6/13/09: This fanfic was spawned by a prompt at my old steady, 15_minute_fic -- an LJ community. I looked to see what the word of the week was. It was "whip". O_O;;; I couldn't do it. I just couldn't. -.-;;; So, I checked last week's word. The first line popped into my head and away we went.

Here's the odd thing, though... I haven't seen this arc of Party of Five. I was vaguely aware that it had happened, but I haven't seen it (as once noted, to those of you paying attention, I've only seen Season 1). But in light of the little universe I've been slowly building for Charlie and Bailey, to arrive at Drabble number 10 from this post, I felt this was a key scene to include. Keeping in mind, of course, that that entire said universe is meant to be AU. But what's a slash AU without a little hurt/comfort? *waggles eyebrows*

For those of you who have no idea what's going on here, you can check IMDB for a page of ep. summaries for Po5. Check out Season 4 (where this would take place) -- the story arc in question starts at episode 7.

by Renee-chan

It wasn't so long ago that I looked up into this mirror and saw a child. I was so alone then, so afraid. It seemed that everywhere I turned, some new foundation stone of my childhood was crumbling underneath my feet and there was nowhere solid left to stand. My parents were dead. My coach had abandoned me. My friends, too. But Charlie... that was the worst betrayal of all.

I was floundering in my attempt to keep our family afloat and I latched onto the thought of Charlie as our guardian to ease the fear in my heart. And then, not only was he woefully inept at the job, but he put our family in real danger more than once. That was a straw that I almost couldn't take. The one that almost broke my proverbial back, as it were. He swept into our lives as though he had every right to be there -- and in his defense, he did -- and tried to take control as though he had that right, too. Only problem was, he didn't want any of the responsibility to go along with it. And he made mistakes. Oh boy, did he make mistakes. That was harder to take than anything else. You see, even though Julia, Claudia and Owen looked up to me like a hero... Charlie was my hero. He was the one I looked up to. The one I always had looked up to.

And in this time, in this way, I had to watch my hero fall. Thrown down off the pedestal by an impossible situation. In retrospect, we expected way too much from him. He was only 24, still a child in his own way, still young enough to want to make his own dreams come true. He didn't have to come back to us, didn't have to do his part to help our family stay together. I think we too often forgot that... how much he gave up to let us lead as normal lives as we could. But really, we were just children ourselves. How could we know?

But I did and I suppose that's the point. I knew how much he'd given up. I knew how desperately trapped he felt by this unwanted responsibility. I knew how much he was floundering with it. And instead of helping him, instead of supporting him... I used that knowledge against him. I used it to undermine him. I'm not proud of it. In truth, I'm ashamed. It was unfair of me and it was childish. Looking back, I shouldn't have done it. But you know what they say about hindsight...

But this was years ago, so why dwell on it, right? Why now, so many years later? Maybe it's because I still feel guilty. Maybe it's because I feel like I stole the life that should have been his. Because I used his guilt and shame to keep him trapped in a life he didn't want, raising children who aren't his, so I could pursue my own.

Not that that's really true. I know he doesn't see it that way. The others don't see it that way, either. They look at it as though I provided Charlie with a wake-up call, a reason to get his act together. Charlie's told me, more than once, that's he's grateful for what I did. I wish I could see it that way. I wish it desperately. Because now... now there may be no more for him. This life that he didn't want, the chances that he missed, he may not get another shot. And it will be my turn next. My turn to step into the role of protector and guardian, if he should fall. But who will protect me if that time should come? Who will protect me if my hero falls? It's a thought too scary to truly contemplate because Charlie has always been there. Willing or not, he's been a constant in my life and I have no idea what I would do if I lost him.

And with these thoughts riding me, none of the rest of the petty problems in my life seem to matter. Annie and Natalie... who are they in the grand scheme of things? Not family. Not mine. And Sarah? The one who got away? The one who left? She's nothing, too. Not even the restaurant matters. When it boils right down... even Julia, Claudia and Owen pale in comparison. Not when I might lose Charlie. Not when he might be stolen away from me without knowing how very proud I am of him and who he's become... not without knowing how much I love him.

I've hidden from it for years. Tried to convince myself that it was just a phase, something I would grow out of. Tried to pretend that it was no more than the love that any brother would feel for another. Tried to ignore it when I realized that that last was a load of bull. That was before this. Before I realized how empty my life would be without him. The very thought makes me catch my breath in an effort not to let out the torrent of sobs raging through my heart. That was when I knew how deeply enmeshed in this I had become... how very damned I was.

I don't want to see him tainted by this thing. He has enough to deal with -- Julia's wedding, his own disease, raising two children... He doesn't need this, too. But part of me... part of me doesn't think that's fair. After all... doesn't he deserve to know how very loved he is? I just don't know. I don't know what the right choice is here, and there's no one I can ask. The admission alone would put me under suspect of felony and I have enough strikes against me if I have to try for custody of Claudia and Owen in the future.

So I won't tell him. Not now. Not yet. I'll stand by his side and offer him what support I can. I'll be his ever-reliable baby brother and nothing more. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not any other day that he has a chance to beat this thing. Which he will.

But if there ever comes a day when the future is that bleak... a day when he's given up... a day that looks like it won't have a tomorrow... then I'll tell him. So he knows that he isn't alone and that in my eyes, he's always been a hero.

Questions, comments, papaya?

Bailey: *stares* I'm just not gonna.

Nuriko: *nods sagely* Wise choice.