Jack woke the next morning to the sounds of shuffling in the room next to him, punctuated by the occasional muffled curse. Frowning against the painfully bright lights in his room (which really weren't that bright at all), he sat up in bed, grimacing. The realisation that drinking so heavily (even on a Friday night) was a bad idea, no matter what had led up to it, came a little late to be of any use.
Jack stood up and stumbled out across the hall and into the bathroom to splash cold water in his face. Once he could see without squinting pitifully again, he caught sight of a pile of his clothes in one corner of the bathroom, Bobby's old leather jacket tossed carelessly over the towel rack. It was that, more than anything else, which reminded him of how much he had forgotten of last night. Jack's wide eyes met his reflection's in the bathroom mirror before darting around as if to assure himself what he was remembering was actually a nightmare. Unfortunately, all that accomplished was a fleeting glance at his wrist which, in turn, brought back his brother's 'burning out' speech, and then…
With a cold seeping of dread that Jack tried to ignore, he couldn't help but wonder at the odd sounds coming from Bobby's room. He was rarely up before at least two on a Saturday, and even then he usually spent the day watching hockey or drinking beer, never holed up in his room.
Taking one last glance at his just-woken-up-with-a-hangover appearance, Jack left the bathroom and walked over to Bobby's room. He entered without bothering to knock, knowing that privacy was something you abandoned when living with three other guys.
Still, Jack couldn't help but blink at the sight that met his eyes when he opened the door: an open suitcase on the bed, partially filled, and Bobby moving around, picking things up off his floor and chucking them inside.
"What are you doing?" Jack asked, his throat dry.
He had to ask because it couldn't be what he thought it was.
Bobby straightened from where he was sifting through a heap of denim and turned to face him. He hitched up a nonchalant smirk at seeing Jack.
"Just going away for a few days, Jackie, that's all."
"That's all?" Jack echoed.
Bobby nodded, dumping the clothes he had gathered in his arms into the case.
Bobby shrugged, still wearing that obviously fake 'this-isn't-weird' smirk.
"Just felt like a change for a bit."
Jack leant awkwardly against the doorway, watching his brother busy around, getting his stuff together. If this was happening under any other circumstance, he would have helped out. If it was under any other circumstance, Bobby would have snuck him a beer after. Unfortunately, never on any of those other occasions had Bobby taken off because of him.
"Is this about last night?" Jack ventured, knowing the answer but not wanting to sound accusatory.
Jack crossed his arms, wanting to scream in frustration. Bobby was always upfront about everything; Jack had never had to pry something out of him before and honestly didn't know how to go about it.
"Just that if it is, I was drunk, okay? And, well… you…"
Actually, what was Bobby?
He was sober, had pretty good judgement and was pissed as hell at him if the shower-experience was anything to go by. Did that mean he had wanted this?
Luckily, before the silence could stretch on, Bobby spoke.
"It's not about last night. Just drop it, will you?"
This was bad.
If Bobby wasn't going to talk, Bobby was going to leave.
"You can't go," Jack protested.
"Why not, Jack?"
Because of Mr Yates.
Because I'm scared.
Because I can't do this on my own.
His words just didn't seem to form right and Jack floundered for a reason he could actually tell Bobby.
"B-Because Evelyn needs you… And Jerry…"
"Not you, though?"
Well, at least he had dropped that clearly painful smile.
"'Cause last night was a bit worrying, see?"
Bobby's eyes significantly drifted down his left arm and Jack frowned at him, wondering why he was even leaving if he knew Jack was so messed up. Unless… unless that was what was driving him away?
Well, if that was the problem, he'd never break again.
"It was a one-off, Bobby. Seriously, I'm fine; I was just a bit drunk."
Bobby looked at him incredulously.
"'Seriously' you're fine? I've never seen you so freaked out before."
"Is that why you're going?"
"No," Bobby insisted. "Just… Just forget it."
Jack fell silent once more, but the suitcase was almost full and he couldn't stand one more aspect of his life fucking up so terribly.
"Please don't go."
He hadn't even realised he had spoken up until Bobby looked over at him, something akin to regret in his eyes.
"I need some space."
Jack took that to mean he was going anyway.
He left the room, feeling numb.
Bobby had dropped a note on the kitchen table for Evelyn, feeling that he didn't need to wake her up from her Saturday lie-in just because he was leaving. Jack, despite protesting Bobby's going, clearly agreed, as he hadn't tried to get her to talk him round and had instead shut himself in his room to play some doubtlessly complicated riff on his guitar. Propping the note more securely against the salt shaker, Bobby ignored the small voice in his head that was telling him this was a very bad idea.
Unfortunately, that little voice was awfully persistent.
Bobby picked up his suitcase and walked out the back door, saying one last mental goodbye to Jack upstairs. He only managed to take one step outside before the suitcase was yanked out of his hand and a strong grip on his shoulders turned him back round, pushing him inside the house again.
"What the fuck?" he asked, disorientated.
"You're not walking out," Jerry said firmly, dumping his suitcase against one leg of the kitchen table as Angel shoved him into one of the surrounding wooden chairs.
"Yes, I am," Bobby protested, making to stand up again.
Both Jerry and Angel pushed him back into his seat.
"No," Angel declared.
Bobby crossed his arms.
"Ya'll may think you're grown up, but I can still kick your asses if you don't get off me right now."
Angel almost looked ready to back off before Jerry simply snorted.
"Yeah, sure, and we're really very scared," he said, smirking. "But you try and walk out of that door one more time and I'm shouting for Ma."
That was underhanded, even for a Mercer.
"Back off, Jer, this isn't any of your business."
The hands on his shoulders didn't move.
"It is our business because if you leave again after you promised you wouldn't… after you promised Jack you wouldn't… we're going to have to pick up the pieces."
"And Jack isn't doing so good lately," Angel added grimly.
Like Bobby needed anyone to tell him that.
"Yeah?" Bobby snarled aggressively. "I hadn't noticed."
He made to get up again and this time he was actually shoved back into his seat. Hard.
"I have to leave home at some point," Bobby pointed out lowly, losing patience with his brothers.
"Not right now," Jerry argued. "Not when it's so obvious Jack won't be able to take it."
Bobby knew that saying he wasn't sure if he could take being around Jack would provoke very troublesome questions so he stayed quiet.
"He's never late home," Angel said, referring to the night before.
All four of them had stayed up until two in the morning waiting for Jack to show up before Bobby had argued only one of them really had to be there and he was the most awake. None of the other three were happy about the decision and the words 'he's never late home' had cropped up more than once. Still, according to the rest of the Mercers, Jack 'never' does drugs, 'never' does God-knows-what with God-knows-who at parties, 'never' does half the stuff Bobby realised he did last night.
"Everyone makes mistakes."
"Quite a few, apparently," Angel corrected. "I heard you guys last night."
For one breathless moment, Bobby thought he was referring to that Incident last night, before assuming he only meant all of the shouting.
"Well, then maybe this will act as a wake-up call."
Jerry looked about ready to strangle him.
"This isn't a wake-up call, this is you leaving him. Do you actually have a reason for going or are you just that selfish?"
Bobby cocked his head, fast tiring of all the interfering and feeling crap enough about this decision without every member of his family having a go at him.
"I need some space," he said aggressively.
"Bullshit," Angel muttered.
Bobby made another attempt to stand up and was once again held back by his two brothers.
"You know what is bullshit?" he half-shouted, conscious of Jack upstairs. "It's you stopping me from going because you guys don't think you can handle one sixteen-year-old kid on your own."
That seemed to be the last straw as the ever-pacifist Jerry thrust him hard against the back of the chair.
"This isn't just one sixteen-year-old kid here, its Jack. You've known the shit he's been through better than any of us, including Ma, and you know better than any of us that right now he needs his brothers. You walk out and he's gonna break. You know that." Jerry yelled, his voice getting progressively louder as he continued.
No one noticed the guitar music drifting down from upstairs had stopped, even as Bobby fell silent, glaring mutinously at the table.
Of course he had considered that, but somehow his walking out had seemed a lot less of a big deal before it had been spelled out.
"You know what?" Jerry said, with a hint of a laugh in his voice. "You wanna go? Fine. Whatever. Do it for all we care. But you just think about what Ma's going to say about all this shit."
With that, Jerry backed off, releasing Bobby's right shoulder and gesturing for Angel to do the same. Bobby stood up, a little uneasy at the sudden change in moods, and picked up his suitcase from where Jerry had dumped it.
There was one moment as he glanced between the two doors available to him: the one leading to the back yard, the other leading to the lounge, before Bobby nodded, adjusting his grip on his bag.
"Alright, see you guys in a few days."
Bobby attempted a smile, but at receiving only stony glares in response, admitted defeat and walked out the door.
Two hours later
"Hey, you guys hungry?" Jack called out of the kitchen to where Angel and Jerry were watching some show on TV.
They exchanged looks, surprised at how well he seemed to be taking Bobby's leaving, before walking through to where Jack was frowning in thought at the contents of their fridge.
"Seems pretty bare," Jerry remarked.
"I guess Bobby took…" Angel started, before picking up on Jerry's glare and trailing off.
"I can make pancakes," Jack offered, taking the relevant ingredients out.
"Sounds good," Angel said, taking a seat at the kitchen table.
"Need any help?" Jerry asked, hovering by Jack's shoulder.
Jack shook his head, pushing his sleeves up to his elbows and finding a proper mixing bowl in one of the cupboards.
"I thought you left that stuff to Camille these days, anyway," Angel said in a deadpan, a hint of a smile on his face.
"Yeah, well," Jerry said, shrugging. "It's like riding a bike, right, Jack?"
"Sure is," he said distractedly.
Jack focussed on cracking eggs into the bowl, ignoring the obvious absence of their older brother as best he could.
"Should I make enough for four?" Jack asked, looking around in time to see the twin awkward expressions on his brother's faces.
"Uh… Jack… Bobby's-"
"I meant for Evelyn," Jack explained quickly, cutting Angel off.
"Oh, then yeah," Jerry covered quickly. "She'd appreciate that. Bit of a break from cooking and all."
Jack continued preparing the batter in silence as his brothers tried to make conversation in the background. That in itself was an oddity as usually he was plagued with the familiar arsenal of 'housewife' comments if he ever offered to cook for them when Bobby was around.
Which, he supposed, was the whole point.
Just as he was getting lost in his own melancholy, the back door opened in a whirl of cold air, drawing the attention of the three boys in the kitchen. There, framed in the pale blue light of winter, was Bobby.
"Who feels like hockey?" he asked, brushing ice of his gloves.
Jerry let out a reluctantly relieved smile at seeing his older brother.
"I'll just go and get my skates," he said, standing up and taking Angel with him.
Jack just stared at the new arrival, not making any move or word of greeting as Bobby turned his gaze on him.
"Don't worry, Jackie, you can play Martha Stewart later. Right now, we're playing hockey."
Jack forced himself out of his trance.
"You can't just choose when to be around, you know," he said lowly.
"But apparently you can," Bobby said cryptically. "I never even made it out of the city."
That admission drew a slight smile from Jack.
"And you do realise hockey isn't the answer to everything, right?"
"Do you realise who you're talking to?"
Although he knew Jack's bitterness towards him had pretty much vanished when he'd walked through the door, Bobby was still surprised when arms wrapped around his waist.
"I'm glad you didn't go."
"Yeah?" Bobby said. "Good job I didn't. I come back after a couple of hours and see you making pancakes. God knows what I would have seen if I was away for a whole day."
Jack hit him.
A/N: Woah, sorry, my muse completely abandoned me and then revision got in the way of polishing this up enough to upload it.
Still, here you go, a new chapter.
I know this one has randomly come in three parts, but it was either that or ending it on second and expanding the last one into its own separate chapter which i decided would be a bit too slow-paced at the moment, especially taking the last chapter into account. Hope you enjoyed it anyway.
Also, don't worry about me discontinuing this story despite my rather... um... erratic updates. Although I don't see that happening, if it ever did, I'd post a message on my bio, i wouldn't just leave you hanging.
Hope you guys had a good holiday :).