Considering how much Jack hated crowds, he seemed to end up in them a lot. Especially in dark clubs, where flashing lights and loud music distorted the world around him.
Maybe going to clubs so often wasn’t smart for someone with claustrophobia, but he was usually able to keep the fear and panic low enough to enjoy himself. It helped that he usually went with someone he was comfortable and safe around, someone who knew he could get overwhelmed, and would help to distract him when needed.
That person tended to be Conor, until Joe came along, and was able to fill the role that only Jack’s older brother used to hold. And when Joe and Jack shifted from friends to more, dating secretly, Jack found it easier to go out to the clubs with the boys, as long as Joe was there, always within an arms reach.
Now, months later, the boys still had no idea that two of their mates were dating, nor did they know about Jack’s claustrophobia, another secret he continued to keep.
The small group were out for another night on the town, having started at dinner and quickly finding their way to the ever familiar club they tended to end up at.
The only difference tonight, Jack noticed, was that the crowd seemed to have doubled in size. Apparently there was some special or event happening which was drawing more and more people in.
“You gonna be okay?” Joe had asked once they entered the club, his blue eyes shining with concern, searching for any panic that may be hiding in Jack’s own blue eyes.
“I’ll be fine,” The younger man grinned, “Let’s go have fun!”
And for a while, he was able to convince himself that that was the truth. That he would be fine. That he could handle the ever-growing crowd.
Even as the bodies pushed closer together, filling any available gap that existed in the club, Jack convinced himself he was fine, because Joe was right there, always in constant contact with him.
Until things shifted.
The crowd suddenly got excited, a new bass pounding song coming through the speakers, and the bodies shifted. First one way, and then the other. The faces blurred together, the lights casting dark and menacing shadows across them, the music was deafening to Jack’s ears, and he realized he couldn’t see Joe.
He couldn’t see anyone he recognized.
He was alone. And the bodies were still pressing in even closer.
The panic he had kept at bay began to crawl up his chest and into his throat, cutting off any oxygen that was trying to make its way into his lungs. His hands shook, the feeling creeping up and along his skin, a cold sweat breaking out along the way. No one around him found it abnormal that the young man was shaking, or that his eyes were darting through the crowd, a wild look in them, because they were in a club. Why would anyone question someone like that?
To the strangers around him, Jack was simply reacting badly to a drink or drug.
To him, he was losing any and all control he had. And he was utterly and completely alone.
“Jack!” A warm and familiar hand slipped into his before he felt himself being pulled in a direction, one that wasn’t familiar. All he could feel was the bodies pressing closer, suffocating him slowly.
The coolness of the night air hit his skin sharply, and he sucked it in rapidly, the chill hurting his oxygen deprived lungs, but at that moment he didn’t care. He just wanted to be able to breathe.
“Hey, hey,” A soothing voice cut through his foggy mind, and his eyes locked on to a pair of oh so familiar ones, shining with worry. “Slow. Slow and steady.”
The hand slipped from his, and joined another on his cheeks, thumbs brushing away the tears Jack now realized were falling down his cheeks.
“You’re okay, love. I’m right here.”
“Yeah,” Joe smiled softly at Jack, “It’s me. I’m right here.”
“I…I lost you.”
“I know, love, I’m so sorry.”
“Th-there was s-so—“
“Shhh,” The older man leaned in, kissing Jack softly, just once, “Focus on breathing. We can talk after.”
Nodding, Jack kept his eyes focused on those of his boyfriends, breathing in time with Joe, his body leaning heavily against the wall behind him as the panic began to subside.
“How do you feel now?” Joe asked quietly a couple minutes later, his body leaning into Jack’s, the younger man’s arms wrapped loosely around his waist.
“Good,” Joe smiled, his hands falling to rest against Jack’s chest, and he leaned in to kiss him once more, “I think next time, we stay in.”
“Or you could explain what’s happening.”
The couple jumped apart, their heads snapping over to where their friends stood, questioning looks on their face.
“You alright?” Conor frowned over at his brother, his face showing more worry than surprise.
“I am now,” Jack nodded, his hand reaching for Joe’s, their fingers tangling together. There was no point in hiding it anymore.
“So you two…” Josh trailed off, his eyes darting down to the joined hands.
“Uhm, yeah,” Joe blushed, scratching the back of his neck with his free hand, glancing over at Jack, still concerned for the younger man.
“How long?” Caspar blurted out, a smile growing on his lips.
“A few months,” Jack shrugged, offering Joe a reassuring smile as he tugged him closer, speaking softly into his ear: “I’m fine, really.”
“You sure?” Joe turned to face Jack, “That was a bad one…”
“Yes. I’m fine. You got there before it could get any worse.”
“It should have never happened in the first place,” Joe sighed, “We shouldn’t have come tonight.”
“Hold up!” Mikey waved his hands in front of him, stepping towards the couple, who looked back over at their mates, having momentarily forgotten they were there. “I get that you two are together…well, I don’t yet, but I’ll get there. What I don’t understand is what the hell happened.”
“Oh,” It was Jack’s turn to blush as he looked down at the ground. He never liked admitting his little issue out loud.
“Jack has claustrophobia.” Conor answered for his brother, “And he can get pretty bad panic attacks unless he’s with someone he feels comfortable with.” The older Maynard studied Joe for a moment, “I was wondering why he stopped hanging around me so much in clubs…”
“Sorry?” Joe offered.
“No,” Conor quickly shook his head, “I’m glad Jack found someone else. I can’t always be there.”
“That,” Oli laughed, “Or he was just trying to replace you.”
“Probably,” Josh snorted, “Who wouldn’t want to replace Conor.”
“Anyways,” The ginger continued, “Who’s hungry? I’m done with this club anyways.”
And just like that, the group turned and began to make their way down the sidewalk, the discussion shifting to where they were going for food, having already accepted the new found discoveries for the night.
Jack and Joe trailed behind them, talking softly with each other, their hands still joined between them.