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That Boy Is A Powder Keg

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// A Few Weeks Later //

 

A bottle of champagne, unopened and dressed in a paper bag, dangles from Gavin’s hand. He holds it by the neck but with a weak fist, limp as he stands beside his car. At any moment the bottle could drop and fall to the hard, frosted ground. It could shatter and spill everywhere - wouldn’t that be a shame ? He would have to get back in the car, peel out of the driveway of Elijah’s perfect glass house and run to the store to get a new one.

Connor grabs it by the body, holds it secure. Then he grabs Gavin’s hand and holds that secure too.

“We should get out of here, y’know? Just fuck it and get out of here.” Gavin says, low as he stares at their twined fingers. They stand toe to toe as Gavin leans against the driver’s door, his back to the glass house but he knows they’re all there, watching and waiting. Judging. His father’s grey eyes, colder than his own but nearly matching. He hates that. He always hopes he looks more like his mother.

Gavin breathes, “You, me and anywhere that’s not here.”

He tries to sweeten the deal by leaning forward to kiss the corner of Connor’s jaw but the android, always a step ahead, moves back. Gavin let’s go of his hand in favor of pulling him forward again by the belt loops of his dress pants. He watches as Connor fights back a smile.

“Do I need to remind you that this was your idea?” Connor whispers, his lips next to Gavin’s ear.  

“No, not my idea - I owe him.” Gavin says but the words burn his tongue like too hot coffee. He likes to clear his debts, especially when it comes to Elijah. But, in an attempt to be more honest, at least with himself, Gavin can admit there’s something else lurking beneath the surface.

He can’t say he misses his family because he doesn’t even consider those people his family anymore, but sometimes he does think about the easier days of his childhood. Before he truly understood how unwanted he was by his father. Before he learned that Elijah’s mother didn’t look at him because Gavin always reminded her of the mistake his father made.

If they were never brothers they were at least friends once.

“I’ll be there the whole time.” Connor promises.

“I know.” Gavin nods. “They’re not good people, Connor.” Gavin warns as he meets Connor’s eyes. He absorbs their warmth, golden and glowing.

Connor touches their foreheads together briefly, “I will take your word for it.”

“It’s gonna be a shit show.”

“I will hose you down after.” Connor says, stealing a quick kiss as Gavin laughs. “You’re lips are cold-”

“You could keep warming them up.” Gavin suggests, wiggling his brows.

“Or we could go inside where it’s warm and face the inevitable.”

Gavin sighs but ultimately nods, accepting his fate. The sooner they get inside the sooner the dinner will be over. Gavin repeats this to himself over and over again as they walk to the door. With each crunch of snow under his boot he hears it; the sooner they get inside the sooner the dinner will be over. The sooner, the sooner, the sooner.

It’s not a mantra, it doesn’t calm him. It makes his insides knot up, it makes his blood boil. Connor knows this somehow. He must recognize that look on Gavin’s face. Or maybe he can hear the beating of his heart.

“Breathe.” Connor reminds him.

He takes in a shaky breath through his nose and barely lets it out before the door is pulled open by a Chloe. Gavin blinks, surprised, when he sees a slight indent from where her LED once was. “Welcome Gavin. Hello again, Connor.” She greets, waving for them to come inside.

“Hello.” Connor says, smiling. Gavin nods politely as he shucks off his outer coat. She plucks it out of his hands before he can even argue, before he can even ask if that’s still her job.

Gavin tugs at the sleeves of his sweater, one Tina picked out for him - thick cable knit and wine red. He’s wearing his nice jeans, the ones that he doesn’t wear to work because he’s always paranoid about getting blood on them. He almost checks them for rips across the knees or thighs because he feels sixteen again and knows how his father feels about jeans with holes in them.

“Are you planning on standing in the entry room all night?” Elijah’s voice is cool and biting as he leans in the doorway that connects to the living room.

“Are you planning on being condescending all night?” Gavin asks.

“No, not all night.” Elijah says, scoffing, before turning his attention to Connor, “Didn’t expect to see you here, Connor. How did my brother-

“Half brother.”

“-manage to get you out here?”

“He used a car.” Connor says flatly.

Elijah and Gavin chuckle at the same time before both clearing their throats. “Very well. Follow me to the dining room and get ready for the show, Connor.”

Elijah guides them through the house. Chloe - either the same one as before or another one without an LED - appears and grabs the champagne from Connor and takes it to the kitchen. Gavin, as he picks at the dry skin on his thumb, sort of wishes she’d whisk him off and into a different room.

There’s a bay of windows against the far wall of the dining room, looking out towards a sparse landscape of snow and trees and bluish sky.  Gavin sees his father standing there with his back to him, and blood rushes in his ears, loud and angry. He shoves his hands in his pockets and focuses on breathing - he looks around the room and counts awards to distract himself from the overwhelming urge to tackle that man through the window.

Then he sees Elijah’s mom, perched on the edge arm of a couch, talking with Chloe - definitely a second Chloe, different outfit but still no LED.

“Gavin,” She says, not moving from her spot. “You’re here.”

It’s a statement. Simple. Not excited, not disappointed, not really any emotion actually. An empty observation.

“I am.” Gavin confirms, “this is Connor.”

“Hello, Mrs. Kamski, it’s nice to meet you.” Connor greets, extending his hand forward to shake.

She smiles like she’s heard her favorite inside joke but she does shake his hand, “Please, call me Jacqueline.”

“I will, Jacqueline.” Connor back, but Gavin sees how it doesn’t reach his eyes. It’s formal and polite. Gavin wants to lean in and whisper you don’t have to do that, you don’t have to be fake for these people, you don’t have to act how they want you to-

“You’re late.” Gavin’s father says as he turns to face his son from across the room.

He looks older and that makes sense. Jacqueline looks well moisturized and botoxed and plasticized and that makes sense too. Gavin hasn’t seen them since he was nineteen or twenty. So they look older, but when Gavin’s father stands with his hands behind his back and his chin up he looks the exact same. Distant. Cruel.

“What else is new.” Gavin says.

He watches, in horror, as Connor crosses the room. “Hello, Sir, it’s nice to meet you.” He says, his hand offered but ignored. “I’m Connor.”

“So I’ve heard.”

Elijah huffs out a short, quiet laugh under his breath and, when Jacqueline isn’t looking, Gavin elbows him in the ribs for it.

“Dinner is ready if everyone would like to take their seats.” A third and final Chloe announces just in the nick of time.

“I don’t get how you’re enjoying any of this.” Gavin hisses as he passes Elijah.

They sit at an impossibly long, wooden dining table and yet it still feels claustrophobic. Elijah is at one end and their father is at the other. Gavin is in the middle with a Chloe and Connor on either side of him Opposite them, is Chloe, Chloe and Jacqueline.

Gavin drinks steadily for the first time in a long time. He doesn’t even like the taste of white wine but it’s there in his mouth and warming his throat. He stares at the mass of food collected on the table; a roasted bird, potatoes au gratin, steamed vegetables, rolls and pats of butter. Entirely too much considering that there’s only four people at the table who can eat.

“How’s your shoulder doing, Gavin?” Elijah says nonchalantly, as he works delicate cuts into the meat. “Hows physical therapy?” He follows up, because one question apparently wasn’t enough.

“Fine. Everything is fine” He says as civily as he can. Under the table Connor’s rest his hand on Gavin’s knee. The perfect weight to keep him grounded.

“Physical therapy?” Their father echoes, pausing his forkful.

Gavin stuffs a roll into his mouth, nearly gags on it. All eyes, synthetic and organic, at the table are on him. He chews slowly and stares pointedly at the grain of the wood table. He gets lost in the lines and swirls.

“Work injury.” Connor says swiftly. The Chloes nod sympathetically.

Gavin swallows, “I was shot.”

The cutting of food ceases, no more scratching of knives on plates, no more guzzling of wine. For a moment, total silence draped over the table, slow and languid. Gavin stared at his father, waited for some kind of reaction; disappointment, anger, mockery. Something about how it was probably Gavin’s own fault. But instead, once the moment is over, he simply goes back to cutting bites of chicken.

“Don’t you have anything to say?” Gavin says, his voice lowering. Connor’s worried eyes flash his way. The hand on his knee squeezes him like a warning.

“If I did, don’t you think I would have said it?” His father says.

Gavin rolls his eyes, bites his tongue. It would almost be funny if it wasn’t an exact replica of single dinner they had when Gavin was growing up.

“I’d appreciate it if you didn’t roll your eyes at me.”

“I’d appreciate it if you gave a damn but sometimes we don’t get what we want, dad .”

Dad. He says it like it’s an insult, like it hurts to hold the word in his mouth. He spits it out because it’s bitter and decaying on his tongue. Dad; he can’t even form the sound of it without sneering.

“Cops get shot, Gavin. Should I shed a tear every time?”

Connor turns his head slowly, away from where he was seeking Gavin’s eyes, and to Mr. Kamski. It’s the most robotic movement Gavin has seen from him in a long time. The LED on his temple is flaming red. It matches the color crawling up Gavin’s neck.

“You should be ashamed of yourself.” Connor says matter of factly, like he’s answering a request to know the weather or the exact time. Gavin watches his father’s eyes grow wide and his knuckles turn white as he clenches his fork and knife. 

"Excuse me?"

Connor's voice is louder this time, "I apologize, I'll slow my speech: You should be ashamed of yourself." 

The head rush hits him before Gavin even realizes he’s standing. His chair drags loudly against the floor, magnified in the quiet. He puts a hand on Connor’s shoulder and squeezes once - let’s go . He looks to Elijah, “I’m done. Consider us even.”

Connor is hot on his heels as Gavin storms out of the dining room, past the living room. Their retreating footsteps echo in the silent glass house. His father is left balking in his seat.

Sixteen years they hadn’t spoken, hadn’t seen each other and nothing had changed. Gavin could never escape the fate of being a bastard child. Frustration tightens the muscles in his neck and shoulder and a pulse of pain radiates from the place he was shot. The anger swells inside him, in his chest and around his heart. He could scream but he doesn’t. Gavin stomps past the entry room, and out into the cold evening. The snow falling blends the skyline and the ground together in a mess of dark grey.

“Gavin,” Connor says softly, and that hurts too. It’s a raw wound, sometimes things that should heal it actually sting.

Gavin’s steps are shaky as he journeys to his car, “I’m not dumb. I knew it wasn’t going to be different -- I wasn’t expecting it to be different. It’s just...I--”

“I know.” Connor’s arms are around him in an instant, sheltering him from everything. “I’m sorry.”

Gavin allows himself to be swallowed up in that feeling; the fresh soap scent on Connor’s neck, the way the ice melts on the exposed parts of his skin, and the security of Connor’s arms holding him close. Connor’s hand rubbing his back. He feels small, and maybe once upon a time that would have bothered him, but he soaks in that feeling now.

“Gavin!” And just like that, the moment is gone. Elijah’s voice is loud and carries all the way from the front door of his house. Gavin untangles himself from Connor and opens the car door. “Wait, I have your coat!”

Elijah rushes toward the car, as fast as anyone who isn’t wearing snow boots can rush. Gavin halts his actions and turns; he needs that coat. His wallet is in the pocket. That, he tells himself, is the only reason he stands there. Connor stares at Elijah but there’s no warmth in his brown eyes. Connor’s brows are pinched together, his eyes narrowed in suspicion. His LED is still red.

Elijah holds the coat out as he approaches, with his whole arm extended. Keeping his distance. Gavin snatches his coat and pulls it on because it is freezing out there.

“He’s an asshole.” Elijah says, no bite or sarcasm in his tone. His lips are flat, his eyes are dull. It’s a solemn statement. He crosses his arms, the chill just now getting to him.

“You’re an asshole too.” Gavin says, unwilling to forget that this so called dinner was Elijah’s idea to begin with.

“We both are.”

Gavin bites down hard, his jaw clenching. He’s trying not to be, at least in one area of his life. That should count for something, right? He’s trying so hard, every day. He claws away at himself, trying to get rid of that thick, calloused shell he’s built. He tries to douse the fire burning deep inside - and for the most part it works.

But, for the most part, he does it for Connor. He does it for Tina. He does it for his job and his future and the life he wants to live. He puts in the work for the things he cares about and want to keep.

And he fucks up a lot along the way but he’s doing his best to be better. That’s all he can hope for.

Gavin sighs and shakes his head like he can’t believe what he’s about to say, “Get in the car.”

“What?” Elijah and Connor say at the same time.

“You.” He points, almost poking Elijah’s chest, “Get in the car.”

Elijah stammers, “Are you kidnapping me?”

“You want a family dinner? I’ll show you a family dinner.”

 

// An hour or so later //

 

“This is…so weird.” Tina says for the millionth time as she stares at Elijah. Plates of nachos and potato skins and sliders assembled in front of them as they all sit in a half circle booth; Connor, Gavin, Elijah, Tina, and Lana.

Elijah picks the jalapeños off his nachos and mostly ignores how Tina keeps ping ponging her eyes from him to Gavin and back. “This is so-”

“Babe, they’re siblings not mutants. You can stop gawking.” Lana says before sipping her beer.

“Dunno, he seems pretty freakish to me.” Gavin says only for Elijah to jab him with his bony elbow. “Ow.”

“Was Gavin annoying as a kid? He had to be, right? He’s annoying now.” Tina rambles between bites of food.

“I wasn’t annoying.” Gavin says right as Elijah says, “He talked all the time . Teachers would send him out of the classroom because he wouldn’t shut up.”

Connor laughs and Gavin’s ears turn pink, “Okay, so I had some focusing issues.”

Connor quirks a brow, “ Had?

“...Have…” Gavin relents, taking a swig of his drink, “Whatever. Elijah was annoying too. Fuckin’ attention hog.”

“And now I live in isolation. Ironic, right?”

They all drink and eat, except for Connor, who’s content to listen to the banter of two half-brothers. He holds Gavin’s hand under the table and Gavin smiles, wide and light and almost care-free.

Until Hank walks in. Gavin eyes Connor, suddenly very aware of just how close they are; shoulder to shoulder, leaning into each other. Gavin’s fingers twitch under the table, like he might stop holding Connor’s hand. That’s his first instinct, to let go and move away. To puff out his chest and make sure fuck you is written all over his face. But instead he brings Connor’s hand on top of the table. Even if it’s making his face burn.

"You invited him." Gavin says, more statement than question.

Connor smiles at Gavin and simply whispers, “You said family dinner. Hank is my family.”

Gavin can’t argue with that.

As Hank steps up to the booth they all shift over so he can sit next to Connor. The squeaking of their bodies moving across vinyl is deafening compared to their awkward silence. Hank looks about as uncomfortable as Gavin feels and he won’t stop staring at Gavin and Connor’s laced fingers.

Words get caught in Gavin’s throat. He’s not even sure what he’s trying to say or if she should try to say anything at all. He just ends up clearing his throat and staring pointedly at the condensation on his glass.

“Okay, but did Gavin get the nose scar when he was a kid? Cause he’s had it as long as I’ve known him and he won’t talk about it.” Tina finally asks, filling the quiet.

“It’s not a good story, T.” Gavin says gruffly, rubbing at his nose self-consciously. “Seriously.”

“Shit. Sorry.” She winces, looking down at her plate of food.

Elijah laughs, full and hearty and with his head tipped back. The table stares back at him shocked as his laughter descends into that mad, breathless sort of wheezing, “Damn liar.”

“Shut up.” Gavin grits out.

“He ran into a post when we were like,” wheeze, “fourteen? He was on one of those hoverboards? You remember those?”

Hank erupts into a full belly laugh and from there it cascades; Connor tries to hide his giggle behind his hand, Tina loses her shit, nearly crying into Lana’s shoulder and Lana just grins like she knew it all along.

“Laugh it up.” Gavin says but he’s biting back his own smile.

And that’s it. They eat, they drink, they are merry. It’s well into January but they toast like it’s the new year. It’s good. Gavin’s good.

And when Gavin goes home that night, tipsy and radiating with joy, Connor is with him. And when he goes to bed, Connor is with him. In his arms, in his heart. It’s good. They are good.