Title: Strays 22/22
Summary: What's it all worth when you're alone?
Disclaimer: Not mine, no profit made and no harm intended.
Notes: AU, the brothers were not raised together by Evelyn.
Please be advised that this story does contain language which may offend some readers.
Under a thick layer of new snow, the house stood before him, as large and imposing as ever. Smoke puffed from the various chimneys across the roof. He rubbed his gloved hands together impatiently, as his car pulled up the long driveway, inching forward. With a sigh, he watched the curtains twitch in the window closest to the front doors. Had to be Lucy, he'd bet his last dollar on that.
He waved to the driver once the vehicle stopped, indicating for him to enter the garage off to the side. The snow crunched under his boots and his breath puffed little clouds over his head. He climbed the stairs to the front door and as he reached his hand to knock, the door opened a crack.
Angel stood at the doorway, his eyes narrowed. "Jeremiah."
"Yeah," Jerry tipped his head back and smiled slightly. "He called, I didn't show hopin' for good."
"Uh huh, y' think I don't know that?" Angel nodded his head at the gates in the distance. "You think anyone comes close t' here after everythin' recent?"
Jerry's smile faded away. "Got me there. Angel...We ain't close, but..."
"Never gonna be neither. You ain't my brother."
"We coulda been," Jerry murmured with some regret. "Sure we coulda."
Angel grunted and turned away, opening the door as he moved. "Don't piss him off, Jerry. S' all I'm gonna say."
Jerry stayed silent. He spotted Lucy in the distance, a flick of long, dark hair before she disappeared around the corner. The house was warm, of course, the scent of fresh food being prepared not far away. Music drifted out of the kitchen, Em's low voice singing along. Jerry's lips quirked. He'd missed this.
Bobby's office door stood ajar an inch or so. Jerry paused by the doorway, hesitant to enter. A chuckle caught his attention and he took a step back as Jack crossed the carpet in the room, his movements stiff. He flopped into the chair closest to Bobby's desk, sprawled across the fabric of it. An unlit cigarette hung from two fingers.
"...c'mon, you're gettin' that pissy, pinch-y look on y' face again," Jack said and Jerry swore he could hear the grin in Jack's words. "You need t' relax more."
"Stop distractin' me or I'll put you in your room."
"You could come with me t' my room."
"Brat," Bobby muttered, though he didn't sound cross to Jerry. He wrinkled his nose. Picturing Bobby like that wasn't high on his list. He knocked on the door quickly.
"In..." Bobby looked up from his desk, a smooth mask on his face. "Jerry."
Jerry glanced at Jack and then to Bobby, slipping his hat off with one hand. "Yeah, I made it. Snow's pilin' up fierce out there."
Jack sat up a little, favouring one leg as he did so. He palmed the lighter from his pocket and flicked the lid, lighting his cigarette. He took a drag and watched Jerry take a seat near him. Bobby leaned back in his chair, silent, composed and completely blank. It was unnerving to say the least. Jerry tugged his gloves off, doing his best not to fidget.
"I'm willin' t' bet you were shocked to see me callin', especially after the past few weeks," Bobby began, his words low as always, almost too quiet. "Seein' as I'm no fool, I decided t' think long an' hard about things. I found that almost losin' everything brings your life into perspective, don't ya think?"
Jerry wet his dry lips and nodded. "Sure.."
Jack blew out a small smoke ring, his foot twitching. Jerry forced his attention on Bobby, sweat gathering along his temples. The room was unbearably hot under Bobby's fixed stare. Bobby waited a moment and then blinked, the lightest of smiles curving his mouth.
"Do you know what woulda happened if Jack hadn't been saved?"
"No, don't give me excuses, Jeremiah, I ain't interested in excuses."
Jerry took a small breath and nodded once more. "Yeah I know what woulda happened. Bobby, when I talked t' Victor, he didn't seem like he was gonna..y' know.."
"Gonna destroy the people in my life?" Bobby smirked. "Or kill me? You really didn't know? Pity t' you then. You always figured you were the brains of this operation. Were you thinkin' maybe you'd help Victor an' slip into my shoes after I was floatin' till spring?"
Jerry shook his head. "Never. I been with you all these years, Bobby. I never once thought of doin' that!"
"Maybe I am a fool, but I think I believe you."
Jack snorted, a small chuckle escaping from him. He took another drag off the cigarette, the last traces of bruising marring his face still. The bruises were faded, yellowish along the edges. "Y' no fool, Bobby," he said under his breath. His lips quirked in a smirk that bordered on a smile. "You're a lotta things, but you aren't no fool."
The smile came and went on Bobby's face, a softening towards Jack before he resumed the cold, polite mask at Jerry. "Should I believe you?"
"When we met up, I knew y' were different, Bobby. I knew I was seein' somethin' different, something great. All I ever wanted was the same as you," Jerry gripped the hat and gloves in his hands. "I trust you, as much as I trust Camille or God t' keep his eyes on us an' know we doin' the best that we can in this life. I never wanted t' hurt you or...or replace you. I didn't mean no harm t' Jack neither."
Jack flinched, wounded blue eyes on Jerry. "The hell did I ever do t' you?"
"Jack..." Bobby caught his eyes, a silent conversation flowing between the two of them for a moment. "Don't."
"When Victor asked 'bout Jack, I knew he was on t' you already, Bobby. He had someone tailin' you. Hell, he probably did long b'fore you found Jack." Jerry darted a look to Jack, wincing. Jack looked like a kicked dog, wounded and angry. "It wouldn't have mattered who it was, even if it had'a been Bil-"
"Don't you say his name!"
Jerry caught his breath at the fury in Bobby's eyes. "I..." he swallowed. "Sorry. My point is, Victor woulda taken anyone, even Em t' make his point. I'm jus' sorry it was Jack who got the brunt of it all."
"Your connection t' Sweet brought this fucking destruction on my family, on my home!" Bobby hissed, anger contorting his face. "Tell me why you shouldn't be dead as well."
"You're as good as blood t' me. We ran the streets, you an' me!" Jerry sat upright, gesturing to the room. "Everythin' in here, your whole fucking life, my life, all this came from us, Bobby! Us! Me an' you. Y' might sit on the throne, but you wouldn't be here w'out me, Mercer! I never played for Sweet, I tol' you how things were with him. I warned y' time an' time again. You're fallin' apart, Bobby, s' no wonder the young thugs wanna take over."
Bobby's throat worked, anger simmering still in his eyes. "Not while I breathe." He clenched his hands and relaxed them.
"Bobby, y' need me. I need you. We can run shit like we did, like we always have. It doesn't hafta be like this."
The room was silent but for Jack's whisper quiet exhales and inhales. Bobby clenched his jaw and nodded tersely. "I gotta say, y' make a strong case, Jeremiah. You coulda been one helluva lawyer."
Jerry raised his eyebrow a little. "Don't know 'bout that. Playin' devil's advocate may not be a strong suit for me."
"If there's one thing I don't need, it's lectures on my...personal business," Bobby glanced at Jack, who blushed faintly. "If I have y' back here, no comments, no threats or warnin's, I don't need you tellin' me shit like that. Clear?"
"I don't care what y' do in your bedroom. I jus'..." Jerry sighed heavily. "I jus' didn't wanna see you be hurt by 'nother punk who got too close. No offense, Jackie."
Jack eyed him. "None taken," he said, flicking his cigarette over the ashtray on Bobby's desk.
"Jack is not a subject of conversation," Bobby snapped. "He doesn't concern you, kinda like how I don't give a shit 'bout your whore."
"She's not a whore, Bobby." Jerry glared at him. "She never was. Y' leave her outta all this."
Bobby paused for several seconds and smiled thinly. "Uh huh. She's only involved if somethin' happened t' Jack, that's what I said. And Jerry? I meant it. Every word. Jack is my li-...in my house now, an' his safety comes first."
Jerry exhaled a slow breath. Knowing when to back down was essential when dealing with Bobby. "Agreed. An' business?"
"We'll discuss that tomorrow." Bobby tented his fingers, his forehead furrowed. "Call Evan. I wanna meet with him soon. We got a lotta shit t' go over now that Victor's gone."
Jerry nodded. "You got it, Bobby." He stood up and slipped his hat back on. He turned to face Jack, slipping his gloves on as well. "You rest up, kid. Take it easy."
Jack flicked his cigarette and offered him a hint of a smile. "Sure. You too."
With a stiff back, Jerry left the room, relief flooding him. He grinned at Angel and dipped his head at him. "S' gonna get better, you wait an' see."
Jack waited until Jerry was gone to move from the chair. He limped a bit, making his way to Bobby slowly.
"Well that was fun. Y' looked ready t' rip him apart." He sat on the edge of the desk, a hand to his chest.
"Easy, Jack, you're pushin' too hard lately," Bobby frowned at him. "The doctor said you need t' go slow for now. Those ribs don't need rough handlin'."
Jack stubbed out his cigarette in the ashtray, chuckling. "Nag, nag, fuss fuss." He shifted closer to Bobby. "I feel ok most days. Still stiff in the leg, an' chest hurts sometimes. It's been weeks, I ain't made of glass or nothin'. M' ok, Bobby. Y' can see that I am."
Bobby rested his hand on Jack's arm, worry etched on his face. "I see you, I see everythin' about you."
"You were gonna say somethin' else before. What was it?"
"Nothin'..." Bobby ran his thumb over Jack's wrist, tracing the bruising that lingered on his skin. "S' nothing."
Jack leaned down and rested his forehead to Bobby's, smiling. "Uh huh, I don't believe y' though. I heard what you almost said, Mr. Mercer."
"Brat," Bobby muttered affectionately. "You're my...my life, ok? There, ya happy?"
"Thrilled," Jack shifted down, kissing him gently. "Say it again."
Bobby nipped Jack's lip. "My life," he whispered, feeling warm as he said it out loud.
Jack laughed and kissed him again. He rested his head to Bobby's shoulder, his fingers slipping into the soft hair. He rubbed slow circles, holding him close. "That as close to a 'love you' as I'll get with you?"
"Jackie..." Bobby closed his eyes, shivering under the pressure of Jack's fingers. "I...I..." he sighed, unable to get the words out right.
"Yeah, yeah, I know," Jack murmured. He pressed a kiss to Bobby's neck. "You're my life now too."
As Jack held onto Bobby, he stared out the window behind them, watching the snow fall. He held on tighter, feeling Bobby's arms move around him. He smiled, relaxing to the now familiar touch, to the smells and sounds of a warm house, to the people around him, to the family they'd created from a group of strays.
And that is the conclusion of 'Strays'. Thank you to all those who reviewed, to the complaints and compliments. I enjoy and appreciate hearing from everyone :)