Their first date was in the mess hall, a few hours after dinner. Jack had coffee with goat milk - Victor had lemon tea. At the time Jack had been Strike Commander for barely three months; Victor had just started settling in.
'My classroom hasn't even been set up, really,' he was saying - then Gabe, who'd been MIA for almost a week, came out of nowhere and wrapped him in a bear hug from behind.
'Oh, what-the-fuck, Gabe!' Victor said, exhaling hard when he saw who it was.
Jack blinked. Gabe?
'Sorry, Vic,' Gabe said, nuzzling his neck. Vic? 'Where you been hiding? I wanted to show you around.' He seemed to notice Jack all at once - his expression slid easy into disdain. 'Oh, 'scuse me, Strike Commander, sir.' Ugh - Gabe. 'I'm not interrupting anything, am I?' He sat down next to Victor before Jack could respond, legs sprawled out carelessly.
'You are interrupting,' Victor said quickly, 'please stop interrupting.'
'What could I possibly be interrupting?' Gabe said, grinning over at Victor. 'There's no way the Strike Commander would take you out to the cafeteria - you eat here everyday!' He glanced at the wall behind Jack - God forbid he look at him directly. 'Nothing special 'bout that.'
'It's special to me,' said Victor, quietly. 'And you're being rude.'
An expression Jack couldn't read glanced off Gabe's face. 'So - you two know each other, then?' Jack said, before Gabe could direct the flow of the conversation.
Gabe sent a bland smile in Jack's general direction. 'Who do you think wrote his recommendation?'
Jack's temple began to throb. 'From context, I'm guessing you did.'
'We do know each other,' said Victor. 'We met--'
'In school,' said Gabe, at the same time as Victor said: 'Online.'
They exchanged a look. Victor smiled brightly at Jack. 'We met during an online class a few years ago.'
'Really,' Jack said. A few years ago, huh - so what, in between killing omnics and counting the dead, Gabe just registered for an online class? Sure.
'Yea, it's a boring story - much less interesting than whatever you were talking about before I got here,' Gabe said, standing. Jack finally gave into his scowl. Gabe beamed. 'Anyway - see you later, bhe.' He darted down a kiss onto Victor's cheek, saluted lazily to no one in particular, then waltzed off whistling.
'Sorry about him,' Victor said, sighing, 'you know how he gets.'
'Oh yea,' Jack said, draining his coffee. Sure he did.
'What was, uh. What was the class?' Jack asked.
It was a few weeks later. Gabe hadn't been any easier for Jack to pin down. He seemed to always make time for lunch with Ana, though - or for jogging dates with Victor. But now, two hours deep in a mandatory virtual budget training, there was nowhere for him to go.
Gabe looked up from his notes, a scowl on his brow. 'What?'
'The class you took with Victor,' Jack clarified. 'The one where you met.'
'Oh.' Gabe's expression cleared. 'The Art of Teamaking.'
Jack narrowed his eyes. '...As an online class?'
'Well, we were in the middle of a war,' Gabe said, stretching all the way out in his seat. The instructor became so much white noise. 'I couldn't exactly go in-person, now, could I?'
'Hey, what was the name of that class you took with Victor again?' Jack asked - repeatedly.
'Paint Through the Ages,' Gabe said once, after a forced working lunch.
'Simpsons-ology,' he said another time. Jack had found him in the old gym. 'The Study of The Simpsons.'
'Professional Boundaries in a Military Setting,' he said, shutting his office door in Jack's face.
'No, I will not ask how they know each other, Jack,' said Ana. 'And if you want to know, you should just ask yourself.'
'So wait,' said Louisa, the nurse technician Gabe had been talking to, 'Gabe, you knew Victor before this?' Jack liked her immediately.
'Y--up,' said Gabe, biting into Victor's stolen ice cream cone, 'rival circuses, you know.'
Louisa blinked. 'Rival...' she looked at Jack uncertainly, 'rival circuses?' Jack shrugged.
Victor returned to the table, triumphant. 'I got the last scoop of cookies and cream!' he declared, pushing in next to Gabe.
'Oh, cool,' said Gabe, budging over not at all, 'more for me.'
'No-o-o!' Victor squawked, holding his cone out of the way. He only got loud and animated like that with Gabe.
Jack cleared his throat - Victor glanced across the table, at him. 'A-n-yway,' he laughed quickly, sliding right back out of the booth, 'Jack and I should probably go - that Whack-a-Mole is calling my name. We just wanted to say hi - and thank you, of course, to you, Louisa, for helping put this all together. I think we should definitely have more monthly events like this for everybody. The war's over, right! And I feel like tonight's the first night it's really felt like it, on-base.'
Louisa smiled. She had, Jack realised, a very pretty smile. 'Well, you know what they say,' she said: 'if you want a job done right--'
'--get the Event Planning Committee to do it,' Jack and Gabe said. Louisa snort-laughed. Gabe glanced at her, smiling, then slid his eyes over to Jack. There was ice cream dripping from his cone.
Jack smiled hesitantly. And Gabe... stuck his tongue out.
He was-- incredibly childish. Jack had to walk away to hide his laugh.
The conference in Tokyo was humiliating. In Mbabane, Athena was hacked and Jack was nearly killed. His plane almost went down in São Paulo.
When Jack finally made it back to base two days late, the last thing he was expecting to find when he opened the door to his personal suite was Gabe, asleep on his couch - his head in Jack's boyfriend's lap.
Jack was officially out of patience and good humour about it. 'What exactly is he to you?' he said, half out of the bathroom. Victor was sitting up on the bed.
'He's just an old friend,' Victor said quietly. Jack glowered. 'I'm sorry, Jack, but I really can't say more than that. It's just not my story to tell.'
'Oh yea?' Jack said. 'And what part of your fucking story allows for you to be alone with him when I'm not around?'
'Alone with him?' said Victor.
'What?' Jack said, irritated.
Victor pursed his lips. 'You said... what part of our story allows for me to be alone with him... when you're not around.'
Jack scowled. 'Don't turn this around on me,' he said. 'You know what I fucking mean.'
'I know you're going to stop cursing at me unless you want to sleep alone,' said Victor. He stared at Jack closely, before lying down and turning on his side. 'And I know you meant what you said.'
Jack just stood there like an idiot, staring at Victor's back. Tokyo all over again.
Out in the foyer, the front door beeped once - open - and twice - closed. Gabe had, apparently, heard them bickering, and decided to just leave.
Victor reached up and turned off the bedside lamp. So - that was that.
'See, Victor doesn't argue,' Jack said, 'he'll talk about an issue, but he refuses to argue. So if I bring up something he doesn't want to talk about, he won't argue about it - he just won't talk.'
Gabe stared at him blankly. 'Ok... what am I supposed to do about that, Jack?' he said. 'I really don't understand why you're here.'
Gabe looked tired - like maybe he'd slept in his office again. Jack had seen Louisa curled up with one of the new soldiers, Tank, at breakfast - he suspected Gabe's relationship status had played a role in his presence in Jack's suite last week.
'I'm here because I'm not going to argue with my boyfriend about you again,' said Jack. 'So - how do the two of you know each other?'
Gabe screwed up his face - he scowled - he sighed, he shook his head. He said: '...You remember Berlin?'
Jack furrowed his brow. 'What about Berlin?'
Gabe shook his head again. 'No - you remember the Battle of Berlin?'
A shudder broke out across Jack's arms. '...Yea,' he said.
'You remember when I escorted everyone who survived the siege outta the university?' said Gabe. For a moment, looking at his expression, Jack found himself back in the ruins of the city, covered in the blood of piled-up bodies; seeing Gabe in silhouette against the moon, and knowing it was over.
For a moment, something in Gabe's eyes... called to him deeply.
'I remember,' Jack said softly. Gabe blinked, and broke eye contact.
'Well - that's where I met him,' he said curtly, staring down at his desk. 'I was in a bad headspace,' he shrugged, 'and he helped me out of that headspace. We stayed in touch, he said he was looking for a job, I got him an in - now the two of you are together. End of story. Now get outta my office.'
So. Berlin, huh.
'So,' Jack said tentatively, 'Berlin, huh?'
Victor paused his nanay's video message, and flipped up his biotic glasses. 'Hm?'
'I said, ah,' Jack said, rolling over onto his side. He was just looking for a few more details. 'Berlin, huh.'
'Oh, Gabe told you?' Victor said, putting his pad onto the bedside table. Jack nodded - pressing his luck. Victor practically collapsed in relief. 'Thank god, babe. I didn't mean to keep it from you, honestly, it's just-- I know it was a really vulnerable time for him, back then - and I know you guys were really close, it just-- it didn't really seem like he was out to you, so.'
Jack blinked. 'Out to me?' he said. Victor blanched. 'Wait... you slept with Gabe?'
Victor swore, and got out of bed. 'No, where are you going?' Jack said, sitting up. 'We're talking about this!'
'Talk it out with yourself, Jack, cus I will not be listening,' Victor said, stuffing his clothing into his bag. 'I cannot believe you would fucking make me out another person. When you know my story, when you know how hard it's been for me with my dad.' He ripped his biotic glasses off and swiped at his face; he went into the bathroom, where Jack could hear him grabbing items and muttering to himself in Spanish.
No, that wasn't-- he was making it into something it wasn't. 'That's not fair, V,' Jack said quickly, getting out of bed. 'This is something that I deserved to know - it's not just about you.'
A pause - Victor came back outside of the bathroom. His eyes were irritated, from taking off the glasses so roughly; he just looked sad.
'I know it's not just about me, Jack,' said Victor. 'It's about Gabe. And that's why you wanted to know.'
Jack sat back down on the bed. About Gabe? It wasn't about Gabe. No, V was just-- he was just trying to turn it around on Jack, like he always did. There was-- it wasn't like that, with them. Jack didn't-- hell, Gabe didn't--
One beep - two beeps. Jack looked up; and he was alone.
Victor moved out completely when Jack was in Belmopan rebuilding a school two months later. Real big of him.
Gabe was on-again, off-again with Louisa, whatever - he wasn't talking to Jack much anymore.
At least, Jack thought, Gabe and Victor still weren't really talking.
'Your problem,' said Ana, stealing his shot glass, 'is you want to control how people react. And that's just not your call.'
He wasn't a control freak. See, Gabe - Gabe was the real control freak.
For example: it took being trapped in some holiday cabin in Gimmelwald for three whole days before Gabe would deign to talk to him.
Jack was too annoyed to be grateful.
'What, suddenly, it's my fault that we're snowed in?' Gabe said. His shirt was tight at the seams, tight at the waist, tight everywhere, really - the cabin owners didn't exactly have anything tailored in his size.
Jack, for his part, had always carried two extra pairs of clothing ever since Tintamarre - he wasn't exactly in a sharing mood.
'No, Gabe, the weather isn't your fault,' said Jack, with great patience, 'but us being stuck here is. You countermanded a direct order--'
'It was a bad order,' said Gabe, folding his arms. The face of the French rocker on his chest stretched out just that bit more.
Jack's jaw was beginning to ache. 'It doesn't ma-tter if you think it was a bad order--'
Gabe started talking over him: '--it's not about what I think, it's just a fact--'
'--and if you hadn't ignored it--'
'--you would've been stranded--'
'--you could've gone with the chopper and gotten help--'
'And you might be dead,' Gabe said flatly. 'It was a bad order, Jack. Sometimes you need to be ignored.'
Jack took in a huge breath, and tried to calm down. Getting angry never got him anywhere with Gabe.
'Listen, Gabe,' he sighed, 'we have got to figure out a way to work together here. I know you don't think I deserved this role--'
Gabe went very still. Surprised, Jack went quiet.
'You honestly believe that?' Gabe said. 'Jack... I wrote a fuckin' novel of recommendation for you.' Jack blinked. Gabe had written him a recommendation? 'I fought side-by-side with you for three fuckin' years. If anyone knows what you're made of,' he hit his own chest - the shirt threatened to tear, 'it's me. Not Petras! Not a bunch of floating heads on a screen. Me. And you think I'm bitter, you think I'm resentful - yea, I'll be that, Jack! I'll be that. 'Cus the minute you got command, you put your blinders on. And all of a sudden-- it was like, if you didn't want to see it anymore, you just didn't. All of a sudden, it was like you didn't need to see things from my perspective anymore - like you thought I couldn't do your job. Like you completely lost all respect for me.'
Gabe had written him a recommendation. Gabe had - apparently - believed in him from the start. Before even he had.
'I respect you more than anyone,' Jack said hoarsely. 'I think of you as soon as I wake up. Every decision I make, I think, is this what Gabe would have done? Is this how Gabe would handle this? And yea, sometimes, I just do the opposite--' Gabe rolled his eyes '--but I really just wish I could ask you directly. Cus I know I get it wrong. I know I do. I feel like I'm supposed to already know what to do. And I feel like-- you just don't want me in your life anymore.'
Gabe laughed. Jack eyed him keenly. 'You think I'd yell at you like this if I didn't care? You think I'd yell at you like this if I didn't want you in my life anymore?'
'Yes,' Jack said bluntly, coming closer.
Gabe scoffed, and laughed again. 'Nah,' he said, scratching the back of his neck, '--if I didn't want you in my life, I'd just stop talking to you.'
He looked so easy, moving backward a bit - no strain anymore around his eyes. How long had Jack made him shoulder this? How long had Jack just written him off, and let him push him away?
Like he wasn't worth more - like they weren't worth more.
'Well,' said Jack, following him, 'I'm glad you didn't stop, then.' Not completely - not all the way - not yet.
Gabe's back hit the kitchen wall. 'Jack,' he warned.
There was that look in his eyes again. 'Gabe,' Jack murmured, kissing him.
Gabe froze - like ice to warm hands - then melted against the wall. And Jack was lost, then, in the shape of his mouth - the slide of his tongue - the shiver in his arms. That fucking tight shirt.
'--Wait,' Gabe said, pushing him away. He licked his lips; his chin, mouth and neck reddened from the scrape of Jack's beard.
Jack's heart beat hard in his ears. Something wild kicked up in his veins.
'Before we take this any further,' Gabe said, swallowing, 'Vic and I-- you should know that we--'
'It's ok, Gabe,' Jack said. He caged him in against the wall. 'I don't need to know.'
But later - in the bed of a stranger, Gabe asleep in his arms - he did wonder.