Rating: R (it’s actually probably closer to PG-13, but just to be safe)
Warnings: None, really. Some angst, some minor fluff.
Word Count: ~6,000, included the quoted bits of the poem.
Author's Notes: My roommate got me addicted to Will & Grace several months ago, and I’m almost done watching the episodes from all eight seasons. This story originally started out as several random Will/Jack scenes that I then merged together into this monster. Not only is this my first W&G fic, it is also my first slash fic (that I’ve written, not read). It is also, quite possibly, the longest fic I’ve ever written. The story is divided into five parts, but I’m just posting it in one or two chunks for convenience.
Disclaimer: I do not own Will & Grace. Nor do I own T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men”, which is the poem I quote at the beginning of each part. I found the words to the poem fitting, in a strange way- let me know if you agree.
Part I: Winds in Dry Grass
“We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Headpiece filled with straw.
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats' feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar.”
The door closing after Karen’s rather dramatic pronouncement seemed to echo in Will’s apartment, the absence of her chatter making the room seem painfully quiet as the two men stood in awkward silence.
Jack felt as though his heart, which had been fluttering with the possibility of something more developing with Will, had dropped out of his chest and started forming some kind of puddle beneath his feet.
Nothing had happened.
And now, if the rush of relief in Will’s eyes was anything to go by, nothing ever would.
Ever since he had woken up next to Jack, Will had been filled with a dizzying mixture of emotions. The idea of being in a relationship with Jack, of even having just slept with Jack was…indescribable. Just like the man himself.
The thought of being with Jack was something Will had rarely allowed himself to consider for even the briefest of moments. But once or twice, in the solitary darkness of his bedroom after yet another failed relationship, or following one of Jack’s quips about Will checking out his ass or secretly being in love with him, Will had contemplated the idea of his friendship with Jack becoming something more. And waking up with his best friend naked next to him had brought those vague, secret imaginings forcefully to the front of his mind. Since that morning, Will had searched his mind for any memory of what might have transpired between them, wondering if Jack’s hand brushing against his as Jack handed him the coffeepot one morning should remind Will of some other kind of touch, or if the warmth of Jack’s breath on his ear as the younger man leaned over Will’s shoulder to read Leo’s letter to Grace should spark memories of something more. But there were no sudden floods of memory- apparently, because nothing had happened to make the memories in the first place.
And, after the initial rush of relief- that first, instinctive thankfulness at the idea of a reprieve from the thoughts that had been relentlessly plaguing his mind- Will couldn’t decide if he was delighted or devastated.
Jack, never one to be comfortable in silence, was the first to speak. “So…nothing happened!” He forced himself to sound cheerful and unsurprised, as though he’d expected nothing less, mentally cringing as the emotions rang horribly false in his ears and heart. He just prayed that Will, caught up in his own relief, hadn’t noticed.
The other man nodded. “Nothing happened!” Will repeated- as if reassuring himself of the statement’s truth, Jack thought. If possible, his spirits fell further.
An uncomfortable silence descended yet again as the men just stared at each other. Feeling uncharacteristically self-conscious, Jack cleared his throat. “Well, now that that’s settled, I think I’ll just…” he motioned jerkily towards the door, “Head home.”
Will’s agreement came almost too quickly. “Yeah, that sounds like a plan. I’ve got some…stuff to do.” The excuse sounded lame even to Jack’s ears, but he was so desperate to escape the tension that was all but choking him that, without making eye contact, he mumbled a goodbye and left.
Jack walked the few feet to his own front door and fumbled for the doorknob, ignoring the slight tremor in his hands. As he pushed open his door, he was startled to hear Will’s door open behind him. He froze, halfway inside the safety of his apartment, when he heard Will’s voice.
“Hey, Jack?” Will’s tone soft, tentative.
Jack turned slowly, leaning deliberately against his doorframe. “Yeah, Will?” Though Jack succeeded in schooling his face into the perfect image of nonchalance, the high-pitched timbre to his voice told an unfortunately different story.
Will took a hesitant step into the hallway. “Are we…” He faltered. “Are we okay?”
Forcing himself to remain casual, to pretend as though everything between them was completely unchanged, Jack nodded and asked, with a hint of confusion, “Of course we are, Will. Why wouldn’t we be?”
Ha- and people said he couldn’t act.
The other man blinked. “No…no reason!” Will chuckled lamely. “I just wanted to make sure things weren’t going to be, you know, weird between us after this whole fiasco.”
Oh. So Will saw this thing- the possibility of having slept with Jack- as a fiasco. Despite the sting Will’s words caused, Jack kept his face carefully neutral. “Why would things get weird? Nothing happened, remember?” Jack’s tone and the unspoken duh at the end of the sentence implied that Will was a moron for even thinking such things and would he please stop wasting Jack’s time with useless questions, thanks so much. Jack hoped it was enough to satisfy Will so he could escape to his apartment
“Right, right- of course,” Will hastily agreed. “You’re absolutely right. I just…wanted to check, that’s all.”
“Well, now you did, and we’re fine.” Jack hoped the smile he directed at Will wasn’t as strained around the edges as it felt.
“Okay, then. Well,” Will smiled back at Jack, and seemingly pacified, began walking back towards his own apartment. “See you later, Jack.” For the briefest of moments, Jack thought he caught a hint of something like regret in Will’s eyes, but it was gone so quickly that he thought he must have imagined it- a trick of the light, a product of his own wishful thinking.
Jack hummed a noncommittal response and quickly opened his door, sighing in relief when he was safely inside his own apartment, with two doors and a hallway between him and Will. He flicked the lights on, closing his eyes against the sudden glare of the lights as he slowly slid down to sit on the floor, back against the door and knees pulled up towards his chest.
He shouldn’t be hurting as badly as he was. Jack had known for years that Will wasn’t interested in him romantically, had come to terms with that fact over the years out of pure necessity. But he’d allowed himself – stupidly, foolishly, naively—to believe that that morning could change things between them, that that single, solitary incident could prove years of history false.
Jack thought, as he sat in the silence of his apartment, that he’d never been more wrong.
Part II: Cactus Land
“This is the dead land
This is cactus land
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man's hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.”
Will closed the door softly, somehow fearing that any kind of noise would break the strange contemplativeness that had come over him in the last few moments. This day—hell, the past ten minutes—had thrown him for so many loops he felt as though he no longer knew which way was up.
Suddenly, the atmosphere in his apartment felt stifling- the walls too close, the ceiling too low, the lights too bright—and so he headed towards the balcony, hoping the fresh air would help clear his mind. Absently, he noticed a wine bottle he’d opened earlier and decided to have a glass. At this point, he felt as though alcohol couldn’t impair his thinking any more than the day’s events already had.
Glass in hand, he walked slowly across the balcony and leaned against the wall, letting the sounds of the city wash over him as his mind whirled through what had transpired earlier.
Nothing had happened. And that was what Will had wanted. The idea of him and Jack together was laughable, almost absurd.
So why had Karen’s words left him feeling so bereft? As though something he hadn’t even known he’d possessed had been ripped away from him? As though a chance he hadn’t even known he’d wanted had taken from him in the blink of an eye?
He swallowed wine hard and pretended the lump in his throat was because of something in the city air.
Jack paced the length of his apartment restlessly. In the fifteen minutes since he and Will had parted ways, he’d tried—and failed—to distract himself by watching television, reading the latest issue of In Style magazine, even brushing his hair 100 times. The diversions worked for a few minutes, but his thoughts always returned, inevitably, to Will.
Frustrated, Jack collapsed on his couch in a huff. This was ridiculous. He’d lived for years with the reality that Will did not have feelings for him, and he’d even convinced himself that he’d long since moved on from his youthful crush on Will. So why had this one, brief possibility that something could have happened between them put him in such a tizzy?
He thought back to their stilted conversation in the hallway, remembered the unusual tentativeness in Will’s voice, the way he’d avoided meeting Jack’s eyes for more than a heartbeat, the regret that Jack could swear he’d seen in Will’s eyes.
But, why regret? Jack thought he’d done a sufficient job of seeming unaffected and unhurt by all that had happened. Will would have no reason to regret anything he’d said or done, because he hadn’t said or done anything that had—at least outwardly—upset Jack.
Unless…unless it was something he hadn’t said or done. Something that he hadn’t had a chance to finish.
Everything that had happened flashed like lightning through his mind until one particular memory hit him with almost palpable force .With a sharp intake of breath, Jack bolted out of his chair and out his front door, pausing a beat to gather his courage before entering Will’s apartment.
“Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow.”
Will had no idea how long he’d been sitting on his balcony, trying to escape his thoughts and instead getting lost in them- it could have been minutes or hours. All he did know was that he’d just finished the last of his wine, and was currently trying to work up the energy to go get more.
With a long sigh, he set the glass aside. Drowning his—well, sorrows wasn’t the term he would have chosen, but he supposed it fit well enough—probably wasn’t the best way to handle the situation, though it certainly had the most appeal at the moment.
He winced slightly as he straightened from where he’d been leaning against the wall, knees aching dully from standing motionless for so long. Ignoring the reminder of just how old he was getting, he turned to head back inside, freezing mid-motion when he caught sight of a figure in the doorway.
No one came.
“Will?” Jack called out cautiously. It was still too early for anyone to be in bed, even someone as boring as Will. He tried again, a little louder. “Will!”
Confused, Jack slowly wandered through the apartment. He checked both bedrooms and bathrooms- empty. Will’s coat was still there, so he hadn’t left the apartment. Jack spun in a slow circle, contemplating where else Will could be. He stopped short when he spotted the doors in the back of the apartment- the balcony. Suddenly torn between the desire to confront Will and run like hell, Jack forced himself forward, fighting the irrational urge to tiptoe as he made his way towards the balcony.
Once he got closer, he could see Will through the doors, leaning with his back against the wall and holding an almost empty class of wine. The setting sun cast odd shadows, obscuring Will’s face and frustrating Jack. But, as if Will had sensed Jack’s irritation, he shifted ever so slightly, freeing his face from shadows and exposing him to Jack’s curious eyes. He’d known Will for years, and the only time he’d known his friend to spend time alone on the balcony was when something—or someone—was upsetting him.
Will certainly didn’t look happy. There were no tear tracks on his cheeks and, from what Jack could tell, his eyes weren’t red, so at least he hadn’t been crying. But he did look…pensive. Sad. Almost miserable, Jack reflected as he watched Will absently drain the last of his wine from his glass.
Jack slowly, quietly opened the door. Will, apparently lost in thought as he stared sightlessly ahead, didn’t hear the soft creak of the door hinges or notice the way Jack’s body blocked the light coming from inside the apartment. Jack simply stood, silent, trying to think of what he would say to Will.
And then all thoughts fled his mind when Will turned and caught sight of him, surprise and something Jack thought might be fear flitting through his expression before pure shock replaced both. “Jack?”
For what was quite possibly the first time in his life, Jack found himself without a single word at his disposal. He merely nodded, taking in the warm glow that the dying sun gave to Will’s skin and hoping that he wasn’t about to screw everything up.
Will took a step closer, faltered. “Do you need something?” When Jack didn’t respond, Will closed the rest of the distance between them, faint worry and concern taking the place of shock. “Are you okay?” he asked, placing a cautious hand on Jack’s arm.
The warmth of Will’s hand on his arm somehow shocked him out of whatever daze he’d been in. “Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine. But,” Jack swallowed, mouth painfully dry, “I need to ask you something.”
“Okay.” Will drew out the word, lengthening it into an unspoken question.
“Earlier, before Karen came in.” Will immediately tensed at the reminder of earlier incidents. Jack continued, determined to ask his question. “Before she interrupted, you were about to say something. What was it?” Jack was proud and mildly shocked that he had been able to get the question out without his voice shaking.
Will quickly tried to brush the question aside with an offhanded, “I don’t really remember Jack. Sorry.”
“You’ve never been a good liar, William.” Jack retorted. “So don’t try starting now.” He knew what Will had been about to say, knew it in his bones, but…he had to hear Will say it. Because, though Will might have been willing to confess in safety of the “honest moment” they’d declared, Jack didn’t know it if the same would hold true out here, surrounded by fading light and shifting shadows.
Will withdrew his hand from Jack’s arm and crossed his arms against his chest. “I really don’t remember Jack.” He retreated to his former place by the wall, trying to put some semblance of distance between himself and his interrogator.
Jack persisted, because something in the way Will wouldn’t meet his eyes and the way his arms were folded almost defensively against his chest sparked a glimmer of something in Jack’s chest, something unnamable and tremulous. He followed Will to the wall, purposefully invading Will’s personal space.
“Will.” Jack’s voice was soft, but the hint of demand it carried travelled in the short distance between them.
Will finally, finally met his eyes, and Jack could see so many swirling emotions in the brown depths that it almost made him dizzy. “Jack.´ The word was barely a breath, but Will was so close that Jack could practically feel it against his lips, and in that one word Jack heard fear, desperation, and longing.