The first time Michael lost it, Gabriel had just burned his report card. Michael was supposed to sign it and have Gabriel return it. Michael couldn't go to the conferences so this alternative had been allowed.
Nick’s report had been pretty much how Nick’s report card had been since kindergarten. Remarkable. There wasn't a single teacher that wouldn't gloat about him and there wasn't anything Mike could say about that. Nick was so much like their mother - smart, caring, calm. He'd signed it without a second thought.
Chris had cringed at his report card, but it wasn't so bad. Their parents had died three months ago. The teachers understood his current slump. Chris sometimes stayed after, getting some help as he waited for Gabriel to finish whatever practice he was working on. He talked to his teachers and he talked with Nick. A few Cs weren't going to break the eleven year old. He'd ruffled his baby brother's hair and told him to get his history and math grades up but he wasn't mad. Signing the reports was weird, and it was Michael’s first time and he tried not to think about it.
He waited all afternoon for Gabriel to hand his over. The hours passed and Michael was just barely getting through the mountain of paper work that came with learning the ins and outs of dads business when Nick came over to say goodnight.
Michael was startled out of his thoughts. Nick was in his pajama pants and had already bathed and smelled of toothpaste. Michael checked the clock. Nine thirty. He sighed.
"Night Michael," Nick said, giving him a hug.
Nick had become a bit clingy after the funeral. Michael didn't really mind it. Chris had become a bit quiet and was almost always in the same room with Michael. It was kind of nice having them around. It didn't give him a chance to think between the boys and the business and honestly, Michael preferred it that way.
"Night Nick," he returned the squeeze. "Chris! bedtime," he called over to where the youngest boy was playing video games.
"In a minute," Chris mumbled.
"Upstairs in five," Michael said, standing from the kitchen table where he had the papers all spread out. "Where's Gabriel?"
Nick shrugged. Michael rolled his eyes. The kid wasn't a very good liar. Neither twin was, but Gabriel was at least better at it.
"Hiding then," he rolled his eyes.
"Hiding from what?" Chris asked from the couch, not even really paying them attention.
"Not hiding," Nick defended. "Avoiding?"
Michael sighed. He started for the stairs.
"I'm coming, I'm coming!"
Michael rarely checked their homework. That was their mom’s thing. He trusted his brothers to come to him if they had questions. But they never did. Chris probably asked Nick anyhow, who probably had a better grasp on that stuff anyway. But Gabriel. He'd gotten calls about that particular twin before. He didn't like the teachers of all people telling him how to raise his brothers, but in all honesty a part of him still kind of expected his mom to handle that stuff.
Upstairs, Gabriel's room door was closed and music was blaring. He and Nick had always shared a room, but, well there was no point in that now. Michael had moved into their parent’s room and Nick, the cleaner of the two and as such easier to pack up and move, got Mike’s old room. It was slightly bigger but that was okay. Sometimes, and Michael knew better than to say anything, he knew the twins still sought each other in the night. Hell the only reason Michael probably didn't do the same was because he was usually so exhausted now that just seeing his bed he was already half asleep.
"Gabriel," Michael sighed.
"What are you gonna do?" Nick frowned beside him.
Michael sighed. He had no idea. He had no idea about anything! He kind of wished the boys would get that, but they seemed to look at him with such trust and willingness to follow, he kind of hated to admit it.
"Go to bed, Nick," he mumbled instead.
Still frowning, Nick opened his mouth again.
"Nicholas," he gave his most stern, dad impression look at the twelve year old. "Bed."
Nick sighed. "Alright."
Michael watched him turn and take slow steps to his room. He shook his head. Raising his hand, he knocked hard.
"Gabriel, open the door."
Michael crossed his arms.
"You look like Dad when you do that."
Michael turned to Chris' inquisitive look. He dropped his arms.
Chris shrugged. Michael wasn't certain if his looking like his father was a good or bad thing in the kid's eyes. Chris didn't seem inclined to either.
"You should get your pjs," he said instead. "And brush-
"I know, I know," Chris rolled his eyes, something he was definitely picking up from Gabriel. (Who probably got it from Michael himself, if he was being honest.)
(Wasn't he supposed to wait until his own kids before that payback? Granted, all things considered…)
"Watch your attitude," he'd said without much thought.
Chris stopped to look back at him. It was so something their father would have responded. It was what Michael often heard when he decided to have an opinion that his parents (okay, his dad) didn't want to hear.
"Just, get to bed," he sighed feeling, once again, inadequate.
"Gabriel Merrick! Open this door, now!"
It took a second, but he guessed there was something about his tone. He heard the tumbler disengage.
Gabriel swung the door open, pissed look on his face. "What?!"
Michael wasn't about to toss out another 'watch your attitude' remark. Not so soon.
"What'd'ya mean what? You know what!"
Gabriel groaned and rolled his eyes.
"Go away, Michael," he muttered. He tried to push the door closed behind him, but Michael was able to easily hold it open with one hand. The kid was nowhere near as strong as him.
"Gabriel, you're really stretching my patience here," Michael said from the doorway. Gabriel walked over to the unmade illusion of a bed that looked more like a dragons nest.
"Then leave," the twelve year old retorted. "No one called you!"
Dad would've smacked the back of Michael's head if he had ever dared talk like that. Hard. Not even their mother would've been able to step in. He'd probably get a whole lecture about his disrespect. Dad would definable say, "It's my house, boy!" or something like that.
Gabriel would never talk to Dad like that. He'd never even really talked to Michael like this before.
Michael chose to ignore him.
"Where’s your report card?"
Gabriel picked up a magazine from his mess on his bed and promptly ignored him. Brat.
"Gabriel," Michael felt his teeth grind together. How did his parents resist the urge to kill them?
And in all, Nick and Chris were pretty easy kids. The problem had usually been Michael and Gabriel. They were just too much like their father.
"Brat! I'm talking to you!"
Gabriel didn't even look up.
Michael knew he wasn't even actually reading the damn thing. The boy’s shoulders were tense and he hadn't turned the page he'd opened at random. Gabriel was testing him, had been for the past month. But what was Michael supposed to do? If he gave into the urge of strangling the kid, he would probably lose custody of all three. It wasn't brotherly fighting anymore. No parents would step in to stop him. And besides, Michael was eighteen now. He was almost out of high school himself. He couldn't honestly defend his own childish actions.
What the hell did Gabriel expect from him?!
"Fine, you want to be an ass? Great." Michael stepped into the room, which he usually avoided since saying the room was a mess was being nice. Michael didn't even know how they had fit two kids in there.
Gabriel's backpack was sticking out of his closet, atop of his baseball gym bag.
Michael grabbed the bag and opened it.
"Hey! Get out of that!" Gabriel snapped. He was quickly at Michael’s side, trying to tug the bag out of his brother’s hands. No such luck.
"Go back to the bed," Michael shoved him aside. In the backpack, he saw a whole bunch of crumpled papers. The graded ones didn't go to anything above a C. He could see doodles on a few of the tests, notebook pages ripped out with hangman and tic tac toe. Michael could feel himself getting madder.
"Damn it Michael! Mind your own business!"
Michael let him get the backpack, once he could tell that the report card wasn't inside. Gabriel stumbled back slightly from the loss of resistance.
"This is my business!" he gritted back. Idiot kid. "You realize I already got Nick and Chris'? I know you got your report card today. I shouldn't have to hunt you down!"
"No one asked you to!"
"Bullshit!" came Michael’s mature reply. "You know I'm in charge now, Gabriel! You know exactly why they sent that home! Why do you have to make this shit harder than it is!"
"No one’s signing your damn card!" Gabriel spat back. "Why should I?"
"I'm not twelve!" Michael told him. Not to mention, he would give anything, anything, anything to have either of his parents back. To have someone to support him and care for him and his brothers. To tell him what the hell half of those business papers even meant! Thank God their parents had insurance, otherwise they would be dead broke right now. And if it depended on Michael to run the business now, they were screwed!
"So you need someone checking on you, they need to know someone is checking on you, and by some crap luck that's me! Get over it already, Gabriel!"
Gabriel scoffed. "Right, Mom and Dad are dead and now you're in charge. Yippee."
"That's not what I said!" Michael turned away from him and took a deep, deep breath. "Give me your report card, I'm done discussing shit with you."
"go fuck yourself," Gabriel muttered turning back to his bed.
"GABRIEL!" It wasn't the first he'd heard his sibling curse, but even before their parents died Michael wouldn't have let that slide.
Gabriel took two long strides over to his bed and yanked an envelope from under his pillow. Figured. Of course, in true Gabriel fashion, he also pulled out a lighter from his pocket.
"You want the damn report card!"
"Gabriel, don't you da-
But Gabriel dared. He flicked the lighter open and held the flame under the paper. Instantly the corner was afire. Michael moved towards him, himself fuming; and in that half instant, Gabriel brought up a blaze large enough to consume the whole envelope and part of Gabriel's hand.
Shocked. Both Merricks were shocked.
Gabriel dropped his lighter, which instantly shut off before it landed in his discarded jeans on the floor. His eyes wide in shock and fright. Michael looked at the slowly falling ashes and embers.
"Are you fucking serious?" his voice deadly cold even to his own ears.
Gabriel look absolutely petrified. He didn’t have the slightest control on his powers and hadn’t even used them since-
Michael moved so fast he didn't even think.
"Michael don't!" Gabriel squeaked trying to turn and run but he had nowhere to run to. Besides, Michael would definitely catch him. Gabriel might be the best athlete, but this was the first year Michael wasn't on the baseball team himself. And the only reason Michael didn't take up track in high school was because the summer training would've taken him away from helping Dad with the business.
He grabbed Gabriel around the waist and easily picked him up. Gabriel thrashed about in his arm, but Michael ignored him. He used his free hand to shove aside some crap from the bed and sat down.
"Michael stop! I'm sorry, okay?!"
But it was not okay. Damn brat normally took each and every opportunity to point out he wasn't their dad or couldn't do things like mom, but cursing Michael out, kept picking on Chris relentlessly, and now this?
What the fuck!?
Michael had him over his left knee without a second thought. He hadn't ever been spanked himself, but he remembered being swatted occasionally, back when the other kids were still in diapers. Mom, once when he'd ran off during a trip to the mall to get pictures of the twins. Dad a few other times. Never anything more than one smack to his butt.
Gabriel wouldn't be so lucky.
Michael couldn't say what made him do it, but once he started he wasn't about to stop. He grabbed the top of Gabriel's sweats and yanked them down, but he left the dark blue briefs in place.
He raised his hand and brought it down with a pretty sharp crack.
Michael was powered by anger. He cringed himself at the sharpness he felt in his hand. That had surely been too hard. He wasn't trying to split the kid in two.
He wasn't sure what he was trying to do, but that sure as hell wasn't it.
Michael raised his hand again and brought it back down, less hard but still sting inducing.
For his part, Gabriel squirmed and kicked and yelped. He could not believe this. Michael couldn't be spanking him! Their parents didn't believe in spanking! That shit really hurt!
"You have some nerve, you brat!" the eldest Merrick lectured. "You know better than to talk like that and you sure as hell know not to set things on fire! What the hell were you thinking?!"
Gabriel's cries of pain were being strained with tears. He could hear his little brother losing his ability to speak.
Michael brought his hand down three more times. He had no idea how many times he had brought his hand down but if the redness to his own palm was any indication, Gabriel's butt cheeks should be a shiny Rudolph red.
He dropped his hand, motionless now against Gabriel's back. His little brother had buried his face into his arms on his bed. Michael was glad their neighbors weren't very close. They had a large lot space on a cul-de-sac. Big enough to play soccer or football with his brothers but not quite big enough for his mother to let him hit the baseball about. Not once he'd come into his powers and being outside had made Michael unstoppable.
Still, a part of Michael wondered what he would say if someone was called because Gabriel had been wailing. Saying he'd spanked him would be the truth, but he didn't want to embarrass his brother outside the family. And he could see himself being epically blushing from the explanation as well.
Gabriel hiccup back some sobs. He had probably just noticed that Michael as no longer womping on his ass. He made to stand, but Michael planted his hand firmly in the kid's back. Gabriel's shoulders tensed but he stayed in place.
"I don't want to hear you talk like that to me again, got me?"
Gabriel looked over his shoulder. His eyes were still raining tears and blotchy red. He nodded.
"I know I'm not your parent, Gabriel, but I'm the closest you're gonna get. You're a kid, but I'll let you in on something, growing up isn't so great. I don't need you giving me crap for everything. I just need you to do the kid things, and leave the brat things aside, okay?"
Michael sighed. He felt his own shoulders slump. He was so tired. He hadn't even done his own school work. He would have to get the boys in bed and go down to do his own crap. And the bills were due at the end of the week. He hadn't done the checks right the first month. Hadn't known to have his parents accounts transferred to his name. Everything was such a mess, but even the mountain of papers was easier than having to face the fact that he was now responsible for everything about his three brothers. Everything. Good and bad. Illnesses. Transportation. Freaking hygiene even!
He pulled Gabriel to his feet. Gabriel was biting his lip, his breath still hitching. Michael felt miserable looking at him. Gabriel's lip trembled like he was going to cry again and Michael didn't know if he could take it.
"Gabriel," he started, unsure now like always what to say. Sorry for spanking you? He wasn't. The kid had it coming, even if it was probably the single strangest thing he had ever done. Had their parents been alive and he'd smacked his brother, he would've been grounded for sure. Mom would cradle Gabriel in her arms until he stopped crying and Michael would've been sent to his room, where Dad would've gladly read him the riot act.
He tugged Gabriel to him, his arms wrapping tightly around the kid. Surprisingly enough, Gabriel returned the gesture.
He felt he should say something, but he couldn’t think what. Gabriel seemed content enough to just cry into Michael's shoulder.
Michael looked up, and was kind of mortified to see Nick and Chris standing, wide eyed, at the opened door. He sighed. His arms tightened against Gabriel. He had forgotten the other two boys. Still, he couldn't apologize. He had to stand by his own judgment and not theirs. He looked at them and nudged his head for them to leave. Nick snapped out of it, grabbed Chris by the hand and bolted.
He was going to have to talk to them about this too. Just great.
Against him, Gabriel was regaining his composure. Michael reached down and pulled up his sweats before Gabriel had time to give his position much thought. He groaned as the pants passed his throbbing bum, wiping at his eyes and took a step back. He looked at Michael.
"I can't believe you spanked me," the twelve year old muttered.
"I can't believe you set your report card on fire," countered Michael.
Gabriel frowned. "I didn't really mean to. I just wanted-
"To piss me off?"
Gabriel looked down and shrugged.
Michael took a deep breath.
"I can't believe I spanked you either, but I'm not apologizing. You understand?"
"I drove you to it," Gabriel said to his socks.
"You try my patience a lot," Michael told him. "No matter how many times I warn you. Even before-
Gabriel glanced up. "It's okay. I understand."
Michael was going to need an oxygen tank with how often he sighed.
"What was so bad on it, anyway?"
Gabriel looked back down. His shoulders tensed and he started shifting around.
"Gabriel Merrick," Michael didn't even need to raise his voice. Probably a first in a while when he was dealing with Gabriel. But it seemed unnecessary, after beating the boy’s backside for the first time in his life.
"You're already mad at me," Gabriel muttered.
But while Michael could say he was mad to begin with, and Gabriel probably deserved for him to be mad, he couldn't exactly call what he was feeling now mad. Tired. Drained. A heck older than his recent eighteen. But not mad.
"I’m not mad," Michael told him. "But I don't want to have to ask you again. You realize I'm going to have to go to the school tomorrow and tell them you destroyed your report card? I'm going to have to be late for my own classes too. So, if I was you, I would just tell me already so we can end this and you can get to bed."
"You sound kinda mad," Gabriel raised an eyebrow at him.
Michael returned the gesture. Gabriel sighed.
"I failed math," he looked at somewhere over Michael’s shoulder. "And History."
"Damn Gabriel," he shook his head. "You realize you just make things worse by not telling me this shit? I mean, you realize eventually I would have found out about it even if you managed to keep the card away from me?"
"I panicked, okay?" he rubbed at his eyes again. "I thought you'd be mad!"
"For the record, not as mad as setting it on fire," Michael met his gaze.
Gabriel cringed and reached back, covering his injured butt with his hands.
"I'm not gonna spank you over this, Gabriel," he rolled his eyes.
"So grades don't merit spankings, good to know," the wiseass replied.
Michael leveled him with a stern look. Michael was getting better at them.
"Not tonight," he said.
Gabriel frowned. He'd been joking.
"Wait, you wouldn't do that again-
"I wouldn't want to," Michael corrected. "Didn't want to. But I think I would."
Gabriel's eyes widened. "Michael, you can't!"
"I think I very well can. And furthermore, you need to stop telling me what to do."
Gabriel's lip trembled. "I don't want more spankings. " he said honestly.
Michael chose to remain silent. A few tears betrayed Gabriel and the boy reached up to wipe them away. Michael pulled him again to a hug, though Gabriel tensed for a moment.
"Gabriel, I swear I love you, but you're such a little pain sometimes. I promise I don't plan on making this a habit, but you lost control there buddy, and that's not okay." He held him for a few minutes Gabriel leaning into his hold though not hugging him back. Michael turned and kissed his forehead, probably something he hadn't done to Gabriel since the kid was maybe five or six.
"Go get ready for bed. We'll deal with the report card tomorrow. I'll drive you guys to school."
Gabriel nodded and he released his hold on the kid, getting to his feet. He mussed up Gabriel's hair and headed for the door.
The next morning, Gabriel kept squirming through breakfast. Nick kept glancing at his twin. Chris kept glancing at Michael. Michael was too busy trying to finish up his own history answers into his journal to notice them. His breakfast cereal untouched beside him where Nick had been kind enough to place it.
"Stop staring at me, Nicky! Damn!"
"Language," Michael said without looking up. He said it about a dozen times a day, but this time it froze all three boys. Michael glanced up. "What?"
Chris glanced over at the twins and scratched the back of his head. He wasn't about to speak first. Gabriel blushed and returned to his cereal. Nick sighed and glanced back at Michael.
"You spanked Gabriel."
Michael frowned. "I’m aware."
"Mom and Dad never," Chris started.
"I'm not Mom or Dad," interrupted Michael. "As you've all pointed out before."
"But." Chris cringed. "They'd be mad."
Michael sighed. "Probably. Yeah. They would be mad for me hitting my little brother. I'm mad when they gang up on you. But I think they would've been more pissed at Gabriel setting his report card on fire and his attitude and cursing."
Nick reached over and smacked Gabriel on the head. "You set it on fire!!" his twin was not pleased. "I told you to just show him!"
"Leave me alone, Nicky!" Gabriel glared rubbing at his head. "I got beat enough!"
"You didn't get beat," Michael retorted. "You got spanked."
Gabriel blushed his eyes back to his nearly empty bowl. "Same difference," he muttered.
"No, a beating is what Tyler and his idiots did to you! You lost control last night, and I lost my patience. But I would never, ever beat you guys!"
"But you would spank us?" Chris blushed now.
"Clearly," one of the twins said as Michael moved to put his school work away. He would finish during lunch or sit out during gym. For now, if he skipped breakfast he could very well starve for the rest of the day.
He didn't reply, he just ate. His brothers took that as answer enough.
Gabriel returned to his cereal. Nick pushed his around with his spoon and a wide look. Chris groaned.
Michael wasn't going to defend himself. He was going to try and trust his instincts when it came to his brothers. Even if it had kept him up half the night. Even if he had gotten up to check on the boys three separate times. Even if seeing Gabriel sleep on his stomach and squirming when he did turn onto his back and his hurt bum caused Michael's heart to strain.
He might not know what he was doing, but like hell would he let them know that.