Hey party people, back with another chapter, plot relevant this time, instead of the final (yes final!) patient backstory. This where the character arcs and developing emotions that this story has been building towards really start paying off, so I hope you enjoy it! :D

To David and Gwen's surprise, the ward wasn't in chaos when they arrived back. The kids were mainly just sat quietly on their beds, some engaging in small conversations. This stopped immediately when the pair of nurses walked in, Max trailing behind them. Everyone looked up.

"Hey guys." Gwen said. David put a hand on Max's shoulder, guiding him towards his bed, directly in between...

Nikki and Neil.

Oh shit.

The two patients were back in their beds and looking fairly anxious. Neither of them met Max's eyes as he silently sat back on his bed between their's. Why on earth had he said he was ready for this?! He felt like he was on the verge of an anxiety attack. He wasn't ready to talk about this with them! THis was going to go awfully, they were going to-

Suddenly, his troubled thoughts were cut off when, out of nowhere, Nikki wrapped him in a hug.

"Are you OK?" She asked, her voice filed with concern. This was what broke the ward out of their silence, and suddenly, bursts of chatter and strong opinions rose, filling the space

"Man, your parents are real assholes." Nurf commented.

"Yeah, I thought mine were shitty, but at least they didn't show me up in front of everyone." Harrison said quietly.

"Don't hurt yourself again!" Space Kid said shrilly. "I like you!"

"Yeah dude, you kinda need professional help." Ered told him, her usually so composed face looking so panicked.

All around him, those concerned faces, people who liked him, people who wanted to have him around, people who cared.

Max met Neil's eyes through it all, and he swore the other boy's eyes were shining momentarily with tears before he blinked them away.

"Life is shit, right?" Neil asked, laughter in his words. Max chuckled.

"Definitely." He said, smiling. Neil sat up the best he could, wincing slightly.

"Seriously though, Max, are you OK? Gwen only managed to get rid of your parents when she threatened to call security, and told them that the guy with the hook hand at the reception was security."

Max laughed again. "Yeah, I am, thanks. David, uh, David calmed me down."

"Nerris was worried too!" Harrison piped in. "But she had to go home. She was pretty upset though."

"I don't doubt that." Max muttered, and shifted slightly to face the rest of the ward. Nikki released him from the hug and sat on the edge of his bed apprehensively.

"Look guys, I'm fine." Max said, addressing the whole ward. "Yeah, three weeks ago, I did try to kill myself. But since then... fuck, I haven't thought about anything like that in weeks! Not since I met you guys and Nikki made me steal that tin of biscuits, and, well I guess in this case, laughter really is the best treatment."

"That's where that went!" Gwen exclaimed.

"Aww!" Nikki's eyes were shining. "We saved Max's life!"

Max grinned sheepishly. "Yeah, I guess you did. Guys, I'm sorry about what I said this morning. I just wasn't ready to go back to my parent's house, and I took it out on you. I didn't want to tell you what was really going on. I hurt you and, that wasn't fair." Max sighed, he wasn't used to unloading so much honesty at once, but it felt good. "I'm really sorry. I could never stop being your friend."

"It's OK!" Neil said in a surprisingly soft voice. "We never could have, I mean, new evidence has come to light about to situation."

"I forgive you too!" Nikki said, and gave him another hug. The ward filled with 'aww's and laughter before things began to settle down a little, the kids picking up their usual items of entertainment. Not Max, Nikki and Neil however. Max could tell they were both still a little on edge about the whole thing.

"I've got to ask Max, are your parents really that bad?" Neil asked. "Or were they just being especially mean today?"

Max shrugged. "I dunno, it varies. They're never particularly nice, if that's what you're asking. Especially not to me."

Neil grimaced and his eyes flitted towards Max's bandages. "I mean, me and Nikki kind of wandered, but we never thought..." He trailed off, leaving his unfinished suspicions hanging in the air between them. Never thought that Max's life would be this fucked up? Join the club. Max hadn't exactly seen things getting worse, he'd just woken up one day and realised, oh shit. This is my life now.

Max smiled at Neil, not a cocky, smug grin, a genuine smile.

"Well, I don't think it's gonna be like that anymore." He said. He rubbed his wrists slightly. "My bandages were meant to come off today anyway. Wanna see?"

"No thanks." Neil looked a bit nauseous.

"Duh!" Nikki said eagerly. "I mean, no, I don't."

Max shook his head fondly and began to unwrap his bandages, tearing them away from his left arm until they lay in a heap by the side of his bed. Despite his earlier insistence, Neil glanced towards his friend's arm for a better look.

A mass of deep running scars were slashed through Max's skin, healed over and stitches successfully removed, but the marks still remaining. They were dark red, raised speedbumps against Max's skin and they would be there forever.

Neil winced, then tried to look sympathetic.

"Whoa." Nikki whispered. "Brutal!"

Max nodded, and removed the bandages from his other arm as well.

"I know, hurt like a bitch." He said as he sat against his pillows. "Since it looks like I'm not going home today after all, anyone for cards?"


David stepped out of the nurse's office with a smile. Now that the ward had begun to settle down after Max's return, he had allowed himself the time he needed to patch up his various injuries. Several antiseptic bandages and caffeine free painkillers later, he considered himself to be in acceptable condition to deal with an emergency. Gwen had gone to fetch the dinner trolley, a bit later than usual for once. None of the kids minded. David sighed a little in relief. It was rare that the ward seemed so content.

Max was playing poker with Nikki and Neil, a wide smile on his face. David hadn't seen him this happy since, well, ever. Now that everything about his brother, his parents, the real reason why he was a patient was off his chest, he seemed a lot lighter, like he could breathe easier. Strangely, David felt the same. Keeping these kind of things secret seemed a little dumb now.

David glanced a little sadly at Harrison, and Nerris's empty bed beside him. He then glanced towards Preston, whose stuff was packed and under his bed. He was sitting a little apprehensively on the edge of his bed as if he was about to jump into a swimming pool, which was something he wouldn't be able to do for a while, considering his legs weren't fully functional yet. David put on a soft smile and headed over.

"Hey Preston, I just got a call, your sister's in the reception. Ready to go?"

Preston sighed. "I guess." He muttered. David instantly sensed something was wrong.

"What's up?" He asked, sitting on the bed beside Preston. "Afraid you'll miss this place?"

Preston chuckled a little a shrugged. "I suppose I will." He said. "But that's not it." He clenched his fists slightly. "I just, I don't know if things are going to change at home, when I go back." He sat back and sighed. "I didn't tell you much about my family, did I?"

"Only about your sister." David said, sensing another deep conversation coming.

"Angelica is always so busy, she never has time to be my sister, or even just slow down and talk to me!" Preston exclaimed. "I know I should pull my weight at home and just not complain, there's nothing I can do about it now, but I don't want to! Being a patient here was the first time I've been a kid in, well, ages."

"And you want to stay a kid." David finished for him. Preston smiled.

"That's what I like about you David. You're perceptive. You get people."

"Oh, erm, thank you." David stammered, smiling back. "Preston, if you really don't want to go back, I can see what I can do. Like I said when we first met, I have contacts in social services. I'm sure I can-"

"No, I don't think that's necessary." Preston cut in quickly. "As much as my life sucks, they're still my family. And, after seeing what Max's parents are like," He glanced over towards Max. "I'm far more grateful for what I have. I know my dad cares about me, deep down under stress and a drinking problem."

David gave him a smile, but it was a little strained. "Preston, are you sure? Just because someone else has it worse, doesn't mean that your problems are invalid."

Preston sighed heavily and stood up. "I can make it work." He said, scooping up the backpack filled with all his stuff from under his bed. "If there's one thing I've learned from you David, it's the key to running a healthy environment."

"And what's that?" David asked.

"Communication. I am a writer after all." Preston smiled brightly. "I know my family isn't perfect, but I'm not going to give up on it. I'll do my part to make it work again."

David nodded, knowing there was nothing he could do to change Preston's mind. "Alright then. If that's how you feel." He stood up too. "Come on, I'll walk you downstairs." The pair began to head towards the door, Preston waving goodbye to the other kids as he did so. "But if anything goes wrong, you have the hospital's number, right?"

"Yes David, I have the hospital's number!" Preston stopped as they reached the door. "You know, if you stopped focusing on everyone else constantly, you might find time to look inwards. I need to focus on my current situation. What do you need David?"

David paused, struggling to get his head around what Preston had said. "I, I'm not sure. I am a nurse though, that's my job."

Preston nodded. "You'll get it, I suppose." He said. "Come on, I want to see my sister." He exited the ward, leaving David in confusion.

David thought about what Preston had said for the rest of the day. What did he want? To help people, obviously! And, of course, deep down he wanted his family back.

He sighed as his eyes swept over the peeling wallpaper of his office and the dismal state of the ward. With a few quick words to Gwen, he headed out, through the hospital until he reached his destination.

He knocked on the door. A voice came from within.

"What is it? I'm working here!"

"Dad, it's me."

A sigh. "Come in Davey."

David entered Doctor Campbell's office, taking in the dimly lit room and shelves filled with paperwork that probably wouldn't get done. His adoptive father's probably fake medical degree was framed on the wall, next to a picture of himself shaking hands with some kind of high ranking celebrity, an award in his hands. It was the only picture in the room.

"Yes David?" Campbell said impatiently. "I am sort of busy here!" David didn't even need to look at Campbell's computer monitor to guess that he was playing online poker and not doing work.

"Dad, do you remember what I said when you gave me this job?" David asked. Campbell paused.

"No. This was, what, three years ago?"

"Four." David sighed. "I said, someday I want to be more than a nurse. Some day I want to be a doctor, really help people hands on. Do you remember what you said?"

Campbell sighed, his eyes already drifting back and forth between David and his computer screen. "Davey, I've had numerous hangovers and slept numerous times since then, no I don't remember."

"You didn't say much." David admitted. "But you didn't say no. And, dad, I'm ready. I want to get my degree. I want to be a doctor full time."

Campbell stopped, really stopped, his brain working away behind his eyes. David waited until Campbell sighed and shook his head a little.

"David, you know we don't have the budget for another doctor, heck, I'm already paying you all right on the margins-"

"I know." David said quickly. "Dad, maybe it's time I moved on from here."

Campbell's hands jerked, upsetting an empty mug. "David! I thought you loved Campbell Hospital!"

"Well, of course I love the ward and the kids, but dad, I want to be a doctor!" David heard his tone of voice sharpen as he got more frustrated. "And frankly, this hospital is a disgrace to the field of medicine! We're constantly running out of supplies, you're always behind on your paperwork and we haven't had an inspection in years!"

"Oh, you want an inspection!" Campbell's voice rose and he stood up angrily. "If we let those pencil pushing, big nosed dickheads anywhere near this place, we'd be shut down immediately!"

"Exactly!" David snapped back, feeling his anger rise as well. "This is a hospital! A place of cleanliness, good hygiene and medicine. If we deserve to be shut down, then we're not doing our jobs!"

"We do our jobs just fine!" Campbell shouted. David felt even more anger rising within him, but he unclenched his fists and let it go.

"You know, sometimes I wander what was going through the minds of the doctors who couldn't save Jasper." He said softly. Campbell flinched at the mention of Jasper's name. "Now I think I know. They were probably just out for money and nothing else. They didn't want to save lives." David looked Campbell straight in the eye "Just like you." He turned away. "I'm going to try and get my degree in two months. If things around here haven't improved since then, well. You can expect my resignation on your desk."

He left the room, leaving his surrogate father behind.

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