Chapter 4

Alex chuckled, thoroughly enjoying himself, much to his own surprise. It was a rare occasion when he found someone willing to put up with his slightly dramatic flare, and even rarer when he found someone who blushed at just the slightest sexual innuendo, much less shouted like he was being attacked by a wild animal.

He didn't know why he found it endearing, but he did.

He waited patiently until the boy calmed down, still chuckling lightly under his breath. He smiled, as sweetly as he could manage.

"How old are you, kid?"

Michael sighed, and adjusted the glasses he had somehow tilted askew during his panic. They magnified his eyes until he looked like some sort of adorable blue-eyed, blond owl, and Alex's smile became a little less fake.

"I'm not a kid, you know. I just…don't go to these kinds of parties." He shifted, clearly uncomfortable with the situation as well as having to explain himself. Alex took a little bit of pity on him and sighed, reclining back and away until Michael relaxed as much as he seemed able to.

"I can see why. If you're that uncomfortable with a little flirting, you're probably one of those smart, bookish types that prefer paper to people."

He looked irritated now, and Alex mentally added "uptight" to his list of attributes for Michael Brooks.

"And what is so wrong with that? At least I still have enough brain cells to have preferences."

Alex winced inwardly, his smile kept on by sheer force of will. He doubted that Michael realized just how much it bothered him on occasion that he didn't have any preferences that drinking didn't change. He doubted Michael even knew that Alex was halfway to tipsy right then.

He smiled, and knew that, come tomorrow, it wouldn't matter what Michael knew, anyway.

"Ouch. Think that up all by yourself, or did big brother help you with that?"

Alex had expected a hurt look, a look of surprise, maybe, but for all that he blanched about flirting, Michael seemed to be able to bicker with the best.

"I don't know. Was it you or your sister who chose pink?"

Alex was silent for a moment, just watching Michael watch him with a look of barely concealed hostility. It was funny, really, but Alex must have been getting better, because normally those looks came after the sex.

He closed his eyes, and his smile turned somewhat self-depreciating.

"She did. She passed her SATs with a top score, and this was her celebration. None of her friends would go with her, so I volunteered and now, here we are."

When he opened his eyes, the look had gone away, replaced with something that looked vaguely like…shame?

"…Oh. Well, I guess it suits you then. Blue might have been better, though."

It was an apology, one that surprised him with it's suddenness, and Alex smiled somewhat in acknowledgement.

"Thank you. And you're right, there's nothing wrong with being bookish." A point for a point, he supposed, and while those book-loving know-it-all's always somehow made school miserable, he didn't mind Michael at all.

He was amused when Michael turned a bit red, the ashamed look increasing just a little.

"Er…thanks. I'm sure you have enough, er, brain cells left…"

Alex burst out laughing, and waved the rest of his sentence away, smiling the first sincere smile he'd had in a while. It wasn't as wide or as charming as those he usually wore, sure, but the sheer amusement of it all somehow made it seem…precious, almost.

"Relax, kid. I'm not offended."

Another sharp-eyed glare from his favorite book owl.

"I'm still not a kid, you know. I'm a junior."

He just sounded so proud that Alex couldn't help poking him just a little bit.

"Well, I'm a senior, so therefore, you're a kid."

He thought he would get another glare for that one, but to his surprise, Michael just shook his head with a smile on his face.

"…We're not going to get along, are we?"

"Oh, I don't know. There's been no wrestling of either kind yet, so I think we're okay."

A laugh for that one, as well as the blush. Maybe he was getting better, after all.

"You're probably right."

And then, he smiled, the expression lighting up his entire face while Alex could only stare. It wasn't that it was that brilliant of a smile (probably) or that Michael was so serious that Alex was in shock (probably) but it was an expression so fantastically happy that Alex could only watch in awe.

It was a kind expression, one with no hidden agenda or lies, no misery or problems. It wasn't a mask, and to Alex, that should have been something to envy. Try as he might, though, he just couldn't bring himself to be jealous of Michael's obviously carefree life. He felt…happy. Happy that Michael was happy, even if he wasn't.

Oh my god. I have a friend. I made a friend.

For what was probably hours after, he just couldn't stop smiling.

-x-

After their somewhat argument, Michael couldn't help but feel like the ice had been broken in some way. Normally his preferred method of starting a conversation was not to get into a fight, but then again, Michael doubted any of his normal methods, few as they were, would have worked anyway. Up until that point, Alex hadn't seemed interested in anything he said, more than likely just storing the information away so he'd know who to avoid in the near future. But now…Alex asked questions, simple normal questions, and actually seemed to care about what he said.

It was almost embarrassing to have that kind of attention focused on him for once, even if he admitted to himself (somewhat reluctantly, mind) that he kind of enjoyed it. Normally, he would have been annoyed, since attention bothered him, but he couldn't really say that attention from Alex was the same as attention from anyone else.

Did he have a girlfriend or boyfriend? Michael had blushed, and shook his head. Did he have any childhood friends? Another head shake. Did he have a vast collection of fantasy novels and a well-established sense of accomplishment? Michael had laughed, but had admitted that he did indeed have that. What was his favorite color? Green, like the sea. Had he ever traveled out of the country? Once, to New Guinea, to meet his favorite author.

The questions continued, and it should have felt ridiculous, or trivial, but to Michael (who could honestly admit he was a loner and had never had many conversations about friendly, normal things) it was somehow profound. Michael thought (hoped) that his questions effected Alex the same way.

Did he like video games, or cartoons? Only on Saturdays was the reply. Did he have a favorite book? The Demon's Daughter, a glorified porn novel that he had laughingly said he liked for the wonderful description. Did he have any hobbies? For an answer, a grin that was starting to seem more friendly as the night went on.

Michael supposed they had traded information in much the same way for hours, but for the life of him, he couldn't remember anything he'd said past the initial few replies. For some reason, whenever he tried to think about it, he just kept seeing the flash of Alex's smile; the real one, not the charming, slick one.

It wasn't until he started yawning mid-reply that he glanced down at his watch; 12:15. He'd been sitting on the couch for almost three hours, and he realized in a dazed sort of way that Matt was nowhere in sight.

He couldn't really say he minded, except now that he thought about it, his butt was starting to hurt.

"Getting bored with me, are you?"

The tone was casual and Alex was smiling, but Michael thought he saw something flash in green eyes before it was hidden away. Something like sadness, or pain.

But that was ridiculous.

"No way. It's just that Matt was supposed to find me an hour or so ago. I guess he forgot…"

Michael couldn't bring himself to be angry with his brother, because Alex was grinning again.

"If he was still talking to Sheila when you walked over here, I can bet it will be at least another two or three hours before we see him again. Wanna bet I get off the couch before you do?"

He was probably right, so Michael just looked away, coughing a little.

"…I don't gamble."

"Thought so."

It was silent for a while after that, the two of them just listening as the party died down behind them, interrupted only by the occasional yawn from Michael. It was…comfortable. Companionable.

Or at least it was until Alex spoke again.

"You're getting tired, right? You can lean on me, if you want."

Michael found himself tensing, and he didn't know why. He chanced a quick glance at Alex, and saw the same, only his face had a slightly surprised expression as well, reflecting all the thoughts and insecurities Michael knew he was feeling. Why had he offered? Was he asking too much? Was he being too open? Too friendly, too careless? Was he, was he, was he…

"Yeah, okay."

Suddenly the room was too warm, and as Alex scooted to the center of the couch and Michael met him halfway, he swore he could feel his heart trying to pound out of his chest. Slowly, he leaned down, just a little, and rested his head against Alex's side.

It was warm, and firm, and not at all like a pillow. Michael yawned again, and felt the warmth seep into him as Alex's arm wrapped around him like a heavy blanket, and he smiled, relaxing. He closed his eyes, and listened to Alex breathe in and out, slow and steady.

And he thought as he fell asleep that he didn't mind this kind of attention at all.

-x-

It was close to three when Matt pulled out of his conversation enough to realize that it was, well, close to three. A realization that was followed quickly by cursing, soft and non-offensive, but self-depreciating all the same. Sheila looked on in sympathy, but not too much because, after all, that meant that Matt had gotten so caught up in talking with her that he had lost track of time.

It was flattering, and maybe she felt a little selfish for being happy, but after all this time, she thought that maybe she deserved to be.

Matt looked at her, his brown eyes half apologizing and half guilty, and she felt her heart swell with affection, true affection like she'd never felt before. All those boyfriends, all the waiting, and now, finally, Matt was here

She inwardly shivered, and pulled herself out of her lovesick thoughts. Michael. Think about poor Michael, sitting with…Alex!

To say that she had forgotten would be a statement of the obvious, and from the look on Matt's face, he had apparently just remembered Alex's involvement as well. As Sheila carefully rearranged her dress and dabbed at the side of her lips for lipstick smudges, Matt was already racing down the stairs and knocking over the few remaining (conscious) partiers. Sheila followed, somewhat amused, at a more leisurely pace, quickening her step only when she saw Matt just standing there, an expression of shock on his face. She rounded one side of the couch, expecting the worst, only to see…

Alex and Michael. Asleep. Cuddling.

She coughed a little bit, trying to hide her smile, and patted Matt reassuringly on the arm when he still hadn't moved after several minutes. She glanced down at the pink head of her oh-so-scandalous brother, smiling and wrapped around the little bookworm, and she couldn't resist. She poked Matt in the side to get his attention, and spoke softly when he looked at her, a somewhat dazed expression in his eyes.

"You know, they're kind of cute. I don't think I've ever seen Alex just sleep with someone."

Matt twitched, before glancing back over at the two and sighing.

"Couldn't he have done it with someone not my brother? This is going to complicate things. A lot."

Sheila intertwined her fingers with his, smiling up at him. He smiled back, and the worried expression faded a little bit into a warmer sort of protectiveness, directed entirely at her.

"They'll be fine."

"I'm sure. Doesn't stop me from being indignant and wanting to beat the pink out of your brother though."

"Now, now." Okay, so maybe it wasn't a protest, and she could have been a little bit more vocal when Matt reached over and unceremoniously dragged Alex off the couch but she was just so amused. When Michael woke up slowly and mumbled a groggy "my butt hurts," though, she couldn't contain her laughter even as she tried her best to restrain a furious older brother.

Alex simply smiled up at the two of them, taking in the lipstick Matt hadn't wiped off his shirt and the rumpled look to her dress, before his smile widened somewhat.

"So what was this? True love's first grope?"

And at that, Matt found himself looking on in startled amusement as Sheila practiced her new boxing moves.

-x-

It was an exhausted party that left the Jonson house, exhausted and happy for many different reasons. As the two brothers stood awkwardly at the front door, staring at the pink-haired siblings, they couldn't help but feel sad to be going home.

Michael was smiling awkwardly at a rumpled Alex, and they shared a knowing grin as they watched their respective siblings resist the urge to be lovey-dovey. Shaking their heads, they just looked at one another, smiling still.

"I'll see you around, okay?" It was a promise, and although Alex wouldn't say as much, it was something he knew he would make sure of.

"Sure, sure. Nice to meet you, Alex." Michael said, and waved goodbye.

As the siblings left to their respective homes, they all knew that that morning was the start of something special.

-x-

End