When Jack had left the house to go running, the skies had threatened rain. Half an hour later, when he’d neared the turning point of his route, they’d made good on their threat.
Jack didn’t care much. The first heavy drops were a welcome refreshment. A cool wash over his hot skin and a means to clear all but the most determined runners out of his path. Even when the forecast shower turned to strong, steady rain, he didn’t seek shelter. He didn’t rust, and after Aidan’s call he welcomed the time and space to order his thoughts.
The courts had decided in their favour, had made Daniel and Nico his and Gareth’s. It didn’t change the way he felt about the two boys, but it would change their lives. Instead of the odd day and most weekends, Daniel and Nico would live with him and Gareth all the time. They would have breakfast in the morning and dinner at night. They’d argue and make up, go running and watch movies. They would be… normal. A family. Jack had looked forward to this since the day he’d sat in Aidan’s office filling forms.
The timing couldn’t have been better. Nico was turning fifteen the following day. Jack was taking him book shopping while Gareth and Daniel prepared the afternoon barbecue party. Everyone who’d been a part of Nico’s and Daniel’s rescue would be there. It was the perfect time to share their news.
Jack imagined it as he ran. The smiles, the cheers, and Daniel’s and Nico’s bright faces. The way the two would immediately start to make plans to move. How they would argue over what to take first as if they didn’t have three sets of everything already in place. Most of all, though, he imagined Gareth. He would stand beside the grill, with Aidan by his side and a glass of wine in his hand, and he’d have that look on his face. The one Jack loved. The one that said he had everything he ever wanted.
By the time he got back to Richmond, Jack was squishing with every step he took. He smiled at the sight of the Range Rover in the driveway, glad that Gareth was home, and jogged around the side of the house to the back door that led to the kitchen. Given the state he was in, there was no need to track water all over Gareth’s wood floors. He kicked his sodden shoes off and stripped while standing on the doormat. All the way down to skin, since he didn’t have a dry stitch of cloth on his body anyway.
“Jack?” Gareth’s voice came from the hallway.
Jack threw his wet gear, shoes and all, into the washing machine. He grabbed a dish towel from the counter to wipe over his dripping face and hair and got most of the water out in two passes. A reminder, if one was needed, that the unplanned buzz cut had its uses.
Jack added the towel to his wet clothes and started the machine as Gareth stepped into the kitchen. He had been home barely long enough to shed his suit jacket and tie and start on his cuffs. Jack liked the dishevelled look. He appreciated that perfect V that was Gareth’s torso, and the look of his muscular forearms. The fitted shirt made him just that bit more delectable. And reminded Jack that his delight was rather transparent given his current state of dress.
“Did you swim home?”
Gareth sounded amused, though the glance he ran over Jack’s form was anything but. Then he caught sight of the pink lines marring Jack’s chest and his jaw clenched with familiar anger. Which really wasn’t the reaction Jack had been gunning for. “This hairstyle could grow on me,” he said to break the sudden tension.
“I hate it,” Gareth came across the room. “As much as I hate seeing these.” He reached to trace the healing cuts and Jack batted his hand away.
“Oh, leave off. Tell me instead that you had no unexpected phone calls this afternoon.”
Gareth’s brows creased in confusion. “I had no unexpected phone calls this afternoon?”
“Good. I wanted to be the one to tell you.”
“Tell me what?”
“We’re adoptive parents.”
Gareth stared. “We are?”
“Yep. Aidan has a paper that says so. And before you ask, I didn’t ride over to see it for myself. Aidan was ratty enough when I spoke to him.” The barrister rarely was anything else these days. He was busy throwing the book at the men who had roughed Jack up. And the shelves right after, if the rumours were true. Jack considered it a waste of time and effort. The case would never go to court, not with the service involved. The men would be dealt with and there was no need for Aidan to spend brains or time on it. He did it because he was mad at Alex, of course, and given half a chance Gareth joined right in.
Jack couldn’t care less. He’d made his peace with the whole mess three days after it had happened. And he had no intention to pick over the rotting corpse of something that had been little more than a misunderstanding.
“Let me go and shower,” he said instead. “Then we can celebrate.”
“You want me to run over to Kingston and grab Nico and Daniel?”
“Nope. I think this last night should be just ours. Last night of freedom.”
“Since the courts have already decided, that’s an illusion.”
“I realise that. Humour me.”
Gareth had the look that said he was considering what he had in the kitchen, not realising that Jack was a long way ahead of him. He took Gareth’s shoulders, turned the man around and pointed to a couple of covered dishes on the counter.
“See that?” he said. “I know how to find stuff in that cavern you call a freezer. And I’m organised.” He had picked his favourite, of course. Venison pie, dusted with cinnamon and allspice and filled with morello cherries. Once baked, it would smell like heaven and ooze the most delicious gravy. “And I’m thinking colcannon to go with the pie. There’s cabbage, I’ve looked.”
“You do have it covered. Go shower, I take care of dinner.”
Gareth followed him upstairs, but only to swap his suit for jeans and a jumper. Jack stretched and showered and then hesitated about clothing choices. His muscles were loose and soft after his run. The house was warm, and it was well past time that Gareth stopped getting angry every time he caught sight of Jack’s chest. Jack grabbed socks and jogging bottoms and went downstairs to dinner, shirtless.
ooO xXx Ooo
With his head back, his eyes closed and the firelight dancing flickering shadows over his skin Jack looked incredible. He looked also rather pissed, and Gareth couldn’t blame him. Jack had wanted one evening just for the two of them, to celebrate. Gareth was ruining the mood.
He couldn’t help it. He’d grown used to Jack’s tattoo teasing him through whippy lengths of hair. It irritated him to see it stark black on Jack’s temple. If nothing else, it was a reminder of failure. His failure. Catching a glimpse of the healing cuts on Jack’s skin was worse. He’d been the one harping on about trusting those around them. And Jack had paid the price for listening to him.
Jack’s toes nudged his side. “I never had you down as the do as I say, don’t do as I do kind,” he observed.
“You heard me. All that stuff you were spouting last Christmas, about endings being new beginnings? I actually thought that was genuine. That you believed what you told me.”
“I do believe that.”
“Yeah? Then act like it. Stop getting wound up by something that’s done and focus on what’s next.”
Gareth reached for Jack’s hand and laced their fingers together. “It’s not that easy.”
“It is.” Jack tilted his head as if it didn’t matter, but Gareth wasn’t fooled. He knew stubborn when he saw it. “If this is anyone’s fight, it’s mine,” Jack continued. “And Alex and I have made our peace. I don’t need you to glare daggers at her on my behalf. She did what she thought she had to. So did I. The end.”
Jack’s thumb rubbed gentle circles on his wrist. The movement was soothing and hypnotic and Gareth relaxed. And listened.
“We all have things we care about. I do understand that, Gareth. And you’re protective as hell. It’s fun to watch you stalk the office trying to make changes by glaring them to death, you know? Doesn’t mean it will happen.”
Put like this, he sounded like a certified nutcase. He didn’t like it. “I just believe that I can change things if I try hard enough,” he defended himself.
“Of course you do,” Jack agreed. “And of course you can. But unless you have some superpower you’ve not mentioned, even you cannot change the past.”
“I only wish I could.”
“I don’t,” Jack said, surprising him.
Gareth sat up. Jack stayed where he was, relaxed and loose, half-full wineglass balanced on his belly. “You wouldn’t want to change your past?”
“No. It’s done. Over. New beginnings, remember? I know what’s important now. And it isn’t raging at Alex or being pissed off by Mason. I’m making a new life – as you suggested I do. It’s more fun than I ever thought and I want to spend it appreciating the things I have. Not riling about stuff I don’t.”
Jack tugged on his fingers and when Gareth turned his gaze to him, Jack’s look took his breath away.
“Breathe,” Jack instructed and the smile changed to a smirk. “And don’t break that wineglass. We only have four of those left.”
Not to mention the resulting mess of breaking a half-full glass. Or the hassle of getting wine stains out of carpet and upholstery. Gareth looked around his living room, at the stacks of books next to Nico’s favourite armchair and at the cookery book bristling with Post It’s on the windowsill. He remembered Daniel berating Jack for spilling coffee and Nico using crushed cornflakes and peppercorns to make a map on the coffee table. And he looked at Jack, stretched out on the sofa as if he belonged there.
Something intensely happy bubbled up from deep in his chest. His earlier ire and the frustration of the last two weeks seemed suddenly pointless. A waste of time they could spend far better. “I don’t wanna say it, brat, but you’re right and I’m an idiot.”
Jack’s smile was blinding. “You’re a goof, Flynn. And I love you. Now drop the attitude and get over here. We have wine and a fire and something to celebrate.”