🧺 —Laundry And Taxes
chapter 6. // (masterlist)
Toby woke up the next morning to a distant sound of something sizzling coming from the kitchen, accompanied by the song of the wildlife outside of his window. It was a cloudy day, the bright blue skies were hidden behind a sheet of gray. On these days, Toby had a particularly difficult time dragging himself out of bed. He didn’t want to talk to anybody, and he didn’t want to do anything. The boys tired, heavy eyes stared up at the ceiling. There was water damage which stained along the edges - it reminded him of the motel room back in Alabama. Toby caught himself toying with the idea of his past again, as if there was a secret to getting back to how everything used to be that was dangling in front of him. It taunted him like a piece of fresh meat to a hungry dog. His body slowly raised to a sitting position on his ragged and torn mattress, as he forced himself out of bed. As he shuffled out of his room, he felt as though there were weights tied to him, dragging him down.
The boy lingered outside of the kitchen, watching Jack as he cooked eggs on the stove. The smell filled the air of the open room, making Toby’s stomach growl as he breathed it in.
“I don’t have any bacon, so I hope you’re fine with only eggs and toast,” Jack spoke, without once looking up from his handiwork cooking slowly on the pan.
“No bacon for breakfast? You’re a freak of nature,” Toby teased back, making his way to the fridge to see what there was to drink. As there was no working power in the cabin, everything was cooled with ice. The way Jack lived was something very familiar to Toby. His small, old, isolated cabin in the woods felt more like home to the boy than when he was in the house he was raised in.
“No bacon. I don’t eat meat.”
“That's ironic,” Toby chuckled to himself, taking out a jug of milk and glancing over to the other. Guilt dripped down Jack's face as thick as tar, it screamed out from his dark brown eyes. It looked as though it was choking him. Toby couldn’t help but stare, before he realized. That guilt, the sickness Jack felt when he ate meat, the fact he couldn’t even bring himself to cook bacon for breakfast, or be around other humans, because of what he had done. All of those things, the guttural remorse, were exactly what made Jack so human, even when he was a monster, and it was everything Toby himself had lacked.
Toby had never felt bad for the things he had done, he never cared about anybody but himself. Nothing mattered to him, not even himself. It was a dog eat dog world, every man for himself. Toby had no intention of letting himself be as weak as to care about such unimportant things. If anything, Jack’s guilt was only a hindrance. It annoyed Toby, almost to the point of rage. ‘Bacon tastes good’, Toby thought to himself, ‘I’m not going to change my diet just because Jack is a pussy’.
Toby poured the milk into a glass, watching Jack finish the last of the eggs. Sunny side up, two slices of toast on the side. No bacon.
“So what? Are you vegetarian now? No meat at all, or just bacon?”
“Yes, I’m sticking to a vegetarian diet now. I can’t bring myself to eat any kinds of meat.”
“I heard human flesh tastes like chicken. Does bacon have the same kick or what?”
Jack ignored the question as he placed the sizzling eggs onto the plate next to him, and handed it to the pestering boy. The man took his own plate and left to eat on the front porch. Toby followed behind him, walking out into the cool open air of autumn. The two sat in silence as they ate their meals. It was a calm, still, sort of silence. Jack was always a quiet man, he never dared to say too much.
“You lucked out with this cabin,” Toby spoke through a full mouth as he gulped down his breakfast. Jack nodded in agreement.
“Back home, yknow in the other world, I had a cabin like this. I uh, I actually shared it with Natalie. Sort of,” The boy rambled to himself, as Jack sat silent looking at Toby, who always seemed to struggle to find the words he wanted to speak.
“Do you miss her?” Jack finally said, after a moment of watching the other pathetically grasp at an excuse to talk about the girl.
“Nat? Why would I miss her? She was a bitch.”
“I thought you two were friends, no?”
“Well, yeah, I guess. That's why we shared a cabin, it was our place to meet up,” Toby smiled to himself as words began to fall from his mouth, “I remember all the times she’d get pissed at me, or I’d get pissed at her, and we’d start going nuts. Throwing things, breaking glass. Man I can’t fucking count how many holes in the wall from my hatchets there were in that cabin. And don’t get me started on all the times she’d storm out, and I’d see her again the next day. Talk about crazy.”
“I’m sure you’ll see her again someday, Toby.”
“I hope not.”
Jack raised an eyebrow at the boy's rejection. He could tell that the girl was important to him, he saw the way his face beamed when he thought about her, he saw the way his body eased away from the tension he always held onto so tightly. The sun had never shone so brightly.
“I mean, don’t get me wrong, she was cool. But it would just be awkward, and I don’t think she wants anything to do with me.”
“I don’t know man. I guess it’s like… She spent so long trying to get away from me. It felt like every time I saw her, it ended with me angry, and her leaving. If she is in this world, I can only picture her happy alone.”
Jack was easy to talk to. He was an active listener of sorts, he was the type of person who never judged or shamed. Someone to trust, something solid to lean on. Toby found solace in the company of the man, a type of friendship he had never known. The monster man and the feral mutt. It was a running joke in the old world that Jack was Toby’s babysitter, and everybody would tease and ask how Jack could tolerate that troublemaker like he did. Only Jack saw the moments in the boy when the violence dripped away, and humanity seeped out from the callouses in his aching hands, and ducts of his desensitized eyes. The man kept this image of the reckless, callous boy in his mind, so close to his heart, it always shocked him when he heard the boy speak about himself as if he weren’t anything but a weapon. Because Jack knew, more than anyone, that humanity was found on mornings like these, while listening to a boy like Toby talk about a girl with his thumbs twiddling, and his eyes fixed to the ground. That image of Toby sitting there, cracking his chest open to the one person he could ever begin to trust, scrambling to find the right words to describe how it feels. That, to Jack, was what it meant to be human.
Later in the afternoon, Jack had decided to take Toby along on a walk. He said there was a place deep in the woods that he wanted to show him. Without having anything better to do, Toby followed closely behind the man as he led the boy through a hidden path winding between the tall trees that stood over them. The cloudy skies had begun to part, revealing a soft blue from behind the gray blanket, and a bright light peeked out, gleaming through the ceiling of orange and yellow autumn leaves that branched overhead. The overgrowth cracked and crinkled beneath their feet as the two continued through the nature, taking in all of the earth's beauty.
As the two men walked along the dirt path, Toby found himself picking at the tall evergreen trees that mixed in with the oak. When Jack questioned him about it, Toby shook his head.
“Natalie hated flowers mostly. But I remembered how much she loved evergreen trees. She always smelt like pine needles.”
He picked off another needle and flicked it onto the ground as he walked past, jogging ahead of Jack.
“I hated the smell,” Toby insisted as he shoved his hands into his sweater pocket.
Jack quickened his pace to catch up with the boy who was now huffing to himself in disdain. It seemed as though the more time that had passed, the more thoughts of that cruel girl filled the boy's mind. He wished to be able to forget about her, and he didn’t understand why.
“Do you still carry your hatchets with you?” Jack questioned.
Toby slowed down, glancing awkwardly over at the other like a bad dog.
“Uh, just one, why?”
“Why don’t you come out here some day and chop wood for the stove? You can put your skills to use.”
The boy thought about it for a moment. He had rarely ever used his hatchets for their intended purpose back home, he knew how to split skulls, not wood.
“I guess if I need to. But I’m trying to keep it sharp in case I need to… Yknow,” Toby said, dragging his thumb over his throat in a slitting motion and grimacing.
“Why would you need to kill anybody here?”
“You never know!”
Toby ran off ahead, hitting at tree leaves as he hopped along the path, occasionally glancing back to make sure Jack was keeping up. He would jump onto fallen logs, and climb branches. He seemed to have much more energy than he had in the morning, and much more restless. Jack smiled to himself at the sight of the boy carelessly fooling around in the woods, it was a nice sight to see. A teenage boy being something more than a cold-hearted weapon. It seemed as though, for a moment, Toby had reclaimed his innocence.
Jack led Toby off the path, and through untouched land, pushing past the growth and out into an open field. The two stood on top of a large, towering cliff which looked out over a twisting valley. The brilliant warmth of the sun beamed down, the skies were now clear and blue, the fall trees swayed gently. The wide green earth sprawled from the tall hill the men looked out from. It was magnificent, beautiful. Standing there on that peak, everything beyond seemed so small. They were on top of the world. The forest below lived on with orange and yellow hues, like a sea of rust. The sky appeared endless as it draped overhead.
For a moment, as he stared out at all of the grand radiance, Toby lost his breath. The colors were vibrant, and the sounds of the wildlife around him sang symphonies of nature. He had never witnessed anything like it before. The forest back in the old world was dim, dark, devoid of animation. He resided for so long in a place where life was something to be taken, and as he stood out over the sea of mother earth, in all of her vast entirety, he felt his chest sink into his stomach.
He took a deep breath in of the crisp, clean air. A light breeze swayed past him. And in one sharp exhale, Toby hollered out, and threw his arms up. He stood there, atop the hill, laughing and shouting out in victory. He looked over at Jack with a big smile plastered on his face, and Jack smiled back. There was a fire in his eyes, and he was so young. Toby grabbed Jack’s arm, and lifted it up with his, as he continued to shout out. Soon, Jack joined him.
The pair screamed their lungs raw as they laughed at the beauty beyond them. On that late afternoon, in the midst of that forest, on top of that hill, they were alive. It was horrific, and it was painful, and it was terrible, but they were alive, and they were more human than they had ever been before.
Finally losing his breath, Toby fell back, and laid chuckling to himself through heavy inhales and exhales, his back pressing into the meadow beneath him. Jack quickly joined him, and took a seat next to the boy, both catching their spent breath, smiling widely to themselves.
“That… That’s how I want to feel, every day of my life,” Toby panted.
“I just need to work harder, do more. I think I’ll take your advice and put my hatchet skills to use.”
“Good, I’m glad to hear it,” Jack said, smiling to himself that for once, Toby had actually listened to the words Jack so often preached.
A few days had passed, and October had come rushing in. Toby had begun going off on his own for hours on end. Jack never knew what the boy was up to, and he knew better than to ask. The man always did his best not to push Toby too much, worried that he might push back harder if he did. But there were nights when the boy would stumble back into the cabin, dirt crusting his jeans, and his eyes fixed into a glare. Jack would always warn the careless other not to push his body past its limits. Toby never listened.
“Be careful not to overwork yourself, Toby.”
“Hop off my ass.”
Toby pushed past the man, and placed his hatchet down onto the kitchen table. His hands were calloused, dirty. He never brought back wood.
“You need to let yourself rest at some point,” Jack suggested, looming over Toby.
“No, I need to work harder. I need to do more. Make all of this shit amount to something.”
“You talk like you’re fighting for a badge that says you deserve to live. You do not need to earn your place in this world, Toby. You’re going to hurt yourself pushing your body like this.”
Toby slammed his hands onto the surface of the table as he turned around to face the man standing behind him.
“I don’t give a fuck what happens to me, Jack. I don’t care if I’m overworking myself, I don’t care if I’m pushing myself too far. Get it through your thick fucking skull that I don’t care!”
Toby gritted his teeth and dusted the mud off of his clothes, before heading off into his room. There was a deep feeling of indifference to his existence, as if he had done far too much to have a place in the world. He was left with no choice but to continue fighting. If he couldn’t do that much, then what was to become of him? He couldn’t let that flame expire, he was hungry for revenge, to prove everyone wrong. He wanted to prove that he, too, deserved a spot in the colosseum of the living.
Jack couldn’t seem to get it through to the stubborn boy that he didn’t need to destroy himself to live. He couldn’t get him to relax. There was lightning in his eyes, it sparked from his tongue as he shouted, and it was in Jack’s best interest to stay out of his way.
The next morning, Toby stood out at the edge of the forest, swinging at a log, as Jack watched from the front porch sipping a cup of tea. Despite his handiwork with his hatchet, and how he gripped it as if he knew what he was doing, Toby couldn’t seem to chop wood in any way that worked. It felt sloppy, like he was missing the mark. Shouting out in frustration, Toby threw his hatchet down to the ground and kicked at the log, which prompted Jack to stand up, and walk over to the temperamental boy.
“You said I had skill! I can’t even fucking chop this log in half,” The boy complained.
“What do you envision when you swing your hatchet down?”
“Well I just go at it like I’m chopping off some heads.”
“There’s your issue, Toby. This is wood, not a neck. Different situations require different responses. You have a lot of skill with that hatchet of yours, but you use it as a weapon, not as a tool.”
Jack bent down, picking up the tool off the ground and handed it back to Toby who had anger worn on his face like a party mask.
Toby glared daggers at Jack as he reeled back his hatchet as far as he could, before throwing it hard at a tree, and past Jack. There was a loud thud as it hit the bark, sticking out from the oak. Toby mouthed off silently at Jack as he kicked dirt and stormed off into the forest. Jack sighed to himself at the difficult situation, and went to pull out the tool which was lodged into a tree behind him.
Mid October had soon rolled in, and the woods had now turned into a decaying orange rust, leaves had begun to pile up onto the forest grounds. The nights had gotten longer, and Toby’s attitude and defiance hadn’t seemed to improve. He had begun to get restless, often attempting to start petty disputes with Jack, in which Jack never bothered to entertain. The man was very collected and calm, he never lost control over himself. It was a skill he had learnt as a demon, in all those fights against himself. Toby, on the other hand, often lost himself to dramatics and pride. Everything was a battle to him, and he needed to come out on top.
Toby had returned back late into the evening, as he typically did. Jack was standing in the kitchen, reading silently to himself, the light of candles illuminating the dark cabin. It was a quiet night.
Not looking up from his book he was immersed in, Jack took a breath in, smelling a strange fragrance. He felt sick to his stomach as the putrid, metallic scent strangled his nostrils. Lifting his head up towards the smell, he watched as Toby dropped a dead rabbit at his feet. The two stood silently, both looking down at the carcass which Toby had brought home, the blood of the animal staining his hands. The boy eyed the man's expression, which showed nothing but indifference. Jack remained quiet.
“Just thought I’d bring home some supper,” Toby spoke out, nudging the animal with his muddy shoe.
Jack looked up at the boy, before turning back to his book.
“You shouldn’t make messes that you aren’t willing to clean up,” Jack responded softly, flipping through the pages to find where he had left off.
Frustrated at the lack of response once again, Toby rolled his eyes and left for his bedroom, hatchet gripped in his bloody hand.
Once the boy had made his leave, Jack exhaled deeply, as if he had been holding his breath. He looked down at the decaying corpse at his feet once more, before picking it up by the ears, and bringing it outside. Jack placed it under a tall oak tree that stood on the edge of the forest surrounding his cabin, letting nature take care of the rabbit. He entered back into the house, and washed off his hands, before heading to Toby’s room. He knocked gently on the door, waiting for approval that it was alright to come in. There was only the sound of awkward shuffling for a moment.
“Come in,” Toby called out, prompting Jack to open the door, closing it behind him.
“Tomorrow I’m going into a nearby town. We need more ice, and food.”
“Get some more orange juice, maybe some peaches,” Toby requested as he laid on his bed, staring at the ceiling.
“You should come with me. We can stop by a local church,” Jack suggested, making Toby groan and sit up.
“Church? Seriously? Why the fuck would you of all people want to go to church?”
“Because, Toby, sometimes people need something bigger than themselves to look towards.”
“And that's supposed to make us feel better? Some random fucker in the sky saying we need to kiss his ass in order to be free of everything we don’t feel like carrying?”
“I’m not asking you to devote yourself, but it does help act as a guidance. To help you understand that you can let everything go, with no strings attached. You can give back what you’ve taken, and make your peace with the world.”
“Maybe try asking the world to make peace with me first,” Toby muttered to himself as he ran one of his hands over his other one, the rabbit's blood still stained into his skin.
“God can forgive you for the sins you’ve committed.”
Jack was never a religious man. He was brought to church every Sunday as a child, which ended up with him in college, where he wouldn’t have touched a Bible even if asked to. But Jack spent so much time alone, bastardized, demonized, he knew nothing else but to cling to the idea of retribution and begging to a God he was terrified of. He had spent too much time as a not-man who couldn’t kneel in church.
“I can’t imagine anyone would forgive me for what I’ve done.”
“I do. I forgive you,” Jack said. Toby scoffed.
The air grew heavy with tension. The fire and the deep sea.
“I know what it’s like to kill somebody, Toby. I know how heavy that burden is.”
“You don’t know shit,” Toby lowered his voice, his eyes darkened. Something of a warning for Jack to watch his mouth.
“It seems we always come back to these pointless conversations,” Jack sighed.
“Yeah? Well maybe say something useful. Preach some bullshit that actually fucking helps me for once.”
��You know, Toby. There is nothing I can say to help you. I realize that now.”
Toby’s chest tightened, he stood up face to face with Jack, his brow furrowed.
“You gonna just drop me off somewhere else like Tim and Brian did now too?”
“That’s not what I’m saying-”
“Oh really? No, you’re just saying that I’m helpless, right? That nothing is going to ever get better? Is… Is any of this ever going to go away?” Toby’s voice cracked as he choked back all the things he wanted to shout out.
“There is no big epiphany or deep conversations that can fix this for you. You need to take steps every day to learn how to do better for yourself, and I can’t take those steps for you, and I can’t make you do anything. I wish you would help yourself, but I see you make the choice every day to ruin yourself.”
“I don’t know how to fucking help myself!”
“I’m sick of learning and I’m sick of this and I’m sick of you. I should’ve left as soon as I got here,” Toby spoke loudly, grabbing all of his things scattered around his room, and packing them into his backpack. Jack watched as the boy desperately grasped at straws. He knew better than anybody that he couldn’t save Toby, that he could only watch as he crashed and burned. There was nothing anyone could do for him, but gather around and look up to the sky as they watched his wax wings melt. Dread built in Jack’s weary heart. The terrible sight, seeing the beeswax drip away, as Toby recklessly disregarded his own limits, and the limits of everyone around him. He pushed and pushed, and Jack had no choice but to witness Toby wear himself down.
Throwing his backpack over his shoulder, he pushed past Jack, sniffling to himself as he held his hatchet tightly in his hand. Without another word, the furious boy stormed out of the cabin and into the night, as Jack silently watched. It was a quiet mid-October night, and the stars were dimmer than usual in the brooding dark sky. The waning crescent barely illuminated the gravel road. The silhouette of the boy was quickly engulfed by the dark abyss he walked out into.
Jack sighed to himself, once again in his lonesome company, and made his way back into his cabin. He repeated to himself that there was nothing more he could’ve done, but the guilt consumed him. His old friend had been right once again - it was his own mind that would be the death of Jack. The man climbed into his creaky, old bed, and tried not to think too much. He prayed for the first time in a long time that night.
Toby has nightmares, so why does he go to Jane’s room every time this happens?
(Toby angst ft Jane)
It happened again. The memories breaking loose from Slendermans hold and invading Toby’s mind as he slept. The hold on his memories weakened after 12 years of them being kept from his mind. They’ve been coming back randomly for four years now, randomly filling Toby’s head with his past of suffering. Not only his but his mothers and sisters. He remembered everything. The bruising of Lyras skin. The begging of his mother. The fists of his father. Toby having to use his body as his sister and mother’s shield and the scars he still has from it all over his body till this day. He remembers. Everything.
He was begging in his sleep as if he was the scared 17 year old boy again. Making noises of fear and sadness. “Lyra, get behind me, please! I can’t feel it! You can! Let me protect you!” If Toby could wake up in a cold sweat he would. CIPA won’t allow him to do that. He put his head in his hands and breathed heavily. Usually Nina would be there to calm him down, but she wasn’t here tonight. Something about a rave. Toby assured her he’d be fine so she wouldn’t feel bad about being away from him all night. Part of it was pride. He didn’t want to depend on her. Didn’t want Nina to know he did need her. Didn’t want her to know the he wanted her here. He’d rather suffer alone than be so vulnerable. Part of it was his self centered and obnoxious confident nature. He’s strong he doesn’t need anyone to help him. But tonight that just wasn’t true.
He put on a shirt and made his way to Jane’s room. He knows she’s awake. She rarely sleeps. He can see her light on through the cracks of the door. He opens it and enters without knocking and closes it behind him softly, not wanting anyone else to know he’s here.
Jane had been reading, her all black eyes scanning the pages as she was under the covers of her bed. She looked up at the 29 year old man with dark brown hair, pale skin and scars all over his arms with a look of knowing. She could see the fear in his eyes and the neediness. Although Toby would never admit to it or show it, his face still blank as he looked at her. But Jane knew. She had that same look in her eyes as Mary had to comfort her through the nightmare filled sleepless nights as Jane saw Jeff taking her parents away in her head over and over. Jane knew.
“I need it Jane.” Toby said blankly and almost demanding as he stared at her.
“Need it? Toby you know this isn’t healthy. You sound like an addict. You know this makes your hallucinations worse.”
“Since when do I care about health? I need it.” He dismissed her, as he walked toward the bed she was sitting on.
Jane shut the book she was reading. “And why should I do this for you, hm? You’ve been rude since you got in here.”
Toby furrows his brows, balls his fists and squeezes his eyes shut. “Jane…..I need her. Need to see her.”
Jane looks at him, narrowing her eyes as if waiting for the magic word.
“Please.” Toby opens his eyes and un balls his fists his face going blank again.
Jane sighs. Her black hair turning blonde. Her black eyes turning bluish green. Her black lips turning a lively pink. Her pale skin turning to a peachy fair tone. Her voice changing to a higher pitched one that Toby recognized and missed all too well.
“Hello, Toby” said the pseudo Lyra in front of him. She holds out her hands for Toby to take. “I missed you.”
Toby walk over and falls to his knees in front of her, taking her hands. “Lyra. I missed you. I missed you so much.” He couldn’t help it. He will always have a soft spot for his sister. Even though in the back of his mind he knew this wasn’t real.
Lyra softly cups Toby’s face. Her hands are warm and soft like he remembered her. He looks up at her, as she looks down at him softly. Lyra was the one person Toby didn’t mind being beneath. When she looked at him like that, he’ll stay beneath her forever.
“You had a nightmare about dad huh?” the pseudo Lyra said to him softly, still cupping his face.
Toby nods. “Your skin was so bruised. I couldn’t handle seeing you that way.”
“I’m okay Toby. See? I’m okay because of you.”
“I’d do anything to protect you. You…know that right?”
“Of course I do, Toby. All you’ve ever done was protect me.”
Toby put his head in her lap.
“But I couldn’t save you from the accident.”
“No one could. It’s not your fault.”
The disguised Jane, runs her fingers through his hair.
She had replicated everything about Lyra perfectly. Down to her fingernails. Toby loved every second of it. He missed his sister so badly. This was as close as he was going to get to her ever again.
“Lyra. I love you. I love you. I love you so much” Toby just lets it all out. Everything he wishes he said more to the real one.
“…….I love you too, Toby.”
That’s the last thing Jane says as Lyra before turning back to her normal self.
Toby immediately takes his head out of her lap and stands up. His face having a look of shock and anger.
“No! Jane, damnit, bring her back!”
“Toby. That’s enough for one night.”
“Bring….her back….God! Someone bring her back….” Toby sounded like he was about to cry, but quickly stops and catches himself. He’s above that. Above the grief and pain. He’s stronger than that.
Jane hugs him.
Toby tries to resist at first, but melts into it, hugging her back.
“I know what it’s like to loose the ones you love Toby. I’m sorry.”
How Toby loves women. They’re so soft and sweet. They’ve been comforting him all his life. Nothings changed.
Toby pulls away and leaves her room. Not wanting to be any more vulnerable than he has to be. Getting back into his bed and waiting to Nina to come home and join him in it. Maybe he’ll tell her he loves her more often. Maybe not. He’ll see how he feels in a few hours.
(Once again this isn’t proof read, sorry! I think Jane canonically being able to shape shift is so cool. Also happy Monday :3)