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The first time it happened, Emil hadn’t seen it coming.  In fact, he hadn’t anticipated a visit at all, since Michele had been ignoring his messages all night.

But, over an hour after his, ‘I thought we could all go out to dinner’ message – seen 19:47 – there was a knock on Emil’s hotel room door.

Because he wasn’t expecting anyone, he walked toward the door cautiously, crouching down, his fingers blindingly searching for something that might work as a weapon.  Just in case.  But when he opened the door, he sighed, relaxing his shoulders and setting his skate back on the ground.

“Mickey-”

“She’s on a date,” Michele said, his lower lip quivering.

“What?” Emil blinked and then furrowed his brow. “Who’s-”

“Sara,” Michele sobbed, face crumpling as fat tears rolled down his tan cheeks. “Sara s-said she c-couldn’t go to d-dinner because she had a d-d-date.”

In hindsight, Emil should have put a hand on his shoulder, told him his sister was a big girl and could take care of herself, and then made him clean himself up so they could go out to dinner with a few of the other competitors.

But, in that moment, all he could do was invite him in.

Michele cried himself to sleep that night, his head in Emil’s lap.  Emil just sighed and stroked his hair, murmuring soothing words his mother used to whisper in his ear when he would come home from the rink as a child, heartbroken that he couldn’t land his jumps like the other kids.

It became a regular thing after that.  Every competition, Emil would cancel any plans he had in order to stay in his hotel room and comfort his heartbroken friend.  Of course, he knew Michele wasn’t in love with his sister.  But they were twins, together their entire lives and once, during one of his sobbing rants, Michele admitted that it felt like half of him was being ripped away.

But Michele never showed it in front of her.  Emil was the only one to see that side of him.  He no longer trailed after Sara or exploded when she said she had plans with someone.  He just stood there and nodded, frighteningly quiet.  She probably assumed he was growing up.

One night, during an invitational event in Denver in the United States, Michele came to his room a little later than usual.  A knock on his door interrupted Emil just as he was slipping on his jacket – not that he was going to go out searching for him or anything.  And, after looking through the peephole, he put his coat down and quickly sent a reply all text – ‘Never mind. Found him.’ – and answered the door.

“Mickey, where have you-”

“Drink with me,” the other man said as he pushed his way in, thrusting a can of beer into Emil’s chest before taking off his shoes and coat.

“Mickey…” Emil gripped the cold can in his hands. “I’m not of legal age to drink here.”

At that, Michele snorted, whipping around to face him.  He reached up and pinched Emil’s beard, giving it a little tug. “I don’t think anyone’s gonna card you, Barbacchiotto.” He released his facial hair and gave him a couple pats on the cheek.

Judging by the nickname and slurred speech, and the way Michele nearly tripped as he made his way over to the bed, Emil figured that perhaps the remaining five cans he carried wouldn’t be the first he’d downed that evening.

“Mickey, what happened?”

The other man didn’t reply.  Or maybe he did.  It was hard to tell, since he’d flopped onto the mattress face first.

With a sigh, Emil set the can down and sat down beside him, gingerly unhooking Michele’s fingers from what was left of the six pack and placing it on the nightstand.

“Do you want to talk about it?” he asked, ruffling the other’s hair.  Michele only groaned in response.  “Then, do you want my lap?” he offered.  That was their usual comforting position, after all.  Even if it still made Emil blush when he thought about it.

Michele turned his head.  He had yet to look up at him, but at least he could breathe properly.  He took in a shaky breath and bit his lip.  He was hesitating, Emil could tell.  But he didn’t want to push him.  Michele had always been the one to open up.  Emil just needed to wait.

“They’re replaying men’s singles,” he said as he reached over for the remote on his nightstand. “Want to watch?” Michele just nodded.

It took some doing, but Emil managed to move the dead weight that was Michele Crispino so that he was under the covers, facing the television.  Emil tucked himself in next to him and snuggled against the soft down pillows.

They watched in silence for a bit until Michele finally spoke.  Emil grabbed the remote and lowered the volume.  He was ready.

“She’s engaged.”

“Engaged?” Well, that was the first he’d heard of it.  Then again, he didn’t get much of a chance to talk to Sara, since he had his hands full with her twin brother. “Well, congratu-”

“I haven’t met him.”

Emil opened his mouth and then shut it, unsure what to say.

“My baby sister is getting married and I haven’t even met him.”

“Well,” Emil began, treading carefully. “Has she not tried to introduce you to him?”

“She has.” Michele pouted, bringing his knees up to his chin. “But I refused.”

“Why?” He turned to face him, but Michele was still staring at the television. “They’ve been dating for a long time. It must be serious.”

“I know that.” The other man pinched the bridge of his nose. “But I just can’t.”

“Mickey-”

“I’m afraid that if I see the man who’s taking her away, I’m going to lose it,” he admitted, dropping a shaking hand to the bed. “She hates when I act like that and,” he paused, chewing on his bottom lip. “I don’t want to hurt her.”

“Really?” Emil raised his brows and puckered his lips. “Are you sure you just don’t want to meet him because of your allergy?”

“My…what?” Michele finally looked over at him.

“Your man allergy,” he said simply. “You know, how you’re completely allergic to men. Can’t touch ‘em. Couldn’t even handle a little hug from-”

“Wait. I’m not allergic to men.” Michele drew his brows down. “I just…don’t like getting close to them, is all.”

“Says the man in my bed.” Emil smirked.

“Shut up. You’re different.” Michele elbowed him and then crossed his arms over his chest.

“Am I now?” He snickered. “Well, I’m glad.” Michele made a little grunting noise in response and turned his attention back on the television.  “Though,” Emil continued. “As sweet as it is that you don’t want to hurt Sara by possibly murdering her fiancé…” He saw Michele flinch at the title. “Don’t you think it hurts her more that her big brother won’t meet the love of her life?”

A heavy silence fell over them.  Maybe Emil had overstepped.  Sure, he’d been comforting Michele after every competition as of late, but that didn’t mean he had to give him advice or be his moral compass.

“You’re right,” Michele said after another painfully awkward moment of silence. “Shit. You’re right.”

“Well, it’s been known to happen on occasion,” he replied as his heart began to beat normally again.

“I just…wanted to protect her.” He shifted, his head falling heavily on Emil’s shoulder.

“I know you did.” Emil wrapped an arm around him. “And you’ve done a great job.” He gave his shoulder a squeeze. “But now it’s someone else’s turn.”

Michele turned his head and sighed, his warm breath wafting over Emil’s exposed skin.  His pulse quickened, but he swallowed, trying to ignore the fluttering in his chest and hoping desperately that Michele couldn’t hear the rapid beating of his heart.

“I wonder if I was ever loved,” Michele said, voice barely above a whisper.

“Mickey, you-”

“What if all I’ve ever done was annoy her?” he went on. “What if she’s happier now that we’re apart?”

Emil growled and pulled his shoulder out from under him, nearly causing Michele to fall over.

“Emil, what the hell-”

“Michele Crispino, I know you’re not that stupid.” He frowned and placed his hands on either side of the other’s face, squishing his cheeks before he could respond.  “Sara loves you. I love you. You are loved!”

“You love me?” Michele asked, violet eyes wide.

“I…wait, what?” Emil’s cheeks burned. “I didn’t say-”

“You did.”

“Well, I meant, you know, as a friend. I love you as a friend,” he managed quickly.

“Then why are you crying?” Michele asked.

“I’m not-” but as Emil brought a hand to his cheek, he felt dampness there.  Then Michele’s hand was covering his, his face impossibly close. “Mickey, what-”

“Shh,” Michele hushed him and then pressed their lips together.  Emil wasn’t prepared for how warm and soft they were against his own.  Nor was he prepared for the hot tongue that entered his mouth, brushing against his and tasting like spearmint, stale beer, and everything Michele.

He lost himself in that kiss, not even noticing when his head hit the pillow.

“Emil…” Michele breathed and kissed him again.  And again and again.  Soon Emil was dizzy, either from lack of oxygen or the warmth of the body above his.  Feeling daring, he switched their positions, his own tongue tentatively seeking out Michele’s as he pressed his weight down on him.

But, it was late and their kisses grew languid and lazy as his eyelids felt heavier.  He fell to the side, his breathing harsh against Michele’s neck, the olive skin tinted pink from exertion.

“Um…” Emil swallowed. “Did that…I mean, was that…” He didn’t know how to ask, but it was just as well, as Michele was unable to answer.  The older man snored loudly, ruining whatever mood they’d created in an instant.

Emil sighed and rolled his eyes.  He supposed they could talk about the kiss in the morning.  But then he heard Michele speak and he looked up just as a tear rolled down the side of the other man’s face.

“Sara…m’sorry…” he mumbled and Emil shook his head.

He reached up and wiped the tear with the pad of his thumb.

“Tell her that in person, you idiot.” But he was smiling.  And when he kissed Michele’s cheek, he felt an arm wrap around him, securing him to his side, warmth bubbled up in his chest. “Idiot,” he repeated and closed his eyes.  He’d yell at him for falling asleep later.  So, with a yawn, he drifted off himself.