Author’s Note: I admit, I had this solution in mind pretty much from the beginning. This was one of those stories where I knew who was behind everything almost from the start. I was getting impatient in wanting to share this part, though, and almost gave too much away before now, but… here it is.
“It should have been me.”
Robert stilled, frowning as he turned to face the voice. He knew there was something to it, a familiarity that bothered him even as he thought of his father, and then he understood. Standing face-to-face with the man who had taken his name and stolen his memories as well, he at last comprehended the connection, the resemblance, even the reason. His father. He could see his father in the other man—he’d heard him in him, too, same voice.
Damn RJ. He’d known all along, hadn’t he? He’d known that this bastard was out there, and he had known who he was from the moment Violet’s first letter came. His father had lied, had tried to claim that it was unimportant, that this was all Violet’s doing, but he’d known who the man in the photograph was. He had to have known.
Robert and the rest of them, they should have known. Beatrice had said it. She had said there was another woman with RJ’s child, and this was that man grown into a monster.
“You… I… You’re my half-brother, aren’t you?”
The other man glared at him, stepping forward. “You shouldn’t even exist. I am older. She had me first. He lied to her. He told her loved her. He told her he would marry her. He almost married that other, but when she refused him, he was supposed to marry my mother. He promised, and she had me, and then he married your mother and had you.”
Robert took a step backward, convinced that years of resentment had unhinged his half-brother, had made him so unreasonable that nothing he said would convince the man not to hurt him. He might not be able to stop him from hurting any of the others, either. He hated Beatrice enough to ruin her niece, didn’t he? What would this bastard do to her or to Violet? Robert had to admit that he was frightened. In all the ways he had pictured his confrontation with the man who’d taken his name, even after the attack in the park, he’d never quite grasped the danger of such an encounter. He had not thought that the man was the sort of criminal that one feared, not once. He had not believed the man so violent, and Robert had never quite thought of how much the other man would want to end his life.
He should have known better. Such hubris could only end in disaster.
“You come along, and he gives you his name. Raises you as his son. Gives you everything you want. Makes you his heir.”
“Though I very much doubt you will believe me, there was never a time where I had everything I wanted. He is a cheap man, one who does not part with a dime willingly, and he was never all that… pleased with me. I do not think he has approved of a single thing I have done since I was born.”
“Liar,” the other man said, grabbing hold of Robert’s coat and shaking him. “He always talked about you. He couldn’t stop. He told us all about how wonderful his Robert was. How Robert said his first word, how Robert learned to walk. How Robert was always into mischief. He must have repeated that damn story about the beehive a hundred times. Mother would always smile and tell him he was a very fortunate man to have two such fine sons, but he never acknowledged me.”
“No. He as much as hated me, and I don’t believe you. If he was telling stories like that then… Then he was enough of a bastard to do it to hurt both of you, but it wasn’t me. I didn’t—as far as I have ever known, my father hated me. He wasn’t like what you’re saying at all. I don’t know why he’d lie to you, why he’d pretend he was proud of me, but he never was. He wouldn’t let me have honey again after the beehive, and it wasn’t like he didn’t make my backside red for it before he made that decree. He was never pleased. He was not what you think—”
The other man’s fist connected with Robert’s jaw, and he fell, his hand on his face. Damn, that had hurt. If he made it through this alive, he would make sure his father knew just what kind of monster he was—and the monster he’d created in the son he’d refused to acknowledge.
The man’s boot hit him in the stomach, and Robert tried to push himself up and away from him, cursing his arm for choosing now of all times to become numb. “It was never enough. You had him, you had his money, but you had to go off and become a hero. A great veteran of the war.”
“I was drafted. I didn’t want to go. And I am not a hero.”
“No, you’re not,” the other man agreed, and Robert cursed as his foot pounded Robert’s side a second time. He pulled his bad arm close against him and forced himself to his feet. He had not cared much for hand-to-hand combat when he was in the trenches, had not wanted to use his bayonet, but he knew better than this, and he should not be allowing this man to hurt him.
“Stop this. We’re brothers, and even if our father is the worst sort of man on the planet—well, there are worse than him, but what he’s done to you and your mother is reprehensible, what he did to Beatrice as well—we don’t have to fight. We can… we can confront him with what we now know and get you the recognition that you deserve and—”
“You’re the one keeping me from everything that’s mine.”
“What? No. You’re not being reasonable. Think about it. You have so many things that—Violet. She’s carrying your child. You could have a wonderful family. She wouldn’t care about what Father has done and—”
“I don’t have Violet. I never had Violet. She loves you! They all do! She was in love with the boy with the beehive, with the name, and I saw you with her. She’s not mine. You stole her just like you stole everything else.”
“You left her, and she was confused and vulnerable,” Robert said, though a part of him did want to believe that she was in love with him. He shouldn’t, but he knew somewhere along the way he’d gone beyond the admiration that he felt for her and tumbled into something far deeper than esteem. He loved her; he could admit that now.
“I think she could have loved you if you were only honest with her,” Robert said, hating that truth even as he spoke it. She’d been afraid that all the things she’d liked in “Winston” were from Robert, but they weren’t. He knew they weren’t.
The other man swung his fist, and Robert dodged the blow, stumbling as he did. If he hadn’t tripped over a rock he hadn’t seen, he might have been fine, but that fall gave his opponent an advantage, and the other man was on him in an instant, pummeling his face with one fist and then the other. After the concussion the other day, he could not hope to last long, ready to join the darkness that had called to him in those early hours of his injury, called him places free of nightmares and responsibilities.
He was a coward. He wanted to go there.