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, Table 1, Prompt #32: Torn.

Truth Is

No matter what shithole town you're in, someone knows a guy, and that guy has drugs. That guy has some sort of mystical powers or shit, because he can just spot those people who take things just one step too far, close in, and exchange whatever addiction was sufficing before for the addiction of a lifetime.

Fucking heroin.

Alex hasn't decided yet who he's going to take out, but he likes the idea of beating up the dealer. He knows who the guy is, he's stalked his dad, watched him make the deals. He's this guy in a leather jacket who obviously thinks he's cool and the king of the fucking world because he gets people high. Wrestling's done its job, Alex was no pussy before but now he's much more of a badass, someone people think twice about talking shit to. And this dealer is probably tough, Alex gives anyone with the balls to deal drugs the credit of being tough, but he doesn't come home from practice with his dad gone and his mom beat to shit.

He slouches back in his car and drums his hands on the steering wheel impatiently. His father is crossing the street to get to his Taurus and Alex looks between the old man crossing the street and the dealer with his brisk walk.

Normally he'd just turn up the music and drive wherever he could think of, normally he'd do anything but even consider ending this. But today, Mom cried. Today Mom fought back, and then Alex came home to find her sobbing on the floor where old man Jack left her. And ever since, nothing has been enough to keep him from the urge to punch something.

He turns the car on and it roars to life; he makes himself breathe for ten seconds, twenty, before even allowing himself to hit the gas.

Home is surprisingly sedate. The house is average, the window is backlit with the glow of the television screen because Mom is probably watching the reruns of some sitcom, and Dad isn't back. For one horrible, aching moment, he misses Janie, who could have done something -- at the very least, something better than this.

When the door opens and he sees the first sliver of Mom's face, she's already stock still like the deer sighted by the predator. He closes the door behind himself, says nothing, and hangs up his coat. "It's me," he says through the resistance in his throat.

Mom's smile is bright when she turns to him and he has to turn away a little when he sees how expertly she managed to cover most of the bruising with her makeup. It doesn't match; her face looks shiny, like glazed ceramic. "Finally! Dinner's in the oven, it's still warm. How was school?"

"Good." Alex removes his dinner from the oven. It's picture fucking perfect the way it's all arranged on the plate. He'll never understand how she can do it. He's only looking on and the split second that something like this happens, he freaks out and fucks up. "Coach's kid is sick."

"Oh, which one? His family is just so nice, volunteering for all of the athletic events -- and you really should take a look at his daughter, she's a nice girl. Smart," Mom emphasizes.

Alex rolls his eyes but pulls up a TV tray and sits down next to her on the couch. Yeah, so most of his girlfriends were idiots; at least they were fun. "Mom, Heidi's a science nerd," he explains. "She and I wouldn't work. And Bella's sick, his three-year-old, she's got some sort of ear problem or something."

"Poor dear," Mom says with feeling, her eyes on Paul Reiser who is gesturing wildly on the screen for some comedic reason or another.

His stomach is nervous, but eating whatever dinner she makes tends to boost Mom's ego so he chokes down as much as he can, and only then feels remotely comfortable talking. "Mom," he says, voice low and uncertain.

"Alex?" She looks at him for an instant and just as suddenly looks away. He sets down his fork and touches her arm, her flinch triggering a violent flash of anger's adrenaline through him.

"I'm ending this." His voice stays stable and that's the one thing he can thank God for right now.

There's fear in her eyes and that startles him, makes him a little nauseous. "Ending this?" she echoes, and puts her hand over his. Their fingers weave together and for a moment, he almost can remember when he used to be comforted by his mother's touch.

Alex nods. Nothing more is necessary. It's stupid that after the old man's done much worse than this, that Alex still sat by and hid as it went on, but all it took was his mother full-out crying to seal someone's goddamn death warrant. Her lip quivers and he puts his arm around her, moves closer, resting his head against her shoulder. Once upon a time this was Mom with her arm around him, soothing his bruises from football or skateboarding or anything stupid he tried whether he liked it or not, and now everything's on its fucking head.

Fucking heroin.

The door opens and the sound is unmistakable. Jack's home. Alex feels his mother stiffen in his arms and he wants to say something comforting, something to make what's going to happen next better. But there's nothing better. Alex isn't a talker; truth is, he isn't much of anything. But he has a fuck of an arm.

"Sara, is dinner on?" Jack's voice precedes him. Alex practically jumps away from his mother, grabs the dishes and the TV tray and goes to put everything away, all by nature. Like all families, the Karevs have a routine for dinner. Jack's dinner. They'll watch the news, congregated around the TV, and everyone will agree on how the world's going to hell. Then Jack goes into the bedroom and plays guitar, but everyone knows better. Jack's acoustic guitar has his stash taped inside the body.

"It's in the oven, Jack," Mom says, and Alex can hear the click of her changing the channel to the news already as he washes his own dish to stall.

Jack's heavy stride enters the kitchen and Alex feels a strange bravado, dares to meet his father's eyes. Dad's high already. "Hey," Alex says, almost cheerfully, adding a wave on second thought.

"Hey, Al." Jack bends to get his dinner from the oven and truth is, Alex has to press himself against the wall to keep from pulling a Hansel and Gretel and shoving the old man into the hellfire he deserves. "Heard from Iowa State yet?"

"No." Truth is that he knew that Dad spent half a semester as a music performance student at Iowa, so he applied to U of I instead. "Dinner's good tonight."

"That'll be a change," Jack says with a snort, grabbing the same TV tray and setting up dinner as the news anchors just start on the real news. "I mean Christ, Sara, none of this tastes like anything."

Mom searches for words to speak. "I'm... I'm sorry. Try adding salt?" she suggests. "I didn't add much salt."

Alex forces himself to sit next to his mother. "You haven't even tried anything," he points out, slouching on the couch. "And it looks good, too."

"When I want your opinion, son, I'll fucking ask for it," Jack tells him, raising a single finger in warning.

He averts his eyes to the TV. The stories unfold and he almost relaxes. A pervert's going to jail. There's a recall on peanut butter with E. coli in it or something. Some crazy fucker locked his kid in a cage in the basement. "What has this world come to," Jack mutters at the last one.

That's about it for Alex and his patience. "Yeah, how fucked up, everyone knows if you hit someone in the mouth they won't give you any trouble after that," he says, surprised at how easily the words come and just how good it feels.

"Alex," Mom says; it was probably meant to shut him up but it comes out as begging.

"Sara," Jack snaps off and her mouth closes into a tight line. "What goes on between your mother and me is none of your damn business, now shut your fucking mouth," he says to Alex, eyes set right on him.

He stands, never breaking his father's gaze. "Don't do it again." Every word is measured and no matter how badly this could end, Alex isn't sure he'll care. If he gets just one shot in, this'll be worth it.

Jack is on his feet before Alex even finishes speaking and Mom shouts "No!" before anyone says another word or makes another move.

"Sara, stay out of it," Jack says, catching her gaze and his look, his words, his nod when he sees the recognition in her eyes all even.

For once Alex thinks he agrees with the old man. "Yeah, Mom. Get out of here," he says, jerking his head towards the corridor.

"Don't you dare get up," Jack warns her.

"Go," Alex tells her, gentle, expression blank. "Just go."

Mom shakes her head but gets to her feet anyway, slips past Jack's grab at her arm to drag her back, and when Jack tries to go after her, Alex shoves him back. "Think you're the man in this house? You're not even a man." Jack punctuates it with a shove in return.

He shoves his sleeves up. There's nothing to hold him back. Nothing that was his father is left in this man, this is just a mean junkie who doesn't deserve to live. "Shut up for once in your fucking life and fight someone who can put up a fight."

Jack snorts and sniggers and swings at him; his right connects but now it's on, it's finally on, and Alex doesn't fucking care what happens to him now so long as this junkie gets his dues. The adrenaline that's been shooting through him for what feels like hours now numbs the pain and he just keeps punching, elbowing, and Jack is suddenly shrinking beneath the blows. He's cornered and finally, finally finally, Alex sees fear in his eyes.

And then he keeps going.

At some point Jack hits the floor, unconscious. The sound wakes Alex up and he draws a breath in, exhales, stares down at his bloody fist. Looks like Jack's going to be missing a few teeth. They broke a lamp in the scuffle and the living room is a goddamn mess, but still the news blares on about the football trades and there's the TV tray, untouched, with Dad's never-perfect-enough dinner still sitting there.

He backs up and leans against the wall, tilting his head back to touch the wall. The pain is setting in but he can't bring himself to care, because how can he feel like the bad guy when all he did was what needed to be done?

"Go for a drive." He opens his eyes and looks to see his mother standing there, standing stronger and more certain than he's seen in the past nine years of this insanity to be sure. "I... I have to call an ambulance, Alex."

Shouldn't he feel bad that his dad is on the floor, crumpled and disgusting, bleeding from the mouth, and the blood's on his hands? That the ambulance'll pick him up and all they'll see is a victim? "Mom," he starts, but he can't find any other words. He turns to her and she just seems to know, like moms always do, and just puts her arms around her grown son.

"Go on, sweetheart," she whispers, her fingers cool on the back of his neck. "Go on."

She releases him, and the look she gives him, the sadness in her dark eyes just like his, could be grateful. Truth is, he doesn't want to think about it. He walks away without looking back at his father and gets into the car, but there's nowhere to go. He drums his hands on the steering wheel and waits for the ambulance to come.

No matter what shithole town you're in, every night there's a family falling apart. If you're lucky, it isn't yours.