* * *
The needle drew blood at Trav's hipbone and he gritted his teeth. The hum continued, and he stoically ignored the muscular woman with the dyed mohawk who was currently inking his body. He'd heard she was the very best.
The thought did not console him.
Jesus--eight years in the military. Eight years--and he hadn't let a tattoo needle touch his skin. Shrapnel, knives, the occasional bullet, yes. Ink?
Anything was worth it to pull Mackey out of his funk.
Trav was aware that recovering drug addicts were always recovering, and that the triggers that sometimes set them off couldn't be predicted or avoided. But nothing--nothing--had prepared them for seeing Katie, a grown-up three and a half, the week before Christmas.
She was just so very grown up, so very savvy about the world. She knew that when Heather Sanders picked her up from her mother's house, she was going to get to fly on the plane, and go to the place where she would be spoiled rotten. Heather--being the good mom she was--made sure that Katie came loaded with pictures she had drawn, and photos that Samantha had taken--less and less reluctantly over the last two years. A month in the summer, three weeks during the rest of the year--that little girl was theirs. Sometimes it was Disneyland, sometimes, it was sitting and playing with Kyrie, Kellogg and Briony's little girl.
They all loved it when she came--and hated it when she left.
Mackey hadn't come out of their room in two days. Hadn't showered, hadn't barely eaten. He'd sat at his desk and written, picking up the guitar occasionally, but mostly, staring. Staring into space.
Trav had tried everything. Christmas was in two days, and Mackey hadn't done any of the things his brothers had established as normal. Hadn't made paper chains with musical notes sketched on them, to put around the tree. Hadn't done his gift wrapping. Hadn't eaten breakfast with his mother, which was his routine when she was in the house.
Two days, he'd sat and brooded over his notebooks, grabbing the occasional cracker and drinking water when it suited him.
Trav had called his shrink, but the guy had told him to wait it out just a little longer--but not to leave Mackey alone. When Trav had left to get his tattoo, he'd put Blake in charge of Mackey--don't alert the others, but don't leave the room, either. Just... read a book or watch TV and be there for him.
Blake had promised he would be.
The tattoo needle hit another bump and Trav looked down at the ink and scowled. "How much longer?" he asked, not impatiently, just trying to guess how long his nerves had to last.
"An hour," Minerva said gruffly. "Got somewhere to go, chief?"
"Yeah. This is sort of a present."
* * *
Mackey's pen moved over the paper, making that faint scratching sound he'd come to think of as the mother of music. Words... a lot of them stupid, but some of them real, poured across the page. He loved and hated this part, where his body was screaming at him to let it go and his mind and heart wouldn't stop.
Right now he hated it.
God, he was so fucking done with sadness. It's just...she'd looked so much like him.
Her nose was developing that bridge--almost completely straight. Her eyes were that light brown, almost gold. And when Mackey looked at her, it's not so much that he saw Grant, but that he saw all Grant didn't get to have--and it hurt.
He hated talking to Trav about it. Trav knew-- what good was it to rub that shit in? Trav fucking knew Mackey missed Grant, and he knew that it wasn't even as a lover but as the family member he'd had since he was little. What was the use of telling him that when it was only going to make Trav feel like hell?
So Mackey tried to put it out in songs, but all the songs felt like he'd sung them before, because they were about Grant, and he didn't feel that way anymore.
He wanted to be high so goddamned bad.
But he sat at his desk and wrote, watched the pen scratch across the paper one more time.
So beautiful, my baby, so much like your Dad
And your every breath hurts me
Through no fault of your own.
I want to possess you, keep you close to my heart
But I'm not your own father, nor the best that you've known.
He tried to hum it, find a melody, and the one he found was foul. He ripped the page off the notebook and was preparing to toss it into the trash can when--
"No! Don't throw it away! That wasn't half bad!"
Mackey half-stood from his chair as he whirled around, and then the chair caught him in the thigh and he bumped his knee. "Fuck," he snarled, grabbing the chair and resting his foot on it, checking out the bruise on his knee. "Blake! Jesus fuck you scared me."
Blake half-laughed. "You were a little out of it," he conceded. "Trav didn't want you to be alone."
"Trav?" Mackey frowned. "Where'd he go, anyway?"
"Didn't say." Blake had filled out in the past two years, and he'd shaved his scruffy beard and kept the u-bar mustache, which Mackey had to admit, suited his thin face. When he smiled now, it didn't look like he was imagining a knife in your back. It looked like he was hoping one never made it there.
"How long ago?" Mackey stood and stretched, hearing the bones in his spine crack. "God! How long have I been up here?"
"Two days," Blake said quietly. He jerked his head in the direction of the desk and Mackey realized there were two boxes of Chicken'N'Biscuit crackers there, one of them opened. "You wouldn't eat. Hardly spoke. We've been trying to have Christmas without you, but it's sort of awful, tell the truth."
Mackey grimaced. "Hell." His throat got thick and he turned away. "Sorry, man. I didn't mean to--"
"We all get it, you know," Blake said quietly. "Even me."
Mackey just kept staring out the window. Didn't even look like winter in LA-- their new slutty neighbor was still out by the pool with her top off. "What'd you get?" he asked Ms. C-cup.
"Sadness. Sometimes you just can't shake it. And you don't want to share it."
"Yeah." Mackey let out a shaky breath. "I didn't mean to worry everyone."
"Well, you did."
Mackey looked up quickly, and Blake didn't look away. Well, Blake had become the truth teller of them, the one who could say what the others were too mired in years of dysfunction to say.
"You did worry us. It would worry us less if you came downstairs and cried. We could cry too. Do you think we don't miss her? God--Kell and Briony were a fucking mess, and I"ve got the room next to theirs."
Mackey felt a smile wobble. "You miss her too?" It made sense. Blake was the world's best uncle--and now that Sheila was pregnant, he was getting into the act with that one too. He loved buying the kids those little anime toys--Naruto, Pokemon, Blake was right their with the thousand and one stuffed animals.
"I never knew kids before," Blake said, shrugging. "She's my first. And yeah, just like you, sometimes when I really want a hit, just for old times sake, that pissing in a cup thing is the reason I stay clean."
Mackey nodded vigorously. "I want a drink so bad," he confessed, voice shaking.
Blake stood and held out his arms, and Mackey knew he wasn't Trav, but he was Mackey's brother now, and Mackey took full advantage and leaned on him. He was holding on so tight that he didn't even feel Trav enter the room until Blake pulled away and Trav stepped in his place.
Mackey let out a sob he hadn't known he'd been holding in.
And then another.
And then a whole slough of them, and Trav held on tight, and to his surprise, Blake didn't go away. After a half an hour or so, Heather called up the stairs that she'd fixed them dinner.
Blake stepped away and wiped his face with his palm. "I"ll go down and tell them you're coming," he said, without waiting for a reply.
"Are we?" Trav asked carefully, and Mackey looked into his warm brown eyes and nodded.
"Yeah." He took a deep breath and wiped his face with his palm, just like Blake. "where'd you go?"
Trav smiled faintly. "To do something for you," he said. "I'll show you after dinner."
Mackey nodded, distracted. "Let me go wash up, okay? My hair feels rank."
"It is. YOu're disgusting. But you've got five minutes, Mackey. If you're not down in five, I'll be down for you."
Mackey nodded, and the only thing that kept him from kissing TRav and making it longer was knowing his breath was probably as rank as his hair.
* * *
Dinner went well, to Trav's surprise. Blake started out talking about Katy, and how much he enjoyed the babies in the household and how he was glad they were still hanging out together, raising them. Kell and Briony started wondering when they were having another one, and Jefferson and Stevie accused them of showing off. Shelia sat and looked smug and serene and sweetly round at about five months along, and Mackey smiled shyly at everybody, as though aware they were trying their best, and it was good enough.
That night they sat around and watched Elf and Love Actually and Die Hard, because it was two nights before Christmas and the next night was reserved for Christmas Story. When the movies were done, they made their way up to bed, and Mackey rounded on Trav as soon as they got up there.
"Okay, spill," he snapped as soon as Trav had closed the door to their room.
"You kept poking me when I laid on you--what's wrong? Are you constipated?"
Trav felt his eyes bulge. "Have I ever been--"
"Stomach flu? What?"
"Jesus, Mackey-- how about a fucking tattoo-- are you happy now?" With that Trav unsnapped his jeans and lifted his shirt, and Mackey's eyes bulged.
Underneath the saran wrap that Minerva had put there to cover the antibiotics, Mackey would see the same tattoo that he and the other guy's sported. Sort of. The monkey on Trav's hip was a full body shot, and he had his hands in the air and was screaming at a bigger monkey. Who was screaming back.
Mackey looked at it some more, and to Trav's vast relief, a deep, dirty laugh bubbled out of him.
"You did that for me?" he asked.
"Yes," Trav muttered, red faced.
"That's you and me, screaming at each other like a couple of gorillas."
"Yes, Mackey, that's us. Screaming."
Mackey looked up at him with that rare incorruptible smile. "You like it when we fight," he said with surety.
Trav's irritation softened, and he smiled back. "I like it when we make up," he said, biting his lip, feeling unusually shy.
Mackey took a few steps closer, and at first Trav was hoping for a kiss, but Mackey did him one or two better. He bent down and opened his mouth, suckling in the tender skin of Trav's stomach and laving it with his tongue.
Trav gasped, and Mackey moved up, to his ribs, and--as Trav tore off his shirt--to Trav's nipple, which he pulled into his mouth and sucked. Trav slid both palms to the outside of Mackey's stringy, muscled arms and kneaded Mackey's biceps. Mackey moved to his other nipple and Trav moaned.
"Baby... let me take off your shirt. We haven't been naked together in too damned long."
Mackey pulled away and lifted his arms and Trav grabbed the hem of his shirt and lifted it over his head. Oh, God, he loved this stringy, bantam little body. Mackey let the shirt clear and then started shoving off his own jeans and his moccasins, and Trav did the same until they were tumbling, naked, on the bed together, and Trav was touching all Mackey's skin as much as he could.
Mackey kept trying to touch, to tease, but he had an unerring knack for poking Trav's tattoo completely on accident, and Trav, out of patience, grabbed both Mackey's hands in his one and shoved them up over his head.
"Stay," he growled, and the little shit laughed in his face.
"I'm not dicking around," Trav growled. "I want you fucking bad!"
Mackey kept his hands over his head and widened his feet, baring his asshole and his groin and his stomach and his chest, and making himself all sorts of vulnerable in front of Trav--an honor Trav never took for granted.
"Take me," he dared. "Cause right now, you're all talk---ahhhhh...."
Trav took Mackey's cock down his throat in one thrust, and then, with a quick squirt of lube, shoved two blunt fingers up Mackey's backside as Mackey keened with the sudden, brutal arousal.
"That all?" he gasped, as Trav deep-throated and fingerfucked him simultaneously. "You think that's gonna do it? A tattoo and a finger-bang and --ahhh..." Trav added another finger and spread them, and Mackey's ass came off the bed. "You talk big, Trav, but--"
Trav's cock dripped pre-cum, and he surged up the bed and into Mackey's body without any more introduction. Mackey grunt-screamed and lifted his ass in welcome as Trav buried himself to the root.
Mackey raised one leg--the one not on the tattoo side--and using his heel on Trav's ass pushed down.
"Impatient," Trav gasped, fucking hard and fast. "You think that's enough? You think your foot on my ass is enough?"
"You told me to fucking stay!" Mackey protested, and Trav looked up and realized that he'd wrapped the sheets in his fists in an effort to do what he was told.
"Well fuck that," Trav panted. "Fucking touch me, Mackey, touch me!"
Mackey's wicked little fingers went straight to Trav's nipples, and Trav saw red and cried out as he came. He thrust in one last time and rutted, pumping into Mackey's ass and grinding against Mackey's trapped cock until Mackey gasped, low and dirty, and spilled a long, glorious mess of cum on them both.
Trav groaned and collapsed against him. Yeah, the tattoo stung like a motherfucker, but who cared? Mackey was there, in Trav's arms, where he belonged.
Ages later, after a washcloth and boxer shorts and a drink of water, Mackey lay with his chin on Trav's stomach and looked at the new ink.
"Why?" he asked after a few moments. "You put it off this long--why now?"
Trav played with his hair, which was still long and layer cut, and possibly always would be. "Because you were sad," he said after a minute. "I would have gotten a hundred of them if I could just hear you laugh again."
"You left Blake in charge."
Mackey's gray eyes searched Trav's in the dark. "Don't be. I think when you're sad, company is company and love is love, you know?"
Trav nodded and smoothed the hair from his face again. Mackey turned his head and kissed Trav's palm.
"Is it okay if I talk about Grant tonight?" Mackey asked, voice throbbing with stuff he probably hadn't said in two years.
"Yeah," Trav whispered. "Tell me how much Katy looks like him."
"Oh God, does she." Mackey's voice cracked, but he kept talking, long, long into the night.