After the coffee shop, Eric doesn’t ask again about why Jack works for the bad guys or if he ever gets tired of being evil. He doesn’t ask about Rachel or why Jack never called. When the dance is over they just sit in Eric’s modest apartment slumped on the incredibly comfy couch, watch TV, eat bad food, and live in a timeless bubble where nothing bad ever happened.
It drives Jack up a wall.
“Why aren’t you asking?” He means to sound curious but it comes out harsh; his brain imagines him reeling the words back into his mouth with a fishing line and trying again. Instead he sets his jaw and keeps his eyes on Eric’s face.
“Asking what?” Eric tosses popcorn towards his open mouth, most of the pieces falling over his shoulder or onto his shirt. He doesn’t even glance over when Jack turns away from the TV to face him, slinging an arm over the back of the couch to settle in for a serious conversation.
“Everything.” Jack plucks a stray piece of popcorn from Eric’s hair and eats it, thinking about how bad the salt will be sitting on Eric’s scalp.
“Pfffft,” Half chewed popcorn bits fly over and into the shared bowl that Eric has been hoarding on his stomach. “I don’t need to ask, I already told you I know.” Like it’s nothing, like none of it matters, like it isn’t eating away at Jack’s insides.
“You don’t though, Rachel can’t tell you everything, she doesn’t know what I think or how I’m doing, or, or how I feel!” It’s lame and they both know it, defensive and weak to claim someone you spent so long with doesn’t know how ruined you’ve been since things fell apart. Eric does turn his head at that, like Jack finally warrants his full attention.
“It doesn’t matter what she says. It’s me. I know.” Eric’s smiling at him with the same fond look of ‘duh, you idiot’ he always uses after saying something profound. He flicks popcorn into Jack’s face and Jack opens his mouth reflexively to catch some. Most of it misses. “Or I used to know.” Eric shrugs both his shoulders and popcorn rains into the endless abyss in-between the couch cushions. “But it’s okay. Even if I don’t know it all right now you’re back so I have time to learn again.” The smile doesn’t leave, still excited and hopeful as ever.
It hurts to look at. His heart actually physically hurts because he shut Eric out for a long time thinking it was better for him to not face the judgement of leaving a failed relationship and seeking solace in an evil corporation that pays him mountains of money. And yet, here they are, with no judgement to face. Eric just keeps wiping the slate clean and letting Jack’s missteps in both life and friendship roll off his back. They aren’t like the heavy weight Jack holds onto that drags him deeper into a pit of guilt and shame.
“Man, why do you always let me get away with this stuff?”
“You’re my best friend Jack, and while you’re usually a pretty smart guy you can do some really dumb stuff.” Eric plucks a piece of popcorn from the swoosh in Jack’s hair. “But so do I and you don’t hold it against me either,” he eats the hair popcorn and Jack fleetingly thinks about those monkeys that eat bugs off each other.
“The things you do aren’t mean, they don’t hurt people,” Jack runs a hand over his face. He’s just tired, exhausted really, and none of it has ever caught up ‘til now. Until he’s had a moment to stop throwing himself into work. Eric’s hand tugs at Jack’s wrist so his hand stops covering his face.
“Aw, stop that, you’re ruining that handsome thing you got going on.” Eric’s buttery-salted fingers push up the corners of Jack’s mouth. “Theeeeere it is!”
“Eric-” The fingers mash against Jack’s lips, sliding around haphazardly.
“Ah! Nope, nuh-uh. Shhhh.” Eric waits a second for Jack to try and continue but the fight’s gone out of Jack already. “Move in with me.”
“What?!” His lips drag over Eric’s finger tips and he’s frankly lucky none of the fingers end up in his nose.
“Whu-haat?!” He exaggeratedly mimics back at Jack. “Move. In. Wiiiiiith meeeee,” Eric uses his other hand to point at the apartment with a scooping motion then draw a circle around his face. “It’ll be like old times! We could do this every night!” Jack nudges Eric’s hand away from his mouth so he can speak again.
“But I already have an apartment. And all my stuff.” That’s all Jack has as a reason really, another flimsy excuse.
“Put it in your room,” Eric waves to hall leading to what Jack assumed was one bedroom. Now there could be an entire mansion back there that Jack doesn’t know about.
“I have a lot of stuff.”
“I have a lot of room.”
On the surface it’s a conversation about the logistics of literal physical space. There’s layers here that Jack isn’t sure if Eric means- Jack means he has a lot of emotional baggage, Eric says he can take it, that there’s a lot of room in Eric’s heart. Eric’s probably thinking of literal space.
Jack thinks about coming home to someone else, maybe not someone waiting because Eric will probably have late work nights too, but someone to talk to at the end of the day. Having his best friend to talk to at the end of the day, the middle of the night, in the morning over breakfast, or anytime he needs him. This simple idea feels like the security blanket Jack’s been missing to help him sleep soundly at night.
“Yeah. Yeah, okay, I’ll move in.” He smiles because Eric is grinning and that’s infectious. Eric throws an arm over Jack’s shoulder and pulls him in snug, smashing his face on a bunch of popcorn that’s collected in Eric’s shirt folds.
“This is gonna be awesome!”
It is awesome. Jack feels like when he looks in the mirror he doesn’t look as gaunt and ghostly, just refreshed and alive. He moves into the second bedroom, they share a bathroom like when they had their old apartment, and Jack’s stuff gets mixed into Eric’s in the living room, hallways and kitchen. It’s not exactly like old times but its close enough that they just fall back into old routines… and find new ones.
It happens one morning on some average day of the endless work week. Jack’s mostly dressed in his crisp white business shirt and fancy business pants, tie loosely draped around his neck as he brushes his teeth. Like every morning, Eric comes shuffling into the bathroom yawning wide and loud, scratching his belly through a worn t-shirt, thin flannel pants snug around his hips. He stops after he passes behind Jack and stretches. Jack catches Eric sleepily looking at him in the mirror.
“Wha? Isf mah sfhirt sftain’d?” He talks around his toothbrush, straightening up and searching for an errant mark on his shirt sleeve.
Eric pushes at him and Jack moves because there’s no reason not to. He barely has enough time to take the toothbrush from his mouth as Eric lays both warm hands on Jack’s cheeks and pulls their mouths together.
Sparks don’t fly, there’s no music or fireworks, Jack is more concerned that he’s going to swallow all the toothpaste foam in his mouth than much else. The kiss is just a thing that happens.
“You’re all minty,” Eric’s smiling at him, sleep-dopey, then returning to his routine of turning on the shower and playing with the water temperature.
“You wish you were this minty,” Jack says around a mouth full of foam, waving his toothbrush for emphasis. It doesn’t make sense but it doesn’t really have to. He scrubs at his teeth once more then rinses his mouth. Life goes on.
They don’t have a big talk, they don’t sit down and discuss if this has been years in the making. Nobody asks ‘is this because you’re lonely?’ or ‘don’t you think you can do better?’ Nothing changes.
Okay, some things change. They kiss kind of just whenever one of them wants to. It’s weird that it starts in the bathroom but it does.
Eric zombie shuffles in and lays across Jack’s back while he’s brushing his teeth, hanging on when Jack tries to tip him off.
“Nnnn, fiv’ mor’ minuusss,” Eric muffles into Jack’s chest once Jack has gotten to turn around, but he leans backwards over the sink so Eric doesn’t have to stand up straight.
“You have senatorial duties to attend to, Mr. Squirrels,” Jack smirks even though Eric can’t see it but Eric retaliates by tightening his hold around Jack’s waist where his arms have dropped. Jack tries to pinch at Eric’s hip but Eric expects it, dodging while lifting his face and scowling accusingly at Jack through the pillow creases on his face.
“I should have you excommunicated for cruelty to senatorial sleepiness,” Eric huffs and closes his eyes.
“Sure buddy, you do that,” Jack pats him on the back. Eric still doesn’t move, possibly falling asleep again as the angry tightness to his face starts to slack. It’s a little impulse that Jack gives into when he leans down and drops a kiss on Eric’s forehead. “C’mon, I gave you five more minutes, shower time.”
There’s that sleep-warm smile again as Eric relents and stands up, letting Jack go about his day.
It’s rare that Eric is up before him but it happens every once in a while. Jack is wiping the sleep from his eyes and squinting against the bathroom light when a wet, naked chested Eric smashes their lips together as he passes by in a rush. “Earlymeetingcanttalkgottagobye!” he leaves Jack in a swirl of shower steam with his brain sputtering to life.
Jack’s still moving slow, shaking his boxer briefs off one ankle before he steps in the shower, when he hears the wolf whistle from the door. He blearily glares over one shoulder at Eric, fully dressed now in his suit, hanging off the bathroom door frame at a jaunty angle.
“You got a cute butt, man.” The grin that lights up his face is too bright this early, like looking at the sun.
“’s perky, I like it,” Eric shrugs a shoulder.
“Go to work,” it’s the same long suffering tone of voice Jack has used with Eric for years.
“Oh god, Eric you are not calling me-” The front door slams with a finality that says Jack’s new nick name isn’t up for negotiation.
After the bathroom, the kissing impulse spills over into the night and Jack wonders if it happens because they’re tired and vulnerable.
He was working at the kitchen table and picking at a salad for dinner when he somehow fell asleep on the keyboard of his laptop. What wakes him isn’t the noise of the front door but the smell of delicious spaghetti sauce. Jack peeks one eye open and sees a big paper bag sitting on the table close by, open at the top filling the room with its good tidings. A hand lays gently on Jack’s back and strokes up and down followed by a wet smudge of a kiss to his temple.
“Jaaaaacccck, this is the spirit of carrots paaaaaassssst,” Eric sits within view, placing the silverware in his fist on the table with a soft clink. “Stop eating our ancestors and have a meatbaaaaaaalllllll,” the soft ghostly tone continues.
“The carrots past are the ancestors, I’m eating their descendants,” Jack tells him while sitting up and working a kink out of his neck.
“They’re carrots, they don’t care… Get it? They’re CARrots and they don’t CARe.” Eric wiggles his eyebrows but Jack rolls his eyes and pushes his laptop away before reaching for the take out bag. “Aw dude, your face, heh.”
“What about it?” Jack slaps a hand up to make sure he still has a nose before realizing how stupid that is and going back for the bag, playing it cool. “Too good looking for you?” He puts on his model face and aims it at Eric.
“You have keyboard face!” Eric’s laughing and sliding him a set of silverware. “I wish everyone still used typewriters, then it’d be extreme. You only have a mild case.” He reaches over and rubs Jack’s cheek to get rid of all the little square key marks. Jack could do something romantic like kiss Eric’s palm, or something silly like bite at it, but he just slides Eric’s food container over to him. If he leans into the touch as it leaves, well, that’s neither here nor there.
“I may have purchased an entire bodega pharmacy,” Jack confesses as he shuts the door with his foot and balances two big paper bags in his arms. He’s slightly winded but he would never admit to how fast he booked it from work, cleaned out the medicine aisle, or took the stairs two at a time. He sinks to his knees and places the bags on the coffee table before trying to figure out which end of the blanket burrito on the couch is Eric’s face. “You’re not dead yet, right? I didn’t buy all this crap for nothing?”
A groan from the other end of the couch answers so Jack knee walks over and tugs at the blankets.
“You might be dead. I may be speaking to your undead corpse. Eric? How ya feelin’?”
A pathetic cough comes out of Eric’s grim and scowling face. “Eric can’t come to the phone right now, this is Eric’s undead corpse, please leave a message afte—khckk,” he lets out a rattling coughing fit.
“Aw buddy,” Jack digs in the bags for cough syrup that will knock Eric out for the night. He pulls out wonton soup from the Chinese food place next to the bodega and starts thinking of ways to convince Eric to eat some.
“Tell my children,” two pathetic coughs for dramatic effect, “I love them.”
“The ladybugs invading our apartment don’t count as your children, sit up.” The blanket burrito has righted itself when Jack turns around with the soup container in one hand and a spoon in the other. Giant red puppy dog eyes peer out at him and the blanket is clasped under Eric’s chin so he’s pretty much nothing but a sad looking face. “I’m sure they know you love them anyway, though. Now eat some soup.”
Eric opens his mouth wide, still pouting. When Jack doesn’t move Eric coughs with purpose and opens his mouth again.
“No. Eric we are adult men, I am not feeding you like a baby bird. I refuse, this is ridiculous.”
So that’s how Jack ends up spoon feeding Eric soup and wondering where he would ever draw the line. Not at sharing soup from the same spoon either, apparently.
“Excuse you, those are my wontons,” Eric fluffs the blankets unhappily and nearly releases them from under his chin to reach out for his food. Jack, now sitting on the couch next to him, simply leans back and moves the soup away.
“Nope, you’re clearly too sick for whole food, I’ll just eat these delicious parts for you.” Jack drops another wonton in his mouth and side eyes Eric. He makes a big show of closing his eyes and humming at how fantastic solid food tastes. It’s unclear if it’s a raspberry that’s being blow at him or a terribly loud fart, but Jack’s immune to both so he just puts the soup down and twists the seal off the night time cough syrup. Eric’s tongue is hanging out when he looks back so that answers that question.
“ ’Mnot thaking thatsf,” he says around his tongue.
“Oh you are and you’re gonna like it.” The cap is full of cherry red sickly-sweet-sharp tasting medicine and the look Jack levels at Eric when he holds it out leaves no room for arguing. Eric wheezes dramatically and snakes out a hand to take the medicine with. He makes a face and pretend gags after it goes down, scrubbing at his mouth while Jack plucks the empty cap from his hand. “And you get to do this all over again if you wake up in the middle of the night coughing.”
“Worst nurse ever. You aren’t even wearing a v-neck so I can oogle your hot bod.” Eric’s fingers catch at the neck of Jack’s now wrinkled white collared shirt. At some point during soup feeding he relaxed enough about Eric not being at death’s door which meant loosening his tie, popping one button open on his shirt and rolling up the sleeves to his elbows.
“I’m keeping you from temptation, can’t have the headlines read ‘Senator Squirrels drowns in motor boating accident- Nurse’s cleavage just too deep!’” Jack uses his best news anchor voice making Eric wheeze out some laughter. The two fingers caught at the front of Jack’s shirt are shaken from their spot and clasp around the fluttering length of silk Jack calls a tie. The slight tug doesn’t draw Jack into the warmth of the blanket burrito but he can feel the heat escaping where Eric’s arm is coming out. It should be self-preservation instinct to dodge the incoming snot-nosed-red-eyed-plague-infested kiss but Jack’s never been smart when it comes to Eric.
“My hero,” Eric says as he leans back into the sofa, tie slipping out from his fingers, and there’s that soft fond look again that for years Jack has chalked up to just being Eric’s face. Something about Jack’s heart feels weird.
“You just want the last wonton,” Jack shakes his head as he fishes said wonton out and feeds it to a smug faced Eric.
Three days later Jack is the zombie-burrito on the couch and they replay the same night all over again with roles reserved. Eric makes a surprisingly good nurse.
It’s not that Jack was waiting up for Eric, he totally wasn’t. It’s Friday night, he lives here so he’s allowed to fall asleep in front of the TV.
At some point Eric had come home and changed because he was currently sitting with his feet on the coffee table in his pj’s instead of his suit. A blanket was thrown over his legs and most of Jack, whose toes were burrowed under Eric’s leg for warmth despite the heat trapped under the blanket.
“You missed the first part. And then the second part. This is like, the twelfth part,” and Eric’s not even exaggerating because it’s a Lord of The Rings marathon so it could be the twelfth part. In fact, somehow it’s so late the marathon looped back around to the end of the Fellowship where Frodo is out in the boat telling Sam he’s going alone. Sam splashes into the water with a ‘Of course you are, and I’m coming with you’. Jack sits up and readjusts the blanket while Sam appears to be in peril of drowning momentarily before Frodo fishes him out.
“I made a promise Mr. Frodo. A promise. ‘Don’t you leave him Samwise Gamgee’ and I don’t mean to, I don’t mean to,” Sam chokes out on screen around all that emotion. As Frodo and Sam hug it out Eric drops his arm over Jack’s shoulders so Jack slumps down to get comfortable under it.
“Which one of us is Sam and which one is Frodo?” Eric asks, after he clears his throat because who doesn’t get all teary at this scene, it’s why Jack took a sudden interest in the blanket configuration.
“I’m Sam, you’re Frodo,” Jack says without hesitation. Whenever you see best friends in movies or tv shows your brain just slots you and your best friend into their shoes. Sam follows Frodo everywhere and is the voice of reason, Jack knows how that feels even if he never promised any wise old man he’d take care of Eric. Mr. Feeny hadn’t ever said that, right?
“I’d never try to run away to Morrrrhhhhdoor without you,” Eric imitates the fancy way Aragorn says Mordor.
“God damn right you wouldn’t, you can’t even find your way to Times Square without me. And there are signs to help you get there!” Eric and the subway don’t mix well. There’re too many line colors and the directions get confusing, he’s accidently gotten on a train going the opposite way more than once.
“I feel like there would be at least one sign ‘This way to Mount Doom’ and it’d be pointing the wrong way because Sauron is a jerk,” Eric points out. Jack nods in agreement while he stifles a yawn. “You wanna go to bed? You were out hard when I got home, you didn’t even try to steal any of my pizza.”
“You got pizza without me?” Jack looks up at Eric accusingly and narrowly avoids sticking his nose right into the man’s armpit.
“Left overs in the fridge, relax Perky-Butt,” Eric ruffles his hair while Jack responds to the nick name by doing his best impression of a puffer fish. Eric laughs and pulls his arm back so he can use both hands to push the air out of Jack’s cheeks. There’s a weird disparity between how nice Eric’s hands feel on his face and the little farting noise that gets eeked out of Jack’s pursed lips. It’s weird but comfortable. ‘Domestic’ Jack’s brain chimes in.
Eric is still laughing when one hand curls around the side of Jack’s neck and tries to brush their lips together. It’s hard because he can’t stop smiling and Jack hadn’t wiped off his puckered up sour face yet. It’s unsatisfying, frankly.
Jack fixes his own face, lets the tension out of his lips and tries for a real kiss. Not a quick peck, not a forehead kiss, no one is deathly ill or has a mouth full of something. One real, solid kiss.
Eric's laugh calms into a closed mouth hum when Jack slides one hand to Eric’s wrist and one lays flat, centered on the soft pajama t-shirt Eric’s wearing, grounding them. This is happening, it’s still not fireworks or sparks or music, nothing clicks into place, the universe doesn’t suddenly feel right. This is just them now.
More, additional, extra, bonus them.
It’s late spring when Shawn and Katy get married in a beautiful small ceremony. Jack isn’t upset that Cory is the best man because it makes a lot more sense. It’s such a small ceremony they don’t have groomsmen so he and Eric sit in the front row on Shawn’s side and pretend to not cry.
At the reception later he congratulates Cory on his nice Best Man speech and they make small talk around the punch bowl.
“My brother your date to weddings now too?” Cory asks as they watch Eric spinning Maya and Riley on the dance floor before they all start doing a funky chicken move.
“He’s my date to everything now,” Jack smiles around the edge of his plastic cup. Cory doesn’t seem surprised or upset, Jack wonders if he has to make it clearer.
“You’re good for him, you know.” Jack is already shaking his head but Cory holds up a hand when he tries to deny it. “I know you think that because you and Rachel left him behind that makes you a bad friend, but you came back. That’s the important part. Eric needs someone to keep him tied to reality or he’ll float right back up to St. Upidtown and stay married to woodland creatures that may or may not exist. He lost himself when you weren’t around. I’m really glad he got you back.” Cory clasps a hand on Jack’s shoulder and Jack’s heart twists because he only ever thinks about how Eric fixes the broken parts of him, not the other way around.
“Thank you,” he chokes out since it’s hard to say anything else right now. Eric picks up Auggie, who takes on a Superman flying pose, and they go zooming around pretending to punch people.
“So how long until you two make it really official with one of these?” Cory waves at the fairy lights strung up, bundles of flowers on each table, everything covered in rented white linens. “When do I get another brother?” Cory lands a soft punch of his own on Jack’s shoulder and they both laugh.
“I don’t know, man,” Jack says, watching Farkle and Lucas fall dramatically after an Auggie punch and Eric yells ‘A two-fer, aw yeah!’ while Maya delicately steps on Lucas’s stomach and Riley frets over Farkle bumping his head on the ground. Eric would make a good dad, they’d all already seen it with Tommy. He’s supportive and proud, the right amount of zany and encouraging. The idiot-genius coming out at the right times to say the right bits of wisdom. Eric would make a good husband because he already makes a good best friend.
“Whenever he wants to I guess. I’m almost forty, I know I’ll be with him for the next century if there’s a ring on it or not and that’s the part I care about.” Jack shrugs and looks back at Cory who has his own version of the soft and fond look on.
That’s when a small fist bumps into Jack’s cheek. He sets his cup on the table before starting his own slow motion dramatic fall.
“WHA-CHOOM! POW! Super Auggie does it again!” Eric narrates and makes pretend crowd roaring noises while Auggie laughs. Cory plucks his son from Eric’s arms.
“I think it’s time for Super Auggie to get some cake after taking out all this evil, whaddaya say?”
“I think that sounds good,” Auggie nods and they whoosh away to the cake table.
Jack rolls onto his back and gives a small wave up at Eric as Eric finishes Jack’s drink.
“Super Auggie got you good, huh?”
“Yup, that’s why they call me Glass Jaw Jack Hunter, one hit and I’m out.” Eric drops the cup in the trash and lays stomach down on the floor next to Jack, grinning.
“That’s a real shame, I was looking forward to having a boxing match on the dance floor.” He sets his chin on his hand, raised up on his elbows and wistfully looking at the small group dancing.
“I think that could still be arranged. Just know that I’m really good at those holds where you can’t get away. You’re trapped and we shuffle around together until you give up.” Jack laces his fingers on his chest and tries not to think about all the crumbs and things on the floor he’s lying on.
“That’s okay, I have a secret weapon,” Eric dead pans like Jack doesn’t know what cheesy thing is coming next.
“Oh? Any hints?”
“I call it face boxing. I mouth punch you with my mouth. It’s very hard core, only masters of the art of face boxing can use it.” Eric explains causally and Jack tries to rein in his grin.
“That sounds very dangerous. Can I get a demonstration before we go out there and show all the guests this gruesome display?”
“I guess I could show you,” Eric wiggles over, pressing their sides together and braces one hand on the floor above Jack’s far shoulder. He hovers over Jack with a grin momentarily then ducks down for a kiss.
Jack thinks about how ridiculous they must look, for what must be over the millionth time in his life. Laying on the floor in nice suits, in front of the punch bowl table at a nice wedding reception, kissing. It’s not even in the top thousand most ridiculous things they’ve done. Not even by a long shot.
“You mouth punch like a grandmother,” Jack teases when Eric pulls away. Eric pinches Jack’s cheek in retaliation before sitting back on his heels and brushing off his suit. He extends a hand to Jack and they pulls themselves up with minimum snickering.
“When we get home we’ll have a proper gentleman’s face boxing match. Winner gets to pick whose bed we sleep in tonight.” Eric says and it’s important because Jack has a memory foam mattress but Eric has a Sleep Number that has two zones and each side can be inclined differently. They use it when Jack wants to stay up reading or when one of them is sick and the elevation helps.
The real Funky Chicken song comes on and Eric grabs Jack’s hand excitedly. “They’re playing our song!” He pulls Jack along to the middle of the dance floor and instead of face boxing they make hand chickens, clap, flap, and wiggle their butts at each other.
Jack knows that when the next slow song comes on they’ll sway around together like they’ve joked about for years. He knows that when they get home it doesn’t matter who wins because they’re still going to sleep in the same bed. He knows that in their ripe old age they’ll still get up to ridiculous, stupid things because Jack’s never been really smart when it comes to Eric.
He knows he has lost time to make up for but he has all the time in the world to do it now. Looking at Eric grinning and laughing and dancing like a chicken, he couldn’t be more thankful.