Braxton had been nineteen when he'd finally realized that Dad was never going to be happy with what Braxton and Christian accomplished. Braxton had struggled with the idea, pushed it to the back of his mind for months. It festered there, popping up at the worst times.
He ended up trying to talk to Christian about it.
Christian hadn't been able to see the problem. "Dad just wants to make sure we can take care of ourselves, Brax. We just have to wait until he is sure we are prepared to be on our own."
After Mom left, Dad had made sure that Christian and Braxton were never left alone around people outside of their family. He'd always claimed that it was to protect Christian from the people who would make fun of him for being different. With the discontent poisoning his thoughts, Braxton started to suspect there was more to it. They couldn't get away, if they didn't know anybody who wasn't beholding to Dad.
Finally, desperate, he'd confronted Dad. They had a screaming fight, that ended with Dad kicking him out for a month. "Go find work then, if you are so much better than me. You'll be back begging in days. You need me Braxton. I kow what's best for you.
Braxton hadn't needed him. All he'd needed was Christian.
Only when the month was up and he came back home, prepared to swallow his pride and apologize -if only so he could get to Christian and try to figure out how to convince his brother to come with him- the house was empty. Dad hadn't even left a note explaining where they had gone.
It had taken another week to figure out that Mom had died. By the time Braxton made it back to the states, Dad was dead and Christian had disapeared into the military prison system.
The only person Braxton had ever needed, was gone. How the hell was he supposed to deal with that?
He threw himself into making contacts and amassing power until he would be able to find Christian and get him free.
Only Christian hadn't needed him.
He'd broken himself out and never contacted Braxton.
Braxton wouldn't have ever known he was free, if the Blackburn job hadn’t gone completely tits up.
They faced off over the dead bodies of an entire squad of his fellow mercenaries, and Braxton felt his life slot back together, like the last damn piece of a puzzle clicking into place.
Christian asked for one week and it almost broke Braxton to give it to him, but he wouldn't be like their parents. Christian was his own man and Braxton had to trust him to know what he was doing.
If it had been anybody but Christian saying that, Braxton would figure it was one of those fictions, NTs liked to throw around. 'I'll see you in a week, just go away now. And I promise we can see each other later.'
It might have been ten years since Brax had been acting as a single unit with his brother, but he couldn't think of anything that could have made Christian willing to lie about something like that.
The call came exactly seven days after his and Christian's fight.
The caller ID was listed as unknown, the voice crisply British, every syllable precisely enunciated. "Hello, Braxton."
Two words weren't enough to know for sure if the system was text to speech, but Braxton was willing to take the chance that the slight garble on the xt sound was from a synthesizer. "Hello Justine."
"You remember me." Justine replied. Her voice remained crisp and unemotional.
That didn't bother Braxton. He knew how to stick to reading surface ques, from people that didn't see any reason to bother trying to communicate on multiple levels. It was refreshing, not to have to guess at what people wanted from him. "I do. I figured you were the one who was helping Christian."
"I am, I should have figured you would know. Christian was always convinced that he needed to protect you by staying away. I didn't think you would let him get away with that decision, once you started to understand."
"Yeah, no, I'm not going to let him out of my sight for the next couple years." Braxton agreed.
"You were injured. Medical reports of where the injury was sustained are not available."
Braxton cast a paranoid look around. “Hacking security cameras now?”
“It’s more interesting than beating people at chess.”
Braxton thought about actually telling her what his injuries were from, for a second. Then common sense kicked in. He didn't need Christian going on a vendetta against his old bosses. "A minor misunderstanding."
"*Deep Sigh*, He will not listen if you don't give better intel than that."
Braxton rubbed a careful finger over then gauze pad that covered his cheek and the area around his eye. It was from a failed attempt to take his eye out or possibly his head off. He wouldn't react well to seeing Christian with that kind of obvious injury either. "I'll come up with a better excuse."
"You could tell the truth."
"I could." He wouldn't.
"He has gotten better about understanding extenuating circumstances. Francis worked with him on it."
"I wish I could have met him." All of Braxtons research had shown a kind man. Not necessarily a smart man, but one willing to adopt a young cellmate and hand over his entire life's work.
"I do as well. Your meeting place will be at a diner in a small town an hour outside of Cleveland, Ohio, the address will be emailed to you."
Braxton took the abrupt subject change in stride. There was nothing more to be said about a man that neither he or Justine had known. "I'll keep an eye out for it."
The diner looked like it time traveled straight from the 1950s. All red vinyl chairs and jukeboxes. The menu carefully written on the wall behind the register in chalk markers.
Braxton wasn't surprised when Christian was already there when he arrived. Or when Brax's favorite diner meal from when he was twenty was already sitting at the empty place across from Christian. Hamburger, cheddar baked fries, and a slice of pumpkin pie.
Christian had even managed to get a corner table so neither of them would have to have anybody at their backs.
They sat across from each other, eating quietly for a long time. The waitress came pasta few times, done up in an idealized fifties costume, hair pulled up just so, a poodle appliqued to her skirt, appearing and disappearing behind the white apron she had tied round her waist.
Finally, Christian asked about the gauze taped to Braxton's cheek. He used the polite, scripted language that meant he was deeply uncomfortable with having to ask such prying questions.
Their parents had concentrated on trying to hammer good manners and rules of behavior into Christian's skull for so long that he couldn't even demand to know who had hurt Braxton without being unflinchingly polite.
Braxton felt his old, banked anger at them flair back to life, but he pushed it aside. He and Christian had enough to work through without Braxton's daddy issues getting in the way. "Just my employer's displeasure for leaving a job undone. I did let you kill the client after all."
There was a long moment as Christian processed that. Braxton concentrated on his fries to give Christian the time he needed.
"They fired you?" He finally asked.
"It's not the kind of job they can just fire you from. They tried to kill me, I blew up half the organization. It is handled." Braxton dipped his fries into the ketchup, and ignored the way Christian's eyes pinched. He always hated Braxton’s insistence on mixing together all kinds of foods.
"Will they try to kill you again?" Christian asked, deliberately concentrating on Braxton's face.
"You don't have to do that, you know." Braxton said, instead of answering. He wanted to reach out and grab onto Christian's hand. To puncture the tension between them. Christian wouldn't get comfort from the gesture, and Braxton wasn't going to be one of the people who took advantage of the fact that Christian had been taught not to enforce any proper boundaries.
"Do what? Ask if they want to kill you again." The confusion, was at least enough to break Christian from the carefully trained act of trying to look Braxton in the eye.
"No, you don't have to try to look me in the eye. You know I don't care about that shit." Braxton considered leaving it there, but ambiguity would just frustrate Christian more. "I doubt they will try to kill me, I proved I was too dangerous to kill without taking heavy losses of their own. As long as I don't use what I know to work against them, they'll probably leave me alone."
"Probably," Christian repeats.
Braxton should have known better than to use that word. It had been a long time since he'd last dealt with someone who communicated like Christian did. It had been tough when Christian had first disappeared, trying to learn how to talk to people who liked to use words to get out of doing what they had agreed to do. Braxton had taken a few jobs with truly terrible bosses before he'd learned the trick to double speak and hidden lies.
"They most likely won't come after me. I am too expensive to kill, and if they can figure out why I let one of their clients get killed, they will try to negotiate with me to come back." It wasn't boasting to say that Braxton had been their most effective and dangerous agent.
Christian nodded, eyes glued to the eggs he was slowly cutting into exact squares. He was probably trying to figure out the actual probability of someone trying to kill Braxton. Not even Braxton knew enough variables to give Christian the numbers to figure out that probability.
Finally, Christian seemed to come to a consensus. He straightened up, this time not bothering to change his expression from the comfortable passivity he favored when he wasn't trying to force himself to act NT. "You should come work with me."
Braxton's fry dropped from his fingers into the ketchup, as he stared at Christian. He had planned to figure out a way to convince Christian to let Braxton work with him. The first part of the plan had been to give Christian a way to see that Braxton was really dangerous too. And that Christian didn't need to protect Braxton from his clients. "Are you kidding?"
Christian glanced at Braxton's eyes for second before they went skittering away again. "Do you not want to?"
"I would like to work with you, yes," That was such an understatement, “I just wasn’t expecting you to decide I could, that quickly. How are you planning to make that work? A week isn't long enough to adjust your routine."
"I can make it work." Christian said.
If Braxton had known him any less well, he'd have taken that for a polite phrase used to move the conversation along. He opened his mouth to ask for more details, only for the waitress to breeze up to their table, coffee pot in hand, to give out refills and ask about take out boxes.
Braxton waved her away as fast as he could, but the moment to ask things felt like it was out of reach now. He pushed aside the urge to ask for more confirmation. Christian didn't say things that he didn't mean.
Braxton would do whatever it took to figure out how to make the adjustments.
There was no way he was going to let Christian get away from him again.