A/N: This takes place and was inspired by 6:02 Mixed Messages. Much thanks to Amanda Hawthorne and Purdy's Pal for reading through this for me and Daisy Day for making me laugh every day and to CJ for just being awesome! Much love to everyone on Twitter in BN FF land and for all the reviews, alerts and favorites. It is all so greatly appreciated.
Madeline had insisted they go to the loft and see Michael. The youngest Westen had learned a long time ago that when she got that look, there was no stopping her. Even as they stood waiting for the door to open, Nate knew what was going to happen. Well, he could hope for different. But Hope, like Lady Luck, didn't spend a whole lot of time hanging out with him.
Sort of like my bro.
The door was flung open and there was his older brother, looking as stressed as he had ever seen him, holding paperwork in one hand and a gun in the other.
"Nate, what are you doing here?"
Mike's little brother forced himself not to sigh. How many times have I heard that?
Back in the day, it was sometimes spoken with outright surprise, especially if he'd managed to catch Mike at something, although that got rarer as they got older and the eldest's escapades had taken him farther and farther from home. But usually it was spoken with soft surprise, as if he shouldn't be where his brother was, and with that same subtle edge of annoyance that he'd put in an appearance.
Guess some things never do change. "Well, I guess I could ask you the same question-"
"Where are Ruth and the baby?"
That's my bro, straight for the throat every time.
"Back in Vegas." Nate stood there with his hands in his pockets, trying not to think about why they were in Vegas and instead concentrated on what he wanted to say. "Look, I heard what went down around here. I figured you could use some support." Mike looks like crap. Bet he hasn't slept in days and he's walking around with a gun again. Odds are he hasn't put it down except to go to the can. "I'm going to be staying for a while."
And there is was, right on time. The look. The one that said, you're in my hair, kid. The one that said I've got better things to do than be around you. How the hell did Mike always manage to make him feel like a snot nosed kid?
"You don't need to do that."
Madeline grabbed Nate's arm and towed him out of the door opening and into the room. There was no saying, "no" to her. "Look, Michael, the reason I dragged Nate over here is I thought it would be nice if the two of you talked about-" He looked from his mother to his older brother, pretty sure what was coming next. "You know, things-"
Mike cocked his head and let out an exasperated sigh. Yep, there were still some things in life you could count on.
"Cuz God knows you never talk to me," she concluded.
"I just can't do this right now," Michael pleaded. "I have an assignment that might help me get to see Fiona."
"Okay, not now. I get it."
How those words reverberated, echoing right on down through the years. Funny how spending time with Mike could take thirty years off in a flash. Suddenly I'm eight years old again.
He looked straight into his mother's face, hoping she'd get it and not fight him on it this time.
"Mom, just not right now." He looked back towards his sibling. I do get it. Fiona's important, she's your woman. Just like - no, not going there. "Alright, take care. You and Fiona both."
After the door had closed, it had taken a minute. It usually did before the eldest Westen boy knew he'd done it again.
I've got to get ready for this op. Nothing's more important than this op. I can't screw this up. Card said it was a one shot deal. I just can't take a chance on screwing this up. If it gets me in to see Fi then-
Maybe hanging out with her over the years had made him smarter about such things. Or maybe it was that, since she'd been gone, he'd been thinking back on all the times he'd pushed her away. He'd been thinking about those times a lot lately and he regretted every one of them. So, maybe that had finally given him a basis for comparison. He wasn't sure what had caused it, but something in his brother's expression had finally clicked.
He'd pushed Fiona away because he couldn't give her what she wanted, because she was keeping him from getting what he thought he wanted, because- because, because... But hadn't he just done the same thing to his brother again? Hadn't he done the same thing to Nate most of his life?
Michael squeezed his eyes shut and pressed the back of his hand holding the pistol to his forehead. This was a bad time for trying to untangle drama that was decades old. He needed to focus. He had a mission.
"I just can't do this right now," he repeated to himself. "I have an assignment. I have to prepare for this assignment. It might help me get to see Fi. She has to know that we're trying to get her out. That I'm still fighting for her, that I'll never stop fighting until she's free."
And nothing was more important than that.
"Hey, bro, it's me."
Not the first time I've had a gun pointed at me.
"Still with the gun?"
Not even the first time my bro's pointed one at me.
"You're in worse shape than we thought."
Nate took a long hard look at him as his big brother lowered the weapon back to the wooden bench that acted as a breakfast bar. His eyes were red rimmed, like he'd been crying or- knowing Mike- refusing to cry. He looked even more sleep deprived than the last time Nate had been here. The slim man closed the heavy metal door behind him with a firm thud.
"What's up?" Michael asked, laying Fiona's letter down on the grainy surface.
"Any more word on Fi?" his younger brother asked as he walked up to the shelf that held Fiona's snow globes.
"I might be able to see her soon." Wow, Mike actually sounded almost happy about something.
"That's great. I'm happy for you, man," he agreed.
"I really appreciate you're coming by, Nate, but you should be home with Ruth and the baby."
Way to go for the jugular, Mike.
Nate grazed the snow globe at the end of the line with his fingers, just to have something to do with his hands. He almost expected his brother to start yelling at him not to touch her things before they both got in trouble. Well, guess that's changed. Guess Fiona won't give him a beating for me messing with her stuff. Not today anyway.
"Yeah, I should. But here's why I came over. You know, mom didn't drag me all the way down here just because you were having problems." Nate closed the distance between them, biting his lip and trying to figure out how to say it.
"Ruth left me. She took the baby," the youngest Westen confessed. "That's how come I'm staying with her for a little while."
To his credit, Michael's distress was genuine and sincere. "What happened?"
I'm sorry, Nate, but I just can't do this anymore. I have to think about Charlie. Maybe we shouldn't have gotten married, maybe it was too soon- okay, so it was. You know I wasn't expecting to have- Look, I know Vegas isn't the right place for you. I know. You weren't even there when Charlie born because you couldn't walk away from the table. I tried to be understanding about it, I tried. But, just because Miami might be the right place for you, it isn't the right place for us.
It was bad enough when your old gambling buddies kept showing up looking for a handout and those people you used to owe money to kept calling, but it's just that - What happens when you fall off the wagon again? Who's going to help me and Charlie then? Your family?
Nate, your brother scares me. He's, he's- and those people he hangs out with- his girlfriend just went to prison for bombing a building? Are these the people you want your son growing up around?
I can't even get your mother to stop smoking around him. He's her only grandson. It makes me sick to smell that on him when he comes back from her house. It's making him sick! I have food allergies. Charlie has allergies! Can't she understand that he's sensitive to things? It's like talking to a wall, she thinks she knows everything!
I can't stand going over there. Her place stinks and she hates me. I know she hates me. I know they're your family, but my family and my friends are in Vegas, away from all this craziness! I can't do this, Nate. I have to think about our son. I just can't take that chance anymore. You have to think about what's best for Charlie.
Nate suddenly found himself sitting down next to his brother, who was still waiting on an answer. "I don't know. I mean- I tried- so hard to be a good dad and a good husband, you know? One day, she just called it quits."
"I'm really sorry, Nate," and he really was sorry. It seems like no matter what Nate touches, it comes apart, Michael thought, though not unkindly.
"Me, too. Anyways, I'm going to get out of your hair, alright? But I just wanted to stop by and see how you were doing." His little brother gave him a look of sympathy and turned towards the door.
Like I've done any better lately? Fiona is gone and in prison because of me, I pulled a gun on my best friend, I almost got Jesse killed, Anson Fullerton is still on the loose...,
The younger man stopped next to the shelf of snow globes, a shelf full of reminders of what I've lost.
"Yeah?" he asked expectantly.
Yeah, Nate was his kid brother and he could be a royal pain. Part of him was still angry about the unfairness of it all, about all the beatings he'd had to take for him, for all the things he'd had to do to keep the kid out of trouble, and part of him was still mad that his brother had chosen to emulate their father, to be a gambler and a thief and a petty con artist, but right now they were more than just brothers who had shared a lousy upbringing. Right now they were both just men who were hurting for the women they had lost, the women that they loved.
"Why don't you stay?"
Being a little nicer to his brother wouldn't bring Fiona back, but it might help them both pass the time a little better.
"Bro," he could hear it, even when he didn't say it, and he could see it in his smile.