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Midnight Clear

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The first Christmas was the coldest in fifteen years with no chance of snow, so Will was open to suggestion. He knew Jack was surprised at how easy he’d been to convince. It was strange spending the holidays away from his family, true, but he tossed sunscreen and coconut oil into his suitcase and promised he’d make it up to them next year.

As it turned out, he spent most of his time at his parents' house that time. Jack’s sister was in a bad car accident two days before Christmas while in the process of an unpleasant divorce, and he flew to Chicago to lend what moral support, as he put it, a self-professed man of low morals could offer. He didn’t ask Will to come, and Will didn’t resent it; he knew he’d only feel out of place and intrusive in. He sent a few packages for Jack’s nieces and called on Christmas Eve, spending an hour in the powder room instead of watching “A Christmas Story” with his teenage cousins, with the door carefully locked and Gran’s twin porcelain tortoises staring at him with glassy-eyed curiosity. Jack was back by New Year’s and blew off his own gala event in favor of poring over his favorite present from Will – a rare edition of the Kama Sutra.

By the third Christmas, things had changed. Will asked for one thing for Christmas. Jack promised it, then cancelled at the last minute and bought Will a yellow convertible, which sat in his massive driveway as Will walked the half-mile to a bus station.

“Gravy?” Rachel Turner asked her son, tilting the boat over his plate. Will shook his head and continued poking at his food, ignoring the concerned glance exchanged between his parents.

The heavy weight in the pit of his stomach had nothing to do with the meal he’d scarcely touched. Some small, vicious corner of his mind snickered at him, crowing that this was what he’d known would happen – what had been happening from the beginning. Elizabeth had often told him that he didn’t expect enough out of most people. From Jack, he was beginning to understand, he had expected far too much.

At least his mother was keeping his father’s questions at bay. Bill had always been keenly interested in his son’s happiness and, by extension, his love life. Although Will was accustomed to it after all these years, he’d been hesitant to supply any details about Jack beyond what Google would turn up, the Jack he’d thought he knew maybe better than anyone. On some level it had been satisfying to live in their own private world, but at the same time he was reluctant to introduce Jack to his family for fear that – well, that things would turn out exactly as they had.

It was the inevitability that was so depressing, he decided. If it had been a surprise, the break would’ve been cleaner.

The doorbell rang and Rachel frowned, checking her watch.

“Huh. This might be the first time in all the years we’ve known them that the Swanns have been early.” Bill chuckled and slid his chair back to let them in. Will hoped fervently that Elizabeth had stayed for dessert with James, because she would not be deterred by his silence and he didn’t want to have to feign heartbreak over the numbness, or listen to her rail against Jack Sparrow simply for being –

“Jack Sparrow,” exclaimed Bill from the foyer.

Will’s fork clattered on his plate. Rachel raised her eyebrows at him and waggled her head in the direction of the front door, but Will found himself unable to rise, unable to believe that Jack had actually remembered the address – or, more likely, gotten it from Elizabeth.

He recognized the unmistakable sound of his father’s palm slapping an unsuspecting back. “Will told us you couldn’t make it.”

“Yes, well, I figured if you can’t make or break plans on Christmas Eve, when can you do it?” Jack sounded like his usual charming, cheerful self, and this got to Will far more than his glib explanations and apologies from the morning. But that was Jack, slick to sincere in point-five seconds…and he was frankly exhausted from putting up with it.

Nevertheless, he had technically invited Jack here, even if that invitation had been turned down and subsequently revoked with some vehemence. He followed his mother to the door, where Jack stood nearly dwarfed by Bill, who was examining the label of a bottle of champagne. Jack smiled at Rachel and held out a bouquet dotted with miniature red roses and more white blossoms than Will could name. “Mrs. Turner, I’m sorry for being late; the roads aren’t quite –”

“You actually drove here yourself?” Will interrupted, so harshly that his mother shot him a look. Jack’s face wavered a bit, but the look in his eyes said he was prepared to take his lumps. Will had seen that look often, usually just before he gave in and let Jack talk him back into bed.

“Thank you…Jack,” said Rachel warmly, clearly debating whether she ought to call him Mr. Sparrow, and then shaking her head with a little laugh to defuse the awkwardness. “We just started dinner, and there’s plenty to go around – I’ll get you a plate.”

Bill beamed at his son and the elusive Sparrow, apparently not noticing Will’s grim face and stiff posture. “Here, let me take your coat, and I’ll just go let this chill.” Will leaned against the wall and kept his eyes on Jack as they passed.

Twisting his hands, Jack lifted a corner of his mouth and offered, “I made it after all.”

Will swallowed past a constriction in his throat. Jack had brought the scent of the cold in with him. His hair was tied back – it was just long enough now, after he’d cut it all off last spring – and he was wearing the dark crimson sweater that was one of the first gifts Will had ever bought him. It was faded and soft and had little fuzzballs at the elbows and cuffs, and Will couldn’t count the number of times he’d slid his hands under the hem and lifted it over Jack’s head.

“You did,” he said thickly, wishing he’d had more to eat, because he suddenly felt hollow.

Jack reached up to run his hand over his hair, a habit he’d picked up in the past few months, and rubbed the back of his neck instead. The hairs at the back of Will’s own neck prickled.

“I’m sorry,” said Jack in a low voice, taking a step toward him. Will made sure his shoulders were solidly braced. “I’m sorry I’m such a stupid asshole.”

“You are a stupid asshole,” Will whispered, biting his lip and looking down at his feet as Jack approached. “I was thinking of having it engraved on your Christmas present." It was a lie, for the pocket-watch already had an engraving – To Sam from your Victoria, 1937. His grandmother had given it to his grandfather, who had left it to Will eight years ago. It was the only gift meant for Jack which price Will had not worried over.

Jack’s lips were twitched into a full if nervous smile when Will looked up again. “I can always do with the reminder.” He took a deep breath and fumbled in his pocket for a folded slip of paper, which he handed to Will. “Here. It might not – might not be the right thing to give you, right now, but I’ve been carrying it around for weeks and it keeps getting put in the laundry.”

It was a torn-out ad from a newspaper and did indeed look like it had been through a few washing cycles. Will squinted, barely able to make out the phone number circled in green ink, and read the logo at the top – Everleigh and Son Moving Company.

This time Jack muttered a curse and pulled the tie from his hair so he could muss it. “Anamaria says her aunt had a whole boxful of china broken by U-Haul once, and I’ve heard a couple people say this one’s good – the offer on there says till February 15th but ignore that, you can call whenever. Or you know, not at all – I mean I want you to – that’s why I saved it – but if you don’t – oh Christ, Will, stop looking at me like that!”

Will blinked, wondering if he’d ever heard Jack quite so flustered. “I don’t understand. You want to…help me move?”

“Yeah,” said Jack, touching him for the first time, folding his fingers over the worn bit of newspaper. “To move in with me.” His words came out in a breathless rush.

Forethought was good. If he hadn’t been propped up against the wall, he thought he might’ve fallen over.

It was a ploy, the mean-spirited voice of doubt hissed. Jack thought this up to placate him and dangle him on a shorter leash, and would withdraw it once Will took him back – probably get Will to suggest it was a terrible idea…

But the date at the corner said November 17th, and those creases weren’t the work of a single afternoon.

“Will?” Jack’s hand squeezed his wrist gently and Will could feel his anxious gaze just as acutely.

“I’m thinking,” he replied, still staring at the ad.

“Of course – think it over as long as you need to, no pressure, I shouldn’t have brought it up tonight – the stupid asshole principle again –”

“I’m thinking,” Will broke in over his babbling, “about how much time we could spend in the closet before the chicken gets cold.”

Jack’s mouth dropped open, leaving Will minus one thing to do. The others – wrapping his arms around Jack’s waist, tucking his hands between well-loved sweater and warm skin, slipping a knee between Jack’s legs and stumbling backwards into the coat closet – he managed in record time, even though Jack was too dumbfounded by relief and gratitude to be much help.