A/N: It's official - I'm a bitch. Specifically, with regard to the end of this chapter. I'd apologise, but I'm not really sorry at all. shrugs That's the way it goes. Read, and enjoy.

The scream split the silence, shattering it like a pane of glass. Elliot sat bolt upright in bed, his heart in his throat at the unexpected sound that had wrenched him so violently from his sleep. He stayed where he was, frozen and trying to convince himself that it had just been the remnants of a bad dream, when a second scream tore through the quiet.

Launching himself out of bed, Elliot flew out of the bedroom to find out what was going on.

There appeared to be no movement, or indeed any kind of disturbance within the house, leaving Elliot puzzled and worried. After a moment of indecision, he headed upstairs with extreme caution to see whether Bobby and Mike were okay.

He was almost to the top of the stairs when he heard a guttural sob through the open door of one of the two upstairs bedrooms, followed by a low voice murmuring reassurances.

“C’mon, Mikey, wake up. It’s just a nightmare. You have to wake up now…”

Elliot ventured slowly up the remainder of the stairs, and around to the open door. He peered inside and was greeted with a sight that touched him deeply.

Bobby sat on the edge of Mike’s bed, cradling his brother in his arms. Mike seemed to be awake, finally, but he was oblivious to anything happening around him as he sobbed wretchedly into his brother’s shoulder. Elliot was just about to make a strategic retreat when Bobby happened to glance up, and saw him there.

“Everything okay?” Elliot asked, feeling more than ever like he was intruding. Bobby nodded, his expression inscrutable.

“We’re fine. Do you think you could maybe go back downstairs, and make some coffee?”

“Sure,” Elliot agreed, and quickly exited the room, leaving the brothers alone.

Fifteen minutes later, Bobby wandered into the kitchen where Elliot was waiting, and poured himself a steaming cup. He took a sip, and sighed with audible relief.

“You make great coffee, Elliot.”

Elliot smiled wryly.

“You sound surprised.”

“Actually, I’m not. I’ve heard the horror stories about John Munch’s coffee, so it makes sense that you’d learn how to brew a decent pot yourself.”

Elliot had to laugh softly at that. Bobby didn’t know how right he was. Many was the time that he’d had to tip out the sludge that Munch had brewed behind the lanky detective’s back, and make a fresh pot that didn’t threaten to poison the entire population of the SVU.

“Well, you’re not wrong about that. Uh… So, is Mike okay?”

Bobby sank slowly into a chair opposite Elliot, and took another couple of sips before speaking.

“He will be. He’s in the shower now.”

“Well… It sounded like one hell of a bad dream. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone scream like that before.”

Bobby sighed softly, and scrubbed his hands over his face. This was perhaps one of the main reasons he’d originally objected to Mike inviting Elliot along, and he’d been stunned that Mike hadn’t realised that having the SVU detective along would throw open the doors and thoroughly expose their personal traumas.

“We both have bad nightmares, Elliot. Ever since that weekend when we were trapped together in that building, we’ve had them. They’ve slowly become less frequent, but they’ve never completely gone away.”

Elliot kept himself from asking further questions by biting into an apple. Bobby regarded him curiously for a moment before speaking again.

“We’ve both tried hard to forget about that weekend, but there are some things we just can’t forget. As for the rest… We remember the rest through our dreams, even though we don’t necessarily want to. I have some pretty terrifying nightmares sometimes, but it’s worse for Mike. When the building came down on top of us, I was already unconscious. He wasn’t.”

Elliot stared at Bobby in shock.

“He was awake for that?”

“Yes. And he remembers it vividly.”

“Damn. No wonder he has nightmares. I would too, if I’d had a whole damn building come down on top of me. Listen, I’ll keep my mouth shut. Mike doesn’t have to know you told me anything.”

Bobby nodded, grateful that Elliot understood.

“Thanks, but it’s okay. He told me before I came down that it was okay to tell you if you asked. We’re not trying to keep secrets. It’s just…”

“Personal,” Elliot suggested, and Bobby nodded his agreement.

“Right. But at least if it happens again this weekend… If you hear one of us screaming like that… You’ll understand why.”

“Look, you don’t have to answer me,” Elliot said quietly, “but I have to ask. How bad was it really? I mean, I’ve heard plenty of stories, but I’m betting none of them compare to what it was really like.”

“It was the most terrifying thing I’d ever been through,” Bobby stated flatly. “We really did think we were going to die. From the moment we saw the explosives, and realised exactly where we were, we really believed we were dead men. Mike, though… He never quit. Neither of us did, but Mike went that extra step. He saved my life, more than once. I had blood poisoning, from being shot. Mike ignored his own needs to make sure I survived, and he didn’t let me give up. Then, later on, I found out that he’d tried to shield me when the building started to collapse on top of us. He did everything he possibly could for me while we were trapped in that cage. He didn’t have to do it, but he did. He could have avoided being in that situation altogether… We found out later that I was the target, not Mike. But he let himself be taken along with me. He didn’t… didn’t abandon me, and I’ll always be grateful to him for that, most of all.”

“And all that before you ever learned you were brothers,” Elliot mused. Bobby nodded soberly.

“Yes. Long before we found out. He’s not just my brother. He’s my best friend.”

“I really feel like I shouldn’t be here now,” Elliot said ruefully. “I’m sorry, Bobby. I really had no idea.”

“It’s okay, Elliot,” Bobby murmured, quietly surprised that any and all feelings of animosity he’d previously had were entirely gone, dissipated in the face of Elliot’s empathy. “I really don’t mind. Mike was right to invite you. And… maybe you can help me convince him that nature isn’t a disease to be avoided.”

Elliot chuckled at that.

“He really does hate camping, doesn’t he?”

“That’s putting it mildly.”

“Okay, then. Count me in.”

Bobby and Elliot were still grinning when Mike emerged into the kitchen, looking refreshed after a long, hot shower. He paused the doorway, eyeing them both critically before speaking.

“Why do I suddenly feel like the sucker here?”

“Now why would you feel like that, Mikey?” Elliot asked with a smirk, and Mike shot him a dirty look in response.

“Watch it, Stabler. Remember, you’re the guest on this little excursion, and you haven’t earned the right to call me ‘Mikey’ yet.”

Bobby raised an eyebrow with him.

“You mean that’s a privilege to be earned? I’m honoured.”

“Screw you,” Mike said good-naturedly as he helped himself to the coffee. “You have little brother privileges. SVU’s golden boy here has yet to prove he’s worthy.”

“Little brother privileges,” Bobby mused, grinning into his mug. “I feel like I ought to be offended, but I can’t figure out why.”

As he walked around, Mike reached out and ruffled Bobby’s hair, much to the other man’s irritation, and to Elliot’s amusement.

“You’re a smart guy, Bobby, but sometimes you’re totally clueless. Anyone ever told you that?”

“Yeah, all the time,” Bobby retorted. “And since she’s now officially your girlfriend, I look forward to passing that torch onto you, Mikey.”

“You think I’ve got troubles, Robert? Wait till you start getting really serious with Carolyn.”

Bobby only grinned into his coffee, and didn’t bother to respond.

“I must be out of my friggin’ mind,” Mike muttered, not for the first time, as the three men steadily made their way up a narrow path.

“It’s not that bad, Mike,” Bobby said over his shoulder to him. “This hike is classified as easy.”

“Easy?” Mike snorted. “I don’t want to know what ‘hard’ is. Can we please stop? I need a drink.”

Rolling his eyes, Bobby slowed to a halt and turned back just in time to see Mike pulling a small hip flask from inside his jacket.

“Mike, what the hell is that?”

Mike looked up at Bobby, eyes wide in mock innocence.

“Nothing. Nothing at all.”

“All right,” Bobby growled and held out one hand to his brother. “Hand it over.”

“C’mon, Bobby! You’re gonna deprive me of one of the few pleasures I’ve got out here?”

Bobby didn’t so much as blink.

“You can have it back when we get back to the cabin. You drink alcohol while we’re walking, and you’ll dehydrate so fast you won’t know what hit you.”

“He’s right,” Elliot agreed. “Save the booze for tonight, Mike. Then you’ll at least be able to enjoy it.”

“You’re supposed to be on my side,” Mike grumbled as he finally allowed Bobby to take the flask from him and slip it into his pocket.

“I am, Mike,” Elliot assured him with a grin. “That’s why I’m agreeing with Bobby, and not letting you fuck yourself over by doing something stupid like drinking alcohol on a hike.”

“Fine,” Mike snapped, and took a couple of mouthfuls from the water bottle that Bobby had insisted he carry.

“I thought your opinions of water as a beverage had changed, Mike,” Bobby commented as he drank from his own bottle. Though it was said lightly enough, there was an underlying tone to his words that both Mike and Elliot heard, but only Mike understood.

Mike stood there, suddenly very still and quiet. Finally, he turned his gaze back to Bobby, who had the good grace to wear a remorseful expression.

“I didn’t need that reminder, Bobby.”

“I know, Mike. I’m sorry.”

Where he stood observing them, Elliot desperately wanted to ask what was going on, but sensed that to do so would only be intruding. So, he stayed quiet, all the while hoping that at least one of the brothers would concede and clue him in. His wish was answered when Mike noticed him watching them, and spoke in a rueful voice.

“When we were locked up… in that cage… we were left with two bottles of water between us. It was just barely enough to keep us alive until… you know. Problem was, we’d been out doing some heavy drinking right before we got jumped.”

“Already dehydrated,” Elliot mused. “Those bottles wouldn’t have gone far.”

“They did,” Bobby said soberly, “because Mike made sure of it. Except, the idiot took advantage of my not so brilliant state of mind, and did a switch. He poured at least half of his bottle into mine. He figured I needed it more, because of my blood poisoning.”

“Crappy situation,” Elliot muttered.

“Yeah,” Mike agreed. “That’s pretty much it.”

“Last I heard,” Bobby mused as they continued on their way, “Alex and Carolyn were still debating which was worse. That weekend, or Miami.”

Mike snorted.

“From their perspective? Miami. They didn’t even know we were missing that weekend, until midday on the Sunday. At least in Miami, they knew what was going on, because they were right in the middle of it.”

Bobby favoured Mike with a well-practised, unamused look.

“They’d probably both shoot you, if they heard you put it like that.”

Mike snorted.

“Or worse. Handcuffs...”

“And not in a good way,” Bobby said, cutting him off with an exasperated roll of his eyes. “I know.”

“I probably don’t want to know, do I?” Elliot asked, and Mike gave a short, sharp laugh.

“Maybe we’ll give you a rundown of it tonight. Oh, it was a real hoot. Right, Bobby?”

“Shut up and keep walking, Mikey.”

They reached the lookout point a couple of hours later, and while Elliot and Bobby went to the edge of the precipice to admire the view, Mike collapsed onto a large rock and tried to regain his breath and his equilibrium from the solid uphill walk.

“Man, this is great,” Elliot said softly, the awe evident in his tone as they took in the panoramic view from the precipice.

“If you like this,” Bobby said, “then you’ll love the view from the mountain lookouts. It’s spectacular.”

“You’ve been here before, then?” Elliot asked, and Bobby nodded in answer, gazing out across the wilderness before them with obvious satisfaction.

“Yes, I have. Captain Deakins has given me the use of the cabin a number of times.”

“That’s some relationship you must have with him.”

Bobby hesitated in responding to that. He knew Elliot had meant no disrespect, but at the same time Bobby could easily detect his curiosity. He couldn’t blame the other man, either, and after a moment’s consideration he decided that he didn’t mind talking about it.

“When I first started in Major Case, I had a... a difficult time. The longest partnership I had lasted for just three weeks, and another partner walked out after one day. I went through seven partners in three and a half months.”

“Ouch,” Elliot muttered. Like any cop, he knew the importance of a working partnership, and he could appreciate Bobby’s embarrassment at that admission.

“Anyway, after my seventh partner in a row quit, I went to Deakins. I told him that I was the problem, and that I’d leave, rather than cause him anymore difficulties. He refused to accept my transfer request, though. He asked me to wait it out a while longer, and give him a chance to find someone who was willing to work with me. I was sceptical, but I agreed, mainly because I respected Deakins, and it seemed like he was taking it personally that I wasn’t able to work with anyone. I guess I must have been pretty badly stressed by then, because he invited me to come here for a weekend... with him and his family. I tried to refuse, but he wouldn’t take no for an answer. So, I gave in and went along... It was the best weekend I’d had for a long time. I got to spend time with people who didn’t treat me like a freak. And being up here... in this place... It calmed me, and gave me a chance to think things through. I accepted that Deakins was right. If I quit Major Case, it would have been the biggest mistake of my life. So, when we went home, I waited, and the next partner Deakins lined up to work with me was Alex. And...”

“The rest is history?” Elliot suggested with a smile. Bobby laughed softly.

“Right. But that’s why I love this place. It’s all good memories. It’s a place I’ve been able to come to whenever I hit the wall, and couldn’t go on anymore. A view like this? It... makes all the little discomforts worthwhile.”

Movement drew their attention, and they looked to see Mike had joined them.

“Gotta admit, it’s a pretty damned good view,” he conceded. “Would want to get to close to the edge, though.”

“Scared of heights, Mike?” Elliot asked teasingly.

“Are you kidding me? One slip, and it’s lights out, pal. The view is awesome, but I’m just as happy to take it in from a distance.”

“Is that your way of saying you’re ready to go back to the cabin?” Bobby asked, trying hard not to sound disappointed at Mike’s apparent lack of interest. Mike, however, shook his head vigorously.

“After the effort took to get up here? I don’t think so. Give me ten minutes to recover, and then we can look around a bit. Didn’t you say there are some weird rock formations close by?”

Neither Mike nor Elliot could possibly miss the way that Bobby’s face lit up, and he motioned off to the left.

“Yes... yes, there are. It’s just a ten minute walk that way. The path is a little narrow, but it’s flat.”

“Flat,” Mike sighed as he sat down again and took another mouthful of water. “I like the sound of that.”

While Bobby returned his attention to the lookout, and the view it offered, Elliot joined Mike briefly on the rock.

“That was nice, Mike,” he murmured, keeping his voice deliberately low. Mike shrugged.

“Hey, I’m not a completely heartless, selfish bastard. Coming here might not have been my choice, but I’m not going to ruin it for Bobby. Being here means a lot to him, so it means something to me, too.”

Again, Elliot was struck by the bond that the two brothers shared, and the lengths that each seemed to be prepared to go to for the other.

“You guys are lucky,” Elliot said softly. Mike smiled. He didn’t want or need Elliot to elaborate on that comment.

“Yeah. I know we are. But do you see now why I defended Bobby that night in the bar? And it wasn’t just because he’s my brother.”

“Yeah, I think I get that now,” Elliot assured him. “He’s a good guy. I’m sorry I jumped to conclusions.”

Mike’s smile widened in appreciation of Elliot’s admission.


“No problem.”

Elliot stood, stretching as he did so, and then headed back to join Bobby at the edge of the lookout.

He was just about level with the big detective when he stepped on some loose gravel, and his foot skidded underneath him. Barely able to find the time to yelp in surprise as his feet went from underneath him, Elliot pitched forward and, unable to stop his momentum, went tumbling over the edge of the precipice...

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