Jackson was going over his own plans in his head as he drove. He knew that Trace wanted him to keep out of whatever it was they were walking into, but he also knew that there was no way he was letting Trace handle this by himself. He had the training for situations similar to this and depending on the layout of the place, he might just be able to get in without being noticed. He wanted to share his thoughts with Trace, but knew that the other man would shoot him down and want him to stay out of it.
Trace called the chief a couple of different times to get an update and was assured that they already had the barricades up and had called in the swat team. They were simply waiting for Trace to get there before they moved in. He had watched Jackson as they drove and was beginning to suspect that he had something up his sleeve.
“Whatever you’re thinking, stop,” Trace told him.
“What are you talking about?” Jackson asked, wondering what he had done that had given himself away.
“You’re planning something,” Trace told him. “You need to understand that this is my problem and I’ll deal with it my way.”
“You’ll deal with it your way, gotcha,” Jackson answered, knowing he was going to have to wait for the perfect opportunity to slip away.
By the time they reached the city, Trace had himself and his emotions under a tight fist of control. He had Jackson pull over so they could switch places since Jackson didn’t know the city. Trace took them through the familiar streets and tried to push down the dread that filled his gut. The pulled onto Mitch’s street and even from that distance they could make out the glow of the red and blue lights flashing. Trace pulled over and cut the engine a few houses away from Mitch’s.
“Don’t do anything stupid,” Trace warned as they climbed down from the cab of the truck.
“I won’t do anything stupid,” Jackson promised. He was surprised when Trace took hold of his hand to lead him through the conglomerate of police vehicles with Hercules hot on their trails.
“Anything new?” Trace asked as he reached the chief.
“No, we’re not even sure at this point how many are inside or exactly where they are. Who’s this?” the chief asked as he pointed to Jackson.
“He’s with me,” Trace informed him as he released Jackson’s hand.
“You should have known not to bring a civilian here,” the chief reprimanded before turning to Jackson. “Just make sure you stay the hell out of the way.”
“Maybe I can call and talk to them,” Trace volunteered, “it’s me they want anyways.”
“You can try to talk to them, but just so we’re clear, you are not going in. We’ve already got one of our own in there, we don’t need another one.”
“Gotcha chief,” Trace answered as he pulled out his cell phone. He walked back to his truck and climbed in with the chief and Jackson right behind him before he dialed Mitch’s number. He motioned for the other two men to be quiet and put the phone on speaker.
“You here yet?” the voice that answered asked without preamble.
“Almost,” Trace answered, hoping to buy just a little more time. He really needed them to by that he was still on his way, which is why he’d left the truck running. Now he just needed to know that Mitch was okay. “Let me talk to Mitch so I know he’s okay.”
“You’re in no position to make demands,” the man told him.
“You’re right, but I’m the one you want, so why should I show up if you’ve already killed them?” Trace waited impatiently to see if the man would put Mitch on the phone and sighed in relief when he heard his friend’s voice.
“Yeah buddy, it’s me. Everybody okay in there?”
“We’re fine. Stay away from here Trace, don’t give them what they want,” Mitch warned, only to let out a grunt of pain as one of the men socked him in the gut.
“Mitch? You okay man?” Trace asked. He could hear voices in the background and cringed at the words he was hearing.
“You’d better hope he comes, he’s the only chance you have,” said the same voice who had originally answered the phone. Seconds later Trace heard the voice back on the phone. “You have one hour to get your ass here.”
Trace fought down the fear that threatened to choke him as he heard the click signally the other man hanging up. He slammed his fist down on the hood of the patrol car in front of him and barely felt the pain that resonated up his arm. He turned tortured eyes to the chief in a what now look.
“I don’t know Trace,” the chief told him as they got back out of the truck and made their way back to the patrol cars.
“There’s got to be something,” Trace commented. Despite his resolve, Trace turned to Jackson. He knew that these were the exact scenarios that Jackson had been trained to hand in the Marine’s, but when he turned to his lover he found him gone.
“Where’d your friend go?” the chief asked with a pointed look behind Trace.
He was silently cussing as his gaze scanned the immediate area, hoping to see Jackson’s familiar face. He realized the futility of his actions when he heard a whine from Hercules and looked down to find his four legged companion’s gaze focused on Mitch’s house.
“God damn it,” Trace swore and tried to move towards the house only to be stopped by the chief.
“Where do you think you’re going? You’re not going in there, remember?”
Instead of answering, Trace turned his attention back to his dog. Over the last three weeks, Hercules had bonded with Jackson. He had no doubt that if he sent the dog in, he would go directly to Jackson and protect him just as he would himself.
“Find him boy,” Traced ordered before anyone could realize his intentions. He watched as Hercules sprang to attention and darted through the maze of police cars. He lost sight of him for a moment when he disappeared into the bushes. It took a minute for the dog to reappear and when he did, Jackson was by his side. He wanted to scream out to Jackson, but bit his lip, the last thing he wanted to do was call attention to Jackson.
It was a tense five minutes that seemed more like hours before he heard shouts coming from the house. The shouts were immediately followed by the sound of a single report from a firearm. Before anyone could react, the front door opened and Mitch appeared with his daughter sobbing in his arms and his wife clinging to his side. The only thing that still worried him was that there was no sign of Jackson or Hercules.
Later that Night
“I should have let them arrest your ass,” Trace groused as he glared across the seat of the truck at Jackson. “I told you not to do anything stupid.”
“I didn’t,” Jackson told him. “I did exactly what I’ve been trained to do, it wasn’t stupid.”
“Were you armed?” Trace asked him.
“Well no, but…”
“Were they armed?”
“Well yeah, but…” Jackson wasn’t even able to finish his thought before Trace jumped in again.
“So if they were armed and you weren’t, what exactly wasn’t stupid about going in there like that? You could have been hurt Jackson, and it would have been on my head.”
“Wait a minute, why would it have been on your head? I’m the one who decided to go in, I’m the one who snuck away from you, and I’m the one who went in unarmed. To me, that puts it all on my head.” Despite the fact that Trace was obviously pissed at him, Jackson enjoyed knowing that Trace had been worried about him as well as his friends.
“It would have been on my head, because I’m the one who ignored my gut and took you with me. If I had taken you back to the cabins then you wouldn’t have had the opportunity,” Trace told him.
“If you had taken me back to the cabins,” Jackson told him calmly, “then you wouldn’t have gotten there in time. When you called when we got there, they gave you an hour and you would have still been an hour and a half away. Admit it, you wouldn’t have gotten there in time if you’d taken me home first.”
“Just answer me this,” Trace pleaded. “What possessed you to go in there?”
“Are you sure you want to hear this?”
“Whether or not I want to, I need to,” Trace told him.
“I wish I could explain it better,” Jackson started, “but it’s simple. I knew that Mitch and his family were important to you. You’ve become very important to me Trace and that made them important as well. It wasn’t just that though. They’d already shot you once and tried a second time, if something had happened and they got away, they would have kept coming at you. You know that as well as I do. I knew that I had a good chance of being able to subdue them, and decided to act on it. It was the only thing that I could do to keep you safe.”
“Jackson, you know I like you, but I don’t know if we can have more than the time I’m at the cabin. I’m only going to be there a couple of more weeks, what do we do when I go home? We live two hours away from each other, and granted, that’s not a lot, but when you consider that we’re still just getting to know each other… Well, it doesn’t make for a happy ending.”
“Maybe not, but don’t we owe it to ourselves to at least try?”
“I honestly don’t know,” Trace answered quietly as they pulled up in front of Jackson’s cabin.
“Aren’t you going to come in?” Jackson asked when Trace left the engine running and made no move to get out of the truck.
“Not tonight, I need some time to think,” Trace answered him quietly, refusing to even so much as meet Jackson’s gaze.
“I guess we can talk more tomorrow then,” Jackson answered. He didn’t like it, but knew that if he pushed that Trace would pull away even more.
“Yeah, tomorrow,” Trace answered robotically. He didn’t even respond when Jackson leaned over and brushed a light kiss over his lips. He didn’t glance over when Jackson opened the door. He didn’t look back as he headed towards his rented cabin. He didn’t allow himself to feel anything as he climbed out of the truck and headed inside. He wasn’t even sure he could feel anything.
A Month Later
“What is going on with you?” Mitch asked as he perched on the edge of Trace’s desk. He hated the desolate look that was always present in his partner’s gaze.
“Nothing is going on with me,” Trace denied.
“You barely eat and you look like you haven’t slept in over a week. I’ll ask you again, what is going on with you?”
“It’s none of your damn business,” Trace told him.
“None of my business?” Mitch asked him as he stood up. “It is my damn business when your attention isn’t on the job. I work next to you every damn day and I count on you to cover my back, but lately you haven’t been worth a damn.”
“Get off my damn back,” Trace growled out as he shot to his feet. “You want to talk about covering your back? Where were you when those damn bastards shot me?” ‘Which sent me into the arms of a wonderful man’ Trace’s mind filled in.
Trace shook his head as though it would be enough to get his thoughts away from Jackson. He knew that Mitch was right. He hadn’t been sleeping more than an hour or two a night and he couldn’t remember the last time he’d actually eaten a full meal. He didn’t know what Jackson thought of him after the way he’d left. He hadn’t even waited until morning to tell him goodbye, instead he’d packed up his things and left right after dropping Jackson at his cabin. He hadn’t even left a note.
“That’s a low blow,” Mitch shot back. “Does this have anything to do with the guy who came back here with you when my family was being held hostage?”
“Stay out of it,” Trace bit out.
“I can’t stay out of it Trace,” Mitch told him. “You’re not just my partner, you’re my friend, and my brother. You’ve changed since you came back and I’m worried.”
“There’s nothing to worry about,” Trace told him sadly. As angry as he had been earlier, most of it had been directed at himself. “I just screwed up what was probably the best thing that has happened to me.”
“How do you know you screwed it up?” Mitch asked him.
“I just know,” Trace told him, opening up his drawer and taking out his stress ball.
“Last I knew, you weren’t a psychic,” Mitch pointed out. “You won’t know for sure that you screwed it up until you talk to him and find out what he’s thinking.”
“You don’t know how bad I wanted to stay up there with him,” Trace told him.
“So why didn’t you?”
“When he went into the house after you, I had to face the fact that not only could I lose my best friend, but very possibly the guy that I was already head over heels for. I couldn’t figure out what to do, I still can’t.”
“How do you mean?” Mitch asked.
“You told me yourself that you didn’t want to have to train another partner,” Trace started. “We’re not only best friends and partners, but also brothers. What if I give all of that up and then it doesn’t work out?”
“Trace, as everything that you just named, I want you to be happy. No, I don’t really want to have another partner, but it would be beyond selfish of me to expect you to walk away if you have the chance at making things work.”
“You’ve always been there for me,” Trace told him with a slight smile.
“I always will be, but I’m not going to keep you warm at night,” Mitch told him gently.
“I don’t know how to fix it,” Trace admitted.
“Maybe an apology is in order,” Mitch suggested.
“That’s the least of what is in order,” Trace agreed. “Knowing how dangerous it was, he still went in because of…”
“Because of what?” Mitch prodded.
“He went in because of me,” Trace said quietly. “He told me that he knew that it was important to me and essentially it was the only way he could be sure that I’d be safe.”
“Sounds like he really cared for you,” Mitch told him.
“Yeah, it does, let’s just hope he accepts the apology,” Trace told him as he grabbed his jacket off the back of his chair.
“Hey, where are you going?” Mitch asked as Trace headed towards the door.
“I’m going to go try and fix it,” Trace told him. “Let the chief know I’m taking the rest of the day as a personal day.”
“Shouldn’t you do that?” Mitch questioned.
“Should, but not going to,” Trace told him with the first smile Mitch had seen from him in over a month. “If all goes well, you might just have to break in a new partner after all.” Not waiting for an answer, Trace hurried out of the station and to his truck.
“About damn time,” Mitch grumbled as he headed towards the chief’s office. “I hate this sentimental shit.”
Trace made a quick stop at his house to throw a few things in a bag and grab Hercules before getting on the interstate and heading for the cabins. He could only hope that Jackson would listen to him and wouldn’t shut the door in his face. His nerves were in shambles as he pulled up in front of Jackson’s cabin.
“Guess this is it,” Trace told Hercules as he opened his truck door. Hercules apparently didn’t realize Trace’s need for a minute to prepare himself, instead, his dog ran directly up to Jackson’s door and started barking up a frenzy. A moment later, Trace watched as the door opened and Jackson stepped out.
“Hercules! What are you doing here?” Jackson exclaimed.
Trace watched Jackson bend down and ruffle Hercules’s head before standing back up and looking out at where Trace stood awkwardly next to his truck. His feet felt glued to the ground as Jackson started walking towards the truck and he felt like he may just have a heart attack with how fast his heart was beating. He had anticipated many different reactions, but was unprepared for the actual greeting he received.
Without a word being uttered, Jackson closed the distance between himself and Trace. His gaze never left the other man’s face and as the pain and what he assumed to be love shone in his eyes. He stopped less than a foot from Trace and gazed down at him for a minute before closing the distance and capturing Trace’s lips with his own.
“Was just about ready to give up,” Jackson whispered when he finally pulled back.
“I’m sorry,” Trace whispered back.
“You’re here, that’s all that matters,” Jackson answered him before leading him into the house.
“I really think we need to talk,” Trace told him once they were seated together on the couch.
“We don’t need to sit and hash it all out,” Jackson told him gently. “I just want you to answer one question for me.”
“Why did you leave?” Jackson asked, a hint of the pain he had felt slipping into his voice.
“I was scared,” Trace answered honestly. He had given the situation a lot of thought on the drive up and knew that it was the truth. “Before you went into that house, I only had to fear losing Mitch, and trust me, that was bad enough. Me and Mitch have been best friends for years.”
“I can understand that,” Jackson told him.
“That’s not why I left though. When I realized that you had gone into that house, I was beyond terrified. I knew that if I lost Mitch it would hurt, but the mere thought of losing you, well, it was just too much for me to handle. We hadn’t even known each other very long and deep down I knew that if anything were to happen to you, it would feel like my world was ending.”
“Nothing happened to me though,” Trace told him. The only part that he held back was the fact that if Trace hadn’t sent Hercules after him, he probably would have had a bullet through his head. The shot that had been fired had been aimed at his head when Hercules reacted, knocking into the gunman and throwing his aim off.
“It was the fear that something could have happened,” Trace tried to make him understand. “I know it doesn’t make a lot of sense.”
“It makes perfect sense,” Jackson disagreed. “What made you change your mind?”
“It wasn’t any one thing in particular,” Trace hedged. “It was a whole bunch of stuff that made me realize.”
“Realize what?” Jackson asked as he pulled Trace back to nestle in his arms.
“Realize that there is no going back for me. I tried to push the few weeks we had together out of my mind, but it proved to be impossible. You’re ingrained in me now.”
“That’s not a bad thing,” Jackson said with a smile as he pressed a light kiss against Trace’s neck.
“No, it’s not. I know we haven’t known each other long, but I love you Jackson.”
“I love you too babe,” Jackson replied as Trace turned his upper body until they could look in each other’s eyes. “What happens now?”
“How would you feel about a roommate with a dog?” Trace asked cautiously, hoping he hadn’t moved things along too quickly.
“Nothing would make me happier,” Jackson answered with a smile as his head lowered towards Trace’s waiting lips.
Author’s Note: Thank you to everyone that has read and commented on this story!