2 years later

Jack sat in his classroom, completely bored and tuned out of the discussion. He gladly ignored the teacher, Mrs. Beckwith, who stood at the front of the room, and settled for watching the leaves move on the trees outside the window. He stifled a yawn as his eyelids drooped heavily. He stared with a dreamy smile at the window, imagining that he was reaching out, so far that he could touch just the tips of the leaves on one of the branches, his fingers straining to grasp one leaf in his hand.

"...well?" he heard a voice calling, sounding far away.

Jack slowly pulled his eyes away from the window as the voice grew more insistent. He turned and faced forward, only to see everyone staring back at him, the teacher's right foot tapping an impatient beat on the worn linoleum.

"Jack Mercer, have you heard a word I've said today?" she snapped, her mouth turned down in a nasty smirk. Jack sighed mentally. 'Why can't they just leave me the fuck alone?' he thought miserably. He counted to ten before meeting Mrs. Beckwith's angry eyes.

"Besides the last sentence you mean?" he drawled, deliberately making his voice as insolent as possible. 'Maybe she'll just kick me out today,' he thought hopefully.

Her face turned an unflattering shade of purple. "How dare you sass me?!" she screeched. "Get out; get out of this classroom right now! You can just march yourself on down to the principal's office this minute. Maybe some time there will help with your willful disobedience," she spat.

Jack rolled his eyes as he grabbed his binder and shoved it into his backpack. He was up and out of the aisle within seconds. He slammed the classroom door behind him, ignoring the muffled snickers coming from the other teens. 'Fuck 'em,' he thought with a snarl.

He strolled past the principal's office, his hands in his pockets. He had no intention of going there, not if he could help it. He made his way to the football field, watching the older boys run around the track. Jack laughed as he walked past the bleachers.

"Early day for me," he muttered. He kicked at the dirt as he walked, mumbling insults as he kicked each rock that he passed. He always thought of the perfect comeback after the moment was gone. "Bobby would have known just what to say," he said to no one in particular.

He stopped then and patted down his pockets, searching for his lighter. He finally found it in his jeans pocket. He lit a cigarette, his hands shaking a bit as he did. He chuckled bitterly as he took his first drag from the smoke. Every time he thought about Bobby, his hands would shake.

He hated the fact that Bobby made him feel awkward, young and stupid, all at the same time without even knowing that he was doing it. Jack would think about all the times he'd heard other guys talking about Bobby when they thought Jack wasn't listening or nearby, about how all the teachers gave disgusted sighs when they read the roll call at the start of each year, and realized that once again, they had a Mercer in their class.

Jack was fully aware of Bobby's reputation and while it served him in that the older boys left him alone for the most part aside from the occasional 'fag' comment, he had long since grown tired of everyone expecting him to be just like Bobby. He wasn't a so-called bad teen, but the teachers still treated him like he was nothing more than a delinquent who was passing time between sentences.

In his own way, Jack had found a way to rebel from what people thought of him. He had found the glorious numbing power of different drugs. He let out another sharp, harsh laugh. "Bobby never did drugs," he mocked himself as he walked, oblivious to the other people on the sidewalks. Despite his history, drugs were not something that Bobby had done all that much, and now abstained from himself.

Bobby may not have, but Jack, he found peace in taking excessive amounts of non-prescription drugs, in stealing whatever he could get his hands on in the drug stores. He lived for the adrenaline rush that he got each time he swallowed one of his ecstasy pills, ever mindful of his dwindling supply. Jack knew exactly which teen didn't mind selling off his Ritalin, claiming he hated the way he made him feel. Jack had laughed at the guy and told him he had it all wrong.

Jack reached the house in record time, for once glad that no one was home. His calm was beginning to wear off. He'd been popping Gravol tablets since the early morning. He'd found that taking several tablets made him skip the need to sleep, instead leaving him in a dopey haze. His stomach made a faint gurgling sound, but he ignored it.

He went straight up to his bedroom and shut the door. He then wedged the chair from his desk underneath the handle. He wasn't taking any chances today. Jack listened carefully for a moment, taking in the absolute silence. He smiled then. Perfect.

Jack sat on his bed, sitting cross-legged as he rooted through his backpack. He dug around till he found a wrinkled paper bag. With practiced hands, he rolled a joint expertly, feeling a sense of contentment fall over him as he raised it to his lips.

Halfway through his joint, he stretched out, feeling sleepy and warm now that the chemicals raced through him. He passed the time by staring at the ceiling and wondering exactly what he would say, if anything, if someone came into the bedroom and found him stoned on his bed. Breathless trickles of laughter fell from his mouth.

He could see it all now, the angry faces, the disappointment in Evelyn's eyes, the accusations. He closed his eyes, his happy buzz being chased away by the bitter tang of tears in the back of his throat. 'Nothin' but a fuck up, useless, worthless, ugly, waste of space,' his brain chanted.

Jack swore aloud. He pressed his hands to his ears, blocking out the merciless taunts. "Leave me alone," he begged, squeezing his eyes shut, pressing hard on his ears.

Jack whimpered as he threw the end of the joint out the window. He lay back on his bed, wanting to eat but not feeling the energy to get up. He lay there, half asleep, half aware of what was happening. It occurred to him faintly that his chair was still wedged under his doorknob. He hazily decided that he didn't care whether or not anyone would check on him.


Long after the sun had set, Jack finally pulled himself off his bed. Feeling dizzy and light headed, he weakly pulled the chair loose from under the door. The effort of moving the chair left him panting and breathless. He made his way down the stairs, vaguely recalling his first day here, when Bobby had helped him down the stairs. He smiled. Bobby still made him feel secure, like his arms could keep the world away from Jack.

He stumbled into the kitchen ignoring the frown that crossed his mother's face. He sat down on one of the chairs and rested his face on the table. Evelyn stood back against the sink, her arms loosely folded over her chest. She took in Jack's pale face, his blood-shot eyes, and the way he could barely seem to sit up. She poured him a glass of juice and set it in front of him. He didn't seem to be blinking.

"So, Jack. The school called me at work today. Is there anything you'd like to tell me?" she asked quietly. Jack blinked once and somehow managed to shake his head a bit without actually lifting it. Evelyn sighed softly. She wondered idly exactly how stoned Jack was.

"Jackie, I'm well aware that you don't particularly enjoy school. Be that as it may, I still expect you to make some effort," she said. Jack made a slow popping sound with his lips, a dazed grin on his face. "Sorry," he said, stretching out the's'. Evelyn walked over to him quickly and slapped her hands down on the table. Jack blinked again and lifted his eyes slightly to meet hers.

"Damn it! I won't watch you do this!" she snapped. Jack made a pout with his lips.

"Every few days I have to come home and find you spaced out on some drug. So what is it tonight then? More pills? Pot? Alcohol? Enlighten me Jack," she said, anger heavy in her voice.

Jack let out a slow sigh. 'How did I think that I could hide this from her?' he thought sadly. "Gravol all day, and pot when I came home," he whispered. Evelyn sat down on the chair across from him, and took his cold hands in hers. He let his head slide a bit, swaying back and forth, humming lightly while Evelyn rubbed her thumbs over his fingers.

"Why do you do this to yourself, Jackie?" she asked him, her face pale and serious.

His eyes stung again and a single tear slipped out. She watched as it slowly trickled down his cheek before hitting the table. "I don't know," he mumbled. "I don't believe you Jack. There must be a reason," she said.

"I…feel hollow. I wanna be hollow. I don't wanna…" he trailed off as his eyes glazed over for a bit. "Don't want to what?" she asked gently. "I don't wanna feel anymore," he said, a strangled sob following his words.

Evelyn pushed her chair closer and held on to him, one hand rubbing his back. "You need to stop this Jack. You're destroying yourself with each drug. You have to want to stop. Don't push us away, we're your family and we all love you," she pleaded.

Jack twisted roughly away from her. "Family?!" he yelled. "This is what a family is? None of us are related, not really! None of us ever had a real family! I don't belong anywhere…" he trailed off as he took several jerky steps back from her.

His insides twisted as he saw the pained expression on his mother's face. 'Not my mother, not really,' the cruel voice said in his mind. "I gotta go now, I can't, I, I …" he stuttered as he ran from the room.

Evelyn held her head in her hands as she stared at his untouched glass of juice. She listened to the sound of the front door slamming a few minutes later. Jack disappeared for three days, before he turned up, dirty and worn out, deep bruises under his eyes. He had slept for two days straight. Evelyn didn't ask him where he'd been, afraid of setting him off again and Jack didn't offer any details.


2 Years Later

Bobby walked through the alleyway slowly, his eyes flashing in fury when he found the very person he was looking for. He leaned in and yanked the young boy who had his back to him by the collar. A familiar pair of startled eyes stared back at Bobby.

"Isn't it amazin' how I can always find you?" Bobby hissed. He tightened his fist in Jack's battered leather coat. Jack bit his lip. "Um, look I know how this seems…" he started to say.

"Really?" Bobby growled. "Cause it looks a lot like you about to do somethin' real fuckin' stupid!" The stranger who had been standing in front of Jack moved nervously, edging away from Bobby's furious eyes. "Where do you think you're going?" Bobby said harshly.

He pushed Jack over to the wall. "You best fuckin' stay there," he ordered him. Jack lowered his eyes, reflexively obeying Bobby's demand. He never had been able to stop that reaction, no matter how long he had been with them. Bobby turned to the frightened stranger, speaking softly to him, too softly for Jack to hear him. The man turned deathly pale, his eyes bulging. "Understood?" Bobby crooned. The man nodded, running from the alley then.

Bobby looked back at Jack. "My car, now," he snapped. Jack followed him, his eyes firmly fixed on the hard pavement. Once they were inside the car, Bobby glanced at Jack. "Put your seatbelt on," he said. Jack did it up, chewing his lower lip.

Bobby started the engine and drove off. He waited until they were on the road for a few minutes, his eyes still full of raw anger. "I don't know what the fuck you're thinkin', or why you pull this kind of shit with Ma, but I've had enough," he said calmly, through his anger.

"I don't want anymore phone calls from Ma at two in the goddamned mornin', you hearin' me Jackie?" he said through clenched teeth. Jack shrugged, staring out the window. "One of these days, you're gonna wind up in some fuckin' gutter," Bobby said. "Is that what you want? To throw your life away?" he demanded.

Jack chewed on a fingernail, half shrugging. "Damn it Jack!" Bobby yelled, pulling into a deserted parking lot, his hands tightly clenching the wheel. "What the fuck is goin' on in your head?"

Jack looked away, his shoulders hunched. He hated yelling, and worse, being yelled at. "Don't..." he mumbled into his chest."Don't what?!" Bobby growled. "Don't make you face the bullshit?"

"Don't yell..." Jack whispered, his eyes wide with fear. "Don't give me that goddamned look," Bobby said fiercely. "You have any idea what you're doin' to Ma every time you pull this disappearing act? You think I'm gonna go easy on you?"

"Just leave me alone!" Jack shouted, surprising both himself and Bobby.

"Leave you alone huh? Fat fuckin' chance on that," Bobby snorted after a moment. "Seventeen years old, you think you know it all by now? Let me clue you in Jackie, the world's a lot fuckin' meaner than you could ever imagine. All those random strangers out there, you're just another face in the crowd to them. But to us, your family, you're everything!"

Jack felt tears sting and prick under his eyelids. He wrapped his arms around his chest, sniffing lowly. Bobby sighed in frustration, running one hand through his hair messily, loose strands falling around his eyes. "What's it gonna take for you to believe me?" he asked. "What more does Ma have to do for you to feel like you belong with us?"

"Not her fault," Jack whispered. The tears burned, stinging him mercilessly. "It's me, I'm the fucked up one." Bobby looked at him. "Jackie, we're all fucked up man, you know that," he said softly. "If we weren't fucked up, we wouldn't have ended up with Ma. Why do you think we're there with her, huh? No one else wanted problems as big as ours. You really think she's not gonna love you no matter what?"

A tear slid down Jack's cheek. He wanted nothing more than to climb onto Bobby's lap as if he were a small child and be soothed by his warm strength. "Look at me," Bobby said. He reached over and tilted Jack's chin, meeting his eyes. "I know what it feels like Jack, I do, honest. You gotta let us in sweetheart. You remember what I told you when you first came to stay with us?"

Jack nodded hesitantly, another tear escaping and sliding down his cheek. "That I was a part of the family," he said lowly, his voice barely above a whisper. Bobby nodded, his thumb smoothing over Jack's chin. "Right," he said. "No matter how bad you fuck up, Ma's gonna love you Jackie, all of us will. I'll always love all you guys."

For a brief moment, it seemed as though a light went out in Jack's eyes. He slumped back against the seat, nodding hollowly. "Sorry," he whispered. Bobby looked at him worriedly. "You gonna tell me what was goin' on in that alleyway?" he asked.

Jack looked out the window. "So I guessed right huh?" Bobby said, pulling his hand back. Jack cringed when he saw the look on Bobby's face. "Y'know, I can understand the drugs," Bobby said. "I don't like it but hell, I did that when I was younger and even drinkin', and I know you've been drinkin' heavy Jack, don't even try to deny that one. But this...this is unfuckin' real! What woulda happened if I hadn't found you then?"

"You know what," Jack murmured. Bobby made an angry sound. "Are you gonna sit there and tell me that you were gonna have sex with some stranger for money?" he asked, his voice dropping to a dangerous whisper.

Jack nodded slowly. "I needed the money for something," he said, his stomach dropping faster by the second. Bobby breathed out, his face set in a mask of fury. He started the car, his hands shaking, and the air in the car thick with tension. "Bobby..." Jack whispered, touching his arm hesitantly.

"What?" Bobby said tightly. "Are...are you mad at me?" Jack asked. Bobby looked at him, seeing the fear in his still young face. "Mad? No," he said. "Fuckin' furious, yes."

"Bobby..." he said again, licking his dry lips."I won't do it anymore, I swear."

"Yeah?" Bobby said harshly. "Till the next time, right? Only maybe I won't be there to stop you. Maybe it'll happen when I'm at work, and there you are on the fuckin' streets, letting some stranger touch you. But you know...only cause you really needed the money after all."

"Stop it," Jack said, furious tears filling his eyes. "Why? Cause it's the truth?" Bobby snapped. "You don't wanna hear the truth Jackie? You'll be nothin' more than another fuckin' whore and damn it, you're better than that!"

Jack's eyes flashed, his anger finally roused. "I am not a whore!" he hissed.

"Not yet," Bobby snorted. "At what point does suckin' guys off in an alley for money make you a whore?" Jack's hand flew out and slapped Bobby hard, straight across the face. Time seemed to stand still for a long moment, Bobby's shocked face, a bright red handprint on his cheek, Jack's horrified expression, his hand burning with heat. He breathed in, a small sound in his throat, one that broke the silence.

"Bobby...I..." Jack tried to say. Bobby said nothing. He turned the wheel, driving back onto the road. "Please..." Jack whispered, his hands shaking, sick with what he had done. Bobby kept his eyes on the road, the red mark standing out on his cheek.

"Bobby...please...I'm sorry," Jack said, his throat clogged with tears. He struggled to swallow over the lump in his throat. "I didn't mean to hit you."

"Its fine," Bobby said tersely. The rest of the ride was silent except for the occasional sniff from Jack as he struggled not to cry. Bobby got out of the car, anger radiating off of him in waves. He unlocked the door and stepped inside, leaving Jack in the car.

Jack buried his face in his hands, beyond afraid and upset. He went inside finally and dragged himself upstairs to his bed, unable to face Bobby. He'd never been the type to get physical with anyone unless it was in hockey or if he had absolutely had to in a real fight. Now, he felt sick and uneasy for what he'd done. He sat up ten minutes later when he heard Bobby's heavy footsteps. He had a bag slung over his shoulder and tossed it into the car. He drove away then, his eyes flicking up to the house before he drove away.

"He...he left..." Jack whispered aloud. He sat down on his bed numbly, his eyes dry and aching. "He left me..." he said again.


2 Years Later

Jack leaned back against the unforgiving hard brick of the slummy apartment building, his arms crossed, and a bored look on his face. He restlessly scanned the cars that raced past him. He patted down his leather jacket, looking for his pack of cigarettes. He fished one out and was in the midst of lighting it when a white car pulled into the parking lot.

The car moved slowly, the driver craning his neck out the side window. Jack brought his lighter closer to his cigarette and inhaled after he lit it He watched the driver make a loop around the lot, flicking the tip of his cigarette, knocking the ash loose. The car came closer towards him. Jack felt his heart start to beat faster as the car slowed to a crawl before stopping directly in front of him.

He blew out a cloud of smoke and watched with some interest as the window lowered further. The driver leaned out of the passenger side window. "Jackie? That you?" the voice said.

Jack narrowed his eyes distrustfully. At that moment, Jerry's face came into view, smiling in relief as he looked at Jack. "Finally," he said. "I must have been up and down this damn street a dozen times lookin' for you."

"How'd you know where I was?" Jack murmured around his cigarette.

"Ma sent me, she keeps tabs on all of us, you gotta know that by now," Jerry said. "Hop in man, its cold out here." Jack sighed and stepped away from the brick. He slid into the front seat, rubbing his hands together briskly. Jerry turned the heat up in the car.

"So what's the big rush to get me?" Jack asked, flicking his cigarette out the window crack. "Ma's real sick," Jerry said softly. "She got a bad cold that just got worse. Doctor's are thinkin' pneumonia or something."

Jack looked at him, his forehead furrowed. "She's gonna be ok though, right?" he asked. Jerry sighed, rubbing his chin. "I sure hope so Jackie," he said. "I don't wanna picture life without Mom."

"Angel's flyin' in tonight," he said. "Bobby'll be driving in sometime today."

Jack stiffened slightly, the cigarette burning his fingers. "Yeah?" he said uneasily. Jerry nodded. "Yeah, not that there's any doubt on that. You say the word 'Ma' and he'll come runnin'."

Jack tossed the cigarette butt out the window, his breathing catching in his throat. "Yeah…" he whispered. Jerry looked at him. "Don't worry Jackie. Ma'll be fine, you'll see," he said. "She's a tough little lady and she'll come out fighting," he said.

"Sure," Jack said, trying to smile, his nerves kicking in. "Course…"


The whole ride over, Jack was sure that he was going to pass out. Jerry talked about the girls and they dog that they had recently bought. Jack nodded when appropriate, his arms clutching the seatbelt like a vice. His fingers ached when he finally let go of the belt.

Jerry pulled up to the house and turned the engine off. Jack walked into the house and put his bag on the ground near the door. "Damn…" he sighed, looking around. Jerry shrugged his coat off. "I know," he said. "Ma'll never change this place, I swear it."

"I kinda like that," Jack murmured, wandering into the kitchen. "It's nice to have consistency somewhere." He opened the fridge and pulled out a jug of grape juice. He poured a large glass and gulped it down thirstily, licking his lips after.

Jerry watched him. "How long you gonna stay?" he asked. Jack shrugged, tugging his jacket off. "Till Mom's better, I guess," he said evasively. Jerry shook his head slowly. Jack looked at him, frowning. "What?" he said.

"You're gettin' as bad as Bobby, you know that?" he said. Jack scoffed at that and folded his arms over his chest. "That's bullshit," he said. "Yeah?" Jerry challenged. "When was the last time you came home huh? Easter? Shit, Jack. Even Bobby calls Ma a few times a month."

"Good for him," Jack snapped, leaving the room then. "Good to know he gives a shit about someone!" Jerry watched him stomp up the stairs, bewildered. "What the fuck happened to you two?" he whispered.


Angel arrived a few hours later and not long after that, Bobby pulled into the driveway. Jack could faintly hear Jerry greeting them, casual insults passed around as fast as the hugs were. Jack rolled over on his bed, burying his face in his pillow. He had had a few puffs of a joint, just enough to take the edge off. His stomach turned listlessly when he heard the familiar sound of Bobby's boots clomping up the stairs.

His door opened a moment later. Bobby came into the room. "I know you're awake," he said after a minute. Jack sighed and rolled over. "What?" he snapped irritably.

Bobby chuckled lowly. "Aw, not enough sleep princess?" he asked.

Jack flipped him off as he burrowed into the sheets again. "Get the fuck up," Bobby said sternly. "We're goin' to see Ma now." Jack nodded, sitting up slowly. Bobby reached over and grasped his chin firmly. "How high are you this time?" he asked.

"Just a few hits, back offa me," Jack grumbled. "Alright, don't get your panties in a twist," Bobby said, letting go of him. Jack rubbed his fingers over his chin, his skin tingling where Bobby had touched him. "Fucker," Jack grunted reflexively.

The ride to the hospital was tense. Bobby drove them there, his fingers tapping an irregular beat on the steering wheel. Jack sat as close to the window as he could, behind Bobby, wishing like hell he had the courage to reach out and touch his shoulder, just to remind himself that he was there, a solid presence.

Jack sighed softly, tracing his finger through the fog on the window, humming softly. Bobby looked at him in the rearview mirror, his eyes dark and unflinching. Jack broke the eye contact first, a nervous sweat breaking out all over his body. Jerry glanced at him curiously, his eyebrows raised, his forehead furrowed. Jack blushed lightly and pressed his fingers to the glass, unwilling to admit he'd been staring again.

Bobby pulled into the parking garage at the hospital. Angel tilted his head. "What floor she on Jerry?" he asked. "Third floor, and watch what you guys say huh?" Jerry said.

Bobby snorted. "What kind of nurses work here that we gotta be afraid of them?" he muttered, getting out of the car. Jack slid out of the car, his legs cramped from the back seat. "The kind that'll call the cops if you start up one of your swearin' fits," Jerry snapped.

"Relax," Bobby said with a small smirk. "I won't go off, swear it."

Angel rolled his eyes. "Heard that before," he murmured lowly. They went up to Evelyn's room, Bobby tipping a wink to one of the young nurses, who blushed and ducked her head when they passed the nursing station. Jack gritted his teeth, anger coursing through him.

Jerry led them to the room at the end of the hallway. Evelyn lay on the hospital bed, the machine by her bed beeping steadily. Jack sucked in an unsteady breath, his throat closing for a moment. Evelyn looked so frail, so small and delicate on the bed, tubes running up to her nose and down over her arms. He made a soft sound, his eyes watering.

Bobby stood beside him, one hard hand on Jack's shoulder. He squeezed gently. "She's ok," he whispered. Jack shivered. "See?" he said, pointing to the machine. Jack blinked slowly. "Long as that's beepin', she's ok, yeah?"

Jack nodded shakily. Jerry walked over to the bed just as Evelyn opened her eyes. "Is this what it takes to have all my boys back in one room?" she asked softly, her voice strained. She smiled then, breaking the tension. Evelyn reached for the button near her bed and pressed the top button, bringing herself up a bit. Bobby gripped Jack's arm, and pulled him towards the bed.

"Got here as fast as I could Ma," Bobby said, leaning down and kissing her cheek. Angel held her hand. "How you feelin' Ma?" he asked. Evelyn smiled reassuringly. "I'm just fine boys, I promise," she said.

"Ma…" Bobby said, frowning. "I'll be just fine," she said firmly. "My cold got worse is all. The medications are already making me better," she added. Jerry sat down in one of the hard plastic chairs. "Has the doctor been by yet?" he asked.

Evelyn nodded, resting back against the pillows. "Yes," she said. "I should be home in a day or two." Jack looked at her hesitantly. She looked at him, and then smiled widely. "Jackie, you came home?" she asked hopefully.

Jack glanced at Bobby's stony expression. "Um, yeah," he said, swallowing. "Yeah, I was thinkin' of staying for awhile." Evelyn smiled happily. "Good. I miss having you around. All of you," she added, nodding to Bobby.

"I got a plan on that Ma," Bobby said, ignoring the look on Jack's face. "I talked to Jerry here last month." Jerry crossed one leg casually. "Yeah, one of the companies I hire from has got some openings for new hires. I can get him in," he said. Evelyn's eyes sparkled for a moment. "That's wonderful," she said, resting her hand on her chest. Jerry offered her the cup of water by her bedside. "Easy there, Mom," he chided her gently.

"Oh hush now, Jeremiah," Evelyn said. "I'm fine, and I'll swat you if I have to if it proves to you that I'm alright." Jack grinned, relaxing somewhat when he saw a bit of fire flash in her eyes.


After a round of goodbyes, Jerry had ushered them from the room. Bobby started the car, his fingers moving restlessly over the steering wheel. "Drop me to get the car," Jerry said. Bobby grunted and started the car. Once they were back at the house and Jerry had left, Angel looked at Bobby. "You wantin' to go in there now?" he asked.

Bobby shook his head. He glanced at Jack, who was doing his best to not stare at Bobby. "I need a drink," he said. Angel nodded. "Go on, let's do it then," he said smoothly.

Sometime after Jack's fourth shot of whiskey, he'd looked at Bobby and almost said the words that were rushing from his throat. Angel called for another bottle of whiskey and the three of them drank in near silence, only occasional comments traded back and forth. Gradually, Bobby began to unwind, his smile making Jack's stomach flop weakly.

"Where ya been hidin' huh, Jackie boy?" Bobby asked, raising his eyebrows. Jack giggled softly and downed his shot. "Hidin' in plain sight," he declared, putting his shot glass down hard. "That so?" Angel asked, winking at a girl who passed them.

Jack nodded. "Jus' downtown," he said, waving one hand in the air. "Here an' there, singin' and playin'." Bobby shook his head. "Making a fuckin' lot of racket on that damn guitar?" he asked. "Oh yeah," Jack said. "That racket gets me paid. Not much..." he trailed off. "I get by."

Bobby stared at him, all humor gone then. "Really?" he said lowly. Angel nudged Bobby. "Don't start, not here," he whispered. Bobby shook him off. Jack shifted uneasily in the chair, his fingers suddenly slippery with sweat while he played with his shot glass.

"You get yourself a part-time job there, Jackie?" Bobby asked, his voice almost mocking. "Bills gotta get paid right? Whatcha doing now, huh? You a real workin' boy?"

Jack recoiled from Bobby, guilt and shame gnawing at him. "Fuck you!" he hissed. "You don't know shit!" Angel grabbed Jack's arm. "Let's go," he muttered, half dragging him from the bar. He dropped several bills on the table, pulling him away from Bobby.

The cool wind hit Jack's heated skin when they stepped outside, Bobby growling as he followed close behind them. "Where you goin' Angel?" he yelled.

Angel glared at Bobby. "Gettin' your drunken asses home before you do something real stupid," he said. "Get in the damn car!" Bobby stumbled closer to the car, his eyes glittering in the moonlight. "Do you know? You know what Jackie does, what line of work he's in?" he snarled. Angel grabbed Bobby by the collar and shoved him in the car. "I ain't doin' this in public," he said. "Sit down an' shut up!"

Jack got into the backseat and curled up, pulling his knees to his chest as he stared out the window. Angel took the keys from Bobby and drove them back to the house. Jack hurried inside the house, giving in to his urge to pack and run. Bobby followed him, scowling. The ride had sobered him up a bit, and now he was determined to talk to Jack. Angel grabbed Bobby's arm on the stairs. "Stop and think, Bobby," he urged him.

Bobby yanked his arm lose, fury flashing in his eyes. "How...how can you just ignore all this?" he sputtered. "This shit has been goin' on for years! Are you that blind?!"

"I see some shit," Angel said, nodding tersely. "None of us do much better. An' Jackie's gonna do what he wants, he's no kid anymore, Bobby." Bobby chuckled harshly, no warmth to it. "He never was a fuckin' kid! Other people saw to that. He's gonna run, he's gonna fucking run again and it won't be long until he's dead in some gutter!"

Angel sighed, rubbing his neck slowly. "Go on," he muttered, moving aside. Bobby nodded and hurried up the rest of the stairs. "Oh I don't fuckin' think so," Bobby said when he saw Jack re-packing his bag quickly. "You aren't boltin' outta here tonight," he said. "Watch me," Jack snapped. "Why do you even give a shit, nobody runs better than you!"

"Ma expects you to be here when she gets out and I got my own reasons," Bobby countered. Jack scoffed, zipping his bag closed. "Yeah? Well I got my reasons," he said. "Now get out of my way."

Bobby blocked the doorway, smiling grimly. "No," he said. Jack stared at him. "Get the fuck out of my way," he said through gritted teeth. "I told you, you aren't runnin' tonight," he said. Jack put his bag down angrily.

"What the fuck do you want?" he yelled. "Who the hell do you even think you are? You fucking disappeared when I needed you the most and now two years later, you think you can just barge into my life and tell me what I can and can't do? Get.Out.Of.My.Way," he said, biting off each word.

Bobby crossed the room, standing in front of Jack. "You made your choice that night Jackie, you wanna spend the rest of your life on your back or on your knees, who am I to stop you, right? Till some fucker puts a bullet between those fuckin' lips of yours and blows your goddamn brains out!" he spat.

Jack clenched his fists, his eyes glowing with rage. "I am not a whore!" he hissed. Bobby smirked at him. "Lemme tell you something sweetheart, you take money from some sweaty, fat bastard and let him fuck you, that makes you a whore, no matter how you slice it, Jackie," he said softly.

Tears glistened in Jack's eyes. He choked on a sob in his throat. "Get away from me," he whispered. Bobby touched his cheek, his thumb rubbing over the pale skin. "You don't gotta do this Jack, you don't hafta sell yourself," he said sadly. "You never did."

"You don't know me; you don't know anything about me!" Jack said, his voice catching, the tears building faster, his eyes burning. Bobby looked at him close, his mouth close to Jack's ear. "You never let me in Jack. None of us, not even Ma. I'll love you no matter what, Jack. I wish like hell that I could help you, but honestly, I don't know if I can," he whispered.

Jack made a soft sound, something inside him breaking. He stumbled backwards and tripped over his bag. He landed on the floor, tears trickling down his cheeks. Bobby crouched next to him. "Shh," he whispered. "Don't cry Jackie." He pulled Jack into his arms, tugging him onto his lap. Jack curled up against him the way he used to when he was still new to the house. Though Bobby had made him nervous, Jack would crawl onto his lap, his head tucked under Bobby's chin. Bobby had never protested and would just hold on to him securely, letting him take whatever comfort he needed.

Bobby held him, rubbing his back slowly. "Are you still usin' hardcore?" he asked after several minutes. Jack sniffed and shook his head. "No," he whispered. "Drink, yeah, still smokin', bit of pot, that's it," he added. "You promise?" Bobby asked, tilting his chin to look at him. Jack nodded, his eyelashes dark with tears. "I just...I need something...gotta make it stop hurtin' so much," he whispered.

Bobby rested his head on Jack's, nodding sadly. "Ma told me once that all you wanted was to be hollow, to not feel," he said softly. "When I was young, real young, I used to hurt myself like you, just not with drugs. I fucked up a lot, set a lot of shit on fire, and hurt a lotta people. I felt...so fuckin' empty inside y'know? Like there was nothin' left."

Jack looked up at him and nodded slowly. "I felt empty and hollow, but still tried to push it all away. I felt hollow but I didn't wanna feel at the same time. I wanted to be numb," Bobby continued, his rough fingers stroking Jack's hair as he spoke.

"Vacant..." Jack breathed. Bobby nodded. "Yeah, just make all the shit go away, be vacant and empty and then maybe all the hollow feelings would stop hurtin' so bad," he said.

"Ma loved me unconditionally, Jackie. I was the worst by the time she got me. The things I did," he trailed off, blinking fast. "I don't know how she did it, or what she does still, but somehow she got through to me. And it stopped hurtin' so much. Wasn't overnight, didn't make me perfect or stop bein' me, but now, now I could know that someone loved me, just the way I was, no strings, no conditions. And the fuckin' power behind that Jack, you just gotta let it in," Bobby said, his throat aching. He looked down at Jack, still sitting on his lap. Jack peered at him, a frightened look on his face for a few seconds.

"Jack," Bobby whispered hoarsely. Jack shifted on his lap and cupped Bobby's cheeks, kissing him then, startling Bobby badly. "J..." he tried to say as Jack kissed him again, quick, furious kisses, pressing against him. Bobby opened his mouth to the kiss, moaning lowly at the slide, the soft feel of Jack's lips brushing over his.

Jack pulled back after a long minute, Bobby's lips swollen from the kiss. Bobby blinked, his arousal digging into his stomach. "Jackie," he murmured. Jack curled up against him again. "I had to," he whispered. "I had to, just once."

"Why didn't you ever tell me?" Bobby asked, his lips tingling. "I was afraid," Jack said softly. "I thought you'd hate me if you knew that I wanted you." Bobby stroked Jack's hair again. "I don't hate ya, Jack," he murmured. "Surprised as all hell though. I couldn't hate you Jackie. I love you, you know that."

"But not the way I love you," Jack said sadly. Bobby sighed as he held Jack closer. "I do, that's why I left," he said. "I was startin' to worry myself with how I felt, and I didn't wanna end up screwin' things up, so I left. When I saw that dead look in your eyes in the car, the thought of you giving yourself to some other guy made me nearly fuckin' insane with rage."

Jack sighed, resting against Bobby. "I never wanted you to know what I was doing," he said. Bobby held him closely. "I don't want that life for you, Jack. You deserve so much better than that kind of life," he said. They sat in silence for a bit, leaning against each other.

Jack sniffed, breaking the silence. He wiped at his face. "Are you really stayin' this time?" he asked. Bobby nodded. "Yeah," he said. "I am. Jerry came through for me." Jack sat up, looking at him. "I'm sorry I hit you that night," he whispered. "I was so upset and fuckin' scared, I never meant to do that."

Bobby shrugged. "It was a long time ago Jack," he said, touching his cheek. Jack shook his head. "No, it's not ok Bobby, I'm sorry, I really am. You know I'm not like that."

Bobby leaned forward, pressing his mouth to Jack's slowly. Jack sighed happily, kissing him then, his hands carding through Bobby's hair, moving closer to him. "It's ok," he breathed when Jack pulled away a bit. "I promise."

"So, now what?" Jack murmured, pressing slow kisses to Bobby's mouth. "One day at a time, Jackie," Bobby said, holding him tightly. Jack held on, his body relaxing. He felt content, at ease in Bobby's arms, the way he'd longed to be for years, allowing himself to be loved. "You'll stay with me, with all of us," Bobby said. "No more selling, never again."

Jack nodded, pressing another kiss to Bobby's mouth. "I promise," he whispered. "I haven't in a long time." The urges to be numb, to be empty and vacant were beginning to fade as he was cradled in Bobby's arms, surrounded by his strength, his warm body, and the love he gave him freely. "Love me?" Jack said lowly. Bobby nodded. "Always have, Jack," he said. "Always have."