Author's Notes: Wow, this is it, huh? It's been a blast writing this story, and all of you guys have been great in your constant reviews. This is the longest thing I've ever written, and it's been an amazing ride. I cannot stress how great the people in this fandom are.
I also find it amazing how SparksDiamond manages to catch the hundred-review mark each time. I'm thinking she just sits and waits until she sees the "99" and quickly submits a review. I already gave you a Whump-Me Jack, what can I do to top that? ;) Seriously though, two hundred reviews? You guys know that nothing else I've ever posted ever passed the hundred mark, right? I am floored, really. You're all too kind!
Tired eyes stared back at him from the mirror. Jack wasn't sure what he was looking for, but whatever it was couldn't be seen. His index finger lightly traced the bruise vividly decorating his face. The swelling had gone down, aided by the ice pack that had been anonymously left in his room. He could even work his jaw better thanks to the pain medication working its way through his system. As he continued to stare at himself in the mirror, he found himself glad that it was Thanksgiving break. For some reason, the prospect of walking around school looking like a bruised piece of fruit just didn't sound appealing. Then again, hopped up on pain medication, antibiotics, and eating turkey with a straw wasn't his idea of a dream Thanksgiving either.
Normally the thought of his mother's lovingly prepared dishes would make his mouth water and the smells wafting up from the kitchen would draw him out of hiding. Right now though, it made his empty stomach clench, and a brief sensation of nausea overtook him.
He closed his eyes and held onto the sink, waiting for the feeling to pass.
This wasn't his worst Thanksgiving ever, but it was coming close. The crappiest part wasn't even that the thought of food was unappetizing, or that the prospect of chewing on a piece of turkey sounded like a violation of the Geneva Convention. It was that even through the haze of the pain medication, he could feel a thin film on his teeth, reminding him that he hadn't been able to properly see to his dental hygiene the night before. That in turn dredged up violent memories that he really didn't want to deal with.
Jack's energy reserves weren't much to speak of. His body had been through hell, and now it was demanding proper rest. He sighed and pushed away from the sink, frowning as his bare foot collided against something. He peered under the sink, spying a black toiletry bag sporting the US Marine Corp logo.
Carefully he lowered himself to the ground, eyeing the bag thoughtfully. A mature person would leave it where it was and crawl back to his bed to moan in solitude. This person would understand that nothing could be gained by messing with a marine's gear, except perhaps a beating.
Jack opened the bag with one quick motion. On his best days he didn't come anywhere close to mature, and judging from the dull ache in his side, this was far from a good day. He fished around in the bag blindly, before pulling out a plain unadorned toothbrush.
Perhaps it was the pain pills, but he found himself chuckling maniacally as he hobbled over to the toilet. The laughter grew louder and more disturbed as he dunked his victim into the bowl over and over again.
Bobby stared at the tiny box of baking soda in his hand, and glanced unhappily at his two younger brothers. "Are you sure you can trust me handling this? I might crack a rib with whole eight ounces sitting in my palm."
Jerry sighed exasperated. "Bobby, don't make me call Nurse Roberts on your ass."
"I'd like to see you try." The elder brother's shoulders hunched at the mention of the nurse though.
"She gave me a number to reach her at if I needed to."
"Am I?" Jerry raised an eyebrow in challenge. "Were you listening enough to know that?"
Bobby remained silent, because he hadn't, and he really couldn't tell whether or not Jerry was lying at the moment. He once again cursed teaching the younger man to bluff. Next time he needed a wingman in a poker match he'd just clone himself. Angel couldn't be trusted after that little stunt at the hospital, and Jack couldn't bluff to save his life.
"We need to get pie." Changing the subject was always better than admitting defeat. Besides, it was the one thing he could remember from the list last night.
"Angel's got that covered," Jerry indicated head bobbing at the other end of the corner store.
"I'm finding it hard to believe they have things Ma needs to make pie."
"Man, she doesn't want to make it this year. Didn't you hear her last year? Too much work."
Bobby looked at Jerry closely, trying to see if he was lying or not. That poker face was still there though. "No pie crusts?"
"Man, I know they've got turkeys here, but I think you're giving this place too much credit. We'd have to go to the grocery store for that."
Now, neither Angel nor Jerry had mentioned anything about Bobby and grocery stores being "bad luck", and never explicitly stated their presence was needed for the oldest brother's "own protection". Perhaps it was good old fashioned paranoia, but Bobby was sure they were thinking it. Just like they were thinking he had managed to break both of his arms instead of bruise a few ribs.
The turkey he had reached for had been plucked away from his grasp by Angel. When he had attempted to grab some marshmallows from a top shelf Jerry had snatched them away before he could even raise his arm. Hell, they had even shooed him away from the prescription counter. They were taking the term "mother hen" to new heights.
"So, is there anything you will let me do?" Bobby muttered.
"Just keep holding that baking soda. It might try to escape."
"You're getting a wet willie the moment you're least expecting it."
"I'll have to go over the checklist to see if that violates doctor's orders."
Bobby glowered at him, which just earned him a shit-eating grin. Jerry was having entirely too much fun being Nurse Ratched—er, Robert's henchman. Bobby muttered something unsavory and moved away.
"Where are you going?" Jerry called after him, trying to balance his load of groceries.
"I figured I'd see if there were any light sockets I could stick my fingers into!"
Jerry shouted something about the proposed activity not being on "the list", but Bobby ignored him. He loved his little brothers, but right now he would give anything to be an only child. At least that way he wouldn't have to commit fratricide. He turned his attention from away the mother hen's clucking to his main reason for this trip.
He made Jack a promise, and he aimed to keep it.
A knock at his door roused Jack from his thoughts. He actually hadn't gone back to sleep after his revenge spree in the bathroom, but instead just lay on his bed with his eyes closed. He cracked open his eye to see his oldest brother standing at his door. In one hand he held a glass of water, and the other was fisted up as if he was holding something. Curiously, he also had a plastic bag hooked over one wrist.
"You ask after you knock?" Jack groused, but used his arm to leverage himself up to a sitting position. Bobby started to say something, but then seemed to think better of it. He instead just stood in the doorway, as if waiting for an invitation.
"How are you feeling?"
Like crap, Jack thought to himself. "Fine."
"We really need to work on your honesty, Jackie," Bobby moved forward then, opening his fist to reveal two pills. "Ma said it was time for your next round of happy pills."
"Joy," he said without much enthusiasm but accepted the pills and glass of water. As he downed the pills with the help of the water, he once again noticed the bag. "What's that?"
"Peace offering," Bobby said, taking the glass of water to keep Jack from having to stretch. It appeared that deep down, all the Mercer men were mother hens. Bobby decided to keep that one to himself, and instead used the nightstand to help lower himself to the ground. He noticed Jack staring at him intently. "What?"
"Make yourself at home." Maybe Jack had just imagined Bobby's hesitation at the door. However he didn't imagine the careful way he sat down, rather than gracelessly plopping himself on the floor. "Your ribs hurt much?"
Bobby looked surprised. "How do you know about that?"
"I was there," Jack muttered and shifted a pillow behind him, wincing as the movement pulled at the stitches in his side. All right, no sudden movements until the pain meds kicked in.
"Yeah… I'm sorry about that."
Jack frowned. Did Bobby just apologize? "Did I get hit on the head again?"
His brother sighed softly. "Yes, I said sorry. Savor the memory; you're probably not going to hear it again."
"You don't need to," Jack said softly. "It's not your fault."
"You're right, it's Angel's—"
They both looked up to see Angel, who had paused on the way to the bathroom on overhearing the offhand comment.
"Well it is." Bobby made a shooing motion with his hands. "And stop eavesdropping."
"I was heading to the bathroom."
"Then go. This is a private conversation."
Angel muttered something under his breath as he shut the bathroom door behind him. Jack watched the door with interest for a moment, before Bobby's continuation brought him back to the subject at hand.
"Either way, I'm—" His tongue couldn't wrap itself around admitting any guilt aloud for last night's events. It would invite too many damning thoughts if he let himself go there. "—hoping you don't hold it against me."
Jack looked away at that, but Bobby had seen the flash of guilt across his little brother's face. "What?"
"Look at me," Bobby commanded sharply, and on instinct Jack obeyed, visibly trying to control the emotions on his face. "You said that last night, and I know I'm not the sharpest tool in the shed, but obviously it's something."
"I don't want to talk about it."
"Hey, I'm not exactly the apologizing sort, so you can at least give it a try."
Jack pursed his lips together. He really didn't want to have this conversation.
"Hey, I'm not getting any younger here."
Jack bit his tongue as his emotions welled up. He wasn't going to cry in front of Bobby; that would just be the end-all to this perfect mess. Unbidden, the image of Cain pulling the trigger rose in the back of his mind, and he clenched his eyes shut, trying to banish it.
"Hey," Bobby's voice had softened, "come on Jack, talk to me. What the hell happened?"
Jack exhaled a shaky breath, clenching one hand into a fist under the covers. It was easy to ignore Bobby when he was being a jackass. It's when he slipped into caring big brother mode that broke through Jack's defenses. This time was no exception.
"I'm sorry, Bobby."
"What do you have to be sorry about?"
"I didn't mean to tell them, they just—they were going to start shooting everyone. I mean it could've been a concussion, but I just kept seeing Jerry's face on that guy, and they were going to shoot him."
"What the hell are you talking about, Jack?" Bobby's voice had edged into concern, but Jack refused to open his eyes and actually have to look at his brother for this.
"I told them about you," he finally admitted quietly, feeling all the disgust and shame well up. "I mean, they were pretty sure you were in the store, but I told them your name."
"Open your eyes, Jack." His brother's voice had gotten very quiet, but the tone brooked no argument.
Reluctantly he obeyed, and saw Bobby staring at him intently with a look Jack couldn't quite decipher.
"Are you trying to tell me that the reason that shithead did that to you was because you wouldn't tell them I was in the store?"
Jack remained quiet.
"Damn it, Jack, don't you clam up on me now!"
Instead of responding verbally, Jack just nodded tightly, fingernails digging into his palms. Bobby's angry curse made him flinch. He glanced over to see his older brother flopping around on the floor, awkwardly trying to turn himself around. Eventually he gave up and just turned his head so he could spear Jack with a look.
"Don't you ever do that again!"
"And stop apologizing!"
Jack shut his mouth and leaned back against his pillow, as he started to look away a hand snaked up and grabbed his sleeve. Reluctantly he dragged his gaze back up to meet Bobby's.
"Don't you ever put yourself in danger like that! You do what they fucking say and keep your head low! I can take care of myself."
He wasn't mad at Jack for, what was in his mind, a big betrayal. The heavy weight on his shoulders started to lift, before the real meaning behind his brothers word sank in. "So you're saying that next time you're in trouble I'm just supposed to sit back and do nothing?"
"You bet your ass you are! It's my job to look after you, not the other way around!"
"That's bullshit!" Jack glared.
"No it's not," Bobby argued heatedly. "They could have killed you. And then what? They still would have come looking for me. I still would have had to kick their asses!"
Jack's nostrils flared. "They said if you gave them any trouble they were going to shoot you—"
"So better they shoot you?"
"No buts about it Jack! What was I supposed to do if they shot you? What would Ma do?"
"Newsflash jackass, I did get shot!"
"Oh good, we're going to talk about that. Good rule of thumb: When someone's aiming a gun, don't jump in front of it!"
"So I'm supposed to just let you get shot?"
"I would have moved!"
An angry bellow from the bathroom managed to cut through their shouting match.
"What the hell?" Angel sputtered with rage, before the loud sounds of someone spitting profusely filled the tiny corner of the house.
"What's his problem?" Bobby asked, clearly irritated that Angel deigned to interrupt him while he was in lecturing-elder-brother mode.
Jack snorted as another angry noise came from the bathroom. Bobby craned his neck up to peer at his youngest brother.
"What'd you do?"
"Scrubbed the toilet with his toothbrush."
A delighted grin spread across Bobby's face as more curses rang across the hall. "Way to go, Cracker Jack!"
"He had it coming."
The door to the bathroom slammed open and Angel stormed the few feet to Jack's door, holding his toothbrush angrily. "I'm going to kill you, Jack!"
Bobby gave Angel a pointed gaze. "I'd let it drop if I were you."
"Don't you defend him, he—"
"Keep moving," Bobby's tone was sharp. "And stay out of his stuff next time!"
Angel grumbled under his breath but moved along, trying to scrape his tongue on his teeth. Bobby watched him for a long moment, before turning back to Jack. "Where were we?"
"You were being a hypocrite."
"Hey! I had a very valid point—"
"Bobby, why do you go apeshit whenever someone threatens me?"
"You're my brother."
"Exactly. And you're mine, so whether you like it or not, I'm always going to have your back."
"I definitely don't like it."
"Tough shit," Jack flicked his older brother's ear. The hand that had grabbed his sleeve moved to grab his fingers. "It's a little brother's job to annoy his older siblings."
"You've got that market cornered."
"The whole brother thing isn't just a one-way street, you know?"
He thought back to Jerry and Angel, at the store, and at the hospital, and came to the grim conclusion that baby brother could have a valid point. There was something dually frustrating and heartening when someone made a point of looking after you even when you were past the point of recognizing your own limits.
"I preferred it when you couldn't talk," Bobby's glare softened. "You made less sense."
The corner of Jack's mouth quirked up into a half-smile. "Whatever, Dwarf Lord."
"Gigantor, Slayer of Doors," Bobby smiled a little at that as well. His hand fell to the bag on the floor. "Hey, I got you something when we went to the corner store today."
Jack looked at him curiously. Bobby fished into the bag and tossed one of the items in it onto the bed. The teen grabbed the small object and held it up to inspect it. It was a plain, square plastic box with "Dental Floss" emblazoned on one side in bold.
"You got me floss?"
"Don't say I never gave you anything."
"My gratitude knows no bounds."
"Hey, that's not the cheap stuff either!"
"The price tag is still on it," Jack deadpanned. "It says it cost forty-nine cents."
"It was an after-thought."
"Shut it, I suck at this gift buying thing."
"I could have told you that." Jack spun the plastic box around in his hands. "You know, I've already got floss."
"Then use that to make a tripwire for Angel."
"I've got more," Bobby used the bed to heave himself up. He winced as his ribs protested at the movement. He'd need to go downstairs and take his prescription. Or maybe just grab a beer, either sounded good. He flashed Jack a grin before dropping the bag onto his lap.
"What the hell is this?"
"You probably don't remember it, but I promised you something last night."
It sounded vaguely familiar. He remembered most everything, up to the point where the gun had gone off the last time. From there it was still very fuzzy.
Jack gave his brother a curious look before reaching into the bag. His fingers brushed along something long and slender, encased in plastic.
"Hope you like it," Bobby said seriously before quietly withdrawing from the room.
Jack watched him leave and frowned. He slowly pulled out the mystery item, revealing a brand new toothbrush...
...a brand new, little girl's toothbrush.
The handle was molded out of semi-translucent plastic that was cast in a shade somewhere between fuchsia and violet. Someone at the factory must've spilled an entire container of glitter into the garish object as it was almost blinding when it managed to catch the light overhead. Topping it off was the bust of a cute, lavender horse on the handle, under a logo identifying the item as a piece of "My Little Pony" merchandise.
"Bobby!" He called out angrily, dropping the offensive object and reaching for the headrest so he could hobble out of the room. Bullet wound or no, he was going to pummel his oldest brother.
He could hear Bobby chuckle softly as he made a quick retreat. "Tooth Fairy."
I actually did just say those two words that I know some of you were dreading. It'll be okay, though, I promise. This is not the last thing I'll write for Four Brothers. As I mentioned in a previous chapter I have a Christmas Carol-esque fic I really hope I can have written by the holidays (everything willing), and believe it or not... there really is going to be an "Angel Goes to Starbucks" fic. There's a really epic one I'm still trying to plot out, as well as some shorter things. Laugh, weep, throw tomatoes, but you guys aren't getting rid of me. I promise I'll be back in your hair again in no time, so keep that tar and those feathers handy, because I'm sure there will be many cliffs in the future!
Until next time!