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They always end up at the lake somehow. Start out separately, Jake and Carlos coming after they're done at the fast food joint, Pooch after he drops off Jolene at home, and Clay's always the first one there, except when Will's pissed off about something or they get distracted, then they're late and everyone else looks vaguely surprised.

There's an old, rotting pier that's marked for demolition but no-one's gotten around to it yet; it's been years so Clay figures they never will. There's just no money, Pooch's father always says, the times when they go over for dinner, and Clay doesn't know much about what Pooch's dad does except he works for the city, and mostly he doesn't care so he just nods his head whenever he goes on about budget and planning, because Clay understands the one thing that matters is that dying towns don't get to have health hazards torn down, and that's about that.

Only Will's the only one that will go sit on the damn thing, rotten boards and all, duck under the "DO NOT ENTER" chain and plop himself on the edge, trail his feet into the water and drink until he almost passes out. Clay worries sometimes that one day he'll look over and the pier will be gone, and Will with it. Or that Will will just fall asleep one time and slip silently into the water, never to surface.

He knows Carlos watches him though, silent and vigilant, and it makes him feel better, mostly. But only mostly. "He's an idiot," he tells Carlos once, and Carlos only laughs quietly, and Clay wonders what type of person Carlos would have been if he hadn't watched his mom get beat to death by his stepdad when he was six; if maybe he'd be chatty like Jake, the type of kid that couldn't ever shut up. He can't really imagine anyone being as chatty as Jake is, though.

 

*

 

Wednesday night, and they're pulling someone out of the lake, wrapped in tarp. Jake makes a Laura Palmer joke, and Will threatens to punch his teeth in. "Settle down, guys," Clay says, and drifts closer towards the scene; with the yellow police tape and the red lights reflecting across the lake like fire, until a uniform he doesn't recognize yells at him to step back.

"What the hell is that," he says.

"Nothing good," Pooch replies. "Nothing good at all."

Will grabs some drunken dude passing by and growls, "Who's that they pulling out, you know?" The guy mutters a name they're all acutely familar with, Max - something, and it doesn't really hit any of them until afterwards. Will just lets the guy go and shoves him away. "That prick, right."

"You shouldn't speak ill of the dead, Will."

"Shut up, Jake," Will says, without looking at him. Instead he's looking back out at the lake, at the coroner's van they're sliding the body bag into. "Wonder what happened to him," he asks idly, but Carlos shakes his head, and Will looks away, doesn't look back.

Back home, Ma's sitting on the couch in the living room, waiting up for them. "It's 2am," she says. Will mumbles a hasty apology, but it's Clay she's glaring at. She waits for Will to leave to take a leak before snapping at Clay, "You're drunk."

"I'm over eighteen."

"Not yet you're not, unless I missed a birthday somehow. And your brother definitely isn't." She's scowling now, and this is the only time that he can see the family resemblance between Will and her. It bothers him somewhat, considering what they do, but not enough, apparently. Clay shrugs and tries a smile, the bashful one he knows she hates because it reminds her too much of Dad, but it's all he can think to do. "I'll take care of Will, you know that, Ma," he says finally, and eventually she lowers her eyes and sighs deeply. "You know I will."

"Oh honey, that's kind of what I'm afraid of."

He kisses her goodnight, even though she rears away and makes a show of disapproving of the stink of alcohol coming from him, and he can't tell her that watching someone get hauled out of the water destroyed whatever buzz he might have built a long while ago anyway. Instead he just hugs her, on impulse, and when he pulls away Will's standing in the kitchen doorway, staring at them both. He disappears from sight when Clay raises a brow, and when he goes upstairs Will's door is shut tight. Clay pauses for a moment, then moves on.

They used to share a room, Will and him. Back when they were growing up, and back when they still had a dad. Will's dad, not Clay's, but he was nice enough to the both of them. That's what Clay told himself, started repeating to himself after the funeral, Will's sniffling face pressed into his starched shirt as the car drove them away. He was just nice enough. Some guy that was only nice to him because he had to be; not someone that was a father, that did all the useless dad stuff with him, or made breakfast for him when Ma just wasn't up to it, or bundled the both of them up for spontaneous overnight road trips just because they could.

Because surely, if one father walked out on you, the other one wouldn't die. Surely life couldn't be that fucked up. He told that to himself until he was thirteen, and that's when he realized: yeah, it was.

He takes a shower upstairs, until the stink and grime washes off, and when he gets to his bedroom Will's sprawled face down on the bed, his arms and legs spread wide open. Clay watches him for a while, mildly irritated that Will somehow managed to get taller than him while he wasn't paying attention - Clay can still beat him in a fight though; but that's because Clay fights dirty and and always has, only Will hasn't figured that out yet. At some point he realizes Will's not going to get up, so he kicks him slightly with his knee. Will only blinks blearily at him and goes right back to sleep.

"Will," Clay says, with infinite patience. "You're either here to get laid or you're here to pass out. If it's the latter I suggest you do it in your room. In your own bed."

Will finally sits up, but all he does is lean his head against the wall and say softly, "That Max jerkoff. I left you with him, right."

"Yeah. So what?"

Will holds out his hands, and Clay doesn't have to look to know they're cracked and bleeding from punching Max too hard. Clay had to hold him back, whisper in his ear: Go on, go. I'll take care of it. "So, you wanna fuck or what?"

"Naw, man. I wanna sleep." He rubs his eyes with the heels of his palms and yawns.

Clay says, "I'll toss you for the mattress."

But Will only shakes his head. Tells him, "I have my own room. And my own bed."

"Yeah, sure."

Will stumbles away, and Clay wants to call him back, but in the end he just collapses on the bed, and when he falls asleep he doesn't dream.

*

Clay's always late for school, and Will's always early, which is tough shit for Will because Clay's the one with the car and the license, although Will likes to say that calling it a car is stretching it. Clay told him once if he bitched about his girl one more time he'd make Will walk to school. Clay's always been overly fond of damaged, broken down things that barely run.

This morning, Will's already waiting for him outside by the time Clay gets downstairs, pulling his sweater over his shirt. Ma frowns, says, "You should shave. You're too young for that stubble. Isn't there a school policy or something."

Clay scratches at his chin and kisses her on the cheek. "Yes, but I get away with it because of my innate charm and wit. Could I get some fried eggs." She looks tired, and worn out, so he smoothes her hair down with his hand, but her frown doesn't disappear.

"Your brother's waiting."

"So. Let him wait." But she shoots him a look, and Clay only manages to grab a piece of toast before he's ushered out the door. Will's in a surprisingly good mood, and he even manages a smile when Clay slides into the driver's seat. Clay says, "You wanna skip? We could go hang somewhere."

"Naw, man. I have a test today."

"Sure, of course you do." He probably does though. When they pull up at the school, Clay says, "See you at lunch okay?"

"Are you ditching?"

"What, and miss out on being intellectually stimulated by the school system's finest? Never."

"Whatever, man." He stalks off, and Clay watches him leave for a while before rushing towards his own class.

*

Pooch slides into the seat next to Clay during AP English and says, "So there's a pool going around about which girl it was that put that bomb in your locker." He raises a pointed brow at Clay, and Clay shakes his head.

"Does no one have lives around here? Besides, it wasn't exactly a bomb, it was just -"

"They had to call the bomb squad," Jake points out.

"Yeah but it's not like it was meant to kill me or anything. She just got a little, uh, enthusiastic about the whole thing."

Pooch eyes him speculatively, then snorts and turns back to his fries. Clay turns his head slightly but Carlos's only watching them both solemnly, and Clay can't tell at all what he's thinking. That's nothing new though, so Clay turns back just as the teacher starts telling him to sit up and pay attention.

At lunch, Jake starts yammering on about Max, and Clay shoots him a look before he gets past his second sentence and, surprisingly, Jake shuts up, choosing instead to drop peas into his mashed potatoes to make what looks like a row of pacman trying to get through a maze. Will stops by the table long enough to mutter something to Clay about not waiting for him after school, but he pauses to frown at Jake. "Nice shirt."

"Thanks," Jake says, seemingly unashamed about the pastel purple. "Nice face."

"Is that supposed to be some sort of comeback? Because that don't even make any sense."

"Can we talk about other things than my brother's face," Clay says. "Someone tell me who I should go to prom with."

"Well I know who I'm taking," Pooch interjects, and everyone groans.

"Aisha," Clay says suddenly, because it just occurs to him and because she just passes by, ignoring their table as usual. "I think I'll ask Aisha."

Will chokes. "Yeah, good luck with that, man," he says, after he stops coughing.

Clay only smiles benignly at him.

*

The first time Clay saw Aisha was at a party; she was downing shot after shot of tequila, crowd of boys gathered around her like rapt wolves. Clay pictured her collapsing after shot six, pictured himself wading through the crowd of boys to rescue her, the dashing hero to her damsel in distress. Instead she just shook herself, shoved a hovering boy out of the way, and walked off. Jake swore the smirk she threw their way was for him, but it wasn't really a smirk in any case, just a small, knowing smile. It could have been meant for anyone.

Clay had a few rules when it came to girls. He wouldn't chase a) anyone younger than a junior and b) cheerleaders, art geeks or girls devoted to Jesus as their savior. He found out soon enough that Aisha was a) a sophomore and b) a cheerleader, and he figured:

Well.

About a week later, she was dragging him into the janitor's closet; he thought it was Will at first, she was strong for such a scrawny thing.

"Clay," she said, after she flipped the lights on.

"Aisha," he replied, and he leaned his body against the door so that no-one could barge in. They'd barely spoken two words to each other before, and they didn't that afternoon either, except afterwards, when Aisha was sitting on the floor and pulling up her socks.

"Your brother," she said thoughtfully, and Clay stiffened. "I don't think he likes me."

"I wasn't even aware he knew who you were."

"We're in a few classes together. It happens when you're in the same grade. He's very good at the sullen, silent glare."

Clay snorted, and reached down to brush a stray hair out of her eyes. "Don't take it personally," he told her. "Will doesn't like anyone."

"He likes you."

"He has no choice. We're blood."

*

When Clay was ten he decided that he wasn't going to put up with being called Franklin anymore, and demanded that everyone call him by his last name. Surprisingly, it stuck. Even Ma called him Clay, but then again, he heard tell that he was named after his paternal grandfather, someone Ma didn't seem to like very much, if the expression on her face whenever he called was anything to go by.

Six months later Will decided that everyone needed to call him by his last name as well; that didn't work out, thankfully. No one wanted to call a chubby eight year old Roque. Clay would have been pretty fucking annoyed if his baby brother had ended up with a cooler name than he had.

*

Will can't stand it when Clay sits on his bed uninvited, which is why Clay does it, but this time when Will comes into his room and finds Clay there he only waves his hand so that Clay will move over to make room for him. They both still fit, but barely. "Who are you going to prom with," Clay asks.

Will frowns, the way he does so well. And then glowers, the way he also does incredibly well. "It's the senior prom," he says slowly, as if Clay's a moron. "I'm a sophomore."

"Yeah, well. I'm sure we can find you some hot senior to go with. I know that girl, what's her name, Joney? The one you screwed at that party? She likes you."

"No. I liked her, and then you screwed her at that party."

"That was me?" Clay pauses. "Oh right, that was me. She's the one with the - oh yeah I remember her." He shuts his mouth abruptly because Will's glower has gone from I am mildly pissed off but indulgent because I like you to I am really pissed off and I don't care that I like you. Although to be honest, most days recently Clay isn't even sure Will likes him at all. "Fine," he says finally. "We'll find another girl for you. Come on. Won't be the same without you."

"Who are you taking? Aisha, really?"

"That's the plan, but I have a back-up. I thought maybe Emma."

"She the one that set put the bomb in your locker? You didn't even sleep with her, man."

"Yeah, but it's the prom." Clay grins. "I might get lucky this time. Hey, her friend's -"

"No."

"Sure, sure." Clay lets it slide for now. The key to Will is not to push, but to chip slowly until all his defenses are down, and then he will do whatever you ask him to. Most of the time. Clay's success rate hasn't been so bad, but again, recently -

He pushes himself up to sitting position and claps Will on the shoulder. Will tenses, because he doesn't tolerate being touched, until Clay slides his thumb along the back of his neck. Then he looks sideways at Clay, all contemplative intent. "What," Clay asks.

Will only sighs, but then he says, "I wanna fuck you."

Clay glances up at the clock on the wall. "We're gonna be late."

"I only need ten minutes."

Clay starts laughing, but Will's still frowning, so eventually he just says, "You know I have a policy."

"Fuck your policy."

"So this girl, Emma's friend. Her name's Jasmine. We could get matching tuxes. It'd be great. If Aisha doesn't work out. If she does - I'm sure she has a friend. She's a cheerleader, I'm sure she has lots of friends."

Will looks, briefly, as if he's contemplating punching Clay in the nose, but when Clay reaches into the drawer and slaps the lube into his hand, he only says, "Yeah, okay."

And sometimes, the key to Will is just to negotiate. Nevermind that Clay probably would have given him what he wanted for free anyway. "It'll be great, you'll see," Clay says. "Now, come on. You only have eight out of your ten minutes left." Will makes a 'turn around' motion with his index finger, and Clay says, "What, no kiss? You're such a romantic, Will." He complies though, or tries to, because Will's already helping to shove him over. Loosely on his knees and with mostly his elbow for support, he's not actually that into it when Will shoves his jeans down and grabs the back of his t-shirt in a bunch to shove upwards, but then Will leans over him and his breath is hot on Clay's neck, and he bites downwards, mostly gently, and yeah this could work.

"Fuck," Will mutters, unhappy for some small reason or other, and Clay suppresses a laugh.

"Any time now, dude."

"Shut up." But then Will finally gets it done, and it's hot, and sticky, and mostly a fucking mess, but Clay's shuddering anyway, and hard anyway, and at some point he comes, anyway, and then Will's making those low noises he makes before he comes, and then it's over and they're both sprawled on the bed, heaving sweaty breaths, and when Clay looks over at the clock more than ten minutes have passed, which means they're probably not going to make it, which means another small victory for him, and nowadays, he takes whatever victories he can get. Even if it's against Will. Who's supposed to be on his team anyway. "Fuck," Will says, and Clay knows he's finally noticed the time. "Fuck."

"Yeah, that about covers it."

*

They're on the bleachers, watching the cheerleaders practice their cheers. Clay whistles appreciatively as Aisha does a twirl, or a flip, or whatever the fuck they call it. He'd seen the other cheerleaders do the same thing a million times before, but when Aisha does it, it's an act of will somehow. It's a big fuck you to gravity: I will rise up impossibly high and my spine will bend that little bit more than should be humanly possible.

Will shoots him a look. "Christ," he says, and shakes his head in the way only he knows how. "What are we doing here, man. It's pathetic. You'd think we had no social lives or something."

"I don't know about you, but this is my entire point of being here."

"I'm sure it is," Will responds darkly. His jaw tightens and Clay follows his gaze, to where Wade is jogging past and waving cheerfully to them both. And even from far down in the field Clay can see Aisha's entire body tense as she turns to glare at him. Wade blows her a kiss, and Aisha spins around, ramrod straight and utterly furious. "I bet she could take him."

"Yeah, I won't take that bet."

"Wasn't Wade friends with Max? He doesn't seem too cut up about it."

"Yeah, I doubt Wade actually liked Max. I doubt anyone actually liked Max. I bet Max's mom doesn't even like Max."

"I don't like her."

"Who, Max's mom?" Clay sighs. "Is there anyone you do like?"

"Fuck you," Will says, and the shove he gives Clay is slightly more forceful than it needs to be. "You gonna fuck your way through the entire cheerleading squad? Fuck that I'ma -"

"You really shouldn't swear. Ma said I should watch your language for you."

Will's responding laugh is a short, sharp bark, but the tension bleeds out of his body and eventually he sighs. "I just want the fuck out of here, that's all."

"Five minutes, I swear."

"You know that's not what I - Jake said that he could hack into the system or something, that he could figure out a way to get me to wherever the fuck I want if only I made up my damned mind."

"See, I told you it was useful to be friends with him."

"Yeah. Sometimes I wonder. I can't even figure out why we're all friends. Like tends to like, and we ain't exactly that. Maybe it's 'cause you like gathering people like herders gather sheep."

"Imagine if I put my powers of influence to good use. Oh, the things I could accomplish." Clay grins easily.

"Come on. If you're done jerking off over Aisha I wanna go home."

And Clay could make Will wait, it's not like Will has any other choice, but Aisha's made him hard and maybe if he drives them far enough away Will might blow him at some point, so he gets to his feet and says, "Yeah come on. Let's go."

*

Sunday, and when Clay's finally awake enough it's past noon and Will's nowhere to be found. He wanders into the living room and raises his brow at Ma. She shrugs. "He was here, then he wasn't." Clay nods his head and heads out the back door. He's always worried nowadays that the treehouse will just fall down one day, on both their increasingly hefty weights, but Will always did like living dangerously, and he likes to say that it's the place he goes to when he wants to be alone, but Clay figures if he wanted to be alone he wouldn't hide in the one place Clay will always look first.

He was ten when they built it; Will eight. All day chopping wood and pounding nails, and shortly after it was built they formed a secret club together with Pooch. Even back then Pooch had insisted everyone call him Pooch. No one knew why, and Clay was certain he would regret it someday, when it was too late to call him anything else, but that day hadn't come yet. That the club didn't do nothing but sit around aimlessly trading baseball cards didn't seem to matter to them, not back then. They had a no girls rule which lasted all of one week, until Jolene's family moved in next door.

Now he finds Will, sunk into a creaky old lawnchair they'd somehow manage to haul up during one hot summer. Eyes closed and headphones jammed over his head. He squints up when Clay's shadow falls over him. "Go away, man."

"Naw," Clay says, and drops himself easily to the floor. "What you listening to?" Will doesn't respond, just tosses him the headphones. Clay sets it to the floor instead and says, "Fuck, but it's hot. How can you stand it?"

"My people are used to it."

"Your dad was from Portland."

"I'm told the summers there get real hot."

"Wow, and Ma blames me for you almost failing Geography."

Will shifts in the chair and kicks aimlessly out at him. "Ma blames you for everything 'cause you're older. Wiser. More responsible and mature. I heard her telling Mrs. Jensen that you're a natural leader, if only you'd stop fucking around and started taking shit more seriously. Also stopped thinking with your dick once in a while."

"She did not say I should stop thinking with my dick." Clay pauses. "Did she?"

Will just kicks out at him again, and this time Clay catches his ankle with his hand, circles it and tugs until Will's bare foot is pressed against his chest. "I fucking hate it here," Will says suddenly, and Clay starts.

"Yeah, I know," he says finally, because Will's staring at him.

"You're leaving next year, and then it'll just be me, in this fucking town."

"It's only two more years, Will. I'm sure you have -" But then he doesn't know if Will has any friends that aren't Clay's, too. He doesn't know anything at all about him, really, except that he studies too much and he hates peas and he makes tiny stuttering noises when he comes. The last of which he probably shouldn't know, considering.

"You'll get through it," he tells Will. "You have to."

Will only shrugs, and looks even more miserable.

*

There's a diner that serves what Jake claims is the best key lime pie in the whole tri-state area. Or so he says, which is why they have to go there three times a week and put up with both the waitress he's madly in love with and his little sister who does her best to ignore his existence.

"I don't know why she can't even come over and say hello."

"Who? Joanna or your one true love?"

"Joanna. Why won't she come over and say hello. Some respect for her older brother. See how Will respects you."

"That's because he sucks my cock every Tuesday," Will says, never taking his eyes off the menu. Will always orders the same damned thing, they all kind of mostly do, but he always looks at the menu first, as if one day he might actually change his mind. "I respect that."

"Ew, that's gross. She's my little sister. Do you speak to your momma with a mouth like that?"

"No, but I -"

"Allright boys, what will it be today?"

Jake blinks, slackjawed. The waitress, aka the love of Jake's life, aka Crystal rolls her eyes, and Carlos shakes his head.

"We'll have the uh -" Jake says, then turns faintly red.

Pooch slams the menu down on the table. "Can we just get our usual, like we always do? Because it's our usual?"

"Yeah, okay. Jesus." She sweeps the menus up into her arms and mutters under her breath as she storms off, "Buncha losers anyway."

"That went well," Pooch says. "I'm sure you two will be married just like me and Jolene will be in a few years."

Jake groans and reaches into his pocket to hand Carlos a five. "What's that for," Pooch asks suspiciously. Carlos just grins at him. "What? Oh, you didn't. Fuck you guys, man. She's my girl. I get to talk about her. It's not my fault you guys are socially inept. With the exception of Clay, but he's got terrible taste."

Will snorts, and up till then Clay hadn't even been aware he was listening to the conversation the way he was sat, fiddling aimlessly with the salt shaker. Under the table, Clay presses his thigh up against Will's, says, "We can't all find true love at age ten, can we."

*

Aisha's standing by his locker the next day. She looks vaguely bored, but he kind of expects that from her. "So I heard you'd like to ask me to the prom," she says. "You'd think perhaps you might actually ask at some point."

"Yeah, but I thought since we -"

She rolls her eyes. "What, because we fucked we're dating now?" Her fingernail taps a delicate rhythm against the locker door. "I'm not your girlfriend, Clay. I have no obligations whatsoever to you." She turns and starts walking away, and Clay lets her get five feet before he calls out -

"Hey Aisha, wanna go to the prom with me?"

Aisha spins around and grins, says, "Maybe."

*

Will refuses to go to the funeral at first, but Ma crosses her arms and patiently waits until he gets dressed, then he slumps in the back seat of the car, scowling and staring at his feet. Clay mostly stares out of the window and tries to recall if he knows what Max's parents look like. Vaguely, at some school function or other, and he remembers wanting to ask them how such ordinary looking folks could raise a budding psychopath and did they know their son was a jackoff waste of space. Probably they didn't; Max was always charming when he wanted to be. Plus his face made up for a lot.

Didn't look so good all puffed up from lake water though. Jake hacked the coroner's report, and now all Clay sees is what's left of Max's blue, bloated face. "Why the fuck did you bother to do this?" Clay had asked, and Jake clenched his jaw stubbornly.

"I don't know. I guess I -" He stared at Clay earnestly then, said, "Look, I got your back okay? All of you."

Clay squeezed him on the back of his scrawny neck, said, "I know you do. But there's nothing to worry about. Nothing." Jake didn't believe him, but he shut the laptop anyway, and across the table Carlos made a low, disapproving noise, pulled his baseball cap lower down over his face.

Will tells him afterwards, when everyone is scattered elsewhere, "I don't even remember shit went on that night. Except maybe the ride home."

Clay shrugs, says, "It doesn't matter. No one gives a shit. It doesn't matter."

Except that night, Clay remembers getting pissed, dragging Will off into the woods with him. Shoving him up against a tree and kissing him the way he never wanted to be kissed. Tongue in his mouth, and Will tasted like those cherry drinks he loved so much and he tasted like hops and he let Clay kiss him until he decided he wouldn't anymore, then he shoved him away, laughing low and deep.

Until Max slid out from behind a tree, and Will stopped laughing.

*

Aisha stands next to him the entire time, which makes Will drift away eventually, and at some point at Max's house Clay loses sight of him entirely. He wants to go looking, but Aisha leans over and says, "Hey, let's get out of here," and Clay can't say no.

"Where do you wanna go?"

"I thought maybe the lake."

Clay laughs, but she doesn't. "You're serious. Sure, why not."

It's near enough to walk to, cut through the woods; Aisha leads and Clay follows her sure, angry stride. He doesn't even know she's crying until she's at the shore, her shoulders don't shake but her lips are pressed together hard and her cheeks are wet. "I hated the bastard," she spits out, nothing but rage.

"Yeah, I got that." He'd never asked why, exactly, and he's not about to, either.

"But I told his parents how sorry I was he was dead, and I think they even believed me."

"It was an accident," Clay says.

"What?"

"Uh, that's what the -" He slides his hands into his pockets and shrugs. "I guess it'll be out by Monday, but that's what the report said. He got drunk, and I guess he slipped and hit his head, fell into the water."

"Really," Aisha replies, her voice distraught, disbelieving.

"Yeah, really." He wipes a tear off her cheek, says, "So are you going to the prom with me or what?"

Aisha starts laughing. "Your timing, Clay." She pushes him away, but then she says, "Yeah, sure. Why not."

 


The clock's ticking, I just count the hours
Stop tripping, I'm tripping off the power
Till then, fuck that, the world's ours