Dr. Hale cleared his throat and bluntly ordered, "Young Malone, don't laugh with a hole in your body."

Hatch cracked, "What about you? You had an earring last time I saw you."

"That's different, Mr. Malone. If you four would leave for the Malones and I to be alone so I can examine the hole, it'd be spectacular."

Midge asked, "Can I—"

Dr. Hale curtly grunted, "No. You get to wait out there with Mr. and Mrs. Callifster and Young Callifster. If you would excuse us?" Midge sighed and readjusted his hat before nodding at Hatch and leaving the room. Dr. Hale said, "Young Malone, please remove your shirt and lay down on the sofa after I put this sheet down. Hatch got up and went to lift his shirt up, but cringed, made a little pained noise, and dropped it before tightly wrapping his arms around himself. "Just as I thought. Well, no matter the pain, you're going to have to remove your shirt one way or another."

Stanley muttered, "Just cut the damn thing off. It's not even worth the scissors it'll be cut with." Hatch looked down at his volunteering shirt.

"Aw. I like this shirt. It's the first time I did something for someone else and—"

"Hatchet." Stanley coolly stared at Hatch. "The only things Malones do for others is keep their money."

Hatch snorted, "And take it." Stanley frowned, completely unamused, and shook his head. Hatch bit his bottom lip and pulled it off quickly, dropped the shirt on the ground, and wrapped his arms even tighter around himself than before. Stanley quickly looked concerned. Dr. Hale shook his head and set his check up bag on the table. He snapped and pointed to the water resistant sheet on the couch. Hatch didn't hesitate to sit down to keep his core from contracting.

Dr. Hale sighed, "I told you to lay down."

Hatch got out, "I can't. It hurts too much—ow!" Dr. Hale pushed Hatch down on the couch. Hatch groaned as Stanley picked up Hatch's legs and pulled him up onto the sofas. Dr. Hale opened a little bottle and dumped out two white tablets.

He asked, "Mr. Malone, would you be so kind as to get a glass of water?" Stanley nodded and returned quickly with it. Hatch propped up on his elbows and swallowed down the pills. "Those are just some generic pain relievers so I can do what I need to." Dr. Hale unraveled Hatch's bandages before making Hatch lie flat on his back. Dr. Hale sighed, "It's actually a very good job, but there is still quite a bit of damaged tissue that wasn't cut out. It'll help if all of this scraped up tissue is removed. Has that medicine kicked in quite yet?" Hatch groaned and giggled a little as Hale tapped the whole briefly. "I'll take that as a yes. Mr. Malone, could you leave us be? Unless you want to watch me cut up the inside of your son, that is." Stanley nodded and quickly left the room. Hale tied a mask on his face and cleaned off all his tools with a sterile wipe before sighing, pulling his gloves, sterilizing again, and putting his scalpel in the hole. Midge glanced back as Hale came out of the sitting room. "He should be fine now. I'm sure there's a physician where you two live, yes?"

Midge answered, "Yeah. His name's Douglas Hensworth?"

"Hensworth? Was he a nurse at Dawning Hospital in Warberster?"

"Yeah. Warberster Continent, right?" Hale nodded. "That'd be him. Why?"

"Nothing really. I studied under him for college. Would you kindly tell him that Hale says hello and wishes him the best?"

"Sure will. So how's Hatch?"

"He'll be asleep for a while, but he'll be fine. Fill this prescription for painkillers. The ones you two bought from the gas station aren't anywhere close to being powerful enough for that wound. Did you two not receive a prescription from the hospital?"

"We did, but hell, I can't afford it and neither can Hatch."

Stanley muttered, "If you'd called me, I would've gladly filled it for my boy. May I check on him?"

Hale smiled for the first time and answered, "Of course, Mr. Malone. I'm sorry Mr.…Midgeway, was it? But you two will have to stay a couple days until I'm willing to let the little one up on his feet. So, shall we put him to bed?" Stanley nodded and went into the sitting room. Midge was surprised when he saw Stanley carrying Hatch upstairs. Hatch snuggled into Stanley's chest.

Hatch mumbled, "Sorry Dad."

Stanley gently said, "Don't do it again, Hatchet." Midge just smiled and took off his hat. He thanked Hale and Hale left promptly. Stanley came back downstairs and smoothed out his blazer. He looked around and asked, "John, where did the others go?"

Midge shrugged and answered, "Something about a convention in Paris."

"Oh yes! That's right. They had that show tonight, didn't they? Can I ask how my son was shot?"

"I think you just did." Midge snorted at his joke, but Stanley just looked at him and sighed. "Right, well we were on a job—"

"One of your ghost hunting things, right?"

"Yeah. Riu and Ang, some of our good friends who we work with—"

"Are they safe?"

"Are you gonna keep interrupting me? And yeah, it's fine for Hatch to be around them. Anyway, Ang shot him—"

"You just said it was safe!"

"It's complicated. Ang's an angel of some sort of another and because this kid had a contract, Ang had to make sure the kid didn't get trapped in it again, so he had to kill Hatch to let Mud have his freedom. So then what happened was Hatch died, his girlfriend in Death's realm brought him back, and now he's here."

"His girlfriend?"

"Yeah. Her name's Nex and she's Death's kid, so don't piss her off."

"When on earth did he start having any interest in girls? When he was living here, he never showed any expression and didn't want to be around anyone. I say, he's making friends and getting kisses more than I thought for physically possible for him."

"I trained him to translate his tendencies into emotions. It took a little bit to get him where he is now and he still blacks out, but it's nothing we can't handle."

"Really? That's—thank you, John. Maybe I was wrong about you."

"Ditto. I thought you were a cold hearted guy who just wanted Hatch to wear a tie and take people's money."

"I am a father, John. I've had three girls. I promise I'm not a—a spider of any sort. My wife did fall in love with me for a reason."

"I wasn't sure if it was arranged or something."

"Not at all. Quite the contrary, actually. She was from a dirt-poor family that lived up north because they couldn't afford to live anywhere else. She ran away when she was around Hatch's age and we met only because she was a hired as a meeting attendant to a finance convention."

"I never woulda guessed it."

"Me neither. I loved her so much." Stanley drew in a shaky breath. "How did Hatch take the news? He wasn't around for it."

"Yeah, I know. I'm sorry about that. He wouldn't leave me alone with stitches in my chest. I got stabbed in the heart and thanks to him I'm standing in front of you today. He was a little out of it for a while, but she came and visited him a few times. He didn't recognize her at first."

"She didn't look like herself. We tried everything for her, but all it did was speed up her death. She hated the way she looked before she died."

"She's still the prettiest gal I'd ever seen except for my wife."

"You're married?"

"Was. I was married. We got divorced a long time ago."

"How old are you? The background check—"

"Background check?"

"I have to protect my son, John. It said you were only in your 30s."

"Actually, I just turned 33 a couple months ago. We got married while I was in the academy and then we had a little girl right before I started doing this. My little girl had leukemia, I mean it's gone now, but she had it and I wasn't around. Trace said I wasn't around anymore and it's the truth. I rarely came home and when I was home, I just slept and ate. Trace left with Carla and I think she got a boyfriend a couple years ago. I'm not sure if she's still in that relationship or not. We don't talk." Stanley gave Midge a sad look as Midge fiddled with his fingers and played with the brim of his hat.

"You've got quite a bite to learn, Midge." Midge glanced up and smiled. "Keep up with your relationships and try to understand each other. Look at Hatchet and I. There's such a gap between us because I could never connect with him the way my stepfather and I did. My biological father and I never got along. He always stared at me and contemplated all the ways to break my neck. He and Hatchet are so alike, but Hatchet keeps himself in check. Did Hatchet ever tell you how his grandfather died?" Midge shook his head. "He was put on death row for the attempted and nearly successful murder of my stepfather and mother. He paid bail though from his days in the Malone family and came back for Hatchet. He wanted to raise Hatchet, but I couldn't let him do it. I never wanted my son to be a murderer of any sort. I had to make sure Hatchet wouldn't be put on death row. I'm not sure if I could live if my little Hatchet died." Stanley sniffled.

"Hey, Stan—"

"I'm sorry. It's been so hard to be nice like I used to be since Jenny died. Then my lovely Janice went and Hatchet had run away—I had no one to talk to. Evan didn't like me. He thought I was a monster, keeping Hatchet locked up inside all the time. I just didn't want to risk Hatchet hurting anyone. He always hated the neighbors' dog and their home is within walking distance. Can you imagine what would happen to my family if Hatchet had done something stupid?"

"Well your name would be ruined, right?"

"Yes, there's that, but his sisters would be scared of him and they love him now because I was able to keep him from doing anything bad. Jenny was like Hatchet. The two got along and they started to kill mice together. I loved Jenny, but she tried to kill Hatchet when she was alive and even after she died. I'm scared Hatchet will be like that eventually." Midge sighed and ran his hand through his hair.

Midge thought out loud, "I don't think he'll ever be like that. Hatch was scared of Jenny when I first met him. He was trying to keep you all safe by not ratting her out."

"He has a funny perception of protection. He told me that if anyone broke in to kill us, he'd probably kill us first to keep us safe from the intruder before killing the intruder."

"What about his own well-being?"

"I stopped him and told him not to do it. That's where we disconnected. He understands right and wrong, but under different terms. Situational murder is okay with him, but if you kill somebody because they're holding a knife, that's wrong."

"You raised a good kid, Mr. Malone."

"You think so?"

"I know so. I'm sorry about being so judgmental towards you."

Stanley smiled and coughed, "Ditto. Care to join me for a…a smoke, I suppose?" Midge nodded and held out his lighter before following Stanley to the back porch. They sat outside for about an hour smoking and talking about their lives before anything had been determined for them. They stopped in a content silence after laughing. Stanley finally sighed, "I used to be like Hatchet. I read fiction and I hated having to play old guys' music on the piano. Finances grow on you after a while. Hatchet will learn that eventually if he takes over. I just wish he'd give it a chance like I did and if he doesn't want to do it after a year he can do whatever he pleases. Will you just take some of the books with and have him read them? That'd be greatly appreciated."

"I'll try. He'll probably say that I'm getting soft around you."

"Even if he doesn't act like it, he does love me."

"I know. He tries not to let it show, but I'm a former cop. I can tell when he's hiding it. I noticed when he said he didn't want to call you that he just didn't want to call so he didn't worry you. He's pretty loving for a sociopath."

"Like I said, he knows what to do, but he has to do it under circumstances he can understand." Midge nodded and put his hat back. "Well then, shall we see if the little stinker is up, John?"

"Hey, you can call me Midge, Stan."

"It's Stanley, Midge. No Stan for me."

"Will do. Let's head on up and check in on him." Midge and Stanley went upstairs to Hatch's room. Hatch's room had been left alone since he left and was disorganized with books and sheet music scattered about. His desk was messy and there was a near empty wastebasket on one side of it. The laptop on the desk was plugged in to charge and off. The room was dark red with off white carpeting. Hatch's bed was a full sized bed with dark wood posts and a light red fluffy comforter. Hatch was asleep with his head on the mattress while snuggling his pillow and burrowed into the blanket and sheet. Blinds had darkened the large window on the wall against Hatch's bed and the room was dimly lit with what light was coming in. Stanley smiled warmly and sat on the edge of Hatch's bed, stroking his son's hair caringly. Hatch groaned a little and woke up.

Stanley softly asked, "How do you feel?"

Hatch stretched and answered, "Not in pain. It's nice."

"Okay. You and Midge are staying here for a few days, alright?" Hatch nodded and closed his eyes again. "Are you still tired?"

"Not really. What time is it?" Hatch's stomach rumbled.

"It's getting a little late. Are you hungry?" Hatch nodded again. "Alright. Why don't you and Midge get cleaned up and I'll tell Sara what to cook. I may have to show her how to make your favorite again since you haven't been home."

"Okay." Midge just looked at Stanley.

Midge asked, "You can cook?" Hatch, sitting up on his elbows, joined Stanley in giving Midge a weird look. "What?"

Hatch grunted, "We own vineyards internationally. Mom and Dad put together the menus together and cooked everything on it to show the chefs how to do it."

Midge turned red and stammered, "I, uh, I didn't know, um, that." Hatch sighed and pushed himself up the rest of the way. He showed Midge to the guestroom and the large master bath in the guestroom. Hatch went back to his own bathroom and showered before changing the bandage and getting dressed in a light blue button down and tucking it into his jeans. He found a clean button down and trousers for Midge and took their dirty clothes to the laundry. When the two came downstairs, Sara, the cook, was setting out dishes on the table. Hatch smiled at her and took a seat across the table from Stanley. Midge put his napkin on his lap like Stanley and Hatch and smiled nervously since he was completely out of his element. Sara served them each some food and left them.

Stanley said to Hatch, "I've been informed that you've gotten a girlfriend, Hatchet." Hatch coughed a little on his fish.

"Y-yeah. Her name is Nex. Why?" Stanley shrugged. "Don't tell me I'm still engaged."

"Hatchet, you've been engaged since you were three. I thought you liked Isabella? You two have spent a lot of time together. You've only seen each other once since you left. She misses you."

"Actually, I saw her at a gas station like two weeks ago. She seemed really grossed out by it and I almost said hi, but Nex was with us."

"As soon as you're done dallying around with this ghost hunting gig, you can come home and we'll set up a day for you and Isabella. What about a visit for the two of you to the vineyard in Orangemer? I'm sure she'd like that."

"What's your problem with this exorcism thing?"

"I don't have a problem with it, Hatchet. I'm just saying that it's not sensible."

"What's not sensible is that you expect me to be your little clone. I don't want to do all this financing stuff, okay? I'm not good at it!"

"That's not true. You're fantastic at it! Why won't you give it a chance?"

"I put 14 years of my life into it! Why won't you give this a chance?"

"Because none of it exists! At the end of the day, you go to your bed and fall asleep, knowing that you can never take care of everything out there and that it's irrational to change a laugh by it. There are 15 dead people for every living person!"

"Then I'll change 15 lives! You don't do anything but keep lives the same by putting people's money in a jar and burying it in a metal box!"

"I keep their money safe so they can live a good life. You kill things for a living Hatchet! And I've been doing my homework—I know you two aren't generating anything from this job."

"You're generating too much! When you die and leave the business and the assets and all your valued consumers to me, I'll go ahead and shift the focus so we generate more revenue in a different way. We won't receive all of the profits anymore because we'll be automatically filtering however much of the profit for charities and good people with bad lives. We won't take all of it! My kids won't do this sh—"

Stanley curtly barked, "Hatchet Grey-Vladimir Berezin-Malone! You will stop this nonsense at once!" Hatchet glared at Stanley. "I just want what's good for you, but nothing is ever good enough for you. So I'll just do what's good for the business and force you into this job."

Hatch cried, "You can't do that! It's my life!"

"This is my livelihood young man. Your sisters depend on it to put them through school, your mother depended on it so she could see you one last time, but you never came, Evan depends on it to keep him up right now, Evan's team depends on it, and someday you will depend on it. I'm giving you until you're 18 to keep up this cutesy little rebellion act, but on your 18th birthday, if you are not home, I will personally come and get you and I swear, I will slap you silly until you stop acting so spoiled. I believe Mr. Midgeway here agrees with me that you'll need to take it up." Hatch and Stanley both snapped their attention to Midge. Midge stuttered under the pressure.

He shakily said, "Well, Hatch, I, um—I think you should listen to your dad. Lots of living people depend on, well, this business. Just try it and then talk to your dad."

Hatch hit the table and cried, "What the f—"

Stanley shortly interjected, "Watch your language young man. We came to the conclusion earlier that you would try it for a year and if you don't like, you can go back and I'll find someone else."

Hatch growled, "Then I'll hate every second of it. And since when do you two "come to conclusions?" You hate each other!"

"No, we don't, Hatchet. We talked it out in a diplomatic fashion." Hatch glared at Midge. Midge stood to defend himself.

Midge adjusted his hat and asked, "What on earth is that look and why am I getting it?"

Hatch snarled, "Because you two suck! It's great to know that person I've invested the most trust in ever went behind me and betrayed me."

"I didn't betray you, Hatch."

"Uh, yeah, you did! Any time you talk to my dad and come to a "conclusion" about my future without me there that you know I won't like, it's betrayal."

"Well I thought it was a good compromise since you're so indecisive."

"I am not indecisive!" Midge rolled his eyes. "Can we go? I don't wanna be here anymore." Stanley nodded. "Good."

Midge muttered, "Wouldn't wanna keep you unhappy." Hatch shot Midge an incredibly dark look before storming to the car. Stanley gave Midge his number before Midge left.

He explained, "If anything happens. Oh, and these." Stanley gave Midge a transparent orange bottle with the painkillers in it."

"I'll keep you up to date and I'll keep Hatch as safe as I can. Bye Stanley."

"Goodbye Midge." Midge turned and went to the car while pocketing the phone number. Hatch was slouched in his chair. He glared at Midge and immediately turned around.

Midge asked, "Yeesh, kid. Why're you being so mad about this?"

Hatch growled, "I'm about to snap your neck, Midge. And I don't mean figuratively. I'm actually going to take your neck in both hands and crush it."


"Because you're a no good, dirty, lying, conniving, stinky, stupid back stabber!"

Midge snorted, "Says the sociopath."

Hatch screamed, "Shut up!" Midge slammed his feet on the brakes. The car screeched to a stop and Midge caught his breath as his hat fell off.

Midge asked, "What the hell do you think you're doing? I'm trying to drive!" Hatch balled up his hand and punched Midge across the face. Hatch started screaming obscenities and shaking Midge by Midge's shoulders. Midge pushed Hatch off and replaced his hat to its appropriate spot. "What are you doing?"

"I can't—I can't do this!" Hatch started sobbing from frustration and held himself in his seat. Midge took off his hat and gave Hatch a concerned look. Hatch choked, "I can't do it Midge. I can't do it."

"Can't do what?"

"I can't do this anymore—I don't wanna be stuck between Dad and you for the rest of my life because whatever I do, I'll regret it. I'm sorry for—" Hatch let out a wail and held his side.

"Hatch, you're really ugly when you cry."

"Not now, please." Midge wrapped his arms around Hatch and rubbed Hatch's back until Hatch's sobs subsided into Midge's shoulder. Hatch stopped making little choking noises and sniffled before grabbing Midge back.

Midge asked, "Will be alright?"

Hatch whimpered, "I think so. I just can't believe I've only got eight months left. What happens if I don't come back? You won't replace me, will you?"

"Of course not. You're one of a kind, Hatch."

"Really?" Midge nodded. Hatch managed a smile and settled back into his seat. He yawned, "Between the emotional rollercoaster and the gun shot, I'm pretty tired."

"Then get some sleep. We've been through a lot lately." Hatch nodded and closed his eyes. Midge smiled, shook his head, and chuckled, "Teenagers."