If only Chris had managed to keep his wide eyed promise. Well, as the week continued, he did his chores and he didn't say anything when the twins teased him and he gave Michael a wide berth but still answered when he was spoken to. All in all, Michael figured that he could wait for the kid to calm down and let him get used to the idea that he'd gotten his butt smacked. It had taken Gabriel maybe a whole month before he felt at ease enough to start his crap up again after the first time. He had managed to get his English grade back up and history took a bit of work, but Michael was trying to find the time to help him. Nick was helping him with Math and it seemed to be helping. He made Gabriel do his school work as soon as he got home now. 

Thankfully, summertime meant no homework. He dragged the boys to the library once a month just to make sure they didn't get stupid,(as Dad would put it) or as mom would say stayed cultured.

It was Friday and it was raining. Nick and Gabriel we're getting ready and Michael was making them all lunch. Chris was grounded, so his lunch would be staying in the fridge.

Michael was taking the twins to an arcade that had opened at the beginning of the summer. One of their contract clients was the owner and had given Michael a whole bunch of free tokens. He tried to do something fun with the boys on Fridays, but this week Chris hadn't done his chores twice. So he was grounded and was miserably looking out the window.

Currently, he was standing with his head out the back door.

"Christopher," Michael groaned as a chill came in from the doorway; signaling that baby brother had once again opened the door even though he had been told three separate times (four if Chris counted when Gabriel had groaned about it.)

"No, leave it," Nick said grinning.

Michael put down his spoon enough to glare at the incoming twin.

"Never mind."

"Good answer."

Michael returned to the turkey sandwiches he was making. He remembered how his mom made them, and even though they didn't have tomatoes it was still probably the best meal he'd made all week!

As in the only meal that wasn't prepackaged for them.

He felt the breeze on the back of his neck even before he heard Nick’s soft hiss at his younger brother.

Michael turned around. It hadn't rained in two and a half weeks and he knew it had to be calling out to his youngest brother. But if this wasn't a lesson in control he didn't know what was. Besides, if the kid wasn't grounded he probably would've given him a raincoat and rain-boots and let him run around outside until it was time to go. 

But he was grounded. 

"Christopher!" he snapped. The back door slammed shut even though Chris refused to look his way. Nick glanced from one to the other, already seated and having his breakfast. (Toast mostly. Michael wasn't very creative.)

"Sit your ass down!"

Chris blushed up to his ears and moved to take a seat at the table. He took a piece of toast when Nick slid the plate over.

"Don't touch the door again!"

Gabriel came down just as Michael packed their lunches away. He had chips and drinks and cookies and apples and a few bananas and the sandwiches. It should be enough for their day trip. The arcade was an hour away and he hated leaving Chris, but he wasn't about to punish the twins when they had actually been pretty well behaved the last two weeks (conveniently the same amount of time since he'd mentioned taking them out). The week before he'd taken the grumpy trio to the library and a movie after. (Less grumpy then, except for having to share the snacks. Teenage boys and one almost teenaged boy didn't do well when it came to sharing food. Michael had gotten them a jumbo popcorn, sat Nick in the middle with it, and gotten a small for himself. He'd gotten two jumbo sodas and shared his with Chris and they'd brought a few pocket sized Twix and Snickers bars and each kid had had a few in their pockets. It had been a pretty neat evening all in all.)

Chris had been begging to go all week long. He'd been grounded on Tuesday and he had been doing good all week, but that just meant he wasn't grounded Saturday. Michael had to stick to the few tools he had in his limited parental armory.

Now, with the new rain, the twelve year old was just itching to get outside. But he was grounded. Which meant no leaving the house. No video games. And he'd be the first to take a bath and sent to bed. It didn't seem like a lot, and it wasn't like Michael looked for things to take from them, but it worked. No outside the house usually meant no exposure to their element. Chris of course could shower and feel better and air was everywhere for Nick but it especially pissed Gabriel. He'd let the kid help cook last time he'd been grounded, which had initially pissed Gabriel more, but then he'd pretty much let him play with the stove for ten minutes and the kid calmed. Not orthodox maybe but he was eighteen himself, Michael didn't expect to have all the answers.

They were tugging on their coats when Michael turned to a pouting Chris.

"Do not leave the house, Christopher," he instructed.

Chris rolled his eyes. "I know."

"And don't play with fire. Without me," Gabriel added with a wink. Nick smacked his twin in the head.

"I’m serious, Chris," Michael continued. "You're grounded. Not one foot out of this house."

"He's not deaf," Gabriel rolled his eyes.

"Will you shut up!?" Nick gave Gabriel his own look.

"I get it," Chris crossed his arms.

"If you do, I'm warning you now, you'll earn that spanking."

"Duuude," Gabriel cringed. He always cringed now at the dreaded S-word.

"He'll stay inside," Nick added quickly. "Right Chris?"

"I said I got it!" Chris snapped.

"Hey!" Michael frowned. 

"Will you shut up," Gabriel grit back over to his little brother this time. Along with a look that said he thought Chris stupid and might just smack him himself. He couldn't stop himself from going off at the mouth, but Chris should know better.

"You two head to the car," Michael instructed, handing Gabriel the keys.

"Sweet!" Gabriel grinned. "Hey Nicky, let's go somewhere exotic, like Ohio!"

Nick rolled his eyes.

"Gabriel," but Michael knew the kid was just joking. Still, one day he would have a license. There would be no joyriding to Ohio thanksforasking.

With the twins racing over to the truck, Michael turned his attention on Chris.

"I'm very serious about this, Christopher. Don't test me, please." He tried to be calm and genuine and all of that.

Chris didn't see it like that.

"How many times do I have to say yes?"

But Michael was learning to get patience. He was not naturally born with one. Or a high tolerance for bullshit.

He reached over and turned Chris enough to reach his backside with two sharp smacks. He had felt things heading here all day, but he had hoped against it.

"Yeow!" Chris glared at him as soon as he was released.

"Cap that attitude right now! I'm sorry you can't come with us, but you chose not to do your chores and you knew that would get you grounded. I'm sorry you get to miss out on this storm, I get it, but that doesn't mean you get to toss your bad attitude around. I have no problem delaying this trip if you need a reminder on how to behave!"

Chris looked down. He wasn't one for fights. Michael knew something was up, and he'd tried to get the boy to talk but nothing. He wondered if someone was bothering him but the twins would've known. They would've told Michael. He would've found a way to deal with that. Blatant rudeness? Unnecessary and unacceptable.

He also knew what Michael meant by a reminder. He'd heard him tell Gabriel that enough times, especially if they were out and Gabriel was being a dick. Do you need a reminder to behave? Usually Gabriel would blush and apologize. Or blush and shake his head. The one time they'd been getting him some new jeans (he'd burnt two pairs playing with the lighter in his pocket and had had to tell Michael, who had smacked his butt but hadn't actually spanked him) he had warned him, and neither brother liked shopping. Gabriel had complained that Nick could've gone, but Michael pointed out that it hadn't been Nicky who had burned the clothes. A sales lady had asked them if they needed help and Gabriel had quipped, "Fat chance".  Not only had it been rude, on top of his attitude all day, but the lady hadn't been on the slim side. It had been deliberate and Michael had never been so embarrassed in public by one of the boys so strongly before. He said 'no thank you', grabbed two pairs in the twins’ size and marched them over to the dressing room. Luckily deserted. He'd never thought he'd spank the kid in public, but there you go. And Chris had been with them, so he certainly knew.

A part of Michael kind of hoped that the sales lady maybe had heard. He didn't like the thought of anyone thinking he would think Gabriel's comments okay. She hadn't said anything mean to them, was just doing her job, and Gabriel was being a rude little boy. He was lucky he hadn't swatted him right then and there, but well, he wasn't quite that parental yet. (Hopefully ever.)(He'd been so convinced that someone would call security or something on him. He'd only given Gabriel five smacks, but he'd bared his butt and had made them count. The embarrassment factored in heavily.)

Chris shook his head.

Michael sighed. He leaned forward and kissed the top of Chris's head.

"Behave," he straightened up, taking a hand under the small face until Chris was looking at him. "Got it?"

"Yes Michael."

"We'll be back by three."

Chris had tried to be good.

First seeing his brothers pull away had made him cry. He rubbed at his butt and wondered why he kept pestering Michael. He knew his brother was going to spank him. He figured he was going to get a smack if he kept at the door, but he'd stopped himself. Or rather Nick had dragged him back with a 'Don't be stupid!'.

He'd meant to stay inside too.

Michael had meant each word of his warning and Chris knew that if Michael learned he'd come outside, he was going to get his spanking. He didn't want it. Gabriel didn't recommend it. His previous experience that week told him to lock the doors and just to open the window in his room. The earlier swats reminded him further.

Still, it was noon. Chris had finished almost two hours of the forbidden video games and had packed the system away. It should be cooled off enough by the time his brothers returned that they wouldn't know.

He ate the sandwich Michael had left him and the cookies and the chips. He didn't feel like grabbing any fruit, but he did have a glass of milk. He was staring out the window, milk and cookies before him, thinking about how in three hours, there might not even be any rain left!

Chris had thought about asking Michael when they returned for just a few minutes outside. Like when he let Gabriel on the stove or with his lighter when he was grounded. Sure, Chris could take a shower, but it wouldn't be the same. It wouldn't have the same passion or call to it like the storm outside.

Three hours. He could be outside ten minutes, thirty tops. He'd shower after. Hell, he'd vacuum! Michael wouldn't have to know!

He placed his cup in the sink. He would get to it before they got home. If anything, that more than anything would have him returning. He wouldn't want to leave the dishes undone again. Even just the one. 

It was supposed to be less than half an hour. He'd timed it on his watch.

But still.

"Shit!" hands gripped his shoulders and shook him. "Fuck Chris! You're an idiot!"

Chris blinked. He'd been standing in the back yard, eyes up to the darkened rain filled sky.

"Gabriel?" he frowned. Gabriel couldn't be there. He was with Michael, hours away.

"Get your pigheaded ass inside," Gabriel turned him and dragged him in. "Found him!"

Chris stilled. If Gabriel was back, oh shitshitshit!

But it was Nicky and only Nicky that came down the steps. Gabriel tugged off Chris' jacket and soaked shirt and his own jacket and boots.

"Hell you're crazy!" Nick pushed him into one of the kitchen table chairs. "You must really want your butt beaten bad!"

Chris glanced up and around as Nick got his shoes off and stood him up to help yank off his soaked jeans. Only the fact that his underwear was slipping down grabbed Chris attention enough to help.

"Relax, the big guy's not here yet," Gabriel told him.

"He dropped us off and went to get dinner," Nick added. "He's gonna know the second he sees you!" Nick grabbed at his head and frowned. "You guys are soaked!"

"I didn't do anything!" Gabriel held up his hands.

Chris looked over at the clock on the stove. 3:15. How could this have happened?

"He's going to kill me," he retorted and began to cry.

"Hey!" Gabriel smacked his head hard. "No time for that!"

"Right," Nick nodded as Chris hissed and rubbed his head. "No time. Gabriel, both of you, go shower!"

"Both of

"No time!" Nick snapped at his twin. "I'll toss this in the laundry and clear the table. Michael said he was getting Chinese. He should probably be at least another fifteen. Ugh! Go!"

Nick gathered up the wet clothes as Gabriel took Chris by the shoulders and maneuvered him upstairs.

"We are never speaking of this," Gabriel told his little brother as he got them into the bathroom. 

By some miracle, as Michael arrived with three takeout bags, Gabriel and Chris were coming down the stairs nicely scented and cleanly showered. Nick was finished clearing off the table and had even washed Chris' cup in the sink. He'd locked the back door tightly and had left the three soaked jackets in the laundry room since usually Nick was the only one down there, but sometimes he could get Gabriel or Chris to help bring stuff up or down. Michael wouldn't go there unless something broke. It was the only safe place to hide things and Michael hadn't quite caught on to Nick on that yet. And hopefully tonight wouldn't be the night.

"Uh," Nick looked from his twin and little brother to his big brother. Michael frowned since the three others were looking back at him. "My turn!" Nick called, rushing to the stairs and making to go take his own bath. "Chris why don't you get Mike's jacket into the sink in the laundry room. That's where I left the others." He gave the other two a look as Nick headed up. 

"Hurry up," Michael told him. He handed Gabriel the bags and started taking off his dripping wet jacket.

"I'll find you a towel," Chris said. Chris grabbed his jacket and was soon bolting down the basement stairs.

He was super glad Earth Elementals couldn't hear any better than an average human. Chris' heart was hammering up to his ears. He took deep deep deep breaths as he dropped Michaels coat atop the others. His own hidden beneath Nick and Gabriel's. 

He needed to pull himself together! He was going to be his own dead give away. Chris sucked at lying. Especially to Michael. He had sucked at lying to his parents too. If he lied to Nick or Gabriel it wasn't really like so he could usually do that okay. It was usually something that they figured out soon enough anyway.

But if Chris didn't pull himself together, he was going to get his butt handed to him. Literally.

Deep deep deep breath.

He grabbed a towel from the dryer and headed back up the stairs.

Chinese was a peace offering. Chris felt his stomach tighten as he saw not only the food but that Michael had gotten paper plates and soda cans. Which meant no dishes for Chris.

He, Christopher Merrick, was a horrible brother.

Gabriel and Michael were setting up all the food. Some had gone into the fridge for the next day. Gabriel tossed a fortune cookie to each place setting and Michael set down their sodas. Grape for Chris, Orange for Gabriel, regular Pepsi for Nick and Root beer for Michael.

Seriously. The last time Chris had had grape soda had been the last time dad had taken them all out for pizza. Chris could cry.

"Grab some napkins," Michael instructed. "And stick them by Gabriel."

"Haha," Gabriel had rolled his eyes. Gabriel was a messy eater and it was a joke the family often said. Dad probably started it, but the truly funniest thing had been when Gabriel was nine and they were out eating buffalo wings and Mom had quietly placed a napkin on Gabriel's lap. And tucked one into his collar and had taken a third to place by his plate. "Just in case," she had winked. They had all laughed. Usually Mom wasn't one to take in on their pranks or joke like that, her having done so made it so very very epic and memorable.

Michael was going to make Christopher cry. 

Once Nick returned they started eating. It was a mostly quiet affair. Except for Gabriel. He went on and on about the arcade and Chris thought it sounded pretty cool. He hoped he'd be allowed to go next time, but that probably depended on whether Michael found out or not.

"What you do all day, Chris?" Michael asked casually.

Chris had his eyes on his plate. He tensed up and could swear he was sweating back the rain he'd stood in.

"Nothing really," he shrugged. "Uh, watched TV. Straighten my room a bit. Read some comics. Ate my sandwich." He left out the video games and rain stroll for obvious reason.

"Yeah sounds pretty boring," Gabriel commented.

"Play any video games?" Michael asked him, his tone still calm and conversational.

But Chris' sharp look over to his eldest brother gave him away. Did Michael know, or just assume?

"He was grounded," Gabriel said quickly. "He wouldn't do that."


Confessing to the video games would get the video games taken from him. At least that's what Michael did to Gabriel. He knew he looked guilty enough and he had to confess to something.

Saying he'd gone outside would get him spanked. Michael had been more than clear on that.

"Um," Chris looked down and frowned. "Sorry. I got real bored," he explained. "But I didn't play that long!"

Mainly since he'd been hungry and partially because of that cool off thing. He kind of wished he'd stayed on the system and been found like that instead! If there hadn't been a storm, he probably would have.

"Bad Christopher," Gabriel shook his head.

"How long?" Michael was so calm. He could almost pretend this was a normal conversation and not a mini interrogation.

"A few hours," Chris said. He almost would've said four, just so that there couldn't be enough time for his outside stroll, but he was afraid saying an actual number would make his lying more obvious.

Michael nodded. They were all still eating and once a minute passed Gabriel picked up talking about a new Street Fighter game.

They were almost done before Michael spoke again. Gabriel had already eaten his fortune cookie, laughing out as he and Nick tried to say the Chinese words on the back. Chris had eaten slowly and was on his last egg roll; he didn't want to open his fortune. It was stupid, but he was afraid it would read out Walked Through the Rain or enjoying sitting while it lasts kid. Something morbid and obvious and dead giveaway-y.

"Chris, you alright?" Michael was so calm. He had clearly had a good time too and Chris was nothing but a troublesome burden of a little brother.

Chris nodded.

"You want to finish up and stop playing with your food then?"

He'd been picking on the edges of the egg roll. His mom and him would usually split the last one.

"I'm full," he said instead.

"Then put it away." Michael stood up and started collecting the containers. Gabriel moved to help. Nick was watching Michael closely.

Chris place the eggroll back in its plastic little baggy and took it to the fridge. He doubted he'd be able to eat it the next day either.

"You sure you're okay?"

Chris moved back and grabbed his still half full can of grape soda. He was savoring it, but also he was kind of feeling guilty.

Chis kept his eyes in the can. He nodded.

"You got something on your mind, you might as well spill it now." Michael was leaning up against the sink and it looked a bit eerie.

Did he know? He couldn't know! Chris had bathed and Nick had set their clothes to wash. Had he grown suspicious in the minute that Chris had been in the laundry room? Had Gabriel made a stupid joke that had clued their brother in?

"Like what?"

Michael wasn't going to help him. He just shrugged.


Chris shook his head. He was not going to talk. He was not going to rat himself out!

Christ! He was not gonna get spanked!

Michael was fishing. He didn't know anything. He couldn't. Or so Chris kept telling himself. 

The twins were looking over now. Gabriel was still trying to smile from their laughter but it was a bit forced, Nick looked slightly bothered.

They would be no help.

"I don't know what you're talking about, Michael."

Michael frowned at him. He knew. Chris knew he knew. His face of calm and indifference was gone and he wore a face that his siblings often saw on the eldest face. The  you're pulling some shit' face and the 'I'm having none of it' eyebrow raise.

Chris gripped at the soda can a slight bit tighter. 

Not going to say a damn thing!

"You know, don't you?"

It was Nick. Chris looked over at his usually more trustworthy twin, startled. Nick. Of all people.

Michael glanced over at Nick, giving him the Look. Nick sighed and looked down at the table. Gabriel beside him, and no longer smiling, looked from his twin to his older brother.

"Well I don't know," muttered Gabriel.

"Knock it off," Michael stressed. "All of you." He locked eyes with Chris then. "I expect to hear it out of your mouth. You're not five, you should man up to things. Especially since you've been made."

Chris couldn't keep eye contact. He looked down at his socked feet, pouting.

"Christopher. Tonight please."

"I'm sorry," he mumbled.

"It wasn't his fault!" Gabriel tried to defend him.

"Knock it off Gabriel!" Michael moved from the counter over to Chris. He grabbed the twelve year old by the arm and started tugging him towards the stairs. Chris tried pulling his arm free, but one quick jerk of his arm got him to stop real quick.

"Michael, come on," Nick mumbled getting to his feet but not moving.

"He was cooped up in here all day, that has to count for something!"

Michael stopped them at the bottom of the steps, Chris walking into his back.

"I appreciate you two trying to get your little brother out of trouble, but he brought this on himself. Did you stop to think that maybe I'm trying to keep my little brother out of trouble? That maybe a full Water elemental, on a rainstorm, with no control ISN'T a Good Idea!"

The twins shared a look that Chris could only call as oh. Chris knew how they felt. He'd only been thinking about how the water was calling out to him. How he had to touch it and let himself be in it.

He hadn't thought.

"No. You didn't." Michael gripped at the three of them. "Well, I did. I do. That's my job. I have to think about this shit, keep you three out of trouble, so that maybe - just maybe - we won't get ourselves killed!"

"Michael, I'm sorry," Chris muttered again, tears sliding down his cheeks.

Michael frowned down at him. "Yeah. Real sorry. You can’t even own up to shit. I was damn clear with you before we left, wasn't I?" Chris nodded. "I warned you not to go outside this house. I told you exactly what would happen if you did. I even had to spank you before I left! But you just won't listen!"

Michael looked over at the twins and glared at them. "You two are grounded for the weekend for helping him lie. Don't you dare, Gabriel!" he quickly added when said twin started to open his mouth. "Sometimes looking out for your little brother is letting him get into his own trouble. And maybe it'll teach the three of you that when I say something, I mean it!"

By the time they reached the upstairs, Chris was quietly bawling. He didn't notice they'd gone to Michael's room until he was flipped over his brother's lap and looking at Mom’s old area rug. Chris' room had hardwood.

Seeing the rug made Chris think about their mother more. Everything had made him think of mom. This week was supposed to be here birthday, but no one else had remembered! Back during school, and Mother's Day, he hadn't been able to give his book report. It hadn't occurred to him until after Liz Houston had said she picked her book because I was her mom and her older sisters favorite that the reason Chris had picked his book was the same. His mother's favorite. It was too personal. And he would probably start to cry. Everyone already thought he was a wimp compared to the twins.

Five smacks brought him into the present.

"You ready to talk yet, Chris?"

Chris sniff and wiggled. So far, that was the most Michael had ever hit him. But he was sure that was just the start. No way Gabriel made such a big deal from five smacks. Chris had seen him get more, knew he would get more.

Still, he had to try and hope he got out of getting more.

"I'm sorry, I went outside when you told me not to. I didn't mean to stay there so long," Chris mumbled out a quick apology.

"How long were you out there?" Michael asked curious and concerned.

"Umm," Chris shifted around. It felt awful weird laying like that. He was wearing sweatpants after his shower, but they felt so thin compared to the strength behind his brother’s swing.

He did not want to answer that question. That question was not going to do him any good. Michael was right, he'd had no business going outside. He should've just leaned out his bedroom window. Michael couldn't have gotten mad at him if he did that. Maybe swatted him, because he would probably forget to close the window and would likely make half his things soaked again. Chris could handle getting swatted. It hurt, but he'd been swatted now twice and he was okay after maybe an hour. It smarter but it wasn't enough to cry over. Not like if he answered that question. 

Michael however didn't seem to think the same. He spanked Chris again, probably another five or six times.

"I really hate talking for no reason, Chris. Answer the question. You phased out out there, didn't you?"

"Yeah," Chris hiccupped. He buried his head between his arms and Michael's leg. He really hated this. He didn't like that Michael was made at him and he didn't like that he had no way to defend himself.

"How long?"

"I only wanted out a few minutes," Chris tried to explain. "I set an alarm and everything!"

"You hadn't been in a storm in a while," Michael told him. "You're not strong enough to stop yourself. Your element is going to call out to you all the time, and you can’t always answer it. It can get dangerous, Christopher. You shouldn't have been out there alone and you know it!"

Chris would've liked to tell Michael he was wrong, would've loved for a reason for this particular punishment to end - but he had none. Michael was right. As far as things were going these days, Michael was always right. Funny how Michael didn't seem so right when Mom and Dad were alive, but he had certainly gained the wisdom in the year since.

"How long?" Michael asked again.

"Three hours," he said low, kind of hoping that Michael wouldn't hear him.

"Three hours? Three hours? Jesus Christ Christopher! Are you trying to get caught? Or do you just want to get us all killed?!"

"I'm sorry," was the only thing he could think to say.

Michael didn't say anything else either. He spanked him for a good long bit. Chris kind of wished he'd gotten spanked before Michael started spanking on Gabriel. Maybe then he wouldn't have as much experience or technique or whatever the hell it was that made him able to light quite the fire on his little brothers' disobedient bums. He wondered briefly if Gabriel gained any kind of charge from the heat, but he didn't think this was the kind of fire that called out to his brother. At least he would hope not.

It was probably not even two minutes, but it felt like an hour.

Michael stood him up. Chris tried to wipe away the tears from his face but new ones sprung out quickly. Michael place his hands on Chris' neck, one particularly warmer than the other. He tried not to think about that, but his throbbing bottom made it the only thought in his mind.

"Jesus Chris," Michael sighed. "That was a very stupid thing you did. Hell, it would've been better off if you'd played video games all afternoon! I think I would've been considerably less pissed off."

"Hindsight," Chris shrugged, his breath hitching. 

Michael scoffed. "Yeah, right." he shook his head, dropping his hands to Chris' hands and pulling him into a hug. Chris instantly attached himself to Michael. Much like after spanking Gabriel, Michael felt awful inside and could only imagine that his little brothers felt the same. Alongside the sore bum.

He held Chris and the younger boy started crying even more. Michael had no idea what to do. He had his own shit he was trying to deal with, but that always had to take a backseat to his brothers' needs. He wished he was better at serving those needs, maybe things would be easier. But he was barely a kid himself. He wished someone was around to turn to, even just to talk. Someone that might understand how horrible it was to have to dish out punishments when he himself should probably still be getting ground for shit.

Just last weekend had been mom’s birthday. Michael had raided what was left of Dads beer and had gotten quite wasted. He had been having a bottle every now and then, but he'd had three then. More than he had ever had at once in his life. He felt miserable afterwards and he should not have been driving around the next day. But he had to work. He had to be the adult and get the kids moving. He had been sweating buckets when a cop car passed him and he swear he would never drink again. If he got pulled over, there wouldn't be anyone to bail him out. There wouldn't be anyone left to watch the boys. He had been stupid and he had noticed it way too late. Luckily, the cop car waited for the green and went on his way. Michael had had to pull over and threw up, he'd driven home afterwards and had rescheduled his last job. The boys hadn't realized a thing and he was grateful. He had to be the observant one now, catch the shit they did, even if no one did it for him. He had to do what mom and dad would've wanted, even if it wasn't how they would've done it.

"You're okay now," he whispered into Chris' ear. "We're done here. Nothing happened, and you learned from this. And next time, you won't do something like that without thinking. I know it's harsh, but you're smart. You're going to be okay."

Chris nodded. He leaned up against Michael's chest, much more content to just be held than Gabriel usually was by this point. That was okay. Michael didn't mind holding his baby brother. Chris turned his head enough to wipe at his eyes. He leaned his head down on Mikes shoulder and sighed.

"Gabriel's right," he muttered.

"Bout what?" Michael frowned, wondering what particular gem the thirteen year old had deemed to share with his little brother.

"Not worth it," Chris shook his head. He turned his head enough to match his ready eyes with Michaels. "Gabriel reckons at least doctors have lollipops or something. This just sucks."

Michael rolled his eyes. "Well, it's a different kind of medicine, I guess. Obedience its own reward."

Chris shook his head and lowered his gaze. Now he felt extremely tired.

"I think I'll go take a bath now," he muttered. "And go to bed?" he knew he was grounded, so while it was early, he would be sent to bed soon enough anyway. And just then he didn't mind it so bad.

"Bed sounds good," Michael nodded. "But no shower. You're not going to go in there and heal up. Sorry. You're going to feel that, at least for a day."

Chris looked at him and pouted. He wanted to complain, but the look Michael cast had stopped him. His brother had been mastering his 'don't mess with me' look. They certainly gave him plenty of chances to use it. 

"Michael," he mumbled, trying to put up a fight.

"Don't even try," Michael told him. He stood up, easily taking Chris with him. Instead of being taken to his room, Michael turned to the large bed behind them. He deposited his baby brother in the middle.

"Mike!" Chris groaned, both from posterior pain and brotherly embarrassment.

"I can't trust you right now,” Michael told him. "You can't be alone. So you'll sleep here. Shut up and lie down."

Chris pouted the whole time. Michael moved around the room, tidying up. Chris looked the room over. It wasn't the first time he'd been into here since mom and dad, but maybe the longest. Michael had changed a few things, but he'd kept a lot too. Dad’s things would soon fit Mike. Mom’s things wouldn’t go to them, but they couldn't quite give them up either. There drawers still remained untouched. Michael had done their laundry and put things away. Nick had noticed and pointed it out. Nick didn't think Michael was so slow on the laundry thing like he said. Mike had the dryer figured out now at least. But Nick needed to feel useful too. Chris spotted a few odds and ends, smiled at the baby pictures Mom kept on her dresser. Dad’s boots and wallet were still by the chair next to the closet. He wondered how Michael could sleep there every night.

"What do you think we would've done this year?" he asked all of a sudden.

Michael looked over from some papers he was tossing on the desk Mom used to run the business from. Mike preferred the kitchen table.


Chris stared at the picture of all of them. It was his own second birthday. Before they'd moved. Before Michael had been a full elemental. Before any of them even knew what that meant. They were at the zoo. Dad held a twin in each arm. Mom had her arms wrapped around Michael's shoulder. Michael was holding a tiny Chris with a burger king crown on his little head. They were all smiling.

"mom’s birthday."

Michael was moving again but Chris didn't look at him. Instead, Chris felt himself once again lifted into his brother’s arms. This time Michael sat holding him. Chris quietly cried, and if the wetness against his own neck was indication, Mike was too.

A minute later the twins appeared at the doorway. They sat quietly at the foot to the bed until they were acknowledged. Michael started off telling them how Dad came to get their mother Broadway theater tickets and towards the end, Chris was smushed against Michael and next to Nick, Gabriel stretched out at their feet. He never heard the ending of the story, he was already asleep.