Shadow of Blue

BY : Aerys_Krystie
Category: 1 through F > Four Brothers
Dragon prints: 504
Disclaimer: Everything of and referring to Four Brothers is not mine. This is a fan-made, non-profit story. Please support the official release.

~Shadow of Blue~

 

By: Aerys Krystie

Theme: AU.

Plot: Jack arrives at the Mercers’ home and has a hard time fitting in, with nightmares keeping him awake at night and his brothers that scare him a little.

Warnings: Implied child abuse, eventual slash and OOC.

Pairings: Eventual Bobby/Jack.

Disclaimer: Everything of and referring to Four Brothers is not mine. This is a fan-based, non-profit story. Please support the official release.

oOo

Age 11

The house was warm against the nip in the air outside. It was quiet, aside from a soft groan that came from up the stairs. The woman standing by his side looked down at him and smiled warmly, explaining that she had three other sons. He nodded mutely, barely raising his head as he continued to stare at the floor.

This was the nineth foster home he had been in, since he was removed from his family at the age of seven. Each one was worse than the last, somehow. He had no idea how it could get worse, but he learned that if he kept quiet and to himself, he wouldn’t be hurt too badly. That’s how it started. Unfortunately, his ability to keep quiet usually meant that the pain got worse, as they wanted a reaction from him.

Evelyn Mercer was his new case worker. She hadn’t been like the others, which seemed overworked and didn’t care where he was, as long as he was under a roof. She had tried to talk with him and get him to say something, but he couldn’t bring himself to even look at her, let alone say something. She had held her hands out to him, showing that she had nothing in them and he had stared at the hands, pulling his feet onto the chair more, wanting to make himself as small as possible. She had said that everything would be okay and he would be safe.

That had been earlier that day and now he was in her house. She explained that her second oldest son, Jeremiah was home sick with mono. She asked if he wanted to see his room and he gave no response. She told him to follow upstairs, anyway so she could at least point out where things were. He gripped the strap of his backpack more tightly and trailed behind her.

At the top of the stairs, she pointed to a room that had the door opened and said that was her room. She opened the door to another and said that that room was his. He nodded and shuffled in, glancing around with a lowered head. He saw a bed, a closet and a tallboy, which wasn’t wedged into the corner. He knew he was only a guest there and tried not to touch anything.

Evelyn watched him, eyes soft with compassion as the child in the room had yet to look up or utter a sound. She told him that she needed to check on Jeremiah and the boy just nodded.

Once alone, Jack remained where he was. He didn’t know what to do and he didn’t want them to hurt him for doing something he wasn’t meant to. So, he just stood by the bed and slowly raised his head to look out the window that overlooked the street. It wasn’t the worst neighborhood to live in, but it was by far not the nicest, either. He lowered his head again, staring at his ratty shoes.

He could hear Evelyn speaking gently with her sick son. Jeremiah sounded as though he was dying, which he claimed he was and Evelyn told him sternly that he wasn’t. The front door slammed shut and there was pounding feet on the stairs. Jack froze, praying that if he stayed still, he wouldn’t be noticed. He wasn’t, as the new person went straight to Jeremiah’s room and spoke to Evelyn about his day, while apparently giving Jeremiah his homework.

Jeremiah begged for the other to be quiet, in a hoarse voice. The other just laughed loudly and told Jeremiah that it was his fault he was sick. “We all told ya that she was no good,” the other said and Jack knew the others were teenagers.

Evelyn left her sons alone and went to Jack’s room, seeing that he hadn't budged an inch from where she last left him. She stayed in the door, unsure of how Jack would react to being in close quarters with an adult. “That’s Angel that you can hear,” she said softly and Jack nodded mutely.

“Hey, Ma—?” Angel broke off as he saw the child standing in the room. He went to enter, but Evelyn put her arm across the door and shook her head. Angel shrugged. “Hey, kiddo,” he said and frowned when he didn’t get a response from the boy. “I’m Angel.”

Jack gripped the strap of his backpack tighter than before, trying to keep his breathing even. He didn’t want to be near any of them and it seemed that Evelyn got the idea, as she ushered Angel off to his room so he could do his homework. She said that she was going to start dinner and disappeared from Jack’s doorway. The boy slowly released his breath and stayed where he was.

He had no idea how much time had passed, as he continued to stand where he was left. He waited for the front door to open again, as Evelyn said she had three sons. However, by the time dinner was finished and Evelyn called them down from the bottom of the stairs, no one else had entered the house that he heard.

Jack remained where he was, hearing Angel charge down the stairs and Jeremiah groan and gasp as he stumbled down. He heard Evelyn calling for him and dropped his backpack, sliding it under the bed to keep it safe as he followed Jeremiah, surprised to see that he was black. He took a quick glance at Angel and saw that he was the same, which made him curious. However, it didn’t make him curious enough to ask about it. He didn’t need a reason for them to focus on him.

Angel was sitting in a chair and Jeremiah collapsed into one, breathing heavily as though he’d just run a marathon. Jack hovered in the threshold between the living room and the dining room, unsure of where to go or what to do. In all his time in foster homes, never once was he invited to join the family for dinner. Most days, he was lucky if he got the scraps.

“Jackie, why don’t you sit next to Jeremiah?” Evelyn suggested with a smile and Jack inched his way into the dining room, making as wide a berth as possible around Jeremiah.

Jack hesitated as he stood beside the chair. He didn’t need to pull it out, as he was skinny enough to slip in. However, he wasn’t sure if he should. He heard Evelyn encouraging him to have a seat and he finally slipped onto the chair, keeping his eyes lowered to the food on the plate. He frowned as he saw a salad and steak. His eyes flickered to the utensils beside the plate and he blinked, surprised that he was being treated like a person.

Evelyn said grace, thanking god for bringing Jack to them, which made the boy flinch. Once she had finished, Angel dug into his food like it would disappear should he stop to breathe. Jeremiah groaned as he tried to chew his food and swallow. Jack could feel Evelyn’s eyes on him as he continued to stare at it. He knew he couldn’t hoard that stuff, as it would go bad quickly.

“You can eat, Jack,” Evelyn said softly.

Jack started slightly and hesitantly picked up the fork. He stabbed something red on his plate. He was taught very little by the other ‘foster parents’ that had taken him in. He had missed years of school, due to the injuries keeping him in the hospital. He had no idea what he was eating, but he ate it anyway. He had to, as he had no idea when his next meal would be.

He quickly found that he didn’t are too much for the red thing and stabbed at something that had a bit of stiffness to it. He ate it quickly and felt a small spark of joy. He had no idea what it was, but he loved it. It was crunchy and watery and just damn delicious. He ate slowly, savoring the taste while he could. He heard Evelyn scold Angel to stop staring and Angel apologized.

Jack barely ate half of the salad before he found he was too full. He placed his fork down, knowing he was the last one to finish. Evelyn told Angel to do the dishes, while she showed Jack where the bathroom was. Jeremiah mumbled something as he slipped out of his chair and stumbled his way back to his room, swaying from side to side and leaning heavily on the wall and banister.

Evelyn pointed out the bathroom and told Jack that he had a green toothbrush waiting for him. Jack just nodded, wanting to get back to the bedroom, so he could hide and wait the night out. Evelyn told him that he needed to brush his teeth every night before he went to bed. Once again, Jack nodded. He half expected Evelyn to get angry with him, but she simply nodded and said she’d be downstairs if he needed anything and left him alone in the hallway.

Jack slowly made his way to the bathroom. He stared at the closed door, unsure of what awaited him behind the wood. He flinched and stepped back as Angel ran up the stairs, ignoring Evelyn as she told him not to run in the house. He expected Angel to go to his bedroom, but the teen stared at him. Jack gripped the bottom of his well wore shirt and ducked his head down further.

“Did you need some help, kiddo?”

Jack shook his head and held his breath as Angel stepped over to him. He opened the bathroom door and flinched as Angel went to ruffle his hair. The teen caught himself in time and chuckled, saying that the doors weren’t going to bite him. He left Jack alone and went to his bedroom. Jack stared at the bathroom threshold, trying to relax enough to go inside and brush his teeth.

Thirty minutes later, when he was certain that he would be alone in there, Jack stepped into the bathroom. He wanted to close the door, but wasn’t sure if that was allowed in the house. He winced at the memory of doing that in one of the houses and held his shoulder. He decided to keep the door open and found the green toothbrush that Evelyn had mentioned.

He tried to stop his hand from shaking and knew it was never going to stop. He kept checking the doorway, expecting to see some threatening figure there, since he hadn’t asked permission to use the toothpaste. He brushed his teeth quickly, rinsed the brush and his mouth and nearly ran from the bathroom. He got to the bedroom he was staying in and looked over his shoulder. He hadn’t closed the door. He tiptoed back over to it and closed it with a quiet click.

With a deep breath, Jack returned to the bedroom and closed the door. He crawled under the bed and pressed his back to the wall, curling up in a ball in the corner furthest from the door. He held his backpack to his chest like a talisman that would ward off evil. He never bothered to turn on the light and he hoped that no one would enter the room during the night.

oOo

Jack was awake when the door to the bedroom slowly opened in the morning. He had gotten two hours sleep, before the nightmares woke him and he stared out from his safe spot for the rest of the night. He saw bunny slippers as he figured Evelyn came into the room, probably to wake him for the day. He heard her gasp as she noticed that the bed wasn’t slept in.

“Jack?” she called and ran from the room. He heard Angel coming out of the bathroom, asking what was wrong. “Jack didn’t sleep in his bed.”

Jack slipped out from under the bed as Angel checked his closet, calling his name. When the teen turned around, he cried out at seeing the boy standing in the center of the room when he wasn’t in there before. Angel called out that he’d found him and Evelyn entered the room again. Jack pulled back slightly as Evelyn reached out to touch him and she exhaled shakily, telling him not to hide. Jack simply nodded and Angel left the bedroom. Once they were alone, Evelyn got on her knees and tried to look at Jack’s face.

“I think you’ll find the bed more comfortable than under it,” she whispered and Jack frowned, wondering what kind of wizard that woman was. “Did you want some breakfast?”

Jack shook his head and Evelyn sighed quietly, standing up and leaving the room. Once alone, Jack went to the corner beside the tallboy and sat with his back to the wall, pulling his knees to his chest. Something was seriously wrong in that house. No one had raised a hand against him. No one had yelled at him for anything. They had actually looked for him, thinking he was missing.

Fear shot through him, figuring it was some kind of sick joke they were playing on him. They wanted him to feel safe, so they could do more damage to him. The joke was on them, though. He knew he wasn’t safe.

oOo

The next month proved to be trying on Jack. He wanted to keep his guard up, but Angel and Evelyn were so nice to him. Neither of them yelled at him nor hit him for no reason. They mostly left him alone, sitting beside the tallboy as he stared at his knees. That was how he spent all his days. He still didn’t feel secure enough to leave the bedroom. From the wall, he could hear Jeremiah getting better as the weeks wore on.

There came a time when Jeremiah knocked on the bedroom door. Without a response, he opened the door slowly and stuck his head in. He saw the tiny ball that was a child in the corner of the room. He smiled and shuffled into the room, sitting on the bed. He introduced himself and waited to see if Jack would say anything to even look at him. None of them had seen his face in the month he’d been there for.

However, since he didn’t have school, Jeremiah stayed in the room all day. He tried to speak at length about anything and everything, but found that the last of the infection wasn’t making that possible. He did mention something that made Jack’s ears perk up. He mentioned the third brother, but not by name. Jeremiah just said he was working some construction job and might be back in time for Christmas, which was two months away.

Jack’s mind wandered when Jeremiah spoke about school. He had no idea when he would be attending, but he figured that Evelyn would have put him in a class the following Monday. However, he was still in the house and he figured she left him there, knowing that Jeremiah was within the walls. Not that Jeremiah proved to be any kind of challenge, given that he only just had the strength to get out his bed and properly greet Jack for the first time in a month.

“Do you like reading, Jack?”

Jack frowned at the question. Why were they always asking him things? He wasn’t going to be there long enough to do anything about the questions, but they continued to ask about him, as though they cared. His silence didn’t seem to deter them, either. In fact, they seemed to ask questions just to see if they could get a reaction out of him. He had to admit, it was a lot nicer than being hit, burned, stabbed, scratched and thrown around.

“Ya know, I’m gonna take your silence as a yes, anyway,” Jeremiah said and stood up. “I’ll be back in a tick.”

Jack blinked as Jeremiah left the bedroom. The teenager returned a few minutes later with something in his hand. Jack inhaled sharply and quickly, pulling his knees to his chest tighter. Jeremiah seemed to notice and kept his distance, staying by the bed. He placed whatever was in his hand on the bedside chest, under the lamp that Jack never used.

“I got ya a book I thought ya might like,” Jeremiah explained as he sat on the bed again. “I did say I was gonna take your silence as a yes. It was my favorite when I was around your age.”

Jack continued to remain silent and refused to relax until Angel came home, which forced Jeremiah to leave the bedroom, since he had to get his homework and complete it before Evelyn got home. Jeremiah closed the door behind him and Jack’s eyes strayed over to the bedside chest. He’d never received anything nice in his life and he wanted to know what book it was. The downside was that he couldn’t read much and he didn’t want to tell them that.

oOo

November made sleeping under the bed almost impossible, due to the cold that seeped into the floorboards. Jack endured it, though. He’d been through worse in his life and he wasn’t about to let something like Detroit cold beat him. He was on month of likely six at the Mercer house. Jeremiah was feeling well enough to return to school, which left Jack in the house.

Evelyn worked from home as much as she could, as she didn’t want to leave Jack alone. He had heard her talking to Jeremiah and Angel about the situation and she wished someone named Bobby was around. Angel happily offered to miss school in order to keep Jack company during the day. Evelyn had gently scolded him and told him to keep dreaming.

Jack heard Jeremiah mention that Jack should attend school and then the conversation got too low for Jack to hear. He figured Evelyn knew that he wasn’t smart. He couldn’t write and he could barely read simple words. He heard Angel and Jeremiah agreeing to something and one of them walked up the stairs. Jack knew it was Jeremiah, as Angel rarely walked up the stairs.

There was a soft knock at the bedroom door and Jack quickly lowered his gaze to the holes in his jeans. He had no idea how the knees were always taken out first, but he kind of liked it. The door was opened and Jeremiah asked if he could come in. Jack had no idea why they asked that, but he nodded and Jeremiah sat on the bed. He glanced at the book that hadn’t moved since he placed it there nearly a month ago.

“Jack,” Jeremiah said gently, keeping his eyes on the book. “I need to ask ya something and I don’t want ya to think I’m bein’ mean…” He trailed off and Jack frowned. That was a first for him. He thought that everyone in the world was mean. Before he knew what he was doing, he was staring directly at Jeremiah and seeing the teen’s face for the first time. “…Do you know to read?”

Jeremiah looked at him and Jack quickly lowered his head, plucking at the frayed ends of the denim. He stayed silent and heard the bed springs creak. He watched as Jeremiah lowered himself to the floor, keeping his back to the bed and stretching his long legs out in front of him.

“You don’t need to be embarrassed if ya can’t, Jackie. But if ya can’t, I can teach ya.” Jack remained silent, as did Jeremiah for nearly an hour before dinner was announced. “You don’t have to answer me tonight, Jack. Now, get ya butt down to the table.”

For the first time in years, Jack felt the urge to smile.

oOo

A week later, on a Friday night, Jeremiah was back in the bedroom Jack slept in after they finished dinner. He was sitting on the bed and Jack had his back against the tallboy, facing the teenager. Around Jeremiah, the feeling to make himself seem as small as possible wasn’t as strong. Jack had even looked at the book that Jeremiah left on the bedside chest, but he couldn’t read the title of it.

That didn’t bother Jeremiah, though. He sat on the bed and talked to Jack about everything that happened in school, including about a girl he was very interested in. Jack was listening to the words, trying to understand several of them, as he was never properly spoken to by any of the other foster home occupants, aside from derogatory terms that he didn’t understand either, but knew that they were harsh.

“I’m sure you’d like Camille, if you meet her,” Jeremiah said and Jack’s eyes snapped up. He saw the teen smiling at him.

No one ever wanted him to meet anyone, especially if it meant he could say something bad about them. He was the dirty little secret that most of them had in their basements. However, Jeremiah seemed to really like the idea of some uneducated, scrawny child meeting the girl he seemed to love. Jack had no idea how to feel about that. Not even Evelyn or Angel shunned him, either.

“Did ya wanna see a picture of her?” Jeremiah asked as his eyes lit up. He pulled a photograph from his back pocket and hesitated, unsure if he should approach Jack. Instead, he turned the photo around.

Jack leaned forward, squinting. He saw a very pretty girl and then looked up at Jeremiah, nodding. Jeremiah grinned and looked at the photo, slipping it back into his pocket. He continued to go on about her, saying that she was smart as well as beautiful and she had a great sense of humor and a love for her family that rivaled his. Jack didn’t understand the last part, as he noticed that Jeremiah didn’t speak very highly of the one known as Bobby.

“I think Ma’ll love her, as well.”

Jack thought about Evelyn. He was almost certain that it was impossible for her to not like anyone. She had taken him in, after all and Jack knew he was hated by everyone he was forced to live with. He had no idea what he’d done wrong, especially to the people he’d only just met, but everyone hated him.

Jeremiah checked the time on his watch and jumped to his feet. “I better get to bed. I didn’t know it was that late. You better get some sleep, too, Jackie. I’m taking Camille out for lunch tomorrow.” He grinned and practically ran to the door of the room. “Goodnight, Jack. Sweet dreams.”

Jack nodded. He wished that saying worked. His dreams had been anything but sweet. They still woke him up after only a couple of hours and left him too scared to close his eyes again. He knew that Evelyn could see the lack of sleep on his face, as did Jeremiah. None of them asked him about it and he was happy about that.

Crawling under the bed with his backpack, Jack curled into a ball in the corner. He wondered if Jeremiah was serious about his offer to teach him to read. He would certainly like to learn.

oOo

On Sunday, Jeremiah was back in the bedroom Jack slept in after dinner. Jack had heard all about the date he’d taken Camille on the previous night. Instead, Jeremiah decided to sit on the bed quietly. Jack hesitantly got to his feet, which made Jeremiah stare at him and then glance at the open door, as though asking if he should leave. Jack shook his head and grabbed the thin book on the bedside chest.

Jeremiah’s eyes softened as Jack handed the book to him. Jack snatched his hands back and ran to the tallboy, sitting down with his back to it and his knees to his chest. Jeremiah nodded and read out the title of the book: The Cat in the Hat. He read the book to Jack slowly, pronouncing each word and Jack tried to sound them in his head. However, it was proving to be a challenge.

For some reason, the words weren’t right in his mind. He couldn’t see the words, as Jeremiah was just reading the book to him. He didn’t understand ninety-nine percent of the words spoken and he felt shame of being laughed at by other kids that had gone to school and knew how to read and write. He lowered his head more and more, until Jeremiah finished the book and closed it.

The smile that had been on Jeremiah’s face fell when he saw Jack’s body. “What’s wrong, Jack?” he asked quietly and glanced at Evelyn, who was standing just outside the door. Jack didn’t move, so Jeremiah slipped down to the floor. “Come here and I’ll teach ya.”

Jack looked up. Jeremiah was smiling and patting the space beside him, closest to the bedside chest to give Jack some sense of security. Jack slowly unfolded his legs. He kept telling himself that they hadn’t hurt him, in the two months that he’d been there. They hadn’t hurt him.

He inched his way across the room and glanced at Evelyn, as she watched him. She smiled encouragingly and Jack tried to stop his hands from shaking as he sat beside Jeremiah, pulling his knees to his chest. Jeremiah’s smile widened and he held the book in front of Jack.

“Can you speak?” Jeremiah asked and Jack nodded slowly. He didn’t know to pronounce words correctly, but he knew how to kind of talk, though he tried not to. “Can you say your name for me, please?”

“J-J-Jack,” he stuttered out and quickly ducked his head, waiting for the teasing to start up because of his stutter.

“That’s awesome, Jack. It’s good to hear your voice.” Jeremiah looked at Evelyn and saw that she had tears in her eyes, before she sniffed and left them alone. Jack raised his head, blinking at not being picked on. “You don’t need to worry about that stutter, Jackie. It’ll go away soon enough.”

Jack looked at Jeremiah, hoping that he was right about that. He hated the stutter and preferred not to speak than to take forever to say something. He nodded once, sternly and decided he would beat the stutter. He looked at the book in front of him and took it from Jeremiah’s hand.

“Okay, that’s The Cat in the Hat. Can you say that for me?”

“Th-The Cat…in th-the…H-H-Hat,” he said slowly, thinking hard on how Jeremiah spoke and trying to get the sounds right.

“Perfect, Jackie. Can you say it again?”

“Th-The Cat in…th-the H-H-Hat,” he repeated, a small spark of pride flaring in him for being able to say it faster.

“And once more for me.”

Jack took a deep breath. “Th-The Cat in th-the H-H-Hat.”

“Very good, Jackie,” Jeremiah said and gently knocked his elbow about Jack’s shoulder. He sucked air in through his teeth when he saw Jack flinch at the touch. “I’m sorry.” Jack nodded. “All right, let’s turn to the first page.” Jeremiah opened the book. “The sun did not shine.”

Jack frowned, staring at the words that looked like nothing but scribbles to him. “Th-the…” he started, knowing only that word in the sentence.

Jeremiah’s brow furrowed slightly. “Sun,” he said, putting a huge emphasis on the s. “Ssssss. Ssssssay it with me, Jackie – ssssss, like a ssssssnake.”

Jack stared at Jeremiah with wide eyes, before he grinned and copied Jeremiah with the exaggerated s sound. He actually laughed when Jeremiah started sticking his tongue, attempting to flick it like a snake. He stopped abruptly when he felt his ribs hurt. Jeremiah stopped with the hissing and cleared his throat, but Jack smiled as the pain subsided. He had no idea that laughing could cause his body to hurt, but it was a good hurt.

“The sun did not shine,” Jeremiah repeated and Jack nodded.

“Th-The s-sun…d-died…noot…sh-sh-shinny?” Jack looked at Jeremiah and noticed that he was smiling softly.

“Almost, Jackie. You’re doing very well, so don’t give up yet. The sun did not shine.”

“Th-The s-sun d-did…not…sh-sh…” He trailed off and lowered his head as the stutter started getting worse.

“Don’t stop, Jack.”

Jack sighed and closed his eyes. “Sh-sh-shine,” he finished and opened his eyes.

“Awesome. Can you say it again?”

“Th-The s-sun…d-did not…sh-sh-shine,” he repeated and glanced at Jeremiah. The teen smiled and nodded, asking him to repeat it again. “Th-The s-sun d-did not sh-sh-shine.”

“You’re getting better, Jackie-O,” Angel said from the doorway and clapped. Jack blushed and lowered his head. “Hey now, don’t stop because of me, kiddo. You’re doing awesome!”

Jack looked up and smiled as Angel grinned at him. He invited himself into the room and sat on the bedside beside Jeremiah, who got up as Evelyn shouted that he had a phone call. He apologized to Jack and asked Angel to take over. Angel nodded and took Jeremiah’s place, pointing to the next line of text.

“It was too wet to play,” he read slowly and repeated it again for Jack.

“Eet…w-ways t-t-too…w-wet…t-t-to p-p-play.” Jack frowned at the words. He knew he’d said some wrong to the way that Angel did and thought about the sounds. “It…w-was t-t-too w-wet…t-t-to p-p-play.” His eyes lit up and he looked at Angel. The young man smiled and nodded. “Th-The s-sun d-did not sh-sh-shine. It w-was t-t-too w-wet t-t-to p-p-play,” he read.

“Jesus, Jackie, at this rate you won’t need us in a couple of months,” Angel said and knocked his shoulder against Jack’s gently, ignoring the flinch and knowing it was just second nature to Jack to react that way with physical contact. “We sat in the house.”

Jack listened carefully, recognizing the letters. “W-We s-sat…in th-the…h-h-hoose?” Angel corrected his pronunciation and Jack nodded. “W-We s-sat in th-the…h-h-house?” he asked and Angel nodded.

“All that cold, cold, wet day,” Angel concluded the first page of the book, repeating it three times as that seemed to be the magic number for Jackie’s mind.

Jack opened his mouth, trying to get the right sounds. “Ole th-thate…cold, cold…w-wet…d-day?” Angel corrected what needed to be and Jack repeated it, getting it correct. His blue eyes sparkling, he started at the top. “Th-The s-sun d-did not sh-shine. It w-was t-too w-wet t-to p-play. W-We s-sat in th-the h-house, all th-that cold, cold, w-wet d-day.”

“Ha-ha,” Angel cheered and without thinking, picked up Jack and jumped around the room. “Good job, Jackie-O!”

“Angel, put him down,” Evelyn said from the doorway and Angel placed Jack on his feet. “How did it go, Jackie?”

Jackie stood in front of Evelyn. “Th-The s-sun d-did not sh-shine. It w-was t-too w-wet t-to p-play. W-We s-sat in th-the h-house, all th-that cold, cold, w-wet d-day,” he read and looked up, grinning. He heard Jeremiah congratulate him from downstairs and Evelyn clapped softly.

“You’re gonna set the world alight, Jackie,” she said quietly as she crouched down. “Your brothers will help you do that. Did you thank Angel for his help?”

“Th-Thank?” Jack asked and frowned slightly.

“When someone helps you, you say ‘thank you,’” Evelyn explained softly and Jack nodded, turning around to face Angel.

“Th-Thank y-you, Angel.”

“You’re welcome, kiddo. Tomorrow, we’ll work on the next page,” Angel said as he walked out of the room. “Goodnight, Ma, Jackie-O.”

“G-Gooed night, Angel,” Jack said and grinned, proud that he was learning so many new words. He turned to Evelyn, unsure of how to address her. “G-Gooed night.”

“Goodnight, Jackie. Sweet dreams,” she said as she straightened. She went to turn away, but paused. She showed her hands, showing that there was nothing in them. “You’re safe now, Jackie.”

Jack stared at her hands, nodding slowly. He still didn’t believe that, but he knew it put her at ease if he pretended to believe it. He felt comfortable around them, but he didn’t trust any of them enough to be a room with the door closed. He stepped back into his room and closed the door. He turned off the light and slipped under the bed with his backpack, running the words through his head again with a smile.

oOo

December was officially in town and Jack actually felt like he could leave the bedroom that was assigned to him. He was half-way through The Cat in the Hat and could almost recite it by heart. He was told that Christmas would be there in twenty-one sleeps and he didn’t understand the big deal about it. He had never celebrated Christmas before. Though, more accurately, he was never invited to the festivities and just assumed he wouldn’t be invited to theirs, either.

Jack jumped down the stairs, grinning and went to the kitchen. He paused just inside the doorway and watched as Evelyn made waffles for breakfast. She beat the batter and poured it into the waffle iron. She glanced at him and smiled, greeting him chirpily. Jack smiled and slid into the kitchen, standing by the table that was there. Evelyn glanced at him and said he could have a seat, which he did.

While the waffles browned up, Evelyn poured Jack a glass of milk and asked how he slept. Feeling a lot more confident with his words, Jack was talking more than before, which wasn’t difficult. However, the nightmares wouldn’t stop, but he knew that Evelyn wouldn’t ask questions if he smiled and said he slept well. She seemed more pleased to see him smile, even if he was lying to her.

Jack sipped the milk and then smiled. “G-Good,” he answered, grateful that Jeremiah had corrected his speech with that word. His eyes truly lit up when Jeremiah entered the kitchen. “G-Good m-morning, J-Jerry!”

Evelyn couldn’t stop the smile from forming on her face. She knew that Jack was lying to her, but it was so wonderful to see him feeling more comfortable and much more confident than the hollowed husk he was before. She knew that Angel and Jeremiah would help Jack as much as they could, but she wasn’t sure how he would in a school environment, given that she read he spent little time there. Then there was the problem of Bobby.

As Bobby was away for work, Angel and Jeremiah were a lot calmer without Bobby’s influence disrupting them. Sure, they still got into arguments over petty things, but they generally kept them quiet and had yet to throw any punches. Evelyn knew that would change the moment her oldest returned for the holidays and she had no idea how Jack was going to react to a new person in the house for a week or more. It had taken him two months to even look at them. She didn’t want Jack going back into his shell, especially since he was doing so well out of it.

oOo

The date that Bobby said he would be home arrived, except Jack didn’t know that. He had finished brushing his teeth, ignoring the glitter that was on his cheeks, as Evelyn put it on the floor under the bed so she knew when he was sleeping under there and went back to the bedroom to change out of his sleeping clothes. He couldn’t wait to tell Jeremiah and Angel that he had learned to say one of the words without their help. However, he knew that Angel would still be asleep at that time of the morning, given that Angel didn’t wake up until the very last minute.

In fresh clothes, Jack ran from the room and down the stairs. “J-Jerry,” he called and went into the living room, freezing and staring at the wall that was across from the entrance. He could see an unknown man on the sofa and he couldn’t stop his heart from hammering against his ribs.

Evelyn came in from the kitchen, holding a mug of coffee. “Good morning, Jackie,” she greeted warmly, waiting for his reaction. She kept in a sigh when Jack lowered his head and stepped out of the living room.

Bobby stood and crouched down in front of Jack, not surprised when the kid took a step back from him. His eyes honed in on the glitter. “You’re sparklin’ like a fairy,” he said and grinned. Jack took another step back, ducking his head more. “I’m Bobby, your big brother.” He frowned when Jack nodded. “You gonna tell me your name? If not, I’ll call ya fairy until you speak up.”

“Bobby,” Evelyn said exasperatedly and placed the mug on the coffee table. “Leave him be. Jackie, why don’t you head into the kitchen and help yourself to the pancakes?”

Jack shook his head and went to the stairs. He crept up them, trying to make as little movement as possible. He went back to the bedroom and went straight to his corner, between the tallboy and the wall. Bobby scared him. He had a gruff voice and he didn’t seem as happy as Angel and Jeremiah. He knew that Bobby was Evelyn’s oldest son and she was really happy to have him back at the house, but Jack didn’t want to be anywhere near him. He smelled like a locker room and the worst dive bar around. That wasn’t something that Jack wanted near him.

oOo

Jack managed to stay in his room for three days and not see Bobby. He had heard the teen as his voice traveled easily through the thin walls. He heard him riling up Angel and Jeremiah and heard them riling him up. Unfortunately, the hunger he’d been ignoring for the last three days was back and Jack knew he had to eat or Evelyn would be very disappointed in him.

He had no idea why it hurt him to think that Evelyn might be disappointed in him. It probably had something to do with the fact she was so proud of him for learning how to read part of The Cat in the Hat, which he hadn’t even looked at in the last seventy-two hours. He hadn’t spoken a word, either. He jumped violently when someone pounded on his door. He covered his ears with his hands and tried to block it out, repeating the phrase in his mind, The Cat in the Hat.

“Hey, fairy,” Bobby called through and Jack flinched. “Ma says dinner’s ready. Get out here, already.”

Jack wanted so badly to go down and eat, but Bobby would be there and he couldn’t be around that person. He didn’t care how the others felt about him. Both Angel and Jeremiah had tried to explain Bobby to him, but their words fell short of inspiring.

Bobby opened the door and invited himself in. “Hey, fair—?” He broke off as he looked at the trembling form in the corner of the room. Ma hadn’t told him much about Jack’s life, but he figured it was bad and he was used to kids coming and going that had had hard lives. Jack definitely seemed like a special case, though. With a sigh, Bobby lowered his voice. “You hungry?” Jack shook his head and Bobby nodded. “Ma’ll make a plate for ya and put it in the icebox.” He left the room, closing the door.

Jack didn’t stop trembling from the pounding and shouting for an hour. He knew that Angel ran his mouth at school and often got into trouble there and Jeremiah seemed to have a slight holier-than-thou attitude towards the teachers, which landed him in detention frequently. Yet, when they were at home, they seemed calm around him and didn’t feel the need to shout at him.

Another hour passed. He could hear Bobby getting ready to go out, along with Angel and Jeremiah. Once the front door slammed, there was a gentle knock on the bedroom door. Evelyn opened it and asked if she could enter. Jack continued to stare at his knees, arms over his head.

“You’ll have to excuse Bobby. He grew up with Angel and Jeremiah, so he’s used to them fighting back with him,” Evelyn explained as she sat on the bed, staring at the regressed child in the corner. “I’ve tried to keep him away from you, but you have to come out and meet him, Jackie. He’s your older brother and is part of your life.”

Jack just nodded. He heard the bed squeak as Evelyn stood. She said that she made him a plate and that it was in the fridge, if he got hungry later. Once again, Jack nodded and Evelyn left the room, closing the door. Jack stayed where he was, thinking about what Evelyn told him of Bobby. The oldest definitely seemed happy to roughhouse with Angel and Jeremiah and he’d done nothing threatening towards him.

After another hour passed, Jack slowly got to his feet and turned off the light of the room. He crawled under the bed and held his backpack tightly, curling up tighter than usual. He stared at the light coming in through the window from the streetlight. In the dull light, he could see the glitter that he’d tracked through his room sparkle and lowered his eyes, ignoring the pain in his stomach.

As the night wore on, Jack was seriously considering getting up and grabbing something to eat quickly. That idea was pushed away when he heard Angel, Bobby and Jeremiah return. They were whispering, trying to keep quiet as Evelyn had gone to bed and they didn’t want to wake her. At least, that’s what he thought until he heard Bobby telling Angel to step lightly as ‘the fairy was probably asleep and didn’t need to be woken by his elephant steps.’

Jack stared at the tallboy, hearing Angel and Jeremiah walk up the stairs as quickly and quietly as they could. They seemed to know where all the creaks were. They went to their rooms and Jack knew he had to wait a little longer before he could head downstairs. He didn’t know what time Bobby usually fell asleep, but he figured an hour should be enough time.

He waited longer than that, just to be on the safe side, before he slipped out from under the bed. His eyes felt dry and scratchy due to the lack of sleep, but he ignored it as he slowly opened his door. He saw that Evelyn’s door was closed and he could hear deep breaths from Jeremiah’s room, which told him that he was asleep. He stepped out of the room and closed the door.

As he didn’t weigh nearly as much as Angel or Jeremiah, Jack didn’t have too much about where he stepped. He snuck down the stairs and saw Bobby’s shape lying on the sofa. Jack tiptoed down the hallway and into the kitchen. He pulled open the fridge and found his dinner, which he ignored. He saw the celery that was sitting on a shelf and pulled off three stalks, closing the fridge quietly.

He turned around and froze when the kitchen light was turned on. He quickly hid the celery behind his back and lowered his head as Bobby stared at him. “I thought I saw you flutter by, fairy,” Bobby said softly and tilted his head as Jack didn’t respond. “Is that all ya gonna eat?”

Jack pressed his back to the fridge, keeping his head bowed. He really didn’t feel comfortable being around Bobby without someone else awake. He tensed as Bobby walked into the kitchen and went to the pantry. He grabbed something out and placed it on the table, before opening the cutlery drawer and removing a butter knife. He put that on the table beside the jar.

“Sit at the table and eat,” Bobby ordered and Jack flinched. “I’m not gonna hurt ya. Just sit at the table.”

Jack hesitantly stepped to the side. Bobby was standing by the table and didn’t seem ready to move in order to give Jack his space. Instead, before Jack even knew what had happened, Bobby had picked him up and placed him in a chair. Jack stared at the tabletop, frozen. He had no idea that Bobby was that fast, which terrified him more than anything.

Bobby took the pieces of celery from his hands and broke off the leaves. He opened the jar and smeared peanut butter onto the celery, before placing the three pieces on the table in front of Jack. “You need to fatten up, fairy,” Bobby stated as he put the lid on the jar and returned it to the pantry. He washed the knife and headed for the dining room. “Don’t forget to turn off the light before you head back up.”

Jack nodded and waited until he was certain Bobby was back on the sofa, before he picked up the first piece of celery. He’d never had peanut butter on it before and tentatively took a small bite. He was surprised, not good or bad. It wasn’t as good as he thought it would be, considering he loved peanut butter and it wasn’t nearly as bad as he thought it would be, either. With the peanut butter on the stalks, it filled him more than just the plain celery would have.

Once he was finished, Jack slipped off the chair and turned off the light. He crept past the living room, pausing when he heard Bobby’s voice. “Goodnight, fairy.”

Jack turned his head towards the living room. He could hear Evelyn scolding him for not thanking Bobby for the peanut butter, despite not asking for it. He must have hesitated too long, as Bobby sat up and asked him what was wrong. Jack shook his head and went upstairs, closing the door and sliding under the bed. Maybe, just maybe, Bobby wasn’t as bad as Jack first thought. After all, Angel and Jeremiah seemed to like him.

oOo

The following morning, Jack stayed under the bed. Angel and Jeremiah had left for school a few minutes ago and Evelyn was getting ready to leave, which scared Jack. He would be alone in the house with Bobby. He’d be alone in the house with an unknown person. Evelyn knocked softly on the door and told him that she was leaving.

“If you need anything, let Bobby know,” she said without opening the door.

Jack heard her footsteps going down the stairs. Bobby said goodbye to her. The front door closed and Bobby went back to the living room. Jack stared across the floor of the room and inhaled shakily, sliding out and bringing his backpack out as well. He needed to brush his teeth and wash his face, since he wasn’t going to shower with only Bobby in the house.

Making sure that the coast was clear, Jack left the room and went to the bathroom. He used the toilet, washed his hands, brushed his teeth and washed his face. He dashed back to the bedroom and opened his backpack, pulling out his clothing for the day. He changed his pants and was pulling off his shirt when the door opened. Jack’s eyes widened and he dropped the shirt, running to the corner.

“Shit,” he heard Bobby breath. “I was gonna knock, but I thought you woulda changed before going to the bathroom, man.”

Jack kept his head lowered, burying his face into his arms as he gripped his hair. He never wanted anyone to see the state his body was in. He knew they would tease him about the scars. Bobby moved into the room and Jack closed his eyes, trying to will Bobby away. He didn’t want to be alone with the man.

“We’ve all got scars, fairy,” Bobby said as he sat beside Jack’s backpack. “I mean, most of mine are from hockey games, but…” He shrugged and looked around the room, seeing that Jack was still living out of his backpack. He saw the glitter on the floor, which started from under the bed and he raised an eyebrow.

Jack chanced a glance when the room fell silent for a few minutes and felt his heart sink when he realized that Bobby was still in the room. He was looking around, as though trying to find something and Jack figured he wouldn’t leave, until he had to, just like Jeremiah.

Bobby saw the book on the bedside chest. “Hey, I remember this one,” he said as he flipped through the pages. “Are you readin’ it?”

Jack slowly lowered his arms and moved to staring at his knees. Anyone that liked The Cat in the Hat was all right by his standards. He honestly had no idea how much he would love that book, but it made him feel like he part of Angel’s and Jeremiah’s family as they read it together and they taught him the words.

Once again, he remembered Evelyn’s words from the previous day. He knew that Bobby was out of town due to work, which didn’t make him a bad person. Evelyn told him that Bobby called as often as he could, just to make sure everyone was all right. It seemed that Bobby cared deeply about his family, which didn’t make him a bad person. If he wasn’t so scary looking, Jack was certain he learn to like him as much as he did Angel and Jeremiah.

“Jerry told me he was teachin’ ya to read.” Jack looked at Bobby through his fringe. “This’s the book we all learned to read from,” he explained and a half-smile twitched the corner of his mouth. “I taught Jerry, then he taught Angel and now they’re teaching you.” Bobby looked up from the book and found the kid watching him. He honestly never thought he’d see those baby blues. “Would ya mind readin’ it to me?” When Jack didn’t even twitch, Bobby nodded. “I’ll read it to you, then.”

Bobby cleared his throat and opened the book. “The sun did not shine. It was too wet to play,” he started and Jack could feel himself relaxing as the story was read to him. Hell, he could feel a smile creeping onto his face as Bobby stood up and swung his arms as he read and that was when Jack realized he was actually looking up from his knees. He had no idea how Bobby had managed that.

Bobby lowered the book slightly, peering at Jack over the top and gasped dramatically. “Well,” he began the conclusion and placed his hands on his hips. “What would you do if your mother asked you?” He bowed and Jack couldn’t stop the grin, still trying to figure out how he had grown so fond of the oldest Mercer boy. “Thank you, thank you. I’m here all week!”

Jack couldn’t stop a giggle from escaping. Bobby was far more dramatic than Angel or Jeremiah when reading the book. He clapped his hands and Bobby bowed again, sitting down and hold out the book, telling Jack it was his turn to read it. Jack shook his head, placing his hands on his knees, as if to stop them from taking the book.

“Well, that’s not fair now, is it, fairy? I gave you this big show and you won’t even read the title to me?” Bobby dropped the book and got to his feet when the phone rang. “Seems a little mean for a fairy, actually,” he said as he left the room.

Jack stared at the book, running Bobby’s words through his mind. He didn’t think it was mean to not read, but he also knew that Bobby had a point. However, he was only really half way through the book and couldn’t read the full thing, until he was taught. He lowered his head and sighed softly, wondering if he could start up the lessons again with Angel and Jeremiah.

He grabbed the book and opened to the page he was last on, staring at the words. He tried mouthing them, attempting to get the right sound, from when Bobby said them. “I w-will…p-pick ah-ahp…th-the h-hook,” he whispered and shook his head.

“I will pick up the hook,” Bobby corrected as he stood in the door and looked down at the book. “You’re applying yourself more than Angel did, that’s for sure.”

Jack lowered his eyes. “I w-will p-pick…up th-the h-hook,” he repeated and glanced at Bobby, seeing him frown. He quickly looked down again, wondering what he’d done wrong.

“Do you have a stutter?” Bobby asked, unable to keep the laugh from his voice. “Holy shit, that’s precious!”

Jack flinched as Bobby fell into laughter and closed the book, placing it on the floor and drawing his knees to his chest tight again. He stared at the frayed denim of his knees, trying his hardest to block out the laughter that had turned into howling as Bobby called him a stuttering fairy. Jack had no idea why that hurt as bad as it did, considering it wasn’t the worst thing he’d ever heard.

“Fuck,” Bobby said as he tried to catch his breath and wiped the tears from his eyes. “You’re a real hoot, fairy. I can’t remember the last time I laughed that hard.” He rested against the door frame and breathed heavily, before his eyes finally landed on the embarrassed huddle in the corner. Ah, shit. “Come on, I didn’t mean anything by it, fairy. You’re the first I’ve come across that actually has a stutter.”

Jack shrugged and kept his eyes lowered. He flinched as Bobby touched his hair and jerked his head back, not registering the pain as it cracked against the wall. He scurried between Bobby’s legs and slipped under the bed with his backpack. Not even Angel or Jeremiah touched him that much.

Bobby sighed and stood. He faced the bed. “It’s what brothers do, man. They tease, laugh, pull fun of and touch. When you’ve calmed down, I’ll have lunch ready.”

 

Jack stayed under his bed for the next six days, leaving only to use the bathroom and grab celery stalks when no one else was around. He heard Evelyn scolding and Angel and Jeremiah yelling at Bobby for what he did, which just made him feel worse. He shouldn’t expect someone to change who they were, especially for some kid they didn’t know, or some kid that was overly sensitive about something others did to him.

The seventh day was Christmas and Evelyn told him that he had to join the others in the living room, after a shower and a change of clothing. Jack did just that and shuffled into the living room, not raising his eyes from the floor. He sat as far away as possible from Bobby, staying on the floor and pulling his knees to his chest. He heard Angel tearing into a brightly wrapped package and thanked Evelyn for it.

“Did you want to open a present, Jackie?” Evelyn asked and fought back a sigh when Jack shook his head. “If you don’t open them, your brothers will.” When Jack shrugged, Evelyn sighed.

Bobby rolled his eyes when Angel and Jeremiah glared at him; blaming him for the fairy’s lack of voice. He went over to the tree and grabbed the gift he’d bought for Jack and dropped it at his feet, which earned him a flinch and the kid trying to pull his knees through his chest. “Merry Christmas, fairy,” he stated and left the living room and eventually the house.

“Stay with him,” Evelyn said as she followed Bobby. “And just where do you think you’re going on Christmas?” she demanded from the storm room.

“I fucked up,” Bobby said and his keys jingled. “The kid doesn’t want me around, so why I should be?”

“Bobby Mercer, you get back inside for Christmas. Now.”

Jack’s face twisted with agony as he heard Evelyn arguing with Bobby, because of him. Angel and Jeremiah tried to drown them out with the television that was playing one of the older versions of A Christmas Carol. While they were engrossed in it, Jack used the loudness to sneak back up to the bedroom and pack his bag. He pulled his shoes on and opened the window. He had already contemplated leaving when Bobby arrived, but that sealed it. It wasn’t his place to disrupt the peace they had.

Slipping onto the roof, Jack closed the window and then judged the depth of the snow bank. He found it surprising that he could easily run and then jump off the roof. The snow took more of the force, but he knew that his back was going to be bruised for a while as he rolled over and felt it throbbing. He got to his feet and ran down the street, not knowing where he was going.

He reached a snow covered park when he slowed down and eventually stopped. He looked around as he caught his breath and ignored the hunger pains, looking for somewhere to hide until he could make a plan. He saw a poorly maintained ‘pirate ship’ thing that had a half-covered area. He climbed up, not really trusting the metal that groaned under his weight.

Jack froze when he saw someone else up there. The vagrant glared at him. “Get away from my home,” he slurred and Jack nodded, backing away.

Making his way out of the park, Jack was surprised at how many people were on the street. He wanted to ask one of the passing people if they knew of a different park, but he didn’t know if they were going to hurt him for stopping them or for asking a dumb question. Instead, he joined the people on the sidewalk and kept his head down, not wanting anyone to think anything strange of an eleven year old walking the streets.

Jack walked up and down alleys and streets until he was certain he would never be found by Evelyn Mercer and gratefully sank to the ground, in an alley. Eventually, she’ll forget about him and things can get patched up between her and Bobby, as well as Angel and Jeremiah and Bobby. He shivered as a cold wind blew down the alley and pulled his knees to his chest, out of habit and for warmth.

He had no idea how much time passed, as the sky darkened quickly in winter. He was thinking of giving into the cold and closing his eyes when a familiar voice stopped him. “Do you really plan on sleepin’ here, fairy?”

Jacks eyes widened and he got to his feet, running down the alley. He was caught after three steps and struggled against the stronger grip of Bobby. He had no idea how badly he was going to be punished for running away and then being found. He heard Bobby hiss as his elbow caught the corner of his eye, but it wasn’t enough for the teen to drop him.

“Calm down before you hurt yourself,” Bobby said and grabbed Jack’s arms, keeping hold of him. Jack realized he wasn’t going to escape and gave up the fight. That energy was better spent on something else. Jack was lowered to his feet, but he wasn’t released. “Now, tell me what the fuck you were thinkin’, doin’ what you did!”

Jack winced as Bobby sounded at him, but kept his eyes lowered. “Th-The f-fight,” he finally whispered and felt Bobby sighed against his neck.

“Jesus fucking Christ, fairy! I fight with everyone!” Bobby turned Jack around and glared at him. “I even fight with Ma, but that’s mostly to keep her on her toes. Do you have any fucking idea how scared she is, right now?” Jack shivered and shook his head. “C’mon. We better get home.”

Jack didn’t bother to run. He got the feeling that Bobby would always find him, no matter where he went. He wasn’t sure if that was the purpose of a big brother, but it kind of scared him a little. He wasn’t sure if he liked the idea of Bobby always knowing where he was.

The car was mercifully warm against the bitter cold of the streets. Jack pulled the sleeves down of his shirt and covered his hands, keeping his eyes lowered as Bobby drove through the streets. He glanced over at the blank expression on Bobby’s face, wondering how he even knew he was missing. Evelyn would’ve thought he was hiding under the bed.

“H-How d-did—?”

“I saw you land on the snow,” Bobby answered as they stopped at a red light. “Look, I call you a fairy, but that doesn’t mean you can’t actually fly.”

“I know th-that,” Jack said and lowered his eyes for a moment. “M-My name is J-Jack.”

Bobby glanced at him and nodded. “I already knew that, fairy. Ma wouldn’t shut up about you.” Jack nodded and Bobby smirked. “I didn’t mean that as a bad thing,” he stated as he moved when the light finally turned green. “Have you always had that stutter?”

“Y-Yes.”

“Did you know if you continue to talk, it’s highly likely that’ll it go away by itself? The more you talk, the better it gets.”

Jack frowned. “Is th-that t-true?”

“Scouts’ honor,” Bobby said as he held up his hand.

“W-Wrong h-hand.”

Bobby glanced at Jack sharply and raised an eyebrow. “And how would you know that?”

Jack looked at his right hand and flinched at the memory. “I d-don’t know.”

“You’re the worst liar of us, fairy,” Bobby said with a shake of his head as he parked the car. “All right, I’m gonna tell ya something and I need to you to listen closely.” Jack looked up and waited. “We all had bad stuff happen to us. I know you got it worse, but just know that once you’re a Mercer, you’re always a Mercer. We never turn our backs on each other. If you need to talk about the memories or the nightmare, you let us know. Deal?”

“H-How—?”

“We all had nightmares when we first got here. You’re the only one that hasn’t come crying to me, though. I’ll be leaving after Christmas, due to work, but Angel and Jeremiah love ya, fairy.” Bobby reached out to ruffle Jack’s hair and sighed quietly when the kid pulled back. “We’re not gonna hurt you—ever.” He looked over his shoulder and saw Evelyn waiting for them. “Now, Ma is gonna hug you tight, whether you want it or not. She does when she’s been scared.”

Jack inhaled shakily and nodded, opening the car door. He slipped out and shuffled his way up to the house. Even though he was expecting the hug, he still flinched as though he was about to be slapped. Evelyn wrapped her arms around Jack and held him tightly.

“Don’t ever do that again,” she said as she pulled back and looked him over, noting that his clothes were wet. “Go upstairs and have a shower.”

Jack nodded and ran into the house, going up to the bedroom. He grabbed a few lot of clothing and went to the bathroom, just as he heard Evelyn thank Bobby for bringing Jack back home. He closed the bathroom door and thought about it. He really was home.

oOo

Age 12

Seven months later, Jack was still sleeping under the bed. The nightmares were still there and the sleepless nights were weighing heavily on him. He had finished The Cat in the Hat, but often read it before he turned in for the night, to help fight his stutter.

Bobby had left the day after Christmas and hadn’t shown his face since. Jack found himself missing the oldest brother, but pushed it to the side. Evelyn was getting serious about sending him to school, as Jeremiah was teaching him to write. Jack finally learned the alphabet and had learned new words in the short time he’d been in with the Mercer family.

Five months ago, Jeremiah had brought Camille around for Evelyn to meet and she’d been exceptionally nice. She greeted Jack, but didn’t try to shake his hand. In fact, she spoke to him and kept her distance, which made Jack comfortable around her. He really liked her and he could tell that Evelyn did, too. She often invited Camille around for dinner, but never let her stay the night.

Angel often spent long hours on the phone to a girl called Sofi, which he claimed was the love of his life. He had yet to bring her around for the family to meet, but he promised that he would when Evelyn was over the pride of Jeremiah’s choice of woman.

Jack was sitting with his back to the sofa, watching some terrible soap opera on the television when the front door opened. His eyes widened and he froze, thinking that someone had broken in when he heard the familiar voice of Bobby calling out. Jack relaxed slightly.

“Hey, fairy!” Bobby greeted as he walked past Jack, ruffling his hair and sitting on the sofa. “I’m surprised you’ve crawled out of your room.” He leaned down and stared at Jack, which made him lower his head. “You still aren’t sleeping, huh?”

“I am,” he mumbled and watched the show through his fringe.

Bobby laughed shortly and without humor. “You crack me up—hey now.” He smirked and ruffled Jack’s hair again. “You’re a Cracker Jack, ain’t ya?” he asked as he continued to mess up Jack’s hair.

“S-Stop th-that,” Jack protested, unable to believe that Bobby was nineteen and acted like he was seven.

“Still got that stutter, I see,” Bobby said as he kicked his feet onto the coffee table and watched the television. “Jesus, you watch some shit.”

“It w-was th-the only th-thing on.” Jack ran his ran his fingers through his hair, combing it and trying to get it the way he wanted.

Bobby groaned and rested his hands behind his head, staring at the screen. Jack sat there in silence, unsure of what he could say to the teen. He couldn’t discuss school or work, as Evelyn still wanted to make sure that Jack wouldn’t be held back too much in a school environment. Thanks to Jeremiah’s teachings, Jack could spell and write his own name. He was making really good progress with the alphabet and could recite it.

Jack glanced at Bobby from the corner of his eye. “W-Why are y-you h-here?” he asked quietly when a commercial break came on.

“Why not?” Bobby said with a shrug. He sat up straighter and stared at Jack. “Since when did you get curious, fairy?”

Jack blinked and blushed, ducking his head. “S-Sorry.”

Bobby shook his head and ruffled Jack’s hair again, noting that he didn’t flinch as bad as he did a few months ago whenever someone’s hand went near him. “It’s also Ma’s birthday tomorrow.”

Jack’s eyes widened slightly and he looked up, gazing at Bobby. “I d-didn’t know th-that,” he said quietly and turned his attention back to the television.

Bobby stood up and stretched his arms over his head. “That isn’t surprisin’, ya know,” he stated as he headed toward the dining room. “You hungry?”

Jack shook his head, still thinking about Evelyn’s birthday. He had no idea what he could do for her, in order to give her something decent. He could hear Bobby talking to him from the kitchen, but he wasn’t paying attention. He ran up the stairs and into the bedroom, grabbing his backpack. He doubted he had anything in there that wasn’t his clothing, but his eyes lit up when he found a blue marker.

He grabbed a spare piece of paper that he was using to practice his writing on and folded it in half. As he stared at the white sheet, Jack tried to figure out what to write on it. It quickly came to his attention that was unaware of how to spell ‘birthday’ and he wanted to do something a little more than writing ‘Happy Birthday’ on a piece of paper. He managed to write ‘To E’ on it, before he realized he didn’t know how to spell Evelyn’s name.

“That explains why I didn’t get any answers from ya,” Bobby said as he stood in the doorway, eating a grilled cheese sandwich. “Whatada ya doin’?”

Jack shrugged and started sketching on the paper. He stared at the lines he had down and tilted his head slightly, moving the marker again and again. Bobby finished his lunch and crouched beside Jack, watching as his little brother drew their mother’s face on the paper. He had no idea that Jack could draw, as he was well aware that Jack had only just learned how to write.

“Jesus, you’re full of surprises, ain’t ya, fairy?”

Jack kept his head down, pretending to study the picture of Evelyn he just drew. He was really starting to detest the fact that Bobby had yet to say his name. When he did glance at Bobby, he saw that the oldest Mercer boy was staring at the bed, as though trying to figure out what was wrong with it. The blue covers had a light covering of dust on them, except where Angel and Jeremiah sat.

“Have you ever slept in your bed?” Bobby asked with a frown.

Jack blinked and turned his eyes back to the paper in front of him. He made a few lines around Evelyn’s head and found that they took on the shape of a rose. He still refused to see the room as his, despite being there for nearly a year. He was still waiting for the time when he was woken to rough hands dragging him out of the house, throwing him back into the custody of his father.

That thought hadn’t entered his head for at least two months, which made Jack think to why it suddenly surged forth. Nothing about the conversation made him think of his father, until he remembered that Bobby referred to the bed as ‘Jack’s.’ Jack didn’t think he’d grown that comfortable in the house that the idea of leaving sent him into a slight state of panic. In a flash, Jack came to realize that he’d grown attached to Angel, Evelyn and Jeremiah.

Jack looked at the bedside chest, which had The Cat in the Hat on it. Bobby was questioning him further about not sleeping in the bed, but his voice had become white noise to Jack. In the ten months that he’d been in the house for, he’d been taught to read and write. No other family had ever taught him that much. Hell, he just discovered that he could draw.

Without a word, Jack stood up and left the bedroom. He went down to the laundry room and sat beside the washing machine. He pulled his knees to his chest and covered his head with his arms. How could he have allowed himself to get attached to those people? He knew that his stay at the Mercer house was temporary. Granted, it was a very long stay, but it would come to an end and he’d be placed somewhere else, with some people that didn’t give a damn about the kids living with them.

How could he have allowed himself to open up to them? How could they have destroyed his walls so easily? Why did he let it happen? The nightmares were his brain reminding him that he would be thrown into that dark, seedy, terrible world again. How could he have forgotten that? How could he have thrown all caution to the wind and let open himself for the world of hurt that would crash into him, at any given minute of any given day?

Never forget what you are. Jack squeezed his eyes shut, trying to block out the voice that was in his head. It wasn’t working. You’re not even good enough to be a tool. You’re not even a fine piece of meat. You’re nothing. Jack opened his eyes and stared at his knees. With all the crap of moving into the Mercer house, the voice of his father hadn’t bothered him. That was before he realized he was almost…happy there.

Jack gasped as he felt hands on his arms, lowering them. He knew the hands were too big and too rough to be Evelyn’s, but he still expected to see her gentle eyes. Instead, he got to see Bobby’s blank stare. Nothing. The word whispered through his mind again and Jack lowered his head. However, Bobby must have seen something on his face, as he sat down, crossing his legs and gazing at him with the same blank stare.

“Memories?” he asked and Jack frowned. “They’re the worst, ain’t they?” Bobby sighed and tilted his head back. “It took me a while to fight mine off.” When he leveled his head, he saw that Jack still wasn’t looking up. “Do you like living here, fairy?”

Jack hesitated with answering. He wasn’t sure where Bobby was going with his line of questioning and he really didn’t want him to use something else against him. However, he needed to know what Bobby was getting at, so he nodded briefly.

“You’re never gonna leave here,” Bobby said and cocked an eyebrow when Jack still didn’t look up. “Do the memories hurt a lot?” Jack shrugged and Bobby rolled his eyes. The kid wasn’t giving him much to work with. “Look at me, ya damn fairy.”

Jack flinched at the harsh tone of Bobby’s voice. None of the others in the house were ever like that with him, but he knew that if he didn’t do as he was ordered, he’d be hurt. He looked up and saw that Bobby’s eyes were hard, but there was a very faint softness to them.

“Do you wanna know the best way to beat the bad memories?” Jack blinked, keeping his face neutral. Bobby reached out, freezing when Jack winced and closed his eyes. That was a hell of a back pedal. “You make better memories. So every time the bad ones try to take over, you just think of the better ones.”

Jack opened his eyes, keeping them lowered as he thought about Bobby’s words. He hadn’t even thought of that, despite using The Cat in the Hat as a medium to make himself feel better. He wondered how long it took Bobby to get over the bad memories and to make better ones.

He didn’t know what kind of background Angel, Jeremiah or Bobby came from, but it seemed they all fought their way out of hell to stand proud as Mercers. Jack knew he didn’t have that kind of fight in him, despite refusing to die. He wanted to be strong, but he didn’t know the first thing about it and he knew he wasn’t strong enough to see the beauty of what was around him. The memories would always win, because he knew that the darkness would always be there.

Bobby could practically see the cogs turning in Jack’s head and he could also see the doubt winning. “Have you spoken to anyone about the nightmares?”

Jack nodded, wanting to keep the lies simple. “Angel and J-Jerry.”

Bobby cocked an eyebrow. He knew that was bullshit, simply because Jack spoke. He hadn’t uttered a sound for the last twenty minutes. “Uh-huh,” he drawled. “And what advice did they give you?”

Jack’s eyes snapped up. Bobby terrified him. Could he read minds? How did he know that Jack hadn’t spoken to anyone about the nightmares? He hadn’t said or done anything to give Bobby reason to believe he was lying, but Bobby somehow knew.

Bobby smirked and shook his head, getting to his feet. “Stop tryna take on the whole damn world alone, fairy. You’ve got brothers now and we’ll always have your back.”

oOo

Jack’s eyes opened and he stared at the room that was lit by the streetlight. Bobby’s final words rang through his mind, seemingly banishing the nightmare that was clinging to his mind with spiked burs. He slipped out from under the bed, unsure of when he actually fell asleep.  He shook the glitter from his clothing and hair, heading for the door when he heard the heavy breathing.

He turned to the bed and saw someone lying in it. His eyes widened and he backed away, going to his favorite corner of the room. That part of the room was always in shadow, somehow. He sat down, drawing his knees to his chest as he stared at the person that was in the bed and had been for a while. He recognized the sounds of someone in a deep sleep.

Jack glanced at the door to the room quickly, wondering if he should wake Jeremiah and Angel about the unknown person in the bed. As that thought entered his mind, the person inhaled sharply and rolled over to face him, as though knowing what he was thinking.

“Why the hell are you awake, fairy?” Bobby asked, his voice thick with sleep. The bed creaked under his weight as he sat up and ran his hands through his hair. He looked at the clock on the bedside chest. “It’s like two in the morning. What happened?”

As much as he wanted to, Jack found that he couldn’t relax. He was used to being in the bedroom alone. He didn’t like the fact that someone else was in there and had probably entered while he was asleep and vulnerable. He knew it was stupid, as nothing bad had happened to him, but that didn’t mean that it wouldn’t.

“Nothing,” Jack whispered. “B-Bathroom.”

Bobby lied down again. “Go to the bathroom, then. Then go back to sleep. It’s creepy waking up to seeing a little kid staring at you, from a dark corner while you sleep.”

Jack slowly got to his feet and crept past Bobby. The moment he opened the door, Bobby was already asleep again. Jack closed the door and then tiptoed to the closet. He slid open the door as quietly as possible and slipped inside, closing the door and pressing himself the corner furthest from the bed. He continued to watch Bobby as he slept until the sun rose, some hours later. A couple of hours after that, Bobby woke up again.

Stretching, Bobby looked around the room. Jack watched his movements closely through the slats in the closet door. Bobby got off the bed and then looked under it. Not finding Jack there, he shrugged and left the room. It seemed that Angel and Jeremiah got up early as well, as there was a fight for who got to use the bathroom first, despite arguing next to Evelyn’s room.

In seconds, it sounded like Bobby and Angel came to blows, while Jeremiah slipped past them. It almost worked, until Jeremiah called out as someone either tripped him or grabbed him. There was shouting, cursing the sound of punches landing. Jack slipped out of the closet, closing the door and moving to stand in the center of the room. He watched as the Mercer brothers fought each other viciously over the use for the bathroom.

Bobby had Angel in a headlock, while Angel had Jeremiah pinned under his foot. “You punch like a baby, Angel,” Bobby taunted, though he winced as Angel punched him in the kidney. “Ooh, there ya go! You're hittin' like a nine year old girl, now!"

Jack’s eyes widened as he saw the brothers fight. That was the first time they were themselves since his arrival. He never thought of any of them as violent, but they were throwing punches and each other around the small hallway, always making sure never to bump Evelyn’s door.

Jeremiah was able to get up as he swept Bobby’s legs out from under him, which took Bobby and Angel down. As he got to his feet, ready to proclaim his victory over the other two, he froze when he saw Jack. Angel took that as a chance and tackled his older brother. Angel jumped up almost instantly and turned on Bobby, freezing when he saw what caught Jeremiah’s attention.

“Shit,” Angel muttered behind the hand that was wiping blood from a split lip.

Bobby turned around. “Oh, hey, fairy. Where did you crawl out from?” He stepped into the room and Jack ran to the bed, sliding under it and curling into a ball, fighting to remove the images of the people that were meant to be his family fighting like wolves over a carcass.

Jeremiah pushed Bobby out of the way, his quest for the bathroom forgotten as he got on his knees and elbows, peering under the bed. “Jackie, you can come out. We’re not gonna hurt ya.”

“Go to the bathroom, Angel. I think you need it more than all of us. Gotta wash your hair, right?” Bobby laughed and entered the room, joining Jeremiah on the floor. “Look, man,” he began as Jeremiah glanced at him. “Brothers fight, sometimes. We don’t hurt each other.”

“We do it outta love, Jackie,” Jeremiah said soothingly and Jack slowly opened his eyes.

“Love?” Jack asked and glanced at his arms. He flinched as memories flooded his mind.

“Hey, what those fucks did to you wasn’t love, fairy,” Bobby stated sternly, which made Jack look at him. “We’re a little rough around the edges…I guess?”

“Very rough,” Jeremiah agreed quietly and punched Bobby’s shoulder when Bobby punched his. “But we never hurt each other for fun.”

“Not if you don’t count throwing Angel out of his window to see if he’d fly, Jerry,” Bobby stated and received a glare from Jeremiah.

Not the time or place, Bobby! …And I wanted to see if he’d fit through the window if he was traveling fast enough.” He paused for a moment. “And I was right; he did.”

Jack stared at Jeremiah. Unable to stop himself, he laughed at the way Jeremiah worded and defended himself from throwing his younger brother out a window. He ignored the shocked eyes of Bobby and Jeremiah on him as he enjoyed the tickling feeling that the laughter was giving him. He could only imagine Evelyn’s face when Jeremiah used that excuse on her.

Jeremiah and Bobby exchanged glances, both deciding that Jack was insane enough to fit in with them, even if he couldn’t stand to see them fighting. Once Angel was out of the bathroom, Jeremiah took the opportunity to dash to the room and close the door.

“Come on out, fairy.” Bobby backed away and got to his feet. “We’re having pancakes for breakfast.”

Jack crawled out from under the bed and brushed off the glitter. “P-Pancakes?”

Bobby cocked an eyebrow. “You’ve never had pancakes?” Jack shook his head. Evelyn was more a fan of waffles than pancakes. “Head down to the kitchen. I need to wake up a little more before I get started.”

Jack nodded and ran down to the kitchen. He soon discovered why Evelyn didn’t come out of her bedroom while the boys were fighting. She was downstairs, brewing coffee as she stirred a batter. She looked over at him and smiled, taking in the glitter that didn’t seem to bother the young boy. However, she knew that she would never get the glitter out of the house.

“Good morning, Jackie,” she greeted as she added chocolate chips to the batter.

“G-Good m-morning.”

“Did you sleep well?”

Jack looked around, making sure that Bobby was nowhere near to correct him. He really didn’t want Evelyn worrying about him. “Y-Yeah,” he answered and heard running thumps as Angel came down the stairs.

“You okay, Jackie?” Angel asked as he grabbed a handful of the chocolate chips, despite Evelyn swatting at his hand. Jack nodded. “Good. You’ll get used to it.” He grinned and ruffled Jack’s hair, saying that he had to run an errand.

“Oh, bullshit,” Bobby said as he entered the kitchen, pulling a shirt on. “If you’re gonna lie, Angel, at least make it believable, man.”

“Shut the hell up, Bobby,” Angel snapped and then kissed Evelyn’s cheek. “I’ll be back in about two hours, Ma.”

“Be safe, Angel.”

“Always am, Ma,” Angel said and smirked childishly at Bobby. “Always am.”

Bobby shook his head as Angel left, telling Evelyn to sit down and he’d take over. Jack looked between the two others, trying to figure out what happened. Bobby didn’t seem like the kind of person to let someone else win an argument, no matter how small it was. However, he seemed to let Angel go without much of a fight, but he also knew that Evelyn was aware of something else.

Jack stood beside Bobby, watching as he poured the batter into a pan. He tilted his head as he watched small bubbles form and then pop on the surface. Somehow knowing that it needed to be flipped, Bobby did just that. Jack frowned and blinked, looking up at Bobby. He smirked and winked, saying he’d reveal the secret to perfect pancakes one day.

oOo

Bobby stayed in the house for the next month, which didn’t bother Jack. What bothered him was the fact that Bobby was sleeping on the bed. For the last two nights, Jack was completely unable to sleep, knowing that there was someone else in there with him. His neck was starting to hurt from staring up at the bottom of the bed, as he curled up and tried to remind himself that Bobby had never hurt him. However, Jack soon realized that nearing seventy-two hours of no sleep played dangerous tricks on his mind.

His eyes snapped to the corner he usually cowered in. They widened as he saw tentacles stretching out to him, blood red eyes watching him, spiked jaws drooling at the idea of eating him. His young mind wasn’t prepared to deal with that, despite knowing it wasn’t real. He looked back at the bottom of the bed and then over at the corner again, breathing out slowly when he saw it was empty.

Gripping his backpack, Jack shimmied along the floor and slipped out from under the bed at the foot. He glanced over his shoulder and saw that Bobby was out of it. He opened the door and gasped, dropping his backpack. He took two steps back as the man entered the room and his knees gave out. Unable to take his eyes from the hallucination before him, Jack was unaware that Bobby had woken as his butt hit the floor.

Good, you do remember. Jack could hear someone saying something, but he couldn’t take his eyes off the man as he undid the leather belt around his slacks. He flinched and swallowed a scream as the man cracked the belt. The sound seemed to echo around his mind. Already, he could feel the pain on the back of his thighs and his back. He could feel the blood running from the welts that split. The man laughed cruelly as tears of sheer terror welled in Jack’s eyes, but he refused to let them fall.

“Jack!”

Bobby’s face suddenly took up Jack’s vision and the overhead light was turned. Jack blinked. The man was gone. Jeremiah was standing in the doorway, rubbing an eye as he looked around. Jack stared at Bobby, trying to understand what just happened. He could faintly hear Bobby telling him to breathe.

“Fuck,” Jeremiah muttered as he crouched beside Bobby. “When was the last time he slept?”

“No idea, Jerry. Jackie, ya gotta breathe, man!”

The snap of the leather belt made Jack flinch. He slowly turned his head to his favorite corner and saw the man standing there. He smirked. In one step, he was standing beside Jack, raising his arm. Just as the belt ‘made contact,’ Jack released a scream that had the neighborhood dogs howling and barking. It also brought Angel and Evelyn racing into the room.

“What’s wrong?” Evelyn demanded as she pushed Bobby and Jeremiah out of the way.

“I don’t know, Ma. I think he’s seein’ stuff,” Bobby answered as he hovered behind her anxiously. “What do we do?” Bobby tilted his head. “For a kid that held his breath for a minute, he sure can scream.”

Jack’s scream last another thirty seconds, before he blinked. The tears that had gathered in his eyes trickled down his cheek and he touched the wetness, looking at his fingertips. His eyes widened and he looked at Evelyn, swallowing thickly and trying to figure out why his throat was sore. He got to his feet, before his world turned black and he collapsed, falling into Evelyn’s waiting arms.

When he opened his eyes, Jack looked around the room and instantly recognized the stench of industrial strength sterilizers. He didn’t remember going to the hospital and he couldn’t remember why he was there. In fact, he couldn’t remember much of anything. He flexed his fingers to see if he had any broken bones. He froze and looked at his left hand, which was being held.

Jeremiah woke up the moment Jack’s fingers twitched. He wiped the sleep from his eyes and forced them to focus on his baby brother. “You’re awake,” he stated and smothered a yawn. “Are you okay, man? You’ve been out for like two days. Docs said something about stress.”

Jack blinked and looked to the door when it opened. Bobby stormed in and Jack was terrified he was going to receive a slap or a punch for ending up in the hospital. Jack’s eyes widened and his mouth fell open as Bobby hugged him tightly for a few moments and then released him, glaring at the kid. Jeremiah said he needed to call Evelyn and left the room. Jack lowered his eyes to the white covers of the bed and idly plucked at a thread, wanting to find anything to keep his attention off the anger in Bobby’s eyes.

“I told you to talk to us about those nightmares!” he hissed and Jack winced. “No, instead you gotta scare yourself shitless and end up in hospital, making Ma look like a bad caregiver!”

“S-She isn’t…I d-didn’t m-m—”

“Spit it out!” Bobby ordered and Jack jumped, staring up at him, trembling where he sat.

“I’m s-s-sorry.”

The anger seemed to drain out of Bobby almost instantly, as he collapsed into the chair Jeremiah was sitting in. He sighed and shook his head. “Don’t be sorry, fairy. You’re only eleven and the doc reckons your stress levels are around a Fortune 500 CEO that’s being audited every week.” He sighed again. “Fuck, fairy. You scared us all!”

Jack stared at Bobby. With the anger mostly gone, he could see the concern. “W-Why d-do y-you care?” he finally managed to say.

Bobby sat forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “Because what happened to you wasn’t right. Because what happened to all of us wasn’t right. Whether you like it or not, fairy, you’re stuck with us.” Bobby stood up and placed a hand on Jack’s shoulder, seeing the guilt, shame and the spark of fear that wouldn’t go away creep into the baby blues. “Once a Mercer, always a Mercer. Say it.”

Jack blinked and tilted his head. “Once a M-Mercer, always a M-Mercer,” he whispered, ducking his head. After the hell he put them through, he doubted he was truly worthy of that name that Bobby held in such high esteem. He gasped softly when he was slapped upside the head.

“Say it again.”

Jack mumbled it again, only to be slapped across the back of the head and Bobby telling him to say it again. Jack gritted his teeth and glared at Bobby. “Once a Mercer, always a Mercer!” he finally shouted, exhaling shakily when Bobby smirking knowingly and then ruffled his hair.

“You’re adorable, fairy.” Bobby’s eyes softened for just a moment, which made Jack curious. It passed and Bobby stepped back from the bed. “You hungry?”

Knowing that he couldn’t ask about the look, Jack just nodded. “Y-Yeah.”

oOo



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