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People call him Paul, and people call him Briggs.

Some say he's an astronaut and some say he's just a tae bo instructor that also surfs with perfect form, catching wave after wave beneath the California sun. Mike knows there are probably a million other things that people can say about Paul Briggs, all of them alternating in being true and untrue and then everything in between.

If Mike has to say something about Paul Briggs, he will say that it is all rather circumstantial.

That nothing really sticks.

 

Right now though, Paul Briggs is stretched out across his bed, a single file in his hand. He looks up when Mike walks by and tosses the file to the end of his bed when Mike pauses by his door.

"What's up, Mikey? Can't sleep?" Briggs' lips twists, and it's not exactly a smile but it isn't a grimace either.

So Mike counts it as a win, a tiny victory in all the strikes he's already made.

"Yeah," he steps in with a shrug and then a small laugh, his eyes glancing to the pillow falling halfway to the ground. "Well, I mean, Graceland takes getting used to."

Briggs ducks his head down for a second before waving him in further. And while he doesn't exactly ask, in the way that Charlie would, Mike has always been smart. He understands what isn't being said (what is being offered even without the question marks in place).

So, he continues.

"Charlie told me that there're no secrets in Graceland."

"Did she?"

"Yeah, she did." Mike breathes out, turning his back to Briggs to stare out at the ocean beyond the windows instead, "except for you."

There are no immediate replies, and the silence only stretches. Mike glances back even though he can clearly see the other watching him in the glass. When Briggs stands up from where he has been sitting for a good portion of the night, Mike doesn't move, barely even breathes. He stills because Briggs has never once been what he expects.

While Mike knows he shouldn't be surprised, he still is when Briggs drags a hand across his back as he brushes by.

His smirk a wild curve across his lips when he says, "I'll tell you mine when you decide to tell me yours, Mike."

It shouldn't sound like a challenge but Briggs leaves Mike in his room, turning halfway from his own reflection in the window.

 

Paul Briggs is crazy on his good days.

The good kind of crazy that is all in the eyes and the slightest movements of his hands, the kind that doesn't spill over into actions until it's much too late to stop him. It induces heart attacks and Mike's ribs hurt from the way his heart has been pounding in his chest.

On his bad days, Mike doesn't have a word for what Briggs is.

 

This very second though, Mike's heart is slowing with the last half mile. His head winding down to something that isn't the steady thumps of his feet on sand or the Spanish vocabulary running on a loop.

Mike walks in through the front door, California sun buzzing over his skin and the ocean air still in his lungs. He pulls the ear buds out and pauses the stream of Spanish on his player, his tongue still curling halfway around the 'r' with a softened edge.

He drinks some of the OJ marked by Jakes in Sharpie before walking up the stairs for a shower. Mike pauses at the landing. Briggs' bedroom door is opened, his bed unmade, the pillow still falling halfway off the bed.

He hasn't come home last night.

Mike pretends that it doesn't bother him but goes to ask Charlie for advice anyway when his hair is dry and the weight of last night, of pressing too hard on a bruise that will probably never fade, isn't so heavy on his chest.

His proposal has no ulterior motives beyond his assignment.

It is not an apology.

 

Paul Briggs is good.

And that is both the truth and an understatement all on its own. Something paradoxical.

He is the kind of brilliant that people can't stop talking about, the kind that leaves behind legends that turn him into something just barely short of being god. It's the type of thing that he takes and makes into art before shrugging off the praises like lying through his teeth with a gun parallel to the temple of his head is just a game of rather convincing play pretend.

He's the very best.

And that's not a lie.

 

At the moment though, the rush of getting away with this many lies in front of Bello and his men leaves them both heady and punch drunk, like it's hard to breathe and even harder to talk the tremors from their tongues.

His adrenaline is contagious and it takes everything Mike knows to keep himself from shaking apart when he is sitting next to Paul Briggs and his glaring secrets. Mike stands up again without prompting and screams into the rushing winds until his throat is hoarse. He shouts incoherency into something he can't quite see, the nervous feeling of fear slowly bleeding out into the streets.

Glancing down at Briggs, Mike sees the man grinning without warning.

And then he is suddenly pulling Mike back down by an empty belt hoop of his cargo pants, the knuckles of his hand, all black and blue bruises, brushing along his hips.

"Sit down, baby, before you fall out of the car."

The laugh that follows is a wild thing, like a bonfire burning by the sea. And even when Mike is sitting back in the passenger's seat, riding shotgun in a too orange truck, Briggs' hand doesn't move away from where it sits on Mike's hip.

And he is perfectly content with that too.

 

Paul Briggs is not someone you can put on paper.

Though it's not like Mike Warren is trying all that hard.

XXX Kuro