"I'm going to kill him," Michael announced. He slammed the door and immediately winced. His hand went to the bridge of his nose, and he pinched. Stumbled across the room blindly, eyes squeezed shut. When he made it to the bed, he collapsed on it, face first.
"It's a shame that your brother is constantly turning you to a life of crime." Alexander sat on the couch and untied his shoes. Toeing them off, he tucked the laces in neatly, then rose and crossed to the closet. The shoes went inside on the rack. His shirt, pants, and underwear were placed in the hamper, replaced by a new pair of boxers and a tee shirt. Then he closed the closet again.
Michael moaned. "I don't care. If I don't kill him, he'll kill me."
No argument there. This was the fifth night in a row Lincoln had insisted they go out to a bar. Even LJ went with them, although Lincoln wouldn't let him drink. But Lincoln pushed drinks on Michael. Women on Michael. Memories of Sara and Deborah and any other woman Michael had ever known or expressed interest in on Michael.
And Michael just... couldn't say no to his brother. Didn't know how. So he drank too much and danced with the women Lincoln introduced him to. And because he was Michael and so Goddamn pretty, they clung to him, smothered him in perfume and smeared them with make-up that ran off them as they sweat. And Michael just took it. Allowed it. Protested, but did whatever Lincoln asked him to do.
So Alexander was left at the end of every night with a trembling, sick, stressed Michael while Lincoln slept easy in the room Alexander had set up for him.
"Up." Alexander straddled Michael's body, which hadn't quite made it all the way on the bed. He slipped his arms underneath Michael's armpits and pulled. "Come on."
"No. I wanna sleep."
"No. You need to shower."
Michael just moaned.
"Michael, you are not going to be smelling like that woman who was all over you tonight. Not unless you want to go downstairs and sleep with your brother."
Michael wiggled out of Alexander's grasp. Pulled a pillow over him.
Michael wasn't going to need to kill Lincoln; Alexander would do it for him.
He climbed onto the bed. Slipped his hand underneath Michael's shirt and rubbed.
Every muscle was drawn tense. Painfully so, especially around his neck and shoulders. Alexander didn't understand why alcohol didn't relax him. If anything, Michael was the most tense he'd been since Alexander had arrived. Yes, there were mitigating circumstances, but still. The reason Lincoln was plying his brother with alcohol was because, Alexander assumed, the first night they'd gone out, Michael had sat stiffly, danced stiffly, then ended up throwing up in the bushes outside after not being able to close out all the external stimuli. He'd been too wound up to shut everything out. It'd overwhelmed him and he'd been a mess.
Lincoln's solution wasn't making it much better. Alexander wondered why a former addict was so free with the alcohol. But it wasn't his job to question. Just to put back together and suggest that this was not working for any of this.
"You can't sleep, Michael," Alexander said. Unnecessarily. They'd be lucky if Michael got to sleep before dawn. "Shirt. Off."
"Don't wanna shower," he whined.
Alexander grabbed the hem of Michael's shirt and tugged upward. When it got tangled around his armpits and neck, Michael lifted his arms and allowed himself to be stripped.
"You smell like smoke, beer, and that woman," Alexander said. He reached into the nightstand and pulled out a bottle of lotion. "How is it not making you sick?" He straddled Michael's waist. Squeezed a dollop of lotion onto his hands.
"I'm dizzy," Michael replied. He pulled the pillow off his head. Turned it so he was staring at the wall. "I'm not ready to try and stand on something wet and slippery."
"I'll be there with you." Alexander rubbed the lotion on both hands, then lowered them to Michael's back.
Michael snorted. "Christ. I don't even get why you're here. This totally isn't what you signed up for." He licked his lips. Let out a sharp breath when Alexander hit a particularly sensitive knot underneath his shoulder.
"Not what I signed up for?" He rubbed at the spot with his fingertips, feeling the heat radiating from Michael's overwarm body. Working the tension out, trying to loosen the muscles Michael so skillfully worked into knots as intricate as his artwork.
Alexander was still trying to figure out how Michael survived prison without killing himself with tension.
"You shouldn't have to take care of me."
"We're partners. That's what partners do."
"You wouldn't do the same for me?"
"But I love you."
Alexander frowned. Five nights, five such comments. And he had no idea where it was coming from. "I love you, too."
Michael didn't answer.
He was definitely killing Lincoln.
"We're not going out tomorrow," Alexander said. He moved away from the now loosened knot. Slid his hands over Michael's shoulder blades. Squeezed his shoulders, feeling the tension.
"Lincoln and LJ are on vacation. They want to have fun."
"Why don't we rent a boat tomorrow night? Go out sailing? It's a full moon, it'd be nice."
Michael's eyes fluttered shut. He sighed.
Embolden by Michael's response, Alexander pushed on. "It'd be quite out there. Nothing except for the lap of the waves against the hull. The wind through the sails. It'd be so beautiful, nothing but dark ocean with the moon glinting off the swells. And the stars, Michael." He leaned over, placed his lips right next to Michael's ear. "We could star gaze," he whispered. "Strip down. Get into the water. Float on our backs and look up at the stars. Contemplate eternity." He nuzzled Michael's cheek.
And that did it. The muscles tightened, shuddered, then went lax.
Phase one, accomplished.
"Lincoln won't want to."
"He might if you ask. You haven't offered him an alternative."
"The only alternative he wants is one where women are there to push on me." Michael grimaced. "Why can't he just be happy for me?"
"He will. Once the shock of it fades."
Tears came easy when Michael was drunk. One slipped out right now.
"Michael." Alexander sighed. Kissed the nape of his neck. His ear. The corner of his mouth. "If it would make things easier on you..."
Michael didn't let him finish. He rolled underneath Alexander. Hooked his legs around Alexander's waist. Tugged him close and kissed him.
Phase two, well and truly entered. Why couldn't they ever skip phase two?
Michael kissed him and kissed him and kissed him. His hands wandered Alexander's body. Underneath his boxers.
He flipped Alexander over. Tugged his shirt up and kissed down his chest. Alexander allowed Michael to explore, his hands and mouth stroking and caressing. It was only when he began to tug at Alexander's boxers that he stopped it.
"I just want to suck you," Michael said, breathless.
"I'm not in the mood," he said firmly. Grabbed Michael by the chin as he continued down Alexander's stomach.
Michael looked at him through glassy eyes. Batted his eyelashes.
Alexander shook his head. "I'm not in the mood," he repeated. Urged Michael upward and kissed him. "Really."
"Just like every night this week? I find that hard to believe," Michael sniffed.
He climbed off the bed and pulled Michael with him. "Come on. Let's take a shower."
"Seriously, what's the longest you've ever gone without sex?" Michael allowed himself to be pulled to the bathroom, stumbling with every step.
"Longer than five days."
"While you were in a relationship?"
"My first wife was fantastically cold when I didn't do what she wanted. Which was often. So, months."
"Yeah, but..." Michael grunted as Alexander propped him against the wall and let him go. "But that marriage was fucked up," he pointed out. "That was when you were all chasing that one convict. She was his type, not yours."
Alexander adjusted the heat on the shower. Started it and felt the spray. Satisfied, he stripped out of his clothes and turned to Michael. "Care to join me?"
Michael shrugged. Stumbled with trying to take off his shoes, pitching violently to one side so Alexander had to catch him. He helped Michael to the toilet and sit him down to help him out of his clothes.
"Does Lincoln know that you can't have sex when you're drunk?" Alexander asked at Michael's feet. Because, yes, he'd known that their sex life would probably die when Lincoln came, but he really didn't think it was fair that it was being killed. Drinking had the unfortunate side affect of trapping Michael in his mind. In endless, frightening, winding circles.
He analyzed *everything*. The structure of whatever building he was in. The way people were put together. He analyzed bone structure, for God's sake, then came home and drew people skeletal structures overlaid with muscles. He broke music down in his head in all sorts of ways Alexander had never contemplated--mathematically, tonally, atonally, rhythmically, and more. Wrote pages about it in the early hours of the morning. Women became nothing but make up, accessories, clothing, and body parts. Crowds became masses of arms and legs. The lights, the music fucked with Michael's senses until he stopped processing it out of sheer over stimulus and, thanks to the alcohol and stress, he couldn't shut it out.
One and a half beers was his limit. After that, he was trapped and impotent.
"Lincoln still doesn't believe I'm not some kind of sex god." He was trying to help Alexander with his shoes, but kept trying to slid his jeans off at the same time. Hindering more than helping, but Alexander managed. "He's like, there had to be other women, you know? Besides... but he won't talk about the men. It's like they don't even exist." Michael slid off the toilet seat and onto the floor. "Woops."
He couldn't help laughing. "Just hold still." Alexander pushed Michael flat on his back and yanked his jeans off.
Michael's eyes half lidded. "You're really hot."
"Thank you." He pulled off Michael's boxers, then helped him to his feet. "You're hot, too."
"No, I'm not. Pretty. Like a puppy." He climbed carefully into the shower. Lifted his face into the spray.
Alexander followed him in. Wrapped his arms around Michael's waist and kissed his neck. "You are pretty. Beautiful. Amazing. But hot, too. Everything about you is just so sexy." He ran his hand down Michael's stomach. Caressed the hipbone that stood out sharply. "Maybe a little too thin, though."
"Seriously. You could stand to fatten up a bit."
Alexander kissed his neck again. Then he reached for the soap and a wash cloth.
Michael was silent as Alexander bathed him. Eyes shut, body passive, limp. Head resting against Alexander's shoulder, water hitting his face, sliding down his body. The tension was gone, but Alexander knew the mind was still busy. Still going over the events of the night, deconstructing the room and the clothing and the music.
Or so he thought.
"If you left, where would you go?"
Alexander stopped the washcloth momentarily before resuming. "I'd get a room in the city. Not too far."
Michael shook his head. "When you leave me, where are you going to go?"
"I'm not leaving you, Michael."
He licked his lips, lapping up drops of water that had gathered on the bow. "Would you go back to her?" His voice was wistful. Longing.
"Her?" From confusion to utter bafflement in less than a minute.
"She was so pretty," he sighed. "She told me how you were romantic. You know, before Shales. And I was jealous, you know? It was stupid, but I was jealous, and this really small part of me wanted her because it'd be the only way I might have you."
What the hell?
"No, I wouldn't go back to Pam." He ran his thumb down Michael's side, just to feel the slick skin. "She's married now. Happily. I'd have less sex with her than I do with you." As soon as he said it, he winced. It was supposed to be a joke, but it wouldn't be taken as such. "I'm sorry."
"What happened?" Michael turned in his arms. Almost slipped, but Alexander caught him. "What happened? Didn't you go? Didn't you see her? I had everything set up."
Alexander smiled, remembering his and Pam's last weekend together. "I never thanked you for that," he said. "These past few weeks, I've been so focused on here and on you, I forgot."
"You did go."
"I did. And I did as you told me. I told her everything."
"And she forgave you?"
He shook his head. "It was never about forgiveness. Just understanding. And she did. Like you, Pam knows me, inside and out. She just was missing the key in this case." He kissed Michael. "I told her."
"Why are you with her?"
"Because, by that time, it was too late for us. She'd moved on. Settled in a new life." He traced his fingers over Michael's lips. "Our life was over. I was moving to you." Alexander moved in to kiss Michael, but Michael turned his head.
"Will you ever love me as much as you love her?" he whispered.
Damn Lincoln. Damn him to fucking hell.
"Yes, Michael." Alexander rested his forehead against Michael's. "I will. I do."
Michael squeezed his eyes shut. "When you leave me, please tell me why. Don't make me guess. Like you did her, please."
"I am not going to leave you," he said. His hands were on either side of Michael's face, holding, desperate to understand why this was happening. Where this was coming from.
"Just promise me."
If he promised, he would just feed in to Michael's fear of being abandoned. If he didn't, chances were Michael would work himself up into that headache they were trying to avoid.
Finally, he compromised. "I will always tell you the motives for anything I do that you don't understand. I promise."
Michael opened his eyes. Studied Alexander for a long moment. Finally nodded, accepting.
He yawned. Huge, jaw-cracking, deeply bone-weary. "Can I sleep now?" he asked.
"You're not going to draw?" Alexander said, surprised. Michael was breaking his pattern.
"Not tonight. I don't think." He yawned again. "I'm so tired."
He nodded. Rinsed the last of the soap from Michael and sniffed to make sure that woman's perfume was gone. Satisfied, he turned off the water and helped Michael from the shower.
"Okay, even if you're not going to draw, you still need water," he said, walking with Michael back to bed.
Michael nodded. Dressed in the shirt and boxers Alexander handed him. Climbed into bed with the quite compliance of a child.
Alexander grabbed a bottle of water from the refrigerator. When he entered the room again, Michael's eyes were closed and he looked asleep already.
"Here you are." He pressed the bottle into Michael's hand.
Michael opened his eyes. Unscrewed the cap to the water and drank, eyes on Alexander as he dressed for bed once again. Watched him as Alexander turned off the light. Climbed into bed. Took the empty bottle and tossed it into the trash.
"I would understand, you know," Michael whispered as they settled together under the covers.
"Understand?" Alexander combed his fingers thought Michael's wet hair, black as darkness in the shadows.
"If you went back to her. She was magnificent."
"I walked Pam down the aisle at her wedding. Our son was the best man. They are all very happy, and I am happy for her." He rubbed Michael's neck. "And I am happy here, with you. Deliriously so."
And... mission accomplished. Michael was finally asleep.
* * *
The next morning, Alexander was at the door the moment he heard Lincoln's tread on the stair. He slipped into the hall, closing the door behind him.
Ever since the first day, Lincoln had been polite. Distant, obviously unhappy, but polite. Without Michael around, though, he gave up the pretense.
"Move," Lincoln said. "I was coming in for breakfast."
"Not this morning," Alexander replied. "You'll have to go out today. Michael's asleep and I'd rather just let him sleep."
Lincoln frowned at him. "I'll be quiet."
"You could be as quiet as a ghost, Lincoln, he'll still wake up. He's so attuned and worried about you're doing, the minute you get in there, he'll wake up."
"Then maybe he's not tired anymore."
"Then maybe he won't wake up."
Alexander rolled his eyes. "Of course he will. He'll wake up no matter which one of us goes in there because he's a light sleeper. The only difference is I know how to get him back to sleep."
Lincoln's eyes widened. He took a step towards Alexander, his expression twisting in anger.
Before Lincoln reached him, Alexander struck. He stepped to the side, grabbed Lincoln's arm and twisted it behind his back. As Lincoln grunted, Alexander shoved him into the wall and grabbed his other arm.
"Try me, Burrows. Just try me," he growled. He kicked Lincoln's legs apart, putting him off balance. If he had his cuffs, he'd break them out now.
"I knew it," Lincoln sneered. He turned his face, cheek pressed against the wall. "The minute I saw you I knew you were up to no good. That you hadn't changed. What are you going to do, *Alex*? Kill me? Finish off the Company's dirty work?"
Alexander snorted. "May I remind you that the first thing you did was put me in a choke hold. Not exactly inspiring coming from a man once convicted of murder."
"Framed, yes, I know." He twisted Lincoln's arms up. Leaned in. "This needs to stop. This pissing contest or whatever you think we're playing. It stops."
"I don't know what you mean."
"I mean trying to ensure your brother's sexuality is what you feel it should be. Dragging him to bars every night. Plying him with alcohol. Do you have any idea what it does to him, Lincoln? Do you have any idea what losing control does to a man with Michael's gifts?" He leaned forward and put his mouth right next to Lincoln's ear. "Can you imagine what he sees? What he's force to endure with his mind drugged, his control subdued?"
Lincoln bit his lip. Twisted futilely in Alexander's grasp. "No," he admitted.
"Would you like to?"
Alexander released Lincoln. Put his finger to his mouth as he stepped back to the bedroom. Quietly snuck back inside.
Michael was still asleep, thankfully. He was curled on his side, mouth open, snoring softly.
His sketchpad was on the table. He had gotten up last night to draw, just for awhile, clearing his mind of the images by excising them onto paper.
Alexander picked up the pad and went back into the hall. "Here."
Lincoln took the pad. Opened to the first picture, a drawing of Michael being eviscerated on the dance floor by three women with sharp talons. Lincoln stood nearby, laughing, having an excellent time. Alexander was trapped in a corner by cell-like shadows.
"God." Lincoln turned the page. Winced at the site of fleshless women. And then next of Michael, his head split open with all manner of dark things spilling from it. And one of Lincoln with a cage in his chest, Michael kept inside while Alexander hung from the ceiling. "Why didn't he say anything?"
"Because he doesn't know how to say no to you," Alexander said simply. "Because he wants to make you happy."
"It's not just the pictures. Not just what he sees. Being drunk winds Michael up. Makes him tense. I spend every night trying to calm him down enough to sleep. So he's not sick. Doesn't have a headaches. Doesn't start throwing up. And where are you during this? Either out fucking the woman you picked up--great example for you son, by the way--or in your room, sleeping."
"I'm not trying to hurt him," Lincoln protested.
"I don't for a moment think you are," he said honestly. "I just don't think you're aware of how you are negatively affecting your brother."
"I take care of him. I would never do anything to hurt him."
Alexander snorted. "Right. Never. Why don't you go inside and count his toes, look at his body. Then sit down and ask if he believes you'll never leave him. You might be surprised at his answer."
"He knows I'd never..."
"No, he doesn't. He's been abandoned too many times. So he does what he can to make you happy, to please everyone. Look at his life, Lincoln. His entire life, reduced to one room above a fix-it shop. All. For. You." Alexander smiled tightly, digging the knife.
The muscles in Lincoln's jaw bunched. Twitched. "I never asked for any of that. Never wanted him to... to give up everything."
"No, of course not. But if you didn't know your brother would do anything to please the one person on earth he loved more than anything? You are even stupider than you look."
Eyes flashed, but Lincoln said nothing.
"Right now, you are going to turn around. Go back downstairs and take your son to breakfast. And talk to LJ. Listen to him for Christ's sake. The kid has a boyfriend and is going crazy because you won't acknowledge that. Come back later. Tonight, Michael and I are renting a boat and taking it out. You and LJ are invited. We are not going to any bars for quite some time."
"I'm not allowed to go to a bar now?"
"You can do whatever you want. Michael? Is not going."
"I'm not sure I like you bossing him around."
Alexander rolled his eyes. "It's been a pleasure talking to you. I'll see you later." He turned and walked back into the room. Closed the door behind him. Rested it against it, eyes closed. Breathed. When he felt calmer, Alexander pushed away from the wall and went to the kitchen.
He was getting a drink of water when he saw it. The calendar on the wall. The date.
Oh, Jesus Christ.
"Michael." He rushed back into the bedroom. Climbed onto the bed. Shook Michael. "Wake up."
Michael groaned. Rolled onto his back. Opened his eyes. "What?"
"Pam and I have been divorced almost as long as we were married now. The date of our wedding anniversary? Obsolete. I wouldn't have even thought of it had you not been so insecure this week and I not seen the date." He bent over Michael. Stared into his eyes. "Don't worry about her. She and I said our good-byes. And today is just another day. Understand?"
"Yeah." Michael nodded, his cheeks a deep, dark red. "Yeah, I do. I just thought that, maybe, if you decided to miss her, to compare us, it'd be today."
"When a man has everything he wants," Alexander said, "there's no need to dwell on what might had been."
"You should listen to them." He slipped under the covers and snuggled against to Michael's warm body. "I told Lincoln that we're not going out. That he can come sailing with us or he can do his own thing. It's up to him." He kissed Michael's cheek. "We're going to make this work, Michael. All of it. You, me, Lincoln, LJ. We'll make it work."
Michael nodded, his forehead furrowed like he was concentrating. "I'll work on saying no to him. But only if I really don't want to do something."
"That's all I ask." He rested his cheek against Michael's head. Felt sleep tug at him, lead him down that vague and fuzzy path of dreams.
And then Michael put his hand on his thigh.
"You know. I'm feeling really good this morning."
Alexander opened his eyes.
Michael tilted his head back. Looked at Alexander. Licked his lips. "Wanna play?"
He didn't bother with an answer, simply rolled onto Michael and kissed him.