Reaching Out: A Christmas Story

Author's Note: Even though this is a Christmas fic, I'm posting this now. A few things to explain first: now, I am obsessed with the Jack/Doug coupling but I also really liked Tobey when he was on the show so I like to think that the two have become friends and have a loving, purely platonic, relationship. This fic takes place mainly in season 6 but parts are in 2008 … it'll make sense when you read it! I warn you, I make liberal use of my artistic license in this fic! You may remember that Jack went to Europe with his family at Christmas during season 6 but that will change in this story. Jen and Grams' plans are different from what is portrayed in "Merry Mayhem" as well. Also, just to make things work, Jack is still living with Jen and Grams at this time and Tobey is living in Boston as well. There are other changes in this fic from what was portrayed in the show but they will pretty much explain themselves as the story unfolds. So here goes …

December 24th, 2008

"… and so here's to good friends at Christmas and many more like it! Cheers!"

Exclamations of approval could be heard around the table as everyone clinked their glasses of eggnog.

"Not too loud," Jack warned as he settled back to his seat beside Doug, "we'll wake Amy."

Tobey rolled his eyes. "Oh, relax, Dad. I'm sure she's sound asleep with visions of sugar plums dancing in her head."

Beside Tobey, Ryan slipped an arm over Tobey's shoulder. "My boyfriend, the poet."

"I wouldn't get too excited, Ryan," Doug said, "I'm pretty sure he stole that line."

Tobey placed a finger in front of his lips. "Shh," he whispered in mock-seriousness.

Jack smiled at his friends, incredulous that this scene could even be possible. It was the first Christmas after Jen's death but with his daughter upstairs, the love of his life beside him, and two of his best friends across from him, he could not imagine himself any happier.

"So what did Santa bring for Amy?" Tobey asked, winking at the two men across from him.

Jack shrugged. "Beats me. He hasn't come yet."

"Who?"

"Santa," Doug said, playing along with Jack.

"I see," Tobey said, smiling. "Well, Santa came early for me." He smiled lovingly to his boyfriend.

Ryan grinned sheepishly. "I couldn't wait for Christmas."

Tobey displayed his left hand for everyone and Jack and Doug saw the silver band around his ring finger.

"Wow," Jack said.

Ryan pulled out his hand as well, showing off an identical ring.

Jack smiled at them. "What, are you guys married now or something?"

"They're more like promise rings," Ryan said. "But not in the high school sweetheart sense. More in the life-partners sense."

Doug grinned. "So you are married."

Jack laughed and the other two men pretended to be annoyed but their smiles betrayed them.

"Anyways," Tobey said, "I think we all know what these rings are really about."

Everyone looked at him.

"It's just an elaborate ruse to get me in bed."

"You caught me," Ryan said, "because, you know, I really find it difficult to get you in the sack considering the fact that we sleep in the same bed!"

Tobey pointed a finger at his boyfriend. "I'm on to you, mister."

Jack laughed. "You can hardly blame him, Tobey."

"Why's that?"

"Well, many men have gone to great lengths to get the magnificent Tobey Barret in bed."

Tobey grinned. "You included."

"Me included. And I succeeded."

Ryan rolled his eyes and focused his attention at Doug. "Isn't it great how these two never fail to remind us that they've slept together?"

"Oh yeah, wonderful," Doug deadpanned. He looked at Jack and Tobey. "But come on. It's not like you guys have got any advantage over Ryan and me- you haven't slept together since you were seventeen!"

Jack and Tobey's eyes met then and neither could hold back the knowing smile that crept across both of their faces.

"Well …" Tobey muttered.

"Well?" Ryan said. "Well what?"

Neither man said anything as they exchanged another knowing look.

"Well what?" Doug repeated, his tone growing hard.

"Relax, it wasn't when either of us were dating you guys," Jack said.

Doug and Ryan stared at their boyfriends. "You guys slept together after you broke up," Ryan said.

Jack and Tobey nodded.

"We weren't doing anything wrong!" Tobey said to the other two men who both looked as if they had been betrayed. "We were both uninvolved at the time. It's really not a big deal."

"Then how come neither of us knew about it?" Doug asked quietly.

Jack and Tobey's eyes locked again. "I can't believe they're making such a big deal out of this," Jack said.

"We're making a big deal because it's weird that this has never come up!" Ryan said, his ears and cheeks flushing red, contrasting strongly with his blonde curls and pale skin.

"It's just never had anything to do with our conversations," Tobey said.

"Right," Ryan sneered, directing his words at both Jack and Tobey. "Because we never talk about your previous relationship. No, wait, we do! We talk about it all the time!"

"Calm down, Ryan!" Tobey said.

Jack looked cautiously over at Doug.

"He's got a point," Doug said angrily.

"Neither of you has got a point," Jack said. "Look, you guys are just jumping to conclusions but neither of you have even heard the story."

"OK," Ryan said, crossing his arms across his chest, "what's the story?"

Silence filled the room as Doug and Ryan looked expectantly at their boyfriends who were both suddenly rendered speechless, as if the air had been knocked out of them.

"Kind of unfair to tell us we'd understand better if we heard the story when neither of you are willing to tell it," Doug said.

"Fine," Jack said quietly, "might as well tell you guys. That is, if it's alright with you, Tobey?"

Tobey nodded. "Not much of choice, I guess."

Jack sighed and folded his hands. "Alright. Well, it was second year of college for both Tobey and me-"

"-a little after a year after Jack and I broke up," Tobey added.

"Right. Tobey and I had kind of just started becoming friends again. You know, we talked, ate out together every now and then … stuff like that. I remember being a little nervous about it at the time, actually. I didn't want us to get back together and then for one of us to get hurt again."

"I was thinking that too," Tobey said, "but I had already decided that I didn't want a relationship at that time."

"Why not?" Ryan asked, obviously much calmer already.

Tobey looked at his boyfriend. "I'd just found out I was positive."

Ryan nodded, gently placing a hand over Tobey's. "Right."

"Yeah. That's true," Jack said. "Anyways, Christmas was coming up. My plans were to go to Italy with my father to see Andie and Jen and Grams were going to New York to visit Jen's parents."

"My plans were kind of up in the air until about December 20th," Tobey said, "when my parents called me and actually invited me to Christmas Eve supper. They said they had something they wanted to talk to me about. I thought it was a miracle. I mean, when I'd told them I was positive, they practically told me I deserved it."

Ryan looked at his boyfriend. "That was before they-"

"Just listen to the story," Tobey advised.

"Speaking of which," Doug said, also much calmer, "I don't really see how any of this has anything to do with you guys sleeping together."

Jack rolled his eyes at Doug. "Just setting the scene. So where were we, Tobey, before we were so rudely interrupted?"

"I believe we had just explained our initial Christmas plans."

"Of course. Well, my plans, unfortunately, fell through. My father was supposed to have bought plane tickets for the two of us but there was some kind of confusion or something and he only bought one for himself. Pretty convenient, huh? Anyways, his flight was all booked up and getting a different one would have been difficult at the last minute, considering the time of year. I guess we could have worked something out but my father basically said, 'Oh well, I guess you can't come,' which made it pretty clear how he felt. I just didn't feel like dealing with that kind of thing all through Christmas anyways so I opted for staying in Boston."

"Alone?" Doug asked.

Jack shrugged. "Yeah. It didn't really bother me."

"OK, I think the scene has been sufficiently set," Ryan said. "Let's hear the rest of the story."

"Good idea," Jack said. "I guess this pretty much brings us to Christmas Eve …"

December 24th, 2002

Jack crawled underneath the piney branches of the Christmas tree and found the switch located on the wire. After flipping it on, he crawled back out and stood back, admiring the blinking lights on the tree he had helped Jen and Grams decorate a week earlier. The scene was actually very picturesque- the traditional Christmas tree, the fire crackling in the fireplace, the gently falling snow in the night outside. Jack experienced a brief feeling of loneliness as he realized how much more beautiful this would all seem with someone to share it with. But, he reminded himself, he was not really alone. Perhaps for a few days he was but he had family … he had a father and sister in Italy, he had Grams and Jen in New York. He tried to ignore the fact that it was Christmas Eve and he was not with either of them. That both of these "families" had their own plans, neither of which included him. Jack shook his head, as if to dispel these depressing thoughts. Besides, he reminded himself, he had a pile of Christmas movies to occupy him for the evening.

Just as he was about to slide National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation into the VCR, the doorbell rang. Jack made his way to the front door and swung it open. Before him stood a red-eyed, distressed-looking Tobey.

"I didn't know where else to go," Tobey said.

"Tobey …"

Jack let his friend in and after hanging up his jacket, ushered him to the living room couch.

"So what's up?" Jack asked gently.

Tobey sniffed, his eyes welling up. "I just- I went to my parents' and- and-" He burst into tears.

Jack did not think when he pulled the sobbing young man into his arms. It just felt like the only right thing to do. Afterwards, neither man would remember how long they sat on the couch, Jack holding the shattered Tobey, but both remembered it feeling like an eternity had passed when Tobey was finally able to speak again.

"I went to my parents' for supper, you know, like I had planned."

Jack nodded, placing his hand over Tobey's. The truth was, he was half frightened to hear this story. He had never seen Tobey in this state before.

"And um, well, they were acting really weird when I got there. Like, they were all snobby, as usual, but they wouldn't even look at me. They kept looking at each other though. Like they had some kind of secret." He sniffed. "Anyways, I was sitting in the living room with them, trying desperately to have a conversation with them when my dad suddenly said, 'I think we told you we had something to talk to you about,'" Tobey mocked his father's deep voice. "So- so my dad just started talking to me about- about how since I was a teenager, I had been disappointing the- the family, that nothing made him more ashamed than the fact that his son is a fag … both of them- my mom and my dad- just kept saying how I was living this 'disgusting' life and I wasn't even trying to hide it. And- and then, they said how now I had this disease and I was bringing it into the family and that it was the final straw …"

Tobey had started to cry again and Jack tried to hold him but Tobey pulled back.

"No- just- I want to finish this. Um, my dad- he said that there was no way they could live with this anymore. He said- these were his exact words- that I was 'dirtying the blood in the family'- and that that was unacceptable. So- so he informed me that as of that moment, I was no longer part of the family. He said that him and my mom didn't want to talk to me again. He said they didn't want to hear from me again … nothing. He told me I've been written out of their wills. He said he was quite sure that the rest of my family- grandparents, aunts and uncles, all that- probably felt the same way." He sniffed and looked directly into Jack's eyes. "I've been disowned from my family, Jack."

They stared at each other a moment, Tobey still in shock of what had just happened to him, Jack trying to process it himself. Then the tears began to flow again and Jack continued to hold Tobey's sob-wracked body. Jack surprised himself when he felt his own eyes well up. He was not sure if his tears were out of sympathy for Tobey's situation of empathy because he himself had been so often rejected by his family but either way, a great feeling of sadness filled him. He could not believe that any family could be so cruel, that they could do such a thing to this caring, selfless, loving person … and on Christmas Eve.

When Tobey finally seemed cried out, he rested his head back on the couch and looked at Jack. "It really means a lot to me. You being here for me."

Jack shook his head. "That's what friends are for, Tobey."

Tobey rolled his eyes, a smile creeping onto his face. "That's such a cliché."

"It's true."

"Well, I'm lucky to have a friend who really means it."

Jack smiled.

"So … I think I've done enough crying for one night … now you've gotta cheer me up."

Jack raised his eyebrows. "A little bossy, aren't we?"

"Hey, I've had a rough night, I'm allowed to be!" Tobey mocked seriousness.

"You're absolutely right. Well, I've got a pile of Christmas movies I was going to watch … care to join me?"

"Sounds great."

Jack popped a video into the VCR and the two young men settled comfortably onto the couch beside each other, holding hands loosely, needing to feel that someone was there.