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If There's Only One Side Fighting

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Story Title: If There’s Only One Side Fighting

Type of story: Short/Medium fiction

Main Characters: Aden, Justin, Belle.

BTTB rating: T

Genre: Angst

Does story include spoilers: No

Any warnings: Sexual content, Language

Summary: Aden still remembers a time when things were normal. When the kids in his class didn’t think of him as a loner; the brooding boy who hangs out behind the sports shed with his older brother’s friends. That was a long time ago though.

A/N: Title taken from ‘World War III’ by Jonas Brothers, deal with it. I have wanted to write this for so long, ever since we met Justin. So, it’s kind of a tribute to their awesome brother-ness. They are the best brothers in the world, okay.


if there’s only one side fighting

Part One

Aden still remembers a time when things were normal. When the kids in his class didn’t think of him as a loner; the brooding boy who hangs out behind the sports shed with his older brother’s friends. That was a long time ago though. The memory is kind of fuzzy now, blurred at the edges. Every time he tries to recall it, it’s just that little bit harder, the detail not appearing the same way it did before. But Aden knows that life wasn’t always like this.

Now, he walks home after school with Justin to a house that is always quiet. No mother to welcome them home. Father passed out on the lounge, beer bottles empty on the table. Another brother missing; put behind bars and forgotten to exist.

Justin is the only thing that keeps him going. The reason he gets up in the morning, why he even bothers to go to school.

It didn’t used to be like this. Aden had his own friends. Boys who he would play football with on the oval, girls who would always want to join in. They’d sit in a big group at one of the tables, talking obnoxiously loud, yelling over the top, just trying to be heard. It was simpler then.

But then Sean got arrested and suddenly things changed. In an instant, the boys picked teams without him. The girls shied their faces away when he walked passed. At the time he didn’t understand what he did wrong. But Justin was there to rescue him, beckoning him over to where the seniors hung out, around the back of the rusty shed, out of the line of sight of any teachers that might pass by.

Justin’s friends appraised Aden, looking him up and down. He was smaller than them, weedier too. They all seemed so grown up compared to him. It was like a child trying to sit at the adults table. One guy sniggered, and Justin just hit him upside the head.

“Aden’s cool,” Justin said, and there was no further discussion. He was one of them.

At lunchtime the boys would light up around the back of the shed. Standing in a tight circle, heads down, shadows hiding their faces. They didn’t talk much, occasionally one would mutter something about a hot girl they hooked up with, or a dude they wanted to beat up. Nothing complicated.

Aden was sure Mr Bartlett hated him because he always held him back so he would get to lunch late. He wouldn’t even bother eating, just scamper from the classroom as soon as he was dismissed and cross the oval to the shed. Without saying anything he would slip into the circle. It’s not like he took up much space anyway.

But, even though the space is small and sometimes Aden feels as though the other boys don’t even notice that he’s there, he always stands next to Justin, who Aden notices, never smokes.

It’s become part of the ritual now, some unspoken thing that happens between them. They don’t talk about feelings or anything, but it’s like Justin just knows. Aden steps into the tight circle of guys. A thick-shouldered dude with a Mohawk on his left, Justin on his right. And Aden still kind of feels awkward because the guys around him have stumble on their chins and hangovers, while all Aden has is a second-hand pushbike. Then Justin looks down at him, and quirks up the side of his mouth into a smirk, and it’s not much (Aden is fairly certain the other guys are so surrounded by the haze of smoke that they don’t notice) but it’s enough.


When Justin turns eighteen everything changes. And the worst part is that Aden doesn’t even see it coming.

A letter turns up at the house and Aden is the first one to see it. He picks up the crisp white envelope and stares at it for a moment. It’s got Mr J Jefferies on the front, which is odd on many different levels. First of all, mail that normally arrives at the house comes of one of two varieties. Letters of the ‘official’ kind, like bills, overdue notices, letters from the school, always addressed to their father; or junk mail. So for a letter to arrive that does not fall into either of those categories kind of makes Aden suspicious. And also frightened, because what if something has happened? What if Justin is in trouble?

Aden begins to panic, curiosity gone and pure fear radiating through his body. He’s realising that things could be falling apart. He was beginning to think life was settling down, into something that resembled a routine. With him and Justin, side by side. Maybe he was only kidding himself.

He hears a clattering as Justin tosses his keys onto the kitchen table and spins around. Justin must see the panic written all over his face because he says, “Woah, man. Are you alright?”

Aden thinks he must make some sort of non-committal gesture because Justin eyes him a bit before noticing the envelope in his hand.

“Oh,” Justin says, like it’s no big surprise. Aden looks down at his hands again, and it’s then he notices the insignia in the top left hand corner. It’s a gold crown with what appears to be rays shining from behind it. Underneath the text reads Department of Defence: Army.

The penny drops.

In the time that it has taken Aden to realise what is going on Justin has picked up a glass from the sink, filled it with water from the tap and kicked off his shoes. Aden shakily holds out the envelope as Justin strolls past and Justin takes it in his hand.

Aden thinks he’s going to just disappear there and then, but he stops short of wandering down the hall. He turns back, noticing that Aden is still frozen to the spot.

“I was going to tell you,” Justin explains.

“When?” Aden asks, voice low and hoarse.

“I don’t know,” Justin says with a shrug. “But I was. You’ve gotta believe that, Aden.”

Aden just shakes his head. And now his feet decide to move and he’s heading for the front door. There are rapid footsteps from behind and Justin cuts him off, stepping in front of the doorway.

“Where are you going?” Justin asks.

“What does it matter? You’re not going to be here much longer,” Aden spits.

“Don’t be like that,” Justin reasons.

“Why not? You’re leaving, aren’t you?” Aden knows he’s shouting now, but doesn’t even try to keep his voice down. For once he doesn’t care if his dad hears and wakes up. Doesn’t care if the neighbours hear them and think they’re having a domestic. He wants Justin to react. He wants him to - well, he doesn’t know what he wants him to do. But all he wants is for him to not act so calm.

“Keep your voice down,” Justin hisses, stepping forward and crowding into Aden’s face. “Do you want to wake, Dad? You know he had a night shift.”

“I don’t care! Sh*t. Does he know you’re leaving?” Aden yells.

“Stop yelling, Aden,” Justin replies. “And don’t swear.”

“Stop telling me what to do!” Aden shoves him. He knows Justin is bigger and stronger and older, but he’s also a coward for running away. So he pushes his chest and Justin instantly reacts. He nudges him back easily, making Aden stumble into the wall. Justin isn’t exactly muscular, but he’s toned and goes running early every morning so he’s got this energy that Aden can’t compete with. But that doesn’t stop him from trying.

Aden regains his footing and lunges forward, hands outstretched, aiming for Justin’s neck. He just wants to grab him and shake some sense into him, pound him until he says he’s staying.

Aden gets the fight he was looking for. Justin hands are bigger, his arms are longer and his fist collides with Aden’s chest sending him staggering back. Even when Aden runs at him and Justin takes him to the floor, wrestling for top position. Arms and legs are going in all directions and Aden can hear Justin grunt slightly as Aden gets one good punch to Justin’s lip before Justin is sitting on top of him, pinning both his arms at the side of his head. Aden struggles for a moment, wriggling underneath his brother for some way to get another hit away. It was satisfying for a moment, to have Justin in pain. For him to experience this hurt that was in Aden’s chest at the thought of living in this house, going to school, continuing life without him.

There is a thundering and Aden can feel the floor vibrating underneath him.

“Oi! Both of you! Shut up! You know I’ve been workin’ and when I come home I don’t wanna hear you makin’ a lot of racket,” Larry bellows.

Even though Justin is still mostly on top of Aden, he manages to angle his head so he actually sees his father. He’s clearly just stumbled out of bed, shirt dishevelled, socks only on his feet. He’s leaning against the doorframe, eyes rolling back into his head slightly as the room appears to shift under him. Then he opens his eyes and stares at them both, still on the ground, at his feet. Larry’s eyes are bloodshot, and Aden can tell he’s looking at them, but they’re not exactly in focus. Aden thinks he should be used to seeing his father like this. He’s not.

“Sorry, Dad,” Justin apologises. He shoots Aden a look that suggests he should probably do the same. But Aden doesn’t, he just glowers and bites his tongue.

“Don’t let me hear you again. Got it?” Larry slurs, turning his back on them and meandering down the hall. There’s a bang as he slams his door shut.

Justin sighs, Aden sees the sag in his shoulders as he climbs off Aden’s body and finally lets him get up. Aden clambers to his feet and there’s a moment where neither of them speak. Justin shoves his hands in his pocket and stares back.

“I’m going out,” Aden says, and he pushes past Justin. This time he doesn’t stop him from heading out the front door.


Aden just walks. He doesn’t have any destination or purpose. Just walks around the block a few times before stopping at a small park. It’s long been abandoned by the local children. Graffiti covers the brick wall that contains a greening sandpit. The slide has a crack down the middle and one of the tire swings has actually been stolen.

He remembers that they used to come here all the time when Aden and Justin were still in primary school. Back when their mother was in charge of the family. Sean had grown out of going to the park afterschool, but Justin and Aden enjoyed chasing each other around the equipment.

When they were a little bit older Aden and Justin would walk to the park by themselves. Justin was deemed old enough to be responsible, and would make sure Aden remembered to look both ways before crossing the road. Aden had roped Justin into a mammoth game of hide and seek, and Aden was currently scaling one of trees to hide in its branches. It had seemed a good idea at the time, when Justin had turned his back and was sitting on the swing counting backwards from one hundred.

Aden was very proud of his ability to climb into the tree, and was now sitting on a seemingly sturdy branch, bunching his hand into a fist and shoving it into his mouth to stop himself from laughing and giving away his amazing hiding spot.

Time passed and Aden remained in the tree. Even though he didn’t have a watch Aden could tell it was getting late. The sun was beginning to set and cast long shadows along the ground. The wind was picking up and Aden shivered in his t-shirt and shorts. The traffic down the nearby street and become virtually non-existent and Aden craned his neck to see what was taking Justin so long.

Aden was a good hider, probably because he was still fairly small and could crawl into little places that Justin couldn’t fit. But even after all this time, every time they played, Justin had always found him. Had always been able to just sense when Aden was close. But this time, Aden looked down from his hiding place and saw nothing but the long grass at the base of the tree. He scanned the park quickly, but the swing and the slide and the sandpit were all empty.

He was all alone.

A sob crept into his chest, and Aden bit into his lip to stop himself from crying. Justin wouldn’t forget him. Justin would never leave him, he just. He wouldn’t.

It was almost dark when he saw Justin again. The street lights had come on and Aden was shivering. His legs were freezing and he was holding on so tightly to the branch that his knuckles were turning white. But then Justin is calling out to him, waving at him from the base of the tree, telling him that he needed to climb down.

Aden tried to be careful climbing down, but he was cold and shaking and he later realised, crying, so he missed his footing getting off the branch and came crashing back to earth with a thud. When he opened his eyes, Justin was crouching over him, worry etched into his face, and he put his arm around Aden’s shoulders and helped him up. Aden could feel something trickling down his arm and on closer inspection saw the blood dripping from the cut on his elbow. He didn’t have time to even tell Justin that he’d hurt himself, even though he could feel the pain starting to throb, and he had tears streaking down his face. He didn’t have time because Justin just grabbed his wrist and began dragging him towards home.

“We’ve gotta get home, Aden,” Justin was saying. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to be late. Oh no, mum and dad are gonna kill me. Just don’t tell them what happened, okay? Do you reckon you can do that for me?” He stopped walking and bent down so he was at Aden’s eye level. Aden’s lip was still trembling but the tears had stopped now. Justin placed his hand on Aden’s shoulder and said, “Please, don’t tell them.” Aden can hear the desperation.

Aden nodded. “Where were you, Justin?”

A looked crossed Justin’s face. One that wasn’t worried about being late, or scared of their parents. (Something Aden would later realise as guilt). He sighed, “I’m sorry, Aden. When you were hiding Billy came past with his new bike and asked if I wanted a turn riding it. It’s one of those bikes with the gears and everything, so it’s really cool. And I didn’t know whether he would ask again, so I couldn’t really say no.”

It’s a lot more information than Aden really cares about. But he gets the message. Justin was off playing with his friend, someone who wasn’t his little brother, and forgot about him. This was when Aden first realised that people can leave you.


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A/N: Thank you for the comments Carina and bradyell.


if there's only one side fighting

Part Two

When Aden finally goes home it is dark. The porch light doesn’t work and Aden realises that he left the house without any keys, so he doesn’t really know how he’s supposed to get in. His phone and wallet are also sitting on his bed, so it’s not like he can spend the night somewhere else. Optimistically, Aden tries the door handle. It’s old and rusted and you have to twist it in a certain way for it to open, but it’s unlocked, so with a creak of the hinges, Aden lets himself in.

The first thing Aden sees is Justin, sitting at the dining table, head in his hands. The envelope that Aden found earlier has now been opened and the letter is sitting in the middle of the table. He looks up when he hears Aden’s footsteps.

“You’re home,” Justin says.

Aden thought he had calmed down a bit, thought that he was less angry than he was before. But seeing Justin sitting there, just sitting there, flares something inside him, and Aden feels his face flush involuntarily.

“There’s dinner in the oven,” Justin adds, “If you want.”

Aden doesn’t even acknowledge that Justin has spoken to him. Just shuns him and crosses the room towards his bedroom. He doesn’t have the energy to get into another fight.

“Dad’s gone to work, so we can talk,” he hears Justin say. His voice is calm, straight, not at all strained. Aden lets out a long sigh, like its one big effort for him to even turn around and face Justin, let alone open his mouth and talk to him.

“You want to talk?” Aden replies, “Okay, fine. Let’s talk.” He walks back to the table and drops into the chair opposite Justin. With the one light overhead, this whole scene looks like something out of a police drama. But in this case, Aden’s not sure which one of them is up for interrogation.

“You can drop the attitude,” Justin says flatly. Aden doesn’t reply, just folds his arms coolly across his chest and sets his mouth into a straight line.

They sit in silence, Aden eyeballing Justin and Justin looking at his hand which he’s placing very precisely on the table. He takes the letter that’s between them and pushes it towards Aden. Aden doesn’t waver. He doesn’t really care what it says, he knows enough already.

“Even though this may come as a shock to you, this is something I’ve been planning for a while,” Justin says.

“And you didn’t think you could give me the heads up?” Aden retorts. It comes out with a bit more bite than he intends, but doesn’t care much to try and fix it when Justin blinks slowly.

“I’m sorry. I just applied,” he looks away, staring at some small dot on the wall. He shakes his head, showing some disbelief. “I didn’t actually think I’d get in.”

“Well, congrats, I guess,” Aden says, using his hands to push his chair back and standing to leave.

“Where are you going now?” Aden doesn’t reply, just tucks his chair in. “What do you want me to say?” Aden can hear the desperation creep into Justin’s voice. The question lingers and Aden licks his lips. “I’ve already apologised, there’s nothing else I can do.”

“Don’t go!” Aden snaps back. This is what the problem is. It’s not that Justin didn’t tell him. It’s that he’s making it seem like leaving is the easiest decision in the world.

Justin’s mouth hangs open for a moment and something passes behind his eyes that Aden can’t decipher.

“I can’t,” Justin finally says, letting his gaze go, and hanging his head.

“Then that’s it. We’ve got nothing else to say,” Aden replies.

“Aden, please.” He hears Justin’s voice as he disappears down the hall and closes the door on his bedroom.


In the morning Aden intends to leave for school early. It’s not that he’s actually eager to get there, but he wants to avoid Justin. He tossed and turned all night, and by the time the sun was creeping over the horizon he had made his decision. If Justin wanted to leave them all, then Aden was going to make it as easy as possible. He was going to avoid him at all costs.

This seemed like a very reasonable plan at 3 am in the morning, but when Aden emerges from his bedroom, dressed and planning to just grab breakfast on the way, Justin is already there. He’s sitting at the table, virtually in exactly the same position as he was the night before. He’s in his uniform and there’s a plate of toast in the centre of the table, jars of peanut butter and jam beside it. There’s a clean plate too. It’s at the place where Aden was last night.

Justin looks up, forcing a small smile. “’Morning. There’s breakfast.”

“Not hungry,” Aden mumbles, and this would have been enough if his stomach hadn’t grumbled and given away his lie.

“Just sit, Aden.” So he does.

Justin lets him eat in peace. He doesn’t talk about the army or the letter or anything else. He’s taken out his maths book and is busying himself picking out problems and writing them out.

“What’re you going that for?” Aden finally asks, because it seems like a pretty pointless exercise.

Justin looks up, giving him a shrug. “Still gotta do my homework.”

“Yeah, but if you’re leaving what does it matter?” It’s the first time Aden’s brought it up without wanting to punch Justin in the face.

Justin seems equally as stunned. “Uh, I’m -- I’m not leaving until the end of term. School comes first.”

That seems sensible enough, Aden concedes. He’s also relieved to know that Justin’s isn’t going to just disappear in the middle of the night within the next week.

“Yeah, but you don’t need algebra to hold a gun,” Aden replies.

Justin looks back in semi-shock, but Aden quirks up the side of his mouth as he spreads more peanut butter on his toast to shows he’s joking. Mostly. Justin finally lets out a forced laugh and closes the book.

“I guess not so important,” Justin replies with a shrug.

“I’m just saying, I don’t know why they accepted you in the first place. You’re not big or strong, and not exactly the brightest crayon in the box.”

“Hey, watch it,” Justin says, but he’s smiling smugly. “I can still take you down.”

Aden flips him off before shoving the last piece of toast in his mouth with a smirk.


What started out as a day in which Aden wanted to do anything but walk to school with Justin, turned out pretty much the opposite of how he expected. Their dad still wasn’t home when they left, but that was normal.

Larry Jefferies worked as a security guard at the local shopping centre. Because apparently he couldn’t get enough of troublesome teenagers at home. Aden couldn’t understand why he did this. He spent most of his time at work yelling and threatening teenagers, and when he came home he did exactly the same. But I guess when he was at the mall; he actually got paid to do it. He always got home after the boys left for school, sleeping through most of the day until he got up sometime around dinner to shovel some food into his mouth, drink a couple of beers and doze on the lounge before he had to head out again. Aden guessed there were some kids in his class that had never seen their parents drunk. Aden wasn’t one of them.

The weekends were the worst, because Larry didn’t work and Aden didn’t have school. Justin had a casual job at the local mechanics, so spent his Saturday’s scrubbing down old parts and making coffee. Leaving Larry and Aden -- alone.

Aden did his best to avoid confrontation. He knew his dad didn’t mean the things he said, not really. Especially when he had a gut full of alcohol and was on one of his rants about how his entire family was a disappointment. He’d start with Sean, who wasn’t there to defend himself and work his way through Justin, who although seemed to do all the right things in Aden’s eyes never quite measured up because he apparently wanted something more than their current situation could give him. He always finished with Aden -- not smart enough, not strong enough -- the accidental third child that wasn’t supposed to happen. He was just one big inconvenience, really.

So Aden spent his weekends in his bedroom with his headphones in his ears, music turned up to an ear-splitting volume, or taking his bike for a ride to Justin’s work and just watching him as he meticulously put nuts and bolts in their correct places. It was therapeutic work, it seemed. Justin always came home from work tired but content. Maybe with the vision of a life away from them all, an independence that he was slowly beginning to acquire.

Aden couldn’t really begrudge him that.

Truth be told, if Aden was old enough, he would probably do it too.

“What did Dad say when you told him?” Aden asks. Justin’s not looking him in the eye. “Did he flip when you told him about the army thing?”

“He wasn’t too happy,” Justin replies, kicking a stray pebble with the toe of his sneaker.

Aden isn’t surprised. He’s heard the stories about his dad’s father, his grandfather. How the war changed him. How we came back closed and guarded and was never the same again. From that moment on Larry refused to talk. He clamped his mouth shut, set his jaw and it was never mentioned again.

This seemed a common occurrence in the Jefferies family.

“But he’s letting you go?”

“He doesn’t really have a choice,” Justin says, plainly. “I’m eighteen. Legally I can do whatever I want.” He pauses, and Aden can feel Justin assessing his reaction out of the corner of his eye. “What about you? Are you okay with it?”

“Do I have a choice?” Aden replies, keeping his head up, eyes straight ahead.

“Aden.” Justin holds out an arm, stopping Aden from walking any further. He stops, but doesn’t look at Justin’s face. Not immediately at least. He knows what will happen if he looks up. It’s always been this way. From that moment when Justin was dragging him home from the park and he stopped and looked Aden in the eye making him promise to keep what happened a secret, Aden always said yes. “Aden, I need you to be okay with this. Because if you aren’t, then I won’t go.”

Aden hears the slight hesitation in Justin’s voice. The way he’s saying these words, but hoping at the same time he won’t have to follow through. He’s pleading again. For what exactly? Does he want Aden’s permission? Because Justin has always been the leader -- the one with the cool friends and the late parties and Aden was just dragged along for the ride. What Aden wanted never really was a deciding factor.

Finally (finally) Aden glances up and he sees that expression, almost ten years later. Justin is asking him to do something because he’s desperate and needs Aden to be on his side.

“They’re gonna shave your head,” Aden says and Justin laughs. Like a full on throw-your-head-back-obnoxiously-loud-for-7:30-in-the-morning laugh and Aden shoves him and continues to walk.


In the week leading up to Justin’s leaving things are tense. Larry is drinking more, working more, and at home less. Aden is snapping and slamming doors and spending a lot of time by himself. Justin is packing and talking casually about the accommodation and quitting his job at the mechanics. He spends a lot of his final days placating fights which happen between Aden and Larry (when he’s home), but Larry is acting like he can’t wait to get rid of Justin and Aden is trying to drag out these last moments as long as possible.

Aden is cooling down from another shouting match when Justin finds him. He’s taken to sitting on one of the rickety old swings at the park when he needs to calm down. It’s become a sort of refuge for when he can’t stand another moment in the house without smashing something to pieces.

He only hears Justin when there is a loud creak and he sits down on the other swing. The whole metal frame seems to sink further into the ground under their weight.

“He’s gone to work,” Justin says without preamble.

Aden nods in reply. But he kicks a small mound of sand for good measure.

They’re silent, just the rustling of branches in the breeze and occasional squawk of a bird as it settles in for the night fill the air.

“We used to come here all the time as kids,” Justin comments. He’s looking around at all the decrepit equipment, testing out the sturdiness of the swing by using his legs to rock himself forward and back. The metal chain squeals loudly and Justin stops. “I haven’t been here in forever.” He sounds sort of wistful, like he’s remembering a fond memory.

“Yeah,” Aden says, just to fill the absence of noise.

“You need to look after Dad,” Justin states, like it’s a certainty. Aden snaps his head up. “You need to look after the house and keep everything going.”

“Dad’s old enough and ugly enough to take care of himself,” Aden replies, even though neither of them believe it. “Beside’s who says I’m going to have time to do chores and sh*t.”

“Don’t swear,” Justin says out of habit.

Aden ignores him and continues. “I’m serious. With you gone, I’m going to be top dog. The girls are going to love me.”

“Is that so?” Justin chuckles, cocking an eyebrow.

“Definitely. All your mates, they’re gonna follow me now.”

“I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

“Why not? It’s legacy, right? You drop off the perch and I inherit everything.”

Aden stops abruptly. Everything is fine when you joke about it. It’s sort of how Justin and Aden have been able to talk about this at all. But as soon as you mention the prospect that Justin is going away and he may not come back, everything changes. It suddenly becomes very real.

Justin gets up off the swing. It creaks back into position. “I’m coming back,” he says.

Aden wants to believe him. More than anything he wants to believe him, but there is this little part of him, settling down inside his heart that isn’t so certain. And suddenly Aden is back in that tree, and looking out over an empty park. With every minute that passes his heart sinks and the tears rise in his eyes and before he knows what he’s doing, one escapes and trickles down his cheek. He quickly turns away, using his palm to quickly wipe it away, hoping that Justin didn’t see.

“We better get home,” Justin says, strolling across the yellowing grass. Aden gets up and follows.


“You’re not coming!” Larry shouts.

Aden wants to scream in return, but they’ve been at this for the past fifteen minutes and neither one is budging. Aden was ready early, had eaten breakfast by the time Justin was up, with Larry the last to stumble into the kitchen. It was eerily quiet as Justin gathered the last of his things, the majority of his bags already stowed in the boot of the car. Aden had only asked what time they were all leaving, when Larry had started in on him, refusing to take him to the bus to see Justin off. Justin sat quietly, taking bites out of his toast without really chewing them, not looking up from his plate. Aden slammed his fist down onto the table, rattling the cutlery and demanding that he wanted to go with them but Larry was adamant.

“Fine, whatever,” Aden concedes. “F*ck this.”

Larry grunted and rose from the table, as did Justin.

“Don’t swear, Aden,” Justin says when Larry is carrying the last of Justin’s luggage to the car.

“I bet you won’t miss that, huh,” Aden replies, slumping in his chair.

“Somehow I think it’s going to be worse,” Justin responds with a forced chuckle.

There’s a loud honking coming from outside. Larry’s obviously leaning on the horn in the car, signally that they need to leave. He’d much rather sit in the car than come in and face is son again. Figures.

Aden looks up from the table and Justin hovers at the corner.

“See ya, I guess,” Aden mumbles, not moving from his seat.

“Yeah,” Justin replies slowly, voice suddenly becoming low. “Bye.”

Justin turns and Aden can’t bear it anymore. He’s up and out of his seat and heading straight for his room where he just wants to play angry music until someone bangs on the door and tells him to shut up. But he doesn’t make it that far because a pair of large arms wrap around him from behind. They’ve never really been a hugging family. Showing displays of affection is not part of the Jefferies DNA. But instantly Aden faces his brother and wraps his arms around his chest. They stay like this, not really hugging, but holding, until there is a thundering of footsteps and Larry is shouting at the both of them for making him late. He’s got work that afternoon so they need to be moving.

Aden pulls away first, and Justin ruffles his hair, giving him a wave from the doorway before he disappears.


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if there's only one side fighting

Part Three

It’s the holidays and Aden is dreading returning to school. He knows the kids in his class always return with elaborate stories about skiing trips or beach vacations. They use their hands to explain the places they saw and the people they met. Aden spent his holiday in his bedroom. He barely saw any other living person. Occasionally he crossed paths with his father, but even then they didn’t speak.

From the moment Justin left Aden lay on his bed and stared at the ceiling, because as far as Aden was concerned there was no point in making any effort. As far as Larry was concerned, he came home from the bus depot and life went on. He didn’t even look like he missed Justin. But Aden did.

There was this empty space, a hollowness, in Aden’s chest that had appeared. Like a vortex, a black hole on the inside, it seemed to suck any energy he had into it. He didn’t want to get up, he didn’t want to eat. Even just turning over to lie on his stomach was exhausting. Nothing seemed to matter whether it got done or not. Washing was piling up on the floor of Aden’s bedroom. He hadn’t bothered to put his bike away in the garage, so it had been standing up, propped against the fence for two weeks. There didn’t seem any point.

Aden would spend time thinking. Lots of thinking. About Justin and what he might be doing, the friends he was probably making, the new things he was learning. And about how much he was probably not missing Aden in return.

But Aden made a decision. At some point during his self loathing at 4:30 in the afternoon Aden decided that Justin was counting on him. On making sure that when (not if) Justin came back, he was relying on Aden to make sure everything was the same. Aden imagined it many times over. The moment when Justin would come back and everything would return back to the way it was. It would be as though he never left.


The bell rang for lunch and Aden grabs his bag and heads for the sports shed. The senior boys are already standing around, lighting up, and digging their sneakers into the dirt. Even though the sun is barrelling down on them they stand close together. They create their own shade in the absence of trees. Aden slips into the mix unnoticed. He looks up out of habit expecting to see Justin there, but he’s not. Some guy with floppy blonde hair that has grown down past his eyes ignores him and continues to blow smoke out his nose.

The circle seems smaller, tighter almost. Probably because there’s one less person, not that any of the boys seem to notice. Everything about it feels wrong. The sense of inclusion Aden had once felt has disappeared. It’s now claustrophobic and suffocating and Aden can feel the smoke entering his lungs, tickling the back of his throat. He coughs, spluttering into the dirty air. No one notices, or they don’t care. It’s like he’s become invisible.

But he holds onto the hope that they’ll realise he’s there. That he’s Justin’s brother, and their friend. He’s supposed to be one of them. The bell rings and the boys scatter, some of them heading back towards the school buildings, others preparing to jump the brick wall and skip class for the rest of the day.

Aden is standing all alone in the shadow of the shed when Mr Bartlett comes around the corner. He’s got this suspicious red stain on his shirt that Aden prays is not blood, and his beady eyes glare at Aden.

“Well, well, Mr Jefferies,” he says in a menacing tone. Aden looks down at his own shoes, because he’s learnt that there’s no point trying to argue when a teacher has already made up their mind about you. “My office, now.”

He gets detention for the next week for, quote/unquote; being late to class and being out of bounds on school property. Aden really wants to point out that he wouldn’t have been late if he hadn’t been sent to the office and he can’t exactly be ‘out of bounds’ if the whole block is owned by the school. But he doesn’t. He just holds his tongue and nods when Bartlett tells him that he’s disrespectful and needs to improve his behaviour unless he wants a suspension.

Aden wants to care. He really does. He wants to be fearful for his future if he doesn’t clean up his act, but he can’t. Justin is out there having all these new experiences and he’s relying on Aden to keep things the same. And if Aden can just keep out of trouble until Justin comes back, then that’s good enough. Anything else is far too hard.

When he finishes his detention Aden doesn’t return to the shed. He’s taken to sitting by himself under the big tree on the edge of the oval. He knows that the other kids talk about him. He sees them shoot not-so-subtle looks at him when their ball rolls nearby. Sometimes he kicks it back, but they always look at him wearily when he gets up to collect it, like he might just pop the ball out of spite. He just kicks it back and they continue with their game.


It’s late November when something changes. When she stops in front of him, just as he’s propped himself up against the thick bark of the tree, underneath the shady branches. He feels her shadow before he actually sees her face. But he looks up expecting her to be collecting a ball for her game of foursquare or to be just tying her shoelace before she disappears again. It can’t be deliberate that she’s standing in front of Aden.

But she’s not moving and Aden recognises her. She’s got straight brown hair that’s messily cut at angles to her shoulders. She smiles at him when he meets her brown eyes.

“Hi, um, I’m Belle Taylor,” she says. Aden nods, he knows her name. They’ve been in the same class since they started high school. She’s never spoken a word to him before now. “My friend Nicole,” she gestures over her shoulder at a tight-knit group of girls. One with blonde hair looks up and giggles, Aden assumes this is Nicole. “She’s having a party. Just a small thing for the end of school, and I was -- I mean, we were,” she amends, “We were wondering if you wanted to come.”

Aden narrows his eyes at Belle. He knows this must be some kind of dare. You know the ones where the popular girls invite the loser to their party so they can humiliate them even further.

“No thanks,” Aden replies. He averts his eyes and folds his arms across his chest. He is not getting involved.

“Oh,” Belle actually sounds shocked. But Aden supposes this is more to do with the fact that a guy has turned down her party invitation, rather than she was actually hoping he would come. She glances over her shoulder for moment, maybe looking for back up from her friends. “Well, um. The invitation still stands, if you change your mind.”

Aden nods and Belle walks back to her friends. They quickly engulf her and Aden can imagine her recapping the horrifying experience she had of talking to the freak of the class and is so relieved that he said no. He is surprised to see her poke her head up from the circle. She gives him a small nod and Aden just rolls his eyes in response. His answer is still no.


The last day of school is hot and humid. Aden can feel the sweat accumulating on his clothing and he wants nothing more than to be out of there. He doesn’t exactly want to be at home either, since there’s no longer a buffer between himself and his dad. Things have been getting a little ... heated (for wont of a better word) lately. But he’d much rather be holed up in his bedroom than sticking to this plastic chair for a moment longer.

It seems like his prayers are answered because the siren sounds and there’s a lot of scraping of chairs along the floor and thundering of footsteps as all the students rush to greet the summer.

Aden takes his time. He packs his bag and ties his shoe laces and wanders out the front of the building. There is a constant stream of cars parked out the front, parents winding their windows down, honking their horns, trying to grab the attention of their children. Aden doesn’t even bother to pretend to look for a parent to collect him, just puts his head down and starts walking.

He’s almost at the end of the long row of cars when a voice calls out from behind.


At first Aden thinks that he misheard, because no one ever calls out after him. Well, except ... but he’s not here, so it’s impossible. He just keeps walking, maybe speeding up slightly to just get out of this place, but the voice is persistent, and belongs to a girl.

“Hey, Aden!”

He stops and turns on his heel, looking back towards the school. Running towards him is Belle. She slows to a stop a few feet away from him, like she’s a bit timid about approaching. Aden’s not quite sure what she expects him to do.

“What?” he snaps, with a bit more bite than he intended. He sees the shock pass quickly over her face, and immediately feels like a jerk. But she seems to recover quickly, holding out a folded piece of paper.

“The address,” she says by way of a proper explanation. “In case you have second thoughts.”

Aden takes the note, and as soon as it leaves her hand, Belle has turned and is jogging back towards the school before veering left and climbing in the back seat of a sleek silver car. Aden takes the address and shoves it into his pocket watching the car drive away, then he recommences his walk home.

When he arrives at the house he doesn’t expect anyone to be wandering around, so he’s rather taken aback when he opens the door to see Larry lurching towards him. He stumbles under the weight of his old man’s body weight. Instantly Aden can smell the liquor on his breath, and he takes some ragged breaths in Aden’s ear.

“Geez, Dad.” Larry doesn’t seem to care or notice that Aden is virtually the only thing keeping him upright.

He’s talking incoherently, babbling about “good for nothin’ ... back in my day ... gonna get himself killed ...” which Aden doesn’t even try to piece together. He just angles Larry so he’s draped around Aden’s shoulders and slowly begins to coax him towards the lounge.

They reach the lounge with minimal damage where Aden spies the empty scotch bottle from the corner of his eye. He can’t help but let out a sigh. Maybe he drops his dad onto the cushions with a bit more force than was probably necessary. But really, if Larry wants to write himself off then that’s fine, but Aden is getting sick of being the one to clean up afterwards. Larry groans as he crashes into the lounge, sinking deep and letting his eyes roll back into his head.

Aden doesn’t even bother with a blanket. He knows his dad will be up later, bringing up everything he’s just consumed, so whatever. The bottles clink together as Aden throws them in the little rubbish bin in the corner of the kitchen. It’s already overflowing.

Seemingly, with the combination of heat and alcohol Larry refuses to just pass out, which in the scenario Aden would prefer. He seems to be trying to sit up again, and failing. His elbows give out from under his body weight, but he raises his head anyway and points a shaking finger at Aden.

“You ... you’re useless,” Larry slurs and Aden tries hard to block it out. Tries to busy himself with wiping down the counter or checking the cupboards for painkillers for the inevitable hangover. But his father’s voice seems to clear and it’s the only noise Aden can hear. “At least your brother’s had some sense. They left, huh. They left, you. You’re good for nothing. They didn’t want to be around you no more.”

It takes all of Aden’s will power not to storm towards his father and begin shouting about how the only reason Justin left was because he needed to escape. Not from Aden but from this entire family. The whole dysfunctional lot of them. He wants to tell his dad that the night Sean got arrested was the same night Larry went on a bender and he refused to deal with it anymore. Justin was left with the responsibility and the one to explain to the cops why their father couldn’t go to the police station to bail his oldest son out. But he’s father is so drunk that it’s not going to matter. He could shout until he’s blue in the face and maybe even give him a black eye for good measure, it won’t make a scrap of difference. He won’t remember it in the morning.

Balling his fingers into fists Aden slams his hand down hard against the counter. He winces at the pain and looks up to see his father’s reaction. His head has lolled back, eyelids shut and he’s breathing has slowed, chest rising up and down with each laboured breath.

It would be so easy, Aden thinks. It would be so simple to just slip something into his dad’s drink. To maybe press a pillow to his face while he’s dosing. But Aden catches himself thinking, calculating, contemplating and quickly shuts it down.

He needs to get out.

But he doesn’t have anywhere to go.

Then he remembers.

He takes out the address from his pocket. Aden throws his school uniform off, leaving it in a heap on the floor of his bedroom. He slips into a shirt and clean pair of jeans before grabbing his wallet and keys and heading out the door.

As Aden walks and watches, the houses seem to change. The single brick homes with yellowing lawns and collapsing patios become two-story mansions with swimming pools and perfectly trimmed hedges.

Aden finds himself in foreign territory; an estate that was built only five years earlier as a way to attract more affluent buyers to the area. When they were building, he and Justin used to ride their bikes through the winding roads, skidding in the dirt and having sand fights on the empty blocks. They got chased off by local rangers on more than one occasion. Now he’s staring up at a large cream coloured home with a set of winding stone stairs leading up to the white front door. It’s a glowing beacon in an otherwise dimly lit street. Every light in the house must be on. Aden can hear the base of the loud music pumping; hear the occasional squeal of delight as he climbs the stairs.

The house is packed. Aden is instantly engulfed in the sea of bodies; the flow of traffic goes from the entrance hall to the open plan living space. Most of the furniture has been pushed to the side, a giant area made into a dance floor. Aden makes his way through to the kitchen where it’s just as crowded. Some guys are playing beer pong on the side bench, others pressing girls in short skirts up against the walls, running their hands up the girls’ legs. It’s all very loose and relaxed and Aden suddenly feels very self-conscious. He doesn’t belong at things like this.

He turns, preparing to brave the crowd and head out the way he came. Nothing is worth sitting around in some strangers house watching guys and girls grope each other. So, he sticks out his elbows to push past a girl grinding up against what Aden hopes is her boyfriend, and navigates himself back through the lounge room.

He can see the hall through the mass of bodies and just wants to be out of here as fast as he can. But then a series of events happen in quick succession. Aden goes to push past another tight group of girls, but he misjudges the space and ends up ploughing straight into the back of her. She staggers forward and sloshes her drink straight down the front of her tight black dress, which Aden does his best not to notice but it’s very ... tight, is all. Then she spins around and she has this expression on her face that makes Aden think she’s probably going to yell at him, or at least try to dump something wet and sticky down his front as retaliation. But she sees him and recognises his face and he sees her and suddenly he’s babbling on about how he’s really sorry, and they should find some napkins, and he totally didn’t see her and was only trying to get to the door and -

“It’s okay,” Belle says, and she’s handling this much better than Aden expected her to.

Nicole appears at Belle’s side with a handful of paper towel and begins helping to clean up the red liquid than his dribbling down Belle’s dress and her chest. Which, it’s not like Aden is particularly looking at that sort of thing. Except maybe he can’t tear his eyes away.

Nicole grabs Belle by the wrist. “Come on, we’ll clean up in the upstairs bathroom,” she says loudly, just so she can be heard over the music. Belle nods and lets herself be ushered away, but before she is out of sight she looks over her shoulder, catching Aden’s eye and shouts,

“Don’t go anywhere!”

Aden barely nods before Belle disappears with Nicole.

Aden ends up finding one of the few chairs left around the room and sitting down, figuring that Belle isn’t actually going to come back. And he doesn’t really care if she does or doesn’t, so he’s just staying out of the way until it’s an acceptable moment for him to leave.

He also ends up with a drink, just so he has something to do with his hands, that isn’t twiddling his thumbs. But then his cup is empty and he’s going for his second or ... maybe it’s his third refill and walking in a straight line is suddenly a bit more difficult.

By the time Belle finds him, or he finds her, it doesn’t really matter, everything is kind of spinning. His mind is foggy and the music doesn’t seem that loud and Belle is sitting next to him on the two seater lounge in the corner, so he’s definitely not thinking about his father at home. He’s thinking about how Belle has changed into a different dress, that she explains is Nicole’s.

“It’s really ... good,” Aden says, taking his time to look her up and down. It’s really short, and blue and seems to hug onto her hips in a very aesthetically pleasing sort of way. Belle giggles and readjusts her sitting position, bringing her legs up off the floor and draping them across Aden’s.

Aden suddenly notices that it’s really hot, and hopes to God that he isn’t blushing because that would be really embarrassing, but Belle is tilting her head back and draining her drink and Aden just kind of stares. Aden can feel the warmth between their two bodies. Belle’s bare legs are heating him up through his jeans, and she’s smiling at him, which is really nice for a change. Aden finds himself licking his lips and using his hands to pull her closer to his body. She’s practically sitting on his lap when she presses her lips to his. She tastes of something sweet and Aden can smell the alcohol on her breath when she pulls away.

Words don’t even need to be said. Belle stands up, a little unsteadily at first and grabs his hand, also pulling him to his wobbly feet. Then she’s leading him through the party, never letting go of his hand and Aden soon finds himself at the base of a staircase, which is very unfortunate. Because, Aden has come to realise that everything is a lot more difficult when you are drunk. And Aden is most certainly drunk.

He makes it up at least halfway before he trips and because Belle is still holding his hand, Aden ends up dragging her down as well. She bites down on her bottom lip to stop herself laughing at his clumsiness before standing and hauling him quickly up the remainder of the stairs.

Upstairs is a lot quieter than downstairs, Aden notices. There is a long narrow hallway with doors on either side and Aden has this sudden thought that maybe if he opens one of the doors and steps inside that he’ll end up in a parallel universe. Which, it could happen, maybe. But then Belle is actually opening a door and Aden follows.

It’s dark and neither of them actually bothers with the light. Aden hears the door click shut (and the sliding of some sort of lock, he recognises) before Belle is kissing him again. And it’s like his heart actually stops for the full three seconds it takes for Aden’s mind to catch up and to kiss her back. But then things quickly move on from just kissing, because Aden is trailing his hand up her leg and begins tugging at the hem of her dress. He hears Belle moan, dragging her tongue along his mouth and sucking on his bottom lip and Aden can feel himself going hard.

They don’t even bother to stop kissing as Belle wraps her arms around Aden’s waist and leads him towards the bed, which he only notices when he falls onto it. So, they’re making out on top of the sheets, Aden’s brain basically humming inside his skull and he may be smashed but he can totally figure out where this is going to go.

He pulls away for a second and Belle lets out a whimper, her hands falter at the waistband of Aden’s boxers, jeans already discarded.

“I haven’t got any ...” he says breathlessly, opening his eyes and trying to bring her petite figure into focus.

Belle’s eyes are closed, and she doesn’t even bother to open them as she pulls him towards her body, whispering in his ear, “Don’t worry. I’ve got it.” Then her mouth is back on his and being careful is the last thing he’s thinking about.


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A/N: Thank you for reading and commenting Carina and Bradyell. I really appreciate it.


if there's only one side fighting

Part Four

Aden groans as the light reaches his eyes. He’s got a splitting head ache and the room is already spinning and he hasn’t even opened his eyes. He can just feel the light streaming in through the window which is visibly causing him pain right now.

Slowly, so very slowly, he opens one eye at a time. He goes to stretch, but can’t because there is this whole other person snuggled into his side, and he’s not entirely clear on how that happened. But Aden looks down, and she really is beautiful. Her dark lashes fan out against her pale cheeks and her small figure easily fits into his side, sort of like she was always supposed to fit there. But his mind is blank. Even as he surveys the room and its pale blinds and yellow walls that are making him feel nauseous, he can’t remember the night before. But he’s got enough evidence strewn around the room in the shape of his jeans and shirt that he can work it out. And this realisation does nothing to easy the tumultuous state of his stomach.

Carefully, Aden sits on the edge, gripping tightly to the mattress as it spins. He closes his eyes and just wishes it would all go away. That he didn’t have this horrible nagging feeling inside him, of not remembering and only feeling as though he started a machine he had no idea how to stop. He dresses slowly, being especially careful not to wake the sleeping girl. He feels like an idiot as he slips on his pants. He feels like a jerk as he slides out the door. He feels like a traitor as he descends the stairs.

The party is well and truly over as Aden makes his way through the kitchen and living room. There are empty cups on virtually every surface. He has to step over numerous bodies that have collapsed in the middle on the room as he heads for the door.

Aden almost makes it all the way home in one piece, except he throws up in a bush at the end of his street and has to sit on the curb for a few minutes to stop the world from spinning. But he creeps into the house and his father isn’t on the lounge, and isn’t in his bedroom which means he must have gone to work, so Aden allows himself to let out a sigh of relief. Then he climbs into bed, still fully clothed, and falls back to sleep.

It’s not until he gets up the next day that he realises the magnitude of what he’s actually done. He slept with Belle and doesn’t remember it. He’s become ‘one of those guys’. The ones who have one night stands, and don’t call the next day, or whatever. It’s not like Aden’s an expert. Justin would be furious. And that is the problem. That is the very reason why he’s in this position in the first place.

Justin left and his Dad didn’t want him around, but for those few hours at the party he didn’t have to think about those things. Belle was laughing and smiling and didn’t care that his family was completely screwed up. She wanted him just the way he was, but Aden was certain that if she ever took the time to get to know him properly, that she’d leave for sure. Just like everyone else has.

Aden feels like he betrayed him. Because he promised not to let things change. That things would be the same when Justin got home. And he is going to come home. But now, everything has changed, and Aden isn’t sure how to put it back.


Aden tries to forget about it. He doesn’t have to worry about the actual night, because the alcohol took care of that. But of the ramifications. He doesn’t leave the house for fear of running into Belle at the supermarket or on his bike ride. So he stays indoors, avoiding his dad, who just works and drinks. (At least, that doesn’t change.)


It’s February when Aden decides to write. He doesn’t know why, but he tears a piece of paper out of one of his school books that he never used (maths, probably) and grabs a pen from the bottom of his bag and begins to write. He’s uncertain at first. What do you say to a brother who’s away? And not just at Summer Camp, but off at war.

Aden begins with lists. Lists of things that are still the same (Their father, the hot days, the empty fridge). Lists of things that have changed (He slept with Belle Taylor, he doesn’t see Justin’s friends anymore, he did a load of washing last week). And slowly he builds up pages of words, amounting to a recap of everything that has happened while Justin has been gone. Then he finds himself scrunching the paper into a tight ball and starting over because it sounds as though he’s not really missing Justin and just rubbing it in his face that Aden is at home, and Justin isn’t.

After five more attempts he settles for something short and simple. Not too sappy and not much detail. Just that things are still the same, he hopes he hasn’t found it too lonely and that he wishes the summer would end.

After all of that he doesn’t send it.


Aden has come to consider himself an expert of avoidance. Avoiding his father at home, avoiding his brother’s empty bedroom. But he returns to school and the reality becomes that much harder to dodge.

He sees her as soon as he enters the classroom. She’s sitting with Nicole, head down, deep in conversation. Aden tries to slip into his seat unnoticed, but somehow she looks up at that exact moment and catches his eye. Belle’s expression is unreadable so he just slides into his seat against the wall without even acknowledging her.

The tree is still there at lunch, and Aden continues to sit under it. The kids don’t whisper the way they used to. Now, he’s virtually invisible. They don’t even turn their heads when they pass him in the hallway. It’s like they just see straight through him, and Aden doesn’t bother to try to change things.

He stays out of trouble (mostly) and goes weeks on end without actually speaking to his dad. Aden is beginning to think he can get through this without falling to pieces. But then he finds himself cornered after school by Belle and everything begins to unravel.

“I thought you were different,” she says approaching him directly. Aden looks over his shoulder, but there is no one else around so she is definitely talking to him.

“What - I -” Aden is slowly backing away, hoping to just turn and run, because he is fairly certain he is faster than a girl, but he stumbles back as she reaches out to slap his shoulder and maybe it stings. Just a little.

“I thought you were different from all the other guys at this school,” she says. And Aden isn’t sure why she’s putting all the emphasis on the different part, because he already knows he’s a freak. “You seemed so sure and certain of yourself, and then you go an abandon me and I don’t know what to think!”

“I’m sorry, okay?” Aden replies, because it’s all he can really think to say. She’s getting really close to his face, so he can see the flecks of green in her otherwise brown eyes. “I said, I’m sorry.”

“Took you long enough,” Belle huffs and she finally takes a step back and crosses her arms over her chest. Aden lets out a breath he didn’t realise he was holding. “But don’t think you’re off the hook.”

“I don’t know what I’m supposed to say,” Aden says truthfully. He hangs his head and for the first time properly feels the weight of everything on his shoulders.

“Start with the beginning,” Belle says simply. “Why’d you leave?”

Aden stops. It’s probably the question he was expecting the least and dreading the most. It’s the same one he’s been asking Justin for months, and he still doesn’t have an answer. So he shrugs, and Belle hits him again. Aden is quickly realising that even though she may be a girl she has a strong arm on her. He rubs the spot where her palm collided with his shoulder and bites his tongue.

“Don’t pout, and just tell me,” she says. God, why does she have to make it sound so simple? It’s not. If it were, then Aden wouldn’t really be here right now. Backed up against a wall out the front of his school, with a girl slapping him at random intervals.

“I just panicked, okay?” he finally splutters out. “I wasn’t thinking and then panicked, so I left.” He meets her gaze. “Happy now?” He goes to leave, just step out of her way and go home, but she’s not letting him leave.

She reaches out and grabs his shirt, pushing him back against the wall. She rolls her eyes at him in a very fed up sort of way.

“So you panicked,” she says. Which, yeah, is what he just said. “Then what?”

“I don’t know,” Aden replies, and he’s not entirely sure why his voice sounds so small. “Things weren’t supposed to turn out this way. Everything was supposed to stay the same. Nothing was going to change, except it did. So I thought if I ignored it enough then it would just be as though it never happened.”

“Well, that’s pretty dumb,” Belle says plainly.

“I got that now,” Aden replies dryly, rolling his eyes. She’s watching him closely, standing perfectly still, and just staring. It’s a little unnerving, really. Having someone watch you this intensely. It’s almost like she’s trying to read his mind, which even sounds ridiculous in Aden’s head. But that doesn’t stop him avoiding making eye contact and kicking at the pavement with his shoe.

“Why was it so important for things not to change?” she finally asks. She cocks her head to the side and waits.

Aden swallows. He hasn’t told anyone about Justin. He’s not even sure Justin mentioned his extended absence to his own friends. Not that Aden would know. But it’s a big deal, is all. To open up this much when you’ve made it your mission to remain as closed as possible. Keeping your distance from people meant never having to explain. It meant never offering so much information that they could take it and run. It meant never giving so much of yourself that it hurt when they left.

But Belle is standing before him and she’s waiting for an answer. She’s not going anywhere.

“My brother, Justin,” Aden says slowly, timidly. “Justin went away ... to the army, and I don’t know when he’s coming home.”

Belle’s steps forward and Aden thinks she might be readying herself to hit him again, except she’s putting her hands around his neck and pulling his body close. She’s hugging him, and Aden doesn’t even realise he’s crying until he can taste the salt on his lips.

They stand there for a while. Aden holding on tight as Belle rests her head on his shoulder. They don’t say anything.

Finally Aden pulls away, using the back of his hand to wipe away angrily at his eyes. He wishes they would stop, but his cheeks are still wet and he knows his face is red, but Belle doesn’t point it out. Taking a deep breath Aden lets out a long sigh. He’s only just realising how tired he is, how exhausted he actually feels.

Without a word, Belle slips her hand into his and they being to walk.

She only speaks when they are standing out the front of Aden’s house. “Am I going to see you tomorrow?”

Aden nods, thanking her silently for not asking to come in. He’s not ready for that yet.

Before she can walk away Aden tugs her towards him and presses his lips to hers. This time when he pulls away he can remember everything.


The months seem to fly by much faster now that Aden has Belle. She seems content to sit with him under the branches of the tree at lunch, lets him copy her maths homework when he sometimes (often) forgets to do his. But then he makes it up to her by riding around the neighbourhood with her sitting on the handlebars of his bike. It’s getting rusty and makes this screeching noise when he slams on the brakes too hard, but she doesn’t seem to mind.

“You don’t talk about your family much, do you?” she asks one night when they’re lying side by side on her bed. Her parents are out and they’ve just spent the best part of any hour making out on top of the covers.

Aden shrugs. “Not much to say.”

It’s a lie and Belle knows it. She props herself up on her elbow and eyes him suspiciously.

“You don’t want to know about my dysfunctional family,” he concedes.

“What makes you think you’re the only one with a screwed up family?”

“I never said that,” Aden replies.

“But you think it. Or at least, you think your problems are worse than everyone else’s.”

Aden doesn’t reply, just stares at the ceiling, hoping that all this talk of messed up families just dissolves into thin air. But Belle doesn’t give up easily.

“I’m adopted,” she says. Aden sits up abruptly.


Belle gives him a wry smile. “My parents aren’t actually my parents. They’re my adoptive parents.” She shrugs it off as nothing, but this is brand new information to Aden.

“Well, where are your real parents?” Aden finds himself asking, because he’s suddenly curious.

“My real parents are currently having dinner at the Diner. My biological parents are,” she shrugs, “who knows where.”

“And you’re not even worried?”

“Worried about what? That my parents and I don’t share the same blood type. That my parents are both blonde and I’m not. It’s never really come up.”

Aden gives her a playful shove, because he can see the corners of her mouth turned up. So she’s joking, mostly.

“But, haven’t you ever been curious?” Aden wonders aloud. “Like, where you came from?”

Belle looks away, sitting up properly on the side of the bed. “I guess, I’m scared. About what I’ll find out if I ever went looking. As far as I’m concerned the two people who I grew up with, they’re my parents. Not anyone else. I don’t want to know any more.”

Aden sits alongside her, tucking a careful arm around her waist. He kisses her cheek gently and thinks that maybe everyone has got problems. Just, some people are better at hiding them than others.


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A/N: Thank you Carina, kitkat1992 and Bradyell for your always positive comments. This is the final part.


if there's only one side fighting

Part Five

Aden is just about ready to jump out of his skin. He’s been on edge all day. He’d almost refused to come to school altogether but Belle was still waiting outside his house that morning, so he had no choice but to walk with her. But even she knew how important this day was.

A phone call came to the house, six o’clock exactly. Larry was walking around the house in a daze, trying to find where he left his car keys when the phone began to ring. He picked it up gruffly, not even bothering with a ‘Hello’. He slammed down the receiver after about a minute of silence. Aden was sitting at the table trying to do his homework, waiting for his dad to leave so he could go to Belle’s house.

“He comes home tomorrow,” he said.

So now Aden is waiting for the final siren and planning on making a sprint all the way home. He already prepped Belle at lunch about not waiting for him and making sure he didn’t get in trouble during sixth period.

The bell rings and Aden springs up from his seat and heads straight for the door.

When he reaches the front of his house he stalls. For the first time in too many months he is going to see his brother again and he’s not sure how he’s supposed to act. He promised Justin he’d keep things the same. That everything would be normal when he came back. But now, Aden isn’t sure what normal is anymore.

He pushes on the front door and it opens with a familiar creak. Almost instantly Aden sees him, and this makes him falter. Justin is sitting at the dining table, but he doesn’t look like his brother. He looks older than Aden remembers, hair cropped tightly against his head. He’s tanned, and has these muscles bulging out underneath his white tank top. He looks tired, like he hasn’t slept properly, dark circles hovering under his eyes, while dark stubble covers his chin.

“Aden,” he says, standing from the table.

Aden hovers for moment before stepping forward and putting his arms around Justin. The hug is fleeting, a simple pat on the back before Justin steps back and returns to his place at the table. Aden drops his school bag on the floor and sits opposite.

It’s like he’s having a flashback to when Justin left, but this time it feels completely different. Justin is avoiding his eye and nodding to himself and fiddling with his hands, almost like he’s unable to sit still.

‘How was it?’ Aden wants to ask. He has a million questions running through his mind. What was it like? Did you fire a gun? Did you get hurt?

He settles for probably the hardest. “Are you leaving again?”

Justin looks up and catches Aden’s eye for a moment. “Not for a while,” he replies, voice deep and hoarse.

Without Aden saying anything Belle decides to turn up at the house. Up until now Aden had managed to keep her out. Kept this little bit of distance between what he had told her about his family, and what she actually saw for herself. But she breezes in through the front door with a simple knock and Aden is shocked and relieved to see her all at once.

He was sitting at the table with Justin when she arrives. An empty box of pizza between them, and very little conversation.

“You must be Justin,” she says. “I’ve heard so much about you. I’m Belle Taylor.”

Justin looks momentarily confused, but extends his hand and they shake. Aden breathes a sigh of relief.

“I know you said you wanted to catch up, but when I’m nervous I bake and so I thought I’d bring these over.” She holds out a Tupperware container that Aden hadn’t noticed before. Belle places it on the table and takes off the lid to reveal homemade fudge, cut into perfect little rectangles. Aden can’t remember the last time they had anything properly homemade to eat.

Justin reaches out and takes one, and Aden watches with baited breath as he takes a bite. “These are good,” he says finally. Belle beams and sits down at the table.

Belle holds most of the conversation by herself. Talking animatedly about her parents and the discussion she’s having with them about getting a pet. She has her heart set on a cat, but her dad wants a dog and her mum doesn’t want anything that sheds fur, so it’s a never ending debate. Justin seems interested. Or at least he nods in all the right places and asks the appropriate questions about breeds and names while Aden just sits in silence.

It’s almost 9 when Belle has to leave. It’s a school night so she has a 9:30 curfew, much to her displeasure, but she tells Justin it was nice to finally meet him and that they need to hangout again. Justin nods, but doesn’t really agree to anything. She then kisses Aden on the cheek and lets herself out.

As soon as the door closes Aden hears Justin chuckle. It’s low and would be sort of menacing if it wasn’t coming from his brother. “That’s quite a girlfriend you’ve got yourself there.”

“She’s not my --” Aden’s about to argue, but then he stops. “Yeah, she is.”

“It’s been a long day,” Justin says. “I’m going to bed.” He’s about to walk down the hall when he stop, looking over his shoulder at Aden, still sitting at the table. “Don’t worry. I know where it is.”

Aden nods and waits until he hears the door close before he places his head on the table. He stays like that for a while, just listening to the creaks and sounds of the house. The occasional car drives past, but that’s not what he’s worried about. He can hear footsteps, Justin’s. Aden can hear him pacing up and down in his room, probably unpacking or refamiliarising himself with his own belongings.

The footsteps finally stop around 11 and that’s when Aden groggily makes his way to bed.


It’s still dark when Aden opens his eyes. The house is quiet and Aden pushes back his covers and pads out of his room. He’s still half asleep, eyes heavy and brain fuzzy but he makes his way slowly down the hall. He stops outside Justin’s door, leaning forward and pressing his ear against the wood. Silence.

Carefully, Aden reaches out and turns the doorknob. The door swings easily open on its hinges and Aden gazes around the room in an early morning haze of confusion.

Justin’s bags are still packed, stacked haphazardly in the corner in front of his wardrobe. The blinds are pulled closed, window still shut. It smells musty and Aden’s eyes fall to the bed. It’s made, perfectly tidy. The cover is tucked in, pillow without a single crease, so it’s clear that Justin hasn’t slept there.

Maybe it’s because they’ve been apart for so long. Maybe it’s a kind of instinct that grows stronger over time. Maybe it’s just luck. But Aden doesn’t have to think twice about where Justin will be. He slips on his sneakers, a jumper over the top of his t-shirt, before leaving the house.

It’s cool as Aden walks and he wraps his arms around his body for extra warmth. The streetlights illuminate the footpath while the moon is hidden behind the clouds. But even without light, Aden would know his way easily. He can make out the outline of the play equipment from the corner. The metal frame that makes up the swing set is visible and as he approaches Aden can see a figure hunched over sitting perfectly still on one of the swings.

Aden stops for a moment when he reaches the edge of the park. From the back he knows its Justin, but he looks so peaceful. His head bowed down, feet planted firmly on the ground, so still that Aden doesn’t want to disturb him. He could easily turn back, return home without him noticing, but something makes him take another step forward.

There is a loud crack as Aden steps onto a twig in the grass and Justin’s body jerks around. Aden sees the instant of panic in his eyes, face frozen as he sees Aden standing there. In the absence of moonlight Justin’s face is shadowed, but Aden can still see his eyes. They’re wide and awake and he doesn’t seem to blink for a very long time. Then he turns around again and settles back into the swing.

Aden approaches silently and sits down beside him without a word. He looks across at his brother and notices the bottle in his hand. It’s hanging loosely from his fingers, but he tightens his grip around the neck and takes a long sip. Aden doesn’t say anything, just watches as Justin swallows and lets the bottle hang again. He’s gazing ahead, but he’s not really looking at anything in particular. Without turning his head he holds out the bottle towards Aden. He takes it, pressing the glass rim to his mouth and letting the liquid slide down his throat. It burns slightly but Aden holds back spitting it back out, just hands back the bottle. Justin takes another long sip, draining the contents.

“What was it like?” Aden finds himself asking.

Justin doesn’t answer straight away. He lets go of the empty bottle and it drops to the ground with a muffled thud as it hits the sand. He’s looking down at his hands and Aden watches intently as he pushes them together, then folds them, then pulls them apart, like he’s not quite sure what they should be doing now they have nothing to hold on to.

“I didn’t go a day without thinking about you. I couldn’t stop myself worrying about how you were coping. Even when I was in the middle of the field or back at base or whatever. I just needed to know you were okay.”

“I’m okay,” Aden replies.

Justin looks over finally, meeting Aden’s gaze. Aden can see something in Justin’s eyes, something that wasn’t there before. Some sort of shadow of experiences he will probably never tell Aden about, moments he will keep locked inside. He’s different, changed in a way Aden will never understand.

“They teach you to never let go of your mates. That everything you do is for the team. You are not an individual, you are part of something bigger. I met some guys while I was there. Friends, I guess. We’d look out for each other. This one guy, Liam, he used to play guitar. He was really good too. Kept us all in good spirits when things were getting us down. Then one day ... he wasn’t even supposed to be on duty ... he was walking around the camp.” Justin’s shoulders sag, his head drops and he lets out a long, sad sigh. “There was a car bomb, Aden. He never made it back.”

Aden can feel this knot in his stomach, bile rising up his throat. The whisky sits uneasily and Aden swallows hard. He can’t look at Justin, just stares at the ground. The reality of what could have happened seems too close. Aden had done a good job of convincing himself beyond a doubt that Justin would return, same and whole as the way he left. What Aden forgot to factor in was that when he changed, so did Justin. More so than Aden can even comprehend.

“Those guys there, they were my family. We shared things that I’m never going to feel with anyone else. And every time I think things are going back to normal I think of Liam and how it could have been me, and I know that I need to go back and make it right. I need to keep fighting. For him.”

Aden has this rush of emotions. Relief that Justin is here and real and sitting beside him. Sadness for his friend Liam, his family that will get the knock on the front door that Aden had dreaded. Uncertainty for the future and what it holds. Guilty for wanting to hold on to Justin all for himself for so long, when it is clear he is meant for bigger things.

He wants to tell Justin so many things. But he doesn’t. He just sits and listens to Justin’s breaths as he recomposes himself.

“You’re different,” Justin says.

So are you, Aden wants to reply.

Aden nods, because even though for the longest time he wanted things to stay the same, time doesn’t stand still. The world keeps turning, even if you don’t want it to. You just have to do your best to keep up.

They sit, side by side on the swings until the sun begins to rise. The warmth on both their faces signifying the start of a new day. A whole new realm of possibilities.

“You’re still my brother,” Aden says. And Justin looks across, squinting at the sun in his eyes, but Aden sees the briefest of smiles, and it’s more than enough.

And while they both have changed, Aden knows that this one thing will always remain the same.




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