Title: Cut Off the Edges (1/1)
Word Count: 9380
Disclaimer: Nothing's mine and they're all lies. Lyrics taken from "C.O.T.E" by Karnivool.
Rating: Hard R Language, sex & adult subject matters.

Warnings: Mentions (non explicit) of child abuse, violence, rape, drug use, sexuality issues, underage drinking. Sensitive subjects ahead.

Author Notes: While not directly acknowledged, this story revolves around lingering symptoms of a disorder known as Complex Post Trauma Stress Disorder (C-PTSD), a variant of PTSD which can affect survivors of prolonged domestic abuse. Some information regarding such a condition can be found in Wikipedia.

Most importantly: The issue of finding one's sexuality is dealt with extensively here from the perspective of someone that suffered a traumatic and horrific previous experience. As such, the subject is brought up from a negative view that by no means reflects the author's opinion on the matter. There is no gay bashing in this story and no intended offense for any sexual preference.

Cut Off the Edges

Be still for a moment
So you can face this world
You face it all
for a moment.

It was hard to breathe inside the pub's crowded space, but with the left-over adrenalin powering him on, Jack wasn't even aware of the lack of oxygen. His ears were ringing; The Spares had just nailed another live show and the club's manager had actually congratulated them and booked them again for next Friday. They were doing well for themselves, for once. Stephen, his friend and the bass player of the band, had slapped Jack on the back and told him to find something to soothe his throat after all his screaming. Fucker. Jack never screamed. He sang and he did it well- he knew that much. His fingers were numb from clutching at his guitar like a lifeline for the whole show, so Jack tapped them on a mindless rhythm on the counter of the bar. He was seventeen and not even close to looking legal, but the bartender was a friend of Angel's and served him without even raising an eyebrow.

Jack grinned as he drowned his second shot of tequila and waved at the girl on one of the tables who had bought it for him; she was a brunette with long hair and a low-cut blouse that made a few heads turn. She smiled back coyly and said something to her friend, half standing as if to come to where he stood. Jack watched her curves, the way her hips swayed as she avoided running into a guy in her path and felt his hands get clammy. His heart rate- already racing- jumped once, as if danger was approaching him.

It was always the same.

The girl reached him after avoiding too many bodies in her path and her smile was gorgeous. He smiled back and tried not to stare as she sat down, tried not to jump when her hand touched his arm and she leaned closer to be heard over the jarring music being poorly performed on the stage.

"Hey there. I saw you on the stage just now, you guys were awesome," She purred, sounding half-sincere. Jack nodded his head by reflex, because he'd never been good with praise, and signalled the bartender for another shot. "I'm Claudia, by the way. What's your name?"

"Jack," He offered, turning to face her directly and trying to ignore the cold feeling on his chest. "Thanks for the drink. You want something for yourself?"

"I shouldn't," Claudia laughed, leaning closer, and only then did he notice that she must be at least twenty-two. Her hand was still on his arm and he tried not to be too blatant as he drew it back. "But that rarely stops me. Care to buy me a Margarita?"

He shook his head with a slow grin and asked the bartender for what she wanted. This time, Ben- the guy at the bar- did raise an eyebrow but then he winked at Jack and served the drink for the girl with a flourish.

"Thank you," she smiled, sipped at her drink and pointed at the band on the stage. "Can you believe those guys? They're so off-beat it's almost funny."

"I know the singer," He commented, momentarily amused when that made her flustered. "He's an asshole. He's sure his only job is to remember the lyrics. The only way he'd hit a high note is if you kick him in the balls."

That made her laugh and Jack watched the way her eyes crinkled up in the corners where too-much eyeliner had been applied. She was pretty and she knew it and Jack had a feeling she wouldn't give him the time of day if he hadn't just been on stage. The thought left him with both, a thrill and a knot of annoyance that grew when she touched his shoulder with hers. She was blatant and slutty and Jack wanted to feel flattered but all he felt was cold. Uncomfortable. The lingering rush from the show was wearing off and the continuous cheers of the crowd for a band with no talent were pissing him off.

"Look, Jack," She drew out his name like it was something sweet, smile still in place as she looked him in the eye. "How about we go elsewhere? Want to go somewhere a little less crowded?"

Yes, he thought, but took his time in saying anything. It was the right answer to get himself laid. Who in the right mind would say anything different? But he wanted to say yes and then just...go. Somewhere quiet, but alone. He wanted away from her, from everyone, because over Claudia's shoulder a blonde was eyeing Jack with a grin and all the attention was getting a little overwhelming. Usually, Jack just hung out with his bandmates after a show, got himself plastered and the fuck away from the shitty crowds they frequented. But this time they'd landed a job in a decent club and he'd thought it'd be alright to mingle.

And it would be all right if his mind stopped spinning and if his body stopped panicking for no apparent reason.

"Sure," He still said, because when had he ever listened to what he really wanted? He drained his last shot and watched her as she demurely drank half of her drink before she took his clammy hand in her smaller one. She started leading the way across the dancefloor, hips swaying to the music for his eyes. He stared and thought she was cheap. On display. But she was pretty enough.

She found the back door and stepped out into the alley, turning to him with heavy-lidded eyes. Before he could ask if she had a place in mind she was all over him, hungry lips over his half-open ones, hands clutching his T-shirt. They fell back against the wall of the club, Claudia on top and Jack kissed her back, placing his hands on her hips to grind against her. She moaned and laughed a little as she drew back, perfectly manicured nails resting against the side of his face. Her nails were painted purple, clashing oddly with her green blouse. Her hair was dark brown, same colour of her eyes and Jack stared back as she studied his face in the dim light of the alleyway.

"You're a pretty one," she murmured, voice husky and Jack felt like someone was crushing his chest.

"Aren't you a pretty boy?"

He wanted to be angry and instead he drew her closer, kissing savagely and placing a hand on her ass to lift her. She mewled in delight, hands going under his shirt to fondle him before lowering to his belt. Jack let her, his own hands having already found her panties to pull them down. Her skirt rode up when she lifted her leg and Jack pushed it back all the way, studying her. She was already looking flushed, eyes bright- he should be happy. He wasn't, but he was horny as she pushed her hand down his pants, grinning when she realized he wasn't wearing any underwear.

You'll do, he wanted to tell her when she struggled to get his pants lower and smiled at him. You're nothing but a cheap thrill, but you'll do. She looked pleased with herself and he almost told her what he thought just to wipe that smile away. He felt sick as she kicked her panties off and he went to unbutton her blouse. He felt sick when he fondled her breasts and made her moan, cold when he managed to unclasp her bra. She was looking more and more like a whore as he deliberately left her almost naked while he was still clothed, barely lowering his pants to his thighs. Then he reversed their positions, slamming her against the wall with more force than necessary as she wrapped her legs around his waist.

He barely remembered to slow down enough to slip on a condom as she urged him on, moaning when he lowered his mouth to her neck to leave a blatant bruise on her skin. Then he was pushing inside and she was muffling her cries against Jack's neck before moving up to kiss him properly. He kissed back, clumsily finding a rhythm to draw back and slam back into her, feeling the tension in his groin increase with every thrust. Her nails were digging into his back, but it didn't matter. Jack closed his eyes and could almost imagine someone else in front of him; he could almost forget this meaningless fuck and replace it with something better. But he couldn't, not really, because there was nobody else in his mind. Nobody, except-

"This is what you're made for, you little shit. You're so fucking good."

She cried out on his final thrust and he briefly thought he might have hurt her, but it was secondary to the rush of pleasure that washed over him, momentarily pure, like his best high enveloping him for a long minute of quiet. Calm. Then he was back to himself and he suddenly felt nauseous. Sick. He'd thought of- when he- he'd actually thought of-

"You okay?" Claudia whispered in his ear, pushing him back to look at his face. Jack felt shaky, clammy. She looked pleased, face flushed as she regained her footing and she was smiling until she saw his expression. "Shit, I didn't break you, did I? Jack?"

Shaking, Jack drew out of her and mindlessly tossed his condom aside with trembling hands. He rearranged his clothing without looking at Claudia, ignoring her questions and her one attempt to touch his arm. By the sound of her voice, she was getting pissed. Jack felt a thousand miles away. He'd been fucking her, thinking to replace her with someone else, trying to make this mean something and suddenly his mind had been-

- there-

and he'd been seven again and that man was telling him how good he was, how pretty he was, how perfect everything was as he touched him with slimy cold hands. That man that whispered he loved him so many times as he broke Jack's world into shatters. How could he think of that when- what was wrong with him-

Then Jack felt a cold hand on his forehead and gentle fingers treading through his hair; only then did he realize he was on his knees and retching, his stomach heaving and trying to expel its contents, even though Jack hadn't eaten anything in a day. The tequila shots he'd ingested burned on the way out, more than they had going in. He closed his eyes tightly, trying to forget the images, trying to see himself where he really was. But Jack was on his knees in the middle of an alley that stank of garbage and piss, and the smell only upset his stomach further. Claudia was there, murmuring softly, asking why he hadn't told her he was sick and did he feel a little better?

No! Jack wanted to scream, choking, feeling shame wash over him when he realized there were tears on his face. He clumsily tried to wipe them clean, not bothering to push Claudia away. She was being nice instead of kicking him away in disgust. But she was still no one, a stranger he'd just fucked against a wall while he thought of-

Nothing came up when he retched again and he clutched at his stomach, breathing hard as he sat back on his knees. Claudia petted him but Jack was suddenly desperate to be left alone. The touch repulsed him. He stood shakily, drawing her up when it looked like she might be angry. Her clothing was a mess, her blouse missing a button and her bra still unclasped. Her skirt was still half-bunched up and her panties were on the grimy floor. Jack mumbled apologies and she shushed him like a mother hen, telling him it was fine, they'd had fun and he should go get some rest. He half-heartedly helped her to look presentable then fled back into the club to seek out Stephen and find his guitar.

He wanted out. Desperately.

The inside of the club was unbearably hot and this time Jack was acutely aware that he couldn't breathe.

"Jackie? Man, where did you leave the hottie you went out with, she was-" Jack turned around in a daze at the sound of the familiar voice and one look at his face made Stephen cut his teasing short. He immediately looked concerned, his hand going to Jack's arm as if he could steady him. "Shit, Jack, what did she do to you? C'mere, let's go sit down for a second, ok? You look like hell."

Jack went because he was too tired to fight, but as soon as he was sitting he grasped Stephen's hand and squeezed it so hard his friend winced as he sat down next to him.

"Get me my guitar, would you? I wanna go home." Jack mumbled tiredly, voice small. Stephen had to lean forward to hear him, but when he did he frowned, already shaking his head as he pulled back.

"Like fuck I'm leaving you to go alone like this. No way. Just wait here while I go get out stuff and go call us a cab, all right? Don't move from this seat." He waved off Jack's protest and patted his hand gently. "I'm serious, man. Wait for me right here, ok? Be back in a flash."

Then he was gone and Jack was sitting in a table in a crowded bar with no oxygen and too much cigarette smoke. He wanted a smoke for himself but knew he'd run out before the show and that he wouldn't be able to handle it now anyway. His head was swimming and the nausea hadn't quite settled. Trying to push his thoughts away, Jack put his face in his hands and just tried to breathe. It wasn't working.

The light in the hallway outside his room was like a promise. He hadn't gone to bed yet, he was still there. Near. Jack huddled under his bedcovers and tried not to wet the bed, his arm still on a sling from the last time. His chest still hurt when he breathed in. If he cried now, he'd make the man angrier, so he tried to hold the tears back too, trembling violently as he heard the television shut off from the living room. The steps that neared his room weren't awkward or stumbling, but the smell of alcohol was still there when his door was pushed open.

"How's my little boy doing?" He was asked and he knew better than to answer. He sat up and obediently went to stand in front of the towering man when he was signalled to. A hand tousled his hair and cupped his face, raising his bruised features to be examined. Jackie had managed not to cry, so he was petted like a dog and told he'd been good.

"Take off those clothes. Careful with that sling, it cost a fucking fortune."
"The hell are you waiting for? Get on the bed."
"On your knees."
"You like this, don't you? I know you do, you little queer."

"Jesus, Jack!" He heard and snapped his eyes open, only to realize he was sobbing into his hands and he must have shouted something because his throat felt raw. Stephen's arms went around him and Jack didn't want to be touched but he didn't struggle, holding on to Stephen instead and hiding his face. He heard murmurs all around him but then someone was introducing the next band on stage and the noise drowned the sound of Jack's sobs against his friend's chest.

"It's okay," Stephen told him softly, clutching him tight and tousling his hair with careful fingers. "Shh, Jackie, it'll be all right. You scared the crap out of me, man! C'mon, it's okay now, I've got you..."

It was no secret Stephen was gay. He was twenty and had had a crush on Jack for four years now, but Jack didn't feel awkward hugging him like he was. He wasn't even embarrassed for crying like a lunatic, because Stephen understood for the most part; he knew enough to not question him whenever Jack would suddenly go distant, pulling him back to himself and grounding him instead. He was his friend. And he was the only one Jack could hope would understand what he was about to say.

"There's something wrong with me," he mumbled against his friend's shoulder, close to his ear. He felt Stephen's hold tighten around him and smiled hollowly. "I-I can't look at girls without- without thinking-I mean, I can't really feel good-"

He didn't finish, but his friend understood, rubbing his back when a tremor went through Jack's body. Then, pulling back to look him in the eye Stephen looked at him seriously and with no hint of mockery asked him softly.

"And can you look at boys?"

No, Jack wanted to scream, but he just closed his eyes and tried to hold back his despair when the word wouldn't leave his lips. He wasn't gay. God, he wasn't. He liked girls, he fucked girls, he- he-he liked...

"I know you like this. Show daddy just how much."

"No, please don't let me, Stephen, don't, that's wrong," he choked out desperately around the knot on his throat because it wasn't the first time the thought crossed his mind, but with what had just happened in the alley and Stephen right there holding him and how comfortable Jack always felt with him and dear fucking God- "Please don't let him be right, Stephen, please tell me he was wrong-"

"C'mon you little fairy," Bobby always said that, and oh fuck, what if he was, how was he ever going to look at his brothers in the eye again, how was he gonna-

"Breathe!" Stephen's voice cut in through his misery and Jack blinked dazedly, realizing his friend had his hands on Jack's face and was trying to ground him, trying to calm him as he always had. "Jack, look at me. Breathe, ok? That's it, breathe. Calm down now. It'll be fine, man, we'll figure this out, okay? Just calm down."

"I think I'm gonna be sick," Jack told him brokenly and then he was moaning and heaving for the second time that night in the middle of a fucking crowded club where he was having a nervous breakdown with an audience. But there wasn't anything left on his stomach and at least, he didn't leave a mess as his friend rubbed his back gently, murmuring platitudes. He looked up and his eyes met a few stares around the club, two mocking ones and three sympathetic ones and he tried to not care as he straightened up again, lightheaded.

"Jackie," Stephen called him softly and Jack just looked blankly at him, making his friend sigh. "Look, the bouncer's signalling us, which means our cab's arrived, ok? I'll take you home. Here, there's your guitar. Let's go."

He clutched his guitar case to his chest like a shield while Stephen led him outside and he thought he saw Claudia looking at him sadly before the cold air outside hit them and his friend was leading him to a waiting taxi. The ride was silent. Jack leaned against the window and tried not to think. Stephen was clutching Jack's wrist, looking like he wanted to hold his hand but didn't want to scare him off. Jack didn't notice. The minutes dragged by and then they were outside his mom's house, where it seemed the lights were all off. Of course they were. It was like 3 in the morning. Stephen told the cabbie to wait, then led Jack to the front door.

"You sure you're all right, man? You could come stay with me," He asked for the hundredth time in the time it took for Jack to find his key. Jack just shook his head and smiled wanly, yearning for his bed and for oblivion. He felt- sick. Exhausted. Stephen impulsively hugged him and Jack just let him, not reciprocating the gesture. He wondered why he never felt uncomfortable around Stephen the way he always felt around women, and shut the thought off before he could answer himself. "I'm gonna call you tomorrow, you hear? You can talk to me about this shit."

Jack nodded and watched Stephen walk back to the cab. Then he fumbled with his key until he clumsily opened the door and just stood there, in the dark. The silence felt somehow comforting. Jack left his guitar on the foyer and quietly shut the door behind him, going to climb the stairs. When the light on the livingroom was suddenly turned on behind him, Jack nearly had a heart attack.

"What's this? No 'welcome home' hug for your big brother?"

Jack froze with his hand on the banister at the sound of the voice. He hadn't seen the car outside, of course, wrapped up as he was in his anguish. He felt his heart jump to his throat as he slowly turned around and, sure enough, there stood Bobby in rumpled jeans and a sweatshirt, looking like he'd nodded off on the couch and only woken up to tease him a little before heading to bed. Jack smiled crookedly and tried to look normal even as the sick feeling in his stomach intensified at the sight of his oldest brother. He was the last person Jack wanted to see at the moment. He just wanted to go to bed and forget he ever thought he was-

He wasn't. He just- he couldn't be.

"The fuck? Jack?" Bobby looked worried in a second, striding forward and Jack stood there, not bothering to offer explanations for his appearance, which he knew was probably shitty. "What the hell happened to you?"

Jack just shook his head at the question and went to hug his brother, allowing himself to enjoy it even as fear crawled its way up his back. Bobby hugged him back for a second before pulling back to stare at him, sizing him up. Jack couldn't hold his stare, no matter how hard he tried.


"Welcome home, Bobby," he offered instead of an answer and smiled tiredly, pushing past his brother and towards the kitchen when it seemed Bobby wasn't buying his bullshit. Rummaging through the refrigerator to find a bottle of orange juice, he tried to ignore his brother's eyes on his back. "Nothing's wrong, just had a shitty day. Are you on vacation from the league? I thought you'd be home for Christmas."

"Yeah, let's just say they gave me an extended vacation," Bobby muttered, standing in Jack's path when he made to go to the stairs again, glass of juice in hand. "Now, as wonderful as you are at lying to your brother and pretending to be normal, let's cut the shit. What happened?"

"Tired," He answered half-heartedly, knowing he was screwed and feeling icy fingers squeezing his throat. He felt trapped, small. Nevermind he was taller than Bobby now, nevermind that Bobby had no way to know. Bobby had always known. Bobby saw right through him and Jack couldn't take it, couldn't take the disgust, the hatred- he couldn't bear losing Bobby because Jack turned out to be- "Bobby, don't tell me they kicked you out. They didn't, right?"

"Yeah, dodge the question, that'll work. Speak." Bobby growled, arms crossed over his chest. He looked exhausted and Jack felt the same way. "What is it? You in trouble?"

God, yes, he thought, vainly trying to push back the shivers that wanted to take over him, the tears he felt picking at his eyelids. He couldn't do this now. He couldn't do this at all. Bobby, make it better. Please don't make it worse, make it better.

He stood up straight and tried not to flinch as he met Bobby's eyes squarely, watching the tension in his brother's frame relax just slightly at receiving the eye contact he'd been trying to accomplish. Then Jack shook his head slowly, leaving the glass of juice on the kitchen table without taking a sip. "Bobby, I'm fine. Seriously. Had a fight with my girlfriend tonight-" Ha he thought hysterically, thinking of Claudia then Stephen and then- "-and it fucked me over. But I'm fine, man. Can we do this tomorrow? We're gonna wake mom."

Bobby stared him down for a few seconds that seemed to go on forever before he relented and Jack tried not to sprint to the stairs as he told his brother goodnight. Bobby's look told him they weren't finished and Jack had no illusions this was the end of things. He hoped that the time bought at least gave him a chance to lie convincingly when the inevitable talk took place. The way upstairs and the darkened hallway seemed to go on forever for Jack, who hurried his step until he finally reached his bedroom. Careful not to wake Evelyn, Jack closed his door quietly behind him, falling to lean against it with a muffled thud.

His fucking heart was racing like he'd run a bleeding marathon.

He sighed, closing his eyes against the mirage of memories that wanted to rise to the front of his thoughts. Blindly, he pulled off his clothes which stank of sweat and cigarette and sex, throwing them away without checking where they landed. He needed a shower but could hardly take one at that hour. The sweats he wore for bed were tucked underneath his pillow and he pulled them on, not bothering with a T-shirt as he buried himself in his covers. The stillness in his room was slowly making him edgy. It was nice, secluded, safe but Jack couldn't shut down his thoughts and it was harder to quell them without noise.

Fuck, what he wouldn't give for a line of coke.

The high helped him forget, helped him regain some parts of himself that had been lost through the years. The self-confidence. The feeling of joy. He missed it like he missed little else, but he'd been clean for a year and a month now; it would hardly be the time to fall back on old habits. Bobby would be so disappointed that Jack wouldn't be surprised if it would be the last straw with him. As if a fucking fairy for a younger brother wasn't burden enough-

Jack cut his thoughts off, breathing heavily. He couldn't accept it. He'd given the idea several turns in his head every time doubt rose up, he'd repeatedly tried to ask himself difficult questions that to his day made him uncomfortable. Could he stand it if another man touched him? Could he come to like it? Did he want it? But the answers he wanted to give to those questions meant nothing every time he fucked a girl and only enjoyed it mechanically. Every time Stephen made a joke about being his boyfriend and Jack just let him, because he didn't mind.

Was he though? Was he gay?

Fuck, he didn't know. Of course he didn't, because the very idea of actually trying something always had terrified him. He'd never seriously considered it.

He was a Mercer and he wasn't bad looking- he'd been around some girls. He liked fucking them. But he'd never really been attracted to one, couldn't say it had ever been anything other than carnal lust. He'd never seen a girl the way Jerry looked at Camille, never wanted one the way Angel wanted Sofi. He supposed he was more like Bobby; for years he'd sheltered himself in that belief. Have them and leave them. But Bobby sought them out sometimes, like an itch he needed to scratch, and Jack only felt the need when opportunity was thrown in his face.

As it was, he'd never looked at men in that fashion. Terrified to be the fairy Bobby accused him of being, horrified to be the good daddy's boy he'd been told he was, he'd never dared. Could he want that? Could he possibly want that after everything he'd been through? How could- how-

"I know you like it, Jack."

Dear God, not like that.

It wasn't as if opportunity hadn't presented itself in that direction. When he'd been hooked on drugs, money had been an issue and sometimes stealing just wasn't enough. Sometimes he'd come near following in what his other friends did, he almost took up strangers in dark corners and let them fuck him for cash. But in the end, he'd never been able to do it. Not all the way. He'd given head, because he had been screwed over by the drugs, but the repulsion brought on by memories still lingered, made him loathe himself every time, made him approach suicide like a fucking salvation. Bobby had pulled him from that. But with such past experiences, Jack couldn't imagine the disgust ever dissipating, couldn't think how he would ever feel safe with another male in such a situation. What was left then? The girls he didn't give a damn about. Was this shit gonna last forever? Would he be this fucked-up for life?

He didn't stop the tears when they slid down his face. Instead, he just curled up tighter and closed his eyes, hoping he'd never had to think like this. Hoping it just went away because he was such a fuck-up that only he could have found a way to ruin all the things he'd gained when Evelyn Mercer took him in. The abuse stopped as did the foster-homes, the rapes and eventually even the drugs with Bobby's intervention. And instead of being happy, instead of feeling human again, Jack felt like scum.

He didn't deserve any of it. It didn't matter how many years he'd been here, how much he loved his brothers, his mother, his fucking family 'cause that's what they were. It didn't matter. Jack would fuck it up some way or another. He'd always fuck up happiness.

Tossing and turning for an hour did nothing to make him feel better. Jack sat up on his bed, agitated when sleep completely eluded him despite his exhaustion. The anger he felt rising in his chest- even if aimed at himself- frightened him in its intensity and he couldn't possibly relax. His breathing sped up until he was sure he would hyperventilate, muscles going so tense they hurt. Jack buried his hands in his hair, trying to regain control, but his thoughts wouldn't stop racing.

It was a recurring feeling. Permanently torn between hatred and terror, Jack had always known- social workers' lingo aside- that he was unstable. Unbalanced, they'd told Evelyn when they thought Jack couldn't hear from his hospital bed. Jack had spent his early years subdued by a foster father that used him like a fuck toy and trained him to think as such. Even when that was over, he'd lived through a string of abusive placements where the families were sure he was inferior. He learnt to retreat back into himself, to let things around him just happen. That until his eleventh placement, when an older boy had tried to break him into a fuck toy again and Jack just- snapped. Sunk the other boy's head in with a broken lamp. The self-defence claim and his young age had saved him from juvie, but nobody would take him after that. He wouldn't speak for months afterwards, would occasionally slip into what the doctors dubbed catatonia. He was insane.

Except to Evelyn Mercer. She still saw who he was underneath the words on his file. She and her adoptive sons hadn't cared about the warnings from the social workers, the doctors, or anyone else. They'd taken him in and treated him like a human being until he could finally begin to function as one again. They were his family. And they had already forgiven so much from him, so much shit-

And now this?!

He didn't realize what he was doing until he was half-way across the room and by then he couldn't stop it. The scream that was torn from his throat was feral and wordless, his already strained throat burning like he was swallowing lava. The items on his desk went flying like missiles when he threw them off the surface, grabbing and flinging CDs across the room in a blur of motion. He ripped two books' spines before he heard the commotion in the hallway, but he didn't stop to think about it.

"Come here you little shit! I'll teach you respect!"

His posters were torn to shreds by the time the door to his room swung open and he'd punched the wall four times and broken two fingers in his left hand by the time arms went to try to grab him and stop his sudden rampage. Jack shrieked like a wounded animal when he felt himself trapped and he threw an elbow backwards with such force, that his attacker stumbled and loosened his hold long enough for Jack to break free. He whirled around and threw himself blindly, colliding with a body and tackling it to the ground. Distantly, he heard the sounds of someone screaming, but he was too far gone to care as his fists began to pummel the person underneath him. The reciprocated blows to his face and the shoves to his chest didn't phase him, but when another set of arms caught him from behind and restrained him, Jack bucked fiercely but couldn't manage to get free. Then the person underneath him was shouting something in his face and someone was speaking next to his ear and Jack couldn't focus on any of it, but the noise was hurting his head and he moaned, anger receding slowly, like a wave drawing itself back.

His breathing was ragged and painful as he struggled weakly against the arms that held him, eyes closed. The hold didn't let up, tightening further while Jack's movements lost all momentum and he sank back against it. Only then he realized that whoever held him was still talking, that someone had his face in their hold and that they were petting his hair. Disoriented he blinked his eyes open, surprised to find one of them was beginning to throb. The tableau that met his eyes sobered him up and Jack felt himself begin to shake in the aftermath of his previous fury.

Mom was there, in her nightgown, gently holding his face up so he would look at her and speaking in soft tones that little by little helped to calm Jack's breathing. Angel was below him, looking worse for the wear but concerned, eyes trained on Jack's face even as he cradled his jaw with his left hand. Jack looked at him with stricken eyes when he noticed the blood on his brother's lip and realized what he'd done. He'd hit Angel. He'd fucking attacked Angel. He tried to twist away, run off, but the arms around him didn't let him go and Jack bit his lip despite the pain he felt from it. Bobby was the one holding him down, and he was muttering into Jack's ear the same things that had calmed him down when he'd been younger and his night terrors kept everyone awake. Breathing heavily, Jack nodded his head slowly when ma asked him if he felt better now, if he could hear her clearly. She stepped away from him slowly, giving him room to breathe, and Bobby loosened his hold to let him stand, leading him to sit on the rumpled bed.

"Shit, Jackie, you pack a mean punch," Angel joked in the ensuing silence, sitting down next to him and gently rubbing his back when Jack wouldn't look at him. "Man, it's fine. I know you didn't want to be doing that anymore than I want to be feeling it."

"Angel," Evelyn scolded him immediately, but Jack barely paid attention. He sank into himself, hiding his face with hands that felt raw. His knuckles were bleeding. Pain was radiating from his left hand in a throbbing pattern, making Jack realize he'd broken some fingers. He felt someone sit next to him as his hands were taken gently away to be examined closely. The care of the touch only made him flinch, a twitch of anger on his chest threatening to spill over. He wasn't calm. Fuck, he wanted out. "Jack, just focus on the now, dear. Don't worry about anything, just calm down." Easier said than done. He felt crowded, but worst of all he felt sick. He couldn't grasp his control and the proximity of his family was only succeeding in making him nervous.

"Angel, why don't you join me downstairs? We'll get you some ice for those bruises." Evelyn directed after a few long minutes of silence, patting Jack's leg as she straightened to lead her second youngest son out of the room. "Bobby, we'll have to go to the hospital for that hand in a little while. Make sure he gets downstairs."

Shit, Bobby. Jack had almost forgotten about him, until he realized Bobby was the one sitting on the other side of him. Both Ma and Angel left the room quietly, leaving Jack with him. His oldest brother didn't say anything for a while, allowing him to catch his breath, but Jack could feel the tension in his frame without looking at him.

"I'm sorry," he murmured when the silence got heavier, his voice ragged. He wasn't sure what to apologize for, but he knew he needed to do it. Bobby didn't answer, hand landing on the back of Jack's neck to rest there; it was a gesture that used to calm Jack when he was younger. "Fuck, Bobby, I'm so sorry."

"Stop that," Bobby finally cut in. He didn't sound angry, to Jack's slight relief. "You scared the hell out of us, but we'll live."

"I beat Angel," Jack offered with a small laugh that bordered on hysterical, feeling Bobby's hold on him tighten slightly. "And I'm pretty sure I hit you."

"Sure did, princess, but you should be worrying about the bruises in your pretty face from where Angel punched you back," Bobby snarked automatically, frowning when the tease made Jack flinch as if struck. "Jackie, what's going on? You gonna tell me now?"

I think I might be gay, Jack thought, nauseous at even the faint notion of letting those words fall from his lips in front of Bobby. He couldn't even say it to himself. No. It's just- confusion and - shit, no, he can't have fucked me over for good, not like this...

But it wasn't going away just by denying it. Jack closed his eyes with a shuddering sigh and hugged his arms to himself, feeling Bobby's gaze burning a hole through his head. He couldn't even begin to explain what was going through his head. What was he supposed to say? 'It's nothing really. Just had a bit of a breakdown after fucking a girl because I couldn't stop thinking about my fucking step-dad number two. And oh, yeah, I kinda think I'd like to start fucking guys, for a change.'

Bobby would kill him. He'd beat the shit out of him and then he'd kill him.

"My hand hurts," he said instead, cracking a smile that barely looked as such. "Think we could head to the hospital now?"

"If you're choosing the hospital over me, then it's bad," Bobby muttered flatly, running a hand through his dishevelled hair. "You're not gonna say shit to me, are you? Do I have to bring all our brothers into this, Jackie? You hadn't had an outburst in years; don't fucking tell me it's nothing and expect me to leave it alone."

"I'm not in any trouble," Jack assured him quietly, looking blankly at his feet. "Nobody did anything to me. I didn't do anything. I'm just- stressed. Thinking too much. But I'm fine."

"Yeah, I can tell," Bobby sighed, looking around the destroyed room. "Wanna try the truth now? Something's making you crazy."

"Bobby! Jack! Let's go, that hand needs a cast. We'll be waiting in the car!" Evelyn's voice rose from the first floor and Bobby shouted back, assuring them they'd be right down. Jack didn't move. Bobby was just looking at him and any other time Jack would have poured his heart out but this was- it was-

"Jack, I'm not gonna judge you," Bobby cut into his thoughts, startling Jack into looking up. "Whatever it is, it's tearing you up. Is it drugs again?"

Jack just shook his head, meeting his brother's eyes for a long minute before moving to stand. Bobby's hand on his shoulder stopped him before he could. "You told me something about a girlfriend. Is that what this shit is? Doesn't sound like you, letting some drama queen get to you like this. That's more up Angel's alley."

"Bobby, can we drop it?" Jack whispered raggedly, standing quickly and going to the door. "Let's go, ma's waiting-"

"Fine. Go downstairs, get in the car and I'll just drill you in front of mom and Angel, how does that sound?" Bobby intercepted his way, standing on Jack's bedroom doorway like a damned bouncer and staring his younger brother down despite the height difference between them. "Yeah? I'll just tell them you got home some two hours ago looking like shit, that you wouldn't talk to me, that something obviously happened and that you need to talk about it. Then mom will want you to talk to a shrink and Angel won't stop nagging until you crack again and beat the shit out of all of us. Sound good?"

"Bobby, for fuck's sake, this isn't about any of you!" Jack exploded, trying to push past Bobby only to be pushed back with little care. "Leave it the hell alone! I can deal with this shit, this about me-"

"What about you? What's so damned serious that you can't talk to me about it?"

"That I fucking think I'm-!" Jack froze, eyes wide when he realized what he almost did. But it was too late to stop, 'cause Bobby pounced on what he had like a predator on the hunt and started walking forward, cornering Jack when the younger man tried to back off from him.

"That you're what?" Bobby pressed, maintaining an unrelenting eye-contact that made Jack feel all of ten years old and fuck he couldn't do it, he couldn't say it but it was on the tip of his tongue and Bobby's hands were on his shoulders, shaking him, trying to make him admit that he was- was- "Jack! What is it? You're a fucking mess, Jackie, tell me what it is. I can't help you if I don't know what's going on. You're what?"

"I- I'm not- I-"
"You're what?"

Silence. It must have been a few seconds, but Jack felt it was hours as he slowly looked up into Bobby's eyes and he could barely see through the tears that made everything blurry but it was his brother and he wanted to know and- and-

"I-I think I'm gay," He whispered at last, almost too low to be heard over his own harsh breathing. And he was looking right at Bobby when he said it and Jack saw the second in which the words made sense to his brother. The shock that made him let go of Jack's shoulders and take a step back, staring at him blankly for what felt like forever. And Jack couldn't take it.

He couldn't.

So he took advantage of his brother's shock and raced past him, down the stairs and into mom's car without looking back. He ran and sat himself down next to Angel on the back seat. Mom was asking something but Jack didn't hear. He just closed his eyes and laid his head on the seat behind him and he just-

Closed off.

He didn't notice the moment when Bobby reached the car, didn't hear anything as his brother tried to get his attention. He didn't react when his mom's voice raised its volume or when Angel tried to touch him to get him to notice them. He just laid there. And he started thinking of playing on the stage, started humming to himself the song he was writing last week and that he still hadn't finished. It was a good song. The lyrics were dark, but he liked it that way and Danny, who sometimes sang along with him in the chorus lines- told him it had a great sound to it but it needed a good finale. Jack agreed. Maybe he should finish it now so they could play it at the club next Friday 'cause new material wasn't a bad idea in between playing some classics.

Later, Jack wouldn't remember the ride to the hospital, or Bobby carrying him or even getting a cast on his broken hand. He wouldn't remember the doctor or the questions he asked, and didn't know that he was being admitted for supervision because they couldn't get him to react.

He just opened his eyes a day later, when a nurse came over to check his vitals and she smiled at him. Jack didn't smile back but he answered her questions and when she rushed outside to call his family- they'd gone for breakfast, she explained cheerily- Jack just kinda sat there and tried to figure out what the hell had happened.

"Oh, thank God. Hello sweetheart, how are you feeling?" Evelyn asked the second she walked into his room, immediately taking his uninjured hand in hers and squeezing it gently.

"Just fine." Jack answered truthfully, then winced a bit when the muscles in his face twitched when he tried to smile. Evelyn looked over her shoulder when Bobby came in behind her and Jack wasn't quite sure why he felt a twinge of apprehension when his brother looked at him. "Uh, maybe a bit sore. What happened?"

"You had an outburst back at home, Jack. Remember that?" It was Bobby who answered and Jack just frowned at him for a moment, watching as his brother sat himself down at the edge of his bed and took up his hand when Evelyn let it go. He- didn't remember that, actually. But both his mother and brother were staring intently at him, like it was important and Jack tried harder, remembering the club and something about a girl, and Stephen, then his room and- and-

"Shit. Is Angel all right?" Jack asked when the images of him hitting his brother came back like a motion picture in his head. Evelyn nodded reassuringly and told him they'd both gotten a way with a few bruises each. Jack felt calmer at that but then he looked at Bobby and something in his brother's intense stare bothered him. "What? Did I do something else?"

"Bobby-" Evelyn began and Jack frowned when Bobby raised a hand to stop her words without looking away from him.

"Mom, I need to have a chat with Jackie here alone," Bobby asked, briefly turning to Evelyn to smile at her. Jack didn't like the look that crossed Evelyn's face and neither did he like the momentary panic he felt at the prospect of being left alone with his brother. The fuck had happened?

"Don't push him, Bobby." he heard Evelyn say, then the door was closing behind her and Jack just stared at Bobby incomprehensively.

"Jack, take a deep breath, ok?" Bobby asked him seriously, not backing down when Jack scoffed at him incredulously. "I mean it. What else do you remember? After the outburst was over. What else?"

"My hand hurt," Jack muttered with a smirk, eyeing the cast he now sported. At Bobby's insistent look he sighed, closing his eyes to try and recall it. "Mom was there. And Angel. And you. Then- we...talked? We did, right?" Bobby just nodded, not interrupting, and Jack was getting a little nervous, wondering what it was he'd forgotten this time. "And then the car. And I guess I blacked out. Angel must be feeling good about himself."

"Jack, what did we talk about?" Bobby pressed with a frustrated frown. Jack met his eyes, then looked down, not sure he wanted to know that. "Jackie. C'mon, work with me. We were talking about what had you so upset, remember? And you said-" he didn't finish. Jack looked up in confusion when Bobby's grip on his good hand tightened and found Bobby looking at him closely. Jack wasn't sure why he felt nervous. Bobby didn't look angry so whatever he'd said-

"And can you look at boys?" Stephen's voice and Jack was sobbing in the middle of a crowd without being able to get it together 'cause he'd been with that chick in the alley and suddenly remembered that man and why did it always go back to that and why did he feel safe with Stephen and why did girls mean nothing every time and- and-

"I think I'm gay."

Bobby didn't let go of his hand when Jack suddenly sat up in a panic, and he didn't stop calling his name until Jack's wide eyes were on his again, tearing up and terrified 'cause Bobby was going to kill him and he'd hate him and Evelyn would be so disappointed and Jack didn't want that but it was there and oh my god, why had he said that, what had he-

"Jack." Bobby was there. Bobby was still there and now he had both hands on Jack's face, trying to ground him much as Stephen had done. 'Cause Bobby always did that, always took care of him when the nightmares came back and when he was afraid even if he teased him later 'cause he was such a fairy and fuck it, but he was- "Jackie, look at me. It's all right, ok? It's fine. You're my little brother, you hear? You think I'm gonna care about something like that?"

"I'm sorry," he blurted out instead of an answer, 'cause Bobby's word barely registered through his fucking panic attack. "I don't want to. I didn't mean to be. I've been with a lot of girls but they- I don't know- I'm just- just fucked up, Bobby, I swear."

"Jack," he heard Bobby say, and suddenly his brother's arms were around him and Jack just froze. He hadn't thought that would ever happen again 'cause he was a queer or something like that and Bobby always mocked him for it. He expected anger, disgust, derision. Certainly not a hug. "Jack, breathe, ok? It doesn't matter to me. Do you understand that? I don't care if you like girls or boys or donkeys or fucking goats. I do care if you're making yourself sick angsting over such a stupid shit."

"But I care," Jack whispered back after a minute slipped by. He drew back from Bobby's hold, shaking hand running through his hair. He needed a shower. Or possibly a bath where he could sink underwater and just forget. "Bobby, I don't wanna be gay."

"Why not?" Jack looked up at that, staring blankly at Bobby's serious eyes.

"Why not?" He repeated slowly, smiling sardonically despite the pain on his face. "Why the fuck do you think? You think I want to be weirder than I am, to be so fucking different? You think I want to just- just let some guy- after what he did to me for so long and- fuck Bobby he kept telling me how much I loved it and I didn't, I swear, I fucking swear I didn't want it, I-I didn't-"

"Shit," he heard Bobby mutter, then Jack was being pressed against his brother's chest and he just stayed there, 'cause he could hide his face for a little while. "Jackie, if you're gay, it has nothing to do with that bastard, all right? He was a sick pervert. Of course you didn't want that. Jack, you were a little boy, how could you when half the time you didn't know what the hell was going on."

"But- but if I like guys-" Jack mumbled and Bobby just squeezed him once, cutting him off.
"Then you like 'em. Doesn't mean shit else. It means you don't like girls so much and that I can righteously call you fairy and tease you 'till you're old and gray. But nothing else."
"You already do that," Jack muttered, feeling calmer when he heard Bobby laugh.
"Yeah, but now I can lay it on thick, huh sweetheart?" Jack smacked him hard and Bobby just rubbed his back once before pulling back, grinning at him. "Jackie, it could be you're just confused. You're seventeen for fuck's sake, you've got time to figure it out."

"What if-if I am?" Jack asked slowly, watching Bobby's face for any sign of disgust and finding none. He felt lightheaded, the lattest events swirling in his mind like a haze as he tried to put order to his thoughts. "Shit, what 'bout- Jerry and Angel and mom and-"

"Get yourself together first," Bobby interrupted him, musing his hair. "Then you can worry about how much Jerry and Angel will tease you and how much mom won't give a damn and will want to set you up with any handsome boy she finds."

Jack laughed a little, picturing that. Evelyn probably would, too. He shook his head slowly, trying to come to grips with everything. It wasn't a simple task. He felt a little better, a tad lighter, but the memory of him wouldn't back off. Jack couldn't help thinking he wouldn't have to be this confused, this conflicted, if it wasn't for the years of abuse he'd survived. He couldn't help thinking that he'd be normal if it wasn't for-

"Jack, I'm gonna run to get the others. Angel is worried sick and Jerry rushed over here as soon as we called. And ma probably thinks I'm torturing her poor baby." Bobby told him with a grin, moving to stand. Before he could though, Jack caught his arm and just looked at him, because he couldn't find the words to thank him and Bobby just smiled and nodded as if he might have understood. "It's fine, kid. Get some rest while you can; you're getting kicked out of that bed awfully soon now you're awake."

"Sure," Jack grinned back weakly, laying back against his pillows once Bobby was gone. The silence soothed him this time, made it a bit easier to clear his head after his little chat with his brother. Jack felt- old, somehow, as he looked up at the ceiling. Stretched thin despite the relief that wanted to flood his chest at Bobby's easy acceptance of him. It wasn't that easy. It couldn't be.

But maybe it is. And he wanted to believe that, but Jack knew his head was just- a mess. He did have time to figure it out but- but maybe when Evelyn came back he could ask for advise, or maybe to talk to a shrink as Bobby had put it. He'd hated doing that when he'd been little, of course. Loathed the woman that didn't stop asking how it'd felt to have his step-father treat him like a sex slave. But- but he could use the help this time and maybe just try to stop making everything seem so huge and terrible in his own eyes 'cause Bobby hadn't had a problem with it. And Jack, well-

He could learn to live with himself. Accept it. Move the fuck on.

"Hey little bro," Jerry greeted from the doorway, followed inside by Angel and Ma and they were all so happy just 'cause he'd woken up. Jack just sort of grinned at them and met Bobby's eyes from the doorway and thought that maybe the past wasn't so important anymore. Not when he had this now. Not when he could still give a happy ending to all the pain from before.

Bobby was right. He had all the time in the world to get his shit together.