Title: Hell Is For Children

Summary: Change descends on the Mercer family in more ways then one.

Disclaimer: I do not own the movie Four Brothers or the characters herein. Aria is mine.

Author's Note: Wow, so, I'm sorry. I normally try to respond to my reviewers, but I really wanted to get this chapter out and I'll try responding this time around. I am so grateful and happy whenever you guys let me know what you think and I just want you to know I appreciate it so much. I know it's been forever since I've updated, but I hope this chapter will make up for it. This is the longest one yet and it was emotionally draining.

*****Warning***** This chapter deals with serious issues of abuse and while I think I've been vague about what occurs I just thought I'd forewarn. While this next bit might be cheesy I gotta do it: If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence please please please don't be silent. 1-800-799-7233 is the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Please do not be afraid to call if you need help. Angel's response to abuse in this chapter is not my personal opinion, but what I feel would happen in the course of my story.

They cry in the dark, so you can't see their tears
They hide in the light, so you can't see their fears
Forgive and forget, all the while
Love and pain become one and the same
In the eyes of a wounded child

Because hell
Hell is for children
And you know that their little lives can become such a mess
Hell is for children
And you shouldn't have to pay for your love with your bones and your flesh

Hell Is For Children, Pat Benatar

Rain drummed tunelessly against the roof, falling in sheets down past the glass windows to the thirsty choked ground. It churned the dirt into mud while the excess rushed down driveways into the waiting street. Little rivers formed and raced to gaping sewer drains. The last bits of snow, clinging desperately to a changing world, turned to slush. Spring had settled on the city like a coy lover.

The neighborhood was one of those tiny islands found in a sea of sharks. It was surrounded on all ends by the roughness of Detroit, but within its cocoon of well manicured yards and freshly painted fences the people appeared untouched by the cruelness of life gone wrong. It was a picture perfect vision attained by the privileged or blessed.

A house on the end of the street sat like a silent sentinel against the spring rain. As freshly painted as its brethren, all seemed well outside and within. A bike lay unattended against the steps leading to a veranda where a porch swing swung lazily. A baseball bat and glove were underneath as if waiting patiently for a child's hands. All was well with this world…until the unfamiliar crack of sound erupted destroying the illusion of safety that cradled its denizens.

Evelyn received the phone call while she was preparing to leave her office. Bobby had been bugging her to take them to some new sports store that had opened in the mall. This would inevitably lead to eating out and perhaps a few early birthday presents. He had been relatively well behaved the last few months, which was why Evelyn was trying to get out quickly. She was already late and hadn't called the boys so she almost decided not to answer the phone, but a quiet prodding voice inside could not be ignored.

A few minutes later the phone dropped from her nerveless hands, slamming noisily against the metal desk unheeded. With a panicked gasp of air that must have been her trying to breathe, Evelyn rushed madly from her office to the welcome confines of her car. Normally a safe, conscious driver, she would later wonder how she managed to get from her office to the quiet little house she had left him at a few months ago without wrecking. As she mindlessly navigated the familiar roads Evelyn thought back to that day and wondered how everything could have gone so irrevocably wrong.

"I think I've found you a home, Angel."

The announcement caused a hush to form over the noisy dinner table as conversations and arguments halted mid-sentence. All eyes turned to look at the smiling Evelyn, each with different levels of surprise and dread.

"A home?" Angel queried, his face an impassive mask. His eyes were just a touch wild around the edges though, the only indication this announcement had affected him.

Jerry's surprise turned to a grin as he slapped Angel on the back. "Congratulations man, that's awesome."

"He has a home," Bobby snapped, glaring at Jerry who lowered his eyes. "Right here."

"Not a foster home, but a family that wants to adopt. They have been married for three years and the young lady cannot have children. She is adopted herself and the couple is finally in a position where they can provide for a child."

"Why not a baby, then? People like that always want 'em fresh and innocent," Bobby growled, irritation sharpening his handsome features.

"For that very reason," Evelyn said, an edge of exasperation in her tone that Bobby knew all too well. It efficiently silenced him though he did not refrain from glaring at his plate. "She wants to adopt a child in need and they have expressed interest in Angel."

Bobby's hands clenched his silverware so tightly they turned white at the knuckles and Aria gently touched his arm in an attempt to sooth the beast. With a loud huff, Bobby slammed away from the table and stomped upstairs, his door closing loudly a few seconds later. Evelyn did not even wince, nor turn her attention away from Angel.

"Would you like to meet them, dear?" She asked, while gesturing for Aria to tend to Bobby. "They are very nice and I have a good feeling about this one."

Angel shrugged trying to play nonchalant. "I guess."

"Wonderful. I will call them first thing tomorrow to set up an appointment. I really think you'll like them. She's absolutely lovely and her husband enjoys sports, which I'm sure you can appreciate."

"Sure, Ms. Evelyn," Angel said, and mechanically ate his dinner while contemplating Bobby's strange behavior. It had not been the first time a couple had interviewed him and they probably would not be the last.

"Bobby Mercer, what is your problem?"

Said person looked up angrily at his girlfriend who was, in turn, glaring at him, hands fisted on her waist. Aria had long perfected the look when dealing with Bobby and it worked enough to get him talking.

"Animals! That's all we are to these people! Some freak show they can stare at while passing through. They expressed an interest," he mocked while viciously slamming a fist against his desk. There was an ominous creak that hinted it was not the first time abuse had been rained down on the rickety piece of furniture.

"Bobby this is a good thing! Angel deserves to have a family, don't you agree?" Aria asked softly, her anger melting away as she sat on his bed. Sometimes, with Bobby, it was difficult to process his moods and the thoughts running through his complicated head, but she had a pretty good idea as to what the underlying problem was this time.

"Sure, whatever, I guess."

"You're attached to him," Aria prompted when that was all Bobby said. He glared at her, but her knowing silence eventually morphed his tight features to impassivity. Finally he shrugged in his nonchalant way that told her she was right, but he did not want to admit it.

"It's okay to be attached, Bobby, and it is okay to admit that you care what happens to Angel. No one is going to think you're going soft."

"What do you know, anyway," he grumbled, but with no heat. Slumping into his seat, Bobby fisted his hands, staring at the straining tendons. "They'll get his hopes up and then we got to pick up the pieces when they leave…without him."

"No one said you have to be his father, Bobby. Let Ms. Evelyn take care of that."

Aria did not even know why she bothered saying that. It was Bobby's lot in life to assume responsibility for everyone else whether they wanted him to or not. She could appreciate the sentiment hidden in his desperate attempt to control everything, but sometimes it got on her nerves. Knowing she had provoked him enough, Aria stood and brushed a hand down his face and then pressed a kiss to his cheek. "You might as well go downstairs and apologize. You're going to have to eventually, best get it over with."

Bobby watched her leave and made no move to follow. He could still feel his temper simmering under the surface and figured it was better to wait. Angel had been with them through Christmas and the naked joy on his face that morning, despite his attempts to play it cool had struck a nerve deep within. The little boy might act tough and twice his age, but when it boiled down to the bare bones, Angel was still just a kid. Bobby had taken said kid under his wing, dragging Jerry kicking and screaming, and now the three boys were nearly inseparable. Once again, a foster kid had wormed his way past Bobby's defenses, but this time he had a feeling Evelyn was going to let Angel go. It killed him inside and was another reminder of how far he had fallen from being tough, untouchable Bobby.

Hell, he was even going to apologize. He never apologized except to Ma. Trudging down the stairs he saw the family had migrated to the living room. Plopping down on the couch between Angel and Jerry, Bobby grabbed the younger in a headlock and roughed up his hair.

"Ow, Bobby," Angel cried, punching as best he could.

Bobby released him laughing. "My bad, kid. Good luck with the possible 'rents."

Evelyn caught his eye and smiled her approval. His insides warmed, but he rolled his eyes to hide the soft feelings. Just to reiterate he was no angel, Bobby stole the remote from a protesting Jerry and changed the channel. Much better.

The next afternoon a silver Nissan pulled into their driveway. Bobby was inside loudly hitting his puck against the porch wall in irritation, but he stopped at the sound of the engine. The couple seemed normal and happy. As they exited their vehicle, the man very conscientiously took her arm and helped her up the walk. He was tall and firm with dark handsome features. She was shorter, rounded, but with gentle eyes. She might have been in the foster system, but she had clearly been one of the lucky ones. When Bobby met her eyes she automatically smiled warmly.

"Hello there," her voice was soft with a southern accent and he wondered how in the hell she had ended up in Detroit. "We're here for an appointment with Mrs. Mercer and Angel?"

"Yep," Bobby said and after a few seconds of awkward silence he opened the screen door. "They are inside, go right in."

It killed him to be so polite, but Evelyn had threatened to take away an entire season of hockey if he placed one toe out of line. She'd had that serious look that meant she meant every word and Bobby wasn't going to risk the only reason he grudgingly went to school. Well the second reason. The first reason was making her way over now. Aria had promised she would head over as soon as the couple arrived and true to her word she was there a minute later.

"Want to go for a walk?"

"Nope," Bobby said, aiming and hitting the puck forcefully. It clacked against the wall and bounced back at an awkward angle. "I wanna be here when this all goes to shit."

"Fine, but hitting the puck is not going to help anybody," Aria said firmly, taking away the stick and setting it to the side. "I know all about Ms. Evelyn's warning so don't test her."

"I'm not," he snapped irritated. "You look nice today."

She preened and then kissed his cheek. "Thanks. Carla picked it out for me."

"On second thought…" he teased and ducked her automatic punch. "I gotta teach you the right way to punch, baby. No girlfriend of mine is gonna be so weak." He grabbed her in his arms and tickled her lightly causing her to giggle and squirm.

"I don't need to know how to punch when I have you around, right?"

Bobby sat and pulled her into his lap. Wrapping her in a tight embrace he kissed her gently. "That's right, baby. I'll always defend you."

Both of them were normally uncomfortable with public displays of affection: Bobby because he thought it was for weaklings and Aria because she was naturally shy. Today though, their nerves stretched taut due to Angel's interview had them taking comfort in each other. She rested her head against his shoulder, inhaling the scent that was uniquely Bobby. Stroking his arm tenderly she leaned up slightly to kiss his jaw line. "Whatever happens today, I want you to know how proud I am of you."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

She gave him a crooked smile and murmured. "I just think it was great of you to help Angel like you did. You don't love freely Bobby, but when you do it's amazing."

He snorted. "Who said I love the little bitch? I'm just trying to toughen him up for real life."

"Right, of course, my mistake," Aria whispered, but she still smiled even as they sank into a quiet solitude. That was her Bobby. Prickly as a porcupine, but soft as a dove inside. "Are you going to hockey camp this summer?"

"That's the plan. Why? You gonna miss me?"

"As if," she giggled. "Why would I miss you when I'll have Jerry to keep me company? We're going to try and update the tree house this summer."

Bobby snorted. "Sounds illuminating."

"Ooh, was that a 5 syllable word, Bobby? Better be careful or you'll ruin your image."

"Ha, ha," he said and tickled her sharply. She shrieked and slapped at his hands. The screen door opened and Aria jumped off his lap, her face flushing at the mischievous smile on the woman. Her husband was still talking with Evelyn, but the interview was clearly over. The couple shook hands with Evelyn and then headed for their car. The Nissan had hardly pulled away from the drive before Bobby was barreling through the women and into the house.

"That was quick, Angel. You scare them off that soon? Must be a record."

Angel was sitting at the table, holding a glass of milk with a shell shocked expression. "T-they want to adopt me. I can't believe it."

Bobby felt his stomach drop to his feet and his face drained of color. He glanced back desperately at Evelyn who was happily telling Aria the good news. There was a strange rushing sound in his ears and he shook his head slightly to get his bearings. "H-how long?"

He swallowed hard suddenly angry beyond words at his stutter and inability to handle this better. Who cared if Angel went to a home? That was what this whole shitty foster system was about right? Finding homes for kids. It would be a good home, too. He could tell that the woman was good people. The man was harder to read, but he hadn't seemed like a dick. He had held his wife's arm for Christ's sake, no one did that anymore. So why did this make him feel so sick?

"Don't really know. Evelyn said she had contacts and favors to call in so she'd speed up the process for me. She's so happy."

Bobby stared at the naked fear in Angel's eyes and came to a quick decision. "Let's go kid. Today's our last official day of Christmas Break and we've barely touched our sticks. I'll grab Jerry and you get our stuff."

The fear dissipated at the normalcy of Bobby ordering him around and Angel rushed to do as commanded. Stopping by his Ma, Bobby kissed her cheek, an uncommon physical affection that had her smiling warmly. "Thank you son. Just try and not rough him up too much, huh?"

His trademark smirk had her rolling her eyes and Aria giggling. "Better go with them with the first aid kit, Aria. I know they'll try and be men about it, but I'd rather they bleed on the concrete and not my carpet."

Jerry and Angel thundered down the stairs, both lugging equipment. "You took too long so I grabbed Jerry," Angel said and thrust Bobby's skates at him.

"Right, let's go before we lose the light."

"Like that's ever stopped you before," Jerry teased as they left. Evelyn hugged herself tightly and looked upwards. "Thank You," she whispered and then began clearing up the dishes from the interview.

Angel was interviewed in the beginning of January. By February he was gone. Bobby sat on his bed moodily staring at the space where his bed had been. He could move his stuff back to the way it had been but he couldn't seem to muster the energy. Doing that would make it all real and right now he could almost imagine that Angel was just going away for a break or something and that he would be back in a few days. He stared at his blunt fingers and picked at a scab on one of his knuckles. He was supposed to be at school, but after starting a fight the principal had sent him home. Evelyn had been more lenient then necessary which only served to make him feel guilty. She knew he was taking Angel's adoption hard and it infuriated him that he cared so much. Even Aria had stopped talking about it, not wanting to drive him into a blind rage.

He heard the front door open and stood not wanting anyone to find him pouting again. He slouched down the stairs and saw Jerry's bag slung on the couch. Rattling in the kitchen told him he was getting a snack so Bobby pushed the bag to the floor and stretched out. This was his usual spot and Jerry knew better then to throw his stuff there. The younger Mercer came back into the living room and didn't say a word about the backpack.

"Carla and Randall got into a massive fight in the cafeteria at lunch," Jerry announced, sitting on a chair. "She threw her tray at him and covered him in spaghetti. As of this afternoon they are officially not a couple."

Bobby snorted. "Yeah right. She'll come crawling back crying about how she's such a bitch and he'll take her back. It's sick."

It was no news the two had a tempestuous relationship and this was the 5th or so incident this year. All it meant was that Aria would go straight to Carla's instead of here. He tried to stifle the irritation at that. Everyday he seemed to grow more dependent on his girlfriend and it was a strange experience. Part of him resented her for it, but the greater half was pleased because he could see the same dependency in her. Evelyn had said it was normal when he complained about it one night. Bobby never liked being normal.

"At least that means I won't get my homework," Bobby said with a grin, then frowned at Jerry's smirk.

"Like Aria wouldn't think of that, you dummy! She gave it to me."

"And like a good little pansy I bet you didn't even throw it in the trash or nothing."

Jerry snorted. "Unlike you I see the necessity of a good education. So no, I didn't."

"Hmmph. Angel would have," Bobby muttered. "I got to get you away from Aria's influence."

"You think he likes his new home? It sucks he has to go to a different school."

Bobby shrugged. "That's life Jerry. It's just one big suck with a couple of licks thrown in."

Jerry rolled his eyes and turned on the television. "Do you think Mama will let us go see him?"

"Probably not. This is a tentative time in the new relationship between Angel and his parents," Bobby mocked. "She'll want him settled before we start interrupting his life again. Plus, I'm not so much a good influence. I highly doubt his new parents will want me to see him."

"Well if you hadn't given them the third degree when they came for that last visit you might have left a better impression," Jerry advised as he flipped through the channels.

"I don't give a shit," Bobby grumbled, throwing an arm over his eyes as he tried to pretend he was relaxed. He needed to stop bringing up Angel. It was over and done with. He wasn't the first foster kid to come through Evelyn's since Bobby's arrival and he certainly wouldn't be the last.

With April came slushy rain that made the city miserable. It was still cold and could never decide if it wanted to just rain or snow. Life in the Mercer household had settled into its normal patterns and Bobby almost didn't think of Angel half a dozen times a day. Evelyn often reported he was doing well and the new family was getting along famously. Bobby would merely act like he didn't care, but inside he wondered why they couldn't see him. If he could only see Angel and convince himself the kid was really happy he was sure that he could let go.

Bobby had been almost perfect for the last two months and Evelyn had promised they could go shopping when she got off from work. A new sports store had opened ages ago and Randall had already been raving about all the equipment. Bobby was pretty sure he could wheedle Ma into buying him some early birthday presents. Jerry and he were sitting at the table finishing up homework. Aria had been tutoring him, but she had left to go to the bathroom. He glanced at the clock worriedly. Ma should have been home by now. She normally called if she was going to be late.

Just as he completed the thought, the phone rang. Bobby beat Jerry to it and pushed his little brother back to his seat.

"What's up?" Bobby answered knowing it annoyed his Ma and feeling the need to tease her. It usually made her laugh after a quick scolding and if she was late it was probably because she had a bad day.

On the other end of the receiver he heard heavy, choked breathing. "B-bobby?"

"Who is this?"

"B-bobby h-help m-me."

"Angel?" Bobby shouted. "Angel what's wrong? What happened?"

"P-please…" Angel's choked sobbing words were suddenly cut off by the dial tone.

Jerry's frantic voice cut through Bobby's shock. "What's going on? Bobby!"

"Angel's in trouble we gotta go. Where's that fucking address?"

Bobby rushed to his Ma's office and rummaged through the papers. "Jerry get your ass in here and help me!"

"Bobby Mercer, what is going on?" Aria stood in the doorway, but was roughly shoved to the side by Jerry. Shocked at the treatment by the usually gentle boy, she did not say anything as they tore apart Evelyn's office.

"Found it," Jerry yelled almost 10 minutes later. "Fuck, Bobby it's all the way across town!"

"What is going on?" She yelled and garnered their attention.

"Angel's in trouble," Jerry said. "We'll explain on the way, let's go."

Bobby and Jerry rushed outside, Aria following quickly. "We can't take the bus," Bobby panted. "It'll take too long. Wait a second while I hotwire this car."

"What?" Aria shrieked. "Bobby don't!"

"Shut up, Aria. It's Kaden's brother's car so he'll understand…I hope. Now get in or I'm leaving you behind."

Jerry was already in the front seat and buckled. Aria slid into the back a worried expression on her face. "Jerry what is going on?"

"Angel called. He's in trouble."

Aria sighed loudly. "Did you talk to him or did Bobby?"

"Bobby," Jerry said turning around. "And if he says it's an emergency then it is."

The utter faith silenced Aria and a few minutes later the car roared to life. Bobby threw it into gear and with a jolt they were in the street. "You don't even know how to drive!" Aria screamed, frantically buckling her seatbelt.

"Shut up, of course I do! I hotwired it didn't I?"

Aria swallowed her retort and covered her eyes. Jerry read the directions to Bobby as they sped through the streets of Detroit. It was a miracle they not only found their way, but did so without attracting any attention. The reason for that was revealed when Bobby saw the amount of police surrounding the house that must have been Angel's.

An officer stopped them and motioned for them to roll down the window. "I'm sorry sir, but…hey, you look a little young to be driving kid, step out of the car."

"Sure," Bobby said and then slammed open the door. It cracked against the officer's knees and he went down with a loud yell. Bobby wasted no time dancing around his reaching hands. He raced through the mass of police and in all the confusion no one bothered to stop the bulky, but quick boy. Jerry was right behind him, but he couldn't see Aria. Figuring she had stayed behind to tend to the cop he pushed her out of his head and tried to calm the thoughts going a million miles an hour. "We gotta find Angel. He's gotta be okay. What the fuck was I thinking letting him just go to some strange family?"

"Don't blame yourself," Jerry murmured. "I think that's Ma."

Bobby followed his finger and saw Evelyn speaking frantically to an officer. "Come on, let's go."

They rushed forward, ignoring the shouts of the police. Evelyn turned and saw them, her eyes flashing in brief irritation and then returned her attention back to the officer.

"What happened?" Bobby bellowed. "Angel called me, Ma, he's hurt, something's wrong!"

"Calm down, Bobby," Evelyn said soothingly, pressing a hand against his cheek. "Angel's fine physically I promise. How did you get down here?"

"You don't want to know," Jerry muttered. "And we might have assaulted an officer of the law."

Evelyn rolled her eyes heavenward. "Bobby and Jeremiah Mercer I don't need this right now!"

"Ma, please," Bobby said almost near tears in frustration and anger. "I need to see Angel…we need to see him."

She looked at the grim police detective. "Detective, these are my sons Bobby and Jeremiah. They are very close to Angel and I think it might be good for all of them to see each other."

"That shouldn't be a problem," he said after a moment's contemplation. "He's sitting in that police car."

Bobby and Jerry gave him hurried thanks and then jogged in the direction he had pointed. Opening either door they slid in next to the shivering boy. He was covered in blood, but Bobby figured it couldn't be his or he'd be in the ambulance still.

"Angel, what happened?" Bobby demanded after taking the boy in a rough hug. He noticed Angel wince and felt rage flood his body. "Did that fucker hit you? Did he?"

"Bobby," Jerry shouted. "Calm down. Don't overwhelm him. Let's just relax. He's okay. He's alive."

Both brothers fell silent and stared at the boy they'd taken into their circle. He was cowering into himself and the pose was something Bobby had never thought to see on the kid who liked to show he was so tough. His shirt and pants were covered in sticky, drying blood. His face was unmarked, but Bobby could clearly see the bruises encircling his neck and could bet there were more under his clothes. The rage inside turned dark and fierce. No one touched what was his. No one! It didn't matter that Angel didn't share his last name. He had been Bobby's the minute the kid had followed him around that crazy night to show him how hard he could be.

"I'll kill him," he said through gritted teeth. "He's fucking dead."

"Too late," Angel mumbled. "Too late."

"What's too late?" Jerry asked careful not to touch Angel, but sooth him with words.

"He hurt her," Angel finally said after a few more minutes of silence. "At first when I couldn't see. I would come home and she would hold herself so carefully. I made sure not to touch her, you know? She was nice. She liked me.

"He was nice at first too, though. Wanted to teach me baseball. Said it was a thinking man's game. The social worker would come by on surprise visits, Evelyn would too, and it was always good. They thought I had finally found a family."

He fell quiet, but neither boy spoke knowing he needed to get it all out. "Then he started hitting her in front of me. She told me he couldn't help it. He had a temper, but he was a good man. Said sometimes he just lost control. And I thought of you Bobby. I thought of what a temper you had, but no matter how much Aria pissed you off you never hit her. Never even raised your hand. It was lies all lies…lies…lies."

Angel took a deep breath to calm down. "She said he'd never hurt me. As long as I was a good boy. Then I broke the dish. I didn't mean to, it was an accident, but he went crazy. And then it was like I couldn't do nothing right. Every day it was something new. Today I forgot to take out the trash. He was choking me. She got so mad. I'd seen her happy, scared, crying, but I'd never seen her mad. She attacked him. Started punching him trying to get him off me. He turned on her Bobby. He just hit her over and over and over…he hit her until she stopped moving. I ran. I was so scared. I thought he'd come after me. I watched him kill her and I just froze. I didn't do nothing. I didn't even try to stop it.

"He showed me his guns when I first moved in. Told me not to touch them…that they were for protection. So I ran and I got one. There was always one he didn't keep in a safe. Then he was there and he was so calm. Told me everything would be okay. He wasn't gonna hurt me and to give him the gun. But he was a liar. He was a fucking liar. So I shot him. Aimed right for the chest and pulled until there weren't no bullets left. Didn't know there was so much blood in the body…I threw up Bobby, I'm sorry…I know you wouldn't have, but I couldn't help it…I'm sorry…"

Angel's body convulsed in sobs and Bobby wrapped his arms around the boy…the kid…he was just a fucking kid. The rage was pushed aside for the moment and Bobby took on the role he knew so well. He was big brother and he would take care of Angel. No one was gonna hurt his other brother again. "It's okay, Angel…you were brave…so brave…I'm so proud of you…so fucking proud."

Bobby met Jerry's somber eyes over Angel's head and both of them knew the man who had done this was lucky he was already dead. Their punishment would have been beyond what he had suffered. Now, though, they focused on Angel ignoring the outside world and concentrating on the moment. And when Evelyn came for them several hours later there was no mention of the stolen car or the injured police officer. Instead she took them all home, and though Bobby knew the real mess gonna begin with the aftermath he couldn't help the relief that surged through him that Angel was home. And while he and Jerry got Angel's bed together, Evelyn threw away his clothes and made him shower. Aria was making dinner and Bobby could imagine that life would somehow get back to normal. It was this thought that helped soothe his inner beast and the rage he felt slowly seeped away in the simple actions of making up a bed. By the time they finished he felt almost his old self and went downstairs to face Aria.

She was quietly stirring sauce for the spaghetti. A simple meal that didn't require much supervision. He figured in her current state of mind she wouldn't handle much else.

"You mad at me?" He asked, leaning against the counter.

She stared hard at the sauce, but did respond. "No, not anymore. I was at first, but I understand now. I just wish you trusted me enough to confide in me. I guess I'm not like Jerry…I can't just take your word for everything."

"I…fuck, Aria, I'm sorry." There was real remorse in his voice and she looked up to see him clenching the counter, his muscled arms tight with tension.

"Hey, Bobby, it's okay," Aria whispered, setting aside the spoon and ducking under an arm to hug him. He tensed even more and then relaxed, enveloping her in his arms.

"When I heard his voice, Aria, I can't…I don't how to say it. I just…all I could think was getting to him."

"I know that now," she assured him. "I didn't at the time, which is why I was angry, but I know now. It's okay. He's safe now."

He pressed a kiss to her temple and she ignored the wetness that splashed against her cheek. "I get mad like that sometimes…I feel that rage…but I want you to know I will never, ever hurt you like that."

"Bobby, I know," Aria said firmly, releasing him and placing her hands on either side of his face. She forced him to look at her. "I trust you, Bobby Mercer, with my life."

He gave her a small grin and quickly rubbed his eyes. "What the fuck did I do to get a girl like you, huh?"

Aria sighed. "Because inside, you are a good man no matter how much you try to hide it." And then she kissed him and he smiled into it because she so rarely made the first move.

"Um, guys, the sauce is burning," Jerry mentioned from the kitchen door. Aria yelped and rushed to turn down the heat.

The incident broke the tension and everyone laughed while she tried to salvage dinner. Evelyn came in with Angel, who still looked wary, but on seeing the familiar stances of those he knew would never hurt him, he relaxed and rushed to hug Bobby.

"I knew you'd come for me," he whispered. "I knew it."

"Of course I would," Bobby said, giving him a noogie. "Now go sit down you pansy."

Evelyn watched warily, but when it looked as if Bobby's casual disregard was just what Angel needed, she helped Aria set the table. As they all sat, she looked around at the chattering faces of her children. Angel was far from being okay, but she knew he was back on the right road and she would do everything in her power to keep him there…even if it meant adding another Mercer to the equation.