Title: Just Jack
Authors: Rolf and Ranger
There was snow on the ground, and a bitterly cold wind was coming down off the white-capped Virginia mountains surrounding the winter camp of the Carrington-Saint Circus. When the spring sun came to the big camp of tents and make shift cabins and stables surrounding the two enormous big tops in the shelter of the middle of the camp, it seemed a lively, cheery place. This morning, with the snow silencing the usual sounds of the animals and with many of the circus people huddled around the small and precious wood stoves in the cabins, it seemed unusually lonely and deserted. To Jack Kendrick, walking in the footsteps of his friend and lover across to the bigger of the two big top tents, the entire camp had become a chilled, silent place that had nothing to do with it being nearly Christmas time.
Jack took a deep breath, the crisp cold of the air almost hurting. Even the normal smells of the circus were muted, instead being overshadowed by the smoke issuing from just about every shelter. The gathering was far smaller than the normal amount of people that travelled with the circus. Those that had family anywhere in the southern states went to be with them during the long, cold winter. All that was left were those without families or outside ties to the rest of the world. Jack happened to be one of those people that didn't have anything outside of the life in the circus, though he was learning to be a vital part of his lover's family. Today, with the chill in the air and the silence of the camp, it was hard to remember about being part of anything.
Ahead of him, Jerry, wrapped in a coat and scarf that covered the tights and tunic they both wore, pushed aside the heavy blanket covering the big top entrance and went inside. Boards had been put down across the ground, covering the grass, and near the entrance several of the clowns and tumblers were well muffled and standing around one of the two wood stoves allowed inside the big top. The rigging however was well away from the sources of warmth. There could be no risks of poor sight or distraction up there. The net was strung underneath the rigging and Jerry went with expert hands to pull on it, checking the ropes while Jack, blowing on his hands to force warmth into them, mechanically checked the other side. Jerry caught his eye across the net and shook his head, yanking on the nearest knot.
"What? You've hardly said a word since breakfast."
"It's too cold and too quiet to bother," Jack replied, pulling on the various connections to make sure they were secure.
"You want to quit?" Jerry sounded sceptical; Jack was usually the one trying to coax him for another half hour up on the rig after the light had gone and the temperature had sunk below freezing. "You?"
Jack, fair hair half buried underneath the coat he wore, didn't look up, and Jerry softened his voice. "Jack? It won't hurt to skip one day-"
"No, I need the practice," Jack said quickly. Jerry had practically been born on the trapeze, while Jack had only been doing this for five years. Jerry's entire family had been flying on the trapeze since before they even made it to the states, or pretty much as soon as they were born in the case of Jerry and his sister Maria. If truth be told, Jack preferred being in the air, where he and Jerry preformed a private ballet between themselves and all of the troubles when one's feet were on the ground were forgotten.
Jerry was still looking at him with the quiet and dark eyes that came with his French heritage and which usually saw far too much - Jack evaded them, gave one last tug to the net, and turned away, stripping off the coat, scarf and boots. He was starting the preliminary stretches that were safety precautions in this weather, when Jerry's arms closed around his waist in a hug. It would draw no eyes: the Deauntay troupe being French in origin bickered and hugged indiscriminately and people were used to it. However Jack still gently shrugged him off, not wanting the comfort. It wasn't a good place to argue. Jerry let him go and ruffled his hair instead, a rough and tender gesture, moving to shed his own coat and boots
He started out with some gentle stretches, moving through each area of his body to make sure all muscles were getting warmed up. He couldn't help but watch his partner's shapely rear as he moved into the tumbling part of the warmups. The lithe body moved gracefully under the close fitting tights and that sight always made Jerry just a little bit warmer.
"Not enough Jack, it's cold," Jerry cautioned when Jack looked like he was heading for the rig.
"We COULD move a fire closer in this direction," Jack muttered, reluctantly letting go of the ladder. Jerry shook his head.
"Work your legs, properly, or we won't be going up."
Jack gave him a drop dead look, shed his boots and ignoring Jerry's more graceful stretches which were surprisingly supple for a man of his height and build, threw himself over into a long series of hand springs and flips that took him across the boarding and back again. Jack was a born tumbler. Jerry, folding both arms behind his legs and resting his head against his knees for a moment, was aware of his partner landing lightly and flicking out of position again in a split second. Jack had perfected his skills years fifteen years ago as a street child amongst the war devastation of mid Georgia. He had been tumbling and dancing for cents on the streets when he could escape from the church run and overcrowded orphanage when the circus passed through and he had slipped quite naturally from tumbling into clowning as a teenager- most of the clowns were essentially the most talented tumblers and acrobats.
Jerry was smitten with the fair-headed youth almost as soon as he'd laid eyes on him. It had taken some time before Jerry actually let Jack know his feelings. He'd been unsure if Jack was taken with him, or with what he did in the circus. Jerry couldn't quite remember a day of practice or a show when he couldn't pick Jack out, eyes on the trapeze as his own family worked hard on their act. It hadn't taken very long for Jack to climb up on the rigging and try out for himself what he saw the Deauntay family of flyers do on a daily basis - something Jerry had caught him at early one morning, and had ended in him teaching Jack what he had known and learned since he was old enough to climb the ropes with his parents. Jack had been a natural. What Jerry had learned over years seemed to come to Jack naturally - as naturally as he had learned to tumble on the rough streets of Georgia. Jack was a survivor. And not nearly as hard as he looked on the surface, although you needed real insight to see past the toughness of his shell. Leaving Jack to continue with his repertoire of flips and cartwheels, Jerry straightened up and began to climb the ropes up on to the rig. He and Jack, with the rest of the family, had set this rig themselves at the beginning of the season- a little lower than usual over a circus ring with an audience, out of deference to the winter winds and weather, but if the Deauntays set the rig they knew it was safe. Once up, Jerry freed the nearest of the fly bars and shook out his hands, taking a grip with cold fingers before he stepped out and began a slow and steady swing, working his body and fighting out the last of the winter chill. Below he could see Jack starting to climb the opposite ladder.
Jerry was sitting up on the bar, using his entire body to keep the trapeze going back and forth, a little higher each time. Once he'd gotten to the top of the arc, he quit working and let the swing slow down of its own accord.
"Are you ready yet?" Jack asked impatiently, wanting to get on with the workout rather than stand and watch Jerry swinging.
"Almost," Jerry said, standing up and deftly stepping off onto the platform, keeping one hand on the trapeze. "Let's do some of the simple catches to begin with, until we're both sure -"
"I know! Both sure we're warm. Come on, it's COLD up here," Jack said, swinging out on his trapeze as he finished speaking.
Jerry stifled a thread of impatience and climbed up the platform to unhook the catch trapeze, the different shape and weight that he and his father, the troupe's two catchers, used as the receiving bar. Swinging himself up into that to sit, he swung for a minute watching Jack work himself higher and higher, his entire body moving in one fluid, graceful line, then Jerry wound his legs around the sides of the catch bar and lowered himself into the head down position, beginning the long, steady swings to work himself up to Jack's height and timing. There was no need for talking once they got to this point: there never was. There was rhythm, there was synchronicity, there was in fact the simple tuning in to each other that was no different than when they made love - it was just as pure and just as physical. As Jerry reached the high point of his swing he didn't need to look to know that Jack had left his bar: his own swing took him back out and Jack came towards his outstretched hands, his palms slapping onto Jerry's wrists as Jerry caught his, and for a moment they swung there, Jack's slight weight swinging below Jerry, easy as breathing.
Jack treasured the feel of Jerry's hands on his wrists, the connection they made. It wasn't just the physical connection of hand on hand, or hand on feet, but the mental connection they made as well. Their eyes always met as soon as they'd made the catch, and for Jack, that was the moment he felt most complete. His rotten childhood was forgotten, the feelings of not belonging were gone. He was where he was meant to be, hand to hand, and eye to eye with the man he loved.
He could not then explain why instead of returning to his bar, and completing the perfection of the manoeuvre, he instead slipped Jerry's hands and dropped into the net, mechanically rolling as he landed so that his back took the weight of the fall. Above him Jerry called down, concerned,
"What's wrong? Did you pull something?"
"It wasn't right." Jack snapped back, moving to the edge of the net. "I fumbled it, it was too slow."
Jerry pulled himself upright on the bar, knowing it would be a couple of minutes before Jack was ready again. There had been nothing wrong with the manoeuvre, it was just Jack acting up. He knew how hard Christmases were for Jack and was trying to be patient, but it was wearing pretty thin at the moment. He kept his trapeze swinging without too much effort, waiting for Jack to climb back up and snag the bar for the next try. Once Jack had swung back out and was working his way higher, Jerry slid back down into position, rubbing his hands together to make sure they were warm and capable of sustaining the heavy grip he needed to take his partner's full weight.
On the other trapeze, Jack was still, inexplicably, fuming. Jerry had said nothing. Which was not at all unusual for Jerry: he wasn't a man of many words at the best of times; Jack did most of the talking for both of them in the usual way. But there were ways of being quiet, and this particular way was too patient not to grate on Jack's nerves. He gripped the bar and swung out again, aware of Jerry lengthening his swing ready for a catch, and instead Jack gave way to his demon once more, plunging down into the net. This was about the point that anyone else in the troupe would have inquired acerbically if Jack actually wanted someone else to practice with, or did he plan to practice with the net and let everyone else have a rest, but not Jerry. Never Jerry. Which, crawling out of the net for the second time, did nothing for Jack's mood. Jerry was spared making a comment when he sat up, seeing his father and his uncle walking over to the rigging.
"Voila mes gosses." Amato Deauntay called up cheerfully. "Good morning brats, is it cold up there?"
"Brat yourself." Jack snapped back, somersaulting out of the net.
"Maybe if you'd spend more time flying than lying in the net, we'd be a little more happy," Amato shot back, unbothered by Jack's shortness.
Jerry's eyes caught his fathers and the look of 'it's going to be THAT kind of day,' passed between them. Jerry loved his uncle dearly, but when he was in such a boisterous mood he was hell on wheels. There was barely thirteen years between them and Amato had always felt more like a brother than an uncle anyway.
Big Guy Deauntay, over six foot tall, in his mid forties and as dark haired as his son, peeled off his own clothes, took in Jack's stormy expression and his own son's silence, and gave his younger brother a genial nod at the rig, calling something to him in French that Jack didn't hear enough of to recognise. He knew a fair amount of French – Jerry was American born and bred, and had no trace of an accent when he spoke English, although he and all the Deauntays swore, fought and made love in French - but right now he didn't much care what Amato said and the presence of Amato and Big Guy on the rig was not helping his temper any. Climbing back up the ladder, he left them both limbering up on the ground, and hauled back the flyer's trapeze, watching his partner once more uncomplainingly settle into the head down position.
This time before he had even made the third swing to gain height he knew it was wrong. He had the timing wrong, he was in anything but the right mood to make this work. And yet his evil demon still prompted him to release at the high point of that faulty swing and to try to make that pass to Jerry's hands. At the last second he saw Jerry suddenly see he wasn't going to make it and try to lengthen his swing to compensate, Amato called something sharp in warning, and Jack knew he couldn't make that deliberate grab for Jerry to break the flight: he risked knocking him out of the trap, breaking his arm or his nose. Instead, desperately, Jack spun in mid air, twisted himself down and made the dive towards the net. He knew it was risky and even at the high speed he was travelling - faster than a train they said when a grown man was in flight between the trapezes- he heard Big Guy's reverent and passionate curse, then somehow he caught the edge of the net and managed to land on his back. There was the lurch a second later of Jerry landing somewhere near by and rattled and sickened by the fall, Jack lay for a moment, gulping for breath while Jerry crawled over to him. Anxious hands ran swiftly over his head and legs, a second weight leaned on the net for a moment, then Big Guy said something in his own language to his son, hit his brother's shoulder and the two of them climbed the rig to work on their own tricks. Jack, regaining his breath, found himself looking at Jerry's dark and as usual, hard to read eyes.
Jerry was a deeply private man - and a quiet one. Jack knew that better than anyone, since he probably knew more of Jerry than anyone else had ever managed- but even he, looking now at his partner and lover's eyes a few inches from his, couldn't see what Jerry was thinking. There was no irritation in his face, no anger, but his eyes were steady and serious. And that in itself made Jack uncomfortable.
"I'm ok." he said, pushing at Jerry to crawl out from underneath him, rocking as the net moved too. "Stupid move. Really stupid."
Jerry didn't say anything, just followed his partner closely off the net, swinging down and letting go. Before Jack could take even a step back towards the ladders, he was brought up short by a very firm and well placed swat across the seat of his pants.
It stopped Jack dead. No one had looked around at the sound of the swat- if anyone heard it here in the cold and the scuffle of the other few performers and Big Guy and Amato limbering up on the trapezes high over head, then all they would think was it was the Deauntays again who did shove and wrestle and bicker and tease each other at the best of times. But Jerry's eyes were still extremely serious until Jack had a hard time looking anywhere else. The swat stung. And it was only with great effort he managed to summon up the temper to turn away, to grab the ladder and to climb upwards, somewhere between ashamed, shaken up and furious.
Dark, limber and extremely agile, with his fringe swinging down in his eyes, Jerry mounted the other ladder and Jack cast half an eye over, watching his partner swing rapidly and gracefully upwards like one of the circus big cats, once more unhooking the bar of the catch trap.
Jack's eyes moved over to the other family members. Big Guy, so named since his grandson Little Guy came into the world, was a larger version of Jerry, though his eyes weren't usually so inscrutable. As head of the family and the act, Jack could have easily been terrified of him, but he wasn't a mean man. Do something dangerous or without thinking, and he'd be there to chew your ears for you, but it was always done out of love and caring. And when Jerry had adopted Jack into the Deauntays' mostly noisy, busy family, Big Guy had simply included Jack exactly as he did his own family. He had the same gentleness that Jerry had. And he was sitting now on the catch trap beside Jerry's, looking across at Jack with a mildly interested expression that made Jack supremely uncomfortable.
"Is anyone actually going to fly or are we just glaring eh?" Amato demanded, swooping back to the platform where Jack was standing. "Because it's too damned cold to stand around and there is the girl with the horses with the big you know quite whats and I could be having a very nice time somewhere else if you please?"
"We were going to do the somersault pass." Jack said shortly, hauling his bar back by the rope. "And you can stick the girl with the big whatevers."
"That is yes what I would like." Amato agreed. "What has crawled up your-"
"'Mato!" Big Guy said, grinning. "Flying pass. Lets warm up slowly please, some of us are too old for the complex tricks."
Amato winked at Jack and swung out on his bar with a loud "Yes, sir!" to Big Guy. Jack watched as Amato executed an easy pass to his brother's arms, grinning up at him and saying "Grande ta-tas. Manifique."
"Go from here you child of a -" Big Guy's voice was lost as he swung back, releasing Amato, who as if he wasn't playing the fool at all, spun neatly in the air and both hands snapped onto the bar of his trapeze, just as Jack swung out.
He'd screwed the timing and he knew it. The flying pass was just that - the effect of it was simple but brilliant from the ground, two flyers passing each other in free fall in the air like swallows - one to the catcher, one on the way back to the bar. That split second between the catcher and the bar where you were truly flying. And Jack messing the timing put Amato under pressure to catch up. Jerry was already swinging as Jack flew out and Jack saw him lengthen h is swing, seeing Jack hurrying. Jack let go at the highest point of the swing and dropped towards Jerry's hands as Jerry flew out towards him, their wrists snapping together and from the corner of his eye Jack saw Amato pull back on his bar and start his swing out.
Big Guy swung past on the opposite catch trap, head down, his big shoulders working as he lengthened his swing. This time they almost had it. Jerry released Jack's wrists as his bar swung back, and Amato swung out, releasing a split second later so that they just passed in the air. Just. Not enough. Up here a split second wrong was still wrong. Cursing, Jack landed on the platform, took the step back to control the swing and launched out again.
Jack was angry, and swinging angry made him go higher and faster. As he worked himself up, Amato moved back to his bar and then back to Guy again, waiting for the signal from Guy that the pass was about to take place.
On the other bar Jerry saw Jack hurtle out and shortened his own swing, the minute changes of stomach and shoulder muscles that changed the weight and movement of the trapeze, to compensate for Jack hurtling out like a missile. The timing on this pass was perfect. Jack left his hands just as Amato flew past to Guy's hands, two men passing in the air like swallows. For a moment they had it: the steady tick, tick, tick like pendulums, back and forth, the timing as immaculate as a clock and looking as effortless- which was where the Deauntays' true craft lay, making it look so very easy. Then as Jack left Jerry's hands on the next swing, Jerry saw him go out into a pirouette off the bar, the single vertical spin before he caught the bar and his heart sank.
Amato had seen the pirouette, and not to be outdone, signalled Big Guy and added a flip back to his bar, his long legs graceful in the manoeuvre. Jack moved across from the bar to Jerry cleanly, then added a flip of his own back to his bar. They were off now. Jerry continued to swing, fuming quietly. The competition was an old one: dating from the days when Jack as a flyer was constantly trying to be as good as Amato- and now that he was, they never stopped rivalling each other, but today, in this mood, Jack wouldn't take it lightly and it wouldn't be a game. It wasn't going to end well: Jerry knew it, and before it went any further he drew off his swing, pulling himself upright in the catch trap and shouting across.
"Jack - enough."
He knew as soon as he saw Jack's face that it wasn't going to go down well. Amato, pulling off a beautiful and compact pirouette back to the bar landed on the platform with one cheerful yell of victory and Jack, giving Jerry a furious look, dived off the platform into the net. Before Jerry could call after him, Jack somersaulted to the floor, grabbed his boots and coat and stalked out of the big top.
"Show off." Big Guy said tolerantly to Amato, sitting up in his catch trap. Amato grinned shaking his head.
"Healthy competition, which you're too old for now big brother. Let the children play."
"You're thirty." Big Guy called back amicably, making Amato yelp with indignation.
"Not in front of the boy!"
"The boy can practice with me." Big Guy said, turning the smile to Jerry. "Come out of that trap."
Jerry looked down at the tent flap which Jack was stalking out of, and Big Guy's voice interrupted his immediate impulse to dive down after him.
"Let him go boy. You need the practice, and you need the work. Do some flying for a change and Amato there can close his mighty mouth and handle the ropes."
Amato grinned, feigning a tragic tone. "The cold ropes when there's a set of -"
"Shut it!" Jerry and Big Guy said simultaneously. Jerry shook his head, dropping down in his catch trap and working the trapeze up until he could land on the platform.
Once there, he stepped across to the second platform and as his father got settled, swung out and was cleanly caught before Amato let the trapeze he had been using loose and Jerry made his way through to it. His mind was on Jack, angry and outside in the snow - but the movement he put his body through was mechanical and years old. As a boy, until he met Jack and until he was heavy enough and old enough that Big Guy let him start to learn to catch, this had been his role in the act. He had been raised a flyer, and he had learned by flying out to his father's secure and powerful hands. He didn't need to concentrate on the moves, his mind just focused of it's own accord and the quiet anger that had engulfed him when Jack left dissipated, leaving only a brief sadness that he'd have to talk to Jack when they were done.
"Smoother." Big Guy said calmly as Jerry came out to him for the third time. "You're too used to pulling your shoulders back to catch, lengthen out."
He was right. Used to his father's tuition, Jerry made the move automatically, and his father's hands closed on his wrists, strong and safe.
"Better." Big Guy said above him. "We need to do this more often you and I. That'll do. Go down now."
Jerry let go, rolled over and dropped, landing neatly in the net, and felt the net give as his father's weight landed near him. Jerry quickly dismounted the net, knowing even before the rebel yell that Amato was doing one of his famous dismounts from the trapeze. A few of the stragglers in the tent clapped at the multiple somersaults Amato had managed to do before landing smartly in the net, nearly bouncing his brother off the other side.
"Show off!" Big Guy muttered before putting a hand on Jerry's shoulder. "He's still young and the winter is hard. I'll tell Colette to hold dinner for a half hour?"
Jerry nodded briefly, glad of the understanding, and his father's hand squeezed.
"It takes time. Each year is a little easier, but it takes time."
It was kindly said, and it was true. Jerry felt his inside unclench and managed to return something of his father's smile as he turned to find his own boots and coat. The outdoor air almost took his breath away, making the tent seem extremely warm in comparison. Knowing there were not too many places to go in camp, and that Jack wouldn't have gone back to their cabin, he headed in the direction of a small group of permanent buildings that housed the office, supplies warehouse, costumes, and bath houses.
He left behind the sounds of the amicable bickering that went on constantly between his father and his uncle as they climbed back up into the rigging to continue their own practice. He'd heard it all his life: he'd wandered as a toddler in the winter months under this rig while Amato and his father teased each other and worked above. To him it was the sound of home. And it was something that Jack lacked.
Jerry was nearly run over by a couple of kids in the middle of a snowball fight, with snow that didn't quite want to stick together yet. He stepped around the corner of the office, breathing a little easier as the wind was now blocked by the building. The costumes cabin stood further to the side of the site office. It was one of the best maintained of the fairly ramshackle cabins, mostly because the costumes were too precious and too expensive to let get damp or rot during the winter lay over. Many of the women, particularly the older wives, spent hour upon hour sewing them and remaking them - especially in the days after the war when fabric this far south was expensive and rare - but at this time of day and in this weather the women would be by their stoves. The cabin would be deserted. Jerry opened the door and went inside, closing it behind him. He knew, without having to see, that Jack was there.
Jack was sitting on the floor by the stove, arms wrapped around his knees. He knew Jerry would be looking for him, which raised conflicting feelings of anger and remorse. There wasn't really any place one could hide in the camp and it was far too cold today to take a walk, which was probably just as well as that would add to the charges currently against him. The stove wasn't lit: it was too much of a fire risk, so the proximity was only for emotional comfort, not physical. Jerry edged around the costume boxes and sat slowly down on the floor beside Jack, shoulder against his.
"Want to tell me what's wrong?" Jerry asked quietly.
"So explain to me why you stalked out of the tent without a word."
"Because you cut me off." Jack said shortly, looking up with his eyes flaring. A hot temper, Jack. All sparks and flare, fiery as he was in the act when he was in his element. Jerry resisted an urge to put out a hand and rustle the waves of equally wild sandy fair hair.
"It's far too cold to be doing un choreographed moves, trying to outdo Amato. It was dangerous and you know that."
"That wasn't why you stopped." Jack snapped back. "You stopped because you knew I'd lose."
"I'm surprised mon petit, I thought you knew me better than that."
"That was why you stopped." Jack said, shaking that off. "You had no other reason."
Jerry sighed inwardly, it being painfully obvious that Jack wasn't in the mood to listen quite yet.
"No, Jack, you're wrong. I stopped you before you could hurt yourself or someone else. You've been in a real mood all morning and I've given you every warning to stop. Your rude departure was the last straw."
"Oh here we go." Jack flung himself to his feet. "I'm being rude. I'm behaving badly. I knew you'd get to that sooner or later! I'm the orphanage kid who doesn't know how to act, not like the frickin' Deauntays-"
Jerry got to his feet in one smooth movement, his dark eyes piercing Jack's, causing an unpleasant fluttering in the pit of Jack's stomach.
"Being an orphan is beside the point, but you ARE acting like a spoiled child and that, monsieur, is easily rectified," Jerry said, pulling at and removing Jack's coat easily.
When ever this kind of conversation started, Jack was always aware that this was a side to Jerry that he alone saw - Jerry was quiet, contained, reserved and in some situations he was downright shy. He let Jack be the noise and the action, and at times Jack knew his quieter partner almost hid behind him - but there were times when that shy mask slipped and what lay behind it was what Jack saw so deeply hidden. A strength of character, a determination, and a presence that gripped him each and every time he laid eyes on his partner.
And as Jack always did, even when he'd poked and pushed and prodded to wake that sleeping giant, his first instinct was always to try and evade it.
"I'm sorry. I'll go back and apologise," Jack said, trying to step away from Jerry.
"Yes, you will, but not until we're finished here," Jerry replied, hands easily working the buttons to free the tights from the tunic above. The costumes were made to easily separate in case they needed to make quick changes. Jack squirmed, trying to fend Jerry's hands off but Jerry, once decided, was as calmly unstoppable as one of the elephants. He heard neither protest nor coaxing, he was not amenable to his hands being pushed away, and Jack became sharply and uncomfortably reminded of something else - that Jerry, as gentle as he was, was both taller and much the stronger of the two of them.
"We don't need to do this," he said, hopefully and pleadingly as the buttons came loose and his tall partner calmly carried on, ignoring Jack's squirming to step away.
As if Jerry, once he got this far, was ever likely to step back and agree, "Yes, sure, I see you're sorry and I guess you don't really need a spanking after all -"
As if. Jerry took a seat on the nearest crate, taking firm hold of Jack's wrist and Jack hung back with all his strength, temper entirely gone to be replaced with panic and the last ditch attempt at coaxing his way out of it.
"Please Jer," Jack begged, his voice going a notch higher against his will. "I won't - what if someone comes in?" he asked, even as he was pulled inexorably forward. There always seemed to be some hope left, as long as he wasn't face down yet.
"Who's going to come in?" Jerry said simply.
"I don't know! One of the kids maybe."
"Out in the snow? In here? I don't think so. You might as well quit squirming Jack, we're going to do it."
"I said I was sorry," Jack said, tears pricking his eyes.
"Actually you said you'd tell Dad and Amato you were sorry." Jerry, not yanking but merely waiting and sustaining the pull on Jack's hand felt Jack give way and somehow, awkwardly as any man could in the confines of the costume cupboard, accepted the guidance and bent across his knees, his hands moving down to rest on the dusty floorboards.
It was an entirely natural position to Jerry - one he'd been put in no few times himself growing up, and one he'd used just as automatically once years ago with the younger, more temperamental and volatile boy who had shadowed him, fiercely demanding his attention and teaching. Jack saw his first two tears land neatly in circles on the floor. He manfully tried to control the sobbing that threatened to take over, even though Jerry's hand hadn't yet fallen the first time. For him this was a position only familiar with and only associated with Jerry. Before he'd met Jerry and the Deauntays he had been entirely used to a mixture of harsh regimentation and neglect - no one cared what a street kid did, said, thought or felt.
He'd been beaten on many an occasion and with any implement that lay within reach. It wasn't until he joined the circus that he didn't have to worry about that, though he'd been yelled at a number of times by the various circus personnel over the years. It wasn't until he started practicing day in and day out with Jerry and his family that the idea of discipline attached to any kind of love and caring was instilled in him. And while he'd stood up to the abuse he'd suffered at the hands of staff in the orphanage and whoever he had run foul of in the street, never made a sound, never cried, never let it touch him - if Jerry simply put him over his knee as if he was a small child, handling him just as gently, he was an instant mess. Tears were already dripping and he squirmed uneasily, hating it as he felt Jerry unfasten the last button of his tights and draw them down, leaving him bare butt upwards and in the one position that never failed to capture his attention.
There wasn't anything further to be said. Jack had crossed a line and knew it - this spanking wasn't a surprise and in this mood the last thing he was able to do was to listen or to talk calmly. Therefore, Jerry saw no use in discussing the whys and wherefores. He simply raised his hand and began, smartly spanking across the full breadth of the bare bottom over his lap, aware of Jack's immediate jumps and twitches in response to each swat that rapidly grew to more urgent squirming. It never took more than the palm of his hand; Jack had been brutalised, he had been beaten, and Jerry knew it. He could grit his teeth and fight back against anything dished out, Jack could be alarmingly hard in some respects. But this spanking, simple and matter of fact and intensely uncomfortable - this unmanned him entirely.
The first time Jerry had ever done it, years ago now while working with a very temperamental young teenager who was coming to feel more and more like his younger brother, it had been pure instinct- responding the way his family had responded to bratty, provocative behaviour with him as a kid. And Jack, who could have fought his way free and broken bones if need be, had squirmed over his knee and to Jerry's surprise on that occasion, had sobbed. The repentance, the change in mood had been swift, and it was no different now. Jack was like a fire - all noise and energy, but a swift response, the equivalent of a bucket of cold water, diminished the fire instantly. Jack was tearful and his shoulders were starting to shake when Jerry stopped spanking, his own palm ringing, and for a moment, pressed close together, both of them regained their breath. Then Jerry put a strong arm around Jack's chest and dragged him up into his arms with his usual rush of tenderness when he saw Jack's usually lively face wet with tears.
"Come here. Come here buddy."
Jack immediately wrapped his arms around Jerry and with sobs increasing for a few minutes, buried himself in Jerry's neck.
Jerry kept rubbing his back, waiting for Jack to settle down. It never took too long, and Jerry knew when they'd walk out of the costume building, it would be as if Jack had never been spanked, even if his eyes told a different story. The talking was often almost redundant now. Jack with his temper past his control and Jack calm again were people with two radically different perspectives, and Jerry waited, knowing Jack would simply tell him anything he needed to say.
When Jack had himself back under control, he leaned back and wiped hard at his face. His first true look into Jerry's eyes after a spanking still held fear and confusion, but only for a split second. It only took one look at Jerry to know there wasn't any recriminations there, no anger, nothing but an almost overwhelming look of love in his eyes. In his life he had never let anyone else see him cry and there remained that split second dread still left in habit of what he'd see - but there was never anything there but Jerry, who was safe and who understood.
"I hate this time of year," he said without needing to think about it, still gulping slightly. "I always hate this time of year. It's too quiet and too lonely."
"What do you need to do when things get too quiet and too lonely for you to handle?" Jerry asked quietly, a thumb rubbing a fresh tear from beneath Jack's eye.
Jack shook his head. "It's stupid. You know what I do."
Yes. Get more and more wound up, like an overstretched rope, until like this morning he began to sabotage himself. Nothing would be right, nothing would be good, he would let nothing work. Find me. That was the cry underneath. Catch me.
"You are ours now." he said very firmly to Jack, ruffling his hair almost roughly to bring his head up and make him listen. The words were too important to be entirely gentle. He shook Jack lightly by the hand in his hair. "Tu appartenez a nous. Tu etes a nous."
That wasn't a statement like master to slave. It was simply a statement that Jack was home. That he had a place, and people, that he belonged to. And that, after the childhood he'd endured, was all he had ever dreamed about and thought he'd never find.
And sometimes, especially at this time of year, that was the reassurance he wanted. They sat together for some time on the floor, pressed close, too close to be shivering, arms still wrapped around each other. It was only when a fresh flurry of snow made the door rattle that Jack looked up.
"It's getting darker."
"It's going to be too stormy to practice any more today." Jerry pushed Jack's hair
back off his forehead with his fingers. "We'd better go slacken off the rig and dress. We'll be in the cabin the rest of today."
"I need to apologise to Big Guy." Jack said matter of factly, getting up and leaning to pull Jerry to his feet. "For wrecking practice and yanking you out with me."
"Yes, you do," Jerry replied getting to his feet with Jack's help. He took a moment to help Jack get the buttons done on his tights, then they both shrugged back into their coats. Jack barely got the door open before the blustery wind shoved it much farther open, a burst of snowflakes entering the room and covering Jack.
"Maybe we can just go to the cabin?" Jack tried hopefully, shivering in the cold.
"The big tent, come on," Jerry said, following Jack out into the cold and making sure the door was shut firmly behind them.
They had to almost run against the wind through the camp to the Big Top. The air in there behind the blanket covered door was warmer and sheltered from the wind, but even so Amato and Big Guy were off the rig and slackening the ropes one by one. Jack didn't hesitate, leaving Jerry's side to head towards the big and gangly leader of the Deauntay troupe. He might always be unsure of the welcome he'd get, but Jack was the people person of the two of them, and Jerry knew it would eat at Jack until he felt he had made things right with Big Guy who he was very fond of. Big Guy himself glanced around at Jack and smiled, his usual open smile of welcome without memory or grudge.
"Take this rope for me petit?"
Jack took the rope, holding it while Big Guy tied off one, then the other. Jack took a deep breath, and when he handed the rope to Big Guy, apologised. "I'm sorry for messing up practice earlier."
"Tout est pardonne." Big Guy said easily. "It is forgotten."
Jack nodded and made his way over to Amato, who was working on the opposite side. He missed the knowing looks between Jerry and his father.
"I'm sorry about earlier," Jack said when Amato looked at him.
Amato didn't answer, merely grinned and slapped his shoulder, tugging the last rope down.
"It's fine Guy, allez y. Let's get out of here and somewhere warm."
"You're just thinking food, then ta-ta's, Jack said, pulling his coat tighter around him as Amato put his on and joined the other three.
Amato grinned, made a suggestive gesture and headed out into the snow. The Deauntay cabin was one of the bigger and better established of the camp - the flyers were the aristocracy of the circus and one of the top billed with the privileges that came with it. The cabin was warm, the stove lit and heating the main room with its scatter of mis-matched chairs. Little Guy, the four year old son of Jerry's sister, was playing on the floor. Jerry's sister and mother were cooking over the hearth which was large enough to warm the room. Amato shouldered out of his coat, heading towards the fire, and Big Guy put an arm around the necks of the two younger men in front of him, pulling them back against him and kissing first his son's cheek, then Jack's, tousling Jack's hair as he let go.
"Tu appartenez a nous petit."
"Jack! Jack, look!" Little Guy said, running and bumping into Jack's legs. "Grand mamere made me this!"
Jack smiled down and accepted the small doll that his grandmother had fashioned for him out of leftover scraps of materials. "I named him Jackie, after you," Little Guy said.
Jack bent over and picked up Little Guy, eliciting a yelp of excitement as he was swung upwards quickly.
"Thank you Guy-let," Jack said, before kissing his cheek and setting him down to hand the doll back. "How about we warm up by the fire? I'm cold."
Jerry, hanging up his own jacket and kicking his boots off before his mother growled at him, came across and sat on the floor as Jack perched on one of the smaller stools near the hearth, Little Guy scrambling confidingly up in to his lap with his doll. Aware of his partner's weight settling against his leg in companionable closeness, of Jerry's mother's smile in his direction as she kissed her husband hello, and of the chatter between Amato and Jerry's sister, it was very difficult to feel either cold or lonely. He had not been born into this family - they had found him, but as Big Guy and Jerry frequently told him, he belonged to them and this was home.