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Home Is A Fire

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Home, home is a fire
Burning reminder
Of where we belong, love
- Death Cab for Cutie

Ally had never been a morning person, but here, on the road with Jack, she found that the mornings have become her favorite time. Most days they woke slowly, but even when they were in a rush there were always at least a few minutes to just lie together, warm and sleepy and quiet, before the thrum and churn of the tour machine gathered them up for another day.

Today they could be lazy. There was no show tonight, just travelling, and they didn't have to be on the bus until noon. Jack was wrapped around her, humming softly and carding his fingers through her hair.

Later she would laugh and wonder if he was trying to lull her on purpose.

“So hey,” he mumbled, lips pressed against the back of her head, “two more weeks and then we’re done.”

Ally felt herself flinch and hoped he didn’t notice. She was well aware that they were quickly approaching the last of Jack’s dates. Lately she had to push the thought from her mind every night when they finished a show.

He’d explained his schedule to her fairly early on, how he liked to tour from late spring through the fall and then takes winters off to recharge and work in the studio. And that sounded great. Except they’d never really discussed what would happen after the current tour ended, where it would leave them.

She guessed that was where this conversation was going.

“Yup,” she said, aiming for casual. “Are you excited to be finished?”

“Uh, I don’t know,” he said, shifting around to face her, “but listen, I wanted to talk to you about somethin’.”

“Okay,” she murmured, heart sinking a little.

“So it occurred to me the other day that when I’ve been thinking about the tour ending, when I’ve been picturin’ it, I’ve got it in my head that you’ll be coming home with me. To stay.” He paused a beat, watching her carefully. “But then I realized that I’d never asked ya. If that was something that you’d want.” He dropped his eyes, suddenly fascinated with her collarbone. “So I’m askin’ ya.”

Something warm bloomed in Ally’s chest and she immediately fought to control it. “What do you mean?” she said, tipping her head to meet Jack’s eyes again. “You mean like... move in with you? Or --?”

A little smile was tugging at the corner of his mouth. “Yeah, that’s exactly what I mean.”

She couldn’t keep her own grin from spreading, and before she’d even thought about it she was nodding and saying, “yeah, yes, okay.”

Jack gave a happy little huff and kissed her, bumped their foreheads together gently. “Alright, well good.” He pulled back to look at her, a teasing glint in his eye. “‘Cause I wasn’t looking forward to being interrogated by your dad every time I came to pick ya up for a date.”

She stuck her tongue out at him and tried to look offended, but she couldn’t hold it, happiness was bubbling out of her. “Interrogate?” she laughed. “Yeah right, you know he loves you, he’d probably try and give you money for the movie or something.”

Jack chuckled and flipped her onto her back, peppering little kisses over her eyes, her nose, her cheeks. “Well either way, I’m gonna be glad to have you all to myself for a little while.”

He shifted over her, pressing her down into the mattress, and her breath caught. “You have me all to yourself right now,” she whispered, all of her amusement evaporating. “So what are you gonna do with me?”

***

Of course, by the time the last show actually arrived nearly everything had changed.

Ally had decided to hire Rez on as her manager, had meetings with people from Interscope lined up for the first week they’re back in LA.

Once he was sober, once he’d thought about it, Jack couldn’t stop saying how happy he was for her, how proud. Ally could tell he was being honest, and that meant more to her than anything.

But it also meant that his winter downtime was about to become the busiest time of her life.

“No, it’s perfect,” he argued, when she tried to apologize for messing up his plans. “It means I can be there with ya every step of the way.” He beamed down at her. “I can’t wait for everyone in the world to fall in love with you.”

She rolled her eyes, but the way he said things like that made her want to believe them, just a little bit.

***

The emotional crash of finishing the tour hit Ally hard. She had not thought it would be so difficult to clear all of her stuff out of the bus, to say goodbye to the band and the crew. To sing her last duet with Jack.

She knew it wasn’t forever, but she hated endings, and the last four months had been the best of her entire life, by a wide margin. Part of her wanted to crawl into her little bunk and live there forever.

But a bigger part knew that there was so much more waiting for her just over the horizon, and so she screamed “goodnight Chicago, we love you!” into the mic, stayed way too long at one last after-party, and then boarded the plane to LA the next afternoon.

It was not even all that late when they landed but Ally had to practically drag her ass out onto the tarmac, and for some reason when she saw Phil waiting for them by the car she burst into tears.

“I’m sorry,” she sniffled, when both men looked at her with alarm, “I’m just really tired.”

Jack bundled her into the back seat and looped his arm around her so she could rest her head on his shoulder. She listened while the guys talked, catching up, but before long she was more feeling the rumble of the words in Jack’s chest than actually hearing anything that was being said, and then the next thing she knew Jack was stroking her cheek with his knuckles, saying “wake up baby, we’re home.”

The way he said it, his voice and the soft look on his face when she blinked her eyes open were so much that she could barely take it in. Home, she thought, yes, and she sighed and buried her face into his neck.

“Come on now,” he laughed, “up ya get. Unless you want Phil to carry you inside.”

***

They slept all morning, finally venturing out to make breakfast; Ally was surprised to find a fully stocked fridge, though she supposed she shouldn't have been. After months of room service and take out and crappy diners it felt like heaven to make her own eggs.

In the afternoon Jack insisted on giving her a “proper tour of the place.”

“I’ve been here before, if you’ll recall,” she laughed, bumping him with her hip, but he wouldn’t hear it.

“That was the visitin’-girlfriend tour, where I tried to impress ya with my records an’ shit, this is different. This is the livin'-here tour, where I teach ya about the alarm system, alright, ‘cause it’s kinda weird.”

He was very serious and adorable so Ally let him lead her from room to room, happily listened to him ramble about the breaker panel and the controls for the thermostat.

Finally he plopped onto the couch in the living room and dragged her down with him. “Now, probably the most important thing is you’ve got to talk to Maggie, my housekeeper lady. I’m gonna call her and tell her to come meet ya.”

“Okay, sure,” Ally shrugged.

“No, because the thing is she does all this stuff, I don’t even know what, and she’s real great. But sometimes she just shows up and you’re in the middle of something…” He shook his head, made a face. “Anyway, I want you to be able to tell her if you think she should do something different, or not do something, or whatever --”

“Jack,” she cut in, cupping his cheek, “it’s okay, I’m sure it’s fine. We’ll figure it out.” She smiled, waited for him to smile back. But he was on a roll.

“Okay, but more than once she’s arranged for these guys, these window washer guys, to come, for example, and do all these windows, but she didn’t tell me. Or maybe she did and I forgot, who knows, but either way they fuckin’ scared the shit outta me, I came out from the shower and there were all these fuckin’ dudes staring in the windows, ya know…” He gestured broadly. “Stuff like that, I gotta make sure she’s tellin’ ya.”

Ally couldn’t help it, she started to giggle, she could just imagine Jack naked and yelling at some man out in the yard.

“Oh, you think it’s funny do ya,” he growled, grabbing her around the waist and wrestling her, shrieking and laughing, back against the arm of the sofa before kissing her, slow and sweet. “I just want you to be comfortable, that’s all.”

“I am comfortable,” she insisted. “I will be. It gonna be great.”

He nodded, still not looking entirely convinced. “If you want to change any of this furniture or anything, if you don’t like it --”

“Oh my god, Jack!” Ally laughed, slapping her hand over his mouth. “Stop! I love everything, I love you, please relax.”

“I’ve never lived with anyone before,” he mumbled against her palm.

She brought her forehead down to rest on his. “Me neither. But I like it so far.”

He smiled finally, his big real grin. “Good.”

“And I’m gonna go to my Dad’s tomorrow and pick up a bunch of my stuff, then maybe we can talk about moving things around.”

“Great,” he said, looking genuinely delighted.

She laughed. “I was looking at that closet in the bedroom, I think it might need a complete overhaul.”

He nodded encouragingly.

“And the master bath,” she warned, “I’m probably gonna need a bunch of space in there.”

Jack just smiled wider. “Good. I can’t wait to see all your girly shit spread out everywhere, getting in my way when I’m tryin’ to brush my teeth.”

She threw her head back and barked out a laugh. “I’m gonna remember you said that.”

***

The next morning he was less enthusiastic about the idea of her going anywhere.

He hung off the end of the bed, tugging at her jeans as she tried to pull them up. “You know, we can hire people to do all this, they’ll pack whatever you want and bring it right here. You don’t have to do a thing.”

“Jack,” she yelped, wiggling free, “stop.” She dug through her suitcase and pulled on a t-shirt, rolled her eyes at his sad little puppy face. “I need to sort through everything.” She bent down to kiss him quickly but darted away before he could drag her back into bed. “Besides, don’t you think I’d like to see my father for the first time in what, two months?”

Jack flopped black, humming in defeat. “Alright, fine, fair. Say hi to him for me.”

Ally smiled and edged towards him. “I will.”

“The keys are in the garage, you remember?”

“Yes, thank you.” She kissed him, just one more time, and then headed out, calling “I’ll see you tonight,” over her shoulder.

***

Jack was letting her use his old truck, and she stopped off to buy some boxes and tape before heading to her Dad’s. She was surprised how nice it felt to be out running normal errands again.

She’d barely come to a stop in front of the house before her Dad came barreling out, practically crushing her into a hug. “Look at you,” he said, holding her out at arm's length. “My superstar.”

“Dad,” she tutted, “come on.”

Once she was back in the kitchen it was like a muscle memory kicked in and before she knew it she was heating up leftovers for lunch and tidying the counters while her father bombarded her with a million questions -- none of which he didn't already know the answer to, naturally.

While they ate he played her some videos from recent shows and narrated his favorite parts, and after that Ally smiled and nodded through his advice about her upcoming meetings with the record label. “Jack’s lawyer is helping me,” she assured him at one point, but that didn’t stop him, so she let him go on for a while longer.

She’d missed him.

But she did have an actual goal in mind for the day, and so eventually she got up from the table and took her boxes and climbed up to her room.

It was strange, coming back after so long. Everything was exactly as she’d left it the day she rode off with Jack, rumpled bed and messy dressers and clothes on the floor. Her old life, stopped dead in its tracks.

She had left once before. The day after she graduated high school she’d moved with two other girls into a tiny apartment, ready to take the music world by storm. And she’d tried, she really had. For years she booked every gig she could and knocked on doors and sent out demos. Took a few meetings.

But eventually she was waitressing more than she was singing, and one day her dad asked her to move back home, and so she had. And that was it.

Until it wasn’t, of course. She shook herself out of her reverie and smiled. Remembered the last time she’d been in this room, Jack grinning down at her. And now he was waiting for her in another bedroom across town.

She yanked open the closet and started piling things onto the bed.

***

She didn’t end up taking all that much, in the end. None of her furniture was anything special, and she decided to leave behind all of her childhood things for the time being.

Even the majority of her clothes, when she started to sort through them, ended up in the donation pile. She had her favorites, and some special pieces that she loved, but mostly she found herself staring at things and thinking I can replace this.

It was a little disturbing to her, how quickly she’d slipped into the mindset of someone with money.

The first day out on the road Jack had turned to her and said, offhand, “oh, hey, I arranged for you to be paid for the shows you’ll be doin’. When you see Gail later give her your banking info or whatever and she can set it all up.”

Ally had stopped and looked at him, too surprised to say anything at first. And then when she had opened her mouth she’d only managed a wary, “Jack…” before he was taking her by the shoulders and cutting her off.

“Ally, a lot of people are making a lot of money off’a this tour, and every single person working on it is getting paid. You’re gonna be singing every night, it’s only fair you get your cut. Don’t worry,” he’d grinned, kissing her lightly, “it won’t be all that much. You might even start to think we’re rippin’ you off, when you see the schedule.”

She’d scoffed at that and scowled when he laughed, but she had talked to Gail about it, in the end. She needed to buy things, outfits to wear on stage for one thing, and she knew her savings wouldn’t get her very far.

She didn't really think about it again until one morning a few weeks later she’d woken up to see a text alert from her bank. Half asleep and confused she’d logged in and tried to make sense of what she was seeing, until finally it became clear that the ridiculous number she was looking at was, in fact, the balance of her checking account. For a moment her heart stopped.

“Jack,” she hissed, shaking him awake. “Jack!”

“Whass wrong,” he rumbled, rolling towards her.

She shoved her phone into his face, tapping the screen manically. “What the fuck is this?”

He squinted and blinked and peered up at her. “What’s what?”

“All of this money, Jackson,” she gritted out. “You said… did you think…” she stopped, trying to breathe.

He was awake now and he pulled himself up beside her. “It’s what you deserve, that’s all.” He ran his fingers lightly over her jaw. “Don’t worry about it.”

“Don’t wor --” she shook her head, stunned. She took a deep breath and looked him hard in the eye. “It’s too much. It’s stupid. It’s a stupid amount. I know you and I have very different concepts of what counts as a lot of money, but even your rich ass must realize that this isn’t ‘not much’.” He tried to glance away but she shifted with him, holding his gaze. “And you knew I’d never agree to take it.”

He stared back, not blinking, but after a beat he gave a little sharp little nod. “Fine,” he sighed, “alright. I know it’s more than you were maybe thinkin’. But listen,” he pressed, when he could tell she was gearing up to argue, “I’ve been with people before where money was a thing between us, and I hated it.” He was as serious as she’d ever seen him. “I hated it Ally, and I don’t want that for us, ever. I don’t give a fuck about money, you know that.”

He shifted closer to her, took up both of her hands in his. “And I don’t want you to ever feel like you’re trapped, or like you have to ask me for things, or whatever. So there. Now you have some money, and I have money, and we don’t have to worry about it, okay?”

Ally’s head was swimming and she pulled her hands free to cover her eyes. She didn’t know what the fuck to think. “Jack…”

“Hey,” he said, wrapping his arms around her and nuzzling into her neck. “You’ve actually been a real good investment, for the tour, you know.” He chuckled and rocked her back and forth a bit, trying to get her to look at him. “You’re writing all those beautiful songs for us to sing together, and everyone’s lovin’ ‘em, and your piano playin’ is so nice. And even when you’re just watchin’, I play better ‘cause I’m trying to show off for ya.” He finally reached up and pulled her hands away from her face. “So I still think I’m getting the better deal.”

And he’d looked at her, so very earnest and pleading, and said, “please, Ally, just take it,” and despite herself she found she was nodding.

And now, only a few months later, she was about to sign a record deal and be handed even more money, and her whole life was changing, and it had all happened so fast.

She looked around at all of her things piled on the floor, all the little bits of her old life, everything she was so willing to trade in for something better, and she suddenly felt swallowed up by the enormity of it.

So she crawled into her bed and smooshed her face into the pillow and cried. Just for a minute. For the girl she had been, and the woman she was going to be.

And then when she was done she got up, already feeling a little silly, and put her pillow into the pile to take to the new house.

That part was nicer, filling boxes with what she would keep. Her sentimental things, her pictures and her old songbooks. Her favorite albums and her favorite paperbacks, worn from re-reading, her lucky coffee mug. And her typewriter, carefully bundled in with the pillow.

When she was done her Dad insisted on carrying the boxes down to the truck for her. None of them were all that heavy -- maybe one with all her makeup and nail polishes -- certainly nothing she couldn’t have managed on her own. But she let him help her, and said thank-you, and gave him an extra long hug.

“Do you need me to come with you?” he asked, following her out onto the porch. “You can’t unload all of that yourself.”

“Jack’s there, Dad,” she reminded him fondly.

“Right, of course,” he chuckled. “Well, drive safe. It’s gonna get dark and you know I don’t like those roads up in the canyons.”

“I’ll be fine,” she said, leaning up to kiss his cheek. “Hey, why don’t you come for dinner tomorrow, hm? I’ll make whatever you want.”

“I don’t know,” he demurred, “I don’t want to intrude. Don’t you need to get settled in and everything?”

Ally laughed. “He doesn’t want to intrude. Sure. Come on, I’ll see you tomorrow. I’ll text you the address.”

***

She drove back slowly. It was a perfect LA night, the sun low in the sky making everything glow gold, the breeze through her window absolutely glorious. Every song on the radio was just what she wanted to hear, and she cranked it up and let herself feel part of something grand and magical.

She wasn’t yet used to finding the driveway, especially in the gathering dark, but just as she started to think she might have missed it she caught sight of the house through the trees, all the windows bright and shining, guiding her in like a beacon.

And when she opened the door she could hear Jack singing along to a record, and the place smelled wonderful, and when she walked into the kitchen he turned and his whole face lit up at the sight of her.

“There she is,” he said. “Just in time to set the table.” And he laughed, and she felt the sound settled in her chest like a dull ache, right behind her heart. Inexplicably she found herself blinking back tears.

“Hey, what’s the matter?,” Jack said, anxious, coming around the island to gather her up. “Did somethin’ happen?”

She huffed out a shaky little laugh, rolling her eyes at herself. “Nothing happened,” she assured him, leaning into his kiss. But no, that wasn’t right, not at all. “Everything happened,” she amended, and smiled at his slightly bewildered look. “I’m just happy to be home.”

“Well amen to that,” he grinned, moving away before turning back to slap her ass. “Come on, let’s eat.”

-o-