Jack got arrested on Christmas Eve.
Peggy thought he'd been doing alright for himself, but then she hadn't seen much of him in recent weeks, had she? That evening, she was decorating her and Daniel's Christmas tree when the call came in from an unknown number. Jack had sounded combative on the phone once she picked up, snapping at her over a crackling connection, "Doesn't Sousa ever check his fucking messages?" without a preamble.
"Hello to you, too," Peggy answered dryly, setting the glass ornament she'd been trying to hang down on the table, frowning when she looked at the time, close to midnight.
"And Merry Christmas," Jack said with undeniable bitterness, and in the same breath, "Listen, can you come bail me out?"
Peggy was a cool head in the crisis, so she hadn't started to interrogate him over the phone, immediately switching to practical matters such as which detention center he was in and what else was required of her. Still, by the time she'd waded through the slush of a few inches of fresh snow and the subarctic temperatures, to a 24/7 cash stop to get a money order made out for the bail amount (all banks being closed for the holidays), then through the same welcoming weather to the doors of the station where Jack was being held, she was not at her most patient.
The one saving grace of the entire situation was that as a writer, Peggy looked to every new adventure as fodder for her next novel. In her admittedly eventful life she'd somehow managed to avoid bailing any friends out from a New York City jail, and this was a learning experience. After her brief conversation on the phone with Jack, she'd called the police station to find out the bond amount (five hundred dollars, but Jack had declared he was good for it, and he'd pay her back, not that money was her upper-most concern here) and the crime he was booked for: drunken disorderly and a violent altercation at a bar. He'd put some men in the hospital. When she first heard that, she was almost tempted to leave him in jail for the fifteen days his violation had incurred, but that had only been a brief, childish impulse.
She was mad at him.
There'd been a time when she thought Jack was wasting his life, but he'd worked hard to start putting it back together. If he was in enough trouble to have fallen off the wagon, why hadn't he called her earlier? Jack, a recovering alcoholic, should never have found himself in the bar, alone, drinking. The knowledge that he'd relapsed was devastating, and she fought not to let it cloud her reasoning while she settled the matter at the station.
If Peggy had expected even a small amount of contrition from Jack when he was brought out of the back of the station to where she sat in an uncomfortable plastic chair out front, she had waited for nothing.
Jack had on a light leather jacket and dark slacks, a fairly casual look for him. She caught glimpses of his bruised knuckles when Jack grabbed his Rolex and a new phone out of the plastic bin along with a leather wallet, sticking them in his pockets. "Ciao!" he snarled at the guard who only gave him a flat, unamused look.
"Let's go," Jack said to Peggy, striding outside into the blistering cold. If he wasn't being such an ass, Peggy might have warned him about the change in the weather that had come about that evening. As it was, she calmly strolled outside once her coat was completely buttoned up, leather gloves on her hands, to watch Jack curse and attempt to remove snow from his wet shoe.
"Oh, yes, it started snowing," Peggy mentioned casually, coming up behind him, watching him shiver in his light jacket. When he'd dressed that morning, it had been a balmy 46 degrees. The mercury was much lower now.
Jack gave an inarticulate growl, and stuck his foot, complete with a wet sock, back into the shoe.
"So did you walk here?"
"The car's parked out back," Peggy informed him. Then she rolled her eyes, and pulled the scarf and Daniel's mittens from her over-sized purse. "Here."
Jack starred at the items blankly for a moment, before taking them from her hands. "Un-fucking-believable," he muttered, scrutinizing the mittens from all sides, as though willing the horrifying designs to begin to make sense. They didn't. Daniel's grandma was a sweetheart, bless her, but knitting wasn't her strong suit so this was the first time Peggy had an actual opportunity to utilize her yearly Christmas gifts to both of them.
Jack debated the issue for another moment before giving in. He wrapped the orange scarf around his neck, and winced as he put the purple mittens on. While he did this, Peggy pulled out her cell phone and snapped a quick picture just as Jack looked up.
The expression on his face was priceless.
"I will literally murder you," he warned.
"Don't worry," Peggy replied peacefully, "I'll only upload it if you do something incredibly stupid. Again."
Jack rolled his eyes, but some of his belligerence subsided. He sighed heavily and muttered something inaudible.
"You're welcome," Peggy responded primly. "Now let's head to the car before you freeze to death." Since the street crews hadn't had time to cope with the on-going snowfall, the parking spot she found was a good ways out.
Jack followed her in silence. He really did look ridiculous in his current attire, and he yanked the offending items off as soon as the door of her car was closed. Peggy turned up the heat to max, trying not to mother-hen him too much, but unable to entirely subdue her worry. With the doors shut, she could smell the alcohol and smoke coming off him. They took off from the empty parking lot slowly, as Peggy navigated the fresh snow covering the roads.
"Some asshole put his hand on me."
"You punched him."
"I removed his hand off me."
"It sounded like you went further than that," Peggy said. "Jack, while I sympathize with the difficulty of living with trauma you can't just--"
"Oh, Hell no," Jack cut her off. "This has nothing to do with that."
He actually grabbed for the door handle, which was locked. His voice cut like ice, "Let me off right here. I'll make my own way home."
"Well, what am I to think?" Peggy said crossly, even if some of it was at herself for having assumed. "You are trying to jump out of a moving vehicle into a blizzard."
With a curse, Jack let go of the door handle and sunk low in the passenger seat, glaring darkly forward as Peggy tried to navigate the snowy streets. At least most people were home and off the road; the traffic was minimal. Once Jack thawed out a bit, he looked around at the buildings moving by the car window. He must have noticed they were headed in the opposite direction from his place.
"You can let me off at the subway."
"Jack," Peggy sighed. "Do you honestly expect that I'll drop you off and go on my merry way?"
"It was worth a shot," Jack muttered. He stayed silent for the rest of the ride to her place.
He knocked his shoes against the carpet in the hallway to get most of the snow off before he stepped inside her apartment, the ingrained behaviours apparent even when not entirely sober, after midnight, on what was surely a terrible day for him. He'd been invited to her apartment enough times by Daniel to not need to ask where to store his coat and shoes.
"I'll go find if Daniel has an extra pair of socks," Peggy said over her shoulder, padding further into her apartment.
"What, he's not making hot cocoa in the kitchen waiting up for you like a good wife?"
Peggy didn't respond to that. She and Daniel were dancing tentatively around the idea that they might have mutually unresolved feelings, but for now they were friends and roommates sharing an apartment, nothing more. Jack knew this, but the amount of taunting he inflicted on them was generally directly proportional to how bad a day he was having.
After a moment, Jack subsided again. "Sorry," he muttered, following her across the parquet floor with his one wet sock leaving wet footprints. "But seriously, where'd he fall off the face of the earth to? I called him earlier."
Peggy sighed. So he had tried. That was worth something, she supposed. Daniel was supposed to be Jack's sponsor from the AA, the sober companion to help him through the program by sharing his own experience staying sober.
"He's spending Christmas Eve with Violet and their baby daughter." She said this calmly, as though a part of her wasn't even a little bit tied in knots at the possibility that spending another Christmas with his ex-wife and a three year old kid would change things. People stayed together for worse reasons than a kid. Violet had only recently begun to allow Daniel to visit their daughter, and he was quietly overjoyed.
Jack's eyes were shrewdly fixed on her when she turned away from the drawer in Daniel's room, a pair of black socks in hand. He'd followed her to the entrance of Daniel's bedroom. Jack was framed in the doorway by the yellow light from the living room, his normally slicked-back hair standing up in tufts of gold on his head. Peggy thought momentarily of what it would be like to run her hand through it. It couldn't possibly be as soft as it looked...
But Jack was messed up enough without her own confused feelings being added into the mixture, so she put aside that thought.
"I'm almost surprised he owns something in neutral colors." Jack took the socks and went to sit on the sofa, putting them on.
Peggy snorted, and tried to cover it with a cough.
"Would you like some tea?" She went to put the kettle on, requiring a cup for herself in any case.
"Is that how you fix things?" Jack said from the couch, "You ply people with tea until they talk?"
"Do you want to talk?" Peggy asked. She didn't ask if there was something to fix, that much was obvious.
"Not particularly." Jack stood and walked about her apartment, glancing at some new photos on the walls, but ultimately heading for the unfinished Christmas tree. "Do you want to talk about Daniel not being here?"
Not particularly, Peggy thought. But then she thought about how hard it must be for him to open up if she never said a thing about her own problems, so she forced the words out for his sake. "His ex-wife has decided to let Daniel have visitation rights. Christmas is a pretty big deal for him."
"Christ, if I'd known you were spending the evening alone I'd have, I dunno, sent you flowers or something," Jack mumbled.
Peggy didn't want some dead flowers in the middle of winter, she wanted something entirely different. "Daniel will be home tomorrow morning. We were planning to stay in and have a nice dinner." She turned to face him. "You're welcome to stay and join us." A full table, with friends and family eating and laughing ― would she ever have that again? Peggy supposed starting with three wasn't bad. For too long it had been just her and Daniel, and very occasionally the Jarvises.
"Lovely," Jack said noncommittally, and picked up the tree ornament Peggy hadn't got around to hanging off the table. It was one of those traditional solid red glass ball ornaments with a glittering snowflake on the side. It had been Peggy's mother's favourite. Peggy had brought it over from London after the funeral. She fought herself not to yank it out of Jack's hands to keep him from accidentally crushing the delicate piece.
"Where does this go?" he said, looking up at her with the earnest question on his face, and something in Peggy's heart clenched. Outside, the snowfall was powdering the street and trees white, but inside her apartment everything was warm and soft. It softened Jack, too.
"That left branch that's sticking out. Near the blue..." she was about to walk over, just as he found it, "Yes, that's the one."
Jack tied the golden thread around the tree-branch, and glanced her way again, like a kid looking for approval. The tenderness she felt while watching him fix the ornament reminded her how mad she was with him.
"You don't need to get into fights in bars, Jack." He stilled, some of the brief cheer fading from his eyes, but she went on, trying to be ruthless while being kind, "If you want to talk and Daniel's not available, you know I'm right here, don't you?"
Jack said nothing.
He had an incredibly annoying habit of clamping down on what he was feeling until it festered and boiled over into anger that simply punched out of him. If someone had told Peggy years back that she'd want to be friends with such an ill-tempered man, she might have laughed in their face. Now though, she was too tangled up to extract herself easily, and moreover she hadn't wanted to for a long time.
"It's such fucking bullshit," Jack said into the silence. "I thought things were working out, but I can't do this job. I just―Fuck, I went off at Vernon Masters in front of the entire board."
Vernon Masters, Peggy thought sourly, that slime-ball of a man. She'd only met Masters once, when Jack had dragged her to some kind of a corporate event to "network" as he put it, and once was enough. She leaned back against the kitchen counter, where the tea was nearly ready.
"I'm quite certain he deserved it."
"Yeah, you can sing 'I told you so's off the rooftops," Jack said sourly. He ran a hand through his hair, which completely failed to straighten it out. "I kept thinking things'll turn around, thinking it can't really be that bad, but I was sitting in the daily meeting this morning, listening to them talk about profits and margins and everything but what they were actually doing, which is a crime, you realize that, right?!" ― he was nearly shouting ― "They are bastards, all of them, and I'm one of them. I'm exactly like them."
"You're not," Peggy said quietly.
"Oh yeah?" Jack met her eyes with a challenge in his own stormy grey ones. "What makes me so different?"
"You're here. With me."
Jack starred at her for a long moment, before coughing. "Yeah, well. After I admitted it to myself, I felt like I needed a drink."
Peggy turned around and calmly poured tea into an empty cup, offering it to him.
They'd put the Christmas tree together in companionable silence after tea. She'd bemoaned the lack of prepared food in the house, he'd alluded to his hopes that Daniel was the one cooking tomorrow on account of wanting to avoid food poisoning, she'd punched his shoulder, not even embarrassed. After they finished setting the tree top, it was after four in the morning. Jack spent the rest of the night on the couch in her living room, with Grandma's best attempt at a Christmas blanket stretched out to cover him.
That was why when Daniel walked in next morning, fresh off breakfast at Violet's, he woke them with his laughter.
"Piss off," Jack said fuzzily, tugging away the yellow-and-blue monstrosity Peggy had managed to throw over him once he'd conked out on the couch, then doing a double-take. "What the fuck is this thing?"
"It suits you," Daniel smiled primly.
Peggy had walked out of her bedroom when she first heard the front door click shut. She'd tossed and turned for the rest of the night, watching the snow fall softly outside the window, unable to completely go to sleep, and was therefore entirely awake to see Jack flip him off.
Daniel's eyes were still crinkling at the corners. Jack did look goofy with the ridiculous blanket, but it was more than that. Too often Daniel came back from work exhausted by the long hours, heading straight to bed so he could be up the next day to do it all over again. This morning, Daniel looked light-hearted and happy, so Peggy could only guess that things had gone well with his other family. He had snow in his dark hair, and he'd tracked some into the apartment; it was really coming down outside. Which was just fine with Peggy, they could get snowed in for days and she wouldn't have minded.
Peggy cowered a yawn with her hand, and padded over to the kitchen to set the kettle on. "Tea?" she said.
"Yes, please," Daniel said with gusto. Jack snorted, his common refrain when it came to Peggy and her tea.
Jack stood, and went over to grab the heavy looking box from under Daniel's arm. The other man nodded gratefully. Carrying that up the stairs with his crutch couldn't have been easy; he looked winded. Jack, meanwhile, was glancing down at the box with the big red bow with curiosity.
"A gift for Peggy?" He shook it lightly, "Too heavy to be sexy lingerie..."
Daniel swatted at him, clearly not mad, but playing along, trying to take the gift back. Jack danced out of his reach. He had a grin on his face, as he turned around and went towards the tree, throwing gently over his shoulder, "Don't strain yourself, I won't open it." Jack bent to set the heavy box under the decorated tree, sliding it under the thick green branches at the bottom, and as he was lifting his head knocked the red ornament off the branch above. It fell to the floor and shattered.
"Fuck! Peggy...I'm sorry." He looked aghast at the ornament, in pieces on the floor, then back to Peggy's white face. "Fuck. I'm always breaking everything." He cast about for something, then added, "This was a bad idea," staring at the shards of glass at his feet. He was seconds away from his next impulsive decision, like storming off so he wouldn't be ruining their Christmas or something worse; the frustration rolled off him in waves, Peggy felt it. He would rush off into the snowy whirlwind outside and disappear in that whiteout and he'd never even know―.
"No," Peggy said, "No." She went to take his elbow to stop him from taking even a single step to the door. "It's only a thing, Jack. I can find a replacement―" her breath caught. Her mother's favourite ornament, there was no other one in the world. Peggy steeled herself. This was far more important.
"But―" Jack started. Peggy's fingers dug into his elbow, holding on.
Daniel crutched over to them with a broom he'd picked up from the closet. "Sorry Peggy," he said softly, "Let me help clean up."
"Thank you, Daniel," Peggy said, still unable to fully take in the shards on the floor, choosing instead to look into Jack's eyes, in which something was also broken.
"Jack, I don't care if things go wrong from time to time." She tugged at his elbow, to get him away from the glass on the floor.
"Are you gonna get all mushy on me?" he croaked, giving her a side-glance.
Peggy let herself smile. No emotional displays, not between them.
"What I'm going to do is celebrate Christmas with my family." She felt her smile widen when he fully turned to stare at her, wide-eyed. She gave him a challenging look, "Are you going to help me make lunch?"