“Bobby! Damn it, will you wait up?”

Bobby heard Mike calling to him but, in his panic, didn’t stop. It wasn’t until he heard a strangled cry of pain, followed by a harsh expletive, that he finally stopped and turned around to find Mike slumping against a lamp post, cringing in pain. Guilt flashing across his face, Bobby went back.

“Are you okay?”

“No, I’m not fucking okay!” Mike snarled. “What the hell is the matter with you?”

Bobby shifted awkwardly. He didn’t know how to even begin answering that.

“I’m sorry, Mike,” he apologised softly. “I… I just…”

“Ah, shut up and help me out here, before I collapse,” Mike grumbled. Bobby hooked his left arm through Mike’s right, and gently guided him back towards the apartment. “I swear, if I end up back in the hospital, your ass is getting kicked.”

Bobby grimaced.

“Taking older brother prerogatives already?” he asked, not quite able to keep his voice free of bitterness. Mike glanced sideways at him, eyebrows going up. He wasn’t necessarily the most perceptive person around, but even he had no trouble catching the mixed emotions in Bobby’s voice.

“That’s not an older brother prerogative, Bobby,” Mike answered as they stumbled back into the elevator together. “That’s just me being pissed off at you for bugging out on me when all I did was ask you a simple question.”

They emerged from the elevator, and headed back into Mike’s apartment, where they collapsed back into the waiting armchairs.

“Well, that was friggin’ pointless,” Mike retorted. He looked over at Bobby, who had suddenly become fixated with the colour of the carpet. “You want to talk to me? Or are you going to just sit there and stare at the floor?”

“My… I mean, our older brother,” Bobby said quietly. Mike said nothing, waiting for Bobby to elaborate. He knew vaguely about Bobby’s older brother from what he’d overheard during the Garrett case, and also from the little Bobby had told him just the day before.

“He’s nearly eight years older than me… He would have been six or seven when Dad was together with your mom.”

Mike felt an eager surge that he had a hard time concealing. He knew Bobby was not on good terms with his brother, but if said brother had been six or seven at the time, surely that was old enough to remember?

“So,” he said, trying to keep his tone casual and amiable, “we give big brother a call, and find out what he has to say.”

Bobby didn’t respond to that suggestion. He didn’t need to. The look on his face spoke in volumes. Mike sat forward slowly, frowning at Bobby’s apparent reluctance to cooperate.

“What is it? You don’t want to talk to the guy? So tell me how to contact him, and I’ll talk to him.”

“It’s not that simple, Mike.”

“No? Why?”

Bobby sighed softly, trying to figure out how to explain it so that Mike would understand.

“Richie… He’s not a good person.”

“I figured that. I guess he liked to beat on you as much as the old man did?”

“Yes… but it’s not just about how he behaved when we were younger. The guy is a lost cause, Mike.”

Mike raised an eyebrow in bemusement.

“That’s an interesting statement, coming from the guy who stood up for a cannibalising murderer.”

Bobby flinched visibly at the retort, and regret filled Mike’s face.

“I’m sorry,” he apologised quietly. “I didn’t mean that. Try and explain it to me, Bobby. Why are you so against me contacting Richie?”

Bobby let his breath out in a frustrated rush. As close has he and Mike had become in such a short time, he was still reluctant to share certain things about his past. And one of those certain things was the hell that his brother had put him through when their father hadn’t been around to do the honours. Knowing he had to give Mike something, though, he settled for an in-between, and falteringly told Mike about his most recent experience with his oldest brother.

“The last time I had anything to do with Richie, it was back when I was still with Narcotics. He found out I was working as a Narc, and he came to me for drugs.”

“He’s an addict?”

“No. At least, he wasn’t then. Not a hard core user. I think he wanted the drugs to use as payment for a gambling debt. That’s something he is heavily addicted to, just like Dad was. Anyway, I told him I couldn’t help him, and he lost it, totally.”

“Define ‘lost it’.”

“He grabbed a steak knife from the rack in my kitchen and stabbed me five or six times. I don’t know how I managed to get him off me… Richie’s even bigger than I am. But I did, and he took off. I might have bled out, except my friend Lewis was coming into the building as Richie was leaving. Lewis saw the blood on Richie’s clothes, and called 911 even before he found me. I haven’t seen Richie since then.”

Mike chewed on his lower lip for several seconds before speaking.

“You don’t know where he is?”

“Mike… I don’t want to know where he is.”

“Okay,” Mike conceded. “I get that. Really, Bobby, I do. But don’t you think I have a right to know? And if it means tracking Richie down, then that’s how it has to be.”

Bobby shook his head, becoming steadily more agitated.

“No. I’m sorry, I can’t go there. Not again. I… I can’t have anything to do with him. I just can’t.”

“Well, what if I leave you out of it? What if I track him down on my own? Could you handle that?”

Bobby looked up at Mike, a distress in his eyes that Mike couldn’t ignore.

“I don’t want to contact him. I don’t want you to contact him. No good will come of it. You have to trust me, Mike. Please, just trust me?”

Frustrated and angry, Mike pushed himself up out of the armchair and, thumping his walking stick hard on the floor for effect, stomped off into the bathroom.

Bobby watched him go, wincing as Mike slammed the door shut after him. He understood Mike’s anger, but it still wasn’t enough to persuade him that contacting Richie was a good idea. He knew… He just knew that if Richie was brought into the mix, it would only end in grief for them both. The only problem was, he had no idea how to make Mike understand that without laying pretty much all of his childhood traumas bare, and he simply wasn’t ready to do that. Not yet, anyway.

Mike stared at his reflection in the bathroom mirror, trying to subdue the anger and annoyance he was feeling. He understood that Bobby clearly had his reasons for not wanting anything to do with Richie, but why did that have to preclude him from contacting the guy? It wasn’t as though he wanted to establish any sort of relationship with Richie, Mike reasoned. He just wanted a few answers. That was all. It was possible that Richie wouldn’t even have those answers, but Mike at least wanted the chance to try.

He sighed softly. The big question was that he if wasn’t able to change Bobby’s mind, then was he willing to go behind the guy’s back to get what he wanted? Was he willing to risk their fledgling friendship in that way? That, he thought ruefully, was something that he just wasn’t quite ready to decide.

Turning on the tap, Mike splashed cold water onto his face. As his irritation started to fade, he began to wonder just what Bobby had meant with the crack about big brother prerogatives. It had sounded a strange remark in Mike’s ears, but the distress in Bobby’s voice had been all too real.

He began to wonder just how bad Richie’s treatment of Bobby really had been.

What was it that Bobby had said to him? That he and Richie had competed for their father’s attention and that Richie had won, but that the attention he’d gotten had turned him mean.

There had to be some deep, underlying trauma, Mike reasoned, and more than that one story that Bobby had so reluctantly told him. Mike wondered firstly if Alex knew the whole truth… whatever that truth was… and secondly just how long it would take him to get it out of Bobby.

Sighing again, Mike turned off the taps and headed out of the bathroom to rejoin his brother.

Bobby looked up uneasily as Mike emerged from the bathroom, and breathed a silent sigh of relief that he looked markedly less pissed off than he had ten minutes ago.

“So,” Mike said dryly as he made his way into the kitchen to brew fresh coffee, “I guess we just had our first real disagreement as brothers, didn’t we?”

The discomfort on Bobby’s face was almost painful to look at.

“Mike, I’m sorry. I understand why you want to talk to Richie, but I just can’t go down that path again.”

“What the hell did he do to you, man? There’s gotta be a lot more than that story you told me.”

Bobby shut his eyes for a long moment. He didn’t want to do this. He didn’t want to remember. He wanted to just bury it all, and let it stay buried. Bury it all so thoroughly that he never consciously thought of it again.

And yet, as much as he’d tried to do that all along, he’d never been able to stop the nightmares that plagued his subconscious on a regular basis. Whether or not he came clean with Mike, the memories would not be completely obscured. There was always some god-awful image hidden away just beneath the surface of his subconscious.

He struggled to suppress the nausea in his gut. If nothing else, he felt that he owed it to Mike to at least attempt to give him an explanation.

“Richie… He… He had Mom’s intelligence, and Dad’s sadistic streak. He was cunning, and manipulative. All the adults thought he was an angel. I was the only one who knew what a piece of shit he really was. Because I was the only one who ever saw that side of him. He… He thought it was funny, that I was terrified of him.”

“But what did he do?” Mike pressed. “Give me an example, Bobby.”

Bobby drew in a shuddering breath. Was there anything at all that he could tell Mike that wouldn’t result in him suffering any degree of an emotional breakdown? In all honesty, he doubted it. In the end, all he could do was pick a story, and hope that he could stay detached enough that it wouldn’t tip him right over the edge.

“When… When I was eight,” he stammered, “I found a kitten. I took it home… I thought I could convince Dad to let me keep it. Mom was sick then… in the hospital. Anyway, Dad hit the roof. He told me to get rid of it, one way or another. I didn’t, though. I pretended to shoo it away outside, and then I snuck it into my room. I figured that if I could prove that I could look after it, then he’d have to let me keep it.

“Richie caught me with it. I thought he’d tell Dad for sure, and then I’d be in for a real beating. But he went all buddy-buddy on me instead. He told me that he understood how much I wanted to keep the kitten, but that if Dad found it, he’d just kill it. Then he told me that he’d take me to a friend of his, who’d be willing to look after it, and I could see it anytime I wanted.

“I agreed, mainly because I knew Richie was right. Dad would have killed it. So, I went with him, and he took me to the Port Creek Bridge, near our home.”

Bobby paused, taking a moment to try and steady his nerves before continuing on with the story.

“Richie had a rope and bricks stashed near the bridge. When we got there, he grabbed the cat off me, tied it up with a brick to weight it down, and then lowered it over the edge of the bridge into the water. He… He grabbed me by the neck and made me watch as he drowned it. He… He took his time. Kept d… dunking it in and out of the water. It was crying… The cat was crying. I… I’ll never forget the sounds it was making. I begged Richie to stop, I said I’d let the cat go, but he just laughed at me. Then… When he was done with the c… cat…. He t… tied the rope around me and… and did the same to me.”

“Fuck,” Mike swore softly. He’d seen early on where the story had been headed where the animal was concerned, but this was an addition he hadn’t expected. Bobby went on, barely able to keep his voice from cracking.

“I nearly drowned. He… He kept dropping me into the water and leaving me longer and longer each time before pulling me up. When… when he did finally pull me back up, he told me he’d been kind, but that if I ever brought home another animal, he’d let Dad deal with me.

“When we got home, Dad was waiting for us. He… He asked Richie if I’d learnt my lesson and R… Richie said maybe he’d better reinforce it, just to be sure. So D… Dad took his belt to me, and beat me senseless. The… The next morning, I got another beating from Richie, because he’d grazed his hands with the rope that he used to dump me in the water.”

“That son of a bitch,” Mike muttered, feeling a hot rush of anger on behalf of his brother. Bobby regarded Mike with a haunted gaze.

“I need you to understand, Mike. Richie… He’s like a… a pit bull. He might seem totally placid and harmless one moment, and the next he’ll turn on you and try to take your arm off. He’s dangerous… It took me a long time to shake off his influence on my life. Almost as much as Dad. I… I don’t want you to have to deal with that… Not like I did.”

Mike considered that for a long minute before speaking slowly, choosing his words with care.

“Bobby, answer me one question, and be honest. Do you believe that I could hold my own against Richie?”

Bobby contemplated that in silence. It was a good couple of minutes later before he finally answered.

“Mentally? Sure. I think I can safely say you’re just as cunning as he is.”

“Uh, thanks, I think,” Mike said wryly. Bobby smiled faintly.

“Plus, you have the added bonus of not being an alcoholic, or a drug addict. Physically…? I don’t know, Mike. He’s one tough son of a bitch, and he knows how to fight.”

“So do we,” Mike pointed out. “Last time we got into a fight, I recall we did pretty good. We would have won, if it hadn’t been for the fact that we were outnumbered about eight to two.”

Bobby had to concede to that. Mike went on quickly, trying to press his point home.

“Now, I get that you don’t want to face him again, Bobby, but you’ve got me to back you up now. And I’ll tell you something that is a big brother prerogative, and that’s sticking up for my little brother. That son of a bitch tries anything at all, and he’ll get my foot so far up his ass that he’ll never sit down properly again.”

Bobby regarded Mike with bitter resignation.

“You aren’t going to let this go, are you?”

“I need to know,” Mike said with soft determination. “It’s important to me. I can’t really explain why… It just is.”

“Are you hoping for something that might explain your mother’s behaviour?” Bobby wondered, and Mike gave a lopsided shrug.

“I don’t know. I really don’t. I just have the feeling between us that if Richie can tell us what happened between our folks, then we might both get some answers.”

“They might not be the answers you’re hoping for, Mike,” Bobby pointed out. Mike nodded amiably in acceptance.

“I know that. And since I don’t really know what I’m hoping for, I guess it doesn’t matter so much, does it? Anyway, I’m willing to take the chance. What about you?”

It didn’t take much for Bobby to realise he was beaten. And the big grin that spread across Mike’s face told him that Mike knew it, too.

“We have to find him first,” Bobby said with weary resignation.

“Shouldn’t be a problem,” Mike said with a renewed enthusiasm that threatened to give Bobby a headache. “I’ll make some calls to a few friends of mine at my old precinct. Going by everything you’ve said, I’ll be surprised if the guy doesn’t have a record.”

“And if he won’t talk to us on the phone when we do find him?”

Mike’s grin widened.

“Then we go to him.”

The scepticism on Bobby’s face was all too clear.

“How the hell do we do that? Once Deakins, Eames and Barek get wind of this, there’s no way they’ll let us on a plane to go to wherever he is… and I’m pretty certain he’s not in New York State.”

“There’s a useful little thing called a car, Bobby…”

Bobby snorted derisively.

“You’re out of your mind, Mike. Between your right hand, my left wrist, and our legs, neither one of us is able to drive.”

“There’s nothing wrong with our legs as far as driving is concerned,” Mike argued. “I can drive a car using my right leg for the accelerator and the brake. Just as long as it’s not a stick shift, there’s no problem. And I only need one hand for the steering wheel. You can do the same.”

“You’re assuming a hell of a lot,” Bobby retorted. He paused, and then sighed. “You’ve got it all figured out, haven’t you?”

“Hell, yeah. It’s gonna be okay, Bobby. Trust me.”

Bobby felt a slight twinge of guilt. There were those words again, and with them came the reminder that he owed it to Mike to show him a little trust. After all, Mike had more than proved himself in Bobby’s opinion.

“Yeah,” he conceded softly, at the same time giving himself over to whatever came of their new pursuit. “I do trust you.”

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