To be completely honest, I hadn't considered writing another Four Brothers fic in a long time. I first wrote one (A Tale of Four Brothers) in 2005 and few other stories followed. It's still incredible to me that such a movie has created such a fanbase and encouraged writers like me to explore the characters. It's not even a favorite movie of mine yet the characters (Bobby and Jack) really captured me. Recently, I noticed that the movie was on Netflix, and I started to think about the characters once more and the different world I enjoyed creating when I wrote these stories. A few years back I considered doing a sequel to "A Tale" and so here we are... Comments/encouragement are welcomed, and will definitely help me to continue writing. Hopefully some people out there remember the first story - this one will take place immediately after the events of that one.
Evelyn wondered if Jack's first week at the Mercer house would ever not haunt her. While some fear and anxiety over a new family and a new home were expected, the other events that had taken place were unprecedented. It was hard for her to remove the events from the foremost part of her memory, never mind move past it. Then again, it had only been a week since it all took place.
Her first goal, and the one thing she had hoped would be the easiest to provide Jack in her home, was a sense of safety and peace of mind. She couldn't help but already feel guilty that she had failed him in a way. Difficult cases were not out of the ordinary for Evelyn; in fact, they often seemed to be attracted to her. But for a kidnapping to take place from her own home... That only left a heavy sadness and sense of failure in her chest.
You're safe here. That's what she told all of her boys. Well, how could she prove it now?
It had been a freak incident. Poor management at the office, mishandled confidential information, and a persistent pervert who had previously escaped the iron fist of the law.
Had the system really failed? Had she failed? She had worked so hard with all of her boys, and for this to happen with the latest, most vulnerable one was disappointing.
The system wasn't perfect. Of course not. It pained Evelyn to think that a gentle, sweet boy like Jack not only had the misfortune to be born into his particular family, but then had been unlucky still to experience poor subsequent placements once he was finally removed from that home.
"What are you thinking about?"
The sudden sound of Bobby's voice made her turn, and it brought her back to the sinkful of dishes that were neglected during her heavy thoughts.
"Bobby," she sighed, glancing briefly at the running water in front of her. She turned the faucet off before returning her eyes to him. "You startled me."
"You didn't even notice me walk in." Bobby leaned against the refrigerator, holding a soda in his hand. "What's on your mind?"
"Oh, nothing much, honey." She shook her head. "Just these dishes. You boys produce quite the volume recently..."
"That's not the only thing on your mind."
She smiled. "Right now it actually is, Bobby..."
"Well, they don't have to get done tonight," Bobby said. He hesitated, and then slowly asked, "You want me to do 'em?"
Evelyn smiled at the reluctant tone in his voice. The offer was genuine, but she could tell it was not on his list of favorable things to do at the moment. "You're sweet to offer, honey. But no. You're right. They don't have to get done tonight."
Bobby eyed his mother thoughtfully. "C'mon, Ma. What else is it?" He paused. "And admit it - there is something else. You can smile and say the dishes, but I can tell."
Of course he could tell. Evelyn was always impressed by that. Despite his brawny, tough exterior, and as much as he wouldn't want to admit it, Bobby was also incredibly thoughtful and insightful. She could always see right through his tough guy act. She just had to remind him what else he had to offer sometimes.
"Why do you think that?" she asked.
"How about the fact you were staring at running water for the last five minutes while I was standing here?" he responded sarcastically. "C'mon, tell me... Did one of those knuckleheads do something? Give me a name, and they'll never do it again."
She laughed. "For once, no, Bobby. I have to admit... It's actually been quite an uneventful day, for once. Can't say that very often."
Bobby let out a chuckle. "Especially not recently..."
"No... Not recently," she agreed. Her tone changed slightly.
Bobby watched her frown. He immediately knew. "Is that what you're thinking about?"
"Is it possible not to?" She took a deep breath. "It's only been a week... But I have to follow my own advice. No matter how much you think about it, or how hard you wish-"
"You can't change the past, you can only move forward," Bobby finished.
"Exactly." She paused. She gave him a gentle smile. "See- you do listen."
Bobby tried to think of the right words to say next. It was difficult since the same topic had been eating at him as well. "If it didn't happen that week, we would have been thinking about it, wondering if and when he would come out of the woodwork. This way, we know that he's done."
"Well, we'll see what 'done' means, Bobby. I have to call the lawyer tomorrow. I haven't even heard back about the details they took from Jack. The statement he wrote. If I don't push the legal team-" She shook her head. "It's been a week, and I want to know when his court date is. Or what the charges will be at least. If they've made it that far."
"Who cares about the court date? He's as good as dead to me."
"Bobby. Patience. Things like this have a procedure." Evelyn hesitated. Why was the system failing them on her mind again? "Where is Jack?"
"I told him to go to bed." Bobby glanced at the clock on wall. It was ten-thirty. "Like a half hour ago. Why are you thinking about this stuff now?"
"Has he mentioned any of it to you again?"
"Not really," Bobby admitted. "He's been quiet." He rubbed his hand over his jaw, feeling the stubble of a couple days without shaving. "I told him that Kevin is in prison for a long time."
"Bobby, be careful," she chastised gently. "I know it's easier to say that, but we need to see what actually happens."
"Well, how could he not be?"
"Because as we already know, what makes sense doesn't always happen." She realized her tone was slightly stiff, the result of her week of self-doubt and retrospection, and paused. "But enough about this now. It's late. I'm going to leave these for tomorrow," she gestured at the dishes, "and finish some paperwork before I turn in. It's a busy day tomorrow.."
Bobby eyed her carefully. "Don't beat yourself up over this, Ma."
She shook her head. "I'm not. Neither should you. We knew this would be a difficult case."
"I didn't know," Bobby objected with a laugh. "I thought this was just another typical project-" he cut himself off as he caught her look. "I mean, typical charity case."
"Stop that..." She gave him a reproachful look. "We knew it would be difficult. Just not this difficult. Speaking of, can you please check on him before you go to sleep?"
Bobby nodded. "Yeah. Sure."
"Thanks. Good night, Bobby."
"Night, Ma." He walked towards her and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek before leaving the room.
As he headed across the family room towards the stairs, he considered whether he should have pushed her to talk. There was something more on her mind, he could tell, and as usual she was masking her emotions and keeping an even disposition. That woman was good at many things, and acting like everything was fine for their benefit was one of them.
He knew what had happened to Jack was bothering her just like it was him. Occasionally, in his mind he replayed how they could have prevented all of it. He came up with false realities of how he could have heard an intruder, or predicted it was going to happen, or something.
He knew she was thinking similarly.
As he reached the top of the stairs, his mind still on Evelyn, he noticed Jack's door was open and the light was on. Was the kid still up? He glanced at Angel's door and found it closed. He was pretty certain that Angel was at Sofi's so he wasn't too concerned. He walked over to softly knock at Angel's door, and upon no response opened the door, only to confirm that no one was inside. Typical.
Jerry he knew for a fact was with Camille. Another 'typical'.
Bobby walked over to Jack's room, remaining for a moment in the doorway. At first glance he found it empty. Spotless as well. Unlike his brothers, Jack moved about the house quietly, like he didn't want to leave a single clue that he had been there. It was the opposite of the other brothers in the house, whom Evelyn fondly referred to as 'bulls in a China closet'. On the other end of the spectrum, anything Jack moved was placed back with tedious care. His room was evidence of this- it didn't even look lived in. At least he had finally unpacked...
Bobby knocked gently on the open door, announcing his presence. The room remained still and painfully quiet.
Where the hell was he?
He walked into the room, slowly looking right and left. Jack's quiet nature led him to easily go unnoticed. He silently disappeared and reappeared. The disappearing was something Bobby didn't quite know how to correct without become too authoritative with the kid. While he had only been with them for a short time, Jack's tendency to wander off or hide was a frustrating reality.
He eyed the window, shut and locked. The infamous window.
He walked over to look outside for a minute, staring into the nighttime darkness with a sigh. It brought back more thoughts of that night. The sudden protectiveness he felt over this child he had only met a week before. The panic to find Jack and the sinking hollow feeling at the pit of his stomach that something bad might happen...
He turned away from the window before his thoughts took over him. That was when he saw the small bare foot peeking out from under the bed.
He shook his head and walked slowly towards the bed. Crouching down, he reached for the child-sized toes and touched them gently. He had barely made contact when the foot quickly shot out of sight, disappearing under the bed.
"Jack," Bobby began. "What the hell are you doing?"
There was no response.
"C'mon. You think I don't know you're under there?" Communicating with this one could be difficult, and even with the consolation that this was all new to both of them, Bobby frequently found himself on the border of annoyance and amusement.
He was certainly learning the art of patience.
After another moment with no response, Bobby sighed. He moved from his crouch to awkwardly lay on the floor, peering under the bed. He eyed the small, blonde kid with a smirk. There he was, lying flat on his belly under the bed like it was the natural place to be.
"Jackie," Bobby repeated. Blue eyes blinked back at him briefly before glancing away. "You hiding from something?"
"No," Jack responded softly. He stared ahead of him, at the wall.
"Come out," Bobby insisted, gesturing at him to come. "It's probably filthy under there." Surprisingly, it didn't even appear dusty, but the excuse sounded reasonable.
"No..." Jack shifted back a little further under the bed.
"I thought you went to bed."
"This ain't in bed. This is under the bed."
Jack remained silent. He stared off at something. But what?
"What are you doing under there anyway?" Bobby persisted. He turned his head to look behind him for a minute, glancing around the room. Nothing was amiss. So what was he hiding from? He turned his head back to look under the bed again. "Ma asked me to check on you. She wants you in bed." He reached his hand out.
"I am." Jack shifted even further back towards the wall, out of reach. He now looked at Bobby again, his eyes filled with trepidation. "Don't."
Bobby studied him. He was at least dressed for bed. The jeans and shirt he previously wore that day had been replaced by sweatpants and a t-shirt. He realized he had seen this same t-shirt four times already over the past week and wondered when Evelyn would take him shopping. There were some boxes of old clothes that would probably fit him in the attic as well.
"You make no fucking sense sometimes, you know that?" Bobby muttered. "No playing around. Get in bed, alright?"
"I don't want to sleep in the bed," Jack answered.
"Why can't I sleep here?" Jack responded.
"Sleep under the bed?" Bobby frowned. "Why would you wanna do that?"
Bobby took a deep breath and reminded himself how reasoning with someone Jack's age could be a … challenge. "Because that's not comfortable, and doesn't seem... healthy," he answered. "What's wrong with the bed?" His neck was starting to hurt, looking under the bed at this angle.
"Jack. Come on..." Bobby persisted. He watched the kid stifle a yawn and realized he was exhausted. If there was one thing he already knew about Jack, it was that despite his timidness, he was stubborn when he wanted to be. He had also learned enough about Jack in the last couple of weeks to know that his instinct to pull back the bed and drag him out would get him nothing but a panicked, squirming child and a tongue lashing from Ma. "You know what? That's fine. Sleep there. Call me crazy, but I prefer a mattress."
Bobby pushed himself back to his feet. He was too tired himself to present any convincing arguments. Bobby couldn't think of a single good response for why sleeping under the bed wasn't a good idea, other than it seeming ridiculous and uncomfortable. Those were not reasons enough for an eleven year old. He would learn himself after one night why it was a stupid idea.
He had just flipped off the light in the room on his exit when he heard Jack's cry.
He turned back to face the dark room, feeling as startled as the voice. "What?"
There was a heavy pause of silence, and then a timid voice in the dark spoke. "Don't."
Jack hesitated. "Don't... Don't turn it off."
"The light?" Bobby paused. "Why?" Was the kid afraid of the dark? Since when? The light had always been off when he slept.
"I want it on," Jack said, his voice slightly muffled from beneath the bed.
"Because it needs to be on."
Bobby had never been scared of the dark, and couldn't understand it. "For fuck's sake, Jackie." He leaned in the doorway. "Don't be a baby, alright? What are you afraid of? A monster in the closet? I mean, if there's a boogeyman under your bed - well, then smart choice to sleep in his territory, right?"
"I need to see him coming," came Jack's response, his voice frustrated.
"Who?" Bobby waited, but there was no response. "Jack?" With a sigh, he kept the light off. "Look, if you won't talk, then I won't understand, remember? You need to use words. There are no monsters or anything like that. Mercers don't believe in that garbage, okay? Go to sleep."
He gave him a moment but wasn't surprised when Jack didn't answer once again. "Okay, good night."
Bobby left the room but waited just a few feet away from the door, suspicious. He wasn't surprised to hear movement inside the room a moment later and the soft footsteps in the dark.
He remained a step from the door, hidden from view, until the lights inside turned back on.
Jack's hands had just left the lightswitch when he noticed Bobby was back in the doorway. He looked up at him, startled, like he was caught in the act of doing something wrong. The fearful glint in his eye was as though he had just committed a heinous crime, not simply turned on the light.
"Jack," Bobby started.
Just as his name left the older man's lips, Jack quickly reached out to flip the light switch off again.
In seconds, Bobby caught Jack's arm before he could disappear on him again. "Hey," he began. Jack tried to wriggle his arm away but Bobby held tight. "Calm down..." he tried to soothe. "Come on." The light remained on. "I just wanna talk to you."
"No. Let go," Jack objected. He pulled against the grip and started to sink to the floor.
"What's the matter?" Bobby persisted, grunting as Jack pulled against him. "Listen for a minute." He kept a grip on Jack's forearm as he remained resistant, trying to twist away. "Jack." What was with this kid?
"You said I could sleep there," Jack objected, voice strained.
"You can," Bobby agreed. He eyed the kid on the floor, pulling away futilely, but kept his grip. Jack's face was growing slightly red with the exerted effort to pull away. "You're gonna hurt yourself, you know."
"Let go," Jack insisted. He winced as he pushed at Bobby irritably. "Bobby..." the name came out as a whimper.
As Bobby noticed the still not completely faded bruises on Jack's arm, he acquiesced and let go. He watched the kid on the floor in front of him carefully, waiting for him to try to run away, but for once, he just sat there, as though he'd given up, taking deep breaths.
After Bobby had been the one to find Jack - hell, even rescue him- after he was taken from Evelyn's home, he had earned himself some affection from Jack. It was mostly clinginess, for better or for worse. In his mind he remembered the moment he had found him at the hotel, and the way that Jack had rushed to him with relief and clung to him. He was underfoot the next few days, following Bobby like he was afraid to be alone, quiet but persistent. A few times he had come to him with his nightmares, and Bobby felt a strange sense of pride that he was somehow able to help the kid. But that quickly faded over the following week, and most currently Jack had reverted back into his tactile-resistant shell stage once again, constantly fidgeting, flinching at quick movements, resistent to open up...
Patience, Bobby reminded himself.
"Why do you fight me, Jack?" he asked. "I only wanted to talk to you."
"I need the light on," Jack said. He had pulled his knees up to his chest.
"Fine. For what?"
"I already told you. To see him. If he comes."
"Who's he?" Bobby grew exasperated.
"Who, Jack?" Bobby persisted, his tone stiff. The quick check of whether the kid was in bed was becoming a much more tiring ordeal than he had expected.
"Kevin," Jack whispered.
Bobby felt a coldness wash over him.
He was afraid of Kevin returning.
Bobby suddenly felt like an asshole for tricking Jack out from under the bed. The fact he assumed the behaviour was over childish nonsense instead of a true, core issue bothered him. Of course Jack was more complicated than that. Of course he had just been forcibly removed from this room only a week ago and was still afraid.
Fuck you, Bobby, he thought. Are you that dense?
He dropped to his haunches, bringing himself to the same level as the kid, albeit a couple feet away. "Jack," he began. "That's ridiculous. Kevin is in jail."
Jack looked up at him, eyes skeptical and somewhat more jaded than someone his age should be. "That's not what Angel says."
Bobby blinked. "Angel?"
"You told me that he was in jail," Jack admitted, his voice soft, almost a whisper. "But Angel told me that's not true. He said he's free. And that maybe," he looked towards the window, "he might come back."
"Angel said what?"
"If he comes back, I need to see him. If it's dark, I won't know and it will happen again."
For a moment, Bobby wanted to scoop the kid up into his arms and give him a hug, promise him that it would never happen again. But he knew if he did that, Jack would freak out, so he kept the space between them.
"He's not coming back," Bobby said. "It's safe here."
"How come Angel said he might?"
"I..." Bobby didn't know. He felt his blood pressure start to rise. Don't show the kid, he urged himself. Don't show him that you're getting angry... It's not at him... "But you think I lied to you or something?"
"I..." Jack looked caught off guard by the question. "I don't know. Did you?"
"No. Of course not." Bobby answered, a little more harshly than he intended.
Jack's eyes dropped to the floor. He swallowed, and then started to rock back and forth very slowly, barely noticeable. Bobby noticed his chin quivering.
"Look at me," Bobby directed. When Jack shook his head, he fought his instinct to repeat himself. He knew the kid wouldn't look up. "Listen, that's not going to happen... I don't know why Angel told you that... It isn't true. But you should already know that Angel's an instigator. You understand?"
Jack stayed silent. He didn't know what an instigator was. The movie Terminator crossed his mind. Was Angel a terminator?
"Why's his name Angel?" Jack asked.
Bobby rolled his eyes. "Jesus Christ. I ask myself that every fucking day."
Jack frowned, feeling utterly confused.
Bobby's watched Jack's face. The kid still looked down at the carpet like it was the most interesting thing in the room. He considered talking more, trying to get Jack to tell him more about what he was afraid of. It would be futile though. He knew that would require more time than this moment nearing eleven o'clock at night. He made a decision.
"At least take a pillow," he said.
Jack looked up at that, cocking his head to the side with a questioning frown.
"For under the bed," Bobby explained. "You might as well be comfortable." He rose to his feet and walked over to the bed, picking up the blue-cased pillow lying on top of an untouched comforter. He dropped it on the floor and nudged it under the bed with his foot. "There."
Jack continued to look at him uneasily. He hugged his knees tighter to his chest.
"I'm going to bed," Bobby continued. "l'll leave the light on. But don't you believe anything Angel put in your head, you hear me?" He eyed the skeptical face of Jack. "Understand?"
Bobby walked towards the door and sighed. "Good night, buddy. You know where I am if you need me."
He knew Jack wouldn't respond and left the room. He walked back down the hall and clenched his fists.