TITLE: Anger Management

AUTHOR: Sharkbait

RATING: PG-13

CHARACTER(S): Tommy, Kwest

WORD COUNT: 799

DISCLAIMER: Instant Star belongs to CTV, and some other people, too, I'm sure. I am not one of those people.

NOTE: Because Degrassi isn't embarrassing enough, ohhh no. Damn Canadian television...it's like crack, I tell you. Part one of something vaguely resembling a series.



That boy's got a mean temper on him.
Your dad's dad, Grandpa you guess, said that when you were twelve and got suspended for splitting another kid's lip open to his chin. It took over twenty stitches to sew it back together. Mean as a snake.

There was blood all over your shirt, caked around your fingernails, and you curled your hands into fists, pressed your mouth into a line so you wouldn't snarl back at him: you'd fucking know, wouldn't you?

He's dead at the bottom of a bottle before you're fourteen and in BoyzAttack -- the tabloids take over where he left off, immortalizing every fight in print now, and pictures are worth a thousand rasping, old man sneers.

The fans eat it up like ketamine, how 'dark' and 'edgy' you are for busting up the occasional faceless, bigmouthed punk in a club parking lot. Teeny-boppers the world over daydream about soothing your savage breast, and Darius scores millions off very precise marketing of your bad boy persona.

But what works when you're angel-faced heartthrob fifteen changes when you hit jagged, burnt out twenty. No more 'bad boy' because you aren't anymore, and there's no 'bad man', there's only bad. Pathetic kind of bad.

Your last real go is with the man himself, after he takes Frozen away from you and you've got nothing, nothing but the bile in your throat and red-hot rage seething to explosion. Shortest fight of your life, consisting of exactly two hits; yours, square on his jaw, and Darius's, that almost cracks your cheekbone.

He looks down at you, bloody-nosed and sprawled on the carpet, with pure contempt. "This shit is played, Tommy, for real," he says, and prods where his jaw is already swelling, then shakes his head. "Better learn to check yourself, my friend, 'cause I'm done covering your ungrateful ass."

You bite your tongue when he walks off, knuckles throbbing and iron tang in your mouth. You hate him like you've never hated anyone, because more than ever the soulless bastard is right -- this shit is played.

Kwest waits 'til you cool down, then drags you into the men's room and cleans the blood from your face with wet paper towels. "I love you like my own brother, man, you know that, but...I gotta go with Darius here," Kwest doesn't do lectures, which is why the blood in your head doesn't instantly start boiling so loud you can't hear. "You need to drop this Russell Crowe thing, and chill out before there's a visit from the donut shop, know what I'm saying?"

You clench your jaw, but he looks you right in the eye, shuts down every stupid, angry argument you almost make.

"You're better than this," he says, soft and real.

For once, the truth of it really comes through to you, how you look from the outside. You are a bitter, washed-up asshole. You are a VH1 special in progress.

You are your dad's dad, mean as a snake.

Shame prickles over the back of your neck, blood-pink water soaking through your shirt, and suddenly your whole body feels numb. Weak.

This is the lowest point of your life so far. And that truly says something. "I --" voice cracks like the acid inside you has actually scarred your vocal chords, but it's all desperation choking you up, ocean of helplessness coming down on you because you finally get how lost you are. "I don't wanna be this guy."

"Then let him go, brother," Kwest gives you a paper towel to dry off with, grips your shoulder with the long, brown fingers that mix your songs to art. "And move on with your life."

You don't know where to even begin doing that, but pride's a horse-pill you can't get down, and you can't ask. He loans you his copies of Siddhartha and The Story Of My Experiments With Truth anyway, tells you when it comes to inner peace, Buddha and Gandhi are a pretty decent place to start.

Your first gig as a producer comes six months later, smalltime hip-hop fusion band. They credit you in the jacket as Tom Quincy, the "Ice Man," and it's...weird. You slip your shades on and embrace it, though, because it's a cleaner fit than 'asshole' ever was. Snakes are cold-blooded after all.

They adapt to whatever climate they surround themselves with.

For your twenty-first birthday, Kwest gets you Nelson Mandela's autobiography and a miniature Zen sand garden. "You are learning well, grasshopper," he mock-bows low, grinning. You smirk, eyes narrowed, and thirty seconds later, you have him in a headlock, mercilessly noogied, as a reminder that enlightenment and pacifism are not interchangeable.

Either way, you've still got a hell of a lot to learn about both.