Michael was up all night. It happened sometimes. He had a lot on his mind and he couldn't always get to sleep.
This night, he had been trying to see if he could fill an order. It was quite a dumb thing to be awake over, but you can't exactly chose your fears.
Things were a bit easier now. Just a bit. The twins could help more on the jobs in the weekends. They took Chris along most of the time, though at thirteen he wasn't always happy about it.
That's about where the "easier" started and ended.
Michael had been out late, trying his hand at dating. He had only done it because his brothers were being so annoying about it. They shouldn't be caring about his love life - to which Gabriel would've likely scoffed and said what love life? Still, it was nice of them to care he guessed. So when the opportunity arose, he didn't say no.
But once he got home, he fell into his own self-doubts.
There was no way he could bring a girl into his world. He had the boys. He had a business to run. And then there was the teeny, tiny thing about their Elemental powers that had people wanting to kill his whole family.
Yeah, he was better off sticking to the normal crap that crammed his head.
It was two in the morning and he was lying awake in bed. He had gotten home a bit after midnight and had done some cleaning. (The boys were a mess on a good day, an absolute horror when unsupervised.) He had gone to bed, but he hadn't slept yet.
He hadn't checked on the boys. In hindsight, he should've. But it would've resulted the same way he supposed.
It was fifteen minutes past two in the morning when he heard a noise. He checked his watch and the clock as he got up, grabbing a bat on his way. Michael glanced over at the unopened doors of his brothers. He wasn't about to call them. It could be nothing. It usually was.
It was embarrassing how paranoid raising his brothers had made him.
Michael made his way down the stairs in the dark. Something he probably wouldn't even dare to do in the day. Boys and their messes. But he had cleaned the stairs and halls on his way up. It was the mothering in him now, he supposed.
Once downstairs he heard more noise and knew he wasn't imagining it his time. It came from the back door.
Michael moved cautiously towards it. He was practically useless inside, but the bat was solid oak, he could pack a damn good swing into it, and get whoever the hell was trying to get in outside.
No one was getting at his brothers.
The door was slowly swinging open just as Michael got beside it. He could barely see the silhouettes, but he saw that it was two of them, and they were probably teens.
Of course, he should've realized it then. He didn't. Not until a small, whispered "Quiet" reached his ears. Just as he was about to swing.
And the lights flicked on.
That was Nick. Michael had just about bashed Gabriel's head in for him, but his twin's quiet warning had saved them both. At least from a bat to the skull.
Michael leaned the bat against the wall and stepped back. He'd flicked the outside lights on, but it was enough for them all to see each other.
Gabriel swung around instantly, alarm in his own eyes. It settled for a second, before realization set in.
"What. The. Hell?!"
The twins shared a look. Michael knew it well. It was their "Oh Shit" look. Usually, Gabriel would be the one wearing it, but it looked exactly the same on either boys' face.
Michael reached forward and grabbed Gabriel by the back of his hoodie. He pulled him further into the house and released him to do the same to Nick. Both stayed just where he left them and Michael turned to close the back door. He gave the yard a quick scan, but there was nothing out there. Nothing but two stupid Merricks.
Michael switched the light off, engulfing them back into darkness, until he was able to get to the lamp close by.
He turned back to the twins and their equally wide, busted, anxious eyes.
"Where were you?"
Gabriel bit his lip and squirmed. The kid knew, no matter what came out of his mouth now, he was getting his ass spanked. The fourteen year olds had no business being out at that time. None.
Nick looked like he was gasping for air, which was kind of ironic, his being an Air Elemental. But Michael knew what he was really freaking out about. Nick was the one good Merrick. Michael had had no real problems with him. The last four years raising his younger brothers had been trying, but Nick was the one brother who hadn't given him a hard time.
Michael couldn't even recall having swatted him. He probably had. And if he had, it wouldn't have been anything more than his slip on language or not getting to bed on time. Things that Michael wasn't too bothered by unless he was really really tired.
But tonight the kid’s luck had run out.
Not that Michael wanted to spank him. He didn't wanted to spank any of his brothers. His parents had never spanked them and Michael himself had turned out…okay. But he wasn't his parents. He was just barely an adult himself, raising twin fourteen year olds and a thirteen year old that didn't always want to do as told. Chris wasn't a problem though. He was one brother that was used to having to listen to everyone else. It was usually Gabriel that stressed Michael.
Like, not answering his question.
"Hey!" he yelled at them, causing them both to jump slightly and look over at him. He wasn't too worried about waking Chris. Either now or when he beat their asses, there would be noise. The kid was smart enough to stay up in his room.
"Good, so you can hear me," he said a tone lower. "Do I have to ask you again?"
Gabriel looked down and shook his head.
"We didn't…we weren't …we…" Nick tried, but he want always so good at being confronted. Or lying.
"You want to stop before you dig yourself a grave?" Michael eyed him, though he doubted the boys could see him glaring. The light was behind him, and he was able to see them.
Nick shut his mouth and looked down to the ground. He reached back and scratched his head.
"You boys took advantage of my being out tonight," he couldn't help himself from glaring and growling at them. He felt he was always doing one or the other lately, but both told him how furious he really was.
Pretty. Freaking. Furious.
Which was probably good. Fury was powering his body and keeping him awake. And he wasn’t trying to think about how this would be the first time he would have to spank Nick, and two brothers at the same time.
There had been a few times he had almost spanked Nick. Usually when the twins were after Chris. And once when he caught the twins fooling around with their powers outside, during a job. He'd swatted Gabriel (who was almost instantly bright red and eyes on his work from then on), but he'd only warned and glared at Nick. He abilities were more subtle, less likely to cause a stir, which had probably saved Nick from his own smack. That and he had been further away.
"You took off, without letting me know, left your little brother by himself, and have been out for hours doing God only knows what!" Michael’s voice was raising as he lectured. The boys looked up at him occasionally, but mostly at their shoes.
"Where were you?!"
They both started talking, but it was so ridiculous they really should've stayed silent.
"We're sorry," Nick muttered.
At the same time, Gabriel tried to keep his eyes from moving suspiciously all over the room. He tried to maintain eye contact with Michael, but the lighting wasn't too good. Not to mention it was obvious how pissed Mike was.
"Outside," was his reply, and he winced as soon as he spoke.
Michaels focus on him was instantaneous. Gabriel tensed an almost took a step back.
"Is this funny to you?" Michael grit his teeth. "You find sneaking out and lying to me funny?"
"No Michael," came Nicks reply.
Michael held his hand up at the other teen. He didn't need to hear Nick. He didn't even want to hear Gabriel. He had wanted to be in bed.
But the troublemaker in front of him just bit at his lip and shook his head.
"Where. Were. You?" he asked again.
"We were at the park," Nick replied quickly.
Michael turned a skeptical eye towards his brother.
"The park? Really?" he scoffed. They were fourteen. The last time they'd been to the park had been when Michael had taken them when Chris had wanted to go. It was a drizzle out that day and Chris was still young enough to appreciate just running around and having fun. Not that the twins hadn't enjoyed themselves. Sure, Gabriel wasnt such a fan of the rain, but they still had fun.
Not enough fun to warrant a midnight stroll however.
"We were bored," Gabriel added. "And we … we"
"We knew you'd be out late," sighed Nick. "We didn't mean to take so much time. We're sorry."
Michael glared at them. Not that he had expected a smart excuse, they were just kids after all, but the sheer stupidity behind their actions just served to infuriate him more.
"You were bored?"
"There's no excuse," Nick rectified. "We just, we saw an opportunity and
"We took it," Gabriel finished. "It wasn't our intent to worry you, Michael. Sorry."
A part of Michael actually cringed at that. He had definitely been worried, but not like the twins thought. He hadn't even realized that they had been gone. And what kind of brother pseudo-parent did that make him!
"That's the stupidest shit I think I've ever heard, and Gabriel has certainly tossed some epic excuses before." Michael shook his head.
"Well, what would you expect?" Gabriel shrugged. "I mean, it was a stupid thing to do."
Nick had enough brains left to glare at his twin.
"Do yourself a favor and shut your mouth."
Both boys looked down at their dirty shoes again. Had he not seen them now, Michael was positive that he would've woken up to the knowledge. Muddy footprints long forgotten by the troublesome twosome. It wouldn't be the first time that the kids got caught because of their footwear.
Michael was furious. It might have part to do with his own tiredness, but he wasn't about to let that excuse them. Not this time.
His hands were becoming a permanent accessory against his hips.
"Im beyond disappointed in you boys," he told them. "And I'm beyond tired."
"Sorry Mike," cringed Nick.
Michael glared at the twin. He turned and sat over at the couch's edge, just beside the lit lamp.
"I hope this was worth it," he told them. "Nicholas."
The fourteen year olds eyes grew comically large. Michael might have laughed in any other situation.
Where had the kid thought this was going?
Not that Michael enjoyed the idea of spanking the fourth remaining Merrick.
"Michael?" his voice squeaked. Nick looked from Michael to Gabriel. Neither was giving him a helpful response.
"Don't act stupid, Nick." He pointed at the ground in front of him. Nick's head rotation from Mike to Gabriel now included the space in front of his big brother.
"Now!" snapped Michael, his tiredness coming out loud and strong.
Both twins jumped at the harshness in his voice. Most of it was being tired, but he wasn't about to mention that.
Slowly enough, Nick started walking forward. Michael glared at him until he was close enough to glare at.
Michael reached out and grabbed Nicks arm. Just as quickly, he had his brother at his side.
"You're getting spanked Nicholas," Michael told him. "I hate being lied to. You know you're not to leave this house without my knowing! And especially not at night."
"Michael, please," a teary eyed Nicholas pouted.
Michael shook his head.
"You're getting spanked," he repeated. "There is NO excuse for you two today."
No further preamble. No long rants or lectures.
He had thought it would be awkward, having never had Nick in that position. But, as much as he liked to offer up their differences, he couldn't help but realize Nick and Gabriel were just the same.
Looking up, he could see Gabriel trying to blend into the shadows. It wasn't natural to see Gabriel being so quiet and still.
"You boys know what we're up against," Michael lectured as he glanced from Nicks stiff back to Gabriel's stillness. "You know how dangerous getting caught out there, how they test us. As if that wasn't enough, what of something happened! If the police saw you, grabbed you, do you honestly think that you'll be allowed to remain here?"
"Sorry, Michael!" Nick sputtered, the sensitive teen was already fighting the tears.
"Think about that next time you two try and deceive me."
Starting this spanking was probably the hardest yet. The times with Gabriel and Chris had been spur of the moment. He had been there those times as they were misbehaving. With Nick, some how it was harder.
Michael felt horrible, but the only thing that got his hand moving was thinking about what the boys had done. And thinking of Gabriel, at least for that first second.
Nick was mostly still, but he was loud.
It was a split seconds thought, but smile couldn't help realize in all of the ways that the kids were different. Even as he doled out the same spanking to each of them, they reacted differently.
It didn't take much. Michael was using a bit more force than he had for the other boys first time. But Nick was fourteen. And he was a good kid. And it was late.
Michael hoped to never have to repeat this again.
Two minutes. Less than probably.
Nick was instantly in his arms the second that Michael righted him.
"Sorry. So sorry," Nick kept muttering.
Michael just held him tightly. He didnt need to talk, not to Nick. The kid was probably more aware of his wrongs than Michael himself would be. What surprised Michael more was that Nick usually talked Gabriel out of things like sneaking out at night. He guessed that it was a part of growing up. He would have to deal with some kind of rebellion from the teen, it was only natural.
Michael had certainly given their parents plenty of rebellion to work with. And while Michael couldn't exactly say that he had been on the giving end of a lot wisdom, he tried to think about how his parents would react to most things.
It took a minute, but Nick calmed himself down. He stayed in Mike's arms, just being held and squeezing him back, but he was no longer crying.
"You okay?" Michael felt awkward asking. He wanted to know not so much about the crying or the pain, but if their relationship wasn't broken. But Nick was pretty much a great kid, and he wasn't the first to be under Michael's hands.
Nick leaned back and nodded.
Michael tried to study his face, but other than red and teary and sad, he couldnt see that the boy had suffered any kind of trauma. Or at least, he was being hopeful.
"Sorry," Nick muttered again.
Michael nodded. He glanced over at the other culprit, who was wearing his own matching face of sorrow.
"Switch places with your brother," Michael said.
He hadnt done this to two of the boys before at once. He had only had to discipline Chris a handful of times. It was mostly Gabriel that rattled his nerves enough to bring the kid over his knee.
Both twins frowned at him.
"But, Michael," Gabriel, as always tried to talk him out of it.
"It wouldnt be fair," Michael said calmly, giving the now wide eyed Nick a push towards Gabriel's position.
Nick was pouting and Gabriel was gaping like a fish. Slowly, they started walking on their on, switching places. Michael tried to steal his own heart. It hurt to hurt the boys, and he felt like he was always hurting Gabriel, but he couldn't afford to have him - and of them - miss using their powers and risking their lives.
Gabriel gave him a final sad glance, his eyes already watery from having watched his twin receive his spanking. But he was quite the trooper, placing himself over Michael's lap without further instruction.
Having to be the bad guy twice in a row, Michael probably wasn't as harsh as he might have been had it only been Gabriel again. From Gabriel's whimpers and his cries, the kid wasn't exactly noticing.
It probably didn't take more than a minute before Gabriel was in his arms hugging him.
Twenty minutes later and each kid was in his room and fast asleep. They had showered and gotten into their pajamas and had each stood in front of him and hugged him and apologized before getting into their beds.
It took Michael a lot longer than to calm himself and sleep. He looked in on Chris and the twins a handful of times that night. He left the outside lights on, kept glancing out there and looking at the grounds around them.