Vito lifted his head as Bo walked into the room. “Hey.”
“Hello. What’re you doing awake?” Bo asked, head cocked to the side.
“I’ve got a mission I’m supposed to run tomorrow morning. Was supposed to be me and Ti. Is that…? What now?”
Bo lowered himself into the chair across the room. “What do you define as ‘tomorrow morning’?”
Bo looked down at his watch. “Where’s the mission?”
“I wish you’d have relayed that to me sooner. Six hours to go.”
Vito offered a smile that would’ve worked on anyone but Bo. Bo unfortunately only had the hots for his husband. “I had a hard time admitting to myself that Ti wouldn’t be good to go in time for the mission.”
That, however, was the key. Bo’s expression softened. “I’ll call Carmine and see what he thinks our best option is.” He pushed himself back to his feet and tugged his beanie down. “Stay here.”
“Sure thing, dude, sir.”
Bo snorted, a faint smile coming to his face. He only shook his head before leaving the room again.
Vito let out a breath, gaze shifting back to his brother’s sleeping form. Tito had been in and out most of the day, more aware sometimes than others. On more than one occasion, he had asked where their parents were, as if there was any damn reason to believe they would’ve made their way to one the Lucchese’s secret bases. Like that made sense. Vito did his best to cut him slack, but that had never been a strong suit of his. Most things had never been a strong suit of Vito’s. He’d long since lost the understanding part of himself, the ‘cut him some slack’ part of himself.
The human part of himself, really.
“The mission’s still on, and Carmine believes it’s best if you still run it.”
Vito lifted his head. Bo stood a good foot or two away from Tito’s bed, arms crossed over his chest. “What’s that look for?”
“A, I think it’s stupid, but it isn’t my place to dictate if you go or not, not when the mission is outside of my jurisdiction in Los Angeles. And B, I’m going with you, and that’s not what I had planned for tomorrow,” Bo said.
“You and me, running a mission together? That’s a good one.”
“I won’t be torturing anyone with you, and I won’t entertain any of your unnecessary prolongings. You will kill the man, and that will be that.”
“Yeah, okay, Dad.” Vito could joke around if he wanted, but he wouldn’t betray a direct order from Bo. Jamal would kick his ass for pulling something like that. ‘Pitman by heart’ forever assigned his loyalty to Jamal, and in turn, it assigned his loyalty to Bo, regardless of how much of a smartass he wanted to be. “When do we leave?”
“As soon as you’re ready. Mekhi will be staying here with your brother.”
“You’re… not bringing him with?”
Bo shook his head. “I need to know Tito’s safe. He’s not in a position to defend himself. You, however, are. You’re in a position to defend us both if need be.”
“So I gotta cover both our asses?”
Bo snorted. “Vi, I know how to shoot a gun. I know how to defend myself. I’m there to cover your ass. I’m there to make sure you are safe and that you follow the rules. Don’t worry about me.”
“I don’t need you protecting me.”
The blonde raised an eyebrow in that ‘you’ve officially crossed a line’ way he had mastered. “I’ve protected you every damn day for the last two fucking years, Vito. If you would like me to stop, I’ll reassign Katalina to your case so she can finally arrest you and make it big in the homicide department.”
Vito held up both hands before dropping them back to his lap. “Sorry, Bo. My filter still isn’t the best.”
“There’s been no improvement in said ‘filter’ since I met you,” Bo said, his voice soft rather than accusatory. “It’s another something you need to work on, especially the macho, ‘don’t need nothin’ from no one’ part of your filter.”
“I know.” Vito grabbed his gun from the arm of his chair and stood up. “Don’t even know where to start with fixing it,” he mumbled, shoving his gun into its holster.
“Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer to that. There’s no single guaranteed solution, either.”
“Yeah.” Vito reached down and squeezed Tito’s arm. “Back in a bit, brother,” he whispered. He followed Bo out of the safe house, arms crossed over his chest. “I’ve been like this for as long as I can remember.”
“Which part of ‘like this’ are we discussing?” Bo asked.
“Lack of a filter, the overly macho shit, the angry outbursts. Shit like that.”
“You and your brother had it rough for your first few years of life. Even after Jamal took you both in, you were dealing with your parents being in jail, going through trial, being convicted… It’s a lot to deal with, an dI know school wasn’t kind to you, either.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Bo glanced up at him before stopping at the car and pulling open the driver’s side door. “How about you try rephrasing and re-toning that if you want an answer?”
Vito yanked open the passenger door. Bo raised a brow at him. “What do you mean by that?” Vito finally asked.
“The rumors spread about Jamal would have made it hard for any child being raised by him. Kids are cruel, and if their parents knew about Jamal’s rumored mafia affairs, their kids did too. And that means it was taken out on the both of you.” Bo nodded toward the car and slid into the seat.
After letting out a long breath, Vito did the same. “So what?”
“So, it’s no surprise you developed a defense mechanism. The overt display of confidence. The quickness to judge everything as being an insult. If put through enough abuse of any degree, humans develop mechanisms to prevent themselves from being put through it again, mechanisms to protect themselves from that sort of harm. You’re no different in that sense.”
“It’s not a defense mechanism. That’s for—”
“I’m going to remind you that I have many defense mechanisms before you choose if you’d like to finish that sentence or not.”
Vito was thankful for the reminder. He didn’t need the blow to his ego that was Bo kicking his ass.
“Your big and tough exterior doesn’t make you immune to being a human being, Vito. I imagine there are far more people who have developed at least one defense mechanism at some point in their life than there are people who have not. It isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of what other people are capable of doing to us. Cruelty, abuse, abandonment, violence–whether you want to admit it or not, they affect us on a level that’s still not entirely within our understanding.”
Vito crossed his arms over his chest, slumping back in his seat. “So I’m fucked up because we were in foster care? Because our birth mom gave us up? Because I was bullied? Because that doesn’t make sense. Tito is and was everything I am, and he’s… Well, he’s not anything like me.”
“I was afraid of that.”
Bo offered a nod, glancing over at him before taking a left. “The mechanisms we develop and the way we turn out in life aren’t things that are only determined by the trauma we experienced. It’s determined by the degree of it. It’s determined by how we processed it. It’s determined by who forced that trauma onto his. There are a lot of factors in the world that all relate to who we are as people, and any number of them could have been just different enough between you and Tito that one of you is… someone who enjoys this, and the other is someone who maybe doesn’t.”
“Tito enjoys this life just fine,” Vito said.
“I’m not referring specifically to that. I’m referring to the way I’ve been told your eyes light up only when you kill another human being.”
“Ah.” Vito nodded. “Yeah, we’re definitely different there.”
“You know, if you’re truly interested in maybe learning a little more about all this, I can set you up with my psychiatrist. He’s in Minnesota, of course, but it’s not—”
“And why’s that?”
“I don’t need some quack playing around in my head,” Vito said.
“Therapy isn’t the weakness you most likely see it as, Vito. Therapy does a lot of good for a lot of people, and if you’re half as conflicted as you let on to me, it could really do you some good. You deserve answers to all those questions swimming around in your brain, and with a ‘quack’, you’d have doctor-patient confidentiality.”
“Yeah, long as I’m not a danger to society.” Vito gestured back at himself. “I am a walking danger to society.”
“That’s a bit harsh, even for you. You aren’t stalking random civilians. You aren’t killing random civilians. You’re only… you’re only killing those you’re told to, people who have wronged your family, people who are generally monsters.” A pause. “And for what it’s worth, Gabriel’s not exactly your average ‘quack’. He knows what I do with this family, Vi. It’s what I pay him for.”
Vito looked over at the short blonde. “Damn, you really are New Pitman, huh?”
Bo offered a smile that looked more tired than Vito’d ever seen it. “I’m certainly doing my best to be.”
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