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The Look on Your Face Said It All

Chapter Text

It started when Henley left. She had been fighting with Danny again – something about his incessant attempts to control her. She left, telling the others she needed some space for a few days. When she returned five days later, Jack knew something was different. She carried an air of decisiveness with her and lightness in her step. Merritt figured it out first, enveloping her in a bear hug with the promise that they’d miss her. Danny left her with an awkward wave and a step backwards, his face unreadable. Jack watched on as everything cracked before him.

“Don’t blame yourself,” Henley had said as she’d hugged Jack goodbye.

Henley left with her suitcase and a promise from the remaining Horsemen that they would keep the magic alive. When she stepped out the door, she took a piece of their family with her.

Danny retreated into his room, a muffled crash ensuing from behind the closed door.

“You know, just because Mommy and Daddy don’t love each other anymore, doesn’t mean they love you any less,” Merritt said as he sat down next to Jack, back against the wall and legs stretched straight out in front on the ground.

Danny emerged minutes later, keys in one hand and an overnight bag in the other. He didn’t say a word.

“Is this how it’s going to be?” Jack asked Merritt. “Are we all just going to leave one by one until no one’s left?”
Merritt placed a large comforting hand on Jack’s shoulder.

Chapter Text

“Show me how to do that,” Merritt demanded.

Jack, who sat absentmindedly tossing a pack of cards, glanced up and raised his eyebrows. Merritt mimed throwing cards.

“I’ll teach you how to read people’s minds,” Merritt added as an extra incentive.

“What am I thinking now?” Jack countered, flipping the cards around in his hands.

“You’re thinking ‘gee I’m so lucky to have such a handsome and incredibly talented person to teach me everything there is to know about mentalism. I just wish there was something I could do for him in return to thank him for sharing his wealth of expertise with me’,” Merritt responded, a cheeky grin forming as he spoke, “Was I close?”

Jack sent a card cutting through the air toward Merritt, a small smile on his lips. The older man scrambled to catch the card and grinned back.

Merritt held the card between his fingers just as he had seen Jack do and attempted to throw it back. The card fluttered pitifully to the ground.

“Here, you’ve got to be sharper with your movements,” Jack said, demonstrating by sending another card shooting straight to Merritt who caught it this time. 

Merritt tried again, managing to get the card to fly a few centimetres before it landed at Jack’s feet.

“Much better,” Jack praised. “Now it’s your turn.”

“Well, the first step is to capture their complete attention,” Merritt said, slowing his words as he spoke and locking Jack in his gaze.

Jack stared back, realising for the first time just how blue Merritt’s eyes were. Hypnotic even...

“Merritt, are you trying to hypnotise Jack again?” Danny interrupted as he walked past. Jack snapped out of it, feeling foolish for falling for Merritt’s oldest trick.

“Well what better way to learn about hypnotism than by experiencing it first hand?” Merritt argued to the third Horseman’s retreating back. He turned back to Jack. “Now, where were we? I believe you were just about to fall completely under my powers and -”

“Nice try,” Jack cut in with a short laugh to hide his embarrassment.

Jack threw a card at Merritt in retaliation. Merritt swiped at the card, missed and picked it up off the ground instead. He tried to throw it back to the youngest Horseman, watching it travel mere inches before twirling back to the ground.

“Maybe you should try to hypnotise the card,” Jack teased, sending another perfectly thrown card cutting through the air past Merritt’s ear.

Chapter Text

Lula came and they were four again. She took a special interest in Jack. He enjoyed her attention.

Then Dylan joined them and they were five. To Jack, they were one big family again.

Jack found himself standing next to Merritt one day, smiling as he looked on at Lula. First Danny had had Henley and they had driven the other two insane with their bickering and attempts at flirting before becoming the couple of the group, their coupledom a mix of nausea-inducing sweetness and frustration. And then Jack had Lula and found the roles changed – he attempted to keep their couple moments to a minimum in front of the others out of courtesy.

It didn’t escape his notice that there was a pattern forming. He mentioned this to Merritt in passing.

“I bet you’ll be the next one to find a girl,” he said.

Merritt chuckled, glancing down at the younger man like he knew something Jack didn’t.

“Maybe,” Merritt said, drawing out the ‘ay’ sound. “Maybe.”

Jack wasn’t convinced of any enthusiasm on Merritt’s part.

“Aw, come on,” Jack went on, “think about it, some hot mentalist chick, you can read each other’s minds and shit, drive the rest of us crazy. You can be this awesome double act on stage and off...”

Merritt chuckled, like there was some inside joke that Jack wasn’t a part of.

“No?” Jack asked, grinning along anyway. “Not your type?”

Merritt laughed again. “Not quite.”

“Okay then,” Jack countered, “what is?”

Merritt gave him a knowing look like he wasn’t going to give anything away. Jack would have to coax it out of him.

“Magician?” Jack asked. Merritt shrugged in a sort of non-committal yes. At least, Jack took it as a yes.

“Blonde? Brunnette? No, no. Redhead,” Jack continued, finishing confident with his last choice. Merritt shrugged again, looking like he didn’t mind much either way.

Jack fell silent for a minute, trying to picture Merritt’s type in his head. The first picture he came up with was Henley – they’d all witnessed Merritt’s jovial attempts to seduce her - yet he couldn’t shift the thought that that wasn’t entirely right. Reading the mentalist was harder than he had first thought. After a moment of thought, he had an idea and decided to go with it.

“Female?” Jack probed hesitantly. 

Merritt paused a moment before answering.

“Sometimes.”

Merritt turned to look at Jack to gauge his reaction, reading him just as the younger man had been trying to do to him earlier. Jack didn’t know why, but he felt a blush rise up over his cheeks, feeling like he had unwillingly stumbled into a moment more intimate than he had intended.

Chapter Text

The downside of their occupation was the inevitable swift exit they had to make while being chased by the authorities.

They were leaving the stadium, communicating through their headsets as they executed their carefully thought out exit plan. Jack had been roped into the behind the scenes jobs, once again. Hidden amongst the crowd, he pick-pocketed and slipped things back into pockets to help his friends on stage. He had grumbled about this, wanting to get back in the limelight, but the other horsemen made a point to emphasise just how important his off-stage contributions were to their tricks.

Dressed as a tourist, complete with the cheesy ‘I heart NY’ hat, pulled low down for anonymity, Jack pushed his way through the crowd as he made his way towards the getaway vehicles. He couldn’t help the smile that made its way onto his face as he passed through the cheering crowd, listening as they cheered for the Horsemen and called to them – he’d definitely heard at least 3 proposals to Danny and there was a particularly vocal lady who, from the sounds of things, was quite eager to have Merritt’s children – as if they could hear their fans through the masses of people. If only they knew one of the Horsemen was walking amongst them.

Once he had managed to break free of the crowd, Jack slipped around the side of the building, swiftly dodging past garbage bins and downpipes. As he rounded the corner, he spotted the other Horsemen up ahead, running to where they had a pair of four-wheel drives stashed for their getaway.

But they weren’t safe yet. Doors banged open, followed by shouts of “there they are”, “get them” and “don’t let them get away”.

Jack pushed his legs to run faster, knowing that every second he saved here was an extra second they would have once they got to the cars. Soon he had caught up to the others, sharing a smile with Lula as they ran.

As they ran across an open courtyard, a gust of wind blew through, catching Merritt’s hat and sweeping it off his head.

“My hat,” Merritt called, stopping and turning to watch his hat sail back towards the approaching authorities.

“Forget about the hat,” Danny grumbled, turning back towards the cars. He wasn’t about to get caught and have all their hard work ruined just because Merritt was irrationally attached to a bit of felt.

Knowing how much Merritt cared about his hat collection and how he felt, as he had put it “kind of naked” without a hat, Jack pulled his ‘I heart NY’ cap off his head and deposited it on Merritt in place of his escaped hat.

“Let’s go,” Jack encouraged.

This seemed to appease Merritt for the moment. The pair of them took off again, grinning as they ran. Sometimes Jack wondered if the post show getaway was the most exhilarating part of it – the adrenaline, the chase, the small margin for error, switching through their numerous backup plans when obstacles were thrown their way, the way everything fell into place as they made their escape... well most of the time it did.

Once they reached the cars, there was no time to stop. Danny and Lula were climbing into one of the vehicles, ready to head north. Merritt and Jack swiftly jumped in the car facing south, set to draw the authorities away – divide and conquer, Dylan had said.

With Jack behind the wheel, they pulled out into the street, laughing with relief. Jack spied the federal agents reach the spot where the cars had been moments ago and couldn’t hold back a snigger. They weren’t home safe yet, but they had outsmarted everyone once again and life was good.

Merritt pulled down the visor, examining his new hat in the mirror. He straightened it and pulled it a little further down on his forehead. It wasn’t his usual style, but it was the thought that counted. It was a reminder that Jack cared, even if it was just about the little things. In some ways, that was what mattered most.

“You know, this doesn’t look half bad on me,” Merritt observed.

The pair turned to each other, sharing a grin, before Jack diverted his eyes back to the road.

He never saw Merritt wear the cap again, but he did notice that it had found itself a rather prominent position in his hat collection.

Chapter Text

 Almost as quickly as Lula came into their lives, she left. The reason she had given was a need for a “new challenge”. She had barely been able to stop herself from confessing “boredom”. It was strange to think that the Four Horsemen’s lives could be considered boring, but it wasn’t all glamour and magic tricks. The hard work behind the scenes, between the shows, was what made up the majority of their lives. It could be boring. It was often tiresome and laborious. Jack knew that better than anyone. Then there was the waiting, the seemingly endless days where nothing happened and all you did was wait for a sign from the Eye, day after day. Oh, the waiting was tedious. But once you got out onto the stage and enchanted the crowd with your meticulously planned tricks and watched as they came to realise what had happened only once it had already occurred, amazed by the magic they saw before them, that was what made the hard yards worth it. That was when Jack truly realised that there was nothing else is the world he would rather be doing than standing up there with the three people who had become like family to him, awing the world with their magic.

Then she was gone. Jack had brushed off any concern thrown his way, trying to cope in the only way he knew how: throwing all his time and thoughts into his magic. If the other Horsemen had noticed an increase in cards that had been thrown and ended up stuck in obscure places, they didn’t say anything. To an outsider, it would look like a game of Pick Up 52 gone wrong. There were cards littering almost every seat in the house – it was near impossible to sit down without a card miraculously ending up in your pocket. There was a card that had landed on top of a lampshade, casting a strange rectangular shadow. There were cards all through the fridge, including one stuck upright in the butter that Henley surely would have had his ass for. There was a rather soggy card in the shower head and another stuck to one of the ceiling fan’s blades that never seemed to dislodge itself no matter how many times it spun. The other Horsemen didn’t complain nor give any outward indication that they were aware of his pique, but there always seemed to be a fresh pack of cards ready whenever he was in need of some therapeutic card throwing. It was how he coped.

The thing Jack struggled to come to terms with was the suddenness of it all. Sure, he and Lula had never been particularly serious or official, but it had felt real to him. He had wanted it to be real. He had often thought about talking to Lula, asking to hold that elusive title of boyfriend, but it was never the right time. There were never many words said between them, not the ones that mattered anyway. And then she was gone. And then he was alone. Maybe it was always meant to be like that.

He found himself standing alone outside, his back up against the cold brick wall. A couple of weeks had passed since Lula left and he’d said he was fine, but the truth was he still hadn’t come to terms with it all. How could he when he still didn’t understand what they had been in the first place. A family, all of them, a strangely complicated family – he knew that much. It just made it hurt more.

Jack heard footsteps. He didn’t even need to look to know who it was. There was silence for a moment, filled only by the familiar sound of his companion’s breathing. Jack still hadn’t met his eyes.

“Is it always going to be this way, Merritt?” he asked, struck by the familiarity of the scene. “Are they always going to leave?”

There was a moment where everything seemed to pause between them, a moment thick with anticipation. Then, in what simultaneously seemed like both a natural progression and the last thing Jack had ever expected, Merritt swiftly leant in and kissed him.

Soft. That was all Jack could think for a moment. Merritt’s lips were unexpectedly soft, with only a hint of roughness where the winter wind had left its mark on Merritt’s lower lip. His hand was tender but supportive against Jack’s cheek, fingers grazing the younger man’s cheekbone. A wave of comfort swept over Jack as he surrendered himself to the kiss.

Then, before Jack’s mind could even catch up with what was happening, Merritt pulled away. For a moment there, everything had been right again.

It wasn’t said out loud, Merritt wasn’t one for words, but Jack felt it all the same:

Not everyone leaves.

 

Chapter Text

The funny thing was that Jack didn’t think about Lula much after that. Sure, she had crossed his mind in passing, just as the other Horsemen surely missed her bubbly presence, but he didn’t feel the same sense of disappointment and finality in his stomach anymore.  Jack found his thoughts occupied with a more pressing matter.

Merritt had kissed him. Merritt had just gone right ahead and kissed Jack. The strangest part of it all, for Jack, was that he had enjoyed it.

They hadn’t spoken about the kiss. In fact, they hadn’t been alone together since Merritt had left that night, telling Jack he would leave him alone with his thoughts.

Well, that wasn’t entirely true. They had briefly been alone that time when they had passed each other in the hallway to and from the bathroom. Jack was on his way to brush his teeth. Merritt had been on his way back from the shower, dressed only in a towel, water still trailing down his bare skin. Thanks to the narrow hallway, which had never seemed as small as it had in that moment, they had had to pass chest to chest, mere millimetres between them, their breaths mixing.  Jack had averted his eyes, noticing a second too late that they were trained on Merritt’s abdomen, watching a drop of water roll down  his skin and losing sight of it as it slipped beneath the folds of the towel away from sight. Realising what he was doing, Jack blinked and his head shot upwards, meeting Merritt’s gaze. Almost immediately he tore his eyes away, noticing a smile on the older man’s face.

“Night, Jack,” he had said.

Then there was that time that Merritt had ducked his head inside Jack’s room to ask if Jack wanted to join him and Danny for movie night. Jack had pretended to be asleep and spent the night with his perplexing thoughts, listening to the sounds of Merritt and Danny’s laughter and bickering along with the faint noise of the TV. It was a cold and lonely night.

But aside from that, they hadn’t been alone. Every time they were together, Danny seemed to be in between them. If not Danny, then it would just happen to be a day when Dylan was visiting. Jack wasn’t sure if that was planned. He felt different, but he didn’t know if everyone else felt it as well. Did Danny also feel the awkwardness whenever Jack was near Merritt? More importantly, did Merritt feel it too?

Jack wasn’t sure what to do. A part of him wanted to avoid ever having to look at Merritt again, just to avoid the confusing tidal wave of feelings that seemed to accompany him now. But there was another part of him that knew he was only hurting himself by avoiding the oldest of the Horsemen. Then there was the part of him, right at the back of his mind, that seemed to whisper the word ‘gay’ followed by a multitude of question marks.

Did he regret it? If he could go back and stop Merritt from ever kissing him, would Jack do that? He couldn’t find the will to conjure up a yes to either of those questions.

Jack’s head was a mess of conflicting emotions, like a scribbled drawing done by a small child with a penchant for using every crayon in the box. There were so many questions swirling around his head. Question after question, just like the ones Danny was asking a string of, each one sounding like a droning noise that never seemed to end.

“I DON’T KNOW!” Jack yelled in response to a question of Danny’s that he hadn’t properly heard.

Danny and Merritt immediately turned to look at Jack, matching looks of shock upon their faces. They had never heard him speak with such anger and frustration before. Jack slid his head down into his hands, screwing up his eyes tight.

“Alright, fine. Be like that,” Danny said abruptly as he left the room. Merritt sent a chastising look after him. His attitude wasn’t helpful

Jack finally lifted his face from his hands, turning to look up at Merritt.

“I just don’t know, Merritt,” he admitted, his voice filled with desperation and a desire for answers.

Jack looked down at his feet and his voice became quiet, so quiet that Merritt almost didn’t hear his next words.

“Help me.”

Merritt’s heart broke for the young man. He reached out and pulled Jack’s head into his chest, holding him in an embrace. Jack breathed shaky, uneven breaths against the fabric of Merritt’s shirt, feeling himself relax a little into the comforting warmth. His hand lay on Merritt’s chest, listening to the thud of his heartbeat.

“I’m here, Jack,” Merritt said softly, repeating the words to let them sink in. “I’m here.”

Chapter Text

Merritt suggested that hypnotherapy could help Jack to unlock his subconscious thoughts and find some answers. Jack agreed, deciding that he couldn't go on like this and he had to figure out what was going on in his head. He was willing to try nearly anything.

After checking that Danny had left the flat, they relocated to the dining room – it was the least used room which was, as such, free of clutter. Jack sat on a high backed dining chair that was more of a throne than a chair. They'd picked it up when one of their neighbours down the street was moving and had been about to throw out a perfectly useable, albeit it dated and well used,  quartet of mismatched dining chairs. The Four Horsemen had each carried one home, claiming it as their chair. Merritt sat on his chair, a shorter and stockier one, straddling it and facing Jack.

Merritt was to do the hypnotism himself, given that he was the most talented hypnotist that Jack knew, but had offered to call in a couple of favours and get someone else to do it if Jack would feel more comfortable that way. Jack had decided to go with Merritt, feeling like if he was going to be vulnerable he would rather it was with one of the people closest to him. Still, he remained a little anxious about the whole thing, worried that he might say something embarrassing. Merritt had assured him that people under hypnosis didn't go around blurting out things that they wouldn't otherwise have wanted to say and that he was not going to go probing around in Jack's mind for juicy secrets. Jack felt a little bit more confident about the whole thing after hearing that.

"Are you sure you want to do this?" Merritt asked again solicitously.

Jack nodded.

"I trust you."

The hypnotism itself seemed to go fairly easily. Jack found himself easily relaxing to the sound of Merritt's soothing voice. Soon his head was falling onto Merritt's shoulder and he was under. Had he not been otherwise occupied, Merritt might have made a comment about the benefits of having a willing participant.

Then came the time for the therapeutic part of the hypnotism. It was a little strange for Merritt to hypnotise someone with the sole purpose of helping them. Normally he did this to entertain or for personal gain or even because The Eye required it, but this time he was doing it for Jack. That seemed like a much more important purpose.

"I want you to picture yourself on a beach. Can you see it?" Merritt began, keeping his voice calm and steady.

Jack could see it all in his head. The soft, light coloured sand stretching out before him as far as he could see. He could practically feel the caress of the salty air on his skin. The waves lapped at the beach in a soft, rhythmical way that seemed to match Merritt's voice. He was there.

"Yes."

Merritt went on. "The sand stretches out in front and behind you. The water is beside you. It's calm and peaceful. You start to walk. As you walk, all the complications and questions fall behind you. There is nothing but the empty beach in front of you. You keep walking until you have left all your questions far behind you."

Merritt paused to let Jack catch up before he continued. As Jack walked, he pictured each question as a small package, wrapped up and dropped behind him. With each package he dropped, he felt a little lighter as if he was letting go of a physical weight. The packages faded into the distance as he walked until there was nothing behind him but the empty beach. He felt at ease for the first time in longer than he could recall.

"You stop," Merritt continued in the same relaxing tone. "There, in front of you, is a card. You pick it up. On that card is a question. This question is the single most important question to you right now. It is the only question that matters. Can you see the question?"

Jack remained silent for a moment, seeing this card before him in his mind. Then, just as Merritt said, there was writing on the card, appearing in an elegant, cursive script.

"Yes."

"You don't even need to think about this question. You already have the answer. You turn the card over. The answer is written on the back. Can you see it?"

Jack turned the card over in his mind, immediately seeing the answer that he already knew. Yes.

"Yes," he said, his voice already sounding lighter.

Merritt smiled to himself, pleased that he had been able to make a difference. He was only a stage hypnotist after all. This wasn't exactly his area of expertise.

"The next time you feel yourself overwhelmed and confused," Merritt continued to finish the job, "you are going to go back to this beach. You will leave all the confusion behind and find the answer to your single most important question."

Satisfied that he had done his job well, Merritt brought Jack back out of the hypnosis. He wasn't so bad at this hypnotherapy stuff. Maybe he should try and tackle Danny next, he briefly thought to himself before immediately dismissing the idea. He didn't need to open that can of worms.

Jack opened his eyes and felt like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders. Everything was clearer in his mind. Although he hadn't dealt with all of his questions, he had found the answer to the one that mattered. The others could wait.

"So did you figure out what you needed to know?" Merritt asked despite already knowing the answer.

Without any hesitation, Jack leant in, wound his hand around the back of Merritt's head and kissed him.

Merritt pulled away after a moment, chuckling at the younger man's sudden enthusiasm. "I'll take that as a yes, then."

Jack grinned. "Yes."

"You're sure saying that a lot today," Merritt said with a glint in his eyes. His eyebrows darted upwards as he smirked. "Could I tempt you into saying it again?"

He leaned in again to capture Jack's lips, deepening the kiss this time. Jack responded enthusiastically, all traces of doubt gone from his mind. He wanted this, whatever this might be. He wanted Merritt to keep kissing him, needed it like air. As Merritt leaned forwards towards Jack, his chair balanced precariously on two legs. It was inevitable that it would come crashing down with a loud thump, disrupting the dance of their lips and sending Merritt sprawling forwards onto Jack's lap. Jack used his feet to steady them. So much so was their enthusiasm, that the interruption could barely be considered one. Like magnets, their lips met again and Jack used the advantage of their new position to pull Merritt closer. Merritt was just beginning to unbutton Jack's shirt when the front door banged open and Danny's voice cut through the apartment like a flood of iced water.

"Merritt, I'm back. You better have downloaded the blueprints for the stadium."

Merritt glanced at Jack for a moment to gauge if they should just say 'fuck it' and let Danny walk in on them, but the look on slight panic on Jack's face told Merritt he wasn't quite there yet. Merritt sighed and swung a leg over Jack's legs from where he had been straddling his lap, ruffling the younger man's hair to lighten the mood.

"Dammit, Atlas," Merritt growled as he left the room.

Chapter Text

Jack walked back towards the apartment, pulling his leather jacket tighter around his neck as he shivered in the cold night air. He held a plastic grocery bag in his hand, filled with the contents of his shopping list. He had batteries for Daniel, an assortment of groceries that Henley had said they needed and a Snickers for Merritt.  

As he walked, he felt the sensation that there was someone behind him. He picked up his pace, knowing from experience that it was better to be safe than sorry in these situations. It was hard to resist the urge the turn around and look, but that was one sure way to let anyone following know that he knew what was going on and then the chase would begin.  

But no, there was definitely someone behind him. Two sets of footsteps if he wasn’t mistaken.  

He looked ahead and saw that there was a blacked out streetlight on the corner up ahead and a van parked next to it. Jack’s eyes darted around, looking for somewhere else to go. He didn’t like it. He didn’t like it at all. But if he tried to cross the road, whoever was following would surely use the opportunity to make their move. He would just have to keep going and hope he would be quick enough to outrun them.  

Jack approached the corner, trying not to appear hesitant. His heart thudded as he turned onto his street. The anticipation was the worst part of it all. Only a few more blocks and he would be home, safe. Not far now, he told himself.  

As Jack turned towards home, an arm came out to smack him in the face. He stumbled backwards into the two men following him, struggling against them as the grabbed him. The man from around the corner delivered a swift punch to the gut and Jack doubled over in pain. His bag of groceries fell to the ground in a rustle of plastic.  

He received a fist is the eye and ouch, that was going to leave a mark. But he wasn’t going to give up just like that. Jack fought back, arms swinging as he tried to hold off the trio of attackers. He turned sharply, left then right; no matter what he did there always seemed to be one of his assailants out of his line of sight.  

His fist connected with the tallest man’s face and Jack used his brief moment of reprieve to turn his attention and physical aggression to the next man. A knee in the stomach. A punch to the side of the face.  

Just as Jack thought he might be able to make a run for it, a hessian bag was forced over his head, obscuring his vision and leaving him to struggle against it blindly. The bag was pulled back against his throat, roughly. Jack struggled against it, choking. Then there were three pairs of hands on him again and he knew it was game over.  

The men dragged Jack backwards towards the waiting van. He shouted and struggled all the way, but there was no one around to hear.  

He was tossed in the van rather unceremoniously and he felt plastic against his thigh as the bag of groceries was tossed in after him. It was a small consolation. Face down and unable to see as the van drove off, Jack knew he was in serious trouble. This was no common mugging. His wrists were roughly pulled behind him and secured with a cable tie. Shit. He was in trouble.  

As the van sped down the streets, away from home, away from the Horsemen and away from safety, Jack tried to figure out how he was going to get out of this mess. Bound and blind, he didn’t like his chances. His only form of relief came when the bag was pulled off his head. Jack spat out blood, groaning as he tried for sit up so he could see his attackers.  

Someone tutted and Jack felt a hand caress his swollen eye which was most likely turning black and blue by this point. The touch was familiar, like he’d felt those fingers before, but there was something off about it. It turned his stomach. Then the owner of the hand spoke and Jack knew at once who he was.  

“Oh dear, dear. My brother won’t like this. He does love a pretty face and now my boys have gone and spoiled it. Oops!” 

“Chase,” Jack growled with more disdain than he would have been able to muster up for your average common or garden kidnapper.  

Jack managed to struggle up into a sitting position, turning to face Chase and the three thugs who had attacked him.  

“Oops, guilty as charged,” Chase replied with a laugh. “Sorry, wrong McKinney brother I’m afraid.”  

Jack remained silent, face steely, determined not to rise to Chase’s taunts.  

“Although that’s just a matter of opinion,” Chase went on. He’d barely spoken a dozen or so words and Jack was already wishing he could wipe that annoying voice from his head. It seemed to stay with him, taunting Jack even in silence. It was a sharp contrast to Merritt’s homely tone. If the physical similarities between them weren’t so strikingly similar, Jack would’ve had a hard time believing they were related.  

“I mean, most people would agree that I am the superior brother in every way,” continued Chase. He seemed to enjoy the sound of his own voice even if no one else did. "I guess there's no accounting for taste."  

Jack tried to keep his face blank, not wanting to give Chase the satisfaction of getting anything out of him. Chase took his resilience as confusion.  

"Oh, you are sleeping with my brother, are you not?" Chase asked with a taunting smile like he already knew the answer.  "Because this whole thing would be a little awkward if you weren't."  

He laughed. Jack couldn't stop a shiver at how eerie it was. His laugh sounded just like Merritt's, but there was something unnerving and cruel about it.  

“And if you ever feel like upgrading, my brother isn’t the only McKinney brother who likes the pretty boys,” Chase said, leaning towards Jack and puckering his lips then laughing at Jack’s look of revolt. “The offer’s on the table, just saying.”  

“Yeah, well, no thanks,” Jack spat back. 

This just caused Chase to laugh again. Taunting Jack was so much more fun when he reacted.  

“I have to say,” Chase continued, “I did think you’d go for the other young pretty one, the one with control issues.”  

Jack refused to take the bait, avoiding Chase’s gaze in case his face betrayed anything. Perhaps it was that action itself that gave it away or perhaps there was a flicker of something on his face.  

Chase’s mouth spread into a wide grin. “Oh ho! Does my brother know this? I mean I know he ‘claims’ to be able to read people, but he has always had a tendency to miss what’s going on right under his nose. Trust me, I know.”  

Jack just scowled at Chase, wishing he would just stop this taunting and get to why he was there. Chase looked like all his Christmases had come at once, finding immense joy in his perceived revelation. 

“That would just break his little heart,” Chase said with glee. “Oh to be a fly on the wall when he finds out.”  

Jack thought that a fly was a pretty apt description of Chase – annoying, buzzing, never seemed to leave him alone.  

“Alright, change of plans,” Chase announced, clapping his hands together. “When we bring my brother in, we’re bringing the control freak in too.”  

The henchmen in the van nodded in affirmation.  

“What are you going to do with him?” Jack asked, putting as much venom into his words as he could.  

“Who?” Chase taunted. “Your boyfriend or your sugar daddy? I hate to say it, but I think all that sugar’s run out.”  

They were interrupted by the van coming to a sudden stop. Jack’s body was flung forwards then backwards in quick succession, causing him to let out a small “oof”. The others, who had the luxury of not having their hands bound, held onto the nearest fixed object to steady themselves. From the grin on Chase’s face you’d think he was riding a rollercoaster at a theme park. It was like there was a barely contained “wheeeeeee!” on his lips. He enjoyed strange things. 

The henchmen pulled Jack out of the van, taking very little care with him. Meanwhile, Chase emerged on his own, brushing imaginary dirt from his suit and smiling in satisfaction at a job well done. Phase one complete. 

 

Chapter Text

 

They appeared to be in some sort of a warehouse, Jack noted, eyes darting around to check out his surroundings. There were large crates and spare automobile parts littering the area and the whole place was poorly lit with hanging florescent lights, giving the warehouse a tacky feel to it. Jack was forcibly led to small area bordered by three walls of shipping crates. Two chairs sat in the middle, both facing each other. Jack guessed that the one with handcuffs and chains attached to it was for him. Although, he thought to himself, he could be wrong.

Of course, as it turned out, the cuffs were for Jack. He was forced into the chair and held down while the cable ties were cut from his wrists and swapped for the clanking metal handcuffs.

Chase held Jack's plastic shopping bag in his hands and searched through it in a gross invasion of privacy. He pulled out the Snickers and smirked.

"Ooh those are my brother's favourites!" Chase said before opening up the wrapper and pulling out one half of the twin chocolate bars, biting into it with an air of smug satisfaction. "Personally I never got the fuss about them. Too chewy for my taste."

Chase dropped the wrapper with the other half on the chocolate back into the bag and placed it atop a nearby cloth covered table.

Perhaps it was just that the reality of the situation hadn’t sunk in, but Jack didn’t feel panicked. His feelings were more of frustration at being taken when he was so close to home and angry that Chase was trying to mess with them again. Most of all, he felt fiercely protective of Merritt, felt it in his gut. He knew he was just a pawn in Chase’s game of getting to Merritt, but he wasn’t going to let Chase get to Merritt through him. The Horsemen protected each other.

“So, in a moment we’re going to make a little video call to my brother,” Chase began, clapping his hands together as he walked back and forth in front of Jack. “You’ll get to have a little chat, a little lovers' reunion – although do try to keep it PG – and then you’ll invite him around here to join the party.”

“No.”

“And then I’ll kill him.”

“No.”

“Or I’ll kill you.”

“No.”

Chase laughed.

"You don't seem to be understanding how this whole hostage situation works. You see, I own you now. You will do as I say."

Jack shook his head.

"I'm not going to let you use me as live bait just to drag Merritt over here for whatever creepy shit you have planned."

Chase's eyes darkened, the comical element gone from his face. For the first time, Jack realised that behind the teasing and that annoying grin, Chase was truly a dangerous man.

"Oh. We'll see about that."

Jack swallowed anxiously. Maybe he was in deeper trouble than he had first thought.

Chase pulled his phone out of his pocket and appeared to tap the buttons. His brow furrowed in frustration as he tried and failed to work the annoying little electronic device.

"Does anyone know how to make a video call?" He asked the room, looking first to his henchmen who shook their heads and then to Jack. "You, kid, you're young. Can you work this thing?"

Jack scoffed at the man's complete inability to understand simple technology.

"Well first of all, you'd need a camera phone to make a video call," Jack retorted smugly.

Chase looked momentarily embarrassed as he turned his phone over in his hands to realise it was in fact camera-less.

"Well, never mind that, we'll just make a regular old fashioned telephone call then," Chase announced. "I bet my brother doesn't even know how to answer a video call."

Jack briefly considered pointing out the fact that Chase's attempt at insulting Merritt was less comical than his own technological failures but thought better of it. He needed to decide what to do when they got Merritt on the phone. The way Jack saw it, he had two options. Option A was to do what Chase wanted and tell Merritt he'd been kidnapped, wait for Merritt to arrive and then find a way to get themselves out of there before Chase could kill anyone. That option seemed pretty risky. The man had tried to throw them out of a plane, after all. Yes, it was because of Jack's suggestion, but there had to be at least some tendency towards killing in there for the hypnotism to have worked. That left option B: figure out a way to keep Merritt from knowing that he was currently tied up and at Chase's mercy and then get himself the hell out of there.

Chase clapped gleefully as the phone started to call Merritt.

"It's ringing," he announced excitedly as if it were something to be proud of.

"Hi, Brosky," Chase said once Merritt had presumably picked up. "Now don't hang up. I seem to have something here that belongs to you... Oh he's about 5'7, very pretty face, although I'm afraid my boys got a little bit overexcited with their fists – sorry about that... No, I'm not lying. Here, would you like to talk to him?"

As Chase talked, Jack replayed the words in his head, lips moving with the words. He would only get one shot.

"Your boyfriend wants to talk to you," Chase said as he held the phone up to Jack's ear. "Now be a good boy and say 'Hi, Mere Bear, it's Jack'."

"Hi, Mere Bear, it's Jack," Jack repeated in a voice that sounded like a mash up of his and Chase's. He internally chastised himself. Close, but not good enough. Fortunately, it seemed to do the trick.

"I don't believe you," Merritt said through the phone, voice wavering slightly.

Jack felt his heart thump at the sound of Merritt's voice. It was hard to stop himself from spilling the beans, but he had to keep him safe. Nothing good would come from Merritt ending up there too. He needed to make Merritt believe he was Chase

"I'm not Chase," Jack added in what was now a perfect imitation of Chase's voice. Nailed it.

"Yeah, nice try, Chase," Merritt replied, disdain for his brother leaking into his words. Jack had never been on the receiving end of such a tone from Merritt and he couldn't deny that it hurt a little, even though he knew it wasn't actually directed at him.

There was a moment of hesitation, silence between then, and then Merritt hung up. Jack felt his heart sink, but knew it was what had to be done. As much as he'd enjoy seeing Merritt ride in on his metaphorical horse to save him and slay the dragon, he had to keep Merritt safe and that meant keeping him far far away from Chase's dragony clutches.

"You little shit," Chase growled, tossing the phone to the side.

"Aww, come on, Chase, this just means we get to spend more time together," Jack taunted. He was getting cocky now that he'd managed to steal the upper hand.

Chase leant in towards him, eyes fixed and meeting his stare. His voice steady with determination, he spoke. "I'm going to make you regret that."

"Oh really?" Jack countered, the smallest hint of defiance in his eyes.

"Everyone leave," Chase ordered. "This one and I are going to have a little one on one time."

There was silence as the henchmen filed out of the room. Jack met Chase's gaze. He wasn't going to back down now.

Chase sneered, then turned and walked over to a table across the room. Each step he took seemed to draw out the tension between them.

He lifted the cloth that was covering the table to reveal an assortment of weapons that Jack had no desire to become familiar with. Chase reached out, hovering above the weapons as if deliberating which one to pick. He began to run his hands over them, caressing a large corkscrew like a lover. Jack could only imagine what that could be used for.

Chase made a quiet noise of indecision, tilting his head. So many options to choose from. So much pain he could inflict.

Jack shivered, feeling unease settle in his stomach. It was possible that he had seriously underestimated this McKinney brother.

 

 

Chapter Text

It was only once they were alone that Chase made his move. He decided on a large sharp knife with a slight curve to the blade. He walked back over to Jack with a gleam of excitement in his eyes. When he stopped in front of Jack, he leaned forwards, his face softening. 

"Oh you're going to wish you'd just handed Mere Bear over to me by the time we're done," Chase vowed. "I'm going to make you hurt and then I'm going to make him hurt even more." 

Jack looked up at the man before him who looked so much like the man Jack cared for with his whole heart. All of this was just sibling rivalry taken too far. 

"You know, Chase," Jack began, voice smooth like soft butter. "There is something that you're better than Merritt at." 

"Oh really?" Chase replied keenly, leaning closer. He liked the sound of this.

"Yes," Jack answered, letting the s sound trail out. "Come closer. Look at me." 

Perhaps it was the sheer seduction that Jack could conjure with just his words, but he had Chase obliging. Jack held him in his gaze, eyes locked. 

"You're so superior, so superb, so sublime, so suggestive, so sleepy -" Jack paused to snap his fingers, watching as Chase's features relaxed - "so gullible. Now you're going to unchain me and let me leave and you're never going to try and get to your brother ever again. Do you understand?"

Chase nodded and Jack had to chuckle at the hypnotised man. It the end, it was just too easy. He'd never have been able to hypnotise Merritt that easily. Then again, Merritt did love it when he used that voice, so compliant to Jack's will it was almost like he was hypnotised. 

Just as Jack was about to feed Chase the suggestion to unlock the handcuffs, one of the henchmen wandered into the room. 

"Hey boss, we've got a call from..." He trailed off as he saw Chase relaxed in submission and Jack leaning in to whisper in his ear. 

"Chase, you will find yourself wanting to hide," Jack hurriedly suggested. "You won't want to watch or listen to any of this." 

Jack could handle one guy, albeit a reasonably big, muscular one, but he did not need Chase coming back to his senses and ganging up on him. 

Almost as if triggered by something Jack said, Chase immediately stood up and fast-walked to the corner like his life depended on it. He sat down cross legged, sliding underneath the table and put his fingers in his ears, eyes screwed up shut. 

"No, please don't hurt him!" Jack heard him whimper. He got the feeling that Chase's concern wasn't for his hired thug. Chase seemed far away, almost as if he had reverted to a less pleasant time. Jack would have to ask Merritt about that later 

The henchman watched Chase in confusion before moving towards Jack, yelling to his colleagues as he did so. Just as the man was about to punch him, Jack stood, swinging the chair he was attached to around to smash into the man. It broke apart on the larger man's back, causing him to stumble and fall. Jack delivered a swift knee to the gut followed by a series of punches to the man's head. The man fell to the ground, groaning as he did so. 

Jack looked up to see a second henchman entering the room. He took in the sight of his colleague lying on the floor, all but passed out, and his boss rocking himself back and forth underneath a table before turning back towards Jack. He pulled out a gun, holding it in a shaky hand. It looked to Jack as if he'd never used the thing before and planned to use it more as a shield rather than as a way of immobilising Jack. That suited Jack just fine. 

"You wanna play?" Jack taunted, getting ready to make his move. 

He strode over to the henchman and knocked the gun out of his hand. It only took one punch to knock him out. Chase's helpers were just as pathetic as he was. 

Just as Jack thought he might be able to leave, a third henchman entered the room. Jack recognised this one as the one who'd been waiting for him around the corner. He easily weighed as much as the other two henchmen put together and seemed to tower over Jack. Jack swallowed. It was all or nothing now. 

He ran towards the man, hands still inhibited by the chains that linked them. He ducked left then right, dodging as punches were thrown his way. The man grasped him by the wrists, holding them tightly and forcing Jack back. Jack fought his grip, but couldn't move him. With Jack satisfactorily pinned and unable to escape, the man punched him square in the face. Jack exhaled sharply at the pain. 

"Oh Boss is going to be so happy when I hand your scrawny little ass back to him," the man jeered. "Then I might just take a trip over to your house and bring Boss' brother back here, have a little fun with him too." 

This seemed to be the motivation that Jack needed. With a shout and all the enthusiasm he could muster, he lunged forwards, pushing the length of chain against the bigger man's throat. The man choked, struggling backwards away from the pressure, clawing at Jack to let him go, but Jack stuck with him. Jack used this to gain the upper hand, pushing the chain forwards until the man stumbled back against the wall. The man continued to fight it, though his efforts were weakening Jack held the chain tight, teeth gritted in determination. It was only a matter of time and Jack knew it, using every ounce of his strength to keep the pressure on the man's throat. The man's struggles subsided as oxygen deprivation overcame him, then he slipped down to the floor. 

Jack slumped over, panting from exertion. He'd done it, beaten the men who'd kidnapped him. Now he just had to get out of there. He spotted a ring of keys over by the table of Chase's torture toys and set about seeing which one would fit his handcuffs. It only took a few tries and then he was free from the chains. He felt much safer that way although the chains had proved to be useful. The large unconscious man on the floor was proof of that. 

Jack noticed that Chase was still under the table, rocking and singing to himself. 

"Hush little Mere Bear, don't say a word. Chasey's gonna buy you a mockingbird." 

For the first time, Jack felt a smidgen of compassion for Merritt's evil twin. Perhaps he hadn't always been so cruel and determined to take everything from his brother. 

"And if that mockingbird don't sing, Chasey's going to kiiiilll youuu." 

Then again, maybe it was just his nature. 

Jack crouched down next to the still hypnotised Chase. Well, Jack assumed he was still hypnotised. Chase seemed to be acting very strange, almost reverting back to his childhood. Jack didn't know what had gone wrong there. Maybe he was just crazy. 

"I'm going to go now," Jack told Chase, punctuating his words with an accusing finger and venom in his voice. "And don't ever come near your brother or me or any of the other Horsemen again." 

Chase made no move to acknowledge Jack's words. Jack just ignored him, grabbing the plastic bag of groceries that Chase had attempted to steal from him. As he left the building, he could still hear Chase singing. 

"Hush little Mere Bear, don't say a word. Chasey's gonna buy you a mockingbird."

Jack shivered and pulled his Jacket tighter around himself as he hastily walked away from the building. The whole experience hadn't really sunk in yet. He just wanted to get home to his Horsemen, wash the blood off himself and fall into a deep sleep for a dozen or so hours. Then he could put the whole mess behind him. 

He spotted a bus stop ahead where a bus was pulling in. He jogged towards it and climbed on just as the doors were closing. He felt like he was able to breathe a sigh of relief as the bus pulled away; he was finally on his way back home. It would just take a little longer than expected.

Chapter Text

Jack returned to Horsemen HQ to find his friends just as he'd left them. The boys both occupied the living room, though they sat as far away from each other as possible, both with their backs to the other and the front door. You didn't need to be a mentalist to know they'd been bickering again. 

"You're late," Danny said in a tone that was uniquely Danny, seeming to sound accusatory when it was merely an observation. 

Jack tossed the batteries to Danny, hearing him 'oof' as they landed on his stomach. Merritt was seated on his favourite beanbag. Jack threw him the remains of the Snickers without a word as he made his way to the kitchen to put the groceries away. 

"Hey! Half of this has been eaten," Merritt complained from the other room. 

Jack didn't reply. He'd had the focus of getting home safely to occupy his thoughts on his journey home, but now he had no such distraction. The events of the night were starting to catch up to him.

Jack took deep breaths, trying to slow his racing heart. 

"You'll never guess who called here tonight," Jack heard Merritt call out, sounding as if his mouth was full of chocolate. 

The house was so busy, Jack noted. Too busy. It almost seemed to buzz. Henley walked into the kitchen to help Jack with the shopping and was the first person to see his newly acquired injuries. 

"Oh my gosh, Jack, what happened to your face?" she exclaimed in horror, reaching out to gently brush her thumb over his cheek. 

This seemed to get the other Horsemen's attention as Merritt and Danny appeared in the kitchen seconds later with matching concerned expressions on their face. 

"It's nothing," Jack said a little harsher than he intended, brushing past them and hoping that it would be enough to ease their worry. 

He made his way to the bathroom, slamming the door a little harder than was necessary. He sighed at the sound of the lock clicking shut. Looking in the mirror was an unsettling experience. Jack didn't think it was possible to look worse than he felt, but his face was doing a pretty good job of it. 

Everything seemed a little quieter, a little more deliberate, as Jack turned on the tap and ran a wash cloth under it. He heard a soft knock on the door – Henley, no doubt. 

"Is everything okay in there?" 

He could just imagine the three of them out there, worried about poor little Jack again. He wished they wouldn't. The events of that night shouldn't have happened in the first place and he wanted to move on from them. 

"I'm fine," Jack replied, wincing slightly as he started to wipe at the dried blood. 

He was used to the concern of the other Horsemen, just as they were used to him brushing off said concern and insisting he could take care of himself. He heard the sounds of footsteps, leaving one by one. They knew Jack would seek them out if he needed them. Theirs was that sort of a relationship.

Once Jack was satisfied that he had wiped away all the dried blood, he hung up the wash cloth and exited the bathroom, heading straight to his bedroom and climbing onto the bed. He had a couple of nasty bruises forming, but at least the blood was gone. It was only then that he allowed his features to soften in realisation of the fear of what could have been. 

"That call from Chase wasn't fake, was it?"

Jack looked up in his moment of vulnerability to see Merritt standing in the doorway. He shook his head in response. Merritt sighed and walked over to the bed. 

"You're too good at that voice thing, you know that?" he said as he sat down next to Jack. 

Jack smiled at the compliment. No matter how many times he received compliments from the Horsemen – which, admittedly, wasn't often enough - he would never lose that swell of pride he felt at the knowledge that these people, who were all so talented in their various fields of magic, were impressed by his skills. 

“I couldn’t let you know he had me,” Jack said in answer to the question Merritt hadn’t yet asked. “He was trying to lure you there to kill you.” 

Merritt sighed again and rubbed his palms across his face. 

“My brother and I,” Merritt began, trying to find the right words, “we have a complicated relationship. If anything like this happens again, let me deal with him.” 

“I’m not going to just hand you over to him like a lamb for slaughter,” Jack argued. “Besides, I took care of myself. I know the rest of you think I need to be taken care of and babied, but I’ve got skills. I know how to survive.” 

An almost regretful look passed over Merritt’s face before he reached out to envelop Jack in a hug, rolling him over until they were spooning. Jack settled back into the warmth of Merritt behind him, feeling safe for the first time that night. Merritt gently stroked Jack's hair as a small noise of satisfaction slipped from Jack's lips. Jack felt somewhat like a cat, a very sleepy and content cat. He was home at last. 

“You're very tough," Merritt praised in a soft voice that might have sounded patronising if it wasn't so sincere. 

"I am," Jack agreed, sounding anything but tough. 

Jack stilled as Merritt's hand stopped its movements. 

"But you need to let me deal with my brother next time." 

Jack sighed. There it was. 

"I know he may seem like a murderous, crazy, escaped mental patient at times, but there's more to it than that. Don’t take everything he says at face value." 

Jack tilted his head back to look up at Merritt. He knew there was a lot about the brothers' relationship that he didn't understand, but he was surprised to hear Merritt say something in defence of his brother. 

"Don't get me wrong, I hate his guts and I'll never forgive him for the things he's done, but there's a lot of... a lot of shared history. That's what makes things between us so strained." 

Jack nodded as he contemplated Merritt's words. While he didn't understand the reasons behind Merritt and Chase's complex relationship, he felt like the understood the nature of it a little better now. 

Merritt pulled Jack in closer, like he might never let him go. Jack was okay with that. Merritt gave the best bear hugs. 

"If he touches you again, I will kill him," Merritt vowed solemnly. 

It was then that Jack realised the difference between the brothers' death threats. While Chase's threats had been eager and whimsical, looking back they didn't seem so real, as if they were just a part of Chase's game.  But Merritt's threat, Jack couldn't doubt that one. Perhaps he'd gotten the parts of their game of cat and mouse mixed up. Chase was undoubtedly the cat and Merritt the mouse, but who said the mouse couldn't kill the cat?

Chapter Text

Jack had never really understood the concept of home. Sure, he’d seen tv shows and movies about it, watched Dorothy tap her heels thrice and say “there’s no place like home”, but he didn’t really know what it felt like. To him, it was a myth. Yes, having a roof over his head and a place to come back to each night was great, but it was just that, nothing more. 

He’d bounced around from house to house as a kid, never staying anywhere long enough to settle in. He never got the experience of having his own bedroom and getting to choose which colour to paint the walls. It was always someone else’s house, someone else’s room, someone else’s monotonous off-white walls. He was just visiting for a while. 

The streets were certainly no homelier. Though he might have called the little alcove at the back of the library home for a while, it certainly didn’t conjure up feelings of the safe and happy home  he’d heard people talk about. It was sheltered and had several escape routes, should he ever need to run, but it flooded each time it stormed and it did nothing to keep out the winter chill. It wasn’t a home, but it had been his home for a while.  

Even when he moved into the apartment with the Horsemen as they took on the challenge of proving themselves to the Eye, he still didn’t call it home. Families had homes, but this wasn't one. He was cautious, always expecting that it would get taken away from him at any moment, because good things like that didn’t happen to him. He didn't get to call these people his family. He didn’t get to call their cramped quarters a home.  It was all only temporary. 

Given his nomadic lifestyle, Jack had never had the need for many possessions, least of all furnishings. It was a bit too difficult to pickpocket a couch. He lived light and travelled even lighter. That was life for him. 

Then one day, during their year of living off the radar after skyrocketing to fame and finding themselves on FBI's most wanted, Merritt invited Jack to move in with him. It beat living on the streets, so Jack agreed and moved himself and his very few possessions in – a pocket knife he’d nicked off a man on the bus, a couple of changes of clothes, a few packs of cards, a well-worn copy of Oliver Twist that he’d stolen from the library, his ‘death’ card and a small assortment of other items he’d pick pocketed.  It wasn’t much, but it was nice to have a place to put them. 

Merritt had told Jack to make himself at home, but Jack wasn’t sure how, at first. Slowly, day by day, Jack began to feel a sense of comfort each time he stepped through the door. He began to think of the small apartment as a place he lived, not just a place he was stopping over in for a while.

He got the idea while he was over at the neighbour’s place, feeding her cat while she was away. Her home looked lived in, a place full of life. Her walls were decorated with neatly framed pictures of herself and her loved ones. When Jack returned home, he was struck by the bareness of the walls. Merritt was no interior designer and went for comfort and practicality over style. The place needed more life, Jack decided, some happy memories, a reflection of who was living there. It took less than a week for it to all come together. 

Jack stood in the bedroom he shared with Merritt, rearranging his belongings on the dresser he called his own. Despite Merritt’s insistence that Jack should think of the place as his own, he still kept his things relatively contained to this area. He had managed to find a photo frame that held multiple photos at the local discount store. The photos had been a little trickier to come by, but he’d managed to acquire them. 

The left side of the frame held a photo of Dylan and Daniel together, a hint of mirth shining through their usual serious expressions. On the other side of the frame, he had photos of the girls. Lula had sent him a comical selfie of herself pulling a ridiculous face at the camera. The photo of Henley came with a letter she’d sent him not long ago while on holiday. She was pictured standing on a beach in France, decked out in a polka dot bikini and waving at the camera. She looked happy. 

The last photo had a frame of its own and found its place right by the head of the bed. It was taken the night the Horsemen had officially been welcomed into the Eye. It had been a joyful night of celebration. The photo was of Merritt and Jack enjoying a drink together. Merritt had his arm slung around Jack’s shoulder and Jack was gazing up at him like he was his whole world. That was the night that Jack knew, not just that he wanted to spend the rest of his life, however short it might be, making magic with the people who had become like family to him, but that he felt more than friendly affection for one Horseman in particular. The photo was proof of that. 

Merritt walked into the room, taking note of what Jack was doing. Jack immediately felt nervous, worrying that maybe he had overstepped his bounds. Maybe there was a reason Merritt’s house was void of any sentimental items. Maybe he wouldn’t want pictures of all the people Jack held so dear in his bedroom. Jack moved to put the photos away; it was a stupid idea anyway. Sensing his doubt, Merritt placed a reassuring hand on Jack’s arm before silently walking around to his side of the bed and opening the top drawer of his bedside table.

Merritt pulled out a slightly crumpled photo and placed it on the table, propped up against a lamp, smiling in satisfaction as he did so. Jack walked over and picked up the photo to get a better look.  It was of the two of them, taken during their midnight kiss on New Year’s Eve last year. Merritt had his hand wound through Jack’s hair while Jack clutched at Merritt’s shirt like it was his lifeline. So swept up in each other, they hadn’t even noticed the photo being taken or anyone else in that moment. It was real. It was passionate. It was love. 

Jack smiled as he put the photo back. He hadn’t picked Merritt as the sentimental type. Of course, that was Merritt’s cue to leave before things got too sappy. Jack took a glance around the room before following Merritt out the door. He saw the happy faces of the people he cared about smiling back at him from the photos. It wasn’t much, but this small space was starting to feel like a home.