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This story is No. 4 in the series "Fraternity". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: Dana let out a breathy sob, the tears finally spilling. The least she owed Bobby was the benefit of the doubt that he was possibly right and wasn't losing touch with reality. She, at least, could accept asking to see...Xander...

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Television > Law and Order
Television > X-Files, The
AngelfirenzeFR1817,778032,11217 May 1017 May 10Yes
Lapsed
By Angelfirenze

Disclaimer: Carter, Whedon, and Wolf own all. Except for the miscellaneous characters mentioned from various Buffyverse AU novelizations. Golden and Holder likely own anything I reference.

The Decemberists. "The Engine Driver.". Hush, Rough Trade, 2005. Lifehouse. "Someone Else's Song.". Dreamworks, Geffen, 2005.

Transcription of 'Five By Five' from AtS, 1.18, from BuffyWorld.com

Summary: Dana let out a breathy sob, the tears finally spilling. The least she owed Bobby was the benefit of the doubt that he was possibly right and wasn't losing touch with reality. She, at least, could accept asking to see...Xander on a webcam and meeting him face to face.

Timeline: Part Four in the 'Fraternity' series, because -- apparently -- this story's not finished with me, either. Post-The Book of Fours by Nancy Holder, the AU novel that takes place during the third season of Buffy. Post-The X-Files complete canon. Note (a): While this takes place in the Season Eight time frame and, actually, the real-life one -- nothing in Season Eight has happened. This continues to be AU.

Notes: I've been watching CI from the first episode onward. So many clues they probably built upon. Damn them.

Lapsed

Bobby felt his gut clench as he read the single line of Scully's return email:

ARE YOU FUCKING CRAZY?

He tried to breathe, tried to remember what he'd been forced to tell her and that if she wasn't in shock and disbelief she would never flippantly question his sanity because she knew him, knew how he'd grown up, knew his greatest fear, and wouldn't take any of this lightly.

But, again, she, he, and Xander were all in the same boat. There wasn't a choice for any of this and for the thousandth time, Bobby cursed Mark Ford Brady and damned him to Hell as best as he could. Preferably one of the ones with a lot of torture and rendering of body parts.

But, for now, Bobby simply tried to hold in his anguish and his tears and simply forced himself to type out a reply, failing somewhat as he had to stop several times to gather himself and try to get the words out before his nerve failed him completely.

Scully,

Dana. No. Please, do you really think I'd say anything like that, even bring it up if I thought for a moment it was a hoax or


Bobby bit his lip, trying to breathe around the horror that had suffused him since he'd gotten the results from Willow. Xander, himself, had his own plate full because he'd chosen tonight to tell his family -- their family, Xander insisted -- about their biological father and take their reactions as they were.

Bobby had offered to go with him, but Xander had insisted this was something he'd needed to do on his own because Bobby would become a distraction and, besides, Bobby still had Dana's reply to respond to and Xander couldn't bring himself to do so, what with having never met Dana or worked in their fields, even if they'd ended up in similar situations way too often for anyone's liking.

Xander hadn't admitted that he felt Bobby had gotten the easier job, what with having the choice of email, but Bobby could tell what his little brother was thinking anyway. Xander wasn't at all good at hiding his feelings like Angel and his son, Connor, were -- for instance.

Buffy was another very good example, but Bobby was allowing himself to get off the point and that wasn't a good thing. The longer he took to get this out, the worse it was going to be in the long run.

or a prank of some kind, that I would even bring it to your attention, much less torture you with something like this.

You know me better than that, Dana. You're my friend, I'm Mulder's friend. We don't do this to one another -- not even Doggett or Reyes, Follmer -- not even Krycek would do something like this. Before you asked, I checked with Willow Rosenberg, the woman who did the extremely in-depth testing and hacking, Krycek is not, nor has that rat bastard ever been related to either of us.

Dana, please. Please -- I'm not asking you to trust me about this, that'd be an impossible request to make of you, but I can promise that I would never hurt you this way if I...God, Dana, I just couldn't do this to you.


Bobby had to back away from the glowing screen before him and lay his head down in his arms, sobbing almost as hard as he had when Alex died.

Wiping his face on his sleeve when the torrent had abated, Bobby returned to his email and forced himself to finish. He found new reasons every single day to hate Mark Ford Brady, to be thankful his name was 'Goren' instead. This was yet another, just more to add to an agonizingly long list.

He fired off this latest knife in Dana's back and forced himself to simply sit at the computer and wait for her reply. If it took forever, he'd wait in the library until then.

The only obligations he would fulfill was to the Slayers he was being asked to train and to Xander and/or Dana, nothing and no one else.

...Take my hand for tender, I am tortured -- ever tortured...

Scully sat in her office, in the corner on the floor, staring up at the emails Bobby Goren had sent her over the past day and a half. She wanted to rail and scream and call him a liar, but...when she'd called her mother from one of the untraceable cell phones Bobby had sent herself and Mulder in the mail the previous week, they'd finally admitted she was adopted.

They'd decided not to tell her, nor Bill, Melissa, or anyone else that Dana, herself, was adopted. It certainly had explained some...

Scully clenched her eyes shut, forcing herself not to sob aloud. She forced them back open and bit her lip as she stared at the open message on her computer screen.

She did know Bobby, know that unlike his older brother, Frank, he'd never do anything like this -- take advantage of her emotions or her sense of pity to...to what? He had to know how much this was going to hurt, he'd gone through it first. Scully had consoled him, herself, as he'd talked to herself and Mulder about it after Alex's death only a few short months ago.

He honestly believed what he was telling her about their parentage, that their biological father was a serial killer named Mark Ford Brady and that they had a younger brother from the now-destroyed town of Sunnydale in California named Alexander Harris.

Bobby had done some extensive profiling of the bastard since he'd gotten his and -- Bobby had said the youngest's name wasn't what he went by, that everyone called him 'Xander' and that he'd been born in September 1980, nineteen years and a month and some days after Bobby, himself, and around sixteen years and seven months after herself -- his brother's results back and added it to what he'd already deduced about the son of a bitch.

That Brady preferred a pattern of devoutly religious women and girls, followed by lapsed believers of both sexes. He'd definitely had an obsession with the idea of the purity of women, defiling them, and then finding men or boys who'd gone against all of that and forcing them to 'atone' for their (his, really) 'crimes'.

Normal human beings to play Jesus for him.

God, she realized, if Mulder's own fathers hadn't been so obsessed with him, he might have fit Brady's own profile and suffered the fate of who knew how many men and women?

She could only be thankful that, from what Bobby said in what Dana was certain was a terribly difficult email for him to write, that Teena Mulder had been saved by her own flaws. Her infidelity to Bill Mulder with CGB Spender keeping her from suffering the same fate as...possibly Dana's own biological mother.

God...

Dana felt her stomach clench and honestly hoped she didn't vomit but, at the same time, almost couldn't care if she did.

She was already angry with herself for taking that cheap shot at Bobby's sanity, what with knowing his worries about it. The least she owed him was to...

Dana let out a breathy sob, the tears finally spilling. The least she owed Bobby was the benefit of the doubt that he was possibly right and wasn't losing touch with reality. She, at least, could accept asking to see...Xander on a webcam and meeting him face to face.

Sighing shakily, Dana began writing another more recalcitrant email, apologizing for calling him crazy and asking if it was possible that Alexander -- Xander, Bobby had specified that Xander didn't answer to his full name. She could only guess why at the moment, but that wasn't what was important.

Sniffling unconsciously as tears began to cloud her eyes, Dana wrote her reply and then pulled out her oh-so-useful phone to call Mulder.

Wiping her face with the back of her hand, she tried her hardest to regain some composure before Mulder could pick up the phone. As always, however, Mulder snatched it up before the second ring had finished, her name an urgent gasp of concern on his lips.

"Scully..."

***

Bobby lay on his back on one of the tables in the library, awaiting both Dana's second response and Xander's return. Breathing deeply with his eyes closed, he remembered what now seemed an age or more ago when Alex would have tapped his foot to get his attention or Deakins would have jarred him out of his jumbled ball of thought/string -- this scenario leading to that one, his mind detached from his body as he thought his way through who did what with whom -- and asked him if he had any glaring insights (he distinctly remembers Deakins asking him about that with the Van Acker case very early on)...

Bobby sat up abruptly and trained his eye on the ceiling. Exhaling carefully, he pulled out his cross, shield of St. Michael, and Alex's shield, and blinked as his eyes stung.

Was he praying? Yes, he was. Alex had said -- it was during the St. Justin's case -- that the Catholic Church would have loved to baptize him and he'd told her they'd've been too late. He was lapsed. She should have known, she'd said.

So what now? What now, when the words, the Expiation -- begging God to help him...help him what? He was so confused, but the words kept coming and he muttered them dutifully, his mind taking him back to the confessional booth and his white robes over black, the incense and olive oil, the simply clean smell of the church, itself, that was different from a hospital in that it cleaned the soul and not the body.

He prayed and forgot the room around him as he toed off his shoes and brought his legs up underneath his chin.

"...Full of -- "

Bobby's eyes snapped open as he realized he wasn't alone, his hand going to his gun before he realized it and raising it, cocking it and aiming it at -- Angel.

Angel, who gave it a contemplative look before bringing eyes that matched Bobby and Xander's own in color if not pain. He realized he'd never be able to truly contemplate the burden the Champion had to live with -- that they all did -- but that wasn't a salient point at this time.

Slowly, Bobby lowered his gun, knowing perfectly well it'd have no effect on the very old vampire, much less have any use at all. Demons weren't felled by bullets anyway, but this one he wouldn't shoot, regardless. This one -- and Spike -- wanted so dearly to pay for his sins.

Who would Bobby be to even attempt to deny him the chance, even if Angel, himself, felt that an impossible goal. The only reason Buffy didn't object to his gun in the first place was its sentimental value and because he swore never to even aim at anyone on their side of things.

Bobby swallowed and forced himself to watch Angel mirroring his movements, even as they burned him and thin wisps of the pungent smoke of the damned curled off of him as though he'd just returned from the fires of Hell, themselves.

"O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins, because I dread the loss of Heaven, and the pains of Hell; but most of all because I love Thee, my God, Who art all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life. Amen." they said in unison, performing the sign of the cross and Bobby kissing the cross his mother had given him and Angel miming doing the same with an invisible cross.

Intent must mean more than Bobby had ever known because when Angel pulled his hands away from his mouth, all were blistered and burned.

Bobby blinked, tears falling from his eyes and he pulled out his handkerchief to wipe them away. "You've always believed," he whispered, taking in Angel's pained face. "Even when you were soulless -- the whole point of your anger, your emptiness -- you've been in Hell your whole life. It's where you think you'll always belong.

"You don't know why they brought you back, but you think that because they were forces of darkness that they've been preparing you for something. And you think that because you betrayed God in such ways -- that you deserve whatever they've got to throw at you."

Bobby was profiling Angel, he knew it. He never intended to, at times like these. He'd even profiled Mark Ford Brady, in the moments after Brady had revealed what he had. He didn't need to profile his mother. Forty, plus, years of doing so rendered that irrelevant.

Angel's already pale face was death incarnate, but he nodded regardless. "Yes," was all he said in response. "May God forgive me."

Bobby bit his lip, knowing Angel didn't expect anything of the sort. "My...my stepfather was Jewish..."

"Your surname," Angel agreed quietly and Bobby nodded tracing his fingers along Alex's shield and asking both her and God to help him through this, for her to be God's sword in his hand.

"My mother was a devout Catholic, though...I was, once. Once upon a time, God was my only friend. I attended services regularly because it was like getting -- getting to speak to..."

"A confidante," Angel whispered. Bobby nodded, more tears coming to his eyes. Angel understood completely.

"I even attended synagogue a few times with my -- stepfather...that was...I don't know how to describe it. I used to believe that God was...intangible. I could touch this table, lean against a wall, see through the darkness when my mother had another psychotic break -- she, uh -- "

But Angel only nodded and instantly Bobby froze.

"When they returned your soul..."

Angel's own eyes closed, remembering. "I remember speaking to Darla..." His voice was but a faint whisper, but in the overwhelmingly silent library, Bobby could hear it clearly. He had an Irish brogue -- it was faint, but it was there. "She thought I was playing some sort o' game. We've drunk and killed fer how long now? 140-odd years. We've drunk them all up an' they're all dead...Funny. Ye would think with all the - people I've maimed - an' killed I wouldn' be able ter remember every - single - one."

"Angel!" Bobby snapped, recognizing a break with reality with long-practiced ease and trying to coax Angel back to the present. He'd told Alex he'd had lots of practice, after all.

Angel blinked and swallowed convulsively. "Thank you."

Bobby sniffled, shaking his head slightly. "It's...it's what I do. You're lost because Buffy's not here right now. Giles had to go to Lithuania with her and you can't bear to go anywhere near there, so you stayed here. But its proximity. It's digging up old memories for you, whether you like it or not and Buffy's not here to keep you grounded."

Angel blinked some more, tears of his own trailing down his face. Bobby tried not to flinch when he noticed they were bloody. "It's...been a long time since I've had...trouble...staying grounded, as you say. But ever since Buffy and I...became whatever we are -- "

"Acolytes -- angels, for lack of a better term."

Angel ignored the interruption, only nodded, "I...when I'm not around her, it's...sometimes it's like I'm in hell again -- sometimes it's like when I first received my soul...sometimes it's like when my father and I fought and I tried so hard to be the son he wanted, but I couldn't because I didn't even know what that was.

"He expected so little of me -- why rise above that? Buffy says -- and the Powers, apparently, before her -- through other channels -- that I did a long time ago...but I can never seem to agree. I can, sometimes, when I have a plan and everything depends on me doing what I always thought I was supposed to -- die in that alley...but then I don't and I'm confused all over again. I keep having to find my way and no one's ever going to give me directions. The Powers are just a choir of angels...they're not..."

Bobby nodded, able through -- as he'd said -- long hours and years of practice to divine what Angel was truly trying to say. "You keep getting lost and without your Slayer, you can't remember your reasons to find the right way."

Angel shuddered, "You don't know me...why do you know me?"

Bobby laughed emptily, "For one, I've read about you -- what you became after the demon evicted your soul from your body and took over. Plus, I've heard so many things about what you became afterward -- they're not in the archives, of course, because the old Watchers had no idea. Your souled self is almost purely legend except that we're both standing here.

"For two, my mother was paranoid schizophrenic and aside from my brothers -- I had an older brother named Francis, he was murdered -- you're the only one I plan to tell that and only because it's important. Spike didn't have to deal with nearly as much as you. To come back from that took appalling strength of character and -- please let me finish."

Angel had been on the verge of interrupting Bobby, but reluctantly pursed his lips, more tears -- clear this time -- falling from his eyes even as he forced himself not to malign his own body and actions.

"And say nothing of the fact that you've already been to Hell and back, you've sacrificed more than almost anyone we know to save the two people you love more than anything on Earth. It's hard for you to see any of that and what's funny to me is that if Alex were here she'd probably be trying to tell me the exact same thing.

"My younger brother may have helped to damn you again, but I assure you I will never do the same. I...what right would I have? If you didn't deserve to be an angel, your name would be just a..."

Bobby tilted his head and considered Angel, clearly imagining the wings this being likely had to those who could truly see...

"Your name is not a joke. It's a title. I know you've only just met me and that you and my brother have a long, sordid past of betrayal on his part and you thinking you deserve it so why complain...but..."

Bobby gritted his teeth slightly and steeled himself. "The only two people who ever called me by my full name were my mother and stepfather. Well, four. My priest, when we went to Mass -- the rabbi when my father took me and my older brother to synagogue infrequently. Xander and I have an agreement about only using our nicknames, but -- that -- that doesn't seem right here. It doesn't feel right. I can't explain it. You don't feel like a demon to me -- "

Angel darted forward before Bobby could say anything else, his game face fully apparent, his eyes glowing golden and a growl in his throat.

Bobby breathed deeply and concentrated on the fear he could feel emanating from Angel despite the menace he attempted -- and did to a great extent -- to exude. It was as if Bobby could see himself in this ancient being, everything he was afraid he'd become within his own mind right before him.

"You're schizophrenia and dissociative identity disorder made manifest," Bobby breathed softly, unwilling to flinch away from Angel or give any other credence to the doubts and fear that poured off this man in waves so thick Bobby thought he could feel them rippling through his clothing like wind. He breathed deeply. "And I'm not afraid of you because I know perfectly well that you would never hurt me. Most -- "

Angel backed away, his human countenance slamming back onto his face in expression of shock and disbelief. Bobby ignored it and continued.

"Most schizophrenics aren't violent -- " he'd said this all before. "Sometimes you are."

He'd never said this part, it had never applied...

"Only to protect those you love -- even your demon, Angelus, he would die before he'd allow The Slayer to come to harm. She belongs to him, he feels, just as the same is true for you and Buffy. You and Connor, your only son. No matter how many times you tell either of them that you need to die, they won't just let you. One of them will always be there and both will always know when something has happened to you, just as you do for them."

"You're not a normal human," Angel breathed falsely, his eyes wide as he looked Bobby up and down and Bobby forced himself not to fidget under the scrutiny.

"I never was. I'm the son of a serial killer and rapist, even though I never knew it. I have two siblings because of that monster, one of whom you know extremely well."

"Xander told us earlier," Angel sighed, blinking again, still trying to get an understanding of this stranger and becoming frustrated when he couldn't. "He -- Xander said his name was -- "

"Mark Ford Brady," Bobby ground out, his hands fisting at his sides.

"You met him before he was executed. You worry you're like him -- like my Other..."

"I have reason, don't I?"

"No," Angel snapped, flinging his hands outward. "You just said as much to me. Why would anything be any different for someone who's only ever tried to help people?"

Bobby raised an eyebrow and Angel gave a dark laugh, narrowing his eyes, "Look at me."

Bobby was terribly tempted to disobey, but the sudden tingling on his chest caused him to look down. His cross and shields were tugging forward toward Angel, a tiny yank then release, then the same again.

"How are you doing that?" Bobby asked, not taking his eyes off his lifelines.

"That's not me," Angel denied calmly. "I can do some magick, but I'm not a warlock or a sorcerer. I'm just a balancing demon, mental disorder made flesh as you were so able to point out."

"No. You're an angel and an acolyte of God and..." Bobby petered off when he realized what was happening. Finally, he gave in following his cross and shields until he and Angel were but a foot apart.

Angel frowned before his face became one of surprise again. "You're a Seer."

"What?" Bobby froze, blinking yet and still.

"You're a Seer, like me -- like...Drusilla. Caleb called Xander The One Who Sees, but -- it was...you're way more powerful than he is. You can See without even thinking about it. Like her and..."

"Like you?" Bobby asked, his voice trembling now. "Is that a good or a bad thing?"

Angel chuckled now, casting a glance downward at the floor beneath them. "I really wouldn't know. I recall -- things have happened, sent us to alternate realities and I can't help but remember those things and times no matter how much it'd probably help me to forget...but that's my...curse? Gift? I can't forget, I'll never forget. I couldn't even...well, I want to, but I don't...I don't know. The point is I recall Cordelia sent us to an alternate reality once where Doyle -- I assume you know who he is?"

At Bobby's reluctant nod, Angel gave his own, though far more affirmative. "I received the visions, myself, when he died. When a Seer sees too much, becomes too mired in what has happened, what could happen -- what will..."

Bobby's eyes widened in astonishment, "You were driven insane -- you developed the illness you represent."

Angel gave Bobby a mixture of a smile and a frown. "I remember it so clearly -- I even remember when I went to another of the Acolytes -- they didn't have mortal bodies, these -- and tried to beg them to give me the visions because I'd be strong enough to hold them and Cordelia...they were killing her. She truly wasn't -- wasn't strong enough, in body, though her mind and soul were ironclad, I'll tell you that. It wasn't her fault, but bearing them was her choice.

"I tried to make it mine, but they refused. It had to be her choice. She decided, as a compromise, she'd become part demon to hold the visions and keep them from destroying her from the inside out. Unfortunately, no one knew what demon decided she'd share her body with it. Everything in me blames me for her pain, for my son's pain -- but his mother, she was my Sire...she came back to this plane -- Darla shares Connor's soul to this day...she finally reminded me what my name means. And, true to it, I've never been able to stray from it."

"You're Irish -- the Irish traditionally gave very literal names."

Angel nodded. "Protector." Angel gave a lost sort of chuckle. "I can't not, even when I try -- sooner or later...Just like Buffy can't just stop being the Slayer. We've both tried to run away from what we were supposed to do. I allowed a Thesulac demon to destroy a hotel full of people because someone I'd trusted betrayed me and -- well, the result doesn't matter, I got everyone else killed.

"Buffy was given the choice between believing everything that's happened to her was real or a hallucination, a dream. She chose the latter. This is after she quit, twice. Her birth name was 'Elizabeth' and even though it was legally changed, she's still..."

"God's promise," Bobby breathed out. "You're still a Protector...I...wait, Robert means 'bright...'" Bobby ran a reluctant hand through his hair. "Oh, God, my name means 'bright fame'. Anyone in the City, sorry, New York would tell you...even if they didn't like me, they never disputed my solves. And I'm famous for them, no matter how uncomfortable that makes me." Bobby moaned slightly before giving his head a slight shake and moving onward, "Okay, Xander's name -- 'Alexander' means -- "

"Hey, wait -- what?"

Xander was striding toward the both of them when Angel and Bobby turned back to the doorway to the library, which seemed to be the place they met most often now.

"We're just talking about destiny, little brother," Bobby said quietly, still thinking hard. "So far, our mothers didn't know they were being so accurate -- well, Angel's mother did. The Irish name their children very pointedly. I'm pretty sure I was named after Senator Robert Kennedy, Sr., though. But your mother and Buffy's -- well, Willow was raised Jewish and still practices privately even now, from what I can tell...I'm getting away from my point."

"Yeah, I'd noticed," Xander complained, glaring at Angel, who met his with a stony one of his own. "Deadb -- "

"I thought you were trying to change," Bobby snapped, then, ducking in front of Xander and blocking Angel from his view. Bobby and Xander had exchanged childhood and adolescent stories at great length and Xander, himself, had said himself that his behavior was out of line, so this reversion to type stung more than a little.

Xander froze, his mouth tipping open and his eye widening slightly, before he backed away from Bobby a bit and stared.

"I..." Xander sank slightly, his shoulders slumping even as he frowned in resentment. "See, this is the problem with a big brother -- and, apparently, sister, though --he -- she thinks you're one stick short of a popsicle -- popping up out of nowhere and saying you're supposed to be all kinds of family! They think they can just show up and start telling you what to do!"

Bobby stood silently, his face blank except for his eyes, which were burning with anger. "Fine."

Without another word, Bobby turned and walked into the stacks, from which Xander could hear him grabbing a particularly thick-sounding tome and settling down heavily on the floor.

Xander turned to Angel, expecting something along the same lines -- for some reason, it wasn't like he didn't know what Angel would do, which was exactly what he did. Angel sighed, frowned darkly at Xander, and then left the library, the only sound he made being the doors opening and swinging shut.

Xander blinked, wondering where in the hells that had all come from. Bobby hadn't been anything but infinitely patient with him --

Angel, too, now that he very reluctantly thought about it -- and treated him with both care and respect and...

"Bobby!" Xander called loudly, ignoring the glare some Junior Watcher directed at him and waited for Bobby to possibly respond. There was only silence. He started to run over to the stacks, but something in him halted his movement.

Shuddering even as he tried to breathe deeply, Xander placed his hands on his knees as he clamped his eyes shut, trying not to start crying again. Fuck, it was so different now when you knew damned well that whatever transpired had been your fault and yours alone. He could totally understand Buffy's urge to run away after sending Angel to Hell now.

Only that had been his fault, too.

Everyone had been very good at hiding their freaked-out'ed-ness the night before last when he'd gathered Giles, Buffy, Willow -- again -- Dawn, and Andrew, and told them about who his biological father had been, how Bobby had told him and the tests they'd had Willow run.

The fact that they apparently had a sister, too, and that Bobby knew her personally, but was, himself, freaked out by the idea of her -- Dana, being his sister. That she'd worked for the FBI and been involved in some pretty fucked up shit that totally rivaled the goings-on in Sunnydale. That he and Bobby had emailed her and hopefully she wouldn't think they were out of their trees.

But Xander hadn't missed their ill-ease when walking past him. The only ones who hadn't been were Buffy and Dawn -- what right did The Slayer or The Key have to get all freaked out just because his biological father was a murderer and a rapist?

"Hello, family is family," Dawn had said, her voice muffled through the hug she gave him. "And that bastard wasn't your family. None of them were. It's the ones you choose. Bobby is and Dr. Scully might be."

"Giles -- "

"Is freaked out because he's being reminded of his past," Buffy had said very softly. "He'll get over it and maybe even apologize to Bobby for being such a prick when trying to recruit him. Now don't screw this up or I'll kick your ass, Sergeant Hyena."

The serious tone in her voice and her reminder of other secrets he hadn't been nearly so quick to divulge -- "at least you're learning", Andrew had said in what would have been a cheerful voice if he hadn't been shaking almost imperceptibly -- had made him swallow and put him right on the path of returning here and getting things settled in some way with his big sister and brother.

And yet, here he'd done just that. Xander forced himself not to succumb to the urge to follow Angel out of the library and, instead, stationed himself in front of a computer, where he saw an email blinking with the words BOBBY AND -- APPARENTLY, XANDER....

Xander took a deep breath, wiping his sighted eye with the back of his hand, and clicked the envelope, opening Gmail in Firefox.

He was momentarily distracted by the arguments he remembered Willow having with her other AV Club buddies about Mac versus PC and, later on, fun-spirited debates between herself and Oz about the merits of Mozilla Firefox versus Internet Explorer. He'd never heard them get really geeked out about it, but apparently Bobby also preferred Firefox and Gmail and he was about to find out whatever the hell program it was.

Somehow, knowing where his big brother stood on the matter was both comforting and incredibly...well, the weight in his chest was only getting bigger, it seemed.

Xander grit his teeth. There wasn't anything left to do, that he could do, but click it. So why the hell was that so hard?

...Am I hiding behind my doubts or are they hiding behind me...Closer to finding out it doesn't mean anything...I remind myself of somebody else...

Bobby pressed his face into his knees, surprised at the sheer hurt he was feeling right now and not even able to discern why. It wasn't like any of this was new. It wasn't as if any of it should have come as some sort of surprise. People didn't change overnight, he -- of all people -- should know that.

So why did he feel so angry? He even was angry with himself for snapping so waspishly at Xander, whom he knew had been very set in a certain pattern for over two decades, nearly three -- it wasn't like he could just turn off a switch and be a newer, possibly better person at the drop of a hat.

Bobby unfolded the crinkled handkerchief in his hand and wiped his face with it, taking a deep breath and concentrating on staring at the German on the pages in the book he'd chosen. With the IWC's unlimited resources he could not only speak it now, but read it, as well as several other languages.

But he couldn't read this book because his eyes kept clouding over with tears.

I've never seen you this upset, Alex's voice said in his head and Bobby's breath hitched as she appeared before him, glowing ethereally. She wasn't wearing a hospital gown and bandages or her dress blues, the way she had the last two times he'd seen her. Instead, she looked the way she did in most of his memories, but her face looked saddened.

For him.

Bobby's eyes widened as this iridescent Alex squatted down in front of him and sighed, "You knew this wasn't going to be an easy road, Goren, and no -- before you think it, no one else can see me right now because out of everyone here, I only mattered to you. If we were at home, things might be different.

"I know about the talk you just had with Angel and you need to take some of your own advice sometimes because it's usually really good, you big dope. That one time with the body shots is probably the only time I'd say you were wrong, but only because our heads felt like they were going to split open all day at work the next day. God, hangovers -- don't miss those."

Alex bit her lip and trailed a finger down the tie she had to know he was wearing just for her. "I do miss your body, though."

Bobby licked his lips and stared at Alex's finger, expecting to wake up any moment with wet sheets, but Alex rolled her eyes. "Is sex all men think about -- okay, you want to know something? When you were talking to your idiot baby brother there, you were totally right. When I said it was 'too late', it was too late because you were in every fiber of me, Goren, and I in you and there wasn't anything but -- this -- "

And here Alex gestured to herself and Bobby felt his eyes close as a sob threatened again because he knew she meant death. But then a cool breath was thisclose to his face and Bobby's eyes shot open again only to find Alex sitting back and smirking. "I need your attention right, front, and center, Bright Boy -- glad to know what 'Robert' finally means, by the way -- and I aim to keep it. The only thing that was going to tear us apart was this -- not some vengeful perp, not idiotic bureaucracy, not our asshole colleagues or that even bigger asshole Ross...'til death do us part, Bobby Goren.

"We may have only done it once and it may have been the result of a drunken, overdone mishap of a night, but I don't regret it for a second. Because you made me happy. You will always make me happy. I died happy because you were my last thought and I want you to know that. I want you to know that you were the reason I got up at the crack of 'why the hell am I awake' to go to some crime scene in the middle of 'holy hell, this damned traffic' to watch you poke around with bodies and...just be you.

"And I'll still be there, when you're training these girls to be the best Slayers they can be and live as long as they can because no one deserves an early death because some mystical force decided to give them a job they did or didn't want. And I know what you're about to say -- "

Ethereal!Alex gently pressed an incorporeal finger to his mouth before wiping his wet face again and giving him a kiss on each cheek that dried his face within moments. "And had that drunken mishap of a night developed into something...beautiful and breathtaking, with ten fingers and ten toes and an IQ higher than the temperature at the earth's core -- shush -- "

Alex bit her grin back at Bobby's almost!correction and plowed onward. "And if things had gone the way they might have if...we couldn't have been partners anymore, then maybe we could have at least been parents and, you know what? Mark Ford Brady can burn in Hell. Is, as a matter of fact. I know you wouldn't want a front row seat, but at least tell Dana and Xander that. Give them some peace. Put their suspicions to rest.

"Also, tell your jackass little brother what his name means. The little jerk needs to learn to listen. But don't worry, he will -- in time. For now, just do what you've been doing and be patient. It's what you're good at -- besides creeping out green detectives and CSU techs."

Before Bobby could stop himself he was rolling his eyes but then he caught Alex's words before.

"We...you weren't joking? We had..."

Alex bit her lip again, nodding, and Bobby felt his insides drop out. "It's not fair," he heard himself saying before he could stop himself. Then he bit out, "Of course it's not fucking fair. It's life. If life were fucking fair, I wouldn't eve -- "

"If you finish that sentence, I will make sure The Slayer gives you a nice haircut with her Scythe."

Bobby was stupefied at the frigid, completely truthful tone of Alex's voice. "Don't you dare, Robert Goren. Don't. You. Dare."

Bobby shuddered again, this time his wide eyes trying to convey everything he felt to Alex without words. She seemed to know anyway.

Sure enough, tears slipped out of her eyes and disappeared before his own. "I didn't want us to get married."

Alex gave him a small smiled, nodding, "I know. It would have taken us away from each other. Most don't understand that and it's okay, because we have those that do."

Bobby sighed, "Frank didn't tell me I was an uncle. I...I feel spiteful. If -- if things had turned out the way you say and we'd had a baby, then would I have told him?"

They both knew the answer before Bobby finished his eyes' trek upward from Alex's hand on his. "You would have told Donnie's mother, you would have let Donnie see his cousin. Let Michael meet his cousin-brother. You certainly would have told your mom."

Bobby snorted, "I told Dale Van Acker that she hated all my girlfriends but she didn't kill any of them because she wanted me to be happy. She...she thought you were my girlfriend, you know. She never believed that we worked together. 'That Alexandra's far too pretty to be a policewoman...'"

Bobby was biting back laughter now, though tears still came and Alex wasn't bothering to hide her own grin. "Score one for me..."

"Has anyone ever told you you're smug?"

"Says Detective Bobby Goren!" Alex said incredulously. "You and Fin would wipe the floor playing ball with Lewis and he'd beg me to be on his team instead of Mulder because half the time Mulder kept feeling you and Lewis up even though it earned him a personal foul every time. Fin threatened to shoot him after that first time..."

Bobby rubbed his hand over his mouth, smothering his own laugh. "I have a brother in law...who's sexually attracted to me, that's...that's -- "

"Life. Just be happy you get to see the look on his face when he realizes it'd be wrong to like you anymore..."

"Aw, Alex, it'll break his heart."

"Mulder has Dana with his greedy ass. She should toss him to the curb."

"Not gonna happen. How'd...how'd you coming here and us talking -- how did that turn into who likes who and how who likes which is now a social taboo who happen?"

"Dear God, classic Goren sentence, there. You're lucky I know you so well. Because, like I just told you, Bobby -- that's life."

...Never been so lonely, never felt so good...Can't be the only one misunderstood...

Bobby's eyes snapped open and he found himself asleep against the shelves, the book he'd been reading across his chest. He whimpered, immediately bringing his hand to his mouth and stifling yet another sob.

"God, I miss you, Alex. Van Acker called Lois his bunny...what do I call you?"

I'm sure you'll think of something. You always do, genius.

Bobby slowly got to his feet and gently closed the book before leaving the stacks to find Xander hunched over a computer, reading what he assumed was Dana's reply.

"Does she still -- "

"I'm sorry," Xander interrupted, shoving himself away from the terminal, his face pale and his hands fidgeting by his sides. "If you want to be friends with Angel, that's none of my business and I'm an adult and should act like one and recognize him for the Champion he is instead of the villain I want him to be."

Bobby blinked, "Wow. Uh, thanks. Is that Dana's reply?"

Xander exhaled and nodded, gesturing grandly at the chair they'd each vacated. Bobby slid in front of the computer and quickly read through the email.

"She wants to meet me," Xander said nervously, despite the fact that Bobby could read her words for himself. "I -- what if she decides I'm an idiot and -- "

"Will you shut up with that?" Bobby said calmly, though his patience was beginning to fray. "You were an A student all through your high school career, Xander. You were in AP classes with Willow and Buffy and while the two of you weren't up to Willow's own performance, you never dropped below A's in normal classes. You're not stupid and I don't want to hear that out of your mouth ever again, is that clear?"

Xander blinked, "But -- but I didn't even get accepted to -- "

"You didn't apply, numbnuts," Bobby said shortly, figuring adopting a militarial attitude was the only way Xander was truly going to listen. "You don't know what you would have done. Buffy applied to the one that was closest to the Hellmouth because it was practical and convenient.

"Willow and Oz accepted UC Sunnydale for the same reason. But you gave up on yourself before you even got out of the gate and I'll tell you right now, if you continue with this 'I'm a moron' attitude, you're going to get treated like one, is that clear?"

Bobby finished off his minor tirade with as good a glare as he could give and Xander froze, air audibly sucked into his lungs even from where he stood several feet away. "Yes...I'm not calling you 'sir'."

Bobby rolled his eyes. "That's not necessary. I'm not your C.O. If anybody is, it's Giles, but that's not the point. I did tell Dana you were only going to be here for a short period of time -- "

"Actually, I, uh, took some time off -- or, well, Buffy commanded me to. She said 'no buts'. But I'll be here for another month."

Bobby took that into consideration before revising his own reply, apparently, and finally sending the email.

"From the looks of it," Bobby said, finally turning all the way around. "Buffy sent Dana an email, herself, offering to escort both she and Mulder here by plane and everything else will be settled when they get here. But you knew that, so tell me what you're upset about now."

Xander fiddled with the lapel of his shirt before giving Bobby a lost look of his own, "I've never been an uncle before. And...um, Dana had a daughter and a son? And...I mean, I know you probably won't like it, but I went over to see if you were willing to talk to me, but you were asleep and you were muttering. Well, not even muttering. It was pretty clear you were talking to...to Alex-Who-Was-Basically-My-Sister-In-Law. And that's not even weird, let me tell you. But the point is that...okay, let me just say this before I chicken out. Did you guys sleep together one night and she got pregnant?"

Yep, still an A+ in AP Babbling.

Now it was Bobby's turn to inhale forcefully, feeling the blood drain from his body and pool in his shoes. "Apparently," he whispered.

Xander ran a hand through his hair, glancing away from Bobby's distress before nodding, "Okay. Okay. Um -- our niece, ah, Dana mentioned her -- what was her name?"

"Emily," Bobby whispered again, his mouth twitching and his eyes blinking back yet more tears. It seemed that was all he'd done lately, but he didn't want it to end because he didn't want to go back to feeling nothing like he had when he was suspended. Never again.

"A-and our nephew -- his name?"

"His name is -- was -- might still be -- William -- it was Mulder, Jr. He should be about ten now. He was in foster care the last time I saw him because it was too dangerous for either he or his parents to be together."

"You look doubtful."

"Well, I have resources now. I have a couple of nephews to find and Willow said she'd help, but this...I don't know what takes precedence, but the fact that Dana hasn't even met you means something."

Xander nodded, "Well, then, let's go to work."

And, with that, slowly, the brothers left the library for Bobby's apartment.

END

The End

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