Yes, I write too many one-shots. However, this isn't really, since it takes place the night before the incident in Wither.

Nineteen

A JSRF fanfiction by Bagatelle


He wakes up with a little shriek, like always, his panting breaths coming in wheezes for a few seconds as he tries to remember where he is. Then he registers reality, the breaths turn to sobs, and I recognize the name he's choking out and my chest burns with hatred for it.

…It's been a year, since me and the kid took up space here in this apartment. About two and a half years since the GG's cracked and spread out, and we all went our separate ways in life. I thought it would be different, you know, living out like this: like normal civilians, since we're not really youths anymore—well, he still is, I guess, but…you know—but it's pretty much like it was before. Still shitty, and with less friends and less money. I can't go back now, though. Can't go back to life like before, because the GG's will never be the same without that back-stabber, and I don't have the time or the energy to try and wrangle up a new gang. I'm getting on, anyway. I'm almost twenty-three, and even the kid'll be nineteen in a few months.

Shit, that reminds me. Gotta remember to get that fucker a birthday present soon, or I'll forget to do it altogether.

Fuckin' hell. He's crying his eyes out in the other room, trying to stifle it in his hands, but I can still hear it loud and clear. He's on the couch, 'cause he let me have the bed right away when we realized there was only one bedroom in this apartment: too embarrassed, I guess, to front his ex-leader for sleeping space. I should switch out with him, though. He goes through enough shit as it is, with his night terrors and shit every fuckin' night. I really think he'd sleep better if he had the bed. I'll talk to him about that tomorrow.

…I am so tired of this. So fuckin' tired of hearing him wake up and bawl, 'cause of how fuckin' alone he feels. I mean, I try as hard as I can to make him feel loved, you know…give him what he wants, even if I can't afford it, let him win races when we're out rolling together…cook him what he wants to eat for dinner, let him control the TV. I guess that's not good enough, though, 'cause even if he does smile at me, he's back to that lost look in his eyes and his furrowed eyebrows again not a minute later. I just want the kid to be happy, you know? I just want him to feel like he belongs somewhere, like he used to. Before…

My whole body tenses, in a panic when I hear him get up off of the couch. He pads down the hall in his bare feet and stops at my door, pausing to, I suppose, make up his mind about whatever he's going to do. Shit. More than half of me hopes that he gets over it and decides it's not worth bugging me about, because I'd rather not have him find out that I can't sleep, either.

Against my will, he steps into the room, and I close my eyes, pretend like I'm asleep. I really, really don't want to talk to him about this right now. He kneels beside the bed, though, and stares at me for a few seconds, trying to decide whether or not to wake me up. Part of me feels guilty about doing this—for trying to fake him out and push him away—and I hate myself for it, because I know I'll break if he starts crying again. Which he will. He reaches out hesitantly and touches my arm, shaking me gently.

"…Corn," he whispers, his voice a low squeak. "…Yo, Corn, please…please wake up…"

He's never done this before. It's been a year, and he's never come to me even once about his night terrors. Not even during the day, when it'd be less foolish to talk about them. I shudder and roll over lethargically, face away from him, hoping that'll put him off it until tomorrow, when I'm going to want to talk to him, anyway. I don't have the strength to talk about this right now: it was what was keeping me up, after all. And if I can't get sleep, like this, I never fuckin' wanna talk about whatever's bothering me. Because usually it's personal, and if it ain't, then I feel stupid for being bothered about it. He grips my arm softly and shakes me again.

"Yo, Corn," he says, a little louder. I grunt, but shouldn't have. Fuck, now he knows I'm awake. He takes his hands off of me but is still staring at the back of my head, waiting for me to turn around. I can hear him sniffling behind me, Christ, and I'm getting ready to sit up and look at him. I can't take it when he cries in front of me like this. I've seen him do it too many times, and I know it's always, always genuine. I guess that's what bothers me. 'Cause he's old enough to not cry, you know? Boys his age shouldn't cry about anything, especially Rudies who're as tough as he is. Shit, I dunno, though…he was always the baby of our group: four years my junior, even half a year younger than Rhyth. Maybe being the baby made him less tough than I thought he was. I guess I might've spoiled him a little, too, you know? 'Cause I was everyone's acting father, and parents almost always spoil the youngest, even if they don't do it on purpose.

He tries to breathe, but it's a clipped, shuddering sound, and I tense again and roll back over, staring into his wet, round face. Relief sparks through his eyes for an instant, but then his lower lip trembles and he stares at me, his shoulders slumped, his posture pathetic. His face screws up and I can tell he forgot what he wanted to say to me, which is annoying. He's scared, though. That expression is one of fear, which is something I rarely see in him, and that's incentive enough for me to sit up and move over so that he can sit beside me on the bed instead of on the floor. He scrambles to get next to me, and it's sort of endearing and sort of concerning at the same time, because he falls into me, latches around my middle and starts crying into my shirt.

This poor, poor kid. I look down at him, watch the way he's shaking, and remember all the other times shit like this has happened between us. It's only been within the past three years, though: since that asshole left us without a word, and this poor little thing here with me got his heart broken by his idol. Kid wanted to be just like that motherfucker: wanted to dance like him, wanted to skate like him and tag with just as much style. The bastard didn't even give him a second thought once he decided to leave, though. Just up and left, and the kid was all alone, felt fuckin' abandoned…still does, actually. Which is why he came with me when I told him I was shipping out for good. He didn't really say it to me, but I could tell, in the way he was looking at me, that he didn't want to have to end up going back home to his father, and…well, he has no idea where his mother's at. Without me, he doesn't have anybody else…except for maybe Soda, but Soda doesn't dig the roommate scene, and there's no way he'd be able to put up with this kid crying all the time like he does. Even I can hardly stand it, after all.

I clear my throat and touch his head tentatively, smooth his hair a little and he pushes into me, like he's afraid I'm gonna disappear or something. It's fuckin' disorienting. "…Kid…get ahold of yourself," I mumble, squeezing his shoulder. "…Christ, you're eighteen…almost nineteen years old. Stop fuckin' crying." The words aren't meant to be cruel, in any sense. He ignores them still, though, as if they are, and pulls back into a sitting position and looks up at me, probably feeling a little ashamed of himself for coming into my room in the middle of the night to cry on me. He sniffs hard and swipes at his face with his little hands.

"…I'm s-sorry, yo," he chokes, bowing his head. The middle of his nightshirt is stained where he wiped his face earlier tonight and in nights past, little blotches of off-color fabric and stretched threads where he grabbed it and pulled it up to his eyes. He's gonna make himself sick, crying nonstop like this. And that's gonna piss me off even more. But I'm not pissed at him: I'm pissed at the fucker who left him, the fucker who made him this way. I can't even think his name, right now, it makes me so fuckin' mad.

"What's the matter with you?" I ask. "It's gotta be, what…two in the morning?"

He shivers and his hands grope at my sheets. "…Yo, I h-had a…bad dream," he stammers, and his face flushes when he realizes how stupid that sounds. I don't judge him for it, though. I know it must've been fuckin' horrible, if he's this worked up about it—worked up enough to come into my room at this hour and wake me up to tell me about it. My instincts as his guardian are overpowering my subtle urge to send him back to his couch-bed with a glass of water and advice to be a man, so I sigh and squeeze his shoulders to let him know that I'm here for him. His mouth trembles a little, and I see a vague, grateful smile trying to break through.

"…You'll be all right, kid," I murmur, in all attempts to make the words sound soothing. He hiccups and sniffs, his cheeks and eyes pink with stress, his green hair hanging, stringy, around his face. He might be almost nineteen—already a man, in that physical sense—but he's still just a child in his mind…still a little brother, still the pampered baby, who needs to be reassured that life isn't going to swallow him whole if he's left to fend for himself for longer than a minute at a time. I hate myself for caring so fuckin' much about this kid. For caring enough to put him first, even when it hurts me like this. "…Tell me about it. Go on."

He looks up at me, his eyes shining in the artificial light filtering through the broken blinds on my window. Looking at him, right now, I'm just realizing how tiny he really is, how frail and helpless in every aspect of his person, and Christ, it makes me feel like shit inside to think about him ever getting hurt because of something that I did, or that I neglected to do. I know enough about this kid to conclude that he doesn't deserve any more pain in his life, and he sure as hell doesn't deserve to be crying right now over something like this. Crying over something his fuckin' dickhead idol did to him.

He shivers and looks at my name, embellished on the front of my shirt, because I guess it's easier than looking me in the eye. I really can't blame him for feeling that way. My face can be kind of unnerving. "…I d-dreamed that I couldn't f-find you…" he says quietly, still wringing my sheets in his hands. "…Th-that you left, and…yo, the only p-person I could find was B-Beat…" I flinch at the sound of the name, but don't interrupt him. He hiccups again. "…He t-told me you were…you w-were dead, yo…and I h-had to tough it out on m-my own, from now on." The kid grimaces, stares at my big hands, sitting still in my lap. "…Then he l-laughed and skated off, yo. B-but…but I…y-you were…I knew h-he wasn't lying, yo…f-fuck, and I was afraid…when I woke up, you know, the f-feeling didn't g-go away, yo…I th-thought you…you might've…"

His face screws up again, and tears flow freely down his cheeks like little waterfalls. He's so terrified that he's gonna get left behind, even though I told him a long time ago that it would never happen like that. It's hard to convince somebody who feels so fucked over of anything, though. God, my heart is aching with sympathy for him. And, you know, for once in my life…I really, really want to hold him. I really want to tell him—to convince him—that I'm not going anywhere, and that he doesn't have to feel separated like this anymore. But, you know…I have no experience with that kind of psycho-sensitive bullshit. The best I can do, when he's feeling like this, is to let him hug me, and to try my best to hug him back. Because it's fuckin' heartbreaking, to see him like this: so upset about something that didn't even happen. Something that won't happen, but that he's worried will, all the same I touch his hands gingerly, hold them both between mine, just to let him feel me close to him. He looks up at me and blinks, in pieces. His fingers are shaking, weak and injured.

"…I would never do that to you, kid," I say softly, staring at him with what I hope can be considered sincerity. "…I swear…I'll never leave you like that. All right? So you don't ever have to worry about it happening."

He's so damn young…but so fuckin' dejected, like he thinks his whole life is over. And I hate that it has to be like this for him. He moves forward on the bed and wraps his arms tight around my neck, pressing his soaking eyes into the base of my throat, and his body is tiny, so easy to support. I wrap my arms just as firmly around him, press my hand into his back, rub his spine to help him calm down. He chokes and sputters hardly discernible words to me, tells me he can't help it, that he's terrified it'll never stop hurting. All he wants is for Beat to come back. God, but if I could, I would have that asshole back here in an instant. Because even if I don't want to think about him anymore…I know that this miserable kid would give up skating, music, the street…everything that brings him even the slightest bit of joy, he would cast it all away, just to see Beat one more time.

I grimace and pull the kid closer to me. "…Someday…I'm sure he'll come back," I lie, but Christ, I'm so glad that it makes him relax, if even just that little bit. He's still quivering in my arms, but his hands aren't grasping as tightly at my shirt, and his chest isn't heaving quite as much as it was. Thank God. I know it's horrible, to lie to him just to get him to stop crying…but it's all that works, and it makes both of us feel better, so there can't be any real harm done by it. Besides, that's the only thing that I lie to him about. I could never lie about anything else: nothing like what I feel for him, or what my intentions are. I would hate myself if I withheld the truth about anything other than that bastard, Beat. 'Cause that's the only truth that'll make him cry like this, and I just can't fuckin' handle any more than I've already got to deal with.

He sobs and nuzzles into my neck, and it's like comforting a five-year-old. But, you know, I can't bring myself to think less of him for any reason. Right now, this kid is my best friend, my only companion…he's like a fuckin' brother to me. I know everything about him, and he knows almost everything about me. I love him to death, Christ, even if he drives me insane on a regular basis. It's not his fault he's so fucked over. And I need to be there for him, 'cause he'd be there for me if I needed a shoulder to cry on.

…I don't cry, though. I can't: not in front of him, anyway. I need to be tough, 'cause he can't be. You gotta have strong shoulders to support a heavy heart, Mamma would say. And since he's so hurt…I've gotta be the one to hold him up. It's my duty, as his guardian. As his friend.

I can tell that he doesn't want to go back to bed: he's still hugging me pretty tight, even though he's calmed down considerably since he first came in. I glance at my alarm clock: it's a quarter to three. Fuck, you know, I don't want to send him back if he doesn't want to go, but I've gotta get some sleep tonight or I'll be screwed tomorrow when I haul ass to work at eleven. So I breathe deep and sigh. "…Kid…you feeling okay, now?" I ask. He winces, knowing his time has come.

"…N-no," he lies, and I let out a laugh and ruffle his hair, pushing him gently away. He rubs his puffy eyes with his fists and looks up at me despondently, and I feel like shit for sending him away. I touch his chin with my fist and grin, fake plastic joy. God, I know he knows I'm as depressed as he is.

"Hey…you know what? I'm gonna pick up some paint on my way back from work tomorrow, and then I'm gonna meet Soda further up north in the Skyscraper District. We're gonna ride some pretty tight new rails on those corporate castles they're building…vertical drop's over fifty stories up there, it's pretty fuckin' intense. You can come with us, if you're feeling up to it," I say to tempt him, and luckily, it merits a smile.

There we go. Chin up, kid.

The plastic melts away from my expression, and it's real, because I've made him happy.

"Okay," he says, actually looking excited as he's thinking about it. "That sounds wicked, yo!" It has been a while, though, so good. I'm glad he's still got some of his spirit left. I grip his shoulder affectionately and love the broad, silly grin that spreads over his entire face. He's such a sweet, goodhearted kid. Christ, you know…he really does deserve to be happy, and smiling like this all the damn time.

He hugs me again—quick, though, and maybe a little awkward—and gets up without me having to tell him to do it, mumbling a careful "G'night, Corn," as he closes the door behind himself. I lay back down and throw the sheets over myself with a heavy sigh, listening to the sounds of him rustling around in the kitchen, getting a glass of water. I'm gonna be tired as hell at work today. But I know…I know it's gonna be worth it.