The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors (halfshellvenus) wrote in pbfic_exchange2,
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors
halfshellvenus
pbfic_exchange2

"Slipping Treads" for lissa_bear

Title: Slipping Treads
Rating: R
Character/Pairing: Michael/Veronica
Requested By: lissa_bear
Summary: Michael’s always been different – but Veronica’s never quite grasped by how much.
Author’s Notes: For lissa_bear, who requested either Michael/Veronica with a game of twenty questions, or Nick/Lincoln/Veronica with jealousy and secrets. Here’s the Michael/Veronica(it’s there! If you...squint and tilt your head). And I never thought it’d turn out this long – though it’s probably nothing like what you had in mind, but I hope you enjoy nonetheless :) (Oh, and I totally blame the macaroni story on a friend of mine, because her brother totally did that.)
Note: The original pbficexchange posting of this story is here.



Sometimes, Veronica thinks, on the nights that Michael doesn’t return to the apartment after work, that it’s him telling her that he doesn’t want her there, that he was just being polite when he said she could stay because Michael would really rather be alone. But she ignores the feelings because Michael’s not that petty and it’s not as if she has anywhere else to go.

Veronica’s afraid to leave Michael alone in what has slowly become their apartment, because the last time she did, she found him staring at her tampons beneath the sink in the bathroom like they were alien creatures with one unwrapped in his hand, curious fingers twisting it around even though it looked the same no matter which way you held it.

She never questioned his actions and he simply told her he’d never gotten proper education on the subject – Lincoln had tried, he said, but he was too young to really get it, and he was in and out of different schools so much – it was hard to find one place they could manage to stay in for long, he said, because eventually the rent would go up or CPS was coming after them – that he never exactly learned about it there, either.

Veronica was tempted to ask him if he was still a virgin, but she was almost afraid to learn the answer – though she was sure he wasn’t, was he? – and decided Michael might not have answered anyway and just avoided the question as he sometimes did – like when Veronica asked about the ten bottles of ketchup in the fridge.

She could have sworn on the first day she met him that he’d told her he hated ketchup and asked if she wanted his burger.

And Lincoln had smiled, and Veronica had graciously accepted the burger even though she wasn’t really a fan of ketchup either – but she was hungry and ketchup-coated food was better than no food when she’d forgotten her lunch money.

Lincoln liked ketchup. She remembers how he used to squeeze four packets of the condiment onto his burger and Michael would complain about how the smell was making him sick to his stomach – to which Lincoln would respond by grabbing four more packets of ketchup to put on his burger. And Michael would grumble under his breath and scoot closer to Veronica.

Lounging on the leather couch in the living room, Veronica isn’t expecting Michael to be home tonight. He usually isn’t on Tuesdays and if he is, he returns home immediately after work.

But it’s already ten p.m. and Veronica’s settling in for a long night of chick-flicks on Lifetime.

She shifts beneath her nightgown, uncomfortable, because it’s one of those unusually hot evenings that occur sporadically as Spring slowly slips by into Summer. She makes to take it off and is halfway there when the latch on the apartment door slides back and there’s a curse as the chain restricts the heavy wood from budging.

“Veronica?” It’s Michael.

She stands and makes her way over to the door, her neglige falling down to her knees. She pulls back the chain and the door opens to Michael, slightly disheveled and frowning.

Veronica steps aside and Michael enters, already pulling his coat off to hang it.

“You’re not usually home this late.”

Michael, his coat hung and shoes on the doormat, turns to Veronica, smiling benignly. “I took some overtime to get a contract finished for a client.” He’s pulling at his tie with an unusual roughness and Veronica steps closer to undo it for him.

“Are you hungry, or. . . .” She tugs at the knot in the tie, not looking at his face, focused on the tie and only the tie, because she knows if she did look up that she’d see Michael straining back a laugh.

When she’s finished with the tie, Michael quietly thanks her, still smiling, still restraining the chuckle that threatens to escape from his lips, and pulls the tie from around his neck.

“I’m hungry,” he intones, his grin faltering for a moment but only because it’s hard to keep up the facade when he knows that Veronica knows he’s about to bust a gut, “but only if . . . you’re not cooking.”

And Veronica’s glaring at him, frowning unappreciatively.

“We certainly wouldn’t want a repeat of the last time . . .” The laugh escapes and Michael jumps back slightly as Veronica swings a punch at his shoulder. “I’m sorry, Veronica, but really . . . that was too funny.”

“It was an honest mistake.”

“You set the macaroni on fire. How do you set macaroni on fire?”

Veronica’s face is flushed, her brow furrowed with a mixture of anger and embarrassment because she knows Michael’s right – so she continues arguing because she doesn’t necessarily want to admit that he’s right.
“It happens!”

“How long did you have it on the stove? An hour? Two?”

“I’ve never cooked on a gas stove before!”

Backing away toward the master bedroom, Michael’s grinning and snickering because even now, two months since the event, he still couldn’t believe she set instant macaroni on fire.

“Gas stove, electric stove . . . you still set macaroni on fire.”

“Shut up, Michael!”

And Michael has to duck and run the rest of the way to the master bedroom as Veronica flings her slippers at him.




“Michael?” Veronica’s standing in the doorway and Michael turns to face her.

He shifts his feet quietly, squeezing his toes into the cream-colored carpet, while Veronica averts her gaze, abashed. He wonders what she wants, why she isn’t saying anything when she does say something and Michael’s suddenly confused.

“What?”

She repeats, her tone lucid. She’s not drunk.

“What?”

She repeats it again and Michael has to remind himself this is Veronica and he supposes she’s always had odd ways to pass the time.

He can’t even remember the last time it was that he’d even played, but he figures it can’t hurt – and it’s not like he has anything better to do.

“Do you want to?”

And Michael obliges, reaching for his shirt on the bed when Veronica’s fingers grasp around his arm and she’s whispering something but he’s not really listening to her because he can’t help but keep staring at her hand, like it’s the most interesting thing in the world – and maybe it is, maybe it could be because –

Stop thinking about it, he has to scold himself. It’s for the best it’s for the best it’s for the best . . . and the words repeat inside his head until Veronica’s hand on his arm suddenly pulls him back to the current situation.

“Are you all right?” he hears Veronica ask and Michael forces himself to nod, even though he’s Not Quite Sure that it’s really For The Best, that he’s going to be okay in the long run, that it’s all going to be –
Michael pulls his arm from Veronica’s grasp and heads for the door. “We’re going to need some alcohol.”

And Veronica’s the confused one now, but she just stares as Michael leaves – wordlessly watching his back, tracing the contours in her mind, wondering just how many of the scars she knows are there have faded away and how many more are there that she never knew of.

She knows Lincoln’s back is jagged scars from fights and jail and trees and rocks and cars and windows – and the list seems endless in her mind, so she gives up on trying to list everything and tries to remember what she can about Michael’s childhood injuries and the scars and bruises and fights and the “If you ever touch my brother again” speeches from Lincoln and –

“Here.” Michael’s holding out a full wine glass, the uncorked bottle held in the crook of his arm. “All we had was wine.”

“That’s fine.” Veronica smiles up at Michael and takes the glass, before she realizes she’s sat down on the edge of his bed and she can’t quite remember when she exactly did that –

“I suppose it doesn’t really matter,” Michael sets the wine bottle down on the night stand. “I’m the one who wanted the alcohol anyway.”

Veronica’s not sure how to respond, because this is Michael and he never drinks at home.

She thinks something’s wrong but she doesn’t want to ask because it’s Michael’s business and if he wants her to know, he’ll eventually tell her.

Falling back, Veronica reaches her hand up and brushes against Michael’s thigh. “Think of something?”

Michael’s silent for a moment. He takes a sip of wine and closes his eyes, leaning into the pillow behind his head. “Yeah.”

“Okay.” Veronica pushes herself toward the head of the bed, closer to Michael, until her shoulders are level with his elbows and she’s ready to begin.

“Is it in the room?”

Michael sips from his glass again before nodding. “No.”

Pondering her next question, Veronica sips from her own glass while her fingers playfully tug at the creases in Michael’s pants.

She hasn’t played twenty questions since they were kids – and she’s pretty sure it’s the same for Michael. She swears it was only yesterday that she was twelve and playing it with Michael for the first time.

“Is it edible?”

She’s suddenly twelve again, asking Michael the same questions as she had in that very first game.
“Yes.”

It’s Lincoln, Veronica knows, it’s always Lincoln, but she hides her grin and continues questioning.

“Is it animate?”

“Yes.”

Of course it’s animate, she thinks, taking another sip of wine and running her hand along the blanket beneath her. It’s soft, and she wonders where Michael got it.

Her fingers pull at a rip in the fabric and she decides she’ll patch it up for Michael tomorrow after work – if she can find the sewing kit anyway.

“Is it living?”

And the pause between her question and Michael’s answer is greater this time, as if he really has to think about it. But after a minute Veronica has to glance up at Michael, thinking maybe he’s asleep – but he’s not, though he looks fatigued and he probably should be sleeping.

But they’re playing a game and a game isn’t any fun unless you finish it.

If he wanted to sleep so bad, he would have told Veronica and she would have understood.

But he hadn’t said anything, so maybe he wasn’t really all that tired, maybe he just looked tired.

The question of why passed through Veronica’s mind, because he didn’t usually come home looking tired – but he had taken overtime, she has to remind herself, so maybe it’s work that’s making him look so worn?

“Yes.”

Veronica’s pulled from her thoughts suddenly and she momentarily forgets what it is they’re doing before reality sinks back in.

“Is it human?”

She hopes he doesn’t notice that she’s asking the same questions as she had when they were kids.

“Yes.”

She supposes if he did, he probably would have mentioned something by now, and since he hasn’t, he’s either keeping it to himself, or doesn’t realize it.

“Is it sitting right next to you?” The stupid question from her youth escapes her mouth before she can correct it, because she knows Michael’s going to call her out on it, just like he did before.
A smile flits across his lips, before he raises his wine glass to them. “You wish.”

He startles her, slightly, with his answer, because it’s different and not what she was expecting. He’d always answered with the simple “yes” or “no” before, and now he was making things more difficult by throwing in ambiguous answers.

He knows, she panics. He knows he knows he knows and he’s trying to throw me for a loop.

“Yes or no, Michael,” she demands, because that’s how the game is played and she won’t let Michael’s ambiguity get the best of her. She won’t let him beat her this time.

He sips from his wine glass, emptying it, before setting it on the night stand, next to the bottle. “No.” He pauses, then adds, “And that was a redundant question.”

She silently curses her stupidity before feigning ignorance because that’s the only way she can see to get out of the hole she’s dug herself into.

“How so?”

“You already said it was in the room.”

“Oh.” She considers her next words carefully, because Michael hadn’t believed her excuse during that very first game. “Well, it could have been a picture of someone,” she sits up for a moment and gestures to the picture on the night stand, shadowed by the wine. “Or something.”

Michael shrugs before pouring himself another glass.

Veronica waits until he’s finished before continuing. “Does it have a brain?”

“Sometimes.”

And Veronica smiles because Michael had deliberated over that very question the first time and finally shook his head “no.” And she’d agreed then and still did now – so she let the answer slide because it was Lincoln, she knew, unless Michael knew that she thought it was Lincoln – which was impossible, because Michael couldn’t read minds, could he? – and had chosen someone else to put her off track.

“Is it bald?”

“Depends on your definition of bald.”

Veronica holds her glass out and Michael refills it. She sips a copious amount, before nodding slightly. “Let me rephrase the question then.”

“Knock yourself out.”

“Does it have hair?” She runs her fingers through her own as she asks.
Michael’s wiggling his toes beneath his socks and Veronica notices he’s refilling his glass again already.

“Yes.”

She rests her own glass on her thigh, careful not to spill any of the red liquid. “Is it male?”

“Yes,” Michael chuckles, “when it wants to be.”

And Veronica finds herself laughing with him, though she’s confused now and all her thoughts of it being Lincoln are suddenly dashed, because as far as she knows, Lincoln’s never cross-dressed and she’s not sure she wants to know if or why he may have.

“Is it tall?”

“Taller than you.”

“Come on, Michael, yes or no – ”

Michael reaches out and twirls a finger in Veronica’s hair before playfully tugging on it. “Where’s the fun in that?”

Veronica sighs, deciding it’s useless to continue asking for straight answers. “Is it kind?”

“Why do you keep referring to it as it?” Michael’s hand brushes down Veronica’s shoulder as it falls back to his side. “We’ve already established it’s a he.”

“All right,” Veronica lifts her glass again, “is he kind?” and quickly downs the rest of her wine.

“On occasion.”

She’s suddenly veering off course from her original questions and asking new ones because she knows the answers to the old ones aren’t going to help her anymore.

“Is he a father?”

Michael’s eyes are closed and there’s a small smile on his lips. “He is, in fact.”

And Veronica remembers something from after Mama Scofield died, and decides she wants to know what kind of answer Michael will give her with her next question.

“Is he your father?”

“Might as well be.”

It is Lincoln. Veronica warmly smiles to herself because Michael hasn’t changed.

“Is he dominant?”

“Very.”

“Is he overbearing?”

“A little.”

Veronica scratches at a cut on her knee, trying to think of something to ask. How many questions has it been now? She’s not quite sure, but she has to be near twenty.

Michael sighs and Veronica turns her head because she’s not sure whether it’s of content or something else –

– but Michael’s his usual stoic self and she can’t tell what’s going on inside that head of his because he’s not an open book like Lincoln.

And as she thinks of Lincoln a question slowly formulates, so she asks because she hasn’t thought of anything better.

“Overcompensating?”

Michael answers immediately and Veronica notices his lips barely move at all as he speaks and she’s aware that his voice is only just above a whisper and she wonders why but the game’s almost over, so maybe she’ll ask afterward –

“Veronica?”

His gaze is sharp and penetrating, eyes roaming over her soft features and critically analyzing them.

She realizes she’s been staring and apologizes quietly. “Sorry, Michael. I . . . couldn’t hear you.”

“It’s all right,” Michael intones, passively, sipping at the last of the wine in his glass. “I suppose we both have something on our minds tonight, don’t we?”

Veronica nods, though tentatively, because it’s more along the lines of she’s having trouble getting what could possibly be on Michael’s mind off her own, because he’s not usually bothered like this, and when he is, it’s usually something bad, and it’s been a long time since she’s seen him like this, so she can’t help but wonder, “What the fuck is wrong?”

But she can’t read minds, and she can’t read Michael’s impossibly stoic self, which leaves her in quite the dilemma as she internally debates whether or not to ask, or to wait for him to bring it up on his own.

Michael’s drinking another glass of wine, and Veronica’s lost count of how many he’s had, and she’s forgotten how many it takes for him to get drunk – because there’s no doubt he’s tipsy by now (she certainly is – or at least getting there) –

“Not in the least.”

– and Veronica has to double take because she’s been zoning out again, lost in her own thoughts and worries and wonders and pondering, and his statement successfully answered a few questions on her mind, but he can’t read minds, he can’t, she knows, because that’s impossible – she doesn’t believe in psychic powers, that’s just ridiculous – he was just repeating his earlier answer to her question and she really needs to start paying more attention, because surely, surely, she looks like a damn fool by now –

“Is he handsome?”

Another question from their youth forces its way to the surface and Veronica lets it, because she’s out of ideas between worrying about Michael and thinking about Lincoln and wondering when in the hell did Lincoln cross-dress and how did she miss it –

“In his own way.”

She remembers Michael’s original answers to that question – always a firm (and loud) declaration of, “NO!” followed by an immature, “Better looking than you, brat!” from Lincoln in the other room, to which ensued a heated argument, inevitably ending in Mama Scofield cuffing Lincoln upside the head and a stern telling of Michael to “mind his manners around his elder brother.”

Though after Mama Scofield died, Michael never wanted to play anymore, and Veronica remembered that things hadn’t been quite the same since.

“Is he older than you?”

“Yes.”

And Veronica’s not quite sure why the question popped into her thoughts, but she figures she might as well ask, because it’s not as if he’s going to say yes, because that’d just be weird and she’s almost seventy-eight percent positive Michael’s not gay –

“Do you have sex with him?”

But there’s a short pause, an intake of breath, and there’s a tension in the room that could probably be cut with a dull knife, but now Veronica’s afraid of what the answer to her question might really be –

“Yes,” Michael whispers, and Veronica turns her head to stare, unabashed.

And Michael’s staring back, frowning, because he knows that she knows and that look on her face is telling him that she knows that he knows that she knows.

He can’t tell if it’s disapproval or disgust, but her mouth is moving, she’s speaking and Michael’s finding it hard to hear, because everything feels like it’s falling away –

“Is it Lincoln?”

It wasn’t supposed to be this way, not at all. Veronica wasn’t supposed to know.

And he still can’t tell what her facial expression means because it’s a mingle of different emotions and her eyes look angry but her mouth looks disgusted and her nose is wrinkled up in distaste –

But they’re playing a game and he can’t lie, so he nods because his throat is too dry now to force the word from his mouth.

He keeps wondering where everything started to slip – has been, for years now – because he’s painfully aware of how wrong it is, and maybe Lincoln felt responsible and that’s why he called it off, told Michael it was wrong, it was disgusting, it was a word he’d struggled to voice because he didn’t quite know what it was he wanted to describe it as, but Michael knew, Michael knew, and it had taken all of his willpower not to say, “Taboo,” while Lincoln was trying to think –

He knew it was wrong. He knew it was. They’d both known and that’s why Lincoln had broken it off, because it wasn’t normal – it wasn’t – it was completely irregular –

Because brothers didn’t have sex with one another. They didn’t, he knew, but what was so wrong with it, when it felt so right?

It takes a few moments before Michael notices Veronica’s sitting at the edge of the bed, knees pulled up to her chest, and that neither of them have said anything for awhile now and the apartment is completely devoid of sound except for the faint cacophony of noises from the television in the living room –

But the noise seems distant, miles away even, and maybe it is, because Michael feels detached and he’s not sure what’s going to happen from here.

But Veronica hasn’t left yet, which, considering the circumstances, has got to be a good sign, and if it’s not, he’s not sure he wants to know what is.

“I,” Michael keeps the dry humor from his tone, “I . . . it was painfully obvious near the end, wasn’t it?”

Veronica snorts grimly. “Yeah.”

“You finally got it right.”

Veronica nods to herself. “But . . . I never expected you and . . .” she falters, struggling with the words, because saying them aloud means she has to accept it.

“You weren’t supposed to.” Michael shifts his legs awkwardly. “But it’s . . . it’s over now. It’s over.”

Veronica’s eyes flick back at him, and she silently watches him from her peripheral. “Is that why . . . ?”

“That’s why I’m home tonight,” He sighs in an almost dramatic fashion and Veronica thinks he sounds regretful – and she realizes he probably is.

“But . . . why? Did something happen?”

Michael tilts his head slightly to the side, trying to figure out Veronica’s sudden curiosity in the matter.

He finally shrugs and answers, “Because Lincoln said so.”

“Michael . . .” but Veronica falters again, and can’t continue.

And the silence weighs heavily for awhile, because neither of them are quite sure what else to say.

“I shouldn’t have asked that . . . it was personal and I . . .”

Michael shakes his head calmly, manner patient, before stating, “You would have found out eventually.”

“Michael,” Veronica’s voice is quiet, withdrawn and an air of uncertainty lingers for awhile after she’s finished speaking.

Michael reaches for the wine bottle again, but it’s empty and he knows he shouldn’t get up to try and find another one.

“Yeah?” he finally answers, weakly, in a voice devoid of any kind of discernable emotion.

“Is . . .” she falters, momentarily, before picking up in a slightly stronger voice, “is Lincoln a cross-dresser?”

A smile finds its way to Michael’s mouth and he can’t help but laugh.

“No,” he responds, slowly considering how to explain the extenuating circumstances involving Lincoln, a gaudy red dress, high heels and clumsily applied lipstick. “See,” and Michael’s starting to feel a little better as the tale unfolds, because he still can’t believe Lincoln actually listened to him when he suggested it, and made enough money in one week to pay the bills on their apartment for a month, “Lincoln and I were a little short on cash for awhile after Mom’s death and . . .”

Veronica tilts her head back, eyeing Michael curiously. “And?”

“Well, I asked him why he didn’t just become a prostitute. They made all kinds of money.”

“You’re kidding me . . . right?”

And when Michael doesn’t say anything, Veronica is all too suddenly aware that she doesn’t know Lincoln like Michael does – and there’s a certain clarity in the fact that she never will that somehow makes it all okay.






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