Rating: T for language and drug references
Summary: Then behind him, a shadow loomed and the world fell apart. Jack is sick; Bobby helps in the only way he knows how.
Status: Finished LONG one shot
Author's notes: Damn, this was a challenge if I ever knew one. I wrote this listening to every fucked up, woe is me, drug song I could find, all the while with a straw hanging out of my mouth instead of a smoke. The Eagles' Hotel California, Red Hot Chill Peppers' Under the Bridge, and A Perfect Circle's Weak and Powerless are just a few of the songs that got put on repeat through this process. I'm sure their influences show. Oh, not to mention Karnivool's album.
I also wrote most of this at night, with all my lights on and me sitting there peering through my sunglasses, just because it gave me that hazy, come down sort of feel. It was a really hard thing to do, so I hope it has as a dramatic effect as I hoped.
Further notes: I do not recommend reading this while tired. It is a little complex, to say the least, as I have played around in the three varying stages of perception; being reality, fantasy and memory so it can get a little heavy at times. This is especially true with the way I have blended them all together. I thought about marking each perspective in either normal text, bold or italics, but decided against it. In my twisted way, I wanted the reader to never really know what was real and what wasn't.
I'd follow you entwined
My bleeding eyes are sewn blind
Fade away, if you reach this in two minds
Not to mention I'm dreaming, falling short
Show me away that this is real
Saving me, settle down, and I will fall upon thee
In this happiness I'm so damn lonely
The thirteen year old boy was already tall for his age, his slim figure and straggly hair adding to the elongated appearance. His eyes glimmered hazily in the moonlight, the blue green depths suggesting that, if under different circumstances, they would have sparkled brighter.
Nothing about Jack suggested his age. The look on his face, the way he held himself as he walked, even the customary smoke that he always seemed to carry gave the impression that he was older; much older. After all, no normal thirteen year old had seen and experienced the things he had. Every action in a kid's life leaves its mark.
Jack shivered in the night, trembling as he trudged through the snow and onto the driveway. He walked right past the front door, ignoring it and the set of keys that hung heavily in his pocket. Doors just weren't his thing. Besides, the feeling he got when he turned the key in a lock was too strange, too unusual to deal with. Windows, on the other hand, now they were right up his alley. So with his head down and his hands shoved deeply into his pockets, Jack walked around to the back of the Mercer residence.
His new foster home… at least until they got sick of him and his shit and kicked him out.
Jack looked up at the window, dread in his heart. A tremor ran through his body, causing his teeth to rattle and his vision to blur momentarily.
"Just the cold," he told himself, his breath forming grey clouds in the darkness. It was a lie, but his mind was too cloudy to acknowledge the painful truth. He just needed a hit. That was all.
His night had been a disaster, right from the moment he had climbed out of his window after Bobby had dragged him into his room. They had fought earlier, over something trivial that Jack could hardly remember, and it had resulted in the eldest of the Mercer brothers taking things into his own hands. Despite the shouts from Angle and Jerry for him to stop, Bobby had hauled Jack up the stairs and locked him in his room.
That had been the final straw for Jack. His social worker Clive had told him that this house was different, that these people would look out for him and that no harm would happen to him under this roof. Lies, all fucking lies.
The look in Bobby's eyes when they argued was enough to have Jack's heart leap into his throat. Even now, standing under his window and shivering in the cold, he could still taste the bile on his tongue.
After that, Jack had decided to make a run for it. He had no where to go and little money, but that was of no consequence. He wasn't planning on going far. All he needed was something to help dull the senses for awhile. He just needed to get to the basketball courts and find Eric, his friend and dealer.
Clive had made him swear that he would give them up; that not even this family would take him in if they knew that he was a drug addict at the age of thirteen. Some saints they were in they weren't even willing to try and help a thirteen year old crack head. Nonetheless, Jack had tried. Well, not to give up, but to slow down his usage. For the most part, it had been working. It wasn't easy, but then again, nothing in Jack's life was.
That was until the night before last when he found that his stash was missing.
The fight with Bobby was just the icing on the cake. He had never been so long without a hit before and it was starting to grate on his nerves. And so once Angel and Evelyn had gone to Jerry's to help him and Camille unpack and Bobby had settled in for the evening, Jack had easily climbed along his roof and disappeared into the white glazed night.
Only problem was, when he got to the courts, Eric wasn't there.
Word on the street was that the older boy had been set up, nabbed by the cops and whisked away in a beat car, sirens and all. That was the Detroit police for you, always out to get an easy pat on the back.
With no money and no other close contacts, Jack was, in a word, fucked. So after hours of pointless wandering – half in hopes that he was get lost or find somewhere else to spend the night – he had returned to his new 'home' with no stash and a sickly feeling in his gut.
Jack was dreading the climb ahead of him. As he stood there, shivering and nauseated, the distance to the second storey window seemed like ages away. The longer he stared at it, the more it seemed to grow, as if the house itself was starching away from him, forbidding him access.
He knew the climb wasn't hard. It was just a matter of gripping each windowsill and hauling himself up to the next. Amateur stuff. But as he stood there, planning out the best route, the windows warped before his eyes. They curried along the wall, moving further apart, or colliding with others, leaving large gaps of unscaleable timber and bricks.
The boy blinked angrily, trying to clear his vision and focus. It proved to be a futile act and did naught but make his head feel lighter. With a sigh and a shrug, Jack moved to the wall, reaching up with one unstable hand and wrapped his fingers around the bottom of the first window ledge.
The snow would cushion his fall, and if it didn't. Well, he could only have one fatal fall.
The climb wasn't as hard as he had feared, not once he got started. It was just a matter of being quiet as he gripped the other window sills and scampered across the veranda roof.
It didn't take him long. Each and every step, every shuffle, felt like it took him a lifetime, but in reality, the boy knew that it was hardly even five minutes before he tumbled into his still open window. It was hardly the graceful entrance he would have liked, but between the exhaustion of the climb and the dizziness in his head, he was hardly worried.
"The funny thing about houses is," a voice sounded out of the darkness. Jack stopped dead in his tracks, knowing that sarcastic tone anywhere. "They were designed for easy access. You know, with doors and stairs."
Jack was not in the mood for this. Since the day he had arrived, Bobby had been on his case. Worse still, he had been watching him; tracing his every move. Jack couldn't even walk into the kitchen or up the stairs without Bobby's eyes following him, marking his presence with a cold, calculated gaze.
It was a habit that Jack found absolutely terrifying.
For his part, he had kept his eyes down, his words quiet and his actions meek. Jack had learnt long ago that it was best not to disturb a sleeping beast; for once awoken it was guaranteed that it would never again rest.
Bobby, in his mind, was one such beast. He reminded Jack of Steve, the man who had taken him in three houses ago. He had been nice enough, kind and supplied Jack with more then he could ever need. But then, one night, because of one single dropped fucking beer, everything had changed and Steve had snapped. The entire nightmare had ended with Jack running for his life, a trail of blood left in the snow as he sought sanctuary in the darkened alleys of Detroit.
It was an experience he would never forget and one that he was not overly willing to have again. Yet before he could do what his brain told him was smart, he found words escaping his mouth, each syllable dripping with contempt. "What the fuck do you want, Bobby?"
"You have a dirty mouth on you, kid. You know that?"
Instincts told him to apologise, to drop his gaze and try to make himself shorter, smaller. To retreat and shrink against the wall; anything to take up less space.
Under any normal circumstances he would have done so without a second thought, but not tonight. He had had enough and he had already started making his stand. Even if he were to back down now, he would not be spared from the beating he was sure was to follow. The way he saw it, he may as well go down in a blaze of glory. Besides, his body was already starting to pain him from the lack of drugs. What was one more flogging, one more beating, one more attack when he had already endured so much?
"Learnt from some of the best," Jack scowled, resolute in his brave actions. He rolled his eyes and threw his bag into the open closet, feeling oddly alive despite the violent shivers that ran the length of his spine. At least, for what may have been the first time in his life, the shivers were not from mind numbing fear. It was almost a welcome relief.
After his bag had landed in the otherwise empty cupboard with a thud, the two of them stayed in awkward silence. It felt like forever; Bobby motionless, Jack jerking unconsciously. Finally Jack's eyes started to adjust to the darkness and the shape of his older 'brother' began to appear from the gloom.
Bobby was a force to be reckoned with, no matter who you were. There was hardly a gang member or dealer on the streets who wasn't afraid of Bobby. Jack had found that out the hard way a week or two back when he had tried to hire someone to rough his overlord up. There were no takers; none at all and he was offering damn good money and a decent size portion of coke for it too.
Perturbed, he had resolved himself to his current fate and had gone out of his way to make things hell while still being quiet. He had had been at the Mercer household for almost a month and already they were driving him insane. For their part, he was rather surprised that they had yet to kick him out. Most of his foster arrangements never stretched past three weeks at the best of times, and this was hardly one of those times.
They seemed to have this whole 'reforming' thing going on. Where they forced you to pray at the dinner table, and say 'please' and 'thank you' with everything, do the dishes and chores and ask permission to go out. Not to mention the curfew rule.
Jack didn't agree with it one bit.
As for Bobby, he was the worst. Jack didn't know what his deal was, but the guy seemed to think himself the man of the house, and thus the equivalent to Caesar – or God. Half the time Jack imagined Bobby taking their dinner time prayers to heart as if they were words of endearment and thanks dedicated to him on a daily basis.
If that wasn't bad enough, here he was in the middle of the night, rocking back on a kitchen chair which he had undoubtedly shoved under the doorhandle to Jack's room. That was the other thing about Bobby, no matter what Jack pulled, he always seemed to be a step ahead, to know exactly what Jack was thinking.
"Well, what do you want?"
"To talk," Bobby said casually.
"To talk?" Jack asked with a laugh. "Right. You sneak into my room in the middle of the night, block my escape route and you just want to talk. I've heard that one before."
Bobby seemed to ignore his comment and merely smiled. To an outsider, the action could have seemed sweet, nice and charming even, but to a trained eye like Jacks', it was deadly and menacing. "And to see my baby brother."
"I'm not your-" Jack's protests were cut short as Bobby flicked on the light switch. The room was filled with harsh fluorescent light and Jack instantly dropped his head down and covered his face with this hands. Everything glowed under the intensity of the bulb, making Jack's head spin dangerously. The walls acted like a mirror, the white bedspread gleamed like snow in the midday sun and the small mirror which Bobby held in his hand cast a teasing orb upon Jack's fingertips, making him grimace.
He saw the flashing of distant lights, callous and dazzling in the darkened night. The shrill sounds of sirens surrounded him, whipping his already confused mind into frenzy. A torch shone in his face and he whimpered, pressing himself further in to the corner and somehow hoping that he would blend in with the wall.
"Found him!" It was a woman's voice, though as cold and disconnected as the bright light in his eyes. He hid his head in his hands, clawing at his eyes. Anything to make the pain in his head stop.
Why were there so many lights? He hated light. It allowed the world to see him and forced him to look upon the horrors of humanity. It was too bright, almost crushingly so, and somehow they kept changing from red and blue to blinding white.
"Not too fond of the light, huh kid?" Bobby asked sardonically as he flicked the mirror back and forth, taunting his prey mercilessly. Jack flinched, startled at the ability of his mind to wonder in the most inconvenient of times.
"What, is this some new twisted joke?" Jack found it hard to talk. His mind was too preoccupied with blocking out the light and keeping his eyes shut to actually concentrate on formulating coherent sentences. "…torture unwanted house guest?"
"No," Bobby replied with a smile and yet another flick of his wrist. The light beam managed to get between Jack's fingers and stuck him right in the eyes. He grimaced and reeled back as if it had been a physical assault, a whimper escaping his lips.
"Cut it out, Bobby."
"I have a headache." It was a lame explanation and he knew it, but it was the best he could do. He could almost hear the laughter from the light bulb, the inexplicable glee that the inanimate object buzzed with as it worked to shine brighter and brighter, working to drive him further past the brink of insanity.
To his surprise, the orb of light stopped dancing across his face. Jack froze, not entirely sure what to make of the change in situation. He was not used to being listened to when he asked someone to stop, no matter what it was that they were doing.
He peeked through his fingers at Bobby just in time to see the older man launch out of his chair, a twisted snarl on his face, his eyes glowing like fire.
Jack stumbled back, his hands flying up to defend his face from the oncoming attack. Though, to his surprise, nothing happened. Cautiously, he peered through the gap made between his two wrists. There, sitting in the chair and giving him a curious look, was Bobby, appearing as if he hadn't moved at all. The mirror had been thrown onto Jack's bed where a thin beam of light shot upwards towards the ceiling, marking its presence.
Jack sniffed and absentmindedly wiped at his nose with his sleeve, trying to calm his nerves and anxiety. He kicked at a spot on the carpet, trying to shake Bobby's scrutiny. Jack had no clue what had made him react like that, what had made him imagine something so unreal, but the feeling that it had left was unsettling. Something was clawing at his stomach, twisting it and making him feel as if he needed to vomit. Sweat trickled down his face, stinging his eyes and matting his hair to his head. He felt flushed; dizzy as if suffering from heat stroke.
"Runny nose, Jackie?" Bobby asked. Suddenly Jack was overly self conscious. He sniffed again, trying to keep his nose from making a sound. "And your eyes…" Bobby continued, "are all watery and blood shot..."
"Cold." Jack interjected before Bobby could start to draw his own conclusions. He had hoped that Bobby wouldn't notice his symptoms, though he should have known better then to try and sneak anything past Bobby Mercer.
"You sick, Cracker Jack?"
"What's it to you?"
"Gotta look after my little brother."
Anger welled up in Jack, his eyes flashing dangerously. He saw the surprise register across Bobby's features saw the man falter in his taunts and Jack straight away took the advantage of having the upper hand for once. It was not a power he was often granted.
He hated when Bobby taunted him like that, they weren't family and they never would be. He didn't need them just a much as they didn't want him. Just because they were yet to through him out didn't mean anything. It would happen, it was just a matter of when and to be secretly honesty, Jack was looking forward to do the day it did.
Something inside of him snapped. It felt as if years of pent up rage and hatred had just flown out of previously indestructible boom gates. Before he even knew what he was doing, Jack was launching himself across the floor to attack Bobby, his fists pounding into the older man with as much force as he could muster.
It was a short lived victory. As soon as Bobby realised what was happening, he reached out with one of his bear like hands and grabbed Jack by the collar, dragging the kicking and screaming boy away from his body.
Jack squirmed and lashed out again, trying to inflict as much damage as he could. Bobby put a stop to his feeble attack by grabbing the boy's arm with one hand and pushing him backwards with the other.
What Bobby wasn't expecting was the cry of pain which came from Jack's lips as his hand clamped over the boy's upper arm. The terrible sound halted Bobby in his tracks. Jack cringed, trying to pull free. Before he could, Bobby grabbed at his sleeve and yanked the material upwards, exposing Jack's arm to the harsh light.
Bruises dotted up the length of Jack's arm, standing out in horrific contrast to his fair skin. Some looked like finger marks from where an overly large hand had grabbed him while others looked defensive, as if the boy had used his arms to guard off a physical attack. Mingled between the dark patches were scars; burns, cuts and unhealed welts until there was hardly a single inch of unmarred skin left. Around the boy's delicate wrists were lacerations that were obviously caused by his own hand. Dangerous lines and swollen veins protruded from the inside of his elbow.
Bobby let him go, stunned at what he saw. Jack instantly recoiled, his sleeve being tugged none too kindly over his arm to hide the vestige.
Bobby watched as the boy trembled near the window. To his surprise, Jack had actually kept eye contact with him, daring him to say something. Besides almost being the first time that Bobby had seen the boy looking at someone alertly, he was struck by a sense of admiration for the kid. Not many thirteen year olds could have endured what he had and still maintain that defiant spark in his eyes when needed.
Despite his want to comfort the kid, Bobby kept to the role of the bad guy, encouraging Jack to be more vocal. It was in Bobby's opinion that sometimes all these kids needed was someone to vent on. Someone to scream at and to take out their frustrations. It was obvious that Jack needed more then just that, but at the moment, such an outburst would probably be a blessing for the young boy.
"I've seen some fucked up shit in my time kid," Bobby sneered as best he could, trying not to let the emotional implications of Jack's wounds affect his voice. "But you, you take the cake."
"I'm not a fuckin' kid!"
"I know. Even a dumbass kid wouldn't be stupid enough to do this shit to himself!"
"Sorry, Jackie, I don't swing that way." Without further warning, Bobby reached over and grabbed Jack roughly by the arm again, this time spinning him fully around. Jack stumbled as Bobby pulled him backwards, twisting his arm up between his shoulder blades painfully and forcing him to stoop over in order to alleviate the pressure on his shoulder.
"What the fuck are you doing? Get the fuck off me!" Jack screamed. For the first time, pure terror rose inside him. He could already taste the bile in the back of his throat, feel his pulse quicken and hear the pumping of his own blood in his ears. Fear made him sweat, the perspiration running down his forehead and into his eyes quicker then he could blink it away.
He had feared Bobby from the first time he'd seen him, but he had never been threatened by him. Over time and with experience, Jack had gotten to know and understand the difference between fear and threat.
Fear was irrational, a chemical reaction concocted to deal with something one didn't want to face. It made you back away from something or someone without really knowing why. It left room for thought; to imagine what would happen to you if you didn't get away quick enough.
To feel threatened was something entirely different. It implied physical harm, tangible, unescapable danger. It stopped you in your tracks, froze you to the very spot that you stood in and forced all thought from your mind. You didn't even have the ability to fear what was coming at you. Thought never crossed into the equation. Just the cold, hard knowledge that you were, in a sense, fucked.
That was how Jack felt, with Bobby behind him, pressing down on his arm with such vigour he need only breathe to snap the bones of his arm. Trapped with Bobby and the house empty of all other life. Completely and utterly fucked.
A shiver ran through his body, causing his shoulder joint to jerk painfully.
"Scared, Jackie?" Bobby asked, his voice dripping with venom, "Or maybe it's something else."
"Please…" Jack managed to choke out. It was getting harder to breathe. He didn't know why; Bobby had already released the majority of pressure from his shoulder, but there was something else working to close up his throat and block his airway. His nose ran, dripping annoyingly from his top lip and there was nothing he could do about it. He trembled like a leaf in the older man's grasp, his head jerking so violently that his guitar pick necklace hit him repetitively in the chin.
"Please, what?" Bobby mocked, mimicking Jack's voice with a high trill. "Please release me, or please find me another hit?"
Jack was in too much pain to register the implications of Bobby's words. He just wanted to be free, to be able to breath and to get his body to start complying with his wished. What was wrong with him? "Please!"
"I want to hear you say it!"
"Alright!" Jack yelled, surprised at the sound of his own voice. "I need some. Really bad. Anything!"
That was the other thing he had come to learn. Something that surpassed fear or even terror, and that was addiction. It took hold and controlled your body. Fear didn't matter; terror was not an issue nor was pain. Not when addiction was involved.
"It's been awhile, hasn't it? A night and a day is a long time to go without." Bobby hissed, smirking as he pulled Jack closer to his body and wrapped his other arm around the kid's middle.
"You…" Jack gasped, his struggles starting afresh. He had known that someone had found his stash, but since nothing had been said about it, he gathered it had been Evelyn who had put it aside as evidence for when she sent him back to the group house.
"I won't have some drug fucked addict in my mother's house." Bobby growled. With a sudden jerk, he had Jack thrown off balance. Jack yelped in surprise as Bobby started forcefully dragging him from the room. He tried to dig his ankles into the carpet to slow down their progress, but Bobby was unstoppable. Not even the tread on the bottom of his shoes sticking into the rug in the hallway could slow down the older man.
Panic welled up in Jack, overriding all his senses as he started to imagine what Bobby had install for him. He hadn't felt so hopeless in a long time, not since he was left for dead in a dumpster by his abusive step father. More then anything, he didn't want something like that to happen again. Just throw him out, send him packing and back to the group house. Beat him before hand if need be, but just nothing like that again.
"HELP!" Jack screamed.
"No one is going to hear you. You didn't stick around long enough tonight to see that Ma went to visit Jerry. Just brought his own place, he did." Bobby ranted as he pulled Jack along by his throat. Somewhere in Jack's head, that rebellious voice screamed at him to contradict Bobby, to tell the older man that Jack knew more about the going ons of this house then they gave him credit for. He was about to start ranting, about to give into that voice when Bobby tightened his grip and kept talking. "No, you wouldn't know that as you didn't even give them the time of day. I'm missing helping my little brother unpack and play house because of you, kid!" Despite the boys thrashing, it was not hard to manoeuvre him through the doorway and down the corridor.
The corridor tilted and twisted as Jack struggled against the older man. It was sickening, like walking on a flat floor surrounded on all sides by a turning pipe. He felt as if he was going to be ill. It was like a scene he had once seen in a kids book, or a labyrinth built upon itself, with distorted doors and upside down floors. He wondered how much of illusion was from fear and how much from the lack of drugs in his system.
Before he even knew what was happening, Bobby had dragged him into the bathroom, slamming the door shut behind him. The world tipped again, and this time Jack was aware that Bobby had lifted him fully into the air. Just as he was about to scream again, he found himself being unceremoniously dumped into the bathtub.
Confusion washed over him as Jack blinked in the bight light. This was hardly what he was expecting. He thought Bobby would have been taking him into his room, or down into the kitchen where the older man could find instruments to help demonstrate his point upon the boy. But not the bathtub.
Then, before he could contemplate the strangeness of it all, freezing cold water rushed over his face and Jack thought he was about to die.
Pain exploded everywhere; his eyes burnt from the light, the water sizzled on his flushed skin and his lungs tightened as he tried to gulp through the mind numbing fear of drowning. Frozen in terror, Jack couldn't even breathe. He just lay there, held down by Bobby's arm and stared into the distance, trying to differentiate what was real and what was fantasy.
The bathtub grew up around him like a living thing, engulfing him in its startling whiteness. He balked at the sudden attack, thrashing harder as a sense of suffocation overcame him that had naught to do with the impounding water. The noise of the drops sounded like beats of a snare drum, loud and dominating as they hammered around him. He felt each and every drop, felt the way the water around him ripped as they cut through the dormant surface. Staring up at the showerhead, Jack saw a serpent twisting its way down to meet his face, venom dripping from its jowls. It snarled like a hungry vampire, thirsting for his blood.
Then the scene before him morphed. The bathtub darkened, as if thick black oil had crept up over the surface without Jack noticing. It became taller, deeper and offered nothing but sinister promises. Water no longer fell on him. He was staring at dust, pale, swirling dust illuminated by the small cracks of light which marked the edge of a closet door. Golden flecks before his eyes, he stared at them, utterly enraptured. The way they danced and twirled, moved about in the darkness and depravity as if they didn't have care in the world. He wanted to be dust.
And then light exploded in front of his eyes and the dust rushed at him, cluttered and frightened on the incoming breeze. There was no more golden light, no more sparkles to distract a young child. Only the leering face of a man enraged. Of a man thirsting for his blood.
He stared at his father.
Then Bobby let him go.
Jack shot up like a taut spring, his hands coming to grip the sides of the bathtub as he gasped for air. Knuckles turning white, he coughed and spluttered the water from his lungs, half reviling in the joy of being able to breathe once again, and half hating the pain it caused his damaged throat.
He glanced around him frantically. How did he get out of the closet? Where was the man?
Jack cast a timid glance at the showerhead. He received a face full of water for his efforts but found nothing sinister about it at all. Just a showerhead, spitting out freezing cold water.
"Better?" Bobby asked, his voice shattering Jack's train of thought. Jack lifted his head and looked up at the man who leered over him and the small bathtub. Fear in his eyes, the boy merely nodded his assent.
"Good!" Bobby said with a sardonic smile. He reached over, grabbed Jack by the head and once again shoved him down into the bottom of the bath. Jack's wet cloths aided Bobby in easily slipping the boy back down into a prone position. As the water poured over the younger man, Bobby held him under mercilessly.
This time Jack fought as hard as he could, long limbs lashing out left, right and centre as he worked to free himself of the man's vice life grip. He couldn't see, couldn't sense anything other then the blinding cold and the terror that welled inside him. He thrashed like a fish on land, struggling to escape his watery torture.
One of his fisted hands impacted with something soft and he heard a muffled curse above him. He had finally found Bobby. He concentrated his mind on attacking the spot where he knew his assailant to be, beating at the air with furious dedication that surprised even him. His hands hit a few more places, drawing a few more curses but his struggles were quickly cut short as Bobby grabbed at his arms. Jack fought, but the older man was just too fast, too big for him to dislodge, and within moments, Bobby had both of Jack's wrists pinned to the side of the tub as he continued to hold his body under the water.
Blind panic set in. He was stuck, truly and utterly stuck.
Jack's tried to cut himself off from reality, to zone out completely as he did on so many occasions. That had been his only sanctum as a child; the ability to fully disconnect his mind from his body and lose himself in a world of thoughts. He desperately yearned for that ability now.
Yet he couldn't. Try as he might, Jack's mind was forced into the present, into the sickening feeling of drowning and the fear of his own demise.
He finally ceased his struggles, his eyes open as he stared into his own memories and found only darkness. He didn't want to remember, that was just the thing. What was the point in remembering when there was nothing but pain and humiliation lurking beneath the surface?
Then, without warning, he retched, empting the feeble contents of his stomach into the bathtub and down his water logged shirt.
Bobby's grip loosened and Jack instantly broke away, curling in on himself and turning his back to the older man. A small whimper escaped Jack's lips as he retched again, this time coughing as he did so.
He felt so weak, so useless as he lay there, the water still splashing over him in freezing waves. Again and again he vomited, until nothing but bile burnt the back of his throat. His stomach sized up, cramping from the effort of the violent retching and his restricted position. It was hard for even him to tell what were cold shivers and what were actually spasms of his chemically starved body.
As he retched again, Jack prayed for it all to end. To be able to just curl himself in a little ball and to die. He was done with the world, with life and everything that people could throw at him. For years he had survived on his own, fought and struggled just to get to the end of each day, and then fought harder to see the sun rise again. It was a daily battle, him against the world, and one that he was sure he was finally losing.
The unexpected voice made him retch again. His hands came to his lips, clawing at his mouth as wave after wave of illness shuddered through him. His nails sunk into his skin, shredding it as he tried to somehow make the illness stop. Blood. He could taste blood somewhere in the back of his throat and it made him gag all the more.
"Jackie? You need to stop." Large hands came and pulled at his wrists, forcing him to stop tearing at his mouth. Jack shuddered as he saw his fingers and yanked his wrists from Bobby's grasp.
"My hands," he murmured. Jack watched them as they shook, partly sick at the way they disobeyed his command to be still, and yet partly fascinated. Red dotted them and rimmed the underside of his nails, the majority of the blood being washed away with the water. They seemed to have a life of their own. No longer were they hands, but curled tree roots, or thin branches scraping at some imaginary window, begging for access to a place Jack couldn't pinpoint.
"Shhhh," Bobby soothed, taking the boy's hands in his and holding them as still as possible. He could see the fascination in Jack's eyes, the utter amazement at the reactions of his own body. But he could also see the fear. It was a fear that overrode the look of terror when Bobby had attacked him. It was something deeper, something more unnerving.
"It's okay." It was hardly the correct thing to say, but somehow Bobby knew that was what Jack needed to hear. He rinsed the rest of the blood from the boy's hands, and allowed Jack to hug them to his chest. "It's okay, Jackie."
Jack shook, his arms wrapped tightly around his middle. His feet and knees were pulled as close to his stomach as the restricting bathtub would allow. The convolutions came so fast and hard that his head vibrated against the porcelain like a jackhammer. Blood dripped from his lip where his top teeth had sunk into the soft flesh in an attempt at easing his pain.
Bobby watched, concern in his eyes as the younger man jerked violently. It was a pitiful sight to behold, and once again Bobby was reminded of the harsh reality in which they lived. Jack was no more then a kid and already he had been through far too much. As sickening as it was, Bobby knew that even his 'childhood' experiences paled in comparison to what Jack had endured.
"Please," Jack's voice was quiet, broken as the words were forced between jittering teeth and trembling lips. "Please Bobby…" Nothing more then a whisper but the desperation in the words was enough to break through Bobby's thoughts.
Bobby didn't answer. Instead, he reached up and turned the shower off, stopping the water and leaving his charge lying sodden in the bottom of the bath. With his clothes drenched and clinging to his body, Bobby could see just how frail Jack really was. He was a naturally thin kid, Bobby had known that straight away, but Jack normally hid it pretty well under sweatshirts and baggy jeans. Now, he looked like he had been starved and the way he shook made him appear nothing short of deathly ill.
Bobby stood, his mind racing to work out what he should do next. He knew he had to get Jack warm else the kid really would be sick. Knowing that Jack was in no condition to move, he hurried out of the room and to the linen cupboard. Grabbing all the towels he could find, he made his way back into the bathroom. Jack hadn't moved, he just lay there, shivering and staring at his hands as if he had only just grown them.
Frowning in concern, Bobby threw the towels on the floor, making a somewhat rude rug out of his mother's favourite linen.
Cautiously, he approached Jack, trying to work out the best way to get the shivering boy out of the bathtub without hurting or frightening him. Finally he settled for lifting the kid up from under the shoulders. Jack felt like an oversized rag doll. Limp and lifeless, he was like putty in Bobby's hands, much to Bobby's relief. He didn't think he could deal with having Jack forcibly resisting him again. For a frail wraith of a boy, Jack could sure put up a fight and could hit with the best of them. Bobby's aching jaw was testimony to that painful truth.
With minimal grunting and swearing, Bobby managed to get Jack out of the bathtub and draped him onto the waiting towels.
Jack automatically curled into a traumatized position, his knees against his chest and his head covered by his shaking arms. Idly Bobby wondered if the boy even realised that he had been moved at all. He arranged the towels around Jack, patting him dry as carefully as possible. Still Jack flinched whenever he hit a particularly painful bruise, or a still healing cut. That was another thing that Bobby would have to look into. He guessed that Jack hadn't told his social worker about half the wounds he had. Most of them seemed to be healing well, but others… Bobby was amazed that the kid had been able to move with some of the marks he saw especially considering that they were already considered old. He shuddered to think how bad they must have been when Jack was first brought here.
"It will pass," Bobby said, all the harshness gone from his voice. "It will pass, Jackie."
"B-b-but…" Jack stuttered out.
Bobby was amazed just how much it hurt him to watch the boy. No one needed to be in this much pain, especially a kid hardly even into their teens. He'd read Jack's file; read it a hundred times until the pages were worn and Evelyn had taken it off him, a knowing smile on her face. Bobby knew all too well that she had counted on this. On his protective nature to kick in – even if it was a bit rough on the occasion.
"I know it is hard, but you just gotta get through this stage and you'll be right."
"No!" Bobby cut in, already knowing what Jack was going to say. "You don't need any more. You've peaked, the worst is over." Jack looked up at him with huge eyes, questioning and confused beneath the dripping strands of mattered hair. "You'll be shaky for a few days and a little sick, but the worst is over, Jackie."
Jack stared at him with disbelief in his eyes. Bobby was just trying to hurt him more, to convince him to let his guard down.
"Jack," Bobby interrupted his thoughts. "Look at me. I promise, this is the worst of it." He could see that the younger boy didn't believe him and he struggled not to let the hurt show in his face. He had to admit he had been pretty rough with the kid, but all in all, he had hoped that his actions would buy at least a little of Jack's trust.
He could see it, almost there, almost glimmering in Jack's eyes, but still something was holding him back. Bobby needed more. Something defining that would enrapture Jack and leave him with a constant reminder of this night; for more reasons then just one.
A thought struck him, risky as it was, but with a little luck, it would work. He left Jack's side, rushing to the medicine cabinet and pulled out a spare razor. Considering the cuts on Jack's wrists, he made a mental note to secret the rest of them elsewhere, just in case.
When Bobby returned to Jack's side, razor in hand, he saw what he had expected all along. Jack cringed, tying to slide himself across the tiled floor, fear the only thing in his strange eyes. Any and all signs of trust were far gone.
"Trust me," Bobby said, trying to ignore the terror in Jack's eyes. Bobby smiled at him reassuringly. He quickly nicked his palm with the razor blade, drawing a line of blood. Next he reached for Jack's, ignoring the way he recoiled from Bobby's grasp. "Jack," Bobby said as soothingly as possible.
Whether it was trust or blind fear, Jack allowed Bobby to run the razor over his palm, parting the skin and drawing his own blood.
"It's something all us Mercer boys have done." It was a lie, but it was a good one. As he clamped their hands together, he saw Jack's fear subside slightly. Trickles of red slipped past their joined palms and fell onto the white tiles, slashing loudly in the silent room. Bobby could hear his own heartbeat, feel his pulse reverberating off the walls around him and, oddly enough, blending with Jack's faster, more erratic pulse.
"Now you have to trust me," Bobby said, not at all threateningly. "Same blood now." But Jack wasn't listening. He stared at their hands, his eyes ever searching and yet somehow vacant at the same time.
Jack watched as blood tickled from between their hands. He was morbidly fascinated as his own lifeblood, the essence of his being, made dark trails down his pale fingers. Each drop seemed to linger in limbo for eternity, hanging on the edge of his hands, ever suspended above the bathroom floor. They looked as if they had had a life of their own, holding onto their host body before finally making that final plunge to the earth far below.
He allowed his eyes to follow one such drop. One that had just recently severed its ties to his life and had made the decision to journey out on its own. It reminded Jack of himself.
But when his eyes caught up with the adventurous drop, there was nothing there. No blood splattered the floor, no stains on the towels. Just nothing.
Jack frowned and looked up, ready to ask Bobby what had happened, but there was no one there, just a space, a void of bleak emptiness.
Jack dropped his hand, wondering why he had been standing there with one hand in the air as if holding onto something for dear life. He looked at himself in the mirror, confused by his own face and the perplexity in his eyes. He looked pale, even for him.
He looked around, seeing the old bathroom for the first time. Hardly larger then a shoebox, there wasn't even a bath. Just a shower, standing in a slight dip in the floor and without a curtain. It looked like a cell.
It was a prison; his prison.
As he watched, the room tipped and turned. A rollercoaster he was unable to dismount and yet one that he found oddly assuring. The toilet, the shower, even the silvery hazy of the mirror called his name, the joint collaboration of the voices becoming a deafening roar in the small room. Walls marched closer like a somber line of soldiers, sent forth into a battle known only for its helplessness and imprudence. Behind him, akin to a boiling kettle, the toilet lid began to rattle, to lift from the seat and snap at him like the hungry jaws of a beast.
Yet rising over the horrible clatter of the room, the beating of his heart could be heard, a constant, unwavering reminder of all that he could never have.
Too much... all just too much...
Summoning his hatred, his anger and strength, the boy slammed the ball of his palm into the mirror. The voices stopped then, as the glass broke into a thousand glimmering pieces of silver. The world froze. For that one moment, everything was clear; everything was just the way it was meant to be. The particles of glass seemed to linger in mid-air, suspended by his strength of will alone as they twinkling like stars. The cuts in his right palm and wrists remained closed, as if sealed with a coat of clear glue. His tears stopped, his sobbing ceased, and nowhere, deep in the quiet of the night, could he hear his heartbeat. The toilet, the walls, everything in the room was once again still and lifeless.
Just the way it was meant to be.
Then behind him, a shadow loomed and the world fell apart.
The shattering of the glass hitting the basin and tiled floor almost defended him. Once again, the roar of voices overtook the night, screaming his name at the top of their lungs. As if history was repeating, the walls rushed in, the shower taps spun on their axis and the toilet gurgled for his pain. Blood rushed from his hands and wrists, spouting out like a crimson fountain; a gory reminder to the severed veins and arteries. Without his consent, his own anguished cry added to the whirlwind of voices already in the room, searing his ears and rattling the bottles of the vanity cabinet. The floor grasped for him like a hungry child, its hands pulling him down into the depths of pure darkness...
And then blinding light as Bobby rattled Jack, snapping his head from the floor and washing his blinking eyes in harsh light.
"Jackie?" Bobby implored desperately. "Come on kid, snap out of it."
Pain exploded in Jack's mind. Was it just a trick, or was it real? He could no longer tell and was well past the point of caring. His stomach twisted, as if he wanted to throw up again, but Jack held himself poised. He just wanted it to be over. To be somewhere else and away from all those memories he could never outrun.
Even odder, despite the pain and constant trembling of his body, he wanted to be up and moving, not laying like a dead weight on the floor.
"Can I get up?" His voice was harsh to his ears, the sounds scratching at his throbbing throat.
"Sure thing, Cracker Jack." Bobby's acquiesce was muttered, more to himself then to the boy lying curled on the floor. He pushed himself to his feet, absentmindedly brushing at his pants as he did so. His efforts left a smear of blood across the thigh of his jeans.
Before aiding Jack to stand, Bobby quickly bound up the boy's cut hand, amazed at the way Jack just stared at him as he did so. Sometimes the intensity of Jack's looks could bother even him.
Once he had Jack bandaged and standing, Bobby lead the boy into the hallway where he grabbed a blanket from the linen cupboard. He wrapped it around Jack's shoulders and tucked the ends under the boy's arms. Jack weakly reached for the corners and gripped them with as much strength as he could. Bobby turned him around and looked into the boy's eyes, absentmindedly startled at Jack's height. He was only a mere inch shorter then Bobby, and yet there was almost a ten year age difference.
The boy seemed daunted and haggard, which was expected. But there was something else, something Bobby was not expecting to see. Once again there was that spark; hidden beneath layers of uncertainty and pain was a sign of strength. A will and drive so intense that even Bobby was impressed.
"You're going to be okay," Bobby said with a smile, rubbing at Jack's arms through the blanket to generate heat. To his surprise, Jack offered him a nod and the ghostly hint of a smile.
Assured, Bobby took the boy by the shoulders and led him to the stairs. "Come on, let's get you warmed up."
He guided Jack down the stairs and to the couch, vaguely marvelling at how the boy took to the treatment. There was no more flinching, no more shrinking away from him. Just that lost, blind faith that only came from being broken. That was the problem with all these kids. They kept everything too tightly wound and bottled up that it became impossible to function without giving into those instincts.
That was not to say that Jack had been miraculously cured. Bobby was no fool, he knew that once the boy felt better and less ill, he would start to distance himself once again, but at least now the starting of a bond had been established.
Bobby sat on the couch, as close to the younger boy as he dared. At this point in time, Jack still needed his space, but he needed company and comfort more then anything. Jack needed to see that while Bobby had been harsh, frightening even, he was not a beast. He was just trying to help him and, more then anything, Bobby wanted Jack to understand that he did such things out of love and protection. What's more, he wasn't about to go anywhere after succeeding in such a task.
As he settled himself and grabbed the remote, he watched Jack shift uneasily next to him. Jack looked from the floor to the TV, then to Bobby and then back to the floor. Bobby tired to ignore it and turned his attention to a late night game on the TV.
When Jack moved, as Bobby quickly found out, he moved fucking fast. Before Bobby even knew what the kid was planning, the boy had somehow managed to grab one of Evelyn's throw cushions, turn himself around in the seat and ended up with his head on the cushion which had been unceremoniously dumped into Bobby's lap.
Bobby sat there, his arms raised and his eyes open in shock as Jack made himself comfortable, apparently intent on using him as a human couch. It took only a moment for Bobby to adjust to the situation and he almost smiled. He was proud of such an audacious move. It was a little odd, but at least it showed trust and proved that that daring streak was still there.
Bobby placed his arm on Jack's shoulder, patting him awkwardly in an attempt to offer comfort to the still shaking boy. Jack just stared at the white bandage that surrounded his cut hand. Bobby would have a hard time explaining that one to Evelyn.
Finally, when the silence was close to driving Bobby insane, he took a gamble. "I've seen the adoption papers already."
"What?" Jack asked confused, looking up from his bandaged hand. The response caught Bobby off guard. He had expected Jack not to be listening, or to remain silent and not offer a chance for conversation.
Bobby shook his head, truly amazed. Jack was anything but predictable. "So you do listen?" Bobby laughed, a smile playing on the corners of his mouth. "I said I've already seen the adoption papers."
"You, stupid," Bobby grinned, taking a risk and messing up Jack's wet hair. "Damn, too many drugs already. Look at what they have done to your brain."
"Why?" Jack asked. He saw Bobby about to open his mouth, most likely in another smart remark and quickly added, "The adoption papers. Why would she do that?"
"Ma likes lost causes."
"Not that that's a bad thing. I mean, look at me. I turned out fine."
Even Jack smiled at that comment. Then, just as quickly as it had appeared, his smile dissolved into a look of worry. "Are the others mad?"
Bobby couldn't understand this kid. He was a fucking loony if he had ever met one. Why would the others be mad? "Well," he said slowly, trying to think of something that would reassure the boy. "Jerry thinks you've got potential, and Angel… well, he doesn't want to be the youngest anymore."
"And you?" Again, Bobby was surprised. It was such a direct question, so confident and unwavering that he could almost forget that it had come from the child who had been sneaking around the house, jumping at his own shadow.
"Me?" Bobby asked slowly as he looked Jack over. He was still shaking underneath the blanket and dark circles rimmed his bloodshot eyes, but he was already looking more like a lost kid then a drugged out punk. Bobby had always liked lost kids. He looked away with a smile and a playful glint sparkled in his eyes. "Well, Jackie, I always wanted a little sister."
As always, reviews, thoughts and criticism are always welcome.