Sean/Elijah. "When they ask you, the answer is ready. 'Like brothers', you say, the word bubbling easily to your lips ..."
Description: Lo*trips, S/E. PG-13.
When they ask you, the answer is ready. 'Like brothers', you say, the word bubbling easily to your lips, for there is no other word of appropriate value that even comes close to describing this kaleidoscope of textures and emotions. 'Like brothers,' he agrees, when they ask him. 'More than brothers,' he sometimes adds, enigmatically failing to qualify what 'more' there could be.
It's a lie of convenience. You both know this from experience. Real brothers dismiss and resent, bicker and jostle, blame and ignore. In the struggle to pull ahead, in the race to catch up, in the competition for finite attention, things inevitably get broken. Even when there is ultimately acceptance and genuine affection, even when there is loyalty and trust, there is baggage, a lifetimes's worth, and anguish, sometimes too deep for articulation. You are nothing remotely like real brothers. You like each other far too much. Between you there is, in fact, a complete absence of the very thing that defines brothers: there is nothing to forgive.
To you, he's more like an unexpected gift. The long-lost brother. The best-friend-brother who loves you without echoes of judgement, envy or guilt. Just ... loves.
There ought to be a word, you think, for whatever this is. This 'more-than-brothers, more-than-friends' thing. 'Soul mates' or 'kindred spirits' doesn't seem to apply - wouldn't you have to be pretty similar in tastes and outlook? You couldn't be more different from him if you tried. Thrown together and amiably disposed to approve of one another, the broken edges where your personalities don't fit simply keep it interesting, a source of baited jokes and elaborate discussion. It shouldn't work, the two of you, but it does, and whatever doesn't is smothered over by an indulgent embrace.
The phrase 'like brothers' for you refers, not to a real brother, but to ideas in fiction, or in television shows. A romanticised, idealised notion of brotherly love. The kind that has to reaffirm itself episodically in acts of desperate heroism and selfless devotion. You realise now you've seamlessly imbibed that notion growing up, in defiance of real life, and perhaps so has he. It even formed a backdrop to what brought you together and paints your reality in reflected glowing colors. Somewhere inside, there's a desire to act out and act through the possibilities of that dream-brother - a collaboration in closeness.
Does he love you like a brother? He may tease like one but he is far more openly affectionate and generous with praise. The experience is closer to what you fondly imagine a sister's love might be, despite assurances from friends to the contrary - a sort of unconditional mutual worship, with nobody keeping score. In him, you've stumbled against an eager respondent to the yearning affection in your nature. Whether from some inner core of security or because you're so dissimilar, he's entirely unthreatened, and this frees you to love without restraint. It's exhilarating, illuminating. It feels great.
Together you're this twin-creature, the dream-team, everyone's favorite couple. An alchemical mix that spells success, and more. At social events, like tonight, you're the designated wingman. You couldn't help but enjoy the swelling tide of buzz when you entered the room with him. But there's a catch - isn't there always? You don't want your identity to be subsumed by this connection. You have a life to lead, a legend to build. You've worked hard to achieve individuality, momentum and balance, and you begin to feel he might innocently upset all of it. Still, you wouldn't have missed this, missed him, for the world.
But perhaps you ceded too much too soon. With everyone else, you observe, he is patient, modest, deferential. With you, he smilingly demands, displaying that species of annoying charm common to cats and infants, that confidently expects to be adored, and is. You taught him that, invited it, with your unfeigned admiration and eagerness to serve. If there was a time to set limits, it passed you by in the delight of discovery. Now he knows you're his. He has naturally come to expect that whenever he appears your attention will be diverted chiefly to him.
And, of course, it is. You adore talking to him. His face is so mobile and responsive. His eyes smile encouragement even when you get lost in the convolutions of your own words. You delight in pushing his buttons to watch him giggle uproariously. You have a mental shorthand with him born of common experience and familiarity and sometimes a look is enough. He is quick and empathic, he gets all your allusions and laughs at your shtick. It's perfect. It's got to stop.
He doesn't own you in a room anymore, you've decided. Easy capitulation to that kind of invasive charm is asking for trouble. It's your show too, but you can't focus on that when he keeps distracting you with moments of artless grace and impromptu affection. Like a cat that refuses to settle anywhere but on your lap, or the toddler who commandeers you for a game, he can be an oddly beguiling nuisance sometimes.
He's doing it now, fidgeting at your side, fully expecting inclusion in your conversation with a guest. You angle your body slightly away from his, making it impossible for him to catch your eye. You happen to be discussing something on which you're better informed, leaving him no way in without being invited. You purposely withhold that invitation. It's time, you think, to remind him that you can be quite fascinating on your own.
He hovers at your elbow awhile, unused to this. Unused to you like this. You imagine confusion in immersive blue eyes. You hold out, ignoring him while he drifts just in range. You can almost feel the jiggling impatience. If he was a cat, you think, he would now be leaping on your shoulder and pin-walking down your arm in a determined bit for the coveted lap. If he were a child, he would be tugging impudently at your sleeve. He is neither and so, after a few minutes of bewildered exclusion, he simply vanishes.
The conversation which a moment ago appeared riveting begins to wane rapidly in interest for you, and soon enough you're drifting through the room. You remind yourself it had to start somewhere, and for a while, you concentrate on networking, pretending not to feel disappointed he didn't try harder.
You glance casually around a few times without seeing him. Then a cluster of people suddenly parts and there he is. There's a teasing grin, a wicked eyebrow, and your stomach flutters warningly. There is no time to prepare for he launches himself at you with a cat-like leap, and there he is in your arms, kissing you like it's been years, arms wrapped round your neck and legs around your waist, shredding your poise before jumping down easily like the six-year old he's briefly channelling and beaming at you with possessive satisfaction. There's no shock in the room, no seismic quake to match the one in your brain, beyond the timely flashbulb and the peals of indulgent, amused laughter, eddying quickly away. That's how normalised they are to your role as the patsy.
But it isn't normal for you and never will be. You chuckle and play it cool but for several minutes afterwards you can't hear your own thoughts. You can pretend to dismiss it but the effort it expends betrays that argument. Warmth spreads throughout your limbs and you drink a little more in case it's showing in your face. The mix of emotions seeps in slowly. Some amusement, affection, and embarrassment laced with faint hysteria. An annoyingly strong sense of feeling flattered, as usual, although that also quickens the indignation. You don't want to be played, after all. Especially, you don't want to be played by him.
He's done it before, in genuinely simple moments of clowning affection, though in your heart, you've hoped it was never just joking or random. You've wanted to be singled out by him, publicly and privately, as special, but you don't want gestures between you to become a party trick. Here tonight, though, something's changed. Your dismissal brought him hurtling into your arms at the first opportunity. You're shocked to realise you have that power. This wasn't just a careless moment of joy, more a bullish reclamation, with an underlying message for you alone that couldn't be clearer if it was written in neon.
'Neglect me,' it says, 'and get more than you bargained for.' 'Ignore me,' it says, 'and I will be unleashed.'
You become truly aware for the first time of something that is neither friend-like, nor brother-like. Of an unmistakable tang of jealously in the air which has nothing to do with competition and is wholly personal, of body and mind and will. It is twin-like, and lover-like, feline and childish, in character both selfish and softly revealing, controlling yet vulnerable. It insinuates itself impudently into your life without permission and makes demands you never agreed to, assumes intimacies as rights and proclaims itself beyond all other claims. It neither asks nor invites, having no conception of being refused, but simply expects, requires and compels, with maddening insouciance.
You sense all lingering illusion of balance slipping from under you. Marked preference has a distinct allure of its own and from him it is utterly irresistable. The value of distance and borders, still clear, weighs unfavorably with the attraction of this urgent claim. You know the penalty of dropping your guard, your surprising capacity for suffering if you are rejected or replaced. Dignity, once lost, is lost forever and the only dignity you value is in the eyes of those you love and admire, including his. But the lure of possession is seductive and strong and you feel yourself teetering uncomfortably on the brink of final surrender, of letting him take up residence in the places he has so clearly marked out for himself.
When they ask you, the answer won't change. 'Like brothers,' you'll say, knowing the true answer for you is more profound and unsettling, more complex and baffling than anything mere words can express. A delicate, sinuous, torturous game, this 'child-brother-friend-keeper-lover' thing, capable of engaging your incessant mental energies, and beguiling your dramatic sense of power-play. You don't know clearly what the stakes are but you're behind the eight ball from the start. You lose if he stops playing. You lose if he doesn't want to stop.
The risk sends panic fluttering like wingbeats in your breast. The favored of the favorite is a dangerous position and a whispered presentiment of danger quickens your heartbeat. You glance towards him and he meets your eyes instinctively, dealing you trouble with a quick, triumphant smile. Your defences are shattered into pieces and you feel yourself falling, falling, headfirst into uncertainty and enslavement.
The strange thing is, you love it.
- the end -