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When Michael is six years old, he finds a kitten while walking home from school. He takes the kitten home and names it Buttons. It lives under his bed while he's at school and sleeps on his chest at night. He takes good care of it. Feeds it. Cleans the litter box he made out of an old casserole pan and sand from the park. Pets it, gives it kisses, and plays with it.

One day he comes home from school and Mom tells him that Buttons escaped from his room. She'd been cleaning and left the front door open. She didn't know and if he'd told her she would have let him keep it, but Michael, I'm so sorry and Buttons is....

Michael cries until he throws up. Mom tucks him into bed and gives him soup and ginger ale. She talks about going to the shelter and getting another cat, but Michael already failed one and he doesn't see the point.

When Michael is seven, he's put into the same class as Erik. Erik is funny and has green, green eyes. Greener than grass. Greener than Mom's pretty green dress. Greener than Lincoln's favorite green shirt. So green, Michael can't stop looking at them.

Erik likes Michael and they do everything together. They sit together in class and finish their math before everyone else. When Miss Nelson separates them, they create a code so they can pass notes and no one else can read them. On the play ground, they chase each other and it doesn't matter if they're both cops and there are no robbers. They can make them up and they always stop the bad guys from winning.

Then, Erik's dad transfers jobs and he has to move. On the last day, they both cry, but Michael stops first. He watches as Erik drives away, tears still falling down his face. All Michael can do is watch him go and ache.

When Michael is eight, his mom dies. He cries when the doctor tells him, but stops when Lincoln puts his arms around him. At the funeral, he looks at the casket and feels dead inside.

That night, when Lincoln tucks him in, he promises that he will take good care of Michael. That he will never leave and Michael will never want for anything. And Michael feels safe and warm and happy. He wonders what he's done to deserve such a wonderful big brother.

When Michael is eight and a half, he's separated from Lincoln. He's put in a group home while the grown ups and Lincoln do legal stuff. Michael doesn't talk the whole time he's there. He just sits and listens and waits. His eyes burn and his throat aches, but he doesn't cry. He can't.

When he goes back to Lincoln, it's not easy. Michael is often hungry and he has to learn to cook. Lincoln tries so, so hard, but he's tired and young. He gets angry a lot and yells at Michael. Once, he hit Michael and Michael hadn't even done anything wrong. But every night, Lincoln crawls into bed with him and reads him a story. Holds him and kisses him on the head and tells Michael that everything is going to be fine and Lincoln's going to take care of him and he promises it will get better. And Michael feels lucky he has such a wonderful big brother.

When Michael is nine, he comes home to find Lincoln high. There's a mirror on the table and white powder. Lincoln's acting weird and he scares Michael until he hides in the closet. The next morning, Lincoln is sick and Michael stays home from school to take care of him.

When Michael is nine and a little bit, he comes home and Lincoln is drunk. He's angry and yells at Michael, and Michael liked it better when Lincoln was high. After dinner, Lincoln starts throwing up, and Michael had to clean it up. The next day, Lincoln apologizes and takes Michael to a museum and promises everything will get better. And even though Michael doesn't believe him, he wants to.

When Michael is ten, Lincoln is arrested for armed robbery. He's locked up and Michael is given to a man. The man locks him in a closet and beats him whenever he gets angry. Michael is always hungry and always in pain and fear makes his stomach hurt. He knows some things, like this man just wants the money from the state, and if it wasn't him, it'd b someone else and he won't be there forever because Lincoln promised that when he got out, he'd get Michael back and this will all be over.

It didn't have to be him. And maybe it was a twist of fate. Maybe Michael was just at a low point on the wheel of fortune and, at any moment, it'd start turning again and things would get better. Maybe it meant nothing that Michael was there, locked in a closet, being punished.

Maybe. But Michael didn't think like that. Because even though he knew it could be any boy, the fact was, it was him. Michael was here and Michael was being punished. When the other man came and got him out of the closet and Michael saw his foster father bleeding dead on the floor and he was glad--he was *glad*--Michael knew why he was the one there.

When Michael is eleven, he's skipped a grade. He's small and scrawny and immediately picked on. Lincoln teaches him how to fight, but Michael's really not interested in doing so. Besides. He likes it when Lincoln takes care of him after he gets beat up.

When Michael is fourteen, Lincoln overdoses on heroin. Michael comes home to find him face down in a puddle of vomit in his bedroom. He calls an ambulance and tries to breathe for Lincoln, but he's crying too hard. The paramedics have to pry him off and he doesn't know what to do. He sleeps by Lincoln's bedside every night until he's released and takes care of him at home. He works every night at the grocery store, stocking shelves and doing inventory, and every day he goes to school.

When Lincoln thanks him and tells Michael that he doesn't deserve him, Michael feels sick and guilty.

When Michael is fifteen, LJ is born. Lincoln is working and not there, so Michael is the first one to hold LJ after his mom. He thinks LJ is the most beautiful baby he's ever seen and promises LJ he'll never leave.

When Michael is eighteen, Lincoln gives him ninety thousand dollars from Mom's insurance. He tells Michael to go to college. To make something of himself. Michael wants to stay in Chicago with Lincoln and LJ, but Lincoln hits him and tells him not to be stupid.

Michael goes to college. Every time he comes home, Lincoln is just a little more distant, a little more drunk, a little more track marked. Soon, Michael's mostly coming home for LJ, but when LJ asks if Michael is his daddy, he can't see LJ for a long time. They just talk on the phone and write letters and Michael is lonely.

Then he's twenty-two and there's Deborah. And she has blue, blue eyes like Michael's favorite shirt and freckles on her nose. She's smart and witty. Her hands are soft and her lips are softer. More than that, Michael wants her. Wants to have sex with her. Thinks about her all the time, even in class. Even at work.

The first time they have sex, it's awful. Michael can't stay hard and he pulls her hair. It's messy and painful and she won't look at him when it's over.

The second time they have sex, it's better. Not great, but better. They keep practicing, and then it's good.


Deborah wants to have sex every time they go out. And Michael still has problems staying hard. There's so much to think about: where to kiss and what she wants and what to do. It's overwhelming, and he keeps breaking Deborah down into quadrants and treating her like a blueprint. Sex is too much and he doesn't want to do it. Besides, he likes just hanging out with her.

She breaks up with him. She thinks he's sweet, but "just friends" material. Michael feels guilty, because he really liked her and it figures that he couldn't satisfy her.

At twenty-five, he meets Charlie. Charlie has amazing hazel eyes and artists hands. They date for two weeks before Charlie goes down on Michael. It's fantastic. And he likes reciprocating, too. They date for over a month and never go further than blow jobs. Then Charlie wants more and Michael loses his sex drive completely. They break up and Michael feels guilty.

Lincoln goes to jail again. Michael doesn't want to visit him and he doesn't. He's angry. He hates himself because after everything Lincoln's done, he should be willing to do anything. But he can't.

He meets another guy. Fails at another relationship. Continues to be the closest thing to a father LJ has. Takes his guilt out on Lincoln. Hates himself quietly.

And then, Lincoln kills the vice president's brother. And he tells Michael he's innocent and Michael believes him. So, he does the only thing he can: he gives up his life for his brother.

Going to jail feels almost... good. Like he's finally where he belongs. And, more, like finally he matters. Because he's the one with the plan. He's the one who's taking care of Lincoln and he's not going to let him die. Most of all, they're finally going to be a family again. Lincoln won't leave him. They'll spend the rest of their lives together on a beach in Panama.

Except, Lincoln does leave. He has to. Because he has LJ and LJ needs him. It's not fair that Michael is angry. It's not fair that he's lonely and it hurts and he's jealous of LJ, the person he's closest to in the whole world. It's not fair, but Michael can't help it and sometimes he remembers the closet and why he was there and that it was inevitable he end up alone in a one room apartment above a fix-it shop.

And then he stumbles across an anagram on a message board, written just for him. And he becomes a lost fox and someone is looking for him. Someone wants him and it feels very... strange. Exciting.

So, now, every morning, Michael wakes up and there's someone in his bed. Someone beautiful and brilliant. Someone who makes Michael's body sing. Who doesn't get angry at him. Who takes the pain and the guilt and kisses it away. Washes it away with adoration and passion and ... and love.

Who promises he will never leave.

And somehow, even though Michael doesn't fully believe, can't fully believe because everyone leaves him....

He sort of does.