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Don't Mind the Mess

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Her foot was shaking on the gas pedal by the time the sight of her mother had left the rearview mirror. She took a deep breath, glancing over her shoulder before relaxing in the seat, loosening her grip on the wheel and pushing away the thought of having to explain all of it to her when she got home. They had gotten in fights before; this wouldn't be their first. But she could tell the woman's patience was running thin and it only made her less inclined to approach the notion of full transparency. After all, not sharing the parts of her life that had the Pogues in it was a habit at this point, when her parents and her were sitting at the table at the end of the day, quietly eating dinner in a somewhat relaxed silence. She could only take so many jabs at her choice of friends, especially from her dad, whose approval she regularly sought out. She had always gotten along with him more than her mother, so it made it that much more frustrating when they had shared opinions on the Pogues. Looking back on it, the day her dad had made it known that he didn’t much like JJ or John B. was the day she started putting distance between her home life and her personal life, stubbornly deciding some things were just none of her parents business anymore. It was freeing, the transition. It had caused some friction but she could handle it.  

The idea of explaining exactly what was going on over the past couple of weeks made her slightly uncomfortable, mainly from not even agreeing with everything she was doing as of lately herself, but it was to help John B. and that comforted her. Pogues don’t give up on Pogues, it was simple. She didn’t necessarily want to go through with all of the mischief and petty crime, she just wanted what was best for her friend, even if sometimes giving into his concocting was the best way to give it to him, and if that meant going behind her parent’s backs, that was something she could live with. 

She takes her eyes off the road for a second, peering over to the passenger seat. JJ was still pinching his nose, fidgeting with his rings with his other hand as he closed his eyes. He always went quiet when one of the Pouges fought with their parents, looking uncomfortable to even be there to listen. One night, they were all lounging around the living room at the Chateau playing cards when Big John had come home from being away for longer than usual. Even if she wasn’t always spending the night at the shack, Kiara could usually gauge how long Big John had been gone from how John B. was acting. The longer his dad was away, the more he seemed on edge, or in the need to go out and keep himself distracted. In more serious moments, he would tell her how much he hated it when his dad was gone, not knowing how long it was going to be, hoping the authorities wouldn’t come asking questions. When he was older, he started worrying about rent, about how Big John would sometimes take the money with him. Kiara knew about his mom, so hearing the way he described how he felt when his dad left, it wasn’t that hard to connect the dots that were his abandonment issues.

It was late when they were all still cracking jokes, poking fun at each other's moves, but Kiara could tell something was off. John B. kept distractedly glancing towards his fathers room where he had disappeared to unpack when he finally told them to keep playing without him as he got up and walked towards the hallway. They had continued playing like nothing happened, trying not to listen in on the conversation that clearly wasn’t any of their business but it soon turned into half an hour. Which then turned into forty-five minutes. They were no longer trying to keep the energy light with their comments, just silently playing when the walls proved to be thinner than normal. JJ stopped quipping, looking down the hallway when he thought no one was looking, rubbing his neck nervously. Finally, he dropped his cards, pushed himself from the floor and started walking towards the door, muttering something about needing to wake up early for work and left. 

Kiara and Pope both had a clue on why but never said anything, just continued to rearrange the cards in their hands, taking their time in finding a good one and placing it on the table. 

“I’ll talk to her later, she’s just worried, ya know…” Kiara reassures in what she hoped is a light voice, looking over at JJ again, “it’ll blow over. It always does.” 

JJ looks up, as if not really sure if she was talking to him or to no one in particular, hesitantly nodding. He sits up a little straighter, clearing his throat.

“I never understood why you do it.”

“Do what?”

He glances over at her as if it’s obvious. “I think you know what.” 

She smiles, “Then I think you do understand.” 

This isn’t the first time they’ve had this conversation, in fact, the nature of its occurrence is almost comical at this point. Every time someone gave her shit about spending her time with the boys, which happened so often she stopped keeping track for the sake of her sanity, they would just shake their heads, pretending not to know why she stayed. As if she wouldn’t confidently say in a heartbeat that it felt more natural than not to constantly be in each other's company, as if they all weren’t clearly better off in more ways than one being by in each other's lives. 

As if they don’t constantly prove this every single time they saw each other.

She can tell by his face that he understood it perfectly as he gave her a small smirk, looking back towards the road.
--
The drive was short, although she couldn’t have guessed from never actually setting foot in his house. She had a rough idea of where it was even without JJ’s one word directions here and there, which led to a relatively relaxing drive. JJ was never inclined to even talk about his home, let alone let the Pogues visit and Kiara didn’t blame him, she did the same. The last-minute trip they had made to her house still left a sour taste in her mouth. She told them all to stay in the car, but of course they followed her right in her house, knowing her parents were gone and wanting to take advantage of it. She knew they didn’t mean any harm, especially after John B.’s comment of how creepy it was that none of them had ever even been in her home and how she could clearly be a serial killer and they wouldn’t even know it. 

“The fuck does that have to do with my house?” She had asked distractedly as she tried unlocking the front door, fumbling for the keys. 

“No, he’s right,” JJ had chimed in, walking right up and leaning his body against the doorframe, “I’ve seen the shows, the way the unsubs decorate their houses with all that red string and the black and white pictures of the people they’re stalking, while not at all trying to be casual about- “

“ -I wouldn’t call it decorating- “ John B. interrupts simultaneously with Pope.

“ -right, because television shows are what we should be basing our realities off of, that’s completely logical.” 

“Hey,” JJ smugly put his hands up, giving a roguish look, “what came first, the chicken or the egg?”

That set off more bickering as she finally unlocked the door, slipping inside and knowing in the back of her mind, she was hoping the whole exchange wouldn’t change anything. She lived differently than them, it was a known fact. But that didn’t stop the worry she felt as they stepped inside the house that was much bigger than any house they had ever been in and not for the first time did she dislike her particular upbringing. She felt shame, although she would never admit it, because it felt wrong. It felt wrong because she had light and hot water and food to go to bed to every night, and she knew not everyone had that. But she felt enough of it regardless, trying not to look at all of the expensive luxuries they had like the unneeded appliances and rooms they used for simply just fucking sitting in. It felt out of touch to come home to, after a long day outside of Figure 8, but she was grateful they didn’t seem to feel the need to mention it. John B. and Pope sat at the island in the kitchen as Kiara quickly ran upstairs to her room to grab the socks and shoes she needed. JJ followed her up, immediately taking every chance he got to make fun of her room.

“Kinda pictured you as more of a pink or yellow type of gal.”

“What’s wrong with blue?” She gave a quick scan of her room, not expecting or prepared to have company. It was a fucking mess but it was JJ, and she didn’t have to go into his room to know it couldn’t have looked much better. JJ looked at her, amusement pulling at his lips. 

“Nothin’, just not what I expected.” 

“Also,” She paces a minute, trying to remember what she had come up for, her toe digging through a pile of sweaters by her closet, “even if you haven’t seen that many, I want you to know not all girls rooms revolve around just one color, you dork.” 

“Ouch!” He gives her a challenging look before getting easily distracted, walking over to her bed. “How many fucking cups does one person need to drink from? What, do you, like, have one for each hour of the day- “ He picks up one of the glasses from her bedside table, holding it up to her. She lets out a breath, a hidden laugh wanting to escape.

“Okay, no, you’re not judging me right now, dude, I’ve been lazy, all right?” She can’t help but giggle as she bends over, finding her shoes and pulling her clean socks on. 

“Oh, no,” He puts the glass down, shaking his head, “I would never.“

“It sounds a lot like you really fucking are though- “

“Don’t kid yourself, Kie.” 

She gives him a soft push towards the door. “M’kay, whatever.” 

They both clumsily make their way down the stairs, meeting John B. and Pope in the kitchen, where they were still discussing the chicken and the egg. 

“You guys will not believe the fucking clutter that is Kie’s room!” JJ excitedly announces, as Kiara starts gathering all of their arms and pulls them towards the door. John B. immediately turns in her grasp to look at her. 

“Yo, what!”

“Are you sure you were in the right room?” Pope asks in a sardonic tone that makes Kiara shake her head, smiling. JJ looked pretty damn satisfied with himself.

“Fucking shambles, dude.”

“You guys are assholes.” She laughs again, quickly checking to see if her parents spontaneously decided to show up while locking the door. 

“You know, this takes away from all the times you gave us shit about the Chateau, Kie- “

“You guys should know better than to take JJ’s word.” She lectured lightly as they all made their way back to the van, the sun beginning to dip below the horizon, casting an orange glow through the sky. “Plus, there’s a difference between organization and cleanliness, and the Chateau is neither.” 

They all made grunts and innocent noises of acknowledgement as they climbed in their seats, pulling the doors shut.

As she thinks about that day, she momentarily hopes JJ doesn’t feel the same shame she felt when bringing them into her home, but immediately shuts it down. Of course he does, she couldn’t ignore how their situations are almost opposites. 

Soon, she was pulling up to the front, the dirt crunching under the tires as she slowly put the car in park. JJ looks at the house for a minute.

“Home sweet home.” He forces out, removing his cap and nervously running a hand through his hair. She gives the house a once-over before noticing his reluctance, taking in the situation and trying to think of something to say. Which is not actually that hard, she realizes.

“Do you want me to come? ‘Cause I’ll come.” 

He quickly shakes his head, not thinking twice. 

“No.” He starts gathering his bag, glancing towards the house again, popping the door open. “This’ll only take a second.” 

She takes her hand off the steering wheel and holds it in her lap, looking down hesitantly. “You sure?”

He swings the backpack over his shoulders before turning to observe her face, as if she just asked the most profound question. Biting his cheek, he bows his head to the ground, shrugging, pausing. She studies his features for a moment, hating how they both felt the need to keep the other out of their homes. She hears him clear his throat. 

“Uh, sure.” She waits for his eyes to meet hers again, almost like visual approval, before unbuckling her seatbelt. He gives a choked laugh when they’re walking up to the door, the wooden steps creaking under their weight.

“Just, ya know, don’t mind the mess.” 

She glances over to him and for half a second, thinks he wasn’t referring to the physical condition of the house. 

He carefully opens the screen door, holding it open for her as his eyes search around inside. She assumes he deems it safe, not looking nearly as comfortable as someone should feel in their own home as he guides her through the kitchen, down a hallway to a room, his room, after they both notice Luke passed out on the couch. She slowly walks around his room, giving him a small smile before speaking in a low voice. 

“Kinda pictured you as more of a pink or yellow type of guy.” 

He pauses from where he was glossing over a dresser, staring at the gap between the wall and the top of the dresser before letting out a chuckle, turning to look at her for a moment, something alluring in his eyes.  

“You’re proud of that one, aren’t you?.” 

She shrugs. “A little, yeah.”

He nods approvingly, looking at her fondly before pulling open a random drawer and digging through its contents. She lowers herself on his bed, blinking between the floor and him. 

“Do you know where he keeps them?” 

He doesn’t answer for a beat, scrambling around the dresser before stopping and turning towards her.

“I think I know where they might be. Uh…” He turns around, glancing at the door, “it’ll take a second, hang on.” 

She nods and he slips out of the door, leaving her alone with only the sound of the small fan running in the corner. She runs a hand through her hair, thinking about if they were doing the right thing. The whole island knew about John B. which was something she never thought she’d be considering. When Big John went missing and was presumed dead, that story was pretty big, but nothing compared to this. It was hard to think of what tomorrow would bring, what waking up tomorrow would look like with John B. and Sarah gone, on their way on the Phantom, trying to get the gold. The whole situation seemed kinda fucked, if she thought about it hard enough. She tried to think optimistically about it all, but the pessimistic side of her wouldn’t quite leave her alone, which only filled her with doubt, annoyingly revolving around everything. 

She wondered if it was for the best, for them to flee. Surely, things would get sorted out with Ward and Rafe, but what would happen after that? Would John B. be considered guilty for running? After they were gone, would Pope, JJ and her have to answer for him since they have already been spotted together? How would John B. and Sarah get back to them and when? All of the questions started to feel like they were cornering her, making her get up and go check on JJ. 

She immediately backtracks her steps when she sees JJ in his fathers arms, a sight that makes her feel like she just stepped into something that she wasn’t supposed to, something too personal. It should’ve been a normal thing to see, not something that made her feel invasive. She bites her lip, trying to soften her steps on the carpet when JJ spots her and holds up the keys, gesturing towards the back door. She nods, following him out into the hot sun. 

She walks around to the drivers side, hopping in but not starting the car. JJ is quiet, holding the keys tightly in his hand as he stares at the house. She swallows hard, leaning to look at him. 

“You good?” 

He continues to bite his cheek, breaking his gaze from the house to stare at the floor of the car, as if not fully trusting his voice yet. They’re both quiet. She can feel her heart beating in her neck as she peers out of her window, watching the small breeze cast ripples across the grassy pond. The humidity was rising, the only relief coming from the soft cool breeze, which gently blew through the cab through the opened windows. 

“Why can’t I hate him?” 

His voice almost makes her jump as she looks over to him, a pit forming in her stomach at the sight of his red eyes and white knuckles. His chest slowly rises and falls, as if he’s trying to keep his breathing steady. 

“JJ…”

“No, I wanna hate him! Why can’t I just- “ He stops himself, looking down again, squeezing the necklace with the key in his hand. She tries to find her voice. 

“He’s your dad, JJ, it’s okay to feel how you feel. It’s normal. I know it feels- shitty- but- ” She reaches towards his fist, gently pulling the chain from his fingers, which shakily loosen under her touch, “You’re okay.” 

He takes a deep breath as she places the chain in the cup holder and holds his hand in both of hers, squeezing, forcing him to look at her. She smiles hesitantly, nodding, making up for what she couldn’t say in words with their touch.

“You’re okay.”