He was never the emotional sort of person, never one to dwell on the crummy depths of his life but Three Days Grace unwittingly struck Grant Wilson to the marrow with that sensitive question intertwined with lyrics that resigned to despair and anguish.
I hate everything about you..... why do I love you? He tried not to but how couldn't he see the faces of the people he was attached to with blood ties? You could run as far as you wanted, hide as well as you could but at the end of the day, family was the hell you were born into.
Nothing changed that. Take it from someone who spent childhood whispering evening prayers to a deaf god who wouldn't do anything to change that his dad was Deathstroke and his mother was a violent woman who took her marital frustrations out on him. Not Joey, just him. Wouldn't wanna hurt the golden boy, now would we? Joey bruised easily, he was weak and even dad seemed to take note of that when he spared the leather of his belt. All the more for Grant.
He'd rather have it that way, though. Rather bear the brunt of his parents' aggression and take the lashings instead of his little brother. Grant wasn't the bad kid, per se, he was just the stupid kid who took the fall for both him and Joey. Why? He didn't know. With how much he hated his family, he didn't know why he loved Joey - perfect cherished Joey - enough to protect him.
I hate everything about you..... why do I love you?
Grant's fourteenth birthday had come and gone two weeks ago and god alone knew where Slade was during that time but mom was beyond pissed when he came home, reeking of cheap nicotine and cheaper bootleg beer. Adeline wasn't wrong for hating dad and all his immeasurable short-comings that Grant would be listing the rest of the birthdays his parents didn't remember if he started now, but he hoped - no, he wished, they'd hate each other a little quieter.
Some kids got bedtime stories read to them and heck - some ninnies out there fell asleep to sweet little lullabies hummed by people who gave a crap about them. Not the Wilson boys, however. Oh no, no, no. Tonight, Grant had his head to the pillow, getting caught up on the follow-up argument of what in Cambodia was so interesting that daddy would miss his son's birthday.
He forgot or he doesn't care, mom. It's not any deeper than that.
The yelling became more elevated, raging back and forth, a wildfire in words. What was in Cambodia? Why do you keep going back to Cambodia? It was apparent to Grant that his father was a cheating bastard. Not clueless either, Adeline knew Slade couldn't keep it in his pants when he was overseas but she hated him too much to feel betrayed.
But she wanted him to admit it.
He didn't give her even that much. An eye for an eye, Adeline spread her legs for every Tom, Dick, and Harry as if Slade cared at all if she contracted every STD there was. Was it so hard to respect the woman he married? Grant wasn't asking his dad to love his mom but maybe care that she brought home a new stranger to fuck every night.
The last guy - some military man transferred from a base a couple of states over - he'd stayed the night more than once while daddy was screwing whores in Cambodia. Adeline's revenge-sex partners rarely came back, they skipped town when they found out whose ring was on her finger. Not Derek, though.
The man immediately made Grant suspicious. When he wasn't at school and Derek was here, he put it to the test that the espionage in his family was genetic. Adeline was hanging laundry on the clothing line outside when Grant discovered what Derek really came to their home for.
He got home from class early, his book bag heavy like it was laden with bricks, slung over his shoulder, its sheer weight the sole thing on his mind when he stepped past Joey's bedroom on his way to his own. The door was carelessly ajar and the tiny sliver of space was enough for Grant to see Derek touch his seven-year-old brother. Joey was clearly uncomfortable, asked Derek to stop, and there was nothing innocent to the gesture.
Rushing red flooded Grant's vision.
He became his father with how viciously he attacked Derek. He didn't tell mom or get Joey away from him - he attacked that asshole. Slade might actually be proud of him for breaking the jaw of a man twice his size with a book bag.... But twice his size meant twice as strong; Derek hit almost as hard as dad did. The black eye was a resident for a while.
Adeline was furious at Grant for 'lashing out' and punching her side dick. He didn't punch Derek, he gave him a bag of books to the face. Impressive as Derek's left hook was, it wasn't shit compared to the blow Adeline dealt Grant because he was in the wrong and a man who'd happily sleep with a married woman and beat a teenager would never molest a child.
So that's why Grant was laying on his stomach with the blanket only reaching his hips; the feather-light weight going any higher would spell agony for the bruises on his back. Bruises he got for defending and protecting his little brother. That was a punishable offence now.
He went through so much hell for Joey. Mom favoured the little twerp and dad might actually like him, any atoms of love the two might have between them went into Joseph. It was like Grant didn't exist as anything but the failed prototype. He should hate the favourite child but for some damned reason, Joey was the only member of his family who he cared about.
One day soon, mom would blast dad's head off his shoulders or vice versa, and when that blessed moment came Grant would be left to look after Joey. They'd be better off that way, he was sure.
The door to his bedroom creaked on its rusty hinges, he didn't need to look to know it was Joseph. His parents would have thrown the thing open and slamming into the wall.
Neither brother said anything. Grant knew Joey's drill of sneaking into his bedroom when Slade and Adelaine screamed at each other and joining him under the covers, where they could both try to pretend the had a normal family. Painfully, Grant shifted onto his side to give Joey some space to worm beside him, lifting his arm for the mite to curl up under it.
They both stared at the blackness, Joey's little body fitting perfectly against Grant's as if God designed them to lay awake through the night, listening to glass shattering downstairs when one of their parents finally threw the first punch. It was probably mom, she was usually quicker to get physical but dad wouldn't refrain from hitting a lady, much less his wife. Their arguments would without fail, always result in a fistfight and end with hate sex that'd not make Grant grateful for the thin walls this house had. He believed in god for the sole reason that it comforted him to think his parents' eventual double homicide would mean they were burning in hell.
Every time we lie awake, after every hit we take...
"You think they'll kill each other tonight?" Joey whispered the question, his voice tiny next to the screaming but the undertow of fear wasn't hidden.
I hope so Grant said to the silence in his head, tightening his arm around his brother.
"No, they've had worse fights." About two during the last two times dad came home. It was going from bad to terrible - one of them would be dead soon and Grant honestly couldn't say which of them he'd rather have lifeless if both wasn't an option.
"I wish they'd stop," Joey whined, his hands rising to thread through his hair and over his ears, doing what he could to drown out the noise.
"I know, Joey. Me too." He mumbled that into Joseph's fine blond hair, ticklish against his lips. He shut his eyes, wishing he was tired enough to sleep. It'd beat unconsciously making out what Slade and Adeline were shrieking at each other.
Every roommate kept awake by every sigh and scream we make...
Couldn't they just fucking get divorced already?
"Does it still hurt?" Joey gave a small gesture to his back, black with bruises shaped like the old fishing rod by the door downstairs. Eyes still closed, Grant nodded, half of his face buried in the blissful softness of the pillow beneath his head.
"I... I'm sorry." Joey bit his lip. "Mom only hit you 'cause of Derek-"
"Not your fault."
"That guy was a scumbag, Joey." Grant propped himself up on his elbow, keeping the wince on the inside. He met his little brother's clear green gaze, barely a foot from his and was again confronted by how much they looked like mom's eyes. Dad's hair colour but mom's eyes, vice versa for Grant and wasn't he so lucky? He couldn't escape his father's judgemental glare even in his own reflection.
"I don't regret hittin' him. If any bastard or any bitch thinks they can hurt you, Joey, a slap from mom isn't gonna keep me from beating the shit out of them." Save for fabling who did what to mom and dad, Grant didn't lie about anything, including that. Especially that.
Joey would have replied but the shattering of a dish being thrown and hitting the wall made him jump, panicky gaze darting to the door when those bellends moved their fight to the second floor.
"I did not sign up to be a fucking housewife!"
"You wanted kids!"
"And you were supposed to work at a local military base so you could at least help with the kids!"
"And waste millions of dollars of government research? Research you tricked me into signing up for?"
"Blond doesn't make you fucking stupid, Slade! You knew what you got into and you love the enhancements."
Grant's eyes narrowed on the shadows that passed beneath the door, now sitting fully upright with his legs over the edge of the bed. Mom and dad argued their way down the hall; dad was probably trying to get some distance between them because he couldn't be bothered to deal with the issue and mom always wanted the last word. Those two were TNT and a match combined.
"Fuck this," Grant muttered, pushing off the bed and headed to the dresser to grab his hoodie.
"Where are you going?" Joey got up too, following him all hunched up and fidgeting with his hands like a frightened animal. Frightened because he didn't want to left alone with them.
"I'm not listening to those two going off at each all night." Roughly, he yanked the hoodie over his head and thrust his arms into the sleeves, the fabric for all its softness stinging when it glided over his back. He hissed through his teeth.
"I'm gonna go for a walk." Grant finished explaining, kneeling to lace his sneakers up. He'd wanted to spend an extra minute here in this house then he would have put it towards finding socks. When he tied the knots suitably tight, he straightened and looked to Joey, still fumbling with his hands and his attention downcast.
Grant exhaled, shoulders slumping a fraction.
"Sneak into your bedroom, get dressed, meet me back here in five minutes, okay?"
Perking up, Joseph nodded rapidly with what might be a smile wide on his face but Grant couldn't decipher it before he headed back to his room, checking through the slit in the doorway for his parents but they must not have been there since he slipped out.
Fuck, Grant was so dumb for taking the kid with him. Yeah, he knew that as well as he knew his parents would beat the hell out of him if he was caught - best be back before dawn. You're corrupting your brother, they'd say, trying to make him like you; an embarrassment.
Joey scampered back quick and Grant zipped him up, carefully tugging the thing to the soft underneath of his chin. Then they were off. Grant could tell the mite was excited when he pushed the window open and showed Joey how to climb down the gutter, a skill he'd perfected over time. Grant slid half the way and jumped the remaining meters, landing on his feet. His brother followed, considerably less sure of himself but he was trying to be confident like his big bro, who lifted him the rest of the way down.
"Oof, you're gettin' heavy, Joey." Grant told him as he set him on the ground and took his hand, pulling him with across the garden, away from the house where the battle still raged on.
"Mom says it's just puppy fat." Frowning and fussed, Joey murmured under his breath as he was lead through the dark.
With no destination in mind, Grant and Joseph soon found themselves sitting at the bus stop a kilometre from their house, protected from the rain by the flexi glass shelter but it wasn't shit against the cold. It might actually be colder in here than it was outside on account of it trapping the chilly night air.
"Grant..." Joey finally spoke up after minutes of Grant wondering when he could no longer straddle his tongue. He was the talkative sort, a trait he'd no doubt carry to his grave. Arching a brow, Grant looked to his little brother, the dull illumination of the flickering light overhead casting long shadows over his face.
"Are we going somewhere? This is a bus stop." He looked a little nervous, as if it was unreasonable for two kids to hang out at a place like this when they couldn't take their parents' screaming matches. This was his second home, as far as he was concerned.
"We ain't skippin' town, don't worry, Joey." As much as Grant wanted to, running away wasn't easy with a seven-year-old and no money. Grant couldn't count all the times he'd sat here and gotten on the first bus to pull over, travelled to the last stop it would take him, only to somehow always find himself back home. Maybe it was that he didn't want to leave Joey alone with the monsters that kept drawing him back to that place.
"Do you ever think about leaving? Like, for good?" Joey was apprehensive to ask that, like he was dreading what the answer might be. He must be reading Grant's thoughts because yes, he frequently entertained that idea.
"Sometimes, I do." He confessed with a sigh, resting his head on the flimsy wall as he stared at the road, one direction leading back home and the other somewhere far, far away.
"But I don't want to leave you, so I can't."
"You... don't have to stay just 'cause of me." Joey shifted uncomfortably, adjusting the arms he had around himself against the cold. He was shivering badly and with a sigh, Grant pulled his hoodie off, scootched over and draped the garment around the boy's much smaller body. It was like a poncho for him.
"I don't want you to have to-"
"I don't gotta do anything, Joey." Grant said, adjusting the hoodie and zipping it up, taking care not to catch any of the soft skin beneath Joey's chin between it.
"I'm your big brother, I want to protect you."
"But mom hit you for it." Beat. Hit would imply that rod only came down on him once, something which the bruises on his back argued against.
"She hit me 'cause she doesn't like me disliking all her boyfriends and threatening to tell dad." Even though dad knew perfectly well when it came to the multiple boyfriends, not the deets with Derek but there wasn't any point in telling him. What would he do anyway? Yell more?
"Our parents suck." Joey sighed, lowering his head into the cradle of his hands when truer words had never been spoken. Grant nodded a silent agreement, his hand falling onto Joey's back, resting there as if to remind him that they were in a shitstorm but they were in it together.
"I know but you've got me, yeah?"
Gazing up from his parted fingers, Joey smiled a little bit. Not entirely genuinely but the effort was there.
"Mom and dad can scream at each other until the house falls down around them but you've always got a big brother, y'hear? Even if I'm a thousand miles away, I'm always gonna keep you safe." At his persistent assurance, Joey unravelled from the ball and hugged Grant around the middle, nuzzling his face into his chest.
Looking down at him, Grant laid a hesitant hand on his blond mop of hair and threaded his fingers through. With how long Slade and Adeline had it in them to argue, he wasn't sure how how many hours they'd spend out here in the cold so sharing body heat was reasonable. Or was this... a hug? Grant would keep his questions internal for Joey's sake. They would have to return before the sun came up, back there to those people who'd end up hurting them again, so whatever moments he could spend in his head and not with them, he'd cherish.
For him and for Joey, since family was their hell to bear. But they'd do it together since that was one thing Adeline and Slade couldn't take away from them, no matter how many arguments they had.
"Sure thing, little bro."
I love you....