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The King's Road

Chapter Text

"Are ya comin' or not?"

Wace stood impatiently by the open door of the old Ford Falcon, one hand on the hood of the car, the other resting tensely atop the doorframe.

Barky cast another nervous glance over his shoulder, for the thirtieth, if not the first, time trying to decide whether or not it was a good idea. Sure things had been patched up a little the night before, but that was a completely different time - his brother had been a completely different kind of drunk.

He couldn't say he was surprised when Wace had come to pick him up that morning from Lanny's and he'd smelt alcohol on his breath. They were burying their father in a few hours and despite any feelings Barky might've had toward the man, he figured that his older brother still loved him. He was obviously his favorite and why else would he have stayed?

"Listen, we're not waitin' around all the fuckin' day for you ta make up your mind. You said you were comin', now you're standin' in the middle of the road with your dick in your hand - what's it gonna be?"

'You make it sound so tempting, Wace,' Barky thought wryly as he trudged over to the car, doing his best not to drag his feet.

Wace just shook his head aggravatedly and slid into the passenger seat, slamming the door shut behind him. Coppa already had the car fired up and Barky hopped into the seat behind him to sit by Trunny.

The ride from the hall out toward the edge of town was short and hot - the latter not out of the ordinary for a normal Australian day, especially at noontime. Except for it wasn’t any normal day. Today they’d buried Wace and Barky’s father, or the man that sometimes called himself that.

“We gotta finish packin’ and cleanin' up all that shit today. People’re comin’ out to look at the house on Monday and we gotta have it lookin’ presentable.”

“How in the hell are we gonna manage that?” Trunny commented from the back with a hint of mirth in his voice.

Wace didn’t do him the courtesy of answering. He just shook his head and let it fall into his hand where his elbow was propped up on the door paneling.

“Do you think we can get it all done by then?” Barky chanced from his seat in the back.

Wace’s head popped up from his hand and he cast a disbelieving look over his shoulder. “What - you’re actually gonna stick around this time long enough to do it?”

Barky frowned. “Look, Wace, I said I was gonna stay and that’s what I -”

He cut him off with a wave of his hand. “Sayin’ and doin’ are two different things, dipshit. So far you got a helluva track record in that department. I’ll believe it when I see it - if I see it,” he added with a smile on his face that had nothing to do with humor.

“Aww, why don’t ya lay off ‘im,” Coppa tossed in without even taking his eyes off the road.

Wace turned his heated stare over to the driver‘s side of the car and cocked an eyebrow. “Lay off ‘im? People’ve been ‘layin’ off ‘im’ for ‘is entire, pathetic life. Maybe it’s time ‘e had somebody to lay into ‘im.”

“I’ve had enough o’ people layin’ inta me,” Barky mumbled from the back.

“Oh, Jesus Christ - don’t start this fuckin’ sob story again,” Wace spat out with more than a little contempt and a healthy dose of sarcasm.

“It’s not a sob story. I’m just sayin’ is all.”

Barky shook his head, sinking a little deeper into the hot, sticky leather of the seat. The dark suit he was wearing didn’t help matters much, either. With every turn of the tires he was beginning to regret his decision to stay more and more.

How could he have been so stupid as to think things would be different? Why should something that’d been going on for the better part of the past fifteen years suddenly change in the matter of one night? Over the course of one conversation?

Truth was, they shouldn’t, and he cursed himself for being ignorant enough to believe it. Maybe Wace wasn’t too far off track when he called him a ‘dipshit.’ He closed his eyes, leaned his head up against the half-rolled down window of the car and tried desperately to let the wind rushing in take him away. Anywhere but where he was right then. Hell, back in the cane fields, even in this heat, would suffice.

Not too long after that, the rumbling car pulled to a stop in front of the house he’d called a home at one point in his life. The four men stepped out of the car stiffly, despite their short journey, and stretched.

“Jesus, it’s hot out ‘ere,” Trunny commented absently as he pulled his soaked shirt away from his skin.

“Yeah, well, it’s even hotter inside,” Wace added, leading the way to the front door in his usual quick pace.

Even though he’d been at the house the day before, Barky hadn’t really taken any time to walk around it. He couldn’t make himself do it. Too many bad memories. A few good ones, but they definitely got outweighed by the bad. The garage was about as far as he’d gotten.

The house was dark, but light poured in amply from the bare windows. They’d already packed up the curtains. Trunny and Coppa made quick work of opening all the doors and windows. The sun beating down on the terra cotta tile roof made the midday heat in the house almost unbearable.

Barky stood dumbly by the front door while Wace went in to the kitchen to get some cleaning supplies. When he came back in, he’d stripped down from his white dress shirt to his undershirt, finally ridding himself of that strangling tie. Barky chose to do the same, unable to stand the heat any longer and also not wanting to stink up Wayne’s clothes.

He tossed him a bucket with some sponges and a little bit of soap in the bottom - along with two cans of beer - and told him to fill it up, to start cleaning in the bathroom. Barky did as he was told, not bothering to stick around and see what the other three were going to do.

Surprisingly enough, the bathroom was cooler than the rest of the house. ‘Probably the tile,’ Barky thought as he turned on the faucet in the tub and set the bucket inside. While it was still filling, he took a good look around the tiny room. It looked foreign to him now, completely devoid of any of the things that used to make it into the room that it was. Sure it was mostly just toilet paper and towels, a soap dish made out of half a clam shell, but having nothing in there - well, it just reminded him of how much it all had changed.

It was empty, just like a lot of things.

*****

“I don’t think I’m gonna be able to get this stain up, Wace,” Trunny called from the corner of the living room. He was squatted down on all fours and had been scrubbing at the spot for the better part of the last five minutes, but there was still no apparent change.

“Just let that foamy shit soak in to it, mate,” Wace answered back from the kitchen.

Shrugging his shoulders, Trunny did as he was told, pouring a little bit more of the cleaning solution on top of the stain and giving it one more quick scrub for good measure. He stood to his feet and sauntered into the kitchen to refill his cleaning bucket.

“You got anymore of the cleanin’ stuff? This bucket’ll prob’ly need a bit more in it.”

Wace tossed a thumb over his shoulder, not even bothering to look back from where his head was buried in the cabinet.

“Whatcha doin’ in there, man?” Trunny asked as he poured some more of the soapy liquid in the bucket.

“Ahh...I’m tryin’ to lay some of this sticky paper shit down in here - there‘s some cracks and whatnot in the wood and I don‘t want anybody ta see it. But it keeps gettin’ all these fuckin’ air bubbles in it way in the back. Jen used to tell me if I breathed on it, made it hot or somethin’ it’d spread out easier.”

His voice sounded hollow and distant from being in the cabinet.

A few seconds later, he pulled his head out, giving the shelf a final half-disapproving look, before jumping down off the counter where he’d been sitting on his knees.

Trunny was looking at him with a grin on his face. “I think Jen was tuggin’ your nuts, mate.”

“See for yourself,” Wace said nonchalantly, tossing his head back toward the cabinet.

Trunny walked over to the cabinets, did a little hop so he could take a look, then turned back around with a surprised laugh. “Guess maybe she knew what she was talkin’ about then, huh?”

“Yeah. At least in this case.”

With that, he disappeared into the back of the house and Trunny went back to cleaning in the living room.

By the end of the day, they had almost the entire house cleaned. There were still a few rooms in the back, some of the dirtier ones, that needed cleaning, but they were gonna come back the next day and get them.

“You guys wanna grab a beer?” Trunny asked as he slid into the back seat with a tired sigh.

Coppa grinned into the rearview mirror as he fired up the engine. “D’you really need to ask that question, mate?”

Back at the hotel, they were all parked in the basement, which was considerably more cooler than the rest of the place, thanks to Barky’s sudden renovation the previous night.

They’d just finished up their fifth game of pool and Wace had gone back up for some more drinks, so Barky excused himself to the bathroom.

It was odd, looking at the floor, the mirror, even the sink and still seeing flecks of blood - his blood - splattered about. The cut on his eyebrow still hurt, but it had sealed up pretty fast. Probably wouldn’t even leave too bad of a scar.

He looked over his shoulder as he was taking a piss and his eyes fell to the corner he’d slumped into. He thought back to the conversation they’d had the night before and decided that it really didn’t change anything. At least, not for the negative. He didn’t think any less of his brother for doing what he did, in fact, if he thought hard enough, he just might be able to understand why he did it.

Then again, it didn’t really change it for the positive either. Here it was, a brand new day, and the same old shit was going down just the way it always did. It was like it never happened.

Maybe it would’ve been better if it hadn’t happened. Maybe he wouldn’t have felt like he had to stay.

When he came back out into the pool room, Trunny and Coppa were racking up for another game.

“He still upstairs?” Barky asked, picking up a cue stick from the bench.

Coppa took a seat after his break produced nothing. “Yeah.”

“Lot of people there today,” Trunny mentioned absently after a few seconds of silence, not really sure where he was going with the comment.

Both Coppa and Barky nodded, but didn’t bother adding anything else to it. Barky sunk a four ball in the side pocket.

Trunny took a seat across the table from Coppa. “Was kinda surprised,” he said, then stopped, looking as if he’d said something wrong. “But, ya know, not really. I mean, your dad – ‘e was a good guy. Prob’ly a lot of people wanted to see ‘im off.”

“It’s okay, Trunny,” Barky said as he handed the cue to Coppa. “I think we can all admit my dad wasn’t exactly an ‘upstanding citizen.’ Your ball, Copp.”

“You better not let your brother hear you talkin’ like that,” Trunny added with a slightly-buzzed grin as he scooted back a little further in the booth. He’d had more than any of them and was definitely starting to feel the effects.

Barky straightened up, his face showing more than a little indignation. “I ain’t afraida Wace.”

Trunny took another pull off of his beer. “Yeah. Sure you’re not,” he egged on, eager to tease the young man a little more since it was obvious he'd gotten his goat.

“I ain’t,” he said, a little bit more defensively this time.

“You were afraid of your old man - Wace’s just like ‘im.”

Coppa shook his head and sighed. “Shut the fuck up, Trunny. Leave ‘im alone.”

“Wace ain’t nothin’ like our dad. Nothin’.”

He laughed a little that time, closing his eyes and leaning his head back against the ugly, stained wall. “Yeah - tell that to Jen.”

“Wha’sat supposed ta mean?”

By then, Barky was fairly heated. Sure, it was probably the alcohol talking on Trunny, but the way he was running his mouth didn’t give him any excuse.

“Nothin’, Bark - just let him be. ‘e‘s pissed.” Coppa to the rescue, as always.

“Ahh, fuck it. I’m goin’ upstairs ta check on Wace.”

With that, he tossed his cue stick on the table, forgetting the game for the moment and headed up the narrow flight of stairs to the first floor. He looked around the back bar room where he’d figured Wace would be. It was where the open tap was that they normally used.

The room was empty.

He crossed it and went into the next room, the bar that the hotel patrons used, and spotted him next to the high counter - throwing back a shot. He was just about to head over to him when he saw him signal the bartender for another one.

When the older man moved out of the way to get the next drink, he caught sight of the tiny collection of shot glasses that his brother had in front of him. He couldn't do anything but shake his head.

With a humorless laugh, Barky turned around on his heels and headed back down to the basement. When he got down, he saw that Trunny was all but sleeping on the back of bench he was seated in and Coppa was aimlessly hitting balls into the pockets on the pool table.

“Where’s Wace?” he questioned as he sunk the eight ball.

“At the fuckin’ bar.”

Barky didn’t need to elaborate for Coppa to understand why he was a little aggravated.

With a defeated sigh, the younger man sat down on the bench that lined the opposite wall and slumped over on his elbows. “Prob’ly drank a half a liter with all the glasses he’s got piled in front of ‘im.”

Not knowing anything else to say, Coppa settled in against the side of the pool table and crossed his arms. “Ah, ‘e’s okay. Could be full as a boot one second and fine the next.”

Just then, Wace came sauntering down the stairs, leaning obviously, but not too heavily on the railing as he made the descent.

“Where ya been?” Barky asked purely for the sake of seeing what kind of answer he got.

Wace sat down on the edge of the table, effectively causing it to lurch forward, so he stood up quickly. “Saw somebody upstairs.”

“Where’s the drinks, then?”

Coppa closed his eyes and turned his head, not really wanting to play ring-leader again while the two of them had it out.

“Shit,” he mumbled as he ran his hand through his short-cropped black hair. “I’ll go back up - must’ve forgot ‘em.”

“I saw you - you had about eight glasses in front of ya.”

At that, Wace looked up, his eyes suddenly a lot clearer that they’d just been. The only emotion showing in them then, though, was anger.

“What’s’is? You’re my fuckin’ police detail now?”

“No, I jus’ don’t want ya bullshittin’ ta ev’ryone about what ya been doin’.”

“Oh, so you think I’m drunk? Wan’ me ta piss in a cup for ya? Blow in a bag?”

He took a few steps closer to his younger brother, who was now standing and moving his way back from the bench. Wace was so near by then that Barky could smell the alcohol clearly every time he let out a breath.

“Look, you little fuck-head,” he sneered, putting his finger up in his face. “I don’ gotta answer ta nobody - especially to the likes of you. I do what I want and without havin’ to worry about whether I got you knockin’ on me ev’ry step of the way. Jesus Christ - you’ve sure made yourself at home in the time you’ve been back.”

“Aww, why don’t you shut the fuck up, Wace? Half the time you’re pissin’ an’ moanin’ at me and it’s you that you’re mad at.”

Barky felt a small swell of pride rush up within him for actually having stood up to his brother. But, it was short-lived because Wace had him by the collar the next second, pulling him up so he was on his tip-toes.

“What the fuck is that supposed ta mean, huh?”

From over Wace’s shoulder, Barky could see Coppa standing, ready and alert should anything happen. That gave him some comfort. Not a lot, but it was a little.

“You know exactly what I’m talkin’ about,” he pushed, refusing to let the fear on his face show.

“Oh, so you’re a mind reader now, are ya? You pick that little talent up on your walkabout? Out in the cane fields while you were learnin' how ta make fences? So, tell me - what am I thinkin’? What’s runnin’ through my mind right now?”

Deep, hazel eyes bore into dull, blue ones.

“Shut up.”

“Aww, rack off.”

With that, he let him go, tossing him away roughly and turning away from him. “Why don’t ya go stay at your little girlfriend’s house, or that no-hoper you call a friend? Nobody wants you ‘ere anyways.”

“Maybe I will.”

“Fine - these with ya on the way up,” Wace growled, tossing two empty glasses over his shoulder, not even bothering to see if Barky caught them or not.

Barky did, barely, and was tempted to throw them both down on the ground, but didn't. Trunny didn't do anything to have him busting his glasses all over the floor. Instead, he headed up the stairs, pissed off and relieved all at the same time. He wondered how that was possible.

Silence ensued down in the basement, until Trunny stirred from his spot on the bench. He awoke noisily, yawning and stretching every possible way, which was odd considering that he'd only been out for the past five minutes or so.

He looked around the room, taking in both of the faces that were looking anywhere but at one another. He smacked his lips together at the feeling of dryness in his mouth.

"'ey - where's the kid?" he asked, tipping his head toward Wace.

"Shut the fuck up."

Chapter Text

"'ey. 'ey, Bark - get up. Come on."

Wayne smacked the limp legs of his houseguest a few more times, finally getting him to wake.

"Huh? Wha’ time s'it?" he slurred out, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.

Wayne grinned as he buttoned his shirt. "Time for you to bloody wake up. Thought you said you were gonna go and help your brother again today?"

Had he said that last night? God, what was he thinking?

Barky rolled to a sitting position and put his head in his hands, still feeling the alcohol he'd consumed the night before.

Oh, yeah - that's what he'd been thinking.

"Ahh, don' tell me you've gone soft on us, Bark. Lose yourself that far in the bottle last night, did we?"

"Mmm," was all Wayne got for an answer.

"Yeah, well - I gotta go to work, man, so I'm headed out."

"Okay."

"I'll be back around four or five, dependin' on if that skate freak shows or not." With that, Wayne was out the door.

From the open window in the living room, Barky could hear the engine of the car as it started up and pulled away. He felt like he'd been hit with a ton of bricks, then run over by the dump truck that dropped them.

He hadn't drank so much since he'd been gone and it had definitely taken a toll on him. While he was away, Barky had avoided drinking for the most part, knowing all too well what it could do to a man. When he'd gotten back two days ago, it only seemed natural, given who he was surrounded by, that a few beers were had.

As usual, though, a few beers turned into a bit, and by the time he was stumbling over to Wayne's flat from the hotel, he was really feeling it. Thank God Wayne had been home at the time because the key he'd left him with was in the pocket of his denims - which were in the apartment.

Pushing himself from the couch, he scooted into the kitchen and poured himself a glass of orange juice from the refrigerator. He felt his stomach growl and realized that his diet over the past few days had mostly consisted of liquid. A quick scan of Wayne's fridge told him that he pretty much adhered to the same regimen.

With a sigh, he closed the door and took a look at the clock. It was just a little before ten, so the market would be open, hopefully, by the time he got down there.

The place was just the way he remembered it, which, shouldn't have been a surprise to him. Erskineville wasn't a town known for change.

He grabbed one of the hand baskets from the stack at the front of the store and starting walking the aisles, looking for anything that would be quick to fix. He tossed in a box of instant noodles and cheese, two cans of beans and loaf of bread and was on his way to the register.

There was a woman in front of him that looked vaguely familiar, but he couldn't tell who she was from the back. Then she spoke to the man at the counter and he knew immediately.

"Jen?"

She turned around suddenly, her long, almost black hair flowing with the spin of her head, and her eyes fell upon Barky. Or, what would have been her eyes if the pair of bulky sunglasses hadn't been in the way.

"Oh, my God. Barky, is that you?" she said with genuine happiness in her voice.

He nodded with a smile and responded to her open arms with a hug. Her arms wrapped tightly around him, pulling him close. She smelled sweet and it felt good to him.

"So what're you doing -" she stopped herself. "Oh. God, I'm-I'm sorry. It's obvious why you're in town."

Barky shrugged his shoulders, trying to let her know that her flub was no big deal to him.

"How long are you in for?" she asked, turning back around to the counter to reach for her bag of groceries.

"Uh...I dunno. A while, maybe. It depends."

Jen turned back around with a sympathetic smile that he knew was genuine despite the fact that he couldn't see her eyes.

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry I missed the funeral, I just...I couldn't..."

He cut her off with a wave of his hand. "Don' worry about it, Jen. I understand."

She nodded, grateful that she didn't have to explain herself. She wasn't sure if she was ready to yet.

"What happened to your eye?" she asked, not bothering to hide the fact that she was changing the subject. Little did she know that she wasn't.

"Oh uh...well," Barky fumbled. He wasn't too sure he wanted to rat Wace out for hitting him, especially to Jen, so he said the best he could come up with. "I uh...I tripped. Hit my head on the side of the pool table over at Trunny's place." He laughed a little, trying to play it off. "Yeah, we uh...we got a little bit carried away the night I came back in and uh...I got this to show for it," he finished, waving his hand around the side of his face, quite sure she hadn’t believed a word that he’d said.

Jen nodded, then looked down intently at the sack of food she had in her hands. She was quiet for several moments and Barky found himself fishing for something to say to break the awkwardness.

A few seconds later, she lifted her head. While balancing the bag with one hand on her hip, she lifted the dark frames away from her face and let them come to rest at her hairline.

The bluish-yellowing mark he saw on her cheekbone made his jaw drop. He knew immediately where it'd come from.

"Guess we're both pretty clumsy, huh? Somebody really should do something about that pool table."

The words were spoken in an icy tone, but Barky picked up on the hurt that lie underneath them. He knew just exactly how she felt because he'd been in her shoes too many times to count.

"Yeah," he said with a slight nod of his head, shifting the food basket to the other hand. "Somebody should."

By the time he'd gotten back to the apartment, Barky had calmed himself down enough to think things through rationally.

One, he had to get out. There was no denying that. He didn't belong here anymore and there was no sense in trying to wedge himself back into the fold when he'd never been a part of it to begin with.

Two, something had to be done about Wace. He was on a self-made path to destruction, whether he knew it or not. The bad thing was, he probably did. What made it even worse was that he seemed hell-bent on taking as many people as he could down with him.

He thought back to the conversation they'd had the first night he'd been back, then about how he'd defended Wace to Trunny. Had he been wrong? Had he been in denial over the fact of who his brother really was? And if so, why was that? Was he trying to hold onto some twisted version of how a younger brother was supposed to idolize his older one, want to be just like him when they grew up?

He thought about it for a moment and decided that it was all bull shit. He wasn't anything like Wace, never had been. His dad really had been right when he said the only thing they had in common was gravity. Now that he'd been out on his own, he'd had a chance to decide for himself who he wanted to be and that person was definitely not Wace, and he was more than happy with the choice he'd made. The misery he was wallowing in now that he was back was proof enough of that.

He was angry for a moment, but his more compassionate side took over, bringing him to a strangling realization.

Who had Wace had all that time? Who did he have to look up to? To model himself after?

They say that a boy is closer to his mother, but in their case, the one they were supposed to be closest to walked out on them, leaving them with the only other option. An option that wasn't even good enough for her anymore, yet she left her sons to live with it. At least, that was the way Wace would've looked at it - if he even had looked at it. From the way he talked, he'd shoved it behind him by the end of the day she left.

Still, one would have to take into account both brothers and how each of them had turned out. Sure, they both had their flaws, but it was obvious to anyone with eyes which parent each of them took after, no matter how much Barky tried to deny it. Why was that?

He shook his head, the rationalizing part of him weighing in.

Wace had a choice on who he became, he'd said so himself and though he'd been talking about Barky at the time, the words still rang true for him as well.

It wasn't as if there was some predestined path he was chosen to go down in which he had no say. If there was, then whatever higher power that was in charge of it...well, Barky couldn't see them planning that fate for anyone. It was too cruel. However Wace had turned out was because he'd made the choice to do it.

He was sure of that. He had to be, or else all this shit was meant to happen and he just didn't want to think about that being a possibility. No, it was much easier to lay the blame at someone's feet - someone you could see and hear, someone you could feel the actions of when they did something.

It was a little past noon by the time he'd finished lunch and cleaning up after himself. He had to find a way to occupy his mind other than the tracks it was going down or he was sure he'd find himself in the bottle again.

Maybe that's why Wace did what he did - maybe he didn't know a way to get his mind out of all that mess. It was certainly enough to drive a man to drink, that was for sure.

No. No, dammit. He’d said he wasn't going down that path again.

Just as he stood to go take a shower, the phone rang. He thought about just letting it go, but it might've been Wayne, so he picked it up.

"Hello?"

"So you're alive, I see."

"Wace?"

"Are you gonna get your ass over ‘ere any time soon today? We're gonna hafta pull up the carpet in that back room - there's too much shit on it to clean up."

"Well, ah..." Barky stumbled over his words, half in shock that his brother had even called him, despite the fact that it was only because he needed his help. Then again, he was asking for his help, so that was another reason to gape at the phone for a few moments.

"Jesus, you got a stutterin' problem now or somethin'? You comin' or not?" he heard coming from the other end.

"Yeah. I'll-I'll be there in a bit."

"You wan’ me ta come get ya?"

Barky took a look over his shoulder to see the wavy, blurred picture that the heat made just outside the window. The fan was blowing in the living room, but it was only circulating hot air.

"Yeah."

"I'll be there in a minute - don' make me wait."

"All right. I'll see ya in -"

He shook his head with a sigh as he put the phone back down on the receiver.

True to his word, Wace was over at the apartment within a few minutes, blowing the horn several times to announce his arrival. Barky shot down the stairs like a rocket and barely had time to get into the car before his brother pulled off, leaving nothing but dust behind them.

Barky found himself thanking God over and over that the trip was a short one, because the silence in the car was about as uncomfortable as he could stand. He chanced a look out of the side of his eyes to try and get a reading on his brother's mood, but, as usual, it was set it its usual stony glare.

He did have one question, though.

"How'd you know I was at Wayne's?"

"I didn't."

"Oh."

Wace shrugged his shoulders, mentally cursing whatever force inside of him that had compelled him to expound on what he'd just said. "I uh...I called over to Lanny's first, thinkin' you might be there, but she gave me Wayne's number."

"Oh."

"You guys fuckin'?"

Barky hid his mouth behind his hand and shook his head. 'Leave it to Wace not to beat around the bush.'

"Nah."

"Why not?" he asked as if he'd just heard the most absurd comment in the world.

"Enh...we're uh...we're not really like that. I mean, we are - were, but uh, not really anymore. We’re just friends."

Wace cast a look over to his side, giving his brother a slightly-confused once-over. To him, women weren’t of any use if they weren’t in the bed with you. "Ya didn't turn inta one o' those queers, did ya?"

Barky felt the anger well up within him and he exerted a lot of effort just to tamp it down enough to speak. "What - just because I'm not fuckin' every girl that comes along, I gotta be a queer?" he growled out in an impressive tone.

Wace just laughed lightly and turned his gaze back to the road ahead of him. "Easy, kid - I'm just messin' with ya."

Sinking back down into the seat, Barky allowed a breath of air that had been beating at his lungs' door to escape. Why did he let him get to him like that? God, it pissed him off to no end.

As they were pulling up beside the house, he thought of the perfect opportunity to stick one to him.

"I saw Jen today."

If he hadn't been looking at him carefully for some sort of reaction, Barky would've missed it. But, it was there, a little tick in his jaw, a twitch of his forearms on the steering wheel before he put the car into park. The way he jammed the gear into place gave a little more away as to how he'd taken the announcement.

Without a word, he got out of the car and slammed the door behind him. Barky got out right after him, jogging around the edge of the car and following his brother into the house. He wanted to talk to him about it, what he'd seen, but figured that now wasn't the best time. He knew well enough by then that you didn't approach Wace about anything even remotely confrontational while he was in front of his friends. It would just get blown back into your face.

'Got the runt' he heard him announce as he stepped into the house.

Following him to the rear of the house, Barky took a look around at the progress they'd made in just that morning. The carpet in the living room looked brand new, all evidence of beer stains and dirt washed away with the cleansing solutions.

The tile floor in the hallway running down the middle of the house had been buffed or something because it was shining like he couldn't remember it ever having done. He felt guilty for walking on it and found himself tip-toeing across it in order to keep it looking that way.

"What the hell're ya doin' prancin' around like some fairy?" Wace asked, poking his head out the door at the end of the hallway.

Before Barky could explain, the disembodied head was gone. He sighed and looked at the floor, then took off at a light jog for the end of the hall, trying to keep his feet on the ground for the minimal amount of time.

The room they were working on had served as the master bedroom and Wace was right when he said they weren't going to get the stains up. Between the beer and the vomit, the room stank to high heaven, and he could only imagine it would get worse once they pulled it up.

"We gotta get the edges cut, first," Coppa instructed, tossing Barky a box cutter as he spoke. "You and Trunny take that end and me and Wace'll get this side and work our way around."

Barky nodded, and headed off to his corner to start in on the work.

"Ya have a good sleep?" Trunny asked as they both squatted down a few feet from one another.

Barky looked up, immediately starting to apologize, but he only saw humor in the man's eyes. He was just messing with him.

"Yeah," he said back with a little smile. "I was more tired than I thought."

"Prob'ly all the piss you threw back last night - not used to that, huh, mate?"

"You were the one passed out when I left, Trun."

The older man laughed, sitting back on his haunches for a moment. "Yeah, I s'pose that's true. A young buck like you, though - you're supposed to be able to hold your liquor, not be such a two potter."

"He never could hold it," came a sarcastic reply from across the room.

Barky looked over his shoulder and cast a hard glare at the broad, t-shirt-covered back that was working the corner opposite him. "Yeah, well, maybe if I drank as much as you did."

Wace tossed his box cutter down in front of him and turned as if he was going to say something to it, but Coppa beat him to the punch.

"Hey, you remember the first time we got lil' Bark drunk?"

Trunny laughed, remembering the event and immediately falling back on his ass. "Yeah. Boy-o...that was a good one."

From they way he was turned, Barky could see what would pass for a smile creep onto his brother's face and thought it was best to run with this line of conversation. It would be easier for everyone in the room if they weren't at each other's throats the entire day.

"Yeah - for you guys maybe, not for me," he said with a smile. "I spent the whole night with my head in the toilet."

Trunny continued to laugh, even as he spoke. Barky looked over to him and didn't think that he'd stopped really since he started. He wondered, not for the first time, how his brother was able to put up with him. "And Wace, man, ‘e kept givin' ya more."

"I did not," he defended, still sporting the glimmerings of a smile on his face. "I was the one who was holdin' ‘is head outta the water. You were the one givin' 'im more."

"Yeah, Trun - I think ‘e's right," Coppa said, going back to the carpet while he continued talking. "I remember bein' ready to shit in my pants 'cause we thought your dad was gonna come after us for takin' ‘is beer," he said with a half-chuckle.

Wace shook his head slowly. "Jesus, he lit inta me when ‘e found out."

There was an uncomfortable pause after he spoke. Not even Trunny could come up with anything to say to that one. But just as suddenly as his mood had shifted, a grin passed over his features, erasing the somber look that had taken over. "It was worth it, though, wasn't it?"

A chorus of ‘fuck yeah's sounded behind him as he turned around and went back to work on the carpet.

Barky watched him for several seconds, observing the way he was ripping at the carpet, the tense set of his shoulders starting to take on a whole new meaning. It must’ve been hard on him to do this. To be sitting here, cleaning up the messes their father’d made when he was too drunk to even make it to the nearest trashcan.

"'ey, kid - you gonna get ta work any time soon, or d'we need ta fire ya?"

Turning back to the wall, Barky caught sight of Trunny's grinning face before he set back to his job.

About two hours later, they had the carpet pulled up and thrown out into the backyard, the room swept up and the floor cleaned as good as they could get it. Along the way, they'd immersed themselves in some more story-telling; accounts of embarrassing moments and sexual encounters taking up most of the time. Overall, it had been a fairly pleasant afternoon. Well, besides the hideous heat that made the sweat come rolling off their bodies like someone had dumped a bucket of water on their heads.

Trunny plopped down on the couch that was in the living room - about the only piece of furniture that remained in the house. "I need ta take a break - I'm about ta fall over."

"You want a beer?" Wace called, wiping the sweat from his brow and heading into the kitchen.

"Yeah - gimme two."

"Copp?"

"In a minute, I gotta take a piss."

"Bark, you wanna beer? We're gonna take a break for a sec," he shouted toward the back of the house from the hallway.

Barky, who was still in the bedroom getting the last bit of cleaning done, shouted back, "Just a minute - I'm gonna finish cleanin' this shelf."

Wace just nodded mutely and took a six-pack out of the surprisingly-cold-for-how-old-it-was refrigerator. He tossed two to Trunny as he went back into the living room, then sat down on the floor and leaned his head back against the wall, hoping it would be cooler than sitting on the raggedy, old wool sofa.

A few minutes later, Coppa joined them, taking a seat next to Trunny on the couch. The house was relatively silent except for the occasional sound of a car going by or a dog barking off in the distance.

"Got a lot done today," Trunny commented absently.

Wace took a swig of his beer. "Gotta finish up the garage tonight, then I think we're done."

"We gonna do anything about the floor in the back?" Coppa asked.

"Nah," Wace replied, shrugging his shoulders. "It won't get us anymore money outta the place so no sense in spendin' it."

"Hey, do you think -"

Trunny's words were cut off by the sound of wood splintering, a cry of surprise and a heavy thud coming from the back of the house. All three men turned their heads toward the back of the house.

"Bark, you okay?" Wace called, still sitting down.

When no reply was heard, he shot to his feet and was in the bedroom before either Coppa or Trunny had made it past the kitchen.

The sight that greeted him was one of Barky's limp form sprawled out across the hardwood floor and the remains of what used to be a chair splintered beneath his legs. The large, metal bucket of cleaning solution they'd used on the floor lie just above his head sporting a heavy dent on the lid.

"Barky!" Wace shouted as he slid onto the floor beside him.

He only got a grunt and moan for an answer, but the relief on his face was evident. He turned his brother's prone body over onto his back and immediately began checking him for injuries.

"Shit! What the hell happened?" Trunny asked, coming to a halt just behind Wace.

Barky was beginning to liven up by then, but Wace held him down.

“God - stay down. Don‘t move. Lemme have a look at ya. Are ya hurt?” he questioned, even as his fingers roamed frantically all over the back of his head and on his neck. There was no mistaking the worry in his eyes.

“Nnn-no. I'm...I'm... - ahh! Jesus, m-my arm.”

"Aww, fuck!" Wace shouted, taking a look at the misshapen forearm lying in front of him. "Don't - just lay there. Hang on for a minute - Copp! Start the car, would ya, mate? We gotta get ‘im to the hospital."

Coppa nodded and took off.

"Hold still, dammit," Wace cursed as he turned his attention back to his brother.

Barky closed his eyes once more. "My head..."

Fingers immediately went to his scalp again, touching all over then jerking away when there was a sharp intake of breath. There was blood on his fingers.

"Ya busted your head open."

"Hurts."

"Yeah, I bet. Listen, we gotta get you out to the car. You think you can walk if me and Trun help ya?"

Since nodding made him too dizzy, Barky settled for a grunt that he hoped would pass for the affirmative.

Together, both Wace and Trunny lifted him to a sitting position, letting him settle for a second before they tried anything else. It didn't help.

"I'm gonna -"

His words were truncated by the emptying of his stomach and the spinning in his head was only made worse by his pulse pounding throughout his body.

"Aww, shit!" Trunny shouted, jumping back, but not quite fast enough. He shook his legs a bit, trying to get the most of the chewed up macaroni and beans off , but the aggravated look he got from Wace made him drop back down to the floor.

"Ya feel better? You think you can stand?" Wace asked, keeping one hand on his neck, cradling his head, and the other splayed across his stomach and chest to hold him upright.

Barky shut his eyes and nodded almost imperceptibly, then got ready to be lifted onto his feet. Wace moved behind him and put an arm under each one of his, then waited for Trunny to get in position. "Ready? One, two, three."

With a grunt, they got him standing, and for once in his life, Barky was thankful for his slight frame.

Coppa came back into the room as they were just about to the hallway and told them that he'd called ahead to the hospital. "You need anymore help?" he asked, coming to Barky's side.

For the most part, he was moving his legs all right and stumbling by on his own, but he was pretty much covered from every angle in case he slipped and fell, which made it difficult to go anywhere.

"Get back - let 'im have some room," Wace ordered, tugging Barky's uninjured arm a little bit tighter over his shoulder and pulling his body more flush with his. "Watch that door," he said, kicking out in front of his brother to close it with his foot.

Cradling his arm to his stomach and doing his best to ignore the shooting pain, they finally made it out to the car. Trunny and Coppa took the front seats and Wace slid into the back with Barky.

"You all right? You feel like you're gonna be sick again?" he asked as he pulled the lap belt around him.

Barky just mumbled out something incoherent, the effects of the blow to the head starting to become more evident with each tick of the clock. He let out a moan when Coppa hit a pothole and Wace cursed at him from the backseat.

"Watch where you're fuckin' drivin', Copp!"

The older man ignored him, chalking it up to his obvious worry.

"Open your eyes, Bark. Open 'em. That's it. Stay awake, mate. Keep 'em open, we're almost there," Wace coached, holding a rag tightly to the back of his head to keep it from bleeding everywhere.

The constant talking in his ear was annoying him, but somewhere in the back of his mind, Barky was thankful for it. It was keeping his mind from wandering to the pain that was coursing through his entire body.

They pulled to a stop in front of the emergency room of the hospital less than five minutes later and while Wace and Coppa were busy trying to get him out of the car, Trunny ran inside to tell a nurse or someone that they were there.

By the time they were done with x-rays and a head scan, Wace was about to come unglued. The anxiety over being in the hospital again after what had happened just added to the shredding of his nerves.

"Where the hell is the doctor? The real one - not some kid who's ‘ere on a bloody fuckin' field trip?" he ranted openly.

Ignoring the aggravated looks he got from the nurses, Coppa pulled him from out of the hallway back into the room they'd been put in and tried to calm him down. Trunny had taken the car to go back and get cleaned up about a half an hour earlier.

"Easy, mate - they'll be here in a second."

"Bull shit they'll be here - we been waitin' for almost two hours! He's over there hurtin' and they haven't even said what the fuck is wrong with ‘is head – ‘is fuckin' arm's swelled up like a bloody beach ball!"

"I know. I know - they're doin' the best they can. They're probably looking over the x-rays or whatever they do before they come in and tell you what's goin’ on."

Coppa had managed to get him back to the other side of the room where Barky lay, only semi-aware of what was going on around him, but couldn't get him to sit. He was pacing back and forth, just like he had been before he'd took off for the hall.

"Pfff..."

Wace was at the bedside a second later, his hand taking up Barky's free one and giving it a small squeeze. "What is it? Are ya hurtin'?"

"Mum?"

"No," Wace said and more than a little worried by that response. "It's me - it's Wace."

"Wace?"

The words were drawn out slowly, like he was having trouble saying them.

"Yeah. Whaddya need?"

He didn't answer.

"Barky? Wake up - come on. Ya gotta stay awake."

His eyelids fluttered open and Wace sighed in relief.

"You gotta stay awake, Bark. Your head - you hit it pretty good and the doctors're kinda worried about it."

"My head?"

"Yeah, from when ya fell. You hit it on those cans in the room," he explained gently.

"I remember that."

Wace pulled up a chair behind him and sat when it hit the back of his knees. He shook his head. “Shit - you coulda broke your bloody neck. What the hell were you thinkin’ climbin’ up on that rickity fuckin’ chair?”

The words were harsh, but were delivered in a much softer tone than Coppa thought Wace was capable of using.

"Shelf...it was dirty."

He shook his head once more, his mood turning on a dime. "It coulda waited - you shouldn'ta stood up in that fuckin' stool. Didn't ya know it was gonna break?" he asked, all the tenderness gone from his voice.

Coppa, knowing from experience where this was headed, thought it might be best to try and avoid the confrontation before it even happened. “Come on, Wace. It wasn’t ‘is fault - the chair gave out on ‘im.”

Wace released his grip on Barky and scrubbed his face with his hand vigorously. “Jesus Christ - you’d think you could leave ‘im alone and not have to watch him every fuckin’ second like some fuckin’ baby.”

He stood up abruptly and began pacing the room once more, the almost relentless claustrophobia attacking him even more ardently than before. His hands moved from his neck to his stomach, then to his waist, where they eventually found a home in the pockets of his dirty jeans.

Just watching him was making him nervous. "Wace, calm down," Coppa said in a voice that was stern, even to Barky's cotton-stuffed ears. "It wasn't his fault."

“Yeah, well who’s the retard who decided to stand up in the fuckin’ thing? Any moron could tell it was fallin’ apart.”

Coppa was getting more aggravated at his behavior by the second. “Maybe you shoulda thrown it out then,” he said, regretting it as soon as it was out of his mouth.

Wace stopped dead in his tracks, casting a hateful glare his friend's way. “Oh, yeah. Go on, that’s right - fuckin’ blame me ‘cause ‘e's too stupid to know whether a chair’ll support ‘is own fuckin’ weight.”

“I didn't say that. No one's blamin' anybody. It was an accident."

He took a step closer to Coppa. "Yeah - an accident that you think I caused."

The older man stood to his feet, knowing better than to stay seated when Wace was crowding him like he was. "I didn't mean it."

"Yeah, but you said it so you were thinkin' it. You're fuckin' blamin' me for the whole bloody thing."

Coppa knew they weren't talking about Barky anymore, but refused to acknowledge it, especially considering where they were.

"Look - we're not gonna have this out here. You need ta calm down. Go outside and have a cigarette or somethin', but don't bring this shit up right now."

Just as suddenly as he'd gotten angry, Wace was calm once more, his face, instead of being twisted in an murderous scowl, held an almost apologetic look to it.

"I..." he started, but didn't finish.

Coppa gave him a pat on the shoulder. "It's all right, mate. I know you’re tired. Go on - get some coffee or somethin'. Trunny should be back in a bit."

After a quick glance at the bed and an unspoken look to watch after Barky, Wace spun around on his heels and all but ran out of the room.

Coppa turned back to the bed to see Barky's dull,gray-blue eyes trained on him.

"Wace’s mad at me," he said quietly, his voice still slurred.

Coppa just smiled humorlessly and took the seat beside the bed. "Don't take it personal, mate – ‘e's mad at everybody."

Chapter Text

The room was dark when Barky finally opened his eyes. That was about all he could tell. He started to call out to someone, the panic beginning to set it at his unfamiliar surroundings, but he couldn't. His mouth was dry, his lips pasted together and the words got caught in his throat.

He turned his head to the side toward the faint light he saw coming through...a window? The motion immediately sent pain coursing through his body and he cringed. What the hell had happened?

He brought his hand up to his head, or rather tried to, but there was such a heaviness resting on it he couldn't even lift it. Bringing his eyes down, despite the thick pain in his skull, he saw a white blob of something completely surrounding his arm.

A cast?

Had he broken his fucking arm?

It all started to come back to him and he had to close his eyes as the throbbing became even more persistent. It was almost like the pain had been fully released now that his consciousness was aware of what happened and it was beginning to become unbearable.

When he closed his eyes, he heard a noise, a voice, coming from somewhere off to the side.

Had that been there before?

No, it couldn't have been. It was coming in so clearly now that there was no way he could've missed it.

Was that Wace?

“Why do I bitch at ‘im like I do? He’s right - half the time ‘e don’t deserve it.”

Yeah.

“Habit prob’ly.”

And Coppa.

“Maybe I should start to break some of my habits then, huh?"

There was a faint laugh - Wace's.

"What I been doin’ hasn’t gotten me too far in life.”

Wait a second - was that really Wace? He opened his eyes a bit more, relieved that this time the aching wasn't quite as intense.

“Look at you - turnin’ inta some ambitious loony. You wanna climb the corporate ladder now, mate?”

He could see them now, both in chairs at the foot of his bed, but turned to the side and looking out the window. He could see a smile on Coppa's face.

“Aww, shuddup. It’s not like that. I just...I gotta look at things diff’rent, ya know. I’m tired...too tired to be s’fuckin’ pissed all the time.”

Wace looked like he was about to fall over from exhaustion. What time was it?

“Yeah, well, I know a few of us that could use a break from it, too.”

It was meant to be a joke, but either Wace didn’t hear it, or he wasn’t laughing.

“Maybe that’s why.”

“Huh?”

“Maybe that’s why I bitch at ‘im - I’m mad at ‘im.”

If he didn't have it before, Wace had Coppa's full attention now, as well as Barky's.

“Why’s that?”

“He got out and I didn’t.”

What did he mean by that?

“Yeah, but - Barky, he couldn’t take livin’ here no more. It was different with you and -”

Wace turned his head so quickly that Barky shut his eyes for a moment, not wanting him to catch him awake.

“Who the fuck said it was any different with me? Yeah...yeah, I talked to Dad. Stayed with ‘im, we drank together ev’ry now an’ then.”

“Yeah...and?”

“More an’ more I’m beginnin’ ta let myself realize that maybe I didn’t like him so much.”

When he opened his eyes he couldn't see Wace's face anymore - he was looking down at the floor.

“I think I just...I hadta tell myself that I did ta make it through it all. Hadta give m’self another reason ta still be there.”

“What’re you talkin’ about?”

Wace didn't ignore the question directly, but when he was speaking, the tone of his voice...it didn't seem like he was really talking to anyone. It was more like he was thinking out loud, trying to convince himself of something.

“I usedta try to stop ‘im - when I was younger, and he’d start smackin’ Bark around - 'cause that's how it always started. I’d try ta pull ‘im off. He’d throw me down or somethin’ and yell at me - tell me he’d ‘deal with me later.’ And ‘e did. ‘e always did."

His head was lifted now, his gaze concentrated on looking out the window at some far off spot. There was a smile on his face that Barky could only describe as sickening. The lightness in his voice belied the heavy words he was speaking and Barky could only stare, hoping that he continued. He'd never heard his brother talking about anything like this.

“Barky, though - he don’t remember those parts. He was too little. He was too fuckin’ little and I couldn’t do a bloody thing ta stop it.”

Coppa tilted his head in a way that Barky could no longer see his face, but from the tone of his voice, he could tell that he was frowning. "Wace, maybe you should tell -"

“After a while, I quit, ya know? Got to be sorta...what is it? Repetitive. Same thing over an’ over. He hits Bark, I try and stop ‘im; ‘e kicks Bark’s ass then comes and gets me. I thought 'maybe Darwin - maybe he was on ta somethin’ - 'Survival of the Fittest’ and all that shit.' It didn't help though. He still...’e still lit into us. Ev’ry time ‘e’d drink, which was ev’ry fuckin’ day, just about."

“What ‘appened then?”

“’e stopped.”

Coppa was silent, giving him a few moments to gather his thoughts, but when it became apparent that he wasn't going to speak anymore, he prompted him.

"Why?"

Wace turned his head, shaking it a bit like he'd had to dislodge himself from a dream. "Huh?"

"I said 'why?' Why'd he stop?"

"I dunno."

The way he said it, the shrug of his shoulders, the feigned nonchalance - Barky knew his brother well enough to tell he was lying. So did Coppa, but he didn't say anything, just nodded his head slowly and brought his stare back down to the floor.

"Before I knew it," he started up again suddenly, "I was a grown man and ‘e was still smackin’ Bark around. By then...by then I guess I figured ‘e could take care of ‘imself, ya know? He was bein’ stupid - bringin’ it on ‘imself, so he deserved it. Then ‘e was gone.”

There was another pause from Wace, but this time, Coppa didn't have to ask him to continue. He knew what went on after that.

But Wace did go on, only this time, it didn't really make sense.

“He beat me to it.”

“To what?”

Barky found himself echoing the same question within his own mind.

“Gettin’ out.”

Chapter Text

"Yeah. Okay. No, just uh...just see if we can reschedule it or somethin'. Because I don't wanna not be there when they come in the house - plus there's all that shit in the back room now we gotta get up. No, no - I'll get it. Well, we didn't even get the garage finished. I gotta get that car running and out of there, or have Nick tow it, one. No, I don't wanna leave ‘im alone here, at least not 'til ‘e wakes up. Yeah. I will. I know, I know - I smell like shit, I got a bloody nose, mate. Okay. Yeah, maybe in an hour or so. He's startin' to come 'round. Yeah."

Wace hung up the phone on the other side of the room, then came to sit back down by Barky's bedside.

"Bark?" he asked as it was evident that he was starting to wake up.

The nurses had been coming in every two hours or so throughout the night to wake him, checking for any out of the ordinary reactions because of the blow to the head, but luckily, there were none. The last round had been at six that morning and the nurse had the doctor on duty come in and officially clear him.

He started to mumble something, but quickly gave up on it in favor for making a painful grimace.

Wace debated on whether or not to call a nurse in, but was relieved to see that he'd finally opened his eyes.

"Barky?" he repeated once more, hoping this time to get a response.

"Wace?"

"Yeah. Yeah, it's me," he said with an easy smile, more than a little happy that he got a coherent answer this time around. "How ya feelin'?"

It took him a moment to answer, almost like he was thinking about the right way to describe it. "Like...I took a dive in a empty swimmin' pool," he said with a grimmace.

Wace grinned and sat back a little in his seat. "You need anything? You want me ta get a nurse or somethin'?"

"I gotta piss so bad, man..." he said, letting out a pained breath along with the words.

Scooting from his seat to the floor, Wace rummaged around under the bed and in the cabinet next to the gurney. "Hold on, I think there's some kinda...bedpan thing around here somewhere."

He brought it up to the bed after finding it in a plastic bag, then pulled the sheet back so Barky could get his gown up.

"Glad you didn't break both your arms, mate. No way in hell I'd be holdin' your dick for ya," Wace said as he set the bowl down.

Barky let out a chuckle that ended with a groan that said he wished he hadn't laughed. "What day is it?" he asked as he was relieving himself.

"Jesus, it's the next day - Monday. You were only out for the night."

"Oh...well, I don' think I woulda known it anyway, even if I didn't whack my head. I've always been bad at keepin' track of dates."

Wace just nodded then shook his head quickly trying to liven himself up so he could keep his eyes open. When Barky was finished, he took the pan into the adjoined bathroom and washed it out with hot water. He came back into the room to find Barky trying to push himself up in the bed, so he tossed the pan in the chair and went over to give him a hand.

"Hang on. Lemme get over there first, Barky."

After a few moments, they had him situated in the bed and Wace took his seat back in the chair he'd been dozing in all morning. It was hard and difficult to get situated into and that was exactly why he'd been sitting in that one instead of the other one with the cushions. He'd wanted to stay awake in case anything had happened during the night.

"You all right - are ya comfortable?" he asked, standing back up halfway and leaning over to the bed almost as soon as his butt had hit the chair. He started to fluff the pillow up on the side, but Barky just brushed his hand away with a smile.

"Jesus, you'd think I'd broken my neck or somethin' with the way you're flutterin' about."

He said it in a laughing manner, but it was obvious that Wace wasn't in the mood for joking. The sour look that washed across his features was evidence enough of that. Barky cursed himself in his head for having said anything. He should've known it was better just to keep his mouth shut.

He watched as Wace sat back down in the chair slowly, folding his arms across his middle and letting his chin droop down to his chest.

From the bed, Barky could only really see the top of his head and a little bit of the side of his face, but he already knew from the way he was holding himself that he was more than a little pissed off. Once more, regret that he'd said anything hit him hard and he fought the urge to apologize, knowing that saying anything about it would most likely cause him to blow up.

So, they sat there in silence for a few more minutes until his conscience got the better of him and Barky decided to speak up.

"Ya know, Wace...I was just messin' with ya. I-I didn't mean anythin' by what I said - I appreciate what ya did for me and all that."

Not even sparing a glance in his direction, Wace just shrugged his shoulders, still keeping his arms folded tightly. "Didn't even do nothin' really. Just carried ya out to the car and dumped your ass in it. What kinda brother would I be if I didn't at least do that?"

The sarcasm was back with a vengeance and Barky found himself longing for the Wace that he'd heard talking the night before. What was it that made him, on the rare occasion, act the complete opposite of the ass he was in public, at least to him anyway? If he could somehow bottle that and save it for a rainy day - or maybe even duplicate it, because God knows there were a hell of a lot of rainy days when Wace was concerned - he would have given his left arm. Which, wasn't saying much at the moment, considering its current condition, but the sentiment still held true.

"Well, I just meant that...well, I," he fumbled.

Why was it so hard to say anything to him?

Maybe it was the way that he looked at you when you spoke - his eyes boring into you, as if they were daring you to say anything to contradict him and warning you of the consequences if you did all in one glance. Or maybe it was the way he didn't look at you. The way his gaze just wandered around the room, conveying boredom and indifference with just one sweep.

"Ah, fuck it," Wace said, finishing his sentence for him.

Barky shook his head. "No. No, it's not like that - I really do appreciate it, Wace."

"Appreciate what? I told ya I just carried ya out to the car. Hell - ya couldn't even walk really, so what was I s’pposed ta do?"

"I meant for stayin'. Ya didn't have to. I mean, you're about ready to fall over right now you're so tired, but you still stayed here with me, so I -"

"Coppa left with the car, so I didn't have a ride home."

Barky frowned and Wace looked back down at the crack in the tile floor.

There wasn't anything to say to that. If he was going to be stubborn about it, Barky was going to let him. After several more minutes of strained silence, he let out a small sigh for no particular reason. Of course, Wace took it the wrong way and jumped at his chance to get on his case again.

"Well, it's obvious that me bein' here is botherin' ya, so I'll just go home and work on the rest of the shit I've gotta do. You just 'ave fun here sittin' on your ass and I'll clean up all the shit you left behind, just like always."

He stood to his feet, picking up the black button-up shirt Trunny’d brought for him to change into, which, of course, he never had.

The little jab he'd put in at the end wasn't really supposed to mean anything to him, but Barky knew, from what he'd heard the night before exactly what he was referring to. He wasn't going to comment on it, though. If this was all he got out of the argument, he considered himself lucky for coming out of it so well and he wasn't going to mess with his chances any.

There was one question that Barky couldn't keep to himself, though. "How're ya gonna get home?"

Wace just looked at him like he'd grown another head. "I'll fuckin' walk. I'm not too lazy ta do that," he said as he slung the shirt on over his shoulders and began buttoning it even as he walked toward the door.

"Ya coulda walked home last night."

He was glad he said it. Wace stopped, hesitated really, but just barely as he reached the doorway. In the silence of the room, he could hear the snort of laughter he let out and then he was gone, surprisingly without one of the snappish retorts he was famous for.

In his bed, Barky lay back against the pillows and cursed openly.

"Why the fuck did I have ta say anything?"

Even as he was asking the question, the answer was formulating in his head. It wasn't as if he didn't know already. Hell, he had a lot more questions to ask - it was just a matter of getting the courage up to do it.

Chapter Text

Trunny stopped dead in his tracks, not even crossing the threshold of the doorway. He couldn't believe the sight before his eyes.

"What the fuck're you doin' 'ere, mate?"

Wace didn't even turn around from his spot on the other side of the room where he was furiously scrubbing away at the floor. "S'my bloody house - whaddya mean 'what the fuck am I doin' 'ere?'" he growled out breathlessly between strokes.

"I just meant that...I figured you'd be home - restin' or somethin'. Not...well, not here," the shorter man explained as he entered the house via the rickety front screen door.

"Got too much shit ta do ta be sittin' on my ass, Trun - you know that."

With a tired sigh, he sat back on his haunches, squinting his eyes to see if he'd gotten most of the beer stain out where he'd knocked his over when Barky fell. "Shoot me if I ever decide to get fuckin' carpet, will ya?"

Trunny smiled and took a look at Wace's handy-work. "I hear ya. This's been a fuckin' hassle gettin' all this shit cleaned."

Wace nodded as he stood, grimacing from the stiffness in his body. He'd gone back to Coppa's and taken a quick shower, then tried to lie down for a couple of hours, but sleep still eluded him. He'd been so fucking tired, but as soon as his head hit the pillow, his mind was wide awake again, though his body felt like it was dead on its feet. Which, essentially, it was.

Maybe it was best that he didn't sleep, though. Whenever he did, he was plagued with visions of the hospital, his father's pale, drawn face, staring up at him with a pleading look in his eyes. He could almost hear the words as he whispered them to him over and over again. And there was always a darkness lingering in the background that disturbed him more than anything else. Even in his dreams he couldn't bring himself to look directly into it. It was too black and too deep and seemed like it was overrunning the room, filling it with its void.

Then he'd awake - only to find little more than an hour had passed and he was back to square one.

After a quick stop at the grocer, he was back over to the old place, trying to get up the mess that they'd left before.

"I'll get that shit outta the bedroom, then, 'kay?" Trunny said as he walked into the kitchen to get a bucket that was sitting on the counter.

Wace shook his head and bent down to scrub on one more little spot. "Already got it."

Trunny frowned but didn't say a word. If Wace wanted to run himself ragged, it was up to him and he wasn't about to say anything to go against him.

He opened the refrigerator, miffed to see there wasn't any beer left inside. "Ya want some water or anythin', man?"

He stood once more, finally satisfied that he'd gotten the stain all the way out. "Nah - I'm good. I'm gonna head out ta the garage and get started out there."

"How was Barky doin' this mornin'?" Trunny asked, following along behind him out the back door.

Wace kicked a crumpled sheet of newspaper out of his way as he cut through the backyard. "Fine."

Trunny had expected a bit more of an elaborate response from his friend, probably a little more colorful, too, so the one-word answer was a bit of a shock.

"Runnin' 'is fuckin' mouth - as usual," he added a few moments later when he was fiddling with the rusted lock on the door.

Ahh. The normal Wace was back in action.

"Oh yeah?" Trunny asked, not really caring if his friend went on a tangent or not. He was used to him complaining about any and everything possible as of late, so it didn't even phase him when he went off on a little tirade.

"Yeah. Little bastard - doesn't even appreciate the shit I do for 'im. Fuckin' flappin' his jaws as soon as 'e woke up this mornin'."

Trunny knew both brothers going back a good number of years and it just didn't sound like it fit for Barky to be complaining about anything Wace was doing for him. Sure, the kid had a flare for the dramatic, and more often than not, seemed to be stuck in some kind of emotional funk, but he wasn't one to go against his brother - Wace had made sure of that a long time ago.

"He was probably just achin' or somethin', Wace," Trunny tossed in, hoping not to be too obvious in his defense of Barky.

"Yeah - achin' ta run his fuckin' mouth over what I do pissin' 'im off or not bein' bloody good enough for 'im."

With a shake of his head, Trunny decided to drop it, knowing it was just going to be a circular road from there on out if he let it continue. He followed Wace into the garage and let out a cough at the heavy smell in the tiny, concrete building.

It was your typical garage - an old car in the middle of the building, filled tool shelves lining the walls, cluttered work benches, boxes and crates in the corners and a thin film of oil and grease and dust coating just about everything you touched. The only problem was that they had no where to put it all once they got it out.

"What're we gonna do with all this shit?" he asked, taking a look around the twenty by twenty room.

Wace strode easily over to one of the benches and started picking through the dirty scrap metal. "Fuckin' leave it 'ere - I don' need any o' this shit. We can sell a little bit of it, but most of it's crap for parts anyway. Need ta get it straightened up, though. Those people lookin' ta buy the place prob'ly won't know the diff'rence."

"Yeah," Trunny mumbled, picking out a box to sort through. He pulled up an empty milk crate from a few feet away and flipped it over so he could sit down on it and began going through the old junk crammed inside.

They worked in relative silence for the next few hours, making quick work of one side of the building, but they decided to leave the other half for the next day. They were just about to call it quits for the evening when something on one of the tables caught Wace's eye.

After he set down a half-filled box on the trunk of his father's old car, he went over to the work bench that was just behind it. There on the top sat an old bag and several black and white photos strewn about the table top. It was obvious that Barky had been in here, possibly a few days prior, but Wace knew it was him from the picture that was sitting on the top.

It was of their mother, hair curled and afternoon dress on, smiling at the camera like everything in the world was fine and fucking dandy. He picked it up carelessly, refusing to let himself feel anything but contempt toward the face staring back at him. The date on the side of the photo told him it was taken four years before she left.

With a huff of what might've been a laugh, he tossed it back down on the table, shaking his head and muttering something under his breath that Trunny couldn't quite understand.

He picked up the picture that had been underneath of it - one of him and Barky when they were small children. Their prominent features left no room for mistaking who they were, but the smiles on their faces looked foreign, out of place. At least they did to Wace.

Two little boys with round faces and hair slicked over to the side in parts that just didn't want to cooperate with their heads. Penny loafers and khaki shorts. Teeth missing from their grins. Had they really been happy once? He couldn't remember, it had been so long ago.

Without warning, he felt the hot sting of tears rising within his eyes and he was suddenly at a loss for what to do. He knew the ache that was welling up in his stomach intimately, but it was something that he usually tamped down as soon as it started to rear its ugly head. Now though, it felt uncontrollable. He was too tired to fight it.

He cursed himself inwardly for letting something so small get to him that way and that was when the anger started to take hold again, saving him, giving him the strength to overpower his weaknesses. With a haphazard fold, he shoved the picture into the breast pocket of his shirt and reached for the one of his mother.

Before Trunny could even register what he was doing, Wace had torn it into about twenty small pieces and tossed them into a burn barrel that was sitting at the end of the bench. His face was drawn into a fierce scowl as he brushed past him, headed for the door, box in tow.

It was in that moment that Trunny knew Wace actually hated his mother. It wasn't just resentment, or anger over being left - it was something that went much deeper, and that almost scared him. He didn't think he'd ever felt that way toward anyone before, or even knew someone who had that kind of emotion within them. Even then, he knew what something like that was capable of doing to a person. With it, it made something you never would have imagined doing seem like second nature.

*****

"How'd ya get home?"

"Coppa came and got me. They released me this afternoon."

Wace nodded with little more than a grunt and headed for the back of the apartment to get cleaned up. Trunny followed along behind him into the room with a box full of items out of the garage that he'd wanted to keep for himself. He gave Barky a friendly nod as he sat the heavy crate down.

"'ey. You're lookin' a good sight better'n the last time I saw ya," he said, reaching over to give the younger man a slap on the back just before he fell tiredly into the sofa cushion.

Barky nodded and offered him a drink of his beer, which Trunny promptly took a large swig of. "Yeah - they gave me some pain pills ta take home so tha's helpin' a lot. Feels good to be outta that bed, though. I can see how people stay sick when they're holed up in those rooms for however long - make ya go crazy or somethin'."

"Yeah, well, ya get used to it after a while," Wace threw into the conversation, his tone leaving nothing to imagine about what he was referring to.

He'd come back into the room with a wet washrag in his hands and was scrubbing away at his face and neck where the grease and oil seemed to have migrated. Under his nose and around his eyes were especially dirty from where he'd been rubbing at them throughout the day.

When no one commented on what he'd just said, Wace took it as he'd made his point and tossed the clean rag that was draped across his shoulder over to Trunny.

"Where's Copp?" he asked, taking a seat in the armchair next to the couch.

"Uh, I think he went to go get some groceries, or something. Said he'd be back in a bit."

Nodding, Wace looked over to Trunny, who was still scrubbing away at his hands with the rag. "You want first shower, mate?"

"Ya sure?"

"I already had one today - I can make it another ten minutes," he said with a shrug.

Not giving him a chance to change his mind, Trunny stood up with a grunt and headed for the bathroom, peeling his shirt off as he went.

"You want a beer?" Wace asked, getting up to get his own.

Barky shook his head and pointed to the still half-full one that was on the table. "Nah - I'll be fine. Thanks, though."

Wace just grunted and disappeared into the kitchen, coming back several minutes later with two beers and a box of cheese crackers.

"You want any?" he asked, holding the open box in front of Barky.

Though he didn't really want them, Barky decided to take a handful and munch on them anyway. He knew the way his brother held grudges and if bets could be made, he figured the odds were in favor of him still being angry over what happened that morning.

"You sick or somethin'?" he asked a few minutes later.

Wace turned to face him with a questioning look on his face, but said nothing.

"You keep sniffin' and rubbin' at your nose - I was wonderin' if you were comin' down with something."

Again, remaining silent, Wace just shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly and brought his bottle back up to his mouth. Trunny chose that moment to emerge from the shower, his body still dripping wet and a towel tied around his waist.

"All yours, mate," he said, scooting in front of Wace to get over to the couch.

With a look of disdain toward the water trail his friend had left behind him, Wace stood to his feet, grabbed his beer and took off for the bathroom.

"I'll take that," Trunny said with a smile as he swiped the bottle of beer Barky was nursing right out of his hand.

The only thing Barky could do was look at the goofy, little man sitting beside him and laugh.

Chapter Text

It had been three days since he'd come home from the hospital. The temperature outside only seemed to be rising, in turn, making the apartment warmer by the second. He'd awoken that morning with his arm throbbing something awful and he absently wondered if it had anything to do with how uncomfortable the rest of his body was.

When Barky went into the kitchen so he could get a glass of water and take his pain medication, he was surprised to see everyone up already. After rubbing his eyes free of the sleep that had plastered itself to the corners, he was able to get a better look at the trio of gloomy faces.

"Wha's wrong?" he asked as he reached into the cabinet. The glass he pulled out was kind of cloudy and there was a few specks of something plastered to the bottom, but he figured that it wouldn’t kill him.

There was no answer for a moment, then Wace cleared his throat and lifted his head from where it was resting on his hand. "Real estate shits called."

Barky halted his movements, glass in midair, and took a look at his brother. "Yeah?" he prodded.

"People who were lookin' ta buy the house found somethin' else on the other side of town."

Shit.

Okay - so, it wasn't the best news in the world, but no reason to be looking like someone had killed their dog.

"Well, the company - they'll find another one. Shouldn't be too long for it, right?"

After there was no reply from Wace but a shake of his head, Coppa spoke up. "Yeah - we'll find someone else, won't we, Wace?"

At that, he nodded, took a deep breath and cleared his throat. His voice sounded funny when he spoke, like he had something caught in the middle of his throat. "Yeah. No worries."

Forcing a smile on his face for no one in particular, he stood from his seat at the kitchen table and did a quick roll of his neck. "I'm goin' to uh...head on over to the house. I still got some shit ta go through in the garage."

Barky downed his pills and the rest of his water quickly. "I'll come with ya - I can help," he offered as he rinsed his glass out and stuffed it back into the cabinet.

Wace paused by the open doorway of the kitchen and shook his head. "No uh...you stay 'ere. I'll get it."

"No, I wanna help," Barky protested, making his way over to where his brother was standing.

"I said I'll do it m’self," Wace countered, using a little more force in his voice and causing Barky to stop dead in his tracks.

As soon as the words had left his mouth, a look of regret flashed over his face and it seemed as if he was going to apologize, but he stopped himself. "You just stay ‘ere, okay? Get some rest. You don't need to be up and movin' around heavy shit with your arm and head like that."

Before Barky had a chance to make a case against him staying there, Wace slid out of the room and was gone. He turned back to Trunny and Coppa, who were still sitting at the table, and looking as downcast as he'd ever seen them.

For a moment, he stood there, trying to decipher what had just happened, but none of it was making any sense.

"Okay - did I miss somethin' 'ere, or what?" he asked, taking Wace's empty seat at the table.

Neither of the men said anything, but Barky could tell that something was going on and he was determined to find out what it was. Wincing, he propped his arm up on the table, hoping to give it a little relief from carrying the cast around without it being strapped up in the sling.

"Guys?" he questioned once more, hoping this time he'd get an answer.

He saw the look that Trunny shot over to Coppa and jumped on it.

"What the hell's goin' on, Trun?"

With a sigh, the older man sat back in his seat, turning his attention fully to Coppa as if he was relinquishing the floor to him to speak.

"It's no big deal, really," Coppa suggested, but Barky saw right through it and he knew he did. "It'll be fine."

Barky wondered if the words were meant to be as unconvincing as they were delivered. "What? What'll be fine - is somethin' wrong with Wace?"

Trunny actually kept a straight face on that question, though he thought of a few things to say right off the tip of his brain.

"No. Everythin's fine, Bark - don't worry about it, okay?"

"How the hell’m I supposed ta 'not worry' when everyone in this place is all doom and gloom? What the fuck is goin' on?"

Trunny couldn't take it anymore. He leaned over the table on his forearms and tried to break it to the kid in the easiest way possible. "Your brother's about eighty thousand dollars in debt from your dad and the only way he had to pay at least half of that back to the bank was to sell the house and pretty much everything else he owns."

It was all Barky could do to keep his jaw from dropping at the revelation.

Eighty...thousand dollars he'd said?

"B-but...you can still sell the house, though, right? I mean, it's still up on the market and -"

"In case ya haven't noticed, Bark - Erskineville isn't exactly a boomin' district. Not quite top quality real estate here, pal," Coppa said, effectively cutting off that train of thought. With a sigh, he sat back in the old, wooden chair and tightened the knot in his ponytail.

Trunny, who'd also leaned back into his seat, shook his head disappointedly. "We been tryin' ta sell the place for a while now and those people were the first that were real close ta buyin'."

"Well why the hell didn't ‘e go ta that meetin' with 'em? Why'd ‘e cancel it?"

Coppa looked at him like he'd come from another planet. "You were in tha fuckin' hospital."

"He coulda left. Hell, I was so out of it I wouldn't've even noticed ‘e was gone," Barky argued.

Though he really didn't want to get into it right then, Coppa felt like he owed it to Wace to explain a few things about him to his brother. "Barky, I'm gonna tell ya this just ta give you a better picture of how Wace works, okay? It ain't got nothin' ta do with makin' ya feel guilty over anthin', it's just the way it was, ya got me?"

He waited for a nod from the kid before he continued.

"When your dad was in the hospital Wace probably left a total of maybe ten times. In all those months, the only time he was gone was when he had to work and when there wasn't any way of gettin' out of somethin' he had ta do. Hell, ‘e even had clothes stashed away in one o’ the drawers. Me and Trun - we tried ta get 'im ta go home, ta get some rest, we even offered to stay there in 'is stead, but he wouldn't even hear of it. He'd just plop himself right down in that chair and wait out the night, over and over and fuckin' over again.

"I don' know what it is, but he has this thing about leavin' people. I coulda held a gun to 'is head to get him out of there the other day with you, but he woulda sat there like a bloody rock until he was sure that you were all right. Like it or not, he's your brother and you're the only thing he's got left."

Coppa waited a moment, let his words sink in to the younger man as far as he thought they would, then added quietly, “I know it don’ seem like it a lot o’ the time – any of the time, really – but ‘e does love ya. Just got a funny way o’ showin’ it is all.”

Now Coppa wasn't normally a man of many words and Barky figured what he'd just said might have been the longest thought he'd ever heard him express, so it wasn't with a light attitude that he took his little speech. He couldn’t help but think back to the conversation he’d overheard while he was in the hospital and figured that was Coppa’s way of saying what Wace wouldn’t – or couldn’t – bring himself to.

"I don't know how ta help him," he admitted softly, looking up to the older men for some sort of guidance. "I feel like ‘e doesn't even want my help - like ‘e doesn't even want me around."

Trunny let out a small laugh. "He don't want anybody around, kid."

"Tha's not it," Coppa amended. "He's just...trapped, I guess."

Barky thought about the description and couldn't think of a word more fitting for how his brother was probably feeling. Overwhelmed, possibly, but that didn't quite capture the claustrophobia of it. Really, when you looked at it, he wasn't just feeling it, he actually was trapped.

He felt his head start to throb and immediately knew it wasn't because of the knock he took. It was aching from all the flip-flops it had been doing the past week over how he felt about Wace. One minute he was ready to drop everything and leave again with how fed up he was. Then the next he was having to fight off the urges to either take a swing at him, or pull him into his arms and hold him as tightly as he could. He thought Wace would've definitely preferred being swung at, but that didn't keep the feeling away.

It was only fitting, he supposed, that if you were going to tag along with him, you'd experience the same sort of roller coaster he always seemed to be riding. Hell, you could even say he was the operator, because he was the one who pulled the lever and told you how fast you were gonna go. He was the one who dictated which track you rode, which turn you took. It was ridiculous the amount of power he exerted over some people's lives, yet always seemed to have his own running rampantly out of control.

Maybe that was just the way he worked. It seemed completely the opposite of how a normal human being should function. You were supposed to have your own affairs in order before you started worrying about someone else's. Maybe since Wace couldn't control his own, he did his damnedest to rule over anyone that would let him.

"I've got some property...over in Queensland. It's not much, but it's good farming land - the supervisor of the field I was workin' in gave it to me, said I did a good job and he didn't have much in the way of a Christmas bonus or nothin'."

Barky almost laughed at the memory of that day. The gruff cane field owner shoving the deed into his hand and telling him to 'Have a merry, bloody Christmas' - he wouldn't have expected him to do it any other way, though. That's just the way Don was. He'd come to think of the older man as a sort of father-figure. A father he'd never really had.

"It could probably bring sev'ral hundred, maybe even a thousand or so in."

Even as he made the offer, it seemed insignificant to him. Here he was saying he could put in a couple hundred dollars into the pot - it wouldn't even make a dent in what Wace owed. What he owed. After all, it was his father, too, and it shouldn't've been just Wace's job to bear the burden.

The irony of his thoughts hit him and he quirked a grin. Wace had been right - when he left, he left everything with him, not even giving him the option to go to anyone for help. Who did he have?

Well, it wasn't going to be like that now. He was home and he wasn't going to sit by and watch his brother struggle the rest of his life away. He'd find an answer, think of something they could do. He had to.

Chapter Text

He had no idea of who he should talk to in order for him to find out the value of his property, but Barky started flipping through the phone directory hoping to stumble across something to do with 'land' and 'appraisals' - preferably in the same listing.

After making a few calls he got connected with someone in the Queensland district who could give him some information. He cringed at the thought of what the phone bill was going to be, but thought it might end up being worth it if he got some actual numbers out of the people.

By the time he was done talking to the lady, his head was aching horribly, but he felt mildly better about the situation. The woman had told him that his parcel of land was worth somewhere between two and three thousand dollars, but that was without going out and having an official survey done. It could be a little more, could be a little less. Still not nearly enough by either account, but far more than he'd thought. It seemed like the real estate in that area was booming and land was going upwards of four and five times what it was worth a few years before.

He wasn't sure whether he should tell Wace about what he'd found out or keep it to himself for a little while, at least until he was certain he could get something done about it. He had a feeling he wouldn't appreciate him going behind his back about it, but also knew that he most likely wouldn't accept any help from him up front either.

Even though he didn't ask for it, he still would've seen it as a sign of weakness that he needed it - or even appeared like he needed it. No. After thinking about it, Barky decided it'd be best to keep his mouth shut about it for a little while and let it play like he didn't know anything. It was obvious that Wace didn't want him to know, but he did, and him having found out without his consent wouldn't go over well at all.

He tried to busy himself about the apartment for the rest of the afternoon. Wace was still gone, Coppa had went in to work at a new site and Trunny was out making a short run in his trailer. After he got a load of laundry started, he tried to tidy up the place, whose trash consisted mostly of beer bottles, cans, and any other container you could put alcohol in. It weighed on him with a sickly reminder of how it had been when he was younger - cleaning up after his father and one of his two day drinking binges.

With a sigh, he tossed the last bag of trash into the dumpster that lay conveniently in the alley underneath the living room window. Most of the time it was a bother, the heat causing the smell to rise up and into the apartment, but for now - not having to make four or five trips down three flights of stairs was a godsend.

It was well after six, almost seven when Coppa came strutting through the door, hard hat in hand and tool belt slung low around his waist. He looked pretty tired, but still managed a smile over to Barky when he realized what he'd been doing all day.

"Got a little bored," he explained.

Coppa laughed. "Looks like ya got a lot bored, mate. It looked like hell in ‘ere. Sorry ya had ta clean it up, but you know how busy we've been these past couple'a days."

Barky waved his hand, dismissing the comment. "Well, I figured it was the least I could do since ya've let me stay here all this time."

"You're family, Bark - you can stay however long ya like," he said over his shoulder as he disappeared into the back, presumably to take a shower.

He heard the water turn on to confirm his suspicions and thought about going over to see Lanny. It had been a few days since he'd last met up with her.

The walk over was a long one, but it did him some good to be out of the house. Since the sun had gone down already, it helped with the heat factor, but the air was still thick and moist and the dirt he tracked up while walking stuck to his sweat-dampened arms and hands.

Just before he knocked on the door, he thought that it might've been a better idea to call over first to even see if she was there. It would've been a waste to have walked all the way over and Lanny not even be home.

Luckily, he saw a light on in the back of the house where her room was, so he took it as a good sign and rapped his knuckles against the door. A few moments later, he heard a muffled 'just a second' come from somewhere in the house and within those prescribed seconds, the door flew open, revealing a breathless Lanny who was smudged all over with various colors of ink.

"Hey!" she greeted with a friendly smile and leaned in to give him a hug, careful to avoid squeezing too tightly so she wouldn't get him dirty.

"Hey," he said against her neck as he planted a quick kiss on her jaw.

When she stepped back and moved to let him in, she caught notice of the cast on his arm and let out a gasp. "Oh my God! What ‘appened to your arm?"

Barky edged his way inside, letting her shut the door behind him. "Enh - took a spill. Whacked my head real good, too," he explained, trying to effect nonchalance.

She eyed him carefully and Barky caught the way her gaze went quickly back and forth from the almost completely healed gash on his eyebrow to the cast. She knew where he'd gotten the cut.

"No, really - I fell. We were cleanin' at the old house and I fell out of a chair and landed hard on my ass. Pretty stupid, huh?"

A look of relief flashed across her eyes and she gave him another hug. "Why didn't ya call me and let me know somethin'? Coulda made ya dinner or whatever."

"Well, I was out of it for a day or so, but it wasn't really that bad. I've been kinda busy the past few days tryin' ta get stuff in order with Wace on the house - tha's why I haven't called ya. Sorry."

She gave him another smile to let him know he was forgiven and led him into the living room. She motioned for him to sit on the sofa and headed for the kitchen. "Ya want anythin' ta drink?"

"Got any tea?"

"Yeah, I think there's some in the back o' the fridge - you're takin' your life into your own hands by drinkin' it, though. I dunno how long it's been in there."

Barky mulled it over for a moment then decided what the hell. "Yeah - give it to me. I'll just get some water if it's gone bad."

Within a few minutes, she returned to the living room, taking a seat on the couch as well, but maintaining a relatively safe distance.

"What've you been up to?" Barky asked, taking a cautious sip of the tea and flashing her a wink when he found that it tasted all right.

"Well," she said, holding up her hands and showing him her arms and all the smudges of pencil and ink, "I've been working with the book. I'm almost done, so I've been pullin’ overtime on it. Kinda like, I want it ta be finished, ya know? Since I've been workin' on it for so long now."

Barky nodded in understanding and leaned back against the couch. "Where is ev'rybody?" he asked, looking around the empty apartment.

"Ahh...I think Ruby's out on a date - I dunno where the other two are. Prob'ly out gettin' pissed or smokin', maybe both," she finished with a small laugh.

There was a comfortable silence for a moment as they both were sipping on their drinks and relaxing in the cool apartment.

"The fun'ral was nice," Lanny mentioned, staring up at the ceiling.

"Yeah. Yeah, it was - Wace did a good job at it."

"Wace?" she asked, turning her head toward him with a look of surprise on her face.

"Yeah. He took care of all the details - I wasn't in town yet."

"Hmm."

"Why'd'ya ask?"

She shrugged her shoulders. "I dunno. From what little I know of 'im, Wace doesn't seem like the type to know which flowers ta order for a funeral service or what music ta play."

Barky smiled. "Yeah - well, jus’ don't let 'im know that you think he is the type and ev'rything'll be fine."

"You're in a lot better mood," Lanny commented with a favorable smile.

Shrugging, Barky shook his head. "I dunno why - I haven't got reason ta be," he answered, the gloominess creeping back into his voice.

"Wha's wrong?"

The concern was evident in her tone, and even though Barky didn't want to go and dump all of his problems on her, he knew she'd understand. And better yet, wanted to understand.

"I dunno...there's a lot of stuff really," he prolonged, trying to come up with a good way of saying what he had to say. "There's a lot of money we owe from the hospital and it's got Wace worried. Me gettin’ hurt prob’ly didn’t help matters either. He doesn't even know that I know about it, but it's doin' a number on 'im. Plus all the other stuff that's happened...I'm just...I'm real worried about ‘im, ya know? I dunno what ta do."

She gave him a look of sympathy that was genuine and reached out to take his hand. He accepted it and relished the soft feel of her skin and the gentle squeeze she gave him.

"I didn't know. I'm sorry."

"I wanna help 'im - I do, but I just...I don't know how."

He hoped that the words didn't sound as pleading to her as they did to him, but judging by the look on her face, she didn't see it that way in the least.

"Oh, Barky," Lanny comforted, scooting a little closer to him on the couch and putting an arm around his shoulders. "It'll be okay. You'll think of somethin' - you're smart about things like that."

He huffed out a small laugh. "Yeah - if I was so smart, I woulda never let any of this happen."

"You weren't here," she countered, her voice devoid of any accusation.

"Yeah," he said softly.

With a sigh, he looked over to her and forced a smile on his face. "Enough of that, though. How 'bout you go show me your 'latest and greatest'?"

After several hours at Lanny's, Barky was ready to call it a night and told her he was ready to head back home. She offered him the couch, but he refused, saying that he wanted to take a walk and get his head on straight.

By the time he'd reached Coppa's place, he couldn't recall a thing he'd thought about the entire walk home.

It was after midnight and the house was dark and still, so he figured that everyone was home and in bed. The couch was empty and there was a blanket tossed over the back of it, so he kicked off his shoes and pulled his shirt off and sunk into the worn-yet-comfortable cushions.

Within minutes he was asleep.

Sometime after four, if his blurred eyes could be trusted in their sight of the clock on the far wall, he awoke having to go to the bathroom. As quietly as possible, he crept into the tiny room, deciding not to flush the toilet so he wouldn't wake anyone. After splashing some water on his face and neck to hopefully rub off some of the sticky sweatiness that had accumulated on him while he slept, he headed back for the living room, ready to go to sleep again.

As he came around the corner to go to the living room, he heard a noise and slowed up. Peeking around the edge of the wall, he saw a moonlit version of his brother as he stumbled into the front room. Barky called out to him, but all he got was a raspy groan for an answer as he leaned up against the cart the television was sitting on.

He'd been drinking if anything could be told by his rumpled hair and clothes, the glazed over look in his eyes and his loose movements - then again, that could've had something to do with the fact that he hadn't really slept in the past month.

The smell was what really gave it away.

If there was anything Barky learned from his father, it was how to scent alcohol from a block away and Wace positively reeked of it. Someone had to have driven him home, he thought, with the way he was tripping about the living room in all his drunken glory.

The scene was more troubling than he was ready to admit. Though Wace didn't really look like his father in physical appearances - he didn't look that much like either of his parents, except for his dark hair, now that Barky thought of it - the manner in which he was stumbling around brought back the hideous memories of how his father used to act when he came home three sheets to the wind.

He cringed involuntarily as a flash of memory - his father bringing a belt down harshly onto his shoulders countless times - invaded his psyche with brutal force.

As he started to move about the living room, half empty bottle still in one hand, Barky could almost imagine Wace being his father and it was too much for him to handle.

"And now what was inside him...is inside me."

"No," he said audibly, though he was speaking to no one in particular.

The Wace he was arguing against wasn't in the room. He'd been replaced by the carbon copy replica of his father and was too busy having a conversation with someone who wasn't really there.

Which, the same could be said of Barky, but yet it couldn't.

"Wace," he called out, hoping to catch his brother's attention and stop him from rambling on about whatever it was he was sputtering out.

"No. No, you're not gonna..."

"Wace, come on," he said cautiously, not sure whether or not he should approach him yet.

At that, he turned his head, though not in the direction Barky was standing, but he knew that he'd heard him nonetheless.

"I can't."

Barky edged a little closer when he saw the non-threatening look in his brother's eyes. He didn't honestly think he would hurt him, but then again, Wace's track record hadn't exactly proved that. "It's okay. Just come on in here and you can go ta bed."

"I don' want the bed."

His voice had taken on a much softer manner, almost like he was whispering, but the alcohol in his system kept him from finding the right tone.

"Okay. Okay, you can just sit down on the couch, then – how s’at?"

As he spoke, Barky moved around the edge of the room, all the while motioning for him to go to the sofa and inching a little closer to him with each step. He didn't want to rush him.

He was relieved when he saw him nod his head, but had to lunge out to catch him when Wace started to move forward but misstepped, almost falling over the coffee table. The bottle that had been in his hand fell to the floor, spilling the rest of its contents onto the carpet, but luckily staying in one piece.

“Easy. Easy - we’re just goin’ to the couch,” he soothed, almost grimacing at the fierceness in the grip his brother had on him. Slowly, he led him over to the sofa and sat down with him as he almost collapsed into the cushions.

Within seconds of his head hitting the back of the couch, his eyes were closed and he was out. Barky studied him for a moment, aggravated that he’d done this to himself, but not exactly being able to find it within himself to blame him for it.

With a sigh, he pushed Wace over gently and let him rest his head on the pillow he’d been sleeping on just minutes earlier. He looked at the blanket that was still tossed over the back of the couch and decided that he’d put it on him anyway, and if he got hot, he could just throw it off.

After Barky’d unlaced his boots and taken them off, he put his feet up on the couch and pulled the blanket down across his legs. As he was dragging it up to his shoulders, he saw that Wace’s eyes had fluttered open.

“Hey,” he said, not really expecting an answer.

“M’sorry,” came the slurred reply.

Barky frowned. “What for?”

He closed his eyes again for a moment and Barky thought he might’ve drifted back to sleep, but as he was getting up from the couch, Wace spoke again.

“Sorry I wasn’t good enough for ya. I didn’t...”

His voice was shaky and even in the dark, the moonlight reflecting off of his eyes let Barky see the tears brimming around the edges as he was suddenly crying.

“What’re ya talkin’ about?” Barky asked. He chalked Wace's emotional shift up to the alcohol and figured, in his drunken stupor, he thought he was talking to Jen, trying to make amends she probably wouldn‘t ever be able accept.

Wace shook his head tiredly and let his eyes fall shut, causing the tears to slip out from the edges. “I wasn’t...I wasn’t...”

As his voice trailed off, Barky rose to his feet once more and went over to pick up the bottle that was still lying on the floor. He dumped the contents down the drain in the kitchen and left it sitting on the counter, then returned to the living room and took up a spot on the armchair. He wanted to keep an eye on him in case he started vomiting or had a reaction while he was sleeping.

“Suppos’ta take care of you, I was.”

His voice cut through the silence of the room like a gunshot in the night.

“I was suppos’ta make sure you were okay and I didn’t. Couldn’t make...I wasn’t strong.”

Gone was the shakiness, though Barky could still detect a slight slur in his speech.

For a moment, he thought that he’d imagined the whole exchange, but one look at Wace, and his dark eyes staring back at him as clear as he’d ever seen them and he knew it was for real.

Without warning, he felt the stinging heat of tears in his own eyes as he realized that Wace had been speaking to him the entire time. Quickly, he wiped them away.

It was a bittersweet moment.

He knew what he’d just heard and felt his heart lurch with emotion, but at the same time he knew the whole feeling would be dissolved by morning when Wace woke up with his sharp tongue and an even more wicked hang-over.

With a sigh, he leaned back in his chair, trying to get comfortable now that he knew Wace was truly asleep.

Chapter Text

"Mornin'."

Barky turned from where he was standing in front of the sink and got a better look at the sluggish figure that was his brother as he came stumbling into the kitchen. Somehow during the night, he'd managed to shuck his t-shirt and pants and was now standing in the doorway in nothing but a pair of ratty, old boxers.

Barky figured he was at least entitled to more than a grunt of a 'hello' after what he'd done for him the night before, but wasn't going to press his luck.

"Got ya some toast there, if ya want it," he said, motioning toward the chipped yellow plate that was sitting on the counter. It had four pieces of toast - two of them slightly burnt, compliments of the right side of the toaster.

"Thirsty."

"I bet," he chuckled, pouring him a glass of water and reaching into the cabinet for some aspirin with the other hand.

"Take these," he said, dropping the pills onto the table next to the glass of water. He slid the plate of toast down in front of him on the table and pulled up a chair to sit in for himself. "Rough night last night, huh?"

Wace downed the glass of water in what seemed like one gulp - courtesy of throwing back tall shots for years - then took the pills dry.

"You should eat somethin'."

Instead of replying with some sarcastic comment as Barky had expected, Wace took a piece of the toast and crammed it into his mouth. "Thanks," he mumbled around the wadded up bread.

'Bloody temp'rature must've dropped in Hell,' Barky thought as he took one of the slices for himself.

As he chewed on the crust for a few moments, Barky the time to study his brother's hunched over posture and had to shake his head. A week or two more of his eating habits and he'd make a good case for a refugee from a third world country.

Most of the time, he wore two or three shirts, despite the heat, but now, seeing him bare-chested, he could make out the bones in his torso as they began to make an unwelcome appearance.

"Here - have another one," Barky pressed, holding up another piece for him to take.

He knew then that Wace was worn beyond anything he'd ever seen him before because he didn't even put up an argument when he reached out and took it from him.

Now, one thing about Wace was that, even though he might do something you tell him, he was gonna do it on his own terms - because he wanted to do it - and not just because you told him to.

That is, unless you were talking about their father, then he did whatever it was without even asking a single question. 'Ya don' question authority' - their dad had taught them that a long time ago, and Barky supposed that now, since he was dead, Wace didn't really have anyone in authority over him.

"Ya feelin' a little better now?" Barky asked, hoping that at least some of the grogginess he was experiencing had passed so he could talk to him.

"I drank about ten gallons o' piss last night, Bark - what the fuck d'ya think?" he growled angrily, gripping his head on both sides as he let out a sigh. "Bloody asp'rin and a piece of shitty toast ain't gonna make it go away in the snap of a finger if you can believe it."

With a disgusted shake of his head, Barky stood up from the table, taking the plate with the last piece of toast for himself and heading into the living room with it. Wace didn't even look up from where he was staring at the table.

Barky settled himself in on the sofa, finishing off the rest of his toast and wishing he'd brought his glass of orange juice he'd poured with him, but not willing to go back into the kitchen for it right then. It wasn't because he was scared of Wace - quite the contrary, for once. He was just so irked off at him at the moment, he wasn't sure he'd be able to hold his tongue as well as he normally did when his brother mouthed off to him. He just wasn't in the mood for a confrontation this morning. Well...almost afternoon now.

"Aww, bloody fuckin' Christ!" came an aggravated shout from the kitchen.

Barky looked up from the paper he'd been sifting through just in time to see Wace shoot across the hallway that led to his bedroom on very unstable legs. He came out into the living room a few moments later, still as hung over as he'd been just minutes before, but fully-clothed this time. His t-shirt was on inside out and there was a tear around the collar.

"Had ta go back ta work today," he mumbled as he grabbed for the pair of pants he'd thrown across the armchair and retrieved his wallet from the back pocket.

"No."

Wace only slightly hesitated in his movements, sparing his brother a second-long, bloodshot glance. "Whaddya mean?"

"They called this mornin' when ya didn't show up."

He let out a sigh for all the ages and took a moment to close his eyes and let his head fall back.

"Fuck!" he exclaimed, heading for the door.

"I told 'em you were sick and they said that was fine."

He stopped dead in his tracks, hand on the doorknob and turned back to give him a longer look this time. "What'd you say?"

"I said they called this mornin' real early and I told 'em you were sick. They said it was okay and that you didn't hafta come in 'til Thursday 'cause that's when they get another shipment in."

This time the sigh that was released was from relief. Wace turned and fell back against the door, sliding down the ground and ending up with his elbows on his knees and his head tossed all the way back. "Thought I'd've fuckin' lost my job on that one."

"Yeah, well..."

"Thanks, mate."

There was sincerity in his voice, but Barky didn't even bother to be moved by it. He'd give it three minutes before he did something else that'd set him off.

"I won't do it again."

It was a statement, possibly a warning, but not a threat.

"Well, I didn't ask ya ta do it in the first place," Wace said defensively.

"I didn't say ya did," Barky countered. "Just lettin' ya know in case it happens again - and it will," he added silently.

"Whatever," he snapped, pushing himself to his feet with a grunt. It took him a few moments to gain his bearings still, but once he was up, he disappeared into his bedroom.

Once again, Barky was left in the living room by himself. If the silence in the house was any indication, Wace had decided to crash in his bed to sleep off the remainders of the alcohol still flowing in his system.

He'd wanted to believe in him last night when he'd said he was sorry - he really did. But a lifetime worth of putting up with apologies and promises from an alcoholic, be it his father or, now, his brother, had conditioned him to the point where he expected everything to come out of their mouths to be a lie and in order to make it the truth they had to prove it to him.

He hated that it was that way, but when he thought about it - he really didn't have a choice in the matter. It was what it was. Maybe he was making excuses for himself, for them even, but he didn't want to go that far into it. Not now, not with the headache that was brewing in his skull.

The stillness in the room was almost overpowering and Barky could feel even the smallest current of air or fleck of dust that came in through the window. It was like sensory overload without the high degree of input, if that was possible.

With a sudden start, he shoved himself up off the couch and took the plate into the kitchen, then downed his lukewarm orange juice with a grimace. Checking the clock, but not even caring it was just a little past noon, Barky headed for the front door to take a walk in the midday sun.

Chapter Text

"Better slow down on that, mate. Ya got the whole night ahead of ya."

Though the warning was given casually, Wace bristled - he normally would've had something to say as well, but since it was Coppa doing the giving, he let it slide and settled his tumbler back onto the coffee table. Trunny had left only a few moments earlier, trying to beat the clock to the grocery store several blocks away - they were out of limes and, in his mind, the tequila shots he was taking were no good without the sour fruit.

"So you're off t'morrow, yeah?" Coppa pried gently, taking a sip of his cheap bourbon through a cloudy glass. He clucked his tongue afterward and grimaced - the burn it made as it traveled down his throat was nothing short of battery acid on an open wound.

Not quite looking at his older counterpart, Wace half-turned his head as his foggy eyes suddenly lit, anger flashing over them. Barky must've been running his mouth to him, trying anything he could to drive a wedge between him and his friends. "How th' fuck didja know that?" he growled.

Coppa tilted his head toward the nearly empty bottle Wace had nestled between his legs. "I just figured ya wouldn't be goin' at it so hard if ya had ta get up early in the mornin'."

He took a minute to study the man seated next to him and wondered at the swell of hurt that was building within his chest. It wasn't that he was upset by anything Wace had done or said - he‘d been around the brute long enough to know he shouldn‘t take anything like that to heart. It was more of being upset for him. He hated watching this...collision between his best friend and all of his demons - only thing was, he had front row tickets to the show.

If he was honest with himself, he could say that he’d’ve seen this coming months - hell, maybe even as far as years - ago, if only he‘d bothered himself enough to watch. To call Wace self-destructive was like calling the Pope a ‘good man’ - it just didn’t begin to compare, and even though it had been a drag of a day, Coppa could still hear him taunting his brother when he‘d first come home, mocking him almost for beating himself up over the past.

It was a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black, but Wace wouldn’t’ve ever agreed to that. He’d done things in the past that he regretted each and every day, but he didn’t bother with trying to atone for them - an exercise in futility was just as obvious to one man as it was the next. Wallowing in his sins was more his style. Rolling around in them until he couldn’t breathe any longer, until someone finally pulled him out of the muck and mire.

Coppa was thankful that he’d at least been trusted to be one of those to lend a hand, but he couldn’t help feeling a little responsibility for him being down there in the first place - especially with some of the stuff they'd done growing up.

Wace was a good kid and he knew it, knew it before he'd even begun to drag him along behind the hell he and Trunny raised in their heyday. He’d seen him as a bit of a kindred spirit from the get-go, even though it took a little convincing sometimes, more so in the early days, to get him to go along with a particularly daring plot.

It wasn’t that he was chicken to do whatever it was that they’d planned - Wace had some of the biggest rocks on the block when it came to putting his neck out - he was just worried about the consequences. It could’ve been the law, the school, the woman down the street with the yellow awning on her front stoop - anyone, the excuse didn’t matter. But in the end, Coppa knew it always led back to one thing: his father. What would his father do if he found out - and how bad would it be for him and his brother.

He hadn’t so much as said it in words really, but Coppa was no idiot - he knew the look of fear when he saw it. He’d worn it himself with his own old man until the codger had kicked the bucket. It was the most miserable way to spend thirteen years he could ever think of and here he’d been, watching his best mate go through the same struggles he had without so much as lifting a finger.

Hindsight was a bitch and now that he had it, he couldn’t help but give himself a kick in the ass for not doing anything more. Sure, he’d tried his best at giving him a support system, but all he’d really done was fill his gut with booze and show him the quickest way to get a girl into bed, no matter how dead set against it she was at the beginning of the night.

What he should’ve been doing was offering him a couch to sleep on instead of being stoned enough to let him wander his way out the front door and into the night, headed back to that death trap he sometimes called a home. Then again, he knew Wace wouldn’t have ever left Barky by himself for the night, especially not when he was little, not if he could help it - which usually constituted in him being too drunk to make that walk home.

Maybe he hadn’t given him enough couches to sleep on, Coppa thought as he took a drag off his roll-up.

Wace was pouring himself another cupful of the amber liquid, having regained and finished off the rest of his glass in the mere moments the older man had been distracted. Coppa had half a mind to just take the bottle away and see if he’d go along with calling it quits for the evening. The night was still young, but he hadn’t meant for it to turn into a passing out free-for-all when he’d suggested a little drink while Barky was out.

Now that he thought of it, he wished he hadn’t said anything at all because he knew how trashed Wace had gotten the night before. He’d heard him stumbling around the flat when he’d come in early that morning and had seen both of the brothers laid out in the living room before he’d left for work. He didn’t even want to think about who he’d managed to get himself a ride home from at that hour, because knowing Wace, he’d spent every last dime he’d had at the pub.

For someone who’d tried as hard as he had not to, he’d sure ended up just like his father.

“’ey, Wace?” Coppa started, making sure he at least had some of his attention before saying anything else. “I’m thinkin’ maybe we should turn it in for the night.”

“Trunny’s not even back yet,” he answered seamlessly, returning the glass to his lips for yet another drink.

“Yeah, I know.”

Wace turned then, regarding him curiously for second before he spoke. “If you’re tired, go ta bed.”

Coppa felt a stab of annoyance at the flippant tone he’d been given, but he supposed he should’ve expected a response like that before he’d even said anything. “Wasn’t talkin’ about goin’ ta bed,” he added, trying to beat around the bush for a moment longer in hopes of letting Wace make the decision for himself.

“Don’t you fuckin’ start on me, too,” Wace drawled between sips. “I want advice on how ta run my life, you’ll be the first one I run to, okay? But until then…”

“I didn’t mean it like that, Wace, and ya know it,” Coppa defended, feeling his anger level start to notch itself higher by the moment. It seemed like he couldn’t say anything to the man here lately without him getting all defensive about it.

“I tell ya what,” Wace offered sarcastically as he stood, tipping the bottle towards Coppa, “How ‘bout I take this, and I go ta my room, yeah? That way, you don’t even hafta look at me as I drown my misery away. You can sit ‘ere and wander off in your own merry, fuckin‘ world where you‘ve got the answer for ev‘rybody’s problems.”

Bristling at being given the same type of response and attitude Barky would’ve received, Coppa sat his own glass down on the table and ground out his cigarette in the ashtray. “Don’t fuckin’ talk ta me like that - I’m not your little brother.”

“Yeah, well, you’re not my father either,” was the reply that was given just before Wace disappeared around the corner and into his bedroom.

“Best ya start to remember that, mate,” Coppa mumbled as he took the final drink of his bourbon.

Picking up a half-empty pack of cigarettes from under a magazine, he jammed another one into the corner of his mouth and struck a match harshly against the edge of the worn table. Smoke wound round his head as he sat and waited for Trunny to return, wondering whether or not it was worth it to stay up for the man. The longing for distraction won out and he found himself making up an excuse for Wace when enough limes for three were dumped onto the table.

Before long, he found himself forgetting about what had been said earlier in favor of a laugh over something ludicrous that Trunny had mentioned, and by the time he went to bed that night, he couldn’t even remember that Wace had been drinking with them.

Sometimes lying was easier than telling the truth, even if the person you were lying to was yourself.

Chapter Text

Two weeks had passed and things were at an achingly constant level.

Wace still went out and drank almost every night, with the only nights he stayed home being the ones that he couldn't scrounge up enough money to buy any of the harder liquor he'd developed a taste for.

Coppa and Trunny trudged along faithfully, right beside their steadily sinking mate. But neither one of them made any moves to keep him afloat. They'd be damned if they were going to step in front of a speeding train.

Barky still fought the indecision that assaulted him from the time he woke up in the morning until he laid his head down on his pillow at night. He wanted to leave, but felt guilty for even thinking about skipping out on his brother right then. Wace needed him, and as angry as he was at him most of the time, Barky made himself look past it.

But on the flip-side, he saw his presence there as just making things worse. The downhill slide had been a steep one and the speed of their descent seemed to be quickening with each passing day. Would it be any different if he wasn't there?

Would Wace be better off without him constantly reminding him of his mother - the woman he detested so much? He could still hear him saying it now, how much he looked like her, the way he bitterly compared him to her. He was just like her. If he'd hated her that much, wouldn't it only be natural for him to hate Barky, too?

He hadn't even really thought of it that way before. As much as they didn't get along, he never thought Wace would actually dislike him so much as to let it develop into the abhorrence that he had for their mother. Now that he let his mind entertain the idea, it became completely plausible, and even made sense.

But then his consciousness kicked in and told him that he was only thinking that way because he was letting his selfishness take over. It was looking for a way out, a way to escape from having to be in any situation that was even remotely uncomfortable.

He didn't want things to be like that anymore. They couldn't be - it just wouldn't work.

As he sat on the back steps leading up to Wayne's apartment waiting for him to get home, he couldn't keep himself from picking at his cast. From the dry, dirty air that permeated Erskineville, the once-pristine white plaster was now an ugly shade of dingy gray with patches of dust staining the surface.

Even through that, you could still see the black permanent marker that the guys had taken to his arm and signed his cast with. He grinned.

'Stay off the stools, mate.'

Trunny.

'Guess you'll have to use your right hand now.'

Wayne.

'Get well soon, because I'm sick of having to wait on you hand and foot.'

Coppa.

Wace had just signed his name.

He looked up as the rattling engine of Wayne's car sounded his arrival.

"'ey - what're you doin' here, stranger?" his friend asked as he climbed out from behind the wheel.

Barky stood and walked down a few steps to meet him halfway. "Ah, just thought I'd come by and visit."

"Well, ya got a key, mate - why didn't ya go inside? S'bloody hot out here."

Barky stepped back to let Wayne squeeze past him, then followed him up the steps.

"I just thought I'd sit outside for a while. Didn't seem right, goin' in without you bein' here or knowin' I was comin' over or anything."

Wayne grinned. "Don't worry - I don't have any tracked pants on the couch or a hooker hidin' in the closet, waitin' for me ta get home, if that's what you're thinkin'."

Barky just laughed a little and shook his head as he followed his friend inside.

Wayne tossed his keys onto the coffee table and headed into the kitchen. "So what've you been up to these past few days? Haven't seen ya since Saturday. Want a beer?" he asked as he leaned down into the refrigerator.

"Yeah, gimme one. Thanks."

They both took their drinks and headed into the living area, parking themselves strategically in front of the fan that was in the window, blowing semi-cool air into the room.

"I just been...ya know, hangin' around the house."

"Head givin' ya trouble?" Wayne asked, concern in his voice.

Barky shook his head. "Oh, no, no - nothin' like that. Just haven't really felt like gettin' out and doin' much. House is finished - we're just waitin' for someone ta buy it, ya know?"

Wayne nodded and took another long drink from his can. "Yeah - tough break on that, man. I'm sure you'll find somebody else that wants it, though. S'nice house."

"Yeah, yeah, it is," Barky agreed, letting the sweaty can in his hand rest on his knee. "Wace'n Copp, Trunny, too - they been doin' a lotta work on it, tryin' ta fix it up, so it should go pretty quick."

Wayne agreed with a grunt then leaned his head back against the top of the couch.

"When're ya leavin'?"

Barky's gaze shot over to his friend's face, his own masked in confusion. "What're ya talkin' about?"

Shrugging, Wayne closed his eyes and tried to think cooler thoughts. "I just figured you'd stayed your fill by now - prob'ly gettin' itchy ta leave is all."

Slightly offended that his friend had even said something like that, Barky bristled. "No. I'm not leavin' this time, Wayne. I'm stayin'."

"Oh, come on," he countered, letting his head roll to the side so he could look at him as he spoke. "No one'd blame ya if you did - that's for sure."

"And why s'at?"

"Well - your brother, for one thing," he said with a chuckle. "He's a fuckin' bastard."

Barky frowned, suddenly perturbed that Wayne had referred to his brother that way. He didn't have any right. "You don't know what the hell you're talkin' about."

"'scuse me?"

"You don't know what you're talkin' about with Wace. You don't even know the half of it."

Wayne stopped his arm in midair as it was bringing the can of beer to his lips for another drink. "Jesus, what's got inta you?"

"Nothin'," Barky said, upset with himself for letting Wayne's remarks get to him like that. He hadn't even been expecting it.

"Coulda fooled me," he muttered back, under his breath as he took that swig of beer.

Fed up with explaining himself and still more than a little agitated at Wayne's callous remarks, Barky stood from his spot on the couch and made his way for the door.

"I'm gonna head back home, okay?"

Wayne sighed, setting his can on the coffee table and leaning forward heavily on his knees. "Barky, wait," he drawled out aggravatedly. "I didn't mean nothin' about your brother."

"Forget about it," he said with a shrug, reaching for the door handle.

"Well, it's just that half the time he's such a fuckin' dick ta you. I mean...well, I guess I just figured that you'd be pissy toward him, too."

"Yeah, well, not everything is always as it seems," he finished, closing the door behind him a little stronger than necessary.

Chapter Text

"What're you doin' home so early?" Barky asked, shutting the door behind him with a bit of apprehension building in his stomach.

Wace looked up from the beer bottle he'd been so focused on peering into. "Got fired," he answered emotionlessly.

He stopped dead in his tracks.

"Ya got fired?"

"Yep."

'Well,' Barky thought as he looked his brother over, 'He seems to be doin' pretty good. Then again, he's probably drunk.'

"What 'appened?" he asked, walking over to the armchair that faced the couch and slowly taking a seat.

After staring blankly at him for several moments, Wace shook his head and got a look on his face like he'd just noticed that Barky had come home. "Sorry - what?"

"I said 'what 'appened'? Why'd ya get fired?"

He shook his head with a frown, as if he was trying to clear it and come up with the exact answer. "I uh...my boss said I wasn't doin' so good o' work anymore an' that they needed to cut back on employees or somethin'. I...I don' really know."

Barky sighed, more than disappointed at what had happened. "Well...did ya try and talk 'im out of it?"

He looked back over at him with a honest, questioning stare. "Why?"

"'Cause you need a fuckin' job, Wace - that's why," Barky exclaimed, a little more annoyed-sounding than he'd intended to be.

"Look at me, Barky. Look real close."

Though the slow, dullness in his voice still remained, Barky could tell that Wace was a little more 'there' than he just had been and he had to wonder at what was going on through his mind.

"Ya see? Ya see what I am? Nothin'. I don' 'ave anything. I'm fuckin' worthless."

No matter what he'd ever felt toward him or how mad he'd ever been, it hurt Barky to hear those words come out of his brother's mouth. Partly because he knew he believed them, but mostly because he knew they were just an echo of what his father had always made sure to tell them. He shook his head, pleading with him. "Wace, don't say that. S'not true."

"The fuck it isn't. The only thing I got to my name is a shit load of debt and a bloody useless car that's prob'ly gonna get hauled away as it is," he said miserably.

"The bank called as soon as I got home today - soon as I got through the fuckin' door. They're gonna seize the house, everythin' so they can get what they can out of it and get their money. I thought they'd wait a bit with Dad bein' in the hospital an' all, but they won't. There ain't enough time ta find a buyer again, so I'll hafta settle on the price they get out of it and pay off the difference to the hospital prob'ly for the rest of my fuckin' life."

The exhaustion, the bone-weary drag that was in his voice scared him. Barky had been wanting to hold off until he was sure that he could sell it, but knew he couldn't keep it from his brother any longer.

"I got some land," he spat out quickly. "Over on the southeast end of Queensland. M-my boss or foreman...supervisor, or whatever, he-he left it to me. Gave it to me for Christmas, last year."

Through somewhat clearer eyes, Barky could tell that he had Wace's full attention.

"I been makin' some calls and I found out that I can get a coupla thousand dollars out of it. I can sell it - it's worth money, it's good farmland."

"How tha fuck did you know anythin' about this?" Wace growled, suddenly coming alive and leaning forward in Barky's direction.

"C-Copp...'e told me a while back and I been lookin' and tryin' ta -"

"Yeah, well you can fuckin' save it. I don't give a shit what Coppa told ya, but I don' need your help."

Just like that, he was on the defensive and angry.

"That's bull - you do need my help, Wace."

He stood, pointing an accusing finger at his brother and completely ignoring what Barky had said.

"And I don't need your sorry ass around here tellin' me what I do and don't need, ya hear me? You useless, little shit."

Barky wasn't giving up that easily. He saw right through the angry words that Wace was throwing out at him. He knew that he was just upset because of the job, because he'd found out about the money. He knew he'd react like this and he'd prepared himself.

"Wace, don't ya see?" he said, rising to his feet as well. "This can help. I know it won't be a whole lot, but it may be...well, it may be just enough ta tide the bank over 'til we can find someone ta buy the house."

Wace shook his head and rubbed at his eyes tiredly, having worn himself down from his outburst. "No. No, you just...you keep your land, Bark. You keep it and do whatever the hell ya want with it - you may need it some day."

"This is what I want ta do with it, Wace. Jesus Christ - let me help you, ya stubborn bastard."

For a moment he was silent and Barky thought he may have been mulling it over in his head, but from the look on his face when he shook his head, it was obvious that he'd just zoned again out for a second.

Barky decided to try another tactic.

"Well fuck it. Fuck it, Wace - just leave it all and come with me. Ta hell with the banks - we can just go an' get outta here and -"

Wace let out a hideous laugh to cut him off. His face was turned into a painful smile and he was shaking his head at the absurdity of it all. "Yeah. Right. I'll fuckin' take off to the bloody 'wild blue yonder' with you and strap some fences together, maybe chop up some cane sugar - that'll work out real good."

"Well why not?" Barky questioned.

The suggestion seemed perfectly logical to him. There was nothing for them there, why shouldn't they leave together?

Shaking his head still, Wace turned away from his brother. He started pacing in those quick, short steps he was ever so famous for. With his hands on his hips and the scowl that plastered his face he looked quite a menacing sight, but Barky didn't let that put him off for a moment.

"Why not, Wace? Why can't you just come with me?" he repeated.

Turning around on a dime, Wace launched his attack right in Barky's face, wanting to make sure that he heard every word of it. "Because I don't fuckin' run away from my problems like you do dammit! You - you and Mum - you're the ones who run, not me. I've fuckin' stayed this whole time, I'm not gonna take off now."

"Is'at what this is about? You won't go 'cause of your bloody pride?"

Wace let out a harsh bark of laughter. "Pride? Pride? I don't even know what the fuck that is anymore, so I'm pretty sure this isn't about that."

"Well what the fuck is it about? I can't read your mind, Wace - you've made it perfectly clear of that since I've been home."

"Since you've been home you've been nothin' but a pain in my ass - just like you were your entire fuckin', worthless, pathetic life."

He was determined not to lose his cool, but Wace was pushing him to the threshold of what he was able to withstand. He wasn't going to let his brother walk all over him, especially not while he was just trying to offer up his help. "You're not gonna talk ta me like that anymore."

"What're you gonna do? Tell on me ta Mum and Dad? Beat me up, fight back, land a good one on me? Go ahead - I dare you, ya fuckin' pussy," Wace taunted, leaning his head down toward his brother to expose the side of his face. His hands were clenched around one another behind his back.

Barky shook his head in disbelief. "You son of a bitch."

"That's the first thing you've said that's made any sense," he shot back with a vicious sneer.

Barky snapped.

With all of his might, he threw his arm forward, swinging blindly at what he thought was Wace. His brother, however, had the benefit of not being completely shrouded by his rage. One quick step to the side and he was clear of Barky's punch.

With both hands, he took a mighty grip on the arm Barky had swung with and spun him back so he was spread wide open, leaving his middle vulnerable for attack. With a yell, Wace launched himself forward and caught his brother right around his waist, sending them both flying backward to the ground.

Barky lost his breath with a tremendous exhale and felt his world start to shift when he made contact with the floor. As he was struggling to gain his bearings, he felt Wace's fist connect with his jaw and it sent his head spinning.

Mentally, he tried to brace himself as best as he could for the next hit, but it never came. He struggled to a sitting position and coughed, fighting desperately against the panic from not being able to breathe.

"Get the fuck off 'im, Wace!" he heard Trunny shout from somewhere that seemed far off.

As his center of gravity began to come back to him, he opened his eyes to see Coppa and Trunny both on top of his brother, wrestling him to the ground.

Where had they come from?

The door to the living room was still swinging from where it had been slung open so quickly.

His attention shot back to the bundle of arms and legs brawling on the floor when he heard his brother shout out in anger.

“Lemme go! Get the fuck offa me!”

“Come on - settle down, mate,” Coppa’s strained though steady voice urged, but Wace heard none of it.

The obscenities and vicious threats were streaming nonstop out of his mouth and it was everything Coppa and Trunny could do to keep him down on the floor. Their bodies were laid across his, but with the way he was bucking against them it was hard to stay in place.

"Hold still," Trunny grunted as he grappled for position over his legs.

Shakily, Barky stood to his feet, wiping away the blood that was trailing down from his lip. Wace was still thrashing about like a wild animal against his captors, but the shouts had ceased in favor of silent struggle.

From his new vantage point, Barky could see his brother’s face, how it was twisted in anger...panic. The whites of his eyes had completely engulfed the dark hazel and he couldn’t take seeing him like that any longer.

“Let ’im go - let ’im up,” he said softly.

At first, neither Trunny nor Coppa heard him, but when he repeated himself, they both glanced over their shoulders at him with questioning stares.

“Let him go,” Barky said, shaking his head at them.

Reluctantly, they eased their grip on Wace and ended up having to jump back for their own safety as he flew out of their clutches.

For a few seconds, no one moved, they just stared at one another as if they were trying to gauge what the other’s reaction might be. Then, with a huff, Wace took off for the door, slamming it behind him so hard that it didn’t have time to catch so it flung back open.

It only took Barky a split second to decide whether or not he should follow him.

Coppa and Trunny looked at one another and sighed.

“Ya think we should go after ‘em?” Trunny asked, praying silently for his answer to be ‘no.’

Coppa took another look at the door and shook his head sadly. “If they wanna rip one another’s heads off, then there ain’t nothin’ we can do ta stop ‘em.”

*****

“Hey - where tha fuck do ya think you’re goin’?” Barky shouted as he flew down the empty staircase after his brother.

Wace was already twenty feet down the road by the time Barky hit the sidewalk.

The air outside was stifling, almost to the point of suffocating and the midday sun beating down on the dirty streets didn’t help matters.

Even though he could hear him, Wace ignored his brother in favor of walking as fast as he could to get away from the situation. It wasn’t like him to back down, but when he was up in that apartment, on top of Barky - something in him snapped. By the time he’d gotten at least some of his control back, he was on the floor, halfway across the room, pushing himself away from Coppa and Trunny who’d magically appeared out of nowhere.

What if they hadn't shown up?

He had no idea what he’d just done and that scared the shit out of him. The only thing he had to go by were the vivid flashbacks he was experiencing and the painful memories they were stirring up all over again. In one motion, he stripped what was left of his ripped up t-shirt off and threw it forcefully to the ground, never once slowing his pace. He was hot - he felt like he couldn't breathe, and every time he sucked in a breath, it wasn't enough to satisfy him.

“Hey!” Barky called after him, quickening his own walk to catch up to him somewhat. “Get back ‘ere, ya fuckin’ pansy!”

He thought making a comment like that would at least garner some type of reaction, but Wace kept moving like he hadn’t even heard him.

Barky’s step faltered for a brief moment at that.

"Wace."

This time the plea came out as just that. A plea.

"Stop, would ya?"

Barky had caught up to him by then, but had the good sense to stay at least an arm's distance from him in case he went berserk again.

Wace had slowed his step down, but only slightly, though he made it a point not to look anywhere in Barky's general direction.

From the side, Barky could see his jaw clenching tightly and with just the sound of their feet hitting the ground, it was easy to make out the noise from his harsh intakes of breath. As pissed off as he'd been at him earlier, as much as his jaw still stung where he'd been punched, he just couldn't get mad at him. Not when he was like that.

And that was what made him angry.

"You're fuckin' crazy," he spat out heatedly, stepping in front of him to deter his path.

Wace just turned a little to the side and stepped around him, keeping his eyes averted and panting heavily from the emotion coursing within him.

"Much more and you're gonna run yourself inta the ground livin' like this, Wace," Barky taunted, following him step for step. He wasn't used to acting like he was, but being around his brother for that long...well, it just brought some things out in him that he didn't know were there.

"Yeah? Well...maybe ya won't have ta wait too much longer," he shot back, taking only the time to look at him as he spoke before he turned away from him once more.

Barky stopped.

"What the fuck is that s'pposed ta mean?"

"It means whatever you bloody well want it to - you're the one doin' the thinkin', remember? I'm a looney."

"What the hell are you talkin' about, Wace?" Barky ordered, grabbing him by the shoulder and spinning him back to face him.

As soon as he'd done it, he knew it was one of the biggest mistakes he'd ever made.

"Get your fuckin' hands offa me!" Wace shouted, deliberately enunciating each syllable as he spoke them not two inches from his face. "Don' touch me. Ever, ya hear? Keep your hands off."

Even though he was a few inches shorter than his brother, the way he was being lifted by his shirt, Barky could see into his eyes clearly. At the image, he stilled. What he saw reflected back at him was something he'd prayed he'd never have directed toward him.

It was hatred.

Pure, boiling hatred that went all the way down to his soul and climbed it's way back up through every place its razor sharp claws could reach.

"Stay the fuck outta my life."

He almost hadn't heard it, it had been whispered so quietly, but the viciousness in Wace's tone was what brought him back to the present.

Barky took a step back, relieved that Wace had loosened the grip he had on the front of his shirt and not continued wringing it to the point where he was cutting off circulation like he had been.

"I never wanted you here - Coppa had me call. I never asked you ta stay."

There was no need to even say it. Barky had made up his mind the second he'd seen his eyes, but Wace was just driving the point home.

"Get the hell out. Leave. Leave and don' ever come back here. You're not a part o' this an' I don' want anything ta do with ya."

For a moment, he couldn't move. He couldn't do anything. It was a wonder he was still breathing. Was he still breathing? He felt like all the air had been punched out of him and he was looking at the world through water.

He was.

He hadn't even noticed the tears well up in his eyes, but when he did, he wiped them away furiously with a swipe of his hand.

No more was said. Barky turned and left, feeling Wace's eyes boring into his retreating frame the entire way back to the apartment.

Coppa and Trunny saw what he was going to do as soon as he came back to the house. Coppa started to try and get him to stay, but decided against it.

He had all of his stuff packed and was gone within twenty minutes.

Chapter Text

"Why?"

Coppa looked up from the paper he'd been reading on the couch to see Wace's angry form lumbering through the doorway. It seemed like the near hour he'd taken outside hadn't really cooled him off.

"Why what?" he asked, folding the paper in half with a frown, slightly annoyed at the attitude that was being directed at him.

He slammed the door behind him as he stepped further into the room. "Why the fuck did ya tell 'im anythin' about the money?"

Coppa supposed that he wanted him to shout the answer because before he could speak, the other man had disappeared into the kitchen, no doubt to retrieve a beer.

"Because he asked. Because he was worried as hell about ya and I thought he had a right ta know," he said, rising to his feet. He just had a feeling that this was going to be a knock-down-drag-out affair.

"It wasn't any of 'is bus'ness," Wace clipped, striding back into the living room a little more calmer than he'd just been. He stood in the middle of the room for a moment, mulling things over in his head as his moods continued to be at war with one another. In the end, anger won out if the look on his face was of any indication.

"He's your brother, Wace," Coppa stated tiredly after a few seconds. "He -"

"Fuck 'im," he interrupted, shaking his head as he stared off at some invisible spot between the two men and nursed his bottle of beer.

Trunny was still sitting on the couch, looking like he was more than just a little uncomfortable while his two friends had a test of wills directly in front of him. It was kind of hard to ignore, but he'd never been one to back down from the impossible.

"Jesus Christ - can't ya see what you're doin', mate? I mean, he's fam'ly - he deserves ta know. It is his business. And he was only wantin' ta help - ya can't fault 'im for that."

Wace just shrugged his shoulders defensively. "He does it to me, so I can fault 'im for whatever the hell I want."

Ignoring the fact that that was just about the most childish statement he'd ever heard him make, Coppa continued the conversation in favor of probing the comment a little further. "And how s'at?"

When Wace just stared at him for a moment, he thought he was going to ignore the question and either take off for his room or head back outside, but surprisingly enough, he answered him. It wasn't really the type of response he was looking for, but at least he got one.

"You mean that you couldn't tell it? You couldn't even see it in 'is eyes?" Wace said, shaking his head disbelievingly, holding his arms out from his sides. "It was fuckin' right there the whole bloody time."

"What're you talkin' about? Him blaming you?"

"Yeah. Yeah, that's exactly what I'm talkin' about - 'e fuckin' blames me for it all," he shot back, his voice getting a little more strained as he spoke. "He picks up a bad habit - well, he learned ev'rything from me, so it's my fault. He takes off when 'e can't stand it at home anymore - it's because o' me - I didn't make it bearable enough for 'is royal ass. He didn't get any attention from dad - my fault again, because 'e was too busy givin' it all ta me."

Wace threw back the rest of his beer, then in one sweeping motion, launched it against the far wall behind the old television. In the silence of the muggy afternoon, the shattering sound was more explosive than a backfire of a car engine. The hundreds of tiny pieces went scattering across the dingy carpet with some of the smaller ones remaining stuck to the wall along with the liquid that was still in the bottle.

"I tell ya what," he said, jabbing his finger into Coppa's face as he stepped a little closer to him, his chest heaving with emotion. "He doesn't fuckin' want the kind of attention that I got - not in a million bloody years."

Coppa stared at his friend for a moment, fully aware of his proximity and of his volatile state.

Wace held his gaze for what seemed like several minutes until he finally shook his head, ripping his finger away and raking his hand angrily through his hair.

"Yeah," he stated heavily, his voice shaking with rage as he took a few steps away from the couch out into the middle of the room. "He walks around with a fuckin' chip on 'is shoulder like ev'rybody should bow down to 'im or somethin' for all the shit he had ta go through."

He was no longer speaking to Coppa and the older man knew that. The glazed over look in his eyes, coupled with the vicious scowl on his face told him that, as he paced around the room, Wace's mind was in another place entirely.

"I got news for 'im - 'e wasn't the only little kid in that house. He wasn't the only one that had bad shit happen to 'im. He better be glad 'e got what 'e got and that’s fuckin' all."

Trunny looked up from the paper he'd been pretending to read through and shot a worried glance up to his friend that went unseen. Coppa was focused intently on Wace, checking for any signs to lead him to another conclusion than the one he'd just come to, but there were none. He was mentally willing the gears in his mind to stop turning, to stop putting the pieces together - he didn't think he wanted to see the whole picture.

"Wace," he said quietly, hoping to bring him back to the present. "Mate?"

At that, Wace turned his head quickly, his attention snapping back to the two men who'd been watching him. A look of confusion flashed across his face and he started to say something but stopped himself. The large room was suddenly closing in around him and the silence of the space was deafening, like water rushing past his head. He wondered if they could hear his heart pounding in his chest, trying to beat its way out as the panic set in.

"Hey...listen," Coppa started, but Wace wasn't sticking around to hear any of it.

He bolted for the door and even though Trunny tried to cut him off, his leap from the couch wasn't fast enough. The two men took off after him down the stairs and chased him out into the street, calling for him to stop all along the way.

Despite the alcohol he'd consumed, Wace had the kind of stride that some runners could only dream of having and Coppa and Trunny never had a chance. For over two blocks they ran, knowing that it was futile, but not wanting to give up so easily. At about the same time, they both started to slow down, watching the sprinting figure duck around the corner of a dilapidated building as they tried desperately to catch their breath.

"Fuck," Coppa muttered with bated breath, resting heavily on his knees.

Trunny, who had fared better out of the two, wiped at his face and shook the front of his shirt to aerate the moisture that had built up in the short run. “He’s gonna need a shirt,” he said, nothing but seriousness in his voice.

Coppa shook his head as he straightened himself up, keeping his eyes trained on the spot where he saw his friend disappear. “’e’s gonna need a helluva lot more than that, Trun.”

Chapter Text

It was the first day he'd gotten back to work when he got a telegram. It arrived for him at main office house and his boss had taken special care to retrieve him from the field so he could read it.

'Wace missing STOP Three days STOP Come home STOP C'

"Ev'rythin' all right?"

Barky looked up, not sure how long he'd been staring at the slip of paper. "Huh?"

"I asked if ev'rything was okay."

Don, the older man somewhere in his mid-sixties was sitting on the edge of his desk, big arms folded across his broad chest and a look of concern on his face.

"Uh...well." Barky looked at the note again, not sure whether he should be annoyed that he was being dragged back into the mess when it was so obvious he wasn't wanted, or to be worried. It did say that he'd been gone for three days now.

"I-I dunno. Not sure," he answered vaguely, finally tearing his gaze away from the paper.

"Well is there anythin' I can do ta help?"

If it had been anyone else, Barky would've immediately turned the offer down. He would've told him that everything was fine and no worries. But since it was Don, it was different.

He was the man who'd given Barky the spot of land. He was the man who hadn't even batted an eye when Barky told him that he had to go home - indefinitely. He was the man who treated Barky like a son and had pretty much become his surrogate father.

"I dunno...it's just...it's my brother," he answered reluctantly, still uneasy about sharing anything to do with his family situation. Don knew that he'd come from a rough home, but just how rough he'd left up to his imagination.

"He's uh...he's gone missing."

Don's eyes grew wide at the term. "Missing?"

"Yeah."

"W-well, why the hell aren't you headin' out the door for the next train, mate?"

Barky sighed, taking a seat in the old wooden chair that sat below the overflowing cork board. "It's not like that...prob'ly. I mean, he's never really taken off before - s'not really 'is style, but I know he was really upset when I left."

"What was he upset about?" the older man asked, sliding off the desk and coming around to sit his large frame in a desk chair a few feet away from Barky.

Shrugging, Barky thought about being stubborn and try to give him as little information as possible - it was still uncomfortable opening up to someone like that - but he decided against it. Don deserved better than that, especially from him.

"He's upset about ev'rything. Our dad dyin', he got 'imself fired from 'is job, and there's a lot of money that, uh...he owes - for the hospital and stuff."

He'd almost said 'we,' but caught himself. 'We' didn't owe anything, according to Wace. 'He' was the one who was going to take care of it all and 'he' didn't need any of Barky's help - of that much he'd made clear.

"Sounds like 'e's got a lot on 'is mind," Don mused, his brain turning to come up with some way to try and help the kid out. He'd been in tight spots before, many times in his life, and he knew that if it weren't for the grace of friends and family - hell, sometimes even strangers - he would've never made it through as far or as well as he had.

"Yeah...I guess he took off for a while, clearin' 'is head and ev'rything. Prob'ly be back in a few days - he likes ta drink, so he prob'ly just found a new waterin' hole."

It was a good conclusion to come to, especially if you were trying to talk yourself out of even wanting to leave.

"I don't think there's anythin' ta worry about," he added, looking up to see if he'd convinced his boss.

By the expression of the face he had trained on him, it didn't look that way.

"You sure ya don't need to go back home, son? I can spare ya for a few more days if ya really need it."

Clapping his hands on his thighs before he rose to his feet, Barky just shook his head and let out a sigh.

"Well - how 'bout your brother? I mean...can he do any field work?"

"I dunno," he said slowly, a confused smile sliding across his lips. "Why?"

Shrugging, Don stood and headed back over to his desk. He picked up a yellowed file folder and tapped it with his index finger. "Jack Willis took that job out on the road and I got a spot open in the North field. Just wonderin' if he may wanna look into it."

At that, Barky let out a small laugh. "I don't think so, Don. I mean, I really appreciate it, but Wace isn't...he prob'ly wouldn't take too well of havin' ta work near me."

"So the two of you don't get along?"

"You could say that, yeah."

Don nodded his head a few times, scratching at his chin before adding anything else. "Whoever it was that sent ya that...they must be pretty worried about 'im then to go and contact ya like they did, huh?"

Barky faltered. He'd been so sure that he'd made the right decision, but Don had a point. Coppa knew what had happened just before Barky left and more than likely Wace had given him an earful too before he took off. It wasn't really like him to just go and worry about something - or worry other people - if it didn't need to be concerned about.

He looked back at the telegram that was in his hand and read it over once more.

'Come home'

Home.

For a moment, he actually thought about leaving, but then what Wace had said to him, how he'd said it - came back to him.

No, he wasn't going to go home and be at his beck and call just at the drop of a hat. He'd done enough catering to his needs while he'd been back and he was through with it. It was Wace's decision to sever the ties, so he was going to be the one to suffer the consequences. It was time to move on with his own life and not be dragged down by a past that just wouldn't lie.

With a frown, he crumpled up the paper and tossed it into the trashcan.

"They'll make do without me. Always have, always will. It ain't any diff'rent now than it was before I came home."

The older man frowned, sympathy for both the young man in front of him and the situation showing in his bright eyes. "Well...do ya want me ta send a reply? Tell 'em you're not comin'?"

Barky looked like he was mulling it over, but ultimately decided against it. "They'll get the picture eventually," he said, hoping to leave it at that and head back out to the fields.

But the old man stopped him.

"Barky - son, wait. Listen ta me for a second, would ya?"

Though he knew he probably wasn't going to like what he was about to hear, Barky stayed out of respect for the man's request.

"Now...I dunno what happened between you and your family. I'm not gonna even pretend ta know, but it must've been pretty bad...and, I can sympathize with ya 'cause things weren't too good on my home front either, growin' up. But one thing I did learn was that family is more important to ya than anythin' in the world. When ya lose everything else, they're all you've got."

Barky waited, listening to see if he said anymore before he answered him.

"Yeah, but, Don - there ain't anything I can do. How'm I supposed ta be of any good when he don't even want me there?"

"You just gotta be there, mate. Just let 'em know you're there and they'll reach out to you when the time is right. When they're ready."

Nodding his head, but making no commitments right then, Barky gave the wooden doorframe a rap with his knuckles and pushed the front door open again. "I got some more work ta do in the South field before I call it a day," and with that, he disappeared out of the musty, little office.

Don just sighed heavily, more than worried about the young man he'd come to like quite well over the past few years. He bent over with a grunt and reached into the trashcan to pick out the wadded up telegram, reading over it. With a shake of his head, he sat down at his desk and picked up the phone.

The next day, before he'd even made it out to the fields for the morning, Barky got another summons to the front office. His stomach sank as he made his way over to the little hut and he had the sinking feeling that it was something to do with back home.

When he entered the office, Don was there, holding a phone out in his direction. "It's for you," he said grimly, nodding toward the receiver in his hand.

With a questioning look, Barky took the phone and sunk down into a chair that was beside the old, wooden desk.

"Hello?" he said cautiously.

"Barky?"

It was Coppa.

"They found him."

He let out a quiet sigh and rubbed his hand over his face. He'd been more worried about it than he would've like to let on, so it was good to hear the news.

"Fine - I knew he'd turn up sooner or later."

"Barky, listen, ya gotta come home, mate. You -"

"No. I'm not goin' back. I had enough of it the last time I was in. You can tell Wace ta deal with 'is own problems - he made it pretty clear he didn't want my help."

"I can't."

Barky faltered at that. "W-why can't ya?"

Had Coppa said they found him?

There was silence on the line for a moment and just as Barky was about to repeat the question, he heard Coppa take a breath.

"He's hurt."

Barky leaned forward in the seat, wanting to make sure he heard every word that was spoken.

"Hurt? W-well, how bad? I mean, is he okay?" he questioned.

"It's bad," he said slowly. "It's real bad - Bark, ya gotta get home as soon as ya can."

"What the fuck happened to 'im?" he demanded, shooting up from his chair, jerking the phone cradle off of the desk.

Don grabbed a hold of it quickly, keeping his hand on top of it as he stared worriedly in Barky's direction.

"He...he had a wreck. They found him early this mornin' - some trucker drivin' by and he brought 'im to the hospital."

The younger man paced nervously as he listened to the details Coppa was telling him.

"His chest was all busted up and his lungs -"

Barky could hear his voice catch as he was talking and could tell that his friend was close to losing it. He had to admit that he was too, even just standing there listening to him.

"They don't think he's gonna make it, Barky."

It felt like he'd been sucker punched in the stomach and he literally doubled over, gasping for breath.

Don got up from his chair quickly and caught him before he fell over onto the floor.

"What is it? What's wrong?" he asked, bringing them both down to sit on the floor.

Barky shook his head dumbly - Coppa was talking again.

"Yeah. Okay. No, no, that's fine - I'll get there."

It took him a moment to realize that he was talking to someone else.

"Barky?" he asked, coming back on the line. "Barky, they're takin' 'im outta here - they can't treat ev'rything."

"W-where are they taking him?" he finally managed to stumble out.

"Uh, Liverpool - it's in Sydney. Can you get there?"

Nodding his head quickly, though not sure yet of how, he answered 'yes' into the phone.

"Okay. All right, then, I'm headin' off. Trunny called from the road and he's gonna be here in twenty, so I might just meet him on the way out - he was making a run when we found out."

"All right. Just uh...just do whatever they say - let 'em do whatever they think'll be good ta fix 'im, okay?"

"All right."

They both hung up the phone without any further words.

"Where are they sending him?" Don asked, helping to pull Barky to his feet.

"To Sydney. The unit in Erskineville can't...they can't treat 'im."

"Let's go, then."

Barky followed along quickly, not even registering what was going on until he was seated in the passenger side of Don's beat-up, old work truck.

"Where...I mean -"

"I got a friend with a bi-plane," he answered, pulling his cell phone out of his front pocket and beginning to dial. People teased him for having one out there, but this was precisely why he had it. "He owes me a favor and I think it's about time ta ring it in."

Chapter Text

Barky stuffed the money that Jack had given him before he hopped out of his truck into the cabbie's hand. Though the fare was just a little over half the bill size, he couldn't stop and wait for the change - he was just outside Liverpool Hospital and he had to find out what was going on.

The entire trip from the cane farm in Maryborough City to downtown Sydney had taken about an hour and a half and for Barky that was too much time to have lost.

'The past four days is too much time to've lost,' he thought bitterly, not for the first time since hearing the news.

The hospital trauma area was full and he and he had no idea where to look. After pushing his way through small bunches of people to get a good look at the chairs, he cupped his hands together and called out for Coppa.

He got a few annoyed looks, but no reply, so he went about pushing his way through the people again until he ran into a nurse.

"Excuse me - hey!" he shouted, grabbing hold of her arm as she hurried past him.

She tossed an alarmed look his way, but stopped just the same.

"I'm lookin' for my brother - 'e was just brought in a little while ago. They said 'e was in a wreck and that he had to be brought here because of the hospital where we're at couldn't take care of 'im."

Immediately catching on to the worry in his eyes, the tiny woman's demeanor changed completely and she directed him to the nurse's station where he'd be able to find some help.

He thanked her and took off in the direction she'd pointed despite the woman's fading calls for him not to run.

Barky came to a sliding halt at the large booth as his dusty shoes skidded across the tile floor. "'Scuse me," he said breathlessly, leaning over the counter to get the nurse's attention.

She looked up from the file she'd been placing and pushed her wire-rimmed glasses up further on her nose. "Can I help you?"

"Yeah. My brother Wace was brought in a little while ago from Erko and I was wonderin' where I could find 'im."

With a push of her feet, she rolled over easily to the main computer and brought up a screen. "What did you say his name was?" she asked, typing without even looking up at him.

"Wace Allan. He's from Erskineville and it prob'ly didn't take too long to get here, so he might've been here for an hour or so already. They prob'ly just brought 'im in an ambulance, but traffic looked kinda bad and I dunno how long it would've taken 'em in all that."

He was talking, rambling on, really, but the nerves in his stomach were wound so tightly he just had to do something. He could feel his heart pounding in his chest and even though he hadn't run very far at all, his breathing was still heavy from just the emotional exertion.

The nurse frowned, lifting her glasses up from her nose as she read over the screen again. "Hmm...they haven't put in a status report, so I can't tell you where he's at exactly, but I can tell you that he's here. They brought him via ambulance to the trauma center and he arrived here at nine oh eight."

Barky looked at the clock above the nurse station.

That was well over an hour ago.

"Well...do ya have any idea of where 'e might be? I mean, I don't even know what's wrong with 'im - I just got a phone call at work and I came in as soon as -"

"Barky!"

He turned around quickly, more relieved than he ever thought possible to see Trunny's haggard face.

"We're back 'ere, mate," he said, holding the double doors open for him.

Barky took off for the doors, sliding through the one Trunny had pushed open just before it closed on him.

The older man was already several steps ahead of him, so he jogged to catch up, dodging a cleaning cart on his way.

They ended up in a small, curtained-off area in the back of the trauma room. Coppa stood to his feet, looking about ten years older than the last time Barky had seen him.

"Where's 'e at?" Barky questioned, taking note of the empty, flawless bed.

"He's in surgery," Coppa answered tiredly, adjusting the knot in his hair. "He was stable before he went in, but a nurse came by about twenty minutes ago and said he had a seizure while they were operatin' on 'im."

"Shit," Barky mumbled beneath his breath, running a hand through his sweat damp hair, causing it to stick up on end. "What happened?"

Coppa only sighed and sat back down in his chair with a listless drop. It took him a moment, but he finally shook his head, bringing some life back into his body.

"He rammed your Dad's old car into the train trestle out by the riverbed. Truck driver came along just after it happened and saw him stumblin' around out in the road - almost hit 'im. He said he was talkin' for a minute or two, but was havin' a lotta trouble breathin', then he just passed out in the cab on the way to the hospital."

"Well, what's wrong with 'im? Do they know yet?"

Shrugging, Coppa slid over an extra chair in Barky's direction, then sat back and linked his fingers behind his head.

"Head's split open at the top - they said he prob'ly hit it against the windshield 'cause the glass was cracked and bloody. Didn't have 'is seatbelt on and the only thing that kept 'im from flyin' outta the car was that steerin' wheel. Bloody thing's so huge it caught 'im and held 'im in they said - that's why his chest is so messed up. Lot of broken bones up in 'is ribs and shoulders. Might be somethin' wrong with his intestines - they were havin' ta open 'im up ta see."

"H-how long do ya think it'll be til we know somethin'? I mean, have the nurses come back and told ya anymore, or -"

"They don't really know. When the girl came back and told me about the seizure, she said they'd have to wait until they took care o' that before they could start in on 'im again. Plus, they didn't know how bad the rest of 'im was hurt."

If there was ever a time Barky thought he was going to vomit just from hearing something, it was at that moment. The pounding in his chest that he'd felt earlier was nothing compared to what it had turned into. The beating, the thumping was coursing its way through his body, down his arms and legs, up into his head. The sound it created was deafening.

He wanted to stand, but the lightheadedness he was feeling shoved him back down into his chair the moment he left it. He vaguely recalled feeling someone's hand on his arm - Trunny's? - but everything else was just a blur.

He thought he might pass out.

"Barky? Barky, just put your head down, mate. Take a few deep breaths and just take it easy, okay? It's gonna be all right."

"No. No - 'e's gonna die. 'e's gonna fuckin' die, I can feel it," he said angrily, placing either hand on the sides of his head and gripping his hair painfully tight. It was the only thing he could do to calm himself - to give him focus.

"Yeah - go ahead an' say that," Coppa snapped, casting a pointed stare in Barky's direction, even though the younger man wasn't even looking at him. "You go ahead an' think it, too - that's just what Wace'd want. Give 'im a reason ta get better, just so 'e could prove ev'ryone wrong."

He sat back in his chair with a huff, tossing a leg over his knee and crossing his arms fitfully. He hadn't been able to get comfortable in that bloody chair for the past hour. The frustration was showing on his face clearly, but that didn't stop Trunny from frowning at him.

"Copp," he said easily, shaking his head for him to leave Barky alone.

Coppa just closed his eyes and let his head fall back, rolling it back and forth between his shoulders.

The past three days had taken a toll on him. When he hadn't been at work, he was out combing the streets, looking for Wace. He and Trunny had checked every possible spot they thought he might be - they'd even gone so far as to ask Jen if she'd seen him.

She hadn't, but she said she'd be on the look-out for him.

The old house was empty when they went and searched it. Looked just as clean and untouched as the day they'd left it, which had been well over two weeks prior.

They checked the local bars at every hour - no one had seen him. They even checked a few of the pubs in the neighboring suburbs, but they all had the same answer.

It was as if he'd vanished for three days, then chosen that morning to make his presence known on earth once again.

Coppa scratched at his head, letting his hair down for what was probably the tenth time that morning and running his hands through it. It was a nervous gesture. One he never did. He was never nervous - at least not like that.

The nurses hadn't said much to him, other than briefed him on the injuries, so that left his mind to theorize all of the possibilities.

Maybe it wasn't that bad.

Then again, if it wasn't that bad, they would've been told more information wouldn't they? Things wouldn't've been so secretive.

Nah.

That was just how hospitals worked. People got told things when they absolutely had to know them, not just as soon as they happened.

Besides, that trucker bloke had said Wace was talking. That was a good sign, right?

He also said that he just passed out.

He let out a frustrated sigh that caught the attention of Trunny, who was sitting quietly in his chair on the other side of the bed.

Barky had taken to pacing at the foot of it, poking his head out between the curtains every few seconds to see if he could spot a doctor or nurse - someone - coming toward their area. A few times he'd stopped one, grabbing them by the arm and asking them if they'd heard any word. None of them were even familiar with the situation, so they were sorry, but they couldn't be of any help.

For hours it went on - no one saying anything, no one knowing anything. The lack of word from the hospital staff only put them more on edge, each man dealing with it his own way.

Barky paced, wearing a trench in the tile. Coppa tapped his foot, unconsciously keeping rhythm with some beeping machinery in the next 'room.' Trunny stared silently at the bag of clothing and personal articles they'd stuffed under the gurney, his mind wandering between trying to come up with something he could've done differently to've had Wace stay home...and if he ever got a shirt. The temperature dropped at night...he would've been cold if he hadn't.

"Barky?"

The younger man stopped in his tracks, rocked out of his pacing by the deep voice coming from the corner.

"Yeah?" he asked, turning toward Coppa.

"Sit the fuck down."

For a moment, it looked like he was going to argue, but thankfully enough, he trudged over to his seat, though not without taking one more peek out into the hallway.

"What time s'it?" he asked Trunny, drumming his fingers on his thigh.

Estimating the time before he actually looked at it, Trunny glanced down at the digital screen and smirked.

Only twelve minutes off.

"It's six fourteen."

Shaking his head, Barky closed his eyes, willing himself to believe something other than the worst. But it was hard. No matter the situation, the worst just seemed to follow him.

"What could be takin' 'em so long?" he asked, not really expecting to get an answer.

"S'prob'ly a good thing," Trunny commented absently, leaning back in his chair and stretching his legs out in front of him.

Coppa frowned heavily and looked at his friend like he was the biggest moron on the planet. "How the bloody fuck is'at a good thing?"

Trunny closed his eyes, ignoring the tone of his friend's voice and letting his head fall back into the cradle that his interlocked fingers created. "The way I figure it - they wouldn't be workin' on 'im if there wasn't any hope, if he was gonna die, right? Yeah, they been in there a shit load o' hours now, but it's a good thing. Means that 'e's still got a chance. He's still alive."

Chapter Text

"Daniel Copeland?"

Three heads shot up and Coppa stood to his feet as a nurse entered their little area.

"Tha's me," he said, stepping closer to her with a worried expression on his face.

"You're Mr. Allan's...next of kin, I assume?" she asked, looking over the papers attached to the clipboard in her hand.

"No," Barky said quickly, rising to his feet as well. "That's me. I'm 'is brother, Barky - uh, Barclay. Barclay Allan."

"Okay," she said, handing Barky the clipboard. "I'll need you to fill out his insurance details. It should've been done hours ago, but we've been overloaded today and it slipped through the cracks."

"I don't...I mean, I have no idea what any of his information is," he said, shaking his head apologetically.

The nurse sighed, the strain of her job evident on her face. "Well, do ya know where 'e worked?"

Barky threw a look to Coppa, staring at him as he spoke. "He uh...he worked at the shippin' yard at the edge of town durin' the week and then part-time over at Nick's garage, but he just got fired a few days ago from the yard," he added, worry beginning to fill his stomach over what that could possibly mean.

"Well, how long ago was it that he got fired?"

"Four or five days, maybe?"

"Okay. How about you find 'is card with all the details on it and just put the information down anyway. A lotta times the carriers'll let the policy run until the end of that month, or the pay period. If ya can't find the card, the next step'll be ta contact the shippin' yard."

With that, the woman turned on her heels and left, not another word of explanation.

Trunny reached down, as he was still sitting, and grabbed for the plastic bag that was under the gurney. He dumped the contents out on the bed and pulled out the soiled pair of jeans in search of his wallet. They had dirt ground into them, but it looked fresh.

Barky watched as Trunny rifled through his wallet, dumping pretty much everything that was in the card slides onto the bed, next to the old button-up shirt. The old button-up shirt that was covered from grease and oil from the garage and stained a sickly reddish-brown all around the collar and down the front.

He closed his eyes as the image of his brother, blood gushing from his head and stumbling around out in the middle of nowhere, by himself, assaulted his mind.

"I found it," Trunny announced, tossing the beat-up leather billfold onto the bed and taking the clipboard gently from Barky's hand.

Barky opened his eyes again, looking down as his friend transferred all the necessary information down onto the papers. He brought his eyes up to the bed and the pile of random cards and paper that now littered its surface.

He picked up the wallet, looking through the items that were beneath it, then began to take out what was left inside.

A receipt for an alternator and a pack of gum from an auto parts store dated three days ago.

Two foils of condoms, both worn around the edges. One of them slightly opened and dried out completely.

A plastic card with nine holes punched in it. On the tenth one, he got a free haircut.

A small picture of him and Jen, stuffed haphazardly behind his driver's license. They were eating watermelon at a picnic table. She was smiling and he was wearing his usual unreadable stare.

He tried to tuck the picture back into its slot, but it wouldn't go. He tried again, but it rubbed up against something. He took the picture out, then squeezed the wallet so he could slide his finger down into the hole.

The paper he pulled out was thick and creased heavily, like it'd been opened and re-folded on numerous occasions. He tossed the wallet onto the bed, then opened it up, already knowing it was another photograph.

When he saw the image, his felt his throat close up on him.

It was the picture of him and Wace that he'd found when he first came back home. He knew it was the same one because of the stain in the top right-hand corner.

Wace must've found it when he and Trunny were cleaning in the garage. Why had he kept it with him? Why had he wanted a bitter reminder of their childhood to take with him every step of the way?

He squinted, trying to see through the tears that had slid into his eyes.

He hadn't even noticed they were smiling. Not then and not the first time he'd looked at it either. But they were, clear as day like none of the bad in the world had ever touched them. He supposed that at that time it hadn't. Kids didn't smile unless they had a reason - he didn't doubt that they were the same.

"Barky?"

His head snapped up, not sure which of the other two men in the room had spoken.

Trunny was looking up at him then, taking a break from the paperwork, but it was Coppa who'd said something.

"You okay, mate?" he asked.

Nodding, he stuffed the picture in his back pocket and began to sort through the tiny pile of effects that had migrated to the center of the bed. After they were all replaced accordingly, he stuck the wallet in his other back pocket and went to sit down.

About that time, the nurse returned to their area, looking for the clipboard. Trunny handed it to her, clipping the pen on his shirt pocket shamelessly.

“Listen, I’m gonna have ta move you guys to another area. We’re gonna be needing this room in a minute.”

She motioned for them to follow with a wave of her hand, then disappeared out into the hallway. Barky gathered up the rest of Wace’s clothes and stuffed them in the bag while Coppa took off after her and Trunny waited somewhere in the middle.

They ended up in the Intensive Care Unit waiting room on the third floor of the building.

“This is where they’ll most likely bring ’im,” she said, motioning to the room that lay behind the floor-to-ceiling windows.

It had a few beds in it, but from where the three sat, it looked as empty as the waiting room.

“Do ya know when that might be?” Trunny asked, checking his watch once again.

The nurse just shrugged. “I have no idea - these things’re diff’rent from one patient to the next.”

She started to leave again, but stopped, letting her usually all-business demeanor fade away for a brief moment. “Ah, listen - you guys need anythin’, just let me know, okay? I’ll be downstairs, runnin’ about somewhere.”

All three of them nodded, grateful for the offer, but doubtful they’d take her up on it.

They were silent for several minutes after she left and it was Trunny to break the ice. “Anybody hungry?” he asked, standing to his feet.

No one had even thought about food, but it was well into the evening and none of them had eaten.

“I bet the cafeteria’s still open downstairs - ya wan’ me ta bring somethin’ up?”

“I could use a beer - or eight,” Coppa said, only half-joking.

“I doubt they got that down there, mate, but I’ll try an’ scrounge somethin’ up for ya, how s’at?”

“Ah, just get me a sandwich - somethin’ without any veg’tables on it. I don’ want it all soggy.”

“How ‘bout you?” he asked, turning to Barky.

“Bark?” he repeated when he got no indication that he’d heard him.

“Wha - huh?”

“I asked if ya wanted anythin’ ta eat. I’m goin’ down to the cafeteria they got and bringin’ some stuff up ‘ere.”

“Oh. Nah,” he said, shaking his head and feeling nauseous at the very mention of food. Then again, it could’ve been the fact that he hadn’t eaten anything since the night before.

“Ya need somethin’ in your stomach, mate. I’ll bring ya up somethin’ good,” Trunny said, leaving the conversation at that.

He’d been gone for three minutes when two doctors strode wearily into the room.

“You must be the Allan family,” the older one said, extending his hand to each of the men. His strong voice penetrated the silence of the room and let them know immediately that he was an American.

“I’m Patrick Moreland, one of the surgeons that worked on Mr. Allan. This is Ben Ganlan, who also assisted during the operation,” he added, nodding his head toward the much younger man that was beside him.

“I’m Wace’s brother, Barky,” he offered, taking his hand. He motioned his free hand toward the man standing next to him. “This is ‘is best friend.”

“Coppa,” he supplied, shaking both men’s hands quickly. “What’s the news on ‘im, Doc?” he asked, not wanting to wait another second.

Looking around for a moment, but seemingly satisfied that they were alone, Dr. Moreland motioned toward the chairs.

“How about we all sit down for a moment, shall we?” he said, pulling a seat around for them to sit in a sort of semi-circle.

“Now, I don’t know well you’ve been briefed on Mr. Allan’s condition, but to bring you up to date on them, he suffered serious injuries to the upper third of his body. The trauma was seemingly concentrated in the chest area, but,” he paused, taking a deep breath and taking off the surgery bonnet he still had on his head, “those are the least of our concerns at the moment. The damage that he suffered to the abdominal cavity is really very minimal compared to what we were expecting. There's bruising on the liver and a partially ruptured diaphragm, but we were able to repair that during surgery and I foresee no further complications from it."

The sighs of relief were audible within the tiny waiting area.

"W-well, about the rest of 'im?" Barky asked, not sure if he wanted to hear it or not. The grim set of the surgeon's face was enough to let him know that it wasn't good.

Before continuing, the older man - somewhere in his mid-seventies - removed his glasses and rubbed at the bridge of his nose tiredly. It had been a long session and he'd been there for the entire duration.

"The uh...the damage to the thoracic cavity wasn't as extensive as we believed it to be when we first received him. He only has a punctured lung, which is really quite remarkable considering the trauma focused on that area. The real problem, however, lies with the injuries he received to his head."

He paused for a moment, trying to allow what he’d just said to sink in. When he started up again, he had to catch himself from slipping into the medicalese he’d been speaking for the past ten hours and explain what had happened in layman’s terms.

“He didn’t have his seatbelt on and from the toxicology report we know that his blood alcohol content was point one three - which is well above the legal limit.”

Barky’s head fell and he let out an audible moan. He’d been praying all along that wasn’t the case, but somehow, he knew in the back of his mind that’s what had been the cause of it.

“The impact of the car sent him flying forward into the windshield where he suffered a tremendous blow to the head. The blow itself caused a complete fracture in the frontal bone - which is his forehead, but more than that, it did damage to his brain.”

“What are ya sayin’? I mean - what’s wrong with ’im? Did ya fix ’im or not?” Coppa asked, his worry voicing itself in the form of anger. He already had a good idea of what he was going to be told, and that just made him even more upset.

“What I’m saying is that, because of the areas that were damaged, from the tests we’ve run, there’s a good chance that your friend - your brother,” Dr. Moreland added, looking pointedly at Barky, “Won’t be able to speak - if he ever awakens. There’s also a chance that he’ll have difficulty with his motor skills and possibly -”

“Whaddya mean ‘if he ever awakens’?” Barky asked, suddenly coming out of his daze that he’d been in for the past few minutes.

“He’s in a coma right now. Granted it’s induced, but he would be in one anyway if it weren’t for the medication.”

“You said that ‘e wouldn’t be able ta talk. What about when he first had the wreck? The guy - the trucker that picked ‘im up - ‘e said he was talkin’. The man said that Wace was talkin’.”

This time is was Coppa, who was about two seconds from jumping up from his chair. He couldn’t believe this was happening. He’d expected broken bones not a permanent coma.

“That’s not uncommon for victims who've experienced brain trauma,” the doctor explained patiently, having had to go over something like this more times than he’d ever hoped to in a career. “You see, with a blow that substantial, it sends the brain for a loop and it has to have time to reset itself. It’s during that time that persons suffering the trauma are up and about, seemingly normal. But, once the brain is back on course, it can take note of the injury and that’s where they lapse into the coma.”

“So you’re sayin’ that Wace is just gonna be in that coma - for however long - and then, if he ever wakes up, he’ll be a fuckin’ invalid?” Barky demanded, not even caring that his voice rose above the fierce whisper they’d been using. He anger had sent him far beyond politeness.

“There’s a chance that none of that may occur, and there’s also the possibility that it may happen in only small amounts. And that’s not to say without therapy, he can’t make a semi-meaningful recovery, but the facts we are dealing with now tell us otherwise.”

“That’s bullshit,” Barky answered, standing to his feet and distancing himself from the half-circle. “You don’t even believe what you’re sayin’, I can tell. Besides, I don’t give a good, bloody fuck what you say anyways. Wace’ll get better. You find a way ta tell ‘im what ya just told me and see what happens.”

“Barky,” Coppa warned, having purposefully calmed himself down a bit. He didn’t want the younger man to explode in the waiting room. No matter how he felt at the moment, he’d dealt with his brother on more than one occasion during one of these situations and it wasn’t a pretty sight.

“When can I see ‘im?” Barky asked, fully ignoring Coppa’s plea.

“They’ll be bringing him down within the next half hour,” Moreland answered, rising to his feet.

He took a good look at the two angry men that were before him and felt nothing but sorrow for them. He knew all too well the emotions they were experiencing and held nothing against either of them.

“I’ll send a nurse in to let you know when he’s been relocated.”

And with that, both doctors were gone.

“You read the tests, Pat,” Dr. Ganlan said quietly as the two of them made their way down the hall to the elevators. “You don’t actually believe that -”

“No. He’ll be a vegetable - if he makes it that far,” he added tiredly, flipping through the chart he had in his hands.

“Well then why? I mean, why tell them any of that?” the younger man asked, stepping into the elevator with his mentor.

“You gotta give ‘em something to hold onto, Ben. Without that, they’re just flailing in the wind.”

He pressed the button for the fourth floor.

“Besides, if the boy’s got any of the fight in him that I just saw in his brother, we may just be eating our words eventually.”

Chapter Text

The lighting in the room was dim, but the bruises and cuts all over his pale body stood out sharply against the white he was surrounded by.

White blankets draped across his legs. White hospital gown sagging loosely against his shoulders. White electrodes attached to his chest. White bandages wrapped round and round his head. White tape holding his eyes closed.

He never thought he'd live to see the day that his brother was hooked up to a ventilator. He tried to make himself move forward, but he was as close to the bed as his brain would allow his feet to go.

Of all the times he'd let the tears come to his eyes throughout the day, he thought that this would most likely be the time they'd hit full force.

But they didn't.

They wouldn't come and his eyes were dry as a bone.

Maybe it was because there weren't enough tears within him to cry out all that needed to be cried.

He thought about it for a moment.

He had a lot to cry for.

He could cry for himself, the guilt he felt. The guilt over having left - having left when he knew that he shouldn't. Guilt over not having been strong enough to be the kind of help that his brother needed. Just...guilt.

And then there was Wace. He could cry for the hurt he was going through. The hurt that he'd been through. The hurt that had left him feeling like he didn't have any other options. That had made him -

Wait.

Where the hell had that come from?

He slammed his eyes shut, as if by not looking at what was in front of him would push the obvious from his mind.

He'd had plenty of time throughout the day to come up with all sorts of possibilities and the tickling nag that had been at the back of his mind for the better part of it was starting to rear its ugly head.

He'd been alone. Completely alone.

No.

He didn't have any where else to turn. He didn't have any other options.

Stop.

Because of you. You're the one that took all that away.

"Stop it!"

The noise from his shout was what brought him back to the room, pulled him out of the snares of his own mind.

The nurse who'd been readjusting the leads to some of the machinery looked up, startled, then frowned.

"Excuse me?" she asked, halting her movements for the time being.

Barky looked at her like he'd just realized she was in there.

"Uh..." he fumbled, running a shaky hand through his hair.

He looked back down at the bed and had to shut his eyes again.

"Is something wrong?" the nurse asked, stepping around the bed and walking in his direction. "Are you okay? Do you need me to get someone?"

She reached out to his arm, in an attempt to comfort him from whatever might've been going on, but he jerked away from her like her touch had burned him.

In turn, she moved back, now completely unsure of the situation. She'd worked in the ICU for a good number of years and she'd never had to deal with someone reacting like that before.

His stare went from the nurse, to the bed, to the nurse and back again, all the while his breathing becoming more rapid.

The woman was worried he might start to hyperventilate. "Do you need me to call someone?" she asked once more, edging her way over to the call button next to the bed.

Barky just shook his head quickly, taking a few steps backward and out of the designated area that they'd given to his brother. He let out a startled cry when he bumped into something solid.

"Barky?"

He turned quickly - it was Coppa coming in for his turn to see Wace.

The older man had a tight hold on his shoulders, as if he was unsure if he would even be able to stand on his own with the way he was wobbling about.

Giving the bed a quick glance, he immediately read the situation and eased his grip. "It's gonna be okay, kid," he said assuredly, pushing him toward the curtained area once more.

Barky dug his feet into the ground, not wanting to go any further. "No," he protested weakly, turning his head and doing his best to keep his distance from that hideous bed.

"Come on," Coppa pushed lightly, taking him by his arms and doing his best to lead him to a chair. "He needs you, all right? Ya gotta be here for 'im. Ya gotta be strong for 'im."

He was trying his hardest to reassure the young man that his brother was going to make it, but one look at the battered heap that lay motionless in the bed and he began to have his own doubts.

Barky slithered feebly into the seat that was next to the bed and buried his face in his hands. "He's gonna die, Copp," he sobbed, the tears finally coming. "He's gonna die and the last thing I remember thinkin' about 'im before I left was that I hated 'im."

Coppa was silent.

What could he say to that?

There was nothing.

He didn't want to dash the boy's hopes, though, from the sound of it, he didn't have any left, but it was ridiculous to deny the inevitable. So, he cleared his throat and spoke his mind.

"Maybe uh...maybe we should...call some people - anyone that might wanna see 'im...ya know..."

He let his shaky voice trail off, unable to express completely what he felt was certain. He couldn't remember the last time he'd cried, but the feeling that he was about to was weighing heavily upon him.

Barky lifted his head and wiped at his running nose, unable to look Coppa in the eye. Almost imperceptibly he nodded, feeling another rush of tears come on at the finality of it all.

He racked his mind to come up with some people to phone in, but the truth was, Wace hadn't exactly endeared himself to many during his time on earth, save a select few.

Nick? Though, he'd probably just be upset that he was going to lose the best mechanic he'd ever had.

No. He wasn't going to call him.

Davy and Winston from the pub? Better hold off on bringing his drinking buddies in.

He sighed. Pretty much the only people that he mattered anything to were already in the hospital.

No. Wait.

"D'ya think Jen'd come?" he asked quietly, putting his hand on Barky's shoulder.

In the minutes that Coppa had been mulling things over, Barky had somewhat gotten a hold of himself and was able to answer him this time.

"Yeah," he said, clearing his throat loudly. "Yeah, she'd prob'ly...I mean, she'd at least wanna know. I dunno whether she'll come up or not."

"Would you like for me to call anyone?"

Both men looked up suddenly, having forgotten the nurse that was still in the room. She had some extra wiring rolled up under one arm and laid another blanket across the end of the bed, tucking it around Wace's feet.

"I'm sorry?" Coppa asked, unsure of what she'd just said.

"I asked if you wanted me to call anyone. I'd be more than willing to so that you could..." she finished, motioning to the lifeless form on the bed.

"No. I'll do it."

Coppa looked down, surprised to see that Barky had spoken.

"Ya sure about that, mate?" he asked, wanting to give him an out in case he'd just said it on the spur of the moment.

Rising from the chair, he nodded, not saying another word as he disappeared behind the curtain and out into the hall.

Coppa slid into the vacated seat, letting out a soft sigh as he leaned over slightly toward the bed. He wanted to reach out, to put his hand on the bed rail, possibly even give Wace a pat...somewhere he wasn't bruised just to let him know that he wasn't alone.

Taking in the purplish colors and swollen state of the arm that was resting in front of him, he decided against it. He didn't want to hurt him.

"You can touch 'im."

He lifted his head quietly toward the nurse who looked as if she was finally content to leave the room now that she'd set everything up accordingly.

"A-are you - I mean, you're sure? It-it won't hurt 'im?" he asked nervously, his eyes falling back to Wace's still form.

"No. It's good - it's good to let 'em know that you're there."

"But I thought he..." his voice trailed off.

The genuine sympathy that shone in the nurse's eyes was unmistakable. She switched her wiring to the other arm and reached out her hand to put on Coppa's shoulder.

"Sometimes it's best not ta listen to what the doctors tell ya, lad," she said kindly, letting her eyes trail slowly over the body that lay quietly in the bed. "They know. They know when someone's here, when someone's around waitin' for 'em. And you know your friend - don't give up on 'em and they won't give up on you," she said, ending her speech with a soft squeeze.

*****

Barky let out an aggravated breath as the answering machine picked up for the third time in a row. He decided to leave a message this time, knowing that he had no other way to get a hold of her.

"Uh...Jen? This is - this is Barky, Wace's brother. Uh, listen..."

Shit. Why hadn't he thought of anything to say instead of listening to her tell him that he should wait for the beep and leave his name and number? He couldn't exactly do what she'd said - he had to explain to her what happened, though it felt wrong on so many different levels to do it like that.

"Hello?"

"Jen?" he asked, hoping his sigh of relief hadn't blasted her away on the other end of the phone.

"Yeah, it's me."

She sounded a little breathless.

"I just got in from the store. I heard the phone ringing from outside, but I couldn't get in fast enough," she supplied and he could hear her clattering about with the bags in the background.

He still couldn't think of anything to say.

"Barky?" she asked after he was quiet for several moments.

"Yeah - Jen, uh...I need ta tell ya somethin'," he answered, finally finding his voice.

All the noise in the background stopped.

"What's wrong?" she asked, worry replacing the carefree tone she'd been using just moments ago. "What happened?"

From the way she'd said it, Barky knew that she knew it had to do with Wace. That didn't make it any easier.

"Listen...you may - you may wanna sit down or something," he said slowly, wanting to use every available second he had to keep from breaking the news to her. He didn't know if she had the same feelings for Wace any longer, but...he knew that she'd loved him once. That much had been clear.

"What the hell is the matter, Barky?" she demanded, patience wearing thin from the apprehension bearing down on it.

"It's Wace."

He heard her breath catch in her throat, but decided to go on and say it. To make it quick.

"There was an accident - 'e was hurt real bad."

"Is 'e alive?"

The question threw him for a second. He'd expected some sort of....he didn't know - emotional outburst? Something that women were prone to do. Instead, he got a question delivered with a stoic tone and he could barely stammer out an answer.

"W-well, yeah, b-but that's kinda why I was callin' ya. The doctors...the doctors are sayin' that 'e might not -"

"Jesus...it's...I mean - is it that bad?"

"Yeah. It's that bad. We thought that maybe you'd...that we should tell you in case you wanted ta..."

"Yeah - sure. I'll uh, I'll come. W-where are you?"

"We're at Liverpool - in town. They've got 'im hooked up in the ICU, but somebody'll be downstairs for ya when ya get 'ere."

*****

"Wace Allan. A-L-L-A-N," she spelled, becoming more aggravated by the second at the senile old woman who was manning the front desk.

"I don't...oh...oh, okay," she said shakily, not even noticing the mood of the young woman in front of her as she pointed at the screen that was visible only to herself. "Here he is...he's in the Intensive Care Unit - on the third floor," she said, turning her wrinkled face back to Jen with a pleased smile.

"Jen!" Trunny shouted, jogging across the front lobby of the hospital's main entrance. "Sorry," he said breathlessly. "I thought you'd've gone to the trauma entrance so that's where I was waitin'."

He took her by the arm and led her back toward the elevators, hoping that they didn't take as long as they normally did.

"So what's the word?" she asked, eyeing him anxiously as they waited.

Trunny shrugged, unsure of what he should say. He didn't know exactly what Barky had told her on the phone, only that he'd said she was coming and that he needed to meet her downstairs.

"It's uh...well..."

"It's okay, Trun," she offered, turning away from him and stepping into the elevator as the doors slid open.

"I knew it was him," she said quietly, though her voice resonated loudly in the silence of the tiny compartment.

Trunny turned his head in interest, but left it up to her as to whether she would go on or not.

"I heard about it this afternoon - that there had been a wreck and I thought -" she stopped abruptly, cutting herself off with a curt laugh. She gripped her purse tightly. "I dunno what I thought. I definitely didn't think this, but I just had a feeling..."

Offering what little comfort he could, Trunny placed his arm around her shoulder and pulled her closely to him. She didn't resist the hug, but said no more as they stepped off the elevator together.

The walk to the unit was a short one, but as soon as she found herself outside the room, she stopped. She couldn't make herself go in.

Trunny felt her turn, but held onto her tightly, steering her toward the doorway once more. He could see Wace's feet from where he was standing and he was sure that she could too.

"It's okay," he whispered softly into her ear.

She shook her head repeatedly, trying to curl back and go into the hallway, but he wouldn't let her.

"Come on."

By then, Barky and Coppa had noticed she was there and had risen from their seats. Coppa slid past the two of them and headed off by himself down the corridor.

"Jen?"

She looked up from where she'd buried her face into Trunny's shoulder and Barky could see the tears that had filled her eyes.

"I-I can't," she said unsteadily, wiping at her face and shaking her head quickly.

"Jen - please?" Barky asked, not sure why he was suddenly so intent that she see him.

He didn't know what did it. Maybe it was the look that he'd given her, or maybe she had some sort of personal realization, but eventually she nodded her head.

Trunny let go of her then and Barky led her into the room slowly, blocking much of her view of Wace with his body until they were fully inside the room.

He heard the door click behind them.

The only noise in the room was the steady click and hiss from the ventilator and the gentle beeping coming from various machinery surrounding the bed.

He looked down at the silently shaking form beside him and pulled her into his arms.

"Shh," he comforted, rubbing her back gently. "It's -"

He started to tell her it was going to be okay, but stopped.

It wasn't going to be okay, so he wasn't going to feed her that line of bullshit.

She hadn't even been able to make herself look at him yet.

"You wanna talk to 'im?" he asked, pulling away from her slowly and giving her some room to breathe.

At first, she made no move to respond, but then slowly shook her head, still keeping her eyes averted from the lifeless figure that lay only a few feet away.

He stepped back a little further, leaning down slightly so he could get a look at her face. "You want me ta go outside?"

She almost said 'don't' but stopped herself.

If this was it, if this really was the last chance she had to say good-bye to him, then there were some things she needed to say in private.

Stretching up to give him a quick kiss on the cheek, she squeezed the hands that still held on tightly to hers. "I just need a few minutes," she said, using the precious seconds she had while Barky was still in the room to gather herself, just so she could lose it again.

Nodding, Barky slowly retreated back out into the hallway, letting the door fall shut once again.

From his spot by the large floor-to-ceiling window, he could almost hear the gasp she must've let out as her hand shot to her mouth. He thought for a moment that he might need to go back in there, but she found her way to the chair and was able to sit down before she fell.

For several long minutes he waited, the background noise of doctors being paged and carts rolled about drowning out the sobbing that he knew was coming from the room. He couldn't bear to watch any longer as her shoulders shook almost uncontrollably as she sat, hunched over in that...damned chair.

He tried to distract himself, tried to find some sort of half-hearted interest in the orchestrated chaos that was the third floor of the hospital, but he couldn't. His gaze kept falling back to what lay just beyond the window, though he couldn't help but feel just a little bit like a voyeur as he watched the obviously intimate moment between the two of them.

Much calmer than she'd been just moments before, she took his hand in hers, laying it gently atop her open palm while she let her fingers dance lightly over his swollen skin. At some point, she'd brought the sidebar down and was resting her head against the thin mattress. He could see her lips moving, but had no idea of what she was whispering to him, and he knew it was a whisper, despite the fact that they were alone. Even in the darkness of the room, the light from above the bed captured the sparkle of the tears in her eyes.

He thought back to earlier when he'd wondered if she still loved him and shook his head at how wrong he'd been.

Chapter Text

Barky fought the wave of consciousness that was streaming over his mind, but the voices in the room had awoken him and he just couldn't hold onto the sleep any longer.

"And what about the IV drip?"

"Well, adjust it accordingly, then and I'll be back to check on him before lunch."

His eyes opened slowly, but they adjusted quickly to the dim light that they'd grown accustomed to. His neck was killing him from how he'd let it slump over during his sleep, though he wasn't sure when he'd allowed himself to trail off. His arm felt unnaturally heavy, even with the cast, but it had been hanging down off the side of the chair he’d slept in for probably a good portion of the night.

He turned just in time to see the coat tails of the doctor - who he assumed had been the one speaking - disappear around the edge of the door. There was still a nurse in the room, though it wasn't the same one from the night before. She noticed his questioning gaze upon her and she paused for a moment as she was stripping away the bandages on Wace's head.

"G'mornin'," she offered up quietly, motioning her head to the side.

Barky turned dazedly to where she'd indicated and saw Coppa and Trunny sitting up straight in their chairs, arms folded across their chests, eyes closed and mouths open, both sound asleep.

He watched them for a moment for any indication that they were going to awaken, but none came. They were both worn to the bone after having spent the last few days looking for Wace and then having to spend the night in the hospital on top of it. He'd tell them to go home and get some rest if he didn't know that he'd be wasting his breath.

Stifling a yawn, he let his gaze wander back over to the nurse, who'd finally gotten all the gauze off of his brother's head, but as soon as he saw what lay underneath, he had to look away again.

Wace's head had swollen considerably through the night and the blood that had pooled at the top, just beneath the skin, was slowly draining its way down across the rest of his face. He looked like he'd gone ten rounds with a heavy weight boxer and lost every single one of them. What made it even worse was that his head was completely shaved, making the injuries even more pronounced.

Just as she was finishing up, two men and another woman came quietly into the room and started moving things around on the bed, disconnecting leads and wires and draping them gently across the sheets.

By then, Coppa and Trunny had startled themselves awake and were looking about the room in confusion.

"Wha's goin' on?" Trunny questioned groggily, jumping to his feet, only to have Coppa have to steady him. One of his legs had fallen asleep while he was out.

"They need to do some minor work on 'im," one of the techs explained, pushing the gurney out from the wall.

"What for?" This time from Barky.

"The pressure that's built up in his skull needs to be released, so they have to put in a valve for it - it shouldn't take that long."

And with that, they were gone, all walking steadily beside the bed as it was pushed out into the hall.

"Yeah," Trunny huffed. "Well, I wish they'd maybe tell us wha's goin' on before they just startin' wheelin' 'im around the place," he shouted after them, a little louder than necessary.

Normally somebody would've told him to calm down, but both Coppa and Barky were feeling just as shitty as he probably was, so they couldn't fault him for it.

He stretched, yawning loudly as he did so, and turned his neck in just about every possible angle to try and work the soreness out. “Coulda brought a fuckin’ cot in ‘ere, too,” he muttered under his breath as he took a seat once more.

“What’d they say ta you, Bark? Before they left?”

He shrugged his shoulders and let out a yawn as well. “Nothin’. I woke up just a little before you guys did and there was just one nurse in here. I saw the doctor leave, but ‘e didn’t say anythin’ ta me about what was goin’ on.”

The room seemed much warmer then than it had been the previous day. Barky suspected it was because it was day time now and if he figured correctly, the wall on the opposite side of the room was facing East, and the rising morning sun.

“’ey, listen,” he said quietly, figuring that it was pointless even to suggest, even as he spoke, “I was just thinkin’ and maybe you guys should head on home - ya know, for a little bit, just ta get some rest. I mean, after ‘e gets back from whatever it is they’re doin’, so ya know what’s goin’ on, but...I know you’re prob’ly worn out but good from ev’rythin’ that’s happened.”

Neither of the men said anything for a moment, then Coppa spoke.

“You don’t actually think we’re gonna do that, do ya?”

“Yeah, b’sides,” Trunny chimed in with a smile, “I wanna be ‘ere in case the little bastard wakes up. That way I can knock ‘im out again for pullin’ a stunt like this.” He finished by cracking his neck and the sickly pop echoed loudly in the room.

"I figured it was useless ta say anythin'," Barky answered with a smile.

In truth, he was glad they'd refused to go. He didn't know what he would've done with himself if he had to sit in there alone...waiting. Probably gone crazy.

As soon as the notion came to his mind, he wished that he'd never thought it.

Was that what happened to Wace? Is that what did him in - the sitting, the waiting, watching the inevitable happen and be completely helpless to stop it?

He'd always thought of his brother as the strong one in the family. He was the one people depended on, the one that got stuff done. Most of the time, the doing was coupled with pressure, but he'd handled it well. So well, in fact, that when failure hit, it hit him hard.

But surely he could see that everything that had happened wasn't his fault. That just didn't make any sense. It wasn't like there was anything he could've done to prevent it.

"You got nothin' but guilt...I'm not guilty."

Had he meant that? Or had he just been trying to tell himself that?

The more be rolled things around in his mind, the better grasp he had on the shape of the problem.

Chapter Text

"I'll just get some stuff outta Wace's drawers - maybe Trunny's got some pants around that'll fit ya."

Coppa waved a short good-bye to Barky and Trunny as he disappeared out of the hospital room and took off down the hall. It was Monday, and none of them had taken so much as a washcloth to themselves since that Friday morning. He was running home to get a shower, a change of clothes for everyone and to pack a small bag for Barky. He'd left the cane farm with just the clothes on his back.

Squinting from the sunlight, he climbed into his car, surprised to see that it hadn’t been towed yet, and made the short drive back to Erskineville. The apartment was more messy than he remembered leaving it, but that was most likely because he couldn’t really recall the last time he’d been there for any length of time. Probably a week or so.

Stripping his clothes off and tossing them behind him as he walked to the bathroom, he took a quick shower and was ready to get the rest of the stuff when he noticed his answering machine was blinking. Pressing ‘play’ and turning up the volume, he went into Wace’s bedroom and sorted through some of his shirts he thought Barky might be able to wear.

It was a message from the real estate company. They’d found a potential buyer and wanted Mr. Allan to know about it because he’d been so adamant about being present the last time the house was shown. He cursed under his breath as he stuffed a pair of jogging pants into the duffel.

They wanted him to come out to the house - in approximately two hours - and be present for the tour.

If this could’ve come at a more inopportune time, he would’ve liked to have seen it.

The next message was even better, however - it was from the local impound yard, saying they had to do something with the totaled car.

He went back into the living room, bag in hand, and replayed the message, taking down the number and address as it went. He didn’t know if he’d have time to do it that day - he wanted to get back to the hospital as soon as he could - but he thought he might be able to squeeze it in.

Just as he was leaving, the phone rang, its jingle breaking the stillness of the apartment.

He debated on whether or not to answer it, but thought it might’ve been Barky telling him something had happened while he was gone.

Rushing over to the receiver, he answered the phone, trying to tamp down the feel of dread as he waited for the reply.

“Copp?”

“Yes.”

“’ey, it’s Harry.”

“Harry - how ya doin’ mate?” Coppa answered, relief evident in his voice. Harry was one of the foremen he frequently worked with on construction sites.

“Pretty good. Uh, listen - we got a new job, over on the east end o' town. It's where those new strip malls are goin' up and we need ya.”

“Shit, Harry - this couldn’t’ve come at a worse fuckin’ time, mate.”

“Yeah?”

“My best friend - e’s in the hospital, in a coma - ‘e’s not doin’ too good.”

“Shit. That’s awful.”

“Yeah, I know,” he offered up tiredly as he sunk into the couch.

"Well...I dunno what ta tell ya, mate," Harry offered with a sigh. "You been kinda off and on here for a bit and it don't look so good. I mean, you're a helluva worker - prob'ly the best on the crew, but there's not much I can do for ya when it comes ta this."

"I know, Har - I just...I really need ta be there for 'im right now. Things're still kinda up in the air about how 'e's gonna turn out."

"This ain't the same friend from before, is it? The one whose dad was in the hospital?"

"Yeah, same guy."

"Jesus," he drawled. "That's a run o' fuck luck, right there."

Coppa didn't do him the courtesy of commenting back. He didn't really feel like talking about it anymore.

"I tell ya what - I'll give ya a couple hours to decide on it. It starts tomorrow morning and..." Harry paused, taking a deep breath and obviously mulling over something. "Maybe I can work somethin' out ta where you can work around whenever ya need ta be there at the hospital. Maybe like switchin' up shifts or somethin' if ya wanted ta look into it."

"I need the work, Har - there's no doubt about that."

Coppa ran his hand over his face, wishing now that he'd shaved instead of hurrying through his shower ritual. He thought about what Harry had said - about him missing even more work. It definitely didn't look good to the company and they'd just assume drop his ass and hire someone else and he couldn't have that. Erskineville was a slowly rising town, but it was hard to get hired on with a new company, especially when you'd been let go by another one.

"I'll do it," he said quietly, hoping Harry could pull through with his promises of trying to work with the scheduling.

"You're positive?" the man asked wanting to make sure that his friend didn't regret his decision.

"Yeah - I gotta make some more money here in a little bit. Won't be of use ta anyone out on the streets."

"Okay - well, it's over off Coulson, just come by the main office around eight and we'll get started."

"Fine. See ya t'morrow, then."

He hung up the phone with a sigh, letting his head lean back against the top of the couch for a few moments before he pushed himself up to his feet once more. He didn't have time to waste sitting around the house, especially if he had to take care of everything that afternoon before he got back to the hospital.

Over at the impound yard, he waited by the front desk for nearly fifteen minutes before he took it upon himself to take a look out in the back. No one was around, save for a cat that disappeared into the shattered windshield of an old Honda Accord.

'Prob'ly out ta lunch,' he thought aggravatedly, checking his watch and seeing that he only had an hour before he had to be at the house.

He began to second-guess himself on whether or not he should go, but if the real estate agency was able to sell the house before the bank officially seized it, then maybe Wace and Barky could get some more money out of it.

Shaking his head, he turned back around to head out to his car when he spotted a mechanic coming around the opposite end of the building. He called out to him and headed over his way.

"Daniel Copeland," he introduced, shaking the man's oily hand.

"Ya know - ya really shouldn't be back 'ere, mate. Insurance and all," the young man chided mildly.

"Yeah, well, no one was up front and I'm kind of in a hurry."

The mechanic tucked his clipboard under his arm and nodded his head toward Coppa. "Whaddya need?"

"I got a phone call askin' me ta come by and take a look at a car - belongs ta Wace Allan. It's a seventy -"

"Yeah, yeah - I know where that one's at," he interrupted, motioning for Coppa to follow him as he weaved his way through the cars. "Got it in a coupla days ago, but haven't had any word on it. Can't find some of the paperwork we needed, so we thought it might be at the house."

As they rounded the corner of junked up vehicles, Coppa caught sight of the car just ahead of him. His steps faltered when he saw the state it was in.

The front end of the car was bent into a tight 'V' shape halfway up through the engine where he'd obviously run into the support beam for the railroad bridge. He shook his head, wondering if the whole thing could've been avoided if he'd just missed the beam. Then again - he probably would've sent his car flying off into the river and he could've drowned.

Not wanting to let his train of thoughts follow that path any longer, he walked slowly toward the car, coming side-by-side with the mechanic once more, who was busy taking notes down on the clipboard. "Yeah, this'n is missin' the registration on it, but we found the insurance and that's how we knew who ta call. You'll prob'ly wanna total it with all the engine damage. S'not worth a whole helluva lot anyway, unless you want if for sentimental reasons or somethin' like that."

But Coppa heard none of that.

He was too busy walking slowly around to the other side of the car while trying to keep his breathing steady. The windshield was broken on the driver's side, the shattered glass resembling a sort of abstract painting of a spider web, complete with red paint spattered across the canvas.

Only it wasn't red paint splattered everywhere - it was blood.

It was on the windshield, on the dashboard, all over the seats and on the door handles, like he'd felt of his head, then stumbled out of the car and out into the open field the truck driver had found him in.

He glanced back to the hood of the car and silently gave thanks that it hadn't blown up.

Papers were scattered all over the floorboard, some speckled with a dirty brown while others bore the marks of muddy shoe treads on their surface. The glove box was hanging open and Coppa could only guess that's where all the sheets had come from.

"Why the hell couldn't you've put these on the seat're somethin' insteada just throwin' 'em in the floor when you were done?" he asked aggravatedly, opening the door so he could pick up the papers.

The mechanic looked up from his board and shrugged. "I didn't do it - it was like that when it came here. Box prob'ly flew open're somethin', I dunno."

Ignoring him in favor of sorting through the rest of the papers, Coppa sat what was out in the open on top of the seat, then got down on his knees and looked under the front, bench seat. "What're you missin' again?" he asked, reaching back for a piece that was wadded up under the seat adjustment lever.

"Registration, but I don't think it's in there. There's a good chance it mighta blown outta the car or somethin' after the wreck, 'specially if the box fell open."

"So why'd ya even call me out here?" he asked idly, flattening out the crumpled sheet and squinting so he could read it. "Why not call the insurance people or somethin'? I coulda got a copy of it from them."

Shrugging, the mechanic once again tucked his clipboard under his arm and took a few steps closer to the man who was crouching beside the car. "Didn't wanna trouble ya with all that," he said as if he'd actually done Coppa a favor by having him come all the way out there.

"D'ja find it?" he asked, peering over his hunched form.

Turning his head slightly, as if he couldn't tear his eyes from the paper, Coppa shook his head, holding a finger up to have the guy wait for a moment.

"I don't want you to think that any of this is your fault. It's mine and I know that now," he mumbled aloud, his eyes scanning quickly over the shaky scribbles. What the hell?

I was just thinking about everything and the way things work and I decided that maybe they aren't suposed to work out for me. It hurts inside and it feels like everything is broken and I was trying so hard to make it better but I don't know how to fix it and there's just so much of it. Is like before and I pushed you away and you never came back and I'm really, really sorry and I want you to know that.

He reread that last line over again, trying to make sense of it, but it just wouldn't come - it was as if his mind was blocking out what he was seeing.

As he continued to read over the scrawled letters, he felt the twist of pain in his stomach as the reality of what had actually happened struck him. He hadn't wanted to believe it, hadn't wanted to listen to that little voice in the back of his head that was telling him what Wace'd done. But now he couldn't deny it. The evidence of it was right in front of him, in his hands.

"Is it the regis -"

"Shut the fuck up!" Coppa shouted, turning on the balls of his feet and looking up menacingly at the gaping mechanic.

He took another glance at the note, then crammed it angrily into his breast pocket as he stood up.

"I don' give a shit what ya do with the car. Sell it, scrap it for parts, whatever. Just send the check to the address on the insurance," he barked, pushing his way past the younger man and heading back toward the main office.

'I didn't fuckin' need this,' he thought to himself as he slid into his seat.

Chapter Text

"And then I get to the back of the house, find the whole bedroom full o' empty bottles and I hear the real estate guy a knockin' at the front door."

Coppa shook his head angrily, then let it fall into his open palm for support. He could still envision the once-empty bedroom floor completely covered with cans and bottles of alcohol, some more full or empty than others.

"What'd ya do with it all?" Trunny asked as he put another coin into the drink machine.

"Tossed it out the window and hoped they couldn't smell the piss from a mile away."

The truth was, both the realtor and the potential buyer probably smelled it just as well as he had when he’d gone into the house earlier, but the woman was too excited about the ‘magnificently tall doorways and the beautiful hardwood floor in the kitchen' to notice.

Trunny handed Coppa the soft drink and slid into the seat across the table from him. "I dunno how we missed 'im in there. I mean, we checked it twice."

"Yeah, but not the day before 'e turned up. I guess that's when he holed up at the house. Might've been in the garage, too - ya never know. Hadta fix the car sometime, I imagine."

"How'd the house thing go, though? I mean, d'ya think that they'll buy it?" Trunny asked anxiously, leaning across the table as he spoke.

Coppa shrugged. "I dunno. The girl was in from out of town - some kind o' decorator of some sort. Seemed real excited about fixin' the place up." He paused for a moment to shake his head in amusement. "Wace'd flip if the house ended up with some pink vases and funny lookin' statues all over the place."

Trunny laughed openly, and it felt good to him - natural. He wasn't the type to normally stay down when he took a knock, but the oppressive tone of the hospital and everything else going on had him feeling beaten as of late. "Yeah - or one o' those water fountains out in the yard...ya know? The kind where there's some naked kid takin’ a piss."

Coppa couldn't help but crack a grin at the mental image that conjured up. Then he remembered the note in his pocket and the smile quickly faded.

"Want ya ta take a look at somethin', see what ya think," he said slowly, reaching into his shirt and pulling out the now-worn paper.

He tossed it carelessly onto the table and took a long drink from his can. His gaze was directed at the snack machine, but he was watching the reflection of Trunny in the glass carefully to try and gauge his reaction.

"The fuck?" he heard him mutter, the paper crinkling as he brought it closer to his face, wanting to make sure he hadn't misread anything.

"Didja find this at the house?" he asked, finally looking back up to Coppa.

He shook his head, looking down at the table as he turned his cola can idly in the pool of liquid that had sweated off the surface. “Under the seat in the car when I went ta go take a look at it."

He was numb, completely numb from the realization of what had happened, yet he could feel the anger building within him. Anger directed at himself for not seeing it sooner, for ignoring what he did see in favor of what? Going out and having another one? Trying to let Wace drink away his problems because it seemed like that was what worked best?

"We gotta tell Bark," Trunny announced, breaking the reverie of Coppa's thoughts.

"No," he answered, shaking his head. "'e doesn't need ta know."

"The fuck 'e doesn't," Trunny argued, scooting his chair back as he spoke. "'e has a right ta know, Copp."

"It won't make any diff'rence, so why the hell should we put anymore on 'im, huh?"

"Barky's 'is brother - 'e needs ta know. Shit, what about when Wace wakes up? What then?” he asked, holding his hands out to the side in supplication. “I mean, are we just gonna ignore what 'e did? Are we gonna pretend like it never happened?"

"I'm not tellin' 'im, Trun. Now you can flap your jaws about it all ya want, but my decision's been made. B'sides - we don't even know who 'e was writin' it to - it’s none of our business," he added decisively, reaching across the table to take back the letter.

Trunny leaned back, keeping the paper away from him and brought his eyes down to it once more.

"I never should've let that happen..." he read aloud, his brow furrowing in confusion. "This don’ make any fuckin’ sense. What the hell is 'e talkin' about? What happened?"

"I dunno," Coppa answered, slightly perturbed that Trunny had kept the letter from him. "The whole thing doesn't make a whole helluva lot o' sense, 'specially towards the end."

"'e was prob'ly drunk by then, Copp," Trunny suggested, grasping at straws to try and ease the blow from the truth. "Maybe 'e didn't know what 'e was -"

"He wrote a fuckin' note, Trunny," Coppa answered solemnly, giving his empty can a slight squeeze, letting the crinkle of the aluminum bring him back from where he’d gone. "He knew what 'e was doin'."

"What're you guys talkin' about?"

Both men turned quickly to see Barky standing in the doorway of the snack lounge. His hair was mussed and his clothes were wrinkled from his nap, but he was otherwise fully awake.

Trunny looked over to Coppa just in time to see him mutter a few curses under his breath and look down at the table.

They were both silent.

"Wha's wrong? Wha's goin' on?" he asked, hoping for an answer the second time around.

Giving Trunny a look of contempt just before, Coppa nodded his head toward the paper letting him know that he might as well tell him.

"Uh...you might wanna read this," Trunny advised, handing Barky the slip of paper.

For several minutes there was no sound in the room, then Trunny piped up, knowing that Barky had read through what was written at least three times by then. "Copp found it this afternoon - in the car."

"I fuckin' knew it," they both heard Barky say quietly as he slid bonelessly into the open plastic chair.

The harsh sound of paper crumpling was loud in the quiet room.

"Why didn't 'e -"

Barky stopped, cutting himself off as the anger washed over him. Where it had been guilt before, there was no mistake about it - full-fledged anger coursed through him then. At himself, at his brother, at the two men sitting in front of him, hell, even the woman crying by herself back in the room.

Why did any of this have to happen? It didn't make any sense.

"I dunno even know what the hell 'e's talkin' about in here," he said angrily, gripping the paper tightly in his fist, as if by throttling it, he could make it all go away. He let his head fall to his free hand, his fingers taking a tight hold onto his short hair and using the pain as a deterrent from breaking down into tears again.

"We can't figure it out either, mate, but it prob'ly wouldn't make sense anyway even if we did. Don't go blamin' yourself, all right? What's done is done and we just gotta worry about what to do now, okay?" Trunny reminded him, hoping to offer a little comfort along the way, though knowing the entire time it was severely lacking.

Coppa had been silent since Barky had entered the room, but that was because he was twisting things over in his mind, trying to wrap his finger around what was really bothering him. He knew there was a part of the puzzle he just wasn't fitting together with the rest, but he also knew that he didn't even was to touch that piece.

"He doesn't fuckin' want the kind of attention that I got..."

No.

“He wasn't the only little kid in that house...wasn’t the only one that had bad shit happen to 'im. He better be glad he got what he got and that’s fuckin' all."

Why? Jesus...it didn’t make any sense.

He closed his eyes, letting out a small sigh that couldn't come close to conveying the amount of sorrow he felt inside. His heart was heavy, for Wace and for Barky, too, because he could only pray that it hadn't happened to both of them.

He spoke quietly, as if he was unsure of his voice. The words came out garbled and so thick that he had to clear his throat.

“I need ta ask ya somethin’, Barky,” he repeated. “And then I need ta tell ya somethin'."

Chapter Text

Feeling another wave of nausea wash over him, Barky leaned over the toilet once more, but was relieved that there was nothing left to come up. His eyes were watering from dry heaving - or had he been crying? - and he could only see a blurry white in front of him.

Leaning over on one arm, he slowly rolled to the side and slid down against the wall, not even caring that his legs were tucked underneath him at an incredibly awkward angle. The tile felt cool against his clammy skin and a shiver ran through his body, making him think he might be sick again, though he couldn't find the energy to even pull himself back up to the toilet.

He let his head loll backwards, almost completely zoned out as he stared blankly at the flickering fluorescent lights in the ceiling above him.

He tried to keep his mind a blank, but it kept wandering back to what Coppa had told him, the suspicions he’d voiced and it made him feel sick all over again.

How could he not have known? How could he have not seen it? Had he seen it and just ignored it?

Probably.

He was probably too wrapped up in his own personal saga to worry about anything else that was going on around him. Wace was right - he was selfish. He was selfish and the only thing that mattered to him was whether or not his own needs were taken care of.

Had he been trying to tell him something even then?

Clenching his fists tightly, he brought one of them up to his stomach, pressing it to himself forcefully, hoping the gesture would ease the twisting sensation that was going on inside.

It seemed like a minute had passed before he let out the breath he'd been holding.

From the haze of his mind, he heard the bathroom door swing open and looked up at the gate to the stall he was in. He hadn't locked it and it was hanging open about ten inches.

He didn't even care that whoever it was would have a clear view of him. Let them try to hear what he'd just had to hear and see how well they could stomach it.

It turned out to be Trunny, though, so he didn't give the matter another thought.

Standing in the doorway for a moment, the older man just watched him, then turned and walked out of sight.

Barky heard the towel dispenser being pulled and the water turned on and Trunny was back within seconds with a dripping wet wad of paper.

"Put this around your neck - it'll make you a little less queasy," he said, tossing it to him.

Fumbling, Barky swiped at it, but missed, then picked it up off the floor and draped it around his shoulders, having not said a word the entire time.

Looking decidedly uncomfortable, Trunny glanced to his rear then leaned up against the metal doorframe of the stall.

"None o' this was your fault, Barky," he said quietly, feeling as if what he had to say could only be spoken in a whisper.

Barky just looked up at him for a moment, then turned away, focusing his attention on the toilet paper dispenser beside his head.

"I know ya prob'ly don't believe that right now, but it -"

"I left 'im, Trunny," Barky countered, not even changing the direction of his gaze. "I fuckin' left 'im when 'e needed me."

"Ya didn't know, though," Trunny argued, sliding down to the floor to sit across from him.

"Does it matter now?" he asked, letting his head roll slowly against the tile so he could train his eyes on Trunny.

There wasn't anything that he could say to that other than to agree with him, which wouldn't help his stance. He decided to be quiet, to let Barky decide where he wanted to go with the conversation because he'd already made up his mind to be there for him no matter which way he went.

A few moments passed with the only sound being from the ventilation ducts and the automatic air freshener, then Barky spoke.

"My chest hurts," he admitted shakily, bringing his still-clenched fist up to his shoulder. He opened it slowly, flattening his palm, then dragged it across his ribs, rubbing back and forth as if to try and ease the pain away.

"You want me ta get a doctor?" Trunny asked, worried at sudden change in his friend's appearance.

He was shaking by then, trembling lightly as the sheen of sweat on his pallid skin formed into tiny beads of water and bled down the side of his face, disappearing into the collar of his shirt.

The bathroom was impossibly cool.

Barky only shook his head, leaning his head back once more to close his eyes. "I don' think it'll be goin' away any time soon," he breathed.

"Ya need ta get up and outta 'ere, mate - get ta walkin' around. You makin' yourself sick over ev'rythin' isn't gonna make any changes, okay?" Trunny advised, sliding over to him and taking one of his limp arms into his hand to give him a tug.

Barky refused to make any effort to stand. Instead, he pulled his legs up around him and let his head fall to one of his knees.

"I used ta get so fuckin' mad at 'im!" he shouted abruptly, his voice hollow and distant from where his face was buried. Trunny could tell through his tone that he was beginning to cry.

"I used ta be so jealous that 'e - that 'e could talk ta Dad, that 'e could go an' drink beers with 'im. I remember wantin' him ta be the one who got knocked in the head or smacked around - but 'e did get that, Trunny, 'e did and I just..."

He stopped abruptly, his breath coming in violent hitches as the tears flowed freely. He kept his head buried against his knees, wrapping his arms around them and curling up into himself as tightly as he could.

Trunny watched silently, completely unsure of what to do. He felt his own arm - the one he'd tried to lift Barky with - move upward by its own accord, slowly draping itself across the younger man's shoulders. Eventually, he was sidled up next to him, holding him tightly as he let him cry it all out.

"I'd always argue back," he started up again, angry this time, contempt dripping from every word. "I'd always fuckin' argue and that's when it'd happen - Wace just...'e just never argued back. 'e never did and I used ta think it was b'cause 'e was kissin' Dad's ass and playin' 'is part of the favorite, but it was b'cause 'e couldn't. 'e couldn't fuckin' argue back and I'm so glad that bastard's dead, Trunny. I'm so fuckin' glad 'cause I woulda killed 'im myself if I'd known what 'e did," he admitted in a rush of words spilling from his mouth.

With that, he let himself collapse into the embrace that was offered, positively exhausted from all of the warring emotions within him.

Trunny held onto him tightly, determined to keep the tears from his own eyes, though it was a hard-fought battle against them. As he sat there, quietly listening to Barky, whose sobs were slowly subsiding, he had a thought that confused him.

He wished that Wace would stay in his coma.

He couldn't figure out where it came from until he took another look at the shaking figure in his arms. That's when he knew.

They were the ones that were supposed to take care of him when he woke up. They were the ones he'd have to lean on for support.

Feeling the tears finally sting his eyes, signaling their victory shout, he knew that they weren't ready.

Chapter Text

"So what'd they say?" Barky asked, his worry kicking up another notch. It seemed like he was in a constant state of it as of late, it only fluctuated in its intensity.

"I didn't get ta talk to 'em yet - they're out ta lunch, but the message said that they couldn't sign over the house."

"Whaddya mean they can't sign over the house? The woman - she wants ta buy the bloody thing!" he exclaimed. "She's gonna pay all that money - why can't they sell it before the bank gets it?"

This wasn't making any sense - they'd found someone to buy the house, just before the bank seized the property, but now Coppa was telling him that they couldn't sell it to her.

"Because - the house is in Wace's name now, Bark - 'e's the only one that can sign it over."

"But 'e's in a fuckin' coma!" he shouted over the phone, not even caring how loud he was being. "How the hell is 'e suppose'ta sign over the bloody house if 'e ain't even awake?"

"He can't, Barky, so...the bank gets it."

"Well...what if...I mean, could I sign it? I could sign 'is name even."

He could almost visualize Coppa shaking his head over the phone.

"Tha's forgery, mate - they'll stick your ass in the pen if they catch ya on somethin' like that - and they will. The real estate people said that the parties have to be present for the closing. There's no way you could do it and get away with it."

"So we got a fuckin' buyer for this house, and she's willin' ta pay the money we're askin' but the bank's gonna get it anyway?"

"Yeah."

Shitfuckdamnitalltahell.

Sighing pitifully, Barky slumped against the counter that held the public-use phone.

"Jesus, Copp - we got nothin' now. The money we coulda made offa the house..."

"I know, mate, but listen - me and Trun, we're not gonna just leave ya out ta dry, okay? Ya need help gettin' back on your feet, we'll be there for ya. You just worry about takin' care o' Wace right now - tha's the main thing."

"Right," he answered bravely, knowing that it was his turn to put on the stiff upper lip for once.

'I gotta take care o' Wace,' came the solemn thought as he nodded his head with resolution to do exactly that.

After he hung up the phone with Coppa, he dragged his feet slowly back to their room in the ICU.

Their room.

That's what it had come to be known as in the mere days that they'd been there.

He cleared his throat as he passed the threshold so he wouldn't scare Jen half to death. He heard her loud sniffle and saw, from behind, that she was bringing up a tissue to her eyes.

"Hey," she said after turning around, both her eyes and voice watery with tears.

She'd been there pretty much throughout the entire ordeal so far with her break in school falling conveniently into place with the accident. That was about the only thing convenient with it.

"That was Coppa on the phone," he offered, taking the seat next to her. "Gave me some news about the house."

"Yeah?" she asked, dabbing the kerchief at her nose before stuffing it into her pocketbook.

"Bank's gonna get it."

"But I thought...I mean - with the buyer and all..."

"Yeah, me too, but Copp said that the bank'll get it anyway because the house is in Wace's name and...well, 'e can't sign for it."

Keeping his eyes trained on his brother as he spoke, he noticed that he was looking much better, especially compared to how he'd first looked when he was admitted. The swelling had gone down considerably - at least on the outside, but the bruising was still there Everything else was pretty much covered by wiring and hospital tape and bandages.

Barky looked over at Jen, the tears running freely down her cheeks once more, though she was no longer actively crying. The way her hand was balled up at her mouth as she rested her chin in her palm, he almost hadn't heard her - but he had.

"If he coulda just waited another few days."

The words were spoken quietly, but still held the emotion that was evident on her face.

A strange twist started to coil in his stomach, but before he gave too much pause to what he thought she'd been thinking, he wanted to make sure of what she meant.

"What're ya talkin' about?" he asked casually, hoping not to stir up any suspicions on her part.

She used her hand as a pivot for her chin as her head turned slowly, letting worn, bloodshot eyes come to rest on Barky.

"You know what I'm talkin' about," she sighed tiredly, resignation in her tone.

At first he thought she might've found out about the note or that Trunny or Coppa had told her, but she was still speaking. "'E knew what 'e was doin'. I've never seen 'im so drunk 'e didn't know what 'e was about..." A dark look passed through her eyes and she shuddered briefly. "Well, maybe once. But 'e knows better than ta drive when 'e's been in the bottle."

She was silent for a moment, her gaze turning inward, and she finally looked back at the man lying unconscious on the bed, and spoke as if to herself. "Bugger it all... 'e knew."

Shaking his head, Barky looked away from Jen and back toward his brother. He thought about the note that he still had stuffed in his wallet and whether or not he should show it to her. He wouldn't have let it cross his mind twice if he hadn't just heard what she'd said with his own ears, but it was obvious to him now that she knew. Well, possibly not in every sense of the word, but if there was one person that understood Wace, it was Jen.

"I got somethin' ta show ya," he said quietly, keeping his voice low if for no other reason than he didn't want anyone passing by in the hall to hear their conversation.

Removing it carefully from its special slot in his billfold, Barky handed the letter over to her silently, knowing that no further explanation was needed until she'd finished reading it.

His heart pounded wildly in his chest as he watched her unfold the wrinkled sheet and he found himself absurdly thinking that he was grateful Wace had used a pen - the note had been opened and closed so many times now that it would probably have been a lot harder to read if he hadn't.

He had to pull his eyes away as he saw her hand come up to her mouth and wished that he could plug his ears when he heard the first hitch of her breath. For a moment, he politely looked away, wanting to give her the same time he was afforded to let the news actually settle it.

It was a completely different thing to have your suspicions than to actually have them confirmed.

Even without actually looking at her, he could tell that she was doing her damnedest not to break down and cry, but when she let out a harsh burst of air that dissolved into her bawling, he knew that he had to do something.

Turning in his chair, he awkwardly leaned over, trying to offer her some sort of solace, which she readily accepted. Her hand shot out, grabbing a wad of his t-shirt and she pulled him to her, forcing him to scoot his chair fully against hers. Mimicking her actions, he wrapped his arms around her body, holding her tightly as her body shuddered through the tears.

Her fist pounded painfully into his shoulder blade and he could feel the paper scraping roughly against the back of his head from where she had it clenched tightly in her fingers.

"Why?" she sobbed, and Barky started to shake his head, having asked himself that same question a thousand times within the scope of a day, but he realized she wasn't talking about that. "Why couldn't 'e ever ask for any bloody help? Never! Always by 'imself, always had to handle it on 'is own. I tried - I fuckin' tried so hard and 'e never would."

She finished the last batch of words up in a rush, as if she had to get them out before she could take another breath. Her head was nestled in the crook of his neck, her fingers now twisted tightly in the back of his t-shirt as she continued to cry, her entire body wracked with the violent shakes and spasms.

"That fucking bastard did that to 'im - made it so 'e couldn't," she spat out angrily, hatred dripping from each and every syllable.

Barky knew exactly who she was talking about as soon as she'd let the words out of her mouth, and he couldn't keep himself from nodding against the top of her head, agreeing with everything she'd said. But what he hated most was the stabbing feeling of guilt he had inside - however misplaced - that even though he'd been a bastard, he was still his father, and there was nothing that could be done to change that. He'd been born from that hideous monster and it was something he'd have to come to terms with eventually - but not now.

Now was the time to worry about his brother, to worry about how he was going to handle this mess that had been heaped on him. He looked down at the woman he still held in his arms, full of tears and trying to let them all free. He thought about all the problems he was facing now, Wace's injuries aside. He looked around the hospital room, wondering if it was just his imagination or if the walls really were closing in on him.

Chapter Text

"I'll see ya in a bit, Bark."

Nodding to Trunny, he turned back around in his chair and stared blankly at what was going on in front of him.

"So how'd ya get that name?"

"Huh?" he asked, the question snapping him out of his thoughts.

Elva smiled, continuing to lift and bend the pliant leg in her hands. "I asked how you got that name - Barky. I'm assuming it is a nickname," she said, letting her amused sympathy show in both her voice and on her face.

In the three weeks since they'd been in the hospital, Barky had come to know quite a few of the staff members on call and Elva, one of the resident physical therapists, was one that he was particularly fond of.

"Oh - yeah. Well, uh, I've had it ever since I can remember," he explained with a shrug. "My mum told me once that when we were little, Wace had a lot trouble sayin' certain words - my name bein' one of 'em. When 'e tried ta say 'Barclay' it just came out 'Barky,' so it kinda stuck."

"That's cute," she grinned, switching to the other leg.

"Yeah, well when I was a bit older, I told 'im that I didn't want ev'ryone ta call me that anymore and he just said that as long as I followed 'im around like a little dog that's what I was gonna be called."

Elva let out a loud laugh and shook her head. "That's an older brother if I ever heard of one. I outta know - I had three of 'em."

"Yeah?"

"Uh huh. I was the youngest of four and sometimes I wonder how I made it through my childhood alive. I was always followin' 'em around and tryin' ta do ev'rythin' they did, but of course they had ta make it as hard on me as they could."

She set Wace's leg down and pulled the straps back over his ankles before covering them with the blanket once again.

"Then I realized that if they hadn't made it so hard on me when I was a kid, I wouldn't've made it this far as an adult," she added with a wistful smile. "A diff'rent kind of teachin' - that's what older brothers are good for."

Barky nodded absently, pondering over what she'd just said and recalling the many lessons he'd learned from his brother over the years - whether he'd wanted to or not. He hadn't been lying when he told Wace that he was the only one that he listened to when he was a kid, but at the time, he'd said it with nothing but resentment in his heart. Now, though, looking back on it, he'd gained some of the most useful information in his life from the man lying in front of him.

"So? Where's Trunny headed off to?" Elva asked, interrupting his thoughts.

He looked up at her and caught the shameless grin on her face and couldn't help but smile. The two of them had hit it off almost immediately, and though the situation was a bit awkward for them at the moment, Barky knew that something would come of it eventually.

"Aww, 'e's gotta go make a quick run with 'is truck - should be back in a few days."

"Drives a road train, does 'e?" she asked, peeling back the velcro from the restraint on Wace's wrist so she could work with his arm.

"Yeah - ev'ry now and then, whenever 'e needs the money."

"It's a pretty good livin' - out on the road. My oldest brother used ta drive and 'e loved it."

She started to lift his arm at the elbow, but stopped suddenly when she saw his face give a violent twitch. Setting his arm down carefully and pulling the strap back over his wrist, she took a step back and called out gently to him.

"Mr. Allan? Wace?"

Barky turned his head sharply at the sound of her voice - he'd been absently watching out the window as she worked - and stood up quickly when he saw him jerk again.

It wasn't anything new, in fact, he'd had several bouts of the intense tremors already, which was the reason for the restraints, but each time, Barky felt his hope rise that he might actually win his fight to regain consciousness. He was convinced that's what was happening.

"Wace," he called, reaching out to his shoulder to steady him while he thrashed about mildly. The biggest thing they were worried about when he had the episodes was that he would re-injure his still-healing ribs. "Come on. Wake up - you can do it, Wace."

"I'm going to ring for a doctor," Elva announced as she pushed the black call button near the bed.

"He opened 'is eyes!" Barky shouted, unable to keep himself from hopping up and down a few times.

Sure enough, when Elva glanced back at the body on the bed, there were two dark eyes staring wildly back up at her and she almost joined in on the jumping as well. "Oh my God!" she cried, never having thought in a million years that she would get to witness something like this.

Pressing blindly at the button on the wall several more times, she kept her eyes trained on her patient, smiling all the way.

"I can't believe it!" Barky exclaimed, barely able to keep his voice under control. "I can't fuckin' believe it - 'e's awake! Wace? Can ya hear me? Can ya understand me? Wace?"

His words came out in a rush and he knew there was no way for Wace to understand them, but his body was in too much of an emotional overdrive for him to be able to hold them all in. Barky's gaze flickered down at his arms and how they were pulling frantically against the straps. Without even batting an eye, he reached for the tie around his nearest wrist, his mind eerily flashing back to the image of his panicked face when Coppa and Trunny had pinned him down...just before he left.

"Ah - Barky, I don' think that you should -"

""e doesn't like ta be held down," he told her, his tone leaving no room for arguments as he reached across his brother and undid the other strap on his arm. "Where's the doctors?"

But before she could answer him, her attention was pulled back down to Wace as his body arched up in the air, pulling harshly at all the tubing and wiring still attached to him and causing some of the leads to disconnect.

Shrill beeping and the sound of monitor alarms going off filled the room, but neither of them heard it as they watched him collapse bonelessly back onto the mattress, his eyes rolling back into his head.

*****

"Yeah - the doctors said that 'e's doin' okay. Well, as good as can be expected from 'im right now."

"So, 'e's...I mean - 'e's awake? Out of 'is coma and everything?"

Barky nodded, sympathizing with Jen's unbelief of what had actually happened. It had been a shock to him as well. He'd barely been able to tell her what had happened before she'd gotten off the phone with him and come down to the hospital.

"But...'e's still kinda out of it right now," he said slowly, easing up his pace as they neared the room that Wace had been moved to. "They kinda got 'im under sedation because of...well, because how 'e kept thrashin' about."

The information that the doctors had given him was disheartening at best, but he still tried to keep his hopes up. "The uh...the doctors, they did some tests on 'im, after 'e settled down and, well - 'e didn't score too high on 'em, but they said that might not mean anythin' right now," he added, only giving her half the truth.

What they'd actually told him was that the tests they used to gauge a person's responses was generally a good tool in projecting what type of recovery the patient would have, and that only in a very few cases had they been proven inaccurate.

"Would it be okay if - I mean, can I see 'im now?" she asked, her voice sounding afraid to hope.

In truth, she was almost afraid to see him. She didn't know how well she'd be able to handle the sight of him, knowing now that he was awake. It had been different before - when he was comatose, now she had to deal with the fact that he was conscious, and at least semi-aware of what was going on around him.

"Yeah," Barky said gently, closing his eyes for a moment before he led her into the room. He'd tried his best to prepare her for what she was going to see, but knew that it would still be hard. Hell, he'd had almost the entire afternoon to come to grips with it, but each time he opened his eyes and saw him, it was like seeing it for the first time all over again.

Taking a deep breath, he touched her elbow, urging her to follow him as he went in. Coppa was already there, his latest work project finished for the time being, but they still hadn't been able to get a hold of Trunny.

He greeted her with a smile that didn't quite reach his eyes and she only had a moment to wonder why that was before she saw around the edge of the curtain.

"Medicine's startin' ta wear off again," Coppa mentioned quietly as his stare fell back onto his friend.

He was lying in a bed, much like the one he'd been in earlier, though it was a bit smaller. There weren't near as many machines around him and the majority of the tubing and wiring had been removed from his body. He would've looked like he was perfectly fine, just napping if it hadn't been for his near-constant twitching and jerking.

It looked like he was having a low-grade seizure and for the life of her, Jen couldn't understand why no one was doing anything about it.

"What the hell is wrong with 'im?" she asked, turning panicked eyes to Barky, then quickly to Coppa.

"S'been like that all day."

"I don' care if 'e's been like that for the past year - why the hell aren't there any doctors around?" she asked angrily, immediately catching herself when she heard a slight moan coming from the bed.

"Doctors said that 'e'd be like that maybe for a while - it 'appens sometimes when they first wake up after they've been out for a bit," Coppa supplied evenly, though he was totally ignored now by Jen as she was sidled up next to the hospital bed.

Barky slid up behind her and put a hand on her shoulder, trying to get her attention. "'e can kinda hear what's goin' on around 'im they think, but 'e can't respond to it yet...plus with all the medicine..." he explained, keeping his voice quiet.

Jen nodded, wiping at the sudden tears that had spilled over onto her cheeks and took a deep breath, turning her focus back to Wace.

She looked down at him, her hand hovering inches away from his bare arm. "Can I...?" she asked, letting her hand fall gently once she heard Barky say that it was okay. His skin felt warm to the touch, and almost clammy from the almost-fevered state he seemed to be in. She frowned, letting her fingers crawl lightly along the bruising inside his arm from where he'd been stabbed and poked with so many needles.

He let out another small moan and pulled tightly against the straps still holding him down. They'd been replaced as soon as he started going into fits again.

"Shh," she whispered softly, leaning down close to him as she spoke.

He stilled at the sound of her voice.

She let her hand trace over the side of his face, smiling a bittersweet smile when he turned his head into her palm, nuzzling it softly. Like it was a natural reaction for him. Her eyes wandered up his face, to the top of his head, now unbandaged, and the heavy pink scar etched into his skin caught her eyes. It showed clearly through the short, spiky hair and to her, it stood out like a red flag, a reminder of what he’d done.

"Hey, baby," she whispered again, her voice shaky with the emotion she was struggling to hold in.

She was torn between being ecstatic that he was all right, that he was finally, at least part of the way, out of the woods, but it just hurt so much to see how he was having to fight his way to the clearing. She didn't know what to do. So much had changed in the past weeks, but he hadn't really been there for any of it. Questions, doubts arose in her mind as to what was actually going to happen between the two of them, romantic notions aside. Could they even be friends with all that had happened?

Feeling the rough pricks of his beard growth under her fingertips brought her mind back to present and the reality that her questions may still go unanswered. Yes, he'd woken up, but that didn't mean anything. He'd been hurt so badly that...

She drew in a harsh breath at the image of him remaining as he was for the rest of his life. She'd been accepting, prepared even, that he might die, but this...God, it just seemed a thousand times worse.

Behind her, she heard Coppa clearing his throat and she turned halfway, noticing the uncomfortable look on his face through her eyelashes. She caught Barky, too, in the corner of her vision, hands stuffed deep into his pockets and looking anywhere but in her direction.

She turned awkwardly back to Wace, removing her hand stiffly from him and bringing it to her side once more. ‘Where it belongs,’ she thought absently, taking note of the intimate exchange they’d just witnessed.

An intimate exchange reserved for lovers, and they most definitely were not lovers anymore.

Biting her lower lip, she let her hand move back to cover his, briefly, and she gave it a small squeeze before she turned and hurried out of the room.

Barky moved to go after her, but Coppa caught his arm, stilling him immediately. Turning, he saw the older man shaking his head tiredly, letting it fall back to rest against the wall.

“Let ‘er go, mate - she’s got some stuff ta work out in ‘er head.”

Chapter Text

"Ya need anything? Want some more water or another blanket or somethin'?"

Barky waited patiently, watching for Wace to give either of the perfunctory blinks; one for 'yes' and two for 'no.' But instead of blinking, he got a short moan that sounded a lot like the latter option.

That was definitely new.

"What was'at?" he asked, grinningly stupidly at his brother's seeming progress. He looked around the empty room enthusiastically, wishing there was someone else there to share in the excitement.

This time, he got a clear, rumbling 'nnnnnooo' and he let out a small laugh as he leaned forward on his knee, chin resting in his palm. "That's the best sound I've 'eard in a long time, Wace," he said quietly, fighting against the swelling emotions within him. "How's your head feel? Does it still hurt?"

After a few short moments and a series of frustrated grunts, he managed to get out an 'uh-huh' and Barky nodded, standing up halfway to move the blankets from his chest. "What about your ribs?" he asked as he reached out to lightly brush his fingers against the discolored skin. Though they'd faded in their intensity, there were still several faint bruises marring his pale skin from where the steering wheel had jabbed into his chest.

He looked like he was thinking about it and Barky watched as he took two normal breaths, his chest rising and falling shakily. "A little," he answered, his words still a bit garbled, but sounding as clear as a bell to Barky's ears.

"Okay, then," he said, stepping back around his chair and holding out a finger to him. "I'll be back in a few minutes, all right? I'm gonna go find a doctor or a nurse."

He waited until he got a response from Wace, which was a slight nod followed by his eyes drifting shut, before he left the room in search of one of the nurses that he knew. He stopped by at the main station, but it was empty, so he wandered down the hall a little ways and spotted a familiar face.

"Tammy," he called loudly, walking in her direction. "I was wonderin' if there's any way you could maybe check Wace out in a minute. Said that 'is head was hurtin' 'im real bad."

Sliding the clipboard into the chart holder just outside the door, Tammy nodded and headed down the hall toward the Allan room. "How's 'e been doin' t'day?" she asked, grabbing for another chart on the fly and flipping through the pages as she kept up her steady pace.

"Pretty good - 'e just was talkin' t'me again," Barky beamed, eager to see Tammy's reaction to the news.

The plump woman stopped dead in her tracks, amazement showing on her middle-aged face. "Talked t'you? Again?" she asked, wanting to make absolutely sure that she'd heard him right.

Barky nodded, his face breaking out in a wide grin. "Yeah - started doin' it yesterday. I mean, it wasn't whole sentences or nothin', but I could understand 'im. Was answerin' my questions an' everything."

"Well, if that don't beat all..." she marveled, taking off toward the room at the hallway intersection with a furious pace.

Barky had never been one for power walking, so he jogged along behind her, finding it difficult to even keep up even then.

"What all did 'e say?" she asked, not even bothering to look behind her to see if he was still there. She could hear his footsteps clearly.

"Uh, well, 'e tried to say 'no' and 'e got that out a little - oh, and 'e also said that - 'a little,' and 'uh huh,'" he listed off proudly, wanting to make sure he'd told her everything so that the word would eventually get around to all those doctors that had given him no chance of recovering. "And it wasn't just 'im mumblin' or anythin' - it was answers to what I was askin' 'im, that's how I knew 'is head was hurtin'."

By then they'd reached his room and their stride came to a stuttering halt as they both crept through the doorway. From where they were standing, Wace appeared to be asleep, but Barky's shoes made a scuffle against the floor and his head turned slightly, his eyes opening halfway.

"'ey," Barky grinned, stepping over to the side of the bed. "Brought ya back a little company," he joked, tossing his head toward Tammy.

"Well, hello there, Mr. Allan," the older woman smiled nicely, quickly scanning him for any obvious signs that something might be wrong. "How are you feeling?" she asked, taking his chart, which was still attached to the foot of the bed, and looking over it briefly.

"M'kay," he answered, his voice generally clear, but a little rough around the edges, and Tammy's head popped up from her board, a smile lighting her face.

"You weren't kidding," she said in a bit of shock to Barky as she slid the chart back onto the bed and committed to memory what medicine and dosage they'd been giving him. "I'll need ta get a doctor to allow for any change in the prescribed amount, but I'll get back to you as soon as I can," she said as she started to leave, but stopped short when Wace called out to her.

"No," he said slowly, letting his eyes flutter closed for a moment before forcing them back open.

"No?" Barky asked, looking down at his brother with a questioning stare, worried at the seemingly random word his brother just spat out.

"Fuzzy," he was able to force out after a short time and he said it once more after that, as if to emphasize his point.

"Fuzzy?" Barky questioned once more, feeling a bit like a parrot through the whole exchange. "What're ya talkin' about, Wace?"

Instead of answering that time, Wace just closed his eyes once more and looked, for all intents and purposes, as if he was trying to calm himself down. "My...head," he answered eventually, his voice even, but with an obvious amount of strain in it.

Finally feeling like he understood, Barky nodded. "Your head's fuzzy."

Still with his eyes closed, Wace nodded, his face relaxing for a moment now that he didn't have to concentrate on speaking. Waiting for a few minutes before he left, just to make sure that he'd fallen asleep for real, Barky slipped out of the room to try to give Jen another call.

*****

"Yeah, and 'e was up an' talkin' today - way better than 'e was yesterday. Gettin' full sentences out almost."

Barky adjusted his lean against the wall beside the nurses' station and listened to the sound of Jen's relieved sigh over the phone.

"Talking?" she asked, her voice sounding as if she didn't quite believe it.

"Yeah - talkin'. They started 'im on some more therapy t'day, too. I tried ta call ya last night and tell ya, but ya never answered, so I figured you might've gone out or something."

He waited, hearing nothing but dead air on the other end of the phone, until Jen cleared her throat, breaking the silence. "Yeah, uh...I was out - with some friends...from the school," she supplied shakily and Barky wondered what was causing her to act so oddly.

"Okay," he said slowly, not quite sure if he believed her or not. Then again - he had no reason not to trust what she was saying. Fiddling with one of the belt loops on his jeans, he waited once more, leaving it up to her to decide if she wanted to continue the conversation, but when there was no immediate response, he cleared his throat. "Well, uh...I just thought that you might wanna know, so - I called ya...like you said ta do."

"Thanks...thank you - for letting me know, Barky," she answered finally, and he could tell that she was genuinely happy about it.

But why all the uncertainty before?

"If you uh...ya know, wanted ta drive to the hospital an come up, I think Wace'd really appreciate it," he added on instinct, hoping to persuade her in some way to come over, though he honestly had no idea how Wace would react if he saw her for real.

He'd slipped into the room earlier that day after going down to the cafeteria to grab a bite to eat and heard Wace talking to someone, but when he walked inside, there wasn't anyone there. Pausing by the doorway for a moment, he listened, hearing several whispered apologies and a request for whoever it was in his hallucination to stay - not to leave him again. From the tone of his voice, though it was hard to tell, he could've sworn he thought he was talking to Jen.

Ducking out of the room unnoticed, he turned around and walked back in a few seconds later, his arrival a little more pronounced, and it snapped Wace out of whatever daydream he'd been stuck in. There'd been no evidence of what he'd seen just happen on his face, but Barky knew that he probably hadn't even realized what he'd been saying or doing.

Thinking back on that as he talked to Jen, he started to get an inkling of an idea on why she sounded so...unsure over the phone.

"Only if ya have time, though. I know you're prob'ly busy with school back in session an' all," he tagged on to the end of his offer when she still hadn't answered, leaving her a way out if she needed it. He couldn't forget how she'd run out of the hospital room only a few short days earlier.

"Yeah," she said slowly, and he could almost picture the frown on her face. "Umm...t'night's probably not a good idea - I've got tests to prepare for, but...I'll try my hardest ta come in after I get out tomorrow, how's that?"

"Sounds fine," Barky answered, already knowing that she wouldn't be there.

After he hung up the phone with her, he vowed to himself that he'd keep her updated. After all the emotional upheaval he'd seen her go through in the weeks before, he wasn't going to let her slowly fade her way out of Wace's life without putting up a fight for it.

Wandering back into the hospital room, he found Wace awake, staring intently through the partially-closed blinds and at the busy, downtown streets.

"Anything interestin' goin' on out there?" he asked easily, striding over to the bed.

Wace turned and gave him a half-smile before relaxing back into his pillow, his attention no longer focused on the action below.

Barky settled into his chair and propped his feet up on the bottom of the hospital bed. "How ya doin'?"

"I'm all right," Wace answered slowly, his face slack from the new medication they'd put him on earlier.

"Ya feel up ta watchin' anythin' on the telly?" he asked, nodding his head toward the television hanging up in the corner.

Wace stared at it for a moment, his brows furrowing and Barky wondered if he'd actually heard the question, until he looked back over at him. "What day is it?"

"It's Saturday," Barky answered, giving him a curious stare as he watched him nod absently.

"There's prob'ly a rugby match on," he finally offered, tipping his head in the direction of the television for Barky to turn it on.

Barky reached behind his shoulder onto the nightstand and grabbed the remote. "Yeah," he said, smiling as he flipped the power on. "Yeah, I bet there's a match on somewhere."

Chapter Text

"I don' care if ya think they're stupid, ya still hafta do 'em."

"There's no fuckin' point," Wace argued, dropping his aching arms with a frustrated sigh. "I'm not doin' this bullshit anymore."

Seeing the look on his face and knowing that his temper had been foul for the entire morning, Elva threw in the towel gracefully and wheeled him back to his room. Barky was there, waiting, as usual, but sensed the tension immediately and kept his mouth closed while she was still in the room.

"All right," she said as she steadied him while he slowly climbed back into his bed, "I want you ta know that this just means you've got double on some of your exercises t'morrow - and I don' wanna hear a word about it."

He started to say something in return but stopped himself, just rolling his eyes and muttering a few curses under his breath instead. Elva waited, giving him a moment to let his thoughts be known, but when he just turned his head, effectively dismissing her from the room, she sighed and gathered up her therapy bag. Placing a hand on his shoulder as she left, she mouthed the words 'good luck' to Barky and gave him an encouraging smile.

Knowing all too well what he was in for, he just nodded and took a deep breath, casting his attention over to his brother.

He was in a mood today, that was for sure.

Barky didn't know whether it was coming from the therapy sessions themselves, frustration at still being in the hospital - even though he was convinced that he was 'fine,' or if it was just his routine anger beginning to resurface again. But whatever the source, his short, succinct answers in clipped tones and his unpredictable mood swings were enough to make Barky momentarily forget the jubilation of him recovering and start wondering again. Almost a month of trying to brush away the jabbing uncertainties that plagued his mind was erased the second the feeling of walking on egg shells returned.

"Why?" he asked, the word slipping from his mouth before he had time to convince himself that he shouldn't be saying it.

For a moment Wace just stared at him, an expression on his face that suggested he was waiting for Barky to elaborate, but Barky held off. He knew that Wace knew exactly what he was talking about.

A deep breath and then came the slow answer, said casually as if it were the first thing that entered his mind and he decided that he'd go with that. "I was drunk an' I just didn't know what I was -"

"You left a fuckin' note, Wace! Coppa found it in the car," Barky interrupted, a sudden burst of anger rushing through him and wiping out any guilt he felt over reacting in that way. The three weeks he'd spent in the intensive care unit, waiting, worrying, trying to wrap his mind around what he should've done differently finally caught up with him and he lashed out, however misguided it was. "What? Did ya think I wouldn't find it? Wouldn't read it? Did you think that maybe when you woke up, this'd all be a dream? 'Cause it's not a fuckin' dream! The bloody ventilator that was hooked up to ya a few weeks ago - breathin' for ya 'cause ya couldn't do it yourself - it's fuckin' real. The bed you're in, the IVs in your arm, the fuckin' tube that was in your dick - it ain't a dream."

Barky sat back, not even realizing how close he'd leaned in to Wace as he was speaking just this side of shouting. From his mood earlier, he half expected for him to make an argument against what he'd just said, to come back with some sort of heated comment, but there was none. Looking at him now, lying quietly in the bed, someone who'd only met him a few months before wouldn't have even recognized him. There was no fiery spark in his eyes any longer, the ever-present clenched muscle in his jaw was finally slackened, all the fight had fled and what was left in its wake was a broken man.

He thought about putting it off until later, giving Wace some time to get his wits about him - he didn't want it to seem like he was attacking him, but decided that going that route probably wouldn't get him any information. He would clam up - and Barky just had to know.

"Wace..." he started, completely unsure how to even bring it up. "Copp - 'e told me some things you said. Some things that maybe...I dunno how ta really go about asking ya, but...did Dad...did 'e ever...?" He trailed off, physically unable to ask the question. He'd had weeks to mull it over in his head, to plan out what exactly he'd say to him when he got the chance, but all that careful preparation deserted him then, leaving him high and dry with nothing but a few broken pieces in his hands.

Wace didn't even have to hear the rest to know what Barky was referring to. He turned his head, facing away from him and Barky thought he was going to try and ignore him for a moment, but then he said something.

"I was thirteen."

The words were spoken so softly that he could barely hear them. The thick rasp in Wace's relatively unused voice made it hard to understand, but Barky was able to make it out.

His head quickly did the math - he would've been nine or ten around that time, their mum would have left maybe a few months to a year prior.

"The first time...the first time it wasn't so bad - 'e just touched me a little."

'Oh, God,' Barky thought, his stomach lurching at the words.

'The first time' - that meant it had happened more than once. And the way he'd said it, almost as if he was trying to brush it off, like it wasn't that big of a deal - he half-expected him to have shrugged his shoulders. But, if there was one thing he knew about Wace, it was that he was a master at covering up how he felt about something - it was a trait that he'd learned well over the years.

"'e couldn't...when 'e was tryin' ta..."

He shook his head slightly in frustration from not being able to say what he wanted. "Just...'e passed out on my bed," he finally finished.

From the way his face was turned, Barky couldn't see his eyes, but the muscles in his jaw had reawakened and were clenching rapidly, making the short beard he had growing rise and fall noticeably with each spasm. Barky fought the urge to reach out and put his hand on his brother's arm, to try and settle him, but knew that somehow that wasn't the type of thing Wace would want right then.

"'e was drunk when it happened," he supplied easily, almost as if by keeping the conversation going, he wouldn't notice the words coming out of his mouth. "Real drunk. I-I told myself...after, that that's why - it was because 'e was drunk and 'e didn't know what 'e was doin'. I tried real hard ta be good, ta not do anythin' that'd make 'im mad, so 'e wouldn't...I kept thinkin' that I'd pissed 'im off so bad somehow, I..."

"Wace, no - that's not it. It wasn't your fault."

His head had shot around so quickly that Barky found himself scooting back in his chair. The anger, the hurt, the hatred that was burning in his eyes was so intense that, if he didn't know better, Barky would have thought that it was being directed at him.

The normally bright hazel that centered his eyes was gone, only to be covered by a blackness that had overrun its boundaries - an image that mirrored his life. The whites surrounding it were streaked with red, reminiscent of a porcelain mosaic laid onto a crimson background. The colors seeping through - the red and the black - were like metaphors for the emotion that was warring within him, clawing its way to the surface after having been held in check for far too long.

"I know that now, because the second time it happened 'e wasn't nearly as drunk and I hadn't done a fuckin' thing but wake up."

As he spoke, his body was rigid, coiled tightly, voice shaking with the emotion of someone who was struggling, with every ounce of their being, to keep the rage they had boiling within them just that - within them. It sounded like thunder rumbling low in the distance, the telltale sign that a storm was on its way.

Barky couldn't help but notice how true the analogy was.

"'e woke me up and as soon as I saw 'is eyes, I knew," he explained, shaking his head slightly, the anger now gone and apathy in its stead. "I knew what 'e was gonna do, so I told him 'no.' I said 'No, Dad - leave me alone, don't.' And you know how they tell you when you're little - they tell you to say 'no,' right? Well that's bullshit. How the fuck is you sayin' 'no' gonna make 'em change their mind? As if they'll just up and stop. They'll go 'okay, the little bastard said 'no' so that means I can't do it. Ho - well, maybe next time' and then they'll go off on their merry fuckin' way."

"Wace..." Barky wasn't sure why he was speaking, or when the tears had started running down his cheeks. He hadn't even realized he was crying.

"So what does 'e do after I tell him 'no'? After I make my grand stand for the protection of my body? 'e shoves my face down into the pillow and tells me ta 'shut the fuck up.'"

The statement had begun in a mocking tone, one that seemed to poke fun at anything he'd ever heard about the sanctity of one's self, but by the time he'd ended it, he was choking on a bitter laugh. Barky couldn't help but wonder if it was only now that he'd finally reached his breaking point, if what had happened before was just a precursor to this and he berated himself inwardly for even bringing it up in the first place.

"Had my face down in the pillow, pushin' it so hard and I couldn't even breathe. I couldn't see anythin', but I could hear 'im, takin' off 'is belt, could hear the metal clangin' against itself. I thought 'e was gonna...'e was crazy lookin' when I saw 'im - like it wasn't even 'im, ya know? Somebody diff'rent. Had this...just this look in 'is eye and I knew there was nothin' I could do."

He was talking quickly then, staring off to some invisible point on the wall like he was replaying the whole thing in his mind. Barky couldn't even look at him anymore. It hurt too much, but he didn't dare stop him.

"When 'e...I started ta scream because it hurt so fuckin' bad. Felt like I was bein' ripped in half. I remember 'im pushin' me down harder, tellin' me, whisperin' in my ear ta 'shut up and quit cryin,' that I was a fuckin' sissy. I couldn't...I couldn't breathe, I couldn't move."

With each word he spoke, his inhalation started to become more erratic and Barky was worried that he might begin to hyperventilate.

"The whole time he was holdin' me, pinnin' me down all I could think was 'if Mum were here, maybe...' - ya know? If she were there, then maybe it wouldn't've happened - she might've stopped 'im. Maybe he wouldn't've needed to -"

He finally stopped, his sentence ending abruptly in a harsh expulsion of breath, as if he was letting it all out with that burst of air. He couldn't say anymore for the moment, but Barky didn't need to hear it anyway - it all made sense to him now. Every last bit of it.

But despite Barky's thoughts, Wace took a deep breath and started back up again, determined to get it all out. It was probably the only time he'd ever talk about it, benefits of rehashing it all be damned.

"When 'e was...doin' it, I was fin'lly able ta turn my head and get some air, ya know? By then...by then my eyes had kinda dried up and I was just...I was just tryin' so hard not ta scream anymore, because -" he let out a watery laugh "- because I couldn't handle him callin' me a fuckin' sissy again. I just couldn't."

For the first time since Wace had begun telling him his story, Barky felt like he wanted his father to be there. He wanted that man to hear him, to hear his son recount the awful details of what had been done to him at his hand. He wanted him to be there so he could kill him when Wace was finished.

"I could see 'im - outta the corner of my eye. 'e had 'is eyes closed, but I could see 'im just fine. I remember watchin' 'im, tryin' ta see if 'e was gonna go any crazier than 'e was...I wanted ta be ready, ya know?. And then 'e opened 'is eyes and looked down at me. I almost closed mine, but I didn't - I just stared back up at 'im."

Though the tears still brimmed his eyes, they had yet to fall. Barky didn't imagine they ever would, so he let his own spill over for him.

"I wanted ta tell 'im ta stop again, but I couldn't. I couldn't make my mouth work. But...but 'e did. He stopped. He stopped and just looked down at me again and I could tell...I could tell that it was 'im again, ya know? Not...not whatever'd taken over 'im. I wanted ta...I wanted ta fuckin' kill 'im, but he never touched me again after that."

If he hadn't been there to see the anger in his eyes, to hear the hurt in his voice, Barky would've thought that Wace had forgiven his father. Yeah - he said that he'd never touched him again, but that didn't make up for what he'd done.

He couldn't help but wonder - "Why didn't you tell anyone?"

'It would've saved us both some trouble.'

He tried to stop himself from thinking it, but it was useless.

"Yeah, like who?" His voice had returned to its earlier, sarcastic tone, but for the first time in his life, Barky fully understood where it was coming from.

"I dunno, like a teacher or -"

Wace huffed curtly, cutting him off with a shake of his head. "My teachers wouldn't've even known whose name to put on a report if I actually showed up ta school and told 'em."

"You could've told me."

The bark of laughter that came from Wace held every emotion but humor.

"Yeah - and what would you've done? Chased after 'im? Bit 'is ankles? Kicked 'im in the shins?"

Barky frowned.

"I just meant that...I meant that you shouldn't've had to go through that by yourself, is all." He paused, lifting his head to look at his brother, though he hadn't even realized that he'd dropped it.

Wace just shrugged tiredly. "I've been by myself for practic'ly my whole life, Barky. I wouldn't know how to deal with shit if it was any other way."

"And is that what you call what you've been doing? 'Dealing with it'?"

The words might've been accusatory, but the tone Barky delivered them in wasn't. He really wanted to know what Wace thought he was doing, what he was accomplishing by what he'd done. It didn't make any sense, but he supposed that somehow, in Wace's mind, that it did.

"Yeah."

Was that it? Was that all of the answer he was going to get out of him?

"'Yeah' what?"

"'Yeah, that's how I deal with things.' I don't bloody cry about 'em and mope around, I -"

"Drive your car into a fuckin' bridge," Barky finished.

There was nothing he could say to that, so he just turned his head back to face the wall.

"Why'd ya do it, Wace?" he asked once more, hoping to get a straight answer this time.

Wace sighed and Barky knew then that he that he was going to tell him. Or at least try to.

"Because," he started out slowly, his eyes dancing all over the room. He wasn't sure where to look. "I just..."

He shook his head in frustration.

"Ev'rybody was gone. Mum left and then you, Jen left and now Dad's gone." He let out a short laugh and shrugged his shoulders. "Hell, you even came back, but you left again, so I got to thinkin' 'Well, ev'ryone's gone but me. Ev'rybody just packed up and left. They left me.' And all this time I'd been thinkin' that it was their problem - that it was your problem - that made it happen, but I just kinda realized that since I was the one that was still here, that everyone must've been wantin' ta get away from me. That it was me that was the problem and I just...I couldn't take it anymore. I been fuckin' things up for my whole life and I...I couldn't fix it no more and I just...I wanted it to stop before I did even more damage."

"Wace that's not...that's not how it was, I promise," Barky spat out, fumbling for the right words to say.

"Then how was it?" he yelled back suddenly, his voice strangled with emotion, his eyes bloodshot with his anger burning through the tears that had welled up. "How the fuck was it, Barky? You left me - alone - with him. She left me alone with 'im, too, and I fuckin' hated 'im. I couldn't stand 'im. And all those years I - I didn't know why and it just...Jesus, I got so scared sometimes I couldn't even breathe and it didn't make any fuckin' sense."

He stopped, taking a breath and trying to regroup himself from all the talking he was doing. Barky watched, his heart pounding faster as he watched his brothers eyes darken once more, almost like someone had shut off the light in the room and they were adjusting to the darkness.

Adjusting to the darkness. Maybe that's what he really was doing.

"And I remember," he started up again, his voice taking on a chilling tone that Barky had never heard him use before. "In that fuckin' hospital when I was holdin' 'im down, I remember pullin' the pillow over 'is face and it all came back ta me - ev'ry last bit. I wanted ta yell, but...I couldn't. I couldn't scream and I couldn't even think straight. When I looked down and saw the pillow in my hands, all I could do was hold it there, push it down tighter over 'is face and I remember thinkin' that I was glad, that I was happy he knew what it felt like ta be helpless."

He stopped speaking shortly as his face twisted into a pained grimace. Bringing his hands up to his head slowly, Wace closed his eyes and let out a sound of pain that Barky thought was mixed with a little frustration as well.

"You wan' me ta get a doc -" he started before he was cut off.

"No! I don' want anymore fuckin' doctors around - I wanna get outta here and I wanna go home."

And with that, he fell back into the bed from where he'd raised himself slightly and let his hands gingerly cradle his head.

Barky watched miserably from his chair, his heart aching that he wasn't able to do anything for him. He knew it was pointless to try and tell him that he needed to stay calm. How in the hell could you say that to someone after all that?

"Listen, Wace," he started, completely unsure of where he was going with it, but just let his brain do the talking. "You should prob'ly just try and rest, okay? Just try an' lay down an' don't -"

"Shut up!" he shouted abruptly, tearing his hands away from his head and pointing a pained expression at him. "Just shut up and get th' fuck out - I don' want you in 'ere!"

"No," Barky shot back immediately, shaking his head with hopefully as much determination as he felt as he felt on the inside. "No, I'm not leavin'. You can cry or you can yell, you can do whatever the hell you wanna do, but I'm gonna be right 'ere with ya the whole time. I'm not leavin' you again, Wace."

He took a breath and tried to steady himself. His hands were shaking and he clenched them into fists.

Wace sat for a moment, continued to stare at him almost to the point where it was starting to unnerve Barky. Then he just fell back into his bed and closed his eyes, seeming to accept what he'd been told, or at least, deciding not to argue with it. Barky didn't care which conclusion he'd come to, because when he opened them, he'd be there either way.

Chapter Text

Placeholder for filler chapter, move along to the next one for now.

Chapter Text

They were silent as they slid down into the back of Coppa's car and no one had to ask if it had gone well or not. Then again, it couldn't have gone badly either. If it had, Wace and Barky wouldn't have left the courthouse so quickly. Wace might not've even left the courthouse at all had he been given jail time.

"Six months probation ain't so bad."

The announcement came suddenly, like one of his thoughts had escaped from his mind, but he didn't seem phased that he'd said it. The collective feeling of relief in the car was almost palpable. It was a good sign that the first words out of Wace's mouth were positive - a very good sign.

"No, it ain't bad at all," Barky agreed, settling into his seat much more comfortably now. "It'll be over before ya know it, prob'ly."

The drive out of the city wasn't a terribly long one, but it was hot outside - hotter than normal - and the car bordered on stifling until Coppa pulled onto one of the main roads and got a little air circulating.

"Gonna hafta go to the bank real soon, though - see how much I got in the savin's. Should prob'ly have just enough ta cover the fine, but that's it."

Again, it seemed like another absent thought had slipped, because the old Wace would've never mentioned anything like that aloud. Maybe it was the accident itself, no one knew. The doctors had said that people suffering brain injuries sometimes came out relatively unscathed, and other times they had a complete personality shift. Then again, it could've also been that he'd finally come to terms with a lot of things he'd been pushing away for so long. It was hard to say, but whatever the case, he was a different person. Not entirely different, but there was still...

"Oh shit!" Trunny shouted suddenly, causing Coppa to break slightly and cast him an annoyed look. "I forgot ta tell ya, mate," he explained, turning around almost fully in his seat to look at Wace, who was sitting behind him. "Your dad's car - the salvage yard managed ta sell it, well, the parts, ta some collector for a good piece o' money. I haven't gone out ta pick it up yet, and 'e called me a while back - the guy at the yard - but I just forgot about it with all that's been goin' on."

"How much was it?" Wace asked, leaning forward slightly.

Trunny frowned, trying to remember the exact number, but came up short. "I think 'e said it was like fifteen hundred."

Sitting back slowly in his seat with a heavy sigh, Wace let his head fall to the side and rest against the doorframe of the car. With just one look at him, you could tell an incredible weight had been lifted and Barky had to remind himself that his brother was exactly the same in some respects. He still had a lot on his shoulders and carried the burden with no complaint. Looking at him two minutes ago would've given no indication as to what was going on in his head - he had hiding his feelings down to an art.

No one said anything else for the rest of the ride home. They were all trying to wrap their minds around the possibility that things just might work out and, quite frankly, it was a boggling concept.

Pulling to a lurching halt in front of his building, Coppa threw the car into park and they all piled out and headed up the steps. Two duffel bags were on the couch and Wace had to scoot a small box out of the way of the door so he could open it up all the way.

"Ya sure you got ev'rything packed up in those, mate?" Trunny asked as he gestured toward the couch on his way to the kitchen. "You guys want a drink?" he asked before Wace could answer and disappeared around the corner.

A chorus of 'yeah's was his answer and he reappeared in the living room a few moments later with a giant pitcher of ice water and a stack of glasses.

"Ain't got any lemons," he said absently as he poured out the glasses and handed them around the room.

It was different, that was for sure, to be sitting at the house, all of them together, and not having a beer in sight, but Coppa had taken all of it out of the house before Wace had come home. The doctor told him that he had to stop drinking and if the rest of them had to sacrifice for a little while to make it easier on him, they were willing to do it.

"Ya got everything settled then up at the cane farm, Bark?" Coppa asked as he settled into the worn couch.

Barky nodded, swallowing a large gulp of the water and wiped his mouth. "Yeah - Don's expectin' us some time around the beginning of next week, so everything should be okay."

"'ey, now you can prob'ly get a car or somethin' instead of takin' the train up," Trunny suggested, taking a seat on the bench by the door. "You can find you a cheap one with whatever's left over of the money from your dad's old car, right?"

Wace shrugged and looked over to Barky as if asking what he thought of the idea.

"I don' care," Barky said, shaking his head. "Whatever you wanna do with it's right by me, Wace."

"Okay," he started slowly, leaning up against the wall by the couch. "I guess we'll go 'round and look for one tomorrow or somethin'."

"Sounds good."

*****

"Enh, got an Impala out back - sixty-five. Runs pretty good."

"What's wrong with it?" Wace asked, following Nick around to the back of the garage and meeting up with Barky as he came out of the bathroom.

"Nothin' much, got a little interior damage and a couple scratches here and there. Guy brought it in for me ta fix the transmission and couldn't pay the balance so I kept it," the man said with a laugh as they stepped out the back door. "Been meanin' ta sell it for a while. It's just takin' up space, really. It's too good of a car ta just junk - you'd be doin' a favor for me ta get it off my hands."

Wace strode over to the intended car and gave it a thorough outside inspection before he reached into the open window and grabbed the hood release. "Wires look good," he said absently as he propped it up and disappeared under the heavy flap of metal.

Nick walked over to him a few seconds later, pulling a grease rag out from his back pocket and reaching for the oil wand. "I've run it a few times since I got it - oil gets dirty a little quick, but it's all right if ya keep it changed regular," he supplied as he held it out for Wace to see the cloudy brown liquid. "This ain't the original engine either."

"Didn't think it was," Wace said as he straightened up and turned, resting against the front of the car and crossing his arms over his chest. "How many kilometers?"

"Well, the car's got about three hundred thousand on it, but the engine's only got a little over two. Like I said, it runs good, 'specially for an oldie, so long as ya keep ev'rything changed on time."

"Well? Whaddya think of it?" he asked Barky, who was still standing next to the garage.

"It's all right - I mean, as long as it runs okay, right?" he shrugged, coming over to them slowly.

Wace tossed his head back toward the car, indicating the various nicks and scratches covering the flat, white paint. "Ya think you could do anythin' to the body?"

"Yeah," he nodded enthusiastically, walking around the car and giving it his own inspection. "Shouldn't be too hard."

Nodding, Wace turned his attention back to Nick, who was waving a bug away from his head.

"How much ya want for it?" he asked, cracking a grin.

"For you?" he said, making a thoughtful face as he ran his greasy fingers through his short, thinning, blonde hair. "Six hundred?" he finally asked, shrugging as if the number didn't really matter to him just so long as the car was taken.

Letting his eyes fall back down to the relatively clean motor, he clucked his tongue and frowned. "I wanna take it for a drive, first," he said, continuing to let his gaze drift over the engine block.

"Course," Nick agreed, walking around the driver's side of the car and pulling out the key from above the visor and tossing them to Wace. "I'll fill it up with petrol back 'ere if ya decide ta get it - take it for as long as ya want and lemme know what ya think. I'll be 'ere till around six t'day."

Pitching the key across the top of the car to Barky, Wace rolled to his left and made his way to the passenger side and climbed in.

"Ya wanna make any rounds before we head out Thursday?" Barky asked as he pulled the car out of the garage parking lot a few minutes later. "See anybody?"

Shrugging carelessly, Wace watched the dials behind the steering wheel as his brother accelerated. "Take it up a little higher, slow, though," he instructed, his trained ear listening for anything that didn't sound right with the engine.

Pressing his foot down on the pedal, he watched the speedometer steadily rise and tried his hand at taking note of anything out of the ordinary.

"Okay," Barky answered with equal indifference, knowing that Wace would catch onto his tone.

He'd been toying with the idea of mentioning Jen to him for some time, but didn't know how to go about doing it. The last time he'd talked to her was the day before Wace was released from the hospital and as far as she knew, they were both staying in town - as far as Wace knew, whatever had happened between the two of them was still a source of a humongous rift that wasn't even possible to mend.

But Wace hadn't seen her at the hospital. He hadn't seen the hurt, the worry, the absolute anguish in her eyes as she watched him lie helplessly in his coma. He hadn't heard the forgiveness in her voice as she spoke to him softly, telling him that she missed him and that she wanted nothing more in the world than for him to just be all right. He didn't know that she still loved him.

And Barky didn't think it was right to just leave without...some sort of explanation, some attempt at fixing the impossible. He felt as if he owed her that much.

"What's that?" Wace asked, seconds later, almost on cue.

Barky played dumb. "What's what?"

"Why'd ya say it like that?"

"Like what?"

"Like...fuck, I dunno - ya said it weird," he fumbled, lifting his eyes from the gauges and staring at his brother for a moment.

Biting the inside of his lip for a moment, Barky kept his eyes trained on the road, and scrambled to figure out what would be the best way to go about doing this.

"I dunno," he started, careful to keep his voice casual. "I just figured ya might wanna go an' see a few people, is all. Let 'em know you were leavin', tell 'em good-bye."

"I don' give a shit whether anybody knows I've left or not. Ain't any of their business, really," Wace answered, still somewhat suspicious. He leaned back in his seat, still listening to the sound of the motor, relieved that he hadn't heard anything so far. "Take it up a little more. Steady."

Nodding, he brought the speed up seventy kilometers and decided to give it another stab. "Yeah, I guess I was just thinkin' if maybe they wanted ta say good-bye or somethin' like that, was all. Maybe see how you were doin' before ya left."

He mentally smacked himself.

'Jesus, that was too obvious.'

The lack of comment from the seat next him let him know that Wace had caught on to what he was getting at, and he decided to let him chew on that for a moment. Partly because he didn't want to push him, but mostly because he didn't trust his mouth to say something he wouldn't get a fist in his face for.

"I don' think anybody 'ere'd give a shit if I fell off the face of the earth," he said finally, his voice having lowered several notches. "They'd prob'ly find a certain appreciation for it," he added, purposefully leaving any specific names out even though they both knew whom the other was talking about.

"I dunno about that," Barky started slowly, his sense of self-preservation not wanting to give up the fight to his sense of duty as a brother. Drawing in a deep breath, he took the plunge. "She uh...she came by the hospital quite a few times...before. I mean, before ya woke up."

Came by.

Quite a few times.

Those were the understatements of the year.

He could almost hear himself pleading with her to go home and get some rest, to get up out of the bed before the nurses came in and caught her, could feel her tears, wet on his shoulder as he held her while she cried. It made him realize just how deep her love for him ran and he knew that if he didn't try something then they'd both just be throwing that all away. And as much as he tried to hide it, he'd still caught the hurt in Wace's tone when he'd spoken moments earlier. He knew that whatever had happened was something he couldn't quite get over and that alone was enough to keep him away from her.

Out of the corner of his eyes, Barky snuck a quick look over at him, trying to gauge his reaction. So far, it seemed like there wasn't one.

"You're mad, aren't you?" he chanced after a long minute. "For me not tellin' ya sooner?"

"No," Wace answered slowly, as if by saying the word, he was telling himself how to react. "Not quite yet. I'm tryin' real hard not ta be, but I dunno if it's gonna work."

"I just...I didn't know if it'd upset you, ya know? I didn't think - "

"I'm not a fuckin' china doll," he interrupted, blowing out a harsh breath as he tried to reel his anger in. "Ya don't have ta coddle me an' make sure my fuckin' diaper's dry all the time - I can take care of that by m'self."

"I know," Barky agreed quickly, making a left turn and pulling back into the parking lot at the garage. "I just...I mean, I didn't know if you'd really wanna know about it is all."

From the corner of his eye, Barky could see his head nod slowly.

"Why'd ya even say anythin' then?" he asked tiredly and Barky could tell his mood was a little lighter.

"Guess it's just the hopeless romantic in me," he joked dryly, then sobered. "I guess I just thought you should know, that it'd be somethin' that maybe...I dunno, really. I just wanted ta tell ya before ya maybe made a mistake you couldn't take back is all."

Wace chuckled miserably and shook his head. "Too late for that one, kid."

Chapter Text

Placeholder for filler chapter, move to the next one for now.

Chapter Text

His palms were sweating so badly he had to wipe them on the legs of his jeans before he reached up to knock on the door. He rapped on it lightly, twice, partly hoping that she might think she was hearing things and not even answer his call.

His stomach twisted at the burning familiarity that waiting on the front stoop offered. His gaze fell from the tiny hole in the screen window to the flower pot by the door and he wondered if it still held the key she'd tucked away for him so long ago. He had to close his eyes as his mind flashed back to the many late night calls he'd made to her house, seeking the comforting peace of her body next to his and how he hadn't felt that in so long that he absolutely ached for it. Venturing further, his mind also took him back to the last night they'd shared together, to what he'd done, how he'd treated her. He had to force his eyelids open, trying to get rid of the image of the hurt he'd caused her that seemed to have tattooed itself to the backs of them.

When he didn't hear any sounds coming from the inside, he figured that she wasn't home and turned to leave. Just as he was stepping off the front stoop, he heard the door open behind him.

He shook his head.

She was always so graceful - of course he wouldn't have heard her.

"Wace?"

He turned, one foot on the sidewalk and one still on the front step. His courage had left him and he was almost afraid to look up and see the assured contempt in her eyes.

When he did, he was surprised to see that it wasn't there. Maybe Barky hadn't been blowing smoke up his ass when he'd said she was worried about him. That she might want to see him before he left.

"What are you doing here?"

The question wasn't accusatory, she actually wanted to know, and the slight breathless tone of her voice told him that maybe she was a little glad he'd shown up. He took that as a good sign and cleared his throat.

"Hey. I uh...I wanted ta see ya."

He forced a softness into his normally hard stare, hoping to make himself less threatening, as he knew he would be. He didn't want to scare her, especially after what he'd done the last time they'd seen one another.

"Okay," she answered simply, crossing her arms and leaning against the doorframe, keeping her gaze neutral.

The screen door was still closed in front of her and through the haze of it he could see that she had an apron on. She'd probably been cooking. She was always coming up with something good to eat.

He took his foot off the front step and scooted back a little on the sidewalk so she wouldn't feel like he was crowding her. His hands automatically went into his back pockets.

"So...how ya been?"

'Jesus, that was lame,' he mentally cursed himself.

"Good," she said with a nod, straightening up a little against the frame and loosening her stiff posture a bit.

He nodded as well. "That's good. Uh, ya look good. I mean - nice. Ya look real nice. But good, too."

He frowned and she tried to hold back the smile that was threatening over him stumbling on his words. She couldn't help but enjoy the fact that she was pretty much the only one he got nervous around, even still.

"Barky, uh...he said that you came by - to the hospital, I mean, when I was...when I was out."

She didn't say anything, but he could see her nod through the screen.

"Thanks for that," he finished, unsure of what else to say then. He'd purposely made the long walk over so he could plan everything out, but now it had all deserted him and he felt himself struggling for the right thing to tell her.

There was a silence between the two of them for a few moments until Jen took it upon herself to get down to the heart of the issue. For all of her niceties, she was never one to beat around the bush and the uncomfortableness of the situation was just about to do her in.

"So what d'ya want, Wace?"

She cringed. She hadn't meant for it to come out so harshly, but her nerves were wound tight at just his presence, and she hated having that feeling, especially toward him.

"I mean - is there anything in particular...?" she started, trying desperately to make it sound less callous.

The resentment she'd had for him wasn't there anymore, but the memory of the empty ache still lingered. The wavering doubt that it would somehow happen again, that he would hurt her, was a niggling fear within her mind and as hard as she’d been trying to patch that wound, it just wouldn’t heal.

Wace waved her apology off with a toss of his hand and shook his head. "No, it's okay. I understand. I just...I wanted ta see ya before I left and ta...well, ta tell ya that I'm sorry."

He sighed, his chest feeling heavier than it had when he was in the hospital. Before he started to speak again, his gaze fell to the ground. He didn't think he could take seeing rejection in her eyes, even though he knew in his heart that he deserved it - that she had every right in the world to hand it to him on a silver platter and kick his ass all the way to the curb.

"I know it doesn't mean a whole helluva lot comin' from me - 'specially now, but...I just thought I should tell you, because...because I am. I am sorry, Jenny."

A soft gasp parted her lips and she blinked back sudden tears, ducking her head. She knew he probably hadn't even realized what he'd called her, his old pet name for her... the name he used when he was trying to tell her how sincere he was being. As she struggled to hold herself together, the rest of what he'd said filtered through. "You're leaving?"

He looked up, relieved that her response didn't hold hatred or carry something to the effect of telling him to stick it where the sun didn't shine.

"Yeah," he said hoarsely and he cleared his throat once more. Was it that dry out there to anyone else?

"Me an'...me an' Bark are gonna head up ta where 'e use'ta work. Take a break for a while - see if we can make a go if it out there."

He found himself longing for a sense of approval from her for some reason. It didn't have to be in words, actions would suffice, but validation was something he needed right then.

She looked down at her hands that had been unconsciously fiddling with her apron. He was leaving her again and she hated the fact that it almost hurt worse than the two times before. It wasn’t fair. “I'm sorry...I'm sorry I didn't come to the hospital after you woke up," she confessed suddenly, overwhelmed by the need to tell him whatever she felt for the simple fact that she wanted him to know before losing him once more. "I just..."

"It's okay," he said with a shrug. He couldn't fault her for it anyway.

She shook her head earnestly, her actions becoming more shrouded with the emotions surging within her. "No. No, it isn't. I should've been there for you when you knew it and I wasn't."

He couldn't be sure because he couldn't see her face clearly, but he thought he could detect tears in her voice.

He took a step toward the door, despite his best effort to let her be the one to reach out to him. She was hurting and it was something he couldn’t bear to watch, especially since he knew he was mostly the cause of it. "Aww, Jen, it's okay, really - I promise. It's not like...I mean after what I did -"

His voice hitched at that and he stopped abruptly before he lost himself in the conflict swelling within him. He was so sorry, yet he couldn’t even bring himself to apologize specifically for anything because he knew any attempt to would fall pathetically short. In his eyes, he‘d done so much to her that there was no way she could possibly forgive him.

"That's not an excuse, Wace. I should've -"

"No. No, I'm not sayin' that, but...well, I wasn't your responsibility anymore. You don' hafta worry about me," he countered, his voice gaining a little more strength now that he was back in his familiar element of shrugging off any help.

Even through the screen, he could make out the bittersweet smile that fell over her lips. She shook her head softly at the way he still tried to shoulder it all by himself and wondered for a brief moment if he‘d ever be able to work past that. "Oh...baby, you can’t - you can’t help but worry about someone when you...” she faltered, unable to bring herself to actually voice the words she felt with every beat of her heart. She drew in a deep breath, determined to speak at least some of what she needed to say to him. Hopefully he’d understand. “They're always your responsibility, no matter what happens."

He looked away, quickly blinking back the heat that was flooding over his eyes, almost resentful at her ability to completely tear down every protective wall he tried to build around himself until he realized that he hadn‘t ever needed them with her in the first place. Even though he‘d used them, practically forced them up in her face, they were pointless when it came to her, because she‘d always been able to find her way around them. She’d given him the space he needed to fall apart, but was always there to pick up the pieces.

And he’d pretty much thrown all of that away.

Scuffing his toes nervously against the concrete, he gripped at the denim that was covering his hands, letting the scratch of his fingernails against the coarse material bring him back to the here and now.

"I been...well, since I've got my head cleared, I...I've been worryin' about you, too."

Wace-speak for telling her that he still loved her. Not quite as eloquent as he'd wanted, but he hoped that she‘d get the gist of what he was trying to say. She’d always understood him so well - seemed like the only one who did, or would at least take the time to try.

To his surprise, she was opening the door then, walking out onto the front step, but leaving one hand on the door behind her, unconsciously anchoring herself.

"I've missed you," she whispered tightly, despite her best attempts to hold back, to not open herself completely to this man. But she couldn‘t. Her mind was losing a battle against a heart that still belonged to him.

Wace nodded his head, fighting back the wetness in his eyes. "I've missed you, too."

He was looking away from her as he spoke, staring down at the sidewalk, voice strained from trying to reign in his emotions.

Those simple, vulnerable movements - the duck and nod of his head, the way his thumb came up to quickly flick over his eyes - were enough to pull her to him, despite all the times he’d pushed her away.

He heard the screen door close and the light scuffle of her tennis shoes against the concrete and his eyes slammed shut as he fought against the urge to reach out to her when he felt the soft warmth of her hand on his cheek.

He took a deep breath and stayed still for the moment, content to have her just touch him like that, even if that was all that she offered. The selfishness in him would take that much.

The gentleness and easy manner that she let her hands roam over his face was almost enough to do him in. It had been so long, months, since he'd felt the tender caress that only she’d ever given him.

She leaned into him, letting her forehead rest against his chest and bringing her other hand up to his other cheek. She placed a kiss on the exposed skin in front of her and closed her eyes.

He couldn't take it anymore.

His hands slipped slowly out of his pockets, creeping their way up her sides and eventually finding one another at her back, just below her shoulder blades. He wrapped his arms around her gently, making sure it was all right for him to be holding her that way before let himself relax into the embrace.

It was.

The sigh that escaped her lips mirrored his and they melted into one another, once again completing the beautiful mold that they'd been.

He buried his face into her hair, smiling at the scent - it was still the same coconut she'd always used for him. Any of the more flowery stuff made him sneeze. He placed a kiss to the side of her head as he felt her arms wrap around his body, pulling him just as closely to her.

"I forgive you," she muttered against the material of his shirt, just barely able to keep the composure in her voice.

She felt his arms tighten around her at the admission and reveled for a moment in the thought that he might never let her go.

"Say it again," he asked almost desperately, pulling away from her finally so he could see her face when she said it.

She looked up at him with a trembling smile and tear-stained cheeks. "I forgive you," she sputtered out once more, this time collapsing into the fit of sobs that had been threatening for a good while.

He held her firmly to him, his arms wrapped around her slight frame and trying his best to soothe the trembling away. He could do this. He could be the one to hold the pieces for her while she fell apart. She’d given that to him so many times before and as much as he was still unsure of his footing here, he relished the chance to give at least this much back to her.

He felt her tears seeping through his shirt, falling onto his bare skin, and he felt his heart clench at this evidence of the pain he'd caused her... and the trust she still put in him for reasons unknown. Her shoulders shook and her fingers tightened, bunching his shirt, but her sobs were beginning to quiet now, her breathing forcibly being slowed.

She hiccupped, and his hand skipped up and down her back soothingly. He searched for something to say and came up empty, much to his dismay, but he pressed a comforting kiss to her hair, resting his cheek against her head. He felt a pleasant shock go through him as she trembled in an entirely different way at his caress, and he pulled back enough to kiss her again, this time on her temple.

She lifted her head to look at him, her eyes swollen and still wet from crying, and he gently took her face between his hands, moving his lips over her cheeks, kissing away her tears. She closed her eyes and let out a shuddering breath at his tenderness, her hands clutching his waist gingerly.

"Wace," she whispered, and he felt her breath against his face. "Will you... will you come inside? Just... just for a little while."

Resting his forehead against hers, he let his eyelids fall shut and tried to battle through the thick field of emotion growing within him.

'...just for a little while.'

With his heart tugging in his chest like it was, there would be no way he could stay anything less than forever, and that's how he made his decision.

"I hafta leave," he whispered reluctantly, nuzzling his nose into her damp cheek.

He was no good to her at the moment and he knew if he let himself fall into her arms, he'd never be able to climb out of them and stand on his own two feet.

She lifted her head away from his and looked up at his face, reading his expression clearly. He wanted to stay just as much as she wanted him to. "Please?” she tried again, perhaps a little more desperately than she'd intended. "I...I just...could you just come inside for a bit - just to talk?"

She let her fingers trail lightly down his hips then back up to his arms where they were still wrapped around her waist. Leaning back from his half-embrace, she took both his hands in hers, giving his knuckles a rub with the pad of her thumbs as she waited for him to answer.

For a moment, he thought about trying to resist again, but he realized that's just what he would've been doing - resisting. There was a pull coming from somewhere deep inside him and he couldn't fight it any longer.

"Okay," he consented and let her lead him back to the front door.

She pressed her palm nervously over the front of her perfectly smooth apron and opened the screen door. "House is a mess - I've been doin' some cleaning," she excused with an embarrassed look over her shoulder as she took him inside.

He shook his head in amusement. The place was neat as a pin with the 'mess' she was talking about most likely being some hidden dust under a lampshade. The air inside was comfortable and the whir of the cooling unit could be heard easily in the stillness.

The living room was dim, the only light source coming from the afternoon sun peeking through the blinds covering the large front windows.

It was just as he remembered it.

Carpet, a warm cream with tiny flecks of color laid within. The couch and chairs, a muted beige suede that you couldn't help but relax in once you sat down on them. No television - she hadn't seen the need in it, but pictures on the mantel chronicling the years of her life in Erskineville.

A swarm of children, thrown together chaotically at a glance, but upon further inspection, there was definitely an order to it. It was her first group of hellions at Erko Public and he could remember when she'd proudly put it up on display. Her aunt - an older woman with a stately manner about her, but gentleness evident in her eyes - standing on a dock with the open ocean providing the background. Him and her, surprisingly enough, sitting, slightly off-centered, on an old barrel drum that had held gasoline at one point in time. She'd wanted to get the sunset in the background and made him stretch his long arm out as far as he could in order to get it all in when he took it. There was a slightly strained look on his face, but they were both smiling away.

He'd been a part of that happiness once. Maybe he could make it happen again.

"I'm just gonna go check on my pie," Jen said, letting go of his hand and effectively breaking the silence that they'd immersed themselves in once they'd come inside.

Wace turned, giving her a nod as he stuffed his hands into his front pockets. He smiled a little half-smile at correctly predicting that she'd been cooking something and took a seat on the end of the couch.

She came back into the living room a few minutes later, holding a glass of tea and a bottle of water in her hands.

"Sorry - this is all I had," she said, handing him the glass as she sat down in the chair beside the couch.

"It's all right," he answered, taking it from her and bringing it to his lips. After he'd drank about half of it, he sat it down on his knee and turned to face her. "I don' drink anymore," he said quietly, strangely nervous about the response he'd get from her.

She shook her head as she swallowed down a mouthful of water. "I'm sorry," she said, putting her hand over her chest in apology. "I-I didn't mean it like that. I meant that -"

"It's okay," he said with an honest smile. "I just thought you should know."

Breathing an obvious sigh of relief, Jen leaned back a little in her chair, throwing him a sheepish smile. "That's good. That's really good, Wace."

"Figured it was time for a change," he said with a shrug, trying to be nonchalant about it, but on the inside he was secretly beaming with pride at her approval.

"The uh...the doctors said that since I was in the coma for so long that it mostly - the alcohol - got out of my system, so the withdrawals, I think they called it, would be a little easier than if I quit like regular," he explained, feeling the need to include her in on the process.

"Yeah, but that's just the physical part," she added softly. "A lot of what's fighting addiction is just being mentally prepared to handle it."

She looked him over as she was talking, trying to read any signs he was giving off, but there were none other than the open and attentive expression on his face. It had been a long time since she'd seen his eyes so clear and alert. There was still that familiar heaviness shadowing them, but even that had lightened considerably. She couldn't help but smile.

"That's what they told me," he answered back, taking another drink from his glass.

"So...do you think you are?"

She hadn't really wanted to ask the question. It felt like she was lecturing him and he didn't need that. But, she knew that the time for tip-toeing around his problems was over, and by the looks of him, he felt the same way.

"Yeah - absolutely. I mean, I know it's not gonna be the easiest thing in the world, but I'm ready - I'm ready ta change. Plus, I got Bark - he's been real good ta me about everythin' and I know that 'e'll keep me straight."

Jen openly smiled at that. "Well, I dunno - he might try 'is hardest, but I seem to remember you being pretty stubborn when you put your mind ta something."

Shrugging causally, he took a sip of his tea and leaned back a little into the cushion, trying to drink in the sight of her without being too obvious.

She blushed, looking away from him and quickly took a sip from her bottle, so he guessed he'd failed. He bit his lower lip, trying to hold back the smile. It didn't matter anyway - it was good to know he could still affect her that way. "So uh...how've the little hellions been?" he asked, trying to lighten the mood a little.

She laughed predictably at the term of endearment he'd always used for the children and shook her head. "Same old, same old - not much in the way of character development for six-year-olds, now is there?"

"No, I s'pose not," he said with a grin. "Then again, you never can tell."

"No, you never can. People have a way of surprising you sometimes."

She looked deep into his eyes when she spoke and she knew that he knew they weren't talking about her students any longer. His face was unreadable for a moment, but she gave him time and eventually he bowed his head, letting his eyes fall shut as he propped his elbow up on the armrest and ran his hand through his hair.

"I hate that it had ta surprise ya," he said softly, honesty and regret coating every word.

"Wace, no," she reassured, setting her water bottle down on the end table as she came over to sit next to him on the couch. She took his free hand in both of hers and held it gently, smiling at the light squeeze he gave her. "That's not what I meant."

His eyes were still closed, forehead resting on the heel of his palm, but she knew that she had his attention. When she pulled his hand into her lap, placing it on her thigh so she could rub his arm, she started speaking again.

"It's just that..." she sighed, not knowing how to phrase it correctly, but wanting desperately to not make him feel as if she was laying all the blame at his feet. "For so long you were diff'rent - you weren't you. You were someone else entirely, and...and I didn't know how ta deal with that person. I saw it; I saw the changes in you and I just couldn't...I couldn‘t help you an’ I’m so sorry.”

At that, his eyes shot open and he shook his head determinedly. "No. No, you're not gonna apologize for this, Jen. You tried - that's all you could do."

"But I -"

"No," he repeated, shushing her with a sharp look and a squeeze of her hands with his. "You don' have anything ta be sorry for, do you hear me?" As he spoke, his eyes bore into hers, both ordering and pleading for her to believe him. "You did ev'rything you could and that's all anybody can ever ask for. B'sides,” he added, his gaze softening considerably, “Remember that stubborn thing you were mentionin' just a few minutes ago? I'm pretty sure that has somethin' ta do with it all."

He was trying to make a joke of it, but she couldn't bring herself to smile. Ducking her head, she nodded, reluctantly agreeing with him and feeling a bit of the weight she'd been carrying around for the past few months start to ease. However misplaced it was, there had been a sense of guilt hanging over her head from having left him during those last few weeks. She just hadn’t been able to look past it. But now, hearing him say that, absolving her of any blame, it did a little in the way of helping her let go.

"Okay," she muttered, letting him know that the conversation was settled, at least for the moment, and leaned in a little closer to him.

"'nough o' this maudlin shit, all right?" he said easily as he pulled his hand from hers and brought his arm up and around her shoulders. Gladly accepting his embrace, she let her head rest comfortably on his chest then reached up blindly for his hand once more.

Tilting his head slightly, he placed a kiss on the crown of her head as he entwined his fingers with hers.

“How’re you doing?” she asked quietly, her voice almost a whisper, like she didn’t want to disturb the silence. Her fingers danced over his large hand, absently enjoying the juxtaposition of the soft skin on top and the callused palm that testified to his lifetime of hard work.

He was still for a moment, the unspoken addition of ‘since the accident’ looming thick in the air, until he finally answered. “Fine.”

He felt the almost undetectable twitch of her hand in his - a reflex of feeling like she was being shut off from him, no doubt, and he could barely stop himself from sighing. He could feel her pulling away from him, even though she was still tucked safely at his side and his mind scrambled for something to say. “Been havin’ headaches,” he confessed, his gut lurching at the admission. He had prepared himself for the normal, almost physically painful reaction to having divulged something he perceived as a weakness, but it never came. Instead there was a slight...flip-flop at the realization that it actually wasn’t something that would bring his world to a screeching halt as it had been for so many years of his life.

“They gave me some medicine for ‘em, but I don’ really like ta take it - makes me real sleepy,” he continued, suddenly compelled to let her know everything he was thinking at the moment and revel in the feeling that being open with her brought him. “I’m still a little sore, but that’s been gettin’ less an’ less ev’ryday. My body’s prob’ly just not usedta movin’ around a lot.”

He mimicked her soft tone and the deep timbre of his voice in the silent room sounded melodic to her ears.

She fought the urge to lift her head, knowing somehow that it would be easier for him to talk openly if he didn’t have to look her in the eye while doing it. Instead, she pulled her hand from his and brought it up to his chest, letting her fingers trail lightly over the hard skin beneath his shirt.

“Does it still hurt?” she asked softly, unwanted memories of him lying in the hospital bed, bruised and broken, flashing in her mind’s eye.

He shook his head. “Not really. It’s more of...if I just twist a certain way or somethin’ is when it kinda catches is all.”

She wrapped her arm around his middle then, and slid her other arm behind him, linking them together at his hip and effectively sealing him into a hug whether he realized it or not.

“I’m kinda...it’s kinda weird - leavin’ town,” he said suddenly, his voice a smooth vibration in her ear and against her cheek.

“Yeah?” she asked, hoping he’d continue with this...display of trust, really, that he’d been showing her. The words he’d been saying hadn’t been lost on her, but what really struck home was that he was talking - that he was opening up to her like he hadn’t been able to do before, and that meant more to her than anything.

“I’ve never lived anywhere else, ya know? Haven’t really been to many other places, so it’s kind of...”

“Scary?” she supplied when his voice trailed off.

For a brief second, he mentally scoffed at her choice of word, but then realized that it was probably a little more true than he would’ve liked to admit. Still, the term didn’t quite hold everything he was feeling. Then again, he didn’t exactly understand everything he was feeling - there was a quagmire of emotions he was swimming in at the moment.

“Yeah, a little bit,” he said slowly as his brow furrowed in concentration as he searched for the words to explain himself. The hard-wiring in his brain wouldn’t allow him to leave it at just him being scared. “Kind of...excited, too, I guess. Worried, even.”

Knowing the shakiness in his voice had more to do with nervousness from his confession than the emotions he was speaking of, she gave him a soft squeeze and rubbed her hands up and down his side. “It’s a big step,” she gently assured him, wanting him to know that everything he was feeling was completely validated.

His hand wandered up idly as he spoke and his fingers wound themselves into the hair that fell over her shoulder. “It is,” he agreed with a lazy nod as he took a deep breath.

The movement stirred her head and she looked up at him then, holding his gaze for several seconds after letting her eyes wander his face. Unable to keep herself from him any longer, she let her lips settle soundly against his and closed her eyes at the gentle acceptance she received. For a while, they remained like that, content to be kissing one another softly, no urgency to their movements at all, and it was then that she decided she loved the taste of him. The natural one - not the one that had been twisted with the fiery tinge of alcohol and cigarettes for so many years.

She didn’t know if it was that specific thought that broke her, or the beautiful hurt of being so completely surrounded by him once more, but she could feel the tears coming on strong as his mouth worked effortlessly against hers. In a moment, she was crying again and the moisture from her tears were like an alarm sounding to Wace and he pulled away, his face stricken with concern.

She shook her head as she wiped at her cheeks with a shaky hand. “I’m fine,” she promised with a wavering smile, and he knew that she was telling him the truth. He understood the look in her eyes intimately and found himself wondering for a moment if it was wrong that, with tears staining both sides of her face and her nose red from crying, that he'd never seen her looking so beautiful. He decided he didn't care and leaned over to kiss her gently on the cheek, tasting the salt from her skin as it was lifted away on his lips.

A watery laugh escaped her as he pulled away and gave her some room to breathe. "I feel like I'm losing you after I just got you back."

He tipped her fallen chin up with his index finger, making sure that she saw his eyes when he spoke. "You're not losin' me - you’ll always have me, Jenny. I’ll be back, I promise you that."

She believed him. She didn't want him to go, but in her heart she believed him and knew that he was right in what he was doing.

With a nod, she took in a deep breath and smiled as he wiped hurriedly at his own eyes as they‘d begun to water. "Ya wanna go outside?” she asked, feeling suddenly claustrophobic in the house and relieved that he seemed to appreciate the change of subject as well.

He nodded and she slid off of him and stood, tugging him to his feet.

Outside the sun was beginning to fall in the sky and the air held a pleasant residual of the afternoon warmth. He sat down on the porch first, then reached up and pulled her down to sit on the step in front of him, between his knees. She sighed happily, taking both of his arms that were dangling over her shoulders into her hands as she leaned back against the solid wall of his chest.

They would’ve stayed that way for hours had they been given the choice, but the rippled image of a white Impala coming slowly up the blacktop street brought their brief respite to a screeching halt. Neither said a word as the driver pulled the car to a stop against the curb and put in park, letting it idle for a moment.

Barky met Jen’s gaze silently and she hoped he understood the look of gratefulness she was trying to give him. Judging by his nod, he did and she turned her head to the side, catching Wace’s profile in the corner of her eye. He was looking down the road, his eyes flickering between the row of houses and the burning red of the horizon in the distance.

She gave his arms a tight squeeze to get his attention and knowing somehow that he was trying to ignore the inevitable. Giving him a sad smile, she stood, deciding to rip the bandage off quickly rather than drawing it out any longer than necessary.

 

"I want letters from you, mister - and lots of 'em," she said bravely, turning around to watch him push himself to his feet.

His eyes fell over her shoulder to Barky, who was still waiting in the driver's seat of the car and looking off at the sunset while his fingers drummed aimlessly on the roof of the car. He looked like he didn't have a care in the world and Wace wondered if he'd ever find that sort of peace.

"Yeah - lots of ‘em," he promised as he looked back down at her. "An’ I want some from you, too, okay? Wanna know if you're runnin' around with some bloke from the city while I'm gone."

The mirth in his voice let her know he was only kidding, but she did him the courtesy of denying that would ever happen. "Never in a million years," she said with a smile and he believed her.

Reaching down, he kissed her soundly once more on the lips, taking her face into his hands and letting his thumbs brush across the soft skin of her cheeks as he pulled away. He looked at her for another moment and couldn't keep himself from leaning in to place another peck on her mouth. He gently tucked the hair that had fallen in her face behind her ear and ran his finger along the edge of her jaw.

"I love you."

He hadn't needed to say it. She already knew it, but he did and she was glad.

"I love you, too," she returned, just as easily as the first time she'd ever said it.

He nodded his head with firm smile and took both of her hands in his, bringing them to his lips for another chaste kiss before he leaned away from her, not letting go of her until he absolutely had to.

Letting his fingers fall reluctantly from her grasp, he walked backwards for a few steps, unable to pull his eyes away from her. When he reached the car, he gave her a final wave over the roof before he disappeared into the passenger seat.

Barky threw his hand out from the open driver's side window and gave the horn a short tap before he steered the car out into the empty street.

Unable to remain on the steps, she ran to the end of the sidewalk, then stepped out into the street, wanting to watch them for as long as she could. The sinking sun was in her eyes, so she shielded them, just able to make out the backlit image of Wace's face as he'd turned in his seat to look at her one last time. Her hand shot out instantly, mirroring the reaching image he provided her with before he vanished into the horizon.

Part of her wanted to cry, but the one that wanted to smile won out.

He was a good man and she trusted in that. She knew that just beneath the hardened shell lie a beautiful soul that was yearning to escape. She'd gotten a good glimpse of earlier, peeking through the cracked exterior that held everything that was Wace and she could only pray that it would find its complete release out there in the distance.