The first time Jack and David kiss, they’re both sixteen, because it’s May, right after Jack’s birthday and a month before David’s. They’re sitting on David’s bed, which only looks this nice on days when Jack comes over. (The covers are tucked in and everything. His grandmother would be proud.)
Jack is going on about something or other, until -
“I dunno, Davey,” he says, running a hand through his hair. “What do you think?”
David just looks at him, caught in his eyes for a moment. Jack has a dusting of freckles across his face that really comes out this time of year. He hadn’t noticed them until now. It’s been a while since he just looked at Jack.
Jack tilts his head, waiting for David’s response. He blinks, looking as though he’s about to say something, and then David kisses him.
It’s one two three four heartbeats until Jack responds.
one - The thrill of the action flushes out any thought in his head for a second.
two - God, what did he do?
three - It’s not like he hasn’t thought about this before, in a thousand different contexts, but -
four - Shit. This was a mistake.
He’s about to pull away, but then - five - Jack has a hand on David’s neck, and he’s kissing back, leaning forward just a little bit. David doesn’t have time to process what that means before they break apart and Jack is looking at him, eyelashes fluttering and pink dusting his face.
David fights tears.
Jack doesn’t mention it again, but David will never quite get rid of the memory. He’ll wonder if it even is one, instead of a dream repeated in the back of his head. He’s pushed himself in too deep.
There are a handful of kisses in the future, but none are significant: dares and acting and once, mistletoe. They all make David feel things that he wishes he didn’t, but it doesn’t matter anyway because they’re not real.
(Sometimes, Race or Katherine or Albert and most often Sarah will try to tell him that Jack feels the same way. He can’t let himself believe them, because if he has that kind of false hope about this, then he knows he won’t recover.)
And so David is haunted by this history of a made-up connection, when really all they’ll ever be is friends. And he’s fine with that.
The thing that hurts the most, though, is the times when it really seems like Jack is doing something. They come often, some of them oh so subtle and some obvious enough that David is sure Jack knows what he’s causing.
None of them are packaged with such a clear message as the game of pretend they played on those occasions when their friends (plural, and David doesn’t like to name names, but Racetrack always seems to be involved) had them kiss. They are burned into David’s memory all the same.
One such moment comes when they’re rooming together out of high school. (That in itself was a lapse of judgment on David’s part, and he knows that he can always move in with Race and Spot, but he can’t bring himself to leave.)
The question comes out of the blue. Jack and David are sitting on opposite ends of their couch, just living in each other’s space like they do, and Jack looks up from his sketchbook and says -
“Hey, Dave, you ever been in love?”
The thing is - when he fell for Jack, he fell hard. And the impact might not have hurt so much if it had been a clear path, but instead he lost focus and lost control, hitting branches on the way down.
(The pain was near unimaginable when he woke up broken, bruised, and bloody, covered in hundreds of scratches. One for each time he let one of these moments reach his heart.)
“Yeah,” he says. “Once.”
“Didja do anything about it?”
What is he getting at?
“Couldn’t bring myself to tell him,” David says, pretending to go back to his book. This - this is uncharted territory.
“You could,” Jack says. “You could tell him. He might love you back.”
David doesn’t know what he’s trying to do, but he does know that Jack has no right to talk about taking the first step.
“What if he doesn’t?” Some invisible force is pushing David forward, and another pushing him back. He has to work to keep breathing through the tension in the air. “Where does that get us?”
“What if he does?”
David can’t see clearly through the raw anger that’s building.
“Jack,” he says, leaning back in his seat. He loves Jack - of course he loves Jack - but god, he’s pushing it too far. After years of living with this kind of game -
Until Jack is ready to be clear with him, David can’t handle this. He presses his lips together. “I have to make a call.”
It’s not all so dismal - when they’re together they’ve always had more positive experiences than not, but it’s the way David is that makes the darker ones stand out in his head.
For instance: there are two things David knows about his current situation.
The first is that he should not be this broken up about an argument. Him and Jack - they’ll bounce back, because they always bounce back.
The second is that the emotion is bone-deep, overpowering, and he can feel it in every inch of the air. (Inescapable.)
He’s shut himself in his room. Edges are fuzzed; the dark mocks him. His surroundings are closing in, enveloping him like -
Like any other day.
David slides off the end of the bed so that he can feel the stability of the ground beneath him.
he’s fine. he’s fine. he’s fine.
He almost laughs because he can’t even remember what it was about anymore. The words are blurred out but he can recall the noise, the sound of their voices, the slam of the door in enhanced detail.
He knows they’ll bounce back. But -
In all their thirteen years of friendship, it’s never hurt this much.
If he forces his eyes shut tight enough, he can feel Jack pressed against him, can hear their breathing sync, can sense their hearts beating in time. God, he wants Jack there beside him. Longs for it so much that he collapses in on himself. He can feel himself shaking.
And he doesn’t even care, doesn’t care if Jack is still mad at him, it doesn’t matter because David loves him, he loves him and it hurts.
God, it hurts.
He can’t even cry.
His breathing is shallow. The quiet of the room is drowned out by everything racing through his head.
And then, blessedly, he hears the door open.
He prays it’s Jack even though he knows it’s Jack, because who else could it possibly be? David tugs at the sleeve of his sweater, directing his gaze anywhere but where he can hear footsteps.
Jack sits next to him, facing him from the left. When David finally looks up, he can see clearly that Jack’s - well, Jack is a bit of a wreck. His eyes are red, probably from rubbing at them, and his hair is a mess, ruffled in all the wrong places.
Jack smiles a little, but it’s bittersweet. “I’m sorry.”
And David falls apart, collapsing into him and sobbing into his shirt. Jack pulls him closer to make it a proper hug.
“I love you,” Jack says into his hair. “You don’t know how much I love you.”
David pulls away to look him in the eyes. “You - do you…?”
Jack just nods, lifting a hand to cup David’s jaw. His smile is a little brighter, now.
David shuts his eyes. “Jack, I - you know I love you, darling, but…why didn’t you tell me? I - ” He sighs, leaning back against the bed. “It’s been so long.”
“I should have.” He has the grace to look regretful about it. “I should have. I’m sorry.”
David doesn’t know what to say to that, so he sits up again and presses their foreheads together. “S’okay,” he says softly. “You did this time.”
It’s just like how they used to be, except it’s wildly different, too, because this time it’s something permanent. Something true.
He doesn’t hope that it’ll last, because he believes that it will. That’s more than enough.