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Trypanophobia (Not Fear of Tripping)

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The beach house itself was hideous , and subsequently Jack was happier than he’d ever been. He’d spent the first hour of the crew’s beach vacation just walking around the halls eviscerating the décor to anyone within listening distance. He was mostly ignored, but that was fine, nothing he wasn’t used to and nothing his dignity couldn’t tolerate. It had tolerated far, far worse. 


It was when he got to the endless Hallmark portraits of the idyllic white family that he started to suspect something about Charles’s story was off. They’d begun this little road trip on the pretense that Charles had obtained use of the place from “a friend.” But none of the sparkling, all-American, Pixar-movie-ass family in the pictures looked like anyone who would willingly associate with Charles. One whiff of his cheroot and his “natural deodorant” would have sent the best of them into a dead faint, Jack wagered. 


In hindsight, Jack supposed he could have guessed something was off by the way Charles had taken ten minutes to open the door, fiddling with the lock suspiciously while covering it with his body, finally only budging it with a press of his shoulder and a hefty shove, the wood groaning as it gave. The place was hot , clearly no one having thought to leave the air conditioner on for their stay, and Jack fanned himself as he finally shrugged and moved on to begin judging the kitchen. It was none of his business how Charles had gotten access to the place--at least, that’s what he resolved to tell the cops when they inevitably arrived. 


Eleanor, however, was considerably less laissez-faire about the whole thing, and she spent the first hours of her beach vacation grilling Charles on where exactly he’d gotten permission to use this house, why the keys didn’t seem to work, what she was supposed to tell her father when he inevitably had to bail her out of jail because of Charles’s antics, etc. ad finitum. She even managed to nag him as she was getting dressed for the beach, barbed words flying as she climbed into her bikini and rubbed herself all over with 30 SPF. For his part Charles just took off his shirt, beach preparations evidently completed, and dozed on the couch while she cussed him out. It made Jack’s lip curl in bitter pleasure.


“What’s that face,” Anne asked as she walked by him, leveling him with that bewildered glare of hers. 


Jack sighed happily. “Don’t you just love it when mommy and daddy are fighting?” he said wistfully. She just rolled her eyes and left him to help Max rub sunscreen into that hard-to-reach spot on her back. 


Once they'd made it to the beach, the rest of the afternoon went rather pleasantly. Copious beers were consumed from the beach cooler, several paragraphs of summer trash books were read, and the bocce ball set Anne had scavenged from the front closet of the beach house was enjoyed by all, with little to no bloodshed.


The next afternoon went similarly, and the next, and Jack found he was having a hell of a fantastic vacation. It was when he woke on the fourth day that something started to feel off. 




Never a morning person, he was used to waking up with low energy, but this was something else. He was grouchy and snappish with Anne when she told him she was borrowing The Ranger (Charles’ ancient but dependable Jeep) and heading into town for the day, taking Max and Eleanor (neither of whom could or would drive) for a shopping trip.


“I would assume you’d be ecstatic, seeing as I’m setting you up to have Chaz all to yourself today,” Anne hissed at him angrily across the breakfast table. 


Jack just glared, his eyes rimmed red. “Try not to pat yourself too hard on the back, Anne. I’m sure it’ll be such a sacrifice for you to spend the day in Max’s company.” 


As soon as the front door slammed shut, he found himself on the verge of tears. Bitter, hot, angry tears started to well in his eyes, and he banged his coffee cup around in the sink a bit as he washed it. 


“Morning,” rumbled Charles in his even-deeper-than-usual morning voice. Jack furiously rubbed his face with the back of his hands and ducked out of the kitchen, emitting a clipped greeting as he pushed by, not even allowing himself to stop and ogle Charles’s bare chest and bedhead. 


Jack slammed the door to his bathroom and banged around a bit in that sink too before his eyes lit on a small leather case, and everything about the morning began to fit into place. 

Dashing into his bedroom he dove for his phone where it was charging on the bed and thumbed on the home screen for today’s date. Monday. It was bloody Monday


Jack took a self-indulgent moment to just scream into a pillow. 


He took the phone back out with slightly shaking hands and pulled up his text messages with Anne. There was a new one--a blurry selfie of Anne, Max, Eleanor and some girl he didn’t recognize. It came with some text:


ran into some random cousin of max’s, we’re gonna meet up tonight for drinks. might stay. don’t wait up


Jack flung the phone back against the pillow where it impacted with a light thud. Then he bent to scrub his hands through his hair. He stayed there for a few minutes, just staring into space and rocking slightly, before he abruptly stood and smacked himself in the face.


“Alright Rackham. You’re a man, now act like a man. It’s not that big a deal. It’s just a needle. And what’s a needle? But a sharp, tiny little sword that you use to pierce your skin and enter your vein. What is there to be afraid of there? Hmm? Just a little light needle torture?”


Jack made his way back into the bathroom as he muttered his strange little pep talk, retrieved the leather case and came back to sit on the bed. His leg bounced as he unzipped it, revealing the bottle of testosterone cyprionate prescribed to one Jack Rackham, along with a few extra syringes and some size 25 needles wrapped in their sterilized packaging. He ran his hands over them a few times and willed his hands to stop shaking.


He usually never even got this far himself. Ever since he’d started hormone replacement therapy as a teenager, Anne had been there. If it wasn’t for her, he doubted he’d have had the courage to transition--physically or socially. But her quiet courage and determination not to let him run from himself was what had enabled him to go through with it all. 


The first shot, he’d gotten from the surly nurse at the clinic. He hadn’t even had time to work himself up into a faint over it, she’d just stuck the needle in his arm and that was that. He could still remember that first feeling of warmth as the hormone coursed through his body–-it had felt like the first day of the rest of his life. It was the next week, at home, when his issues had taken hold.


Luckily, Anne was there. As always. Never one to shy away from sharp things, Anne had pierced him with it while he was mid-sentence explaining why fear of needles was a very serious and legitimate phobia and FUCK what the FUCK did you just JESUS ANNE GIVE A GUY SOME WARNING. 


The weekly ritual had evolved from there, adding music, candles, sometimes ice to numb the area before injection. They’d moved from arm to thigh to belly for injection sites as scar tissue had begun to build. The belly barely hurt at all, honestly–-but it was the anticipation of the thing, having to look with his own eyes as the needle pierced him, that felt impossible to overcome. 


And now Anne was out with Max and Eleanor. His knight in shining armor, his Nurse Ratchett, nowhere to be found. He supposed he could wait another day, presuming she spent the night out, more and more lesbians gravitating to her side as the night went on like the great Sapphic star that she was. 


But… well, Jack was already feeling the effects of the hormonal withdrawal, and it would only get worse the longer he waited. This left him with two options:


One: he’d suck it up and do it himself. This method had a roughly 25% chance of success, as the last time he’d tried it he’d barely gotten the safety cap off the needle before passing out. 


Two: he’d get Charles to do it.


Which would of course be the easiest, except for the small, tiny matter. Teeny really. Just the tiniest little issue that, of course. He just. He wasn’t out to Charles.


The situation with Charles really was out of the ordinary, for Jack. In most if not all other spheres of his life, he was out and proud. The closet was a place he’d left behind as a teenager, for sexuality or gender. It wasn’t that he was afraid of Charles rejecting him necessarily, it was just… well. He liked the way Charles treated him. Charles was by far the closest masculine entity in his life. And when he was with him he felt comfortable, accepted, and male . Ish. As male as Jack Rackham could conceivably feel, he supposed. 


And it wasn't that he lied about it with Charles. This entire week Jack had been out on the beach with no shirt on, his chest scars presumably there for anyone to see. He just didn't think Charles had ever noticed, or if he had, he'd never thought to ask.


He had to admit that he was afraid that if Charles found out Jack was AFAB–-had not had a boyhood but a girlhood, that his dick was different, etc. etc.--that Charles would begin to treat him differently. Not as a comrade, a “bro”--Jack rolled his eyes even as he thought the word–-but something stranger, someone to be kept at more of a distance, like he tended to treat women. Well, women who weren’t Anne. Or Eleanor. Though Jack truly wouldn’t mind if Charles treated Jack a little more like Eleanor in certain ways. 


But, well. He was out of options at this point. And goddamn it, being trans was nothing to be ashamed of. If Charles couldn’t handle it without making it weird, that was his own fault. 




Thus resolved, Jack scraped all of his implements into his leather bag and went out into the living room. He passed the smiling faces of the perfect family as he walked down the hallway. They seemed to leer at him in their normalcy, their… cisgenderness. Cisgender…tude. The quarterback son in particular had a cocky grin that seemed to say “I produce male-range levels of testosterone naturally.” Jack paused to wipe a booger onto his face before carrying on his way.


Charles was in his usual mid-morning spot, dozing on the couch while some form of sports played on mute on the television. 


“Charles…” Jack whispered, trying to shake him awake, but he was dead to the world. How on earth could a man who drank this much Coke Zero fall asleep again this easily, Jack would never know. 


“Charles. Charles. Charles!” This last one Jack punctuated with a slap from a rolled up fashion magazine. Still nothing. Finally Jack knelt down beside the hideous pink couch and whispered,


“Charles. The cops are here.” 


Charles sat up smoothly and produced a crowbar from somewhere deep in the couch cushions. “Get the girls, we gotta go.”


Jack smacked him on the head again for good measure. 


“Put that away, the cops aren’t here. Though your way of preparing for their arrival is… disturbing,” Jack said, swatting Charles’s legs off the couch so he could sit down and eye the crowbar with deep suspicion. 


“I mean… were you going to… fight them?”


Charles just shrugged, his brown tresses slithering over his bare shoulders. His hair looked like it hadn’t been washed in weeks. Plural. Jack’s shame at being attracted to this man knew no bounds.


“Anyway, I… need your help with something,” Jack said. 


“Yeah, of course. What’s up?” Charles said, eyes back on the sports, taking a sip from a warm flat beer that had presumably been on the coffee table since last night.


“Trypanophobia,” Jack said as he began to unpack his little leather satchel onto the table. His knobbly knee bumped against Charles’s as he did so. He tried hard not to notice.


After another brief moment of squinting deeply at the television while he processed this information, Charles turned to squint deeply at Jack. 


“You’re scared of tripping?”


“Not quite, but cute try,” Jack said dryly, honestly a bit impressed that Charles had picked out even that much Latin. He placed one of the packaged needles into Charles’ hand and ran his hand through his hair nervously.


“Oh, right. Needles,” Charles rumbled, turning the package over in his hand. “I didn’t know you were on meds. I think these are the kind one of my foster brothers used to use. You diabetic too?”


“Not quite,” Jack said, before handing him the bottle labeled testosterone cyprionate. He watched Charles’s face as he turned the bottle over in his hands, frowning. 


“You’re low T?” he said, finally. 


Jack snorted. “Of a sort,” he then had to admit.


“Pretty sure I just saw a commercial for that. You know there’s pills and stuff for that right? Since needles aren’t your thing.”


“I know ," Jack scoffed, the endless commercials for Nugenix or Testafin or Dickyhard rising unbidden to his mind. "I’m well aware of that scam designed to wring money out of insecure, middle-aged men. No, my condition is quite different, I assure you,” he sniffed.


“Oh. Okay,” Charles said, and started opening the needle packet to begin. He squinted at the bottle to read off the prescription amount, then deftly began to draw up Jack’s dose, like it was the simplest thing in the world. There was a lot about Charles's past that remained a mystery to Jack. He rarely talked about his childhood in foster care.


For a long moment, Jack sat there watching him, worrying his bottom lip between his teeth. Charles seemed perfectly content to just go on with that paltry explanation. Like… he could just take it at face value, take Jack at face value, without demanding any more from him. 


But his relief at being accepted warred with an odd sense of disappointment. Suddenly he wanted Charles to know. Wanted to make himself vulnerable in that way, put his truest self in Charles’s hands and see what he would make of it. Of him.


“I’m transgender,” Jack blurted as Charles tapped the last bit of air bubble out of the syringe. 


Charles looked at him for a long moment. He focused on one pupil then the other, trying to read Jack’s face, his eyes curiously blank.


“Oh god, you don’t know what that means, do you,” Jack said.


“Hey-–I’m not stupid,” Charles warned. “I know what that means. It’s like…” and then he started to mumble something.


“Sorry, what was that?” Jack said, cupping his ear dramatically.


“I said it’s like Rocky Horror Picture Show.” 


“That’s transvestites.”


“Well excuse me for not knowing the difference! You dressed up pretty similarly at that show the other week, I think I can be forgiven for the mistake! Now where are you taking this injection?” Charles pressed, visibly ruffled.


Jack stared at Charles slack-jawed, his brain trying and failing to process what Charles had just said. 


“Here. S-Stomach,” he said, rolling up the bottom of his t-shirt. He held the hem in lightly trembling fingers as Charles reached into his personal space and gently pinched around for a handful of fat. Jack was too preoccupied to be vain or nervous about it, even though this was by far the most intimate place Charles had ever touched him. 


“You… you came to my show?” Jack asked, almost a whisper.


Charles grunted around the syringe he held between his teeth. “No shanks shu yuu. Anne hajdha enight me.”


“Sorry, come again?” Jack said, and Charles popped the syringe back out into his right hand. 


“I said, no thanks to you. I wouldn’t have even known about it if Anne hadn’t texted me at the last minute and told me to swing by.”


Anne told you?”


“Yep. Said I should check it out. Said… said it was important to you," Charles sighed.


“It was. I…” Jack paused, his brain struggling to keep up with the information. He’d never expressly asked her not to invite him. He just didn’t think… 


“I’m sorry, I didn’t know. I didn’t see you, I… didn’t think a drag show would be your scene.”


Charles shrugged. “I dunno. I thought it was cool. I liked your uh, costumes.”


Jack felt his blush extend from his mustache to the tops of his ears. Charles pinched more of Jack’s skin, leaned down to concentrate. 


“You did? I... well, I designed those myself,” Jack said, actually smiling for the first time that day. 


“Yeah? Well, you’re good at it. I’d, um. I’d like to come to the next one too, if that’s cool with you.” 


“Of course. You just better bring a lot of tips,” Jack said, grinning like an idiot. 


 Charles grinned that savage, lovely grin right back at him. “Of course. Band-Aid?”


“Oh, yes, one second,” Jack said, rummaging through his case distractedly. The idea that Charles had seen him in drag as his persona Calico, wearing a split dress/tuxedo of his own design. That Charles had seen him in his element at his most genderfucked and taken it in stride, never changing his behavior toward Jack in the slightest… it was somehow a bigger, more important revelation than the one that he was trans. It got closer to who he was than the simple, boring fact of the sex he was assigned at birth. 


He passed Charles the bandage, watched Charles take his thumb off of Jack’s stomach and affix it there. The bandage. Usually one put a bandage on after injections, which meant–


“Done. Wasn’t so bad, was it?” Charles said, near beaming.


Jack just gaped at him. “You’re. It’s.”


Charles took the empty syringe and threw it free-throw style into the tiny garbage basket in the corner. “Kobe!” he said to no one, because Jack certainly didn't get the reference. 


“That’s… that’s hazardous material…” Jack started, before shaking his head. Fuck it. So what if they left some biomedical waste in this perfect normie family’s home. Maybe it would do them some good. Make them interesting. A fun story for them to tell at their barbecues or whatever it was straight people did.


Jack was suddenly overcome with affection for the man at his side, who had turned his attention already back to the silent game.


“You’re the worst,” Jack said, in a voice that clearly expressed something more like, you’re the best, or, god I love you.


Charles winked at him before taking another sip of his terrible, lukewarm, flat as all hell, dollar fifty beer. “You’re welcome.”




Hours later, they were sprawled on the couch. Chinese food and more beer cans were scattered across the table and floor. They hadn’t made it down to the beach that day, but neither of them cared. Jack’s legs were warm where they tangled with Charles’s, propped up on the coffee table as they rounded the end of the third Fast & Furious movie. They shared a blanket scavenged from the back of the couch, the AC way too high for how little they’d moved today, but neither of them had the wherewithal to get up and change it.


“See. I told you we had to wait until the end of the credits. Vin Diesel is coming back in the next one,” Charles explained.


“The next one? There are more?


“Oh yeah, like five or six more. And they’re just about to get good, too!”


Jack groaned and let his head fall onto the back of the couch. He was warm and content from the blankets and the testosterone back in his system and from the cozy proximity to Charles, but there were limits to a man’s endurance. 


“Well. I certainly feel I’ve had a crash course in masculinity from these… films,” Jack said, the last word said with every ounce of incredulity and distaste he felt for the franchise.


“Haha, yeah. They’re pretty over the top,” Charles said, picking at the hem of the blanket. He went quiet, and suddenly Jack felt he had said something wrong. He was about to try and apologize before Charles went on,


“I, uh. I think it’s pretty cool what you told me today. Thanks for letting me in. I’m sure it wasn’t easy.”


“Oh,” Jack said, blushing again. He shifted his legs to untangle them from Charles, suddenly overly self-conscious. “I mean. Yeah. Thanks for… taking things in stride.”


Charles nodded, taking another long sip of his beer. Before continuing,


“I mean, I think it’s pretty cool that you are like, gonna be a girl. It will take some getting used to, but-–I mean you’ll still be yourself, right? So it’s no big–”


“Stop,” Jack bit out, his eyes squeezed shut with frustration. He brought his thumb and forefinger to press the bridge of his nose. He counted to three before continuing, quietly,


“Let me get this straight. Charles, you think I’m transitioning… to be a girl.”


“I mean, aren’t you?”


“That I’m injecting testosterone . Into my body. To be more feminine.”


Charles just squinted into space as if he were working the hardest mental puzzle in his life.


“Charles, it’s the other way. I used to be a girl, then figured out I was a boy. Hence the testosterone injections. Weekly. Every week. For years. Maybe the rest of my life.”


Charles kept squinting, took a swig of his beer, continued to squint. 


“You were wearing those dresses, though…”


“Oh for fuck’s sake–”


“Jack!” came Anne’s voice following the slamming of the front door. She appeared in the room in a swirl of red hair and violence.


“Jack, I’m so fucking sorry. I can’t believe I forgot. I must have silenced the alarm on my fucking phone somehow and I kept forgetting and… and you’ve already fucking gone and done it.”


Anne pointed accusingly at the leather satchel on the table still sitting next to the greasy box of half eaten chow fun.


Jack wondered that was the most words Anne had ever said at one time in her life. She must have been really worried. Jack swept across the room, stealing the blanket from Charles and wrapping it dramatically around his shoulders before bending to give Anne a kiss. 


“Darling. You’ve arrived just in time. Charles was kind enough to do my injection, but would you please be a good ally now and explain to him the difference between gender identity and gender presentation? I’m afraid I’ve run out of room for cis nonsense today, no matter how good natured.”


“‘Course,” she said, giving Charles a truly evil look.


“Thank you,” he whispered. “I missed you. There’s lots of leftover Chinese food and bad beer. I’m off to try and recover some of my brain cells from the clutches of Vin Diesel.”


As he strode down the hall, he heard Anne cracking her knuckles ominously. He grinned.




Later that night, when Jack was finishing up his book, he felt a text message buzz in his pocket. It was Charles.


hey sorry for being a dummy earlier


Jack smiled before returning,


No dumber than usual. You took it way better than my dad did, anyway


then, nervous that he was dumping too much, went on,


Thanks for doing my shot. I really appreciated it. 


Charles’s response was near-immediate.


no prob dude anytime


Then, a few minutes later,


i’m glad ur a boy


Jack felt a pricking at the corner of his eyes, a warmth spreading through his chest. As complicated as his relationship to gender was at times, it still felt so good to get affirmation from Charles. He responded,


Me too. 


As he turned over to fall asleep, he felt his phone buzz again. He picked it up with a smile before reading,


so do u have a vigina?


For the second time that day, Jack turned to scream into his pillow. 


Charles you are banned from asking me personal transgender questions. You have to go through Anne.


nooooooooooo :((( she’s so scary


Too bad. Goodnight, Chaz.


night jack


For the first time in his life, Jack somehow managed to fall asleep giggling.