Characters: Jack, Renee, Cole
Word count: Around 2600.
Summary: Starts at the beginning of tomorrow night’s ep and goes AU from there.
Warnings: Language, sex. Spoilers through 8x16 and for previews and promo clips for 8x17. PLEASE DON’T READ THIS NOW IF YOU HAVEN’T/DON’T WANT TO SEE THEM.
Disclaimer: They’re so not mine. If they were, Renee would live forever.
A/N: Under the cut.
A/N: My muse has lost her mind, and so have I. I don’t know quite what this is, but I had to write it, because after tomorrow night events may make it impossible for me to write Jack/Renee fic ever again. We’ll see. Also, because I’m still nuts over the way this damn show has handled Renee’s rape, it’s important for me to clarify something. I’m ignoring what I believe would be a much more realistic response to sex after rape because the show has chosen to ignore it, not because I think that’s what would happen. Okay then.
Thank you times googlezillion to dealan311, lowriseflare, and adrenalin211, the most amazing betas and friends the gods have ever created. You can place blame or credit for this fic’s existence on Brandi Carlile and her two songs, “Looking Out” and “In My Own Eyes.” The fic title is from “In My Own Eyes.”
Her heart isn’t beating right.
It’s not racing. Tachycardia she could report to the unnecessary medical personnel who will be in the room within minutes. It’s wrong, out of synch, skipping an integral part of each cycle.
She takes deeper, slower breaths and glances at Jack. He’s kneeling before Hassan, hands on his knees. He won’t look at her.
She listens to the pounding of feet on the stairs and struggles to remember a time when she didn’t know instantly, just by inhaling, that she’d walked into a room filled with blood.
All that comes to her is an image of herself at six or seven, hanging upside down from a rough tree branch that scratches the back of her legs every time she readjusts. She’s laughing as her hair flies in her face, licking away the bitter drops of blood on her knuckles so her mom won’t notice and make her get a band-aid.
She walks over to Jack, hesitating before she drops her hand to his shoulder.
His body doesn’t move, but he covers her bruised fingers with his own.
She knows there’s noise everywhere, but all she feels is silence.
While Jack calls the President, Renee watches the six-member CTU team scour the room for evidence. They speak in choppy, abbreviation-ridden sentences, and only when necessary.
It’s still so quiet.
She folds her hand into a fist when she hears Jack say, “I failed you, ma’am.”
They’ve already moved Hassan’s body.
Another stretcher. Another white sheet over another face.
She looks out the window and finally hears the morning hysteria of the city. All the sirens, squealing of tires, honking. As if it’s so important to get a triple grande latte or be at work five minutes early when you could be coughing up the lining of your own lungs or watching your skin blister and slough away from radiation poisoning.
Jack thinks he failed.
She’s still staring out the window, smelling blood, when his hand on her arm startles her.
“Come on. Let me take you home.”
His fingers are warm and gritty, and her heart isn’t out of synch any more.
“You headin’ back to CTU?” Cole asks, glancing at the agents passing in the hallway.
“No.” Jack looks at her, but not long enough for her to get a beat on what might be happening in his head. “We’re going home. We’re done.”
She shifts her eyes while Cole says something about debriefing. No matter where she puts her body it feels wrong, as if she’s obstructing and irritating the hell out of something she can’t even see.
The first day she and Jack worked together, she never considered the way the two of them fit, meshed without working for it at all. She can still see Jack’s expression (something like impressed surprise) when she took down the asshole on the boat where they found Tony’s crew. Now she’s inevitably a step ahead, behind, or sideways, elbow and angles.
She knows she was indispensable to this operation, failed or not. She did her job well. Even that knowledge can’t shake her sense that perhaps her presence is extraneous to . . . everything.
She then realizes that Jack used the word we. Twice.
She follows him past Cole.
The surrounding space seems more forgiving.
It’s too hot in the car, but asking the silent CTU driver to turn on the air conditioning seems ridiculous under the circumstances. Renee struggles to shed her jacket, her seatbelt in the way, confining.
Jack sits still, hands on his knees. Blood and bruises everywhere.
Five minutes into the drive, Jack abruptly leans forward to address the CTU agent in the passenger seat. “Where’s your first aid kit?”
“Under the seat in front of Agent Walker, Sir.”
“Thanks.” Jack pulls out the metal box and unclasps the lid.
Abruptly, he unbuckles his seatbelt and slides towards her.
“You cut your arm,” he says.
Renee looks at her arm. There is blood dripping from her elbow to edge of her wrist, but it’s already starting to congeal. She catches Jack’s arm. “Will you buckle your seatbelt? I’ll clean this up when I get home. It’s nothing.”
He pauses long enough to click the center seatbelt into place, then opens the disinfectant, dousing a cotton ball.
His thigh presses against hers.
“You’re being ridiculous,” she mutters as he wipes away the blood, but she leaves her arm where it is.
It’s only when he pauses, his thumb moving in a soft oval over the inside of her wrist, that she realizes he’s touching her scar.
“Where are your filters?” Jack glances over his shoulder, holding the glass carafe in one hand.
“Cupboard above the sink.” She fiddles with the sleeve of her shirt, exhausted, hungry, and increasingly uncomfortable with the tension that seems to be expanding the room. “You don’t have to make coffee. It’s my apartment.”
She doesn’t even know why he’s making coffee when it’s 8:45 a.m. and they haven’t slept in god knows how long. Doesn’t matter. She probably can’t sleep anyway, and if she does she’ll have nightmares.
“I want to, unless it bothers you.” He opens a brown paper filter.
“No, it’s fine.” She wants to talk about something besides coffee or superficial wounds.
Renee watches as he scoops tiny brown mountains of coffee into the filter. She tries to picture Jack on the beach in California, sun in his hair, holding Teri and his demons in his arms.
Demons are insidious like that. They don’t need their own real estate.
She knows they can share space with anything.
She feels the President’s hand clasping hers, strong and surprising, the distant forgotten sense of validation for a job well done. She wonders how long you have to be lost before it’s permanent, before it’s not possible to be found.
“Jack.” Too loud.
Something in her tone must grab his attention, because he puts the scoop down and turns to face her. “What’s wrong?”
Fuck it. She’s been blunt all day. No reason to stop now. “I know that we’ve said a lot of things to each other. And you’ve made promises to me about-” She pauses, wishing she’d started somewhere else. He’s watching her with that insane focus he has, and she can’t remember the last time it mattered more for the words to come out right. “I want you to know I’m not gonna hold you to them.”
He walks towards her. Everything else in the room could vanish and she knows he wouldn’t notice. It makes her nervous, jittery, but she muddles forward, determined he’s going to hear her, because she’s so tired of baggage and mixed messages and dancing around the obvious. “It’s been a terrible day. And I know that we-” He’s so close now she can feel the heat from his chest, far inside her personal space perimeter (She still wonders why he has yet to set off those alarms. He never has). “We say things in the moment and I just . . . I don’t want you to-”
She’ll never remember the way she meant to finish that sentence, because Jack’s hand is on her neck, his thumb stroking her jaw, and he’s kissing her.
Blood rushes in her ears. It’s as if the universe stopped but they’re still moving, hurtling into space.
Pausing only to breathe, he kisses her again in the slanted diamond of light from the window, pressing her into the bookcase. His body trembles with the restraint she knows he’s determined to maintain. She needs to tell him his unbreakable control is the last thing she wants. The wood hurts her spine, but she doesn’t care.
She opens her mouth, trying to get closer, when he yanks his hands from hers, forcefully. He takes her face in his hands, pulling back. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what the hell-” He’s trying to walk away when she catches his wrists, holding them next to her face.
“Look at me.”
It takes a second, but he finally lifts his eyes. They’re such a mixture of desire, shame, and confusion that she wants to let him inside her mind, if only for a second, so he could know how wrong he is.
She swallows. “It’s you. And this is what I want.” She rubs her body full against his, pressing up into his chest as his leg slips between hers. He’s not even kissing her but she’s out of breath, reveling in every last detail she loves about him – the hard muscled shape of his arms, the comforting pulse tapping frantically in his neck, the stubble on his jaw that scrapes her skin when his face touches hers, the way he smells like sweat and safety.
His eyes hold hers, and while their expression is still immeasurably uncertain, she can feel the tightness draining from his body. His lips brush hers, gently, before he says against her mouth, “Renee.”
“Promise me that the second I’m doing anything you don’t want me to do, you’ll stop me.”
“Okay.” She touches her lips to his. Talking’s too hard, distracting.
“No.” He’s holding her head very still. “Promise me.”
It’s the second time in as many hours that he’s said those words to her, and something inside her reshapes itself when she realizes what that means, how terrified he is of her being hurt. Of hurting her.
“I promise,” she whispers. She watches his lips for another moment before all her resistance is gone.
She kisses him again. He doesn’t fight, his mouth opening, and thank god she finally gets to taste him. She slides her hands underneath the hem of his shirt, inhaling the vibration that rises in his throat when she strokes all the way up his back, her fingers stopping when they slip into his hair.
The few times she permitted herself to think about it, she assumed sex with Jack would be some huge angst-filled capital E Event.
It’s not that at all.
Instead, it’s this: muted light and fingers, breathing and fragments of words. Jack’s hands smoothing over each new area of skin he uncovers when he tosses another piece of her clothing to the floor.
Her hands and mouth apparently have a mind of their own. There’s too much space, too many places she wants to taste and kiss and touch all at once.
It’s too warm even for sheets. No covers. No hiding.
He’s on top of her, kissing his way up her chest to her neck, when suddenly he stills. Pulls away.
“Jack, what-” She already feels the flush in her face. “Where are you going?”
“I’m not going anywhere,” he murmurs, his palm stroking over her shoulder blade. “But-” He swallows. “I need you to be on top. I can’t-”
“I know why,” she says quietly. Her eyes fill. “Thank you.”
“Don’t say that.” His voice cracks.
So instead she stretches out on him, careful to stay a little to the left, trying not to think about the gauze square and everything it signifies. It’s as if she’s figured out how to take a knife, make a neat cut in the fabric of space and time, and slip through into a different dimension.
And it’s only this: heat of Jack’s body inside her, his hands on her hips as he moves her with him in a rhythm so slow and perfect she thinks she might lose her mind. The way his breathing catches when she tightens or presses down. His voice in her ear, a sound like nothing else she will ever hear in this life.
She had no idea until this second how violently she had missed him.
He’s never going to let himself go without absolute certainty that she’s with him, that she’s okay. So she kisses him -- fierce, hard, unrelenting -- and frees her hips from his hands, accelerating everything. He makes a noise into her mouth that ripples down her spine, and finally he loses control of the rhythm. She almost smiles into his neck because he still doesn’t understand.
Comforting him comforts her.
Everything seems pale, so she closes her eyes and lets him take her.
When she falls, she’s unafraid.
There’s only one place in the universe she could land.
“You okay?” He’s still out of breath.
She smiles. “Yeah. More than.”
His face relaxes again, and he pulls her closer. His skin is so warm, and it feels so damn good on hers. She thinks she could probably never move again and be just fine with that.
“We should go to sleep,” he mumbles into her neck.
God she loves his voice, the one he’s using right now, the one that only shows up when all his self-protection mechanisms are switched to ‘off.’ “Probably.” She shifts her thigh higher on his legs, her fingers moving over the scratchy white fabric that covers the knife wound she gave him.
He grabs her hand, compressing her fingers almost to the point of pain. “Don’t.”
Her throat tightens before the words can even form, but she needs to say this. “I keep thinking about what would have happened if I’d been a few inches higher or-” She wishes her emotions would stop trying to prove chaos theory and pick one place to stop for thirty seconds.
He rests his hand on her ribcage. Her heart beats against his palm.
“I’ve already forgotten it was you.”
The coffeemaker beeps.
“Do you want to talk about this?” he asks, and the smile that moves over his face is so unfamiliar and lovely that she forgets to answer him. Apparently that’s okay, since he adds, “Because I want to bring you coffee and get back in bed.”
“I thought you said we were going to sleep.” She strokes his bicep; the freedom to touch him like this is delicious, impossible to resist.
“You tired?” he asks skeptically.
He grins, again. Gently slides out from under her leg. “Didn’t think so.” She averts her eyes while he pulls on his boxer briefs, then wonders what the hell prompted a fit of shyness after . . . that.
“I’ll be back in a minute,” he says softly, “And then I want to talk about L.A.”
He’s through the door before she can say a word. For a second she’s motionless, staring at the space he just vacated with what she’s pretty sure is an expression of wide-eyed shock.
Renee’s aware of her self-esteem issues. Still, given what just happened, there’s only one way to interpret Jack’s tossed-off comment.
He’s going to ask her to come to L.A. with him. And she’s going to say yes.
It changes nothing about the horror of everything that’s happened today. But in the tiny corner of the world she currently inhabits, she’s ambushed by joy so powerful it’s like smashing, an unanticipated wave that flips you upside down when you’re looking in the other direction.
The air conditioning clicks on. Jack clinks mugs, slams a cupboard.
Renee sits up, stretching toward the foot of the bed to grab the cool cotton sheet and pull it to her chest. She hears Jack's footsteps coming down the hallway, slowly – he’s probably trying not to spill the coffee.
She slides down under the sheet and presses her face into the pillow that already smells like his skin. She’s about to wiggle, adjust more, when she realizes further movement is unnecessary.