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The Self Destruct Button

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Before he even showed up at the Firecracker Lounge, Kevin knew that Tommy would be angry at him about the money. Not that losing money on a bet was anything new to him, or a fact lost on his brothers. But it was something that Tommy hated, if only because he wanted something better for his brother than to gamble life away. Kevin knew that, at least, was true – which was why he decided to lower the amount of money he owed. Not because he was ashamed, because a Donnelly is always straight up about what he owes even if he's not straight about the means he uses to end the debt.

Five thousand. How would he even begin to explain five thousand to Tommy? One thousand, maybe – two thousand at the most. He could approach Jenny about borrowing four, but she'd probably say no. She wouldn't clear anything without her husband, her good-for-nothing schoolteacher husband – who was dead, dead and gone not that she knew anything about it. No one had the heart to tell Jenny. Joey Ice Cream would know, he had a way of knowing everything in the neighborhood. Kevin's only thought was that he wouldn't tell Tommy how much he really owed before he made up something.

And, predictably, it's Tommy that arrived late to the bar. While Kevin may be the one with the gambling habit, it's his brother that's the one with the penchant for artistry and no concept of time. He went up to get the beers, two pints shoved at him across the counter by Jimmy (you're in big fuckin trouble, Kev, Tommy's gonna kill ya) and then he walked back. Cool as a cucumber, Kevin, he told himself. Just tell Tommy you lost two thousand, and drink your beer and act like nothing is wrong. Hardly, your gambling has been a problem since you were a kid and when are you gonna kick the habit? Worse than Jimmy with his drugs, worse than Sean with his habit of stealing girls. Worse, worse, worse.

But Kevin, and Tommy too, had long ago come to the realization that there were worse things they could do. Tommy would never really be able to save his brothers, no matter how hard he tried. And that ached at him, because that's what family is supposed to fuckin do, they save each other. Family above all. And Kevin came to know that no matter how hard he tried, no matter how hard Tommy tried, he would never be able to really quit his gambling habit. He'd never be able to quit Tommy.

He hated how these days everything drew to a point. There was no way around it. People were just so direct, and there was no way that the heated kisses and fumbled touches (praying that no one, please, no one would ever come upon them) would ever come again. It was almost as if everything had been reduced to just being a Donnelly brother – just Tommy and Kevin – and that's not what it was. Not what it should be. Because Kevin remembered how his brother would sketch him in the morning light, or how their bodies would press against the hard wood of the bar and they'd rock against each other when Jimmy had locked up for the night, forgetting that his brothers (or maybe knowing) had keys.

"Two thousand, Kevin? How could you lose two thousand dollars?"

He shrugged at Tommy's words; both Tommy and himself knew how he lost the two thou. Louie Downtown was gonna beat his ass, ain't no way that a Donnelly brother was suddenly gonna come into two thousand. Well, five thousand, but there was no reason why Tommy needed to know that. A moment of silence and there's a grateful distraction. Joey Ice Cream and Jenny, or some cops or maybe both. And Tommy leaves to go take care of Jenny.

And, probably, find out how much money he owes. Shit.

Jenny Reilly was always the one that drove Tommy crazy, even when they were just kids. As his brother, Kevin knew this better than anyone. But it was not Jenny who gave Tommy his first kiss, or his first handjob or (for that matter) his first blowjob. That was Kevin. And while he knew then, just as he knows now, that there is something inherently wrong about brothers and intimacy like that, he really liked the sounds Tommy made. The sounds he makes. And really, what people don't know don't hurt 'em.

Later that night, it was Tommy that slammed Kevin against the wall, his voice rough with wanting. "Five thousand, Kevin," he said, hands pushing at the fabric of Kevin's shirt. "Five fuckin thousand, what were you thinking." And he knew that Kevin always thought that it felt wrong not to take a chance on things, that he was lucky because he had a family and friends and a Tommy. Not everyone has a Tommy, he would say when he was younger. Don't you know that, Tommy, not everyone has someone like you.

And the kisses that they shared were seldom if ever slow and wet; they were sharp edges and fierce, like some damn competition. And it always ended in a stalemate, both of them tired and out of breath and totally spent.

"I'm sorry, Tommy," he whispered, a squeak of bedsprings the only sound in the deserted house they still shared with their mother. The artist hands of his brother traced the planes of his back as Kevin rose above him, his mouth hovering. Their breath mixed, close and yet so far. "I'm sorry."