Morty couldn't remember the last time he wore short sleeves.
Sometime around his fifteenth birthday, he had started buying more long sleeves, and no one asked anything about it. Perhaps his family just assumed he was cold, or he was trying to give himself a bit more of a stylish look - but most likely, they just didn't notice. Rick had asked once, joking about his skinny chicken-arms, and Morty had laughed it off along with him.
Even now, he wasn't technically wearing short sleeves; he just had his grey sleeves rolled up to his elbow, almost under his yellow tee. Even if it hurt to see the markings on his arms, it was better than suffering in the summer heat. Sure, there was AC in the house, and it wasn't exactly hot in Washington, but sometimes the layers of fabric just felt like constricting, suffocating hands grabbing him in ways he remembered all too well, licking up his face, unbuttoning his jeans...
Morty dropped the cereal as he pulled it out of the pantry, clasping his hand over his mouth as he felt the bile rise in his throat. Sweat dripped from his forehead and he reached down to pick the cereal box up with a shaky hand, running his fingers through his hair as he stood back up. Still, his breathing wouldn't return to normal.
It had been almost two years. He thought he was over it, what that anthropomorphic jellybean did to him, but his mind always remembered it at the worst times, shoving it in his face and making him wish he would just die.
He hated feeling dirty.
But his family was gone at the moment. Beth was off at work, Jerry was somewhere (he was gone most of the time these days), Summer was hanging out with some of her college friends, and Rick was... Well, Rick was probably in another dimension, considering he wasn't in the house.
All that mattered was that Morty was alone, and he didn't have to keep his sleeves down.
Grabbing a bowl from the cabinet, he quickly poured himself a bowl of cereal, not bothering to put the box back in the pantry before he made his way over to the couch. He cringed slightly as he looked at the clock on the sidetable, catching 2:14pm out of the corner of his eye as he sat down. He hated sleeping this late, as he felt that most of his day was wasted if he slept past noon. As he sat down, he reminded himself that it didn't matter anyways, so he might as well do whatever felt right.
Of course, what felt right to him was nothing short of disgusting to others.
But Morty was able to lose himself in the mindlessness of Interdimensional Cable as he swallowed spoonfuls of the cereal, sitting back to just watch the TV and play on his phone once his breakfast was finished. He didn't understand a lot of what was going on, but it gave his mind a distraction from all of his stresses, which was something he really needed. He was so caught up in the mindlessness of it that he didn't even notice when Rick came into the room.
"What're ya doing, Morty?" Rick asked carelessly, eyes flickering up from the beer he was holding to look up at his grandson.
Shooting up at Rick's words, Morty quickly pulled down both of his sleeves, nearly panicking as he did so. "O-oh, hey, Rick," he muttered, smiling sheepishly. "Nothing much. Just w-watching TV. I, uh, thought you were out for a bit?"
He didn't miss the way Rick's eyebrows shot up at his actions, watching his sleeves carefully as he had pulled them down. He couldn't stop his heart from beating rapidly as his grandfather moved towards him, crossing his arms over his chest and looking down at him suspiciously.
"Yeah, well, turns out the Altean homeplanet was wiped out last time I got blackout drunk... so, like, last week, I guess," he said, stifling a burp. "Anyways, why are you wearing long sleeves? You just had them rolled up 'n shit."
Morty scratched the back of his neck, laughing nervously. "It's just a little cold in the house, I guess. Maybe Summer left the AC on?"
Rick let out a sigh, pinching the bridge of his nose before kneeling in front of the couch, face to face with the nervous young man. There was something in his eyes, in the way he looked exhausted, that shook Morty to the core, and unintentionally, he sucked in a worried break.
"Morty, do you really think the smartest guy in the universe doesn't know the fucking truth?" Rick muttered, voice quiet.
With those words being spoken, the boy couldn't speak, freezing in place as the thoughts ran through his head. Without another word, Rick reached for one of his arms, only for Morty to yank his arms back away from his grandfather, sinking himself as far into the couch as possible.
"D-don't touch me!" Morty shouted, grabbing his left wrist and pulling both hands against his chest. "Y-you don't even know what you're talking about, Rick!"
"Oh, I don't know what I'm talking about?" With that, Rick shot up, pointing a finger in Morty's face as he began to shout. "You think I haven't been paying attention the last year-and-a-half? Think that I wouldn't notice how you always wear long sleeves? The blades in the bathroom? How you flinch every time someone touches your arms? You really think I wouldn't fucking notice?"
With all the shouting, Morty didn't feel Rick's hand until it was too late, and his arm was extended outwards, sleeve rolled up. He tried to pull away from the situation, panic flooding every single one of his senses, but Rick had a tight grasp on his wrist, holding him in place and exposing his scars - some fresh, some old.
It seemed like years, the two of them looking from Morty's arm and back at each other. No one spoke, no one moved, no one breathed - it was almost like they were daring each other to say something, to see who would be the first to break. Rick was the first to break.
"Morty, I've known the whole time," he said at last, dropping his grandson's arm and letting out a sigh. "I just... didn't want to believe it until I saw it just a minute ago."
With that, he sat down on the couch beside Morty, leaning forward, his head clasped between his hands. If Morty were being honest, he didn't know what to say or feel: he was still afraid of Rick's yelling, and he felt the shame and embarrassment rise in him out of nowhere as he watched his grandfather. So he said the only thing he knew how to.
"I'm sorry, Rick," he whispered, leaning back against the couch.
"Don't be sorry, kid," Rick muttered. "We've all been there, done stupid shit. I just... turned to alcohol after a while."
"W-what do you mea-"
"I mean you're not the only one who's fucked up his arms, dumbass," the older man nearly growled. Without another word, he lifted his arm enough for the labcoat to slide down his thin arms, rolling the sleeve back along with it.
And Morty understood. The scars were older, but so much deeper than any of Morty's ever were. They weren't clean and horizontal either, as Morty almost expected them to be: no, they were dirty, going in all directions, a particular risen scar jutting out where his veins were supposed to be seen.
"Rick, that-" he began, stopping himself as he tried to find the words. His grandfather waited for him to continue, annoyance growing on his face despite his best efforts to conceal it. It took a while, but Morty finaly spoke again. "I thought you were always joking when you talked about killing yourself, Rick," he finally said, voice shallow. He paused again, pursing his lips. "They weren't jokes, were they?"
Shaking his head, Rick let out a sigh. "No, not at all. I've tried too many times for it to be a joke anymore." He shook his head again before rolling down his sleeves. "That's not near the worst, by the way. I just don't want you to get anywhere near as bad as I was... or am."
Before he could stop himself, Morty spoke. "Am?" he said, tilting his head to the side.
"Am," Rick confirmed. "You think I drink for the fun of it?"
"I never assumed you were happy, or that you drank for fun," Morty muttered, rubbing the back of his neck. "Even being as stupid as I am, anyone can see that you're miserable."
Rick suddenly went quiet, Morty's words getting to him in a way that they had's before. Sure, he called Morty stupid all the time, and he knew that his grandson took his words seriously, but to have him quote his own words back to him? It almost made Rick sick, shaking his head gently to himself.
"You're not that stupid, Morty," Rick muttered, looking back at his grandson with tired eyes.
Morty nearly laughed at the words, letting out a tired chuckle in response. "Yeah, right, okay Rick," he said. "Like I'm going to believe that."
Almost a growl, Rick stood up again, dragging up Morty by the front of his shirt. "You're not stupid, you piece of shit," the old man shouted, only stopping himself from going further when he saw the look of fear in Morty's eyes. So he let go of his grandson, took a breath, and turned away from the boy.
This wasn't helping.
Running his hands over his face, the man let out a shaky sigh, turning back to face the boy with a tired expression on his face. "You're not stupid," he began, rubbing the back of his neck. "You're brainwaves are just as strong as mine, just in the opposite direction," he explained.
Morty looked at him, confusion on his face. "Then why the hell would you convince me I was stupid?"
The aggression in his voice took Rick by surprise, who looked up to see his grandson on the verge of tears. "Woah, Morty, calm d-"
"Don't you dare tell me to calm down, Rick," he shouted, taking a step towards his grandfather, eyebrows knitted and finger pointing. "You had me convinced for almost three years that I was the most disgusting, stupid piece of shit in the universe." He paused a moment before letting out an irritated short. "Actually, the most s-stupid piece of shit in any universe. And you think that you can j-just reverse that out of nowhere? That's fucking bullshit!"
Somewhere between his words, Morty had begun to cry, letting tears spill from his cheeks as heavy sobs wracked his body. Never before had Morty been in such a situation, and in all honesty, it confused him, scared him, even. And the same went for Rick, who was now looking back at his grandson with raised eyebrows, a look of both shock and sadness on his face.
"Morty, listen to me," he said gently, taking a step forward. When he got no reaction, he took another step forward, grabbing him gently by the side of his arms. "I'm sorry, Morty. I never meant to make you feel like... this."
"This?" Morty repeated, disbelief in his voice. "You convinced me I was... garbage."
Rick took a breath, pulling his grandson in for a hug. Morty was tense, but after a minute, he gave into the hug, sobbing into Rick's chest, crying like the wreck he was. And Rick stood there, holding him close, and feeling more guilty than he ever had in his life.
"I'm sorry," he repeated. "I say a lot of shit when I'm mad, or upset, or... just, all time. And I'm sorry. If either one of us is garbage, it's me."
"Rick..." Morty said, pulling back from the hug. "You... you've done a lot. But I don't think you're garbage. I think you have a problem."
Fighting back the urge to snap back, Rick sighed, looking to the side as he searched for an answer. "We both have problems, kid. I'm supposed to be the one parenting here, you know," he said, chuckling a bit as he said it.
"I'm not joking, Rick," Morty said, standing back and finally rolling down his sleeve again. "Your drinking is getting way out of control. It's... when y-you're drunk, you're really mean.
"I know." Who was he to make excuses.
"Look," Morty began again. "I don't... I don't know what to say. I just think... we can't tell mom or Summer about any of this, okay?
Rick looked up, almost surprised. "Morty, you... you're hurting yourself. And I don't know what help I can give you. You need to tell someone other than me."
Cringing back from the words, Morty shook his head, desperation on his face. "You can't tell them," Morty pleaded. "They already think I'm a fuck-up. Please, Rick, don't tell them. You can help me. You've stopped, so, y-you're the best person to know what I'm going through."
"I've turned to drinking myself into a stupor every night, kid! I don't know if that counts as stopping," Rick argued, looking down at his grandson. "I want to help, Morty, but I've known for the last year and I've still done nothing."
"Just..." Morty trailed off, looking exhausted. He fell back onto the couch, head in his hands, a tired sigh escaping him. "I don't want to talk about this right now, Rick. I'm... it's already been too long of a day, and I've been up half an hour. Please, can we just... ignore today?"
He thought for a minute, unconsciously tapping his foot on the ground, before Rick finally let out a sigh, covering his face with his hands. "Fine," he said, exhaustion in his voice. "We can figure this out tomorrow, okay?"
"Perfect," Morty said, trying his best to hide the tears that almost fell. "Do you... wanna watch TV with me? W-while I eat?"