was my own fault, that I'd let him come in and destroy everything and now here I was, in my old room with everything screaming at me how childish I was. My figurines fell and scattered across the carpet and I started crushing them, snapping off arms and legs, mauling their little swords and masks, blinded by my own angry tears. I wanted to break everything, break it like how he'd broken me and my family.

"Jace, what are you doing?" I heard my dad yell and I turned to see him in my doorway. I heaved a breath that felt like hot air in my lungs, and kicked again at the stupid things at my feet.

"I'm a fucking idiot," I shouted at him, baring my teeth and probably looking deranged. "How stupid can you get! Thinking like I did- thinking being nice would make a difference. Where did it get me? I let him in here and let him… I. let. him!" I turned away from my dad's wide eyes, and rushed over to the wall, kicking it, pushing my forehead against it.

"It's my fault," I said, my voice losing its edge, I weakly thumped the wall. "I was so dumb and pathetic… I just let him waltz in and fuck with everything and now it's all ruined."

"Sshh," my dad hushed me, coming over and tentatively putting a hand on my back. "That's not true," he continued. "We're still here. We still love you."

"I thought it would stop- thought things would change," I rambled, kicking the skirting board. "I hoped and prayed like a little kid because that was what I was. A stupid, worthless-"

"You stop that right now," my dad ordered and I turned to look at him.

"Then what was I?" I asked him, starting to sob again. Just how many times I was going to cry, I did not know. The tears kept coming, no matter what emotion possessed me, my body decided tears was the way to solve it. I glared at my dad, daring him to deny my words. "W-what was I, huh? What then? If not stupid, gullible, childish, weak, what was I?"

"You were innocent," he said, and he reached forward and clasped my face in both his hands. "That's all. You didn't know what he'd do, because you'd never encountered it. You were innocent and kind."

"I was weak," I insisted, looking down. He gently moved my head up, catching my tears in his hands.

"The word is innocent," he repeated. "Innocent about he wanted, innocent about what to do… Just innocent." I finally met his eyes, and pulled my face away, wiping at it roughly.

"I don't want to look at this stuff," I whispered. "I hate it. I hate myself." My dad watched me for a few silent seconds, before sighing sadly. He nodded, seeming to get what I was feeling but not really having any words.

"Come on then, come into our room and just lie down," he said. He grabbed some of my pillows and guided me down the hallway, past May's door, which I avoided looking at. "Your mum and I were planning for you to stay with us for the first few nights back anyway. Want to keep an eye on you."

"I don't need-" I began to protest, but my dad turned and gave me a stern look.

"Maybe we need to," he said pointedly. "Just for a few nights while we settle back in." I followed him into the master bedroom, where mum's soft touches were everywhere, with warm creams and pastel colours and gold linings. There, by their double bed was a single mattress, placed by the window by the radiator.

"Are you sure this is-" I started, but my dad cut me off again.

"Go have a lie down on our bed. Your mum and I will bring that salmon and spinach omelette up soon okay," he said, rubbing my back. He smiled and left me alone. I wasn't sure what to make of this new behaviour. It did feel nice in a weird way. He was taking control, acting like he knew what he was doing. I didn't know what I was doing or how to feel… I was lost. Maybe I did need him to tell me what to do, just until I could think a little more rationally. Everything was setting me off like it was saturated in petrol and every little thing was a tiny flame that set it ablaze. So I obeyed. I laid my head down on their pillows and breathed in their scents, breathed in Mum's perfume and Dad's deodorant, trying to let it calm me. I twisted onto my side and grabbed a pillow and squeezed it tightly to my chest. I lay for a few minutes, staring at their walls, at Mum's dressing table, before I let out a deep breath and wept. I buried my head into my pillow and smothered by crying, hiding my face, wishing I could go down and down into darkness, anything so I didn't have to feel the throbbing, gaping abyss I could feel gnawing at my chest.

Thanks for reading. I'm hoping to start the next section tomorrow. Again, this might need an edit, but right now I'm trying to get the content out before my muse decides to nose dive again.

Dinosaur: Yes, back with a bang! See, another chapter already! I thought I'd find it a lot harder getting back into it. Thanks for not losing faith and yes, I did indeed kick cancer's butt to the curb. No sign for a while now! :) Haha I hope I rock the MA too. Putting enough of my savings into it! Cheers for being so understanding.

Thank you to all those who read, review, favourite and story alert Nothingness. It means so much to me that there are people still reading it.