I could tell you why I haven't been updating anything, but that would just go into a bunch of stuff I don't want to talk about. Long story short, I've really lost my motivation to write. Reading these days depresses me, because I'm so much worse by comparison, and so, I haven't been wanting to write.

It's taking me all my energy just to write this chapter, but I felt like if I didn't do it, I'd start to hate myself. I re-read the last ten or so chapters, just to refresh my memory, and I'm glad I did.

I actually like this story, though it probably doesn't show.

Chapter 17

The next couple days were tense, even for their aunt, who didn't even know the full story. Toby's friends came to visit a lot, and that should have cheered him up, but it was hard to smile when one of your other friends was lying in a hospital, comatose.

For the first couple days, there had been a lot of reporters who wanted to talk to Toby, Cody, and Tio. They had lots of questions that Toby didn't want to answer, what made you think the librarian had anything to do with it, why were you looking into the murders in the first place, what was the relationship between Jonathan Bell and Hajime Noboru, what is the relationship between you and Hajime Noboru, do you believe Hajime will wake up and so he ignored them. Cody and Tio did too, and after awhile, the reporters got the hint, and had mostly vanished. He knew that would change though, if he ventured outside too long. They were lingering, biding their time.

Jonathan was barely speaking to him, but Toby didn't take it personally. He knew how scared and worried the ghost boy must be. Hajime's life was at risk, even if he hadn't been in a coma that he might not recover from. (This sort of cheery thinking was not making things easier) Mr. Thatcher still hadn't been caught. He was out there somewhere, and for all they knew, he was coming after them. Or going after another boy. Maybe he had gone to a different town, and maybe that spared them, but it didn't spare the hundreds and thousands of other boys in the country that the killer could, and probably would, target. Jonathan was clearly just dedicating most of his time to thinking about all of this.

"I can't believe it." Yuki was saying, six days after they'd rescued Hajime. She, Cory, and Finn had come for another visit, and the four of them, plus Cody and Tio, (and Jonathan) were sitting in the living room. For some reason, she hadn't asked Toby about Jonathan, even though she'd seen him talking to him, and had to be wondering. He had a feeling she knew he wanted some space and time to get himself together right now, and he was thankful. "The entire time I worked with him, he seemed quiet and strange, but I never thought he was capable of this." She looked down at her interlocked fingers, troubled, uneased. Toby would be too, if he found out he'd been that close to a budding serial killer. Technically, he had been, the entire student population had been, but he'd hardly gone into the library, much less spent every day of a school year sitting right next to him.

And even though neither he or Yuki really fit the victim qualification, it was still scary.

And, knowing Yuki, she was probably thinking she could have stopped all this, if only she'd noticed something. It's what he would of thought, (not that he thought it was her fault) if he had been in her shoes.

Hell, he didn't even need to be in her shoes. His shoes were heavy enough. There was so much he'd done wrong. He'd discussed looking for the killer right in front of the killer! And even though he hadn't known, he should have known not to go around talking about that shit. It was common fucking sense. He shouldn't have involved Hajime at all.

"Poor Hajime." Finn said quietly. "He loses his best friend,"

"Who would have been his boyfriend." Yuki interjected.

"Right. And then the maniac goes after him, and now he's in a coma."

If only Finn knew Jonathan was in the room, listening to every word, Toby would have told him not to talk about it, not in front of the other boy. It's not like he need the information expositioned out for him. Toby looked in his direction. He was sitting next to Tio and Cody, who were watching the conversation solemnly. Their eyes met, and Jonathan smiled weakly, for only a couple seconds, before it dropped again and he solemnly looked away.

"He'll be okay." said Toby. It was in reply to what Finn had said, but he made sure to say it while looking at Jonathan. "I know he'll be okay." Jonathan didn't look over to meet his gaze, and Toby saw his bottom lip tremble like he was holding back tears.

"Let's go visit him." It was Cody who spoke next. Toby's young cousin was leaning into Tio openly, no longer afraid to show his affection for the other boy. The others nodded and started to get up. Toby slowly rose too. He hadn't been to visit Hajime yet. Not because he didn't want to. But he hadn't been able to get the image of Hajime's broken body out of his mind. He didn't want to see it again.

But he'd put it off too long already. He'd explained to Jonathan, and Cody, and they understood, but he still knew it was wrong. Or at least, it felt wrong. Hajime was only in this position because of him, anyway. If he'd been smart enough to find the killer sooner, he wouldn't have given in to Hajime and told him the truth, wouldn't have roped him into it.

But he did.

Maybe that was really why he didn't want to go. He didn't want to get there, and look down at the boy, and think, This is all my fault.

Jonathan had already risen and was looking eager to go. Not that the ghost hadn't visited Hajime everyday since his hospitalization. He was usually gone by the time Toby woke up, and didn't return until until after the sun had gone down, except for random intervals throughout the day. And even then Toby got the feeling it was more out of obligation than desire to be there. Or maybe it got hard looking at someone you loved lie still all day.

Probably both.

Toby got into his car, and Yuki rode shotgun. Cody and Tio rode in the backseat, and Cory and Finn each drove their own cars. Yuki had ridden over with one of them, since her parents didn't want her to get a job until she'd graduated. Apparently to keep all her focus on grades. Toby thought it was hilariously stereotypical.

They got to the hospital, and Toby slowly followed behind the ones who knew the way to Hajime's room. Jonathan kept looking back at him, and then slowly came to a stop, waiting until Toby had come up to him before resuming his float.

"He's really not...that bad." He sounded like he wasn't sure if he believed himself.

Toby chose to believe him anyway.

They went up to the fourth floor, then had to go through a couple more halls until they came to a room with the number 24. Cody poked his head in first, checking to see if there were any doctors or nurses, then waved the rest of them through. Toby wasn't sure why there were checking for doctors and nurses, it wasn't like they weren't allowed to be there. Probably Cody just didn't want to interrupt something.

Toby was the last one to go in. (Jonathan was the first, and since he'd been standing next to Toby, this meant that he'd literally passed through all the other teens, making the unaware ones shiver and second, and making Cody look back at Toby for confirmation)

It wasn't as bad as Toby had thought it would be.

But somehow, it was also worse.

Even though it was obvious a hospital would get that all cleaned up, Toby had been picturing Hajime the way he'd last seen him, covered in blood and cuts, and bruises. And while he was still bruised, the cuts didn't look as bad as he'd made them out to be, and of course all the blood had been washed away.

So, in that regards, it wasn't as bad.

But it was so much worse to see all those tubes and cords shoved into different parts of Hajime's body, and know that at this point, they were what was keeping him alive.

He looked away quickly, swallowing a heavy lump of guilt that was rising in his throat.

His eyes went to a chair that had been positioned for visitors to sit in next to the hospital bed. Or maybe it had been moved there. There was a book sitting in the chair currently, open but left words down as it waited for whoever was reading it to come back. There was also snacks in the garbage, so someone other than Jonathan was stopping by.

Hajime's parents were Toby's first, more obvious guess.

But if that were the case, there would be more than one chair, wouldn't there? Unless Hajime's parents were split, or one was dead. He hadn't asked Jonathan much about Hajime's life in the last almost week. He didn't need more knowledge that would only serve to make him feel worse. He didn't want to think about how he was probably putting an innocent mother and father through this torture.

But Jonathan seemed confused by the book too, cocking his head as he floated by it, and over to Hajime's bedside.

"Someone's been here to visit." Yuki pointed out, having spotted the book herself.

"Probably his parents." Cory said, making the same natural assumption Toby had.

"His parents mostly visit at night." Jonathan said, as if Cory could have heard this reply. "They're both really busy during the daytime."

Toby couldn't help but wonder what sorts of parents wouldn't put their jobs aside for a few weeks to watch after their comatose son, but then he realized they probably needed as much money as they could get to pay for all of the sudden hospital bills that might not all get covered by any insurance they might have had. Instead he decided it was good that they were even coming to visit at all, already making them infinitely more supportive than Jonathan's parents had been.

Cody was the first living person to approach Hajime's bed. "I wonder if he can hear us."

Toby wanted to tease his cousin for wondering something so cliche, but really, it was cliche for a reason. He wondered it too.

"I hope not." Finn said, probably the first and only person to say it, and everyone turned to look at him.

"Why not?" asked Cody, not harshly. "Don't you think it might be helpful, to hear our voices? Don't you think that might motivate him to fight harder?"

Finn shrugged. "Maybe. But say he tries and fails, and stays this way forever. How horrible would it be to hear everything around you, and be trapped there, listening, but unable to say a word or move, even just a little?"

Toby had never thought about it that way, and he agreed with a silent nod.

Jonathan didn't seem to have a take on the matter, not looking up from his friend, putting his hand on Hajime's hair. He seemed to be trying to free the strands that had become stuck in the bandages that were wrapped around Hajime's head like a sports bandanna, but all it did was create a small draft that blew that pieces around for a quick few seconds before they settled back where they had originally started.

Toby kept his eyes on the ghost, so the words his friends were saying drifted around outside of his awareness. They didn't seem to be talking to him anyway. Actually, they didn't seem to be talking very much at all. He glanced around quickly. Finn and Cory were talking quietly together, and Yuki seemed to be sharing a laugh with Tio and Cody.

He thought after a few minutes they might start wondering if something was wrong with him, and come over, but they didn't. Either they didn't notice how strange he was acting, standing there silently, unmoving, not saying a word, or they thought he needed some time to himself.

Eventually, Jonathan floated over to him.

"He looks better, Toby."

Was Jonathan saying it to make him feel better? Was Jonathan really trying to comfort him? After everything he'd been through? Still, if anyone knew whether or not Hajime was looking better, it would be Jonathan, and Toby didn't think he'd lie about it, even if it was to try and make him feel better.

"Really?" he said quietly, so as not to alert any of his friends to the conversation. "You're not just saying that, right?"

Jonathan shook his head silently.


Before he said anything else, Toby heard a noise behind him. He turned. Coming in through the door was an African American female doctor, looking down at some papers on a clipboard. She noticed she had company in the room and glanced up. She gave them a sweeping gaze that seemed to scan them, looking particularly unfriendly toward Toby, Finn, and Toby, but suddenly easing up when she saw Tio, Cody, and especially Yuki. Then she smiled, releasing a sigh.

"Sorry, I thought you guys might be here to..." she seemed lost for the words to use next, waving her hands as she tried to summon them. "Heck, I don't know. People can do horrible things. I was afraid you were here tear the room apart, heck, maybe even hurt him worse."

Toby understood then. When she first saw three jocks, she assumed they might be some school bullies there to send some sort of no tolerance message. But seeing Cody and Tio, who had taken one of the only two chairs, and were leaning into each other in an unmistakable manner, and then Yuki, who was herself Japanese, and could have been Hajime's sister, put her at ease.

"It's alright." Toby spoke to someone other than Jonathan for the first time since he'd gotten to the room. "I'm really glad he has such a protective doctor."

She turned to look him in the eyes as she spoke, and he saw recognition dawn in her own eyes. She smiled again, but this time it was tinged with either pity or sadness. She didn't acknowledge it though, turning to see them all. "So, you're his friends." It wasn't really a question so much an opening to talk.

"Yes." Yuki said. "Or, I guess, we're really just classmates."

The doctor, whose name tag read Collier, shook her head. "No other "classmates" have come to visit. Whether you all know it or not, you're friends. At the very least, you are now."

No other students had come to visit? No other friends?

Toby sighed sadly, remembering as he turned his head slightly to eye the ghost next to him.

The only friend Hajime had had was Jonathan.

The only friend Jonathan had had was Hajime.

Doctor Collier moved around Toby, who was still standing immobile in the same spot, and approached Hajime, looking him up and down, and eyeing the equipment around him, writing things down as she did. Toby guessed she was taking down his vitals or something, keeping track of his progress, or lack there of.

"Do you think he's going to wake up?" It was Cody who spoke to the doctor this time, leaning forward hopefully. Tio put a hand on his back, rubbing up and down in a soothing manner.

The doctor finished taking her notes and turned to look at Cody. Toby waited for her to give another one of her smiles, which seemed to be her default answer to them, but her face remained stoic as she replied. "I won't lie to you. Yes, it's possible. But I can't promise you anything."

Jonathan, who had probably been dying to ask this very question, but was unable to ask, whimpered, audible only to Toby.

"Do you think the chances are good?" asked Tio, probably trying to cheer up Cody, who had turned to bury his face in his boyfriend's shoulder after the answer that was both truthful and not entirely bad, but not the optimistic one he'd been hoping for.

"His chances are pretty good, yes." answered Doctor Collier. "His condition is stabilized, and everyday he's getting stronger."

"What happened to him?"

It was Jonathan who had directed this question at the doctor, and since she couldn't hear him, Toby took that as his cue.

"What...happened to him?"

The doctor had to turn a full 360 to look at Toby again, and looked confused. After all, he had been there.

"I don't mean how did he get the injuries." Toby clarified, without Jonathan having to tell him. "I mean...what...happened?" He tried to put into better words the things that he and Jonathan were asking, but he couldn't. She seemed to understand better this time, and bit her lip lightly, glancing down at the papers on her clipboard.

"Are you sure you want to hear this?"

Toby wasn't sure at all, but next to him, Jonathan nodded and looked at him pleadingly.

"I'm sure."

Dr. Collier nodded and looked down at her clipboard, like she was reading something. When she looked back up, her jaw was set in a firmly. "Your friend had three broken ribs." Everyone in the room flinched, and Yuki, he Toby hadn't noticed come closer to him, put a gentle hand on his arm.

"His right arm and three fingers in his right hand are broken." Toby looked at Hajime at this moment, and just noticed for the first time that the unconscious boy's right arm was indeed in a cast. He winced alone this time, and noticed Jonathan doing the same. Hajime was an artist. For an artist, Toby could only imagine there was nothing worse than losing the ability to use your own hand.

"He broke his fingers..." Jonathan said quietly, and Toby could hear the anger bubbling inside him. Even though it was the last thing he wanted to do, and basically the whole reason he didn't want to come, he imagined it, Mr. Thatcher breaking Hajime's fingers, torturing him, Hajime screaming in pain-

"He also suffered, as you can imagine, some blows to the head." Thankfully, the doctor had carried on, giving him a reason to stop picturing all the awful things in his head.

"Is that why he's in a coma?" Cory asked, and the doctor nodded.

"To put it simply, yes."

For a few seconds, she didn't speak again, and Toby thought maybe she was done, and that was all. Not that three broken ribs, fingers, and multiple head injuries were something to scoff at. But then he looked at her, and he saw that she looking down, not wanting to make eye contact with them anymore. There was something more to be said, and whatever it was, she didn't want to have to be the one to tell them.

"She's hiding something." Obviously, Jonathan saw it too.

"What else?" Toby urged, even though he wasn't sure he wanted to know. A grown woman, a doctor, didn't want to have to tell them. It was bad. Something horrible.

She sighed, finally looking back up.

"Are you sure?"

No one else said anything, leaving the decision to Toby, who really, truly, didn't want to hear it. He had a very sick feeling he knew what she was going to say. There was only really one thing a doctor would be so hesitant to tell them.

"Tell me." Jonathan ordered, jaw set. He had to have known too, what she was trying to spare them from knowing.

"He...I need to hear it."

"Your friend...Hajime...he was...there was evidence of..."

What was with the dramatic pauses and tension!? They knew what she was going to say, so she might as well have just gotten it over with.

"He was sexually assaulted."

The air went out of everyone at once, even though they had to all have known what she was leading up to. Jonathan gasped and started to tremble, and as Toby watched, the ghost began to rise up farther off the floor, like he was the hero or villain in a movie about to unleash some power.

Toby closed his eyes, then jammed his fists into his eyes anyway, trying to stop himself from picturing the things he knew he was going to see. "This is all my fault." he whispered. He was trying to tell Jonathan, to admit his guilt to his friend, but he wasn't being loud enough, and he tried again, croaking the words out.

"This is my fault. I'm so sorry."

This time, Jonathan did hear, and he looked over from his vantage point high above them all. He was grinding his teeth, and tears were streaming down his face. For a moment, as he looked at Toby, he looked angry, like he believed it too, but then he suddenly dropped to the floor heavily, hitting it so hard that Hajime's blankets rustled just enough to get Finn, who was standing closest to the bed, to look over.

"No..." he sobbed. "It's mine. It's my fault Toby. It's all my fault. If it wasn't for me, if I didn't exist, he wouldn't have ended up in this situation. It's my fault!" Jonathan screamed, bending at the waist and letting his head fall against the floor. "It's nobody's fault but my own. I was the one who wanted to find my killer. I dragged you into it, and you just wanted somebody to talk to about me. It's mine. My fault."

"No, " Toby said back, as burning tears filled his eyes, taking a step closer, "No, it's-"

"It's my fault." It was neither Toby or Jonathan who had spoken this time, and they both looked over at Cody, who had stood up from his previous spot in Tio's lap. Tears were filling his eyes too, and he sniffled loudly, then let out a noise that sounded like just sadness. "I was the one he went after. I should've...I should've just kept quiet. He wouldn't have killed me in that library. I just should've let him...do whatever...But because I didn't...Jonathan came to rescue me, and...and...and that's how this all got started. It's not your fault Toby. And it isn't Jonathan's either...it's mine."

It was just a room full of blame, but only at themselves, and Toby quickly went to say something, but before he could, Cody ran past him, out into the hall. He tried to grab his cousin, but he got only a lingering gust of wind between his fingers. "Cody!"

Tio was right behind his cousin, and Toby went to follow, but Yuki suddenly caught his jacket in her fist. He looked down at her, and she gave him a wobbling smile. "Give him a minute. Tio will calm him down."

He debated it. He knew he had to tell Cody it wasn't his fault, but the way he was now, his cousin would just keep running from him. He needed to let Tio calm him down first, and then tell him. He gave a small nod, and Yuki leaned against him.

Jonathan was still on the floor, sniffling quietly to himself, and it was the image of his friend there that turned Toby back in the doctor's direction. She had stood silently, letting them feel their feelings, and saying nothing.

"Did he...did Mr. Thatcher...assault any of the other two boys?"

Jonathan gasped quietly and looked over. His focus had been so on Hajime that this thought seemingly hadn't occurred to him.

The two of them waited, breath held.

She shook her head. "Not according to any of the medical records. Hajime was the first one."

"Why?" Finn asked, even though the doctor couldn't have known.

She shrugged. "Maybe he was trying to stop himself. Maybe killing them was the next best thing to what he really wanted to do. I guess he gave up trying."

Hajime had been alone with that man, scared, bleeding, probably crying, as he...forced him down...held him...Toby couldn't think about it, couldn't even think of the right words.

Suddenly, footsteps brought his attention to the doorway.

"Oh, he has other visitors. I'm sorry, I'll just collect my book and go."

Jonathan gasped first, so Toby turned around quickly, instantly recognizing the man who had stepped in, the apparent owner of the book that had been left behind.

"Mr. Bell!" he said in disbelief.

From behind him, he also heard Jonathan.