My first Four Brothers fanfic! Lately, I can't seem to get the Mercer brothers off my mind, and it was about midnight last night when this popped into my head. All feedback, critiques, and suggestions will be appreciated. Enjoy!

Once, Evelyn Mercer slapped Bobby.

It was before Jack, before Angel, before Jerry. Just Evelyn and Bobby, and Bobby was being as impossible as usual.

"Ma," he whined, throwing his pencil down for the fifth time that evening. "I fucking swear to you, algebra is not something I'm going to need, ever."

"Oh is that so?" she asked, her voice calm as she sipped her tea, looking on as Bobby continued to try to wheedle his way out of doing his homework.


"Considering the last time you swore something to me it was that you wouldn't use curse words in my house ever again, I'm not quite inclined to believe you."

Bobby had the grace to look shamefaced for about ten seconds before he started in on her again. "How about I just watch one hour of TV, and then I come back to it. You know, that way my brain can relax and shi--stuff," he said, quickly correcting himself.

"Bobby," she said, setting down her tea cup and leaning forward, "it is so important to me that you try in school. Education is the key to the future. Without it, it's too easy to fall into the wrong path. We've talked about this before, sweetie. Remember?"

Bobby rolled his pencil back and forth across the table with his thumb. "Maybe the 'wrong path' is more fun," he muttered under his breath.

Evelyn raised an eyebrow. "Is that what you think?" she asked, the cadence of her voice never changing.

"Well, duh," Bobby said, meeting her eyes. "You think it's so bad to smoke or drink or skip school or fight, but all of those things are fun. Algebra is not fun. And when I'm an adult, and I don't have to listen to anybody, I am definitely staying on the fun path."

"Do you have fun when I find out that you've done those things?"

Bobby dropped his gaze. "No. But I'm talking about when I'm, like, a grown up, and you can't ground me. School is supposed to prepare me for the future, right? Well, algebra isn't, so I shouldn't have to do it."

"So you shouldn't do anything if it's not going to prepare you for being an adult?" Evelyn asked, turning back everything Bobby said into a question that made him rethink his stance in the way that she always did, and that he hated.

Bobby thought about it for a moment. 'Yes' didn't seem like the wrong answer. All the teachers always talked about being prepared for the future. "Right," he said, sticking his chin out in confidence in his answer.

"How does skipping school prepare you for later life?" she asked with no accusations or hints of patronization in her voice, just curiosity.

"Not doing things, like algebra, that don't prepare me for my future is just as important as doing things that do prepare me," Bobby said, growing more and more comfortable in his argument.

"Hmm," Evelyn murmured. "I think I'm beginning to understand. You skip class, because you won't need a work ethic, not to mention any basic reading and writing skills, in adulthood. Alright. So you must smoke, because you simply can't wait for the lung disease that you're sure to develop in the next few decades. And if that doesn't happen, then you will always have cirrhosis of the liver to look forward to from all the drinking, if you continue at the pace you've been going. And as an added plus, when you get into a fight, and you're too weak from the emphysema and liver disease to defend yourself properly, and you get your teeth knocked out, it won't really matter to you as you'll have no idea just how many you've lost as by then you'll have forgotten how to count, as you did away with math way back in the ninth grade. Actually, I've got to hand it to you, Bobby. You seem like you've got your future quite planned out. I'll be so proud."

Despite her harsh words, Evelyn never raised her voice or hardened her tone. Instead she looked at her son with soft, disappointed eyes and made her point as clear to him as she could. That she gave him no reason to overreact only made Bobby angrier. If she would just yell at him, then he could yell back without feeling like an asshole. Instead, he just felt like a thoroughly chastised five year old, and hell if that didn't piss him off.

"Ma...why do you have to be like that?" he complained, feeling a familiar anger start to rise up inside his chest. "I'm not going to be a screwup."

"Oh? Well then perhaps I misunderstood your life goals. Smoking, drinking, and fighting, that's what you said you wanted to do, right?"

"Yeah, but that's not all. Jesus, Ma."

"Tell me what else, then."

Bobby squirmed uncomfortably. "I don't know! I'm only fourteen, for Christ's sake. Do I have to have it all figured out right now?"

A soft smile came over Evelyn's face. "Of course not, Bobby. You have so much potential and so many wonderful qualities that you can do whatever you want with your life."

Bobby's scowl lessened. "Yeah?"

"Absolutely. Now, as I was saying before, in order for the world to open itself up to you, you must have an education. You must have a high school diploma, which means, sweetheart, that you must do your algebra homework. So get to it."

Bobby's scowl returned full force. "No!" he shouted, angry at himself for having stepped right into that. "You twisted up everything I was saying."

"How did I twist up everything you were saying?"

" just did!" he stammered, getting frustrated when he couldn't formulate what he wanted to say. "I don't need math, Ma!"

"Bobby, please lower your voice. There's no need to shout."

"I can if I want to!" he yelled, raising his voice further in defiance. "Damn it! Just because you never fucking want to yell doesn't mean that I don't, or that I can't!"

Evelyn sighed softly. "Bobby."

Her refusal to be riled enraged Bobby. "Stop being so calm! You say all kinds of shit all the time, and you think you can get away with saying whatever the fuck you want, like that I'm going to be a screwup, just because you use a goddamned inside voice!"

"Bobby, calm down. You are getting angry about nothing," Evelyn said, understanding that this was just Bobby's way, but also growing impatient with his constant spurts of anger. "You are only making it worse for yourself, because you're saying things that you'll regret later."

"Don't you tell me what I'll fucking regret. You have no idea what I regret!"

Evelyn raised an eyebrow. "That's enough, Bobby. Calm down."

"No!" he shouted, rising from his chair. "No! I don't have to calm down if I don't fucking feel like it! I don't have to do anything you say. I don't have to lower my voice, and I don't have to do my fucking algebra homework!" With that, Bobby swept his papers and textbook off the table and onto the floor with a loud crash. Evelyn stood also, and Bobby waited for a reaction. When he got none, he continued, "What do you think of that,!"

That was the line. Bobby didn't expect Evelyn's hand to smartly connect with his cheek. The slap wasn't very hard, and it wouldn't leave a mark, but it made Evelyn's point.

"Bobby Mercer," she began, in a very, very quiet voice as Bobby stared at her in shock. "I will not tolerate that kind of language or behavior in this house. Even when you are angry, you will be respectful, do you understand me?"

"Ma…I...I…" Bobby's eyes looked panicky as they darted around her face, searching for a clue as to what was happening. "I didn't...I mean...I…"

"No," Evelyn said, shaking her head. "I don't want an excuse or an apology at this moment. I want you to understand that it is imperative for you to keep your anger in check. Do your homework, don't do your homework. That will be the least of your worries in life if you continue to blow up without provocation at everyone near you." Her tone softened further, and she laid a gentle hand on Bobby's face. "I love you more than anything in the world, do you know that? I want you to have every opportunity that you want to do the things you dream about, but we've got some work to do yet."

"Yes ma'am," Bobby mumbled quickly, staring at his shoes in shame.

Evelyn's hand moved to Bobby's chin and she raised it so that his eyes were forced to meet her. Shame colored his face as he looked at her. "I'm sorry, Ma," he said desperately. "I'm really, really sorry. I didn't mean it. I'm sorry. I can' t believe I… I'm so sorry, Ma."

"Apology accepted, sweetie. Forget about it."

"I won't. I can't. Ma, you should kick my ass. Really."

A small smile came over Evelyn's face. "Oh, Bobby," she said fondly, kissing him on the cheek. "Why don't you just finish your homework, and we'll call it even. Deal?"

"Yes'm," he said, moving to pick up his book when she stopped him by grabbing hold of his arm.

"Hey," she said, "none of this 'ma'am' business. Understand?"

With a small grin, Bobby nodded, and was relieved when Evelyn pulled him into a hug. She knew how physical Bobby was, and even though she suspected that she would never strike him again, she knew that, in that moment, it had been the only thing that would snap him out of it and get his attention, just as she knew right now that a hard embrace was the only thing he needed to reassure himself of her love.