Author: veiledndarkness

Title: Vacant

Rating: R

Pairing: Future Bobby/Jack

Summary: All he ever wanted was to be numb.

Warning: Usual disclaimer. They aren't mine, never were.


On the day before Bobby's 24th birthday, Evelyn brought Jack home. She walked through the front door, Jack three steps behind her; and announced to the boys that they had a new brother. Bobby, Angel, and Jerry had all turned to see the newest Mercer, standing in the doorway, staring off into space.

They'd exchanged looks and waited for Ma to say something, anything. She'd only given a small smile, and gently prodded him away from the doorframe. The small boy's eyes were glazed as he moved placidly along with Evelyn. Bobby felt a sliver of unease run through him at the vacant expression in Jack's face. Something seemed off about the boy, that much he knew.

Later in the evening, after Evelyn had shown Jack his new bedroom and left him to fall asleep, Bobby had pulled her off to the side in the living room. She sat knitting calmly while Bobby whispered urgently.

"Ma, what's the deal with the kid?" he asked, eyes scanning the staircase. The last thing he needed was to find out that Jack was listening. Evelyn looped her needles once before answering. "Jack is 12 years old Bobby, he's hardly a kid," she said as she rested her needles in her lap.

Bobby gave a grunt. "Funny, Ma, real cute. He's so…empty. Y'know?" he said. Evelyn frowned. "Bobby Mercer! The poor thing has only been here a few hours and already you're finding fault with him. You've not even given him a chance".

Bobby flushed lightly as she chastised him. He hung his head as he sat down heavily on the couch. "I…there's no life in his eyes Ma," he said with a whisper.

Evelyn studied her oldest for a moment. Bobby was a good boy deep down, she thought to herself. If only he'd let everyone else see the softer side. Bobby looked up at her and she held his eyes for a moment.

"Bobby, all of my boys have come from bad backgrounds. That doesn't make you bad, not by a long-shot. Jack has suffered greatly over the past ten years of his life. He's never known love or comfort or what it means to have someone care. I need you to show him, I need all of you to show him what 'family' means," she said.

Bobby sighed, his eyes dropping. "You got it, Ma."

Bobby got up from the couch and hugged her, mumbling 'goodnight' in her ear. Evelyn smiled then. Bobby headed upstairs as she picked up her needles again. What Jack needed was love, she was sure of that.


Jack sat on the bed staring at the wall in front of him, his backpack still full on the floor next to his feet. He could hear the sounds of people going to bed, of the television, of one of the brothers talking to Evelyn. He smiled absently. He'd liked her so far. She hadn't tried anything on him yet. He hadn't picked up any vibes off her so far, but he knew it was only a matter of time.

He looked down at his bag then at his feet, still clad in his filthy, ripped sneakers. He lay back on the bed, fully clothed and stared at the ceiling. He wondered idly how much longer the pills would stay in his system. He'd swiped the mostly full bottle of sedatives from his last foster mom's dresser right before the child services people came to get him. He loved the zoned out feeling of calm each pill brought him. Gradually his body relaxed into the mattress, the softest he'd ever slept on.

Bobby opened the door to his old room, eyes immediately picking out the fully packed backpack on the floor beside the bed. He observed Jack's slow breathing, and he wondered exactly what this child (for he was a child to Bobby) had been through. He watched Jack's chest rise then fall for the better part of a half hour, before closing the door softly and heading to the spare room. He spent the rest of the night in a light sleep, half listening for the sound of someone trying to escape.


Jack awoke the next morning gradually, his body stiff. He stretched carefully, groaning as his neck popped. His body was not accustomed to sleeping on anything so soft. He lowered his hand to the floor instinctively searching for his bag. He always kept his bag with him.

He let out a quick breath as he pulled the bag up to him. He sat up slowly and listened hard for any noise downstairs. He could hear someone banging pots in the kitchen. His stomach growled loudly then, breaking the silence in the room. Jack clasped his hands to his stomach, pushing down on it.

"Gotta find something to eat," he murmured with a small grimace. He didn't expect much from Evelyn. Too many years of neglect had seen to that mistrust. It wouldn't be the first time that he'd been denied food. It seemed to be one constant in each of the homes he'd been in. Bruises were harder to hide whereas withholding food had more of an impact on the kids.

His bladder uncomfortably full, Jack made his way to the door. He wandered down the hall looking for the bathroom. He finally spotted it at the end of the hallway. He grinned with relief as he started to pee but twitched in surprise when the door banged open beside him. A tall, muscled boy walked into the bathroom and nodded at Jack as he started the shower. Jack stared at him, his mouth open slightly as the need to pee abruptly deserted him. He struggled to remember the names he'd heard the night before.

'Angel,' he thought finally. "Doesn't anybody knock here?" he snapped a moment later.

Angel turned to look at him, a small smirk tugging his lips. "This small a house, with all these people means we share little bro."

Jack moved away from the toilet and rinsed his hands quickly. His hands shook a little unevenly from the cold blast of water. "I'm not your 'bro'," Jack said softly. He threw a glance over his shoulder as he left the bathroom.

Almost as an afterthought, Angel said "Not yet, but you will be." Jack scoffed at that and left the room.

He went downstairs, vainly trying to ignore the rumblings of his stomach. He looked in each room till he found Evelyn at the stove, flipping pancakes. Jack's mouth watered as he watched her expertly flip each golden brown pancake. He leaned against the wall as his knees buckled from the urge to grab the pancakes straight off the stove and wolf down as many as he could. He moaned quietly when the smell floated under his nose. He couldn't remember the last time he'd eaten a decent meal.

Evelyn turned around when she heard Jack's nearly silent moan. 'If there's one thing I know, it's that boys can never eat enough,' she thought with a smile. She sent a sunny grin to Jack and held up a frying pan. "Well, good morning Jack. Would you like some pancakes dear?" He stood, still leaning slightly against the wall, trying to gauge if she was testing him. He'd played this game many times before. He shook his head then.

Evelyn frowned. "Are you not hungry Jack? We've got plenty," she said. Jack shook his head again. "No, thank you" he whispered, not meeting her eyes. "I'm not hungry ma'am".

Evelyn set the pan back down on the stove. "Please Jack, call me Ma, or Evelyn if you prefer. Ma'am makes me feel old. Now, sit down at the table please."

Jack lifted his head an inch as he watched her continue filling the plates with stacks of pancakes. He took small steps over to the table, ready to bolt at the first sign of anger. She hummed softly as she brought the plates over, and then turned to the fridge to grab a pitcher of orange juice.

Jack sat down on one of the chairs and fidgeted with his too-long sleeves. Angel came into the room and kissed Evelyn on the cheek. She handed him some silverware and asked him to set the table. Angel nodded and saluted her. She swatted at him with a dish towel as he ducked behind her, laughing. Jack took this in with wide eyes. He couldn't believe what he was seeing.

Jerry entered the kitchen through the side door, knocking the dirt off his shoes by the door. He called out a 'good morning' to Evelyn, then mock-punched Angel in the shoulder as he grabbed a strip of bacon off the plate that Evelyn was still filling. She scolded him lightly and sent him to sit at the table. Jerry looked over at Jack's face and knew what he must be thinking.

"Hey Jack, listen man, we mess around a lot, but that doesn't mean anything bad is gonna happen. Ma won't hurt you," Jerry said as he sat down on the chair. Jack looked down at his thumbs and nodded. He didn't believe Jerry for a second. Just because Evelyn didn't hit Jerry didn't mean that Jack was safe. She brought the last plate to the table then pursed her lips in annoyance.

"Bobby!" she called. She sighed as she sat down at the table. "Where's your brother?" she asked Angel.

Angel shrugged. "Lazy fuc…uh bugger's probably still sleeping," he said, ignoring the dark look on Evelyn's face. Just then, Bobby came through the doorway, scratching his head as he yawned loudly, his eyes half closed.

Jerry laughed then. "And there he pleasant in the morning," he said. Angel snorted while Evelyn smiled. Bobby flipped Jerry the finger as he sat on the remaining chair. Evelyn passed the plates around, with each boy taking piles of pancakes except for Jack. She saw his plate still empty. "Jack, would you like some pancakes?" she said, her face carefully neutral.

Jack stared at his thumbs. Jerry forked more food into his mouth. Angel sighed mentally. Bobby sat in silence, one hand still reaching for the orange juice. Jack finally raised his head and saw the eyes on him. He cringed and shook his head 'no' again. "You must be hungry by now Jack. You can have anything you want to eat. Do you not like pancakes?" Evelyn said, pressing gently.

Jack held his lips together firmly. No way was he falling for this again. He'd been tricked one too many times. Bobby got up carefully out of Jack's line of vision and poured a glass of juice. He walked around the table to Jack's side and placed the glass of juice in front of him. He really hated what he was about to do. 'It's for the best,' he thought, pushing down his doubts.

"Drink it," he said, his voice leaving no room for argument. Jack looked up at him, a strange light in his eyes. "Bobby I really don't think…" Bobby looked over at Evelyn and nodded once. She understood. "I said, drink it," Bobby said again, more iron in his voice.

Jack gingerly picked up the glass and took a small sip.

"Finish it," he said, his voice a bit softer. Jack drained the glass, and then set it back down. He licked the remaining drop on his upper lip, his pointed tongue tracing the outline. Both Angel and Jerry gave up any pretenses of eating as they watched Jack obey Bobby. Evelyn felt more nervous now than she had in years.

Bobby waited a moment, then spoke with patience. "Jack, you are going to eat whatever you want here. No one is going to stop you. You eat as much as you want whenever you want. You have the right and don't you ever let anyone tell you otherwise," he said.

Jack, his eyes still on Bobby, nodded once.

"Good. Now try one of these pancakes. Ma's special recipe," Bobby went back to his seat and drained his own juice. Outwardly he was calm. On the inside he was shaking. His palms were sweaty and he felt like screaming. The last thing he wanted to do was hurt Jack by mistake.

Evelyn slide two pancakes onto Jack's plate then asked him if he'd like some syrup. He said 'yes' so softly she barely heard him. And yet, he ate every last bit of the pancakes, though he refused to take more than two. Evelyn sat back in her chair. This one was going to be an uphill battle. She observed the other boys eating like there was no tomorrow. It was the same with each boy in the beginning. Afraid to ask for anything, afraid to assume they had rights. She ate slowly while contemplating what to do next. She looked down at Jack's shoes. 'Well, those need to go,' she thought. She set her fork down.

Jerry was up in a flash, dropping his dishes by the sink and kissing Evelyn on the cheek as he rambled about being late for work. Angel left next, saying that he also had to leave to meet Sofi. Jack watched him leave with surprise, silence filling the kitchen as only Bobby and Evelyn were left with him. Bobby finished eating, his eyes on Jack the entire time. He got up and dropped his plates in the sink.

"Bobby? I need you to pick up a few things for me today. Do you mind?" she asked, sipping her tea. Bobby shook his head. "Nah, Ma that's fine. Write me out a list, ok?" Evelyn nodded. Bobby hesitated a moment longer, then turned to Jack. "See you later Jack," he said.

Jack stared up at him, his eyes blank. Bobby winced, the emptiness in Jack's eyes bothering him. He wondered vaguely if he'd gone too far with the juice issue. He sighed, and then left the room.

Jack sat in his chair as still as could be. He fiddled with his thumbs some more. Evelyn watched him for a moment before speaking. "Jack, I noticed that your shoes look a little worn out. Would you like to come to the store with me to get some new ones?"

He glanced over at her. Another test? He looked down at his ragged shoes. Worn out was being kind. His shoes barely fit his feet, his toes were pinched together, and the sneakers were filthy. His last placement hadn't bothered to replace what was needed in the way of his clothes and shoes.

"Sure," he muttered. He cringed when she stood up, almost ducking as her hand came close to him. He let himself relax slowly when he saw that she was just taking his plate to the sink.

Evelyn frowned while she rinsed the dishes. Clearly this boy didn't believe a word she said. He expected to be denied even the most basic of necessities, a scenario she was all too familiar with. He'd reacted to Bobby though, she considered. That much was obvious. Bobby told him what to do, he did it. She turned the taps off and looked over at Jack. He was staring at his empty plate, rubbing his fingers over his knees absently.

"Jack, why don't you run upstairs and take a shower, hmm? By the time you're down, I'll be ready to go," she said, keeping her voice brisk but warm.

Jack nodded once, moving noiselessly from the room. He headed upstairs slowly, trying to remember what room was supposedly his. He stumbled over the last stair and started to fall forwards. He closed his eyes as he saw the ground rushing up at him, bracing himself for pain. When it didn't come, he cracked open one eye and saw Bobby. He was propped in his arms. He blushed furiously as he realized that Bobby had been the one to catch him.

"Gotta watch that last step kiddo," Bobby rumbled, his chest vibrating against Jack's head. Jack felt hot all over. Bobby scooped him up, and then deposited him gently on his bed. Bobby searched Jack's face. "You ok now?" Jack nodded, his cheeks still scarlet.

"Good. Hit the showers," he added, knowing full well that Ma had told him to shower already. He had a feeling that Jack would have just washed his hands and face otherwise. Bobby turned and left the room abruptly.

Jack stared at his feet, before whispering 'ok' to Bobby. He was so unnerved by Bobby, so unsure of what to say or do around him. But the flicker he'd felt when he had stood over him and told him to drink his juice, that flicker had felt good. He'd obeyed without a second thought. Now he felt like a fool. He made his way to the bathroom again, pulling the door closed as tight as he could. He really didn't think he could handle another surprise person joining him.

Jack eyed the faucets with much apprehension. There were, of course, two spouts but Jack was rarely allowed to use the hot one all that much. Over the past year he had been sneaking small amounts of hot water into his showers to ease the horrid chill. Still…his eyes drifted to the door.

He hurried through his shower, shivering violently as he toweled off, having kept the hot water to a minimum. He scurried back to his room, his teeth clacking painfully. Jack dressed quickly, giving himself a sharp reminder that things could be much worse than just having to take a cold shower. His last foster home, the man, Dave had believed that the best way to wash Jack was to dump buckets of cold water on him in the yard. The only time he was allowed warm water was if he was willing to bathe with Dave. The one time he'd fought back, Dave had knocked him unconscious.

Jack moved slowly towards his bag, in a dream-like trance. He grabbed the bottle of pills and shook two out. He dry swallowed them and sat down on the bed. He could still feel the painful lump that had risen on the back of his head and not gone away for 3 weeks. He could vividly remember the beating he'd gotten when the school nurse had called home to ask why Jack kept fainting in class.

Jack knuckled away the unwanted tears that burned his eyes. 'No use in crying,' he told himself fiercely. But the child he wasn't allowed to be inside him wept for the pain. He pressed his hands to the side of his head, trying to block the sound of the tears. They echoed in his mind, a constant sobbing that made him clench his teeth in anger.

He felt the beginnings of the stupor that the pills gave him reach out and pull at him softly. He smiled then, a sad smile that drooped in the corners as the fogginess swept over him.

It was then that Bobby came into the room, intent on bringing Jack downstairs to Evelyn who was waiting patiently by the front door. She felt a sense of unease fill her as the minutes ticked by since she had sent Bobby upstairs.

Bobby opened the door to see Jack sitting hunched over on his bed, his eyes glazed over, half-dry hair tangled and still knotted. "Well at least, your face is clean," Bobby muttered as he walked over to Jack, careful not to make any sudden moves. Jack seemed oblivious to Bobby. He sighed as Bobby softly pulled his arm and lifted him off the bed. He was partially limp but Bobby could sense at least some awareness in Jack.

"Come on, kiddo. Ma's waiting downstairs," Bobby said as they walked down the steps.

Jack nodded and stepped lightly on each stair. Evelyn glanced over at the pair and her hand shot up to smother her cry. She saw Jack's dead eyes, the way Bobby was practically holding him up and felt a tug in her chest.

"First thing to go is those pills," she said from the side of her mouth to Bobby as they made their way to the car. Bobby nodded sharply. "Damn right," he muttered. He'd not spend another day staring at Jack's vacant eyes. Once they had gotten Jack into the backseat, Evelyn slid into the passenger front seat. She buckled up with a tight smile as she met Bobby's worried eyes.

"You sure you know what you're doing with Jack?" he said, a frown creasing his face.

Evelyn sighed. "I've never given up before Bobby; I won't give up on Jack just because he'll be more to deal with. Remember what I told you."

Bobby gave a quick look into the backseat. Jack was sitting with his face pressed so close to the window that the puffs of his breath were causing fog. He was tracing his finger through the fog and nearly silently singing. He frowned again, deeper this time. 'How do you reach someone who wants to be alone?'

Bobby dropped Evelyn and Jack off at the doctor's office. He watched them go in with a heavy heart. He wasn't sure exactly how the hell they were going to help Jack, but he knew if anyone could do it, it was Ma. She was the strongest woman he'd ever known, with the kindest heart.

He fumed silently as he reached in his pockets for a smoke. If he ever got his hands on all the people who hurt Jack in one way or another... his fingers twitched as the thought of wrecking some vengeance brought a smile to his face.He drove off with the list of errands that Ma had written down. He skimmed over the list, mentally planning out his day. He wondered idly what kind of cake they'd have for dessert tonight.


Evelyn filled out the forms that the nurse had handed to her. She was well known and well liked at this office, having been a familiar face there over the years. Jack was staring at his fingers while she copied down the information in the file folder from the case worker onto the office forms. Finally she reached the end, shaking her hand lightly from the inevitable cramping that came with the forms.

The nurse called them shortly after she handed over the papers. Evelyn stood and gestured for Jack to follow. Though seemingly trance like, he did respond to her, however slowly. She led him down the hallway to one of the smaller rooms.

She asked Jack to sit on the examining table while she sat on one of the plush chairs beside him. Jack looked around the room, smiling faintly at one of the posters on the wall. After a short while, the doctor walked in.

"Well, good day Mrs. Evelyn. This the newest boy?" the doctor asked.

Evelyn nodded with a smile. "Good morning, Frank," she said.

The doctor read quickly through the file, whistling a tuneless song. He looked over at Jack and held out his hand. "And you must be Jack. My name is Dr. Frank Visore. You can call me Frank though," he said, his eyes twinkling kindly. Jack gave him a dull look and limply shook the doctor's hand.

Dr. Visore swore inwardly at how chilled the boy's skin felt. 'Poor circulation; appears semi-aware of surroundings, disturbingly thin,' he noted in the chart.

The doctor spoke with Evelyn about Jack's medical history while Jack zoned out again. He could hear the words, but they were distant and blurry. He felt the sudden need to pee. Or sleep. Or both.

The doctor came closer to him and he shuddered as he felt the warm hand touch his shoulder. "Jack, I need you to take your shirt off please," he said.

Jack stared blankly at the doctor. The doctor looked over at Evelyn questioningly. Evelyn stepped over to Jack and held his chin in her palm. "Jack," she said, raising her voice slightly.

'Dear God, how did Bobby do this,' she thought, her heart pounding wildly.

"Take off your shirt," she said firmly. Jack whimpered then, a small sound of distress as he felt hands lifting his shirt. "Easy, Jack, easy," the doctor said soothingly as he moved the too-large shirt up to Jack's armpits. Jack keened softly when the air hit his skin.

"No, no, no, no…" he murmured as he felt the hands press down on his ribs. He started pulling and twisting from the doctor's hands, clearly agitated. The doctor backed up, his hands at chest-level.

"Jack, it's alright. I won't touch you. It's ok," he said slowly.

Jack moaned loudly as his panic surged. He jumped off the table with a cry of anger and ran for the door, pulling on the doorknob with trembling hands. He fumbled with the locks, yanking as hard as he could. He started to breathe in short gasps, his whole body shaking with fear.

Evelyn was at his side in a second. She grabbed a hold of him with both arms and they slide to the floor together. She crooned in his ear as she rocked; her voice a soothing rhythm.

Jack felt the band of fear around his chest start to loosen. His body went limp then as the fear drained out of him. The doctor helped to lift him back on to the examining table. Jack, though awake seemed trance-like again. With Evelyn's permission, he finished the exam as fast as he could before Jack could try and take off again. He brought her over to the side of the room and spoke in hushed whispers.

"Evelyn, I'm really worried about how you're going to deal with Jack. Without a doubt that boy has been badly abused. He's desperately underweight and freezing cold to the touch," Dr. Visore said, his voice thick with concern.

"You need to get him eating. He must take supplements until he starts eating more. He should be fine as long as his diet remains consistent. It's been years since I've seen such a malnourished child," he added.

"Is there any hope for him getting any taller or has the malnourishment stunted him?" she asked, her eyes on Jack as he whimpered softly, his legs moving restlessly on the examining table.

The doctor scratched his head while he thought over his response. "Honestly, Evelyn I don't know. Time will tell with Jack," he said finally.

She nodded then summoned up a larger smile. She turned to Jack. "It's time to go now Jack," she said slowly, hoping he was listening. He blinked, bringing his mouth into a lopsided grin.

"Ok," he said. He hopped down from the table and wobbled over to the door. Evelyn shot the doctor a worried look. Dr. Visore slipped the supplement prescription in her hand and wished her the best.

She led them outside and leaned against the brick wall. Jack stood next to her, staring at the ground. "What do you say we get some lunch hmm?" she said, pushing happiness into her voice. Jack looked up at her, his eyes cloudy. "I know just the place," she added as Jack followed behind her.


They sat in a restaurant 10 minutes from the doctor's office. Jack shuffled his feet uncomfortably as the hostess brought them to their seats. Evelyn opened the menu and looked over the lunch specials. Jack sat at the table hunched over.

"Um…are you sure…uh that is," Jack stuttered nervously as he darted quick glances from under his eyes at Evelyn.

Evelyn nodded encouragingly as Jack spoke his first real sentence to her.

"Uh I mean, I'm not hungry ma'-uh Evelyn."

Evelyn sighed inwardly at his blatant lie. She smiled, realizing that he'd called her Evelyn. "Jack, I wanted to take you out for lunch as a special treat," she said. Jack finally met her eyes and he saw the warmth there. He shuddered slightly. God, if she only knew what he had done, or was capable of doing.

"But I haven't done anything to deserve it!" he blurted suddenly.

Evelyn smiled again. "You deserve it because you're you, Jackie."

With that she showed him the menu options and ordered for the both of them, all the while resolutely ignoring the tears that glimmered in Jack's eyes, not sure how he'd react to comfort.

Later that afternoon, they waited for Bobby to return to pick them up near the doctor's office. Evelyn had dragged Jack from store to store, buying him clothes and shoes that fit. Jack closed his eyes as he felt a wave of gratitude wash over him. He turned to face Evelyn. She met his eyes and nodded approvingly. He threw his skinny arms around her and hugged her as tight as he dared. As he was hugging her, he saw Bobby's car pull into the parking lot.

Bobby's eyes widened. There was Jack, hugging Ma. He smiled to himself. She certainly had a way with people. He felt a bit of pride at the thought that Jack had made that much progress already.


That night, the family celebrated Bobby's 24th birthday with a wonderful chocolate cake, his favorite. As he made his way to the spare room, he stopped in to check on Jack. He found him sitting on the bed staring at the new shoes still in their box. A few tears ran down his pale cheeks until he saw Bobby watching him. He shoved the shoes under the bed in one quick motion.

Bobby chuckled dryly. "You don't need to hide your stuff here kiddo. No one's gonna take it from you." He walked over to the bed, arms crossed. Jack faced away from him and snorted.

"Yeah, I've heard that line before," he said, much bitterness in his voice. He scrubbed at the remaining tears on his cheeks furiously. Bobby nodded, looking out the window. "Those were nice shoes, Jack."

Jack shrugged. "Yeah well they're mine, so hands off," he snapped, feeling the need to hurt Bobby somehow. Bobby frowned. "I ain't gonna touch your stuff Jack. I just told you that," he said.

Jack winced as he realized that getting Bobby upset was not a good idea. He had feared all the bigger brothers that he'd had before. Each one had found a use for him in one way or another. And now...Bobby, he had this way of looking at Jack, a way of making him feel safe.

"Look, Jackie," Bobby said. Jack's head snapped back at the nickname that Evelyn had only that afternoon called him. It felt…nice to hear Bobby say it.

"Me, and Angel and Jerry, we're your brothers now whether you like it or not. We're Mercers, and no one fucks with the Mercer's and lives to tell about it. We all got each other's backs. You think you can scare us off by being angry or by being nasty, but you're wrong. Nothings gonna drive us away," Bobby said, his eyes glowing fiercely, pride obvious in his voice.

Jack made a nasty sound then curled up on his side on the bed, facing away from Bobby again. Bobby moved away from the window. "You remember that Jackie. You're one of us and we ain't gonna let you push us away", he said, his voice stern again.

Jack's body was stiff and perfectly still. Bobby closed the door to the room and headed to the guest room. Jack let the tears flow silently down his cheeks once he was sure that he was alone. "I want to believe you," he whispered.


1 year later

Jack burst through the front door, laughing as he ducked the snowball that was whizzing dangerously close to his head. He shook off both the snow and the colorful swearing of one of the neighborhood kids. Evelyn looked up from the cake she was frosting.

"Jack Mercer! Don't you dare bring more snow indoors! Angel already tracked in enough to make a fort in here earlier," she said with loving frustration.

Jack dropped his eyes. "Sorry, Ma," he said, giving her a quick hug as he stood in front of the fridge door, waiting for inspiration. Evelyn smiled as she shooed Jack out of the kitchen with a promise of a muffin if he'd just wait a second.

Today was Jack's 13th birthday and she didn't want him seeing the cake she was still icing. She'd assumed that with the sudden snowfall, he'd have been out there for hours yet. She hummed as she frosted the vanilla cake. Jack's progress had been nothing short of a miracle. He'd come along slowly and surely and before she knew it, he'd shot up 3 more inches and started calling her Ma. Her smile grew brighter as she thought about the gift that they had all chipped in for.

Jack had been to his first concert a few weeks ago with some friends from school, and when he'd come home, he'd declared that someday he'd get his own guitar. So now, his surprise gift of a guitar lay in Evelyn's room waiting to be opened. She could hardly wait to see the look on his face when he realized what his gift was.

Upstairs, Jack sat on his window ledge, watching the kids play in the snow downstairs. He smoked one cigarette after another, feeling the nicotine course through him. It was almost as good a feeling as the sedatives had been. Jack had come home from school one day, about six months after he'd arrived to find his pills gone. He'd confronted Evelyn in a screaming rage, only to be told calmly that yes, she had thrown them out. He stood there, chest heaving, unable to process what she'd just said. Finally he offered "Why?"

"You don't need them. They're not a healthy way to deal with pain," she simply said.

Jack had stood still for about ten minutes before nodding dumbly and heading back upstairs. He'd thrown stuff against the walls in a fit, screaming into his pillow and ripping as much paper as he could get a hold of before falling into an exhausted sleep on the floor. Evelyn hadn't mentioned it or the rage he'd been in afterwards. And for that, Jack was grateful.

But now he'd taken up smoking in secret. "I'll be damned if I can't have even one vice," he muttered to himself before stubbing out the remains of his cigarette. And if anyone noticed the smell of smoke on him, they didn't mention it.

Jack hid his nearly empty pack of smokes deep inside his backpack, sighing as he stretched slowly. He ached all over from the snowball fight they'd been having over the past hour. He smirked as he watched Bobby pull his battered car into the driveway. One of the other kids in the street had pitched a snowball at another kid right as Bobby pulled up, only to have the snowball land right in the middle of Bobby's car.

Bobby was out of his car like a shot, swearing loudly at the poor kid who was now trembling, fearing the worst. Jack snorted as he then saw Evelyn poke her head out the kitchen door and gesture for Bobby to come in, scolding him for frightening the children. Bobby yelled out one last threat as he glared at the kids before going indoors.

Jack sighed. He ran a hand through his hair absently and grimaced at the slightly greasy feel. As if she read his mind, he heard Evelyn call out "Jack! You have 20 minutes till dinner!"

Jack ran for the bathroom, pulling the door shut behind him. He still felt uncomfortable with the fact that any one of his brothers would use the bathroom while he was in the shower. After a year, he understood the necessity but still felt fearful. Jack shuddered as he ran the water. The idea that one of his brothers might someday stare at him lustfully filled him with an intense wave of terror.

'Except for Bobby,' a little voice in his head whispered. Jack blushed fiercely as he pulled his shirt off. He struggled to pull his pants off as he tried to deny what he was thinking. Over the past year, he had overcome his belief that Bobby was just waiting for the chance to hurt him. Now, Jack found himself sneaking glances at Bobby whenever he thought he wouldn't notice. His voice still made him want to obey him, and that he hadn't learned to control yet.

He stepped into the shower and closed his eyes in bliss. The warm water poured over him, washing away the grit and sweat from his body. He massaged his head leisurely, enjoying the relaxing feeling of the water pouring over him. Jack smiled as he remembered the first time that he had walked into the bathroom after one of Angel's showers. He'd been amazed by the sheer volume of steam that had rolled out of the bathroom. It was at that moment that it occurred to him that it was okay for him to use hot water in his shower. From then on, he made a point of thoroughly enjoying his time in the bathroom.

As he washed his arms and chest, he found his mind wandering once again to Bobby, as it so often did. He soaped himself as he pictured Bobby in the shower. His face was hot as he imagined Bobby slowly rubbing the bar of soap over his arms, down his legs, up over his stomach. Jack felt his breath come faster as he rinsed himself, his hands running over his own body.

He saw Bobby move towards him in his mind, his eyes dark, the water running down his face in rivulets, his hard body coming closer towards him. As Bobby moved towards him, he saw a dark shape move over Bobby's face. Jack gasped, his heart hammering wildly. Bobby stepped closer to him, and smirked, an ugly, evil looking smirk that made Jack's blood run cold.

"I wanna hear you scream little boy, I want to hear you beg," Bobby said, chuckling in a foul sounding way, one that made Jack want to sob in fear. He backed away, his hands swinging violently as he shrieked.

"No! God no! Not you too Bobby, help! Help!" he screamed desperately, his hair covering his eyes as he cried. He stumbled and started to loose his balance as he pulled back from the cruel leer that was coming closer and closer to him. He screamed in true terror as he fell then, his eyes rolling in his head as he began to shake and writhe in a blind panic. Jack twitched as he hit the bottom of the tub, his head smacking with a dull thud off the side of the bathtub. He was still screaming when Bobby broke down the bathroom door moments later.

Evelyn stood behind Bobby, her heart in her throat as she watched Bobby reach into the running shower and grab a hold of Jack. He dragged him out, ignoring the water that poured over him. Evelyn threw several towels around Bobby and Jack, and leaned over to shut off the shower taps. Bobby gave her a grateful look as he rubbed Jack's arms briskly with one of the towels. Jack's screams trailed off, leaving him mute and dazed.

"Jack! Jack! Wake up man, wake up!" he said. He refused to give in to the fear that pumped through his body right now. 'Calm, Bobby calm,' he repeated to himself.

"Look at me, man! Jack! Jackie!" he said, his voice starting to sound more and more panicked. Jack made a gurgling sound as Bobby shook his shoulders, his eyes searching for where the blood was coming from. Jack coughed weakly as his eyes fluttered, his mouth working desperately to take in air. Bobby gave a loud whoop when he saw Jack focus on his face. His heart dropped when he saw the look of raw fear on Jack's face.

Jack whimpered and tried to pull loose from Bobby's grip. He began to choke as he yanked harder, struggling to get away. Bobby glanced up at Evelyn, his eyes wide with alarm.

"What the hell Ma?" he asked, his voice trembling. Evelyn leaned forward and placed both of her hands on Jack's shoulders, her warm hands firm and comforting. Jack's rasping breaths calmed slightly, his frightened eyes still cloudy. She eased Jack closer to her, slipping him out of Bobby's arms and into hers. Jack latched onto her like he was drowning, whispering a litany of 'please no, oh god no,' over and over while she rocked him. Bobby gnawed on his lower lip, his stomach twisted with unease. He crossed his arms and paced a small distance.

"What the hell do we do now, Ma?" he whispered. Evelyn stared up at him, her eyes so sad. "I don't know Bobby, I just don't know. He seems to be in shock. I think he might have hit his head on the bathtub," she said.

Evelyn gently stroked Jack's face. He began to whimper again, his body shivering hard in the cool air. "Ma…" he croaked, his voice strained and sore from screaming. Bobby handed Evelyn another towel. She wrapped it tighter around Jack to help with the chill. Jack started to sit up and moaned as he clutched his head, his eyesight blurry.

"What…happened?" he asked, wincing as he felt the large bump at the back of his head.

"Thought maybe you could tell us," Bobby said as he crouched down, close to Jack.

Jack closed his eyes again. "I don't know, one minute I was showering, the next I saw Ma holding me," he said, a light pink flushing his cheeks.

'He's lying,' Bobby realized. He shook his head impatiently. "That's all? You don't remember anything else?"

"No," Jack said. He turned his head to the other side. He swallowed awkwardly around the hard lump in his throat. He felt tears burn his eyes. He was deeply ashamed of how he'd reacted. He wasn't quite sure he would be able to look Bobby in the face any time soon.

After many reassurances, Jack was allowed to come down for his birthday dinner. He glowed with happiness when Evelyn brought out his cake, his eyes filled with tears as he blew out his candles. He ate his slice, taking great pleasure in each mouthful.

That night, Jack slept with his guitar beside him. He'd been so happy and proud to be the owner of a guitar, a real guitar, that he'd let a few tears fall. Bobby had cuffed him on the shoulder, calling him a fairy. He hadn't minded. All he could think about was playing his guitar. And while Jack slept peacefully, Bobby lay on his bed, frowning at the ceiling as he recalled the way Jack's eyes had widened with fear when he had first seen Bobby.