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Chapter Four

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Lindsey isn't sure what Willie said to Eliot that afternoon, but in the days following it, Eliot is calmer, quieter, talking less than ever before. He begins to spend more time outside with the horses than indoors, and comes in at odd hours of the night, smelling of the animals and fresh hay. He lies in his bed in the dark, staring up at the shadows on the ceiling, thinking.

Things between them have changed, but not for the worse. Eliot only grunts in greeting instead of lashing out when Lindsey stays up until Eliot comes back in at night, no matter how late the hour is ("I just wanna finish this chapter, El."). He lets Lindsey follow him around without saying a word (just like when they were kids) whenever the younger twin feels the sudden paranoid urge to be close to his brother.

But twin or not, there are some things at which even Eliot draws the line.

Lindsey never does figure out how Eliot discovered what he'd done, but when he did, Eliot had blown up, called the school, pretending to be Lindsey, and re-registered him in all the classes for fall that the younger twin had dropped when he'd called his adviser earlier to let her know that he needed to take a semester off from school in order to care for his convalescent war veteran brother.

"I don't want you giving up your future for me, Linds," was all he'd said in explanation.

Lindsey had scowled, his plans to watch over his brother thwarted. "It's not called 'giving up' if my goals have changed, El."

All Eliot had done at that was stare at him long and hard, until it felt like worms were crawling up and around inside of him and he just had to blink and squirm (and lose the staring contest).

It's one night a couple of weeks later, about a month after the incident, when Eliot finally opens up.

"Willie offered me a job in the stables as long as I want one," he says into the darkness, knowing that Lindsey never falls completely asleep until he does first. "Assistant trainer. He'll pay me the going rate."

Lindsey props himself up on his elbows to see his twin better. "That's great!"

Eliot doesn't reply, merely stares up at the ceiling.

"El?"

"I'm not gonna take it."

Lindsey sits up all the way. "What?" he exclaims, torn between confusion and outrage. "Why the hell not?"

Eliot keeps his eyes staring straight up. "Gonna go back to the war. Workin' with horses is great, and I love it," he pulls his gaze away from the ceiling to look at his brother, "love them, but I don't wanna do that the rest of my life. It ain't what I was made to do."

He can see Lindsey frowning, turning his words over in his mind. Always thinking, his brother. Gonna make a good lawyer someday. A small smile itches to turn the corner of his mouth up.

"What're you talkin' about?"

He sighs, finally sitting up himself to mirror Lindsey. "Fightin'. That's what I'm good at."

Lindsey swings his legs over the side of his bed and leans forward, elbows on his knees. "You're good at a lotta things, El. You don't hafta go back."

Eliot examines his hands carefully. Don't look at his face. Don't look at his eyes. Don't let him plead, beg, wheedle you into agreeing with what he wants. Don't look…aw, crap.

He turns away and rubs his face. He's tired. He hasn't slept well in…over a year, and it's showing. "You're not listening to me, Linny. I want to. It's…I can't explain it. I just have to. That's my calling."

"But…" Lindsey trails off, barely recognizing this stranger with his face. "You just got home!"

Eliot wants his brother to understand, but knows he won't, can't. Everyone knows that Lindsey's calling is in books, learning, studying, information. Eliot's has always been in his fists. That has always been abundantly clear to anyone who knows them. Lindsey, for all the years they've lived side by side, from the womb to now, Lindsey doesn't understand why Eliot needs this so much. The violence, the aggression - He doesn't understand that there's meaning and order to it when Eliot's the one in control.

But these last few months, he's been off-balance because somewhere along the line, amid all the chaos, all the blood and bullets, he'd lost his control, found something in him that he had never encountered before, and it had scared him. He, Eliot McDonald, who had once at the tender age of five faced three teenaged bullies with nothing more than his fists and his brother at his back (and a pile of rocks), he was scared of something in him. He'd done what was expected of him, but he had felt something flicker, rise in his chest, in his very soul, and it had felt foreign and familiar at the same time.

It had thrown him off-kilter, but he had been able to hide it, or so he had thought. He'd hidden it, until those feelings, that confusion, the dread, the fear, all of it had finally boiled over, and…God. If Lindsey hadn't found him that day…

Lindsey, his only brother, his only constant - he'd been so prepared to leave him, but God, he hadn't realized how much he needs him, how much they need each other - Lindsey's staring at him, waiting, worried, but strong.

Little brother (no matter that they're only less than a quarter of an hour apart), his little brother's grown up while Eliot's been away, and he hadn't even noticed until that day. He'd seen Eliot floundering, drowning, and had pulled him back up, grip stronger than he remembered it being, and he'd held on, clung on with all he had, a literal anchor. Never gonna let you go, he'd read in the tight embrace that day, not ever. You're not alone.

Lindsey watches him, silent, waiting for him to get his thoughts straight again.

Eliot gulps, head bent down, and picks at a tiny hole in the sheets. "Linny, I- Thanks. For what you did for me that day. I hadn't really dealt with it all, y'know, and I haven't yet, but I'm starting to."

Lindsey sighs in his turn. "That's just it. You're dealing, but that's no call to go back there and get broken again to prove how tough you are. Everyone and their mother knows you're tough."

Eliot huffs. "That ain't why. And I ain't broken." He isn't. He's just…confused. 'S all. He's fine. Mostly. He just needs to face his fears. That's all. Face it and overcome it. That's the way to get stronger.

Lindsey narrows his eyes at him. "Are too."

"Linny," Eliot starts and punches his pillow in frustration, "I- I just need to, okay? I can't explain it. When I was out there, the fighting part, that felt good, that felt right. Fighting for something, for someone. That felt right. The rest? Not so much, but that part was right. And I wanna do the right thing. I wanna do the right thing," he repeats softly.

Lindsey frowns, struggling to understand. Concepts that he cannot comprehend are rare with him, and he hates not being able to see why his brother needs to go away to do this. "Couldn't you do that here? I mean, you've had your fair share of war already. You could do community work, something with kids - you like kids. Or the homeless, or- "

"Linny- "

"Stop sayin' my name like I'm the one bein' unreasonable," Lindsey exclaims. "You're…you're crazy. Know what? I'm taking that break from school after all to look after your deranged ass. And you can't stop me." He says it, but he knows in his gut that it's hopeless. Eliot's mind is set and there's no budging him.

"Linny. I'm fine. I'm no crazier than I was when I left, an' I don't need a babysitter. You gotta let go sometime."

It's a hit under the belt, but it needs to be said. Because they're twins, but they're not conjoined, for Pete's sake (and don't tell Linny that he even knows that word). They each need to make their own way in the world, and if Lindsey doesn't let go, then neither of them will be able to do what they're meant to. Lindsey's got his own set of dreams and goals, and they have absolutely nothing to do with Eliot's. They can't keep dragging each other down. He can't drag Lindsey down with his issues, and his shit.

Lindsey can feel that traitorous bottom lip wavering again, so he bites down on it to stop it, drawing blood. "You're different, El." It's a reproach, but not really, a realization, maybe, or perhaps only the blunt statement of a fact.

Eliot swallows, and it hurts to meet his eyes because the look in them is so old. "So're you. We both are. An' we're gonna keep on changin', so we might as well accept it and move on from the fact that we ain't always gonna be doin' exactly the same thing, just 'cause we're twins."

The expression on Lindsey's face turns pensive. He purses his lips. "You know, I never thought that. We never really did do the whole 'in sync' thing that much." He holds up his hand. "Yeah, yeah, I know, you're gonna say my name again, like it actually does something. You're really gonna go for another round?"

Eliot nods, not knowing where this is going. "Yeah. I'm good at it. I really am." He's surprised by how much he wants Lindsey to know this. That he's good at something, like Lindsey's good at learning and thinking and other smart people stuff. "I'm good at fighting. Real good."

And Lindsey gets it. Finally. He can see it in his face, his posture, his eyes. He gets it, but he doesn't like it.

Lindsey sighs and scrubs his hand through the tangled, sleep-tousled, untamed curls they'd both inherited from their mama. "Yeah, I know. I know. I guess…I just don't want you to die, that's all. It's dangerous. War is dangerous."

Eliot tilts his head. "You knew that the first time an' you let me go." Well, "let" isn't the right word because he would have gone anyway, but Linny had been fine with it, for the most part. Sent him off with a stiff grin and a wave (and suspiciously shiny and reddened eyes).

Lindsey picks at his fingernails, and inserts one into his mouth to chew on it (a habit of his that he knows Eliot detests) before he answers. "I know it better now." There's a long pause. "Okay."

"Okay? I got yer permission?" It comes out sarcastic, but that's not exactly how he means it. He wants to know if Lindsey's really going to be alright with his decision.

Lindsey shifts uncomfortably and pulls his bare feet up onto the bed, chin resting on his knees. "Shuddup. Yeah. I ain't okay with it, but if it's what you feel like you gotta do, then you should do it. I ain't gonna stop you."

Eliot sighs, tension he hadn't been aware of melting away in relief. "Thank you."

The corner of Lindsey's mouth twitches. "That don't mean I'm gonna help you with Aimee when she breaks up with you again, though."

Aimee. She's gonna be so pissed. Eliot groans, and falls back onto his bed. "Aw, come on, Linny," he pleads, "Just a little?"

Lindsey snickers. "No."

Eliot rolls over onto his stomach and rests his cheek on his pillow. He feels sleep closing in, beckoning…Maybe he'll be able to rest tonight. Yeah. Maybe. "Come on. Wingman."

Lindsey gets back under his covers and pulls them up to his chin. "No. I ain't gettin' in between you and her, man," he chuckles.

"I ain't askin' for that. Just talk her down like you always do, that's all I'm askin'. That's what you're good at." Lindsey can't leave him hanging like this.

Aimee…she may be tiny, but you know what they say about redheads and tempers? Blondes are scarier. 'Course, that's what he loves about her, and he does love her, very much. He's been thinking about a ring, not a promise ring, but a real one…But he needs the money to buy it first, needs money so that he can support her, and God willing, their family. And a job in the military's probably the only thing that Eliot's good enough at that'll get him honest money, enough of it, anyway, so that he's not depending on Willie. Eliot's good at fighting.

"Nope."

"You suck."

"Right back atcha, Corporal McDonald." Lindsey's laugh is muffled by his pillow, but it's a real, happy laugh. Eliot's missed that. He's been so caught up in his own crap that he hasn't really thought about how Lindsey has to be feeling about all this.

"Linny?"

"Mm?"

Eliot licks his lips, flips over onto his back with a sigh, restless, and goes back to staring at the ceiling again. It's easier than looking at his twin, even though there isn't much to see in the moonlight filtering in through the curtains of their darkened bedroom. "Ain't gonna die on ya."

Lindsey's silent for a few moments before he replies. "You don't know that."

"Gonna fight twice as hard as those other guys," Eliot says, turning on his side, so he can at least see his brother's profile. "Got twice as much on the line as them."

He remembers what Lindsey had said that day, that he didn't want to find out what life would be like without Eliot. The knot in his stomach tightens with a cold lurch when he remembers the gun pressed up against Lindsey's temple. He had known, in that moment, that Lindsey had meant every single word, and…Eliot isn't going to die. Lindsey isn't going to die. Two lives in one. That's the way it's always been. They're not joined at the hip, but...But.

Lindsey lets out a deep breath from the other bed. He turns his head and looks over, the dim light hitting his eyes just right for Eliot to see tears shining in them…again. Crybaby. (And Eliot isn't tearing up right along with him, he's not. It's just dust.) "Thanks, El."

"No, thank you. I mean it, Linds. If you hadn't come just then, if you hadn't...hadn't saved me, I- I woulda, y'know?" Eliot shudders at how close he'd come to ending it all.

"I know." It sounds strangled, as if Lindsey's remembering, too. "I know, El."

Eliot pulls his knees up to his chest, and feels a tickling sensation roll down the bridge of his nose. "I'm messed up, Linny," he confesses in a whisper after a moment, grateful for the dark. "I'm so f- I'm so messed up I- "

"I'm gonna help you."

Determination's what gotten Lindsey this far (surviving their dirt-poor childhood, surviving having a girl's name, getting grades good enough to attract schools willing to pay for everything), and it's clear that mending Eliot is his next project. When Lindsey sets his mind on something, he gets it done. And that feels…good.

"Yeah."

"I mean it."

"I know. And you are." He is helping, he really is. Eliot's not much of a talker, but Lindsey, he's always been a good listener, easy for him to talk to, the only person Eliot can talk to about anything and everything.

Eliot's too busy thinking to notice the rustling of sheets from the next bed over. Something cold brushes his leg and he jumps a mile. "What're you doin'?"

Lindsey plops his pillow down next to his. In his bed. "Just feel like it, 's all. Scoot."

Eliot scoots, but only out of instinct. Then he shoves back to get back the space he'd lost. "Seriously, what are you doing?"

Lindsey squirms and turns, getting settled in, and messing up the covers while he's at it. "You're gonna have a nightmare anyway. Just thought I'd stop it before it begins."

Eliot scowls. "How? By keepin' me awake all night with your cold feet?"

They are cold. Freezing. Always have been, in the summer, in the winter, all year round. And Eliot is in a position to know this very well, having had to share a bed with his bedcover-hogging twin every damn night of their lives until they'd moved in with Uncle Randy six years ago after Mama had died.

Eliot can almost see the indignant pout on Lindsey's face. "They ain't cold."

"Yeah, because now my feet are cold," he grumbles, but only to keep face, and not because he's actually uncomfortable.

Lindsey snorts a breath out through his nose in frustration. "Shut up and go to sleep, El."

"I can't," Eliot retorts, "Your elbow's in my ribs."

"Is not."

"Is too. Quit shovin'!"

Lindsey groans and shifts next to him. "Is not, and I ain't. Hey! Get offa me! Lemme go! What are you doin'?" he exclaims, arms flailing, and his voice muffled from his face being smashed up against Eliot's side and held in place by a well-muscled arm.

"Smell armpit, Linny!" Eliot snickers.

Lindsey struggles out of his grip, bitch-face firmly in place. "Gross! You're disgusting. I'm trying to help, El!"

"Then get the hell outta my bed!"

With a low growl, Lindsey flings himself at him, and from that moment, it's an all-out wrestling match, ending with Lindsey falling out of the bed with an immense thump and a loud cry.

"Boys, what in tarnation 're you doin' this time of night?"

Uncle Randy. Randall Spencer, their mother's uncle, who had taken them in and never once regretted it, although, as the baffled old bachelor put it, he "don't know nothin' 'bout raisin' two boys to save m'life, but at least the Lord had the good sense not to send an ol' codger like me two girls."

"Sorry, Uncle Randy," they say, stifling giggles.

The old man runs a work-hardened hand through his hair, making it stand up. "Yeah, yeah, get to sleep, the both of you. You got chores an' church in the mornin'."

"'Night, Uncle Randy," the boys say, Lindsey elbowing his way back into Eliot's bed instead of his own.

Uncle Randy doesn't comment on that, having noticed the abrupt change in the boys' behavior a while back when he had come home after a week-long trip to deliver a racehorse a few states over.

"'Night, Lindsey, Eliot," he says, and shuffles back to his room on the other side of the hallway.

"Get outta my bed," hisses Eliot with a shove.

"I'm sorry. I can't hear you. I'm asleep," Lindsey replies and begins sawing logs (fake, FAKE) like there's no tomorrow.

Eliot grumbles and groans and punches his pillow, but in the end, he settles down on his side of his bed and within minutes, slips into the first restful night's sleep he has had in a long time.

Lindsey turns over slowly and smiles at the sight of his peacefully slumbering brother. "'Night, Eliot."

Eliot snuffles in his sleep and reaches out a hand to latch onto Lindsey's shirt.

Lindsey smirks.

Blackmail!

However, the next morning, he has no chance to snicker over his brother's rare show of intimacy, as they both wake up in a tangle of limbs that is only unknotted when their bickering and snarling and pulling sends them rolling over the side of the bed with a thud loud enough to send Uncle Randy down the hall to tell them that it's time they got their lazy, lily-white asses up an' outta bed anyhow or they'll be late for church.

"Be right there, Uncle Randy," they chorus in unison.

"Why the good Lord sent me twins," they hear the old man mutter outside their door. "As if one weren't enough..." They steal a look at each other, and burst out laughing.

Lindsey smiles at his brother. They're okay. Yeah, Eliot's okay, they're okay.

"I gotta bruise on my ass the size of Texas," he grumbles instead, rubbing his hip.

"Mine's the size of Alaska. That's bigger," Eliot retorts, and shows it to him.

"Dude, I did not need to see your lily-white ass," Lindsey says, shielding his eyes and grimacing dramatically before turning away to look for his church-going clothes.

"You're just jealous 'cause mine's better," Eliot cackles and tosses him one of his boots.

It bounces off of Lindsey's chest painfully, oof, and lands on his foot. "Ow!" he says, rubbing his chest and hopping on one leg. "I ain't jealous. I got the exact same goods, 'cept I don't got a scar on mine," he says smugly.

"Chicks dig scars," says Eliot, affronted.

Lindsey snorts. "Do not. 'Specially not chicken pox scars."

"Do too."

"Not."

"Too."

"Boys! Breakfast!"

"Not."

"Too."

"Not. Ow! Uncle Randy! Eliot hit me!"

"Tattletale."

"Boys!"

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Epilogue

This time next year, Eliot will be part of an elite Special Ops team. He'll prepare for a top secret mission in an undisclosed location by praying to God for His protection and guidance (and for his brother into the bargain because he never, ever forgets to pray for Lindsey). Sgt. Eliot McDonald (code name Wolf) will be the only one on the team who makes it out of that hellhole alive.

This time next year, Lindsey will be working in the mailroom of Wolfram and Hart, handpicked by Holland Manners from UC Hastings' pre-law class of '96. He'll smile at a lewd joke one of the other employees, a young man named Bradley Scott, tells, all the while never pausing in his own work.

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AN: And so it begins...

References that you might or might not have caught and stuff I made up:

Eliot says he had an uncle named Randy. I made up the part where he's their mother's uncle, and added "Spencer" as his last name. I also had him working for the Martins. I mentioned him before in "The Sky's Gonna Open." Something about how he did his best and smoked like a chimney.

I put Eliot in Somalia because the Gulf War ended in 1991, which would have made Eliot 17, too young to enlist (unless he lied about his age *gaspness*), and there were American troops in Somalia in 1992. As for his rank, umm, I wiki-ed it, as I have no actual knowledge of the military and how it works.

Eliot said on the show that as a young man, he had "God in his heart and a flag on his shoulder" - At the beginning of this story, he'd sort of lost that, but I wanted to show that at the end, he had healed enough to have faith again, in both God and his country. Pity he loses that in a few years...

Lindsey was approached by Holland as a sophomore at Hastings, as mentioned on Angel. There is something wrong with this statement, as UC Hastings is a law school only and doesn't have an undergrad campus (yes, I did my research. Also, Hastings is only #44 on the list of top-ranked law schools. That irks me because it suggests that Lindsey wasn't smart enough to get into Stanford or Berkeley, which are both ranked higher and are California schools, just like Hastings). Anyway, I'll let it go and pretend Lindsey went to Hastings for both undergrad and law school. Lindsey should have finished his undergrad in 1996. That means he should have gotten his law degree in 1999, unless he was a fast worker and pushed the dates up by a year or so, which I'm pretty sure is what happened because he's a frickin' workaholic. So let's say he made Junior Associate in or around 1998-1999.

Bradley Scott was the name of the guy Lindsey's "evil" hand used to belong to. According to the show, he used to work in the mailroom at WR&H with him. I was going to mention Lilah in this fic, but Angel says she finished her law degree and was hired by WR&H in 1994, since she is older than Lindsey. Actually, this is better, since that means it took Lindsey less time to climb the ladder than her. Ooh, that must have irked her so bad!

Self-reference: Lindsey's the one who cries a lot, and Eliot doesn't cry. As much. But PTSD is a pretty friggin' good reason, and so is watching someone you love go through that. And here, Lindsey's the one getting into bed (minds out of the gutter, thank you very much) with Eliot. In the de-aged Eliot parts of the "Sky's Gonna Open" verse, their situations are reversed. Just pointing it out, in case you were wondering why I did what I did with the characters...