author's note: hi! this monster is my baby. i've been working on it for the past month and a half and it's still not even halfway done. which means, yes, there will be a part two. happy days! i'm so proud of this, you have no idea. without further ado, a fic where jeff can see and talk to ghosts, and nick loves him anyway. it's like ghost whisperer, except not really. okay, i'm going to stop talking and let you read now. bye! let me know if you like it. much love xx

disclaimer: i don't own anything you recognize. lyrics belong to the maine, from a beautiful song called 'saving grace.'

i walk the tightrope on my way home,
you're my backbone.
i know you're somewhere close behind me.

The first time Nick really notices Jeff, they're ten years old and Jeff's talking to the empty space beside him.

Jeff's in his fifth grade class. He just moved to Westerville over the summer, two houses down and across the street from Nick's. Most days, he just sits outside and talks to himself. Nick's mom will catch him watching sometimes, and she'll just pat his shoulder, tell him that Jeff's probably talking to his imaginary friend. They're supposed to be too old for imaginary friends. Nick had one once, but he disappeared in first grade when Nick made his first real friend, Blaine. He can't even remember its name.

The other kids make fun of Jeff. They push him to the ground and call him nasty names like freak and weirdo. Jeff usually just smiles back, brushes himself off, and walks away. Nick's not really sure why his classmates are so concernedif Jeff wants to be weird, that's his choice. He never pushes Jeff, but he doesn't exactly stop it. Blaine tried to, once. But the one of the bigger kids started pushing him around too, and he stopped trying after that.

Nick thinks maybe that's why Jeff still has an imaginary friend. He doesn't have any real ones.

Nick's mom sat them down once, when she saw Jeff practically skipping home with a smile on his face and a black eye, and told them to be kind. No one deserves to be made fun of, no matter how different they are. Nick decides that he agrees with his mom, because she's always right. His mom is the best person ever.

Jeff's sitting on the swings, kicking his feet back and forth aimlessly. Every few seconds, he'll shoot a glance at the swing next to him, nodding like it's saying something. Nick's been watching him for the past few minutes. He's never really taken much of an interest in Jeff Sterling, but for some reason he can't look away. He watches Jeff open his mouth to speak to the empty swing. Jeff talks with his hands. Nick notices this when Jeff nearly falls off his swing when he lets go of the chain. Nick doesn't even notice that he's started walking in the direction of the swings until he hears Blaine ask, "Uh, Nick?"

Nick startles. "What?"

"Where are you going?" Blaine asks, sounding nervous.

"I wanna see something," Nick says distractedly. Blaine just exchanges a nervous glance with Wes behind Nick's back.

Jeff doesn't even notice Nick when he reaches him. "You have to move on, though," he's telling the swing earnestly, "Do you really think your Dad wants you to stay here and suffer? Because I know that he wants you to be happy. I went to his house the other day and talked to him, just like you asked me to," Jeff waits a few seconds, listening to nothing very attentively. "Annie, he loves you and he's not mad at you anymore—" Nick clears his throat. Jeff nearly falls off the swing. This time, it's not because he's talking with his hands. It's because Nick scared him half to death. "Uh," Jeff says, eyes wide. "You're not gonna hit me, are you?"

Nick just stares at him for a few seconds, before he shakes his head. Jeff looks visibly relieved. "Aren't we a little too old to have imaginary friends?" He asks instead.

Jeff frowns. "Annie isn't imaginary."

"Then what is she?" Nick asks, genuinely curious. He stares at the swing, waiting for something to appear. He's a little shocked when it jerks forward. Nick takes a few steps so that he's standing with Jeff in between him and the swing, says, "Woah."

"She's a ghost," Jeff says, uncertain. "I can talk to them. Ghosts, I mean. I help them."

For some reason, Nick believes him.

"Okay," he says, and he takes a few tentative steps forward. Nick plops himself down on the swing right next to the empty one—Annie. Jeff's watching him with wide eyes. "Can you tell me about her?"

"You don't think I'm crazy," Jeff says, disbelievingly. Nick shakes his head, kicks his feet a little to move the swing.

"Nope," he says, popping the 'p.'

"You don't think I'm crazy," Jeff repeats, like he's making sure that he heard Nick correctly. When Nick nods, he mouths wow and stares at the ground. "You believe me?"

"I mean, you don't really seem crazy," Nick tells him, shrugging. "Okay, well, you did because you talked to yourself all the time—but it's just the ghosts, right? Which means you're talking to someone else that's not you. Which also means you're not crazy. But I've never really talked to you before, so maybe you are. Are you?" he asks, with all the logic of a fifth grader.

Jeff shakes his head jerkily. "No," he says quickly, "No, I'm not."

"Okay," Nick says again, "Can you tell me about Annie?"

The swing moves again, just a little, and Jeff leans forward, listening. Nick waits. "Uh," Jeff says, "Well, you know Mr. Colligan from down the street?" Nick nods. "His daughter snuck out of the house to go to a friend's house about twenty years ago and never came back."

"Oh," Nick says, eyes growing wide. "Annie Colligan?"

Jeff nods, loosening his death grip on the swing's chain as he starts to relax. "Yeah. I found her about a week ago sitting on her front porch. I didn't even know she was, uh, you know, until Mr. Colligan walked right past her on his way to work."

Nick's looking up at the sky, trying to process all the information he's just received. Jeff can talk to ghosts, okay, cool. There's a dead girl sitting on the swing next to him. Much less cool. In fact, it's downright terrifying. Nick's fight-or-flight instinct is screaming at him to get the hell out of there, but something else is keeping him glued to his seat. It's that same something that makes him take a deep breath and say, quietly, "You know, Annie, your dad used to babysit me when I was younger."

He chances a glance in Jeff's direction, watches his eyes get wider. They're the kind of brown that's so dark you can't tell where his pupil is. "You really don't have to—"

"Shut up, I'm telling a story," Nick interrupts loudly, but he's smiling. It takes Jeff a second, but he grins back. They don't notice that across the play ground, Nick's friends are watching them nervously. "Okay, yeah. Your dad used to babysit me when my mom was at work. And he would tell me stories about you. You were Homecoming Queen, right?"

There's a pause, and then Jeff says, softly, "She was."

"Your dad showed me the crown. I saw all your trophies, too. You were awesome at basketball. I wish I was that good, but I trip over my own feet a lot." Nick kicks the ground, and a few wood chips fly into the air. "He's not mad at you, though. I know you probably don't believe me and you've probably been beating yourself up about it for the past however many years you've been, like, dead. But he really loves you. I remember him telling me that you were up in Heaven and he was happy that you were in a better place. That God needed another angel."

He pauses, and Jeff stays quiet.

"But you're not in Heaven. You're here. How can you be an angel when you're down here? I'm pretty sure your dad would be really upset that you've been down here so long, since the only thing that kept him going was how you were with God. So, I mean, you should probably get up there, if you really wanna make it up to him."

Jeff doesn't say anything for a long time, but Nick can feel it when Annie leaves. The presence he couldn't tell was there before is now very noticeably gone. The empty swing next to him really is empty now. Nick panics. "I didn't upset her, did I? I didn't like, scare her off or something? Because that would really—"

But Jeff's staring at him in some kind of awe. It makes Nick's face feel hot and get all red. "Woah," Jeff says, amazed, "She crossed over."


"She went into the light, because of what you said to her. It's a good thing, don't worry."

The next day, when Noah Puckerman tries to push Jeff into a wall, Nick punches him in the face. Nick and Jeff are pretty much inseparable after that.

It takes a little while, but eventually Nick gets used to Jeff walking up to strangers in public places and asking about their dead loved ones.

The first time it happens—well, the first time that Nick's with him when it happens—they're thirteen and standing in line to buy candy at the local convenience store. Nick's got a bag of Sour Patch Kids in one hand and Skittles in the other. He glances out the window one more time to make sure that their bikes are still where they left them. When he looks back, he sees Jeff craning his neck to get a better look at the cashier. Nick follows his gaze. She's pretty, with big blue eyes and long brown hair.

Nick doesn't like her.

"You could do better," he mutters, glaring viciously at the bag of skittles.

Jeff looks over at him, surprised. "What? No," he says, shaking his head. "Well, I mean, yeah, she's pretty—" Nick frowns, "—but no. There's someone with her."

Nick stands on his tiptoes, using Jeff's shoulder to balance himself because he's a lot shorter than his friend. The girl is talking to the customer, but that's it. "No there's not."

"Nick," Jeff says, deliberately, "There's someone with her."

"Oh," Nick's eyes go wide, and he grabs Jeff's arm. "Dude," he says, "Dude, don't freak her out."

Jeff shrugs, then nods. "Yeah, okay," he says agreeably, but the second they make it to the counter, Jeff leans forward and lowers his voice. "Hey, so, this is gonna sound crazy—" Nick groans loudly and the girl gets this confused smile on her face. Jeff elbows Nick in the gut. "—but do you by any chance know a little boy named Austin?"

The girl—her nametag reads McKenzie—drops Nick's bag of Sour Patch Kids, her hand flying to her mouth. "I'm sorry, what?" she asks faintly.

"Austin," Jeff repeats, "Brown hair, blue eyes, about this tall," he lifts his hand to about his waist and smiles gently. "He, uh, he's also standing right next to you."

McKenzie jumps about a mile in the air, staring at the space beside her. Nick shoves his hands in his pockets and stares at Jeff, because what the hell? "Do you do this a lot?" he hisses, and Jeff waves him off. The people in line behind them are getting restless. Nick tries not to frown too obviously.

"He wants you to know that you were," Jeff pauses, listening, "—the best big sister ever."

McKenzie starts to cry, right in the middle of the 7-11. Jeff just stands there, smiling peacefully and tapping his fingers against the counter. It's a little unnerving, sometimes, watching Jeff talk to dead people. Nick can't see them, so it's still weird to see his best friend having a one-sided conversation with a tree or maybe a house. It doesn't help that Jeff feels like it's his personal responsibility to help them all, and there's a surprising amount of dead people in Ohio. It really sucks when you have to compete for attention with a ghost. Especially when the ghost wins.

"Just," McKenzie takes a sort of gasp-breath and pushes the candy towards them. "Take it, yeah? Thank you." Quietly, she whispers, "You were the best little brother ever, Austin."

Jeff gives her a blinding smile, and there's that stupid little stab in Nick's stomach. He's not really sure when he started being so possessive. Nick figures it's because it's just been the two of them for the longest time. Sure, they've got other friends, but they always put each other first. Nick climbed out of Thad's bathroom window during a sleepover at one thirty in the morning, once, because Jeff needed help with some ghost-research. Jeff left his cousin's wedding two hours early when Nick broke his arm last year. It's just what they do. Nick's mom always laughs and tells them they're like an old married couple, which always makes Jeff blush.

They step out of line and start towards the door. Jeff pushes it open and lets Nick go through first, rubbing the back of his neck and looking pleased. "That was a lot easier than usual."

Nick stops, turns to stare at him. "Do you do that a lot?" he asks again. Jeff shrugs.

"Sometimes," he says, his smile bright and happy. "I can't help everyone, but I do what I can. A lot of people don't believe me. I got thrown out of a Wal-Mart once," Jeff pauses, frowns. Nick wants that smile to come back. "At least, I think it was a Wal-Mart. It might have been a Target."

Nick rolls his eyes. "Does it matter? We got free candy!" He grins over exaggeratedly and holds the back of skittles up, bouncing it in front of Jeff's face.

Jeff pushes his hand away gently, says, "It's not about that, you idiot," but he's smiling again, and that's really all Nick wants.

Nick's gotten almost-suspended because of Jeff dozens of times.

The one time he actually gets suspended, it's for an entire week. They're fifteen years old—well, Nick's fifteen, because his birthday is in September. Jeff's still fourteen because his isn't until April—and it's the third week of their freshman year. Nick thought that maybe kids in high school would be a little more mature, but of course that's not the case. When Jeff gets shoved sideways into a locker by some sophomore that used to bother them back in fifth grade, Nick nearly shoves the kid down a flight of stairs.

The only reason the sophomore doesn't have a broken arm is because Jeff is a nice person and stops Nick.

Most people stopped messing with Jeff the second Nick decided the two of them were to be the best friends ever. Nick may be on the smaller side, but he will defend the people he cares about. Especially Jeff. And if that means breaking his hand from punching someone a little too hard in the nose, well. He's gonna do it. But there are some assholes that just won't leave Jeff alone. They knock his books down, and they call him stupid names, and damnit, Nick can't always be around to protect him. Of course, Jeff just lets it roll off his back. He always just smiles and walks away, head held high, just like always.

Jeff never exactly tries to act normal, and Nick wouldn't have it any other way. Jeff's weird, but that's what Nick loves about him. He gets by on two hours of sleep and forgets to eat sometimes and talks to people that other can't see. He has the biggest heart and is so willing to help everyone and everything. It's completely baffling to Nick that no one else can see how wonderful Jeff is except for him.

On the day Nick gets suspended, they're walking down the hallway just like every other day. In the middle of their conversation, Jeff swats distractedly at the air by his ear and says, "Not now."

Nick pauses in his riveting explanation of the way his older brother's girlfriend tripped into the pool last week—even though Jeff was there—to ask, "You okay?"

"Yeah," Jeff says, offering a bright smile. It falters for just a second and scratches at his ear. Jeff's not very good at lying, and he's not very good at ignoring ghosts either. "I'm at school, find me later," he hisses.

Nick grabs Jeff by the elbow and slows them both down. "Do we need to like, find an empty class room or something?"

"No, no, I just—" Before either of them can register it, Jeff's head slams against a nearby wall with a sickening crack and then he's falling to the ground. He doesn't immediately stand up and smile and make some stupidly cheery remark. The idiots that shoved him are laughing obnoxiously, kicking at Jeff's legs and shouting, "C'mon, Ghost Whisperer, rise from the dead." Nick watches his best friend fall and he sees red.He does something stupid.

He turns to the two senior football stars—two linebackers that have to be at least part giant—and he punches one of them right in the face.

Nick can't remember what happened next, but the one that shoved Jeff has to get reconstructive surgery on his nose. The School Board suspends Nick on principle. That works for him, because Nick doesn't leave Jeff's side the entire time he's in the hospital. Jeff's mother sits beside him and cries, most of the time. Nick's own mother doesn't even try to get him to go home—she understands that he needs to be here. All she does is kiss his forehead and tries to get him to eat crappy hospital food.

When Jeff finally wakes up—and he's been knocked out for five whole days—Nick hugs him so tightly he thinks Jeff's head might pop off. Jeff only smiles at him gently and lifts his weak arms to wrap around him. Nick doesn't even realize he's shaking until Jeff's fingers start threading through his hair, until Jeff's whispering, "It's okay, Nick, I'm fine," over and over again. Nick takes a deep breath and pulls away, makes room for Jeff's mother and little sisters to hug him. He feels a little selfish, because they definitely should have been the first ones to tackle him. But Jeff's mom just shoots him a soft, knowing look and smiles.

Nick's mom stands a little farther away, smiling gently. "Boys," she says quietly, "Jeff, your mother and I have been talking. There's a private school, only twenty minutes away—"

"Dalton?" Jeff asks, voice hoarse. Nick's mom nods.

"Yes, Dalton. Your mom and I were thinking that it probably isn't best for you two to go back to Westerville. Dalton has a zero-tolerance bullying policy. It's a safe-haven, somewhere no one would be able to hurt either of you, and that's all we can really hope for—"

"Ella," Jeff's mom says, sounding tired, like they've had this conversation a million times before. They probably have, because Nick knows his mom. She can be very stubborn. "You know we can't afford that."

Nick's mom just rolls her eyes, which seems highly inappropriate for the current situation. "Which is why I've decided to pay for both of the boys' tuitions."

Jeff's eyes go wide, shooting between his mother and Nick's. His youngest sister, Jamie, squeezes his hand and lays her head on his shoulder. Jeff's mom looks completely floored. "We couldn't possibly—I mean, that's so much—and what about Brandon?"

"My husband has no say in what I do with my money," Nick's mom says, eyes hard. Nick winces. His Dad suck sometimes. Most of the time. "Jeff is important to Nick, which means he is important to me."

Everyone pushes in towards Jeff for a giant group hug. Nick lands somewhere in between his mother, Jeff, and Jeff's sister Jenna. His head's resting against Jeff's chest. He feels Jeff's heart beating loudly against his ear, and finally lets himself breathe.

Nick will never forget the day they got together because a) it was like, the happiest day of his life, and b) it was also the most embarrassing moment ever.

He figures that he's probably been in love with Jeff since they met, before he even knew what being in love felt like. Sometimes he still thinks he has no clue, and maybe he doesn't. All he knows is that he'd take a bullet for that boy, he'd spend every moment of the day with him if he could. Nick just wants to be able to hold his hand, and not just to pull him down a hallway or something, really hold his hand. Fingers entwined, arms swinging, butterflies in his stomach.

It's a Tuesday in the middle of the summer, and they're sitting on Jeff's kitchen floor. There's a pan of brownies in between them. Jeff's younger sister made them earlier, and made the mistake of leaving them out in the open. It's half-gone now and Jill's supposed to be back from her friend's house any minute, which kind of sucks, because Jill is ninety-seven pounds of pure anger. Nick's always said that she regenerates her evil by feeding on dead puppies and children's tears. Whenever he says this, Jeff smacks him and tells him he's being morbid. Which makes Nick laugh, because isn't Jeff the one that talks to dead people?

"Okay, okay," Jeff says, around a mouthful of brownie. Little bits of it fall out of his mouth.

Nick snorts. "Attractive."

Jeff actually shimmies his shoulders, which would look stupid if anyone else did it. "Shut up, asshole. You know you want this." The sad part is that Nick actually kind of does. "Hey," Jeff says suddenly, leaning forward, "Tell me a secret."

That's when Nick starts to get a little nervous. He shoves a piece of brownie in his mouth, ignoring the way Jeff's eyes don't leave his face. He half-wishes a ghost will swoop in and make the curtains move and the walls ooze blood—it's done that before, Jeff's met some nasty dead people. "You already know everything about me," he shrugs, purposely attempting to sound vague. He shoots Jeff a quick wink and says, "Tell me a secret about you."

Jeff's fingers start twitching in his lap. He stares at Nick, thinking very hard about something that has to be extremely important, because Nick thought he knew all of Jeff's secrets. There's a beat of silence, in which Nick's frozen and Jeff doesn't even blink. There's an unthinkable tension in the room, and for once, it's not caused by a ghost. Nick's able to tell the difference by now. Jeff sighs, like he's got the weight of the world on his shoulders—and yeah, okay, maybe he does—and says, "Well, I'm terrified that no one will ever be able to love me because I'm a freak."

Nick stares at him for approximately fourteen seconds, jaw dropped. And then Nick's resolve kind of dies and the dam breaks lose.

"Okay," he says, breathlessly, "You wanna know a secret? You're an idiot." Jeff actually looks a little bit affronted, but Nick holds up a hand and continues with, "No, shut up, listen. You're stupid, because you're absolutely wonderful and who wouldn't love you? Like, I have never met a more compassionate and caring person. You put everyone before yourself, and you always have a smile on your face, and it's just a really nice smile, okay. It's just a really beautiful smile." Nick takes a deep breath. "Okay, well since I've already made a complete ass out of myself, I should probably just go ahead and tell you that I've kind of been in love with you for a really long time. And by 'kind of' I mean completely. Let's face it, I've been stupid for you since we were nine—"

"You've only known me since you were ten," Jeff says quietly.

Nick winces. "Yeah, except I kind of stalked you for a few months before I actually talked you. I'd sit in my living room and watch you talk to ghosts from my window—well I didn't know they were ghosts then, I just thought you were insane, but you were just really interesting and—"

And holy shit, Jeff's kissing him. He tastes like brownies and the lemonade his mom makes.

When he finally pulls away—a good few minutes later, mind you—Nick stares at him, and then asks, "Out of all the things I just told you, you chose to think that me stalking you was the most romantic part?"

Jeff just smiles at him and says, "I love you too."

Jeff's not talking to Nick, which is fine, because Nick's not talking to Jeff either.

They've been dating for about a year when they get into their first real fight. It's a stupid fight, in Nick's opinion. Okay, so maybe there was rock salt in the slushie and maybe Nick knew about. And yeah, okay, maybe he didn't tell Jeff or do anything to stop it. But it's not his fault, Sebastian threatened to kick him out of the Warblers. Jeff would have done the same thing, right?

No, Nick thinks, sighing as he flops down on his bed. No, Jeff wouldn't have done that in a million years.

Nick doesn't have a reason to be angry at Jeff. If he's being honest, Nick's mad at Jeff for being mad at him which is a really stupid reason to be upset. But he's been following Jeff around for the past week, practically begging for forgiveness. He's not even sure if they're broken up and—no, he doesn't even want to think about that. What is he supposed to do without his better half? It's really obvious that Jeff is the better person, and it's also obvious that Nick doesn't deserve him. Maybe Jeff finally got smart and realized it.

It bothers him that he can't even ask Jeff who he's currently helping, because he knows Jeff is dealing with a ghost right now. They way he'd stared just over Sebastian's shoulder in the parking lot with a level of concentration that couldn't belong to anything else was the first clue. And, of course, the way Jeff walked right up to Sebastian and told him, "Your brother is so disappointed in you right now." Sebastian had paled, looking sad and terrified and guilty all at once. Nick didn't even know Sebastian had a brother.

Nick doesn't know what to do, so naturally he calls his mother. She flat out tells him he's an idiot.

"Baby," she says, once he's done explaining and crying hysterically into the phone, "Baby, I love you, you know that. But you are being so stupid right now."

"Mom," Nick half-whines, "You're supposed to be on my side no matter what."

"I am on your side, Nick," she tells him gently, "When my son calls me, crying his heart out, it's my job to get rid of the problem. And sweetheart, right now the problem is you."

"I can't get rid of myself," Nick says, sighing heavily. It's not like he hasn't spent the past few weeks thinking about all the dramatic and angsty ways he and Jeff would get back together—Nick getting into a car crash and Jeff declaring his undying love for him right before he takes his last breath, Nick running away and Jeff going on a mission to find him. There's a ton of ways Nick could get rid of himself, but that's not something you tell your mom.

"No," Nick's mom agrees, "But you can fix yourself. And sweetheart, you need to fix it fast. That boy is the best thing that's ever happened to you." Of course Nick knows that, but he keeps quiet and lets his mom talk. "He treats you how I want you to be treated—like you're the most precious thing in the world. To me, you are. To Jeff you are. And you, baby, the way you look at him. That says it all." Nick feels like he's about to start crying, so he says goodbye to his mom quickly and throws his phone across the room, huddles up between the pillow and the wall.

He and Jeff don't talk again until Nick's mother dies two months later.

The first thing Nick hears when he walks into his house is, "There's been a car accident."

Nick drops his bag to the floor, eyes never leaving his father. His dad is sitting on the couch, stone-faced, hands clenched into fists. Nick's stomach drops to his feet. "Where's mom?" he asks, gripping tightly to the staircase railing. His father doesn't say anything, only continues to stare at the wall just above Nick's head. "Dad," he says, more forcefully, "Where's mom?"

"There's been a car accident," His dad says again, and no. "Nicholas—"

"Where is she?" Nick yells, slamming his hand against the wall. His dad doesn't even flinch. "Is she in the hospital? We have to go see her, why are you just sitting here like some lazy asshole? Get up, we have to go see if she's okay, we have to—"

"Nick," his father says, quietly, "She's not coming home."

Every inch of Nick's body feels cold. He can feel himself starting to shake, but no, this can't be real. He just saw her this morning. She made him breakfast, she kissed him goodbye, she rolled her eyes when his father started complaining about politics—she has to be okay. There's no way that she's not, because she has to be, she's his mother and—"No, you're wrong. She's fine. This is a fucking sick joke, dad—"

"Language," Nick's father says sharply, and Nick just loses it.

"That's what you're fucking worried about? You can't be—you fucking—Jesus Christ, dad, what the hell is wrong with you? You asshole, you dickhead,…" And then he's crying, half-falling towards the door to yank it open because his mother is dead. He's sobbing so hard he can barely walk, can only blindly stumbling forward and hope he's going in the right direction. He can't see and the world is spinning. His dad stands up slowly, watching him carefully. He doesn't move, doesn't try to comfort his son, and that's when Nick realizes that he has absolutely no one. "Fuck you, dad," he yells, but it's slurred and choked. Nick can barely understand himself; he doesn't expect anyone else to.

He finally manages to get the door open and he trips onto his front porch, falling against one of the support beams. His old lady next door is watching him with concerned eyes. She reaches forward, twenty feet away, before she brings her shaky hand back. She's not shaking because she's sad, though. She's shaking because she's old, which is something Nick's mother will never get to be. Another sob rips through his body and he nearly falls over, grabbing blindly in his pockets for his keys. His car is all the way at the end of the winding path. He stumbles toward it, doesn't see Jeff's sisters playing with Barbies on the porch across the street. Doesn't see Jeff standing behind them, looking horrified and wide-eyed.

Nick's fingers fumble with his keys. He drops them, yells, "Fuck," and kicks his car. A decent sized dent forms in the door. He bends down to pick the car keys and tries to jam them into the lock but it won't go in, damnit.

A hand grabs at Nick's wrist and he yanks it back, wide-eyed and angry. "Don't fucking touch me!" he yells. He whips around, expecting to see his father, but no. It's Jeff, arm still out-stretched and trying to hide the hurt look on his face. Nick falters.

"You shouldn't be driving like this," Jeff says quietly, desperately, "You could get hurt, okay? Just give me the keys, I'll drive you where you want to go."

Nick stares at him for a few seconds. "I could die," he whispers, playing with the keys with his fingers.

Jeff's eyes get wide and panicked. "Yeah, okay, you really shouldn't do that so if you could just give me the keys because I'd really rather see you alive than dead—"

"No," Nick says, and there are tear tracks running down his face, "I could crash." Jeff freezes. Nick kind of slumps against his car, exhausted and sad. Jeff reaches forward and pushes a piece of hair out of his face, hesitant. Nick lifts his head, locking his eyes with Jeff's, and says, "She's dead, Jeff."

Nick watches as Jeff actually stumbles back, shocked, and then surges forward. He stops, inches from Nick, like he's not sure what he's allowed to do. It takes Nick a few seconds to remember that they've been broken up for almost three months. That only makes him want to cry harder, so that's what he does. Jeff panics, because he hates seeing people cry—he sees it enough, has dealt with death far too much for a seventeen year old—and grabs one of Nick's hands. "Who died?"

"My mother," Nick says, and it hurts to say out loud. His voice breaks when he says, "Jeff, I need you."

Jeff stumbles over his words. "I can't—I don't—"

It's a testament to how well Nick knows Jeff that he doesn't get upset or offended, because Jeff doesn't mean it that way. Instead, Nick just makes a frustrated noise and says, "I don't need your fucking power, I need you."

Jeff's face goes from surprised to relieved to sad in about three seconds flat. Nick feels himself being pulled forward and he lets himself fall against Jeff's chest. Jeff buries his face in Nick's hair. Nick only means to take a breath, but when he exhales a sob escapes. He squeezes his eyes shut and presses his face into Jeff's tee shirt, curls his fingers into the fabric like it's the only thing in this world he has to hold onto. Maybe it is. Jeff just holds him tighter. Nick can feel Jeff's body tremor, just a little. He's crying too, but of course he is. Nick's mom loved Jeff.

"I'm so sorry, baby," Jeff whispers into Nick's ear, voice shaking, "I can't see her, I'm sorry. I can't see her."

author's note: i know i know i know. i'm a bitch for ending it that way. i'm sorry, but hey, there's a part two! no worries. gotta give our boys a happy ending, right?