Jack hasn’t been self-conscious about his nakedness in more than thirty years, but when Gabriel starts locking him into bondage, he starts shaking.
Gabriel strokes his skin as he works, murmurs sweet nothings. “It’s okay. I’ve got you. It’s just us here.” Jack has always been a man who lived behind walls. He set them up at the behest of everyone around him, built them of discipline, professionalism and self-denial to contain one facade after another: son, soldier, weapon, Strike Commander. And when they all burned down, he locked his face behind a mask.
Now, Gabriel settles the posture collar into place, and Jack’s entire body clenches like he’s one movement away from coming apart. Gabriel stops moving and leans down to kiss him gently, because it might be true.
“I’m here,” he says again, brushing his lips over Jack’s cheekbone to the shell of his ear. “I have you. I won’t let you fall.”
The whimper Jack gives him should be pathetic, but it’s not. It’s the sound of real fear, of a man feeling the abyss gape under him. It’s a sound of need that snags into Gabriel’s heart and tugs. He lets it pull him, wraps himself around Jack until they’re as close to merging into one body as he can manage and presses their foreheads together.
“I won’t let you fall,” he swears. Jack curls into him, half-immobilized and trembling with the force of the things trying to claw out of him.
Gabriel knows about the kinds of walls Jack has. They’ve both trapped far worse things behind them than personas, over the years, and when they grow thin... Jack isn’t fragile, but he’s lived at the end of his rope for so long that if he’s anything like Gabriel--and he is, more than either of them like to admit--some days it has to feel like he might start screaming and never stop.
But if it comes to that, they’re both capable of so much worse things than screaming.
He kisses Jack and pets his hair and chest until the cutting edge of that terrible tension fades from his shoulders. Until the monsters in his mind have settled down enough to let him continue. Jack breathes slowly, so steadily he must be counting to himself, but every exhale shudders as Gabriel wraps Jack’s wrists in cuffs, fastens straps, tests chains. Every inch of skin he touches, he kisses. He can’t help it. This feels reverential. Jack is letting himself be stripped to his core with every moment he doesn’t fight or refuse, and Gabriel’s strayed a long damn way from the arms of the Holy Mother Church since his youth but if there is such a thing as the sacred, he’s standing in its presence now, in the vestibule of Jack’s bared soul.
When he shackles Jack’s cuffed wrists to the posture collar, he gives him no play in the chains. Two links keep his hands pulled up so close that his fingers brush his cheekbones. After a single tug to test his range of movement, Jack coils up with tension again. But it’s not the same this time. A blush stains his face and chest, and his eyes are squeezed shut in a way that Gabriel won’t deny, in the privacy of his own head, is just fucking endearing. It’s just as well that Jack’s eyes are closed, because if he could see the stupidly smitten smile on Gabriel’s face right now, he could say goodbye to his carefully cultivated aura of menace.
After a moment of wrestling down the worst of the sappiness, he reaches to brush his fingertips down Jack’s face and over his lips. “Look at me.” He hasn’t worked this hard just so Jack could take a nap in an awkward position. “Look at me, Jack.”
A shivery, liquor-like warmth rolls through Gabriel from the pit of his stomach outward to his limbs, and the delicate taste of desire settles at the back of his tongue. Jack has never been shy, but by god Gabriel can understand his hesitance now. He catches himself holding his breath as Jack’s eyelashes flutter and his eyes crack open. They aren’t the same people that they are outside this room. They’re no strangers to each other; they’ve met without walls or facades before. But each time, their eyes meet, just like this, and they both miss a breath as that old, secret connection trembles back into waking between them.
Jack looks up at him, helpless by choice, still a little uncertain, a little shaken but so trusting. Gabriel can feel his heart in his throat. “One day, cariño, I’ll show you how beautiful you are like this.”