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Csn Elliot Stabler make up for the lost years when Keller is released on parole, and will Chris allow him to try?
Not The Same Man
Title:Not The Same Man
Permission to archive: anywhere - just let me know, please.
Genre: Angst - AU
Pairing/Characters: Elliot Stabler and Chris Keller
Rating: FRAO - N17
Elliot sat in his car and shivered, despite the heater turned up to full.
In his hand balanced a folded piece of paper, its edges dancing slightly with the tremble in his fingers.
It had arrived at the 1-6 that morning, neatly addressed and seemingly innocent in its buff envelope. He had opened it while joking to Olivia about something, only to find himself tailing off, mid-sentence as the words on the paper registered.
He had read it through once. Placing it back in the envelope, he put his jacket on, ignored Olivia's questions and signed out. He had gotten in his car and driven all the way out to New Jersey with the envelope still clutched in his hand.
Parked down on the front where he had spent countless hours as a child, he sat staring out across the ocean, watching the seabirds swoop and dive, without really seeing them.
Ref: Case - ES:121590.61- Stabler/Keller.
The words and numbers flickered across his mind, distracting him. He glanced down at the piece of paper, reading the reversed line of typing through the sheet.
Case - ES:12590.61.
Funny, he couldn't remember his bank or his social security number by heart, but this one was burned into his memory.
Swallowing, he bit his lip and unfolded the paper again, forcing himself to read the words.
'As per terms set out in your adoption, we are obliged to inform you of the release, on parole, of prisoner Keller, Christopher on November 23rd at 9.00am.'
Pulling in a long and shaky breath, Elliot re-read the sentence twice more, as if repetition would change the words on the page.
Thirty four years had passed since they last saw each other. Thirty four years without a word or touch; with nothing to remember Chris by, save every guilty glance in a mirror.
Elliot's eyes were full with pooled, but unspilled tears as they flicked back to the birds and their endless swooping, the sea beneath them shimmering.
In the quiet of the bullpen, the squad room clock clicked through the seconds, calling attention to the unnatural silence. Olivia was giving evidence, Munch and Fin were out somewhere, and the phones hadn't rung for over half an hour.
There was no buzz of conversation or any echo of voices up the corridor and the quiet wasn't helping the creeping gravity of Elliot's eyelids. He was taking longer and longer to blink, his eyes gritty and irritable, two yawns shy of falling asleep on his blotter.
He rubbed his knuckles into them, watching the sparkly lights bloom in the darkness, wondering if it was possible to fall asleep sitting up.
He put the top back on his biro, closed the file and stood up. Several longs blinks later he was standing in front of Cragen's desk.
"I need to take some personal time."
Don Cragen's eyebrow rose. "That so?"
"Yeah - as of today." He stared at the wall behind the Captain's head.
408 long months since he'd last seen Chris, since they'd touched.
"You okay, son?" Cragen asked, startling him out of his thoughts. "You look pale."
Elliot gave a small smile as he blinked the pain away. "Fine."
Cragen's eyebrow rose. "Really?"
"Sure." Elliot shrugged. "Didn't sleep too well last night, is all."
"That makes a week of 'not sleeping well', Elliot. You sure everything's okay?"
Sighing, Elliot focused on the concerned face. He wasn't going to let this go easily.
"I just have some stuff on my mind, boss. No big deal."
Cragen nodded. "Family stuff?"
Elliot blew a small huff of ironic laughter. "Yeah. Kinda."
He had spent the past week wrestling with his conscience, his sense of duty and an overwhelming need to track Chris down.
He'd read the files, knew what Chris was, what he'd become - he knew what he was going to find if he knocked on the door of that half-way house.
He'd spent the last 34 years pretending he had been born a Stabler. And that had worked just fine until now.
"You wanna talk about it?" Cragen asked, jerking his chin up.
"No," Elliot told him, hoping his fake smile would appease. "Thanks, anyway."
He glanced at the clock on the wall. "I um... I thought I might go away. You know - try to sort it all out."
"You thinking of going someplace nice?"
He held the bitter laughter in. He pictured the piece of paper that bore the address of the Halfway House. "I haven't decided yet."
"Well, I think you should go for it. Enjoy yourself." Cragen laughed. "Go do something wild and out of character, Elliot; cut loose and go crazy." He chuckled.
Elliot watched him grinning and wondered if he'd think meeting up with his jailbird twin brother would meet anyone's criteria of 'something crazy'.
It sure met his.
Walking around the desk, Cragen reached out and clasped Elliot's hand hard. "I'll sign you off from today. Take what time you need, you have plenty coming. And whatever you choose to do, I hope it puts a smile back on your face, son."
Elliot nodded, already planning the fastest route to that address.
"Yeah, I hope so too."
Sitting in his car and staring out of the windshield was becoming Elliot's new bad habit. He was parked in the same place as yesterday, looking at the blue door across the street and wondering if his legs were strong enough to carry him across the sidewalk to it.
He'd caught a glimpse of a man who looked familiar, but with all the winter clothes, he couldn't be sure. He'd almost opened up the door to call out to the man, but his courage had failed him the instant his fingers curled over the handle.
So he was here again, another day of sitting still, thinking too much.
A pile of burger wrappers lay on the seat next to him, a number of them containing abandoned grease-laden meals. Half a cup of diet cola stood in the dash, its fizz long gone, along with most the day.
And still he sat, staring at the door.
Was Chris in? Had he missed him? He had no way of knowing - his legs refused to stop trembling long enough to walk over and find out. He was cold, bone-deep and shivering, but he just pulled his woolen hat down further and resisted switching the car's heater on out of some kind of perverse penance.
His eyes ached from another night sleeping in restless snatches. Exhaustion forced a jaw-creaking yawn out of him.
With an unexpected clunk, his car door flew open, morphing his yawn into a startled yelp. With no seatbelt to hold him, he fell sideways, lurching out into the sudden gap.
"C'mere, you fucker-"
Hands reached in and grabbed him by the shoulders of his jacket, pulling his body out of the car and onto the sidewalk in an untidy upside-down heap. He gave a surprised grunt as the air rushed out of his body.
Above him, someone yanked his woolen cap down over his eyes and dragged him the rest of the way out of the car. Fists pummeled his body, and Elliot lashed out blindly, trying to defend himself. He yelled and kicked, trying to scramble away across the wet sidewalk, feeling blow after blow raining down on him.
There was a single vicious kick to his side and then nothing more.
Elliot held his breath. Tentatively, he rolled over, his gloved hand moving to protect his face.
"Wait- stop! I'm a cop," he gasped, hoping the words wouldn't start the assault off again.
The other person did nothing. Taking that as a good sign, Elliot moved his gloved hand towards his inside jacket pocket to get his badge.
Someone batted his hand away. The hand grabbed at his cap and snatched it off, taking a good few hairs with it.
Elliot winced. He looked up, blinking - staring up at himself.
"Fuck," he said, very softly, gazing into the same eyes he'd looked at in the motel mirror that morning.
A familiar mouth dropped open, the blue eyes widened. "No way," the same voice breathed, as Chris sat back on his heels.
Elliot sat up cautiously. He pushed himself upright, unable to take his eyes off the other man.
Chris was kneeling on the wet ground, shocked and silent. He still held Elliot's hat bunched in his fist. Slowly, he held it out. Elliot took it without speaking. He jammed it in his pocket.
"Fuck me," Chris whispered.
Elliot leaned against his car, still enthralled with the face in front of him. It was exactly as he remembered, exactly as he imagined. Exactly as it appeared in his dreams.
"Jesus fucking Christ," Chris whispered. He stood abruptly, his knees popping.
Elliot smiled a little. He listened for the pop in his own knees as he got to his feet more slowly.
"How'd you-?" Chris began.
He shrugged. "Traced you on the computer."
Chris frowned. "Fuck. You really a cop?" His expression hardened. "So you know about me?"
"Uh-huh." Elliot reached out and closed the car door, beeping the alarm. He jerked his chin towards the blue door. "You got coffee in there?"
Chris nodded, his eyes still hooded beneath his frown.
"Good, I'm freezing," Elliot said. He stood, staring at his brother, waiting for an invitation.
Chris turned and abruptly and began to walk across the street to the Halfway House, and after a moment, Elliot followed.
Quietly closing the door when he reached the second floor apartment, Elliot slipped his jacket and gloves off and laid them on the scarred kitchenette table. He glanced around the sparse room, noting the mismatched furnishings. Typical parole lodgings.
He sat down without waiting to be asked, wincing as he did.
"You okay?" Chris asked, bringing two mugs over.
"Sure. You still punch like a girl," he lied, with a smile, taking a mug.
"Fuck you," Chris replied, a grin twitching at his lips. He sat down opposite, cupping his drink.
They sat in silence, staring at one another.
"So?" Elliot sipped his drink. "How y'doin'?"
"How'd you think?"
Elliot shrugged. They sat a while longer, just mapping each other's face with their eyes.
At length, Chris looked away, down at the table. He scratched at a cigarette burn. "You really a cop?"
He shook his head. "Un-fucking-believable." He glanced up. "You know about me?"
Elliot nodded. "Yeah."
Elliot shrugged. "Pretty much. Like I said: computers."
"Uh-huh." Chris gave him a long, measured look, only partly defiant. "And?"
"Whaddya want me to say?"
Chris shrugged one shoulder. "Dunno. You're a cop, you must have something to say about the whole fucking mess." He went back to tracing the lines and burns on the wood.
"Yeah; I missed you."
Chris glanced up.
"Every day for 34 years."
There was no reply to that. Elliot stared across the table and wondered if his face was as hard to read as this man's. "Was that the wrong thing to say?" he said eventually.
"No," Chris said, frowning. He stared, the intensity of his gaze making Elliot squirm.
"You sure 'bout that?"
"I never expected-" The frown deepened. "I never thought I'd see you again," he said with a tiny shake of the head.
"You see me in every mirror you look into."
Chris gave a small smile. "Don't bet on that," he said softly.
Elliot didn't try to work that out. He just smiled back. "Well, I'm glad to see you."
Chris said nothing, and his silence in turn pissed Elliot off and hurt him. He took a big swallow of coffee. "This is going well," he said with some bitterness.
That got a reaction. Chris sat back in the chair. "You shocked the fuck outta me, Elliot. Parked out front, spying on me for two goddamned days, like-"
He barked a harsh laugh. "Like you was some cop waitin' for me to fuck up my parole so you could throw me back in the slammer."
Elliot held up his hands. "I'm sorry. That wasn't how I meant to do this - I just didn't have the balls to walk up to your door and say 'hi'."
He sighed and rubbed his face. "Big tough cop, huh?"
"You always were a pussy."
Elliot's head shot up, a frown and a fight brewing, until he saw the sly grin and wicked light in the blue eyes. He shook his head, smiling. "Yeah, kiss my ass, shitface."
That got a grunt in reply.
Elliot sighed. "Still the great conversationalist, I see."
Chris snorted. "And you're still as ugly as fuck."
Elliot laughed for the first time in a week.
He relaxed, slumping back in the ugly wooden chair. He hissed as his back hit the rails, jerking back upright.
"Punch like a girl, huh?" Chris accused. He rolled his eyes and moved to stand in front of the other man. A strange smile crossed his face. "I wanna see."
Chris jerked his chin. "Show me."
Elliot shook his head. "I'm fine."
Fingers clicked under Elliot's nose. "Show me."
Sighing, Chris quickly moved behind the chair and grabbed a handful of sweater. He pulled it up to the nape of Elliot's neck, dragging the tee shirt up with it.
"Hey! What the fuck!" Elliot squirmed, trying to turn around. Chris planted a hand on his neck, bending him over and holding him in place.
"Be still," he ordered, peering down at the marks on the goose-bumped skin.
"Chris-" Elliot complained, reaching behind, one hand scrabbling ineffectually at his clothes.
"Stop that." Chris peered at what he had done. The mark on the ribs was turning a nasty boot-shaped shade of purple.
"Damnit! Chris, it's cold!"
"Oh, hush, ya big baby." Letting the sweater fall back, Chris released his hold on Elliot's neck.
As Elliot sat up, Chris leaned in and kissed the side of his head. "Sorry, man."
Elliot paused, staring as his brother sat back down. He slowly tucked himself back in.
"Okaaay," he said carefully.
Across the table, Chris grinned. "Course, if I'd known it was you, I'd have hit ya harder."
Chris winked and lounged back in the chair, his legs stretching out, invading Elliot's space. He pushed the other man's boots aside. "Always could make ya cry easy."
They eyeballed one another. Chris folded his arms, grinning. He wagged one foot back and forth, insolently.
Elliot sighed. "Whatever," he said, conceding. He shook his head and fiddled with the empty coffee mug. The unexpected affection had unsettled him. Rough-housing was part of the known equation, kissing wasn't.
"So. Whaddya want?"
Elliot looked up and frowned. "What d'you mean?"
Chris jerked his chin. "Simple enough question."
Elliot's frown deepened. "I don't want anything."
"So why d'ya come looking for me?"
With an exasperated sigh, Elliot folded his arms too. "Geez, I don't know, Chris, maybe I wanted to see you again after thirty-odd years."
Rolling his eyes, Elliot pulled a face. "Hell if I know. Maybe I just wanted to make sure you were still an asshole?"
Chris laughed. "And?"
"You are." Elliot smiled, unable to help himself.
"You betcha." Chris winked.
They smiled goofily at one another across the table as if the last 34 years hadn't happened. Chris stuck his tongue out and Elliot immediately stuck his out further. He felt about ten years old again.
He could feel his eyes filling up. He glanced away.
"Asshole," he muttered not unkindly.
*** The Warning***
Another mug of coffee was dealt out and Elliot began to feel a little better. He stretched his legs back out in front of him, jostling with Chris's for the most comfortable position. Chris grumbled, but allowed him to shove his legs aside, granting a small victory.
"Hey-" Chris kicked his brother's shoe. "You married?"
Elliot tried not to pull a face. "Divorced."
"I know." He almost laughed. "Four times? Jesus, Christopher."
The other man grinned and spread his hands. "What can I say? I'm a loveable kinda guy."
Elliot looked up and stared at him until the grin faded. "Yeah, well-" he said eventually. "So I'm not good at commitment." He pouted. "Neither are you, by the look of it."
Elliot clenched his teeth. "Once. I only married once."
"Whatever." Chris stared out of the window. His arms folded across his chest.
Elliot waited for another comment, but none came. He sat back carefully and tipped his mug, looking into its shallow depths.
"This isn't like I imagined," he said at last.
Chris looked around. "Yeah? Well, I don't have a lotta input about where they put me."
Elliot shook his head. "No- not the apartment. I meant this-" He waved his hand. "Us."
Chris looked at him. "Meaning?"
"Oh, I don't know. I just didn't imagine..." He trailed off with a shrug.
"What did you expect?"
Elliot chewed his lip, his eyes darting everywhere but Chris's face. "Dunno."
Chris snorted. "Now who's the great conversationalist?"
They sat a while longer in the silence. Outside, a dog barked, a child cried, and in the distance, a siren wailed unexpectedly loud.
Chris chuckled. "One sound guaranteed to get both our heart-rates up."
Elliot looked at him and laughed. "You're crazy."
A strange expression crossed Chris's face. He stood up and stared out of the window. Elliot watched, waiting out the silence, wondering if he'd said the wrong thing again. After a long pause, Chris turned back to look at him.
"You should go."
Elliot began to speak, but Chris shook his head, stepping back towards him. "No, listen to me, Elliot. I'm no good for you."
"I'll be the judge of that."
"You're a cop - you shouldn't be hanging around with me." He smiled bitterly. "I'll ruin your reputation."
"You're my family."
"I'm no good."
Elliot sighed. "Get off the cross, man, someone needs the wood."
Chris laughed. He stood looking down at Elliot. "You still got a smart mouth, you know."
"Some things you never grow out of."
"I guess." Reaching out a hand, Chris slowly traced the edge of Elliot's face with his fingertips. Elliot shivered.
"You don't remember?"
Chris smiled, nodding. "Yeah." He crooked a finger and wiggled it behind Elliot's ear, chuckling as the other man cringed and moved his head away.
"I remember," he said softly. He slid his hand down to cup Elliot's cheek, his expression unreadable.
Elliot regarded him, his hand paused, ready to push the wrist away. He waited, but nothing happened.
"What?" he said, puzzled.
Chris just stared down, not speaking. Eventually, he leaned down slightly, searching Elliot's face with intense eyes.
"What do you want from me?"
Chris rubbed his thumb across a cheek rough with two days stubble. "Everyone wants something."
Elliot let his eyes slip shut briefly, enjoying the touch. "I just-" He leaned into the caress. "I just knew the boy - now I want to know the man," he whispered.
"You won't like him," Chris told him, pressing his thumb to the skin hard enough to make Elliot open his eyes and frown.
"I'll take my chances."
Chris nodded and stood up straight, lightly slapping Elliot's cheek. "Fair warning, man."
He breathed deeply and grinned, his mood flipping back.
"I'm hungry. You wanna go eat?"
*** Fogel's Bar***
Elliot bought the food and watched it disappear, chased by a couple of beers and some easy-going conversation. Nothing heavy, just bikes, football and cars.
Neither of them seemed to have any urge to wander down memory lane.
Elliot relished the meal, the first one in over a week he seemed to actually taste.
Picking up a french fry, he pointed it across the table at Chris's clean plate.
"Hungry?" he asked with a smile.
Chris grinned and shoved his plate away. "No sense leavin' it hanging about, man."
Elliot's stomach dropped with a mixed-up roll of guilt and pity. He laid the fry back down. One of the classic 'child-in-care' syndromes was eating ridiculously fast.
He'd seen it countless times.
Chris kicked his foot. "Hey, you gonna leave those?"
Elliot nodded and pushed the plate away. "Yeah. I'm done." He watched his brother neatly pick the fries out of the ketchup, licking his fingers clean between bites.
He sipped his beer, forcing it past the lump in his throat, watching as Chris sucked the grease from each of his fingers.
"So, El. Where you stayin'?"
"I booked into a motel." He cleared his throat. "Not very far away."
"You been watchin' my place long?"
Elliot studied the remains of his beer and had the grace to look bashful. "No."
"Uh-huh." Chris drained his glass. "Didn't waste much time, did you?"
Elliot looked up. "I don't understand."
"You know - trackin' me down."
Smiling, Elliot shook his head. "I told you. I wanted to see you again. Is that so wrong?"
Elliot sat back. "Man, you really do have issues about this, don't you?"
"Look at it from my point of view; I'm out less than 2 weeks and you show up. Gotta wonder if you're checkin' up on me, or something. Doin' the cop-thing."
"Jesus!" Elliot ran his hand through his hair. "I just wanna make contact - get to know you again."
"You coulda come see me any time after the age of 21."
Elliot paused. He worked his jaw, choosing his words. "You were in prison then. You were in prison most of your adult life."
Chris shrugged. "So?"
"I-" Elliot chewed his bottom lip. "I didn't want-"
"Didn't wanna dirty yourself?"
"Damnit, Chris!" Elliot slapped his hand on the table. "Gimme a break, here!"
He lowered his voice as several tables looked over to them. He leaned forward.
"I was busy getting my life together by then. New wife, new job, the whole thing. Yes, I didn't make time for you - I won't lie about that. But I never forgot you."
"Oh, fuck you!" Elliot sat back in exasperation. "You're my brother. We share the same birthday, the same face, the same body, for Christsake. Maybe I shoulda made the effort to visit you inside, who knows?" He blew out a breath. "But cut me some slack, here. I'm tryin' to make up for that, now."
Chris nodded. "Okay."
Elliot glanced across, uncertain. "Okay?"
"Uh-huh. Forget it."
"You still angry?"
Smiling, Chris reached over the table and punched Elliot's arm. "Nope. What I am, is a piece of shit, bro. I don't blame you stayin' away."
"You made some mistakes-"
Chris gave a grim smile. "Trust me, I'm a piece of shit." He narrowed his eyes, looking Elliot's face up and down. "Maybe you should get away while you can."
Another punch, and his grin widened. "Forget it. I'm just joking."
Elliot rubbed his arm. "Yeah, some joke. And quit that, will you? It hurts."
Chris made as if to do it again, but pulled the punch at the last moment, laughing. "Cry baby."
Elliot scowled. "Fuck you."
Chris blew a kiss at him, and winked.
"Hey, there, guys. Can I get you anything else?" The waitress smiled widely down at them.
Chris looked her up and down and leaned back against the bench. "Well, baby, that all depends on what's on offer."
Elliot's eyebrow rose as he watched the waitress's smile widen.
"Yeah?" she said, putting the tip of her pencil between her lips. "That so?"
"Sure is, baby." Chris stretched his arm along the back of the bench and spread his legs, a cocky grin all over his face. "So, whatcha got?"
Elliot looked from her to his brother in amazement.
The waitress lifted one shoulder and tossed her hair back. "Whaddya want?" she replied with a giggle, the pencil lodged between her perfect teeth.
Chris winked and gave a huge smile. "Oh, I'm sure I can think of something you can help me with-" He cocked his head, looking at her chest. "Saaand-ii," he said with a sensuous growl.
Elliot choked back a laugh. "Chris-" he started to say.
The other man glanced over, then back to Sandi. He nodded to himself.
He reached his hand out to rest it on Elliot's shoulder and looked up at the woman with a wicked grin. "Tell me; you ever done the 'two guy' thing, Sandi?"
Elliot choked on a mouthful of beer. He wiped his mouth on his hand and turned to stare at Chris, appalled.
The woman tilted her head in a faux-coy manner. "Maybe," she said.
"You like it?"
A flutter of eyelids and a shrug. "Yeah, I guess."
"Ever been there with two brothers?"
Sandi shook her head. "No, and I ain't never had twins." She giggled, looking from one man to the other. "Might be kinda fun."
"Oh, it'd be more than, fun, baby." Chris purred. He leaned sideways towards Elliot and slid his knuckles up the side of his brother's face.
Elliot jerked away, shocked. "Chris!"
The other man smirked. "Don't mind him, Sandi - he's the shy one." He leaned forward. "Me, on the other hand, baby ? I'm not a shy boy at all." He reached over and ran his hand up the back of her knee.
Giggling, the woman moved, but not out of reach, Elliot noted.
He frowned. "Chris- I don't think-"
"What's up, bro?" He laughed. "No problem - we're both single men."
"Relax, man." Chris smiled at him.
Pushing his glass aside, Elliot shook his head. "I don't think this is a good idea."
"I do." Chris leaned back in his seat and put his hand on Elliot's knee. "I think it's a great idea. Sandi thinks so, too." He glanced at the young woman. "You'd like to find out what it's like, having twins; yeah, Sandi?"
Elliot glanced at her. Her gaze flickered from one to the other. She licked her lips. "Sure. You're cute."
Chris laughed and squeezed Elliot's knee. "Great; what time you get off, baby?"
Chris nodded. "Sounds good."
Elliot pushed the hand away. "Okay, I gotta say I'm not happy with this." He sat back, folding his arms.
"Relax." Chris smiled at him. "Think of it as a 'reunion' gift."
"Oh, Jesus-" Elliot screwed his eyes up.
"Oh, yeah," Chris told her. "We got separated at ten years, 'an Elliot here just found me again."
Sandi made a funny noise, and Elliot opened his eyes. She had her hand to her mouth. "Oh, man, that is just so sad!"
"Yeah-" Chris gave her puppy-dog eyes. "We got a lot catching up to do."
"Oh, for God's sake!" Elliot shook his head and stood up. He scowled down at Chris. "I'm going to the bathroom. Then I'm going back to the motel. Alone," he said firmly.
"C'mon, man-" Chris reached for him.
"I said, no!"
Turning, Elliot caught the waitress's eye and blushed. "I'm sorry," he muttered, pushing past her.
He didn't look up from the linoleum until he stood in front of the washroom sink.
He stared at the face in the mirror under the stark fluorescent lighting.
Bending, he turned the water on with a savage twist and scooped up a handful. Splashing it on his face, he looked at his reflection. Water dripped off his nose and beaded his eyelashes. He still didn't recognize the face he saw.
He let his eyes slide shut, suddenly bone-tired.
"Hey." The voice didn't make him jump like he thought it should.
"Elliot?" A hand touched the back of his neck.
"Don't." Pulling away, Elliot faced his other reflection.
"You mad at me? Chris managed to look both innocent and hurt.
Elliot sighed. "Don't you think-" He paused, and took a long minute to compose himself. "You just embarrassed me, okay?"
"Hey, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to." He pointed. "You're dripping." Elliot snatched a handful of paper towels and scrubbed hard at his face.
"I didn't mean to embarrass you, man. I just thought we could, you know - hook up with her."
Elliot threw the towels in the trash. "Hook up? Are you nuts? You just met her!"
Chris shrugged. "So?"
"She could be- She might have-" Elliot waved his hands hopelessly. "You know, anything."
Chris laughed softly. "Hey, man, that's what condoms are for. It's cool."
"Offering my services, isn't!" Elliot all but yelled.
"Geez!" Chris held up his hands. "Relax, man! I just wanted us to do something nice together."
Elliot threw his hands up in utter exasperation. "Talking together is nice! Going out someplace together is nice! Hooking us both up with a woman, isn't! Can't you see that?!"
Chris stared at the floor. "I guess," he muttered.
Rolling his eyes, Elliot leaned against the sink and took some calming breaths. "Look, I kinda see where you're coming from, but it really isn't my scene, okay?"
"What? Women?" Chris smirked.
"Casual sex," Elliot snapped.
Chris rolled his eyes and sighed. "Okay, okay- Geez. It's just that-" He stopped and looked away.
Elliot waited for him to continue. "What?"
Chris toed his boot on the edge of the floor tiles. "I just ain't had sex since I got out, is all. I'm horny."
Elliot stood in silence for a long time. He resisted the urge to give the other man a playful punch.
"Yeah? S'that right?" He smiled a little. "Two weeks isn't all that long; and besides, you seemed to be doing pretty well back there. I'd have thought you'd jump right back on the scene."
"Yeah, well-" Chris jerked one shoulder dismissively. "Ever thought I might be nervous?"
Chris glanced at him before looking away. "Having sex with a woman again."
Elliot began to smile but instead, a frown creased his face. "What?"
Chris looked up at him, a ghost of a smile on his face. "C'mon, bro'. I was in prison for a lotta years."
Elliot fought to keep his face straight. "You had-?"
Chris snorted ironic laughter. "I was no choirboy."
"Oh, Jesus." Elliot put his hand to his eyes and scrubbed at them.
"I ain't gay."
"I never said you were."
"Don't you dare judge me."
"Fuck you were." Chris's voice turned hard.
Elliot moved his hand and looked at him. "I wasn't." he repeated.
"Yeah? Coulda fooled me."
Elliot screwed up his face, confused. "How'd this suddenly become about me being in the wrong?" he said.
"You tell me." Chris folded his arms. "I just spilled my guts to you, and you're suddenly Mother fuckin' Theresa."
"Oh, come on!" Chris just stared at him. Elliot balled up his fists. "Don't make me out to be the bad guy, here."
"No- couldn't do that ; you're the 'good' twin," he sneered.
Elliot stared. "You think that?"
Another shrug. "You tell me."
"Jesus, Chris. I'm not perfect. Not by a long shot." He gave a bitter laugh. "I'd still be married if I was."
"You ain't fucked up your life like I have."
Elliot massaged the back of his neck. "Well-"
Chris stepped close before he got the chance to finish. He held up a finger under Elliot's nose. He spoke with gritted teeth and furious scowl.
"Don't tell me faking tax returns or some pissy parking ticket comes close to where I've been, you arrogant bastard. But I paid for my crimes, y'hear? I paid in more ways than you'll ever know."
Elliot stared at this angry reflection of himself. It unnerved him; it felt too close for comfort. The expression he saw scared him - did he ever look like that?
He nodded. "I know. And I'm sorry."
Chris didn't move; he held his hand where it was, his jaw working back and forth, no words making it past his tight lips.
"Chris, I'm - I'm sorry I really am." Elliot reached out and put his hand on the back of the other man's neck. He squeezed it gently and pulled Chris forward until both foreheads touched. "Peace, okay? I don't want to fight with you."
Slowly, Chris relaxed. He sighed and nodded his head, rubbing against Elliot's.
"Hell, you'd lose, anyway."
Elliot chuckled. "Probably."
"You think so?"
"I know so." Chris flashed sudden grin. "Remember this?"
His hands darted up, one hand grabbing Elliot's ear, the other going across his neck as he shoved the other man against the wall,
"OW! Fuck!" Elliot choked out. "Okay! I remember!"
Chris pushed himself harder into Elliot's body, squashing him while twisting his ear.
Elliot struggled. "Okay, Chris- Enough!"
Slowly, Chris eased his arm from across Elliot's windpipe. He let go of the earlobe.
"Yeah." Elliot rubbed his neck. "You win."
They stared at one another, nose-to-nose across the space of maybe four inches. Eventually, Chris grinned.
"I suppose you're happy, now you've hurt me again?" Elliot grumbled, pulling at his ear.
Chris didn't reply. He just stared, his smile fading. He blinked several times, glanced down to his boots, then very gently moved to put his arm around Elliot's neck. He hooked his chin over the other man's shoulder and carefully pulled him close.
Surprised, and not a little wary, Elliot placed his hands on Chris's back. "Hey?" he said, puzzled by the sudden mood-change. "What's up?"
Chris pressed closer and buried his nose in Elliot's neck. "I'm sorry," he muttered.
"I don't mean to hurt you." He inhaled deeply and breathed out into Elliot's neck, making the other man shiver. "I just can't fucking help myself."
Elliot relaxed and hugged back. "It's okay. I'm fine." He ran his hands across wide shoulders. "We'll put it down to poor impulse control, huh?"
Chris huffed against the warm skin. "Yeah. Somethin' like that."
Elliot chuckled and squirmed, head tilting. "Ugh-tickles."
"Oh, yeah." Chris pulled away. He hesitated, then leaned in to gently kiss Elliot's cheek. "I forgot; sorry."
Mouth falling open in amazement, Elliot stared as Chris moved away to stand in front one of the stalls. He watched as the other man pissed, without really seeing, his mind still focused on the kiss. The second kiss in one day; second in their 44 years.
Chris shook and zipped up. He turned around.
"You done staring?"
Elliot blushed. "I wasn't."
Chris laughed. "Yeah? You keep tellin' yourself that, baby. Can't say I blame you." He pulled the door open and strutted out into the diner.
Elliot grabbed the door as it was closing. "I wasn't staring!" he protested.
"Sure, whatever." Chris waited for him to catch up. "But you don't gotta wonder, El, you could just ask."
Chris winked. "To take a look, of course."
"What!?" Elliot's mouth dropped.
"Only natural." He stepped out into the night, chuckling.
"I wasn't- I don't- Chris!" Elliot trailed after, irritated by the laughter.
"Relax, I'm just yanking ya chain." Chris rolled his eyes. "You are so easy, man. Just like I remember."
"Bastard," Elliot told him without much conviction.
They stood side by side on the sidewalk, staring into the dark. Eventually they glanced at one another.
"So, you gonna come by tomorrow?" Chris asked, almost shyly.
"Think you might want to play out?"
Chris smiled. "I'd like that."
"I gotta report in with my PO, but I should be done by 6."
"Okay." Elliot held his hand out for Chris to shake. "Six, then."
Chris looked at the outstretched hand, raised and eyebrow and shook his head. He clasped the hand, chuckling softly to himself.
They stood on the sidewalk for a moment, breath huffing in the night. Elliot glanced across to Chris and then up to the stars.
"I look at you, and I think 'there but for the grace of God', y'know?" he said quietly.
Chris looked up too. "You got all the breaks, huh?"
"I guess." He glanced over. Chris was still staring up, his breath evaporating into the dark. "Do you resent me for that?"
Chris looked at him and grinned. "Nah. Just one of life's little 'technicalities', huh?"
Elliot smiled back. "Let's hear it for those, huh?"
"Amen, brother." Chris slapped his shoulder as he walked away into the night.
Elliot stood in the shower, the hot water hitting the top of his head and streaming down his body. He braced his hands on the wall and blew out a long breath.
It had been a strange day. He wasn't used to having so much time on his hands. He'd risen late, had brunch then wandered around the town for as long as he could stand, browsing in stores he would never normally enter.
He'd bought a new catcher's mitt for Dickie, and scarves for the girls, trying not to wince at the price. Salve to his conscience for taking this trip instead of seeing them.
He rinsed the last of the soap from his hair and turned off the water. Five thirty; he should hurry if he was to make Chris's place by six.
They found a different bar, after Elliot refused to step foot in last night's place.
"Ya big pussy," Chris teased. "Sandi was well in to it."
"Excuse me for having morals," Elliot replied, picking up the menu. He made a show of studying the list so he wouldn't have to look at the other man and get into a discussion about Sandi.
"Order what you want."
"Oh, I will," Chris grinned. "'Cause you're buyin'."
Elliot grunted. "Again."
"I figure you can afford it."
Elliot said nothing. It was true.
Another gloriously unhealthy meal was followed by enough beer to awaken Elliot's sense of adventure. He challenged Chris to a game of pool.
"What the hell was that?" he teased as Chris's ball bounced off the edge of the table and rolled across the floor.
"Fuck!" Chris laughed and went after it. "That was my trick shot."
"More like your crap shot," Elliot told him, taking the ball from the other man and lining it up.
"You say that now, but I'm gonna whip your ass."
"Yeah, yeah." Elliot leaned in and held his breath. He drew back the cue.
Something flicked hard across his rear as he took his shot, and the ball went wide.
"Hey!" he turned accusingly. "What the fuck was that all about?"
Chris held up his hands. "What?"
"I'm taking that shot again," Elliot grumbled, rescuing the ball. "And keep your goddamned hands to yourself, this time."
Chris laughed. "God, you're so pissy when you're drunk!"
"I am not drunk." He bent over again, closing one eye to measure the shot.
A flash of movement and he stood upright. "Don't you fucking dare," he warned, pointing the cue as Chris stepped away from him.
"You know damn well, what." Elliot tried not to smile at the innocent expression. "Just 'cause you're losing."
"Yeah, right. Listen for the fat lady, loser, it's all over for you." Giving the other man a stern look, he bent and quickly took his shot. Two balls dropped into pockets.
"I win." He pointed to the bar. "Your turn to buy," he said.
Chris rolled his eyes and replaced the cue. "I still say you had an unfair advantage."
"And that would be?" Elliot grinned as he stood beside the other man at the bar.
"I don't know - but I'm sure you have one."
Elliot bumped the shoulder nearest to him. "Sore loser."
Chris gave him a look that made Elliot laugh. He'd seen that look a thousand times in the mirror.
"Maybe if you'd have practiced more in the pool hall, instead of goofing off someplace you'd be a better player."
"I learned a whole lot more around the back of the church hall than you learned playing with someone else's balls." He laughed.
"Spare me." Elliot took his bottle and turned, leaning in the bar. He took a long drink, savoring the cold burn down the back of his throat and the gentle teasing. "I liked the owner's niece," he said, looking at his bottle and wiping his mouth on the back of his hand. "She let me put my hand up her sweater - the pool table wasn't the only thing I played with there."
Chris didn't reply. Elliot looked over at him.
He was staring across the room, a slight frown creasing his face. Elliot nudged him.
"What?" The blue eyes never left the opposite side of the room.
"Earth to Chris?" Elliot nudged harder. "Hello?"
Not acknowledging him, Chris turned, placed his bottle on the bar and stepped away. "I gotta piss," he said and took off.
Mouth open, bottle poised to drink, Elliot stared at the back of Chris's head as he strode through the crowd towards the washroom. He lowered the beer, bewildered at the sudden departure.
Five minutes later, most of his beer gone and a tickle of cop-warning scratching the back of his mind, Elliot thumped his won bottle down and walked towards the bathroom.
No-one took that long to piss. Something was wrong.
He shoved the door to the men's washroom open and narrowed his eyes. There were around half a dozen men standing around in a loose group. He spotted Chris straight away and walked over.
"What's up?" he said, checking the other occupants for signs of trouble.
"Hey, El." Chris smiled. "Just a sec." He turned to a guy in grubby jeans. "Twenty, right?"
"Uh-huh." The guy held out his hand.
Chris slapped a note down. "This shit had better be good," he said.
"It's primo, man." The guy slipped the money into his pocket and turned to another man. "Whaddya want?"
Sudden realization bubbled up into Elliot's mind. His eyes widened. "Chris!" he hissed, grabbing the other man's arm. "What the hell are you doing?"
Chris grinned crazily. "Getting us somethin' to do later, bro'!" He held up a large joint.
"Goddamnit!" Taking a firm grip on Chris's arm, Elliot dragged him aside. "Are you fucking insane!? You're on probation!" He grabbed Chris's wrist and it held up. "This is a violation!"
"It's just weed, man. Relax."
Elliot struggled to speak without shouting. "It is a *violation*, Chris!" He shook the wrist, hard. "A fucking one-way ticket back."
Chris's face darkened. "Let go."
"Lose it," Elliot told him.
"Fuck you. This cost me twenty."
Elliot gave the wrist a savage shake. "I said, *lose* it!"
With a glare, Chris snatched his hand away. "Or what? You gonna turn me in?" He pointed the roll-up at the other man. "Fuck you. You ain't my PO or my conscience."
"You don't *have* a fucking conscience!"
Chris reared back, his expression a mix of hurt and anger. "You don't know me."
Elliot balled his hands into fists. "I won't let you do this."
Chris gave his an incredulous look. "You won't *let* me?"
"Fuck you!" Turning, Chris stared to walk away, putting the joint in his mouth.
Furious, Elliot quickly took two steps and grabbed the back of his brother's shirt. He jerked him around, reaching for the cigarette. He slapped it out of Chris's mouth into the urinal.
Chris's fist came up before Elliot could do anything to avoid it. It hit him squarely on the side of his head, snapping him back.
Staggering backwards, Elliot lashed out, catching Chris a glancing, but solid uppercut.
Maybe two seconds flashed by between them before either moved - then with a snarl, Chris launched himself across the bathroom at Elliot.
Slamming from one wall to another, Elliot felt the breath driven from his lungs. Sharp corners on mirrors and fittings would give him interesting bruises in the morning, but he fought back hard.
He fought back with anger, indignation and not a little fear.
It was a lifetime since he had really gotten into it with his brother, but he remembered how it went. No holding back - no mercy.
But he wasn't the weaker twin any more, he was older now and knew a thing or two about fighting. His punches landed with meaty smacks. There were no words, just grunts and panted breaths.
Chris fought dirty. Fingers gouged, knees jammed and Elliot narrowly avoided having his nose broken by a vicious head-butt. He jabbed the other man in the belly several times, following it up with a fist to the face.
"Break the fuck up!" A yell and hands reached between them, grabbing their shirts. Elliot emerged from his haze of violence as he registered the voice of the barman. He shoved Chris away and held his hands up.
"Okay, okay-" he gasped.
Breathing heavily, Chris stood upright, his eyes narrow and angry. He wiped at a smear of blood on his lip, looked down at it, then at Elliot.
Elliot fought back the urge to smile at the flash of surprise he saw there. He had never bloodied his brother before. There was a first time for everything.
"What the fuck is going on?" The barman held them both at arm's length.
"Nothing," Chris smirked. "Just a little difference of opinion, man."
"Looks like it." The barman folded his arms. "We gonna have a problem, here?"
Chris swaggered across the bathroom and slung his arm around Elliot's neck. "Nope. No problem 'tween us." He jerked Elliot close and grinned at the barman. "We're just goofin' around."
"Looked pretty serious goofing to me."
"Nah-" Chris all but strangled Elliot with the one-armed hug. "We're cool. Ain't that right, bro'?"
Elliot gave him a narrow-eyed look.
"You want I should call the cops?" the man asked Elliot.
Shaking his head as best he could in a headlock, Elliot grabbed at the elbow under his throat and loosened it. "Nah. It's cool."
"That's ma boy!" Chris laughed loudly, turned and planted a big sloppy kiss on Elliot's mouth.
The barman pulled a face and walked away. "Just get your asses outta here," he said as he left the bathroom. "Before I call the cops myself."
Elliot grimaced and turning his head, wiped his mouth on his shoulder. "Jesus," he muttered as Chris untangled himself from around his neck.
"That was gross, man." He said, giving his mouth another wipe. Blood and spit stained his shirt.
Chris looked blank. "Huh?"
Elliot pulled a face. "That kiss."
There was an expression of hurt on the other man's face that gave Elliot a guilty stab. "Don't do that again," he said.
"Do what? Kick your ass?"
Elliot shook his head. "Kiss me like that." He frowned. "I don't like kissing men." He hated how lame that sounded.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Elliot sighed. "No. It's just that-" He closed his eyes. He was tired and sore and couldn't think properly. He rolled his shoulders, wincing. "Brothers aren't supposed to kiss that way, Chris."
Chris laughed. "What a crock of shit!" He reached out a hand and shoved Elliot hard. "You prefer that?"
Elliot staggered back, banging into the sink. "Ow! No, not really. You've given me enough bruises to last a lifetime, thank you." He rubbed his hip.
"Whatever." Elliot grabbed the door handle and pulled it open. He strode out into the bar, still angry.
"Elliot!" Chris jogged a little to catch up with him. "Wait-"
Elliot grabbed his jacket and made for the door, deliberately not looking over at the barman. "I'm tired. I'm going to bed."
"You're pissed at me."
Elliot stopped. "For?"
"For plantin' one on ya." Chris smirked.
Walking away and out into the night, Elliot worked his jaw, feeling the bruises, feeling his anger crank up a notch. Next to him Chris tugged at his elbow until he gave up walking and turned to speak, holding his fist clenched under that familiar nose.
"Damnit, Chris. I'm not mad at you for kissing me. I'm mad at you for hitting me yet again and for doing something so fucking stupid you could sent back to jail."
He clenched his teeth, wanting nothing more than to let fly.
"You wanna smack me again." It wasn't a question.
Chris smiled. "Go ahead. Take a shot."
"I won't hit you back." He took a steadying stance and held his chin up. "Go for it."
Elliot stared, incredulous.
"Go on." Chris closed his eyes, waiting.
"Jesus." Elliot lowered his fist, his anger dissipated. "I'm not gonna hit you, Chris."
Chris opened his eyes. "I deserve it."
"Yeah, you do."
"So?" He looked genuinely puzzled.
Elliot stared at him. "You don't get it, do you?" He waited for an answer, knowing full well one wasn't coming.
"I'm not gonna hurt you - I love you."
He shook his head and began to walk away, not caring if Chris followed. His hands hurt, his head throbbed and he was going to have a fine old time tomorrow, cataloguing the marks on his body.
He smiled grimly. At least he popped the fucker's mouth.
Ignoring the voice, he walked briskly towards the main street. It really was time to go to bed before he fell asleep standing up. He raised a hand as a taxi drove towards him.
"Elliot, wait." Chris grabbed his arm. He let go as soon as Elliot turned and glared. "Okay, okay, Relax. I ain't gonna pop you one."
"You can try."
Chris chuckled. "You got better in the last 34 years." He rubbed a finger over his lip.
"You think?" The taxi cruised to a stop. "Goodnight, Chris."
"Yep." He opened the door. "I need some sleep - I'll see you tomorrow."
"You mean it?"
"Yeah. I'll be round aftre you finshed work."
"No - I meant what you said, before."
Elliot frowned. "When?"
Chris jerked a shoulder. "You know - what you said, back then."
Elliot re-wound the last couple of sentences. "Oh, that. Yeah. I did." He began to duck into the cab.
"Why? I mean it's not like you know me," Chris said. "Jesus, how can you love me? We've been apart more than we've been together - people change."
Straightening up, Elliot gave him a pained look. "That has nothing to do with anything. You're my blood." He gave a little shake of his head. "That's enough for me."
The taxi-driver beeped the horn. "You gettin' in, or what, man?"
Elliot bent down. "Hold on."
"I ain't waitin' for you two to get into no lover's spat."
Elliot peered into the cab. "What?" He shook his head. "Never mind. Forget it." He slammed the door and stepped back on the sidewalk. The taxi roared off.
He looked at Chris.
"You don't know me," Chris repeated.
"I don't have to."
"That's just fucked up."
Elliot gave a smile. "Yeah - it is, but what can you do?"
Chris said nothing, just stood with his hands jammed in his pockets. He looked everywhere but at the other man.
Elliot waited. He wondered if he was going to get an 'I love you', too. He thought maybe he could forgive and forget those bruises to hear that.
"Ain't interested." Chris said abruptly, turned and walked away.
Elliot blinked. "What?" he asked the back of the dark head.
"Get lost. It's too much trouble."
"Family is *everything*," Elliot spat out, angry all over again. He reached out and grabbed Chris by the arm. He pulled the other man face to face.
"It means *everything*," he yelled.
"I ain't GOT no family!" Chris roared back, leaning in close to Elliot's face.
"You have me!" Elliot shouted, his nose almost touching Chris's.
"Don't you get it? I don't *want* you!"
Elliot's head snapped back as if slapped. He closed his mouth and stood there, stunned.
Chris moved forward to put his face a hair's breath from Elliot's.
"I don't need you - don't want you. Now fuck off outta my life, you stupid cunt!"
He waited for Elliot to say something, and when nothing came, he nodded with satisfaction and walked away.
Elliot watched him go feeling like he'd just been sucker-punched again.
Elliot slipped inside the building as another man came out. He ran the stairs two at a time all the way to Chris's apartment door. He lifted his fist and began to pound on it in his patent police officer way. He caught a rhythm in his pounding and didn't let up. He was in no mood for subtlety.
Several men poked their heads out of their doors to yell, but he didn't stop.
His fist hurt, but he didn't stop. He knew Chris was in there.
The door flew open after nearly five minutes. "What the fuck are you doing?!"
Elliot put his fist down. "I don't believe you."
Chris rubbed at his face, still half asleep. "What?"
Elliot pushed past him. "I don't believe you."
Closing the door after flipping off one of his neighbors, Chris turned. His face was scrunched up. "Believe *me*? Elliot - what the fuck's wrong with you? It's-"
He checked a bare wrist for the time and rolled his eyes. "It's too fucking early."
He groaned, grinding the heels of his hands into his eyes.
"No." Elliot slipped his jacket off and hung it on the back of a chair and pushed up his sleeves. "We need to talk."
"Jesus-" Chris groaned. "Are you sure you're not really a priest or shrink, something?"
"No, just a dumb cop who let an ex-con play him."
Chris gave him a sharp look. "Whaddya mean?"
"That little performance, earlier. Very good. You nearly had me." He snorted. "Or not, as the case may be."
"Talk sense," Chris complained, sitting heavily in the chair.
"Trying to push me away." Elliot rested his elbows on the table. "Neat."
"I'm not trying to push you anyplace."
"Reverse psychology. We covered it in the Academy. Nice try."
Elliot smiled. "You always revert to cussing when you're caught out, you know that?"
"Thank you for explaining me. Now fuck off."
Elliot's grim smile stayed. "No. I'm here for the duration."
Chris dropped his head to the table and groaned. "Whaddya want from me?"
"The truth. None of this 'self-deprecation' bullshit. Just the honest truth."
Chris turned his head slightly and peered up. "Like Jack said: you can't handle the truth."
"Go away, Elliot."
"Not 'til you tell me the truth."
"I'll cope. I'm a Special Victims cop. I stare at ugly all the time."
Chris lifted his head. "Ever see it staring back, wearin' your face?"
Elliot didn't reply.
"Didn't think so." He sighed and leaned back in his chair. "Why are you doin' this?"
"I told you-"
"No; I mean this?" He waved his hand. "Now. Here; tonight? Isn't one beating a night enough for you?"
"I seem to remember your blood, not mine."
Chris smiled. "Yeah, ya fucker," he muttered, touching his lip again. "Nice move."
Elliot nodded. "I changed; learned how to fight. You can change, too. Learn not to."
Chris snorted. "Yeah; right."
"And to answer your question - how the hell d'you expect me to sleep after what you said to me?" He rubbed a hand over his eyes. "That hurt, Chris."
There was no reply. He looked up. "You know that, don't you? You hurt me."
The other man shrugged. "I never said I wouldn't."
Elliot spread his hands on the table. "No, you didn't. But I kinda hoped you wouldn't want to."
Rolling his eyes, Elliot gave him an incredulous look. "Because we're family?"
"I don't got-"
Elliot held up his hand. "Don't start that shit again. You have a family, Chris. You have me. Whether you want me or not." He dug around in the pocket of his jacket and slammed a photograph on the table.
"Family. Mine; yours. Take a long look."
Chris stared in mute defiance.
"Go on. I dare ya." Elliot smirked.
Chris scowled for a long time, but eventually glanced down at the picture. He seemed to hold his breath. One hand slowly reached out to touch, but pulled away before making contact. "They're beautiful," he breathed out in a tiny voice.
Elliot smiled. "Yeah, I think so. They're good kids; I love 'em to death." He traced the edge of the picture with his finger. "You'd like 'em too."
"They're not my family."
"Oh, yes, they are, Chris," Elliot told him, tapping the photo. "We share genes. These kids would look the same if you were their father."
"Don't." Chris stood up and stepped away from the table, his fingers working the back of his neck.
"They have a right to know you."
Chris muttered something intelligible to himself. He stood with his back to Elliot for a long while. "You don't want them to know me."
"Yes, I do." Elliot stood up. "They're not stupid. They can handle knowing you went to jail."
"Can they handle knowing what I did?"
Elliot shrugged. "You can't hide them away from the world. They know bad things happen."
"I meant in jail. Can they handle knowing what I did in there?"
Elliot thought about that. "They don't need to know everything."
Chris smiled. "Don't want them to know your twin's a cock-sucker?"
Elliot's face creased. "Don't."
"It's true. I fucked guys - up the ass, in the m-"
Elliot held up his hand. "Stop. Please."
"Told you; you can't handle the truth."
"I can handle it, but it doesn't mean I want the pictures in my head."
Chris laughed softly. "Pussy."
"So sue me."
"Can you sue family?"
Elliot smiled. "Probably." He stepped closer. "Does that mean what I hope it means?"
"I doubt it." Chris smirked. "You really are a persistent son of a bitch, aren't you?"
Elliot laughed. "You know, coming from your twin that must be the definition of irony."
Chris yawned. "Big words. You obviously you got the brains."
"Yeah, 'cause I sure as shit got the looks."
The unexpected laughter felt really good. Elliot let it wash through his body. It left him tired, but happier than he had been an hour ago. He felt a yawn creep up and he let it out without bothering to cover his mouth.
"God, I gotta get some sleep."
Elliot looked around the room. "Uh-uh. No couch. I'm too damn old to sleep on the floor. I'll get a cab back."
"You can share my bed."
Elliot gave him a look that said everything.
Chris snorted. "Don't look at me like that. I remember spending years sharing a bed with your skinny ass." He pointed. "And I also remember taking more than one beating for your wet sheets, too."
Elliot winced. "Yeah, thanks for bringing that up."
"You still do that?"
Elliot smiled. "Not recently."
"And I haven't fucked a guy up the ass recently, so I guess people can change." He crossed his arms over his chest.
Elliot fought to keep the wince off his face. "You enjoy doing that, don't you?"
"Provoking me," Elliot corrected, with deliberate patience.
Chris grinned. "Yeah. That too."
"Some things never change."
Chris stood up. "Okay, okay; whatever. Look, man - I'm beat. I'm goin' to bed." He peeled off his tee shirt and dropped it to the floor. "You can leave or you can stay. I don't give a shit."
Elliot looked up to snap back, and froze. "Oh, my God," he whispered, eyes wide.
Chris let his arms drop. "What?"
Elliot pointed. "Your ink."
Glancing down at his arm, he shrugged. "Yeah, so what? That offend your delicate sensibilities, too?"
Elliot shook his head. He touched his own shoulder. "I have-"
"Spare me the tattoo 'Show and Tell' thing. I've seen a million of 'em inside."
"No, you don't understand." Elliot scrabbled at his shirt sleeve with annoyance. He shook his head, gave up trying to roll it up and grabbed at the hem. He stood up and yanked it straight over his head, letting it drop to the table.
"Look." He turned slightly to the left.
"No- I'm going to bed," Chris said, yawning.
"Look at it!"
"Oh, for fuck sake!" Throwing Elliot a cursory glance with a scowl, Chris paused, his eyes widening.
"Shit," he breathed, mouth hanging open. He traced the hanging figure with a finger. "Damn. Look at that."
Elliot waited while Chris made a thorough examination of his arm. He shivered at the light touch. "Spooky, huh?"
"You don't say." Chris stood, and moving to stand shoulder to shoulder, compared the pictures. "Exactly the same," he said softly. "Wow."
Elliot smiled. "Now try and tell me we're not basically the same man."
"I get the right side," Chris said, slapping the light on. He unbuttoned his jeans and pulled them down, sneaking a look at Elliot. "Okay with you if I lose the pants?"
"Very funny." Elliot sat on the bed and unlaced his boots. He pulled them off one by one, taking his time about it. "You don't have a spare toothbrush, do you? My teeth feel like shit."
"Box under the tub."
Elliot didn't look back to see if Chris was already in bed.
He went through to the bathroom and dug out the brush, resisting the temptation to rummage through the rest of the stuff.
He brushed, pissed and splashed water on his face, managing to yawn three times in the process.
He came backing the room, clicking the light off as he passed the door.
"I hate your brand of toothpaste," he said, as he unfastened his jeans.
"You ungrateful bastard; I should slap you around," Chris said from under the cover. He was curled up, with only the top of his head showing.
Elliot grinned and shucked his socks. He lifted the covers and slipped under, shivering slightly at the cold. "How's the lip?" he smirked.
Chuckling, Elliot worked his head into the pillow and yawned again. "Christ. I could sleep for a week."
"You shake down the box while you were in there?"
Elliot turned to look. The drapes were cheap; he could see perfectly well. "Thought about it," he admitted.
Chris grinned. "Bet you did." He reached out and punched Elliot's arm. "Fucking cop."
Elliot flinched. "Ow! Will you quit that!"
"Stopped bleeding yet? Because I can change that."
"I ain't too tired to kick your ass again, y'know."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah. I'm real scared."
Chris laughed out loud. "All you need to do is piss all over me and it'll be just like old times."
Elliot rolled over on to his side and grinned. "Gimme coupla minutes - I'll see what I can do."
Chris wrinkled his nose. "Nah. S'okay. I ain't into that."
They stared at one another. Elliot held his gaze across the pillow. "This is weird."
"Don't you? Two grown men, sharing a bed."
Chris shrugged. Chris shrugged. "Don't seem weird to me."
"Yeah?" Elliot opened his mouth to speak, but thought better of it.
"What?" Chris smirked, as if reading the other man's face.
"Fuckin' liar. You were gonna ask me how many men I've slept with."
Elliot swallowed. "I was not." He rubbed his nose, nerves demanding he do something.
"Oh, man, you are so busted!" Chris reached up under the sheets and poked Elliot in the stomach. "You just can't bring yourself to say the words - yellow belly."
Elliot pushed the hand away. "I wasn't going to ask anything like that. Believe it or not, I respect your privacy."
Chris mad a rude noise. "Yeah, right."
"I do. It's none of my business."
"But you're dyin' to know."
Elliot rolled his eyes. "Chris-"
Leaning forward, Chris put his head on Elliot's pillow, almost nose to nose. HE smiled, as if he knew a secret. "Or is it that you wanna know what it feels like?" he whispered.
Elliot didn't reply. He couldn't trust what would come out of his mouth. He just stared into the deep blue eyes in stunned silence.
"You ever touch another man, El?"
"No," Elliot said with a voice calmer than he would have thought possible.
Chris smiled. "You sure 'bout that?"
Elliot gave a small smile that could mean anything. "Positive."
Chris stared at him. "I wonder."
"Wonder all you like, you're not gonna fuck with my mind."
Chris laughed. "That what you think I'm doin'?"
"Aren't you? Seems to me you can't help yourself." He hoped his smile took the sting from his words.
Chris gave a small shrug. "Like you said: I have poor impulse control. Which is why I can't be trusted."
Under the covers, his hand snaked across the mattress and took Elliot by the wrist. Tugging gently, he pulled his brother's hand towards him and placed it on his hip.
Elliot held still. He could feel the top of Chris's shorts and a patch of bare skin under his palm. The skin was very warm.
"Chris-" he whispered, swallowing. "What are you doin'?"
Chris stared, his eyes searching. "Letting you find out."
Elliot knew the answer before he spoke the words. "Find out what?"
"What it's like to touch another man."
Without moving his eyes, Chris took Elliot's hand and slid it down across the front of his boxers.
Elliot's eyes widened. He snatched his hand away, a fraction of a second too slow to avoid feeling another man's penis under his hand.
"*Fuck*!" he gasped. "Fuck!" He frowned and wiped his hand on his briefs.
Chris grinned lazily.
"God, I can't believe..." Elliot screwed up his eyes and counted to ten in his head. With a Herculean effort, he uncurled his fists and looked at his brother.
"I'm gonna ignore what you just did, okay? I'm not gonna freak out, I'm not gonna make a big deal of it."
Chris nodded. "Uh-huh."
"I'm just gonna lie here and go to sleep." He glared. "You should do the same.
"You don't wanna *talk* about it?"
"We are never going to speak of this again."
Chris laughed. "Man, I can just feel the outraged hetero waves comin' offa you!"
"No, Chris, they're outraged 'normal human being' waves." He glared, gathering the edge of the cover in his hands up to his chin. "Now go to sleep."
"Yes, sir." Chris gave a mock salute.
"Resorting to foul language, Elliot? What does that say about you?"
"It says I'm fuckin' exhausted. Now go to-" He yawned.
"I can see right down your throat when you do that."
Elliot groaned. "Go to sleep."
"You are such a nag." Chris pushed the covers down and scratched his chest.
Elliot frowned. "How'd you get that?"
Pointing, but not quite touching his finger to the scar, Elliot nodded. "That."
"Musta been in the files."
"I guess I skipped some parts."
Chris nodded. "Too much information?"
"You could say that."
They lay in silence, listening to the occasional dog bark and the music from a distant radio.
"You got any scars?"
Elliot nodded. "One or two."
"Do I get to see?"
Chris gave a yawn of his own. He closed his eyes and rubbed his face in the pillow. "I want to sleep, but I can hear you thinking."
Elliot nearly laughed. "Yeah? And what am I thinking?"
"You're wondering if I'm gonna touch you again." He opened his eyes and stared.
Elliot pulled his knees up tighter, annoyed that he couldn't help himself. "No, I'm not."
Elliot groaned softly, burying his face in the covers.
"What's up, bro? D'you want me to?"
Elliot opened his eyes. He bit back a snappy reply and considered the question calmly.
"Yes," he admitted. "Not like, you know - 'that'." He pulled a face and squirmed.
"But - like I said, I've missed you." He gave a wry grin. "It took me years to get used to sleeping alone. We shared a bed for ten years, and after we were, you know... I missed-" he scratched the side of his nose. "I missed the-"
Chris laughed softly. "Relax, El. I get it. So you wanna cuddle up?"
Elliot huffed, torn between indignation and embarrassment.
"Well?" Chris deliberately made no move.
Elliot chewed at his lip and frowned, his common sense arguing with his masculinity. Eventually, he gave a deep sigh. "Yeah. I'd like that."
Chris moved towards him and entwined himself in a tangle of arms and legs that should have been annoying, but instead, was wonderfully comforting.
He settled his face in the crook of Elliot's neck as the other man sighed.
Elliot closed his eyes. "Oh, God, yeah." He tightened his arms around Chris, inhaling deeply. The smell was different, yet just the same. A flood of memories hit him.
He could feel his throat tightening. He clamped his teeth down hard - he would not cry.
"This is nice," Chris murmured. "But don't hold it against me if I get a woody, will ya?"
Elliot didn't trust himself to reply with any civility. He lay still, concentrating on the warmth and the sleep that tugged at his mind.
Elliot sighed. "What now?
"I got something for ya."
"It had better not be what I think it is."
Chris chuckled. "Nah. Relax."
Elliot waited. "What?" he said again. Chris didn't reply, so he turned his head.
He was mildly surprised that he didn't leap out of the bed as Chris's mouth touched his.
Instead, he lay there and allowed it. No biggie, he told himself. It was just a kiss.
Eventually, Chris pulled away. "You really hate that, don't you?"
"You say you love me, yet you can't stand me doing that." Chris shook his head. "That's fucked up, man."
Elliot considered the words. "I'm just not used to it," he said slowly.
"Kissing another man."
Chris snorted. "Ain't much difference."
"Hello - stubble?"
Laughing softly, Chris reached up to cup the other's cheek. His hand rasped over the whiskers. "Jesus, you need to get over yourself. Elliot.You don't have to make a big deal outta everything."
Elliot clenched his teeth, leaned in and pecked a dry kiss to the corner of Chris's mouth. "There. Happy, now?"
"Wow. You didn't freak out; I'm impressed."
Elliot grunted and pushed the other man's hand away. "Yeah, well; don't get excited."
Chris snorted. "Take more than that."
"You ain't *getting* more than that."
"Aw... An' you being so cute an' all."
Chris laughed silently. "Man, when you were bent over that pool table-" he grinned. "I tell ya - the thoughts that went through my head."
Elliot flinched. "Oh, God, that's fuckin' *disgusting*, Chris."
Chris chuckled. "Why? You got a great ass."
"Shut up. Right. Fucking. NOW."
"Don't make me hurt you."
Chris chuckled. "That sounds dirty."
Elliot ground his teeth. "It sounds like a warning."
"Ooh - look at me, I'm sh-sh-shaking."
Elliot rolled his eyes. "Just shut the fuck up and go to sleep."
Chris huffed into the side of Elliot's neck, but stayed blessedly silent.
More quickly than he thought possible, Elliot fell asleep.
It wasn't the feel of cool air on his nearly naked body or the strangeness of the room, but a muffled sniff that pulled Elliot from his sleep.
He lifted his head from the pillow and looked around the room, his brain slow to register his surroundings in the dim light.
"Chris?" he said, groggily, rubbing his eyes.
There was no reply. Elliot sat up, wincing at the pull of tired and alcohol-soaked muscles. "Hey," he said softly.
In the light from the window, he could see Chris sitting on the edge of the mattress; his shoulders slumped, head hanging down
"Chris?" He gave his face a rough scrub and shifted across the bed. The other man didn't move.
Elliot sat down as close as he could, noting the slight chill on his brothers' skin.
He rested a hand on one slumped shoulder and just sat there, waiting for Chris to speak.
There was a pause before he gave a laugh - a short and bitter. "I can't do this."
"I didn't think we'd see each other again."
"I know. But I'm glad; aren't you?"
Chris choked another laugh but didn't reply.
"Gee, thanks," Elliot said with a vague smile. He squeezed his hand and ran it across the bare shoulders. He pulled Chris to him in a rough hug and Chris sighed with a weird kind of hitching sound.
"It's okay. We get to make a new start. Right?" Elliot hugged the shoulder to him again.
Instead of agreeing, Chris continued to stare between his feet and spoke very softly
"I'm poison, y'know?"
Elliot felt a chill run through him at the absolute sincerity in those words. He leaned close and whispered. "No, you're not. No-one is. You just made some mistakes."
Chris gave a tiny hint of a smile. "I have it from a reliable source. I'm a piece of shit."
"Stay away from me."
Elliot frowned. "What?"
"Get away. El; before I hurt you."
"Chris, you won't hurt me."
Chris gave a bitter laugh. "I have; you said so. And I will again."
Elliot grabbed his neck and shook his gently. "No, you won't."
Chris stared. "You don't get it, do you?"
Elliot shrugged. "Seems simple enough to me."
"Yeah." Chris nodded. "I know. That's why this is so fuckin' hard," he sighed.
He leaned in to place a kiss at the corner of Elliot's mouth.
Elliot refused to flinch; he was better than that. "It doesn't have to be hard, you know."
He massaged the strong neck under this hand.
There was a long silence, the rhythm of their breathing the only sounds in the room. Elliot liked the way their respiration seemed to coincide, each breath perfectly in synch.
"You're gonna hate me eventually."
"Christ - will you please quit that?" Elliot ran his fingers up to comb through the short hair at the nape of Chris's neck. Chris arched into his touch.
"Remember the time you nearly drowned down at the pool?"
Elliot chuffed a laugh. "I remember."
"Yeah?" Chris searched Elliot's eyes. "I enjoyed watching you freak out."
Elliot half-smiled at the memory. "I know you did."
Chris made a surprised noise. "You did?"
Elliot nodded. "Yeah. You had this crazy grin on your face while you watched me struggling. I didn't think you were ever gonna help me up."
Chris's eyes traced all over his brother's face. At length he shook his head. "There was a moment when I didn't think I would, either," he admitted without apology.
"But you never ratted on me." He frowned. "I didn't understand why, back then."
He brought his hand up to cup Elliot's face, his frown smoothing away.
Elliot smiled. "You get it, now?" Turning his head slightly he put his lips to the middle of Chris's palm without thought.
"Hey, another kiss."
Elliot shook his head. "Forget it." He screwed up his face. "I think I'm still feelin' those last two bottles."
Chris smirked. "But not the first half dozen?"
"No." Elliot gave up and rested their foreheads together. He could smell the beer on Chris's breath and wondered if his own was as fragrant.
Chris smoothed his hands down Elliot's back, pulling them closer together.
Elliot smiled. "This is nice," he said quietly.
After a while, Chris moved, rubbing his face across Elliot's, his lips leaving a damp trail over a cheek rough from two days without seeing a razor. He felt Elliot shiver as he reached his neck and lightly nipped his ear.
"Fuck..." Elliot jerked his head sideways, shocked. "Jesus, Chris!"
Chris huffed a wicked laugh, sucking Elliot's earlobe in his hot mouth.
Elliot's body broke out in goose bumps. "Chris; stop that!"
Not bothering to reply, Chris held Elliot's head firmly and slipped his tongue into his ear.
Exclaiming loudly, Elliot burst out laughing, wrenching his head away. "Ewww... FUCK!"
Clearly delighted with the reaction, Chris grabbed his brother by both shoulders and forced him backwards onto the bed. He laughed, throwing a leg over Elliot's knees, his hands pressing him down into the mattress.
"You like that?" he grinned, his face inches from Elliot's.
Jesus, no!" Elliot shook his head, laughing.
"Sure ya did." Dipping his head down, Chris licked his ear again, this time lingering on the ridges before slowly sliding inside.
Beneath him, Elliot squirmed frantically. "Jesus Chris, don't!"
Chris ignored him like Elliot knew he would, so closing his eyes Elliot forced himself to relax. Allowing his brother free reign to do what he wanted, usually took all the pleasure out of any torture.
Thirty-odd years made no difference. The assault on his ear let up.
"You all done, now?" Elliot asked with a smirk.
Chris stared down at him, his eyes dark, shadowed by brows, saying nothing.
Elliot looked up, intrigued. "What?"
Again, there was no reply - Chris just carried on staring. Elliot tried to shrug with his shoulders still pinned to the bed and failed.
He tilted his head, curiously. "Chris? You okay?"
Slowly, still without speaking, Chris bent his head down and covered Elliot's mouth with his own.
Shocked, Elliot froze.
***Darker Than Night***
As Chris paused to pull in a breath after what felt like forever, Elliot snatched his head aside, his tongue sweeping moisture from his lips.
"What the *fuck* d'you think you're doing?" He struggled to sit up.
Chris's face stayed close to his cheek, each breath huffing in his still-wet ear. The sensation made him shiver.
Chris made a small noise, his hand loosening its grip on Elliot's shoulder, moving down to rest on his chest.
Elliot arched his back trying to get free.
There was a gentle groan from above him, and Elliot frowned, worried. "Jesus Christ, Chris, will you get offa me?"
"I do love you," Chris muttered.
Elliot shook his head. "*What*?"
Chris moved to look down at where his hand rested on Elliot's chest. He flexed his fingers, digging them into the muscle.
Elliot winced at the sharp pain. "What the fuck is wrong with you, man?"
Chris stayed silent as his hand began to move down Elliot's body, squeezing more gently as it traveled.
"Let you - what?"
Chris said nothing, just smiled and bent his head to place his lips at the base of Elliot's neck. He opened his mouth and sucked in skin, making Elliot shout.
He could feel the beard on Chris's face as he bit and sucked a wet path down his throat, on to his chest.
"Fucking HELL!" The tremble in his voice embarrassed him.
And then his whole body jumped as Chris found a nipple and latched on, sucking hard.
"NO!" he yelled. He grabbed the back of his brother's head, frantically trying, but failing to get a grip on the short hair.
Chris was dragging the flat of his tongue back and forth over the sensitive skin sending sparks where it ought not. His body didn't seem to care who was responsible..
Elliot's heard his voice crack but ignored it. He wriggled desperately, and hit the back of the dark head with his fist as hard as he could.
Chris looked up. "Ow?"
Elliot stared into wide, innocent-looking eyes.
"What the *fuck* are you doing?" he demanded, too embarrassed to speak louder than a whisper.
Elliot opened and shut his mouth several times, a million indignant expressions tumbling over one another. In the end, complete amazement won over.
"Have you lost your *fuckin'* mind?"
"Nope." Chris grinned up at him. He quickly bent his head and licked Elliot's chest again.
Elliot's body jumped as if stung. "Chris! Will you *stop* that!"
"You used to let me do this stuff."
Elliot's mouth snapped shut.
Chris grinned at him. "Used to let me play doctors all the time."
"I WAS TEN!!" Elliot roared. He struggled to get away, but the leg over his knees was pinning his lower half down, and the arm across his neck kept him from sitting up.
"Let me GO!"
Elliot froze as the hand that wasn't currently holding him down slid down his side towards his hip. His belly shivered at the light touch.
"Chris...Don't you dare-" he whispered, freaking quietly.
"Let me touch you," Chris breathed on his skin. He kissed the centre of Elliot's chest.
"I am gonna fucking *kill* you!" Elliot snapped, unable to help his body jerking at the sensation.
Chris leaned down, pinning him down hard. "Hey- calm down, man."
"WHAT!? What're you sayin' to me? Calm DOWN??!" Elliot felt the blood pressing behind his eyes.
Chris placed a hand on Elliot's belly. "Jeez, take a breath, El. You're gonna have a heart attack."
"I should fucking *think* so!" Elliot's eyes narrowed. "Let me up, *right now*," he growled.
With a smile Chris moved his hand down, deftly sliding it under the elastic of Elliot's briefs to cup the bulge there. Elliot's eyes bugged out as his hand shot down to grab Chris by the wrist.
His mouth opened in a silent 'O'.
"You think we taste the same? I mean, you smell like me." Chris laughed, his fingers squeezing, kneading, encouraging.
"Under that cheap aftershave I recognized your smell."
"Get. Your. Fucking-" Elliot ground the words out between clenched teeth, mortified beyond reason that his body was beginning to betray him.
He didn't get to finish, as Chris swooped down and kissed him hard.
Naked skin laid over his and a hand stroking between his legs was all his affection-starved body needed. It responded to the stimuli with enthusiasm that horrified Elliot to the core. He squirmed, frantic and morbidly aware that Chris could feel him hardening.
As Elliot struggled to get away, Chris gave his cock and balls a hearty squeeze. A strangled yell bubbled out of him, and in that distracted moment, his brother took advantage.
Elliot tasted beer on the other man's tongue and freaked completely.
A powerful punch to the side of his head slammed Chris sideways off Elliot's body.
He made no sound when Elliot grabbed him by the shoulders and turning him, began to rain blows down on his body.
"You. Dirty. Fucking..."
Elliot punctuated each word with a punch, to his belly, his chest. At some point he ran out of words but didn't stop hitting. His cock ached from sudden neglect, and he beat Chris in time with the pulse.
Chris had curled into a ball, trying to roll away from the onslaught, but Elliot followed him across the bed, putting his weight behind each punch.
Crazily, Chris began to laugh.
The sound penetrated the bloody haze in Elliot's head. He slowed down, his breath coming in short bursts as the punches tapered off.
At last, he sat back on his knees and listened to the sound of his heart pounding and his brother's crazy laugh.
His knuckles were grazed and bleeding. They hurt.
"Quit that," he ordered, eventually.
Chris stopped laughing and gingerly unfurled himself. He looked up, grinning. "You done?"
Elliot raised his fist as if to hit him again, then dropped it. "Yeah."
He turned and climbed off the bed, inspecting his hands. They weren't as bad as he thought. He jammed a knuckle in his mouth and sucked it, wincing, but welcoming the pain as a distraction from his still semi-hard dick.
Behind him, Chris groaned as he stood up. "Goddamn."
Elliot turned and watched him stretch and rub at the red marks on his body, still undecided if he was really done with beating on the other man.
"You sure learned how to punch," Chris groused.
"You fuckin' deserve it."
"Yeah. Maybe." Looking at a fist-shaped welt on his ribs, Chris chuckled. "I look like a side of beef."
Elliot felt a very timy tickle of guilt. "Anything broken?"
"Nah." Chris grinned. "I'm tough."
"Chris-" Elliot began.
Snorting, Chris rubbed a mark on his arm. "You gonna give me some whiny, cry-baby apology, now?"
Elliot scowled. "I think you got that the wrong way round."
Chris laughed. "Yeah, like that's gonna happen."
"After what you just did? I ought to get my gun and fucking SHOOT you!" Elliot's voice rose, his fists clenching again. "I can't believe you did that! I can't fucking believe you would put your hands-"
He stepped forward, furious. "Don't you ever-" He pointed. "You ever touch me like that again, and I'll rip your fucking-"
He paused. "What the *hell* are you smiling at?"
"Damnit, you're fuckin' beautiful when you're angry," Chris grinned, shaking his head.
Elliot gaped at the other man, then gave a tiny laugh that sounded more like a sob. He unfurled his fists and ran his hands over his head. "Jesus Christ..."
"You are, man." Chris wiped blood from his mouth and grinned.
Chris laughed as if he knew full well it made him sound nuts. "Look at you. All sweaty and hot - Jesus, you're a fucking sight for sore eyes." He held Eliot's gaze as he dropped to his knees and held his arms out. "Christ, Elliot - will ya let me suck you off?"
Elliot took a step back and grimaced. "There's something *very* wrong with you."
Chris pointed at him. "You can't tell me you don't know how good you look, pumped up like that. How much time *do* you spend in the gym each week?"
"You sick bastard-" Elliot shook his head. "I'm your fucking *brother*, for Christsake!"
Chris held his hands out. "And? I got eyes. You're beautiful, man."
Elliot groaned. "Jesus."
"Just like your kids."
Elliot looked, his heart stuttering. "What?" he whispered in disbelief. "What did you say?"
"You have a beautiful family, El. I've been thinkin' - maybe we should all meet up."
He tilted his head. "How old are those girls, now?" He deliberately rubbed his crotch. "Hell, how old's your *son*?"
Elliot's face drained of all color. "You miserable fucking cunt," he whispered.
He closed the distance between them without thinking, and drawing back his fists, he hit Chris like a freight train.
They slammed into the wall hard enough to bounce the cheap motel-style print off its hook. It hit the floor and broke into pieces.
This time, Chris hit back.
***Over and Out***
The fight was long, bloody and bitter.
All the tension in Elliot's body seemed to come steaming out of his fists. He held nothing back, the pain of earlier bruises and scraped knuckles forgotten.
He felt every punch Chris threw at him, but ignored them all.
The small night table broke under their weight, shattering as completely as their faltering relationship.
Elliot took a kick to the thigh that brought him to his knees, but he didn't stop trying to hurt the other man. The room slid away into a haze of pain and fury.
Chris bit him on the arm - he cracked the back of his head over his brother's nose.
He could fight dirty, too.
It was hard to get a grip on sweaty, slick skin - far easier to hit, to gouge, to use elbows and knees and teeth. Perfectly matched, they were heartbreakingly ideal opponents.
The blood behind his eyes pounded sickeningly as Elliot squeezed his hands together. He could feel spit spraying between his teeth as he gasped.
He snapped his head back and forth sharply and blinked a couple of times to clear his vision. He looked down, saw what he was doing and held his breath.
Slowly, he released his grip on Chris's throat. The other man took a spastic whoop of breath and began to cough wretchedly.
Elliot watched a more normal color return to his brother's face. He was vaguely surprised at being able to stop himself.
Another part of him wondered if any of the other tenants had bothered to call the cops. He ought to leave before they came.
Or before he reached for that throat again.
He stood up, using the bed for leverage.
Chris stayed where he was, either from exhaustion or self-preservation, Elliot didn't know. He just lay there, rubbing his throat in silence.
"You say away," Elliot said, pointing down. "Stay away from me - stay away from my kids, you hear?"
They stared at one another, breathing hard.
He pulled back his foot and kicked Chris hard in the leg. "You hear me?!"
Chris grunted and nodded, wiping the blood from his mouth and nose. "I hear." He hawked up a wad of red spit onto the floor.
Grabbing his clothes, Elliot dressed quickly, without taking his eyes off the other man. They were both silent as he found his boots and pulled them on, lacing quickly.
He watched a thin line of blood trace down Chris's chin. It must have tickled, but the other man made no attempt to wipe it off.
Elliot suddenly realized his own body was one big bruise, a pitiful map of bites and scratches, but his face was unmarked. He hadn't taken a single blow above the chest.
If he kept his clothes on, no-one would ever know he'd been in a fight.
He had been played by a master. He deserved every blow that would make the next few days a waking misery.
He seen it coming, yet he'd allowed Chris to push his buttons like some big, dumb pinball machine. He'd been out-maneuvered by an ex-con who didn't even graduate High School.
He stared at his brother lying sprawled on the floor.
All this sick shit Chris had pulled might be some elaborate bluff - but there was no way he could ever risk it. Not if he wanted to protect his kids.
They may have started out the same child, but they definitely weren't the same man.
He stood up.
"We won't be seeing each other again."
"Never. You understand?"
"I hear ya." Chris pulled himself up into a sitting position.
They looked at each other for a long time. Then Elliot nodded. He took the few steps needed to reach the other man, dropped to one knee and gripped the battered face in both hands. He knew he was hurting the other man. He leaned forward.
"If I ever see you near my kids," he promised very quietly. "I *will* kill you."
Chris put his hands over Elliot's and held them in place. "I know."
Elliot nodded, satisfied. They understood each other perfectly.
He took several deep breaths, then leaned forward and placed his mouth over Chris's.
He kissed his brother long and deep.
He felt the cut open on Chris's lip and ran his tongue over it, feeling the reaction to the pain he was causing. The taste of blood was needle-sharp and sickening but he swallowed it, regardless.
He dug his fingers into the sides of Chris's face as hard as he could and poured thirty four years, and the rest of their lives into one last kiss.
Breaking apart, he stood up and turned, unwilling to allow the other man a glimpse of his eyes.
He reached the door and paused. There were no words left inside him, so he just opened it and left.
When he reached the street, he leaned against the wall and dry-heaved for a long time, grateful to be able blame his tears on the retching. Finally he straightened up, roughly rubbed his hands over his face and spit several times.
He ran his tongue over his teeth as he walked away and wondered if this was what guilt tasted like.
He had four more days left of leave.
He would spend two of them blind drunk, and the other two visiting his kids.
Then perhaps he'd get a smile back on his face.
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