There are some things you just know, even as a child. You don't need anyone to tell you, you don't need any affirmation, it's just an automatic certainty.

Nick knew, for instance, that he would never be able to get away from the Darlings, as much as he tried. A depressing and sobering thought, certainly, but even as a child, it was an awareness he could never shake. And as a child, the thing that rankled most about that was that he would never be able to get away from Brian.

Brian, who tormented him at every turn, at every last chance. Who took the opportunity to inform him of his hatred every time he saw it. Nick hated him right back, and yet somehow every time the two of them got into a fight, it was never Brian's fault.

"Nicky," his father said, as Nick stood there with a skinned knee and a bruised cheek, glaring at Brian as he cried to his mom about a bloody nose, "you shouldn't let him get to you. You're better than that."

He tried telling himself that again at sixteen, as he stood there trying to convince himself not to kill Brian in a roomful of Karen's friends. Coming to Karen's birthday party was unavoidable - unfortunately, so was Brian. Don't let him get to you, Nicky. He's not worth it, you're better than that...

And Brian was still standing there, with that snide little smirk of his, just inviting Nick to do something, make a scene...

Nick turned around and stalked away. There were plenty of rooms in Darling Plaza, certainly he could find one of them to hide in until Brian got tired of tormenting him.

Of course, that plan wouldn't work if Brian insisted on following him. He was just begging to be punched. Probably so that he could announce to everyone that Nick had beat him up.

It was really hard to not let Brian get under his skin when Brian had apparently spent all his life perfecting his ability to do just that. After a while, you had to admit defeat.

Halfway down the long hallway, Nick stopped and turned to face him - Brian, not expecting that, nearly ran into him, coming up just short. "Why are you following me?" he demanded, hand curled into a fist at his side.

"Why are you running away? You always do, you little-"

No, Nick decided. He was not better than this. He lunged for Brian, wondering if he could get his hands around his throat.

Brian, as per usual, turned to run. Nick was there before he could get fall, and they both collided with the wall, Nick pressed so close to Brian he could feel the air being knocked out of him in the collision. Brian turned to take a swing at him, and Nick grabbed his wrist, pinning it back against the wall. A moment later, he grabbed the other wrist and pinned it too, just in case.

"Leave me alone," he growled into Brian's face, nose-to-nose with him. "Just... leave me alone."

Brian glowered at him for a moment, and then lunged forward to kiss him, hard. Nick froze for a second in disbelief, hands tightening momentarily around Brian's wrists, and then shoved himself back, staring for a second before he turned down the hallway and walked away, his hands shaking.

So much for not letting Brian get under his skin.

He tries to remind himself of that now. Remind himself of the consequences of letting Brian under your skin, that you always get hurt, that your world always ends up in tatters at your feet. Remind himself that he had learned this lesson long ago, and there was no one but himself to blame.

Standing here in the church, staring at Brian is just like staring at him as a child with a bloody nose, is just like staring at him there in the hallway with his hands around Brian's wrists and the feeling of his kiss on his lips.

"Nothing's changing, you know. Between you and me."

No. It's not. He still loves him. He still hates him. Of course. And here it comes, the yelling, the hurting, the...

"I hate you."

Except that it doesn't have its usual venom, it's quiet and sad and Nick wants to step forward and sit beside him, to curl up in his arms and never move again, to be them again, not brothers, not friends, just... them.

"Come on, just sit down, please."

Nick takes a seat beside him, and looks over. It's the same as ever. He never could keep Brian from getting under his skin.