A/N: I cannot express how difficult this chapter was to write. Not just because it's a big point in the story- but because it just did. not. want. to. happen. This chapter hated me. I must have written it a dozen different ways. As it was it took me writing in fits and starts to get what we have here. Updates should be more frequent after this- because I have nothing but ideas once we get over the hurdle of this chapter.

Disclaimer: Still not mine.

The sound of the door closing pulled me out of the deep sleep I had been in and I buried my face in the pillow I was laying on in protest. I didn't bother to glance at the clock- I was in bed asleep after my shift at Vice – so I knew it was about three hours past disturbingly late. In my half awake state I smiled at the sound of him creeping down the hall. At some point he must of ran into something because there was a muffled thud and the sound of him immediately shushing whatever it was. I frowned and hugged my pillow closer, unwilling to give up on trying to go back to sleep, but his attempt to be quiet was waking me more than if he had just entered our apartment normally. I grinned slightly at the thought. Our apartment. It had become officially official almost two weeks ago. I had moved all my things in, and my old apartment had been sub let.

The door hinges squealed slightly as he crept in through it in his sock feet. The room was dim, but I saw him glare at the door as he tip toes towards the bed, unbuttoning his shirt on the way and discarding it. When he reached the side of the bed he eased his pants off, along with his socks, before he slid under the covers to lay on his back. I pushed the pillow I had been sleeping on aside and slid across the space between us, replacing the fluffy cotton with a more solid pillow of warm flesh and muscle. His heartbeat echoed reassuringly in my ear, and I felt him tense in surprise when I first touched him.

"Oh shit- did I wake you?" His voice was a whisper in the dark room, which seemed a bit funny to me- it was only us, and we were both awake, so why whisper?

"Door." I mumbled sleepily, still not quite as fully awake as I knew I would be in a minute or two. "Bad work?" I questioned him incohereantly, but he must have understood what I meant, because I felt his arm wrap around me and heard him smile.

"Another girl died." His voice was tired and I felt the last vestiges of sleep escape me as I looked up at him blinking.

"One of mine?" I asked worriedly. Since the killing of prostitutes had increased, so had our shifts on the streets. All Vice units were out- only it was less of a sting now and more of a protection operation. Bobby and I had argued endlessly over it when Mike informed Lish and I that we would be out every night. He hated the idea of us being out there- but we were the front line so to speak. We could protect those girls, we could catch the twisted freak who seemed to enjoy carving them up. I had made Andy stop at a store on our first night out after we discovered the body. I had bought a set of small silver whistles and red ribbon, and had handed them out to the women who walked my area. Generally, as a rule, prostitutes mostly ignored each other- but I had given them out anyway- saying that if one of us were in trouble the others would hear it- and could at least get help. Many had scoffed, stating that the cops wouldn't help- hell they hadn't caught the guy yet had they? But some- thankfully most of the younger girls had taken them, and wore them around their necks religiously. And now I walked up and down the street watching them, instead of looking for johns. At one point or another, someone would realize and put two and two together, but so far neither Lish or I had been made.

"No." His voice was tight and his hand trailed across my shoulder as he paused for a moment. "Still-"

"I know." My voice was soft and my hand crept across his waist, hugging him to me. A sigh escaped his lips and he ran a hand across his face in the dark.

"Plus my Mom keeps calling- she doesn't like when I miss visits. It upsets her routine." I bit my lip, not saying anything in response, because what could I really say? Bobby had confided bits and pieces about his past to me lately. More and more actually but he had yet to touch on what exactly was wrong with his mother. He had talked about how his brother had been the best at everything when they were kids. How his father had doted on him, and expected more of him while virtually ignoring Bobby. He had talked about his dad leaving, but not before finding refuge in the nearest available woman. And then the next nearest. And the next. "I don't know what to do. I'm tired- and working like hell. And what am I supposed to do Alex?"

I swallowed nervously, not sure what to say but feeling that if I didn't say something it would be awful. "Bobby- I- I could go. If you'd take me next time- I could-"

"Alex I can't ask you to do that. You don't understand." His tone was a mixture of awe and frustration all at once.

"Then help me understand Bobby." My heart seemed to stop beating for a moment as I held my breath, waiting. My fingers clutched at him, trying not to seem as desperate as I felt, but probably failing. I loved this man, and all I wanted was for him to share everything. And if he did.. if he did then I could find courage in that to reassure him that no matter what, I wouldn't leave him. I loved him.

The silence seemed to stretch out and I could hear his soft breathing. If I hadn't known him so well, I would think he fell asleep, but I knew without looking up that he hadn't. He was thinking. Arguing with himself. Making that thoughtful face where his brows draw closer and he kind of pouts and chews his lip all at once. Idly, I wondered if his hands which were currently occupied with my hip and hair respectively, were itching to trace his lower lip. As the seconds lengthened into minutes, I felt my skin grow clammy and a slightly sick feeling enter my stomach. I had buyers remorse, or would it be speakers remorse? I had pushed when I promised I wouldn't and now I found myself in that silent vacuum of time awaiting judgment. Opening my mouth to call it off or take it back, or tell him I was high or half asleep- any excuse would do, I was cut off by his slow response.

"Alright." He slid away from me, turning onto his side and sliding down so that we were literally eye to eye he stopped. Pausing for what seemed an eternity before he spoke again. "I wa- I was nine when I first noticed it. That my Mom was different. I suppose I could have noticed younger- but I was a kid and I just thought she had the best imagination, you know? When I was nine though- I began to notice that Dad wasn't around the house nearly so much anymore. And Mom was- Mom was around all the time. I mean- you'd think that was normal- but I mean all the time. She never went out. She never slept. I would wake up in the night after a nightmare and she would be there, still fully dressed, with her apron on. And when I asked what she was doing, she'd say something like 'baking cookies' or cleaning, and did I want to help for a bit to tire me out? But it would be four am Alex. She just.. didn't sleep." He was quiet for a moment and I searched for something to say, but I couldn't really come up with anything appropriate right now- so I just waited.

"She cared less. She was distant. It was like she was this hollow form of what my mother used to be. One day she was doing laundry- and I was helping, and we found my dad's shirt- it had perfume all over it, and smelled like.. well even at ten I knew what it meant. And I was so angry- I wanted to go hurt him. Here was Mom fighting to keep everything together and he was off screwing around. I asked her how she could be so calm about it- but when she looked at me- I could tell- she just didn't care. It was less than a year later that he left. And at first- everything seemed fine. Mom got really excited and she went out again. She took us- me and my brother- out, we went places, she bought us ice cream and played hide and seek in the park with us. She would hide in the craziest places, tree roots and under the jungle gym- she always said she had to be ten times better than us because it was hard to hide when you're big." He swallowed suddenly, the small smile that had been on his face sliding off and a bleak look replacing it. My heart constricted painfully at the sight of it, and I reached out a hand, taking his in mine and waiting again, silently supporting him and willing him to go on.

"Three days later I woke up with her standing over my bed with a belt. She had this look in her eyes- and it scared the shit out of me. This intense scary look and it transformed her whole face, and it was like looking at a stranger. She said that he never liked me. I wasn't athletic enough, wasn't strong enough for him. I whined to much so if she taught me how to be, he would come back and everything would be normal again. She hit me so much- she didn't stop until Richard came in the room, wondering what the noise was. I had to stay out of school for a week, and when I went back I joined the basketball team. I didn't like the game- but I was tall. And I needed to help her prove to him that I was better." His voice was even, almost flat in the telling but I felt the tears prick at the back of my eyes as I listened to him talk about his twelve year old self.

"It didn't work. She would be hyper and then she would lose it and blame me , or Richard- and she would hit us, or lock me in a closet or say that clearly since I drove him away, there was evil inside of me. Richard was six years older than me, and I think he left the day he turned eighteen. And then we were alone, and no one else was there to take it but me. She would sob for hours afterward, holding me and telling me that she was sorry and she didn't mean it. That she couldn't go away and leave me- I was her baby. I was the only one who understood. I had to save her." I couldn't stop the tears now if I tried, and they rolled down my face hot and wet. What had his family done to him? And how had he survived this?


"No. Let me say it all at once. That way you'll really know. Everything." He took a deep breath sliding his eyes away from where they had connected with mine momentarily. They were wary and on guard and the sight made my heart ache, but I had to allow him to do this his way so I could reassure him my way. My hands longed to soothe him, smooth his hair back and run along his skin in comfort but somehow my instincts warned me that would be the wrong thing to do. "I don't know when I knew that she was sick. Maybe once I hit high school, and I could research. I would read book after book on mental illness, trying to find her in there. Trying to reassure myself or help her, or praying that it would be something there was just a cure for, you know? There was no cure., And when I realized it was schizoprhenia, I tried to convince her. Tried to tell her that she needed help. But she would refuse- she would sob and cry- say she couldn't say she was crazy. She wasn't crazy. And then she would get angry. I was bigger than her then- believe it or not my Mom is just a tiny woman. Small. But I never stopped her. Somehow along the way- I guess I thought I had to pay for it all. Them leaving. They first happy years. The brief moments of lucidity in between. Nothing comes for free right? I thought it was my price to pay. And most of all-" His voice grew hoarse here and he had to stop for a moment to calm himself down, taking deep breaths. I pushed closer now, untangling my hands from his and wrapping my arms around him. I knew he'd hate it- but I didn't care. I couldn't sit here and listen to this and not comfort him. "Most of all I didn't ever want to be like them. I hated them both. They just.. left. Because it was easy. Because they couldn't deal. And never once did they think what it must be like for her. To be trapped in this place in your mind where nothing makes sense and it's so dark you think you'll never get out. But I was like them Alex. I left her- I left my mother because I couldn't take the cycle anymore. For eight years I lived through it. The short highs, the awful lows. The pleading, the begging, the blame. And I knew if I stayed- it would hurt me. One of us- her or me I wasn't sure. And I left. I joined the Army- and I left. I was just like them in the end. No better than my father who used women as his drug of choice, or my brother who used gambling. I was just like them."

"No, you weren't Bobby." My voice was tight with anger- at his father and his brother, but not with him. "She was sick Bobby and they left a twelve year old boy to deal with it. You were too young- and you did the best you could, but it would have killed you to stay. And you were making it possible for her to deny what was wrong. You were her crutch Bobby- and like it or not, you probably had to leave for her to admit what was wrong with her. Your father and brother were selfish, but not you Bobby. Never you."

He shook his head and tried to pull away but I held him tight. "I couldn't take it- and I left. It was selfish."

"Bobby would she have gotten help if you stayed?"


"Or maybe she would have gotten so bad she killed you or herself. Bobby you love your mother, and you have never abandoned her. You can't make me believe that you didn't have someone checking on her when you left. That you didn't write and call and visit. Did you?" I was forcing him to meet my eyes now and he stopped fighting and lay still, staring at me thoughtfully.

"No. I had- I arranged for a nurse to come in. She stayed with mom while I was gone. Mom was only really alone when the nurse had to go run errands. And of course I called and wrote."

"Bobby Goren you listen to me. You- you are a good son. And an even better man. You didn't run off and indulge yourself. You went off and made a career for yourself, a career that not only supports your mother, but you help people. Think of how much better her life is for having you in it Bobby. If you hadn't of been there-"

He pulled away suddenly despite my attempts to make him stay and he took off through the apartment like a shot. I lay in the sudden silence giving him a moment to be alone before I followed him. My breathing was ragged and shallow in the still room, and I lay there, shocked by how much he had shared- and how much it had just made me love him more. After a few moments, I stood slowly and followed him down the hall.

He was sitting in the living room, in his favorite chair, a leather recliner. It was huge which was why he loved it so much- it was a piece of furniture that fit him. His head was in his hands and I could see his body shaking as I came nearer. I crouched on the floor beside him, running a soothing hand up and down his bare back, and not saying much as the sobs seemed to wrench out of his body against his will. After a few moments he seemed to visibly calm down and look up at me with red rimmed eyes. "Some days I hate her. Hate that she's a responsibility. Hate that the few people I told backed away. Except Lewis."

"And me." I spoke firmly and he shook his head.

"You say that now Alex, but you don't know what it's like-" I moved onto my knees kneeling in front of him and taking his face in my hands gently.

"I'm not going to lie and say I know what it's like Bobby. I'm not going to tell you that it won't be hard- but I can tell you I won't leave. Not unless you ask me to." My voice was soft, but it carried conviction and I know he felt that. I saw it in his eyes.

"How can you know?" His voice was that of a confused little boy and it made me want to cry again. He didn't understand why I would stay when everyone else, even his family- had left. My eyes met his and I was silent for a moment, contemplating my answer. Finally after several heartbeats I decided to just tell him the truth.

"Because I love you Bobby. I'm not leaving. And I know-" I stopped him before he spoke with a small finger against his mouth. "I know that maybe you aren't in the same place as I am. But I don't care- I love you and you are not dealing with any of this alone anymore. Not anymore Bobby. Got it?" He nodded dumbly, and his hand reached up, pauding for a moment before tracing my face gently. I pretended not to notcie how it shook as he stroked the soft skin there. When he pulled me forward, his arms wrapped around me and he clung to me as if he never wnated to let go. Or couldn't if he tried. I hugged him back, making soothing noises as he wrapped himself around my smaller frame. Slowly I stood, sliding his arms down until he was wrapped aournd my waist, his face pressed into my stomach. I ran my hands through his hair, reassuring him that it would be alright, and no one wa sgoing anywhere. And for just a brief moment I felt the truth in that statement. I felt the utter perfection of that moment, and felt more connected to him than I ever had before. As I closed my eyes and comforted him, I sent up a small prayer that it would be strong enough to get us through.