It was like a dream. That's what it had to be, Race supposed. Only... he could still feel. Everything was hot. His skin was burning. He could feel the sweat sliding down his skin and yet his limbs still had the gall to be shaking as his insides must've been frozen. His eyes wouldn't open. He was too tired. Nights of not sleeping could do that to a person.
But he had to get up. He couldn't remember why, but he knew he had to run. He had to get back. Though, he couldn't even flinch when a hand on his chest pushed him down. "Shhhhhhh... stay calm... you're okay..."
In a haze, the boy managed to croak out a small, "Jack?" Oh how he wished it was Jack.
"No, pal..." That voice. He knew that voice. He just couldn't place it. Everything was so fuzzy. He couldn't remember what he'd been doing or why he felt so panicked. He whimpered involuntarily when a hand combed through his damp hair. "Stop tryna move, kiddo... it's okay..." Race hadn't even realized he had tried to move. It made sense.
Nothing felt familiar. Nothing was coming back to him, just the exhaustion and panic. "Where's Jack?" he mumbled pathetically, not even bothering to fight. He couldn't. He couldn't move.
When the sigh came in response, the boy felt his heart clench in his chest. Why couldn't he remember what was wrong? Why was he so panicked? Why didn't he knew where Jack was? "I don't know, Tyler... but it's gonna be okay..."
The child had no choice but to believe him as the darkness came back to swallow him whole.
People were running. Jack could hardly breathe at this point. He could hear people going crazy in this scrappy town, breaking into bodegas or any easy target they could find, bats or guns in hand. It was dangerous. People were dangerous.
And Race was out there somewhere.
The entire city was submerged in darkness. No power. No electricity. No nothing. The cell towers were down. Jack was panicking. Things like this didn't just happen out of nowhere. People had done this.
The whole day had been a mistake. Race had been on edge lately, junior year and all that. It gave his little brother no right to be snobby and rude all the time. That morning's fight was over nothing, now that he thought about it. It was just a way for the kid to blow off some steam. That didn't make it okay, but that's what it was. Jack couldn't help but feel the tug in his heart. This was his fault. He was responsible for his baby brothers. He was supposed to keep them safe and he couldn't even find one of them.
A great guardian he was...
Jack continued on through the night. He was running or he was hiding. He shouldn't be out. He didn't even have his wallet or a ways to tell anyone where he was or even if he was okay. This could go one of two ways if he wasn't careful. One of them ended up with him in a hospital or worse and the other had him in cuffs, sitting in a jail cell at two in the morning. Neither was ideal.
It was true, Race really hadn't looked too good that morning. Jack really shouldn't have forced him to go to school. It was a lapse in judgement that could cost the boy his life. When Race hadn't come home right after school with Crutchie, and his littlest brother had said that he'd claimed to be staying to study at the library, Jack had known immediately that the kid had snuck off to go mess around with his idiot friends after Jack had specifically told him that he needed to go to school and come straight back. Albert and Spot weren't the greatest influences and Race wasn't getting out of that argument that easily. Though Crutchie said that Race had looked really terrible and had asked him to come home, he'd still refused.
Jack had known Race was getting sick. And when Race got sick, nothing good happened. It hit him fast and it hit him hard and Jack hadn't told him to go back to bed. He'd been blinded by an argument that he truthfully couldn't remember that morning. And he might never get to fix this.
It was his fault.
Jack ducked into another alleyway when he saw sirens. He had nothing on him, but this madness made cops antsy. If one looked suspicious, one was taken downtown. Jack didn't have time for that. Jack needed to find his kid.
He just prayed he wasn't too late.
It was a dream. It had to be. None of it felt real. And yet, when Race stirred again, he was still on a bed he didn't recognize in a room that didn't feel familiar at all. "Jack?" he tried to call. His throat felt raw, like he'd been screaming for days. He immediately was caught in a coughing fit. His body convulsed and he tried to gasp for air. It hurt.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa..." That voice again. It was farther away this time. It took a moment for the hands to come and push him back down. "Try to breathe, Race... it's okay..."
His whole body ached. His coughs died down a bit. He took short breaths. He felt nauseous. He wanted to cry out for Jack again. He wanted Jack. Why wasn't it Jack? But he knew that trying to speak or whine would only bring on another fit. "I know you want Jack, buddy... I'll get him as soon as I can... but you have to relax..."
Relaxing wasn't something Race could comprehend at that point. He still didn't know what was happening. He vaguely remembered trying to walk home, dreading it for whatever reason, before he decided he needed to take a rest. That was the last thing he could think of. Everything else was a blur. He just remembered panic.
He had to pry his eyes open. It was hard and his head was pounding. The second his eyes even slid open a centimeter, he regretted the action. He couldn't truly see. He didn't have his glasses and God knows he needed them. He hated those things. They made him look like a geek. Spot never let him live them down. But it didn't matter. Right now he had to focus. Something he was exceedingly bad at. All he could make out was a blurred figure sitting above him.
"No, Tyler... close your eyes..." the mystery person hushed. "You're safe, I promise..."
It was then that the voice clicked. "D-Davey...?"
David sighed. This boy was really in poor condition. A hundred and three fever. He could barely speak. He'd been so out of it for the past three hours. Ever since David had found him, passed out in an alleyway. The power had gone out just minutes before he'd found the kid, shivering and alone. It had been a challenge getting David to his apartment that was just around the corner. There was no way he could take the boy six blocks down the road to Jack. He was anxious to know what the other man was doing. If he knew his best friend, he was out on the streets somewhere, looking for Race and there was nothing David could truly do about it. Not unless he wanted to end up in a goose chase around town, getting mugged or arrested. And, he was scared to leave this kid alone right now.
He wasn't sure this boy didn't need a hospital. He was delirious. He kept getting caught in feverish nightmares. He was crying out, though his throat was clearly sore. He was sweating and whining that he was freezing all at once. David was trying like mad to bring his temperature down, but everything he did just ended with Race pushing him away.
"Yeah, pal... it's me, it's Davey... you need to relax, do you understand?" He ran hands through the boy's hair. He recalled Jack telling him it was one of the only ways to calm him down when he couldn't sleep. When the kid did seem to relax a bit at the touch, David took the chance, grabbing the damp cloth he had and trying to dab at Race's forehead.
The kid pushed him away immediately.
"Nooooo..." he moaned out, trying to turn away from him. David did not understand why the damp cloth seemed to annoy or frustrate the kid, but it would help. "I wan' Jack..."
Everything that came from the boy's lips was just air. His throat was swollen. His cheeks and nose were red. David has already removed his sweatshirt, leaving him in a simple t-shirt and jeans. He'd thought about trying to get the jeans off too, but he didn't want to scare the kid even more. "Jack will be here... right now I'm here..." he promised softly, offering the boy a small smile. "You're gonna be okay, kiddo..."
And he prayed Jack would be too.
It had been hours now. Jack still wasn't back. Neither was Race.
He just had to survive till morning. Blackouts weren't typically this bad. Jack would have Race and him sleep in his bed normally, because criminals and petty thieves did tend to get more rowdy. There was less of a chance of getting caught. Homes weren't normally targeted. But that didn't stop the fear from circling around them.
It was two AM now. Crutchie wasn't sleeping. The adrenaline pushed his exhaustion away. With his leg, he knew he didn't stand a chance outside that apartment. He couldn't help but want to try anyway. Jack had left him with a bat, telling him to lock the door, not to let anyone in unless he knew it was him or Racer.
Jack was supposed to be the smart one. The one that was calm and rash when it came to things like this. He was supposed to trust that Race would get to safety on his own. Though, Crutchie understood why he didn't. Race wasn't always the smartest when it came to being safe. He knew how to antagonize dangerous people.
Worry was going to eat him alive. He knew his brothers had been at each other's throats lately. He wasn't sure why. He just assumed that Race was going through a phase of wanting to argue a lot more than usual. He was sixteen. And he was stressed out. That's how Jack explained it.
Jack was stressed out too. Crutchie could tell. But he wouldn't admit it. Because he was supposed to be the calm one, the one who always had a way out. The one who took care of them.
It wasn't fair.
All the boy could do was sit on their ratty old couch, watching the door stand still and hearing the old clock on the wall tick on slowly. Crutchie was scared. And there was no one there to reassure him.
This was impossible. There was no way he'd find his little brother in this chaos. It was a mess. There were people out there, just like him, rushing to get inside or to find their loved ones. Desperate to get out of this hell that came about when the lights went out. Monsters were supposed to be a scary story. They weren't supposed to be real. They weren't supposed to come out in the darkness.
At his own name Jack jumped, whirling around madly trying to figure out who was calling for him. In the night he could make out a pair of kids running towards him. One with fiery red hair, and another with a hat backwards on his head, a familiar leather jacket around his torso. "Spot?" he called back, squinting his eyes to make sure it wasn't just his imagination. "Albert?"
"Jack!" Before he could comprehend what was happening, the redheaded boy had rushed towards him, wrapping his arms around him. Spot look somewhat relieved, but would never make the same move that Albert just had. Though Jack knew these kids weren't the best influence on his baby brother, he was beyond grateful that they seemed to be okay. Jack held Albert back tightly, knowing the kid was easily spooked in the darkness, knowing he more than likely didn't have a place to go right now. He didn't even have to ask Spot. He knew that kid had no place to go.
Pulling away from the frantic teenager, Jack held him at arms length, checking him over. To his relief, the kid looked to be okay, despite the frightened, anxious tears that were running down his face. "Are you two alright?" he asked quickly, making sure to keep Albert close to him. Spot wasn't too far either. Not that that really worried him. Yes he'd protect the kid with his life, but that boy could take care of himself.
"Yes, we's fine," Spot shot out quickly. Jack gave him a once over, but took the kid's word for it. Albert on the other hand seemed to be extremely shaken about something.
"W-we saw... there was a fight... Jack, we saw guys with guns n' knives..." That was no surprise to Jack. He was sure he heard a few shots, but he hadn't come across a body yet. He called that a win, no matter how small it was.
With a shake of his head, Spot just shrugged. "No one's seen us yet. But we's saw some people tryna break inta a bodega down the street... some kid was usin' fireworks ta get 'em ta back off..."
It was pure chaos.
"Okay..." Jack sighed, understand why Albert was the wreck he was. Then he remembered why he was out there in the first place. "What about Racer? Was he with you guys?"
Spot's eyes widened at the question. "N-no... you mean he ain't home?" Jack's whole heart dropped. He shook his head. "Dammit! I knew we shouldn't a' let him go by hisself!" The Brooklyn boy shouted, clearly upset with himself. Before Jack could ask what he meant, Spot was already explaining. "Racer wus with me afta' he n' Al got outta school. We w's messin' around n' runnin' but Race weren't doin' too good... he looked real sick... sounded it too..." he explained, his tone sharp and irritated. "He said 'e was goin' back home. Told us not ta walk him back..."
When he finished, the panic on Jack's face only became clearer. Race had left before the blackout. Race was still out there and had never made it home.
A shout caused all three of them to jump. Immediately, Jack's arm tightened around Albert and he reached out for Spot's wrist as they made their way away from the noise. "Where were you when he left?" he asked quickly.
"We was by Jacobi's..." Albert answered quietly, sniffling a bit. Jack's heart hurt. He looked down at the kid with soft features. He knew this kid needed shelter. So did Spot. "He left 'round seven..."
That was so long ago. That was all Jack could think. That was so, so long ago. "Okay, here," he said, fishing in his pocket for the key to his apartment. "You go back to my apartment, you watch out for Charlie," he ordered sternly, leaving no room for argument, despite the hesitant look on the young ginger's face. "I's gonna go get Tyler..."
Albert clearly did not want to leave Jack's embrace. Spot didn't want to go without him either. Sure, he was the tough kid from Brooklyn, old enough to take care of himself, but Jack always knew what to do somehow. Going on without him was dangerous. But the look in those green eyes told him not to argue. So, he grabbed Albert's wrist and off they went.
Race felt weaker than he ever had in his entire life. He hated getting sick. Getting sick meant almost two weeks of nothing. Two weeks of being in bed and having Jack smother him, not letting him do anything. He didn't truly understand it. Crutchie rarely ever got sick. The kid had a great immune system, which was odd to everyone. It would make more sense for the boy with the bum leg to get dangerously ill. So ill he sometimes had to be hospitalized. But somehow Race got stuck with that.
God, how he hated hospitals. He hoped to never see the inside of one ever again.
Davey sighed when Race began to squirm again. He ran another hand through his hair. He hated that he had to do it. It tricked the boy into believing that Jack was there. And this boy wanted Jack desperately. He looked miserable. There was bags under his eyes, giving the world the illusion that he hadn't slept his whole life. The kid truly looked terrible.
As he smoothed back the damp curls that fell at Race's forehead, the boy leaned into his touch, calming silently at the gentle gesture. He looked so small. It was scary. It wasn't that David didn't believe Jack when he'd said it got bad. He just couldn't picture it. He wished he never would've been able to. This boy was so energetic all the time, always having to move, craving some kind of excitement and having too much energy to stay in one place. Right now all the kid could do was lay there helplessly and let his brother's best friend take care of him. It was truly heartbreaking.
There were candles around the room, barely giving the room a small glow. That didn't keep David from seeing how pale the kid was. "It's okay, Race... it'll be over soon..." He hoped.
Jack was sprinting by now. He knew which route Race took from Jacobi's. He could find him. He had to find him. The boy had to be okay. He ran as fast as he could, trying desperately to stay out of trouble. This place was hell on earth at the moment. He wished he had the money to get out of this place. He really did. More for his boys than for himself. But this was what he had at the moment. And there was nothing he could do about it.
It wasn't until Jack heard the sirens that he stopped. His heart plummeted down into his stomach. He tried to remember where he was. Tried to remember if he had any escape. "Shit..." he muttered to himself. Jacobi's was still three blocks away. The only thing he could think of that was close was Davey's apartment.
That was it.
His speed picked up again. He ignored the calls for him to stop or freeze or turn around. He had to get there. He had to hide. He couldn't go downtown. Not right now.
He knew how to sneak into David's apartment by now. The fire escape. It led to a window, the one in his friend's kitchen. The latch was broken. That worried Jack everyday, but he knew he couldn't dwell on that now. He just rushed up as fast as he could praying no one could see him climbing up before he slipped into that window, only to trip as he stumbled inside.
Before he could even call out to tell David he was in fact not being robbed, the other man was already in the other room, an umbrella in hand as his weapon of choice. Jack rolled over immediately bringing his hands up over his head. "Hey! Hey! Hey! It's me!" he shouted quickly, knowing it was dark and that David was literally about to start beating him to a bloody pulp.
Even in the darkness, Jack could see his friend's shoulders drop in relief. "Oh, thank God," he said, a small laugh playing at his voice as he reached down a hand to let Jack up. "I thought you'd be dead out lookin' for Tyler right now..." he admitted as Jack got to his feet.
That got Jack's attention. His body leaped with excitement and relief at that statement. "You mean he's here?! You have him?!"
"Relax, Jackie!" David hushed, nodding toward the back room. "He's sleepin'. I found him around the corner on my walk home from work. He was passed out on the ground..." Jack took a breath to steady himself. It was okay. Race was here. But when he tried to rush back to him, David put out a hand, stopping him. "He ain't doin' too hot, Jack... he's really sick..."
That's what Jack was a afraid of. He pushed past his friend, rushing towards the bedroom where he froze in the doorway. There he was, the boy that had him all worked up. He was laying on top of a mess of blankets. His t-shirt was soaked through with sweat. He was visibly trembling. "Racer..." he breathed, his heart breaking in his chest at the sight.
Slowly, he stepped closer to the kid, knowing David was right behind him. He didn't want to wake the boy up, but he wanted to get the boy's clear fever to break. Anything to get it down. So, he cautiously moved forward, reaching out a hand towards Race's forehead. It was burning. "Jesus, kid..." he whispered, moving to lift up Race's torso, ready to take the boy's shirt off.
"I didn't know if I should try that... I know he doesn't really like to be touched..." David explained carefully. Jack nodded in thanks. "I can... uh... I can get a bath goin'... it would cool him down..." he suggested.
Jack paused, looking up and offering David a small nod. He was more than grateful for the other man. "David!" he called quietly, just as the other man turned to go run a bath. David paused, urging Jack to continue. "Thank you..."
David did not reply, he just nodded tiredly and waved him off. He didn't need Jack to tell him this was something that he didn't have to do. Because of course it was. These boys were apart of his life. He could never live with himself if something happened to Race when he could've stopped it.
Race looked like hell. Jack couldn't stop himself from leaning down and pressing a soft kiss to the boy's forehead. The boy groaned but did not wake up, not even as Jack began peeling his clothing from his chest. That made the kid jump and Jack hissed in response, hating that the kid was awake. "Calm down, Tyler... I'm sorry, it's okay..." he soothed, continuing to gently pull the shirt over his brother's head.
Race's eyes shot open at the voice. He regretted the action immediately as the pain spiked back up in his head. He tried to sit up, only causing himself the pain of coughs sputtering out. His chest was tight. He couldn't breathe.
Jack tossed the shirt aside for the time being, immediately moving to sit behind his brother who was no longer laying down like he should be. "Hey, no no no no no, calm down..." he murmured, maneuvering Race so he was in his lap, so that his back was against his chest as he held the kid down. "Breathe, Racer... Breathe... you're okay..."
David rushed back into the room as the coughs continued. "Race, you have to relax!" he cautioned as he watched Jack try to lay the boy's head back on his shoulder. But the kid was shaking his head.
"Yeah, yes... we's gonna do what Davey says," he whispered right into the boy's ear. "We's gonna relax..." As he spoke, he ran gentle hands through Race's hair. He rocked side to side a bit, trying to convey to the boy that he was safe. That he was okay.
It took far too long for the fit to die down. It was terrifying how weak the child was. Jack couldn't help but just hold him for a second. He didn't know if they could handle another hospital bill. But the mere sight of this boy was shaking Jack to the core. "Baby... we're gonna cool you off, okay?" he murmured, hearing the rub filling up in the other room.
"Jack... can you just... can we just stay for a second?" Race begged, sounding even worse than he looked. His young voice sounded completely trashed. Jack's stomach rolled at the small request, knowing Race only wanted to be held when he was scared or too stressed to function.
Sniffling a bit, trying not to be too emotional, Jack pressed another kiss to the side of his boy's head. "Just for a minute, baby... we gotta get the fever down..."
The tears that fell down Race's cheeks were for a mix of things. How miserable he felt, how the terror of never making it home was somehow just fully hitting him, and how relieved he was to have his brother's arms around him in that moment. "Jack?" he croaked out, closing his eyes and letting out a pitiful cough as he tried to maneuver himself even further into the man's embrace. Jack only hummed in response. Race could hear the tremor in his voice. The guilt would never fully leave him. "I'm sorry... bout this mornin'... I... I love ya..."
David whole heart was breaking again as he watched the scene. For a long moment, Jack didn't say anything, just sitting there holding the boy securely in his arms. But when Jack finally spoke, his voice was so quiet, David barely caught the small, "I love you so much, Tyler..." before another kiss to the back of the boy's head was given.
It wasn't too much longer before they were getting ready to try and break the fever. Jack managed to get Race's jeans off, leaving the kid in his boxers as he gently carried him into the bathroom. The boy tried to resist, but he was too weak to fight them as he was lowered down into the tub.
"It's okay, Racer..." Jack assured lightly, scooping up some water to run it through the boy's hair. Race didn't really relax into the liquid. He looked tense and scared and all Jack could see was that little boy who went to bed when he was thirteen and didn't wake up for two days. The kid could get sick. Too sick.
Race had ended up staying in a hospital for over a week. Jack had barely been eighteen at the time. The very thought still scared him to this day.
Time slowed down as Jack did everything he could to keep his brother calm and relaxed. He carefully washed his hair and face and made sure he wasn't about to pass out and slip beneath the water. The kid was only growing more and more tired by the second.
When David was sure Race was too out of it to hear him, he nodded towards Jack. "What happened this mornin'? You guys fightin' again?" He couldn't help that he was nosy and curious, even more so now that he was exhausted.
Jack just shrugged. "It started out about somethin' stupid, like cleanin' his room 'er somethin'..." he sighed, running a gentle hand through Race's curls again before stopping to check the kid's forehead again. "Ended with him stormin' out sayin' he hated me... ya know... teenage stuff..." And that's what it was. Race didn't know what he was saying. His brain still wasn't fully developed. But it still hurt to hear.
With a small shake of his head and a roll of his eyes, David stood from the ground. "Well, I can confidently say that that's not true. The second I found him the only person he was callin' for was you..." he stated, his voice small and tired.
Despite the situation, Jack allowed himself a small smile. "Thank you for finding him..." he said again, just watching the kid for a moment, taking in the fact that he wasn't bleeding or hurt from the maniacs outside. "I don't know what I woulda done if-"
"You don't gotta know, Jack," David interrupted quickly, causing Jack to look up. He could see the tears in his eyes. He was terrified of losing his brothers. He'd come so close too many times. "He's okay..."
With a nod of acceptance, Jack turned back to his brother, watching the boy's head lull to the side. A groan escaped him as his tired blue eyes blinked open and, unfocused as they were, searched around for his big brother. "Jackie?"
Jack payed no mind to David when he walked behind him. He leaned towards the boy. "What, baby?" he asked quietly, glancing up when Davey handed him a towel. He took it gratefully.
"I feel achy..." Race squeaked out. His voice still sounded like his vocal chords had been put through the shredder.
A small laugh escaped Jack as he placed his hand over his baby brother's forehead again. It wasn't normal yet, but it was definitely better than it had been. "I'll bet, kiddo..."
Gently, he reached into the tub and lifted the kid out of the cool water. They weren't aware that it had been an hour at this point. Jack tenderly wrapped up his boy in the towel. He ran it over the kid's face and hair, smiling when Race opened his squirmed under the soft thing. "Can I sleep now?" Race asked, falling forward until his hit Jack's chest.
Jack laughed. Race was getting better. He was going to be okay. "Yeah, kid. You can sleep... I got you..."
He did. Nothing bad was going to happen. The danger was outside. Jack wasn't going to let it inside. Nothing bad could get him.
It would all be okay.
The power didn't come back that night. Jack held Race tighter every time he heard someone shouting. He heard fireworks raging outside. He prayed to everything Crutchie was safe, that Albert and Spot were there taking care of him.
But all he could do at that moment was sit there, holding his sick brother in his arms, grateful more than ever before for David who lay beside them in his own bed. All he could do was stare out that window and enjoy the fireworks