Disclaimer: I do not own Grey's Anatomy or any of the characters from that show within this story.

For the 100 Situations challenge on Livejournal. Prompt #83: Prison.

Frequency

"Too long a sacrifice can make a stone of the heart." -- William Butler Yeats.

It's a long drive and after a good hour Alex checks the radio in the Karev family car, twists the tuning dial to reach the commentary on the earlier Panthers game. The Panthers aren't his favorite college team by a long shot (go Hawks) but sports is usually a good distraction. It's more attractive than his other options, bitching and moaning, sulking, all that stupid shit. Life has a tendency to suck but that's no reason to obsess over it.

It's just his luck that they lost, which makes it hard to live vicariously through any leftover enthusiasm. Hey, at least he tried.

The roads are clear, empty at this hour, so there's not much to look at. He thinks he recognizes a few cars at the liquor stores he passes and considers stopping off for a pick-me-up. He rethinks it immediately. He can be stupid, but considering where he's headed, underage DWI is probably a bad idea, so he just turns up the heat. November cold is seeping through the window; it should start snowing soon.

Alex is not looking forward to Thanksgiving break, days and days without practice where he'll be expected at home, but it could be so much worse, he knows. It's a big meal and Mom's pretty happy and the old man stays in a generally good mood, and Alex can watch football with him and pretend that they're normal, so it's a good thing. Janie comes home, too, if Alex begs her.

He makes a mental note: Call Janie. His hands tighten on the steering wheel and he stares ahead, tries not to think of tomorrow, when he'll have to survive a full day of high school on three to four hours of sleep.

Naturally, he wouldn't care about high school if he didn't care about college, and he wouldn't care about college if it wasn't his only way out. Coach said, though, that they won't take complete dumbasses, no matter how great of wrestlers they are. Alex thinks U of I will take him no matter what he scores on the SAT or whatever, because he is that good, but he stops saying it after Coach makes him do an inane amount of laps.

Latin at 9 AM tomorrow and he'll be as dead as the language itself. He can't wait.

Before he can think about it, Alex reaches for his cell phone and dials. It only rings twice and there's an answer. He immediately turns down the radio.

"... Hello?" she answers blearily, yawning. "Who is this?"

Just like that, he's smiling. A little. "You seriously went to bed before midnight, Steph?"

"Alex, you're an ass," Steph chides, with laughter in her voice. "This isn't one of those calls, is it? You're not under my window?"

As girlfriends go, she's the best he's had, to be totally honest, though he'd never tell her that. Once they know you like them, they don't try as hard. "I wish," he says wryly. "I can stop by later if you want..."

"I'm studying!" she protests in a chirp, immediately spurring his laughter. "I am! Where are you, anyway, what's going on?"

He can't say, I'm heading for the police station two towns over. He can't say, Picking up my dad from the lockup, he beat down someone who probably tried to steal his stash. So he says, "Not much, just driving. I can stop by later if your dad won't shoot me."

"My parents are probably already pissed that you called at this hour anyway. But you're the Great Alex Karev so they'll forgive you," Steph teases.

"Damn right." Now he considers turning back, leaving his dad to rot maybe forever, and actually enjoying a night for once. "Has to be some perk to dating a wrestling star."

She giggles at that, but grows a little serious with her next question. Girls are full of questions. "Is it true that college scouts are going to be at the next meet?"

"Coach said probably, yeah," Alex says nonchalantly. "I don't mind. It'll be no contest." He spots the police station on the end of the next street and makes a face, but just pulls into the parking lot. "I should go." He doesn't have to fake regret.

She hesitates, he hears her breath catch before she begins, "Are you sure nothing's -- "

He stops wasting gas and turns off the car, cuts the rest of the question off before he's even remotely tempted to consider answering it. "Yeah. I'll pick you up tomorrow, 7:30 sharp, that sound good?"

"Yeah, okay," she sighs, and he can hear the sheets rustling as she settles in. "If you still want to come here, I'll sneak you in."

"I'll keep that in mind," he promises, smirking, and she blows a kiss into the receiver before she hangs up. He tucks his phone away and gets out of the car, to get this over with.

Jack Karev rests against the wall inside the lockup, head tilted back with bruising livid on his cheek. His expression is dark, like a punished child who knows exactly why they're always sent to the corner. A long moment passes and he doesn't notice Alex, long enough for him to leave, but Jack stands when he sees his son standing stock still in his light. "What are you doing here?" he asks Alex; he approaches the bars with a saunter.

"It took half of my savings account to bail you out," Alex says. If he stares at the bars rather than at the animal behind them, he won't have to think about or feel any of this. "Because this isn't the first time you've started something here."

"He asked for it," Jack snaps, grabs the bars with calloused, thin guitarist's fingers (the claw they're clenched into now resembles an E7, yeah, Alex knows those hands well) and presses his stubbled face against the cold metal. Some part of Alex recoils and wants to retreat, but the urge to snarl and do something drastic equalizes it, and he just stares at his father's twisted face as he goes on. "How many times, Al, how many times have I told you not to mouth off to your old man like that?"

It's the "Al" that does it, a name from childhood, a name from football outings, guitar lessons. It wasn't whined or spat like it is now, it was the closest the old man ever got to telling his son he loved him, and he can't, won't put on a name on what it is now. Anger is hot, crystalline, sharp at the back of his throat until he swallows hard. And just like that, it all cools to reality.

He's doing the best he can, Mom said last night, we can't ask for any more than that, he's in a bind, can't find gigs or work, you know... And he knows, so all he says to his father is, "Let's go."

They open the door of the cell and Alex widens his stride, separating himself from his father by as many feet as possible until they reach the car.

The old man is watching him. Alex imagines telling him what is what, making him feel what he's doing to all of them, if he can only find the words. When I leave, he wants to say, no one will be here to save your ass. You deserve everything you get.

He doesn't say anything. He's never said anything and he never will. He just turns the key in the ignition and drives his father home.