Chapter 15. Memory of my life without you

The guys enjoyed the first couple of hours visiting, all singing together and just generally acting silly while Mike played a little and occasionally even almost smiled. They chatted between songs about vague nothing topics until Mike was worn out enough to fall asleep, concerned that it seemed to happen far more quickly than they'd expected.

"I guess he really didn't sleep well last night," Peter frowned. "Maybe we should bring him his own pillow or something. Do you think that might help?"

"I'm sure their pillows are fine, Pete. Besides, he doesn't always sleep all that well even at home. He's almost always the last one down, and first one up." Micky reminded them, digging into the bag they'd brought to grab his magazine, trying to hide his own concern. "He probably just had too much on his mind last night. You know how he gets. We just need to let him rest whenever he can as long as he can right now."

Pete considered that a moment, then nodded. "Yeah, you're probably right. He has been through an awful lot lately. First getting so sick and everything, and now this."

"Guess it's just all catching up to him," Davy sighed, unconvinced. He glanced from Mike to the other two as he grabbed his equestrian magazine and took a seat beside the bed. "You guys can go grab something from the commissary if you like. I'll stay with him."

Peter shook his head, removing Mike's guitar from his hands as gently as he could and setting it aside for him next to the oxygen tanks with the breathing mask attached. His brow furrowed as he looked at those tanks. Had they been there before? "I'm good." He answered Davy absently, settling into a chair on Mike's other side and picking back up the comic book he'd brought. "I had two bowls of cereal before we came."

"Which reminds me, we're out of Rice Krispies," Davy informed Micky, pointing with his magazine for emphasis before turning his gaze back to its pages.

"Remind me when we head home tonight and we'll swing by the store," Micky nodded, rising and setting his Rolling Stone aside. "I'm hungry again, though," he stuck his tongue out at the over-exaggerated expressions of shock and mocking "No! Really?'s' that both shot in his direction. "Cute, guys. Real cute. Be right back."

Micky was about to step out when a matronly nurse came in with a heated blanket in her hands. He stopped to watch as she checked Mike's IV quickly, took his pulse, laying the back of her hand against his forehead, and took his blood pressure, nodding to herself before noting it in the chart. She then set about swapping Mike's blanket out with the heated one, all the while remaining mindful not to wake him. "Don't mind me, boys. It was time to check in on him, and I just thought he might be ready for another one of these while I was at it," she smiled at them. She finished carefully swapping out the blanket covering the sleeping boy for the nicely heated one she'd carried in as she continued. "Paige took great care of him after all of that craziness last night, but he was still a bit shocky this morning when I came on. No surprise after all of that, I suppose. Poor thing. Don't worry, though. They've got us all peeking in on him more often now. Though I can't imagine any of us wouldn't have done it on our own even if we hadn't been told to, to be honest." She finished smoothing the blanket down, patting Mike's shoulder gently. "Poor dear. I'd hate to think what would have happened to him if Paige hadn't noticed that open door. "

All three boys looked at her as if they were completely lost. "What do you mean?" Pete finally asked for them, though he wasn't sure he wanted to hear the answer. Incidences that caused people to refer to someone as a 'poor dear' weren't usually good ones.

"Oh my," the nurse groaned. "I've….he didn't …oh dear. " She knew from their stunned expressions that her assumption that he'd have told him was wrong. No matter how much she thought they ought to know, though, she wasn't about to tell them if her patient didn't want them told. "You know…just…forget I was here. " With that she quickly bustled out of the room.

Peter just sat there with his mouth open, staring in her wake. What had all that been about?

Micky shook his head as he reached out and closed Pete's mouth then looked from him to Davy. "Alright boys." He addressed them in his best 'British Brigadier General' voice, "The way I see it, we have no choice. At the desk out there are at least four probable targets. It's time to deploy our secret weapon."

"What's that?" Pete asked, frowning. He didn't remember bringing in any weapons.

"Are you ready, Jones?" Micky inquired in a faux British accent.

"I am, sir," Davy stood up and saluted. "I shall gather the required intelligence and return or die!"

"But Davy, I don't want you to die!" Peter blurted out, clearly not following the meaning behind their conversation.

"Bring back some extra for Pete," Micky groaned, waving Davy off and ignoring the look Peter shot at him as he turned back toward Mike. Once again, it surprised him how Peter could be so surprisingly insightful some of the time and yet so unbelievable thick at others.

Davy returned to the room a little while later, his expression troubled despite the fact that he was tucking someone's phone number into his pocket. He moved to Mike's bedside, making certain that Mike was still out, and gently lifted the sleeve of the hospital gown Mike wore, tearing up at the sight of the bruises that stood out starkly on pale skin. Quietly, he filled the other two in on the return of Mike's Uncle Robert then asked as he sank back into his chair. "How long do you suppose he's planning on waiting before he tells us about this?"

"Best guess? I'd say forever," Micky answered, leaning dejectedly against the wall. "He was just going to smile and play his guitar and pretend everything was okay. Again."

Peter looked pained. "Maybe he just thought that since it wasn't Louis…"

"If it had been Louis he'd have killed Mike before anyone noticed the open door." Davy spat angrily, though he couldn't quite sort out whether he was angrier at Mike's uncle for what he did or at Mike himself for not telling them it happened. "I don't care what Mike' says, we can't let him risk that."

"And he can't risk any of us getting caught in the line of fire," Micky interrupted, trying to help all of them, including himself, understand why Mike would decide to keep something so big a secret from them again. He realized even as he said it that, though, that understanding why he did it didn't make it bother him any less. "It's like he said to Peter yesterday. If Louis shows up, he'll probably show up armed."

"Exactly my point," Davy pressed on, his anger mounting and his voice beginning to rise, prompting Pete to shush him, pointing at Mike with a disapproving glare. Davy drew a slow, deep breath then continued more quietly despite the growing desperation in his voice, "If he shows up here armed and Mike's alone, we're going to lose him, and I can't..." Davy's voice grew thick with emotion and the young Brit looked away as he admitted quietly, "I can't do that, okay?"

"None of us can," Peter agreed, his eyes fixed firmly upon the comic in his lap. He was more afraid than he wanted to admit, but he didn't know what to do. Somehow, there didn't seem to be an answer that kept them all safe.

"If he shows up here armed and Mike's not alone, do you think that will stop him from shooting? Even if a security guard could get here in time to save most of us," Micky looked at Davy seriously, hating himself for playing devil's advocate, but seeing no real way to avoid it. "Do you think Mike could stand seeing even one of us gunned down in front of him? Remember what he told us about when he was a kid. Do you think he'd ever willingly risk that again?"

"So what are we supposed to do, then? Just let Louis have him? " Davy looked ready to scream in frustration, though he forced himself not to. "Does all that make it fair to ask us to just stand aside and let anyone who wants a clear shot at him have it? I mean, look at his arms, Micky. Did you notice the bruises when you came in, because I didn't? He's too good at hiding things from us, and I'm not okay with that anymore, are you?"

"Of course not! None of this is okay, okay? Not any of it. I hate it as much as you do. And I hoped he wouldn't think he had to keep secrets anymore, but does it really surprise me? " Micky answered in disbelief. How could Davy even ask him that? "He thinks he's supposed to be protecting us, remember?"

"It's because nobody protected him back then. He's always had to handle it alone." Peter sighed, looking at the others.

"But he's not alone," Davy insisted. Clearing his throat, he reminded the others, "He hasn't been alone for four years now. I've lived with him four years now, and you guys - we've been all of us together for nearly two. How is that alone?"

"Right. He hasn't been alone. Instead he's been Papa Nez to all of us." Micky pointed out. "We find new ways to get us all into trouble and he finds new ways to get us out of it. You don't think that wears on him sometimes? You don't think he might still feel like it's all on his shoulders? He might still feel kind of alone in it all."

"We just have to find a way to make him really understand that has changed." Peter reminded them, surprisingly becoming the voice of reason.

"If he doesn't understand after four years together that he's not in this alone, I don't see how we're going to make him understand it now." Davy said sadly, feeling as if he'd failed his friend somehow. "I always thought it didn't matter who finds the trouble and who finds the way out, it's still all of us together. All in, and all out. Together."

"You're right, Davy. All in, all out. And right now, he's the one in trouble, and we're the ones who have to find the way out. All together. We're just going to have to put our foot down." Micky said after a moment's thought. "He may be our leader, but he's not in charge right now. Not until he's back on his feet."

"Right," Peter agreed readily.

Davy nodded as well. "Agreed. We're in charge, and as long as we're in charge, nobody gets in here again."

"So…um…I don't suppose whoever you talked to out there told you what they did with his uncle?" Micky asked Davy, his eyes glued to their sleeping friend. He wasn't sure that one wouldn't come back armed given another chance after what he did last night. Could they really stand up to two armed enemies if it came to it?

"They arrested him last night," Davy answered, causing Micky to breathe a sigh of relief. "The girl at the desk said that there were enough witnesses that Mike won't even have to testify against him if he doesn't want to. He still shouldn't be able to get near anyone again for a long time."

Micky nodded, "Well there's that, at least."

Mike shifted slightly, groaning, and the room grew silent, all eyes on their friend. He woke then, his eyes flying open, pure terror registering in them.

"Mike?" Peter inquired softly, not touching him for fear of startling him before he was fully awake. "you okay?"

"mmhmm..." Mike forced himself to breathe and relax, realizing where he was and who was there with him. Quickly, his features assumed his normal stoic mask. "Yeah. Fine. Sorry. Guess I dozed off on ya."

Peter exchanged a look with the other two, uncertain what they should say. Finally, Pete just placed a hand gently on Mike's shoulder and replied. "Um…that's okay, Mike. You're supposed to be resting, right?"

Mike almost smiled. "Yeah…guess so." He blew out a breath and looked from one friend to another. "What'd I miss?"

As if by some unspoken agreement, all three of his friends evaded the question.

"Just…reading…" Davy replied, holding up his magazine. Glancing at the other two, he continued, "Oh. Your nurse brought you another heated blanket while you slept. She seemed to think you might still be a little...what was it she said, guys? Shocky? Anyway, she thought you might need it."

"They're very attentive today, aren't they?" Micky prompted, hoping Mike would take the bait and tell them about the previous night on his own.

Mike shrugged noncommittally. "Yeah, I guess they are," he answered before looking around for his Gretch, thinking it might be a good idea to change the subject. Not seeing it, he frowned. "Where's my guitar?" he asked at last.

"I put it next to the oxygen tanks." Peter replied, thinking that mentioning that they'd noticed them might prod Mike a little and get him talking. "The ones with the face mask, there by the head of your bed. I don't remember those being here yesterday."

"Me either," Mike admitted, though he didn't bother elaborating. Instead, he asked calmly, "Don't suppose you can hand that to me, could you, babe?"

"I'll grab it for you." Davy began. When Mike smiled, he added, "And I will trade it to you. You get the guitar, and we get a few less secrets."

Mike looked stunned. "Secrets?" he asked cautiously. "What kind of secrets?"

"What kind you got?" Micky asked, fixing Mike with a curious stare. Were there more than just this one?

"Let's start with what we missed last night and go from there," Davy said, holding the Gretch just out of Michael's reach.

Peter shook his head in disbelief. Did they really have to do it this way? Making Mike feel cornered was almost never the right way to go if you didn't want him angry at you. Besides, it felt too much like ganging up on him for Peter's comfort.

"Start with what you already know," Mike sighed, rubbing the bridge of his nose as if warding off a headache. "We'll work back from there, I guess."

"Oh, you guess that, do you?" Davy asked, anger and frustration building again. Why wouldn't he just talk to them? Why couldn't he ever just trust them?

"Look, what do you want me to say," Mike finally asked, closing his eyes, his teeth clenched with the effort to contain his emotions. "It wasn't exactly a peaceful night, is that what you want to hear? Okay, short version, things got kinda ugly and I got to movin' more around that I ought to have, popped a few stitches and ended up spendin' the rest of the night and early mornin' being fussed over and feelin' a little less comfortable than I was before. Then y'all got here and things seemed better until I fell asleep and woke up to this. Good enough? Now can I please have my guitar?"

"Let's try the long version now," Davy pressed, unable to believe Mike was still trying to make it all out like the whole night was no big deal. When Mike just shook his head and remained silent, Davy exploded, "Dammit, Michael, this isn't fair. We're supposed to be in this together, all of us, a team. We tell you everything. There isn't one detail of me growing up to coming here to the states you don't know. Same with Peter and Micky. You could probably write the book on us. And when we need help, no matter how big or small the problem seems, we always come to you and let you help us. We let you stand up for us and keep us safe. Why can't you let us do that for you? That's part of the deal, right?" Davy stood and began to pace in frustration, " We can't keep doing this. You kept how sick you were from us until it got so bad we could have lost you. For three days we watched over you and took care of you because you didn't give us a chance to help you before it got that bad. You kept what you knew about Maria's husband from us until it exploded. Six hours, Mike. We waited in that waiting room six hours not knowing if you were going to live or not. And when the doctor came out, he was…he was just covered in …" Tears streamed down his cheeks and wiped at them angrily. "Then we come in this morning and you're laying there pale and tired and you seem worse than you were yesterday and all you tell us is 'nobody sleeps well in a hospital'. You deliberately kept the truth from us, again. You don't think we might have wanted to know that someone came and tried to drag you out of here? He knew it could kill you and tried to do it anyway. Maybe that's even what he wanted it to do. He definitely wanted to hurt you, either way." He held up a finger to forestall whatever comment Mike may have considered, "You want to start with what we know? Fine…here's what we know. Here's what you should have told us instead of avoiding it this morning. He came here and dragged you up, holding you as tight as he could while you struggled against him, getting weaker and weaker until you finally passed out because of the pain or because you couldn't get enough air or both. Your stitches came undone during all of that, and he still didn't let you go. He kept on holding you so tight you couldn't get enough air and letting you bleed while he argued with the nurse and the security guard, because he was still trying to take you out of here. When they finally got you away from him, they had to put you on oxygen and treat you for shock and they were afraid you might be bleeding internally again. They're all still watching you so closely now so that they might be able to catch it if they missed something all because of what he did to you. Don't you get it, Mike? They're still not sure what he did won't …" He looked down, trying to gather himself, but once again held up a finger, indicating it still wasn't yet Mike's turn to talk. Not until he was done. "He hurt you because nobody was here to stop him, and you didn't tell us that. You're still trying to protect us, from being hurt or being upset or even just being tired, okay, we get it, except it doesn't work that way and you need to just stop." His voice broke as he looked at Mike, not trying to hide the tears, "I need you to just stop. You have to stop keeping things from me, because…because this hurts, Mike…" He choked out the last words. Peter put his arms around Davy in an effort to comfort him, his hazel eyes fixed on Michael, who lay there in stunned silence.

"He's right, Mike." Micky agreed, putting a hand on Davy's shoulder in an effort to comfort their youngest. "You're killing yourself trying to protect…what? Us? We're not the ones who need protecting right now. You are. This isn't helping us. Seeing you hurt…it's killing us, Mike. Maybe if you focused on protecting yourself…maybe even letting us help for a change…that would help us. All of us. Including you."

Mike just nodded, unable to find his voice in that moment. When he knew he could speak clearly again, he said softly, "I'm sorry, Tiny. All of you. I didn't think…I just…I thought I was…" he hated the fact that when he needed them the most, words evaded him, forcing him to once again stumble through in an effort to make his thoughts and feelings understood. " Just bear with me here, guys, please? I'm not sure…I mean, I trust you all, I swear I do, I'm just…I haven't …I don't know how to do this…okay?"

"Don't worry, Michael," Peter smiled, willing to let him off the hook even if the others weren't. "We'll be here to talk you through it from now on."

"All of us," Micky added.

"That's right," Davy agreed after a moment. "We'll all be right here, because I'm not leaving you alone again. Got it?"

Mike nodded, his eyes bright. "Got it, Tiny," He agreed, willing to say or do just about anything in that moment to stop the tears and make them all feel whole again.

In the doorway, the inspector cleared his throat. "I hate to break up this little lovefest you've all got going on, but I've got a few a questions for your friend, boys, if you'll just wait outside."

The tiny Brit took hold of Mike's hand then tightly enough to make the lanky Texan wince. Prying Davy's hand loose, Mike set it back down on his arm and patted it gently, sighing. "They're all fine where they are. Go on and ask your questions."

"Alright, Nishwash," the inspector began. "If you're sure."

"Nesmith," Mike corrected automatically.

"Right. Why don't you start by filling me in on your real relationship with Louis Sandoval's wife? Maybe tell us your real connection to the Sandoval drug family?" the inspector smirked. "Keeping in mind, of course, your uncle has already told us the truth."

"My uncle wouldn't know the truth if it strolled up and bit him on the leg," Mike snorted, then gasped, his hand going protectively to his side.

"We already told you what happened, "Micky reminded the inspector, moving quickly to his friend's side. He reached for the nurse's button, only to find Mike blocking his hand, shaking his head.

"It's fine, Mick." Mike swallowed hard. Quietly, he answered the inspector. "I met Maria and Lucy 'bout a month ago. Maria missed her bus, it was rainin', I took her home, met Lucy then. I started teachin' Lucy guitar. We became friends. She told me about her husband during that time, but I never met him 'fore the other night when he showed up with a gun, aimin' it at the little one's head."

"So you didn't know them before. While you were in Texas?" the inspector asked, looking as if he was ready to pounce.

Mike shook his head. "No sir. Far as I know they ain't never been to Texas. Least wise Maria never mentioned it."

"According to your uncle you dropped out of school and ran away to work with the Sandovals." The inspector said with a grin. "He says you were helping them bring their drugs into the United States before you ran off with Sandoval's wife after she got pregnant with your child."

Mike smirked, his brows shooting up beneath the swoop of raven hair threatening to fall into his eyes. "He said all that, did he?" He asked the inspector. "And when did we all come to California, then, 'cordin' to him? "

"He said you ran toward San Antonio Texas six years ago, and brought Maria to California four years ago when you got her pregnant. So, would you care to amend your statement now?" the inspector replied smugly, certain he'd caught a drug trafficker red handed.

Mike rolled his eyes. "I ran off six years ago to get away from happenin's like last night. Uncle Robert ain't never been a fan and it ain't the first time he decided to remind me of it. And I ain't been to San Antone since I was six." He told the inspector. "I came up this way when I left home. Found the beach house and convinced Mister Babbitt to rent it to me. Him and my Aunt Kate and prob'ly half the tenants still living 'round there can vouch for that. It was just me. No woman. Davy moved in two years after when I needed to take on a roommate. Still no woman. Also easily confirmed by Mr. Babbitt and the neighbors. Not quite two years later Pete and Micky moved in, too. Easy enough to prove. Neighbors, Babbitt. They can also tell you when Maria moved in, most likely. Also, Lucy just turned six. Not four. So much for my uncle's 'truth'."

The inspector looked angry, though he recovered quickly. "Alright. I'll check on all of that. Meanwhile, why don't we go over how you ended up getting shot."

"Alright, let's do that," Mike agreed, though he seemed to already be running out of steam. Davy remained where he was, his hand on Mike's. Micky and Peter each moved closer, placing their hands on Mike's shoulders supportively. "Maria's friend Rosalie came to the house lookin' for help…"

"Your friends. They weren't there with you?" the inspector asked, already looking for ways to punch holes in his story, preferring the elder Nesmith's version as it meant a bigger bust.

"They were playin' a gig at Antonelli's," Mike answered. "I was home alone when she came poundin' on the door lookin' for someone to …"

"Why weren't you with them? I thought you were part of the band." The inspector inquired, thinking he may have found the flaw in their story.

"Been sick," Mike answered wearily. "wasn't supposed to go anywhere. Didn't plan on it, either, but what was I gonna do when Rosalie came over all panicked."

"Why didn't you just call the police?" the inspector asked, his eyes narrowing.

Micky chimed in then, "Rosalie did, then brought us to where he was right after the gig. She told us in the car, though, that your dispatcher said she'd send someone as soon as you had a squad car free, since domestic disturbances weren't a priority. If Mike had waited on one of your cars to get free to get over there Lucy and Maria would have been dead!"

"You don't know that, now, do you boy? Maybe the situation wouldn't have escalated if your friend here hadn't got in the middle of it all." The inspector offered with a smirk.

"Now just hold up a minute. You're skippin' over a few important details here. He was wavin' a gun around and pointin' it at a six year old. You're suggestin' I should have just waited for someone to get there when they felt like it," Mike demanded in disbelief. "By the time you guys showed up he'd already split. He could have killed them both and bolted by that time if nobody did anything. I couldn't let that happen. I wasn't gonna just stand by and let him kill them."

Peter squeezed Mike's shoulder gently to show him he understood and agreed. "He did the right thing." He said aloud as well.

The inspector considered that a moment, then asked. "Okay. So we'll accept that, for now, everyone's story but your uncle's match up on that issue. I imagine we'll find out more when we find Sandoval. Meanwhile, let's talk about last night."

Mike looked at each of his friends, then sighed. "I was just startin' to doze off, finally, when he got there. I, um…I kept my eyes…closed…so he'd think I was still sleepin'."

"How'd you know he was there if your eyes were closed?" the inspector asked, not sure how that was plausible.

"Hard to miss." Mike answered, his eyes closed as he spoke. "It's that smell of stale sweat and Old Spice and Jim Beam and chewing tobacco. Same smell he's always had."

"I see," the inspector nodded, having noticed the rather unpleasant blend of smells himself while interrogating the man. "Go on."

"He started out taking my arm. Shaking it. Talking to himself, or me, or …who knows. It was the same stuff he always said, reminding me how much he hates me and why. " Mike went on quietly, trying to keep his voice dispassionate, though his friends could hear the underlying pain there. "When I didn't react he punched my shoulder. Hard. Sort of gave myself away after that."

Micky looked at Pete, whose eyes were already starting to mist up. He reached over with his free hand and patted the blonde's arm. Davy's gaze, however, remained fixed on their fallen friend.

"then?" the inspector prodded impatiently.

"He told me to get up. I refused. He dragged me out of bed," Mike answered automatically, still trying for a calm he didn't feel, if only for the sake of the other three listening. "He wrapped me in a bear hug, just tightened up 'till I couldn't breathe 'n held on 'till I passed out." He tried to forget the way the pain ripped through him when his uncle pulled him into his arms. He didn't mention that his uncle had learned to grab him from behind so he couldn't aim a head butt or a knee up as he used to, finding ways to fight back even though his arms were immobilize, the hard way. Indeed, this had always been a favorite punishment from his uncle, as it left his prey helpless, giving him complete power and control. Focus on the simple facts, he reminded himself. "Can't tell you much past that. I know the nurse and a guard got me away from him, but I'm not sure how. Next I really know, it's mornin'. I'm bundled up in warm blankets. I've got new stitches, and a new nurse. That's it." He blew out a slow breath, determined to hold it together. Falling apart now was just not an option, he thought as he desperately fought for some thread of control to cling to. He was surprised, then, when each of his friends squeezed his arm gently. He gazed up at each in turn, then nodded in answer to their unspoken question. He was going to be just fine.

The inspector nodded. Again, the story pretty much fell in line with the testimony he'd already been given from all but the uncle himself. "Alright, then. I'll come back if I need anything else." He turned then and left, focusing only on the job, leaving the comforting of the young guitarist to those who actually gave a damn.