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Story Notes:
Mostly inspired by Veronica’s line “You two have the most dysfunctional idea of love I’ve ever seen. What, he beats you up to keep you off the streets, so you get yourself thrown into Fox River with him?” WARNINGS for referenced sex work and violence.

The sky’s still dark when he gets out of the car, door slamming behind him. The guy’s speeding down the street before Michael’s so much as looked around and decided which way he’s taking to get home.

He can’t blame him, though. He gets it. Understands not wanting to be seen around here, not wanting to be recognised. It’s why he keeps the beanie stashed in his jacket pocket.

He walks straight ahead, decides to go the long way home. It’s probably not the best idea, but he isn’t too bothered. He likes walking, likes the feel of the ice cold wind on his face, likes watching as the city wakes up. It also means he’ll get home later -- just after Lincoln gives up on waiting and passes out on their shitty couch, if Michael’s lucky -- and that’s always a bonus.

He grabs the beanie from his pocket, pulls it over his head, and wraps his too large jacket against his frame; trying to keep as warm as he possibly can. He’s not wearing much underneath -- of course not, they don’t like the boys who cover up -- and the weather’s getting cooler every day.

He walks through the familiar streets, keeps one hand on the wad of cash in his pocket and stays alert for any threats. He’s gotten good at this part, hasn’t had an accident in months. Still, he holds on; knows how important it is that he gets the money home. It’s all for nothing otherwise.

He wants a shower. Wants to strip the clothes away and stand under a steady spray of water, hot enough that steam will rise and fog the bathroom mirror, make him feel clean. The feeling afterwards, the dirty feeling. That had always been his least favourite part.

It’s not often that he does this. Only when they’re desperate, when they’re really struggling. When the cupboards are empty and the bills are late and they’re days away from being thrown back out on the street. He’s considered making it a regular thing before, thought it would be better to prevent the worst case scenario before it could happen, but he knows he couldn’t do it. Knows Lincoln would never allow it.

Because it ends the same way every time. Without fail. It doesn’t matter how much Michael tries to reason, doesn’t matter if they still use the money. It’s always the same. Probably the only constant in both of their lives.

Blood. Anger. Guilt.

*

Lincoln is passed out when he gets home, a flittering of soft light coming through the apartment window and lighting up his sleeping form. Michael treads carefully, moves as quietly as he can past the couch and to the bathroom.

He’s got a routine for this part. Teeth first, strip, shower, teeth again. Sometimes he has a second shower, usually after Lincoln’s done with him.

He doesn’t glance at himself in mirror when he brushes his teeth, would rather stay oblivious to the mess he must look like. Instead he busies himself with tidying up; moves the soap around, picks up a stray shirt and puts it in the laundry basket. Little things that help keep him sane.

Stepping into the shower feels better than the orgasm he’d had not two hours before, and Michael groans quietly. He lets the water glide over him, let’s it wash away the grit and the grime. Lets it make him feel human again.

By the time he shuts the water off, he can hear footsteps coming from the kitchen; Lincoln moving around, waiting for him to come out. He sighs, grabs the nearest towel and dries himself off quickly. He knows there’s no point trying to avoid it.

Once he’s dressed he walks down their small hallway, leans against the doorframe of the main room’s opening and waits for the screaming to start. It comes, just like it always does. The same thing said each time.

First it’s why would he, and then it’s how could he, and then it’s do you know how fucking stupid you are, Michael? and what if they’d hurt you?

Michael never interrupts him, never denies him his right to yell, never mentions the irony in that last part. He’d learnt to pick his fights years ago, and this one isn’t worth the effort.

When the first blow comes, Michael tenses. He doesn’t fight back, doesn’t even lift an arm to protect himself. Just lets Lincoln hit him. He used to wonder if he liked this part, liked the pain and the taste of blood in his mouth, liked how real it made him feel. He never bothered answering the question.

Lincoln doesn’t hit him much, but he does hit him hard. It’s always in his face, careful not to break his nose but bad enough to leave lasting bruises. Split lips. Black eyes.

Michael isn’t an idiot. He knows why. Knows Lincoln picks his face specifically because it’ll make no one want him. Will make it near impossible for him to go out on the street. It’s why he lets it happen.

Later, Lincoln will come and apologise. Will bring him food and an icepack and sit on his bed, will wrap an arm around his shoulders and kiss the top of his head. Will say that he’s sorry, that he’s just worried, that he’s fucking terrified of something bad happening.

And Michael will accept it. Because he loves his brother, and because it’s not worth the energy to argue. Because he knows none of it will really matter in the end. Because he won’t stop until stopping is a realistic option, the same way Lincoln won’t stop the stealing.

It’s just what they do.