It started after the accident. This sensation, a creepy crawling feeling that spread all over his skin. Like he was growing too big for it. Stifling and suffocating, constricting his chest and forcing choppy breaths. Make it stop, he had thought, not sure if he meant the unsettling shifting of skin or the constant replay of shattering glass, crunching metal and deafening silence. Just make it stop.
It only gets worse the darker the clouds In Reggie’s eyes become. The stress, the pain, pulls his brother farther and farther away until he is foreign in Delsin's eyes. Dulled and deadened by his grief, vacancy taking the place of youth. Apathy taking the place of drive, until his brother is an unfamiliar man in a familiar body. Reggie doesn't speak after picking him up from the hospital, merely stares ahead and lets the quiet fester.
It grows, it itches, and Delsin wants to cry.
Teeth clenched through the funeral, eyes not seeing and his brother's grip on his shoulder bruising. Heat joins the itch, agonizing and scorching with every sympathetic stare, every soft and delicate murmur. He is breaking inside his suit, cracking and bending within the confines of his mind. The pressure of loss and denial leaving no room to breathe, no room to think.
It morphs to something darker, deeper when Delsin lies awake hours later, listening to Reggie try and fail to muffle sobs that were a long time coming.
This isn’t fair.
He can’t breathe one night, gasps and cries at the dinner table as the world tunnels and darkens. Reggie knocks the whole table over getting to him, the shattering of plates and glass nothing compared to the roaring of his brain. He holds him tight, so tight it hurts and doesn't let up until his chest opens again. Neither really know what to say.
Life becomes a downward spiral that he doesn’t understand and doesn’t try to, only able to run. Run from the ghosts of the past; past hopes, past love, past joy. The itch becomes an old friend alongside the scorching of his insides, fueled by his grief stricken anger and need to spite the same universe that has cursed him. He is uncontrollable, untouchable in the way he climbs higher, jumps farther, pushes harder against the restraints of an invisible force.
He revels in the anger, let’s it lead him to petty fights in the cafeteria, jeering words he does not mean, tells himself he doesn’t care when Reggie’s face contorts in anger and disappointment. Tells himself it doesn’t matter when teachers click their tongues at him, looks away when Betty looks at him with sad, sad eyes.
They wouldn't get it. They don't know what it's like to feel wrong in one's own skin, boiling over into something unbearable and unmanageable, the only way to silence his roaring veins being to give them something to hold onto.
He grows, the destruction around him isn't enough anymore. He goes to a party he’s too young for and drinks something that burns his throat and waters his eyes. It hallows him out, yet somehow makes him whole all the same. The world spins and smudges, there is bile in his throat, but there is a chorus in his veins where there was once only unbearable crying.
He comes home shitfaced and unable to stand.
Reggie grounds him, goes red in the face with rage but swallows words they both know he’ll regret and instead slams the door. Shame rises in his throat, squashed by his own anger and spite.
Who does he think he is?
Life transforms into a blur of hangovers and sickness. Skipping classes because concentrating grates against his brain so painfully his vision shakes, drinking vodka like water and falling into the sweet oblivion of the darker corners of the universe. Life becomes Reggie shoving glasses of water in his hands and watching him with the eyes of an officer as he chokes down food. He’s given up on grounding him, making attempts at confiscation, chores as punishment, anything just and reasonable that Delsin lashes against with vigor. It turns into shouting matches in the kitchen, saying things that feel foreign against his tongue and heavy in his spirit.
He supposes he can't fault anyone when he finds a pack of cigarettes forgotten on the coffee table.
He keeps going to parties. At least there he knows there’s life around him, that there’s color and smiles and beauty in the world if only for a little while. The people around him are fake, the people he dates are fake, but they all make that itch go away and empty his head and he can’t bother stopping. He drinks because he knows how, doesn’t question the little white pill that ends up in his hand, just embraces the brightness it brings and the humming bird thumping of his stagnant heart.
He gets arrested again. Reggie glares at him through the bars while he tries not to vomit.
“This stops now.” Its hard to think of a time when Reggie’s voice was full of warmth and joy, when he had dreams that Delsin wanted him to have. When he was happy, full of laughter and his youth shined like a beacon in his smile. When he was Reg instead of Deputy Rowe. He nods, because sometimes it's easier to lie than to fight, to set them off into the same pattern of pain and anger but unable to do anything else when everything they've ever known has been broken beyond repair.
They both know this isn’t the end. Reggie’s said this twenty times now. Reggie chases away each shitty lover, makes him drink water even when he fights, and clenches his jaw when Del looks at him with blown pupils. Silent. Angry.
He will bail Delsin out, and another crack in their dynamic will appear.
The drugs get stronger, more bizarre, take away the pains of being the fuck up, of being the one people whisper about and numb the lacerations on his heart from each failed attempt at love. He drinks, he pops, and ignores the growing chasm between him and the only family he has.
Until he takes something that makes the world spin too fast and make faces smear into fears and nightmares, stutters his heart too fast and everything is too much. Too loud, too colorful, too many bodies and too much pain in his soul and--
He wakes up in the gray of morning shivering and half naked. Wet, his wallet missing, and dread pushing against his lungs. When he calls Reggie he just cries, barely gets out a description of where he is through his sobs.
Reggie is livid, skids to a stop on the damp road that Delsin’s never heard of. He slams the door of the trooper so hard the glass shudders, and he yells. Not a risen voice, not a restrained snap that reminds the younger Rowe who’s in charge in the worst way. It’s a shout, it’s deep in his older brother’s chest and he knew this would come one day.
“You are in astronomical trouble, I hope you realize that!” Delsin just keeps crying, curls into the blanket Reggie furiously drapes over him. “I knew this would happen, I knew you’d-–what the fuck where you thinking!? You could’ve killed yourself! I don’t hear from you all night, all morning–-get in the car!” Delsin obeys, wraps the blanket around tighter. Though it does nothing for the bone deep chill in his body. There are scrapes on his knees and his elbows, stinging as his sense of awareness grows higher.
He flinches when Reggie slams the door again, closes his eyes when he punches the steering wheel with a muttered unbelievable. He can only shrink into the door when his brother rounds on him, dark eyes ablaze and face wild. Some razzled part of his brain realizes it's the first time in years he's seen a single spark of life in his brother's eyes. “Do you have any idea how worried I was?! I was about to call a missing persons alert!”
“I’m sorry.” He mumbles, keeps his head down as hot shame paints his face.
“Sorry doesn’t cut it, Delsin! I can’t do this anymore, You can’t keep doing this! This drinking and partying, taking drugs–” Delsin looks up horrified. ”Oh don’t give me that look, I’ve known– not telling me where you are, I have no idea who you’re hanging out with half the time! Thank god you had your phone otherwise I'd never know! What the hell am I supposed to do if this happens again? Huh? What if you don’t have your phone next time? Am I just supposed to sit on my fucking hands and hope you’ll come back?!”
Delsin shrinks with each word, lips trembling and something twisting his stomach.
“Then think for ten damn seconds! This is dangerous! This is irresponsible! I can’t keep just hoping you’ll come back! I thought this time was it, I thought you were dead.” Reggie’s voice cracks around the vowels, shatters into something delicate. Vulnerable.
Reggie hadn’t cried since Delsin’s first panic attack, became a sturdy, immovable object. Vacant of emotion besides anger and apathy, the price he paid to be hard enough to take each blow, become their provider. But he’s breaking now, the final crack in his facade of the impenetrable force; the sibling with everything put together. The man with the answers when he was no older than twenty two who lost everything he'd been working towards in a snap of a finger. His hands come up to cover his face as he sobs, the sound piercing Delsin in the chest, makes his throat close and fresh tears well up.
“I can’t.” He gasps, silences Delsin with the thickness and desperation of his voice. “I can’t lose you too. I can’t bury another person, especially not my little brother. You’re all I’ve got. We’re all each other’s got.” His eyes are bloodshot when he looks at him, deep bruises and stubble leaving behind the image of someone two steps away from collapsing. How late was he up, waiting for Delsin to call? To come home? To find his body lost in the creek, dead and gone, leaving him behind in a world that was not kind.
"I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Reg–” Delsin scoots towards Reggie, curls into him and wails when his older brothers arms tighten around him, fingers gripping the fabric of the blanket. “I won’t do it anymore. I swear."
Their touches have become so sour, impersonal since the funeral. Reggie touched to grip his arm in frustration, to move his hair off his sweaty forehead, to shove him into cold showers. Distant, tired. Nothing like that moment; desperate and full of starved yearning. They were not raised to be distant, the warmth and cologne of his brother starting a fresh wave of tears with its familiarity. The itch fading as he hides his face in the fabric of Reggie's coat, probably covering with snot and tears.
"No more. Please, god, not just for me. For yourself.” All he can do is nod, sniffle and leech warmth from his brother as they sit there in the cold quiet of the trooper. “I love you so much, Del. I can’t watch you hurt yourself any more. Whatever is wrong–-we can talk about it okay? We’ll figure it out. Just no more of this.”
And he loves Reggie. The guilt, the shame, and the fear outweigh everything else in that moment. For the first time in years, Delsin is forced to face reality. He’s hurting himself, hurting Reggie, who’s love had never faded no matter the times he cleaned up after Delsin, stayed up late to watch him. He’s been frustrated, the gap between them growing with each bad night, with each unspoken argument, risking fracturing their small, small family. He’s right, Delsin can’t do this anymore, he’s going to get hurt. Or worse.
"I love you too. I’m so sorry.”
The tears fade eventually, Delsin’s face sticking to Reggie’s jacket as they reluctantly pull apart. The older clears his throat, shifts the gear into drive and says,
“Let’s get something to eat.”
“Reggie. Its Monday.” There was school, and work, and life.
“I don’t care. I need bacon.” It shouldn’t make him laugh, but he does anyway. A watery cough that gets a wary smile out of the other.
They go to some low brow diner neither of them have ever been to. Their breakfast platters are greasy and salty, Reggie drowning each bite with bitter coffee and making a face. They don’t speak, they don’t talk about what happened, just share looks over oily eggs and let the morning fade away.
Delsin keeps his promise, his grades claw back to passing, he takes back drawing, digs his hands into those things to give himself something to feel. Every time the need comes back, he looks at Reggie with his stupid glasses on, doing the math for their bills, and he bites his tongue.
The itch continues, but he can live.