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12 March 2012 @ 01:09 pm
[fic: rpf] [Leans on Me] Like a Rootless Tree  
Title: [Leans on Me] Like a Rootless Tree
Author: stillandstorm
Pairing: One sided Joe/Nick, Joe centric.
Rating: PG-13
Words: 6693
Summary:He’s my baby brother. Our parents divorced when I was 9 and he was 4. Mom took Nick, and Dad got me. I haven’t seen him in almost fifteen years. I’d probably be a little pissed to see me too.
Authors Notes: This fic was originally prompted by ashavahishta at blackwayfarersBeing Attractive and Doing Stuff fic fest about a million years ago. Title and LJ cut from Damien Rice. So much thanks and love goes out to amberdowny for staying up with me all night while I wrote, for believing in me always, for loving me, for beta’ing fearlessly through my horrid grammar, and for being mine. I love you, Panda.

FIC MIX FOR THIS HERE



“To what do I owe this pleasure, Jonas?”

Cocking an eyebrow, you put the coffee cup down and hop up on the edge of Mildred’s desk, kicking your feet like a child on a swing set, and setting your face into an almost believable innocent grin.

“Now why do I have to have a reason to bring my favorite lady coffee? Can’t a guy show affection without being accused these days, sheesh.”

The older lady smiles, dropping her pen and rolling backward in her office chair to fix you with a motherly expression.

“Well you could,” she starts, “but in all my years, no man has ever brought me anything without expecting something in return. With my husband, it was sex. My sons? Money. You? Well you, I’m not sure of just yet. This could be excitement or a bribe, and since I’m technically not getting paid to figure out my co-workers, why don’t you just come out with it so we can all get back to business as usual.”

“Oh, come on now, see? This is why I love you. You don’t bullshit me. “

“I don’t bullshit anyone, Joseph. Now shoo. What is going on with you, neither of us have time for this pussyfooting around.”

She’s a pretty woman, in her late fifties. Her closely cropped brown hair is shot through with silver, wispy bangs just grazing stark, dark eyelashes that guard warm chocolate eyes. She reminds you of what your own mother looks like these days, though softer around the edges, somehow. It’s hard for you to imagine your mom being soft at all anymore, she seems to have frozen solid, from the inside out.

“Well,” you wheedle, batting your eyelashes with a flourish. “Word on the street is that I’ll be getting an assignment today, and I thought maybe you could give me a heads up? You know what I mean.” You give her your best smile and nudge her with your knee. She just huffs at you, and really you expected that, but what could it have hurt to try?

“Oh, I know what you mean, Joseph Jonas, and I will not give you a heads up. You know Anderson would skin me alive if I told you what the assignments are without his approval. Christ Almighty, boy. Don’t you have a patient bone in your body?”

“You know I don’t, Mil.”

“Well I suggest you try growing one. Now go on. Get out of here before we both wind up in a heap of trouble.”

“Fine, fine.” You grumble and slide off of her desk with a quick sigh. “I’ll go. But don’t think I wont be back.”

She nods, waving vaguely in your direction dismissively before rolling up her sleeves and tucking her knees back underneath her workspace. You turn on your heel, wobbling slightly, and head in the direction of your own cubicle.

***

It’s a quarter to one when Anderson finally calls you in. You’d been in the middle of an annoyingly complex game of solitaire, and for a second, you’re a little pissed that he interrupted you. You were about to win. Okay, maybe not. But still. It could’ve happened.

His office is dark and drafty, more like a dungeon than a comfortable workspace, but you suppose it fits his personality pretty well. He’s a stern, unyielding old man, balding and slumped at the shoulders. He’d been a businessman for most of his fifty-seven years, and it shows in the way he runs his company. Most people at the office were scared of him, running and hiding away at his mere presence, but you had never had an unpleasant experience with him. Sure, he was good at barking orders and giving commands with the air of a dictator, but that’s part of what makes his magazine one of the best pop culture magazines in the country.

“Sit, Jonas.” Anderson gestures to the wide leather chair across from him and you sit obediently, waiting for him to continue.

“I’ve been watching you lately, Joe. Can I call you Joe?” You nod and he resumes. “Good. Good. Right. Well I’ve been watching you lately and you’ve managed some pretty impressive photographs recently. All of the pieces you worked on have had positive feedback.”

“Thank you, sir. I try my best.”

“Tell me about what brought you here, Joe. I notice that you transferred from our New York branch?”

“Yes, sir. I just needed a change of scenery, I guess. Sometimes your hometown gets a little stifling.” You swallow hard; stifling wasn’t the word. More like completely unbearable. You miss him so fucking much it hurts.

Anderson is staring you down behind steepled fingers, as if gauging whether there’s more to that story than you’re telling. Mentally, you beg him not to question you further, sighing in relief when he doesn’t push the subject.

“Well then, son. You’re in the right place. Our office here in California is about as far away from New York as you can get without leaving the country.”

You laugh uneasily, agreeing without contest.

“Yeah, I guess it is sir.”

“I called you in today because I wanted to give you your next assignment in person. It’s a delicate one, but I’m sure you can handle it. Our guy has become the bad boy in the press, blowing off engagements and not interacting with fans. His manager has called me, hoping that getting some positive PR on his next few shows will do him some good. It’s a local tour, just a few shows in the bars around town, so it shouldn’t be a whole lot of trouble for you.”

“Absolutely sir, it sounds like a great opportunity.” You spout your lines effortlessly, however, inwardly groaning at the prospect. You’d photographed A list celebrities for the last two years, so not only are you a little bit offended, this kid just sounds like a pain in the ass to you.

“The first show is in a week, I’ll let the client know you’re on board then?”

“Definitely,” you agree, taking the flier and the information that Anderson hands you without looking at it. How hard could it be? Just shoot a few low key shows for some bratty kid and you’re done. One more project under your belt with excellent feedback to boot.

“You’re dismissed then, thank you for your time, Joe.”

It’s only halfway back to your desk that you actually look at the neon green flier in your hand. Your heart kicks in and beats double time, breath coming in short, shallow gasps. The face that stares back at you is his, and it had been almost fifteen years since you’d seen him last. Suddenly, you’re not so sure that you can handle this after all.

***

“Mommy, Mommy. Can I wear my Barney jammies to the hospital?”

“I don’t care what you wear Joseph just get in the car!”

You realize then that Nicholas must’ve been causing mommy a lot of pain because she was walking around all red faced and angry and she never yells at you. You make a mental note to scold your new baby brother for making your mommy a madbadsad mommy later, and put on your coat.

The world is a strange place for you, inviting and interesting and bright. You’ve spent the better part of the last five years exploring. Breaking rules and having a built in audience for every temper tantrum and accomplishment. You like it that way. You love being the center of attention. Daddy’s sport and Mommy’s little ray of sunshine, and on the way to the hospital on a mid September night, something shifts in you. You’re not sure if it’s Daddy’s wild driving or something bigger, but something definitely changes, settles in the pit of your stomach with an interesting little thump. It hits you that now you’re going to have to share your spotlight with Nicky.

You don’t know how you feel about that, but you decide to worry about it later. Right now Mommy’s screaming too loud for you to even drown her out with the noise of your race car rounding the last corner on it’s windowpane track to win first place.

The chairs in the hospital waiting room are uncomfortable, and you bounce around restlessly, tugging on your clothes and attempting to entertain anyone who will give you a sideways glance. The air is tense, and you don’t like it. In the room down the hall, Mommy’s screaming is punctured, broken by the sound of a baby’s cry. Grandma Miller whoops happily, picking you up and spinning you around in her excitement.

“You’re a big brother, Joseph. You’re a big boy now. Aren’t you excited? Oh, listen to him, the poor thing. He’s crying like there’s no tomorrow.”

There that feeling is again, the one where everything shifts and rumbles inside of you, and you begin to associate the feeling with the little body down the hall, with Nicky. Everything has changed because of Nicky.

You’re not sure how you feel about that, either.


***

It’s suffocating in the small venue, hazy with dust and stale cigarette smoke. You squint your eyes against it, scanning the empty room for the best place to set up shop and stay out of the way until the show starts. It has taken a lot for you to show up at all. You’d been battling nerves for the better part of the last week, tossing and turning at night, torn between your duties to your boss and your indescribable fear of the unknown. It’s not like you don’t want to see him, you do. You’d spent the last several years waiting for this opportunity, but the possibility that he doesn’t feel the same is enough to make you sick to your stomach. What if he hates you, what if…

“Hi, are you the photographer for tonight’s show?” A skinny teen with a scraggly beard pulls you out of your reverie.

“Uh, yeah, yeah. I am. Can you tell me where to set up?”

“Well I think you’re supposed to be up front, you know. Right in the action. But the event staff hasn’t finished putting up the barricades yet, so it may be a little while before we can get you settled. Do you want a drink? I can probably get Fran, my manager, to let you chill out in a room back stage if you want.”

“Uhm, no thank you, I think I’ll just wander around a bit, if that’s okay with you?”

He shrugs his thin shoulders, and pushes his dirty blonde hair out of his eyes with a grimy hand.

“Yeah, sure, man. That’s fine. I… shit. I gotta go. I was supposed to be getting a few things for Nicholas, you know. Gotta keep ‘em happy.”

The mention of your brother’s name makes your throat constrict painfully, but you smile regardless.

“I understand. I’m Joe by the way.”

“Nice to meet you, I’m Kyle. But I really do need to be going.”

You nod quietly, stepping slightly out of the way and gesturing to the wide, empty space before you. Kyle ducks his head and scurries away, the soles of his Converse squeaking on the hardwood floor as he goes.


***

“What the hell do you think you’re doing here?”

You know it’s him before you turn around, you can hear the rasp of his stage worn voice, the anger exploding from deep within his chest to give his tone a gravelly, menacing quality that catches you off guard.

“Nick, I….”

“What. The. Fuck. Are. You. Doing. Here?”

He enunciates every word, and every word feels oddly like a punch in the gut. You’re honestly not sure how to respond. You’d expected resistance from Nick from the start, but this. This is beyond what you’d imagined. The Nick standing before you is kind of scary. You take a couple of steps back out of his space, and try again.

“I got assigned the gig, Nicholas.”

“Did Mom call you?” His eyes flash in the semi darkness, wild and out of control, and you suck in a deep, steadying breath. He’s breathtaking, beautiful. He always has been.

“No, Nick. I just told you. I’m here for work. I photograph musicians for a living.”

He growls, and it’s an eerie, feral sound. You’d never heard him sound so brutal. So hard. Of course, the last time you’d seen him, he’d been four and a half. Things had to have changed. Change is inevitable right?

“I don’t want you here.”

You stop packing away your camera mid journey to its bag, hands shaking, and try to remember to breathe. Since fucking when does he call the shots?

Something sparks in you, anger maybe, or maybe something deeper, but you don’t stop to pinpoint it, just shove your camera and the rest of your gear into your bags and look him in the eye.

“You don’t really get to decide that, now do you?”

His eyes narrow into tiny slits and his sweat damp curls seem to vibrate with fury. He’s not used to being stood up too, and you just had the nerve to undermine his authority. He steps back, one step at a time, and shakes his head.

“Fine. Take your pictures, Joseph. But stay the fuck out of my way.”

***

“I’m telling you dude, it’s like he was the gatekeeper to Hell, he was so scary. I don’t even know how I got out of there without pissing myself.”

Kevin laughs down the line, and you can tell that he’s probably rolling his eyes at you by the slightly exasperated tone of his voice.

“Don’t you think you’re being a tiny bit dramatic, Joseph? I highly doubt your little brother is anything like the gatekeeper to Hell. I mean. I know you haven’t seen him in years, but don’t you think that’s a little bit of a stretch?”

“YOU DIDN’T SEE HIM! HIS EYES WERE ALL FLASHY AND HIS VOICE WAS ALL DEEP. HE WAS SCARY.”

“Yes, well. It sounds like Nick has hit puberty. Now I understand how that can be a little scary, but…”

“You are an entirely unhelpful being Kevin, and an utterly useless best friend. I hope you know that.”

“Okay, okay. I’m sorry. Jesus. Seriously though, think about it from his point of view. He hasn’t seen you in fifteen years, your family is a shitstorm in itself, you probably just took him off guard. He wasn’t expecting to see you and overreacted when he did.”

You relax a little at that, glad to have some line of reasoning that didn’t start and end with Nick being Satan or hating your guts.

“Am I crazy, Kev? Was it naive of me to spend over half of my life living on the idea that I could fix things between us? I mean. I don’t know. I just miss him.”

“It wasn’t stupid of you Joe, you just. Can’t expect that everything is going to be peaches instantly. It’s going to take time. Both of you have a lot to work through.”

Through the static of the phone, you hear a loud banging noise followed by the sharp cry of a toddler. Kevin swears, pulling the phone out of proximity of his mouth to yell in frustration.

CAYDENCE FAITH, WE DO NOT PLAY DRUMS ON OUR BROTHER’S HEAD, DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME YOUNG LADY?

You imagine the scene, Caydence standing at the foot of Grayson’s high chair with a slightly guilty look on her little cherub’s face, long brown curls falling from her high pony tail in a wild cascade, her knees and scraped and bruised, and the front of her little plaid dress soiled with the remnants of a chaotic breakfast.

You can’t help but be a little jealous of your best friend. He married the love of his life, had a perfect little family and settled down in your New Jersey home town. He has everything that you could ever imagine wanting out of life, everything you’re starting to believe you’ll never acquire. Your heart squeezes painfully tight in your chest, stuttering and doing an achy little dance as Kevin returns to the phone with a huff of annoyance.

“Sorry, my kids seem to have gone rabid overnight.”

“It’s okay, man. Listen, I have to be at work soon. I’ll call you next week?”

“Yeah, sure, Joe. Love you dude.”

“Love you too, Kev. Give the kids and Dani kisses for me.”

“Will do, later.”

“Bye.”

The dial tone ringing in your ear leaves you feeling about a thousand times more empty than you did before you’d called. You shake your head and sigh. That couldn’t be right.

***

He’s four and scrawny, all of him able to fold into your side effortlessly, and that’s where he is now, tucked against you, little head buried in your chest. He’s scared. Mommy and Daddy have been fighting again; it’s the third time this week. Voices carry from their bedroom down the hall, madbadsad voices. Mommy’s crying and Daddy’s begging for forgiveness, and you’re only nine years old. You don’t know what’s happening. You only know that you are supposed to be there for Nicky, to protect him and love him. That is your job, and though all of this fighting is scary to you too, you decide that you can’t show it. That you have to be a strong big brother and pretend everything is happynormalgood.

You tuck Nick’s shaking body in closer, wrapping him in your arms and a giant cocoon of your Power Rangers blankets. He’s crying, his bottom lip wobbling pathetically.

“Shhh, Nicky it’s okay. It’s okay. Mommy and Daddy are just having a tantrum. They’ll take a time out and everything will be okay again.”

He looks up at you with big brown eyes, all trusting and hopeful, and takes a handful of your pajama shirt into his tightly balled fist.

“I’m scared, Joey.”

“I know, Nicky. I know you’re scared. But I promise you, no matter what, I’ll always be there for you. Even if they split up, they wont separate us. We’re brothers.”

“You swear it?”

“I swear, Nick.”

Three and a half months later, the divorce papers will have been signed, and Nick’s clothes and his toys and his favorite Blues Clues hat packed away in the little red suitcase in the trunk of Mommy’s car.

You broke your promise, and there is nothing that you can do but cry as Mommy drives away, Nicky’s face pressed against the window, tears streaming down his little pink cheeks.


***

Anderson calls you into his office the following Monday, and this time he’s nowhere near as pleasant as he was before.

“Do you want to tell me why in the hell Nicholas Miller’s manager has called me complaining about you? He says that Nick has personally requested that you be taken off this piece.”

You sigh. Apparently Nick could call the shots. Leaning back on Anderson’s dark wooden desk, you cross your legs and pinch the bridge of your nose.

“Well, Jonas? What in the hell is going on?”

You teeter somewhere between telling him the truth and telling him some bullshit lie about having been a dick to Nick at the venue. Finally, after much internal deliberation, you decide that it’s probably best to tell him the truth.

“He’s my brother,” you mumble, your eyes locked on the soles of your shoes.

“What? Speak up, son, and stop talking like you have shit in your mouth.”

You snap your head up, suddenly taken by a wave of annoyance. “HES MY FUCKING BROTHER, OKAY?”

Something in Anderson’s face flashes recognition, the missing piece of the puzzle he’d been trying to put together since the day that he asked you about New York.

“He’s my baby brother. Our parents divorced when I was 9 and he was 4. Mom took Nick, and Dad got me. I haven’t seen him in almost fifteen years. I’d probably be a little pissed to see me too.”

“Well that’s unfortunate, son, but you can’t go getting on the client’s bad side. I don’t care if he’s your brother or your brothers boyfriend. You go back in there and you finish your job. Because if I get another call from someone about you, your ass will be back on a plane to New York faster than you can say reconciliation.”

***

You were never quite sure when your life became this. When everything went from happy early childhood with Kevin and Nick to this fucked up mess. You suppose that it probably happened around the same time that your days stopped being punctuated with laughter and happiness and the taste of grape popsicles in the summer heat, and instead became broken by unfaithfulness and screaming and the way tears freeze on your cheeks and eyelashes in the middle of a cold winter morning.

After the divorce, everything changed. It took you months to stop hoping that Mommy and Nick were coming home. It took you weeks to stop having nightmares.

Your Dad did his best. He really did, and you credit him for that. It wasn’t easy on either of you. He had been a minister at a local church, but after the congregation found out about his affair, there wasn’t much left that he could do but pack up his office and resign from his post.

As far as you know, he gave up on God a long time ago. Sometimes, you think maybe you have too.

He worked hard. Two jobs. Endless twelve hour shifts. You had enough money to be okay, to have food on the table for a good while, but your father just kept working. As you grew up, you began to realize that he wasn’t working for the money. Your dad worked his fingers to the bone as punishment. Some part of him must’ve believed that if he worked himself into an early grave, that he’d be forgiven for the things he did to his family. It’s because of that that you can’t hate him. He hates himself enough for the both of you.

You’d heard little from your mother. She’d call you once a month, telling you about this or that play that Nicholas had landed. Every role was the next groundbreaking thing, the one that could really skyrocket your little brother to fame. You used to beg her to let you come live with them. You wanted nothing more in your childhood than to be in the front row of any audience that Nick entertained. You wanted to watch him shine. Your mother, however, didn’t think that you two should be together. She saw it as a hindrance to Nick’s career, and, as always, Mommy got what Mommy wanted.

You went to college at NYU, a photographic journalism major, and you really kicked ass at all of your classes. It was school, then an internship at a local newspaper, and then you landed your job at the New York branch of your company. It was everything you ever wanted to do. But it didn’t feel right.

You realized that you were kind of probably really fucked up in the head the day that you were looking up Nick’s story on TMZ or some other sketchy gossip site, and ran into the pictures of him half naked in Cancun. He was sixteen, and bulky, his thin body bulging with muscles that you definitely never pictured him having. His dark brown curls matched your mother’s, tight little ringlets that framed his perfectly defined face. He was absolutely beautiful, and you couldn’t help but want him. Really want him in that god help you, you’re a dirty little sinner, bad brother, incestuous freak kind of way.

That part never really changed. You still want him. You want all of him more than you’ve ever wanted anything, and that is exactly why you transferred to California.

You were selfish and needy and god, you had to find Nick.

***

It’s raining when the cab pulls up to the curb at the club on the night of the third show. You are drenched from head to toe before you can even get in the door, and you curse under your breath softly. It’s warm inside though, comfortable and dry. You take down your hood and shake your shaggy hair out, laughing at yourself as you picture it. You probably look about as good as an old wet dog.

It takes you a second to realize that you aren’t alone in the echoing room. Sitting in a far corner, staring at you as if he’s seeing a ghost, is Nick. He’s cross legged, guitar in his lap, a notebook and a pen strewn out before him, and you have no idea what you should do. Part of you thinks that it would probably be best if you just left him alone, turned on your heel and walked away, but the other part of you, the part that has been looking and longing for him for the better part of your life, coaxes you to step closer.

“Hi,” you venture, moving into his space inch by inch. “Can I sit down?”

He merely shrugs, but you figure that shrugging is better than yelling, so you take it as a yes, and sit across from him on the floor, close enough for passersby to notice that you were in the same party, but far enough away that your knees couldn’t accidentally graze each other. It would be too much to touch him right now. It’s hard enough to breathe.

“Nick, I… I honestly don’t even know what to say. I’m sorry? Maybe that isn’t good enough, but. It’s all I’ve got. I’m sorry.”

He looks at you for a second, as if weighing his options. You can tell he wants to say something, but aren’t quite sure yet if he’s going to allow himself to.

“Do you want to see some of the pictures I’ve taken so far? You look pretty awesome up there, you know.”

He nods, still silent and you go to grab your camera. He does look good. He’s in his element on stage and you know it.

“Some of these are really good, Joe. You’re pretty talented.” It’s the first nice thing he’s said to you in fifteen years, and it wouldn’t have sounded any better if he’d been telling you that you’d just won a million dollars.

“Thanks, Nick.” You pick at your nails and look at the floor. “Do you wanna tell me why my boss insists that you’re a bad boy now? What’d you do? Blow up a few buildings, wreck a few cars? Don’t tell me that you got someone pregnant.”

That’s all it takes. You can practically see the walls go back up around him and lock tight. His eyes snap, alive and bright with years of unchecked fury and pain. It hurts to see him that way, and even though you know that he’s probably going to blow up on you, something in you feels bad for him.

“That’s none of your fucking business, Joseph. NONE of this is any of your fucking business. If you wanted to know what was going on in my life, maybe you should’ve tried being in it.”

Your own blood boils hot, and you move quicker than you knew that you could. You're too close, but the thought hits you half a second too late. You're already past the point of no return, pinning him roughly between you and the floor with a growl. His heartbeat picks up speed, you feel it jumping against your shirt, and in the strange shadows cast by the lamp on the stage piano, you watch his expression. It flickers from anger to surprise, and back again, a thousand different emotions popping off in his eyes like fireworks, a bright flash of neon against a dark sky. For a second you're awed by him, so caught up in his eyes that you forget why you were ever mad in the first place. But your brother is nothing if not persistent, and he doesn't let you wonder long.

"Get the fuck off me, Joseph. Now." He's bigger than you now, strong enough that you find yourself searching for leverage to keep him where he is. His hands, big and rough, close around your forearms like vice grips, pushing. He's desperate for an exit. It’s a realization that catches you off guard. You grit your teeth and hold your ground; he's not leaving that easily.

"How the hell," you manage, starting to sweat with the effort of keeping him still. It's too hot in the room, your lungs cant expand properly, mind clouding with emotion and Nick Nick Nick. "Could you possibly think that this is all about you? About your life? Huh superstar. Tell me, has fame gone to your head or are you just normally a conceited asshole?"

His eyes are dangerously dark now, you can smell the faintest traces of cheap liquor on his breath, as he opens his mouth to speak, but you cut him off again with fierce shove. "No. Tell me Nicholas. What is it, exactly? Because I can fucking promise you, YOU weren't the only one that got hurt. I've spent the last fifteen years acting like a goddamn stalker, trying to keep up with your fucking life because I care. You may be able to pull a lot of shit on a lot of people, but I'm not one of them. Don’t you dare try to make this all about you, like some fucking spoiled brat."

"Fuck you. FUCK YOU." He's in your face now, so close that your noses all but brush, and you try not to think about it too much. Focus on his words instead of the fire that just lit in your belly. He's shaking, on the edge of blinding fury, but he drops his voice so low you have to strain to hear it, "How cute are you? Acting like the sacrificial lamb, when you've been seeing Mom for at least a year, and yet, you couldn’t once be bothered to figure out where the fuck I was. Who the hell do you think you are? Who do you think is going to buy your bullshit Joseph, huh? Because I’m not fucking four years old anymore." He pauses for a second, almost as if weighing his words, trying them on in his head for effect before he speaks again.

"Besides," he breathes, and it’s shakiness isn’t lost on you. But he meets your eyes, doesn't falter. "You taught me not to believe in you a long time ago."

It cuts. Rips open all those old wounds, and for a minute it feels like all the air in the world just disappeared. It hurts in ways you didn’t think possible, and you visibly deflate, closing your eyes against the wave of nausea that hits you like a speeding train. You move, let him go, roll just far enough away that he can stand.

He doesn’t say a word, and you watch him as he goes, the door to the venue opening and closing with an odd finality that you aren’t sure you’re ready to face.

***

He doesn’t bother showing up to the fourth show, and you aren’t really expecting him at the fifth. Suddenly you understand exactly what Anderson meant by Nick being a bad boy in the press. His fans have been crowded at the doors of the venue every night just to go home brokenhearted, forty five minutes after the show was supposed to start.

As for you, you spend the next few days worrying about him in a drunken stupor in your apartment. You don’t want to know or think about the things that he could be into. You just hope he has the common sense to not do anything entirely moronic.

***
Denise Miller Jonas is two parts your mother, two parts your enemy, and wholly a pain in your ass. She calls you on the morning of the sixth show begging you to come to lunch with her. You agree reluctantly, and find yourself sitting at a little outdoor café in the middle of LA at one pm on a Thursday afternoon.

She’s beautiful. She always had been, but over the years you’ve watched her features harden. Transform from the soft pink prettiness of the woman you loved as a child into a stone cold, emotionless mask. Oftentimes, you cant help but wonder if that was her way of coping with everything that’s happened, if she became emotionally unavailable so she couldn’t be hurt.

At this point, however, you couldn’t care less. She stirs her tea with a swizzle stick and puts her napkin in her lap daintily. You roll your eyes.

“Have you heard from Nicholas?”

You shake, your whole body teetering on the verge of a white hot rage.

“Have I heard from Nicholas? Are you fucking kidding me? You spend fifteen goddamn years keeping me from him and now that he’s up and disappeared you think I magically know where he is? Fuck you.”

You’re causing a scene and you know it, but you just don’t care. You don’t care that people are staring at your messy hair and dirty jeans and your wild, crazy eyes, and the way your fists are clenched so tight there are probably half moon incisions on your palms from your nails digging in deep. Your mom is the picture of calm outrage, and she cuts you off with a hiss before you can say anything more.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about. Your dad and I…”

“I don’t give a shit what happened between you and dad anymore. it doesn’t fucking matter. It’s over. but I’ve wasted years letting a rift you and dad put between me and Nick rule and ruin my life. He is my brother. My fucking brother, and he hates me. Up until I got this assignment, I’d not seen his face outside of pictures since I was nine. I was nine. A kid. Don’t you get that? We're both left fucked up in a battle that was never ours to fight, and I’m fucking sick of it. “

You stand, listening to the harsh sound of the metal chair legs grating against cold cement. Your mother is looking up at you, mouth set in a harsh little O. You stare unabashedly back, and hope that she sees the damage she’s caused. The dark circles beneath your eyes, the way your burnt caramel irises no longer sparkle. Just as her features soften and you think she may finally see, you turn and walk away, leaving her to have her own heart break in your wake.

***

The show that night is tense. Nick is there physically, but not mentally, and you can see the weariness magnified in your camera’s lens. It all but drips off of him, but he keeps playing, and despite his emotional absence it’s a great show. One you’re glad that you didn’t miss.

You catch him on the way to the bar after the show.

“Nick, I’m sorry. I love you. I want you to know that. I have always loved you and I always will. Even if you are a little dickhead, you’re also my brother, and maybe I could’ve made a better effort to see you in these last few years, but. Just know that I never stopped thinking about you.”

He doesn’t show any signs of softening toward you, so you continue, just hoping that he’s actually listening.

“I’m transferring back to New York next week. I know you hate me, but I just wanted to say goodbye. And here.” You pull a business card out of your back pocket and hold it out to him. He takes it, turning it over and over in his hands as he stares at his shoes. “You can call me any time you need me. I’ll always be around.”

You leave the club and embrace the cold night air. It sticks in your lungs and makes it hard to breathe, but you’re too distracted to really care.

You don’t notice that there are tears streaking down your cheeks until you’re two blocks from home, and even then, it doesn’t matter enough to make you want to wipe them away.

***

You get home and throw your camera bag and your keys on the kitchen counter, carelessly. You just want to take some Motrin and go the fuck to bed. But the blinking light of the answering machine catches your attention on the way to the sink for a glass of water. You head to the bathroom to grab your medicine and your glasses, and then head to the sink for your water. Then, remembering the answering machine, you swivel around to play your messages.

It’s grainy, a static filled mess. But it’s clearly Nick, and he sounds more lost and confused than you’ve ever heard him.

“Joe…Joseph. Damn it. What do you want me to say? I don’t know what to say or how the fuck I’m supposed to feel, but I. I need to see you. Please just. Call me back, okay? I--”

You realize that you’re dialing the callback number before the message even finishes playing.

***

The doorbell to your apartment rings at 9:24 the next morning, and you all but run to the door. You manage to contain yourself, but just barely, opening the door with shaking hands, and sidestepping to let Nick over the threshold.

He looks rough. His dark eyes are rimmed with purple and his hair is a sleep-worn mess. Something in the pit of your stomach shifts and settles as you look at him, and for the first time in a very long time, you feel balanced on your feet. At home.

“So I’m not the best cook, but. I can make you some eggs and toast?”

He makes his way further into the room, slinking down in a chair at your kitchen table with a yawn. “Sounds good. I didn’t eat after the show last night and I’m starving.”

You make quick work of it, and return to the table with breakfast for both of you.

“OJ?”

“Please.”

You pour him a glass of juice and catch his eye.
“Nick, I---”

“No, Joe.” He cuts you off quickly with a wave of his hand. “No more apologizing, okay. I’m sorry, I’ve acted like a total ass to you. “

“I can understand why, Nick. It hasn’t been the easiest road, for either of us.”

“I want. I don’t know how long it’s going to take for me to fully get used to this. Or if I ever will, but I want to try. I want my brother back.”

It’s the most earnest thing you’ve heard him say in ages, and you feel emotion clouding your throat, threatening to spill over into tears.

“I’m still transferring, Nick. I miss New Jersey.”

“I think they make planes to solve that issue. I’m also pretty sure that I can afford a ticket.”

Your heart swells so big in your chest that it’s almost painful, and you watch him as he shovels a forkful of eggs into his mouth and watches you expectantly.

“Yeah, yeah. I guess you can.”

Nick goes back to his eggs, and you close your eyes, savoring the feeling. The way his breathing echoes across the expanse of your kitchen, filling all the spaces you didn’t know had been left empty.

He grins at you as you open your eyes and it’s real and genuine and Nick, and it feels so good that you almost cant believe it’s happening.

You lift your glass to your twitching lips, and hide your smile behind its wide, sparkling rim.

fin
 
 
Current Mood: amusedamused
 
 
 
(Deleted comment)
Nikki: [★] nick j./ best facesstillandstorm on April 22nd, 2012 10:24 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much. <3