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It was one of those things you never really put much thought into until it smacked you in the face. All the crime dramas on T.V. had nothing on the real thing; cop coffee tasted like chalk from a drain pipe. It didn't matter how much sugar you added to it, nothing could get rid of the total lack of anything tasty about it. Of course that didn't stop me from downing the whole thing--when you get dragged by your ear downtown in the middle of the night, even a cup of sludge was a welcome boost of caffeine.

I'd never worn cuffs before--well, nothing that another guy put on, anyway--and made a show of rubbing my wrists when they finally came off. Some short little brunette, who I was pretty sure was actually a woman, shoved me down in a metal folding chair that creaked a little too suspiciously for my taste. The cup of would-be coffee was slammed down in front of me and she was out as quickly as she had entered, leaving me in the box.

Now, I wasn't claustrophobic by any means, but a solid room with no windows was enough to make anyone feel like a prisoner. It didn't matter if I deserved it or not--which I did--it was the principle of the thing, you know? If they wanted my cooperation, a little breeze would have been nice. I knew that the mirror in front of me only posed to be one from my end. This would be a party for a voyeur.

So it was just me, my styrofoam cup of muddy water, and my thoughts; the latter of the group definitely wasn't invited. It was like that friend who somehow found every party you went to even if you did your best to never mention a thing. That feeling of dread as they waved at you from across the room, you ducked your head and pretend you don't see, but inevitably had to offer a 'Hey, Brian!' with a fake grin. You hoped you could ditch them somewhere, but you were still stuck with them until then. That was me and the topics I knew I didn't want to bridge, having made a point of not thinking about them for years.

That was the point of leaving, wasn't it?

I threw my feet up on the table, letting the dirt from my boots collect on the metal as I reclined back in the chair, pushing it on its back two legs. I'd always wondered if I would finally get busted, but this honestly wasn't the way I'd imagined it. Getting thrown out of a poker game was one thing, but to get arrested by my own brother? Screwed up was an understatement. I hadn't seen him in years, but that was how I wanted it.

So much for that.

With a sigh, I stretched my arms over my head, trying my best to look bored. If anything, I sure wasn't going to give all the badges on the other side of the two-way get the impression they had me on anything. Considering I just happened to be at the scene, I figured they didn't.

I took a gulp of the coffee and immediately regretted my decision. They thought gambling was a crime? Whoever manufactured this crap was pulling one over on a lot more people than I ever had. Where was the justice in that?

Waving to the mirror, I motioned someone--anyone--forward. "Coffee's kind of stale, chief. Got any sugar or honey?"

The creak of the door signaled the impending doom, but nothing could beat a good verbal lashing from kin.

"I figured we would save the sugar for when you try and sweet-talk your way out of this," Vergil said, "but if you want to use your lifeline as an attempt to ameliorate the poor excuse for coffee you were given I'll see what I can scare up for you."

Ahh, Vergil. He was always so good at reminding me that I was the black sheep of the family. The fact that he couldn't even face me head-on was just annoying, but I had been pretty good at faking it. I could feel him draw closer behind me, his shoes clicking heavily on the floor as he all but paced like an impatient parent past the back of my chair. It was some sort of inherent intimidation tactic by law enforcement, I was sure, but he would have to do a lot more than that to get a rise out of me.

At least he agreed that the coffee sucked.

I tilted my head and leaned back further in the chair, resting my hands on my chest. He looked just as cranky upside down.

I grinned. "How about a kiss for your little brother?"

The look on his face was priceless. That same disapproving scowl I'd seen when he saw that the week's grocery list had been forgotten in lieu of a floor to ceiling stereo system for the living room drew his eyebrows forward. He was older--we both were--but the narrowing of his eyes and the slight twitch of deep-seated resentment at the right corner of his mouth were just the same.

He did me the favor of breaking my observation when he kicked the feet out from under my chair. I'd taken a lot of hits in my day, but having your back slam into the solid cement floor only to have your fall broken by rusty steel wasn't a pleasant experience. Pain shot through my shoulders as I glared upward to see Vergil moving to the other end of the table.

Yeah, get out of the line of fire. He knew I was a better shot, anyway.

"And here I thought we were dropping the formalities." I rolled off to the side, straightening up my metallic savior of a chair and plopping back down. It hurt like hell, but I didn't want him to think he had the upper hand in anything.

"I hardly think there's anything formal about hanging out with loan sharks and prostitutes," he said plainly, "but you always did have a significantly lower bar for these things." My eyes narrowed at that, but I didn't drop the smile. "So I'll tell you what; I'll promise to cut out any future formalities if you'll cut the crap and answer my questions like a good boy."

"Sorry, chief," I started, throwing my feet up on the table again. His brow twitched like before. "Afraid I don't have anything to say to overpaid, stuffy cops. I mean, what is that--a cravat? Since when'd we take a trip back to the 18th century?"

"Actually, it's an ascot."

Throwing my hands back behind my head, I nodded to the mirror. "How about that chick you were with? I've got a few things to say to her."

Vergil didn't even flinch. "Unfortunately for you, my partner has standards."

Neither did I. "Really? That's funny--why's she working with you, then?"

His hand hit the table with an audible smack, pokerface still intact. He had always been the serious, upstanding one: perfect grades, extremely punctual. His side of the room had been immaculate--hell, when we moved to Virginia, he'd put a strip of tape down the center of our bedroom to separate his side from mine. (I was pretty sure he'd given himself an extra inch or two, too.) The forever unmovable Vergil; but I knew how to get under his skin. It was a work in progress.

"Because it's her job," he said stiffly. "Not that you understand anything about being employed, judging by the state of your clothes and personal hygiene."

Now, that was just mean. I'd showered earlier that morning. Besides, finely pressed shirts and waistcoats said more about an outdated sense of style than good hygiene. I just liked my clothing to feel lived-in.

"Is that why you decided to throw your lot in with Wesker?" he asked.

I scoffed, dropping my hands to my lap. "I told you, I don't have anything to say." I wasn't stupid. He was my brother, estranged as he was, but he was still a cop. I didn't owe him anything and he didn't owe me jack in return.

He took a moment and we simply locked eyes. If it was a battle of wills, he ceded, but only so that he could pull forward a decidedly less painful-looking chair to sit in. (Where had that come from?) Leaning forward with his elbows on the table, he threaded his fingers together, giving me the perfect image of some hard-boiled cop, or whatever it was he figured he was. I looked away, knocking some dirt from the sole of one boot with the other.

"Nothing to say? After all these years?" I could feel his eyes narrow on me. "Well, what about Tony Redgrave? Does he have anything to say to me?" He tilted his head a little. "Surely he isn't carrying around your filial grudges."

I rolled my head lazily towards him. That was a name he shouldn't have known--someone must have snitched me out in another room. Great. Well, sometimes the police knowing who you were and not being able to do a single thing about it raised a bit of notoriety in some of the circles I frequented.

"Sounds like you know everything, don't you?" I dropped my own feet from the table this time, instead copying his posture but not mirroring his scowl. I smirked. "Then I'm sure you know that it's hard to get information from a guy that doesn't exist."

That brow twitch came back, though I couldn't tell if it was the pain of an incoming headache or simple contempt for my lack of cooperation.

"It is pretty hard to get information from a guy who doesn't exist..." he said. "Sometimes I feel like that's all my job consists of, you know?" Oh, a sob story. That was a new angle from him. Vergil gestured to the window, then the door. I followed quietly with my eyes, but looked bored when they met his again. "Everyone I talk to has more than one name, everyone insists they have nothing to hide, nothing to say, nothing they can be held on."

Actually, it was pretty much the opposite, but he would never really understand. It was always the overwhelming fear and realization that they had something on you, but like hell anyone really wanted to sit and have tea with law enforcement. Cops were liars, everyone knew that, and they would tell you that they had evidence even if all they had was that bad coffee that was sitting sitting a few feet away from me. They acted like they knew, and we acted like we didn't--it was all part of the dance some liked to think should be called 'justice'.

I thought it was a pain.

He threaded his fingers together again as I crossed my arms. "So what's it like not to exist, Dante? You even fooled your big brother into thinking you were dead for five years."

Oh.

That was a blow that hit a little lower than it should have. Despite my best efforts, I could feel my own eyebrows raise at the admission, and his narrowing gaze wasn't helping any building discomfort. The air was suddenly thick with the stink of betrayal, but I wasn't going to let him win on that alone. I had no idea what he thought--even though it wasn't my intention to fake my death--but frankly, I didn't care. No, even on the nights that I found myself on the doorstep of our parent's house, I didn't care. Knowing full well that he was half a world away, going down the same path that he did, just for the sake of tradition or whatever it was he found in pouring over our father's old books. Yeah, I knew he was going even before graduation. Who left who?

It didn't matter at that point, anyway. I'd put that part of my life behind me. But that didn't stop him from twisting the proverbial knife when he could. I really couldn't blame him, though--I would have done the same thing.

"I bet you're just pleased as punch about that, aren't you?"

"I'm ecstatic." My voice was flat, eyes challenging his. I might as well have been dead. Dante Zavattoni was a name that had died with high school. He still existed, he just didn't do much of anything. I hunched my shoulders forward, closing the distance between us considerably; close enough to invade is overly large area of personal space, but far enough that he couldn't complain. "That's funny, though; at least Mom got a funeral."

The force he used to slam his fist into the table that time actually broke my grin, just for a second. Vergil shoved against the table, pushing himself back and scraping the uncovered feet of the chair against the floor. He was on his feet again, pacing. It wasn't the same domineering pacing he'd had when he walked in--it was nervous energy. I was getting to him.

"That requires a body, Dante," he said, his words almost clumsy. "I wasn't going to have a funeral for an empty coffin!"

And he was getting to me, too. Dammit.

"Guess that wouldn't go along with your perverted sense of justice, huh?" I knew that was kind of a jerk thing to say, but like hell was I going to have that conversation in an interrogation room. I was fed up with law enforcement in the recent years; the fact that they hadn't been able to name a single person or reason as to how or why Mom had been killed hadn't helped then, either. As far as I was concerned, justice was an ideal, nothing more. "Here I thought cops liked finishing up cases even if they got the wrong perp. You could've found someone else to fill in."

Vergil didn't waste a second. Standing next to me, he pointed sharply at the two-way mirror and hissed, "Mary, kill the speaker. Now."

Oh, I knew it was on, then. He was much closer than he would normally like to be, but I figured it was to make a point we both knew I wouldn't accept. He turned back to me and put his hands down on the table. I just stared him down.

"You always had more of a penchant for the perverse than I did," he said. "Contrary to popular belief, some cops actually do their jobs because they want to catch the right guy. Some of us leave case files open for years because we're looking for the right guy, but nobody ever hears about those cops, they only hear about the ones making the rest of us look bad."

I wrinkled my nose at his speech, picking some non-existant lint off my leather jacket. I didn't want a lecture, even if that's all he ever felt fit to provide. Boring.

"So, you bring down the infamous Wesker and hope to get brownie points sending anyone seen with him to the can, is that it?" In all honesty, Wesker wasn't worth a minute of time. He wasn't the reason I had been there; it was the money. The guy was a first class douchebag, the kind of guy you wanted to scrape off the bottom of your shoe before you stepped inside. I couldn't stand him, but I really wasn't in the position to turn down an opportunity to help lessen the debt bounty on my own head.

If they convicted him, then good for them. But I wasn't going to incriminate myself.

"I brought in the infamous Wesker because someone killed my captain, and we have reason to believe that he was involved in it somehow," Vergil said.

"Well, good luck to you." I was sticking to my guns, as they say, even though those had been confiscated. That part actually really pissed me off; the two girls I knew I could always trust were Ebony and Ivory. I knew every scratch, each bit of powder residue--I was going to know if they'd been tampered with. Even more reason for me to stay out of it, though Vergil wasn't going to understand. "But you can ask anyone and you'll know that Tony Redgrave isn't ready for a buddy-buddy relationship with the police or with Wesker. Get it?"

"I'm not after you, Dante. Believe it or not, not everything revolves around you." There was quite a bit of contempt hanging off that last statement, though he didn't bother to increase the distance between us. "To be honest, I would have been happy to keep on believing you were dead. Instead I'm saddled with the knowledge that my little brother is a complete delinquent dabbling in drugs, debauchery, and who knows what else?"

Against my better judgment, I had to just smile at that. What else indeed? Yeah, it was something I shouldn't have been proud of, but I was damn good at what I did, even if he was never going to see or understand it. In my own way, I did a much better job than he did, that was for sure.

"So why don't you make this a little easier on both of us and just tell me what you do know about Wesker, buddy-buddy or otherwise?"

I found an actual piece of lint on my jeans and picked it off. "What's in it for me, huh? So far all I've gotten out of this is a sore shoulder and coffee that I'll probably throw back up in an hour."

"Your inability to keep your stomach contents where they belong is your own prerogative." His deadpan would have almost been funny if I wasn't seriously under the threat of stomach poisoning. Maybe they did it on purpose. "If you're asking for a deal, however, I could tell you that keeping your nose clean works wonders for keeping you out of the NYPD's hair, but I've got the sneaking suspicion you wouldn't listen."

I didn't want to dignify that with a response, as they say, so instead I picked a chunk of earwax out with my pinkie, flicking it off to the side. Vergil almost looked pale for a moment, like it took him a lot of pain and effort to look away from the offending wax. He sighed.

"Fine, then. If you give me relevant information that I can use to pin Wesker to the wall--or, alternatively, point me in the direction of who is responsible for Jonathan Arkham's murder--you'll be fined for possession of unregistered weapons and you're off the hook."

I narrowed my eyes at that; no one blackmailed me with my own girls, least of all my own flesh and blood (what little was left of it). Vergil seemed to know he'd just gained the upper-hand and had no problem flaunting it in that too-subtle way he had. He straightened up, hands clasped behind his back. I just glared.

"If you'd rather be uncooperative, however," he went on, "I can drag this out for a nice long time and you can rot in jail as accessory to illegal gambling, grand larceny, and armed assault, all of which are open files that can be traced back to the location from which you were recovered."

I guessed that was what came back to bite you in the ass if you didn't do your work beforehand. He knew some sort of Super Supplements place was too good a hiding place; they always searched those first.

He had me. At least I was one to go down with a smile in style.

So that's what I did--I smiled. It wasn't amiable or pleased, or even remotely clenched, it was the textbook definition of a smile and not one anyone gave to someone they genuinely liked. He didn't return it.

"Wesker's a jerk," I said matter-of-factly, leaning back in the chair. He took out a little notebook (from where, I have no idea) and waited with pen in hand, taking a seat across from me. "This is the first time I met him in person, but everyone knows who he is. He's got more girls on his arm than a Persian Prince and enough cash up his ass to keep them all quiet."

I really didn't like the sound of the guy and face-to-face really hadn't changed it at all. But he had what I wanted; money. That was really all I could afford to care about.

"But as much of an asshole as he is, he's not the type of guy to dirty his hands--he's got too many connections for that. If you put out the money, anyone'll come." It was what ran the underground and, frankly, the rest of the world too. It was a sucky realization to come to, but that was how it went. I'd never been a good liar, anyway--I preferred to be an honest jerk. "If you're looking for a hit-man, might wanna make a lunch appointment near Gleason and Tayler. If he puts out a job, that's where he likes to meet them." I didn't feel bad ratting out any of these guys; they deserved to be caught. And to be honest? It'd lessen my own debt. But Vergil didn't need to know that.

I just really wanted my girls back.

I sat quietly, watching him with a frown as he finished crossing his T's and dotting the I's. When we were younger, I always told him he wrote like a girl--much too neatly. Somehow I doubted that had changed at all. Despite being forced into a corner, I felt okay over all.

That is, until he opened his mouth again.

"See, now... that wasn't so hard, was it?"

Oh, that was it. I'd done the dance, I played the stupid game, I drank the coffee, and there he went acting like I was five all over again. It never mattered how old we got; I was always the baby and he never let me forget it.

"Not hard at all," I said with a grin that I had to force into place. Elbow on the table, I rested my cheek on my knuckles, casting him a sidelong glance. He looked entirely too pleased with himself right then, the slight raise of his eyebrows and the lack of the normal worry lines told me so. I needed to take him off that pedestal. "Must be an easy job when you just threaten people to do the work for you."

That small smile of his faded; it was one of things you had to know him well enough to notice. "I don't believe I threatened you at all; I cut you a deal, didn't I? You were the one who chose to associate himself with criminals."

I snorted. "Some deal." As if I didn't have enough to pay off as it was. That was the only reason I got involved with guys like Wesker. Well, that and I did enjoy a game of poker now and then. "Yeah, you're right, I'm scum of the earth. But you know, I seem to remember my big brother flying over to Europe and cutting me off. At least these guys show me a good time."

Neutral went to angry in a nanosecond. He didn't raise his voice, but there was a rumble that wasn't normally there. "You really think that's what happened? You think I left and put a hold on the funds to punish you?" He was on his feet again, his arms folded. "Come on, Dante, I know you're not actually that stupid. I got a full scholarship to Oxford--the oldest university in the English-speaking world! You expected me to throw that away because you flunked half your courses and dropped out?"

Academics. That's all it ever seemed to be about. Books and grades and whatever glorified boner you could get from having a degree that said someone thought you knew something. What did a piece of paper like that show other than you spent a good portion of your prime years behind a desk, reading about the world instead of experiencing it for yourself? Not a thing. Not a damn thing.

I laughed.

"See! That's exactly it!" Slamming my hand down on the table, I pushed myself away, but didn't get up, instead taking to leaning back in the chair again. "High school was a waste of time--a waste of time. I didn't learn a thing other than sucking up is what gets a lot of people what they want." I shook my head, sending him a disappointed glare of my own. I was disappointed. I never went to his graduation, even though it was a year earlier than it should have been. People said I should have been proud.

But what was there to be proud of? Who was he showing off for? Anyone who would really care was dead. It was never about school for me. He never got that.

"Now, see, it's that hasty and irreverent attitude that always got you in trouble when we were kids." I rolled my eyes at that, he pointed the pen forward at me like a sword. "It wasn't a waste of time--look at you! Look at how far you've gotten without that useless education! You're a real model citizen, aren't you?"

Like hell I was a model citizen, but when was the last time he took a look around? One would think a cop was someone that would see the devil in every corner. He may not have known, but I was doing my fair share of justice, too.

"I didn't expect you to be a genius with a Ph.D or a first class detective--" Or whatever he called himself. "I expected you to be my brother."

He moved much more quickly than I could ever remember him moving. Suddenly the chair was on the ground and I was on my feet, eyes widening as a face that was much too similar to my own encompassed my vision. His fists were wrinkling my already wrinkled shirt, my shoulder making an unpleasant cracking noise as it hit the cinderblock wall. The Bad Cop routine really suited him, was what I wanted to say, but his expression cut me off.

Vergil rarely lost his cool; I could count the times throughout our childhood on one hand. But there he was, baring his teeth at me like a wolf, eyes practically seeing through me and to the wall. I felt hollow for a moment, but even when I went too far, I never backed down.

The silence between us dragged on, making seconds seem like lifetimes. I don't know why I didn't raise my hands back at him--maybe some part of me felt I deserved it.

For once emotions played out on his face without hesitation, subtle as usual. His brows twisted upward in what could simply be anger, but I knew that expression all too well; he was disappointed, upset, tired. I could handle that. It was when he turned like he couldn't look at me that really stuck. He let me go and spun around in a single motion.

"I could say the same thing for you," he said, his voice low and steely.

Ouch.

I tried in vain to smooth out my shirt, not at a loss for a sarcastic comeback, but I didn't toss one back. I was feeling generous. He opened the door and jerked a thumb over his shoulder back at me, addressing the person on the other side.

"Get this slimeball out of my sight. Fine him the $30K for two unregistered custom weapons, and cut him loose as soon as he pays it."

The door slammed shut.

The room was silent for a long moment. I gulped, suddenly feeling all too out of my element. That was $30,000 I didn't have, and honestly I'd dug myself a deeper grave over the years, but that was the beautiful thing about loan sharks--they didn't keep you locked up until you paid off your debt. Where the hell did he expect me to get that kind of money?

"Ah!" I growled, turning to face the wall, scratching my head roughly; I knew he'd set me up. He couldn't keep me for helping out Wesker, that much was obvious, so he was going to let my ass rot anyway because he felt like waving his dick around and playing the city's hero. Great. Since when did my brother become such a vigilante?

Turning back around, I was faced with the two-way mirror. That was right, I still had an audience. Not wanting to let my adoring fans down, I straightened up and strode over, giving whoever was on the other side--hopefully his cute partner--a charming grin and knocked.

"I'm still waiting on that sugar!"

A packet of Splenda hit me in the head just a minute later. It didn't help the coffee. Or my mood. But what could you expect from fake sugar?

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November 2012

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