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Like Running Through Quicksand

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Jack felt like he’d spent his entire life on the run. He hadn’t, really, been running away from anything, or even to anything. Just…running. Moving around.

Nothing was ever stable. When he was little, he and his parents had moved around a lot. He’d never stayed in one place long enough to put down roots, to have relationships with anyone other than his parents that were really strong enough to last. And then his mom had died when he was seven, and his dad had never really managed to pick up the pieces, and so Jack had ended up in foster care, and that had really been unstable. He’d bounced from home to home, acting out when he felt like he had to, which was often.

Eleven homes in four years were enough to make anyone feel like the ground under their feet was unstable, and Jack felt it. When he’d ended up in the group home that had broken the last bit of faith he had in the system, he’d only gotten more and more volatile. He’d stolen, he tried to explain to the people who talked to him when he was caught, because not only did he want to eat enough to not feel hungry and not only did he want clothes that fit him, but he also wanted control and he wanted somebody to notice him and he wanted to stop feeling like everything was moving all the time no matter what he did, and doing something was better than nothing and so stealing was better than nothing and so he’d stolen. And he’d given it to the other kids in the home, and nobody believed him when he said how awful it was there because everybody thought Snyder the Spider was some fine, upstanding citizen who opened his home to orphan children and why would he ever hurt them?

That had been the moment that Jack had finally given up believing that an adult would ever do anything to fix anything for him. When a kid could sit in a room and show an adult who was supposed to help him the scars and bruises and the visible ribs, the shoes with holes and too-small clothes. Show them everything that was wrong with this picture, and have them do nothing. Write him off as a troubled kid and decide that what he needed was six months in juvie to straighten him out, decide that the thing that needed to be done was punish the crime and not listen when he said why he’d done it, why he’d so desperately tried to get their attention in the first place.

How could he trust a system like that? That just ignored the things staring them in the face. Ignored the things that were actually wrong, and decided to punish Jack instead of fixing the problem that had driven him to steal in the first place.

That wasn’t right. That wasn’t how things should go.

By the time Jack was an adult, at least according to the state of New York, he’d internalized that. He was an independent starting on his eighteenth birthday, and his life was his. His problems were his. When he couldn’t make rent for the third month in a row and the landlord was tired of waiting, it was up to him and nobody else to find the money or find a new place to live. When he woke up from a nightmare about the Spider coming at him again, it was up to him to bring himself down from the panic. When he lost his job, it was up to him to choose between food and rent for the pay gap, and up to him to figure out how he was supposed to keep living like this for his whole life.

Nothing was stable. He was always running, always moving, always onto the next thing because there was nothing but the next thing to look forward to. He didn’t have any long term plans, because it was hard enough to go day to day, week to week, month to month.

That was why, he told himself, he’d never had any long term relationships. Of any kind, really. He had a few friends, a few people he hadn’t let go of, but he was scared. Terrified. Of letting anybody get too close.

Because every person he’d ever let himself care about, everyone who’d ever been important to him, everyone who he’d let past his walls had been ripped away from him, left behind on the unstable ground he felt like he was running from constantly. So he held people at arm’s distance.

When he dated, it was flings. A few nights, a couple of dates, a month or two at most. More than that was dangerous and scary and leaving himself open to be hurt, and that just wouldn’t do.

Maybe part of him had known Davey was different from the beginning. He was different from every other self-destructive hookup he’d had, for one. Davey was soft-spoken but articulate. Smart. Handsome. Sweet. He listened when Jack talked, which was a dangerous thing because Jack didn’t talk to many people, and when he did he made sure they didn’t listen because then they’d know too much and it would hurt more when they left. Davey was kind. He called to check on Jack when Jack had seemed sad the night before, he never left a text unanswered, and he got under Jack’s skin too much.

It was just a fling.

Just a fling.

He’d done it before, gone on a few dates if hooking up had been good fun and there had been a connection. Never more than two months, that was his rule. Never anything serious.

Just a fling.

Just a fling, he told himself on the second date, his fingers itching to draw the way Davey’s head tilted back when he laughed.

Just a fling, on the fourth morning he woke up in Davey’s bed and the sunlight streaming in made every freckle stand out.

Just a fling, when Davey sat crosslegged on his floor and watched him paint.

Just a fling. Just a fling. Just a fling.

In a month or two, Davey would get bored of him. Maybe he’d pry a board loose from Jack’s walls and see how fucked up he was under his so carefully constructed public face. Maybe he’d find out that Jack had a record, maybe he’d just realize that he was better than Jack, pure and simple. That he was more put together and more equipped to handle life and just…better.

And it would sting, but it was just a fling.

Just a fling, just a fling, just a fling, and in a month or two Davey Jacobs would be out of Jack’s life and Jack would move on to another fling, another month, another scramble to find temporary footing in a world that seemed determined to shake him off like a fly.

He was on his own. That was how it worked best, when he did things for himself.

So this was just a fling.

Just a fling, when he was lying on Davey’s couch. When Davey was running his hand through Jack’s hair, untangling his curls. When a sappy movie that Jack wouldn’t have chosen but was enjoying, as much as he hated to admit it, was playing. When Davey was looking at him with that silly expression on his face that was silly and annoying because Jack couldn’t name it and couldn’t draw it.

Just a fling.

Just a fling.

Hold him at arm’s distance. Keep him away. Don’t let him in. Keep him out, keep him out, keep him out.

Don’t let him see how messed up you are, because then he’ll leave before you get the chance, and that will hurt so much more than you leaving him. Don’t let him see the way your mind twists everything around, don’t let him see you hurting, only let him see what you want him to, because this is just a fling.

He doesn’t need to know how badly it hurts. How often you wake up shaking, tear-stained, struggling to breathe. How hard you work to keep a smile on your face, your chin up, your shoulders back. How difficult it is for you to keep moving forward, like your feet are stuck in quicksand and the world is pulling you down and that's why you have to keep moving, keep running, never stay still, and never, ever let anyone in.

So it was just a fling. That was all.

Just a fling, when Davey tapped his nose and he laughed without having to force it because Davey was so genuine. So genuinely kind and caring and funny and understanding.

Just a fling, when Davey leaned down and kissed his forehead gently.

Just a fling, just a fling, just a fling.

He repeated it to himself every time a moment like this came up. Every time he smiled and didn’t fake it, laughed and didn’t force it. Every time he woke up and realized that he hadn’t had a nightmare, that Davey’s warmth was almost like a buffer grounding him to something other than his own thoughts and memories while he slept.

Just. A. Fling.

It couldn’t be anything else, because that was scary and too much and too close to his heart and too risky.

He couldn’t.

Could not.

Couldn’t. Lose anyone else. He just couldn’t. He had to be the one to push others away, because he couldn’t survive losing somebody else.

Just a fling, when Davey smiled at him and the flickering tv light made every shadow dramatic and there was a scary, unfamiliar twist in Jack’s gut. Just a fling.

“I love you,” Davey said.

Time froze.

Rewound.

“I love you,” Davey said.

“Te amo,” his dad said before going to sleep, and then he was gone the next day, and Jack was alone, and Jack would never understand why his dad had chosen to leave him instead of trying just a little longer, mijo, we’ll be okay.

“Just a little longer, mijo, we’ll be okay,” his dad said, brushing Jack’s hair back from his eyes and sounding strong, and Jack would never understand why that couldn’t have been true, why they couldn’t have been okay even if his mom was getting better, Jack, I’ll be home soon.

“I’m getting better, Jack, I’ll be home soon,” his mom said, and Jack knew it was a lie even at seven years old, the way she was trying to smile but she was so thin, so tired, and Jack would never understand why that had to happen, why he had to go through that, why his mom had to go through that.

I love you, te amo, just a little longer, getting better, all lies all wrong none of it played out nothing was right the world was unstable and unsteady and broken and he was running, running, running, always running never to or away or from, just running to keep his feet under him, and this couldn’t happen. It couldn’t.

It had to be just a fling. It couldn’t be more, because then Jack would get stuck and get hurt and nothing worked like that.

He was alone.

On his own.

That was how it worked. Always. How it had always worked. How it had to work.

He was running to keep from falling and never getting back up because he refused to do that. He refused to do what his dad had done, he refused to let the world drag him down and to give in and to stop moving, because moving let him keep his head up, shoulders back, smile and confidence pasted on top of nothing underneath.

Davey didn’t love him.

Davey couldn’t love him.

Just.

A.

Fling.

When Jack sat up quickly, struggling to breathe, voices playing in his head.

I love you, te amo, we’ll be okay, getting better.

No.

Just a fling. If he left first, it wouldn’t hurt. Not the way he saw on Davey’s face when he sat up so fast, hiding the way his chest wanted to heave. The way his stomach twisted again, painful this time, the way he felt like he was going to throw up.

Those things were hidden, pushed back, not to be let out until Jack was in his own apartment where nobody could see him and he could let it out before cramming it all back in again.

One day he would explode, but not here and not now and not while that hurt, hurt expression was on Davey’s face threatening to break through Jack’s walls like nothing had before.

Just a fling. He had to leave before it was more than that. Even if it hurt, even if it hurt Davey, he had to leave because it would hurt more later and he couldn’t do that, he wouldn’t survive.

When the door to Davey’s apartment slammed behind him, Davey still on the couch. Jack’s shoes untied. His legs shaking.

When the door slammed…

Oh, god.

Slamming doors, breaking glass, shouts and screams and pleading and begging and how dare you?

How dare he what? Exist? Eat? Clothe himself?

Why was everything so loud?

Why couldn’t he get away?

Why did it still hurt? Years later, so far away, and it hurt so bad.

Why was he running? Always running, never stopping, never breathing.

Why couldn’t he stop?

I love you, te amo, just a little longer, getting better. Not true, never true, he was alone and it wasn’t getting better no matter how long he waited. He couldn’t find a place to stand that didn’t shift underneath him and drop him a million miles into a bed he couldn’t leave and an apartment he couldn’t afford and a dream he was scared to chase because he hated being hungry.

Slamming doors, breaking glass, scars he couldn’t escape, bruises he couldn’t forget, memories he couldn’t outrun.

He wasn’t sure, when it finally quieted down enough for him to shove it back inside and tape his walls back together, how he’d gotten home. Home to his shitty apartment, the door closed. He’d slid to the floor, his shaking legs giving up, knees drawn to his chest. His face was damp with the tears he’d fought to hold back, and he had to force his breathing to slow down.

It was just a fling, and he’d surely ended it when he’d left tonight.

And he’d move on. Get over it. It was just a fling, and it hurt right now, but it didn’t matter because it was just a fling and he’d left and he’d keep moving and it would be as okay as anything ever was.

He’d pick himself up off the floor. He’d go to bed, sleep for a day. He’d paint a picture, angry and blood red and hurting and bruise purple. He’d find every piece of this fling left in this room, this one-room apartment, and he’d throw it out. Let it flutter away on a breeze, let it stick to the bottom of the dumpster.

He’d left.

So why did it hurt so bad?

I love you.

I love you. Te amo. Just a little longer, mijo, we’ll be okay. I’m getting better, Jack, I’ll be home soon.

Lies. All of them. None of them could be true, because if one of them was, that wasn’t fair.

Or worse, if one of them was, it was another set-up for hurt. Another thing to go wrong, another cliff to drop beneath Jack’s feet, another painful struggle uphill towards something he’d never managed to reach in the first place.

Happiness. Stability. Peace. Quiet. Something unattainable and far away, so far uphill without path that he could see.

All of them had to be lies, or else everything was worse.

It was…

Had been. It had been just a fling.

So why did it hurt so bad?

Why did his stomach keep twisting in knots every time he thought of the look on Davey’s face when he left? Why couldn’t he force himself to throw the memories away? Why couldn’t he stop drawing Davey’s face, the silly, annoying expression and the sad, sad one? The way he looked when he smiled, when he laughed, when he was thinking and when he was listening and when he watching. Why did Jack’s sketchbooks, over the next three days of forcing everything behind his walls, of going through his day and his work numb, why did his sketchbooks fill with drawing after drawing of Davey?

Why did he feel so guilty when he looked at the sad drawings, and why did he get that unfamiliar twist in his gut when he looked at the happy ones?

I love you.

I love you.

I love you.

Davey had never lied to Jack before. When Jack had paint on his face, when Jack’s shirt didn’t match his pants, when Jack said something stupid, when Jack did something stupid, Davey had never lied, never even tried. He said what he meant, and he’d never lied.

But how…

How?

How could he love Jack?

He didn’t know Jack, did he? Had he seen more than Jack thought he’d let through?

But if he had, even more, how could he love Jack?

How could anybody love somebody who didn’t love themself and didn’t even know how to start? Jack wasn’t even sure what love was, what it was supposed to be, it had been so, so long since he’d loved or been loved and he didn’t know what that felt like and so how?

How could Davey love him?

“I love you,” Davey said, and he remembered Jack’s favorite candy.

“I love you,” Davey said, and he could somehow tell when Jack was having a bad day.

“I love you,” Davey said, and he listened when Jack got excited about a painting he didn’t care about.

“I love you,” Davey said, and he knew Jack better than anyone had in a long, long time, and Jack hadn’t even noticed it happening, because he’d never pushed. Never forced.

He just listened, and talked, and paid attention and been there. Ran his fingers through Jack’s hair and kissed his forehead and looked at him…

“I love you,” Davey said, and he meant it.

And.

And.

And Jack could barely think about that. It made him shake, made his breath come up short, made him scared and worried and upset for reasons he couldn’t even qualify because he’d never tried to deal with this before. He’d always thrown it away before he had to.

But Davey…

Oh.

Davey.

Davey with his big, brown eyes. His soft, sweet smile. His big words and rushed sentences and excited hands. All the things that filled Jack’s sketchbooks and filled his thoughts and filled the space behind his walls that he’d tried so hard to keep shut airtight.

He’d failed.

And Davey…

Davey was lodged firmly in there.

Davey who never left a text unanswered, and Jack couldn’t even answer when he called.

Jack didn’t like to stand still, so he didn’t like to take a stand. The last time he’d tried, the judge had called him a liar and he’d been sent away. So he ran before he had to, always.

But didn’t Davey, sweet, kind Davey who had no idea what he’d done, didn’t Davey deserve something? Even if Jack didn’t, Davey deserved to understand. Because Davey was good, Davey was wonderful, and Davey deserved better than Jack had just given him.

Davey was better than that. Better than being walked out on with that expression on his face. Better than not knowing that the reason why Jack had to leave, better than not understanding that he couldn’t love Jack because Jack was too fucked up and had too much inside him that was ugly and broken and too messed up for somebody like Davey to love. For somebody like Davey to waste his time on.

Jack didn’t deserve Davey, but Davey at least deserved to know why.

And so, after three days of staring at the missed calls and ignored texts, Jack forced himself to walk to Davey’s apartment and knock on the door.

He wasn’t going to cry. Wasn’t going to break in half or throw up like he felt like he was. Wasn’t going to fall apart. He was just going to tell Davey that Davey didn’t love him, because Jack had been lying, forcing laughs and faking smiles and pretending like every fucked up thing about him didn’t exist because Davey was too good for that. He just was.

Davey was sweet and smart and kind and he deserved somebody who could be open and let him love them so much more than Jack could because even though Jack had been forced to realize that it had been more than a fling this whole time, that Davey was different and the way Jack felt about him was different, Jack couldn’t do this. He couldn’t let himself fall for anyone, let alone somebody as good as Davey. He just couldn’t.

So, like always, he pulled his walls shut tight over his emotions and his swirling thoughts. Pressed his lips closed and took a deep breath and knocked on the door.

When Davey opened it, he had that same expression still on his face that Jack had drawn over and over and over again. Sadness. Heartbreak. Something strong and not quite definable and…

Oh, god, Jack couldn’t do this. He couldn’t do this.

He saw Davey’s face and every terrible emotion he’d felt when he’d left came slamming back into him. How could he do this? How could he force himself to explain, how could he hurt Davey the way he clearly had already, how could he be this? How could he?

As soon as he saw Davey’s face, every wall came crashing down and he burst into tears.

This was too much and everything was too loud and he had no idea what to do about anything and everything was running through his head at once and he could do it.

I love you, te amo, we’ll be okay, getting better, I love you, I love you, I love you.

“Jacky?”

And Davey sounded so concerned, how could he sound so concerned when Jack had run out and Jack hadn’t explained and Jack couldn’t even hold himself together well enough to get the words out of his head?

That only made the tears come harder.

He hadn’t cried in front of another person in years. Years and years of keeping his tears and fears and anxieties, every messed up and broken thing hidden away from everyone except himself. Tears were weakness, he’d had that lesson beaten into him enough times to know it well, tears were weakness and not for anybody else to see.

God, this was embarrassing and it hurt and he couldn’t stop crying and he couldn’t breathe and Davey was wrapping his arms around Jack and holding him tight and somehow that was terrifying and claustrophobic but also the warmest, most comforting thing he’d ever felt in his life.

Davey took him inside, whispering something in his ear that was too quiet to get through the noise in his head, and part of Jack wanted to run away again, to leave and not look back and pull himself together by himself and keep moving the way he had for his entire life.

But part of him felt more held together by Davey’s arms than he had since the last time his dad had hugged him. He was crying, and Davey was holding him and kissing his hair and Jack’s head was too loud to hear what he was saying but he could feel Davey’s mouth moving. Part of him, the part that was somehow taking control, was pushing into Davey’s side.

Sobbing, he was sobbing, and he couldn’t reign it in, but he was letting Davey hold him and crying into Davey’s shoulder, and even though his head was pounding and swirling and everything was loud, he somehow, somehow felt safe.

I love you. Te amo. Just a little longer. Home soon.

All promises, all broken, all left behind, and run away from, except one.

“I love you,” Davey said, and it broke through the noise in Jack’s head.

“I love you,” Davey said, and it was a promise while Jack lying on the couch laughing at a joke without having to force it, and it was a promise while Jack was wrapped in his arms choking on tears and breath that wouldn’t stop catching.

That was terrifying.

God, why was this so hard? Why was it so hard to just be, why couldn’t he stand still and fall in love and have a life that felt steady and stable and worthwhile, why did knowing that Davey loved him make him so afraid?

What was he afraid of? Why couldn’t he stop being afraid?

After what felt like a very, very long time, the tears slowed down. His breath evened out at least a little bit. He could hear Davey talking, now, whispering to him that everything would be okay, that he was okay, that he was safe and Davey had him.

It was grounding.

We’ll be okay.

Not alone.

We’ll be okay, Davey’s hand pressing into his back.

We’ll be okay, Davey kissing his hair over and over again.

We’ll be okay, Davey leaning back and looking at his face when the tears stopped, brushing Jack’s hair away from his eyes and wiping away the moisture.

We’ll be okay, and it wasn’t his dad’s voice, echoing back in a broken promise, it was Davey’s voice here and now, a new promise and a determined look in his eye and his grounding presence, waiting for Jack to be able to breathe.

Davey never pushed. Never forced.

He knew more about Jack than anyone had in a very long time, because he waited and listened and let Jack take his time, and that’s what he was doing now.

“I’m sorry,” was the first thing he said. Because Davey deserved that, because he had to say it, because he’d run away without saying anything and then showed up and cried for a while.

Jack took a long, shaky breath. Sat up fully and dragged his hand across his face and through his hair.

And for the first time since he was sixteen years old and trying desperately to get the people who had the power to help him to understand why he was acting out, Jack tried to put the noise in his head into words.

He tried to explain how he could never get his feet underneath him for long enough to stick, how it felt like every time he finally found some kind of steady place in the world, it got yanked away. How every person he’d let get close to him, in his entire life, had been taken away. How he’d always been so alone, and how he worked so hard to keep it that way because he felt like he had to. How he felt like if he lost another person, he’d never be able to get his feet under him again, how that would just be too much. How Davey telling him that he loved him had brought back every memory of every broken promise, how loud everything had felt, and how he couldn’t move on from Davey, how it felt so different from every fling he’d had.

He didn’t cry again, it was like that part of him was done working for the time being, but his throat was dry and it was hard to force the words out.

Davey just listened. He sat with his legs folded up underneath him and listened to Jack struggle to find the right words, and he looked so concerned that it hurt.

When Jack had decided to come talk to him, he’d been so sure that Davey would see this part of him. These messy, messy, broken bits and pieces that he’d forced behind so many walls, that he’d covered so carefully for so long. That Davey would see these bits of him and be as horrified by them as Jack was.

That Davey would decide to be done with Jack before Jack even had the chance.

Instead, Davey reached out and took Jack’s hand while he talked. He squeezed Jack’s hand tight, and it was as grounding as his hand on Jack’s back had been while he cried.

When Jack was done talking, he felt like he never wanted to open his mouth again. He wanted to lie down and sleep for days.

“I’m sorry I didn’t see, Jacky,” Davey said, and that made Jack laugh. A bitter laugh, full of all the broken promises and all the walls and all the things he’d worked so hard to keep tucked away and hidden from everyone, all the time.

“I didn’t let you,” he said, and Davey squeezed his hand again. Warm and firm.

“You can trust me,” Davey said, very sincerely. “With anything, always.”

“That’s hard.”

“I know. I’m glad you trusted me with this.”

“You deserved to know why I left.” Jack looked down at his hands, still covered in paint from his three days of trying to work his emotions out through a paintbrush. Angry red and bruised purple and deep, sad blue, in stripes and splatters and dots. Color tests on his arms.

It was easier to look at the paint than at Davey. He was scared of what he would see.

Pity would hurt because Jack hated being pitied. It made him feel like he was being thought of as little and unable to take care of himself and there was just nothing worse than people treating him like he couldn’t do things on his own.

Anger would hurt, too, because he’d never meant to make Davey angry, he’d reacted so strongly and hadn’t really felt in control of himself, and he still didn’t really, being loved had opened something up that hurt so deeply and was so scary that he’d left without thinking about it.

Or maybe Davey would look sad, and Jack wouldn’t be able to help but feel even worse, because he cared about Davey. A lot, more than he’d let himself care about pretty much anyone in a long time, and hurting somebody you care about hurts. It’s terrible.

So Jack looked at the paint on his hands and arms, looked at Davey’s hand on top of his own, studied the seam of his jeans, anything but looking up at Davey’s face.

He didn’t know what he wanted.

If he just wanted to rip the bandaid off, to look up and have Davey break up with him or to do it himself, to walk home and cry it out again and then stand up. Chin up, shoulder back, Jack on his own against the world, the way it had always been.

Or if he wanted Davey to hug him again, holding him close and tight and assure him again we’ll be okay. Together. We. Jack and Davey, Davey and Jack. The way they had been for two months, two months of real smiles and real laughter and sweet dates and cheesy movies and Davey’s hand against his and we’ll be okay and I love you and…

With more force than being struck by lightning, the words echoed over and over and over again in Jack’s head.

I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you.

Davey’s voice, sweet and sincere, and his fingers tangled in Jack’s hair and a movie on the tv and takeout containers on the table and kisses on his forehead.

I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you.

Davey’s voice, over and over and over and over and over again, echoing through Jack’s head, crashing against his skull, pushing against the back of his eyes.

I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you.

And Jack’s voice. Trapped behind the weight of his tongue, the noise of his thoughts.

I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you.

Jack’s voice, wrapped around the first time they met, the way Davey laughed, the way his sketchbooks had filled with drawings on Davey’s face not even on purpose.

I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you.

Jack’s voice, unable to force itself into the words he was so scared of, instead twining them into Davey is different, into drawings and paintings, into feelings he didn’t understand, into the twist in his gut when he looked at Davey’s face, into just a fling, just a fling, just a fling.

Into wide eyes slowly looking up from paint stains to Davey’s face. Davey’s wide, concerned eyes.

I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you.

Jack’s voice, pressing against the back of his teeth, trying so hard to force its way out through every sealed crack in Jack’s facade, trying to make itself known through years of running and years of being alone and years of being afraid. Pushing and shoving and trying to come out.

“I love you.”

Jack’s voice, forcing its way out into the world, surprising him and, judging by the look on his face, surprising Davey.

The words tasted like electricity.

Or maybe Jack was just about to throw up.

He wasn’t exactly sure. Part of him wanted to laugh, part of him wanted to be sick, and the words had escaped without him meaning to, leaving an energetic, bitter taste behind.

I love you.

A promise. A statement. A truth?

Jack looked into Davey’s eyes.

Wide. Brown. Full of concern, and surprise, and something else that Jack couldn’t quite name.

Jack hadn’t been sure of much in a long time. Not sure of where he’d be living, where he’d be working, what he’d be eating. Not sure of himself, of his place in the world, not sure of his relationships beyond just a fling, just a fling, just a fling.

How could he be sure of anything when he was always running? Always moving, pulling his feet up from the quicksand ground and just trying to keep his head above the surface. Nothing was steady, so nothing was certain, so Jack was never sure.

But Davey was different. Davey was steady, Davey was certain, Davey was sure.

Davey was simple dates and movie night and goofy jokes. Davey was holding hands and cooking together and real, sincere laughter. Davey was something to look forward to, Davey was reading glasses and staying up late talking, Davey was the rapid exchange of hundreds of facts. Davey was walking through a museum and reading the cards out loud so Jack didn’t have to struggle through them.

Davey was I love you.

Sincere.

And Jack suddenly wasn’t sure how he’d missed it, but he was sure. Positive.

“I love you,” he said, this time savoring every word.

Every terrifying, exhilarating word. How long had it been since he’d been so sure of anything? How long had it been since he was so sure of the way he felt?

It wasn’t a confusing tumble of conflicting emotions. There was fear there, fear of letting anybody in when he’d worked so hard to keep everybody out for so long. But more than that was the rising feeling coming from the twist in his stomach as he looked at Davey, warm and comforting just like Davey’s hand on his back, just like Davey’s arms around him, just like Davey’s hand on his own. Warm and comforting and pushing out the bitter taste from his mouth.

“I love you,” he said, and it was on purpose, letting every word slip out from behind his teeth, followed by a small laugh. “I’m sorry. I love you.”

Davey let out a little laugh, too, and his other hand, the one that wasn’t still holding Jack’s, came up to rest on Jack’s cheek.

“Why are you apologizing for that?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know, Davey, I love you.”

Every time he said it, it was sweeter. Like the words that hadn’t left his mouth in so long were settling into the tracks that were meant for it, pushing past years of bitterness and sadness and uncertainty and into words that left his mouth.

And the feeling spread from the twist in his stomach, and he could feel the warmth of it in his bones like he’d been freezing cold and hadn’t even known it.

Davey smiled, soft and sweet, and leaned forward. He didn’t kiss Jack, just rested their foreheads together. Jack closed his eyes, letting this new, soft, warm feeling wash over him.

We’ll be okay.

Not the broken promise of the past, but a new one. Sure and steady and grounding and warm. Davey’s voice, and Jack’s voice.

We’ll be okay.

For the first time in a long time, Jack believed it.