LATE

Gavin looked up at the clock for what must have been the hundredth time, trying to swallow the rising panic working its way up his throat. Sitting at the kitchen table, chewing on his bottom lip, he then stared back down at the cordless phone he had clutched so tightly in his hand that his fingers were turning white. He prayed really hard, not for the first time in the last hour and fifteen minutes... that it would ring.

Knowing Jack had been stressed at work this week getting ready for a trial that was to begin tomorrow, Gavin had taken off early from the office and rushed home, changed into his running pants and prepared Jack's favorite Irish potpie. Gavin had gotten the recipe from Jack's Mom. It was her secret recipe, handed down to her from Jack's Grandmother on his Father's side of the family. Gavin had been after her for the recipe for years, and finally she relented and gave it to him. He was the first person she had ever given it to, never giving in, even when her own children had begged her for it. Gavin had felt special.

Jack normally arrived home from work about 6:00... at the latest. It was now 7:15 and he WASN'T home yet. He tried swallowing again, the lump in his throat making it hard to breathe. In the seven years they had lived together Gavin couldn't remember one time that Jack had ever been late without calling to let Gavin know about it. Not once in all that time.

There had been plenty of times that Gavin had been late without calling. More so in the first couple of years they had lived together than recently. Being late was a pet peeve of Jack's and he never failed to let Gavin know, under no uncertain terms, that there was NEVER any excuse for not calling. It was thoughtless and rude to just go about your business and not care in the least that someone was waiting for you, worrying about you.

Jack had driven that point home often during their first two years together. Gavin did still forget..but only rarely. When it did happen, Jack was always none to happy to remind him it wasn’t an option. Jack's REMINDERS were straight and to the point. The memory of them usually enough to keep Gavin from forgetting to call.

Oh God, what if he’d been in an accident. He could be in a...coma! Or... have amnesia and not KNOW who to call. He’d read about stuff like that. People that wondered around for...YEARS, not knowing where home was. Or what if…......." Gavin choked on a breath. God! He couldn’t even finish THAT thought.

He had called Jack's office, his cell phone, parents, all of his siblings and friends. He had gotten mostly answering machines, and tried to keep the panic out of his voice when asking those who did answer if Jack had happened to stop by. No one had seen him.

Pressing the button on the phone, he stared at it, wondering who it was that you call to ask about any accidents that might have happened. He figured those 911 people would know what to do. They were supposed to help in an emergency. Well, THIS was an emergency!

When the dispatcher answered Gavin's frantic voice stammered out,

"I want to report a missing person!"

The dispatcher, used to these calls, usually from frantic parents whose kids had just lost track of time and were usually found at a friends safely playing, Thank God, calmly said, "Calm down sir, we usually find everyone safe and sound. Can you give me a name, age, description and how long it's been since last seen?"

"He's my partner. His name is Jack Ryan. He's 6'2. 210 pounds. He's thirty-two and.... he SHOULD have been home from work about an hour and fifteen minutes AGO!" Gavin rushed out, his voice rising in panic with each word.

When the dispatcher said nothing else, Gavin asked, "Do you know of any accidents between Cleveland Avenue and Washington Street?"

The dispatcher didn’t say anything....for a really long time. Gavin thought she sounded like she was choking.

Finally she said, "I have nothing that's been reported, sir. Do you think it's ...well, uh, possible...he may have stopped for drink after work or..uh… maybe to do an errand?"

Gavin could have sworn she was laughing! What was SO damn funny about THIS?

Just then he heard the garage door open and what sounded like Jack's SUV pull into the garage. "Oh, I think he just pulled in....I..," Gavin stuttered, relief coursing through his body.

"I'm glad everything worked out, sir," She still sounded like she was laughing.

Gavin slammed the phone down with a thump and glared at it. He should call back and report her to the 911 bosses. He just KNEW she had been laughing at him.

He jumped up from his chair so quickly the chair nearly toppled over. Running through the kitchen, Gavin opened the door just as Jack was opening the door to his SUV. He nearly stumbled down the two steps into the garage and ran over to Jack, grabbing his arms.

"What happened? Are you all right? " Not giving Jack a chance to answer, Gavin threw his arms around Jack's neck and hugged him.

Jack hugged him back and after a few seconds Gavin stepped out of his embrace, grabbed Jack's briefcase out of his hand and pulled him up the stairs and into the kitchen.

Jack noticed there was a potpie sitting on top of the stove. It looked like his Mom's recipe. "

I'm so sorry I'm late Gav," Jack said, unaware..as yet.. the state of panic his being late had caused Gavin. He tugged his arm out of Gavin's still clutched fingers and walked over to the stove, sticking a fork into the potpie.

"I got hung up in the parking lot with some of the other attorneys. We were discussing that copyright infringement case that goes before the judge tomorrow and we all lost track of the time. Then there was some sort of problem with a dump truck spill on Howe Road. Hung up there for another twenty minutes." He stuck a forkful of potpie in his mouth. Realizing it was cold, Jack picked it up and headed for the microwave.

"I'll stick this in microwave and heat it back up. Should only take about ten minutes. Why don't you pour us something to drink?" Jack covered the potpie with a paper towel and stuck it in the microwave.

"THAT'S all you have to say?" Gavin yelled, not believing Jack hadn't even tried to call him. "So SORRY Gav!" He stomped his foot. "WHY DIDN'T YOU CALL ME?"

Jack looked up from the microwave, finally realizing how worried Gavin must have been.

He said in a calm voice, "Oh Gav, I did try to call babe. My cell phone battery was dead and I didn't have the adapter with me."

Closing the door to the microwave, Jack made his way over to Gavin who was still just standing there holding his briefcase. Jack put his arms around Gavin's shoulders and leaned down, kissing him on the forehead. "I'm really sorry. I know you must have been worried."

Gavin was incredulous. He shrugged out of Jack's embrace, stomped over to the counter and slammed Jack's briefcase down on top of it.

"THAT'S JUST BULLSHIT! If *I* had done something like this we'd ALREADY be down the basement and YOU think "I'm sorry Gav" is SUPPOSED to make everything OKAY!"

Jack looked at Gavin and said in a soft voice, hoping to calm him, "Gav, I know you're upset and I also know you have every reason to be. You're right, there's NO excuse for not calling and I AM truly sorry you were worried."

"That bullshit NEVER works for me when I'm late and forget to call. WHAT! It's NOT okay for ME to be late and "I'M SORRY" is OKAY for YOU. THAT is just SO FUCKING unfair!" Gavin's voice rose with each word. "FORGET IT! I certainly don't have to listen to this FUCKING SHIT"

"HOLD IT!" Jack said, his voice rising to be heard over Gavin. "I know you have every right to be upset. And we can and will discuss that. You have every right to let me know how you feel about it. BUT, you won't talk AT me in that manner while you're doing it Gavin. Change the language, right now. Is that clear?"

"Okaay, how bout we just go down the basement and discuss this further. I can just take care of it in the same way YOU'D take care of it if it were ME that was late without calling," Gavin said, his voice stiff in an effort to not yell.

Jack searched Gavin’s face, trying hard to be patient. He was fast losing what little he had left. He knew Gavin was upset and he did have that right, but Jack could tell Gavin was close to losing control.

"Gavin, that's not the way things work between us. I'm more than willing to discuss your feelings but we'll do it in a calm manner. Do you understand?"

"OH, I understand alright. That YOU get to do WHATEVER the FUCK you want and I just DO as I'm TOLD. Well you can just FUCK OFF and take the FUCKIN' legal brief you rode in on with you, MR. ATTORNEY," Gavin hollered. Raising his hand out in front of him, he flipped Jack a flying finger.

Jack face turned red, just having lost every last ounce of patience.

"Okay, buddy boy, if that's the way you want it." Pointing to the basement steps, his voice dangerously low, Jack said, "Calm down *right* this minute and *march* yourself down those stairs, find your corner and then *when* you've calmed down, we'll discuss it. And I can *promise* you another discussion *is* going to follow that one."

Still to angry to realize how deep he was digging a hole for himself, Gavin gave Jack a sneer and raised his hand again, this time waving that flying finger in Jack's face. "FUCK YOU!!"

"THAT TEARS IT!" Jack reached forward and grabbed the arm that owned that flying finger. He then propelled Gavin towards the basement doorway with a loud crack on his butt.

Being four inches taller and about forty pounds heavier always gave Jack a slight advantage. The fact that the forty extra pounds was all bulging muscle made that advantage even greater. Gavin had muscle, but it was long and lean and in no way any match for this hulking giant.

Gavin began to realize the "flying finger" might not have been the smartest thing he could have done. Adding that whole "F" commentary made him the leading contender for the “Really Dumb Stunt of the Year” award.

"YOU get down those stairs and find your corner. I DON'T want to hear ANOTHER word out of you until you calm down. IS THAT CLEAR?" Jack thundered, as they reached the doorway to the basement and then gave Gavin two more swats that landed with such force he would have fallen forward if Jack hadn't had such a good hold on him.

"I'm going, I'm going," Gavin yelped, not having much success in covering his butt with his hands.

He didn't stomp down the stairs. Exactly. He may have been the leading contender for that “award”, but he sure as heck didn’t want to win it. Stomping down the stairs would definitely earn him a place in the... Hall of Fame of Really Dumb Stunts. Gavin was still pissed, but he was starting to realize he might have taken things a tiny bit too far.

When Gavin reached the bottom of the stairs he didn't look back, just headed straight for the corner. He rested his head against the wall, wondering how things had gotten so out of hand. Why didn't Jack understand how he felt? How frightened he'd been?

Jack had always been willing to listen to Gavin when he felt strongly about something. For all his passion and intelligence, Jack wasn't a complicated man. There was right and there was wrong, with very little gray mixed in between the lines. Jack most always did the right thing at the right time. Sometimes the lines blurred for Gavin. Jack was always there to make sure the lines stayed clear for him, never letting that gray area get out of hand.

Jack came from a very loud, boisterous Irish Catholic family. They were passionate people. Their emotions went deep, tempers ran high and sometimes voices were raised in an effort to be heard. Jack understood that and didn't mind a healthy disagreement.

Gavin knew all of that was true, but... they didn't call each other names or say or do hurtful things to each other.

Still...Gavin thought....I had a RIGHT to be angry. Jack had been LATE. JACK was at fault here NOT him!

If it had been Gavin that was late, there was no doubt what would have happened. He knew THAT from experience. He had been late countless times, especially in the first couple of years. They had argued over it plenty. Sheesh, just in those very first few WEEKS of living together.

After a few times, Jack had become really angry and promised Gavin severe consequences if it continued. Gavin, wanting to know how far he could push Jack and how much he could trust him to keep his promises... had pushed the issue a little to far. Jack passed that test. Not once since then had there ever been an excuse accepted for not calling. Not ONCE in seven years.

Of course, Gavin thought again, Jack had never been late before, so maybe he didn't realize THIS relationship was a two way street. That the same rules of conduct should apply to BOTH of them. If Gavin COULDN'T' be late without calling, then Jack SHOULDN'T be allowed to do it either. He thought about that for a minute before the realization of what all that implied.. hit him.

Not ONCE in seven years had Jack EVER been late. THIS was the very FIRST time.

That had to be some kind of world record, Gavin thought. There was probably a Hall of Fame....somewhere, for people that had NEVER been late.

Everybody screwed up occasionally. Jack just DIDN'T. He ALWAYS did the right thing. Gavin depended on that. He trusted Jack to always come through, never falter, NEVER make mistakes. Every decision Jack made was always made for a reason. And those decisions were always made with the two of them in mind.

GOD, Gavin thought, what a heavy burden that would be; always having to have the right answers. Do the right thing ....every... single.... time.

Everything Gavin had said and did to Jack in the last fifteen minutes came back at him in a rush. Guilt lay in his stomach like a punch. How could he have said those awful things to Jack? In all their seven years together Gavin had NEVER even thought about flipping Jack the bird. He had NEVER said anything so hateful either.

Didn't Jack have the RIGHT to be wrong ONCE in seven years?

.......................................................

Feeling like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders, Jack walked slowly down the hall towards the sitting room at the front of the house. He sank down on the chair by the window seat, rested his elbow on the arm of the chair and rubbed his eyes.

It had been a long day. One thing after another at work. The briefs he had been working on for the trial scheduled for the next morning were still sitting in his briefcase, waiting for him to go over once more. It was a complicated and touchy case. He didn't feel quite as confident about taking this one to trial as he usually did, but it was what the client wanted, and they were one of his firm's biggest clients.

He was tired and stressed and distracted.

That was really NO excuse whatsoever for not calling Gavin and letting him know he was going to be late. He knew he had been worried sick. Thinking back on the argument that had gotten completely out of hand; Jack thought about how he could have handled things differently.

He had apologized, but apparently that wasn't enough. And Gavin WAS right. If the situation had been reversed, Gavin would have been over his knees five minutes after walking through the door. NO question about that.

Hell, Jack thought. HOW was HE supposed to go down those stairs and discipline Gavin for an emotional reaction to something that would have earned him a spanking if he had done the same thing? That just WOULDN'T be fair.

WOULD it?

Sometimes it was just HARD to figure it all out... what was right .....what was wrong.

Jack sighed and sunk further down in the chair.

Being late was a pet peeve with Jack. Gavin had been late... frequently, the first couple of years they had lived together. Hell, Jack thought again, the first few weeks they'd lived together he'd been late six times. Jack remembered how worried he'd been. They had argued about it several times.

Finally, after the fifth time, Jack had promised Gavin that the very next time he walked in that door late without calling, he was going to pull down his pants and blister his butt.

Gavin had looked at Jack with shock and anger and maybe... a little bit of hope. He had said, "You wouldn't REALLY do that!"

Two days later, Gavin had walked in the door at 11:00 PM, having supposed to be home at 6:00. It was the latest he'd ever been and to Jack....it seemed almost like a dare.

Gavin was saying to him, "Let's see if you can keep your promises."

Well, Jack hadn't disappointed him. He'd kept that promise. And every promise since.

God, that wasn't always EASY to do, Jack thought. You just did the best you could, and hoped that the decisions that you made were the right ones.

The first year or so of their relationship, Gavin had tested Jack...so many times, making sure that he could trust Jack to be there. Strong, steady, dependable. It's what Gavin wanted and needed in his life. He'd come in late on occasion after that first promise was kept and there were other things Gavin did those first months... that really tested the bonds of their relationship.

Gavin hung out with a couple of guys he'd met in college. He'd head out to the clubs with them, dragging Jack along. Jack didn't mind going to the clubs on occasion; they were both young and wanted to have a good time. Gavin would flirt and dance with other guys. Jack knew very well WHAT Gavin was doing and that he never had ANY intention of leaving with anyone but him. But the tests at times were... exhausting.

Jack had passed all of those tests, he knew. He never let Gavin get in to deep and never failed to set boundaries or carry out the promises that were made if those boundaries were crossed.

After that first year, Gavin understood that Jack wasn't going to give up or cave in. The trust had grown and the bond had deepened and they both knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this was IT for them. Nothing or no one would ever be as important to them as they were to each other. That was the first rule...and the only rule that really mattered. Every rule that came after...was based on that one.

Gavin, with his charismatic personality and creative mind, was as complicated a being as Jack was uncomplicated. Gavin always said, with Jack's strength behind him, and through his encouragement and support he felt he could fly. He was Jack's work in progress.

Jack smiled at the thought.

What Gavin didn't realize was that HE was Gavin's work in progress. Like they said in that movie...Gavin made HIM want to be a better person. A stronger person. A person that always did the right thing at the right time. He wanted to be the best he could be. Someone Gavin could be proud of.  Someone Gavin could look up to.

But like Gavin, Jack made mistakes too. All of the time. Even though Gavin always accused him of being Mr. Perfect, it was far from the truth. Being a work in progress DIDN'T mean you had to be perfect ALL of the time. It just meant you were doing the best that you could. Learning along the way.

Feeling better after collecting his thoughts, he decided that he'd left Gavin down there too long already. Jack pushed himself up from the chair and headed for the basement.
.....................................................................

Gavin heard Jack's footsteps coming down the stairs and his heart began to race again. He felt so badly about how he'd reacted he felt sick to his stomach. He usually waited for Jack to call him from the corner, but this time he couldn't wait. He turned slowly around and seeing Jack at the bottom of the stairs, ran across the family room, threw his arms around him and cried into his shoulder.

"I'm SO sorry. I didn't mean anything I said. I didn't mean it when I flipped you off. Please forgive me," he cried, as he squeezed Jack's neck.

Jack rubbed Gavin's back, tears in his own eyes and said, "I didn't mean to make you worry either, Gav. Please forgive *me*."

Gavin looked up at him, tears on his cheeks. "Jack, you've never been late not *once* in seven years. You at least gave me a few chances before I caught hell for it." Gavin wiped his eyes with the back of his hand and said softly, "What I said...what I did.. was terrible."

Squeezing Gavin's shoulder he guided him over to the couch and sat down, pulling Gavin down on his lap. "Gav, you were right about a few things that you said upstairs."

"What I did....the things I said...." Gavin started, but Jack put his hand up.

"Gav, you were right in the fact that there wasn't ANY excuse for me not calling. You were worried and upset and I truly understand that. If the situation had been reversed, you can damn well guarantee you would have been over my knees in less than five minutes after walking through the door."  Still rubbing Gavin's back, Jack pulled Gavin's chin up with his other hand.

Gavin looked up and into Jack's crystal blue gaze. Jack DID understand why he'd been so upset. That he had a RIGHT to be upset. But in Gavin's mind, THAT was still NO excuse for the things he had said and done to Jack.

"But, you were also right that I’ve never been late before. I can honestly say that I've never come down on you over something that hasn't been gone over at least once." Jack smiled at Gavin's look. "I don't mean that you haven't been spanked when you've only done something once, but you have to admit that usually those had something to do with a tantrum or maybe you not being...uhm..totally honest about something."

Gavin nodded his head conceding that point. "That's true," he said softly, looking down at his hands.

"And whenever you've messed up, I've never swore at you or flipped you off," Jack said, chucking Gavin's chin. Gavin blushed at little at that and tucked his chin under.

“I’m not perfect Gav, far from it. And I am truly sorry I was late. I'd like to promise you that it'll never happen again, if I can help it. Hopefully, it won't happen again for at least another seven years." A small smile tugged at the corner of Jack's mouth. That dimple that showed up at the left corner of his mouth when he smiled that way, always made Gavin smile back.

"Now, if you want to tell me how you felt about that, calmly, I'm willing to listen."

Gavin looked into Jack's eyes and tried explaining the panic he'd felt.

"I thought you were DEAD. Really DEAD. That was the only reason I could think of that you wouldn't have called. Well...other than the amnesia theory. I could hardly get my breath I was so scared. I called everyone we knew looking for you."

Gavin looked down at his hands and then looked up. His mouth turned up in a wry grin. "I even called 911 to report you missing. She thought it was pretty funny that I was reporting a thirty-two year old man missing for an hour and fifteen minutes."

"I know there was *nothing* funny in what you were feeling, Gav. I've been on the other end of that type of thing with you more than I care to remember...I do know how you felt," Jack said, then added, "although, those times are getting fewer and far between."

"I'll NEVER be late again without calling. I SWEAR I've never felt such panic in my life," Gavin said, sincerely. "I guess never being on the other side of it, I didn't realize what it really felt like."

Jack chuckled at the promise. "Maybe I should have been late more often. Spanking you never seemed to make an impression.

Gavin looked at Jack, his eye wide, "BELIEVE me, it made an impression!"

"Are you okay with all this then?" Jack asked, ruffling Gavin's blond waves.

"Yes. I mean, you CAN'T be perfect ALL of the time," Gavin smiled, thinking to himself how very close Jack came to being just that. "We both know how hard that can be."

Gavin leaned forward, finding Jack's lips and kissed him. Jack closed his eyes and returned the kiss.

Gavin mumbled against Jack's lips. "Mmmm....I'll go up and reheat dinner. I know you still have a briefcase full of stuff to look over and it's almost 9:00. You have to be starving."

Gavin kissed Jack again and started to push himself up. "Maybe we can continue this later, if you're not too tired."

Jack's arm tightened around Gavin's waist, stopping his exit.

"Gav, we still haven't had that discussion regarding the flying finger and that tantrum filled with "F" words you were spewing at me upstairs."

"But...but...I thought everything was settled, you know. I mean, I thought we....... " Gavin was stuttering.

"Jaaaaack..........." Gavin's words were cut off as Jack changed positions on him. Sitting on Jack's lap one minute, he found himself flipped over his knees without any time to cause much of a struggle.

His running pants had elastic at the waist and those were easily pulled down, along with his shorts. Gavin decided right then and there that he was going to start working out a little more. This size advantage Jack had over him was getting a little out of hand. Really out of hand!

Jack's hand cracked down once, then again. "We don't EVER talk to each other that way!" A third and then fourth swat landed. "and flipping me off. No way!." A fifth and then sixth swat found their target. "Neither one is EVER an option."

No words were spoken for the next several swats. Jack let his hand do the talking. Besides, no words were needed, that hand was doing a fine job of making everything perfectly clear.

.................

"This tastes just like my Mom's potpie Gav," Jack said, after finishing his second helping. "How did you get the recipe from her. She's always said it'll be stated in her will"

Gavin smiled and winked, "She likes me better than any of her blood children. I've been telling you that for years."

Jack laughed, "I know. SHE'S been telling us that for years."

Gavin stood up and started clearing the table. When Jack started to get up and help, Gavin stopped him. "No, I know you still have tons of work in your briefcase for that trial tomorrow. I'll finish here. God, it's almost 9:30 now. You're never going to get any sleep as it is."

Gavin picked up Jack's briefcase off the counter and sat it on the table in front of him. He cleaned the dishes off the table and began putting them in the dishwasher.

After a few minutes past he looked up from the sink and turned around, leaning against the counter. He winced when his butt connected with the edge and decided he'd be more comfortable leaning sideways.

"Jack, you know in monopoly....the getting out of jail free card?"

Not looking up from his papers, Jack mumbled a "yeah."

"Well, I've been thinking. Since you were late this once, how 'bout ...the next time I'm late, I get one "free" card? You know....kind of even things out a bit." Gavin waited for Jack to respond. Gavin was an idea man. He thought this was a great idea.

"No!" Jack said, still not looking up from his papers.

"Mmm...I didn't think you'd go for it," Gavin sighed, and then turned back around towards the sink.

After finishing up the dishes, he was drying his hands when Jack FINALLY looked up from his papers.

"Gavin, if you're even thinking about paying me back by coming in late, I'd think again real fast." Turning his head around, Jack gave Gavin that LOOK…...the one that meant business. "THAT would be a terrible mistake to make. Besides, I'd have to be late at least another fifty times to EVEN things up.. even if you were never late again."

"Jack, you know I'd NEVER do such a thing." Laughing at the look Jack was giving him, he made his way to stand behind Jack's chair, rubbing Jack's shoulders he kissed the top of his head.

Jack grabbed Gavin's hands and pulled him further down until Gavin's head was resting on his shoulder.

"Well, if you did EVER do such a thing, you'll wish you WERE in jail. It would be the safest place for you. You wouldn't want any card that would get you OUT. That's a promise."

Nixing the card idea, because he knew that Jack ALWAYS kept his promises, Gavin blew a raspberry in Jack's neck. Then began kissing him behind his ear.

Being pleasantly distracted by those kisses, Jack decided then and there...if he wasn't ready for this trial by now he never would be.

He pushed his papers and briefcase out of reach and pulled Gavin around and onto his lap. He had a much better idea on how to spend the rest of the night.

The kiss Jack gave Gavin held a lot of promises.

And Jack ALWAYS kept his promises.