"Don't worry, kid. I'll take care of you."

It was a stranger's voice and it made his stomach roll. Teeth were on his neck. A hand was up his shirt. If he closed his eyes long enough and focused on the humming in his skull from the mysterious drinks he was drinking earlier, he could almost pretend it was someone else. Someone with a name. Not some stranger at a bar with too much scruff and not enough hair to pass as anyone other than someone he doesn't know.

The mattress hurts his back. There's a spring breaking through the fabric and scratching his shoulder.

He doesn't know how he passed as twenty-one. He wasn't even carded. And this guy hasn't even asked for his name.

Robbie realizes with a frown that he never asked for his, either.

And he isn't what Robbie wants, and this isn't how it was supposed to be the first time, but it's all he has right now and when it's over and he's pulsing with pain and curled into a ball on his side, he closes his eyes and pretends the warm body at his back is someone he knows.


Beck knew he was a mess.

He watches the other boy from across the classroom, his head on his desk, overwhelmed by sleep. No one else notices. No one even prods him to make sure he's alive. Beck chews the inside of his cheek and watches the other boy's back rise and fall with shallow breathing.

Robbie, frankly, looks like shit.

Behind his cocked glasses are rings of red wound tightly around his eyelids. His skin is even paler than usual, almost ghostly. His hands are trembling in his lap. The bell rings and kids scatter and the only ones left are a troubled Beck and an even more troubled Robbie. The ventriloquist doesn't move until Beck has slipped across the room and placed a gentle hand on his back. Robbie mumbles something as he shifts toward the touch, eyes fluttering behind his eyelids.

"Rob? Hey, wake up."

Something that sounded akin to Beck's name fell out of Robbie's dry, chapped lips. Beck frowns, rubbing his hand along the boy's spine.

"C'mon, Robbie. I'm gonna take you home."

That brought Robbie's eyelids open, the hazy pupils struggling to focus on the boy at his side. Beck swam in front of his vision, a distinct sadness layering his face.

Robbie nods and Beck hoists him to his feet, swings a lanky arm around his neck and puts his own around the skinny boy's waist. He draws him close, turning his lips to press them against Robbie's ear, speaking against tightly wound, brown curls, "It's all right, Robbie. I'm here."


Robbie watches Beck drive from the passenger seat. He hadn't even asked for a pass. He just grabbed his backpack, got a few things out of Robbie's locker, and steered him out the front door. He could get in huge trouble for that, Robbie thinks absently, his head lolling against the headrest of his seat.

He doesn't remember the last time he ate. He doesn't remember the last time he wanted to.

Beck drives with his jaw set tightly and his eyes locked on the road and Robbie wants so badly to reach across the space and touch the other boy's hair, just for comfort. Robbie feels dirty all the time, no matter how hard he scrubs himself in the shower or how hot the water is, he's permanently soiled, so he doesn't reach across. He doesn't want to imperfect Beck by touching him. Again.

Robbie's eyes squeeze shut. It wasn't supposed to happen that way. Robbie had never drank before.

Beck thought he had been funny at first. Robbie got all rosy and cheery and silly. His words had slurred. His cheeks were warm.

But then Robbie crawled across Beck's bed and kissed him, right there on the mouth, and he knew now why alcohol was called "liquid courage". And maybe it was the liquor, but Beck kissed him back for almost a minute before he shoved the ventriloquist to the floor and ordered him to get out.

Robbie's eyes open again. They falter on Beck's face. He's almost painfully beautiful to look at.


"Eat, Robbie. I'm serious."

Beck isn't exactly skilled in bringing people back to health, but he nursed a baby kitten once and they way Robbie looks right now, it can't be too different. The curly-haired boy is sitting at his kitchen table, a plate of pizza before him with a glass of milk and all Robbie's done so far is peel a pepperoni off of one.

"I'm not hungry, Beck."

"That sucks." Beck sits on the stool beside him and pushes the plate in front of his hands. "Eat. You need it."

Robbie's eyes slide to him, the whites of his eyes stringing with red. Beck tries to look stern, tries to look anything but scared and full of guilt, but seeing Robbie all broken like this and knowing it's partly his fault pushes the fight right out of him. He melts, his hand brushing Robbie's wrist.

"Please, Robbie."

Robbie stares at him for a long time and Beck can feel this unfamiliar but deserving ache under his ribs an he knows he did this. He knows he's reduced Robbie to this and he never intended to, never meant to bust him into pieces like this. He just didn't know what to do when Robbie kissed him with the smell of rum heavy on his breath. He didn't know how to feel, couldn't interpret the slamming of his heart.

Beck tried to justify himself; he just left Jade. He was still getting over her.

But that was a lie and he knew it because he hasn't been in love with Jade for months.

Robbie picks up a piece of pizza. He takes a bite and chews slowly and once he starts it's like he can't stop. He devours the whole pizza and the glass of milk in twenty minutes.


"I wasn't thinking. I never think." Robbie perches on Beck's bed in the RV and runs his fingers through his hair. "I just ... I was drunk, you know?"

Beck sits beside him, frowning at his hands. "But did you mean it?"

Robbie's hands slide down his neck. "I don't know." He looks at the boy beside him. His heart patters. "You and Jade just broke up and, I don't know, I guess I always kind of ... liked you."


Robbie blinks, not expecting that question. He shakes his head slowly. "What do you mean, why? You're ..." Robbie gestures vaguely. "You're great."

Beck huffs. "Jade didn't think so."

"Jade's a bitch." Robbie says it so sharply and so hard he surprises not only Beck, but himself. He meets the deep set, brown eyes of Beck's expecting anger but finding only confusion. Robbie coughs, looking to the floor as he rubs his throat. "She is."


Robbie barely has time to look up before Beck grabs his chin and kisses him, hard and hungry.


Beck can understand his heart now.

With every kiss and every touch and every sound, he can feel the broken pieces Robbie had been being put together again, stitched and sewn by his fingertips and lips. This is Beck giving an unspoken apology. This is Beck saying he's sorry, that he made a mistake and he won't make it again.


Robbie hasn't cried so hard in his life.

He sobs until it hurts, until his throat is raw, until Beck's shirt is damp with tears like rivers.

Beck holds him. He cries, too.