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When It All Falls Apart

Guest Jen

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Story Title: When It All Falls Apart

Type of story: One-shot

Main Characters: Geoff & Aden

BTTB rating: T

Genre: Hurt/Comfort

Does story include spoilers: Yes (for those who haven’t seen episodes 5004-5)

Any warnings: Slash

Summary: “I think I can live without being cooped up with Aden inside a shop. The trawler was bad enough.”

When It All Falls Apart

“I think I can live without being cooped up with Aden inside a shop. The trawler was bad enough.”

He says it while Alf is driving. The window is down, a cool breeze blowing against his face, his hair. It’s nice, he thinks for things to be like this. If he closes his eyes, he can almost pretend that he can’t feel it. That he can’t feel the constant throb, the pain that stretches from the base of his neck, all the way across his skin, pulling it tight, so tight he think it might break, all the way across the top of his shoulder.

Geoff can remember being sunburned as a kid. It was the first time his parents had taken him and his sister to the beach. It wasn’t that far from the farm, but Geoff had never been before. So it was exciting, to finally be seeing a little bit of the world that was outside his life of paddocks and grassy fields. His father had told him fondly of the place called Summer Bay, painting the image of crystal clear waters and golden sand in Geoff’s mind. He replayed the image of himself over and over as they drove. Visualising himself wandering up and down the dunes, befriending a small crab and collecting shells, while his mother watched him paddle in the shallows and Annie sat on a towel and watched, occasionally spraying sand in the air. And when they arrived, finally arrived, it was just as he had imagined it. The squawking of seagulls played like a soundtrack against the rolling of the small waves, that washed up onto his toes and he let out a squeal at the sudden coolness.

He had so much fun that day that he didn’t even take notice of the time. It hadn’t really seemed important, not when there were rock pools to explore and sand castles to build. Not until he got home that night and realised there was this odd prickling sensation across his back. But rather than just being able to scratch it and make it stop, it gradually got worse. The prickling turning into a heat that radiated across his skin, making every muscle ache, his head heavy and sleepy.

But this time it was completely different. It wasn’t from having too much fun that made him burn, it was the actions of others. People who had so much hate and distaste that they resorted to violence. And while Geoff wouldn’t ever wish he hadn’t done what he did, he wished things were different now.

With every second of pain, caused by the smallest of movements, he can see their faces. Not the ones throwing the Molotov cocktails, but the ones on the inside. Ruby, and Irene, and Leah. All of them. Their eyes glassy and wide, frozen in fright as the orange flames licked at the walls and ceiling, blocking them inside, keeping them trapped with little hope for escape.

More than anything he doesn’t want to see their faces. But he can’t seem to stop thinking about it.

Geoff is using all his energy pretending everything is okay. That he doesn’t feel this way, like all the air has been sucked out of his lungs and he’s suffocating. That despite the fact that he is burned, he feels cold. So when Xavier asks how he’s shoulder is, he finally snaps. Storming off out of the Surf Club, just trying to get away. Sure, he apologises and says he never should have taken out his frustration on Xavier, but really he’s hoping for something more. That by being honest, finally telling him how much it hurts, that it might make himself feel better. That by explaining the feeling of knives puncturing his skin every time he moves, that he’s never going to forget the searing pain and how he’d hoped for death, rather than try and struggle through. But it doesn’t make a difference.

Martha tells him he needs to remind himself that he’s alive. That he’s more than just a kid with a burn, or that he was so close to not making it out alive. She says something about rubbing salt into his wound, and maybe she didn’t mean take a swim in the ocean, but that’s what Geoff does.

For the first time since he left the hospital he peels back the bandages and exposes his skin. It’s red and raw, little blisters on the surface, and as the wind picks up, Geoff shivers, trying to ignore the bolt of pain he feels. He hates himself for staring, knowing that he’s always been told, always believed, that it’s not what’s on the outside that matters. That, if you are a good person, everything will be okay. But really, Geoff isn’t so sure anymore.

He thinks about what he did. That he put out the fires, stopped the others from getting hurt. But for what? He’s going to have a scar for the rest of his life, a constant reminder, of the night there was a change. The night Summer Bay changed. And not for the better. The night that made him realise that there are some people out there without a conscience, and they would try and hurt innocent people. That thought is scarier than any of the others.

As Geoff dives into the cold ocean, he holds his breath. Allowing the salt and water to lap against his skin. He bites back the scream that threatens to explode out of him. The pain is unbearable, and it’s like he’s being burned again. Every one of his nerves is screaming, pulsing, as it hurts. But he doesn’t let himself cry. Just bites down hard onto his lip, until he can taste his own blood.

He doesn’t have a towel, so just collapses down on the sand when he hauls himself back to shore. Geoff’s shivering, despite feeling as though his lungs are on fire, his skin blistering and sizzling under the sun and salt. Each breath is erratic and ragged, rattling around inside his chest, and Geoff just curls is legs up to his chest, hugging them close with his free arm, the other one, the one with the burn, cradling close to his body.

Geoff doesn’t know how long he stays like this, taking deep breaths, the words ’Make it stop. Make it stop’ spinning through his mind. But he doesn’t actually think it will make that much of a difference. Even as much as Geoff wants this to stop, for things to go back to the way they were, he knows that it is too late. Things will never go back to the way they were.

He will never go back to how he was.

Finally, Geoff forces himself to stand on unsteady legs. He’s still shaking, goose bumps rising, teeth chattering, he makes himself walk. Concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other on the sand, rather than on the dagger being pressed into his side. He thinks about stopping, just letting himself succumb, but he doesn’t. For whatever reason, Geoff keeps going.

The sand turns to gravel, and he can hear voices off in the distance somewhere, but he’s only peering through his eyelashes, trying not to see where he is, or where he is going.

Once he arrives, Geoff doesn’t really see what is happening.

He looks up and sees the twinkling of fairy lights, blinking before his eyes, and he thinks he might be imagining it. He walks towards the white light, hoping that wherever his legs are taking him, that once he arrives, he will no longer feel the pain. That he will finally feel the peace he once knew, and took for granted.

There is a pair of eyes staring back at him, and his breath catches in his chest. They are watching him intently, but not moving forward. They just glimmer under the lights, eyebrows knitted closely together, and Geoff figures he must be dreaming. Because the next thing he knows, a pair of strong arms are around him, as his knees give way.

He’s being held so tightly, all the air is being squeezed out of him, and he thinks about fighting against it. He doesn’t want to be touched, doesn’t want to be seen like this, but doesn’t have any energy left.

Geoff tastes salt on his lips, even though he is dry. He’s crying. Like, sobbing and whimpering against the strong grasp, but the body never wavers. Just pulls him tighter, and rubs small circles into his lower back, whispering indecipherable words. Tears are streaming down his cheeks, chest rising and falling heavily with each breath as he gulps for air.

He’s crying for the pain he’s feeling, the emptiness inside, the ugliness on the outside, and the memories that are haunting him, that have been following his every step like a dark cloud. Finally letting out everything he’s been trying to keep inside, while someone holds him close.

Geoff’s runs out of tears, feeling exhausted and cold and still shivering. The throbbing of his shoulder never wavering. He slowly leans back, looking up into the face of the one who has been holding him.

Aden’s eyebrows are knitted closely together as he stares back, examining Geoff’s tired, pale, tear-soaked face. They are crowded onto the floor of the bait shop where Aden had been working when Geoff had stumbled up the wooden steps, barely conscious and he’d fallen. Aden reacted on instinct, rushing forward to catch him, pulling him close and holding him tight.

Geoff’s back was bare, the t-shirt he was wearing crumpled beside them, and Aden can see the burn. It’s red and raw and he can’t help but feel a wave of nausea pass through him. He forces himself to take a deep breath, taking in the smell of bait and salty air. More than anything he can’t help but take in how scared Geoff looks. Every aspect of him is timid and weary. It is as though everything that made him so kind, and caring, and so ... Geoff, has been hollowed out, and all that is left is this shell, something unrecognisable. And that is what makes him sick most of all.

Geoff is so tired, his eyelids drooping closed, and he lets his head fall onto Aden’s shoulder.

“I’m sorry,” he hears Aden whisper.

Aden finds himself reaching out, his finger hovering on the outside of the burn, touching the edges where it is just a little bit pink. Even at this, Geoff sucks in a breath, holding it, but he doesn’t pull away.

“Is it bad?”

Rather than getting angry, Geoff finds himself nodding. Aden nods in reply.

Aden hasn’t told Geoff that it will be okay, like so many others have. And for that, Geoff is grateful.

Aden tries to be as gentle as possible, moving slowly, carefully and deliberately as he reaches up to get his drink bottle that is perched on the counter above their heads. He pulls it down with one hand, the other never leaving Geoff. He gathers up Geoff’s shirt and upends his bottle’s contents onto it, soaking it through, a few splashes catching on his own clothing.

Meticulously he slowly dabs at the skin, Geoff never saying anything, but his body is frozen, breath barely there, as Aden wipes away the salt and takes out the heat.

Finally he puts down the shirt, and Aden inspects the burn. The redness of it is striking and he can’t imagine what it must actually feel like. Geoff feels Aden’s eyes wandering over his body, and he can tell he’s uneasy. Each of his breaths is the same, too calculated to be real.

Aden doesn’t feel like it is enough. He wants to do more, take some of the hurt away. Not just the physical, but the emotional. Everything Geoff is feeling, Aden wants to wash away, but he knows he can’t. He leans forward and presses his lips on the edge of Geoff’s shoulder. Geoff feels a warmth, but for the first time in days, it is pleasant, and Geoff never wants it to end.

There is a moment of silence as they both sit there, something shifting in the air. Taking in the closeness of it all, something the same, and yet different from the trawler. But they are both here, and there is something intimate, something neither of them can quite define.

“Thanks,” Geoff finally croaks. His voice hoarse and low, and barely audible. But Aden understands.

Aden sighs, “I just wish I could -”


But it’s not. It’s never going to be okay again, and Aden realises this.

“What now?” Aden finds himself asking, even though he is afraid of the answer.

Geoff kind of half shrugs, flinching, even at this small movement. Aden can’t imagine how he hauled himself all the way from the beach to the bait shop. “I’m going to break up with Ruby.”

That was -- That was not the reply Aden was expecting. Geoff is looking at him, and he’s trying to work out if there is something behind his eyes. Something that looks like it could be hope. “I kissed Nicole.” And that flicker is gone, and Aden immediately feels guilty. “We should get you to the hospital,” Aden says, trying to make some sort of pathetic amends.

“M’okay,” Geoff mumbles, but he’s clearly not. He doesn’t have any colour in his cheeks, his eyes barely staying open; Aden’s voice the only thing keeping him conscious.

“No, you’re not,” Aden replies, “At least let me drive you home.” He can see Geoff thinks about arguing, re-iterating that he’s alright, but Aden is having none of it. Carefully, keeping one hand around Geoff’s waist he hoists Geoff up beside him so he is kind of standing. Leaning, really. Aden opens up the neck of Geoff’s shirt and Geoff slots his head through. He can see Geoff shudder as the material touches his skin, and has to hold back his own desire to rip it back off.

Somehow he gets Geoff to his car. He’s kind of sitting sideways, so his shoulder’s not touching the seat. As soon as he is buckled in, he’s closing his eyes, breathing soft and steady, but as Aden drives he sees Geoff’s eyes occasionally flicker open. As though he is checking, just making sure Aden is still there.

No one is home, which is surprising, but Aden is grateful. He walks with Geoff, slowly, all the way from the car to his bedroom. Watches as Geoff strips off his shirt and damp jeans and lie down on his stomach on top of his bed, not even bothering to get under the covers.

Aden calls Rachel because really, he doesn’t know what he’s doing. Does he let Geoff sleep it off? But what if he doesn’t wake up? So he calls her, and she’s over within ten minutes, giving him a pained smile before slipping in Geoff’s room. Aden just paces around as he waits.

When she comes out she sits down beside him on the lounge, asking him whether he would mind watching over Geoff until someone else comes home.

“I’m just not comfortable leaving him alone like this,” she says, her expression weary, “But he was adamant about not going to the hospital.”

“I’ll stay,” Aden says.

“Do you know what happened?” she asks.

Aden shakes his head, because no, he has no idea what happened. At the bait shop, or before.

“He’ll be okay?” Aden finds himself asking. His voice sounds high and weak, and maybe it wavers more than he likes, but he just -- he needs to know.

Rachel nods solemnly, “Eventually. Although,” she hesitates for a second, “there’ll be a scar.” And Aden knows she’s not just talking about the one he’ll have to see every day in the mirror.

Aden can see Geoff’s chest rising and falling, a constant, steady motion as he creeps into the bedroom. Even though it’s dark, the only light from the pale moon streaming through his half-closed blinds illuminates Geoff’s body. The burn has been covered again, the bandages extensive, and Aden finds himself swallowing hard.

He tiptoes across the floor boards, kicking aside a pair of shoes and shorts, making space on the floor. It’s not the most comfortable of places, but he’s using some of the couch cushions and Geoff’s clothing as a pillow, so it’s bearable. But it’s not about getting a good night’s sleep, it’s about making sure Geoff is okay.

Geoff stirs as Aden takes up his position, sitting cross-legged on the floor. He doesn’t open his eyes, kind of mumbling something into his pillow.

“I’m here,” Aden soothes, whispering softly.

“We need -” Aden hears Geoff say.

“It can wait,” Aden replies, scooting across the floor, so he is right at Geoff’s side. He lifts a hand and cards Geoff’s hair, hearing a soft sigh escape his lips. Because, really, whatever they have to talk about can wait until the morning. Aden isn’t going anywhere.



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