This Jack and Gareth short is set between House Hunt and Swings & Roundabouts.
Jack snuffled in his sleep and burrowed deeper into the sheets. He’d flung his left arm across Gareth’s waist and his right arm hugged the pillow his head rested on. Gareth wondered whether it would be worth risking a black eye to tell Jack he looked adorable when he did that.
Gareth couldn’t remember the last time he’d had trouble sleeping. Being up all night, or coming to bed a smidgen before the alarm went off was Jack’s MO, not his. The many years Gareth had spent in uniform had taught him to sleep whenever, wherever, and irrespective of his state of mind.
Becoming an adoptive parent to two troubled teenage boys was clearly an event even his training couldn’t cope with, because here he was, wide awake at 4am, watching Jack sleep.
The world as he knew it, turned on its head. Not too different from what had happed the previous evening, come to think of it. Jack had planned dinner, when food was usually Gareth’s domain. Then Jack had read him the riot act – in principle, if not in so many words – and they’d made love like they’d never touched before.
The memory of their night still sang through his veins and Gareth was certain it would take a long time to fade. It hadn’t been need, or lust, or want that had driven them. If he had to describe it, he’d say their joining was an extraordinary mix of togetherness and wanting to be closer still.
And he totally blamed that level of sap on his lack of sleep.
When Jack rolled over with a sleepy grumble at something or other, Gareth took the chance to slide out of bed. He stood still for a few long moments, but Jack settled again without waking. So different from the hyper-alert teenager Gareth had met all those years ago. They used to call him Blades, those first few months, until they’d all gotten each other’s measure. Never without a blade, the story had gone, and then a handful more for backup. Jack hadn’t slept much, either. Not in their allocated quarters, at any rate. Roofs, trees, the garrison’s stadium, a tiny island in the middle of a river, once – Gareth had kept a running total of the weird places where Jack Horwood could sleep when a decent bed in the barracks wouldn’t do. He’d felt like an idiot when he’d finally worked it out.
Defensible positions. All of them.
Jack only slept when he felt safe. When he didn’t he napped, weapons close to hand and senses on alert. And he’d never felt safe around strangers.
Gareth swallowed past the lump in his throat. Here Jack was, not stirring when Gareth got out of bed and moved around the room. Gareth had never appreciated quite how much Jack had changed. Or how much this simple sign of trust meant to him. When Daniel and Nico stayed over, Jack slept lightly. He woke at even the smallest sound, prepared to deal with nightmares and panic attacks. But maybe that wasn’t the whole of the story. Maybe… Gareth shook his head, grabbed some clothes and headed downstairs.
He didn’t deal in fanciful notions.
~ oOo ~
His kitchen was a peaceful haven. Warm and comforting on a normal day, now it was downright soothing. Gareth poured boiling water over fragrant tea leaves and allowed himself a moment to simply stand, breathing the steam rising from the pot.
Jack was asleep upstairs, and this afternoon, they’d be welcoming guests. They’d planned Nico’s birthday as a barbecue party and there would be a mountain of food to go around. Didn’t mean he couldn’t add a few favourites. In fact, baking would be just the thing to take his mind off the fact that he and Jack were now parents, jointly responsible for two teenage boys.
There’d never been a dream – alcohol-fuelled or otherwise – in which he’d imagined that.
But it was a shoe with a surprisingly comfortable fit, if he ignored the odd banana skins his mind put in his path.
Determined to keep a lid on the wayward thoughts he headed into the pantry. When he returned to the centre island – hands full of flour, eggs, and spices – he’d almost convinced himself that it was a day like any other.
~ oOo ~
“Flynn? What are you up to?” The clock showed half past six in the morning and Jack had appeared in the kitchen doorway looking like a confused wraith. His eyes were huge as he took in Gareth’s industry and a tiny frown started to creep across his brow. It looked as adorable as Jack asleep, and if Gareth’s hands hadn’t been covered in flour, he’d have taken the three or four steps to the doorway and wrapped Jack in a hug. Which wouldn’t have gotten him out of answering Jack’s questions, but…
“What’s it look like?” Gareth pointed at the lemons and oats on the counter. “I’m making lemon drizzle flapjacks. They’re Nico’s favourites.”
“Hm.” Jack didn’t move from the door. “Doesn’t explain the house smelling of so much cinnamon, my stomach thought it’s Christmas and woke me.”
“I made apple and cinnamon cake.”
“Daniel’s favourite,” Jack nodded as if he understood something Gareth hadn’t even said.
“And cinnamon shortbread.”
“Which is mine.” Jack didn’t say anything else. He stalked into the kitchen with slow, purposeful steps until he spotted the tray of shortbread cooling in a corner. Gareth watched him warily, but Jack only picked a shortbread finger from the tray and headed for the coffeemaker. He’d be brewing mocha to go with the shortbread, Gareth knew.
Jack nibbled his shortbread while the coffee brewed, then went back for another piece. Gareth didn’t mention the second tray of cinnamon shortbread baking in the oven along with Daniel’s apple cake. He concentrated on the flapjacks he was making and left Jack to enjoy his coffee in silence.
It was fun to watch the coffee do its work. Half the shortbread had disappeared and most of a pot of coffee had accompanied it, when Jack’s sudden grin, bright and blinding, lit the kitchen.
“Nervous,” he chuckled and there was wonder in his voice. “You’re fucking nervous, Flynn. Like a cat on ice.”
Gareth lifted a hand to rub his neck, remembered their state at the last moment and grabbed for a dishcloth. “And what would you know about the fears of cats, brat?” He asked it half-heartedly, because Jack was right. He was nervous, and it was time he admitted it. “I’m not sure why I feel like… this. We’ve had the two for a year now. Not much is going to change.”
He turned back to his bowl and jumped when Jack threaded his arms around his waist and pulled him back. “Second thoughts?”
Gareth turned quickly. “Gods, no! More like… wondering whether… oh, fuck it, I have no idea! I’m so buzzed by the news I couldn’t sleep and every so often it feels as if someone’s hitting me over the head with a four by four.”
Jack’s face split into a delighted smile. “That’s apt,” he nodded. “I was blithely arranging schedules yesterday after Aidan’s call and suddenly I had to sit down because I was shaking like a leaf.”
“You too, eh? But no second thoughts?”
“Definitely not. Though it’ll take me a while to wrap my head around the fact that I now have a family. In the abstract, that is. On the ground, I’ve always known it. The four of us, we’re a team.”
Jack had hit the nail on the head, Gareth realised. He ditched the dish cloth and pulled Jack in for a kiss so intense it curled his toes. Living together as a family would change how things ran around here. Gareth only hoped that hugs in the kitchen wouldn’t fall by the wayside. And to hell with anyone who thought that made him a sap.