Forging New Paths

CanaryCry

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"Hot chocolate." Luca answered a bit absently as he got down to play with Watson, wanting to share the drink that Garrett always had. After a beat, he added a soft "please" that made Evelyn smile. Manners weren’t automatic for him, but they were working hard at it together.

Evelyn ushered him into the kitchen when Garret called, only humming a soft agreement about it being a nice day as she got a box of tea out to start it steeping, but glanced back at him in surprise at the rest of his inquiry. It wasn’t, truly, that she disliked hugs or other physical contact, only that she was very cautious about who she allowed how much of her own space. Luca was an exception, unthreatening in that she risked no sorts of attraction from him, romantic or otherwise, and that he was always very obviously slow enough during the times he instigated physical touch that she could say no if she felt like it. She wasn’t quite sure how to explain the difference without hurting Garrett's feelings, or implying that she was attracted to him, which was something she really hadn’t given much thought to in the first place.

"I think you do plenty," she said softly instead, watching as Luca accepted his mug with a little 'thank you' and held it carefully in his hands to feel some of the heat without getting burned. "You are, perhaps a bit clumsy at it sometimes," and she offered a small smile for him at that, to soften the blow, "but it's clear that you’re always trying."

She should have asked in return how to show she cared, but despite knowing the importance of communicating one's feelings out loud she had lived a long time keeping all of hers close to her chest, and the words died on her tongue before she could think much about speaking them.

"Luca?" She prodded after a moment, speaking gently but encouragingly to him. "You don’t mind hugs from Garrett when we're at home, or at his place, right?"

He looked back at her, clearly considering what words to use, and finally gave an almost timid little nod. "It’s safe here. . ." It was okay for his Shadow to go away when they were safe at home and nothing bad could happen. It was just hard for him to decipher the way that he wanted someone safe to hold him so badly sometimes, and harder to put it into words even just in his own head.
 

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Garrett was absolutely delighted by the way Luca requested his drink, even before the please. There was no hesitation. It wasn't phrased like a question. And Luca seemed sure of his answer.

Then Evelyn's soft tone caught his attention, and his gaze traveled over to her, a shy smile lighting up his face when he finally met her eyes. "Uh, thanks. I think," he replied with a chuckle. "I'll still make sure to ask first before I give hugs. But I want you both to know you don't even have to ask me for a hug. Just come up and give me one, any time."

He finished mixing his own cocoa with a spoon and gingerly set the utensil in the sink to wash it. "Anyway, you two have energy for anything else before we start getting ready for bed?"
 

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Evelyn met Garrett's smile with an almost similarly uncertain one of her own, unused to discussing feelings with each other that had nothing to do with Luca, or what they could do for him. It felt strange to her, new still, but she found she was getting used to it. It was both reassuring and worrisome at the same time, and she’d been so focused on Luca since he'd arrived in their lives she hadn’t had time to sort through any of her own thoughts about it. Later, she always thought. She would figure it out later.

When Luca had his hot chocolate in hand, she ushered him back towards the kitchen table, lingering for just a moment with Garrett while her tea steeped. "We could play another round, if you’d like." She said, thoughtful but hesitant, eyes drifting away from his for a moment before coming back. "I’ll have that list ready for you tonight. . . I can wait to send it to you until you’re home." Alone, it implied. If she was going to hand him a written account of each horrible thing their precious young friend had endured, she had a feeling he wouldn’t want anyone around when he read it. If he was still here, she had a feeling Garrett would simply hold on to Luca and never let go.
 

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"Ah. Right. The list," Garrett replied, rubbing the back of his neck. He'd forgotten all about it, up until now. "Tell you what. After we go to the carnival tomorrow, I'll have some work I need to do at the office. Why don't you send it to me then?" he offered.

Then he'd at least have Anthony to hug, without fear of accidentally turning off anyone's powers.

He carried his mug to the table and sat down with a smile. "But I'd be more than happy to play another round of Sorry with you all. Maybe I'll win this round, huh?" he added. "And Luca, if it's all right - I'd love to see your night light in action. I bet it looks really cool."
 

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In an attempt not to ruin Garrett's night, Evelyn only nodded and let the unpleasant topic fall away as if it had never been brought up.

"Will it be done that fast?" She asked instead, switching gears as best she could and with an honest surprise in her voice as they made their way towards the table. She’d thought it would take Anthony more time.

Luca nodded a little, holding his mug but not attempting to drink yet, since he’d learned his lesson with hot drinks and burning his tongue multiple times already. "Okay," he said, with a faint smile at the thought of his nightlight. "The stars are wrong . . . but it’s pretty." He liked watching the lights move across the ceiling, slow enough to be soothing rather than overstimulating. Even if they didn’t look like real constellations, it was still nice to look at.
 

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Garrett cleared his throat and smiled sheepishly. ". . . He's had a lot of spare time on his hands. I think the roller coaster is the only thing he hasn't finished. But we can check it out a different day if tomorrow doesn't work - I'm more than happy to keep it up in the office until then." He didn't want to push the pair into another large activity before they were ready. Especially Luca.

He tilted his head a bit, nodding. "Oh. Were you looking for a more realistic one?" he asked gently. "I'd be more than happy to find another one to exchange with the one you have. I bet they have a similar style with accurate stars, if you're interested."
 

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"Tomorrow should be fine, I think." Evelyn said as she retrieved the game piece Watson had been playing with before. "We may take a small break, though, after that." It was possible Luca would be completely fine with filling his days with activity, but she didn’t want to overwhelm him.

Luca blinked, expression gone quizzical and then a little upset at the idea that Garrett thought he didn’t like his gift, eyes falling down to his own hands and refusing to rise. "No . . ." He said anxiously, voice gone quiet. "I like it. . ." Did he have to give it back? He liked his light, and he didn’t mind that the star charts weren't accurate, it was just something he had noticed. Was it wrong to say it?

Evelyn settled in with her tea and for the moment was quiet, glancing sidelong at Garrett to see what he would do. She would straighten out the misunderstanding if she needed to, but it was better, she thought, for them to learn how to communicate together on their own. It wasn’t always easy with Luca.
 

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"Understandable," Garrett replied with a light chuckle. Things had been pretty hectic for several days, and it was good to rest. Maybe Garrett would go to his apartment the next day to air it out and make sure it was organized.

But his smile faded a bit when Luca seemed upset by the next question. "I'm glad you like it! It's no trouble to exchange it, of course. But we don't have to exchange it. You're more than welcome to keep it," he tried to explain. "Does that make sense?"

Watson made his way over, rubbing against Luca's legs to try and comfort him. Then he hopped up onto the boy's lap and curled into a loaf, purring and closing his eyes. No humans would be sad on his watch.
 

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Luca wouldn’t look up from his hands, but he shook his head at the idea of returning it, not wanting it to be taken from him or for anyone to think he disliked it. He only moved more than his head when Watson jumped up into his lap, sinking the fingers of one hand gently into the cat's fur as if to soothe himself. He didn’t understand what he’d done wrong, or if he’d done something wrong, and he didn’t want to make it worse by saying he didn’t understand and making anyone upset.

"It’s all right, Luca," Evelyn said gently, reaching across the table at a slow, unthreatening pace to rest just her fingertips lightly over the back of his hand, asking for his attention but not demanding it. He could hear the patient smile in her voice, like all the times she had to teach him the things he didn’t understand, even if he didn’t look up. "No one is going to take your light away if you don’t want them to. Garrett just wants you to be happy, so he was making sure you liked it. Sometimes other people need your words to tell them how you feel, just like you need theirs. Right, Garrett?"

It made sense, didn’t it? Luca wanted it to. He found it hard to tell what someone meant, quite often. As long as they weren't angry with him or otherwise very obviously broadcasting their emotions, it was hard for him to decide what their words meant. He was still getting used to the idea that most of the words spoken to him now usually meant good things, not bad.
 

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Garrett nodded and stayed patiently in his chair. "That's right," he replied. "And on top of that - Luca, the only time I would ever take something from you is if I had your permission, or if it was going to cause you harm. That light is yours now. You get to decide what happens with it," he explained gently.

Watson purred louder. He reached up to give Luca's hand a few gentle licks. He could tell the boy was still upset, and he was determined to help him feel better.

"It's sort of like . . . Luca, remember at my apartment office, when I showed you which things you could touch and which things you couldn't?" Garrett continued. "It's like that here. But you get to tell us which of your things we can touch and which things we can't. Does that make sense?"
 

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It took a lot of thinking to get through the worry, and it was only a skill he had really been able to work on recently. Everyone was talking softly, not getting angry, or trying to take his things, or making him go to his room and shut the door. Garrett had never been very possessive of his things, or mad if Luca touched them, and Evelyn always asked before she moved his things around, or added to them, or threw anything away. It was okay, having his own things, wasn’t it? Things he was allowed to keep and that he could decide what to do with, and that no one would take from him if he didn’t say the right words or do the right things? It was okay. He was okay.

Luca took a slow breath and let it out in a faint sigh, shoulders relaxing just a little, and he finally gave Watson gentle scratches instead of just resting his hand there. "Okay. . ." He said faintly, managing finally to look at Evelyn and Garrett very briefly, and then back down at Watson. "Sorry. . ."

"You don’t have to be sorry," Evelyn reassured, gently still, and gave his hand a few gentle pats. "Do you feel a little better?" He nodded, though hesitantly. "Good. I’m glad. Do you want to try and play again before we go to bed?" Another nod, and she picked up the cards to shuffle, and when he finally glanced at her she gave him a little wink and smile. "Maybe if you and Garrett team up, you might actually beat me."
 

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"It's all right, Luca," Garrett assured him. "I'm happy we could help a bit. And I'd love to be on your team, if you want to play together!" It wasn't quite how Sorry was supposed to be played, but he was itching to give Luca more chances to build trust and strengthen their bonds. He scooted his chair closer and smiled. "Would you like a hug, Luca?"

He couldn't be sure, of course. But Luca seemed to have worked through the brief period of stress and being upset much faster than before. Little by little, slowly but surely, it seemed like Luca was healing.

And he was sure that once Luca started therapy, things would happen in bigger ways. Both for the better and for the worse. He figured Luca's strides forward would be longer, and more prominent. But he also knew that his panic attacks might also get worse.

He texted Evelyn briefly. Remind me to ask Luca's therapist how we can best prepare to support him once he starts therapy.
 

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Luca only nodded a little when asked to team up, and again a bit more certainly when asked if he wanted a hug, expression gone a bit pinched like he was trying to decide if it was okay to ask, but when Garrett came closer and finally touched him he melted into it readily enough. One hand stayed with Watson, but the other curled tight into the front of Garrett's shirt, and for the moment he was allowed he hid his face against Garrett's shoulder.

Evelyn took out her phone when it buzzed, and only paused to very quietly take a picture before responding. Way ahead of you. She would give them their moment until they were ready to play again.
 

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Garrett had come to realize that in some ways, he was also touch starved. Definitely not as much as Luca. But enough that when Luca accepted his hug, he didn't dare be the first person to pull away. He rocked Luca gently back and forth, his arms around him, and he let Luca rest where he was until the boy was ready to let go. Garrett was prepared to hold him for hours, if he wanted.

Watson just enjoyed the extra warmth. He meowed and calmly began kneading Luca's legs, his tiny paws moving back and forth.

When Garrett's phone buzzed again, he very carefully used one hand to take it out and read the text. He smiled and nodded. Thanks, Evelyn. Just keep me posted.
 

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Evelyn knew that Luca wasn’t going to let go first, not with the way he sunk into Garrett's embrace, the way he relaxed at the gentle rocking. It seemed Garrett wasn’t going to either, so for a long while she let them have their time together, scrolling through her phone and perhaps taking another picture or two when Garrett wasn't looking just to be sure she got at least one good one. As tall and gangly as he was, she couldn’t help thinking Luca looked like a child, trying his hardest to melt into Garrett's chest but still awkward about how to go about it with Watson still in his lap. The way they both obviously didn’t want to let go was as heartbreaking as it was adorable.

Finally, after some time had passed, Evelyn made a point of very loudly shuffling cards and tapping them in the board to straighten them out before setting them in their place. "All right, boys," she said softly, a little smile on her face when Luca peeked out at her. "Let's play, if you still want to. You can sit together somewhere more comfortable before bed, hm?"

It was a difficult balance, giving Luca the affection he had been lacking for so long without overdoing it. Evelyn was sure he would happily stay attached to either of them even in his sleep if she had ever allowed it.
 

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The detective was absolutely thrilled that Luca didn't seem to want to pull away, either. And it didn't seem to be because Luca was afraid to ask for his own space. From the way he pressed against him, Garrett was convinced he actually wanted to be there. Garrett gently ran a hand through Luca's hair and finally glanced up at Evelyn with a warm smile. "Ah. Yes, I suppose we should finish our game before it gets too late."

He patted Luca's shoulder and slowly pulled away. "Why don't we all sit together on the couch afterwards? I could read a story before bed, if you'd both like," he added.

Despite having let go of the hug, he still kept his chair close to Luca's throughout the second game, and he frequently offered the boy high fives whenever they made a good play or got a surprisingly good card.
 

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For once, Luca showed a bit of reluctance in doing as told. Having Garrett hold him was warm, and safe, and reminded him of when he was small and his parents would hold him in their arms. He pressed a little bit closer for just a second or so, as if he wouldn’t let go, then carefully sat back into his own chair again and gave Watson a few gentle pets to thank him for sitting in his lap.

Playing games was still something new to him, or at least something old that hadn’t quite come back, but being able to sit with everyone and hear their voices, to engage in something with them that wasn’t too complicated, was the happiest he’d felt in a long time. He knew Garrett would have to go home eventually, and couldn’t always sleep over like he had been lately, but he wanted them to be together forever.

When the game had ended, Evelyn having very carefully made a couple of bad strategic choices to ensure Garrett and Luca's joint victory, she laid down her last remaining piece in defeat and gave them a little smile. "Well earned, boys." She said with a little laugh. "You've beat me. Why don’t you go pick out a book and settle in, and I’ll get this cleaned up, hm?" It would give Luca the extra snuggle time he wanted, and give her a moment to be sure her kitchen was straightened up in the meantime.
 

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Of course, being a detective, Garrett could tell right away what Evelyn was up to. He gave her several grateful smiles throughout the game. And when he and Luca eventually won, he stretched a hand out across the table to offer Evelyn a shake. "Good game, Evelyn. You were an excellent opponent."

Then he stood up and stretched, cracking his back a bit before ambling off towards the living room. "Well, Luca. Should we go pick a story and get settled on the couch?" he offered.

Watson hopped off Luca's lap and headed off after Garrett, heading the word "couch." He certainly wasn't going to let himself be left out of snuggle times.

He meowed and followed along while Garrett picked out two different books. "All right. Which of these would you like, Luca?" he asked, holding the books out.
 

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Evelyn was mock serious when she reached over and gave Garrett's hand a firm shake, giving them a little nod like they’d just come to some sort of agreement. "A battle well fought."

She smiled for them after and just set about picking up all the pieces, and once Watson was down Luca followed after Garrett. The story wasn’t extremely important, so he picked one at random, and followed Garrett to the couch to settle in close enough to see the book though he didn’t go so far as to assume it was okay to touch again. He just liked to listen to Garrett's voice, and to spend time knowing he and Evelyn were close by, and when Watson was back in his lap again he liked to run his fingers through the cat's fur. Even if they didn’t watch the stars every night, or didn’t go out every day, he just liked to be together.
 

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"Indeed," Garrett replied to Evelyn, smiling warmly.

He slowly but surely came to realize that for Luca, he'd probably have to consistently offer contact first until the boy felt more comfortable asking for it. But he knew from the earlier hug he'd probably say yes a lot. So once the pair had picked out a book to read, he sank down onto the couch and held out one arm with a smile. "C'mere. You can lean on me while we read, if you want."

Watson was already on the scene. Moments after the pair settled in, he leapt up and made himself at home on Luca's lap again. There he curled up, purring and closing his eyes. Luca seemed happy and relaxed again. Just the way Watson liked.