Michael feels a familiar prickle along the nape of his neck at the sound of two voices laughing together. His eyes narrow, lips curling into a sneer. It takes a terrible amount of restraint to do what needs to be done. Needs, because what he wants will only make it worse. He wants to throw himself directly into danger. He wants to scream until his throat is raw, then scream with flecks of blood on his lips until his parents finally understand what they’ve let into their home. He wants to grab Gob and drag him to their room and lock him up tight until Barry fucking Zuckerkorn leaves their house.
But. That’s not what needs to be done. If he threw himself between them, Gob would think it was because Michael wanted the attention instead. If he screamed, he’d likely end up with a split lip courtesy of their father. If he dragged Gob away, Gob would be mad at him. So Michael finds that calm place inside him, the eye of the storm, and anchors himself to it. He smooths out his face and leaves his homework where it is, wandering out of the kitchen to the living room where Zuckerkorn sits too close, an arm around Gob’s broadening shoulders. Gob has a drink in hand, but instead of being tempered with ice or watered down, it’s a bold, dark brown.
“Michael!” Zuckerkorn notices him first. Gob lifts his head to look at him, face flushed and eyes bright. “Decided to come join us?”
“I needed a break from homework,” he says, rolling his shoulders in a shrug. “Thought I’d come see what was so funny.”
“You wouldn’t get it,” Gob says with a grin. “Can’t find everything inside a book, guy.”
Michael forces a tight-lipped smile. There’s a lot here that books never taught him about. Like how Zuckerkorn’s thigh slides along Gob’s, whose legs sprawl naturally. Or how the friendly hand on his shoulder slips for a second to Gob’s neck, a brief, intimate touch that has his older brother leans into, so desperate for affection that he doesn’t care who it comes from or what the cost might be.
“Come on. Don’t wanna explain the joke? Since you’re so much smarter than me, and everything.”
Wrong move. Michael almost holds his breath, hoping that Gob will let the implied insult sail over his head since he’s a bit drunk. But Gob’s sharper than Michael gives him credit for, eyes narrowing as he tries to parse through what Michael said.
Change tracks. His eyes slide to Zuckerkorn’s. “What about you, Mr. Zuckerkorn?”
He feels the man’s attention swing from his brother to him. It crawls all over him, a many-legged thing that thinks it can catch two meals at once. “Just call me Barry, Michael.”
“Barry Michael?” he asks, feigning ignorance. It gets a loud laugh out of Gob, which is almost a relief.
“Barry,” Zuckerkorn corrects, smile widening. “Come on, kid. Have a drink with us.” He swings out his tumbler, offering it to Michael. Michael would literally rather choke to death on his own vomit than drink after some creepy pervert, but this gives him an opening.
“Scoot over, Gob.”
Gob makes an indignant sound, but he allows Michael to slump on the couch between them, forming a semi-effective wall between them. “Get your own seat,” he says belatedly.
Michael’s fingers close around the glass, and he grins over at Gob. “I just did.”
It’s not his first taste of alcohol, but it makes his stomach turn and his throat burn. He doesn’t have to actually get drunk here. He just has to play the part long enough. Just long enough. If it means laughing at terrible jokes, putting up with half flirtations, feeling Zuckerkorn’s body heat and the easy way he ruffles Michael’s hair as if he has any right to touch either of them — Michael will put up with it. Just a moment or two more until the front door finally opens.
“Barry! I thought you were meeting us at your office,” Lucille says.
“Oh, I thought I’d make this a house call.” He finally pulls his hand away, and Michael feels like he can safely breathe again. “Didn’t wanna inconvenience you and George.”
“You should’ve said something before we drove all the way down there, then,” George Sr. sniffs. He looks at his two oldest on the couch, drinking, and his eyes narrow. “What are you two doing?”
“Just having some fun,” Gob says defensively.
Their dad glares. “With my scotch? Drinks down, go to your room.”
Gob defiantly throws the rest of his drink back before getting off the couch. He sways for a second, and Michael jumps to his feet, steadying him and remaining a barrier between Zuckerkorn and Gob. Thankfully, with the presence of their parents, Zuckerkorn turns his attention to business rather than the vulnerable underage boys in the room.
Michael should run and get his homework, but right as he turns to leave Gob at the door of their room, a hand grabs him and hauls him back. Gob practically slams the door so he can push Michael against it.
So. He hadn’t been as subtle as he’d tried to be.
“I know what you were doing,” Gob says, his voice a low, heated murmur.
“Yeah? What was I doing, Gob?”
“Being a- a- goddamn attention whore—”
Michael laughs which breaks with a gasp as Gob shoves him against the door again with a snarl.
Michael grits out, “You shouldn’t want his attention. He’s a fucking creep.”
“You just can’t stand that there’s one person on the planet who likes me better than you!”
“There are loads of people who like you better than me,” Michael says, keeping his voice low so that Gob won’t continue raising his own. “Most of them aren’t pedophiles.”
“Barry’s not,” Gob says with a certainty that twists Michael’s heart until it could tear apart.
“He got you drunk. A- And the way he was touching you — the way he always touches you.”
This is maybe not the easiest conversation to have with someone intoxicated.
“I’m just looking out for you, pal,” he says, needing Gob to believe it.
Gob sneers but doesn’t immediately argue. Something is wavering. Michael tries again, “I mean… Think if you’d walked in, and seen me half in his lap and drunk.” It’s an embellishment of the truth, but it’s enough to pierce through the lies Gob’s telling himself. Michael can see from the way his eyes widen, mouth dropping open for just a moment before he’s gritting his teeth and pawing for the doorknob like he’s going to go out there and fight the family lawyer.
“Easy, easy!” Michael hisses, trying to catch his hands.
Gob, at a loss, flings his arms around Michael and pulls him into a bear hug. Pressed this tight against him, Michael can feel him shaking. Anger or fear — it’s hard to tell even on a good day. Michael puts his arms around him, rubbing his back.
“It’s okay, bud. I won’t let him hurt you.”
“‘m fine,” Gob insists, but he doesn’t let go.
Michael finds, not for the first time, that he’s surprisingly okay with that.