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Anchored in Dust

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One night, Jack doesn’t get it up.

Gabriel’s been away on a mission for two weeks and, unlike previous times, they didn’t talk a lot during it. He gets home in the dead of the night, smelling like smoke and blood, but otherwise unharmed.

Jack has been waiting for him since he got Gabriel’s text letting him know that he was coming home after a brief stop at Blackwatch HQ. He sits on the middle of the bed, cross-legged and eager, freshly showered and dressed only in boxers. He’s dead tired since he spent most of the day and part of the night arguing with UN supervisors about Blackwatch’s most recent debriefings and irregularities. By the time Jack was done and able to go home, his head was pounding and his appetite had vanished completely, but his desire to see Gabriel had remained intact.

He’s home now and Gabriel’s here and Jack’s looking forward to spending time together. Jack hears footsteps by the hallway and soon enough, Gabriel’s standing at their bedroom’s doorstep, scruffy bearded and tired but smiling. “Hey,” Gabriel says.

“Hey, soldier.” Jack smiles crookedly, beckoning him closer with his fingers. Gabriel takes off his boots and crawls over the bed, snatching Jack forward into a messy kiss. Jack, in turn, loops his arms around Gabriel’s neck and pulls him on top of him. Pressed close as they are, he can feel how hard Gabriel already is, grinding against him as one of his hands clutches at Gabriel’s right bicep for purchase.

Immediately, Gabriel pulls away, grunting in pain. Jack flinches, moving into a sitting position. He tries to take a look at Gabriel’s arm before the stubborn fool hides it from him. The only bruise on him is a huge, dark spot covering most of his right arm.

“Are you hurt?” Jack asks, concerned. He tries to inspect Gabriel’s arm again, only to be met with annoyance. Frustrated, Jack finds himself going hot with anger. This isn’t the first time that Gabriel has come home with suspicious-looking bruises or pains and has refused to explain them or to let Jack look at them, hiding them with mistrust. It makes Jack, who has been patching up Gabriel’s wounds since they were young soldiers, increasingly alarmed. “Stop playing around and let me see that.”

“It’s nothing!” Gabriel snaps. “I pulled a muscle, that’s all. Stop mother henning me, Jack.”

“Well, if it’s ‘nothing’ then why won’t you stop being a kid and let me see?”

“I wanted to avoid this!” Gabriel groans. “You bombarding me with questions! Smothering me!”

Feeling guilty, Jack runs a hand through his hair, trying to swallow back his anger. “Right, okay. Fine.”

The room is too silent, gone cold with tension, too dark as they meet again for a hesitant kiss. Gabriel gets on top of him again, comfortably settling between Jack’s legs. They stay like that for a good while, kissing and grinding against each other, touching as much as they can, growing hot with want.

Gabriel’s finally getting in the mood again. Jack feels his skin getting warmer and slides a palm down his sweaty chest, sighing happily as Gabriel grabs his thighs and pushes Jack closer to him, pressing them flush together.

Jack throws his head back, still buzzing with leftover anxiety, trying to use the sensation of Gabriel’s soft skin against his as a way to ground himself to them, doing his best to try and forget the strained expression in Gabriel’s face when he touched his arm.

Until Gabriel stops touching Jack, taking a pause to glare at him. “You know, if you are still mad at me you should just have told me.”

“What?” Jack mumbles, lips swollen and hair messy, a few hickeys already littering his neck and chest. Gabriel looks at him in accusation.

“You’re not hard.”

“I’m, that’s not— ” Jack stares past Gabriel’s shoulder, heart pounding wildly in his chest, looking at the lights on the ceiling, brows lifting once he realizes that Gabriel is right. Hurriedly, he sits and tries to grab Gabriel’s wrist to stop him when he goes to sit at the edge of the bed to look for his boots and clothes.

“Gabe, wait, listen, let’s just— where are you going?”

“Blackwatch,” Gabriel sighs, shoulders hunched. “I’m sorry, Jack. I have work to do, anyway. And maybe we should try again tomorrow. I’m just too fucking exhausted.”

Jack watches as Gabriel puts on his boots and then slips on his dirty sweatshirt. He feels his back run cold. He’s lying to me, Jack thinks, with a sort of mad desperation that threatens to choke him.

When he looks again at the bottom of the bed, Gabriel is gone. Jack had spaced out for too long to notice him exiting the room. Shame is the first thing that he feels as his brain goes back online. Numbness, too. A strange mix that makes his eyes sting a little. Jack tells himself that his eyes are watering because he’s been using his contact lenses for too long. He’s not really sure what happened yet, and trying to understand it drives him mad. The longing he had felt while Gabriel has been away stays painfully lodged in his chest.

Slowly, Jack stares at Gabriel’s wrinkled, forgotten undershirt and puts it on for comfort before getting up and going to the bathroom. There, he stands in front of the sink and looks at himself in the mirror, taking it all in: the grey hairs on his temples, the dark spots under his eyes, the too prominent cheekbones. He runs a hand through his messy hair, nervous. Is it thinning? Isn’t he too young for that?

Inhaling through his nostrils, Jack closes his eyes and tries to even out his breathing, attempting to steer himself away from thoughts about his dreadful appearance.

Is Gabriel truly hiding something?

Shaking his head, Jack slaps himself softly. “Don’t be so fucking paranoid.” He glares at his reflection. “Everything is fine.”

Feeling calmer, he rests his forehead against the mirror and decides once again, to trust Gabriel, knowing that Gabriel trusts him back completely and probably only needs time. All is well, Jack thinks as he opens the bathroom cabinet to look for his meds. I’m just stressed. He allows his mind to wander towards happier things. Tomorrow, he’ll go get Gabriel. He’ll make them breakfast and drag him to the couch for video games and movies.

He smiles at his reflection, just for practice, pretending that Gabriel won’t be able to look straight through him and get mad at Jack for treating him as if he were some second-rate journalist.  The curve of his lips trembles a little and then falls, going back to his usual expression. He looks old. And tired.

Grabbing the little flask with his meds, he opens it to take one when he notices they’re all gone, vaguely remembering that the last time he saw Angela she wanted to up the dosage again.

Jack shrugs and goes back to bed.

 


 

Gabriel’s not at his office the next morning. Instead, he has left a note for Jack, letting him know he’ll be at Gibraltar for the rest of the weekend. Jack thanks Athena mechanically, waters Gabriel’s little cacti, spacing out for so long again that he accidentally ends up getting Gabriel’s desk wet. Good , he thinks, with the ounce of pettiness he manages to feel over the numbness that has taken over his brain this morning. That’ll teach him.

Briefly, he considers stopping by to see Angela before going back home. Pick up the results of his last medical checkup and go over the details of his meal plan and his new meds, like every three months. Rinse and repeat.

He doesn’t.

Jack goes home and puts the cold breakfast in the fridge and doesn’t eat it because he’s not hungry anymore. The whole place still smells like coffee and hot cakes, the smells making him a bit nauseous. Once he’s done tidying up, he goes for the blanket that Gabriel’s grandma knit him and curls up with it on the couch, turning the TV on and looking for something mindless to watch. He puts on Gabriel’s dad favorite show and smiles, thinking about texting his father-in-law to let him know it’s on. Then he feels silly because of course the man knows. He’s been watching this since he was a kid. He doesn’t need Jack to remind him.

He sinks into the couch’s cushions, wrapped up in his wool blanket. Everything around feels soft and Jack feels like he’s just chilling inside a cloud, or just floating in a sea of cotton. He vaguely registers the sounds and colors in the holo, half of his face hiding under the blanket. There are distant, important thoughts in the back of his head: he hasn’t eaten since yesterday, he’s out of medicine, he should grab Gabriel by the ear and ask him why the fuck is he working on a Saturday.

The sound of a door opening snaps him back to the present.

“Jack?”

“Ana!” Jack straightens, wincing at how raspy his voice sounds, the blanket falling off his shoulders. That’s when he realizes how dark it is and how light-headed he feels. “Hey! How are you… doing?” He asks, rubbing one of his eyes. He frowns when he feels wetness on his hand and swallows a burning feeling of shame as he discovers that there are tear tracks on his face that he wasn’t aware of.

Ana eyes him with something akin to pity and Jack feels anger coil at the bottom of his stomach, anger at feeling pitied and looked down upon. He feels as if Ana’s sad eyes were just drilling through his heart and calling him a poor, sad fool.

Then, he takes a deep breath, and wills himself into calmness. Because this is Ana, and Jack should never mistake Ana’s deep care and kindness for something as basic as pity.

“I wanted to know what you have been up to all day,” Ana says, a careful smile on her face. “It’s late now and I already had dinner, but I wanted to know if you wanted to do something together tomorrow.”

Jack blinks, staring at Ana’s gentle expression. His throat closes up with a strange feeling, and he holds back the urge to hide under the blanket. “Anything?”

“Sure?” Ana asks back, tone puzzled.

“Do you still have Fareeha’s old kite?”

 


 

When Jack was a kid, before his father died, he used to love flying kites. It’d help him clear his mind and ease his anxieties, helping him see things in a brighter, lighter way. After his father was gone, he traded flying kites for climbing trees. Climbing as high as he could, everywhere and everything, until a fall landed him on bed for a month and almost made his aunt have a stroke.

There’s something about climbing to a high place and looking down from it that makes Jack want to jump.

He doesn’t want to give Ana a stroke so, on Sunday morning, they fly kites at the roof of the Zurich base. Ana doesn’t ask questions and doesn’t fill the silence with useless chatter. She stands next to Jack quietly as they fly their kites, raising their eyes to look at them.

Jack pulls a little towards his body, gripping the anchor tightly, seeing the kite move around and an image comes to his mind: him as a kite, Gabriel as an anchor. After the Omnic Crisis, when they were still getting used to living in peace and Jack felt adrift, the only way he could fall asleep was if he was holding Gabriel’s hand. He doesn’t tell this to Ana, ashamed. It’s his biggest secret.

Seeing his vacant stare, Ana rests a hand on his shoulder, squeezing lightly. “We’re going to be okay.”

Jack looks at her, a small smile forming on his lips. “Yeah. We will.”

Maybe he’s lying to himself. Maybe he's a complete fool.

But Jack wants to cling to Gabriel with all he has and hope for the best.