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it's better if you win

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I.

“No, we’re not having French toast for breakfast.”

Jack groans, throwing an arm over his eyes and falling back onto their shared bed in what’s probably supposed to be a dramatic gesture of defeat. “But it’s French . For God’s sake, Rhys, I’m just tryn’a be the a romantic over here, go ahead and ignore my efforts. Go on, it’s so nice to wake up to.”

Rhys scoffs. “We had that yesterday, your highness.” Absently, he notes to stop using the nickname— it goes to Jack’s head instead of bringing him down a peg, like it’s supposed to. Damn the man for having an unwavering confidence. “ I want pancakes. Variety is an important part of life and you should stop fearing change.”

This time, Jack is the one to scoff, though it breaks off into a bark of laughter. “Oh, c’mon, two mornings in a row won’t kill you. Rhysie. Babe. Come on. ” No ‘please’ is given, because Jack never says please and it’s one of the things Rhys has gotten used to by now. When Rhys ignores him in his hunt for clothes so casually strewn over the floor from last night, Jack has to lift himself up in a rustle of sheets and roll his eyes. That is, until Rhys bends to pick up one of his favorite shirts, worn with use. Then , Jack lets out an appreciative whistle.

A bundled ball of fabric smacks him in the face, and he recognizes it as his own shirt. He laughs, straight from his belly, and Rhys grins in return, and maybe he can give up French toast for one morning if he gets to see that first thing in the morning.

“Alright, pumpkin. But I’m making them. You make a goddamn mess.”

Rhys doesn’t bother trying to argue, just whisks over to kiss him once on the cheek. He’ll take a victory wherever he can.

 

II.

As the wind billows into through the open windows from Jack’s apparently superior driving, Rhys finds himself wanting to kiss whoever invented hair gel. Sure, a few errant strands are still bouncing over his head, but he looks damn fine, given the circumstances. Hopefully Jack doesn’t see him wink in the side mirror.

They’re on a road trip— or, so Jack calls it. Really, they’re just trying to find that one place with the great deep dish pizza. For once, they didn’t have to fight over where to get dinner, because both of them feel like stuffing their disgusting faces with slices of greasy pepperoni goodness. Well, at least that’s how Rhys sees it. He reaches over to turn up the music, hoping to hear it over the roar of the wind.

“Don’t you dare, cupcake.”

Rhys freezes, crooking an eyebrow over where Jack is still staring at the road ahead. In a glance, their eyes meet, and Jack lifts his chin and shakes his head. “No touching the radio, babe. I’m driving.”

Oh, so that’s how it’s going to be. “What if I want to actually hear the music?” Rhys asks, tone dripping with sweet intentions.

“Then tell me and I'll adjust. You’re not touching it.” On cue, Jack reaches over to turn up what… actually is a terrible song. Yet his head keeps bobbing with the beat, and Rhys finds himself stifling a snicker with his flesh hand.

Leave it to Jack to be stupidly protective over a car radio. Still, it sparks a bit of rebellion in Rhys, and he grins as a familiar whirring fills his head and his ECHOeye focuses on the radio itself.

When the station switches to something more up his alley, Jack sighs, defeated and playful. “Goddammit, Rhys.”

 

III.

“I’m not going.”

Jack. ” Rhys has long lost the nice boyfriend tone, crossing his arms over his chest. When the man in question starts hacking from the bed again, though, he rushes over and urges a bottle of water into his hands. “You’ve been like this for two days now, and it’s not getting better.”

“What are you talking about, princess?” Jack asks, opening rheumy eyes and flashing his trademark grin. “I’m feeling better already. Must have an angel on my side.”

Rhys rolls his eyes. “I’m taking you to the doctor.”

No.

“And why not?”

Jack growls, closes his eyes. “I’m fine , Rhys. Leave it alo-” he breaks off into another coughing fit, and Rhys would applaud the spectacular timing if he didn’t hear the wet rattle in the older man’s chest.

Jack doesn’t get sick often, but when he does? He gets sick . Stuck in bed, sweating and miserable, whining and groaning, sick . And he never wants to go to the doctor, saying he’ll get better in a few days. Every time, every goddamn time…

“Jack…” The warning tone in Rhys’s voice garners any attention it can get, and he realizes the cool cloth he has in his hand has been twisted, leaking water onto the floor. “We have a company to run. You can’t lay in bed for another week sick as a dog.” There, that’s his ace card. Jack would rather explode than see his pride and joy fall to shambles. He steps forward, drapes the cloth over his lover’s head and brushes the hair away, an act that seems at odds with the way he regards him. “You won’t get better until you get something for it.”

He leaves, and puts on his shoes, a jacket. As soon as he hears shuffling, he grins to himself, and when Jack’s voice echoes an Okay, Rhys, you win, he allows himself a pat on the back before he goes back in to collect the stubborn asshole of a man.

 

IV.

“What the hell am I supposed to do, Jack?”

Rhys.

“No, you don’t get to tell me heel like a damn dog. I’m not your pet. I’m not just some arm candy .”

And Jack knows it. God, he knows it. He regrets everything he said at the party, regrets ever making Rhys think he didn’t think of him as something more. But Jack’s too full of himself, too cocky. He can’t lose this easily, not when Rhys has had everything else.

“Then what are you still doing here?”

The door slamming shut echoes in his head for hours.

 

V.

It gets worse every day. Mornings are supposed to be spent with him reaching for that familiar warmth, breathing in the smell of sleep and Rhys. They’re supposed to start with breakfast, ties being tied together, groans about the hair product running out. No, instead it’s quiet every morning and the silence threatens to suffocate Jack until he really doesn’t even want to wake up anymore.

Every day goes back to the same old duties. He skips breakfast. He fills the other side of the bed with pillows that fail to replicate any real body heat. He stops caring about his appearance.

Who knows, maybe the stubble will get him out of the rut.

~

Vaughn keeps telling him to eat. He can’t make himself go near the frozen pancakes they have, and any mention of French toast puts him into a stupor of sullen silences and prolonged stares at the wall. He eats if only to make his bro happy, then returns to the couch he’s taken over. The pillows are a bit stiff, and his legs dangle over the edge, but it’s alright because he belongs here , not hanging off of someone like they hang the stars with their own hands.

Still, he misses it. He misses it a lot. But when he gets the call, he ignores it.

 

+I.

The nerd, God bless his soul, picks up after the third call. He’s mad, Jack can hear it, but he also softens his tone when he hears the croak of Jack’s voice, and there’s a shuffling noise, the sound of a door shutting.

“You didn’t mean any of that.” he says, and it sounds more like an accusation than a question. “No way in hell. He isn’t a toy.”

Jack feels a tense breath leave, and he nods. It takes a moment for him to realize the guy can’t see him. “No. None of it, never have and never will.” A pause. “Please, help me.”

Vince— no, Vaughn— sighs, and he sounds more exasperated than anything. His tone is low, as if he’s afraid someone will hear. “Yeah, he’s here. Barely leaves the couch. For the love of God, you two need to fix this or I’m hiring a hitman on both of your asses.”

Jack would have snorted at the audacity, but the fact that Vaughn, who was always so intimidated by him, can actually bring himself to threaten anything of the sort has him stunned into silence.

~

Vaughn left on a grocery run, and Rhys is left to hold down the fort. That’s fine, no one ever shows up for him. Yvette always drops by when Vaughn’s around, too, so they can tag-team in comforting him. So, he turns on some mindless thing on the TV and curls his knees to his chest.

Knock knock knock.

He thinks it’s the show, but when he focuses on what’s actually happening, he realizes no one on the screen is near a door.

Knock. Knock.

He groans, legs stretching out before he precariously stands and moves to the door.

Knockknockknockknock.

“I’m coming ,” he grumbles, rubbing at his eyes and running a hand through his hair with a growl. Maybe he should have taken Vaughn’s advice about a shower. Oh well.

When he opens the door, breath leaves him in a rush because hey, Jack doesn’t look all that fantastic either. They both have gross hair sticking in odd angles from their head, their eyes are bagged and honestly a little bit nervous, and they— well, Jack — have stubble growing. Rhys finds himself just staring, regretting the choice of the same stupid pajamas he’s been wallowing in for ages, but Jack’s sweatpants and shitty old sweater make him feel a bit better about it.

“Hi,” he manages.

“Hi yourself.”

~

He looks like home , and Jack finally knows why the house was dim without him.

~

“Did you mean it?”

“No. I’m sorry, I never— never meant it. I was being stubborn, don’t… Don’t ever think that, okay?”

The small voice doesn’t fit the large man, but Rhys can barely find it in himself to care because at least he gets to hear him again.

~

When Vaughn finally returns from an extended grocery run, he sees the couch tidied up, a note left on the counter. He smiles, shoots a text off to Rhys, and settles down to catch up on the episodes he’s missed since Rhys conquered his couch.

Whatever. It's what friends are for.