Father Figure

AN: Hello there, all. This is my first Degrassi fic, but I'm a huge fan of the show and I tried to get the characters voices right. My inspiration came from the fact that in season 2 we see Craig being essentially rescued by Joey in the opener, but don't really see how the adjustment to living with him happens. Because, let's face it—you can't go from being beaten on a regular basis to being perfectly fine overnight, right? So I decided to fill in the blanks in the flashbacks. This story is set the summer before Weddings, Parties, Anything, so to review: Ash and Craig are broken up, Ellie's falling for Craig, and Manny hasn't reappeared yet. Not that any of that really matters for this story, but it's always good to have a reference point.

Remember to Review, folks!!

Craig never even heard the branch break.

He was over at Ellie's house, helping her cut a branch off the tree in her front yard. Apparently, the wind kept knocking the branch into the window and waking her up, so the plan was to hoist someone up there and cut the branch off. Due to process of elimination—Paige refused to get her hands dirty, Marco was as scared of heights as he was of bees, Dylan was out of town, and Jimmy couldn't climb up there for obvious reasons—Craig was the only one available to make it up there. Whatever. This was only one more in the long list of odd things Ellie Nash required her friends to do for her. Craig was really just grateful that this wasn't a request to go on her date with her—Marco still talked about that particularly awkward afternoon.

Regardless, he was standing precariously on the branch of a tree in Ellie's front yard when it happened. He suddenly wasn't standing precariously so much as crumpled on the ground in agony as he clutched at his ankle.

He never heard the branch break, but he sure as hell heard his ankle snap.

The ambulance came and made a big fuss as they dragged him feebly protesting into the hospital, asking detailed questions about his medications and who they could call to pick him up.

"Just call this number and tell Joey Jeremiah that I'm here, please." He finally told the worrisome nurses, too tired and in too much pain to continue to insist that Ellie really could take him home.

He drifted to sleep on his gurney, a little high on the painkillers he said he didn't need and they shot him up with anyway. This wasn't the first time he'd broken a bone, only the first time it was truly an accident.

He woke up to the sound of a random nurse calling his name. He opened his eyes to see the mild-manned looking nurse standing over him shaking his shoulder.

"Your dad is here to get you." Craig jerked at that but then saw Joey over her shoulder, gathering his shoes and socks from the chair in the exam room. He relaxed a little.

"That's not my dad." He ignored the shrug of the nurse but couldn't ignore the way Joey froze for just a fraction of a second at his declaration. But when he turned around to face him, his face was just the same as it always was, seemingly open and caring. Craig thought to himself, 'surely he knew, right?'

Craig's POV

I'm not sure when it started, probably a couple of weeks after I moved in, but I can't be sure. Now though, Joey is no longer just my guardian—he's my father. But he's definitely not my dad.

You may not think there's much of a difference, but I know there is.

I remember the first time I remember really feeling it. I'd been here about a month.

FLASHBACK

I cough and try to muffle the sound in the pillow. There's nothing worse than dealing with a sick person when you're as busy as Joey is this week. He's already done me enough favors with the whole taking me in thing, there's no reason to add to the stress. Besides, I'm fine, really. Just a little cold. No big deal. Nothing for anyone to get super excited about.

"Craig! Can you come down here, please?" Joey's voice floats up from downstairs and I groan slightly. I'm not dressed yet, and it's past time for me to be. I hastily pull on the closest thing in the hamper I can find that doesn't smell too horrible. The jeans and t-shirt I find are wrinkled and scratchy from sitting in a heap in the laundry basket for God only knows how long, but it's better than my pajamas.

"Craig!" Joey's voice is more insistent and it's moving up the stairs. I start to panic. I try to pull the shirt over my head faster, but I'm so cold, and it hurts to move. The door opens and I know I'm caught. Joey looks surprised at me sitting on the bed in my pajama pants with a wrinkled shirt he saw me wearing a week ago pulled halfway on. I know I'm pale and sweating and can't look good, and I jolt myself into panic mode faster than I thought I could. I'm moving frantically around the room, yanking the shirt over my head and shoveling the clothes I'd pulled out of the hamper back in. I'm babbling about something, I'm not even sure what—I know it doesn't make any sense.

"Craig? What's going on?" Joey grabs my arm and I know he can tell how cold I am. The sweat all over my body is more than obvious, but I still try and convince him I'm fine.

"Nothing. Nothing's going on, I'm just running a little late is all. No problems here. I'm fine, ready to do whatever you need me to do. I'm just—" I cut myself off as I suddenly have to choke back a cough. Trying to swallow the sound takes almost all of my concentration and it hurts like Hell.

"Craig? You're not fine. You're sick." Joey's simple words nearly undo me. I inhale raggedly and look at him with panicked eyes.

"No, I'm not sick. I'm fine. You don't have to worry. Honestly. I'm fine."

"No you're not. Craig, just stop. Sit on the bed while I go get the thermometer." I sigh in defeat as I do as he asks.

He comes back and sticks the thermometer under my tongue, giving me an odd look. "You want to tell me what this is all about?" Joey's tone of voice is one that should not be ignored, and the sound of it makes me shudder.

"What are you talking about, Joey? Really, there's nothing wrong." I get up and walk away from him, trying to put as much space in between me and that tone of voice as possible.

"Craig!" At his shout of frustration I stop my babbling and duck, shaking, to the ground. It's an instinct from before and not something that makes logical sense—I know Joey's not going to hit me, I know that, but that doesn't make the instinct honed from years of practice go away any easier. All of a sudden Joey is crouched in front of me and I realize I'm whimpering.

"Come on Craig, I'm sorry I yelled. I'm not angry. Just, just get back in bed and we'll talk some, o.k.?" Joey's voice is soothing and the pounding in my head from the headache I've got is overpowering. He helps me up and I close my eyes as I ease my tired body onto the bed.

"Please, please don't be mad at me, Joey." He covered me up with the covers and quietly shushed me, telling me everything was going to be alright.

I quieted down and he said he'd be right back. I nodded, already halfway asleep and hating myself for it—Joey had done so much for me, he really shouldn't have to take care of me too. I'm a little afraid if I get to be too much trouble that he'll decide I'm not worth it and send me back to Dad's. I can't imagine what it would be like to have to go back. To have Dad know that I don't have anywhere to run to—I'm not sure I would make it out of there alive.

"Are you sick?" Angie's small voice from the doorway wakes me out of the half slumber I'm in and I open my eyes to look at her. I nod a little and she nods back. "Don't worry. Daddy takes good care of me when I'm sick—he lets me eat ice cream and stay on the couch with blankets and watch whatever I want on television. You'll feel better in no time, Craig, Daddy's here." I look at her a little disbelieving. But she's young. She doesn't understand that I'm not the same as her. I have to be good, stay out of trouble, take care of myself. Joey doesn't have to keep me here.

Joey walks back up the stairs and quietly tells Angela that Spike is here to drop her off at school. I sit up a little at that, horrified. I've inconvenienced Spike, too? Oh, God. There's no way I'm staying here now. Joey's just bent over backwards because of me and now he's going to tell me that I'm too much trouble and he's taking me back to Dad's. My breathing is getting more and more ragged as I fight not only the urge to cough, but also the urge to cry. I struggle to sit up and begin to move out of bed. Joey rushes across the room and gently pushes me back in bed, covering me again with the covers.

"Hey, hey, hey, where do you think you're going? You've got a temperature of 39 degrees AN: Assuming what I remember from High School Chemistry is correct, that's 101 degrees Fahrenheit to you yankswe've got a doctor's appointment in three hours, but until then you're staying in bed." I'm confused. Why is he talking about doctor's appointments? He should be telling me I'm going back, that I'm too much trouble, that I'm not worth the effort. I close my eyes again, trying to muster up the strength to convince him not to send me back.

"Please, please, Joey." He's stopped fiddling with the covers and puts his hand on my chest, sitting down on the bed beside where I'm laying.

"Please what, Craig?" He sounds concerned, but this has to be some sort of cruel joke—there's no way he doesn't know that I know he's going to send me back.

"You know, please don't make me say it, just please don't."

"No I don't. Just tell me what's wrong. Don't what?" He prompts me, rubbing soothing circles on my chest.

"Please don't send me back." The circles stop at this and it isn't until now that I realize they felt really good.

"Craig? What are you—"

"Please, Joey, I swear, I'm so sorry. I promise to do better next time, be less trouble, try harder not to get on your nerves. I'll do better, I swear. Please, please, please…" I trail off, looking at him.

"Craig. I want you to listen to me. Are you listening?" He waits until I look him in the eye and nod.

"You are not a burden. You are not too much trouble, and you never could be. You are not going back to him as long as I can help it, alright? You're staying here, with me and Angela, because we love you and that's where you belong, o.k.?" He looks at me expectantly, and I almost believe him, but then I remember that he's not actually responsible for me, that he can get rid of me whenever he wants.

Apparently he thought I took too long to respond, because he didn't stop there. "Craig when I married you mother, I wanted you too, you know." He pauses, and I really listen for a second, this is something I've never heard before. "Julia was afraid that a huge custody battle would cause more pain and trauma than her happiness was worth, so she decided that sharing custody would be better at the time. Never once did I tell her that I didn't want you. If she'd known what was going on, she would have fought for you in a heartbeat, and I would have been right there with her.Just like I am now. But even if you dad wasn't your dad—I would still want you around You could never be too much trouble." I look up at him and decide that he's telling the truth.

"So, you're not going to send me back?" I ask, tentatively.

"Of course not, Craig. I could never send you back." He starts rubbing my chest again and I begin to drift off.

END FLASHBACK

When I got sick and was petrified he'd send me back to my Dad, Joey kept telling me he loved me and he'd never send me back. There were no threats, no hitting, and there was no yelling. He just sat with me until I understood. It was pretty cool of him. That's why he's not my Dad. 'Cause my Dad doesn't do things like that.

Joey's POV

Craig's been through a lot. He doesn't relate to situations the same way people who haven't been abused do, and I get that. I get that more than most people he's close to do, actually. I'm pretty sure his girlfriends, Ashley, Manny, or some unfortunate combination of the two, don't understand why he's so reluctant to make anyone mad at him, why he's so slow to make a decision about anything affecting a relationship with another person. I've tried hard to understand when he does things like inform people who really don't care either way that I'm not his dad. It's a struggle, because I've always felt like his dad, whether he sees it or not. Over the first year he stayed with me, I had to get used to the way he was, and make my peace with the fact that there was only so much I could do to change him.

FLASHBACK

I sit in the kitchen and wait for him every night. I've been doing it for nearly four months, and I guess I'll continue until he doesn't come down, but I don't think that'll happen any time soon. He's been having trouble adjusting to life without fear of being beaten up every time he walks in the door. I have to be careful of my tone of voice when I talk to him, the volume of my voice, and how I touch him .I hate that it's necessary, but I know it is.

I mean, the boy ducks at the sound of yelling. Seriously, ducks. Not jumps like everyone else, but actually physically flinches and ducks. And it doesn't even have to be angry yelling. Sometimes it's just normal yelling to get someone's attention. Like once a few weeks ago Craig was in his room and Emma called. I yelled up the stairs that he had a phone call and when he didn't answer after I called twice, I told Emma I'd get him to call her back and went to look for him. I went into his room and nearly cried.

He was huddled in the corner with his hands over his ears, whimpering that he was sorry and he'd never do it again. When I asked him what he thought he'd done, he looked at me with the most haunted look in his eyes and told me he wasn't sure, but it had to be something because of the yelling.

Honestly, I wasn't sure if I was truly up for this—if I was really what Craig needed. Don't get me wrong, I've always wanted him-that was never the issue, but whether I was what was best for him, well, the trauma he's suffered is not small and it's hard to figure out what he needs. Like now, for instance. I can hear him on the stairs now and I know he's had another nightmare.

Once he fell asleep on the couch after watching a movie and I heard the echoes of one of his nightmares. He doesn't ever want to talk about them, but the screaming he was doing clued me in on how bad they were. Particularly since by the time I got him to wake up he was so shaken that he actually initiated a hug. Which is odd for Craig—he absolutely refuses to touch anyone other than Angie most of the time. I'm told that's relatively normal for physical abuse victims; the abuser initiated affectionate contact after the abuse and so comforting touches often have traumatic associations in the victim's head—at least according to the book I got from the library to try and help me figure out what the hell I was doing with this kid.

Craig shuffles into the kitchen and sits at the table.

"D'youthink…" He trails off, looking uncomfortable.

I wait for him to continue. The book said I needed to wait for him to come to me most of the time. So here I am, making myself available for the next night in a 4 month string of nights that he's come downstairs unable to sleep after a nightmare.

"D'youthink it might be o.k. if I talked to you?" He looks down at the table, seemingly mortified for even asking. I'm not sure what the correct response is to get him to trust me, so I go with my gut instinct.

"Of course, I mean, that's what I'm here for, Craig."

"When I was with my Dad he hit me—you already knew that. This is stupid. The counselor was wrong. I'm going back to bed." He begins to get up from the table.

"What do you mean the counselor was wrong?" I'm really confused now. Craig has always flat out refused to speak to anyone about his issues—at least to my knowledge he has.

"There's a counselor at school. I fell asleep in math last week and got sent to her. She suggested the nightmares might stop if I told someone why I get them. I thought that since you're y'knowyou that it might be good to talk to you, but you already know this stuff, so this is stupid."

"Craig, I don't think it is. Sit down, please." He looks at me, but sits down at the table again like I ask. He doesn't begin to speak, so I guess start-up is all on me tonight. "What are your nightmares about?" I start with an easy one—even if we get no further, at least he'll be able to sleep tonight.

"They're always memories. Different ones, mostly." I wait for him to elaborate, knowing that the clenched fists on the kitchen table mean he's working through something that I shouldn't interrupt. "Like tonight. I dreamt of the night before my Dad and I moved here. I was saying goodbye to one of my friends from school and it had started raining on the way home. Because of the rain there weren't any cabs just hanging around empty, so I walked home and was twenty minutes late to dinner." He pauses and I reach my hand across the table to him, grabbing his hands in mine.

"It's o.k., Craig."

"I walked in soaking wet and he made me sit there in the dining room covered in boxes and eat the pizza slices he'd put on a paper plate in my wet clothes. I was so cold my lips were turning blue and I couldn't finish and when I told him that he grabbed my arm and dragged me upstairs I was pleading and crying and he yelled that it was all my mother's fault for teaching me to be late and weak and pathetic and then he grabbed the paperweight sitting on the end table in the office and threw it at my chest. He pushed me to the floor and then started kicking my stomach and chest. I was screaming and yelling and begging for him to stop but he just didn't." He stops talking and looks at me. The dead look in his eyes makes my heart break.

"That's where the dream ends?" I choke out the words, hating myself for not even being able to think about the things my son—and at this point he is my son—actually lived through.

"No, that's where the memory ends. In real life he kept kicking me for about five minutes and then left the room. I crawled into my bedroom and went to sleep. When I woke up the next morning my Dad had made breakfast and he handed me $500 for a new camera when I came downstairs."

"What about the dream?" I ask, almost afraid of the answer. I clench my teeth at the thought of how the miserable bastard tried to buy affection, but decide that that is a thought train for later.

"In the dream that's when everything morphs and I'm standing watching him do it to Angie and I can't move and I can't scream and I can't find you. I'm trying to help her but I can't and it happens over and over for longer than it happened to me and I don't know how long she can take it and she's screaming for me and I just can't…" He stops the long train of speech and takes a ragged breath.

I just sit and look at him. When I decide he's not going to say anything else, I make another snap decision. This one goes against the book I read that was written by actual psychologists. But I'm a dad and instincts trump psychology in this case. Even as I make it I wonder if maybe I'm making the wrong decision, but I stick to my instincts.

I move to his side and pull him into a hug.

He resists at first, but I don't let him go. Eventually he relaxes into my arms and I rub circles on his back, telling him it's all going to be o.k., and that it's over now and that I'm not going to let anything happen to him anymore. Before I know it he's hugging me back and I realize he's crying into my shoulder.

After a while we pull apart and I can see he's tired.

"Tell you what. How about we both go back to bed and see how sleeping goes, o.k.? If you still can't sleep, well, you know where to find me." I look at him, he still looks uncertain.

"I'm not going to bother—"

"Craig, I thought we'd already established that you absolutely cannot bother me, no matter how hard you try." I scold playfully.

"Right. I'll just try bed, then." He gives me a small smile and gets up to go upstairs. I rise for the table as well and mentally pat myself on the back.

This is my first score as Craig's dad—the first time I can really see that I did some good. I'm feeling pretty good as I trot off to bed, and even better when I wake up several hours later and realize that Craig slept the rest of the night.

END FLASHBACK

I feel like his father. I try to be the best father figure I can be. Part of that means that I really have to let him call me what he's comfortable calling me, and not push. But still, the fact that he still introduces me as 'Joey'—no other explanation—still hurts a little.

But I'm the Dad and he's the son, so what hurts me isn't so much the important thing. Not nearly as important as what makes him happy, healthy, and comfortable.

Craig's POV

I watch as he gives me a slightly pained smile as the car pulls into the driveway.

"Don't try and get out on your own, I'll come and help you." His statement breaks the thoughtful silence that the car ride back from the hospital was surrounded by.

I nod slightly and wonder at myself. I've been told that I'm what is politely known as a chatterbox—one of my teachers once told another that I just didn't know when to shut the fuck up when he didn't think I could hear him, and actually, I think that description fits me perfectly.

So why am I having trouble with this now? I realized at the emergency room that Joey didn't understand why he's not my dad, and that I really needed to tell him—but now I'm at a total loss for words.

Joey comes around to help me out of the car, helping me up the stairs and into the kitchen. He sits me at the table and gives me a quick smile as he runs to shut the car door and grab the prescription bag off the backseat. When he comes back I decide to just go with what I had.

"Hey Joey? You're not my dad." At his jerking motion from across the room, I decide that I probably could've opened a little better than that.

"W-what?" Joey's startled look almost makes me laugh, until I see the masked pain that's behind it.

"I mean, I don't think of you as my dad." Wait, that wasn't quite right either. "I mean, well, this is all coming out wrong—"

"No, no, it's alright, Craig. Your relationship with your father was complicated—"

"No, you don't understand. He wasn't my father. You are."

"O.k., um, Craig? I don't really understand what you're talking about."

"Just-just sit down and listen a minute." I wait for Joey to sit cautiously at the table and watch as he apparently steels himself for whatever it is I'm going to tell him.

"Alright. I'm listening."

"O.k., look. My dad was mean. He hit me and manipulated people to get his way, to get his feelings across. I was petrified of him. I could never relax, I could never just tell him what I wanted him to know, y'know?"

At Joey's nod, I figure he gets what I'm saying so far, so I keep going. "You, on the other hand-you don't hit and you don't manipulate—you're definitely not mean. You're a real father figure."

I look at him and see he seems shocked, but this needs to be said.

"Do you get it? My Dad is horrible, but my father is way more important to me." I look at him, silently pleading that he'll understand. I know this is weird, but that is how I have the roles separated in my head.

Suddenly I'm being crushed into a hug.

"I love you, you know that?" Joey's voice sounds a little watery, but nice. Like He's really proud to know me or something.

"Yeah, I know." Joey stops hugging me when I say this and he pulls back to look at me.

"So, roast beef for dinner?" He smiles at me and I know he really understands. Which is all I really wanted.