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shining like a lighthouse from the sea

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Nicky was an only child.

He was a preacher's kid, and he always felt the weight of being his father's only child. He was constantly used as an example in Sunday morning sermons. Any misbehavior. Any slight mischief. Any unintentionally funny questions. Any embarrassing moments. His entire life was fair game for his father to offer up as entertainment for the congregation.

Nicky felt a little like the blue living room rug that his mother had once spent weeks picking out. It was beautiful and matched the house perfectly and was always complimented by guests. But his father passive-aggressively complained about it, nothing outright, just enough to make mom feel miserable and Nicky on edge every time he brought it up. For months this went on, tiny jabs at mom's taste and how much money she spent until Nicky "accidentally" spilled a drink on the rug and it had to be replaced.

A sanitized version of the story ended up in a sermon.

A few years later Nicky was the one leaving the house. The so-called therapy was a bust and he just couldn't stay. His feet and hands itched with the need to be away. So...Germany.

Erik.

But this isn't the story about him falling in love with the most handsome and wonderful man in the world. This is the story about gaining siblings, brothers.

Nicky had met Aaron before, but they weren't exactly close. Aunt Tilda was as frequent a subject in sermons as Nicky was. A good backslider is hard to come by. Every other Easter or Christmas, Aunt Tilda would show up looking scraggly, but relatively clean and sober. And Aaron would be there.

So Nicky knew Aaron. And then the next thing he knows there's a twin. Like some horrible magic where people pull children instead of rabbits out of hats. And Andrew, that's the twin, was going to come live with Aaron and Tilda.

But conversion therapy and Germany happened and Nicky didn't get a chance to meet Andrew.

Nicky's parents cut off communication. They say he is a...well, they say a lot of things but mostly that he isn't their son anymore. That he has no family. So it's a bit of surprise to get a call from Aaron hysterical--he's slurring and rambling. Nicky gets enough out of the conversation to know that Tilda is dead and Andrew is in the hospital. And Aaron is high as fuck.

He talks to Erik for about two hours and then he buys a plane ticket.

It's not easy being the twins' guardian. First, he's not that much older than them, and, even if he was, Nicky doesn't scream authority figure.

Secondly, Nicky has some savings and Tilda has some life insurance money, but things are tight. Nicky is working three jobs. And the twins each work after school. And one of his bosses hates him because he has to take off every time one of them get into a fight at school. And Andrew has never met a fight he didn't like.

Third, this is new for all of them. Nicky was so happy with Erik. They were talking about college and marriage and now they're talking about being separated for years and time differences. And Nicky is making agreements with Andrew to detox Aaron and listening to him scream in agony for days. And he doesn't hug either of them because Aaron looks confused and Andrew pulls a knife the first time he tries. And they both look so, so hurt. But they won't talk about it. It's not like he talks about growing up with his father. And then he feels bad comparing what he went through to what they did. And it all just sucks and he spends forty minutes crying in his bedroom before coming out to make spaghetti for dinner, which Aaron doesn't eat.

At a club, there's a fight and Andrew is put on pills that turn him into a shadow. There's college. And exy. Kevin. The foxes. And more time away from Erik and kisses.

And then there is Neil Josten, like a fucking comet across the sky. But this isn't a story about him either, only how him being alive changes everything. Because he does.

Andrew and Aaron were always like a broken bone that refused to heal. And somehow Neil was able to convince them to sit still long enough to put on a cast.

But it wasn't just them. Neil brought Nicky closer to them too.

Nicky was never like a parent to Andrew and Aaron--he couldn't be. The age difference aside, he had the shittiest role models in the world. Everyone called Nicky their cousin, and that was fine. It was factually accurate. But Nicky had always wanted brothers, or sisters, just someone to share the burden with. Someone to love unconditionally. Someone to play with and take the blame when they got in trouble and tease about their crushes.

He would never be as close to them as they were to each other. Twins, right? But who was going to tell if he secretly called them his little brothers in the privacy of his own head?