Guardian Angel (Modern AU)

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February 2006

Tolbert groaned as he made his way back up the stairs, entering the room that he shared with his baby brother. Bud had turned four years old a few months ago, and he hadn't gotten to do anything for his birthday. Tolbert felt horrible over it. He hadn't found a job in enough time to earn enough money to take the boy out.

You see, Tolbert and Bud were currently in the foster system. Their parents had died in an accident, and Tolbert had refused to leave his younger brother, who had been barely a year old when it happened. That was how they ended up in the house they were in now.

"Did he hurt ya 'gain?" Bud asked, crawling toward Tolbert as he approached the bed.

"Not too bad," Tolbert lied. "Don't ya worry none. It's okay."

Bud's brows furrowed as Tolbert slowly made his way to the other side of the bed, sitting down on the edge before taking his shirt off. He made a pained noise in the back of his throat before laying down, letting his little brother curl up against him. They shared a single quilt and a single bed, and Bud always curled up against Tolbert.

Tolbert always protected Bud to the best of his ability. He didn't want the little boy to get beaten for something he did, or just because John was in a bad mood and wanted to take his anger out on someone. Tolbert had taken more beatings than he could count the last few years, and he would keep taking them until John eventually kicked him out. Once he was eighteen, he could be kicked out and not a thing could be done about it.

"Y' sure?" Bud peered up at him innocently, his head resting on Tolbert's chest.

"Yeah, baby. I'm sure." Tolbert gently pulled his fingers through Bud's thick locks of honey-brown hair. Bud hummed and scooted closer to his brother.

"Get some sleep."

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"Daddy! Daddy, wake up!" Bud shook Tolbert's arm that was wrapped around him. "Please, Daddy, wake up!"

Tolbert woke up, looking down at the little boy who was shaking his arm violently.

"Wha'?" Tolbert rasped, his voice deep and full of sleep.

"Daddy, 'm scared," Bud cried, laying his head on Tolbert's chest again.

Tolbert hadn't fully processed what Bud had said, and had started rubbing the boy's back out of pure instinct. Bud often woke up with nightmares — and always because he witnessed a part of the beating Tolbert received — and Tolbert was the only one who would comfort him. It was common knowledge that John wouldn't.

And after a few seconds, it finally clicked with him. He blinked a few times before looking down at the sniffling little boy, who was as close as he could possibly get.

"What'd you call me?" Tolbert asked softly, wanting to make sure he'd heard him right and hadn't been dreaming still.

"Daddy."

"Oh God," Tolbert breathed.

How was he supposed to tell a four-year-old that he wasn't his father? Bud didn't understand anything about death and Tolbert wanted to keep it that way for as long as possible; he didn't think a four-year-old child should know what death is.

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