“You can’t kick him out of my condo,” I said.

“Get the fuck out!” Thomas yelled, the veins in his throat bulging.

Sawyer stood up, stretched, and then grabbed his things off my long rectangular coffee table, his keys scraping against the glass as he did so. He stood between me and the doorjamb, just inches from my face. “See you Monday morning.”

“Thanks for the help,” I said, trying to sound apologetic while still remaining professional. It was an impossible balance.

Sawyer nodded to Thomas and then left us for the hallway. Once the elevator opened and then closed again, Thomas looked at me with a stern glare.

I rolled my eyes. “Oh, stop. You are trying too hard.”

I walked off, and Thomas followed me inside.

I retrieved the saltines from the cabinet and held them out. “Breakfast?”

“What do you mean, I’m trying too hard?”

I looked up at him. “You like me.”

“I…you’re okay, I guess,” he said, stumbling over his words.

“But you’re my boss, you don’t think we should date, so now you’re scaring away any interested parties.”

“That’s quite a theory,” he said.

I pulled apart the plastic package, put a stack of saltines on a plate, poured a glass of tepid water, and used the counter for a table. “Are you saying I’m wrong?”

“You’re not wrong. But you’re emotionally unavailable, remember? Maybe I’m just doing Sawyer a favor.”

The crackers crunched between my teeth, and the cotton mouth I was experiencing from too much alcohol became worse. I pushed the plate away and took a drink of water.

“You shouldn’t be so hard on Sawyer. He’s just being a team player. You’re trying to save your brother. This is important to you. For whatever reason, your family doesn’t know you’re a fed, and now, you’re forcing your brother to join the ranks. We all get it, but no need to piss on every idea your team brings you.”

“You know, Liis, your observations aren’t always correct. Sometimes, things go deeper than what you see on the surface.”

“The reasons leading to the origin of the problem aren’t always simple, but the solution always is.”

Thomas sat on the couch, looking distraught. “They don’t get it, Liis, and you definitely don’t get it.”

My tough shell melted at the sight of his tough shell melting. “I might if you explain it to me.”

He shook his head, rubbing his face with his hand. “She knew this would happen. That’s why she made him promise.”

Thomas looked up at me, completely pulled out of his line of thought. “What the hell made you think of her?”

I walked the ten feet to the couch and sat next to him. “Are we going to work together on this or not?”

“Then, we have to trust each other. If something is between me and getting the job done, I remove whatever it is.”

I recalled our argument in the fitness room and wondered how I’d found the courage to tell the ASAC to get out of my way. “Thomas, you have to fix this.”

“Whatever is messing with your head. Sawyer seems to think you’re too close to this case. Is he right?”

Thomas frowned. “Sawyer has wanted this case since I brought it to the supervisor. He wanted it when I was promoted to supervisor, and he wanted it when I was promoted to ASAC.”

“Is it true? Were you promoted because of the break you got in the case?”

He looked across the room, his expression somber. “For the most part. But I’ve also worked my ass off.”

“Then, quit screwing around, and let’s bring these guys in.”

Thomas stood and began to pace. “Bringing them in means nailing them, and the easiest way to do that is to use my little brother.”

“You know it’s not that easy. You can’t be that naive,” Thomas snapped.

“You know what has to be done. I’m not sure why you’re making it so hard.”

Thomas thought about that for a moment and then sat next to me again. He covered his mouth and nose with his hands, and then he closed his eyes.

“Do you want to talk about it?” I asked.

“No,” he said, his voice muffled.

I sighed. “Do you really not want to talk about it? Or is this where I demand that you do?”

He let his hands fall to his lap, and he sat back. “She had cancer.”

The air in the room became heavy, so much so that I couldn’t move. I couldn’t take a breath. All I could do was listen.

Thomas’s eyes were fixed on the floor, his mind trapped in a bad memory. “Before she died, she spoke to each of us. I was eleven. I’ve thought about it a lot. I just can’t”—he took a deep breath—“imagine what it was like for her—trying to tell her sons everything she wanted to teach us over a lifetime, but having to do so in just a few weeks.”

“I can’t imagine what that was like for you.”

Thomas shook his head. “Every word she said, even every word she tried to say, is branded into my memory.”

I leaned back against the cushion, my head propped by my hand, listening as Thomas described how his mother had reached out for him, how beautiful her voice had been even though she could barely speak, and how much he knew she’d loved him, even in her last moments. I thought about what kind of woman must have raised a man like Thomas along with four other boys. What kind of person could say good-bye with enough strength and love to last her children the rest of their childhoods? His descriptions of her left a knot in my throat.

Thomas’s eyebrows pulled together. “She said, ‘Your dad is going to take this hard. You’re the oldest. I’m sorry, and it’s not fair, but it’s up to you, Thomas. Don’t just take care of them. Be a good brother.’”

I rested my chin on my hands, watching the various emotions scroll across his face. I couldn’t relate, but I definitely empathized, so much so that I had to resist wrapping my arms around him.

“The last thing I said to my mother was that I’d try. What I’m about to do to Travis doesn’t feel like trying, not one fucking bit.”

“Really?” I asked, dubious. “All the work you’ve done on this case? All the strings you had to pull to get Travis recruited instead of sent to prison?”

“My dad is a retired police detective. Did you know that?” Thomas looked at me with his dark hazel eyes. He was neck-deep in his past, family baggage, guilt, and disappointment.

I wasn’t sure how much worse his story could get. Part of me was afraid he was going to admit to being abused.

Thomas’s face screwed into disgust. “No. No, nothing like that.” His eyes lost focus. “Dad checked out for a few years, but he’s a good man.”

“What do you mean?” I said.