Disclaimer: I don't own Degrassi.

AN: WOW. Five months without an update? I am a turd. A giant, steaming turd. Thanks so much to everyone who continued to shame/flatter me through reviews during the hiatus, they really did help keep me motivated. And thanks even more to everyone who so generously offered to volunteer themselves when I asked for beta help. I'm really grateful to have so many people who care about this thing enough to offer their time and effort! You guys are fantastic.

unleashmysoul beta'd THE FUCK out of this chapter. Holy cats, you guys, without her it probably would have taken another five months for this update.

Warnings: Depressed teenager thoughts! Self-harm! Rampant cursing! VIOLENCE! The usual.


It had been about a week since that day at the park when Adam had his still-beating heart swiftly and ably ripped from his chest by his two best friends.

He winced.

Okay. Perhaps that was a tad dramatic.

But still...

It hurt.

It hurt like hell.

It wasn't really Clare picking Eli over him that cut him up.

It was that, for Clare, it was never really a choice.

The decision really sank in the day after everything went down. Sitting awkward and quiet at the lunch table while Clare sighed and played with Eli's fingers across the table. Eli was going on about some kind of nonsense and barely even paying attention to her (to anything but the sound of his own voice, really) but she was so interested and when she spoke her voice was... unlike any tone she'd ever used addressing Adam.

And when Adam asked to borrow Clare's English notes the back cover was all hearts and Eli's name and Adam didn't know people actually did that sort of thing in real life.

And it hurt because he knew that he was never even a choice for Clare.

He knew from the first day he met her that she was All About Eli.

He knew that; but she was beautiful and nice to him and when she smiled his stomach did flip-flops and it felt good.

And she laughed when he told dumb jokes and she let him put his hands on her hips and hug her when he wanted to and...

He'd been chasing after Eli and Clare since the very first day. He'd been trying to catch up for weeks.

And it hurt like hell to find out he'd never even been in the goddamn race.

The self-pity was familiar and comfortable – it fit like an old glove. But it soon gave way to anger.

Eli was a complete dick he didn't even deserve her.

And why the fuck would Clare do this to him? She was smart and he was painfully transparent when it came to his feelings for her and she'd played into him. She smiled coyly and winked and put her hand on his arm.

She was about to let him kiss her that day at the park. He was certain of it.

But why would she do that? Why would she do that if it was this clear she didn't want him like that? God, he felt like such a jackass.

He'd thought she was the most decent, sweet girl at the school – like she kind of understood him, a little. Or at least like she could have.

But now he just felt played. He felt stupid and betrayed and pissed about it.

And that was just the tip of the iceberg.

His whole life had been doing a slow backslide since that day.

Fitz and Owen had been... making their presence known.

But they hadn't made a move yet, and that worried him.

A lot.

They'd been fucking with his locker. Sharpie-graffiti on the front - "I suck dick," "faggot," "kill yourself."

Malicious, but uncreative per usual.

Stuff like that didn't even get to him any more.

But the memory of Fitz's face through the car window.

That smile.

It burned his stomach and made his throat itch.

Yesterday he'd been walking down the hall when Owen stepped up out of nowhere and shoved him into a locker. Banged the shit out of his shoulder, but he didn't cry out so maybe it was a win.

On top of all that Clarence Dewey was sending him hateful looks every day. And his mom was back from her business trip and hassling him about, well, everything.

The classes he'd skipped were back to bite him in the ass and now his mother was flipping out about him hanging out with "the wrong crowd" and his grades and...

God, he felt like shit and he hated everything.

The worst part was that he had absolutely no one to talk to about it.

He couldn't exactly go to Clare and Eli about it.

His parents?

Good Lord, he'd rather pull out his own teeth with pliers.

He couldn't go to Drew.

If Drew found out about all the problem's he'd been having with guys at school he would absolutely flip his shit.

Drew had bled for him enough.

More than enough.

And Adam had fucked up his life too many times; he couldn't live with himself if he started the cycle again.

It was hard though; to face the days when everything felt so hopeless. Fact was, he'd never felt so... alone. Not in his whole life.

Things had been shit before, in St. Catherines, but he'd had his friends to fall back on. EJ and Mark and those guys.

And Laura.

But they were lost to him now. He'd left everything behind in a haze of percocet and gauze and it was far too late now to try and salvage the charred wood and ash of the bridges he'd burned.

And it felt like the new life he'd built for himself was about to go the same way.

The first half of the week he'd come straight home after school and hid away in his room.

Until his mother confronted him on Wednesday night and demanded to know what was wrong and why he wasn't hanging out with his friends and did one of them hurt you, Adam?

So he switched tactics.

He spent a few hours every day wandering around Toronto after school ended. He found a couple decent skate parks and sometimes he went to the library to mess around on the internet. He hadn't been to The Dot because nothing felt lonelier than being by yourself in a crowd of friends and lovers.

So now he was stuck; anxious and alone. He couldn't hide away in his own house, and he had no friends to escape to.

Not a day went by where he didn't find himself compulsively scratching at the scars on his arms through the thin material of his sleeves. The feeling of panic and helplessness grew in his chest seemingly by the hour. He wanted to hide away from the world. To take a quick bath in a tub of gasoline with a pack of matches and the resolve to do it right this time.

He'd always had the tendency toward... dark thoughts.

But the frequency and severity of the impulses he was getting now were startling, even to him. They'd gone from brief, jarring sparks of negativity to a constant violent hum in the back of his mind.

He slammed his fingers in the car door yesterday. They were purple and swollen and they ached when he moved them.

He couldn't figure out if it had been an accident or not.

Things had gotten bad enough for him to seriously consider calling Dr. Scott. He'd been as close as having the numbers punched into his cellphone, thumb hovering nervously over the send button, before he flipped the phone shut and threw it across the room.

What could Scott do, really?

She would refer him to a new doctor in the area. She would call his mother and tell her he needed help. They would want him to resume taking his medication but FUCK he couldn't stand it.

He preferred feeling like crap to not feeling at all.

The pills were the worst. He didn't get depressed – not in the same way, really. But it felt unfair. It felt wrong.

His emotions were his own– even the shitty ones. Even the terrible ones. Even the ones that made him want to stick his hand down the garbage disposal.

Basically everything was shit and he wanted to die.

Okay, maybe not die.

Not like he'd wanted it before.

But something similar.

Getting there.

Adam flicked the lighter in his hand on and off incessantly, gaze flitting between the blue flame and the shiny patches of skin on his arm.

Yeah.

He was getting there.

X-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-X

Adam sat in his room alone. It was 7 on a Saturday night – Drew was out with friends, his parents were downstairs, Eli and Clare were probably off somewhere fucking and laughing at him.

He pressed his back harder against the wall and bit down on his lip hard; gaze flicking between the hypnotic blue-gold wobble of the flame in his palm and some... spectacularly offensive installment of Danger Island playing soundlessly on his TV.

He drew his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around them, closing his eyes and inhaling deeply for a few long moments, trying to quiet his thoughts; thumb pressed to the hot metal of the lighter, savoring the dull burn.

His whole body felt alive with panic. Outwardly he probably seemed calm; stoic, even. But inside he was a tumultuous mess of anxiety and dread.

He really wanted a drink. Okay, actually, he wanted to rip all of his skin off and set his bones on fire. But, barring that, he wanted a drink.

Or a joint.

Something. Anything – some kind of buffer between himself and his emotions.

Ha, good Christ, guess I'm one of those weepy drunks, now. You gotta promise not to hold this against me once I sober up, bro!

Or

Oh, I'm not really this nervous. It's just the weed. Haha. You know how it is.

Something like that.

But, no – he couldn't drink at home—certainly not with his parents in the house. Besides drinking by himself was a low he wasn't prepared to hit while he was still in high school. He briefly considered Eli and the text he'd sent him yesterday about the skull-shaped bottle of vodka sitting on the top shelf in his closet but dashed the thought before it could really form.

No way was he going to Eli any time soon.

He'd rather be sober and miserable with a scrap of dignity than... than whatever turning to Eli for comfort right now would make him.

He opened his eyes, letting his head fall back against the wall and shifting uncomfortably on the bed. He brought his fist up against his knee and flicked the lighter on.

He enjoyed the heat that pooled around his thumb when he held the zippo at just the right angle. It didn't burn – not yet – but the heat was present. Insistent.

He licked his lips and glanced around nervously, eyeing the lock on his door for several long moments. The smell of burning butane drifted up to his nose and he let his gaze fall back on the flame. He ran his fingers through it – quickly at first, and then again slower. And slower. And then the flame was so close to the flat of his palm and he let his eyes drift shut, his teeth come down on his bottom lip when the pain built up.

For a moment there was... bliss.

And then

Fuck, get your hand out of the fucking fire, dumb ass.

He jerked his hand back, clenching and unclenching his fist rapidly, shaking it in the air to cool it off. He hissed and set the lighter on his nightstand, grabbing his hand and inspecting his palm quickly.

No marks.

He let out a sigh of relief.

It was a bit pink but didn't look bad. No one would notice.

He exhaled shakily and swung his legs of the bed, pressing his elbows against his thighs and burying his face in his hands.

His palm was hot against his cheek.

I can't stay in here.

He swallowed hard.

I can't.

Because that was close and even now he still wasn't sure if it was worth it to stop himself. His arms itched and ached and he wasn't sure he had enough willpower to keep fighting the impulse to grab the lighter and do it proper this time.

He stood abruptly, taking a half-step toward his nightstand and sweeping the lighter into the top drawer where he wouldn't have to look at it.

Okay. That helps.

He crossed the room to his stereo and grabbed his iPod, hitting pause. He'd been listening to his appropriately titled Self-indulgent Bullshit playlist; all Thursday and old Glassjaw and My Chemical Romance. He'd been hoping to take comfort in the familiar sentiments but the dark mood of the music was hitting a bit too close to home at the moment and he felt slightly better when the sudden silence swept over him.

He stood in the room for a long moment, timing his breath and trying to think. It was all dark except for the blue-white glow of the television set and the hall light that seeped in from the cracks in the doorway.

Maybe he should leave. Just- just get out of the house completely. It was cold outside, but he liked that. It made him feel alive and awake in a way that distracted from the panicked hum in his chest.

But where would he go?

Eli was really all he had in Toronto.

Well, Clare sometimes – but hanging out with her sans Eli was rare enough.

And besides – it was safe to say that they were the last two people he wanted to see right now.

Maybe he could call Drew-

But, no.

Drew had noticed the turn in Adam's mood and he would make it A Thing.

Homework.

He could do homework.

He winced, as the severity of his thoughts seeped in. Has it really come to this?

He glanced at the computer in the corner of his room but decided to move to the living room and use the family computer.

He didn't feel quite safe being at alone with himself at the moment.

When he came down the stairs his mother twisted in his father's arms and smiled. "Hey stranger, where've you been?"

Adam licked his lips and tried to ignore the guilty tug in his heart as he unconsciously pulled his sleeves down over his palms.

"Just chilling in my room," he smiled awkwardly.

"Well, looks like you've decided to join the living," his father noted, glancing at him briefly. "Why don't you sit with us? News is just over, we were about to try and find something interesting."

The offer hung in the air for a moment and Adam considered it. When was the last time he'd done something with his parents?

It wasn't like they were awful.

They just really, really didn't get him.

But here they were - making an effort.

He gave a brief sigh. "I don't know. Maybe later? I came down here to do some homework, actually."

"Oh?" his mom asked.

"Uh, yeah," he rocked on his heels awkwardly. "My internet's being dumb."

"Again?" she frowned. "Omar, you should take a look at that tomorrow."

"Sure, sure," he waved her off, flipping through channels distractedly.

His mother rolled her eyes. "Well, let us know if the TV's too loud for you to concentrate or something, okay?"

"Sure, mom," he nodded, as he dropped into the computer chair.

He worked diligently on his World War I essay for over an hour; anchored by his parents' low chatter and the occasional laugh track of whatever awful sitcom they'd settled on watching.

The work was a pleasant enough distraction and he surprised himself by the ease with which he completed his essay. He spent another twenty minutes going back and cleaning it up until he felt he had something at least B-worthy.

Of course, it was just his luck that the printer was out of ink.

"Damn," he murmured.

"What?" his mother asked, tone sharp.

He winced, ducking his head. "Nothing, nothing."

"Adam," she warned.

"Printer's out of ink," he interjected, hoping to throw her off. He was fifteen years old, he should be allowed to curse.

Dammit.

"Is it?"she frowned. "Omar, I told you to pick some up last week."

His father sighed, muting the TV reluctantly. "Did you try shaking it?"

"We've been shaking it all week, Omar," his mom snapped back. "You know, I really don't expect you to do much, you could at least pick up new printer ink when I ask."

"Sorry, dear," he said robotically as he unmuted the TV.

"Dammit, Omar," she snatched the remote from him and shut it off. "Look, I spent three days in Edmonton, I obviously couldn't have done it, or believe me I wouldn't have resorted to asking you. All I said was to make sure the boys got to school, to pick up some toner, and..."

Adam winced, rising from his seat slowly. He grabbed his flashdrive from the computer.

"I'm just gonna..." he mumbled awkwardly. "I'll go use Drew's printer."

He slipped out of the room as Audra continued to berate his father.

Drew's room was dark, stuffy, and filthy. Adam cautiously sidestepped a particularly menacing looking pile of garbage as he crossed the room to turn on the lamp.

Clearing the clothes from Drew's computer chair, Adam sat down, taking notice of the blinking green light on his brother's tower. Adam wiggled the mouse and plugged in his flash drive as the computer left sleep mode.

And immediately his eyes were assaulted by the image of a smirking, naked buff dude jacking it while two girls with the longest fucking fingernails he'd ever seen made out in front of him.

"Oh. Dude. Ew," Adam winced, pausing the video and minimizing the window as quickly as possible.

His disgust was cut short by the window that had been buried by the porn.

Facerange.

Welcome, Drew. You have 6 friend requests and 92 other requests.

Adam's throat tightened.

His eyes flicked over the page but caught on a particular name.

Laura Hyde – Hey, D. Catch the game? The Leafs ATE IT OMG. Totally called it lol
20 minutes ago.

Adam's eyes locked on the thumbnail profile picture next to her name.

Her hair was longer, now.

It looked darker. Maybe she dyed it.

His mouth went dry and he could feel his heart rate increasing, but he couldn't tear his eyes away from the pixelated rendering of her face on the computer screen. Unconsciously, his hand rose to his mouth, he bit down hard on his thumb, only stopping when he tasted blood. He looked down at the torn skin distractedly and wiped the blood on his pants.

Exhaling harshly Adam shifted his focus to the cursor hovering over the hyperlink to her page.

God.

He held off clicking the link, instead scrolling down Drew's page.

The sheer volume of friends struck him like a fist to the gut. His chest hurt and his stomach churned. He could feel the blood rushing to his head, his face growing an uncomfortable pink as he fought back the wave of nausea that hit him.

Sweeping over the comments he was relieved to find mostly names he didn't really recognize. There were some people he recognized from Degrassi: KC Guthrie, Alli Bhandari, Chantay Black. But the majority were people he wouldn't be able to pick out of a crowd.

After a moment he almost started to relax.

And then he noticed the other names. Older names.

Mark McCallum, Sam Goldman, Brenda Chen, EJ Masud...

Laura, again.

It was like Drew had found everyone it had hurt Adam most to leave and added them all to spite him.

Drew Torres – Watching New Moon for the second time. They don't take away your man-card for this, do they?
Laura Hyde and 12 others liked this.
Eyad Masud – Gross, Drew. I don't know about your man-card, but I'm not sure if we can be friends anymore.
Laura Hyde – Says the boy who watched it for the third time last night.
Drew Torres – Ha!
Eyad Masud – You made me!
Laura Hyde – maybe, but you liked it. ;)
Drew Torres – hey, lovebirds, keep it off my wall...

Lovebirds?Adam tried to swallow past the lump in his throat, blood pounding in his ears. The cursor hovered over the blue text of Laura's name.

He clicked, bringing his abused thumb back to his mouth and gnawing viciously. He winced at the sharp, metallic tang of blood on his tongue.

The page loaded.

In a relationship with Eyad Masud.

Jesus.His stomach twisted painfully, and he turned in the chair away from the computer. Burying his face in his hands he tried to breathe.

His girlfriend.

His best friend.

It didn't even make any sense. EJ and Laura had only been friends through Adam. They got along well enough, but they didn't have very much in common. Laura played soccer and lacrosse, and was in Academic Decathlon She spent her free time volunteering with her church and reading those ridiculous supernatural romance novels. EJ lived to skate, and sang in a screamo band, and as a lapsed Muslim, went to great lengths to dodge the Imam that lived on his street. They were friendly, but distant. The only reason they really interacted at all was because they both cared about Adam.

So, how the hell did they go from being casual friends to dating?

Adam rubbed his throbbing temples and struggled to get control of his thoughts. He spun the chair slowly back to the computer and began reading.

He skimmed the comments on her wall distractedly, mostly comments from her friends and family about things that he knew nothing of. A soccer game she'd won, a particularly hard exam, her sister's birthday party.

Eyad Masud – Happy one month, baby!
Laura Hyde – Thanks, EJ. It's been amazing, I'm so lucky to have you!
Mark McCallum – Congrats you guys.
Brenda Chen – Yeah, you guys make a great couple. I'm so happy for you both!

He read that one over and over again, feeling more and more betrayed. So, Mark and Brenda were in on it too. That probably meant that Sam, and Brian, and Dani all knew about it too. And if they knew, and Drew knew (God, Drew) then, well... that was everyone.

His girlfriend and his best friend were dating and everyone who'd ever meant anything to him knew and they didn't care. They were congratulating them. Didn't they see how fucked up it was? Didn't they care about him any longer? Was he really that easy to forget?

He scrolled up and found an album titled People I Heart

Immediately the screen filled up with photos; Laura embracing her parents, posed with her sister smiling above a birthday cake, her arms around several of her girl friends at some event or other. EJ, shirtless and sweating on stage, mouth open in a scream at some gig. Another picture taken presumably the same night. Laura pressing her lips to a still shirtless EJ's cheek, arm outstretched to snap the picture.

The next picture was taken by some unseen third party. EJ with his arm wrapped around Laura's shoulder. Laura was wearing a light blue dress, that stopped just above her knees, her long hair spilling curls down her shoulders, smile wide and genuine. EJ's hair was perfectly coiffed, his teeth a gleaming white against the deep mahogany of his skin.

It was helpfully captioned First Date!

They looked happy.

His limbs felt heavy, and his heart beat a painful sluggish tempo against his ribcage.

He jumped as the door cracked open and Drew stepped into the room.

"Hey, bro," he began, a little startled as he maneuvered around the pile of dirty clothes at the entrance to his room. "What are you doing in-?"

Drew froze, his eyes darting from Adam's bitter smile to the picture of EJ and Laura embracing on the screen.

There was a long tense pause.

"What are you doing in here?" Drew asked quietly, dropping his eyes to the ground, unable to hold Adam's vengeful gaze.

Adam barked out a harsh laugh. "What am I...? Really, Drew?"

Drew looked up. "I'm sorry," he offered with a small, helpless shrug.

"You're sorry?" Adam repeated, head spinning, eyes burning. He drew himself up from the chair. "Fuck you!"

He tried pushing past Drew to get out of the room but Drew's hand on his arm yanked him painfully back into place.

"Keep your fucking voice down," Drew hissed, tightening his grip threateningly.

"How could you fucking do this to me?" Adam demanded, face flushed with anger. "How could you-?"

Drew let him go, turning away from him. "I didn't do anything."

"You," Adam sputtered. "You swore you'd go under the radar for me. You said you understood, and you swore-"

"I did!" Drew shot back. "I didn't make that page for months! But they found me. They tracked down Grams, and they got our number and they called the house. Jesus Christ, Adam, they were so worried. They were just looking for you. I convinced them to stop trying to find you, but they wouldn't back off until I promised to let them know how you were doing and it just... went from there."

Adam couldn't stand the earnestness in Drew's face. He turned from his brother, feeling a hot burning pressure building behind his eyes. "It's not fucking fair," he accused, hating the sharp crack of his voice. "It's not fucking fair. I gave them up. I had to fucking give them up, but-"

"You didn't have to do anything!" Drew shouted. Adam flinched at the sudden outburst feeling off-balance until his rage caught up with him.

"Fuck off, Drew, you don't know anything about what I was going through!"

Drew grimaced. He grabbed Adam's arm again and began pulling him to the door.

"Get you fucking hands off me," Adam seethed, feeling a tight ball of panic beginning to wind in his stomach. It was Drew and Drew wouldn't hurt him, but still-

"Shut up," Drew ordered shortly. "And don't make a scene for once in your fucking life."

Drew dragged him down the stairs seemingly impervious to Adam's most vicious glares.

"Wait here," Drew instructed, leaving Adam in front of the door while he trotted into the living room. He saw Drew lean over the couch and exchange some words with their mother. Audra passed him the keys.

"Let's go," Drew commanded as he yanked open the front door and stalked angrily toward the car.

X-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-X

The car ride passed entirely in silence. Adam with his head tucked sullenly into his chest, arms crossed, fists clenching as a storm of betrayal and anger roiled chaotically in his gut. Drew sat rigidly, back straight, every muscle tense, eyes never once darting from the road.

After a short ride, Drew pulled into the Degrassi parking lot. It was completely empty, illuminated only by a few scattered street lights. Wordlessly, the older boy killed the engine and left the car, walking toward the low chainlink fence a few yards to the right of them. Adam followed wordlessly, bruised, swollen hand throbbing painfully as he watched Drew effortlessly hop the fence in front of them. Determined not to show any weakness, Adam followed suit, hissing painfully at the strain placed on his injured fingers.

Drew lead him across the field, toward the baseball field. He stopped abruptly atop the pitcher's mound and looked back at Adam.

"Well?" He called to his brother, spreading his arms out expectantly.

"Well what?" Adam scowled, unsure.

"You wanted to yell," Drew sneered. "Go ahead. Let me have it."

Thrown off guard by the bitterness in Drew's voice and the strangeness of the whole situation it took Adam a moment to get his anger back. He thought about Laura and EJ's smiling faces in the pictures, and of Drew's broken promise, and of Eli's hand brushing Clare's cheek, and Bianca's refusal to look him in the eye. He thought about his mother's over-protective harping, and his father's constant disinterest, and the weight of Patrick Duffy's knees on his chest, and the taste of blood.

"How the hell could you do this to me?" Adam roared. "After everything that happened. After everything I gave up! I explained to you why it was so important that no one else found me, why we had to stay offline! And you said you understood, you said you'd do it for me!"

"Eej and Laura are the only ones who know we're in Toronto!" Drew shot back. "And I told them they couldn't say anything. Do you really think they'd tell anyone? Do you really think they'd betray you like that?"

"Well, it wasn't so hard for you," Adam sniped, feeling slightly guilty at the shell-shocked look on Drew's face. He pushed the emotion away, thinking again of those awful pictures, the sharp sting of treachery. He pressed on, taking advantage of his brother's stunned weakness.

"Is there some kind of fucking conspiracy out there to make my life hell? Why is it that everyone is constantly shitting on me? Huh? Did you and the rest of the world get together and decide to make it impossible for me to be happy? Is that it?"

"Jesus, Adam," Drew shook his head in disgust. "You make your own life hell, you know. You fucking love it. You get off on this martyr shit, and you know it. You act like you're the only one who's ever had to give anything up."

Adam's breath hitched as Drew towered over him. He shook off the feeling of intimidation and plowed on. "Fuck you, Andrew!" Adam exploded, shoving Drew back. The older boy stumbled and looked up, shocked. "You have no clue. No fucking clue! You think I like living like this? Fuck you. You don't know anything about what it is to be miserable. Not all of us can live your fucking charmed life, Drew."

"Charmed life?" Drew laughed harshly.

"Yeah. Don't you fucking deny it. You have everything, Drew. Everything," Adam sneered. "It's been that way since we were kids. Mom trusts you more, Dad's so goddamn proud. You have all the friends, all the girls, all the opportunities-"

"Mom trusts me because I've never given her a reason not to," Drew cut in. "Dad's proud of me for the same reason I have the friends and the girls and the opportunities. I went out and made it happen. I don't just sit around pissing and moaning about all the shit I don't have. I do something about it-"

"Pissing and moaning?" Adam repeated, shocked. "So, basically, you think my problems amount to shit. Why am I not shocked?"

"That's not what I said," Drew frowned. "Don't turn it around on me, you're completely missing the point."

"And what is the point, Drew? That I should just fucking.. get over it? Get over all the shit I've been through? Christ, you're so clueless," Adam tugged his hair in frustration.

"You say that like it's my fault," Drew shot back. "You're the one that's always shutting everyone out! No one can get fucking close to you, Adam. We try-"

"You try," Adam mocked. "What exactly are you guys trying to do besides suffocate me?"

"Suffocate you?" Drew shook his head, incredulous; fists shaking in rage at his sides. "Is that what you think we're doing?"

"You and mom, at least," Adam glowered. "You couldn't pay dad to give a shit."

"Jesus, Adam," Drew shouted, throwing his hands in the air. Adam flinched, at the sudden movement. "They don't know what to fucking do with you any more! Wanna know the truth? They're fucking scared to death of you!"

"Scared-?" Adam began, lip curled derisively.

"Yes," Drew cut him off with a hiss, stepping in close again. "But you're too up your own goddamn ass to see any of that, aren't you?"

"Oh yeah," Adam goaded. "Let's forget all about my problems and talk about how fucking hard I make life for everyone else."

"This whole family's fucking revolved around your problems for two years now!" Drew exploded. "Everything we do, everything we say, we think about you first!"

Adam snorted.

"You keep talking," Drew began, "about all the things you've given up. As if we haven't sacrificed anything for you. And have we complained? No. Not fucking once, Adam-"

"Don't even begin to act like you've lost as much as I have," Adam interrupted, voice heavy with emotion. "Not after tonight."

"Stop playing the fucking victim!" Drew demanded. "You didn't give them up, you ran away."

"How the hell was I supposed to stay there after what happened?"

"We could have found a way," Drew swore. "But that's not the point. You keep whining about the things you 'gave up' but the truth is, you didn't 'give up' anything. You abandoned everything."

"Oh, please-"

"Let me fucking talk," Drew shouted. "Laura and EJ tried for weeks to find us. They were so damn worried, man, you have no idea. What was I supposed to do when they found me? Tell them to fuck off? Maybe you're okay with fucking over the people that love you, but I can't handle it, okay?"

"Fuck you," Adam bellowed, voice cracking. "You expect me to buy that? You expect me to believe that they loved me when as soon as my back's turned they're together?"

"It's been five months!" Drew defended. "And, honestly, what the fuck do you expect Adam? Did you want Laura to just sit around pining? How is that fucking fair? You left them and they were so messed up over it. EJ was all she had left of you. They were there for each other after you took off and-"

"I'm just saying, it's a pretty damn quick turn around," Adam interjected. "For all I know they were there for each other weeks before I ever left."

"Fucking seriously, Adam?" Drew rolled his eyes.

"What am I supposed to think?" Adam cried. "If you love someone, you don't hook up with his best fucking friend a few months after he leaves."

"You do if your coward boyfriend doesn't even have the decency to try to explain things. Hell, you didn't even stick around long enough to break up with her!" Drew pointed out.

"I was so so fucked up, Andrew," Adam defended himself. "Jesus, I was doing alright and then suddenly, I'm a goddamn statistic. I'm just another number in a fucking hate crimes report. Do you have any clue what that even feels like?"

"Yes," Drew hissed. "I do. You might have been the only one that got jumped that day, but don't stand here and look me in the eyes and tell me you were the only one who got hurt. Don't tell me that me, and mom, and dad, and Laura EJ and everyone else's pain doesn't count somehow. Okay?"

"It's not the same," Adam shook his head.

"It's not!" Drew agreed. "What makes it different, is that we're all trying to heal.We want to move on-"

"So do I!" Adam yelled. "More than anything else, I want to move on! But-"

"Bullshit," Drew snapped. "You don't. You don't want to move on-"

"Yes, I do," Adam protested. "Not a day goes by where I don't think about it. Not a day-"

"And I'm sure you wouldn't have it any other way," Drew stepping forward again, to stare threateningly into Adam's eyes. His voice dropped an octave. "Because you love it. Face it, Adam. You're using your pain as an excuse to hurt everyone else."

"Get out of my fucking face," Adam shoved Drew back viciously, swallowing back a lump of frustration as the older boy barely budged. "Don't try to fucking intimidate me."

"What, so you can play rough but I can't?" Drew pushed Adam back, stepping closer as he stumbled back.

"Don't," Adam warned. "Touch me again and I swear-"

"Why not?" Drew mocked, shoving him again. "Not so fun, is it? Not so fucking fun being pushed around by your fucking brother, isit?"

Adam stumbled back, anger and fear rising in his chest. His heart raced, blood pounding in his ears. His lungs crashed against his aching ribs with every frantic inhale.

Drew's expression was hard and menacing; the floodlights casting grim shadows across the familiar planes of his face.

Adam licked his dry lips, feelings his shoulders relax as his fists slowly unclenched. This was too much. It was just too-

You fucking piece of shit.

Lose the vag.

Faggot.

Adam's fingers curled slowly back in toward his palm, short nails digging angry red crescents into his skin.

I was the victim, Eli's words rang in his ears as clearly as if the boy were uttering them aloud. But then I decided not to let that happen anymore.

We're not going to let them get away... with hurting you.

They never expect you to fight back.

You gotta make 'em sorry.

"That's it!" Adam shouted furiously, flecks of spit flying from his lips. He planted his feet into the ground and shoved the larger boy with all of his strength. Adam felt a jolt of excitement and satisfaction run through his body as Drew staggered, slightly."Fight me," he ordered.

"No."

Truth is... fuckers like that can't handle a fight.

"Fight me," Adam snarled, lunging forward again, satisfaction mounting as Drew shoved him back once more, rougher this time.

"No!"

That's why you gotta give it to 'em.

"C'mon," Adam challenged breathlessly. He lashed out, fist cutting a wide ark through the air, landing hard against Drew's shoulder. Adam's already injured hand throbbed blissfully at the contact.. "C'mon."

Drew flinched in pain, body jerking back slightly."Don't do that again," he warned, voice whisper-quiet.

Adam scowled, and swung out again. Anticipating the blow, Drew easily deflected the sloppy punch, stepping forward and shoving Adam back a few feet.

Adam coughed as dirt from the field rose up around him but held his ground.

Drew ran his hand across his brow and down his face, his conflict plain ins his eyes. He sighed restlessly and raised his hands in a gesture of surrender, "Fuck Adam, I'm not going to fight my little sis- My brother. My little brother."

"See?" Adam threw his hands up. "See? You don't fucking accept me. None of you do! What the fuck do I have to do to get you to see me for who I am?"

"We do accept you!" Drew rebutted, voice hot with exasperation and frustration.

"Yeah," Adam laughed bitterly. "That's why mom won't let Grams come visit. Because she accepts me so much."

"Jesus Christ Adam, could you play another fucking record already. This 'poor me' shit is getting old. I'm sick of having the same damn argument," Drew snapped.

"C'mon," Adam goaded, swinging again, ignoring the pain in his wrist as Drew twisted his arm and pushed him back. "Fight me like a man."

"You're not a man," Drew ground out, teeth clenched, eyes downcast.

Adam stilled, sick feeling flooding his stomach as he looked as his brother. A metallic taste flooded his mouth as he choked out, "What did you just say?"

Drew raised his head slowly and locked eyes with Adam. His measured voice tinted with an undercurrent of apprehension, "I said your not a ma-"

Adam lashed out furiously, catching Drew's mouth with his fist. Time seemed to move in slow motion as Adam's knuckles slipped past Drew's lips, skin tearing on the sharp edge of his brother's front teeth. Drew stumbled back, tripping over his own feet and landing in a dusty heap atop the pitcher's mound.

Adam stood above his brother, shocked, fist throbbing.

Oh God.

What the fuck did I just do?

Adam felt his face pale as Drew looked up at him, fingers pressed to his bleeding mouth. Drew pulled his hand back, staring transfixed at the blood that stained his fingertips. After a moment Drew wiped his hands on his shirt and picked himself up off the floor, mouth twisted in an expression of disgust.

He pushed me, Adam told himself. I didn't want to hit him, but he fucking pushed me.

Drew stared at him wordlessly, contempt and pity casting a dark shadow on his handsome features.

"How's that, Adam?" He rasped. "Feel like a man?"

Adam exhaled, rage mounting hot and bitter in his chest. "Drew," he warned.

"No, I'm serious," Drew wiped his mouth distractedly. "How'd that feel, Tough Guy?" Because you hit like a girl."

Adam shot forward again with a scream, swinging a hard right at his brother. Drew blocked the punch, grabbing Adam's wrist. Adam's left fist rocketed up, catching Drew's stomach, and his leg kicked out, sweeping Drew's feet out from under him. Drew rocked backwards and Adam pressed his advantage, using his body weight to knock Drew onto his back again.

"What now, Andrew? What?" Adam demanded, eyes wild, fist shaking at his sides.

Drew lay in the dirt, chest heaving, blood smeared bright red across his quivering chin.

"Still not going to fight back?" Adam laughed hollowly. "Can't say I'm shocked. You'd rather get wailed on by a guy half your size than fight back. You're such a fucking pussy."

Drew's fingers dug into the red-brown dust of the pitchers mound but he remained silent and otherwise unmoving.

"You're such a fucking pussy," Adam declared. "Never much good in a fight, were you? Remember that time Duffy's friends threw me in that dumpster? Actually, did you even get to see that or did Patrick's boot on your chest block your view?"

A short, breathy sound escaped Drew's parted lips as his eyes widened. A small, anguished chirp that faded quickly into the night.

Adam reveled in it, in the pain on Drew's face and the power it brought him.

"Fact is, you were never much of a risk-taker," Adam continued, delight growing exponentially with every cruel word that slipped past his lips. "Never did anything you weren't positive you could succeed at. Say, think that might be why Josie cheated on you? You weren't taking care of business and she thought the rest of the football team could do a better job?"

It was too far. He knew it immediately, but the point was made all the more apparent to him when Drew's legs kicked out and sent him staggering. Drew shot to his knees, following Adam's backward stumble, lunging forward with his arms around the smaller boys legs, taking him to the ground.

Adam's head bounced on the ground, teeth snapping painfully together, catching his tongue and filling his mouth with the taste of copper. His vision swam briefly as Drew scrambled up his body, straddling Adam's stomach and gripping the front of his shirt furiously. The football player jerked Adam up and then slammed him into the ground once more, the back of Adam's head making a dull, but audible thunk as it hit the dirt again.

Adam jerked his body viciously against Drew's grip, writhing and bucking. Drew increased the pressure on Adam's body, palms digging painfully into his collar bone. Adam shut his eyes against the pain, the sound of snapping bone jumping to the forefront of his memory and filling him with a surge of panic-induced strength. He twisted abruptly, using all his strength to propel his body up from the floor, catching Drew off-guard with his unexpected burst of energy.

He rolled his body half out from under the taller boy, using the element of surprise to his advantage and flinging himself at Drew again, knocking the older boy onto his side. Adam kneed Drew hard in the stomach, using the pressure to knock his brother onto his back. He thrust his right arm hard against Drew's upper chest, edging toward his neck, grabbing his wrist with his left hand to keep up the pressure.

Drew choked slightly, eyes bulging before he jerked up. Adam's leverage was lost the moment Drew's shoulders left the dirt and he found himself momentarily airborne by the force of Drew's rebound.

He tried to brace himself for the impact but still found himself stunned, sick feeling flooding his stomach briefly. He struggled to rise to a sitting position but the weight of Drew's body sent him reeling back into the dirt. Dust flew up around them as he struggled panicked and increasingly fatigued. Drew dug his knee into the dirt and used his leverage to roll Adam onto his side.

Blood and grit filled his mouth and he felt tears spring to his eyes as his vision swam. Pain filled his mind as Drew twisted his left arm painfully behind his back, one knee planted firmly against Adam's spine. Drew's free hand found the back of Adam's head and ground his cheek into the floor. The sand stung his skin, but he ceased his struggling, blood and drool pooling against his face.

Adam's struggles eased as Drew jerked his arm hard. As the pain swept over him he shuddered, fighting back a wave of dark, hazy memories brought raging to his consciousness by the all-too-familiar sensations.

"Gkk," Adam hissed through clenched teeth. "Give," he whispered hoarsely.

For a moment the only sounds were of the brothers' heavy breathing and the distant sounds of traffic.

"What?" Drew's voice was unsure, but his grip was already beginning to loosen.

Adam's eyes shut painfully. He pushed as much blood and saliva passed his lips before he spoke again. "I give."

Drew rolled off him quickly, falling back to his elbows on the dirt next to him.

Adam gingerly eased himself onto his back, arms spread out from his body as he rolled his shoulder, trying to get the feeling back into his fingers.

They breathed and were quiet.

"I'm sorry," Adam murmured after several long moments. He dared a sideways glance at his brother, expecting anger, hatred, another twisted arm.

But Drew was quiet, staring down at his knees, face pensive.

"Andrew," Adam tried again, louder. "I'm sorry."

Drew flicked his eyes up, meeting his brother's gaze. Something passed between them, some kind of understanding. Adam felt his shoulders relax as Drew shook his head and fell flat on his back.

"Fucker," he whispered, his foot slipping sideways to kick Adam's ankle.

Adam swallowed and allowed himself a short chuckle.

The ringing of Drew's cellphone broke the silence.

"Hello?" Adam heard his brother answer. There was a pause and then, "Yeah, they didn't have it. I don't know, I guess they sold out. Anyway, we went to the one on Brubaker instead. Be home in a few, okay? Love you too. Bye."

Drew rose to his feet shakily, turning to offer his hand to Adam. He accepted gratefully and allowed himself to be pulled up.

"I might have told mom we were going to get some soy milk."

"Shoy milk?" Adam grimaced, spitting out another mouthful of blood. He pressed his bleeding tongue against his cheek.

Drew shrugged.

"Yeah, we've gotta hit A&P on the way home."

"Oh."

The walk back to the car was silent.

"I lied," Drew admitted, turning the key in the ignition. The car rumbled to life.

"Huh?" Adam glanced at him, confused.

"When I said you hit like a girl," he clarified, wincing. "That hurt, motherfucker."


AN: Wow. 21 pages on word. I'm so sorry, you guys, that it took this long to post but I'm going to try my hardest to get the next chapter done up as quickly as possible. Thanks so much to everyone who stayed with me this long. And thanks, new readers, for giving this a try!

Review, if you've got the time. Any and all feedback is valuable to me. Thanks for your time, guys!

-Orange