Axel's knuckles burned as he tried to stifle a very unmanly sound. Nathan merely snorted as he continued to pour the peroxide into the cuts.
"We wouldn't have to do this every time, if you were more careful. What do I tell you before every fight? Protect-"
"My hands." Axel finished for him with a wince. "I know. I know. But you know how I get when I'm backed into a corner. I underestimated the guy yesterday so I had to take him down fast or risk everything."
Nathan glared from under his blond bangs, brown eyes as soft as chocolate melting Axel's resolve like it always did. "We need you Ax."
Axel knew what Nathan meant.
They needed Axel's hands.
On every track their recorded, Axel played lead guitar. Tony wasn't good enough to be recorded and he often times couldn't even be bothered to get up as early in the morning as was required for the band's time-slot in the recording studio Axel rented by the hour. It had to be Axel who recorded for them, or they would crash and burn right out of the gate.
"I know you do." Axel frowned.
Nathan rolled his eyes as his calloused hands wrapped Axel's knuckles in a clean bandage again. Fourth time in as many months.
"Can't there be a better way to make money?"
Axel had heard the same question multiple times, but his answer was always the same.
It was as simple as that.
He was a fighter. Ever since he was a kid raised in and out of foster care and pawned off on just as many orphanages for the wayward child, Axel had been fighting to be heard all his life.
The volunteers, the older kids, and the adults had all taught him a very important lesson. The fight never ends.
"Listen Jonathan, I'm doing this for us. All of us. It's not just for you okay? You don't need to feel guilty or worry. I've been training with a couple MMA fighters at the gym downtown. I've been keeping my hands wrapped and focusing on using my elbows and legs. I'll be able to play." Axel said, smiling into his words as he put his fists up the show his younger half-brother how to possession ones hands when using Muay Thai.
Nathan simply scowled at him.
"Don't call me that, and put your hands down. You look ridiculous."
"We need you to play the next couple of shows with us." Nathan said suddenly, drawing Axel's gaze sharply.
"What?" Axel asked with a small shake of his head.
"We need you on stage. Tony would ruin our chances with that agent if the vocalist from Moonstruck does come to watch us play." He spoke so matter-of-factly that Axel almost sputtered, but he resisted.
"No." Axel answered.
Axel gave his brother his best glare, something he knew he was good at. "Because I'm not a performer Nathan."
"See, that's something I don't understand. With the way you play, how can you not want to share it?" Nathan's brows were drawn, his frown severe as the disgust was clear on his face.
Axel felt like throwing up.
"I don't do well in crowds like that Nathan." Axel tried to water down the truth as best he could.
He knew he was failing the second Nathan pushed himself to his feet and off of the toilet seat's lid.
"Bullshit. You fight in front of a crowd twice a month Axel. Try that again."
Pressing his lips, Axel tried to come up with another one.
"It's different with the fight. My focus is on my opponent, not the crowd." Lie, lie, every word he spoke was an all-out lie.
Nathan flinched back like Axel had struck him and Axel wanted to take it back instantly.
"You promised you wouldn't do that." Nathan breathed, his calm demeanor crumbling a little in the face of his hurt. "You promised you wouldn't lie to me like they did."
Axel sighed again, his head pounding with his knuckles as he clenched and unclenched his bruised and battered hands. He wanted to close his eyes, but the look of physical pain in Nathan's face kept all his attention.
Still he wasn't sure if he could be honest in this. Not this.
"Look Nathan... It's been years for me, okay? Years since I-" He stopped, unable to speak the words.
Nathan's hurt disappeared in an instant and the young man's hard earned calm was back, colder and more distant than usual.
"Never mind." He said shortly as he pushed his way out of their small bathroom.
Axel groaned, his hands coming up to cover his face only to stop when he saw the neatly wrapped bandages.
With a small curse, he turned around and went after his bother.
"Nathan!" Axel called, grabbing the blond boy's shoulder before Nathan managed to get half way to the apartment's front door.
"I lost her, okay? I had a band, in high school, we-" Axel felt his throat close up around the words that wanted to come and he swallowed, willing himself to tell this story. Maybe it was time. At least, he hoped it was.
"Our lead singer was an addict. She didn't.... I never..." He couldn't do it, he knew he wouldn't be able to say the words, no matter what his brother did. Damn it.
Axel didn't notice when Nathan turned around, too busy studding their hard wood floors to notice that he was suddenly the center of his brother's attention.
Axel's eyes snapped up to meet Nathan's brown ones.
"What?" He asked.
"Were you an addict too?"
Axel shook his head so violently his world tilted.
Nathan's hand on his shoulder steadied him.
"NO!" Axel shouted. "I did them but it was never an addition, the music was all I wanted."
"Is that why we had that lecture about bars and clubs and drugs?" Nathan asked quietly, all of his intense calm making Axel uncomfortable, not for the first time.
"Yes." Axel admitted.
"So why can't you play shows anymore? What does that have to do with it?"
Swallowing thickly Axel couldn't hold Nathan's stare. His eyes dropped as did his shoulders.
"Listen man, you gotta understand what happened that day. I quit taking gigs, quit the band. Nathan, I worked my butt off to get a scholarship with my talents. School was never hard because of my memory and my grades were more than enough for a full ride. I changed everything that day."
"That's the reason for the fighting."
Axel almost bit his own tongue.
"I've always wondered why a musician would risk his hands." Nathan said almost thoughtfully.
Axel's anger flared up hot. "Don't assume that you know everything."
The burning rage seemed to slide right off Nathan as the boy calmly pressed his palm over Axel's chest. Axel wanted to growl and push his brother's hand away, but Nathan's eyes made him pause.
"You can't stop fighting. I understand that, so consider the stage just another fight."
Axel found himself snorting, his amusement a grudging thing that bubbled up despite his annoyance. Some part of him was rising to this challenge in a way Axel really didn't want to think about. He missed playing for a crowd of people who felt his music just like he did. Yet he wasn't sure he could bring himself to play Nathan's music the way he'd once played Karmen's.
"I'll think about it." Axel allowed, his shoulders hunching at the weight of allowing even that much.
Nathan eyed him for a long moment, his stare penetrating and invasive. Axel wanted to flee but he wouldn't allow himself to, so he stared back, guarding his soul as best he could in the face of Nathan's scrutiny.
The agreement made Axel sigh in relief. When he looked back up at his brother, there was a small smile on Nathan's face.
"You'll play. If for no other reason than because we are performing your song."
The air left his lungs so quickly that Axel was momentarily struck dumb. But it didn't matter. Nathan had already walked away.
That rat bastard.
Axel would play. He would never allow anyone else to lead on that song. And his brother, the bastard, knew that better than anyone.
It never accrued to Axel to refuse to allow Nathan to perform a song he'd written, but maybe that was because the need to perform was stronger than the need to keep that part of himself private. This would be the perfect excuse, the loophole in his promise. His only chance.
Axel allowed himself a small smile even as his fingers twitched. The itch to play or fight simmering just beneath the surface. If anything, this would be a learning opportunity. It's been years since he took a stage with more than his fists.