Her Little Brother
AN: One of the things that has always bothered me is that "Perry" is used as nickname for "Percival". "Perry" is short for "Peregrine" while "Percy" is short for "Percival". I try to resolve that here…
Disclaimer: I own no characters and especially not the last two lines of dialogue at the end. Those belong to Bill Lawerence.
He's five and he's clutching her desperately, shaking in terror. She's only eleven, but she's trying to offer the best comfort that she can through her own fear. She runs her fingers through his unruly hair, and feels him relax slightly at her touch.
They press closer together as the storm draws nearer… she can hear the smash of glass, and the loud crash as the door flies open. She can feel her brother cringe beside her as the closet door is thrown open; but she doesn't have time to react to the sudden burst of light as fingers grip her cruelly by the hair and rip her out of the comforting darkness.
"What did I tell you about hiding," The voice snarls at her. She doesn't bother to reply, he's going to hurt her either way.
The voice does hurt her, although nothing serious: a bloody nose, split lip, and bruises on her face and arms. Her brother got away with a couple slaps to the face for being a crybaby; their dad's too tired to do anything more before he passes out.
She's in the bathroom later, washing off the blood from her chin, when her little brother comes in, clutching the toy doctor's bag he'd gotten for Christmas.
"You're supposed to be in bed," she whispers to him, crouching down to his level.
He stares at her, his jaw clenching as he seems torn between doing what he's supposed to and doing what he wants to.
"Wanna make you better," he says, lips forming a pout. Once he's decided on something, he's as stubborn as a mule about it. She sighs and sits back against the sink cabinet.
He carefully bandages her bruises with toilet paper, and listens to her heartbeat through his toy stethoscope. He stands and looks at her, smiling broadly (showing off his missing front tooth).
"All better," he declares.
She realizes, then, that she does feel better. Not physically, her bruises still smart and her cheek throbs, but suddenly it feels less important.
"Thanks, Percy," she says as she picks him and carries him back to bed.
As she tucks him in she realizes what this feeling is:
He's ten when she pushes him away for the first time. He's too old to come running for her every time their dad's upset; he needs to learn to handle it on his own. She's not going to be able to protect him all the time.
It's for the best. Dad's been complaining that she's making him a sissy. Dad won't hit him as hard if he starts acting like man.
"Percy, no," she tells him, shutting her bedroom door firmly and locking it.
He beats on the door.
The crash of the front door slamming shut shudders through the house. His knocks get more desperate.
"Please, Paige, please…" He sobs in terror. She can hear him sniffling, and she knows he's starting to cry. She does what she has to.
"You're such a baby, Percy. Why don't you grow up?" she screams through the door.
He makes a choked sound, but she doesn't know if its because of what she said or the thundering sound of feet in the hallway.
"Are you crying again, you fucking sissy? I'll give you something to fucking cry about…"
She's proud that her little brother manages to take two hits before he starts to bawl, even though the sound makes her cringe. She knows eventually that he'll be able to take what the bastard dishes without crying; that it's important that he learn to cope without her. It still hurts to sit there and do nothing while her baby brother howls on the other side of the door, though.
All she has to do is open her door, and tell Dad to leave him alone. Then Dad will slap her around for a little bit for not minding her own business, give Percy a kick or two out of spite, and then stumble back towards his bedroom. But if she protects him again, he'll never learn to do it for himself.
She doesn't know how their mother does it.
She cracks open the door after their dad leaves (giving a parting shot of "That oughta teach ya not to be such a faggot!" as he slams the door to his bedroom). Percy's curled up on the floor facing the wall. It's a smart move, protecting his face and stomach. He's already learning.
She reaches out to touch him, to tell him how sorry she is…
"Go away," he mumbles, shrinking away from her hand.
She withdraws, wanting to tell him that it was for the best, that he had to learn this, but it sounds hollow and weak to her now. Instead she pulls a spare blanket and pillow from the linen closet and sets it down beside him. He ignores the pat she gives him on the shoulder.
She's not surprised when she wakes up and sees the blanket and pillow lying exactly where she left them.
He's thirteen the first time he comes close to beating her at Horse.
"Oooh, tough break there Percy. You were so close this time…" she gloats as she catches the ball and easily tossing it back at the basket. She ricochets it off the backboard and sinks it. "And that would be 'E'! I win!"
He rolls his eyes and crosses his arms over his chest as she does a victory dance.
"Big deal, it's just a fucking game… I'll kick your ass next time," He scowls, then winces as it cracks his split lip open again.
Only, they both realize, it's going to be a long time before they'll get to do this again. She's going off to college, finally escaping this hell hole. She's an adult now, she's free.
If she's going to escape, though, she's going to have to leave him behind.
Suddenly she can't go. What kind of big sister leaves their little brother alone and defenseless? With her here at least their dad's anger is divided between the two of them (even if he hits Percy twice as hard and twice as much as he hits her now, because "he can take it").
Since Dad got fired he's been even more volatile; he sits at home and drinks all day (although where he's getting the money for it no one knows). He finds the smallest stupidest things to fly off the handle about.
When he can't even find that, he makes things up to angry over: like how Percy really isn't his son. Your mother is the neighborhood slut, everybody knows it, so how could I be sure that that little bastard isn't some other man's kid? He doesn't look like me, not with that hair and those eyes, there was no way he's mine.
He seemed to conveniently forget that Grandpa Cox had red hair before it went white; or that Aunt Josie has blue-gray eyes.
It had gotten to the point that it seemed all Percy had to do was breathe and it was enough to send their dad off into a jealous rage. Worse yet, their mother was encouraging it, instead of ignoring it like she normally did. She'd talk about all the men she'd slept with, speculate who Percy's father really was (even though Paige knew she hadn't left the house for anything more than groceries in years). After their Dad got finished beating the crap out of Perry, he'd take Mom back to the bedroom and have… relations. "Reclaiming his territory," as Percy crudely put it. Perhaps she was doing it because for the first time in years (since Percy's birth probably) Dad was paying attention to her…
Without her around who was going to stop their Dad if he went to far? Mom certainly wouldn't, based on her 19 year track record of sitting back and doing nothing while Dad knocked them senseless. What if Percy got seriously hurt, and couldn't get help ---
"You're gonna be late if you don't leave," Percy said solemnly.
She has to go. She can't help him by staying behind any more than if she leaves. If she does well in school and gets enough money together though she can help him when it comes time for him to leave. Now he'll have a safe place to go to, even if it is just for a few days, without having to make any awkward excuses.
She hugs him, trying to ignore how he tenses in her arms, before climbing into her overloaded car, and pulling out of the driveway for the last time.
She can't find the words that night to explain to her new roommate that she isn't crying because she misses home; she's terrified because no one's answering the phone.
He's eighteen when she finds out he's changed his name.
She's only seen Percy a handful of times since she left for college; she feels guilty about not seeing him more often, but she can't allow herself to get sucked back into the abyss that's their home. She's thinks that she's made it clear through the letters she writes him every month that if he ever needs help that all he has to do is call her. She's relieved that he hasn't had to yet.
She drove straight to the ceremonies after she got off work; she's getting a first glance at her younger brother in over a two years as he walks on stage.
"Graduating with honors, Perry J. Cox," the principal announces dully. She thinks that it's odd that there are two Cox families who have boys the same age with similar names attending the same school. It is only when the boy turns to the assembly that she recognizes the familiar auburn curls smashed under a mortarboard cap. She applauds loudly.
The curls and the eyes are about all she recognizes about Percy as she approaches him after the ceremony. In her mind he's still the gawky pasty thirteen year old that she saw in the rearview mirror as she pulled away from home for the last time. The young man in front of her is much taller, his shoulders broad and muscular. His skin is darker and freckled from being out on the sun. He's on the football squad she remembers suddenly…
"Congrats, Perry!" She loops her arms around one of his, trying not to notice how his arms become like corded steel when he tenses.
"And who would this fine lookin' lady be…" The young black guy whom Percy's been talking to leers.
"Y-actually, she's my sister, Ron. Paige, this fool here is Ron: a man who was about to admit that I am better than him,"
"No way, I was the Prom King you were just Homecoming…,"
"Quarterback beats defensive line."
"Lame. I've got a hotter sister."
"Damn it! You know I don't have a sister!"
"And that is why I win. So sorry there Ronny, better luck next time," Percy smirks.
"Yeah, whatever, you know I won that fair and square. I'll see you around…," Ron says, slapping Percy on the shoulder before going off to talk to someone else.
"Wow, I never thought I'd see an actual pissing match in my lifetime…"
"Oh, we have those too," He smiles.
As they walk to her car she finally decides to ask the question that's been bothering her since the ceremony.
"So, why 'Perry'?"
"'Percy' sounds like a girl's name. I punched the first guy who called me Percy back in freshman year and it hasn't been a problem since."
He grins at her, only it's not the self-conscious smile she remembers. It's more of a grimace, or a bearing of teeth...
Maybe it's best he changed his name, she thinks, it will help her separate the Percy she knew from the stranger who's just climbed into the passenger seat.
He's eighteen when he scares her for the first time. They've come back to the house that's always felt more like cage to them to pick up Percy Perry's things. He'll be sleeping on her couch this summer, before he goes off to Rutgers in the fall.
She intended to stay in the car and wait, having no desire to see what's become of her parents in the years since she's last visited. When Percy Perry pulls a flask out of his letterman jacket and takes a deep swig before tossing it in the passenger seat she feels the fear starting to pool in her belly. The stench of hard alcohol hangs in the air even after Percy Perry leaves.
She follows him into the house after a moment, frightened about what she'll see in there. She'd have thought Percy Perry would have learned not to start fights he couldn't win by now…
Only, she realizes as she enters the living room, Perry actually has the situation well in hand.
He's got their father pinned in the corner of the living room, his fists up, bouncing subtly from foot to foot; ready for fight or flight. Then suddenly he drops his arms to his sides, and challenges their father to give him his best shot.
Their father swings, and hits Perry across the jaw. Perry rocks with the blow, and then responds with a vicious hit to the gut. Then an uppercut to the jaw… Perry's rage is terrifying as he lands blow after blow; he's throwing himself completely behind each punch.
It's a complete massacre; their father's in no shape to win a fight against the local star athlete. Perry knows that, she realizes. Perry's been planning this confrontation for months, years even, and he's showing no mercy now.
Her gut clenches in horror as Perry pulls back a bloody fist, only to mash it right back into the gory pulp that their father's face is rapidly becoming. She wants to intercede, but she doesn't know how Perry will react. If it were their father dealing out the beating she would know what to do…
Then, for the first time in Paige's remembrance, their mother acts. She throws herself in-between Perry and their father, swings back her hand and smacks Perry hard across the face. He reels back in shock and then looks to her.
She wants to do so many things in this moment: She wants to tell him to grab his things and get in the car; she wants to choke the woman who would protect the piece of scum she calls a husband, but wouldn't lift a finger to save either of her children; she wants to yell at Perry for sinking down to that bastard's level…
Most of all, she wants to wipe the terrified look off her face that's been frozen there since she walked in room.
He looks at her, hurt and confusion flickering across his face, before settling on betrayal. All the tension is suddenly released from his frame, and he takes a listing step to the side. His foot knocks into the duffel bag on the floor, and the moment of weakness is over. His expression is furious as he glares at their parents one last time as he picks up his bag from the floor and throws it over his shoulder.
He throws the bag over his shoulder and walks out the door.
She watches him leave, wanting to stop him, wanting to explain herself, wanting to hold him like she used to. Yet, she does none of them.
"Good riddance…" Her mother grumbles from behind her.
Suddenly it's as if all the energy that had been dammed up inside her erupts. She whips around and slaps her ignorant bitch of a mother hard across the face without even thinking about it.
She's horrified by how good it feels.
He's thirty-one when she attends his wedding. She never thought he'd get married before her… he just didn't seem the marrying type. She'd always thought he'd wind up some grouchy old bachelor with a pit bull chained to his porch, who entertained himself by terrorizing the neighborhood children.
When he'd first told her, she'd immediately asked if he'd knocked her up…. To be fair, she hadn't heard him speak about any steady girlfriend the last time they talked (admittedly a year ago).
Her first impression, and second, third, fourth and fifth impressions of Jordan Sullivan hadn't been good ones. Jordan was a mean-spirited, spoiled, stubborn brat. Jordan's bridesmaids were man-eating harpies who seemed convinced that Perry wasn't good enough for their best friend (if anything it was the other way around…). Jordan's mother seemed convinced that Perry was after the Sullivan money. In fact, the only sane Sullivan seemed to be Jordan's older brother Ben, and even he was a little odd… This marriage was going to be a catastrophe.
She'd been ready to intervene… to try and tell Perry he was making a huge mistake by marrying this snobby Beverly Hills princess (no matter how thankless a task it would be). Couldn't he see that she was just marrying him, in her own words, for "funsies"? That as soon as he wasn't "funsies" to her anymore, that she'd leave him? Even he couldn't be that blind…
She couldn't do it when she saw them together the night of the rehearsal dinner. Jordan had been a tyrant all week (Her friends were bitching that she'd padlocked the refrigerator, to make sure they'd fit in their dresses), and Perry went off to his bachelor party two nights ago and hadn't been seen since.
She'd just been returning from the bathroom when she saw Perry, with a days worth of stubble on his chin making his way up the stairs. Jordan was waiting at the top of the stairs, arms crossed, and a glare hot enough to cut steel.
"Where have you been," Jordan hisses. "You're thirty minutes late!"
"I made it, didn't I," Perry grumbles, fidgeting as Jordan roughly re-knots his tie.
"This is embarrassing, everyone's waiting for us," Jordan snarls, tightening the tie viciously.
"I was working," Perry said, jerking away from her to loosen the knot. "Anyway, I think everyone in there knows that I'm no Prince Charming," He smirks and leans down to kiss her. "And you're definitely no Cinderella. I mean, a white wedding dress? Who are you trying to fool?"
Paige couldn't think of a more boneheaded statement to utter in that moment. She was waiting for inevitable explosion---
"Asshole," Jordan murmurs, getting up on her tip toes to kiss Perry. "Come on."
She watches them enter, looking like the happy couple they apparently are. She can't pretend that she understands what they feel for each other, but if it makes Perry happy she's not going to argue.
Their father's fifty-seven when all his drinking finally takes it's toll. By the time they catch it, the cirrhosis is so bad that a transplant is the only option, and he isn't a candidate because of his severe alcoholism. The only thing preventing him from going to the bar is the fact that he's trapped in the hospital. Faced with the choice of dying quickly or lingering for a few more months attached to machines, their father decides to refuse treatment.
She calls Perry when Dad looks like he's in his final stages. He doesn't react much to the information, just saying that he'll try to get some time off work to fly out there before hanging up. She's surprised at that, because when Mom had died he'd sent a cheap floral arrangement and skipped the funeral entirely.
When she picks him up at the airport two days later, she's surprised to see that he's alone. She tries to ask about Jordan, but the tired glare he gives her makes hesitate. Maybe it's jet lag from the flight, but as they drive over to the hospital, she can't help but notice how exhausted he looks. She thinks about taking him to her apartment and letting him sleep for a bit before taking him to see Dad, but there isn't time.
As they make their way down to the ICU section, she can sees the tension building within him. She feels herself treating him like a cornered wild animal, talking softly and not making any sudden movements.
They enter the room and are immediately swarmed by Aunt Josie and Grandma Cox, who cluck over Perry like a long lost chick. He manages to utter something that placates the two of them before trying to take a seat in a far corner of the room.
"Patrick, Percival is here to see you," Grandma Cox tells their father, who is so doped up on painkillers that Paige would be surprised if recognized anyone in the room. "Percival, come sit with your father."
She has to credit Perry for not throwing a fit at the idea. She can tell he doesn't want to be here, but for whatever reason he came, and for whatever reason he sits down at their father's bedside.
There are several long minutes of awkward silence, before Aunt Josie and Grandma Cox start to catch Perry up on family news, seeming oblivious to Perry's clearly feigned interest in the doings of cousins he's probably never met. When the conversation turns to local gossip, Perry grabs their father's chart.
"I just don't know how this could've happened. He's so young…" Aunt Josie sighs as she pats their father's hand tenderly.
In that moment the thing that Paige has been dreading since she picked Perry up at the airport happens: he snaps.
At first it's a rusty chuckle, which gets a disapproving look from Aunt Josie and Grandma Cox.
"He drank his fuckin' liver away, that's what happened," Perry snorts, tossing the chart away from him and standing abruptly.
"Percival Jackson Cox," Grandma Cox scolds; but if Perry's heard, he doesn't care.
"Ya just couldn't put down the bottle for one fuckin' moment, could ya? You just kept on drinking, as if that would make everything go away. Then they drag my ass here to join in on the fucking pity party," Perry snarls, pacing the short length of the room. "This is all your fault, and it's less than you fucking deserve," he spits as he glares down at their father.
Then their father does something completely unexpected, and probably suicidally stupid: he grabs Perry's hand and says "I'm sorry".
The reaction is not immediate; for a moment Perry and everyone else in the room is frozen, all waiting to see what happens next.
The eruption of anguished hysterical laughter sends chills down Paige's spine.
"You're sorry? You don't get to say you're sorry on your fucking death bed, before you go to that special level of hell that your buddy Satan's got picked out for you. You owe me eighteen fucking years of sorry. Apology not accepted, you bastard."
As she watches Perry storm out of the room, she doesn't hesitate, and immediately follows him. She walks silently beside him, letting him burn off some of his fury, but letting him know he's not alone in this either. They make their way out of the hospital building and into a small courtyard.
"How can you stay in there and listen to that bullshit," Perry hisses, his fists clenching.
"I forgave him," she says bluntly, deciding not to beat around the bush.
"Are you insane? How can you justify---"
"There's no excuse for what he did to us. But he's repented for his sins, and it's my responsibility to forgive him," She says calmly, realizing that this was not the way she wanted to have this conversation.
"You're talking like you're some religious nut job…" The crucifix on her necklace catches his eye, and he stares. "You ARE a religious nut job. That man is pure fucking evil---"
"He's human Perry. He was a pretty scummy human being for fifty-seven years. But the only way I could get past all the crap he put us through was by accepting his flaws and realizing that even though he was my physical father, Jesus Christ is my spiritual one."
Perry gives her a bewildered stare, before throwing his hands up in disgust and stomping off down the sidewalk.
He's thirty-six when she finds him later that evening stretched out on the hood of her car, seemingly asleep.
An hour after Perry's dramatic exit, their father had slipped into a coma. She, Aunt Josie and Grandma Cox stayed with him until he finally passed. The conversation had been awkward to say the least. After that she'd waited at the entrance of the hospital for several hours to see if Perry would turn back up, before finally giving up and deciding to wait at home for him.
She comes over to shake him awake, only to jump back as his eyes snap open before she even touches him.
"He gone?" He asks hoarsely as he nimbly slips off the hood of her car.
"Yeah. Did you fall into a distillery?" She scrunches her nose at the stench of dive bar emanating from Perry.
"Hospital bar," Perry grunts as he slides into the passenger seat and shuts the door.
"Hospitals have bars?"
"Next door. Doctors gotta go somewhere to blow off steam."
The rest of the drive back to her apartment is awkwardly silent. She opens her mouth several times to say something, but words fail her each time.
They eventually make it to her building and begin the ascent of three flights stairs to her apartment. Despite all the alcohol she's pretty sure he's consumed, he steadily walks beside her.
She's glad she thought to pull out the sofa bed before she left this morning, she's too tired now to try and fight with the thing. She points out the hallway bathroom and tells him to eat what he wants from the fridge before going back to her bedroom and get changed for bed.
She loves her brother, but sometimes he can be incredibly frustrating. There was a time and place to confront their father, and his deathbed wasn't it. And who was he to call her crazy for trying to make peace with her past? It wasn't as if he was doing it any better… she wasn't trying drink her past away.
She's tempted to go out there and give him a piece of her mind, but realizes that it probably isn't going to do much good. Perry always was stubborn, and he seems determined to hold a grudge. She takes a deep breath and reminds herself that Perry is just on a different path than her, and that she just has to be patient and not judge him too harshly. Even if his hardheadedness does make her want to smack him upside the head sometimes.
She goes to the kitchen to get a drink of water and tell Perry goodnight. As she turns on the faucet, she notices Perry is sitting on the side of the bed, still dressed.
"Jordan and I are getting a divorce," he states so softly that for a moment she isn't sure he spoke at all. She turns off the water, and sits beside him.
"I caught Jordan sleeping with one of my residents in our bed," he states softly. "She'd cheated before; but never with anyone I gave a damn about, and not in our bed. I got appointed Chief Resident, and I put her second… I should've done better."
Paige's stomach churns at the self-loathing that drips from Perry's words. Part of her wants to catch the next red eye to California and give Jordan Sullivan the beat down she deserves for hurting her baby brother. More of her is angry that she didn't speak up before the wedding; she'd had her misgivings about Jordan from the start.
She sits quietly beside him and lets him vent; Jordan, apparently not content with breaking Perry's heart, has decided to try and squeeze all the money she can out of him. Not to mention sleep around with his co-workers His promotion to Chief Resident means twice the hours, but little respect. The new Chief of Medicine is a complete jackass that's out to get him.
He eventually starts talking about their father, and how glad he is that he's dead now. He'd broken Perry's leg the night she left for college, because Perry decided to fight back. After that he'd silently taken his beating instead of trying to fight back, when he'd have to face the man the next day.
He falls asleep beside her, her fingers tangled in his hair. She watches him sleep for a moment, like she used to when he was small. Even asleep she can see how much he's hurting, and she vows to pray more often for him (even if he won't appreciate it). She pulls the covers over him, gives him a quick peck on the forehead, before heading off to her own bed.
She tries not to be hurt the next morning when the apartment's empty.
Jack's two when Jordan suddenly calls her out of the blue one day. She'd known of course that she had a nephew, and that Perry and Jordan had gotten back together (she'd told Perry to be careful, but she doubted he'd listened). Still, it's not like she and Jordan were ever close.
"I'm getting Jack baptized, and since you're the religious one I thought you might know what to do. You want to be his godmother?"
She's flattered, even if the gesture was intended to be a consolation prize, and buys the next ticket she can to California.
When she arrives, she and Perry almost immediately start bickering. It's a habit between them by now. He can't understand why she believes in a merciful God, and she can't understand why he insists on being an ass about it.
A minor annoyance is the kid he asks to show her around, the horribly clingy girly one that he has, in fact, mentioned on occasion. He acts as if she's going whip out protest signs and start doing exorcisms at the slightest provocation (please, she's Roman Catholic, she leaves that to the priests). She can see why Perry gets frustrated… still it is sort of cute, in that 'trying desperately to do the right thing but still getting it wrong' kind of way.
Then she and Perry get in their traditional medicine versus God argument that comes about any time they're together for more than 15 minutes. She happens to overhear him tell a patient that "there's nothing more he can do", and God gives her the perfect opening to prove once and for all to Perry that he does good works. He pulls her out in the hall and belittles her beliefs, and then calls her the nastiest thing she can think of: Republican. It's as if he forgotten all the hours Grandma made them spend stuffing envelopes at the local campaign headquarters of Robert Kennedy while she worked the phones.
Of course the patient does get better, but Perry still denies that God might have had anything to do with it. He finally explodes, and runs off with Jack to parts unknown (Jordan's pretty sure it's a bar, wherever it is).
Fortunately, an hour before the baptism Perry's goofy friend brings Jack by. She later spies Perry in the back of the church, wearing a Red Wings jersey and holding beer. He's there though and that's all that really matters.
They talk a little after the ceremony as they play Horse in the hospital parking lot (she kicks his ass). While it hurts to think that her presence causes him pain, she knows she has to accept that for the time being. He offers her an invitation to Jack's next birthday though, so it's a start.
As she gets in the cab to leave he just has to get in the final word.
"You know, "Paige" is a silly name…"
She smiles and says something that's been on her mind for years, " 'Perry' 's worse."