This is a sort-of prequel to my other McQuaid brothers story "Tribulations." However, it is not necessary that you read that one in order to understand this one. All you really need to know is that this story assumes the McQuaid brothers are real and not just personas Penhall and Hanson portray while undercover.

Most of any background info you need to know is mentioned in the first few paragraphs of this story.

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Little Doug and Tommy McQuaid spent a lot of time by themselves. Considering how young they were (seven and five years old) they certainly were well trusted to stay home by themselves. Ever since their mother had died a year ago, they didn't always have a parent at home to look after them. Mr. McQuaid had to work a lot, most days well into the afternoon or even until after dark, and he couldn't afford a babysitter. So Doug and Tommy walked home from school together, and tried their best to be good until their dad came home.

Mr. McQuaid worked a lot, and didn't usually seem happy anymore. Doug remembered he used to be a lot nicer back when Mrs. McQuaid was still around. Maybe working, taking care of his kids, and missing his wife was just too much for him to handle. He hardly ever smiled, and always seemed to be kind of angry with his sons. It didn't help that Doug and Tommy were always messing stuff up. They tried their best to not break things and to keep their rooms clean and all that, but getting distracted from housework is easy to do. Especially if you're seven or five years old.

Doug understood why his dad was always yelling at them. They really did make messes quite often, and Doug didn't usually do his homework unless his father specifically sat him down and made him. His mom used to help him with his school work. She was so good at showing him tips on how to do it, showing him math tricks, or teaching him songs to remember social studies and science concepts. His dad helping him just wasn't the same. Homework used to be fun. Now it wasn't. He hated doing his homework without his mom there to help him. No matter how much his dad yelled at him for his dropping grades, he still didn't do his homework without being told over and over each and every day.

The boys were used to their father yelling at them. They didn't like it, but whenever he yelled, they weren't surprised anymore. Doug often wished they could just talk things through calmly, but if yelling was how his father wanted to communicate, there was nothing Doug could do about it.

His dad didn't only yell though. The man even hit him out of rage every once in a while, but only when the man was really mad. As long as Doug wasn't incredibly defiant, he didn't have to worry about that. He only received punishments like that whenever his dad yelled at him and he yelled back, or if he broke a rule on purpose, like the time when his dad told him to do his homework and he had thrown his backpack out the front door and refused.

"What am I supposed to do, Doug?" Tommy's small voice called out from the table. He was staring down at a worksheet his teacher had given to him as homework while Doug was busy making two peanut butter sandwiches.

Walking over to his little brother, Doug looked over his shoulder and read the paper, "draw a line from the capital letter to the lower case letter," Doug read the instructions. He pointed to the first letter, "What letter is that?" he asked.

Tommy looked up at him, "T?" he guessed.

"Yep," Doug smiled, "so look over in this column here," he pointed at the column of lower-case letters, "and find the lower-case 'T.'"

Tommy pointed at it, "this one?"

Doug nodded, "perfect. Now just draw a line from the capital to the lower-case."

Tommy did as instructed, "like this?" he looked back up at his brother.

Doug laughed, "yeah. Now just do the rest of 'em the same way. Get it?" he wished his homework was still this easy.

Tommy drew a line from a capital 'B' to a lower-case 'b,' "Just like this, right?" Tommy grinned up at his big brother.

"Yeah," Doug nodded and went back to making the sandwiches which were to be their dinner. He cut each sandwich in half and poured two glasses of water. He then set one plate and glass in front of his brother and the other in front of the empty chair where he himself was going to sit.

"Don't you have homework too, Doug?" Tommy asked as he grabbed up the sandwich his brother had made for him.

Shrugging, Doug sat down across the table, "I don't know how to do it," he responded, "and I don't have an older brother to help me."

Tommy frowned, "I'll try to help you," he offered.

"It's second grade stuff, Tommy," Doug sighed, "there's no way you'd understand it."

"Maybe Daddy can help you. I think he took second grade," Tommy suggested.

"I don't know. He'll probably be pretty tired from working. He's working late today. I don't think he'd want to come home just to do homework with me. It's not like it matters anyways," Doug shrugged, "I did part of it at school. I can copy the rest from Ben tomorrow."

"Okay," Tommy agreed, "do you think I'll ever be older than you so I can help you with your homework?" he wondered, "I mean, if I grow up faster than you. My birthday's before yours, so I'll be six and you'll still be seven. Then the next year I'll be seven too. And then eight. Then I'll be in third grade and I can tell you how to do second grade homework."

Doug smiled, "But I'm not going to stay the same age... You'll never be older than me Tommy; that's not how it works. Besides, then who would help you with your homework?"

"Maybe we can have another brother who is older than both of us," Tommy suggested.

"Nah," Doug shook his head, "I like it just being the two of us. I don't think I'd like another brother."

"I guess so," Tommy nodded, "I probably wouldn't like him as much as I like you."

Doug laughed, "And I could never love him more than I love you," he reached over and pushed his brother lightly.

Tommy laughed and reached over and pushed Doug back. Doug could tell Tommy had put more effort into his shove than Doug had.

Grinning, Doug stood up and grabbed a hand towel off the kitchen counter. He twisted it up and snapped it at Tommy who was by now approaching him. Tommy laughed and grabbed at the towel, but Doug pulled it back too fast.

"Give me it!" Tommy pleaded, grabbing at the towel as Doug held it up above his own head so that Tommy couldn't reach it.

"No!" Doug laughed. He pushed his little brother back lightly and ran out of the room, up the stairs and to his room. When he got there, he closed the door and put his ear up to the wood to listen for his brother's footsteps. He didn't hear them though. It wasn't like Tommy to give up... He was planning something. Doug held his breath and listened for a few seconds more. There was still absolutely no sound to be heard. His little brother was probably hiding somewhere. He was probably waiting for Doug to come and find him so he could assault him with a squirt gun or pillow.

Slowly and quietly, Doug opened his door a crack and peered out into the hallway. To the right was Tommy's room. He couldn't hear or see his brother. The younger boy was probably sneaking around or hiding as quietly as he could, so Doug didn't expect to hear or see him. He opened his door the rest of the way and tip-toed out into the hallway. He checked Tommy's room first. The boy was not there.

So Doug crept down the stairs and into the living room. He checked behind the sofa and then behind the curtains.

Just as he was looking behind the second curtain, he felt something soft hit his back. He spun around to see his little brother. Tommy was laughing and holding one of his own jackets. He had used it in the same manner as Doug had been using the hand towel. Tommy smiled and snapped the garment toward his older brother again. He wasn't as good at twisting it and snapping it as Doug was.

Doug reached toward the jacket, but Tommy pulled it back and ran back into the kitchen. Doug ran after his younger brother, snapping the towel at him any time he got close enough. Each time the towel grazed his little brother's back, Tommy squealed and tried to grab it away, but always failed.

Now that they were both in the kitchen, Tommy was swinging the jacket at Doug and Doug was swinging the towel at Tommy. Half the time the objects missed their targets entirely and only ended up colliding with each other. For a moment it seemed the towel and the jacket were tangled together. Doug almost succeeded in claiming both of the makeshift weapons.

As they waged play war, Doug and Tommy shuffled in circles to avoid getting too close to each other. Somehow Doug ended up getting himself backed up against the counter as Tommy swung the jacket at him again, but this time it didn't hit Doug or the towel. Instead, it hit the coffee pot, which had been positioned much too close to the edge of the counter. With a loud crash, it hit the ground. The coffee pot was glass, so it was in a hundred tiny pieces instantly.

Tommy gasped, dropping his jacket immediately, bringing his small hand up to his mouth in surprise, and looking up at his brother with impossibly wide eyes, "I'm sorry!" his lower lip quivered and he looked like he might cry, "I didn't mean to..."

"It's okay, Tommy," Doug sighed, "just stay back. It's all over the floor. Don't walk over here without shoes. You'll cut your feet. Get me the broom," he ordered as he stared down at the mess. There were several large pieces of glass scattered across the floor and countless tiny slivers. Doug would try to clean it up, but probably wouldn't be able to get all of it. He couldn't even see all the smaller pieces. There was also some old coffee in the pot. That liquid was now all over the kitchen tiles as well.

Doug looked over at Tommy who was still standing where he had been before. He hadn't gone to get the broom at all, "Tommy," Doug called out to his brother in an attempt to gain his attention, "get me the broom. We gotta clean this up."

Tommy's mouth was in the shape of a pout and he had tears in his eyes, "do you think we can fix it?" he asked, "I have glue in my room."

Doug sighed, "I think it's too broken for that," he admitted, "we'll just have to clean it up as best as we can and hope Dad forgives us."

"It's all my fault," Tommy said with a shaking voice. Doug could hear in his little brother's voice that he was seconds away from crying.

"It'll be okay, Tommy," Doug walked carefully over through the bits of glass and hugged his little brother, "don't be sad. It's my fault too. We were both goofing around when we shouldn'ta been. It was an accident. Those kinds of things happen sometimes. Don't be so worried about it."

Tommy sniffed and pulled out of his brother's embrace, "okay," he finally agreed, "it was just an accident. It's okay," he rephrased Doug's words as he grabbed the broom and dustpan from the other side of the room. He walked them back over to Doug and handed them over, "what do I do to help?" he asked.

"Hold the dustpan," Doug instructed as he dragged the broom around and tried to collect all of the pieces of glass.

The bits of glass were getting stuck in the broom, and the spilled coffee was making the smaller bits of glass stick to the floor so that the broom just passed over them. Cleaning this up was going to be impossible. He was sure his dad could do it. Grownups were better at this sort of thing. But his dad was going to be really mad already, that the coffee pot was broken at all. If he had to clean up the mess too, Tommy and Doug would probably have to listen to him yell at them for all eternity.

As Doug swept a puddle of coffee/glass sludge into the dustpan, Tommy looked up at him with a worried expression on his face, "Did we get it all?" he asked hopefully, staring at Doug instead of just looking around himself at the mess that was still all over the floor.

Doug shook his head, "not even close," he frowned, "look around," he gestured around the room, "it's all over the place. We'll probably be finding pieces of glass around on the floor for the rest of our lives."

Tommy sighed loudly and sat down on the floor as he continued to hold the dustpan in place, "are we gonna be cleaning this up all night then?" he looked tired, "I never finished my homework..."

"I'll do it for you," Doug laughed, "it'll take me ten seconds."

"No," Tommy shook his head, "I'll get in trouble."

"No you won't," Doug laughed, "it's just drawing lines. No one will be able to tell who did it."

"I don't know..." Tommy replied reluctantly, "my teacher said he knows my handwriting..."

"But it's just lines, Tommy," Doug assured him as he swept up another clump of sticky, coffee-stained glass. It made a scraping sound as it dragged across the tiles and into the dustpan, "how could your line look different from one I drew? It's a line. There's only one way to draw it."

Tommy narrowed his eyes, "okay," he finally agreed.

Both boys froze as they heard a car door slam. It sounded close enough to their house that they knew it was their father.

"He's home already?" Tommy frowned. He looked around, "we didn't finish cleaning it up!"

"Shh," Doug attempted to quiet his brother, "we'll finish it still. He can't be too mad if we tell him it was an accident and if we keep cleaning it..."

"Maybe we should run upstairs and hide," Tommy suggested as he stood up.

Doug shook his head, "he'll be more mad."

"We can tell him we don't know what happened," Tommy offered.

Doug stood up next to his brother as he heard his father's footfalls on the stairs, "we'll just tell him the truth," he persisted, "he can't be too mad," he said again, trying to reassure both his brother and himself, "he can't be..."

Tommy and Doug stood perfectly still as their father dragged his feet into the kitchen, "you boys get your homework done?" he sighed tiredly, "you have dinner already?"

"Um..." Doug hesitated, "I uh... I made peanut butter sandwiches, so we already ate..." He felt so nervous. Had his father really not noticed the coffee and glass all over the floor? "we uh... We accidentally broke the coffee pot..." he finally just said it, knowing he'd be in more trouble if he tried to hide it or avoid the subject.

The boys' father narrowed his eyes and looked around the room. His eyes settled on the dustpan, which was full of glass, coffee, and dust, "how the hell did that happen?" he asked, looking back up so that his eyes met Doug's, "you were messing around, weren't you?"

"Yeah," Doug frowned and looked down at the floor. His eyes focused on a random piece of glass on the floor as he waited to be yelled at by his father. But before the man had a chance to start screaming, Tommy spoke up.

"It was an accident," he said in a small voice. Doug glanced over at Tommy. He looked nervous. Doug looked up at their father, who was staring down at Tommy as though the boy was a disgusting pest he wished to be rid of. Tommy continued, "we were running around, and I was trying to hit Doug with my jacket. I hit the coffee pot instead and it fell. It was just an accident, so you can't be too mad."

"Oh?" Mr. McQuaid raised his eyebrow, "I can't be too mad, huh?" the volume of his voice was raising, "I can't be mad when my sons run around the house breaking everything while I'm at work all day? I tell you all the time to be careful, to not run in the house or throw things around. And you always do it anyway! How many more damn times do I need to say it!?"

Doug saw Tommy's shoulders slump and he could see his little brother's large, dark eyes were shining with tears again, "I'm sorry," Tommy pouted, "I didn't do it on purpose. We were just playing."

"Well, you need to stop playing then, if you can't do it right," Mr. McQuaid grabbed Tommy's arm and yanked him to the side. He then pushed Doug back and walked forward, picking up the plastic part of the coffee machine and slamming it down on the counter, "you think I can afford to just replace shit like this every day?"

"He said he was sorry, Dad," Doug growled. His father stood between him and his brother, so he couldn't see how Tommy was handling this, but he could imagine the little boy probably looked pretty miserable. Tommy hated being yelled at, just like anyone else would... But Tommy was only five years old. He took his father's criticisms much more personally than Doug did.

"Shut up, Doug," his father stared down at him, "maybe if you'd watch your brother better, I wouldn't have to come home after working all day and clean coffee and glass off the fucking floor."

"We'll clean it," Doug frowned, "that's what we were doing. You don't have to clean it up. We'll do it. It's our fault, so we'll clean it."

"And you clean it like you're fuckin' retarded or something," Mr. McQuaid grabbed the broom Doug had still been gripping in his hand. He tossed the broom harshly against the counter so that it made a cracking sound and then fell to the floor, "you probably just made it worse by even trying to clean it."

Doug frowned, "what was I supposed to do then? Just leave it there? I was trying to help!"

Doug gasped as his father swatted his hand at his older son's face, striking his cheek hard enough to hurt him, "I didn't ask you to talk back," he growled.

"Stop it!" Doug looked over at Tommy who still had tears in his eyes as he spoke up, "we didn't mean to break it! We did it on accident, and we're sorry. Don't hit Doug, Daddy," Tommy's lip was quivering and a tear fell onto his cheek, "we didn't do it on purpose."

"Tommy," Mr. McQuaid made his voice more calm, "your brother needs to learn to stop talking back to me. When you talk back to your parent, you get punished. He knows that. I hit him because he was being bad. Understand?"

Tommy shook his head, "I don't know why he can't talk. You said he shouldn't have helped clean up the mess we made, but I think we should have. At school, if I make a mess, I'm supposed to help clean it."

"Well, this isn't school," Mr. McQuaid scowled at his younger son, "and you should clean up your mess. But if you're too fucking stupid to do it right, sometimes it's better to just leave the job for someone competent enough to not fuck things up worse."

Doug held his hand over the stinging spot on his cheek where his father just had hit him. He looked over at Tommy who looked quite confused as he stared up at their father. Sometimes Mr. McQuaid seemed to forget that his sons were children. He often used words they didn't know, "Maybe you should go up to your room, Tommy," Doug suggested, "Dad and I can take care of the mess."

Their father shook his head, "I think you've done enough damage, Doug," he shoved Doug back, "just go up to your rooms. Both of you."

"I can clean it, Dad," Doug persisted. He knew his father had a right to be angry at him. He and Tommy had broken the coffee pot while they were being silly and doing things they weren't supposed to do. But the man could at least let them try to fix their mistake. They were doing what they could to make things better. Why wouldn't their father just let them help?

"Dammit, Doug!" his father backhanded him again.

Doug gasped as he was knocked back a few steps by the force behind his father's hand. He reached up and put his hand over his cheek again. Even though his father had hit him several times before, it still surprised him each time it happened again.

"Stop it!" Doug heard Tommy scream again. This time the smaller boy ran up to his brother's aid. He grabbed onto his father's arm with both of his hands and tried to hold him back, "he's just trying to help, Daddy. Stop hitting him!"

Doug felt tears stinging his own eyes. His father had never hit him twice on the same night. He could feel himself shaking very slightly. He felt so angry that he would get in trouble for trying to do something right. Would his father have really preferred that he just leave the mess there instead of trying to clean it? He had a feeling the man would have been absolutely furious either way.

As sad as he felt right now, as much as his father's harsh hands had made his heart feel like it was breaking, what happened next broke his heart completely. With two swift motions, the man raised his hand and swung it back down, slapping Tommy across the face hard enough to knock his little son back so that he was on the floor.

Tommy was instantly reduced to tears. Unlike Doug, the younger boy didn't bother saying anything in his own defense, or getting back up and standing up defiantly to his father. Instead he just stayed where he had landed and sobbed, bringing his hands up to his eyes and hiding behind them.

Doug tried to push past his father to go to his brother's aid, but the man reached out and grabbed Doug's arm, effectively stopping him in his tracks, "I want you both to go up to your rooms and go to bed. I'll clean up this mess. Remember about this the next time you want to goof off and break shit," he squeezed Doug's arm in his hand and then shoved him toward his little brother, "I don't want to hear another word out of either of you tonight."

Doug pulled Tommy up from the floor and practically dragged him through the living room and up the stairs to the older brother's room. As soon as they made it to Doug's room, he shut the door and kicked some laundry in front of it in hopes that his father wouldn't be able to open it if he tried.

He was still gripping his little brother tightly in his arms, and Tommy was still sobbing, his face pressed against Doug's chest, probably getting tears all over his shirt. It was heart wrenching. Doug didn't know if he'd ever witnessed his brother cry so hard. The little boy's body was even shaking in his older brother's arms as he continued crying uncontrollably.

"It's okay, Tommy," Doug assured him as he rubbed his brother's back gently.

Tommy continued crying, but also made an attempt to speak, "I..." he managed before another sob escaped his throat, "I... was... just..." he choked out, "trying..." he started sobbing even harder, unable to finish his sentence.

"I know," Doug hugged him tighter. He could still feel Tommy shaking in his arms as pitiful sobs wracked his small body, "you were trying to help. You didn't do anything wrong. Dad's just upset. He didn't mean to hurt you. He just wasn't thinking right, you know?"

Tommy shook his head, "He..." the little boy sniffed, "hates... me..." he continued sobbing, burying his face in his brother's chest again. He was still trembling and breathing in and out much more rapidly than Doug considered normal.

"He doesn't hate you," Doug reassured him as he rubbed his younger brother's back to comfort him, "he's just mad at us right now. Everyone gets mad sometimes, right? Remember the other day when you hit me because I called you a baby? You didn't mean it. You were just mad. And I didn't mean to call you a mean name. We were just mad at each other, but we still love each other, right?"

Doug felt Tommy nod, but the boy kept himself pressed up against his brother's chest and refused to look up at him, "um hm," he mumbled softly. The younger boy wrapped his arms around his older brother so that now the embrace wasn't one-sided.

"So Dad still loves us. He's just mad at us right now," Doug reassured himself and his brother as he moved his hand so that it was against the back of his little brother's head. He ran his fingers through the boy's dark, messy hair.

"I still love him too," Tommy said in a small voice, "he's mean sometimes though."

"I know," Doug frowned, "if he's ever yelling at me again, or at you, don't argue with him, okay?" he requested, "even if you think he's wrong."

Tommy sniffed, "but he was hitting you," he looked up at frowned. He had tear streaks down his cheeks and was pouting. He looked so sad, and it made Doug feel even worse than he already did.

"Well, I'd rather have him hit me than hit you," Doug stared into his little brother's eyes, "I can take care of myself, Tommy. You don't have to worry about me."

Tommy looked skeptical, "I don't know... I don't think he should hit you."

"I don't think he should either," Doug agreed, "but getting yourself in trouble too won't solve anything."

His little brother sighed, but kept his mouth shut. Doug hoped his father wouldn't hit Tommy again. It was bad enough when the man hit him. Doug didn't usually have to worry about his younger brother getting hurt. He supposed that was just one more thing to add to his list of things to worry about. His mom was dead; he didn't understand his homework; his dad yelled at him; his dad hit him; his dad now was willing to hit Tommy too. That was a lot for a seven year old to have to deal with.

He led his little brother over to his bed and sat him down, "you're okay, right?" he asked.

Tommy sniffed and nodded his head, "yeah," looked up at Doug, "are you?"

"Sure," Doug offered a crooked grin. He was glad his brother's sobs had died down. Seeing his brother cry was one of his least favourite things in the world. Doug reached down and wiped the tears off his brother's face, "do you want to stay in here with me tonight?"

Tommy shrugged, "I'm not scared," he insisted.

Doug frowned. His little brother probably was indeed frightened, or else he wouldn't have brought it up. Doug hadn't asked if he was afraid. He had asked if Tommy wanted to sleep in his room, "I'd feel safer if you stayed," Doug lied. He didn't expect his little brother to protect him, but he didn't want to tell Tommy that he was scared for him. Tommy liked to appear brave, and Doug didn't want to mess with that.

"Okay," Tommy agreed, "I'll stay then," he smiled, "to protect you."

Doug grinned. He walked over to his dresser and pulled out two t-shirts, "here you go," he handed one to Tommy, "you can borrow my pajama shirt so you don't have to go back to your room and get your own. Doug took off his own jeans and school shirt so that he was just in his boxers and socks. Then he pulled the t-shirt on and looked over to Tommy who was doing the same.

When they were both dressed in sleep clothes, Doug climbed into bed next to his little brother and pulled the blanket up to cover them both. Tommy was afraid of the dark, so Doug left the lamp next to his bed turned on, even though he preferred to sleep with it off.

"I'm sorry I broke the coffee pot," Tommy mumbled as he yawned and snuggled against his older brother.

"It's okay, Tommy," Doug frowned and wrapped his arm around his little brother. He rested his chin on top of Tommy's head and hugged him close, "it was an accident. And it's my fault too. I'm the one who started it."

"I guess so," Tommy agreed, "but I wish it didn't happen."

"Me too," Doug hugged him tighter, "but it's okay now. We'll be more careful from now on. Try to get to sleep."

Tommy nodded and snuggled in closer against Doug.

As he lie in his bed and listened to his brother's steady breathing, Doug closed his own eyes and tried to go to sleep too. He wished Tommy hadn't stepped in and gotten himself involved tonight. Doug was stupid to talk back to his father at all. He knew what would happen... He just couldn't help it sometimes. He was trying his best to fix a mistake he had made, and then he got punished when he attempted to explain his actions. None of it seemed fair.

It didn't seem right that he'd get hit for trying to clean up a mess, but he could have lived with that. He couldn't live with Tommy getting hit as well. Tommy was only trying to defend Doug. That was pretty brave - a five year old standing up to a thirty-year old man who was clearly quite capable and willing to inflict violence on his little sons. Tommy shouldn't have been punished for something like that.

And the look in the little boy's eyes when his father hit him had hurt Doug more than anything his father could have done to him. Seeing and hearing his brother's heartbroken sobs of physical and emotional pain made Doug feel like someone had stabbed his heart with daggers.

He hugged Tommy even closer, "I won't let him hurt you again," he promised. He didn't know if he could keep that promise, but he was sure going to do anything and everything in his power to try. He never wanted to hear his brother cry like that again...

xxxxxx

For anyone wondering about a possible sequel to "Tribulations," here's a note for you: I am attempting to write it but have been having a lot of trouble deciding where to go with it... I'm quite stuck plot-wise and don't want to publish a half-assed attempt at a sequel... It's still a possibility, but it's realistically not looking too good... So please don't be sad, I'm not having an easy time with it... I've got about sixteen pages written and it's 3 or 4 chapters, but it's taken ages to write and feels kind of forced... I wrote this whole massive one-shot within the past few hours and it came to me so much more smoothly...

Don't hold your breath for a "Tribulations" sequel... but don't give up hope completely either... I don't know what's going to happen... I really don't want to disappoint anyone by not writing a sequel, but I also don't want to disappoint anyone by publishing a sequel that is forced and not well-written... I love everyone who read my other story... So please don't hate me if I never publish a sequel...

I hope you liked this little prequel at least. :D And if you haven't already read "Tribulations," you could give it a look if you want. It's the story of the McQuaid brothers from this story, only as high school students. It's quite a bit longer than this one though. Give it a look at if you want. If you don't want, then don't. :)

Thanks for reading.