A/N Hi lol uhhh this is weird and unedited but I kinda love it! It's based loosely on the lyrics of Skinny Love which is owned by Bon Iver (I'm pretty sure)
TW: Vomit, blood, violence, attempted suicide, abuse, the ush.
They were inseparable.
Four best friends that thrived together, had survived together since first grade.
There was Jack: Brave and fair, his laughter always lightened the air.
Race: Somewhat haughty yet somehow brilliant, a light hearted presence.
Crutchie: Cautious and cultivated by the streets, a literal ball of sunshine.
And Jojo: A caring and mischievous boy who always wore a smile.
It was detention where the group met. Each with their own backstory, whispering in the back of the classroom.
"What're ya in for?" Young Jack Kelly asked, glancing over the two newcomers suspiciously. A boy with a too-small wooden crutch looked at the ground in embarrassment.
"I was really late to class." It was true, he stumbled into reading thirty minutes late after getting locked out and left on the playground, drenched from the steadily pouring rain. Jack nodded slowly, grateful that his hair covered his red-from-anger ears, before looking at the second kid expectantly.
"Got caught skipping in the Library," the brunette said, grinning. Don't worry, that wasn't it. He never told the whole truth.
"Lame!" A new voice exclaimed, earning a 'shush' from the teacher. The trio turned to see a blond rolling his eyes. Once he went back to his game of solitaire, Jack explained.
"That's Tony, dunno what his deal is, but I heard he cussed out fourth grader." The fresh bruise on his cheek only supported Jack's claim.
"Oh, shut up, Kelly," Tony said, joining them backwards on an open chair. "If you're so sure then tell them why you're here."
The boy with the crutch sighed. "That doesn't even make sense." Tony ignored him.
"It just so happens that I talked smack to mista Pulitzer himself." A real tough guy, that Jack.
And so they stuck together, the nicknames they created only strengthening their bond.
"You gotta name?"
"'M Charlie." The crippled seven year old said quietly.
"And I'm Jorgelino Jose-" Tony held up a hand, signaling for him to stop.
"That is not happening. I'm gonna call you Jojo. Fatto."
"-phino De La Guerra…" Jojo finished, narrowing his chocolate eyes. "Did you just call me fat?"
Tony rolled his eyes again and turned to Charlie. "You can be Crutchie, sorry not sorry."
"Then you're Race 'cause you can't shut your mouth," Jack said earning giggles from Crutchie and Jojo.
And Jojo was always kind, the one to take action. He nursed Race after fights, he took care of Crutchie when he got sick, and he was a shoulder to cry on whenever the abuse was too much for Jack. He no longer dwelled on the fact that the nuns kicked him out shortly after they found out about his detention, he ignored the nightmares that occasionally plagued him at night. Jojo played mother and he loved it. He loved the quartet. He loved his brothers. He could only smile.
"Your face is gonna freeze like that."
"Then so be it."
Crutchie did his best to be a stable person. He balanced school and friends, he occasionally hit Morris Delancey with his crutch. Even though a drunk driver claimed his leg at age six, he still felt free. When Race joined track in high school as a sprinter, Crutchie became his biggest supporter, not caring whether or not he could compare. When Jack tried to flee to New Mexico in eighth grade, Crutchie kept him grounded. Whenever Jojo felt reduced to nothing by a panic attack, Crutchie was there before you could even say 'help'.
"You really didn't have to do this…"
"But I wanted to."
Jack Kelly was fine. Completely fine. Nothing could faze the fearless leader of the group.
None of Race's silence would kill him, neither would Crutchie's stumbling, nor Jojo's frown. He could fix anything and everything. He would stand up for what he thought was right, and he would stick by his friends who stuck by him all those years. He would not fly away.
No matter how horrible things could get, no matter what was wrong with his foster dad.
"Do you know what they're saying about you?"
"I don't care."
Patience was never a trait that Race possesed. He was the first one there, a runner at that. He was no leader but he could hold his own surprisingly well. He stood up to Crutchie's bullies (they were really scared), he 'kidnapped' Jack when things got bad at home (and took care of his wounds, don't tell anyone), and he was at Jojo's every beck and call (and with every excuse too). He had retorts to go with his big mouth. He had a million punches for every fight.
"You kiss your mother with that mouth?"
"Does it look like I got a mother?"
There was a tree in Race's backyard, with long limbs that stretched to his window. Sometimes when the blond boy would come into his room, he'd see three familiar faces.
He would whisper. The boys never asked what it meant, that was unspoken rule. His dad was rarely home, his dad wouldn't know.
One day Jack and Crutchie came to Race's room. Jojo was already there lounging on the blue bed.
"I was waiting for you," he said, staring blankly at the ceiling.
The rickety car wasn't in the driveway. Race's dad wasn't there. Neither was Race.
The three went looking. He wasn't in any bedrooms or closets, not the kitchen or under the stairs. Once they heard Jojo's scream. Crutchie and Jack knew exactly where Race Higgins was.
You'd never seen a cripple move so fast, before Jack could even process what was happening, Crutchie was halfway up the stairs before Jack darted after him and they soon found themselves in the guest bathroom. The sink was covered in blood, sprinkled in veneer. The bathtub held an unconscious Race. The room was filled with a shriek.
Upon seeing his friend, Jack threw his lunch up in the toilet, vomit and tears was better than blood. Crutchie collapsed into Jojo, a sob escaping both of their lips.
After setting Crutchie down and patting Jack on the back, Jojo pulled back the shower curtain the rest of the way. Race was laying shirtless, his bloody arms dripped onto his stomach. The horrid scarlet also dribbled from the corner of his foamy mouth. The brunette brought a shaky hand to his pulse, and let out the breath he didn't know he was holding when he felt the slow unsteady heartbeat.
"Jack, call 911." Jojo's voice was raw and vulnerable. Jack wasted no time. Crutchie didn't care that his bum leg was twisted the wrong way, he only had eyes for Race. Once the paramedics arrived, they took him away, Jack ran after them while Cruchie kicked and scream as Jojo held him back. Race's dad never came home, and neither did Race.
The two left for the hospital, not caring that Jojo was speeding or that Crutchie was only breathing in gasps.
It was his second attempt. Race was only sixteen.
His first words out the hospital a week were followed by his own stiff laugh. "Guess I should've locked the door."
The group was a mess after that, crying and fighting. But they were all alive, that was all that mattered.
"What happened here, what happened to us?"
They remained best friends, only more inseparable than before.
Jojo may have been slightly broken. He saw things: little ghosts maybe. He didn't tell the boys in fear they'd call him crazy. The most common 'thing' always floated circles around him.
"You don't need them. You and me? We make three."
"But there are four or us…"
"Not for long."
The brunette ran. The ghost followed. He first went to Race's house. There was a useless note on the counter that said he was going for a run. Jojo sent him a text just to make sure.
He ran to Crutchie's apartment next and used the spare key under the doormat. He found gimp laying upside down on his bed, reading a book. He could barely get a word in before he was shooed out by Mr. and Mrs. Morris.
"One more," the thing said, giggling as Jojo took the stairs two at a time.
Jack only lived three floors above Crutchie.
"There's no telling whether or not Snyder will be home." Jojo slowed for a second. The ghost had a point, he would probably put Jack in more danger - no he had to go.
The door was unlocked and Snyder lay snoring on the couch. This wasn't good. Jojo avoiding the paint splattered wood panels, silently thanking Jack for his anti-squeaking method. He closed Jack's door and took in the sight before him: Jack's exposed back was covered in bleeding lines and behind all of the bruises and blood, he was deathly pale. "Why do I always find them?" Jojo whispered.
Pulling out his phone, called the second person on his speed dial. Race.
He picked up on the third ring. "Dude I told you, I'm fine-!"
"I need you to get Snyder out of Jack's place. And if you make it out alive, get Crutchie."
"Wait-" Jojo's phone died mid sentence. He dropped his phone and rushed to his friend's side. Jack was more alive than Race was a few months ago but he was fifty times less living than he should've been. He grabbed the bowl and rag from under Jack's bed and went to work.
After a few minutes Race arrived. He heard hard rapping at the door followed by yelling.
"Open up, Spida', open this door before I-" There was silence followed by incoherent screaming then more silence. They were going down the stairs. Jojo went back to gently washing Jack.
A gasp brought him from his work. Jack Kelly's green eyes were wide open. "What happened?" He slurred, trying in vain to focus on Jojo's face.
"Your foster dad beat the shit outta you."
"Don't-" He winced. "Don't take me to the hospital I'll be fine."
The brunette was about to argue when the door burst open. Crutchie was on Race's back holding a bag of ice to the latter's swollen face. The gimp launched himself off of Race and onto Jack.
"If you take him to the hospital, they's gonna report Snyder," the blond said softly, adjusting the ice pack to cover his swollen-shut eye.
"So what? That bastard deserves to be repor- oh. Oh." Crutchie nodded at Jojo as he helped their injured friend sit up.
"No one needs to know," Race stated as he slid down the wall.
And no one found out.
"We can still be four."
Crutchie Morris loved to climb trees. There was a tree at his high school that he perched in during Race's track meets. It was perfect, he could see everything while his voice carried better. It was just perfect. He felt even more balanced than on the ground with his crutch.
The seventeen year old grinned from his spot in the sycamore tree. The event was about to begin and Oscar and Race were already glaring at each other from their starting points while their coach reminded them that they were on the same team. Jack was right below him with his back to the tree and a sketchbook in hand. Jojo was blowing up his phone about the event, Crutchie could imagine bouncing in his seat in the doctor office.
The starting pistol went off and Race started in third smirking as the other sprinters exerted their energy at 100m before pushing himself to first, setting a school record along the way at 41.3 seconds in the 400m. Crutchie whooped and cheered and texted Jojo the results. Another historic win for the records.
Crutchie no longer felt guilty about living his dreams through Race. He tried not to let his monoplegia run his life but also couldn't really help it. His bad leg hung limply while his good one was pulled up to his chest with Charlie's chin resting on top. He loved his friends, they had never once in ten years left him behind - well, except Race,but there was a reason they occasionally called him Racetrack. The point was, his friends didn't care about his disability, and he didn't screw everything up with them. Perfect.
"And there's the winner himself!" Jack said as Race jogged over. "Tell me, Racetrack, how does it feel to be better than everyone else?"
Race rolled his eyes, a grin ever present on his sweaty face. "I wouldn't say everyone but… did you see the look on Oscar's ugly mug when I passed him?"
Crutchie chuckled and swung his good leg over the side of the branch, getting ready to slide down. "No one even says mug anymore. What year is it? Nineteen hundre- woah!" His arm lost its hold on the smooth bark and he slipped off, landing on a surprised Race and sending them both into the dewy grass.
"Geez, you tryna bust your other leg too?" Jack exclaimed, pulling Crutchie up roughly by the forearm.
"No, I wanted to go down," Crutchie said quietly, looking dazed.
"I was thinking more 1899," Race mumbled, sitting up groggily. Jack shook his head and offered the blond a hand, which he stubbornly ignored. "Where's Josephine?" he instead asked, referring to Jojo.
"Doctors," Crutchie answered, rubbing his eyes. "Don't let him hear you call him that."
"Oh I will," Race said. A distant 'Higgins!' was heard from across the field. Race sighed and trotted away, limping slightly. Crutchie sighed and leaned into Jack.
Yep, he was definitely a screw up.
As college drew near, the boys grew worried, hoping that they'd get into the college of their dreams. Visual Arts for Jack, Biology for Jojo, Theatre for Race, and Film for Crutchie. It took awhile but they were ecstatic when everyone got in.
"I don't wanna lose you guys."
"Let's never grow up."
It was settled, the boys would never split. And they didn't… at first. The first semester went by in a flash, however, the grueling work and constant pressure broke Jack's reverie in the first month, it broke him. Crutchie, being the great roommate he was, noticed a change in his best friend.
"Jack are you okay?" The cripple asked one day during lunch. The end of their winter break was approaching and the four were enjoying it as much as they could.
"'M fine," Jack said, wishing he could tell them how much he longed to go back to Lower Manhattan, or better yet, away and out of state. "I um… Idroppedout," Jack rubbed the back of his head and watched as Race became sullen, losing his grin. Jojo cocked his head, his smile dimming slightly while Crutchie just looked confused.
"What do you mean 'youdroppedout'?" Race asked, his voice dropping dangerously.
Jojo shushed him. "Is everything alright?"
The brunette nodded. "It's just that Medda, you know I love her, offered me a job at her studio in Santa Fe. Youse can come skiing anytime, I - I'm leaving tomorrow." Race stood and left abruptly, leaving Jack feeling more guilty than before.
"Don't mind him, it's better that he left," Jojo explained.
"Was this not enough for you?" Crutchie asked quietly.
"'M sorry guys. Don't let me hold you back," Jack said as hugged two of his best friends.
The week after that was rough. Crutchie spent most nights across the hall in Race and Jojo's dorm, he couldn't stand living there alone. Jack frequently called and spoke to Jojo and Crutchie in hushed voices. The group was ripping at the seams, even worse than before.
"I swear twelve years just got thrown away, and who the hell was I?"
"Race, calm down."
Painting gave Jack time to think and really contemplate the decision he made. He definitely didn't regret it, if anything it was a dream come true. But... what about the friends he left behind? It really made him wonder: so far away,
Who would love him, who would fight? And who would fall far behind?
Why did Crutchie always have to be so damn late? Race impatiently checked the time again.
"A watched pot never boils, Racey," Jojo said, practically buzzing with excitement. The blond rolled his eyes but lit up as soon as their absent friend stumbled into view.
"Crutch! Thank goodness. I didn't think I'd live through another one of Jojo's metaphors."
The gimp smiled. "Ready to go?" the two nodded eagerly. It was time.
Jack gave a satisfied grin at his newest piece. It wouldn't make it onto the stage but it would certainly have a place on his wall. It was a painting of four first graders, four unlikely friends, four unbreakable links.
"Jackie!" A familiar voice called. The nineteen year old barely had time to react before he was brought into a tight embrace. "Miss me?" He pulled away to see a face that he missed so much.
"Crutch," he breathed, at a complete loss for words. He looked to the doorway to see his other two favorite faces. Jojo ran up and hugged him. "Oh, Jojo." Race finally sauntered over and gave him a bear hug.
"Mi dispiace, il mio."
A/N here're some head cannons to go with it :)
Race's dad found Race on his first suicide attempt, he lives in a hotel now and just pays the house bills. So Race lives alone in this giant house.
After the nuns kicked him, Jojo lived on the streets until his found cousin found him and brought him in.
Snyder is Jack's foster dad, also, people think Jack is 'toxic' hence the 'do you know what they're saying about you?'
Crutchie dreamt of being an olympic sprinter before he got hit by a car, Race and Jojo taught him how to climb trees (earning a scolding from Jack and Crutchie's parents)
Fun Fact: I was gonna kill off Jojo, Crutchie, and Race at the end but opted against it!