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December 22nd, 2018 - 7:16pm, EST

Okay, so this was a disaster.

Mac wasn’t sure what it was about the combination of missions and Christmas that seemed to be so ridden with issues, but he didn’t exactly have time to think about that at the moment. It was really more important that he stay focused on keeping himself- and Jack, who had a lovely stab wound slowing him down- alive and not hypothermic.

The wilds of Canada in mid-December were not a pleasant place to be, not even starting on the brutal blizzard, but he kept pushing. There was a safe house- really more of a safe shack- only a few hundred meters away, and that would be where they would camp out.

“Come on, only a little more to go,” he told Jack, readjusting the arm Mac had slung over his shoulders. “Can you see the cabin yet?”

“Maybe- a little to the left?” Jack offered, his teeth audibly gritted against the pain. “See, there’s that big silhouette over there, that’s gotta be it.”

Mac peered into the blankness of the snow, and indeed there was the faint outline of something that resembled the cabin. He sighed, regretted it when a sudden gust sent a flurry of snow into his mouth, and turned them both towards the structure.

Slowly but surely, the pair made their way to the cabin. Jack had seen it correctly, even through the nearly solid wall of snow. Jack himself was looking very rough; the knife had landed a solid hit in his side, and while it didn’t look life-threatening, it was certainly going to hurt like hell to do much of anything.

When they finally managed to stumble around to the cabin door and pick up the key from its hiding spot, Mac practically shoved his partner through the door and slammed it behind him. It felt good to finally be out of the biting wind, but his job wasn’t done yet.

“Can you sit down? I’ll go find the medical kit,” Mac said, already starting to glance around. The place was more of a safe-shack than a proper safe-house, but it would serve them well enough.

“Yeah, but I ain’t gettin’ too far past the door, I don’t think.”

He grimaced, but didn’t stop looking about. There was protocol for placement of necessities, but the cabin was old. Mac only knew about it in the first place because Matty had insisted that they both memorize a map of all safe-houses in the general vicinity of their mission. “Don’t worry about it. Just get ready for me to take a look at that stab.”

Lucky for him, the kit was in the first cupboard he tried. Mac hauled it out and rushed back to Jack, setting it down beside him. His partner had managed to take off his jacket and to shove up his blood-soaked shirt, but what Mac saw didn’t give him much hope. It wasn’t deep enough to hit anything too important, but it was deep and it was bleeding a lot.

“I’m going to clean it up first,” he told Jack slowly. “We don’t want any infection.”

“That bad?” the injured man grimaced. “Y’don’t need to baby me, you know.”

Mac nodded, still thinking about what he needed to do. “I know, Jack. It’s just- this is bad. I don’t think you have any internal damage, but I can’t know for sure. I’m definitely going to need to do stitches and, well, we both know I’m not great at that.”

Jack grimaced again. “Your talents do indeed lie elsewhere, that’s for certain. Still, someone’s gotta do it and it ain’t gonna be the tooth fairy.”

He took a long exhale, then picked up the disinfectant and some swabs. “Well, we’ve still got to clean it. Try to hold still?”

“I’ll do my best,” he said grimly.

The process of cleaning and stitching wasn’t a pleasant one. Every time Jack flinched under his hands, Mac got the urge to stop, despite knowing full well that he couldn’t he shouldn’t. Seeing his friend in pain- in pain because of him, no less- was upsetting, no matter how many times it happened.

“It’s almost ready to be bandaged up,” he said at last, finishing his last stitch and typing it off.

“Amen to that. We got any liquor to dull the pain?” Jack asked, a hint of humour in his tone.

“No, but we have…” Mac examined a bottle of painkillers. “What looks like some pretty heavy stuff. Take one of these and it should get you feeling better.”

Jack did so gratefully, swallowing the pill without a second glance. “We should get started on a fire before we freeze. I don’t think this place has heatin’.”

“I don’t think it does either. I do think this place has a fireplace, but I didn’t memorize everything.” Mac spoke as he wrapped up Jack’s side. The bleeding had definitely slowed, but the bandages were still stained almost immediately. “Do you feel up to coming with me, or should I come back and get you when I find somewhere?”

He started to move, but he stopped midway, flinching aggressively. Worryingly, it took a moment for him to speak. “I think I’m gonna need to sit this one out, Mac.”

“Alright. I’ll be back in a few moments,” he said, closing the medical kit. “Holler if you need anything, I can’t be far away.

“M’kay. I ain’t going anywhere.”

With that, Mac left Jack in the small entryway and stepped through the first door and into the cabin proper. The entire place held the think but subtle smell of abandonment, the kind of musty scent that developed over the decades. To no one’s shock, it was dusty too, and very 70’s brown. It was created more out of protocol’s demands than the idea that anyone would need to use it, and it showed.

The door had led him to the kitchen, which was separated from the living room only by the small counter space. There was a fireplace, thank god, and another two doors, leading to the bedroom and bathroom, Mac presumed. There was also a large pile of firewood on the back wall, across from the fireplace.

Quickly, he checked out the other two rooms, confirming his suspicions. The bathroom was tiny and dingy, but it didn’t have mold, which was a win. The bedroom was where the problems started; there was only one bed, and the couch wasn’t big enough for either of them. Still, Mac figured that it was better than being outside in that blizzard, which was still wailing away behind the windows.

“There is indeed a fireplace,” he said when he returned to Jack. “And wood. I think there might even be kindling.”

His partner raised his hands to the sky jokingly. “Hallelujah! I might be able to feel my toes for once in this godforsaken country!”

Mac laughed, then bent down to help. “We gotta get you in front of that fireplace first. On the count of three?”

Jack nodded, and they managed to get him back on his feet. From there, it was only a few feet to get him seated before the hearth. Mac, with more mobility, was the one who started the fire, although not from a lack of motivation on Jack’s part.

“Come on, you think that’s gonna start a fire? Where the hell’s the oxygen gonna come through?” he protested animatedly, and Mac winced for his stitches. “Ain’t you supposed to be the boy scout?”

“I’ve known you for however many years now and you still can’t remember that they kicked me out for building that rocket? You know, the one that failed miserably and damaged the community centre?” he said, focusing on his perfectly fine fire-starting set up, thank you, Jack.

“So they kicked you out for explodin’ something? That’s even worse!”

“No, they kicked me out for setting fire to something, which should prove that I’m an adequate fire-starter.”

Jack groaned, and Mac knew he’d won. “Accidental fires do not count.”

Despite that, the fire was fine and soon, Mac was able to warm some feeling back into his hands and feet. Jack looked more and more relaxed as he warmed up, his posture falling lax and his eyes half-closing. Mac related; it was pitch black outside, and had been for hours. It constantly felt like time to sleep, even thought it was only around dinner time.

“We should eat.” It was Jack who finally broke their comfortable silence. “And tell Matty what’s gone down.”

The mission- the destruction of some remote science lab- was sensitive enough that Matty had placed a “no comms” embargo on them. Their radios were even wired to self-destruct in case of failure. Luckily, no such thing had been necessary, even if things hadn’t gone exactly as planned.

Mac sighed despite himself. He’d relished the brief respite from the hectic environment all members of the Phoenix Foundation were familiar with, but now it was back to work. “I’ll make us dinner and you can talk to the boss.”

Jack pulled a face but didn’t object, so Mac got up and stepped over to the kitchen. There was no fridge, which was such a promising sign, but he supposed it was for the best. Everything here was likely from when the cabin had been built.

He started looking through the cabinets, of which there were quite a few. Most of them held dishes or glasses or, bizarrely, cutlery, but a couple held canned food. Checking the “eat by” dates yielded timestamps set somewhere in the future, even if some of them were within a few weeks of their expiration date.

After retrieving a pot and some soup, Mac light the gas stove. In the other room, he could hear Jack talking quietly with Matty. The stove was an old gas burner, but it worked surprisingly well. The soup was ready fast, and he dished it out into two bowls. When he got back to the fire, Jack was finished talking.

“So when’s ex-fil?” Mac asked, handing Jack his bowl.

With his spoon already halfway to his mouth, Jack spoke. “She ain’t passed a verdict yet. Says that the snowstorm’s too big for her to make a final call.”

“Perfect. That’s exactly what we needed to hear at this time of year.” Mac sighed as he sat down next to him.

“That’s unusually bitter for you,” Jack noted. “What’s wrong?”

“I’d like one good Christmas that isn’t interrupted because of a mission. Literally any one would do.” He laid back a little on his arms, let the heat soak back into his body. “Can you even remember the last time we had a Christmas at home?”

Jack paused for a moment, thinking. “There was, uh-” he cut himself off to think some more. It was evident when he gave up. “Well, evil don’t take breaks on the weekends. We gotta pick up after them.”

“What I wouldn’t give for them to all take a nice vacation. Preferably to Mars.”

Jack snorted. “Don’t we all? Still, s’too late to go back now. We may as well enjoy our forced vacation.”

He sighed again, and started to eat his soup. “Yeah. I guess we may as well.”

The night after that passed quietly. If he closed his eyes, Mac could almost pretend he was sitting by the fire pit at his own house.

“I’ll take first watch,” Mac offered eventually. “You need the sleep more than I do.”

“Do we even need to take watches? We blew those guys up pretty good,” Jack said lazily.

“It’s a precaution. Protocol and all that.”

“Alright, alright. Don’t make the shifts too long, you’re no use if you’re exhausted by the end of it.” He got up and started walking to the bedroom door. He could hear Jack shuffling around, and then settling in for the night.

The solitude gave him the space to listen to the world outside. Alone, it felt somber, the windows revealing the ever-steady falling of the snow. The quiet of the cabin was disturbed by nothing but the quiet sounds of Jack’s sleep and the angry winds outside.

Mac kept a careful watch, even though he agreed with Jack’s assessment of the situation. It was better to be safe than to have a repeat of the Paris incident- strangling a man with Jack’s old, sweaty shirt until he’d passed out had not been one of the highlights of his career. Luckily for him, the night stayed quiet. It felt like there was nothing and no one outside their little cabin for miles.

As the night wore on, he began to feel his eyelids get heavier and heavier. The world around Mac was muted and he was deliciously warm. There wasn’t enough adrenaline in his system to keep him awake, he noted fuzzily.

Finally, at three in the morning, he caved and swapped out with Jack. It took a small gathering of willpower to wake his partner up; not out of some masochistic determination not to need help, but because it was clear that Jack was sleeping soundly and peacefully, a remarkable feat for any Phoenix Foundation member. But in the end,  Mac knew he needed the sleep more at this point, and that all the sleep in the world couldn’t help Jack if they were ambushed.

“Hey,” he said softly, and Jack awoke with a small jolt. “Time to switch out.”

“Mmf,” Jack mumbled, scrubbing at his face. “Okay. Okay. We got any coffee?”

“Yeah, I think so. Third cupboard to the left of the doorway, if I’m remembering right.”

Jack sat up and swung his legs out of the bed. “Do you ever remember anything wrong?”

“My brain’s not a computer, Jack. I’m gonna miss some things.”

He snorted as he stood, the sheets pooling around his still clothed body. “Maybe, but you sure do a good job of hidin’ that sometimes. Don’t sell yourself too short.”

“Just acknowledging my humanity,” Mac said, taking Jack’s place on the bed. The sheets were warm and surprisingly soft, which was nice.

“If you say so, buddy. Sleep well,” he said, turning away from Mac and stepping through the doorway. The door swung shut behind him.

It didn’t take Mac long to fall asleep. The room was dark, the night wore heavy on his shoulders, and the exertions of the day were finally starting to set in. He closed his eyes and embraced the blackness.

December 23rd, 2018 - 8:47am, EST

Mac woke up when the sliver of light from the join between the curtain and the window hit his eyes. His body felt a lot like it had been turned partly into lead, but he pushed through it and sat up, rubbing his eyes.

The room looked almost exactly how it had last night, but slightly brighter and the door was opened just a crack. Jack must have come to check on him at some point. Slowly, Mac got up, brushing off his sleep-rumpled clothes, and slid his shoes back on.

The cabin outside of the small room was almost as abandoned. Jack himself was the main sign of life, sitting squarely on the floor, the small fire just in front of him.

“Mornin’, sunshine. You were right about the coffee by the way,” Jack said by way of greeting. “The pot’s in the sink, the beans are are where they were in the first place.”

“How stale is it?”

“Eh, it’s not winnin’ any awards, but it won’t kill ya.”

Mac raised a single eyebrow, but turned to the kitchen- really more of a kitchenette, but he wasn’t awake enough to feel truly pedantic. Everything was where Jack had said it would be, so he was able to run on autopilot, his hands running the familiar process while his mind pondered other things.

Today, he was thinking about the weather, or more specifically, the snow. How high was it? Mac could just barely see out the crack in between the curtains, and it didn’t look good. Actually, it didn’t look like much at all, which was even worse. If the wall of white outside was what he thought it was, they were going to be stuck for a few days at least.

“Hey, have you talked with Matty yet?” he called as he waited for his mug to cool a little. “I don’t think it looks good out there.”

“That’s cause it ain’t good out there, we don’t need Matty to tell us that,” Jack said, remarkably languid for a man who’d recently realized that he was probably trapped in a cabin for a few days. “The snow ain’t quite up to the windows, but it’s a close enough thing.”

He resisted the urge to scrub at his face to see if he was dreaming. “Fantastic. That’s everything I’ve ever needed to hear. But back to my original question: Matty?”

Jack shook his head. “Not yet. Figured it would be better to wait until you woke up. That way, nothin’ gets repeated.”

“That’s fair,” he said, and scooped up his mug, coming to sit next to Jack. “But we’re going to need to talk to her soon.”

When he reached his partner, Mac put down the coffee and gently reached out for the hem of Jack’s shirt. “I’m going to take a look at this before we do anything else, though.”

Jack grunted, but didn’t say anything. Tugging the shirt up revealed a slightly bloodied bandage, but it was old blood, and there wasn’t very much of it. Unravelling that showed Mac the actual stab wound, which was a little red and puffy around the edges. Ultimately, he gave it a passing grade and let Jack’s shirt fall back down.

“It doesn’t look too bad. No infection, not much bleeding, and barely red,” Mac informed him. “How’re you feeling?”

“Like I got stabbed yesterday,” Jack said sarcastically, taking a sip from his coffee cup. “But other’n that, not bad.”

Mac huffed a small laugh and leaned back, out of Jack’s personal space. He hadn’t realized quite how close they’d gotten until he’s moved back a little. “Good. And now, it’s time to find out just how badly we’re fucked.”

The radio was perched on the small coffee table, and he turned it on. “This is Paperclip and Delta, anyone on over there?”

A momentary pause, then the crackle of static. “Yes, it’s the early morning comms officer.”

Not Matty, but that was to be expected. It was five, maybe six am in the morning in California after all, and despite what she may say, she needed to sleep some time. “We’re checking in to see if there’s any updates on ex-fil. We’re both stable, and I can’t see any emergencies coming up soon.”

“That’s good, because the earliest an ex-fil team’s going to be able to get to you is on Christmas Day,” the officer said. In the background, Mac heard the clickety-clack of a keyboard. “You’re still in Cabin 14-C, over by that lake?”

“Yes.”

“Then we’ll get to you at around four in the afternoon, on Christmas. If everything goes well, you’ll be back home by ten or eleven the same day. Sorry it’s not earlier, but you two got stuck in a truly colossal storm. Check in again if anything comes up, alright?”

“Will do,” said Jack. Mac hadn’t noticed him coming up behind him. “See y’all soon, ‘f everything goes well. Over and out.”

“Over and out,” the officer said, and then there was the click of the radio turning off.

“Well,” Jack said after a minute. “Looks like we’ve got plenty of time on our hands.”

“If only we had something to do with that time,” Mac said wryly, and took a sip of his coffee.

Jack stretched out languidly, being careful about his side. “What, you’re tellin’ me you ain’t gonna jury-rig a TV outta this mess?”

“Not out of what’s here. That would be a challenge in and of itself, even if we weren’t in a place with tech that clearly hasn’t been touched in decades,” Mac said. “I could probably make some pretty nice explosions though.”

He chuckled. “That’s my little pyromanic, makin’ detonators out of seventies couches. Maybe not inside though, I kinda like having walls separate me from the Canadian wilderness.”

After that, they went scrounging through the house, trying to find something to entertain themselves with. In the end, it was Jack who struck gold in the form of a deck of cards, likely left by whoever had last inhabited this little cabin. They managed to come up with more variations on card games than any one human should ever be exposed to, and Mac mostly managed to catch when Jack was cheating. They bantered back and forth, in the familiar way that they always did, but something about the whole situation made Mac’s skin itch.

There was a charge to the air, the kind that only ever happened when it was just Mac and Jack and empty space. It wasn’t truly bad- Mac would be lying if he said he disliked it. Still, he’d also be lying if he said he liked it. The strange static energy in between them was just there, and he couldn’t seem to understand it.

Well, he mostly couldn’t understand it.

It had been clear to Mac for a long time that his feelings towards Jack weren’t entirely platonic in nature. In fact, it had been clear almost since the moment that they met. Even if he hadn’t exactly liked Jack very much at the time, Mac wasn’t blind. And Jack- Jack was certainly something to look at. Now though, Jack was so much more than something to look at. He was nice, he was funny, he was passionate, he was protective. He was Mac’s friend.

It was for that reason that he kind-of-sort-of didn’t like the connection between them. If Jack had just been some eye candy, Mac might have gone for it. But Jack was his friend, his anchor, his partner. Messing up a relationship like that was something you’d regret forever.

And so, the awkward electricity stayed hovering in the air, forever reminding Mac of what couldn’t be. It made it hard to focus entirely on playing cards, but luckily for him, it seemed that Jack was having an off day too. They swapped the title of winner back and forth regularly, neither quite able to get an edge over the other for long.

“Alright,” Mac said after a game of gin rummy that he’d won. “I think it’s time we get dinner.”

“I can cook this time, if you keep that fire goin’,” Jack offered amicably, shuffling the deck back up and tucking the cards back into their box. “It ain’t like there’s gonna be anything to difficult for me.”

“Sure, that sounds good. I’ll see if I can find any more firewood around here.” Mac glanced over at the basket again, which was about two-thirds empty. “Just to play it safe.”

Jack grunted in acknowledgement, then stood and set off to make dinner. Instead of following suit right away, Mac stoked the fire first, letting the warm glow of the embers heat his face. He gave himself a long, slow exhale to let go of his thoughts, to free the nervous energy trapped under his skin, and then stood up.

There was nothing in the entrance to the cabin, or under the trapdoor Mac found there. Nothing in the two closets, no other hidden areas, nothing around the house. Eventually, he gave up and tried peering out of the nearly covered windows to see if there was anything of use out there. Lo and behold, there was a small shed not too far away that he was willing to bet was where the wood was kept. Unfortunately, the shed was barely visible above the snow, so he didn’t hold out much hope of getting there, let alone getting wood out.

Defeated, he rejoined Jack in the kitchen. “Well, I don’t think there’s going to be any more wood coming our way. I spotted a shack outside, but other than getting in there, chopping down a tree, or burning furniture, I think we’re screwed.”

Jack pulled a face. “D’ you think Matty would be nice this once and not charge us for the chairs? They’re ugly as hell anyways.”

“And probably drenched in flame retardants. Besides that, there’s no way Matty would let us get away with that unless we were hypothermic.”

His partner sighed, focusing his attention back to the stove. “Well, we better start savin’ that wood then. No fire at night, for starters.”

“That’s going to suck when we’re doing watches,” Mac pointed out, looking at the canned soup Jack was preparing. Surprisingly, it didn’t look too bad for having spend most of three years here.

“There’s an easy solution ‘fer that: don’t do watches,” Jack said. “As good as caution is, it ain’t gonna be much use while we’re here, ‘specially if we’re freezin’. No one’s getting through that snow without us knowing.”

As much as Mac wanted to deny it, Jack had a point. But if one of them wasn’t awake for watch…

“The couch is too small to sleep on, you know.”

“I do indeed,” Jack confirmed. “But the bed’s big enough for both of us.”

Mac swallowed and hoped it wasn’t audible. Sharing a bed with Jack wasn’t new, exactly, but every time it was so much as mentioned, his mouth went dry and he had to work to keep his heart rate steady.

“You can just take one side and I’ll take the other. Warmer that way too,” he continued, oblivious to Mac’s thoughts.

“Yeah, okay,” he choked out, ever eloquent. “Sounds good. What’s the ETA on dinner?”

Jack seemed a little suspicious about the quick change of topic, but didn’t press it. Instead, he pulled them back into their usual banter, the comfortable glue that held them together. With that standard frame of reference, the familiar push and pull, dinner passed quickly and Mac had almost put what was coming next out of his mind.

Almost.

The buzz had taken on an almost painful intensity from the moment Jack had said those words. Mac was an expert at ignoring it, but it had never felt so insistent as it did now. It felt less like an itch, a pull, a want, as it did a demanding gravity, commanding him to give in and crash into Jack. To reach out and stop hiding.

Every time something like this happened, Mac felt the uncomfortable pool of guilt in his stomach that came with wanting Jack. This phenomenon wasn’t restricted to Jack; he’d felt it in college too, whenever he’d woken up with a guy beside him, and back before he’d known what bisexual meant and all he knew was that Ryan Ames was beautiful, and that he wasn’t supposed to feel that way about him. It was just especially bad with Jack. The little devil on his shoulder whispered to him about how he was taking advantage of his friend, how Jack would be repulsed and betrayed if he knew, told him in strangers’ voices he remembered too well that he was disgusting.

There wasn’t much he could do to fix that right now, so Mac just tried to push such thoughts away. It wasn’t as if he was going to do anything to or with Jack other than sleeping beside him.

That was the chorus in his mind as he settled onto his side of the bed, teeth brushed a little longer than necessary and his face washed for the first time in who knew how long. Nothing was going to happen because Mac wasn’t going to make anything happen. This was just sharing a bed with Jack because the mission demanded it.

He was the first into bed, so Mac felt it when it dipped under Jack’s weight. He was heavy, and there was a definite pull towards him from how much the mattress had sunken. He felt sure there was something ironic about that, but his mind was too focused on the feeling of the warmth radiating from Jack’s back to think of much else.

Falling asleep was hard that night. Every little thing, from the tiny noises Jack made to the temperature, seemed determined to make itself irrevocably known to Mac, loudly and prominently. He fidgeted and wished that he had a paperclip, even if he knew all it would do would make it harder for him to sleep. If there ever was a use for the term “tossing and turning”, this was it.

Still, the true blackness of sleep engulfed his gaze around three in the morning and Mac fell into it gratefully.

December 24th, 2018 - 6:48am, EST

Mac woke up that morning to find that someone was spooned around him, with their chin tucked over his shoulder. He was still mostly asleep, the warmth built up under the blankets and from this other person making him barely lucid. The distantly rational side of him said that maybe he should be concerned that there was someone he couldn’t recall in his bed, but it was far off. Besides, the other, somewhat more present, parts of his brain were telling him that this was safe, this was good, this was familiar.

And there was something very familiar about the large arm currently wrapped loosely around Mac’s chest. He wasn’t able to place it, but he felt sure that he would when he woke up properly. Maybe it was something about the weight, or the heat, or the faint but present scent of soap that made Mac so at ease with his current situation.

He dozed that way for about half an hour, in the comfortable space between sleeping and not quite sleeping, dreaming with his eyes half open. There was no sun poking out from the bottom of the curtains, no noises from the rest of the cabin, and nothing but Mac to interrupt the peace.

Eventually, there was a sharp inhale by Mac’s ear that roused him from his sleepy state. He twitched his nose in surprise when he felt the warm breath brush across his skin. He didn’t awaken fully, but he blinked a few times, wondering what this interruption was.

The body behind him moved a little, and it occurred to him that they might be waking up. Their movement started to wake him up too. He didn’t want to move though, so he didn’t. In fact, Mac settled further into his bedmate’s arms.

They sighed and a very familiar voice came from next to his ear. “Oh, buddy.”

Suddenly, Mac was wide awake. That was Jack. That was Jack’s voice. 

It took all this effort not to move, or to change his breathing, or snap his eyes open and start apologizing. It would be easiest for both of them if he just… ignored whatever was about to happen.

The hand that was resting on his chest moved up to stroke gently at his hair. That was… unexpected, to say the least. “Oh, Mac. Why’s it gotta end up like this?”

Jack spoke quietly, his words near inaudible, despite his mouth being right next to Mac’s ear. There was a sort of resignation in his voice that seemed so out of character for the joking partner he was familiar with. Even as he tried to keep himself the perfect picture of slumber, Mac waited impatiently for Jack’s next words. There had to be something behind this, right?

But Jack only sighed again and gently slid away, careful not to wake Mac up from his “sleep”. He pulled the blankets and covers back up over his shoulders, his hand resting there for just a moment. Then Jack was gone, the door creaking quietly shut in his wake.

Inside, Mac was in turmoil. What had that been about? What about it had been so tender and intimate, and yet still so distant?

One thing was clear; there had been something more than what was on the surface of that interaction. Maybe it was just Mac’s bias, but he wanted to believe that it might have been feelings like his own.

He stayed in bed for about half an hour, to avoid raising suspicion. The entire time, Mac’s head swirled with thoughts, about Jack, about himself. He was happy to leave the small, dark room by the time he felt enough time had past.

Jack was in the kitchen when he emerged, his back to the doorway. He turned when Mac entered, a small smile on his face, but it looked a little fake around the edges. “Hey, you sleep good?”

“Well enough, I guess. You started on coffee, or should I do that?” Mac asked, and Jack snorted.

“That bad, huh? The coffee stuff’s where it was yesterday,” Jack said, turning his attention back to what looked to be oatmeal. “Make me some too would ya?”

“You think I’m that greedy?” Mac said on autopilot, his hands moving without his direct knowledge. “C’mon, you got to have realized that I like you better than that.”

Apparently, he wasn’t thinking about what was coming out of his mouth. Out of the corner of his eye, Mac saw Jack tense a little, and he cursed himself inside his head.

“Aww, you care about me?” Jack teased regardless. “How sweet.”

“Well, not anymore,” Mac said faux-snobbishly, turning up his nose. “You’ve hurt my feelings. No coffee for traitors.”

Jack laughed, and the moment passed, even as the energy lingered on. In fact, the energy in the air never seemed to fade that day, just built up like a static charge.

It quickly became clear that things were different this morning. After breakfast, there wasn’t much in the way of things to do, and cards had been getting old the day before. Checking Jack’s stab wound was awkward, to say the least, and it was clear that Jack felt the same way. And if Mac had thought that the tension yesterday had been bad, then he was sorely mistaken. Today was bad, incomparably bad.

For once, Mac could see that Jack was feeling the heat too. Usually, it seemed like he was impervious, but Jack was also a surprisingly good actor, so it was possible that he had faked it the whole time. Today on the other hand, it was impossible not to feel it in the air, and equally difficult to hide that fact.

They gave up on entertainment quickly. Cards had been exhausted, and there was little else to do in that cabin. Speaking also felt odd with the atmosphere the way it was, and so silence tended to reign supreme. In the end, Jack read from  a trashed, nearly illegible copy of Whitefang, and Mac shaped and reshaped and straightened out paperclips.

By lunchtime, it had become completely unbearable. They needed to resolve this, but Mac had no idea how to fix it. Really, wasn’t Jack supposed to be the personable one here? Mac was just the science guy.

But even as much as he wanted to, Mac knew he couldn’t just let the whole thing rest on Jack’s shoulders. As far as he could tell, he was going to need to be the one who started this shitshow, and he should do it before they went home and silently agreed to forget about it.

Things finally came to a head in the middle of lunch. They were trying to struggle their way through a conversation, when Jack caved. He placed down his fork and looked Mac directly in the eyes for the first time that day.

“You weren’t sleeping,” he said flatly, but softly. It was nothing but a simple statement of the truth.

“I wasn’t,” Mac echoed. He kept up the eye contact, even as he could feel tiny tremors starting to form in his hands.

Jack’s eyes flicked down to the table. He exhaled slowly, then scrubbed his face with his hand. “I thought so. Look, Mac-”

He cut himself off and looked helplessly at Mac. “I don’ even know where to start, but I’m sorry, okay?”

“I- why are you sorry?” Mac asked. “I just want to know why. I just want to know if- if you feel the same.”

He voice trailed off towards the end, and he wanted to shrink in on himself. Jack looked so startled that he immediately regretted saying anything.

“If I feel the same?” he asked incredulously, leaning forwards. “Mac, I’ve- man, I’ve liked you for years. Hell, loved you even.”

Mac stared at him, seeing Jack in a new light. “What?”

“I- come on, don’t make me bare my guts again.”

“No, no, I heard you, I’m just- processing problems.”

Jack huffed out a laugh, although it sounded rather strangled. “You, needin’ to take time to understand something? Impossible.”

“Well, it’s happening, unfortunately. I just can’t get it into my head that you, um, feel the same way.” He waved his hand loosely to punctuate his statement. “I’ve been- attracted to you, at the very least, since way back in the sandbox, and that was before I learned you had a sense of humour.”

Another difficult laugh. “Y’don’t have to lie to save my feelings, you know.”

“I’m not lying. I really do like you.” Mac insisted. “Jack, you’re a great guy. You’re loyal, you’re funny, you care, and that’s not even starting on the fact that you’re kind of really fucking handsome.”

Jack snorted, folding his arms. “Yeah, right.”

“Jack-” he said, then cut himself off in frustration. His friend- were they friends, in this moment? As they were discussing their attraction to each other?- was stubborn, and it would be had to get the point through his head. Judging by the disbelief on Jack’s face, he was feeling more stubborn than usual today.

Abruptly, Mac acted on an impulse. He wasn’t going to win this argument with words; could he win it with actions? So he kissed him.

It wasn’t a particularly good kiss, all things considered. Jack was taller, leaning back, had his arms crossed, and clearly wasn’t prepared. It was up to Mac to do all the work, which he did with relish. This was what he’d wanted for so long.

Thankfully, it didn’t take long for Jack to start kissing back. Despite Jack’s confession, some part of Mac had wondered if he was really interested. But when he kissed Mac, any chance of that flew out the window.

It was, as many things Jack did, passionate. He uncrossed his arms and brought his hands to rest on the small of Mac’s back, pulling them closer together. Jack was warm, pleasantly so, and Mac cupped his hands around Jack’s jaw. The stubble prickled under his fingers slightly. Their noses were crushing together a little, but Mac couldn’t bring himself to care.

Even when they stopped to catch their breath, they remained tangled together. Jack was smiling; Mac knew that he probably was too.

“Understand now?” he asked softly, locking eyes with Jack.

He laughed gently, pressing their foreheads together. “I dunno, you might need to show me again…”

“I’m sure that can be arranged,” he laughed too, revelling slightly in their closeness.

The rest of the day went much smoother than the first half. Without the sickly tension in the air, things were easier. They spoke mostly, telling each other about all the moments that had made them fall, and lounged about in each other’s arms. There was a lot to discuss, too; how their relationship was going to change (so many different ways), if this was going to be a thing (yes), what to have for dinner.

Hours later, they slid into bed. The contrast between now and yesterday couldn’t have been more clear. This time, they faced one another, their legs loosely tangled together, with maybe half a foot at most between them.

With the warmth under the covers and Jack happy by his side, Mac fell asleep quickly.

December 25th, 2018 - 7:19am, EST

There was something slightly bristly up against Mac’s face when he woke up. He open his eyes just a crack to see that he was nestled against Jack, with the larger man’s jaw pressing lightly on his forehead. Their position was a little uncomfortable; Mac’s wrist had twisted awkwardly during the night, and Jack’s elbow was jabbing at his ribs. Doing his best not to wake up his sleeping boyfriend- god, that word sent sparks of joy soaring through his whole heart- he readjusted so things were easier.

A quick glance at the clock told Mac he should start thinking about getting up, but another, more relaxed part told him that they had plenty of time to spare. All they really had to do today was be ready for ex-fil at four, which was hours and hours away. Of course, food would be nice, and the bathroom would start making some pretty urgent calls…

Mac groaned and rolled over, away from Jack. He got the message, even if he didn’t particularly like it. Still, he slid out from under the covers and let his feet fall onto the cold hardwood floor. He walked to the kitchen, thinking about what they’d do today. It was the last day of their impromptu “vacation”, and Mac figured they should make what they could of it, whatever that entailed.

In the meagre cupboards, there was coffee, some old cookies that still looked to be okay, if stale, and can after can of highly preserved soup and beans. Mac picked the soup, fetched the pot from he sink where it had been drying, and started the simple process of heating things up.

Even the somewhat disgusting food couldn’t dampen Mac’s mood, however. He’d felt like he was floating since that kiss, and nothing as simple as soup was going to bring him down.

Jack emerged not long after, sidling up to Mac and tentatively swinging an arm around his waist. He didn’t say anything as he watched Mac go through the routine of stirring the soup and checking the temperature, but then again, he didn’t need to. For this one moment, they were in harmony.

The silence broke just after Mac was done ladling the soup into two bowls and handed one to Jack.

“So,” Jack said softly as they left the cramped kitchen. “Any regrets? Last minute changes of mind?”

“Jack,” he said, turning around to look his partner- and that applied in more than one way now, his mind gleefully informed him- in the eyes. “If you’re trying to get me to break up with you out of that weird sense of inadequacy you have, you’re going to need a better strategy than that. Better yet, don’t even bother. It’s going to take a crowbar to get me away from you.”

Jack held up his free hand in a symbol of surrender. “Hey, I was just makin’ sure, there!”

Despite his words he was smiling, and that made Mac smile too. “As long as we’re on the same page.”

The day seemed to pass unreasonably fast. Breakfast was barely a blink, and Mac found he couldn’t really remember the rest of the morning. He did know that they had stayed close together; if there was one memory that he could be sure of from that morning, it was Jack’s arm around his ribs as Mac was reading aloud.

Now there was only about thirty minutes left until exfil finally showed up, if the clock in the kitchen was correct. They were in the middle of a game of solitaire, playing as one person even though neither of them were much good. Mac kept trying to think of mathematical solutions, but that wasn’t what this was about. He wanted to stay here, in the moment with Jack, not off in the realm of numbers and thoughts.

At the moment, he was leaning against Jack’s shoulder, with his chin resting lightly against the edge of his collarbone. Mac could feel the bone there, rubbing a little against his jaw, but it wasn’t uncomfortable.

The peace of the cabin was interrupted when the radio started beeping abruptly, signalling that someone on the other end was going to speak. The effect was immediate; Jack straightened up a little bit and Mac pulled away from him, startled.

“Mac, Jack, you two there?” came the familiar voice of one Matty Webber, and Mac smiled.

“We are indeed,” Jack said, picking the radio up to reply. “There ain’t no way that anyone’s convincing me to set foot out there before it’s time for us to go.”

“Well, you’re about to go out. A snowmobile should arrive shortly, so it’s time that you two get outside. Riley will be picking you up from the airport when you get home.”

 Are we coming in for debrief after that?” Mac asked, inching closer to the radio.

A snort from Matty. “I’m tough, not heartless. You can debrief in a couple of days. Until then, enjoy the holiday.”

Jack’s grin was large and radiant when he replied. “Roger that. See you in a couple days, Matty.”

With that, the radio clicked off, and they swung into motion. Tidying up the Phoenix Foundation’s many safe houses was a matter of following protocol that Mac had long since memorized. First aid kit went in the mudroom, sheets were changed and placed below the bed, and as a finishing touch, Jack placed the deck of cards in the centre of the table.

When they were done, which didn’t take long, they put on their coats and stepped out, onto the front porch. Immediately, Mac felt the cold wind biting at his eyes and the tip of his nose. It was also cold enough to sting when Mac inhaled.

“Jesus,” he heard Jack mutter. “People live out here?”

Mac couldn’t help but agree with him. The snow was almost up to the tops of his boots, despite the fact he was standing on the roofed porch. He didn’t want to know how high it was elsewhere.

Luckily, they didn’t have to wait long. After only a couple of minutes, Jack spotted a small figure on the horizon, and after only a few more, it became clear that they were on a snowmobile. It took maybe twenty minutes total for their exfil to arrive.

The drive to the airport wasn’t long, for which Mac was thankful. Even with Jack wrapped around him, the whipping wind froze him to the very bone, and the snow was just everywhere. Unsurprisingly, having ice-cold droplets of melted snow roll down your back was incredibly unpleasant.

The airport they arrived at was private, so it took practically no time to get on a plane. They were alone this time, which wasn’t uncommon. Jack boarded first, and Mac took a seat next to him. Then, they were lifting off and Mac’s eyelids were drooping, drooping, closed.

-

Mac woke up a few hours later, when the plane landed. He wasn’t sure whether it was the force of gravity or Jack’s snoring that brought him back to consciousness. He blinked his eyes and sat up straight, slowing observing the plane. The screen on the back of the head rest in front of him told Mac that it was nine fifty-seven, LA time.

Gently, he nudged Jack’s shoulder, and the snoring stopped abruptly. Blearily, Jack opened his eyes.

“Hey,” Mac said quietly. “We’re landing.”

“Mmhn.” Jack scrubbed a hand over his face, then exhaled slowly. “What time ’s it?”

“Just about ten at home, which is-” Mac quickly converted the time in his head “-one in the morning back in Canada.”

He pulled a face. “Eugh. I’m gettin’ too old for this shit.”

“You’ve been saying that as long as I’ve known you, and yet you’re still here,” Mac teased gently.

“Yeah, well, I’ve got this partner of mine, you might have heard of him,” Jack teased back, but there was something softer than mac expected in his gaze. “He’s a pretty smart guy, but he’s also kind of a dumbass, so I gotta stick around to watch his back. ‘Course, he’s also just a great guy to be around.”

Mac smiled stupidly at Jack’s words. He knew that had stayed behind in the sandbox for him, but it was a different beast to hear him say that out loud. “I think I do know that partner you’re talking about after all. You know, I don’t think he’d mind if you wanted to retire. I mean, he’d miss you of course, but…”

He trailed off when Jack pulled a somewhat affronted face. “Hey, I’m lookin’ after my partner because I want to. ‘F I wanted to, I’d ‘a been gone a long time ago.”

“Huh,” Mac said softly, looking down. Despite that, he knew that his small smile would be visible. Gently, he took Jack’s wrist. “Thank you.”

Before he could respond, the flight attendant informed them that they could disembark. The conversation changed directions at that point, and the moment faded away. This airport wasn’t private, and therefore was larger and more crowded. Usually, that would set Mac on edge, but after all that time in a cabin, just him and Jack, it was nice to see other people out and about.

Neither of them had any baggage, so Mac proposed that they go get coffee. Being an airport, there were shops everywhere, Dunkin’ Donut, Starbucks, even a few indie places that Mac didn’t recognize. They settled on McDonald’s and Jack got in the line while Mac kept watch for Riley.

“Merry Christmas, darlin’,” Jack said when he pressed the coffee cup into Mac’s hand, along with a burger. “Riley here yet?”

“Not yet.” Tentatively, Mac took a sip from the cup. “Peppermint?”

Jack nodded. “You like it? We can trade, if you want to.”

“Nah, I like it,” he said, smiling. “I’m sure she’ll be here soon.”

“I sure hope she is,” Jack said, glancing around the bustling room. Traveling around Christmas was always hectic, people pushing through crowds and reuniting with loved ones and snapping at each other, no matter the time of day. “As much as I like bein’ with you, I’m ready to eat something that ain’t ninety percent preservatives.”

Mac snorted. “Now that, I understand. If we’re lucky, then maybe Bozer will have something saved for us.”

“Oh, don’t make me hopeful, man. I dunno what it is about his cookin’, but damn, is it good.” Jack looked mournfully down at his hamburger. “Now I wish I was over at your place.”

“You can come over if you want. Have breakfast with us,” Mac coaxed with a smile. “It’ll be like a sleepover.”

“What are we, twelve?” Jack laughed, even as he slid an arm around Mac’s waist to pull him closer on the bench.

“I sure hope not,” Mac replied, placing his head on Jack’s shoulder. “I’d like to do some more adult things than that.”

“Really,” Jack purred, suddenly more interested. “Like what?”

He smiled. “Taxes.”

At that, Jack burst into laughter, so much so that Mac had to pull his head away. After a moment, he joined in, smiling so hard that his cheeks ached. That was how Riley found them, just about a minute later.

“Well, this is… a sight,” she said wryly, and Mac managed to taper off his laughing. “What’s so funny?”

“Taxes,” Jack choked out through his laboured breaths. He regained his composure quickly though, straightening up and controlling his breathing.

Riley looked bemused, but let it slide. “If you say so. Anyways, we’d better be getting home. Bozer delayed Christmas dinner for you two, and if I don’t get back to that chicken before it gets cold, it’s gonna have been for nothing.”

“So heartless,” Jack teased, standing up. “Doncha know that we want that chicken just as much as you do?”

“Forget the chicken,” Mac declared, already moving towards the exit. “I want pie. So much pie.”

They strolled off towards the parking lot like that, Jack and Riley bickering, Mac sometimes joining in, Jack’s hand in his. It felt strange to think that only four days ago, Mac had thought that his Christmas would be ruined by yet another mission. But as he walked under the bright moon, his new boyfriend by his side, he was forced to conclude that this Christmas might just be a good one after all.