Two slamming doors and one argument later, Jack was fearing his relationship with Aster had run its course.
The Australian had been acting a bit off for over three weeks, and Jack had had enough. He'd confronted Aster about his odd behavior: the late nights, scant texts, canceled outings. Jack had brought his question out more harshly than he'd meant, though his maybe-ex boyfriend had overreacted a smidge more than he thought he would.
Tooth was being no help; snapping at him and taking Aster's side, making no effort to hide exactly how she felt. "How could you accuse him of cheating on you?!" She'd yelled. "He worships the ground you walk on, and you accuse him of not giving a damn about you?"
"What else am I supposed to believe? He never seems to want to see me anymore! He makes excuses to back out when we plan something! Hell, we've barely talked at all in the last two weeks." Jack yelled back at her. "It's not my fault he basically dropped me like a hot potato." He mumbled, flopping onto the couch and pulling his knees up to his chest.
"Honey, you didn't even let him explain. You just screamed at him." Tooth said, gently settling herself next to her childhood friend. "What did you think he would do? Of course he was going to start yelling back, you two are so similar that way. More stubbornness than good sense." Tooth giggled and pulled Jack into a hug.
"He just left, though. Usually we scream at each other and then talk it out after… But he didn't. He just left." Jack sniffled, tears beginning to prick at his eyes. "It was like he didn't care anymore. Like we didn't matter."
Tooth's heart ached in sympathy for her Jack. The young man had been through a lot in his life, and was so excited to finally have a stable home and relationship. There was the snag at Christmas four months ago, when his father had shown his ugly mug, but it was handled as well as it could have been. Jack had been so happy when he told her that Aster had confessed his love, even though it had only happened the one time and the man was halfway to dreamland when he said it. She hated seeing Jack cry, and she hated that the fight was mutual stupidity on both their parts, but there was no telling Jack that.
North had messaged her with Aster's side of the fight, and it seemed normal enough. He adamantly refused to cheating on Jack, and was angry that younger man wouldn't let him get a word in otherwise. He'd told North that he didn't know what else he could do to make the boy believe him, and was hurt and tired of the frequent arguments. Tooth had, in turn, told North Jack's side and they had planned on trying to help the two men bridge their differences with the ultimate goal of getting them to talk openly about their issues. It was not going as planned.
Jack refused to see Aster, his insecurities finally rearing their ugly heads as he began to shoulder all the blame, and resent ever bringing up his worries. "Ya know, Tooth… you're right. I was stupid to even bring it up." Jack mumbled, eyes glassy with tears. "I messed up. And now he's gone. He probably hates me now."
Nothing Tooth said could pull him out of his funk, as he cried on their couch. Jack let himself be held as he sobbed, burying his head in Tooth's neck with a heady grip her arms. Tooth just rocked him, and if she let a few tears slip out in sympathy for the sheer broken-heart she held in her arms, she didn't think anyone could judge.
Ten days had passed and there had been no calls or texts from Aster. Jack had since stopped looking at his phone, hating the anxiety of 'maybe he did' and then the death of his hope when no notification appeared on his screen.
Tooth had been trying to talk him into just going to the Warren and talking to Aster face to face, but his courage, or lack thereof, wouldn't allow it. Sandy was the only one able to convince him the relationship was worth salvaging.
*Do you love him?* The small man had asked him, seemingly out of the blue. It was a simple enough question, easily answered with a jerking nod as they sat, waiting for Tooth to finish getting ready one evening. *Then don't you think it's worth a try to save what you have? If you love him you're doing a sad job of proving it.*
Jack had stared, shocked at the blatant statement made by their, usually, most soft spoken member. But he had to admit, the words hit home. Jack had promised himself that he'd show Aster how much he cared, how much he loved him. But he'd done a shitty job of it so far, and it was a sobering revelation.
Jack reached over and grasped Sandy's small hand in his. "Thanks, Sandy… You're right. Can you tell Tooth I went to the Warren? I need to talk to Aster."
Sandy nodded and offered a small smile, patting Jack's hand before shooing him out the door. He hoped that this would work, he hated seeing Jack so sad and morose. Aster didn't know how deeply he was loved by Jack, though it would be brought out tonight.
Jack was surprised to find his name still on the list of VIP's for the Warren, and walked inside the club with a hesitant smile. This had to be a good sign, right? He thought as he managed to weave through the crowd to the bar.
His breath caught in his throat as Jack spotted Aster. The man was deftly throwing bottles into the air, flipping them and pouring them before tossing them up again to the enthusiastic cheers from the patrons. Aster's smiling through it all, throwing friendly jibes to the other bartenders, one particularly shapely lady turning all of his statements sexual and sending smoldering looks his way. Jack felt his heart clench when Aster winked at her.
He debated going up to the bar, but decided against it; fear winning out over his courage in the form of a text. 'Can we talk?'
He watched as Aster paused in his floor show and quickly checked his phone.
'Gonna call me a cheater again? No thanks'
'I wasn't going to… please bunny.' Jack typed with shaking hands. His nerves were getting worse; he could feel his heartbeat in his teeth as his breathing began to quicken. He watched Aster rub a hand over his face and then scan the crowd.
'Why are you here'
'Because I need to apologize. I was wrong to say what I did. I miss you so much and I don't want to lose what we have. Please talk to me.'
Jack watched, intent on seeing the man's face as he read the text. He tried to calm his breathing, taking deep breaths through his nose and released them through his mouth. The last thing he needed was an anxiety attack.
Aster flipped bottles and handed out drinks like the pro he was, effortlessly tossing bottles to his coworker and trading remarks as he did. The woman was bouncing and dancing to the beat, seemingly lost in the music as she downed one shot, then another, much to the agreement of her customers. She was so engrossed in her job, and obvious attraction to Aster that she downed one final drink and smashed her mouth to Aster's.
Jack's heart stopped, as did his breathing. Aster didn't push her away, he held the kiss for seconds longer than was really necessary before stepping back to the customers needing attention, filling each order with finesse.
The air seemed thicker, and the people seemed to close in on him, Jack gulped for air as he fumbled through the crowd and out the door. His chest hurt, his head was pounding, and his heart lay in pieces at the bottom of his stomach. Jack leaned against the wall of the parking lot, one hand fisted in his hair, the other fumbling for his keys. Damn his nerves, damn them straight to hell. He needed to get out of the open, get to the safety of his car and ride out his panic attack so he could go home. He could cry out enough of his hurt before burrowing under his blanket for a week later, but he needed to get to his car.
Jack's chest heaved and tears blurred his eyes as he felt for the handle of his door. He cursed as the keys slipped from his trembling and clammy hands, prompting him to just slide down the door and dig for his phone, there would be no finding the keys in his condition. Jack pressed and held the number two and prayed Tooth was near her phone, silently begging for her to answer as it rang.
"Hey sweet tooth. What's-"
"Tooth-" gasp "I need-" gasp "help…" Jack choked, he brought up his knees and laid his head on them, failing to control the sob that bubbled up through his chest. Tooth instantly began trying to coach him through.
"Jack, you need to calm down. Sweety, breathe through your nose. Where are you?"
"Warren." Jack croaked, tears falling freely now as his lungs decided to take the night off. It felt as though an anvil had been placed on his chest, breathing in hurt and his heart felt as though it would beat out of his chest and run a marathon and the adrenaline that rushed through his veins wasn't helping. Tooth was still talking, her voice low and calm, but Jack was beyond comprehending them. He was scared and hurt and wanted to go home.
Jack flinched, Aster was here. This was the last thing he wanted the older man to see; pathetic and sniveling, not even able to get into his car.
"Jack, look at me! Please, Jackie." Aster pleaded, worry etched into his voice as he crouched in front of him and lifted his head. "Breathe, love. Breathe with me, yea?"
Aster began taking exaggerated breaths through his nose and Jack made a valiant effort to mimic him, slowly bringing his heart rate back to some semblance of normal. Green eyes were wide with worry as he raked them over Jack's shaking form, taking in the tears and trembling and sniffling. He also caught the way Jack inched away from him as his breathing slowed.
"Sorry-" Jack started, only for Aster to pull him into an embrace.
"Don't." Aster firmly stated. "Are ya alright?"
Jack nodded against a broad shoulder, breathing in the comforting scent of warm earth and rain, the alcohol was an unwelcome reminder of earlier, but Jack was determined to ignore it. It had been too long since he'd been in Aster's arms, he wasn't about to ruin it now… not when the older man had his nose buried in his hair and was rubbing a warm hand up and down his back before wrapping around his shoulders while the other hooked under his knees.
"I have yer keys; I'm goin' to take ya home… if ya feel up to talkin', we can after I get ya sorted."
Aster had refused to let him walk when they arrived at the apartments building, silently walking around to his door and picking Jack up again, the younger man was too out of sorts to argue and only loosely looped his arms around Aster's neck as he was carried.
Once inside, Jack was gently placed on the couch, a blanket was wrapped around his shoulders and a glass of ice water was placed in front of him. He hated how his eyes began to prick with tears, though they were shameful this time, instead of fear and embarrassment. Aster said nothing, just settled onto the couch, close enough to feel the warmth but not touching. They sat in a tense silence, not knowing what to say or do with each other.
"I'm sorry." Jack whispered, unable to take it. "I'm so sorry, Bunny."
Aster sighed and plucked Jack's hand into his own. "Do ya trust me?"
Jack nodded furiously, hand tightening on his.
"Then why do ya think I'd cheat on ya? What have I done to make ya doubt me?"
"You've been different… Like you wanted to be away from me." Jack whispered, keeping his eyes trained on their joined hands, he couldn't bring himself to look Aster in the eyes. He knew the older man wouldn't cheat on him, he knew. Jack barely hid the cracking of his heart as Aster pulled his hand away and sighed.
"I know I've seemed… distant lately. And I'm so sorry, Jack." Aster hung his head, shameful of the doubt he'd placed in his lover. "I've been doing a lot of thinkin' lately…"
Jack fought back a shudder. 'This is it. He's dumping me.' Jack thought as he tried to control his breathing and keep his tears from falling. The younger man fisted his fingers in the fabric of his pants as Aster continued.
"And I've come to some realizations that had me a tic scared. You have to know how important you are to me, don't you? You're my everythin', Jack. I had wanted us to be on better terms but… it doesn't seem like it's gonna work out that way." Aster murmured, turning to face Jack, once again taking the smaller, pale hands into his own. 'Just tell him quick, like pullin' a band-aid.' Aster thought, steeling himself.
"I'm so deeply in love with you, it terrifies me."
Jack huffed out a stale breath as he stared. Of all the things that Aster could have said, he was not expecting it to be that. He gazed at Aster's face, taking in all the nervousness that rolled off of the man in waves with red rimmed eyes as Aster continued; large, tan hands gripping tight to his own, as if the Australian was waiting for Jack to bolt.
"The reason I've been so quiet lately is… well I'm horrendous at keepin' secrets, 'specially from you… but I wanted to surprise ya." Aster rushed, quickly pulling out a small silver key and holding it up in front of Jack. "I've been moving into a new apartment… A bigger one. And I've been trying to get the courage up to ask you to move in with me-"
"What about that woman?"
Aster started and blinked at Jack. "What woman?"
Jack looked down, chewing his bottom lip. "That lady you kissed. At the bar?"'
Nona was her name. She was new at the Warren and was friendlier than Aster liked. She was an outrageous flirt, using her charm and pretty face to con men and women out of tips and numbers. She'd been there for only a month and a half, but already a reputation of being a bit… loose.
The Australian had to stop and think for a moment, but soon remembered- much to his shame. He had kissed Nona, well- he'd been kissed by her. There was no kissing on his part, more just standing still and trying not to shove her away with a few harsh and angry words. Being hateful to a woman would hurt his image and tip revenue with everyone, but doing that to an attractive woman would be devastating to his career at the Warren. Hot women made the club scene turn, and it wouldn't do to break the circle.
In his defense, he hadn't known Jack was watching, but he was overwhelmed with shame all the same. He needed Jack to believe him when he said he was faithful, but could see the doubt and fear written clearly across the brunette's face. And it broke his heart.
"Jackie, you know I'd never cheat on ya. And I know ya don't believe me… But I'll do whatever I can to prove it. I'll file a complaint on 'er when I get back to work, I was going to anyway. I'm sorry you had to see that, and I'm sorry I hurt ya. But I need ya to trust me…"
Jack nodded, eyes still shining with emotion. But he reached over and brushed his fingers across Aster's knuckles, and the older man quickly enfolded Jack's hands with his larger ones. They shared a quiet smile before Jack stood and led Aster to his bedroom. Nothing would happen tonight, and they still had things to talk about, but the closeness was something they each needed right now.