“Jackie, have you seen Will?”
Jack doesn’t bother turning his head. He knows who has walked up beside him and leaned against the counter. He fiddles with the cuff of his sleeve—well, not his sleeve, technically, considering he doesn’t own the shirt.
“Not for a few minutes, Kare. How come?”
She takes a sip of her martini. “Well, you’re here, and Grace is in the kitchen. He must’ve run off alone somewhere.”
He hates the feeling that word conjures in his stomach. Alone. Will shouldn’t have to be by himself, not on a day like this—
“I’ll be right back, Kare.” He pushes off the side of the counter. “Promise.”
He makes his way to the kitchen, brushing aside greetings from various friends and Truman family members. Grace will know where he’s gone. Right?
She’s standing at the sink, filling a glass of water. He knocks on the doorframe, and she whirls around, almost spilling water down the front of her black dress.
“Jack! I was just about to go looking for you. Do you know where Will is?”
He frowns. “I was just about to ask you the same question.”
She brings a hand to her forehead. “Oh, God. He wasn’t with Rob and Ellen, or Joe and Larry—”
“Or Karen,” Jack finishes. Facing the floor, he shifts his feet. “I’m worried about him,” he says in a softer tone.
“Me, too,” Grace replies, and he’s grateful that she doesn’t point out his uncharacteristic seriousness. He isn’t used to outwardly demonstrating concern for his friends—sure, he’ll point out how Will is perpetually single, and balding, and single, and gaining weight (even when he really isn’t), and single, but all genuine worry, particularly in regard to Will, is repressed, suppressed, shoved away.
Why that is, exactly, he’d rather not address. He knows the answer deep down, of course, but there is absolutely no reason to drag it to the surface. Either way, his friends are so accustomed to his offensive humor and insistence on discussing much more petty issues that a sudden expression of his raw, unfiltered feelings would surely result in mockery and disbelief.
“Let’s divide and conquer,” she suggests. “I’ll go look around upstairs, and you can tackle this floor.”
He nods. “Good idea.” As Grace walks past, he grabs her by the wrist. “If you find him up there, give me a shout, ‘kay?”
She smiles. “Okay. I will.”
Once she’s gone, Jack is about to leave the kitchen when he hears a sharp buzzing sound coming from his right.
The laundry room door is closed. Jack recalls Will jokingly telling him once that his mother would hide in the laundry room and turn on the dryer whenever she needed to cry. He laughed it off at the time, but if it’s true…
He stands outside the door, listening closely. There’s a soft rustling sound, then a metallic clang, and then the rattling of the dryer, which he previously hadn’t noticed until it stopped, resumes.
Jack moves his hand to the doorknob, but then he hesitates. Should he really be interrupting this? Maybe Will wants to be alone. He’d never understand that man and his strange tendencies, but perhaps he should try.
Over the rattling, Jack swears he hears a muffled whimper.
And it’s too much. No matter what Will thinks he wants, this can’t possibly be what he needs.
He opens the door.
Sure enough, Will’s there, sitting on top of the washing machine, head in his hands. He doesn’t raise it until Jack clears his throat.
He’s always been known to make an entrance—but right here, right now, drawing attention to himself with a flamboyant announcement or song-and-dance sequence doesn’t feel right. For once, he doesn’t want Will to notice him. He wants Will to feel noticed.
As soon as Will sees him, he rubs furiously at his eyes. He isn’t fooling anyone.
“Jack? What are you doing in here?”
Jack steps closer with a roll of his eyes. “Finding you, idiot.”
He’s not sure what he expects—to be yelled at, told to go away, to find Grace or someone else—but it’s not a sigh that sounds so resigned and empty that it causes his stomach to lurch.
“Well, I guess someone would’ve, eventually.”
Jack closes most of the distance between them, standing inches from Will’s knees, and takes both of his hands, gently bringing them away from his face.
“Will. Talk to me.”
He lets his hands rest limply in Jack’s. “I already told all of you. My last moment with my dad was a disaster. If we had just gotten one more chance to talk, to sort things out—” He shakes his head. “It’s never going to leave me alone.”
Jack drops Will’s hands, steps to the side, and hoists himself up onto the dryer so he can sit beside him. Will gives him an odd look, but he doesn’t question it. Jack then grabs one of his hands again and squeezes it, holding it against Will’s leg.
“Can I ask you something?”
Will’s eyes narrow. “You just did. What?”
Jack resists the urge to roll his eyes. Even in moments like these, he can’t seem to take a break from being a smart-ass. “How often do we fight?”
Will blinks and then stares at him like he’s grown a second, even gayer head. “Uh, practically every time you walk into my apartment. And every time I see you at the gym. And every time you visit my office. And—”
“Alright, alright, I get the message,” Jack cuts in, raising his free hand. “So, a decent amount. What would you say, then, Mr. Lawyer, are the odds, at any given time, that we’re in the middle of a fight?”
“Jack, I’m a lawyer, not a stockbroker.” But he frowns in contemplation. “Nine to one? Ten?”
Jack squeezes his hand. “Therefore, when one of us finally kicks the bucket, odds are we’ll be in the middle of a fight. Now, how does that make you feel?”
Will looks down at their intertwined fingers. “Like an idiot.”
Jack reaches up with his free hand to push a loose strand of hair behind Will’s ear. “Relationships aren’t defined by the day you break up. Julie Andrews isn’t gonna be defined by whatever her last movie is—we’re always gonna remember her for The Sound of Music, duh. And you and your dad aren’t defined by your last argument. You had so many great moments, great memories, before that. Try focusing on those instead.”
Will takes a moment to raise his head again, but when he does, he’s smiling. Not strongly, not fully, but it’s there. “You know, Jackie, you can be kind of smart sometimes.”
Jack kicks his dangling foot. “Of course I can.”
And then they’re both laughing. It’s not how they laugh at the ridiculous sweaters on the clearance rack, not how they laugh at each other’s mean jabs, and not how they laugh at whatever channel Grace happened to leave on the TV. It’s a sort of laugh that has been silent for most of their lives. It’s a laugh at Will’s inability to realize his own identity when calling Jack from a bathroom in Schenectady. It’s a laugh at Jack spending his savings on a freaking penguin exhibit instead of a new apartment.
They laugh until Will’s head falls onto Jack’s shoulder. Jack untangles his hand from Will’s and uses it to massage long circles into his back over his suit jacket.
“You know, you’re going to have to leave the laundry room at some point.” It pains his heart to say it.
“I know,” Will murmurs. “Give me five more minutes?”
Three days later, Will knocks on the door of apartment 9A before letting himself in.
Jack looks up from where he’s sitting, cross-legged, on the couch. “Well, hello, stranger.”
Will closes the door behind him before stuffing his hands in his pockets. Why are they shaking? They shouldn’t be shaking. It’s just Jack—no pun intended.
“Long time no see,” Jack says, folding his legs underneath him and tossing aside the magazine he was reading. He stares up at Will with wide blue eyes. “I hope you haven’t spent the past three days just sulking away over there across the hall.”
Will lets out a long sigh. “I just needed a break. I took a few days off work, went to one of those childbirth classes with Grace, reorganized and got rid of some things.”
Jack leans against the back of the couch, chin in hand. “Sooo, a typical day in the life of Will Truman.”
Will wishes he wasn’t right.
Jack then pats the couch cushion beside him. “Come on, have a seat. Don’t just stand there against the wall; this isn’t your school dance.”
One of the things Will genuinely likes about Jack—not that he’d ever admit it out loud—is that he drags him out of his comfort zone. He’d never go to bars and clubs on his own; Jack has always been the one to take him out. He might never even have come out of the closet if it weren’t for his insistence. It’s not as though Jack has a particularly forceful or coercive personality—he simply emulates a spontaneous, carefree persona, some aspects of which Will secretly covets.
He sits down, and Jack is looking at him with raised eyebrows. Waiting.
“I just wanted to say thank you,” he says. “For, you know, finding me in the laundry room.”
“Talking me out of my irrational self-loathing.”
“Sitting with me for more than five minutes without making a single comment about my hairline.”
Seemingly satisfied with that, Jack pats him on the shoulder. “There we go. But don’t get too cocky; I was thinking them in my head.” He touches his index finger to his temple with a grin that tells Will to translate his response as no problem, you’re welcome.
“Wow, it must have been exciting to finally have something going on up there.” I don’t thank you enough.
“At least I’ve got enough going on with the rest of my body to make up for any deficit.”
“Look at you, using words longer than two syllables.”
“Guess you’ve been rubbing off on me, smartypants. Oh, God, I hope celibacy isn’t contagious.”
“Think you should be more worried about catching a ‘D’ that starts with ‘ST.’”
“Well, at least I have plenty of ‘D’ to catch it from.” Jack then frowns, tilting his head and looking at the ceiling as if there are imaginary equations floating above. “Wait.”
Will is about to laugh, but his breath hitches when he realizes that he didn’t realize how close they were getting. He’s not sure which one of them has been leaning in, maybe both, but certainly neither have pulled away. He’s close enough to see the darker flecks of blue in his eyes, the faint stubble on his jawline.
The kiss on The Today Show suddenly pops into his mind. He loved the feeling of catching Jack off guard. Of being the spontaneous one for once.
Jack isn’t moving, he notices, and neither is he. So he makes the first move.
“Well, I better get going,” he says, standing from the couch and cracking his knuckles. “See you tomorrow.”
Jack blinks like he’s coming out of a trance, but a second later, his expression returns to normal. Well, as normal as Jack can be. “Got a hot date?”
“Yeah. With a merger.”
“Sounds spicy,” Jack says, throwing one leg over the other. “Have a blast.”
There’s an edge to his voice Will can’t quite place.
“Thanks,” he says before heading for the door, and he hopes the true meaning of it is conveyed.
Later, after his work is finished (and billable hours calculated), he settles into bed earlier than usual, overwhelmed by a strange exhaustion.
His arms travel down his face, his neck, his back, and lower—his eyes are closed, yet he knows exactly what he’s doing, like he’s memorized this body, knows it better than his own—their lips move against each other with something that can only be described as hunger—
Their chests press together, warm skin against warm skin, and his is as smooth as freshly ironed sheets, which he also happens to be leaning against, and maybe he should just let himself be pushed down, fall onto the mattress—
His own name is murmured between kisses, and he realizes not with shock, but rather earnest curiosity that he doesn’t know his lover’s name, and so he opens his eyes—
And finds himself facing a pair that seem to be glowing like crystals catching sunlight, dotted with flecks of darker blue, and light stubble surrounding a mouth in a familiar upturned smirk.
He sits up suddenly, and he’s in the same bed, but the room is dark, his shirt is on, and he’s alone.
It’s not uncommon for Jack to borrow Will’s guest bathroom in the morning, which is why he doesn’t understand Will’s start upon seeing him walk out of it, wrapped in a towel.
“What are you doing?” His hair is mussed, sticking up in every which way, and his shirt is wrinkled like he was rolling around in his sleep.
“Taking a shower,” Jack replies, annunciating each word slowly, as if he’s talking to a three-year-old.
Will waves a hand in his direction before tromping toward the kitchen. “Yeah, well, put on a shirt or something.”
Jack narrows his eyes, folds his arms, and steps around the couch. “You’re acting weird.” Then he gasps. “Do you have a man in your room?”
Will rises from where he’s crouched behind the counter and slams a pan down onto the stove. “No, Jack, how about you?” His voice is as stiff and heavy as his cookware, and he immediately turns to the fridge.
Jack makes his way toward the counter. “As a matter of fact, I do not. Only an uptight best friend in his kitchen who won’t tell me what’s going on.”
Turning around again, Will places down the carton of eggs with a bit of unnecessary force. “It’s nothing. I just…didn’t have a great sleep. Now, go get dressed if you want to have breakfast.”
“Fine, fine,” Jack says. He leaves the apartment, closes the door behind him, and heads back into his own.
After quickly throwing together an outfit consisting of pants he borrowed from Will, a shirt he “borrowed” from a one-night stand, and shoes bought by Karen, he makes his way back out into the hall. His hand is on the door to apartment 9C, ready to open it again, but he hesitates when he hears voices.
“Grace, I had a dream about him! What the hell does that mean?”
Grace shrugs as she grabs a box of leftover cheesecake from the fridge. “I don’t know, Will. That’s up to you to figure out.”
“But I’m asking you.” While Will appreciates her listening to his rant while she gets ready for work, she seems to be avoiding his question and remaining impartial and nonjudgmental—which is completely out of character. He leans against the refrigerator door and stares at her imploringly. “Please, just give me your honest opinion.”
She shrugs, eyebrows raised, as she steps around him. “Well, I do think it means something. And I think you should talk to him about it.” Cheesecake tucked under one arm, she grabs her jacket and heads for the door. “Look, I’ve got to go, and I don’t want to meddle. I don’t want to say or tell you to do anything that could put your fifteen years of friendship at risk. So I think this one’s on you to figure out, Will.”
Jack manages to step away just in time as Grace pushes open the door.
“Oh, hi, Jack,” she says when she sees him, and the look on her face confirms what he already suspected. “Speak of the devil,” she mutters, which only further supports his case. She casts one last glance at him—a glance that is far too knowing; is she smirking?—before disappearing into the elevator.
When Jack walks into the apartment, Will is leaning against the fridge, a hand on his forehead.
“Hi,” Jack says. “So, all that weirdness before—”
Will’s head shoots up. “Did you—”
“Hear that entire conversation?” He doesn’t move further than the kitchen table. “Yes.”
Will lets out a long sigh, rubbing his temple. “Jack, it doesn’t mean anything. It was just a dream. Don’t make it weird.”
“Will, you’re in my dreams all the time.” He gestures in his direction. "You’re the one making it weird.”
Will frowns. “You dream about me?”
“Not in the way you’re thinking, perv.” Then he notices the shift in Will’s expression. “Ha! I knew it! You had a sex dream about me.”
Okay, so the part about Jack never having those himself? A big, fat lie. But now that he knows the same happens to Will…well, it’s more than just excellent blackmail material.
Will’s eyes dart around the room as if he’s worried someone could be listening in, and then he hurries down to meet Jack at the table. “Look, it wasn’t a sexdream, it was just—” His voice hitches. “Making out?”
“Oh. My. God.” Jack slams his hands down on the table to accentuate each word, and he can’t help the grin that spreads across his face. “So, how was I?”
Will groans, falling into a chair. “I am not having this conversation right now.”
Jack takes the seat beside him, crossing his legs and leaning forward, chin in his hand. “Oh, but I am. So, answer my question.”
Will buries his head in his hands, so Jack can’t see his expression. “It was terrible. Gross.”
“Sorry, you’re mumbling, could you speak up?”
He lifts his head, spreading his hands. “Fine! It was weird, Jack! It was so weird I couldn’t fall back to sleep afterwards, because I didn’t want it to happen again.”
“I’ll take that as a yes, then.”
“I heard what Grace said. She thinks we need to talk it out. Have a serious conversation.”
Will glares at him. “And is that what you’re trying to do here?”
Jack reaches out and puts a hand on his wrist, lowering it gently to the table. “I’m sorry. Look, I think she’s right. We should seriously address…” He waves a hand between them. “Whatever’s going on here.”
Will slouches back in his chair like a kid that’s been caught stealing cookies. “There’s nothing going on here,” he mumbles.
“Will, if that were true, you wouldn’t have got so worked up over a silly dream.”
It takes a moment and a pointed stare, but finally, Will sighs. “Alright. Just like I said after—you know, Karen’s boat—I’d be lying if I said I’d never…thought about us.”
Jack nods, patting his wrist. “Okay, good. That’s a start.”
Will narrows his eyes. “And what about you? Mr. ‘I’m in love with you’ in the middle of a grocery store?”
Jack grits his teeth. “That was over a decade ago.”
“But it’s still true, isn’t it?”
It hits Jack in the chest like a punch from his high school’s quarterback.
Of course it’s true. He’s been repressing it for fifteen years, but it’s still there, buried underneath countless flings and hookups that were all failed attempts at quashing it completely.
He stands up and is about to march straight back to his apartment, because this is not how he wanted this conversation to go (but does he even know how he wanted it to go?), when Will gets up and grabs his arm.
Jack stares at him. “Wait for what, Will?” He hates how broken his voice sounds. “I’m tired of waiting.”
Will’s hand slides down to his own, and then he takes Jack’s other hand, too. “Is this what you’ve been waiting for?”
And then he’s leaning forward, and he’s only a breath away, and his eyes slide shut—
It’s different from the dream.
It’s slower, much more careful, much more hesitant. But it’s different from everything else, too. There’s something new here, yet it’s not new at all—it’s something that’s always been there, hiding in wait, but has just now been uncovered.
Moments of his life flash through his mind—opening his dorm room closet after that party to find him standing there, the look on his face as he ran off to the frozen food aisle in D’Agostinos, hugging him out on the balcony before he came out to his mother, thinking that’s a face I could love. All of their petty fights, all of his bad habits, all of the ways they’ve helped each other through the most difficult times in their lives. Despite his flaws, he’s always been there, ready to pick up the pieces after every messy fight or breakup.
He’s felt so lonely for so long. But maybe he’s never had to.
Unlike in his dream, Jack is the one to pull away first.
“Will,” he says slowly. “If that was just to—”
“It wasn’t.” Will squeezes his hands. “I love you, Jack. I wouldn’t have done this if I wasn’t sure it was what I wanted, too.”
Jack’s eyes widen. “So, you think we can…” He glances down at their hands. “Be…this?”
Will nods, stepping closer. “I think so. I’m not one hundred percent certain everything’s going to work out perfectly, but…I’d like to give it a try. And I think if things don’t work out for some reason, our friendship will survive it.”
“Of course it will,” Jack says, rolling his eyes. “It’s survived this long, after all. So, no matter what happens, friends?”
It’s reassuring, though Will doesn’t think it’s even necessary. “Friends.”
Then he drops Jack’s hands in favor of an embrace.
Nothing has really changed, Jack realizes a few days later.
Sure, they make out. A lot. But even that’s not entirely new for them, considering the Al Roker incident, Joe and Larry’s jacuzzi, and what may or may not have happened on Karen’s yacht. Jack still pokes fun at his hair and his dorkiness, and Will kindly returns the favor, and they still watch the same TV shows together, stretched out on the white loveseat, and Jack still bursts into apartment 9C every morning looking for breakfast—that is, if he hasn’t stayed over the night before and made a point to wake up and get dressed before Grace, which is becoming an increasingly frequent occurrence.
Yes, they still haven’t told Grace. They decided to keep it to themselves for three days, which then turned into six, going on seven. They’ve had some close calls involving Grace opening the apartment door when both of their shirts were off, but neither she nor Karen have shown any signs of suspicion yet.
Will returns to work, and Jack visits his office daily, which is only about twice as often as he did before. He would wonder if Will’s coworkers have started noticing, but he knows most of them already assumed they were a couple long before now. And he doesn’t mind in the least people knowing Will is his.
He never really thought of himself as a possessive person, perhaps because he was always so carefree with his flings, never seriously committing himself to one person at a time. And he knew his partners usually held the same attitude. But with Will, like most things, it’s different. He’d never think of cheating or having another guy on the side, because Will has been his end goal all along. Now that he finally has what he wants, he can’t even imagine being with anyone else.
Which is why he has a huge smile on his face as he waltzes into Will’s office, sits down on the desk, brings his legs up beside him, and leans over to gives him a kiss. “Hi.”
“Hey, Jackie.” He’d never fess up to how much he loved that nickname. “What’s up?”
“Nothing much,” he sing-songs, walking two fingers down his jeans. “Just wanted to say hi to my BF.”
Will’s eyes widen for only half a second, but it doesn’t go unnoticed. Right. They haven’t used that word out loud yet. Only in Jack’s head.
Will leans on his elbow, resting his chin in his hand. “BF. And that stands for…”
“Best friend,” Jack says quickly. Then he stares down at his hands. “Or…boyfriend?”
Will’s hand stops his from fidgeting, and when he looks up, he’s smiling—not in a patronizing or mocking way, but in a genuine, happy way that Jack wishes happened more often. “How about both?”
Jack can’t help his own smile. “Both is good.”
Will squeezes his hand. “Good. Now, I’ve gotta work, okay? I’m swamped. But I’ll take you to dinner tonight. Promise.”
“I’ll hold you to that,” Jack says. Then he leans forward. “Kiss for the road?”
It’s a bit longer than a typical kiss for the road. Jack theorizes that they both have a lot of pent-up emotions from so many years of not doing this that makes the times when they do it so much more intense. Not that he’s complaining.
But then the unmistakable sound of a creaking door causes them to practically leap apart, faces flushed and hair mussed. Jack whirls around on the desk and finds himself face-to-face with a familiar lipsticked grin.
“You gays done now? I need to speak to my lawyer.”
Jack jumps to his feet. “Karen, it’s not what you think, Will and I were just—”
“Jack.” He feels a hand on his arm. “It’s fine. She was going to find out at some point or another.”
“Oh,” Karen says, glancing back and forth between them. “So this wasn’t just a fun little make-out sesh? That’s sad, ‘cause I wanted to join in.”
“No, Kare, this is serious,” Jack says. He looks back at Will. “We’re together now.”
She claps twice. “Well, isn’t that just sweet. I knew you two gals would come to your senses eventually. Remember, you still have the twenty thousand Stan left you for your wedding.”
Will coughs. “Um, you said you needed to speak with me?”
Karen casts a sideways look at the wall, as if it’s going to tell her what she’s forgotten. “Oh, right. I do. Anyway, I can’t wait to tell Grace about all this.”
“No!” Will splutters, rising from his chair. “I mean, no, Karen, please don’t tell her. I—I’d rather do it myself. Okay?”
Karen seems to ponder this for a second before nodding. “Okay, Wilma.” Then she mimes locking her mouth and throwing away the key.
Will then turns to Jack. “We can tell her later, when we’re all at home. Alright?”
Will should’ve realized long ago that he can’t rely on plans when it comes to his two best friends.
Grace stays at her office later than usual, which means Will and Jack are on the couch as soon as he gets home, not wanting to waste a perfect opportunity to have some alone time. They lose track of the time, however, and when Grace arrives, she finds them practically on top of each other, half-dressed, faces red, and hair astray.
They don’t cover it up as well as the last time.
Grace puts her hands on her hips. “Okay, this is the second time this week, guys. Spill the beans.”
Will wrestles a shirt over his head, but Jack doesn’t bother. He leans back into the couch and smirks while Will stands up.
“I took your advice, Gracie,” he says, reaching out to take one of her hands. “We talked it out.”
“And then made out,” Jack adds. “Many, many times.”
Will shoots him a glare over his shoulder, but it’s halfhearted. Just like they’ve always been. Jack, despite his tendencies, has been his soft spot for a long time, and he knows it.
Grace drops Will’s hand and steps past him. “So you two finally did it, huh?”
Will narrows his eyes. “Karen said something similar, is this something you guys have been—”
Grace stops in front of Jack and stares down at him with an intensity that could scare small children. “Jack, if you hurt my best friend, I swear to all that is holy—”
Jack raises his hands and is about to interrupt, but Will’s faster, resting a hand on her shoulder. “Grace, you don’t have to do this, come on. This isn’t like one of my other boyfriends; it’s just…Jack.”
Grace glances back at him, and then at Jack again, and when they realize the positioning of his hands and the timing of Will’s words, all three of them burst into laughter.
“Oh, God,” she says after they’ve regained their senses. “Honestly, guys, I’m happy for you. You were practically a couple already, so you might as well start reaping the benefits.” She chuckles for a second at her own joke before pointing at each of them in turn. “But while once was cute, and twice is funny, three times is going to be treading the line between annoying and gross. So try to save it for the bedroom.”
Jack winks over-dramatically while Will scratches the back of his head. “Well, I was sort of thinking…you guys could trade spaces? Grace, you could take Jack’s apartment, and I’d still be right here to help with the baby, but you’d have your own place in case you ever, you know…met someone.” He gestures vaguely. “And Jack could move in here. I mean, it’s not like we’ve never lived together before, and it only makes sense…” He trails off when he notices how both of them are staring at him expressionlessly. “What? Is it a terrible idea?”
“No, silly!” Jack exclaims, leaping up from the couch to catch him in a tight hug. “You’re asking me to move in with you? How bold of you, Will Truman, and after we’ve only been dating for a week.”
Will pats his back while looking over his shoulder. “Grace? Is it okay with you?”
She smiles and nods. “Of course it is.” Then she joins the embrace, wrapping an arm around each of them and leaning her head onto Will’s shoulder. “And now my baby isn’t going to have one gay uncle but two. This is gonna be the most well-dressed kid on this side of Manhattan.”
That night, they lay side-by-side, Jack’s arm slung over Will’s chest, and the only thought running through both of their heads is why didn’t we do this sooner?