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It all started with disorientation, pain he ignored, and then waking up in a too-white, too-quiet room. Being told he needed down time to heal - but he couldn’t do that. No, no, he had an entire team depending on him, and he’d be damned if some pain and blurriness was going to push him to let them down. 

The fight with his brother wasn’t expected, left him shaky and strangely proud. Moreso when, without missing so much as a beat, Donny got them both expelled with that smart mouth of his. 

He’d always said they were more alike than they seemed, and it showed when it counted. 

It would’ve been fine, he thought, if it had stayed that way. But then hero work came along, and he was fighting alongside his brother, doing something to help the world. Or at the very least, their little corner of it. 

And it helped him. All that anger, that fear that had been building and weighing him down since middle school finally leaving him. Part of him thought it was because he left the victim part of himself alongside his civvies when they went out playing hero. 

There wasn’t space for victimization in that kind of space, in that mindset. 

It eased the pain - all of it - better than the painkillers and booze did. 

Or - maybe not. The physical pain still got to him sometimes, more when he came back beat up a bit on his end. But it was worth it. 

The control he’d kept, that careful refusal to get reliant on medication or alcohol or a cocktail mix of both went right out the window the day that Donny died. 

He lost his only other outlet - Hawk and Dove was dead without Dove, he couldn’t face that world alone, it’d destroy him - and threw himself into the deep end. 

Group talk therapy didn’t help - it was a one-off thing, he’d never go back for all that he’d met someone there that he thought might just be worth trying for. 

But what would everyone else there think if he shared, if he told them how far he’d fallen in the days, weeks following the tragedy?

He couldn’t bare to think it, chased the thoughts away with alcohol and mindless television. 

Letting Dawn in hadn’t been expected - especially not to the point of sharing his story. No one knew that story that was alive anymore, not other than him. And he’d had every intention of it staying that way.

So what happened?

Even more surprising was how unaffected she seemed - sorry without the pity. Understanding, in some strange way that said she was familiar with unnecessary pain, even if it wasn’t the same kind. 

There was a kinmanship there, and for all that he was used to being alone, preferred it, he latched on to her and to the feeling she brought. He eased up after that, got less shaky, felt less like he was drowning.

Going back to hero work - especially after killing his abuser? It was strange. It left behind a feeling of being off-kilter, used to having his brother backing him, not some chick he’d met on the street and connected with at a therapy group. 

But they wanted the same thing, so he’d take it. 

And if feelings happened, well hey, they had all the time in the damn world to work that out around their lives as they were now, didn’t they? 

Flash forward a couple years, and the physical pain from the hero work, from poorly or never-healed injuries from the past flared back up, putting him on his ass for a good week before he could bring himself to even leave the bed again. 

After that, his usage picked back up. He just needed the edge off, just enough that he could fight through the rest of it. 

He missed the worried looks Dawn gave him, relief outweighing the need to keep his dependance hidden from the only person who understood how he felt. 

He did hate that he made her worry, though, bettering it as much as he could with reassurance and stolen kisses in their downtime. He was careful never to fall over the same edge he had years ago, not all at once. 

He wasn’t sure when it happened - probably about the time he was putting together that stupid bird cage on the roof of their building, when he had hours upon hours to himself to think - but eventually he slipped over that edge. 

He stayed drunk or medicated as much as he could in their downtime, trying to combat the mash of physical and emotional pain without worrying anyone more than he already had. 

He did remember it took him days to finish that stupid structure, fingers shaky and only getting worse with every sip of beer he had. But he eventually did finish it, and he’d spent that night leaning against it, staring up at the sky. 

Things weren’t in his control anymore. This was a crutch now, the same thing his mom had always told him to avoid.

Rather than dwell on that, though, he finished off his beer, easing himself up so he could head down to the apartment, only pausing enough to mumble a ‘I hope you can forgive what I’ve become, mom’ before he headed down. 

It was enough. It had to be enough

He wouldn’t be able to handle it if it wasn’t. 

Dawn ending up in the hospital brought everything to a sudden stop. He couldn’t risk it without someone there with him - no hero work, no drinking. Hell, he even left his prescribed medicine locked away in the medicine cabinet, too afraid of what affect they’d have on him when he was barely sleeping, and badly when he did. 

Happens, he thought, when he spent his nights camping in a chair beside a hospital bed, waiting for either Dawn to wake up or pass on. 

He wasn’t optimistic, but damn it, he refused to give up on her. 

Right after the shit with Rachel’s dad, though, he spiraled again. 

He could remember Dawn coming into their apartment while they were packing to head out to Wyoming, more boxes folded under one arm, to find him sat on the floor at the end of their bed. 

He wasn’t even entirely sure what had happened. He just knew that one moment, he’d finished taking the painkillers, chasing it with a beer the same way he had been for months prior, and the next Dawn’s hands were on his face, a panicked look on her own. 

Vividly, he remembered the apologies he’d started saying. He remembered throwing pill bottles, kicking out at the box closest to him, and breaking down in her arms. 

I don’t want to be this anymore” had echoed, repeated like a prayer until he’d finally calmed back down. 

He hadn’t heard a response, but he was fine with that, fine to pretend it hadn’t happened until they were on the road and Dawn got him talking on the long drive ahead of them. 

It’d be a fresh start this time. No more ghosts living with them. He could manage that, he thought.